Sunday, January 26, 2020

Favorite Photos of 2019 and a Giveaway

This is one of my favorite posts to write - showing you my favorite photos from the past year and then you can choose your favorite 3 images - and there even will be one lucky winner. I've done this the past couple years and I always enjoyed your responses so very much.

So here's how it works: you will see my top 15 favorite photos of last year. Many of them you already saw in an blogpost, but some may be new to you. I would love you to tell me in the comments which 3 images out of these photos are your favorites. Sometimes you might like a photo so much that you want to give it all of your three votes - you can do that, too. Or one photo gets two votes and another the remaining one. You can divide your three votes however you like. All the photos have numbers, so just put in the numbers in the comments. By next week's Sunday I will see which three photos have made the top, and one of you - chosen randomly - will get those three photos as greeting cards. This giveaway is open worldwide, so don't hesitate if you live on the other side of the world.

Without further ado, here we go:

1. Buckeyes

2. Autumn Glory

3. Raindrops

4. The light in the vineyard

5. Winter vineyard

6.  The California Coast

7.  The Grand Canyon

8. Point Arena

9. In the Mission courtyard

10. Lavender Fields Forever

11. The Lavender Barn

12. Misty morning at the coast

13. Poppies

14. Sonoma doors

15. Late autumn at the coast

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Winter Day at the Beach

Kaefer came home for the long MLK weekend to celebrate my 60th birthday - one of the best presents I could get. She was a bit sick with a cold, so we stayed mainly at home watching British crime shows, but on Sunday we made a trip up North to Gualala. Our county ends a mile or so before Gualala, just South of the Gualala River, and Gualala Point Regional Park still is within Sonoma County. Since I buy the Regional Parks Pass every year, we can spend as much time there as we like without paying the daily parking fee.

It was a pretty wild day at the beach with tall and fast waves that relentlessly crashed onto the shore. I love watching this show - but always from a safe distance.

It always surprises me how many people underestimate the ocean and its power. The Pacific in our area is dangerous because beside its "normal" waves there are also so-called sleeper or sneaker waves that are much taller and stronger. They can easily pull people out into the sea and if you're stuck in a rip current it's time to say your prayers.

This is exactly what you shouldn't do:

Walking along the beach I always look for shells, driftwood, sea glass and interesting things. I don't know what this is, it looks soft but is much harder to the touch. Maybe it is a part of some kelp?

The beach was littered with driftwood. Sometimes I find interesting pieces that I take home and put in my garden. They make beautiful natural decoration.

The different shades and colors of the wood are fascinating. My favorite definitely was the red one, which in some places almost had a purple hue.

We also found other beautiful things of which I'm not quite sure what it is - it looked like parts of some plants. Can you see the delicate "skeleton" of the dark leaf in the bottom picture of these three photos?

We spent an hour on the beach and then hiked up and along the cliffs with fabulous views of the wild ocean. How can someone ever tire of the sea? At the end of the trail within the park we turned left to return to the parking lot. It's a beautiful trail through a wooded area and here we discovered some stunning looking mushrooms.

This fungus is called Amanita muscaria, or fly agaric. They are known for their hallucinogenic properties and they can kill you if you eat too many of them. In German we call it "Fliegenpilz" which translates to fly mushroom or fly fungus. I had never seen them before and was fascinated by their distinctive appearance.

After a good meal of local rock fish and chips at the Gualala Seafood Shack and some coffee and peanut butter cheesecake at Trinks Café we headed home along famous Highway 1, stopping several times to admire the moody atmosphere over the ocean.

All photos were taken with my Pixel 3XL.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Books and a Movie

As I have done over the past couple years I take a look back at the books I read in 2019. Most of the books I read on my Kindle, but every now and then I sit down with a "real" book. Some books are very impractical for the Kindle, like art and photography books, cookbooks etc.

In 2019 I read 60 books including two audiobooks that we listened to while traveling to Arizona. I always write the titles down in a big notebook, noting the author and when I have finished it. I also scribble a little star next to the title if I really liked the book. When I look at that list now I see that I was far less generous with those stars in 2019, but I also introduced the two-stars for excellent reads. And I'm happy to see that there are three of them.

These three novels are "The Summer Guest" by Justin Cronin - a story about a family and their summer guest set in a remote area in Maine that pulls you in right from the beginning with well developed characters and written in a beautiful language -, "When we Believed in Mermaids" by Barbara O'Neal - the story of two sisters who had lived apart for many years, believing that one of them was dead; set in Santa Cruz and New Zealand I was drawn in by the unusual story line and the many questions that came up about my own life while reading this novel - and "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" by Gabrielle Zevin - a very slow, beautiful story about a book seller whose life gets shaken up and takes an interesting and wonderful turn when he finds a mysterious package at his store. Other books I liked are "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine" by Gail Honeyman, "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens, "To See and See Again" by Tara Bahrampour and "The Trouble with Goats and Sheep" by Joanna Cannon. There were also books I truly disliked, eventually only scanned or didn't finish at all, like "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood. I also read Margaret Craven's "I Heard the Owl Call my Name" again, my all-time favorite.

Over the summer break I took home a few books from the high school library because I thought it's a good idea if I knew what the students are reading in English class, and there were quite some books I hadn't read before.

My favorite among these books is "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie which is hilariously funny and sad at the same time. Great read for high school students!

But there were also other books in 2019 - like this wonderful cookbook. I had read about it in our local paper's "Home" section and was intrigued. It's full of recipes of immigrant women, who were trying to bring some of their home countries to their new home by cooking the familiar food. But it's not only recipes you can find in this gem of a cookbook. It's the stories of the immigrant women that makes this book so precious to me since I am an immigrant myself. I still have to try any of the recipes, but I'm determined that 2020 is the year for that.

Of course there were books about photography, some of them I pull out again and again.

David DuChemin is one of my favorite photographers, but as a humanitarian he is also a tremendously inspiring personality. I love to listen to his podcasts, he has a very open mind and what I love about him so much is that he has a lot of advice and inspiring ideas, but he never uses the words "you should". In contrast to that, "Shooting with Soul" was a bit disappointing - some nice ideas, but it certainly didn't inspire me in the way "The Soul of the Camera" did. I'm working my way through "Zen Camera" bit by bit and can't say very much about it at this time.

Just like last year I couldn't resist some "drool" books. "Chasing Light" had been on my mind for quite some time. I had first seen it in one of the visitor centers in Yellowstone National Park in 2017, but had opted for a different book back then. When I saw it again in the visitor center of Saguaro National Park last spring I saw that as a "sign" and bought it. I did not regret it.

There are two more "difficult" books I want to talk about here, books about local matters. About the October 2017 firestorm, to be precise, the one that wiped out several neighborhoods in my town. "Pointe Patrol" is the very personal story of one home owner who along with some neighbors and his dog patrolled their neighborhood after that fateful night on the one hand to prevent further fires since there were still some smoldering and on the other hand to deter people from looting. I was only able to read it in bits and pieces since it brings back so many painful memories. Brian Fies' "A Fire Story" is a graphic novel that he started right after the first night when he had lost his home and tells his own personal story. The first "chapters" of his book appeared within the first week of the fire if I recall correctly. It is raw and very emotional.

Before I leave I want to mention a very special movie I watched (again) this year. I had shown it to my German students at the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It describes the events before November 9th, 1989, particularly what happened in the West German embassy in Prague. "Zug in die Freiheit" (Train to Freedom) is a documentary with time witnesses, original footage and played scenes. I have seen it several times, but every time I feel the same emotions, the tight knot in my stomach, the utter relief at the end. Even though I know how these events ended, it keeps the moment of that autumn 30 years ago very real and alive for me. You can find a preview of the movie here: and it is possible to rent it on Vimeo. Luckily the violent scenes you see in the preview are only rare ones in the movie, but they are heartbreaking nevertheless.

What were you reading in 2019? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Climbing Workout - the Vessel

One of the structures I was very curious to see in New York was the Vessel. At the end (or the start) of the High Line, both were features that weren't there during our first visit to the Big Apple. The Vessel - which still hasn't got its permanent name - was only opened in March 2019 and hadn't even made it into my travel guide. I only knew about it because I had seen pictures of it on Instagram and I was intrigued.

I'm not even sure how to describe it. Wikipedia describes it as a "elaborate honeycomb-like structure [that] rises 16 stories and consists of 154 flights of stairs, 2,500 steps, and 80 landings for visitors to climb". That pretty much sums it up.

The Vessel was built as part of the Hudson Yard Redevelopment Project in Manhattan to plans by British designer Thomas Heatherwick. The steps are arranged like a jungle gym and modeled after Indian stepwells.

Well, I sure felt like being in a gym - there was a lot of climbing involved. I was determined to reach the top, and I did. It was actually quite fun to take the different stairs. I chose to climb the stairs in a circular way and thus rounded the entire structure more than once.

I liked the view of this hotel's outdoor space with cozy sofas, swimming pool and saunas.

The reflections in the copper were fantastic and, of course, upside down.

Back down on the ground I looked up - it looks so different from down there and truly interesting. You can see the elevator in this picture which, as far as I understand, was put in a bit later after the structure had received a lot of criticism because of its lack of accessibility for disabled people.

The look upwards from outside the structure:

We came back in the evening after dark because we were wondering whether there was some special light installed. There wasn't, but the decorated trees in front of it lit everything up beautifully.