Wednesday, February 14, 2018

An Image and Its Story - January 2018

Last year I joined the year long Scene & Story and liked how by the end of the month I looked through all my photos that I took during those 28 to 31 days before and finding my favorite one, or the one that spoke to me the most. Sometimes I already knew "the photo" when I took it, but that didn't happen very often. It was interesting to see how I could still find a favorite photo in difficult months like October when I pretty much didn't take any photos because we were busy making it somehow through the month without losing our minds; it was equally interesting to realize that in a month when I took all my autumn pictures it was a completely different photo that made the cut in the end.

This year is not even two months old and I miss Scene & Story. But why not going on with my own twist of Scene & Story? Why not pick a photo of the month - and it doesn't have to be a favorite one - and tell the story behind it?

When I looked through my January photos I was convinced that I would choose a picture taken in Hawai'i. I should know by now that it seldom works out this way. It was a photo I took in the early morning of the last day of the month, and it's not even a particularly good one, but a rather blurry image of the eclipsed Super Blue Blood Moon.

The very first time I had seen a lunar eclipse was back in Germany. I was living on the top of a hill in Tübingen at that time and I just had to walk to the other side of the hill to see the entire valley before me with the red moon hanging over it. It was one of those unforgettable moments, and though I have seen a few more lunar eclipses since then none was as beautiful as that first one.

Until a couple weeks ago.

The Geek and I had our alarm clocks set for 4:30 in the morning. Thankfully we didn't have to go anywhere but just stepped out in the backyard. From there we could watch the natural show, and it was incredible beautiful. Often mornings are foggy here when the ocean sends over the clouds, but this morning was clear (and chilly for Californian standards) and crisp. I didn't take a lot of pictures, just a few and wasn't impressed with them. I put the tripod with the camera to the side and just enjoyed the silent spectacle in the sky.

The big difference to a solar eclipse is that a lunar eclipse takes so much longer. You can really enjoy it and have enough time to take it all in.

When I looked at my photos later that morning I was surprised that there were even some stars visible in the images. The moon might be a bit blurry, but having the stars balances it all out.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A Late Honeymoon

When the Geek and I married we never had a honeymoon. It didn't come to mind back then - there were other things that were way more important and urgent - and we never thought that we had missed out on something. But when Kaefer left home to go away to college, things changed. It took us a while to get used to the fact that we were kind of "free" people now and could go on trips and weekend excursions whenever we wanted. Well, not quite, there are certain times when I have to be at work like the beginning and end of the school year because that time is always mayhem. But that's only a few weeks a year, and the rest is for us to decide what to do with it - on top of my free time during the summer.

Last year the Geek and I also decided not to give each other gifts anymore for Christmas and birthdays but instead save the money and go on trips instead. We both love to travel and it really isn't hard to "sacrifice" those gifts. Traveling is a gift in itself.

When we had a family vacation in Hawai'i back in the summer of 2016 for Kaefer's graduation we fell in love with the Big Island. Back then we stayed in the Avocado Tree House and thought that we should have spent more time there. So it was a very easy decision to go back there and finally have a honeymoon after 20 years of marriage.

This time we stayed for ten days. This part of the Big Island is in the Puna District which gets a lot of rain, and we certainly got our share of that. However, the island is so small that it only takes an hour to drive or so to be in the sun, and it's always warm, whether it rains or not. That wasn't the only difference to our last stay, though. The fruit that we got from our hosts was different as well, of course. This time we had the apple bananas (so delicious), abiu, papaya, rollinia and rambutan which were my favorite.

I was very happy to meet our old friends again, the Gold Dust Day Geckos. They are incredibly cute and quite some fun company.

Whenever I was thinking of the Big Island the volcano came to mind. Kīlauea was a magical place when we first visited it, and it kept its magic this time.

We did a lot of hikes at the volcano, hikes that I had dreamt of for the past 18 months. Now we finally hiked those trails, craters and desert, over old and newer lava, faithfully following the rock cairns - called Ahu - and enjoying nature in this special place.

There was no lava flow in January, no ocean entry of the hot fiery liquid stuff. If you were willing to do a very long and hard hike (we're talking 10 - 12 miles here) you could see some lava flow further up the slope, but since we had seen the lava in 2016 we skipped on that hike since we know how hard it really is.

For the first time we saw Nēnē, the endangered Hawai'ian goose and state bird. Back in 2016 we never saw a single one, but this time we saw so many of them. They are quite beautiful birds.

The Puna District belongs to the rain forest and it certainly rains a lot here. The result is wonderful vegetation, a lot of birds and the drives along the rather narrow roads here are beautiful. I like it when the trees form a tunnel over the road.

The 'Ohi'a Lehua is a unique tree that is endemic to Hawai'i. It grows in different habitats and it usually is one of the first plants that grows out of lava. It's quite astonishing to see a huge field of dark lava and there are trees with the most beautiful flowers growing seemingly effortless out of it.

Of course we went to the ocean - you can't really avoid it when in Hawai'i. After all, the islands are surrounded by the wild and wet stuff. And wild it was!

There are warnings everywhere on the cliffs not to go too close to the edge, but there are always people who know better. I find it quite amusing - human stupidity doesn't know any limits.

I found a heart shaped coral at a beach that was covered in white, orange and pink corals. And we were so lucky to see some Green Sea Turtles resting at a Black Sand Beach or swimming and feeding in low water. Some more unforgettable sights.

Of course there were rainbows and sunsets.

We ate lots of Poke - and I mean lots of. There's a shed that makes the best Poke that we frequented often - it is just so darn good. I have to learn how to make real good Poke since I get sushi grade ahi at my neighborhood market.

It was sad to leave the Big Island after ten wonderful days. I'm pretty sure we will be back. This is such a magical place. During those ten days I didn't read the paper neither watched TV (there isn't a TV in the Avocado Tree House) and it was very relaxing not to hear any disturbing news. We were on an island!

This is what we brought home from Hawai'i - you can see our priorities... little pouches for Kaefer, lots of Kona and peaberry coffee, Macademia nuts for me and Alaea Red Hawai'ian sea salt (for Poke).

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Winners!

Thank you to everyone who voted for their favorite photos! At the beginning it was a wide spread field, but then it narrowed considerably and in the end there were three clear winners.

First place goes to the beautiful purple thistle with the Grand Tetons in the back.

The very close runner-up went to the sculpture that I saw at one of the burnt down homes in my old neighborhood, a sign of love and hope amidst total devastation.

And the bronze medal (so to speak, since we are in an Olympic year) goes to our state flower, the beautiful California poppy. This is such a happy flower.

After I had established the winning photos I also had to pick a winner from all of you who voted. The winner will get a greeting card set with the three winning photos, and they will go to...

Cheri at Scrap Dreams! Congratulations!!! 

I don't want to end this post without letting you know which photo is my favorite out of the 15. It is the image of Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park. I took this photo early in the morning while the day wasn't quite clear yet. There wasn't any fog anymore, but it was a bit hazy and I found it very atmospheric.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Knitting Up a Storm

When I looked at all the knitting projects I completed in 2017 I was surprised how much I actually knitted in that year. Yes, of course I know that I love to knit, but I wasn't aware that I do so much of it. Since I have started to take pictures of every finished project I know much better what I knit and how much I love it.

My birthday is at the beginning of the year, and in 2017 my husband gave me a yarn winder - one of the niftiest things ever. It makes winding yarn so easy while still maintaining the meditative aspect of it.

The first project I finished was the kitty sweater in the top picture. It went to the little girl of my friend Denice (you met her in this post) and is still a bit too big for her. This wasn't the last kitty project, either. Later in the year I knitted up a lot of cat bookmarks.

Doll clothes that fit 18" dolls like American Girl dolls knit up fast and are usually quite easy. This was the first time that I knitted sets of cardigans and skirts. The dress was fun to knit as well.

There were hats with the Baable hat - modeled by Kaefer - being my all-time favorite. I just love the sheep that turn up around the circumference of the head. The pumpkin hat was the project I knitted the most during the fires. For some weird reason I received the most orders in that dreadful week and I was knitting pumpkin hats like a mad woman, which proved to be a blessing since it distracted me a bit from all the insanity. Of course there were "pussy hats" at the beginning of the year that I knitted for Kaefer and myself, but also for friends who went to the Women's March in Washington, D.C.

Socks - everybody needs warm socks. It only takes two or three days for me to knit up a pair of cozy socks, but a bit longer if I'm working with fine sock yarn. Most of the socks I knit for other people, but the fiery orange/red pair definitely was a keeper.

There were several baby and toddler sweaters I made. I wish there were more babies, toddlers and little kids in my life. It is so much fun to knit all these cute clothes for them.

I have two nieces in Germany, and both of them got a foxy scarf.

Of course I had to knit for Kaefer. A couple years ago I knitted her the "ocean breeze sweater", and this year I used the same pattern and a different yarn to knit this sweater for her.

But the most favorite project of the year was this little bird that I often gave as a little gift. It can be used as an ornament or a gift tag or whatever you can think of. You can tell that I had fun with these little guys!


Please vote on my favorite photos of 2017 in this blogpost with the chance of winning a set of photo cards.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Reading Rat

A reading rat? A rat that reads?

It's a German expression - Leseratte - for someone who loves to read and reads a lot. It's similar to the bookworm which we have as an expression as well - Bücherwurm.

I'm certainly a reading rat, and a bookworm, a read addict, a readaholic - take your pick. Bookshops are a huge magnet, especially the small independent ones where I usually discover some new book adventures. In 2008 I started to write down which books I read and mark the ones that I thoroughly enjoyed with a little star. My yearly book consumption lies anywhere between 30 and 50 books.

2017 brought a big change for me since my husband gave me a Kindle paperwhite for Christmas 2016. I love to read in bed before I go to sleep, but the Geek hates it since he can't sleep very well with my nightstand light on. So he gave me a paperwhite which lights up the background and I don't need to turn on the light. He can sleep in peace and I can read to my heart's content.

I admit that in the beginning I wasn't too excited about the Kindle. Books are the real thing for me - I love the feel of it, the smell, the rustling of the pages. But - I soon changed my mind since I experienced all the advantages, especially the late night reading. When we packed our evacuation bag in the early hours of October 9th I knew I had a big supply of books without the bulk. And how fun to have so many books to choose from when I'm traveling. So yeah, real books are still my favorites, but I do love my paperwhite.

The problem with real books is that I'm running out of space for them. Years ago, in our old house, I had organized my books, but I haven't done that since we moved into this home and the book shelves are rather messy.

I try to at least keep the books of one author in one place, but even that doesn't always work out so well.

A Kindle though can be easily organized, one can categorize the books in collections, you can easily read the book description and the reviews, but the book titles are not as nice - at all.

The first Kindle book I read was "The Orphan Train" by Christina Baker Cline which was an excellent read. I found many books by writers I had never heard about, some of them were good, others readable, some downright crap and some excellent. Some of the very good ones that I would recommend are "The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland" by Rebekah Crane (I think her reading audience are teenagers and young adults, nothing wrong with that), "The Girl Who Came Home"  by Hazel Gaynor (a Titanic story), "Storm Rose" by Corina Bomann (a very interesting story dealing with some history of East Germany) and anything by Catherine Ryan Hyde. For lovers of mysteries "Stormy Cove" by Bernadette Calonego (not your usual mystery novel, but a very atmospheric story taking place in Newfoundland), "The Rage of Plum Blossoms" by Christine M. Whitehead and "Huntress Moon" by Alexandra Sokoloff which is the first book of the Huntress thriller series. Very good read!

I discovered two writers I fell in love with right away. One is Nadia Hashimi whose books take place in her parents' native country of Afghanistan.

I've read a few books about Afghanistan and find it rather fascinating. I came upon "The Pearl that Broke the Shell" by chance and got immersed into this story right away. Even though the story is often just terrible, the writing is excellent. Then I discovered "A House Without Windows" in a little independent bookstore in Mendocino - another interesting, emotional, but also uplifting read. Nadia Hashimi has written a few more books, at least one targeted towards younger readers, and they all take place in Afghanistan and they all deal with the women's situation there.

The second writer is Helen Bryan. I've read two of her books, and they are completely different from each other. I first read "The Sisterhood", 420 pages scanning several centuries and two continents (actually three) and mainly taking place in a women's convent in Spain. Of course there is an old mystery at the heart of it and it's beautiful how it slowly comes to light. Helen Bryan also wrote "War Brides" which I just finished, about events in a little village in Sussex during World War II when five young, very different women become friends. Wow, what a story!

Beside American, British and German writers I came upon wonderful books by foreign writers like "The Gardener of Baghdad" by Ahmad Ardalan (Iraq), "Across a Hundred Mountains" by Reyna Grande (Mexico), and "The Sound of Language" by Amulya Malladi (Afghanistan/Denmark). I hope to find more this year and have already some lined up.

Then there are the other books - the garden and photography books. The "drool books".

"Paris in Bloom" I bought after Jeanie wrote about it on her blog - such eye candy. I love lavender (you should see my Pinterest board...) and enjoy learning about all the different kinds of it.

It was a wonderful day when I discovered "The bee-friendly Garden" by Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn, both from the Bay Area, and "Cut Flower Garden" by Erin Benzakein. Not only has the later one great information but also stunning photographs by Michele M. Waite.

I couldn't leave Yellowstone without buying this book by Stephen C. Hinch.

The photography is breath taking.

Last but not least, this:

I have always liked the photos by Pete Souza, the former chief official White House photographer. When I read on his website that it was possible to pre-order his new book AND get a free print of an image that is not included in the book I didn't think twice. I love this book.

Tell me - what were your favorite reads in 2017?


Please vote on my favorite photos of 2017 in this blogpost with the chance of winning a set of photo cards.