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  1. May
    07

    TOPIC: Duo Sessions.

    The Adventures of Izzy and Bela

    I count myself lucky to say that at every job I’ve had, I have always met at least one person who turned out to be a close friend well after the job was over.  I might be fudging on the Mole Hole a little bit, because my friend Dorothy and I applied for that job together in high school and spent many long hours dusting the pewter case and beheading unwanted Beanie Babies.  At my college job at Saint Francis Hospital, I met my friend Jennifer, with whom I shared an office while she was expecting her second daughter.  I always considered it a point of pride that when Becca wasn’t a fan of most people, she was always cool with me.  In Pittsburgh, my first job at UPMC South Side introduced me to my beloved “Uncle Joey,” aka Joanna.  And of course, at my current job there are any number of wonderful friends, but especially my twu wuv Laura.

    There was one year in college when I wasn’t working at the hospital, and that year I was doing an internship at FedEx. The division I worked for was sort of a stealth group of ghost writers who produced bid packages for multi-million dollar accounts that FedEx was attempting to secure.  This was a sweet gig, first of all because it paid twice what I made at the hospital, and also because once they realized I was pretty sharp at catching grammatical errors they let me start being creative and writing some of my own bids.  However, the place was notoriously feast or famine: one day there’d be nothing to do but search for things to attack with the label-maker, and the next day we’d be there for 14 hours because we’d print 20 copies of a 300-page document and then realize every page had a header with “RFQ” instead of “RFP.”  This crucial error, I believe, is the true meaning behind the phrase “Mind your Ps and Qs.”

    Silvia and meIt was on a third consecutive day of famine that I met Silvia.  I do not do downtime well; the thought of taking a day off with no plans kind of makes my teeth chatter.  So there I was, alone in the room with the printer, having a quick cry because I was so bored I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through the day (DRAMA), when one of the vice presidents walked in to give our newest employee a tour.  I am sure I slunk off in embarrassment, but Silvia didn’t hold it against me and it wasn’t long before we were watching soap operas in the breakroom at lunch.  “All My Children” was good that summer, yo…at least until the return of Ryan Lavery.  What a waste of pecs that character was/is (I understand he is still around and has since romanced Erica Kane herself, although it’s been a while since I could stomach that show).

    But what really made Silvia my pal for life was a little thing called Hurricane Elvis.  In July 2003, my alarm woke me up in the morning, and I hit snooze as always.  When it went back off again, it was accompanied by an insane howling wind.  The storm only lasted a few minutes, but the wind reached 100mph and the entire city was a disaster area.  We lost power immediately, and save for a one-hour period later that night before our street’s utility pole literally burst into flames, we were without power for the next seven days.  After one nightmare evening at my grandparents’, I happily accepted Silvia’s offer to stay with her and her husband Helder in their electrically-functioning house.  That was the beginning of many lovely evenings of home-cooked meals and movies, which I grew so fond of that “Silvia’s kitchen” was near the top of my list of things I’d miss most when I moved to Pittsburgh.

    And while I can never go back to that kitchen because Silvia and Helder have moved to Fort Lauderdale, I can now go to their new kitchen AND to the beach!  And they have two insanely beautiful daughters, Isabel (almost 4) and Anabela (almost 2), better known as Izzy and Bela.  Izzy is like a tiny, adorable Jungle Jack Hanna and is always catching lizards or dragonflies, or on my most recent visit last month, a basil-devouring caterpillar she named Pillow.  Bela is a total sweetie who magically morphed into a chatterbox between my last visit in September and this one, and would happily give me a “Hey, Elissa!” when I sat down for breakfast in the morning.

    So naturally I like to chase them around with the camera, as does Silvia, who is also a wonderful photographer (and a seriously awesome knitter).  Here are a few shots from last month at Deerfield Beach and on the playground.  Oh, and you get a good look at Pillow for good measure too.  :)

    Special bonus tidbit!  I decided for fun to go back and read my account of Hurricane Elvis from when it actually happened, and here’s an exchange from my grandparents during the “Everybody Argues About Sleeping Arrangements for Three Hours” debacle:

    Fella would prefer not to sleep with Granny, since she evidently throws a midnight tantrum if he turns the light on before walking to the bathroom.  (Granny: “There was a time when I couldn’t keep you away from me.”  Fella: “Yes, there was.  But those days are through.”)

    I love them.

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  2. Apr
    18

    TOPIC: Personal.

    Different every day

    This past winter was a rough one around these parts.  February alone dumped 48.7 inches of snow, the all-time most for a single month in Pittsburgh.  I thanked the universe for waiting for me to move up north to start smashing snow records and pouted into my 900th bowl of soup.  Perhaps the lowest point was the third weekday of being snowed in, when I’d tweeted all I could possibly say about how darn white the parks were and was getting bona fide cabin fever.  First my lamp blew a fuse.  Then, trying to cheer myself up in the best way I know how (baking cookies), I got out my mixer only to find that one of the beaters was no longer interested in locking into place.  And without both beaters, the bowl was no longer interested in turning.  There would be no cookies.  There would be no light.  There would, instead, be a giant tantrum.

    So, having kicked and screamed my way through the month and a half it took for all the snow to melt, I was thrilled that spring decided to come a little early this year.  The daffodils started popping up at least two weeks before they had in 2009, as if to say “All right, enough already.  You guys actually deserve your spring cheer this year.”

    I never really noticed how amazing spring is until a few years ago, after what at the time I thought had been a hard winter.  Since winter is a couple of months longer in Pittsburgh than in Memphis, by March I had an almost physical need to see new leaves.  So I started noticing new buds, started learning that cherry trees bloom before redbuds, and tulips before peonies, and all the tiny little things that change so quickly.  Spring is different every day, and that’s why it’s the time of year when I try to be outside almost constantly, catching it all before everything turns a monochromatic green.  Here’s what I’ve seen so far.

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  3. Apr
    13

    TOPIC: Personal.

    A Day in the Life: Centennial Olympic Park

    Last week I headed to Atlanta for the Nonprofit Technology Conference, which was held at the Omni CNN Center right across from Centennial Olympic Park.  This was pretty cool because as a 13-year-old, I was OBSESSED with the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.  Astute followers of my Project 365 may recall that I fashioned a 77-page binder with clippings, illustrations, and yes, my own unabridged musings about the whole thing.  This ranged from the stunning physique of Russian gymnast Alexei Nemov to the manic stylings of sprinter Michael Johnson, to yes…that timeless moment when Bela told Kerri Strug to shake it off.  My binder gives a whole recap of how I totally cried, and cried some more.  There’s also a LOT of Bob Costas.

    So it was pretty cool for me to actually visit the scene personally all these years later, especially now that I work for a park organization and can see the space from that perspective too.  And I have to say, I really enjoyed my time in the park.  The etchings in the ground of people playing different Olympic sports in particular were a nice touch, as were the lights that emulated the shape of the torch.  It was smaller than I expected for something that had once welcomed the whole world, but very well used, which is always the mark of a good park.

    And the best used aspect of all was the spray fountain.  I came back multiple times on Saturday during breaks from sessions and again before going back to the hotel for the night, and there were always people jumping around in it.  I also enjoyed watching the kids run roughshod around the tasting room at World of Coca-Cola, and though I didn’t make it to the Georgia Aquarium I’m sure it was just as packed as every other space around it.

    My souvenir from the trip, since the line at World of Coca-Cola was too obscenely long for me to purchase my coveted Grape Fanta Lip Smacker (yes, a part of me apparently is still 13), is a mini day in the life photo look at Centennial Olympic Park.  Hopefully teenage me would have enjoyed it.

    Dogwoods in Bloom

    Dogwoods in Bloom

    Flags Waving

    Flags Waving

    The spray fountain puts on a show

    The spray fountain puts on a show.

    Whee!

    Whee!

    World of Coca-Cola

    World of Coca-Cola

    John Pemberton

    Augustus J. Cocacola, founder of Coke.

    Fencing

    What’s a day without a little fencing?

    Busy fountain

    Busy fountain

    No flinching!

    No flinching!

    Skipping through the spray

    Skipping through the spray

    Night falls

    Night falls

    Good night Atlanta.

    Good night Atlanta.

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  4. Apr
    12

    TOPIC: Family Sessions.

    Oldies but Goodies

    Since I’m starting this blog right here in April 2010, I figure that the posts should focus on things that are happening…well, right now.  But I didn’t want to lose a way to post some past photos that I liked.  Hence: this oldies but goodies post that features some of my favorite past portraits.*  Thanks to Paul and Joanie; Erin and the rest of the Copelands; Joanna, Jonathan, and Julia; Mel and Phil; Stephanie and Sierra; Laura; Kenny; Mom; Liz, Phil, and Ty; Jim; Shelby and Chris; and my canine friends Penny, Colbie, and Panda.  Hopefully you’ll see some of these folks in future posts!  Just click on the big photo below to open it up, and then click through the images via the handy Next button.

    * OK, the actual reason is that I would have given these each their own gallery and archived them somewhere, but I’m pretty sure this otherwise-brilliant blogging platform doesn’t allow for that, and I don’t have the technical savvy to hack it.  So I’m making it work this way!

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  5. Apr
    07

    TOPIC: Personal.

    Here’s to it…

    “Here’s to it, and here’s for it, and here’s to it again / If you don’t do it while you’re up to it, you may never do it again!”

    In high school my grandma and I had a ritual.  Every couple of weeks I’d head over to her house with an enormous boombox and a couple of Frank Sinatra CDs, and she’d “break out the bubbly” so we could sip while we listened.  The bubbly in this case was a bottle of Welch’s sparkling grape juice obtained at Fred’s (The Friendly Store, Where the Dollar Buys More).  We’d decide between dark, moody Frank of the “One for My Baby” variety or happy, swingin’ Frank in the “You Make Me Feel So Young” vein, and then we’d ask my grandpa (more commonly known as Fella) if he wanted to listen to Frank with us.  His response was generally along the lines of “Do you want to see me break into a cold sweat?”  Not a Frank lover, my grandpa.  Then we’d crack open the bubbly, and she’d come out with that toast every time.

    Other things that happened every time: her hilariously faithful “da-hooey, da-hooey” on “Blues in the Night,” her blissful look when one of her old wartime favorites started playing, and her recounting of the day my grandpa said to her, “You know we’re going to get married, right?” and she responded with “I’ve known that a lot longer than you have!”  At the time I thought maybe she was just forgetting that she had already told me that story, but as time went on I realized that it just made her happy to go back to that day, and the music was bringing her back to a moment that was 50 years old but felt like yesterday.

    The Fam

    My mom, my grandparents, my cousin Stephen, and me last Christmas

    Five years ago, I was sitting on my front porch swing during that bizarre year I actually lived in a house with a swing, and my mom called to tell me that the reason my grandma hadn’t been “herself” lately was now official: Alzheimer’s.  It wasn’t a huge surprise given how hard simple tasks had become for her, but it was still a huge blow because it meant there was no way she would ever get better.  And of course, she hasn’t–even on her best days, most of what she says is nonsense, but we’ve all noticed something we never saw before: my grandma has an incredibly expressive face.  Even if we can’t understand the words coming out of her mouth, we know exactly what she means because we’ve seen those expressions before.  The disease has taken away her memory, her command of language (she used to write poetry that makes me cry, and my general antipathy toward poetry is well-known), and even the names of the people she loves the most, but in its one stroke of mercy it didn’t take away who she is.  She still lights up when she sees any one of us (especially my grandpa), still has a way with a sarcastic shake of the head, and still loves to sing (gleefully out of tune).

    Lately I’ve felt like I’m at a sort of crossroads in life–trying to figure out what and where I want to be in the long term.  It’s the reason why I’m starting this site, which I’m intending to be both a blog and a photo portfolio (as well as a place to consolidate all the stuff I’ve left lying around the Internet…seriously, I’m kinda not a fan of the spotlight and I feel like I’m dominating Google for my name, which bugs me.  I think the massage therapist version of Melissa McMasters probably deserves some more play).  Hopefully there’ll be photos of all kinds, but I’m mostly interested at this point in people–expressions, if you will.  So when I was thinking about what to call the site (or my little “business” of photo-taking), I thought back to my grandma’s toast, about how there’s no sense in wasting time, and how glad I am that I had all the time with her that I did, because I’m not me without her, as sentimental as that sounds.  And hey, what better way than naming a blog for them can you pay tribute to someone who has never accessed the Internet, right?  Right?

    So…cheers.

    * Many thanks also must go to my mom for the blog header image, which had her lying on her back toasting herself (with Welch’s sparkling grape juice, no less!) at the Schenley Park Overlook.  She is a champ.

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