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Every Day is Earth Day

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Last Sunday the world observed Earth Day. But Earth Day should not be a once-a-year event, it should be a daily occurrence.

 

I grew up in Germany, where people sweep the sidewalks every Saturday. Litter was my biggest culture shock after moving to the U.S. As the snow melts in the spring, I am always appalled at the amount of trash that has accumulated along the roadsides. Doesn’t anyone take their trash home? I appreciate the efforts of countless volunteers who collect this mountain of garbage, but why do people litter in the first place?

 

Recycling is a national sport in Germany. Everything gets recycled there: glass, metal, paper, even kitchen trash. You have to pay a deposit for plastic bottles, which enormously reduces waste because who wants to throw away money?

 

Another area where the two countries widely differ is the use of bags. In Germany you have to bring your bags to the grocery store or pay for plastic bags. This keeps many bags out of landfills and oceans. Here in the U.S. I seem to be the only customer who brings her own tote bags to the store.

 

These are just a few steps anyone can take without much effort to make the Earth more livable for humans and wildlife alike.

 

Doris Dumrauf is the author of “Common Backyard Birds,” “Create Your Own Backyard Wildlife Habitat” and “Oktober Heat”

Image: Erkaha (commons.wikimedia.org)

 

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Book Launch for “Common Backyard Birds”

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Today is the official release day of my new book “Common Backyard Birds.” It is the second installment in a planned nature series, following my first book “Create Your Own Backyard Wildlife Habitat.”

In addition to writing, I am an award-winning outdoor photographer who specializes in birds, wildlife, and other nature images. Over the years I have accumulated thousands of images and have given many presentations about birds and wildlife in the greater Pittsburgh area.

It seemed only natural that I would publish a book about my feathered friends.

The book features 20 birds that are common over large parts of the United States. Told from the point of view of the birds, the reader will learn about their distinctive features, food preferences, and habitat choices.

You may view sample pages on Amazon.

 

 

How German Immigrants Shaped American Life

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Imagine you’re going to a picnic. The sun is shining. The birds are singing in the trees nearby. The kids are playing on a swing. You’re sitting down with your family and friends, ready to eat and drink. But, there is one catch: You cannot use any ingredients introduced by German-Americans. That means: no hamburgers, no hot dogs, no Heinz ketchup or pickles, no Hellmann’s mayonnaise, no potato salad, no gummi bears, and most importantly, no beer! At least, no beer made by Miller, Pabst, or Anheuser Busch breweries. Wouldn’t that be a very boring picnic?

After the food-less picnic, you’re driving—in a car invented by Germans—to a baseball game. Imagine baseball without German-Americans like Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig. It’s hard to imagine!

When the game is over, you go to the movies. Nowadays, that could very well be a movie with Sandra Bullock or Kirsten Dunst and music by Hans Zimmer. After you come home, you turn on your TV and they’re showing Independence Day again, and again, and again! What would the cable networks do without that movie? They would have to show a blank screen half of the time! Another day, they might show Titanic with Leonardo di Caprio. Not long after the picnic, you and your family fly on vacation in a Boeing airplane.

When school starts, you’re taking your child to a kindergarten. At bedtime, you read a book by Dr. Seuss to your child. Once your child is asleep, you sit down with a book by John Steinbeck or Kurt Vonnegut.

Today, 25 % of the American population are of German ancestry. Some famous names from my home state include Elvis Presley, Thomas Nast, and Henry John Heinz.

 

From Groundhog Day to Independence Day, American holidays have been shaped by German immigrants. We might not even celebrate Independence Day without the aid of Baron von Steuben, who whipped the Continental Army into shape during the revolutionary war.

 

And let’s not forget about the biggest holiday, Christmas. Imagine what Christmas would be like without our beloved Christmas tree? And who would bring us presents, if not the Big Man, Santa Claus himself! Thomas Nast created the first image of Santa Claus as we know him today. Christmas without German traditions—unimaginable.

 

From the Brooklyn Bridge to Hollywood, from the backyard barbecue to the White House ceremonial march, from your bookshelf to the space center, life in the United States would be vastly different without the accomplishments of German immigrants. It would simply be unimaginable.

 

Image: commons.wikimedia.org (Porsche 997SBS)

Looking Back and Ahead

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Like most years, the past year has brought joy and sadness for me. A highlight was my trip to Germany in July after an absence of three years. I even visited some attractions I had never seen before.

I published my novel “Oktober Heat” in German and was interviewed by my hometown newspaper, “Die Rheinpfalz,” during my visit. Work on my next photo book consumed much of my time during the fall.oktober-heat-1deutschebookcoverweb

While I have been giving presentations for years, the past year brought my first three elementary school visits. What a wonderful opportunity to share my love of nature!

But I also mourned the losses of several dear friends. We had begun working on my new book when my designer/editor died suddenly. Not long afterward I learned of the death of a long-time member (almost 50 years!) of my Toastmasters club. John had been a wonderful mentor and friend as well as a passionate speaker. I am certain that his influence will be felt for a long time. His passing also means that I am now the longest-standing member of my club with a mere nine years.

Looking ahead

Spring will not only bring daffodils and trilliums, but also the release of my new book “Common Backyard Birds.”9780997676716-ColorSS-112217.indd

I am busy booking presentations in the Pittsburgh area to complement my book.

I hope that the new year will bring new opportunities and challenges, as well as moments of reflection and connections with nature.

May your new year be happy, healthy, and filled with purpose!

How We Celebrated Christmas In My Youth

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During my childhood in Germany (late 1950s and 1960s), Christmas gifts were often practical, if not always useful right away. Boys were luckier than girls. My uncle’s wife gave all her nieces an ornamental cup, saucer, and plate every Christmas. Much later I talked to other women who received bed linen or cutlery from their relatives. Their well-meant intentions of giving a girl a dowry did not consider fashion changes or personal taste. I, for one, never used my china and refused to take it along when I moved away from home.

Outings to other relatives were more pleasant. It was customary to visit uncles and aunts over the holidays, especially the godmother and godfather. Besides our gift we received a bag full of cookies. That way we could sample a wide variety of this Christmas essential. After all, Christmas in Germany is unthinkable without cookies.

December 25 and 26 are holidays in Germany. Even Christmas Eve is a partial holiday and all grocery shopping had to be concluded by 1 o’clock on December 24. It was a very stressful day because the butcher shop and bakeries/grocery stores were packed to capacity.

In the afternoon we would decorate our tree and go to church. We had barely finished our supper and exchanged gifts when my grandfather (Opa) called us downstairs for a second Bescherung, the gift exchange. He was always the most excited about Christmas Eve, even though he received the most predictable gifts: cigars, socks or a sweater.

Opa, a retired steel worker, was hard of hearing and did not often participate in our conversations. But one Christmas Eve he began telling stories. They were simple stories about his commute to the steel mill by train, yet I still treasure them to this day.

And while I have forgotten most of the gifts I received back then, his stories live within me and define me because they connect me to those who came before me and are part of who I am.

 

Image: gerbil (commons.wikimedia.org)

Fall of the Berlin Wall

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Time flies! It has now been 28 years since the Berlin Wall opened, changing German and European history forever. That means that a generation of Germans has not lived in a divided Germany.

I have always been a lover of history until it occurred to me that I was living history. After all, the Cold War had shaped life in our village (I grew up next to the largest ammunition depot in the world) as well as my employment because I worked on a U.S. air base for many years.

During the early 1980s I took several trips to West Berlin and East Germany. They were very educational and satisfied my curiosity. How could I ever forget the fortified borders and the uneasy feeling of being watched around the clock? Would I get in trouble for photographing an empty shop window? How could I spend my pocket money when there was nothing worthwhile to buy, but I was not allowed to take it back home?

Fast forward to 1989, the most eventful year in my life. November 1989 was an especially busy time for me. I had just gotten married and was clearing out my bachelor apartment while also searching for a larger apartment. The sudden opening of the Berlin Wall therefore caught me by surprise.

My first reaction was disbelief, followed by unease. The 1980s had seen lots of tension and economic insecurity. East Germany, on the other hand, had enjoyed full employment. How could all those people be absorbed into the West German economy? It turned out that my fears were not unfounded. But first there was euphoria. Friends and families could visit each other after all those years. And East Germans were finally able to travel abroad.

I have never returned to Berlin after the fall of the wall. I doubt that I would recognize it anymore.

 

Image: SSgt F. Lee Corkran, DoD photo, USA