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!” 

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!

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!

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]

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!

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

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!

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!

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!

Dragons at Dawn

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

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

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

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

Available now on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

Summer Delights, and A Mystery Solved!

We’ve finally received warm weather here in Evanston! 70s and even low 80s! Now, I’m more of a cool weather gal (I get a little grouchy when it gets into the 90s) but this weather is truly perfect. I’ve spent several days writing outside on the porch (my absolute favorite way to spend the day) and am looking forward to many more…

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Tiddo has enjoyed his first sprigs of summer catnip, which is already growing quite abundantly around the neighborhood. He’s also been trying to dart out of the front door and is yowling like a wild thing. He wants to spend the day outside too!

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For me, the moment the weather turns from cool and dreary to warm and sunny, what I want on my plate changes as well. As soon as it turned mid-70s this week, I wanted a caprese salad!

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And though a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil usually do on my salads, once summer begins, I’ve a hankering for reduced balsamic…

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Pour a few cups into a sauce pan, place over low heat and then stir (and stir, and stir) until it is reduced to about a fourth of what you originally poured in. When you taste it, the bitterness should have run out and the sweetness kicked in. I like to then cool it in a ramekin in the fridge, it becomes thick as molasses. Oh heavens! Remember to keep stirring while it cooks however, or else it will burn immediately and will not turn out.

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I also made a delightful quesadilla for breakfast, with a caprese twist. Purple onion, red and yellow tomatoes, basil…

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I particularly like experimenting with breakfast. I’m weirdly ravenous about an hour after I wake up each morning. Therefore, I think just about everything sounds delicious and am more willing to cook up something out of the ordinary for that meal.

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And now for a mystery solved! This was so cool! The raccoons have been out, enjoying the nice weather too. This isn’t the same dude who was hanging off of our tree the other day (who looked a little scrawny I thought), this one is a real healthy size. I took this picture of him in the backyard (safely from the window of course).

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The shots are blurry, but if you look closely, he’s digging around in our backyard drainpipe! He pulled out some snacks to munch on, who knows what it was. Wet and stinky no doubt, gross!

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What made me smile when I saw this was that one, he went straight for the drain as he ambled through the yard, as though it was one of his usual spots to check for a bite. Second, if you look to the top of the photo, you’ll see a brick. There used to be a green cover over that hole that mysteriously kept coming off, and broke apart. I thought it was the result of lawn mowing. So, I placed a brick over the hole so that debris (leaves and sticks) would not clog the drain. Though capped off, it’s still designed to capture water below the surface…

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Mysteriously, that brick kept being moved. Usually, just aside the hole. Sometimes, a few feet away. I even asked my honey one day when I noticed this strange phenomena, “Did you move that brick???” Nope, he didn’t do it. I was puzzled, because it kept happening.

Was this noisome gases pushing up the brick? Hmmm. Was this a backyard ghost? Hmmm. A mischievous fairy? (I have an overactive imagination…good for book writing). The wind certainly can’t blow a heavy brick over. What was this! Go to bed and the brick is there, look out in the morning and it is inches away. NOW I know why! The clever raccoons know that there are snacks down there, or maybe he’s getting a gulp of water?

Here is wishing you’ll find special delights in each and every day, no matter the weather!

Making Friends

“Mom, mom, mom, MOM! This is my new friend I was telling you about!”

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“Yes Tiddo, who is this friend? Oh, I see!”

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“Mom, is he a cat like me? Can he come in and play? Can I go out and climb the tree with him? Can he come in for dinner? I’ll share my crunchy treats with him!”

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“Oh Tiddo, always so sweet. You and your friend can just talk from the window for today, ok?”

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“Pssst…hey, you there! Hey you cat! Got any grub? Got any chicken bones?”

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“Gotta go, my mom is calling me! Tonight, she’s teaching me how to sneak into garbage cans! I’ll save you a tuna can if I find one! See ya’ around!”

Bringer of Peace

This beautiful creature was right outside my window early yesterday morning. He saw me, but didn’t fly away. I wondered if the dove wasn’t sick, as I’ve seen pigeons puff up and disregard people when they are (and doves are of the pigeon family). But it was just the cold, and this little perch was actually perfect for soaking in the rising sun.

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We frequently have lovely sets of doves in our yard. They nest in our neighborhood and often peck around for seeds in the grass. I stop and listen to their cooing. Doesn’t this beauty look so soft and precious?

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Unfortunately, we’ve had none of the fine April weather I’ve been hoping for. We’ve been having random snowfalls, which instantly melt in the sun, and then dump down from the next cloud, and then melt once more. One minute white, ten minutes later, all green again. Pretty odd, and chilly too! This little guy was waiting it out in the sun until the snow melted, which it did.

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He was resting on this little vine trellis. I love how these baby green vines are peeking out, soon to uncoil, climb and burst to life. These vines try to climb up the window in the summer, they are very hearty.

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The snowy path to our little secret garden…

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Where the shockingly bright green plants and the birdies are all having trouble deciding whether it is spring, or still winter…

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And the daffodils are quite sad in the snow (though they continuously perk up again as soon as the sun hits them)…

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But as for that dove…they say when one sits at your window, that they are bringers of peace. It is a reminder to your spirit to be still and forget your stresses. And don’t we all constantly wrestle with our inner worries and stresses?

I’m sharing the dove at my window with you, to bring you peace. Don’t let your stresses speak louder than your joys and comforts, for with every winter you weather, spring will come. A little birdie told me so…

Fur For Fleas

It’s fun to be wrong, at least when it comes to research. It allows you to be surprised, delighted and to learn new things!

Having always loved history, costuming and even participating in Renaissance re-enactment, there were ‘facts’ that I’ve never questioned. Learned people told me so, and I’d read so, so it must be true! Well that isn’t always the case. Take the flea fur…

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Oh heavens, look at those pearls! I digress. (If you love pearls as much as I do, don’t forget about Inspired by Venice‘s pearl earrings giveaway!)

Above is Isabella de’Medici (Italian), from 1558. At her side, you can see a special accessory. It is a zibellino or flea fur, adorned with gems.

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And here is Bianca Ponzoni Anguissola (Italian), 1557. She too has a flea fur, gilded, a head of gold, gems for eyes.

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And here, a flea fur at the collar of this woman (England, mid-1500’s).

You can find many, many portraits of nobles and their flea furs. Of course, people have been wearing furs for forever. But this particular way of wearing them (perhaps for looks, and displaying their riches) is noticed starting in the mid-late 1400’s.

I had always read, and been told, that the flea fur also had a practical purpose. It was to attract biting fleas from off of bodies. Even nobles crawled with fleas, money meant nothing when these creatures infested bedding, infrequently washed clothing, pets, etc. Nobles were said to place these furs on their person, so that the fleas would gather on the fur and then they could shake them, or beat them out.

Makes sense, only, it isn’t true. It was first surmised that this was the purpose for the pelts in the 1890’s, though no evidence has shown that the flea fur was anything but an accessory.

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Another noble lady holding her fur, Italy 1515. It’s fascinating how easily fiction becomes fact, this particular one developing in the late 19th century, and still a misdirected belief today. It reminds me to be careful to not take what people write or say, to be truth (even though in this case, I want to believe it!). Flea furs, held in the hand, hanging from the waist, laying over the shoulder, pinned to the breast, were just a vain display.

Oh well. I can still imagine this noble lady, frustrated with fleas, running outside to fling her flea fur about. Fiction perhaps, but amusing!

Brainy Ravens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woodpeckers Wear Helmets

I had an odd thought the moment I woke up this morning. It was the very first thing to enter my brain when I opened my eyes…

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Usually my first thought is…

“Where’s the coffee!?” or “I’m starving, what am I going to have for breakfast?!” or “Croissants! Cinnamon Toast Crunch! Quiche! Cake! French Fries! Cheese! How should I start the day?”

But not today. Today it was, “How do woodpeckers peck like that without getting a headache?” Yup, that was my first thought. Was there a woodpecker pecking outside to inspire this question? Nope.

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As soon as I could (after eating breakfast and having some coffee of course), I had to look it up. What did I learn?

Most importantly, these little dudes have an odd shaped bone (which looks like a crown that loops around their head) that acts like a safety belt to keep its skull snug in its place. In other species, this bone called the hyoid (much like a natural helmet), does not exist. Check it out here!

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Also important, their skulls are less hard & more flexible than other birds’ (due to the way their skull bones are layered), thus they handle impact better.

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Further, their top beak is longer, while the bottom is shorter and tougher. The bottom beak helps soak in the intense pecking of the top beak!

It is for those reasons that a woodpecker doesn’t need birdie aspirin. Now that I know this, I can officially start my day.

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Woodpecker fun facts!

You may have to squint, but if you look at the tip of the beak on the woodpecker above, you’ll see his tongue. They have very long tongues (up to four inches) and they use them to help capture those delicious bugs they’re pecking for. “Ha-ha you grub! You cannot escape my long tongue!”

Woodpeckers don’t serenade and warble like other birdies. So how do the male woodpeckers attract a girlfriend? They peck out their love calls on hollow objects (like garbage cans, rotton tree trunks, the rain drain on your house). So the next time you wonder why that woodpecker is so silly to be looking for bugs by pecking on the tin of your roof (I’ve had that very thought)…he’s not looking for a meal, he’s looking for a date.

How fast can a woodpecker peck? 20 pecks per second. That’s nuts.

If you look at a woodpecker’s toes, they grow in two directions (front and back) so that they can grip and climb with ease, also using their very strong tail plumage to keep them steady as they perch and peck!

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I’m really glad my honey doesn’t bang on hollow metal garbage cans to get my attention, as woodpeckers do when calling to their girlfriends. I don’t think that would go over very well!

Citrus in Chicago

Text message from my honey: “…did you give the squirrels a tangerine?”

My reply text: “They foraged in our garbage bin…………I think.”

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I saw the tangerine sitting on the front lawn when I left the house. Yes, I sometimes feed the squirrels and chipmunks, even though I know that I shouldn’t because they become pesky. I learned that lesson after giving them some berries and nuts while writing outside last summer. Before long, I could hardly type a word without a chipmunk or squirrel approaching my bare feet to see if my toes were almonds.

The tangerine in the yard (which I believe was foraged in the trash) had a perfect hole bore into one side and the fruit removed. I told a friend this because I thought it was unique (don’t squirrels peel their tangerines with those little squirrley hands?). My pal moved here recently from a warmer climate. She immediately told me about the palm rat or roof rat.

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They live where fruit trees are abundant, which is why I hadn’t heard of them before. We certainly can’t grow citrus in Chicago! She said that when you go to pick what looks like an unblemished piece of fruit (fruit trees grow abundantly in people’s neighborhoods), you often find a perfect hole bore into the back and the fruit removed. The culprit is the roof rat. I had to look the creature up!

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Though not unlike other rats, they like to nest away from the ground and love to eat fruit. They apparently plague homes by nesting in roofs and eating all the fruit from the trees. There are even ‘rat guards’ that you can put on your citrus trees to keep the rats out. I read this article and felt sorry for folks who have to deal with that. It seems to be a rather serious problem for home owners.

Of course, the tangerine in my yard had been eaten by a squirrel, who though not as precise with his drilling abilities, had made an impressive round. I’m very thankful that we don’t have roof rats; our raccoons are quite enough. Yet again, I learned something new! I’ve certainly never seen a rat climb a tree…only dumpster dive and dodge taxis!

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As for me, I made fresh orange juice this morning (one of my absolute favorite ways to start the day). This glass juicer is vintage! Didn’t you know that vintage juicers make the juice taste better? Wait…that’s just my imagination? When at Volo Antique Mall with my folks, I declared I wanted to find a juicer, and this pretty yellow one came home with me!

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Do you think the sunshine in my glass might melt that snow? Oh citrus! How delicious!

Thanks for sparing me a few oranges, you naughty roof rats!

Rascally Raccoons

The first summer that we lived in our house, we knew there was an army of raccoons living in the neighborhood. There is plenty of woodsy habitat, but also plenty of garbage bins for them to get a meal from.

We have an enormous (and this is no understatement) tree, quite old indeed, that rises up against the back of the house. As with any other house on the block, we host a family of raccoons in our tree. They have a brood of babies each summer.

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That first summer was dreadful. The wily creatures ran over the roof (presumably to descend another tree at the front of the house) a hundred times a night. We had trouble sleeping and would wake up grouchy. For a time, I thought they must be living in the roof. But inspections didn’t reveal any nests. They live in the big tree.

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Those raccoons are bold! The first summer, as handsome and I sat on our back porch enjoying a glass of wine, a raccoon descended the tree. I ran up onto the porch to get inside the house. Though I am an animal lover and certainly not afraid of raccoons, I was surprised that the animal had no issues with joining us in our rendezvous. I worried that he might be deranged to come so close (as raccoons can carry rabies).

He kept coming…my knight in shining armor swung an empty wine bottle into the air and yelled at the raccoon, encouraging it to take a hike. What did it do? It slid down the remaining few inches of tree trunk, into the grass like a Slip N Slide and lounged in the grass like a cat. That was really crazy. We finished our date in the house.

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On another evening, I went to bed after cooking a delicious dinner (which made the house smell delicious too). I left my window open and woke in the night. A baby raccoon had propped itself between the big tree and the open window. I woke because I heard a strange purring, and it wasn’t my cat. It was looking right at me through the screen as I lay in bed, I think it was a plea to let him get a bite of whatever smelled so good and was wafting out of the house!

Once, Tiddo saw one climbing down the tree and put his paw up on the window to greet it. I thought that was polite. The raccon swatted out at the window and growled something terrible. Tiddo didn’t make a new friend.

There was another evening where the raccoon growls, screeching, hissing and screaming was out of control. I sleepily got out of bed and looked out the window just as a neighbor’s motion sensor lights went on. At least a dozen of the animals could be seen scurrying in the alley where trash bins are kept. And then…an enormous one waddled across the alley and into the shadows. My first reaction was that it was a person walking on all fours. That raccoon was the biggest I’ve ever seen.

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Starting a few weeks ago, the neighborhood has been tormented with nightly raccoon brawls and merrymaking. We believe that the temperate weather has brought them out far earlier than the years before. We’ve hardly been able to believe our ears. When they meet, they make the most beastly noises!

Every year there is a brood of babies (2, 3 or 4) that live in our tree. We suspect we’ll be meeting the newborns sooner than usual! I’ll try to catch a photo!

What was that?

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

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

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

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Coming soon!

Soon to be released! The Fairy Woods!

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

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

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

Look It Up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware The Fairies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Basket Full of Kittens

This is 6 month old Sasha, and one very sweet kitten!IMG_1922.JPG

My folks have big hearts, this is the third kitty they’ve adopted recently and their home is filled with kitty play and joy. It definitely warms a home!

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I love, love, love cats. We’ve had them all my life. After my folks lost their last cats to old age, they said they wouldn’t have any more. If you’ve had a pet, you know how much love you have for them; it is very difficult when they pass on.

Knowing that they wouldn’t be adopting any more, I was shocked to discover on one visit that they’d not just adopted one, but two young black cats, Midnight and Peanut.

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And then on Christmas, this little one hops up on the table and I wondered how one of the other cats had lost so much weight? But then I immediately realized it wasn’t one of them at all, but rather a third addition.

I always say on Christmas, or my birthday, that I’d be happy to receive a basket full of kittens. If I ever become an eccentric old millionaire with a huge house and kitty sitters to help me attend to them all, I’d welcome a few baskets full. But for now, my Tiddo is the apple of my eye!

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Though Sasha is welcome to come over for a play date!

Pearl Earrings Giveaway II.

It’s December 1st! It’s the season of cheer! It’s the season of giving! I woke up this morning with a smile on my face before I had my coffee…I’m off to a good start! The sun just came out of those dim, sad clouds here in Evanston and the cardinals are flitting about in their red glory!

It’s a beautiful day, a day for a giveaway!!

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Pearls are my favorite adornment, I wear them almost every day. I think pearls are beautiful. Pearls are precious and perfect and so unique in many ways!

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Today I am giving away these precious beauties! Sterling silver, freshwater drop pearls (pink-gold color) by Brenda Duncan of The Black Pearl, purchased at the Bristol Renaissance Faire.

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To enter the pearl earrings giveaway, write one thing that makes you smile in the comments! A random winner will be selected this Friday, December 4th, 9am (Chicago time) and I’ll announce the winner here on Inspired By Venice.

*Fun fact!!! Did you know that all mollusks can produce pearls? And did you know that octopus and escargot snails, mussels, squid, slugs and scallops are all mollusks? It’s true! Check out this octopus pearl!

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Coconut Octopus

*Photo from wikipedia, found here. This handsome little dude carries around shells and coconut shells for protection, very smart!

One Majestic Bird

I was reviewing photos from a zoo outing I took with my folks a few years back and thought these were so lovely. This gorgeous bird (and a few of his friends) were allowed to roam the zoo outside of any enclosures, though it was clear that zoo staff kept a watchful eye on them with all the people so dazzled and close by. I was able to stand pretty close to observe, though hesitantly…to be chased by a peacock wouldn’t have been surprising for me, I just have that kind of luck.

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Fun fact…a peacock is a boy bird (with all the pretty feathers) while a peahen (the lady bird) is rather plain. Their babies are peachicks (awww) and after birth, the little dudes can run out of the nest after just a few days! Altogether, they are peafowl.CIMG2351.JPG

Isn’t he handsome! He’s looking for his gal so that he can strut his stuff.

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I didn’t see his lady friend, she must have been shyly sitting in the flower bushes to admire her boyfriend.

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It was a little windy and he was trying to keep his dance up, with some difficulty…

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The wind forced him around, but his lady got to admire his orange rear feathers. I think I heard her whistle!CIMG2350.JPG

Peafowl build their nests on the ground but like to get into the trees to sleep, safe away from predators. Like chickens, they peck around the ground for their grub. They love bugs, flowers and plant seeds, and also little water creatures like small fish and frogs…they even hunt lizards!

People also own them as pets, and like chickens, they will eat just about whatever you give them. You can fry up their eggs (about three times the size of a chicken’s egg), apparently they make a pretty good breakfast. The only problems with owning peafowl is that they really tear up the garden and they screech like something horrible. Well, I’d say they make up for their annoying voices with their looks!