The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project

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Chapter 24 of the Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Part IV

14

The Wall Comes Tumbling Down

Excerpts from our Correspondence Half a Century Ago
Limburg in the Lahn Valley - Photo Credit: Allemagne Romantique

Limburg in the Lahn Valley – Photo Credit: Allemagne Romantique

After the night-long train ride I was physically exhausted, but somehow refreshed in mind and spirit. In the next couple of days I felt like I was riding high above cloud nine.On my walks to the nearby derelict mill the dreary landscape shrouded in dense fog did not conjure up depressive thoughts. On the contrary, I let the new-found tender feelings guide me. I was whistling and singing bold scout and army songs and offered Mother a cheerful good morning, when I arrived at our home’s doorstep. A few days later I received Biene’s letter.

November 16th, 1964

         ” My dear Peter,

I would so much like to ask you: Come back right away and stay with me and no longer depart from me. Alas, I know that it is not possible and that you would come immediately if you could. I felt so miserable, when I walked off the platform. What would I have given to step on the train with you to travel anyplace with you no matter where. I feel so unspeakably lonesome, and the question gives me pain: For what do I live and for whom?  I am so distressed and it hurts me so much in the terrible knowledge that you can only come to go away again and soon forever. Dear Peter, please forgive me. I don’t want to reproach you for anything. With your visit you brought me much joy and you undertook the long, strenuous journey, and yet I am sad and my longing for you is even greater. I would like to love you so much and be with you and make you happy. When I have calmed down a little bit, I will write you again.

          Your Biene”

Meandering Lahn River - Photo Credit: allemagne romantique

Meandering Lahn River – Photo Credit: allemagne romantique

No rhyme nor reason will ever explain why during my reading of her lines a dark cloud would cast a shadow over my entire being. Instead of rejoicing over her letter, I was deeply disturbed, not so much by her pain, suffering and longing for my presence, but rather by my own stubborn refusal to wholeheartedly accept her declaration of love. I was stewing over Biene’s sudden turnaround regarding the wall, which she had erected for whatever reason and which I had so foolishly and cowardly accepted. After I had brought the emotional stew, a mixture of confused anger and painful stubbornness, to the boiling point, I rashly wrote her a response. I told her that I had gotten used to the wall as a sort of protection against another blow of fate. Distrust had entered my heart and I was unwilling to start all over again. I had barely thrown my letter into the mailbox, when I felt sorry. I had a broken a promise I once made to myself, never to reply in haste and thoughtlessness. I was expecting the worst. Within 48 hours her reply arrived in the mail.

Dear Peter,

Something in your letter has frightened me. For I have again recognized how much I had hurt you at the time when it appeared to you as if I wanted to erect a wall between us in order to protect myself against your affection. Oh Peter, believe me that I had never wanted this, instead I had always longed for your affection. Perhaps you had also felt it. For why did you write in spite of everything and were so kind to me? But you are distrustful, because you could never really understand me. Maybe you don’t know or just cannot believe how I cling to you and how much I love you. For the longest time I myself did not think it possible that it is so, and therefore I wanted to warn you in order not to disappoint you; for I really did not know whether I really loved you as much as it seemed. Dear Peter, this is one reason; alas there were also many other reasons, which I cannot so quickly explain to you. Only after you had come to me did I dare to admit how much you mean to me; and now, Peter, I know it for sure. And now it is certainly too late; for you yourself say that you have resigned yourself to the limits of our friendship and no longer have the same longing as before. It oppresses me very much that it no longer means as much to you that I love you, as it would have meant to you before.

And now, when I want to dream something beautiful about us, this thought destroys it: It will not be! How much I wished now you would still dream about us studying together and be together every day. See, dear Peter, such thoughts are entering my mind and many more…

How I’d wish that I could bewitch you and give you a love potion just like it happens in fairy tales so that I won’t lose you…

Your Biene”
 

Castle Lahneck in the Lahn Valley - Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

Castle Lahneck in the Lahn Valley – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

Not waiting for a response from me, she quickly sent another letter making a last ditch effort to save what appeared to have already been lost.

My dear Peter,

Guess Peter, what I did last night. I took all your letters out of the portfolio and read them all once more. Alternately I became quite sad and quite happy. How strangely things have come to pass with us, if I think only about the past year!  In my subconscious I must have always loved you. When I look back, I recognize it, this feeling had to struggle first through much darkness and confusion to the light. And now Peter, it is the most beautiful feeling that I have ever experienced. I believe that if I could really be every minute with you, I would fall apart experiencing so much happiness.

          To you dear Peter, I send a secret Christmas kiss, which you would get under the Christmas tree.

          Your Biene”

After reading Biene’s Christmas letter, the realization hit me with stunning clarity that if I could not see a wall, could not feel a wall, then in all likelihood there wasn’t a wall. Indeed, at the trumpet call of love from deep within her heart the wall had come tumbling down. The dam had been broken, and I found myself swept up by the torrent, against which no further resistance was possible and would have been sheer foolishness. Willingly I went with the flow and felt the tug carrying me unerringly into the direction of my dreams.

Chapter 23 of the Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Part III

8

The Pain of Indecision

73

Romantic University City of Marburg, Hesse, Germany  1964

Love that is engulfed by fear is not perfect. It cannot grow in the darkness of uncertainty, where doubt enters the heart and where there is no commitment. In my excessive sensitivity towards Biene’s past distressing experiences of love coming too early and too suddenly, but also out of the horrid fear of rejection, I never found, as I should have, the courage to ask her point-blank to marry me. With a clear yes or no, we both would have been able to carry on with our lives and make plans for the future with or without being together. There is infinite wisdom in the convention to have a formal engagement when both partners gather with their families, relatives and friends, exchange rings, and promise before witnesses to marry each other. In as much this formal coming together was lacking, doubtfulness and its evil ally distrust cast a dark shadow on our relationship in spite of our declared love for each other. Until we met again in November, the pretense to be happy with a mere friendship on my part caused us both to sit on the fence. Frustrated with the regression to a mere amicable correspondence between two very good friends, I responded to Biene’s lamentation over the power of Fate, which was threatening to separate us,

          “Leave Fate, dear Biene, out of the picture. Fate in our case is not a blind, impersonal power, to which we must submit. We all create it with our own desires and action. When you say that Fate will one day separate us; that we have to knuckle under; that we have to be happy with what we have given to each other, then you don’t mean Fate, but you yourself and your hidden wishes. What should separate us? Is it perhaps my voyage to Canada? This is not Fate’s power, but my own wish. My wish is also to return if necessary, and yours could be simply to follow me. Why am I harping on it so long? Because I remember all too well our agreement right from the beginning to be honest and truthful, even if it meant to hurt one another. Please don’t be angry with me that I am writing to you so openly… I do not stand terrified and inconsolable before this mysterious force called ‘Fate’. No tyrant, nor any distance, nor any ocean can separate us. We alone separate each other.”

Marburg, Germany on the Lahn River - Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

Marburg, Germany on the Lahn River – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

          There is some truth in my reflections of some fifty years ago. People do indeed use this irrational force as a pretext to excuse their own lack of courage, inability to act when action is required, their self-doubt and uncertainty about that portion of their personal life that could be given direction and purpose if there was a will. However, truth becomes tarnished when mingled with disingenuous motives and intentions. Such was the case when I accepted the boundary that Biene had set for our love, although in reality I had always wanted to cross that boundary. Instead of giving a pedantic lecture on Fate, why didn’t I tell her that I loved her, asked her to marry me, and then, if she said yes, point out that we needed to make plans to turn our dreams into reality? With horror I look back and realize how much I had been willing to risk with my provocative letter, in which I had renounced my true intentions. But I was young and inexperienced, only a little over a year out of high school. I was groping in the dark. I had nobody to turn to for advice. I only had Biene’s responses and reactions, which were often just as bewildering and confusing to me as were my letters to her. The problem was that we were so much alike in our fear of the pain of permanent separation, which was looming more and more ominous with each passing month that we were erecting walls to protect ourselves, when we should have been busy building bridges of love and faithfulness. Thus, it is not surprising that Biene shrouded in darkness about my true feelings for her would not be writing very encouraging words to bolster our relationship.

          “Alas, I also hope, as you do, that everything will work out nicely between the two of us, before you depart, although then the good-bye will be even harder. I thank you that you want to grant me my wish (respecting the boundary) and imagine, sometimes I even wish the opposite. Oh Peter, it is so confusing. Please forgive me! I don’t understand it myself. The more I want to free myself from you, the more my longing for you increases.”

biene

Biene with Sister Elsbeth (see previous post)

          Weren’t these lines popping up sporadically in her letters as an urgent plea to me to make a move, to take the first step to reach out to her, to comfort her with a word of commitment? In the culture of traditional values and conventions of the mid-sixties Biene expected me to take the initiative and break the stalemate. But shy like a little schoolboy I kept beating around the bush. The word marriage was not part of my vocabulary. However, mindful of my good friend Dieter’s advice, I began to arrange another rendezvous with Biene. She was eager to prepare our meeting and combine it with a visit to the Wuppertal Opera House. We both were looking forward to it. We sincerely felt that seeing each other again would chase away those gloomy thoughts and ominous forebodings about our impending separation and potential break-up of our tenuous, yet so cherished relationship.

 

Chapter 23 of the Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Part I

14

The Complexities of the Heart

 The heart has its reasons which reason knows not. Blaise Pascal

 

Marburg Castle - Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

Marburg Castle – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

Biene and I had met twice in the early summer of 1964, each time for only a few hours, as I had a long train ride to get back to the barracks before midnight. Being completely incapable to feel happy for any length of time until then, I was amazed how my restless heart and mind could be in perfect harmony to permit that elusive sensation of happiness during those five wonderful hours I had spent with Biene along the shores of Lake Baldeney. This blissful feeling was further enhanced when Biene wrote that she now knew that I was no longer just a fantasy person, but a real human being she could love and be happy with.

Alas, barely two weeks later, while I was still deeply immersed in a state of euphoria, a letter from Biene arrived with an obscure message out of which I could make very little sense.

“Dear Peter,

You will probably ask yourself why I haven’t written to you sooner. Indeed, you may ask this question. It is strange with me; for I can’t get rid of my sadness. When everything outside looks so peaceful and when I think of you, it is getting even worse. I would rather crawl into my bed being so much in pain and cry. How beautiful it is outside! The sun is shining and the wheat fields have already turned completely yellow and the stalks are swaying in the wind and making a gentle sound. Normally wheat fields fill me with joy and let me dream many a beautiful dream. And now?

I would like to talk to you about everything that moves me. But it is not because of you that I cannot do it. I have a great longing to be with you. But I cannot tell you what I want to tell you. It would increase my sadness, because I would hurt you, and I would like you so much to be happy, if you think of me. Please forgive me that I write nothing that would cheer you up. Normally, I am not like that. Now even beautiful memories don’t comfort me. I don’t want to think about anything of the past …”

Uncle Günther and Peter

Uncle Günther and Peter

I reread this passage at least half a dozen times in an effort to penetrate the veil, with which Biene may have covered a secret of the past. With all the talk in the male-dominated army, where many a room buddy had made himself an expert on what made the girls tick, on how to deal with their capricious behavior, on how to please them, what to do and what not to do, with all that half knowledge of the opposite gender floating around in the gossip mills, not one of the so-called specialists ever mentioned the devastating influence of the monthly period. I was completely ignorant about what most women had to put up with, their mood swings, feeling psychologically and physically down, often bordering on severe forms of depression. More likely than not, the topic was one of the few remaining taboos left in the otherwise rough and tumble world of the military environment. If only I had had an inkling of those terrible days, often labeled ‘the evil days’, then truly I would have worded my reply with greater understanding. But not knowing the true nature of her problem I merely encouraged her to unburden herself of her troubling past.

Do you really believe, dear Biene, that I could be happy at your expense? I know that so much of your past has been left unexplained and remains shrouded in darkness.  Now you write that the ‘before’ oppresses you or whatever else it might be. But you won’t say, because you don’t want to hurt me. How sweet of you! But you must understand me right. If you are not happy, I cannot be happy either. It makes no sense to shield me from your pain. On the contrary, the silence is more torturous. I start to dig in my memories and try to figure out what it is that bothers you. And someone, who contemplates, gets too many ideas.  I’d rather be sad with you than to wander about in fateful darkness, where there is no room for true happiness. Does it have to do with Henk? Or haven’t I understood you yet? Are you afraid that I would some day be lost to you forever? A thousand questions that make me sick! Dear Biene, I ask you, be of good courage and write what oppresses you. Otherwise, I don’t feel happy any more …”

Then there was Biene’s question about my brother Adolf.

“Sometimes I think of your brother from Canada. I cannot understand that no girl would want to be his wife. If two love each other, it does not matter where the two are together, and if it were at the end of the world. Don’t you think so?”

It was obvious that Biene used the example of my brother Adolf to indirectly tell me that if I was going to Canada and stayed there, she would be willing to follow me and be my wife. However, dense as I was then with regard to her hypothetical questions, I failed to read between the lines – the very same ineptitude, of which I had often accused Biene in the past. Or was it that we both suffered from the same tendency to back off whenever we came dangerously close to making a commitment? So I lamely replied as if Adolf had truly been her main concern.

Family Gathering: Aunt Mieze, Eka (Lavana), Mother, Peter and Adolf

Family Gathering: Aunt Mieze, Eka (Lavana), Mother, Peter and Adolf

“You wonder, dear Biene, why Adolf can find no girl, who is willing to follow him to Canada. Have you ever put yourself into this position? Think about what a girl would have to give up: her parents,  friends, dear acquaintances, her home country, etc. Girls cling much more to matters of the heart than boys.  Adolf knows this …”

So we two continued to beat around the bush. We only indirectly described to each other our innermost desires and hopes and out of fear of appearing too bold, we foolishly held back and failed to openly state what really was important to us, our love for each other.

Chapter 21 of the P. and G. Klopp Story – Part III

2

Storm Clouds on the Horizon

In the meantime Biene had an exciting vacation with her family in Bavaria, often went paddling on Lake Ammer with her parents’ folding boat. She and her twin brother Walter almost drowned, when their boat capsized in a violent storm. They traveled to the German Alps and even took a gondola ride up to the Zugspitze, which is with an altitude of 3000 m the highest mountain in Germany. She returned home filled with wonderful memories. There was so much to tell, but the flow of letters began to ebb. The intervals between them began to widen into two-week gaps. Something must have happened that made me worry. Had my letters lost its fervor? Were the thoughts expressed too philosophical, self-centered, out of touch with reality? I could not tell.

Biene and her father on the Zugspitze 1963

Biene and her father on the Zugspitze 1963

Fall was a beautiful time in Koblenz. The park at the German Corner, located at the confluence the Rivers Moselle and Rhine, was ablaze with brilliant red, yellow and orange colors. There I often sat on a park bench alone away from the noisy inner city and read about the fall and utter destruction of Rome’s rival Carthage in Mommsen’s History of Rome. I was fascinated to discover that the cause of the three Punic wars was the same as of most other conflicts in the history of mankind, namely the desire for economic power and growth at the expense of some other country. I gained important insights into the ways in which imperialistic expansions were intertwined with a general decay of the moral fiber of a nation. I saw so many parallels in our modern world that I contemplated writing a novella on the mighty city on the North African shore, if I could only add and weave in some personal experiences to the story to make it more interesting. These experiences were coming my way faster than expected, and in the end I got more than I had bargained for. Indeed I would have preferred not to write the novella in exchange for the pleasant status quo.

Deutsches Eck in Koblenz, Germany

Deutsches Eck in Koblenz, Germany – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

I had just settled into the routine of orderly army life with its duties of monthly night watches, sessions of theoretical and practical instructions and the occasional maneuvers, which I enjoyed more and more, because they took place in the great outdoors away from the stuffy barracks in the city. Then a command from the newly formed signal corps at Maxhof in Bavaria went out to all army divisions to provide two truck drivers each. Our crafty commanding officer in Koblenz selected private Gauke and me for the transfer effective October 1st, even though we had no driver’s license for those colossal Mercedes communications trucks. Obviously, he wanted to keep his precious truck drivers for himself. We were told that we would receive professional training and certification that could be very useful later on, when we returned to civilian life. However, it was immediately clear to my that with the transfer to Maxhof, I would lose out on the chance of becoming part of the upcoming officer’s training program. It would upon successful completion raise me to the rank of a lieutenant of the reserve with a much higher pay-out at the end of my two-year term. The wheels had been set in motion. I had no recourse to an appeal process. The decision was final. I was devastated.

58

Peter in a contemplative mood at home in Watzenborn-Steinberg

Chapter 19 of the P. and G. Klopp Story – Part III

6

From Graduation into Carnival

Wesel 'Berlin Gate' - Photo Credit: wikimedia.org

Wesel ‘Berlin Gate’ – Photo Credit: wikimedia.org

When school continued in the first week in January, I avoided all distractions and focused all my energies on last minute studies. By now the school administration had let us know the subjects and topics, in which we were to receive our oral examinations. For me it was Charles V in History and Calculus in Mathematics. In the remaining four weeks I emptied an entire bottle of vodka, which one could take as evidence for my industriousness. I rarely missed to fulfill my daily work quota. Indeed I would go sometimes overboard and even skip my time for relaxation with guitar or harmonica. One morning I woke up late. I was shocked to discover that I had forgotten to set the alarm clock. School had already started, so I quickly jumped into my clothes, grabbed my books, and without having had breakfast I raced to school in record time and barged into the classroom, where my homeroom and German teacher Herr Aufderhaar had just begun a lesson on German romanticism. Because he was bald and also taught religion, we had given him the nickname ‘Kahler Jesus’, which means Bald Jesus in English. He took one look at me and instead of being angry about my tardiness showed remarkable understanding for my circumstances. He teased me good-naturedly and remarked to the entire class, “Klopp is not just late for class. He did not even shave!”

My Notes on Charles V

My Notes on Charles V

 For the oral exam in History I was well prepared. The main topic that I was given was the era of Reformation with special consideration to the way Emperor Charles V dealt with the schism that threaten to tear apart the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations. I had about thirty minutes to write down a few notes for my presentation. Then when my turn had come and I was led into the somber exam room, I described in poignant details the political struggles of the emperor against France and the Turks and the frustrations he, as a good catholic, experienced with the rapid spread of the protestant revolt against the corrupt Church of Rome. I was no longer the timid student who once stood trembling with fear in front of our history teacher. I boldly and convincingly expounded all the pertinent factors that determined Germany’s future historical and religious landscape. I took the entire time allotted for the oral exam. So the committee of principal and teachers had no time to ask any unsettling questions at the end. I walked away with the confident feeling that I had consolidated my satisfactory standing in History. Also in Math I was able to prove that I deserved a better final grade. My task was to find a solution for the total amount of work required to dig a cylindrical hole of a certain depth. Herr Müller, my beloved math teacher in the senior division, guided me through this difficult problem of integration. He so cleverly posed the right questions that they contained valuable hints allowing me to bring the session to a successful conclusion. It would have been nice to express my gratitude to an excellent teacher some fifty years later. Unfortunately, while I was searching the school Website I found out that he had passed away the year, before I started to write our family history.

Front Page of my Graduation Diploma

Front Page of my Graduation Diploma

With the prestigious graduation certificate (Abitur) in our possession we had access to many postsecondary programs offered by the German universities. As for me, two years of military service at the Bundeswehr (West German army) had to come first. In those days it was still possible to enlist as a volunteer for a period of 24 months instead of the mandatory 18 months with the advantage of receiving a handsome salary, becoming an officer of the reserve, and being able to choose an army unit in keeping with one’s technical abilities. I opted for service in the signal corps, a choice that definitely reflected my interest in electronics and communication technologies.

Newspaper Clipping with Names of the Graduates

Newspaper Clipping with Names of the Graduates

It so happened that the graduation exercises had ended exactly at the start of the carnival season. Being together one last time with my friends and classmates, before we would scatter into all directions, I made full use of the golden opportunity to celebrate the great milestone and to lose myself in the relaxed atmosphere of the dance hall, forgetting the trials and tribulations before graduation and not worrying for the time being about the future. When the time of drinking, dancing and attending late night parties was over, I was physically exhausted, but for the moment I felt free as if a heavy burden had been taken off my shoulders.

Biene with her first pair of skis - Winter 1963

Biene with her first pair of skis – Winter 1963

I had not forgotten Biene. Now with more time at my disposal I wrote her a letter bringing her up to speed on my success at school and the tumultuous days at the carnival festivities. But what mattered the most I found the courage to express my feelings about what was so special about her in my mind. At the campground in the spring the year before I had discovered in her appearance the natural beauty that needed no cosmetic enhancement with rouge, lipstick or artificial hair color. Biene for me embodied the ideal image of a girl. In the letter I gave her my father’s address hoping that she would reply.

The Ending of the Mystery Story (Chart I – III)

The mystery story should rather be called mysterious, perplexing and horrifying. The reader might question the audacity and recklessness on my part to send such a horrible piece of writing to my girlfriend. What kind of love letter was this supposed to be?! How would a girl, just 19 years old, respond to the horrors of a subterranean cave dweller other than with total rejection of the young suitor, who had just revealed his otherworldly distorted sense of reality?

As it turned out Biene was deeply touched by the story, even though it did not have a good ending. But she had the advantage of getting the entire story in one piece. She also found that the story was based on a real event that took place at our yard back home, when I was on a weekend leave from the West German army. Uncle Günther was upset that mice had dug deep tunnels into the ground and if unchecked would have eventually ruined the wonderful lawn of the backyard. I witnessed how he flushed out the mouse with the garden hose and stomped on her as she was trying to escape out of her flooded den underground.

Sorting out some old documents, I came across a handwritten booklet of the mouse story and thought it might be of interest to some of the readers of my blog.

Plötzlich blendete sie grelles Tageslicht. Mit einem Satz sprang sie hinaus ins Trockene, in die Freiheit, ins Leben. Keuchend und zitternd vor Atemnot, aber glücklich für das zum dritten mal geschenkte Leben, lag die Frau da, bemerkte zu spät den dunklen Schatten, der vernichtend auf sie niederhieb. Kein Zufall, kein hier und dort treffender Schicksalsschlag, höhere Absicht bis in die letzte Einzelheit gewollt, begründet auf einen unerklärlichen Zorn, waren ihre letzten Gedanken, die ihr durchs Gehirn schossen. Der Hieb des unbekannten Gewichts saß haargenau. Es entschwand sogleich wieder in die blaue Höhe, um das Opfer gleichsam höheren Blicken freizugeben. Bestimmt schon tot, wenn auch das bloßgelegte Herz noch tüchtig pochte. Das Blut, das nach allen Seiten gespritzt war, färbte das welke Gras mit grellroter Farbe. Unter dem plötzlich schweren Druck sprizte nicht nur Blut in die Natur. Der Leib hatte die innere Last nicht mehr halten können. Umgeben von zuckendem Gedärm lagen blind und nackt die ungeborenen Kinder auf dem Geröll der Erde! Welch ein erschaudernder Anblick! Kann einem Menschen soviel Leid geschehen, wie es dieser jungen Maus geschah?

 

Mit lässiger Fußbewegung stieß der Mann die Überreste der Maus in das Loch zurück. Sie war ihm schon lange ein Dorn im Auge gewesen und hatte ein großen Teil seines Ziergartens unterwühlt. Nun holte er den roten Gartenschlauch aus dem Nachbarloch und spülte die blutigen Körperfetzen in den Schlund zurück. Zufrieden steckte er sich seine Pfeife an und sog den aromatischen Duft in seine Lungen. Die Schuld war beglichen.

 

 

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