Turn Out The Lights And Let Them Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Devil At The Door, Prayer On My Lips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Do what you love, don’t skip a beat…

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOVE IT! Thank you Taylor!

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

Grazie mille Priscilla!

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

The Tale Of The Terrible Tick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Delights of Summer!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Guess not!

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

Frayed to Feathered!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bird Of Prey Outside My Window!

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

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

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

A Gaggle Of Geese

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

 

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

My Kind Of Town, Chicago Is…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ancient: Coming Soon!

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

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

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

Lovin’ That! Words of Encouragement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Swingin’ My Arms and Swayin’ My Hips!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Doge’s Ball of Venice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Itty Bitty Littles: Audio Chapter 1

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

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

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

Waiting For Spring…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware The Ninja Pepper…

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

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

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

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

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

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[Photo of the offending peppers uncooked]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Stitching Through Time…Appreciating Your Wonderful Talents!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for inspiring, me.

To Travel, To Eat!

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

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

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

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

Happy eating! Safe travels! Stay Inspired!

My Herb Kit: A Poem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All you need is a rice cooker and some imagination…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I plunked them in…

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

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

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

What should I make? Stay inspired folks!

A Cat’s First Love In Winter…

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

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

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

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

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

Delicious Mushroom Toasties, And Some Decadent Bruschetta Too!

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now for the most sinful bruschetta on the planet…

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

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

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

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

Welcome 2018! Happy New Year!

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

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

The Angel In Your Midst

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

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

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

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

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

Think about that for a second…

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

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

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

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

My brain just broke…

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

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

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

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

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

Lovin’ That! Grandma’s Slaw In 5 Minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Mummy You Didn’t Know Existed

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

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

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

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

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[Photo Credit: Sven Rosborn]

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

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[Photo Source: Pedro Groover]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stabbed By A Pencil, More Than One…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would love to hear your comments on this!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lovin’ That! Pete’s Living Greens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patty Cake, Patty Cake…Poom!

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

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

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

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

Veleno Giveaway on Goodreads!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lovin’ That! Soul Vegan Lasagna

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

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

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

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

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I also love this lasagna because someone else made it (lasagna takes quite a bit of time to make). I enjoy it further because it’s a healthier version of this dish. But most especially, I love it because it tastes AMAZING. I prefer this delicious slice to any lasagna I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. It’s so good, I could eat it every day. I even served it to handsome and he said, “Mmmm, this is better than real lasagna.” That’s coming from a meat eater…

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What I also really like is Soul Vegan’s message. Love life. Live life. Care about your community. Lovin’ That! You can check out their values and offerings here. If you are in Chicagoland, be on the lookout for Soul Vegan’s delicious meals. Try this lasagna and tell me it isn’t simply divine!

*Soul Vegan did not fund my obsession with their crazy awesome lasagna. I stumbled on these addictive slices all on my own! All opinions are mine, all mine.

Love Life, Live Life! Stay healthy! Stay Inspired!

Not Your Usual Ghost Stories

In Evanston today, the weather is finally kicking into autumnal gear. There’s a chilly rain, the sky is dismal and the leaves are falling. My coffee pot just finished brewing and I’m ready to write…about something creepy. Bwa-ha-ha! With Halloween fast approaching, I thought it would be fun to share some spooky reads as I’ve done before [Halloween Treats For All]…

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I must first preface that I’m intrigued by reading people’s allegedly true accounts of their paranormal experiences. Do you like to scare the crap out of yourself like me? Then besides one of these reads, I suggest watching some episodes of Paranormal Witness. That show will have you sleeping with the lights on…

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And because I’m curious for reading accounts of people’s strange experiences, it’s had a little impact on my writing. My new thriller Veleno (which takes place during Venice’s plague of 1575) contains a few paranormal moments. These moments take place when a character is in extreme peril. Thus, I played with the question…was their experience real, or was it the mind’s reaction to stress?

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I was inspired in part by the spooky things people say have actually happened to them…

My dad and I regularly exchange books by snail mail. We also occasionally amuse ourselves with conversations about ghosts, Bigfoot, tales of coincidence, etc. It was a conversation about strange coincidences that had him send me a book about police accounts of the paranormal. The book was True Police Stories of the Strange and Unexplained by retired detective sergeant Ingrid Dean…

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I’m going to tell you frankly, these are scary accounts that are unique to paranormal stories. Why? Because police and emergency technicians are the first to arrive at the scenes where bad things have, or are about to, happen. They are also often out on patrol in the middle of the night, having to inspect strange calls. After reading Ms. Dean’s compilation of accounts, not only was I both a bit frightened and perplexed, but I’d gained an even greater respect for those who keep our community safe…

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Having found these accounts so unique, I decided to also read Cops’ True Stories of the Paranormal: Ghosts, UFO’s and Other Shivers by Loren Christensen. Yikes! I was terribly jumpy after reading this one…

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Take for example the first account…

Two police officers are on a high speed chase. The man they are following refuses to pull over and is driving recklessly. When entering a road tunnel, this man sadly loses control of his vehicle and crashes. The police pull up behind the wrecked vehicle just in time to see the man climb out of his driver’s side window and run down the tunnel. The police chase the man on foot for a distance. But then, the man disappears. Where did he go? The police search, no trace of the man. They return to the crashed vehicle only to discover that the man never left his car. He’s still behind the wheel, having passed away on impact. And yet, two officers witnessed him hopping out and running

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That gave me something to think about.

My view is that both of these books are for mature readers because they deal with some perilous happenings. With that being said, they both remained reverent when explaining real life situations. These accounts focus on the strange things police saw and experienced, rather than on people’s misfortunes.

These were not your usual ghost stories. Let’s just say, I’m glad I’m not an officer called out to investigate strange goings on in a desolate field in the middle of the night…

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I am also very glad that I’m not a truck driver out driving in the middle of the night…

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Since the police accounts were not your average ‘what goes bump in the night’ stories, I figured truckers probably see some strange things too. They do. No thanks!

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Imagine having to drive through dark, vast, desolate roadways for a living. All alone. Tired and lonesome. Keeping an eye out for deer, coyotes, or the rare hitchhiker. But wait…perhaps you’re not as alone as you think? Have fun reading Trucker Ghost Stories edited by Annie Wilder. Yikes! Super yikes!

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My dad just sent me this one. Ghost Ships of the Great Lakes by Dwight Boyer. He said after I read this book, I’d never look out over the lake in the same way again. I live just a few blocks away from the often turbulent waters of Lake Michigan, just north of Chicago.

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I would only suggest such a read if you are nutty for history, and for maritime history in particular. I read several of the historic accounts, and they are not so much ghostly as they are mysterious. Hundreds of ships have gone missing on America’s Great Lakes over the centuries, and the stories surrounding some of these vanishings definitely gave me the heebie-jeebies…

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You learn of the real people who were sailing, the wild storms and the dangerous feats they endured, and the strange facts surrounding their disappearances. I simply can’t imagine it. I could never be a sailor. They were beyond brave.

I admit that if I’m down near the lake on a stormy day, I now might look twice for any mysterious vessels floating by in the distance…

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Now if you’re inclined to give your brain a good shaking up, which apparently I do, there’s a few unique books out there about folks’ near death experiences, and of the doctors and scientists who are either working to support or debunk such claims. I’ve just picked up My Time in Heaven by Richard Sigmund, but have not read it yet. I have read Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences by Jeffrey Long & Paul Perry however, and it definitely offered me lots to contemplate…

Mind boggling. It’s all mind boggling…

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I can’t finish my brief list of the paranormal, strange, spectacular, spooky and harrowing without mentioning Spook: Science Tackles The Afterlife by Mary Roach. Mary Roach is one of my absolute favorite authors. I’ve reviewed some of her other books here and here. This book takes a scientific view of life after death by reviewing those people, past or present, who have used experimentation to answer, What happens when we pass on? I recommend Ms. Roach’s books because she makes difficult science digestible, and is terribly hilarious and clever. Spook is not only entertaining and informative, but it will also have you looking over your shoulder for ghosts…yikes!

*Disclaimer: Be sure to read these books with all of the lights on. After reading, watch a Disney movie and sing along to the happy songs, so that you aren’t too frightened when it’s time to turn the lights off and go to bed.

The Blessing Of A Friend’s Garden

I’d set aside today as a strict writing day and nothing was going to pry me away from my desk, nothing! I’m working on my newest novel, a romantic odyssey set in ancient days, and the perilous passages were just ready to spill from my fingertips (because I’ve decided a romance needs lots of peril). But then I got a text from a girlfriend across town. I brought the garden for you today!!

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My friend doesn’t have a garden. These greens actually come from her friend’s garden. My friend is house sitting and some greens were just calling to be picked and eaten before they went to waste. And if anybody has any extra greens, I’m all too happy to eat them. Granted, I finished the chapter I was working on before I hopped in my car to zoom across town…

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I was gifted with a bag of lettuce, Swiss chard, dill, rosemary, chives and itty bitty tomatoes. Life is good! Have you ever sauteed Swiss chard with a little olive oil and garlic? Takes 2 minutes and tastes heavenly

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Tiddo the cat was checking out the herbs before I even knew he was in the kitchen with me. He wanted to see if the greens were some of that fresh catnip I nab from neighbors’ front lawns from time to time…

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Earlier in the week, this said friend also gave me some zucchini from said garden. Tonight, it took me all of 10 minutes to prepare supper. I made a vegetable tian with one zucchini, some Campari tomatoes I had on hand, and the fragrant rosemary. Drizzled over a little olive oil, sea salt and balsamic. It’s in the oven now…

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Rinsed the Swiss chard, plucked off the veiny tough stems, and will toss in the skillet just before the tian is ready (it wilts like a side of steamed spinach, but tastier)…

Goodness is it a blessing to have a friend with a friend who has a garden!

Stay inspired, eat your veggies, show someone you care!

Lovin’ That! Mercato At Starbucks

I’ve always gotten a kick out of reading other bloggers’ favorite things lists. Lists such as my favorite beauty products, or my favorite places to get a donut, or here’s what I got for for Christmas this year, or my list of best food trucks ever! I guess it’s entertaining to see the spectacular diversity in what others cherish and enjoy. These lists are always colorful, amusing, lighthearted and often informative…

So, I’m starting a new string of posts called Lovin’ That! to share some of my favorite things with you!

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First up, Mercato At Starbucks. Mercato is a new lunch menu that Starbucks recently launched in Chicago and Seattle. Now, I usually don’t stop at Starbucks because I make my own coffee each morning. But occasionally when I’ve run out of grounds and I’m in a hurry, I stop to treat myself on the go…

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That’s what happened a few weeks ago, and while waiting in line, I spotted what looked like some pretty tasty salads. I snatched up a cauliflower tabbouleh side salad with vegan written clear on the label and decided to try it for lunch. It was delicious and very healthy. I wondered if there was another salad that might be vegan too? Well, if you don’t indulge in the little cup of creamy salad dressing served with the green goddess avocado salad, then you’re good to go! A second green and healthy favorite on the menu!

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The point of their new menu serves two purposes. One, adding lots of tasty variety, including lovely looking sandwiches. Their roasted turkey and dill havarti sandwich sounds dreamy, along with everything else. Starbucks planned delicious new items that covered a variety of tastes and dietary considerations. Lovin’ That! But the second part of this menu, is that Starbucks donates all leftovers at the end of the evening to the hungry. Lovin’ That!

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The Mercato menu is a tasty step up from their past on the go lunch offerings, are made fresh daily, and any extras are given to those in need. Even though I don’t frequent Starbucks, as someone trying to eat a plant-based diet, I was very happy to find something that I could grab on the quick when I’m out and about. Eating vegan is tricky. It’s hard to find fresh, fast options. If you’re not in Chicago or Seattle, I hope they extend this to a city near you, so you can try it too!

*Starbucks did not fund my eats on the go. All opinions are my own.

Rock on friends…stay happy, stay healthy, stay inspired!

Holy Beets And Brussels Sprouts!

Hands down, the best plant-based meal I’ve eaten of late was at one of our local favorites, Roka Akor in Skokie. This Japanese grill smells heavenly, the ambiance is always hip and relaxing, the service is excellent, and the food is ever amazing…

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The amuse-bouche was a beet puree topped with a hint of greens. I’m nuts for beets, so I was very pleased to start the meal with this flavorful spoon. I could have eaten a bowl of this…

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Handsome started his meal with tender grilled scallops. I’ve had them before at Roka and know just how exquisite they are. Though my chopsticks did not sneak across the table to steal one this time, I was very tempted…

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The amuse-bouche had me wanting more beets, so I started the meal out by going to town on this salad. Not an almond sliver, or carrot shred, or beet medallion was left on that plate. Isn’t this dish so colorful? I could eat this fresh salad every day…

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For the meal, I ordered up the mushroom hotpot. Inside this cooking vessel above, the metal of which is inadvisable to touch due to its lava-like temperature, a steaming mushroom and rice mixture awaited. As our server dished out a bowl for me and a bowl for my date, I secretly wanted to snatch up both bowls. NO sharing the mushroom hotpot…mine, all MINE! Ha-ha-HA!

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I also had grilled vegetable maki with broccoli and sweet potatoes. You could taste the grill on those potatoes…

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Handsome ate a lobster. It was pre-cracked to display the most succulent morsels of meat for ease of eating. Though I did not partake, it was another temptation. I envisioned a snatch and run. My partner would later find me in the parking lot, broken lobster claws scattered around my feet, a crazed look in my eyes, not a single bite of lobster meat left…

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But I did not exact my shellfish fantasy, and instead inhaled a plate full of Brussels sprouts. The marinade on these sprouts rocked my taste buds! These sprouts also had a hint of seafood flavor to them. Ethereally thin bonito flakes (a Japanese tuna) were lightly sprinkled over the top. Definitely not a plant-based topper…oops!

Another fresh and savory meal at Roka, with plenty of options for this veggie lover! The smell alone coming off that Robata grill keeps us ever coming back for more. Holy beets and Brussels sprouts!

Sometimes Satisfying, Sometimes Not!

As I wrote in my last post, I am working on acclimating myself to being the best gobbler of greens I can be (aka, mostly vegan). I’ve been a vegetarian for some years, and am now trying to cut out more animal products, and eat even more plant-based foods…

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After 5 weeks, I wish I could say that I feel amazing (light as a feather and as glowing as Eve of the garden), but I don’t. To be honest though, I think that’s probably because this gal needs to get her booty to the swimming pool for some swim aerobics and stretching in the therapy pool. Let’s get these muscles moving! Where’s my goggles?

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As for my food adventures, I’m finding that some meals are quite satisfying, and some are not. Yesterday, I threw a quick lunch together using some leftover dinner veggies. Corn, asparagus, onions and vegan *cheese* shreds made for some ‘interesting’ veggie tacos that turned out to be quite blah. Thank goodness I’d packed some cruciferous crunch to accompany them. Radishes saved the day!

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I am proud however, that I used up my leftovers and stuck to a vegan lunch. I have to remember that not every meal I eat is going to rock my palate, especially when I’m experimenting with new veggie concoctions…

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But ooh, did I have a delicious meal at Terra & Vine in Evanston last week! We sat out alfresco, the weather being unusually warm for this time of year. Even where we sat for dinner, being close to dusk and in the shade, I was amply glowing from the heat (not perspiring, only dudes do that)…

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I’d perused the menu online in advance (a gobbler of greens needs to know what their options will be…though I also generally just enjoy salivating over menus). I was quite pleased to see a section title for Vegan (as well as Vegetarian). I thought that was quite thoughtful! But when we sat down at our table and I looked over the paper menu, those choices were missing. I asked the waiter about it. Unfortunately, they’d discontinued those particular menu options. Aww man!

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But very kindly, the server said that the kitchen could absolutely prepare the pasta dish I’d had a hankering for. Yea! In most restaurants, it’s not too hard to make menu choices (without becoming a terribly annoying, picky diner). For many dishes, just asking for no cheese or sauce does the trick (or on the side if you’re sharing). Now, I did try a bite of blue cheese on the salad, and a bit of aioli on the artichokes, toppers that weren’t vegan. But I’d usually have covered and slathered every fork-full of my meal in cheese and creamy sauce. So, let us just say I successfully reined in the cheese monster that lives inside me…

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I might have eyed that cheesy dish across the table with a bit of longing, but in the end, was 100% satisfied limiting my non-vegan intake. I mean, pasta and fried artichokes…what’s there to miss?

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All of this to say, whether you’re cooking at home, or dining out, eating mostly plant-based can occasionally be a gamble on taste. It’s also not easy to always make healthier choices. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. That’s ok.

As for me, I’m excited to keep experimenting, keep cooking, and keep playing with the menus I’m sitting to. And if a meal doesn’t turn out to be all that satisfying, well there’s always another one around the bend! Now If I could just find my swimming goggles…

I am the Gobbler of Greens!

Nope. I’m not making a public declaration that I’m a vegan, and I’ll tell you why at the end of this post. But I’ve read a lot of books, and watched a lot of health documentaries, and after being a vegetarian (and aspiring vegan) for 6 years, I’m leaning harder in that lifestyle direction. It’s what I think is best for me

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Do I enjoy eating meat, dairy, eggs and seafood? I love it. I could plant myself next to a cheese tray for hours (and I have). I think my grandma’s meatloaf, buttery mashed potatoes, and homemade coleslaw slathered in mayo is a dish sent from Heaven. My mom’s fried egg sandwiches…omg. I’ll devour plates of all-you-can-eat steaming crab legs drowned in drawn butter, and then steal the crab legs out of your hands and make a run for it. I love it…I love it all

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But I think as a general rule, eating my fruits, nuts, grains and veggies, while skipping the animal-based products, is the lifestyle choice for me. Thankfully, I’ve always loved veggies, or else this would be a bit tricky. I’ve got my grandma’s garden while growing up to thank especially for that…

If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch the newest documentary focused on the correlation between poor health and what we’re eating, I greatly encourage you to watch What The Health. It is a film that I believe everyone should see, if only to open up more thought, and dialogue, about the Western diet and our food industry. It is currently available on Netflix…

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For me, eating vegan means not only trying to eat all plant-based, pure, whole foods. But also that I should try to avoid the ‘processed’ stuff (vegan or no) more often than not. For instance, Oreos are vegan, and I like them. Especially the mint ones. But I’m not going to make a habit of snacking on them…

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With that being said, it can’t be helped to crave and want to ‘replace’ the animal-based foods I’ve always enjoyed. I personally would find the vegan diet difficult to sustain without a few veggie protein (fake meat and cheese) tricks up my sleeve!

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So, I’m sharing with you what I made for lunch today. I was craving a classic BLT. I haven’t eaten a ‘real’ BLT sandwich in who knows how long, but I will never stop liking them. The vegan BLT I was planning turned into an even more magical sandwich, because I couldn’t stop dragging everything out of the fridge…

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Toasted Italian bread, Earth Balance organic/vegan mayo, sliced red onion, tomato, a dash of pepper…

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Heinz natural yellow mustard, Lightlife vegan veggie bacon strips (oh yes they get crispy in the pan), lettuce…

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Next, a few slices of Chao vegan ‘cheese’. This is some wonderful stuff. ‘Coconut herb with black pepper’ or ‘creamy original’ (munster anyone?) or ‘tomato cayenne’. These slices make a sandwich or veggie burger sing! I’m pretty sure they punch a few itty holes into the slices on purpose to make you believe you’re eating Swiss cheese. I’m convinced…

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My mouth was watering as I layered up this sandwich, and the kitchen suspiciously smelled like I’d really just made up a skillet of crispy, sizzling bacon…

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I think the key for me to eating vegan, and in eating as healthy as I can generally, is to learn how to cook plant-based meals that I enjoy (and that won’t leave me feeling deprived). As I continue on in this lifestyle choice, I want to learn lots of things. I want to learn how to make my own vegan meatloaf (out of lentils). I want to simply take joy in a roasted veggie pizza (learning to be just as happy without that thick layer of cheese I so adore). I’m even going to try and make my own sour cream (out of cashews) to plop over my veggie fajitas! The sky is the limit, and I’m having fun!

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But why did I say that I’m not making a public declaration that I’m a vegan? Well, I’m going to be open and honest…

If you see me eating alfresco oceanside in Massachusetts, I’m pretty sure I’ll be in a faint over the world’s freshest lobster roll. Or, if you spot me sitting aside the lagoon in Venezia, I very well may be intaking a generous plate of fruitti di mare. And if I ever find myself in the Swiss Alps, it is highly possible I will try a nibble (or two) of every local cheese available…

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And on Christmas Eve, I just can’t promise that I won’t be devouring crab legs and drawn butter with my folks. It’s become a special tradition. And…well…I’m not sure I can live the rest of my life without crab legs…

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But generally speaking, I’m going to do my best to remain the best gobbler of greens that I can be, and that’s a good enough goal for me!

Best wishes friends! Stay healthy, stay happy, stay you, stay inspired!

A Hawk’s Tale…And one fine striped tail it is!

For years now, there has been an elusive winged creature out back. I’d thought I’d seen a large hawk dozens of times, but it was so fast that I could never get a really good look…

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It’s not like when one flies across an open country road and perches for all to see on top of a telephone post. Our backyard abuts a dozen other backyards, all wooded, gardened and spectacularly green, so a bird, even a large one, can stay camouflaged…

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Earlier this summer, I’d gotten a pretty good look at it swooping over the alleyway between houses. And then last week, I was witness to it swooping down to try to snag a squirrel off a tree. No lie. The squirrel was a bit too big and skittish for the hawk to grab, but it was a gutsy attempt and certainly left my eyes round with surprise! The squirrel proceeded to squall in shock for about half an hour, (to the displeasure of my sensitive ears), an acorn still clutched in its mouth, completely unharmed but scared out of its wits…

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So, I’m making coffee this morning and looking out into the sunny backyard. I see something! Is it what I think it is? Is it the bird! I tear off up the stairs faster than Tiddo the cat on one of his running rampages, snatch up my camera and fly over to my bedroom window. First time I really saw it as not just a flash of wings, but as a sedentary creature! And let me tell you, it’s a big one. Larger than I thought. He (or she) is living off of chipmunk, bird, bunny and squirrel meat. These backyards are no slim pickings for this fierce hunter…

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Can anyone take a guess at what I’ve got? Perusing the pages of my North American bird book, it looks like it might be a Cooper’s Hawk, but I’d love your input! I’ve definitely been hearing a hawk’s strong kak-kak-kaking call all summer long. (You can listen to a voice recording of a Cooper’s Hawk on its wikipedia page here). Cooper’s Hawks are uncommon, live in wooded areas, and are newly removed from the Illinois endangered species list!

Giveaways & Shout-outs! Let’s have some fun!

Hello, hello! I hope that you are well and happy in every way today! Mondays aren’t most people’s favorite, so I thought we could have some fun! How about we start with some giveaways?!

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There are two giveaways taking place right now for your chance to win a copy of Veleno, my newest tale, one creepy thriller filled with lots of surprises…Bwa-ha-haaaa!

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For your chance to win 1 of 5 copies on Amazon, click here to check out the giveaway. The Amazon giveaway ends tonight at midnight, so hurry!

For your chance to win 1 of 3 signed copies straight from my hand through Goodreads, click here to check out the giveaway! The Goodreads giveaway ends on September 26th (next Tuesday) at midnight.

Please share these giveaways, and spread the fun!

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The 2017 Bristol Renaissance Faire season has sadly come to an end, but we had such a wonderful season thanks to each and every one of you who visited us at our tented shop, The Quill and Brush. My folks and I can’t wait to see you all again in 2018 for our 3rd Bristol season! Huzzah!

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And for some more fun on this Monday, I just want to send out some shout-outs!

Hey Once Upon a Time Book Club! Thank you for sharing Veleno! I sincerely hope you enjoyed the read…my favorite part is the ending. Eeekkk!

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Thank you for recommending my books, and I hope the granddaughters are enjoying The Itty Bitty Littles, Princess Liliana and the Dragon, The Fairy Woods and A Magical Kingdom. May their reading time be filled with magic and delight…

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I also want to say thank you to Newton’s Travels, a charming family travel blog! There is nothing I love so much as travel, so sites like these are always an inspiration. Angie of Newton’s Travels wrote a charming review of the Bristol Renaissance Faire and shared a snippet about my books! With all there is to see and do at Bristol, I smiled ear to ear for this special mention above. Thank you Angie! Check out her post about Bristol here

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I also want to send a shout-out to fellow authoress, Danielle E. Shipley. Not only is she a prolific writer of fantasy and adventure tales, but also one truly creative and charismatic individual. Ms. Shipley read aloud some of my back covers so entertainingly at Bristol, that I wanted to read my own stories all over again. Too fun! Be sure to check out this local Chicago author’s books!

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I also wanted to share with you all today that my Goodreads author page, and Amazon author page are live! Please ‘follow’ if you’d like word of my new publications, or to see what books I’m reading and reviewing, etc. I am also accepting ‘author questions’ on Goodreads in case you feel like quizzing my brain!

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And one last shout-out…thank you to all of the readers that have come back to my little shop the last two summers to give me feedback and inspiration. Thank you to all the readers who sent an email or letter, to tell me what you thought about one of my stories, warming my heart. And thank you to each reader who wrote a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Those reviews are a precious gift to me as a writer, and keep me inspired! Please keep the reviews coming!

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I’ve just begun my newest novel, a romantic odyssey based in ancient times. My mind is already caught up in a place very far away, from very long ago. The research (one of my favorite parts about writing historical fiction) is already breaking my brain. Love it! A harrowing, swoon-worthy adventure is in the works. I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

Stay well, stay happy, stay inspired!

A Cicada’s Ethereal Birth Part II.

Just last week, for the very first time, I witnessed a cicada hatching out of its beetle-like shell and spreading its wings. I was completely awed by the event, so small, yet so precious. You can check it out here!

Ever since then, I admit that I’ve been keenly eyeing that patch of dirt and shrubbery pot for another event. Where one cicada crawls up from the earth, perhaps there will be others. And last night, there was!

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Though I wish my photos had come out clearer, it is still easy to see how beautiful the creature’s wings are. This time, the cicada had not climbed so high on the potted plant, and emerged not from a split in its back, but from a splitting in the shell on top of its head…

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This one did not ‘vibrate’ and flutter like last week’s cicada, and was much smaller too. I wondered if this one wasn’t a female, and last week’s a larger male, but who knows? This one just looked like a girl…I mean, don’t you see her batting her infinitesimal eyelashes? Awww

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I must say, they unfurl those delicate little coils of tissue into incredible wings within a very fast period of time! Perhaps half an hour, and then clutch to their perch until those soft appendages are dried and hard. Here, her dainty sea-green legs cling to her shell, which she will soon abandon as she takes for the skies.

I’m patting my eyes with a kleenex. Aren’t you?

Don’t forget the lovely giveaway coming up this Friday for one of three pretty pieces of art! For more on the giveaway, and to enter a comment for your chance to win, click here!

A Spirited Tune!

I wanted to share this lively tune of the Renaissance, captured at the Bristol Renaissance Faire in 2015. May it put a smile on your face and a hop in your step today!

Only one final weekend left of the 2017 Bristol season, but it includes three days over the Labor Day weekend to make merry! Be sure to stop by The Quill and Brush on King’s Landing!

Also, don’t forget the giveaway here on Inspired By Venice! This Friday, three of Lita’s cheery floral basket prints, regularly on display at The Quill and Brush, will be given away! To check out the giveaway and enter for your chance to win, click here!

C’mon Little Dude, Let’s Get Outside!

Me: “Oh my goodness! What are you doing here? Caterpillars belong outside! Are you ok?

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Caterpillar: “Ahhhh! Lady, don’t hurt me!” (Curls into a little fuzzy ball).

Me: “Don’t worry! You’re safe now. Let me help you!

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Caterpillar: “Terrible! Just terrible! I crawled under the door and got lost!” (Rolls over, flailing all 10 legs).

Me: “Oh my! And what happened to half your fuzzy black eyebrows on your round red head? Seems you lost a few?

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Caterpillar: “I don’t remember! It’s all been a terrible blur.

Me: “Well how about we get you back outside then? C’mon, lets go!

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Caterpillar: “Thank you, thank you! I’d never have found my way outta here!

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Me: “Ok, hang on little dude. We’re almost there.

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Caterpillar: “I can smell the fresh air! I can see the green! Hurry!

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Me: “Here you go! And it’s just rained too. You must be thirsty, drink from a drop!

Caterpillar: “Oh blessed leaf! Oh quenching rain! Oh beautiful birdsong! I am home again.

Me: “But wait! Grant me one single wish, fuzzy caterpillar.

Caterpillar: “But what can I do? I’m just the littlest of the littles!?

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Live, and become the beautiful moth you were meant to be.

What did I find? The caterpillar of the White-Marked Tussock Moth. May his metamorphosis yield the strong, wondrous creature he was meant to be…even if he might be missing a few eyebrows!

Stay Inspired Friends!

LOVING This Show!

As everyone else seems to these days, I’m quite enjoying the plethora of new t.v. series available! I’ve always been more of a movie lover, and have hardly watched a stitch of television over the years, but with so many imaginative, vibrant, creative series lately, I admit that Netflix has lured me into a few programs. What am I loving?

Hands down, the BBC’s new series, Versailles. It just about broke my brain into a million pieces with its first season. Wow. Too good for words. It is brilliantly made, absolutely stunning and really powerful. The last episode of season one moved me to big dollopy tears, so crushing was the story. Watch this program and be instantly transported into Louis XIV of France’s dreamy yet dangerous court at Versailles!

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery was one of the first books I ever fell in love with as a child. Anne was so smart, willful, and imaginative, as well I loved the healthy farm setting, the rural school house, and Anne and Diana’s (bosom buddies) adventures. The movie adaptations, staring Megan Follows, also held me captivated for quite a chunk of my childhood. Season One of the new series Anne With An E, has captivated me once again! Actress Amybeth McNulty’s performance of Anne is genuine and impressive. Do watch this trailer!

What else am I loving? When Calls the Heart is delightful! A young woman of high society named Elizabeth Thatcher takes on the role of school teacher in a remote coal mining town. Her adventures are abundant, and actress Erin Krakow plays the part with utter charm. This program fills my heart for its themes of community, caring, perseverance and love. If you are interested in a wholesome program, this one will have you hooked!

I’ve also much enjoyed Reign, a series surrounding Mary Queen of Scots. Historically accurate? Heck no! A dazzling, pretty, adventurous, entertaining show? Yup. Actress Adelaide Kane plays Mary Stuart with strength and grace, and all her courtly ladies master their girly yet willful characters. I think this series is fun! Further, actress Megan Follows (from the original Anne Of Green Gables movies) plays Queen Catherine de’ Medici, and puts on one witty and powerful performance!

I’ve only seen the first season of Downton Abbey and I’ve not even spied one single minute of Game of Thrones. But with so many entertaining new series, what can I say?

What are your current favorites?

A Cicada’s Ethereal Birth

Only on account of my one and only super-human power (my bizarre knack for spotting insects), I spied a movement in the dirt yesterday near dusk and had to take a closer look. At first it appeared to be something like a May Beetle (June Bug), but was not dark enough in color. I then knew right away that it must be a cicada just come up from the ground…

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I bent down and oh so carefully picked up the little creature. He stretched his legs a bit in surprise, but seemed hardly bothered. I guessed that he must be a little sleepy, after living underground for so long. For as cicadas, they might live a few years, or even 13 or 17 below the dirt before emerging! I inspected his transparent tan shell and could see that there was a beautiful green below its surface. How long would it take for this insect to hatch out of his skeleton and fly free?

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Gingerly setting him back down just where I had found him, I spied nearby, what looked like a little hole where he’d surely just burrowed out from. The cicada dawdled on his way, right up to a planter, and began to climb. At his own pace, he’d gotten to a good place and height, and then took hold beneath the lip at the top of the planter…

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At this point, I imagined that he’d just sit there all night, and that I would see nothing of his metamorphose. But I was wrong. I wouldn’t call it trembling, more like vibrating. At intervals, he appeared to vibrate his way out of a slit on the back of his shell. His folded wings looked like swirled sea shells, sea-green and peach in color. He vibrated these coiled wings again and again until they unfurled…

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His skeleton soon fell to the ground, and my heart was singing to behold such a beautiful creature. All in all, from his emerging from the ground to his fully transforming from his shell, took about an hour and a half. I don’t know how long he clung there, for I’m sure his wings needed to dry and solidify before taking flight…

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Though cicadas are a big part of summer here, their song accompanying each moment of these long hot days, and though I’ve found a great many discarded skeletons, and see quite a few adult cicadas flying around…this was the first time I’d ever seen one emerge from its shell. The moment was magical. Tears were nearly pooling in my eyes, and I whispered to myself, What a beautiful creature God has made.

I’m a softie for bugs. What can I say?

A Basket Full Of Flowers Giveaway!

Today is the day! The day for a giveaway! Why? Just because! Because summer is still as light and lovely as ever in these parts! Because the world is green and the flowers are full. And though the cool nights and autumn weather are fast approaching, today’s giveaway will have you ever reminded of the joys of summer!

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This pretty little piece is a print from one of my artist mother Lita’s paintings. Her precious works accompany my adventures at The Quill And Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire!

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Her nature and fantasy designs always delight and inspire on a festival day! How the kiddos light up when they see her drawings of fairies and dragons!

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Today we are giving away three of these sweet little prints, size 5 by 7 inches. They are perfectly delightful to brighten any nook, desktop or bedside table. Put the art in a glass frame, or set it out just as it is. This pretty basket will make you smile!

To enter for your chance to win one of three of these delightful prints by Lita, simply leave a comment below sharing one of your favorite parts about summer. Is it the flowers? The swimming? The barbecues? The festivals? Three winners will be randomly selected on Friday September 1st at 6pm, Chicago time, and announced here!

Here’s to the beauty and bounty of summer, and to your enjoying every moment you can of it!

The Merriest of the Merry!

I captured this video on the closing day of the 2015 Bristol Renaissance Faire season, while standing just outside the gates. When I watch it, my heart is filled with joy! The singing, the dancing, the frolicking, the laughter, the happiness, the merriment…

And this is just one reason of many, for why I love this festival so much. I wanted to share this inspiring scene with you. I hope it makes you smile!

West With The Night

A great joy I take in reading, is in being exposed to completely new perspectives. Of course, all books give you new thoughts, but not all make you deeply ponder things you’ve never thought about before, or places that you have never experienced…

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My father and I regularly exchange books via snail mail. Always wrapped up tight in a square of recycled paper grocery bag, I smile every time a new used book arrives in my mailbox. One of the most recent was West With The Night by Beryl Markham, a book that Ernest Hemingway claimed was so well written, that it put all other writers (including himself) to shame…

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[Photo Credit: Tekniska Museet]

West With The Night is Beryl’s memoir (born in 1902) of growing up in the wilds of Kenya, in what was at the time British East Africa. She spoke Swahili fluently, and only had a pinch of schooling. Her British father owned a farm, and bred racing horses there, while her mother didn’t prefer to live in Africa and moved back to England. Little Beryl grew up quite a free and independent girl. Quite the little spitfire too…

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In her memoir, she describes daylong spear hunting expeditions as a child, going out with the men of a local tribe, walking out into the vast wilderness with those who became her dearest friends and mentors, teaching her to sense and understand the land and animals around her…

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With her father breeding racehorses, she grew up aside these powerful, majestic animals. Whilst still just a youth, she became the first woman in Kenya to become a licensed horse trainer. In later years, six races, horses she trained won Kenya’s East African Derby…

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The majority of Beryl’s memoir is about her flying career. She purchased a plane, became the first person to train to fly in Kenya and go on to earn a commercial pilot’s license. She flew all over Africa, over deserts, mountains, endless swamps and vast landscapes. She flew mail over great distances, picked up the sick and dying to transport them to help, she rescued men downed in the wilderness, where they were near death and hope of survival was fleeting…

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Some of her experiences were so perilous and frightening! Killing a primate that had attacked her so viciously that she had to use pure force and adrenaline to survive the fray and save herself…

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The lion that pounced on her when as a little girl, she ran across his track. It pawed her to the ground and took a bite out of her leg with a fierce roar. Beryl’s description of the lion’s roaring filled me with terror. In the memoir, a man who witnessed this event shared the whole scene. How the little girl was bleeding from every place, how the lion stood upon her, and her harrowing rescue. It’s very powerful…

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And I will never forget the moment when Beryl, while accompanying a Safari, is on the verge of being trampled to death by a mighty young male elephant. Her writing had me feeling like I was right there with her, and I was cowering in fear…

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In 1936, Beryl was the first woman to fly over the Atlantic Ocean from east to west. Long hours of darkness and stormy weather above the ocean in her little craft (the reason for her memoir title West With The Night). During this part of her story, I was holding my breath! She made it to land by the very skin of her nose, her craft nearly crashing into the ocean (but instead diving into the first sliver of land). She should have perished, but remarkably (and much owing to her incredible flying skills) she survived…

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This book moved my thoughts, and made me deeply ponder another’s perspective and experiences, as well as another place so different from what I know. I wondered…if I had been in her shoes, could I have survived, thrived, and accomplished so much? Uhm…

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The vastness of the wilderness she describes frightened me. The threats in nature she shares are overwhelming (to say nothing of the diseases and insects she notes…ahhh). I would never get in a rickety little craft and try to fly it…no way! I might talk to a gentle horse from across a fence, but wouldn’t tread too closely or attempt to tame it (horses are too enormous, strong and unpredictable)….Beryl?! How were you so courageous?

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Ok. If I had been Beryl, I think I’d have aspired to be…the first female entomologist in Kenya! What do you think? That’s courageous, right? I bet you can find some pretty fierce bugs there?! I’d have written my memoir about my run-ins with Goliath Beetles! Ha-ha-HA!

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Yes, Mr. Hemingway was right about Ms. Markham’s spectacular writing skills! Her style and storytelling are remarkable…

I highly recommend West With The Night. Quite an unforgettable journey, with one fearless woman at the helm!

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!