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I walked through the fallen leaves on a bright & brisk morning. I came across the field and walked the pathway toward it remembering my first visit many years and a lifetime ago. Back then, I was overwhelmed with emotion because the monument itself was beautiful, unique, powerful. I remember I had stopped in my tracks after it came into view. Masterfully created, mindfully placed.
Sacrifice finally recognized.

While I thought I knew what to expect having visited the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, DC before, the emotion hit me harder and more deeply this day. Perspective broadened, time passed, gratitude carved into my soul.

58,286 names etched into black granite.
Each name belongs. A son, a brother, a father, a friend.
The youngest name belongs to a 15 year old who lied about his age.
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The memorial is a somber place standing out among the white marble momuments and tributes that surround it. The intention of the black granite surface is to reflect the trees and sky and the people who come to visit.
A place to grieve. A place to remember.

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Tributes are carried to The Wall and left behind usually with tears of grief and sadness. A burden of the survivors. Flowers, letters, emblems of friendship and memories. A brand new Harley Davidson motorcycle — a gift to an only child from his dad, was left at the wall to honor the son who would never get to ride it.

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The commitment continues to bring each one home to be buried in the United States.
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Near each name is a small symbol:
a diamond means they are accounted for
+ symbolizes they have not been recovered and are still missing.
As the remains are discovered and returned home, the + is etched
into a diamond.
The + will be etched into a circle when, and if, they return alive.

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small gesture

In this big world, it’s the small things. One small gesture of human kindness speaks volumes to the heart.

Hollywood screen writers could make this stuff up, but it means so much more when it’s unprompted & genuine.

My son was ten when we moved half way across the country. Honestly, I was more concerned with my 13 year old daughter finding friends. My son was the one who would reach out to the underdog, befriend the new kid, listen patiently to the quiet one in class and was completely stunned when he found himself as that new kid without an ally. The course of events in a growing school district meant while new schools were being built, my son had the ‘opportunity’ to attend 4th thru 7th grades in different schools (one change due to our move).

The first day of another new school transition into 7th grade, he came home with a smile in his voice and said, “I finally found someone who speaks my language!”  His language — drums. The boys talked drums and everything drumming, evaluating every rock band, drumming style, equipment set up and dreams of a big stage. High school finds two friends who enjoy the peaks & endure the valleys of finding out who they are, what they need from the world and continue a mutual respect of each other’s skills. Drumming connects them again, still.

The year of high school “lasts” has to happen to find their way into the big world.

They’ve played in the jazz band for the Jazz Dance for years. An incredible evening of music that hundreds of parents, grandparents, siblings and friends enjoy. These two kids alternate playing the drum set throughout the evening. The last song starts with my son on the set, the final song of the night, the last song of their years together as jazz drummers. The four hour evening rapidly coming to a close with the next down beat.

My son starts in with both hands & both feet moving with some innate, remarkable ability, dynamics known only to drummers. What I saw next humbled me. My son handed his extra sticks to his friend standing on the edge of the stage and nodded toward the cymbal…the slight nod of encouragement to, yes, you have to play, yes, now.

They speak the same language.

I ask him about it, his reply, a slight lift of one shoulder, its no big deal, mom. The small gesture spoke volumes to my heart.


a difference

Give Kids a Smile 2014

Give Kids a Smile 2014

Sometimes I have an opportunity to watch something really amazing.
I saw over one hundred volunteers work together to Give Kids A Smile…
107 kids to be exact.

Hundreds of hours were put in before the day even began. Scheduling the facility, generous donations, organizing & planning for mobile X-ray equipment, dental instruments, dentists, dental professionals, volunteers to escort the children – I could go on.

I had the opportunity to document the day. What I saw was incredible.
As a photographer, every place I looked was a photo opportunity – honestly, the lighting inside a gymnasium isn’t the best for photographs…but what I did see was a lot of kindness, a little nervousness and some fairly big smiles. As a mother, I saw kids getting a better chance. Some children had never seen a dentist for one reason or another. Some were here from countries where an annual visit to a dentist isn’t heard of. Some were local with out the privilege of dental insurance. The chance to be pulled up thru the cracks in society where a smile can be so valuable.

With a friendly face at check-in, a volunteer escorted each child to the mobile x-ray station where dental professionals waited to triage each patient based on the initial exam. Next stop: the tooth brushing arena. Education and hands-on brushing with some laughter on the side. The kids had to walk past the party area – a treat when their dental work is complete. A local entertainer showed off his juggling skills, a librarian read stories to younger children, and Miss Wisconsin & Miss Wisconsin Teen arrived & anxiety went away!

Dentists, hygienists, a variety of health professionals & administrators worked magic (and dental procedures, of course) on over one hundred kids that day. It was hard to capture with my camera what I felt in my heart. A kid knows when his or her smile doesn’t look or smell good. They know when there’s pain and might be afraid to tell someone. I saw hesitation then courage when getting into the chair and I also saw kindness and human kindness – a gloved hand reaching out to a clenched fist and holding the hand, I saw a gentle pat on a shoulder, ‘you’re doing great’.

Incredibly heart-warming when a kid was finished and flashed a genuine smile (sometimes still numb) feeling good about themselves.



‘You may encounter many defeats,
but you must not be defeated.
In fact, it may be necessary
to encounter the defeats, so you
can know who you are,
what you can rise from,
how you can still
come out of it’
~Maya Angelou

This is from a high school football game. Giving up wasn’t an option.

Oconomowoc High School
Oconomowoc, WI
11-0 season

Photo: MacKenzie Valley


I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery – air, mountains, trees, people.
I thought “this is what it is to be happy”
~Sylvia Plath

A sense of community is a powerful feeling.
I could imagine it might grow old, having people around you all the time, who have known you your entire life. When I have the wonderful, yet rare moments to share the present with people who have known me as a child and have watched me grow it feels very much like home.

Our parents laughed, cried and created memories together during a lifetime of summers. Carving out a legacy. Several of us, reunited over the years, carry on the legacy and nurture the bond of a passing generation. Exchanges and laughter, updates and photos keep us current in each other’s lives.

Sometimes I walk down the dirt road, as I have thousands of times in my life, and hum the theme song from the TV show “Cheers”. I relate to “where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came”.

My sense of community~
Value Cherish Honor Enjoy Home