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The official photo blog of J. David Buerk Photography.

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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Alyssa in DC: 2016

I must admit to having an (arguably) bad habit; I place my personal photography behind my work photography.  That's not a bad thing; the bad thing is how far behind I place my own work.  In something that's become almost as much a tradition as a Summer vacation with Alyssa, this is the second time in a row I've taken more than 8 months to edit the photos I shot on Alyssa's trip to DC.

This time around I insisted that we take things a little slower than the previous year; doing something every single day for a week in 2015 really wore me out, so 2016 was a more relaxed trip.  Plus, that allowed us to catch some of the Rio Olympic Games!

We didn't do anything worthy of photos the first two days (it was mostly spent fixing her computer), so this blog starts on Day 3!

Day 3: Luray Caverns • Skyline Drive • Stony Man Mountain

Luray Caverns, Luray, Virginia

Alyssa is always jealous of my hiking pictures when she sees them, so we always plan at least one hike when she's here; since I thought Luray Caverns would be something she'd enjoy, I planned our entire day in the Shenandoah Valley, starting with Luray Caverns.

It'd been a few years since I'd been to Luray Caverns, but of course Alyssa had never been.  Things have clearly changed since the last time I'd visited; of all the times I've visited, I've never actually been given a tour before.  Actually, I've never even had to stand in line to get in.  Every time I've been you've just paid for entry and you're given free reign to walk around the cavern at your own pace.  Not this time though; we actually had to wait in line, and once inside we were part of a guided tour with around 30 people.

A very different experience than my previous visits, but still enjoyable.  I've previously taken the audio tour, but I found the guided tour more educational and much more enjoyable.  The only reason I can guess for getting a guided tour this time and not my other visits is this is the only time I've been to Luray Caverns during Summer, which is of course peak tourism season, plus all those students are out of school and available to intern at the Caverns.

Something that really, REALLY bothered me was that the intern bringing up the caboose of the group had a serious disrespect for the nature and longevity of Luray's formations.  On several occasions I spotted him touching the stalagmites and stalactites with his bare hands.  He clearly knew he wasn't supposed to be doing it because he stopped when he noticed me watching him and our eyes met.  Incredibly disrespectful to the 64 acre underground natural phenomenon.  Just touching the mineral deposits that compose the stalagmites and stalactites leaves skin oil and other contaminants that halts their growth.  Currently most of the formations in Luray Caverns grow at a rate of 1" every 120 years, but that permanently stops when contaminants destroy the fragile conditions required for the formations to grow.  It has been argued that it's bad that (a small) part of the caverns has been opened to the public - I mostly disagree with this because I think more-or-less sacrificing only a small portion of the cavern is the best way to display and educate the public about the natural phenomonon.  That being said, it makes me angry that Luray Caverns staff themselves can be found palming the formations and at one point even dragging his palm against the wall while walking.

But let's get back to some positive.  Luray Caverns is home to The Great Stalagpipe Organ.  Although it's called an organ, the instrument is actually a lithophone; that is, a percussion instrument using rock to create tones.  The "organ" was designed and installed by Leland W. Sprinkle, who found two in-tune formations, and shaved down an additional 35, to create the instrument with 37 notes spread across 3.5 acres, making it the world's largest musical instrument.  Each limestone formation is fitted with an electrically actuated rubber mallet and electric pickup (similar to an acoustic-electric guitar pickup), and the tones are amplified through a PA system.  Performances of the organ are live, but automated / pre-arranged just like a player piano.  The organ keyboard itself is locked-out except for special occasions such as weddings and other events.  The Great Stalagpipe Organ can be heard on Pepe Deluxé's album Queen of the Wave played by Paul Malmström.

The organ has a playlist of songs it can play at random; here is my video of the organ playing during our visit.  If you know the name and composer of the song, please let me know in the comments!

Stony Man Mountain

Next stop was Stony Man Mountain.  You of course have to take Skyline Drive to get there, so I hopped on at the Thorton Gap entrance, and more or less drove South to the trailhead, stopping here and there for the occasional overlook; I've seen pretty much all of them, but Alyssa of course hasn't seen any.

Years ago I hiked Little Stony Man, so when we went up Stony Man I was very surprised how much shorter and easier the trail was to get to the summit.  Stony Man's summit trail is pretty much a straight shot up the mountain, taking very little effort or time from the parking lot.  The trail is lightyears easier than the Maryland Heights Trail in Harper's Ferry I took Alyssa to in 2015 - that one's difficulty, despite my warning her, really caught her off-guard.  This one was much easier than I'd planned on.  Beautiful overlook at the top, and by chance we found some cool rocks on the edge of the trail that made for some awesome outdoorsy portraits as the fog began to roll into the valley below us.

And thanks to Alyssa for catching this photo of me.  (Edits are mine.)

Skyline Drive

We still had a few hours of daylight left, and before continuing South on Skyline drive, we dropped in on the nearby Skyland Lodge to check out the gift shop if anything caught Alyssa's eye - I eyeballed a marbled coffee mug that I ended up getting a few months later during my annual Fall trip along Skyline Drive.

We went for a leisurely drive as the fog got thicker, running through the gears with the windows down in the beautiful, and surprisingly dry, weather that day.  I've never seen fog on Skyline Drive before (maybe because I've only visited in Fall before this?), and between that, the thick tree cover, and golden setting sun, it was a very surreal drive back by time we decided to turn around and head back.  I insisted on stopping at one overlook just after sunset to catch a cool toned photo of my car - it's much easier to do this sort of thing in the Summer when there are practically no other people and cars to contend with.

Day 4: International Spy Museum • National Portrait Gallery • PostSecret: The Power of a Postcard at The National Postal Museum • Washington Nationals vs San Francisco Giants

International Spy Museum

Oh, the International Spy Museum.  A museum I've walked past more times than I can count, yet had never visited.  I'd even been to the now-closed-for-relocation Crime & Punishment museum, which, by the way, I can't recommend enough.  Day 4 was the longest day of our adventures because we squeezed the most in, beginning with a reservation to Operation Spy at the International Spy Museum... unfortunately we arrived 2 minutes late, and they wouldn't let us into that or rebook us to a later time even being 2 minutes late!  With a little, um, prompting... they at least refunded us.  The day didn't start off very well, but that was the only hiccup for the rest of the day.  We did get into the rest of the museum, and frankly I'd like to go back, because even after spending hours exploring, I'm pretty sure I still didn't see everything or get to read and learn as much as I'd like since it was packed with Summer tourism.

The second half of the museum is whatever rotating exhibit they have visiting; it was the spy tech from the James Bond universe.  Really cool stuff, being a Bond fan as most people are.  The only suggestion I'd make is better separation between fact and fiction; all of the "artifacts" are fictional, and I'd have enjoyed seeing more explanation of how the fictional items tie into factual technologies; there was a little bit of that, but I was still left with a little unease knowing that a lot of the people visiting probably thought some of the movie props were real-world artifacts.  Awesome Bond collection exhibit nonetheless.

National Portrait Gallery

Next we went a few blocks over to what has always been my favorite museum in DC; the National Portrait Gallery.  I unfortunately missed the portrait of Colbert over the water fountain a few years back, but one of my couples was fortunate enough to see it; that's actually where James popped Danielle the question!

PostSecret: The Power of a Postcard at The National Postal Museum

We spent a good portion of time in the National Portrait Gallery, but we didn't dilly dally too much since I was making sure we had enough time to make it to the National Postal Museum.  Visiting here was a complete surprise for Alyssa, because I'd eagerly been awaiting the exhibit's opening, and I had purposely never mentioned it, waiting for Alyssa to get into town before seeing it.

I've followed PostSecret since Frank Warren began the project from his Germantown home in 2005.  I don't look up the newest secrets every Sunday they are posted, but I do read them once or twice a month; Feedly catches everything for me to read later on.

For the uninitiated, PostSecret doesn't need much more introduction than this: people across the World anonymously send in handmade postcards bearing their secrets and their souls.  Usually the cards have original artwork or photographs, other times they're relevant imagery that highlights location or timing.  And on some occasions, entire items are mailed, such as wedding rings, dolls, and other mementos leftover from past relationships and events.  (Full Disclosure: The Museum of Broken Relationships in LA is in my top five of locations I want to visit on the West Coast.)  Mailing a secret is an outlet to creatively share your secret when you may not have the strength or ability to share it with anyone else.  PostSecret quickly amassed a worldwide following and subsequent support community, as it unites everyone with their own personal struggles through shared humanity.

Fun fact: every single postcard Frank has ever received, all 500,000, was present at the exhibit.  So, if you've ever sent in a secret, you can rest assured it is somewhere in the photograph below...

I captured most of the secrets on display, and I've included a small gallery of some select secrets you can scroll through and read below.

Washington Nationals vs San Francisco Giants

After a long day of museum hopping, it was time to sit back and relax with some half-smokes and "doughboys" at Nats Park.  I neglected to tell Alyssa that I'd gotten us seats in the N-A-T-S-NATS-NATS-NATS-WOO! section.  The Nats beat the Giants 5-1, so section 313's reaction caught her off guard the first run or two.  Those were pretty great seats, right on the rail.  That said, the only seats I've had at Nats park I didn't like were in the outfield; Nats Park provides a great view of the game pretty much anywhere you sit, regardless of level.

After the game we went over to check out who was playing at The Bullpen on Half Street.  People were playing soccer, inspired by the Rio Olympics, in front of Jeff from Accounting performing.

Day 6: Imran and Hina's Wedding • Brine Oyster Bar

Imran and Hina's Wedding

The next morning was Imran and Hina's wedding in Virginia; the weekend before I'd been in Houston for their wedding based there.  The wedding here was much smaller as usual.  I just relaxed and enjoyed with Jake and Alyssa; I'd referred Imran to Eddie early that year to shoot his wedding.

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Brine Oyster Bar

After the wedding, Jake, Alyssa, Eddie, and I head over to Brine in Mosaic District and met up with Loreal for our own little wedding after-party.  I ended up trying raw oysters for the first time, and found that I love them.  I'd had steamed oysters plenty of times, but never found a raw bar I trusted and been in the mood to try it at the same time until then.  I'm looking forward to next time I get them; maybe the next time Natalie is in town we'll have to go back to the oyster bar in National Harbor since that's the place we first met each other.

Dramophone: Summer of 2016

Some fun backstory here is that at this point Eddie had been brainstorming his proposal to Loreal with me.  He pretty much had it planned out at this point, and just an hour earlier while shooting the wedding, he pulled me aside to show me a picture of the ring he had for her.  He popped the question a few weeks later on a trip to Hawaii, and the rest is history!  Now I’m hearing all the wedding planning brainstorming lol.

Day 7: Stone Tower Winery • Departure

Stone Tower Winery

For Alyssa's last day, I *had* to take her to a winery.  She'd been begging me the entire trip, and we kept putting it off and putting it off.  So with just a few hours before her flight, we made it happen; I took her to my favorite winery around here, which also happens to be probably the classiest and closest to a Napa vineyard in the Northern Virginia Region (Potomac Point Winery is a very, very close second in my book, if you're curious).  Alyssa's the biggest lightweight I've ever met, so after just a tasting she's tipsy in all these pictures.

But give her just one glass of wine on top of the tasting and she was... super-tipsy?  Tipsy enough that she zapped herself on an electric fence while petting the horses in a neighboring pasture.  At least she wasn't naming them like Patrick famously named the goats at Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn...

Departure

I did a stupid on the way to the airport.  Alyssa had gotten a wine glass from Stone Tower to take home with her; it was wrapped up, placed "safely" on the back floorboard where nothing could get to it.  Well, after Alyssa was done scrolling through the pictures on my camera, I reached back and dropped my camera onto the back floorboard... where "nothing can get to it!"  *CLINK!*  Well at least it sounded pretty when I shattered it!

Stone Tower's wineglasses are oversized, laser cut and engraved, and most importantly for this story, they're crystal.  I don't know of any other vineyard that uses crystal wine glasses.  The winery was closed; there was no time to go back even if they were open.  I told her to relax; I had one of their glasses at home and I ended up mailing it to her... along with the bag of broken wine glass shards, just to screw with her.

The sun set as we arrived to the airport.  We got there early enough to get dinner before her flight began boarding - I think I've turned her on to Five Guys - I'm a bad influence I guess.

Alyssa has a bit of a granola obsession, which I learned the first time she came (I was finding granola wrappers and crumbs in my car a month after she'd left 2015!) but this year wasn't as bad.  I still found granola!... but at least everything I found was unopened, and the crumbs were relegated to the passenger side leg bolster.  Improvement!

Who knows what our next set of adventures will be, but I'm looking forward to them!

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!