old poke...

this project took a long time to put together, but the end result was a truly priceless and timeless gift. several months before my hubby hit a major milestone in the aging arena, i wanted to plan something special to mark the occasion. i decided to contact as many of his friends and family members as possible, and ask them to write him a birthday message. i sent letters, encouraging them to send stories, birthday wishes, copies of old photos, etc. if they had young children, i asked them to draw shane a picture. (i had them snail-mail or email responses to my friend, amy, so birthday boy wouldn't suspect anything). i started way in advance, so i was able to compile a large list of new and old friends. i must mention that my husband has more old friends than anyone on the planet. as a baptist preacher's kid, he moved around oklahoma and texas, finally settling and graduating in amarillo. we run into someone he knows everywhere we go. seriously, everywhere. from the beaches of cabo to the mountains of colorado, in restaurants or airports, we'll hear, "oh my gosh! is that shane laduke??". upon my inquiry he'll explain, "oh, i went to kindergarten with him", or "she was my seventh grade math teacher", or my personal favorite, "oh, we played a little bit of kissy-face in college". so i had my work cut out for me. i played dog the bounty hunter and tracked down people from his grade school, junior high, high school and college days. i used old yearbooks, rosters, his planner/address book and a high school reunion contact list....anything i could get my paws on. within a few weeks of my original request, responses began pouring in. i soon had a stack of funny stories, drawings, and sweet letters from all over. the coolest part was that i felt like i was getting to know my husband all over again. the hardest part was keeping it a secret - my excitement grew with each new batch. a note from his old football coach, a letter from a summer camp friend, a long-forgotten story from a college roomie and baby pictures from his parents were among the treasures i received. one of his high school buds sent an old newspaper clipping from shane's glory days as #32. i couldn't believe he'd saved it all those years! i eventually scanned in letters and photos, and retyped the email messages in creative fonts. i took the final collection to a printing company to have it bound. for the cover i used a picture i had of his old license plate, which was a nod to his alma mater as well as his favorite movie, lonesome dove. i felt the sentiment was appropriate for a birthday, as well: "old poke". (um....the personalized plates mysteriously fell by the wayside shortly after we began dating). needless to say, shane was overwhelmed when he opened his birthday book. he laughed and cried as he leafed through the pages and relived bits and pieces of his past. it was definitely time consuming to put together, but it was so, so worth it. it's a gift that can truly be enjoyed forever. it's something our girls can keep years from now; a little link to their dad's past and all the people that love that old poke.


"happiness" by carl sandburg:

i asked the professors who teach the meaning of life to
teach me what is happiness.
and i went to famous executives who boss the work of
thousands of men.
they all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though
i was trying to fool with them.
and then one sunday afternoon i wandered out along the
desplaines river
and i saw a crowd of hungarians under the trees with
their women and children and a keg of beer and an

i have always loved this poem by the great sandburg. i recall teaching an 11th grade poetry unit one semester. the opening assignment was simply to bring a favorite poem, read it to the class, and explain its allure. i urged my students to take the time to find something personal, something that really struck a chord. i truly enjoyed listening to their diverse choices - some old classics, some simple faves from childhood, and some i'd never heard before. whenever i'd ask my class to share an assignment, i would generally share my own version. so after everyone had shared their choices, i stood up to share mine. and like i said, i've always loved this particular poem. and when you truly love something about a poem, be it simple or complex, it's because it has touched something in your soul. and i feel that when you share it, you bare just a little part of yourself. i guess that's why i was almost nervous to share a poem that spoke to me, but i stood up and read the words out loud to my first hour. it went over like a lead balloon, high school style. all 32 teenagers stared up at me. blank. nothing. nada. then, somebody piped up from the fourth row: "mrs. laduke drinks BEER!"....then, "what the heck is a hungarian?"... i tried to explain, but the moment was gone and the oh-so-merciful bell rang...and i pulled out a safe emily dickinson for the next few classes.

as i envisioned my upcoming shoot with the moore family, this poem kept popping into my head. i guess it's because to me, this family is the epitome of happiness. and maybe because they also have homemade brew on tap. (but... that's beside the point...) . when i arrived at their quaint cottage that sunday afternoon, everything was truly serene, and i think i let out a little gasp at the gorgeous light flooding through their big living room windows. i asked them to grab a book or two and pile on the couch that was bathing in that light. all four of them (five if you count their guard dog, lucy) happily obliged and cuddled and read and giggled while i snapped away. there was no, "sit up straight", "say cheese" or "let me apply some mom-spit to your do". they were just so loving & natural, and i was able to get some shots of life as it really exists at the moore house. after some impressive stilt tricks and wrestlemania in the master bedroom, we headed outside. this happened to be one of their last weekends in their super cool home on the side of west mountain. i wanted to capture the boys in front, where they'd spent countless hours on their beloved bikes. i wanted these images not only for briana, but to bring back memories for the boys in years to come. at the end of our shoot, i pulled out the groucho marx glasses. now, i wouldn't hand gag items to just any family, but for some reason i knew they would get a kick out of it. they hammed it up together, with goldie hawn, their pet chicken, watching from her roost on the patio. i had a hard time trying to shoot without belly laughing. when i leave a session with a face numb from smiling, i know it's been a success.

i think this shoot really defines my true style. i always knew i didn't want to shoot weddings or big events, and found out the hard way i don't want to do family reunions or birthday parties (i have a few talented photographer friends i like to refer for those requests). i love to photograph families and i want to capture a little slice of their daily life. that's why i love to shoot in and around the home (at least for a few...second locations are fabulous, too!). it's always more relaxed at home, and the images reflect life as it really is. (of course i orchestrate some traditional family and individual portraits along the way.) overall, i see photographs as rectangular time capsules. i want them to tell a story. when sandler and milo look back at these images, i want them to remember a crisp march day, their treasured books, their faithful old dog, their comfy living room couch, mom & dad's cool iron bed and soft quilt, their old front porch, a clanging duck bell on a bright red bike, a warm home brimming with light...and... happiness.