A Look Back at 2018

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The most exciting event of the past year was the release of my new book “Common Backyard Birds.” Thanks to the advance copies I sent to reviewers the book is now available in public libraries from coast to coast. As a public speaker I shared my images and experiences with audiences at libraries, book stores, garden clubs, Rotary clubs and even a high school ecology club.

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The weather has been exceptionally bad for this outdoor photographer. Just when we thought winter was over we experienced snow in April. Spring was short and the summer long, hot and extremely wet. If we did not smash the local record for most rainfall in a year we came in at a very close second. The frogs in our pond seemed to enjoy the weather more than we did.

Let’s hope that the new year will bring more opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, good health and new experiences!

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Our German Christmas Cookie Traditions

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A German Christmas without cookies is unthinkable. That was particularly true during my childhood when you could not buy them at bakeries. Most of them were work-intensive and help was much appreciated, especially when I was old enough to hold a mixer. Cutting the dough with cookie cutters or shaping the Spritzgebäck (spritz cookies) were my favorite activities. Other staples were Anisplätzchen (aniseed biscuits) and Löwenzahn (lion’s teeth). Space was at a premium in our tiny kitchen where the only table served as work space, ironing board and homework desk. I don’t know how we managed.

The finished products were stored in tin containers on top of my parents’ wardrobe. It was an open secret that my dad loved to “steal” cookies every day from the large supply. I firmly believe that the stolen cookies tasted much better in his opinion than any that were freely offered to him! We kids also dipped into the containers, with the aid of a chair, of course.

Despite all “thievery” there were still enough cookies left by Christmas Eve. Over the holidays we visited our aunts, uncles and a great-aunt to pick up our gift and a bag of cookies. That was our opportunity to sample other varieties because every housewife had her specialties.

The cookies have long been eaten and the women who baked them have passed away but the memories of those magical times linger on and surface every December.

 

Image: Kereul (commons.wikimedia.org)

The Year I Read the Poldark Novels

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Last winter, we watched the 1975 BBC Series “Poldark” on our streaming service. We were soon hooked on the story and I was thrilled to learn that the author, Winston Graham, had  actually written a series of 12 novels. While I knew the basic story lines of the first four books from the show, there were many more descriptions and plot lines to keep my interest. I just finished the last book, “Bella,” and would like to share my thoughts.

 

The Good: The relationship between Ross and Demelza. I could never figure out what he saw in Elizabeth, his first love, but was quite surprised when he suddenly married his kitchen maid. Watching them love, grow, struggle, and grieve together was the strongest plot line in the books. The second book, “Demelza,” was probably my favorite of the series. Even secondary and minor characters were well developed. I particularly liked the empathy that Ross showed toward the lower classes. This often put him at odds with his own class but that did not deter him. After all, he married a miner’s daughter.

Marrying a partner outside their own social class became a recurring theme in the series. I doubt that these plot lines occurred frequently in real life but they made for great stories. Dr. Enys and Caroline were one of my favorite couples.

 

The Not So Good: Why, oh why, did so many names of families and estates begin with the letter T? I should have taken notes in book 1 to record who was who.

Some plot lines were overly long and I often wondered why they were included at all, other than adding local color. The books would have been long enough without them.

The ending of “Bella,” the last book in the series, left me wanting. I expected a conclusion and wished that the author had finished the series with “The Twisted Sword.”

 

The Great: The real star of the novels was Cornwall itself. I loved Winston Graham’s descriptions of nature. I could practically smell the salt of the sea in the air and hear the wind rattling at the shutters of Nampara.

The Poldark novels also provided a history lesson for me. I had not realized that England was at war for most of the period when the novels took place (and that was after the French and Indian War and the American Revolution). By putting his major characters right into the conflicts history became very real for me, especially in “The Twisted Sword.”

 

Image: Herbythyme (https://commons.wikimedia.org)

 

 

Sixty Years Ago Elvis Presley Arrived in Germany

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On October 1, 1958, the most famous soldier in the U.S. Army, Elvis Presley, stepped off the troop carrier USS General Randall in Bremerhaven to serve a tour in Germany. Hundreds of excited fans, mostly female, greeted his arrival. After he carried a duffle bag down the gangway several times for the media, a troop train whisked him away to his post at Ray Kaserne in Friedberg/Hessen.

He arrived in a country that was recovering from the lean post-World War II years. Ordinary workers could not afford cars. Therefore, bicycles, mopeds and motor scooters became popular modes of transportation. Household appliances were also very much sought after.

Starved for entertainment, the population flocked to movie cinemas. Youth soon dressed in jeans and petticoats and imitated the hair styles of movie stars and singers. American pop culture took the country by storm.

No wonder that Elvis Presley received such an enthusiastic reception when he began his tour in Germany.

 

 

 

Image: commons.wikimedia.org (Author: Neptuul)

 

Review of “Create Your Own Backyard Wildlife Habitat”

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The Feathered Quill Book Reviews just posted this review of my book:

Beautiful birds, intriguing insects, and all sorts of interesting plants – all enjoying your backyard habitat.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  In author Doris Dumrauf’s new book, Create Your Own Backyard Wildlife Habitat, she introduces young readers to many amazing creatures and gives ideas on how to create the perfect environment to attract them to your home.

Create Your Own Backyard Wildlife Habitat opens with a page describing some basic things that wildlife and plants need to survive. Nectar for insects, water for birds, and what is hiding just below the water’s surface? Accompanying the text is a vibrant photograph of a backyard habitat with a small pond complete with water lilies.

The bulk of this lovely book is devoted to showcasing various birds and insects that might be found in a backyard setting. First up is a very happy looking cedar waxwing with a bright red berry in his mouth. We learn that the bird makes a “zit-zit” whistle to announce his arrival. Compare to the Eastern bluebird – on the opposing page – who works hard all day catching crickets and other insects for his chicks.

There is a great selection of different birds and insects, including moths, caterpillars and butterflies within the pages of this book. On one page we meet both the hummingbird clearwing moth and his once caterpillar self, with a close-up picture of both and text describing how it drinks nectar and what type of flowers both forms enjoy.

Want to know what a chipmunk or squirrel need to survive? How about an American hover fly? These animals and numerous others grace the pages of this book. Each page features one creature, with one or two photographs, along with text briefly pointing out an interesting fact or two about that creature. Within the text are snippets the author has cleverly inserted that will help readers understand and prepare a habitat that will encourage that featured bird, moth, squirrel, etc., to come visit. Additionally, there is a two-page spread at the back of the book with “things to remember when you start your own habitat.”

No review of this book would be complete without mention of the great photographs. Yes, I mentioned them above, but really, they deserve more as they are really fantastic. Close up views of so many creatures, down to the drops of water flying around a robin as she enjoys a bath and the “eyes” on the back of a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar. They really add a lot to this book and will undoubtedly entice many youngsters to explore its contents.

Quill says: A wonderful, instructional and enjoyable book for young readers.

For more information on Create Your Own Backyard Wildlife Habitat, please visit the author’s website at: dorisdumraufauthor.com

Welcome to Our Habitat

Our native garden provides plenty of photo objects for me. Every year I observe insects I have never seen before. It has also been a good year for monarch butterflies so far. Just this week I spotted four tiny monarch caterpillars on one butterfly weed. Here are some samples of photos I have taken recently, which will probably be featured in future books:

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Monarch butterfly on butterfly weed

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Hummingbird clearwing moth on wild bergamot

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Morning glory prominent moth caterpillar in plum tree

A German in Penn’s Woods

Just one half percent of Germany is classified as wilderness. Forests are devoid of undergrowth in which wildlife and flowers could thrive. Fallen trees are swiftly carried off. No wonder I saw fewer than a dozen squirrels during the decades I spent in Germany.

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I was awestruck when I arrived in the United States and we began exploring the state parks near our Pennsylvania home. Fallen trees, which are not removed, are covered with fungi and moss. New life emerges from the decaying wood. Ferns and wildflowers thrive in this environment. Birds flit among the trees and nest in snags. Chipmunks and squirrels collect nuts and stash them away for winter. Insects find nectar on the many native plants while also serving as pollinators. No matter which season of the year, there is always something new to discover: a wildflower or insect we have never seen before; a bird call we don’t recognize; or the intoxicating fragrance of a flowering plant.

 

Nature walks remain one of our favorite pastimes, even if it means climbing over or around a tree trunk from time to time.