Friday, December 29, 2017

At the End of the Year

The last week in a year is either busy away from home spent on some road trip in the American Southwest or it is very slow and quiet at home. This year we opted to stay at home and just relax. None of us has really felt the spirit of the season. Usually I write a Christmas letter to my friends and family in Germany which gives me the opportunity to look back at the year, but this year I didn't write a single Christmas card, nor a letter. When I try to let the year pass in review there usually are some highlights all over the year that come up, but this year I struggled to remember anything before October.

So I looked at my photos and the memories came back.

The year started out very wet with lots of much needed rain and much (less needed) flooding. I remember there were roads in our county that were completely flooded for days and weeks, parks were closed and the drought finally came to an end - at least for the time being.

I drove to Davis and back several times over the year, sometimes just in order to see Kaefer for a few hours. We visited the cows on campus, saw a powwow, shopped at the farmer's market and helped her moving into an apartment with her friends.

In February family from Turkey came over to visit for a couple days, and we spent a joyful President's Day weekend together, exploring the coast, an old fort and quite some of the wineries in our county.

I took many hikes, either alone, with Kaefer or a friend, and with the Geek. There even were some family hikes that we squeezed in every now and then.

In July we went to Yellowstone. We camped in our favorite campground near Tower Falls, explored the geysers, admired the wonderful colors of the Grand Prismatic Spring, saw wildflowers galore and an abundance of wildlife and, of course, we hiked a lot. This national park is my magical place where I feel whole and at peace. Nature in abundance - this is my church.

In August we were witnessing something we had been waiting for many many years - a total solar eclipse. It was a truly magical moment that left us speechless and completely awestruck.

The summer was long and beautiful. I didn't have to be back at work until the middle of August and I enjoyed having Kaefer at home with me. We got on some hikes, went out for coffee, did some shopping and sometimes just sat together watching some movies. It was hard after those weeks to see her leaving for college again and I missed her a lot at the beginning. But it didn't take too long to get back into the routine. I was busy with my work at both schools, met my friends regularly and was knitting up a storm.

Then October came along.

Even though we are the lucky ones who haven't lost our home I still haven't really recovered from what happened to our community. Everyone here has been affected by the fires some way or other. Even now, almost three months later, the main topic in conversations with friends, acquaintances and strangers is the fire. Everything is still very raw and it is difficult to find some kind of normalcy. For me there is, however, a deep sense of gratefulness for what we have.

What October lacked in autumn colors, November and even December gave us generously. Wine country wore a colorful dress of brilliant yellows, oranges and reds, and even some very fresh green after a few rain showers. Being out in nature started the healing process and even helped to forget that terrible October for a few moments.

May 2018 be a good, healthy and peaceful year for you. My best wishes are going out to you. See you next year!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

When the Family Goes on a Hike

Last year REI for the first time didn't open their shops for Black Friday, but encouraged their employees and customers to "opt outside" instead and experience the great outdoors. We loved the idea and spent a wonderful afternoon hiking Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. This year we opted outside again on Black Friday, and we chose to hike in Jack London State Historic Park, the only park close to us that by some kind of miracle has been completely untouched by the October fires.

The vineyards in the park - with the original terraced planting by Jack London - were brilliant at this time of year.

We hiked up to the "lake" - it's not really a lake anymore since it is full of algae. This was our first view of it - that green thing in the back is the lake. I don't think anybody in their right mind would want to dive in there.

But when you walk further up there are some gorgeous redwoods.

I stepped right in the middle of the trees and just took a photo looking up.

When my family saw that, they wanted to do the same thing - and we ended up with this:

This was the first time that I broke in my new hiking boots - my old ones did break in Yellowstone during a hike and the Geek, resourceful as always, had hold them together using duct tape. It was a fine for that particular hike, but certainly not a permanent solution.

But then, of course, everybody wanted to take boot pictures!

And it just went on with taking silly family photos.

Kaefer was sitting on the wall at the edge of the "lake", but she didn't stay on her own for long, not in this family.

The Geek saw this tree and asked us whether we can see the seal in it - can you?

Even the hike back wasn't done in a "civilized" way - there is always room for silliness in this family. I think we thrive on it. Life is so much more adventurous upside down between the poison oak and the mountain lion warnings.

And the vineyards kept on being stunning.

We spent several hours in this beautiful park. Since it is the only park unharmed by the fire, the entrance into it is free until the end of the year. What a gift to anyone who loves to be in nature.

All the photos in this post were taken with my cell phone.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Scene & Story - November 2017

In November I got all the photos of the beautiful fall leaves and colors that I missed so much in October. I enjoyed the many vineyards that were competing with each other for the most brilliant color; the trees were spectacular this year as well. It seems that after the terrible events in October, November was extraordinarily beautiful.

And still - the photo I chose does not reflect my favorite season, but a remains of the fires.

Of all the pictures I took in November this is the one that moved me the most. I took it in our old neighborhood that was destroyed by the Tubbs Fire in the early hours of October 9th. I had picked up Kaefer from college on Thanksgiving morning, and when we arrived in Santa Rosa she said that she would like to see her childhood home - or what is left of it - right now. I know that she was nervous and we were both very quiet when we drove up the hill through the Fountaingrove neighborhood that resembles a war zone. Then we turned and drove down into our old neighborhood where we could see over the entire valley, filled with rubble and ash and lonely chimneys. We stopped at our old house and then saw that our then-neighbor from across the street was there - he always has been some kind of substitute grandpa for Kaefer. This meeting took out the dark mood of the moment, and we were happy to embrace each other and talk about the happenings of that fateful night.

It was when he left and we walked around a little bit that I saw this stone sculpture. I am positive that it wasn't there the last time I was up at the house. Someone had placed it on the remains of the brick wall of a neighbor's house. I assume the people who had lived there had found it in the rubble and put it up there. Its broken, raw beauty made such a statement in the devastation - no matter what happens, if we have each other there is love and hope.

I'm joining Sarah and León for Scene & Story.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Laughter And Joy Were Living Here

This house... a regular, completely unspectacular Ranch style house, sitting in a neighborhood nestled among the slopes of hills. Work was in walking distance and so was the elementary school.

The California poppies loved it here, too.

There was a Liquidambar next to the house that exploded in the most fantastic colors in the fall.

And so did the Crepe Myrtles in front of the house.

The mailbox was guarded by a colorful coyote and the house was decorated for Halloween and Christmas.

The backyard had a colorful garden that became more beautiful each year.

It had a pear tree with a purple clematis growing into it.

At Easter there were egg hunts in the backyard with the help of whichever neighborhood cat was residing there at that moment.

We lived a lot in that backyard. Roasting marshmallows over the fire pit, drinking wine in the evening and chatting with each other, having breakfast on the beautiful redwood deck with pancakes and homemade plum jam made by my friend Jo who had picked the fruit from our plum tree.

The plum tree is not there anymore...

We celebrated many birthdays here...

baked cookies for Christmas...

and the girl learned how to inline skate, do hula hoops with the Geek and cheered for the German soccer team.

We took photos for Christmas cards - and not all of them made it in the final selection.

In 2012 we bought our own house and left the neighborhood, but we still stayed in touch with some of our neighbors here. These were 11 very happy years when we made a lot of memories.

We will need those memories.

Last weekend, we went up to our old neighborhood. There isn't much left.

When she was little, Kaefer loved to climb this gate in front of our house.

The gate survived the fire. As did the street sign - sort of.

And the school? It completely burned down. It hurts to see what is left of it. This was Kaefer's kindergarten class.

I prefer to remember her first school this way...


The Redwood Credit Union, our local paper The Press Democrat and our State Senator Mike McGuire have set up the North Bay Fire Relief Fund where every donated dollar goes directly to aid relief efforts and help the victims of the fires.