The Itty Bitty Littles Giveaway!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Eat That Ackee, Eve!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[Photo Credit: DocTaxon]

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

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

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

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

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

Nature must be respected

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

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

Here is hoping you are enjoying your adventure today!

Sneaky, Slithering Sea Snail!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m A Hummingbird…

Cue the music please:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Worry About A Thing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Far And Away…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cruciferous Crunch, Compostable Containers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Grandma’s Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lizzadro Museum Of Lapidary Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome To The Venetian Carnival…A World of Wonders!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Carnival of Venice

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every Time I Read The News

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

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Psalms 145:8-9 KJV

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

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

Go Put Your Lipstick On!

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Are All But Buds And Berries

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

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

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

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

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

Holy Chapel of Paris: Sainte-Chapelle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Go Sharpen The Scissors…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s A Health To The Company…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Pretty Venice

Absolutely charming! That’s what I think about My Pretty Venice: A Girl’s Guide to True Venice by Isabella Campagnol, Elisabeth Rainer and illustrated by Beatrice Campagnol. This lovely book put a smile on my face at the turn of every page…

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To begin with, I greatly esteem writer Isabella Campagnol who is the author of Forbidden Fashions: Invisible Luxuries in Early Venetian Convents which I previously reviewed here. With her being a fashion, textile, and decorative arts historian who writes on Venetian topics, who better to co-author a modern guide directed toward such themes, with rich history weaved in?

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What do I love about this book? First, Rainer and Campagnol have written an uncomplicated, selective guide to Venice, directed toward delights that ladies might enjoy. That hidden garden, that charming bookstore, a place to pamper your toes or find elegant trappings. However, it isn’t just dry information, it’s playful and delightfully accompanied by Beatrice Campagnol’s darling illustrations (also including illustrative, well placed photos by Lorenzano Di Renzo). A thoughtful guide for the travel-minded, adventurous spirit that is also endearing to the imagination!

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I really enjoyed the cameos and curiosities throughout the book as well, which retell interesting histories and share snippets of important ladies from Venice’s history!

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For you gals who love Venice (like me), or have a friend who does, My Pretty Venice is an absolute treat! Whether or not you’re heading to that magical city anytime soon, a flip through this book’s pages will sweep you away on your own little holiday!

Letting Live, in Love and Peace

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I just caught another lovely creature who was clinging to the ceiling near the front door. She was there this morning when I rushed out and was still there this evening, in the same place. I did my careful balancing act on the chair and gingerly caught her…

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This one is not a Cave Cricket like the one I caught in the house earlier this week, but rather a Speckled Bush Cricket. It is of the Katydid family, known for their singing (not from their mouths but from the scraping of their wings along their bodies)…

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Look how gorgeous her beautiful green! Know how I know she’s a gal? Her very obvious ovipositor at her rear, an appendage that pushes into the dirt and then lays eggs!

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Fun Fact: Do you know what the differences between a cricket and a grasshopper are?

  1. Crickets have long antennae while grasshoppers have short antennae.
  2. A cricket’s song comes from rubbing its wings while a grasshopper makes music by rubbing its legs together.

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In the house, she’d been unmoving on the ceiling and went mostly motionless when caught. The moment I brought her outside, her antennae twitched and she started walking around. It was like she immediately sensed she was outdoors once more. Freedom!

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Love this photo, her two red eyes looking at me upside down. I probably appeared as a giant monster. Think it’s too late to return to college and become an entomologist? I sure love bugs!

Here is to the sanctity of life, however great or small, and letting live in love and peace…

Be Like The Vine

As I look out into our secret garden from the kitchen window in summer, I always notice the vines. They climb a fence and then aspire to grow out into the very air and make their way across…to somewhere. The next solid object they find, I suppose…

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They can be a nuisance when you want to walk the stone path but get thwacked in the face with one. Those vines are quite thick and hearty! We tend to keep them trimmed back, though they grow back with an urgency towards life…

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Today when I looked out that kitchen window, the vines inspired me. No matter that we trim them, no matter that the space between their fence and any other solid thing is vast for such a plant, no matter that gravity is pulling them down, they still reach…

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I thought, “Well if those vines can continue to be so darn tenacious, and keep striving for what seems like the impossible, we all can!”

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So today, whatever you might be striving to achieve, whatever place you wish to get to that seems so far away, whatever your goals and wishes…just remember to be like the vine. You’ll get there!

Love is Patient, Love is Kind

Tiddo the cat has always craved attention first thing in the morning. The moment that first birdie peeps outside, he’s ready for breakfast and acts like a Tasmanian devil until he’s fed. The unique thing about it is that he only takes a few bites and then comes to see what I’m doing, checks to see that all is well, and then returns to finish eating…

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After he’s eaten, he immediately comes to find me once more. And if I’ve gone back to bed, he waits patiently for me to get up…

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For the past few months, sitting beside me in bed hasn’t been enough. I’ll be totally conked out, sleeping on my side, and he’ll literally perch on my shoulder. It’s a balancing act that only a cat could manage, and new behavior for him…

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My cat looks youthful, but he’s actually in his golden years. A friend suggested his eyesight might not be what it used to be, thus he needs to sit closer to me to see me? I think he’s seeing alright. I guess he’s just showing me how much he loves me…

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When I took these photos this week, a line from the Bible popped into my brain…

Love is patient, love is kind. 1 Corinthians 13:4

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Tiddo has been an example to me, of a love that is patient and kind. For all the times I was too busy to play ‘chase the feathers’ with him, or all the times I hollered for him to stop that incessant meowing, or made him wait patiently for my attention…

I think God made our beloved pets so loyal, so that we had a wonderful example of unconditional love.

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The triggered recall of that verse had me thinking about love, but also about patience and kindness. It felt like a little reminder to myself to be humble, and as kind to others as I can (and strive to be even half as patient as my devoted cat). For all that positiveness we send out into the world, for all the kindnesses we pass along, it makes its way back to your door…

Have you heard the song Humble and Kind by Tim McGraw? Take a minute to watch this special music video. The lyrics, oh heavens!

I also like this nice list, a few easy ways to make others smile!

Wishing you lots of goodness in your life today!

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…

That old April Adage

Here was that precious white bud that I found in my front yard, the only of his kind…

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And here it was a few days later, so pretty!

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Only he wasn’t able to stand up and was fallen in the grass…

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So as much as I’d rather have left him to bask in the sun…

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He brightened my bedside table, and bloomed instantly under my lamp. I was actually able to see his petals moving, and it only took a few minutes to fully open. I thought flowers’ openings each morning took far longer than that, but this little guy’s response to bright light was quick! I was fascinated!

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The daffodils too were finally opening up. How cheery are their yellow and orange faces!

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But it soon turned rainy and chilly, so I made roasted potatoes…

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And turned on the fireplace, which Tiddo cannot resist!

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Was this a smile or a sneeze? And look at those claws! Where’s the clippers!

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I digress, but don’t you think he should win an award for the handsomest whiskers?

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And an award for best lounging pose? I don’t know why I thought it was so funny, but when I came upon him sitting up like this against the pillow, I had a good chuckle.

We stayed pretty cozy despite the rain and chill. But I was not expecting to wake up to this this morning…

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The world outside is gloomy and lightly covered in snow, and it keeps falling…

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We must change the April adage…it must now say, “April snow showers bring May flowers.”

My poor little daffodils! Should I hurry out and clip them, bring them inside to put in a vase and enjoy what is left? Or do you think they’ll weather this unexpected snowfall?

Here’s wishing you a wonderful day!

Spring Morning Walk

Hey there handsome…

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Welcome back friends…

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Good morning darling buds…

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So happy to see you, precious friend…

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The sun shines for you, little flower…

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Well hello there ladies!

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How I’ve missed you, green…

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How pretty you are!

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Come on out, you sturdy blooms…

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Your delicate purple petals make my heart sing today…

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So glad I stepped out to visit you all, before I was on my way!

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!

Picking up my pen…

My favorite place to start the day…

“There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.”
― Beatrix Potter

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“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
― Louis L’Amour

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
― W. Somerset Maugham

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
― Stephen King

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
― Anne Frank

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”
― William Wordsworth

“A well-composed book is a magic carpet on which we are wafted to a world that we cannot enter in any other way.”
― Caroline Gordon

Whether on of off the page, here’s wishing you’ll enjoy the adventure today!

A Garden Swan

We are blessed to have the Chicago Botanic Garden just a short 15 minute drive from our house. There are many gardens within the garden, illustrating different kinds (greenhouse, fruit & vegetable garden, Japanese garden, etc.). There is even an aquatic garden! I enjoy all of the gardens, but I really do love the English Walled Garden. It is filled with vine covered trellises, potted pretties and wooden benches, within a small walled garden (just the place to take a seat at any season to enjoy the outdoors).

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We’ve picnicked in the gardens, sat mesmerized by the birds. I’ve stuck my face into a few dozen rose bushes, chased after bugs…but I didn’t pick any flowers, that would be rude.

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When I awoke to snow this morning after we had a glorious day yesterday (sunny and 45 degrees!), all I could think about was the spring that is to come. Even though we’ve had one very temperate winter, I am particularly looking forward to spring and summer’s warm days once more, and walks with my honey in the garden!

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The gardens host many wonderful birds, including swans that float majestically over the man-made lakes there, which spout glorious fountains. If I had a big estate with a lake, I’d own lots of swans and I’d give them each a name, and they’d follow me around the yard on my walks. I’m eccentric like that. I’d talk to them and tell them how pretty and handsome they were, just like above.

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Swan fun facts!

Swan couples mate for life. (Very sweet, I’m guessing that the male swan must bring the lady swan delicious algae to eat, gives her beaky kisses and tells her that she’s beautiful…the key to true love, of course).

People often believe that swans do not fly, but only swim around their lakes and ponds. However, they do fly (some of the largest flying birds), but need a long runway (at least 30 yards) to run before they can get off the ground. They can fly up to 60 miles per hour!

Swans sleep as they float in the water, or standing on one leg on land. (Just one…no shuteye if it is two legs.)

Swans get sick when they eat mold; stale bread is one thing, but don’t toss moldy bread to a swan. (They haven’t invented birdie antacid tablets yet).

Swans are very, very smart. (Like Santa Claus, they remember if you’ve been naughty or nice! So don’t go near their nest or throw them moldy bread, give them their space…and tell them they’re special, they like that.)

Here’s wishing you a day as lovely as a garden!

Always A Lady

I had this dress on my mind today, remembering when I was but a youth. I was about 13 years old here, but I recall this dress like it was yesterday. I don’t want to make the other gowns jealous…but it’s my favorite.

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I love that in this dress, all that was around me was exciting and I wanted to learn everything about Renaissance history.

I love that it meant time with my mom at our favorite place; the trees, the music, the costumes, and those summer grilled foods.

I love that I was wearing something that my mom made for me during the dull winter, but that when spring came and I tried it on for the first time during alterations, I had something to look forward to…summer, dressing in a costume, being dazzled by a world of courtiers, merchants and fools!

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I love how I felt: happy, healthy and alive on this single day. It teaches me to strive to take advantage of each day that I have right now. I don’t want to take anything for granted.

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I have a distinct memory from that day. A court actor in an elegant gown said, “All you need is a hoop, and then you’ll be a lady.” It was a harmless remark; noble Elizabethan ladies wore farthingales under their skirts. She meant that once my costume had a hoop, I’d look like a noble. Sadly, I didn’t understand. I wondered why I wasn’t already a lady, when I thought I was. I felt sad. Children don’t always understand what adults mean.

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I was a persistent child however, and my mother ordered me a little hoop in a tiny catalogue of historic recreation pieces. It was a big deal to send in a check and an order form, waiting for that hoop. No internet orders back then!

I had my hoop, and Lita crafted many more gowns, and with them were more hoops. And I grew up.

But remembering this dress and this day, farthingale or no, I certainly was a lady. I’m thankful for the wonderful women in my life, who set the example. They wore no hoops at all, just jeans!

Reflecting on the View

How lovely to stick one’s head out of the window and get a view, whether in Venice or anywhere else! Here, I was listening to the gondoliers’ barcarole, watching them float by, observing folks as they ambled across the bridge. I couldn’t help smiling at the pigeons rising from the rooftops with their usual cooing. The air was cool, with that hint of the sea.

What is your favorite view, and what are its signature sights, sounds and smells when you poke your head out from the window to observe it?

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Here, I was mesmerized by the reflection of the buildings in the canal. It almost looked like there was an underworld beneath the surface, an exact replica of the one above! Or even that I was way up stories high (with the building opposite looking much taller than it was because of its reflection). Can you tell when the building across from mine met the water?

Here’s wishing you’ll find the charms in the view just outside your window today, wherever you may be! Trees, birds, corn fields, lapping blue waves? People alive and dancing past one another on their way to somewhere? Neon lights and that city buzz? There is beauty to be found in every view, go look!

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!

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!

The Costumer, The Artist, The Inspiration

My mother is a very talented costumer and artist. I’ve had the great fortune of watching her sew all of my years, and being able to wear some dozens of her creations: just for fun, in theatricals, and for historic reenactment. And though I am going to share a great many photos of her spectacular works on Inspired by Venice, I wanted you to first, meet the artist!

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This is Lita, my precious mother and best friend! Here she is wearing one of her own 18th century style day dresses in Venice during the Carnival.

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She wore a silk hair net covered in gold corded weave, with a gold mask and veil. The Venetian Carnevale tends to run at the end of January through the start of February, so it can be pretty chilly. Thankfully the sun shone beautifully that day, so a shawl and hand muff kept her warm enough while we took a stroll.

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We soaked in the sun with coffee in Piazza San Marco. The air was crisp and fresh, with a hint of the sea.

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On another sunny walk, she wore this piece, covered by a beautiful cape. If I’d had the sense, I would have gotten some closer photos so that one could really see some of the detail; the perfect pleated fabric over the small hip panniers, the feathered headpiece and veil, the lace at the elbows.

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Even now, I remember what it felt like to be able to walk about the city of Venice in costume (this excursion was in 2005). For me, it is the ultimate excitement to pretend for a moment that I’m visiting the 18th century and going about my business. For every occasion that I could actually wear a costume in public and ponder what it might have been like to live in another time, it is such a treat!

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Though we’d traditionally have worn a mask at all times, we sometimes went without. Our Carnival visit was also a tour of Venice, and we wanted to see everything (which a mask can sometimes hamper). I had a particular thing for veils at the time. But next time, I’m going to wear an enormous pompadour and a glitzy mask! We kept things very simple; Lita’s designs allowed us to walk about the city and enjoy the cafes without cumbersome costumes.

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We paced slowly over bridges and down lanes, peered in windows and walked by the lagoon. We laughed a lot and chattered like birds. It is rare to have the time of loved ones all to yourself for a whole week, it was lovely!

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We enjoyed each other’s company to the fullest in the midst of a mesmerizing Carnival and one beloved city. If it hadn’t been for this beautiful artist, who makes every part of the costumes I’m going to share with you (often even the jewelry), I would never have been inspired about history the way that I am, and I would never have written Venice.

Venice is dedicated to Lita, for being such a patient and generous person who taught me to be creative, be joyful, and to be inspired! Thank you!

Pink Skies

The morning sky was beautiful from my bedroom window as the sun rose this morning…

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The pinks, golds and purples brought beauty to the start of a new day!

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The trees looked proud in the glow and the sun smiled as it climbed.

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But in just a few moments, the beautiful light faded away. I was disappointed to see how quickly it left…

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It reminded me that when I see a pink, glowing sunrise, to stop and enjoy the few minutes that it lasts…the world can wait a moment!

A Beautiful Clutter

The mask shops in Venice are filled with a beautiful clutter…CIMG0886.JPG

The disguises, the puppets, the paper dolls staged in boxes, the mirrors…CIMG0883.JPG

There are lamps, wall hangings and sconces…smooth leather gloves, lace and pearls, soft embroidered pillows too…

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Ornate headpieces, gowns, feathered wings and crowns, sumptuous accessories and glorious scenes that move one’s imagination…CIMG0953.JPG

You are in this gondola heading toward a masked ball during Venice’s Carnevale. Which of the masks in that beautiful clutter are you wearing? In Venice, the choice is yours!

The Island of St. Lucia

Last spring, we visited the island of St. Lucia and took an amazing walk through the jungle. The plants were incredible!

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This is a Pink Torch Ginger, considered a highly beloved flower. It can grow to be up to 15 feet tall! This one was just a little taller than me.

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What I find remarkable about tropical flowers is how big, strong, colorful and oddly shaped they can be. Looking at some of these made me imagine for a moment that I was on another planet. The landscape and plants are just so different from what I’m accustomed to. I imagine that is how people who have never seen snow feel when they see a snowy landscape for the first time.

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What I also found incredible was how abundant the fruit was! Everywhere you looked, there were mangos, papayas and fruit that I have never seen or heard of before. I took note of a sign that read beware of falling mangos and breadfruit and proceeded to be a little paranoid that a mango would fall on my head. That would be unpleasant.

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Loved the blue-green color of this unique flowering plant!

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I’ve seen ferns unfurl from the ground but never growing into plush, soft trees. The branches weaved on the trunk and were fuzzy. The leaves looked as soft as cotton. There was a little green snake in its branches that mesmerized me.

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I couldn’t get over the enormous hummingbirds flying all over the place. They are apparently some of the world’s largest. They looked more like blackbirds than the itty-bitty hummingbirds we see at home. Their long beaks appeared useful in getting nectar from such big tropical flowers.

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We were having such a lovely time, until handsome suggested that we climb one of the local mountains…the Grand Piton. I would share photos of me at the top of that mountain, but I look like I’ve just narrowly survived torture. I had no business climbing that mountain. It was the most physically demanding thing I have ever done. At least a hundred times, I breathlessly gasped “I’m not going to make it.” The running joke has been to try to get me to admit I’m proud I made it to the top and that it was worth it…I’ll never admit it, I frown when I remember that harrowing climb.

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On the mountain, I saw a giant slug nearly as long as my foot. Awesome! And I saw several elusive mongoose bounding around (introduced to St. Lucia to control the snakes). I’m a sucker for wildlife.

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We also took an incredible catamaran ride and I saw flying fish for the first time. I couldn’t believe my eyes! They jump out of the water, spread their fins and catch the wind. They can really fly a distance and even turn directions! I pondered whether a local fisherman had ever been hit by a flying fish out in his boat…that would be worse than a falling mango.

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There were nesting seabirds altogether in several trees with their fuzzy-headed young. That was a special sight! We also went snorkeling and the coral and tropical fish were so unique…I again felt like I was in another world. The only fear I had were the jellyfish. Was I stung? Oh yes. The jellyfish always get me. Their touch is very distinct, like burning, electric, bee stings. I may have said some curse words…but I was under the water, so only the jellyfish heard.

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St. Lucia is a stunning island! The people were so welcoming, the tropical waters amazing, the jungle incredible. The local food was delicious and the wildlife inspiring! And though I will never step foot on another mountain, I’ll admit it was an unforgettable experience…in that, my poor heart muscles will never forget the memory!

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!