Tuesday, October 27, 2020

"Gold" published in 50 Haikus

I somehow didn't post earlier that a haiku of mine is now published in 50 Haikus Issue #16

I wrote this while riding the train on my third return to the Czech Republic (now Czechia).  I was so happy to see the Czech countryside that poetry just started spilling out of me.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Fall Leaves in Flagstaff, Arizona

This is the first time I've travelled since the pandemic hit--besides socially distanced camping and hiking.

We went to Flagstaff, Arizona, to see the leaves (October 9th, for future leaf peepers).  Apparently many people think that if you're outside you can't transmit or catch the coronavirus (you can, folks, if everyone's passing near each other on crowded trails--it's just not as likely), so I felt uncomfortable with the number of people not wearing masks.  I'd carefully take mine off when away from the trail so I could smell the wonderful fall smell and the fresh air, but I kept it on while in close proximity to others.

And this was the reward:

A kindness rock I found:

The San Francisco Peaks all dressed up:

Nature is so beautiful.


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

A Hint of Fall--Pinal Mountains

 On a hike to Pinal Peak near Globe, Arizona, early October:

Views from the trail:  

Friday, October 9, 2020

Wildlife at last!

Mystery picture: 

Read on to see what I barely got a picture of here 

It's been so hot in Phoenix and the pandemic has altered our responsible travel options greatly, but last weekend I got out camping.  The wildlife count was incredible.

-Lots of big beautiful tufty-eared Abert's squirrels playing, eating, caching food, and chittering at us.

-Chipmunks and one small mouse thing that skittered away in the dark before I could get a good look

-Lots of birds I don't know, including one that had distinctive green coloration on his belly and one with really orange eyes.  

-A red-tailed hawk (or something similar)

-A kestrel, maybe, that flew right at us down the trail and then veered off.

-A whole bunch of wildly posturing acorn woodpeckers by the spring on the way to Pinal Peak.  They're beautiful with their black, white, and red coloring, and I don't see this species in lower elevations.

-Deer.  Four times!  Twice right from our campsite, once bounding away from us on the trail as we turned a corner...and then bounding back...and then bounding away.  One time we got to quietly watch them for a good twenty minutes before they wandered off.   

-And the most exciting?  The first night, after dark, we were sitting around the picnic table when something ran past and then up a tree, like a squirrel, and we thought, "Aren't squirrels in bed by now?"  We heard some more noises and then a couple of minutes later, my brother said, "The squirrel's under the table."  He shined his flashlight, and I said, "That's not a squirrel!  It's a ringtail cat!"  He was soooo beautiful with a tail longer than he was, striped in white and black.  He sniffed around, completely unafraid, jumped up on the table, nosed at our bag of garbage from dinner, ran up a nearby tree, scampered to a rock, ran back to the table, and then was gone.  Amazing.  I had never seen one in my life, and just that morning I had told Dad, "I would love to see a ringtail sometime."  It was so cool.  Then, the next night, he came back!  Our campsite must have been on his nightly rounds.  I loved it.

Did I get good pictures of any of them?  No!  But I swear we saw them.  It was awesome.  

Now maybe you can decipher the picture above.  

Monday, September 21, 2020

This Day in History: Globe Mexican Food

A trip to Globe/Miami, Arizona, home to the best Mexican food in the world (as you can see from the bites already taken from the enchilada):

Also home to lots of cute painted kitties in downtown Miami:



Monday, September 14, 2020

This Day in History--Climbing Towers and Rocks


Bruges (Brugge), Belgium, from the bell tower
Sept 14, 2007  

Me, rock climbing in the Jeseniky mountains, Czechia.
Okay, not really rock climbing.  More like small boulder scrambling.  
It's just the camera angle.
Sept 14, 2016  

Sunday, September 13, 2020

This Day in History--Spas and President Lincoln

A well for curative water at the spa town of Lázně Jeseník, Czechia
They're sprinkled around the curative walking trail through the woods
Czechs really do spa towns in style. 
Sept 13, 2016 

Statue of Lincoln, near Laramie, Wyoming
Sept 13, 2010


Saturday, September 12, 2020

This Day in History--Water and Dancing

Esch-sur-Sûre, Luxembourg--2007

Czech folk festival, Vsetin, Czechia--2009

Water mill, Jeseniky mountains, Czechia--2016


Friday, August 28, 2020

The Truth About Animals by Lucy Cooke

I loved this fantastic book.  

Alternate title:  The Unexpected Truth About Animals
Appropriate subtitle:  Stone Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos, and Other Wild Tales 

The excellent writing is humorous and easy to read, yet meaty enough to satisfy curious minds.

The book isn't just about the bizarre and surprising characteristics of animals.  It's also about how scientists and explorers discovered--or covered up--the truth about them.  It's a terrific mix.  It's a tad heavy on animals' sexual habits, when I wanted to know more about the many other fascinating aspects of life, but that's pretty much the only thing I can think of that could possibly improve on the work..  

The book is structured perfectly.  Each chapter is about a different animal.  They're long enough to delve into all the fascinating details, but never so long that they feel padded or drawn out.  

It's such a good book that I'll probably read it again.  And if I find anything else in a similar vein, written by Lucy Cooke, I'll snap it up in an instant.

True rating:  5+

Find it on Amazon:  The Truth About Animals

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Thrifty Guide to the American Revolution by Jonathan W. Stokes

Funny and informative, this is another great book in the series, and a clever way to get kids (and adults) interested in history.   

I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the Thrifty Guide to Ancient Rome, partly because so much of this one was focused on battles, but I still enjoyed it a lot.  The author did a great job of breaking it up (like a real guidebook) with sections like "people to have dinner with," accommodations reviews, letters from Time Corp, and instructions on how to, say, avoid cannon balls.  There are also lots of nice maps, graphs, illustrations, etc.

And so much clever humor.  Great job. 

Note:  I'm not a history buff enough to vouch for its accuracy.

4.5 stars.  

Friday, August 21, 2020

Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy

This was a charming read.

It got a tad preachy here and there, but the issues covered were important.

The writing was good, with witty but natural dialogue.  Narration was smooth and engaging and made me want to keep reading.  I'm not sure every single character needed to be introduced by a rather perfunctory description of their race and one or two other attributes, mostly physical…but that may just be my own idiosyncrasy of not really caring what characters in books look like. 

I liked Sweet Pea.  She wasn't perfect.  She did some selfish and thoughtless things, but she learned from her mistakes and became a better friend and daughter because of them. 

I liked the other characters, especially Miss Flora Mae, Oscar, and Sweat Pea's parents.  Except…I had some trouble swallowing the idea that her mother, a therapist, thought it would be a good idea to have Sweet Pea move between her mother's house and her father's house every single day (except for the confusing Thursday schedule).  I would think that would be extremely disorienting, inconvenient, and unstable.  Wouldn't it be better to alternate weeks or something like that, especially if you could just pop over for a visit when needed?

The plot and pacing were good.

And yay for a plus-sized MC.

I would definitely read more by Julie Murphy. 

4 stars!

Monday, August 17, 2020

Frostblood, by Elly Blake

I read part of this as an e-book and listened to the rest as an audiobook, and I thought the reader, Jennifer English, was really good.  Fiction audio books usually start annoying me quite quickly, but this didn't.  That's very high praise, since I'm clearly not the biggest audiobook fan.

As for the book itself, I quite liked it.  Many of the characters were noble but not perfect (which is my favorite mix).  And boy, that chemistry! 

The writing was good.  The dialogue was witty.  The pacing was fast.  The plot, though familiar, took a few nice turns.  

There was too much fighting for my personal tastes, and a bit too much magic.  But that's just me. 

I'd recommend it to fantasy fans, and I intend to read (or listen to) the next book. 

A very solid 4 stars, more like 4.5. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea, by Jonathan Franklin

This is a non-fiction book about Salvador Alvarenga, an El Salvadorian/Mexican fisherman who survived 438 days adrift on the ocean.  It's an amazing story, well-told and compelling.  The ingenuity and desperate measures and fortitude…amazing.  The part with his pet duck…heart-breaking.

I liked how the book used quotes and info from interviews with other survivors and survival experts.  I also thought it was really important that it talked about the aftermath and Alvarenga's long-term trauma.  It didn't end happily the moment he saw his rescuers.

I did sometimes wonder how accurate it was, since it was all recounted by Alvarenga (through the lens of time), and the author never seemed to question any of it. He also never explained how on earth they would know the exact coordinates listed at the beginning of each chapter, and even if they did, how Alvarenga would remember exactly what happened when.  This sounds trifling, but it kept me from sinking as entirely into the story as I wanted to.  But it was still amazing.

Highly recommended if you like survival stories.

More accurate rating:  4.5 stars.  


Saturday, July 25, 2020

A miraculously not-too-hot Phoenix summer evening.

Yesterday it was actually cool enough in Phoenix to willingly go outside!  The high was only 100 degrees, and in the evening the monsoon clouds (but no actual storm) brought up the humidity a bit, which drove down the temperature, and then nature obligingly threw in a breeze.  I took a sunset walk and actually enjoyed it.  Yipee! 

Anyway, here's a picture I took:

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Writing lessons with Brandon Sanderson

I recently discovered these writing lectures by Brandon Sanderson, famed fantasy author, filmed and posted (with permission) free on Youtube.  I've only begun, but they seem very interesting and useful.  Check out the first one here.  Others follow.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Soon to be Published in 50 Haikus

I just got an acceptance letter for a poem I submitted to 50 Haikus.  It's from my oh-so-creatively named series, "Haikus Written on the Train."  I wrote it...you'll never guess...while on a train.  I'd just returned to my beautiful Czechia for the third time, and the scenery was pulling poetry out of me right and left.  This one, "Gold," is probably the most serious of them all.  

My issue (#16) isn't published yet, but meanwhile, you can check out 50 Haikus' website:   https://50haikus.com/

Monday, June 8, 2020

Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas is one of the few books I've ever found of this rare and wonderful genre that I don't even have a name for:  a pseudo-medieval setting, an imaginative culture, royalty…and no magic!!!!  No magical creatures or time travel or vampires.  I love fantasy, but I also a good non-fantasy fantasy.  It allows great world-building without letting the characters depend on magic to save the day (or ruin the day).  To me, it's one beautiful permutation of how the child of fantasy and historical fiction would look.  

I love to read this non-fantasy fantasy genre, on the rare occasions when I find it, and I also love to write it.  The very first novel I wrote--my so-far-unpublished baby--is this genre.  One day maybe it will see the light of day.  

Anyway, enough gushing on the genre.

As for this particular novel, I really enjoyed it.  The queen was a scientist!  Awesome.  Throughout the whole novel I was wondering who our main character could trust.  Awesome.  The story wasn't very violent.  I mean, there was a mass murder by poisoning at the beginning, but the main characters tried—and often succeeded—in solving their problems without violence.  Awesome!  At the end, the queen had to decide what to do with a gray character:  show mercy and weakness or show strength and cause more bloodshed.  I find that what often happens in novels is that the problem character conveniently dies or something, so the main character doesn't have to be merciless OR weak.  Not so here.  Our MC actually made a decision.  Awesome. 

I did think some of the science and politics felt a big simplistic and easily solved.  Like, how did they manage never to fight in this kingdom?  Especially with bad leadership and unhappy people?  And what about other kingdoms who might take advantage of their defenselessness?  But these weren't big issues that affected my enjoyment.

Some readers might think it a tad slow, because there wasn't a ton of really actiony action.  But for readers like me, the pacing was perfect. 

The writing was good, the characters interesting.

I absolutely recommend it and will soon read Rhiannon Thomas' other books.

Rating:  4.5 stars out of 5

Saturday, May 30, 2020

The New Kid by Jerry Craft

In all honesty, graphic novel aren't my favorite storytelling medium, but I'm trying to expand my horizons. This graphic novel for kids was recommended, and I have to say, I really enjoyed it.  

The story and characters were interesting, the format really worked, the illustrations were great, and I really liked the glimpses of the main character's actual artwork and cartoons.  I found it quite funny in places, and quite thought-provoking in others.

Personal enjoyment:  solid 4 stars

What I imagine a real fan of this genre of graphic novels might think:  4.5 or 5 stars

Find it on Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/New-Kid-Jerry-Craft/dp/0062691201

The author, Jerry Craft, does some cool Youtube videos, like blindfold drawing.  Check it out:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DluRrU1Lp6k

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Ironwood and saguaro blossoms

May is time for lovely lavender Ironwood blossoms in the Sonoran Desert.  These were taken on May 13 in the Phoenix areas.  I could hear some of the trees before I saw them, because the bees love the blossoms so much.  The saguaros were also blooming.  A lovely time of year...if it weren't also so hot.  

A close-up of the ironwood flowers

Saguaro blossoms.  Each flower blooms only for night and into the next day.  

You can see where the wash is from all the purple blossoms in a line.  
Bigger trees like ironwoods tend to follow water.  

Here's the wash.  Dry of course.  

Such a lovely, delicate color.  And so very full of bees.  

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Jungle Cat

Here's a pick from my recent safari.  
Pretty scary, isn't it?  Looks like she's ready to jump down and maul me.  
I'm lucky I escaped with my life.  

Except...it's still COVID-19 lockdown.  This was a safari to the yard.  And that's my Mama Kitty.  She IS actually a bit dangerous.  She's lovey-dovey if it's her idea, but if you try to pet her otherwise, you might get claws or teeth in your skin.  You certainly will get a fearsome hiss. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Buzz Sting Bite by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson

I really enjoyed this.  It was well-written and fascinating, accessible to the interested layperson but also scientific enough to be a serious book. 

It was also depressing.  We need to take better care of our planet! 

I admit that—rather shallowly—my favorite parts were the juicy little tidbits about fascinating insects.  But the more weighty parts about insects' usefulness to us and their importance in the ecosystem and their sad fate were also very interesting and important. 

Very, very interesting book.  Highly recommended.

4.5 Stars!

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Hiraeth Publishing and my Short Story

Hiraeth Books is going to publish my short story, "Stashed Away," in their September 2020 sci-fi anthology. The working title is "Martian Wave." I'm excited to read it.

If your quarantine reading stack is getting low, check out their other offerings: https://www.hiraethsffh.com/

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Buckeye Butterfly

Spotted on a hike near Wickenburg, Arizona:

I don't think it's a common buckeye, since they generally have a cream strip on their forewing, stretching down around the "eye," but this one's strip is orange. I believe it is, instead, a tropical buckeye.

What a beautiful creature.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Creosote Gall

Something interesting: This is a creosote gall I found. I didn't know what it was, so I researched. It's an old, dried-up one, but once it was green and leafy. Creosote galls are caused by gall midges from the genus Asphondylia. Midges are little fly-like insects. They lay their eggs and the gall forms around them to provide nutrients for the larvae.

I wondered if the plant formed the gall to keep the hungry larvae in one place. To...shall we say...slow the spread. Something I'm sure none of us have heard anything about recently. But it looks like most galls that form in response to insects are actually controlled by the insects. The larvae inject a chemical which induces the plant to involuntarily form the gall (though some may rely on mechanical damage to induce the growth). So, the little midges restructure their environment to suit them.

The whole process doesn't benefit the creosote bush, but neither does it seem to cause serious harm. Nature is amazing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Butterfly Visitor

Look who posed for me in my back yard:  

I believe this is a Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui), a common migrating butterfly that winters here in the Sonoran desert.  

I can't help but think its coloring and patterning could be Batesian mimicry, where a perfectly edible species mimics the appearance of a poisonous or nasty-tasting species (in this case the monarch butterfly), thus deterring would-be predators.  

Whatever the case, it's beautiful.