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The Brown Hotel – Springer, New Mexico

The Brown Hotel & Cafe

My feet thrust to the bottom of the bed in choreographed unison with arms yanking the comforter to nose hair level. The inexpensive hotel sheets are rough; chewed from the passage of a multitude of feet sliding across the surface. I like the way they feel. Without cell phone service, the hotel has my full attention. I’m alone to savor it and can’t suppress a clipped squeal as a mournful whistle from the wind’s turn of the sharp corner of the old building, calls out the storm.  A hand shoots out and flicks off the old lantern. As the dark tucks around I’m reminded for the first time in a long time of childhood stay-overs with Loretta Branton. In a tiny clapboard house whose roof was hardly wide enough to cover the heads of everyone inside, we’d settle down under a pile of quilts in the thin light of an early winter night. The sheets were pebbly from the friction of feet over coarse woven cotton and harmless leftover sand from an occasional unwashed foot. I’d sink into that fat bed, flat on my back, arms straight, trying hard to not take up too much space from my tiny friend and a sister or two stacked beside us. Laughter and some shuffling for position soon brought soft sounds of rhythmic breath and my conscious contentedness was alone in the room. Between that forlorn but comforting wail of the wind and the erratic crash of a piece of displaced tin roof, my mind wallowed in the joy always present in that house, and the lingering taste of raisin pie.

Loretta had a slew of siblings and the abundance of personalities was equally offset by the lack of money. My own home wasn’t exactly plush – we didn’t have an indoor bathroom until I was 12. But there were fewer of us and so it always seemed a bit more towards the upper end of the impoverished scale. I don’t recall much about Loretta’s Dad but I remember her mother well.  She was always in the kitchen when I arrived. And come to think of it, in the kitchen when we went to bed. But despite the crowd, I’ve never been in a house so thunderously peaceful.  Her secret as I’ve considered it over the years, had to have been the raisin pie. I’d never tasted one and a moment of lifelong eureka and wistful longing resulted from that first bite. Between a substantial double crust that melted in your mouth in glorious stages – first a savory velvet sand, then dissolving even as you fought with your tongue to contain and coax it to stay ’round, the raisins were fat as grapes, though with more give, and suspended in a thick chestnut tinted goo. There were platelets on the bottom crust from the goo that coupled with the pan on the other side of the pie shell. Those prized bits were magic – the collision of molten sugar and crackling crust.  Loretta told me her mother made several a week. I wanted to move in.

On a road trip, staying in some sort of motel/hotel is part of the adventure. It’s not the same as staying at Grandma’s, or better yet, Loretta’s house. Besides, staying at Loretta’s was the experience it was because Loretta was there. And of course her mother’s raisin pies. But an old hotel is as close as I can get today to the experience that thrilled me as a kid. They’re interesting and fun and the always friendly sometimes odd-turned proprietors are attempting to preserve something old and grand. It’s impossible to walk one of the creaking hallways and not get lost in thoughts of the early travelers – the grandeur of anything that wasn’t their own drafty bedroom, something large and with all those rooms had to sweep away their imaginations and fuel the thrill of travel for them. When I stay in Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hotel or Old Faithful Inn, I choose the oldest rooms for this reason and stay at any old hotel along a road trip journey – they fuel my imagination too.

 

Built in 1922, The Brown Hotel has 11 rooms available for rent. The sheets are not high thread count Egyptian cotton, the comforter isn’t down, clothes hangers are thin wire – the ones of your youth, the towels from Wal-Mart. Wind whistles around the eaves, the gas radiator chugs, and the sink with its separate hot and cold spigots presents the dilemma of how to get the right mix in your hand with which to splash your face. All for $54.91 including tax and a breakfast so good I’d just as soon keep that to myself (the Huevos Rancheros!).

 

Brown Hotel

No cell phone service. No complaints. Just before the snow storm struck with force.

 

Brown Hotel

That Thing Above My Head

They did what they could in those days with bare lightbulbs.

IMG_0511

Floorboards creak and groan all night. But the winter storm bearing down swung around the eaves of this old place in such a fashion as to create the whistle and moan of the wind of my youth.

IMG_0513

Really love having a separate sink and mirror. It makes the tiny bathroom much roomier.

IMG_1767

 

The Brown Hotel & Cafe

(575) 483-2269

302 Maxwell Avenue

Springer, New Mexico

 

Who has a recipe for raisin pie?

 

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Shutterfly: VividPics Technology

February 9, 2012 - photography

Unless I capture an alien and ask Shutterfly to print the photograph, I want no part of green in my black and white prints. Recently this is what Shutterfly gave me in a 4×6:

Shutterfly printing green

Wedding Photo in Green (by Shutterfly)

Oddly, the 5×7 was about as perfect a B&W print as I could ask for (short of printing them myself). Nice blacks. The groom’s shirt is white; the wedding dress was a champagne color, so those are about right too.

0496a

Upon contacting them to request a reprint of the photos, I learned something new about Shutterfly when they sent this reply:

 ” I am sorry to hear that your order did not arrive as you hoped. Shutterfly analyzes your photos and automatically applies enhancements to the photos to improve the exposure and colors in the photos in order to give you the finest quality prints. This feature, which we call our VividPics technology, is applied by default to all Shutterfly prints.”

They went on to say the VividPics technology/process was what was causing the green cast and then gave me a link with instructions on how to disable it.  They did NOT discuss why within the same order, the 4x6s were in green and the 5x7s weren’t…  What they didn’t want to tell me was they’d hired a little green alien in their 4×6 printing line.

 

So I went to the link, disabled VividPics and received another order of, yup, green 4x6s. Three’s a charm they say and they got it right in the 3rd reprint. It obviously was not the VividPic process, but I learned something in the exercise.  And to their credit they re-printed every time at their expense with no hassle.

If you do a bit more research, there’s a section about ICC Color Profiles: “If you turn off VividPics, all our printers will produce sRGB colors accurately.”  What you have to understand is that to get the photo on your screen at home to look very similar in a printed copy, you’ve got to save your images as sRGB AND calibrate your monitor properly for sRGB output.  Shutterfly mentions a spectrophotometer but only in a sentence that also includes the word “inspired.”

Screen shot of Shutterfly's Help section on color profiles

Bottom line, I learned something. And discovered the “Help” section of the site is quite extensive. Good information.

I’m working on a post comparing a Shutterfly photo book to a Blurb photo book. Good stuff.

Here are other Shutterfly posts on this site:

Shutterfly vs Snapfish, Take II

Shutterfly vs Snapfish

 

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John Batdorff. Book Review, “Black and White: From Snapshots to Great Shots”

February 6, 2012 - photography

There have been a few perks to writing this blog. Many connections have been made with individuals that are interesting, talented, and sometimes inspirational.  The people perks are the best but there have been a few damned fine freebies in the way of software (Lightroom for instance) and books. Some of the people connections have been with authors who realized I could write a halfway decent review for them if they comped me an autographed copy.  A few were right in that presumption, but mostly the books never escaped the box before getting the boot to Goodwill (of which I’m a huge fan).

 John Batdorff's Black and White: From Snapshots to Great Shots

Self-help books have a difficult time clamoring into my reading stack. It’s not that I don’t want to improve. I do. But it’s hard to execute from a recliner. Or with my ass bolted to a truck on some American backroad. 

A friend astutely summed it up, “improvement takes a lot of energy.” No shit. It’s one of those ply you in the face truths whose full impact is only grasped when enough birthdays have passed.

The friend, a baker, had worked herself into the landing gears up position for a rant. “It’s simply a truth like fruit isn’t a real dessert. Or church is not church unless someone thrusts a stick of gum at you.” 

My last conversation with John Batdorff, one of the interesting, talented, AND inspirational connections I’ve made, went like this: “I’ve got to photograph the wedding of a nephew as a favor and there’s no natural light. I don’t even own a flash. Any tips?”  John replied “rent the flash, speak to the Pastor about positioning during the ceremony, and remember to turn the flash back on after you’ve turned it off.”  He’s a lot like my baker friend – they speak in truths that slash right to the good stuff. 

 

When I opened John’s autographed book “Black and White: From Snapshots to Great Shots”, it was three months before I worked up the energy to flip the pages. But only one evening of page turning and highlighting to complete it.

You shouldn’t bother with this book unless you really do want to expend the energy to improve your black and whites or pry your butt from the recliner over and over. It’s not a read-and-put-away book. It’s one of those rare outputs from a pro photographer that shares not only useful insights and tips but plops you in the action of their workflow – which I’ve struggled with; oh how I’ve struggled. 

 

John begins with a peek into his equipment bag. Real pictures of the crap he hauls around. An order with B&H was the first reason I left the recliner. Something must be crooked on me because my horizons are always askew. The bubble level pictured in the book solved my problem. I didn’t know such a thing existed. And The LensPen – you need one of these too. The order halted when I got to the ND filter. Geez I’ve experimented with long exposures with very few satisfactory results. Okay none. Now I know why. The neutral density filter is another must have. But not cheap. It’ll have to wait.

Back in the recliner I get to the part about post-processing software – namely Lightroom.  I’ve got Lightroom! Still in the freebie box however because I just can’t make myself learn yet another software program (or social networking site), I get out of the recliner again to open the damned box. John raves about the program, convincing me finally that it’ll be the last major workflow change I make. Even before I load the software I know he’s right. I’ve fought against moving away from Camera Raw/Bridge. It was a gallant fight but if I want my photography to reach the next rung, Lightroom must be conquered.

Histograms?!  Shit. Another rocking back and forth to extract myself from the recliner to fetch of all things, my camera. I could feel the strain in my thighs that time.

Histograms smack of bell curves, financial analysis – things I know something about. Yuck. So I’ve steered clear of them almost as vehemently as Lightroom. He takes you step by step through a histogram. It’s a rather useful thing.  Looking for a U-curve is something I’ll be doing from now on. It’s the opposite of a bell curve. Which makes me a fan.

And shooting with intent. Well that’s a biggie. You know it is. Although John doesn’t say a pro shoots with intent and an amateur doesn’t, that’s exactly what he means. And even if you have no goal to become a pro in the sense of money exchanged for services, if you’re serious about your photography you’ve got to have enough knowledge about the photographic process to shoot with intent. The only way to shoot with intent is to know what the hell a histogram indicates. Okay and a few other things like exposure, composition, framing, contrast. All of which he covers in a very readable voice. 

John’s a rule breaker, which contributes to my being a fan of his work. He refers to keeping all the rules in your head as “paralysis of analysis”.  I agree. And that paralysis hits me in the “darkroom” as well as on site. I begin viewing a likeable image and mentally start breaking down over what should be lighter, darker, what shadow detail I should worry about, the highlight details that may be blown out, etc. A lot of great shots never get the deserved attention because I’m too overwhelmed with analyzing the image. He takes us by the hand and walks through all of that utilizing Lightroom – all the way through printing and/or sharing the image online.

What about watermarks? I said in the beginning that this is a book for those photographers desirous of taking the craft to the next level.  That means branding our images.

I want to deter theft.  I’m not a pro but nothing makes me angrier than to see one of my images used elsewhere without credit. If I got the image to the point I was willing to share it, that means I put some time into it and thieving assholes should be lashed for lifting it. In order to save myself from a stroke at the next infraction, I read the part in the book about watermarks, lifted my trembling thighs once again from the recliner, became a Digimarc customer, and followed John’s directions for use. 

There are assignments at the end of every chapter. But geez that would have meant a full work-out.

Fun things in the book I didn’t know but should have: 1) photographing the sun or other lighting sources with a high f-stop will result in a starburst effect and 2) since I shoot in RAW, I can have my camera display in monochrome and still capture all the color information too.  Very cool.

You’re ready for the truth and someone worthy of delivering it in a way that makes you want to pry from the recliner? Then get John Batdorff’s book: Black and White: From Snapshots to Great Shots (click here for link to Amazon page). 

Can you say Virtual Copies??

 ******************************************

John Batdorff is an award-winning landscape and travel photographer who splits his time between Chicago and Montana. His black and white images have been featured in the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  See his work and read his popular photography blog at: John Batdorff Photography Blog

John, thank you for the wedding photography advise. I followed it. And I’ll never photograph another wedding. Ever.  — Tammie

 

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Persimmon Prediction Winter 2011-2012

Before it dumps a foot or more of snow, rendering my prediction moot, you should know the persimmon seeds indicate another white winter even though we didn’t have a white Christmas AND today’s temp may reach 60 degrees. Ignore those facts and pull out the snow melt, shovel, and Yukon-duty boots.  According to these we’re going to need them…

All Spoons

2011 Persimmon Seed Sample

Eighteen seeds from six fruit were split and nothing but spoons showed themselves. It’s also interesting to note only one utensil was found in each fruit. In other words regardless how many seeds a particular fruit held, the same utensil was in all of them.

2011 Persimmon Seed

The Farmer’s Almanac Blog gives the possible utensil discoveries and their prediction for the coming winter: “A knife shape will indicate a cold, icy winter (wind cuts through you like a knife). A fork shape indicates a mild winter. A spoon shape stands for a shovel to dig out all the snow.”

Naysayer?  Don’t believe a wet head or bare feet will make you catch cold or that Vicks rubbed somewhere on your body can’t cure winter ills?  Check out this scientific data before you laugh too loud: But First, Persimmons.

Other persimmon related posts:

A Spoon In My Persimmon

A Big Fat Persimmon Lie

Panforte and Persimmons: Road Trip Discoveries

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But First, Persimmons

This is not the post I expected to write. It’s been awhile and maybe the cogs really do get rusty with abstinence. The reacquaintance with the keyboard brought visions of words that would convey the hum of warmth from the low slung New Mexican sun, the scrubbed clean scent of the juniper warmed by it, and the exaltation at the long shadowed, iconic Western images favored by it.  But it all became abstract and elusive when I sat down.

I did take the long-awaited solo road trip. You know the favored Fall one that starts with a bit of fear my running away may be permanent and ends with a proud shot of the trip odometer? It was a stellar trip from beginning to the 2,500+ mile end. And Arizona got into the mix this time.

But first, persimmons.  They’re the fruit of the gods you know.  I love the twig cross bar – beautiful and reminiscent of Asian pottery jars (the fruit originated in China).

There are several varieties, but most have this distinctive (and very memorable) quality – the unripened fruit is so high in tannins, your mouth will be welded shut upon the slightest nibble of the unripened fruit (technically a berry). It’s a common joke pulled on unsuspecting southern children, who will in almost all instances eat anything. Captain John Smith described them best: “If it not be ripe it will draw a man’s mouth awire with much torment. But when it is ripe, it is as delicious as an apricot.”  What’s not to love about a fruit this complex?

Wild Persimmon

The seeds – about the size of a watermelon seed – are hard as a hammer and slick as black ice (I compared this characteristic to snot last year). They protect a translucent white center that cradles a very distinct cooler-than-cool utensil.

If you manage to split one perfectly without blood tainting the lucite center and an ensuing trip to the emergency room, you’ll see something like this:

A Spoon In My Persimmon.

This was from two years ago, but it’s onehelluva perfect split (thank you Dooley McGyver). And not a bad shot.  Great light will do that.

The Farmer’s Almanac Blog gives the possible utensil discoveries and their prediction for the coming winter: “A knife shape will indicate a cold, icy winter (wind cuts through you like a knife). A fork shape indicates a mild winter. A spoon shape stands for a shovel to dig out all the snow.”

I’ve wondered about finding a spork.

This is last year’s seed samples.  There were several spoons as well, but none worth photographing. And these were hard earned so if you don’t clearly see a knife, use your imagination.

Accuracy so far?  Here’s the winter associated with the perfect spoon above:

Winter 2009-2010

And here’s the winter associated with last year’s knife:

Winter 2010-2011

So far for the two years I’ve been tracking this older than Methuselah harbinger, there have been only spoons and knives. Not a single fork (mild winter predictor) have my eyes seen.

So how about this year?  The wild persimmons are abundant on my parents’ ranch. The tree was a real beauty dripping with the unripened fruit – a color I mentioned in a previous post that was so glorious fashion designers would need a brown paper bag.  Deer were camping out around it waiting for the fruit to ripen and fall. Not really.

Here’s my “take” from the recent persimmon gathering treasure hunt – a turtle shell and a fossil.  Almost as thrilling as the year I found a perfect arrowhead.

the annual persimmon sample

The seed you ask?  What’s the cute little utensil in the seeds of this year’s crop?  The turtle shell has protected them until this weekend. I’ll be splitting and photoing and baking a new recipe with them, so you’ll just have to check back.

Want to read more about this ancient compact jewel?  Here are three previous posts.

A Spoon In My Persimmon

A Big Fat Persimmon Lie

Panforte and Persimmons: Road Trip Discoveries

 

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The Grand Climb

 

Tammie DooleyAbout SRT... I’m a traveler, writer and photographer for whom the open road frequently summons. Adventurous solo road trips are a staple for me, and a curiosity. So I created this website to share them and inspire you to step out and give them a try. Welcome!

A soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone – Wolfgang Von Goethe

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