Chip Snatching Seagulls!

Living on the shores of Lake Michigan, we have seagulls aplenty. I like the sound of their aerial calls (for the noise makes me feel like I live something of a ‘beachy’ life), but I get easily irritated with their squawks and screeches when they stalk the vicinity of my beach chair for scraps from my picnics!

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I took these photos as ambling pedestrians threw bits of food into the air for swarming, squawking gulls. I was able to get some unique shots. Wouldn’t it be something to be able to fly! I think gulls are such robust, beautiful birds…

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Gulls are seabirds, though they are not known to fly out to sea. They stay close to shore and have adapted most especially to humans (who they so enjoy being given, or snatching food from). Once as I finished a lunch, I placed my plastic bag of partially eaten chips down next to my chair in the sand. One particular gull would not leave me alone, stalking that bag of chips no matter how much I tried to shoo and chase it away (which became sort of embarrassing for me with so many other beach goers around). It would fly off a few yards, and then screech at me to high heavens with one eye always turned on that chip bag!

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However annoying, I find seagulls’ tenacity and cleverness to be interesting to watch. They are known to be highly intelligent, persistent birds, and I quite like their quickness and bravery…

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Once a set of mating gulls pair up, they are together for life. They lay their eggs (about three) in shallow nests of sand, moss or grasses upon the ground. Once the precious, fuzzy babies arrive, one of the parents remain with them at all times…

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Seagulls eat a great many things (dead or alive), be it creatures of the sea (fish and squid), or creatures on land (bugs and lizards). Sadly, they are even known to gobble up baby gulls from other nests (which may be why one parent is always hovering near their nestlings)…

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I have a particular love for researching the bits of nature I encounter, and try to learn something new as often as I can. What small thing can I take from gulls? Well, it certainly isn’t that one should squawk and screech until they obtain what they desire (that’s just bad manners)…

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One thing I can say is that the local gulls deserve respect for surviving these most brutal of icy and windy winters that Chicago frequently serves up. In fact, they deserve an all-you-can-eat buffet of potato chips for that! But jesting aside, I’m inspired by the way they carry themselves with a certain pride and strength as they look out over the waters, even though they never know whether the waves will be tumultuous or whether all will be calm…

Here’s wishing you more quiet waters than rowdy, but that you’ll have the strength to ride out whatever turbulence might come your way!

A Message Of Peace Upon The Shore

I have the good fortune to live just a few blocks from the beautiful shoreline along Lake Michigan. There are beaches for people, and beaches for dogs. You can rent a boat or picnic in the grass, and even take in the view of Chicago…

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I quite enjoy a summer’s day at the beach, and I go prepared with fizzy water and snacks, a comfortable chair and an oversized sun hat. It is my time to catch up on reading, and the soothing sounds of the lake’s waves sound every bit as powerful as ocean waves…

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And just down the block is Northwestern University, where many a youth is filling their head with intelligent notions. I love school. If I could make a career of taking classes, I would…

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But along this wonderful shore, upon land owned by the university, there is a curious sight. Hundreds of enormous rocks, decorated with colorful messages…

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Out on those rocks, people lounge in the sun, eat their lunches, and even fish…

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And if you get close enough to read what is written, you will find interesting quotes, marriage proposals, individual memories and tributes. They are entertaining to explore (though somewhat precarious to walk upon)…

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There are many rocks that make me smile and warm my heart…

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And I find it a complete wonder to consider how many folks have trudged down to the lakeshore with paint buckets in hand over the years!

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Some were decorated so long ago, that the messages are fading away under the elements…

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There is much love to be found upon the rocks, which a community can never have too much of…

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And writings that are very wise indeed…

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We of course cannot leave out messages that instigate a giggle or two, for what is life without laughter?

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Here’s wishing you a place of nature and beauty to enjoy, wherever you may live. Here’s wishing that you’ll visit it often and be filled with peace and happiness!

Go Put Your Lipstick On!

This morning when I opened my eyes, the grey sky did anything but inspire. It was very dismal in fact. I frowned and pulled the covers up. I knew right then that this was going to be a lipstick day…

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What is a lipstick day? Many years ago, on a day when I was in a spectacular frump, a dear friend told me to go put my lipstick on. I guess I must have, because I’ve never forgotten her instruction. It was her special way of saying “You’ve got to keep on moving, sister”…

lipstick-1097141_1280Just the other day, another friend of mine was exhausted, yet had a long day to get through. I told her the story of the lipstick, and she went and put some on. After a few hours she claimed the lipstick wasn’t helping. But then we immediately had a good laugh, so maybe it helped after all…

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Why would lipstick be helpful? The obvious reason I suppose is that it brightens one’s face and makes them look put together, pretty. But I think when my friend told me to go put my lipstick on, she might have said a dozen other things. She could have told me to go order a decadent coffee drink, or turn on my favorite song and do the chicken dance, or take a quick lap around the block and birdwatch…

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Really it isn’t about the lipstick at all, it’s about keeping your chin up! But today, I think I’ll go apply some all the same, the brighter the better, and defy those ominous dark clouds…

Here’s wishing you good cheer, even when your skies are grey!

Demise of the Duckie…

Awww, Tiddo! You’re sitting so nice with your duckie! I have some things to do, but will be back soon.  The Cat Mom

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Wait, wait lady! Where are you going? You’re not going to leave me alone, are you? The Duckie

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Oh no, she’s left the room! Nice kitty, kitty…we’re friends, right? Shall we play cards? Chess? Watch cartoons? Color?

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You’re such a quiet kitty, I hope there’s nothing dangerous on your mind?

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Aaaaaahhhhh!!! Help!!! He’s got me!!! I’m flying in the air!

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I’ve been flung and can’t get up, now I’m just a sitting duck! Tremble, tremble, tremble…

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My family is plush, kitty. They’ll give you all the cat crunchies you want. Just don’t hurt me…

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Oh please kitty, nice kitty! You don’t want to eat me! I bet you have a far tastier plate waiting for you in the kitchen…

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He’s got me pinned with his giant claws! This is the end! Please say goodbye to the flock for me…

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He’s licking his chops! My days are over. Quack, quack…

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Whaaaa! EEEhhhhh!!! Noooooeeeewww!

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Chomp, chomp, chomp…nom, nom, nom. Burp! Tiddo The Cat

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The next day…Oh, Tiddo. I’m sorry to hear you say that your friend duckie ran away! I wonder why, when you are such a sweet and docile kitty. Well, here is a new friend for you! I’ll be back soon. You two have fun! The Cat Mom

We Are All But Buds And Berries

Some autumns ago, just as the leaves were turning and the summer was fading away, I went on a forest walk with a gathering of my family. It was the perfect day, and there simply isn’t anything so pleasant as a nature walk…

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These particular woods have a sprawling forest of pine trees that I am very fond of. I’ve always appreciated the lack of thick underbrush there, and the soft crunch of pine needles underfoot. And of course, the fresh scent of pine. I ran through that wood often as an itty bitty little

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On this particular family outing, I carried along a basket and scissors to cut wild flowers and other natural decorations. I decided that I wanted to make a forest wreath to place upon my head, for no particular reason but that it would be a pleasant activity…

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With wire and floral tape ready, I snipped up flowers, plants and berries, and bound them together into my wreath. It took far longer to construct than I expected of my whimsical craft, and I was dismayed at how much of the dried bits, seeds and petals fell away as I worked. This also caused a bit of sneezing, for I and hay fever are bound in this life…

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But the time spent working with such little snippings of nature, while chatting the time away with my closest, made a memorable afternoon. I thought the wreath turned out lovely, as fragile as it was. The circlet didn’t last for long, quickly falling away bud by berry. But I suppose that that was a reminder to cherish each precious season, and those that I love, for we are all but buds and berries…

Holy Chapel of Paris: Sainte-Chapelle

As most European cities are, Paris is filled with breathtaking churches; mind-boggling, Gothic-architecture behemoths built from stone. One such venerated place that I entered on a solitary wandering, was Sainte-Chapelle, meaning Holy Chapel…

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From the outside, patterns can be made out in the window panels, but the beauty of the stained glass from within the chapel are yet to surprise you…

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Religious figures and chiseled-out arches, grace its aging facade…

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And if you look carefully enough, you’ll catch glimpses of the gargoyles that are peering down at you from above…

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While the fleur-de-lis and castles that decorate the stone, are powerful markers of the history of this particular house of worship…

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Markers that continue inside of the church, painted in gold upon the ancient red and blue pillars. I gasped at such a display of color, which I was not expecting…

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Sainte-Chapelle began construction in the year 1242 and was completed in 1248, making this glorious building just about 774 years old! Folks who live abroad may not find this uncommon, but coming from the U.S., we consider a building or church that is just several hundred years old as being historically important. Therefore, I was absolutely in awe as I toed about this holy place built in the High-Middle Ages…

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Once making a slow entrance into its absolutely magnificent chapel, I heard angels singing. A whole choir of them. This was all in my head of course, for the place was so reverently quiet that you could have heard a mouse sneeze…

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It was a breathtaking moment. The sun glowing through the stained glass, the candlelight, the woodwork, the vaulted ceilings, the decorative alter…

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All I can say is, oh heavens! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!…

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And then I got closer to sneak a peek at the stories in the glasswork and my brain just broke. In the year 1248…how?! How did they do it? It’s…just…amazing…

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Some who visited the church plunked down in reverie to view the scene. I wouldn’t doubt if folks stayed for hours to do so. The hundreds of stories and patterns in glass could keep anyone mesmerized. And to think, many if not most of these scenes in glass must have a meaning, some background to them. Whether a political rendering, or a story from the Bible, how many narratives the glass holds…

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Sainte-Chapelle was built by Louis IX, King of France from 1226-1270. When he became a king, he was but 12 years old. He constructed this church in a courtyard where his palace stood in Paris, for the purpose of housing religious relics (including one crown of thorns alleged to be the very one Jesus wore at his crucifixion, and which is now housed in Notre Dame)…

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At this time in the High Middle-Ages, there was both great population and economic growth in Europe (with a blossoming of urban life). It was a period posed after centuries of barbaric invasions, but set just before the Black Death (which potentially took up to 200 million European lives in the mid-1300’s, up to 60% of the peoples)…

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Sainte-Chapelle housed just more than 30 religious relics acquired by Louis IX, items that would have caused absolute fervor in the devout. But even without the relics, if any common citizen could have gained access to such one chapel of a king (not likely), the view alone would have brought them to their knees. For that time period, the innards of a building like this would have been something hardly imaginable, a sight of unfathomable splendor…

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Alas, as I finally walked down an ancient stair to leave the church and gain access once more to the rest of Paris, perhaps I passed the ghost of King Louis’s wife Margaret of Provence as she glided up in the opposite direction, heading into the chapel to say her prayers under the rainbows of the stained glass. Only my imagination of course, but how I wish I could catch but some small glimpses back in time while visiting such ancient places…

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And as I walked back out into the light, the windows hardly giving away the colorful views that were within, I looked up to the gargoyles and said goodbye while angel song flitted up and away into the blue sky. What a place of beauty, is Paris’s Sainte-Chapelle!

Please Don’t Feed The Cuties, I mean the Coatis!

A few years ago while driving back to our hotel after a rainforest walk in Costa Rica, we saw something peculiar on the side of the road. I instantly blurted something like, “What are those things?”

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Of course, I was tremendously excited! I love catching sight of any wild creature, especially one that I’ve never seen before, or ever even knew existed. Were they monkeys? Large rodents? Lemurs? Jungle squirrels? Wolverines? I have an overactive imagination…

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Curiously, there was also a gaggle of people standing nearby (presumably tossing the creatures some nibbles). Of course, that is something I’d want to do (get right in the action and observe the animals up-close). However, it appeared that these long-tailed creatures were quite energetic and swarming in an unpredictable way, and I didn’t think it looked all that safe for folks to be standing so near…

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The animals were white-nosed coatis. They are also called pizote or coatimundi, among other names and are of the raccoon family. Different from raccoons however, coatis are not nocturnal. Instead of coming out at dusk to search for food, they sleep in trees at night and wake at dawn. Further, male coatis are far larger than females and like to remain solitary. The gals however, run around in crowds with their babies! The photo I took therefore, most certainly comprised only females and their little ones…

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What do they like to eat? Tarantulas. Yup. Nothing like a big, hairy, juicy spider to get the day going right! They also find rodents and lizards to be quite delicious, and delight in fruit. But, they will also eat scraps thrown to them by people. However, coatis (as cute and friendly as they can be) are wild animals and their bite (or even their scratch) can deliver rabies. They should never be fed, nor should folks get too close.

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As adorable as this nascent coati is, he should be left to learn how to hunt for his tarantulas (delicious), not beg for human snacks (yuck)!

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I was of course curious whether we have any coatis in the U.S., since I’d never heard of them. As it turns out, we do have extremely sparse populations in Arizona and in southern New Mexico. Apparently a handful live in Florida too (though certainly not native, but rather escapees from some captivity).

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Now that I’ve enjoyed learning about coatis, it’s time for me to research other odd facts! Such as, how nutritious are tarantulas? Do people eat tarantulas? If people hunt and eat raccoons, do they also hunt and eat coatis? How often do people contract rabies from wild animals? Should I have gotten a rabies vaccine that one time a squirrel jumped on my head from right out of that tree? Can squirrels even get rabies?

Here’s wishing you a great curiosity in life and learning new things, each and every day!

The Nests of Great Egrets

11/15/16: Update to this post…upon closer examination, these may indeed be Cattle Egrets rather than Great Egrets. When zooming in to the photos to get better details, I discovered tan plumage on heads and chests that is indicative of a Cattle Egret’s feathers during mating season. Further, orange-red legs point to a Cattle Egret as well, for Great Egrets have black legs. It was fun to make this mistake however, for it has sharpened my skills for future birding!

A few years ago on the Island of St. Lucia, while en route to ride out into the ocean’s waves, this amazing scene was to be found. I was in absolute awe of the abundant and beautiful life to be seen in these trees…

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When later researching these birds, I believed them to be Snowy Egrets, when in fact they are Great Egrets. Though both species are white, Snowy Egrets have black beaks and Great Egrets have orange. The activity here was so wonderful to see, these large birds and their nestlings all gathered together near the water’s edge…

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Great Egrets are members of the heron family of birds, which like to stalk their food in shallow waters (creatures like fish and frogs). They spear their catch with their beaks. In Illinois where I live, you might catch an occasional glimpse of one stalking fish in the waters of a conservation area during the warmer months, but these birds are truly lovers of tropical places. Since I’ve only ever seen a handful of lone egrets where I’m from, these trees filled with fuzzy headed egret babies just about took my breath away!

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Egrets pair up each mating season and produce blue-green eggs, which both mom and dad take turns sitting on. Their nest can be up to 3 feet wide and their little hatchlings are ready to fly out from the nest after 6 weeks old. Let me tell you, those babies are the cutest ever, with feathery, fluffy white heads! But don’t be fooled, these precious creatures grow up to be fierce aquatic hunters!

Here’s wishing you wonderful glimpses of nature today, and everyday…especially some that take your breath away!

The Golden Egg Part II.

Just a little over a year ago whilst making breakfast, I discovered that one of my hard-boiled eggs had a double yolk (which I shared in the post The Golden Egg). I was pretty excited to cut open that egg and discover two yolks, for in all of my years of egg eating, I’ve never seen one. My grandparents raised chickens and ducks when I was a youngling (and still do), but I don’t recall seeing any double yolks amongst those fresh eggs. Perhaps grandma called my attention to one in the skillet at some point, and I forgot about it…

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According to Fresh Eggs Daily, only about 1 in every thousand eggs will have a double yolk. But because most egg producers discard eggs that are outside of an established commercial norm, it is even rarer to get one when buying a carton at the market. However, I’m guessing that my purchasing both ‘organic/cage free’ (farmers who are less likely to away with a perfectly good egg in spite of shape or weight) might have something to do with my good fortune…

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This is my second golden egg! I went to fry some eggs for supper two nights ago and was tickled to find another double yolk when I cracked my eggs into my pan! On researching this phenomenon again, I discovered that some farms breed chickens that are more likely to produce these eggs, and sell double yolks by the dozen!

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There are also plenty of superstitions around cracking open a double yolk. But as for me, there is only one of these omens that I am willing to believe, and that is that I’ll receive some good luck. But I guess I already did, for that egg supper was delicious and I received the blessing of a full stomach!

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Here’s to interesting curiosities that delight and always learning something new; and also wishing you much good fortune, a double yolk or two!

A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel

I’ve just completed A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention by Matt Richtel. This book tells of the moving aftermath of a very serious car accident that occurred in Utah in 2006. Early one September morning, a young man was texting in his vehicle on the way to his job painting houses…

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With each text while negotiating slippery roads, the young man’s car veered into the oncoming lane and back again, as witnessed by another driver. It was during one of these moments of inatention and moving into another lane that the young man clipped an oncoming vehicle…

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Within moments, two men from this other vehicle lost their lives. They were both husbands, fathers, scientists and had many years ahead of them…

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Richtel’s book was not only emotional to read, but it also challenged me to ponder such things as the process of lawmaking, society’s differing viewpoints on policy, technology, and the human brain’s ability to keep up with our very fast-paced world…

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Ten years after that terrible accident, we have laws in place about texting and driving, as well as for the general use of phones in a vehicle. It now seems too, common sense to put your phone away while driving. But most of us would be telling a fib if we said we hadn’t broken these laws now and again (checking a text, taking a call), if not perpetually. Further, this accident was only one of many that has been caused by distracted driving while using a phone. People continue to lose their lives, over a text message…

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Deadly Wandering illustrates with more than emotion, but also science, how using your phone while driving isn’t the same as changing the station on the radio. It distracts attention on a whole other level, with risks comparable to driving while intoxicated…

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I’d encourage anyone to read this book for its applicability to our daily life. Not only does it take us through one story of family and loss that helped forge important driving laws, but it is also highly enlightening while discussing our adaptations to a world of technology. Alternate chapters will require either a tissue in hand (the personal story part), or your thinking caps tied on tight (the brain science part)…

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Whether or not you pick up a copy however, the main point of this narrative is to remind each of us to put our phones away when we drive. Be good to others, be good to yourself. My dinosaur-aged flip phone will certainly remain at the bottom of my purse with the spare bobby pins and pennies while I’m on the road; Richtel’s tale has certainly seen to that!

The Book Of Dragons Giveaway!

Because it’s November 1st and the season of thankfulness is upon us…because it is an unbelievable 74 degrees and sunny in Evanston…because gift giving is so much fun…and because one of my greatest joys is to share my stories…I’m feeling like today is the day for a giveaway!

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After his courage shines through during one unexpected act of valor, young Lambert finds himself knighted by the wise King Gerald of the Kingdom of Echoes. After five years of knightly training and surprising adventures, Lambert and his heroic brothers receive an urgent request from the King; all knights must go in search of a magical text that has gone missing from right under the King’s nose at Halves Castle.

This isn’t just any book however. It is the Book of Dragons, a text filled with magic. In the wrong hands, the peaceful Kingdom of Echoes could be destroyed forever.

As Sir Lambert embarks on his quest to return the book to King Gerald, he learns that its magic would be nothing without living, breathing dragons!

Join Sir Lambert, who with the true heart of an honorable knight will do anything to protect the good people of the realm. Even if it means he has to fight one ferocious red beast!

To enter for your chance to win one free copy of The Book of Dragons, please tell us in the comments what your dragon’s name would be if you owned one as a pet. Further descriptions, such as what your pet dragon looks like, its temperament or habits, would also be highly amusing to hear about (but is not mandatory). Have fun with your imagination!

One winner will be selected at random this coming Sunday, November 6th at 10 a.m. Chicago time and announced here, and the magic inside The Book of Dragons will be theirs!

Robata Japanese Cuisine!

My honey and I are just crazy about Roka Akor in Skokie. Dining there is always a special occasion. The food is truly incredible and the staff, always attentive. You can check out my other Roka Akor reviews here, here and here. Here’s what we enjoyed on our most recent visit!

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A little ‘amuse-bouche’ on thinly sliced cucumbers. I couldn’t tell you exactly what they were comprised of, but my mouth was certainly amused!

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The Kale Caesar Salad with Bubu Arare and Roasted Charred Tomato tasted like a song! So delicious! What are Bubu Arare you ask? They are those little tan balls that you see on the salad. Traditional to Japanese cuisine, they are tiny seasoned cracker-like nibbles! Crunch-crunch

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Next, some Prince Edward Island Mussels with Wild Mushrooms and Citrus Sake Broth. These little seafood delights with toasties would take the chill out of any autumn night!

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You couldn’t pay my date to pass up the Robata Grilled Duroc Pork Belly with Kimchi on a visit to Roka Akor, and I don’t blame him. That meat is delivered right from robatayaki heaven! (If you’re curious like me, robatayaki means ‘fireside-cooking’ in Japanese)…

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Next we ordered up some Sweet Corn with Soy Garlic Butter (…mmmm) and some Sweet Potato with Ginger Teriyaki (…mmmm-hmmm) to accompany our main dishes.

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I certainly wasn’t crabby after diving into my sea of Alaskan King Crab with Chili Lime Butter (all puns intended)…

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But the real star of this evening’s dinner was handsome’s choice. This dish is very, very special and something he’d considered ordering each time we’ve dined at Roka, but had yet to. He finally decided upon this Miyazaki Wagyu served with Artisan Salts. Wagyu is a breed of cattle in Japan, and Miyazaki the place this particular cow was raised…

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This steak is considered some of the best out there, and we concur. Even though I don’t generally eat meat, I had to try something this luxurious. It was a delectable experience. The meat literally melts in your mouth (likely because Wagyu has a high level of unsaturated fat)…

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And for our dessert, the Ube Pot de Creme with Toasted Rice Tuile. Ube is a purple yam! I love the thought that a root vegetable curbed our post-dinner sweet tooth! Yet again, another memorable meal at one of our favorites, Roka Akor!

The Mad Hatter Of Toasties: A Poem

I am the Mad Hatter of toasties, smothering my bread in everything that’s good…

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Even covering them in melty cheese and eggs, though my conscience isn’t sure I should…

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Especially best are those with eggs in a hole, how I swoon with each bite and crunch…

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Mad Hatter I am, getting crazy with my toast…I make one wild bunch!

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No, no, there’s nothing better, than such hot and toasty delights…

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Made right quick for any meal, they’re indubitably the best on chilly autumn nights!

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Of course there is salad; greens so fresh, bright and pure…

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And roasted squash of every kind, from which I don’t demure!

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Always loving am I of a tender fish, potato and asparagus feast…

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And my ardor for shrimp, shallots and beans…well that won’t ever cease!

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Wondrous goddess you are, divine caprese! So very high on my list…

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But toasties, oh toasties, you’re this Mad Hatter’s pleasure, for always and ever. On this I must insist!

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Go Sharpen The Scissors…

Time gets away from me when it’s time to get a haircut. I’d likely have cut it a year ago if it hadn’t been for having The Quill And Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire. It wouldn’t have been common for an Elizabethan woman to have short hair and I’m all about reenacting history! However, long tresses proved torturous in the heat over the summer and I knew when fall came, snip-snip!

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I knew however, that no matter how frustrated I’d lately become with this length (knots, time of care, getting strands caught or snagged in things), someone else could use what I had…

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So I went to see my very talented stylist Krista McGann, who I’ve trusted with my cuts for over seven years. If you live in, or are visiting Chicago, I highly recommend her. Her artistry will have you leaving her chair feeling fabulous. Previous to the appointment, I let her know that I’d like to donate…

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Krista told me that she believed my hair was the longest she’d ever cut, which I found surprising. How long was my hair this go around?! And with a donation requirement of at least 8 inches, what would I really be giving?

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A lot of snipping and two fresh razors later, I was able to give approximately 20 inches…

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And boy do I feel lighter than a feather! That very afternoon, I sent off my pony to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, an organization that provides 100% free real-hair wigs to women who are fighting cancer…

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I hope that my gift will help another lady feel a little stronger during her hardship. As for me, I’m loving my short style!

Here’s wishing you strength when you need it, and encouragement to give when you can. God Bless!

Maid of Honour is Here!

I am so, so excited to share Maid of Honour with you! This wonderful story is adventurous, and so endearing. After holding it in my hands and reading it myself this week, my heart was filled with warmth by the time I reached the last page. Maid of Honour is a very special tale about bravery, humility and honor, and I sincerely hope you’ll enjoy it!

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Every young lady of noble birth dreams of being selected by Queen Carolina to be one of her maids of honour. So, when Jane receives a missive inviting her to take her place by the queen’s side at Castle Wellstone in one week’s time, she is overwhelmed with excitement and pride!

It is a beautiful day when she settles into her carriage with her friend and handmaiden Katie, especially as a dazzling court, prestigious status and days filled with merriment await. Escorted by guards on horseback, she begins her journey thinking only of her future happiness. However, as their caravan passes through a thick wood, miles from home, a terrible fray breaks out. They are being assailed by archers hiding in the forest! Confused and afraid, Jane can only wonder why this sudden attack has come upon them, and whether or not they will survive.

A harrowing run through the woods soon leads Jane to discover the veiled truth behind sustaining peace in their kingdom. And though she never expected the need to summon such great courage in the face of danger, especially on this special day, her cleverness, kindness and humility will shine through. Jane is about to become a true maid of honour!

Available now on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

Hats To The Heavens!

I’m a hat loving, hat wearing kind of gal! Further, I love costuming. So, you’ll quite understand how I have so many fabulous photos of wondrous hats, taken at the Bristol Renaissance Faire

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These pretty towers add even more elegance to what are already such smartly dressed noblewomen…

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And such a tall and pale-yellow number so nicely compliments this saucy mistress!

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Only a straw hat decorated with a bit of plumage will do for this authoress (who secretly dreams of living in a hobbit house). But I digress…

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Oh my gosh, the Queen’s hat! Look at those gorgeous feathers!

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…spy especially upon Her Majesty’s striking red plume and Tudor Rose!

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What a magical crown for one such etherial fairy queen!

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A wild creature perches upon this witch’s hat, zoom in and you might see it!

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Well met sir! Your hat is so grand as to be in a category all its own!

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One noble’s hat was adorned with trimmed feathers on their individual rachis. I thought they made a clever ornament!

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And nothing like prettily fashioned hairstyles and delicate lace collars to add to the elegance of these women’s hats!

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How special the simplicity of this young lady’s cap…

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How daring the effect of an artful tilt and golden feathers. Fantastic!

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And how sweet the pretty veils of young maidens at their games…

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And at their prayers…

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Truly an excellent ensemble, one lady so richly adorned in blue…

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Another one of Her Grace’s gorgeous pieces. What a designer has she!

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Oh precious the crown of yellow buds and green…

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And such a treasured wreath of feathers, from out of a dream…

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There simply are no lack of smiling faces, and thoughtfully designed hats on this festival day!

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But I must tell you this…

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No hat can beat the one worn by the kindest of ladies, Lady Ettie!

Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal by Abigail Carroll

I’ve just finished reading Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal by Abigail Carroll and found it to be a fantastic text filled with historic food facts!

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Three Squares treats us to a food timeline in US history. Carroll begins with what mealtime likely usually looked like for settlers in the 17th century (when European colonists began planting roots and observing the foods Native Americans consumed)…

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I was absolutely fascinated to learn what and why settlers were eating/growing/harvesting what they were and how they prepared these items. It was also interesting to learn how settlers viewed their native neighbors (rampant with cultural clashing and ugly stereotyping when it came to the meal)…

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In the 18th century, patterns began to change. Where many crops, food items and ways of preparation had been originally rejected in the 17th century, new generations of Americans began to do the opposite, rejecting their European food pasts and clinging to what made their crops and tables uniquely American…

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As Carroll’s timeline progresses, we learn how the hours at which meals were taken, what was being consumed, and how food was being prepared and presented, changed and why. I found it really awesome to learn how consumption has changed so dramatically over the years, due to changes in American culture, wartime, industrialization and technology…

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Three Squares spans a great many topics…

  • What foods were uniquely native to North America vs. crops that were introduced.
  • The strong cultural bonds we make with our food.
  • How food associates with our notion of social status.
  • The way structured family meals affects our social skills and intelligence.
  • Nutrition, school lunches, government reforms.
  • The powers of packaging, advertising, and the impact of television.
  • Snacking and American leisure time.
  • And much, much more…

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Though folks who love food will find interest in this book, I think it is especially for anyone who enjoys history, and particularly American history. It is a highly digestible (tee-hee) historic timeline that will have you learning something new and interesting at the turn of every page! I cannot recommend it enough, it was truly a gastronomic pleasure!

What’s Up, Chippy?

We have chipmunks living under our cemented front porch. I enjoy watching them race around and make unique chirping noises, and they love to get a handful of nuts or fresh berries when I’m feeling generous…

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This little fella spent the greater part of an afternoon hopping up and down on a little edge of the porch. He ate his acorns and watched me. I typed on a story and watched him. They’re adorable, but they will mistake your toes for nuts if you are wearing flip-flops like I was. I’ve had to holler for them to get away from my toes on more than one occasion (and no my toes don’t smell like nut butter). The last thing I need is to have to hobble the block down to the local hospital for a stitch to my big toe, and explain how I got injured…

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Chipmunks burrow paths under the dirt, where they sleep, have babies and store their food. A single chippy can store up to eight pounds of food! (If a disaster hits town and I run out of victuals, I know where I’ll be digging! Acorn soup it is!) They also don’t like other chipmunks hanging around their dens and will brawl and chase them great lengths from their burrow doors. I’ve seen them fight, they’re spunky for certain…

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Chipmunks are also known to be very clean, keeping their burrows clutter free. They make comfy nests out of grass and leaves, and though most people think they hibernate in winter, that is only sort of true. They do sleep quite a bit, but they rouse a few times a week to eat, run around the burrow and use the chipmunk amenities…

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I originally believed that they only ate nuts, seeds and plants. However, they also eat bird eggs, insects and frogs. I can attest that this is true, for my mom and I once watched one hold an earthworm in its little claws and munch it while it squirmed. Gross!

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They can birth two broods a year (early spring and early fall) with between 2-5 little chips in each set. Sadly, chipmunks don’t live long. About 2-3 years. No wonder they brawl, hoard food and zip around like race cars. With such short lifespans, they’re living life in the fast lane!

Here’s to living life to the fullest, and always having enough acorns in your burrow!

What’s cooking good looking?

I made a special skillet this week, salmon cakes! My grandma used to make these, and my mom too, and this week I made them for my honey and I, and we quite enjoyed them…

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I’m not very good with following recipes and like to use what is on hand (always hoping what I’m making will turn out). I threw together a can of salmon, an egg, half a cup of bread crumbs (actually smashed pita chips), half a cup of mayo, a few tablespoons of mustard, half a cup of minced chives, and then formed the patties and let them cook slowly over medium heat…

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Crispy on the outside, flavorful hot salmon on the inside, served with some zesty sauce (a little mayo mixed with a little sriracha), and a salad. Next time I’m going to try baking them and see how they turn out!

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I’m always making a sandwich, because I’m nuts for them. For the last few weeks, cucumber sandwiches have been my favorite. This sandwich included toasted sourdough, a  spread of mayo, sliced red onion, arugula, cucumber, salt and pepper. I also really like making an open-faced sandwich with a little chive cream cheese and a layer of sliced cucumber. Delicious!

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I also whipped up a frittata (though frittata means ‘fried’ and mine was baked). Some eggs, some cheese, some veggies, voila!

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Fresh and simple meals are always a delight, especially when they are colorful!

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I also roasted some fingerling potatoes and steamed up some pea pods and had a little feast. There’s lots of veggie love in my kitchen!

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As the season is starting to change, I’m already leaning toward cool weather fare. I roasted a very large acorn squash last week (and ate the entire thing myself) and also baked up a zucchini casserole. Nothing like roasted veggies and hot casseroles to ward off a chill!

What’s cooking in your kitchen? Have you whipped up anything that is traditional to your family lately (like my salmon cakes)?

My Chili Pot Runneth Over…

For many years, friends of my family have hosted a wonderful event called Chili Fest! On a most anticipated September Saturday evening, a great many folks come bearing huge pots of delicious chili and a feast is born…

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There are crock-pots, stove pots and cast iron pots to fill an entire kitchen, all brimming with slow cooked meats, chilis and gumbos! There’s always vegetarian chili too (heartily made with raisins, beans and cashews…so good)!

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But that’s not all. As the evening begins and folks start to trickle in, much love is set out upon the dining room table. Dips, veggies, cornbreads, desserts!

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This wonderful family hosts a great many people, all bringing and helping themselves to the delicious spread. Children run through the yard playing games, dogs trot about hoping for a nibble from the table, and the company gathered create a cacophony of words and laughter…

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While just outside, Bullfrog plays on into the night. Bullfrog is a popular local band that has been around for years (though recently retired from public performance). They are very talented musicians. I’ve sat in on a great many of their gigs, for my stepdad Charlie is the drummer!

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Folks are in and out, grabbing another helping of chili, delighting in another piece of pie, taking in the cool night air and music from lawn chairs in the driveway…

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Generous friends bring the bounty of their gardens to share with the visitors…

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And one remembers once more how meaningful good food and fellowship are…

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Here’s a thank you to the hosts of Chili Fest! This gathering ever brings such warm memories!

And here’s wishing all, friends by your side, smiles and laughter in abundance, and always what share of earth’s bounty you need…

Birthday Blessings!

I recently celebrated my birthday, and it was just filled with blessings. So many people were so kind in wishing me well, and offering little surprises that filled my heart with thankfulness and gladness. There was also a special birthday meal, which handsome treated me to at Boltwood in Evanston. This is the second birthday dinner in a row that I’ve spent there, for we quite enjoy this restaurant (which I’ve also reviewed here , here and here)…

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To start, we shared the sourdough pizza with summer squash, goat’s milk ricotta and oven roasted tomatoes and the grilled octopus with greens, orange and cucumber

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Grilled octopus is a touchy dish, but Boltwood does it right. Fresh seafood that is grilled to perfection! Makes me feel transported from the Midwest to the Mediterranean…

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And of course, there was no passing up the crispy potatoes with garlic schmaltz. Need I describe something so delicious? You can see from the photo that those potatoes are heavenly!

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There was also a big salad, for I love my greens! The simple, yet satisfying chopped salad with candied pecans, blue cheese and lemon vinaigrette was delicious and is just the kind of dish that inspires my own salad makings at home…

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For the main course, handsome had the grilled pork chop with red rice, quinoa, fennel and plum salsa. All that was left at the end was the bone, so I can only conclude that it was one pleasing chop…

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Meanwhile, I relished in the wild king salmon with fresh shelly beans and mint-almond pesto. Look at that beautiful fish!

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And after blowing out my pretty pink candle, we partook in a very unique dessert. Sweet corn with ice cream, corn cake and caramel. Definitely a wink to the sweet bounty of summer!

Here’s wishing you blessings all year long, be it your birthday or any day other!

Abducted & Packing For Mars

I love books that strike my mind, challenge my intellect and make me look at the world differently. I’ve just finished Abducted: How People Come To Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens by Susan Clancy and Packing For Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach, and my brain has officially turned to pudding…

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These two books are completely different, but I’m sharing them together as both challenged my mind about what’s out there. I seriously dig science fiction, the wonders of outer space, pondering the possibility of alien life and what people are seeing in the skies…

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No matter my fascinations or beliefs on these topics however, one thing is for certain; I’d never want to experience it for myself. If alien life exists, I’d be too overwhelmed to meet it. And if I had the chance to travel into space, I’d never go. My feet steadfastly cling to my beloved Earth…

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I’ve always felt this way, but let’s just say Packing for Mars solidified my inclinations of terror toward space travel. Mary Roach is a brilliant writer. I also read her Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife last month and am thoroughly impressed by her writing style, the considerable research she can make palatable and her hilarious wit!

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Packing For Mars shares insight into the immense undertaking that is going on right now, to prepare for human launches to the ‘red planet’. Roach takes the reader through initial space exploration (American chimps and trained dogs from Russia being rocketed past the earth’s atmosphere in capsules) on through the many great trials that eventually brought men to the moon, and what advances have come since…

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Primarily however, this book is about what inconveniences, physical tortures, wild unknowns and abject fears astronauts must face when leaving earth. Every page I turned, I felt a sort of motion sickness and uneasiness, even though I wasn’t moving and all was safe and sound…

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Astronauts are up against cramped, airtight spaces, causing instant claustrophobia. Radiation is ever present beyond earth’s atmosphere, penetrating right through the vessel, making cancers in their futures a heightened possibility. Zero gravity brings with it, many human inconveniences and can harm the human body with long-term exposure. Leaving earth and re-entering the atmosphere are incredibly dangerous feats and every minute of space travel can become life-threatening from one minute to the next…NO THANKS!

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So why go? Why not just send more and more technology out into space to gather information, and keep humans safe where they belong? The only practical reason I gathered from this narrative seems to be that no matter how advanced technology becomes, humans have skills that only a human can have (such as being alive, cognizant of their past, having an understanding of place, time and feelings). Humans can problem solve in ways technology can’t, and can bring back information that is felt/experienced, rather than just ‘collected’. Further, for a human to have lived it, seems to be the undying purpose and pride in exploration…

But, what do I know? I prefer to stay at home where it’s cozy!

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However, according to Clancy’s Abducted, lots of folks don’t seem so cozy at home, believing they are being visited (and even abducted) by strangers not of this planet. Eeekk!

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Abducted isn’t necessarily an argument for or against the possibility of alien life though. Published by Harvard University Press (and its author being one highly educated psychologist hailing from that esteemed university), the book approaches this surreal topic far differently than I expected. It takes a look deep into the human mind.

After interviewing a great many “abductees”, Clancy makes the claim that abductions are all in peoples’ heads. Yet, her text doesn’t conclude that “abductees” are crazy. Rather, it leaves you reeling as you consider what the human brain is capable of, its depths and what places it can go…

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There is much, much more to both Roach’s Packing For Mars and Clancy’s Abducted than I have shared here. Therefore, if you are interested in any topic of science that these two books cover, I invite you to enjoy the read. If you dare to ride, they are both roller-coasters in book form…wheee!

The House of the Seven Gables

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Salem, Massachusetts in the month of October just before Halloween…

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The golden leaves were falling, grey skies and misty rain made the cobblestone pathways and colonial buildings feel mysterious. Handsome and I even traipsed out into a desolate field to visit one noteworthy graveyard, filled with tombstones from the Salem Witch Trials

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The Salem Witch Trials were a very frightening and grim part of American History. 200 innocent people were tried for witchcraft, ending with 20 of them being sentenced to death. I was sincerely touched to see the American flags dotted around this graveyard, honoring those innocent lives…

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We also wandered by the chilly ocean wharf, with no particular place in mind to head to. There, we stumbled upon an old house of unknown historical significance. And on that day (lucky for us), there was a little tour of the premises…

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This, is the House of the Seven Gables. It is the oldest mansion to be made of wood and still standing in Salem. It was built in 1668! For American architecture, this is considered ancient. We had to go inside!

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Unfortunately, I didn’t use my camera inside. Unlikely because they didn’t allow photos, but rather that I was too mesmerized by the old rooms. Visit here to see detailed photos and descriptions…

It was an amazingly restored house, where I was instantly transported back in time. I imagined cooking before the enormous stone hearth, stitching in the dainty sitting room, gathering around the table in the esteemed dining chamber, or even sneaking up a secret stairway hidden behind the wall…

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On the day we visited, it was autumn, late afternoon and rather gloomy. The natural lighting that came into the house did little to light our way through. So of course, I had all kinds of shadowy images in my mind of what it would have been like to live in that house in the late 1600’s, the sea turbulent just outside, a stormy night, the briny smell in the air, a crackling fire and candlelight playing upon the walls. And remember…the Salem Witch Trials were happening just outside…eeeeekkk!

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Some time after that visit to Salem, I’m at a garage sale with my mom. I see this book in a box and I blurt out loud, “I’ve been in that house!” Both my mom and the house owner raising an eyebrow at my random revelation. A few crinkled dollars and the book was mine!

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The House of the Seven Gables was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne (the author of The Scarlet Letter) in 1851. His cousin, Susanna Ingersoll, owned the home at this time, and Hawthorne visited her there. Thus, he knew the house intimately and used it as the stage for one bone-chilling tale…

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Hawthorne also had ancestors that were involved with the witch trials; he was steadfastly inspired by this. The House of the Seven Gables begins with an execution for witchcraft, an occasion that then haunts the generations who live in the home…

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I just read the book, which I did not consider the easiest read, yet which I could not put down. Some parts felt maddeningly in-depth (deep observations and winding verse). But then, a mere page later and I’d find myself once more in the throes of this haunting tale. The book is considered a romance; I would call it a macabre romance, inexplicably blooming under creepy, depressing circumstances…

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If you are interested in colonial or Puritan American history, I hope you make it to Salem. We visited some remarkable historic landmarks in both Boston and Salem, and I’ve an itch to go back to see more! I also especially enjoyed it with an autumnal setting, the fresh ocean air, and the best lobster I’ve ever eaten in my life.

If you are looking for a dark read with historic value, you might enjoy The House of the Seven Gables. It’s a cerebral tale of one shadowy seaside house that though I visited in real life, am very glad not to have visited as Hawthorne described it!

Terrible Typhoid Mary

I recently read Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, just as voraciously as I consumed Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map (about a cholera outbreak in London in 1854 which I reviewed here). I make the comparison here, because both books give us a snapshot of how city officials, doctors and citizens were dealing with contagious disease during a budding time of medical experimentation and progress. And also because these diseases are in some ways similar…

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Mary Mallon was an Irish immigrant, moving to New York City in 1883. She was employed as a cook for rich families, and was considered a clean and hardworking woman. However, in the families she worked for, cases of typhoid commonly arose…

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Typhoid is caused by bacteria that multiplies in the intestine after a hapless victim consumes food or water tainted with an infected individual’s waste. It comes with a dangerously high fever, extreme fatigue, terrible headaches and rashes, and an ailing intestine. It is a very serious disease…

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Mary Mallon was a silent carrier of typhoid. In rare cases, someone who has had the disease can continue to populate the bacteria and pass it on to others, long after they’ve gotten well again. Most survivors of the disease stop reproducing the bacteria after a span of time. In Mary’s specific case, she had no recollection of ever even having typhoid in her life. Most likely, she’d beaten a bad fever at some point in her youth, never knowing what she’d had…

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Worse still, she was employed as a cook. All it might take was one poor hand washing after using the water closet, and then prepping food in the kitchen, to pass typhoid on…

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In reading this retelling of history, I found myself both feeling sad for Mary, but also angry. When the connection was made that she might be a carrier, she refused to believe it or even speak with doctors sent to help her situation. She put up fierce fights, fled the scenes, changed her name. And partly, we can understand. At this time, experimental cures and unjust incarcerations were rampant. As far as she was concerned, she’d never had this disease and was not the cause of the cases coming down in the houses she worked for…

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On the other hand, she was made a fair offer. Change your profession and your freedom will remain your own. What did Mary do? She hid her identity and went to work as a cook in a women’s hospital. You can imagine the inevitable outcome. 25 people were struck with typhoid in this case, two died. She was caught and placed into permanent isolation…

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This book also gives us a snapshot into news tactics of the time. To sell papers, larger than life (and often false) stories were premiered. Mary was made a villain while men who were silent carriers and infected crowds were wholly ignored in the news. Presumably, this was because she was a cook, and as a woman, was expected to be utterly caring of others. This story also gives insight into how medical authorities dealt with (often poorly), odd situations such as Mary’s and how it impacted a patient’s freedom, spirit and health. (I certainly took a fright to how they tried to cure Mary of her typhoid. Eeek!)…

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I can hardly give this story justice here however. Therefore, I entreat you to read Terrible Typhoid Mary for yourself if you have any interest in medicine, city health and planning, late 19th/early 20th century American history, or the truly wild details surrounding one poor Mary Mallon!

The Tale of Three Toasties

It isn’t autumn yet, but there is a delicious chill in the air this evening. I’ve opened the windows and let the cool outdoors inside. The smell of woodsmoke has crept in with it…

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During the summer, while sunlight and balmy weather last late into the evening, I have no problem stopping at the store when necessary for an ingredient or two to cook up a late supper. But as the days are growing shorter, I’m already finding I’d rather just get home and not linger out after dark. I’m quite a homebody…

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Over the years, I’ve become creative with using what I have on hand at home, to drum up a satisfying bite when I just can’t be moved to stop at the store. One of my favorites are toasties! Thinly sliced bread that is on the cusp of stale (I like French bread or sourdough the best), throw on what you have on hand, and stick it in the oven for 8-10 minutes or so. I love toasties!

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These three were on sourdough. The first one had provolone, chopped pecans and honey. The second was boiled egg, cheddar cheese and pepper. The third was boiled egg, herbed olive oil and pepper. They were filling and delicious! The only thing that was missing was a pop of green (a topping of arugula would have been perfect). However, I was out of greens that evening (on account of not wanting to stop at the store that night and just make something easy).

You can put anything on your toasties, making them the very best last minute meal for cold weather. I love making them into tuna melts, caprese or avocado toasties…what would you put on yours?

Feasting At Found

Ooh heavens! What a busy summer I’ve had! The Bristol Faire has now come to an end until next year. It is both bitter and sweet, for while I’ll be missing this beloved festival, I’ll also be enjoying the change of seasons and working on new stories…

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I’ll also be enjoying more time with my honey! We were able to fit in a delightful date night at Found in Evanston a few weeks ago, and what a treat it was!

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To start, we had the Braised Turkish & Japanese Eggplants with Silky Tofu and Naan. The crispy yet chewy naan spooned over with flavorful eggplant had me singing (only in my head of course, I didn’t want to embarrass my date)…

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Next, the Harissa Roasted Shishito Peppers, Sweet Corn, Okra & Pepitas. Sweet kernels, smoky okra, zesty peppers…this dish spiced up date night! (I dare you to say Harissa-Roasted-Shishito-Pepita out loud three times in a row real fast. Tongue twister!)…

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The Masala Fried Cauliflower, House Made Yogurt & Pea Tendrils was absolutely delicious! I may have looked like Smeagol from The Lord of The Rings as I hovered over the last piece of cauliflower with my fork, “My precious!”

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More and more, we’ve been enjoying sitting chef-side at our favorite restaurants, to watch as the food is prepared. As I watched this mozzarella being sliced (seen above), I was tempted to make handful grabs of it and run out of the restaurant stuffing mozzarella in my face. I really love cheese. But then our main dish arrived and I came to my senses…

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We shared the Ivory Char with Heirloom Tomato Fondue, Cannellini Beans, Carrots & Sourdough. It was really perfect. The fish was tender, yet meaty with wonderful flavor. The beans were al dente and the carrots sweet and summery. The sourdough toasties were crisp yet chewy, and fantastic with a little spread of the zesty-sweet tomatoes…

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If you ever find yourself in Evanston, Found will provide you with a real connection to the food and flavors that make eating a genuine pleasure! We certainly savored every bite on our romantic rendezvous and ended our evening quite contentedly with two spoons!

What are some of your favorite pleasures as the summer days roll away and the smell of autumn rounds the corner?

A Delightful Giveaway!

Because today is a beautiful day…because it’s a holiday weekend…because I’ve still got one last festive weekend left at Bristol…today feels like a great day for a giveaway to share a little delight with you…

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Today, I’m giving away a copy of Delight! To enter, use your imagination and tell us what your fairy name would be if you were one of those magical creatures, and share it in the comments! I’ll randomly choose a winner on Tuesday, September 6th at 10:00 a.m. Chicago time and announce the winner! Here’s wishing you a delightful weekend!

Here’s A Health To The Company…

Hello Friends! What’s new?! As for myself, there’s just one weekend remaining for The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire! Our little shop (filled with Lita’s pretty art and my imaginative books) has but only this coming 3-day Labor Day weekend left to share our little treasures…

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We sincerely hope to see again, many of the wonderful people we’ve met this season, so that we can bid you good health and happiness until next summer! And for each and every one that took home one of our works this season, we appreciate you…

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The sunset was so beautiful this last Sunday evening as I trudged out of Bristol, that my heart fluttered at the sight of its glory. I was filled with peace and thankfulness…

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A friend of mine named Mary (an inspiring woman who in her 80’s goes to the gym regularly and is as healthy and lovely as ever), generously surprises me with her rice pudding every now and then. This unexpected, delicious gift, humbles me and makes my day, every time. When I was young, I never thought much of rice pudding…but I do now. Thank you sweet Mary…

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This is the grumpy albino skunk who makes an appearance at the Bristol Faire on the weekends (curtesy of a private farm). I love this skunk. I love him and want to give him hugs and take him for walks, and he could be best friends with my cat Tiddo…

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When we first met, he huffed, jumped towards me, scratched, grunted, and generally tried to ward me off. However, I am unmoving. I still love this skunk. With lots of cuddling, don’t you think I could bring his attitude around? (And no, he wasn’t stinky).

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In other news, I’ve been feeling some serious exhaustion these last few weeks. There is only one remedy for that, you know. Shrimp salad. I just pile as many veggies onto a plate as I have in my fridge, throw some shrimp in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper, and then enjoy. Its effects on exhaustion seem to be more effective if you get some sleep afterwards…

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In further news, this enormous spider was hanging above the potty this week, just like that otherworldly cave cricket. I think there is a conspiracy amongst the bugs in our house to frighten me when I need to use the amenities. Only, I’m not afraid of spiders! Bwa-ha-ha…

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…well, except for this dude in our mailbox! We have a problem with spiders in our mailbox.  Last night, no spider. This morning, an intricate web and what I considered to be a more energetic spider than most (he jumped at me in the most ungentlemanly way when I reached in for the mail). Of course, discovering that the mail lady hadn’t come yet, I had to save this hapless (if ungentlemanly) spider from the mailbox so he wouldn’t get squished when she arrived…

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I didn’t appreciate the way he jumped at me a second time, before skittering away on the porch. But my conscience is clear…no smushed arachnids today in my mailbox.

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Here’s wishing you many treasured moments in your days! And, I’m looking forward to seeing many smiling faces this weekend at The Quill and Brush, before Bristol’s winter slumber. To all our friends, here’s sending you Health to the Company

My Pretty Venice

Absolutely charming! That’s what I think about My Pretty Venice: A Girl’s Guide to True Venice by Isabella Campagnol, Elisabeth Rainer and illustrated by Beatrice Campagnol. This lovely book put a smile on my face at the turn of every page…

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To begin with, I greatly esteem writer Isabella Campagnol who is the author of Forbidden Fashions: Invisible Luxuries in Early Venetian Convents which I previously reviewed here. With her being a fashion, textile, and decorative arts historian who writes on Venetian topics, who better to co-author a modern guide directed toward such themes, with rich history weaved in?

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What do I love about this book? First, Rainer and Campagnol have written an uncomplicated, selective guide to Venice, directed toward delights that ladies might enjoy. That hidden garden, that charming bookstore, a place to pamper your toes or find elegant trappings. However, it isn’t just dry information, it’s playful and delightfully accompanied by Beatrice Campagnol’s darling illustrations (also including illustrative, well placed photos by Lorenzano Di Renzo). A thoughtful guide for the travel-minded, adventurous spirit that is also endearing to the imagination!

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I really enjoyed the cameos and curiosities throughout the book as well, which retell interesting histories and share snippets of important ladies from Venice’s history!

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For you gals who love Venice (like me), or have a friend who does, My Pretty Venice is an absolute treat! Whether or not you’re heading to that magical city anytime soon, a flip through this book’s pages will sweep you away on your own little holiday!

The Mermaiden

Can you smell the briny air? Hear the seagulls screeching? See the sand crabs scuttling? Feel the power of the ocean’s waves? Won’t you come sit a moment with a mermaiden and get lost at sea?

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Bess lives in a cottage beside the sea in the village of Salty Row. Her father is a respected fisherman, providing fish to both the people of their town, and also the nobles who live nearby in a great castle.

Bess loves her life by the ocean, filled with wind and water. Especially on the days her father brings her along on his boat; his hardworking crew is a spectacle to watch, and how exciting it is when the fishing nets are pulled up, brimming over with curious creatures!

As Bess is soon to learn however, the good fortune and security always enjoyed in Salty Row is about to experience some turbulent waters! Of course, facing hardship isn’t easy. However, one captivating mermaiden with her tales from the deep, might just be the key to keeping Bess’s good spirits afloat!

Available now on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

A Moment With Nature

Greetings green frog, or are you bullfrog? I wish you well about your day…

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Dearest water lily, you make me smile! You lift my heart, as I go on my way.

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Well met, lovely blossom! Aren’t you divine? How happy I am, to see your blush…

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Good day, painted turtle! How you stretch your neck! I see you are in no rush?

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Good morrow fellow, relaxed I see? Has anyone ever remarked on your ears? Goodness, oh my, don’t mind my saying, but how very big they be!

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Eeehh my, you frog! I’d made a mistake! At first I took your face, for that of a snake!

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Oh pretty white petals, how pure you be, and so sweetly yellow too! You lift my spirits and make me smile, as your countenance was made to do!

Here’s wishing you many moments with nature, to relax your mind and uplift your spirits!

Silly Fun with Shadows and Sun!

When you are bored, yet there be some sun…

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Don’t be a grump, go have some fun…

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Form a shadow; shimmy, dance and shake…

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See what silly shapes you can make!

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Ha-Ha-Hee! Haw-Hoo-Hoo! It be fun to play the fool!

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Here’s to making your own good fun and laughing often, whether or not the sun is shining!

Jumping Spiders & Rooftop Riders

This little dude took a run around our tented shop (The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire) this last Sunday. I noticed him as I was closing up and I’m pretty sure I looked like a total oddball taking photos of something (while in costume) undetectable to be seen for passersby (as this table was bare at the time). But what can I say, I dig bugs…

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According to my favorite go-to for insect identification, Insects, Spiders and Other Terrestrial Arthropods by George McGavin…this furry fellow is a common jumping spider. This threw me off, for I’m accustomed to jumping spiders being much smaller (and hopping about constantly to show off their athletic prowess). This guy wasn’t jumping at all (though he ran pretty fast) and was a pretty big spider.

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I thought he was a pretty handsome dude (just as long as he didn’t jump on me).

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Best shot ever! I put my finger real, real close and he lifted up his fuzzy eyebrows and stared right at me with two black eyes. We shared a moment, eye to eye. Awwww! Do you think I’m an oddball too?

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Riding up to the faire each weekend (rather early for shop set-up), there are always folks already waiting in line just outside of the parking gate. I love that! These folks are the truest fans of the B.R.F. and I think they are awesome! Renaissance themed tailgating? I approve!

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And here was the scrumptious fare we enjoyed this past Saturday. We make our little picnics to reflect less of the 21st century and nod towards the Renaissance. Ever tried crackers, pepper jelly and cream cheese? I could swoon! Delicious!

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In other news, I have an addiction to egg-in-the-holes and there is no cure…

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I also started pulling out of a parking space today with my lunch box on the roof of my car. Some construction workers in their utility truck yelled out with gestures to warn me. “COOLER!” I think I might be a little tired. Thank goodness I didn’t take it for a ride around town…

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I also spent more moments (minutes?) trying to figure out how to twist the cap off of this tube of caulk today, before eventually realizing that I needed to snip off the tip with scissors. I felt silly. I still feel silly.

Here is wishing you all a wonderful weekend, filled with rest, happiness and much laughter!

Summer Storms, Sunny Smiles

What an adventure I’m having with my mother Lita (the artist) and step-dad, at the Bristol Renaissance Faire each weekend while we man our little shop The Quill and Brush (selling our books and art)! We are three weekends past, with six more to go. Though the weather has been mostly agreeable (even if beastly hot and humid), we’ve already met with several thunderstorms that had us covering our heads as we hovered inside of our tent…

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Because we are playing as village merchants from the 16th century, we can’t go about lunching on our regular 21st century fare, and using our plastic cutlery! The little picnic shown here is an example of what we’ve been nibbling instead (though I sort of cheated with the glass bowls)…

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Unfortunately last Sunday morning, a storm blew in even before we opened for the day and an intense wind billowed up our tent and flung my table away with a crash! Our delicious food, so nicely prepared, went into the mud and my glass bowls shattered…

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But the frogs sure didn’t mind the rain! This little guy hopped into the tent, surprising me when I found him hanging around under my table of books…

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And we see this busy dude each day, going in and out of his hole right next to our tent…

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And after another thunderstorm this last Saturday, this crayfish emerged (likely flooded out of his hole). That was pretty neat, for we don’t see these all that often…

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I rolled my ankle walking in the faire’s midday parade and have had a mean little sprain for over a week. We sweated buckets, got crispy in the sun, and labored with our bins, tables and tent. And I might have screeched a little as we covered our heads and huddled as the thunder and lightening boomed and lit the sky!

However, reward comes only after a challenge and my reward are the smiles I see when I share my stories. It makes my heart sing. And how happy I am to watch one of my books being carried away, knowing the delightful adventure that awaits the reader!

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I’ve been nursing my sprained ankle with good food, for I can’t imagine anything being better medicine? Delicious whole wheat pasta with veggies and parmesan shavings…

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Arugula salad with soft boiled eggs…

Salmon and roasted veggies, delicious! If you like roasted salmon, try this little concoction I spoon over mine…

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Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, seed mustard and honey! Oh heavens! When the fish cooks, this glaze hardens on the top and it is just wonderful!

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Outside the high temperatures have brought on one of the loveliest parts of summer, the cicadas’ song! Just snapped a photo of this handsome creature. Look at those pretty pink flecks in his wings! Magical!

Here’s wishing you sunshine in your life today, and many joys from life’s simple pleasures!

The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

I picked up a used copy of The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson with the dust jacket missing. I’m not even sure why I selected it since the grey cover gave nothing away. However, a line inside read…The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World…intriguing!

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After the first page, I was hooked! I liken Stephen Johnson’s excellent weaving of history to author Erik Larson’s style (whose Devil In The White City and Thunderstruck had me on the edge of my seat). This book takes a journey through a 7 day period in the summer of 1854 in the city of London, when one hapless neighborhood is plagued by cholera. Within a very short span, 616 folks passed away in the most terrible way.

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I must admit that though I had a basic understanding of other pestilence, I knew nothing about cholera before picking up this book. After having read it, I am more appreciative of the untainted drinking water I enjoy each and every day, and saddened by the fact that this disease is still a part of our modern world…

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Cholera is a bacteria that lives in human waste. If such tainted waste meets a water source, and then the water is ingested by people, they are at risk. Cholera has some less severe strains, and some that are very severe indeed (such as the one which caused London’s outbreak in 1854).

Once the cholera bacteria enters the small intestine, the loss of water in the victim becomes so immediate and severe that dehydration can occur within hours, leaving a gaunt and lifeless individual behind. This is the least graphic description I can profer, for the disease is quite worse than that…Johnson’s The Ghost Map is not for the squeamish.

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Why did I eat up this book? First, its description of Victorian Era London and the living conditions of the city’s poor was fascinating. The book also gives an excellent synopsis of what healthcare was like (for both doctor and patient)…eeek! And from a scientific perspective, it illustrates both a period of discovery, while also the harsh battling amongst medical professionals/scientists…

For instance, in 1854 many illnesses were considered airborne. Particularly, passing on to humans at times when the air was the stinkiest (think hot, unsanitary streets during London’s summer before the efficient waste management practices of today). Therefore, to consider that cholera might be a waterborne illness (as proposed during this outbreak by a London doctor named John Snow), received considerable mocking.

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In this particular instance, Dr. Snow’s observations and queries in the neighborhood led him to believe that the outbreak was coming from one city water pump on Broad Street in particular, and he wanted that pump terminated as quickly as possible…it took a fight.

This particular story in history too, helped lead to changes in city planning, sanitation laws and waste management, and certainly opened the discussion up and away from the airborne theory alone for infectious diseases. The Ghost Map also brings individual stories to light, and shares an understanding of the players involved in such a remarkable event…

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If you have an interest in medicine, science, city planning, cartography, history, or just enjoy exploring different snapshots of the past and what people went through…this is a book for you. I will certainly remember it for a long time to come, and remain more mindful of the blessing that is a clean glass of water…

Letting Live, in Love and Peace

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I just caught another lovely creature who was clinging to the ceiling near the front door. She was there this morning when I rushed out and was still there this evening, in the same place. I did my careful balancing act on the chair and gingerly caught her…

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This one is not a Cave Cricket like the one I caught in the house earlier this week, but rather a Speckled Bush Cricket. It is of the Katydid family, known for their singing (not from their mouths but from the scraping of their wings along their bodies)…

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Look how gorgeous her beautiful green! Know how I know she’s a gal? Her very obvious ovipositor at her rear, an appendage that pushes into the dirt and then lays eggs!

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Fun Fact: Do you know what the differences between a cricket and a grasshopper are?

  1. Crickets have long antennae while grasshoppers have short antennae.
  2. A cricket’s song comes from rubbing its wings while a grasshopper makes music by rubbing its legs together.

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In the house, she’d been unmoving on the ceiling and went mostly motionless when caught. The moment I brought her outside, her antennae twitched and she started walking around. It was like she immediately sensed she was outdoors once more. Freedom!

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Love this photo, her two red eyes looking at me upside down. I probably appeared as a giant monster. Think it’s too late to return to college and become an entomologist? I sure love bugs!

Here is to the sanctity of life, however great or small, and letting live in love and peace…

Good Tidings From Bristol!

How we enjoyed our first weekend as The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire this past weekend, sharing our fantasy and historical fiction books and art! The weather was lovely and the opening weekend wondrous!

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The highest privilege was sharing in the numerous conversations with the energetic, warm and amazing patrons as well as the kind and creative vendors. The faire is truly a magical place, for both its creators and visitors make it so!

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Lita hand-painted our sweet sign and I adore it! What a finer flag for the author and artist?

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Lita’s colorful art put smiles on a lot of faces and delighted the wee ones! Her nature illustrations were befitting the beautiful place around us and were quite admired…

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And I so enjoyed sharing summaries of my tales with the kiddos. Their eyes often grew wide to hear them. I sincerely hope that they enjoy reading them, and keep memories of their day at Bristol in their hearts, just as I always did as a child…

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A special thank you to my step-dad Charlie for his helping us with the labors involved with such an undertaking, and to our family and friends who visited us this past weekend and showed their support for our little business…

A sincere thank you also to each and every one of the wonderful folks who selected a piece of art and/or one of my books. Your patronage means the world to us and we hope you’ll delight in our works, which we joyfully bring to you.

Here’s to 8 more exciting weekends yet to come at Bristol! We hope to see you there!

Cave Cricket In The Potty

Please cue the music from Jaws

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Duuuhh…..

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Duhhhduuhhh….

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Duuhh..duhhh….duuuhhh….

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I don’t startle when I see insects. However, I’d just woken up this morning and stumbled half-asleep into the bathroom and flicked on the light. This dude made me jump! It’s a cricket, but not just any cricket. It’s a variety of cave cricket and they are rather large…

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We’ve actually had a few hopping around the basement now and then, which I catch one by one when brought to my attention and deposit outside. I’ve seen Tiddo the cat pounce on one and munch it…eeewww! But, I’ve never seen them outside of the basement until this fella surprised me today…

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Not only did I startle, I squealed too because it jumped right toward me. They have very powerful legs and can jump quite the distance with force. I think bugs are neat, as long as they don’t jump in my hair before I’ve had my coffee…

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Let’s go outside, shall we? He’s now in the yard, eating some breakfast while I eat mine. I think it’s good karma to catch and release these little lives. Though he’s naturally a ‘cave’ dweller, hope he’s enjoying some sunshine! Hope you’re enjoying some sunshine in your life today too!

Summer Delights, Simply Delicious!

My honey and I are about to dive into one very busy summer, each tied up with our own exciting endeavors. We’ve always done our best to have a weekly date night to catch up, relax and enjoy a good meal together. This summer however, date nights will be harder to fit in and will likely be a bite at home. Thus, we had to get to one of our favorites before we’re both carried away with summer…

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Evanston’s Boltwood is simply delicious, every time! First on the menu, beets with greek yogurt, pistachios and saffron honey. So fresh and earthy!

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Next, grilled carrots with harissa, black sesame seeds and apricot. Oh heavens! I could have eaten that sauce with a spoon!

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We’d be tempted to make a trip to Boltwood just to eat these crispy potatoes with garlic schmaltz! We order them each time we go and are completely blissed out with every bite. So, so good!

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I love seafood anytime, but especially in summer when it’s served with bright flavors and color! This swordfish with citrus, fennel, radish, avocado and chives was light and excellent!

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The crispy tofu with coconut rice, broccoli, chili garlic and sesame seeds was the best dish of the night! This dish was on fire and so was my mouth! Spicy! I normally don’t eat spicy food because I can’t take the heat. This dish was hot, but I couldn’t stop eating it. The spicy sauce was offset by the coconut rice (perfect al dente) and the tofu. And though a large dollop of a tear ran down my face from the heat, I kept eating. Wow!

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I think I heard angels singing when I took my first spoonful of the budino. Butterscotch pudding, caramel, sesame tuile and whipped cream. It made me remember how much I love butterscotch. This pudding was so smooth and dreamy!

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Strawberry and rhubarb sing summer, so we quite enjoyed the strawberry rhubarb crisp with oats and chamomile ice cream. A wee tart and wonderfully fruity.

Here’s to the flavors and fun of summer, and spending time with the people you care about. I hope your summer is off to a great start and wish you many sunny days ahead!