Thursday, December 29, 2016

Chilly Nights, Frosty Mornings

We have had some gorgeous winter days here, with clear and sunny days that bring chilly nights and frosty mornings. Temperatures dip into the twenties during the night which is something we don't experience too often in our area (yes, we're quite lucky). When we get frost alerts, we usually cover our citrus trees because they don't like these low temperatures, but almost everything else will do just fine.

I went out into my garden one of these mornings to take some photos of the frost. It was rather lovely. The fence posts displayed ice crystals and even my little ceramic bird looked cold.

The plants that are around for winter were stunning with their frosty coats. The red and yellow gaillardia displayed the frost gracefully.

There were beautiful leaves that were even more gorgeous with their frozen dress.

The pineapple sage nodded gently even though it didn't take the cold too well.

There were still some seed heads of the purple coneflower standing. They were absolutely stunning this morning - I was so happy I was able to catch this with my macro.

Please stay warm, everybody!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Silence of Christmas Eve

It's Christmas Eve and today I want to share a blogpost again that I wrote four or five years ago when I was still writing for Vision and Verb. Recently my thoughts went to the time of Advent and Christmas back home - I felt so totally and completely "un-Christmassy" this year that somehow these thoughts silently crept into my mind. Kaefer and I were listening to some German Christmas carols while baking cookies and that's when my thoughts started to travel home.

In Germany, the “big day” is not Christmas Day (and we even have two of them!) but Christmas Eve – Heilig Abend (Holy Eve) as it is called. It usually starts out hectic, often with the last big shopping because all of the stores and supermarkets will be closed for the following two days. But around 2:00pm the shops (including the grocery stores) close and by 3:00pm at the latest a magical silence covers the entire country like a beautiful veil. The ideal December 24th brings snow in the afternoon and turns the world into a winter wonderland by the time the first church bells start to ring.

Oh, the sound of church bells – how much do I miss this! They ring every day (at 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning, at noon and again at 6:00pm), but on Christmas Eve all the bells are ringing, from the smallest, highest pitch to the biggest one with the deepest, loudest sound. It’s a concert of bells that resounds through the silence, calling for mass. Christmas services start in the later afternoon, the first ones mainly for smaller children, showing nativity plays and involving the kids. Later in the evening follow the more “grown-up” services with meaningful sermons and the old German Christmas carols sung by the congregation. Everybody knows these songs and since the churches are always packed on Christmas Eve it is a strong and joyful singing.

After church it’s back home – and waiting for Christkind (Christ Child). Yes – it often is not Santa coming through the chimney (there are not that many houses with a fireplace anyway) but Christkind. When I was a child I always envisioned Christkind with golden curly hair and a flowing white dress, an angelic smile on its face. It would place the presents in “die gute Stube” (“the good room” = living room) and magically disappear, unseen by anyone. The children are called in and they stand in awe looking at the Christmas tree – that was brought in and decorated only the day before (or even in the morning) and very often carries real candles on its branches (I’m a little bit afraid that those of you who have read about how we set the advent wreath on fire now might think of us as pyromaniacs). I have always loved the real candles, it smells differently and the whole atmosphere is – yes, magical. After singing a few Christmas carols everybody opens their presents accompanied by Christmas music on the radio.

And if you’re still awake or missed the afternoon/evening service you can go to midnight mass – always my favorite Christmas service. A huge tree is lit (some with real candles – we live dangerously in Germany!), the atmosphere is festive and peaceful – it is our “Silent Night, Holy Night”.

May the magic of Christmas touch your heart, wherever you are.

If you're celebrating Hanukkah, I wish you joy and happiness. May you have a peaceful Holiday of Lights.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Opt Outside

Are you busy this time of year? I know that I am. There is so much to do that I haven't had any time for visits in Blogland, and forget about writing a blogpost. My shop has been pretty busy over the past six weeks which makes me very happy. I participated in two holiday fairs and did well. On top of that I started a new part-time job in a high school library at the end of October - when I get a few pictures I will tell you more about that. Ten days ago Kaefer came home for the holidays and I enjoy every single minute with her. It is wonderful to hear her singing all the time, she's practicing the piano a lot and we binge watch old seasons of "Call the Midwife".

She was home a couple days over Thanksgiving as well. We celebrated Thanksgiving with friends of us and their extended family - a wonderful loud and crazy family, just the way I like it. On Black Friday we decided not to join the other famous craziness but opt outside instead. I think this started last year when REI announced that their stores are closed for Black Friday to give their employees - and customers - the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors. It was such a successful idea that it was repeated this year, and this time the California State Parks participated by giving away free passes. We were lucky to get a pass to our Sugarloaf Ridge State Park which is just 10 miles away from where we live.

It was a rather gray day, perfect for hiking. We did a four mile hike up the mountain and then across some meadows back down to the parking lot.

Every now and then we stopped for the views. Even here in the wilderness we could see vineyards - they seem to be everywhere in our county.

We walked through forests and open land, up and down, sometimes very steep. I'm not very good at steep climbing anymore...

But we were rewarded with great views from the top over the land to the bay - I think that you can see San Francisco from here on clear days.

There was still some fog lingering over the valleys.

On our way we saw so much beauty. Nature always fascinates me and I feel refreshed after spending time in the outdoors.

But the very best of this day was that I could spend it with my two favorite people.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Unique Art

This week five shops were chosen as Shops of the Week in our Rainbow Artists Team on Etsy. You will see that each of these shops is completely different and the artwork is very unique. I had a hard time choosing just one item from each shop - there are so many fantastic items.

But let's not linger longer but dive right in. The first artist is not that new to you - she is the same lovely woman who published this interview with me back in June - Michelle from Atman Art Studio. Michelle lives in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains in Australia. She creates intriguing ink drawings in interesting patterns - you can find spirals, waves, curves, circles, ovals, arrows and many more. Many of them are symmetrical in beautiful colors and interesting to look at. I am someone who likes spirals and therefore, this drawing (which also appears in her shop header) speaks to me:

Do you like sea shells? Are you collecting them when you walk along a beach and keep them as memories of carefree days? Then you should take a look at Gerry's shop Eagle 414 where you will find wonderful sea shell creations. There are wind chimes, mirrors, clocks, and - those are my favorites - keepsake ornaments. The artwork is incredible. What do you think?

Or perhaps you love pottery - I know that I do. Allison Glick Ceramics is a shop you want to look at - you might find a beautiful gift for someone or for yourself - yarn bowls for the knitter in your family, unique earring holders, Ikebana vases, barrettes - quite a variety. This shop is a mother-daughter team with Allison being the daughter and potter and Sheryl the mother and manager of the business. I have a huge weakness for mother-daughter businesses! One of my favorite items in their shop is this small ceramic bowl:

Talking of yarn bowls, let me go on to Cristina Radu's shop Cute Toys by Cristina. Why toys and yarn bowls? Because these toys are tiny crochet amigurumi toys (and yarn bowls are truly handy for people who crochet and knit) - most of them animals. Cristina lives in Bucharest in Romania and her miniature items are simply cute overload. Penguins, monkeys, bears, bunnies, giraffes, mermaids and even turtles - oh, why don't you go and look for yourself?

Last but by far not least there is Ol Billz Stuff from Montana. He lives right in the mountains and has gorgeous views of snow covered peaks from his home. Surrounded by nature and its wildlife his items - that he calls "stuff" - are related to and inspired by nature. He turns a deer bone that he finds outside into unique artwork. His earrings are made of sea glass or deer horn. Do you need a very unique gift for a man who likes to smoke the good stuff? What about a handcrafted elk horn pipe? Or are you looking for something even more unique? There is something for you, made out of a buffalo jaw:

This was our last "Shops of the Week" for this year. This post wouldn't be complete without a shout-out for our fantastic team leaders Debbie and John. They always come up with new ideas how to support their team members (us!) and their shops. It is heart warming to know that there are people like them around - you can find them in Sedona, AZ. If you can, please visit their shop Thunder Rose Leather. What you will find there, you ask? The most beautiful handmade leather handbags and pouches, and super cute baby moccasins as well. Many of their handcrafted items include excellent beadwork. I love this messenger bag made of elkskin leather and a beaded hummingbird.

Did you enjoy meeting these amazing artists?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

My Two Cents

My dear friends, it’s been a while since I was here the last time. Some of you might have had the funny feeling that my absence was caused by the result of our presidential election, and of course you’re right.

I try to keep my blog free of politics, but sometimes I just can’t sit by silently. This is one of those times.

Like so many other Americans I was glad that with November 8th this election campaign finally came to its long overdue end. My family and I had sent in our mail-in ballots two weeks before – our first presidential election since we had become US citizens. It was not only our vote for the president, but so many other decisions as well on the state, county and city level. It kept my husband and myself debating for weeks and finding our “yes” or “no” decision. It was a fruitful debate where we listened to each other and didn’t call the other one names when s/he didn’t share our opinion. The way it should be.

Since Brexit, however, I had a very bad feeling about the outcome of our election. The last few days before that fateful Tuesday the media acted as if it was no question that Hillary Clinton would win the election, and every time I wondered “how do you know?”

Well, they didn’t. I didn’t even watch the election results on Tuesday evening. The first results trickled in while our polling stations were still open. I curled up on the sofa with my knitting needles, feeling sick. When I only heard grunts from the Geek who was following the election on his computer, I knew that Donald Trump was about to win this election.

Has he? As it turned out, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. In any democratic country this would determine that she became the next president.

But this is the United States of America with the antiquated system of the Electoral College and we have to live with that. We have to accept the outcome of this election whether we like it or not. We can scream and have tantrums like two-year-olds or curl up in bed in denial – or we can try to be positive and contribute in a way that represents who we are and what we believe in.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not in favor of the mindless “get a grip and move on” attitude that we can hear so often right now. I will not forget neither forgive the dreadful things that were said during this campaign. I do not accept that it is okay to make fun of the disabled. I do not accept that it is okay to describe Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers. I do not accept that it is okay to call veterans losers because they were POW while serving our country. I do not accept that it is okay to grope and sexually harass women. I do not accept that one human race is seen as superior to other races. I do not accept that it is okay to turn an entire group of people in the world into scapegoats because of their religion. I do not accept that climate change is a “hoax”.

And the list goes on.

I worry for my daughter’s future. I worry that any men might sexually harass her without any consequences, that this is thought to be okay. I don’t understand how any woman can accept that and how any parent of a daughter can accept that. Thankfully I’ve raised a daughter who has very healthy confidence in herself and who doesn’t accept this either.

I worry for our planet’s future. We so often behave as if we had a second one in the trunk of our cars. Now we will have people in our government who might break away from the world’s mutual attempt to save the planet. Where will we go to when our beautiful Earth cannot provide for us any longer?

I wanted to give our next president the benefit of the doubt. I still want him to succeed for the sake of our nation. But when I see who he is appointing right now all my hopes and my heart sink.

So what can I do? I will continue with kindness in my life. So many little things – as simple as holding the door for someone – can bring a smile on someone’s face and lift their mood. So often I have heard someone say “you just made my day”. I will go on doing it. Rudeness and inconsideration shall not be part of my life. I will be watchful. I hope I find the courage to stand up in public for someone who is being harassed or bullied – after all, I wear a safety pin. I will go on doing my part in conserving the resources of our planet, in sustainable living. Good thing I have a very environmentally conscious daughter who is not afraid to step on my toes if I’m thoughtless. That is the spirit!

These are my two cents.


And with this I return to blogging about walks around the lake, knitting baby cardigans and hats with sheep, and photos of the beautiful islands of Hawai’i.

To all of you in the US, have a happy and peaceful Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Secret Garden Shawl

Quite a while back I found a beautiful shawl with the name Secret Garden on Alana Dakos' beautiful blog Never Not Knitting. I loved it right from the start, but it took a while until I bought the pattern. When my students at the German School gave me a gift certificate for my favorite yarn store I finally got three skeins of Tosh Merino Light (the recommended yarn in the pattern), a scrumptious hand dyed yarn in fingering weight. I chose the color "tart" which is a rich darker shade of red.

The pattern looked complicated and of course, at the beginning I didn't "get" it, but finally I had a humble beginning.

Despite making a lot of mistakes and redoing entire rows I kept on knitting and after a week it had grown considerably.

Every row in this pattern is different, and every row consists of sections - a section that is repeated several times along the row. After having done several mistakes I got into the habit of counting the stitches in each section, so I marked the beginning of a section with a piece of short yarn. When I was done with a section I simply moved the yarn forward so that I didn't lose count.

As you can see the pattern consists of a lot of cables. I first worked with a bamboo cable needle, but I didn't like it that much. Then I saw a YouTube video where a knitter used a different kind of cable needle that looked like a big hook. One of the craft/fabric stores in town had it and with this the cables were much easier and faster to knit up.

However, this still wasn't my last improvement. After a while I found moving the yarn forward and counting the stitches in each section tiresome. I decided to use small ring markers for each section that would stay there permanently. Now suddenly things really moved along since I didn't have to count the stitches in each section anymore!

Halfway done...

And then disaster struck! About a little more than three quarters along the row my needles broke. Suddenly I had a very short piece of the circle needle in my left hand and the rest in my right one with several stitches dropping off the needle. Holy cow!!! I was close to tears and couldn't move for a few minutes. However, I knew that somehow I had to get the stitches on whatever needle as fast as possible before they messed up the entire pattern. These were very intense moments and it's a wonder that I didn't yell at my poor husband who asked whether he could help me somehow. I just tried to focus and get those stitches back on a needle!

No, I don't have a photo of the disaster - are you kidding me?

The following day I got a new needle and settled back into knitting, one section and one row at a time. The shawl grew and grew...

... until the day before we flew out to Hawai'i it was done. Finished!

I felt wonderful when I had weaved in the last one of the threads. And a little proud as well.

It was quite difficult to get a photo of the entire shawl in all its glory.

There was the option of making a button hole, albeit in a very odd position. It took me two months to buy a button for it and sew it on!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Handmade Playfulness

My friends, this week I'm taking you to four artists' shops where you can let loose and let your playfulness out. All of today's shops are fun and very unique. That's the beauty of Etsy!

First I want you to meet Cindy Doty of Cinful Designs. She lives in beautiful Brookings on the Oregon coast where she makes jewelry and wonderful art dolls. Both jewelry and art dolls are unique, and for me it's the art dolls that always bring a big happy smile on my face. Have you ever thought of dress miniatures as ornaments? Well, how do you like this?

April Luna from Los Angeles, CA is owner of Moon Of Light Talismans. She creates raw crystal and electroformed jewelry and each piece is very unique. If you are looking for some one-of-a-kind jewelry you should definitely pay a visit and browse April's shop. I very much like this beautiful necklace:

With Catherine's shop Tribal Handmade we enter the fairy and fantasy world. Be prepared for cuteness overload. She lives in Lviv in Ukraine where she also makes jewelry besides little fairy houses. It was hard to decide which one to showcase here because all of them are so pretty. This Adriatic coast fairy house is the "winner":

Luna Essence in South Cairo, NY is a shop full of gorgeous handmade jewelry and small handbags. The jewelry is inspiring - you can find Aztec earrings, handcrafted brooches among others, and this fantastic boho style filigree cuff. I love the colors!!

I hope you enjoyed our little "shopping spree"!!!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Let Me Take You on a Walk

Autumn is such a beautiful time to take walks in the middle of the day. The summer heat is just a distant memory, the light of the sun is warm and soft - a perfect time to go outside and walk the neighborhood. I love to see how the gardens are changing in the seasons and what people put in their front yards. Of course, I'm also always looking for inspiration.

There are stunning fall decorations everywhere, be it a gorgeous porch or just a single pumpkin in a birdbath.

Every time I find some new bird houses, either in someone's front yard or tucked away in a tree.

Front yards are always an inspiration for me. I like to see what other people put in their yards, what kind of plants (I'm not fond of lawns), whether there are places to relax and how do they decorate? Is there something I would like to have in my yard?

I certainly like this bird bath a lot.

This little guy looks so cheerful! I actually expected him to start swinging his legs!

I love to see gates leading to the back gardens. Some of them have the air of a fairy tale about them and you wonder what is behind the gate.

Rain or shine, autumn is always full of surprises and colors.

My garden is still beautiful. The gaillardia doesn't look like it will stop blooming anytime soon. The Chinese Pistache has been spectacular this fall. The first two years its leaves turned to a lovely yellow and orange, but this years the color palette included a rich and warm red that was simply stunning.

I hope all of you in the Northern Hemisphere are experiencing a beautiful and memorable autumn.

Have you seen any fences in this post? Yes? Let's link to Theresa's Good Fences then!