Give the birthday boy a winner

Posted: March 12th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Family, Features, Parenting, Photo essays, Photography, Sports, Writing | Tags: , | No Comments »

I’m convinced that Child Services will come charging into my house someday soon. They’ll pound on my door early one morning after a concerned neighbor tips them off, and they’ll rescue my children from the horror they’ve endured throughout their young lives.

I’m raising my kids as Cleveland sports fans, and as a lifelong fan myself, I’m certain that qualifies as child abuse. I’m just waiting for someone to haul my parents away for the torture I’ve endured while rooting for these teams my whole life.

The list of traumatic experiences I’ve witnessed during my time as a loyal Browns, Indians and Cavaliers fan is extensive and evolving, with the latest addition coming courtesy of a certain basketball player who took his gigantic ego to South Beach a couple years ago. So why would I knowingly expose my children to the same heartache and misery? Because I’m an optimist, and even after all these years, I have faith that the tide will turn in Cleveland. I’m just hoping it happens in time for my kids to experience the joy of rooting for a winner, and the excitement that comes with watching your team score a monumental touchdown, hit that memorable walk-off homer or win the biggest game of the season.

Unfortunately, I’m starting to fear that they may not get that chance. Not because our teams won’t ever be good again, but because they haven’t been good enough, long enough, to pull my kids in and earn their loyalty.

This guy needs a winner. So does his old man.

My youngest, Eliot, turned three today. He may be my last hope. My daughter is nine and, while she enjoys playing soccer and has a passing interest when the Browns are on TV, she already knows the drill. “The Browns always lose,” she told my wife and me last season. She had a point. My other son will be six this summer, and he’s about as interested in sports as he is in reading the dictionary. I learned early that you can’t force it.

Then there’s Eliot, who loves wearing his Browns and Indians hats, and who got excited yesterday when I told him baseball season would be starting soon. I think he shows an interest because my wife and I are both big sports fans, but I’m just thrilled we have a shot with him. If our teams don’t give him something to root for and someone to believe in, though, that chance may fizzle long before he’s truly hooked.

I know, there are so many things in life that are so much more important than sports. I didn’t used to think that, but it’s amazing how naturally and categorically your priorities change when you start paying bills and having kids. Still, fathers (and mothers) have been bonding with their children over sports for decades, and while it’s easy to become cynical in this age of me-first, multi-millionaire, multi-felonious athletes and billionaire owners who wring your wallet dry as soon as you walk into their luxurious new stadiums, these are still, fundamentally, the games we grew up loving.

I remember going to my first baseball games and being hypnotized by the rhythm of the game and the sights and sounds that you can only experience in the stadium. I remember freezing my little butt off watching the Browns go to battle with the Steelers in old Municipal Stadium, and I remember singing “Bernie, Bernie!” whenever the song parody came on WMMS during their ’80s heydays. Of course, I also remember watching Michael Jordan single-handedly devastate a city with “The Shot” over Craig Ehlo, and I remember how quiet a room full of rabid Browns fans suddenly got when John Elway ripped our hearts out in 1987 and when Earnest Byner fumbled away our Super Bowl dreams one year later.

Those were heartbreaking moments, no doubt, moments from which the city’s fans have arguably never fully recovered. But at least those teams were playing for something. Those teams captured my 10-year-old imagination and helped instill in me a belief that we are always “thisclose” to finally winning it all. If Jordan’s shot clangs off the back rim…if just one of those Elway passes falls incomplete…if Byner can hang on to the ball for one more second…if Charlie Nagy’s glove was an inch longer in the 1997 World Series….

I’d prefer my kids have happier memories of their childhood sports teams, but above all else, I just want them to care. I want them to be excited when Spring Training starts every year, and to count down the days until the next Browns game. I want to pass that kind of passion on to them, and have them tell their kids about all the games they watched with their old man when they were growing up.

Please don’t turn my son into a NASCAR fan!

So please — Mike Holmgren, Randy Lerner, Chris Antonetti, Larry Dolan, Chris Grant, Dan Gilbert, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy — I don’t care who it is, but could one of you please get it right? Could one of you build something that my kids can latch on to? Could one of you prove to them that Cleveland sports teams are capable of winning big games, and sustaining that success for more than a year or three?

For his birthday, could one of you show Eliot just how much fun it is to be a true, loyal and eternally optimistic sports fan? His dad — and his mom, and his grandparents, and his great-grandparents, his aunts, uncles and cousins, and maybe even his older brother and sister — would forever be grateful.


Growing up with Emma

Posted: March 9th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Family, Features, Parenting, Photo essays, Photography, Writing | Tags: , | 3 Comments »

Growing up, adult friends and family members would tell me how my birthdays made them feel old. I never really understood that until my wife and I had kids of our own. My little girl turns nine today, and I’ve already told her that this is as far as I’m willing to go. No double digits, please, because once 10 hits, then 13, 16 and 18 aren’t far behind, and then there’s college, weddings, grandkids and adult diapers for grandpa. Wow, I feel old.

But this post isn’t about me; it’s about Emma, the girl who turned my world on its ear nine years ago. Actually, Emma changed my life before she was even born. From the moment we learned that Mandy was pregnant, I began examining my life with a much different eye than I ever had before. What kind of father was I going to be? What kind of example was I going to set for her? I lost 40 pounds in those nine months (the exact opposite of sympathy weight, to my wife’s chagrin) and stopped biting my nails. I started eating better and tried to improve my productivity at work. I figured kids naturally look up to their parents, but I wanted my kids to have a reason to do so.

That desire to be better for my children has grown over these nine years as Emma’s two younger brothers have joined our family, but it all started with the blue-eyed angel who introduced herself to Mandy and me on March 9, 2003. I secretly had been pulling for a son, as I think many first-time fathers do. Come on, we’re guys – we don’t know anything about little girls, and I was more than a little intimidated by the thought of trying to raise a daughter. I was bound to screw up anyway as a new dad, but by my thinking, the chance of colossal failure shot through the roof if we had a girl.

Then we had a girl. And suddenly, I was a different person. Of course, your children change you no matter their gender, but there’s something uniquely special about the father-daughter relationship, something you have no way of preparing yourself for, and something that you can only fully understand and appreciate when you have a daughter. I love all of my children, obviously, but I’ve grown to cherish my relationship with Emma as I’ve begun to recognize the differences between my connection with my sons and my connection with her. We are all very close, but in different ways. She’s Daddy’s Little Girl, and she always will be. Even when she’s bringing my grandkids over for a visit at the old folks’ home.

Emma amazes Mandy and me every day. She’s a wonderfully creative person who loves playing the piano and writing stories, and she’s intensely curious and inquisitive. She’s kind, considerate, thoughtful and respectful, but strong-willed and stubborn at the same time. She also has an amazingly big heart with an endless supply of love for everyone in her life, and she’s particularly devoted to her baby brother Eliot. She and I share a passion for music – the Beatles are her favorite band, which makes me smile – and she’s already caught the photography bug, which is only appropriate since she was my very first muse when I bought my first digital camera shortly after she was born. I’m so proud of the person she’s already become, and I can’t wait to see what all she accomplishes in life and where her creative spirit and passion will take her along the way.

Happy birthday to my little girl, even if you aren’t so little anymore.

Love, Dad

EMMA SLIDESHOW

Below are a few of my favorite photos of Emma throughout the years. Press play to see all the photos, or click the thumbnails to see individual shots.


A runner abroad: The 2012 Tokyo Marathon

Posted: March 2nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Features, Photo essays, Photography, Running, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

© TOKYO MARATHON

My wife was worried. My mom was worried. Even my nine-year-old daughter was worried. And yes, I too was a little anxious as my departure date for Tokyo drew closer.

I’d never been to Japan before, so the thought of making my own way through customs and then from the Tokyo Narita airport to the Keio Plaza Hotel more than an hour away was a bit concerning. Would I find people who spoke English? Would I have any trouble exchanging my dollars for yen? Would I get on the right shuttle bus to the right hotel? Even though I assumed everything would work out fine, it all was a little intimidating for an Ohio guy who spends most of his days working from home and carting his kids to and from school.

And then, there was that whole marathon thing to worry about. I spent a couple hours in a local ER getting treatment for severe dehydration following the Chicago Marathon last October, and my body powered down for a quick nap in the chute after the Arizona Marathon in January. Needless to say, I was hoping to avoid any such experiences in the Tokyo Marathon, considering I would be in a foreign-speaking country more than 7,000 miles from home. The less post-race drama, the better, and I hoped my body would more easily handle 26.2 miles the third time around.

The good news is, I didn’t wind up in a Tokyo hospital last weekend. Even better, I had no trouble finding my way to the Keio Plaza Hotel upon my arrival, and I even found a small Italian restaurant for a traditional pre-race meal Saturday night. The people of Tokyo — from the hotel staff and the workers at the Shinjuku train station to the more than 2 million spectators who lined the street during the race — were friendly, helpful, patient and incredibly gracious. Many of them even spoke English (to varying degrees), which was a bonus for a Yankee like me who only knew how to say “thank you” in Japanese, and I even screwed that up repeatedly on my first day.

The bad news? I didn’t run as well as I’d hoped, but after the unbelievable week I had in Japan, I’m not really complaining. I’ve learned something about marathon running in each of my three races, with the main lesson from Tokyo being that I can never just assume that I’m drinking enough water along the way. I went into the race confident that my modified hydration and nutrition plan was sound and would help lead me to a PR if I just ran a controlled race, but evidently I didn’t take in enough water in the later stages and faded badly down the stretch before battling severe nausea once I crossed the finish line. The Japanese version of Gatorade brought me back from the dead, thankfully, and ensured that an otherwise fantastic day would not end on a very unpleasant note. I’m frustrated with the finish, but it didn’t tarnish the experience.

Race day started with some photos of our press tour group and, soon after, a realization: Wow, it’s cold out here. Colder than we expected. Fortunately, I had chosen heavier clothes than I otherwise would have, thinking I could ditch a layer prior to the start if I overdressed. Instead, I kept every last stitch on throughout the day, including the earband and gloves. In my right pocket: my little Canon Powershot camera, which I would soon learn is the perfect size for photorunning. (Someone asked if I coined the word “photorunning.” Considering how many photo opps unfold on a typical run, I doubt it, but I like it either way.) A suggestion from a friend convinced me the best method to document the race was to take shots on the move rather than stopping to compose the photos, with the resulting crooked and/or occasionally blurry pictures suiting the event well. Second-best decision of the weekend. (The Japanese Gatorade was #1. Easily.)

More than 36,000 runners gathered in the street in front of and around the corner from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, a majestic two-tower structure that now has served as the starting point for each of the six Tokyo Marathons since 2007. At 9:10 am local time, we heard the starting gun from all the way back in corral G and slowly made our way toward the starting line. Eight minutes later, my race had officially begun.

The energy at a race of this size is always intoxicating, but the amps seemed to be cranked up even more Sunday morning. The whole city was buzzing, and I felt honored to be in that place, in that moment, however insignificant my role would be. I snapped a few pictures as we crossed the starting line, went to deposit the camera back into my pocket and then realized I was better off strapping it to my wrist and just keeping it on standby. Every curve in the road brought a new memory begging to be captured, from the sea of runners rising and falling in front of me and the 10,000 cheerful volunteer members of Team Smile, to the landscape of colorful buildings and street signs and the spectators lining the course in crazy costumes, holding up homemade signs and taking high-fives from any runner willing to give them. The runners themselves took part in the fun, with countless participants dressed up in outrageous gear, including one guy who ran as Jesus Christ, cross and all. (The proof is in the slideshow at the bottom of the page.) And every few seconds, I heard someone yell “Ganbatte!”, a traditional word of encouragement loosely translated as, “Do your best!” The word still echoes in my mind almost a week later.

My head was on a swivel, enjoying the sights and sounds with a goofy grin on my face and taking picture after picture after picture (after picture), all while darting through the heavy congestion and trying to stick reasonably close to an 8-minute per mile pace. Unfortunately, there were no mile markers on the course, as we’ve all grown accustomed to here in the States, so I tried to settle into a pace of about 25 minutes per 5km, a plan that worked well in the early stages and allowed me to largely ignore the clock as I made my way through Tokyo, passing the Imperial Palace, the Tokyo Tower (above) and the Zojoji Temple along the way. Before I knew it, I was 20km into the race with the halfway point approaching.

Jamey Codding Tokyo Marathon

Because I was just six weeks removed from the Arizona Marathon, my legs weren’t as fresh as I’d hoped coming into Tokyo. I held up fine through 25km but began to lose some steam after that. I wound up taking more than 300 photos during the race — many of those unusable shots of the road or of blurry landmarks sitting behind even blurrier runners (see the slideshow below) — and considering how few of those came during the second half when I had trouble finding the energy to raise my arm, point and shoot, I’m guessing the photorunning at least partially contributed to my slow finish. Still, I wouldn’t do things differently if given the opportunity. These pics will last a lifetime — I even stopped at one point when another runner offered to take a picture of me in front of the Tokyo Sky Tree (right). I’ll have other chances to run a PR, but I wouldn’t have had another chance to get that shot. (You can check out all the keepers in the slideshow below.)

As usual, the last several miles were a struggle, made even worse by the creeping dehydration. I’m a sweater — not in a Bill Cosby kind of way, but in a “what’s with all the crusted salt on your face?” kind of way — and apparently I need to take in even more water than I thought during a marathon to avoid crashing and burning. Nevertheless, I eventually dragged my carcass across the finish line in 3:59:25, fought back against my gurgling stomach and then slowly made my way through the chute to the gear check area, where volunteers applauded every runner as they came through to pick up their bags. On my way out, I noticed crowds of runners enjoying some time in an ashiyu (“foot bath”) and minutes later, I pulled up a spot and dipped in my feet. Ahhhh…. Who do I talk to about bringing these to the US?

I was still feeling the post-race effects in the hotel lobby Sunday evening when a Japanese man approached and asked if he could take a picture of the medal hanging around my neck. He told me (through an interpreter) that he was one of the more than 300,000 people who applied for the 2012 Tokyo Marathon but he wasn’t accepted. He stared at the medal, awestruck, telling me that I was fortunate to have been one of the 36,000 runners on the course that day. He said he hoped to get the same opportunity someday soon, and then asked how I ran. When I told him my time, his eyes widened and he provided me with my biggest laugh of the weekend, asking if I was a professional runner.

Not wanting to insult him, I hid my amusement as best I could and thanked him for the compliment, but told him there were many, many other runners who finished ahead of me. His reaction to seeing my medal and his deep desire to run the Tokyo Marathon himself one day proved that the organizers of this young race have built something special in a very short time. We learned during a symposium Friday night that the Tokyo Marathon hopes to one day be listed among the other World Marathon Majors, alongside legendary races like the New York and London Marathons. After what I experienced last weekend, I’d say it’s only a matter of time.

Of course, I can’t end this without thanking the Tokyo Marathon Foundation and our guides during the weekend for their incredible generosity. When I signed up for my first marathon a year ago, I never would have guessed I’d be given the opportunity to run a race halfway across the globe. I met so many amazing people, including several runners who have competed in dozens of races around the world. I can only hope to be fortunate (and healthy) enough to try something like this again someday, but after spending the past year training for one marathon or another, I’m just looking forward to a break.

(My official results can be found here. The site has me at 4:02:38, but whereas I stopped my watch when I chose the wrong porto-potty line during an early pit stop, their clock kept ticking. Hence, the discrepancy.)

TOKYO MARATHON SLIDESHOW

Press play below to see all the photos with select captions, or click the thumbnails to see individual shots. I will be posting more photos and stories from the trip in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

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Our press tour group was filled with runners from all over the world, including Italy, Germany, Brazil, Spain, the UK and...Ohio.

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Jesus made the front page of the paper the next morning. You can see why. Gotta respect the guy for going all in with bare feet too.

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The Smile Team of more than 10,000 volunteers were awesome throughout the day. And quite happy to have their pictures taken, to boot.

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Always a thrill to see the leaders, even if they are miles and miles (and miles) ahead of you already.

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Zojoji Temple

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BMW, one of the race sponsors, had prime location and a pretty sweet sign in their window.

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No turning back now. Crap.

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Tokyo Tower, which I learned is taller than the Eiffel Tower.

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Mario, in his natural environment.

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Spongebob kicked my butt.

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The Tokyo Sky Tree growing out of the top of my head.

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We were all wondering....

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This guy was walking. Think he needs a different shirt. (Couldn't resist.)

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One of the very last times I was able to muster the energy to take a picture. Glad I did.

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Seriously, we need these in the States.

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Our press tour group was filled with runners from all over the world, including Italy, Germany, Brazil, Spain, the UK and...Ohio.tokyo-race-2tokyo-race-3tokyo-race-4tokyo-race-5tokyo-race-40Jesus made the front page of the paper the next morning. You can see why. Gotta respect the guy for going all in with bare feet too.The Smile Team of more than 10,000 volunteers were awesome throughout the day. And quite happy to have their pictures taken, to boot.tokyo-race-8tokyo-race-9tokyo-race-41tokyo-race-10tokyo-race-11tokyo-race-12Always a thrill to see the leaders, even if they are miles and miles (and miles) ahead of you already.Zojoji Templetokyo-race-15tokyo-race-16BMW, one of the race sponsors, had prime location and a pretty sweet sign in their window.tokyo-race-18tokyo-race-19tokyo-race-20tokyo-race-21tokyo-race-50No turning back now. Crap.Tokyo Tower, which I learned is taller than the Eiffel Tower.tokyo-race-24tokyo-race-42tokyo-race-25tokyo-race-26tokyo-race-27Mario, in his natural environment.tokyo-race-29tokyo-race-30tokyo-race-43tokyo-race-31Spongebob kicked my butt.tokyo-race-45tokyo-race-33The Tokyo Sky Tree growing out of the top of my head.We were all wondering....This guy was walking. Think he needs a different shirt. (Couldn't resist.)tokyo-race-48tokyo-race-36One of the very last times I was able to muster the energy to take a picture. Glad I did.tokyo-race-38Seriously, we need these in the States.tokyo-race-39

The delicate balance of photorunning

Posted: February 25th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Creativity, Mobile pics, Photo essays, Photography, Running | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The start of the Tokyo Marathon is less than 12 hours away, and what am I most concerned with? Not the weather (should be around 40 degrees at race time), not the course (mostly flat with some intimidating hills near the end) and not my time (though I wouldn’t mind running 3:30). Instead, I’m wondering if I’ll be able to take pictures of everything I want during the race.

I’ve never run a race with the intention of taking photos along the way, but the photographer in me just can’t let this opportunity pass by without at least trying to snap some shots along the way. Of course, the runner in me — the one who would love to break off a 3:30 tomorrow morning) — is worried that the photographer will get carried away and negatively impact my race. It’s a distinct possibility.

To be clear, the tough part isn’t taking the pictures, it’s composing them, as I learned during a couple recent training runs. I brought my camera along with me during my last two long runs, hoping to get a feel for how this whole “photorunning” thing would go in Tokyo. Each time, I wound up stopping for too many pictures (see samples above and below), which took me out of rhythm and gave my body time to cool down. Not good, especially when you’re running 26.2 miles. Muscles don’t need any help to tire out and tighten up during a marathon, but that’s exactly what will happen if I don’t exercise some control tomorrow. After touring the course today, I have a general idea of the things I’d like to shoot; the key will be sticking to my plan and not getting greedy. Wish me luck. (The race starts at 7:10pm EST Saturday evening, for those who are curious.)

I’ll be posting some photos from the trip (I’ve taken more than 400 so far) as well as a recap of the experience on bloggerful and some other fun stuff in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.


2011 Faves: The Instagram Collection, part 1

Posted: January 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Creativity, Features, Mobile pics, Photo essays, Photography | Tags: , , | No Comments »

I first started screwing around with a camera about nine years ago, after my daughter was born. I was instantly hooked, in large part because Emma was (and still is) extremely photogenic, but despite that immediate appeal, I didn’t get serious about photography until last year. Several different factors played a role in the launch of Windowsill Photography, but in hindsight, the most important one may have been my discovery of an awesome iPhone app called Instagram.

To quote the website, Instagram is “a fast, beautiful and fun way to share your life with friends through a series of pictures. It’s photo sharing, reinvented.” Instagram users snap away on their phones, choose from all sorts of in-app filters to transform the look and feel of their original photos, and then upload the finished products to Instagram so the community can see them, “like” them, comment on them and/or follow the photographers whose work they enjoy. I’ve described it as Facebook for photographers, which may be an easy comparison, but it’s also a suitable one.

I started slowly, uploading a photo here and there under the username “i_am_mine” (a Pearl Jam reference), but by the end of the first week, I was uploading several photos a day and building a nice little following along the way. More importantly, I was inspired to shoot more and more photos with my phone, looking for interesting pics I could share with this budding community. I also loved looking through other photographers’ work and following some of my favorites, which pushed me to shoot more and more of my own photos. I took more pictures in my first two months on Instagram than I had in the previous two years combined. Easily. It was amazing to watch the Instagram community grow over time and exciting to be contributing to its development in my own little way.

I don’t post on Instagram much these days, mainly because I’m finding it harder and harder to carve out time for it, but I’ll never forget the impact it had on my life. It offered me an up-close look at just how beautiful this medium can be and instilled the confidence I needed to take an overdue leap of faith. To show some love for Instagram and hopefully introduce some folks to its awesomeness, I wanted to post a few of my favorite photos from my Instagram feed. All of these were taken in 2011 with an iPhone 4. Look for another set of Instagram faves down the road.


Hanging (literally) at the Whole Day Café

Posted: January 23rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Couples, Creativity, Family, Photo essays, Photographers, Photography, Windowsill Photography | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

The toughest part about any creative endeavor is putting your work out there for other people to see. It’s both exciting and terrifying, hoping what you’ve created will connect with your audience, wondering if they’ll see what you see in your work. Hopefully, you’ll hear enough nice things from enough people to take a leap and display some of your talent.

I was honored to put a few of my photos up in an artist showcase at the Whole Day Café (101 High Street) in the center of Wadsworth, OH, just down the road from our house. The pictures — 10 total — will be hanging through the end of February, so be sure to stop by for a helping of Windowsill Photography along with your morning coffee or tasty lunch (try the southwest wrap or the Sandwich of the Month). The showcase also allowed us an opportunity to display two of our premium product offerings: canvas wraps (20×30 and 16×24) and standout prints (all 8×10).

Have a project you haven’t worked up the courage to tackle yet? Maybe it’s time to just close your eyes and jump on in!