I’m not a smart man, Jenny…but I know this trick

capitol_2015_32539Last night was a little ugly for photography. It was cold. It was windy. I was preoccupied with taking my little guys to Mandan to light a few dollars’ worth of fireworks, then bringing them home for story time with Rush Revere.  I checked the weather on and off through the night, but the wind and cold kept me indoors.  That’s okay; I had another plan, anyway.


capitol_2015_32537One problem I had right off the bat when doing photos of the capitol with the windows lit was the dark surroundings; the lit windows looked like dots floating in the dark.  I realized that I needed a brighter background if I wanted the photo to look better, so I started chasing my capitol photos just before dawn.


capitol_2015_32546Showing up a little before dawn gives one the flexibility to let the light you want come to you.  It’s a delicate balance between having things too dark and too bright, because you want the “2015” to stand out.


capitol_2015_32551Of course, it’s half part luck. If this morning had been sunny, I’d have been sunk.  The cloudy sky, however, diffused the waxing light of the sunrise just enough to give me what I needed.  The snow and capitol were lit, as was the sky in the background, but not enough to blow out the numbers in the windows.


capitol_2015_32555It’s a just-perfect set of circumstances that will allow you to get a shot like this, where it looks like daylight but the windows are still visible.  I didn’t do any Photoshop or Lightroom trickery to make any of these shots happen.  It’s all by trying to glean an understanding of the light, being in the right place at the right time, and having the good fortune of the weather conditions required.  I was out of bed, done with my photos, and back home before my first bleary-eyed little boy wandered out of his bedroom to say good morning to Daddy.

Happy New Year!



How to tell it’s still Christmas

chmielewskis_32517It wouldn’t be Christmas without a photo of the Chmielewski’s Christmas Corner.  I went by last night to grab a photo or two, and it was magnificent.  I didn’t have to wait for traffic, either!

One other display you should check out, which I didn’t photograph, is the Holiday Lights 4 U display on Columbine Drive.  I’m not going to ruin the surprise, but there is an element of this display that I haven’t seen anywhere else, and which will blow your mind the first time you see it.  If you’re a kid, it’ll be especially cool.  That display should be up through the weekend, too.

I still have the Christmas lights and tree up in my studio at work, and the Christmas songs play on repeat.  I suppose I’ll take them down next week when I return to work, but for now I’m keeping the spirit of the season alive and well.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

It’s about time…

capitol_windows_32511Now that there’s snow on the grass, I figured I’d venture out and grab a shot of the capitol with the windows lit.  Check.  Christmas wouldn’t be the same without it!

I got what I wanted for Christmas: prior to opening gifts this morning, I read from Luke 2:8-14…

linus_christmasWhat’s so cool about that, other than the obvious?  The fact that my entire (albeit little) family recited it with me, including the little influenza case on the couch with his blankie.  You see, Linus Van Pelt is not the only one who has memorized this passage of scripture.  We all have.  In fact, my oldest got up in front of our church with a microphone and recited it when he was four years old.  He took it upon himself to do this after watching A Charlie Brown Christmas with his daddy.  How awesome is that?

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

One more time, with feeling

capitol_tree_32410Feeling blue?  I absolutely love blue; it’s right up there with Kawasaki Green for me.  That’s why I had to employ one of my few photographic tricks last night – being in the right place at the right time – to get this shot of the Capitol’s Christmas tree with the windows of the Memorial Hall filled with a vibrant blue in the background.

During Monday night’s ceremony I took careful note of when this phenomenon occurred, using my phone for some test shots.  I came up with some really nice blue at around 5:18 pm.  Obviously there was plenty of ceremony remaining, so there was no way I could get all those people and chairs out of the way to catch the light I was anticipating.  As an annual attendee of this ceremony I understood this, and used the opportunity to do my homework for a Tuesday night shoot.  For those of you out there who like to do this kind of photography, you probably already understand the importance of research.  If you don’t, consider this a tip.

So, I arrived at the capitol just after 5pm and set up, letting the light come to me.  I required a clear sky, which thankfully God provided, and just clicked away for a while until I got just the right blue with the exposure and fill flash settings I’d prepared.

Governor Dalrymple was the last person I saw leaving the capitol, around 5:30 or so, and he gave my photo pal Zach and me a cheerful greeting on his way out.  I can tell that he and Betsy, as well as Lieutenant Governor Drew Wrigley and his wife, really enjoy this season and the festive way in which North Dakota’s capitol celebrates in tradition.

Ta da! This year’s Christmas Tree adorns Memorial Hall

capitol_tree_32392Isn’t she lovely?  This is the 2014 Christmas tree in the Memorial Hall of the North Dakota state capitol.  The ceremony, as usual, was wonderful and a highlight of my year.  There were Christmas carols, Bible verses, and of course cookies and cider.

In conjunction with this festive occasion, the capitol windows once again display a Christmas tree shape in green and red.  I didn’t stop for photos of that, but I’m sure I’ll take advantage of the opportunity soon.

Amid continued rumors that fire code keeps threatening the possibility of switching to an artificial tree, I was pleased to find that we have a real Douglas Balsam Fir again this year.  Both the governor and lieutenant governor have told me that they’re resolved to keep a real tree part of the tradition.

Incidentally, and I didn’t know this until just now, the tree’s arrival was actually delayed by a day.  I was otherwise engaged last Monday and was unable to hang around awaiting its arrival.  I guess the weather was so cold that the temperature change from bringing itside could have damaged the tree and caused it to shed many of its needles.  Thankfully, it’s here and looking healthy.

Oh, how I love this season!

Capitol Christmas tree scheduled to arrive today

I have a meeting this morning and it’s wicked cold, so I won’t be able to catch the arrival of the 2014 tree.  That’s okay, I can share this experience from a couple of years ago to show how that enormous tree is brought to the capitol building’s Memorial Hall for us to enjoy.


Each Christmas one can see a beautifully adorned and rather huge Christmas tree standing in the Great Hall of the state capitol building. It’s lit at night so that people driving past the front of the building can see it, and the display is readily available for you to visit from around 7:30 am until 5:30 pm each weekday. One can’t help but wonder: how does such a large tree find its way into the capitol building in the first place?


Of course, the direct approach is the most effective. Rather than trying to thread any hallways or turn any corners with the cumbersome tree, it comes right up the front steps and through the revolving doors. Conveniently, the panels these doors are able to collapse and slide out of the way to allow a wide berth for anyone wishing to wrestle a formidably sized conifer through the doorway.


These doors were actually designed to do this; while bringing anything larger than a briefcase through the revolving doors might pose a challenge, these doors are designed to pivot completely out of the way and provide an even wider opening than most conventional doorways.


The tree arrives on a flatbed trailer in the morning. There are some preparations that need to be done before it enters the building: a slice needs to be trimmed from the bottom of the trunk, so that it can take on water; and branches need to be trimmed from the bottom to provide around sixteen inches of clear trunk to fit the stand. After that it’s a question of manpower.


Dudes from the facilities crew grab an armful of tree and march it up the steps, wrangling through the doorway with plenty of clearance. After that it’s simply a short left turn and a matter of bolting the tree stand to the bottom of the tree’s trunk.


A rope is used to move the tree into position, first by tugging the top into line while the adjusters in the stand are tightened or loosened to make sure that the tree is standing straight. Once that is completed, the rope is pulled down from the top of the tree and wrapped around the stand’s base, which is then pulled into position at the center of the windows of the Great Hall.


After a bit of sweeping and other cleanup, the binding wrapped around the tree is removed and the branches allowed to relax. The stand’s remote water tank is filled to provide the tree with ample hydration. Later in the week, the tree will be decorated with items made and/or donated by North Dakotans, through the ND Council on the Arts. I hope to submit one for next year, because i ran out of time this year. The tree now sits as you see it above until it gets decorated on Thursday and Friday. The official Tree Lighting Ceremony is next Monday.

So, there you go…one more geeky question answered by yours truly, a geek who chases down the answers to questions which haunt the most neurotic among us.

Ramblings from a relaxing Independence Day

capitol_iphone_2863For such a low-key Independence Day, I must say that I really enjoyed myself. Nothing really over-the-top exciting happened, but it was simply a good day.  Here are a few highlights:

  • Due to continued recovery from surgery, my wife was stuck in the house with no plans to attend the parade.  I’m still regaining my mobility, so the idea of taking my little ones to the Mandan Parade and lugging along supplies wasn’t really an attractive prospect.  Nevertheless, for the kids’ sake I loaded up the truck.  As we left for Mandan, the skies looked fishy to me.  A check of the radar led me to want to call it off.  Once we got to our secret spot, which provides a great view with very little pre-planning, the rain and wind stepped up and even the kiddos decided to do something else.  Then my wife called with news of the cancellation.  The nice thing is that my boys weren’t disappointed or let down.  Whew.
  • I looked up a few remote geocaches that were right beside the road, took my boys out to find a couple, and had a nice afternoon without pushing my body too far. Then we stopped at a friend’s fireworks stand and got ’em some of those little snappers you throw on the ground.  They’ve wanted them for a while, so now we’ve got a bunch.
  • I got a NAP.  A serious one.  Oh, rest does the body good.  Apparently that and medications do as well, because my sweetie was able to come with us to view the capitol fireworks! Thankfully our usual spot doesn’t involve much walking.
  • We went to the best place to watch the capitol fireworks, the lawn across from Job Service and the Gold Seal Building on the north side.  The fireworks look like they’re almost right overhead, and they’re very close.  The weird thing about last night was the wind from the south; we got a little bit of debris, to my kids’ enjoyment. How often do you get a strong southerly breeze on a July evening in North Dakota?
  • As we waited for the show to begin, there was a nice sunset (pictured above).  One big cloud looked like it was trying to achieve enough lift to storm, but it ran out of energy and the top sheared off.  Made for a nice photo.  I did not bring a camera with me, but thankfully phones do pretty well these days.  This is actually part of a panorama.
  • Just before the show began, a car drove by with the worst timing ever.  A passenger was holding a Roman Candle out the window, shooting multicolored balls into the air.  People were cheering, but the cheers turned to jeers at the end of the next block.  A Bismarck Police car was waiting to turn onto Divide, and the officer hit the lights and pulled over the offender.  Fireworks bring a Class C Misdemeanor in this town, which can be up to $500 and some jail time.  The funny thing was, as they pulled over, the colored balls were still shooting into the air.  It’s not like they could just switch it off!
  • The din of Mandan was breathtaking last night.  I don’t think I have ever heard such a ruckus, even on a nice Mandan night on July 4th.  It was non-stop, loud, steady, and big.  The sustained intensity of obviously large explosions was impressive.  A friend said it took him 25 minutes to traverse The Strip, and that visibility in places could be measured in mere feet.  Party on.
  • I didn’t miss my 20-pound camera bag…I’ve photographed the heck out of July 4th in Bismarck-Mandan, have been on a lifting restriction from my docs, and wanted to watch it with my family instead of through my viewfinder.  It was great.

As far as the cancellation of the parade goes, this wasn’t a couple of people in a booth making the call based on some pusillanimous fear of passing thunderstorms.  There were multiple people from various backgrounds making informed, professional decisions based on the information at hand.  As I’ve posted in a few Facebook comments: This storm, while short-lived, had a LOT of lightning.  ONE lightning strike in that crowd turns into a mass casualty situation immediately. And with the congestion and resulting chaos, responding to it would be nearly impossible. The various people and organizations that came together in agreement to cancel made the right call.  If they’d simply postponed it, people would have hunkered down in place…exactly what safety crews didn’t want them to do.

Our party happens tonight.  Some friends run a fireworks business, and they host an hour-long show at their home, far from Bismarck.  It should be a real treat.

The four most important words you’ll hear this Christmas

Hark the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.

One ubiquitous Christmas holiday phrase is “Peace on Earth.” As the hymn above shows, that is entirely appropriate; however, we tend to assign an earthly context to it by mistake. It’s not about peace between men at all; rather, it means peace between men and God. Those four most important words I alluded to in the title are the last four in the verse above: “God and sinners reconciled.” That is the source of peace on earth.

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:13-14)

That peace and good will didn’t transmit from man to man; it came from God to all men. Since the fall of Adam, that peace between God and men did not exist. By giving the gift of His son, however, God was offering that peace and good will to men once again:

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

There’s your peace…

“Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” (Romans 5:18)

Repeatedly in the Old and New Testaments, the Bible reminds us that “there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Romans 3:23 points out that “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” We need as Savior, one whose birth we celebrate each Christmas. As the angel told Joseph:

“Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20)

This was the Savior foretold by the prophets. For example:

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

God’s desire is to restore that fellowship and peace, reconciling (see those four important words once again) us to Him through his Son:

“For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled…”

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that I believe what Jesus says in the Bible: “you must be born again.” He means that in order to be forgiven and assured a place in heaven, you must put your faith and trust in Him. We can not do anything to assuage the sin that we carry in our lives; only He can.

By placing your belief and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ to forgive your sins, acknowledging that He made the only sufficient sacrifice for them on the cross, you can be saved. Only then will you be able to truly partake in that “peace on earth” that the angel of the Lord spoke of when declaring good news to those shepherds.

I love the spirit of Christmas as much as, if not more than, the next guy… but the joy, the spirit, the family time, the celebrations, the lights, the gifts… those are all simply a by-product and a shadow of the joy that God extends to each and every person through His son, the one through whom we enjoy unspeakable joy and peace each Christmas and throughout the year.

Introducing the 2013 capitol Christmas tree – it’s real, and it’s spectacular


Straight from Wisconsin, this beautiful specimen was lit tonight at a ceremony featuring local musicians, some Bible readings, and even some audience participation as we sung a couple of songs as well.  It’ll be up through December 31st and is adorned with ornaments made by ordinary folks and submitted through the North Dakota Council on the Arts.

It was a relief to see that there’s still a real tree in the Memorial Hall of the capitol this year; due to the potential fire hazard of an actual tree there’s mounting concern that may put an end to this tradition in favor of an artificial, non-flammable tree.  That’ll be a sad day when it happens, but I understand that North Dakota doesn’t want to be known for burning down two capitol buildings.

The real Thanksgiving

Public education teaches us that Thanksgiving was a day in which the poor, helpless, hapless settlers gave thanks to the Indians for saving them from extinction in their new colony. While the settlers did have good relations with native people all around them, and both parties benefited from these friendships, this account of the story is wrong. These colonists set aside a day of thanksgiving to God.

I noticed that even our Dear Leader got it wrong, intentionally or otherwise. Today’s Thanksgiving Day address states, “We give thanks for…people who were already here, our Native American brothers and sisters, for their generosity during that first Thanksgiving.”  As recently as 2011, President Obama’s proclamation on Thanksgiving Day, inaccurately declared that “The feast honored the Wampanoag for generously extending their knowledge of local game and agriculture to the Pilgrims…” but this was not the case.

One only needs to examine the writings of William Bradford, governor of Plymouth, to find the following (which you can read for free on archive.org):

I may not here omite how, notwithstand all their great paines and industrie, and the great hops of a large cropp, the Lord seemed to blast, and take away the same, and to threaten further and more sore famine unto them, by a great drought which continued from the 3. weeke in May, till about the midle of July, without any raine, and with great heat (for the most parte), insomuch as the come begane to wither away, though it was set with fishe, the moysture wherof helped it much. Yet at length it begane to languish sore, and some of the drier grounds were partched like withered hay, part wherof was never recovered. Upon which they sett a parte a solemne day of humilliation, to seek the Lord by humble and fervente prayer, in this great distrese. And he was pleased to give them a gracious and speedy answer, both to thier owne and the Indeans admiration, that lived amongest them. For all the morning, and greatest part of the day, it was clear weather and very hotte, and not a cloud or any signe of raine I to be seen, yet toward evening it begane to overcast, and shortly after to raine, with shuch sweete and gentle showers, as gave them cause of rejoyceing, and blesing God. It came, without either wind, or thunder, or any violence, and by degreese in that abundance, as that the earth was thorowly wete and soked therwith. Which did so apparently revive and quicken the decayed come and other fruits, as was wonderfull to see, and made the Indeans astonished to behold; and afterwards the Lord sent them shuch seasonable showers, with enterchange of faire warme weather, as, through his blessing, caused a fruitfull and liberall harvest, to their no small comforte and rejoycing. For which mercie (in time conveniente) they also sett aparte a day of thanksgiveing. This being overslipt in its place, I thought meet here to inserte the same.

In the grateful and humble spirit in which our nation was founded, I plan for our family to spend this extended weekend giving thanks to God. Yes, there will be football, but only as part of fellowship as we remember and account all for which we can be thankful. We still live in the greatest nation on earth and enjoy the fruits of those principles set forth by the founders of this nation and the God whose providence has been showered upon us for well over two hundred years.

Now that the stores are opening on Thanksgiving Day, I have decreed that nobody in our family will go out shopping on Thursday.  I may do some online shopping on Friday now that retailers are starting to wise up and mirror some in-store deals online.  If you have different convictions than mine, that’s your business.  Have fun.  But I’ve had it with the commercialization of the holidays and choose not to take part.