A Year of Awards

2021 has been a year of recognition for me, earning me two awards for nature photography and two for writing. My historical novel “Shiloh Valley” was a Finalist Regional Fiction at the 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

Last, but not, least, my picture book “Life in a Wetland” won First Place for Best Photography at the 2021 Purple Dragonfly Book Awards.

Looking Back on 2020 – Part 2

I got a new passport in January, hoping to see my family and friends in the Old Country after an absence of three years. It turned out to be the most unnecessary expense of the year. Instead, I did not venture farther from home than 40 miles. Spring brought a pandemic and a lockdown, but also wildflowers and migrating birds. When the weather allowed it, my husband and I hit the trails in our local parks while cautiously avoiding weekends and the busiest paths. During the dry summer we kept busy watering our plants and harvesting homegrown lettuce and tomatoes. Of course, I also continued to photograph the wildlife that frequents our native garden. After the work was done, we reread all seven Harry Potter novels. Keeping with the theme I sewed my latest mask with a Harry Potter fabric.

My social life has been relegated to the Internet since March and will remain there for quite a while longer. WhatsApp has become my lifeline to my friends in Germany, deepening our friendship despite the distance.

Luckily for me I have always avoided crowds, so social distancing seems just one step further for this introvert. But I miss going out to restaurants, visiting a museum, or meeting friends at a café. Time will tell if I will ever feel comfortable in those environments again. Was it just last year that we boarded two planes for our trip to Wyoming? How innocent we were then!

No one knows what the new year will bring, whether more disasters or small steps toward a new normalcy. Will I only use my new appointment calendar to jot down routine doctors’ appointments or will I finally be able to make an appointment for a much-needed haircut? Most importantly, I hope that we all stay safe and healthy in 2021!

Looking Back on 2020 – Part 1

What a year this has been! When I had finally landed some speaking engagements in retirement homes, the pandemic forced me to cancel all in-person events. My social life moved entirely online, just like it did for millions of workers and school students. While I kept busy preparing two books for publication, I was worried about my income prospects for the year without any events that would lead to book sales.

I needn’t have worried. As the lockdown began, sales of my picture book “Common Backyard Birds” suddenly climbed. Apparently, many families began observing the birds in their yards while being shut in. I am glad that my book helped many youngsters to identify their feathered visitors and hope that their interest in nature will not wane once they return to school and other activities.

Not resting on my laurels, I published a new picture book this summer entitled “Life in a Wetland.” It features birds, turtles, frogs, dragonflies, and even an alligator to demonstrate how important wetlands are for our environment.

Once the weather improved, I became a frequent visitor at local parks while carefully avoiding weekends when the trails were crowded. I also continued to photograph the wildlife and native plants in our garden.

My plans for the next year are to continue photographing birds and other wildlife and to put less emphasis on fiction writing. After all, there is always another picture book to plan.

The culture shock of immigrants who came to America during the 19th century

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When German immigrants settled on midwestern farms during the 19th century, they must have experienced culture shock. After all, they were used to living in close-knit villages with friends and family within walking distance. In America’s farm country, they often did not have neighbors nearby and had to rely on their own resources to maintain social contacts and to keep in touch with the outside world.

I will let Martin, protagonist of my immigrant novel “Shiloh Valley,” tell you how he felt after arriving in the Midwest:

 

I came to America to find freedom from the oppressive government and my monotonous existence as an office apprentice. But when I parted ways with a young man I met on the ship, I became very lonely. In St. Louis, I had to endure back-breaking work until I found a position at an inn. The owner and patrons were mostly Irish. I could barely understand them, adding to my feeling of alienation. I never expected that I would miss hearing German sounds much, but when two Germans visited the inn, I knew that I wanted to live in a community of German immigrants. I found it first in Belleville and then in Shiloh Valley.

Even though I wanted to be my own master, I often crave the company of others, especially during the long winters. I think my interest in politics grew partly out of my desire to add some excitement to my life. I needed a cause to give my life meaning beyond the demands of my farm.

Katrin doesn’t talk about loneliness often, but she lights up whenever we have guests or chat with a passerby. Pragmatic as she is, she knows that she might have had to work as a maid or hired hand all her life. I’m sure she misses her friends from back home, but she has seldom talked about homesickness, unlike her brother.

Nikolaus is more social than I am and has often been unhappy about living on an isolated farm. That’s why Katrin and I were thrilled when he finally got married. Hopefully, their children and ours will have an easier time adjusting to life on the prairie than we have had. After all, they don’t know any other life.

 

Germans in America

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German immigrants have been arriving on America’s shores for hundreds of years, since 1683 to be exact. They even designed and built the Conestoga wagon, making westward expansion possible.

The failed revolutions of 1848-1849 caused thousands of Germans to flee their home country and eventually settle in the United States.

During the 1850s alone, almost one million Germans immigrated to the United States. Their influence was felt in all areas of society. Abraham Lincoln even purchased a German-language newspaper, the Illinois Staatsanzeiger, in 1859 to win the support of Illinois’s large German population.

It is therefore no surprise that Germans were the largest ethnic group that fought for the Union during the U.S. Civil War. More than 200,000 native Germans took part in the conflict. Union soldiers gave them the nickname “Dutchmen,” while Confederate soldiers used the less than flattering term “lopeared Dutch.” Nonetheless, those “Dutchmen” earned a reputation for discipline.

Martin, the protagonist of my novel “Shiloh Valley,” is one of the disillusioned young men who sought freedom in America after the crushed revolution of 1849 shattered all his hopes for a democratic future in his home province, the Palatinate (Pfalz). He settled in St. Clair County, Illinois, among a large German community. Martin’s war experiences are based on histories of actual Illinois regiments.

 

 

The Making of a Historical Novel

Writers get their ideas from many sources and I am no exception. The idea for my upcoming novel “Shiloh Valley” came from an article in my hometown German newspaper around 1979/80. The article covered a local figure, Heinrich Didier, who was a member of the State Defense Council during the revolution of 1849, an event I had never heard of before. His role in the short-lived uprising was not very flattering since he botched a weapons transport that deprived the rebels of much needed weapons. All in all, the revolution often resembled one big party and was crushed by Prussian troops after six weeks.

Most interesting for me, though, was the fact that Didier’s youngest son, 19-year-old Martin, immigrated to Belleville, Illinois, in 1849. Why would the son of a wealthy man immigrate to America, I wondered. I concluded that he was perhaps involved in the revolution and therefore feared for his life when it failed. Belleville was significant to me because I had just visited this town on a trip to the U.S. with my folk dance group.

The idea for a novel was born but it would take decades to its publication. After a research trip to St. Clair County, I spent several years writing and typing the first draft in German. My attempts at finding a publisher failed miserably (I was very naïve back then). Life intervened and I did not write again for many years.

Several years after moving to the U.S. I decided to translate my novel into English and revise it. The Civil War section of the novel required extensive research. Thankfully, by then the Internet allowed me to research regimental histories and even letters from soldiers. Still, I could not interest any literary agents in my work. In the meantime, I had written another novel, “Oktober Heat,” which covered the early years of the Cold War in my home county. I published this cozy mystery in 2015 and turned my attention to picture books next.

But in the back of my head I could not let go of “Shiloh Valley.” I had fallen in love with the characters and wanted to share them with the world. I hired a content editor and spent the next year revising the story again. Now I am almost ready to present it to the world. Stay tuned!

Looking Back on 2019

It is time to reflect on the past year and to set my goals for next year. In my personal life one event stood out about all others: My husband and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary with an unforgettable trip to Wyoming.

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We began our vacation in Grand Teton National Park after Labor Day. Wildlife was sparse during our visit, but the beautiful vistas and mountains made up for it. Then we headed to Yellowstone National Park for the second time, concentrating on the geyser basins in the western part of the park. We took our time exploring small basins, canyons and loop drives that were much less crowded than the main attractions. One time we were close to White Dome geyser when it erupted. What an amazing experience!

 

Author highlights:

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While I did not publish a new book this year, I won two awards for my book “Common Backyard Birds”: Second Place in Feathered Quill Awards for young readers and First Place for best photography in the Purple Dragonfly book awards. The awards brought new sales for me, primarily in public libraries across the country.

Next year I plan on publishing a new picture book, most likely about wetlands.

I have also been busy giving presentations at Rotary club meetings, libraries, and retirement communities.

Overall, I can look back at the past year with gratitude while seeking growth and new opportunities in the new year. Happy New Year to all!

 

The Summer We Watched “Poldark” Again

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Last year, we watched the 1975 BBC series “Poldark” (let’s call it “#1), which spurred me to read the 12 Winston Graham novels back to back (read my blog post here).

This summer, I checked out the new version of “Poldark” – #2 in short – from our library to compare the two interpretations. Here is my review:

The Good: Overall, casting was excellent. Our absolute favorite was Aunt Agatha, followed by George Warleggan (a more sinister portrayal than #1).

The Not-Quite-Great: Demelza did not have the spunky and joyful personality I so adored in #1.  Ross, on the other hand, had mostly one facial expression: brooding. He seldom smiled and I sorely missed the chemistry of Ross #1 and Demelza #1.

The Great: Just like in the books the landscape of Cornwall was the true star of the show. The cinematography was superb and made the locations very real.

Overall it was a delightful experience and I am looking forward to the fifth and final season.

 

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

Der Sommer 1976

Die gegenwärtige Hitzewelle in Europa erweckt in mir Erinnerungen an die erste extreme Hitzewelle meines Lebens – der Sommer 1976. Damals war ich Schülerin an einem Wirtschaftsgymnasium im Kreissitz. Nach kurzer Busfahrt zum Bahnhof und einer etwa halbstündigen Zugfahrt mussten meine Freundinnen und ich noch fast eine halbe Stunde zu Fuß zum Schulzentrum laufen, und das ohne jeglichen Schatten unterwegs. Es war selbst bei gutem Wetter eine anständige Strecke. Und dann begannen die Temperaturen anzusteigen…

Leider begannen die Schulferien in Rheinland-Pfalz in jenem Jahr spät. In meiner Schule bekamen wir Hitzefrei, wenn das Thermometer um 11 Uhr morgens 27° C anzeigte. Das bedeutete, dass wir wochenlang jeden Tag Hitzefrei hatten! Die Heimfahrt im überhitzten Zug war kein Zuckerschlecken, aber die Belohnung wartete daheim auf mich: das neue Waldschwimmbad meiner Gemeinde. Hier lernte ich nicht nur schwimmen, sondern traf mich auch mit meinen Freundinnen.

Meine Noten litten nicht unter dem wochenlangen Hitzefrei. Als dann die Ferien endlich begannen, war die Hitze vorbei und ich war froh, dass ich während einer der schlimmsten Hitzewellen des vorigen Jahrhunderts mein heißes Klassenzimmer gegen das kühle Naß unseres Schwimmbades eintauschen konnte.

 

The Summer of 1976

The current heat wave in Europe brings back memories of the first extreme heat wave I experienced in my lifetime – the summer of 1976. I was attending a high school at the county seat, which required a bus ride to the train station, a train ride of about 30 minutes and a half hour walk to the school with no shade along the way. It was an ordeal in good weather. And then temperatures climbed up and up.

 

School vacations in Germany are staggered by states and my state of Rheinland-Pfalz began vacations very late that year. Our school’s rule required early dismissal of students if the temperature reached 27° Celsius at 11 o’clock. For weeks on end, that’s when school ended. Traveling home by train was an ordeal in such hot weather, but a refreshing reward awaited me at home: the swimming pool my township had opened just a few years before the record heat wave. Not only did I learn to swim there, the pool was the center of my social life as a teenager.

 

My grades did not suffer from early dismissals. Temperatures finally dropped when school vacation began, making me even more grateful that I could trade a hot classroom for dips into a pool during one of the worst heat waves of the last century.