My Cup Runneth Over!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Meet, Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again!

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!

I’m lovin’ your style, Newark!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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!

Good Tidings From Bristol!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lady In A Green Dress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mitchell Museum of the American Indian

The behemoth museums that regularly have dazzling new exhibits and thousands of visitors each year are of course fun! The Field Museum here in Chicago has a very special place in my heart (I’m especially nuts about their permanent insect exhibit). Lately however, when taking the opportunity to go to a museum, I’m leaning toward the smaller gems…such as Evanston’s Mitchell Museum of the American Indian!

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I took a pleasant bike ride over to this informative and precious museum this week and toured it in about 45 minutes. If I’d read more of the plaques that shared all of the history of each piece, it would have taken a little longer to get around…

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So what did I enjoy? First, the beadwork. Have you ever felt beadwork in your hands? The cool, slinky weight of it is so different from anything else.

Glass beads were first introduced to American Indians by European settlers. Before that, the use of bone, porcupine quills, shells and seeds were more common for decoration.

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Papoose! I was struck by these. I stood staring at them imagining a more natural life out-of-doors with a baby on my hip and no crib or fancy stroller. These hearty women strapped in their plump-cheeked cuties and went about their work.

What I really found interesting is that these weren’t meant to just wear on the back or prop up against a tree. They could also be tied higher up on a post of a dwelling, or to the side of a horse. Can you imagine being a little dude in a papoose riding on the side of your mother’s horse through the plains? What an adventure!

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I really liked the art pieces that depicted different American Indian cultures throughout the U.S. Sadly, movies (and especially old westerns) aren’t regularly true to history (and are even stereotypical and offensive) about native American culture. It’s important to visit museums to view precious collections (like this one) and learn the real history. Illustrations like these were an extra boost, giving me a better idea of how differently people lived depending on climate and region. These would be especially good for kids to check out!

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I delighted in these weaved pieces. I’m so used to seeing thick weaved baskets, that the teeny-tiny weave on some of these had me wondering how they did that. No little grains or treasures have a chance of escape from one of those. Incredible!

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This photo is for you jewelry/turquoise lovers. Ogle away!

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I swooned over the dolls, which like the paintings, illustrated daily life. I thought they were very special!

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And so cool…goggles made from leather! I learned that hunters needed these to help with the intense glare of sunlight projecting off of the freezing white landscape in our blustery northern region. I grinned back at the man in that photo!

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Thank you to all of the people who work so hard and with such great care to bring us such wonderful displays of history. Everything you do is appreciated and important!

For those folks who live in or are visiting Chicago’s North Shore, fit a visit in for this gem! And for everyone else, don’t forget to check out those smaller exhibits in your local community! I find that they offer such excellent and selective displays on individual histories and topics. What a treat!

A Very Special Announcement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty in Paisley

Lita and I are known to have long, animated conversations about costumes, history, and a variety of topics that fall within. We reference period films, look at printouts of centuries old paintings and discuss costumes we’ve seen here and there. And so, for each of her creations, we have a name for it so that parts of them can be easily referenced. This one is the paisley dress.

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These images were taken when I was 16, in the backyard taking a stroll. We named it the paisley dress because of the pattern in the bodice and forepart (which in these photos is tied up the front).

For an Elizabethan dress, an ornate forepart would be seen at a downward V at the front. However, how useful to be able to tie up the overskirt to save the fine forepart from damage in inclement weather!

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This was one of her first Elizabethan gowns, and though not worn with any frequency, found its way out of doors on a number of occasions. The farthingale was slight and we were not using a bumroll, so the silhouette was natural.

I absolutely adored the flaps of fabric at the bottom of the bodice, which gave it such a crisp look. The bodice was firmly made and the fabric itself was a striking gold and maroon.

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Of course, I felt like quite the lady! Nothing better than sauntering around the yard in a gown. I’m not embarrassed to say, I’ve done it a great many times.

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Lita was making me laugh, she always does. Over the years, she’s made it difficult to keep a straight face when it was most appropriate to do so. But what is life if you don’t laugh, and often!

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I don’t think my bangs were the appropriate hairstyle for the Elizabethan period, but they sure were when I was 16! Ah, costume nostalgia…think I’ll drive over and dig through Lita’s costume room, take another twirl in the yard. Oh wait, it’s only 7 degrees outside…that stroll may have to wait!

Feather Fans & Candlelight

These were taken when I was about 15 years old. Lita had the delightful whim to make an 18th century style dress, though there was no plan for the gown to be worn anywhere. In fact, this may have been one of the only times it was worn. The fabric was a very soft turquoise-blue color, a satin blend (stiffer, less wrinkly, less static).

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These were captured while I stood in the living room, taking the dress for a spin. I love that they are in black and white, though I wish we had some in color too. 18th century style gowns required panniers to extend the hips. Here however, pillows tied around my hips made substitute. I think her ensemble is charming!

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At that point, I didn’t have any particular interest in 18th century history, but every other period instead it seemed. However, we’d watched Dangerous Liaisons, The King’s Mistress, Amadeus and countless other period films that pointed that direction, more than a few times each. Period movie buffs, yes we were! And still are!! Where’s the popcorn and Raisinets?!

So, it is fun to find these photos where Lita was inspired to that era, long before we flew to Venice to don costumes for the Carnevale, and long before I’d started writing Venice, which nurtures that century and its clothing in detail throughout the book.

That’s an artist for you; their sewing machine (or brush or pen…) takes them wherever they are led to go, whenever inspiration bites. Love it!

Consider The Mask

For hundreds of years, the citizens of Venice wore masks. That statement sounds so simple, so natural, right? After all, it’s one of the images we associate with that city. It is intriguing, beautiful, mysterious…

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But after all of my research for my book Venice, and while currently reading Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene Republic by James H. Johnson, I’ve realized how absolutely amazing, bizarre, intense and committed the notion of mask wearing in Venice really was.

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Consider this…it’s Halloween, you pick out a disguise and you put it on for one evening to join in the fun when you hand out candy to the trick-or-treaters. What happens after about an hour? “Ugh, I can’t see in this thing. Ugh…this mask is making me hot. Ugh…I feel claustrophobic.”

Now imagine that you are an 18th century Venetian at a time when the Carnival season lasted for months. Every single time you stepped out in public, whether to shop for your vegetables or visit a friend, you covered your face in a mask. Whether a simple disguise for walking around town, or an incredibly intricate mask for an evening of palazzo entertainments, you always had a different identity plastered to your face, and you were anyone but yourself.

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People placed masks on their babies. Yes, it’s true. Beggars on the bridges who were going without food, wore a mask. It’s true. Everyone was masked. And when you mingled with the crowds, whether on the street or at a masquerade, if you recognized the voice or mannerisms of someone you met, you never said so. To bring someone’s identity to light was considered rude.

I’m fascinated from a communication standpoint, of what that might have really been like. An entire city masked for months (and a great portion of the city masked all the rest of the year as well during the great heights of this trend). How did your personality change when you put that mask on, and depending on which mask you put on? What was it like trying to discern the real message behind someone’s words when all you had was a faux face and a voice, with no facial expressions to evaluate? How did you know whether anyone was ever being themselves? It’s dizzying to think about.

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These masks weren’t all blank disguises. There were a great many designs and characters to choose from. Wouldn’t the mask someone selected mean something? But what? Who the wearer thought they were? Or, was it how they wanted others to see them? Or, were they choosing identities that were the very opposite of their true selves? All of the above. Tricky, tricky.

Some masks didn’t allow for speech at all, removing even more of one’s personal identity. Consider the Moretta mask that was worn only by women. For the Moretta (also called the Muta because you’d be mute), a woman put it over her face and instead of securing it in place with a ribbon around her head, held it to with a button in her mouth. Can you imagine? A button in your mouth for hours on end, in silence? Talk about “Ugh…I’m getting claustrophobic.”

These thoughts hardly even scratch the surface when I actually try to consider the reality of this mask culture. And though I would merrily embrace an evening at the Venetian Carnival in mask, and though researching this Venetian trend fascinates me, for all its beauty and intrigue, I personally prefer the truth of a human face…

Private Lives In Renaissance Venice by Patricia Fortini Brown

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

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

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

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

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

Naughty Nunnery Parlors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virgins in Venice by Mary Laven

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

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

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

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

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

Venetian Noblewomen and their Terrace Living

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This painting is Vittore Carpaccio’s Two Ladies on a Terrace, painted in 1500. When I first saw this painting, it immediately inspired the first chapter of my new novel. I envisioned a group of noble Venetian ladies from the Renaissance taking their ease on the roof of a palazzo along the Grand Canal, playing games, laughing. In today’s Venice, affluent or not, ladies go wherever they please, dressed how they please. But in Renaissance Venice, aristocratic women did things a little differently.

According to Patricia Fortini Brown’s Private Lives in Renaissance Venice, young noble ladies, should they be out on the street, would have been covered in a veil. They didn’t run around the city just for fun, face uncovered. And in their homes, general visitors likely wouldn’t bump into one of these ladies; they would have been kept away to more private chambers furthest from the front door. For the most part, male servants kept to men’s quarters and female servants to the ladies’ rooms. Now, as for married Venetian noblewomen, they were far more seen and far less veiled, though still would have remained modest in dress and behavior.

So where did all the aristocratic women, married or unwed, go for fresh air and fun? The altane above their houses and palazzos! An altana was a covered roof terrace, though many terraces were also uncovered. Eat, play games, get some sun, sing, dance, tend to plants and play with your pets. Girl party!

I love this painting because it gives us a little glimpse into this sort of Venetian setting, from 1500! The lady that is sitting tall is said to be a newlywed. How do we know? Young brides wore those strands of pearls. Don’t ask me how you’re supposed to differentiate the long-time wedded from the newlyweds…as didn’t all Venetian noblewomen drip in pearls? We’d have to ask a historian. Look at those slashed sleeves, look at those six-inch chopines (those red healed clog shoes at the left). Look at the pearls beaded around the necks of their dresses. I wonder what that missive laying on the ground says. I bet it is an intriguing letter filled with scandalous gossip! What are they doing with so many pets altogether? Wouldn’t that toothy dog take a bite out of that parrot? Love it!

Crazy for Cookware!

One of my favorite pastimes, especially during the colder months, is to go to the flea market and the antique shops. I say the flea market, because there is only one locally that I have ever visited. It’s the Kane County Flea Market in St. Charles, IL and it’s enormous. There are so many vendors under tents, and inside re-purposed long barns, that you can’t see everything unless you spend an entire day, and even then you still won’t see everything.

Last time, I had a blast digging through tables of old cookware from one vendor. You know what I’ve noticed? When women spy a pile of junk, and there are a whole bunch of other ladies around that table of junk, they’ll hurry over to see what the fuss is about. Before you know it, there are 20 ladies getting a little pushy over the junk. They get competitive about who’ll find the best junk deal first! He-he! I love it! I am guilty! I’ll dig in the junk with you gals any time! I came home with more vintage jars, ceramic and glass cookware than was necessary on that particular outing. I don’t think my boyfriend knew what to say when I showed him all that I brought home….as I grinned like a crazed flea market monster with her treasures.

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Though there are lots of things I like to look at on these outings (cookware, vintage pearl jewelry, antique books, embroidered handkerchiefs, historic photographs and albums, etc.), I wanted to share these two lovely little compacts. All I know is that they were produced in what was then West Germany in the 1950s & 60s. They used a variety of prints from 18th century paintings. You can see a great many more on etsy and ebay, but I personally love to hunt for them at the antique shops! I adore these two!

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Interestingly, though these are your average compact size, they also come in a larger size (about like a softball). I found one once in a teeny-tiny antique shop and bought it for a steal! But then, I accidently threw away the bag it was in with other empty bags and it was lost forever. I still sniffle when I think about it.

Venetian Artist Pietro Longhi

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

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

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

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

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

You Decide Your Own Fate In Venice!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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