Friday, January 29, 2010

Remembering Mary

Mary Blackman, one of the owners of Argosy Cruises, passed away recently. I attended her memorial service Friday, fittingly, aboard the Royal Argosy at Pier 56. Hundreds of friends and co-workers were treated to a wonderful evening of remembrance. It was actually her second memorial. With so many family and loved ones in the Midwest, a memorial in Chicago was held recently also.

Mary and her husband John became primary owners of Argosy Cruises in 1990. They were married for almost 55 years after having been high school sweethearts. 55 years together...that just blows my mind. John's devotion to Mary was truly touching and especially during the last few years when Mary's health was deteriorating. John stood before us the other night to share some thoughts to the group and I just sat there in awe of this man who I respected so much, speaking from his heart about the love of his life. It was heartbreaking and wonderful at the same time.

Mary and John have been huge supporters of Camp Goodtimes ever since they first climbed aboard Argosy. Camp Goodtimes is a week long camp for pediatric cancer patients and their siblings held on Vashon Island every summer. The first time they ever saw me was on a Camp Goodtimes cruise day. I had just dove off a tower at Waterfront Park and was swimming out to the Spirit of Seattle which was filled up with kids and camp counselors. An Argosy employee was standing with John and Mary on the pier and John asked, "Who the heck is that guy?" "Oh, he's one of your captains." When I was informed that the new owners had seen the dive and swim I was a little nervous to meet them (you never get a second chance to make a first impression of course). When I did meet them I was instantly impressed with their wit, charisma and sense of humor. They wanted to know more and more about Camp Goodtimes. I sat down with them and showed them a video I had produced for camp to show to prospective donors. It told the story of little Anna Zenkner and her cancer struggle. The video started with Anna walking in to MaryBridge Hospital in Tacoma for a check-up prior to getting more chemo and ends up with her at Camp Goodtimes that summer, completely bald, but smiling, dancing, and having the time of her life. Mary and John watched the video intently and I saw Mary taking notes. I knew she was touched by Anna's story.

With former owners Lynn and Alyce Campbell originally offering the Spirit of Seattle for an all day cruise for the kids in 1989, I was worried that the new owners wouldn't carry on and make it a yearly tradition. Well, my worries were unfounded. This summer will mark the 48th time (with Christmas cruises since 1990 and now two summer cruises each year) that Argosy (and formerly Seattle Harbor Tours) has donated a boat for the children of Camp Goodtimes. Their support has been completely unconditional, with no requests for publicity whatsoever. They have supported camp because they know what a difference it makes in the lives of pediatric cancer patients and their families.

Over the years, watching that boat pull in to the pier packed with smiling, waving, screaming, singing and dancing children, Mary and John could see the result of their philanthropy. They were moved deeply by the display of energy, emotion and personal strength of these kids and I didn't really realize how much until after Mary had passed away. At her family's request, in lieu of flowers, they wish that remembrances be made in Mary's name to the American Cancer Society's Camp Goodtimes West (

With all of the great causes that Mary and John have supported over the years it was Camp Goodtimes that touched them most.

I'll miss you Mary. I still remember that warm summer evening back in 1992 when I took that portrait of you while having a "Beer on the Pier". I loved seeing you at a party and kneeling down next to you in your "power chair", hugging you and giving you a kiss on the cheek. Even in a brief moment, you made someone feel special. Thank you for making my own kids feel special too. You truly made a difference in this life and the traditions that you established I know will continue. And don't worry about John. The strength that he showed the other night aboard the Royal would have made you so proud. Judging by the outpouring of support for him that night, rest assured, he will be well taken care of.

Friday, January 22, 2010

An historic day for Xena!

Yesterday was Megan’s first full day with a pair of crutches in the house. She sucks at them. She said that she has already fallen a number of times but knows she’s going to get better and better with time. I watched as she gingerly stood up with them and moved slowly forward. She was under strict parental orders not to use her crutches when they weren’t there but she was anxious to show Heidi and I how good she was doing. She maneuvered through the kitchen with Heidi shuffling closely beside her. Megan laughed and told Heidi she was freaking her out and to move away and give her some space. I quickly took a photograph and she hobbled back into the living room with its plush soft carpet. That was a good thing. I turned away for a split second and heard her say, matter-of-factly, “Ohp, I’m fallin’.” That was followed by a muffled thud and immediate laughter. She was one inch from her wheelchair when it happened. She knows she’s going to fall many more times along the way and she’s ready for it. For her entire life, she has been able to use her legs to regain her balance when she has stumbled, but now, her lower right leg and foot are gone so her body has to relearn how to protect itself. Incredibly, just two months after the accident that almost claimed her life, she was able to stand and put her weight on her shattered and subsequently repaired left leg. One reason that she is so unstable she says is that she feels so tall. She hasn’t stood up in two months. The last time she was walking upright was at the shipyard moving along a catwalk just before being crushed by the shifting concrete.

We all settled back down in the living room and Megan took Heidi and I on a brief guided tour of her ravaged legs. She started the tour at her upper left leg skin grafts, passing the area where she had seen her bone protruding from her skin when she was pinned by the 30 tons of concrete. She moved from there over to her upper right leg, which was the destination for the skin grafts, down past the staple and stitch scars to “Shorty” (as she lovingly calls her stub) and we listened while she described the way that they folded over her damaged skin to close up her wound. From there we switched legs to her lower left leg where at regular intervals there were drill holes from the screws that were inserted to hold her bones together. The final stop on the tour was her left calf. They had taken half of her calf muscle and actually twisted it around and up to the side of her leg where a huge hole had been. The relocated muscle will take a while (up to a couple of years) to get used to its new location and the divot where it was taken from will eventually fill in with new muscle. It was an exhausting tour of the complete carnage that was inflicted upon her and in true Megan-style, as a tour guide, she knew the route well, and delivered her narrative with enthusiasm and humor. How was that possible, just two months away from almost losing her life? I am amazed yet again, and I think I’m going to be feeling this way a lot as I continue to follow Megan along on her recovery.

I really think that she will be running by this summer. Keep it up Xena!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Kiana Lodge

Just thought I'd share here a slideshow that I put together for Kiana Lodge to showcase their fabulous venue on Agate Pass in Poulsbo. I've been shooting weddings at Kiana for 25 years now. Out of the 900 weddings that I have personally photographed, just over 300 have been at Kiana Lodge. I've also photographed special events, high school seniors and families at the lodge. There is a something comfortable and soothing about the ambience there. A few years ago, Kiana even provided a wonderful place for a memorial service for a close friend of mine from Camp Goodtimes.

It's actually pretty crazy to think of the impact that Kiana has made on my life. I met my wife when she used to work there in 1981 when I was the bartender on the tour boat that brought people over all the time. I photographed one of our best friends' weddings there in 1985 (who also worked at Kiana). Two years later she left her wedding album up in Kiana's office and people suddenly started calling me to shoot their wedding. From those first few years of shooting Kiana weddings my referral base spread out across the Seattle area. Ever since I've been averaging about 30-35 weddings per year to go along with all the other photography work I do.

Not to sound like a walking advertisment for Kiana Lodge but Kiana just has so many great places to take pictures. The gardens, pathways, ponds, walkways, atrium, arbors, beach, and beautiful long pier give me so many options for fun photography. There's only a few private venues that I can think of around the Northwest where you can arrive or depart from via floatplane. How cool is that? One guy landed his helicopter on the beach once but that was a little over the top!

Miles and I flew in by floatplane a couple of summers ago so I could shoot an event at Kiana. We flew from Lake Union in Seattle and the flight was breathtaking (for me at least). After getting out of the plane and while walking up the pier, Miles, 12 years old at the time, said matter of factly, "Well...that was terrifying." I had completely forgot about the fact that Miles' only experience in airplanes were ones where there were nice smooth take-offs and landings, not ones where you've got earplugs crammed in your ears and are noisily bouncing along on the water. Miles survived though and I hope his next flight will be more enjoyable.

Now for the Kiana Lodge backstory.

The first time I shot pictures at Kiana Lodge professionally was in 1980 for a Ford Motor Co. awards banquet. The former owner of Kiana, Bob Riebe called me and asked if I could shoot pictures for the event. I shot pictures of the "grip and grin" award plaque hand off and then went to a friend's house on Bainbridge Island where I had set up my darkroom in one of their closets. I developed the black & white film, made prints and then delivered those back to the lodge. That seems like science fiction to me nowadays. The sidenote to that was that my friends were Charlotte and Tats Araki and their 4 kids. Charlotte is Captain Lynn Campbell's daughter. Captain Campbell, for all 12 of you who read my blog will recall, was the founder of Seattle Harbor Tours and I was lucky enough to work with him for over ten years. One of the Araki kids, Hanz, is an amazing musician ( whose beautiful music is featured on my website. Anyway, I always have appreciated Bob Riebe giving me that first opportunity to take pictures at Kiana Lodge. Unfortunately Bob passed away recently. He was welcoming and gregarious and a lot of fun to be around, especially on one amazing trip to his villa in Puerto Vallarta that my wife and I along with a few friends made in the mid 80's.

I just have to add one thing about that trip. Bob's place was still under construction at the time and was absolutely spectacular; built right into a cliff above Mismaloya, just south of Puerto Vallarta. Everyone kept saying, "Watch out for scorpions!" It was scorpion this and scorpion that. For the first few days we had scorpions on the brain. One night I reached over to brush a piece of lint off my wife when we had just crawled into bed and she exploded into a ninja defense mode faster than any ninja in history. It almost stopped my heart. I was laughing at her so hard until one night when she was able to return the favor. I got up to go to the bathroom and when I turned on the light a little gecko fell from the top of the door right in front of me, "HEEYAAH!!" No scorpion, just a dork standing there in a ninja pose.

Even the gecko was laughing at me.

I hope you enjoy the slideshow.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Thanks Boss Hogg!

I'm heading off today to a gathering of Camp Goodtimes friends in Seattle to celebrate Tom "Boss Hogg" Nielsen's 12 years as our camp director. In digging through some of the thousands of photographs that I've taken over the years it became more and more striking to me the impact that Boss Hogg has made on the world around him.

Boss has led a team of volunteers on an amazing journey with a truly altruistic goal, to better the lives of pediatric cancer patients and their families. Camp Goodtimes was founded 26 years ago on two founding principles. One, cancer sucks. And two, since cancer sucks, what can we do about it? The answer that Charlotte "Lion Tamer" Ellis came up with was to create some good to help offset the bad. The result has been the creation of a place where incredible things happen every single day, and anything is possible. The effect of the camp is permanent. When the kids go home, they take camp with them. It provides them with an instant extended family and gives them a little bit of the childhood back that cancer took away.

In looking back through photographs for a slideshow that I'm sharing tonight, I kept being drawn to Boss Hogg's eyes. I'd look at dozens of photos of the fun, crazy and emotional times and then I'd come back to a photo of Boss, and his famous glance. He truly looks at the world through eyes that care. That, in my opinion, is the single best thing that each and everyone of us can do try to do to make the world a better place. Next time you see Boss, just look at him square in the face and you'll see what I mean.

Boss has looked over Camp Goodtimes, which I have always liked to call a "compassion building machine", with the perfect recipe for fun. Here's how Boss Hogg has made his treat;

5 cups of Leadership
3 cups of "I've spent years as a camp director and I understand all of the official policy crud"
12 cups of compassion towards others
Mix together and add,
1 cup of "The Dance of Joy"
2 cups of "I'm going to get you before you get me during the whipped cream fight"
100 cups of classic moments
and 1 tablespoon of "Ninja!"

That's it. Then sit back and enjoy and serve the wonderful mixture to everyone you will ever meet.

Boss created this recipe through his intelligence, willingness to listen to others, and ability to learn from others and be spontaneous. We have an acronym at camp that goes;


Which means, The Likelihood Of Goofy Spontaneity Is Directly Related To How Comfortable You Are With The People Around You. OK, I came up with this piece of random silliness. And I've come up with lots of other random goofy spontaneity over the years. None of that would have been possible if I didn't have the support of Boss Hog. He has been behind me, as well as beside me and also in front of me throughout the years, picking with great wisdom the right moment for each. When you know deep down that someone believes in you, you want to honor that trust. That's how I feel about Boss. He believes in me and trusts me. I respect him so much that I don't want to disappoint him. Instead, I want to make him proud.

Under Boss Hogg's watch, the staff gathered every year on the last day of camp in a circle on the upper field. "Circle" didn't start until everyone was quiet and Boss Hog spoke. He invited others to share their heartfelt impressions from camp that week; what they learned, what they were taking away. During this time there were as many tears expresses as there was laughter. A few years ago in closing the circle he said slowly, "With any great moment or experience, there's a time when it must end. And that time is now..." And he added, trying to hold back his own tears, "But you all came together this week and with your love and compassion you changed the world. Thank you all."

No Boss. Thank you...for everything.

P.S. Here's some classic moments from Boss Hogg's years at camp!

That's Boss in the alien mask, parasailing a few years ago. Kind of a long story.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Happy Birthday Elvis!

The King is alive and well in the hearts, minds, and dancing shoes of people all over the world. That includes the 1999 vintage Doppler when he was a kid at camp, dancing to the beat of his inner Elvis. I don't think I've seen a kid ever who turned it "up to 11" quite like he did (and he still does!).

Who knows what else I'll find in my archives this winter!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Putt Putt is cool

Do you know people like my close friend Putt Putt, the kind of person that will drop everything to lend a hand to someone in need? Or perhaps the kind of person that will drop everything to lend a hand to someone that is inept at certain types of home improvement projects? The latter describes me to a T. I’m great at some things (like eating, watching TV, mortaring rocks on cinder blocks), but crummy at others (like crawling up in my attic and spending two hours putting new light boxes in the ceiling). But Putt Putt (Chad) is great at that kind of thing. Putt Putt has been a co-volunteer with me at Camp Goodtimes for the past 3 years and adds so much to the kids experience there. In the span of just one hour at camp I’ve seen him get dumped into a dunk tank, immersed into a foam pit, get obliterated with whipped cream during the “dairy” war at the carnival, get hosed down by the local fire department, start a slip ‘n slide on the muddy, whipped creamy grass and then go jump into Puget Sound. But I digress…

Chad brought his daughter Devon out the other day to help me with some stuff that I would have caused a fire doing and in return I was going to stuff them both with Thai food plus take some killer pictures. We had been meaning to get together for a photo shoot for a while but now Devon was getting ready to head back out of town to Florida where she lives with her mom during the school year.

When they first came out the light was beautiful here but Putt Putt and I had a lot of work to do so Devon just hung out with my son Miles, chilling and texting their significant others on their iPhones. By the time we (because I DID actually help a little) were finishing up, the clouds had rolled in and the sky had darkened and I was mad at myself for not taking photos sooner. However, I quickly resolved my inner conflict when I came up with some ideas for photographs that I never would have earlier in the day. I even had Devon posing on my gas grill for a few photos using only a 50 watt porch light to illuminate the scene. In one shot, Chad and I both thought that Devon looked a lot like the actress Natalie Portman. Adding Francis the Dog for a few photos was a little tricky. Mainly because I was laughing so hard at Francis’ “doggy sweater” that it was difficult to focus the camera.

I guess there is a fringe benefit to being inept at a few things and spending the day with good friends turned out to be one of them. Chad is a rare person. When he’s not actually working to make a living it seems like all of his other time is directed towards doing things for other people. This time, the light now (literally) shines brighter in my house because of Chad (wait for the clever analogy and cue violin music…) as it does in everyone’s house who is lucky enough to know him! (I just couldn’t resist that one.)

Thanks Putt Putt!