Saturday, July 4, 2015

Celebrating Independence

Today, on the 4th of July, we celebrate our country's independence from Britain, back in 1776. We have red, white and blue parties with family and friends, we barbecue and we have colorful and loud fireworks. It's a joyful holiday, a great day of celebration.

Sadly, some Americans seem to be unaware what we are celebrating.

photo by Robert Bartz

A couple days ago I saw a video in which random people on their way to the beach were interviewed about Independence Day. Some of the "highlights":

Question: Who did we gain our independence from?

- I don't know.
- The South.  - At the end of the Civil War? - Yes, from the South.
- Those countries.
And my personal favorite:
- From California. (oh yeah, baby)

Question: Who signed the Declaration of Independence?

- I don't know. Abraham Lincoln? - And when was that? - 1964? - 19... - 1984! (Perhaps it was George Orwell then....)

Question: Who were the Founding Fathers of our country?

- Silence.

Where the Declaration of Independence was written. Photo by Robert Bartz

While reading this, you probably cringe just as I did when I watched that video. And of course this is not representative for all Americans. But it made me wonder why I as an immigrant have to pass the citizenship test when I wish to become a US citizen. Perhaps natural born Americans should take that test as well.

Especially politicians. No, I am not elaborating on this. You certainly have made up your mind about that and so have I.

Gaining independence is a huge step for any country. For me, the most important part of independence is freedom. Let freedom ring - but so often I feel it's the freedom for one group, but not for the other. Freedom ends where it limits the freedom of others. That is a given. Freedom involves responsibility - a lot of it. Freedom without responsibility is not freedom for all, but just freedom for "Me". Freedom is something we have to work for every single day - by giving it to others and keeping it for ourselves.

Freedom is something wonderful that we so often take for granted. It is the greatest good in our country - and many others. Truly a reason to celebrate.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Sweater Is Finally Done!

Back in April I showed you a picture of a sweater that I was knitting for Kaefer for her 17th birthday. Well, her birthday was in April, but of course, the sweater wasn't finished by then. I was a bit over optimistic about how long it indeed takes to knit a sweater.

Yesterday was the big day, when I weaved in the last tail of the beautiful yarn. The sweater was finished, done!! More than a month after her birthday, but my girl was happy. It fits her perfectly. I still need to block it, though, but that is quickly done.

Kaefer's sweater turned out a bit different than the picture in the pattern, but I followed the instructions to a T, so I guess the picture was just of a differently knitted model. I would have preferred the wider neckline and so would Kaefer, but we actually like our result as well.

I love the pattern! We call it the wavy pattern; it looks more complicated than it is. It was actually pretty easy, you just have to be careful and count the rows.

The first sweater I knitted after a very long time. My next projects will be socks, hats, toys...

I also will take a break from my blog for some time. I usually do that in the summer, and I feel that I really need a break right now. The last few months have been intense.

See you all in a few weeks again! Enjoy the summer!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Lavender Garden In The Vineyards

Sonoma County has a huge number of wineries. The gentle hills are covered with vineyards, the valleys are lined with them. More and more meadows and pastures are turned into vineyards - it's not a monoculture yet since fortunately we still have a lot of agriculture here as well.

The wineries are a huge magnet for people from all over the country with several events taking place almost every weekend, especially in the summer and fall. However, you can still find a neat little oasis if you look around.

One of them is the lavender garden at Matanzas Creek Winery. It's quite a big garden with just lavender and few other tall grasses and some sunflowers. On a sunny day the bees are going berserk here, there's constant humming when you walk through the garden. I think it might be a great backdrop for a wedding.

Kaefer and I thought it might be a great place for taking her senior pictures. She will be a senior next school year, and beside the "formal" senior pictures, each graduate can have a "casual" student picture in the yearbook. Since I am not willing to pay $ 200.00 or more for a professional photographer, I am determined to take these "casual" pictures.

I am NOT a very accomplished portrait photographer, so this is quite a challenge for me. I bought this book from which I already learned so much. And at the moment I am practicing, practicing and more practicing.

Kaefer and I were brainstorming good locations for a shooting, and one idea was the lavender garden.

We went there yesterday afternoon when it was bright, but overcast. Perfect for portrait photography!

Thankfully Kaefer is used to get her picture taken (our friends have always teased us that she is the most photographed child...) and behaves quite naturally in front of the camera. We had a lot of fun during this shooting. We limited our time to 45 minutes.

In those 45 minutes I took about 360 photos of her of which I really like about a handful. Now I get why these photo sessions are so expensive...

None of these pictures will end up in the yearbook. These are all practice shots - I learned so much! We have until the end of the year to get the "perfect" shot.

This one is my favorite from yesterday's shooting. It shows a lot of Kaefer's personality.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Color Balance - What Do You Think?

Many of you photographers out there know about the AWB setting on your camera, or the auto white balance. It is used for color correction or just to get the colors right in our digital cameras. This is the very short version - you can read way more in depth about it here (and most probably somewhere else as well). I usually have my camera setting on AWB, but sometimes I change it to the other small symbols beneath it. For example, there is a symbol for shade - I used it a lot in the Valley of Fire to get the color of the enormous red rocks correct that were often in the shade.

Yesterday was a very cloudy day here and I took some photos of my flowers. I first used  AWB and then took the same picture with the exact same settings, but changed the color balance to "cloudy". The difference was quite striking.



You don't see it too much in these first two images. The color in the second picture appears to be warmer, more yellow.

But look here at my Agastaches:



Quite a difference, don't you think? All of these photos are straight out of the camera, I didn't edit them except for cropping the following two.



I personally think the "cloudy" setting is completely off. This wasn't at all what I saw.



I do think that if you want a warmer tinted photo, the "cloudy" setting is quite good. However, I do prefer the cooler colors in the auto white balance setting which is also way closer to what the colors really looked like. I think I stick to AWB and use the other settings only sparingly.



I do love my yarrow - especially in the auto white balance setting; the "cloudy" one is too "sweet" for me. Would make a nice vintage photo though.

What do you think? Which setting do you prefer? Do you change your color balance settings or do you mainly shoot in AWB? Please do tell!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Memories of Green

These photos were taken back in March, out of the (slowly) driving car on the (jam packed) highway back from German school. Can you see how green it was?

That beautiful shade is long gone. The green has faded almost completely and is turning brown. Or golden, if you want to put it the friendly way. This is California after all.

At least these hills have a fence. Two, actually. And cows. Because this is Sonoma Cow-ny!

I'm linking up to Theresa's Good Fences as (almost) every Thursday.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Trapped in a Churchyard

A photo, a story - here we are for Wednesday Wit and Wisdom over at Senior Adventures with Linda Kay

It has been two hours since she had left the car in the small parking lot in Widford and followed the signs along the hiking trail through the lovely Windrush Valley. It was a beautiful day for a hike - not too hot, the sun was hidden in the overcast sky, the air was rather humid. She had started her hike midmorning, and a while ago the tiny church of St. Oswald had come into her view.

It was a picturesque old church in the middle of nowhere. It had a small walled-in churchyard with a few gravestones. The area around the church was mainly meadows with the hiking path going right through the middle of them. There was no one around - except for a herd of cows uphill from the church. It was the typical English countryside in the beautiful Cotswolds.

She entered the churchyard through a kissing gate - it made a squeaky noise when she opened it to the one side, slipped in and then closed it again to the other side. She just loved these gates that you couldn't find outside of Britain. Slowly she walked around the churchyard and then entered the church. The old church smell that she met in each and every one of the old parish churches welcomed her at the door. She sat in one of the pews and took in the interior of the church until she decided that it was time to continue her hike.

When she stepped out into the churchyard she realized that her way out to the meadow was cut off - by the cows. While she had lingered inside, the cows had come down the hill and gathered right in front of the kissing gate.

She went closer, talking soothingly to the cows, hoping that they would run away when they saw her. But alas! - they seemed to be interested in her, stretching their big heads over the wall and trying to reach her with their long tongues. Usually she wasn't afraid of cows - on the contrary, she loved cows. But these were a few too many and she just didn't dare to open the gate and march right among them.

Slightly panicked she looked around, searching for another way out. There wasn't any. She imagined how she would be trapped for hours here, with no one coming by. Slowly she walked to the other end of the churchyard and decided then and there that she had to climb the wall. She knew that this wouldn't happen without any bruises, but she didn't really have a choice. So she scrambled - rather ungracefully - over the rough wall and walked down to the lower meadow, turning around every now and then and checking over her shoulder whether the cows followed her or not.

They didn't. But she couldn't shake off the feeling that the cows were whispering to each other about this strange young woman who hiked alone through their valley without any fear, but felt the cows were a menace. Only when she thought she was safe did she slow down and started to laugh hysterically.


I'm afraid this is a true story...


Monday, May 25, 2015

We Remember

Today is Memorial Day in the United States, a day when we remember the men and women who gave their lives while serving in our country's armed forces. Two years ago I wrote a post how we celebrate the day in my town, and the ceremony is very similar every year - I guess it looks like that in many other places across the US today.

In today's post for Memorial Day I want to visually focus on the poppies. The poppy has become a symbol for the soldiers died in the battles in Flanders during World War I, representing the poppy fields growing among the graves of the soldiers.

I leave you with my photos of poppy fields in my native Germany. These were all taken in the Northeast of Germany in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern that used to belong to East Germany for 40 years.