Need Gift Ideas for the Holidays and Beyond? I Have Some Talented Friends

Dave Fode BI HAVE SOME TALENTED FRIENDS. I didn’t just realize that, but it’s always important to celebrate achievement in visual art, music, and writing since it is so difficult to attain. As a poet, essayist, frustrated short story writer, and amateur visual artist, I know how much work it takes to make something that is interesting and beautiful—and how many failures that we all go through to create something that we feel comfortable sharing with others. This blog celebrates 14 of my friends who make art, music, or creative products in some form or another. I’ve known some of these people for more than 40 years, many for at least 20 years, and one for less than a year. Some live a block or two from me, while others now live across the country. Some of my friends make nature-related art, while others don’t. What they all have in common is that they are dedicated to creating interesting work that makes people think, laugh, or just feel good.

We’re now entering the holiday season (Christmas and Hanukkah), and many of us are thinking about what we’ll give as gifts. I hope that you’ll consider purchasing one of their creations (which range in cost from a few dollars to thousands of dollars). You can count on the fact that these gifts were made with love, crazy bursts of creativity, and a lot of hard work. These gifts won’t be forgotten when the holidays come around next year. They’ll be lifetime keepsakes.

Here are the stories of some great and talented people (appearing in no special order):


Dave Fode A

DAVID FODE is one of the most-talented artists I know. He’s a great friend and my annual camping buddy (with our sons). I took my first road trip ever with him when I was 21. We went to 12 states in, I think, 11 days. Mount Rushmore and the Badlands, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and more. What an adventure. He also created illustrations for several of my poems that were published in Strong Coffee. Dave is a stained-glass artist whose work is internationally known. Everyone should get a chance in their lives to see him at work in his studio. Dave’s art is amazing, and I am lucky to own one of his works (a picture of my son, the first image at the very end of this blog), plus many of his ink illustrations. When I think of a true “artist,” I think of Dave. Many of us (including me) talk about being devoted to their art and sacrificing for it, but he walks the walk, or “cuts and paints the stained glass” if that’s the better analogy. His work is time-intensive, so it’s not a holiday gift option this year, but consider commissioning some of his art for an upcoming birthday or anniversary, or for next Christmas. See more of David’s work at the end of this blog. Learn more


Nora Walsh Kerr3NORA WALSH KERR is a terrific chronicler of people’s life stories, and the founder of Memoir for Me. She has built a great business. Nora is an expert at combining wonderful family memories and photos to create a compelling story that will be a treasured family keepsake for generations. Good work takes time, so one of her Memory Books is not a gift option for this holiday season, but Nora offers gift certificates and Memory Frames that will make excellent stocking stuffers. And if you order a Memory Book now, you’ll have it in six to eight weeks—or even sooner. You won’t be disappointed. Learn more.  


Mary Boroden-art photo_edited

MARY JOSEPHINE creates stunning mosaic art. Her work, which is inspired by nature and other themes, would be a welcome addition to anyone’s home or as a great jewelry accessory. Her dedication to making art and following her vision of life is inspiring, and I’m looking forward to her return to Chicago. See more of Mary’s work at the end of this blog. Click here and here to learn more.


Steve Lack, music photo-This was at Lounge Ax for the Seether 7” release party_edited_edited

STEVE LACK is the talented bass player for Veruca Salt, which provided the soundtrack for my 20s when Chicago had a major indie music scene at music clubs and bars such as Lounge Ax, Czar Bar, Phyllis’s Music Inn, Beat Kitchen, Metro, Double Door, and the Empty Bottle. I can’t begin to detail how many cool bands I was able to see as a result of Steve. Veruca Salt reunited several years ago after a long hiatus. They’re touring Australia in early 2018, but if you can’t make it down under, you can buy Veruca Salt’s albums (their latest album, “Ghost Notes,” is scary good). They’re perfect stocking stuffers. A perfect gift to me from one of my wealthier friends would be an all-expenses-paid trip to Australia to follow the band (if you buy the flight and hotels, I’ll spring for the drinks), but I think that’s just a pipe dream. Learn more


David Boyle1_edited

David Boyle2_edited_edited

DAVID BOYLE is the funniest person I’ve met in my life. That’s either faint praise if I’m the Unabomber and never go out anywhere, a lie if he’s sending me thousands of dollars in payola, or the truth because he’s really funny (no fake news here). I should say that the entire Boyle family, with whom I grew up, was hit with a “genetic funny stick” by God or whomever you believe created us. David is a musician, actor, playwright, and humanitarian (okay, I just added the last descriptor, but I’m sure he is that, too). Here’s what the Chicago Reader‘s Tony Adler had to say about his solo show, “An Accidental Organist”: “The piece as a whole is a well wrought mix of cussedness, wit, close observation and earned emotion.” David is also the creator of a fun, sarcastic, and sometimes enjoyably disturbing greeting card collection that features his wit and the art of Chris Palm. His cards are available at Side Street Studio Arts in Elgin and Loulou Belle in Homewood. Check out David’s Facebook page for information on future performances (his shows are the place to get the full David Boyle experience).


Ann Marie Boyle-human nature coverANN MARIE BOYLE is a wonderful and talented singer, and a dear friend. We’ve been pals for more than 40 years, which blows my mind because I still think I’m 28. When Ann lived in Chicago, we hung out two or three times a week. Some of my favorite memories of us are sitting together outdoors at the late, great Holiday Club on Milwaukee Avenue enjoying cold drinks and talking for hours about everything and nothing. Now that she lives out of town, we only see each other once or twice a year. I miss those Chicago days. Ann has released two beautiful albums that will make great stocking stuffers. Her newest release is “Song Cycle.” I highly suggest that you purchase it. For less than $4 (cheaper than a glass of craft beer), you get four fantastic songs. And, unlike the beer (which might last an hour…or 10 minutes for me), her beautiful voice will be with you for a lifetime. Learn more.  


IMGP2889KATIE SULLIVAN is a talented singer and musician, one of the hardest-working people in local music, and the mistress of fun every Valentine’s Day Weekend at the Irish Cottage Boutique Hotel in Galena, Illinois (and also usually one weekend a month the rest of the year). Every year, my wife and I, and our Valentine’s Day mafia of friends and family, travel to Galena to see her perform, and every year we go home happy. Katie performs throughout Chicagoland, plays at private parties (I hope she’ll sing at my 50th birthday party), and has an album out called “Melting Pot,” which you can buy at iTunes. Learn more.  


CATHY SORICH is a talented painter of big, beautiful flower paintings, public art such as Dr. Who phone booths and dreamy butterflies, and much more. She’s a funny lady (sometimes we have too much fun together, and our friends have to shush us in restaurants…that’s a good problem to have), a great old friend, and a prime mover in the Beverly/Morgan Park art scene. I’m jealous that she has helped make Beverly way cooler than it was when I lived there. You can view and purchase her work at both the Heritage Gallery and Ellie’s Café  in Beverly.


Inbound to OHare-copyright Ted GlasoeTED GLASOE is an old friend, an environmental advocate, and a talented nature photographer who loves Lake Michigan even more than I do. He offers his prints for sale, as well as a 2018 calendar that features breathtaking images of Lake Michigan. I wrote about his excellent exhibition, “Surface Tension: Beauty and Fragility in Lake Michigan,” at the Peggy Notebaert Museum, in a past blog. The next permutation of the exhibition will open January 12, 2018, at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts in Saugatuck, Michigan, and runs through March 8, 2018. Look for a detailed interview with Ted about the calendar and his photography in a future Nature in Chicagoland blog post. Learn more.


Nelson Armour2NELSON ARMOUR is a wonderful photographer, and I love his social consciousness and advocacy (we need more people in the world like him). I was lucky to make his acquaintance this year at his exhibition, “Surface Tension: Beauty and Fragility in Lake Michigan” at the Peggy Notebaert Museum. His nature photographs (such as the one above) often touch on the environmental dangers that lurk beneath the beauty of nature because we have failed to be good stewards. Here are Nelson’s thoughts about his photo from the exhibition guide to Surface Tension: “As dusk settles on a deep winter day, the coal-fired Waukegan power plant is visible on the horizon, a point of light. Layered into the image is a close-up of the Waukegan power plant.” Some may ask if art can really make a difference in educating people about environmental hazards and changing the way people think or act. I believe so, and so do Nelson and Ted Glasoe. I hope that you will support their efforts by checking out their work and exhibition. Learn more.  


Abel2ABEL ARCINIEGA is a talented photographer who works for both corporate and individual clients (often shooting weddings and family portraits). He’s one of the hardest-working artists I know, and the official photographer of the professional MLS team, Chicago Fire. I’ve never seen him in a bad mood—which is a good example for us sometimes good-mood-challenged people. Abel could be your wedding photographer or photograph your next corporate event.


Laura Walsh Cravens-singer1LAURA WALSH CRAVENS worked for me as an editorial assistant years ago when I had a real (9-to-5) job at a publishing company, and we’ve remained friends through the years. She is an excellent writer and editor, but little did I know she’s also a great singer (she’s now in the band King Saturday). Our company Christmas parties and staff meetings could have been a lot more fun if I had only known. Imagine discussing serial commas and the use of em dashes in song?! I see a future Broadway hit: “Publishing Company: The Musical!” Laura and her band do not have an album out yet, but who knows what the future holds. Luckily, you can see her live at various spots around Chicagoland. She and King Saturday even recently played in a side tent (for a Blues Kids Foundation event) at the Chicago Blues Festival. Seeing King Saturday is a perfect way to start the new year. Click here to learn more about the band and its upcoming concerts.


Tim Schaffert-writerTIMOTHY SCHAFFERT used to work for me as a freelancer writing career articles. I’m so happy that he surely never has to write again about instrumentation technologists and phlebotomy technicians, and that he is now better known as the author of four great novels, including Devils in the Sugar Shop (a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice). He has won the Henfield Award and the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award, and has been shortlisted for the O. Henry Prize. Buy his books at Amazon or direct from the publisher—or better yet, at your favorite indie bookstore. Why make Jeff Bezos any richer?


Richard PellegrinRICHARD PELLEGRIN is a talented jazz pianist and composer, and a funny guy. We were friends a lifetime ago when he lived in Chicago. His debut record, “Three-Part Odyssey” (Origin Records/OA2) was praised by All About Jazz as being “remarkably original” and a “superb debut.” His second record, “Episodes IV-VI” (Origin Records/OA2), was called “strikingly original” by Earshot Jazz Magazine, and his third record, “Down,” will be released in 2018. You can purchase his music at Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, CD Baby, Barnes & Noble, Spotify, and other places.


CAN I TAKE A FEW MOMENTS TO TOUT MY OWN PUBLICATIONS? Yes, I can. I founded my company College & Career Press back in 2002 to provide trusted resources for students and their parents, as well as school counselors, librarians, and teachers. My college-planning books and newsletter are perfect gifts for college-bound teens. And my career-planning books and newsletter will be helpful for those who need info on the latest hot careers, or if you’ve got one of those kids in their 40s who has returned home and lays on your couch all day not knowing what he or she wants to do in life (other than picking your fridge clean). My books also are good for steadying wobbly furniture and to start fires in a post-apocalyptic world, but not for stopping a bullet. Here are some of my publications to check out and some great reviews from library journals, career columnists, and the “average joe”:

I also write this blog, Nature in Chicagoland, which is in semi-hibernation today given the preponderance of art, music, and other creative talk in this post, and The Morkes Report Blog: College and Career Planning Trends.


Copyright (text) Andrew Morkes (except text quoted from Nelson Armour and Tony Adler)

All artists profiled hold the rights to the images provided, except the photo of Laura Walsh Cravens (copyright held by DavDGreat Photography)

I hold the copyright to my book cover images.

Here are some more examples of work from David Fode and Mary Josephine.


Mary Boroden-art photo2
© Mary Josephine



3 thoughts on “Need Gift Ideas for the Holidays and Beyond? I Have Some Talented Friends

  1. How did you ever find the time to nurture all these wonderful
    friendships and keep them going for 20+ years? I am certainly glad you did because creativity in all forms is a delightful companion through life and certainly makes for interesting conversations. Delightful addition to your blog.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s