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Air B&B Houston Hot Air Balloon “Glow” Festival

Jen wanted to see a hot-air balloon glow festival and found one in Houston. This wasn’t a race, it was an event. They were going to fire their propane flames after dark in order to give a visual experience. Sounded very interested.

We looked up hotel prices and were slowed down a bit. Then, Jen looked up rooms using Air B&B and discovered a place only a few miles from the field. We took it.

It’s a hefty drive from Austin to Houston (or Dallas). I’m not fond of 3-hour+ drives. At any rate, we weren’t in any hurry to get there and arrived at the event around 4p on Saturday. Nothing much was going on, but a few of the balloons were inflated and a number of crews were actively setting up for the evening’s experience. I started working out how to capture useful/interesting photo images. I suppose I worked at that for an hour or so before we decided to go get a bite of early dinner, as the main event wouldn’t start until after dusk.

We got back to the field in plenty of time, and I ran around with my camera/tripod while Jen found things she wanted to watch. Finally, when they were getting ready to do a coordinated “lighting,” they announced it over the PA system, along with an introduction to the festival and acknowledgements to a variety of helpers.

The lit balloons were really spectacular. There were a lot of them — perhaps 30-40. It was hard to get them all in the shot, but I managed to get a string of them. Also, with my 100-400mm zoom, I took a number of shots of the backlit colored patchwork that made each balloon distinguishable from others.

c 17 setting up balloon   c 17.5 glow festival   c 17.8 full balloon

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Taos

We decided to go out to see Father in Santa Fe. Jen had not yet met him. He lives about 20 miles west of the city in a compound for rich people. I suppose the adobe walls are ten feet high and four feet thick. It’s massive. It has a VERY upscale clubhouse and restaurant and bar. I can imagine that many people must get together there practically every night. Nothing else to do out there but go to the clubhouse, have friends over, or watch TV. It’s along way in to Santa Fe.

This is a shot of his living room.

c 15 livingroom

He bought a lovely house there after he sold the big house on the ridge overlooking the entire valley. You could see Los Alamos at night: street and house lights. He actually moved to Santa Fe in order to take a literature Masters’ degree at St John’s College’s rigorous liberal arts program. Its main campus is in Annapolis, MD, but they have this campus in Santa Fe because of the nature of the population.

It’s the only school in the US (probably the only school in the world) whose curriculum requires you to read the entire set of “Great Books of the Western World.” 

Anyway, we decided to drive up to Santa Fe to visit Father, who is 91. He’s in amazing shape. His mind is as sharp as ever and he spends most of his time reading or writing. Right now, he’s writing about old age.

The drive takes about 13 net hours. We spent the night near Clovis and arrived in the early afternoon. We’d found a reasonably-priced hotel and, after checking in, drove out to see them.

Father is now using the guest room as his bedroom, so they prefer that people not stay at the house. Also, he naps a lot now and there would be long stretches with nothing to do. Robin (his wife) prefers to schedule the visits. We spent the afternoon visiting and they took us in town for a lavish dinner. We had a lovely time; Robin was looking well.

We drove back out for breakfast at 10, spent a few hours chatting and left for Taos at the point that he wanted to lie down for a nap.

It’s a fairly quick drive up to Taos — about 90 minutes.

I’d found what I thought would be a really spectacular place to stay in Taos, the El Pueblo Lodge Room 140. I turned out to be right.

There was a light snow falling when we arrived; very romantic. We checked in and went to the room: it was lavish. It has a HUGE bedroom/living room with very nice fireplace and ample wood. SUPER romantic.

We had ample daylight, so we walked around town looking at the interesting shops. There is one in particular that is my favorite. They have handmade knives and (most important) outdoor bells made from cut-off diving tanks. Really interesting and very sonorous. It took all our will not to buy it — but it was in the $500 range and we weren’t spending that kind of money.

I’d made reservations for the Taos Inn months ago. They have an upscale restaurant that was well reviewed, and we were not disappointed. They have excellent food preparation, tables well spaced, and the dining room gave off an air of elegance. We had a lovely time and then returned to our motel room where we lit the fire, put on some music (through my computer) and had a fantastic, romantic evening.

We spent the next two days wandering around the city and the Indian reservations’ public areas, taking pictures.

I find I'm drawn to shoot interesting doors...

c 14 red door taos  c 13 door taos

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Australia

I met Master Joe and slave kim at Southplains Leather Fest last February. They had sat through my class on “Understanding how some M/s Relationships get into trouble” and later approached me in the foyer. He introduced himself and asked whether I might be interested in coming down to Melbourne, Australia, to do a series of presentations this coming September.

Well, I didn’t know this person, so I said that it might be possible and took down his contact information. After the conference, I wrote to slave Caroline and asked her about him. As it happens, she entered BDSM in Melbourne through Master Joe’s BDSM club, Chains. She knew him very well and said that if he had invited me over, he’d take good care of me.

As the discussions continued, it turned out that although they rented a home, there was a second small house in back of their main house. I would be staying there. Also, Herbert was able to arrange printing in Australia through all our books on Barnes and Noble. Although Amazon doesn’t have a print facility there, B&N does. I ordered literally hundreds of books, selecting titles beyond my own that I thought would sell. We set the date and I found myself in their delightful presence for 21 days.

c 05 joe kim   

Unlike in the US, Ausies are used to paying about $35 per seat per class. We averaged 20 people per class and I did about 8 classes. This was the weekend of Oz Kinkfest, so we had people in the right frame of mind to come to classes. Also, this was a crowd that bought books, so—overall—the trip was a great success.

c 06 fire play   c 07 cupping

We took a side jaunt up to Sydney in order to do another presentation and I met Peter Masters there. He’s a professor at University of Sydney and runs the best BDSM Wiki on the Internet.

Joe (sometimes with Kim, other times alone) took me to many interesting places. In Melbourne, itself, we went down to the heart of the city to see Gog and Magog who occupy a special place in Melbourne’s Royal Arcade—a very upscale mall in the heart of town.

c 08 gog and mcgog

These words are written beside the figures: “These two 7-foot giants have been striking the time on Gaunt’s clock since 1892. They were carved from clear pine and modeled on the figures erected in Guildhall, London, in 17089 to symbolize the conflict between the ancient Britons and the Trojan invaders. According to the mythology, the giants Gog and Magog were captured bin battle by the Trojans and made to serve as porters in the gateway of an ancient palace on the site later occupied by the Guildhall.”

Joe had brought me here not only to show me Gog and Magog, but also to have coffee and some pieces of chocolate at the most famous coffee house in Australia. It is called Chokolait, and their mission is to make finest genuine Belgian chocolates, hand crafted cakes, and desserts in Melbourne. Here is a shot of the cappuccinos we ordered. Here’s their website: http://www.chokolait.com.au/

c 09 coffee   c 10 joe

As you can imagine, the Royal Arcade is a primo tourist attraction in Melbourne. Because it’s such a draw, there are a number of street-vendors and buskers around. The musicians included a number who were playing hopped-up diggerydoo’s with pick-up microphones at the business end. For some reason, I didn’t take any pictures of them. The man playing this diggerydoo was down at the docks in Sydney.

c 11 diggerydoo

I realize this post is getting really long, but the trip was extremely interesting and I took a lot of pictures.

One of our trips was to a city named Ballarat and to Sovereign Hill – a major cultural tourist destination. Ballarat was transformed into a major settlement when gold was discovered. At a small store in Sovereign Hill I met a man standing behind a metal-spinning lathe making different size bells.

c 12 metal spinning

Master Joe tested the sound of the bells and determined that this one specific bell had the “right” sound. When Master Joe had his attention elsewhere I purchased two of the bells he “approved” and on my last night with him gifted him one of the bells and invited him to be in my Leather Family. Here’s a shot of the matching bell.

c 12.5 bell soverign hill

All-in-all a memorable trip and I’m indebted to Master Joe and slave kim for their warm and loving hospitality.

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Nature Photography in Panama

b 14 nature photography

Our time in Panama was a photographic treat. The country was lush, we were living in the middle of a growth of coffee trees, there was an animal rescue center in town that was about the size of a small zoo. They had everything there from large cats to parrots to monkeys. We went there a number of times and one of my finest photographs was taken there. The picture is a beautifully curved orange lily leaf and it probably took me 45 minutes to figure out how in the world to photograph it correctly.

b 15 curved lily

Photography is my art-form: when I decide to photograph an object it generally takes me from 20 to 40 minutes to work out the correct distance, angle, light, and lens. I also have to check depth of field every time I change lenses. As I mentioned above, photography lets me see things differently. But, it takes a while.

slave mindi and I could not take very many side trips, because of the nature of her job. She is what is called a “utilization review” nurse and needs a notebook computer that drives two different video screens because she is concurrently working in two databases. This means that if we want to take a trip that involves more than a weekend, we need to take the entire set-up with us — and then she has to work during normal working hours. It's hard to take side trips under those conditions. We only made a few excursions, but those we took were extraordinary.

With Moty Hen as our guide, we made two weekend trips: a tour of a one-man sugarcane processing facility, and the tour of a very small cigar manufacturing company.

b 16 boiling sugarcane

While the cigar manufacturing company had only six people rolling cigars from the tobacco leaves, you could see in one building the entire process from the arrival of newly dried tobacco leaves, through the drying and storage of those leaves, to cutting them up and distributing them to the people who are rolling the cigars, to the presses that compacted the leaves that resulted in the final product. You also saw the process of putting each cigar into cellophane and depositing them in cigar boxes. From there the boxes ended up in a substantial room that was carefully controlled for humidity.

b 17 cigar press

Before leaving this section, I’d like to put a plug in for Moty Hen. He is a really amazing/interesting man. He’s Israeli, but he came to Panama in 1984. Over his years traveling around Panama, he’s become something of a private guide. It’s not his primary line of work, but he’s amazing at it. If you can explain the kinds of experiences you’d like, he’ll arrange it. Deep-sea fishing? Visiting an indigenous tribe? Bird watching? He and his wife (Rita) were working on creating a bed-and-breakfast at the end of our time, there. Here’s a link to it. Should you ever find yourself in Panama, you’ll do well to contact him and let him be your guide. Oh—he caters to Israeli’s. He’s undoubtedly the only Hebrew-speaking Panamanian tour guide in the world. 

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Our Spectacular Frog Holiday

b 18 red frog stem

We took one spectacular four-day holiday. I had told our main guide, Moty (who is actually an Israeli who had lived in Panama for 25 years and spoke very good English), that I really wanted to photograph poison dart frogs. He arranged a trip for us to go by bus from one side of Panama to the other side across the Continental divide. It was about a three-hour bus ride. Of course you had to then add the hour that it took to get from Boquete (up in the mountains) to David (down by the sea).

Once we arrived at Bocas del Toro, Moty left us alone to settle into our rooms. When we next saw him he said he'd found a guide for us. He said that he found a guide who specialized in taking photographers around the islands to photograph poison dart frogs. I was delighted. Moty had the clever idea of incentivizing the guide by offering him five dollars bonus per species for the two days he had with us.

As a result of this, I was able to photograph something like 23 differently colored poison dart frogs. It was perfectly amazing. Sometimes when would we get to the island our new guide would run off and find a local person to help guide us just to speed things up. The locals knew which color frog was where. You might start down one path and find blue frogs and go down a little further and find yellow and black frogs. Truly an experience of a lifetime.

 

b 19 dime   b 20 blue frog   b 21 on hand

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