Happy Birthday Mom!

Today is my mom’s birthday.  Everybody say, “Happy Birthday Mom!”  Mom thanks you.  I’d ask you to sing, but I’m pretty sure most of you have lousy voices.  It’s not a milestone birthday, that comes next year when my mom turns 70.  Wow, that makes me feel old.  Now, I know what you’re thinking – it’s rude to put my mom’s age out on the internet.  But really, she gets a big kick out of telling everyone she’s almost 70.  So I figure it’s okay for me to put it out there for my tiny blog audience.  Since our little trip back to Minnesota conveniently overlapped her birthday, I took my mom out to lunch today.  Actually I would have done that anyway, but it was nice to get some birthday points for it.  I found a really funny card back in August, when I was looking for a birthday card for my brother and I set it aside for my mom.  The cover has a cartoon of a woman sitting in a bathtub drinking a glass of wine with a comment about getting over the stress of another birthday by taking a hot bath and having a glass of wine.  The inside reads “Of course if that doesn’t work you’ll just be a drunk old broad with really wrinkly feet.”  My mom found it hilarious, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about her sense of humor.

Mom doesn’t really like getting “stuff” for gifts anymore.  Meaning pretty but not useful things like jewelry.  Spending time with her is the best gift, so in the past I’ve taken her to shows when there was something good in town.  We’ve seen 4 different Cirque Du Soleil shows, Bare Naked Ladies, Blue Man Group and Tap Dogs.  Lunch and the card would have been more than enough, but I also bought her a Stomp DVD and The Complete Sussman Lawrence CD.  She knew Peter Himmelman back in her theater days (she acted in a play with his girlfriend) so she got a big kick out of that.  We also shopped for her Christmas present – a new pair of red eyeglasses from Costco.  The frames are a lower end version of some crazy expensive handmade in Paris ones that I have.  (The pair with lenses at Costco were half of what I paid for just frames)  She’s been having trouble with her contacts lately, so she has been wearing glasses exclusively for the past few weeks.  It’s a difficult adjustment after wearing contacts for over 45 years.  But  nothing will brighten your attitude like an awesome pair of glasses (don’t ask how many I have) so it seemed like a good reason to get her a new pair.  Plus it knocks another Christmas gift off my list (halfway done there).

It was a fun and relaxing day.  Happy birthday, Mom!

I Hate Cold Weather

Oh the insanity!  After nearly 3 weeks of sunshine and temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s, we drove back to Minnesota.  This wasn’t some mad impulse.  We realized as we were packing to drive down at the end of October that it wasn’t going to be possible to fit everything we wanted to bring in the car.  So instead of stressing out about it and trying to make arbitrary decisions about what was absolutely essential and what wasn’t, we just decided that we would make another trip (in our larger, Phoenix based vehicle – a Nissan Xterra).  Most of this stems from our decision to spend the majority of the next 6 months in what was intended to be a “vacation” home.  So now all of the camera gear needs to be there, along with a lot of reading material, additional clothing, a good supply of wine, etc.  Plus we have a really nice Oriental rug that we don’t have room for in our Minnesota house.  Now that we’re putting hardwood floors down in Phoenix, I realized it would look great there.  And so it goes…

It gave us some time in Phoenix to think about what else we might need or want there.  It seemed like every few days something else would occur to me, so I would just jot it down.  Of course I have to be careful not to get too ambitious about what we can fit on this trip, lest I put myself back in the same situation.  We had commitments in Phoenix through the 16th, so we planned our departure for early morning on the 17th.  We were on the road pretty close to 6:30 AM and put in over 18 1/2 hours the first day.  Our GPS wanted us to take the northern route, through Colorado, so we ignored it and kept heading east on 40 out of Albuquerque.  Usually it will adjust fairly quickly once it realizes you have deviated from the originally suggested route, but for some reason it was incredibly persistent in trying to make us exit and start heading north toward Santa Fe.  Which is irritating because the voice keeps interrupting your music while it calmly tells you over and over to take the next exit and then the next one.  It’s also puzzling, because the time and mileage difference between going east then north vs. north then east is trivial.  So we shut it off and re-entered the destination, hoping it would choose a new route based on our having long passed the turn north.

And it finally did, but not exactly the one we expected.  The simple way is to stay on 40 until it hits 35, which is not the most direct path but it keeps you on the interstate.  I always operated on the assumption that it was better to stay on the interstate, unless it added a lot of extra miles to your route.  The speed limits are higher and you get two lanes, so passing is theoretically easier.  It turns out you can cut out 110 miles by taking a state highway from Tucumcari, NM to Wichita instead of staying on the interstate.  Who knew?  A lot of truckers, apparently, since that is most of the traffic we saw along the route.  We saved time and enjoyed some different scenery.  Plus had the added bonus of seeing a coyote cross the highway and the biggest raptor I have ever seen (excluding a bald eagle) sitting on the shoulder.  He didn’t even flinch when we drove by.  The only down side was a general lack of services along the way, but if you have a big gas tank and plenty of food in the car, it’s a great way to go.

Take Two

After completing the 6+ hour task of converting my MIM photos to JPEG format, I started going through them on Wednesday.  And I quickly came to the conclusion that most of them will be unusable.  Why?  The depth of field was too shallow, so items in the front or back of every exhibit are out of focus.  It’s a pretty rookie mistake actually, so I was kicking myself when I realized it.  Most of our day on Wednesday was dedicated to having our floors measured for hardwood and then picking up all of the material needed for the installation, which took two trips in the Xterra.  So that day was out for a re-shoot.  Ironically, I was back in the museum on Thursday, but it was to give a “short” tour to a friend and his wife, so photography was not on the agenda.  We walked them around for almost two hours and they quickly realized that a more comprehensive tour with the audio equipment would take the better part of a day.  No matter how hard I try to describe the museum to people, they always underestimate the size and scope of the place until they are actually there.  It really does take a minimum of four hours to tour, even if you skim over a lot of the exhibits.

So I ran back on Friday afternoon and tried to re-shoot the exhibits in the Geo Galleries.  At least I had a pretty good idea of what worked well in photos, so I didn’t have to do everything over.  Unfortunately the Artist Gallery and Experience Gallery were way too busy for me to get any decent photos.  I’ve spent most of yesterday and today processing and uploading the images.  I have enough to get started, so I’m feeling slightly less freaked out.  I know I’ll have to take more photos to finish it, but hopefully I can be pretty targeted about what I need to shoot.  I did get some good detail shots from my first photo shoot.  Here are a few I’m planning to use.


Big Photo Project Alert

I limped up to the MIM (http://www.themim.org/) this morning to get started on my next big photo project.  Fortunately it’s still sandal weather in Phoenix so I wasn’t forced to shove my purple foot into a closed shoe.  (I’m totally exaggerating for effect here, my foot’s not that bad.  In fact, I’m a little disappointed the bruise isn’t bigger)  When the MIM opened back in April, I took a buttload of photos (1000, in case you’re wondering how big a buttload is) and put together a photo book for my Dad to commemorate the occasion.  It was a pretty big hit with him.  I think it would be fair to say it’s the best present I’ve ever given him, as he asked for two additional copies.  I was feeling pretty impressed with myself, since it was the first photo book I’ve ever done.  I’ve put together tons of albums, but never a book.  Honestly, a good photo book makes a photo album look like a kindergarten project.

The first book was focused on the opening events, so it featured a lot of photos of family and friends with a smattering of museum spaces and exhibits.  Taken completely haphazardly as things appealed to me, which is largely my photographic style.  So now I’m taking on the bigger task of doing a more comprehensive book on the entire museum.  Which means I need to photograph every exhibit, every public space, most of the back of house spaces plus detail shots of random things that look cool.  I was there for about 3 hours today and I took 789 photos, which is a new single day record for me.  And I didn’t get to any of the back of house spaces.  Crap.

I’ve been converting the RAW files to JPEG for over 2 hours now and I’m not even close to half way through.  Double crap.  This is going to be a monumental task.  The museum is an amazing place and I really want this book to reflect that.  But I do have a deadline.  This will be my Dad’s main Christmas present and we are celebrating at his house on December 17th.  So I have to have this puppy finished by the beginning of December to make sure it gets produced in time.

So I guess I know what I’m going to be doing for the next 3 weeks.

This is one of my favorite photos from April.  It’s the Martin Guitar exhibit.

OUCH (not for the squeamish)

I am a complete and total spaz.  Our bedroom dresser has an awesome feature – the top three drawers all have velvet covered inserts that lift out.  This makes it perfect for storing jewelry and I have way too much freakin’ jewelry.  It’s a completely awesome dresser in all other respects, but this little extra put it over the top for me.  I had to have it immediately, so we bought the floor model at the furniture store.  The two side drawers have small inserts that slide back and forth, so it’s relatively easy to get to the stuff underneath.  The insert in the center drawer is enormous  (24″ x 12″) and it needs to be lifted out in order to get to anything underneath.  (Yes, there is more jewelry underneath, did you really need to ask?)  I was hunting for something in the bottom of the drawer and instead of lifting the section out and setting it on top of the dresser, which is the sane and rational thing to do, I cheated by balancing it on the front of the drawer.

Do you need to ask what happened?  Of course as I was reaching for the desired item, I lost my grip on the insert and it fell to the floor.  Did I mention that the insert is made of wood and weighs just under 8 pounds?  (Yes, I put it on the dam scale)  So of course it didn’t just drop to the floor, it landed on my foot.  Specifically on the bone in my foot that connects to my big toe.  I now know what people mean when they talk about seeing stars.  My whole field of vision went white for a split second.  Then I was pretty much laying on the floor in agony while trying to pick up all of the jewelry that went flying.  I have a pretty high tolerance for pain but I don’t really like to test it out too often.

My propensity for self injury has become rather legendary over the years.  I have some pretty wicked scars on my left elbow and knee from the infamous scooter accident of ‘o3.  The best part was trying to mop up the blood and get ready for the cab that was coming to take us to the airport in 45 minutes.  (Leaving Phoenix to return to Minneapolis)  Nothing like flying with blood oozing through your shirt.  And of course there was the butter knife incident in ’95.  I wasn’t aware it was actually possible to cut your finger with a butter knife.  That was a serious amount of blood.  My then boyfriend (now husband) made me the cutest little finger splint so I could type without it hurting.

But I think one of the worst incidents was in ’06 when I took off most of the tip of my right middle finger in St. Goar, Germany.  We were checking out of our hotel and hauling heavy bags down a staircase and through the exterior door.  The  door was notorious for sticking so my husband told me not to shut it.  Of course I did it anyway and caught my finger between the door and the jamb.  It really made holding my camera awkward for the rest of the trip.  I was a little afraid I would end up with an ugly bump at the end of my finger when it finally healed, but it turned out there was so little flesh left connected that eventually the whole piece came off.  At that point the skin underneath had healed, so you can’t even tell I injured it.  Apparently fingers are pretty resilient.

Ironically, I’ve never broken any bones and I’ve only had stitches because of some minor surgery.  Although I probably could have used them on a few other occasions.  This history of self injury goes back pretty far.  There was an incident with a lamp post when I was 5, one with a pine tree when I was 8 (my most impressive scar) and one with a folding lawn chair when I was 10.  The first two involved climbing and losing my grip and the last one was a furniture jumping thing.  Point being, I didn’t get crazy stupid impulsive recently, it’s an inherent personality flaw.  Hopefully I’ll settle down a little before I get to an age where I have a high probability of breaking bones.

In the meantime I’ll just enjoy watching my foot turn pretty colors.

Jerome at a Macro Level

I am totally milking this trip to Jerome for blog fodder.  I figure it’s a lot more interesting than writing about picking out hardwood floor or ordering a sleeper sofa.  (Two of our accomplishments over the past week)  Since I was using a macro lens in Jerome, I thought I would look for some opportunities to use that functionality.

Flowers are a favorite subject matter for macro photography.  Jerome in November is not exactly lush with flora, but I did find a few flowers, first on a small sunflower plant.  Between the wind and the direction of the sunlight, I wasn’t able to get a good image of one of the open flowers, but I did get this one nice shot of a closed bud.  I also found a yellow rose bush.  Again, the wind made it nearly impossible to get a lot of good shots (shooting macro outside on a windy day can be extremely frustrating).  But I did get a few nice images, including this one on the right.  Definitely worth the effort.

Of course I didn’t want to stop with just the obvious subject matter, so I tried looking for interesting patterns and was rewarded with these.

Both images are from a rusty old gas pump that sits outside of a store.  I took some conventional photos of the pump and the big rusty gear wheel that sits next to it (Jerome is full of old mining remnants like that).  They turned out fine but when I looked more closely at the pump I saw that the rusting surface had a great abstract art quality to it.  The bit of yellow in the photo at left is a small bit of paint that is still clinging tenaciously to the pump.  I’m not sure which image I like better, what do you think?

Jerome Continues to Haunt Me

Continuing my quest for the perfect shadow photo in an abandoned Jerome building.  I like the background in the photo at left (especially the old wood texture) but the shadow is too out of focus and not particularly interesting.  The photo at right seems to be the best compromise of shadow and background, but it’s still not exactly what I was hoping to capture.  I may try cropping it a little tighter to get rid of some of the top portion, which is a little dull.  So it looks like I’ll need another trip to Jerome to go another round with the shadows.  One sometimes has to suffer for one’s art.  Sigh.  Seriously, this is pretty typical for me.  I take a ton of photos and manage to find fault with some aspect of nearly every one.  Even the photos I’m really proud of usually have some room for improvement in my mind.  It’s hard to say what makes a “great” photo.  It’s art and all art is subjective.  You can appreciate the artist merit of something without really liking it.  (See my July 30 blog on the Walker Art Center for more on that topic)  I can look at a photo and tell you why it works for me or not but that doesn’t mean everyone or anyone else will feel the same way.

I think the shadow photos are cool even if I didn’t get exactly the image I wanted.  Maybe it only exists in my mind.  I also realize that a lot of people might think they are weird, creepy or (worse yet) just boring.  Don’t worry, there are plenty of pretty landscapes in my future.  But I’m prouder of these types of efforts, even when they aren’t perfect.

Jerome

We took a little trip up north yesterday.  The forecast high for Phoenix was around 90 degrees so it seemed like a good day to head to the high country, as Phoenicians like to call it.  We went to Jerome first and then stopped in Prescott for a late lunch before driving back.  Jerome is the most popular “ghost town” in Arizona.  It was a big mining town around the turn of the century that was gradually abandoned after the mines shut down.  It was largely deserted until squatters started moving in and fixing up houses in the 60’s.  Of course now it is a wildly popular tourist destination with lots of shops and restaurants, but it’s managed to retain most of its charm despite that handicap.  It was a sad day for us when the funky little Jerome Brewery turned into a wine bar.  They still serve the most awesome pizza but it’s just not the same.

There are a lot of cool old buildings, some abandoned and some occupied.  It also features some of the most amazing vistas, as the whole town is perched up on a side of a hill.  The shops are all small and feature unique, frequently local items.  I have dropped a serious amount of coin in Jerome over the years.  But yesterday was strictly a photo op.  One of the tricks I’ve learned when photographing a place or activity (like racing) that is a very familiar subject is to use a new and/or unusual lens.  So for this trip to Jerome I exclusively used my new 100mm macro lens (which totally and completely rocks, by the way).  It’s not a lens I would normally use to photograph a town, so it forced me to look for unusual subject matter.

I became completely obsessed with the shadow of an iron fence against the shell of an old building.  This one shows the shadow against an old stone floor.  It reminds me of a cemetery.

The left photo is the shadow of a single fence post against a stone wall.  The original is color and had a very brown cast.  I thought it looked better in black and white.  The right photo is a sunburst detail that cast a shadow down to a corner of the lower level.  I love this shadow but I don’t love the background.  Unfortunately this sunburst is only in one spot along the fence so I didn’t have a choice.  This just made me more obsessed about getting the “perfect” shadow photograph.  To be continued…

Not too Scary

Another Halloween has come and gone.  Our neighborhood at home has never been a hotspot for trick or treaters (our all time record was 17) so we gave up buying candy for Halloween a few years ago.  It’s not a good thing when I end up eating more candy than I hand out.  The weather in Phoenix is certainly more conducive for tiny goblins extorting treats, but we live in a small townhome complex with no children.   Almost no one bothered to turn on their outside lights.

We did stop by the house of a friend who is renowned for elaborate Halloween displays.  I honestly expected something a little on the garish side, but was completely blown away by his setup.  Full blown graveyard complete with hearse.  This year he did a pirate theme with a huge mast including a crow’s nest and a ship’s prow “buried” in the front lawn.  Plus a dead man’s chest and assorted pirate skeletons.  You’ve got to admire that kind of dedication.  One of the really cool effects was a projector that illuminated a large tree with thousands of tiny twinkling lights.  What a great way to light up a tree without the hassle of stringing tiny lights.

We’ve spent our first few days here in Phoenix running errands and organizing all the stuff we brought from Minnesota.  My bathroom linen closet is now neatly organized with clothing, books and photography equipment.  Amazingly, I got everything to fit.  We have 3 linen closets here (versus none at home) so we each get one of the bathroom ones for personal stuff and the hall one is actually used as a linen closet.  It seemed like we had a ton of space when we first bought this house, but it’s filling up frighteningly fast so I need to get more efficient about using it.

Sounds like a project…

Right at Oklahoma City, Left at Flagstaff

Just under 1800 miles and 27 1/2 hours later, we are back in Phoenix for (most of) the winter.  It felt like we waited a little too long, based on the last few days of weather in Minnesota.  It was cool to cold (30-50 degrees) for most of the drive but it was over 90 when we arrived in Phoenix.  The turtleneck and cardigan sweater I was wearing for the drive definitely seemed like overkill when we got out of the car at our house.

It’s a pretty uncomplicated drive when you take the southern route – straight down 35 to Oklahoma City, west on 40 to Flagstaff and continue south on 17 to Phoenix.  Essentially two major turns.  It’s not as pretty as going west to Denver, then heading south but at this time of year it’s a little dicey to drive that way in a car that doesn’t love the snow.  Plus the roadsigns and attractions take an interesting turn once you get past the border of Texas.  Apparently clean restrooms are a major selling point, based on their prominent listing for many restaurants.  After using the bathroom in the Gallup NM Denny’s, I can understand why.

Many of the signs are obviously handmade and the grammar and spelling can get creative at times.  Of course my sense of humor might get a little more twisted after so many hours in the car.  One advertising a McDonald’s stated – Exit at 289  Right 24 Hours.  All I could think was, who would drive 24 hours to get to a McDonald’s?  Signs are always funnier if you take them literally.  Sometimes a few letters fall off and it gives the sign a whole new meaning.

I saw this one on our drive home from Phoenix in April.  We took that one at a more leisurely pace, so there were plenty of photo ops.  I’m looking forward to finding more like it this winter.