If you’re a Seinfeld fan, you might remember the episode when George’s two worlds collided and he was not happy about it.  Now that I’m in my 16th year of teaching and 5th year of business as a photographer, I’m starting to see my two worlds collide.  Unlike George, I love this “phenomenon.”  Several months ago, a woman contacted me to photograph her engagement session.  This woman is a former student who I taught when she was in fifth grade.  She was one of my little cherubs from one of the most memorable years in my teaching career.  When I posted a sneak peek of the session, my best friend messaged me and said, “We’re so old!” I replied, “I know!” lol

Vicki was, and still is, a sweet, adorable and incredibly smart young lady.  According to her Lexile score, she was reading at a 12th grade level when I had her as a student!  I have so many great memories from that year.  It was my second year as a teacher and I faced some challenges I knew I was not prepared for.  The school I taught at had a high number English Language Learners from all over the world.  I had no training in this area and I really had no idea how to tackle teaching a student who, for example, literally just came in from Uzbekistan (What!? Where is that?  What language do they speak there?!).  Where was I supposed to start?  Not to mention, I had “neighborhood kids” who were not immigrants too.  I quickly found just by speaking with the parents that there was this “us vs. them” and “my kid’s education better not suffer” mentality.  I even saw it creep into the classroom a little with some of my students comments.  I knew they were just repeating what they heard at home, but I also knew I needed to help change this way of thinking.  We broke down some of these barriers by doing things that celebrated our differences and we learned from one another.  We started by doing little things like coloring and decorating the room with flags of the countries we (or our ancestors) came from.  On birthdays, we celebrated by teaching each other how to sing happy birthday in the many different languages spoken by the students (5 different languages total, not including English).   We took brain breaks every morning during our reading and writing block and did the Cha Cha Slide.  Remember that one Vicki? lol  On the last day of school, we strung a pinata up from a tree outside and sang Cantos para romper la piñata before scrambling to get special Mexican candy off the ground.  By the end of the year, my small class of 22 students became a cohesive group that created and solidified its own unique culture.  I was laid off again that year, found another job teaching 7th grade in Crystal Lake and never got the chance to see these guys move on in 6th grade.  I was able to reconnect with some of these students over the years through Facebook, which is how Vicki and I reconnected.  Never did I think that one day I’d take up photography and end up photographing her engagement session!  I was so nervous before this session; I hadn’t seen Vicki in almost 14 years!  I enjoyed catching up with her and meeting her fiance, and I look forward to seeing these two “kids” tie the knot next year!

P.S.  In fifth grade, Vicki went to Alaska on spring break and brought me back a pretty necklace.  I didn’t wear it for a bit and one day she looked up at me with her sweet little face and asked, “Mrs. Lesko, aren’t you going to wear the necklace I gave you?”  I felt terrible.  For years I’ve been plagued with guilt, so I made sure I wore it to her session.  🙂  Of course, years later, Vicki has no memory of this necklace. lol 😉

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Success is no accident.  It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing.  –Author Unknown

Big dreams do come with big sacrifices, and Jack and his family know all about this.  His dream, to play pro-hockey one day, has not been without sacrifices.  At the age of 16, Jack left his family to play with the Omaha Lancers.  This meant leaving his friends and family in Carpentersville, Illinois to live with a couple he hadn’t met before and attend a private school in Omaha, Nebraska.  Both Jack and his mother said that the family he lives with is wonderful and are “really good people.”  While his move was a lot of change in a short period of time, he adjusted well and enjoys what he is doing!  Recently, he made the US Under 18-Select team again.  This is quite an accomplishment, especially considering more than 200 top players try out for this team.  Jack doesn’t get to come home often or for long, but during a 10-day visit at home this summer, he told me he enjoyed spending time with his family and catching up with old friends.

I asked a few of Jack’s past teachers if they would like to share a few words about him.  Ms. Nancy Garber stated, “When I think of Jack, I think of someone as a 13-year-old who despite being popular, good looking, and athletic, was the most humble, hard working, engaged student a teacher would want. He deserves every bit of success he has in life, and I wish him all the best no matter what.”  Ms. Garber also recalls Jack as being the type of kid who, “. . . always wanted to know how to improve. . . took feedback very well and tried to implement it the next time. A good quality in sports. . . and in life.”  Mrs. Gina Hurley says she couldn’t agree more!  When reflecting on Jack, Mrs. Hurley stated, “Jack is the type of person you meet and instantly earns your respect. He is hardworking in every last thing that he does. He is the kind of person that is so talented, and you will never hear him brag or utter a word to prove it. He will always have a special place with me and I root for him every day.”  We all agree that Jack comes from a great family with great parents, attributing to a solid foundation in which he’s grown.

I know that many of us are rooting for you, Jack as you work hard toward your dream.  Keep at it, and I know you’ll get there!  Please don’t forget to come back and visit us little guys when you are a big star! 😉

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Hello!  Thank you for taking time to read this blog!

On the morning of February 23rd, I learned that a student on my team suddenly lost her father.  While she was not my student, I realized that her older brother was a former student of mine, and I felt compelled to help the family in some way.  Once some time had passed, I reached out to the student’s mother, and she gave me permission to move forward with my idea.

Craig’s story:

Craig was a devoted father of three children.  He worked most of his career in software sales, the last 14 years for IBM.  A lover of sports, especially football, Craig spent some of his free time coaching for the Algonquin Argonauts and the Junior Eagles Football Clubs.  Starting in late July 2016, he began to suffer from problems in his nerves.  He saw many specialists, who all believed that the problems he was having were nothing more than nerve related as a result doing yard work. In late August, Craig had a seizure at home.  While in the hospital, he had a CT scan which showed a “gray area” on his brain.  The following day, Craig saw a neurologist and had an MRI completed.  In a few short hours, Craig and his family learned what was causing his nerve problems.  Craig had a brain tumor on his left hemisphere which caused numbness in his right leg.  He had a follow up appointment that day to see the top neurologist at UIC.  Brain surgery to remove the tumor was scheduled to take place in two days.  Fortunately, the surgery went well and only took a few hours to complete, and Craig was up and walking the following day.  He was determined to heal quickly, so he could get home to his family.  Approximately four days after his surgery, Craig was moved to a rehab facility to further his recovery. He spent five days learning exercises that would strengthen his legs and get them moving back to normal.  While recovering in rehabilitation, he learned that the growth removed from his brain was a Glioblastoma tumor, a very aggressive form of cancer.

When Craig returned home, he rested a few weeks before beginning chemo and radiation treatments.  During this time, Craig believed strongly he would recover and he was adamant his family not share any information about his health with anyone outside the family because he “didn’t want to bother anyone with his situation.”  A private person, Craig did not want anyone to think less of him or that he could not recover from this setback.  As a result, he relied on his wife, Melissa, and his children to help him get better. For him, that was all he needed.

Craig would not allow Melissa or his children to take him to radiation because he wanted to be as independent as possible, so he took the hospital bus to and from radiation by himself.  Clearly, Craig was determined and “very set in his ways.”  His wife and children agreed to support him in doing treatment the way he wanted; however, he had to agree that, if needed, he would take help from his family.

Promisingly, Craig did not have any side effects of the chemo or radiation.  His family found him to be in really good spirits throughout treatment.  His determination to get back to normal did not waver.  In December, 2016, things were going well until he began to suffer from seizures. Craig’s brain was swelling, and the doctors started him on medication.  Until the swelling was under control, Craig would experience seizures every 3-4 days. Throughout everything, Craig continued to believe he was going to recover, get back to playing golf and being a dad.  In February, the day before he passed, Craig had another MRI.  Miraculously, it showed that the cancer was gone and so was the swelling.  Craig was on his way to a full recovery and he was looking forward to getting a car and driving again.  The following morning, an undetected blood clot in one of his lungs traveled and went straight to his heart causing him to have a heart attack.  Although the paramedics did everything they could, he couldn’t be saved.  Craig passed away at his home in his oldest son’s arms.

Craig’s legacy is his three children and his work with youth.  For many years, he spent both summer and fall on the football field teaching kids the right way to play football and that winning is not everything.  While he understood that competition is part of the game, he believed that in life you should have balance.  He also wanted every child to get good grades and be respectful to not only their parents, but other people they came in contact with.  Craig would share his wisdom through little quotes he would tell the kids.  One belief he would often share with the kids was, “You are not measured by the game, but how you conduct yourself on and off the field.  Respect is the key to life.”

Thank you for reading Craig’s story.  I will be holding Life Celebration mini sessions from June 8th – 22nd.  To book your session, click on this link.  ALL proceeds from mini sessions booked during this time frame will be donated to Porter Children Educational Fund.  If you do not wish participate in the event by having a mini session, please consider donating to Layla, Bryce and Bryant’s educational fund!  Thank you!

Layla (pictured on the left) is 13 and she aspires to be a professional ballerina.  When she is finished with dance, she plans on attending school to become a neurosurgeon and help people.  Bryce (pictured in the middle) is 16 and plans on attending college in the future.  He is not sure what he will major in, but since I personally taught and know him, I can guarantee it will be to do something great! Bryant (pictured to the right), the oldest of the trio, is 19 and already in college studying auto mechanics.

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I came across this idea years ago.  Unfortunately, at the time, my daughter wasn’t old enough to participate.  I really thought this might be something she would love.  In the months leading up to her 12th birthday, I still had this idea on my radar, but I was a little nervous about it.  I mean, what if she wasn’t all that excited about receiving an experience like this for her birthday?  Not to mention, there’s one little catch.  Between the ages of 12 and 15, children who participate in this activity have to be accompanied by a paying adult.  Overall, it wasn’t going to be inexpensive, and I’d hate to invest in something like this and have it be a total flop.

The night before she returned to college in Utah, Della (a former student), came for a visit.  We were up late talking about her first semester at college and I pitched the idea to her.  When I told Della the idea, her eyes got big.  She leaned forward and said, “Are you kidding?  I’d love something like that!”  Her reaction helped me to make my decision.  I decided I was just gonna go for it.  As Della and I talked more, the wheels in my head began turning and I came up with an idea.  Della’s birthday is also in February and she would be turning 19–she’s legally an adult.  Hmm.  Sometimes, my former students are forever stuck in my head as 12-year-olds. 🙂  If she could fly out here the weekend of the experience, she could have my ticket, accompany Maddie and enjoy the experience too.  The rest was history.  We went back and forth coordinating flight possibilities and finally nailed a date, February 18th.  We had no idea that the day we picked would end up with the greatest weather in the history of all Februarys in the Midwest!

As Maddie’s birthday neared, I explained to her that her gift this year would solely be an experience.  She seemed a little nervous and asked if she would receive any gifts to unwrap on her birthday.  Um, no.  This was going to be it; she seemed a little disappointed.  That’s when I came up with the idea to build some anticipation for her birthday surprise and have a little fun along the way.

On the night of her birthday (Monday, February 13th), she received one box filled with little “gifts,” each that contained a small clue to her birthday experience.  She was instructed to open one box each night before she went to bed.  I posted each clue on my Facebook page every night to see what others thought the experience might be.  It was a lot of fun to see what people guessed.  Some of you were so off! 😉  lol

Della brought her best friend, who had never been to Chicago before, and we caught the 5:57 am train the following morning. There’s so much to see in Chicago, you can’t possibly see it all in one day.  With that being said, we did get to see a ton thanks to the beautiful 70 degree weather.

Cami and I hung out together while Dell and Maddie were behind the scenes.  Trainer for a Day at the Shedd Aquarium is part of the Shedd’s extraordinary experiences program.   It lasts 4 hours and there was no photography allowed behind the scenes.

Blue lobster anyone?

Dressed in official trainer attire, Della and Maddie were able to help prepare food for the animals.  Food prep accounts for approximately 25% of the trainer’s day.  I can see why.  The belugas alone eat 50 pounds of fish each every day!  While the girls were able to see the penguins, sea otters, sea lions, dolphins and more, it was the belugas that really stole the show.   They were super friendly and the girls where able to touch them and “pet” their tongues.  They were not able to have this type of interaction with the dolphins because they are young and still a little “nippy.”  As for the penguins, they were only allowed to touch them as long as the penguins initiated the interaction.  Sounds fair to me.  🙂  One came right up to Maddie and rubbed against her leg.

One big surprise to me was that the Shedd has in-house rescue dogs.  The trainers use the same principles of positive reinforcement training the dogs as they do with the sea animals.  It was great to see these animals so happy and loved with a second chance at life!

As Cami and I waited for the 11:30 dolphin show Maddie and Della would participate in, we checked things out below ground and went to see “Sea Monsters 4D – A Prehistoric Adventure.”  If you visit the Shedd, don’t skip this experience!  Its only 15 minutes long, and it was soooo cool we had to see it again with Maddie and Della.  If you’ve had a 4D experience before at Disney or somewhere else, it may not be as big of a deal to you, but we laughed through the whole thing and loved it!

The dolphin show is always cool.  Keep in mind its more educational than “entertaining” like a Sea World-type show.  It was fun to see the girls get to participate in the show while learning new things about the animals.    Did ya know that penguins walk with their arms out to help cool their bodies and the trainers feed some of the animals jello to keep them hydrated?  Apparently, its one of the dolphins favorite snacks.  Who knew?  Of course, this is where I caught a shot of Maddie nearly falling into the water with the dolphins.  Only my kid!

After all of the fun at the Shedd, we grabbed some authentic Chicago pizza at Gino’s East.  (We had to! Cami’s from Arizona and we all know that Chicago “pizza” out there is, well, not really the same thing.)  Now, Gino’s is not my favorite pizza, but I have such great memories of going there in high school with my friends that I knew Maddie would really enjoy the experience.  Being able to write on things was a super cool and novel experience for her.  She took things to a whole new level by writing on the window.  D’oh!  Don’t worry; I was able to get it off.

You can’t visit Chicago and not check out Millennium Park and Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”).  Its always a cool place to visit.  We can’t wait to go back when Crown Fountain opens up in the warmer weather.

We had to stop by Dylan’s Candy Bar and see what all the hype was about. 🙂

There’s always cool looking buildings and sculptures to see along the way.

Of course, these BYU girls had to check out Tribune Tower.  My husband’s a history buff and would have loved to see all of the “pieces” of historical monuments embedded into this building.

The last stop in an already packed day was to the top of the Sears Tower Skydeck (aka “Willis”–sorry old habits are hard to break–Willis?  Who IS Willis anyway!? :).   We got to squeeze, and I mean squeeze, our way onto the Ledge.  Seeing Chicago at night with nothing but clear glass beneath and around us was an experience I’ll never forget.  It was pretty cool!

And its back to the train station we went.  That was quite a fun-filled and packed day!  I’m so happy it all worked out.  And to think, it snowed the following Saturday! Whew!  This couldn’t have gone better!

If you took the time to read this entire blog, I just want to say thank you and that I think you’re pretty cool! 🙂  I have a few fun things in the works for the next month or two.  Lens 2 Life Photography will have its first ever little chickadee minis with live chicks or ducklings to celebrate spring.  I also have Mother’s Day minis and another photography for beginners workshop in the works.   If you are interested when these events become available, please use the code “BLOG20” at checkout for $20 off.  Thank you again!

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