Apple Dumplings, Root Beer Saloon, My Grandparents and Me…

It has been over 15 years since my last solo trip to visit my grandparents… and that is 15 years too long.

I am very lucky. I get to see my grandparents, who live 2,173 miles away from me, at least twice a year. But those visits usually include at least 12 other relatives as well, making one-on-one time highly unlikely.

So when I knew I was going to Missouri for the fiber arts book I am working on, I decided to make a special trip to see my grandparents, who live in the next state over. And it was wonderful.

As I drove our usual route to their house, the endless fields of corn and soybeans were the first difference that I noticed. Because in December, when we usually go to their house, the endless fields of corn and soybeans just look like endless fields of flat brown-ness. They laughed when I told them about my astute observation.

So the next day, my grandparents took me on a drive to see more of their farm and wine country.


The first stop on our adventure was an old apple orchard where we got to watch the machinery sort and bag the apples. Watching the machine put the twist-ties on the bags was the most surprising part. I never thought about how the twist-ties got on to bags of apples before.


We met the patriarch of a 4th generation apple farm. He told us their farm started with 42 acres, but now it has grown to over 2,000 acres, and a lot of their apples go to Wal-Mart. He doesn’t think his grandchildren have any interest in taking over the farm.


I had my very first apple dumpling. Although, I couldn’t tell much difference between it and apple pie. It tasted the same, but just a little more gooey. Next time I think I will stick with the pie, like my Grandma.


After filling up on pie and dumplings, we drove through a small town that is home of the Root Beer Saloon. Honestly, I was so full from sweet stuff already, I couldn’t imagine having a root beer… but how could I not?

I told them we had to go in, because Arann would have wanted us too, and I was glad we did.


Not only is it a Root Beer Saloon, but the husband/owner also makes custom guitars and is a taxidermist. So the place was covered head to toe with amazing dead things to look at. Sadly, I was told no photographs, but I managed to get this one in, before I was politely asked to refrain.


To make me feel better, the wife/owner offered to take our picture. At the time, I reluctantly agreed to, in a humoring sort of way. But now I am so glad I did. It was such a special occasion and I am grateful to have a photo remind me of our adventure together… just the three of us.


Day 26 – MAN-venture…

When I asked HAH if he wanted to go on an adventure today, he said, “A MAN-venture.” Lucky kid gets to spend a lot of time with his dad and his dad’s creative vocabulary.171-harper2yr But today was a family-venture day, which I documented with my Rolleiflex, a medium format film camera, so no photos to share of today, yet.

173-harper2yrFortunately I didn’t share any photos last year, so here are some film photos from our Wisconsin family-venture last summer.


Because I am the photographer, it looks like all we ever have are MAN-ventures… but occasionally I can sweet talk Arann in to photographing me so I get to be in a couple of photos too…000076850006Although it is quite funny how miserable we seem in all of these photos… but that is what can happen with slow focusing cameras, just look at any photo of your great-great-grandparents as kids.

000076820006To prove that it was actually a fun trip… here is at least one happy smiling photo to help start Monday off right.

Why Am I Doing This Again… (Best of 2011)…

Once again I feel so incredibly lucky because 2011 was another very good photography year for me.

Not only were two books with my photography published this year…

(Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess.)

(Cooking My Way Back Home by Mitchell Rosenthall.)

But I also started work on my third book

And I had two photographs published in The New York Times.

(Fibershed made it in the New York Times on July 7th, 2011.)

(A photo of my grandparents in The Lives They Loved)

I was hired for the first time by biggies like Nike…

and William Sonoma.

And by some cool local companies like Stemple Creek Ranch

Nest Architecture Studio

And Susan Hayes Handwovens

I also met and photographed so many inspiring individuals (especially women) who are doing inspiring things…

…Jean Near.

…Leslie Santos.

…Elizabeth Boothby.

And then there was this guy called George Lucas.

And 12 amazing weddings…

And 14…




But as I was running around documenting other people’s lives, I was also making a little life of my own…

And now 2.5 months later, this crazy little person I created is constantly reminding me how fast everything can change in just a matter of seconds let alone a whole year.

Which leads me to the one photo from 2011 that makes my heart swell like I never knew it could…

I love this photo of my grandfather and my son not because it was published in any magazine or because it is of anyone famous. I love this photo because it helps remind me that in the end none of that fancy stuff really matters. This one photo reminds me that life is too short, we never know what is going to happen next and there are some moments we just need to hold on to.

Happy New Year everyone. Thank you for helping make 2011 a wonderful year. I look forward to seeing what lessons life brings in 2012.

Introducing… Harper Albi Harris

Born at our home on October 14th at 12:20 am.

Named after my most favorite grandparents, who taught me the importance and value of family.

(photo taken by the talented Jude Mooney.)

He is only three weeks old and I am still completely blown away by it all…

By the fact that he was once inside of me.

By how absolutely amazing women are.

By seeing my son bundled in my husband’s arms.

By the love we have received from our incredible community.

By the multitude of faces…

…one creature can make…

…in a matter of seconds.

By my mom.

By my dog, who sat quietly with me during the whole (very long) birth.

And by this new person…

…who is making me fall in love…

…a little bit more…

….every day.

You Made My Life…

I love a good love story, and I don’t think there is a better love story than my grandparents’ love story.

In high school my grandfather, Bob Harper, had a crush on my grandmother, Sally Lofgren, but because he was so terribly shy he couldn’t do a thing about it.

So my grandfather’s best friend, George McCoy, locked him in the basement and refused to let him out until my grandfather called and asked my grandmother out.

And that one phone call was the spark that created all of this…

I have always believed that my grandparents’ relationship was a good example of what a relationship should and could be, so before Arann and I got married in 2009 I asked my grandfather to share his thoughts on the secret to a good marriage. This is the message he sent to us:

I’m not an expert on marriage, but I’ve had a lot of experience. Sally and I have been married almost 65 years. So, what’s the answer:

Marry early.

Have good genes.

Take advantage of high-tech medical care.

Sleep in the same bed.


Sexual attraction may be the starting point, but it’s not the name of the game.

“If’ it’s only sex,” as the words go in the song; Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend, “we all lose our charms in the end.” The hormones cease to rush.

The real game is a version of the Golden Rule: Do unto your spouse as you would have him or her do unto you.

When you say “I do,” you really become one; you are equal; you are no longer ‘me’, you’re us! You’re a team. 1 plus 1 = us.

In a marriage, no one’s the boss. You share the ups, the downs, family decisions, chores, what needs to be done.

You see Sally and me as old folks, but I can tell you, to me, Sally is more beautiful than when we married because I’ve learned who she really is – what a wonderful person she is.

She’s been my best friend for all these years.

She was my mysterious lover when we started; over the years I’ve learned to know what a lovely individual she is – and she’s my loyal roommate. I’m with her from morning to night and love it.

I’ve been blessed to spend most of my waking days for the past 65 years with my best friend – she’s my wife; I’m her husband. I can’t imagine life without her.

The secret of marriage is feeling that way about your spouse – and having her feel that way about you.

Today, September 26th 2011, my grandmother, Sally Ann Harper, passed away… just two days before their 67th wedding anniversary.

My grandfather’s last words to her, “You made my life.”

My grandpa will always be my favorite Santa…

Christmas has always been my grandfather’s favorite holiday and because of all the love he puts in to it year after year, he has made it our favorite holiday too. It is all about the traditions.

Every year all 14 of us roll in from where ever we live and move in to their house for the week.

Every year I wrap my presents for my family in newspapers, hoping maybe one year it will catch on.

Every year my grandfather gives my grandmother at least one gift she doesn’t like.

Every year my mom really likes to sing Christmas carols.

Every year my vegetarian brother eats fake bacon and my grandfather refers to it as his eating disorder.

Every year we wear crowns on our heads, say grace and eat lots of food.

And every year, after is all said and done, we pack up our new loot and return to our respective states and my grandparents once again have their house back. But this year there was a small but significant change in tradition…

This year my grandfather waited and let us decorate the Christmas tree.

But it wasn’t an easy thing for my grandparents to watch. 65 years of marriage means they know how they like their Christmas tree to be decorated and they weren’t so sure we were doing it right.

And although we enjoyed ourselves, despite our lack of Christmas tree decorating style, it was hard for us to let them sit there.

It was breaking tradition. It was my grandfather taking a step back and giving away a little control. And the reason for his step back is a hard thing to think about. So we do our best not to think about it.

Instead we are so grateful for every day and every tradition we have and we hope with all our hearts that it will all be exactly the same next year.

65 Years (part I): Photos For My Blob

Happy 65 years of marriage to my grandparents, Bob and Sally Harper. For their celebration, they took 14 of us to Washington State. The first four days we spent hiking around Mount Rainer, and the last three days we explored Lopez Island, in the San Juan Islands.

The whole journey was amazing. Besides being in love with all the wildflowers on Rainer and all the wildlife around the Islands, I was also intrigued by the small town communities we invaded. We went from small mountain town to small island town… both very fascinating communities. I wish I could have stayed a little longer to get under the skin a little more, but even from the outside it was interesting to observe. It just may be a project for another day.

In the meantime, here is a more personal documentary… this is what 65 years of marriage and a strong commitment to family can give you…

While I was taking a photo of my grandparents playing cards, my grandmother asked me, “Are you going to put this on your blob?” She wasn’t excited about me taking the photo at the time, but she reluctantly allowed me to anyway, because she figured her friends probably don’t read blobs anyway.

The Last You’ll Hear From Me… for a little while…

I am taking a break….


Packing my belongings…..


Saying goodbye to Lou…


And heading to the airport…


I will be hiking up Mt Rainier and then kayaking around Lopez Island, in Washington State, for the next week, with all my relatives, as we celebrate my grandparents’ (not pictured above) 65th wedding anniversary. I can’t wait.

Making an Exception for Tradition…

This is my extended family. Every year we all meet at my Grandparents’ home in Carbondale, Illinois. This year for our family portrait, I wanted to emphasize how far we all travel in order to continue our Christmas family traditions. And to summarize for you: the total number of the miles traveled by all of my 17 relatives and their spouses in order to get to Carbondale, Illinois is: 31,327 miles (32,025 if you count the dogs’ journey) and 64,050 for a round trip.

Those are a lot of miles and that is a huge carbon footprint… and that doesn’t include all of the presents, and wrapping paper, and trips to the mall.

Being a person who cares a great deal about the environment… the crazy amounts of consumption that occurs in one week is embarrassing… but at the same time… I feel incredibly lucky. I feel lucky because:

  • I have an amazing family, and we have wonderfully bizarre family traditions that we have carried out for as many years as I can remember…
  • I know not many people have such a strong extended family, especially one that is so spread apart…
  • and because I know that these traditions will not last forever, so I better enjoy them while I have them.

So, for the spirit of Christmas and for the love of family, I try and contain my environmental gripes, and I wholeheartedly throw myself into the crazy seasonal consumerism as much as possible. But I still do little things to try and make myself feel a little better, such as shopping at the local Carbondale stores, instead of the big box stores and chains, and wrapping all my presents in newspaper and reused paper, and preventing my paper-plate-loving relatives from adding to the overcrowded landfills, just because they do not want to do dishes.

And in the end… traditions make it all worth while. Thank you Grandma and Grandpa for bringing us all together for all these years, and for teaching us the value of family. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

My heart hurts today…


On November 4th, 2008, Californians voted not to allow people of the same sex to get married, even though the California Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to prevent humans of their basic right to marry the person they love.

My fiancé, Arann and I were at the Westin Hotel in San Francisco on election night, with our dear friends who worked so hard on the No on 8 campaign to protect equality for all. The huge ball room was packed with couples who were so nervous that their right to marry the person, who they loved most in the world, would be taken away. The room was thick with emotions, as we all waited and waited and waited. The numbers coming in were not good. And eventually, they told everyone to go home because we wouldn’t have an answer until the morning… but we all knew.

And today my heart hurts.


Arann and I are supposed to get married on April 4, 2009. But I called him from the airport today and said I didn’t think we should get married. And he said he was thinking the same thing.

When we first got engaged, I wasn’t so sure about the idea of having a wedding. But slowly the idea grew on us and we started to understand the importance. A wedding is not a marriage, but it is a ceremony that brings together all the love and support of everyone in your community, as you take this huge step forward.

So, the more we thought about the meaning of our big step forward, the more we felt it was important to have our community with us, as we vow to care for each other for the rest of our lives. It is especially important to us that my grandparents, who will celebrate their 65 wedding anniversary next year, are there to pass on their advice and inspiration to us.


So, we picked a day and we started making plans. A hike, followed by a ceremony, followed by a reception with a collective art show, with the theme: Advice, followed by good food and dancing. We thought that would be the perfect way to enter into the next stage of our lives as a married couple.

But as we stood there election night, surrounded by people whose hearts were breaking as they were told their marriages would no longer be accepted… we started to question why we should have the right to marry, when other people don’t, just because their body parts are the same.

It doesn’t make any sense to me. In a world of such hatred and fighting, why wouldn’t we want to encourage and support people who want to build their community? Why don’t we want to encourage people to promise to love and care for each other for the rest of their lives? If it is about God, I was taught that we are not supposed to judge, so… then let God judge, if that is what you believe.

Same sex marriages will not hurt you.

The pesticides people spray on their lawns that washes into the storm drains, and into the rivers, and pollutes the water, and kills the fish, and breaks down the food chain… will hurt you. The SUV’s people drive that consume a lot of gas and spit out a lot of carbon dioxide that heats up the planet, and melts the glaciers, and raises the sea levels… will hurt you. But allowing people to love the person they choose to love in their own homes… will not hurt you.

So, Arann and I would like to get married. We want the love and support of our community, but we don’t want to get married until everyone can. And so today, my heart hurts and my eyes are sore from crying because I have a better understanding of what it feels like not to be able to marry the person you love.

If you believe in equality for all, please take a moment and sign this petition:

Thank you for your support.



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