Sunday, May 31, 2020

Parks Are Open Again

A few weeks ago our parks were re-opened. First the parking lots remained closed and only people who live in the vicinity of a park could access it by foot or bike.

My favorite parks are not in walking distance from my home. While I could access the lake by bike, the ride there is no fun at all on busy roads with no bike lanes. Even riding along more quiet neighborhood streets can't avoid the busy intersections.

But the old rural cemetery is close to our neighborhood. It was also closed, but now finally we were able to access it again. Of course there were rules in place, all of which make perfect sense.

There was also another sign that was less comfortable...

We live in cougar country and they have been spotted in our neighborhood, so I was aware of my surroundings and avoided the most remote parts of the cemetery.

After the long closure of the parks and the complaining of the people about it I had expected that the cemetery was crowded because people were so eager to get outside and enjoy some nature. But to my surprise I was almost the only one wandering the trails.

A small section of the cemetery had been turned into a native plants garden years ago. It was a bit overgrown but there were still beautiful flowers to discover.

Calycanthus occidentalis (Spice Bush) 

Lepechinia clycina (California Pitcher Plant)

Of course Lathyrus latifolius, the perennial peavine, could be seen everywhere.

After walking for quite a while I found a bench where I sat down for a while, listening to the birds, breathing in the wonderful scent of the old trees, feeling the sun on my skin, hearing the whispering of the soft breeze in the leaves, watching busy little squirrels and just enjoying being in nature.

Only a week later the parking lots were opened as well while beaches at the ocean still remain closed (except for coastal residents). But I'm still weary of crowds and avoid the more popular parks. I find all the peace and calmness of nature in this old cemetery where time seems to stand still. This is enough for me right now.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Pandemic Food

Vegetable Radiatore with zucchini and German bratwurst

These past two months have been incredibly intense and challenging. I assume that many of you felt that as well. Shortly after our shelter-in-place order was set on March 18th the German School went in overdrive to figure out how to keep up our classes. The board of directors - of which I am one - met so many times via Zoom that I lost count. But we achieved our goal - via the educator platform of Zoom and the flexibility of all of the teachers we were able to continue our classes, albeit in a very different way. Then someone suggested that since we already have Zoom we could offer some classes over the summer - since no one was going anywhere anyway. The teachers who were up to it - including yours truly - sat down to design their classes, the board worked out how to organize it and finally we had a good offering of summer classes as well. Everybody worked really hard to get this off the ground, and I'm so proud of everyone in the team.

On top of that there were staff meetings with the high school and with the library technicians of the school district. Last week I was finally able to actually get onto campus and into the library to get at least a few things done. It felt very weird to be there all on my own when the school usually is so full of life.

No wonder that cooking became a great way to get me away from the computer and create something that was filling and satisfying (don't ask my ever expanding waist line, though).

Chicken legs with roasted potatoes and bell pepper

Chicken Shawarma

The first time I tried the Middle Eastern dish Chicken Shawarma was last summer and it has quickly become a favorite. We eat it with flatbread, lettuce, tomatoes and garlic yogurt with lots of cumin. The recipe asks for cooking it on the grill, but I opted to make it in the oven and it turned out delicious. If you like some spice in your food you will like this dish. You can find the recipe here.

The Southwest Skillet Chili Mac is another favorite and perfect for cooler days (we had some rather chilly days during those two months). I wrote about it here, and the recipe can be cooked as a vegetarian as well as a meat lover's dish.

Then our oven broke! Well, not the entire oven, but the heating coil. Of course all the stores were closed, so we had to get one online which took several days. Thankfully my wonderful friend Liz send me a few stove-top recipes. Some of them I tried out - oh, I will definitely make them again!

How about Balsamic Garlic Chicken?

Or Spicy Thai Noodles? This recipe asks for linguine which I couldn't get (pasta was pretty low in the two stores where I shop), but I still had some Udon which tasted great in this dish.

During this pandemic I usually do my big grocery shopping every other week, when I also shop for my elderly neighbors. I shop at Trader Joe's - have done so since 2001 and there are still the same employees! But we are lucky to also have a small but fine grocery store "around the corner" (10 minutes to walk) which is important if I want something really fresh or local products. I also enjoy going to the farmers market even though it is not much fun at the moment.

My cast iron skillet has been used a lot indeed!

 Lemon Chicken with Orzo

Tuscan Butter Salmon with lots of cherry tomatoes and spinach, plus some homemade focaccia

After the coil in the oven was replaced (thanks to the Geek) it was back to the oven - whole grain bread with pumpkin and sunflower seeds as well as my first try baking focaccia - it looks odd (I'm not a good dough shaper), but the taste was very nice. There certainly is room for improvement.

With the oven back in place I could also make other favorites - like the Broccoli Mac'n Cheese, a recipe I found 30 years ago in England and still love. I don't think that our family can live without it.

I think I need to stop here - there will be a second part to this blogpost with other delicious dishes and of course some desserts! And we don't forget the drinks either!

What have you been cooking?

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Loving the Light

Every morning I start the day with a walk in the garden. The pandemic hasn't changed that - on the contrary, the garden has become my refuge even more than in "normal" times. I particularly like the mornings because of the light - I simply love how only bits and parts are illuminated while everything around it remains in the shadows.

It's also the quality of the light - it's warm and soft, spreading a beautiful glow. How can I as a photographer not see that? And how can I not try to capture it in an image?

The peony had an additional gift - morning dew. Can you see the tiny droplets?

Even the pots become something whimsical.

A small part of the hollyhocks beside the path is illuminated - these plants will grow pretty tall and are a very few of non-drought tolerant plants in my garden. My guilty pleasure - I love hollyhocks, they always remind me of England.

I'm loving the light in the pomegranate tree - this is the tree I planted a few weeks ago and it already gives me so much joy.

What is your morning routine that sets you up for the day?

Monday, April 20, 2020

There's a Tiger in My Backyard!

Would you believe there was a tiger in my backyard?


Well, I have photos to prove it. See for yourself.

First he was a bit shy and hiding behind the strawberry tree, but then he became bolder and trotted through to the other side of the backyard...

... where he made fast friends with Otis.

Otis, however, didn't turn out such a great companion, so tiger went on exploring the garden.

He wasn't always happy though and let us know his displeasure.

He liked the shady corner (which is also my current favorite part of the garden), maybe because he found some water to drink there.

Then we wanted to get inside!


Maybe he felt a bit uncomfortable, but then he quickly calmed down and became a tame pussycat.

Want to have your own tiger (or raccoon or snake or wolf or...) in your garden or home? Just google "tiger" (or "raccoon" or "snake" or "wolf" or...) on your phone and see what happens. Fun for families stuck at home.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Interesting Times

With all this shelter-in-place I had thought that I would have way more time to blog. I certainly have lots of photos that can make it in this space, and stories to tell. I saw myself typing along happily, cranking out one blogpost after another. The reality, however, looks different. This is my third attempt to write - it's not that I don't have time - I do. I'm not going anywhere either - who is these days? Still, I didn't get comfortable in front of my computer (I never get comfortable here anyway), at least not to compose enticing blogposts that my readers would breathlessly read, hungry for more.

Instead, I'm trying to make the best of a dire situation, finding my own routine to make my days meaningful. Some days this works better than others. None of these days found me writing those blogposts though...

When I venture outside for walks in the neighborhood I carry my phone with me, listening to audiobooks (currently "My Antonia" by Willa Cather) and keeping my distance from other people. Sometimes it's quite the dance happening on the sidewalks and the streets when we try to give each other a wide space. You probably all experience the same. We are reduced to the neighborhoods for walking now since all the parks, open spaces and beaches have been closed. At the first weekend of our "house arrest" thousands of people were crowding those places, not keeping a safe distance - the county didn't have a choice but to shut it all down. I miss my walks around the lake with my friend, hiking up the mountains or just driving out to the coast to spend a few hours at the ocean.

The flowers in my neighborhood like the California poppies in the photo above or the pink Arctotis below make bright and colorful spots.

Grocery shopping has become a time consuming chore. Yesterday I stood in line for 50 minutes - knowing that this might happen I had brought my Kindle and could at least spend the time with a good book (I'm reading "Broken for You" by Stephanie Kallos at the moment). At least the store - I shop at Trader Joe's - is always well stocked. I also shop for my elderly neighbors which gives me the feeling that I am at least a little bit helpful. I guess we all have similar stories to tell about shopping, standing in line, avoiding being exposed.

Thankfully the farmers market is still open. It has moved to a different location and has less booths than usual, but this is a great way to support our local farmers and get fresh produce. It's not too crowded and market management does a good job in avoiding crowds or telling groups that stand together chatting to leave the aisles. Every booth is taped off and usually there is one person who handles the produce and another who deals with the money. By now most people are wearing masks - many of us still have one or two N95 masks left over from the fires - and are careful in keeping a safe distance. However, I do miss the friendly conversations that are so typical for shopping at the farmers market. The only person I talked with for more than the usual "how are you" and "stay healthy" was the mushroom guy.

Kaefer came home for a few days during her spring break. All classes in her next - and last - quarter will be taught online, and we think there will be no commencement for the class of 2020. It's a little bit sad for all those graduates, but the important thing is THAT she graduates and everybody stays healthy. After four days she had to go back since her job with Student Services defines her as an essential employee and therefore she has to go to work. This is the only time when she actually sees her friends - again observing a safe distance - and I do believe that this is better for her than staying with her boring parents. While she was here, we were binge watching "Silent Witness" and playing Rummikub.

Fortunately there is always something to knit. Another birds hat was finished and sold two days after I had listed it in my Etsy shop. A box with lots of yarn goodness arrived that I will turn into more hats and socks. Leftover yarn is used to knit up cute little cats that can be used as ornaments, bookmarks, gift tags - whatever you can think of.

I'm also still making my own paper. I had ordered a few stencils and I'm quite excited to use them. This whole paper making can get pretty addictive and I'm still not sure what I will make out of it. The idea in the class was to make small journals and I'm still considering this. But I also think that they would make cool backgrounds for a photo or could be turned into cards. I guess I will just let them sit for a while and something will come up. It usually does.

The majority of my time, however, is being spent preparing my online German class and work for the German School. Using the educator platform of Zoom we are now able to offer our students online classes. Since I'm the head teacher of the local campus I'm also a board member, which means that I attend the board meetings and am involved in the decision making. Our last in-person meeting was when we decided to close the school because of the coronavirus. Since then we have met online to figure out how to go on and offer our students a continuous opportunity of learning German. It meant a lot of extra work for us teachers since teaching online requires way more preparation than in-class teaching. We also had to learn Zoom's education platform which thankfully is easy to navigate - even our least "techie" people learned it and know how to use it at least at a very basic level. I love the ability to screen-share, break up smaller groups in "breakout rooms" and just how easy it is. My high school is doing their distance learning via Zoom as well - I guess the company is doing really well right now.

It was lovely to see my students again, at least on the screen. While I think this is not the best way to learn a foreign language, it is the best we can do of the situation and we have a bit of our wonderful school community back. Our students are grateful and turn up at every lesson, eager to learn. Below you can see what online teaching with my class looks like - I have blurred out the faces of my students, though.

My heart is full with gratitude that I still have both my jobs, that I can teach from home, that my husband can work from home and that we're doing well. I feel for all the people who have lost their jobs during this crisis or who have to stay home without any pay, who have fallen ill or have lost a loved one to the disease. Unfortunately, I don't think that this will be over any time soon. We're in this for a longer run I'm afraid.

When my mood is sinking a bit - thankfully it doesn't happen too often - I snuggle up with the neighbors' cats who come by daily and spend a good amount of time in my garden.

How are you doing in these interesting times? What do you do to spend your time at home in a meaningful way? Please let us know in the comments.

Please stay healthy everyone.