Available Now! A Festival Day in Bristol!

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Anne lives on a farm with her family in the countryside just outside of Bristol, England. She is a very happy girl who takes pride in helping her family care for all of their animals, and with the gardening too! Weekly, they sell their farm goods at the market in the city, where there are many unique things to see.

Anne has just learned that Queen Elizabeth will be visiting Bristol on her annual summer progress along with her noble courtiers! To celebrate, the city is planning a festival for her arrival.

As excited as ever, Anne travels to Bristol with her family to sell in the market and then join in the festival fun. She wonders if she’ll see the Queen for herself. Perhaps she might even meet her!

Join Anne on this special day in history, when Queen Elizabeth visited the city of Bristol, and all were merry!

A Festival Day in Bristol is available here! Also available on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

One Majestic Bird

I was reviewing photos from a zoo outing I took with my folks a few years back and thought these were so lovely. This gorgeous bird (and a few of his friends) were allowed to roam the zoo outside of any enclosures, though it was clear that zoo staff kept a watchful eye on them with all the people so dazzled and close by. I was able to stand pretty close to observe, though hesitantly…to be chased by a peacock wouldn’t have been surprising for me, I just have that kind of luck.

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Fun fact…a peacock is a boy bird (with all the pretty feathers) while a peahen (the lady bird) is rather plain. Their babies are peachicks (awww) and after birth, the little dudes can run out of the nest after just a few days! Altogether, they are peafowl.CIMG2351.JPG

Isn’t he handsome! He’s looking for his gal so that he can strut his stuff.

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I didn’t see his lady friend, she must have been shyly sitting in the flower bushes to admire her boyfriend.

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It was a little windy and he was trying to keep his dance up, with some difficulty…

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The wind forced him around, but his lady got to admire his orange rear feathers. I think I heard her whistle!CIMG2350.JPG

Peafowl build their nests on the ground but like to get into the trees to sleep, safe away from predators. Like chickens, they peck around the ground for their grub. They love bugs, flowers and plant seeds, and also little water creatures like small fish and frogs…they even hunt lizards!

People also own them as pets, and like chickens, they will eat just about whatever you give them. You can fry up their eggs (about three times the size of a chicken’s egg), apparently they make a pretty good breakfast. The only problems with owning peafowl is that they really tear up the garden and they screech like something horrible. Well, I’d say they make up for their annoying voices with their looks!

The Key To Everlasting Love

Once upon a time, two people came together…only, there was a dilemma.

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Handsome felt pretty confident with his coffee maker…

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But the lady simply preferred her own.

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They would just have to find a solution!

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And so they did, isn’t love so nice?

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…especially on Saturday mornings when the coffee maker isn’t used at all, and he braves the cold for coffee and pastries while she stays under the warm blankets…

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That is the key to everlasting love. Especially when the pastries are pain au chocolat! Cheers to love and good coffee!

The Blogger Recognition Award!

I am very excited to announce that Inspired By Venice has been nominated for a Blogger Recognition Award! It is very special to share my stories, my thoughts, my photos and wanderings, as well as my books with you, on this site. To know that readers and fellow bloggers are enjoying inspiredbyvenice.org warms my heart and puts a smile on my face! Thank you!

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First, I’d like to especially thank A Pinch Of Sea Salt for the nomination! A Pinch of Sea Salt is a fabulous food blog from which I sincerely enjoy the recipes, stories and excellent photography! Blogs like it are a special treat, so positive and so appreciated! Thank you!!

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A part of accepting this award is to share a little about Inspired By Venice! How did this blog start? With the publication of my book Venice. Venice was a six year project for me and is one of the loves of my life, as is the city of Venice, Italy. In starting this blog, I wanted a place to share not only this book and my others, but also a great many things that inspire me: culture, travel, history, costuming, nature, food, and those happy moments in life that remind me of how beautiful the world is!

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What advice do I have for new bloggers? Be yourself and write about what you love. After starting Inspired By Venice, I instantly worried that I wouldn’t have enough to write about, but I soon realized that inspiration comes from everywhere and something wonderful will always present itself, a great many things that you’d like to share with readers.

Further, my goal was to inspire, inform and uplift. That doesn’t mean that I think bloggers must avoid difficult topics, but that when they write about them, it should remind others that they are not alone, help readers to keep their chins up, and even encourage one another to be more mindful and good to others (and to ourselves, our animal friends and our environment). The world will never be perfect, but we can all make it better. Blogs are a beautiful forum for that!

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With the Blogger Recognition Award comes a special privilege…I get to nominate 15 blogs that are an inspiration to me! In no particular order, the Blogger Recognition Awards go to…

*La Venessiana Blog

*Iroha Press

*Girl In Florence

*Deliciously Yum

*For Food’s Sake

*Olive Sundays

*Travels Food

*Michael Philip Atkins Travels

*Meandering with Misha

*The Merry Thought

*Italian Home Kitchen

*Passports and Pigtails

*Once Upon A Time In Italy

*Eating Clouds In Italy

*Tesserology

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To learn more about the Blogger Recognition Award, click here! Thank you all for reading Inspired By Venice, and thank you to all those blogs that inspire us every day!

Only For A Pastry

Oh heavens, I don’t want to get moving today, but the day is planned out and I’ve got to shake a tail feather! I’d get moving much, much faster if I could relive this moment…

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Once upon a time, that latte in Venice had my name on it…I believe I drank two. Look at those tarts, one filled with custard, the others covered in thin slices of pear and apple with a sweet glaze…

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Oh yes, here is that second latte and that second plate of pastries. That creamy tart topped with tiny, fresh strawberries and that puff pastry dipped in semisweet chocolate…

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If I were just around the corner from this pastry shop in Venice once more, I’d already have my lipstick on and be out the door with a smile and a skip in my step! Wouldn’t you!?

Here’s wishing you a wonderful day!

Taking Inventory

Today I am pondering things. As I finish writing Veleno, a thought has me curious…would the 16th century characters in my novel react the same way to their things as I do with my own in the 21st century? The answer is no, which changes the way I need to write about them and their relationship with their stuff.

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There is this scene I recall in the 2003 film Girl with a Pearl Earring. The movie is an artful rendering of Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer’s life at the time when he painted Girl with a Pearl Earring in the 1660s. Now, we aren’t sure who the ‘girl’ in the painting really was, some say one of Vermeer’s 15 children. But for the film, it is portrayed in a romantic way to be one of his household servants.

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The scene that struck me entailed Vermeer’s wife Catharina discovering that her husband allowed said servant to wear her pearl earring to pose for this famous painting. Catharina freaks out in an almost animal-like breakdown before her husband. It was an uncomfortable scene that had me wondering…why would she flip out like that? Goodness woman, it’s just an earring! Your husband just borrowed it for his work, which provides your house income!

Now, the actress or director may have been simply illustrating marital jealousy. But I think they were showing us both jealousy and a historically real reaction someone may have had about their things.

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As a voracious reader of history, I’m continually discovering how precious, status bearing and sacred personal and household items were for people in previous centuries. Common sense would say that the reason for this is that you couldn’t come by more things all that easily (no chain stores offering cheap deals), and that money was harder to secure.

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The real-life Catharina during the 17th century would have had the role of manager of her house. Part of the job was to keep precise inventory of all household belongings. And there would have been far stricter rules about who could use what, many things kept locked up. She’d have been proud and serious about maintaining all boundaries. Plus, ladies of elevated social status didn’t (or legally were not permitted to) earn their own money. She’d be pretty careful with what she personally owned.

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Catharina wouldn’t have left her pearls out. She wouldn’t have had many pairs. She would have considered that pair precious and would have ensured it was kept somewhere safe. She would have cared for them, and just owning them would have been lifting to her status…after all, few people could afford pearls and owning them showed her importance.

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Though we do see plenty of wealth from history’s aristocrats, I think when we look back in time, we don’t realize how few and far between those cases of utter riches were. When you think of 15th century England, do you imagine knights, lords and ladies? The truth was that it was peasants, peasants and more peasants owning no valuable possessions at all. And even if you had more than others, you still took care of and coveted what you had because that was the culture of the time. It wasn’t just fine gems and good furniture that folks kept a careful eye on either, it was all of their things. Again and again, I trip over inventory lists in my readings. And on those lists are written even the smallest, most mundane things, whether brand-new or used. When was the last time you wrote a list like that? I never have. Why not now…

Michelle’s Inventory:

1 pair $4.99 pharmacy eyeglasses, red plastic rims, scratched in left eye.

1 orange hairbrush, used, a patch of bristles missing.

1 pink toothbrush, used.

2 pair black cotton winter gloves, used, hole in pinky on one.

1 pair brown leather boots, new.

3 decorative cheese plates, chipped.

6 copies of Venice, new.

1 wooden writing desk chair, broken legs.

Tiddo’s (the cat) Inventory:

1 catnip stuffed mouse toy, used.

2 grey cat boxes, used.

1 feather-on-a-stick toy, used.

1 window stool covered in cheetah print faux velvet fabric, used.

Now imagine I kept this list around, and routinely checked if I have what I’m supposed to have and kept my list updated. Everyone would think that I was a weirdo or miserly, or that I seriously have nothing better to do and needed to find a hobby. But in history, my lack of record-keeping would be considered lazy and I, careless for not having higher regard for my things.

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This didn’t make them miserly however, it was simply normal and good economy and often a lifesaver. Take for instance Renaissance Venice. [Noblewoman gets married and brings along a portion of wealth with her to the marriage. She cannot legally get a job to earn money. Her husband turns out to be abusive and she is granted a divorce. She can take back what she brought to the marriage and is free to keep it to live on.] This is a good example of why even the quantity of the used linen handkerchiefs she owned, mattered. It could make a difference for her survival.

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When reading Casanova’s memoirs, I was baffled to see how often he sold his personal goods to survive from one day to the next. Today, when we trot down to the pawnshop, it is interpreted as humiliating desperation. But back in Casanova’s time, you could resell your belongings for far better returns than you get for used goods today (again because the value of goods was taken more seriously), and it was common, and it was what you did. You wouldn’t throw away a soiled hanky or an undershirt the way we would today, even the worst items were sold to a rag-gatherer.

I’d bet if most of us had a conversation with even our grandparents about reuse, caring for our things, fixing our things, spending, etc., we’d see a generational juxtaposition on this topic. Now imagine the shock someone from some centuries ago, would express at our general waste. My guess is that they’d also be far more territorial over their personal possessions, and for good reason.

This last spring, I lost a gold band set with a pearl and two diamonds. I took it off to wash my hands and left it in my pocket with some tissue. I then forgot and threw away the tissue with the ring (or so is my best guess). I can see Vermeer’s wife Catharina right now. I was very disappointed, but I could see her having an epic outburst over the loss. I don’t think I could get away with that…

An Autumn Poem

Today I took an autumn walk…

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The flowers made me forget the clock!

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The pinks, they blushed for all to see…

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And the yellows, filled my heart with glee!

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The robins gobbled plump juniper berries…

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There were fresh smelling pine cones and fallen cherries!

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The roses were so moving, they danced…

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And the bright fall leaves, they shook and pranced!

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That adorable squirrel had rather fuzzy ears!

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And these vines and leaves, they’ve crept for years.

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That seagull dove right at my head…

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And his friends thought that was funny!

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The ducks were having a pleasant swim…

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This drake was with his honey!

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All was well until the gulls swooped in,

and said “Give us all your money!”

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The three foot fishies, they frighten me…

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Summer swims bring nibbled toes, you see!

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I could go on and on with this nature talk…

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Let’s just say it was a berry beautiful walk!

The Queen’s Bed: An Intimate History of Elizabeth’s Court by Anna Whitelock

Queen Elizabeth I. The Virgin Queen. She…was…fascinating. Of course, she had a spectacular stage as the Queen of England from 1558 (when she was 25 years old) to 1603 (passing at the age of 70). And, she had quite memorable parents (Henry VII with his 6 wives & the lusty Anne Boleyn). England was a very powerful nation and constantly dancing politically with every other powerful European nation, while simultaneously establishing themselves in the ‘new world’. Virginia (named for the ‘virgin’ queen) was one of Queen Elizabeth’s claims.

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Now, I’m a details sort of gal. In my writing, I like to make sure you get the picture. I want the reader to feel like they are there, by thoroughly describing the surroundings and the senses procured from them. I’ve been reading histories about Queen Elizabeth’s reign since my interest was sparked as a kid, and though sometimes eloquent, they are often just the timeline of the facts. Anna Whitelock’s The Queen’s Bed: An Intimate History of Elizabeth’s Court however, is a treasure for anyone like me, those hungry for the details!

Now, hold your horses. This is not a book about Queen Elizabeth and secret hanky-panky as the words bed and intimate imply. Remember, Elizabeth was the Virgin Queen and as far as history can tell us, she was indeed a virtuous lady for all of her days, and a woman who never married. Whitelock’s title is a metaphor for the very epicenter of power…the Queen herself and her most inaccessible and protected domain wherever she went, her bedchamber.

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Imagine an onion. You peel it in layers. Every noble estate where the Queen stayed was the same. As you get further in, accessibility becomes even more difficult…until you get to the very room where the Queen slept, and only her Ladies of the Bedchamber were allowed. But it was more than where this woman dressed, ate and bathed…it was where her most incredible plots and plans were solidified. And when you look at the way this woman negotiated such a politically fierce world, and a very dangerous world, that room becomes the most brilliant stage of all.

Of course, Whitelock offers us a delicious entry into the intimate details of Elizabeth’s life: who attended her, what her toilette entailed, the fluctuating state of her health, her personal preferences, gifts that she received, how household accounting was figured, how much attendants were paid, insights into her personality, even the fragrances and sweets that she liked. Ah, the details…love it!!! But really, this is Whitelock’s brilliant and poetic way of helping us remember that this history, and any other, is not just timelines and the people in the story…those people were you and me, they had senses, they were human, they were real.

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This book helps us understand not just her routines, the Queen’s preferences and historic objects from the past, but also the stresses and strains put on a monarch, looming plagues and horrible diseases that we don’t even have names for today, constant assassination plots, threats of war at every turn. We understand what she feared and the fears of her people. I personally can’t believe she bore the stresses of guiding a nation for 45 years, and I’m in awe that she lived to be 70 when the average life expectancy was 42 years old. And there was a reason the expectancy was only 42 years; human fragility was far more obvious than it is today when you bring lack of medical advances into the picture. If you asked me if I’d like to go back in time and be one of Elizabeth’s noble courtiers, with all its fascinations, extravagances and intrigues; no thanks. Not without my 21st century hospital down the street. But I sure love to read about it!!!

My recommendation for this book: If you are already familiar with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and the basic history surrounding her life, enjoy! If you have a fascination for the life details of people during that period but don’t necessarily care so much as to whether you fully grasp what was going on politically, then go for it. But if you aren’t familiar with Queen Elizabeth’s life and you really want the full experience, I’d say flip through one of those basic fact histories first to get the gist, as this book (though it offers select events to illustrate certain points) will really be most enjoyable if you know all that this woman was really going up against in the world outside.

Central Park, NYC

My boyfriend is in NYC on a business trip and sent photos last night of Central Park.

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Having lived in NYC myself, the city has a special place in my heart.

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He also stopped in this delicatessen for a quick bite. There is nothing like a sandwich from a NYC delicatessen…

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And though he said he didn’t indulge in any of these…

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He may have just covered up the truth so that I wouldn’t be envious. New York cheese cake…Oh heavens!

Consider The Mask

For hundreds of years, the citizens of Venice wore masks. That statement sounds so simple, so natural, right? After all, it’s one of the images we associate with that city. It is intriguing, beautiful, mysterious…

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But after all of my research for my book Venice, and while currently reading Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene Republic by James H. Johnson, I’ve realized how absolutely amazing, bizarre, intense and committed the notion of mask wearing in Venice really was.

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Consider this…it’s Halloween, you pick out a disguise and you put it on for one evening to join in the fun when you hand out candy to the trick-or-treaters. What happens after about an hour? “Ugh, I can’t see in this thing. Ugh…this mask is making me hot. Ugh…I feel claustrophobic.”

Now imagine that you are an 18th century Venetian at a time when the Carnival season lasted for months. Every single time you stepped out in public, whether to shop for your vegetables or visit a friend, you covered your face in a mask. Whether a simple disguise for walking around town, or an incredibly intricate mask for an evening of palazzo entertainments, you always had a different identity plastered to your face, and you were anyone but yourself.

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People placed masks on their babies. Yes, it’s true. Beggars on the bridges who were going without food, wore a mask. It’s true. Everyone was masked. And when you mingled with the crowds, whether on the street or at a masquerade, if you recognized the voice or mannerisms of someone you met, you never said so. To bring someone’s identity to light was considered rude.

I’m fascinated from a communication standpoint, of what that might have really been like. An entire city masked for months (and a great portion of the city masked all the rest of the year as well during the great heights of this trend). How did your personality change when you put that mask on, and depending on which mask you put on? What was it like trying to discern the real message behind someone’s words when all you had was a faux face and a voice, with no facial expressions to evaluate? How did you know whether anyone was ever being themselves? It’s dizzying to think about.

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These masks weren’t all blank disguises. There were a great many designs and characters to choose from. Wouldn’t the mask someone selected mean something? But what? Who the wearer thought they were? Or, was it how they wanted others to see them? Or, were they choosing identities that were the very opposite of their true selves? All of the above. Tricky, tricky.

Some masks didn’t allow for speech at all, removing even more of one’s personal identity. Consider the Moretta mask that was worn only by women. For the Moretta (also called the Muta because you’d be mute), a woman put it over her face and instead of securing it in place with a ribbon around her head, held it to with a button in her mouth. Can you imagine? A button in your mouth for hours on end, in silence? Talk about “Ugh…I’m getting claustrophobic.”

These thoughts hardly even scratch the surface when I actually try to consider the reality of this mask culture. And though I would merrily embrace an evening at the Venetian Carnival in mask, and though researching this Venetian trend fascinates me, for all its beauty and intrigue, I personally prefer the truth of a human face…

Coming Soon! A Festival Day In Bristol!

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Anne lives on a farm with her parents and two older brothers in the countryside just outside of Bristol, England. She is a very happy girl who takes pride in helping her family care for all of their animals, and with the gardening too! Weekly, they sell their farm goods at the market in the city, where many exciting things happen.

And on this day, Saturday August 14th 1574, Queen Elizabeth will be visiting Bristol on her annual summer progress with her procession of noble courtiers. To celebrate, the city is planning a glorious festival for her arrival!

More excited than ever, Anne travels with her family to Bristol to sell in one especially busy market. The whole town is preparing for the arrival of the English court and much food is needed! Could it be possible that Anne might see the queen for herself when she arrives? Join Anne on this very special day in history when Queen Elizabeth traveled to Bristol!

Autumn Adventures in the Bog!

I spent the weekend with my mom and step-dad in Crystal Lake, about an hour and a half from Evanston. With every visit, we like to have an ‘adventure’. This usually means a restaurant in another town and some kind of destination (Volo Antique Mall, resale shops, Bristol Renaissance Faire, forest preserve, Kane County Flea Market, etc). On Sunday, we ate at Happy Jacks in McHenry, a deli and ice cream shop decorated with old-timey Coca-Cola paraphernalia. Inexpensive yet great food, casual and cheery; we love it!

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What I love about our adventures is that they often aren’t planned. “Hey guys, wanna go get cheese in Wisconsin?” “Yea, sure!!” And then we’re on our way. This time, we took an unexpected turn into Boger Bog in Bull Valley for an impromptu nature walk!

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Boger Bog has 38 acres to roam: there’s prairie, wooded land and wetland. What is funny, is that Boger Bog is not a bog but a fen. What’s the difference? Let’s just say that a fen is a more hospitable wetland for wildlife than an acidic bog.

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We really enjoyed our unplanned walk through nature, there is nothing more refreshing! If I knew what was good for me, I’d do it everyday!

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But, what was the best part of this bug loving gal’s walk? A walking stick!! Oh, I was SO excited to find this insect. I have this weird knack for seeing tiny bug movement…even in dense leafy brush. It’s super weird. People always say, “How did you see that?” I don’t know, the bugs and I are one. At first I was hesitant to pick it up because I once had an aggressive showdown with a praying mantis in Costa Rica (we ended our differences amicably with me running away in fear) and the two insects look a little alike. But this walking stick was as gentle as can be. Its body, though it looks hard like a stick, was soft. I had to be super careful not to hurt it and took my time picking it up. Once I did, I was surprised to see how speedily it could walk up my arm. And the cutest thing, when I touched it, it made his front antenna go straight like his body so that he’d look like a stick rather than prey. That little dude made my day!