Absent Friends

Christmas is a time to get together with friends and family, but it’s also a time to remember those who aren’t with us anymore.  My brother was showing some old videos from 19 years ago, and it was striking how many of those people aren’t with us anymore.

I miss my Dad. I miss his picking out the perfect Christmas tree, and how he’d play the piano downstairs. It’s been mostly silent since he died.

I miss Grandma. She always reminded me of Miss Marple, all white haired and fluffy, but always wanting to be part of things. Whenever she came for Christmas Eve, my uncle (from the other side of the family) would always flirt outrageously with her, and she’d lap it up.

I miss Fran, the neighbor from across the street. She had been a friend of my mother’s mother, then a friend of my mother’s, then a friend of the family. Opinionated, no-nonsense, but had a great sense of humor; we called her “Auntie” and she was, except for the DNA.

I miss Anne and Bob. Anne was the fun aunt of all my aunts, the one most likely to play with her nephews and nieces. It took a while for her husband Bob to grow on the family, but grow he did; he stuck by Anne by thick and thin.

I miss Dot. She was the widow of the uncle I never knew, and the mother of the cousin who died as a teenager. In spite of all that, she was fun to be around. She had a great sense of humor, and a funny, very plainspoken way of expressing herself. She seldom filtered herself, even when she probably should have. She was a great companion for my mother.

I miss my Aunt Sandy, my mother’s older sister. She too had a great sense of humor. She was very much a gourmet cook, with adventurous tastes, and my Dad and I used to joke about how she was going to be serving “Roast Platypus” for dinner sometime.

Then there are the friends, who are still with us, but literally absent for the evening: brother Tom, Kip and Joanna, Chrissie, and my two sisters, who I’ll be seeing next weekend.

Christmases are like a long running play; older members leave, and new members join the cast. My nephews and nieces are now young adults, as are my cousin’s kids. Over time, the play continues, but the cast evolves.

But here’s to absent friends.


Making of a Christmas Card, 2016

This year was a bit unusual in that I actually had two competing ideas for a card, and I was able to do them with a minimum of stress. The first idea was to get some pictures of Christmas lights at night, and I actually brought the tripod with me into work, and went out shooting afterwards at the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. I did get some good stuff there, but in the end, I decided to go with my second idea.

I’d gotten a “Table Top Studio” kit the previous Christmas. Essentially, it’s a small square tent with white nylon sides to soften the light coming from the included pair of quartz lights. It came with four backgrounds: red, white, blue and black, and I decided to pick up a small snow globe and photograph it.

My initial thought was to use the red background, because red’s a Christmas color. I shot a number of frames. The snow globe lights up and has a small impeller to stir up the glitter inside, so I shot a a number of pictures with the globe both on and off.

I found that the moving glitter didn’t really read as glitter (or snow) but rather as noise.

I also decided, more or less for the heck of it, to try it with the white and black backgrounds:

I found I really didn’t like the black ones at all, and the white ones were underexposed and the white background was wrinkled, so I decided to shoot a few more with more exposure. I also got the idea to hide the bottom of the background with some fluffy cotton, to make it look more like snow. I shot both red and white versions:

The cotton balls in both are a little too obvious, but I figured that would be easy to fix in Photoshop. The red one was more in line with my original conception of the shot, but there was something about the white one that I liked. The red one was a little cleaner; the white one had some color casts that needed cleaning up. The snowmen in the white one were a little easier to read, and the reflections of the lights on the globe were a little less prominent on that one too. It would also take less ink to print. After some hemming and hawing, I decided to go with the white one, and took it into Photoshop.

All these steps took a lot less time than it usually does. The photography took maybe 45 minutes, and I had the Photoshop work done in less than an hour.

Next, I imported the picture into the card template in Pages. This was a little ticklish since I had to rotate everything 90°, because the template is designed for horizontal pictures. For the text, I used Museo Slab, the same font I use here for headings. I ended up choosing golden text with red rules above and below.

All in all, pretty simple, but I’m pleased with the result, more so than I was with last year’s card.

Final Result

Final Result

Merry Christmas everyone.

The Perfect Tree

2016 Christmas Tree

2016 Christmas Tree

We just finished putting up the Christmas tree. It’s always a lot of work, and it’s always nice to bask in the glow of the lights when it’s done. This year’s tree isn’t perfect, but it is pretty nice.

I remember growing up, my Dad always picked out the family tree, and he had a well earned reputation for picking out a Perfect Tree. Our trees were always much nicer than the Charlie Brown trees my cousins had.

So when he died, my two brothers and I all felt strongly that we had to live up to his reputation, and none of us was willing to cede responsibility for getting the tree to the others. So off we went, the Three Wise Men — or is it the Three Stooges? on a bitterly cold December day to find The Perfect Tree. It took forever, because of course, there is no such thing, and even less so 36 years ago when shaped trees were less common. It took nearly an hour for the three of us to agree on one. It was a great tree though.

Nowadays, it’s just me. I still like to get a nicely shaped tree, but it’s easier now, because trees are more likely to be nicely shaped, and I have less enthusiasm for standing around a windswept tree lot trying to find The Perfect Tree. But every time, I always think of Dad.

Making of a Christmas Card, 2015

I was really of two minds as to whether I wanted to make a card this year. For some reason, perhaps the weather, perhaps the compressed calendar this year, I really wasn’t feeling it. Still, I spent some time going through my photo library to see if I could come up with some ideas, and quickly zeroed in on a series of pictures I took out in Colorado five years ago after a snowstorm. I wanted a picture with evergreen trees that were Christmas tree shaped, and decided I would transform it to a night scene, and ‘decorate’ the trees with lights. I decided to go with this picture, taken in the Arapaho State Forest, as we traveled from Breckinridge to Canon City: Continue reading

Christmas Music

I’ve always liked Christmas music. One of the things I liked about Christmas Eve was how the radio stations would switch over to non-stop Christmas music for 24 hours. (Starting in October, like some stores and stations do now is a bit much). I bought my first iPod in late fall, and didn’t start loading it up until mid-November of that year — right at the start of the holiday season, which means I have a ton of Christmas music on my iPhone now — so much, that I had to create a Smart Playlist called “Not Christmas” for the other eleven months of the the year. Continue reading

Season’s Greetings

It’s hard to believe it’s that time of year again, especially with the warm weather we’ve had, but it’s Christmas time again, and in observance, I’ve tweaked the site’s colors.

Of course, hovering over all of this is the knowledge of what happened in Connecticut on Friday. I’m finding myself compartmentalizing things. Friday night, we were watching the news, and then it started to seem repetitive and exploitive, so I had to turn the TV off. This morning, I saw a clip of Saturday Night Live’s open with a children’s choir, and I just felt myself welling up. For my mother, there’s an additional resonance, since it brings back memories of the Christmas my cousin died. I can’t begin to imagine how the parents feel.

Unlike last year, I have not been running ahead of schedule this year. I did get the card out last week, but shopping has been a bear this year- I’ve been stumped for a couple of people on my list. I think I’m finally nearly there, though, and I’ve got a couple of packages arriving tomorrow.

Friday, we put up the tree, and yesterday, we went up to Rockport to do a little shopping, have lunch with my brother, and just generally bop around. The lights and the tree in the town center were pretty, but I wasn’t able to do much with just my Gorillapod. I’m actually thinking of going up there again later this week with tripod in hand (and no companions complaining that they’re cold/bored/hungry).

Season's Greetings

Season of Lights

As we move into December, I’m beginning to see more and more Christmas lights. I’ve always loved them, while being thankful for the fact that we have no outside outlets and therefore can’t put up our own outside lights.

Driving around, there are several different kinds of lights to be seen. My favorites have always been the multicolored lights, with no white lights mixed in. Personally, at least for now, I prefer the old-fashioned incandescent types. They seem warmer, with a better distribution of color. The reds and oranges are brighter, the blues less prominent. The newer LED lights seem to be too heavy on the blues. Their blue lamps are quite bright, and  their oranges and reds less bright in comparison. I suspect that this is something that will get fixed in time–the manufacturers need to make light strings where the warmer colors are brighter.

My next favorite are the all white lights, which seem to be more fashionable right now. They tend to come both as shrub lighting and as a dangly effect on the house’s roofline. White lights are starting to come in both incandescent and LED varieties; for white lights I dislike the LEDs less than the multicolored LED lights. Old fashioned lights are warmer, and the LEDs are a cooler, whiter, white, but that somehow seems appropriate for a winter decoration. You sometimes see a mix of the two– one part of the lights are incandescent, and another part LED. I’m not sure this is always deliberate, and you can often tell the two apart, but sometimes it works well.

Another kind of lighting design, usually on trees, is lights all of one color– all green, all blue, all red. You usually see this on public displays, like in a park, though one of the houses in town is doing this too. I’m not so fond of single color displays, though they can work if different trees have different colors.

One thing that doesn’t work at all, in my opinion, is mixing colored lights with white lights. Do one or the other, please. Rather than appearing as another color, the white lights dilute the effect of the colored lights.

Finally, the last kind of lighting display, and probably the most old-fashioned, are the window lights. This is what we’ll be putting up in a few days. The lady who used to live across the street used to drape strings of the small multicolored lights in her front window; we have the candle lights. I’ve seen red, blue and green candle lights, but they always seem kind of cold and dark; I like the white or orange lights best.

Whatever the color or how they’re arranged, the lights are a welcome relief from the darkest nights of the year.