Christmas – In February?

This time of year, from the beginning of January through the end of May, is far and away the busiest time for me at work. Travel is pretty constant, work hours are long, and days off are rare. I'm not complaining! I'm just making lame excuses for not getting around to posting images from Christmas until now. We have a tradition of getting together at my wife's parent's house, along with her sisters and their families, late in the afternoon on Christmas Day. This gives everyone a chance to spend most of the day at home with their kids before having to pack the car and go anywhere. In past years, this get-together was a Christmas present extravaganza for all the grandkids: Mountains of packages from Grandma and Grandpa that became mountains of toys and discarded wrapping paper. Now that they're older, though, things are a bit more subdued but we still have a good time. This year we also did a "white elephant" gift exchange plus everybody brought their dogs (there were five of 'em running around.)

The Stalking of the Christmas Tree

We've made it a tradition in our house, going back to when we were first married, to go out to a Christmas tree farm each year and cut down our tree. Yes, it's way more work than popping a fake tree out of a box but we love doing it. It's like a treasure hunt with no map: You know exactly what the treasure looks like but you have no idea where to find it. Given that we live in sprawling suburbia, we often drove a pretty good distance to a suitable tree farm. The return trip was always fun — us doing our Griswald family impression, blasting down the interstate with the tree strapped to the roof of the car, praying that it wouldn't blow off and kill somebody. But a few years ago we found a tree farm very near home. It's one of those places, one of those "I can't believe this hasn't been bulldozed and turned into a subdivision" places, tucked away in the next suburb over. And it's, ummm, rustic.

This is not a tree farm with rows of perfectly pruned and spray painted trees lined up like six foot tall green dominos. This is a "Here's your saw; here's your cart; good luck" kind of place: Lots of acreage, paths that meander all over said acreage, and a wild mix of trees. Wild as in "haphazardly placed by Mother Nature." Wild as in "forget pruning and shaping; these babies are all natural."

Some years, it's taken a lot of wandering and hiking, and some desperation, to find a tree. As we're not of the "Let's put the tree up right away — like on Halloween!" ilk, we tend to wait well into the season before venturing out for the yearly hunt. This year, we were actually kind of early (for us).

And so these are some pictures from this past weekend's hunt in which we ended up with not one but two trees: one not terribly tall, but tall enough, and the other fat and downright short for a spot upstairs.

Photo geek info: It was a bleak, gray day and the colors were very flat so I decided to try out Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro plugin to convert everything to black and white. Summary of the experience: the software works well, is very flexible, and generates some really nice tones. The only downside is that there's no way to batch images in Lightroom. You can do it with the "costs twice as much" Photoshop version but not with the Lightroom version.

 

Pictures from Thanksgiving

It was another successful Thanksgiving feast: we gathered, we ate (way too much), we hung out, and we avoided all political and/or social arguments. All in all, a very successful Thanksgiving. Somehow, though, I managed to not get a picture of the turkey.

Shot with a Canon 5D and EF 50mm F/1.4. Processed in Lightroom.

The End of Fall

Though it's technically not correct, I always view Fall as beginning on Labor Day (the first Monday of September) and ending today, Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November). For those outside the U.S., Thanksgiving is a national holiday in which we're supposed to give thanks for everything that's good in our lives. In practical terms, it's when families get together and, by tradition, eat more in a single meal than a normal person needs in three days. Thanksgiving = "Eat too much; watch football." To celebrate the end of the season, I thought I'd post these from the beginning of the season when we drove into southern Illinois to pick apples. I can't remember how many pounds of apples we came out with but even with their "buy one lb., get another lb. free" pricing that weekend we still spent $40. But it's a lot of fun and we try to go every year.

Shot on a Lumix LX5, processed with VSCO in Lightroom 4.

New Orleans

I've always thought that the nicest time to spend in the French Quarter is a weekday morning. The craziness of the night is (mostly) gone, there are far fewer tourists or people in general on the streets, and the morning sun highlights the area in a way that you don't see later in the day. Mornings make the Quarter feel like a real neighborhood with a history that you can almost taste. I was in New Orleans for a job a couple weeks ago, over a weekend. My flight on Monday wasn't until the afternoon so I was able to spend the morning just wandering about.

Thanksgiving

Each year, my wife and her sisters take turns hosting Thanksgiving. This has worked out well as it evenly distributes the "OMG, I'VE GOT TO CLEAN MY HOUSE FROM TOP TO BOTTOM BECAUSE THE WHOLE FAMILY IS COMING OVER"-issues that are part of hosting. This year was Trish's turn. Each segment of the family brings something, or sometimes several somethings, and the host usually does the turkey. Our contribution this year: green bean casserole and gigantically mammoth croissants (easy!). It was fun. We were stuffed.

The images were shot on a Canon 5D with 50mm f/1.4 lens. Shot as RAW files; converted to B&W in Lightroom. A link to the full set of images on Flickr is in the right-hand column.