Waiting For Spring…

Here in Evanston, I’m sure waitin’ on spring! I’m awful tired of wearing a big coat with all my winter trappings and sloshing around through the snow and slipping around on the ice. I want some sun on my face, I want to wear my flip-flops, I want to walk through a garden! Know what I mean?! I’m doing my best to be patient!

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In the meanwhile, I’m working on getting back on the vegan bandwagon, and let me just say that lunch was pretty delicious today! Nowadays there are so many great vegan products out there to help you craft a satisfying and healthy meal, it just takes a bit of getting used to…

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Today I had two crispy Boca vegan chicken patties topped with melty vegan Chao cheese, a spread of Vegenaise, some crisp Pete’s Living Greens lettuce, sliced yellow onion and tomatoes. On the side, celery sticks and a can of cucumber melon fizzy water by Soleil! Just some of my favorite brands when I’m eatin’ vegan!

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In other news, I moved into a new home back in early January and things are quite cozy! I’ve figured out most of the quirks and charms of my new house and Tiddo the cat has adjusted with ease. One of my favorite parts are the large vintage windows that let in so much bright light!

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When Tiddo isn’t scratching up the furniture or racing around like the road runner, he quite enjoys the windows and light too. It’s impossible to believe that he is 18 years old, which means he’s 88 in human years. Let’s just say, he doesn’t act his age!

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In my new home, there is a charming nook for my writing desk. I’m still arranging my home office just how I would like it to be, but I’m loving this quiet little alcove to write in and it gives the room a little more space with the desk set into the wall…

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My newest novel is coming along swimmingly (out early July). It is a romantic odyssey set in ancient times. The title, quite fittingly, is Ancient. Tiddo frequently offers writing advice. He thinks there should be lots of mice in the story. I’m not so sure I can fit that into the plot, but if I devise to add a plague of some sort, I suppose mice could do in place of locusts or pestilence?

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And here’s a sneak peak of the cover art for Ancient before the title and author name are set into place. The screen shot doesn’t do it justice, but it’s really attractive. I can’t wait to share the finished cover and synopsis for Ancient, as the next few months progress!

Beware The Ninja Pepper…

Hello folks! Today, I invite you to enjoy a good chuckle on my expense. After all, we all need to laugh more, it’s good for the health!

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Last night, I was perusing the produce section of my local grocer. Often there are appealing ‘ready-made’ options along with the vegetables. In past weeks, I’ve tried two kinds of stuffed portabella mushrooms from this section, filled with garlic, spinach, cheese and such. They made some rather delicious vegetarian dinners for me!

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I’d once noted some stuffed green peppers and thought I’d like to give them a go. The next time I saw them in the produce section, I was going to pick them up. A little spread of cream cheese over crisp green pepper, some cheddar sprinkled over top. They looked bright and fresh, and some melty cheese would make them even more delicious…

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Last night, I saw the peppers and snatched them up. When I got home, I heated half of the peppers up for supper, excited to try something a little different. Right when I was the hungriest for dinner and the peppers were hot, I portioned out a plate and cut a very big piece of pepper. I then forked it up, and put it into my mouth…

Now, in hindsight, I question why I didn’t realize that those peppers were not regular green peppers? They plainly looked like homemade jalapeno poppers. The peppers were long and not round. But when I opened the package, they sure smelled like fresh-cut green peppers! Was I just willing them to be what I wanted them to be?

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[Photo of the offending peppers uncooked]

So I take that first good crunch right into the mouthful and immediately understand that there has been an error. I glance down at my dinner plate, full of jalapenos, while this first bite makes me want to pass out on the kitchen floor. Call me a baby if you want, but I have no tolerance for a mouthful of jalapeno. I’m now in Hades and my nose and eyes are starting to run. But then something even crazier happens…

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No lie, I went deaf. I was still standing there trying to swallow the first bite, and all of the sudden my hearing goes from normal, to as though wads of thick cotton were in my ears. I’m underwater, and all the background noise is muffled out. I was of course too distressed over the fire in my mouth to be much concerned with my hearing, but the sensation of deafness was memorable…

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“My ears feel funny! Do they look normal to you?”

It took about 20 seconds for my hearing to return, just as I was frantically dumping the steaming peppers into the trash and running for kleenex. Dinner was foiled! Ninja peppers! Sneak attack! You tricked me!

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“Guys? Guys! I can’t hear anything! Where’d everybody go?”

Once fully recovered and munching on an alternative meal choice, I knew I had to look this up. Temporary deafness from eating a hot pepper? I certainly couldn’t be the only one.

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Turns out, I’m not. “Could Spicy Foods Cause Temporary Deafness?” By Hearing Wellness was an enlightening article. Granted, sounds like digesting some of the world’s hottest peppers would more likely cause such a thing. But just a shout out to otolaryngologists…I didn’t eat a Ghost, Viper, Reaper or Komodo Dragon pepper, just a wimpy Jalapeno, and it happened to me

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“Get it out! Just get the hot pepper OUT!”

*An otolaryngologist is an ear, nose and throat doctor. I learned how to pronounce that word here.

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To summarize the article, there are two theories. Either nerves are temporarily affected, or mucus buildup (which rushes in to save you from the burn) is the cause. If I were to take a good guess, it felt to me like some nerves went berserk!

*Berserk: Violently or destructively frenzied; wild; crazed; deranged. (Dictionary.com)

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“I’d rather eat this table than another jalapeno!”

Yikes! But you know, let’s just say this was karma. For, once upon a time when I was a kid (but old enough to know better), I told a much younger cousin to take a big bite of a pepper from our grandma’s garden. I told her it was not the hot kind, even though I knew that it was. Yes, even nice girls play not so nice (albeit harmless) jokes for a giggle! When the poor mite bit into the pepper and began to cry, grandma scolded me knowingly, but I claimed innocence. Naughty indeed! Well, I received my comeuppance…

 

Stitching Through Time…Appreciating Your Wonderful Talents!

My Grandma Novak, now in her 90s, has spent a lifetime developing a skill that in current days, is rather uncommon…

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She is a master embroiderer, an artist of cross-stitch…

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She’s learned every technique, using every sort of thread, bead and pattern…

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She worked in the quaintest of stitch shops for some years, offering advice and assistance to others learning and practicing the craft…

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She attended events for embroidery, entered her fine works and won awards for her special pieces…

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I’ve viewed her stitching, hung around her house, all of my life. I even tried my hand at cross-stitching once and had a little fun with it, though the bug didn’t bite me (this art form requires a very particular, loving patience)…

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As I recently snapped a few photos at Grandma’s, I got up-close to some of her works and was awed. I was awed at my grandma’s hard-earned talent, but also for everyone out there who works to learn and perfect an art over the years…

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I got to pondering, how often do we wonder what it’s truly worth, concerning our individual passions and talents? I mean, who will ever really see and appreciate those things we work hard at? You might spend hundreds of hours practicing or producing something that hardly gets but a fleeting premier out in the world. I sometimes think that way about my books…

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But I guess when I thought about it, I truly felt that if you love what you are doing, you must enjoy every moment of it, no matter who may ever deeply appreciate what you’ve accomplished. Sew, knit, dance, write, sing, cook, plant, bake, click your camera, marathon, draw, create…Stay Inspired…enjoy your passions and pursuits, for you.

But just in case we ever feel that our special talents are hardly appreciated, I’m certain that we’re wrong. You inspire someone else, right now! Of course, no one can truly grasp the time and hardship it took to do what you do, except you. But others do see and admire what you do and make in this world…I promise!

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 Grandma Novak, your stitching is the most special in the world. Mom, you are a true artist with a beautiful imagination and your costumery is incredible. Grandma Ina, your garden is alive with color and bounty because of your caring hands, and you’ll always be the best cook I know. Charlie, your drum solos are amazing and your commitment to music and percussion is awesome. Dad, your master creations in the garage are truly extraordinary.

Thank you for inspiring, me.

To Travel, To Eat!

I’ve discovered that I really enjoy culinary travel series. You know how folks get caught up binge watching their favorite tv programs? Well, I’ve got to say that I’ve been swept away with several shows that focus on cooking and trekking the globe. Primarily because they combine two of my favorite things, eating and seeing new places. If you’re as nuts as I am for travel and food, you may want to check these out…

Somebody Feed Phil is a Netflix original. I consider this show to be vibrant, cheerful and upbeat. The host Phil Rosenthal is hilarious. You’ll definitely enjoy a few good chuckles! Some of the destinations are Saigon, Lisbon and Mexico City, just to name a few. If you’re looking for an entertaining food program, I highly recommend this one!

Another food-travel show that I highly recommend is Ainsley Eats The Streets. I like Ainsley Harriott’s zeal for trying culturally important street food from around the world. He also creates dishes along the way, inspired by the places he visits, places like Iceland, Istanbul and Barbados. His sideways glances at the camera when something he’s ordered isn’t so tasty, will make you grimace and laugh. Great show!

Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, and Parts Unknown are both excellent travel programs with more than you’d expect on the menu. More than just new food in new destinations, these shows dig deeper into history and culture, giving you new perspectives of our world. They are each sprawling shows that take you anywhere you’d ever imagined. I find this host grittier and more serious than the others, but so are many of the themes. Endlessly traveling to so many far-flung corners of the globe, must have proved difficult for everyone involved in production. These shows deserve some serious credit!

Happy eating! Safe travels! Stay Inspired!

My Herb Kit: A Poem

Oh goodness, oh my! A package for me! From a dear thoughtful cousin, oh what could it be?

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A housewarming gift! Something special, I know. Oh where are the scissors, let’s not open this slow!

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Such a festive bag, and one special note too! Shall we see what’s inside? Oh yes, let’s do!

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Tiddo, my Tiddo! Is it something real good? Something you might like to nibble, even if I won’t like that you should?

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Oh heavens! Oh my! It’s just what I need! Some fresh bright herbs, how delightful indeed!

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There’s basil and chives, parsley and cilantro too. I’ll always have fresh greens on hand to use!

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Thank you to my cousin, you really are so kind! Stay tuned as I plant, much green in my kitchen we will soon find!

All you need is a rice cooker and some imagination…

As the proverb goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Nothing was truer last night when I made a complete meal, all in my rice cooker! Now why would I do that? Well, I moved two weeks ago and suddenly realized I was without a microwave, toaster, or an oven that I deemed safe enough to use until it was replaced. It is quite an older model and I’m not taking any chances fussing with gas, pilot lights and matches…

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I never knew how much one could miss a hot meal until I had no appliance to procure one. Especially as it is winter. Of course, there’s always the temporary fix of ordering a meal for delivery, like the Chinese takeout I enjoyed one evening. But delivery isn’t often the healthy choice, nor is it economical for regular meals. Further, how would I reheat any leftovers?! I’ll be having a new oven installed soon, but in the meanwhile, I needed to make a hot meal for myself, no matter how simple. But how?

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As I was considering how I might get away with lighting a bonfire on the public sidewalk to roast up a medieval feast (seriously needing a hot meal that isn’t pizza delivery), I thought I vaguely remembered that the rice cooker my mom bought me some years back mentioned ‘steamer’ on the box. Hmmm, could I steam up a meal in my rice cooker?! Could I make, salmon? What I wouldn’t do for a piece of fish!

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So as the snow fell last night, dark and chilly out of doors, I remained cozy while experimenting with my Black & Decker rice cooker. I placed a piece of salmon on the steamer dish that I found (never used) in the rice cooker box, poured some water into the pot, put on the lid and eagerly awaited the outcome…

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How disappointed I would be if the experiment failed! How I kept my fingers crossed! But one of the pictures on the rice cooker box showed shrimp being steamed. If you could steam shrimp, why not salmon?

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Meanwhile, I poured some peas and beans into a mini tin. I was hungry. Couldn’t I steam up some sides too?

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I plunked them in…

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And then put the salmon back on top to keep warm…

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The result was a delicious hot meal, simple in every way, but wonderful to me. The salmon was perfectly cooked and very tasty! I grinned mightily with my cleverness as I left not a bean or pea on my plate! This meal was frugal too, $3.99 for the salmon, $1.25 for the beans and $.99 for the peas. Less than $6.25 for dinner! Ha-ha-HA!

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Thank you to my mama for this rice cooker! She bought it for me when I’d mentioned how terrible I was at cooking a proper pot of rice. A rice cooker took care of that, perfect rice every time. Tonight, I’m going to attempt some other experiment! A baked potato? Steamed rice and veggies? Perhaps a hot bowl of soup? The sky is my limit now! Me and the Black & Decker are best buds forever!

What should I make? Stay inspired folks!

A Cat’s First Love In Winter…

Tiddo the cat loves lots of things. He loves me, and I love him…very, very much. He loves the good food, fresh water, and crunchy nibbles I amply supply. He loves watching out the window for birds and chipmunks. He loves his cozy nooks, and scratching his sharp claws into the furniture with abandon (even though that’s naughty)…

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Tiddo loves his toys, and a good chew on his plush little duckie from time to time…remember demise of the duckie?

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But in winter, as anyone who owns a cat is sure to know, there is one thing that is favored above all else…even above you, the kitty crunchies, and those playful toys with bells and strings…

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It’s fondly called, the radiator. Particularly, that coveted spot on the floor just two inches away from the face of searing hot metal. While there, not even a pinch of cat nip could tempt a kitty away!

Happy winter folks! Stay warm, stay inspired! Love your pets, and spoil them often!

Delicious Mushroom Toasties, And Some Decadent Bruschetta Too!

As you might recall, I consider myself the Mad Hatter of toasties. I’ll put almost anything on a piece of bread and throw it into the oven for a good crisping up. Especially on a freezing winter night! I’d had a craving recently for some mushrooms, and thought to make a creamy pasta dish with them. But instead, I made the most delicious toasties imaginable…

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First I sautéed red onions and a bit of fresh minced garlic in a wee drizzle of olive oil and Earth Balance vegan butter, low heat, stirring frequently until they were cooked and soft. Add extra olive oil if more moisture is needed…

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I then tossed in chopped mushrooms, the common white button variety, and splashed in balsamic vinegar. I’m crazy for the sweet tang of reduced balsamic, and toss my veggies in balsamic in the skillet all the time. It will burn though (which tastes terribly icky), so again, low heat while tossing often. Let those veggies soak in the flavor and allow the balsamic to steam out its bitterness…

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Top pieces of Italian bread with this colorful, flavorful, appetizingly-smelling concoction and sprinkle on sea salt and pepper. Try not to spoon it all into your mouth directly, because that can happen. Place into the oven until the bread crisps up and the whole house (not just the kitchen) smells like Heaven…

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Or, if it is a sub-zero winter evening, dark out at only 4:30 p.m., and you can’t pass up that half-tub of parmesan shavings calling your name from the fridge, do what I did and pour liberally, your mouth watering as you await the cheesy melt. Vegans, look away…

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I spent a little more prep time on these toasties to allow the onions, garlic and mushrooms to really cook down and get flavorful. It was worth babysitting the pan, for they were absolutely amazing. Very inexpensive to make, vegan if you don’t add cheese, a hearty vegetarian dinner if you do. Add some simple mixed greens to the side, and a magnificent meal awaits you!

And now for the most sinful bruschetta on the planet…

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What are you trying to do to me Maggiano’s?! My life will never be the same…

Maggiano’s Little Italy is a Chicago-born Italian restaurant that you can now find across the U.S. They are known for large portions and their warmly-lit, family-style dining rooms. I’ve always enjoyed eating there, and especially love their salads. Their house dressing is dreamy (and so is a basketful of their soft bread if you please)…

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While recently enjoying Maggiano’s salads to-go, some of their new ‘bruschetta bar’ options were given a try, and holy cow. I now sometimes dream about what you see on this plate above. I literally picture these bites and salivate at random times of the day. The to-go order has been repeated, more than once. Each bite of bruschetta a transcendence into the realm of the ever-pleased tastebud. You can peruse the menu here, but be sure to try it for yourself if you spot a Maggiano’s. Truly decadent and delicious!

What’s cookin’ in your kitchen? What’s your favorite take-out lately? Happy eating!

Welcome 2018! Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to each and every one of you! May your 2018 be filled with good health, happiness, love, laughter and light…

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My very best wishes that you’ll stay inspired in this new year! Keep your nose to your goals, and you can achieve your special hopes. Most importantly, don’t forget to look for the beauty and wonder that can be found all around you in each new day! God Bless!

The Angel In Your Midst

My newest novel (I’ll be releasing the cover and title soon), is a romantic odyssey that takes place in ancient days. I’ve been enjoying the research more than I can say. Research is truly one of my greatest joys and I’m having a blast learning what life was like while the ancient Egyptians were building their pyramids…

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I hadn’t a clue that this would happen, but the novel inexplicably began to saturate some Biblical stories into the weave. It just felt right. Now, I’m certainly no Biblical scholar, but I have read the Bible through several times (completely through…even every verse of ‘who begat who’ which I thought would go on forever and ever)…

In any case, my mind is now buzzing with both the ancient past, and a sprinkling of Bible passages that have left me both awed and haunted…

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Consider for a moment, angels. There’s a verse that has made my eyes grow wide with wonder every time I think of it, for some years past. I think with the holidays in full swing, and all the goodwill that it is about, this verse is quite applicable to the current season…

[KJV: Hebrews 13:1-2]  Let Brotherly Love Continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

Think about that for a second…

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A few years back, I participated in a Sunday morning Bible study that spoke on this verse particularly. The main question posed, was whether it was safe to entertain strangers in these times? Just being charitable to a stranger in public on the street, can sometimes feel dangerous. I understand these feelings, though I absolutely believe that Biblical times and our current times are equally scary in their ways. For instance…

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Let us pretend for a moment that it is long, long ago. A wayfarer knocks on your door in the middle of the night, a stranger calling out in need. You quickly light an oil lamp, your family scurries behind you in confusion and trepidation as you consider what to do. Could you admit entrance to a stranger into your humble dwelling, to eat amongst your loved ones, to partake of your meager staples with those ever looming threats of plunder or worse, that were so frequent? Man, you had to be pretty brave (or be housing a brood of burly sons with fast and sharp daggers)!

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I haven’t the answer to ‘entertaining strangers’, whether now or then, except that I believe we must all remain charitable, while doing our best to remain safe.

But let us consider that part about angels. While writing this week, I deeply pondered these words from Hebrews. I find them both fascinating and terrifying. Could you imagine such a powerful creature of God sitting before you in a soup kitchen, while you helped to prepare and serve a meal for them? They all the while, appearing as a downtrodden, regular person?!

My brain just broke…

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My first thought is that I’m quite humbled by God’s reminder to be charitable, for I don’t consider myself charitable enough. Further, would I fail such a test if God sent an angel in disguise before my path? This verse challenges my bravery, my willingness to give, and my personal judgements about my fellow man. Humbled, humbled, humbled am I…

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Second, the angels in the Bible aren’t quite like those cute chubby cherubs or prettily robed ladies in white that might come to mind. If I’d later discovered that the man asking for a dollar on the street had been an angel in disguise, I’d certainly fall to my knees in trembles, cry my eyes out, and potentially go mute for a month. Angels are mighty creatures that serve God, and I have to admit that I’d be mighty terrified to have been in the midst of one…just saying…

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Now it is not exactly comparable (particularly owing to the spiritual component of angels), but it might feel a little like the reaction you’d experience if aliens landed on earth tomorrow, and one approached you in your backyard. My guess would be that anyone would be quite terrified. Encountering a being not of this earth would likely challenge your ability to remain standing…

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But all of this to say (and whether or not you yourself believe in angels or aliens), this verse inspired my writing and excited my thoughts. How would my ancient characters react to the presence of an angel? How can I be more charitable today? What if I have been in the presence of an angel before, and didn’t even know it!? Just a little fun for thought! Every time I spy an angel topper at the height of a Christmas tree this season, I’ll be cautiously glancing around me for secret angels in my midst…

Stay charitable folks! Happy holidays, love yourself, love your neighbors, stay inspired!

Lovin’ That! Grandma’s Slaw In 5 Minutes

So many of the best things I’ve ever eaten came from my Grandma Ina’s kitchen. We spent a lot of time together when I was young, so I got to eat a lot of her wonderful cooking. Whipped mashed potatoes, meatloaf with sweet ketchup glaze, bbq ribs, rhubarb pie, zucchini casserole. I admit that I didn’t appreciate her stuffed green peppers the way I would today (cooked peppers were a bit bitter as a kid), or her garden salads straight from the garden with fresh-made dressing shaken up (I’d love that now…but I was young). But one of my favorites will forever be her coleslaw, which I fondly just call slaw

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Grandma Ina took this photo from her kitchen window. That’s me! I was reading a book on the swing. Probably Anne of Green Gables. Perhaps a Choose Your Own Adventure. Obsessed with books. Still am! Wonder if Grandma was making some slaw in that kitchen when she snapped that photo?

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Now, my grandma moved down to Southern Illinois some years ago (where she was originally born). She lives in a renovated one room school house (I have to tell everyone this because I think it’s neat), with an outhouse out back (no, it’s not in service…but I’m sure a snake lives in there). She’s loving life in the countryside, just as she did living here up north in the countryside. But I digress…what is to be done with grandma so far away all this time and no access to her slaw?! I guess a gal has got to put on her big-girl breeches and make her own!

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I’ve made it now a great many times. However, I’ve gotten quick about it. This gal does not have time to finely chop up a head of green and a head of purple cabbage (and carrots too!). Time draining, and makes your hands turn purple. And anyway, I recall grandma using a coarse chop in the blender with just a head of green cabbage for her slaw, so I feel quite ok with using shortcuts!

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After previous chopping toil, I now buy the precut package of slaw at the grocery. No chopping at all! Chopping is torture! Don’t do that to yourself, unless you find the act of an hour of chopping cabbage relaxing…

In a bowl, mix a few heaping tablespoons of mayo (vegan or regular) with a splash of milk (almond or regular), a pinch of salt and a ton of pepper. In my opinion, you can’t have too much pepper. It can’t be possible in slaw…unheard of.

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Mix up the dressing with a wire whisk to make sure there are no clumps, then pour over the slaw and stir well. I find that a little dressing goes a long way, even in a big bowl of sliced cabbage…

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Cover in wrap (but maybe sprinkle on some more pepper first). Then let settle in the fridge for a bit (slaw tastes even better the next day). This process takes all of 5 minutes, and makes multiple helpings. I like to bring this dish anywhere I’m invited. The fresh crunch compliments most any meal, and cabbage is good for ya’…

This recipe isn’t exactly grandma’s, but it is just as simple and almost as delicious, and makes me think of her. Lovin’ That!

May Your Days Be Merry And Bright! And some special giveaways!

Hello, hello! I hope that each and every one of you is feeling healthy, happy and inspired today! There was a lovely snowfall here in Evanston last night, which is making a cup of coffee and the view from the window quite cozy this morning…

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I attended a special holiday craft fair this week, a private event for the employees of a local science and technology park. It was such a festive, pleasant experience! There was holiday music playing, sparkly Christmas trees, friendly crafters and cheerful attendees. I believe a book or two might make it into a Christmas stocking!

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And speaking of stockings, Christmas is fast approaching. If you’re looking for a special gift for a youth…there’s nothing better than a book. Keep those kiddos reading, it’s good for ’em! Please consider one of my enchanting adventures this season to put under your tree…

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And now for some special giveaways! First up, this beautiful, hand-knitted pull-over cape/cowl by Andi Bilek of Kitten Crochet of Milwaukee, WI. There is a wondrous shop at the Bristol Renaissance Faire called Tangled Fibres, premiering Andi’s talents in knit. Before I had my own shop The Quill and Brush, and could spend the day perusing the shops, I purchased some lovely items from Tangled Fibres

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Take for instance these mustard, fingerless knitted gloves that I wear constantly when the weather turns wintery…

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And this delightful knitted throw that keeps me and Tiddo the cat nice and cozy…

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But I haven’t worn this knitted cape/cowl, and don’t think that it’s polite to keep it any longer just to look at. It should be worn and enjoyed by another knit-loving lady! Andi’s capes/cowls on Kitten Crochet run for about $165. Worth every hand-made penny! Gorgeous pieces! She makes other charming items too, be sure to check out her site…

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To enter to win this knitted piece, please make a comment below and tell us what your current joy of the season is. Peppermint lattes, holiday movies, festive radio tunes, visits with friends and family? What’s your wintery delight? I’ll choose one winner randomly one week from today, on Saturday December 16th, 10am Chicago time. Good luck you lovers of knit…

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As for my second giveaway today, 3 signed copies of my historic-fiction thriller Veleno are up for grabs on Goodreads. Enter for your chance to win by January 2nd, 2018. Here is the link, good luck!

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Here’s wishing you peace and good cheer, and all things merry and bright this season, wherever in the world you may be. Here is to your best health and happiness! God bless us all!

That Mummy You Didn’t Know Existed

While in the midst of writing my newest novel (to be released in July 2018), a romantic odyssey that takes place in ancient days, I’m experiencing the usual excitement that I feel when researching a bazillion fun facts that make my stories historically more believable. Researching is a very big part of my writing. It’s a good thing I’m nuts about it! You wouldn’t begin to believe some of the crazy things I’ve learned while ‘digging in a little deeper’…

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That brings me to the creepy thing I recently learned, that I kind of wish I could unlearn, because it gives me the heebie-jeebies. Of course, a romantic odyssey in ancient days must have some mummies, right? As I always say, nothing screams romance more than a frightening scene or two, filled with tombs and all that sleeps within them!

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So…there is more than one kind of mummy in the world. Types of mummies isn’t something that I’ve ever really thought about, mainly because the Egyptian variety are the most widely spoken of. And oh, how I’ve always loved to see the exhibit at The Field Museum titled Inside Ancient Egypt. I’ve visited it since I was a kid!

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What types of mummies are there? Well, there are the kind that people intentionally make, and then there are those that nature makes. Anthropogenic and Spontaneous. The ancient Egyptians made anthropogenic mummies by taking great care to preserve their elite after death. They painstakingly tended to the bodies and provided them with incredible resting places filled with goods to keep them in comfort in the afterlife…

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[Photo Credit: Sven Rosborn]

But then you have the spontaneous mummies, like the hapless folks who fell into acidic bogs a few thousand years ago, and were preserved by nature. Look at how amazing Tollund Man from the 4th century BC looks! He was uncovered in a bog in Denmark. But in spite of his restful repose, this man met with a very sad end. He did not fall into the bog. He’d been hung by a rope, and then left in the bog. Further, evidence seems to indicate that he’d not been hung for a crime, but that he’d been sacrificed…yikes!

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[Photo Source: Pedro Groover]

I’m horrified every time I stumble over history about human sacrifices. Take for example this perfectly preserved young girl. La Doncella above, was just 15 years old. She is also a spontaneous mummy. Around 1500, in an Incan religious ritual, three children were drugged with coca and alcohol and left to freeze to death in the Andes mountains. After exposure to the elements, they were placed in a tomb, where they each died in their sleep. The particular climate of the region was the key to the children’s preservation (not people). Even every tiny braided strand in this girl’s hair are still perfect. Those poor little souls…

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There are also a great many cases of mummification that fall somewhere in the middle, both anthropogenic and spontaneous. For instance, family taking some steps to preserve the body of a loved one, and then the conditions of the burial place doing its part to keep the body in good condition as well. The air quality and dirt makeup inside a cavernous crypt beneath the alter of an ancient church, for instance, might be a good place for that…

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But let us speak of another kind of mummy. The kind that when I learned about it, quite frightened me. First however, revisit what an ascetic is. An ascetic is one who for religious reasons, either denies themselves the pleasures in life (rich food, fine things, companionship, etc.) or goes even so far as to hurt themselves intentionally as a method of denial and lack of pleasure (whipping oneself, for instance)…

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Now, even though I could never deny myself a good meal or basic comforts on purpose, I can definitely see the beauty in living a simpler life intentionally, so as to focus on something higher and more important than the need to acquire more in this life. As they say, you can’t take it with you! But I digress…

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Of course, hurting oneself as a method of denial and discipline..no way! Can’t fathom it. But as for that unique set of mummies I spoke of, they go much farther than simply denial or pain. It is called SokushinbutsuFrom the 1000’s through the 1800’s, Buddhist monks in Northern Japan sometimes chose to mummify themselves. By denying oneself regular food, and eating only small portions of natural things that do not induce weight gain (tree resin, pine needles, etc.), the body would become thin, all fat decimated…

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Months, and sometimes years of denial in this way, while dedicating life to meditation, yielded a starved body. Eventually, also denying the body water was introduced, and the body became dehydrated…organs would shrivel, skin would grow dry, muscle cramping would be extreme…

I drink approximately a gallon and a quarter (or more) of water a day…this sounds like a horror story!

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Now, we can all guess where this story leads. After a time of this, the body gives up. But all the while, the monk remains in his sitting meditation state while chanting, until death occurs. Because of what the monk’s body endured, it is preserved. Such a long duration of minimal fat intake and dehydration = self-induced mummification. A form of anthropogenic mummification, on yourself. These mummies can still be viewed today. You can see them in their temple settings here

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There is mention of monks sipping poisonous tea (to keep their bodies from decay after death), or monks allowing themselves to be holed up in a tight space with only a straw extending out from the space to breath from, and many other terrible things. Such denial, such loneliness, such agonies! I’d have died of terror before the poisonous tea and dehydration got me! This form of suicide was banned in the early 20th century…

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Now, I must note that some Buddhists continue to revere those ascetics that died in this way and are preserved in this fashion. Therefore, though I personally cannot comprehend it, I must allow that it is considered a sacred act by some. But oh, I’m sorry for those monks! My 13th century self would have snuck those monks some big bowls of rice and vegetables, and begged them not to carry through with their plan!

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So there are your mummy fun facts for the day folks, because I know how eager you were to learn all of this. And now that you’ve learned it, you can’t unlearn it, just like me!

…back to writing my ancient tale. Stay inspired folks!

Stabbed By A Pencil, More Than One…

If you laugh a bit as you read this post, I wouldn’t blame you. As a matter of fact, I might laugh myself if my arm weren’t so sore. After all, when people meet with silly mishaps, I sometimes giggle (as long as they aren’t seriously injured of course). If I fall down, believe me, I’ll be the first to laugh…

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Evanston had its first snow yesterday morning, which reminds me of one mishap that I keenly remember giggling over when I was little. My grandma once told a story about her father (my great-grandfather). In the story, it was a freezing snowy day, and he was walking a distance. Great-grandpa had his hands in his pockets for warmth. He slipped in the snow and fell forward. Frantically, he tried to pull his hands out of his pockets, but he couldn’t pull out his hands in time and fell face first…

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Oh my goodness! I was itty when I heard that tale. And grandma told it more than once. Great-grandpa received a good scraping up, but I’ll guess he wasn’t worse for wear…he was an able-bodied farmer that likely’d had more than one such scramble in his life! What made me laugh so hard that I was in tears? Grandma’s description of great-grandpa trying withal to pull his hand out of his pockets as the snow came closer and closer while he stumbled. Oh heavens!

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So what happened to me two afternoons ago? Well, I’d cleared off my desk for some serious work. I’ve got books to wrap for next weekend’s participation in one awesome holiday extravaganza, and some documents to review that just needed a blank space to look over clearly. My supplies were in the way. So, I set my desk items just next to my desk, atop a plastic bin…

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I’d ripped up some paper and tossed it toward the trash, but one little scrap didn’t make it into the garbage bag (hanging over said plastic bin). So, I reached over the plastic bin to retrieve that errant piece of paper, which had floated to the carpet. I was immediately met with a fierce, fiery pain in my bare arm. Holy cow! Pencil stabbing to the extreme

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So, I’m a writer. I have a cup of super-sharp pencils. About ten in total, sharp as sharp, ready to scribble. I keep the points up so that I don’t dull or break the tips. I’ve now learned that this is a serious mistake. Sort of like the common sense law of put-your-knives-upside-down-in-the-dishwasher-cutlery-holder-so-you-don’t-reach-in-and-stab-yourself…

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Oh my word…I pulled up my arm and two pencils were dangling from my flesh. These weren’t the only pencils to stab me, but they’d gone the deepest and remained clinging to my skin. What was my first terrible thought? Tend to the wounds quicklylead poisoning

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I pulled out the pencils in a way that was reminiscent of pulling arrows out of one’s arm while under attack, and ran to the bathroom. Holy beans, I was bleeding pretty good from one of the punctures (which mind you was clearly blackened from the metallic tip of the pencil). I rubbed and washed out the wounds, poured antiseptic over them, swiped antibacterial cream, and then bandaged up. Now, being the researcher I am, I had to look this up. Stabbed by pencils…what’s my risk? Lead poisoning? Blood poisoning?

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Ok…let’s preface my reaction. First, somewhere sometime when I was a child, some educator must have frightened my classroom with threats of lead poisoning if we didn’t stop chewing on our pencils, or if we were contemplating poking one another with one. Second, I research history all of the time, and sadly, many a person in the past met with trouble over the smallest, mundane injury. That’s why my sweet Martinella in Veleno succumbs to a little nick of a knife in the palazzo kitchen after it causes her some long suffering. Of course, we have blessed antibiotics today, but how surreal would it be to go to the emergency room because a pencil stab-wound got infected?

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Further, my father (one tough, decades-long metal fabricator and foreman) once got a metal sliver in his finger that would easily have taken his life from the terrible infection that ensued, had it not been for antibiotics and modern doctoring. The incident was serious. In history, such happenings weren’t so uncommon, and they didn’t end well. Though I don’t freak out over minor injuries, let’s just say I keep watch over my cuts…

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So what fun fact did I discover? Yes, in the past lead was involved in the construction of pencils, putting people at continual risk for poisoning. However today, pencils aren’t poisonous. Though a puncture wound is a wound and should still be monitored, the likelihood of something nasty happening because of a pencil is likely to be rare indeed. (Tell that to my throbbing arm…when I pulled the pencils out, it looked like a vampire had sunk his fangs into my arm.)

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Back in ancient times, sticks of lead were used for drawing and writing. But as far as pencils go in later times, it wasn’t the internal source of the pencil that was dangerous (graphite), it was the outer source. That paint on the outside of pencils once contained lead. And well, sometimes the wee ones enjoyed chewing on pencils as they studiously contemplated their school work. Even handling a lead pencil each day, would have had its threats to health…

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Just thought I’d share this interesting information with you, just in case you inexplicably (like me) believed your life was in danger around a pencil. But all jokes aside, turn your sharp pencils upside down in their holders (and any other sharp objects in your home that are the wrong side up for that matter). Because, you never know when you’ll meet with a freak incident like mine! Why didn’t I learn this lesson in grade school? “Walk with your scissors facing down, children.” Believe me, you don’t want to know what it feels like to meet with such sharp points…

Rock on friends…stay healthy, stay happy, stay inspired! Beware of sharp objects. Have a good laugh on my account. Carry on…

If you buy books on Amazon, keep reading…This is Nuts!

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Today I want to share something that I find curious, but also very icky. I think you might raise a brow yourself. Especially if like me, you purchase books on Amazon. Keep reading, this is nuts…

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Here’s the story. As many of you know, I’m a writer of tales. My books are sold on Amazon (as are most any author’s). I set the price for my books, and all of my short fairy tales and adventures (12 in total) are $9.95, plus tax and shipping. I make a small royalty on each book sold, my reward for my work, and a blessing to my income. As you see above is the ‘real’ listing for my book, The Fairy Woods

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As an author, I only make a royalty if ‘you the buyer’ purchase the full-priced copy for $9.95, straight from Amazon. But as you see above, there are other copies for sale. Those copies are from other sellers (not Amazon), who having acquired a copy of my book (usually used) can name their own price. I do not receive royalties for those copies (only the seller makes a profit because I would have received my royalty when the copy was originally purchased)…

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That’s cool. My complaint here isn’t with used book sellers. We have a free market, and selling used books rather than creating waste by only purchasing ‘new’ ones is good! In fact, most of the books I own and purchase from Amazon myself, are used. And any copies of my tales that make their way back out into the world, makes me happy!

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So what is the reason for this post? What do I find so quizzical? Look above.

GoldieLoxBooks here has taken an image of my book, and put up their own listing of The Fairy Woods on Amazon. Their post is completely disconnected from the one that is associated to my book (the one where you can see my listed price for $9.95, and those others who are selling it for less/used). GoldieLoxBooks has listed The Fairy Woods for $2,796.00, just a used-good copy no less…

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I have to tell you that this makes me feel as fierce as my sun dragon in Dragons At Dawn! Roar!!!! I noticed this phenomenon with the release of my first book, Venice. One day I unexpectedly spied that a seller was attempting to sell a copy of Venice for its weight in gold. I immediately dialed up and asked an Amazon affiliated representative, how such a scam was conceivable?! This must be illegal, right?! Apparently not. And they could do nothing to remove such a listing. If someone wants to resell one of my $9.95 fairy tales for hundreds of dollars, seems they can do so…

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Now I know you might be saying, “But who in their right mind would actually buy this book at such an excessive price?” Seems silly, right? But my question in return would be, “If it didn’t work from time to time, why are there so many listings for used books at such wild prices?” Occasionally a buyer might be remiss when they add a book to their cart, overlooking the price. Could you imagine being billed hundreds for a kid’s book, after your kiddo was picking out books on your Amazon account?!

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I don’t know much more. I haven’t reached out to GoldieLoxBooks or any other seller trying to offer one of my books for an excessive amount, to ask how it’s going for them. I wish I could believe that it was an ‘accident’ on the lister’s behalf. But I see it so frequently, that I question believing it to be an error. I’m guessing they have some irate customers demanding refunds. I wonder what the fine print on their return policies might be?

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Why, look at these book vendors selling my Once Upon A Star for $45.61 each! Oh my word…

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I’m shocked by this for the sake of reputation and propriety. It feels icky that any of my tales would be listed in such a way, and that any seller would use one of my books (or any other author’s) to take advantage of a buyer. But I can’t do much more than grow some thicker skin, and warn those who buy books online that there’s some nefarious looking listings out there! Beware…

Would love to hear your comments on this!

Come Say Hello At The Holiday Fair Extravaganza in Skokie, Illinois!

Hello, hello! The holidays are coming! Once Halloween passes this Tuesday, every store will be filled to the brim with decorations and everything to fill your gift list. Jingle Bells will be playing on the radio and those warm and fuzzy commercials tempting you to buy, buy, buy, will begin. Oh my!

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I always love the sparkle and the meaningful themes that this season is truly about. But don’t you feel like the holidays always come too fast and then are over in a flash? If only we could enjoy the merriment a little more, without all of life’s constant hustle and bustle, and stress. That is my wish to you, that you’ll enjoy this season to the absolute fullest, surrounded by friends and loved ones!

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I wanted to share a special event, with hopes that you’ll come by to see me! Just a few weeks away, I’ll have a table for book signing at the Holiday Fair Extravaganza in Skokie, IL. The event will take place at the Weber Leisure Center and supports local crafters and artists. Taking place on Saturday, November 18th from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., there will be lots of handmade fare, hot drinks and baked treats! Good ole’ holiday craft fair fun to start the season out in the most cheerful way!

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I just had a sudden craving for some peppermint bark and a raspberry linzer cookie (or five). Linzer cookkieeessss…..mmmmm….nom, nom, nom. I digress…

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My books will be available for purchase, with hopes that some of my tales will make it into a stocking or two, inspiring some winter reading and adventure! I may or may not be wearing an ‘ugly Christmas sweater’ for my own amusement…

If you live in the Chicagoland area, I sincerely hope to see you there! Click here to see a list of my works, with many more harrowing adventures to come!

My very best wishes to you from the very start of this season of goodwill and cheer!

Lovin’ That! Pete’s Living Greens

What’s next on my list of Lovin’ That!? Pete’s Living Greens. Some of you might remember when I got really sick with food poison back in January. I’d thought I’d gone to Hades and back, in such misery was I. The culprit was prepackaged lettuce, the kind that comes in a plastic tub. Usually it’s prewashed and it is of course, convenient. That’s why I liked buying it…

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Unfortunately, it can also be very dangerous to your health. Please check out my previous post, Prepackaged Lettuce, Let Us Not! After that terrible incident, I’d been making the effort to regularly purchase a fresh head of lettuce, to rinse and chop up myself. But I have to say, that too has had its frustrations. You bring it home in a thin plastic bag and it’s already moist (because they mist veggies with water in their display at the grocery), and so it goes bad just as quickly. If you take it out of the bag and put it back into the fridge, it wilts immediately. Argh!

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As a vegetarian…and now what I’d like to call a 98% vegan, I eat a lot of greens. I can’t have that fresh lettuce going south in one or two days. And I’m tired of wasting money! What to do?

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Introducing Pete’s Living Greens (and yes, I like to match the color of my drinking straws to the color on my soda water cans…I’ve gotta be me). Pete’s Living Greens do come in a plastic tub, but it is different

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It is plucked out of the dirt with the roots attached, neither precut nor prewashed. The label claims you get seven extra days of freshness because of the roots. I eat my lettuce far faster than seven days, so I can’t attest. However, I am very satisfied with Pete’s Living Greens. It stays bright, fresh, crisp, until I’ve eaten it all. Not one leaf going to waste. Lovin’ That!

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There’s very little moisture in the package, just a tiny bit of condensation. I pluck off as many or few leaves as I wish, and let the rest of the lettuce remain attached to its roots. Voila! Fresh lettuce for days. And affordable too! This head (which was much larger before I ate half of it) cost about $3.50…and remember, not a leaf goes into the trash. Finally, my lettuce woes have been solved!

*Pete’s Living Greens did not fund my lettuce eats. All opinions of lettuce love are my own!

Gobble, gobble! Go gobble your greens! Stay healthy, stay happy, stay inspired!

Patty Cake, Patty Cake…Poom!

As I was writing today, and studiously researching a few random facts of history, somehow my groundwork efforts led me to Dansons La Capucine by Parole De Chat. What’s that? It’s the most hilarious cat video, by the most clever makers of comical cat videos. Since they posted this particular work of brilliance back in 2012, I’ve watched it many times, and every time I enjoy a good laugh. I felt compelled to share it with you…

This isn’t their only video. They’ve made quite a few, each as funny as the next. This following video Miroirs & Chats made me laugh so hard today that I had to use half a box of kleenex to wipe away tears of laughter. I suggest watching it a few times, so that you can catch all of the priceless commentary…

Of course, we have a number of entertaining felines to thank for these giggles. Cats being cats, they’re awesome! But I must say, the guys who make Parole De Chat have a talent for comical narration that is be hard to beat!

Here’s to loving and respecting our animal friends, and also wishing you many laughs and smiles today! 

Veleno Giveaway on Goodreads!

There is currently a special giveaway on Goodreads for your chance to win one of three signed copies of Veleno, sent straight from my desk to you! The giveaway ends on Halloween at midnight…

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There once was a great Venetian palace. The name of which, everyone did know. Inside its walls dwelled an esteemed noble family. All revere, ’tis the House of Orso!

Its patriarch, a rich and powerful merchant. With a wife very clever, such a beautiful sight. His daughters, four, a precious gift. How unfortunate now, each should meet their plight…

Orso dead? Perhaps by plague! Mirella turned strange, a widow made.

Fina gone, for a courtesan’s life. Noemi must escape, or make a woeful wife. Mafalda will rise in a cold, cruel pit. Paola sent off to a nunnery, might lose her wits.

Venice’s year, 1575. Pestilence arrives, Venetians fear for their lives! But in Orso’s house, strong daughters were made. Yet can courage be enough, to escape the grave?

To check out my Goodreads author page, click here! For your chance to enter the Veleno giveaway on Goodreads, head here! Good luck and happy reading!

Lovin’ That! Soul Vegan Lasagna

Next on my list of Lovin’ That! is Soul Vegan’s vegan lasagna! Soul Vegan is a wonder food provider in Chicago that makes the most amazing, healthy, tasty dishes…

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Even as a vegetarian, I indulged in their lasagna regularly. They sell pre-packaged slices, wraps and full meals at the Whole Foods in my area, and according to their website, they also provide for the local Mariano’s…

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The first reasons why I love this lasagna is that it’s delivered to the store very freshly made, is only chilled (not frozen), and provides a perfect portion size that doesn’t leave me hungry…

Further, I like meals that can be thrown together quickly. I get home, slide two or three bake dishes into the oven, and done. Especially on a chilly, dark night! (I’m not a fan of microwaves when I can help it. I prefer putting a few things into the oven and stepping away to relax before supper). When I return to the oven, voila! The perfect meal!

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I also love this lasagna because someone else made it (lasagna takes quite a bit of time to make). I enjoy it further because it’s a healthier version of this dish. But most especially, I love it because it tastes AMAZING. I prefer this delicious slice to any lasagna I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. It’s so good, I could eat it every day. I even served it to handsome and he said, “Mmmm, this is better than real lasagna.” That’s coming from a meat eater…

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What I also really like is Soul Vegan’s message. Love life. Live life. Care about your community. Lovin’ That! You can check out their values and offerings here. If you are in Chicagoland, be on the lookout for Soul Vegan’s delicious meals. Try this lasagna and tell me it isn’t simply divine!

*Soul Vegan did not fund my obsession with their crazy awesome lasagna. I stumbled on these addictive slices all on my own! All opinions are mine, all mine.

Love Life, Live Life! Stay healthy! Stay Inspired!

Not Your Usual Ghost Stories

In Evanston today, the weather is finally kicking into autumnal gear. There’s a chilly rain, the sky is dismal and the leaves are falling. My coffee pot just finished brewing and I’m ready to write…about something creepy. Bwa-ha-ha! With Halloween fast approaching, I thought it would be fun to share some spooky reads as I’ve done before [Halloween Treats For All]…

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I must first preface that I’m intrigued by reading people’s allegedly true accounts of their paranormal experiences. Do you like to scare the crap out of yourself like me? Then besides one of these reads, I suggest watching some episodes of Paranormal Witness. That show will have you sleeping with the lights on…

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And because I’m curious for reading accounts of people’s strange experiences, it’s had a little impact on my writing. My new thriller Veleno (which takes place during Venice’s plague of 1575) contains a few paranormal moments. These moments take place when a character is in extreme peril. Thus, I played with the question…was their experience real, or was it the mind’s reaction to stress?

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I was inspired in part by the spooky things people say have actually happened to them…

My dad and I regularly exchange books by snail mail. We also occasionally amuse ourselves with conversations about ghosts, Bigfoot, tales of coincidence, etc. It was a conversation about strange coincidences that had him send me a book about police accounts of the paranormal. The book was True Police Stories of the Strange and Unexplained by retired detective sergeant Ingrid Dean…

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I’m going to tell you frankly, these are scary accounts that are unique to paranormal stories. Why? Because police and emergency technicians are the first to arrive at the scenes where bad things have, or are about to, happen. They are also often out on patrol in the middle of the night, having to inspect strange calls. After reading Ms. Dean’s compilation of accounts, not only was I both a bit frightened and perplexed, but I’d gained an even greater respect for those who keep our community safe…

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Having found these accounts so unique, I decided to also read Cops’ True Stories of the Paranormal: Ghosts, UFO’s and Other Shivers by Loren Christensen. Yikes! I was terribly jumpy after reading this one…

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Take for example the first account…

Two police officers are on a high speed chase. The man they are following refuses to pull over and is driving recklessly. When entering a road tunnel, this man sadly loses control of his vehicle and crashes. The police pull up behind the wrecked vehicle just in time to see the man climb out of his driver’s side window and run down the tunnel. The police chase the man on foot for a distance. But then, the man disappears. Where did he go? The police search, no trace of the man. They return to the crashed vehicle only to discover that the man never left his car. He’s still behind the wheel, having passed away on impact. And yet, two officers witnessed him hopping out and running

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That gave me something to think about.

My view is that both of these books are for mature readers because they deal with some perilous happenings. With that being said, they both remained reverent when explaining real life situations. These accounts focus on the strange things police saw and experienced, rather than on people’s misfortunes.

These were not your usual ghost stories. Let’s just say, I’m glad I’m not an officer called out to investigate strange goings on in a desolate field in the middle of the night…

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I am also very glad that I’m not a truck driver out driving in the middle of the night…

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Since the police accounts were not your average ‘what goes bump in the night’ stories, I figured truckers probably see some strange things too. They do. No thanks!

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Imagine having to drive through dark, vast, desolate roadways for a living. All alone. Tired and lonesome. Keeping an eye out for deer, coyotes, or the rare hitchhiker. But wait…perhaps you’re not as alone as you think? Have fun reading Trucker Ghost Stories edited by Annie Wilder. Yikes! Super yikes!

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My dad just sent me this one. Ghost Ships of the Great Lakes by Dwight Boyer. He said after I read this book, I’d never look out over the lake in the same way again. I live just a few blocks away from the often turbulent waters of Lake Michigan, just north of Chicago.

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I would only suggest such a read if you are nutty for history, and for maritime history in particular. I read several of the historic accounts, and they are not so much ghostly as they are mysterious. Hundreds of ships have gone missing on America’s Great Lakes over the centuries, and the stories surrounding some of these vanishings definitely gave me the heebie-jeebies…

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You learn of the real people who were sailing, the wild storms and the dangerous feats they endured, and the strange facts surrounding their disappearances. I simply can’t imagine it. I could never be a sailor. They were beyond brave.

I admit that if I’m down near the lake on a stormy day, I now might look twice for any mysterious vessels floating by in the distance…

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Now if you’re inclined to give your brain a good shaking up, which apparently I do, there’s a few unique books out there about folks’ near death experiences, and of the doctors and scientists who are either working to support or debunk such claims. I’ve just picked up My Time in Heaven by Richard Sigmund, but have not read it yet. I have read Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences by Jeffrey Long & Paul Perry however, and it definitely offered me lots to contemplate…

Mind boggling. It’s all mind boggling…

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I can’t finish my brief list of the paranormal, strange, spectacular, spooky and harrowing without mentioning Spook: Science Tackles The Afterlife by Mary Roach. Mary Roach is one of my absolute favorite authors. I’ve reviewed some of her other books here and here. This book takes a scientific view of life after death by reviewing those people, past or present, who have used experimentation to answer, What happens when we pass on? I recommend Ms. Roach’s books because she makes difficult science digestible, and is terribly hilarious and clever. Spook is not only entertaining and informative, but it will also have you looking over your shoulder for ghosts…yikes!

*Disclaimer: Be sure to read these books with all of the lights on. After reading, watch a Disney movie and sing along to the happy songs, so that you aren’t too frightened when it’s time to turn the lights off and go to bed.

The Blessing Of A Friend’s Garden

I’d set aside today as a strict writing day and nothing was going to pry me away from my desk, nothing! I’m working on my newest novel, a romantic odyssey set in ancient days, and the perilous passages were just ready to spill from my fingertips (because I’ve decided a romance needs lots of peril). But then I got a text from a girlfriend across town. I brought the garden for you today!!

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My friend doesn’t have a garden. These greens actually come from her friend’s garden. My friend is house sitting and some greens were just calling to be picked and eaten before they went to waste. And if anybody has any extra greens, I’m all too happy to eat them. Granted, I finished the chapter I was working on before I hopped in my car to zoom across town…

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I was gifted with a bag of lettuce, Swiss chard, dill, rosemary, chives and itty bitty tomatoes. Life is good! Have you ever sauteed Swiss chard with a little olive oil and garlic? Takes 2 minutes and tastes heavenly

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Tiddo the cat was checking out the herbs before I even knew he was in the kitchen with me. He wanted to see if the greens were some of that fresh catnip I nab from neighbors’ front lawns from time to time…

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Earlier in the week, this said friend also gave me some zucchini from said garden. Tonight, it took me all of 10 minutes to prepare supper. I made a vegetable tian with one zucchini, some Campari tomatoes I had on hand, and the fragrant rosemary. Drizzled over a little olive oil, sea salt and balsamic. It’s in the oven now…

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Rinsed the Swiss chard, plucked off the veiny tough stems, and will toss in the skillet just before the tian is ready (it wilts like a side of steamed spinach, but tastier)…

Goodness is it a blessing to have a friend with a friend who has a garden!

Stay inspired, eat your veggies, show someone you care!

Lovin’ That! Mercato At Starbucks

I’ve always gotten a kick out of reading other bloggers’ favorite things lists. Lists such as my favorite beauty products, or my favorite places to get a donut, or here’s what I got for for Christmas this year, or my list of best food trucks ever! I guess it’s entertaining to see the spectacular diversity in what others cherish and enjoy. These lists are always colorful, amusing, lighthearted and often informative…

So, I’m starting a new string of posts called Lovin’ That! to share some of my favorite things with you!

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First up, Mercato At Starbucks. Mercato is a new lunch menu that Starbucks recently launched in Chicago and Seattle. Now, I usually don’t stop at Starbucks because I make my own coffee each morning. But occasionally when I’ve run out of grounds and I’m in a hurry, I stop to treat myself on the go…

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That’s what happened a few weeks ago, and while waiting in line, I spotted what looked like some pretty tasty salads. I snatched up a cauliflower tabbouleh side salad with vegan written clear on the label and decided to try it for lunch. It was delicious and very healthy. I wondered if there was another salad that might be vegan too? Well, if you don’t indulge in the little cup of creamy salad dressing served with the green goddess avocado salad, then you’re good to go! A second green and healthy favorite on the menu!

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The point of their new menu serves two purposes. One, adding lots of tasty variety, including lovely looking sandwiches. Their roasted turkey and dill havarti sandwich sounds dreamy, along with everything else. Starbucks planned delicious new items that covered a variety of tastes and dietary considerations. Lovin’ That! But the second part of this menu, is that Starbucks donates all leftovers at the end of the evening to the hungry. Lovin’ That!

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The Mercato menu is a tasty step up from their past on the go lunch offerings, are made fresh daily, and any extras are given to those in need. Even though I don’t frequent Starbucks, as someone trying to eat a plant-based diet, I was very happy to find something that I could grab on the quick when I’m out and about. Eating vegan is tricky. It’s hard to find fresh, fast options. If you’re not in Chicago or Seattle, I hope they extend this to a city near you, so you can try it too!

*Starbucks did not fund my eats on the go. All opinions are my own.

Rock on friends…stay happy, stay healthy, stay inspired!

Holy Beets And Brussels Sprouts!

Hands down, the best plant-based meal I’ve eaten of late was at one of our local favorites, Roka Akor in Skokie. This Japanese grill smells heavenly, the ambiance is always hip and relaxing, the service is excellent, and the food is ever amazing…

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The amuse-bouche was a beet puree topped with a hint of greens. I’m nuts for beets, so I was very pleased to start the meal with this flavorful spoon. I could have eaten a bowl of this…

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Handsome started his meal with tender grilled scallops. I’ve had them before at Roka and know just how exquisite they are. Though my chopsticks did not sneak across the table to steal one this time, I was very tempted…

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The amuse-bouche had me wanting more beets, so I started the meal out by going to town on this salad. Not an almond sliver, or carrot shred, or beet medallion was left on that plate. Isn’t this dish so colorful? I could eat this fresh salad every day…

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For the meal, I ordered up the mushroom hotpot. Inside this cooking vessel above, the metal of which is inadvisable to touch due to its lava-like temperature, a steaming mushroom and rice mixture awaited. As our server dished out a bowl for me and a bowl for my date, I secretly wanted to snatch up both bowls. NO sharing the mushroom hotpot…mine, all MINE! Ha-ha-HA!

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I also had grilled vegetable maki with broccoli and sweet potatoes. You could taste the grill on those potatoes…

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Handsome ate a lobster. It was pre-cracked to display the most succulent morsels of meat for ease of eating. Though I did not partake, it was another temptation. I envisioned a snatch and run. My partner would later find me in the parking lot, broken lobster claws scattered around my feet, a crazed look in my eyes, not a single bite of lobster meat left…

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But I did not exact my shellfish fantasy, and instead inhaled a plate full of Brussels sprouts. The marinade on these sprouts rocked my taste buds! These sprouts also had a hint of seafood flavor to them. Ethereally thin bonito flakes (a Japanese tuna) were lightly sprinkled over the top. Definitely not a plant-based topper…oops!

Another fresh and savory meal at Roka, with plenty of options for this veggie lover! The smell alone coming off that Robata grill keeps us ever coming back for more. Holy beets and Brussels sprouts!

Sometimes Satisfying, Sometimes Not!

As I wrote in my last post, I am working on acclimating myself to being the best gobbler of greens I can be (aka, mostly vegan). I’ve been a vegetarian for some years, and am now trying to cut out more animal products, and eat even more plant-based foods…

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After 5 weeks, I wish I could say that I feel amazing (light as a feather and as glowing as Eve of the garden), but I don’t. To be honest though, I think that’s probably because this gal needs to get her booty to the swimming pool for some swim aerobics and stretching in the therapy pool. Let’s get these muscles moving! Where’s my goggles?

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As for my food adventures, I’m finding that some meals are quite satisfying, and some are not. Yesterday, I threw a quick lunch together using some leftover dinner veggies. Corn, asparagus, onions and vegan *cheese* shreds made for some ‘interesting’ veggie tacos that turned out to be quite blah. Thank goodness I’d packed some cruciferous crunch to accompany them. Radishes saved the day!

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I am proud however, that I used up my leftovers and stuck to a vegan lunch. I have to remember that not every meal I eat is going to rock my palate, especially when I’m experimenting with new veggie concoctions…

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But ooh, did I have a delicious meal at Terra & Vine in Evanston last week! We sat out alfresco, the weather being unusually warm for this time of year. Even where we sat for dinner, being close to dusk and in the shade, I was amply glowing from the heat (not perspiring, only dudes do that)…

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I’d perused the menu online in advance (a gobbler of greens needs to know what their options will be…though I also generally just enjoy salivating over menus). I was quite pleased to see a section title for Vegan (as well as Vegetarian). I thought that was quite thoughtful! But when we sat down at our table and I looked over the paper menu, those choices were missing. I asked the waiter about it. Unfortunately, they’d discontinued those particular menu options. Aww man!

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But very kindly, the server said that the kitchen could absolutely prepare the pasta dish I’d had a hankering for. Yea! In most restaurants, it’s not too hard to make menu choices (without becoming a terribly annoying, picky diner). For many dishes, just asking for no cheese or sauce does the trick (or on the side if you’re sharing). Now, I did try a bite of blue cheese on the salad, and a bit of aioli on the artichokes, toppers that weren’t vegan. But I’d usually have covered and slathered every fork-full of my meal in cheese and creamy sauce. So, let us just say I successfully reined in the cheese monster that lives inside me…

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I might have eyed that cheesy dish across the table with a bit of longing, but in the end, was 100% satisfied limiting my non-vegan intake. I mean, pasta and fried artichokes…what’s there to miss?

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All of this to say, whether you’re cooking at home, or dining out, eating mostly plant-based can occasionally be a gamble on taste. It’s also not easy to always make healthier choices. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. That’s ok.

As for me, I’m excited to keep experimenting, keep cooking, and keep playing with the menus I’m sitting to. And if a meal doesn’t turn out to be all that satisfying, well there’s always another one around the bend! Now If I could just find my swimming goggles…

I am the Gobbler of Greens!

Nope. I’m not making a public declaration that I’m a vegan, and I’ll tell you why at the end of this post. But I’ve read a lot of books, and watched a lot of health documentaries, and after being a vegetarian (and aspiring vegan) for 6 years, I’m leaning harder in that lifestyle direction. It’s what I think is best for me

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Do I enjoy eating meat, dairy, eggs and seafood? I love it. I could plant myself next to a cheese tray for hours (and I have). I think my grandma’s meatloaf, buttery mashed potatoes, and homemade coleslaw slathered in mayo is a dish sent from Heaven. My mom’s fried egg sandwiches…omg. I’ll devour plates of all-you-can-eat steaming crab legs drowned in drawn butter, and then steal the crab legs out of your hands and make a run for it. I love it…I love it all

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But I think as a general rule, eating my fruits, nuts, grains and veggies, while skipping the animal-based products, is the lifestyle choice for me. Thankfully, I’ve always loved veggies, or else this would be a bit tricky. I’ve got my grandma’s garden while growing up to thank especially for that…

If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch the newest documentary focused on the correlation between poor health and what we’re eating, I greatly encourage you to watch What The Health. It is a film that I believe everyone should see, if only to open up more thought, and dialogue, about the Western diet and our food industry. It is currently available on Netflix…

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For me, eating vegan means not only trying to eat all plant-based, pure, whole foods. But also that I should try to avoid the ‘processed’ stuff (vegan or no) more often than not. For instance, Oreos are vegan, and I like them. Especially the mint ones. But I’m not going to make a habit of snacking on them…

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With that being said, it can’t be helped to crave and want to ‘replace’ the animal-based foods I’ve always enjoyed. I personally would find the vegan diet difficult to sustain without a few veggie protein (fake meat and cheese) tricks up my sleeve!

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So, I’m sharing with you what I made for lunch today. I was craving a classic BLT. I haven’t eaten a ‘real’ BLT sandwich in who knows how long, but I will never stop liking them. The vegan BLT I was planning turned into an even more magical sandwich, because I couldn’t stop dragging everything out of the fridge…

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Toasted Italian bread, Earth Balance organic/vegan mayo, sliced red onion, tomato, a dash of pepper…

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Heinz natural yellow mustard, Lightlife vegan veggie bacon strips (oh yes they get crispy in the pan), lettuce…

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Next, a few slices of Chao vegan ‘cheese’. This is some wonderful stuff. ‘Coconut herb with black pepper’ or ‘creamy original’ (munster anyone?) or ‘tomato cayenne’. These slices make a sandwich or veggie burger sing! I’m pretty sure they punch a few itty holes into the slices on purpose to make you believe you’re eating Swiss cheese. I’m convinced…

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My mouth was watering as I layered up this sandwich, and the kitchen suspiciously smelled like I’d really just made up a skillet of crispy, sizzling bacon…

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I think the key for me to eating vegan, and in eating as healthy as I can generally, is to learn how to cook plant-based meals that I enjoy (and that won’t leave me feeling deprived). As I continue on in this lifestyle choice, I want to learn lots of things. I want to learn how to make my own vegan meatloaf (out of lentils). I want to simply take joy in a roasted veggie pizza (learning to be just as happy without that thick layer of cheese I so adore). I’m even going to try and make my own sour cream (out of cashews) to plop over my veggie fajitas! The sky is the limit, and I’m having fun!

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But why did I say that I’m not making a public declaration that I’m a vegan? Well, I’m going to be open and honest…

If you see me eating alfresco oceanside in Massachusetts, I’m pretty sure I’ll be in a faint over the world’s freshest lobster roll. Or, if you spot me sitting aside the lagoon in Venezia, I very well may be intaking a generous plate of fruitti di mare. And if I ever find myself in the Swiss Alps, it is highly possible I will try a nibble (or two) of every local cheese available…

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And on Christmas Eve, I just can’t promise that I won’t be devouring crab legs and drawn butter with my folks. It’s become a special tradition. And…well…I’m not sure I can live the rest of my life without crab legs…

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But generally speaking, I’m going to do my best to remain the best gobbler of greens that I can be, and that’s a good enough goal for me!

Best wishes friends! Stay healthy, stay happy, stay you, stay inspired!

A Hawk’s Tale…And one fine striped tail it is!

For years now, there has been an elusive winged creature out back. I’d thought I’d seen a large hawk dozens of times, but it was so fast that I could never get a really good look…

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It’s not like when one flies across an open country road and perches for all to see on top of a telephone post. Our backyard abuts a dozen other backyards, all wooded, gardened and spectacularly green, so a bird, even a large one, can stay camouflaged…

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Earlier this summer, I’d gotten a pretty good look at it swooping over the alleyway between houses. And then last week, I was witness to it swooping down to try to snag a squirrel off a tree. No lie. The squirrel was a bit too big and skittish for the hawk to grab, but it was a gutsy attempt and certainly left my eyes round with surprise! The squirrel proceeded to squall in shock for about half an hour, (to the displeasure of my sensitive ears), an acorn still clutched in its mouth, completely unharmed but scared out of its wits…

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So, I’m making coffee this morning and looking out into the sunny backyard. I see something! Is it what I think it is? Is it the bird! I tear off up the stairs faster than Tiddo the cat on one of his running rampages, snatch up my camera and fly over to my bedroom window. First time I really saw it as not just a flash of wings, but as a sedentary creature! And let me tell you, it’s a big one. Larger than I thought. He (or she) is living off of chipmunk, bird, bunny and squirrel meat. These backyards are no slim pickings for this fierce hunter…

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Can anyone take a guess at what I’ve got? Perusing the pages of my North American bird book, it looks like it might be a Cooper’s Hawk, but I’d love your input! I’ve definitely been hearing a hawk’s strong kak-kak-kaking call all summer long. (You can listen to a voice recording of a Cooper’s Hawk on its wikipedia page here). Cooper’s Hawks are uncommon, live in wooded areas, and are newly removed from the Illinois endangered species list!

Giveaways & Shout-outs! Let’s have some fun!

Hello, hello! I hope that you are well and happy in every way today! Mondays aren’t most people’s favorite, so I thought we could have some fun! How about we start with some giveaways?!

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There are two giveaways taking place right now for your chance to win a copy of Veleno, my newest tale, one creepy thriller filled with lots of surprises…Bwa-ha-haaaa!

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For your chance to win 1 of 5 copies on Amazon, click here to check out the giveaway. The Amazon giveaway ends tonight at midnight, so hurry!

For your chance to win 1 of 3 signed copies straight from my hand through Goodreads, click here to check out the giveaway! The Goodreads giveaway ends on September 26th (next Tuesday) at midnight.

Please share these giveaways, and spread the fun!

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The 2017 Bristol Renaissance Faire season has sadly come to an end, but we had such a wonderful season thanks to each and every one of you who visited us at our tented shop, The Quill and Brush. My folks and I can’t wait to see you all again in 2018 for our 3rd Bristol season! Huzzah!

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And for some more fun on this Monday, I just want to send out some shout-outs!

Hey Once Upon a Time Book Club! Thank you for sharing Veleno! I sincerely hope you enjoyed the read…my favorite part is the ending. Eeekkk!

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Thank you for recommending my books, and I hope the granddaughters are enjoying The Itty Bitty Littles, Princess Liliana and the Dragon, The Fairy Woods and A Magical Kingdom. May their reading time be filled with magic and delight…

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I also want to say thank you to Newton’s Travels, a charming family travel blog! There is nothing I love so much as travel, so sites like these are always an inspiration. Angie of Newton’s Travels wrote a charming review of the Bristol Renaissance Faire and shared a snippet about my books! With all there is to see and do at Bristol, I smiled ear to ear for this special mention above. Thank you Angie! Check out her post about Bristol here

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I also want to send a shout-out to fellow authoress, Danielle E. Shipley. Not only is she a prolific writer of fantasy and adventure tales, but also one truly creative and charismatic individual. Ms. Shipley read aloud some of my back covers so entertainingly at Bristol, that I wanted to read my own stories all over again. Too fun! Be sure to check out this local Chicago author’s books!

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I also wanted to share with you all today that my Goodreads author page, and Amazon author page are live! Please ‘follow’ if you’d like word of my new publications, or to see what books I’m reading and reviewing, etc. I am also accepting ‘author questions’ on Goodreads in case you feel like quizzing my brain!

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And one last shout-out…thank you to all of the readers that have come back to my little shop the last two summers to give me feedback and inspiration. Thank you to all the readers who sent an email or letter, to tell me what you thought about one of my stories, warming my heart. And thank you to each reader who wrote a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Those reviews are a precious gift to me as a writer, and keep me inspired! Please keep the reviews coming!

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I’ve just begun my newest novel, a romantic odyssey based in ancient times. My mind is already caught up in a place very far away, from very long ago. The research (one of my favorite parts about writing historical fiction) is already breaking my brain. Love it! A harrowing, swoon-worthy adventure is in the works. I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

Stay well, stay happy, stay inspired!

A Cicada’s Ethereal Birth Part II.

Just last week, for the very first time, I witnessed a cicada hatching out of its beetle-like shell and spreading its wings. I was completely awed by the event, so small, yet so precious. You can check it out here!

Ever since then, I admit that I’ve been keenly eyeing that patch of dirt and shrubbery pot for another event. Where one cicada crawls up from the earth, perhaps there will be others. And last night, there was!

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Though I wish my photos had come out clearer, it is still easy to see how beautiful the creature’s wings are. This time, the cicada had not climbed so high on the potted plant, and emerged not from a split in its back, but from a splitting in the shell on top of its head…

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This one did not ‘vibrate’ and flutter like last week’s cicada, and was much smaller too. I wondered if this one wasn’t a female, and last week’s a larger male, but who knows? This one just looked like a girl…I mean, don’t you see her batting her infinitesimal eyelashes? Awww

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I must say, they unfurl those delicate little coils of tissue into incredible wings within a very fast period of time! Perhaps half an hour, and then clutch to their perch until those soft appendages are dried and hard. Here, her dainty sea-green legs cling to her shell, which she will soon abandon as she takes for the skies.

I’m patting my eyes with a kleenex. Aren’t you?

Don’t forget the lovely giveaway coming up this Friday for one of three pretty pieces of art! For more on the giveaway, and to enter a comment for your chance to win, click here!

A Spirited Tune!

I wanted to share this lively tune of the Renaissance, captured at the Bristol Renaissance Faire in 2015. May it put a smile on your face and a hop in your step today!

Only one final weekend left of the 2017 Bristol season, but it includes three days over the Labor Day weekend to make merry! Be sure to stop by The Quill and Brush on King’s Landing!

Also, don’t forget the giveaway here on Inspired By Venice! This Friday, three of Lita’s cheery floral basket prints, regularly on display at The Quill and Brush, will be given away! To check out the giveaway and enter for your chance to win, click here!

C’mon Little Dude, Let’s Get Outside!

Me: “Oh my goodness! What are you doing here? Caterpillars belong outside! Are you ok?

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Caterpillar: “Ahhhh! Lady, don’t hurt me!” (Curls into a little fuzzy ball).

Me: “Don’t worry! You’re safe now. Let me help you!

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Caterpillar: “Terrible! Just terrible! I crawled under the door and got lost!” (Rolls over, flailing all 10 legs).

Me: “Oh my! And what happened to half your fuzzy black eyebrows on your round red head? Seems you lost a few?

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Caterpillar: “I don’t remember! It’s all been a terrible blur.

Me: “Well how about we get you back outside then? C’mon, lets go!

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Caterpillar: “Thank you, thank you! I’d never have found my way outta here!

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Me: “Ok, hang on little dude. We’re almost there.

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Caterpillar: “I can smell the fresh air! I can see the green! Hurry!

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Me: “Here you go! And it’s just rained too. You must be thirsty, drink from a drop!

Caterpillar: “Oh blessed leaf! Oh quenching rain! Oh beautiful birdsong! I am home again.

Me: “But wait! Grant me one single wish, fuzzy caterpillar.

Caterpillar: “But what can I do? I’m just the littlest of the littles!?

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Live, and become the beautiful moth you were meant to be.

What did I find? The caterpillar of the White-Marked Tussock Moth. May his metamorphosis yield the strong, wondrous creature he was meant to be…even if he might be missing a few eyebrows!

Stay Inspired Friends!

LOVING This Show!

As everyone else seems to these days, I’m quite enjoying the plethora of new t.v. series available! I’ve always been more of a movie lover, and have hardly watched a stitch of television over the years, but with so many imaginative, vibrant, creative series lately, I admit that Netflix has lured me into a few programs. What am I loving?

Hands down, the BBC’s new series, Versailles. It just about broke my brain into a million pieces with its first season. Wow. Too good for words. It is brilliantly made, absolutely stunning and really powerful. The last episode of season one moved me to big dollopy tears, so crushing was the story. Watch this program and be instantly transported into Louis XIV of France’s dreamy yet dangerous court at Versailles!

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery was one of the first books I ever fell in love with as a child. Anne was so smart, willful, and imaginative, as well I loved the healthy farm setting, the rural school house, and Anne and Diana’s (bosom buddies) adventures. The movie adaptations, staring Megan Follows, also held me captivated for quite a chunk of my childhood. Season One of the new series Anne With An E, has captivated me once again! Actress Amybeth McNulty’s performance of Anne is genuine and impressive. Do watch this trailer!

What else am I loving? When Calls the Heart is delightful! A young woman of high society named Elizabeth Thatcher takes on the role of school teacher in a remote coal mining town. Her adventures are abundant, and actress Erin Krakow plays the part with utter charm. This program fills my heart for its themes of community, caring, perseverance and love. If you are interested in a wholesome program, this one will have you hooked!

I’ve also much enjoyed Reign, a series surrounding Mary Queen of Scots. Historically accurate? Heck no! A dazzling, pretty, adventurous, entertaining show? Yup. Actress Adelaide Kane plays Mary Stuart with strength and grace, and all her courtly ladies master their girly yet willful characters. I think this series is fun! Further, actress Megan Follows (from the original Anne Of Green Gables movies) plays Queen Catherine de’ Medici, and puts on one witty and powerful performance!

I’ve only seen the first season of Downton Abbey and I’ve not even spied one single minute of Game of Thrones. But with so many entertaining new series, what can I say?

What are your current favorites?

A Cicada’s Ethereal Birth

Only on account of my one and only super-human power (my bizarre knack for spotting insects), I spied a movement in the dirt yesterday near dusk and had to take a closer look. At first it appeared to be something like a May Beetle (June Bug), but was not dark enough in color. I then knew right away that it must be a cicada just come up from the ground…

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I bent down and oh so carefully picked up the little creature. He stretched his legs a bit in surprise, but seemed hardly bothered. I guessed that he must be a little sleepy, after living underground for so long. For as cicadas, they might live a few years, or even 13 or 17 below the dirt before emerging! I inspected his transparent tan shell and could see that there was a beautiful green below its surface. How long would it take for this insect to hatch out of his skeleton and fly free?

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Gingerly setting him back down just where I had found him, I spied nearby, what looked like a little hole where he’d surely just burrowed out from. The cicada dawdled on his way, right up to a planter, and began to climb. At his own pace, he’d gotten to a good place and height, and then took hold beneath the lip at the top of the planter…

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At this point, I imagined that he’d just sit there all night, and that I would see nothing of his metamorphose. But I was wrong. I wouldn’t call it trembling, more like vibrating. At intervals, he appeared to vibrate his way out of a slit on the back of his shell. His folded wings looked like swirled sea shells, sea-green and peach in color. He vibrated these coiled wings again and again until they unfurled…

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His skeleton soon fell to the ground, and my heart was singing to behold such a beautiful creature. All in all, from his emerging from the ground to his fully transforming from his shell, took about an hour and a half. I don’t know how long he clung there, for I’m sure his wings needed to dry and solidify before taking flight…

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Though cicadas are a big part of summer here, their song accompanying each moment of these long hot days, and though I’ve found a great many discarded skeletons, and see quite a few adult cicadas flying around…this was the first time I’d ever seen one emerge from its shell. The moment was magical. Tears were nearly pooling in my eyes, and I whispered to myself, What a beautiful creature God has made.

I’m a softie for bugs. What can I say?

A Basket Full Of Flowers Giveaway!

Today is the day! The day for a giveaway! Why? Just because! Because summer is still as light and lovely as ever in these parts! Because the world is green and the flowers are full. And though the cool nights and autumn weather are fast approaching, today’s giveaway will have you ever reminded of the joys of summer!

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This pretty little piece is a print from one of my artist mother Lita’s paintings. Her precious works accompany my adventures at The Quill And Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire!

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Her nature and fantasy designs always delight and inspire on a festival day! How the kiddos light up when they see her drawings of fairies and dragons!

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Today we are giving away three of these sweet little prints, size 5 by 7 inches. They are perfectly delightful to brighten any nook, desktop or bedside table. Put the art in a glass frame, or set it out just as it is. This pretty basket will make you smile!

To enter for your chance to win one of three of these delightful prints by Lita, simply leave a comment below sharing one of your favorite parts about summer. Is it the flowers? The swimming? The barbecues? The festivals? Three winners will be randomly selected on Friday September 1st at 6pm, Chicago time, and announced here!

Here’s to the beauty and bounty of summer, and to your enjoying every moment you can of it!

The Merriest of the Merry!

I captured this video on the closing day of the 2015 Bristol Renaissance Faire season, while standing just outside the gates. When I watch it, my heart is filled with joy! The singing, the dancing, the frolicking, the laughter, the happiness, the merriment…

And this is just one reason of many, for why I love this festival so much. I wanted to share this inspiring scene with you. I hope it makes you smile!

West With The Night

A great joy I take in reading, is in being exposed to completely new perspectives. Of course, all books give you new thoughts, but not all make you deeply ponder things you’ve never thought about before, or places that you have never experienced…

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My father and I regularly exchange books via snail mail. Always wrapped up tight in a square of recycled paper grocery bag, I smile every time a new used book arrives in my mailbox. One of the most recent was West With The Night by Beryl Markham, a book that Ernest Hemingway claimed was so well written, that it put all other writers (including himself) to shame…

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[Photo Credit: Tekniska Museet]

West With The Night is Beryl’s memoir (born in 1902) of growing up in the wilds of Kenya, in what was at the time British East Africa. She spoke Swahili fluently, and only had a pinch of schooling. Her British father owned a farm, and bred racing horses there, while her mother didn’t prefer to live in Africa and moved back to England. Little Beryl grew up quite a free and independent girl. Quite the little spitfire too…

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In her memoir, she describes daylong spear hunting expeditions as a child, going out with the men of a local tribe, walking out into the vast wilderness with those who became her dearest friends and mentors, teaching her to sense and understand the land and animals around her…

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With her father breeding racehorses, she grew up aside these powerful, majestic animals. Whilst still just a youth, she became the first woman in Kenya to become a licensed horse trainer. In later years, six races, horses she trained won Kenya’s East African Derby…

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The majority of Beryl’s memoir is about her flying career. She purchased a plane, became the first person to train to fly in Kenya and go on to earn a commercial pilot’s license. She flew all over Africa, over deserts, mountains, endless swamps and vast landscapes. She flew mail over great distances, picked up the sick and dying to transport them to help, she rescued men downed in the wilderness, where they were near death and hope of survival was fleeting…

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Some of her experiences were so perilous and frightening! Killing a primate that had attacked her so viciously that she had to use pure force and adrenaline to survive the fray and save herself…

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The lion that pounced on her when as a little girl, she ran across his track. It pawed her to the ground and took a bite out of her leg with a fierce roar. Beryl’s description of the lion’s roaring filled me with terror. In the memoir, a man who witnessed this event shared the whole scene. How the little girl was bleeding from every place, how the lion stood upon her, and her harrowing rescue. It’s very powerful…

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And I will never forget the moment when Beryl, while accompanying a Safari, is on the verge of being trampled to death by a mighty young male elephant. Her writing had me feeling like I was right there with her, and I was cowering in fear…

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In 1936, Beryl was the first woman to fly over the Atlantic Ocean from east to west. Long hours of darkness and stormy weather above the ocean in her little craft (the reason for her memoir title West With The Night). During this part of her story, I was holding my breath! She made it to land by the very skin of her nose, her craft nearly crashing into the ocean (but instead diving into the first sliver of land). She should have perished, but remarkably (and much owing to her incredible flying skills) she survived…

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This book moved my thoughts, and made me deeply ponder another’s perspective and experiences, as well as another place so different from what I know. I wondered…if I had been in her shoes, could I have survived, thrived, and accomplished so much? Uhm…

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The vastness of the wilderness she describes frightened me. The threats in nature she shares are overwhelming (to say nothing of the diseases and insects she notes…ahhh). I would never get in a rickety little craft and try to fly it…no way! I might talk to a gentle horse from across a fence, but wouldn’t tread too closely or attempt to tame it (horses are too enormous, strong and unpredictable)….Beryl?! How were you so courageous?

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Ok. If I had been Beryl, I think I’d have aspired to be…the first female entomologist in Kenya! What do you think? That’s courageous, right? I bet you can find some pretty fierce bugs there?! I’d have written my memoir about my run-ins with Goliath Beetles! Ha-ha-HA!

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Yes, Mr. Hemingway was right about Ms. Markham’s spectacular writing skills! Her style and storytelling are remarkable…

I highly recommend West With The Night. Quite an unforgettable journey, with one fearless woman at the helm!

My Cup Runneth Over!

Good day, good day! I hope this message finds you well! As for me, life is full and lovely. In fact, my cup runneth over, and I am filled with gratitude…

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More than running over, my cup is spilling! Why? Because I’ve been so blessed lately to know such good people. To start, many folks have revisited our tented shop, The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire. The feedback has been so positive and supportive that I feel humbled and inspired. To you who have come by to say ‘hello’, to you who have picked out one of my books, to you who have come back to tell me what you thought, to you who have returned for another story, thank you. It means a great deal…

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And more…as I was driving into the faire grounds before opening a week ago Saturday, there was this beautiful sign hanging on the sign post before our shop! I unrolled my car window and squealed with delight! Oh my gosh! Where did that come from? Mom?

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But surely my artist mother Lita had no time to secretly create such a masterpiece of a shop sign. How often we remark that our summer weeks are so busy that we hardly even have time to do a load of laundry! So where did this remarkable gift come from?!

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The sweet and talented artist, Cody Zibung. Her family’s shop Sow’s Ear is our neighbor at Bristol. They offer the most creative bags and pouches made by Cody’s mother, Mickey. Cody works just next door of the Sow’s Ear, at Pyewackets Face and Body Painting delighting a great many with decorative body art! Nothing says ‘festival day’ better than pretty face painting with a bit of sparkle!

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This sign, with a quill on one side and a brush on the other, painted on the cutout of a scroll, is larger and thicker than it may appear in this photo. The wood had to be sawed, drilled for hooks, paint-stain-lacquer applied, oh my! This sign is an investment of time, money and ability. I was stunned by Cody’s generosity! And why did she do something so kind and generous? Because we needed one, because other shops have such signs, because Cody is an angel with a paintbrush. The moment I saw the sign, I felt like I had a real shop.

If you are a part of the Bristol Marketplace and are in need of an attractive sign, Cody is open to commissions! Thank you Cody! And thank you to the Sow’s Ear for being such exceptional neighbors!

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And then there’s even more to be humbled by! Above to my right is one kind and patient lady. Mary Hough is one of the directors for the Guilde of St. George, the court of Queen Elizabeth I. at Bristol. Some years ago, for four seasons, I performed with St. George…

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I am the lady at the very back with the pink sash…following Queen Elizabeth (then played by actress Mary Kababik). I don’t see Mary Hough in this particular photo, but she was certain to be nearby, for she was always known as The Queen Wrangler. Why?

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Year after year, Mary playing a lady of Elizabeth’s court, has walked by the Queen’s side. To play the role of Queen Elizabeth at the Bristol Faire (now actress Jennifer Higgins), is a monumental undertaking. How many places to be at certain hours of the day! How many people to speak to (hundreds), to take the time to share a bit of history and splendor!

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From a ride through Bristol upon a horse, to a rip-roaring joust, to a courtly feast, to the knighting of little children in Kid’s Kingdom, each festival day in Bristol is filled to the brim. To say nothing of the summer heat and weighty costume…

And somewhere nearby Ms. Hough has always been, checking a time-piece for the minute, offering a cool goblet of water or a handkerchief, always there to support the Queen’s person. In this video from the end of Bristol’s 2015 season, you will see Mary peak out from aside the Queen. My point illustrated…

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Mary kindly took the time to stop by The Quill and Brush two weeks ago, and purchased one of each of my adventures to donate to a school. 12 books! I was speechless. And in the graceful way that she has always exhibited, after paying full price for the books, she jested that donations could be accounted for in one’s taxes. Uhm…only truly good people try to draw attention away from the fact that they’ve just done something very generous. Taxes-smaxes Ms. Mary! Thank you for supporting The Quill and Brush, for supporting my writing, and for giving a donation! And thank you for all you’ve done to support the splendid performance that is Queen Elizabeth and her court at Bristol…

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I love Bristol! I love the history! I love the merrymaking! I love everything about it! If you have not already visited this season, there are yet three weekends to celebrate it’s 30th anniversary. Be sure to visit The Quill and Brush on King’s Landing. I’ll be there with a heart full and a smile, for what a wonderful season it has already been!

Merry Meet, Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again!

A Scorpion In My Bathroom?!

The strangest creatures are regularly found in my potty. Huge spiders, fast running centipedes, that enormous cave cricket. But this last Sunday evening, there was something in my bathroom that was quite strange indeed….

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First, let’s set up the scenario. I’ve just gotten home from day two of a very hot and muggy weekend at my tented shop, The Quill and Brush. It’s around 9pm. I’m exhausted. My costume is damp from rain and perspiration, and far past uncomfortable. I’m feeling claustrophobic in it. I’m a wee sunburned, my ankles are swollen, and I’m in need of a bite (though the heat is making me second guess whether I want to eat at all). I’ve been eaten all up by an army of mosquitoes. I want to get into that shower, now

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I tear off my costume and fling it to the bathroom floor before the toilet and take my shower. I then pick up the costume and put it in the hamper, and then go back into the potty…

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But I must digress in this story to first tell you this. I have a superhuman power. One, single, superhuman ability. Yup. And anyone who knows me will tell you that it is true. What is it? I see the tiniest bugs, the littlest movements. Whether in the leaves, or on an outdoor path (or crawling on my bathroom floor). It’s the funniest thing, especially as my eyes now require reading glasses!

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How many times has someone said, “How did you see that?!”

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I dunno. I think it’s because I spent a lot of time outdoors as a youth and I noticed bugs, and because I take great interest in insects in general. I also took a field science course in college, which amped up my excitement for them. Nope, I can’t fly or see through walls…but I see bugs…Ha-Ha-HA!

Ok. So I’m sitting on the potty. I spot this tiny black dot on the floor. We’re talking the size of a pen dot of black ink. Really, really, itty-bitty…

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And I think that it is moving. This little dot is moving around on the floor, but it is so small, that I believe my tired eyes are playing tricks on me. This must just be a speck of dirt! But as I watch, it does indeed take a walk. A short little walk no further than a quarter of an inch. Hmmm, what bug is so small and black? It is not taking up flight, not a gnat. What is that? Oh no! Is it a tick?

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Of course a tick is very possible. I’ve been up in a wooded place in Wisconsin all weekend, walking around in the grasses, sitting in my tented shop under the trees. I suddenly am sure that I’ve carried it home and that it dropped off my discarded costume. I now believe I should do a quick look-over of my legs. You see, I abhor ticks. I would rather a very scary, hairy spider with fangs run across my face, than to discover a tick in one of my crannies. UCK! ECHK! They give me the heebie-jeebies because their bite can deliver disease…

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But first I must determine if this little black spot is indeed a tick. I scurry for a mini post-it note, and my mini flashlight, and I’m on the bathroom floor with a spotlight on the little fella. I put the post-it before it and it walks up onto it. I’m like, squinting. What is that? It must be a tick, but I’m not so certain. I’ve seen ticks aplenty, and this little dude isn’t quite fitting the bill. I hurry downstairs and push the mini blue post-it into my honey’s eyes. I blurt…

I think this is a tick?! Do you think this is a tick?! I hope this isn’t a tick?!

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Handsome’s eyes are squinting and I’m trying not to drop the bug. I’d never find it again, it’s so small, and I don’t want a tick in my house. He concurs that it looks like it might indeed be a tick. But neither of us are certain. I toe into the kitchen, as careful with my cargo as possible, where the light is much better. I’m flashing that little flashlight and the bug is reacting.

He’s got pincers!? He’s clawing his little pincers out, imperceptibly screaming, “Turn off that light lady! Geez! Put me down!” I holler for my (very patient) man to come into the kitchen and see this…

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He says, “It looks like a scorpion.” And I agree, “Yea, like a lobster?!” Meanwhile, the little dude is scuttling around, indeed like a little crab of sorts, snapping the tiniest little claws in the world. As it is not a tick, I cannot dispatch of his precious little life. As with every insect I find indoors, I gingerly carry him outside and let it free. I immediately snatch up my bug identification book. I’m so curious, it’s crazy. What did I find? What if I’ve just discovered some new species, and now I’ve let it go, and no one will ever believe me (except for handsome)…

So what did I find?

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[Photo Credit: Kaldari]

I found a pseudoscorpion. Pseudoscorpions are of the arachnid family, as are spiders and ticks. I wasn’t too far off my initial identification! They live worldwide, and are not considered pests, but helpful rather. They eat the larvae of the moths that nibble fabric. They gobble up mites, and hunt for ants and little pesky flies. They live in leafy debris, amongst the dirt, and on trees. There are a great many species of them, and they vary in their tiny size-range. So itty are they, that they usually go unnoticed. And in those pincers, which they use to hunt, they do indeed carry poisonous glands!

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[Photo Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0]

I can’t tell you how exciting it was to discover that I’d found such a unique little creature, of which I’d never known existed before. He’d clearly caught a ride on the hem of my gown as I trudged through the grasses on the way back to my car Sunday evening, and had taken a ride all the way back with me. Then when I threw off my dress, he tumbled to the bathroom floor. Where am I? 

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[Photo Credit: Sarefo]

Pseudoscorpions can live up to three years! I’m glad I didn’t step on him. I’m glad I actually saw him, and let him free on the porch. I hope he’s feasting on the peskier bugs around my front door even now. What a magical little moment to watch him snapping his pincers at me! Aww, my little pet scorpion from the bathroom! Go eat those mosquitoes!

Here’s to the delight of discovery, and to keeping your eyes open to the wonders (both great and small) that are all around you!

Veleno Is Here!

Veleno, my newest novel and one eerie historical-fiction thriller, has arrived! I sincerely hope you enjoy my creepy new tale…

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There once was a great Venetian palace. The name of which, everyone did know. Inside its walls dwelled an esteemed noble family. All revere, ’tis the House of Orso!

Its patriarch, a rich and powerful merchant. With a wife very clever, such a beautiful sight. His daughters, four, a precious gift. How unfortunate now, each should meet their plight…

Orso dead? Perhaps by plague! Mirella turned strange, a widow made.

Fina gone, for a courtesan’s life. Noemi must escape, or make a woeful wife. Mafalda will rise in a cold, cruel pit. Paola sent off to a nunnery, might lose her wits.

Venice’s year, 1575. Pestilence arrives, Venetians fear for their lives! But in Orso’s house, strong daughters were made. Yet can courage be enough, to escape the grave?

Available now on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

The Versatile Blogger Award!

A big thank you to Michael Atkins of Japan Trekker who nominated Inspired By Venice for the Versatile Blogger Award! I’ve always called my site eclectic, so this award was very exciting to receive!

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Michael’s Japan Trekker is a treasure trove of inspiring travel photography centered around Japan. As a lover of travel myself, and as someone who works to express the human experience through my writing, I really enjoy sites such as these. They keep me thinking, entertained and curious! Photography has such an amazing way of catching beauty and expression, while travel photography in particular keeps us inquisitive and connects us to the larger world. Be sure to visit Japan Trekker yourself, a getaway without even hopping on a plane!

About the Versatile Blogger Award:

  1. Display the award on your blog.
  2. Thank the blogger that nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  3. Share seven facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 15 bloggers for the award and provide links to their blogs.

Seven facts about Michelle, author of Inspired By Venice

Hmmmm…let’s be random here…

  1. When I was a little girl, I once dispatched a grasshopper (poor fella), covered it in melted chocolate chips, and gave it to my grandma as a ‘surprise treat’. She nibbled on it, producing the funniest faces, acting delighted (in spite of quickly figuring out what I’d done), and was a super good sport about it. My grandma is awesome!viridissima-100883_1280
  2. I think that the dice game Yahtzee, which my folks are pros at, is a form of torture. Anything that makes me do quick, continual math feels like work, not fun. Keep that cup of dice in the closet, let’s play Charades!
  3. I think swimming is the loveliest form of exercise, for I don’t feel like I’m exercising at all! That buoyant feeling of being in water is divine!beach-2179183_1280
  4. In another life, I would have chosen entomology as a career. I think insects are fascinating. Except for ticks. I’m horrified by ticks!
  5. Though I implicitly believe in following the rules of the road, and though I certainly would not wish to be a race car driver, I quite enjoy driving fast! Vroom-vrooom!adorable-1850465_1280
  6. I think lilies are the prettiest flowers. Especially Stargazers, which though loud in fragrance, smell glorious. When I was young, I was very into ‘survival’ and ‘edible wild plants’. I still have my edible wild plants book on my desk! You can eat unopened daylily flower pods. I used to march into my grandma’s garden and munch on them. I think they taste a little like okra…lily-561074_1280
  7. As a youth, I once had an unfortunate fray with a German Shepherd quite as big as I, and stronger still. It left my face in need of stitching. Sitting in the hospital, and seeing the needle about to thread up my wounds (my mom nearly in a faint), I of course cried. However, as I laid down, and the stitching began, I could see the reflection of the procedure in the doctor’s glasses. I was strangely awed by the sight of the sewing and cried no more. Looking back, what a quizzical reaction! I now give dogs a wide berth while admiring and respecting them from a distance…german-shepherd-464612_1280

My nominees for the Versatile Blogger Award (in no particular order):

Earthstar

Getting The Picture

Fashion Through History

Fed’s Life

The Third Planet

Sawaworld

The Merry Thought

The Wifey’s Corner

Smart Veg Recipes

The World According To Dina

Jess Did What

Meandering With Misha

Experience Of Thinking

Japan Etc.

Agreeable Things

Thank you for your awesome, inspiring blogs!

The Quill And Brush

Thank you to all those who visited our tented shop for the opening weekend of the Bristol Renaissance Faire last weekend! We were so happy to see many familiar faces, and are looking forward to 8 weekends more! Planning a visit in the future weeks? Be sure to visit us, The Quill and Brush on King’s Landing…

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Veleno, my newest novel, a historical fiction thriller, will be released tomorrow! I am very excited to share this harrowing tale with you all. I’ve read it twice since receiving my copies and it made me capitulate between near-tears, gasps, smiles, and goosebumps. Oh geez! I’ll announce when it is available, with its link on Amazon, and I’ll have copies for 3rd weekend at Bristol…

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But to give you a sneak peak…

There once was a great Venetian palace.

The name of which, everyone did know.

Inside its walls dwelled an esteemed noble family.

All revere, ’tis the House of Orso!

 

Its patriarch, a rich and powerful merchant.

With a wife very clever, such a beautiful sight.

His daughters, four, a precious gift.

How unfortunate now, each should meet their plight…

 

Orso dead? Perhaps by plague!

Mirella turned strange, a widow made.

 

Fina gone, for a courtesan’s life.

Noemi must escape, or make a woeful wife.

Mafalda will rise in a cold, cruel pit.

Paola sent off to a nunnery, might lose her wits.

 

Venice’s year, 1575.

Pestilence arrives, Venetians fear for their lives!

But in Orso’s house, strong daughters were made.

Yet can courage be enough, to escape the grave?

 

What’s New, Shelly-Poo!?

Shelly-Poo was my older cousin’s nickname for me growing up, a term of endearment. Shelly is short for Michelle of course. And poo? Well that word is added onto names sometimes as a sign of affection. “Oh, your little puppy-wuppie is so cutie-poo!” Oh goodness!

So what’s new, Shelly-Poo? Let’s see…

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Guess where I was today?! Setting up our shop, The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire! We’re so excited for our 2nd season! Opening weekend is next weekend, July 8th. We have moved locations, but are still on King’s Landing. We can’t wait to see all of the friends we made last year, and all the new friends we are yet to meet! It is the 30th Anniversary of this beloved festival, and one beautifully tended park awaits you!

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Now, I do not consider myself clever with crafting/decor, but don’t you think the little ‘book case’ I put together to display my fairy tales is cute? I was pretty proud of myself…

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My business partner and artist mother Lita, will be displaying some lovely painted canvases this year, along with her illustrations. I don’t have a sneak peak for you here, but can say that when I first saw them, I wanted them all for myself. But then, we would have none for our sweet little shop! Come by, and peruse…

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Maid of Honour and The Mermaiden will be available starting first weekend!

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Veleno will be available for Marketplace Weekend (3rd weekend) through the end of the season. Official release date just around the corner (with convenient availability through Amazon). This one’s for mature readers only…

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In other news, I love cheese. The word love hardly begins to describe my craze for cheese. But being in Wisconsin setting up shop today, the very state that won the World Champion Cheese Contest in 2016, I was made a very happy woman. Ellsworth Garlic Cheddar Cheese Curds, Buddy Squirrel Cheezzzy Cheddar Popcorn, and Sartori MontAmore (the size of a small brick). I’m in Heaven. If you’re ever in Kenosha, WI, stop into Tim and Tom’s Cheese Shop. Attached to a sizable antique shop, and with cheese galore, it’s a field trip…

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In other, other news, I have a pet jumping spider who lives on my writing desk between my book Venice, and Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City. He’s hopped out during 3 consecutive days of writing hours to keep me company. I must say, he has good taste in books!

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Speaking of great books, I’m currently reading The Stranger in the Woods; The Extraordinary Life Of The Last True Hermit. A true story…hermit Christopher Knight of Maine…written by journalist Michael Finkel. Order this book right now, and thank me later…it is too spectacular to put down…

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In further, further, further news…this vegetarian is still cookin’ up the veggies! Whatever I’ve got in the fridge. Look at those healthful veggie tacos! Summer is fresh veggie time! Love it!

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And, after all my veggie-loving years, I’ve gotta say that radishes are the apple of my eye. Read my previous ‘Swimming Radishes’ post here. I think I love radishes as much as cheese! Gasp! Is that possible?

Here’s to your daily good health and happiness, and to your taking delight in simple pleasures every day! Here’s also to the joys of an excellent read, and to the deliciousness of your table favorites! Best Wishes!

Peek-a-boo, I see you!

I am currently watching an amazing program called Weird Wonders of the WorldIt is filled with remarkable natural occurrences and bizarre creatures from around the globe. The show is so strange and amazing. I highly recommend it! I guarantee, you’ll be entertained. Of course, I’m learning some incredible things…

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This little guy is a jumping spider. They are very common, are gifted with excellent eyesight, and tend to have pretty impressive jumping skills! Their great leaps assist them with hunting for food and making quick escapes. You might recall the handsome jumping spider I caught on photo last summer in Wisconsin…

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Having seen these little jumpers all my life, I was quite amused when Weird Wonders of the World (Season 2: Episode 6) introduced a unique species of jumping spider. Jotus Remus, the peek-a-boo spider from Australia, discovered by Jurgen Otto…

What makes this spider so special are two hairy, paddle-like feet. Of this species of spider, only the males have these hairy feet. But why? Does it help them with their jumping prowess? Nope. It helps them get a girlfriend in the most hilarious way!

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[Photo Credit: Jurgen Otto]

The peek-a-boo male spider is smaller than its female counterpart. These ladies can behave quite aggressively when they’re not interested in going on a date. In order to avoid getting hurt by an agitated female, the male peek-a-boo spider first waves his fuzzy paddle around from a safe distance. If the female attacks, no coupling. If she’s calmly wooed by the behavior, it’s date night!

While watching the show, I got the giggles seeing the peek-a-boo spider in action. I think it will make your day to watch this video. Poor little guy has to work hard to find the right lady!

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Jurgen Otto has a whole lot of other amazing spider photos and videos! I entreat you to also watch this incredible footage of another jumping spider, Maratus Volans, the peacock spider! This colorful fella is also trying to win over a lady. Absolutely amazing!

Here’s wishing you’ll never forget your curiosity for the world, for it is filled with great and inspiring wonders!

Just Where I Want To Be

Today feels like a summer’s day! 81 degrees and sunny, the birds are singing joyfully and everything is as green as ever after recent thunderstorms. Thus, for the first time since the weather was fine last summer, I can be found in one of my favorite nooks…

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My little writing table on the front porch, mostly private from the sidewalk, where I can look up to the trees and the sunny skies and feel happy, refreshed and inspired. I’ve just made a healthy salad for lunch. Delicious!

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For the rest of the afternoon, I’ll be typing away on my stories and there’s no better place for it. Spending time out-of-doors is said to have a lovely impact on your health!

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My front porch chipmunk is keeping me company. I’ve bribed him with some strawberries and blueberries, hoping they will keep him distracted so that he doesn’t get curious about my bare toes. I think they think toes are peanuts. Don’t nibble my toes Chippy!

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I can definitely say, on a beautiful day like today, I’m just where I want to be…

Here’s wishing you a great many such beautiful days, and that you’ll find the time for yourself to enjoy them! 

I’m lovin’ your style, Newark!

With a recent flight to New York, we flew into Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. Now, I’ve seen quite a few airports throughout the world. Some are comfortable, some are not so comfortable. Mostly they are simple, functional, designed to get you where you need to go. Perhaps you’ll do a bit of duty-free shopping, and get a decent bite to eat along the way…

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Well I just want to say…Newark, you’re one happening airport! I love your style! As you walk through the terminal, there are colorful, internet accessible, chic places to grab a seat. Ambient music plays, which I’m certain keeps travelers calm and relaxed…

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There were a variety of places to take your ease, and plenty of t.v. monitors for folks who need their daily dose of sports. The airport was clean and well, hip

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At the newsstand, there were no lines, for there were plenty of monitors for self-checkout. I tend not to like self-checkout because it never goes smoothly for me and an attendant has to come running to help. But here, things seemed to be running well…

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Further, their selection of products in the quick-grab area were so interesting! Lots of fun foods, healthy items, unique snacks. Plenty of fresh choices, whatever your tastes…

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I enjoyed the colors and the lights, and the unique flow…

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Instead of looking travel-worn and agitated, folks were catching up on work, studying, chatting, relaxing. Everywhere I looked, it seemed like people were enjoying being at the airport. That’s a new one!

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There were interesting paintings, cool chairs, patterned tiles, thoughtful lighting…

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And I would have been content to sit at any of the restaurants we passed. As we walked past Riviera, it appeared as a peaceful oasis serving gourmet food. In…the…airport.

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In any case, I got a real kick out of this airport’s modern design. It made for a fun entry into our New York outing. The designers clearly had the comfort and amusement of travelers in mind when they made such updates. Pretty cool!

Insomnia Cookies

I want you to pretend that it’s two o’clock in the morning and you are wide awake…

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Unless you’re 21 years old on a Saturday night, or work the night shift, or have trouble sleeping, I don’t know why you’d still be up, but just pretend that you are. Not only are you awake, but you’re having a craving that you just can’t beat…for cookies! Only, you have no cookies in your house. This is very bad. No cookies to eat at 2 a.m. What to do?!

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Just call Insomnia Cookies! They deliver fresh made cookies (I’m guessing still warm), pizza-box style…until 3 a.m. in the morning. How do I know? Was I up ordering cookies after midnight like a crazed cookie monster? Heck no!

On Friday evening, we decided to skip dessert at dinner and walk over to a new business. I saw it buzzing earlier as we drove past toward our reservation. The canopy over the window read Insomnia Cookies. So of course, I had to know what that was all about…

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My date tried vanilla ice cream with oatmeal raisin cookies. I’m nutty for anything mint, and so had mint ice cream smashed between two mint chocolate cookies. We should have grabbed spoons, because they were tricky to eat as we walked with them back toward the car. The cookies were very soft and warm, so the sandwiches didn’t stay in tact. I ended up licking ice cream off of the paper plate in a very unladylike manner, another one of my pretty looks…

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So what did we think? The cookies and ice cream were a fun treat and we enjoyed trying it! Our returns will be on a whim rather than as regulars however, as the place itself offers no seating and it’s awkward to eat ice cream cookies on the run (though I enjoyed a good laugh at myself). I would use their delivery service to send cookies to cheer a friend if the occasion arose. Nothing makes people smile like a cookie!

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About that insomnia part, I’m curious how popular their after-midnight deliveries will prove; we do live in a university town! However, even if the kiddos are up late studying, students often don’t have extra dough (pun intended) for such novelties. Nonetheless, I wish this cute little business success! If I’m up at 2 a.m. and in need of a cookie, we all know who I’m calling. Never say never!

Here’s wishing your days filled with smiles, and sprinkled with sweet moments!

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

I’ve just finished reading another masterpiece by one of my favorite authors, Mary Roach. She’s a science writer and a New York Times bestseller, and one amazing researcher! Myself a writer, and as someone who geeks out on research and fascinating fun facts, I really admire her books and the enormous amount of time she must put into her works. You rock, Ms. Roach!

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Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal takes the reader on a journey through their own bodies. You put something in your mouth, you chew it up and swallow, and then it follows a path until it reaches the far side. It seems pretty simple, we do this everyday. What makes this book so fascinating however, is the breakdown of that journey…

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Did you know that the pet food you buy might be manufactured to please you, more than be what your pet needs? Did you know about the antibacterial and antiviral properties in your saliva?

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Do you know whether or not a goldfish could survive in your stomach if you swallowed one? Do you know what would happen to you if you were swallowed by a whale, like Jonah in the Bible?

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Do you know what terrible things happen to people who swallow drugs to smuggle them? Do you know what lengths prison inmates will go to, to smuggle items in their bodies?

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Do you know what would happen if you overate in gross quantity at one sitting? Do you know how life-threatening it is to walk past a manure pit? Do you know what a fecal transplant is and why it’s a miracle?

I didn’t either, until I read this book.

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Now, I must preface, Mary Roach’s books are not for the weak of stomach (ha-ha). The face above is the look I perpetually have as I read them. First, you’ve got to have your thinking cap on. Her books are science books, though she does an excellent job of breaking things down so that the topics are digestible (tee-hee). Her wit also makes the difficult concepts easy to swallow (giggle)…

But further, her books have a visceral affect. When I read her Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, I was jumpy and nervous whenever I picked up the book, like a ghost was lurking near. And when I read her Packing For Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, I perpetually had vertigo and became terrified of space. While reading Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, my gag reflex was constantly on high alert and I had difficulty eating my lunch.

This isn’t to dissuade you from reading her works, it’s more of a “Put your seatbelt on, you’re going for a wild science reading ride. Weeee!”

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Next up, Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and…

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Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. Because it seems I like getting my brain scrambled by science, and learning about things that freak me out! Read one of Mary Roach’s books and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Here’s to the great wonders to be found in a book, and to learning something new, each and every day!

The Itty Bitty Littles Giveaway!

Because the birds are chirping outside and the sun is shining…because the lovely seasons of spring and summer are just ahead…because giving is a special delight…and because it is a great joy to share my stories with you…today is the day! The day for a giveaway!

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Old Netty Nettles has lived all alone in the countryside, between vast fields and an enchanted forest, for many years. Comfortable in her cottage, she tends to her garden and is one wonderful crafter and cook. That’s why friends coming all the way from the village of Whistling Woods love to visit her!

But Netty’s hospitality isn’t the only reason friends come calling; she’s incredibly kind and one special storyteller too. Living in the wilderness, Lady Nettles has encountered some amazing creatures. Naughty fairies, a helpful brownie, one elusive water sprite, and even a grouchy dragon! But the most memorable day for Netty was when she met a brood of rascally itty-bitty-littles!

Be a guest in Netty’s cozy cottage, grab a treat and a good seat as she recalls her time spent with some very magical critters!

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To enter for your chance to win one free copy of The Itty Bitty Littles, please share in the comments where you last spotted an itty-bitty-little. Have fun with your imagination! Did you spy one running across your back lawn? Were several to be seen peeking out from a berry bush, where they were feasting along a nature trail? They can be mischievous too…perhaps one made a mess of your garden or knocked down your bird feeder? Maybe you even had a rare sighting of one in a busy city! But where?

One winner will be selected at random next Wednesday, April 19th at 10 a.m. Chicago time and announced here, and the magic inside The Itty Bitty Littles will be theirs!

Past book giveaways: [The Book of Dragons Giveaway] [A Delightful Giveaway]

Caprese, Caprese!

Caprese, Caprese! One for me, one for you! Make in spring or in summer, anytime! Just do! 

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Caprese, Caprese! One for you, one for me! So fresh and delicious! Makes life better, you’ll see!

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Caprese, Caprese, I adore you, you’re mine! I’ve loved many a’ salad, but must say, you’re divine!

Here’s to the small pleasures in life, and to your good health and happiness!

Hollandaise…Proceed With Caution!

Last Friday evening, handsome and I were too exhausted to go out for our usual date night, but still wanted to order something that would be really satisfying after a long week. We decided on Pete Miller’s in Evanston, a steak and seafood restaurant with a Chicago feel that always offers a great meal…

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I was going to order something simple; I enjoy their fish tacos. But as my eyes perused the menu, I saw the words crab legs and there was no going back. I wanted crab legs, I needed crab legs, but that isn’t an easy order for takeout. To truly enjoy it, we needed to get a seat! Thankfully I’ve got a fella who is flexible with plans; we hopped in the car and were on our way, grabbing a table just in time as the Friday dinner rush was beginning.

Changing up plans can prove surprising, exciting fun! We’d started out too tired to move from home, and then were suddenly having lively conversation to the tunes of a fabulous live jazz band! Of course, the excellent food also had an effect on our perking up! I started with the Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail served with cocktail sauce and lemon. The dollop of horseradish in the cocktail sauce burned my brain and caused me to make really unattractive expressions, but was too delicious paired with the shrimp to stop eating…

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My date had the Roasted Bone Marrow served with a side salad and crostini. Bone marrow is like eating a rich, fatty, flavorful butter when spread on a crispy bite of bread. Though considered a delicacy, it is said that eating bone marrow has many fortifying health benefits. As a vegetarian, I’m not suggesting you go gnaw on a bone. However, I’ve tried it several times and there’s a reason folks love it…

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With our main course, we ordered the steamed Asparagus & Hollandaise as our side to share. Ever dipped your asparagus in hollandaise sauce (same rich sauce poured over Eggs Benedict)? It’s sinfully delicious, but according to this article, terrible for your heart. Indulge with caution…

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My dinner companion enjoyed the 14oz Delmonico Rib-Eye served with truffle fries. I may have eaten the greater portion of his truffle fries (dipped with abandon in the hollandaise there on his plate…yikes, my heart!). Truffle fries…in hollandaise…dreamy…dangerous!

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For my supper, I did a face-plant into a full plate of delectable Alaskan King Crab Legs served with drawn butter, lemon and garlic mashed potatoes. There are no words.

After this meal fit for royalty, I should have committed myself to eating only a carrot for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the month to follow. However, at least in my world, good living is about good food and great fellowship! And hey, I know a little about moderation…I didn’t eat the leftover truffle fries for breakfast the next morning like I wanted to!

Don’t Eat That Ackee, Eve!

I’m fascinated by nature, and very much so when I’m traveling. The sight of a unique plant, or spotting unfamiliar wildlife, is always exciting!

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By the looks of the markings on this yellow bird, I believe I captured sight of a Jamaican Oriole while recently in Jamaica. Even from the first hours after our arrival there on a recent trip, I was in awe of the thriving bird life and all of the beautiful songs they presented…

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This hearty bird hopped about in the foliage so constantly (in search for seeds it appeared) that I could hardly get a proper picture of him. Only a few photos from many offered more than a flash of yellow…

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Though Indian Peafowl are kept in the U.S., to see this fella dancing about a potential mate (a peahen that fled from him into the bushes) was such a treat. Look how handsome he is! On several evenings, we noted a peahen taking safe perch for the night upon a thatched roof. It looked quite the comfortable nest…

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Hey little dude! Hunting for some juicy bugs? Carry on!

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Though Northern Mockingbirds can breed in Northern Illinois, they aren’t regulars. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen (or heard) one in the wild. In Jamaica, they are everywhere and their songs are simply incredible!

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Tropical flowers grew abundantly, their colors so vivid! They invited an army of hummingbirds to drink of their nectar…

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And when I saw this fruit ripening in a tree, my first thought was of how delicious it might be to pluck one down and take a bite! Any tropical fruit so pretty must taste divine! Good thing I didn’t follow my instinct…

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This, is the ackee (not to be confused with the acai berry), the tree of which migrated from Africa to Jamaica (most likely upon a slave ship) in the late 1700’s. It is the national fruit of Jamaica. However, to pluck it down and take a bite could prove fatal. At the very least, you would become very, very sick…

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[Photo Credit: DocTaxon]

In order to eat of the fruit, it must first be fully ripe (splitting open on its own) or bad things will definitely happen. The fruity flesh is then to be removed away from the skin and seeds (these carefully discarded lest your beloved pet or child grab hold of the remnants and put them in their mouth). Next, the fruit is to be boiled for at least 5 minutes, or bad things yet could happen. The water is to then be immediately discarded, the fruit rinsed and then boiled a second time, because if not, bad things could still happen…this is one dangerous fruit!

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I therefore had to take a walk on the wild side and eat some. Ackee and saltfish is a traditional Jamaican dish. I had it for breakfast one glorious sunny morning to the sound of rich birdsong. With each bite, I had to wonder if this was like taking the risk of eating toxic puffer fish? I mean, what if the cook didn’t boil my ackee twice?

Just kidding! I wasn’t scared at all. What did it taste like? Like fish and fruit, looking like scrambled eggs masquerading on my plate. A little spicy, a little fishy, a little sweet. I liked it!

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Handsome on the other hand had pancakes made from a unique grain that morning. Fish for breakfast wasn’t quite to his taste, though he did take a nibble of my ackee and saltfish to see what it was like…

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How I love to travel, and how I love nature! However, I am ever being reminded to control my urges to simply grab out, or pet that cute insect (I think I was raised a little bit wild). Not everything is innocuous, some things are quite dangerous indeed. For instance, when I admired strands of cherry-looking berries hanging from one tree, a local said not to touch them, for the juice will burn the skin of your hand. Yikes!

Nature must be respected

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Of course, I still swam but a few feet away from a puffer fish while snorkeling in the shallows. He watching me, me watching him (terrified he might bring out the spines but too fascinated to swim away). And of course, I still had to get up close to this enormous insect nest, unable to live without knowing what was in there (I’m an entomologist in my heart)…

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But the point is, look don’t touch! Remember Eve of the Garden of Eden who grabbed out for that fruit? Nope, not every fruit is as sweet as it looks. Unless perhaps, you boil it twice!

Here is hoping you are enjoying your adventure today!

Date Night in NYC!

On our way to Jamaica for our recent vacation, we took the roundabout way of flying first to New Jersey from Chicago, spending one night and then heading on down to the Caribbean. We could have flown straight to Montego Bay instead, but handsome was shopping his preferred airlines (which required a layover). This stopover proved very exciting, and I won’t forget our adventurous evening for all of my days…

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Though this photo is blurry, I love it. It is of my old haunt…

Once we arrived at our hotel in Newark, we inquired how long it would take an Uber to deliver us to Manhattan. The desk attendant did not sound optimistic. Disappointment was written all over my face. We could see the city, but hours of traffic would make waste of an evening. I remained upbeat however, for handsome had booked dinner at an Italian restaurant in New Jersey!

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However, after hopping in an Uber on our way to dinner, I couldn’t help looking longingly toward NYC. See, I lived there a decade ago, and I love New York City. So I asked the driver how long he felt it would take. Only an extra 20 minutes. Handsome canceled our dinner reservation and we were on our way to the Big Apple…

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We directed the driver to Washington Square Park (amidst the campus of NYU where I am an alumna). He proceeded to drop us on Washington Street some distance away. However, the Uber driver’s mistake proved a zesty, exhilarating NYC walk for us! Block after city block built my anticipation to see my old neighborhood (and grew our appetite for dinner). Once there, we traversed my old memories while stamping a new NYC memory into my heart with our fun evening together…

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Now, if you know anything about Manhattan, you know that it offers a bazillion restaurants (and shops, and cool things in abundance) in its 13.4 by 2.3 miles. Every other doorstep offers something you want to explore, something good to buy or to eat or to see. As we power walked approximately one mile from drop-off point, I blurted “I could eat my way around this city.” It might take me a little time, but I think I’d be up for the job…

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After our explorations (and in spite of all the enticing eateries we noticed along the way), handsome expressed a hankering to visit Little Italy. And so, we hopped in a cab and headed on over to that delicious neighborhood! As you walk through Little Italy, gentlemen from various restaurants roll out, singing for you to come and take a seat at their tables. All of the menus looked so good, it was hard to walk away from many of them as we passed through. Finally, we settled upon Da Gennaro Ristorante

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We had a pleasant view of Mulberry Street from our table, glasses of Chianti to warm us up after our evening walk, and a meal that blew us away!

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To start, tender calamari fritti with a fresh sauce and a cool squeeze of lemon…

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I must say, I’ve been blessed to try a great many amazing dishes during my life, and amongst my many unique travels. I can say without hesitation, Da Gennaro’s fettuccine (meaning ‘little ribbons’ in Italian) with shrimp, salmon and a creamy tomato sauce was absolutely one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten…

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What made this evening so special was the fact that it hadn’t been planned, yet turned out so surprisingly delightful in every way! It was random, refreshing, and reminded me how very much I love adventure!

Here’s wishing you many such wonderful adventures, whether they be within your own neighborhood or far from home…

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” ~Anonymous

Sneaky, Slithering Sea Snail!

We’ve snorkeled a plenty here in Jamaica. My snorkel gear is now just a permanent appendage growing from my face. It’s my pretty look. This morning I spent some time swimming all along the shore in search of the perfect shell to bring back for my mom. Unfortunately, the bigger shells are lying at the bottom further from the coast, too deep and difficult to dive down for…

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So, I decided to change my focus and search for starfish instead. Handsome joined me, and when he spotted this big shell sitting in some seagrass below the waves, I squealed with delight! I finally had the perfect shell to bring back with me…

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After he scooped it out of the water, I quickly snatched it from him to marvel at our treasure. The find was the size of my outstretched hand! Only, something started to move inside. I furrowed my brow and blurted, “There’s something in there!”

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A sea snail! Knowing that some of them can be poisonous or dangerous, but not knowing which variety, I was careful to keep my fingers away from the animal as he came out to say, “Excuse me…can I help you?” Especially as he had what looked like a red claw moving out at his rear…

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Wary of this alien, with his tongue-like muscle and googly eyes stretching out, I gently set the shell in the sand to see what the snail might do. Immediately, he reached out and pushed himself over. I’d set him upside down! Oops!

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Here the snail is with his body to the sand, his shell on his back, ready to make his way off into the sunset. “Which way back to the sea?”

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I gingerly picked him back up and replaced the snail just where we found it in the safety of the seagrass in the water. And though I didn’t get my prized shell, I’m amazed by the wild creature I met today (especially since he didn’t sting me and all). I mean, look at those eyes! “Rock on little dude! May you live many days to slither and hunt upon your tropical seabed! May you go forth and have many snail babies!” 

I’m A Hummingbird…

Cue the music please:

I’m…too sexy for this tree…too sexy for these flowers, too sexy yea!

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I’m a hummingbird, you know what I mean, and I do my little zoom, just right past you!

As I zip through, and I zoom through, I do my little twirl like I was meant to…

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I’m…too sexy for this jungle…too sexy for this island…way, too, sexy, yea!

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With my long tail…and my red beak…I play a little game of ‘hide and go seek’!

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I’m…too sexy for this branch…too sexy for this beach…no way I’m disco dancing!

[I’m A Cardinal Part I. Click Here] [I’m A Cardinal Part II. Click Here]

Don’t Worry About A Thing…

This is how I thought yesterday would be. A blissful night’s sleep followed by an exciting view as I rode through the streets of Jamaica. Then, an awe-inspiring zip-line over the jungle, followed by a soothing swim in sparkling falls…

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This isn’t exactly how things went. I woke up around 3:30 am and did not fall asleep again. Every trip I’ve ever taken into a new country has delivered at least one such night. The kind where you wake abruptly to the darkness and the noises outside are not familiar, and you realize you are very far away from everything that you’re sure of and you feel a bit frightened by that…

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By sunrise, I was exhausted. However, the sun was shining and I was going to be a trooper. Onward with the adventure! Only, I had to make a quick call to the U.S., and it proved more difficult than expected, taking a chunk of time to connect. This made me feel again, a bit far from home…

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Handsome kept me on track with positive motivations. Let’s go! Breakfast time! C’mon baby! Though breakfast was comforting and the Blue Mountain Jamaican Coffee reinforcing, I was still feeling fretful and tired. But, I was determined to carry on with a good attitude. Only, once inside the steamy vehicle that would take us to a remote falls in the jungle, all positiveness went out the window. You see, Jamaica is mountainous, the roads thin and twisting, the driving fast and furious. You zoom through villages at intense speed, and the fear of a crash is at the forefront of the mind. I was quickly car sick, just as I was on the way to our lodgings from the airport upon our arrival last week…

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But let us pause for a moment so that you can zoom into this photo of this adorable little lizard. They are everywhere (and seemingly not afraid of my shockingly bright pink nail polish)…

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But to continue…No, I did not lose my breakfast by my car sickness. That would have been humiliating (however, not much more humiliating than what happened next). When we arrived at the falls, I thought I would faint. Remember too, it’s a tropical climate. This Chicago gal is more accustomed to cold temperatures. I was splashing cool water on my face and neck and asking for something mint (a local woman here told me that mint works well on their twisty roads). A few mint confections were procured and it was like a miracle. Mint really does help abate motion sickness! Things were looking up…

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That was, until I looked up. I am not afraid of heights, but something overcame me when I looked up. My danger radar was screaming! I kept silent until we were being geared up to zip through the canopy, high above the rushing waterfalls. It was then that tears began to fall out of my eyes in copious amounts. The tears would not abate. My hands began to shake and my heart started to race wildly. I…was…terrified. Though I would never have selected zip-lining in general (seemed risky), I was taking one for the team. I certainly wouldn’t have suspected that I would be overwhelmingly afraid…

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Once finally climbing high up to the top of the trees (sweating, winded and seriously considering turning back), I realized there was no way down except by the zip-line. More heart-stopping, there were five lines to fly across/down, not just one. My tears began to mimic the waterfalls. I wasn’t whining loudly, or scaring the wildlife with sobbing. It was just silent, unstoppable tears (and possibly the strongest look of apprehension ever seen on my face). They wouldn’t stop flowing out of my eyes. The jungle was a blur. What can I say? However, with each lockdown upon the line, the Jamaican men who were safety guides greeted me with a smile and said, Sista, don cry. Every-ting will be alright! Don worry! So I’d take a deep breath, and fly

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I can’t say I overcame fear. I just pushed it aside and did what I had to do. And even though zip-lining might be easy for some, I’m not ashamed by my tears or how afraid I was. Yesterday didn’t go as smoothly as I’d anticipated, but in the end, it was so much better. I gained strength from it…

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The blessing in travel is that you learn things about yourself you never expected, and are challenged and awed in ways that go beyond what you might have ever imagined.

If I wake again to the darkness while we’re here, I’m not going to be afraid. I’m going to let the tree frog songs sooth me back to sleep. They’ll be singing…Don’t worry, about a thing, ’cause every little thing gonna be alright! 

Far And Away…

At present, I am in the island country of Jamaica in the Caribbean Sea! It took several days of travel to get here, for first we flew to NYC from Chicago and had one unforgettable date night in the city (which I’ll be sure to write about soon). I wanted to share a few special photos with you from the last few days of our adventure…

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This is Washington Square Arch in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village with the Empire State Building in the background. We took a stroll through NYU where I went to graduate school. It was a very fond walk down memory lane. Next stop, the south coast of Jamaica!

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This was the beautiful little blue heron I stalked on the beach yesterday morning…

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And the egret that stalked me as I ate grilled fish on the beach. I was pretty hungry, so I sadly didn’t share…

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And here is the sweet island kitty that took shade in my chair. However, these cats (of which there is a little band) are far fiercer than they look. They hunt lizards and frogs. I’ve been witness to their dinners. Ewww!

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And here was a fisherman who dives with a spear for his catch. As he was walking by, the lobsters at the top still moving, I was in awe…

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The fish were so colorful! Tomorrow, we’ll be swimming and snorkeling amongst many such live creatures ourselves…

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Tropical flowers grow everywhere. Their smell is absolutely intoxicating. There are several kinds of hummingbirds that zip and zoom about these flowers. My attempts to capture them on camera have failed thus far, but I’ll keep trying…

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Here is wishing you special wonders in your life today, wherever you may be. As for me, I’m singing a song with my toes barefoot in the sand. “One Love. One Heart. Let’s ge