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!

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.

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!

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!

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 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!

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Itty Bitty Littles Giveaway!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogger Recognition Award!

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

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

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

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Blogger Recognition Rules:

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

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

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

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And of course…

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Tiddo the cat…

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you bloggers, for inspiring me!

A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Book Of Dragons Giveaway!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maid of Honour is Here!

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

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

It is a beautiful day when she settles into her carriage with her friend and handmaiden Katie, especially as a dazzling court, prestigious status and days filled with merriment await. Escorted by guards on horseback, she begins her journey thinking only of her future happiness. However, as their caravan passes through a thick wood, miles from home, a terrible fray breaks out. They are being assailed by archers hiding in the forest! Confused and afraid, Jane can only wonder why this sudden attack has come upon them, and whether or not they will survive.

A harrowing run through the woods soon leads Jane to discover the veiled truth behind sustaining peace in their kingdom. And though she never expected the need to summon such great courage in the face of danger, especially on this special day, her cleverness, kindness and humility will shine through. Jane is about to become a true maid of honour!

Available now on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal by Abigail Carroll

I’ve just finished reading Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal by Abigail Carroll and found it to be a fantastic text filled with historic food facts!

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Three Squares treats us to a food timeline in US history. Carroll begins with what mealtime likely usually looked like for settlers in the 17th century (when European colonists began planting roots and observing the foods Native Americans consumed)…

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I was absolutely fascinated to learn what and why settlers were eating/growing/harvesting what they were and how they prepared these items. It was also interesting to learn how settlers viewed their native neighbors (rampant with cultural clashing and ugly stereotyping when it came to the meal)…

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In the 18th century, patterns began to change. Where many crops, food items and ways of preparation had been originally rejected in the 17th century, new generations of Americans began to do the opposite, rejecting their European food pasts and clinging to what made their crops and tables uniquely American…

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As Carroll’s timeline progresses, we learn how the hours at which meals were taken, what was being consumed, and how food was being prepared and presented, changed and why. I found it really awesome to learn how consumption has changed so dramatically over the years, due to changes in American culture, wartime, industrialization and technology…

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Three Squares spans a great many topics…

  • What foods were uniquely native to North America vs. crops that were introduced.
  • The strong cultural bonds we make with our food.
  • How food associates with our notion of social status.
  • The way structured family meals affects our social skills and intelligence.
  • Nutrition, school lunches, government reforms.
  • The powers of packaging, advertising, and the impact of television.
  • Snacking and American leisure time.
  • And much, much more…

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Though folks who love food will find interest in this book, I think it is especially for anyone who enjoys history, and particularly American history. It is a highly digestible (tee-hee) historic timeline that will have you learning something new and interesting at the turn of every page! I cannot recommend it enough, it was truly a gastronomic pleasure!

Abducted & Packing For Mars

I love books that strike my mind, challenge my intellect and make me look at the world differently. I’ve just finished Abducted: How People Come To Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens by Susan Clancy and Packing For Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach, and my brain has officially turned to pudding…

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These two books are completely different, but I’m sharing them together as both challenged my mind about what’s out there. I seriously dig science fiction, the wonders of outer space, pondering the possibility of alien life and what people are seeing in the skies…

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No matter my fascinations or beliefs on these topics however, one thing is for certain; I’d never want to experience it for myself. If alien life exists, I’d be too overwhelmed to meet it. And if I had the chance to travel into space, I’d never go. My feet steadfastly cling to my beloved Earth…

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I’ve always felt this way, but let’s just say Packing for Mars solidified my inclinations of terror toward space travel. Mary Roach is a brilliant writer. I also read her Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife last month and am thoroughly impressed by her writing style, the considerable research she can make palatable and her hilarious wit!

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Packing For Mars shares insight into the immense undertaking that is going on right now, to prepare for human launches to the ‘red planet’. Roach takes the reader through initial space exploration (American chimps and trained dogs from Russia being rocketed past the earth’s atmosphere in capsules) on through the many great trials that eventually brought men to the moon, and what advances have come since…

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Primarily however, this book is about what inconveniences, physical tortures, wild unknowns and abject fears astronauts must face when leaving earth. Every page I turned, I felt a sort of motion sickness and uneasiness, even though I wasn’t moving and all was safe and sound…

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Astronauts are up against cramped, airtight spaces, causing instant claustrophobia. Radiation is ever present beyond earth’s atmosphere, penetrating right through the vessel, making cancers in their futures a heightened possibility. Zero gravity brings with it, many human inconveniences and can harm the human body with long-term exposure. Leaving earth and re-entering the atmosphere are incredibly dangerous feats and every minute of space travel can become life-threatening from one minute to the next…NO THANKS!

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So why go? Why not just send more and more technology out into space to gather information, and keep humans safe where they belong? The only practical reason I gathered from this narrative seems to be that no matter how advanced technology becomes, humans have skills that only a human can have (such as being alive, cognizant of their past, having an understanding of place, time and feelings). Humans can problem solve in ways technology can’t, and can bring back information that is felt/experienced, rather than just ‘collected’. Further, for a human to have lived it, seems to be the undying purpose and pride in exploration…

But, what do I know? I prefer to stay at home where it’s cozy!

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However, according to Clancy’s Abducted, lots of folks don’t seem so cozy at home, believing they are being visited (and even abducted) by strangers not of this planet. Eeekk!

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Abducted isn’t necessarily an argument for or against the possibility of alien life though. Published by Harvard University Press (and its author being one highly educated psychologist hailing from that esteemed university), the book approaches this surreal topic far differently than I expected. It takes a look deep into the human mind.

After interviewing a great many “abductees”, Clancy makes the claim that abductions are all in peoples’ heads. Yet, her text doesn’t conclude that “abductees” are crazy. Rather, it leaves you reeling as you consider what the human brain is capable of, its depths and what places it can go…

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There is much, much more to both Roach’s Packing For Mars and Clancy’s Abducted than I have shared here. Therefore, if you are interested in any topic of science that these two books cover, I invite you to enjoy the read. If you dare to ride, they are both roller-coasters in book form…wheee!

The House of the Seven Gables

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Salem, Massachusetts in the month of October just before Halloween…

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The golden leaves were falling, grey skies and misty rain made the cobblestone pathways and colonial buildings feel mysterious. Handsome and I even traipsed out into a desolate field to visit one noteworthy graveyard, filled with tombstones from the Salem Witch Trials

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The Salem Witch Trials were a very frightening and grim part of American History. 200 innocent people were tried for witchcraft, ending with 20 of them being sentenced to death. I was sincerely touched to see the American flags dotted around this graveyard, honoring those innocent lives…

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We also wandered by the chilly ocean wharf, with no particular place in mind to head to. There, we stumbled upon an old house of unknown historical significance. And on that day (lucky for us), there was a little tour of the premises…

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This, is the House of the Seven Gables. It is the oldest mansion to be made of wood and still standing in Salem. It was built in 1668! For American architecture, this is considered ancient. We had to go inside!

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Unfortunately, I didn’t use my camera inside. Unlikely because they didn’t allow photos, but rather that I was too mesmerized by the old rooms. Visit here to see detailed photos and descriptions…

It was an amazingly restored house, where I was instantly transported back in time. I imagined cooking before the enormous stone hearth, stitching in the dainty sitting room, gathering around the table in the esteemed dining chamber, or even sneaking up a secret stairway hidden behind the wall…

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On the day we visited, it was autumn, late afternoon and rather gloomy. The natural lighting that came into the house did little to light our way through. So of course, I had all kinds of shadowy images in my mind of what it would have been like to live in that house in the late 1600’s, the sea turbulent just outside, a stormy night, the briny smell in the air, a crackling fire and candlelight playing upon the walls. And remember…the Salem Witch Trials were happening just outside…eeeeekkk!

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Some time after that visit to Salem, I’m at a garage sale with my mom. I see this book in a box and I blurt out loud, “I’ve been in that house!” Both my mom and the house owner raising an eyebrow at my random revelation. A few crinkled dollars and the book was mine!

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The House of the Seven Gables was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne (the author of The Scarlet Letter) in 1851. His cousin, Susanna Ingersoll, owned the home at this time, and Hawthorne visited her there. Thus, he knew the house intimately and used it as the stage for one bone-chilling tale…

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Hawthorne also had ancestors that were involved with the witch trials; he was steadfastly inspired by this. The House of the Seven Gables begins with an execution for witchcraft, an occasion that then haunts the generations who live in the home…

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I just read the book, which I did not consider the easiest read, yet which I could not put down. Some parts felt maddeningly in-depth (deep observations and winding verse). But then, a mere page later and I’d find myself once more in the throes of this haunting tale. The book is considered a romance; I would call it a macabre romance, inexplicably blooming under creepy, depressing circumstances…

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If you are interested in colonial or Puritan American history, I hope you make it to Salem. We visited some remarkable historic landmarks in both Boston and Salem, and I’ve an itch to go back to see more! I also especially enjoyed it with an autumnal setting, the fresh ocean air, and the best lobster I’ve ever eaten in my life.

If you are looking for a dark read with historic value, you might enjoy The House of the Seven Gables. It’s a cerebral tale of one shadowy seaside house that though I visited in real life, am very glad not to have visited as Hawthorne described it!

Terrible Typhoid Mary

I recently read Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, just as voraciously as I consumed Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map (about a cholera outbreak in London in 1854 which I reviewed here). I make the comparison here, because both books give us a snapshot of how city officials, doctors and citizens were dealing with contagious disease during a budding time of medical experimentation and progress. And also because these diseases are in some ways similar…

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Mary Mallon was an Irish immigrant, moving to New York City in 1883. She was employed as a cook for rich families, and was considered a clean and hardworking woman. However, in the families she worked for, cases of typhoid commonly arose…

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Typhoid is caused by bacteria that multiplies in the intestine after a hapless victim consumes food or water tainted with an infected individual’s waste. It comes with a dangerously high fever, extreme fatigue, terrible headaches and rashes, and an ailing intestine. It is a very serious disease…

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Mary Mallon was a silent carrier of typhoid. In rare cases, someone who has had the disease can continue to populate the bacteria and pass it on to others, long after they’ve gotten well again. Most survivors of the disease stop reproducing the bacteria after a span of time. In Mary’s specific case, she had no recollection of ever even having typhoid in her life. Most likely, she’d beaten a bad fever at some point in her youth, never knowing what she’d had…

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Worse still, she was employed as a cook. All it might take was one poor hand washing after using the water closet, and then prepping food in the kitchen, to pass typhoid on…

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In reading this retelling of history, I found myself both feeling sad for Mary, but also angry. When the connection was made that she might be a carrier, she refused to believe it or even speak with doctors sent to help her situation. She put up fierce fights, fled the scenes, changed her name. And partly, we can understand. At this time, experimental cures and unjust incarcerations were rampant. As far as she was concerned, she’d never had this disease and was not the cause of the cases coming down in the houses she worked for…

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On the other hand, she was made a fair offer. Change your profession and your freedom will remain your own. What did Mary do? She hid her identity and went to work as a cook in a women’s hospital. You can imagine the inevitable outcome. 25 people were struck with typhoid in this case, two died. She was caught and placed into permanent isolation…

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This book also gives us a snapshot into news tactics of the time. To sell papers, larger than life (and often false) stories were premiered. Mary was made a villain while men who were silent carriers and infected crowds were wholly ignored in the news. Presumably, this was because she was a cook, and as a woman, was expected to be utterly caring of others. This story also gives insight into how medical authorities dealt with (often poorly), odd situations such as Mary’s and how it impacted a patient’s freedom, spirit and health. (I certainly took a fright to how they tried to cure Mary of her typhoid. Eeek!)…

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I can hardly give this story justice here however. Therefore, I entreat you to read Terrible Typhoid Mary for yourself if you have any interest in medicine, city health and planning, late 19th/early 20th century American history, or the truly wild details surrounding one poor Mary Mallon!

A Delightful Giveaway!

Because today is a beautiful day…because it’s a holiday weekend…because I’ve still got one last festive weekend left at Bristol…today feels like a great day for a giveaway to share a little delight with you…

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Today, I’m giving away a copy of Delight! To enter, use your imagination and tell us what your fairy name would be if you were one of those magical creatures, and share it in the comments! I’ll randomly choose a winner on Tuesday, September 6th at 10:00 a.m. Chicago time and announce the winner! Here’s wishing you a delightful weekend!

My Pretty Venice

Absolutely charming! That’s what I think about My Pretty Venice: A Girl’s Guide to True Venice by Isabella Campagnol, Elisabeth Rainer and illustrated by Beatrice Campagnol. This lovely book put a smile on my face at the turn of every page…

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To begin with, I greatly esteem writer Isabella Campagnol who is the author of Forbidden Fashions: Invisible Luxuries in Early Venetian Convents which I previously reviewed here. With her being a fashion, textile, and decorative arts historian who writes on Venetian topics, who better to co-author a modern guide directed toward such themes, with rich history weaved in?

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What do I love about this book? First, Rainer and Campagnol have written an uncomplicated, selective guide to Venice, directed toward delights that ladies might enjoy. That hidden garden, that charming bookstore, a place to pamper your toes or find elegant trappings. However, it isn’t just dry information, it’s playful and delightfully accompanied by Beatrice Campagnol’s darling illustrations (also including illustrative, well placed photos by Lorenzano Di Renzo). A thoughtful guide for the travel-minded, adventurous spirit that is also endearing to the imagination!

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I really enjoyed the cameos and curiosities throughout the book as well, which retell interesting histories and share snippets of important ladies from Venice’s history!

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For you gals who love Venice (like me), or have a friend who does, My Pretty Venice is an absolute treat! Whether or not you’re heading to that magical city anytime soon, a flip through this book’s pages will sweep you away on your own little holiday!

The Mermaiden

Can you smell the briny air? Hear the seagulls screeching? See the sand crabs scuttling? Feel the power of the ocean’s waves? Won’t you come sit a moment with a mermaiden and get lost at sea?

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Bess lives in a cottage beside the sea in the village of Salty Row. Her father is a respected fisherman, providing fish to both the people of their town, and also the nobles who live nearby in a great castle.

Bess loves her life by the ocean, filled with wind and water. Especially on the days her father brings her along on his boat; his hardworking crew is a spectacle to watch, and how exciting it is when the fishing nets are pulled up, brimming over with curious creatures!

As Bess is soon to learn however, the good fortune and security always enjoyed in Salty Row is about to experience some turbulent waters! Of course, facing hardship isn’t easy. However, one captivating mermaiden with her tales from the deep, might just be the key to keeping Bess’s good spirits afloat!

Available now on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

Summer Storms, Sunny Smiles

What an adventure I’m having with my mother Lita (the artist) and step-dad, at the Bristol Renaissance Faire each weekend while we man our little shop The Quill and Brush (selling our books and art)! We are three weekends past, with six more to go. Though the weather has been mostly agreeable (even if beastly hot and humid), we’ve already met with several thunderstorms that had us covering our heads as we hovered inside of our tent…

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Because we are playing as village merchants from the 16th century, we can’t go about lunching on our regular 21st century fare, and using our plastic cutlery! The little picnic shown here is an example of what we’ve been nibbling instead (though I sort of cheated with the glass bowls)…

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Unfortunately last Sunday morning, a storm blew in even before we opened for the day and an intense wind billowed up our tent and flung my table away with a crash! Our delicious food, so nicely prepared, went into the mud and my glass bowls shattered…

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But the frogs sure didn’t mind the rain! This little guy hopped into the tent, surprising me when I found him hanging around under my table of books…

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And we see this busy dude each day, going in and out of his hole right next to our tent…

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And after another thunderstorm this last Saturday, this crayfish emerged (likely flooded out of his hole). That was pretty neat, for we don’t see these all that often…

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I rolled my ankle walking in the faire’s midday parade and have had a mean little sprain for over a week. We sweated buckets, got crispy in the sun, and labored with our bins, tables and tent. And I might have screeched a little as we covered our heads and huddled as the thunder and lightening boomed and lit the sky!

However, reward comes only after a challenge and my reward are the smiles I see when I share my stories. It makes my heart sing. And how happy I am to watch one of my books being carried away, knowing the delightful adventure that awaits the reader!

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I’ve been nursing my sprained ankle with good food, for I can’t imagine anything being better medicine? Delicious whole wheat pasta with veggies and parmesan shavings…

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Arugula salad with soft boiled eggs…

Salmon and roasted veggies, delicious! If you like roasted salmon, try this little concoction I spoon over mine…

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Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, seed mustard and honey! Oh heavens! When the fish cooks, this glaze hardens on the top and it is just wonderful!

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Outside the high temperatures have brought on one of the loveliest parts of summer, the cicadas’ song! Just snapped a photo of this handsome creature. Look at those pretty pink flecks in his wings! Magical!

Here’s wishing you sunshine in your life today, and many joys from life’s simple pleasures!

The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

I picked up a used copy of The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson with the dust jacket missing. I’m not even sure why I selected it since the grey cover gave nothing away. However, a line inside read…The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World…intriguing!

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After the first page, I was hooked! I liken Stephen Johnson’s excellent weaving of history to author Erik Larson’s style (whose Devil In The White City and Thunderstruck had me on the edge of my seat). This book takes a journey through a 7 day period in the summer of 1854 in the city of London, when one hapless neighborhood is plagued by cholera. Within a very short span, 616 folks passed away in the most terrible way.

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I must admit that though I had a basic understanding of other pestilence, I knew nothing about cholera before picking up this book. After having read it, I am more appreciative of the untainted drinking water I enjoy each and every day, and saddened by the fact that this disease is still a part of our modern world…

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Cholera is a bacteria that lives in human waste. If such tainted waste meets a water source, and then the water is ingested by people, they are at risk. Cholera has some less severe strains, and some that are very severe indeed (such as the one which caused London’s outbreak in 1854).

Once the cholera bacteria enters the small intestine, the loss of water in the victim becomes so immediate and severe that dehydration can occur within hours, leaving a gaunt and lifeless individual behind. This is the least graphic description I can profer, for the disease is quite worse than that…Johnson’s The Ghost Map is not for the squeamish.

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Why did I eat up this book? First, its description of Victorian Era London and the living conditions of the city’s poor was fascinating. The book also gives an excellent synopsis of what healthcare was like (for both doctor and patient)…eeek! And from a scientific perspective, it illustrates both a period of discovery, while also the harsh battling amongst medical professionals/scientists…

For instance, in 1854 many illnesses were considered airborne. Particularly, passing on to humans at times when the air was the stinkiest (think hot, unsanitary streets during London’s summer before the efficient waste management practices of today). Therefore, to consider that cholera might be a waterborne illness (as proposed during this outbreak by a London doctor named John Snow), received considerable mocking.

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In this particular instance, Dr. Snow’s observations and queries in the neighborhood led him to believe that the outbreak was coming from one city water pump on Broad Street in particular, and he wanted that pump terminated as quickly as possible…it took a fight.

This particular story in history too, helped lead to changes in city planning, sanitation laws and waste management, and certainly opened the discussion up and away from the airborne theory alone for infectious diseases. The Ghost Map also brings individual stories to light, and shares an understanding of the players involved in such a remarkable event…

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If you have an interest in medicine, science, city planning, cartography, history, or just enjoy exploring different snapshots of the past and what people went through…this is a book for you. I will certainly remember it for a long time to come, and remain more mindful of the blessing that is a clean glass of water…

Good Tidings From Bristol!

How we enjoyed our first weekend as The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire this past weekend, sharing our fantasy and historical fiction books and art! The weather was lovely and the opening weekend wondrous!

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The highest privilege was sharing in the numerous conversations with the energetic, warm and amazing patrons as well as the kind and creative vendors. The faire is truly a magical place, for both its creators and visitors make it so!

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Lita hand-painted our sweet sign and I adore it! What a finer flag for the author and artist?

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Lita’s colorful art put smiles on a lot of faces and delighted the wee ones! Her nature illustrations were befitting the beautiful place around us and were quite admired…

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And I so enjoyed sharing summaries of my tales with the kiddos. Their eyes often grew wide to hear them. I sincerely hope that they enjoy reading them, and keep memories of their day at Bristol in their hearts, just as I always did as a child…

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A special thank you to my step-dad Charlie for his helping us with the labors involved with such an undertaking, and to our family and friends who visited us this past weekend and showed their support for our little business…

A sincere thank you also to each and every one of the wonderful folks who selected a piece of art and/or one of my books. Your patronage means the world to us and we hope you’ll delight in our works, which we joyfully bring to you.

Here’s to 8 more exciting weekends yet to come at Bristol! We hope to see you there!

A Bushel Of Books

A bushel of books, a bundle of words, sitting in a basket just there. A great many more, all carefully nesting, all tenderly wrapped with care…

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But why do they wait? Such adventurous volumes! Do they not have some place to be? Why yes, oh yes! They’re looking their best, for at Bristol all will soon see!

Just 10 days until The Quill and Brush will be open to all, sharing stories and art, inspired and drawn from the heart!

Dragons at Dawn

I am very excited to share Dragons at Dawn! This treasure of a book is a true adventure! Especially for those who love a dragon tale! Enjoy…but beware the clawed and fanged beast! Bwa-ha-ha!

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Pious enjoys sitting with his neighbor Joseph, one of the elders of Piper’s Hamlet. Joseph shares fascinating stories about faraway places and the wild and enchanted animals and beings that live in them. Even at the edge of their village, far up upon a hill, stands Hightower. Pious learns from Joseph why the watchtower was built many centuries before. It was used to fight off dangerous creatures that used to cross into their lands, causing complete havoc in the town. There were frightening mirage elves, rowdy sand stags and beastly sun dragons. Long out of use, battling the creatures from Hightower is now just an ancient tale. Or is it?

Piper’s Hamlet soon comes under siege. A sun dragon from afar has come to attack and destroy, and an entire village must work together to survive. Pious, as curious as ever, can’t help wondering why the furious beast has fallen upon them after so many years of peace. He becomes determined to find out, soon learning that it could fall to him to save them all!

Join Pious as he learns the true meaning of selflessness, feels the kindness and unity that can be found amongst neighbors, and discovers what it means to be courageous before the fiercest of foes, for everyone’s sake!

Available now on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

Lady In A Green Dress

This one was called the green dress, for the light olive color. It was a beloved gown (and still is, though there is no way I could squeeze into it nowadays). I wore this one for two seasons as a courtier in the Bristol Renaissance Faire’s Guilde of St. George when I was 20-21 years old…

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Lita, artist and designer, has a way of making elegant creations without the showy additions. Simple is often the most beautiful. How much fun I had running around Bristol’s enchanting outdoors in that dress!

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Lita is also quite the milliner, having made this hat from scratch. Oh yes, this woman has ninja milliner skills. Using plastic cross stitch canvas, she cut out the parts of the hat with precision (how does she do it? I’m not even sure I know how to use a measuring tape properly), then did the same with velvet fabric, and then handstitched the entire thing. She measured my head so that it would fit like a glove. It still does all these years later (for I guess heads don’t get bigger over time the way waistlines are apt to do).

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I danced a lot of courtly dances in that gown, and still remember the sway of the skirt as it swished over the farthingale. How merry!

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I also had a jolly time tripping over dozens of inanimate objects, like that hapless cushion there on the ground. I did it gracefully however, as if I hadn’t a care in the world…

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I also often swung on an enormous swing in that dress, an attempt to get a breeze in the 90 degree weather!

And, I remained dutiful in my role as a maid of honour to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I. She is there at the front of the line wearing her noble purple. Oh heavens! How much fun, and how much history I learned. The memories of my days in that green gown are priceless…

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Lita (artist) and I (author) are still working diligently to prepare for this year’s opening day at the Bristol Renaissance Faire! We will be getting to know our tented shop this very weekend, considering how we will delight guests with our displays of historical fiction & fantasy books and art. We are The Quill and Brush and you will find us on King’s Landing at the perimeter of Lake Elizabeth. Opening day is July 9th! We can’t wait to see you there!

Once Upon A Star

For all of you adventurers at heart, I am so happy to share Once Upon a Star!

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Lomina is on an adventure, traveling far from the only home she’s ever known to live in the great and mysterious Castle Eerie. Her father has been sent on a mission by the good King Olin to save the last of the unicorns, and some of these magical creatures live in the Boundless Woods, a forest that Lomina can see from her very room!

She soon discovers however, that unicorns are not the only enchanted creatures to live in this part of the realm, for there are grassland fairies, midge dragons and trolls too! One naughty fairy even frightens her horse into a gallop, taking her on a wild ride deep into the forest.

Finding herself lost and alone in Boundless Woods, Lomina will encounter both magic and dangers that will test her courage. But the greatest surprise? Saving the unicorns might not be her father’s mission after all, but her own!

Saddle your horse and ride along with Lomina to discover how one girl’s bravery and selflessness saved the unicorns and gave them one of the best kept secrets the realm had ever known!

Available here on Amazon! Also available on Amazon Europe!

A Delightful Tale

Delight is here! A sweet and adventurous story for fairy lovers of all ages!

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Delight loves Midsummer’s Eve, as do all the fairies that live in the enchanted Hazel Woods. It’s a night to dance and sing, frolic and tell ancient tales! But this year, on the night of that magical celebration, a great and unexpected storm is brewing.

Delight is soon separated from her family and swept far away by a terrible gale. When she wakes the next morning, she finds herself bumped, bruised and stranded upon a strange rock far out in the sea! This is very bad indeed, for one of her delicate wings has been torn and she cannot fly. If she ever wants to see home again, she’ll have to gather up her courage and use her cleverness to do it!

Join Delight as she crosses deep waters and vast lands, meets magical creatures and faces new dangers, proving that the smallest of fairies can be the bravest of all!

Available here on Amazon! Also available on Amazon Europe!

Beds Bequeathed, Linens Lost

Take a moment to imagine something special that you own, something that you’d like to pass along to someone close to you after you’re gone. Is it a precious piece of jewelry or a fine watch? Is it an antique car or unique collection that took you years to build? Well, if you lived in the Renaissance, one of the things at the top of your list would have been your bedding

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I have a bed sheet that’s just worn through from regular wear and washing, gaining a large rip beyond repair. In this case, what can be done but to put it on the shopping list that a new one is needed. This got me thinking about some research I’d been doing lately…

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As I’ve been doing a little writing about settings within noble Renaissance homes, I needed to be careful not to assume that the beds looked anything like the fancy ones I would dream up for a wealthy lord and lady of the 16th century, or the humbler nests I’d assume their household slept upon. I had to ask, what were beds really like?

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If you were indeed very wealthy, a large and sumptuous bed might have been a reality. Mattresses filled with downy feathers, soft sheets and a bolster (liken to our pillows but a long tubular one to be shared). Richly fabrics might have hung around it (used to keep out the cool draft and give the sleepers some privacy).

These beds however, and the linens and hangings around them, would have been considered one of the finest things you owned. Further, the area where this bed would have been displayed was far more likely to be viewed publicly, in a room where your guests might look upon it. You would have been proud for others to see these luxurious furnishings. Further still, an honored guest might even sleep in it so that they would be comfortable during their stay…with you. Further, further still, you and multiple family members might sleep in it altogether. And in your will, scribbled out with your quill and ink, you’d be certain to pass these goods on to the most beloved of those near to you. These items were regularly passed along through multiple generations.

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The household (servants) of those affluent families, had a different reality, one much like cottage dwellers. You might all find a place near the fire in the kitchen, sitting or laying where there was a spot to be found, on a handful of grasses or hay. You might have had a pallet (thatched grasses and hay). Or quite often, you may have simply slumped where you could find a seat, snoozing upright. You were fortunate to own a good cloak, or covering of that nature, for you weren’t likely to own a coverlet and it would act as one.

This would of course, not have been very comfortable at all. Vermin were rampant (and historically speaking, this was even true for the nobles’ bedding, no matter how fine). So, you’d have fleas, bedbugs, little mice too. If you lived in a cottage, leaks and bird excrement and insects would drop on you as you slept (and at all hours of the day), for all of nature would have lived in your grassy roof. Things would have been damp, drafty, dirty, uncomfortable…

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Knowing my own temperament, I can say that I would have been miserable living during the Renaissance as concerns this topic. My need for 8 hours of undisturbed, comfortable, quiet sleep each night, would have been foiled. I’d have been one grouchy lady.

Researching the topic has been fascinating however, even looking back at different centuries. For instance, during the 18th century in Europe, affluent people regularly treated their bedrooms like meeting rooms. Sit in bed, have your meal, with all your visitors hanging around. Venice’s treasured 18th century artist Pietro Longhi documented such scenes on canvas…The Morning Chocolate:

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I was very intrigued too, when I read Casanova’s memoirs. They told of his day-to-day dealings and during these memoirs, you see how quickly people fell from money into complete destitution. People commonly sold their belongings as a means of survival and when bill collectors came calling, there was always the possibility that they’d act upon the law to collect a few of your furnishings to settle what was due. Casanova repeatedly sold his belongings, regularly linens, for his own survival.

Nowadays, I couldn’t get hardly a dime for my bedsheets if I needed to. Things have changed. Unless you own priceless art or gilded furniture, in most cases the public doesn’t look upon your furniture (and especially not your bed and linens) as a part of your ‘estate’. No, it is more likely land/house/cars, that show what you’re *worth*.

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If I lived during the Renaissance, I’d march my butt upstairs right now and pull out a needle and thread and start fixing that sheet! There would be no tossing it out, and running down to the store for a new one. For its worth, would have been viewed very differently.

Check out my previous post about people’s relationship with their things in history. I twitter about how acutely different our reality is from those people of the past, as regards to our stuff. It makes you think a little differently about why and how we value what we own.

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When I lay my head down on my pillow tonight, and snuggle up beneath the soft sheets and blankets, I’ll be taking a moment to remember how very rich I am, for once upon a time, these items were considered the greatest of luxuries. Even to sell them during hard times, might have delivered me and put food on the table, when I needed it the most. I may not live in the tempestuous times of the Renaissance, but for all the comfort these items give me today, I value them still…even if they’ll only give me a penny for resale!

The Queen is Coming!

Have you heard? The Queen is coming to Bristol! Make haste the preparations! The Queen is coming! The Queen is coming!

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The 2016 Bristol Renaissance Faire season is fast approaching, and Lita (artist) and I (author) are incredibly excited to share our works in our tented shop on King’s Landing! The faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin is such a magical place, and we’ve been working hard to prepare a selection of her art and my books, to add to the enchanting atmosphere. Opening day is Saturday, July 9th!

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As my first wave of books have started to arrive, I’ve both good nerves and the biggest of smiles! I just can’t wait to share my adventures, and hope that my children’s books especially, will make joyful take-home tokens of a day spent at the renaissance festival, where history, merriment and enchanting creatures abound!

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A Festival Day In Bristol is the apple of my eye, and a wink to the Bristol Renaissance Faire. At the B.R.F, they recreate Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the port city of Bristol, England in 1574. This was a visit that truly took place, on one of the Queen’s summer progresses. In writing A Festival Day In Bristol, I wanted to create a story around what it might have been like to be a child visiting Bristol on the day of her arrival in 1574.

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The story is a tale woven around real details from that historic day, and the child in the story even meets the Queen, which would have been the most exciting thing in the world. Children at the B.R.F. get the same opportunity. Albeit an actress portraying Queen Elizabeth, it can be a moving and dazzling experience! I know, when I visited the faire as a little one, I almost fell over when I met Queen Elizabeth! Here’s hoping we’ll see you there!

A Magical Kingdom is Here!

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It’s summer vacation and Lizzy is eager to take a trip to visit her grandparents at their beautiful home in the countryside where all kinds of fun can be had!

One morning, Lizzy’s grandma offers her an exciting book to read. Hopping on her bike with the book and a picnic lunch, she settles down by a beautiful pond to begin reading the adventure.

After reading the first lines of the book, things are not as they should be. The pond is now a vast lake, and in the middle of it sits a magnificent castle! There’s also an oddly dressed woman who’s come looking for her. She looks like she’s just stepped out of the Renaissance! Her name is Milda, and she beckons ‘Princess Lizbeth’ to hurry, for she is expected at the castle.

Join Lizzy as she travels back in time to a magical kingdom and becomes a princess for a day! 

Available here on Amazon! Also available on Amazon Europe!

A Very Special Announcement

Hello dear friends! I have a very special announcement! Stop into my hobbit house while I tell you a tale…

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Once upon a time, there was an Author and an Artist who loved to weave tales of magic and mystery with their words and with enchanting images upon paper and canvas…

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Every summer, they hopped in their carriage and rode off to the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin where a magical festival was always to be found, and where many amazing merchants dazzled the merrymakers with their incredible crafts. The Author and Artist were inspired, hoping that one day they too might share their books, crafts and art, on a delightful festival day in Bristol…

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In the meanwhile, the Author and Artist went on a great many adventures and wrote down the tales and drew the characters that they met along the way. There were dragons and fairies, elves and queens, princesses and enchanted forests, will-o’-the-wisps, knights and mermaids too! They soon had a delightful collection to share…

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With that, I am incredibly excited to announce that the works of this Author and Artist, Michelle and Lita, will be a part of the 2016 Bristol Renaissance Faire market place! Weekends only, July 9th through Labor Day Monday, September 5th!

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You’ll find our magical tented shop on King’s Landing (look for this lane on the faire map…it’s close to the front gate), where we hope to bring joy to readers and amuse all with whimsical art and other delights! We can’t wait to see you there! More updates to come, please share the news!

Queen of the Elves Is Here!

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Clois has always lived a happy and peaceful life at her family’s field cottage surrounded by nature. Her father is a beekeeper and her mother collects wildflowers to sell in the village. Their garden is magnificent too, filled with wonderful things to eat.

Today is Clois’s birthday and she is looking forward to celebrating with her parents and friends. But as she wakes, she finds that the day isn’t starting out how she expected it to. Her parents are nowhere to be found, there is a curious raven in the garden, and she’s not alone. Elves have come to bring her to Crest Castle where sits the throne of an elfish kingdom. As if that were not surprising enough, they claim that Clois is their queen!

Join Clois as she reunites with her family, discovers the truth about her identity, and defends Crest Castle against terrible dragon-riding ogres, all on her first day as Queen of the Elves!

Now available here on Amazon! Enjoy the adventure!

Queen of the Elves

It’s almost here! One harrowing adventure for Queen Cloisinia and her kingdom of elves!

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Clois has always lived a happy and peaceful life at her family’s field cottage surrounded by nature. Her father is a beekeeper and her mother collects wildflowers to sell in the village. Their garden is magnificent too, filled with wonderful things to eat.

Today is Clois’s birthday and she is looking forward to celebrating with her parents and friends. But as she wakes, she finds that the day isn’t starting out how she expected it to. Her parents are nowhere to be found, there is a curious raven in the garden, and she’s not alone. Elves have come to bring her to Crest Castle where sits the throne of an elfish kingdom. As if that were not surprising enough, they claim that Clois is their queen!

Join Clois as she reunites with her family, discovers the truth about her identity, and defends Crest Castle against terrible dragon-riding ogres, all on her first day as Queen of the Elves!

Brainy Ravens

I’ve always joked that I love cats so much that I was destined to become a crazy-old-cat-lady. However, today I’ve had a change of heart. As much as I love cats, I think I might give being a crazy-old-raven-lady a try instead…

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In my next children’s book, Queen of the Elves, Queen Cloisinia has a pet raven. A pretty cool pet for an Elf Queen, and a lot of fun for this author too! I love nature, and I love looking things up. My first question was, isn’t a raven simply a big crow who signals imminent doom?

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Edgar Allan Poe had it all wrong…Raven Fun Facts!

Ravens are incredibly intelligent. “Ha-Ha you silly chimpanzees! Let’s duel with an IQ test!” Yes, ravens are smart, smart as monkeys.

They can problem solve. “Ha-Ha you silly scientist! Thought I couldn’t get this cheesy morsel out of your complicated mechanism? I’m a raven. Your games are no match for me!”

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They communicate like us. “Hey friend, look over there!” (They point things out to their companions using their beaks and get each other’s attention by picking things up to show one another, and they can replicate human speech as well as a ton of other random noises that the world throws their way).

They play dead (like opossums) next to their meals so that other hungry birds will stay away. “Hey dude, don’t go near that roadkill, there’s a dead raven, could mean trouble for us.”

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They’re handsome. Ok…I made that up, but look how beautiful that bird is!

They’re tricksters (they mimic the sounds of other beasts, like wolves, around dead prey. Why? So that a real wolf will come by and rip open the meat of the raven’s find, making it easier for him to pick at. I know, gross…but clever nonetheless.)

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Ravens are amazing birds! They play (click here)! They are funny (click here)! They are special (click here)! And listen to these vocals (click here)!

These are just a few of the reasons ravens are so interesting, and clearly why they’ve been kept as beloved pets as well. I think my Queen of the Elves got it right to keep a raven by her side, they’re fascinating!

Pearl Earrings Giveaway Part III.

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First an excerpt from Veleno…a terrible tale, soon to come!

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Standing before her, he held out a large mollusk, far more generous in size than the ones they regularly ate. It was a fine catch, a basket of those would fetch an excellent price, especially on a feast day when the noble houses were entertaining guests and wanted to impress. Pulling a sharp knife from his belt, he sliced between the shells and carefully pried the animal open, discarding the top of the creature’s case to a table. Skilled, he swiftly cut beneath the meat and detached its membrane to make it easier to consume. He smiled once more and carefully handed over the plump, briny offering. Mafalda was embarrassed, the oyster was rather big and she felt hesitant to swallow it before Baldovino. Oysters were said to cause passions in the eaters; she was certain he knew that. As well he stood closely enough that she swore she could feel the heat radiating from his body, though it could have just been the kitchen blaze. He watched her expectantly, almost eagerly, standing tall enough to look over her. She wanted to move away, but only far enough so that she could spy on this man unnoticed; he was very desirable. He wiped the knife in his alternate hand upon a rag hanging at his hip and slipped it back into his belt.

Tentatively accepting the halved shell, the size of which completely engulfed her hand, she looked meekly up at Baldovino and then slowly brought the shell closer to her lips. Just as she was about to tilt the creature’s vessel up to slide the oyster into her mouth, he whispered for her to wait. She paused short and her eyes grew large. She began to blush. Why had he stopped her? She didn’t want to prolong this. Martinella would be back soon, or Tonia might catch an eyeful of the two and Mafalda felt that the man was standing too close, too familiarly. Carefully taking back the shell from her, he again pulled out his knife and scrapped gingerly at the flesh, quickly exposing a large and glistening white orb. It was a pearl, a very large pearl.

Today’s the day, the day for a pearl earrings giveaway! As you know, I’m nuts about pearls! Renaissance Venetians were too, such as the noble lady Mafalda in my soon to come Veleno…one terrible tale! You can check out Inspired by Venice‘s past pearl giveaways here and here.

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These delightful fresh water pearls are drop shaped, and white-yellow-peach depending on the light. Dainty and so lovely! These sweet earrings are by Brenda Duncan of The Black Pearl, purchased at the Bristol Renaissance Faire!

To enter the giveaway, get your imaginations brewing and write a sentence or two to describe what happened next after the pearl was discovered in Veleno‘s excerpt above. Write it in the comments! Does Mafalda gasp and greedily snatch the pearl right out of the oyster? Does Baldovino get called away, leaving the gift on the table for her to discretely take? Does she tell him she prefers diamonds? Does a kitchen maid accidentally spill something on them both, tripping as she walks by, and they all laugh? Be funny, or romantic (keep it classy), silly or serious…it’s for fun!

I’ll choose a winner at random from the entries, one week from today (on Monday, March 7th, 2016 at 9:00am Chicago time) and will announce the winner here! Please share news of the giveaway; the more fun entries there are, the merrier for all!

Here’s to smiles and laughs, good stories, and pearls of happiness in each and every day! Enjoy your adventure today!

Picking up my pen…

My favorite place to start the day…

“There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.”
― Beatrix Potter

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“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
― Louis L’Amour

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
― W. Somerset Maugham

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
― Stephen King

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
― Anne Frank

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”
― William Wordsworth

“A well-composed book is a magic carpet on which we are wafted to a world that we cannot enter in any other way.”
― Caroline Gordon

Whether on of off the page, here’s wishing you’ll enjoy the adventure today!

Get Lost With The Littles!

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

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

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

Available here on Amazon! Enjoy the adventure!

What was that?

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

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

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

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Coming soon!

Love For Books

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

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

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

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

All Good Things!

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

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

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

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

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

Fill My Heart With Gladness

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

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I’m again reminded why I write.

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

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

Soon to be released! The Fairy Woods!

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

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

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

Look It Up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware The Fairies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Costumer, The Artist, The Inspiration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Dragons

The Book of Dragons is here! The adventure is yours…but beware of the red dragon!

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

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

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

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

The Book of Dragons is available here! Also available on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

The Itty Bitty Littles

Hello delicate dandelion…

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Soft, quiet, beautiful…swaying in the wind in a warm grassy field…

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But wait! What just bumped into you and disturbed your little seedlings?

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Who’s there? I think I hear tiny footsteps crunching through the grass…

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Oh my! An itty bitty little! What a pleasure to meet you!

Coming soon, teeny-tiny friends on a big adventure!

A Thoughtful Gift

It is the season for cheer and goodwill, a season for family, friends and thoughtful gifting to all those we care about!

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As a writer who loves a good adventure, I am always pleased to be gifted with a book. Books allow us to use our imagination and travel far from where we live, they often provide hours of inspiration long after they are given, and are (usually) stress-relieving, intellectual and a pleasure!

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And so this holiday, I humbly recommend the gift of Venice for a lady in your life, whether sister or daughter, grandma or mother, best friend or colleague or neighbor. This delightful trip to the beautiful city of Venice, Italy, through its interactive choose-your-own-adventure style (you choose what you will see and do in the book by making selections at the end of each chapter), will be a treat for any reader and lover of adventure and travel!

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And for the young ladies in your life, please consider A Festival Day in Bristol and Princess Liliana and the Dragon! These tales are light history for some learning fun, contain positive moral themes and are entertaining!

Thank you for all of your support! My books are written with a passion to inspire, entertain and enlighten, and I hope that you will enjoy them. Here’s wishing you a bright and peaceful holiday season with all those you love!

Available Now! A Festival Day in Bristol!

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

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

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

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

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

Taking Inventory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle’s Inventory:

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

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

1 pink toothbrush, used.

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

1 pair brown leather boots, new.

3 decorative cheese plates, chipped.

6 copies of Venice, new.

1 wooden writing desk chair, broken legs.

Tiddo’s (the cat) Inventory:

1 catnip stuffed mouse toy, used.

2 grey cat boxes, used.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming Soon! A Festival Day In Bristol!

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

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

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

Private Lives In Renaissance Venice by Patricia Fortini Brown

If you are passionate about history like I am, then you may find yourself sometimes saying, “Yes, I see the dates and facts of what happened…but what was it really like to be there?”

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Since we can’t go back to experience history for ourselves, we can’t really know what it felt like, looked like, smelled like. The next best thing (besides historical reenactments, which I adore) is to review thoughtful compilation books, like Patricia Fortini Brown’s Private Lives in Renaissance Venice.

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Within the pages of this monumental work are a review of dozens and dozens of paintings from the 16th century, as well as photographs of objects in museums and private collections that belonged to that period. Along with these images, the author weaves together an amazing historic illustration of what items were used for, the meanings behind intricate décor, an understanding of the architecture, what dress styles signified, and how Venetians in the Renaissance interacted with their environment. This book offers so much unique insight (with a strong focal point on the noble elite) that you can for a moment, truly visualize what it might have been like to be in the room, in that gondola or at that celebration.

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What is also very special about this work, are the areas where Brown points out the differences between this particular culture and other cultures from that time. For instance, I was fascinated to read within her book, that it was the noble Venetian men who did the grocery shopping (as Venetian men prided themselves on the savvy merchant qualities of their sex in that city and felt they knew best how to identify value in goods). And further, at receptions within a noble home that included visitors, the luxury you saw with your eyes was more important than what luxuries were on the menu. This meant, looking at the finery and decoration around the room took precedence over a table filled with food (unlike most every other city in Europe where banqueting meant gross overeating). I love you Venice, but I’m not sure I’m on your side with this one. This gal needs to eat!

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If you have an interest in Venice’s history, and-or of the Renaissance, I highly recommend adding this exemplary and artful book to your collection. This work, paired with a little imagination, and you’ll feel transported in time!

Excerpt From Veleno…Coming soon!

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“This is no plague m’lady. I’ve seen that devil run through a house.” The old woman paused and made the sign of the cross over herself. “Your youngest has been poisoned. Do you see her eyes, as large and black as ripe grapes.” Martinella scrunched her brows together until they looked like one line. “The lady Noemi found an assassin berry just before m’lord left for Treviso, in the house. I threw it in the lagoon. I imagine more found their way through the door. We best put her to bed madam, and see if she wakes in the morning.”

Mirella motioned to the second man, who immediately swooped in and picked up the little mite as if she were a piece of parchment. Paola clasped her arms around his thick neck and laid her head on his brawny shoulder. So this is what it feels like to sway in the branches of an oak, she thought. She’d normally have been mortified to be in the arms of a strange man, the arms of any man, but this was comforting. As the poison like a dagger slashed into her stomach, she cried out into the ruffled collar of his linen shirt. She’d never felt a pain like that before. The man held her more tightly as he carried her down the hall. Too agonized to push off the onset of another faint, the last thing she remembered was the smell of leather and wood smoke from off of the stranger’s doublet.

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Forbidden Fashions by Isabella Campagnol

A woman’s clothing, how she adorns herself, the makeup she wears, and her hairstyle…these things eternally hold very deep symbolism all the world over. It is often something that is controlled for the sake of modesty, honor and religious piety. What women wear, how they look, is the world’s obsession. It communicates whether she is of means or no, what she thinks about herself, what she wants others to think about her. It speaks of her personality and her beliefs. It speaks of a great many things.

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Isabella Campagnol offers us an incredible front row seat into what clothing and adornments meant for women in Venetian nunneries in her invaluable scholarly work: Forbidden Fashions: Invisible Luxuries in Early Venetian Convents.

Venice (as with all of Europe) placed ladies into nunneries for centuries. You can read about it in my book Venice, as well as my other posts (Virgins in Venice by Mary Laven and Naughty Nunnery Parlors). Noble parents might have birthed 7 noble daughters, but inflated dowries meant only one, perhaps two of them could make an excellent match. The rest went into enclosure…forced, beaten, tricked, guilted into going. Yes, of course some went willingly and wanted this pious life. But most didn’t. Being a very young woman sent into a nunnery, to spend the rest of your life there completely closed off from the world, was a horrifying fate for many. And nothing could stop them from having worldly desires.

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As we see in Campagnol’s book, just because you’ve lost your worldly freedom doesn’t mean you’re going to follow the rules; Venice’s noblewomen broke them, again and again and again. From curling and showing ones tresses when they were to keep their hair completely covered, to transparent fabrics where solid ones should be, to hiding, coveting and wearing gems and adornments when these items were forbidden, to smuggling in or making and wearing every sort of item out of luxurious fabrics that were not allowed. Noble nuns even found ways to dye their hair in secret, wore makeup and furs. They wanted beauty, individuality, status, comforts, and freedom. Despite confiscations, punishments and shunning, the enclosed women pushed back.

Campagnol also shows us another side to the equation…a great many women who being disposed of, were left destitute of their basic clothing and linen needs. Once having lived in a comfortable world, they were now forgotten and left to suffer without a great many items, their urgent letters and requests falling on deaf family ears.

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Campagnol’s book is an eye-opening treasure. Undressing countless archives for the fashion facts, she gives us a glimpse into the sometimes dazzling yet often cruel world that many women experienced behind the veil.

Why I love to write

There are of course, many reasons why I love to write. Primarily because storytelling makes me happy! It is so fun! It’s challenging! I’m allowed to make up really wild scenarios, fairy tales, and thrilling moments that usually don’t happen in real life and run with them! The characters are my puppets…Bwah-Ha-Ha! I can get lost in my own worlds! But do you know what is really, really, really special and makes all the hard parts about trying to write books worth it?

 

The readers! This is my cousin Macy, to whom my new children’s book Princess Liliana and the Dragon is dedicated. She enjoyed the first chapter last night. Her mom said she loved it! She brought her copy to kindergarten today to share with her friends.

I melt, I smile, I jump for joy, I’m filled with happiness! What could be better in all the world than to be able to share all those things that come from my imagination, with you…the reader!

VELENO…Coming Soon!

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In 1576, the Black Death knocked on every door in Venice, Italy and took with it, the lives of fifty thousand…just less than the entire population of Venice today.

But for those who lived in the House of Orso, the plague wasn’t the only predator. Veleno…a terrible tale, even for those who aren’t afraid of the dark…

Princess Liliana and the Dragon available now!

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The Kingdom of Heart is a peaceful place. That’s where Princess Liliana and her friends from the village of Tumble Down live! And when she isn’t horseback riding or taking lessons to learn how to be a great queen when she grows up, she loves to read. That’s how she learned about the magical creatures that once lived in the Forest of Fog, so very close to the castle!

Visiting the woods herself, Liliana is surprised to find that an enchanting dragon is still living within the realm! But before she can share the wonderful news, her happy discovery turns to sadness. Her new friend is in trouble. But how can she help him?

Join Princess Liliana as she finds a way to save her forest friend and teach the realm what it means to be brave and kind in the Kingdom of Heart.

Available here and on Amazon!

Halloween Treats For All

It is the start of October and the leaves are just beginning to turn colors here in northern Illinois. Fall is my season! I love those chilly nights when you grab that extra blanket out of the closet, those first cozy uses of the fireplace, the campfires, warming recipes in the crockpot, and of course Halloween! And, what better than a good book to read as the days get shorter, cooler and that spooky holiday nears?

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I’m inspired by interactive fiction. That is why my book Venice allows the reader to decide at the end of each chapter, what they will see and do next (read more here). So what will I be reading as All Hallows’ Eve approaches? Death By Halloween by David Warkentin. This is “an adventure you choose”, just like Venice. However, I must warn you, this book is for mature readers (adults). It’s crreeeeppppy. I’ve read a few of the paths already and I got super nervous every time I had to turn a page (which is hilarious because I was sitting on the beach on a sunny day). I got goose bumps…and grossed out too (just depends on what route you select). In a way, I feel like Warkentin’s book is a gift to adults who have forgotten just how fun Halloween was when they were a kid. It allows you to get into the spirit once more!

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Now, as I said, I wouldn’t recommend the book above for the wee folk. But they need some interactive fiction fun too! I suggest ordering some vintage Choose Your Own Adventure books, such as The Mystery of Chimney Rock by Edward Packard…or embrace the season with Spooky Thanksgiving by R.A. Montgomery.

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And if they are really little, I suggest Jack Prelutsky’s It’s Halloween. Oh, memories! I had this book on tape cassette when I was knee-high to a grasshopper and still have it memorized in my Halloween loving, wacky brain. Listen to it here.

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Back to adult reads, if you like art as well…may I suggest the illustrated book The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey? He is my favorite artist and just about the creepiest storyteller and illustrator. When I was a little girl, I used to watch a program called Mystery with my grandmother. She’d pop homemade popcorn in the skillet and had a hidden stash of Squirt and grape Crush at the back of the closet that we’d pour over ice (a rare treat). And oh, my, goodness…I was entranced by the opening introduction for the program by Edward Gorey. You must watch them (here & here). For years, I’ve sent Edward Gorey holiday cards to my friends and family…because nothing says Christmas cheer like a creepy Gorey sketch.

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But if you’ve got the time for a longer classic, I’d say go for Bram Stroker’s Dracula. I’m nuts for Francis Ford Coppola’s movie version. However, the book is a little different from that adaptation and mesmerizingly written. Published in 1847, it was ahead of its time, a truly innovative and terrifying read.

Naughty Nunnery Parlors

Below, Pietro Longhi’s The Visiting Parlour in the Convent.

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Do you know what Veronese means? It means you hale from Verona, much like Venetians come from Venice. Just as I am an Evanstonian living in Evanston! I’m a sucker for these little worldly details. What are folks from your town called? Share it in the comments!

Giuseppe de Gobbis was a Veronese painter who spent some time in Venice between 1772 & 1783. Some find his works reminiscent of Pietro Longhi (see previous post here). View this work by Giuseppe: A music party in the interior of a Palazzo. This painting is so rich with details about Venice’s late 18th century. See the caged canary hanging from the ceiling, the spectacular capturing of the clothing, the gold mountings below the large mirror, that couple carrying on a rendezvous behind the gentleman’s tricorne hat? Where’s my magnifying glass?

With a chapter written in my book Venice about the enclosure of noble ladies in the nunneries over the centuries, and my applause for Virgins in Venice by Mary Laven, and also having read Casanova’s retelling of his visits to nunnery parlors in his memoirs, I am also intrigued by this painting by Giuseppe de Gobbis: Parlatorio delle Monache (The Parlor of the Nuns).

Comparing the two, I think many may find it ironic that both of the paintings seem so festive (one without the nunnery, one within). How so, when nunneries were a place of enclosure and pious, careful behavior? True to history, I think it really depended on the decade and the nunnery itself. Some Venetian nunneries closed in the ladies so rigorously, that they would brick off even the slightest view a nun may get of street life. And it was also in those places that you would only be allowed a visit from a proven female relative, say your mother, with still an extreme partition between you both, and a devout nun would be keeping watch. A little too much gossip and giggles and you might be chastised! Ugh!

But then, we also find many accounts of scenes like Longhi’s above, and Giuseppe’s. Perhaps the later 18th century was more lax, but again, it depended on the nunnery. There are plenty of accounts where rules were bent. Say, on festival days when your whole family would come (men and women) and you’d share good food between far less oppressive grates. Musicians would be hired to keep the nuns merry. Games would be played. Only, it was at such times where one nun may begin flirting with another nun’s visitor (say a brother), and then the intrigue and sneaky behavior and passing of secret letters began…perhaps even an exchange of a kiss between those grates. You get the picture, laxity got a bad wrap and allowed for naughty behavior. Casanova knew this, and took advantage. Certainly, this type of romance had serious challenges, but that made it more interesting for a man like him, and plenty of others. We’ve got the written proof.

This week, I’m going to share another one of my favorite books…Forbidden Fashions: Invisible Luxuries in Early Venetian Convents by Isabella Campagnol. Her excellent research in this particular history proves not only enclosed nuns’ need for independence, personality and beautiful things, but also something to grab attention…say on that festival day in the nunnery parlor!

Birdie Buffet! Chirp, chirp!

It’s a lovely day here in Evanston and the cool fall weather we had a taste of several weeks ago has returned. Last night, we lit the fireplace and it was divine! I may have eaten an entire pizza while mesmerized before it, toasting my toes. This afternoon, I must take a long walk (darn you pizza) to soak in the outdoors since the snow will likely be here tomorrow (I’m only sort of kidding).

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We are very fortunate to live around a lot of green and trees. I’m a big fan of nature and wildlife, so I feel quite at home in my yard…except two nights ago when that skunk waddled through and the windows were open. I like to do a lot of writing on the porch. Studies show that getting outside does a world of good for your health in all sorts of ways, including making you a happier you.

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One of the things that make me smile and sing like a lark (tee-hee) are the birds in my yard! Now, I’m not sure, but I think living just a few blocks from Lake Michigan may have something to do with this; I believe we’re on some migratory route for birds. Most weeks, it’s just your usual Sparrows, Cardinals and Blackbirds. But then, on what seems like a single morning, the entire bird world descends on our yard and we see a lot of species we usually wouldn’t. It becomes rather chatty out there! Especially when the bird feeders are filled. Birdie buffet! Then a few days later, back to normal.

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Like this Indigo Bunting and his friend, a Red-Breasted Grosbeak.

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And this Goldfinch.

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Anyone know what this guy is? A Black-Headed Grosbeak or an Orange Oriole?

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I call this dude Helmet Head because I don’t know what he is, but he looks like he’s wearing a football helmet.

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And these two Woodpeckers that were searching for their meal on the same tree. My favorites are the Wrens and the Nuthatches…I just like how they flit around and walk upside down on the trees!

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My mother lent me her copy of Birds of North America by Robbins, Bruun, Zim & Singer, which I always keep nearby. It’s a lot of fun identifying our little guests!

Virgins in Venice by Mary Laven

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Above, Saint Catherine Receives the Stigmata by Plautilla Nelli (1524-1588). Painter Plautilla Nelli was a Renaissance nun in Florence who came from a wealthy merchant family. She was enclosed together with her sister in the Santa Caterina da Siena convent. She taught herself how to paint while living in the nunnery. She is the first female painter in Florence to be documented during the Renaissance.

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As promised, another book that delves into a particular detail of Venetian history, specifically Renaissance, is Virgins of Venice: Broken Vows and Cloistered Lives in the Renaissance Convent by Mary Laven. Fascinating! I read it twice in a row, and used a highlighter to mark half the book, and I’m not even a student. Yes, I’m a nerd. Nerdy for Venice! This work inspired a chapter in my book Venice; I had to write about this part of Venetian women’s history.

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In a nutshell, for hundreds of years in Venice (and all over Europe), women were forced into nunneries. Specifically here: noble born ladies. The rich and powerful families wouldn’t marry all the daughters they had. If they did, all their wealth would become watered-down within a generation or two. Instead, they’d marry one daughter, sometimes two. For the rest, to the nunneries they went. Marriages were about money, power, politics…usually everything but love. So for those gals who were married, they may not have had a grand time of it either, being wed to men not of their choosing. However, they were at the very least free from the convent.

Now of course, some ladies chose a pious, cloistered life. However in Venice, evidence leans toward the conclusion that most were threatened, forced and tricked into going. Imagine being a very young girl, entering a nunnery one day, and never going out again. Living within for a lifetime while the world forgot about you…just like prison. Yes, this book retells a history that will make you very sad.

Ms. Laven’s extensive research gives us insight into just what that may have been like. We are able to see what this enclosed life would have been, from the moment these ladies entered the nunnery, to the people and surroundings within, the rules, the schedules, the activities, the arguments, the deceit, the rations, the regulations for visits, the rule-breakers…the escapees. Oh man, oh man, oh man! Or should I say oh lady! Shut away women against their wills and they will find a way to aggress it, to continue reaching for life, love, dignity and freedom. Read this book and you’ll see why history will ever be more moving than fiction!

Marriage Wars in Late Renaissance Venice by Joanne Ferraro

For my book Venice and a new novel I’m currently working on (which takes place in Venice, Treviso and Padua), reading a lot about the city’s history has been an important part of the research. But let’s be real, it’s hardly work when it’s just so fascinating! And though there is a lot to gain from general history books, I find that the more detailed works really help you understand the times and places one wants to learn about. There are a number of such books about Venice that I’m nuts about and have read multiple times. I’ll be sure to share them all with you!

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Today’s book is Marriage Wars in Late Renaissance Venice by Joanne Ferraro. This one is a priceless gem!

The last thing Ferraro’s book is, is a dry account of marriage unions in Renaissance Venice. Her research shares detailed insight into women’s rights, property & ownership, legalities & politics, arranged unions & contracts, courtesans, infidelity, wedding dowries, domestic abuse, prostitution, and sex. What makes this work particularly moving is that it isn’t just a general description of the times and practices, but rather, it calls upon a lot of direct quotes and written accounts from the people who lived it and those legal institutions who documented and passed judgment on these marriage disputes.

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Now, this book doesn’t really give a whole lot of insight into happy unions. It’s really about what the title suggests, marriage wars. I’m not certain that things have changed much over the centuries as countless marriages end poorly today, and sometimes over similar problems that Renaissance Venetians encountered. However, as I read this compilation of marriage stories, I grimaced continually and held my breath for the outcomes of each individual dispute (some of which are lost to history, argh!). Forget gossip magazines and reality tv, read this book instead for your dose of marriage intrigue and history!

Further, Ferraro is a seriously professional writer. If I’d recounted these tales on paper, I’m not sure that I’d have been able to help but to make more direct judgments of those parties involved. However, she keeps an open mind and an eloquent pen as she recounts these folks’ situations, delicate with assumptions and name-calling. You’re a better person than I, Ms. Ferraro, and an awe worthy, even-handed teller of history.

Joanne Ferraro also wrote Venice: A History of the Floating CityNefarious Crimes, Contested Justice, Illicit Sex and Infanticide in the Republic of Venice, 1557-1789…and Family and Public Life in Brescia, 1580-1650: The Foundations of power in the Venetian State. I’m cutting off the Netflix…these books are all the entertainment I need!

Spiders In My Mailbox

I live just a few blocks from beautiful Lake Michigan. I can spend an entire summer afternoon in the sand with my lawn chair and a book; the sound of the waves is soothing. Our beach has some grassy dunes and is surrounded by beautiful trees. Some days, the waves are so large you think you’re at the ocean. Just at the end of August, thousands of enormous dragonflies fly over the sand and just over the water. I need to capture that somehow, it’s so beautiful.

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Now, I grew up around green and I know bugs. More than that, I love bugs. I really, really do. I don’t know where I got it, but I notice the tiniest movements and will go to inspect. I have seen the coolest bugs over the years! One of my favorite college classes was Natural Field Science at McHenry County College. We spent a summer traipsing about fields and woods. It was a small class, maybe 8 students. Once, we all got lost in a state park, in tall grassy fields that went on and on, under the scorching sun, in what seemed to be 100 degree weather. We really suffered that day, we were lucky no one got sun sickness. It was kind of scary. This was before cell phones with maps. Ah, memories!

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During that class, we each had to make a collection of bugs (here is my box below). I enjoyed catching and studying them, but I am still sad that I killed some of those little guys (except that one that stung me). See, I think bugs are pretty cool and I don’t like to smush them. I always catch them and let them outside. It can be time consuming, but I think it’s good karma.

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And though I’m not usually bugged (tee-hee), I’ve got spiders in my mailbox and they’re being pests (tee-hee-hee). I have spiders all over the front of my house from early spring to late fall and these aren’t the same ones I grew up with, like Banana Spiders (actually called black and yellow garden spiders), Wolf Spiders, Daddy Long Legs, Jumping Spiders, etc. I’ve got Funnel Weavers, tons of them, big ones! They are also known as Grass Spiders and though I’m sure they are common all over, this is the first time I’ve ever noticed them. My hunch has been that they are grassy lakeside dwellers, but who knows. They build some pretty cool cone-like webs where they sit in wait for prey. The webs are also strong! And they like to make them in my mailbox.

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The mailbox just had a wash yesterday, and yet, as I put my hand into the box just now, I was a little surprised at the strength of a thick web that attached and tugged at my hand (this is all that was left after). A small mouse would have had a hard time getting out of that thing.

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And here is the culprit…he moved in last night and quickly went to work on his web. He’s really big and really fast. The front of the house is regularly crawling with these guys. My boyfriend came home one evening and pulled a large bottle of peppermint oil out of the grocery bag. I puzzled at what we needed it for. Minty cupcake frosting? Minty brownies? Minty lattes? Christmas in July? The spiders…he said. I thought that was a pretty clever idea and I’ve sprayed it liberally. The front of the house sometimes smells like candy canes. Only, it isn’t working. They are super spiders! But the minty scent is nice.

Ah well. I don’t have the heart to squish them. As long as they don’t bite me. This is why my neighbors see me once a week standing on a stool and fishing around in my mailbox like a weirdo for twenty minutes…I help the little dudes out without squishing them. You should have seen the mama spider three weeks ago who had baby spiders covering her back. I tried to delicately remove her and the baby spiders ran everywhere. That was different. Good karma, remember? I also don’t want the mail lady to stop delivering our mail.

I like this spider site (just for Illinois spiders). And my favorite reference bug book is Insects Spiders and other Terrestrial Arthropods by George McGavin. The photos are excellent, you can really identify what you’ve got.

Daily Life in Venice at the time of Casanova by Maurice Andrieux

I love getting lost in a book. Lately, I’ve several times been reminded that to be a good writer, you must read a lot. I better keep with it! I’ve always wanted a room that was entirely dedicated to books, my own library. It would have a fireplace with a big chair before it, Edward Gorey sketches hanging crookedly here and there, and my cat. But, I wouldn’t smoke a pipe. I’m allergic. I wish there was enough time for all those books I want to read. And while I occasionally tackle lengthy, in-depth works of history, isn’t it just refreshing to have an approachable book that is as insightful as ever without crushing your lap with its 1,000 pages? In a conversation yesterday, the notion that it can be even harder to craft shorter messages than long ones came up. And I think that is often true, to be short and sweet as they say, takes work.

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When speaking of books that recap Venice’s history, for me, the best I’ve read so far for keeping it succinct is French writer Maurice Andrieux’s Daily Life in Venice at the time of Casanova (1969). If you are interested in getting your dose of Venetian history without committing to reading a large work, this one is as precise as ever. His chapters are so simply organized: SocietyLife, Manners and CustomsLove and WomenReligionArtistic and Intellectual Life…etc. The writing is so clean and digestible that even his coverage of the political climate during the 18th century (chapters I usually have to get my thinking cap on for) feels like a walk in the park. Further, his descriptions of life have a sense of humanity in them, not overly verbose or dryly factual, you feel connected to the Venetians he’s writing about.

Born in 1892, Andrieux has since passed on, but his book remains as fresh and appreciated as ever. He also wrote Daily Life in Papal Rome in the Eighteenth Century and two other Italian histories (of the Medici family and Sicily, though I don’t believe they have been translated to English). Je vous remercie pour vos livres M. Andrieux!

Barcarole of the Venetian Gondolier

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Do you know what a barcarole is? It is a traditional song that a Venetian gondolier would sing. The songs are sung in the Venetian language (not Italian) and sound much like opera, they flow with the oaring of the gondolier. Folk music meets opera; it’s lovely. Listen to the song “Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour”. This barcarole is from Jacques Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffmann. You’ve probably heard it before. Now imagine you’re lounging in a gondola and floating through Venice…serenity!

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I was sitting in the boat above. There was a gondola traffic jam…without the exhaust fumes, or road rage.

Now, these barcarole are based on traditional songs, not always what you’ll hear sung by gondoliers in Venezia today. As I describe in my book Venice, gondoliers get all kinds of requests for Italian songs that aren’t traditionally Venetian, and they aren’t happy about it. They often feel pressured to sing what is requested, because you’re paying for the ride. So if you want to keep things traditional and you’re inclined to request a gondolier sing for your float along the canals, be sure to ask for a Venetian barcarole!

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There is a lovely little book by Donna Leon, Gondola. It also comes with a CD of Venetian barcarole! I’ve played it over and over! Ms. Leon has designed a very special compilation of Venetian paintings filled with canal scenes overflowing with gondolas and snapshots of historic daily life, as well as short chapters to compliment, which give you insight into all things gondola. This book is a treasure!

The Politics Of Washing: Real Life In Venice by Polly Coles

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I’m currently reading The Politics of Washing: Real Life in Venice by Polly Coles and enjoying every word! The book is Ms. Coles’ memoir of a move to Venice from England with her husband (who is Italian) and her kids (four of them). Though I initially expected a hilarious romp of an adventure, the author has a way of making the comic (of which there is plenty) understated and poetic, while describing the rougher realities of living in Venice, in a hauntingly beautiful way. It is a rich read, sharing her experiences around the school system, tourism, the seasonal acqua alta flooding, holidays, her interactions with the locals, and how the ancient architecture is (or isn’t) fitting in with a modernizing city. Reading it, I’m perpetually excited and sad, moved by Coles’ descriptions of that glorious city and its history while still nervous for how Venice is and will adapt to current threats (architectural destruction, flooding and the vise hold of the tourist industry). I heartily recommend this read. Coles keeps even the gloomiest observations playful, shares insight into a strangely aquatic daily life and provides an elegantly written memoir.

Venetian Artist Pietro Longhi

Much of my book Venice illustrates events, people and lifestyles from the 18th century. As the novel centers on a visit to present-day Venice during the Carnevale, where costumes and masks from the 18th century would be seen in abundance, it was important to share histories from the 1700s. Many serious participants look like they just dropped out of the Baroque era. It’s fabulous!

I love looking at clothing from history and I love exceptional costumes that mimic those long lost styles. Whether you are interested in Venice, 18th century history, or costuming, there is an artist whose work you must peruse. Pietro Longhi, Venetian painter, 1701-1785. His works are just amazing! Pretend you scampered around Venice during the 1700s, through the calle and into people’s homes and snapped a great many photos…Longhi’s works have given us a very special glimpse into the lives of Venetians of that century and he was a prolific painter, so he covered a lot of ground. If you are in Venice, be sure to visit the Gallerie dell’Accademia to see a few of his pieces up close.

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Here above is Longhi’s The Tailor. I could spend a lot of time zooming in the view, just to get an actual understanding of the finer details. What’s on that maid’s serving tray? What is that child taunting that puppy with? How did the lady fashion her hair? Love it!

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And here, The Dancing Lesson. Look at how wide the panniers! Look how lush the sitting woman’s fur trim! Look at that man’s wig! And, imagine the music.

If you would like a compilation of all of Longhi’s paintings, I suggest finding a copy of Longhi by Terisio Pignatti. I could page through my copy all day!

Venice is here!!!

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Venice is here!!! And I can’t wait for you to read the adventure! Whether you are a lover of Venice, Italy, intrigued by interactive fiction where you choose your fate, or scenic travel and history are your interests, I sincerely hope Venice will excite and delight every one of you!

Venice is available here! Also available on Amazon!

Thank you to all of my family, friends and colleagues for your advice, energy, ideas, patience and support! This has been the most fascinating yet challenging project and I could not be more thankful for all of you! Thank you to the readers, now and in the future, of Venice and this site. It’s a privilege to share my passion for all things Venice with you. And thank you, to Venice! For your warm and inviting citizens, for your pure beauty and mystery, for your amazing history! Thank you!

A Passage From Venice…

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The scene captures the essence of something otherworldly; the cautious stir of a minuet long forgotten, clinking crystal and the warm press of a perfumed crowd, flickering light and laughter unbidden. The masks are a category of amazement all their own, artistic creations of every conceivable face type. There are thousands of shimmering sequins, scenes of night and day, animals wild and demure and many fully painted faces with long lashes, glossy lips and tears of glass. Some are half, secreting just the eyes and others are complete, disguising one’s visage entirely. There is soft velvet and shiny tin, paper mache and coarse fabric, carved wood and delicate lace. This is the house of the mask, a museum of disguise both past and present. Here are all convened: libertines and lovers, ghosts born of the dark and angels exuding the light. Walking slowly along the edge of the ballroom, your spirits high and your chest heavy with excitement, you take in the splendor of the costumes of this night. The wigs are monumental in all of their glorious fashions. Men and women alike aspiring to the heavens with their cottony bouffants adorned with garish and magical additions: tinsel, stuffed birds, miniature model ships, bows, lace, gaudy gems. Each face is powdered and vainly made up with beauty marks, arched brows, penciled lips and rosy cheeks. And, how could one begin to enumerate the dresses: haughty, desirous, glorious and bold. Some women host panniers so wide, they expand the length of six persons side by side. Yet each of these ladies continues to move in every way elegantly, to your delight. All around are tight corsets, silky ribbons, strung pearls, tall heels and beautiful stitchwork that only could be found presently. The men are refined with expertly tailored tricorne hats, calf-flaunting breeches, lacy linen shirts, cravats and brassy buttons closing up fitted vests and fashionable jackets. The sight already bursting with extravagance and every unique detail, how can you be even more delighted with each passing entertainer? There is the court jester and his beloved dog donned in a belled collar; his merry yelps bring a jingle. A trio of women garbed as glittered wood nymphs clad in ethereal wings (blue, pink and purple) tiptoe about. There are characters of every sort: a magician, a storyteller, a fire handler and a gypsy who reads palms…

You Decide Your Own Fate In Venice!

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The release of Venice is fast approaching! Venice is a decide-as-you-go historical fiction and travel novel. As the reader, you are the main character in the book and are offered choices at the end of each chapter about what you’d like to see and do in Venice, Italy during the Carnival! The book includes diverging stories and alternate endings. And though written in a woman’s voice, anyone who is interested in Venice is sure to enjoy the tour!

What inspired me to write a novel in this style? As a kid in the ‘80s, I read quite a few books from the Choose Your Own Adventure series produced by Bantam Books. This series allowed you to be quite the globetrotter! And, how awesome was it to be the main character? Reading them, I felt nervous making choices at the end of each chapter and loved to go back and see what would have happened if I had decided on a different path. I wanted to write a story like that!

I had forgotten those adventures for a time, but one day after setting out to brainstorm a novel that took place in Venice (a beloved destination), I quickly realized a single linear story wasn’t the right style to explore the city on paper, to the depth that I wanted to. How could my main character see everything I wanted her to see in Venice, she was just one lady…or was she?

I hope this style of divergent stories will inspire readers to remember how great their opportunities are right now! So many wonderful things to learn, to see, to do!

Venice was meant to peak interest in a particular place, but I hope that it also encourages readers to get curious about the history and present day situations right where you are. If you find yourself asking how that old building on Main St. got there, dig for the answers; the stories behind it may surprise, delight…or even baffle! Or if you prefer current events to history, everyday is filled with opportunities to dig deeper into the causes and communities that you care about. Whatever fascinates you; go check it out!

Lastly, my hope is that Venice excites travel! For all of those wonderful places in the world that you want to see, I hope that you get there. In the meantime, enjoy reading about them!

Stay tuned for news about Venice, as well as photos, stories and forgotten histories about the city!

What Awaits You In Venice…

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PREPARE your mistress! I must bleed her…

Even before your eyes begin to flutter open, slowly exposing you to the soft candlelight in the room, you can hear a man’s voice. His confusing words repeat several times in your mind as you begin willing yourself to come to. The room is warm, your body damp and there is a pressing thirst in your mouth, but you are not terribly uncomfortable. As you open your eyes, you start to recognize the situation which continues to be ever more bizarre. You are lying in the bed of your hotel room and it is immediately clear that you have not woken from this inexplicable situation; you appear to be living and breathing in another century. Asking for water at a whisper, you snatch the notice of the lady who caught you in a faint. Startlingly, she is standing close to the door next to the figure of a tall man with the face of a white beaked bird. If you hadn’t recognized this beastly vision, you may have been worse frightened, but it quickly registers. It is only the unmistakable mask of a Venetian doctor, who afraid of contracting a deadly pathogen wore a long beaked mask stuffed with spices and herbs in the hopes that it would prevent contagion. Having clenched the distance, the ghoulish surgeon reaches out with one hand and places it tenaciously on her arm. Though he appears to be looking directly at you from beneath his disguise, he addresses the maid by entreating her to waste no more time. The release of blood will be the only way. In that moment, you sense that he would bleed you for his evil pleasure rather than as an honest cure…