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.

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.

Apple and Pumpkin Pickin'

Back when we lived in Michigan, Fall meant (among other things) visiting a cider mill. There's just nothing like fresh cider and greasy little donuts to make the season special. As there were plenty of cider mills around, we could visit a different one each weekend — or pretty much whenever we wanted. When we moved to St. Louis, we were bummed to find that cider mills just aren't as much of the Fall culture as in Michigan. Eventually, though, we did find something similar. There aren't nearly as many cider mills, and the ones that are here don't sell greasy little donuts (maybe it's a Michigan thing?). But what they do offer is a chance to pick your own apples, or pumpkins, or both. In our family, we go for both.

And so it became a yearly tradition to take the kids out to pick apples and pumpkins in early October. Each year we make the treck across the river to Illinois to one of the handful of farms that are open for picking. We grab far too many apples and usually too many pumpkins, too. Interestingly, the tradition has continued even as the kids have gotten (much) older. Older, like, two are in college. But they still want to go, and we're happy to take them. As they go to two different colleges, both out of town (and one out of state), coordinating the picking trip has become a challenge. This year, we made two trips to two different farms to accomodate the college schedules.

More pictures are on Flickr (there's a link in the right column).