Too Special For Words…

I saw something so special last week. Utterly special to me, because of my particular, lifelong love for insects. Living in an urban environment, you don’t see all that many interesting specimens. But sometimes, if you keep your eyes open like I do, you’ll see something that will amaze you…

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I was taking a brief bite of lunch out in the sun, and ran across the street to throw my apple core into a trash can. I soon almost fell over myself, coming to a halt. My jaw dropped and my chest stirred with excitement. FOR THE LOVE OF BUGS…A PRAYING MANTIS…standing there on the city sidewalk. My eyes were like two moons. I squealed out loud. I was so happy. If there had been anything difficult in my day thus far, it was over. Forgotten…

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Only then, I began to worry, for my mantid was posing so tall and proud on the sidewalk. He looked like he was ready to take on the world. Very confident. But pedestrians, and some with dogs, might hurt my beastie by accident. That would make me cry. So I hovered low, and warned a woman passing by…

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I thought to gingerly assist the beautiful animal into some building-side greenery. But then I thought, what if that creature’s sharp mandibles bite my finger? Ouch! Well, I guess I could stand such a pinch, if it meant saving the mantid’s life! Sometimes, we just have to be brave.

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Alas, as if reading my mind, the insect flew up over the walk, into blades of grass. It was amazing to watch it fly. Like a fairy. I gasped in awe.

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Safe, almost unseen, blending so well into the grass, there my mantid stayed to hunt his meal. His arms together, appearing in prayer, as praying mantis will do…

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I saw him for two days straight in the same cluster of grass, before he moved along. I of course had to look him up, and learn more about these bugs.

What did I find? A Chinese Mantis. According to Wikipedia, they are the most sizeable species of mantis in North America. I can attest…this beast was nearly as long as my hand, and when standing upright on the sidewalk, was quite dominant. Further, they are carnivorous (not just bugs, but aquatic creatures, reptiles…hummingbirds). They are also cannibals…

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Probably a good thing I was spared picking the creature up.

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I must say, I’ve only seen a praying mantis in Illinois once before, and that was some twenty years ago. That was especially why this encounter was so incredible. I’d like to have one as a pet. Only, he might eat all my pet jumping spiders bouncing around my house, which would be a conflict of interest. Some people do keep them as pets.

Of course, my heart tells me that what is wild, should stay wild…

As for you, Stay Inspired!

The Crazy Cat Lady House…

Hi Folks! How are you today? Staying inspired? I had planned to sleep in this morning, but instead woke up like a frisky autumn squirrel, ready to drink coffee, eat a blueberry muffin, clean everything, and write chapters. A few hours later, I’ve accomplished a few of those things…and I’m ready for a nap…

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I used to enjoy naps many years ago. Now, I don’t take them. If I do, I wake up not feeling so good. Does that happen to you?

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Today, I wanted to share something hilarious and delightful! Once upon a time, when I worked in a creative consultancy in Chicago, we had…well…creative competitions. The magic of working with artists and designers, is that they have some crazy talent making things. You never knew what they might come up with!

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For one of these internal events, it was decided that we should have a diorama competition. Now, I am no artist, and consider myself not at all able, in the way of arts and crafts. But I knew that I wanted to make a diorama. I loved making these things as a kid! The miniature setup in a shoebox?! What is better than that?

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The most awesome one as a child was a pyramid that you peeked into through a hole, a flashlight illuminating the innards. It was a mysterious tomb of treasures, and really sparked the imagination! I wish I still had that thing, but it fell apart three decades ago…

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To note…it sort of helped that I have a very artistic mother. Actually, it helped a lot. I begged for her help with anything to do with glitter, glue, drawing, painting, etc. You see, my brain doesn’t work that way folks. The idea of drawing is like trying to figure a complicated math equation. I can’t do it. And as an adult, nothing has changed…

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My mom was the true creative director behind my adult attempt at a diorama. I call it…The Crazy Cat Lady House. Please take a moment to admire this mini-house of mess and meows! Isn’t it awesome!

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Why did I aspire to make this house come to life? Because I’m a crazy cat lady in my heart, and always will be. I would love to own a house full of wily, frenzied, goofy, tussling cats. Only, I don’t like mess. So, I can only admire this scene from my diorama. I will never own a crazy cat lady house in real life. But I can imagine the joy of it…

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So how’d we do it? We took doll house pieces, tore them up, painted everything grubby, and made a merry mess with all the cats at play. We had a blast!

Did I place in the competition? Yup! Third. Quite impressive when you are going up against people who went to school to create! Thanks for your help, Mama!

It was so fun. It was inspiring. Life should be more about that…don’t you think?

My very best wishes to each and every one of you today! I’ll be working on my creepy new novel, Still, and keeping inspired. I wish you the same!

Inspired by Home…

Happy Sunday All! This morning is quite rainy and chilly. I think I aught to just get back under those blankets!

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[Image by LUM3N from Pixabay]

Do you know, I love home. I could stay home endlessly. Be very quiet. Just write, and read, and take afternoon walks, and cook healthy things, and eat lots of cookies, and create an inspired post everyday, and be so very content…

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[Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay]

You see, it is my dream to be a stay-at-home-writer. You’d sometimes find me hiding in a used bookstore for inspiration, sniffing old pages, because there’s nothing like that smell…

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[Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay]

Or, I might be sitting by the lake, contemplating my next chapter, the waves, the sky, and life…

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[Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay]

But mostly, you would find me at my desk, my most contented place to be…

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[Image by Andrian Valeanu from Pixabay]

That is what home inspired me to think of today…

Someday

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[Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay]

And what are your dreams? I bet they are as wonderful as mine!

Stay inspired!

Inspired By Reading…

Hello All You Amazing, Strong, Creative, Funny, Wonderful, Weird People…oh wait, the weird one is just me! Ha! How are you doing today?! Staying inspired I hope! Do you know what was so very good for my soul this last week?

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Reading. I was under the weather Monday, and thus spent the afternoon reclining in bed with books. And then…I made some more time for some more reading this week, because, you know, I just wanted more. Like M&M’s. Or blueberry muffins. Or French fries dipped in aioli…

Reading breaks my brain. It inspires me. And do you know what else I found? It makes my brain hush up. I need that. Be quiet brain, stop chattering! I’ve decided to apply reading to my life like meditation, for its wondrous calming effect…

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This week, I finished reading Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis, an inspirational book for women, a gift from my cousin Kerri last Christmas. Some of the uplifting advice applied not at all to me, or were lessons I’d learned a long time ago. Yet, other thoughts from the author had me nodding my head in affirmation, thinking, this is good advice. I don’t really read much in the way of inspirational books, but I appreciated this one for being just that. A woman, trying to lift other women, and that is always good. Right on, Rachel!

I also finished Bait and Switch: The Futile Pursuit of the American Dream by Barbara Ehrenreich. Her Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America was amazing, so when I saw another of her works at the used book store, I snatched it up. Like science writer Amy Roach, this author is an utter inspiration to me. Her research, her wit, her investigative reporting skills…I aspire. Both of these books are about why it can be so difficult, financially getting by in America. Neither book made me smile. Both increased my humility. Both remind me not to take anything for granted, and to be thankful for what I have. Very smart books, very good reads.

Now, I’m beginning Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. Another work bringing to light, an American populace, struggling in poverty and pain. Though it is doubtful I will find much uplifting in it, some stories are simply important to read…

As the days are starting to get chillier, and the sky is growing darker sooner in the evenings…

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I’ve pulled out the tea kettle and am perusing all the books I’ve collected, yet have not had time to begin…

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With that cozy time of year returning, I can’t wait to read, and write, as many adventures as I can fit in this season!

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As a side note for all you book lovers and readers of InspiredByVenice.org, I’m a Goodreads and Amazon author, and would love your follow!

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Even more, if you have enjoyed reading one of my tales, I would so much appreciate your review! Your words, inspire me, as a writer. Thank you!

Welcome to The Hen House!

Hello All! I hope that you are keeping inspired?! Glad you’re reading today, because I’ve got a special treat for you!

I enjoyed another adventure in Milwaukee last Saturday, and it included a remarkable visit to The Hen House. No, there were no clucking chickens present. Only a room full of fabulous hats, alongside one accomplished milliner!

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Ms. Kate McLaughlin, founder and milliner extraordinaire, was there to greet guests to her hat shop with a welcoming smile…

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Unbeknownst to myself when first entering, I already knew the artist! Years ago when I was a part of the Guilde of St. George at Bristol, Kate was one of the talents contributing costume expertise, helping to make history come to life!

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“I know you!” I blurted when seeing her behind the counter. We soon made the connection, and I’m sure that neither of us could believe that that had already been two decades ago!

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I soon expressed something like, “I didn’t know you loved hats so much!”

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Kate had a delightful response. Something along the lines that hats had always been her cookie of costumery. Love it!

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The Hen House is so amazing, as it brings a wonderful tradition back into our current day. The days when you could walk into a specialty shop and have something custom-made…

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I didn’t spend enough time to really dig into that process, but judging by the antiquated head-forms covering one wall, Kate and her shop must best be considered one of Milwaukee’s gems…

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This is what we will title: The Wall of Millinery Wonder…

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I digress, but…isn’t this one lovely?

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When Kate shared a little bit of her story about how The Hen House came to be, I was really inspired. When sharing that her first custom hat order after opening had been for a going home, speaking so sweetly on that memory, the gloss was readying in my eyes. When she told of the hat-making events that are hosted in her shop (wouldn’t that be fun), I imagined such a merry party. And when Kate spoke about doing what she loves, I just wanted to nod my head and smile, thinking…

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That’s where it is. Right here in this shop. Through all the hard work, there’s real joy, when you find a way to do what you love. You are an example, Ms. McLaughlin, Master Milliner! Thank you for the wonderful introduction to The Hen House!

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Now, I must add, The Hen House connects to The Brass Rooster, the master hatter of which is Kate’s husband John. It was a room full of men’s hats that is a wonder all to itself, so I’ll save it for a future post. But let’s just say, whatever style of hat you seek, I believe you’ll need look no further than 2250 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. in Milwaukee!

Love Your Life…

Good Morning Friends! How are you today? I hope that you are staying inspired? I had a nice little chat with my mama last night, and she said some things that sparked my inspiration. We were talking about hopes and dreams, how we can plan to make them come true, and how thinking on them keeps one’s spirits buoyant…

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So I’m passing the torch forward to you today to ask…what’s your dream? Think on it a little just now. A big dream, a teeny-tiny one…stay inspired, this is your life, ever keep the spark of your aspirations bright in your heart…

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Do you have a thing, that you love, that you can’t do without? Mine is currently pouring M&M’s over popcorn every night, and crunching to high heaven like a lively, sometimes rabid, squirrel. I shouldn’t even be eating chocolate before bed…makes me have lively, rabid dreams…but I…can’t…stop.

No, regular sized packages of M&M’s wouldn’t do. They have to be Share Size…

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Do you know what else I love? Deeply inhaling roses at their most full and beautiful bloom. I was spoiled to death the last day of faire with so many gorgeous flowers to celebrate my natal day…

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I arranged them all just so…

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And then sniffed them each longingly, one by one…

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And then had to go lay down because I was dizzy…This may, or may not, be true…

Thank you, my friends, for the flowers. I enjoyed them so very much.

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Know what else I’m loving right now?

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Milwaukee, WI. This Chicago gal has a crush on another city! Because what’s better than adventure?!

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I’ve had myself a good little handful of explorations, and have really enjoyed it…

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Most especially when Belair Cantina tacos have been involved…

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Because what’s better than tacos?

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I’m actually heading to Milwaukee now, so I must skedaddle…

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I dare you to look up the word skedaddle. It made me giggle!

Love Your Life. Love The Moments. Love Yourself. Keep Your Dreams Bright. Stay Inspired.

A Life Of Blessings…

Hello all my dear, dear friends! I know that it has been a terrible long time since I last sat down to share a tale with you! Oh heavens, months! Let’s just say, my summer was a whirlwind; it is always my busiest season! On the go, each and every day! But my stories have kept, and I’ve captured some photos of my adventures too…it is now the time once again, to share them with you…

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But first today, I want to send a sincere message of gratitude to each and every person in my life, who made my 4th season at the Bristol Renaissance Faire, so very blessed and wondrous. Each season, at my little shop The Quill and Brush, I take away so many special moments to fill my heart. I never forget what a privilege it is, to spend this time with readers and friends, both old and new. You give meaning, and great happiness, to my life. Thank you.

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Last Labor Day Monday, the final day of faire, and my birthday, Queen Elizabeth with her ladies and guards, did bless my little shop with a visit! I will share a larger post of it soon, for I received a special gift I want to show you…but I just wanted you to see my smile. That, is happiness. And that is the smile I always have at faire, when I meet so many kind, intelligent, witty, brave, talented, passionate, and generous people. Each faire day reminds me that my life is so full of blessings…

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Did I mention I’m still completely dazzled every time I see the Queen? The child in me, who was once upon a time so excited to meet Queen Elizabeth, will remain with me forever. But I suppose such fairy tale feelings are part of what help me dream up magic for my books!

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Update for the readers of my tales…

Beauty Sleeping will be available before end of September. I’ll let you know the exact day in a beat…

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Four fair princesses, a long time ago, in a castle do dwell. Their father the king, has disappeared, from just right where he fell. The queen, their mother, walked away, floating into the wood. A sorceress watches, from her dark weald, ’tis certain she means no good…

Will-o’-the-wisps, water spirits, and many strange flowers that sigh. Fairies, goblins, nymphs, and of course, tameless dragons that fly. A time from the past, filled with peril, strange conjury, and swords. Just take one step into this world, and the journey ’twill be yours…

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The world of Dragons at Dawn will carry on with a Part II., Dragons at Dusk. Coming later this fall…

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And, for you readers of the psychological thriller…I’ll be working on Still all winter. Available June 2020. My heart quickens

I’ll write again later this week…promise.

Stay inspired!

Ancient is Here! Enjoy the Adventure!

Hello All! Here’s wishing each and every one of you good health and happiness today! I wanted to share something very special today. After an almost two-year writing journey on this project, my newest novel Ancient, is finally here!

When I woke up this morning, one of first things I did was go to my computer to peek and see if Ancient was live, available to all. When I saw that it was, an instant little cry burst forth, tears spontaneously pooling. A total sneak attack cry that I wasn’t expecting. But it only took me a few seconds to understand the sudden emotion…

Writing Ancient felt a little different to me than my other books. Where before, I felt something like a puppeteer, moving my characters where I would, looking at them from above, or like a narrator, this time I felt like I’d taken the journey with my character. And this morning, when seeing that the story was now no longer just mine, I felt like I was letting go. Waving to Hem in the desert, as she disappeared like a mirage, out into a vast landscape of sand. Very bittersweet…

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For everyone who reads Ancient, it is a wonderful adventure, with a delicious pinch of romance, and many thought-provoking twists of the spiritual. Hem, a nomad in the wilderness of ancient Egypt, loses everything, her family and her life, and is left dangerously and desperately alone. This is her journey from out of darkness, and back into the light. I was with her every step…

Ancient can be purchased here in the U.S., and is available in Europe through Amazon.

When reading Ancient, remember to take along your water bottle and sunscreen, and do beware the asps and scorpions. Maybe don’t wear sandals. Just saying…

And as ever, my dear, dear friends…stay inspired.

Come Along On My Adventure…

For me, any outing can be an adventure, planned or unplanned! Last night I had a little trouble falling asleep, in part because I was excited for what was to come today. The opening of Evanston’s outdoor farmer’s market for the season! And, Evanston’s Unitarian Church’s annual rummage sale! I woke up before 6:30 a.m., and there was no going back to bed. Adventure time!

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Evanston was blessed with a beautiful day today! Still a bit chilly, yet sunny, green, and full of birdsong. I’ll take it!

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I figured for the first day of the farmer’s market, it would be packed with a crowd. But I was there pretty early, so I had first pick of the Swiss chard and radishes (my favorites)…

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The fresh air, the flowers, the veggies, the baked goods…love it!

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I was even able to purchase my city beach tag early with a discount! With as busy as my summers are, I don’t get to swim as much as I’d like, but I’ll be sure to fit in at least a little time on the sand. I’ve already got my beach pass! All set!

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Don’t you just want to swoon over these potted lovelies? Might pick up one of these next time…

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I did grab a cold pressed juice (the more it smells and tastes like a freshly-cut front lawn, the better) from City Press. Amazingly fresh and delicious! I think I’ll try a different juice each visit to the market…

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I walked away with some veggie goodness for supper tonight, and happiness in my soul. Next up, the rummage sale!

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The rummage sale felt much busier than the farmer’s market. Rooms full of used goods, at bargain prices. You never know what you’re going to find, and the fun is in the hunt! Clothing, furniture, dishes, books…oh my!

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Unfortunately, I have to say that I got a little claustrophobic right from the start. The tables can be close together, with a lot of folks searching for treasures. So fun, but more and more, I find I can get a little dizzy in such situations. Still, I managed to catch a glimpse of all there was to see, and walked away with this basket to use at faire for one dollar!

A morning full of adventure, and I was already home before noon! Nap time…

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What else has been keeping me inspired? Editing, writing, writing, editing. I go to places far away, and all of my own imagining…

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Trying on costume pieces that my mama made, to see what fits for this summer…

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Ever trying my best to eat my healthiest…

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Chicago’s Soul Vegan lasagna makes my heart sing…oh heavens, that lasagna!

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And delighting myself with the little things. My small local grocer had some pink roses that were looking a bit droopy. The gal at the check-out was encouraging me to look at other flowers, probably thinking I’d get the roses home and they’d fail overnight…

I wanted them anyway, and they perked up and smelled so pretty once I put them in water. I buried my face in them one million times. Small pleasures are my whole world.

Thanks for joining me on my adventure! Stay Inspired Friends!

Finding Inspiration!

Hi Folks! So, yesterday was beautiful! Warm, sunny, blue skies, lovely spring flowers lifting their heads…and today we have a blizzard here in Evanston. Crazy snow. I scraped all the icy muck off of my car to take a quick trip to the grocery today, and by the time I got out of the store, I had to do it all over again. I’d almost think this was unbelievable, if I hadn’t lived in northern Illinois all my life. I’m trying not to cry. Keep it together, Michelle…let’s stay inspired!

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Well, while having a sip of cold brewed coffee and a blueberry muffin today, the words God is Good went through my mind, and I really meant it. I’m very inspired by blueberry muffins. I love blueberry muffins. Blueberry muffins are at the top of my list of things I love above all things. How can a mid-April snowpocolypse get me down when I have blueberry muffins?

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I’m also sorting through a box of costumes my mama handed over. Beautiful things that she made for me to wear to the Bristol Renaissance Faire many years ago. Most of the pieces I can once again (miraculously in spite of my insatiable love for blueberry muffins…and all things bread…and cheese) fit into. I’m going to puzzle together some fun costumes for this summer!

Hey RENNIES! How long until the Bristol Renaissance Faire opens?! Opening day, July 6th! I CAN’T WAIT! Huzzah!!!

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Speaking of the faire, I’m already so very excited that I’ll be sharing a handful of new tales with readers at my shop The Quill and Brush this summer! Who’s ready for some new reading adventures?! And for those of you looking forward to getting lost in my Ancient world…my author’s proof just shipped. I’ll be having a read of it later this week, which will better gage the exact release date.

Know what it’s like when you finish writing a book, and then the first copy shows up in the mail? It’s BETTER than Christmas morning, my birthday, and an Easter basket combined. Just sayin’…

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And now you can have a little laugh on me. So, anyone who knows me knows, that everywhere I go, a can of La Croix is in my hand. I love fizzy water. It is also on the top of my list for all things I love above all things. And, being a total quirkster, I enjoy lining my cans of La Croix up in the fridge. My own little army of fizzy waters. Love it!

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So this week, always having my La Croix all nice and in a row, I open the fridge and one can is like…way aways from the other cans. Hmmm…I live alone, so how’d that La Croix get way over there? I decide that I must have just bumped some things around and didn’t notice? So I move the can back and go about my day…

The next day, I go in the fridge and what? Another La Croix has taken a road trip. Another day, 3 cans have shifted. Being Michelle, I of course initially wonder if I either don’t have a La Croix drinking ghost, or if someone has been in my place. Yikes! (I only imagine these things because I apparently enjoy creeping myself out).

I digress, but it actually mentioned the paranormal in my horoscope the other day. And though I don’t believe in horoscopes myself, they really are quite amusing…

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[Image by Rirriz from Pixabay]

Truth is, my fridge is on the fritz. It’s making noise, which I assume is causing vibrating, which I assume makes La Croix cans skate across a cool surface. But what was fun about the La Croix mystery? It reminded me of the Sailing Stones in Death Valley, California! If you don’t know what those are, I entreat you to read about them! So, so fun! Science is so cool…

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[Image by Jon Sullivan on Wikipedia]

So I’ve shared a little bit of what’s keeping me amused and inspired. What’s inspiring you? My very best wishes to each and every one of you today!

A Stunning Story, And What Goes Bump In The Night…

Hello All! How are you? I hope that you are very well, utterly happy, and wonderfully healthy today! What am I up to? Being my crazy self as usual! Crazy for bizarre fun facts that is! I’ve got a unique one for you today! In fact, it’s quite stunning

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Ok, so here I am, very late past my bedtime one evening a few weeks ago. I’m burrowing under the blankets, and I want to read a few minutes before falling asleep. However, I don’t want all the lights on. What do I do? Well, my mama gave me this handy-dandy little camping lamp, just in case the electricity goes out. Perfect reading lamp! Especially when it makes you feel like you’re in a tent in some remote forest in the middle of the night, and you are reading a book about Sasquatch!

Do you know what one of my favorite things about reading is? When I read things in books that I’d never heard of before, which always provokes me to go look things up. Do you know how many times I’ve read something and said, Is that really true? Well, once I ask that, there is no going back. I have to put on my reading glasses and go check it out!

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Now, I haven’t read Jeff Meldrum’s Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science in its entirety, but I’ve read enough to say that I like the book very much. It takes a scientific approach to Bigfoot, speaking on an array of animal study topics. Such as…comparing known animal behaviors to observations made during Sasquatch ‘sightings’, analyzing those mysterious ‘vocalizations’ heard in the wilderness, determining whether skin imprints can be found in footprint casts (dermatoglyphics), photo and video analysis, etc. The list goes on. In fact, I found myself absolutely fascinated by all the forensic science! Broke my brain. But this post isn’t entirely about Bigfoot…

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[Image by CSTRSK from Pixabay]

Among the fun facts I was learning about the animal kingdom, there was one item in the book in particular that really surprised me. Learning about infrasound.

Ok, this gets good. We humans can hear sound within a range of Hz (Hertz), 20 Hz being our general low point. (Note, I’m not a scientist, so click on my links if you are so inclined, and you can learn more.) Infrasound is the sound that lies below our low point. Sounds in our environment that we can’t hear, because they are out of our range. I knew these sounds existed of course, but never thought much of it…

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[Image by David Mark from Pixabay]

What might cause infrasound? Nature. A rumbling earthquake. Blinding lightening. Celestial bodies passing overhead. A rip-roaring tornado. Men make things that make infrasound too…aircraft that travels so fast, it creates a sonic boom. Explosives! Those incredibly massive wind turbines…

Some animals are able to produce it. Elephants, and whales, use it to converse from miles away from one another. And other animals chat each other up with infrasound too, like alligators. This may be one reason why people have witnessed animals freaking out, or fleeing, before a natural disaster. Maybe they’re hearing something we’re not? Once I started reading about it, I found it all so terribly interesting. But this gets even better…

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[Image by intographics from Pixabay]

Though we can’t hear infrasound, you may feel those low level Hz. An intense reverberation? A dazed reaction? A feeling of unease? For instance, the tiger’s incredible roar (which includes low level Hz), can apparently arrest its prey, stunning it. Meldrum’s book asks (sparked by information folks have delivered after alleged encounters), could a Sasquatch do that?

Yikes! Can you imagine a mighty, growling call from out of a pitch-black mountain wilderness? An undiscovered species warning you away from their territory, using infrasound to trigger your fear? Ok, no more late night reading with a lantern for me…

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[Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay]

Further intriguing, some researchers have begun to explore whether infrasound might not be the cause for some of our feelings of discomfort when we suspect something is going bump in the night. A.k.a., “I sense there’s a ghost in this house!” It might just be the eerie feeling you’re getting from low level Hz vibrations…

Am I allowed to raise my hand here, and ask whether these Hz’s are man-made (a diesel engine in the distance), or whether it’s just that ghosts speak at a volume we can’t hear? Spirits having conversation at the level of infrasound. Bwa-ha-ha…

I just scared myself.

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[Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay]

Love it! Terror-inducing Sasquatch calls? Ghosts blathering during the darkest hours, or just eerie vibrations? Giraffes carrying on infrasound gossip that humans can’t hear? Science is awesome. And, it proves again and again, that anything is possible…

Bigfoot might just be out there.

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[Image by Rex Landingham from Pixabay]

By the way, the northern lights are an aurora, which can produce infrasound. Therefore, not only is this colorful, magical light display in the night sky beautiful…it’s also producing it’s own strange music, just out of range of your ears!

Stay Inspired Friends!

Bugs in My Brows?

Hello All! How are you?! I’m sorry that I have been remiss in posting and saying ‘hello’! My life, just like everyone else’s, seems to be a never-ending go-go-go! So much so, that I was downright considering this last week, buying a cabin in the woods. I would go live with Sasquatch, use an outhouse (they still exist), listen to the birds instead of rumbling cars, and write all day everyday. Sounds divine! Never say never! Do comment and say ‘hello’ friends, I’ve missed ya!

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[Image by David Mark from Pixabay]

What else was I thinking about this week besides my forest getaway? Bugs in my brows! What? It wouldn’t be a normal day if I didn’t think of at least ten things very strange. This was one of them…

So, we all have our vanities. In fact, when I was a young woman, I think I was quite vain indeed. Nowadays, not so much. My eyes are too allergic to wear mascara anymore, I don’t have time for the makeup routine, and if I get to exfoliating my face every other week, I feel accomplished. I don’t even wear lipstick like I used to, and I love lipstick. Chapstick has to do! However, there’s one thing I never leave the house without doing in the morning. I have to brush my eyebrows. I refuse to let my brows be all crazy. When I wake up in the morning, they are all in disarray! If you ever see my brows going every which way, it means I’ve given up on life…

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[Image by Amy Z. from Pixabay]

So, I’m brushing my brows with my eyebrow brush, like I do every morning. (Sometimes I carry my eyebrow brush places, in case my brows get out of line from a winter hat or a snowstorm or something and I need to brush them again when I get where I’m going). And as I’m looking in the mirror, brushing away, I suddenly remember that there are bugs in my brows (which I’ve heard is a real thing). Ewwww… Of course, now having brow bugs on my brain, I have to look this up!

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[Demodex brevisPhoto Credit: Austin Whittall, Sourced from Wikipedia]

There are two types of mites that live on human faces (too itty-bitty to see). Demodex folliculorum clings to your face hairs (lashes, nose, brows), while Demodex brevis prefers the sebaceous glands near follicles from where hairs grow. They nibble on skin cells, and the oil your skin produces. When you first come into the world, no mites! You of course must pick them up by interacting with others. Further, the population of mites on your face only increases as you age. Generally speaking, they’re harmless. Though, if your system is run down, mite populations can increase and cause skin irritation. Fun fact! They don’t do much traipsing about during the day, because they don’t care for the light. They migrate hairs when it’s dark. Face mites are like vampires. That’s a nice thought.

Ok, this was your silly science for the day! You’ll remember it when you give your loved one a smooch, the perfect opportunity to exchange some new follicle friends!

Stay Inspired Folks!

At least the sky is blue…

Hello, hello! The sky here in Chicago is blue, and for that I am thankful! What could be more uplifting than a blue and sunny sky?

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It is at least offsetting the fact that I’ve come down with my second virus in a single month. Simply terrible, I say! Who sneezed on me?!

There is this line in the 1996 film Emma (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) that always makes me chuckle. Mr. Elton (played by Alan Cumming) says, “There is nothing worse than a sore throat. Its effects are exceedingly bleak.” Very true, Mr. Elton. Very true.

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But before I settle in with tea, edits, and a nap, I wanted to share a simple and delicious salad that I made last weekend. It would make a great weeknight meal, if you need an idea! In winter, it is of course the first temptation to eat all the heavy comfort foods. I’ll have a slice of Chicago deep dish pizza, one plate of roasted potatoes, and a slab of lasagna please. Oh, and a slice of tiramisu…and some french fries. This salad was my attempt to still try and keep some focus on the veggies. It was delicious!

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Start with some rice, arugula, and veggies of choice. I went with a roasted red pepper & basil quinoa & brown rice mix, fresh red pepper, onion and cucumber…

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Start up your rice (which I cooked in my handy-dandy rice cooker since I lack the talent for making a proper pot of rice without it)…

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Cut up your veggies and let the rice cool off…

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And then mix it all together! For two days, I enjoyed this wonderful salad for lunch. Healthful, and the recipe cost less than $10! I plan to make this again, perhaps even as a meal prep when I know I’ll be on-the-go and will need something healthy to come along…

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So…Chicago is expecting severely low temperatures tonight and tomorrow, after the blizzard-like conditions we had the last few days. Did I mention two saintly dudes on the street helped me push my car out of the snow yesterday? Thank you, you good Samaritans you! Tonight will drop to negative 20, and tomorrow will be a high of negative 12. Additionally, the wind chill will make conditions even more dangerous. I might just have to have that slice of deep dish pizza for supper tonight, as buffer against the cold, and for my sore throat of course.

Stay warm! Stay safe! Eat your veggies! Don’t sneeze on anyone and give them a sore throat! Be a good Samaritan! Stay inspired!

Ancient…An Audio Introduction!

Close your eyes and for a moment, imagine the stirring winds and swirling sands, just outside the door. Out there is an endless wild, and there are many dangers in it…

This night with Namma, Hem is safe, but it will not last for long. Still ahead of her, is a very great journey…out into an ancient world…

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Ancient, coming soon!

Baroque Beauties…

As I mentioned in my post Looking Back, I’m perusing old photographs for some to share with you for what sparks of inspiration a few might contain. This photo in particular is one of my very favorites, for it is what my dreams are made of…

In 2005, my mother and I traveled to Venice, Italy (a most beloved city for me and a great influence for why I wrote Venice and subsequently Veleno). We visited during the annual Carnevale. Unfortunately, all we had was a disposable camera or two, which doesn’t help one catch all the dozens of shots they would wish for, especially during a once-in-a-lifetime event like this. For folks like my mom and I, who revel in history and costuming, Carnevale was a constant parade of mind-boggling delights. My brain still drifts there in my daydreams, this magical place in my memories. If only I could go back and hand us both a digital camera so that we could have captured so much more…

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But alas, at least we got a few treasured shots, like this one. These three Baroque beauties broke my brain. No idea who they were, from what nation they’d hailed, or who their (utterly talented) costumer and wigmakers were, but to cross their path made this gal stop dead in her tracks. There was a crush of people in St. Mark’s Square where this photo was taken, which I’m sure made it even harder to capture more, or get around to secure better full-costume shots…

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For the Venetian Carnevale, you have two options for costumes. You can have everything made by a costumer at home (like my oh-so-talented Mama) and carry everything with you to the city (praying that your luggage doesn’t get lost or your masks and accessories crushed..which would have devastated me. You would have heard my cries from Venice clear across the Adriatic). Or, you can rent a costume in Venice, and even have your hair (and I’m sure makeup) professionally done. That would, of course, cost you a pretty penny, and I’m certain wouldn’t be feasible to repeat each day of your visit (unless you’re a millionaire), but it certainly would be an experience…

In any case, those Baroque lovelies looked like they’d stepped right out of 1750 and rendered me speechless. Those pillared wigs, the grandeur of their flowered and ribboned hats, their satiny extravagance and furry muffs to cover chilled hands. Even the large pearl drops hanging from one woman’s ears (oh, pearls…so pure and pretty) inspire me. I swoon. I swoon and fall down…

It is my hope that my mom Lita and I will someday return to Venice, to once more take in the Carnevale, perhaps even holding two tickets to the Il Ballo del Doge. A gal can dream, and save her pennies. After all, sometimes, dreams really do come true…

Whatever your dreams, never let them go. Stay Inspired!

Looking Back…

I’ve had a mind for some time to go through my old photographs, most of them taken before the advent of digital cameras and smart phones. I thought I might select a handful to share with you, for a few of the travel adventures, costumes, special stories and sparks of inspiration they might contain. But also, for I am considering digitizing my photos and purging the actual bulky box they fill. Of course, some hard copies I will always keep, the most special of these slipped between the pages of my Bible, a safe place where I keep some of my treasures…

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[My baptism at the age of 12. I was very happy.]

Now, please don’t frown when you read this, for it is actually funny. If you were witness, it would make you chuckle. There are two things that make me cry on cue in this world…

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The first of these is Christian music. You could actually test this like a science experiment, and the result would be the same every time. Come sit in the car with me, for example, and switch the music to the Christian station. I’ll start blubbering in about 15 to 30 seconds. Why? I dunno. Fond memories of singing hymns in church on a sunny Sunday morning? Moved by the Holy Spirit? A feeling of hope and a vision of eternal light? Whatever it is, pass me the Kleenex…oh heavens!

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The second thing that makes me cry on cue? Christian movies. For real. Moses leading the Israelites through the Red Sea? Noah and the Ark?

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Me: “RUN MOSES! Hurry! Lead the people to safety! Sob, sob, sob, squeal. Noah! Collect all the animals!! Hurry! The rains are coming! Get your family to the Ark! Blubber, blubber, blubber. Oh, for goodness sake…

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Well, now there seems to be a new item to add to this quirky list of what makes me cry on cue. Perhaps it is because I am getting older and beginning to understand the idea of nostalgia…but my old photos now make me reach for a tissue box…oh geez!

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Here is one taken on the drive of my grandparents’ home, certainly just returning from school on the bus. I am guessing it is autumn, I in my little sweater, carrying my itty-bitty pink jacket and my red school bag. Was this where it all began? My love for school? Where my insatiable curiosity, and elation over the smell of old books and pencil erasers began? Gimme’ a handkerchief somebody! What, nobody carries a cotton hankie anymore? Snifflesniffle

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And here, a photo with my Mama at a family Christmas gathering. My beautiful mother. My hands up to my mouth with the surprise felt in opening a special present. I love you Mama! I love you the most!

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And here. Do you see the awe in my face sitting in a diner, anticipating that dinner plate?! That’s the same look I still get every time I go to a restaurant to this day! Anyone who knows me can attest that this is true…

More fun blasts from my past to come! And also, release of my newest novel Ancient not afar off! Stay tuned friends, but most importantly…Stay Inspired!

Keep Your Chin Up! Welcome 2019!

Hello Friends! Happy, Happy New Year!

How did I spend my New Year’s Eve this year? Let’s just say my 2019 came in with a terrible sneeze! LOL! A whole week later and I’ve finally mentally surfaced from the murky fog of one dreary head cold. I usually don’t get more than one cold a year, so let’s just say I got mine out of the way for 2019 nice and early. I pride myself on being an overachiever!

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Now that I’ve got my ability back to coherently write a sentence, I wanted to send out a special message to all of you to start out this new year…

I must say, something has been on my heart these last few months. I’m hearing that many folks are struggling. So many seem to be saying that 2018 was not a good year for them. I’m hearing about a lot of pain, heartache, and worry. Each story seems worse than the next. Though I myself had one of the happiest summers of my life, the rest of the year was full of lessons in bravery! I’ve had to rally to overcome a few shake-ups and not-so-nice-surprises, and let me tell ya’…I’ve got some steel flowing through these veins now! Bring it on 2019!

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Of course, this message may not so much apply to you. Perhaps you had the best 2018 ever, and are smiling as you pass into your new year! Bless your heart! Bask in the sunshine of your good season, and count your blessings. But if you’re struggling friend, I just want to say this to you…

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Your life is a gift, and so is everyone in it. You are stronger than you think. In this journey, you will be given good seasons, and sometimes very difficult seasons. Every difficult season has a reason; perhaps they make us stronger to face future challenges, perhaps they make us more empathetic and caring of others. You keep your chin up. God loves you.

Love yourself. Love one another. Everything will be ok.

Right now, I’m turning up the volume to I Just Need U by TobyMac. Random dance in my living room?! Heck yea! There’s a song to lift your spirits and remind you of courage!

I wish you all the very best of health and happiness in 2019! And of course, I wish so very much, that you will stay inspired!

Find me in the fairy garden…

My birthday always falls over Labor Day weekend in September, coinciding with the final weekend of Bristol. For me, there is no better way to spend my special day than at The Quill and Brush, chatting with folks about my tales. It is always enchanting…

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[Above, transcendently happy to be in my little shop…]

As I get older, and I am guessing this is the case with most, I think less and less to anticipate anything more than a normal day when my birthday rolls around. If someone remembers me with a “Happy Birthday” text, or a card in the mail, or the occasional gift, I’m already feeling quite special. Such small gestures remind you that you are cared about, and I have always been fortunate to feel blessed in that…

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[Here, smiling with the most noble of ladies, Lady Ettie.]

Having only humble ideas of my birthday, imagine my extreme surprise to see this utterly beautiful, absolutely amazing fairy garden waiting for me in my tented shop when I arrived that day this last September! I assure you, my mouth hung open wide for at least a full minute…

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Who had spent such precious time (of which it seems no one has any these days) to make me something so extraordinary and memorable? Well, there is a very special family that participates at Bristol. Seasons 2015-2017 they owned The Sow’s Ear, and they also help with Pyewacket’s Body Art, the petting zoo, and alongside other vendors. Mickey (mom), Cody, Caily and Kena (daughters), have been the kindest and best of neighbors to me on King’s Landing. You might remember that Cody made the incredible sign that hangs before The Quill and Brush

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You ever meet someone (and in this case a family of ladies) who already has a toe planted on Heaven’s golden floor, so caring, helpful, and thoughtful a person are they? You know, good people. Well these gals, are real good people. I wanted to thank them for making me feel so special, and to share their oh so special creation with you, as it was so inspiring…

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Let’s talk fairy garden! This scene has a tiny house covered by the spine of a Danielle Steel novel. Love it! There are itty-bitty leather books, an adorable vine chair with table, lamp and tea cup. On the walls of the house are a birthday message, and the words to one of my fairy books, Delight. Let me just grab a kleenex…have you ever seen anything so sweet!?

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The yard of the garden is covered with moss, stones, plants, another table and seat, and a swing under a leafy canopy for the fairies to read beneath. How creative, how delicate, how wonderful! Excuse me, I need to grab another tissue…

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Of course for the rest of that Bristol weekend, everyone that stopped by The Quill and Brush marveled at the fairy garden. This gift not only brought delight to me, but to many others as well. It now has a place beneath a sunny window in my house, sure to return with me to faire next summer!

I sometimes like to imagine that when I am away from home, a fairy or two slips through my window or under the crack beneath my door, to sit a spell and read in the fairy garden…

Stay Inspired Friends!

Run Little Dude! Run!

Have you had your dose of action and thrill yet today? Well look no further, for I have just the video for you! Last night while perusing Netflix, I paused over a short trailer for the nature documentary Planet Earth II. In it, an island iguana, just born, has to run his way from the sand where he was hatched to the safety of rocks above. He looks full-grown, but is apparently just a little guy. I have to tell you, I was so anxious for this creature! I actually squealed aloud, “Run! Hurry! Runnnnnn!

I watched the clip more than once, my knuckles up to my mouth. Oh my word! Have you ever seen so many snakes? What’s the name of that beach? Nightmare Sands? I’ve got to tell you, nature documentaries are seriously more thrilling than blockbusters! You can read more about the clip here!

Stay Inspired Folks!

Don’t Save Anything For The Swim Back

This morning, ready to begin a full day of writing, I will share with you that my heart sunk. You know those days? The ones you look in the mirror and aren’t sure what you’re going to do with yourself. How will I accomplish what needs to be accomplished? Where will I find the inspiration? How will I find the focus? How will I have the energy? 

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For me, right now is the time to dig right back into my sole passion. Writing. Faire has ended, summer is done, my little book shop is now all closed up until next year (I will try not to weep…this season was incredible). And if I want to keep growing and sharing new works as a writer, I need to return to my focus. But in the last few weeks, I’ve been exhausted, fretful, distracted. Rest isn’t coming easy and writing not at all…

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Some might say, some do say, ‘just take a break’… ‘just take it easy’. I wish I could, but more and more in these last few years, I feel that writing for me is everything. It is, what I am. And if I’d like to continue to challenge myself in the ways I hope to, well then…the clock is ticking. I feel it, a big clock hanging over my head, and it is ticking loudly

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This blog, it is about inspiration. It is about what inspires me, with hopes that some of my words might inspire you. Now this particular post might not be meaningful to everyone, but for those of you who have ever wanted to achieve some goal very badly, I think you will quite understand…

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So where did I find my resolve today? To carry forward with what I had set out to do, even though I would rather just go lay down in a grassy field somewhere and sleep until next week? I reminded myself that I just have to do it, and that if I want to walk with my ambitions…no matter how unfocused and weary I am, I’m going to have to push myself to dive right back in, and swim hard. “And if you really want to reach your goals Michelle, then you’d best not save any of yourself for the swim back…”

But this self-talk comes from an inspiration from long ago. Back in 1997, then a young woman, there was a movie that inspired me so greatly that I was quite literally stunned when walking out of the theater. Gattaca. In this futuristic film, babies are designed for perfection, and anyone who is born naturally, are considered flawed and afforded few opportunities. The main character is naturally born, but aspires to be an astronaut, a position which only ‘perfectly’ engineered people are allowed. This ‘imperfect’ man must go to extreme lengths in order to achieve his goals…

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There is a scene that seriously struck me. The main character Vincent competes in a swim against his stronger, ‘perfectly modified’ brother. He wins in this swim, even though physically it should be impossible. And when his brother, incredulous at how Vincent has done this, asks him how, Vincent tells him, “I never saved anything for the swim back.”

Incredible. I remember thinking then, and I still believe it now…so that is how it is done. If you want something badly enough, you have to give it everything.

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In any case, I leave this post to focus and write…or should I say, swim.

Stay Inspired.

Tin Foil And Red Hots Forever…

This is Jessica, one of my most beloved friends. She was married in Paris a handful of years ago and I stood up with her as her Maid of Honor. It was a morning I will never forget. Have you ever seen a more beautiful bride?!

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I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so much in my life, so happy was I be with my best friend on her special day…

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I felt compelled today to remind her what an amazing person she is! How intelligent, beautiful, and strong…

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She’s also hilarious!

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Like, the kind of funny where you’re perpetually experiencing that deep gut laughter…

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Or maybe it’s just because we understand one another’s humor? When we were girls, we used tin foil to set curls into our hair, and ate red hots while we did. It was a thing? We’re weird…

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A while back, we attended a special exhibit, Passion For Fashion at The Art Institute here in Chicago. I can say that I’m definitely the sort of woman who prefers fashion from history, rather than modern fashion! We of course had a blast reviewing the incredible displays…

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It’s difficult to see the details from my photos through the glass, but we marveled at some very old, well-preserved dresses…

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My biggest wonder was how a woman’s waist could ever be that tiny?

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And the art they exhibited that showed fashion from the past was obviously very romantic and beautiful. I need to get back to the Art Institute soon and take another stroll…

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I love special exhibits like these. Jessica and I also once went to see a preserved baby mammoth at The Field Museum, on the coldest winter day ever. That was incredible. How fortunate I am to be in a city with so many wonderful museums and theaters, and always have an amazing friend to go to them with!

Jessy, just wanted to thank you for being in my life, my most beloved friend. We are going to live to be very old ladies together. Tin foil and red hots forever!

Out Into The Storm I Go…

Have you ever been so tired, that you couldn’t even sleep? I’ve hardly slept the last two nights, in spite of being extremely fatigued. I actually rose before dawn this morning, to the delight of my cat, who aspires to wake me just before sunrise every morning. My schedule has just been so busy that my brain won’t slow down. Time…to…slow…down…

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Thunderstorms are pulling into Evanston within the hour, and are supposed to dramatically lessen the hot and humid temperatures. I live just a few blocks from Lake Michigan, so when the storms come through, the wind that flows through my house feels amazing. A storm, a blessed breeze…sleeping weather

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A week ago, there was one similar night. I had all the windows open and there was a peculiar noise at my screen. A loud buzzing insect. It sounded like a May beetle, a June bug, but it was a late August evening. I kept ordering Tiddo the cat to “go get that bug” every time the creature buzzed. I knew Tiddo couldn’t actually get to whatever it was, but it’s good for him to feel like he’s on the hunt once in a while in his old age. My cat however, wouldn’t budge from a cozy spot, though he kept perking up to the noise. At length, I had to know what this insect was in my window, while a restless wind brought in a strong rain…

It was a cicada, just more than a few in fact, having a discussion in my window. If I were to guess, it had something to do with the coming storm, for they are not usually found in my casement. I opened one screen, stuck out a hand, and easily collected a few for a moment to marvel, soon to send them out on their way again…

 

I believe I’ll go out now and take a hard walk by the lake, wear myself out, maybe even get caught in the rain?

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By the time I get back, and that wind starts flowing through my windows, I may just be able to finally get that sleep, with a humming cicada song and perhaps a bit of thunder to send me into my dreams…

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Out into the storm I go…

Stay inspired friends.

A Crown Of Flowers For My Head

I just picked up a special order of fresh roses from Evanston’s Saville Flowers, all carefully bound around the stems so that they can be worn in my hair. I’ve enjoyed donning flowers at Bristol this summer, more often this season than my usual wide-brimmed hat. Aren’t fresh flowers so wonderful?

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I ordered a mix of pretty colors and sizes, for Sunday is my birthday, and I wanted to wear a crown of buds in my hair! Flowers are so reminiscent of the special and fleeting beauty of summer, and of festival days at Bristol. It has been a wonderful season for me, and it will be very bittersweet on Monday evening when Bristol closes its gates for 2018…

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There are three days left to enjoy the Bristol Renaissance Faire, and I hope if you have the chance to visit this final weekend, that you will be sure to stop and visit me at The Quill and Brush!

Here’s A Health To The Company is already singing in my heart…someone please pass me a handkerchief!

Here’s wishing you every enjoyment of these last weeks of summer! Stay Inspired!

I Am The Bug Whisperer…

Hello friends! Are you enjoying the end of your summer? My summer has been absolutely amazing, right out from a dream! I’ve a magical post to share soon from The Quill and Brush, but in the meanwhile, just wanted to take a moment to bring you this precious little creature…

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As you know, I love bugs. Love them. At present, my favorite are jumping spiders. In my tented shop at the Bristol Renaissance Faire, a fairly large jumping spider was taking a stroll around on my books. We had a moment together, me and my spider, and then he carried on his way. Not everyone will understand, but I find little moments like these spellbinding

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Goodness those eyes! They have four sets of eyes! And those fuzzy front paddle legs! To note, jumping spiders can bite (if threatened), something like a bee sting to which some might have a bit of a reaction. So, I’m not promoting playing with spiders. I was very gentle. No bites for me please!

 

Here’s encouraging you to remember to stop and notice the beauty in nature around you! It is so spectacular, yet ever easy to pass right by. Take a moment to take in the sky, to gaze at the moon, to feel the wind on your skin, to enjoy the scent of a fresh rain, to muse over a few seconds of bird chatter…or in my case, share a moment with a spider!

All my best to you today! Enjoy these fleeting days of summer! Stay Inspired!

Because You’re You, That’s Why!

You ever stop to take a moment, step back, and observe yourself? I had a little chuckle at myself a few mornings ago as I stopped and wondered…why am I drying flowers on my toaster oven, in such a strangely ordered arrangement?

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And, why do I continue to take photos of my own city like a tourist, each time I have occasion to run downtown? Like I’ve never been there before? I was clickin’ my camera merrily again last Monday morning!

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How come I like taking photos of my food so much? Food photographer in another life? You ever had roasted chickpeas on your salad? Delicious!

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Why do I get a kick out of placing my snacks in perfect symmetrical order on my kitchen counter?

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Why am I collecting tiny little quotes, and coffee bottle tops that say ‘Good Luck’, in two itty bitty jars? If you haven’t tried Stumptown cold brewed coffee…give it a try! You’ll wake up real fast…

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Why would I hang dangerously out of my window to watch a bird eating another bird?

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Wait, one more time…why are my meals symmetrical?

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Why can’t I put down the scary stories, even though I freak myself out every time?! Ahhhhh! I love the scary stories!

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Why do I insist that all the jumping spiders in my house are my pets?

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Why do I always swoon when I’m in the same room with a cheese platter? I’m an aspiring vegan with a cheese obsession! Cheese

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Why do I love my writing desk to be both crazy colorful and perfectly organized at the same time?

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Why must I eat every radish in a bowl in a row, like a crazed bunny?

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I digress, but…look at those eyes! How could you not want a house full of jumping spiders for pets? I think I should start naming them…

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Well, to all of these self-reflective questions, and to many others, there was only one answer….

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 This tee-shirt was a gift, and it explains it all. Thanks Aunt Marie!

Here’s to you…and the special individual that you were made to be! Here’s reminding you to embrace your particular quirks, your unique interests, and your special talents!

 Stay Inspired!

Turn Out The Lights And Let Them Love

As I took a long walk last night, along the shores of Lake Michigan, enjoying the setting sun above the waves and the full gardens surrounding local homes, I got to thinking about the beauty of summer and how short it lasts in these parts. Such thoughts brought me to think of fireflies…

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As many know, I have an absolute love for insects. I can’t help stopping to observe their busy little lives, and the careful design of their precious wings and unique bodies. I don’t kill spiders and winged intruders in my home, but gather them up to go outside. God gave them breath to live, I don’t feel it’s my place to take it from them if I can avoid it. But what brought me to muse about fireflies, besides the general splendor of their bioluminescence at dusk on a balmy summer night?

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Did you know that when fireflies light up in the air over a field, they are wooing lady flies? It’s lovely. The fireflies floating along, blinking in the sky, are male. Further, they are not all of the same species. Each species has a different pattern of blinking. Some fireflies blink twice, go dark while floating along, and then blink twice again. Some light up to fly diagonally, in slanted streaks, then darken, and repeat. Others fly aglow in a J formation through the air, darken for a spell, and then do it again…

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Meanwhile, the lady fireflies are waiting in the grass, taking in the lights, looking to spot what special glow might attract them. When one does, a female will light up in return, and two creatures aglow will chance to meet…

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If you go and sit quiet and still in a field at dusk, and watch, you will be witness as such careful courting unfolds. Enchanting are the blinks of the fireflies in flight, and the glowing returns from those who wait. You might even be able to make out some patterns, though I should guess that the glowing is quite beautiful enough…

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Unfortunately, it is believed that firefly populations are diminishing. In our environments, we use a lot of chemicals to tame lawns and kill insects. This is something I think a lot about, as I take my walks and observe lawns being treated. And if it’s not good for the fireflies, I’m certain it’s not good for those baby bunnies in the park, or the birds fluttering in your flowers, or your dog, or you. Do consider using environmentally safe treatments, if you must treat your lawn at all…

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But chemicals aren’t the only thing to diminish the fireflies. Light pollution is also to blame. It disrupts the glowing creatures’ ability to spot one another. Those blaring porch lights in our backyards at night are making it difficult for them see each other! The tragedy! Who dares me to write a letter to my city to request a citywide lights out policy between certain hours just after dusk, on behalf of the declining firefly population?! It would begin…Turn out the lights, and let them love!

Devil At The Door, Prayer On My Lips

Let me begin this post by saying, all are well and not one is hurt. Thanks be to God. I cannot speak for everyone’s nerves however…

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Yesterday, I happened to be home. With my busy summer, I am rarely at home during the day, but yesterday I was. For that, I am thankful. I had been about to go out for a walk, had even been contemplating a swim. I delayed however, when I remembered that my father’s birthday is coming up, and I needed to sit down to write out a card. For that I stalled to go out, I am also thankful…

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Just as I had sat down in my kitchen to write out a card, the fire alarm went off in my unit. It was intensely loud. Not your annoying little fire detector screech, but the mother of all fire alarms sounding out in warning. I had not been cooking, I wondered if one of my neighbors had burned something? I stood and hurried to my door. I didn’t see anything out in the hallway. I closed the door. However, I knew that I could not remain in my house…

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When you hear an alarm like that, you do what you have been taught to do since you were a little kid. You get out of the house. Yet still, in the back of my mind, I wondered if it wasn’t false. I knew it was not a test, or else all residents would have been notified in advance…

So, I know I need to go outside, but I don’t want to leave my cat. Tiddo has to come with me. The noise was already terrifying him. I hurried to peer out of my door one more time. This time, the scene was different…

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My next door neighbor was now at the end of the hall before one of our other neighbor’s doors. He yelled out that there was a fire inside. I now could see the smoke. I could also smell the smell, like burning wires. I knew right away that this was serious. I hurried out into the hall and immediately cried out whether anyone had called 911? Should I call 911? This may sound like a stupid question, but it was rather a I-sense-that-we-are-in-danger-and-there-is-little-time-to-waste-for-phone-calls-if-someone-has-already-dialed-911. In reply, I heard a voice say that one of our other neighbors was on the phone…I don’t know whose voice said this. Just at that moment, said neighbor rushed down the stairs from above with her phone to her ear. Meanwhile, my next door neighbor pounded on the doors of the imperiled unit, and then hurried out the fire escape…I didn’t see which way my neighbor on the phone went…

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What went through my head? This moment is real. I must make haste. I must get Tiddo. I must get out of the house…

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I ran inside my unit to the closet. Where is the cat carrier?! If I don’t find that carrier in one second, the cat is going out in my purse. I find the cat carrier, I snatch it out and run to Tiddo in the kitchen. The sirens are so loud. The cat is panicked. The cat will not go into the carrier. Struggle. Force the cat into the carrier, zip him safely in. Cat begins to yowl in terror…

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Snatch up my purse, throw in my MacBook, throw in my passport case with all of my important identification, throw in my hard drive. Time to go. Please know, I do not advocate pausing in your house for any items when there is a fire. The seconds I spared to grab these items should set no example. What was going through my mind? My MacBook and hard drive contain all of my written works, both published and unpublished, hundreds of hours of work, and were easily within reach. After me and my cat, that hard drive meant the most to me of anything I own. I may now officially call myself a crazy writer…I’m also lightening fast on my feet…

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I realized as I snatched these items from my writing desk that this might be the last time I ever saw any of my things, or even my new home. I immediately reconciled to this. What do things matter? Only people matter. Shaking from the fear of the devil of destruction that was just down the hall, Tiddo and I were soon flying down the stairs, another neighbor just behind, covering his ears…

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Out on the grass on the lawn, the fire trucks were just arriving. Firemen began heading up to our beautiful building, a historic building, some saying aloud that they did not know just where the fire was. I shouted and pointed. Another fireman did not know, I shouted and pointed again. It was then that I began praying, the words silent but fast over my lips. God, oh God, let them hurry! The fire will spread! Let them hurry!

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Though visibly concerned, all the neighbors convened on the lawn were calm, gathered together in twos or threes, watching attentively. The fire hoses went in, firemen went in, residents were sent to the opposite side of the street. Glass began shattering from windows, water began spraying out. Firemen were seen in windows, opening them, smoke pouring out of ones in or near to the troubled unit. When I saw a fireman in the windows of the unit just above mine, I was sorely afraid that the fire might be spreading. I also knew that if they had gone into that unit, they were in mine too. Oh God, oh God. Someone said the firemen were breaking through doors. Oh no, oh no! They might also be hosing down walls, to make sure the fire doesn’t spread? Oh, the damage! My hand flew up to my mouth more than once. Though chatting calmly with my neighbors, I felt terribly nervous inside. Tiddo chilled quietly at my feet in his carrier. I was so glad that he was outside, with me.

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To truncate this tale, the initial unit will one day be right again, but was last night upsetting to behold when it was permitted to reenter the building. Yet another unit is greatly damaged by water, and at least one other was said to smell heavily of smoke. Doors were indeed forced in for safety measures, water soaked the halls and there is damage to walls and paneling. I am so sorry for this. I am so sorry for my neighbors, and for the damage to this historic building. Praise the Lord, no one was hurt and all will be mended, it will just take time…

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No one was in the unit that caught fire. It was having some work done and it seems an extension cord might have been the culprit, though I can not attest to the facts. When standing within view of that apartment last night, the smoke stinging my throat as an officer took account of what had been witnessed in the hall that afternoon, I felt a terrible surge of anxiety, fully understanding what could have been. As my door was being temporarily repaired, as Tiddo safely yowled from the bathroom, as I swept up shards of wood and paint from my floors, I knew that I would write this post today. And this is what I want to say to everyone who reads it…

Please take fire prevention seriously and keep an eye out for potential hazards in your home. Know the risks of using extension cords. Please go check the batteries in your fire alarms and your carbon monoxide detectors…today, right now. Make sure to have an emergency exit plan from your home, and talk about it with your family. Further, home owners insurance is always a wise idea. Love thy neighbor, and never forget the power of prayer.

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Stay safe friends! And as always, stay strong, stay inspired.

A special thank you today to the Evanston Fire Department. Thank you for putting out the fire, and saving our homes.

 

Do what you love, don’t skip a beat…

Three weekends out of nine have already passed for The Quill and Brush at Bristol. I have to say that this has already been the most magical and memorable season, thanks to each and every one of you that has taken the time to visit…

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In Bristol, every day is a festival day! And with each of these festival days, I take with me wonderful memories of summer, and carry them in my heart all year long. The friends that I meet, the music that floats through the air, the smiles and laughter that I see all around me. Enchanting!

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I’ve received such wonderful words, in person and by email, in these last few weeks. They have blessed my heart, and keep my quill inspired to scribble. Thank you to those who have reached out to say that I have inspired you. Know that you have inspired me just as much, and even more! And for all the writers out there, and to each of you who have chatted with me about your special talents and inspirations, stay inspired! Do what you love, don’t skip a beat…

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I wish that I could name each and every person that has already been a blessing and an inspiration to me this season, but it would make this post quite long indeed! For today, at the very least, I would like to especially thank two of the loveliest, smartest and kindest of women!

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This is Taylor! She was the very first person to purchase a copy of Veleno last season when it was newly published. Not only did she write a review, she also took the time to visit The Quill and Brush this season to chat. By the end of our visit (which made me feel very fortunate to be a writer), the conversation ended like this…

Me: “You are the reason I write.”     Taylor: “You are the reason I read.”

LOVE IT! Thank you Taylor!

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This is Priscilla! Priscilla picked up a copy of Venice two seasons ago. She had been to the city, and had wonderful memories of it, which she was able to revisit in my choose your own adventure. Not only did she write a review, but she also came back with a special gift and kind words to say ‘thank you’ for the story. I am very happy to know such a thoughtful, artistic woman…especially one who shares such a fondness for my beloved Venezia!

Grazie mille Priscilla!

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My very best wishes today, to every reader of Inspired By Venice. I hope that you are enjoying your summer as much as I am. I’ll be sure to share more of my adventures soon! Stay Inspired!

The Tale Of The Terrible Tick

Hi folks! Are you enjoying your summer? Are you staying inspired?! I certainly am, and will share some of the fun from The Quill and Brush later this week! But first, a terrible tale! Feel free to chuckle at my expense, laughter is good for the soul…

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As anyone who knows me knows, I have a very great dislike for ticks. This is a little ironic considering I actually love insects generally and take great interest in observing them. But ticks, yikes! I would not go so far as to call it a phobia, for I am not struck with terror at just the sight of one, but let us say I would consider it a nightmarish scenario to find one attached to my person…

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Last night, I was completely exhausted. My summer schedule is busy, busy, busy! I had every intention of falling into bed even before the sun went down, hardly able to keep my eyes open or even think clearly. But just as I was wrapping up my day, ready to retire, I happened to touch the back of my neck

I knew what it was right away. I was in a forested place all weekend, and know there is always the possibility of picking up a vampiric little friend. I was filled with dread. So what does one do in this situation? Remove the tick. Mustering all of my bravery, I immediately removed the creature. Ouch! Who knew how long it had been biting me…

As it scurried around where I had dropped him, I ran for a jar. I then quickly forgot the tick, and the jar, while hurrying for tweezers to extract any tick remains from my neck. When I returned for the tick, he had disappeared and I was for a moment paralyzed. Where did the tick go? But then I found him again, and plunked him in the jar…

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Now normally I would be a watch and wait sort of gal. Wait to see if the bite heals without incident. Go to the doctor if that red bullseye rash appears, meaning infection. But my gut said otherwise last night, and I immediately left the house to see a doctor, towing my new friend along in a tiny mason jar, the back of my neck burning like a hot match tip had touched it…

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The doctor checked out the tick, and claimed that I had done a good job of removal, easily spotting and examining the bite on my neck. I was prescribed a double dose of antibiotic to take as soon as I got home, even though she felt confident that this tick was unlikely of the size or life stage to transmit disease. When she said the words ‘engorged with blood’, I shuddered real hard. She chuckled at my reaction. I was sent home to check the rest of my person for more ticks, and told to keep an eye on that bite. As I finally fell into bed at midnight, I felt like I had done the right thing by trusting my gut…

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So there is my terrible tale. I survived one of my fears, and now own a pet tick in a jar. Only one question remains…is it weird that I sort of want to let him free? I guess I have a big heart, even for a tick!

The Delights of Summer!

Headed up to Kenosha, WI yesterday to set up The Quill and Brush. Next Saturday begins the Bristol Renaissance Faire’s annual festival, nine weekends long and the absolute delight of summer round these parts. Bristol has repeatedly been voted the #1 Renaissance Faire in the U.S. and Midwest, and I love being a part of the magic! Yesterday I heard the heat index was at 107 degrees. Definitely felt that, it was mighty warm. I have to sincerely thank my folks for planting flowers, drilling screws, moving furniture, and sweating to death, all out of the kindness of their very kind and helpful hearts…

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If you are planning a visit, be sure to and visit The Quill and Brush. We are in the very same place on King’s Landing, on the lane between the petting zoo and climbing wall. We are excited to meet with all our old friends, and to make many new! News on my newest novel, Ancient, coming soon!

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Tell me you aren’t ready to fill these quiet Bristol streets with merrymaking? Can you see the Queen’s parade even now? Can you hear the vendors hawking? Can you smell the garlic mushrooms and pickles? Don’t you hear the swords clashing and the Bristol Buskin Frolickers singing?

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After our tented shop was made ready and waiting for opening weekend, we zoomed on over to one of our favorites, Tim and Tom’s Cheeses. Just down the way from Bristol, they are both an antique shop and a cheese lover’s paradise. We made a little visit last year too, on the day we set up…

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Cheese. Cheese. Cheese. Cheese. I love cheese. Vegans look away. Cheese. Cheese. Cheese.

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This year I picked up a truffle Gouda and an onion & chive cheddar to try. The crackers are ready and waiting!

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There’s a little stretch of marshland on the country roads between Bristol and Tim and Tom’s Cheeses. There, tall barren trees tower above a wet expanse. Driving in separate cars, I honked my horn frantically to my folks and made an ‘Emergency Bat-turn’ (when Batman releases parachutes out of the back of his Batmobile) to snap some photos of nesting waterbirds…

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I’m not sure what I got this time? Flamingos? Ibis? Spoonbills? Storks? Loons? Grebes? I’m sorry birders! Please don’t cringe! But wait…doesn’t it look like 2 species up there?

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Cranes? Herons? I’m awaiting your identification in the comments friends, spotted in Kenosha, Wisconsin! Wish my view had been close enough to see some fuzzy-headed nestlings!

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My newest summer delight is chilled watermelon! Don’t know why I never went bonkers over it before. Absolutely refreshing, naturally sweet, and very hydrating. Think I can eat just one or two slices when I open a pack?

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Guess not!

Stay inspired folks! Enjoy the delights of your summer! Hope to see many of you at Bristol! My very best wishes to you!

Frayed to Feathered!

The last time I saw my wonderful Chicago stylist Krista McGann was almost two years ago, when I donated 20 inches! To see the post, click here. Judging by how many people have clicked on those pictures, I think it’s safe to say that folks get a kick out of ‘before and after’ photos as much as I do, though it was a pretty drastic haircut…

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A few weeks ago I treated myself to the snip of a fair amount of inches. And for my cuts, I trust no other than Krista. She is an artist with the scissors! And though I don’t color my tresses, she is a master colorist too. You can view some of her work on her link above. If you live in, or will be visiting Chicago, I highly recommend her!

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I knew that I didn’t want a bob quite as short as last time, but I also wanted to be free of the agitation that my thick hair can be. I’m hardly embarrassed to say (though I should be embarrassed) that I cannot stand brushing my hair. Therefore, my locks (already thick, wavy and prone to tangles) can get unruly. Some mornings I wake up feeling like the fairy queen of the forest, wild tangles, bird’s nest, glitter, braids, sticks, and every other sort of thing in my hair! Just kidding…my imagination is actually more unruly than my hair…

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But to illustrate how thick my hair is (impossible to tell from a photo), as Krista razored my hair this go around, she cut her finger real good. Oh no! Yikes! I’m sorry Krista!!! She said she remembers cutting a finger every time she cuts my hair, because of its thickness. She always razors out the weight to thin out my style, and I guess when you have thick hair, it’s easier for a razor to slip? But I’m no stylist, so I dunno? Stylists, feel free to comment on the secret of razing strands (it’s magic)…

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A few bandaids later and here was the final do. All feathered and light, instead of heavy and frayed. I’m sorry to sacrifice Krista’s finger, but the cut is lovely. Thank you!!

I hope you’re enjoying the start of summer folks! I’m heading up to Bristol tomorrow to set up The Quill and Brush. I’ll be sure to click a few photos to share. Opening weekend next weekend. Ahhh! So excited!

The Bird Of Prey Outside My Window!

I risked my life today, dangerously leaning way out of my open window several stories above the sidewalk. Why? Because I spotted another Cooper’s Hawk! So excited to share this with you! I’ve been keeping an eye out to capture some photos of these birds for some years now. I kept seeing them in the neighborhood, but because of the thick foliage, I can rarely get a good look before they fly out of sight. I’d sometimes wondered if I’d even really seen a hawk at all. But enough sightings convinced me that there is a rather healthy population round these parts. Remember the last photos I caught?

At first today, I thought there was only the hawk, so I started snapping photos. But then I realized, he’s just caught something. Yes, he’s eating his catch, a bird. Yikes! Can you believe I got such a great video?! Just outside my window?! I’m just nuts about nature!

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If anyone thinks my identification is wrong, let me know. I’m no birder, but I’ve always got my handy-dandy Birds of North America nearby!

A Gaggle Of Geese

I’ve just returned from an early evening walk aside Lake Michigan’s shore. Here in Chicagoland, the weather has finally given us some warmer temperatures. I had to get out and enjoy it before it starts snowing again (which is not impossible)…

 

As I was walking over a small dam of sorts, I saw some geese swimming around in a placid pool, as well as heard a little gosling calling out. Baby geese are called goslings. This yellow-headed, fuzzy little dude was the only offspring around, perhaps their one and only. He wasn’t yet confident enough to get up over the edge of the water trap. You can’t hear his call in my video on account of the wind, which was pretty strong tonight, but he was communicating to mom and dad using some healthy little lungs. They came to his rescue, of course! Just wanted to share this sweet little moment with a gaggle of geese!

My Kind Of Town, Chicago Is…

On account of business, I had reason to be downtown several days this week. I lived, worked and went to university in Chicago for many years, as well I now live just on the cusp of the city, in Evanston. I could power walk over to the city limits if I was feeling up for a good workout, and I can see the skyscrapers from the lakeshore just down the street…

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That’s why it’s kind of hilarious that while I was racing to and from the train in the city this week (appropriately wearing my ready-to-hike-those-long-city-blocks-sneakers and my extra-warm-winter-trappings-to-buffer-me-against-the-city’s-bone-chilling-winds), I kept halting in the middle of the sidewalk to take a photo. The city folk probably thought I was a tourist. What can I say? I’m still awed by the city, and probably always will be…

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Nowadays, I’m not so sure I’d want to live in the city, as I have before. It’s still exciting, but hustle-and-bustle, expense-and-noise, are the song of any city, and I’m quite enjoying my slower-paced living these days…

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I was baffled by the stream of commuters pouring out of the trains and walking over the river toward the skyscrapers, even though I’ve been amongst them hundreds of times. Thousands of workers flooding in, flowing out, each and every day…

I was of course absolutely delighted with the excess of tasty-looking dining options, and peered into many an eatery as I zipped right past. And as I walked over Michigan Ave., I hadn’t enough time to cross and stood standing between the lanes of speeding cars, hoping withal that I wouldn’t get misted with dirty water…

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I stopped and pretended for all of 8 seconds as I peered down a dark, steaming alley that Chicago was in fact Gotham City (because it totally is) and that Batman was going to fly down at any moment and stop a bad guy (yes, I have a big imagination)…

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I peered out over the river and pondered taking a ride on a water taxi…

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I believe folks mainly take a water taxi on the Chicago River for sightseeing…commuters are in too much of a rush to hop on a boat!

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I ate a delicious hot sandwich to fuel my work and walking, paired with my favorite…a fizzy, chilly berry La Croix! It was berry refreshing…

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I kept looking up, every enormous building making me feel tiny and insignificant…

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And I remembered some of my favorite things about the city, the museums, the ballet, the theater and the amazing dining. I especially smiled when I spotted an older couple walking hand-in-hand down the very busy sidewalk. It was like everyone was going in the opposite way at top speed, and they, dressed elegantly and walking peacefully, were going in another. They looked dressed as though they were heading to an early dinner and theater. They seemed very happy to be on an outing in the city, and I was happy for them…

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It was fun to shake up my routine with a little work adventure in the city this week! It’s inspired me to visit again very soon…perhaps for a day at my favorite museum!

Here’s wishing you many life adventures, some planned, many unexpected! Keep smiling, stay inspired!

Ancient: Coming Soon!

There is a place where the sands run deep. High above, a scorching sun beams. Far below, the ancients sleep. Scorpions scuttle and the ibis stalks, Egyptians chant and the gods, they watch…

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Thirsty jujube leaves stir under the slightest breeze. A lost woman cries out, hands risen as she falls to her knees. Where will she go, how will she survive, now parted forever from her only tribe? 

Sleek statues stare and vipers slither. Incense streams like an angel’s whisper. Hem has a perilous journey ahead, with no choice but endure. Whether or not she will live, of that only the fates are sure…

Lovin’ That! Words of Encouragement

So, I have to send a shout out to my local Whole Foods. Yesterday evening, not quite feeling my most cheerful and energetic self (will this dreary, cloudy, cold season ever end?!), I was perusing the isles of my grocery. As I scanned the shelves for things I needed (and all the things I don’t, because I love grocery shopping and checking out all there is to see), a small orange sign caught my eye. It had handwriting in marker on it, which is unusual for signage there…

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Well, I don’t remember exactly what it said, but it was very positive and encouraging and it made me smile. A random note of kindness. I bet others spotted that sign too, and were encouraged also. I now wonder if there aren’t a few others scattered around the store, like an Easter egg hunt?! I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled in future…

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I was never much of a tea drinker, but lately I’ve been enjoying tea quite a bit. A friend who no longer needed her kettle passed hers on to me and I’ve been using it every day. A nice cup of tea certainly helps to ward off the chill outside (will it ever end?!). In any case, I have to send a you rock to Yogi tea. With each tea bag, a little note is attached. Tiny words of wisdom that mainly seem to surround compassion, encouragement, love, etc. I’m now collecting them in a little jar…

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I think that’s really cool…Lovin’ That!

We all need to receive words of encouragement sometimes (whether on a piece of paper randomly spotted at the grocery store, printed on a tea bag, or from someone directly). These were small reminders to myself not to forget to dole out encouragement to others, knowing how much it can mean, but also to be thankful for those who have been compassionate, encouraging, or have provided wisdom to me

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Here is a Bible verse that is an inspiration to me. The older I get, and the more I experience life while witnessing others in their journey through theirs, how much more I aspire to be this woman…

She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. Proverbs 31:26 KJV

Stay encouraged folks! Remember to encourage others! And of course…stay inspired!

 

Swingin’ My Arms and Swayin’ My Hips!

Hello folks! Are you looking as forward to spring as I am? I’m so eager for warm sun and bird song! To get my spring kick-started, I’ve been out power walking every day, swingin’ my arms and swayin’ my hips! Too bad it’s been terribly freezing outside. I’ve had to bundle up quite a bit, and my face has received much wind burn, but I’m tired of winter. I needed to get outside! Come walk with me and see what I’ve been up to…

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One thing I love about walking around my town is that I discover more than I would notice when I’m in my car driving the usual ways. This week alone, I spotted a whole bunch of new restaurants, and was sad to spy others that had recently closed. I was curious over new construction and mused to look into store fronts, and I walked a lot of new back streets that I’d never been down before. It was fun to explore!

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Walking outside is also good for the soul! All that fresh air and nature makes my heart sing…

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As I walked near the sands of Lake Michigan, I spied a bird sanctuary where robins were scratching for bugs…

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I stopped to listen to the songs of red-winged black birds, and to giggle at the hurried running of sandpipers…

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I also spotted a little field mouse after dark, darting back and forth from under a bush to pick up tiny seeds. That was too cute!

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But for all the nature, it’s still city. A funny thing happened last night to remind me of that. I was walking at dusk down a road I’d never walked before. There was an empty plot filled with trees and grass, and I noticed a sign that said it was a nature restoration area. As I walked by and gazed in, how quiet and peaceful it was. So I stopped to listen and take a few deep breaths…IMG_3737

At that exact moment, the loudest DING-DING-DING-DING rang out. Red lights started flashing and I just about jumped a foot into the air. Just a bit further along the sidewalk was a Chicago “L” Train crossing, and the gates and sirens and lights had just gone on to warn drivers and pedestrians that a train was coming through. I chuckled at myself for being so startled. So much for a moment of peace!

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In other news, I’ve made a few fun vegan dinners…

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I’ve made my grandma’s slaw recipe into a vegan version more times than I can count now, and I never stop loving it. I could eat it almost every day! And that butter on those toasties? Vegan and as delicious as the real thing!

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Also had a craving for whole wheat spaghetti and meatballs. They make meatballs vegan now too…an extra dose of veggies without the meat!

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Tiddo has made it his life goal to find as many unique hiding spots as possible. It’s a wonder he never gets stuck in a cupboard or closet, though his loud meow would be sure to tell me if he was!

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I was rather dismayed when he was goofing off up high above the cupboards. He’s 18 years old! I was worried he’d try to jump down and get himself hurt. He’s figured out the way down though. No sprained paws so far!

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Well that’s all for now friends! Spring is around the corner, flowers will soon be blooming and the birds will soon be singing with gusto. Whatever is going on in your world, keep those arms swingin’, keep those hips swayin’ and stay inspired! Best Wishes!

The Doge’s Ball of Venice

The annual Venetian Carnevale recently ended, taking place from January 27th to February 13th this year. Every year when this festival approaches, I get excited dreaming about it, wishing that I could be in Venice to experience the beauty and excitement for myself…

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As most of you know, Venice has a very special place in my heart. I love everything about the city, and was inspired to write several books that take place there, Venice and Veleno. Every moment I’ve spent in Venice has been precious to me, and I can’t wait to return…

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I had the good fortune of attending the Venetian Carnevale one year with my mother (I’m above in red and she in gold), and it was a trip neither of us will ever forget. There was one thing that we did not do however, attend a masked ball, those magical events that have taken place for centuries. One in particular, Il Ballo del Doge (The Doge’s Ball) is famous and highly covered by the media…

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[Here I am again in an olive and black gown and veil, looking a bit ghostly!]

A thoughtful reader here on Inspired By Venice, who also cherishes the city, sent me the link to a video of the 2017 Il Ballo del Doge this week, and I was of course riveted. The ball is currently planned by designer Antonia Sautter, whose imagination and costumery is exceptional. Enjoy the video!

For many of us who love Venice, revelry, costuming, magic and mystery, attending such a ball (and this one in particular) is on our list of must-dos in our lifetime…

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I hesitate to mention that not everyone who has attended the Doge’s Ball has loved their experience. The tickets can run you thousands of dollars. So after considering all of your expenses on travel, lodgings, costume rentals, etc., ticket buyers expect some very good food, beverages, service and entertainment. Where some have treasured their experiences, others have found the food lackluster, their seating obscuring full views of the entertainment, cheesy disco music to dance to, and other disappointments…

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But I consider everything a matter of perspective. It must take a great deal of money, effort and rehearsal to put on what I see in this video. In fact, it blows my mind and makes my heart race with excitement! A once in a lifetime event! Sometimes it takes suspending criticism in order to fully appreciate and enjoy an experience, whatever your expectations might have been. As for me, I’ll continue to dream of attending, and when I get the chance, I’ll feel privileged, and will savor every moment! Thank you for bringing this dazzling and decadent ball to life, Antonia Sautter!

The Itty Bitty Littles: Audio Chapter 1

Hello friends! I thought it would be fun to have a little story time! This morning, I recorded the first chapter of The Itty Bitty Littles (applying the theatrical accent I use at my tented shop The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire)…

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I will always remember what a pleasure it was when my grandma and I had story time when I was just an itty bitty myself. How we giggled when she read my favorite books! So I thought it would be a treat to share one of my tales here…

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If you enjoy this audio version of the first chapter of The Itty Bitty Littles, I’ll happily record and post the rest of the chapters so that you can hear the adventure in its entirety. Be sure to comment if you’d like to hear what happens next in the tale!

Waiting For Spring…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware The Ninja Pepper…

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

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

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

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

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

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[Photo of the offending peppers uncooked]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Stitching Through Time…Appreciating Your Wonderful Talents!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for inspiring, me.

To Travel, To Eat!

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

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

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

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

Happy eating! Safe travels! Stay Inspired!

My Herb Kit: A Poem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All you need is a rice cooker and some imagination…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I plunked them in…

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

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

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

What should I make? Stay inspired folks!

A Cat’s First Love In Winter…

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

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

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

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

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

Delicious Mushroom Toasties, And Some Decadent Bruschetta Too!

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now for the most sinful bruschetta on the planet…

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

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

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

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

Welcome 2018! Happy New Year!

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

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

The Angel In Your Midst

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

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

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

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

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

Think about that for a second…

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

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

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

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

My brain just broke…

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

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

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

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

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

Lovin’ That! Grandma’s Slaw In 5 Minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Mummy You Didn’t Know Existed

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

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

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

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

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[Photo Credit: Sven Rosborn]

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

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[Photo Source: Pedro Groover]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stabbed By A Pencil, More Than One…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would love to hear your comments on this!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lovin’ That! Pete’s Living Greens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patty Cake, Patty Cake…Poom!

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

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

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

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

Veleno Giveaway on Goodreads!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lovin’ That! Soul Vegan Lasagna

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

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

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

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