Saturday, October 29, 2016

Fall Photoshoot

In the waning days of fall... before the winter winds blow and the snow falls, we FINALLY got a family photoshoot.

I say FINALLY because I'm always convinced I can shoot one myself and Suzi is convinced that I can't. It's very difficult for me to not DIY it... I mean, I'm a shooter at heart. I love taking pictures. I've got all the gear. All we have to do is set up the camera and I'll fire it off with a remote.


So... So not right. For anyone who's struggled to get a selfie framed just right, you know my frustration. The back and forth to the camera for "just one more shot; if you can tilt your head this way..." Those endeavors usually end in tears. And Cooper's not too happy, either.

Take it from experience... It just doesn't work to do your own shoots.

And so finally one of us (specifically Suzi) said, "I've scheduled a photoshoot." To my surprise, it was great. I had to completely disconnect all creative thought and let Erin White make the calls. She met us at a spot she scouted before, she brought props and provided direction. In 30 minutes we had our shoot done and less than a week later, Erin sent the digital copies of our pictures.

Easy Peasy...

So here's
my quickie review:
Erin's is a classically-trained, part-time shooter (meaning she's got a day job) with an eye for light-hearted creative flair. She'll quickly connect with her client and work fast to get your product turned around. Pricing is very reasonable. Two thumbs up!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

We Make Traffic Stops, too...

In Suzi's position at MACC, she gets to work with a number of very cool people and the industries they teach; from nursing to welding to IT to electronics and robots. She also supports LETC.

Each semester, the Law Enforcement Training Academy takes 20 or so folks from a variety of backgrounds and skill levels, puts them through 700+ hours of training and, once they pass the state of Missouri's Peace Officer Standards & Training exam, spits out work-ready police officers, Granted, there's still a lot of on-the-job training that happens and that amount varies from department to department.

LETC works closely with area police departments to make sure their curriculum matches the needs of the communities in which these officers will be serving. They also want community members to understand the complicated jobs officers shoulder every day. And that's how Suzi and I ended up on the front page of the local paper doing "traffic stops" in the parking lot.

Over the past two weeks, we've spent time in a Moberly PD cruiser, doing ride-alongs with officers on assignment and in the classroom doing simulations. Read the story for more details... but I can tell you now, we don't appreciate our officers enough.

I know, this is a sensitive subject right now in social and mainstream media. American officers are under unbelievable scrutiny for the ill-advised actions of some, the mistakes of others, and the simple misunderstanding of the public about what these officers deal with on a daily basis.

In our scenarios, we approached the vehicles with no idea of what we would encounter. It mirrored my experience in the cruiser, as well. Each traffic stop was a complete unknown, was this individual going to cooperate or try to assault us? The officer I rode along with was much more concerned with the safety of the drivers he stopped than with punitive consequences he could dole out. Excessive speed makes it harder for you to stop in an emergency. Wearing that seatbelt will save your life.  Each request for information was not an inquisition, but a check to see if bad guys were out on the street. Simple cooperation led to an easy conversation and quick resolution, with everyone safely on their way.

After Suzi went through the paces, it was my turn to wear the utility belt, step out of the vehicle and into a simulated traffic stop. All I was supposed to find out was why they had driven off without paying for gas. Their car and plate matched the description I received. So, was it mistake? Did they think their card worked at the pump? I asked for license and registration; confirmed the car's owner was in front of me and tried to ignore the driver recording my every action with his phone. I soon became concerned with a pile of clothes in the backseat that seemed to move. Who else was in the car?  Did they pose a threat to me? Am I about to die out here?

Suddenly, a routine stop became chaotic. The driver had told me he was alone. When I challenged him, asking what was in the backseat, the back door burst open and hooded male leaped from the vehicle, racing off into the darkness. Where should my attention be? On the driver who was still recording me? Or on the runner, who had now disappeared? I requested back up, trying to search the area around me, but keep my eye on the driver and question him.  And then the scenario changed completely:

"Hey, does this thing have 4-wheel drive?"

The hooded figure had returned and was standing behind me at my unlocked vehicle's door!

Do I pull my weapon? Where was backup? How much more confusion could my mind contain? Thankfully, at that moment, the trainers called off the scenario and we began to debrief. I had only been onscene for two minutes.

What I'm discovering is that there are a dizzying array of scenarios, statutes, training options, and concerns swirling through the officer's head at any given moment. As one officer related, one moment you could be casually driving through a neighborhood waving a kids and then next be on a loose dog call or headed to a robbery in progress. While this may be some of the job's appeal, each day, each hour, each moment holds a completely new or different circumstance. The officer has to maintain that "Ready" position for 12 hours.

Sometimes, you're just "letting the car do the talking." In other words, law enforcement just being seen in an area can be enough of a deterrent to crime. You're also waiting for the bad guys to become active. Contrary to what may be some folks' perspective, the law is very tight on what an office can do proactively; it's mostly a reactive position; someone speeds, they're stopped; break into house, get arrested.  I'm finding that we as community members are more responsible for the proactive work to keeping our city safe. Neighbors looking out for each other. Families working out internal problems and asking for help early before a domestic issue becomes a 911 call.

I'm surprised at the level of communication the officers want with community members, as well.  The more we know about their job, the better we understand how to interact with them. I've found myself driving more intentionally over the past week because I don't want them wasting their time on something stupid I've done.  At the end of the shift, the officers have punched their card to keep us safe for the same reason we all go to work; everyone wants to just get home and spend time with their families.

And I appreciate that.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Branding Yourself

After visiting a friend's house a few weeks ago, I got a text that their daughter had pointed to a bottle on the counter and said, "Look, Scott left something here."

It was not my bottle... it was her mom's bottle.

Know why she thought it was mine?

Branding, baby...


See, I've been carrying a reusable bottle (usually stocked with some variation of sweet tea) for years; starting back when we were living in Prague in 2004-05.  At first, I was all about SIGG bottles, but then I switched to Kleen Kanteen and there's an entry about that.

Now, it's ubiquitous. Just over 4 years later, we've got... (please hold while I run downstairs to count them)... 17 of them. And that doesn't count my fave white one I left at TSA in STL on my way to somewhere. Insulated, non-insulated, caps, lids, growlers to bottles to canisters... Kleen Kanteen is our bottle of choice. We've even had them vinyl-wrapped for when we travel (thanks to Russ at AD&B).

So, as long as that little girl's been alive, she's seen me with a Kleen Kanteen. Here's the kicker, we don't have the same color or size of her mom's Kanteen. BUT, it's got the logo. And that's what she saw.

And that's all it took to connect that bottle to me.

As soon as I got her text, I immediately thought, "If Kleen Kanteen's my bottle brand, what else am I branding myself as?"

We all have personalities; a brand identity, be they loud or quiet, that we project. It's how we react to the world around us. So, what's your brand? Is it brash, polite, helpful, selfish, open, closed, the list could on and on. Certainly, the shrinks will tell us that our identity varies from what we think we are to what others perceive us as.

Now I'm gonna preach for a minute to the Christians.  What are you projecting on the walls of the lives around you? Are you reflecting His love and compassion or do you simply see the exterior issues and grievances and shut off that Light? Our personality is hardwired, but how we use those innate traits to display His Brand to those around us is a choice we make daily. (Check out Jesus' command about our own cross in Luke 9:23.) The first time the term Christian was used was in Antioch in Acts 11. Our brand name originated because there was distinct connection made by the people of that city to how the followers of Christ acted.

What's your brand of Christianity saying about your Jesus? And is it strong enough that someone else can recognize it?

Monday, February 29, 2016

V-Day Boxes: Rants & Confessions

It started long before Cooper's first day of school. When I witnessed my first modern Valentine's Day box a few years ago, I was, in a word... appalled.

I could NOT believe the effort these parents put into their kids' boxes.

These were simply to collect paper Valentines! The ones with little candies taped to them!

Life-sized cut-outs. Animatronics. Coordinating prizes. Some required their own life support system.

I was astounded. And adamant that MY son would not be taken in by these sideshow clowns. What was wrong with a simple brown bag, decorated in Art class on the afternoon before the Valentine's Day party with red construction paper hearts and cheap, pink ribbons?  It worked fine for all of us back in the day, right?!

So, in January, we started discussing The Box. Cooper was pretty clear it had to be a pirate ship, but not like his scrappy preschool box. The ship needed a deck. Clearly.

And THAT was all it took.

I want to say I questioned my intentions when I started mentally sketching out the design, laying awake at night, staring into the darkness, the Flying Dutchman floating above me, its hold nearly bursting with a booty of cute cards and cheap trinkets.

But I didn't.

Even when Suzi asked innocently about the need for a crow's nest, I couldn't be deterred. I had become a man obsessed. This would be the fastest ship to sail the ocean of Love, with clean lines and a spacious hold below decks.

In the end, it turned out pretty cool. Although lacking basic creature comforts like poop deck or figurehead above the prow, there was a secret door, accessed by pulling the rudder that opened into the hold; and a woven rope baluster of sorts; and a custom sail proclaiming "Cooper's Jolly Hearts" (his idea, not mine!). Cooper got to try out his hand with the finish nailer to lay the bamboo decking (leftover flooring scraps from a previous project). A little fun creative side note: after laying the keel, I couldn't come up with a quick fix to cover the hull, so I used brown rubber stair tread to simulate wooden planks.

The best part? That was when Suzi left the party that afternoon and had to run the gauntlet of teachers eyeing the beast of a box she was lugging out the door.

"My... that's a... big ship," she heard one say.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Sasha Hlavac: One Year Later

  Just over a year ago we lost Suzi's mom, Sasha Hlavac.
  Sasha grew up in humble surroundings in a far corner of Prague, Czech Republic, blanketed by geopolitical turmoil that history would come to call the Nazi Era and then the Cold War. Her father owned a small coal shop in the ground floor of their apartment. During the Communist regime it was taken away from him, forcing the family, which grew to include two younger brothers, Karel and Pavel, to live on very meager means. Her mother died when Sasha was in her early 20s.
Her father’s years as a small business owner meant the family faced governmental discrimination. In spite of this, Sasha graduated at the top of her class in nursing school and went to work as a Registered Nurse. A family friend worked connections to place her in a high-level government hospital. On June 24, 1961, she married Jan Hlavac, moving into a single room in his family’s apartment building.
  For the next few years, they worked and, as many Czechs, traveled in the restricted areas behind the Iron Curtain: camping, skiing, and hiking. Then the revolution of 1968 shook the small country. Soviet tanks rolled into their city, crushing the revolt and sealing in their hearts the desire to escape.
 It took nearly a year to solidify their plans. In the end, they packed two suitcases for a “ski-trip” in Switzerland. Instead of hitting the slopes, they requested asylum when their plane landed in Austria and spent three months as refugees, working their way through a bureaucratic tangle toward freedom. They knew Jan’s sister had settled in a small Missouri town and that was to be their stepping stone, a brief layover as they headed west toward the familiarity of the mountains.
  But a few months after their arrival in May 1969, they found jobs, and then they bought a trailer at Riley’s on Highway 24, followed by the birth of Lucy, and then Suzi, and the purchase of their first house.
  And they stayed.
  Sasha’s nursing skills transferred into Moberly’s Community Hospital. She worked intensely for months to grasp enough English to once again pass state boards and re-acquire her Registered Nurse license. Eventually, she was back at her place in the operating room.
  Sasha was always a nurse first. It was at her core. She had no tolerance for those who were sloppy or uncaring. Throughout the years, doctors requested her for surgeries. Some would not even operate unless she was there. After Community, she worked long shifts at Woodland Hospital and later at Moberly Regional Medical Center. At 72, she was still working one day a week at the North Central Surgical Center, doing what she knew and loved best, until she finally retired in 2011. Even her volunteer hours, starting in 1999, were spent in health care at HomeCare of Mid-Missouri Hospice. Unfortunately, Sasha also knew the other side of the operating room, surviving a serious diagnosis of breast cancer in 2005, which left her weakened for her remaining years.

  She went along with Jan’s ingenious plans that often involved solar panels, rolls of duct tape or Sasha somehow squeezed into a crawl space, repairing plumbing he couldn’t reach. After her first rainy, sleepless night in a floorless tent with Jan, she adopted his love for the outdoors and every vacation was spent in a campground or state park.
  In spite of all of the antics she put up with from Jan, his loss in 2009 was devastating. Jan filled every part of her life and those spaces were very empty for Sasha in his absence. So she learned how to email and Skype, staying connected to her European family. She successfully took up the daunting task of managing the physical house and the finances.
  Mother’s Day 2014, brought a twist in her story she never expected. The strokes and subsequent infections took her from the refuge her house had always been. With the exception of a few short hours on Christmas Eve, she never returned home. However, just as in previous chapters of her life, at every turn she left a path doctors, nurses, therapists and acquaintances who grew to love her dearly. She passed away at Meadowridge Estates on January 17, 2015. She was 76.
  In coming to America, Sasha had to leave behind all she knew – her family, friends and co-workers; the comforts of the places she frequented; and a familia culture that surrounded her. In all her years here, she took care of others, sent presents and items to her Czech family and friends, and left a trail of kindnesses: a Lindt chocolate, a small gift, something for every holiday or a Czech Christmas ornament.
  The story of Sasha is more about the rest of the family than about her. When her girls were young, she wanted them to be happy and play for hours – which she did not get to do growing up. She sacrificed so much, so her girls could have the things she did not. She polished shoes, hung laundry out to dry, prepared salads for summer lunches, celebrated birthdays with matching hats and tablecloths in the backyard. You could never leave her house without something in hand, even if it was a bag of crackers. And she could never leave your house without leaving something behind.
  We mean every time.
  Sasha deeply loved her grandchildren and a day at Babi’s always included more candy, ice cream, high-fructose corn syrup and TV than parents allowed. Her concerns for her daughters often centered around food, sleep and warm clothing. Some of her last words to them were of their well-being.
  Throughout these last months, Sasha would say that she just wanted to run. And to be home, in her place of comfort.
  Sasha; mom; Babi... we wish you were still hiking through the woods or dropping off a random package of love. We miss you and love you so very much!

  Hugs and kisses, a dobro noc!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ludmila "Ata" Munroe Memorial

If you knew her, as many of those over 50 certainly do around these parts, you knew there was something distinctly different emanating from that small frame. I met her much later in life, after the Drink and the weather had taken its toll on both her mind and her teeth. Still... such an imposing personality, perched on my father-in-law's back porch, holding forth on any subject with wit and unabashed self-confidence; not caring one iota if she was rewriting history in one sentence and contradicting herself in the next. 

Known simply as "Munroe" to many, I knew her by her Czech familial nickname (it seems all Czechs have two names), born of my connection by marriage. Ata was certainly crazy as a loon, yet, in turns, compassionate and thoughtful of others; bringing by books that reminded her of you, albeit rescued from some garbage pit. 

The most interesting piece of this human puzzle for me is the years from 1963-1970 that she spent at MACC, teaching Literature, English and sponsoring various clubs. She brought miming to Moberly and hosted an annual fundraiser called the Bizarre Bazaar. I've sat in her old classroom, now an office suite, trying to connect the Aunt Ata I knew with the Ludmila who chaperoned trips to avant-garde theater. Sadly, it's difficult.

So, we celebrate the life and legacy of Ludmila H. "Ata" Munroe, on the one-year anniversary of her passing; Sunday, Oct. 26th, 5 to 7 p.m. at the 4th Street Theatre in downtown Moberly. Leave your brown-bagged bottle at home in memory of her as refreshments will be served. Be sure to bring your memories; we've all got plenty to share.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Turnin' Wrenches with Dad

Cooper came back from a recent birthday party with one thing in mind... He needed something. He'd driven the birthday boy's 12-volt 4-wheeler all night long and was hooked.

I did my obligatory, hours-long reviews of Fisher Price, Peg Perego, etc and we popped the question... Did he want to use some of his birthday money and buy his own?

I'd trade nearly every second of footage I've shot over the past 4 years for that one response. Roll every 16 year-old in the county into that blond-haired, 42" frame. Now tell 'em you've brought home the hottest muscle-car-du-jour with their name on the plate.

There were rainbows shooting out his ears and skittles sprouting at his feet. His world just lit up like Christmas.

Fast-forward 22 hours or so. Cooper & I sit down for dinner, the convo turns to his big purchase and becomes quite revealing...

"Dad, I don't want a 4-wheeler any more. I want a car."


"Because I changed my mind. That's all."


And that was it. He changed his mind. A car it was to be.

We set a price limit. He could pick anything under it. We went that night to the Stuff-Mart and came home with a massive box of parts. He was adamant. He had to help put it together with me. The next afternoon we went to work. Just a dad and his son, turnin' wrenches and swattin' 'skeeters in the garage.

He did alright for the most part; handing me screws, scattering parts around the floor, and manning the drill. Just a side-note: in the instructions it specifically stresses not to involve children in the assembly process. The manufacture should add:

"Doing so will extend your construction time by a minimum of 45 minutes."

But it's a quality 45 minutes when he breaks out that new Blue Steel look.

I'm headed out right now to put on the stickers... we didn't waste time on that the first night. The test run was far more important than aesthetics. The first thing he tackled was The Big Hill in the lot next door.

Went straight for it; no hesitation. And he conquered it.