Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Being a Refugee

I'm joining Linda's Wednesday Wit and Wisdom once again. The challenge is to post a picture, then write a short story or a poem about the picture as a writing exercise. My inspiration today comes from this photo of the cathedral of Frombork in Poland.

Frombork has been called Frombork only since 1945. Before that its name was Frauenburg and it was known as the "pearl of the North". It belonged to East Prussia and thus to Germany for many centuries. The cathedral was built in the 14th century and its most famous canon was the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus who is buried in the cathedral.

However, today I don't want to talk about Frauenburg Cathedral. Please look beyond the cathedral, where you can see the blue of the water. This is what we call Frisches Haff , or the Vistula Lagoon. It is a brackish water lagoon on the Baltic Sea roughly 56 miles long, 6 to 15 miles wide and up to 17 feet deep. The Poland-Russia border runs across the lagoon.

Every winter the lagoon used to completely freeze over. So it did in the winter of 1944/1945.  When the Red Army marched into East Prussia in January and February of 1945, it was impossible for the tens of thousands of refugees to flee the Soviets across land. They had to take the route over the frozen lagoon. Thousands froze to death or were killed in air raids when the Russians bombed the ice as well as shot at the refugees with their machine guns. 

It must have been horrific. No words can describe their panic and suffering.

My mother was a refugee. No, she didn't have to take this route. She was much closer to the West, living at that time in a small town on the river Oder which today is the border between Germany and Poland. However, fleeing in the cold of winter - and that winter was one of the coldest on record - with her mom and her not quite two year old daughter - my sister - wasn't exactly fun. They left their home on January 31st, my grandma's birthday. No one was thinking of birthdays, however. Everybody had just one wish - get out of this hell into safety, whatever it takes. They took their horses and some wagons and off they went in a long trek of mainly women, children and old people. They spent the nights in old barns, sometimes getting something to eat from farmers along the way, sometimes not. Everything was wildly confusing and no one knew what was really happening. My mother didn't tell very much about those weeks in the trek until she reached Lower Saxony which was safe. But the few things she did tell me unveiled the horror of being displaced in terrible times.

She never forgot those times. They haunted her in her dreams and sleepless nights. For many many years she kept a packed bag in her closet, ready to go again if she had to. I remember that as a child I wanted to laugh about it, but somehow the laugh got stuck in my throat.

Our parents never made us forget that they were refugees and we were children of refugees.

That's why my heart breaks for the refugees trying to get into Europe right now.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Where Market Was Hold in the Olden Days

Chipping Campden is a very picturesque little medieval town in the heart of the Cotswold Hills in England. I first visited it back in 1974 when it was still more like a sleepy village out of a fairy tale. When I spent time here in the late 80's and early 90's it wasn't quite as sleepy anymore, but still rather quiet. Last year, however, it was a crowded tourist destination - but fortunately it still held its Old World charm.

The heart of Chipping Campden, right in the middle of High Street, is this old market hall. "Chipping" comes from the Old English for "market" or "market place" - so of course they have a market hall! Built in 1627 (so not quite that medieval!) in the typical honey colored limestone of the area, it stood in the town center mainly unused. This time, however, it was turned into some kind of market place again.

This, however, was the only change that I could notice, and I thought that it actually fit the location. I also imagined market people who yell and shout, offering their merchandise to the folks who would come into town on market day. I think it was quite lively back then. Not so much nowadays.

To my utter relief, the old floor was still the same rocky ground as centuries ago.

And so was the roof - don't you agree that it is lovely? Simple, but impressive.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

It's a Dog's Gate

This gate in my neighborhood always brings a smile to my face. It's wacky, creative and definitely different. The top with the girl pushing the wheelbarrow is fun, but I really like the dog.

It's a guard dog, I assume, one of the really sweet kind.

Quite a lot of parts of this gate are made of recycled material - what a creative way to upcycle items! It might not necessarily be pretty in a conventional sense, but it's certainly unique. I rather have that in my neighborhood than uniformity.

It's definitely a "good fence" and therefore deserves to be linked up to Theresa's blog.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Bedouin Women

I'm joining Linda's Wednesday Wit and Wisdom once again. The challenge is to post a picture, then write a short story or a poem about the picture as a writing exercise. My inspiration today comes from this very bad photo of Bedouin women in the desert of the Sinai. I had wanted to write about these women for quite some time.

May 1996. I'm on my way from Cairo to Mount Sinai, crossing the desert of the Sinai peninsula. It is hot. The area we're driving through is bare - rocks, sand, some dried up grasses, and shades of beige and sienna with hints of red. The mountains are steep and not inviting at all. It is a merciless landscape.

In the distance we see goats and sheep and a handful of women wrapped in black shawls. When we come closer they  wave to us, with a friendly smile on their faces. We stop at the next turn and get out. Slowly the women approach us, a bit shy at first. Then they show their crooked teeth in a broad smile. Suddenly children join them, hiding behind their moms and peeking over to us - the rich tourists.

They invite us for tea. We are hesitant - is the water safe? They boil the water for a long time and brew strong, dark tea with a few leaves of peppermint inside and lots of sugar. I'm sure I couldn't drink it without the sugar, and I'm also sure that it will keep me awake all through the night. We sit on the dirt ground and the primitive mug of tea is given from hand to hand. Everybody takes a sip. This is not the time and place to be picky.

The women don't speak English, but there is someone who understands a bit of Arabic. They tell us that they are Bedouins, proud nomads who live in the desert. They live in tents with their children, sheep and goats - no no, the animals are not in the tents. They make their own jewelry and want to sell it to us. Where are the men? We don't see any. They wouldn't tell us.

The children are less shy by now and come over to us. We have a few sweets that we give them. They shout in excitement when they are allowed to look through the binoculars one of us carries around. First they hold them the wrong way. They laugh and giggle just like every child does. They touch our light skin, our clothes. And finally they see us get into our vehicles again because we need to go on. They wave when we leave.

They don't have a steady home. They own only a few clothes and some goats and sheep. Compared to our life they are poor - they don't have a house, a car, a TV; their kids don't go to school; their daily life and work is hard. And still there wasn't any resentment. On the contrary - they proudly invited us to share a cup of tea with them. There was such dignity. And I wonder - would we have been that friendly if we had met them in "our" world?


Monday, September 21, 2015

Yard Sale Finds

A few days ago there was a yard sale down the street, and I was surprised about the amount of treasures I found.

The first thing I had already seen from the street was the wooden tray. I had been looking for something like that for quite a while, and this tray was the reason why I stopped and took a look.

The red lantern was the next item I discovered - oh how beautiful! The little tea box I grabbed for Kaefer; I knew that she would like it (and she does).

But the bird cage was the thing that made my heart sing. I don't know for how long I had been looking for one. Not just a bird cage - I didn't want a new one or plastic one or one of those cheap ones that seem to pop up everywhere and really look cheap. In my mind I had pictured something like this, and I visualized it filled with flowers that would spill out.

Just like this.

Sometimes you actually find exactly what you were looking for. It's rare - but what a lucky day!

Did you find something recently that you had been looking for for quite some time?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Lighthouse Fence

For this week's Good Fences I'm going back to Oregon - to Cape Blanco. When we visited the lighthouse on a brilliant summer day I noticed the fence made of thick strong rope.

Let's have a closer look.

I do like this special kind of fence - it fits into the landscape and is a good companion to this beautiful lighthouse. With all the lichen on the rope it must have been here for some time - and it still looks sturdy and strong. But as you can see, there is also a "regular" fence that was quite pretty as well.

Along the coast you find lots of cow parsnip - no wonder it made its way into this photo!

Monday, September 14, 2015

How Quickly Things Can Change

Dear me! Last week was one of those times where you wonder whether all of this is really happening.

But let me start from the beginning - always a good idea.

I was lazily lying on our red couch when the phone rang in the early evening of Labor Day - a week ago today. Only. The call came from a woman I had known about 10 years ago, but we had lost touch. She told me that the German Language School was urgently looking for a teacher for their adult intermediate class on their campus in my town. Their teacher had just quit that weekend, and classes were supposed to start the following Saturday (which was last Saturday). Since I used to teach German she thought she give it a shot asking me whether I was interested.

Heck yea!!! I immediately called the Head Teacher and already had a meeting with the staff the following evening. I had a good feeling about that, and two days later had my interview. I got the job - and had a day and a half to prepare for my first class. I had no idea how many students would be in the class, I was warned that the level of German was very different - from really good to more mediocre - and I didn't really know what they had done up to that point.

Talk about jumping into cold water and swim!

So I did what I thought would be interesting for a first class and marched in on Saturday morning. The class is pretty full - I had 12 students, but it appears that not everybody was there, so I might have one or two more students. Everybody was really nice, and after I got over my nervousness  (yes, I was very nervous) the class turned out to be fun. We laughed a lot, and while it is true that the German skills are quite varied I have faith that we can handle that. I signed the contract and am now teaching German every Saturday morning.

Ain't I the lucky one?

I never got a job as quickly as this one! From nothing to a job I like in less than four days.

I also want to say thank you to all of you who came up with a name for the little hand knitted dachshund. I had also asked for a name on my personal and my business Facebook page. In the end, the dog decided Dax was his name - thank you, Elephant's Child for the suggestion. It was the mischievousness you mentioned that made it!

Dax is now up for adoption in my Etsy store.

You probably have heard about the terrible Valley Fire in Lake County. Middletown is only about 30 miles from here over the mountains. We sometimes go there to one of our favorite breakfast places, the Cowpoke Cafe, of which I don't know whether it has burned to the ground or is still there. There is huge devastation in Middletown and the surrounding areas. The fire is huge and incredibly fast and something most firefighters say they have never experienced before. I heard that about 1000 homes are already lost, and thousands of people have been evacuated. It is dreadful. The fire has spread into Napa and Sonoma County as well. We are hoping for rain, but so far we only have grey skies. There is some moisture in the air which I hope will slow down the fire.

And while we have stunning sunsets due to the fire, the devastation goes on.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Protecting Wilderness

For this week's Good Fences I have "outside the box" fences again. I noticed them while hiking in my favorite state park that is practically at my doorstep.

We have a great network of beautiful trails through the wilderness of the park. These trails are used by hikers, runners, horse riders and mountain bikers. It shouldn't be too difficult to stay on these trails.

At least one would think so.

Unfortunately there are people who feel some kind of weird entitlement that allows them to go in the park wherever they want - actually, it's mostly "bike wherever they want" - and thus creating new trails where they shouldn't be, disrupting the wilderness and disturbing wildlife.

In the following picture you can see one of those illegal trails leading from the center to the right side of the image.

You can see the deep mark it has left in the park. There's a clear sign that you shouldn't use this trail.

But obviously the park is visited by many illiterate people, so the rangers tried a different method - natural "fences".

A huge branch blocks this trail, and from the look of it, it seems to work.

Here's another one - the branch was laid out quite some time ago. You almost can't see the trail anymore, the branch has deteriorated - this has been successful, it seems.

Here mountain bikers have taken a questionable short cut beside the trail, probably because it's less rocky. By the way the branches and big rocks are laid across the trail I got the impression that the rangers were pretty mad when they blocked this part. I honestly cannot blame them.

I've been here so often, but only recently did I notice this rock wall. I have no idea what the purpose of it is except that it's probably home to a few rattlesnakes.

This is such a beautiful place, and it truly makes me mad that some people don't respect the wilderness and create new trails. I don't understand why they aren't able to stay on the trails that are already there.

I'm linking up to Theresa's Good Fences.

Monday, September 7, 2015

A Favorite Place

Recently when I went down our street I saw that my neighbor had cleaned out her garage and put some stuff for free at the side of the road. This little table caught my eye, and after I had examined it and didn't find anything major wrong with it I took it home.

I had been looking for a small table for quite some time. I wanted it to sit next to the green chair in one corner of my garden where I love to sit and read or knit. However, I never had a place to put down my glass of wine or cup of coffee. This table was about to change that!

I wiggled it in place until it stood straight and solid (the legs are a bit crooked). I have a lot of linen napkins, and this one I thought perfect to cover the little table.

A pot of wavy petunias was the finishing touch.

So here's my little corner. It's in full sun in the early morning, but later in the morning the shade of the photinia covers it and it's a lovely place to hang out for the rest of the day. Unfortunately I sit here not as often as I thought I would be since there is always something to do. But when I sit here, reading or knitting, I deeply enjoy it. The hummers always are around and I love to watch them. It's a great spot to watch the birds - and the squirrels, too!

Do you have a favorite spot in your garden?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Cows

There's something about cows that draws me to them over and over again. Not only are they such sweet creatures, they also remind me of my childhood when I was visiting all those farms with my Dad where he was vaccinating the cows against foot-and-mouth disease (this was during the 60's when this kind of vaccination was still done) or clipping on the earmarks. So when I saw this fence with these lovely cows behind it, I had to stop, get out of the car and take pictures of them.

Aren't they cute?

This one was particularly nosy.

Anybody who knows me is aware that I just don't simply take pictures of cows. Oh no! I talk to them as well - and as a result they come closer and closer to the fence, pushing each other out of the way. All of them want to see that crazy woman.

Some are more daring than others and put their nose through the barbed wire to sniff and lick the hand of that person. Cows are just like people - some are shy, some are brave, all are curious.

Have you ever noticed the beautiful and kind eyes of cows?

This is where they live - on juicy green meadows close to Tillamook in Oregon where they give their milk to be turned into lovely cheese and yogurt - and yummy ice cream! Thank you, cows!

Linking up with Theresa's Good Fences. Please come and visit some other fences as well!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Moon Over Yosemite

I'm joining Linda's Wednesday Wit and Wisdom once again. The challenge is to post a picture, then write a short story or a poem about the picture as a writing exercise. My inspiration today comes from this photo of the moon over Half Dome in Yosemite.

They had spent the entire day outside - walking through the snow covered meadows in the valley, sliding down a gentle slope in the afternoon, walking up to Mirror Lake and finally, after a dinner of pizza and some wine, the rest of the family had gone to the open air ice arena that was close to their cabin in Curry Village. She, however, had chosen not to skate but go further away from the village and watch the full moon over Half Dome, the landmark of Yosemite.

She stood at the low fence by the meadow, taking in the moon light and the silence. Every now and then laughter was heard from the ice arena, and if she turned around she could have seen the flickering light of the fire in the huge fire pit right next to the ice arena. But she didn't turn around. Her eyes were trained to the top of Half Dome that glowed mysteriously in the light of the moon.

Suddenly a shadow emerged from the trees to her left, a low shadow. Quietly it was moving toward her. She didn't even have to look to know immediately what it was. She stood perfectly still, only her eyes were following the shadow.

It was a coyote. A lone coyote strolling through the night, avoiding the loud humans and following the white patches that the moon painted on the ground. 

She almost held her breath, afraid to make a noise and scare the animal away. Her spirit animal. She didn't feel any fear, just gentle curiosity and a deep fondness. 

Finally the coyote noticed her. However, he didn't stop, just moved a little bit to the side and closely passed her in no hurry at all - as if he knew that she was some kind of kindred spirit and he was safe with her. She looked after him until he had disappeared among the deep shadows of the trees.

She stood there for a long time, staring to the trees. Then she turned around, cast a last look to the moon and slowly returned to their cabin.


Another true story...