Swimming Radishes

There are a great many things I do on autopilot…like blurting lesser used (or locally unheard of) words and phrases, picking up grimy found pennies on the street and sticking them in my left shoe (for good luck of course), or this for example…

I’ve been craving radishes lately. My grandma used to grow them in the garden and I ate a lot of them growing up. The crunch, the spice, I think they are delicious. Sometimes I find them so spicy, I need a glass of milk.

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I sat my fresh cut radishes in the fridge the other day, covered in a bowl of water, and for the first time stopped and wondered why I did that. I instantly remembered snatching radishes out of my great grandma’s fridge after church, covered in chilled water, on Sundays as a girl. My grandma with her garden did the same. And now, I do it.

So I looked it up. Cutting off the stems and leaves keeps the radish from drying out, and the cold water keeps the cut radish crisp. I guess I knew there was logic to making my radishes swim, but never knew exactly why until now.

Funny what we pick up along the way, something taught that we didn’t know we learned, the things that make us who we are…

I’m a Cardinal…

Cue the music please:

I’m…too sexy for this yard…too sexy for this yard, too sexy yea!

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I’m a Cardinal, you know what I mean, and I do my little turn on the birdwalk…

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On the birdwalk, on my branch-walk, I do my little turn on the birdwalk…

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I’m…too sexy for this branch…too sexy for this tree, way…too…sexy…yea!

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I’m a Cardinal, you know what I mean…

What was that?

If you look very closely in the snow you’ll see…the tracks of a tiny creature who ran past me!

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Was it a hopping birdie or perhaps a bounding little mouse? Why no, it wasn’t…twas something very different that ran past my house!

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To see this magic creature is sometimes hard to achieve…but to catch a special glimpse, all you must really do is believe!

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Coming soon!

Reflecting on the View

How lovely to stick one’s head out of the window and get a view, whether in Venice or anywhere else! Here, I was listening to the gondoliers’ barcarole, watching them float by, observing folks as they ambled across the bridge. I couldn’t help smiling at the pigeons rising from the rooftops with their usual cooing. The air was cool, with that hint of the sea.

What is your favorite view, and what are its signature sights, sounds and smells when you poke your head out from the window to observe it?

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Here, I was mesmerized by the reflection of the buildings in the canal. It almost looked like there was an underworld beneath the surface, an exact replica of the one above! Or even that I was way up stories high (with the building opposite looking much taller than it was because of its reflection). Can you tell when the building across from mine met the water?

Here’s wishing you’ll find the charms in the view just outside your window today, wherever you may be! Trees, birds, corn fields, lapping blue waves? People alive and dancing past one another on their way to somewhere? Neon lights and that city buzz? There is beauty to be found in every view, go look!

Love For Books

Here, I was 12 years old on a summer’s day at my grandparents’ house. Grandma took that photo through her kitchen window (I can smell the home cooking even now). I threw a big cushion off that swing to make things just right. For what? Reading, reading and more reading!

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What was I reading? I can only guess one of L.M. Montgomery’s lovely tales of the early 20th century (Anne of Green Gables will never go out of style) or perhaps it was a Choose Your Own Adventure (I have a little collection even now). It might have been my Bible (a book with a great many incredible stories) or perhaps it was something from the library.

Wouldn’t it be fun to have a list of every single book you ever read?

I couldn’t get enough of reading then and I still can’t now. There’s simply nothing quite like a good story. Here’s wishing you many wonderful books on the list of all that you’ll read in your life. Enjoy each and every adventure!

Lady Of A Summer’s Day

Another one of Lita’s magnificent creations, the one we call the ‘mother’s dress’. This image was taken when I was 22 years old, the role was a reenactment of a Lady Mary Hastings of Queen Elizabeth’s court. She was a married woman with children, and Lita designed the gown to appear modest and mature (a closed partlet, natural colors, no excessive flash).

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Of all the costumes, this one wins the award for perfect fit! When one is reenacting history, and wearing a costume, it shouldn’t look like a costume. What the actor is wearing should look like their everyday clothing. In this gown, I actually felt like a normal woman going about my day, no tugging, adjusting, agonies (from cutting corsets or sharp and loose boning). The gown was not too heavy, no back aches or tripping over hems, the weight was perfectly balanced.

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I was very fond for how the collar was delicately tacked down with little gold beads instead of plastered around my neck. I can’t stand any clothing around my neck (I would have made a fussy Elizabethan having to wear all those starched lacy collars). I also loved the fabric textures and colors; natural color combinations can look every bit as rich as bright ones. And, I loved all the muted gold cording at the sleeve ties and around the hem of the overskirt, as well as the olive velvet lining the hem and running up either side of the forepart.

It was just the kind of simple yet noble gown I could see meandering around an English manor house in, and one Lita envisioned for that lady of history, something Lady Hastings might have worn on any normal day.

Take Me With You

“Mom?”

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“Yes Tiddo?”

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“I found your bag, and your sweater…are you going somewhere? Are you going to grandma’s house? Are you going to see those other kitties? Are you going to play chase the feathers with them like we do? Why can’t Midnight, Peanut and Sasha come here to play? Why do you have to go there? Can I come too? I can fit in this bag you know.”

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“Oh Tiddo, I’ll just be gone one night. But I need you to stay here.”

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“No mom, I’m shutting my eyes and this overnight bag will go right back into the closet where it belongs. WHY can’t I go?”

“Well, because it is so cold outside that a little mouse might have come to nest inside of the house! What would I do without my hunter here to protect our home, especially my cheese and crackers, and your kitty crunchies too? Mice like those.”

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“Hmmm, ok then. But only if you’re gone just one night. I love you mom…”

“I love you too Tiddo.”

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“ZZZZZzzzzzzzzz……..mousie, mousie, mousie…zzzzz.”

Indulgent Robatayaki

As I thought about our date night at Roka Akor this past Friday evening, the first word that popped into my head was decadence. Oh yes, we can’t stop going back (read here & here), and for good reason. In fact, we had other reservations but the moment handsome got home on that cold night, I blurted, “How about Roka Akor?” The answer was an immediate, yes.

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We started with the Salmon Tartare with Roasted Tomato Dressing and Crispy Taro Chips. The perfectly minced stack of salmon was so fresh, but the delightful, cool fresh toppings sent the flavor over the top. I felt my chopsticks combat in that bowl with my dinner companion’s, though we were on a date, so I didn’t nip his fingers like I wanted to.

You can purchase taro chips nowadays at the grocer, a healthier substitute for potato chips for certain. If they tasted like these, I’d be stocking up on bags like it was the eve of an apocalypse!

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The oysters were perfectly chilled, politely loosened from their shells, plump and topped with a hint of refreshing additions…just how an oyster should be. Bottoms up!

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Next, we once more selected the tender Robata Grilled Duroc Pork Belly with Kimchi. “Decadent”: to be luxuriously self indulgent. Yes, that sounds about right! That pork belly is amazing!

We also enjoyed the fresh, crisp Organic Vegetable Maki rolls. Earthy and simple, the perfect balance in our mix of delectable choices.

Do we always select four appetizers when we eat out? Only at Roka Akor…decadence, remember?

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For the main course, I enjoyed sweet, tender Alaskan King Crab with Chili Lime Butter. Crab is king in my book, and this plate was generously stacked with the best. And though I find it satisfying to break apart my own crab legs on the hunt for meat, I didn’t have to look like a wild-crab-claw-crusher in front of my date. They come sliced open, the meat easy to get at. That’s some classy crab!

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The Japanese Wild Mushroom and Mountain Greens Rice Hot Pot is a very special side. To open that rustic looking kettle safely planted into a wooden box feels like I’m sharing in tradition while eating the very thing to ward off winter. It is such a satisfying dish. Roka also offers shaved truffle with it. Did we get the truffle? Decadence…

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Handsome had the Yuzu Miso Marinated Black Cod with Pickled Onions. Holy cod! That fish was exceptionally light, fresh and flakey with that lovely crisp on the top. The yellow sauce was a sweet, creamy lemon and it was out of this world delicious. Sometimes, I just want to eat sauce with a spoon. How is that for decadent? And let’s not forget the pickled onions, a little sweet, a little sour, a nice crisp, loved them.

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For dessert, Warm Chocolate Cake with Coffee Ice Cream and Caramelized Peanuts; one wonderful end to a magnificent meal. That with a sip of Japanese whiskey, what can be said but perfect.

The staff once more showed their excellence in service and we were never inconvenienced with clutter or a spill left on the table (like the soy sauce I tipped out of the bowl). The folks at Roka Akor really are impeccable at what they do, making our dining experience both delicious and genuinely pleasant.

Of course, we don’t eat this way everyday. We sup on our home cooked meals, a simple menu, ever trying to strive for the opposite of overindulgence. But on date night, we love a great experience, and of course, a little decadence! Cheers to good food, and one sizzling robata grill at Roka!

Pretty in Paisley

Lita and I are known to have long, animated conversations about costumes, history, and a variety of topics that fall within. We reference period films, look at printouts of centuries old paintings and discuss costumes we’ve seen here and there. And so, for each of her creations, we have a name for it so that parts of them can be easily referenced. This one is the paisley dress.

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These images were taken when I was 16, in the backyard taking a stroll. We named it the paisley dress because of the pattern in the bodice and forepart (which in these photos is tied up the front).

For an Elizabethan dress, an ornate forepart would be seen at a downward V at the front. However, how useful to be able to tie up the overskirt to save the fine forepart from damage in inclement weather!

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This was one of her first Elizabethan gowns, and though not worn with any frequency, found its way out of doors on a number of occasions. The farthingale was slight and we were not using a bumroll, so the silhouette was natural.

I absolutely adored the flaps of fabric at the bottom of the bodice, which gave it such a crisp look. The bodice was firmly made and the fabric itself was a striking gold and maroon.

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Of course, I felt like quite the lady! Nothing better than sauntering around the yard in a gown. I’m not embarrassed to say, I’ve done it a great many times.

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Lita was making me laugh, she always does. Over the years, she’s made it difficult to keep a straight face when it was most appropriate to do so. But what is life if you don’t laugh, and often!

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I don’t think my bangs were the appropriate hairstyle for the Elizabethan period, but they sure were when I was 16! Ah, costume nostalgia…think I’ll drive over and dig through Lita’s costume room, take another twirl in the yard. Oh wait, it’s only 7 degrees outside…that stroll may have to wait!

All Good Things!

I am very excited to announce the arrival of The Fairy Woods, released yesterday and available here! I hope all the kiddos will enjoy the adventure of my three fairy friends, Whisper, Wish and Wind, as well as the magical moments that take place in their wooded realm! For any child that can’t get enough fairy tales, this is a special book for them!

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I would also like to thank Johnny Jet: The Travel Insider! If you enjoy travel, this site is for you! I was interviewed for their popular Travel Style segment and hope you’ll enjoy it! You can read the interview here!

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I’ve not only had the opportunity to do some wonderful traveling in my life so far, something that I love, but my book Venice is inspired by the adventures life brings when you grab your suitcase and hit the road (or jump on that vaporetto)! For all of you who dream of the places you’ll see, I hope you get there and soon!

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I would also like to send a special thank you to La Venessiana (meaning the Venetian woman), one of the absolute best blogs about all things Venice! Several times (here & here), very kind mentions were made for my book Venice and site Inspired by Venice. For anyone who wants their dose of dreamy Venice, its food, beautiful photography, and an insider’s delightful stories, you must visit La Venessiana and often!

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I am also excited to share that 2016 is going to bring some very exciting adventures! Veleno  is just around the corner (for you adult readers looking for a terrible tale), and The Itty Bitty Littles too (a sweet, funny adventures for the little ones), but there’s more! Wonderful new adventures for every age and I can’t wait for you to see what’s next! Queen of the Elves is just one sneak peek!

Feather Fans & Candlelight

These were taken when I was about 15 years old. Lita had the delightful whim to make an 18th century style dress, though there was no plan for the gown to be worn anywhere. In fact, this may have been one of the only times it was worn. The fabric was a very soft turquoise-blue color, a satin blend (stiffer, less wrinkly, less static).

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These were captured while I stood in the living room, taking the dress for a spin. I love that they are in black and white, though I wish we had some in color too. 18th century style gowns required panniers to extend the hips. Here however, pillows tied around my hips made substitute. I think her ensemble is charming!

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At that point, I didn’t have any particular interest in 18th century history, but every other period instead it seemed. However, we’d watched Dangerous Liaisons, The King’s Mistress, Amadeus and countless other period films that pointed that direction, more than a few times each. Period movie buffs, yes we were! And still are!! Where’s the popcorn and Raisinets?!

So, it is fun to find these photos where Lita was inspired to that era, long before we flew to Venice to don costumes for the Carnevale, and long before I’d started writing Venice, which nurtures that century and its clothing in detail throughout the book.

That’s an artist for you; their sewing machine (or brush or pen…) takes them wherever they are led to go, whenever inspiration bites. Love it!

Fill My Heart With Gladness

This is beautiful Sophie, the daughter of one of my dearest friends and to whom A Festival Day In Bristol is dedicated. When I opened the email with this photo, my heart was so full of gladness. Such a pretty smile, such an adorable costume, such a precious girl!

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I’m again reminded why I write.

Sophie hasn’t had the chance to read her special book yet, but finished Princess Liliana and the Dragon, and in her mother’s words, she loved it.

Thank you to every reader, of my books and Inspired by Venice. I not only hope that you enjoy my adventures, but that they will bring you smiles, surprises and moments of joy when you do. Every word is written for you!

Soon to be released! The Fairy Woods!

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Whisper, Wish and Wind are young fairies living in one very enchanted forest, the Fairy Woods! Together they dance, make new animal friends and explore all there is to see within their woodland realm. In the Fairy Woods, each day holds a new adventure for the faes of the forest!

Fairies however, are not the only mystical creatures. They’ve got neighbors! There are wise old hobs, naughty will-o’-the-wisps and greedy goblins called trows. With so much magic in one wooded place, all kinds of mischief can happen!

When trouble brews, can the otherworldly citizens of the Fairy Woods work together for the good of all? Whisper, Wish and Wind think so! Join these fairy friends as they show how kindness is the truest magic of all!

Look It Up!

I love looking things up! I got that from my grandma who I always noted taking an interest in a variety of unique facts, stories and articles when I was little. She was inquisitive and I caught that bug. Each time I didn’t know how to spell a word and I asked her how, she’d tell me to go look it up.

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Nowadays, we are so spoiled with so much information at the tips of our fingers. So anytime I get curious, I look it up. Here are some interesting things that I recently learned. You shouldn’t go another day without knowing…

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Snakes don’t blink because they don’t have eyelids. Instead, they have a protective film over their eyes. That’s why they are so mesmerizing when they look at you, because they aren’t blinking. For all you know, this guy might be sleeping. Snakes sneeze and its really cute. Bless you!

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If folklore is true, the reason your hair is tangled when you wake up in the morning is because elves and/or fairies have been dancing on your head while you slept. Elflocks or fairy-locks depending on the culprit. And I thought it was because I don’t like brushing my hair!

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These are cocoa pods that are filled with the cocoa beans that make chocolate. When you open the pod, the beans are nesting in a pulp and the beans are purple. They only turn brown after exposure to air and roasting! There are about 40 beans in a pod. It takes 400-500 beans to make a single pound of chocolate…that’s crazy. I have a new respect for that chocolate bar in the fridge.

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I always thought that any bee that stung me wouldn’t live very long as I believed that bees die after using up their one stinger. Actually, it is only honey bees. Their stinger is barbed and when they try to pull it out, it damages their bodies and the stinger is left behind with you. Hornets and wasps however, do not have barbs on their stingers. Their stingers do not fall out after they get you…they can sting you as many times as they want with no peril to their health. Ouch!

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Bubonic (and pneumonic) plague is passed around from a bacteria in fleas. In medieval Europe, fleas carried on rats, who infested areas where people lived, caused millions of deaths over the centuries. It is a horrific disease. In the United States, prairie dogs carry the bubonic plague. Whether you pick up one that has the plague or a flea from one gets onto you or your dog (even cat), you are at risk. The plague of the Middle Ages is still alive and well in our desert regions. Aye!

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Hippo ‘sweat’ is blood red. It’s true. Technically it isn’t sweat, its a natural skin secretion that comes out clear and then turns red and looks like actual blood. Eventually it turns brown. It doesn’t wash off their bodies in the water, but sticks to their skin. The liquid is a natural sunblock! And, it is antibacterial, keeping hippos healthy in their swampy, muddy, buggy environments. Historically, people thought hippos were sweating real blood. Nope, it’s just hippo sunblock!

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Penguins and polar bears have never met. Polar bears only live in the north (Arctic) while penguins only live in the south (Antarctic). I had no idea! I feel silly. Penguins don’t tend to be afraid of people in their natural environment because they don’t have any land predators (like polar bears). They’ll walk right up to you and say hello!

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Heart attacks overwhelmingly happen on Mondays. You can probably guess why; it’s the day most people return to work after relaxing over the weekend and they are stressed out. According to this article, it still goes for folks that are retired! Guess you can’t kick the memories of getting back to the grind on Monday mornings! Perhaps we should all be doing something on this list on Mondays to keep our heart happy!

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Ugh, cockroaches give me the chills. Eck! This is a gross fact. Cockroaches can live without their heads, sometimes up to several weeks! Apparently, they don’t breath through their mouths. They eventually succumb because they can’t drink water without their heads. Gross.

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According to this article, when you sneeze, it can blow out of your system at up to 500 miles per hour. That, is, nuts. Because of the intense force, holding in a sneeze can be extremely dangerous (pulled muscles, burst blood vessels in your head and neck, burst eardrums, broken ribs). So, do not hold in your sneeze because it can have serious health risks. However, do cover your sneeze. The particles can mist up to 10 feet, even further, making it easy to get others sick.

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I could look it up all day, learning is never ending!

Candy Canes On My Shoulders

Just starting college, I was fortunate enough to join the Guilde of St. George, a group reenacting the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Their home is the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, WI, though they also volunteer at schools, libraries and other venues, to share Elizabethan history. Here is Lita’s (the costumer) fabulous creation!red3.jpg

These first three images were polaroid photos! I guess we didn’t have time to spare, we needed the photos in hand immediately. They were taken in the spring just before my first summer in the guilde. Ah, the anticipation I felt! I’d already been attending Elizabethean dance and reenacting workshops all that spring.

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These were taken before the dress was completed. It is fun now to look at before and afters, as they remind you of the phases that a gown must go through to get the right fit. I was to wear this dress for about 10.5 hours each Saturday and Sunday for 9 weekends in weather that grew into the mid-nineties, and humid at that, over outdoor terrain (rocks, roots, hills). Even after dress rehearsals, I better understood how the dress and I were getting along, and Lita made some adjustments.

Here, the hem was yet to be measured. Lita already knew (with that clever-artist-sewing-brain), but I learned that the front must be higher (or you trip 50 times a day) and the back longer to cover the bum role to get the correct silhouette. Also, one must make the chemise sleeves longer than your shirt sleeves would normally be. Once you get the bodice on, it pulls the sleeves up and they’ll be too short otherwise.  I also learned that before you work with fabric, you must wash the fabric (even a few times). This is because, unwashed fabric inevitably either bleeds color or shrinks dramatically once exposed to rain or a spilled goblet of water.

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We also discovered that in spite of the excellent wire boning that was used within the bodice, a serious corsette (as every noblewoman reinactor in the guilde wears), is the only way to keep the bodice from folding at the tummy. The following season, Lita made one excellent corsette (which I think straightened me out and made me grow taller by 2 inches).

In the end (seen below at the faire), the cream petticoat (underskirt) was removed for this striped one. Did you know that Elizabethans wore stripes? Yes indeed! The cream would not do out of doors, as it became grimy with dust the first day. And, I had a serious thing for chocolate ice cream at the time, oops! The sleeve ties were removed in favor of hidden hooks and eyes as I get ribbons caught on everything.

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Though I’ve always said I have a favorite amongst all the gowns that Lita has made, it’s actually not true. I have a place in my heart for every one. What did I love about this gown? First, the pearls. I am a sucker for pearls. Those strands around my body…if it was acceptable to wear pearls like that today, strung and swinging around my torso, I’d be the lady to do it. I love how the pearls are dotted everywhere, even the hat. Secondly, Lita’s chemise was incredible. It is painstaking work to hand-fold the cotton at the neck and at the wrists before sewing it into the body of the shirt. That with the pretty little bands of color that played off the gown, loved it. But my favorite part? The upper part of the bodice was her best bodice work in my opinion. The stiff candy cane shoulder rolls and exceptional design kept the bodice from falling down my arms or shifting (I’ve got sloping shoulders and get pretty darn grouchy when my costumes shift about).

It was so exciting to be a part of the guilde that first season, and I learned a great deal of history. But you know what made such delightful memories? The workshops, the dance classes, and all the planning with Lita. We’re like history gossip girls when we get together, we can talk costumes and history for hours!

A Little Peasant Girl

This photo is a special one for me. Though not the very first costume, it was one of the first little renaissance dresses that my mother made for me. This was taken at the Bristol Renaissance Faire when I was about eight years old.

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I, like other children who visit the festival, was fascinated with all the performances, games and shops. I couldn’t wait to go to this faire each summer, and we’d visit often during the 9 weekends that the festival is open. I remember waking up on summer Saturday mornings like it was Christmas, so excited to dress up and go to Bristol. We’d hop in my mom’s jeep and off we went, a whole day out of doors, cheered by the spectacles, the music, the sounds, the festival food.

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I was very, very happy. This was the time my excitement sparked for history, the root of where I became inspired to imagine and dream, the reason I became an insatiable reader and eventually a writer.

And though I’ve heard my mother say that her early creations were a little rough around the edges (because she was just teaching herself to sew), I’d say to all those aspiring to make costumes for your children and yourself, or in taking up any art form for that matter…imperfections don’t matter, the experience of making, your learning and the joy your creations give others, is what does.

This dress was perfect, mom.

Beware The Fairies

Do you know what I find fascinating about research? It’s that I often have expectations about what I’ll find, but that my assumptions are often wrong. This teaches me how little I really know about topics I was sure I was better familiar with and how it always pays to ‘look it up’!

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I was very excited to write my soon to come children’s book The Fairy Woods. I thought as I looked into the lore of the world of faes, I’d be delighted with what I’d find and that there would be so much pleasant inspiration! The truth is, fairies are frightening and if I met one in a forest, I’d make a run for it.

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If you knew this to be an enchanted forest, would you cross that bridge?

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There are many kinds of fairies in the realm of the faes, not just those glittery winged little creatures. Let’s take for example a will-o’-the-wisp. Oh, I see one there to the upper left in the photo above.

Will-o’-the-wisps do something magical when people enter the forest. They glow and float through the woods so that you become entranced to follow it and discover what it is. And then? It leads you into the swamp (hope you can swim) or deep into the dark woods where you get too lost to find your way out. That isn’t very nice.

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Then there are brownies who live in your house. They hide under floorboards or in holes in the wall and come out at night. They tidy your house, do some dishes, sweep a floor. So helpful, right? Well, they expect treats for their work, a little honey, some milk. If you anger a brownie, they turn into a boggart (sometimes considered poltergeists today). They threw things around the room and destroyed the house, and frightened families. I certainly wouldn’t want to upset the household brownie, but think about it…would you really want a helpful little elf living in your walls who came out at night and rearranged things in your home? No thanks!

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Hobgoblins are much the same, secreting in your house and helping with your housework, but they play practical jokes whether or not you upset them, sometimes downright mean and dangerous ones! Very unpleasant.

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I’m sure you’ve heard of changelings? They are fairy babies, that fairies bring to your house and exchange for your newborn. Changelings are apparently very creepy and don’t express human emotions, all the while you are wondering where your baby went. Oh no!

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But this is just the tip of the iceberg! There are hideous fairies that jump out of the woods and stop your heart, ones that throw mud at people for a living, there are drowning fairies that will snatch you into the water and hold you under. And those cute winged sparkly fairies? Most aren’t considered evil, but they are very naughty and troublesome. It reminds me of the time I asked my mom if it wouldn’t be awesome to own a pet monkey…she described for me the mischievous, energetic, biting, screeching natures of monkeys and I changed my mind. That is now how I also envision those ‘cute’ fairies.

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One fascinating thing to keep in mind is that in history, people believed many of these creatures existed. People actually left food out for brownies in their homes so as to keep them on their good side, and when things went wrong, fairies were to blame. When I think about that, it’s frightening. I’m really glad I wasn’t born believing a water sprite would grab my ankle at the stream, or that a boggart was running amuck in my house. How would I sleep at night?

In the days of yore, fairies were a way to explain the unexplainable. That funny noise, that mess, or something that went missing in the home. They were also an entity to blame during a tragedy, such as if someone got hurt or for the loss of a child.

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So, as a writer working on a fairy book for kids, I’ve had to imagine nice fairies and haven’t gained the positive inspiration that I thought I would from the research. That’s ok, perhaps I’ll write an adult novel that includes some of the lore…do you believe in fairies? Bwa-ha-ha!

In my forthcoming book The Fairy Woods, little fairies take refuge in the nest of baby owls, or owlets. That sounds so cute, right? I wanted to know how baby owls sounded and came across this video. Owlets are still the cutest ever, but don’t tell your children that they sound like that, or that fairies actually aren’t so nice, we don’t want to frighten them!

Want to see real, live fairies that I caught on camera? Enjoy!

Fun Fact: Do you know what running amuck means? It means rushing about, mad with murderous frenzy. Oh my. The things you learn when you look stuff up!

 

The Costumer, The Artist, The Inspiration

My mother is a very talented costumer and artist. I’ve had the great fortune of watching her sew all of my years, and being able to wear some dozens of her creations: just for fun, in theatricals, and for historic reenactment. And though I am going to share a great many photos of her spectacular works on Inspired by Venice, I wanted you to first, meet the artist!

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This is Lita, my precious mother and best friend! Here she is wearing one of her own 18th century style day dresses in Venice during the Carnival.

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She wore a silk hair net covered in gold corded weave, with a gold mask and veil. The Venetian Carnevale tends to run at the end of January through the start of February, so it can be pretty chilly. Thankfully the sun shone beautifully that day, so a shawl and hand muff kept her warm enough while we took a stroll.

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We soaked in the sun with coffee in Piazza San Marco. The air was crisp and fresh, with a hint of the sea.

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On another sunny walk, she wore this piece, covered by a beautiful cape. If I’d had the sense, I would have gotten some closer photos so that one could really see some of the detail; the perfect pleated fabric over the small hip panniers, the feathered headpiece and veil, the lace at the elbows.

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Even now, I remember what it felt like to be able to walk about the city of Venice in costume (this excursion was in 2005). For me, it is the ultimate excitement to pretend for a moment that I’m visiting the 18th century and going about my business. For every occasion that I could actually wear a costume in public and ponder what it might have been like to live in another time, it is such a treat!

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Though we’d traditionally have worn a mask at all times, we sometimes went without. Our Carnival visit was also a tour of Venice, and we wanted to see everything (which a mask can sometimes hamper). I had a particular thing for veils at the time. But next time, I’m going to wear an enormous pompadour and a glitzy mask! We kept things very simple; Lita’s designs allowed us to walk about the city and enjoy the cafes without cumbersome costumes.

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We paced slowly over bridges and down lanes, peered in windows and walked by the lagoon. We laughed a lot and chattered like birds. It is rare to have the time of loved ones all to yourself for a whole week, it was lovely!

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We enjoyed each other’s company to the fullest in the midst of a mesmerizing Carnival and one beloved city. If it hadn’t been for this beautiful artist, who makes every part of the costumes I’m going to share with you (often even the jewelry), I would never have been inspired about history the way that I am, and I would never have written Venice.

Venice is dedicated to Lita, for being such a patient and generous person who taught me to be creative, be joyful, and to be inspired! Thank you!

La Joie de Vivre!

We had a fabulous meal at Evanston’s Bistro Bordeaux once more on New Year’s Eve!

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Though it is always lovely to bring in the new year by toasting at midnight (which we’ve had the pleasure of doing at this very restaurant before), we decided to take an early meal and kept it simple; no oysters, no dessert, no heady digestifs…but of course there was champagne!

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Handsome started with the quiche du jour, which is always filled with savory ingredients and the perfect buttery crust that melts in your mouth. Served with a mixed greens salad, this lovely plate could make the perfect meal all by itself (and often does in our house).

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I chose the soupe du jour to warm up from the cold. A creamy tomato and their perfectly crisp and chewy French baguette to dip. Heavenly!

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My companion selected the Cassoulet Toulousain for his plat principal: French white bean stew, duck leg confit, braised pork shoulder, boudin blanc, bacon lardons, chapelure. When I asked him toward the end of the dish if he’d like to reheat the other half of it on the following day, he said no and took another bite, and then another. Some dishes must be finished, not a bean left behind!

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I selected the Gnocchis Parisian aux Truffes which you can also have served with the braised pork shoulder. Truffle gnocchi, button mushroom, arugula, butternut squash, beurre noisette. I normally don’t order gnocchi in restaurants, or pasta either. It tends to be overpriced, processed, the sauce overly rich or too bland. But at Bistro Bordeaux, I order it all of the time because it is fresh, handmade, perfectly cooked and always served with delicious al dente vegetables. Over the years, they’ve made it out of different veggies (not just potatoes), which is a vegetarian’s dream. The truffle flavor made it completely special this night!

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The restaurant was aglow with hanging candled glass orbs, the chatter was buoyant, the service excellent and the atmosphere cozy. Tres charmant!

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The decor was so pretty, and I especially appreciated the heaters in the foyer that kept us toasty while we waited for the valet (who was appropriately wearing a French beret).

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It was a frigid night, but here in Evanston on Chicago’s North Shore at one of our favorites, we approached our new year warm, well fed and cheerful. We couldn’t want for more!