Counting My Blessings

During a time when the health of the planet, of humanity, and of democracies is under threat it takes great effort not to give in to hopelessness. Recent events have made me (want to) turn off radio, television, and computer to avoid exposure to some of the basest human nature and to prevent me from crying sad tears or screaming in disgust and disbelief at what was said and done—or at what was not.

I frequently despair of humankind. Yet I am also reminded that human goodness does exist, and there are many reasons to be grateful. One of them is a dear friend who celebrated her 100th (!) birthday in December 2020. Esther has been in the habit of counting her blessings most of her life. She has been an inspiration for me for many years and I endeavor to embrace her positive attitude.

Esther on her 93rd birthday in 2013, still living in her own home. For her centenary we were only able to wave at her through the window of her assisted-living home.

Among my greatest blessings are my family and friends who have supported me in myriad ways throughout my life. Lately I have been touched by the kindness of fellow bloggers who reached out to inquire about my well-being. Thank you for your concern. I am still here and am doing as well as can be expected, and much better than countless others who have lost their health, loved ones, homes, or jobs.

In the turmoil of the past year nothing has comforted me as much as Mother Nature and her still mostly predictable cycles when everything else was all but. I am thankful that my freedom to spend time out-of-doors was never significantly curtailed. To experience nature’s multihued autumnal fashion show before it changed into its more muted winter attire, and to observe the parting of some birds for southern climes and the arrival of others from the north was reassuring. It gave me hope that spring will once again return and with it new life and new prospects.

Scrub oak at Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Colorado Springs, October 21, 2020.

Pair of rare Tundra Swans at Manitou Lake near Woodland Park, October 30, 2020. An unexpected delight.

Serene winter scene at Bear Creek Park, Colorado Springs,  January 11, 2021.

In Esther’s spirit, I am counting each blessing that sustains me through these troubling times. I trust each of you is safe and healthy and wish you your very own blessings.

Home Away From Home

Whenever I have occasion to travel to Germany, I set my proverbial sail for my port of call: Osthofen. Scene of the first six years of my life, before a move to neighboring Westhofen with my parents, it has, once again, become my father’s chosen hometown. It is his company I seek, his domicile, where he and his significant other spoil me (or us) with their hospitality. Much to my chagrin, instead of experiencing their warm welcome in person, I can only reminisce about it at present.

Like many communities in Rhineland-Palatinate’s Rheinhessen region, Osthofen is famous for its wines. Viticulture has been practiced in the climatically conducive Rhine Valley since its introductions by the Romans 2000 years ago. Many families have benefitted from the river’s proximity, and, for generations, have been proud caretakers of countless vineyards. They cover the rolling hills, and change their apparel with the seasons. Distinctive turrets rise between the orderly rows of vines and are reminders of days when guardians took up temporary residence in them near harvest times, to discourage voracious birds from devouring the crops by firing loud shots into the air. Those human deterrents have long been replaced by noise-producing cannons.

To enlarge a photo, click on it.

Strolling through town and its environs transports me to back to my childhood: Living with my paternal grandparents when I was an infant, until my parents built our first home. Being baptized at the local church. Attending the first three grades of elementary school. Returning in subsequent years to see family and friends, and to play team handball in a local club. The existence of the railroad has always guaranteed convenient connections to two significant destinations, Worms and Mainz, where I attended high school and university, respectively.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover the cursor over it.

Osthofen’s chronicles contain both light and dark chapters since the settlement was first mentioned in the 8th century. In 1621, it was destroyed during the 30 Years’ War, before being rebuilt. It hosted Richard Wagner in 1862, when he visited fellow composer and native son, Wendelin Weißheimer. 1933 cast its long, sinister shadow over the town. A former paper mill was re-purposed into a concentration camp for enemies of the newly-elected National Socialists, until their transfer to other facilities in the following year. Today the building houses a museum and an educational center that document the atrocities committed during Hitler’s calamitous regime.

Whenever possible, I spend time in nature. Like many agriculturally overdeveloped areas, arable land not covered in vineyards is subjugated to the plow and planted with grains or beets. Few natural enclaves remain, little habitat for untamed beings. Yet a small, man-made pond attracts waterfowl both domestic and wild, and the local cemetery with its old tree growth provides a haven for feathered and furry friends.

In response to my recent blog post “Sit And Stay A Spell,” my dad sent me this photograph of a bench. It has been in our family longer than I have, and was once a place to lounge on while making phone calls to friends. It has weathered repeated moves, and is now weathering the elements in my father’s driveway, where I hope to (gingerly) sit on it during my eagerly awaited next visit.

Click here for the German version/bitte hier für die deutsche Version klicken:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/12/04/meine-zweite-erste-heimat/

Germany’s Greatest Gift To The World

As a European transplant to America, I am often asked if I miss my native country. First and foremost, I miss my Dad, his significant other, the rest of my family, and my friends. Staying connected via the Internet or the occasional phone call can, in no way, replace cherished face-to-face time, which happens all too seldom, but at least a connection remains. This was commonly not the case for earlier emigrants who, once they stepped on board the ship that would steam across the Atlantic, were never heard of again. Furthermore, I miss certain places and traditions that have imprinted themselves on my psyche and are associated with an aching sense of nostalgia.

On a lighter note, when we met, my future husband used to tease me about not really being German by birth, as I neither ate meat, nor drank beer, wine, or coffee. He always claimed that I must have been an import. So when American friends wax lyrical about German cuisine and German hops, I can only roll my eyes. I no longer yearn for the typical meals of my childhood, centered around a slab of meat, accompanied by a potato variation, and served with an overcooked, tasteless vegetable slathered in a Fondor-based white sauce (my apologies to all lovers of said dishes).

What I long for instead is German bread. Oval, round, square, or rectangular loaves (not to forget Brötchen). Baked with wheat, buckwheat, rye, barley, spelt, or oat flower. Topped or filled with sunflower, pumpkin, millet, poppy, or flax seeds. With a crunchy crust and a firm yet fluffy core that can neither be lumped into a ball, nor tastes of molasses, or some other sweetener (my apologies to all lovers of American bread). If this sounds like a nightmare for sufferers of gluten-sensitivity, it is a dream for someone who will never embrace a low-carb diet.

Given this somewhat lengthy introduction, it is perhaps relatable that one of my first errands upon my arrival in Frankfurt is a detour to one of the various airport bakeries, followed by many similar errands to similar establishments throughout my sojourn in Germany, be they venerable old-time, locally-owned businesses (those are the best!), supermarket-affiliated chains, or pretzel kiosks at train stations, or in downtown pedestrian zones.

The inimitable, irresistible aroma of freshly baked goods wafting out of a bakery, and the sight of shelves weighed down with myriad shapes and sizes and shades of bread are, for me, the surest signs that I am back in the old country.

Alas, at present, I have to content myself with visual, olfactory, and gustatory fantasies, until our travel plans come to fruition.

Click here for the German version/bitte hier für die deutsche Version klicken:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/11/27/deutschlands-gro…henk-an-die-welt/

The Gift(s) of Guests

     Living far away from my childhood home, I don’t see family and friends from Europe nearly as often as I would like, excepting this year, when my husband and I were blessed with two rounds of visitors, resulting in multiple excursions to Denver’s airport. Our friend Susanne came for an impromptu stay in April, giving us the opportunity to introduce her to a few of our favorite destinations.

Susanne and Pikes Peak seen from Garden of the Gods

Even though she made us hike daily, she also contributed to our waistlines by supplying us with mounds of chocolate, tea, home-made jam, and bread spreads. Those have mostly vanished, but we continue to benefit almost daily from the magic frothing wand that did not report for the transatlantic return.

     Thank you again, Susanne. On your next trip we will explore all the trails we missed.

     Soon after I squeezed out the last imported fennel tea bag kindly carried in the luggage of the woman who can stand neither its taste nor its smell, I was frolicking with the anticipation of a re-supply. Fortunately for us, my cousin, her husband and daughter decided to stay with us for a (too) short stint in August, before traveling to the West Coast in a rental car. My request for fennel tea was heeded – and my expectations far exceeded. Instead of the three or four boxes I had in mind, I found myself counting twelve! Why the fuss about this beverage? It is not widely available here, and its classification as a medicinal herb increases the price tag. I could try to grow it myself, but have, thus far, been enabled in my complacency by our accommodating guests.

     I was no less surprised to find that asking for chili chocolate was answered by ten (10!) bars, as opposed to the anticipated two or three. My resolution to fight against my bulging hips flew out the window, outmaneuvered by an overabundance of goodwill and calories. From my better half who does not care for this flavor of chocolate, I can’t expect any help.

     The gift list does not end here. I was thrilled to receive a book that bears the same title as a condition I am (happily) afflicted with: Ornithomania. And my husband to obtain a pair of handsome, hand-knitted socks certain to warm his feet come winter. As if these offerings were not enough, my mere mention of admiring a cloth bag resulted in its bequeathal to us, when we had the opportunity to spend one last afternoon together in early September in Denver, where my relatives had a one night layover before their return to Germany.

     It just so happened that my cousin’s husband, a dedicated (should I say obsessive?) runner, had signed up for our most iconic local mountain race, the Pikes Peak Marathon. Five days after arriving in Colorado Springs from an elevation of about 800 feet, he started his run at about 6300 feet, covered 7800 feet over the course of 13 miles to the summit at 14,115 feet, then turned around and did it once more in reverse – and all in under six hours. Hat off, Sven (that is, Pikes Peak Marathon hat on)! I can only dream of such a performance, but you just fit it in before leaving on a 3000 mile drive to California.

Garden of the Gods is a mandatory stop for every visitor to Colorado Springs

Still smiling after the Pikes Peak Marathon

Leaving for California

     Tamara, Chiara and Sven, we loved having you spend time with us and only regret that it flew by. We hope all of you will come back, ere long.

     Henceforth, I will respond to the hugely appreciated offer of presents from Germany only after profound reflection and deliberation. I should not need fennel tea or chocolate for the foreseeable future, even though a couple of bars have already disappeared, inexplicably.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/09/28/gastgeschenke/