Empty Bowls

When I arrived at Jenna Brubaker’s home I knew I had about 15 minutes to shoot before I lost my light. Luckily everything went smoothly and I was happy to get this shot.

Jenna Brubaker works on a bowl for the Empty Bowls program in her home pottery studio in Concord, Va. The program pairs potters and chefs who donate their respective skills and hosts a soup dinner that raises money for food shelves. After participating in the program elsewhere, she spent several years establishing a chapter in Virginia.

A Place for Everyone

If I have a Thanksgiving tradition, it is that I eat in a different place every year. Not on purpose, I guess, but I have moved around so much the last few years that every November I realize, once again, I won’t be able to make it home. Growing up I can remember spending several Thanksgivings at my grandparents’ home in Burnsville, MN (because they made us sit at the “kids’ table”) and a couple more at my aunt’s home in Andover, MN (because she is the Queen of Mashed Potatoes). But for the last four years I have been in as many different states – IN, MO, MN, VA – and each time found a seat at a new table with great food and great company.

Working on Thanksgiving this year, I was able to experience the holiday with even more people and hear about their traditions (or lack thereof). The first photo is couple who are anticipating 25 guests and are cooking two turkeys to make sure everyone has plenty to eat. The second is from a church in Bedford, VA, that offered a free meal to anyone in the community who wanted to join. Some church members said openly that the church felt more like a family than their real family.

  • Cheryl and Willie Martin of Campbell County fill up their cart to overflowing with ingredients for their Thanksgiving feast at a grocery store in Lynchburg, Va.
  • Monique Blake encourages her son, Raekwan, to eat more of his vegetables during a free Thanksgiving dinner organized and hosted by members of Life Church in Bedford, Va.

Thanksgiving Came Early

To accommodate multiple schedules that had people working on Thanksgiving (mine included), Marley’s mother and stepfather moved their Thanksgiving dinner up a day so we could all make it. I was instructed to “bring bread” and I decided to try making rolls. I probably could have picked a lower-profile venue as my baking debut but, despite being smaller than I had hoped, they turned out soft and rather tasty. The meal was delicious and soul-satisfying, and it made me very thankful to once again find myself surrounded by friends.

Wine at the Jeffersons’

About 10 minutes west of Lynchburg is Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, an estate that Mr. Jefferson designed and inhabited for 14 years. Last year, for the first time, the nonprofit that manages the estate organized the Thomas Jefferson Wine Festival to generate more interest in the site and support Virginia wineries. They hoped would become an annual event and attract people from across the region.

I saw this event advertised several weeks ago and I had intended on going, so I was glad to see the photo request under my name. Although the friendly crowds and great weather made this a fun assignment, I would have preferred to enjoy this afternoon with a glass of Merlot or Malbec in my hand. Some days are meant to be lived, not photographed. Hopefully I can get this day off next year.


I had to come up with a title that would encompass both major events in my weekend: a wedding in St. Louis and a visit to our nation’s capital. I think I did pretty well.

St. Louis was my first stop and, although I had a bit of trouble getting there, once I arrived I couldn’t have had a better time with some of my very favorite people. (And it was held in one of my favorite places of all time!) Heartfelt congratulations to Ryan Gladstone and Jamie Scott, both of whom are former Maneaters that I have known since before they began their “secret” office relationship…

Then I stopped in DC to visit an old high school friend, Erica Sivertson, who is working for Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. She set me up with tours of the U.S. Capitol and Library of Congress. As we navigated the subway system during the morning rush hour on our way downtown, it struck me how far we’ve both come since our days as MOA mallrats. Growing up isn’t all bad.

  • Surounded by Mizzou alumni, Ryan and Jamie dance to “Tiny Dancer” late into the reception after their wedding at the City Museum in St. Louis.
  • Tourists photograph and admire the ornate sculpted lobby in the Library of Congress.
  • A security guard in the Capitol Building accidentally mirrors the statue of Dwight D. Eisenhower next to him.
  • A fallen pamphlet lies next to fallen leaves along the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Snip Snip

Following in her grandfather’s footsteps, Melanie Cooper recently opened her own barbershop as close as she could to where his once stood. I feel like there are only so many ways to shoot a barber and we’ve all had to shoot one or two (or more) over the years. The first two times I visited this woman she had no customers so I left without what I wanted. I like how this one from my third visit turned out.

Saddle Up

There are a lot of open spaces, farms and fields surrounding Lynchburg, which means there are also a lot of horses. I went to shoot a “colt breaking” class a couple weeks ago where horse owners learn how to train their horses and teach them respect. Watching Marvin Thomey, a professional trainer, work with the young and unruly horses, I was reminded of Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer,” and how he understands the way animals’ minds work. Just like the unsuspecting horses, I found myself mesmerized by Marvin’s methods as he repeatedly gained each animal’s respect using minimal or no physical force. Unlike Cesar, however, Marvin is many times smaller than the animals he works with and could get seriously hurt with one wrong move. Yet his comfort and confidence around the strange horses was inspiring. I know, I sound like I have a man-crush, but he seriously reminded me of Timothy Treadwell staring down a grizzly bear. The hardest one to train was a ten-year-old mule, which Marvin tried to explain to its owner, Mike Mullen. “The trouble with the mule is he asks ‘why?’ The horse just does it because you want him to. The mule needs a reason,” said Marvin. “If you want him to stop or turn or go backwards, he needs to know why. It’s not that he’s stubborn, he’s just always thinking. But if you can train him, he’s worth twice as much as a trained horse.”