Monday, December 22, 2014

Rifugio Lagazui, Passo Falzarego in the Dolomites, Italy

What a delight to receive all these enthusiastic thank you notes! 
When a friend asked me to speak to her three eighth grade classes, I put a lot of thought into how best to present the material.  My goal was to create a presentation with information that would sink in and stand the test of time.  On December 8th, I spoke to all three classes at Timothy Edwards Middle School in South Windsor.  The enthusiasm and the feedback I received were so positive that I really want to get this valuable program on writing, revision and research into more schools.  I plan to put a flyer together after the holidays.
We hiked to that little building on top. 
Look at that, you don't need to sweat or strain, the chairlift (left) is next to the hut. 

In the morning, we lingered, not wanting to leave.
On September 11th, we hiked to Rifugio Lagazui (a hut) in Passo Falzarego in the Dolomites.  Limestone chips and chunks slid beneath our feet as we hiked this steep, rocky, strenuous trail.  As we got higher a cold, metal railing aided our steps on precipitous ledges.  I was slow and careful hiking this baby, but it was
WWI tunnel 
oh, so exciting.
There were remnants of WWI scattered in the towering spires.  After trekking uphill for some time, we came to one--a tunnel!  Limestone slurry trickled down steep steps as we gripped the icy railing and made are way up the mountain in darkness, aided only by headlamps.  At a nearly 45 degree angle, the steps were exhausting.  Every now and then we'd pass a window.  We hiked in darkness for close to 45 minutes.

Near the top, we peered in a rocky room with bunk beds and leftover warfare.  The tunnel was narrower, so we had to watch our heads (this might be a helmet recommended hike).  The rifugio was perched on a cliff, so it had a magnificent view.  At dinner we sat next to Ed and Sarah from San Francisco and Steve and Terry from Maine.  It was great to be at a table of Americans for a change.

Golden spires at the top

The view as we hiked up...simply breathtaking.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Alpe di Suisi, Castelrotto Italy

Searching for Monkeys, December 2014

Yesterday, I received the December issue of Highlights for Children.  My article about a scientist who trekked through the rainforest in Brazil to study beautiful golden lion tamarins, was published on page 16 and 17.  That article was submitted in 2005 and I had given up ever seeing it in print.  Needless to say, I was quite pleased.  Time has improved the piece. 

At yesterday's Appalachian Mountain Club Annual Gathering, my presentation was after one that included live birds, a tough act to follow.  There were twenty-two people in the room, which was a smaller crowd than I expected.  It was the first time I had ever stood in front of a room without my heart beating fast and furious.  I was calm, and as a friend who was in the audience said, "I interjected humor."  The only issue I had was that I was unable to connect to the internet and play two short videos.  This did not surprise me.  Thankfully, I had downloaded four sound clips to my laptop and was able to play those.  Aside from the videos, the talk went really well.
When we got off the cable car,  we strolled down wide trails through a rich green meadow.

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While we were in Italy, we spent two nights in Castelrotto (the Germans call it Kastelruth) in the Dolomites. It was not nearly enough time to explore the vast spring-green meadow high in the mountains.  There were many ski lifts that allowed easy access to peaks that would wear out the strongest hiker.  We got up to the top later than I would have liked.  By then the gray clouds had rolled in.  We walked in the gloomy rain and fog, down paths that smelled of hay, past cow bells tinkling and horses grazing on wet grass.  The clouds had cleared when we arrived at a 200° panorama at a lookout called Engelrast.  What a phenomenal view!  As the sun sank lower in the sky, shadows on the jagged limestone peaks became more pronounced.  Light on the mountains glowed on the pink coral of an ancient sea. 

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The Dolomites are a hiker's paradise.  The Alpe di Suisi is better suited for those who like walking on rolling hills versus the steeper inclines at Cortina D'Ampezzo.     

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Preikestolen - Pulpit Rock, Norway

I was so busy in August, I neglected to point out my first clip in Odyssey magazine.   "Guardians of the Forest" was published in the September issue.  I was really pleased with how the editors and designers set up the first page and printed the names of the animals under their photographs.  Also, I was happy to find my article, "Flippin' Out Over School,"  republished in the September issue of Fun for Kidz, which is now in color.

On September 3rd, we hiked to Pulpit Rock and boy does this hike rock!  I LOVED this hike.  On a scale of 1 to 10, this was a 20!  To get to the hike, we took a ferry to Tau, then a bus to
This was a pleasant change after hiking up high stone steps.

They say this hike takes about two hours each way.  We were so excited we hiked fast up stone steps and along wooden paths.  We passed everyone except the swift Norwegian hikers.  According to Alltrails, we got to the top in 1 hour and 13 minutes!  The weather was perfect and the view phenomenal.  Although my compact Olympus binoculars (8x21) added extra weight to my pack, I never regretted bringing them anywhere in Europe.

  At the top, young fearless Norwegian girls dangled their legs off the edge, like they were sitting on a fence.  They set an example of bravery--or maybe it was insanity.

Although it looks like I'm about to commit suicide, I'm really on a trail.

That dude on the right with his legs dangling--that's Walt.
That was close enough for me.

Then we hiked higher, away from the crowd.  I sang "I'm on the edge, the edge of Glory" over and over again.  All day long, we savored the stunning vista, etching it into our memories.  I did not want to leave, but the bus and ferry had a schedule to keep and we didn't want to miss the last one.  I wrote in my journal, "I have hiked many mountains to reach panoramas, but none could compare to this."

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Folgefonna National Park, Norway

At the top of a crevasse
I spent three weeks backpacking in Europe in celebration of my 30th anniversary.  It was a relief to escape sensational headlines and the frustrations of the writing world, namely waiting.  Aside from Walt's iphone, I disconnected from technology.   The experience left me feeling free, like I was living life to the fullest.  I climbed out of a crevasse in Norway, danced a medieval dance in Germany, watched the moon rise in Austria, and rode a vaporetto in Venice.
Climbing out of a crevasse
I figured time would stand still in the writing world.  I figured wrong.  In three weeks time, I received two rejects, a clip in Fun for Kidz (a reprint of an article first published in 2007), a request for photographs because an editor is interested in buying an article, and notification of a possible school visit.  I also had to  review a summary for a presentation in November.
We watched another group move, roped together for safety.
We hiked a lot in Europe, so I'm starting an International hikes segment of this blog.

We did a glacier hike in Folgefonna National Park in Norway.  What an exciting adventure!  We were roped together with a family from Britain, a Chinese man who called himself Ken, and a couple from Stratton, Vermont.  In helmets and harnesses we crunched across the ice as our guide, Knut, led the way up the glacier.  At the top, we were treated to a magnificent view of nearby lakes and the fjord far below.  We got a taste of ice climbing by scaling the ice in a shallow crevasse using ice axes and carabiners.  What fun!  Then we crouched down to explore the perfectly rounded walls of an ice cave.  Water trickled down from the top as we inched our way deeper in the dark, frigid hole.  Perhaps it was my trust in our guide or maybe it was the Norwegian spirit, but I was not afraid at all.  I learned that Norwegians are exceptional hikers and fearless too.
In the ice cave

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Adam's Mill Trail, Manchester

In mid-July, I noticed a small error in a research paper that was an in press, corrected proof.  The paper was dated August 2013.  The third word in the introduction was the date of the discovery.  It was off by ten years, but the discovery was not the subject of the paper.  It left me pondering, so I contacted the journal about it.  I heard back from the publisher and the journal manager.  Recently I received this email:
the banks of the Hockanum River
Dear Dr. Zajac,

Can you please confirm, what is your preference? Do you want to have the article updated online, or do you prefer to publish a corrigendum in the issue it will appear? 

It was exciting crossing this old railroad bridge.
I responded by saying I didn't feel as though I was in a position to make that decision (what's a corrigendum!) and that they should do what works best for them.  It seemed to me that if it was still considered to be "in press," then maybe they could correct it before it went in the journal? 
the ruins of an old paper mill
I am purposely not mentioning the paper, the scientist or the journal because my intent was not to discredit anyone.  Last night, I thought about the folks that try to punch holes in climate science papers.  They do it to discredit scientists and climate science.  It takes time and effort to read research papers and review the science, so I wondered if someone (like big oil) paid these scientists for their time?

Walt congratulated me on my degree.  Lol.  He asked if I wished I was a scientist.  I've been asked that before.
The answer is no.  Certain aspects, like dealing with wildlife sound quite exciting, but the job lacks the creativity that I enjoy when I write.  However, I do find that scientists are very open-minded and sometimes find creative ways to solve their problems by using the latest technology
These photographs of the Adams Mill Trail in Manchester were taken months ago, in early May.  It was a flat, short trail that followed the Hockanum River.  We came upon some interesting historical structures, like the ruins of an old paper mill. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bigelow Hollow State Park - Breakneck Pond Loop

The dog loves water and chasing sticks.
After a week of house guests, I was eager to make up for lost time on Monday.  Everything I tried was such a struggle.  Fallen branches and a downed tree interrupted a four-mile run.  Mosquitoes were biting once I got writing.  Exhaustion and a boulder of a headache rolled in.  Tuesday's progress on an article due August 25th was a welcome relief.  It has thankfully passed the kitty-litter stage--it was so repulsive I didn't want to pick it up.  

Mountain laurel was in bloom.  I've never really been fond of their bland color.
Yesterday's words of wisdom from an editor echoed in my head as I tried to sleep.  I might as well have been pacing the floor.           
"No one can teach writing, as they say. We all have to learn it on our own, alone at the desk. Only the tough, determined, and persistent can get through that! Remember that."

Walt went up and around, while I went right over the debris, in my typical manner.
The rougher side of the pond.
Why not turn the "Os" into a happy face?
June 28th, I pushed it hiking about 6.8 miles around Breakneck Pond at Bigelow Hollow State Park.  At the time, I figured I could do about 7 miles on the ankle I'd sprained a week or two before.  On the other side of the pond, loose rocks did a number on my foot as I picked my way across them.  By the time I got home, I was exhausted and the ankle was beat.  
While I was snapping a photo of the flowers, the mud-soaked dog  did the wet-dog shake all over my legs.     

Friday, July 11, 2014

Nipmuck Trail, Mansfield

Even dogs stop to admire the scenery.
During the outdoor around-the-world dinner at the conference (see prior post) I was fortunate to sit at a table with former and current editors of Time for Kids.  It was a great opportunity to ask questions about one project I'm working on.  I learned they weren't interested in submissions of this sort.  Wham!  Then I learned that this idea of mine wasn't going to work.  Double wham!  Despite the negative news, it has helped me reshape the idea into something better, something that I think will work.  I hope to finalize and ship out that unique project next week after my critique group meeting.

At the conference, I learned that kids like to see photographs of writers having fun.
Lately, vacation planning has been taking an inordinate amount of my time.  During the past two weeks I've booked three flights, a ferry, a train, and a hotel.  It has been a real challenge with bank credit card locks and other safeguards, online booking sites in a foreign language, Google translate, required phone fields that begin with +, and calling a foreign country.  Now I know why people take tours.  

We walked alongside the Fenton River.
 I've got a backlog of photographs to post.  This batch
This unknown species reminded me of a churro.
from the Nipmuck Trail dates back to April 18th.  The first time I tried this hike, I had a bug that made me come real close to losing lunch.  It was an enduring feat getting back to the car.  The second time, I hiked nearly nine miles.  Conquest!    

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

21st Century Children's Nonfiction Conference

What a lovely morning!
When I first started writing, my native language was COBOL.  I know that because recently I revised an article that I had written nearly a decade ago.  It was a really nice article, but lordy, it needed work.  Back in those early days of writing, I was a logical, orderly thinker because of my experience designing, coding and testing computer programs.  Given my thought process in those days, if I had known I was such a train wreck, I know I would not have pursued this challenging, competitive field.     

A male mallard duck waddled by the pond
At the 21st Century Children's Nonfiction Conference, I heard over and over that back matter matters.  I first heard it from Jason Wells of ABRAMS.  Then I heard it at a lecture by bookstore owner, Jackie Kellachan and Amie Wright, New York City librarian.   I heard it again, when author, Stephen Swinburne spoke.  So, after returning, I spent a great deal of time plumping up the back matter in three picture book manuscripts.  
Ducks were sitting along the edge of the pond.  A turtle, the size of dinner plate, scurried in the water before I could snap a picture.
Saturday morning while I was at the conference, I made my way to the Student Union.  As I walked across the bridge between the ponds, the sun was out and the songbirds were singing in the brush.  Oh, how I wanted to go for a walk, but taking a walk was going to cost me.  It would cut social time and would likely fatigue my freshly sprained ankle.  I looked at the building, then at the ponds, then at the building again.  Thinking.  Pondering.  Deciding.  Was it worth the risk?

Sunday morning, I spotted this great blue heron on my way to the Student Union.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The 21st Century Children's Nonfiction Conference, SUNY New Paltz

There were a lot of intriguing sessions listed in the program.

Despite a freshly sprained ankle, I had a remarkably good time at the 21st Century Children's Nonfiction Conference at SUNY, New Paltz.  I drove to the conference wearing flip flops and with an ice pack strapped tightly around my left foot.  Once I got there, I never iced it again because I didn't want to miss anything.

All the sessions I went to were really good and helpful to me.  They gave me fresh markets to pursue, great ideas for school visits and different perspectives for developing quality books.  The faculty was quite diverse.  There were authors, editors, illustrators, digital media developers, app developers, the publisher of a daily app newspaper, the owner of an independent bookstore and a librarian from a major library.  It was interesting hearing how publishers are adapting to the changing and evolving digital world. 

David Aguilar did an excellent job of story telling with his captivating  account of the  "Big Bang."  I was fascinated watching the 3-D printing demo and totally amused when they scanned and printed out Roxie Munroe's head.  It was a weekend to make new writing friends and catch up with old ones.  I made it a point to sit with new people at every meal.  The first night we had a wonderful buffet dinner outside.  It featured the potato martini--mashed sweet or white potatoes in a martini glass with toppings.  It was such a creative idea and perfect for a conference of creators.
This 3-D printer melted plastic at 240°C
Roxie's head and shoulders were scanned..

The 3-D printer made little Roxie......
....and these too.  The skull and hinge (corner of hinge is on right)  had moveable parts.

What a shame this didn't come out right!  One man's junk was another man's treasure (see top photo).

By Sunday night, after a weekend of neglect, my ankle was as bloated as a bullfrog.   I discovered ice cold shower water (foot only!) worked wonders to reduce pain and swelling.