Week seven of quarantine. Andreas just sent his parents a depressing email (and probably graphs) commenting on how poorly our country was handling Covid19 compared with Germany. He asked that I write something uplifting to balance him out. He is still a little obsessed with monitoring the news and creating virus death graphs, but is beginning to focus more on his own research. It’s good that he’s teaching this semester.
Busy is modus operandi. If we stay busy with work, school and projects we don’t feel as isolated and the weeks go faster. The tough days, at least for me, are when one project is finished and another has yet to begin. Luckily, we have an ongoing project of taking care of the garden and tending to our new vegetable plants. As of April 23rd, the Newark Garden Tour is still scheduled for June 13th and we are preparing for that. It may be cancelled later, we don’t know.
Our garden is looking a little torn up at the front because the City came and installed a new water main under the sidewalk.
After they finished in front of our house, I heard the sound of rushing water. It was so loud that we could hear it at the top floor. We checked all of our pipes and the computer data of our water usage online. Everything was OK. I called the City and they didn’t believe us saying it was probably our problem. I called back a few days later and spoke to someone in the water department. She didn’t believe me, but sent people out. Those people didn’t believe me and came into the house to check the meter. No masks or gloves!! When they finally checked the connection at the sidewalk they said, oh, it’s us. Four days later, the water is still leaking, they sent a crew to fix it.
One workman asked the others, “Ok, which one of you were drinking when you installed this?” He asked the man digging in the hole how it was going. Not so good the man replied, Its wet down here.
We had a nice Easter with George and Christina. They distanced themselves from us on our deck and we shared cake and coffee with at least six feet between us at all times. We Zoomed with our German family using two laptops, a phone and a security web-cam to accommodate all levels of computer skills. Later Easter evening, we Zoomed with my mother’s side of the family while we ate dinner. That was probably the only time we’ve all been “together” in over a decade.
Some fun things have happened in the neighborhood. One day people created chalk drawings on their sidewalks and they have been placing teddy bears in their windows so the kids can have a “bear hunt.”
I’ve been sewing masks and clothes, working on a commission and most recently painted the fireplace.
We have also used Zoom to teach (Andreas) and take a class (me.)
We try to keep in touch with family and friends.
We are grateful to have access to technology like this, grateful to have work that we can do from home and very grateful that we are well and the majority of our family, friends and acquaintances are still well. We realize that even though we are all experiencing the same virus, quarantine “storm” that we’re all not in the same boat and that this experience is worse for some.
I think we are still happy to be home but are definitely looking forward to warmer, drier weather so we can work outside.
Hello from America. We’ve had eleven days to re-adjust, re-decorate and re-dedicate ourselves to our old lives.
On the flight home we shared our row with a friar or monk (whatever you call the dudes in the long brown robes with rope belts) a talker, originally from South Jersey. He’s stationed in Jericho now and was coming home for a holiday at the shore. I caught up on a few movies that I hadn’t seen while we were in Germany on the plane. When we landed in Philadelphia, a half hour late, we were told that the computers in customs were down. Two hours later we happily greeted Andreas’ sister who patiently waited three hours to pick us up.
My in-laws watched our house for us using our place as a base while they build a new home. So, not only was the house clean and ready to live in when we arrived, but we had groceries and good company.
The first things we noticed in Delaware were the sounds of insects at night and the blood thirsty mosquitoes. Even though it’s hot we open the windows to hear the insects through the night and the birds in the morning. In Bremerhaven we heard drunks, sirens and seagulls. I’ll miss the seagulls.
During our first couple of days back we manically cleaned, re-organized and unpacked. Andreas spent three days in the garden untangling and cutting back a years’ worth of overgrowth.
He also spent some time editing and cleaning his office at work which hasn’t changed much in twenty years. Even though we felt tired and jet lagged, the excitement of being back and the desire to do the things we dreamed about in Germany overcame it.
My car wasn’t running well after sitting for a year, so I had it towed to the mechanics. Even though I’m home I haven’t had a car to run errands. That’s frustrating, but I think it helped me to stay focused on submitting a grant proposal before it’s deadline, and to unpack the studio prepare it for commissions and classes.
We had our kitchen remodeled when we were overseas. It turned out great and it’s been fun to unpack and thin out our combined kitchen utensils and gadgets. It’s so much brighter than the old kitchen!
Oh, and I turned 50 a few days ago and had an awesome dinner out with a few friends. It was wonderful to understand the conversations at the table, to understand the waitress and to be able to read everything on the menu. Also, super great to see my friends. I kept staring at my friend Sherri. I couldn’t believe she was actually sitting there in person, not just a video on the phone!
I miss our apartment in Germany a little bit because it became so familiar. All in all, though I am very happy to be HOME!
Never have I ever consumed so much Pilsner and Riesling. Not in copious amounts, it’s the only type of beer and wine Andreas likes to buy here.
Never have I ever had this much time to focus on my artwork. I’ve had a few months here and there in my life when I’ve attended workshops or been between jobs, but never a whole year to slow down and focus.
Never have I ever exhibited my paintings abroad! Wow, that was cool.
Never have I ever eaten gooseberry (Stachelbeere) or rhubarb (Rhabarber) pancakes.
Never have I ever traveled by train so much or been without a car for so long.
Never have I ever had a “destination wedding” back to my house.
Never have I ever spent hours in an immigration visa office. Thank God Andreas can speak German. I feel really bad for all of the others there who didn’t have a native speaker with them.
All in all, a wonderful experience. I accomplished most of the goals I set for myself and I think Andreas did too. We’re looking forward to visiting again soon.
Andreas and I were not back in Bremerhaven more than a couple of hours from our last trip when we realized this week’s early July weather was going to be very cool. We decided to take advantage and travel again before the next heat wave. We set out to my favorite city Lübeck to say goodbye to Andreas’ parents and Aunt; our third trip to Lübeck this year. (Last summer 2018) (Christmas 2018)
In two days, we visited all of the familiar places. We stayed at our usual Airbnb in the tiny passage or Gang. (I looked up these passages and learned that two scenes from Nosferatu were filmed in Lübeck), we ate at our favorite restaurants and walked around the beautiful, old city. Since we’ve recently become step-grandparents toy stores are newly interesting and as always, time and money were spent in bookstores.
Thankfully, Andreas’ parents, Aunt Annemarie and his mother’s friend from school, Sieglinde were able to join us for dinner with just a few days’ notice. It’s always fun to walk around the city with them because they have so many memories of being young there.
Our new find was the Europäisches Hansemuseum. The museum site was originally a castle built in 1100, which turned into a Friary, which turned into an almshouse, which turned into a law court and prison which became the museum. Thus.. a really cool collection of buildings with remnants of all of these periods can be viewed.
Just a couple of weeks are left in Andreas’ sabbatical, I hope this cool spell lasts and we can travel a little more.
We arrived in Cochem as part of Andreas’ bucket list wish to explore wine growers on the Moselle River. I say part of because his initial wish was to bike along the river stopping in the small towns for wine as he wished. We compromised by staying in a central location with day trips. We chose a lovely hotel/ home run by the super bubbly Ute. She even picked us up from the train station.
The hotel was a few blocks from the Reichsburg Castle and we had a wonderful view of it lit up at night from our balcony.
2018’s summer heat wave wasn’t a fluke, we endured temperatures in the mid-nineties along the Moselle River last week (June 2019). Ninety plus degrees in the US is uncomfortable, but bearable with fans and A/C. Germany hasn’t had as much need for those things yet. Also, some here feel that air-conditioning will make you sick. We adapted following the local example of only opening the windows at night and blocking the sun with curtains. Like other traveler’s though, this was our week to explore the area. Our shared discomfort gave us something to small talk about and we met a lot of friendly people including other Americans.
Our first day started with lunch with wine (there’s a theme here) where we were seated with a nice couple from Germany and Thailand who slowly warmed up to us. Next, we hiked our tipsy selves up the hill to the castle for amazing views of Cochem. We didn’t see the inside of the castle this trip. We ended the day at a wine seller in the cellar. Not just a cellar, the back of the room was carved into the stone in the hillside. Very old, cool place with a wonderful selection of wine grown on the side of a mountain a few bends away in the river.
On the second day, with the temperature climbing, we took the train to Moselkern to hike to Burg Eltz castle tucked into the wooded mountains. It was an eight-mile hike in the heat, but most of it was shaded by trees.
The castle is one of the most interesting I’ve visited. It’s been in the same family for 800 years (33 generations) and the current generation still lives there. This means that it’s been kept up and a lot of the rooms are still decorated as they’ve been for hundreds of years.
There are also treasury rooms in the lower levels where you can see their finer trinkets, jewels and weapons. Thanks to Andreas’ brother Burkhard we knew to ask for a tour in English. It may be my favorite castle because I was able to learn more through the English tour..
Back in Cochem it was cold showers and a long nap then back to the cellar cave for Riesling and a small dinner. At the castle we met a nice couple from Berkeley, California and we recommended our wine find. We were happy to see them sitting in the cave when we arrived where they had befriended a young traveling German couple. We had a nice time comparing travel notes and complaining about the heat.
On our last day Andreas and I had blisters on our feet and my ankle was mysteriously swollen so, we opted for a boat to take us to our next destination along the river. A highlight of the trip for me. I loved seeing the towns along the water and the herons and swans.
We arrived in Beilstein on the Moselle which began around AD 800. In 1309 a Jewish community was founded and their graveyard still exists on the mountain above the city. Andreas found it on his hike past the castle. The last burial stone is dated 1938 which is the year of the Kristallnacht that marks the onset of what became the holocaust. Most people of the Jewish faith from this town perished on the killing fields of Poland and Ukraine. Very few escaped in time to America to remember Jewish life on the Moselle River for a history commissioned in 1996 by the local county government.
Andreas and I hiked up the hill to the ruined castle to see the views of the river and the town. It was pretty spectacular. I spent an hour there in the shade watching the ships come and go.
There was a little café in front of the church where Andreas tried another local Riesling, and we both had cake. Then the boat ride back to Cochem, cold showers and a nap until the heat abated a little.
We considered trying a different restaurant for dinner but didn’t get far, and returned to the cave. The young German couple that we met the night before returned as well. This night we had a nice conversation with the owner, Arthur. We bought four bottles of our favorite wines that, it turned out, all came from the same steep slope called Neefer Frauenberg.
We purposely didn’t explore too much in Cochem because we hope to return again. It’s a beautiful, friendly place. Have you been there?
Diez metamorphosed from a blah German caterpillar in the winter to a shining, sunny butterfly in summer. We’ve traveled there twice in the winter months, once in 2017 at Christmas and recently 2019 in February. We had a fun time with Andreas’ brother and sister-in-law, but the town itself was quiet. Come summertime it now lights up with al fresco eating and drinking, food trucks, a water feature following the street that I earlier mistook as a giant gutter, flowers everywhere and general feeling of gregariousness. Tourists are seen trying to drive the wrong way on tiny streets, and long-distance hikers and bicyclists pass through.
Burkhard and Carina picked us up from the train station and took us to a hidden beer garden in Diez where friends were holding a table for us. Our waiter, strangely enough, was from Germantown, Pennsylvania (the dodgy end) and was happy to speak English. I ordered my new favorite German restaurant food, Kartoffelpuffer mit lachs.
After dinner and drinks, we returned quickly to their home to transform ourselves into Aliens and then drove close to the Diez/ Limburg border for a punk rock, alien party complete with spaceship and burning alien on the fire pit.
The party was held at Kalkwerk which is a former lime/chalk? mine transformed into art studios, recording studios and band practice space, a concert venue with a stage and like Diez has metamorphosing capabilities. If this place had existed in my life as a young person I would have moved in and never left.
The next day found us busy preparing for a dinner with Burkhard and Carina’s friends. Carina and I did some shopping including a visit to the Turkish butcher while Andreas weeded part of the back yard and expressed for maybe the first time this year that he was homesick for his garden in Delaware. Burkhard readied the tables, chairs and grill. Carina made delicious salads that I’m hoping to get recipes for and Burkhard grilled lamb and chicken from the butchers. One of the best dinners I’ve had in Germany. Also, great company.
On Sunday Andreas was interested in a long hike in the Jammertal Valley (valley of misery) along the Lahn River.
The rest of us not so much. Burkhard and I walked with him for a while and then turned back and drove around the surrounding villages. We also visited the Schaumburg Castle that was closed for the day.
The castle site (not in the castle) is also where Mother Meera lives. “Mother Meera is the embodiment of the Divine Feminine, the Divine Mother on earth.”-from her website. Many people have visited her including a few of the Beatles. I hope to visit one day as well.
From the castle we returned to Diez for some ice cream and then back to Burkard’s home where Carina made me the Queen’s drink which was fancy and delicious and we waited for Andreas to return on the train.
He arrived an hour or so later after hiking nine miles through the woods happy and tired with blisters on his feet, (yes, he walked in his Birkenstocks) and wine and liverwurst in his belly.
We had a dinner of leftovers with the neighbor’s little boy who invited himself over, and later drinks with the neighbors who popped through the garden hedge.
When on earlier visits I had the Specials song Ghost Town in my head walking around town I now saw Diez with new eyes as a fun, vibrant neighborhood. Amazing what a little sun and warm weather can do.
Happy 85th Birthday to Andreas’ father (Vati) Lothar! We recently spent a wonderful weekend in Neustadt in Holstein by the Baltic Sea to visit Andreas’ parents and celebrate this big birthday.
Lothar was born in 1934 six weeks premature. He made it through some bad times during and after WWII in what is now north western Poland. At age 20 he was ready to work on electric utility grids in Venuezuela, but his father refused to sign the required permission as he was not yet 21. Two years later he joined the newly formed German Air Force instead where he served until his retirement some 30 years later. When Andreas was born, the young family was stationed in Leck, Nordfriesland near the Danish border. He, his wife Christa, and three children moved a few times with the Air Force and have been on a lot of vacations in Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and later as retirees America.
This past weekend we had a relaxing time walking along Neustadt Harbor, some wonderful meals and lots of long conversations piecing together the past.
The Muenchow’s longtime neighbor and friend Hannelore joined us for coffee and marzipan birthday cake on Saturday. She has known Andreas since he was a little boy in Lederhosen living in Leck, Nordfriesland.
Before we left on Sunday, we found old family slides and the slide projector to look at some images that haven’t been seen in twenty years. We are bringing a few home to the States to digitize and print.
When I wished Lothar a happy birthday, I said here’s to eighty-five more! He said, “Oh no, only wish for five more at a time.” So, here’s to five more. In guter Gesundheit!
My Germany bucket/wish list for this sabbatical year is checked off. I created a new body of work, had an art exhibit, and last week I was given the opportunity to speak to five high school art classes. I was also invited to visit their school and interact with the students as they worked on their projects.
Since I’m an art instructor in America and students in Germany study English, I thought it would be fun to visit a class to show them my artwork and have conversations in English. Through my show at Art Impressions Gallery I became friendly with the gallery owner, Fernando Valero who invited me to his garden birthday party. There I met local high school art teacher, Christiane Matthai who teaches at the Geschwister Scholl Schule in Bremerhaven. I told her I was interested in speaking to students and she not only brought her students to my exhibit but invited me to her classroom.
Both experiences were wonderful. At the gallery I spoke about the theme for my show and then a little bit about each work individually. I shared my inspiration for the images and the watercolor and watercolor pencil techniques used in rendering them.
I showed a Power Point presentation that I prepared on the Ship last summer for the scientists about the other art mediums I work in, and about my past artistic and work experiences. I wanted the students to know that I haven’t made a career out of painting old women in diners, I also paint goats on skateboards, make stained glass windows from garbage and drive an Art Car.
I really enjoyed each class. I was curious about the similarities and differences I would observe comparing German kids to American kids. No differences I could see or sense bar one and that was that the German students showed more independence. The teacher was recently sick and I asked her if she had to pay for her substitute like the teachers do in California. She said that that subs are not hired for high school classes. Her students acquired the key for the room, worked independently and cleaned up after themselves. That was shocking to me. I could see how it was possible though after spending time in her classroom. I observed the students set up their projects, work independently when their teacher wasn’t giving them one on one time, and clean up their area. They spoke to each other quietly and worked steadily throughout the long class period without need for redirection.
The German student’s clothing, shoes, hair styles and demeanor were so similar to my students. I told them if I saw them in America I would never guess that they were from Germany unless they spoke to me. It’s interesting how access to the internet is changing design cross culturally. Also, their English vocabulary and pronunciation was very good; better than they think it is.
I feel very lucky to be given this experience and hope to work with Christiane again during our future visits.
Newark, Delaware artist Dragonfly Leathrum exhibits new work in Bremerhaven Germany. The artist exhibited seventeen watercolor and colored pencil paintings and thirteen pencil and colored pencil drawings. All artwork was created in an eight-month time span while on sabbatical.
Exhibits in Germany, thirty works created in eight months, watercolor paintings? Who is this person? Me? How did that happen? If someone had read that first paragraph to me two years ago and said that’s going to be you, I wouldn’t have believed them. I would have said that it sounds even more far fetched than some of the goals I set for myself in my sketchbook. If you follow this blog you know how this happened. If not, the cliff note version is that I met a wonderful German/ American Oceanographer just shy of two years ago. We started dating, fell in love moved in together, moved to Germany for a sabbatical, and got married. For the detailed version of that journey see previous posts.
So here I am in Germany for a year and I have the freedom for the first time in my life to dedicate most of my time to creating art, but my studio and supplies are in Newark, Delaware. I can’t paint in acrylics or oils and I can’t create stained glass windows (or can I?) without a large investment in new supplies, and then how do I ship them home? My solution to this first world, artist problem was to switch to watercolors and colored pencils. This worked well on our research trip in the Arctic and has been a wonderful solution to creating new work quickly that is easy to ship and can also fit in a suitcase.
My art goals during my stay in Bremerhaven were to 1. Practice a drawing/ painting skill that I want to improve on for future work, 2. Create a new/full body of work with one theme, in one medium that I can exhibit when I return to the States and 3. Icing on the cake, and a dream, to have a show in Germany.
So, what to paint? The blank tablet of watercolor paper asks, “What will it be, ma’am?” I ask myself what would I like to see on the wall? What do other people want to see on their walls? What’s important to document? After a lot of thought I chose to create dining companions. Portraits were my challenge that needed a lot of practice and I enjoy figure drawings more when the background gives some information. I was also a bit lonely. I chose to paint friends, relatives, people from the newspaper, a few faces from online sources and one self-portrait. If the face was interesting and the figures were in a dining situation, I was ready to paint them.
One theme and all in watercolor with colored pencil. (this is unusual for me) In the few months since I began this project my drawings and paintings have improved with practice which inspires me to keep going.
Now for a show in Germany, I approached a few galleries, some were interested but didn’t have an opening until 2020. By chance I found a gallery close to my neighborhood with an opening in April and I was able to book it. Yay, a show!
Uh oh…now I need to matte and frame thirty pieces of artwork and I can’t bring these frames home to Delaware. The Owner of Art Impressions Gallery saved me the matting costs by applying for and receiving a grant from the city for exhibiting an international artist. For frames I did something I would never consider doing in Newark and that was to purchase all the frames from IKEA with plexi windows instead of glass.
(I can hear my artist friends and my framer 4000 miles away screaming NO!!! in unison.) Those were not easy to transport on the 505 bus. I will donate them to the gallery or a school when I leave for student artists.
We had the show opening on April 27th 2019, it was a success. Four of the paintings were sold through commission, three sold through social media before the show and two sold opening night. Framing costs covered.
The local newspaper covered the show twice and I’m looking forward to two art classes from the local high school to visit the show next week.
My next goal is to complete at least three more paintings before mid-July and to apply for a grant through the Delaware Division of the Arts.
In the US I am a proud member of an Artist Collective called Trashy Women. We are a collective of nine women artists who all have our own artistic specialties. There are painters, ceramicists, jewelers, sculptors, glass workers and some of us work in all these mediums. When we meet as a collective and show together, we make art out of found objects and trash. Some people called it upcycling which is a useful step up from recycling.
In March the Trashy Women will be having a show at the Gibby Center for the Arts in Middletown, Delaware. I really wanted to participate in this show but I’m almost 4,000 miles away in Bremerhaven Germany this year. Bremerhaven has no shortage of garbage, but my tools and art supplies are in the States in my studio. So, what can I create for this show? I had collected a pile of beach glass from the Weser-Strandbad and some broken shards from the street but I wasn’t sure how I was going to put it together without my stained-glass supplies.
I walked to the hardware store for inspiration and found some wire in the gardening section. I figured I could wrap the glass with the wire and create an image from there. An insane, time-consuming undertaking, but what are sabbaticals for if not for projects like this?
I started with a piece of paper equaling the dimensions of the mailing box I picked up from the post office. I wasn’t taking any chances with shipping. Ha ha.
Then I drew an image on the paper and placed the glass on the image using colors and shapes that I felt were appropriate. Once the image was realized I proceeded to wrap each piece with wire and then connected the pieces together. Connecting the pieces was tricky, especially on the first window. I developed a method of “sewing” them together with the wire.
By the third one I was a pro. Like all things I make they are over engineered and extra strong. Probably much stronger than they need to be.
I then had to figure out how to hang them. I didn’t see any chain around that I liked, so I used some left-over yarn from a scarf I knitted for my sister-in-law and double knitted some rope. In Diez I found key rings to hang them from hooks in the show.
So yeah, they’re weird and very different from what I would have created in my comfort zone at home. I’m happy with how they turned out and they’re very interesting in the sunlight. The wave has sold already from a social media posting and I’m hoping the other two find good homes at the show. After my painting show at Art Impressions Gallery in Bremerhaven on April 27th, I’m hoping to make more.