The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project

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Chapter 37 of the Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Part II

28

115Mountain

Peter’s Letter – Part II

Dear Biene, you are so sure about the future, yet you do not dare to tell your parents that you want to marry me this spring. I love you for your big heart in dealing so compassionately with all people. But you must understand that you will hurt your parents a thousand times more if you tell them the full truth only at the end. What will you say to them when the registered letter arrives from the Canadian embassy?

You wrote about the shocking experience of your mother in her youth. Did you notice in regard to us the unintended irony of this tragic event? She was so much in love with her fiancé that she wanted to force her parents by means of a baby to agree to the marriage. Did the thought not cross your mind that you could be at this time in the same situation? And Biene, I have to tell you this; I would have never done ‘it’ under any circumstances no matter how passionately my blood was pulsing through my veins. For then I would have taken your freedom away to follow me to Canada. I do not blackmail, I do not sweet-talk, and neither do I make any promises that I cannot keep.

Decide if you want to come in the spring or if you prefer to stay. in Germany. You know I cannot ask the immigration officials twice. They cannot change the immigration requirements and conditions.  You agreed to them and your parents should know them too.

One more time Fate is anchored within you, not in the time or the circumstances. So write to me soon and openly how things are at your end and how accurately your parents are informed. Forgive me, if I only saw the dark and unexplained content of your letter. Forgive me too, if I used too harsh a word or two and hurt your feelings or if the cold facts gave you pain. But until you can courageously face the present reality, especially when talking to your parents, I will not have a single peaceful moment. Quite frankly our situation appears already doomed to me. Biene, don’t you think a man just like a woman may also prepare himself inwardly for the wedding and may look forward to it? Yet I suffer with a burning fire in my chest tormented by the worries about our future. It cannot go on any longer like this! Make an end to my pain. My heart is longing for an end, happy or unhappy, it does not matter. Do not write any more what sounds nice, but give a true account of how things really are in Velbert, what you have accomplished and how I could help.

You have too much feeling. Oh, if you were already mine!

Your Peter

Chapter 26 of the Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Part II

21

A Delicate Question Answered

Gertrud (Biene) Panknin’s Graduation Class – Who can find her?

On my 23rd birthday with less than a week left before my release from the military service, I sneaked away from the electronic maintenance job, which had been completed long ago and only existed for one purpose to keep us busy and to kill time. I sat alone at the table of Room 328. No sergeant, drillmaster or officer would bother me here. The carrier frequency equipment, for which I had been responsible for its smooth operation, was in top shape and my absence would not be noticed anywhere at the Falkenstein Barracks. I wanted to do something special on my birthday. The daily celebrations, the drinking and carousing to mark the remaining ‘glorious’ days in the army were not that special anymore.

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Endless Celebrations: Less than Ten Days Left of Military Service

I longed for quiet, a time to reflect on this idle Wednesday morning. I wanted to respond to Biene’s anxious questions and genuine concerns. Here at the soldiers’ simple living and sleeping quarters no loud talking and singing were distracting me, I found the ideal space to grapple with the contentious issue raised by Biene about faithfulness. It was good to know that Biene trusted me to provide an honest answer. I was proud of her courage to touch on the topic of sexuality, which we two had been too shy to discuss at our few encounters. I took out from my closet pen and paper and began to write down my thoughts. It turned out to be a very long letter, in which I, trusting Biene as much as she trusted me, did not hesitate to truthfully lay bare my innermost feelings. The following are excerpts taken from my lengthy reply.

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Peter and his Buddy at the Last Military Exercise – March 1965

“March 24th, 1965

 My dear Biene,

Yesterday I received your letter from Gotha. Your sister seems to have a rather strange opinion on men. I am glad that you broached the delicate subject of sexuality. But I found it a little troublesome  that you let yourself get so easily misled. But I don’t want to reproach you; for I myself had often to deal with opinions of young married and unmarried men who asserted that a girl could only be faithful and true to her partner, after she had gone to bed with him. Please forgive me this drastic manner of expression, but why should I beat around the bush? You see the accusations are coming from both sides. As for me, I refuse to accept any form of generalization, when people say, that’s how women are, that’s how men are.

 But now to your concerns! You would like to know how I think about it, dear Biene. Like in all men there is undoubtedly a force that drives me to the opposite sex. Yes, furthermore I concede that the drive is not necessarily directed to a particular person. Dear Biene, you must absolutely believe in what I am writing you now. Let no ever so bold opinion throw you off balance again, if you truly love me. Sexuality does not stand on its own, otherwise we would be like animals, but it is intertwined most intimately with the entire personality of the human being. There will always be tensions, in which we have to struggle to maintain the balance and keep this vital force under control.

 Whoever surrenders in this battle and needs to run to a woman to relieve his tensions is in my opinion a weakling and a coward no matter how assertive and self-assured he might otherwise appear. And in what comes now, you can totally put your trust. Since we love each other, this battle for me is over. I have been able to have this uncanny force coexist in harmony with myself. It is always there, lurking behind the scenes, surprising me at times, but it does not bother me any more. When I read a book, look at pictures, walk in the streets or watch a movie, it often and unexpectedly flares up, and then in full awareness of control I have to smile at myself. Don’t you think that one has overcome much, if one can smile at oneself? Do you still worry about me, even when I tell you that I am strong enough to wait for you and through you alone I have become so strong? As long as I can hope for the fulfillment of my ideals, which I have set for myself, you may chase your worries away. You stand in the midst of this sphere, dear Biene, whether I am in Canada or at the end of the world.

 How beautiful it is that we are so frank with one another! This will not only keep us together, but also bring us ever closer together. Do we want to show this spiteful world that one can wait for one another for years without so-called ‘side leaps’, do we want to, dear Biene, do we want to?

 Finally I would like to say one thing, your sister will one day have to concede that there are some exceptions among men, who will turn out to be ‘miracle men’. Now you will smile; thank you so much! Be completely reassured!

          Your Peter”

The modern reader may scratch his or her head over the outdated notions about love and faithfulness expressed in our letters over fifty years ago. Yet, in our mind they remain completely unchanged and have been our beacon of hope even through the darkest and most turbulent times in our life-long relationship.

 

Chapter 25 of the Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Part I

21

An Unconventional Engagement

“Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking together in the same direction.”Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Pastoral Scene of Watzenorn-Steinberg (today's Pohlheim) near Giessen - January 1965

Pastoral Scene of Watzenorn-Steinberg (today’s Pohlheim) near Giessen – January 1965

Tense Moments on a Train Ride

On January 8th, 1965 I took the train to Cologne, where the Canadian Consulate was located. In those days it was relatively simple to become a landed immigrant of Canada. One had to be in good health, have useful skills or at least demonstrate to have the potential. In addition, one needed sponsors, who were willing to vouch for the new immigrant’s good character. My brother Gerry and sister-in-law Martha in Calgary were willing to take the risk of sticking their neck out on my behalf. So it happened that on that momentous Friday I received the official permission to enter as landed immigrant the country of my dreams.

On the same day I traveled to Wengern on the River Ruhr, where on account of Mother’s kind arrangements I received at her acquaintances a warm welcome, a fine meal and accommodation for the night. Frau Wolpert, a war widow, had a daughter about my age, who was still living with her mother in the small apartment. I was not too happy, when I heard that the young lady was taking the same train in the morning. Courtesy required that I sat with her in the same compartment. Lacking my brother Adolf’s outgoing character and social skills, which he could so easily employ in any situation, I kept mostly quiet except to ask where she was heading. And when she replied that she was attending a trade school in Siegen, I was dumbstruck and became more and more apprehensive, since I had made the arrangement with Biene that I would join her  on the train to Siegen with the plan of traveling together to my Mother’s place. The thought of being in the same compartment as Fräulein Wolpert greatly troubled me and a long embarrassing silence followed this shortest of all dialogues. While I was frantically searching for a way out of my dilemma, she may have been perplexed over my sudden shyness or may have wondered whether there was something about herself that I may have found offensive. I would have had plenty of time to explain to her that my girlfriend is already waiting for me in the train from Essen to travel home with me to meet my relatives. But unable to talk about things that I considered too private to share, I remained silent. However, when at the transfer station in Hagen she followed me hot on my heels and boarded with me the express train to Giessen, I couldn’t think of a good excuse to get rid of her and considered it best to tell the truth.

“Excuse me”, I spoke rather timidly, “I must say good-bye now. My fiancée is sitting somewhere in this train and I must go and find her.”

With this more than cryptic remark I hurriedly left Fräulein Wolpert in the compartment where she had just sat down on the bench and was in all likelihood puzzling over my strange behavior and the even stranger excuse. Regaining my calm I ambled from carriage to carriage, until I finally found Biene at the far end of the train.

Mother (better known as Mutter Köhm)

Mother (better known as Mutter Köhm)

We were so happy to see each other that we forgot to talk about what was so important to us. On the three-hour train ride to Giessen we missed in our rapture the golden opportunity to make concrete plans, on which we could confidently hang our dreams and aspirations. Adolf picked us up at the station and took us to Watzenborn, where Mother, Aunt Lucie, Aunt Mieze and Uncle Günther gave us the customary  royal reception that made Biene instantly feel right at home. She was originally supposed to stay overnight at Philip XI, a small bed and breakfast establishment, but Mother insisted that Biene would sleep in the guest room, thus having a better chance to get to know her. Adolf and I were delighted to cede our bedroom to the finest and most beautiful young lady and we gladly slept on the downstairs sofas instead.

In a mysteriously worded note to Biene I had announced that I would take her, perhaps on a flying carpet, to a distant land and return home during the same evening. The distant exotic land turned out to be a Chinese dinner at my cousin Jürgen and his fiancée Inge. Jürgen impressed me with his sharp wit and exuberant jolly manner, with which he entertained his guests. I could see why he and Adolf got along so well with each other. He cracked a few jokes about the West German army, which I found as a member of the armed forces less amusing. For even though I had had bad experiences until very recently, I felt too much a member of the body to which I belonged to ignore my sensitivities about his jocular attacks. Like many of my friends in Wesel, Jürgen was exempt from military service, because his father Bruno had been killed in action at the beginning of WW2 in Alsace-Loraine.

From left to right: Jürgen, Biene. Peter and Inge

From left to right: Jürgen, Biene. Peter and Inge

The Chinese dinner was a great success. Biene and I enjoyed every minute of it. It was here at Jürgen’s apartment that Adolf took the first photos of us two being together. Near the end of the party another guest probably from Egypt said that he had a culinary surprise for Biene. He wanted her to guess a mystery food from his North African country. He asked her to close her eyes and open her mouth. When she complied in great anticipation, he slid the mysterious object into her mouth. All eyes were focused on her facial expression. Having crunched it and tasted its flavor, she asserted that it was quite delicious and pleasant to eat. Great was her amazement when she learned that she had just swallowed a chocolate covered grasshopper, considered to be a delicacy in some African countries. Merrily we returned home to Watzenborn over the snowy wintry roads in Adolf’s old faithful Volkswagen beetle.

From left to right: Inge, Adolf, Biene, Peter and a Friend- January 1965

From left to right: Inge, Adolf, Biene, Peter and a Friend- January 1965

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

10

Of Good Luck Charms and Love Potions

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Limburg at the River Lahn – Photo Credit: goodwp.com

The wall, which had caused so much grief, had finally collapsed. A fresh breeze of lightheartedness entered our hearts and prompted us to write more cheerfully about our feelings towards one another. We felt safe to joke and banter about our relationship. For example, when I referred to Don Giovanni, the lover of over a thousand women, and boldly declared  that my favorite line was ‘but in Spain already one thousand three’, Biene teasingly asked if she was perhaps Don Pedro’s 1003rd. In that case she would plan her revenge and demand that for me to be forgiven I would have to sing her an aria to demonstrate my true repentance.

At the end of our visit to the opera Biene managed to slip a good luck charm into my coat pocket. It turned out to be an effective substitute for the originally intended love potion. This talisman was a little man made out of wood with lots of hair spreading profusely into all directions. Biene truly believed that he would do its magic and completely surrender my heart to her. While I was less inclined to lend credence to such superstition, her strong belief proved her right. The little man with its exuberant hair both amused and endeared me to Biene all the more so, as my army buddies knowing its romantic origin and loved that cute little fellow and constantly teased me about it. Of course, I reported back to Biene how much I loved her good luck charm. When she feigned jealousy over Don Pedro’s love affair, I lectured her good-naturedly that since my cute new friend was a gift from her I considered him part of her and therefore incredibly she would be jealous of herself. Of course, I relished the excitement and bantering Biene’s gift had generated in Room 328. One morning I discovered my roommates had braided his hair. When they threatened tongue-in-cheek to cut it off, I made them all sign a written promise in a letter to Biene that they would not utter such threats again. Just to be on the safe side, from that moment on I kept the little man locked up in my closet.

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View into the Lahn Valley – Photo Credit: Romantic-Germany.info

It was also during the weeks before Christmas that my roommates being aware of my expertise in electronics started bringing their broken-down radios to me. Fortunately the radios suffered only from minor defects, such as blown fuses or tubes needing replacement and similar problems, which I was only too happy to fix. At home I began to assemble from a still functional transistorized tuner and electronic components from my parts box a little radio that I planned to use as a farewell gift for Biene before leaving for Canada.

Amid all this happiness there was just one fly in the ointment. Every once in a while with the regularity of the lunar cycle Biene would feel depressed and so miserable that according to her own words only I would have been able to comfort her, if only I had been present at such time. She would wake up in the middle of the night or even cry in her sleep. Quite frankly, not knowing anything about the so-called evil days that were often used in the German language as a euphemism for the monthly period, I was quite bewildered by the disturbing lines about her distressed state of mind. I felt an uncanny foreboding and wondered why the great joy she felt would not be strong enough to carry her across the occasional ups and downs. Afraid to walk across an emotional minefield, I chose to ignore such sentiments. I still had to learn that avoiding a problem was no way of solving it.

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My Brother Adolf at the Marburg Castle 1964

For Christmas I mailed her an LP with excerpts of the best musical pieces from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which immensely delighted her. She quickly regained her balance. Listening to the familiar tunes recreated the imagery of us two sitting together and holding hands. She in turn sent me a guitar booklet with easy to learn hillbilly songs, such as ‘My wife and I live all alone in a little hut we call our own’. Chords, which I learned and practiced to accompany the songs, supplemented the tunes.

At Christmas I had guard duty at an ammunition depot deep in the woods of unknown location. On my lonely night rounds along the eight-foot fence with the stars shining brightly from a cloudless sky above me, I had ample time to make plans for the future. That’s when I made up my mind to talk to Biene about them on our next rendezvous in the New Year. Indirectly I had prepared her for this by presenting one more time my thoughts on what according to my opinion fate was and perhaps more importantly what it was not.

“December 24th, 1964 – one hour before guard duty

My dear Biene,

 … For I believe that we have still a lot of things to talk about. You know, a great decision will have to be made. But no matter, what it will be, it need not mean our permanent separation. Look, dear Biene, this is also the point, in which I have always voiced a different opinion. Fate can bring us death, turn us into cripples, take away father and mother, drag us into war, but we have in our hands the tender threads of happiness, and fate will take them only out of our hands, if we are incapable or unwilling to make use of them. I can promise you, ‘I come back again’. You can promise me,’ I will follow you’. This is our decision and not one of fate. And whether we both abide by it and act accordingly will be the proof of our love for each other. Now it is getting dark, and I must soon put on helmet and uniform. Have a wonderful holiday and always believe that I think of you often!

Your Peter”

 Amidst feverish preparations for our next get-together in the second week of January Biene mailed along with her Christmas letter two beautiful poems, one of which I like so much that I made an attempt to translate it into English.

          Eyes

 Eyes gleam like a sea at night,

And softly your gaze submerges.

But your gaze is only a weak glimmer like the starlight,

Which on the dark sea winks and blinks

And yet does not fathom the mystery of the deep.

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Windows to the Soul by Gertrud Klopp

 

 

Chapter 22 of the Peter and Gertrud Klopp Story – Part IV

10

Light at the End of the Tunnel

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Peter Reading Biene’s Letter while Tuning his Electronics Gear

Late Sunday night Private Gauke entered our room after spending the long weekend at his girlfriend’s home. He was so excited about it that he felt justified in waking me up. Even though I was still half asleep I could tell that my friend was beaming with joy. He had good news to tell me. He had met his girlfriend’s parents who were delighted to get acquainted with the young man their daughter had been telling them about so much. He was amazed almost embarrassed how much they knew about him. For them the most important thing was to see their daughter happy. In their eyes he seemed to be the right man for her. My companion would have gone on to share his happiness with me, but when he looked at my sleepy and grumpy face, he stopped. I was annoyed and wondered why he could not have waited with all that chatter till next morning. Then I would have perhaps appreciated his latest romantic tale with a wakeful mind. I made no effort to suppress a loud yawn to indicate that I wished to get back to sleep. However, Gauke had still something else on his mind that was supposed to cheer me up.

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Biene quite in Tune with the Fashion of the Sixties

“Peter,” he started again with undiminished exuberance in his voice,   ”my sweetheart back home has a wonderful girlfriend who is just like you; she loves poetry, even writes her own verses …”

“I’m not interested,” I interrupted him gruffly.

“Peter, don’t get me wrong. You need to break out of your doom and gloom. I invite you to come with and spend the weekend at my parents’. We could go out together and meet …”, I interrupted him again raising my voice just a notch higher to make it clear that I had had enough of his idle talk.

“Well, suit yourself”, he replied. All I wanted is to advise you to keep your options open. It is not a good idea to have just one egg in your basket. In case it breaks, you know.”

Poor Gauke, he tried so hard. He was a nice chap and a good friend. He was truly trying to help. I was stubborn or insanely in love, or both. It took me a long time that night before I managed to catch a few winks of sleep.

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Biene (Gertrud)

In the second week of February, just when I had given up ever receiving a message from Biene again, her letter arrived, which I expected to be the final farewell letter. Instead it contained a bombshell. I read with relative calm that her engagement with Henk had been broken off. Her dream about a life together with him had been shattered through unfortunate events and circumstances, which she was unable to describe except to say that Henk had loved her so much that she for a while believed to love him too. However, what led up to the actual break-up, she left unsaid setting in motion an avalanche of speculations on my part. In vain I tried to penetrate the veil that shrouded the circumstances that she was alluding to. Had Henk revealed an aspect of his character that made her shudder? Had he been too aggressive and demanded of her too much, too soon? Many more questions were racing through my head, for which I found no answer, creating a jumble of mixed emotions. If she had given me a few concrete details no matter how shocking, I would eventually have accepted with love and understanding her tragic experiences. As I continued reading I noticed how much she was troubled by my plans to emigrate to Canada.

“How can we possibly meet again, when you are so far away,” she asked, “and disappoint each other? Do you really believe ‘disappoint’? I cannot imagine it; but I would not be afraid to see you again.” At that moment my heart beat a little faster. The horizon began to brighten up with the rays of hope and eager anticipation. Unfortunately, like a bolt out of the blue, without any merciful transition, Biene continued, “Imagine this, my pen pal from Morocco intends to come this summer to get to know me and Germany. Will he be like I imagined him to be? My parents don’t agree with the idea; for they fear we could fall in love with each other.” I felt that the tenuous thread that so far had held us somehow together was ready to snap. What prevented this from happening was a mental trick that moved my mind to a distant vantage point from which I looked down upon the bizarre soap-opera-like comedy show below. The Moroccan pen pal had miraculously risen from the dead and imbued with renewed zest for life was eager to see her, to meet her, to get to know her, while her poor parents having just been saved from one disaster were heading into the next. I could not help but internally smile and laugh. My friend Gauke would be laughing too, He was absolutely right in his urgent plea to let go of her and also in his opinion to have more options than one. In an ironic twist it was Biene, who obviously had more than one egg in her basket. One broke, but she had two or more eggs left to break. I tried to probe into the possible reasons as to why in this particular moment she would tell me this. Was she trying to goad me into action? Her concluding sentence seemed to confirm my speculation, “Sometimes, even though you wouldn’t like it, I would really like to see you again.” A new seed had been planted. It was now up to me to water it, to nourish it, to make it grow in the fertile soil of reality. To accomplish it, a rendezvous with Biene was the key and time was of the essence. To blaze a trail to the doorsteps of her heart, I made some unusual preparations.

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

8

Army Heaven

Lake Starnberg, Bavaria - Photo Credit: bavaria.by

Lake Starnberg, Bavaria – Photo Credit: bavaria.by

Maxhof, a modern army training center, was a pleasant surprise to me. In contrast to the drab sameness of the 19th century design of the Falckenstein barracks, Maxhof impressed me with its pleasant appearance. It had more the looks of a hypermodern youth hostel than of a military building complex. Trees and ornamental shrubs surrounded the sleeping quarters, the cafeteria, and the administration building. There were even flowerbeds at the main entrance. Best of all was the room, where we were going to sleep. With its comfortable beds, its large windows with a view from the park-like setting all the way up to the nearby mountains, its brightly painted walls, a spacious desk for Gauke and me, all I needed was Mother’s fancy tablecloth, a vase with some pretty fall flowers to have the illusion of being at home.

Maxhof with Lake Starnberg in the background

Maxhof with Lake Starnberg in the background

Gauke and I reported for duty the following morning at the main building. There was a momentary kafuffle over us two soldiers from Koblenz. Apparently the officer in charge of the transfer was supposed to have provided certified truck drivers. The officer behind the counter was very much upset over being cheated out of two valuable experienced drivers. But in the end he assigned us to a driving instructor and informed us to show up for our lessons the very next morning. Gauke and I could hardly show restraint in our ecstatic joy over this most fortunate turn of events. Apart from our first positive impressions about the physical surroundings we noticed with glee that there were no mandatory line-ups, no check-ups of room, closet, and clothes; this was army heaven.

Massive Mercedes truck - the type we were trained on

Massive Mercedes truck – the type we were trained on

After two weeks of enjoyable driving lessons on the big Mercedes trucks, the compass needle of my inner life was no longer spinning out of control. More than three weeks had passed by now. Biene had not yet responded to my letter and I thought that if our correspondence was to end it should at least end on a good note. So I wrote,” … A relationship, no matter how you look at it, which had so beautifully and lovingly developed, is not the kind that we just break off. Something of that, which we shared, will remain open and will eat forever at our hearts. Therefore, I would like to amiably end, what we have so amiably started. Let us if not in reality then at least symbolically shake hands and without any bitter feelings part from each other. I am thankful for all the dear letters and tell you once more that you have given me much during the time of inner trouble and distress. Please do not turn down my last request, dear Biene, and write to me just one more time. One last sign from you, and I will be content…”

But there was no sign, and I was not content.

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