Saturday, December 20, 2014

Jeff and Celeste spent 20 minutes on a corner

I thought I'd seen it all in the world of wedding ceremonies.
Then, rather than just walk down the aisle, this couple decided to charge me.

I'm not going to tell you the most important part of this story. Jeff and Celeste shared it with me, and I'm going to leave it at that.

Besides, the rest of their tale is pretty good without it.

Jeff and Celeste vowed their lives to each other at the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Oak Park (I'd worked there just a few weeks earlier and was happy to return), bringing to fruition more than five years of maneuvering by their mutual friend, Jaclyn. Getting them to fall in love took time, career changes, airplane trips and Uhaul rentals...but it paid off.

"When I was washing my dishes back in OKC, I was thinking through the events of the prior day and burst into tears," Celeste told me of the night after her and Jeff's first date. "'I think I met my husband,' I told my then-roommate LuAnne.

To begin the story, we go way back in the day in Chicago, where Jaclyn and Jeff became friends through church. Jaclyn is a reporter, and in 2009, a job opportunity took her down to Oklahoma City, where she befriended Celeste, a law professor.

Jaclyn had an immediate feeling about Jeff and Celeste.

"She had us in mind for each other from the start, but was clever and strategic enough to wait," Celeste told me.

Recognizing that both were intent on career goals (Jeff had launched a small business, and Celeste was working like 300 hours a week), Jaclyn waited more than a year to broach the romance subject. Once she got the vibe that the right time was nearing, Jaclyn told Celeste that she wanted to set her up with...some guy in Chicago. A mere 806 miles away.

But Celeste trusted Jaclyn's judgment, and kept it in mind. Eventually, a work-related conference popped up in Milwaukee; Celeste made the time to drive down to the Second City to meet this Jeff guy, and Jaclyn came along.

"The date was awesome, a perfect out-of-towner's day in Chicago," Celeste recalled.

And here comes the most important part.

Suspecting that her groom had a devious cake-smooshing plot in mind,
Celeste came prepared.

"What really stood out about Jeff that day was in a conversation we had on the walk to Navy Pier. It was kind of intense. We actually stopped on the corner and talked without moving for what seemed like 20 minutes."

The subject of that conversation is superfluous. It suffices to say that they started to fall in love on that corner.

After taking Celeste back to O'Hare, Jeff called Jaclyn and told her that he had a good feeling. That night, as Celeste washed her dishes, that good feeling overwhelmed her.

Doing the long-distance thing, they got to know each other better, and soon they were dating steadily. Madcap career shifts followed, and Celeste moved to Jacksonville, Fla. — an easy 1,075 miles away — while the state of Illinois hired Jeff away from his own business.

The couple straightened things out, and Celeste erased all but a quarter mile of the distance when she moved up to Evanston in the summer of 2014. And now, the distance is zero.

I'm leaving the "clincher" moment out, just read the best part of the story.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Mark and Tina: "We can break some rules"

They had been here once before — this was their vow renewal ceremony, not their wedding — but Mark and Tina did something I'd never seen previously, in any service of this sort.

Andrew, Tina, Alyssa and Mark

Mark and Tina took their oaths 20 years ago, and renewed them at the United Lutheran Church of Oak Park. The bridesmaids and groomsmen from the original ceremony all had this day off, though: the only two people standing with the couple were their children, Andrew and Alyssa.

In a standard ceremony, that would mean that no one outside the immediate family would receive any recognition. Mark and Tina, however, had a remarkably uncommon agenda...

Friends Dell and Lara, and Tina's sister Avis (seated)

In the middle of the ceremony, the couple grabbed the microphone, turned around, said they were going to break some of the rules, and addressed their guests. Mark and Tina took turns — and several minutes — giving detailed thank-yous to family members and close friends. The bride and groom shared with a crowd of around 200 their stories about a few of the people who had stood at their sides 20 years ago, and had remained there through the decades and trials that have followed.

I haven't a clue what this couple spent putting their vow renewal together, but they did it so that, at its high point, they could shift their gathered friends' attention from themselves to some of the people they felt indebted to. I've never seen a bride and groom use their ceremony for that purpose before, but I hope to see it again.

The finale included an overhead ball-drop, and plenty of bubbles

complete gallery

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Aaron, Julie, Max and Madison: All because of the stage

If he had not broken his arm, he might have missed all of this.

Like most boys, Aaron grew up playing sports. His focus was football, though, and he played quarterback for his junior-high team...until he broke his arm. With the entire season lost, Aaron had a lot of energy, and needed something to focus it on.

"I tried out for the school play," he told me. And after that, everything changed.

"I was bit by the theater bug, and never looked back."

In college, he met this girl...

"Julie was the same way," Aaron told me. "She loved to be in theater, and also to dance. She is a really good dancer and choreographer."

Aaron tried asking her out, a bunch of times, but Julie always turned him down, saying she was booked.

"Finally, I told her to check her schedule and get back to me," he said. "She asked me out on a date a few days later."

Love, marriage, Max and Madison happened after that. Career and city-of-residence changes happened in between, but theater continued to happen throughout — often with Aaron as the director and Julie choreographing.

"Maddie was born into this world," Aaron said. "She has been active in dance, singing and theater her entire life."

The family hired me primarily because Madison is moving up in that world — having been nominated for a pair of awards from the Northwest Indiana Excellence in Theater Foundation — and needs updated 8x10s. They asked for a few family portraits as well, and Julie and Madison's walk from Solidarity Drive over to the Shedd Aquarium produced some really fun, long-lens candids (see my Facebook page for those).

In fact, without the stage, and Aaron's broken arm, I would have missed all this, too.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Opening the vault: the K&M Soul story

"This is what has been put in my heart to do, and honestly, I do not know how it is all going to be accomplished."

Some guys feel the passion to make music as young men, jump onto that path and start a band when they're kids. Kevin, the singer of K&M Soul, felt that passion as a young man, but thought that music-making could not be for him and tried a different path instead.

I photographed the group at Goose Island in part because Kevin has realized what he was meant for.

The M (Matt, left) and the K (Kevin)

K&M Soul began to take shape on June 4th, 2013 — Kevin knows the date off the top of his head. On that day, Kevin was fasting and praying, looking for an answer for what he should do with his unsatisfied drive to sing. Decades along on his career path and raising a family, he'd assumed that the fire of the music he grew up listening to (rock, the blues and soul) would have faded to embers by now.

But he saw that they were never supposed to. And then he met Matt.

"To create songs that will help someone wake up in the morning, to fight through a difficult situation in life."

When Kevin speaks about the band's objectives, he speaks with the experience of a man who has come quite a ways down his path, and helped friends make progress on theirs, too. I don't do music reviews (you'll have to come to their show and decide for yourself), but when I watched them performing, I saw on their faces the looks of men who are doing this for a reason, and are serious about achieving that goal.

"For a very long time, I have suppressed the passion for music," Kevin said.

These days, though, he, Matt and the boys are setting it free.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Found in the forest

We brought some toys along, but once he got into the woods, Henry found that all he needed was a stick. Throwing, hitting, swinging — everything a boy wants to do can be done with a stick!

Climbing…well, Henry climbed some really big sticks (trees). This led naturally to jumping and flying.

Cuddling…boys make time for that too, but a stick is no fun to hug. For that, he needed Ben and Carrie.

Henry's ready for whatever is out there