Tuesday, December 31, 2013

At the End of the Year

2013 will be over in just a few hours, and while I'm writing this, many of you are already in 2014. Well, we're always a bit late here on the West Coast!

I wish all of you a safe, happy, healthy and creative 2014. Let it be a year where you share laughter, good food and wine with your friends and family, find a shoulder to lean on when the days aren't all that sunshine we would like them to be. I hope there are many magical moments that will stay with you throughout the year and beyond.

Thank you for visiting my blog, for reading my thoughts and leaving so many comments full of kindness. I appreciate each and every one of you. You are the ones who bring life to my blog. You give me the joy for writing here and sharing my thoughts, joys and worries with you. Thank you so much for just being you.

See you in 2014!!!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

And to All a Good Night

It's Christmas Eve - the important day for us with our German Christmas tradition.

We celebrate Christmas Eve. In Germany, shops and everything else close around 2:00 pm on Christmas Eve, and a beautiful silence covers the entire country. A silence that will be broken in the later afternoon by the ringing of church bells, when the churches call for the first services for families with young children. More "grown-up" services follow later, and finally the big Mass at midnight, with candlelight when even the lights on the huge Christmas tree are all real candles. It is so atmospheric. Presents will be given in the evening, after church.

We have two Christmas Days, but the "big" day is always Christmas Eve. I loved it when the entire country went silent in the afternoon, expecting the beauty of this very special evening. I loved singing and listening to our old Christmas carols - I still do. The sound of the church bells ringing in the dark and silent night - it really is "Silent night, holy night" - my favorite Christmas song of all times.

Our traditional German Christmas decoration, handmade in the Erzgebirge

It's this special silence of Christmas Eve that I miss here in the US. Since leaving Germany 12 years ago, I have never experienced this kind of Christmas Eve anymore. It's one of the few times in a year when I really miss my home country.

I wish all of you a merry and peaceful Christmas, and perhaps you can feel a little bit of this special silence.

Blessings to you!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winter Solstice

Since today is the shortest day of the year, I thought I just post a few snow and frosty pictures - all of them taken in recent years either in Yosemite National Park or back in Germany.

It's sunny and mild here - no sign of winter at all. Not a single rain cloud in the sky... We're still waiting for the rain. Everything is so dry here.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

An Egret for Texture Tuesday

It's time for Texture Tuesday again. Today I had the urge to do something different, more extreme and not the way I usually work with texture.

I saw this Great Egret a few weeks ago at the lake. The photo is nothing special, so I decided to alter it completely and make it - well, unrealistic, I guess.

I blended the photo with Kim's texture "golden" (my go-to texture) in vivid light at 100%, masked the bird and removed the texture from it again. Then I darkened the image a bit and did several saturation and hue adjustments until I ended up with this image.

Not my normal way to work with photos... but it was fun!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

My Feet and the Fire Wave

This week's challenge at Inspiration Avenue, "Looking down at your feet", goes so well with some photos of the Valley of Fire that I wanted to show you. As you know, we went to the Valley of Fire in Nevada during Thanksgiving week. Before we went there, I had seen pictures of one part of this area that really fascinated me. I had no idea what it was called or where exactly it was located in the State Park. I couldn't find it on the map of the park. So we just tried to find it.

We were successful in the later afternoon, when the sun was already rather low in the sky. I found a sign for the "Fire Wave" and beneath it was an image of the place I was looking for. It involved a 20 - 30 minutes hike through rough terrain. No question that we made that hike - and we saw the Fire Wave in the slowly setting sun which brought out the colors of this rock formation even more.

This is where my feet come in - here you can see my hiking booted feet just above the Fire Wave:

Here is the photo of the Fire Wave without my feet - there are many pictures of it on the Internet with way more intense colors, but I wonder how much Photoshop and similar photo editing software contributed to those colors. This is what it looked like while we were there:

It's pretty incredible, right? The different colors of the layers are fascinating, and if I knew more about geology I could probably tell you here why this is so. However, I just enjoyed this sight.

This is the view to the other side (behind me) - not quite as spectacular, but still very beautiful.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Traveling Phonebooth

When we went to the Valley of Fire during Thanksgiving week, Kaefer brought this little British phonebooth with her. It actually is a pencil sharpener - hidden behind the door - that we bought years ago in London Heathrow. She loves to photograph objects in the places we visit. In the summer when we went to BC she brought a toy car (a mini cooper) and took pictures of it everywhere. At that time she still used her compact camera, but this time she learned how to use a DSLR.

Wherever she saw a nice background, she put the phonebooth in place and then tried all kinds of pictures. It was fun to watch her, to see how much she was fascinated by using a big camera and play with it. Oh the possibilities!

Valley of Fire offered many good locations for the little red phonebooth.

Then we went to Death Valley where we stayed close to the Mesquite Dunes which we visited the next morning. Needless to say, the phonebooth was there as well. The funny thing was that other people started to take pictures of the phonebooth as well when they saw Kaefer doing it; one English gentleman suggested to her to ask for a dollar per shot. Brilliant idea!!

No location was too inconvenient or too cold or too hard. She has the right attitude.

And at Lake Tahoe the phonebooth even sat in the snow!

Monday, December 9, 2013


Just a short post today for Kim Klassen's Texture Tuesday.

I used to call this image "wooden snake" after I had discovered this branch with the icicle many years ago close to my home in Germany. Now with all the textures that are available, I can finally play with it. And since we are having a cold spell here (yes, even California can get pretty cold - after all, I'm not living in Palm Springs) I though a photo with a nice icicle was appropriate.

I layered the photo (an original slide that I scanned and then kept in Lightroom) with Kim's texture "kk_coolgrunge" and blended it in soft light at 100%. Then I added the text - that's it, that's all!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Happy Snowmen Parade

A few weeks ago I started to paint little canvases (3x3) with snowmen, put a screw eye in the top so that they can be used as holiday ornaments. I sold some of them at the crafts fair and came back with only two of them. So I decided to paint more for my shop.

However, when I went to Michaels to get more of the little canvases, they were sold out and only had an even smaller size (2x2). I wasn't sure whether I could work on such a small space but thought that I could at least try it. They came in a pack of six - and I ended up painting all six of them because it was so much fun.

By now I sold a few of them (which I am very happy about) and simply enjoy the ones I still have. I like snowmen, perhaps also because we don't have them here (lack of snow).

I'm linking to Paint Party Friday - happy to be back!

Monday, December 2, 2013

The White Tree of Minas Tirith

While we were in the Valley of Fire in Nevada a few days before Thanksgiving, we came across this tree along the Rainbow Vista trail. "Lord of the Rings" fans that we are, we immediately called it "the white tree of Minas Tirith", the capital of Gondor.

I chose it for this week's Texture Tuesday. I first did a brightness adjustment to get the tree even whiter than it actually was. I processed it with Kim's texture "kk_charmed" in Multiply at 100% and then brushed the texture away from the tree as much as possible - at least from the main branches.

You might think that the color is a bit too brilliant. Well, this is the same tree without any processing, straight out of the camera:

The tree was on the shady side of the trail, so I changed my white balance to "shade" which intensifies the colors. Before that I took a shot of the tree in automatic white balance. The image I got was completely off from what I saw with my eyes - look here:

The colors are somewhat dull and not quite as red as they really were. That is the beauty of Valley of Fire, the incredible colors. When I changed the setting to "shade" the camera almost saw what I saw and I was much more happy with the outcome.

Here are two more detail shots of the tree

I tried to find out what tree this is, but unfortunately I wasn't successful. If you know what it is I would be more than happy if you let me know in the comments. Thank you.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Almost Winter Camping

This year our school district had decided to close the schools for the entire week of Thanksgiving. Since we were at the point where we thought it would be nice to go away if even only for a few days we packed our tent and camping stuff and headed south east, to the desert.

Our destination was the Valley of Fire in Nevada, just 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas. You wouldn't really believe that so close to Sin City there would be so much natural beauty. But there is. However, that will be another post.

This was our campsite - snuggled between the incredible red rocks of the Valley of Fire. There were two campgrounds - one more suitable for RVs and trailers, with flush toilets and showers; and one more primitive one with private campsites and vent toilets. However, there was potable water available at each campsite, and that was a huge plus. The roof over the table is mainly for giving shade in the hotter months of the year. Valley of Fire gets incredibly hot in the summer, 100 F isn't rare at all, and temperatures often reach 120 F.

At this time of year, tent camping is not for sissies. It is quite comfortable during the day - we usually hit the lower 60s - but as soon as the sun had set it became pretty nippy and the nights were cold. Since it gets dark early at the end of November, the cold nights were also long nights. It was almost dark by 5:00 pm.

This was the other side of our campsite. We camped in the shade of Poodle Rock - which made for cold mornings as well since the sun wouldn't reach our site until the afternoon. The other side of this rock looks much nicer:

But - isn't this color phenomenal? All the campsites were snuggled among those rocks - take a look here, where you can see a bit of a small trailer standing in another campsite. It was really neat and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

This was our way to the restroom (= vent toilet); such eye candy wherever you looked.

And this is right across from our campsite:

However, as I mentioned above, (almost) winter camping isn't for the faint of heart. A campfire in the evening and in the morning was a must. This wasn't our first attempt at winter camping. Years ago we had camped in Arches National Park on Christmas when night time temperatures dropped into the 20s. Compared to that, this was still very comfortable. But still...

Mornings were chilly and we wrapped our hands around mugs of hot chocolate and coffee while sitting next to the fire. As you can see, I even wore fingerless gloves and a hat.

The hat I even wore during the night - and quite some layers: a cami, long sleeve t-shirt, sweatshirt and a fleece; long pants, socks and fuzzy socks. I had layered two fleece blankets on top of each other beneath our sleeping bags and then each of us had another fleece blanket over the sleeping bag. This way we stayed cozy and warm. We actually slept pretty well.

However... did I mention that we really needed a campfire?

After a couple nights in the Valley of Fire we reluctantly left again - it is such a gorgeous place! We then made our way back into California and camped in Death Valley. It was slightly warmer, we camped just above sea level - but the next morning there was snow on the peaks of the mountains around us.

Would I do it again? Absolutely, in a heart beat.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The BIG Shopping Weekend

When we first moved to the United States I found it a bit bizarre that right after the day everybody said how grateful they were for what they had, the very same people would get up at the crack of dawn and rush to the stores to get the best deals EVER. Some even camped outside stores like Best Buy to be the first in line and not miss out.

Looking back, I just sigh - ah, those were the good old times. The Geek belonged to those people who got up early on Black Friday and stood in line while Kaefer and I briefly groaned, turned around and went back to sleep. When the Geek came back for a late breakfast he usually had some hilarious stories to tell. The rest of Friday was spent in quiet bliss.

After a few years the temptation had died even for the Geek and we spent Black Friday in our home, blissfully unaware of the craziness going on in the malls and big stores.

And today? The shopping frenzy starts already on Thanksgiving itself. Some stores are open all day Thanksgiving, some open right at the time when you would sit down for the meal with your family and/or friends. Some stores stay open until 2:00 am or even the entire night. Other stores open at midnight. The "reasonable" stores open at 6:00 on Black Friday morning.

Are we really that greedy? Is it really more important to get a super deal than spend some time with family? Is it necessary to drag retail employees away from their families to serve the customers who obviously can't wait to be dragged away from family and friends?

I don't have the answer to that. However, I refuse to go shopping on Thanksgiving. Somehow I hope that so many others think like me, stay at home and the Thanksgiving shopping will be only a short-lived "event". Well, I am not that naive.... I know it will stay like this, perhaps even get worse. Who knows, one day we might stop celebrating Thanksgiving altogether. A huge loss for saving a few bucks.

After Black Friday and before Cyber Monday there is another shopping day - Small Business Saturday. Being a small business owner myself, I hardly can ignore that. I just wish it was on a different weekend - does it really make a difference? Do people who spend their money on Thanksgiving and Black Friday have the time (and the energy) to go and support the local businesses in their neighborhood? Or small businesses online - where their neighbors, friends, teachers, colleagues sell their items? And - can small businesses even compete?

All of these thoughts were going through my mind when I was contemplating what to do with my Etsy shop over this sales weekend. Should I participate? Should I ignore it and just go on as usual? Would that even be sound business practice?

In the end, I have decided to offer 25% off the entire purchase in my store. After all, I have my shop and I want to sell my handmade items. Handmade is not cheap, and I am not planning on selling anything below its value. But I can say thanks to my customers by lowering my prices for a few days and thus giving them the opportunity to buy something that is real handmade (and heart-made for that matter) in a very affordable way. These images here show a few of the items that are currently available in my shop - it is pretty well stocked right now. By using coupon code THANKS2013 (all capitals) during checkout you will automatically get 25% off your entire purchase - whether you buy one handmade card or three journals. The sale expires at the end of Cyber Monday, December 2, 2013.