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Today would have been my Grandma Lorna Miller Hansen’s 120th birthday. She was born in 1900 and died in 2000 at one hundred years of age. I always thought of her as my Bohemian grandma. When I filled out family nationality charts in grade school, I was told that she was 100% Bohemian, which meant my dad was half Bohemian and I was a quarter Bohemian. But the reality was, she was half Bohemian and half German. So began the curiosity that sparked my new mystery, PLUM TART IRIS, which is dedicated to Grandma Hansen and her mother, my great-grandmother, Mary Eukel Miller Danielson, who we called Grandma Danny.

My Grandma Hansen is in the center.

I knew my Grandma Danny until I was a young teenager. She was very precious to me, and very proudly Bohemian. I can still remember watching her make homemade noodles, sweet dough, and kolaches. She had large, strong hands, and was famous for doing cross stitch so precisely that it was as beautiful on the backside as it was the front. When I knew her, she lived in Minnesota, next door to my Grandma Hansen in a trailer ringed in snow-on-the-mountain and Johnny Jump-Ups. When my dad was young, she lived in St. Ansgar, Iowa, where I now own a B&B and Tea House. 

My Great-Grandpa Miller died of cancer when he was a young man. My dad never knew him, so rarely spoke of him, and I never questioned but that he was Bohemian, too. When I went to live in Germany when I was twenty, no one mentioned that I was part German. I was there for three years and had no idea that I had roots in the German soil and culture. When I came home, my family fell in love with the jaegerschnitzel and homemade spaetzle noodles I prepared. When we adopted German food as our preferred holiday meal, we joked about how odd it was that we preferred it over longtime family favorites even though we had no German blood.

I should have known something was amiss, but no one in all those years had ever cooked us German food, or talked about German traditions, or even mentioned anything German.

As I got older, I finally realized that the surname Miller was not Bohemian, started to question my dad about his heritage, and found out that his Grandpa Miller was a migrant farm worker – German – who came to the Eukel farm – Bohemian – looking for work. He was hired and told he could live in the barn. They were not happy when he fell in love with their daughter. Although they married and had four children, it was evidently easy to forget his contribution to our family tree and pretend the whole episode never happened when he died.

This was my first clue that the enmity that has impacted German and Bohemian history for centuries had touched my family. My curiosity led me to research historical documents from different periods, to start plotting a book set in Bohemia, and eventually, to plan a trip to the Czech Republic where I was able to see the land from where my ancestors immigrated and learn more about my heritage.

I chose today as the release day for PLUM TART IRIS, my first Wildflowers of Bohemia Mystery, to honor my ancestors, and the secrets and surprises that are part of my heritage. What happens in Plum Tart Iris is purely fictional, but it was sparked by a fascination with my own family’s history. Whether you have a bit of Bohemian blood, a bit of German blood, both, or neither, I think you’ll enjoy taking a look at the history of two families who lived in Bohemia when World War II came to an end, and how what happened impacted the lives of the generations that followed.

CZECHIA – even the name sounds exotic – and somewhat intimidating. When we made reservations for our first two nights in Prague and the address included the words Na Hřebenkách, Hlavní město Praha, Czech Republic, I started to wonder what we were getting ourselves into.

Czech - prague

We’re almost always in Europe the last week of May and the first two weeks of June. Last year, we spent Memorial Day weekend in Scotland enjoying holiday festivities at Kelly Castle, near St. Andrews and making our second visit to the Highland Games at Blair Atholl Castle near Aberfeldy and Pitlochry. I would happily have gone back to see the soldiers and pipers marching in their kilts to the beat of Celtic drums yet again, but a new adventure beckoned.

Scot - kilts

My husband spent a week and a half in the Holy Lands in April, and in May, we made an unexpected trip to California to bury his mother. Rather than leave on another vacation right away, we decided to wait until the last week of August and the first half of September. Since we were already jarred out of our familiar pattern, we decided to go in a different direction and explore another facet of my family history – Prague and the Czech Republic.

Grandmas

I have no idea what my Bohemian Grandma (Lorna, 1900-2000, in the center) would think of me traipsing halfway around the world to see where our ancestors lived before they settled in northern Iowa, but I’m excited to explore a new part of the globe. And nervous…

Romania - Castle

Mark and I have traveled to a few other non-English speaking parts of the world, but we’ve usually had a tour guide who was fluent in the native tongue – our friend Gabriella in Germany, our daughter-in-law, Cristiana in Romania, and our cousin Helle in Denmark. I could tell you some interesting stories about our adventures in Italy, Switzerland and France, where we were clueless when it came to communicating, but I’ll save that for another day. Suffice it to say, I have good reason to be worried about the language barrier in Czechia. Mark already has a Czech phrase book and audio tape and I hear him practicing every so often… we’ll see how that goes!

Blizzard photo 2

During one of our late spring blizzards when I was holed up in one of our houses, I started perusing the map of Czech Republic for places that we might like to visit. I’m feeling a little more confident now that I can picture our route in my head and have a general idea of what we’ll get to see.

Czech - Mucha

August 28, 29 – We’ll be spending our first two days in Prague in Sector 5 exploring the paintings of Alfons Mucha, who is known for his portrayals of Slavic maidens and a series of twenty monumental canvases known as The Slav Epic. We’ll also visit Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) where we’ll see St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George’s Basilica, the Powder Tower, and the Old Royal Palace and Vladislav Hall, so big it was used to host knightly jousting tournaments. And of course, the 16th-century Royal Garden and Charles Bridge (Karlův Most).

 

August 30, 31, and Sept 1 – Brno, about 2 hours south of Prague, is our next destination.  We’ll be staying in a renovated suite in an old 1820 spa house with an outside seating restaurant adjacent to a park. We’ll be there during the International Folklore Festival, where we hope to enjoy regional music, dancing and foods. We’ll see the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, which has remnants of an 11th-century Romanesque chapel, rebuilt in the Baroque and Gothic styles, and the the 13th-century Špilberk Castle and Tugendhat Villa. We’re told the area is known for its wild “bear” garlic Czech soup. Sounds right up my alley.

Czech - Brno Old

I’m still trying to decide if I want to see the remains of some 70,000 people slain in war or killed by diseases such as the plague in medieval times between the 14th and 16th centuries at the nearby “Bone Church,” the Gothic All Saints Chapel.

 

Sept 2, 3, and 4 – We figured we’d need a little peace and quiet after the hustle bustle of a festival in the big city, so we decided to spend the next few days in the country village of Rojetin. The guesthouse where we’ll be staying is near three UNESCO Heritage Sites – the the historic and tragic Jewish Quarter in Třebíč, the star shaped pilgrimage church in Zdar, and the old town center of Telč with its Alpine style Italian Renaissance architecture. 

Czech - Austria

Sept 5 and 6 – We’ll be dipping down to stay in Niederösterreich, Austria for the next two days because all the rooms in nearby Mikulov were already booked for the annual Pálava Wine Harvest Festival. We’re looking forward to thermal spas, the idyllic wine villages of the area, music, medieval processions, dance and fencing performances, a historic market, and tasty homemade sausages and cheese.

Czech - Znojmo

All this time, we’ll still be within 2 1/2 hours of Prague. But on Sept 7, we’ll venture west to Znojmo and on to the heart of Bohemia. Our next destination, for Sept 8 and 9, is Cesky Krumlov. 

Czech - Chesky Krumlov

This town is often referred to by its old German name of Karlsbad, or Karlovy Vary . Established in 1358, Karlovy Vary has for centuries been a popular destination for Europe’s elite, from royalty like Peter the Great to famous composers and writers including Beethoven, Chopin, and Goethe. The town has 13 large springs and Neoclassical and Art Nouveau colonnades with drinking and bathing fountains. It’s also a prominent glassmaking center, and I’m already dreaming of finding a factory seconds outlet store where I can buy millions of unique Czech beads for my art projects.

Czech - Loket

The tiny medieval town of Loket, with its impressive castle and beautiful mountain views, only a half hour west, will be our home on Sept 10 and 11. 

Czech -little castle

Then, on Sept 12, we’re off to the Bohemian Alps and Jilove to spend one night in a little castle. Bohemian Switzerland is an especially picturesque region in the northwestern part of the country.

Czech - mountains

There are two national parks, Saxon Switzerland Park, which is in Germany, and its Czech sister, Ceske svycarsko National Park, on the Czech Republic’s side of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, which straddle the Elbe River. We’ll see rock castles, ravines, scenic overlooks, mountains, and arches in Bohemian Paradise (Český ráj). The region also has many old castles.

 

Sept 13, 14, 15, and 16 we’ll be in Lesany, just south of Prague, at an honest to goodness castle, where we’ll be able to get rested up before our trip home. We’ll see another famous castle, Karlstejn, and in České Budějovice, the huge white Neo-Gothic Tudor Hluboká Castle, which is said to be the most beautiful of the Czech Republic’s many castles.

Czech - Lesany Courtyard

We’ll also be near Průhonice Park, which is home to Průhonice Castle, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park includes formal gardens, wooded areas, streams, ponds, and 25 kilometers of walking paths where we can go for walks IF we can still walk by then…

Come August, I hope you’ll follow along on our adventure via the photos I post on Facebook and Instagram. (Hopefully it’s obvious, but none of the photos of Czechia were taken by me since I haven’t been there yet. ) If any of you have been to Czechia, please feel free to give advice, suggestions or helpful tips!

S - Shy Violet

Several people have asked me if I intend to write a Wildflowers of Czechia novel when I return. The answer is, probably – there are already images of a poor but fiesty gypsy girl and a wealthy Italian diplomat’s son floating around in my mind. Some of those images date back to a wedding reception I went to in 1980 when I was in Budapest, Hungary – but that’s another story…

Ireland - daisy sea

In the meantime, I’m still hard at work on Seaside Daisy, my upcoming Wildflowers of Ireland mystery. Thanks for listening!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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PLUM TART IRIS – New Release

Seaside Daisy

NEW RELEASE!

Daybreak (Sequel to Night & Day)

Night and Day

Golden Rod

Sweet William

Shy Violet

Blue Belle

Wild Rose

Thistle Down

Love Notes

Stormy Weather

Water Lily

Merry Go Round

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