Friday, December 30, 2011

Practicing Faces

Painting faces has always been a challenge for me. They never turned out the way I imagined them, the eyes were crooked, the entire face was crooked, and the girls either looked totally grumpy or as if they were ready to burst into tears. Everything was just off.

So I started to practice, practice, practice. And eventually, my faces got better. There are no perfect faces, but I think they got some character now that is other than grumpy or sad. I still want to achieve more expression in their faces, but for the time being I see improvement and that alone makes me happy.

I'm doing an online class next week, "Faces 101" with Carla Sonheim - I'm pretty sure it will be a good one.

After many weeks of absence (and very little painting) I'm linking this to Paint Party Friday. I'm so glad to be back in this group of wonderful artists. Please check them out!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Owl and the Girl

After weeks and weeks of no painting at all, I finally picked up the paint brushes again and started a new mixed media painting that I finished two days ago. It feels so good! This time I tried to be less messy, "cleaner", actually paint a little scene. I'm not quite sure whether I really succeeded in it, but I do like the result. It's on an 8x8 stretched canvas.

Oh, and you bet - it will be in my Etsy shop very soon.

This, however, is not my first "The Owl and the Girl" painting - a few weeks ago I created another mixed media painting featuring a girl and an owl. I did make it for the swap with Donna who sent me her wonderfully altered book.

Yes, the owl is a photo of "my" Mama Owl. I hope I will see her again next year.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Made in Germany 40 - Exiting the Castle

Tübingen in the snow - some winters we had lots of snow, some winters not so much. We also had very cold winters when the River Neckar would freeze over so that people could walk on there, ice-skate and enjoy a mug of Glühwein (mulled wine - the booth was right on the ice). We certainly made the best of the situation.

Tübingen's castle is right above the medieval city center and its exit, as you see her, leads right to the Irish Pub! The castle houses a museum and some departments of its university, the more "exotic" ones that don't draw big crowds (= students) like ethnology or anthropology. It was quite a climb up there on cobblestone streets (better not wear heels here), but there was also a small path that led to the Schloßberg (castle hill) right behind it, at which end I lived, where it met the forest. It was a lovely way to enter town on a Saturday morning.

This is my last photo in the "Made in Germany" series. It has been in this location for 40 weeks, and I think now by the end of the year is a good time to say farewell to it. This doesn't mean that there won't be anything German on my blog anymore - German(y) and I belong together, and I will continue to share my native country with you, but not quite as regularly as I used to.

Thank you for following "Made in Germany", commenting and sharing your memories of Germany or something German. I really enjoyed writing and posting about Germany every Monday.

View from the castle

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cookie Recipes

After I had posted about baking cookies, several of you have asked whether I would share the recipes - of course I would. I have to warn you, though - since these cookie recipes are from Germany, the measurement is metric. You can get the packs of vanilla sugar at some grocery stores (they usually come in six packs) or at Cost Plus World Market. Hopefully that works for you.

The MIL cookies (mother-in-law cookies)

You will need:

375 g flour
125 g marzipan
30 g cocoa
250 g sugar
1 pack vanilla sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs
250 g butter
250 g almond meal (Trader Joe's works perfectly)

Mix all the ingredients together and knead a dough. Roll in logs. Cool in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Slice the log(s) in quarter inch slices and bake at 350 F for 25 to 30 minutes.

Vanillekipferl (vanilla crescents)

You will need:

200 g flour
80 g sugar
2 packs vanilla sugar
50 g almond meal
125 g cold butter
1 egg
60 g powdered sugar

Mix all the ingredients except for the powdered sugar together and knead a dough. Cover the dough and cool in the fridge for approx. one hour. Roll the dough into thin logs and cut in ca. 7 cm (3 inches) long pieces. Shape into crescents and bake at 350 F for 15 minutes. When out of the oven put them face down in the powdered sugar when still hot (the flavor is even better if you mix a pack of vanilla sugar with the powdered sugar). Let cool.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Made in Germany 39

Germany is full of lovely trees. We have many many forests all over the country, but what I really love are the lone trees. Especially in the winter they can be stunning when you see just the branches against the sky. Sure, I do love trees with all their leaves on, when the wind rustles through them and they give shade on a hot and sunny day. However, the mood of the silhouette of a winter tree is unique, it has a touch of melancholy.

The picture of this tree was taken on the Schwäbische Alb, a very hilly region close to Tübingen where I lived before moving to the States. I used to go up there on the weekends for long hikes in all seasons. Winter was my favorite one (no, I was never afraid to drive in the snow).

I used Kim Klassen's texture "wonderfulmagic_stars" for this photo.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Baking Cookies

One of the nicest activities during the Christmas season for me is baking cookies with my daughter. Usually we don't get around to make more than two sorts - the MIL cookies and Vanillekipferl - but those are the important "must haves" in this house.

The MIL cookies - I received this recipe from my mother-in-law when I first met her right after Christmas in 1996 when we visited her in freezing cold Erfurt - have lots of marzipan, almond meal, cocoa and of course flour, butter and sugar.

They're super easy to make - throw everything together for the dough, roll it in a log, put it in the fridge for 30 minutes and then slice and bake it.

Here you can see Kaefer slicing the dough log: 

And this is what the cookies look like when they come out of the oven - they don't look very interesting, but I tell you, they're YUMMY.

Those Vanillekipferl were a must when I was a kid, and my mom's Vanillekipferl tasted a bit better than the ones Kaefer and I bake, although we use her recipe. They're rather delicate, and when they come out of the oven you immediately have to put them face down into a mixture of powdered and vanilla sugar. At this stage they can easily break.

Here they are - the yummiest cookies ever. I'm so glad I have this recipe - it reminds me so much of my mom, and how we used to bake together when I was a child. Those are some of the most precious memories I have of her. 

What are your favorite cookies to bake for this special season?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Beauty of Fog

My friend J. and I finally got together again to hike in our favorite State Park. She is my hiking buddy whom I told you about here. This year we didn't get together very often, so the more we treasured yesterday's hike.

We started out in the fog, climbed up the hill in the fog. There was absolutely no view, we saw the trail for only a couple hundred yards and it seemed to us that we were almost alone up here (later on we met a few people, though). At the end of the trail there is a beautiful lake where we usually have our picnic. When we arrived there after a 90 minute climb it looked like this:

Then the fog started to lift...

... and revealed the beauty of this place.

All these photos are SOOC.
This was what we saw.

And it was beautiful.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Vision and Verb

It's my turn at Vision and Verb today where I write about one of my morning passions - Sudoku.
Please come and visit.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Made in Germany 38 - Christmas Market

The third weekend in Advent - which we just had - is the date for the Christmas market in Tübingen. From Friday afternoon to Sunday evening the narrow lanes in the ancient city center are full with booths, heavenly smells of wonderful food and drinks, Christmas music and happy faces. It is one of the events before Christmas that I was most looking forward to.

I wrote about the Tübingen Christmas market back in November 2010, and I will post this again today. I think it captures the mood perfectly:

And I remembered the third weekend in December back in Tübingen, Germany, where I spent twenty years of my life. It's a medieval university town with its typical old buildings that look like they're straight out of a fairy tale by the Grimm Brothers. Narrow lanes wind among those houses and cars are not allowed within the city center. It's a huge pedestrian zone that makes wandering the old alleys so peaceful.

This is the setting for one of the most beautiful traditions of the town: the Christmas Market. It's nothing like its big siblings in Nürnberg, Stuttgart or München and so many other cities. First, it only takes place from Friday to Sunday and not weeks and weeks and weeks. Second, it's not commercial. There are tons of local artists who sell their work, school classes who raise funds for their annual end-of-the-year trip, small local environmental groups who fight for preservation, neighborhoods who try to raise awareness and money for the disabled - the list could go on and on.

So that's the eye-candy. The next is the food - just one word: delicious. The food is mainly local specialities, the best time to eat "Bubaspitzle mit Sauerkraut" (a thin rolled kind of potato pasta with sauerkraut and sometimes bacon), one of my fondest memories in the food department. There was a guy with a complicated portable special oven who made Swiss Raclette that was to die for. Of course there was Glühwein (mulled wine), very welcome in the cold. None of the food or the drink was allowed in any kind of plastic or paper container, everything had to be re-usable! So you bought a beautiful mug with the words "Tübinger Weihnachtsmarkt" written on it and this could be refilled at any booth that offered Glühwein or juice punch (I still have half a dozen of those mugs - each year has a different color). Most of the plates were eatable - envision big sturdy waffles for apple strudel! No trash!

Throughout the market you could listen to music. Children were singing, little choirs stood at the fountain in the market square, someone played the violin, another one the bagpipe, and again another one the flute. There was a cantata concert in the main church. There were jugglers and clowns. It was a very festive atmosphere.

We felt like community, we were community. People spending three days in the cold in order to help someone else. To serve others. To share stories. To entertain children and their stressed parents. To bring smiles on the cold faces, red cheeks from the mulled wine.

That third weekend in December, no matter whether the sun was shining, it was raining or snowing, was spent in the streets among those medieval buildings. It was freezing cold - always. But everyone was there. Community.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Rosehips in Winter

Last winter while driving along scenic Highway 12 in Utah from Capitol Reef National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park, I saw these frozen rosehips at the side of the road. I thought it might make a good pre-Christmas image.

Usually I only use one texture when I alter photos, two at the most. For this one, though, I tried using three textures and also played with blending modes I usually tend to avoid.

These are all Bonnie's textures.

"Soft Swirls", blending mode overlay at 75%
"Dear John Letter", blending mode difference at 33%
hue/saturation adjustments
contrast adjustment
"Acrylic as Texture", blending mode color burn at 23%
Warming photo filter (LBA)
final levels adjustment

Most times I shy away from this kind of exaggerated color, but for this photo I wanted to achieve something like this and really had to step outside my comfort zone. In the end, I had a lot of fun and actually quite like the result.

I'm linking this to Bonnie's Photo Art Friday, one of my favorite photo challenges.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

WOYWW - Donna's Book

I know, I know... I haven't been at Julia's WOYWW for quite a while. The reason is I have been very busy and I knew that I wouldn't have the time to visit back many WOYWWers and I just thought that wasn't okay - so I decided to have a break altogether. Today, however, I have to post for WOYWW because something landed on my table that I thought some of you would be interested in.

It is Donna's book.

Donna and I had the idea of doing some kind of "swap", and she sent me this lovely altered book which, I think, shows her style and her wonderful, unique, fun and fascinating art.

Yes, it is indeed for me. 

There is so much to discover on the cover - little trinkets and keys and stamps and... 

Inside the book was full of little bags and pockets, fun pages that I could even further open up, beautiful papers that look handmade and so much more. 

Beautiful things in one of those pockets. 

This is such a wonderful gift!
Donna, thank you so much - this is very precious to me.
I love, love, love my book.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

December 6th - Nikolaus

Today, December 6th, is Nikolaus in Germany. The evening before, thousands of children have put out a boot, hoping for Nikolaus to come by and fill it up. Nikolaus is pretty reliable and fills those boots with sweets and sometimes even more.

Kaefer - although a teenager now - still sticks to that tradition. She put out her rain boot yesterday - and it was filled this morning with orange fuzzy knee high socks, green fuzzy gloves and some chocolate.

When we first moved to this neighborhood, I introduced our tradition to my neighbors, bringing them a little something that they find in the morning of December 6th at their front door, when they go to get their paper. This year I decorated and filled up Starbucks frappuccino bottles (I never could just throw them away).

At Cost Plus World Market you can get typical German Christmas candy at this time (mainly chocolate and marzipan) and that is what I filled into these bottles. Some of our neighbors go the extra mile and "play" Nikolaus as well - this morning we found homemade peanut brittle, a Santa ornament and a bird ornament at our front door.

And there was something else. A tiny package, wrapped in red tissue paper and it had my name on it.

It was from Kaefer. She had made these cute owl earrings and pendant out of clay especially for me.

I feel so blessed. My heart is singing.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Made in Germany 37 - Christmas in Erfurt

Baby, it's cold outside!
And it was.

This photo of the Dom in Erfurt (East Germany) was taken in December 1996, one of the coldest winter in Germany. Temperature's lows were at -25 C (-13 F). The Geek and I were dating at that time, and we had gone to Erfurt for me to meet his mom who was then living there. We both loved the light at the Dom and decided to venture outside despite the cold and take some photos.

We stayed there for about 20 minutes and took pictures - then our fingers were numb and the batteries in our cameras weak. Time to go home and warm up with some hot chocolate and rum.

The weather stayed like this for about two or three weeks until it "warmed up" a little bit. When we left Erfurt after a couple of days, the windshield of our car froze over repeatedly and we had to stop every 10 kilometers or so (6 miles) to clean it up. Such a drag!!! But we were young and very much in love - for us it was an adventure.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Another Morning Walk

Jo and I had another one of our early morning walks yesterday. There was no fog and the light of the morning sun was just beautiful and warm.

It takes less than an hour to walk around the lake, but we always stop and watch birds, I take pictures, we talk to the people - it's more like 90 minutes for us. We talk a lot during those walks as well - most times it's about our kids (she has a daughter in Kaefer's age), the school but also life in general, friends and sometimes politics - then we vent like mad.

But most we enjoy the nature around us.

The color of these leaves was stunning - and I guess most of them will be gone when we walk here the next time.

Of course we watched birds -

this snowy egret

a black crowned night heron, exactly at the same place where we discovered him (her?) last time

this cute kingfisher whom we heard first before we saw him (their call is very distinct)

and a downy woodpecker who chipped away happily.

I love Friday mornings with Jo, walking around the lake.
One of my favorite 90 minutes during the week.

BTW, most of these photos are SOOC - the light was so gorgeous that they didn't need any post-processing. I only cropped a few of them.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Leaves, Leaves Everywhere

I tried something new here and used a filter > texture, blending mode multiply at 43%, some levels and hue/saturation adjustment. For Bonnie's Photo Art Friday.

We are having some pretty strong winds here, the air is warmer than over the past few days, the sun is shining out of an incredibly blue sky and there was no fog this morning.

I live in a neighborhood full of lovely deciduous trees. The wind has blown their leaves everywhere, and they cover my yard.

There are leaves in my empty pots,

hanging from the old redwood fence,

lying on some old wood,

fallen to the ground,

cuddling in the abalone shell,

resting on the ivy,

and keeping fresh in the little fountain.

Are there still many leaves in the trees where you live or did you already have the first snow?