Saturday, March 10, 2018

Time For Art

All of my life, it seems that I have had to fit art in around the edges of my life. Sometimes, there were multi-year gaps when I did no art. I could usually find time for a little art or a little writing, but not both.

So when I retired, I planned to devote a lot more time to those twin passions of writing and art. When looking for a place to retire, the natural beauty of the location was an important consideration, as was choosing a house that would have space that I could use as a painting studio.

Silhouette of Garry Oak
The part of Vancouver Island where we have relocated to is glorious. It is a rural area on the coast that has a little town centre and a strong sense of community. There is a network of trails right outside my door, and I go walking on them several times a week. I take photos on my walks, often thinking that I might use the images later as references for a painting. I have noticed several spots, not too far away, that would great for setting up my easel and doing plein air painting.

For example, the photo below shows of one of my favourite places along the trails. It is a rocky green meadow high above a lake, fringed with evergreens, Garry oaks, and arbutus trees. A little seasonal stream runs through it. I took this photograph on my walk this afternoon.

Meadow above the Lake
Along with spectacular views to paint, there is a strong community of artists in the area. In the Fall, I was invited to participate as a guest artist in a weekend art show. Although I exhibited in many juried shows and other group art shows from 1994-2004, and also had a number of solo shows of my work during that period, in recent years I have little time to exhibit. So I was thrilled to be able to participate. I put together some paintings to display, which happened to be the first 21 paintings that came out of the moving boxes. Many of the rest still have not emerged from the boxes yet.

My Paintings at the Studio Art Tour
It was wonderful getting to know the other artists, as well as members of the community who came to the art show. Recently, I formally became a member of the art group. This group hosts studio tours during the year, when members of the public are invited to visit the artists in their home studios and see their work. I have already set up the working part of my home studio, but still need to hang my paintings in the section that will be the gallery.

With the help of my daughter, who is an artist and web developer, I have been working on building an artist's website. Unfortunately, over the years, I have not done a good job of documenting my work photographically, or keeping track of all the data about each painting. So over the last few weeks, I have spent many hours sorting through the photos of paintings that I do have (retrieving them from my database of more than 17,000 digital photos!), labelling them, and making them website ready. I need to photograph many paintings for which I do not have digital photos, or only poor quality ones. There is a lot of other "behind the scenes" work in setting up a studio/gallery and being part of a formal group.

It all takes a lot of time. But, I am happy to report that I have finally picked up my brushes and started painting again.

Painting in Progress in my Studio
I hope to announce my new website soon. Stay tuned for details about our upcoming Spring Showcase.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Restrictive Diets

I love food. I come from a family that loves food. I also enjoy cooking. Some of my happiest memories are of family dinners, or dinners with a group of friends -- everyone gathered around the table eating a feast that is the culmination of a day in the kitchen, laughing, talking, and drinking wine.

Holiday Feast

I am one of those nerdy people that takes photos of my food at a nice restaurant.

Airport Fare

Even if it is just Rob, my son, and me for dinner, I like to plan something that has a creative twist almost every time I cook. For example, last night my theme was Eastern European. We had pan-fried, crumb coated pork loin chops with mushrooms, potato latkes with sour cream and apple sauce, beets, and french bread. The latkes were the creative twist. Instead of using grated potato only when I made them, I also grated in some parsnip and a bit of fresh ginger (a James Barber recipe). They were yummy. Unfortunately, I didn't take a photo of the meal.

I remember my paternal grandmother, who passed away when I was six, as being a fabulous cook. All of her daughters (my aunts) carried on the tradition. My Mom also is a very good cook, and she taught my siblings and me to cook and bake, and let us experiment in the kitchen. My siblings are all great cooks and so are my adult children.

Although I grew up in a northern, fairly remote small town, my parents encouraged adventures in eating. From a young age, we ate local fish and game (moose, grouse, venison, smoked salmon), whatever ethnic foods were available (pickled pigs feet, pickled herring, kippers), and foods that most of my peers did not (stuffed beef heart, oysters, blue cheese, hot pickles). My parents had a large garden and grew their own vegetables, fruits, and berries, which my Mom preserved for the winter. We also gathered wild huckleberries, mushrooms, and so on. My Mom baked almost every day -- squares, cookies, cakes, pies, and specialties like cream puffs and jellyroll.

Pumpkin Pie and Banana Cream Pie

Having once been a child, then a parent, and now a grandparent, I know that small children sometimes are reluctant to try new foods. My Mom had a sensible approach. She never forced us to eat, but she did have two rules. 1. If we served ourselves something, we had to eat it. (She encouraged us to take a small helping, and if we wished, to have seconds.) 2. We had to at least taste every item in the meal -- a mouthful or teaspoon-sized amount. She also, very shrewdly, limited our access to snacks during the day, so that when we sat to the table, we were hungry. Hunger is a wonderful appetite enhancer!

Baking Cookies With Grandma

My parents also took us out to restaurants from a young age. We were expected to sit up nicely and behave ourselves. If someone made a fuss, my Mom took the misbehaving child out to the car and stayed there with them until they were ready to rejoin the rest of the family in the restaurant. We also learned that when we went out to dinner to someone's home, we should use our best manners, eat whatever we were served without complaint, thank the hostess, and offer to help with the dishes.

We often had extra people around our dinner table. Dad would arrive home from work with someone travelling through town who needed a good meal. Or one of us kids would invite a friend to stay for dinner. One of my brother's friends came home from college with him for a visit and stayed for a year. When my best friend's family moved to a town two hours down the road, she started coming to stay for the weekend every second weekend. Friday night was usually steak night, so our friends especially liked being there for dinner on Fridays.

In adulthood, I have continued the tradition of cooking for people and hosting dinners. In one place that we lived, Rob and I were part of a dinner club that was a lot of fun. Each month a different couple in the group hosted a dinner for everyone.

Through the dinner club experience, I learned that a lot has changed with respect to group eating behaviour since I was child. It seemed that most of the people in the club were on some type of restrictive diet. The group included a vegetarian, a person who couldn't eat dairy, a person with a sensitivity to eggs, a person with a sensitivity to sweet peppers (me), and a person who didn't eat any fruits or vegetables on the "dirty dozen" list (unless organically grown). It made it tricky to plan a dinner that would please everyone. I was just about ready to quit when one of the members developed a health issue and was supposed to avoid all fats and all green vegetables!

As a cook, I find that restrictive diets limit my creative options. I like to develop menus that will please the eye as well as the palate, that use local ingredients, and that are healthy. Rob and my son are appreciative diners, and fun to cook for. As a diner myself, I am easy to feed. (If I am served something with peppers in it, I just pick them out and put them on the side of my plate.)

I do not have a lot of patience for restrictive diets. I understand that sometimes the restrictive diets are prescribed because of health issues. I do my best to accommodate people's dietary preferences because I like spending time with friends and family members, and cooking for them is a way of showing them that I care about them.

However, I have never chosen to put myself on a restrictive dietary regimen. For example, I have never been on a weight loss diet. That doesn't mean that I am a glutton, or that I chow down on excessive amounts of red meat. I am very interested in the relationship between nutrition and health, and I care about eating in an environmentally sustainable way. I also try to notice if I am developing unhealthy eating habits, and to change those habits. That said, moderation is my guide, and I am willing to try most foods.

Eating Up the Contents of the Freezer Before our Move: Mussels and Steamed Dumplings

During my recent years of excessive overwork, I developed some health symptoms that were worrisome, among them sharp abdominal pains. I went through a bunch of medical tests which ruled out some of the scarier possibilities, but did not provide any answers. The last specialist that I saw suggested that I try out a low FODMAP diet. Apparently, there are a number of components in food that some people have difficulty digesting.

My symptoms are not consistent and do not exactly match any of the common diagnoses. But a person does not have pain attacks for no reason. So now, for the first time in my life, I am on a restrictive diet. My plan is to try to adhere closely to the low FODMAP diet for about six weeks, and then when the abdominal symptoms disappear, I will gradually begin to add various foods back in one at a time so see if there is a particular food or foods that my gut is reacting to.

Harrumph! We will see how it goes.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Fighting the Creative Muse

Rainy Day at the Beach
Since retiring in June, I have been having a fun, engaged life, and I love it. Although I have been careful to not agree to many regularly scheduled obligations this first year so as to avoid replicating my previous over-scheduled work life, I have been pretty active.

For example, in the last couple of weeks, I have done the following: completed second language lessons in German or French daily, attended yoga twice a week, gone skiing twice, made a weekend trip to Vancouver to attend the Canadian national figure skating competition and visit friends, volunteered for a local service group, made arrangements to join a group of local artists, made plans to join a local social club, gone for hikes and walks, babysat my grandsons, gone out for a dinner and a coffee date, and completed two small academic writing projects.

As well, Rob and I went for a beach walk on a rainy day, and I tried some new photography techniques.
Patterns in the Sand

This is still a very relaxed pace compared to what I am used to. Most nights, I get nine hours of sleep. Most mornings, I sit around drinking coffee, doing my language lessons, and reading for a couple of hours before I even get out of my pajamas.

But what I have not been doing is progressing on my creative writing and art projects. The last few days, I have felt restless. I have woken up grumpy, having had upsetting dreams about frustration and loss.

"Uh-oh!" I am thinking. "Maybe the honeymoon period of retirement is coming to an end. Maybe I am now going into the part of the retirement transition when I will feel at a crossroads, not knowing what my purpose is."

Karen Hume has written about the retirement transition as being a difficult time: "Your transition to retirement is supposed to hurt. If you are doing it right, there will be a lengthy period of chaos and loss occurring sometime in the first few years of retirement."

So I was thrilled to read Kathy Gottberg's most recent post, "Why wait Until Retirement to Live A Rewarding, Meaningful, and Purposeful Life?" As I have written before, I have had trouble defining my purpose. In her post, Kathy writes about the concept of dharma, and specifically Stephen Cope's perspective of it as explained in his book, The Great Work of Your LifeA Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling.

Dharma, as described by Kathy, immediately fired my imagination. It seems to be a more roomy, holistic notion than "purpose." One's dharma is what you are called to in life -- acting from your sacred duty or your true self.

I used Kathy's list of questions to guide me as I journalled about my dharma. From this process, although I still cannot put into words a single calling, I realized that I have a cluster of themes or foci in my life, or a kind of interwoven tapestry of pursuits, that all point to my dharma. Since my earliest childhood and throughout my life, creative art and writing have been persistent elements in my thematic tapestry.

I had a whole day with nothing scheduled. I didn't even have to cook. I decided that it would be my day for going into my studio and painting.  

After journalling about my dharma, there was still most of the day left. So I did a deep clean of the ensuite bathroom. I even scrubbed every centimeter of the shower tiles down on my knees with a scrub brush.

That went so well that I decided to assemble the shoe rack that I purchased two weeks ago. I set it up and filled it with shoes that had been stuffed in bags since the move.

Then I moved on to the last remaining moving box tucked away in a corner of the bedroom. I unpacked it, found homes for everything, and neatly smoothed out and rolled up the packing paper for reuse.

By now it was mid afternoon. I had not even entered my studio. I was hungry, so I made myself some lunch. While eating lunch, I re-read the chapter of Brene Brown's book Braving the Wilderness, in which she talks about writing yourself a permission slip.

Why was I avoiding painting? I love painting, and feel happy and fulfilled when I do it. I have set up a nice painting studio right in my house. Why couldn't I make myself paint?

I couldn't use my old excuse of not having enough time.

And, by the way, why have I been avoiding working on my novel? I had to put it aside in December for a bit because everything related to Christmas made things really busy. But now January's almost over. Why am I not working on it again?

This is always my battle with creative pursuits. Once I start, I am fine. But I fight the muse and find all kinds of reasons and distractions to not get started in the first place. I have often used external structures to trick myself into starting -- things like NaNoWriMo, signing up for weekly classes, or promising to submit something on a certain date thus creating a deadline.

Composition and Colour
Brown says there are two steps: 1. give yourself permission, and 2. get on the bus (do it). I wrote the two steps on a post-it.

In the late afternoon, I went downstairs, not to my studio but to my office. I put the post-it beside the computer. Then I turned it on and began to work on my novel.

Hello old friend! I am so happy to be writing again.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

No Sense of Humour

“She has no sense of humour.” Have you ever heard someone say that? Or, if you are a woman, you might have had a remark like that directed at you: “Where’s your sense of humour?”
If anyone has ever said that to you, I will bet that a vivid memory of the type of situation that elicited it has sprung into your mind, along with some unpleasant emotions.
It turns out that I have no sense of humour. Here is a story of an experience that reminded me of that fact.
Recently, I was at a meeting of a community organization. I am thrilled to be getting to know my new community, and have been reaching out and meeting people through a number of different venues. Although I am new to these different groups because we have just moved to the area, I have found people to be pleasant and welcoming. It has been interesting and fun making new acquaintances and participating in local activities that in the past I simply did not have time for.
The group of people at this particular meeting included people from diverse work backgrounds. Usually the participation is about one third female and two thirds male, with about half being retired people and the rest still working. However, on this occasion, it happened that I was the only woman present.
As everyone bustled about getting ready to start the meeting, I noticed 'Frank' approaching others in the room and showing them a piece of paper. I wondered whether it might be a recent bit of correspondence, or maybe a community announcement of some sort. Soon enough, Frank came around to my side of the room and showed the piece of paper to the person beside me. Curious, I glanced sideways to see what the notice was about. Frank adjusted the angle of the paper so it was easy for both of us to see.
It was a crude joke about women’s boobs. Frank was grinning, looking for a reaction.
I was stunned. In this time of heightened awareness of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and with all the recent media coverage of entertainment and film industry “big names” being called out for sexual assault, how could anyone think that it was okay to pass around dirty jokes about women’s bodies?
This is not a new situation for me, of course. Being a woman who came of age in the 1960’s and 70’s, I remember that this kind of male behaviour in groups was more the norm than the exception in the past. As I often found myself in mostly male groups (because I was a skier and an active outdoors person, and because I climbed the education and career ladders to a level where women were rare), I learned to grin and bear it much of the time. I didn’t want to be tagged as a troublemaker, a prude, or someone with no sense of humour. I wanted to fit in.
I am also a lifelong feminist. Over time, I developed more confidence and began to speak out about sexist and male bullying behaviour. In one of my career positions, I initiated a sexual violence awareness campaign and led the development of a sexual violence policy in our workplace.
So how did I respond to Frank’s ‘joke’?
I would like to report that I spoke out and said, “Frank, jokes like this make me feel uncomfortable. They are not appropriate at our meetings.” I would like to say that the others in the room (all men) spoke up and supported me. But that is not what happened.
I looked at the piece of paper and said nothing.
Old habits kicked in. There was a tone of suppressed hilarity in the room that evening, and to me the dynamics felt very uncomfortable. I felt voiceless, and like the butt of the joke.
I was really angry, just boiling. I was angry at myself for not speaking out. I was angry about all of the men in the room who said nothing and let Frank get away with this behaviour. And I was angry with all the Franks of the world who feel they have the right to use sexism to put down, humiliate, and exclude others.
I tried to understand why I and the others present had behaved the way we did.
In rationalizing my own behaviour, I can say that I was a new person in this group, the only woman, and possibly the youngest, and therefore in a position of low social influence. I have been socialized throughout my life to know ‘a woman’s place,’ even though I also have fought against sexism throughout my life. As far as sexist jokes go, this particular one was quite mild, even kind of cute. I didn’t want to be seen as making a big deal about something that is trivial compared to the horror of sexual assault that so many women experience. In an uncomfortable social situation, it is easier to remain silent. I didn’t want to embarrass Frank (!!).
As far as the behaviour of the rest of the people in the room went, I wondered why none of the men had the courage to say something. Several of them are professionals for whom this sort of thing certainly would not be tolerated in their workplaces, so they must have known that it was was not appropriate. The chair of the meeting has the designated authority to manage the conduct of people at the meeting, but he said nothing. I speculated that perhaps this kind of sexist joke sharing has been the norm in this group, and if that is the case, perhaps also racist jokes. If so, why would I want to be part of such a group? 
Frank is elderly and is the most long-standing member of the group. Perhaps the other men were afraid to challenge Frank because of his senior status. And then I felt mad at myself all over again for expecting the male members to speak up when I didn't have the courage to do so.
And what about Frank? Is he really so out of touch that he innocently thought the joke was funny and just wanted to share it with us? Perhaps, steeped in a lifetime of white male privilege, he actually believes that women have no place attending such meetings, and that women in their role as wives should simply serve as adjuncts and supports to male-run groups. Perhaps this was his passive-aggressive way of putting me (and all women) in our place.
Days later, I still feel angry about it. I am still trying to decide what to do about it, because being silenced is not an acceptable option. 

It's just a little thing, but if I and the other members of this group lack the courage to deal with the little things, how are we ever going to make progress on the big things like sexual assault, rape culture, the glass ceiling, and the fact that women in Canada today who are working full time only earn 74.2% of what full-time working men earn? I am filled with admiration for women and men who have spoken out as part of the #MeToo movement.
But, too bad that I have no sense of humour.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Grandma Day

On Sunday, I got to be Grandma all day long. My two little grandsons came over to our house for the day while their parents went skiing.

Although I have babysat them a number of times at their house since moving here, and although they have been to our house many times with their parents, this is the first time that I have had them here all day. Their mom said that they were excited and eager to come stay at Grandma's house. 

We're Here!
Look at This, Grandma!

We started the morning right. Grandpa made his signature pancakes (yup, Aunt Jemima). Both little boys ate many, many pancakes.

Mmm, Pancakes
It was a windy, stormy day, so we stayed indoors rather than venturing out. The weather was a bonus on the ski hill -- lots of fresh powder for my daughter and son in law!

We coloured and drew pictures (art for my fridge), read stories, played with LEGO and Grandma's toy stash, and played with stickers. The younger grandson was very pleased that he had his own little bed to sleep in when nap time came (a fold-out cot that I set up in the spare bedroom).

Colouring and Drawing
Another big hit of the day was baking cookies. Actually, licking the beater and spoon at the end of the cookie-making was the part that the boys enjoyed the most. They also really liked eating the chocolate chip cookies, after they cooled off. A tin of cookies went home with them at the end of the day to share with Mommy and Daddy.

Licking the Bowl
 Their uncle spent lots of time in the afternoon playing with them. They adore their uncle!

Having Fun With Their Uncle
Everyone had a terrific day -- Mommy and Daddy at the ski hill, the two boys at Grandma's house, and Grandma, Grandpa, and Uncle. Even our dog, Kate, was totally delighted to spend the day with my grandsons.

The previous weekend, I went with my grandsons and their parents to the Tube Park at the ski hill. It was fun, and the boys loved it.

Ready to Go
On the Magic Carpet

Yesterday, Rob, my son and I had our own ski day. We couldn't have timed it better. We had sunshine and fresh snow.
Happy Skiers
Retirement is awesome! I can't even remember why I was so worried about it.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Mental Illness and Families

During the holidays, we tend to focus our energies and blog posts on the positive aspects of celebrating with friends and family. Yet, Christmas can be a difficult time as well, remembering loved ones who are no longer with us, or feeling sadness or guilt about those friends or family members whom we have lost touch with. Christmas can be especially difficult for individuals and families struggling with mental illness.

In one of my former career roles, I was involved with creating a welcoming environment to help students flourish on campus; setting up systems and services to help support students struggling with addiction and mental health issues; and promoting open discussion about mental health in an effort to reduce stigma. It was important work, and I believe that those initiatives have made the post-secondary experience better for many students.

But what I would like to write about today comes from a more personal perspective. As with most of us, mental health issues have impacted my life because of illnesses experienced by members of my family, and by close friends and their families. I would need more than my ten fingers to count the number of family members or close friends who have struggled with depression, anxiety, or both. This is not surprising, as depression and anxiety are extremely prevalent in our North American society. Other mental illnesses include schizophrenia, psychosis, personality disorders, and eating disorders.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health reports that:

  • In any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a mental health or addiction problem.
  • By the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, 1 in 2 have – or have had – a mental illness.

Although depression and anxiety are the most commonly reported mental illnesses, and especially prevalent among young people between 15 and 24, substance abuse often goes hand-in-hand with mental health struggles. In my extended family, over the past ten years we have lost two young adults to addiction related deaths. These were smart, successful, personable, well-loved young people. Being loved, and having supportive families and partners, were not sufficient to protect them from substance misuse that ultimately led to their deaths.

International Overdose Awareness Day in Vancouver, BC, August 2017. Photo credit: The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck, retrieved from Huffington Post

I believe that it is important to speak openly about mental health matters, and to encourage people to seek appropriate help rather than being ashamed about their illness and hiding it. I believe it is important to support each other and to recognize that mental illness is an illness, not a willful behaviour or lack of individual strength. De-stigmatizing mental illness helps people reach self-acceptance and develop strategies to stay healthy, and helps families and friends to behave in more understanding and supportive ways. Increased awareness about mental illness also is the first step toward addressing discrimination within our workplaces and other social organizations.

in the last decade, great strides have been made in enhancing awareness about mental health. There is excellent research being done, and better support and services at universities, colleges, and through government provided social services. Organizations like the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health, and here to help serve as portals to information and services. Online "self-serve" resources are increasingly available, such as the info sheets and tool kits provided by here to help.

Image from Canadian Mental Health Association:
However, we still have a long way to go. There simply aren't enough services available to help everyone adequately, as can be seen in the current opioid crisis, and the high levels of homelessness.

Very often, families are left to struggle on their own to cope with a family member's mental illness or addiction, or to deal with the aftermath of an addiction death or suicide. With many types of mental illness, such as schizophrenia or dementia, the person with the illness shows little self-awareness. They may not recognize that they have an illness. They may have paranoid delusions about family members or health professionals who try to help them, and resist the assistance. They may refuse medication or counselling.

People who are deeply depressed, self-harming, manic, addicted, or delusional can be difficult to be around. A family member in a helping role may feel helpless and anxious about whether their loved one will find ways to survive and thrive, and to overcome or live with their condition.

Similarly, people struggling with a mental illness may try to hide it from family and friends because they don't want them to worry, or they don't want to be a burden. However, speaking about the issues openly can help to relieve the pain of keeping it bottled up. It can help family members understand, reduce their anxiety, and enable them to provide better support.

One of my hopes in this Christmas season is that each of us reaches out in some small way to someone we know who is struggling. Whether we provide a listening ear, make a phone call, send a card, donate to support mental health research, or make a point of including someone in the festivities who otherwise might be on their own, each one of us can add a little cheer in the Christmas season.

In British Columbia, Canada, the province-wide Crisis Centre phone number is 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433). The Crisis Centre also provides an online crisis chatline and a youth chatline, as well as a number of free services for parents and families.

Saturday, December 9, 2017


Amazing art on the walls of buildings all over Berlin. This mural was across the street from our B&B.

As a person who grew up during the years of the cold war, I was fascinated with the story of the division of Germany into East and West Germany. Berlin, located behind the border of East Germany also was divided into three western controlled sectors and one Soviet controlled sector, East Berlin, with West Berlin accessible via road and rail corridors and by air. Berlin was also the place where Hitler and Eva Braun spent their last days in the Fuhrerbunker, and of course it is one of the great cities of the world. Although I have travelled to Europe several times, I had never made it to Berlin.

So when Erica and I discussed where to travel after the film festival in Hanover, it was obvious to both of us that we must go to Berlin. She has exhibited her work there before, and knows some people in the online art world and film industry in Berlin. Whereas I was especially interested in the history, the art galleries, and also the chance to connect with my niece, who is currently living in Poland.

My first morning in Berlin, I went on a Cold War Berlin walking tour. Our guide, Pip, a historian, was wonderful. The Berlin Wall (das Mauer) stood from 1961-1989, dividing East and West Berlin. During those 28 years, people were not allowed to pass from East to West, and access for West Berliners to the eastern part of the city was limited. The Berlin Wall began to be spontaneously dismantled by residents of East and West Berlin on November 9, 1989, following an announcement (possibly erroneous) by an East German official that people were now permitted to to cross from East to West freely. Reunification of Germany took place in 1990, after the Wall fell.

A small section of the Berlin Wall remains standing at Bernauer Strasse

Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor) was in the neutral zone along the Wall.

A memorial to 57 of the people who died trying to cross into West Berlin, including children and a baby.

We visited the Tranenpalast (Palace of Tears) at Friedrichstrasse. This border crossing at a rail station was where West Berliners who had applied for a visitor's visa passed through for 24 hour visits to East Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstrasse was the only border crossing that foreigners were allowed to use to enter East Berlin.

This famous photo of an East Berlin border guard escaping by leaping over the barbed wire Wall (before the concrete wall had been erected) appears on the side of a building near the Berlin Wall Memorial.

Reconciliation Sculpture: "The sculpture created by the sculptor Josefina de Vasconcellos is a call for reconciliation following the devastation of the Second World War. Copies exist at sites that were deeply affected by the war: in the Coventry Cathedral, in the Hiroshima peace museum -- and in the former border strip at the Berlin Wall."*
We spent most of our time in the part of Berlin that used to be East Berlin. One morning I went for a walk to see Karl-Marx-Allee. It is a wide boulevard flanked with apartment buildings that the socialist government in East Berlin built as a "workers' paradise."

Hackescher Markt S-Bahn (train station)
Of course, during our visit we did more than visit historical sites. We went for a Thai massage. We went to a Christmas market. There are more than 60 of them in the city of Berlin alone! We had a wonderful visit with my niece and her boyfriend, who travelled all the way from Warsaw to meet up with us. We went out for dinner to many great, not too pricey restaurants.

Out to dinner for Wurst und Bier with Laura, Marcin, Erica, and a Berlin friend.
A Christmas Market
We also went to several galleries/art shows. We attended a fabulous art show by Carla Gannis at the DAM Gallery. She uses augmented reality and self images. Her body of work provides a fascinating commentary on the human/technology interface in contemporary culture. We attended an art opening featuring work by five photographers, which I found distasteful -- definitely not a style of photography that I appreciate. However, it was an interesting opportunity to people watch, as the "cool" people of Berlin milled about in their finery, trying to be noticed.

I spent a happy half a day in the Alte Nationalgalerie, one of five art museums on Museum Island, a UNESCO Heritage site. I spent most of my time looking at the collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, as well as the Rodin special exhibition. (I love the Impressionists.) My photos are not adequate to capture what I saw.

A beautiful blue dome
The Thinker, by Rodin


Looking out the main entry door of the Alte Nationalgalerie
We were only in Berlin for five nights and we did a lot. Erica's schedule was even busier that mine; I have a greater need for sleep. But why sleep in Berlin, when you can catch up on sleeping during the flight home?

Catching ZZZ's in the airport
It was a fantastic trip, and I am so glad that I went.

*Caption in English posted beside the Reconciliation Sculpture