Need Gift Ideas for the Holidays and Beyond? I Have 16 Talented Friends

copyright David Fode

I 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 nature blogger, poet, essayist, frustrated short story writer, and amateur visual artist, I know how much work it takes to make something that’s 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 16 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 only two years. 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’re dedicated to creating interesting work that makes people think, laugh, or just feel good.

We’re now almost into the official 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
copyright David Fode

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 that you can view 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. View his work


Nora Walsh Kerr3
copyright Nora Walsh Kerr

NORA 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 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 about her services.  


CHRISTINE LACK ECKERSON has been my friend for 30 years. We spent many nights in our 20s and early 30s attending Veruca Salt concerts; enjoying wonderful libations together at The Charleston, Danny’s, the Czar Bar, and Rainbo Club; and otherwise enjoying life in Chicago in the 1990s and early 2000s. Although we now live 1,100 miles away from one another, I’m always happy to see her when she visits Chicago a few times a year. Christine is a jewelry designer, owner of SilverPress Jewelry, and a talented photographer. And her dad is quite the character; see my story, “A Tale of Three Funeral Directors: Thoughts on the Passing of a Funeral Industry Icon, My Dad, and the Man Who Took Me to My First Blues Bar,” to read about him (he’s the blues bar host). Learn more about Christine at her website, Mary Kay page, and Etsy page.


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. See more of Mary’s work at the end of this article. Contact me if you’d like to purchase her art.


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

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. You can buy Veruca Salt’s albums (their latest album, “Ghost Notes,” is scary good) at “brick and mortar” stores or online. They’re perfect stocking stuffers. Learn more


David Boyle1_edited
copyright David Boyle
David Boyle2_edited_edited
copyright David Boyle

DAVID BOYLE is the funniest person I’ve met in my life. That’s either faint praise if I’m a recluse 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.” I got the chance to see him perform last year at The Givin’s Castle in Beverly, and I was not disappointed. David also performs at the Elgin Fringe Festival and fringe festivals in other cities, and he’s the creator of a fun, sarcastic, and enjoyably disturbing greeting card collection that features his wit and the art of Chris Palm. I bought my pack of greeting cards at his show at the castle, and wished I’d purchased more. Check out David’s Facebook page for information on future performances. Also, here’s a link to a great article about him in the Daily Southtown.


Ann Marie Boyle-human nature cover
copyright Ann Marie Boyle

ANN 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. Ah, the days before kids and a real job. 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 wonderful 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. Listen to and purchase her work.  


NATALIE MAROTTA is a Chicago-based family lifestyle and documentary photographer. She specializes in authentic storytelling portraiture, building moments that are remembered, loved, and imagined. I’ve gotten to know Natalie and her husband Eric over the last few years through my son’s school activities. Natalie and I also serve together on the parents’ advisory board of our kids’ school. Once you have children, your life centers around them and their school and extracurricular activities. It’s so nice to have met and become friends with some great parents as we make are way through life…and Cub Scout events, after-school clubs, violin lessons, sports, school events, etc.). Natalie is a talented photographer who will help you capture moments that you can treasure for a lifetime. See her portfolio at her website, Instagram page (@Natalie_marotta), and Facebook business page.


copyright Andrew Morkes

KATIE SULLIVAN is a talented singer, musician, and music teacher; one of the hardest-working people in local music; and the maestra 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 51st birthday party), and has an album out called “Melting Pot,” which you can buy at iTunes. Learn more about Katie.  


CATHY SORICH is a talented painter of big, beautiful flower paintings, birch tree forests, public art such as Dr. Who phone booths and dreamy butterflies, and much more. She even livens up the world of commerce by creating beautiful store window art that brightens the holiday season and other times of the year. 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 the Heritage Gallery in Beverly. Call her at 773/430-6255 if you’re interested in purchasing her work or hiring her to create a jaw-droppingly-cool decorative window.


Inbound to OHare-copyright Ted Glasoe
copyright Ted Glasoe

TED GLASOE is an old friend, an environmental advocate, and an award-winning nature photographer who loves Lake Michigan even more than I do. He offers a 2020 calendar that features breathtaking images of our beautiful inland sea. You can purchase it at his website, and through Ted’s calendar, as well as his greeting cards, are also available at a store called Shaker Traditions (613 Dempster Street, Evanston, IL 60201, Facebook). I wrote about his excellent photo exhibition (with Nelson Armour), “Surface Tension: Beauty and Fragility in Lake Michigan,” at the Peggy Notebaert Museum, in a past blog, as well as interviewed for another blog post. Click here to view his work and order his calendar.


Nelson Armour2
copyright Nelson Armour

NELSON 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 in 2017 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 does Nelson. I hope that you will support Nelson’s efforts by checking out his work. Learn more.  


copyright Abel Arciniega

ABEL ARCINIEGA is a talented photographer who works for both corporate and individual clients (often shooting weddings and family portraits). He’s also a talented illustrator. Abel’s one of the hardest-working artists I know, and the official photographer of the professional MLS team, Chicago Fire FC. 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-singer1

LAURA 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-writer
copyright Tim Schaffert

TIMOTHY SCHAFFERT used to work for me as a freelancer writing career articles. I’m so happy that he never has to write again about instrumentation technologists and phlebotomy technicians, and that he’s now better known as the author of several 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 Pellegrin
copyright Richard Pellegrin

RICHARD 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,” was 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, Cathy Sorich, and Mary Josephine.

Mary Boroden-art photo2
© Mary Josephine

2 thoughts on “Need Gift Ideas for the Holidays and Beyond? I Have 16 Talented Friends

  1. Im a friend of Christine Eckerson and was encouraged to check these folks out, I’m very interested in their work, especially the music, thankyou so much, Wesley North, Savannah, Ga.

    Liked by 1 person

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