My Posts at Vision & Verb

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It's Been Thirteen Years

At the beginning of last week it’s been 13 years since we moved to the US. These 13 years in California have been anything but dull. There were times that resembled more the ride on a roller coaster, when we existed in some kind of limbo, not knowing whether we had to pack our suitcases again or not. This has eased very much since we received our status as Legal Permanent Residents. However, life has been exciting which is probably more due to our busy family life than to living in California; living in a foreign country, however, does add a certain spice. 
Every now and then the question comes up where my real home is. Is it the country at the heart of Europe which I was born in, where I grew up and lived for more than 40 years? Or is it the country where most of my own family’s life took place? 
When I look at political, religious and plain everyday issues I find myself deeply rooted in the “old” world, in the European body of thought. I don’t get the obsession with guns. It boggles my mind how some people call themselves patriotic, mount at least two American flags on the bed of their pick-up truck and then throw the remains of their fast food meal out of the car window, trashing the country they claim to love so much. I don’t understand why perfectly healthy people are not able to bag their own groceries at the supermarket’s checkout. I don’t grab why more money is spent for the military than for educating the children, this country’s future. The amount of trash is appalling – and it is everywhere. I think the two-party system chokes the country and I often miss the lively political landscape in Germany that can be often ridiculous, but at least it’s entertaining and common sense is still prevailing (in the most part). And I still need to find someone who explains to me – as if I was six years old – what is wrong with universal health care. 
But – 
There is the other side. The side of America that I love, that makes me defend this country against any non-American who does not live here but dares to criticize it (the same, by the way, happens when someone criticizes Germany who clearly has no idea what s/he is talking about). First, there is the love for the land, as simple as that. I live in an incredible beautiful part of the country that has two big problems – earthquakes and droughts. Some of the most stunning landmarks are only a day’s drive or two away – the Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains, Bryce Canyon, Arches National Park, Yellowstone. “My” Yosemite is closer to home, and so is the entire West Coast that just takes your breath away. But it’s also the people, the kindness and generosity of so many people I have met during those 13 years. I have found some really good friends here. I love how many people volunteer and give their time for a worthwhile cause. Starting your own business is easy (maintaining and making it successful is something else, though). 
It is easy to fall in love with this side of the US. I’m not sure whether it keeps the other side in balance. But it sure makes you feel at home. I’m more at home in California now than in Germany, no matter how much I miss some aspects of life there. Going to Europe has become so much more exciting – back to my roots.

What Do We Know Of Our Parents?

After my Dad had died a few weeks ago, my brother and I were working on the speech for the memorial, trying to recapture the important events in his life. Since my brother lives in Germany he was the one who cleared out our Dad’s apartment. While doing that, he found a lot of old legal papers and documents that revealed to us parts of my Dad’s life we knew only little about. My brother and I talked on the phone asking ourselves what we really knew about our parents, what was there that they didn’t talk about? It turned out that I knew a bit more than he did because over the course of the last few years I had often asked my Dad specific questions about some parts in his life – mainly his youth – and he had finally told me. 
My Dad was born as one of five children in Marienburg which today is Malbork in Poland. This area, called West Prussia (unfortunately mistaken for East Prussia by most people), was part of Germany for centuries (Marienburg was founded by the Knights of the Teutonic Order in the 13th century), and it clearly was my Dad’s home – a home that after the war was lost for him forever and that he always carried in his heart. Even when it finally became possible he wouldn’t travel there – he preferred to keep it the way he remembered it from his youth. He told me about ice-skating on the frozen river Nogat, about swimming in the nearby lakes, rowing on the river and playing on the small islands in the lakes. His childhood was wild and free. In the early 90’s, when we could finally travel to Eastern Europe without any restrictions, I went to see my Dad’s childhood home with my own eyes. At that time, nature was still rather unspoiled there and I began to understand why my Dad always missed this beautiful land with its hidden lakes, geese running across dirt roads, children playing in the reed and climbing trees. It was a child’s paradise. 
But there was also sorrow. I had known that his baby brother and younger sister had died. But I was completely unaware of the fact that both children had died within the same week. He had never told us and I only found out through legal documents. He was only 14 when his siblings died – how did this affect him? (I can’t even imagine what it meant to his parents.) 
Then the war started – he was 15. Right after he had graduated from high school he did what all the men did at that time – he went to war, 18 years young. He served in the Navy. In 1943 his oldest brother whom he loved and admired was killed in Russia – another big blow to an already fragile life. At the end of the war he was taken prisoner of war by the British and spent a year in a prisoner camp in Belgium. He never talked much of that time. 
Not even 22 years old he was released and tried to make his way in a destroyed country. The stories he told me about that time are rough and wild – how he travelled in an open freight car across the country; how hard it was to get any information where his parents and relatives were; and finally how he managed to go to university and become a veterinarian. These are stories he told me only in the last few years and only when I asked him – he never volunteered any information. I wrote down everything he told me – I remember sitting at the table, one hand on the phone, the other writing frantically, trying to get names and places right I had never heard of before. And still I feel there is so much I don’t know, that no one knows – and there is no one left to ask.

When I was a child, my Dad was the photographer of the family. It was very different from nowadays where everybody has a device that takes pictures and everything can be instantly shared. At that time – the sixties and seventies – photography was reserved for something special – birthdays, graduations, vacations. 
My Dad had a solid SLR where nothing was automatic and you learned taking photos from experience. Film was expensive and so were prints which is why my Dad mainly used slides. My parents saved money so that we could take one big family vacation in the summer. They took us all over the map of Western Europe and thus created a never ending curiosity for foreign countries and cultures in both my brother and myself. 
There were photos of each vacation. Photos of landscapes, buildings – and the family. Without my Dad – because he was behind the camera. The photo family consisted of my Mom, my older brother and myself. 
Until – one photo taken in 1968. My Dad is in the picture! It was during a hike in the Austrian Alps that my Dad and I were talking about his camera. When we were resting next to a waterfall he suddenly said “take the camera, child” – and I took my very first photo ever. 
It was the beginning of a lifelong passion. When I was ten I got my first own camera, a Kodak Instamatic. I was happy as a clam, but after a few years the limited possibilities of this camera was not enough for me anymore. I wanted to be more creative, and finally, while I already went to university, my biggest wish was a “real” camera. 
My Dad did all the research (he loved this wish of mine) and then presented me with a Nikon EM for Christmas. Again, he explained it to me and then gave me the advice to write everything down what I did for the first few rolls of film. And I did – aperture, shutter speed. I learned to change the ASA (later replaced by ISO) to “trick” the camera. I started to rely solely on light and almost never use the flash. I enjoyed composing my pictures. My view of everything around me changed over time. There was (and still is) a lot of experimenting. 
The Nikon EM was my companion for 25 years. It was with me on four continents, remained reliable in horrific subtropical rain and hot desert sand. When it finally gave out I felt as if a part of me gave out as well. 
Starting out with digital photography opened a completely new world for me and I enjoy every moment of it. But it can never bring back the excitement I felt for every roll of film that came back from the developer, the cutting and framing of the slides. 
Last week my Dad died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 89.  He gave me one of the biggest gifts – a lifelong passion that will always connect me to him.

The Sea, The Sea - It's So Elemental

The Pacific Ocean is right at our door step, only a short hour away. Away from the urban crowds you can step onto our rugged beaches with their grey, rough sand. I often wonder why we don’t go there more often. 
Last Monday – a holiday – we finally went again. It was a brilliant, sunny day – we have had so many of them recently, not the usual rainy and chilly January days. It was warm as well – warmer than on some summer days at the ocean when the fog often plays the major role. 
And the ocean was rough. Very rough. A winter ocean at its best. 
Waves like giants thundered towards the beach. They crashed against rocks, and their white spray flew up angrily. The water roared noisily. Untamed nature. Beauty that never fails. 
We sat on the rocks and watched these wild waves. They were huge. Every seven minutes or so, the sleeper waves rolled in, even bigger than the normal waves and far more dangerous because they seem to come out of nowhere. Suddenly the water rises, the waves build up tall and taller until they finally break with a thunderous roar and crash in wild tumult unto the shore. 
A spectacle that I never tire to witness. It is the wild untamed life of the sea that will never cease to fascinate me.

Making Time

When a year gets closer to its end, I often find myself looking back to the past twelve months, having my own private review of the year. Often, because of it usual busy-ness, it focuses on school and work. Some low- and highlights stand out. When I ask myself whether the year was a good one, my answers are not always positive. 
Repeatedly, I notice the same thing: there wasn’t enough time. So much happened in a rush that the things I value so much left unnoticed – a beautiful sunrise, the happy chatter of birds in my garden, how the wind plays in the leaves of the trees, the silent traveling of clouds. Many emails and letters have never been answered. Often I hadn’t the time to read my favorite blogs, let alone books. 
However, one important thing remains – there was always time for a hug. “Every 15 Minutes” slowed me down a little bit. My daughter never again left for school without an “I love you” from both of us. There was always time for a good laugh in our family, and we always made time to come together to the table for our evening meal. 
And the other things? Those that bring more color into my life? I want to make time for them – writing letters, having “conversations” with my friends via email, working more on my blog which I love so much. This also means letting go – mainly letting go of numbers, the numbers of my little business. I do not want them to dictate my life any longer. Of course I will go on working hard for My Little Shop, but I will not allow it to rule my life any longer. There are more things to life than numbers. I’m dreaming of working in my studio just for ME for a change, not only for my business. Perhaps I should make time for that. 
I want to watch the birds that are so plentiful at the feeders right now. There will be walks around the lake and hopefully hikes with my friend again. I miss those hikes. I miss nature. I will not only take time for that – I will MAKE time for it.

Every 15 Minutes

Every 15 minutes someone in the United States is injured or killed in an alcohol-related incident. “Every 15 Minutes” also is a nationwide program that takes a pro-active step in educating high school students about making mature decisions when alcoholic beverages are involved. 
In October my daughter’s high school was hosting this two day event. “Emotional” cannot even remotely describe this event – it was moving, heartbreaking, intense, powerful, and – hopefully – had a high impact on the participating students as well as the teenage audience (and the parents who were present). 
On the first day a car crash simulation was held. Police, fire and ambulance responded to this emergency as they would to an actual crash. Five students were involved – one was pronounced dead at the scene, three died on the way to or in the hospital, and the (uninjured) drunk driver was given a field sobriety test, arrested and brought to jail, where he was taken before a judge for sentencing. The parents of these five students were notified by police (including the law enforcement chaplain) that their children were killed or arrested (of course these parents knew about it beforehand). In addition, every 15 minutes throughout the school day, another participating high school student’s obituary was read, detailing the alcohol involved incidents that caused his or her death. 
On the second day, a “memorial” was held. A video of the previous day’s events was shown were we saw what happened at the hospital and in jail. There were speeches, the most memorable one by the undertaker who talked about what happens afterwards, what the consequences for the families left behind look like. I will never forget his image of “the empty chair at the dining table” that holds all the horrors in its simplicity. Letters the “dead” students had written were read. Most heartbreaking was the letter of a mother. 
Yes, it wasn’t real – but it felt frighteningly real. I have never seen 1600 teenager being so quiet. A few seats down from me sat a senior boy who was openly weeping. Many of the teenagers (and all of the parents) cried. Tissue boxes were handed from one person to the next. It was moving and immensely powerful. 
Did it have an impact? I have high hopes that all the students who actively participated will never be involved in drunk driving, and so I hope as well for all the other teenagers who witnessed this event. 
You can read more about the “Every 15 Minutes” program Here, and if you’re interested to see the program in action, there is a very good video from Santa Rosa High School Here.

The Norwegian Family Of My Teens

When I was in my teens I enjoyed reading books by the Norwegian writer Berte Bratt. Her books were for young girls between roughly the age of 12 and 17, and I loved almost all of them. I would start reading a new novel by her and I wouldn’t stop until the end. These stories were my treasure, the world I disappeared into, and I read them over and over again. I got my first of her books for my 12th birthday and I was hooked. 
A good part of her many books were centered around the Rywig family in Oslo. We were introduced to the family when Beate, in her early twenties, comes as a “mother’s help” into the Rywig household – a rather dysfunctional family of the widowed Dr. Rywig, his twin daughters and two sons. Soon, Beate wins over the hearts of first the twins, then the boys and finally the doctor who marries her. From there all the other stories develop – we witness the twins growing up and becoming responsible and loving adults. The oldest son years later falls in love with the new mother’s help and eventually marries her. Friends are introduced who will get their own story and so on. My favorite book was the story of Sonja, one of the twin girls, who develops a deep love for East Africa and its wildlife. Lucky girl she is, she wins a guided tour to Tanzania and finally sees Serengeti National Park, a place she has dreamed about. Of course she also meets a young German zoologist during that tour who dreams about working in Tanzania – and of course they marry and after some trials they can fulfill their dream of living and working in Tanzania. 
Berte Bratt (1905-1990), whose real name was Annik Saxegaard, had a way of telling great stories that were filled with her values that then became her reader’s values as well: honesty, honor, family, being there for each other, love, believing in your dreams and working towards fulfilling them. Keeping a family happy and doing all the work in the home was important in her books – when I recently re-read some of them (yes, I still have them) I noticed for the first time how often these girls and young women are ironing – a household chore I have completely banned from my own life. But even now, as a woman over fifty, I find these values still valid and I also realize what an important role they have played in my life. The books are very old fashioned – I found myself smiling very often when I read them again a few weeks ago – and I’m not sure whether a modern girl would enjoy reading them, but for me their values were kind of a guide through my life. I still remember many of the stories very fondly and I don’t think I will ever give these books away.

Sitting Around The Campfire

When we sat around the campfire on the first camping night during our vacation in British Columbia this July, I realized how much I had missed that. Being in a not very crowded primitive campground (those are our favorites) in the middle of nature, hearing the birds sing their evening songs and smelling burned wood is the essence of summer for me. 
I became a camping fan only after having moved to the States. I grew up in a non-camping family – my parents didn’t like it at all. In their defense I have to admit that most campgrounds in Europe lack the charm of campgrounds on the North American continent. They usually are places of utter craziness, crowded with almost no privacy. US and Canadian campgrounds are completely different. 
We discovered camping out of necessity when we travelled through Alaska in 2005. Not willing to pay the steep prices hotels were asking there, we bought a tent, good sleeping bags, mats and cooking accessories. The first night in Talkeetna – Fourth of July – was a nightmare, but already the following night at Wonder Lake in the heart of Denali National Park showed us what camping can offer: being in the middle of nature with all its beauty – a glowing Mount Denali at midnight –, and challenges – mosquitoes and roaming grizzly bears. From that moment on we were hooked. 
We camped in many locations from the West to the East Coast and in Canada, and we camped in all seasons, including a freezing cold Christmas night in Arches National Park. We heard howling wolves at dawn in the middle of Yellowstone and yipping coyotes during the small hours in Yosemite. We had bison walk through our campsite and chipmunks join us for breakfast. 
It is not the most comfortable way to spend the night, but the closeness to Mother Nature is priceless. When finally the campfire is only a glow in the dark you can see the stars above you and realize how small we are.

Gliding Through Calm Water

In July my family and I spent two weeks in beautiful British Columbia. We visited Vancouver where my daughter had scheduled a campus tour at UBC (what a great place to study!), toured the Sunshine Coast, explored the north of Vancouver Island, enjoyed the mountains at Whistler and relaxed for a few days at our relatives’ farm in the Okanagan Valley. We were mainly camping which we hadn’t done for two years and enjoyed our quiet evenings around the campfire, roasting marshmallows and reading. 
However, the most beautiful part of this wonderful trip was the time we spent on ferries. All in all, we had to take four ferries in order to get from A to B in this part of British Columbia where the ocean with its straits and sounds seems to get into every tiny nook of the land. Waiting alone to board the ferry was already relaxing when we just looked out on the water, maybe licking some delicious ice cream. But being on the boat was even better. We always spent the rides on the outside decks, taking in the breath taking landscape around us. There were tiny islands completely covered with forests; bigger (but still small) islands with a few houses on them and their own private dock with a boat (what a way to live!). The mainland to the East and North with its snow covered mountain peaks in the near distance. And the ferry was gliding quietly with just a steady tremor through the calm waters of the beautiful straits and sounds. 
Standing on deck and watching the world pass by was touching my soul. It was almost meditative. I felt becoming quiet and just being in the moment. Thoughts entered my mind and left again. Nothing stayed except the feeling of utter peacefulness.

The Angels Are Bowling

Usually thunderstorms are rather rare in this part of coastal Northern California. There are not more than two of them in a year at the most, and almost all of them happen in the winter. Even then, they are short lived – a little bit of lightning, two or three thunders and that’s it. Nothing remarkable at all and a far cry from the thunderstorms I experienced in Germany and East Asia. 
However, this year is anything but a usual year. 
Last Sunday night I woke up to rolling thunder and lightning flashes that seem to chase each other. The neighborhood was lit up in their blazing light and the thunder was so loud that the windows rattled and you thought the entire house was shaking (which is not so unusual here in California after all). More over, the thunderstorm seemed to be trapped and didn’t move along. For more than an hour it hang over our area, splashing us with some desperately needed rain and keeping us awake with its tremendous thunder and lightning. 
While I was lying in my bed waiting for the storm to move further away, I remembered the thunderstorms back home in Germany. As a child I was afraid of them, and some grown ups tried to comfort me by telling me that “the angels are bowling”. When I grew older I discovered the fascination of thunderstorms – when you were safely inside. I loved to watch the sky turn dark grey, sometimes with a hint of green, and the first lightning bolts racing to the ground. I still didn’t like the thunder very much, though. Heavy rainfall, often hail, would soon follow. It always happened in the heat of summer and only very rarely in the winter. While living in Taiwan, one afternoon a thunderstorm started out of nowhere on my way home from the university. I had to walk through a long stretch of rice fields, and half way down the path was a pig stable. The rain was so heavy as was the thunder and lightning that I saw no other way but seeking refuge there. It was no more than a shed. There I was standing, water dripping down my back, right next to a huge grunting sow! It made a great story afterward though - it was a thunderstorm I’ve never forgotten. 
So when the thunderstorm finally moved away last Sunday, I turned in my bed, ready to go to sleep again and thought that the angels sure had some fun that night.

Almost A Meadow

As some of you might remember, I ripped Out Our Front Lawn last summer. Over many weeks I replaced it first with a layer of cardboard and covered that with a three inch layer of compost. Almost 1900 square feet of dirt broke down over the fall and winter into spring. 
Knowing that I can hardly plant the entire area in just one year, I put out seeds of poppies (Papaver), California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) and other local wildflowers over one part of the dirt. Other parts I started to plant in late fall with drought tolerant, native plants. I mixed in some native shrubs, grasses and lavender. And then I just let it rest over the winter. 
Soon after the winter rains had started the first seedlings appeared. The only ones I recognized were the California poppies, but I wasn’t sure about many of the other ones. I even wondered whether some of them were actually weeds instead of wildflowers (which sometimes can be the same anyway). Since I didn’t know for sure I decided to just wait it out and see what would emerge out of those seedlings. 
What I finally got is almost a meadow – a beautiful meadow of orange, pink, red, white, lavender and blue flowers. The California poppies dominate by far; I call them the happy flowers. The loveliest surprise, however, have been the papaver poppies. They came along fierce and strong in beautiful colors, some of them bicolor. I discover new ones on a daily basis, and their exquisite beauty makes my heart sing. The flowers don’t last very long, a few days at the most, but their beauty isn’t gone since the flowers are followed by their gorgeous unique seedpods. 
Hopefully they will reseed and show their beauty again next year. 


The recent weeks have been rather weird in our home. My husband has been sick since the beginning of the year, and for a very long time we had no idea what was going on. We even had to suspect cancer, but a PET-scan confirmed it was benign. You can imagine our relief. 
My daughter’s freshman year at high school has turned out extremely work intensive. She has also joined one the school choirs, and with the choir she went to Los Angeles for the Heritage Festival. The kids were gone for four days (including a day at Disneyland as a reward), but the last few weeks before that were very hectic. 
Over all this care and looking after my family and my own little business, I had gradually lost myself. I did a lot of painting which kept a bit of my sanity, but there were so many fears and things that shouldn’t be forgotten, that it didn’t offer the usual refuge. I didn’t even feel the pull to grab my camera, get out and take some photos. 
So last Saturday morning, when my daughter attended yet another choir festival at the local university, I decided to go to a close by regional park that is nestled among the lovely hilly vineyards in that area. 
I was there way before eight o’clock, the sun had just crept over the hills and I had the park almost completely to myself. The air was filled with the most beautiful birdsong and the wind rustled the leaves of the old trees. I walked along the narrow trails, enjoying the wildflowers and the peacefulness. Every now and then, butterflies trundled on the path before me. 
It was then that nature fulfilled its wonders in calming me, grounding me. I felt the stiffness leaving my shoulders and my step becoming more energetic. It was only a matter of moments that I started picking up my camera and taking photos – pictures of birds, poppies, trees, geese in a live oak, holes in fence posts, views over the vineyards. From one point in the park I could see the hall where my daughter was singing in that moment. A hot air balloon was gliding over wine country. 
I finally felt grounded again. I felt myself again. Nature had worked its magic again. It never ever fails me.

Until The Cows Come Home

One cow, that is. One beautiful Holstein-Friesian metal cow that came home – my home – two weeks ago. She has two long horns, a typical cow tail, beautiful big ears and a red bell hanging around her neck. She looks rather sassy. She’s pretty big, too – a small child could easily sit on her. 
It was love at first sight. I discovered her at my favorite nursery in town some months ago and she has been on my mind ever since. The nursery has sold metal animals for quite some years now, starting out with beautiful blue goats. All these metal animals – mainly farm animals – are created by a group of artists in Mexico. They are rather roughly made and wonderfully imperfect – and exactly that makes each of them a real character. You look at them and you just have to love them. 
When I saw “my” cow for the first time, she stood between the penstemon and some salvia, looking up to the customers passing by her. Right there and then I fell in love with her. A few days later someone had put her between the hydrangeas where she stayed for some time until she was assigned her resting place among the lemon trees where she found shelter from the winter rains. 
From there she finally came home to me. She now lives on my unkempt lawn, standing on a pile of “hay”. Whenever I look at her I have to smile, I cannot help it. This was probably one of the least needed purchases in my life. But when I look down to her from my bedroom window every morning my mood turns sunny. She does that to people. She might have dreamt of Mexico, but now she’s a happy cow from California.

The Birds In My Backyard

When we moved into our own home last year, there weren’t many birds in our backyard. Quite a difference to our old yard where so many birds came and stayed during the day. I was determined to have “my birds” back in my new yard. 
First I hung up several birdfeeders with different bird seeds – sunflower chips, black-oiled sunflower seeds, nyjer, and a seed blend that was very popular with the birds up on the hill where we used to live. I also put out a tray for nuts and little baskets for suet as well as a little container for shelled peanuts. Of course there was nectar for the hummingbirds and orioles. I made sure that the birdbaths were always filled with clean water. After that, I just waited. 
In the absence of visiting neighborhood cats, I didn’t have to wait long. The first visitor was a titmouse soon followed by house finches and California towhees. The Oregon juncos were next and after a little while I saw chickadees at the feeders. Hummingbirds were buzzing through the air – they are pretty noisy for such a tiny bird. To my surprise, the goldfinches would ignore the nyjer whereas the house finches often perched on that feeder. The Oregon juncos hacked away at the suet. One day I discovered a nuthatch, walking head first down the tree trunk. I can hear mourning doves in the morning, and the crows “crow”-d on the wires above the garden fence – down here it is pretty much crow central. 
The robins came in January and February, closely followed by the cedar waxwing. We have a tall privet tree in the garden that is full of small dark blue berries in the winter. The birds love these berries. On some days, the tree was covered with chatty and sassy robins. 
The scrub jay loves the shelled peanuts and hides them in my raised beds. The Northern flicker loves to tear up my lawn (which can hardly qualify as a lawn anymore). However, there are many more birds around that I don’t see, I only hear them. And so far, I am not able to identify them by their sound, but I hope that one day I will. I love all the bird chatter and songs, especially now in spring.

Missing Winter

Here in Northern California so close to the Pacific Ocean, winter is a very different season to what I was used to in Germany. This year, January and February gave us more sunny days and clear skies than the usual rainy days that are so typical for a North Coast winter. A rain that comes down with such force and goes on for hours without losing any of its strength. This year, however, we experienced freezing nights when citrus trees died and the ground was white with frost in the morning, but the days were sunny and mild. It worries me a bit because we really need the rain. 
As much as I like our Mediterranean climate, I do miss winter. Winters that are real winters – with lots of snow that invite to snowball fights, building snow people and making snow angels. Walks through snow covered forests and over snowy hills that make your nose cold and which end with a hot chocolate and lots of whipped cream on top. Winters that are defined by the brilliance of freezing cold, clear and sunny days, that change the entire landscape into a white icy and miraculous world. When you make new footprints in blank snowy areas that look like a white blanket. I remember extremely cold winters in Germany when the branches of the trees were completely covered in ice that glittered in the sunlight. The river through our old town was completely frozen and we could ice skate or just walk on the solid sheet of ice. A booth that sold mulled wine was there – yes, we Germans sure know how to make the best out of weather like this. Is there anything better than standing on a frozen river, your hands holding a mug of steaming mulled wine? This is what I miss. 
Don’t get me wrong – I sure don’t miss the snow shoveling and driving in the snow – and I’m a very experienced “snow driver”. I don’t miss the black ice and scraping my car’s windshield before leaving to work in the morning. Heck, I certainly don’t miss the endless grey days that also are so common for German winters. And yes, I can find snow just a five hours drive from my home, in the Sierra Nevada – still in California (yes, opposite to popular belief, we do have seasons here). But it is not here, where I live. 
Just one walk in the snow. One morning with my camera in the snow covered hills. A few snow angels, a snow ball fight with my family, one snowman with a bright orange carrot in the middle of his face. Animal tracks in the fresh snow. That’s all I need.

Grown Into The Teenage Years

Two years ago I wrote Here about my fears of my daughter’s oncoming teenage years. How much I dreaded those years of change. 
We are well into those teenage years now. She will turn fifteen in just a couple of months. And I have to say – so far so good. 
There have been many changes – she now spends the most part at home behind a closed door in her room, usually doing her homework. Her room is a disaster zone, but luckily not my responsibility anymore. Good thing that door is always closed! I don’t get to tuck her in anymore, and that is something I really miss. She has stopped being a cuddlebug. I have learned to be silent when I pick her up from school. She doesn’t like to be questioned, so I’ve learned to wait until she starts talking – most times. 
Last year she started high school. Another thing I dreaded. But this was a good change. Despite the ridiculously heavy amount of homework, she loves her school. She enjoys the independence she has as a high schooler, the new responsibility that she takes very seriously. She has always enjoyed learning and is a hard worker. She has joined the choir and loves it. I hear her singing so often, it warms my heart. I see a big part of myself in her, singing. One of the helpers through life. 
Yes, there is a sassy tone in her voice, more often than I like. There is teenage attitude and of course she knows everything better. There are sullen silences and monosyllable mumbled answers. But there is also laughter, her incredible sense of humor. A good part of self-criticism. Fortunately, her deep-rooted self-confidence is in full bloom. She doesn’t care that she often doesn’t fit in the picture. She isn’t into fancy clothes – t-shirts, jeans, shorts and tank tops is all she needs. She still wears her green Canada fleece jacket that she wore when she was 12. She works with polymer clay and sews clothes for her dolls. “Twilight” and “Hunger Games” have left her untouched – “Lord of the Rings” has not. Her newest obsession. 
Sometimes, she comes up to me and wants to sit in my lap, leaning into me. Sometimes, I find her sitting on my bed in the evening, wanting to talk or just be there. Sometimes, very rarely, she tells me that she loves me. 
And I know that everything will be fine.

Owl Of The Year

Recently I was looking through all the art I had made last year. There were sketches, art journal pages, a lot of handmade cards and journals, ornaments and mixed media paintings. While I like all of them, some more than others, and I put much of my heart in each piece, only one painting has stayed very close to me. It is the result of a painting class by Juliette Crane in which we learned how to paint an owl. I created three owl paintings during class, and this one, the Southwestern owl with its hidden stories carries my heart and soul in it. This little owl touches me in a special way and reminds me how far I have come. 
I am still pretty new to art. In fact, for the first 40 years of my life I was convinced not to have a single “artsy” bone in my entire body because I cannot draw. I believed that if you cannot draw, you cannot be an artist. Although I enjoyed art classes at school and was rather good at it, it never occurred to me to dip deeper into making art on my own. With graduation from school, any artistic creativity went into a decades long hibernation. 
I have always loved photography, I’ve felt good about it, I forget everything around me while on a photo outing. Although I knew I was a fairly good photographer I never considered this as art. I filled roll after roll during my travels, discovered my passion for winter photography (why did I move to California?), but in the end my photos, most of them slides, ended up in a box. Only when I returned form a fascinating trip through Israel did I actually start to be more creative and made a kind of scrapbook without ever having heard of this term. 
That changed quickly after we had moved to California in 2001. I discovered a scrapbook store in my town, met people who introduced me to rubber stamping. Nothing was holding me back now! I scrapbooked and filled album after album with precious memories. The same day my daughter started kindergarten, I started working at the scrapbook store, and I stayed there until it closed down a few years ago. There I had the opportunity to sell my handmade cards “on the side” and for the first time saw visible success of my creativity. It didn’t take long until I did my first tiny steps into mixed media art – intimidating at first, it has become my other passion next to photography. Through online classes I have learned many techniques. I noticed which ones I liked. I discovered the beauty of watercolor, the variety of acrylics. I am constantly on the lookout for anything that makes texture, from bubble wrap to forks and beyond. I love to play around and get messy. 
The Southwestern owl and its hidden stories is not my best work, but my truest one. It shows so much of me – my love for the American Southwest and the desert, Native American culture, bright bold colors, texture and pattern, my love for coyotes and last but not least my “adventure” with the owls. I am so happy and grateful to have found a medium to express it all.

Quiet Days

 It took me a long time this year to get into the Christmas spirit. Usually I love to decorate for the “most beautiful time”, but this December was very different. Our Christmas tree stood in our family room, plain and green. After one week my husband strung the lights around it, but it took another week until it was finally decorated. Usually my daughter does this job, but she was so caught up with school work that this task fell to me. No Christmas music accompanied my hanging up the Christmas balls and ornaments made by my daughter in preschool and kindergarten, since those CDs are still buried in some moving boxes (I hope I will have found them by next Christmas!). 
Husband and daughter strung the colorful Christmas lights on our house the weekend following the Sandy Hook massacre. We didn’t talk about this tragedy in our family, it was beyond any words. Especially my daughter, a high schooler, kept extremely silent about it. But stringing the lights was our way to bring some normalcy and light in this suddenly so darkened world.  We have always loved those cheerful lights, but this year it was special to us. 
I wrote only a handful of Christmas cards. One afternoon I locked myself in my studio, wrapping all the gifts carefully, with burlap ribbon and hand stamped tags, a tiny pine branch tucked under the ribbon. My daughter and I baked cookies, mainly the traditional German Christmas cookies like Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars) and Vanillekipferl (vanilla crescents). We drank hot chocolate with marshmallows and whipped cream on top. On the Saturday before Christmas we met with our German friends for an evening of singing Christmas carols, ending it with the German original of “Silent Night”. That finally got me in the spirit. 
We celebrate Christmas Eve, and since none of my family wanted to go to church, my husband and I walked around our neighborhood at dusk, taking pictures of the Christmas lights. When we came home, we had our traditional dinner of smoked salmon, cream cheese and bread, accompanied by a glass of bubbly (apple cider for the girl). After that we sang some German Christmas carols and unwrapped the presents. It was very quiet, and so was Christmas Day. It was  rainy and completely uneventful, spent watching a holiday movie and reading on the couch. Though quiet (or because of), it was one of our best Christmas.

Missing Advent

Sunday was the first of Advent. Our tradition is to have a beautiful wreath with four candles on it, and each Advent Sunday one candle more is lighted. The scent of the pine with the warmth of the candles is incredible, especially if you use beeswax candles. 
Advent is the time when I miss my home country the most. There is something so exceptionally festive in the beautifully decorated town centers. Nothing beats the Christmas markets in the medieval towns. The scent of Glühwein (spiced mulled wine) is everywhere, street musicians play Christmas tunes, there is the most delicious food – my all-time favorite being the roasted cinnamon almonds still warm from the kettle. Children sing Christmas carols at every corner. 
The Christmas music – how much do I miss our old Christmas carols. “Stille Nacht” (Silent night) always brings me to tears. I used to go to church on the first of Advent because it meant we would sing the ancient Christmas hymns, some of them hauntingly beautiful. There were concerts in the churches, often by candlelight, Bach’s Advent cantatas and his Christmas oratorio – Jauchzet, frohlocket, these first words that describe so well the joy and the anticipation of Advent. Afterwards you would step out into the night and the falling snow (hopefully). 
I miss Advent here in the States. Although there are exceptionally beautiful Christmas carols, it all seems to be about a red-nosed reindeer, a poor grandma who got run over by a reindeer and those annoying jingle bells. The older I become, the worse it gets. I’m afraid I’ve put on my rose-colored glasses when it comes to Advent in Germany. I’m sure it has changed as well. But there are some things that will always be there – the Christmas markets. The music. The Glühwein. And big gingerbread hearts with your name on that you can hang around your neck.

Listen To The Bells

One thing I truly miss here in the States – beside good bread – is the sound of church bells. It is something so very European that I took for granted when I lived in Germany. Then I moved to California and suddenly this daily “music” was left out of my life. 
In the village we lived the church bells would wake us at 6:00am. – the church was just a couple blocks away. Then again they would ring at noon and at 6:00pm. It’s the schedule of working life – get up at 6:00am, eat lunch at noon, stop working at 6:00pm. On Sundays, thankfully, the bells wouldn’t ring before 7:00am. A loud joyful play of all the bells in the church tower would rise at 9:30 or 10:00am., calling the community to the church service. The loudest, longest and happiest ringing occurs on Christmas Eve and Easter morning, and a somber, dark ringing on Good Friday at 3:00pm. Always, no matter what time, it was music to my ears. You can hear the bells of the Stiftskirche in Stuttgart Here (I lived close to Stuttgart). 
My mom told me that during World War II the bells would also ring to warn of air-raids – for some bells it was their last call. They rang when the war was over. They ring in a new year. And they rang when the Wall came down. 
The most beautiful church ringing I ever heard in my life was in England, the change ringing. As Wikipedia puts it, “Change ringing is the art of ringing a set of tunes bells in a series of mathematical patterns called "changes". It differs from many other forms of campanology (such as carillon ringing) in that no attempt is made to produce a conventional melody.” It is like a beautiful piece of music. You can find a demonstration of bell ringers at Westminster Abbey in London Here
All this belongs to the past for me – or so I thought. Imagine my surprise this summer, when I leisurely sat in the garden of our new home for the first time, I heard the distant sound of a church bell. At first I suspected I was hallucinating – but no, I heard it again. And again. It was real – it IS real. I still haven’t figured out which church rings its bells. It also rings at very odd times – 4:25 in the afternoon, for example. But it doesn’t matter – the good thing is there is a daily church bell ringing in my life again and it gives me those beautiful moments of utter peace. 
I just lean back and listen to the bells.

African Drums

Last week my daughter’s choir had their first concert of the school year. This fall concert was an African concert when the choir performed songs from African countries. We heard traditional Zulu, Zambian and Nigerian folk songs, a freedom song of South Africa and the “Famine Song”, inspired by Sudanese basket weavers – this song really got under my skin. 
Although the choir was excellent, the true highlight of the evening was the performance of the special guests, The New Life Band from Tanzania. They started out singing with the choir, an African Processional, “Jambo rafiki yangu” (welcome friend) and then took over the stage. Within a few minutes, the entire hall was “on fire”. Their traditional African drum rhythms could hardly keep me in my seat. These eight highly talented musicians had a unique way to reach out through close harmonies, contemporary music of Africa – and those incredible drums. They got us out of our seats, dancing and clapping and singing a few words in Swahili – it was magical. There wasn’t a single person sitting in the audience, everybody was moving to the rhythm of the music. Those drums – they really got us going. 
The real moving part, however, was found in their stories. They work with a ministry in a small village 15 km away from Arusha. Their music is their way to raise money for their village to build a school (the choir at my daughter’s high school supports this school). With all the support they have got through their highly popular youth camps and concerts – they come to the US and our school every three years (which means we’ll have another chance to see them before my daughter graduates in 2016) – they were able to build their village school, and a few students of our high school even helped with the construction. They talked about what it means for these kids to be able to attend school, to learn and thus have a brighter future. They reminded us how often kids in the US (and, I want to add, in many Western civilizations) don’t want to go to school, drop out or just waste this time while they should learn in order to have a future. They mentioned how privileged we are. You could hear the audience grow very quiet – yes, we are so privileged, we take so many things for granted. 
It made me feel grateful. Grateful that my daughter gets a good education she takes seriously, that her future is wide open. I’m thankful that I don’t have to be afraid that someone shoots her just because she wants an education. That she doesn’t have to sit on the floor but in an air-conditioned room. That she doesn’t have to share her textbook with ten other students. 
During intermission, the band sold necklaces from their native country – another way to raise funds for their school. I bought one for my daughter, as a reminder of this particular concert and all the blessings we have in our life. 
Bwana Awabariki – may God grant you a blessing.

A Dirty Job

The house we bought in April came with a huge lawn in front and beside the house (it’s a corner lot). In my world, “lawn” and “California” just don’t go together very well. A beautiful, lush lawn needs a lot of water; however, water is very precious in California and not something you waste just for “curb appeal”. 
So I decided to get rid of the lawn. I could have rented heavy equipment and get the job done in a weekend. It would have been messy, noisy and very disruptive. However, I was looking for the softer, more organic way. More laborious as well. 
One afternoon in the summer, my daughter and I measured the lawn and realized there were almost 1900 square feet that I planned to turn into a bee and bird haven. That was quite an intimidating number. But thanks to my sometimes overwhelming naivety, I kept on working on my project. 
The next step was getting enough cardboard to cover those 1900 square feet. We already had a huge amount of cardboard thanks to our recent move, but by far it wasn’t enough. So I developed a new, temporary hobby: dumpster diving. My daughter was deeply embarrassed and wouldn’t get out of the car when I discovered a promising full dumpster next to a big store. My husband, however, joined me in this new kind of how-to-spend-the-evening, and we had several “dumpster dates”, hanging out behind the big box stores. The local bike shop became our new best friend. 
When I had enough cardboard, I called the compost company for the delivery of 20 cubic yards of “gardener’s gold”, beautiful smelly compost. Then the “real” work started – I watered the already dead lawn, spread out the cardboard over it (a job of several days) and watered the cardboard thoroughly before, in a final step, I layered the compost on top of it. The cardboard will eventually break down (that should take 2-12 months) and attract earthworms who then will work the soil. I put out a layer of 3-4 inches of compost, a back breaking job. Of course, right after the delivery of the compost we had a heat wave which allowed me to work only in the early morning hours. Usually, I was out there by 6:30, shoveling away and often helped by my daughter, and had to stop by 9:30 at the latest. Besides working on my project, it was a wonderful opportunity to meet the people in my new neighborhood, who jogged and walked their dogs at this time of day. Almost everyone stopped to ask me what I was doing. 
Now the compost is evened out and I’m waiting for the rain, already planting in my head – mainly natives and drought tolerant plants. In my mind I see birds picking the seeds of the spent flowers and hear the busy humming of happy bees. 
I can’t wait to start planting.

The Lake

Since school started at the end of August I’ve finally been back to my favorite place here in my town, the lake. My daughter has zero period this year, so after I have dropped her off at school shortly before seven I head to the lake to be there just a few minutes after seven. At that time the lake usually is completely still and calm, there are only a few people, mainly dog walkers, joggers and bird watchers.  
Often the fog hovers over the lake, turning it into a mystical place. Everything is subdued except for the birds’ sound – the quack of the ducks, the drumming of the woodpecker, the shrill call of the red winged blackbird and the exciting loud rattle of the Belted Kingfisher. I’ve seen Great Blue Herons fighting each other on a log out there in the lake, and the photos I took of them give the impression of a Japanese painting thanks to the fog. A Black-crowned Night-heron suddenly appears out of nowhere, flying over the lake. Most times I see them perching on a low lying branch or log, very still, waiting for a good catch. A few weeks ago I witnessed a Great Blue Heron hunting in the shallow waters in one of the numerous little bays and finally catching a crayfish. 
Other days are grey which usually brings out more animals. One morning I was fortunate to observe six otters playing in the water and making their way to one of the islands in the middle of the lake. You know about my experience with the Great Horned Owls whom we discovered in a nest high up in a eucalyptus tree. I heard there is a bobcat roaming the grounds, but so far I’ve never seen him. And of course there are lots of deer at the wooded side of the lake. 
Often I walk around the lake with my friend Jo. For us, the lake has become a synonym for a good time together where we share with each other what is really important to us, when we talk about our dreams and fears, about motherhood and our children. It's also the time when we can vent, be it about our husbands, our kids' schools or politics (not necessarily in that order) and simply know that the other exactly gets what we're trying to say. We also share our mutual love for nature. It has been Jo who taught me all the names of the native trees and plants, helped me to recognize the sound of the birds, explained the difference between all the juvenile herons at the lake. We have crawled through thorny bushes and underbrush to watch a bittern and become completely excited when we discover a California King Snake or a muskrat near the shore. We can stand forever to watch the herons and egrets. 
But I also love to walk around the lake on my own. It usually takes at least two hours because I “stalk” the birds to capture just one good shot. I’m fascinated how the light looks on a leaf and need to take a picture. My camera is my best friend during these walks. However, these morning walks also give me a good opportunity to contemplate things that are important to me. Like my Etsy Shop. This is the time when I think of new inventory and ponder about a new file system, so that it doesn't get too chaotic when tax time comes along. I think about posts I want to write either here or on My Own Blog. In my mind I design my garden and sometimes I simply dream - of places I want to travel to, goals I want to achieve.  
It's a good place for me, the lake. A place to relax and refresh. Truly a place of my heart.

Do you have a place like this? Would you like to share?

Letters From My Mom

Recently I went through the letters that my mom wrote to me while I was away at school. My mom and I were very close, even though I have to admit that I sometimes treated her horribly during my teenage years. But you couldn't tell from those letters. She wrote about the good times she remembered before I left for school and how much she missed me. I could almost hear her voice while going through these letters. Each of her letters starts with a beautiful greeting and her special name that she had just for me.

There are many more letters that I received from my mom over the years, but these ones touched me in a very special way. In simple words she mentioned what we had done together, our little quirky gestures and sayings that only both of us understood and were like a secret bond between us. I had almost forgotten some of these and it was heartwarming to be reminded of them again.

My mom passed away five years ago. There aren't many letters left from the last 15 years of her life because we had talked more on the phone. After my daughter was born I had no time for writing letters. Instead I made sure that my little girl and her grandparents saw each other as often as possible. That became very difficult when we moved to the States and always involved long, exhausting flights with ridiculously long waits in airports.

I feel so blessed to have these letters that were written as a loving mom to her youngest daughter. Eventually they will be passed along to my daughter when she will be grown up and can understand the treasure of these written words. Handwritten letters to and from loved ones are so powerful and even more treasured in our computerized age.
I think I go and write a letter to my favorite girl.

The Beach

We are fortunate to live close to the ocean. No matter which route we take, in less than an hour we can see the Pacific Ocean stretching out to the horizon. It’s a cold ocean here – you certainly don’t go in there for a leisurely swim. It’s also very dangerous – it has vicious underwater currents that pull you out in the ocean, and so-called sleeper waves that are way stronger than regular waves. But despite the cold and dangerous waters, the beaches on our North Coast are a favorite destination of mine. 
Forget about white soft sand. Here the sand is grey and rather coarse – walking barefoot can turn into a challenge. Still, strolling along the beach is a perfect pastime. There are shells to find, sometimes even a broken sand dollar, beautifully shaped sea glass and the empty crusts of crabs. All kinds of seagulls, cormorants and brown pelicans occupy the sky and the rocks. Harbor seals pop up in the waves and stare at the people on the beach full of curiosity. On good days you can spot whales in the distance. 
I love the driftwood. It’s everywhere on the beach, piling up into interesting shapes or lying as logs in the sand, inviting you to have a seat and look out over the ocean. Dream a little bit and forget about your daily life for a moment. It always works. Just a few days ago, my daughter and I sat on one of those logs, eating sandwiches and enjoying the sound of the ocean. It was one of those typical grey days, when the clouds hover over the coast and don’t move away. There goes your dream of sunny California. What is left is a rocky coast with its very own untamed beauty. 
One of the best wild places in the world.

Home Sweet Home

At the end of April we bought a home. After 11 years in the States we finally dared to share the American Dream. We are first-time homeowners and we are quite excited about it. 
Purchasing the house turned out to be a process of many ups and downs – excitement and utter frustration. When we started looking for a new home last November, we found OUR house at the very first outing with our realtor (who is the best realtor in the world, if I may say so). However, the listing price was beyond our planned budget. Only a week later that price was considerably lowered and we made an offer. This was right before Thanksgiving, so we spent the long holiday weekend hoping and wishing – and then the house was pulled off the market. Speak about disappointment. 
Although we knew that the house would eventually come back on the market, we had no idea when that would be – anything was possible in the range of two months up to two years. With heavy hearts we tried to say a silent goodbye to our dream home and continued our house hunt. 58 houses and almost six months later, the house came back on the market – we still hadn’t bought anything (although we had been close) – we still had our secret hopes for OUR house. And there it was – we made our offer, and several counter offers and sleepless nights later we were chosen as the future owners of this beautiful home. A dream had come true in a miraculous way. 
Since the home is an older house it needed a lot of work, but we didn’t move in before the end of May. The downstairs bathroom was renovated; we ripped out the carpet downstairs to discover some beautiful honey colored hardwood floors in some of the rooms and restored them. My daughter and I painted the walls and got crazy with the colors – we chose bright and happy colors with names like “Carolina Parakeet”, “Bird of Paradise” and “Seafoam Pearl”. Now that we’ve almost conquered the chaos of moving, it looks so much more like our home. 
We have an office now and I got the blissful luxury of my very own studio. From there I can enter the garden – it is another dream come true. The garden has a lot of lawn that I will eventually rip out, but it also has beautiful trees and a lovely shape with a well-sized patio. First, I planted the existing raised beds with all kinds of vegetables, and they’re coming along well. I set a few other plants in the ground and put out the bird feeders and bird baths, and already there are so many more feathered visitors than when we first moved in. There is a beautiful big Japanese maple in front of our home and it bursts into the most beautiful colors in fall.
I still feel like in a dream. I love this house with all its many oddities and this neighborhood with its older homes and lots of trees and wildlife. It’s our little piece of heaven and I hope that this home will be blessed with joy, laughter and happiness.

Butterfly's Wisdom

"Just living is not enough", said the butterfly, "one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower."
- Hans Christian Anderson

75 Years

This month we celebrate the Golden Gate Bridge’s 75th anniversary. After only four years of building, it was finished in 1937 and became a new landmark that is known all over the world. Thanks to the engineering mastermind Joseph B Strauss and architects Gertrude and Irving Murrow it didn’t become the eyesore of concrete pylons and yellow stripes that the navy was in favor of, but turned into one of the most beautiful suspension bridges on this planet. Watching its tall rusty-red (called “International Orange”) pillars in the setting sun takes one's breath away.
One of my dreams from a rather early age on had been to see the Golden Gate Bridge with my very own eyes. I had seen pictures of it and on TV, in various movies, and I had promised myself that one day I would cross that bridge. 
This day came in late February 2001, a drizzling, cold evening. We had just landed in San Francisco and were driving north to what might become our new home. And although the fine rain drops collected on the windshield of our car, we could see the majesty of this beautiful bridge that stood with its hundreds of lights before a dark sky. I had goose bumps all over while we were passing under the first pillar and then the second one.
Over the years we have found many wonderful places that offer a fantastic view of the bridge. One of my favorites is from the Marin Headlands where you can see the bridge with San Francisco in the background. This is spectacular when the sun hovers deep over the ocean, casting its golden-red light onto the bridge and the city. It is wonderful when the fog rolls in and covers parts of the bridge. More often than not we actually didn’t see the bridge but saw faint outlines in the fog. Another favorite is the view from Baker Beach from where I took this photo.
Since that very first rainy day we have crossed the Golden Gate Bridge many times. We walked it enjoying the ever present wind and chilly conditions. My Girl Scout troop did its bridging from Brownies to Junior Girl Scouts here, walking the entire length of 1.7 miles from the Fort Point lookout to the Marin side. Whenever we come back from Germany we have to cross the bridge and that is when we think “we’re home”. But no matter how often we cross it, I still get goose bumps – those of the really good kind.

All Things Are Connected

Teach your children
what we have taught our children –
that the earth is our mother.
Whatever befalls the earth
befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.
If men spit upon the ground,
they spit upon themselves.

This we know.
The earth does not belong to us;
we belong to the earth.
This we know.
All things are connected
like the blood which unites one family.
All things are connected.

Whatever befalls the earth
befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.
We did not weave the web of life;
We are merely a strand in it.
Whatever we do to the web,
we do to ourselves…

                                    Chief Seattle

That Moment

It was my 41st birthday.
Our German winter had been cold without much snow but mainly grey days, which now in the middle of January started to depress me. A year ago we had lost our second baby and I was still trying to find my way back into life. My almost 3-year-old daughter was a wonderful source of happiness, but still I yearned for some change in my life, for color and light – I wanted to move on.
So I decided to celebrate my 41st birthday with some of our friends and a really good extended dinner with several courses that I would cook. The evening was delightful. The food turned out delicious, the conversation was lively, we laughed a lot and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company.
By 2am., only one couple was left at our table. The conversation turned to more personal topics, and my husband told them about our dream of living abroad, in another country. We had hoped to go to the US for a couple of years through my husband’s work, but nothing had come up so far. At this point, our friend (who works at the same company) asked, “Why didn’t you apply for the position in California? They’re looking for someone from our site.”
Stunned silence. We just stared at her, speechless, not knowing how very much our lives would change from that moment on.
Then, “What?” She explained that since October (!) a German software engineer had been in high demand at the California location for some serious knowledge transfer. My husband hadn’t heard about it before. So far no one had been found, the position was still open.
Three months later we were sitting on a Lufthansa plane, on our way to San Francisco with a one-way ticket and three brand-new visas in our passports. I felt like receiving a second chance for a new life – I was finally moving on.
Speak about your dreams. You never know who might push you in the right direction. Be open for those moments that can change your life.

Ready For Spring

March – in like a lion, out like a lamb. The first day of March was a lion, but since then the lamb is definitely domineering in my little corner of the world. We didn’t have many lions this year anyway.
Winter here on the North Coast usually means a lot of rain. There’s a long long line of grey, wet and chilly days that makes you long for the sun. Instead you get heavy winds and even some occasional thunderstorm. This winter, however, we hardly got any rain and I worry that we’re sailing (!) right into the next drought. All winter, we mainly had sunny though frosty or at least very cold days. However, there were also days when I actually took my hammock outside for my 20-minutes nap – in February! 
Still – I’m so ready for spring. The older I get the more impatient I grow for spring to arrive. Every morning I walk through my garden, looking for the slightest changes. The daffodils have been out for quite a while, nodding their beautiful heads in the breeze. The tulips are growing strong, and I detected new growth on the French lilac. Even the peonies are peeking through the soil, stretching their still red leaves toward the sun. The trees are slowly waking up. 
This morning I witnessed the courtship of a Northern flicker pair. The air was filled with their loud “kikiki”, so easily recognizable. One of them has turned to drum on the streetlamp across from our house; fortunately, he chose the one that is switched off during the night, so no harm can be done. The red-shouldered hawks are definitely in mating mood, and I hope to find our great horned owls again that we discovered last spring. 
Spring is in the air – and I’m ready to welcome it, to let go of the cold and embrace the lighter time of year.

Happy Valentine's Day

"All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt." 
-Charles M. Schultz

Where Have The Years Gone?

About a week ago I turned 52. It was a day like any other day, with me turning another year older, like so many others did that day. But it hit me quite unexpectedly: how did this happen so fast? Where have all the years gone? 
It is not that long ago that I was 25 – or is it? 
Sometimes I wonder where my forties went to, my thirties. They seem to have sped by without me even realizing it. Living the daily life – a job, a wedding, the birth of a child, moving to another continent, raising a daughter. Looking back, it seems like a huge rush and I feel out of breath just catching up. 
Suddenly things occupy my life that I hadn’t given a second thought – a dead gallbladder, health screenings like colonoscopies for the over 50 population, some cashiers have even asked whether I’m eligible for a senior discount. Now – hold tight right there! Am I missing something? 
When I was way younger I sometimes wondered what I would be like when I was over 50. The images were always the same: self-confident, successful, tall and elegant in high heels, drinking champagne every day. 
Of course I am not at all like that. Not even close. 
I don’t even feel like 50. Yes, my body does – my knees are stiff in the morning, I only have to look at food to gain a few pounds, I can’t eat fried food anymore without getting heartburn, I feel the wine kicking in much earlier and I am less daring (zip lining? Me? Are you kidding?). But my mindset seems so much younger. I have to get up and dance when I hear Jagger on the radio. I can still be a “fan” of cute young men like Apolo Ohno – thus embarrassing my teenage daughter to no end (I also like Pierce Brosnan, more age appropriate). Yes, I do dance and sing in the parking lot (more embarrassment). My friends’ dogs love me because I wrestle with them, rolling on the floor like a kid on the loose. Despite all the crap in my past, I still laugh my heart out, loud and open. 
And I wonder – how did I get here? I’m 52, darn it, not 25 or 32 or even 43. Where did those years go? How come that I am a wife, a mother, supposedly an adult responsible person – and still feel like a kid so often? 
What happened to my image? I am more self-confident. Successful – it depends how you define success. But – not tall. Not elegant. Definitely no high heels. 
Pass the champagne, please. 


A few years ago I stopped making new year resolutions. You all know this kind of resolution – loose weight, exercise more, eat less chocolate, be more patient, a better parent, a more loving spouse etc. etc. – only to find that after the first few months of the “new” year we are back to our old behavior. The only resolution that ever has worked for me – and it wasn’t even a resolution but a deep-rooted wish to become fitter – was starting an exercise program three years ago that I still do at least three days a week. 
So, no new year resolution for me. However, there is something in my life that I want to change, that has made me a bit unhappy over the last few months. Anytime is a good time for a change, be it the beginning of a year or not. This accidentally happens to be the first few days of 2012. 
I want to read more books. When I was younger I was a voracious reader. I remember weekends entirely spent lying on my bed, reading, completely forgetting about time. Getting lost in a book was the best treat I could give to myself. The Christmas wish lists I wrote as a child were full with book titles, and the days after Christmas were spent reading. 
Today, I only find time to read for half an hour or an hour in bed before sleep. Gone are the hours and hours of enjoyable reading time. The last time I got completely lost in a book is almost two years ago when my daughter went to science camp for three days and my husband was one of the chaperones. Blissfully alone, I sat on the bench in the shade of the pear tree in my garden and read “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak. The cat had curled up beside me and there was no one I had to take care of – it was just me and my passion for reading. 
Reading makes me happy, even if it is a sad story. I love to hold a book in my hand, feel the pages between my fingers, smell the typical book scent. No, I’m not a candidate for a kindle; I need a real book for the pleasure to be complete. 
I have vowed to make more time for reading during my day without feeling guilty. The world of books lives in my shelves and just waits to be discovered. I don’t even need to buy new books or go to the library – there are many books I own that I haven’t read yet. Now is the time, and I will allow books back into my life.

Do You Sudoku?

When I was younger I used to solve crossword puzzles. At first easy ones and then, together with my mom, the tricky crossword puzzle in the German weekly paper “Die Zeit” – this one is comparable to the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle. Whenever my dad came home on Thursday evening, paper tucked under his arm, my mom would stop what she was doing, sit in her favorite chair, grab a pen and start working on the puzzle. As soon as she got stuck, the rest of the family was allowed to help her. By Saturday evening the puzzle was solved, and we had learned something new. 
After moving to California, I lost my interest in crossword puzzles since they were too challenging in a foreign language. Sometimes, I got an issue of “Die Zeit”, but I didn’t enjoy solving that tricky puzzle without my mom. Looking up Shakespeare quotes or pulling out the atlas to look for some far away island just wasn’t fun anymore. It no longer was the adventurous expedition in unknown territory. 
But something new appeared on the horizon: Sudoku. In the beginning I didn’t like it at all because it contained – numbers. I don’t like numbers. I hate math. And I share my life with two math cracks! My dear husband, however, convinced me that Sudoku has nothing to do with math and the numbers are just symbols. He sat down with me and explained what needs to be done – all the numbers from 1 to 9 once in each 3x3 square, row and column – and not long after that I got hooked. 
I started out with the easy ones, worked up to medium, advanced to difficult and finally the “evil” ones. In the beginning I wrote little “help” numbers in the squares, but now this is only allowed for “evil” ones or if I’m hopelessly stuck (which qualifies as “evil”). It’s what I do in the morning with my second cup of coffee and a handful of almonds, cashews or other nuts (food for the brain). I can solve a Sudoku faster than my husband now! Which proves that is has nothing to do with math. 
I’m one of millions of Sudoku fans. Sudokus can shorten long intercontinental flights or entertain while waiting in a doctor’s office. There is a Daily Sudoku on the Internet. You can choose from dozens of Sudoku books with new and more evil puzzles. It never gets old. 
Now – do you Sudoku?


The closer we are approaching Thanksgiving, the more my mind is increasingly pre-occupied with thoughts on gratitude. For me, it is the most meaningful holiday, ranking even higher than Christmas. Giving thanks – the most humble thing to do, the most fulfilling as well. 
In Germany we celebrate Ernetedankfest (Thanks for the harvest) on the first Sunday in October. Unfortunately, it is mainly celebrated in church and nowhere else. The churches are festively decorated with products of the harvest, the bread in the center. We pray “our daily bread give us today”, but do we ever say thanks for that? When I was a young child, we said grace before meals, but eventually this got lost the older we kids became. I missed introducing this tradition within my own family, and this is one thing I truly regret. 
Recently I read a book about the siege of Leningrad. The hunger and freezing coldness must have been gruesome and lies beyond my imagination. But it showed me how much we take for granted that our pantries and refrigerators are well filled, that food is always available. I have a very hard time throwing food away and it makes me sad and angry at the same time when I see the amount of food waste in this so-called civilized world. I cringe when I see people rummaging through trash bins, looking for food that others threw away without a second thought. 
So when I started writing a gratitude journal at the beginning of this month, one of my first thanks was for food. Gratitude for the ability to buy and serve my family healthy and organically grown food, meat from animals that were raised humanely. But also gratitude for the heating system in our house, that we can turn a cold room into a warm cozy one with a simple switch. Warmth, food, my family – I do have what I need. 
Writing a gratitude journal was a novel idea for me, first introduced to me by Honey, and reading about theThirty Days Of Thanks by Deborah was the best motivation to start one of my own. Every evening I write down what I’m thankful for that day. On some days it is quite a challenge, when the day didn’t turn out the way I was hoping for, or when I’m angry, disappointed or feel hurt. It’s those days when it comes down to the essentials – warmth, food, my family. 
I have it all. And I am thankful.

Day Of The Dead

Today, November first, has different names in different countries. In Germany it is called Allerheiligen – All Saints – and is a regional holiday. In other parts of the world it is known as Day of the Dead and in Mexico it is Día des los Muertos which, of course, means Day of the Dead. 
When I was a child, Allerheiligen or All Saints marked the beginning of the dark and cold season. Candles in little red transparent jars were lit on the gravesites in the cemeteries and cast a reddish golden glow in the night. It was beautiful. 
I hadn’t heard of Día des los Muertos before I came to the States. I hadn’t seen any figures like those in my photo above that I took in Santa Fe. And in the beginning I didn’t really understand what it was all about. I was too much stuck in our “civilized” culture where you don’t talk about death. But eventually I learned more about this special day in Mexico, and the more I got to know the more I liked it. 
What a beautiful tradition to celebrate the Dead. To have the entire family and friends visit the gravesites and bring the food the dead people liked in their lifetime, and tell stories about them. To laugh and cry together. It’s almost as if they were alive and taking part in this celebration. In my eyes it is a wonderful way to remember people we love and include them in our present life. 
So today I will celebrate the two people whose passing away gave me the most grief and whose spirit I feel to be with me – my mother who passed away four years ago, and my youngest daughter Nessie who was stillborn. I will light a candle for both of them; there will be hot chocolate and blueberry pie with ice cream. I will tell my daughter for the umpteenth time how her Omi (my mom) as a child got so angry at her younger brother that she pushed him into an anthill. I had loved this story when I was a little girl, and so does my daughter now. We will think about what kinds of food Nessie would like today (she would be 11 years old). Perhaps we’ll cry a little bit, but mostly we will laugh. 
We will celebrate our lost loved ones.


October is the month I look forward to all year long. Nothing can beat the beauty of this colorful month – neither the fresh green in spring nor the lazy days of summer. It’s called “Golden October” for a reason. 
The days are getting shorter, the evenings chillier. The nights are crisp and mornings are fresh. The first rain arrives. It’s a most welcome sound, the plitter-platter of the rain. Sometimes it’s a quiet steady noise, but a decent downpour trembles on the roof and against the windows. It’s the time to get out the sweater, thick socks and flannel pajamas. My daughter already asked for hot chocolate and hot spiced cider. The smell of cinnamon hangs in the air. Oh, and the flavor of freshly baked pumpkin bread waves through the house. There is soup for dinner – wonderful autumn harvest butternut squash soup – and a piece of rustic bread. Outside I can smell the wood burning fires in the neighborhood. 
It’s a time of change. Nature prepares for the cold and wet season, showing its most beautiful and stunning dress. It’s a feast for the eyes and the soul, all those turning leaves that showcase any imaginable shade of yellow, orange and red. Warm colors that make you forget about the soon arriving storms, the dark skies and the onfall of wild weather patterns. For now it’s joy and easy breathing until the leaves start falling to the ground, trundling and dancing in the breeze, and covering gardens, lawns and streets in an abundance of color. The last grapes are harvested and turned into wine. Drink in the abundance of the season. 
And be prepared for long and cozy winter nights.

Visiting The Cows

My dad and I have never had the best of relationship. He is a very difficult man and I’m afraid I’m a rather difficult person myself. No surprise that our relationship is anything but easy as well.
However, I do have a few precious memories of him from my childhood. My dad was a veterinarian. Not the kind of animal doctor for the family pet. No, the big animals attracted him, the farm animals. He visited all the farms with livestock in our county, mainly cows, pigs and sheep. He was respected by the farmers and always a very welcome visitor whose advice was taken seriously. 
Every year in the spring he had to immunize all the cows against mouth-and-foot disease. This was one of his most important tasks since this disease can be devastating to the entire livestock of a farmer. When I was lucky, Easter break was at the same time and I would accompany him. 
Those were always long days, but I loved it. I could wear my oldest clothes and big boots. Nothing made me happier than being with the animals. I played with the various dogs, carried the cats around, talked to the cows and petted the pigs. The squeaks and grunts of the pigs made me laugh and I enjoyed imitating their sound. I still remember the warmth and the smell upon entering the stables, the soft moo of the cows and their silent munching. I liked touching their soft nose.  Calves were high on my list, and I was happy when the farmer led me to them. I thought it was sad that they were separated from their mother; I had found out that they suck on my fingers if I put them in their mouth, so I tried to give them some motherly love this way. In my eyes of an eight year old nothing better could happen. 
When I remember those days, the sun always shines (although we had quite some rainy and cold days, sometimes even a late snow shower). We were driving along those backcountry roads on the way to the next farm, just my dad and I.  We had a picnic in the middle of the day – boy, were we hungry! And in the evening we returned home, smelling of cows and manure, but tired and very happy.

The Little Cougar In My Backyard

There is something about cats that utterly attracts me. Is it their sweet face? Their elegance? Their independence? Their wonderful ability to offer great entertainment? 
I have never owned a cat. When I went to university and later had my jobs I thought it was sad for a cat to be by herself all day. Then I met my husband who has severe allergies – therefore, a pet in the family has been out of the question. 
But I’ve always had cats. They just come to me (dogs, by the way, do exactly the same), they find me. They must have a very special sense for who would love them. One day they turn up at my door and come back regularly from then on. Since moving to California, my backyard has turned into a popular spot for the cats in the neighborhood (no, I don’t feed them). Some pass through and say a short “hello” before moving on, some linger – and some stay. 
Ginger, a red cat (of course), belonged to the house just beyond the fence, but she lived in my backyard. For several years she stood at the sliding door of my studio every morning, patiently waiting for me to come out to play and cuddle. She would curl up in my lap while I was writing and reading. Every now and then she would bring me a dead bird (sigh) and wouldn’t understand that I wasn’t happy about that. She also was a great companion for my daughter. 
When Ginger died in the summer of last year I felt this kind of emptiness that only the sweetness of a cat could fill. There was no little four-legged friend who would greet me with a friendly or sometimes reproachful “meow” and lick my hand. I work from home which I enjoy, but it can get a little lonely from time to time. And so it went from beautiful fall through cold and rainy winter into a late spring. 
Then suddenly one day in April, there was a new cat on the block. She turned up in my backyard as the little white cat that I had seen on “missing cat” signs in our street. So I called the owners and found out that this cat, Geeda, lives just around the corner. She only has to cross two backyards on the catwalk to reach my garden which she has clearly declared as her realm. She is the cuddliest cat I ever had. She loves to sleep in my lap, curls up beside me and shares the hammock with me for our afternoon nap. She has conquered my heart in no time at all. When she didn’t come for two days in a row, I was seriously worried and debated contacting her owners. However, she turned up the morning of the third day, and the way my heart jumped and I ran out to greet her (and she ran to me!) I realized how much I love this little cougar. 
I love all animals, even spiders (okay, I draw the line at mosquitoes). But this cat who definitely isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer has occupied a very special place in my heart. 
Has there a special animal been in your life?

Looking For The Sunflower Star

Sometimes it is necessary to make changes to existing plans due to certain circumstances. And if you’re lucky those unavoidable changes can provide some wonderful moments in your life.
This year we had to change our summer plans. We love to go on long trips and wanted to drive up to Colorado and Wyoming. But instead, we ended up getting on the highway that divides our town neatly in East and West and drove up North, along the Oregon and Washington coast (we never had to leave the highway for that – it leads right there). Instead of hiking in the Rockies, we took long walks on the beach before breakfast. Instead of camping in the heart of Yellowstone, one of my favorite places in the world, we pitched our tent in the Oregon Dunes and Olympic National Park where we got eaten alive by millions of mosquitoes. Instead of getting up at the crack of dawn to watch wolves, grizzlies and moose we were exploring tide pools, looking for the Sunflower Star.
The Sunflower Star (Pycnopodia Helianthoides) is the largest sea star in the world. They are quite spectacular – some of them grow up to 40 inches (102 cm) across – most are smaller, though. They have six arms when young, but as they age new arms are added until there are more than 20. This giant is feared in the tide pool – upon its arrival, almost every organism nearby is sent into a major panic. They eat just about every creature, including other species of sea stars, and their favorite food is Purple Sea Urchins.
However, to spot the Sunflower Star, a regular low tide is not enough. You need to hit a minus tide – the lowest low tide, so to speak – to have a chance of catching a glimpse of it clinging to the rough rocky environment of a tide pool or munching on some other intertidal creature. We arrived at the fascinating tide pools near Yaquina Head in Oregon at low tide. Two Sunflower Stars were discovered just the day before, so my daughter and I were more than eager to climb through the tide pools, looking for it.
A tide pool is its own little world with its own rules. It’s a harsh world, and the animals and plants who live there are skilful masters in survival. While looking for the giant sea star we discovered so many other interesting creatures. Something that looked like an oversized cow tongue – the ranger explained it’s a Gumboot Chiton. We had no idea that something like that exists – its color, a beautiful rusty red, was amazing. There were hundreds of Purple Sea Urchins (gourmet paradise for the Sunflower Star, I guess), Giant Green Anemones, Moon Jellies, Blue-handed Hermit Crabs, all kinds of barnacles, oysters, snails, mussels and shells, beautifully pink Coralline Algae, thousands of Ochre Stars, and little Red Crabs were wandering through all of it. We discovered a new and interesting world and were fascinated by it. We almost lost track of time… but the tide came back in and we had to leave again.
We didn’t find the Sunflower Star. But we brought back priceless memories.

Time To Slow Down

Earlier this summer I had a rather unexpected surgery. Afterwards I was told that I had been sick for more than a year and that I should take the recovery seriously. Luckily all of this happened after school summer break had already started, so there were no schedules to keep, no chauffeuring to do. My daughter was happily sewing clothes for her dolls and playing with clay – the time couldn’t have been better to slow down and take things easy.

Even though it often was painful and rich in ups and downs, the recovery time turned into a positive experience because I could slow down without feeling guilty. I got up early and enjoyed my first cup of coffee outside, sitting in my red Adirondack chair, cat in lap, listening to the cheerful chatter of the birds in my garden. While the sun rose higher up in the sky it warmed my skin and played with light and shadows in the leaves of the trees. Every morning I read in Sarah Ban Breathnach’s “Simple Abundance”, being thankful for the quiet morning and this time I had to myself. The painkillers I had to take were another force to slow down since they made me so tired, that I had to nap in the afternoon – such bliss! It was truly relaxing.

But it wasn’t only time to slow down for myself; my daughter took her turn as well. She had been exhausted at the end of the school year and was very much in need for a rest. This time offered us the opportunity to deepen the bond between us. The moment I was able to drive again, she and I headed to the library, returning with piles of books. We’d sit next to each other on the bed, each engrossed in her book and feeling the closeness at the same time. Hours were spent in the studio, painting, with her by my side. She and I had started a summer sketchbook project, each of us creating 25 pages. I watched her working in the garden, doing all the chores I couldn’t do and thus keeping up the beauty of my “jungle”. She and my husband cooked up meals in our kitchen, but were only too happy when I took over again – it’s good to know that they actually appreciate my cooking.

Now, five weeks into recovery, I feel my energy coming back, forceful and in a way I haven’t experienced for a very long time. I am so thankful, my heart is almost bursting. I am grateful for my family who has been so supportive and did so much for me so that I could lean back and relax. I am grateful for my wonderful daughter who gives me so many moments of joys and makes me laugh. I am grateful for my husband who puts up with a not-so-clean and rather disorderly house and some rather interesting experiments in the kitchen. I am grateful for the friends who came by and took the time out of their busy day to give me a call. I am grateful for the fantastic hospital staff who made the whole surgery experience a not-so-scary one. I am grateful for the surgeon who put me on the path to healing.

I am grateful for having tasted the “slow life” without any guilt. I am one lucky woman.

Ten Years Later

It’s been a little bit more than ten years ago that we moved to Northern California from Germany. Our plan was to stay here for three, perhaps five years. That plan was changed since we liked it so much here and still do.

The beginning was difficult. We didn’t know anybody, and it was the start of summer. No preschool, no nothing. My husband left early in the morning for work, leaving me with my daughter who had just turned three a few days before the move. The nearby playground was deserted because of the heat. If there were children and their moms, they came in groups and weren’t eager to talk to a lonely woman from a different continent or include a little girl who didn’t speak their language. Every day, my daughter asked me “When are we going back to Germany?”

On the other hand, there were the weekends when we got in the car and visited places. Having never lived close to the sea we enjoyed the vicinity of the Pacific Ocean, this wild, unpredictable and huge body of water. We travelled Highway 1 up North, taking in the wild and rough North Coast; we drove Highway 1 down South, visiting Monterey, Carmel, Point Lobos and Año Nuevo. We got all excited when we spotted a humpback whale for the very first time. And of course, there was always San Francisco. I’ll never forget my first crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge, the goosebumps I had.

Then years later, my honeymoon with the US is long gone. Over time it has developed into a deep love for the land. We travelled whenever possible – so far we have visited 34 of the 50 states plus Canada. We are in love with the National Parks. We enjoy the richness of wildlife in the Western states. Only 15 hours by car separate us from my beloved red rock country of the American Southwest, my all-time favorite. Raccoons and skunks regularly visit my garden (especially now that the cherries are ripe). I hear owls in the evening and the occasional coyote in the night. A cougar lives somewhere in the neighborhood. Every morning I wake up to the blissful song of a mockingbird and the joyful chatter of the other birds who hang out at my bird feeders.

Officially, despite my legal residentship, I’m still an “alien”. And sometimes I feel like I am indeed from a different planet. We have only one small car. We don’t own our house. I hang my laundry on the line to dry. We don’t watch TV very much. We only use 3000 gallons of water a month – and my garden is like a jungle. I think we have remained German by heart.

But I love living here. These past ten years have been the best years in my life.

And I still get goosebumps when crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.

Our Daily Bread

“There is no real bread in the States and I like eating bread, my main meal is in the evening, and it is bread and butter.”

Bertolt Brecht wrote these words in his journal on October 4, 1941, during his exile, some of it in the United States. 70 years later, they resonate with me completely. When I am asked what I miss the most of Germany, my answer always is “the bread”. Some people laugh about that, others don’t believe me, and those who have been to Germany fully understand.

Oh, the bread! I don’t know whether Germans are the world champions in eating bread, but they do eat a lot of it! Statistics say that every German eats 179 pounds (81.4 kilograms) of bread and baked wheat goods a year (followed by the Italians and the Finns). That comes down to one bread roll and four slices of bread every day of the year – I can easily do that. It all depends on the bread.

Germany offers an enormous variety of breads that you don’t find in any other country – over 300 and counting. There are a lot of regional differences – the best soft pretzels (‘Brezel’ in German) are found in the South and Southwest, whereas Westphalia is the home of the pumpernickel. Legend has it that when Napoleon came to Westphalia, he didn’t like this dark juicy bread and gave it to his horse, Nickel, saying “C’est bon pour Nickel” – hence the name. Is it true? I don’t know – but if it is true, it shows that Napoleon certainly wasn’t a gourmet! (and a little bit arrogant).

My favorite bread is the wholesome multigrain bread and the wonderful rye bread with caraway seeds. Sometimes I crave a Seele (‘soul’), traditionally made with wheat flour, yeast and water and sprinkled with coarse salt and caraway seeds. Fresh bread, still warm from the oven, and some organic butter – it’s a feast!

In many German villages you can find communal bakehouses, and many of them are still in use. They are fired up once or twice a week, and the women bring their dough and bake their breads while gathering with friends and neighbors. It’s the time for socializing and exchanging all the news (well, you could call it gossiping, I’m afraid, but in a good sense). By the end of the baking day you bake a traditional bread specialty that is easy to make: leftover bread dough is pressed flat, topped with bacon, cream and/or scallions, sprinkled with caraway, and baked until crisp – a delicacy. It is best enjoyed in the company of friends and a glass of dry Riesling.

Guten Appetit!

Following Owls

For more than six weeks I have been following a family of Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus). I discovered them by accident – while my friend and I were walking around the lake one morning, we saw a crowd of people with binoculars and cameras looking up an eucalyptus tree. After inquiring what they were watching, we saw it with our very own eyes: a huge nest in a fork in the upper part of the tree. We could barely make out the pointed ears of Mama Owl and did not see the owlets. There were two of them, we were told.

It took another two weeks until we finally saw the owlets. By then, the babies had grown so much that Mom couldn’t stay in the nest anymore. It was a big nest, but already too small for the owl family. Owls are renters, they do not build their own nests. They “occupy” ready made nests – nature’s way of foreclosure. This one was a hawk’s nest. We saw the owlets peeking out of the nest, curiously looking at the crowd beneath them. Later they ventured out and hopped onto the nearest branch, spreading their wings and, yes, pooping down on the crowd.

From then on I visited the owls almost every day. I enjoyed being a witness to the upbringing of these birds. Tom, the park volunteer who observed the owls every day, shared his incredible knowledge about them. During those six weeks I learned so much about owls that I became an “owl dictionary”. I was able to tell other people about these nocturnal predators when Tom wasn’t around. Connecting with people, sharing our love for nature and hoping that the owls would survive was a wonderful side effect of this unique experience.

And then an entire drama unfolded. One morning when I reached the site one owlet was sitting on the ground under a nearby redwood tree. Less than half an hour before it had fallen out of the nest during a fight with its sibling. Good thing that Tom had already been there and called the ranger. People diverted bikers and dog walkers so that the owlet could be safe. Neither Mama Owl nor Dad Owl who was perching on a nearby eucalyptus tree in his usual spot came to their child’s rescue (and honestly, what could they have done?). The ranger finally arrived – he was one of the very experienced rangers whom I had known for almost ten years. Very gently he put the frightened little owlet who seemed to be uninjured into a box and delivered him to the local Bird Rescue Center. We are getting regular updates, the little owl is doing fine. There are good chances that he can be released into the wild later this year.

His sibling by now has left the nest and climbs, hops and jumps higher and higher up the tree, Mama Owl always nearby, keeping an eye on him. One evening I saw Dad Owl taking off for the hunt – they eat a lot of crows but also little animals like squirrels and skunks, even snakes. A few more weeks and the fledgling will fly – his wings that he spreads constantly are already pretty big. He is slowly loosing his fluff and fuzziness. Soon he will be gone, discovering his world.

Latest update: I just came back from an evening at the lake. The "fallen" owlet has been released last night and was sitting in one of the trees on a lower branch. He looked good and we hope that Mama Owl will start to feed him again.

Dressed Memories

Last Monday, Marcie wrote here on Vision and Verb about her decluttering and spring cleaning project. How she keeps and treasures the sentimental objects, but how clothes got sorted out because she does not wear them anymore. And while I just recently decluttered my closet for the second time this year and got rid of some more pants, skirts and shirts, there are clothes that I will keep – because of the sentimental value they have for me.

There is the gown that my daughter was christened in back in 1998. At that time, the gown was already 136 years old – my great-grandmother Agnes was baptized in it in 1862. She was my Mom’s most beloved grandmother (her dad’s mother). One of her memories was that at grandma’s house they always got butter to eat instead of any substitutes and hot chocolate to drink (these were the 20’s and early 30’s, a bitter time in Germany). I don’t know how the baptism robe ended up with my mother, I guess that is was always handed down to the oldest child in the family. For some reason unbeknownst to me, my mother gave this gown to me although I am the youngest in the family. My daughter looked tiny in it, and the old lace has become rather fragile. One day I will give it to my daughter, hoping that more children will be christened in this gown of the woman who even in meager times brought a sense of life’s bounty to her grandchildren.

When my Mom passed away four years ago, my sister-in-law and I packed her clothes to give them to charity. Among them was a grey cashmere sweater. It had written “Mom” all over it – I had to keep it. It now lives in my closet, but I never wear it. Sometimes I take it out and hold it close to my nose – it still has a faint scent of my Mom. Smelling it brings her back to me for a moment.

And then of course, there are some baby clothes I chose to keep. Little denim overalls with damaged knees and a pair of red shoes. My daughter managed to ruin both in just one afternoon by “walking” on her knees on a quiet street, pushing a little cart that held a garden hose. The red-striped shirt with the black rocking horse that my Mom had sewn for me when I was a toddler and that my daughter wore many times. The green dress with the little pink flowers she wore on her first day of school. The Brownie vest. The Girl Scout sash.

They are only clothes. But they hold so many precious memories.

Eating In Good Company

Valais, Switzerland, 1972: In the company of a family from Switzerland and one from Belgium we are having a delicious outdoor meal, enjoying a typical Swiss raclette followed by a peach tart. Children run around, the conversation at the table is held in French, Flemish and German. There is a lot of loud laughter.

Poitou, France, 1977: A real French dinner in the beautiful old home of a French family. The meal has several courses, each served with a new bottle of wine. With each glass of wine, speaking French becomes easier. The dinner takes for hours, the conversation is loud and vivid, we laugh a lot, the food is to die for. Two families from countries which were once embittered enemies – Germany and France – enjoying each other’s company in high spirit (not only because of the good wine).

London, England, 1986: Friends from England, Scotland, Zimbabwe and Germany get together to celebrate the last evening of the year with a delicious meal in a restaurant. Reflection over the past 12 months is the topic of the conversation, again and again broken up by friendly laughter and some silly jokes.

Northern California, USA, 2010: It is time to give thanks. Americans and Germans gather around the long table that holds the most delicious food. Everybody says what they are grateful for – we have a lot to be thankful for. German and English words float around while we pass bowls and platters, the children tell funny stories from school, we laugh, talk, eat and drink, enjoying each other’s company.

Four nations and people from even more countries. We all share the same: good food in the company of friends or people who only a short time before were mere strangers. Enjoying food in good company does not know boundaries. I found it in Taiwan, Italy, Egypt and Canada. It seems to satisfy some very basic needs – physical, mental and emotional nourishment.

Eating in good company are landmarks in my life. Gathering the family around the kitchen table for dinner every evening is one of my daily highlights. One of my last memories of my mom is celebrating her 85th birthday, with her siblings and children sitting around the dining table. Certainly it is the food that satisfies instantly, and the more delicious the better. However, the deep and long lasting satisfaction comes from the people we share this food with, the good companionship and the friendship.

Spring Cleaning

Last week was spring break at my daughter’s school. Usually we go away for this one week, explore new places or visit “old” ones. It is a wonderful time to re-fuel and get ready for the last crazy quarter at school with all its tests, sport events and drama performances.

This year was different though. Our alternatives were either Tahoe in the snow or Anza-Borrego State Park in Southern California. Anza-Borrego is high on our travel list for its beautiful wildflowers in the spring; however, the weather forecast predicted lots of rain and we are not big fans of “wet” camping. But we were not really convinced of playing in the snow either.

What we finally ended up with? We stayed at home – and de-cluttered and cleaned the house thoroughly. We had wanted to do this for some years, but there was always something “better” to do (that happens easily!). However, I had reached a stage where I did not like the chaos in our house anymore and was convinced that we had way too much stuff we really did not need.

It turned out to be a wonderful week! We took it slowly in the morning and then got to work. The husband de-cluttered and re-organized the office, a real eyesore; the girl put lots of stuff in boxes which I took to the thrift store; and I finally tackled the bookshelves in the family room that were chaotic with huge piles of dust (yes, I KNOW I am NOT a good housewife, even though I am German!). After that was done – it took two days – I turned my attention to my studio aka the dining room. It was a huge mess. Can you believe that by Friday evening we had guests for dinner, six people sitting around the oval dining table that only shortly before was hidden beneath canvas, paper, acrylic paints? Not to mention all the tools and bits and pieces.

We are still not completely done, but the feeling of the house is light and fresh. It is MY house again, where I feel home. The burden of clutter and unwanted stuff has been lifted and in its place I have found relief and a sense of freedom. Yes, it helps that after all the rain we had the sun is finally shining. But my upbeat mood comes from my clean surroundings – and I had never thought that I would write and be enthusiastic about spring cleaning ever in my life!

A Beacon In The Night

Lighthouses have always held a magical fascination for me. A lonely, firm post on a rugged shore, they send their lights out to the souls on the dark oceans. Their beacon of bright light can be seen as a sign of hope or just as a light source that shortly brightens the darkness – here is comes, there is goes, and here it comes again.

When I was a child of six and seven years old, my family spent the summer vacation in Denmark, in a small summerhouse amidst the dunes of Jutland. The sandy beaches were incredibly wide and seemed to be endless. One of my fondest memories is walking along the beach with my parents and brother at twilight and seeing the lighthouse further up the coast, sending its white beacon across the North Sea, again and again in its steady rhythm. I felt the comfort of my family and since then I have always associated lighthouses with safety – not only for the ships out on the oceans of the world, but a safe haven for my emotions as well.

Of course there is also the solitude of a lighthouse, its tall lone standing. I have often dreamed about what it would be like to live in a lighthouse. I imagined a big light room with white washed walls. A desk would be in front of a window from which I could see the open sea and just a little bit of the coastline. A vase with yellow and orange flowers would sit on the desk. Here I would sit and write novels all day and live my solitary writer’s life. So romantic.

Dreams… my life has turned out very differently. But I live close to one of the most beautiful coastlines that gives many lighthouses a home – places you can visit and learn about lighthouse keepers and horrendous ship accidents. Seeing those lighthouses still give me that feeling of having reached a safe haven – where my dreams continue to live and delight me.

With These Hands

Recently I started an art journal, and my first page was about my hands. I love to use my hands, to work with them, to hand-make. It is so satisfying to create something with my hands, be it a piece of mixed media art, a loaf of bread or just folding laundry that still holds a fresh scent.

Often I wondered what it feels like to be a potter and touching the clay, shaping it with your fingers and seeing it transformed under your hands into a stylish vase or a beautiful bowl. The closest I ever got to that is kneading dough, forming the soft firmness (!) and shaping it into the “daily bread” or some cookies for the kids. It’s always a bit sticky, but what a yummy stickiness it is!

Gardening comes to mind. I don’t like the rough gardening gloves that you can buy at places like Home Depot, but I prefer those ones that “have the touch”. It is satisfying to feel the whole weed let loose when I pull it from the soil. Speaking of soil, that is one of the nicest touches, soil crumbling in the palm of your hand, spilling it through your fingers, soil under your fingernails.

Hands can heal and caress, comfort and protect. Open hands, palms up, signalize “I’m here for you”. They can calm a distressed animal and encourage a shy child. They can create things of beauty. Unfortunately, they also have the power to destroy.

My hands do not look young anymore. Brown spots appear on the skin, a constant reminder that my time is limited and I should use it wisely. There is a scar on my right hand that is left from the IV I had while I was hospitalized for nine weeks during my pregnancy. This tiny scar alone tells a whole story. And so does every hand.

The nicest thing about hands? They can hold other people’s hands. When my daughter slips her hand in mine, I feel grateful and incredibly happy. It is the best thing that my hands can touch and hold.

Friends Who Go And Friends Who Stay

"Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart."

I have always loved this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the women I deeply admire. This quote seems to reflect my very own experience with friendships during the course of my life so far. And when recently on this site Ginnie was pondering the virtual friends many of us have made in the blogosphere, I thought about the friends in my “real life”.

I do not have a “life long” friend, someone I met at the playground or in elementary school and whom I’m still keeping in touch with. Actually, I do not have a single friend from my childhood. When I was four years old, I moved for the first time, then again when I was 15, and after I had graduated from high school I went to university in a completely different part of my country, happy and relieved to leave the narrow world of my teens, determined never to come back – and except for short visits, I never have.

But during the university years and, later, the professional life, as a late mom and wife and finally after the big move to the States, friendships became more serious. Friends entered my life at certain stages – some were companions just for a couple of years, some were there for many years and then silently left, and a very few stayed forever. Less than a handful were true kindred spirits. Some were hurtful. When one friendship that had lasted for almost two decades was slowly reaching its end, I was clinging unto it, not willing to let it go. It was painful and I was miserable for a long time.

Friendships, like marriage, need work, love and forgiveness. They are doomed to fail if one of the partners is not her or his true self. Friendships need space, letting go, reaching out and honesty. Some of my truest friends are those I went through tough times with, times when we were angry with each other, would not talk for days or even weeks and finally miss each other so much that one of us would take the first step toward the other.

Friends come into our life, and many of them go again. They will always have a special place in our hearts for having been there during a certain time. And a very few may stay forever.

The Beauty Of Yosemite

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”   ~ John Muir

The long Martin Luther King weekend in January is the ideal time for us to spend in John Muir’s beloved Yosemite. We call it the “national park in our backyard” since it is just a short five hours drive to Yosemite Valley. Since we had moved to California almost ten years ago, not a year has gone by without a visit to this beautiful area of breathtaking wilderness.

Most times we go in the winter. We do miss the snow and all the beauty that comes with it (not the driving and shoveling, though, thank you very much), and a few days in Yosemite’s white landscape can quickly fix this. We rent a log cabin in Curry Village right across from Half Dome, the famous landmark of the park – and also right next to the ice rink which is important to the Husband and the Girl. While they skate, I sometimes just sit and listen to the silence and the loud calling of the raven. It soothes my soul. I write in my journal and have extensive time for reading, small pleasures that usually are the first to be scraped from my days at home. My last entry for Vision and Verb was actually written in Yosemite, with the view of tall dark trees and Half Dome right behind them.

Yosemite is also famous for its waterfalls. They do run water in the winter, though not as much as in the spring when the snow melts, and they also have huge sheets of ice clinging to their walls. During the day the sun melts the ice and big chunks of it shatter down to the ground. You can hear the loud thunder through the entire valley. The drums of winter…

I love to stroll around the snow covered meadows in the valley when they are blissfully less crowded than in summer. If you are up early, you can see the fog rising from the valley floor, engulfing the trees and sometimes even giving you the gift of the sighting of a lone coyote trundling along the side of the road or hunting some rodents. The trees seem to be more majestic than elsewhere at that moment, and mystical at the same time. In the evening you can witness the theatrical spectacle of a glorious sunset, bathing Half Dome in a dramatic glow while the moon is rising behind it.

It only takes a few hours surrounded by this natural beauty that I feel worries and stress fall apart from me. I can breathe easier and just relax, enjoying this divine place. I become part of it. It is nature at its best with all its healing powers.

Thoughts About My Daughter

In three months my daughter will officially be a teenager. I have always dreaded those teenage years, wondering whether she will turn out being dreadful, disrespectful and moody. I worry about loud, exhausting fights and long periods of sullen silence. And of course I’ve always hoped that she’ll be an exception. That she will be pleasant throughout.

She won’t be. I don’t have any illusions in this regard.

So I’m thoroughly enjoying her current pleasantness. At twelve – almost thirteen (how did this happen so fast?) – she seems very mature and like a small child at the same time. She still pulls out her Playmobil and plays imaginary stories on a long afternoon. Her stuffed animals – Hipps the hippopotamus and Anton the polar bear – have to be in her bed when she goes to sleep. Sometimes, she still watches “Arthur”. She plays “Animal Crossing” and “Mario Kart”. She feels most comfortable in her jeans and her green fleece jacket from Canada. She has no interest in make-up and fancy clothes. And boys – oh my, can there be anything more annoying in the world?

This can change in a heartbeat, I know. We’ve already experienced mood swings, sullenness and a rather sassy tone in her voice. But there is a deep-rooted self-confidence in her that lets me hope she’ll find a good and healthy way through adolescence. She has always been very independent in her opinions and never feared to be different. If someone thinks of her as odd, she simply doesn’t care. She thinks it’s cool to be smart and doesn’t hide it, yet at the same time she is always willing to help others. She has an incredible sense of humor.

She still is a cuddlebug. She often comes up to me and hugs me for no apparent reason. Sometimes she even says “Mommy, I love you”. I probably don’t have to emphasize here how much this warms my heart. When she does her homework, she loves it when I sit on her bed reading or sometimes taking a nap. She still loves to be tucked in and slips in my bed in the morning, waiting for me to write on her back.

I cherish these moments. They are the best part in my life. And they give me hope that the bond between us will remain strong throughout the difficult time of her teenage years.

Coming Home

I used to dread the end of a vacation. The thought of going home, leaving a beautiful location and returning to the routine of my regular life made me feel sick. Sometimes it even completely overshadowed the last few days that should have been spent in a relaxed and joyful way. I hated to go back to my job and be consumed by the demands of other people (always urgent, always important).

Just recently I returned from a vacation again. It was a beautiful vacation, spent in some of my most favorite places in the deserts of the American Southwest. This region has helped to shape the landscape of my heart and I pine for it all the time – the open spaces, the silence, the incredible colors of the Red Rock Country.

But when it was time to go home I left without any regret.

On the contrary, I was looking forward to home. I couldn’t wait to sleep in my own bed, getting greeted by the neighbor’s cat in the morning and watching the squirrels and birds in my backyard. The seed catalog was waiting for me, helping me to dream up colorful images of my garden. I wanted to get started on de-cluttering our house. And even the routine - daughter’s school, exercise, house work (ugh!), shuttling the kid to wherever she needs to be – held something promising.

Most of all, I was keen to go back to work. Not to a job – I lost my last job three years ago (the only job I really loved, I need to mention). No, my work – the outlet of my creativity, the use of my hands. Playing with paper, glue and stamps, feeling the stroke of a paintbrush on a clean canvas, using all those images I brought back from the desert to create something new. Mixing acrylics to find the perfect turquoise, to get the reddish sienna I remember from the red rock in the late afternoon sunlight. Trying to incorporate the desert wind, the complete silence of a snow covered landscape. I was eager to download my photos and putting into images and words what I have seen, heard and felt. Cooking up meals that bring back the flavors of the Southwest.

I have come home. It’s not a location on a map. My home is myself. I’ve finally arrived.

The Silence Of Christmas

After I have told you about our St. Martin’s Day and Advent traditions in Germany I simply cannot leave out the “big event”, Christmas.

Our “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.


Handmade decoration for Advent from the ore-mountain region

For quite some time I had no idea what to write for this post. I was “Thanksgiving-busy”, not even caring about the shopping frenzy the weekend after. I was pondering what to write, being mainly clueless, when I read Frida’s beautiful Post about her traditional 1st Advent family gathering.

Advent – a time full of expectation, getting prepared to celebrate the birth of a boy who changed the world. The arrival of the Messiah.

I am not a religious person. However, Advent always held something special for me, some magical time. These weeks we remember the traditions in our native country and try to keep some of them alive in our country of choice, even though slightly different.

We usually had an Advent wreath made of tiny pine tree branches on our dining table that held four candles. On 1st Advent one candle was lit, on 2nd Advent two candles etc. On 4th Advent, candles 1 and 2 were usually already pretty low and it wouldn’t take long until the first few rather dry needles would catch fire. My brother and I were always waiting for this scenario when my father would hectically extinguish the small flames and the wonderful smell of slightly burned pine needles would fill the room (this sounds way more dangerous than it actually was). My mom used to create an advent calendar that held little surprises for us, like colorful erasers or a little chocolate ball or a globe-shaped pencil sharpener. Both are traditions we still keep – except for the burning!

On December 6th we celebrate St. Nicholas in Germany. The evening before children all over Germany put one boot out which will magically be filled with sweets, nuts and oranges the very next morning. During the day, “Nikolaus”, often accompanied by his rather dark and scary companion Knecht Ruprecht, would visit kindergarten classes and preschools. He would also wander the street, passing out sweets and jolly words to both children and adults. My daughter, 12 years old by now, still gets excited about Nikolaus who magically turns up at our doorstep in California…

Advent was also full of music. Bach’s Advent cantatas and Christmas Oratorio as well as Händel’s Messiah are performed in churches and concert halls all over the country. In some places children’s choirs walk through the festively decorated streets singing the old Christmas carols. My favorite was and will always be “Silent night, holy night”. Christmas Markets seem to pop up in every town. The smell of gingerbread (“Lebkuchen”), roasted almonds, marzipan and mulled wine is in the air, in addition to the typical German baked delicacy, the Stollen.

I wish all of you a peaceful and joyful Advent.

Owning A Home

Recently we looked at a house that is up for sale. We spent almost an hour there, meandering through the rooms, pondering the design of the kitchen, wondering who came up with such a weird layout for a living room. I strolled through the backyard, noticing all the trash that was lying almost everywhere.

The state of the house was terrible. We could easily see that it needed more than just a little bit of TLC. New windows, new floors, preferably hardwood. A fresh coat of paint in warm Mediterranean colors. A completely new color on the outside to chase away the sadness that covered the house. New bathrooms. And the kitchen… it was the best room in the entire house. I envisioned my favorite kitchen from IKEA, a kitchen isle with a basket of fruit on top and a huge wooden dining table where everyone would gather. Flavorful smells coming from the oven and a happy fire crackling in the wood stove.

So, will we put an offer on the house? Is there a chance that we eventually will become homeowners after decades of renting?

The honest answer is that I don’t know. But since we looked at that house I have been wondering what it means to me to own a home. Is it really a dream of mine? Is this something I cannot live without?

I have never owned a home in all my life. Actually, before I came to the States I hadn’t lived in a single-family house, but in apartments. I grew up in a two-bedroom apartment on the third floor of an apartment complex that was built in the sixties. I spent years and years in one-room apartments. When someone made me a good offer for the purchase of a beautiful rooftop apartment I ran. I wanted to travel, see the world and not putting my money into a place that would make me feel being stuck permanently.

I love the house we’re currently renting. We have been living in this mountain-sage green ranch-style house for almost ten years. It’s a very average, mediocre house. The kitchen drives me nuts. The dining room functions as my studio. The three bedrooms have a good size, but are way too cluttered. The yard was a desert when we moved in that I have converted into a beautiful little paradise ever since and is loved by wildlife. The house is never tidy, but full of laughter and music and loud happy voices.

Sometimes I wish we would own our home so that we could put in new windows – in the cold season we’re heating the world! We have asked our landlord multiple times whether he would sell the house to us. He would not.

So – we’re renting. It’s still our HOME. We don’t have to own it.

Nights Of Lights

November is a pretty gray month in Germany. Days of fog follow days of overcast skies, with the sun only making rare appearances. Except for the first day of the month (All Saints) when in the Catholic parts of the country candles appear on gravesites in the cemeteries, the month offers mainly dark and somber holidays: Volkstrauertag (our kind of Memorial Day), Buß- und Bettag (Day of Prayer and Repentance, a protestant holiday that is not an official holiday any longer) and Day of the Dead which also marks the end of the church year. All these holidays are very subdued and perfectly fit the somber mood of a German November.

However, almost midthrough the month, on November 11th, lights glow in the dark accompanied by the sweet little voices of children happily singing the old folksong “Ich geh mit meiner Laterne” (I walk with my lantern). Yes, it is Martinstag (St. Martin’s Day), not an official holiday at all, but a beautiful tradition. On this day, children all over Germany remember St. Martin of Tours, who was a soldier in the Roman Army (around 330 A.D.) and became famous when he cut his woolen coat in two parts with his sword and gave one part to a beggar. He later left the army and became a monk.

Today, children create their own paper lanterns, often in preschool, kindergarten and elementary school. These lanterns come in all shapes and sizes, from simple to elaborate – and in the evening of November 11th as well as the days around this date, the young children go out in the streets with their lit lanterns and sing those old folksongs. It is a sweet sound in all the hectic day-to-day noise, a moment to pause and listen to the beautiful tunes, look at the young faces and notice the enthusiasm and joy the children show.

They bring light into our night, music to our ears and joy to our hearts.

A beautiful tradition that I hope will never vanish.

A River Of Boats

While spending a couple of days in Vancouver last summer, I visited the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. It is a fascination place to learn more about the First Nations who called this part of the world their home long before any white man put his foot here.

 I wandered along the exhibits, captivated by the colors and raw and honest art of these objects. It was a magical place telling stories of a different time.

 After having taken in this very special atmosphere I just meandered through the museum, curious what else I could find there.

 Then I saw the boats.

 Not just one boat or two. No. Hundreds of them.

 They were hanging form the ceiling, just slightly wafting, floating through hallways and exhibition rooms. The boats were small, perhaps 10 – 12 inches long, made of thin white, almost transparent plastic. The lights made them glow and shimmer. Immediately they reminded me of Chinese boats that the fishermen go out in early in the morning, hoping for a good catch.

Did I hear music? I remember hearing very faint music, a distant flute or a low symphony under water. It could have been just my imagination.

 I followed these boats through the hallways, feeling tears in my eyes without knowing why. Where are these boats coming from?, I wandered. Who created them and why? And why do they touch my soul so deeply?

 Finally, I reached the last room – or perhaps it was the first room. Here I learned that the boats were created by Gu Xiong, a Chinese artist who immigrated to Canada in 1989. Struggling with the difficulties that immigration is not short of, he learned to experience another culture and to be open to benefiting from differences. Merging two cultures into a third one. Becoming Rivers (the title of this fascinating artwork).

 Being an immigrant myself, I had felt Gu’s struggle and his determination while watching his boats, following his rivers. I am a river myself – as Gu stated, “a river of migration, a river of trans-cultural identities, a river of change and uncertainty” and on my way of creating my own culture out of the old and the new, the past and the present.

Taking A Nap

Recently I have re-discovered the pleasure of taking a nap in the middle of the day. During the past few weeks I had trouble sleeping (again!) and finally I felt so exhausted that I decided to climb into my hammock to rest a little bit after my lunch.

It was heaven.

While listening to the cheerful chirping of the birds and watching the little squirrel having a feast at one of the birdfeeders, I felt my eyelids become heavy and slowly drifted into a brief but restful sleep. It only took 20 minutes and I awoke, refreshed and ready to face further demands of the day.

Taking a nap was a tradition in my family when I grew up. My dad was lucky enough to be able to come home for his lunch break, had his meal and then took a 20-minute-nap in the living room. My mom retired to the bedroom, curling up in her bed and enjoying a good nap as well. Frequently, I would snuggle up next to her, eventually falling asleep and waking up pretty much at the same time as she did. And then the best part happened. We would just lie in bed and talk. I told her about school, she shared some of her childhood memories (I loved to hear those). Sometimes we would “write” words with our fingers on each other’s back and the other one had to guess what the word was.

It was a very special mother-daughter time.

So I think I’ll keep up this tradition. It’s good for me. I feel my energy coming back and I actually sleep better in the night! 20 minutes of eye shut is all that it takes. And I love how the everyday noise simply vanishes into the background the moment I lay down and let my thoughts wander and feeling myself getting all heavy and – snooze.

But this is not the only thing to keep. Sometimes my daughter and I would snuggle up and start writing on each other’s back. We have come a long way, from simple words like “dog” and “cat” to “bicycle”. That’s a tough one.

And I hope that one day my daughter will spend time with her children just like this.


Special guest post today by Carola Bartz who blogs at  'Carola Bartz‘. Thank you for joining us here today, Carola, and for your wonderful story and image.

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