Ben Baker’s Coneheads

Garvey in DCIf you do a Google search for “Ben Baker Photographer” you come up with some pretty impressive and beautiful images of famous people – politicians, actors, entrepreneurs, etc. Ben has shot amazing images of everyone from Barack and Michelle Obama to Warren Buffet, the Romneys, John McCain, Kanye West, Scarlett Johansson, Leonardo DiCaprio and more. His images grace the covers of Time, Marie Claire, Parade, Forbes, Newsweek, GQ and the like. But, if you were walking the streets of DC on the Saturday after Thanksgiving last year, you would have seen Ben photographing a completely different subject – my dog Garvey.

You see, Ben has a pet project (no pun intended) that he has been working on for close to a year that is very dear to both our hearts.

Coneheads is a photo project focusing on pets in recovery. It began as a collaborative effort between Ben and fashion designer/animal lover, Sylvie Cachay. While walking the streets of New York City, the pair would come across these brave dogs and ponder what it would be like to capture them on film, catching their true personalities through the “cones” they wore. Tragically, Sylvie passed away before the project could begin. However, Ben, with the help of The Sylvie Cachay Memorial Project, is pushing on to complete the series.

The dogs that have been photographed to date are dear creatures with loving owners that take the best care of their pets. These animals, always in good spirits, wear their cones with dignity or humor and bring a smile to our faces when we see them.

When Ben found out that my beast, Garvey, was going to have surgery on his knee, we discussed about how great it would be to get him in the series of photographs. You see, Sylvie was my cousin and having a family pooch in the series was something we thought she would have truly appreciated and loved.

Unfortunately, with me living in Maryland and Ben living in NYC, we knew that getting shots of Garvey might be difficult, if not, impossible. Luckily, the canine surgery stars aligned and Garvey had his surgery in November and was in collar-wearing mode when Ben came to DC for a visit during the Thanksgiving holiday. Garvey is a Mastiff, Great Dane, Lab mix. At around 140 pounds, Garvey is, quite literally, a beast. But, he is also a good sport and loves car rides, so regardless of a bum knee with 30+ staples recently removed, he was still excited about a car ride into the city.

Ben and I decided to take advantage of the city’s sites for the shoot and took Garvey to the center of it all, the White House and the Mall. It was a gorgeous fall day and there were throngs of tourists everywhere. My laid back dog was happy- go-lucky wearing his massive collar and paid no mind to the endless pats on the head, the symphonies of giggles, or the constant pictures people took (let alone, Ben). On a regular day, Garvey gets plenty of attention, stares and comments and non-stop questions about his breed (including little kids asking if he’s part horse – to which he bears a strong resemblance), but you throw an Elizabethan collar on him and the stares, comments and questions increase ten-fold. In the end, as I was sure he would, Ben took pictures that captured Garvey’s approach to the cone perfectly (cone, what cone, do I smell hot dog?) and that will give us a smile every time we see them. I’m hoping that they also help with Ben’s project.

While we were walking around DC, Ben mentioned that earlier in the week he had done a shoot of Richard Branson. Branson had asked Ben who else was on his schedule for the week. Ben replied, “Well, apart from you…there are a couple of dogs.” If Garvey only understood the company he kept.

ConeheasSweet Dogs in Cones are Still Needed!
If you or someone you know lives in the NYC area and has a dog that is in recovery or will be recovering and is required to wear an Elizabethan collar and are interested in being in the series, please contact one of the following email addresses with your information:

studio@benbakerphoto.com
tara@benbakerphoto.com
andrea@benbakerphoto.com

Owners of dogs photographed will receive an 11×14 print for their collection. The Coneheads project will culminate with a book and exhibit with proceeds benefiting The Sylvie Cachay Memorial Project.

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How NOT To Celebrate Your Child’s First Birthday or An Adventure on OBX’s 4×4 Beach – Part II

Read Part I

I’m pretty sure as Chris was driving down the hill, toward the water, he was envisioning some sort of Jeep commercial in his head, possibly even in slow motion, with classic rock playing in the background. The truck hitting the water with such force that the two front tires would rise from the ground, like a bucking bronco, or maybe even one of the wild horses we had just admired by the beach. We would leave the pond with thick slabs of mud covering our white truck, laying witness that we were badass four-wheelers, us high-fiving each other, the kids pumping their fists into the air in triumph (yes, even the baby) and we would drive into the sunset to go pick-up our duck-shaped cake.

It didn’t go quite like that. I will never forget the yellow-green wave that swept over the car when we drove into the pond. It caught me off guard – I wasn’t expecting there to be so much water – and after it swept over the windshield and the hood, I immediately felt dripping on my flip-flopped foot. To be clear, the truck never actually got stuck, the engine simply stalled once it was inundated with water; however, we were no longer moving.

After the initial shock of what just happened began to wear off, I poked my head out my window and, with relief, saw that the water was not above the bottom of the door, barely. Initially we all just sat there, our stunned silence accompanied by pleasant ocean sounds coming from beyond the dunes, then Ash, our eleven year-old asked if we were going to die. After a few minutes, Chris tried starting the engine. Nothing. He tried two more times before hearing a loud bang. At that point he, wisely, decided to stop trying; fully coming to terms that we weren’t going anywhere soon (we later found out that bang was a rod flying through our engine block).

We were in the in the middle of nowhere, with a car full of children, an eleven year-old still asking if we were going to die, and, almost predictably, no cell reception whatsoever. So, Chris decided to look for higher ground. Not knowing how deep or mucky the water was, he made his exit through the sunroof and onto the hood, where he made the small leap from the car to the dry sand bed in front of us. As my husband stood on a hill in the distance with his phone high over his head, a large pick-up truck rolled up next to us. I rolled down the window to hear, “You should have never driven down the middle.” This brings me to my first lesson on four-wheeling through water:

  1. NEVER DRIVE DOWN THE MIDDLE

I observed when the driver made his way across this water he had skirted the edge steadily and very slowly, and he was now parked in front of us (his motor still running). This leads me to my second lesson:

2.   DRIVE VERY SLOWLY WHEN ENTERING WATER

Thank God for us that this particular driver showed up, because we really were very literally in the middle of nowhere. He was a “local” and had a phone that got cell reception; furthermore, he had friends in the towing business and was a good guy all around. After talking to us for a minute, making sure we were okay, he drove over to where my husband was trying to find a signal, and they discussed man stuff for a bit before he drove off. When my husband got back to us, he said it would be some time before the tow truck would come and we should all get out of the truck. The girls did not want to get wet in what was now oily muddy water (another sign that our truck was doomed), so we all left through the sunroof (yes, even the baby) onto the hood and made leaps from the hood to the sand bed. While we waited, the girls enjoyed themselves playing in the sand and reliving the experience. We even got to chat with a group of people that were driving by trying to find their rental who, very wisely, decided to try another route after seeing our predicament. In general, our spirits were high, we had good insurance, and help was on the way.

Malin tries to escape!

Malin tries to escape!

The tow truck from North Beach Recovery came about 30 minutes after we’d placed the call (jot that name down in case you’re ever stuck in the north beaches of the OBX, they’re awesome).  The group consisted of two men and two boys, about 11-12 years old. The tow truck sat on semi-flat tires so that it could navigate through the sand more easily and had a cab in the back for folks whose cars were hitched up in the rear. Chase, the owner, immediately started working on prepping the tow truck to haul our Jeep out of the water. His buddy came over to chat with us and gave us our next lesson in four-wheeling through water:

3.  WHEN IN DOUBT, WALK IT OUT

He then took his son over to our truck, both wading through the oil-slicked water, where he started pointing to his knees and his son’s knees, the water covering both sets, and he yelled back our final lesson:

4.  IF THE WATER REACHES YOUR KNEE, LET IT BE

After the Jeep was pulled from the water onto dry land, the air was partially let out of the tires, and  we all piled into the cab of the tow truck; Malin strapped into her infant seat set next to me, Liv sitting on my lap, Britney Spears style, with the two older girls wedged in between us. The Jeep was pulled only a short distance, just to the beach and out of the dunes and residential area, where it was left to be later picked up on a bed. Liv’s car seat was put on the back of the tow truck and held in place by the two boys who also rode in the back. I didn’t like leaving the Jeep abandoned with the Thule still on top and several little belongings we didn’t think about taking, but there was nothing else we could do.  The guys from North Beach Recovery gave us a lift back into Corolla, which was as far as they could take us in a tow truck meant to be on the sand, and dropped us off in front of a Winks market adjacent to a little building that had a beer garden (which was closed, boo) that hosted a gondola and benches for us to sit. The guys also gave us the number of a taxi company we could call – the only company servicing Corolla and Duck. We soon found out that Duck Taxi consisted of a fleet of three cars, one of which was being serviced, and the other two were in high demand due to weddings and other reservations. We were told our wait would be about 2 hours. If you can believe it, up to this point, I actually had held hope that we could pick up Malin’s cake, head back to our rental in Duck and have some sort of small celebration for her.

Towed

I love our girls and how patient they were throughout this entire ordeal. Lo, our 15 year-old had a stash of books with her and her phone, which kept her occupied throughout the entire afternoon. Ash, our 11 year-old took Liv exploring through the beer garden and the Winks Market. It was an excruciating two hours and we kept accosting anyone that drove up in anything that remotely resembled a taxi, asking if they had come to pick us up. We finally were picked up around 4pm and made it back to our house by 4:30pm.  With no cake to celebrate and no energy to grill, we ordered pizza and told the girls to get their suits on and get into the pool. Malin was none the wiser that her birthday had not gone as planned and had a wonderful time splashing the evening away with her big sisters (somewhere in there, I think we even sang her Happy Birthday and gave her her stuffie presents).

Happy Birthday Sweet Baby!

Happy Birthday Sweet Baby!

We ended up driving home after our vacation in my car and a rental car. The insurance company determined our truck was salvageable, and after a lot of bargaining and reasoning with them, they agreed to tow it as far north as Richmond, VA, where the engine was replaced (this was a huge help, as we only had to drive three hours to pick it up instead of six). A month after our vacation, we finally had our truck back.

I’m not too sure about our future as four-wheeling badasses, but I do know that for Malin’s second birthday, that little girl is going to have one hell of a celebration…or, at least, a duck-shaped cake.

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Traces of my children…everywhere I turn.

Traces of my children...everywhere I turn.

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How NOT To Celebrate Your Child’s First Birthday or Adventures on OBX’s 4×4 Beach – Part I

It all started as very simple plans. We had been at the beach for almost a week, away from friends and family, and Malin was turning one that Saturday. I had already been the first-time parenting freak with Liv a couple of years before on her first birthday (think 50+ adults, a gaggle of babies, pony rides, open bar, etc). This time around, we wanted a mellow, small family celebration at our little beach cottage we were renting in Duck, NC, along the Outer Banks.

I had found a bakery with great reviews in neighboring Corolla, and since we planned to spend the day there, I ordered a duck-shaped cake (get it, Duck, NC, duck cake), which we planned to pick up the afternoon of Malin’s birthday. Chris and I had already bought her a handful of baby presents (mostly duck stuffies) at the local gift shops and we were planning to grill in the evening and just relax after a day of sight-seeing in Corolla and the 4×4 Beach.

The day started out wonderfully. Chris, the girls, and I piled into our Jeep Commander and made the half-hour drive to Corolla where we started with a visit to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. We then visited the Nature Center, which the kids loved, and the Whalehead Club next door to take pictures and watch families crab on the sound side. Our plans then were to grab lunch and head to the 4×4 beach hoping to see and photograph the wild horses. But, we wanted to make sure we had some history about the horses and possibly insight on where to find them, so before we went, we stopped at the Corolla Wild Horse Museum. Although it is more gift shop than museum, the people working there are incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the horses and they told us of horrible stories about how they are in danger of extinction because of unsafe drivers along the beach where they roam freely. They gave us some insight as to where to look for the horses, but cautioned us that not everyone is lucky in actually spotting them, and after a quick and delicious lunch at the little BBQ shack next door, we were on our way.

For those that haven’t been on the 4×4 beach, the whole thing is gorgeous, but surreal. There are no roads once you get to the beach, everything is sand. Only 4x4s can get back there and the beach is really wide with the cars driving in the middle, between the sand dunes and the ocean. People park their cars in the middle as well, setup their umbrellas and tents and slumber for the day, playing beach games, listening to music, drinking their beer and snacking on their homemade lunches and just generally having an amazing day on an amazing beach. The water hardly has a ripple and dogs play in the small rolling waves running back and forth to fetch balls and Frisbees while kids and adults wade in the calm water (although we had brought our dogs with us to OBX, we had left them back at our cottage in Duck).

We hadn’t been driving for more than five minutes before we spotted our first Mustang. He was beautiful. We could see people by the dunes so we figured there might be more there. The three girls and I jumped out of the truck while Chris and the baby stayed behind, since she was napping. I snapped dozens of pictures as a whole family of these gorgeous animals calmly meandered past us on the way to the beach; our three girls all holding hands studying them in awe. We stayed a good 10 minutes just watching these beautiful creatures stand on the beach, the lead in the group going down to the rolling waves and letting them crash over his legs, while the rest of the herd waited. At times, 4x4s would drive around them (the been there, done that crowd), but mostly everyone in the vicinity had stopped what they were doing to just watch the horses. After some time though, there is only so much horse watching one can do, so we all piled back in the car. Now what? We had found them so quickly and we weren’t prepared to lay out on the beach, we had come to see the horses.

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Chris wanted to explore the “roads” and houses that were on the 4×4 beach. I was intrigued too. The people who vacation and live on this beach truly are away from modern civilization. There are no paved roads, no shops, no restaurants, no gas stations; you are on your own. We found a “street” to turn into the neighborhoods beyond the dunes and rolled in to have a look. The roads are basically flat and made of sand. They are surrounded by marshes and coves. Beyond the houses is protected land. We finished a loop we inadvertently made and found ourselves back on the same road where we started. We discussed heading back at that point, but my husband said he wanted to have a quick look just over a nearby ridge, then we would go. It was around 1pm, and the bakery that had made Malin’s cake was open until 3pm; we had a little wiggle room, so I wasn’t too worried. We headed over a little hill and found ourselves looking down into a small pond, a road leading to it and then away from it on the other side. Clearly, it was road that had flooded a little at the bottom. “Should I drive through it?” Chris asked me. My gut instantly said no. Like immediately, no way, no. But, I looked over at him and he was so excited, and I hate to always be the the buzzkill, and, really, what did I know about water levels and four-wheeling… “um, okay…” I replied. And with that, no more discussion, he accelerated the car and down we went. Straight…down…the middle…

To be continued…

Read Part II

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Malin Milestones@16 Months

At almost 16 months, Malin decided this week that she’s big enough to eat by herself, with a fork. No more finger foods for my little chubster, no more space ships or choo choo trains driven by mommy to get the food in the “tunnel”, she is going at it solo and she’s had a messy blast doing it.

Having a sister who is only 23 months older than you pushes you to try things you may otherwise leave for later. I see Malin studying Liv all day long and she wants to do what her big sister is doing. Yesterday after Liv got off the toilet, Malin was gesturing that she wanted up. I redirected her, but I might let her sit on there if she shows interest again (just for her exploration). But, this week, it’s eating with a fork. She’s got a good handle on things and food makes it into her mouth. She even tries to cut things with her fork, which is really very cute.

We’re also hearing a lot out of her lately. Her vocabulary repertoire includes:

– Hi
– Bye bye
– Mommy
– Daddy
– Baby
– Uh oh
– Doggy
– Woof (when the dogs bark, she does too)
– Poo poo (whenever she goes #2 in her diaper)
– Uppa Mommy/Daddy (pick me up)
– Ooh Ah Ah (what we ALL call the Danon drinkable yogurt with the monkey on the bottle– yes, I count this as a word :))

I need to add three more words that started popping out her mouth the day after I posted this!

– Thank you (!!!)
– Peppa (as in the pig)
– Ashy (as in her sister)

Growing by the minute!

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Girl Talk

Random talks with the girls over the last year…

Ash: Dad, can I have an L-O-L-L-I-P-O-P?
Liv: No! H-I-J-K, mines!

Can’t pull one over on her.

*********************

Liv, one breakfast: Mommy, I want chocolate
Me: No, Liv, you can’t have chocolate this early
Liv: But, I want CHOCOLATE!!
Daddy: You can have some after lunch
Liv: Mommy, I want lunch

Well then.

**********************

Me: I’m going to jump in the shower Liv. Stay put.
Liv: Noooo mommy, don’t go jump in shower…noooooo. You’ll FALLL!

Good point.

*********************

Ash (pickiest eater ever, next to Liv): I’m a vegetarian now.
Me: Oh, really?
Ash: Yea, I just hate the thought of all those animals dying so I can eat them. What’s for dinner?
Me: Well, we’re making chicken.
Ash: I’m a vegetarian.
Me: So I hear…you can have some lentil soup…
Ash: Yea, I don’t think I’ll be a vegetarian anymore. Can I have a hotdog?

Ahh, the dedication and commitment of an 11 year-old.

*********************

Liv got new sneakers…

“Mommy, I need to show my shoes to the mirror!”

*********************

Me: Okay, Liv, time to turn off pad, it’s bed time.
Liv: No, thank you.

At least she’s polite when disobeying me.

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Creature of the Night

You’re headed to bed. The kids were tucked in several hours ago, the monitors have been silent, so you know they are in Slumberland, a place you hope you will be visiting very soon. You spent a nice evening catching up on your DVR’d shows, and your husband heads upstairs while you do a final check of the lights and locks. Suddenly, you hear his voice. It’s hushed with a trace of panic and he’s telling you to hurry upstairs. “Now!” “Quickly!” Your heart starts pounding, and you’re on the stairs where you look up at your husband and see a flash of horror in his eyes. Your mind starts racing…from the very worst, to…what, poop all over the hallway? Did someone go ape shit (literally)? What could be so bad? He’s covering his mouth with his hands, and you can’t tell if he’s trying to stifle a laugh or hold back a scream. Passing him you come to the gate that keeps the possibly wandering youth from the peace and serenity of the downstairs area. You tentatively look down the hall and then you see it. Crouched on the floor at the end of the hallway, looking at you with a huge grin of perfect white teeth, sits…a demon…a frightenly purple, slightly blue-tinged face, covered by tussled hair. It’s the scariest thing you’ve seen since maybe The Ring and that little girl coming out of the well, strands of hair covering her eyes, moving slowly towards you. She’s going to get you!

“What the hell?!” you blurt out. You look back at your husband. He’s on the stairs, out of view of the little monster, and you realize it is laughter he is trying to control now that the initial shock has passed. You then realize the dog, a 150lb beast, is at the gate. Crazy is in his eyes, pleading for you to open the gate and let him out. He’s seen what you’ve seen and he’s scared too.

The thing crouched at the end of the hallway is your daughter, of course. She’s smiling, but she’s also sad. She tells you the blue color no longer works. Well, duh, you just managed to cover your entire face, hands, back to palms, and feet, top to soles, with blue. “I think you used it all up. There’s no more,” you tell her calmly. She then tells you that she needs more purple to make pink. Well, technically, no you think, you would need red and white…wait. Then you realize that she really wants to continue with this art project, like it’s the perfectly normal thing to do at 10:30 at night. You hear your husband note that the marks on her feet and hands look like she’s been nailed to the cross. What? Oh yeah, it does. Weird. What’s worse though, the little critter is starting to stand, to run away (probably back into her sister’s room, where she found the markers to begin with), and you notice that her soles are pitch blue and she’s about to run on the carpet. Your very new and very expensive carpet. “STOP! Don’t move.” What the hell?! “I try to make pink mommy.” Ack, “yes, I understand.” She’s good. She hardly got any of the markers on her clothes. “Honey, we don’t draw on ourselves,” you tell her as you try to figure out how you can clean magic marker that is covering 25% of your daughter’s body without putting her in the tub so late at night. “Only on paper,” she replies. “Yes, only on paper.” Twenty minutes later, you are proud of yourself for almost getting all the color off her face without a tantrum ensuing from your little Picasso. The soles are cleaned enough that they won’t do damage. The “nail marks” your husband so randomly pointed out still show, but it doesn’t matter. You’re tired. You want to go to sleep. Two hours later, after your little artist has finally passed out, you finally close your eyes.

The next morning you’re in the kitchen, reminding your baby girl how we don’t draw on our bodies, how markers are illegal, the devil, and she is never ever allowed to touch them, ever again. “Okay,” she says, “crayons only mama”…as she eyes the scissors in the drawer.

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