Thursday, August 28, 2014

Always Something New in the Royal City (August Break 2014)

London seemed to be one gigantic construction zone - especially in the City (the financial district), but also in other parts - and often old and new are right next to each other. Above in the picture you can see the construction of new hyper-modern buildings around old St. Paul's Cathedral.

Old buildings, new buildings - this is the 21st century reality of London. It could be horrible. However, the modern architects are doing quite a fine job. I actually like the stark contrast between new and old. I find it rather inspiring.

The view from Tower Bridge to the Tower of London (founded in 1066!) and behind it, "the Gherkin" - one of my favorite modern buildings.

Or look at this - "the Shard", another favorite. It looks unfinished, but it's complete. The architect of this skyscraper is Renzo Piano - the same guy who built the Centre Pompidou in Paris (together with Richard Rogers and Gianfranco Franchini), the New York Times Building and the California Academy of Sciences. It is 87 storey and 306 meters (1,004 ft.) high and has an observation deck which we unfortunately did not visit. It is currently the tallest building in the European Union.

If you look to the bottom right corner of the next photo you can see one of the gates to the Tower of London. It does look small compared to the huge buildings in its neighborhood.

I do think that most of the modern buildings have style - they're inspiring. It's modern architecture at its best - creative, innovative, interesting. Here you can see the "Gherkin" again, hiding behind other buildings.

The view from the London Eye - quite impressive, don't you think?

This modern side of London is for Susannah Conway's prompt "Something new" for the August Break 2014.

Monday, August 25, 2014

I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet

Do you know this Carole King song? The title of the song became reality for us this past weekend. At 3:20 on Sunday morning precisely.

I had just woken up when seconds later I heard a rambling that grew louder, and the house started to shake, becoming more violent the longer it took. Both the Geek and I lay in our bed motionless until finally the spook stopped after a very long 20 seconds.

My first highly intelligent words were "Holy moly". And they were loud. Then we saw a bright flash outside, like some very strong lightning. Our first thought, of course, was our daughter, and we rushed across the landing to her room - I saw our big glass lamp over the staircase swinging from side to side. Kaefer had woken up during the shaking and rattling, "was that an earthquake?", when the second flash hit.

Of course we thought our power had gone out as it happens so often after an earthquake of that magnitude.

But to our surprise, we still had power; other neighborhoods in our city had not. The Geek then went around the house, looking for gas and water leaks. Nothing. We were more than grateful.

Our next move was to go to the USGS website and find out where the earthquake's epicenter was and how big it was. All we knew by then was that it was a bigger earthquake, bigger than anything we had felt in California so far (the biggest being 4.3) and also bigger than the earthquake I rode through while I was living in Taiwan in the early eighties, which was a 5.6 and pretty scary for me at that time (that one had also happened during the night).

The epicenter was in American Canyon which is about 25-30 miles from our home, as the crow flies. Its magnitude hit 6.0 on the Richter scale, some even say 6.1. A magnitude 6 temblor has a seismic energy yield of 15 kilotons, the equivalent of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. In other words, it is very powerful.

Napa was the place that was hit the hardest. Damage is estimated to be up to $ 1 billion. Fortunately, there weren't any deaths and only a handful of people who were seriously injured. We were lucky. This time.

Given that both Napa and Sonoma Counties are wine country, there was a lot of wine spilled. I know of stores in Napa that remained closed because every single wine bottle had fallen off the shelf. Some tourists were so spooked that they cancelled their wine tours and tastings, and headed back east instead. But as they say here - the show goes on.

As I already mentioned, we were lucky. If you live in California you know that the earth can move and shake under your feet, without any forewarning. Many of us are aware that the BIG ONE will happen sometime in the next 30 years - that can be next week, in five years or in twenty. We don't know. We only know that this one wasn't IT. Although it was the biggest earthquake in the Bay Area since the Loma Prieta earthquake (6.9) 25 years ago.

But we can be prepared. We have an emergency kit in our garage that contains a lot of water and food plus our camping gear (let's just hope the garage doesn't collapse). Batteries, flashlights, a radio. Blankets and a big tent.

I hope we will never need it.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Adornment (August Break 2014)

Before this day is over I want to offer my adornment.

Honestly, I wasn't even sure what adornment meant. Thankfully, Susannah Conway sends out emails every day of her August Break 2014 and thus I got an idea about adornment. She was talking about adorning oneself, followed by a few examples.

So, how do I adorn myself? I rarely wear make up, I put my hair up in a ponytail or messy bun, and my clothes are anything but fashionable. I love comfortable, sometimes a bit crazy clothes, color and nothing trendy.

But I have a thing for earrings. I love them. I have quite a collection, but usually I wear these ones:

The Geek gave them to me on Christmas a couple years ago. I had seen them at a holiday fair, made by an artist from San Francisco (unfortunately I lost her card). Immediately I fell for this style... and my husband saw how much I loved them. I was very happy when I found them under the Christmas tree, and I have worn them almost every day since then.

No lipstick, no eye shadow, no mascara - but these earrings are a must!

What is your favorite adornment?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Autumn Foreshadow (August Break 2014)

I had promised that I would get back to August break - after I had missed so many. Today's prompt is "shadow" - I didn't take a new photo for this, and I also don't show a picture from Europe as I did with all the other August break prompts. This photo was taken four years ago, during a leisurely drive through our wine country - I actually found this image in my "fences" folder.

My favorite season is coming up - I can't wait for the warm and golden colors of fall. Some of our trees are already starting to change color, like the Chinese Pistache. It seems early - I guess it is due to the lack of water in our third straight year of drought. The Japanese Maple in front of our house is still green, though - it usually is at its height of fierce red color in November.

Are you looking forward to autumn or are you holding on to summer?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Art and Nature - a Nurturing Weekend

Another week has gone by without me posting anything - so much for doing the August Break. I certainly will come back for some more August Break postings - but not quite yet.

Today I want to tell you about my weekend up in the Sierra.

My friend Wendy Ward, a wonderful artist (you can find more about her here and here), was teaching a painting class there - a mermaid painting class. I like mermaids, and I like Wendy. I hadn't seen her for four years and I missed her. So rather spontaneously I decided to sign up, drive those three hours to the Sierra, take the class and spend the rest of the weekend with Wendy. I was looking forward to this time just for myself very much.

Seeing Wendy again was wonderful! It didn't feel like not seeing each other for four years - it felt more like I had just talked to her the day before. We pretty much took off where we left all those years ago.

She is an exceptional art instructor. We were eight women with different levels of painting experience. It didn't matter - Wendy brought us all together and we painted for six hours and created our mermaids. She taught me a new technique which I loved.

Our table looked quite chaotic during class - we were painting like crazy!

By the end of class, each of us had her very own unique mermaid. It was interesting to see how different each mermaid was.

Wendy and I with my mermaid

After class, two other friends of Wendy - J. and E. - and myself went up into the mountains to stay the night with Wendy in her cabin.

It was a lovely drive up there, mainly through endless forest, along narrow winding, sometimes unpaved, roads with marvelous views over an amazingly blue lake, until we finally arrived at the cabin, deep in the woods. When I got out of the car, the scent of the forest hit me right on - absolutely beautiful. Besides, it was completely quiet. Heaven.

The welcome committee was expecting us!

The cabin was lovely, with a beautiful deck, where the sun spilled his warm evening light over the colorful chairs. I loved the reddish shade of the cabin wood - just look how lovely it glows in the golden light.

The evening turned out the way it should - with wine, good food, and even better conversation. We laughed a lot, but we also had some very serious topics - it was a good mix. It certainly wasn't boring - I felt that time was flying by, and suddenly we realized that it was pretty late and we better went to bed. I slept up in the loft, right at the open window - as I already mentioned, it was completely quiet. Incredible! Listening to the silence eventually lulled me into sleep....

... from which I woke up by the first rays of the sun. I felt completely refreshed.

We had a lovely breakfast after which J. and E. left while I still stayed for a few hours. Wendy and I took a walk in the woods, talking, talking, talking. We never ran out of something to say - there were so many interesting topics. Later, we sat on the deck, still talking. Deep talking, the kind of talk that really touches your soul. The kind of talk during which suddenly things become clear.

Fact is, I had the feeling that I was not living fully (yes, we talked a lot about feeling alive and vital), that there was no real vitality. I was wondering where that had gone. I also realized that I was strong, but that somewhere along the way this strong woman went into hiding. I wondered when this happened. I want to have her back.

I think this weekend was more than just seeing a friend, taking a class and having a great time in good company. It was the beginning of claiming back that strong woman, of letting go of all the guilt I often feel. It is getting my self back. I had felt all this before without being able to name it. When I saw Wendy's class announcement, something was calling me - why else would I drive three hours through the heat of the Central Valley to attend a class? I knew that I could talk to Wendy, that it would never be superficial, that we would go deep - and I knew that I needed it.

Saying good-bye was difficult. I could have stayed so much longer.

But I felt good during my drive home. I had opted not to take the interstate but drive along smaller roads, listening to some DVDs and singing along to the  music as loud as I could. It was liberating.

This weekend will stay with my for a long time and still nourish me for many days.

I found this hard to write - because of the language. These things can be so difficult to write in a foreign language. I wanted to write from the heart, about my feelings, about what was really going on - and I was limited by the words that should come easy.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On The Table (August Break 2014)

I apologize - this was actually yesterdays' prompt. I hope you still accept it today...

"On the table" reminds me of the beautifully set tables in the restaurants in Paris. This one in the Centre Pompidou was a rather expensive one - you pay for the location. The tables were set in the morning, and I loved the beautiful way it was done. Simple, but each table had a long red rose. This is style.

Even the tables in the street cafés that serve lunch were set at least with a napkin, silverware and glasses.

It looks so much more welcoming than just the plain table. It means - come on in, have a seat and some good food. Relax a bit, take a break. You are welcome here. Don't you just love that?

Even if you just order a chocolat chaud (hot chocolate), it is served with a lot of style - Kaefer ordered one in one of the many street cafés in the Quartier Latin, and the thick, dark chocolate came in a cup with the milk in a little pot on the side. Now, this is a classic!

Other street cafés, like this one on Montmartre, drew me in with their colorful tables and chairs, and just two glasses on the table. Doesn't it make you want to stop for a glass of Kir?

Kir, by the way, was my favorite drink in Paris. I enjoyed it already when I came to Paris the first time at the age of 17, and I have loved it ever since. It is Crème de Cassis with very dry white wine (1:4) or sometimes with champagne; then it is called Kir Royal. Kir is more common, and honestly, I like it better.

I think I'll have one right now. Santé!

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Charm of Handwritten Signs (August Break 2014)

While traveling through Europe I loved the handwritten signs in front of restaurants, pubs and cafés. How fitting for today's prompt "Handwriting".

Yummy sandwiches in York - you almost feel sorry for this happy grinning pig.

We were well informed about the Wold Cup matches while exploring the Quartier Latin in Paris - at this time, France was still in the game! This was almost more important that the menu of the place! You have to set your priorities!

There are so many restaurants in the Quartier Latin, it is hard to choose from. Salad anyone?

In Hameln, Germany, we were tempted with cheese rolls or a platter of cheese plus a pot of coffee and/or a glass of wine. I could take all of this!

And finally, on the German island of Spiekeroog this café tempted us with Milchreis (milk rice) with cinnamon and sugar, alternatively with apple sauce or hot cherries or - a local specialty - with rote Grütze which is a fruit pudding made of berries like raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. It is delicious, especially if you eat it with liquid heavy cream or vanilla sauce. However, on top of Milchreis it can be pretty yummy as well.

Now, which of these culinary delights would you choose?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Drinking Tea in England (August Break 2014)

Since today's prompt is "drink" we turn to England again and the British passion for drinking tea. Tea is so good there, that this coffee drinker turned into a tea drinker. Alas, only in England.

We found this little tea shop in York while rambling along the narrow lanes in this medieval town. I liked their display of loose tea leaves in these big glass containers.

Lucky for us, they also had a pot of hot tea outside their shop where anybody could taste the tea. The glass tea pot beautifully featured the golden color of the tea, and the tea light beneath it gave extra warmth - literally.

There is an abundance of tea rooms all over Britain.

The tea, of course, is preferably taken with milk, and it tastes even better if it is accompanied by homemade scones, clotted cream and jam. Sinfully good!!!

If you are a tea drinker, how do you take your tea? Black? With milk? Sugar? Honey? Or perhaps even with Kandis as we do in the North of Germany?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Country "Fences" (August Break 2014)

"Today is..." - our prompt.

Well, today is Thursday, and in my book that means fences and linking up with Theresa's 'Good Fences'. And exactly that I am doing today.

Only, that my fences are actually not real fences. They are...

 ... walls. Same function as a fence - to either keep someone in or out. All of these fences are in the Cotswolds whose landscape is criss-crossed by walls.

It's a beautiful landscape, really, and the walls just add some extra charm.

Sometimes they separate a cemetery from the nettles outside.

Sometimes the cemetery itself is covered in weeds and the sheep are right next door - that's a pretty common picture. It's a pastoral setting, after all.

The walls are rather rough and irregular - another charming detail about them.