Monday, February 10, 2020

Helping New Yorkers Breathe a Little Bit Easier

Set smack in the middle of Manhattan, in the midst of all the concrete and steel where nothing reminds of nature, there is a huge urban park - Central Park. It covers 843 acres and stretches along 51 blocks - if I counted correctly. When we walked from the Guggenheim Museum, which is across from the upper half from Central Park, to our hotel near the Empire State Building it felt like an endless stretch. But when you look at the "rock desert" around you, all those skyscrapers and multi-storied buildings, you understand that you need a huge area to get at least the feel you're in nature.

Except you aren't.

Central Park is a man-made park, designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and architect/landscape designer Calvert Vaux. The construction of the park began in 1857 and it was completed in 1876. The site was originally occupied by free black people and Irish immigrants who had been living there in small villages since 1825. Approximately 1600 residents were evicted under eminent domain.

Central Park features lakes, many playgrounds, meadows and the Ramble, the only part were you find trails that are not paved. The trees in Central - more than 18000 - play the most important rule of  helping New Yorkers breather a little bit easier. In one year, a mature tree will absorb more than 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, converting it into oxygen. The trees also help to keep the city cool in the summer heat, working as natural air conditioners.

You can probably spend an entire day in Central Park, at least when the temperatures are a bit milder than on this December day. It was a sunny and brilliant day, but very cold. However, the bare trees and the partly frozen lake had its own charm.

Central Park is great for biking and jogging or just strolling along the lakes and through the Ramble. You can also take a ride in a horse carriage, but I would highly discourage that - firstly, it's hideously overpriced and secondly and more important the horses have a miserable life.

It's a beautiful, calm and restful place, definitely an oasis if you live in a place like New York City. But in the end, I do prefer "real" nature and wilderness.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Photo Winners

Thank you to all of you who have participated in my giveaway and voted on the favorite photos. It was interesting to see the different votes and see which photos you liked best.

Let's start at the photo that gathered the third-most votes - or should I say photos since three photos share the same number of votes - which also means that the lucky winner doesn't get three photo greeting cards but five!

California Coast

Point Arena

Sonoma Doors

"The light in the vineyard" takes second place

And the top winner is "Raindrops"!

After I had figured out the winning photos I had to choose a lucky person who will get those five cards - and it is

Elephant's Child !!!

Congratulations!!! I will get in touch with you and then create and send out the cards to you within the next two weeks.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Favorite Photos of 2019 and a Giveaway

This is one of my favorite posts to write - showing you my favorite photos from the past year and then you can choose your favorite 3 images - and there even will be one lucky winner. I've done this the past couple years and I always enjoyed your responses so very much.

So here's how it works: you will see my top 15 favorite photos of last year. Many of them you already saw in an blogpost, but some may be new to you. I would love you to tell me in the comments which 3 images out of these photos are your favorites. Sometimes you might like a photo so much that you want to give it all of your three votes - you can do that, too. Or one photo gets two votes and another the remaining one. You can divide your three votes however you like. All the photos have numbers, so just put in the numbers in the comments. By next week's Sunday I will see which three photos have made the top, and one of you - chosen randomly - will get those three photos as greeting cards. This giveaway is open worldwide, so don't hesitate if you live on the other side of the world.

Without further ado, here we go:

1. Buckeyes

2. Autumn Glory

3. Raindrops

4. The light in the vineyard

5. Winter vineyard

6.  The California Coast

7.  The Grand Canyon

8. Point Arena

9. In the Mission courtyard

10. Lavender Fields Forever

11. The Lavender Barn

12. Misty morning at the coast

13. Poppies

14. Sonoma doors

15. Late autumn at the coast

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Winter Day at the Beach

Kaefer came home for the long MLK weekend to celebrate my 60th birthday - one of the best presents I could get. She was a bit sick with a cold, so we stayed mainly at home watching British crime shows, but on Sunday we made a trip up North to Gualala. Our county ends a mile or so before Gualala, just South of the Gualala River, and Gualala Point Regional Park still is within Sonoma County. Since I buy the Regional Parks Pass every year, we can spend as much time there as we like without paying the daily parking fee.

It was a pretty wild day at the beach with tall and fast waves that relentlessly crashed onto the shore. I love watching this show - but always from a safe distance.

It always surprises me how many people underestimate the ocean and its power. The Pacific in our area is dangerous because beside its "normal" waves there are also so-called sleeper or sneaker waves that are much taller and stronger. They can easily pull people out into the sea and if you're stuck in a rip current it's time to say your prayers.

This is exactly what you shouldn't do:

Walking along the beach I always look for shells, driftwood, sea glass and interesting things. I don't know what this is, it looks soft but is much harder to the touch. Maybe it is a part of some kelp?

The beach was littered with driftwood. Sometimes I find interesting pieces that I take home and put in my garden. They make beautiful natural decoration.

The different shades and colors of the wood are fascinating. My favorite definitely was the red one, which in some places almost had a purple hue.

We also found other beautiful things of which I'm not quite sure what it is - it looked like parts of some plants. Can you see the delicate "skeleton" of the dark leaf in the bottom picture of these three photos?

We spent an hour on the beach and then hiked up and along the cliffs with fabulous views of the wild ocean. How can someone ever tire of the sea? At the end of the trail within the park we turned left to return to the parking lot. It's a beautiful trail through a wooded area and here we discovered some stunning looking mushrooms.

This fungus is called Amanita muscaria, or fly agaric. They are known for their hallucinogenic properties and they can kill you if you eat too many of them. In German we call it "Fliegenpilz" which translates to fly mushroom or fly fungus. I had never seen them before and was fascinated by their distinctive appearance.

After a good meal of local rock fish and chips at the Gualala Seafood Shack and some coffee and peanut butter cheesecake at Trinks Café we headed home along famous Highway 1, stopping several times to admire the moody atmosphere over the ocean.

All photos were taken with my Pixel 3XL.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Books and a Movie

As I have done over the past couple years I take a look back at the books I read in 2019. Most of the books I read on my Kindle, but every now and then I sit down with a "real" book. Some books are very impractical for the Kindle, like art and photography books, cookbooks etc.

In 2019 I read 60 books including two audiobooks that we listened to while traveling to Arizona. I always write the titles down in a big notebook, noting the author and when I have finished it. I also scribble a little star next to the title if I really liked the book. When I look at that list now I see that I was far less generous with those stars in 2019, but I also introduced the two-stars for excellent reads. And I'm happy to see that there are three of them.

These three novels are "The Summer Guest" by Justin Cronin - a story about a family and their summer guest set in a remote area in Maine that pulls you in right from the beginning with well developed characters and written in a beautiful language -, "When we Believed in Mermaids" by Barbara O'Neal - the story of two sisters who had lived apart for many years, believing that one of them was dead; set in Santa Cruz and New Zealand I was drawn in by the unusual story line and the many questions that came up about my own life while reading this novel - and "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" by Gabrielle Zevin - a very slow, beautiful story about a book seller whose life gets shaken up and takes an interesting and wonderful turn when he finds a mysterious package at his store. Other books I liked are "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine" by Gail Honeyman, "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens, "To See and See Again" by Tara Bahrampour and "The Trouble with Goats and Sheep" by Joanna Cannon. There were also books I truly disliked, eventually only scanned or didn't finish at all, like "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood. I also read Margaret Craven's "I Heard the Owl Call my Name" again, my all-time favorite.

Over the summer break I took home a few books from the high school library because I thought it's a good idea if I knew what the students are reading in English class, and there were quite some books I hadn't read before.

My favorite among these books is "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie which is hilariously funny and sad at the same time. Great read for high school students!

But there were also other books in 2019 - like this wonderful cookbook. I had read about it in our local paper's "Home" section and was intrigued. It's full of recipes of immigrant women, who were trying to bring some of their home countries to their new home by cooking the familiar food. But it's not only recipes you can find in this gem of a cookbook. It's the stories of the immigrant women that makes this book so precious to me since I am an immigrant myself. I still have to try any of the recipes, but I'm determined that 2020 is the year for that.

Of course there were books about photography, some of them I pull out again and again.

David DuChemin is one of my favorite photographers, but as a humanitarian he is also a tremendously inspiring personality. I love to listen to his podcasts, he has a very open mind and what I love about him so much is that he has a lot of advice and inspiring ideas, but he never uses the words "you should". In contrast to that, "Shooting with Soul" was a bit disappointing - some nice ideas, but it certainly didn't inspire me in the way "The Soul of the Camera" did. I'm working my way through "Zen Camera" bit by bit and can't say very much about it at this time.

Just like last year I couldn't resist some "drool" books. "Chasing Light" had been on my mind for quite some time. I had first seen it in one of the visitor centers in Yellowstone National Park in 2017, but had opted for a different book back then. When I saw it again in the visitor center of Saguaro National Park last spring I saw that as a "sign" and bought it. I did not regret it.

There are two more "difficult" books I want to talk about here, books about local matters. About the October 2017 firestorm, to be precise, the one that wiped out several neighborhoods in my town. "Pointe Patrol" is the very personal story of one home owner who along with some neighbors and his dog patrolled their neighborhood after that fateful night on the one hand to prevent further fires since there were still some smoldering and on the other hand to deter people from looting. I was only able to read it in bits and pieces since it brings back so many painful memories. Brian Fies' "A Fire Story" is a graphic novel that he started right after the first night when he had lost his home and tells his own personal story. The first "chapters" of his book appeared within the first week of the fire if I recall correctly. It is raw and very emotional.

Before I leave I want to mention a very special movie I watched (again) this year. I had shown it to my German students at the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It describes the events before November 9th, 1989, particularly what happened in the West German embassy in Prague. "Zug in die Freiheit" (Train to Freedom) is a documentary with time witnesses, original footage and played scenes. I have seen it several times, but every time I feel the same emotions, the tight knot in my stomach, the utter relief at the end. Even though I know how these events ended, it keeps the moment of that autumn 30 years ago very real and alive for me. You can find a preview of the movie here: and it is possible to rent it on Vimeo. Luckily the violent scenes you see in the preview are only rare ones in the movie, but they are heartbreaking nevertheless.

What were you reading in 2019? Tell me in the comments.