Just Where I Want To Be

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

IMG_3162

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

IMG_3165

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

IMG_3168

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

IMG_3167

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

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

I’m lovin’ your style, Newark!

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

IMG_4347

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

IMG_4342

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

IMG_4343

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

IMG_4340

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

IMG_4341

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

IMG_4348

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

IMG_4338

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

IMG_4346

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

IMG_4345

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

Insomnia Cookies

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

cookies-1387797_1280

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

IMG_4857

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

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

IMG_4858

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

cookie-1381147_1280

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

cookies-1372607_1280

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

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

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

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

IMG_3159

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…

cat-1843241_1280

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?

fish-881161_1280.jpg

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?

human-digestive-system-163714_1280

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?

abstract-1238246_1280

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.

smiley-1271125_1280

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!”

IMG_3160

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

IMG_3161

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!

cropped-littles-300dpi-3125x4167-2.jpg

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!

Littles-300dpi-3125x4167-2

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

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

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

Caprese, Caprese!

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

IMG_3138

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

IMG_3139

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

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

Hollandaise…Proceed With Caution!

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

IMG_4757

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

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

IMG_4755

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

IMG_4759

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

IMG_4760

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

IMG_4758

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

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

Don’t Eat That Ackee, Eve!

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

IMG_3069

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

IMG_3071

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

IMG_3077

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

IMG_3085

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

IMG_3057

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

IMG_3090

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

IMG_3088

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

IMG_3089

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

Akee

[Photo Credit: DocTaxon]

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

IMG_4605

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

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

IMG_4606

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

IMG_3117

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

Nature must be respected

IMG_3108

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

IMG_3107

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

Here is hoping you are enjoying your adventure today!

Date Night in NYC!

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

IMG_4355

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

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

IMG_4361

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

IMG_4352

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

IMG_4386

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

IMG_4369

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

IMG_4374

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

IMG_4376

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

IMG_4378

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

IMG_4383

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

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

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

Sneaky, Slithering Sea Snail!

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

IMG_4686

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

IMG_4690

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

IMG_4689

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

IMG_4687

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

IMG_4688

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

IMG_4689

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

I’m A Hummingbird…

Cue the music please:

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

IMG_3111

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

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

IMG_3112

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

IMG_3093

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

IMG_3091

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

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

Don’t Worry About A Thing…

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

IMG_4519

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

IMG_4509

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

IMG_4518

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

IMG_4474

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

IMG_4441

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

IMG_4450

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

IMG_4461

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

IMG_4480

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

IMG_4504

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

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

Far And Away…

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

IMG_4366

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

IMG_3035

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

IMG_3041

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

IMG_3048

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

IMG_3049

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

IMG_3050

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

IMG_3054

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

IMG_3056

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

Ra-Ra-Sis-Boom-Bah!

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

[Photo Credit: Prilfish]

Boxer_Crab_carrying_eggs_-_Lybia_tessellata_(cropped)

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

[Photo Credit: Hectonichus]

800px-Xanthidae_-_Lybia_tessellata

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

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

Cruciferous Crunch, Compostable Containers!

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

IMG_2994

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

IMG_2986

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

IMG_2957

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

IMG_2962

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

IMG_2988

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

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

IMG_2989

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

My Grandma’s Garden

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

img_0620

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

img_0626

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

img_0647

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

img_0649

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

img_0623

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

img_0619

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

img_0645

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

img_0646

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

img_0622

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

Lizzadro Museum Of Lapidary Art

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

cimg2324

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

cimg2323

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

cimg2305

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

cimg2316

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

cimg2320

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

cimg2307

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

cimg2312

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

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

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

tree-738816_1280

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

bora-bora-685303_1280

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

jellyfish-698521_1280

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

animal-21741_1280

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

coral-reef-692957_1280

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

narrow-lined-puffer-586338_1280

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

fish-1918684_1280

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

jellyfish-593157_1280

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

jellyfish-1582746_1280

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

jellyfish-1343351_1280

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

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

jellyfish-1231820_1280

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

jellyfish-1185278_1280

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

california-1751455_1280

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

A Glowing Seat At Firefly Kitchen

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

img_4239

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

img_4240

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

img_4228

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

img_4229

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

img_4237

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

img_4232

I ordered the earthy and flavorful Roasted Root Vegetables

img_4236

And the crunchy, satisfying House French Fries

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

img_4234

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

img_4227

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

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

Welcome To The Venetian Carnival…A World of Wonders!

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

scan

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

scan0001

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

scan0002

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

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

scan0004

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

scan0003

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

scan0005

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

scan0007

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

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

The Carnival of Venice

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

scan0003

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

scan0002

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

scan0001

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

scan0004

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

scan

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

Every Time I Read The News

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

IMG_1427

Psalms 145:8-9 KJV

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

IMG_1430

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

I’m A Cardinal…Part II.

Cue the music please:

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

img_2998

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

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

img_2999

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

img_3000

I’m a Cardinal, you know what I mean…

[I’m A Cardinal, Part I. Click Here]

Naughty or Nice? Definitely Naughty!

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

dollar-1362243_1280

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

pound-414418_1280

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

shopping-1761230_1280

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

img_3004

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

img_3003

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

blur-1851466_1280

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

img_3008

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

img_3009

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

Blogger Recognition Award!

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

guacamole2

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…

cimg2518

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!

cimg2360

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.

photo-13

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!

cimg1486

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

cimg2117

And of course…

cimg2119

Tiddo the cat…

cimg0840

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!

img_2498

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…

img_0201

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!

img_6285

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

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

Thank you bloggers, for inspiring me!

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

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

champagne-glasses-1940497_1280

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

img_4165

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

img_4168

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

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

img_4169

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

img_4170

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

avignon-1603334_1280.jpg

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

img_4172

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

img_4176

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

burgundy-1122165_1280

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

cellar-97512_1280

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

img_4174

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

img_4175

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

oldtimer-1756680_1280

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

My Name is Alexander Hamilton

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

img_2974

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

img_4134

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

img_4141

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

img_4144

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

img_4163

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

img_4152

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

usa-1779925_1280

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

american-flag-802037_1280

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

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

A Winter’s Night By The Fire At Roka

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

img_4079

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

img_4081

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

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

img_4083

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

img_4082

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

img_4089

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

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

img_4085

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

A Night At The Museum

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

img_4026

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

img_4052

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

img_4033

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

img_4041

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

img_4061

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

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

img_4063

And her enormous teeth are nightmare worthy…

img_4058

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

img_4043

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

img_4072

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

img_4056

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

img_4051

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

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

Rainy Night Dining in The Cellar

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

glass-318497_1280

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

img_3979

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

img_3978

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

rain-72087_1280

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

A Message Of Peace Upon The Shore

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

img_1679

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

img_1678

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

img_1688

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

img_1687

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

img_1685

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

img_1689

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

img_1693

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

img_1695

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

img_1692

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

img_1694

And writings that are very wise indeed…

img_1690

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

img_1684

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

Go Put Your Lipstick On!

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

cosmetics-1543276_1280

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

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

vintage-1499546_1280

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

red-792139_1280.jpg

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

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

Demise of the Duckie…

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

img_2361

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

img_2360

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

img_2357

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

img_2359

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

img_2356

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

img_2353

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

img_2354

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

img_2329

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

img_2328

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

img_2327

Whaaaa! EEEhhhhh!!! Noooooeeeewww!

img_2326

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

CIMG2168

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

We Are All But Buds And Berries

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

cimg1439

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

cimg1433

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

wreath

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

cimg1444

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

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

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

screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-11-17-40-am

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

coati-93233_1280

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

coatis-1743047_1280

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

coatis-516798_1280

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

coati-1218406_1280

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

coati-1278557_1280

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

animal-263454_1280

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

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

The Golden Egg Part II.

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

IMG_1478

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

img_3960-2

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

IMG_2212

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

egg-1272803_1280

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

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!

michellewrites-72dpi-1500x2000

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robata Japanese Cuisine!

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

img_3876

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

img_3880

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

img_3882-3

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

img_3878

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

img_3889

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

img_3887

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

img_3886

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

img_3885

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

img_3891

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

The Mad Hatter Of Toasties: A Poem

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

img_2936

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

img_2718

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

img_2894

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

img_2787

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

img_2938

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

img_2949

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

img_2910

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

img_2323

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

img_2190

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

img_2369

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

img_2911

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

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Go Sharpen The Scissors…

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

tresses

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

img_9643

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

img_9640

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

img_9647

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

img_9646

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

img_2935

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

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

Maid of Honour is Here!

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

michellewrites-72dpi-1500x2000-5

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!

Hats To The Heavens!

I’m a hat loving, hat wearing kind of gal! Further, I love costuming. So, you’ll quite understand how I have so many fabulous photos of wondrous hats, taken at the Bristol Renaissance Faire

img_1196

These pretty towers add even more elegance to what are already such smartly dressed noblewomen…

img_1021

And such a tall and pale-yellow number so nicely compliments this saucy mistress!

img_1023

Only a straw hat decorated with a bit of plumage will do for this authoress (who secretly dreams of living in a hobbit house). But I digress…

img_1072

Oh my gosh, the Queen’s hat! Look at those gorgeous feathers!

img_1205

…spy especially upon Her Majesty’s striking red plume and Tudor Rose!

img_1091

What a magical crown for one such etherial fairy queen!

img_1093

A wild creature perches upon this witch’s hat, zoom in and you might see it!

img_1142

Well met sir! Your hat is so grand as to be in a category all its own!

img_1145

One noble’s hat was adorned with trimmed feathers on their individual rachis. I thought they made a clever ornament!

img_1210

And nothing like prettily fashioned hairstyles and delicate lace collars to add to the elegance of these women’s hats!

img_1193

How special the simplicity of this young lady’s cap…

img_1155

How daring the effect of an artful tilt and golden feathers. Fantastic!

img_0228

And how sweet the pretty veils of young maidens at their games…

img_0241

And at their prayers…

img_0242

Truly an excellent ensemble, one lady so richly adorned in blue…

img_0253

Another one of Her Grace’s gorgeous pieces. What a designer has she!

cimg2444

Oh precious the crown of yellow buds and green…

cimg2451

And such a treasured wreath of feathers, from out of a dream…

cimg2399

There simply are no lack of smiling faces, and thoughtfully designed hats on this festival day!

cimg2492

But I must tell you this…

cimg2491

No hat can beat the one worn by the kindest of ladies, Lady Ettie!

What’s Up, Chippy?

We have chipmunks living under our cemented front porch. I enjoy watching them race around and make unique chirping noises, and they love to get a handful of nuts or fresh berries when I’m feeling generous…

img_2828

This little fella spent the greater part of an afternoon hopping up and down on a little edge of the porch. He ate his acorns and watched me. I typed on a story and watched him. They’re adorable, but they will mistake your toes for nuts if you are wearing flip-flops like I was. I’ve had to holler for them to get away from my toes on more than one occasion (and no my toes don’t smell like nut butter). The last thing I need is to have to hobble the block down to the local hospital for a stitch to my big toe, and explain how I got injured…

img_2826

Chipmunks burrow paths under the dirt, where they sleep, have babies and store their food. A single chippy can store up to eight pounds of food! (If a disaster hits town and I run out of victuals, I know where I’ll be digging! Acorn soup it is!) They also don’t like other chipmunks hanging around their dens and will brawl and chase them great lengths from their burrow doors. I’ve seen them fight, they’re spunky for certain…

img_2824

Chipmunks are also known to be very clean, keeping their burrows clutter free. They make comfy nests out of grass and leaves, and though most people think they hibernate in winter, that is only sort of true. They do sleep quite a bit, but they rouse a few times a week to eat, run around the burrow and use the chipmunk amenities…

img_2819

I originally believed that they only ate nuts, seeds and plants. However, they also eat bird eggs, insects and frogs. I can attest that this is true, for my mom and I once watched one hold an earthworm in its little claws and munch it while it squirmed. Gross!

img_2825

They can birth two broods a year (early spring and early fall) with between 2-5 little chips in each set. Sadly, chipmunks don’t live long. About 2-3 years. No wonder they brawl, hoard food and zip around like race cars. With such short lifespans, they’re living life in the fast lane!

Here’s to living life to the fullest, and always having enough acorns in your burrow!

What’s cooking good looking?

I made a special skillet this week, salmon cakes! My grandma used to make these, and my mom too, and this week I made them for my honey and I, and we quite enjoyed them…

img_2888

I’m not very good with following recipes and like to use what is on hand (always hoping what I’m making will turn out). I threw together a can of salmon, an egg, half a cup of bread crumbs (actually smashed pita chips), half a cup of mayo, a few tablespoons of mustard, half a cup of minced chives, and then formed the patties and let them cook slowly over medium heat…

img_2890

Crispy on the outside, flavorful hot salmon on the inside, served with some zesty sauce (a little mayo mixed with a little sriracha), and a salad. Next time I’m going to try baking them and see how they turn out!

img_2887

I’m always making a sandwich, because I’m nuts for them. For the last few weeks, cucumber sandwiches have been my favorite. This sandwich included toasted sourdough, a  spread of mayo, sliced red onion, arugula, cucumber, salt and pepper. I also really like making an open-faced sandwich with a little chive cream cheese and a layer of sliced cucumber. Delicious!

img_2831

I also whipped up a frittata (though frittata means ‘fried’ and mine was baked). Some eggs, some cheese, some veggies, voila!

img_2832

Fresh and simple meals are always a delight, especially when they are colorful!

img_2834

I also roasted some fingerling potatoes and steamed up some pea pods and had a little feast. There’s lots of veggie love in my kitchen!

img_2808

As the season is starting to change, I’m already leaning toward cool weather fare. I roasted a very large acorn squash last week (and ate the entire thing myself) and also baked up a zucchini casserole. Nothing like roasted veggies and hot casseroles to ward off a chill!

What’s cooking in your kitchen? Have you whipped up anything that is traditional to your family lately (like my salmon cakes)?

My Chili Pot Runneth Over…

For many years, friends of my family have hosted a wonderful event called Chili Fest! On a most anticipated September Saturday evening, a great many folks come bearing huge pots of delicious chili and a feast is born…

img_2846

There are crock-pots, stove pots and cast iron pots to fill an entire kitchen, all brimming with slow cooked meats, chilis and gumbos! There’s always vegetarian chili too (heartily made with raisins, beans and cashews…so good)!

img_2845

But that’s not all. As the evening begins and folks start to trickle in, much love is set out upon the dining room table. Dips, veggies, cornbreads, desserts!

img_2851

This wonderful family hosts a great many people, all bringing and helping themselves to the delicious spread. Children run through the yard playing games, dogs trot about hoping for a nibble from the table, and the company gathered create a cacophony of words and laughter…

img_2857

While just outside, Bullfrog plays on into the night. Bullfrog is a popular local band that has been around for years (though recently retired from public performance). They are very talented musicians. I’ve sat in on a great many of their gigs, for my stepdad Charlie is the drummer!

img_2849

Folks are in and out, grabbing another helping of chili, delighting in another piece of pie, taking in the cool night air and music from lawn chairs in the driveway…

img_2844

Generous friends bring the bounty of their gardens to share with the visitors…

img_2850

And one remembers once more how meaningful good food and fellowship are…

img_2852

Here’s a thank you to the hosts of Chili Fest! This gathering ever brings such warm memories!

And here’s wishing all, friends by your side, smiles and laughter in abundance, and always what share of earth’s bounty you need…

Birthday Blessings!

I recently celebrated my birthday, and it was just filled with blessings. So many people were so kind in wishing me well, and offering little surprises that filled my heart with thankfulness and gladness. There was also a special birthday meal, which handsome treated me to at Boltwood in Evanston. This is the second birthday dinner in a row that I’ve spent there, for we quite enjoy this restaurant (which I’ve also reviewed here , here and here)…

img_3807

To start, we shared the sourdough pizza with summer squash, goat’s milk ricotta and oven roasted tomatoes and the grilled octopus with greens, orange and cucumber

img_3809

Grilled octopus is a touchy dish, but Boltwood does it right. Fresh seafood that is grilled to perfection! Makes me feel transported from the Midwest to the Mediterranean…

img_3813

And of course, there was no passing up the crispy potatoes with garlic schmaltz. Need I describe something so delicious? You can see from the photo that those potatoes are heavenly!

img_3811

There was also a big salad, for I love my greens! The simple, yet satisfying chopped salad with candied pecans, blue cheese and lemon vinaigrette was delicious and is just the kind of dish that inspires my own salad makings at home…

img_3814

For the main course, handsome had the grilled pork chop with red rice, quinoa, fennel and plum salsa. All that was left at the end was the bone, so I can only conclude that it was one pleasing chop…

img_3816

Meanwhile, I relished in the wild king salmon with fresh shelly beans and mint-almond pesto. Look at that beautiful fish!

img_3818

And after blowing out my pretty pink candle, we partook in a very unique dessert. Sweet corn with ice cream, corn cake and caramel. Definitely a wink to the sweet bounty of summer!

Here’s wishing you blessings all year long, be it your birthday or any day other!

Feasting At Found

Ooh heavens! What a busy summer I’ve had! The Bristol Faire has now come to an end until next year. It is both bitter and sweet, for while I’ll be missing this beloved festival, I’ll also be enjoying the change of seasons and working on new stories…

img_3671

I’ll also be enjoying more time with my honey! We were able to fit in a delightful date night at Found in Evanston a few weeks ago, and what a treat it was!

img_3670

To start, we had the Braised Turkish & Japanese Eggplants with Silky Tofu and Naan. The crispy yet chewy naan spooned over with flavorful eggplant had me singing (only in my head of course, I didn’t want to embarrass my date)…

img_3677

Next, the Harissa Roasted Shishito Peppers, Sweet Corn, Okra & Pepitas. Sweet kernels, smoky okra, zesty peppers…this dish spiced up date night! (I dare you to say Harissa-Roasted-Shishito-Pepita out loud three times in a row real fast. Tongue twister!)…

img_3675

img_3676

The Masala Fried Cauliflower, House Made Yogurt & Pea Tendrils was absolutely delicious! I may have looked like Smeagol from The Lord of The Rings as I hovered over the last piece of cauliflower with my fork, “My precious!”

img_3682

More and more, we’ve been enjoying sitting chef-side at our favorite restaurants, to watch as the food is prepared. As I watched this mozzarella being sliced (seen above), I was tempted to make handful grabs of it and run out of the restaurant stuffing mozzarella in my face. I really love cheese. But then our main dish arrived and I came to my senses…

img_3681

We shared the Ivory Char with Heirloom Tomato Fondue, Cannellini Beans, Carrots & Sourdough. It was really perfect. The fish was tender, yet meaty with wonderful flavor. The beans were al dente and the carrots sweet and summery. The sourdough toasties were crisp yet chewy, and fantastic with a little spread of the zesty-sweet tomatoes…

img_3687

If you ever find yourself in Evanston, Found will provide you with a real connection to the food and flavors that make eating a genuine pleasure! We certainly savored every bite on our romantic rendezvous and ended our evening quite contentedly with two spoons!

What are some of your favorite pleasures as the summer days roll away and the smell of autumn rounds the corner?

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…

michellewrites-72dpi-1500x2000-4

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!

Here’s A Health To The Company…

Hello Friends! What’s new?! As for myself, there’s just one weekend remaining for The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire! Our little shop (filled with Lita’s pretty art and my imaginative books) has but only this coming 3-day Labor Day weekend left to share our little treasures…

IMG_2780

We sincerely hope to see again, many of the wonderful people we’ve met this season, so that we can bid you good health and happiness until next summer! And for each and every one that took home one of our works this season, we appreciate you…

IMG_2781

The sunset was so beautiful this last Sunday evening as I trudged out of Bristol, that my heart fluttered at the sight of its glory. I was filled with peace and thankfulness…

IMG_2684

A friend of mine named Mary (an inspiring woman who in her 80’s goes to the gym regularly and is as healthy and lovely as ever), generously surprises me with her rice pudding every now and then. This unexpected, delicious gift, humbles me and makes my day, every time. When I was young, I never thought much of rice pudding…but I do now. Thank you sweet Mary…

IMG_2755

This is the grumpy albino skunk who makes an appearance at the Bristol Faire on the weekends (curtesy of a private farm). I love this skunk. I love him and want to give him hugs and take him for walks, and he could be best friends with my cat Tiddo…

IMG_2756

When we first met, he huffed, jumped towards me, scratched, grunted, and generally tried to ward me off. However, I am unmoving. I still love this skunk. With lots of cuddling, don’t you think I could bring his attitude around? (And no, he wasn’t stinky).

IMG_2764

In other news, I’ve been feeling some serious exhaustion these last few weeks. There is only one remedy for that, you know. Shrimp salad. I just pile as many veggies onto a plate as I have in my fridge, throw some shrimp in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper, and then enjoy. Its effects on exhaustion seem to be more effective if you get some sleep afterwards…

IMG_2770

In further news, this enormous spider was hanging above the potty this week, just like that otherworldly cave cricket. I think there is a conspiracy amongst the bugs in our house to frighten me when I need to use the amenities. Only, I’m not afraid of spiders! Bwa-ha-ha…

IMG_2789

…well, except for this dude in our mailbox! We have a problem with spiders in our mailbox.  Last night, no spider. This morning, an intricate web and what I considered to be a more energetic spider than most (he jumped at me in the most ungentlemanly way when I reached in for the mail). Of course, discovering that the mail lady hadn’t come yet, I had to save this hapless (if ungentlemanly) spider from the mailbox so he wouldn’t get squished when she arrived…

IMG_2794

I didn’t appreciate the way he jumped at me a second time, before skittering away on the porch. But my conscience is clear…no smushed arachnids today in my mailbox.

IMG_2782

Here’s wishing you many treasured moments in your days! And, I’m looking forward to seeing many smiling faces this weekend at The Quill and Brush, before Bristol’s winter slumber. To all our friends, here’s sending you Health to the Company

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…

IMG_2687

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?

IMG_2690

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!

IMG_2691

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!

IMG_2692

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?

Mermaiden72dpi-1500x2000-2

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!

A Moment With Nature

Greetings green frog, or are you bullfrog? I wish you well about your day…

IMG_2749

IMG_2741

Dearest water lily, you make me smile! You lift my heart, as I go on my way.

IMG_2740

Well met, lovely blossom! Aren’t you divine? How happy I am, to see your blush…

IMG_2738

Good day, painted turtle! How you stretch your neck! I see you are in no rush?

IMG_2748

Good morrow fellow, relaxed I see? Has anyone ever remarked on your ears? Goodness, oh my, don’t mind my saying, but how very big they be!

IMG_2746

Eeehh my, you frog! I’d made a mistake! At first I took your face, for that of a snake!

IMG_2736

Oh pretty white petals, how pure you be, and so sweetly yellow too! You lift my spirits and make me smile, as your countenance was made to do!

Here’s wishing you many moments with nature, to relax your mind and uplift your spirits!

Silly Fun with Shadows and Sun!

When you are bored, yet there be some sun…

IMG_2722

Don’t be a grump, go have some fun…

IMG_2724

Form a shadow; shimmy, dance and shake…

IMG_2725

See what silly shapes you can make!

IMG_2730

Ha-Ha-Hee! Haw-Hoo-Hoo! It be fun to play the fool!

IMG_2731

Here’s to making your own good fun and laughing often, whether or not the sun is shining!

Jumping Spiders & Rooftop Riders

This little dude took a run around our tented shop (The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire) this last Sunday. I noticed him as I was closing up and I’m pretty sure I looked like a total oddball taking photos of something (while in costume) undetectable to be seen for passersby (as this table was bare at the time). But what can I say, I dig bugs…

IMG_2715

According to my favorite go-to for insect identification, Insects, Spiders and Other Terrestrial Arthropods by George McGavin…this furry fellow is a common jumping spider. This threw me off, for I’m accustomed to jumping spiders being much smaller (and hopping about constantly to show off their athletic prowess). This guy wasn’t jumping at all (though he ran pretty fast) and was a pretty big spider.

IMG_2707

I thought he was a pretty handsome dude (just as long as he didn’t jump on me).

IMG_2708

Best shot ever! I put my finger real, real close and he lifted up his fuzzy eyebrows and stared right at me with two black eyes. We shared a moment, eye to eye. Awwww! Do you think I’m an oddball too?

IMG_2700

Riding up to the faire each weekend (rather early for shop set-up), there are always folks already waiting in line just outside of the parking gate. I love that! These folks are the truest fans of the B.R.F. and I think they are awesome! Renaissance themed tailgating? I approve!

IMG_2696

And here was the scrumptious fare we enjoyed this past Saturday. We make our little picnics to reflect less of the 21st century and nod towards the Renaissance. Ever tried crackers, pepper jelly and cream cheese? I could swoon! Delicious!

IMG_2718

In other news, I have an addiction to egg-in-the-holes and there is no cure…

IMG_2719

I also started pulling out of a parking space today with my lunch box on the roof of my car. Some construction workers in their utility truck yelled out with gestures to warn me. “COOLER!” I think I might be a little tired. Thank goodness I didn’t take it for a ride around town…

IMG_2721

I also spent more moments (minutes?) trying to figure out how to twist the cap off of this tube of caulk today, before eventually realizing that I needed to snip off the tip with scissors. I felt silly. I still feel silly.

Here is wishing you all a wonderful weekend, filled with rest, happiness and much laughter!

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…

IMG_2658

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)…

IMG_2657

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…

IMG_2666

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…

IMG_2667

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

IMG_2669

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…

IMG_2671

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!

IMG_2627

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…

IMG_2676

Arugula salad with soft boiled eggs…

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

IMG_2659

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!