Monday, May 30, 2016


Ann Paul on the Equator in Uganda
My friend and fellow children's book writer Ann Whitford Paul recently went with her husband Ron on a trip to Africa, where they did some amazing wildlife viewing in Uganda and Tanzania. Her pictures bring back memories of my own trip to those countries in 1971. Although much has changed since then, the wonder of seeing animals at home in their natural habitat is still the same. Here is a photo tour of some of the highlights of Ann and Ron's trip.

Lucky us!  Our son Alan lives and works in South Africa and he and his partner Fay just had a baby girl.  What a great excuse to travel to our favorite continent!  Here’s the proud and happy new family.
Fay, Alan and baby Thea

Thea, just one month old, wasn't yet sleeping through the night, so, not wanting to overstay our welcome and wear out the new parents more than they already were, we took off for a safari in Uganda....where coffee grows with abundance.

In Uganda we trekked through dense woods like this for an up-close and personal look at chimpanzees.  Unfortunately, I had camera problems, so most of my pictures ended up as trash.  These are the best. 

Feeling confident in our endurance abilities that afternoon we walked several more hours around a wetlands. The sights included this baboon who was enjoying some corn stolen from a farmer. 
Doesn’t this look like a Rousseau painting?
I also love this picture of a mom and her nursing infant.
Bananas are a staple in Uganda.  These green ones (called matoke) being sold at a busy market day will be cooked in stews and also used to make an alcoholic drink (pombe).

Francis, our knowledgeable guide was barraged with banana sellers.  The bananas meant for eating raw are half the size of those in the states and much sweeter.
In Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda, we watched two male Uganda kob fight for rights on their mating territory (called a lek).
Uganda kob
An elephant eating.  What an appetite!

To be continued:
Next is our boat cruise on the Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park and then our trek to see the gorillas in the mountains of Bwindi impenetrable forest.

You can find out more about Ann Whitford Paul and her books at .

Monday, May 23, 2016

ROME’S ANCIENT COLOSSEUM, Guest Post by Tom Scheaffer

Outer wall of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy
My brother Tom loves to travel and Italy is one of his (and my) favorite places. In December 2015 and January 2016 he went to Italy, visiting Milan, Rome, and Sicily. (See his posts of 1/25/16 and 2/1/16 for his reports on Sicily.) In Rome he visited a variety of ancient sites, including perhaps the most famous–the Colosseum (also spelled "Coliseum".) Here are some of his photos and a few facts about the Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater, gleaned from his tour.
People in the center of the photo emphasize the enormity of the structure. Part of the main floor has been reconstructed. Underneath are the ruins of the many chambers or rooms where animals and slaves were kept.

After many trips to Italy I finally visited Rome and the first place I wanted to see was the Colosseum. It is the largest of over two hundred amphitheaters built by the Romans. It took ten years to build. Its construction was ordered by the Emperor Vespasian in 70 AD and it was completed under the rule of his son, Titus, in 80 AD.
Entrance to main arena of the Colosseum
The Colosseum had a capacity of over 50,000 and spectators could watch gladiators fighting each other, executions, and demonstrations of animal hunting. It is estimated that over 400,000 people lost their lives in the Colosseum.

Top of Corinthian column
The Colosseum was built from cement and covered with marble. There was a devastating earthquake in 1349, destroying many parts of the building.  Most of the valuable materials were stripped away over the centuries to be used in other buildings in Rome. What remains today is only a fraction of the original building. Nevertheless, the Colosseum is still an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome and is one of Rome's most popular tourist attractions.
Approach to the Colosseum

Monday, May 16, 2016

MADISON, WISCONSIN: The State Capitol and Monona Terrace

Capital building, Madison, Wisconsin
The last time I used the word “isthmus” was in fourth grade geography. Then I went to Madison, Wisconsin, where the local alternative weekly newspaper is called The Isthmus after the narrow strip of land between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona where the downtown is located. (Two other lakes, Lake Waubesa and Lake Kegonsa, make Madison the “City of Four Lakes.”) The trip was partly for work, but Art and I also had time to visit with relatives, who gave us a tour of the city.
Madison is a city of parks and lakes
We started with a drive around the lakes and to a nature center. It was March, so the leaves had not yet come out on the trees, but it was a beautiful sunny day. We then went to the University of Wisconsin campus for a visit to the Student Union and a brief stop at the Wisconsin Historical Society for a look at its impressive high-ceilinged reading room.
Wisconsin Historical Society
After lunch we went to the Capitol building, with its classic architecture and beautifully decorated dome.
Looking up at the dome of the capital building
On the second floor, we stopped to have our picture taken with the statue of Robert M. La Follette, a former governor of Wisconsin and United States Senator from 1906 to 1925.
On the second floor of the capital building, posing in front of the bust of Robert M. La Follette
Our final stop was at Monona Terrace, Madison’s large community and convention center overlooking Lake Monona.
Inside Monona Terrace
It opened in 1997 but was originally conceived by architect Frank Lloyd Wright nearly sixty years ago. Although it was not constructed until long after his death, it includes elements of his original design. I had forgotten Wright’s connection with Wisconsin. Madison is just 30 miles from Taliesen, in Spring Green, Wisconsin, which was Wright’s home and studio from 1928 to his death in 1959.
Pedro E. Guerrero's photographs documented Wright's public works and private life
When Frank Lloyd Wright was 72 he met a young photographer, Pedro E. Guerrero. Guerrero had a remarkable ability to catch light and space in his pictures, perfectly reflecting Wright’s Prairie style. Pedro, known to Wright as “Pete”, spent the next twenty years photographing both the works and life of the architect. A number of these are displayed inside Monona Terrace in a fascinating permanent exhibit.
Wright's Romeo and Juliet Windmill, Spring Green, Wisconsin, photograph by Pedro Guerrero. The windmill was designed by Wright in 1897 for his aunts Jane and Nell Lloyd James who ran the Hillside Home School. In 1940, Wright installed a speaker connected to a record player to broadcast Bach and Beethoven to the apprentices working outside.
Although our visit to Madison was short, it was particularly meaningful for me because of my Midwest roots. I grew up in Minnesota, but I spent my summers in northern Wisconsin at Camp Bovey near Solon Springs. This is where I learned to love nature and watching wild animals, topics I often write about in my books. As a child I also traveled every year to Kenosha, Wisconsin, on the shore of Lake Michigan, to visit my grandparents and cousins. Wisconsin has many memories for me. Now I have some new ones.

Monday, May 9, 2016

FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT’S TALIESIN WEST – Guest Post by Caroline Hatton

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright's former office at Taliesin West in Arizona

My friend and fellow children’s book writer Caroline Hatton visited Taliesin West, outside of Phoenix, Arizona, in April of 2016.

Growing up in Paris, I first became aware of legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867‑1959) when, as a child, I saw a photo of the most famous house he designed, Fallingwater, which incorporates a waterfall. I was incurably awed. Besides the fact that I love waterfalls and woods and nature-inspired designs, I liked the deceptively simple, clean lines, and how the uncluttered look made me feel emotionally and mentally uncluttered as well, and as a result, serene and focused.

As an adult now living in California, I have yet to visit Fallingwater in Pennsylvania. But I have now visited Wright’s former winter home, Taliesin West, in Arizona.
Outside the Garden Room (living-room)
Upon arrival, I loved the complete freedom to take photos even though the tour I chose wasn’t the photography tour. The docent who led my tour was an architect, good at telling informative and entertaining anecdotes about Frank Lloyd Wright, a genius, luminary, and eccentric who led an eventful life. For example, the docent explained Wright’s theory about designing tight entrance doorways into relatively more spacious rooms, to make visitors feel compressed, then decompressed, thus making the room seem larger than it is.

What surprised me the most was that Wright and his architecture students had thrown Taliesin West together roughly and not polished its construction in detail. It had started as a campsite of canvas tents before hard tents were built, consisting of rock and concrete walls with a canvas top. The docent said that plexiglas roofs and glass windows were added only after Wright’s wife requested some way to keep out the bugs.

From what I had read in advance, I expected to see buildings reminiscent of the landscape, such as the mountains in the backdrop, and made of materials found in the desert, such as rocks. Natural light lit up the interiors through large glass windows and walls. Amazingly, the place felt contemporary, even though it was built in the 1930s.

Rooflines evoke nearby mountains
Taliesin West developed as a school campus with a private area for the Wrights. The school included an auditorium for lectures and for entertainment , a cabaret designed to enhance its stage acoustics.

Taliesin West is not a museum. Instead, to this day, it houses the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, with current students living on site to hone their craft and pursue degrees (what a life!).

Guest quarters
Out of respect for the students’ creative work, talking and photography were not allowed while walking past the drafting studio, where many were hard at work during my visit.

Drafting studio breezeway
The site is also the home of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which “exists to preserve Taliesin and Taliesin West for future generations, and to enrich society through an understanding of Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideas, architecture, and design.”

I knew about Wright’s taste for things Asian, but was surprised to see items he collected even though they were broken.

Who cares if the rider lost his head? The horse is intact!
What didn't surprise me is that I didn't like the angularities—the odd tilt of roofline angles evocative of the nearby mountains, the uneven hexagonal shape of Wright's former-office door, or the stiff-looking, uninviting living-room armchairs and dining room chairs. Yet I welcomed and appreciated this confirmation of my preference for curves. Wright did experiment with roundness with some success at other times in his creative life, for example when he designed the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

The dining room
Visiting Taliesin West was fun, interesting, and enriching. It made me want to watch again the documentary, “Frank Lloyd Wright,” by acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns. It also inspired me to unclutter my home and life, to heighten serenity and focus in my own creative pursuits.
In the garden
For more info

Find an index of Frank Lloyd Wright’s works, complete with addresses, details, and links to websites at

Consult resources for teachers and a bibliography at

Monday, May 2, 2016


Miniature glass orchestra from Murano, Italy, at the Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix, AZ
My friend and fellow children’s book writer Caroline Hatton visited the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix in April of 2016 and sent me this fascinating report along with a few of her photos.

Phoenix had long been on my list of weekend getaway destinations because I wanted to visit Taliesin West, which was the winter residence of legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. When the trip became reality, I wondered, what else is there to see or do? Online search results pointed me to the Musical Instrument Museum.
Burmese wooden string instrument
Normally I spend no more than one or two hours in a museum before I get saturated. Therefore, I was stunned by the fact that I spent three hours at the MIM and delighted by how much I enjoyed it.

Afri-can guitar made by recycling a car-engine-oil can

The museum includes the following:
- Geographic Galleries (with displays organized by continent and country)
- a Mechanical Music Gallery
- an Artist Gallery (about individual performers)
- a gallery for special exhibitions (you have to pay extra to see it)
- an Experience Gallery (where you can experience the noise made by kids pounding drums—those in the room and those in your ears)
- a Conservation Lab (where experts repair instruments)
- a Store

In the geographic area, I was most attracted to the displays about a few countries to which I have an emotional attachment based on personal history. I went straight to the exhibit on Mongolia, because my heart still lingers there, galloping on a spirited horse over the infinite steppe under the eternal blue sky, after a trip of a lifetime there less than a year ago. Like the displays on other countries, the one about Mongolia featured traditional instruments and costumes, engaging photos and paragraphs, and captivating video clips of songs, dances, and instrumental music.

Left to right: Fiddle horse heads from Inner Mongolia (China), Mongolia, and Kazakhstan
The Mongols prize their horses, so it’s no wonder they make and play a horse-head fiddle with horse hair strings called morin khuur, decorated at the top with a horse’s head sculpted out of wood, ready to get your pulse pounding with the intoxicating rhythm of hoof beats racing the wind. I looked for other horse-head instruments made by Mongols living in neighboring countries and found examples from Inner Mongolia (the part of China just south of Mongolia) and Kazakhstan (west of Mongolia).

New Zealand Maori trumpet used as a megaphone to shout insults at enemies
The world-wide diversity of instrument types, materials, designs, sounds, uses, and the emotional impact of their music on me was mind-blowing. So many things were so much fun to discover! I loved hearing Australian country singer Slim Dusty croon about his father Noisy Dan, and watching a wedding party in New Zealand perform a Maori haka (traditional ancestral war dance and cry). Other memorable examples appear in my photos.

Malaysian nose flute

I did not spend much time in galleries other than the geographic ones. The most interesting part of the Allegro Cafe, for me, was the courtyard cacti and succulents, not to eat, but to photograph.
Since I saw less than half of what the MIM offers, I’ll go back if I ever return to Phoenix. To broaden my horizons beyond horse’s heads, I’ll look for all the instruments that include horse hair as strings or decorations.