Tuesday, February 22, 2011

More Czech Trail Markers

Traditional Wallachian signpost on a ridge above Velke Karlovice, Czech Republic.
The distinctive Czech trail markers aren't just on trees.  I picnicked in that gazebo near Liptal, Czech Republic.
Trail markers are on rocks too.  Adrspassko-Teplicke Skaly, Czech Republic.
Extreme Trails, Adrspassko-Teplicke Skaly
Dark winter paths near Vsetin, Czech Republic
Come in if you dare.
Me in the "Mouse Hole"--a long staircase in a rock crevice barely wider than my  shoulders
Adrspassko-Teplicke Skaly

Photos by Melinda Brasher, except for the last one.  For more, and an explanation of my obsession with trail markers, see my earlier post here.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Trail Marker Treasure Hunts in the Czech Republic

I went on a little hike last weekend in the middle of Phoenix, Arizona.  Thunderbird Park is a mini wilderness in a sea of subdivisions on the northwest side of the endless metropolis.   From the top of the desert hills I could see all the way to the skyscrapers of downtown, the stadium in Glendale, and the smog-skirted mountains that surround the valley of the sun.  I saw a chipmunk and a strange fat lizard I believe was a chuckwalla.  Lots of rocks.  Lots of cactus.  But what I didn’t see were trail markers.  I just sort of followed the trails, trusting them to eventually circle back to the parking lot.

In the Czech Republic—a nation of mountain bikers, hikers, and cross country skiers—the trails are all color coded and carefully marked.  Hiking clubs periodically repaint the blazes you find on tree trunks, rocks, and fence posts.  Every kilometer or so you find a sign telling the distances to various destinations, color-coded too, and usually capped with a little hat to protect it from the snow and rain.  The trails criss-cross each other, and merge with roads and unofficial paths, so it wouldn’t always be obvious where to go without those trail markers.  Every time I hike—and I hike a lot—it feels like a treasure hunt.  Spotting those markers gives me the strangest little thrill.  So I thought I’d let you hunt for some on your own.  All photos by me.  Click to enlarge, just in case you can't pick out the trail markers.  
Here's what you're looking for.  This one's freshly painted.



You'll have to look a little harder for this one.

Can you see it?
More Czech treasure hunt to come in the next post.  Keep your eagle eyes open.    


Monday, February 14, 2011

Random Romances from my ESL students

In honor of Valentines Day, I have my ESL students write love stories.  But of course I like to throw a wrench in things, so we write blind circle stories.  I generally begin by having everyone write the name of a famous man.  Then they fold the paper over to hide their words and pass it to the next student.  Without reading what comes before, the second writer continues the tale with a famous woman and where they met.  It goes on, carefully guided, until the finale.  Then we all open our stories and read them.  Sometimes they’re nonsense, but sometimes they’re amazingly logical.  The students who laugh the most always volunteer to read theirs aloud.

Here are some of the best random romances I’ve collected over the years.  WARNING:  THESE STORIES ARE NOT TRUE.  Anyone featured within—thanks for being a good sport.      

Joseph Stalin met Cleopatra in Prague Castle.  He said, “How are you?”  She said, “Help!  Police!”  So they decided to write books.  And now they are sitting in a pub and they are so drunk.

Adam Malysz (famous Polish ski jumper) and Queen Jadwiga (Ruling queen of 14th century Poland) met on a train.  He smiled at her.  It was terrible.  She was writing a letter to her boyfriend.  He said, “I’m pretty.”  She said, “I hate you.”

Lionel Messi (Argentinian soccer player) met Shakira in the supermarket.  He said, “You sing very nice.”  She said, “You scare me!”  Then they got married.

John Lennon met Taylor Swift at Niagara Falls.  He said, “You are my soul mate.”  She said, “You are the most interesting man I’ve ever met.”  So they decided to vacation.  And now they have five children.

Vaclav Klaus (Czech President) met Margaret Thatcher in heaven.  He said, “You’re late.”

Hope you enjoyed these silly Valentines.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Patricia McCormick's "Sold"

I've never been a big fan of poetry, but I'm a fan of young adult and middle grade novels. There's something fresh and clean and universal about the good ones. So when a friend recommended the book Sold by Patricia McCormick, I trundled off to the library and checked it out.

It wasn't until I got home and opened it that I realized it was in verse. No rhymes. No more rhythm than good lyrical prose. But it was still in verse. I sighed and decided to give it a try anyway. After three pages I was hooked.

Lakshmi lives in a tiny Nepalese village with her pet goat, her gentle mother, and a useless stepfather who gambles away what little money Lakshmi and her mother earn from the land. Lakshmi hopes to one day find a job in the city, where everything's paved in gold. As a house maid, she can earn enough money to buy her family a tin roof to keep out the monsoons. But her stepfather has other plans, and sells her instead into the powerlessness of prostitution.

Her story's told in short vignettes that connect in a darkly magical way, capturing the essence of Lakshmi's life before and after the unthinkable deal. I've made myself ration this book—like a really rich dessert—and I don't know how it can end happily, but I'm hoping.

The subject matter is grim, despite the simple beauty of its telling, but in our world of surplus and luxury, sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the difference between wishing we had the newest techno gadget to play with and wishing we had a handful of rice to eat. And despite how we complain about our jobs, most of us will never have to worry about being sold into slavery. Patricia McCormick, thank you for daring to bring this story into the world.

My rating: 5

Check out her website:
Buy it at Amazon

Monday, February 7, 2011


Welcome.  I am a writer of yet-unpublished novels, soon-to-be-published short stories, and various internet articles.  I'm creating this blog to celebrate three of my passions:  reading, writing, and travel, all of which I do for the sheer pleasure of it.  As I tell friends, I live in the real world.  Why would I want to do my recreation there?  So, if you love to let a book transport you, if you travel for the adventure and beauty of it, or if you write what you enjoy, this is the place for you.  If you have any comments, I'd love to hear from you.