Just Two Festival Weekends Left!

Just two festival weekends left at the Bristol Renaissance Faire. Don’t let the heat keep you away from these last magical days. I hope to see you at The Quill and Brush!

Stay Inspired!

For a list of my works, please visit: https://inspiredbyvenice.org/about/

Festival Cheer…

What an amazing season so far at The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire! The energy this year has been incredible. Thank you for the support of every guest, all of your endless creative inspiration, and festival cheer!

Two weekends left. I hope to see you there!

The Quill and Brush’s beautiful sign was made by Cody Zibung.

I’ll be announcing some new event dates soon. Stay Inspired!

Three More Festival Weekends…

Another magical weekend at The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire. Thank you to every visitor for such an amazing and supportive season!

I sincerely hope each and every one of you is enjoying your reading adventure!

3 more festival weekends yet ahead!

Keep bringing your smiles and all of your creative conversation! How you inspire me!

All of my best ~ Michelle

What I’ve Learned From Writing Books – #3

Dear Friends…5 more beautiful festival weekends yet to visit Bristol, and my little bookshop The Quill and Brush. If you haven’t stopped by so far, I hope you will for a bookish chat – and perhaps even leave with a fairy tale too!

But wherever you are and whatever you’re doing this summer – I hope you’re enjoying life and staying inspired!

Now onwards with our short series of what I’ve learned from writing books, which again, may be considered general thoughts for just about any craft!

#3

Arguably, the most important thing when writing a book, is the trust you must place on yourself.

What’s that mean? Well…

  1. If you think you’ll remember that great idea you had as you were falling asleep last night, no…you won’t. I’ve fumbled around in the dark more than once for a pencil and scribbled a note in the pitch. I tell you, whenever that thought enters your brain, write it down. Don’t trust yourself to remember, trust yourself to write it down.

2. If you think you’re going to recall to fix that sentence during edits later on, no…you won’t. Take a few moments to give that sentence a little love in the moment. Don’t trust yourself to remember to do it, trust yourself to make it your best, as you’re working.

3. Think that word seems like the correct spelling? That you can probably pass on by while you’re writing/editing? I wouldn’t. Check and make sure. Don’t trust 100% in your spelling skills, or that it’s probably correct. Trust in yourself to take the time to check the word. And that goes for the meaning of the word too. If you only knew how many times I was way off, when I thought I was right on.

4. Think you’re sure what history was really like, and you can paint your story with it and then call it true? Oh my goodness, it’s hilarious how many things I put down from my imagination, thinking it was historical. But they were really only theatrical ideas I’d gleaned from movies and reading. Not so much history at all. So, challenge yourself to find out the truth. It’s SO MUCH FUN!! Of course, you can write what you like in your book. You don’t have to be accurate. Have fun being outrageously incorrect if you like, because it’s your book. But if you dig something a bit more true to history (I often do), trust yourself to give some time to research and let go of your assumptions.

5. Trust yourself to read your work from different viewpoints, not just your own. How might someone, other than yourself feel, when reading your words? For example, I’d once phrased a paragraph that later made me reflect that it didn’t sound all that empowering for my young female character! And since my character might be an example to some young lady out there someday, I was quick to make edits. But it was only after I’d reviewed the words from a different view, that I’d even seen this. This isn’t an easy skill! We all come from our own voice and experiences. But trust yourself to give more time to reviewing your work, as another might.

I could keep coming up with examples on self-trust, but they are endless. So let’s just say this…

Each time I sit down to write, the most important thing is to trust that I have my own back. If I care up-front, what I produce in the end, is more likely to be what I was hoping for.

Take A Journey…

It may have been hotter than is bearable this past weekend, but with all those special moments at The Quill and Brush, it seemed nothing at all…

6 more festival weekends at Bristol. I hope to see you there!

And speaking of heat…take a journey through a vast Egyptian desert in my supernatural tale, Ancient. For a description, read here.

Keep cool. Stay Inspired.

You, Inspire Me

I just wanted to say Thank You for an AMAZING first two weekends back at Bristol. The Quill and Brush was visited by so many wonderful readers, writers, old friends, and new guests. It was overwhelming in the most sincere and magical way.

You, inspire me.

7 more glorious festival weekends to come. I’m going to cherish every one. Be sure to come by for a visit! And perhaps a fairy tale too!

All My Best…

Six Weeks Until The Quill And Brush Returns!

Good Day Good Friends! I hope this message finds you well!

I got two emails from my Mama this morning asking if I was okay. She does that when I get a little quiet – because she’s a good mom. So, I thought I better come up for air and just say Hello to everybody!!

You see, since the very second Bristol announced they would be opening this summer, I’ve been all hands on deck. Everything from car repairs (no breaking down on the way to Bristol for me – I don’t want to end up a damsel in distress), to vaccines (both round one and round two took me down – no joke), to writing nearly every evening after work (more on that soon!!), to getting all my small business odds and ends in order.

I’m still in the thick of it, so I might be just a little quiet for a few weeks more, but then it will be time to bring out the magic! AND THE BOOKS! HUZZAH!

Where’s the costumes! Where’s the glitter? Dust off your fairy wings! Where’s your hair wreath? Where’s your sword?! Practice your pirate yarrrrr! A whole summer of revelry is just around the corner, and I’ll be sure to share it with you here from The Quill and Brush!

Who’s coming to say hello at The Quill?! Say hi here – I can’t wait to see you there!

The Hunt For Pyrex…

Good Day Dear Friends!

Doesn’t a little sunshine in the morning make all the difference? I’m thankful for some today! There were a few blissfully warm days here in Evanston too, but then all turned to chill, and now damp, and the forecast isn’t looking too great for the next few weeks. Guess I’ll just have to keep wallowing in sweaters (and cookies) for a little while longer.

Good thing I have some other treats to bring me joy right now!!!


Guess what I ate breakfast out of this morning?!

My NEW VINTAGE PYREX BOWL!!! Aggggghhhh!

Drool – drool – drool…

Listen, I’m not the only one who loves vintage Pyrex. I’m going to guess there’s actually a lot of folks in that club. The most fun is trying to find a pretty piece at an antiques store. I don’t go to too many yard or garage sales (even though I dig things like that), but I bet you can find some good pieces that way. Or estate sales! And then of course, people sell online…

But let me assure you, to search a place like Volo Antique Malls (Volo, IL) or Antiques on Pierce (Milwaukee, WI) has a very special kind of feeling. Online shopping takes the fun out of what people call – the hunt.

Ooohhhh! I love the hunt. And so does my Mama.

You can check out my visit to Antiques on Pierce here.

I needed some bowls, and I love Pyrex, so my Mom gifted me with a set of three. One she already had, two others were an online order. And they are green – my favorite color. Love at first sight.

These will be with me until I’m an old lady. And then someone else will be happy to own them. And by that time, they’ll be vintage – vintage. Ha!

What am I keeping an eye out for at the antiques shops (which I grievously have not browsed since the pandemic began)? A Pyrex bowl in bright orange or yellow. In good condition. Cracks aren’t good when you actually want to use the pieces. It will also be an exciting day when I find a pink one. I believe the pink ones are prized. I know they are expensive. I better save my pennies. But they’re sooooo pretty.

THE PINK PYREX WILL ONE DAY BE MINE!!! BWA – HA – HA!

When I start getting back to the antique stores again, I’ll be sure to take you all along with me on the hunt!


Thank you Mama. Love my bowls. Love YOU!

And thank you readers, for being a part of my world. I wish you all the pink Pyrex there is!

Stay Inspired.

The Magic Of Imagination…

I have been thinking a lot, about faire…

The Bristol Renaissance Faire is one of the loves of my life. And I am so especially privileged these days, to have my little book shop there. You cannot imagine how the people I meet at The Quill and Brush, have truly inspired me.

It’s a special story to me, for how I fell in love with Bristol. But to make it short and sweet, when I was a little girl, my mama was curious, creative, imaginative, and persistent enough, to try her hand at a sewing machine. We didn’t have a lot then, but we always had faire. It was something to look forward to, to plan for, to dream about. A singular place in this world, that offered so much magic on a summer’s day. And let’s just say…

Wearing a costume changed my life forever.

It let my imagination run free. The way only books can. But it almost felt, more real. You actually, for a moment, are.

I was a princess. I was a peasant girl. I was a gypsy. I was a lady in waiting. I could be anything I wanted – with just a little imagination, and a dress to play the part.

And the faire itself, was the place I could really be any of these things. Whatever I wanted.

There are many of you out there who know exactly what I’m talking about. Rennies – you’re my people. Cosplay – what you do is utterly cool. Costumers – I endlessly admire you. Historical reenactors – you are rockstars.

Just saying.

But whether of not you have any interest in any of these things, the message here is this…

Even just a little imagination softens the mundane, the bleak, the shadows, that life delivers. Because life is hardly all love and ease, is it? Imagination brings light to the world, a warm hue…and sometimes even, a genuine sparkle.

Imagination will bring you more than you would have had – my experiences are testimony of this.

So I say to you…

Apply some imagination to whatever it is you love in this life. Take a little time. Imagine it…nurture it…plan it…dream it. And why not – go play a little pretend! Because the secret is – using our imagination, can actually makes the magic, become real.

Stay Inspired.

Kind of, Amazing…

I was thinking this morning, about cheese. A specific photo that I took, in fact.

Of cheese.

In Paris.

{Cheese in Paris food shop}

I love cheese.

I also love abundant food scenes. Pictures of fare from everywhere I have ever been. Or even, just at home. Photos of my dinner plate. I’ve captured hundreds, I’m sure. I guess, I just think it’s beautiful. The place. The moment. The taste. The smell. The memory.

My life.

{Eiffel Tower}

I’ve been deeply introspective these last handful of years, and live a very quiet, simple life. A dead stop almost, to the more outward person I used to be. To the more vibrant life I used to live. With so many experiences. This shift began even before the word pandemic was in my vocabulary.

But, perhaps that is just natural in our journeys….once I was like this, now I am like that. Once my life was like this. Now, it is like that.

{The Palais Garnier – Opera national de Paris}

But certainly, I never knew life could deliver such juxtaposition! Did you? It makes me feel I’ve lived multiple lifetimes in one. I have. I really have. And I only knew this just now, in these introspective years, as I’ve looked back.

Looked back…at pictures of cheese. And my memories.

{A Parisian kitty-cat}

And someday my life will be something else. And I will be someone else. Maybe even somewhere else. Who knows.

{Notre-Dame de Paris}

Will I reunite with friends and readers this summer, at The Quill and Brush? Will I go to live with Bigfoot in an off-grid cabin next year, and leave city life behind (as long as there’s dependable internet and a stash of lime La Croix…and cookies…I’m good). Will I resume traveling someday, such a great passion (let’s not think too hard on whether I will be able to afford to – ha!)?

{Shop in Paris. I swoon for this desk. I see bugs.}

When will I embrace my beloved Venice again? Who all, will be alongside me in life? What friends, have I yet to make? What rocky times await me, that I must be strong to overcome? What books will I still write, that I haven’t even begun to imagine? What else? How different will it all be, from before?

{C’est moi – Cafe in Paris}

And who, will I be?

It’s kind of exciting. Kind of baffling. Kind of intriguing. Kind of scary.

Kind of, amazing.

Remember your journey. Hope for your future. Stay Inspired.

Beauty Sleeping – Audio Chapters 1 – 2

Greetings Dear Readers! I hope you are staying inspired?!

Maybe I can help? Let’s throw some fairy dust!! You’re about to get glittered!!!

And chased by monsters

Ok – maybe the sparkle and beasts don’t make an appearance until after chapters 1 and 2. But since nothing inspires me more than an enchanted wood filled with ogres, maidens, witches, goblins, and terribly fierce dragons, I turned through a few pages to record the first two chapters of my Beauty Sleeping, just for you. This tale might be my most magical. A little eerie – yikes! But so, so, so romantic.

A story of eternal love.

Beauty Sleeping by Michelle Novak – The author’s reading of Chapter 1
Beauty Sleeping by Michelle Novak – The author’s reading of Chapter 2

Here’s wishing you, all the love and magic there is!

And forever, Stay Inspired.

If you would like to be a fairy godpatron to the authoress – please be sure to whirl your wand in the bookstore! Enjoy the adventure!

A Little Differently…

So, I’ve experienced what I consider a bona fide miracle. Like, a Jesus miracle. No joke, I’ll be setting aside some on-my-knees-time to thank my Creator.

But, for the purpose of this inspired post, let’s just call what happened a breakthrough. I was struggling forever with something. I applied herculean efforts to hurtle over this roadblock, with little result. So, I’d throw in the towel. Become apathetic. Then I’d get upset with myself, try again, apply more herculean efforts. Still didn’t work. Many times over. Endless disappointment.

It got to the point where last week, I was feeling pretty fierce about it – bursting into exhausted tears one day, feeling really down about myself another, addressing God rather vehemently the next. I believe that was a first. The whole giving God some sass. But hey – I know He understood my frustration. I’ve only been praying about this forever.

Well – I’m certain you know Algernon Sidney’s words as well as I do.

God helps those…

Did you finish the sentence?

And how did I do it? Overcome my impossible? I acknowledged that my approach wasn’t working. And then I asked myself, what could I do just a little bit differently?

…and then I did that.

And now I am Hercules, in the flesh. Except without the muscles.

Unless the muscles in my brain count?!

HA-HA!!

But enough about my flexing my brain muscles. The point of this post is…

I bet there’s something in your life that you wish you could accomplish – improve upon – or overcome. And I’m here to holler all the way to wherever you are – you can. But if whatever you’ve been doing to get there isn’t working so far, take a real moment with yourself and ask…

What can I do just a little bit differently?

Stay Inspired.

Peace and Good Will Toward Men

Good Tidings, Dear Friends!

Today, I am wishing you all of the peace and good will in the world. I hope for you a healthy and blessed holiday season, and a Merry Christmas too!

Today, after clearing my poor-little-cracking-allergy-ridden-throat to the best of my ability, holding back tickles that threatened coughs, I got my reading voice going. Because…I wanted to give you dear readers a gift.

At least, the only gift I have to give you today, wherever in the world you may be.

It’s the Christmas story, selections from the King James Bible. The readings are taken from chapters Matthew and Luke.

I know it’s been a terribly difficult year for so many. So, I thought, perhaps a listen to this Christmas miracle might offer peace and gladness. I hope you will enjoy hearing about the birth of Jesus as it is written, of the wise men, and that star in the sky. Of the shepherds, and the manger. Of praising angels, and God’s love.

It’s a beautiful story.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2:14 KJV

Luke 2: 1-39 KJV
Matthew 2 KJV
Luke 1: 26-38 KJV
Matthew 1: 18-25 KJV

A sip of sunshine…

Though I was tempted toward something sweeter to follow up my lunch bite today, I had an orange instead, and it was perfect. After, my house smelled like oranges, and that was perfect too.

I love anything citrus.

Some years ago, while out at the antique shops, I had in mind that I wanted a vintage glass juicer. But though I saw some transparent ones, and probably some other colors too, when I happened across this delightful yellow piece, I knew it was mine. There is nothing like a fresh glass of orange juice.

I can say however, making a glass takes a lot more oranges than you’d think, which can get rather expensive. A bag of oranges hardly gives you a few glasses. But, once in a while, it’s worth it for a sip of sunshine.

Stay Inspired.

The Lost Garden…

On my daily walks, I have appreciated seeing an increase in people taking walks. Even after dark. Even in the cold. I think walks may be on the rise, since convening elsewhere is not an option. As a matter of fact, a sprinkle of folks have even embraced taking a bite at the local restaurant at outdoor tables (no eating inside), in December. One evening on my walk, I saw three ladies together around a table with a small fire in its middle (installed for outdoor winter dining). Coats, hats, even a blanket. I wonder if they’ll still be doing this in January? I think it’s fun! But brrrrr…..

My philosophy? If you dress warmly enough, winter is just as delightful for outdoor activity as any other season. Which reminds me, I need to order some boots. Today. Snow and ice will be here soon and my toes have lately been getting numb!

Ambling over to Lighthouse Beach here on Lake Michigan, I passed Evanston’s Harley Clarke Mansion, some few blocks from my home. The mansion is a historic site, and has in recent years, been much in the local language concerning its maintenance and fate. Old mansions are expensive to take care of. And when the city owns them, it’s difficult to find the budget. Especially now, I would gather. Fortunately, it is at present still standing. Let’s hope the best for its future.

Someday, I’ll post some photos of the gorgeous beast itself. I understand it has been vacant for some years, the Evanston Arts Center its last tenant. But today, I wanted to share the mansion’s decrepit greenhouse.

I have quite the imagination. So of course, while tromping past, I had to go peek inside. The dirty windows and inner-neglect were calling to me. Screaming, in fact. I needed to imagine the greenhouse as it once was, and what it could be again…

Greenhouses are magical places, where wonderful things are grown. Some delicate and needing shelter. Some, which could not survive our climate otherwise…

As I gazed in, I saw the precious rows of emerald. Boxes of wholesome vegetables to feed a table were before me. The excitement of a yield of ripe fruit, and the splash of cheerful scented flowers too. I felt the humid warmth, and smelled the dirt. I plucked a green bean and ate it right then, tasting the earth…

I wanted to be there, in that lost garden.

I thought of how I would have visited the greenhouse everyday, if I’d once lived in that house. That mansion by the waves. Stopping in to clip a flower to carry with me, to sniff every three seconds. Sneaking in at night to gaze at the full moon through the glass above, and to see the garden at midnight…

How many times I would have passed through this door, the key around my neck on a chain, so that I could always be in the garden…

Do you see it too?

What would you grow in the garden?

I would grow lots of lettuce. And radishes, and cucumbers, and melons, and beautiful pink peonies and periwinkle hydrangeas. And raspberries, and snap peas and snow peas. And squash. And there would be a citrus tree in the corner. Lemons. And there would be ivy vines clinging to the windows, and rose bushes all around the greenhouse outside. And lilies too. Stargazer lilies everywhere.

And I would salute the Grosse Point Light just overhead everyday, guiding the ships out on the lake. And in winter, I would attempt to make a snow sculpture that looked just like it. And then I would go drink hot chocolate and eat cookies, in the warmth and shelter of the greenhouse.

Stay Inspired.

Charity Never Faileth

~ A Message of Charity ~

I will ever be fascinated with the Bible. And not simply in the sense of religion. Let’s just say, it’s the book of everything. It makes you think.

And whether or not you are of the Christian faith, upon reading it, you may be surprised to see just how much it is a book of today, as it was, a book of times past. For those who may say the book is ‘outdated’…well, I wonder if they’ve really read it. Or more particularly, considered the ways it applies to life.

It’s a book about humanity. And as for me, that book is eternal.

But to be specific, I sometimes come across a verse that quite literally changes the way I see life. That’s pretty powerful. Because, you know, I’m not a youngin’ anymore. I’m pretty much set in my pattern of thinking at this point. Deduced from decades of experience.

But here, I am to be humbled.

I recently heard a preacher speak the words: Charity never faileth (1 Corinthians 13:8 KJV). I didn’t even catch the context. But apparently, just hearing the words was enough to impact me indefinitely.

For certain, I’ve heard that verse a zillion times before. But this time, I was struck. Struck hard. Charity never faileth. Hmmm….

Never faileth.

But let me put this into substance. I am not particularly charitable, at present. I can however, look back at periods when I was, and my heart is moved to recall. Visiting the nursing home on Sundays to sing and deliver homemade cards to very lonely elderly (how about I start weeping right now). Volunteering time with youth with disabilities. Volunteering time with disadvantaged children. And all those other times, I simply gave.

I think back, and let me say. It wasn’t just what I was giving. It was what I was getting back in return. My life was permanently changed by those experiences. And remembering, I am deeply humbled. I am also ashamed to wonder, where has my giving gone?

To point out, charity isn’t just money. It doesn’t have to be money at all. It can just be time. Even some small effort. A little cheer. A bit of lifting up. Just giving to someone else. Caring about someone else. Or even, something else, that makes the world better. Animals, the environment, community buildings in need of repair; of course, the list is endless.

Further to mention, I’ve now lived in an urban environment for two decades. Therefore, I regularly encounter people in need as I go about. And though many instances of privation have spoken to my heart, others have hardened it.

And as this message is an honest one, I will say, I’ve often been wary to give to others, wondering if in some cases, I’m not being tricked, or manipulated. Or if my giving will be misapplied.

But then, that verse.

Charity never faileth. And I realized, in an instant, softening any hard part I’d ever allowed to grow in my heart…

No matter what, if you give, it is never, ever, in vain.

Perhaps some efforts appear they will be a loss. Or, a giving put to poor use. Or, why bother. But that is not so. Charity never faileth.

Each of us knows, in what ways, and when, we can give. Just always remember, it will never be in vain.

Please pass along the message ~ I think it is one worth sharing.

Stay Inspired.

Milwaukee’s Antiques On Pierce

Hello All! How are you today? The sun is shining in Evanston, and the birds are singing that spring is coming! That makes me smile…even if I’m sniffling! Ha! These seasonal viruses (my second this winter) are just awful. But, what can you do? I’ve been wallowing in bed for days. But, I’m hoping that this one will be my last until next season.

Please Lord.

Therefore, though I wish I could be spending this sunny Saturday on an adventure, I’ll just have to reminisce over past fun, until my bug skedaddles…

IMG_5404

A few weeks ago after a visit to the Milwaukee Domes, drove past a sign that made my car wheels, quite beyond my own control, emergency-bat-turn into a parking lot, in what appeared to be a more industrial neighborhood…

IMG_5406

It’s funny sometimes, when there appears to be not a stray cat around, and the walkways are without any traffic, that there can be a hidden gem awaiting…

IMG_5408

Milwaukee’s Antiques on Pierce has reminded me why emergency-bat-turns are a necessary driver’s skill to acquire…

IMG_5409

And why being adventurous enough to explore, when you spot an intriguing sign, can really pay off!

IMG_5411

This treasure trove of the bygone had my mouth gaping for at least the first five minutes…

IMG_5412

Continuing on with a great many more oohhs, and ahhhs, and look at this-s!

IMG_5416

Unfortunately, there was only about half an hour on the clock before this mind-boggling establishment was closing for the day…

IMG_5414

Yet somehow I still felt like I’d been spellbound, and there for quite a while, in awe at every turn…

IMG_5417

Antiques on Pierce reminded me of Volo Antique Mall in Volo, Illinois, which is one of my favorite places to go with my folks…

IMG_5418

These places are a collector’s dreamland. Hunting for things in particular, is a real treat on antiquing excursions…

IMG_5421

And if only you could know the history behind even just a handful of the items for sale, your mind would be broken. It’s just too awesome for the imagination!

IMG_5419

I repeated at least five times, that next time, this was going to be the destination, with a much longer review of all of the displays.

And as the lights began to shutter off, one section at a time, darkening the circumference of this massive cave of curiosities…

IMG_5423

I simply did not want to go…

Traveling out from that neighborhood, spotted at least one (maybe two) similar signs for antiques. I think I know what one of my next adventures is going to be! Think they’ll let me bring in a picnic lunch? I mean, one has to eat to keep their energy up on a day-long treasure hunt!

Stay Inspired!

Milwaukee Public Museum Part I.

Good Day Good Friends! Are you staying inspired?

I wish that I could say that I am full of energy today, as the sun is actually shining for what feels like the first time in ten years. But, I am writing to you sick from bed, where I have been for some days. Not feeling so good. However, I am bearing it well and it could be worse. To say nothing of the endless drear of these after-December months, there’s no escaping catching at least one, if not two or three, viruses per season. How terrible. Achoo!

IMG_5181

[Dinos eating dinos at the Milwaukee Public Museum]

Lucky me however, I had a truly wonderful adventure last Saturday that I must share with you! It will have to come in several parts, as there was so much to see! My first visit to the Milwaukee Public Museum! And as the book I am currently working on, Still, is a thriller taking place in a museum, what better place to spend an afternoon for some inspiration?

I digress, but…whatever virus I have at present has been making me want to eat about 4-times the amount of food I usually consume in a day. I’m sort of feeling like that T-Rex up there!

IMG_5136

Bugs. One of the greatest loves of my life. The museum had so…many…bugs. I died, and went to buggy heaven, with all the bugs. It was beautiful.

IMG_5200

And there was lots of taxidermy. Which, I might have spoken aloud to, as though these creatures were still alive and could hear me speaking to them. Because, I’m a little strange like that…

“Hey little dude! Whatcha’ eatin?”

IMG_5180

I was particularly fascinated by this prehistoric water scene. Those oceanic beasties are terrifying! Prehistoric times were terrifying. I’m imagining that thing getting my foot while swimming in the water, and I’m terrified

I’m also really hungry right now, anyone got a cookie? Aaaachooo!

IMG_5205

But for Part I. of this share of the Milwaukee Public Museum, I give you a glimpse of the European Village!

IMG_5209

A collection of many different cultural snapshots from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Every illuminated house, and some businesses, labeling the ethnic tableau from which the scene was created…

IMG_5202

First, loved this because these dim and aged scenes elicited that feeling of being in a museum that can hardly be described. Of things old and mysterious, which you will never know, because you can never go back…

IMG_5214

I love that it made me imagine. That I lived in this or that little home…

Explored how I’d spend my days…

IMG_5215

Dabbled over the craft and work that I would do…

IMG_5212

Envisioned the ways I would have worshiped…

IMG_5211

Thought about how I would have survived and thrived, and about how much more I would have needed to rely on my neighbors…

IMG_5213

The European Village took me, quite literally, back in time and place…

IMG_5217

So that I forgot for a moment, just where I was, and who I am…

IMG_5206

I had traveled, without going anywhere at all.

IMG_5247

I entreat you too, to take such a journey next time you find yourself able to make a visit to Milwaukee!

But for now, wherever you find yourself, be sure to stay inspired!

I Hope We Meet Again Soon…

Hello Dear Friends! Are you staying inspired?

I want to say today, thank you for reading Inspired By Venice. You, my friends, my inspiration, my family, and so many kindred hearts. I’m wishing you well and happy today…

MichelleVaporetto

How am I today? As wild-spirited, inspired…and exhausted as ever. Long, chilly week. But today is a writing day, and the coffee is hot, so I’m doin’ alright! Just one musing with you before I dive into my creepy new tale, Still (coming July 2020)…

I rewatched The Tourist last week. It was a fun treat, most especially as it is full of my beloved Venice, which I am all of a sudden, craving so much. This happens to me every year at this time, because I can feel the Venetian Carnevale just around the corner (Feb.8th-25th, 2020).

MichelleVenice2

[A veiled amble through Venezia during Carnevale, 2005]

I pine to transport once more, into that magical realm. So much so, that my soul begins to yearn come the end of January each year. Alas, I cannot afford travel this season, and am not even certain when I will once more, be able to step foot on the stones of my great love…

MichelleVenice1

This photo was taken the first day I ever beheld Venice. When settling into the hotel, I opened the window to a bridge, and the fog over the canal just outside was mystical. There also, was the essence of the sea. I was quite provoked by the architecture, the sounds, the smells, the mystery. I will always cherish this image, as it was like capturing the moment I tumbled headfirst into an all-consuming passion, even if I didn’t know it yet…

MichelleSt.Mark'sSquare

I long for the Piazza San Marco. To sit at a cafe table, with a decadent silver tray of coffee and delights. To find tranquility in the sounds of the square, with the scent of the lagoon in the air, birds alighting over St. Mark’s Basilica…

MichelleVeniceStreets

To roam the winding calle, both by day, and when the moon is casting overhead. Up and over every little bridge, and along every shadowy path, to the lapping reflections of the flowing canals…

BridgeOfSighs

To regard the sunset once more over the lagoon, past the bobbing of ebony gondolas, the Bridge of Sighs hovering just behind my shoulders. And then heading to a dinner, freshly caught from the sea…

Venice, My Beloved. I hope we meet again soon…

Holding Down The Fort…

Hello, hello! Are you staying inspired today?

Some days, I’ve got to dig a little deeper for my inspiration. Like today. I can’t look outdoors for it, that’s for sure. Here in Evanston, we’ve got a snowy, wet, blustery, dismal ick going on. But that’s the Midwest in January!

IMG_5128

Want to know the not-so-nice place my non-stop-imagination-crazy-brain went this morning? I was thinking about how quickly the snowstorm blew up yesterday. I had mentioned to a co-worker late yesterday afternoon, that I believed we were expecting 3 to 5 inches. That’s what the report said anyway. At that moment, there wasn’t a snowflake to be seen. Within ten minutes, I kid you not, the world outside was going white, we were in a snow globe, a layer already on the ground. Within about an hour, the conditions were bad and the snow already quite accumulated…

blizzard-1245929_1280

[Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay]

I walk to and from work, so I was worn after a long week, and a great trudge through the cold and snow last night. I was so thankful for the safe, warm, cozy little home I have. And, I’d just picked up some new and very delicious vanilla black tea! As I looked out the window, sipping away, spreading out all the things I’d traipsed home in to dry out, I thought yikes! What a storm!

tea-2616060_1280

[Image by Lense_n_Pen from Pixabay]

So, what was that awful thought I had this morning? I was thinking again about my cozy nest out from the elements. And then, I thought about how hard it would have been for pioneers back in time, who built their little homesteads in the middle of nowhere, out on vast flat fields, with nothing to see for miles around…

Well, I’d learned as a kid in school, just how life-threatening instant blizzards were for pioneers. How, a hapless individual could walk just a short distance out from their house, and be immediately lost, unable to even see well enough to get back to their front door. Uhm, that’s terrible…

winter-1965902_1280

[Image by mbll from Pixabay]

So, which teacher when I was a kid, put that everlasting, horrible thought into my head? The idea that dozens of homesteaders who’d stumbled out of their doors in a blizzard, to tie up a horse or a cow or something, froze to death in the snow, mere feet from their houses. And there, a loved one was waiting, fretting from the threshold, unable to step out from the safety of the shelter, lest they became lost too. That’s really tragic.

cabin-2972634_1280

[Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay]

Well, I guess I’m inspired today that I’m not a pioneer from the 1800’s…

wagon-wheel-2333224_1280

[Image by Successful4 from Pixabay]

It was probably that same teacher who gave us the most awesome assignment ever! Each student had to pretend they were a pioneer, traveling across the U.S. in a wagon with their family. We had to write a journal, and draw pictures, of our imagined journey. It had to be filled with both the good and the bad. A fatal snake bite one day, a swim in a refreshing stream the next. A broken wagon wheel alternating with making new friends with another caravan, etc. I had a field day imagining all the wild things that were happening to my little pioneer self!

new-life-1207327_1280

[Image by Jackie Samuels from Pixabay]

Moving on from luckless pioneers…

IMG_5126

Do you know what smell I think is amazing? Another item sparked from my childhood. Tomato vines. They have this spicy, earthy, strong scent that is difficult to describe. I remember it from my Grandma Ina’s garden on a hot summer day. And now, I sniff my tomato vines when I make a salad…

That may, or may not, be a true story.

Moving on from sniffing tomato vines…

I wanted to share a film that I thought was a real gem. The Good Catholic.

A new priest covering a late night confession meets a young woman who confesses something unexpected. His life gets a bit of a shake-up from there, as he continues to encounter this gal. All the while, his interactions with the two other more senior priests that he works alongside, add another interesting layer of things for this priest to ponder…

I liked it so much for the way it spoke on faith, love, and compassion. Also because it was funny and witty throughout. I thought the acting between the three priests was perfectly executed. And too, there’s a sweet friendship. A really nice movie.

IMG_5123

To digress, have you ever paired walnuts and cheddar cheese together? Best snack ever.

Well, I’m off to get things done, while staying cozy in my house. I’ll just hold down the fort right here. Most likely with a veggie pizza…

Stay Inspired!

Make Your Own Happiness…

Hello my dear friends, family, and readers! Happy belated Thanksgiving…I am grateful for you!

I am also happy today! Can you guess why?!?

(Do you like my little hint?)

Was it because of my morning muffin (pumpkin today!) and coffee? The two things that I undeniably cannot get my day started without? Great guess, but nope…

IMG_4925

Is it on account of the secret stash of holiday-themed cookies I’ve been surreptitiously hiding in my cupboard? (I’m promising myself I’ll give up the habit…after Christmas…COOKIES!!!)

IMG_4923

Yes, cookies make me smile, but that’s not it either…

Is it because I had a hearty, healthful vegetarian Thanksgiving plate at my Grandpa and Grandma Novak’s house yesterday, and spent time with family?

IMG_4924

Well yes…of course I’m happy because of that…but there’s something else!!!

Have you guessed yet? Need another hint?

Beauty Sleeping is here! The most enchanting fairy tale my brain has yet to imagine. It is a delightful gem! I hope it takes you away to a beautiful, mysterious, and magical place…

Ch.1-BeautySleeping

This is a snippet from the first chapter…you can ‘look inside’ the book on Amazon and read it for yourself here

BeautySleepingBackCover

For those of you new to Beauty Sleeping, it is not a youth adventure, neither is it a novel… it’s a novella. Fantasy fans, Renaissance junkies, sword clashers, believers in fairies, those who love love…this one’s for you! Enjoy!

As for me, each day I delight in making my own happiness! I’ll be working on Still, and Dragons At Dusk as the days grow colder and colder and the snow begins to fall…

Queen

For all of my Bristol Renaissance Faire friends, I’m looking forward to seeing you at The Quill and Brush for my 5th season July 2020! New tales in tow…

Making my own happiness lately has not only consisted of writing, but also reading…

IMG_4929

Various books, but also the Book. For many, Psalms is a comfort and joy to read. It is. But my favorites are Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. There’s a lot of wisdom in them both, and as I get older, I aspire to be a better, wiser, more empathetic person.

IMG_4944

I also want to be stronger, more firmly-sound-in-spirit, and a less-anxious human being! The Bible is a place of wisdom for all of those things for me…

Another source of happiness, several Netfix offerings have been quite entertaining recently. I have to tell you, I have never giggled so much as I did at the documentary film, Dancing with the Birds. If you subscribe to Netflix, you must watch it. I was utterly dazzled by these birds of paradise!

I have also been entranced with the documentary series Civilizations by PBS. Never one to think much about art, I’m now completely enraptured by everything I’m learning in this wonderful program. It’s made me want to travel to every art museum and church on the globe! Love it!

Heal, another documentary that moved me, focuses on how much our stress affects our health, and what activities in life can help negate that. It inspired me to think about how I can surrender more to calm, rest, and peace, rather than anxiety, burden, and worry. Love that!

As for holiday favorites, I thought Holly Star was so hilarious! The trailer doesn’t do it justice, it was such a cute movie!

And I also thought The Knight Before Christmas was a holiday delight! But I write fairy tales, so of course I would!

IMG_4919

Otherwise, I am quite happy with my everyday evening salads! Both healthy and satisfying, it’s a nice part of my day that I’m always looking forward to…

michellechristmas

And oh goodness! Here’s a photo of me when a tiny newling on my Mama’s lap, one Christmas long ago. Isn’t that a memory of happiness? Beauty Sleeping is dedicated to her. Without her, I would never have been inspired to write a fairy tale in the first place…

As for you…keep looking toward your health and happiness. There’s nothing more important. I’m wishing this season brings you much peace, joy, and laughter!

All of my best wishes! Stay Inspired!

Welcome to The Hen House!

Hello All! I hope that you are keeping inspired?! Glad you’re reading today, because I’ve got a special treat for you!

I enjoyed another adventure in Milwaukee last Saturday, and it included a remarkable visit to The Hen House. No, there were no clucking chickens present. Only a room full of fabulous hats, alongside one accomplished milliner!

IMG_4866

Ms. Kate McLaughlin, founder and milliner extraordinaire, was there to greet guests to her hat shop with a welcoming smile…

IMG_4830

Unbeknownst to myself when first entering, I already knew the artist! Years ago when I was a part of the Guilde of St. George at Bristol, Kate was one of the talents contributing costume expertise, helping to make history come to life!

IMG_4839

“I know you!” I blurted when seeing her behind the counter. We soon made the connection, and I’m sure that neither of us could believe that that had already been two decades ago!

IMG_4842

I soon expressed something like, “I didn’t know you loved hats so much!”

IMG_4837

Kate had a delightful response. Something along the lines that hats had always been her cookie of costumery. Love it!

IMG_4826

The Hen House is so amazing, as it brings a wonderful tradition back into our current day. The days when you could walk into a specialty shop and have something custom-made…

IMG_4832

I didn’t spend enough time to really dig into that process, but judging by the antiquated head-forms covering one wall, Kate and her shop must best be considered one of Milwaukee’s gems…

IMG_4829

This is what we will title: The Wall of Millinery Wonder…

IMG_4828

I digress, but…isn’t this one lovely?

IMG_4841

When Kate shared a little bit of her story about how The Hen House came to be, I was really inspired. When sharing that her first custom hat order after opening had been for a going home, speaking so sweetly on that memory, the gloss was readying in my eyes. When she told of the hat-making events that are hosted in her shop (wouldn’t that be fun), I imagined such a merry party. And when Kate spoke about doing what she loves, I just wanted to nod my head and smile, thinking…

IMG_4840

That’s where it is. Right here in this shop. Through all the hard work, there’s real joy, when you find a way to do what you love. You are an example, Ms. McLaughlin, Master Milliner! Thank you for the wonderful introduction to The Hen House!

IMG_4864

Now, I must add, The Hen House connects to The Brass Rooster, the master hatter of which is Kate’s husband John. It was a room full of men’s hats that is a wonder all to itself, so I’ll save it for a future post. But let’s just say, whatever style of hat you seek, I believe you’ll need look no further than 2250 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. in Milwaukee!

A Life Of Blessings…

Hello all my dear, dear friends! I know that it has been a terrible long time since I last sat down to share a tale with you! Oh heavens, months! Let’s just say, my summer was a whirlwind; it is always my busiest season! On the go, each and every day! But my stories have kept, and I’ve captured some photos of my adventures too…it is now the time once again, to share them with you…

IMG_4722

But first today, I want to send a sincere message of gratitude to each and every person in my life, who made my 4th season at the Bristol Renaissance Faire, so very blessed and wondrous. Each season, at my little shop The Quill and Brush, I take away so many special moments to fill my heart. I never forget what a privilege it is, to spend this time with readers and friends, both old and new. You give meaning, and great happiness, to my life. Thank you.

IMG_4768

Last Labor Day Monday, the final day of faire, and my birthday, Queen Elizabeth with her ladies and guards, did bless my little shop with a visit! I will share a larger post of it soon, for I received a special gift I want to show you…but I just wanted you to see my smile. That, is happiness. And that is the smile I always have at faire, when I meet so many kind, intelligent, witty, brave, talented, passionate, and generous people. Each faire day reminds me that my life is so full of blessings…

IMG_4739

Did I mention I’m still completely dazzled every time I see the Queen? The child in me, who was once upon a time so excited to meet Queen Elizabeth, will remain with me forever. But I suppose such fairy tale feelings are part of what help me dream up magic for my books!

IMG_4732

Update for the readers of my tales…

Beauty Sleeping will be available before end of September. I’ll let you know the exact day in a beat…

BeautySleeping-72

Four fair princesses, a long time ago, in a castle do dwell. Their father the king, has disappeared, from just right where he fell. The queen, their mother, walked away, floating into the wood. A sorceress watches, from her dark weald, ’tis certain she means no good…

Will-o’-the-wisps, water spirits, and many strange flowers that sigh. Fairies, goblins, nymphs, and of course, tameless dragons that fly. A time from the past, filled with peril, strange conjury, and swords. Just take one step into this world, and the journey ’twill be yours…

DragonsAtDusk

The world of Dragons at Dawn will carry on with a Part II., Dragons at Dusk. Coming later this fall…

michellewrites-72dpi-1500x2000-6

And, for you readers of the psychological thriller…I’ll be working on Still all winter. Available June 2020. My heart quickens

I’ll write again later this week…promise.

Stay inspired!

Ancient is Here! Enjoy the Adventure!

Hello All! Here’s wishing each and every one of you good health and happiness today! I wanted to share something very special today. After an almost two-year writing journey on this project, my newest novel Ancient, is finally here!

When I woke up this morning, one of first things I did was go to my computer to peek and see if Ancient was live, available to all. When I saw that it was, an instant little cry burst forth, tears spontaneously pooling. A total sneak attack cry that I wasn’t expecting. But it only took me a few seconds to understand the sudden emotion…

Writing Ancient felt a little different to me than my other books. Where before, I felt something like a puppeteer, moving my characters where I would, looking at them from above, or like a narrator, this time I felt like I’d taken the journey with my character. And this morning, when seeing that the story was now no longer just mine, I felt like I was letting go. Waving to Hem in the desert, as she disappeared like a mirage, out into a vast landscape of sand. Very bittersweet…

Ancient

For everyone who reads Ancient, it is a wonderful adventure, with a delicious pinch of romance, and many thought-provoking twists of the spiritual. Hem, a nomad in the wilderness of ancient Egypt, loses everything, her family and her life, and is left dangerously and desperately alone. This is her journey from out of darkness, and back into the light. I was with her every step…

Ancient can be purchased here in the U.S., and is available in Europe through Amazon.

When reading Ancient, remember to take along your water bottle and sunscreen, and do beware the asps and scorpions. Maybe don’t wear sandals. Just saying…

And as ever, my dear, dear friends…stay inspired.

Ancient…An Audio Introduction!

Close your eyes and for a moment, imagine the stirring winds and swirling sands, just outside the door. Out there is an endless wild, and there are many dangers in it…

This night with Namma, Hem is safe, but it will not last for long. Still ahead of her, is a very great journey…out into an ancient world…

Ancient

Ancient, coming soon!

Baroque Beauties…

As I mentioned in my post Looking Back, I’m perusing old photographs for some to share with you for what sparks of inspiration a few might contain. This photo in particular is one of my very favorites, for it is what my dreams are made of…

In 2005, my mother and I traveled to Venice, Italy (a most beloved city for me and a great influence for why I wrote Venice and subsequently Veleno). We visited during the annual Carnevale. Unfortunately, all we had was a disposable camera or two, which doesn’t help one catch all the dozens of shots they would wish for, especially during a once-in-a-lifetime event like this. For folks like my mom and I, who revel in history and costuming, Carnevale was a constant parade of mind-boggling delights. My brain still drifts there in my daydreams, this magical place in my memories. If only I could go back and hand us both a digital camera so that we could have captured so much more…

venice

But alas, at least we got a few treasured shots, like this one. These three Baroque beauties broke my brain. No idea who they were, from what nation they’d hailed, or who their (utterly talented) costumer and wigmakers were, but to cross their path made this gal stop dead in her tracks. There was a crush of people in St. Mark’s Square where this photo was taken, which I’m sure made it even harder to capture more, or get around to secure better full-costume shots…

scan0003

For the Venetian Carnevale, you have two options for costumes. You can have everything made by a costumer at home (like my oh-so-talented Mama) and carry everything with you to the city (praying that your luggage doesn’t get lost or your masks and accessories crushed..which would have devastated me. You would have heard my cries from Venice clear across the Adriatic). Or, you can rent a costume in Venice, and even have your hair (and I’m sure makeup) professionally done. That would, of course, cost you a pretty penny, and I’m certain wouldn’t be feasible to repeat each day of your visit (unless you’re a millionaire), but it certainly would be an experience…

In any case, those Baroque lovelies looked like they’d stepped right out of 1750 and rendered me speechless. Those pillared wigs, the grandeur of their flowered and ribboned hats, their satiny extravagance and furry muffs to cover chilled hands. Even the large pearl drops hanging from one woman’s ears (oh, pearls…so pure and pretty) inspire me. I swoon. I swoon and fall down…

It is my hope that my mom Lita and I will someday return to Venice, to once more take in the Carnevale, perhaps even holding two tickets to the Il Ballo del Doge. A gal can dream, and save her pennies. After all, sometimes, dreams really do come true…

Whatever your dreams, never let them go. Stay Inspired!

Looking Back…

I’ve had a mind for some time to go through my old photographs, most of them taken before the advent of digital cameras and smart phones. I thought I might select a handful to share with you, for a few of the travel adventures, costumes, special stories and sparks of inspiration they might contain. But also, for I am considering digitizing my photos and purging the actual bulky box they fill. Of course, some hard copies I will always keep, the most special of these slipped between the pages of my Bible, a safe place where I keep some of my treasures…

michellebaptism

[My baptism at the age of 12. I was very happy.]

Now, please don’t frown when you read this, for it is actually funny. If you were witness, it would make you chuckle. There are two things that make me cry on cue in this world…

dove-2680487_1280

The first of these is Christian music. You could actually test this like a science experiment, and the result would be the same every time. Come sit in the car with me, for example, and switch the music to the Christian station. I’ll start blubbering in about 15 to 30 seconds. Why? I dunno. Fond memories of singing hymns in church on a sunny Sunday morning? Moved by the Holy Spirit? A feeling of hope and a vision of eternal light? Whatever it is, pass me the Kleenex…oh heavens!

church-1081718_1280

The second thing that makes me cry on cue? Christian movies. For real. Moses leading the Israelites through the Red Sea? Noah and the Ark?

beach-768587_1280

Me: “RUN MOSES! Hurry! Lead the people to safety! Sob, sob, sob, squeal. Noah! Collect all the animals!! Hurry! The rains are coming! Get your family to the Ark! Blubber, blubber, blubber. Oh, for goodness sake…

jesus-3548007_1280

Well, now there seems to be a new item to add to this quirky list of what makes me cry on cue. Perhaps it is because I am getting older and beginning to understand the idea of nostalgia…but my old photos now make me reach for a tissue box…oh geez!

michelleschool

Here is one taken on the drive of my grandparents’ home, certainly just returning from school on the bus. I am guessing it is autumn, I in my little sweater, carrying my itty-bitty pink jacket and my red school bag. Was this where it all began? My love for school? Where my insatiable curiosity, and elation over the smell of old books and pencil erasers began? Gimme’ a handkerchief somebody! What, nobody carries a cotton hankie anymore? Snifflesniffle

michellechristmas

And here, a photo with my Mama at a family Christmas gathering. My beautiful mother. My hands up to my mouth with the surprise felt in opening a special present. I love you Mama! I love you the most!

michellediner

And here. Do you see the awe in my face sitting in a diner, anticipating that dinner plate?! That’s the same look I still get every time I go to a restaurant to this day! Anyone who knows me can attest that this is true…

More fun blasts from my past to come! And also, release of my newest novel Ancient not afar off! Stay tuned friends, but most importantly…Stay Inspired!

Tin Foil And Red Hots Forever…

This is Jessica, one of my most beloved friends. She was married in Paris a handful of years ago and I stood up with her as her Maid of Honor. It was a morning I will never forget. Have you ever seen a more beautiful bride?!

Wedding2

I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so much in my life, so happy was I be with my best friend on her special day…

Wedding1

I felt compelled today to remind her what an amazing person she is! How intelligent, beautiful, and strong…

photo 5

She’s also hilarious!

photo 4

Like, the kind of funny where you’re perpetually experiencing that deep gut laughter…

photo 9

Or maybe it’s just because we understand one another’s humor? When we were girls, we used tin foil to set curls into our hair, and ate red hots while we did. It was a thing? We’re weird…

photo 6

A while back, we attended a special exhibit, Passion For Fashion at The Art Institute here in Chicago. I can say that I’m definitely the sort of woman who prefers fashion from history, rather than modern fashion! We of course had a blast reviewing the incredible displays…

photo 11

It’s difficult to see the details from my photos through the glass, but we marveled at some very old, well-preserved dresses…

photo 13

My biggest wonder was how a woman’s waist could ever be that tiny?

photo 12

And the art they exhibited that showed fashion from the past was obviously very romantic and beautiful. I need to get back to the Art Institute soon and take another stroll…

photo 14

I love special exhibits like these. Jessica and I also once went to see a preserved baby mammoth at The Field Museum, on the coldest winter day ever. That was incredible. How fortunate I am to be in a city with so many wonderful museums and theaters, and always have an amazing friend to go to them with!

Jessy, just wanted to thank you for being in my life, my most beloved friend. We are going to live to be very old ladies together. Tin foil and red hots forever!

Do what you love, don’t skip a beat…

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

IMG_3930

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

IMG_3926

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

IMG_3925

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

IMG_3916

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

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

LOVE IT! Thank you Taylor!

IMG_3933

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

Grazie mille Priscilla!

feather-3237961_1280

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

Ancient: Coming Soon!

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

michellewrites-72dpi-1500x2000-3

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

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

The Doge’s Ball of Venice

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

mask-2137634_1280

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

scan0001

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

scan0005

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

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

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

scan0003

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

carnival-venice-1803622_1280

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

The Itty Bitty Littles: Audio Chapter 1

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

IMG_3285

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

Littles-300dpi-3125x4167-2

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

Waiting For Spring…

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

IMG_3671

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

IMG_3672

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

IMG_3676

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

IMG_3616

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

IMG_3678

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

IMG_3641

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

IMG_3674

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

The Angel In Your Midst

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

pyramids-2371501_1280

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

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

mourning-1927390_1280

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

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

Think about that for a second…

bread-2087617_1280

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

ancient-1835865_1280

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

cyprus-2715348_1280

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

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

My brain just broke…

angel-2578570_1280.png

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

angel-2890670_1280

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

andromeda-galaxy-755442_1280

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

angel-965822_1280

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

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

That Mummy You Didn’t Know Existed

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

history-1901078_1280

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

canopic-jars-765073_1280

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

mummy-1895078_1280

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

220px-Tollundmannen

[Photo Credit: Sven Rosborn]

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

Llullaillaco_mummies_in_Salta_city,_Argentina

[Photo Source: Pedro Groover]

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

death-2548491_1280

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

jerusalem-church-2611211_1280

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

saint-2356564_1280

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

model-1838137_1280

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

monk-555391_1280

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

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

monk-1545250_1280

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

cyprus-2718951_1280

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

diya-2918628_1280

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

sphinx-2116041_1280

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

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

Veleno Giveaway on Goodreads!

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

Veleno-300dpi-3125x4167-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3265

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

Veleno-300dpi-3125x4167-2

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

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

Please share these giveaways, and spread the fun!

IMG_0445

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

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 9.59.44 AM

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

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

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 10.02.01 AM

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

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 10.15.20 AM

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

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 10.51.40 AM

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

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 11.25.43 AM

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

cimg1547

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

feather-2541570_1280

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

Stay well, stay happy, stay inspired!

A Spirited Tune!

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

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

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

LOVING This Show!

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your current favorites?

The Merriest of the Merry!

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

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

West With The Night

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

IMG_3306

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

640px-Beryl_Markham_(12990136984)

[Photo Credit: Tekniska Museet]

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

red-river-hog-330849_1280

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

horse-2613932_1280

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

sunset-1748642_1280

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

mandrill-396289_1280

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

lion-2502785_1280

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

elephant-2452738_1280

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

aircraft-2497005_1280

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

desert-1270345_1280

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

africa-944465_1280

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

hyena-1022409_1280

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

africa-290434_1280

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

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

My Cup Runneth Over!

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

IMG_3292

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

IMG_3272

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

IMG_3271

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

IMG_3301

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

IMG_3285

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

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

IMG_3296

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

scan0006

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

IMG_1080

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

IMG_1213

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

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

IMG_3296

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

CIMG2464

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

Merry Meet, Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again!

Veleno Is Here!

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

Veleno-300dpi-3125x4167-2

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

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

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

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

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

Available now on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

The Quill And Brush

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

IMG_3264

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

IMG_3265

But to give you a sneak peak…

There once was a great Venetian palace.

The name of which, everyone did know.

Inside its walls dwelled an esteemed noble family.

All revere, ’tis the House of Orso!

 

Its patriarch, a rich and powerful merchant.

With a wife very clever, such a beautiful sight.

His daughters, four, a precious gift.

How unfortunate now, each should meet their plight…

 

Orso dead? Perhaps by plague!

Mirella turned strange, a widow made.

 

Fina gone, for a courtesan’s life.

Noemi must escape, or make a woeful wife.

Mafalda will rise in a cold, cruel pit.

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

 

Venice’s year, 1575.

Pestilence arrives, Venetians fear for their lives!

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

Yet can courage be enough, to escape the grave?

 

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!

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!

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 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!

Holy Chapel of Paris: Sainte-Chapelle

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

cimg1953

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

cimg1956

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

cimg1958

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

cimg1962

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

cimg1967

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

cimg1963

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

cimg1973

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

cimg1972

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

cimg1978

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

cimg1982

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

cimg1987

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

cimg1992

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

cimg1997

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

cimg1999

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

cimg2002

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

cimg2005

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

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!

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!

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

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

img_2908

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

vegetables-752153_1280

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

barley-1117282_1280

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

vegetables-1695831_1280

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

ornamental-corn-1651971_1280

Three Squares spans a great many topics…

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

fried-eggs-456351_1280

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

The House of the Seven Gables

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

witchs-house-1635770_1280

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

img_6446

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

img_6462

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

1024px-house_of_the_seven_gables_1915

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

house-of-seven-gables-404200_1280

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

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

boiler-1588646_1280

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

img_2838

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

candles-195109_1280

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

witchs-house-836849_1280

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

moon-1275694_1280

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

owls-1461952_1280

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

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

Terrible Typhoid Mary

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

img_2815

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

virus-1441444_1280

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

ladies-1069781_1280

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

faucet-1581573_1280

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

girl-32403_1280

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

bacteria-96601_1280

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

candle-626169_1280

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

greens-266560_1280

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

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!

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!