Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Buchlov Castle, Czech Republic

The view from the top of Buchlov Castle.  I recommend Tour C, which is the most extensive.  Lots of interesting rooms, artifacts, and stories.

If you go...
By public transportation, the nearest bus stop is on the road between Uherské Hradiště and Brno.  It's called "Buchlovice,,hrad Buchlov rozc.1.5," but if you tell the bus driver "Hrad Buchlov," you'll be okay.  Plan ahead, as there may not be many good connections.  The green trail to the castle starts just slightly uphill from the bus stop.  It's a pleasant, 1.5-km walk.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Buchlovice Castle, Czech Republic

Buchlovice Castle (or chateau) is a grand residence near Uherské Hradiště, built because nearby Buchlov Castle (a real castle) was too drafty and dark to please the owners.

The tour shows some pretty cool rooms, and the English text even has some of the interesting tidbits and stories often left out in favor of dates and names of artists and owners and architects.

Afterwards, wander the grounds.  You'll find formal gardens, wild foresty and meadowy bits, rhododendrons in May, interesting species of trees, streams and bridges, peacocks, and plenty of benches with nice vistas.

If you go...

You'll find frequent bus connections from Uherské Hradiště, a short distance away.  A tour of the castle currently costs 120 Czech Crowns (around $5) and entry to the grounds only is 20 Crowns (around $1).  If you're interested in the interesting species of trees on the grounds, buy the guide at the ticket booth.  Plan plenty of time to wander the extensive grounds.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Broken Angels, by Gemma Liviero

4.5 stars easily.  Almost 5. 

I often read in short snatches, while I'm cooking or waiting in line, in short intervals between other tasks or activities.  I find that many books can't hold my attention for long periods of time.  But last night I was reading Broken Angels on the bus home from work, a 30-minute trip I didn't notice any of.  I almost missed my stop.  I held my Kindle up to the streetlights as I walked the rest of the way home.  When I got in, I didn't turn on music. I didn't change clothes or get a snack or anything.  I just lay down on the couch and read for an hour, straight through to the end.  I cried. 

That is one of the signs of a good book.

Occasionally the dialogue feels written, the narration a bit too "told," and this distanced me from the characters at first, but overall the writing is clear and powerful, getting better and better as the novel goes on. 

Liviero tells the story from the perspectives of three people experiencing different aspects of the horrors of the holocaust.  This gives the story both depth and breadth.  And the way their lives weave together is both tragic and beautiful.

Before reading this, I knew about the Nazi program of taking Aryan-looking children and Germanizing them, but I hadn't read much about it, and this made it very real.

The dehumanization of people in a Polish Ghetto is also very emotional.  And this is the ghetto, not even the concentration camps. 

The German doctor, Willem, struggles with what's happening, struggling even to let himself fully realize what his country is doing, and that is perhaps the most powerful aspect of the book.

It was a sick, sick time in history, and I think books like this are important, because history does repeat itself.  The more people who are horrified by the hatred, racism, and resulting unbelievable cruelty and disregard for human life…the more people who are aware of how one thing leads to another…the more people who recognize the humanity in all…the more people there will be who will try to break the cycle of history. 

I will definitely read more of Gemma Liviero.  

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

More flowers with my cool new photography trick

My friends taught me this with my bridge camera (not a DSLR, but not just a point and click either):  instead of getting close and using your macro setting, put it on AV and get as far away as you can.  Zoom in as much as you can, focus on the flower, and then turn the F-stop as low as you can.  And it helps to be low on the ground and as square to the object as you can be.

See the previous post for my first attempts with wildflowers.  Some of these are obviously not wildflowers.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Wild Orchids in Galovske Luky, Czech Republic

yellow orchid
My awesome friends took me hunting for wild orchids at this small nature preserve near Huslenky.  They also showed me neat tricks with my camera.

Here are some of my favorite pics.  Nature is amazing.

purple orchid

apple tree blossoms
cowslip primrose

Friday, May 13, 2016

Wealth Woman, by Deb Vanasse

The Klondike Gold Rush is a fascinating time and so are its characters.  Deb Vanasse's Wealth Woman delves into the life, culture, and controversy of Kate Carmack, the native wife of George Carmack and the sister of Skookum Jim, the men who discovered the gold that changed the whole region.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the insight into Kate's childhood, culture, and traditional ways of thinking, knowing, and behaving.  It' not just traditions and stories, ceremonies and survival knowledge passed down through the generations, but a different mindset, and Deb Vanasse gives us an intriguing glimpse of it.

The book also captures Kate's amazing adaptability and the waves of wealth and poverty in her life—often not a poverty or wealth of gold. 

In addition to Kate and George, unique characters from history people the pages, bringing to life the history of the Klondike Gold Rush and the often skimmed-over years before and after. 

In some parts the timeline jumps around a little for creativity's sake which makes it hard to keep track of the order of events.  For people like me, who have difficulty remembering dates, it would have been useful to have a few more references to the length between events ("Five years after event X…") instead of assuming the readers remember.  To help keep the secondary characters straight, I would have enjoyed an appendix with a list of important people.  Otherwise, the writing is clear and engaging, and I learned a lot.

The book is well-researched and documented, with fascinating snippets from original sources, sometimes complete with all their historical bigotry.  The extensive end notes add even more detail to the book.

Kate Carmack's life makes for very interesting reading, especially in the hands of an author like Deb Vanasse.  If you want to learn more about Kate Carmack, life in the wilds of Alaska and Canada in the late 1800s, the Klondike Gold Rush, and the aftermath of the bonanza, read Wealth Woman.  

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Scorpions under UV light

I'm currently in the Czech Republic, and was telling some students about how scorpions glow under black light (UV light).  I'm not sure they believed me.  So I thought I'd post two pictures of a scorpion I killed back in Arizona.  He's a little smooshed because...well...I smooshed him.

Under regular light:

Under UV light (black light):

But kinda cool.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


Okay, I'm a little obsessed with tulips.  You see so many around here in spring, and they're just so perfect and beautiful and happy.

All pictures taken mid to late April, 2016, in Vsetín, Czech Republic