Out Into The Storm I Go…

Have you ever been so tired, that you couldn’t even sleep? I’ve hardly slept the last two nights, in spite of being extremely fatigued. I actually rose before dawn this morning, to the delight of my cat, who aspires to wake me just before sunrise every morning. My schedule has just been so busy that my brain won’t slow down. Time…to…slow…down…

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Thunderstorms are pulling into Evanston within the hour, and are supposed to dramatically lessen the hot and humid temperatures. I live just a few blocks from Lake Michigan, so when the storms come through, the wind that flows through my house feels amazing. A storm, a blessed breeze…sleeping weather

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A week ago, there was one similar night. I had all the windows open and there was a peculiar noise at my screen. A loud buzzing insect. It sounded like a May beetle, a June bug, but it was a late August evening. I kept ordering Tiddo the cat to “go get that bug” every time the creature buzzed. I knew Tiddo couldn’t actually get to whatever it was, but it’s good for him to feel like he’s on the hunt once in a while in his old age. My cat however, wouldn’t budge from a cozy spot, though he kept perking up to the noise. At length, I had to know what this insect was in my window, while a restless wind brought in a strong rain…

It was a cicada, just more than a few in fact, having a discussion in my window. If I were to guess, it had something to do with the coming storm, for they are not usually found in my casement. I opened one screen, stuck out a hand, and easily collected a few for a moment to marvel, soon to send them out on their way again…

 

I believe I’ll go out now and take a hard walk by the lake, wear myself out, maybe even get caught in the rain?

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By the time I get back, and that wind starts flowing through my windows, I may just be able to finally get that sleep, with a humming cicada song and perhaps a bit of thunder to send me into my dreams…

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Out into the storm I go…

Stay inspired friends.

I Am The Bug Whisperer…

Hello friends! Are you enjoying the end of your summer? My summer has been absolutely amazing, right out from a dream! I’ve a magical post to share soon from The Quill and Brush, but in the meanwhile, just wanted to take a moment to bring you this precious little creature…

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As you know, I love bugs. Love them. At present, my favorite are jumping spiders. In my tented shop at the Bristol Renaissance Faire, a fairly large jumping spider was taking a stroll around on my books. We had a moment together, me and my spider, and then he carried on his way. Not everyone will understand, but I find little moments like these spellbinding

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Goodness those eyes! They have four sets of eyes! And those fuzzy front paddle legs! To note, jumping spiders can bite (if threatened), something like a bee sting to which some might have a bit of a reaction. So, I’m not promoting playing with spiders. I was very gentle. No bites for me please!

 

Here’s encouraging you to remember to stop and notice the beauty in nature around you! It is so spectacular, yet ever easy to pass right by. Take a moment to take in the sky, to gaze at the moon, to feel the wind on your skin, to enjoy the scent of a fresh rain, to muse over a few seconds of bird chatter…or in my case, share a moment with a spider!

All my best to you today! Enjoy these fleeting days of summer! Stay Inspired!

Turn Out The Lights And Let Them Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tale Of The Terrible Tick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Delights of Summer!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Guess not!

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

The Bird Of Prey Outside My Window!

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

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

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

A Gaggle Of Geese

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

 

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

Swingin’ My Arms and Swayin’ My Hips!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Itty Bitty Littles: Audio Chapter 1

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

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

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

Waiting For Spring…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware The Ninja Pepper…

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

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

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

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

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

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[Photo of the offending peppers uncooked]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My Herb Kit: A Poem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Cat’s First Love In Winter…

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

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

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

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

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

That Mummy You Didn’t Know Existed

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

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

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

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

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[Photo Credit: Sven Rosborn]

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

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[Photo Source: Pedro Groover]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patty Cake, Patty Cake…Poom!

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

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

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

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

The Blessing Of A Friend’s Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am the Gobbler of Greens!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Cicada’s Ethereal Birth Part II.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C’mon Little Dude, Let’s Get Outside!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay Inspired Friends!

A Cicada’s Ethereal Birth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Basket Full Of Flowers Giveaway!

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

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

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

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

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

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

West With The Night

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

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

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[Photo Credit: Tekniska Museet]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Scorpion In My Bathroom?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what did I find?

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[Photo Credit: Kaldari]

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

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[Photo Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0]

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

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[Photo Credit: Sarefo]

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

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

The Versatile Blogger Award!

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

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

About the Versatile Blogger Award:

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

Seven facts about Michelle, author of Inspired By Venice

Hmmmm…let’s be random here…

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

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

Earthstar

Getting The Picture

Fashion Through History

Fed’s Life

The Third Planet

Sawaworld

The Merry Thought

The Wifey’s Corner

Smart Veg Recipes

The World According To Dina

Jess Did What

Meandering With Misha

Experience Of Thinking

Japan Etc.

Agreeable Things

Thank you for your awesome, inspiring blogs!

What’s New, Shelly-Poo!?

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

So what’s new, Shelly-Poo? Let’s see…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peek-a-boo, I see you!

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

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

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

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

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[Photo Credit: Jurgen Otto]

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

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

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

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

Just Where I Want To Be

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Itty Bitty Littles Giveaway!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Eat That Ackee, Eve!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[Photo Credit: DocTaxon]

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

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

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

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

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

Nature must be respected

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

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

Here is hoping you are enjoying your adventure today!

Sneaky, Slithering Sea Snail!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m A Hummingbird…

Cue the music please:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Worry About A Thing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Far And Away…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ra-Ra-Sis-Boom-Bah!

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

[Photo Credit: Prilfish]

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

[Photo Credit: Hectonichus]

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

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

My Grandma’s Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lizzadro Museum Of Lapidary Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every Time I Read The News

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

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Psalms 145:8-9 KJV

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

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

I’m A Cardinal…Part II.

Cue the music please:

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

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

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

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

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I’m a Cardinal, you know what I mean…

[I’m A Cardinal, Part I. Click Here]

A Night At The Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And her enormous teeth are nightmare worthy…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chip Snatching Seagulls!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Message Of Peace Upon The Shore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And writings that are very wise indeed…

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

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

Demise of the Duckie…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Whaaaa! EEEhhhhh!!! Noooooeeeewww!

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

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

We Are All But Buds And Berries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nests of Great Egrets

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Golden Egg Part II.

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

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

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

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

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

The Book Of Dragons Giveaway!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Up, Chippy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abducted & Packing For Mars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Delightful Giveaway!

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

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

Here’s A Health To The Company…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mermaiden

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

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

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

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

Available now on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

A Moment With Nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer Storms, Sunny Smiles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Arugula salad with soft boiled eggs…

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

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

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

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