Five Fun Facts You Didn’t Know About Me

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  1. I’ve been to 22 countries, including dozens of trips to France. After all, it was my next-door neighbor when I lived in Germany.

 

  1. I was once a recording artist. I was a member of a children’s choir when we recorded an album for the 25th anniversary of the organization. That’s when I learned that recording an album is not as glamorous as people think. It involves many repetitions because the slightest noise – such as rustling a piece of paper – makes a recording obsolete.

 

  1. I was on TV twice: the first time on Pittsburgh’s KDKA after winning First Place in a bird photo contest, the second time on Moon Township’s Access TV after publishing my novel.

 

  1. I used to dance in a folk dance group and participated in the July 4th parade at the Kutztown Folk Festival in Pennsylvania in 1979.

 

  1. I have never owned a dog, but you wouldn’t know it if you observed my dog encounters. Dogs are drawn to me like yellow jackets to a plum cake, as long as they are not defending their own yard.

 

Image: Krish Dulal (Wikimedia Commons)

The Toastmasters Curse

1024px-BSPC_19_i_Nyborg_Danmark_2009_(4)I’ve been a Toastmaster for over eight years now. My membership and the awards I have earned have made a tremendous difference in my life. I am now an experienced public speaker with a long resume of presentations in the greater Pittsburgh area.

There is one downside to being a Toastmaster, though. During our club meetings we have an Ah Counter and a Grammarian. Once you become aware of Ahs and Ums, you will never listen to a speech in your entire life without feeling the urge to whip out a pen and count them. Now you might say, “Everybody does it, why should I even bother to improve my speaking skills?” Do you want to be ordinary or extraordinary?

Your next question will be, “If I can’t say Ah, what should I say?” The answer is: nothing. That’s right, the pause is the answer. Say nothing at all until you have collected your thoughts to continue. You will discover that a pause has the effect that everyone will think you have something very important to say and will listen intently.

 

Image: commons.wikimedia.org (Author: Johannes Jansson)

 

Say “No” to Plastic Bags

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When I immigrated to the United States from Germany, few customs baffled me more than the excessive use of plastic bags. While most stores sell reusable tote bags at a cheap price, I am the only customer who brings her own bags. Why am I the exception and not the rule? And is it really necessary to place the smallest purchase in a plastic bag?

At one recent trip to the grocery store I was astonished that the bagger not only wrapped cold items into plastic bags one item at a time. No, she then wrapped the article in another plastic bag! All that despite the fact that I had given her four big tote bags. Since then I always check who is bagging before placing my purchases on the conveyor belt.

In Germany, on the other hand, shoppers have to bring their own bags to stores or pay for plastic bags. How many billions of bags would be kept out of landfills and our oceans if we had a similar rule here? My quick research online revealed that – depending on the source – between 100 and 380 billion plastic bags are consumed in the United States each year!

These bags are used for less than half an hour and then discarded. Unfortunately, many of them end up in our oceans, where they kill many birds and marine animals.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to cut down on this enormous waste by placing some tote bags in your car. Say “No” to plastic bags!

 

Image by Erkaha (commons.wikimedia.org)

2016 In Review

The past year has been a tumultuous one. My private life has been relatively quiet in comparison. These major events stood out for me:

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  1. I published another book, which is quite different from the novel I released last year. Besides writing fiction, I am also an award-winning wildlife photographer and one of my goals was publishing a children’s book about backyard habitats. With the help of a designer/editor I finally made my goal a reality. I hope that my book will encourage people to invite birds and insects into their yards. After all, they are essential to the web of life and our own survival depends on them. “Create Your Own Backyard Wildlife Habitat” is available on Amazon and can also be ordered from other sources.oktober-heat-1deutschebookcoverweb

 

  1. I’ve completed the German version of my novel “Oktober Heat” and plan on publishing it next spring.

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  1. My husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary with a trip to Yellowstone National Park (see my previous blog posts). Neither one of us had ever been to the Rocky Mountains and it was truly an awesome experience. The grandeur and power of nature – after all, Yellowstone is a super vulcano – made us realize how precious America’s national parks are.

 

At home we continue to visit local and state parks when the weather allows. Spring and fall are our favorite seasons. Of course, we also spend many hours in our yard, where I record wildlife with my camera for future presentations, books, and other publications. Sharing my passion for nature with others is my greatest joy.

 

Our Trip to Yellowstone – Conclusion

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To conclude my trip report I’d like to give some advice to travelers, particularly photographers, who want to visit Yellowstone or any other national park:

 

Lodging: It is imperative to make room reservations, even in the shoulder season. Some lodges in the park close on Labor Day, ours closed on September 25. Visiting the park after the lodges close means driving long distances to and from gateway towns such as West Yellowstone. I overheard a couple who had driven six hours across the entire park because they did not have reservations.

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Weather: Dress in layers and bring along a rain coat. Mornings are cold, so bring a heavy jacket and gloves. The park is huge and if it rains in one area it doesn’t mean that it is raining elsewhere.

 

Photography: Which camera you take along depends on the objects you want to photograph. If your goal is to take vacation photos, then a good point-and-shoot or bridge camera will do. Many tourists take pictures with their phones or tablets. My bridge camera, for example, does not take awesome landscapes, but is good at close-ups and its 1200 mm lens enabled me to zoom in on wildlife I would have never captured otherwise.

If, however, your goal is to take professional-looking images, by all means take along your big gear and a tripod or car window mount. Just be sure to stay away from areas where throngs of tourists converge or visit in the off-season.

 

Photography ethics: Park administration advises travelers to keep a safe distance from wildlife, and for good reason. That means keeping a distance of at least 100 yards from bears and wolves and 25 yards from all other animals. Yet, on our very first day in the park we observed some disturbing behavior (by tourists, not the wildlife). A herd of bison was by the roadside and some people got out of their cars to take close-up images of them. A pick-up truck was surrounded by bison on all sides. Rangers had to come in and control the crowds.

 

Another time we pulled over when we spotted an elk cow among a small woodland. Several cars had pulled over already, but most people photographed the cow from the roadside, as did I. One photographer, however, walked into the woods to get a closer shot of it. Such behavior not only endangers the photographer, but also the wildlife. Just like we don’t want intruders into our home, the wildlife does not appreciate it if we intrude into their space.

 

Respect other photographers: I was standing by Yellowstone Lake to take a photo when a tourist stepped right in front of me to take a picture. Please don’t be that person. We all want to enjoy the wildlife and scenery in our national parks.

Our Trip to Yellowstone Park – Day 5

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Heavy frost covered our rental car as well as grasses in the early morning. It was time to pack our belongings because our lodge closed for the season. We headed northward, but not without making several stops in Hayden Valley to observe bison enveloped by fog in the frosty landscape or to simply enjoy the view. Soon enough the sky turned blue and before noon we could shed our jackets altogether. Driving over Dunraven Pass was quite an experience, reminding us of driving through the Austrian Alps. After mastering the serpentines we spend some time at Tower Fall, which was not as impressive as the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Time was too short to make a detour to Lamar Valley and so we headed west toward Mammoth Hot Springs. Overall I found this part of Yellowstone Park the least interesting. The hills were barren and wildlife was absent. After lunch and huckleberry ice cream we drove along the Upper Terrace Drive. My high expectations for the famous Mammoth Hot Springs were unfulfilled, however. I found them disappointing in size and appearance.

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By then we were tired from our adventure and moved on toward Gardiner and our quarters for our last night in the West, but not until we spotted two pronghorns before driving through the famous Roosevelt Arch. Another surprise awaited us at our motel: a group of elks had taken up daytime residence on the lawn across from the motel office!

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On our walk to a breakfast café the next morning they were coming out of the park for a day on the town – giving us a last impression of all the wildlife that calls Yellowstone Park home.

Our Trip to Yellowstone Park – Day 4

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The day (September 24) began with rainy and cold weather. We donned our parkas and headed to Old Faithful because we had only stopped there for lunch on our first day in the park. By the time we reached the visitor center the rain had abated and we decided to walk Geyser Hill boardwalk to get away from the masses that surrounded Old Faithful geyser.

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We found the many small geysers – with creative names like Beach Spring or Aurum Geyser – fascinating, even though we did not have the energy to walk some of the much longer trails. Words are inadequate to describe the smells, sights, and sounds in a geyser area, especially when one spots a bison not too far from an inn that looks like a Santa Claus castle.

After lunch at the Old Faithful Lodge we headed back toward the lake. Not far from Grant Village a small group of people was looking into a stand of trees. They saw an elk cow! Naturally, we joined them. The cow was unconcerned about those of us as we remained by the roadside, but some tourists began walking into the woods to get better photos. Such behavior is not only potentially dangerous for the tourists, but also stresses out the wildlife we came to observe.img_2276web

While most of Yellowstone’s trees are evergreens, the few aspens were at their golden peak and begged to be photographed. The yellow aspen leaves provided a colorful contrast to the snow-capped mountains at the other side of Yellowstone Lake.img_2290web

And so ended our last full day in Yellowstone Park. I enjoyed the serenity of the lake area and the wonderful view from the dining room windows at the Lake Lodge. The only sounds I heard at night were coyotes howling in the distance. And that’s how it should be.