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.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Favorite Photos of 2017

In 2017 I took way less photos than in the years before. Have I lost my passion for photography? No, certainly not. It was more the lack of time, being occupied with other things, not feeling well and also a certain degree of laziness during my days off work. Work at both schools often left me tired and exhausted and simply overrode all my wonderful plans for getting to places and shoot.

Still, there is a good amount of photos. At the beginning of each year I create a "favorites" folder where I put in all the photos of that particular year that I especially like, either because I think they're good or they touch me in a certain way. This year, 106 photos made it into that folder. From these 106 photos I chose my favorite 15 (the "super favorites") that I will show you here. These photos are not necessarily the best photos I took during the year - many of those already were featured in my blog posts - but those that speak to me in one way or other. Even a photo taken with my phone made it into the selection as well as a photo bomb.

I would love you to choose your three favorites out of this selection and let me know which ones they are in the comments. Since the photos are numbered just mention the number. At the end I will see which ones are YOUR favorites and post them here. In addition, there will be one set of photo cards with your chosen favorites that will get to one of you who have left a "voting" comment. This is open to international readers as well! You can "vote" on this post until Saturday, January 27th. The winners - both the photos and the lucky person - will be announced on January 28th.

So without further ado, here are the photos:

1. Grand Teton Thistle

2. Waiting for the Grapes

3. Reflecting Pool

4. Ocean Fence

5. Lone Tree

6. Morning in Hayden Valley

7. Taste of Summer

8. Photo Bomb

9. Surviving

10. Purple Dream

11. Pink Glow

12. Love and Hope

13. California Poppies

14. Winter Vineyard

15. The Road to Autumn

I can't wait to see which ones are your favorites!

Scene & Story - December 2017

This is the last Scene & Story, hosted by Sarah and León. It was a year long photo project that I actually did from start to finish, a first for me. Usually I run out of "fuel" after a certain time, but since this was only once a month and gave me the opportunity to review my photos it was a project I thoroughly enjoyed and never got tired of. Thank you to both of you for this wonderful link-up.

This view of Putah Creek along CA Highway 128 made the cut for the month of December, taken with my phone. Since I saw this particular scenery the first time I wanted to take a photo of it, but never did - until that Sunday last December when I finally stopped the car by the side of the road, hopped out and took the photo. I had my "real" camera with me as well and took some more shots with it, but this image is the chosen one. I love that even in December there is so much color to find in nature here in Northern California. It was a beautiful winter day, sunny with temperatures in the 50s and I was on my way to Davis to pick up Kaefer for winter break. There are several routes to choose from and since it was such a splendid day I took the back roads through the hilly part of Napa County. It's my favorite road to Davis, free of any heavy traffic and through some absolutely stunning scenery (I should write an entire post with pictures just about this). The road is curvy, very steep in parts and flattens out in the plains at the edge of the Central Valley. When I took this photo I felt so happy because I was on my way to pick up my favorite girl and spend a bit more than two weeks with her. Oh Bliss. (She's back now and I feel quite the opposite.)

Here is the last link-up for Scene & Story.

Friday, December 29, 2017

At the End of the Year

The last week in a year is either busy away from home spent on some road trip in the American Southwest or it is very slow and quiet at home. This year we opted to stay at home and just relax. None of us has really felt the spirit of the season. Usually I write a Christmas letter to my friends and family in Germany which gives me the opportunity to look back at the year, but this year I didn't write a single Christmas card, nor a letter. When I try to let the year pass in review there usually are some highlights all over the year that come up, but this year I struggled to remember anything before October.

So I looked at my photos and the memories came back.

The year started out very wet with lots of much needed rain and much (less needed) flooding. I remember there were roads in our county that were completely flooded for days and weeks, parks were closed and the drought finally came to an end - at least for the time being.

I drove to Davis and back several times over the year, sometimes just in order to see Kaefer for a few hours. We visited the cows on campus, saw a powwow, shopped at the farmer's market and helped her moving into an apartment with her friends.

In February family from Turkey came over to visit for a couple days, and we spent a joyful President's Day weekend together, exploring the coast, an old fort and quite some of the wineries in our county.

I took many hikes, either alone, with Kaefer or a friend, and with the Geek. There even were some family hikes that we squeezed in every now and then.

In July we went to Yellowstone. We camped in our favorite campground near Tower Falls, explored the geysers, admired the wonderful colors of the Grand Prismatic Spring, saw wildflowers galore and an abundance of wildlife and, of course, we hiked a lot. This national park is my magical place where I feel whole and at peace. Nature in abundance - this is my church.

In August we were witnessing something we had been waiting for many many years - a total solar eclipse. It was a truly magical moment that left us speechless and completely awestruck.

The summer was long and beautiful. I didn't have to be back at work until the middle of August and I enjoyed having Kaefer at home with me. We got on some hikes, went out for coffee, did some shopping and sometimes just sat together watching some movies. It was hard after those weeks to see her leaving for college again and I missed her a lot at the beginning. But it didn't take too long to get back into the routine. I was busy with my work at both schools, met my friends regularly and was knitting up a storm.

Then October came along.

Even though we are the lucky ones who haven't lost our home I still haven't really recovered from what happened to our community. Everyone here has been affected by the fires some way or other. Even now, almost three months later, the main topic in conversations with friends, acquaintances and strangers is the fire. Everything is still very raw and it is difficult to find some kind of normalcy. For me there is, however, a deep sense of gratefulness for what we have.

What October lacked in autumn colors, November and even December gave us generously. Wine country wore a colorful dress of brilliant yellows, oranges and reds, and even some very fresh green after a few rain showers. Being out in nature started the healing process and even helped to forget that terrible October for a few moments.

May 2018 be a good, healthy and peaceful year for you. My best wishes are going out to you. See you next year!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

When the Family Goes on a Hike

Last year REI for the first time didn't open their shops for Black Friday, but encouraged their employees and customers to "opt outside" instead and experience the great outdoors. We loved the idea and spent a wonderful afternoon hiking Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. This year we opted outside again on Black Friday, and we chose to hike in Jack London State Historic Park, the only park close to us that by some kind of miracle has been completely untouched by the October fires.

The vineyards in the park - with the original terraced planting by Jack London - were brilliant at this time of year.

We hiked up to the "lake" - it's not really a lake anymore since it is full of algae. This was our first view of it - that green thing in the back is the lake. I don't think anybody in their right mind would want to dive in there.

But when you walk further up there are some gorgeous redwoods.

I stepped right in the middle of the trees and just took a photo looking up.

When my family saw that, they wanted to do the same thing - and we ended up with this:

This was the first time that I broke in my new hiking boots - my old ones did break in Yellowstone during a hike and the Geek, resourceful as always, had hold them together using duct tape. It was a fine for that particular hike, but certainly not a permanent solution.

But then, of course, everybody wanted to take boot pictures!

And it just went on with taking silly family photos.

Kaefer was sitting on the wall at the edge of the "lake", but she didn't stay on her own for long, not in this family.

The Geek saw this tree and asked us whether we can see the seal in it - can you?

Even the hike back wasn't done in a "civilized" way - there is always room for silliness in this family. I think we thrive on it. Life is so much more adventurous upside down between the poison oak and the mountain lion warnings.

And the vineyards kept on being stunning.

We spent several hours in this beautiful park. Since it is the only park unharmed by the fire, the entrance into it is free until the end of the year. What a gift to anyone who loves to be in nature.

All the photos in this post were taken with my cell phone.