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The official photo blog of J. David Buerk Photography.

Christmastime in Chicago - The Complete Jaunt

By now you probably read about my small (read: big) obsession with Chicago O’Hare’s Terminal 3 and how ORD decorates it for Christmas, just like in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (Terminal 3 is seen in the original Home Alone, but without holiday decorations).  I shared a glimpse of my early-December trip to Chicago before Christmas, highlighting these decorations at O’Hare.  Today you get to see my entire journey to Chicago in December, not just the Christmas portions.

This was actually my second time to Chicago for a photography assignment at Chicago O’Hare International Airport in two months - my personal photos from my ATL-ORD-SFO trip in October are in progress; work assignment photos always come first.  You’ll see the photos from that trip at some point this Spring, so you’re seeing these trips out of order.  In October, due to the logistics of my photo assignments, I only had an evening free in Chicago before flying to San Francisco for the next photoshoot, and I was lucky to even get that.  This time, in December, ORD was my only airport to cover, so I was able to schedule an extra day in case of weather or scheduling issues, allowing me to explore a city I’d never truly seen before.

Day 1: Arrival

All journeys have to start somewhere, and Dulles’ slogan is Your Journey Begins With Us - Steve and his team always deck out IAD with new additions every year.  There was new colorful LED uplighting inside Eero Saarinen’s Main Terminal Building this year, but I never got to see it in person this year, departing in daylight.  Here is Dulles’ Main Terminal AeroTrain station all set for Christmas! 

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I think everyone does this, but it’s always fun to spot places you know or frequent from the air.  Living so close to Dulles, on this pattern I always see a shopping center I visit, but got to see my old high school from the air lit up for football thanks to a banking turn.

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I always prefer a window seat anyway, but by far Chicago is one of the prettiest cities to see from the air at night.  If you ever visit this city, you must get a window seat and arrive at night.  Chicago is the only city I’ve truly been excited to specifically see from the air.  This, my second time taking in Chicago’s sprawl, I was joined by a British Airways flight abeam my plane also on final.  For about 5 minutes until we landed simultaneously I spotted the BA flight appearing and dissapearing in and out through the low cloud-cover above the peach glow of the sea of sodium lights below.

 The Grid; a digital frontier.  Maybe one day I’ll photograph the moonrise along the Chicago skyline in tribute to the masterful work of Ron Fricke and Godfrey Reggio.

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My flight on United arrived in Terminal 1, and since it was nighttime upon landing and my photoshoot the next day was in the morning, I took an extra hour to walk all the way over to Terminal 3, stand in awe of the beautiful light display, take pictures of it, and walk all the way back to Terminal 1 to exit and claim my bag - this way I was sure to get photos of the decorations during night and daylight. Totally worth it, and a huge airport bucket-list item checked off.  These lights are seen adorning walkways between Terminal 1 and 2. 

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Made famous in Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Terminal 3 is where the McCallisters perform the McCallister family travel tradition of springing to their gate. The McCallisters fly out of the K Gates in Home Alone, and the H Gates in Home Alone 2, while Kevin gets separated at the Y-split, boarding his flight to New York out of the K Gates. A fun factoid if you watch the movies closely is the Terminal 3 Christmas decorations only appear in Home Alone 2. 

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My travel days mostly only consist of traveling and getting settled in upon arrival.  Before heading to the hotel to settle in, I got to say hello to the O’Hare dinosaur, watching over the silent Terminal on my way back to baggage claim to head to the hotel.  I chose a different hotel this time because I had nothing but logistic problems with the hotel I stayed at in October.  Not only did I get a deal on the room, but this one was much closer, and on the off-chance their airport shuttle didn’t run like the shuttle at my previous hotel, this one has rail service and is only one stop from the airport.  This hotel was much more convenient and gave me reliable and quick transportation.

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Day 2: Photoshoot

During my photoshoot the next day, I got to see Terminal 3’s decorations in daylight; I’d expected and looked forward to this, becuase Christmas lights turn me into a wide-eyed little kid.  It’s beautiful at night and during the day for different and unique reasons.

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Day 3: Downtown Chicago

The day after my photoshoot was free for flexibility or inclement weather, so I decided to go downtown and explore some of the places I didn’t get to in October.  This time I had a few destinations in mind, but was content to explore without a rush.  In contrast to having only a handful of hours beginning at sunset in October, I had an entire day, which let me explore in daylight.  The sun did nothing, however to counteract the single-digit temperatures I was braving this time around.

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A few blocks from the subway, my first planned desination was the Christkindlmarket Chicago; a German Christmas market serving German food and selling German Christmas wares.

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After eating some bratwurst, a stuffed pretzel, and some hot chocolate with Krampus, I set off toward Navy Pier, and decided to stop by Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate along the way; I’d photographed Cloud Gate at night in October (one of only three stops I had planned and successfully squeezed in in October), but decided to see it in daylight as well since I wasn’t too far from it. 

My impression of Cloud Gate is that it is more beautiful on a clear day like this one, but the experience is more enjoyable at night due to much fewer people.  Millenium Park also had sections blocked off for Christmas light displays which hadn’t been present to obstruct some views whe I was here in October. 

The reflection of the skyline is mesmorizing.  Going underneath “the bean” absorbs all the city din, only reflecting echos of gabbing passersby. 

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Obligatory selfie reflection on “the bean.”

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I noticed the fancy scroll architecture in October, but didn’t wander over to see what it was; I imagine seeing a concert here is like across between Wolf Trap and Merriweather Post Pavillion.

Also of interest was stumbling onto the NBC building in Chicago; I didn’t know they had one, but it’s interesting to me since I’ve been inside 30 Rock and toured sets of some of their shows including The Doctors, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and Saturday Night Live. 

If the Maggie Daley Ice Skating Ribbon had been open while I was there, I’d have actually considered trying a few laps on it.  (Ice is how I dislocated my knee and tore my MPFL requiring reconstruction in 2017, so this is quite the statement).  I’ve only been ice skating twice in my life, and I’ve alwyas wanted to try it again.  Doing so alone in a city you don’t reside or even know anyone in would have been pretty risky, so in reality I probably wouldn’t have done it.  But maybe I would have.

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I’d been reccomended visiting Navy Pier; a contact from my photoshoot the day before, a life-long Chicagoan, told me there was lots to do at Navy Pier, likening it to Pier 39 in San Francisco (which a life-long San Francisoan from my photoshoot at SFO reccomended I visit).  I was also recomended a few specific hot dog joints, but none of them were convenient to visit along my path. 

Arriving at Navy Pier, it was completely deserted - it was single-digits out after all.  It looked like the building itself was locked up to me, so it wasn’t until I’d walked halfway down the pier that I saw a small group come out some doors, showing me there actually was an interior I could get to (and more importantly, warmth!).  I warmed up and continued to the end of the pier to see what was at the end; all I found was a kids’ Santa Claus event - Navy Pier had been made out to me to be a lot more with a lot more going on than it actually was; during the Summer I’m sure that’s the case, but not in early December.

I stepped outside at the end of the pier just in time for sunset. 

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Now that I knew there was an interior to Navy Pier, I backtracked in warmth, and found out there was a small mall section I’d completely missed.  Staying warm a few minutes longer, I got my first bag of Garrett Mix.

Ready to brave the cold again, I head back West to Michigan Avenue.  Given that I was cold and doing a lot of walking, I’d sworn off shopping this trip, but The Magnificent Mile is still a Chicago staple, nothing is stopping me from window shopping, and it was a direct route to the pizza shop I had planned this time around.   That, and I wanted to see the Christmas lights along Michigan Avenue; this was the Christmas parade route, after all.

Since night fell, and the Christmas lights were on, I went into full Kevin McCallister mode and set out hunting Christmas trees.  In doing so I passed The Wrigley Building, a huge Apple Store, and Tribune Tower, which has a fascinating history.

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Finally, toward the North end of Michigan Avenue (and after a short trip through Water Tower Place), I hit the motherlode. 

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What I didn’t realize until I turned the corner is what building I was standing in the shadow of.  I’d photographed it twice now already; Chicago’s iconic 875 North Michigan Avenue, more ubiquitously known by its former name, The John Hancock Center. 

Visiting this tower wasn’t part of the loose plan I’d assembled, but that’s the point of having a loose plan - unplanned fun.  Two months prior I’d gone up the 110 story tall Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower; the first and primary stop I had planned in my October jaunt downtown), but I found the view from the 100 story tall John Hancock Center more impressive.

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And there is Navy Pier from 94 stories up; remember, I walked all the way from the end of that pier (and further to get there, actually; my only subway usage this jaunt was to get to downtown and to get back to my hotel in Rosemont). 

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Far and away the dumbest thing I heard was while photographing the Eastern side; two girls, about my age, were also taking pictures on their phones, and upon rounding the corner to the East side one exclaimed, “Oh my God, something happened! Something’s wrong with the city!  This side of the city is has a complete blackout!”

You could hear she was scared; I didn’t say anything - I wanted to hear how deep this well of stupidity went.  The other girl was confused at first too, but took about 60 seconds to realize, and explain to the first girl that, “I think that’s the water.”

Without missing a beat, she replied, “but where are the lights?!” 

“I don’t think people live on the water.”

”But, shouldn’t there be boats?  What happened to the boats?  Look, everyone’s trying to get out of the city.” 

No folks; it’s Winter, and sunset was around 4.30 - it’s just rush hour on a Friday in Chicago. 

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After that astonishing display of naivety, and walking the city all day with only light fare in my stomach, it was time to finish the last few blocks and hit my last planned stop: dinner at Lou Malnati’s.  I needed food, and I needed it quick, becuase my cue to leave John Hancock Center was a quickly forming migraine, and I didn’t have migraine meds with me downtown.  I was hoping food would stave it off, since I’m sure it was caused by dehydration and poor diet.

The pizza was fantastic, by the way. 

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And to finish my day off, the food did nothing to slow the migraine, and after 45min waiting to get into Lou’s, an hour and a half eating, 15min waiting for the train, and an hour ride back to Rosemont, my migraine was way beyond any intervention.  It was the first migraine I’d had in over 2 months, and the worst migraine I had all year.

Day 4: Departure

I only managed about 2 hours of sleep; after at least 8 hours of excruciating pain in my pitch black hotel room, I managed to fall asleep, and woke up with the post-migraine haze I experience when the pain has passed, but I still have cognitive fog while the tail end of the migraine clears up. 

The killer headache the night before meant I hadn’t packed, so after a shower I rushed to fit what is usually a 1hr organized exercise into a 20min disorganized frenzy to pack and catch the hotel airport shuttle... hopefully.   Luckily I was right on time to catch it.  And although I was arriving to the airport a full hour later than I normally would prefer, I still had a half hour to safely get something to eat near my gate.  Among other things, I finally got my Chicago-style hot dog since I never got one the day before.

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The snow-dusted Shenandoah mountains was a fitting sight to end my trip; I’d spotted snow flying over the Sierra Nevada mountain range on my return trip from San Francisco two months prior. 

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Christmastime in Chicago

It’s no secret that one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies is Home Alone (1 and 2). So when I confirmed a photoshoot at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport scheduled for December, I was elated. I’d just had a photoshoot at O’Hare (and two other airports) two months prior, but visiting ORD in December meant I would get to see O’Hare’s Terminal 3 decked out for Christmas. Made famous in Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Terminal 3 is where the McCallisters perform the McCallister family travel tradition of springing to their gate. The McCallisters fly out of the K Gates in Home Alone, and the H Gates in Home Alone 2, while Kevin gets separated at the Y-split, boarding his flight to New York out of the K Gates. A fun factoid if you watch the movies closely is the Terminal 3 Christmas decorations only appear in Home Alone 2.

My flight on United arrived in Terminal 1, and since it was nighttime upon landing and my photoshoot the next day was in the morning, I took an extra hour to walk all the way over to Terminal 3, stand in awe of the beautiful light display, take pictures of it, and walk all the way back to Terminal 1 to exit and claim my bag - this way I was sure to get photos of the decorations during night and daylight. Totally worth it, and a huge airport bucket-list item checked off.

By the way, all these photos were shot on the all-new Canon EOS R, which I will be reviewing in the coming weeks; I had promised a review on Instagram during this trip, but due to migraine and now ongoing shoulder spasm and deadlines, this has been backburnered.

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At the hotel I got some editing done after making my room a bit more… festive.

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The day after my photoshoot was free for flexibility or inclement weather, so I decided to go downtown and explore some of the places I didn’t get to in October. I started at the Christkindlmarket Chicago, a German Christmas market serving German food and selling German Christmas wares. After eating some bratwurst, a stuffed pretzel, and some hot chocolate with Krampus, I embodied Kevin McCallister and set out hunting Christmas trees.

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I started at Millennium Park, photographing Cloud Gate in daylight (since I photographed it at night in October), and worked my way along Michigan Avenue en route to the pizza joint which some of my O’Hare contacts had recommended for dinner.

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This led me to 875 North Michigan Avenue (AKA John Hancock Center), which provided some fantastic views of the city to pair with my night aerials from my October trip up Willis Tower (AKA Sears Tower). These photos will come along later, but I found it interesting I recognized this space at the building’s base before I realized what building I was standing beside.

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Christmas in St. Louis, 2017

As many of you know, much of my family lives in St. Louis, Missouri.  As always, I took along my camera, however given my still-recovering knee I brought it with no intentions of photographing anything in particular; my plan was to sit and let it heal, and that's largely what I did.  I did, however, shoot some photos as I saw them, so I'm including some highlights of my trip here.

Before I could leave town, however, I had to find someone to care for the bonsai Alyssa gave me.  I may have decorated it beforehand though...

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Roadtripping there led to I-70 to visit with Bernie and Natalie in Indianapolis while there was clear weather along the Northern route.  First though was a stop at a West Virginia rest area with an overlook of the carved-through mountain.  This mountain pass is usually completely coated in shimmering ice by December, so it was a new sight to see its bare rock in direct sunlight.

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Next stop was seeing Bernie and Natalie at a Steak N Shake not far from their home in Indianapolis.  Interestingly, we've done this enough times that some of the wait staff recognize us now, and gave us free coffee for the road.  Can you say *you're* a regular at a restaurant 600 miles away?

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Upon arrival in St. Louis I may have decorated my hotel room...

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I've developed somewhat of a tradition of taking my cousin Carrie's kids out each year to see the latest Star Wars.  This year, however, I had been doing a bit of punking and when they asked me when we were going to see The Last Jedi I told Ryan and Alex I'd already seen it a few days earlier (true).  "But we always go!"  Sarcastically feigning pain, "Ow, my knee *really* hurts...  I don't think I can see it..."

And then I started in on the mix of spoilers:  Han Solo dies!  Luke drinks green milk fresh from a teat... then he tickles Rey's hand with a leaf!  It's just like Battlestar Galactica except there's no whiteboard!  Kylo Ren kills Han Solo, and boy oh boy do I have some bad news for you about Carrie Fisher... BOOM!!!  *feigns gasping for air*

Obviously you wouldn't know what of that is true or false unless you've seen the movie; little did they know it's all true... but with a 2 ton asterisk on the end, and none of it is central to the plot.  Also little did they know I'd already bought the tickets.  So, Christmas morning came and I'd given them a Christmas card simply signed "Han Solo dies!!!" inside, with the tickets to Star Wars, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi in 3D for the next day.  The reaction of them realizing what it was was pretty worth it.

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Fast forward a few days to my mom's birthday, and we're all sitting around my grandpa's kitchen table visiting with him.  He's 98, and last year I gave him prints of some aerial photos I've taken, and pictures of me taking some of them; he's always been intrigued by flight, and is always asking what kind of aviation stuff I'm taking pictures of, so it was a fitting gift - I think he lives vicariously through me a little since I've been on some flights he didn't even get to experience in the Army.  This year I accidentally left this year's new prints at the hotel on Christmas, so I instead gave him the prints a few days later; it was for the best - he was more awake and focused than on Christmas with all the tiring activity.

This part really made my day - this is my 98 year old grandfather reading an article on AirlineGeeks.com profiling me and my marketing photography work in the aviation industry.  Here is my only remaining grandparent soaking in every word of an article about me.  His only question was "what is a Plane Pull?"  I showed him pictures and explained the charity event.

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This was almost a two week trip, but it flew right by, and as you've seen I don't have too terribly many photos to share from it due to my own preference of rehabbing my knee (12-weeks post MPFL Reconstruction surgery as of that week), and extreme caution to avoid ice and any slippery footing; St. Louis always harsher, more annoying Winters than DC - almost every day it is in the teens or single digits, accompanied by freezing rain, snow, or sleet.  There were only ~2 days of the entire stay that didn't have some kind of Winter precipitation - not a welcome sight for post-op knee safety, even if at 12 weeks my gracilis tendon has *in theory* fused with my bones and become a new ligament.

That same Winter weather was tracking North, so the I-64 Southern route was the obvious choice to return to DC.  St. Louis has a lot of decay in certain areas; I find it beautiful, although those aren't areas I would recommend going on a touristy photo-walk unless you're an experienced urban explorer (I am not).  The highway out of town takes you straight past some of these spots, so I always love seeing the decaying abandoned industrial buildings leaving St. Louis and into Illinois.

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Later, in Kentucky, one of the rest areas just a few miles from the Woodford Reserve Distillery had a display of Kentucky Whiskey memorabilia and selections from local vineyards.  I'm much more of a scotch person, but I think I'd really enjoy visiting the Woodford Reserve Distillery.

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Finally, some sights heading into Louisville, Kentucky; it's always seemed like it would be a really cool city to explore and perhaps even live in, but I've never understood why a city most famous for its baseball bats only has a AAA team which feeds into an Ohio team.

I've seen a few sitting in parking lots, but I've mostly only seen these when I visit the Infiniti dealer for service; this is the first time I've spotted a CV37 generation Infiniti Q60 driving on the road.  I do kinda like it, but it still just seems like a mashup of BMW 4 Series / Mazda 6 / Honda Accord to me; in other words, as a whole, unoriginal.  There is also the glaring omission of a manual transmission option.  I'll spare you the full car review, but I have quite a few complaints about the interior as well.  That all said, it's still a really sharp looking car.

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Hands down my favorite sight along I-64 is this oil refinery; the steam is always distinctive and visible for miles, and between the steam clouds and thousands of sodium lamps, it's roadside industrial Christmas.  This is the first time I've ever seen them burning off excess gas; the industrial candle lit the lumbering overhead plumes even brighter, adding depth with its flicker.

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That night, while editing some photos, I again felt compelled to decorate my hotel room; these AA powered Christmas lights are the best $7 I spent all of 2017!  They served as the perfect nightlight while editing that evening (the room lamps were all just too bright), and the perfect warmup in my groggy, pre-coffee state the next morning.

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By morning the band of snow in the North had swirled down and reached an arm down to the I-64 corridor; the <1" of accumulation was welcome in comparison to the >36" the same storm had dropped in a matter of hours North in Pennsylvania overnight.

West Virginia's capital building has always drawn me to visit, but I still haven't had the chance.  It looks very beautiful, from the quick glimpses you spot it passing through Charleston.

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Christmas in St. Louis 2016

Not every year, but most years, my parents and I travel to St. Louis to visit our family; most of my extended family is from and lives in St. Louis, Missouri - as a result, St. Louis is something of a second home to me.  This year was no different, especially as my last remaining grandparent pushes past 96 years old.

Since this is more of a family trip, I'll be sharing some highlights of the trip.  I think the most logical way to do this is to break it up by day, since every day holds a different event.

Last Photoshoot of the Year

A lot of what I do for the Airports' concessions program is documenting events and brand activation.  This is exactly what I did for my last three photoshoots of the year... with Santa Claus.

After completing that and some photos of new retailers, I popped in to the Airport Managers Office (I used to work in this office at Dulles) to wish all my friend there a Merry Christmas before I left town the next day.  In Dennis' office (this actually used to be my physical office), I found a giant photo of Dennis' head that was apparently left over from some pranks - I had to get a picture with it.

I haven't determined yet if the head is from a picture I shot - my hunch is that it is :-) &nbsp;This joke head will mean the most to folks in the Dulles aviation community

I haven't determined yet if the head is from a picture I shot - my hunch is that it is :-)  This joke head will mean the most to folks in the Dulles aviation community

Arrival

Usually the trip by car has poor weather and slow pacing, but the weather is unseasonably warm and dry, and the trip was made in 15hrs non-stop (barring gas / bathroom breaks and driver swaps), making it one of the rare time the journey was made non-stop on the way there.

In the middle of nowhere Illinois I woke up from a nap and looked out the window to see the most stars I've ever seen all at once in my entire life.  Light pollution really is a shame, and even though I travel this route almost every year, I've never seen such a clear sky - usually the sky is threatening snow this time of year.  The biggest reason I moved to a 1D X years ago (rather than the 5D Mark III at the time) is its incredible low-light abilities.  On a whim, I tried shooting the stars from a moving car.  Even though I really dislike the 24-105mm f/4 IS USM lens (for reasons I may get into in another blog post - I only purchased it to do video work earlier this year), I've found it to be the most versatile zoom lens I've used... so despite its many shortcomings and my many frustrations with it, it is a good travel lens; this is what I brought with me on this trip.

The one thing that does shine on this lens it the image stabilizer, which allowed me to shoot 1 second exposures handheld wide open at ISO 51,200 to capture the stars.  Remember, this is from the backseat of a car going 80MPH - the image stabilizer combined with the fantastic sensor of the 1D X allowed me to really push the limits of what is possible; I ended up with a pretty good picture considering I did it under the most adverse conditions for night sky photography.

1D X • EF 24-105mm f/4 IS USM • 24mm •&nbsp;1s • f/4 • ISO 51,200

1D X • EF 24-105mm f/4 IS USM • 24mm • 1s • f/4 • ISO 51,200

Christmas Eve

It's been quite a few years since my family attended Christmas Eve mass; as my parents and relatives age, it's made more sense to choose an earlier vigil mass time.  Christmas (Eve) mass with my family at All Saints Catholic Church in St. Peters, Missouri is a tradition I look forward to every year because how beautiful the small church always is at Christmas.  This is the church where my parents were married, I was baptized, and most funerals in my family have taken place. The priest who celebrated this mass actually knows my family very well, since he visits my grandfather (who was a eucharistic minister for this parish until he aged to a point where he can no longer leave home).

Christmas Day

Christmas in my family always works out pretty conveniently.  My mom's side has always had Christmas in the morning (after Christmas lunch), and my Dad's side has always traditionally had Christmas in the evening (after Christmas dinner).  This works great, because it means we can attend both Christmas gatherings without missing any of the festivities from both sides of my family.

My grandfather on my mom's side has always been fascinated with flight, although he never got a pilot's license; he's like me in that sense (though I hope to one day).  He sees all the stuff I get to do with aviation and in a way lives vicariously through me.  This year, someone showed him video from my glider flights, and he's been asking for prints of the photos ever since; this Christmas I brought him prints of the glider flights, plus photos from other helicopter flights and my trip in a hot air balloon.  My cousin's kid Alex always loves to take pictures with my camera, so I asked him to get pictures of my and my grandfather together.

Fumbling Towards Ecstasy: Winter of 2017

I always let him play with my camera, so here is a small selection of ones Alex shot on my camera.  I of course edited these for color to match my own eye, but he's pretty good - no other edits were needed.

Next was Christmas for my Dad's side, at my Aunt Diane's.

My cousin Scott has a new 3 month old puppy, Danica (named after Danica Patrick, of course; Scott is a huge NASCAR fan).  She's a sweet Jack Russell Terrier with energy abound; she made friends with my cousin Sarah's dog Oliver, and the two dogs played non-stop all day.

So here is me with all my cousins on my Dad's side.

Mom's Birthday

My mom's birthday is right by Christmas, so traditionally it marks our last day in town so she can celebrate her birthday with family.  This year, like the last prior few, has been more subdued, and more-so focused spending time with my grandfather, whose age is beginning to catch up with him; that hasn't stopped his sense of humor though.

Departure

The trip back home was pretty regular, and we actually made spectacular time.  During a stop I watched one of the most beautiful sunsets I've seen in my entire life... ruined by gas station and power line sprawl.  And conditions were great until they weren't hitting a snowstorm bounding in the mountains of West Virginia; you'll have to watch the video for that.  We did make it home safely and in still in record time for the return trip... I still prefer flying this trip though.

Video Footage

Something I've done a bit more work with over the last year, as you may know, is video; as a result, I've been incorporating video into my personal work a little bit more as well.  Some pretty cool footage of the West Virginia snowstorm at the tail end!

Leo and Chelsea: The Proposal

Leo and Chelsea have been dating since 2008.  The two met each other through friends at George Mason, and in the early times of their relationship, including their first date, they spent hours standing by the Reston Town Center skating rink talking into the wee hours of morning.  The two have been inseparable since they met and got together.  They graduated together; Leo watched Chelsea start her career with the Fairfax County Park Authority, and Chelsea watched Leo become a Fairfax County Police Officer.

Leo and I have known each other since high school; we had a math class together, and I always admired his car since we parked right by each other.  Incidentally, I met Chelsea in a psychology class at Mason.  So when Leo contacted me and told me he's popping the question, of course I was going to be there for them!

Because their relationship began in the plaza by the skating rink, it's only natural that that's the spot Leo had chosen to drop to one knee and pop the question.  The plan was simple; take Chelsea on a little date before Leo's family's weekly dinner... little did Chelsea know that it was just a ruse to get her back to the spot where it all began.  But that wasn't the biggest surprise Leo had in store for her; he had both their families and friends standing by waiting so they could all be witness to this big moment in their life together.

Leo had been giving me updates all afternoon, and when I spotted them, I hid behind some columns alongside the skating rink, just across from where they'd stopped.  Leo and Chelsea's longtime friends Emily and Ted had positioned themselves just across from me behind a directory to secretly film.  Finally it was time; Leo pointed out their family and friends, and even their dogs Calvin and Ollie, hidden in plain sight across the street, and dropped to one knee.

She said yes!

Some of the skaters had noticed what was going on the instant Leo dropped to one knee, and when he slipped on the ring and the kissed, the entire skating rink cheered for newly engaged Leo and Chelsea along with their family and friends.

Weddings

Coincidentally, while waiting for Leo and Chelsea to arrive, I spotted another couple get engaged; you never know if a couple has a photographer for marriage proposals, so I snapped away when I spotted the gentleman dropping to one knee, and got them my contact information before they walked away.  If you are this couple, please contact me so I can deliver your pictures.