Friday, December 21, 2012


Just outside the city of Zilina in Northern Slovakia is Strecno Castle.  I found it during my Google Streetview tour of the country for December’s Virtual Paintout.  As of today my painting is the second one down.

Here is my watercolor version of the ancient gothic castle.  It sits high above the Vah River and the outlook from its towers must be amazing.  I used my artistic license to cut down a few trees and move a highway to get the view I wanted of the massive bastions built on a cliff.

According to the information I found it was built long before Columbus sailed his little boats out into the Atlantic to discover the Americas.

It was fought over, conquered and bought and sold by kings, emperors and aristocrats.  In 1686 it was claimed by Emperor Leopold who ordered it destroyed.  It sat in ruins for centuries until restoration was begun in 1993.

During my virtual travels of Slovakia I discovered a unique and beautiful country.  I loved the ancient villages filled with picturesque houses and gardens.  Unlike the western United States the towns and farms were so close together that it appeared to be an excellent place to tour by bicycle.  I did notice many streets paved with cobblestones which could be a trial to a person on a bike after a few miles.

Below is the URL for the point I chose for my virtual view of Strecno Castle. Give it a little time to open.

From here you can continue to tour Slovakia using point and click on the highway and by rotating the "N" button around the compass in the upper left corner of the window.  There is also plus and minus to zoom in and out---etc.


Looks like it's time to get a new calendar.

Side Note:  How can they look at this and still say
 the Mayans knew nothing about the wheel?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


“Scut Farkus! What a rotten name! We were trapped. There he stood, between us and the alley. Scut Farkus staring out at us with his yellow eyes. He had yellow eyes! YELLOW EYES!” 

I saw A Christmas Story pop up during some channel surfing and had to settle in to watch.  I’m not real big on holiday movies, but that one is an exception.  Not sappy, and Ralphie doesn’t learn any life changing lessons or hear angels sing; although he does do a number on that playground bully which warms my heart.

My Scut Farkus was a big kid with toothbrush hair and smeary glasses. We’ll call him Jed.  His toady was his little brother with the same scrubby hair.  Our ride home on the school bus took almost an hour and Jed and his brother and sister got off just before me and my sibs.  That’s a long time to spend every day with a kid who finds you an easy target.  He could sling slurs, point out flaws and create nick names that might last for years.

I don’t remember coming to any physical harm.  We were kept in our seats by the bus driver, Boots McClure.  He was an old guy who always wore a cowboy hat.  He watched his load of rowdies through slanted eyes in his rear-view mirror.  When Boots stopped the bus in the middle of the road and got up from his seat a hush would fall over our snot-nosed crowd and we’d all find something interesting to stare at out in a farmer’s field.

The verbal abuse from Jed extended beyond the bus ride.  When the winter weather got nasty, students were turned loose in the gym to run during recess.  I remember once getting so fed up with the harassment from my nemesis that I went after him underneath the basketball hoop.  While he laughed, I punched and pushed him.  Then he pushed back.  Suddenly my nerdy big brother appeared.  He’d happened by on his way to a calculus class. Big brother wasn’t known for conflict but this time he came out of his world of numbers long enough to bring his text book down on Jed’s head.  “Looks like math is a little hard on Jed,” he commented, and then continued on his way.

An intestinal flu virus can sweep a school like wild fire.  Boots learned to react quickly when one of his passengers turned that tell-tale green.  He’d slam on his brakes, pop open the bus door and hope the kid made it out to heave on the roadside. Even when it was mopped up; bus barf left behind a stench that turned a long ride into torture.    

So when I wobbled up to the front of the bus, miles from any house, Boots took one glance, stopped and let me out. Disregarding safety I ran around to the front  to hurl.  I wanted to be out of view of my tormenters in this moment of indignity.  When my guts were empty I wiped my mouth on my sleeve and sat on the bus bumper until I had enough energy to stagger back on board.  As soon as I was seated the taunts began.  Jed was sitting in the seat behind me and he’d been provided with new ammunition.  I took it until I’d gained back my strength.  Then I stood up on my seat, hauled back with my metal lunch box and bloodied his nose. When I realized what I had done, I plopped down beside my sister and glanced up at the front of the bus.  Boots had watched the whole thing in his mirror and kept on driving.  Jed got off at the next stop.  He had tears in his eyes and he still had blood on his face.  I don’t remember him bothering me much after that.

So when I see A Christmas Story is up on the screen I grab some popcorn and find a seat.  I might not have had the vocabulary Ralphie did but I had a metal lunch box. Ha!

Monday, December 17, 2012


Better laws to control the access to assault weapons and ammunition, yes.  More assistance to those who are suffering from mental illness, yes.  But the businesses who are glutting a mourning town with their vehicles and helicopters; who are shoving microphones and cameras in the faces of investigators, and those who grieve seem to be ominously silent about violence in the media.  Very little has been said about the easy access to the virtual experience of spraying bullets and flying body parts and blood from the Big Screen in 3-D, through televisions and monitors, all the way to hand held devices.  Those who make billions selling this to our children need to be made accountable.  We who pay billions for this service need to take responsibility.