Pursuing Life's Daring Adventure

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Good Books and Shelf-Space

"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." -Dr. Seuss 

In June, the five in our family made a goal to read ten books this summer. It was a great challenge, during these wonderful months of an untangled schedule and sunshiny days, that we make reading a priority.

My boys immersed themselves in worlds of fantasy and humor, places inhabited by Beasts, funny Mr. Gum, potty-humored Super Diaper Baby, adventures in Tunnels, and the always-a-hit Batman and Star Wars. And usually, after time reading, they couldn't wait to share the lavish tales and terrible troubles of their fictional friends. What a great peek into the mind and interests of a child! So fun for me ... to watch their excitement in the new places they would go in their reading. 

We now have books used as doorstops, as they've again run out of shelf-space ...

I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.  ~Anna Quindlen, "Enough Bookshelves," New York Times, 7 August 1991

Our adult bookshelves also run over-- which makes me smile. Above, a peek into my recent shelf-space of books. Out of the many books I've read over the last few months, I have loved the worlds of a few:

  • The Art of Racing in the Rain: Wow-- this was a beautiful book that not only surprised me with its depth but also with its important story. Told from the perspective of the family dog (really!), the angle on the family's struggles and the dog's role in holding them all together amazed me. The strain applied to Enzo the dog's family by extended family is a stress so familiar, the story strikes hard ... and lingers, well past the final page. I enjoyed this book immensely. by Garth Stein.
  • The Mountain Between Us: I enjoyed this moving story for its setting in the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains, and the depiction of the power of love to help us survive past pain. Well-told by Charles Martin, one of my favorite authors.
  • The Shell Seekers: In rereading this classic, I'm rediscovering Rosamunde Pilcher's brilliance in sustaining vivid characters, and the deep pain she's able to recreate in their relationships. A fantastic portrayal of family and the rift caused by those who take toward those who give. 
  • The Help: This breakout novel shines for its authentic characters and unique glimpse into the South at an unpopular time and topic in USA's history. A big thank you to Kathryn Stockett for sharing her exquisite world. 
  • On Writing: Even though it's a non-fiction book in my list of summer reading, I can't help but place it among books I have loved reading. Because I do love it. For writers and avid readers, Stephen King gives a rich look into the life he lives turning out well-loved stories and reflecting on the creative process. I'm not sure, as a writer, that I could ever read this book enough.

    For the other books I've read, and enjoyed or not enjoyed reading--I defer to literary agent Nathan Brantford's excellent post on the judge of quality. Not everyone likes a certain book. For a novel I like, there may be 100x more people who do not like it. And vice versa. But, the judge should be if a book achieves what the author set out to accomplish in writing that book. I wholeheartedly agree. There are books that do not strike me in my reading taste, but that are well-done and accomplished what the author intended. A wonderful way to approach new books, I think.

    So, as I delve into writing my next novel, I am confident that not only are our shelves bursting with stories immersing us in new worlds, but that has reading become a fixed habit in our house, and also a destination worth pursuing.   

Starting the conversation (leave a comment below): What books have you enjoyed reading recently? What are you reading now?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Czech Republic: From Prague Castle to Česky Krumlov Castle, a land of castles and fairy tales

For hundreds of years, Czech Republic was the land of knights and castles, royalty and moats, and drawbridges. Though the country boasts hundreds of castles and palaces across its hills and mountains, several impressive castles are close enough to Prague to be seen within one vacation. Still depicting the spirit of their peak days as royal medieval fortresses, these five castles are worth a closer look.

Prague Castle
Founded in the 9th century, the Prague Castle is one of the oldest castles in the region. During its long history, the Castle housed Bohemian Kings, Holy Roman Emperors, and Presidents of Czech Republic. Today, the Prague Castle is said to be the biggest ancient castle, and gleams as the jewel glistening above the Vltava River as the centerpiece of Prague.

What to do: Plan to spend a day to tour the soaring Cathedral, extensive gardens, and regal palaces within the Prague Castle.

Please go to AOL's Gadling.com travel site by clicking here to read the rest, and see the other four castles. A big thank you to Gina and the editors at RedRoom.com for connecting me to the AOL.com crew. 

Starting the conversation: Have you visited a castle? What is your personal favorite?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Dubrovnik: Pearl of the Adriatic

Posted on August 13, 2010 

“Those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik and see Dubrovnik." – George Bernard Shaw, Nobel Prize winning writer and playwright

A bright star perched along the Croatian coast of the sparkling Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik looks more like the inspiration for the Disney set for Pirates of the Caribbean than any other real place on earth. Constructed as a series of fortresses to protect against centuries of invasions from pirates and other nations, Dubrovnik is guarded by massive stone walls and hefty cannons butting up against the sea-a sight like no other and a city worth visiting…

Read the rest of the post by clicking here: LINK TO JENNIFER’S ARTICLE on AOL’s Gadling.com.

Again, I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with some great editors, and to put a few articles out into a large audience and many readers’ screens. I hope you enjoy them! -JK

Starting the conversation: Have you visited Dubrovnik? If so, what was your favorite part?

EAT, STRAY, LOVE: Italy, Tuscany, and the Maremma

Posted on August 11, 2010

With the release of another popular film set in Italy, people worldwide know of the country’s most luscious region: Tuscany. But few realize the Mediterranean Sea skims along the classic wine and olive region, and combines sensational flavors with unforgettable views.

Overlooking the Mediterranean, from Italy's Maremma region, in Tuscany

Here, find three ways to enhance the Italian culinary adventure and traveler’s delight, in the unforgettable Maremma region, nestled into the southern coastline of renowned Tuscany.


In Italy, it is impossible to miss the food and drink. Even the least-interested traveler can find a meal to please. But for the food-lover, Tuscany’s southwestern Maremma region borders the Mediterranean Sea and offers wine and olives with an additional alluring treat: fresh seafood.

Read the rest of the post by clicking here: LINK TO JENNIFER’S ARTICLE on AOL’s Gadling.com.

And, a big thank you to Gina at RedRoom.com for linking me to the AOL folks. Click here to read the article on Prague they featured last week: WHAT TO DO IN PRAGUE, EUROPE’s MOST AUTHENTIC CAPITAL.

Again, I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with some great editors, and to put a few articles out into a large audience and many readers’ screens. I hope you enjoy them! -JK
Starting the conversation: Have you visited Italy? If so, what was your favorite part?

Destination Alps: A Summer Roadtrip

Posted on August 3, 2010

It is not down in any map; true places never are. ~Herman Melville

This past weekend, we ventured on a summer roadtrip– which we loved– to the Alps. The photos say so much more than any words I could form, so this week, I’m posting my favorite photos from our daytrip to the Austrian Alps (from Prague).

On the Road: Destination Alps

Driving South through Czech Republic

Nearing Salzburg, Austria

Sharp rise into the Alps



Town colors

Wolfgangsee region

Paragliders in the clouds above

the View I love

The View North, from the top


The Drive home to Prague

Starting the Conversation: Do you have favorite photos from a roadtrip to share? (paste a link with a comment, below, in the comments) I’d love to see where you travel, too!

Sunshine, Freedom, and a Little Bit of Friends

Posted on July 27, 2010 

“Just living is not enough,” said the butterfly, “one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower.” ~Hans Christian Anderson

A Swallowtail, on our backyard lavender in Prague

This week, a gorgeous visitor surprised me at our home, cloaked in delicate colors and fluttering about on the breeze. At our home in the US, we would have Swallowtails and other large butterflies dancing about our large gardens on every sunny summer day. But here, in Prague, where our yard is significantly smaller and the flowers fewer, I was shocked to discover this beautiful Swallowtail flitting about the lavenders. To be honest, I forgot how much I missed them — butterflies and flowers and all gifts of the natural world that keep our minds remembering that a screen and a bleeping cursor is not all there is.

I think in all areas of life, we need that switch in thinking. A gust of fresh air and a burst of alluring color to remind us that where we are in life — tough times or otherwise — is not all there is.

Somehow, friends have a way of swooping in and refilling our empty sails with fresh wind to carry us further along, laughter to replenish our spirits, and a listening ear to share life’s weight.

To me, one of the best parts of life is in the sharing – to help us past just living, to inspire us to soar again with new freedom, fresh colors, and the sunshine of another friend to walk alongside us.

A BIG thank you to all my friends for all you do in lifting me past where I would be on my own. I am so grateful, and hope to pass the same along to others. For this is one of the best parts of life … sharing.

Starting the Conversation (Leave a Comment below): What brings you fresh perspective and a new burst of energy? How can you help friends and others along in their journeys this week?

One Year in Prague

Posted on July 22, 2010 

Growth is the only evidence of life. ~John Henry Newman, Apologia pro vita sua, 1864

We have a globe in our house– you know, the normal kind with the light blue ocean and different colors for every country in the world. But before we moved to Europe last summer, our youngest son, age 6 at the time, had a funny way of talking about the countries on the globe. He would stand and point out the various places he knew as a kindergartner: one land mass was “Grandma’s House”, another was “School”, and with a spin of the globe, he’d point out other places like the post office, and church, etc. I can’t help smiling. It’s easy in a comfortable environment to know only what we know– the rest, well, is out there.
But now, our lives are significantly different. No longer is the world out there, because we are out there as well.
As of this week, we have made a significant milestone– the marker of our family’s one year in Prague.
You can bet that our boys, now almost 8, 9, and 11, have absorbed all of the countries we have visited. They know exactly where they are. And the language spoken there. And the currency, and the landmarks. Not because we’ve taught them, but because they’ve lived it. I’m amazed. And the countries they don’t know from personal experience usually correspond to their friends’ native countries from class, as the school our boys attend here in Prague has a representation of about 60 countries around the globe.
We have all learned so much, and GROWN. Travel does that, as does living in an environment not very similar to the one from which we came. It’s been an incredible year, living here in Prague, Czech Republic. We’re very grateful for the experience, and look forward to another year or two here.
To celebrate, the top 10 things I’ve learned from One Year in Prague:

1) Language: Okay, Czech, they say, is one of the most difficult languages in the world. I agree. We’ve learned enough to get around, understand some conversations, and discover that when we accidentally say “Nádraží” (train station) for “Na Zdraví” (cheers), everyone laughs. Similarly, when we say “Strašný Nový rok” instead of “Šťastný Nový Rok”, they gasp and become offended. (Terrible New Year instead of Happy New Year) Learning: There is no easy cover for language faux pas. OOPS!
2) Driving: Well. Let’s just say US and Czech share driving on the same side of the road. For that I’m very grateful. But the driving in Czech is treacherous, beyond scary. Most of my friends have flipped their cars from dodging oncoming Tatra trucks. It would have been very helpful to know that “highways” through Czech countryside rarely have more than an inch of asphalt as a shoulder, commonly have a few feet of height dropoff from there, and almost never have a centerline. Add that to: in order to dodge the lumbering Tatra trucks, the oncoming traffic must slow to a stop as they pass. Learning: Awesome defensive driving skills along with constant prayers while driving.
3) Refrigerators, Houses, and the General size of European stuff: Much much smaller. Freeing, actually, when we find we can only house a few extra things, and have no room for storage. We use everything we have in the house. Less clutter, more sanity. Learning: Living with less equals freedom.
4) Screens and Air conditioning: Having screens on the windows is incredibly rare, which means on 90 degree + days (which we’ve had a LOT), we open the windows and have a house full of bugs. Learning: Screens rock. I miss them.
5) Shopping: Kroger, unfortunately, doesn’t exist in Europe. And all of the comparable stores are quite far away. So we’ve learned to shop as the Europeans do, a few items every day (which is all our fridge can handle anyway). The little stores rival Stop and Shops in the US, or any similar convenience stores, except that they’re usually in couple-hundred-year-old buildings, which means– a couple-hundred-years’ worth of dirt. Learning: I’ll cry from happiness when I shop in Kroger in a couple years. Every time.
6) Quiet: Czech is a beautiful, mainly rural country of rolling hills that gather height into gorgeous Czech mountains. Learning: The Natural beauty here is stunning, something I will always treasure. I revel in it every day we’re here.
7) Snow: There are no snow days for schools here. Which means driving through the forest and down the mountain to the boys’ school is no cake walk for a few months of the year. Learning: Thank God for a 4×4.
8) History: Oh, wow– can I even express how much I love the history here? Every building, every place, everything has a soul. Especially the little places, like the church we attend built in 1175 ad, and the Shakespeare and Son bookstore under Charles Bridge. Learning: Richness of culture and history pours into the people. I love it.

9) Smiling: It might not be an overstatement to say no one smiles in Czech Republic. It just isn’t done. And when I do (which I can’t help, because I love to smile), I can tell they think I’m a little loopy in the head. Learning: Smiles are necessary for a happy life.
10) TRAVEL: In the US, we were known to drop everything and drive 30 hours to camp in the Tetons for a few days. Same with the beaches in Florida, the rocky coast of Maine, the mountains in Colorado, etc. Now that we are in the heart of Europe, the whole world is within driving distance. Rome, Dubrovnik, London, Stockholm, St. Petersburg. We may not make it everywhere, but experiencing the countries along the journey has been amazing. Read back through the past year’s blog posts and you’ll get the feel for traveling Europe. It is living a dream. I am so grateful. Learning: Europe is a dreamworld.
Thanks for sharing in the journey!
Starting the conversation: What things can you do this year to further your growth, to bring you a step closer to living out your dreams, toward being fully alive?

Snapshots of Summer

Posted on July 13, 2010

Summer afternoon - summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.  ~Henry James

I love summer and its carefree days. Summer has been good when days become timeless, leaving snapshots in my mind of the things I treasure most. Like boats bobbing like corks upon vast azure water. Splashing and fun in a pool. A dog shaking off from a quick swim. Summer sunsets, and colors reflected upon the water. Flower stands near the Sea. Yes, to me, these are the Snapshots of Summer.

Summer arrived in all its splendor this week: bright sunshine, cloudless skies, and water everywhere. To celebrate, I’d like to share … a few photos I’ve dug out from the images lodged in my mind. To me, this is Summer in all her beauty:

Flowers for Sale, Countryside, USA

Rowboat, Waiting

Summer Evening on the Coast of Maine

Shake after Swim

Setting Summer Sun, Maine

Starting the Conversation: What is Summer to you? What are your favorite parts of Summer? Are you stopping to enjoy these this year?



Posted on July 7, 2010

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden, demi-paradise,

This fortress built by Nature for herself

Against infection and the hand of war,

This happy breed of men, this little world,

This precious stone set in the silver sea,

Which serves it in the office of a wall

Or as a moat defensive to a house,

Against the envy of less happier lands,-

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

~William Shakespeare

King Richard II

Vacation: I define it as a time to leave routine behind and do something new–or do nothing at all. After a year of living as expats in Czech Republic, we needed a break from the post-communist atmosphere, a change from the life we’ve managed such a long way from our native Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. We needed to spend a few days speaking English, eating “normal” foods, and enjoying a place more similar to our own, in lieu of the journey and expense of treking our family of five back across the Ocean. Instead, our family ventured out and had an extraordinary vacation, refreshing and relaxing and rejuvenating, in the heart of London.

The sights in London were magnificent, as was the weather. All a gift.
We didn’t know many specifics of London before our trip. But the crown city of London holds vast treasures like the set stones in the Royal jewels. Many thanks to our fabulous tour guide who narrated the significant sites while we cruised atop a double decker red bus …

The famous Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Thames and the recent London Eye– all beautiful, polished, and drawing throngs of tourists like us.

I remember watching Princess Diana’s wedding in 1981 at a friend’s house … the dazzling dress, the innocence and grandeur. The unforgettable ceremony took place in St. Paul’s Cathedral, below.

Our boys loved the hands-on displays inside the White Tower, where they could try their hands at swords and long-bows and cannons. Of course, with dungeons and lore of prisoners and brutal torture, London held their attention quite well!

From nursery stories and children’s books, of course we know of London Bridge, and the Tower of London, but I didn’t know that the Tower of London was actually a castle originally called the White Tower. Beside it, my favorite, the Tower Bridge spans the Thames River (below).

We loved London, her treasures and the friendly people. We look forward to someday returning again …

So grateful for the gift of a grand trip to London with our family, and the chance to be recharged.

Starting the Conversation: Where do you enjoy taking vacation? What recharges you from the wear of daily life?

The Alps and the Impossible

Posted on June 29, 2010 

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. ~John Muir

Saturday, we hopped in the car and set off for Austria, for a day of hiking the Alps. To feel the colors, breathe the views, experience a moment in paradise. As I sit now in my writing chair, the views we saw, the whole Alps experience seems surreal and impossible, in the grandest sense of both words.

Dreaming up driving to the Alps from Prague just for the day sounds like the old saying: “You can’t get there from here.” But we can. And did. I’m so glad I brought my camera to prove it to myself.

The difference between Austria and Czech could not be more stark, though they are neighbors. Compared to Austria and its sunny disposition, Czech Republic still frowns from its years under Soviet communism. Austria’s optimism seems to bring an extra sunshine at the border. We ventured to the Salzburg Lakes region, near Wolfgangsee to the town of St. Gilgen.

From there, we rode a cable car to the next peak, high above St. Gilgen. With some of the world’s most amazing views, we ate at the Hut. Clouds scraped our heads as they passed, and cowbells clanked from the herd grazing on the steep meadow below.

At the peak meadow, paragliders took flight in throngs around us.

And we hiked trails winding among peaks, and stood in awe.

My belief still stands that the Austrian Alps are the closest place to paradise I’ve ever experienced. Where else does heaven meet earth in such a grand fashion, where humans and nature have coexisted for centuries … where paragliders fly, and sailors grab at wind, and hikers may tread among clouds and meadows?

Can the Alps be more beautiful?

Truly, we not only gained the impossible view of the world, from Austria’s eternal beauty, but gained hearts filled and refreshed. These images will have to remind me until the next time we venture … to the Alps.

Starting the Conversation: Do you have a favorite place to hike, walk, or experience nature?

Prague's Summer Countryside

Flowers… are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1844

Field of Poppies, Prague

Just a little down the winding road, on the edge of the mountain overlooking Prague, Summer stretches out and quilts the ground in all her loveliness. It’s as if the sky squeezed every drop out of the color of lemon and poured it out over the landscape.

Lemon-squeezed Field, Prague

But just across the road, lined with ageless fruit trees, the sky painted blinding crimson into a field of Poppies.


Though I wrote about the swirling yellow fields a few weeks ago, I cannot escape that I am continually captivated.

Poppy Field, overlooking Prague

Years ago, on the tiny oceanside town of Somesville, Maine, I stumbled upon this field of lupine. Somehow, indescribably, the beauty in these flowering fields clings to me. And I am inspired, and moved, and refreshed. I wanted to share, in case these photographs might instill Summer and refreshment and vast beauty into your heart as well.

Lupine field, Somes Sound, Maine, USA

Here’s to summer, and to the loveliness that can be found on the less traveled trail …
Continuing the Conversation: What is your favorite flower of Summer? Do you have a memory of summer beauty that has stayed through time?

PS. I’m in the process of migrating my blog to my site hosted page on WordPress. I love it on WordPress already! Thank you for being patient in the changeover, and a huge thank you to the developers at WordPress. -JK