Musings about V-day

I’m not really a big celebrator of holidays. Except Halloween. But Halloween is just downright fun. So I haven’t really given much thought to Valentine’s Day lately. Valentine’s Day was always kind of one of those “responsibility” days. When something was expected. You took little cards to school. Made little crafty boxes or envelopes to hang on your desk for people to drop in notes. And later on it was about getting a flower in high school. Or jewelry, candy, flowers as an adult. Expectations, I guess. I was never really big on that.

This year, I’ve been giving it a bit of thought. What does it mean exactly, and why are people either so for or so against it? It’s just another day, right?

Let’s get this straight – I’m separated at the moment. Kind of in marriage-divorce limbo. We’ve decided, based on finances, to wait to officially divorce until after our youngest turns 18 and divorce magically becomes much easier, faster, and less expensive. I don’t have a problem with that (I think it was my idea, actually). He’s moved on, I’ve moved on, and as long as tempers don’t flair all is good.

So by all accounts I should be kind of bitter about Valentine’s Day. Single (sort of), no chocolates coming my way, no flowers, no jewelry. But today, I kind of surprised myself by taking notice of a website that sells “Anti-Valentine’s Day” goods. Huh. “Anti” Valentine’s Day. Hadn’t really thought of that before. Interesting.

And I think the thing that got me thinking was – do you have to have a man or a love in your life to enjoy Valentine’s Day? Is it an either/or deal? You embrace the flowers and hearts, or you despise them? It got me to thinking. Because I’m not really adverse to Valentine’s Day, in theory. Celebrating love, decorating in reds and pinks, flowers, and pretty things. No, I’m not adverse to that at all. I rather enjoy that. Even though I’m single.

It kind of hit me that Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be a day of sadness, or loneliness, or celebrating “anti V-day” – it can be a celebration day of yourself. I am loving life right now. I am single (sort of), I have wonderful kids (who I don’t see often enough), I don’t have nearly the “stuff” I did before, but neither do I have the emotional baggage I was struggling to carry around with me. I’m not scared, I’m not depressed, and I’m not feeling sorry for myself any longer.

I’m happy to be where I am right now. I am enjoying all of the moments – good and bad, as they relate to me. Not me and another person. I think maybe Valentine’s day should be taken back from celebrating “couples” or a person’s connection to another, and can be about loving where you are right now. Finding the positives that you have personally. Whether you are with someone else or not.

I saw this photo this week and just loved it. Not because it bashes married people, or those in a relationship, but because it speaks to being happy right now. With the wind blowing through your hair and your hands in the air. Exhilaratingly in love with life.

Screen shot 2013-01-25 at 1.02.50 PM This Valentine’s Day I’m not overlooking. I’m going to celebrate my love for life. For me.

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My last 2012 Post…

Um, yeah I kinda missed that last post of 2012 that I said I was going to do. And it is a really important one, so I’m just gonna do it now. My last favorite photo post is one of my daughter, Mary. Who I call Margo. Because that’s how I roll.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, I kinda stumbled on this photo thing. I was an art major in college (after starting out a Biology major, go figure), and did quite a bit of film work – B&W photos, developing, dark room, etc. Lot of fun, but I mainly used it as a stepping stone in computer graphics work, which is what really clicked for me in college. So photography was just an extension of the computer work as a means to get the computer images out.

Fast forward almost 30 years and here I am exploring photography for its own merits rather than a means to an end. Gotta say I’m enjoying it. I was taking photos for the last 5-6 years at my day job. Taking photos of artwork, school buildings, sights around town, and posting them on the district website. People started to comment on my photos as they became more artistic. Photos of the fall leaves with the school as the backdrop. The downtown covered in snow. Stuff like that.

So this past fall I decided to open up shop and share what I’ve been doing. One of the first events I took my camera to last fall was a high school marching band competition at a local school. My son was in the band, as was I when I was in high school, so I was really looking forward to the day. And I did get some excellent photos of the kids marching from 6 of the participating schools. Photos posted here.

But while we (Margo came with me, btw) were waiting in between bands, I snapped two really quick photos of Margo. There was just something about the way the wind was blowing her hair. She was wearing my jean jacket because it was a bit cool, and we were just leaning up against a fence. But it is one of my all-time favorite photos. I think it is spectacular. Just a quick snap, no editing, no cropping, nothing. SOOC or straight out of the camera, as the photo people put it.

armstrong_l_margo900

 

I entered this photo in the Professional Women Photographer’s 37th Anniversary International Show on kind of a lark. I’d entered a few of my other photos in a couple other open calls for shows, but didn’t get chosen. But I figured it was worth a shot. And this time, Margo was chosen. We’ve been included in the Honorable Mention category from 1250 entries. Thrilled beyond belief is an understatement. To be selected is wonderful. To be selected for a photo of my beautiful girl is phenomenal.

My baby girl will be going off to college in the fall. I will miss my buddy hanging out with me. I will miss being able to rely on her to be a model for me. I will miss her greatly. But I have a great award-winning photo that I snapped of her on a whim. Because I liked how her hair was being blown by the wind. A photo of my baby girl smiling at me that I can look at any time I miss her.

And that, is my most favorite photo of 2012.

So long 2012…Part 5

Today’s post is a compilation of my favorite edits that I did to photos from 2012. So some might be a repeat, but I was pretty excited about the basic edits I did to transform some of my photos. Keep in mind, I haven’t really photoshopped in almost 10 years…I’m still using PS2 for cripes sake. So cut me a little slack on my lack of photoshop prowess. I do have to admit, at this point, I’m much happier with the SOOC (straight out of camera) shots I’ve been taking anyway. Nature is gorgeous enough as it is!

2012 Favorite Edits

(edited photos first, in case you couldn’t tell)

Edited Bee Original Bee

This before/after edit was really just me messing around. I didn’t really like the original photo all that much so I just decided to focus in on the bee as much as I could. I added a little warmth to the photo too so the bee’s colors would come out more.

Edited Egretegret2This one I simply cropped in really close on the egret. Didn’t really do anything else. I love how I was able to pick up the water droplets behind the egret as it came out of the water on the edited version though. Never saw that on the original.

Edited Red Rose Original Red Rose

This one I just adore. The original is nice, and I even did an initial crop of just the flower itself which was nice, but cropping it in really close and adjusting some of the color really made this rose pop out. I especially like this one because this rose plant is right in front of the window where my desk is and this rose lasted all the way into November.

Edited Squirrel Original Squirrel

Shudder. So the story behind the squirrel phobia is this:

When I was a child in Michigan we had huge looming oak trees in our neighborhood. Oak trees = squirrels. But that wasn’t the problem. When I was 5 I was bit by a neighbor’s dog. And as if being bitten weren’t bad enough on it’s own, I was bit on the face and it required stitches. Pretty much dashed my dreams of being Miss America someday. (Yeah, I had that dream, lol). So five year old getting stitches on the face was traumatic, but then came the talk of rabies shots. Back in the early 70’s rabies shots consisted of many rounds of shots in the stomach. Luckily, I didn’t need the rabies shots, but just the thought of it was enough to send me over the edge. Then a neighbor dropped the bomb that you could get rabies from squirrels. Insert phobia here.

I know it is totally unrealistic to think that I will ever get bitten by a squirrel or get rabies, but childhood fears die hard. And in the childhood fear I didn’t even need to be bitten, just close to a squirrel. I used to stand frozen in my tracks, weeping, any time I saw one. It didn’t help that shortly after the whole dog bite experience we moved to an area in Illinois that basically had no trees. And by the time the trees matured enough to sustain squirrels I had forgotten all about the fear. Fast forward to high school when I first encountered a squirrel again and I was suddenly frozen back in time and terrified! It took me some time to figure out what the deal was with them. But there it is, old phobia come back to haunt me.

So while I know, realistically, the fear is unfounded, it is still there. I view squirrels as the rabies enemy. I’m working on overcoming my fear and dealing in the reality that they are just rodents with big fluffy tails. It’s taking quite a while though.

That being said, enjoy the extreme close up of squirrel happily eating my pumpkin.

Edited Sea Turtle Original Sea Turtle

This one is my all-time favorite (and first) big time edit. This photo is from years ago, and I thought pretty much a lost cause. It is really hard to get good photos underwater from a disposable camera. But sitting on the couch one evening with my daughter I started dabbling back into Photoshop to see what I could do. I freaked the heck out of myself, really. Let out a little squeal and showed Margo. She let out a squeal as well. I have no clue what I did to achieve this, but I am extremely pleased with it! I can not believe how much clearer it is!!

One more from my favorites of 2012. Stay tuned!

So long 2012…Part 4

Much more manageable – down to just nine photos for my favorites in December. Enjoy!

December 2012

Winter Barn

Doesn’t get any more winter than this. A fabulous red barn with snow! We stumbled upon this one day while out driving. My son is in driver’s ed so while he gets experience driving I get to see new sites and take photos. He is a really excellent driver so I feel completely safe driving around with him. Might have to frame this one for my home too.

Dreamy Tree

Isn’t this just the most dreamy tree ever?? This was one of those afterthought photos. I stopped in this parking lot to take a photo of the frosty picnic tables. Those turned out ok, but this one is superb, I think. I love the hazy background – there is a lake back there – Long Lake, and the sun on the willow tree behind. Dreamy.

Sunrise December

A December sunrise. This is our gorgeous chestnut tree in the backyard nicely silhouetted with the morning sun trying to make an appearance. I loved the color contrasts with the dark blue water and the pinky orange sky. What I was actually trying to get a picture of was the sliver of a moon nestled between the branches. You can just barely make it out, but it is there!

Snowflake

Snowflake. This is an ornament hanging on my sad, lopsided Christmas tree. I have the scrawniest fake Christmas tree ever made, but I love it. This is actually a cheap plastic snowflake ornament, but I had someone ask me if it was real! Love it! Behind the ornament is the warm glow of my fireplace – which is constantly on. Love me some fire with all my water!

Sepia Field

I call this one Sepia Fields. I’m not usually a big fan of clicking the sepia button and being done with it, I actually prefer the SOOC look, but once in a while there is a photo that calls for it. I think this is the one. This photo was taken at lunchtime behind a restaurant we sometimes frequent. It is part of the Rollins Savana Preserve and was just such a snapshotty picture. But I love how it looks with the simple sepia. I think it is the cloudy background.

Moon

This photo represents one goal I’d like to accomplish. I’d like to learn how to shoot better photos of the moon. I stink at night time photography, so that is one goal for this year. FIgure that out! This photo was actually taken in the early morning (out over the lake) which is why I think it actually came out pretty good. It is also my farewell to Uncle Neil.

Thug Life

The Thug Life – so named by my thug daughter. I asked my kids to come out with me so I could get some photos for a Christmas card this year. I haven’t sent any out in ages, but now that we’re more settled I kinda wanted to do that. This is what I get. And if you knew my kids you’d know how absolutely ridiculous but so like them this photo is.

Girly

From the same photo shoot as the above photo, this one is a crop of just Margo. I loved the contrast with her jack and how lovely her red hair looked with the sun streaming on it. These were taken in the Grant Woods Forest Preserve. Nice weather for December in Chicagoland, huh?

Bumps on a Log

 

Ok, I have this in the December favorites, but just realized there is no way this was taken in December. I think I have it dated in December because when I took it I didn’t really like it. But when I started running out of photos I pulled it back up and something must have clicked because it is now one of my favorites! This was taken either in the Nippersink Creek, or a channel heading out to one of the lakes. I just love how the turtles are all lined up and all looking up too! Usually they jump right into the water when anyone gets close. This reminds me a lot of a Monet painting, don’t you think?

 

Last up…my favorite edited photos – stay tuned!

So long 2012…Part 3

Seriously, I’m apologizing now for this extremely long post. But this has been such a beautiful fall that I couldn’t choose! I was trying to keep it to 5 photos each month, but November has 15. I know, I’m sorry. But I couldn’t stop myself. It was a fabulous month for photos.

November 2012

Birch Trees

My favorite tree of all time. And surrounded by red-twig dogwoods. Doesn’t get more lovely than this. When I finish my house renovations I think I will enlarge this one and hang it behind the couch. I love it that much. This was taken in the Grant Woods Forest Preserve.

Blue Jay

My Bluejay – this guy was quite the staple at our house this fall. There were two bluejays that would visit, and believe it or not this is behind my sliding glass door. I spent a large portion of the day sitting on the floor snapping photos of birds (and squirrels, shudder). I have several pretty good ones of the bluejay but I liked this one of him mid mouth (beak?) full. Gorgeous, isn’t he?

Reflection

First bit of frost in November – this was taken at Jones Island in Grayslake. The channel there was just starting to freeze and I loved how the reflection of the trees looked in the water/ice. I think it is a bit of a haunting photo – like the passage way between fall and winter.

Barn Corner

This is the corner of a barn structure that is right around the corner from where I work. I used to pass it when I’d take my son to driver’s ed. But there really isn’t a good place to park to get a photo, so I headed out at lunchtime one afternoon and walked over there. I love the color of the wood and all the nails sticking out.

Familiar Farm

This barn is behind my old house. It is just far enough away that you almost can’t see it, but I know it is there. I loved the colors of this one – oranges and golds.

Orange Leaves

Orange leaves! My favorites. My favorite color, my favorite nature. Spectacular! I love the gradation in these. Not quite sure where I snapped this photo, actually.

Milk Weed

Milk Weed Pod. This is a crop of a larger photo. I liked the original a lot, but I really like this edit as you can really see each strand of whatever that stuff is! And look at the detail on the seeds!

120 Farm

This is a photo I was anxious to take. It is of a barn and outbuildings down the street from my old house. The farm originally had cows and crops and stuff, but all was sold off years ago. It has stood empty for probably about 5 years now, maybe longer. And it deteriorating rapidly. I was afraid it would collapse before I got photos, but I got them in November. I think they all turned out wonderfully, but I especially liked these outbuildings.

Om Nom

Ok, really, I think I should change my name to Leslie Armstrong – Squirrel Photographer. I strongly dislike squirrels. I have a deep seated fear of squirrels from my childhood but for some reason they keep appearing right outside my door. I know, you think I’m feeding them, but I’m feeding the cute and adorable birds. Not these furry monsters. My people seem to think with constant submersion at some point my fear and loathing of squirrels will wane. I’m not holding my breath. Sharp pointy teeth. No thanks! But this is a pretty cute photo. It makes me smile and cringe almost simultaneously.

Orange Leaf

OOh, orange leaf. Another one. Love love love me some orange leaves!

Sparrow

Sparrow. My little friend the chippy bird. That’s what we used to call them when I was little.  We have lots of chippy birds and they love me because I keep them well stocked with goodies. They pop right up to my sliding door and look for me. I love them so.

Vintage Barn

This is an old outbuilding near where I work. Right by the one with the wood and nails that I photo’d above. This one I tried several edits on, a kinda blue one, a B&W one, but I love this one the best. It’s not quite a perfect photo since I chopped off the top of the roof, but I love the color and shadows. It totally looks like it is part of a ghost town, but it is right there. Around the corner.

Weed

This photo I took while I was waiting for my son to get ready to go to my house. It is outside my old house. While I was taking photos of that barn (photo above) I turned and saw these waist high weeds blowing in the breeze. So I snapped a photo. And it turned out lovely. I know it is a dead weed, but it somehow looks majestic to me. And that background? SOOC. Love the gradation that I didn’t even try to accomplish. Luck.

Curious Cardinal

Along with his friend the bluejay, this guy made frequent stops at our house. I have two shots of him with his head tilted both ways. I was thrilled I was able to get this close to him. He is standing under my plastic patio chair.

Zig Zag Path

This one is at a place called the Volo Bog. A couple words about the Volo Bog – it is and has been nearby for the entire 20+ years I’ve lived in Lake County. It is a place I had never visited until November. I didn’t even know what a Bog was. Or a Fen for that matter. We have both. Bogs and Fens and swamps and lakes. Really anything that will hold water – we have it here. So I stopped off at the Volo Bog not knowing what to expect and was delighted out of my mind! It is a fabulous nature place with trails and paths and decks over the boggy parts. It is my new favorite place. I lucked out and got the place pretty much to myself so I spent a couple hours there with my mouth gaping open the entire time. This photo pretty much sums up my visit. Spectacular!

Part 4 (December) – coming soon!

So long 2012…Part 2

Moving on now to more of my favorite photos of 2012.

October 2012

Oh there were just so many! So, so many! The fall colors, the pumpkins….I narrowed it down to my favorite seven. But it was a seriously hard choice. I threw a pumpkin one in at the end, just because, after all I LOVE pumpkins!

 

Cemetery Fence

I love this shot for a few reasons. One, I’m a big fan of wrought iron. Most people don’t know that about me. Two, the color contrast between the black fence and the almost fluorescent yellow green of the trees is phenomenal. Third, this was taken at the cemetery where my father is buried. I hadn’t been there in a while as it is over an hour’s drive away. Another thing most people don’t know about me is I am fascinated with cemeteries. I actually went on a cemetery tour while I was on my honeymoon. My Dad’s cemetery is a small one, tucked away in Arlington Heights. Lots of old monuments and big trees. I was down there for a memorial service for a dear friend’s mother, and decided to drive around town afterwards. Spent quite a bit of time here and took a lot of photos.

Floating Leaf

Floating Leaf. This one was another one of those snap decision photos. I love the water and I love nature, especially trees and lovely leaves. I wasn’t sure how this one would turn out as the water was pretty murky, but I added a tiny bit of blue and it came alive with the tension marks around the leaf. I have this in B&W also, but adore this one with the contrast between the dark blue and the brown leaf. This was taken while canoeing on the Nippersink Creek.

Margo Senior Photo

This is my baby girl. I call her Margo, which is short for Mary Margaret. This was a quick attempt at senior photos. After seeing the sticker shock of professional photos and living on a ramen noodle budget, I figured I would give a whirl to people photos. Really my kids are the only people I have, so I have very limited people photos. But I was very happy with how the photos came out that I took of her. I managed to get 20 pretty good ones. And I got a booking for this next school year for another student. Neat!

October Sunrise

Believe it or not, this is an unretouched SOOC (straight out of camera) photo of the sunrise over my lake. This is my fantastic view in the morning. I was a little bummed at not being on the sunset side of the lake, but really, the sunrises are fantastic, as are the moon rises! Gotta say, I think I enjoy this side more than I would have the other. And the other side is a short walk away, so it really is the best of both worlds. But really, how can you argue with color like this? Straight out of the camera – this is what I saw!

Rotund Pumpkin

Ah, the added at the last minute pumpkin shot. I really couldn’t choose. I love pumpkins so. But this one I thought was cool because of the variegated color of the pumpkin and that fat stem. I liken the offset of the pumpkin too and the contrast with the super green grass. This photo was taken at our local farm – Stade’s in McHenry. They have awsome apple donuts and a HUGE pumpkin patch to pick your own if you so choose. (I did that for the first time ever last year).

Rusty Pump

This is one of those shots I just took on a whim. I believe this is some kind of rusty pump. Not even sure, but it was cool looking, so I took a pic. I absolutely LOVE the color of the rust and how it stands out against the wood deck. I also like the focus shift to the part behind the thing in front. Descriptive, huh? One of my favorites. I saw someone else write about photographing rust and how it is “Mother Nature reclaiming what was hers.” I thought that was a pretty cool way of looking at rusty objects. I’ve photographed many more rusty items.

Grayslake Split Rail Fence

 

This is a split-rail fence in Grayslake, IL. My kids go to school in this town, and I also work near here. I was driving around killing time while waiting for one of the kids after school and spotted this area near the Grayslake train station. I love split rail fences and have a funny story about the one that was by my old house – involves the home owner’s association and threat of lawsuit. But that story is for another time. I loved this shot because of the untamed field and gorgeous fall trees.

Part 3 (November) – coming soon!

So long 2012…Part 1

So blogging seems to be my downfall. Although I’ve also let Twitter hang in the breeze as well. Too many irons in the fire, me thinks. But I promise to try to write more, especially since I am merging the Blanket Statements and Leslie A Photo blogs. Can’t guarantee it, but I’ll make an attempt to write a little bit each day (or week).

Now that that is out of the way, I’d like to take a few minutes and do a recap of the last 4 months of photos. And explain why I’m doing photos.

Let’s get this clear from the onset. I’m kind of a reluctant photographer. As with most things I pursue, I feel like a fraud most of the time. And I’m not quite sure why that is, why that is always in the back of my mind, but it is. I don’t “feel” like a photographer. I feel like I’m just playing along. But I do thoroughly enjoy it. And the reason I started sharing, is because I had numerous people tell me I should. So I did. And in all actuality, I did study photography in college – it was part of my major – but I never felt like I was one of those “naturals.” Really I’ve never felt like a “natural” at anything. So am I photographer? I dunno.

That being said, in looking back from my meager start in September to where I ended in December, I’m pretty pleased. I lucked into some amazing locations and objects of beauty to capture. And towards the end of the year I started dabbling in editing – mostly because I was running out of ideas for new photos since most everything around me is dormant now that it is winter. WIthout further ado, here are my favorite shots of 2012 (by month) with some commentary that you won’t find on Facebook.

September 2012

Delicious

This beauty actually grew on the tree in my backyard. It is a little oddly shaped (who isn’t?) but I was so thrilled to see fruit growing in my own backyard. We recently moved into this house after a turbulent several years, and couldn’t be happier. It is truly a Garden of Eden and Heaven on Earth. I rush home to see what is new each and every day. We are blessed with two apple trees, two peach trees, a pear tree, gooseberries, two kinds of grapes, rhubarb, raspberries, wild strawberries, and the most fantastic view imaginable.

Moraine Hills Bridge

This fall gem was taken in the Moraine Hills State Park in McHenry. It is a beautiful place that I visit several times a year. There is a fantastic stairway down to where this bridge is and lots of hidden trails. This is kind of a little spot that you might drive right past as it is quite a bit lower than the street level. I love to find little out of the way places that are off the beaten path, although there is a beaten path here. This seems like the perfect time to photograph it too, with the trees changing color. I will go back this winter and see it in the snow too.

Chain O'Lakes Snowy Egret

Snowy Egrets. I don’t think there is anything more beautiful in my neck of the woods. I live in Lake County, Illinois, and am surrounded by water. Not my beloved ocean, but the Chain O’Lakes region is a close second. I am fortunate enough to have access to boats and we make good use of them over the summer. This shot was taken in a channel that leads from the Nippersink Creek into the Fox River – Pistakee Lake area. I managed to catch this guy just as he was taking off. I did some editing to this photo in December that I like too, but this one is one of my favorites because it is a great example of the beauty of the area – the lush green grass, lily pads, the long swaying weeds…this is summer. Or early fall. lol.

Chain O'Lakes State Park

One of my favorites of ALL of the photos I’ve taken so far. This was taken on a whim while walking in the Chain O’Lakes State Park. I was busily snapping away at the pretty flowers, cool looking tree bark, and then spotted this little swampy pond off the path. I climbed down (precariously, because I am kind of a klutz sometimes) and as I approached a turtle or something large plunged into the water. I was sad because I missed whatever it was, so snapped this one as a consolation. Turns out it is one of my best photos. I’m learning that those quick shots that I don’t think much seem to be my best work. That may add my feeling of being a fraud. I don’t really give it much though, I don’t ponder the right shot, I just shoot. I’m amazed at what comes out.

My Own Backyard

This is my backyard. It is actually my next door neighbor’s dock. I live on Fox Lake, which is one of the largest lakes in the Chain O’Lakes, and am just so pleased to have water right there. Any time I want it. I rush home after work and jump in the water. I sit by the water and just watch the waves. Morning, afternoon, evenings…it is always fantastic. I am blessed.

Part 2 (October) coming soon! Stay tuned!