My Cup Runneth Over!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Meet, Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again!

A Scorpion In My Bathroom?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what did I find?

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[Photo Credit: Kaldari]

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

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[Photo Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0]

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

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[Photo Credit: Sarefo]

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

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

Veleno Is Here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Available now on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

The Versatile Blogger Award!

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

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

About the Versatile Blogger Award:

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

Seven facts about Michelle, author of Inspired By Venice

Hmmmm…let’s be random here…

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

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

Earthstar

Getting The Picture

Fashion Through History

Fed’s Life

The Third Planet

Sawaworld

The Merry Thought

The Wifey’s Corner

Smart Veg Recipes

The World According To Dina

Jess Did What

Meandering With Misha

Experience Of Thinking

Japan Etc.

Agreeable Things

Thank you for your awesome, inspiring blogs!

The Quill And Brush

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

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

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But to give you a sneak peak…

There once was a great Venetian palace.

The name of which, everyone did know.

Inside its walls dwelled an esteemed noble family.

All revere, ’tis the House of Orso!

 

Its patriarch, a rich and powerful merchant.

With a wife very clever, such a beautiful sight.

His daughters, four, a precious gift.

How unfortunate now, each should meet their plight…

 

Orso dead? Perhaps by plague!

Mirella turned strange, a widow made.

 

Fina gone, for a courtesan’s life.

Noemi must escape, or make a woeful wife.

Mafalda will rise in a cold, cruel pit.

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

 

Venice’s year, 1575.

Pestilence arrives, Venetians fear for their lives!

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

Yet can courage be enough, to escape the grave?

 

What’s New, Shelly-Poo!?

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

So what’s new, Shelly-Poo? Let’s see…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peek-a-boo, I see you!

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

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

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

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

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[Photo Credit: Jurgen Otto]

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

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

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

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

Just Where I Want To Be

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m lovin’ your style, Newark!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insomnia Cookies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Itty Bitty Littles Giveaway!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caprese, Caprese!

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

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

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

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

Hollandaise…Proceed With Caution!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Eat That Ackee, Eve!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[Photo Credit: DocTaxon]

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

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

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

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

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

Nature must be respected

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

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

Here is hoping you are enjoying your adventure today!

Date Night in NYC!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sneaky, Slithering Sea Snail!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m A Hummingbird…

Cue the music please:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Worry About A Thing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Far And Away…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here is wishing you special wonders in your life today, wherever you may be. As for me, I’m singing a song with my toes barefoot in the sand. “One Love. One Heart. Let’s get together and feel alright…Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel alright.” Loving your lyrics Marley!

Ra-Ra-Sis-Boom-Bah!

When I woke up this morning, the first thought that popped into my head were pom-pom crabs (my brain works in random and mysterious ways, especially before I’ve had a cup of coffee). I was introduced to their existence when reading a recent and fascinating article. And now I think about them at random times of the day, imagine them skittering around the seafloor shouting their little crabby cheers…

[Photo Credit: Prilfish]

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The pom-pom crab (also called a boxer crab) is named after the sea anemones that it holds in its claws (reminiscent of a cheerleader’s pom-poms). Sea anemones have a nasty sting, which the boxer crab can use to scare away predators or to zap a meal. The lady crab above has her brood attached to her belly. Get away from my babies or I’ll stun you. Zzzzttt! 

[Photo Credit: Hectonichus]

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Fascinatingly, they create their pom-poms by snipping anemones in half (forced cloning where the halved creatures grow full again). Even the itty-bitty baby boxer crabs wield these stinging poms. And when a boxer crab loses its anemones, it will steal one from another crab and halve it! They take their poms very seriously. Pretty neat!

Here’s to the joys of always learning something new, and finding awe in the wonders of our world. And for each of your life’s dreams and aspirations today, I am shaking my poms to cheer you on! Stay inspired!

Cruciferous Crunch, Compostable Containers!

Some of my favorite local restaurants that serve healthy food options also provide earth friendly containers to take your food away in. Who wouldn’t be pleased to take their food to go, and eat out of, a container that is both compostable, but also serves up less chemicals to the body like plastics and styrofoam items?

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In an effort to cut back on a run of unhealthy lunches (and an insatiable daily craving for potato chips) after the holidays, I revisited thoughtful lunch prep. I also purchased a bulk of earth friendly bowls and lids from World Centric. These bowls are fantastic, for they are roomy, stackable and convenient…

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For lunch, I like to toast up some healthy wild rice or grains and let cool. Next comes a plentiful handful of greens, covered in whatever chopped veggies I have on hand…

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I also plop on a good spoonful of hummus or guacamole (or both), and maybe some pine nuts or almond slivers for crunch. I also love to put sriracha sauce on my hummus to jazz things up! Some fresh cracked pepper, a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and I’m ready to eat my veggies!

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I find that when I prep ahead in the evening when I’m cooking in the kitchen anyway, it frees up precious time in the morning and I don’t feel so rushed and grouchy at the start of a new day. And though I love eating out for dinner when I’m not cooking (evidenced by dozens of my posts), I prefer to make my own lunch. I make my lunch almost every day of the year…

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Now, I’m no expert on healthy eating (or on chemical-laden tableware and environmental practices for that matter), but I thought I’d share one small way I tried to do better for myself. More veggies for lunch, in a plant-based, less toxic, compostable container that I don’t feel guilty tossing…

Now who’s ready for some delicious, good-for-you greens?! ME!

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Here’s wishing you good health today, and everyday! And here’s a pat on the back for making even little changes that lead to a happier, healthier you!

My Grandma’s Garden

My grandma lives in Southern Illinois, in a house that used to be a rural school house! She still has an outhouse standing in her backyard, which she uses for storing her garden tools. This time of year, I’m betting her garden is already beginning to wake, for Southern Illinois is far warmer than Northern Illinois…

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My grandma has always had a green thumb, producing plenty of healthful veggies and planting many beautiful flowers. I spent a great deal of time running around barefoot as a child through her garden when she lived up north. I was never concerned about snakes or ticks because that didn’t seem prevalent. In the warmer climate where she lives now however, I’d be more cautious in the garden. My grandma however, isn’t scared of anything…

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She has some beautiful grassland and woodlands just beyond her property. Frequently her wild and protective sidekick, Sally the dog, likes to run off for a spell into the field. I recall hearing a story about Sally coming back with a rotten deer leg in her mouth, snatched from a carcass and brought home like a trophy. Gross! Dogs will be dogs!

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In Southern Illinois, there are fox, coyotes and common forest animals. However, my grandpa had me quite shocked as he shared news of growing populations of bobcats and sightings of cougars (mountain lions). These animals are stealthy and rarely seen, but it had me a little nervous sitting out around the campfire eating s’mores one evening. My ears were perked for the distant growl of a fierce cat…

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There’s nothing like a beautiful countryside, the bees buzzing and grandma’s chickens clucking and fussing. They eat ticks, which is great! And what fresh and delicious eggs these free range birds produce!

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Reviewing these photos of grandma’s beautiful flowers and green, I can’t wait for spring to arrive and the sweet season of summer…

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Isn’t her mirror hung outdoors on the side of an outbuilding such a quaint scene? Upon closer look, there’s a little fellow who lives behind the mirror…

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A skink! A skink is a species of lizard that has a thicker neck and shorter legs. But for real, how long is that back toe? If you try to grab a skink’s tail, it falls off so that the lizard can make its escape. I wouldn’t try that though. Though not poisonous, they bite. I’ve never been bit by one, but I have been chased by one…

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True story. I went camping with my best friend and her family in Turkey Run State Park in Indiana when I was about 14. There were lots of skinks, which I’d never seen before, and I was curious. I spotted one on the ground on the trail and tried to get close to observe it. It didn’t run away, it held its ground and gave me the skink eye (tee-hee). He had a very proud stance. This was a courageous little lizard. And then, it ran toward me. I screeched and ran away, and it chased me. I was literally turning my head back as I ran, watching the skink continue its pursuit. I honestly thought it would bite me. I ran like the roadrunner…

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God bless grandmas, and their gardens, everywhere! And here’s wishing you many beautiful days with nature, and special glimpses of wildlife (from a safe distance)!

Lizzadro Museum Of Lapidary Art

There is a dazzling museum, so very special, that I visited with my folks a few years ago on a lovely spring day. We fell upon it by chance while perusing an outdoor craft fair nearby and on a whim decided to step inside…

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The Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art in Elmhurst, IL has an incredible display of worked stone. Lapidary is an art where the cutting and polishing of stone and gemstones create something magnificent

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I’ve come to really adore small museums focusing on a particular theme, or part of history. It allows you to explore a topic in greater detail and gain a better appreciation for one subject. Look at all the different types of stone these little bottles are carved from! I wonder what was once kept inside each of them?

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There were lots of little scenes to view, with the characters all carved from stone. I was so delighted, and completely in awe of the artists that make such careful, thoughtful creations…

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Such delicate little baby birds of stone! I wonder how long it took to carve this precious family of robins? I can hear them singing the songs of spring, see them hopping around in the dirt in search of earthworms…

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These antique cameos are so wonderful! So much of stone crafting is using the natural colors and uniqueness of each stone to produce certain effects. For instance, these are made of agate (which have different layers of color). Each cameo is made from one piece of stone, cut so that the darker colors create the background while the white images come alive at the front!

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What divine detail in this rendering of The Last Supper, carved from ivory. I could never be a lapidary artist. How do they carve all those tiny little plates and hands without marring and chipping each one? They must be the most patient people on the planet…

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There are so many one of a kind pieces to admire in this museum. In spite of its modest size, you could find yourself spending quite a bit of time pondering each miniature display. I was absolutely amazed! I encourage you to visit this gem (pun intended), or to support one such local museum where you live. What wonders are out there to experience! Enjoy the adventure!

What Life May Bring, I’ll Bear The Sting!

I’m a vivid dreamer in my sleep. And usually having no problem remembering my epic-like dreams after I’ve woken, I’m regularly amazed by the places I visit, filled with unimaginable detail. It makes me baffled of our brains. How can they produce such landscapes?

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My dreams tend to be tangible too. Places that could be real places somewhere, nothing psychedelic. It’s like I’m making visits to new destinations. This week, I dreamt of an island with beautiful white sand that my feet sunk into. There were tropical waters, sunlight and open sky. Green, craggy peaks rose up out of the water at a distance…

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I went wind sailing over the waters. My feet were bare and the salty water was spraying. It was beautiful, adventurous and warm. But lo! As I crossed over the water, I spotted a single jellyfish floating just below the surface…

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Just a bit further along, I see three or four bobbing together under the water. As I skim along into deeper depths, there is soon to be seen a bloom of jellyfish below the surface so expansive, that there isn’t a spot of water where no jellyfish undulates. My vessel gliding fast through the waves scoops some up, and my feet begin to sting. Zap. Zap. Zap. I become nervous that I will topple into the blue. Falling into the water is unthinkable…

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Just then, I woke up from the dream. Handsome was on his way out for work and had planted a smooch on my face to say goodbye. The jellyfish were gone. As I later poured a cup of coffee in the kitchen, pondering those creatures of the deep, it made some sense why I’d be dreaming of a stinging swarm in the blue…

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We are soon to embark on another trip into the tropics, amidst sprawling acres of wildlife and endless blue waters. These excursions are exciting beyond words for we room comfortably, but also embrace adventure. Walking a sleeping volcano, sweating though the jungle, mountain climbing (never again), swimming, snorkeling…

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My obsession is watching for wildlife, and swimming. I can swim hard, up and down to the ocean floor for a good span of time. I love it. I’m crazy about it. I get into the water and I forget that I’m a vulnerable human. I start believing I’m an invincible sea dweller, a crafty mermaid scouting the ocean floor for colorful fish and treasures…

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Nothing will coax me to swim cautiously (not even handsome’s sweet and concerned finger-wagging), and nothing can get me out of the water until I’m good and ready (not even those sirens and helicopters once overhead while a mild earthquake rumbled. I thought those waves seemed a little turbulent)…

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Nothing can pull me out of my water dance, except jellyfish. Have you ever met with a jellyfish? It’s mean. It’s shocking. It stings. It’s like lemon in a wound, and a bee sting, and an electric shock, all at the same time…

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The worst I ever got were some tentacles to the thigh. It was not only painful that day, but some weeks later I experienced delayed hypersensitivity reaction. Though most jellyfish touches are shocking, they’re common and rarely serious. Zip, zap, ouch!! (I’d just be wary of swimming in waters known for the most dangerous variety or when high concentrations in general are about)…

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On our last tropical snorkel, I found that I was having a rough time. It was more challenging than past swims. I felt strained, not as strong a swimmer as I know myself to be. I wondered if I just don’t have the stamina for more adventurous swimming anymore. Did I need to stick closer to shore?

Handsome acutely pointed out that it might not be physical. Hadn’t I been anxious swimming with the jellyfish? Yup! During that swim, little ones were having a sting fest on my exposed skin. They were just tiny little dudes, tiny little stings. Nothing to cry in my snorkel about. However, there were big jellyfish where we swam too. The size of salad bowls, with unique markings…

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When one was detected, it would look to be many feet away. But in an instant, it would be floating right past. Way too close for comfort you jellyfish, you! Keep your tentacles away from my flesh! (Those were not the words I uttered underwater, but this blog is PG rated)…

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The dream I had is clearly my subconscious working. Likely our upcoming trip triggered the tropical setting. I know I don’t have a jellyfish phobia (though they certainly make me uncomfortable). So perhaps more than a potential injury, that previous swim with the big bad jellyfish reminded me of vulnerability. That something can and might sting me in life, catch me unawares. My dream is the product of that simple worry. A worry we all have from time to time. That’s my best guess anyway, for I am no diviner of dreams…

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But why share my jellyfish dream with you? To remind you, as much as myself, that no one can predict life’s stings. You can’t stop dreaming. You can’t stop swimming. You’ve just got to keep diving in! Enjoy your adventure!

A Glowing Seat At Firefly Kitchen

With a recent itch to try out some new restaurants and add a few more favorites to our list, we made a reservation at Firefly Kitchen. Located on a busy road that I often traverse, I’d spied this ‘Brooklyn Style Bistro’ many times in the last few years since its opening. Finally, after catching my hundredth glimpse of its warm glimmering lights from the road at night, we secured a table…

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Our reservation was at 7:30 on a Saturday evening. When we first walked in, the bistro was buzzing with every table filled and plenty of folks taking their ease around the bar. The warm lighting, pleasant babble and soft clinking of plates made for a pleasing entry…

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From the street, Firefly is a bit of a mystery. Set on a busy road with tricky curbside parking, the restaurant first appears just a classy, cozy bar that might present few tables and a trim menu. Though certainly classy and cozy, Firefly is much roomier than first meets the eye, even supporting an event space on its upper level. The menu itself is well-rounded and plentiful; a delectable list of small bites, entrees and extras. We were delighted!

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We started the evening swirling and sniffing one deliciously aromatic glass of red, while also sharing one of their signature cocktails. The Firefly Rye with High West Rye, Abricot De Roussillon, Lemon and Cedar was exceptional. Warm yet bright with citrus, honeyed and fruity with apricot while not overly sweet. Each sip was a treat!

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We then appeased our palates with the Portabella Carpaccio with Pine Nuts, Balsamic Marinated Portabella, Arugula, Smoked Tomato Sauce, Bleu Cheese and Port Vinaigrette and also the Kale and Baby Beet Salad with Quinoa, Goat Cheese, Dried Cranberries and Tequila-Lime Vinaigrette. While handsome preferred the smoky plate of marinated mushrooms, I couldn’t stop devouring the beets, soft goat cheese and crisp kale…

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My date ordered the Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Nueske’s Bacon, Sweet Potato, Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Orange-Balsamic Gastrique. The presentation alone looks carnivorously impressive, accompanied by a sauce appropriately rich for a winter’s night meal. I cannot say exactly how it tasted, only that my fella appeared pleased as he dined upon his choice. I should have inquired, but I was too busy filling his ears with chatty-random-nonsense. I’m quite the gabby grackle when I’m relaxed and enjoying date night. To hear how I sound at the dinner table, click here!

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I ordered the earthy and flavorful Roasted Root Vegetables

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And the crunchy, satisfying House French Fries

And the Truffle Mushroom Risotto. Three full orders of carb-o-liciousness. I couldn’t help it. After all, Firefly was new to us. I had to taste more than one thing on the menu. Also, I love leftovers!

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While initially reviewing the menu, the woman seated at the table next to ours received her entree of risotto. I was immediately struck by the enticing smell of truffles and knew that I had to have a plate myself. The distinct smell of that fungus is heavenly! The Truffle Mushroom Risotto with Mushroom, Asparagus and Red Pepper Vinaigrette proved toothsome, fragrant and very satisfying…

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All the while, Firefly’s ambiance was dreamy and comfortable and the service excellent. As we enjoyed the soft glow of the bulbs, reminiscent of fireflies in the night sky, we were pleased to agree that we’d found another new favorite!

Firefly has much more than a dinner table to offer. They also serve brunch, provide catering, offer take out during select hours, host an outside back patio for warmer weather, and hold events in their loft. If you live along Chicago’s North Shore, add this bistro to your list to visit. We’ll certainly be back, and soon! I’m already perusing the brunch menu…

Welcome To The Venetian Carnival…A World of Wonders!

The Venetian Carnival 2017 begins in just 3 days, running from February 11-28! Though I will not be attending the glorious festivities in person, I can still reminisce upon my past attendance and cherish Carnival from afar. Perusing photos from when my costumer mother Lita and I attended in 2005 (a trip that inspired my book Venice), I was treated once again to the sight of remarkable raiment…

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What I have always found fascinating about the mask and costume culture of the Carnival (namely throughout Venice’s illustrious history), is the anonymity it gives the individual and the new guise it may offer them. It empowers one to cast away social pressures, and become whoever or whatever they wish. The pauper mingled freely with the aristocrat, the infirm beamed with good health, and the old were filled with youth once more…

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Here was a pearly queen with her court of incandescent unicorns and magical beings. They glittered in the sun while their glimmering attire swirled in the breeze. During the Carnival, anyone can transform themselves, moving even into an otherworldly realm…

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What exotic rulers, from a distant palace filled with riches, shine like gold itself just beneath this marbled portico?

When researching this culture of mask from Venice’s history, one discovers that the majority of coverings translated into commonly known characters. This sometimes still holds true today…

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As you amble through Venice during the Carnival, inquire with the exquisitely attired and ask them who they are. Unique characters may reveal themselves (some with a wink to history and tradition). Only, don’t be offended if many remain mute. The right of anonymity belongs to the masked, and some don’t prefer to even share the vibration of their voices…

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Many don the brightest colors, covered in drifting sheer fabric and an eddy of soft feathers. Mysterious tropical birds, descending upon the city to outshine the average sea bird of the lagoon…

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And many couples (sometimes even groups) display themselves in carefully created, matching garments. I dare say, this pair would have had a hard time losing one another in the crowd! They remind me of the wind and water that are as much a part of Venice, as its majestic palazzi are…

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Wouldn’t it be fascinating to add up all of the hours spent creating such works of wearable art each season? The numbers would be telling of the passion a great many patrons put into their costumes. I thank them for keeping the magic and tradition of the Venetian Carnival, alive!

Here’s to the 2017 Carnevale di Venezia and to the city and people of Venice! Here’s also to remembering to add a bit of wonder and magic to each of your days, whether or not it be a festival day!

The Carnival of Venice

The Carnevale di Venezia 2017 is but 7 days away! Hundreds of visitors are preparing for the event, which this year falls between February 11-28. I’ve perused the calendar of this year’s events with wide-eyed wonder…what delights await all those who will have the privilege of attending…

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I took these photos when I attended the Venetian Carnival in 2005 with my costumer mother, Lita. We wore our gowns and ambled about the calle, along the waters of the lagoon and through St. Mark’s Square each day. There is nothing more enlivening than the energy in that square as crowds watch for the very best costumes on display (such as those worn by this impeccable couple above)…

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Cameras flash. People ohhh and ahhh. Laughter and chatter abound while the clamor from the lively crowd vibrates your sternum. It is very exciting. Music floods through St. Mark’s, amplified beats by day, live vocals at night…

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With pomp and mask, wig and powder, the fascinatingly antiquated carry themselves elegantly toward frivolity in every corner of the city. I swoon, I die…as I watch the parade go by…

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There is so much to entertain…cafe sittings, gondola rides, boat races and water parades, street entertainments, Festa delle Marie, The Flight of the Angel, mask and costume contests, masquerade balls and festive dinners. Along with the striking beauty of the city of Venice, its delicious fare, musical offerings and art exhibits, Carnevale could certainly overwhelm anyone with its sheer splendor…

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Though I will not be in attendance (deep sigh), I wish anyone attending this year the most enchanting time of their lives! As for me, I am anticipating the wonderful photos and videos that will soon be posting during this carnival season. They will ignite my dreaming for the next occasion when I too, will amble once more in costume through the labyrinth that is Venice!

Prepackaged Lettuce? Let us not!

I haven’t eaten a single bite for nearly 42 hours. Right now, I’m gingerly sipping on veggie broth, hoping to work my way up to food. On Sunday evening, I started feeling not quite right and didn’t really want to eat my dinner. When I woke up Monday morning, I felt like my feet were heavy and I was very fatigued. By 10:00 a.m., I knew something was working on taking me down…

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The flu was my first thought, for it is highly contagious and is working its way around these parts like wildfire. For all my hand-washing precautions, the flu can get you airborne style. No one is safe. I spent last night in agony. I went to Hades and back in my feverish dreams, praying for deliverance. I was quite sick. This morning, I knew that it wasn’t the flu. Food poisoning had come to pay me a visit…

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And though I don’t have a lab working on it right now, I can pretty much say with certainty where I got it from. Prepackaged lettuce. As a vegetarian, I eat A LOT of lettuce. I throw the greens over everything…sandwiches, soups, as a garnish. The prepackaged, prewashed stuff is obviously convenient…

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However, I have lately felt very dissatisfied with my prepackaged salad purchases. I buy the plastic tubs, and even though there is always plenty of time before they expire (as per the date on the packaging), when I open them, I frequently find unsavory lettuce. Slimy lettuce…eww. Black, rotten bits…gross. Some healthy, while much is wilted and distressed…not for me!

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Just this Saturday, I’d made a sandwich and had to pick the best pieces from a package that ought to have been entirely fresh but wasn’t looking all that great. I even thought, I hope I don’t get sick. Handsome came home with a fresh package from the grocery, and I promptly told him how annoyed I was getting with the packaged kind (as I threw away the bad lettuce from the fridge). We were wasting money on convenience…

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It only takes a few minutes of online research to learn of the risks of prepackaged lettuce. Recalls are rampant, and pre-washed on the label holds no certain safety value. As I lay fitful and feverish all night, unable to even sip water without nausea and sharp pains, I thought to myself, I’m pretty strong and healthy, but what if an elderly person or child got this? They would be at serious risk…

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I won’t be purchasing ready-made salad mixes anymore. Apart from the bacterial risks, I was losing money anyway with as quickly as they were going bad. Henceforth, this lettuce lover will be buying a fresh bunch/head every few days, and taking the extra time to prepare it myself. But as for just this moment, another cup of warm broth and a long nap is calling my name. Be safe, all you gobblers of greens!

Every Time I Read The News

Every time I read the news, my heart hurts. I’d prefer not to read it, but I don’t believe that ignorance is bliss; I believe ignorance is complacency. Though the news keeps me abreast of the world, it does an even better job of reminding me to focus on compassion, and strive to contribute to a climate of peace

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Psalms 145:8-9 KJV

The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works…

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Today, here’s wishing all of us a great compassion for others, grace and love for ourselves, and hearts always bending toward peace in a complicated world…

I’m A Cardinal…Part II.

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…

On the birdwalk, on my yard walk, I do my little turn in your back yard!

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I’m…too sexy for this grass…too sexy for these leaves…way, too, sexy, yea!

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I’m a Cardinal, you know what I mean…

[I’m A Cardinal, Part I. Click Here]

Naughty or Nice? Definitely Naughty!

Unless you handle cash for business, I believe the chances that you’ll see a counterfeit bill are pretty rare. Banks and authorities filter out counterfeits, and take very seriously, the keeping of bad money off of the street. Out of many years of cash handling (ever diligent and trained to notice if a bill seems suspicious), I’d never seen a fake. Counterfeit money detector pens are a big help, turning the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ color when swiped over a bill in question…

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Several months ago however, I believe I finally met a counterfeit. I was handed a one hundred dollar bill that didn’t feel right in my fingers, was terribly thin and was what I considered, very poorly printed. Also questionable…the sale was small and the bill was large. As warnings of fraud go, an individual with a large counterfeit bill will try to use it on a small purchase, so that they can get real money back in the exchange. Several swipes of the detection pen (though not perfectly conclusive) seemed to indicate that something was fishy with the money I’d been handed…

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Suffice it to say, being given fake money is a very tricky and stressful situation. Some vendors will tell the payer outright that they will be ‘holding on to the bill’ and ‘calling the cops’. This seems to make sense, for if you are truly being handed counterfeit money, it is the responsible thing to report the fraud…

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In this particular situation (feeling uncomfortable and nervous), I apologized to the individual and told them that I could not accept the money. I suggested that they exchange it at the bank for a fresher bill (communicating that I was giving them the benefit of the doubt). I erred on the side of caution [to act in the least risky manner in a situation in which one is uncertain about the consequences; Wiktionary.org]. After all, it was possible that I was wrong, and to accuse someone of fraud is a serious matter…

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So here I am, some months later, and still feeling uneasy about the possibility of encountering another off bill some day. I’m handling money, and happen to look into the till and glimpse this dollar. Looks just fine on one side…

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But what the heck is Santa Claus doing staring back at me on the front?! BAD SANTA! Very, bad, Santa! I’ve been duped! I’ve been fooled! A counterfeit! Amidst accepting other one dollar bills, this one snuck right in…

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I spent the rest of the afternoon with a furrowed brow and a perpetual pout on my face. I mean, I know it’s kind of funny…and I know it’s only a one dollar bill and not something larger…but I pride myself on attention to detail! How did I miss that Santa!? Further, I don’t like surprises or tricks, and money is money. Be it even a one dollar bill, I’m now short a dollar. Big business or small, fraud hurts! Whoever tricked me is going to get a lump of coal in their stocking next Christmas…

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But lo, I had yet to look this up. I’m the most curious of the curious…was there any information about Santa dollars out there? There was. Though a fake is always possible, these are usually just real bills in disguise! They are sold during the holidays at an inflated price with the proceeds going to charity. They are made into keepsakes, spreading holiday cheer, to benefit good causes…

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Well, I can’t claim that receiving this bill filled me with any sort of cheer. However, after lifting the Santa sticker (which I must say went undetectable to the touch), Washington’s face was revealed. I wasn’t given a counterfeit after all. I can reclaim my pride. And now that I know the story behind this Santa bill, I suppose it would be uncharitable for me to continue feeling like a grinch over the trick. I also suppose that whoever handed me that bill won’t get coal in their stocking next Christmas after all. Still a bit naughty though, if you ask me!

Blogger Recognition Award!

I am absolutely delighted to be nominated by the very talented food blogger, Pooja Tameshwar of Smart Veg Recipes, for a Blogger Recognition Award! Thank you!

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As someone who tries to cook a mostly plant-based diet for my own good health, I enjoy perusing recipes that focus on the good things of the earth…

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I’m also ever fascinated by different cultures and cuisines from around the globe. That’s how I got hooked on reading Pooja’s posts! Not only are her veggie-based dishes from around India unique, pleasing to the eye, and mouthwatering, but she also writes insightful descriptions about what makes each dish culturally special. Be sure to visit her site!

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Blogger Recognition Rules:

  1. Write a post to show your award.
  2. Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you and share the link to their blog.
  3. Give a brief story of how your blog got started.
  4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
  5. Nominate 15 bloggers of your choice for the award.
  6. Comment on each blog to let them know that you’ve nominated them and provide a link to your post.

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How did Inspired By Venice come about? With the publication of my book Venice, a choose your own adventure that takes the reader on a journey through that enchanting Italian city! At the end of each chapter, you decide where you will go next! Enjoy the adventure!

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But books aside, I also wanted to share my passion for good food, culture, travel, history, nature and costuming…

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And of course…

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Tiddo the cat…

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What I share is meant to be eclectic, uplifting, inspirational, silly, informative. Most importantly, it’s written to brighten your day! Thank you for reading!

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My advice for new bloggers? If you have a passion you want to share and you start a blog, don’t give up if readers don’t show up overnight! Yes, writing posts is a time investment, and you may sometimes wonder if it’s worth it if there aren’t a lot of visitors to your site. Just remember that blogging shouldn’t focus on how many likes, comments, and followers you have. It’s about your sharing something unique with the world, just because it’s a joy to do so. Just keep writing, and you’re bound to inspire others, and gain readers, in time…

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My second bit of advice to new bloggers comes from me as a reader of blogs. I find it hard to stay focused when reading super long posts that look like one eternal paragraph without any pictures. I prefer posts that share a story that flows, keeps on track, and has a little eye candy! One of the hardest things for a writer, is to keep words succinct while still fully communicating your story. Those who do this best, are artists with the pen!

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And my nominations for the Blogger Recognition Award are (in no particular order)…

  1. The Third Planet
  2. La Venessiana
  3. Agreeable Things
  4. Fashion Through History
  5. A Cupcake For Love
  6. JessDidWhat
  7. SawaWorld
  8. Meandering With Misha
  9. Michael Philip Atkins Travels
  10. Japan etc.
  11. Melinda Little Blogs
  12. Lisa’s Project: Vegan
  13. The Wifey’s Corner
  14. Fed’s Life
  15. Getting The Picture

Thank you bloggers, for inspiring me!

Miramar Bistro: A Helping Of Cuban Music With My Pommes Frites!

For New Year’s Eve, handsome booked a reservation at a restaurant we hadn’t visited before, in Highwood IL, along Chicago’s North Shore. I think we’ve both had the itch to explore for some new favorite dinner spots, so it was a fun surprise. Especially as we understood this Miramar Bistro to be a French restaurant, much like our beloved Bistro Bordeaux in Evanston…

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The first thing that caught us by surprise as we entered Miramar, was the Cuban music that was playing. We were enjoying it of course, Cuban music is delicious and has a wonderful energy. But I was a little confused, “That doesn’t sound French.” My date suggested there might be a theme night going for New Year’s…

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We began by sharing the Chilled Artichoke with Mustard Vinaigrette and were very pleased. I never ate artichokes before handsome walked into my life (or kitchen rather). I thought they were intimidating. He buys them at the grocer from time to time, throws them in a pot, whips up a vinaigrette and then cuts out their tender hearts like a pro. We’ll have to try chilling ours the way Miramar does. Absolutely delightful and refreshing…

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My date then moved on to the Salad Lyonnaise with Poached Egg. Frisee, soft egg and salty lardons make for one rich salad…

What we discovered is that Miramar is in fact a French bistro with Cuban highlights. I would not describe it as a fusion restaurant. French food and Cuban cuisine don’t combine, but they can both be found on the menu, along with a few American classics sprinkled in. Whether you’re in the mood for a Cuban sandwich, a Croque Monsieur, or a cheeseburger, they’ve got it…

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I can say without reservation that the Soup Du Jour was the best mushroom soup I have ever tasted. I could easily have been satisfied with the fresh, crispy, chewy bread delivered to the table along with a double portion of this soup for my New Year’s dinner, but who am I kidding. Of course there was more…

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For his main dish, my partner selected Steak Frites with Black Peppercorn Sauce. We were intrigued by how very thin the pomme frites were, like long matchsticks. And though we are accustomed to this thin style of French fries, we both prefer our pomme frites to be just a wee bit thicker, to enjoy more of the potato flavor and for soaking up sauce. This steak was definitely well received!

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My date specifically ordered his steak with the black peppercorn sauce because of a quaint memory from his childhood. Growing up in the south of France, home cooked meals were his family’s norm and dining out was an exception. On those rare special outings, he came to believe that steak served with a peppercorn sauce was a luxury, fancy. So as a wink to this childhood notion, he ordered this during our New Year’s supper, tying in his old memory to make the meal feel particularly special. We chuckled about this on the way home. But I suppose if I think about it, peppercorn sauce is fancy; I certainly don’t whip it up at home!

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I selected the Gnocchi with Tomato Basil Sauce (which just made me realize that Italian is on Miramar’s menu as well!). The gnocchi was certainly handmade, and was tender yet had a comforting chew. The sauce was simple, fresh and just right! After two bites, I didn’t think it would be possible to really make a dent in the dish. I was certainly going to have leftovers. That was not what happened. I ate it all…

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Another childhood memory was shared the moment my date laid eyes on this metal sign decorating one bit of wall. Byrrh sounds like it might be describing a beer, but it is actually a wine aperitif (to be enjoyed before eating). It was quite popular in France in days gone by, first produced in 1866…

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As the story goes, when just a little boy, he lived near the medieval village of Thuir at the feet of the Pyrenees, where Byrrh was produced. He had a cousin who lived in Thuir and loved to go around boasting that his village owned the largest barrel of Byrrh in the world!

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It is hilarious what kids will traipse around boasting about. I inquired whether he’d ever tasted Byrrh, since he lived so close to such an enormous barrel of it? Nope. In his words, “We were just kids.” And here I thought French children came forth from the womb suckling wine from their baby bottles? Non?

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For dessert, the Apple Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream and Caramel was ordered up with a shot of espresso for the gentleman. I love to sniff espresso (smells like heaven), but I don’t dare even taste it. I’d be up all night having a solo dance party…

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I’m actually surprised I wasn’t up all night after gobbling down one sizable Creme Brulee, with it’s sugary hard topping and rich buttery custard. Oh la la!

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On the way out, we had a moment’s chat with the proprietor and chef, Gabriel Viti. He’s an avid traveler to Cuba, and was a chef in France, and around Europe. It was neat to hear from his point of view, what he was aiming for when he opened Miramar (after the name of a district in Havana). Basically, I gathered that his goal was to bring things he loved, together. Good food, charming culture, and people. It’s clearly working, for the restaurant was packed with a jovial crowd while playing great music and providing an excellent menu. This restaurant doesn’t need the largest barrel of anything in its cellar, it has reason enough to boast already!

My Name is Alexander Hamilton

Last week, handsome asked if I’d be up for seeing Hamilton (the insanely popular musical showing in NYC and Chicago at present). Since its debut in 2015, Hamilton has had incredible success, winning many fine awards. Thus, tickets are difficult to get, and pricey too. My immediate reply was, “But won’t that be expensive?” Let’s just say there are some experiences worth the price of inflation!

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We started out the evening with a scenic ride on Lake Shore Drive. The lights heading into the city are beautiful at night. I love sitting cozily in the passenger seat. My partner said something quite true, “Chicago is a happening place. We’re lucky!” And we are, so many great cultural experiences to be had, and so much great food…

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We had a reservation at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse. Guests find it a unique experience because this style of restaurant delivers cut after cut of tender, grilled meats, right to your tableside. As I don’t regularly consume meat, I did not partake. Fortunately, they have a spectacular salad bar!

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Papaya, fried yuca, marinated mushrooms, plantains, marinated vegetables, pear salad, potato salad, deliciously dressed greens…this was not your average salad bar!

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After such a filling, decadent meal, I found it incredulous that anyone would ever order dessert at Fogo. When my honey asked to see the menu (just to take a peek), I gasped. We then promptly ordered the caramelized pineapple and ate it all…

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We then hopped back in the car and zipped on over to the Private Bank Theatre (known as Broadway in Chicago). The energy outside of the theater was awesome! Ticket holders were excited, the camera lights were flashing, the Hamilton sign aglow. We joked about keeping our eyes peeled for celebrities with everything so abuzz. As we entered inside, I was as giddy as I always am upon entering the theater…

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…and then the show proceeded to knock our socks off from our front row seats upon the balcony. Being such a revered musical, I walked in with no idea of what to expect. I wondered how they would take the dry bit out of telling a complicated life story in America’s history. How would they make it as wonderfully entertaining as Broadway musicals tend to be? Yes, history is fascinating (I’m nuts about it). However, it can also be complicated and dry, hardly whimsical…

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Hamilton however, accomplished something very difficult. This musical took the complicated, and using perfectly timed movement & dance, unpretentious yet excellent costumes, a bare yet full-of-life stage, powerfully driven voices, extensive wit, a script beyond compare, and hip-hop…turned Alexander Hamilton’s life (1755-1804), this American statesman’s incredible story, into a palpable experience for us today…

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There is much more to be said about Hamilton, but I’ll leave that to those better versed in history, politics and musical theater. What I can say is, it’s a wonderful musical. If you get the chance, don’t throw away your shot at seeing this brilliant work!

Here’s to being thankful for the peace and freedoms I enjoy today. Here’s to thankfulness for my freedom of speech. Here’s praying for the same peace and freedoms for all…

A Winter’s Night By The Fire At Roka

I love inhaling the scent of a wood fire when I’m walking outside on a winter’s day. That smell is amazing! And on a snowy winter’s night, there is nothing more alluring than the scent and sizzle of a Japanese robata grill. As the white flakes fell outside, date night last week was never so cozy, or delicious! Roka Akor isn’t just a restaurant, it’s an experience…

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Accompanying two rosy glasses of champagne to celebrate Christmas, was the Prime Beef Tataki with Truffle Onion Vinaigrette and Rock Chive. These amuse-bouches were smooth and light, with a hint of fresh herb. With the clink of our glasses and a cheery toast, the meal began…

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My tolerance for heat in any dish is limited, so a plate of Japanese Shishito Peppers with Ponzu and Bonito Flakes seemed risky. Ooohhh! Take the risk! TAKE THE RISK! How fresh and flavorful these peppers were right from the grill. Brian (our knowledgeable culinary guide for the evening) explained that only one bite in the bunch might hold that blazing seed of heat.

My date got the infernal seed in his last bite, while I was pleasantly spared. I didn’t chuckle at all when his eyes got watery and he grappled for his glass of water. Well, maybe there was a little chuckle…

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My absolute favorite dish of the evening was the Grilled Cauliflower with Wafu Butter. What is wafu butter? It’s the nectar of the gods, that’s what. Actually, it’s a Japanese vinaigrette dressing married with butter, but I’m pretty sure magic is involved in its making. How else could plain and tasteless cauliflower turn into one of the most flavorful things I’ve ever eaten?

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For our main dish, we both ordered the chef’s featured catch. The Sea Bass with Peppercorn Broth, Cauliflower and Roasted Beets was absolutely divine. I’m a great fan of a serving of fish that is fresh, soft and flakey on the inside with a flavorful crunch from the grill on the outside. Roka gets it right every time. And, I’m pretty sure some of that wafu butter made it into the broth with the cauliflower because I was mourning not having a baguette handy to sop up every last drop. I was even tempted to slurp the broth right out of the bowl. Who cares about keeping things classy when there’s wafu butter?!

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Of course dinner wouldn’t end quite right at Roka without the Ube Pot de Creme with Toasted Rice Tuile, which my date ordered. I however, opted for scoops of house-made ice cream…

One scoop of molasses, one scoop of coffee…wow! Following blissful bites, I was scraping my spoon around in the little bowls looking for more. With such rich dessert and a pour of the exceptional Yamazaki 18 yr Single Malt (nuts, spice, vanilla, cinnamon), along with the beauty of the snow falling outside and my companion sitting across the table, I was truly enjoying a respite of peace and warmth during this holiday season!

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Once again, Roka Akor was outstanding. With such excellent fare, top-notch hospitality, thoughtful and attentive staff, and warm ambiance, this restaurant on Chicago’s North Shore keeps luring us back to their grill side!

A Night At The Museum

There are three places in the world that I deeply treasure in my heart. Venice, Italy. The Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, WI. And, The Field Museum in Chicago, IL. So when handsome and I received an unprecedentedly exciting invitation to an evening soiree at The Field, my mouth dropped open, my eyes grew sparkly, and my brain broke for approximately five whole minutes…

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Chicago was having a bit of a blizzard, but that didn’t stop us. It made the evening even more charming (especially because my date was driving while I yapped on, cozily in the passenger seat). I was delighted to see that we had valet right at the bottom of the steps leading up to the museum, and a white tent hovering over the grand stairs to keep guests covered from the wind and snow…

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After checking in our coats, we filed up marble stairs to the second floor, where hors d’oeuvres and beverages were passed on silver platters. The view was breathtaking, the holiday lights and enormous wreathes of greenery were hung festively, and jazzy music echoed all around. I had a perpetual grin on my face as my eyes darted around in every direction. The secrets within the museum halls were calling my name…

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It was an absolute privilege to amble through the exhibits at night, with the halls dim and the cases enchantingly lit, hardly bumping into another guest. It was like we had the whole museum to ourselves. The beautiful botany, the pinned insects, the dinosaurs, the ancient artifacts…I swoon, I die…actually I gasped, and giggled, and smiled and felt as merry as a lark…

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I whispered with the dinosaurs and my imagination went wild with prehistoric visions…

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I told Sue that she was pretty. 65 million years have nothing on her!

If you haven’t seen the incredible documentary about this T-Rex, titled Dinosaur 13, I entreat you to watch it immediately. The story was so moving that I cried. Yup. I secretly shed tears for a dinosaur. Sue’s story is truly amazing…

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And her enormous teeth are nightmare worthy…

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I love, love, love the bugs! In another life, I am an entomologist! Aren’t they fascinating?!

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This dude had some serious spine. I wonder if he suffered from back aches?

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And in my other, other life…I’d like to be a full-time scale models, replicas and diorama maker for museums! Tell me this beach scene doesn’t look real? The figures in the sand are no bigger than my pinky finger. Ahhhh! I’m nuts for dioramas!

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After adequately losing my mind with childlike excitement, we sat down to a delicious dinner. I very much enjoyed my salad of greens with blue cheese crumbles, crusty artisan bread, and mushroom risotto with asparagus. It was perfect…

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There were adorable little desserts too, tasting of egg-nog and peppermint. Miniature winks to the festive season! And after our sweet treats, we roamed the halls of the museum once more, and then ended the evening with much dancing…

If you ever have the chance to visit The Field, I hope that you will and will spend some time. This museum has an incredibly rich history, its roots taking hold with The World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago, 1893). The Field Museum is truly magnificent, and offers so much learning. I will cherish it for all of my days!

Rainy Night Dining in The Cellar

A few weeks ago while traipsing through wet and cold on over to a restaurant we had considered dining at one evening, we passed the door of The Cellar. We paused to peek at the menu posted outside and handsome proposed that we try it out! How glad I am that we did, and how surprising and pleasant an impromptu change of plans can be…

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We started with an appetizer called Cauliflower Popcorn (curried rice-flour battered cauliflower served with blue cheese dipping sauce) and let us just say I have never been more willing to eat my vegetables! It was devoured before the thought of a photo could even enter my mind…

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My date ordered the Grilled Lamb Chops with roasted fingerling potatoes, apple mustard and lamb jus. I took a nibble and must say that the rich red sauce was out of a culinary dream! A winter dish to warm the bones and fortify the spirit…

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I indulged in the New England Lobster Roll served with lobster meat, mayo, green onions and truffled fries. Oh heavens, oh heavens! Amen! Hallelujah! The lobster appears to have more mayo than necessary, but it was actually perfect, balancing out the crispy bun and large, fresh chunks of lobster. This sort of dish isn’t common in these parts, so I was very happy!

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Our bellies full, we ambled back out into the chilly drizzle and on to the movies, arm in arm. It was the perfect date night. Especially thanks to The Cellar, which is absolutely one of the best kept secrets in town. The peaceful yet stylish atmosphere, the excellent service and delectable menu has just made it our new favorite!

Chip Snatching Seagulls!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Message Of Peace Upon The Shore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And writings that are very wise indeed…

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

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

Go Put Your Lipstick On!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demise of the Duckie…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Whaaaa! EEEhhhhh!!! Noooooeeeewww!

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

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

We Are All But Buds And Berries

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

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

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

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

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

Holy Chapel of Paris: Sainte-Chapelle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nests of Great Egrets

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Golden Egg Part II.

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

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

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

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

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

A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Book Of Dragons Giveaway!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robata Japanese Cuisine!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mad Hatter Of Toasties: A Poem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Go Sharpen The Scissors…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maid of Honour is Here!

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

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