Monday, February 26, 2024

Winter Garden


Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) bearing fruit at the end of December/beginning of January

We are very fortunate to live in a part of the country where even in winter the garden offers excitement and even some color. While it certainly doesn't display the richness of spring, summer and fall, there still is lots of interest to see.

African Flag (Chasmanthe floribuna) was showing its starting flowers at the beginning of the year.

Now it looks like this:

This is a volunteer to my garden, I never planted it. I guess some birds brought it in and it has been spreading ever since. I don't mind since it doesn't crowd out other plants and new plants are easy to remove. I rather enjoy these pretty flowers that are such happy spots of color on a gray day.

There are several pink flowering currants (Ribes sangunieum var. glutinosum) throughout my garden and they usually start flowering in February. In fall, the birds enjoy the berries while the bees love the plant in spring.

My front garden is in the shade during the dead of winter, but when I see the sun hitting some parts of it again I know that spring is not too far away. Here the morning sun lights up the fat ceramic doves sitting in the Wooly Sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum).

The warm light of the morning sun always thrills me.

A ceramic bird is hiding in the Forget-me-Nots (Myosotis). These are volunteer plants as well and they spread in the shady parts of the garden. If I don't want them there, I can easily pull them. When the flowers turn into seeds, they unfortunately have the habit to cling to your clothes when you step among them. That's the only part I don't like about this plant. The tiny blue flowers make a beautiful "carpet" in the spring.

This winter we fortunately have had a lot of rain, and the delicate spiderwebs on the damp plants are easy to see. 

This red camellia is in front of my kitchen window. There used to be two more camellias, but we took them out last year because they were too close to the house and therefore a fire hazard. But the red one we left in the ground. It wasn't doing too well while the other - more robust - camellias were there, but I tended to it last year, trimmed and pruned and this year it delights us with a much bigger bloom than all the years before.

I like to keep my garden as natural as possible. That means that I leave some old and dead parts of trees on the ground where they offer shelter to insects and beneficial bugs. Because of all the rain, Turkey Tail Fungus has developed on the trunks. Since this is not on a living tree, I leave them be. When you look at them, you can easily see why they're called Turkey Tail.

Aren't they beautiful?

The past few days have been sunny and a bit warmer. That was all that this calendula needed to display its happy flowers. These flowers always remind me of home where I saw them growing wild and spreading through seeds.

A few days agao I noticed the first blue flowers on my California Lilac (Ceanothus) - this is a huge bee magnet and I could see some bees humming around the tiny blooms.

Of course you all are familiar with daffodils (Narcissus) - they started to appear at the end of January.

The birds are in abundance as well and I have to refill their feeders at least every other day. I enjoy watching them. This one I can see from my kitchen window and it is mostly visited by House Finches, Lesser Goldfinches and Pine Siskins. The feeders in the back garden attract a greater variety of birds because there I offer different kinds of bird seeds and nuts.

For Bleubeard and Elizabeth's T Tuesday I am remembering warm evenings in the garden when we have dinner al fresco and enjoy a glass of wine (or two). Cheers and happy T Tuesday to you.

Monday, February 19, 2024

The Art & Soul of Spring


After spending most of the past weeks at home with only short walks in the neighborhood because of my stupid knee, I drove to the lake last Wednesday. While I couldn't walk for an extended period, I did a bit of walking and sat on a bench, writing in my journal and just enjoying the view and being out in nature. I had missed that so very much. In March I will have surgery on the knee and I hope that after that I will eventually be able to hike again.

That Wednesday was the only day in the week with some sunshine; all the other days it rained and especially this president's weekend has been quite stormy again. Nevertheless, on Saturday we met up with friends for some wine tasting and this serves as my ticket for Bleubeard and Elizabeth's T Tuesday.

The rest of the rainy days I was working on a new spread in my art journal. I started out with a page where I had already spread some leftover paint and now glued down several torn book pages. It looked rather chaotic and not very inspiring.

I had a half-baked idea in my mind and wanted to add some pink or magenta.

Oh dear! That was a little bit too bold even for me, so I tried to tone it down with some titanium buff.

I was struggling how to get out of this ugly phase and just left it for a day. When I came back later, I painted the entire page with a layer of titanium buff and added some pictures of mainly pink flowers.

That already looked a lot better. I decided I didn't like the look of the titanium buff and mixed white gesso with just a little bit of quinacridone magenta to achieve a light pink color that I painted around the pictures and across the page. I also pressed a heavy fabric stamp into parts of the gesso mix and painted that with watercolor.

Finally, I stamped randomly with my French text stamp, called the page "The Art & Soul of Spring", glued down some bits of texts I had cut out of German magazines, framed them with watercolor crayons, added a flower-shaped ribbon and used a stencil with differently sized dots and white gesso - done. 

I'm quite happy with the result. I hadn't thought that I would end up with this after I had got stuck in the "ugly phase". 

I hope everyone has a good T Tuesday and a lovely week.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

On an Island Far Away


When I first saw Rain's prompt for this week, "Far Away", I thought that I would skip it. But it got stuck in my head and was working its way until I knew exactly what I could write about - an island far far away I had the privilege to get to know a bit better during my study abroad. This is the furthest away I ever got from my home country (Germany) in order to live somewhere else. It wasn't only the furthest away in regards to kilometers or miles, but also in regards to culture.

It was 1983 when I moved to Taiwan, when it was still under Martial Law. I had just finished my second year of Chinese studies at Tübingen University and thought that now, after my first big and important exam, would be the perfect time to practice the Chinese language that I had learned so far. I had learned Mandarin or Han Chinese, but in Taiwan Fujian dialect is mainly spoken which, after a certain time, I finally picked up. Maybe in some post later I will write more about the Chinese language and its transcription into Western languages that often lead to very weird pronunciation. Let me just say that in this post I'll stick to the Wade Giles transcription which was used in Taiwan and, to my knowledge, still is. It is different to Pinyin which is the official romanized spelling that is used in the People's Republic of China, Singapore and the United Nations. Please keep in mind that these photos are from 1983.

Above is the dormitory where I was very lucky to live in a single room - true luxury. Fortunately my room was in the back, away from the sun and therefore slightly cooler. I had a fan in my room - otherwise I wouldn't have been able to stand the oppressing, humid heat. I felt constantly like living in a washhouse. I started to sweat when I just moved my fingers and my curly hair became even curlier.

This is the street I walked along every day - to get to university, to the small supermarket, to the street food booths. You will notice the "cages" in front of the windows - they protect the windows during the heavy and strong taifuns.

The dormitory was under the ownership of Dominican nuns with many of the nuns coming from the Philipines. On the first floor was a preschool and I enjoyed watching the kids lining up for the national anthem of Taiwan, San Min Chu-i. In return, the kids were very curious about the "long nose".

My daily walk to the university passed through rice fields where I would see egrets stalking through the crop. My dormitory was behind those newer buildings to the left in the photo below. Sometimes the street was covered with rice laid out to dry.

It was just a 15 minute walk to the University. While I lived in Taishan, Fu Jen University was in Hsinchuang, both suburbs of Taipei, the capital of Taiwan (officially the Republic of China). Nevertheless, it was just a short walk there by taking the shortcut through the rice fields. I sometimes got into awkward situations on that road, but that is stuff for a later post.

The beautiful campus of Fu Jen University, a private Catholic university, that was founded by jesuits in 1925 in Beijing and re-established in Taiwan in 1961. It is one of the finest universities in Taiwan.

I mentioned street food booths - street food was my main source of food I had in Taiwan. It was delicious and cheap and I ususally got it both for lunch and dinner. When you live on a student's budget and can get a filling and delicious meal for the equivalent of 50 cents, you don't ask twice. I never became sick, in case you were wondering.

Street market in Taishan

Street food in Chunghua Lu bazaar in Taipei

The village temple just up the mountain from Taishan:

I often took the bus into Taipei - at that time there was no subway, only buses. Sometimes I splurged and paid a little bit more to ride the air-conditioned bus that was also faster. Most of the time, though, I took the regular bus which sometimes became - interesting.

A view of Taipei with the Grand Hotel in the background (which had a disastrous fire in 1995). 

Chunghua Lu with the three-storied bazaar which, I think, is no longer there

I loved walking in the parks and watching people exercise Tai Chi.

I didn't have much money back then, but friends and I were still able to go on a few trips.

Taroko Gorge on the West coast

Sun Moon Lake in the center of the island

and a trip to a little beach town on the Pacific.

Before I finish this post, I want to introduce you to Bawan, who became a good friend. He is not Chinese nor Taiwanese, but is a member of the Shan-Ti Jen (mountain-earth people), a native people of Taiwan. The first photo of him and myself was taken near Sun Moon Lake and the second one is with his family when my friend Barb and I were asked to cook some European meal. If I remember correctly we prepared something with pasta which was readily available, but what I remember vividly was a wonderful time spent with this family.

You can see some food in some of these pictures, that's my dinner contribution to Rain's Thursday Art and Dinner Date. And since there are a lot of faces, I also link to Nicole's Friday Face Off.

Monday, February 5, 2024

A Slow Sunday


One of my bird mugs for Bleubeard and Elizabeth's T Tuesday

Yesterday brought an atmospheric river to our region, and this time it rightly was called like that. The torrential downpours started Saturday night at 11:00 pm and wouldn't stop until Sunday night, except for very short breaks. But worse than the rain was the gusty wind that was near hurricane force and only started to lose strength on Sunday night. We kept inside the entire day, spending a very slow Sunday and every now and then watching the rain and wind playing wildly in the garden. Thankfully we didn't lose anything, but there were several fallen trees across the county and also some flooding that closed roads. We also didn't lose power as so many others did.

Our primary election will be on March 5th (Super Tuesday), so after breakfast I thoroughly read our Voters Information Guide and learned more about the candidates for State Assembly and the Superior Court Office. There are also propositions and measures to consider. I had already made up my mind about the presidential candidate and the candidate for the US Senate.

The evening before I had made a dough for a whole wheat bread that proved overnight and was ready to be put into the oven. This is our go-to bread when I bake because it's easy to make, and I always enjoy the warmth and the scent of freshly baked bread spreading throughout the house.

The day before I had recevied an order for baby socks in my Etsy shop, so I packed them up, ready for shipping. My goal is plastic-free packaging - used tissue paper, baker's twine, cardboard envelopes. I always include a little stamped and handwritten thank you card and a small Moo business card with my photography.

Sometime last year I took some of the taster lessons - I can't remember whether this one was for Kaleidoscope or Life Book. Anyway, this was a lesson by Melanie Rivers whose style I like very much. I never finished what I had started and completely forgot what she was doing even though I had jotted down a couple notes. So I just did my own thing which is more fun after all. I experimented with watercolor on a textured gessoed background and liked the result. The dark background color I mixed with Phthalo Blue and Burnt Umber. I need to put down a second layer because it looks a bit chaotic, but I really like this rich color.

Dorothy wrote a post on her blog The Frog & PenguInn about loneliness in which she mentioned the organisation Letters Against Isolation. Here, volunteers write letters or cards to seniors who live in Assisted Living or Nursing Homes or are served by Meals on Wheels. LAI was started by two sisters during the pandemic when seniors were very much isolated and couldn't receive any visitors. After reading Dorothy's post I went to LAI's website to learn more. Now I have signed up to participate in writing letters/cards to seniors and on this slow Sunday I prepared my first cards for this. Thank you, Dorothy, for writing about this important organisation.

Finally, after having made a cup of hot chocolate for both the Geek and myself in the afternoon, I settled on our couch and continued knitting this bird hat. Last fall I had a good number of them in different color combinations in the shop, but they completely sold out before Christmas and I didn't have the time to knit more until now. The color stranding looks challenging, but isn't that difficult at all. 

Do you sometimes have slow Sundays (or any other day of the week) and do you enjoy them? I loved our slow Sunday and felt very relaxed and happy at the end of it.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

The 366 Project: January


This year I am working on a special project: take a photo every day of my daily life. Since 2024 is a leap year I've called it the 366 project (duh). It doesn't matter what the subject of the photo is - something from the garden or my home, something I'm doing or reading - anything that I see and think that this will be the most fitting photo for that day. When you look at the images I shot in January, you see that it's all over the place.

On January 2nd and 20th I took pictures of candles - Rain's prompt this week is candles, so I'm including them here. The top ones are the candles in our fireplace, and the ones in the second photo were lighted at our friends' home when we had dinner with them.

We need some food for Rain's Thursday Art and Dinner Date. Some evenings I really don't know what to cook. I usually love to cook, but there are always times when I'm less enthusiastic about it. Yesterday was one of those days when I looked into our fridge and pulled a few veggies (broccoli, zucchini and carrots), leftover spaghetti and some cream. I sautéed the veggies in some olive oil, seasoned with ancho chili pepper, added the spaghetti and finally poured some cream and let it slightly thicken - simple, but good.

We're expecting another atmospheric river (I guess the times of "normal" rain are over), so I went to the farmers market in the morning to get more fresh veggies. While I'm typing this, the rain has started and I've decided to spend the afternoon curled up with a book, a mystery by Tony Hillerman, the first one of his series featuring Navajo Nation Police officers Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. This is my second attempt - the first time I tried to read it is 20 years ago and somehow I couldn't get into the story back then. Let's see how what this time will look like.