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.

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/

Thanksgiving

During my childhood in Germany, we celebrated Thanksgiving, if at all, during a church service on a Sunday early in October, as an occasion to acknowledge and appreciate the abundance of Mother Nature. The cornucopia of the autumnal harvest typically was on display, similar to the one I came across during my recent visit there.

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I was grateful that my trip coincided with the ripening of a variety of produce, making me the beneficiary of many a delectable bite: the last fragrant raspberries, fleshy figs, and flavorful heirloom tomatoes still maturing in my father’s garden, chubby-cheeked grapes smiling at me from their vines, daring me to ignore them, plum and apple trees waving branches heavy with juicy morsels, walnuts and chestnuts scattered on the ground underneath their arboreal cradles, ready to be collected.

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As is so often the case, we don’t always treasure what we have until it’s gone. Growing up in one of Germany’s regions in the Upper Rhine River valley whose mild climate is conducive to successful agri- and viticulture, I didn’t think twice about the yearly bounty which presented itself. Now, residing in Colorado, in a semi-desert environment, I am conscious that raising even a fraction of those fruits and vegetables involves a much higher effort, and might prove impossible altogether.

     Thanksgiving, only a few days behind us, plays a much larger role in the United States than in Germany. It is one of the most beloved major historical and cultural national holidays. Families often travel hundreds, if not thousands of miles to meet their loved ones. Invariably, it is observed on the last Thursday of November and recalls the fabled celebration in 1621 of those English settlers who had arrived at Plymouth Rock on the Mayflower the previous fall, and who had survived their first year on a new continent. Pilgrims and American Indians of the Wampanoag tribe, without whose knowledge of the land and its crops there likely would have been no survivors, peacefully assembled to give thanks for the gifts of the earth. In a revival of an idealized past, each year people still gather in appreciation of good food, family, friends, and other blessings.

     As in years past, Hilda, Mike, and I spent this day again with friends, Esther, her two sons, George and Don, Hazel, and her daughter Valerie, so that eight of us convened around our laden table. Even though each family has its own customs, the traditional dinner ingredients are turkey, stuffing (or dressing, depending on the region), mashed potatoes, a sweet potato dish, green beans, and cranberry sauce or relish.

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My husband and mother-in-law are traditionalists when it comes to this meal, and Mike’s anticipation of and pleasure in his turkey feast and leftovers are remarkable. He takes his role as chef very seriously and lovingly plans, procures, and prepares each item on the menu.

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This is usually complemented by a delicious salmon filet for the pescatarians among us (me), contributed and baked to perfection by Valerie. Mike, moreover, introduced a new recipe, a delicious vegetable medley consisting of onions, carrots, celery, squash, and apples, baked in and topped with an apple cider reduction.

     As if this plenty were not sufficiently filling, following a culinary pause not nearly long enough, we proceeded to dessert. It consisted of Hilda’s luscious chocolate cake with pumpkin frosting, my minor contribution, standard pumpkin pie, and a present by Hazel and Valerie, pumpkin pie supreme, which equaled pumpkin pie with additional calories. Pumpkin in some form or other is indispensable on this day.

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     Be it on this American holiday, or during my trip to Germany, copious and good food tastes better when savored in good company, with good conversation. I have so much to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2016/11/26/thanksgiving/

Thank You

I intend to keep writing about my visit to Germany, now that I have returned to Colorado, and I want to start with the following thoughts while they are fresh on my mind. It is hard to fathom how the weeks could speed by so swiftly, but I am grateful for all the gatherings with family and friends who welcomed me with open arms and made me feel very special.

Dear Papa and Regine, I owe you the greatest debt. Thank you for showing your support in so many ways. Your smiles greeted me at the airport upon my arrival, you graciously opened your home to my coming and going, adjusted your routines around mine, wined and dined me. You are a genius when it comes to electricity, Papa, and you made sure that my laptop and camera were in working order despite different current and voltage (I still don’t quite get your patient explanations). You chauffeured me to town and country, took me on walks at destinations of my choosing, and even lent me your car. Your scrumptious plum and apricot cakes filled the house with their delicious fragrance, and my mouth and tummy with culinary delights.

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Regine, your loving touch makes this house a home daily and I will miss the beauty of your flower and herb garden and your artistic arrangements which appear everywhere as if placed by a magical hand. We never lacked flower bouquets. Thank you both for being there for me, through thick and thin.

My days at your rural paradise in France were among the nicest. Heike and Pascal, merci encore une fois (click here for a link about my visit). I wish I could have stayed longer, or returned there once again. I think of your home as the realization of your dreams which always has room to embrace others. Needless to say that the food was extraordinaire.

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Renate and Egidio, I am so glad that I finally followed your invitation to visit you in Stuttgart. What a nice surprise when you picked me up at the train station, Egidio. Thank you both for sharing your cozy rooms with me, and many stories about the history of our family. You live near one of the most beautiful city parks where tall trees and bird chatter were much esteemed. Your personal tour of the city let me see some novel aspects of Stuttgart, Renate, and being in the swimming pool after weeks away felt really good. I can’t begin to list all the meals you prepared for me, and the succulent cakes and fruit bread, but I savored every bite.

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And every swallow of espresso, latte macchiato, or cappuccino, lovingly prepared. I now know that love is to wake to an espresso served to the late riser by the early bird.

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While visiting your parents in Stuttgart, Allegra, I appreciated you joining us for lunch before your trip, and you were as lively and chatty as ever. Tamara, Sven, and Chiara, I really enjoyed my hours at your house, the appetizing lunch, your piano serenade, Tamara, and your philosophy about life, our trip to Ludwigsburg to the Saturday market and castle, and the hikes to Max-Eyth See and the Württemberg. You opened my eyes to the verdant enclaves scattered all around the capital of your state, Baden-Württemberg. Not to mention to pomegranates which have become a staple on my daily menu since.

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Even though our prearranged meeting in Stuttgart did not happen as planned, Susanne, owing to my misinterpretation of your instructions, and the fact that I am a dinosaur and do not own a cell phone, I am grateful that you and Bernd made additional time and invited me to your home. Thank you both for the all-too-brief afternoon into which we nonetheless packed two tasty meals and a walk through the vineyards in the beautiful light of a late fall afternoon.

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Back in Rhineland-Palatinate, I was spoiled with more invitations to residences and restaurants. With regard to my favorite German tradition, the 4 PM culinary pause for Kaffee und Kuchen, I benefited from the baking skills of so many. I have already mentioned my dad’s extraordinary talent to create the world’s best yeast dough, and to decorate it with delectable fruit, but his were not the only ones to add pounds to my hips.

Thank you, Elke, Arnim, Marius, and Dani, for sharing an afternoon and evening with me, for cake and coffee, and the creamy pasta dish, cum fresh garden herbs, created in your kitchen (I forgot to take a picture), despite the temporary use of only one arm, Arnim. I hope your shoulder will continue to heal.

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I also hope that your canine companion, Forrest, will experience his own healing. Your travel suggestions about my planned trip to England were very helpful, even if my plans ended up in the Channel, so to speak. You enlightened me with political insights into the red-hot political situation back here, and helped us bear the outcome of the elections with gallows humor.

Gisela and Siggi, I am glad that we were able to find time to get together, and that you have kept in touch throughout the years. One could not hope for better (former) neighbors. It was such a special touch to eat light and fluffy apple cake baked according to my mother’s recipe, and to keep relishing your homemade sweet raspberry-strawberry jam before I left. Despite life’s challenges you continue your caring and loving ministrations, and I wish you only the best.

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Ingrid, you have known me and my family throughout mutual ups and downs. Your comfortable dining and living room have offered many pleasant hours, but also some sad remembrances.Your fruit-and-cream-topped waffles-in-lieu-of-cake, and your baked feta tasted as good as in my memory, even if I cut the tomatoes the wrong way-again! You never let me leave without sweet greetings.

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Ute and Dieter, I am glad whenever we can get together to spend an evening, dine, and talk about travels and the state of the world. Thank you for inviting me to several meals, and for remaining interested in my life.

Thank you, Maritta, Michael, Melanie, Maike, Helma and Jürgen, for having me over for yummy cherry-chocolate cake, and for taking me out to the Flammkuchenhaus for dinner. It was a pleasure getting to see all of you on several occasions and to learn more about your lives. I am sorry that I didn’t take photos.

Marina, even though it’s never easy to wrestle time out of your busy schedule, somehow we manage to meet at least once. When I am back in your kitchen and dining room, it feels as though I had never left.

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I enjoyed cooking together, and devouring your baked feta topped with heaping vegetables, sharing our woes and happy thoughts. Thank you also for your tokens of friendship. Your pretty souvenirs from Moscow remind us of you.

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I am always reminded of the value of good neighbors when I am in Germany. My dad’s must be some of the best around. Little presents of cake, candles, candy, or wine get passed back and forth across a low wall between the two properties, and as night falls earlier and earlier, lanterns with lit candles spread a welcoming light. Trudy and Josef, I am thankful that you include me in your neighborly care, and invite me each time I am there. Your library is my envy, and you create the most appealing vegetable and cheese platters. I only regret that there was no room left in my stomach for chocolate pudding.

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It is impossible not to have overlooked something or somebody, and I apologize in advance, but I hope what I forgot is only a fraction of what I remember. I already miss all of you, send you my love and good wishes, and look forward to seeing you again. Let me reiterate: Hilda, Mike, and I like company, and our house in Colorado has many rooms, so please come visit.

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/vielen-dank/

Merci Mes Amis

Whenever my travels take me back to Germany, a journey to France is an added bonus, in particular a journey to a hamlet near Auxerre, in Burgundy. It harbors the residence of Heike, my best friend since high school days, her husband, Pascal, and their son. Their two daughters have already fledged the nest.

The Enchanted Garden

The Enchanted Garden

A cozy nest indeed. Their remodeled farm house and barn sit on a generous plot of land, amid a grassy expanse surrounded by and dotted with diverse deciduous trees and decorative plants, and separated from the neighborhood by tall hedges. Several weeks into fall the tree crowns are braided with rusty streaks yet the canopy continues to conceal a variety of chattering birds more vocal than I expect so late in the season.

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Garden Art

Heike’s numerous flowers are fading, but a few late bloomers continue to color the landscape. After cool nights we awaken to frost in the morning. Luckily, the logs in the fireplace warm our hands and hearts.

Former stable, remodeled into a vacation cottage, available for rent

Former stable, remodeled into a vacation cottage, available for rent

Following a fortifying breakfast Heike and I set out with their dog, Loupo. His name connotes his wolfish genealogy (le loup means wolf in French) and, phonetically, fits his amusingly loopy character. A French Beauceron, theoretically a herding breed, he is less of a herder than a hunter who, in his second year of life, still struts with puppy power and keeps reminding us not only of his need of, but also his right to attention.

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Loupo

On our walks we pass the nearby dairy which supplies Heike’s family with raw milk, stroll along pastures with grazing cows, horses, and an occasional assembly of deer, and wind in and out of parcels of forest interspersed with fields of feed corn, while we watch layers of mist dissipate slowly in the rising sun.

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Morning Glory

Heike has known and supported me through many stages of life and remains my most cherished friend. We fell in love with and married our respective husbands at about the same period. In her case, Eros led her to France, me to the United States, making our reunions sadly rare, but all the more precious. My visits usually fly by. Many days I tag along with Heike during her activities, many horse-related. It is a special treat, and a revival of my adolescent horse obsession when we get to ride out together, she on her mare, I on a borrowed mount.

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Curious ponies

An excursion to Auxerre is likewise part of the program. The town which predates the Roman conquest of Gaul hovers above the picturesque valley of the Yonne River. Besides its wines, it is known for the white limestone Gothic Cathedral St. Étienne and former Benedictine abbey St. Germain whose crypt contains the oldest known frescoes in France from the ninth century, even though they were not detected until 1927.

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Cathedral St. Étienne, Auxerre

I also savor Heike’s culinary creations, with copious amounts of baguette and cheese, and benefit from Pascal’s impeccable taste in wine. Often I simply take in the serene setting of their home, or soak up the sun in the garden like their cat, Esso. I always leave in a state of peace and equanimity, nourished in body and soul.

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Esso, waiting for the sun to melt the frost on the grass

Heike and Pascal, thank you and your children for always welcoming me/us with open arms. After many years of this unidirectional traffic, it is high time you made a trip to Colorado. I only hope we can repay your kindness and hospitality.

Á bientôt!

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

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2016/10/16/merci-mes-amis/