The Merriest of the Merry!

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

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

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).


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!


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!

A Little Peasant Girl

This photo is a special one for me. Though not the very first costume, it was one of the first little renaissance dresses that my mother made for me. This was taken at the Bristol Renaissance Faire when I was about eight years old.


I, like other children who visit the festival, was fascinated with all the performances, games and shops. I couldn’t wait to go to this faire each summer, and we’d visit often during the 9 weekends that the festival is open. I remember waking up on summer Saturday mornings like it was Christmas, so excited to dress up and go to Bristol. We’d hop in my mom’s jeep and off we went, a whole day out of doors, cheered by the spectacles, the music, the sounds, the festival food.


I was very, very happy. This was the time my excitement sparked for history, the root of where I became inspired to imagine and dream, the reason I became an insatiable reader and eventually a writer.

And though I’ve heard my mother say that her early creations were a little rough around the edges (because she was just teaching herself to sew), I’d say to all those aspiring to make costumes for your children and yourself, or in taking up any art form for that matter…imperfections don’t matter, the experience of making, your learning and the joy your creations give others, is what does.

This dress was perfect, mom.

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!


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.


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.


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


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.


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!


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.


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!


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!

Available Now! A Festival Day in Bristol!


Anne lives on a farm with her family in the countryside just outside of Bristol, England. She is a very happy girl who takes pride in helping her family care for all of their animals, and with the gardening too! Weekly, they sell their farm goods at the market in the city, where there are many unique things to see.

Anne has just learned that Queen Elizabeth will be visiting Bristol on her annual summer progress along with her noble courtiers! To celebrate, the city is planning a festival for her arrival.

As excited as ever, Anne travels to Bristol with her family to sell in the market and then join in the festival fun. She wonders if she’ll see the Queen for herself. Perhaps she might even meet her!

Join Anne on this special day in history, when Queen Elizabeth visited the city of Bristol, and all were merry!

A Festival Day in Bristol is available here! Also available on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

Pearl Earrings Giveaway!


Portrait of a Lady: Francesco Montemezzano. A Renaissance Venetian women of the house of Contarini!

Pearls…I LOVE PEARLS! In fact, I have a mild obsession with them. I’m not certain when this love for pearls started. Was it with all the history books and paintings I’ve looked at over the years? Was it with the gorgeous strands my mother has crafted for costumes I’ve worn? Was it after the first time I saw Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring? No, really…look at the pearl in that painting! Was it during my travels in China where pearl vendors were abundant and I was in pearl heaven? I don’t know, but I think they are the most lovely and I could wear them everyday.

As I write my new book (a historical fiction thriller taking place during Venice’s plague of 1576…scary stuff), I think a lot about what everyone was wearing during the Renaissance. Oh man, it’s just so tough looking at all those gorgeous old paintings filled with rich clothing covered in pearls, all in the name of research. Tee-hee! In Italy, pearls were it! And in Venice, a city in the sea, people were dripping in them (at least those who could afford it were). According to Jewelry: From Antiquity to the Present, Claire Phillips illustrates just how serious Venetians took their pearls! In the early 1500s, if you made a fake pearl and were caught selling it…your right hand would be cut off and you would be banished from Venice for a decade. Poor fellow wouldn’t be making jewelry after that!


Because today is a beautiful day! Because every gal needs a pair of pearls! Because you are as fabulous as any Renaissance lady…I’m giving away a delicate pair of pearl earrings today!  Sterling silver, freshwater drop pearls (purplish-pink) by Brenda Duncan of The Black Pearl, purchased at the Bristol Renaissance Faire. To enter, all you have to do is write the name of your favorite gemstone in the comments for this post. Your name will go in a bowl and I’ll select a random winner one week from today! Spread the word ladies!


The Guilde of St. George!

Though I could spend days sharing all of the reasons why I think the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin is so magical, alas as the days of summer fade, so must my pen draw elsewhere…but not without a thank you to the Guilde of St. George, all of those who reenact the court of Queen Elizabeth I. of England!


29 years ago, my mother dressed me as a little fairy and brought me to Bristol. I saw the Queen and her court and I was hooked! So mesmerized in fact, that I spent many a winter looking forward to summer and the faire, daydreaming about courtly history and begging my mother to make me costume after costume. The amazingly patient and talented artist that she is, she sewed and sewed and sewed. In 1998, I auditioned to the Guilde of St. George and was so proud to be a part of this family of Elizabethan actors for four years. I still covet the gowns that my mother made and often peek in her costume closet where they are stored. Though I’m a little biased having once been a part of this guilde, wearing the gowns, dancing the dances, learning and sharing the history, I write this as the little girl in 1986. Guilde of St. George: You are magical, everything you do is worth it!


This photo is of actress Jennifer Higgins who plays Elizabeth. Here, she is accepting little trinkets from children who lined up with fairies to see the Queen. Children remember these special moments and they inspire them! It inspires them to learn about history, to read more, to imagine! I may still have my little certificate from when three Bristol Queens ago, I was made a lady-in-waiting with a tap to the shoulders with a sword, as little boys were knighted. Ah, memories!




From the Queen’s audiences where there are entertainments, matters of state and courtly disputes, to the details in every costume, to the Queen’s guard and household…there is history to be learned. Every member of the guilde plays a real person from the time of Queen Elizabeth, and if you strike up a conversation, individual stories will unfold!


I commend you gentle lords and ladies! What a wonderful moment!




And who am I kidding, I’m not a little girl anymore and I’m still mesmerized! The swoosh of a feather fan, the courtly bow, the bows and puffs of the sleeve, the twinkling adornments, the embroidered collars, the full skirts swishing, the plaits in the hair, the goblets and kerchiefs! History is beautiful!


Thank you for sharing history with everyone that visits the faire, and for all of the wonderful memories! “Merry meet, merry part and merry meet again!”

Bristol’s Exceptional Grounds!

This week, I’m paying special tribute to the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Today’s reason why the faire is so magical? The magnificent park and the staff who maintain, beautify and keep it safe! Just look how beautiful Bristol is! As someone who loves the out-of-doors, I appreciate a day at the faire.


A place to roam…


A place to dance!


A place to gallop!



A place by the fire…


A place to be entertained!


A place to make merry under the trees!


Village lanes to eat and shop…



A place to reenact history!


A place for archery! Ok…I had to sneak that one in. That’s me! I’d forgotten how awesome archery is (flashback to high school gym class). Can Santa fit an archery set down my chimney this year?


A place to wander…


A place by the pond…


The grounds are simply a place to love!


An especial thank you to the Bristol security team! With thousands of visitors each summer, they see many folks in need of medical attention…especially on those excruciatingly hot days when heat sickness sneaks up on a patron or two. They help find lost children, usher sprained ankles, bee stings and medieval accidents (just kidding) to first aid, and make sure the grounds are safe. Thank you!

A few fairies and witches…a lot of magic!

This source of magic from the Bristol Renaissance Faire is very reputable…the fairies and the witches!


The fairies can be found all over Bristol, but they are very sneaky! Sometimes you’ll find them up in a tree, or hiding in a thicket of green. Sometimes they are within a foot of you and you don’t even notice until someone points it out…they’re stealth like that. We can also attribute this to the well-known fact (as I was told by one citizen of Bristol) that adults usually don’t see fairies, only children. So how do you know when the fairies are about? If you start sneezing a lot, it means the fairy folk are nearby. And I thought I just had allergies!




The witches are hilarious! Every time they pose for someone’s photo, they scowl and grimace. One witch carries a little enclosed basket with a green frog in it (don’t worry…not a real frog). She’d turned someone into that frog with a spell, she’d said. I heard a man ask her if she could turn his wife into a frog? She said she’d love to, if only there were enough room in the basket! And then she grimaced some more. One right after the other, witty little comebacks and expressions, so funny!




The witches delighted a crowd by singing improvisational songs to the strumming of a guitarist. Witches…you need to make an album! Those songs of doom were delightful and so clever! Encore!

Grab your mask and make merry!

All who enter the Bristol Renaissance Faire will gravitate to those themes that interest them the most. If you like action and the clanging of steel you’ll head down to the joust and watch knights swing a sword at one another. If you dream of tiptoeing through an enchanted forest, you’re going to fly over to fairyland. If you like military history, you won’t miss the reenactments by the Guilde of St. Michael. As for me, I love everything at the faire! But this season, as my interactive novel Venice approached its release, that city’s history may have affected my brain a little! And so, though Bristol, England isn’t Venice, Italy…well, I’m pretty sure I spied a Venetian or two! Just another reason why I think the faire in magical!


Oh my! What is this Venetian plague doctor doing in Bristol? I hope we’ll all escape the pestilence! Awesome mask!


This is Lord Fopulence from right out of the 18th century. He’d fit right in at the Venetian Carnival!


These two look like roaming Venetians to me!




Puppeteer Gabriel Q would captivate crowds in Piazza San Marco during the Carnevale! Check out this puppet builder-costumer-performer’s site…look for those traditional Venetian masks, they’re true art!


The powder, the blush, that beauty mark! All she needs is a towering wig and she’ll be ready for a ball at Carnival. Fabulous!


He’s ready to sail the Adriatic Sea and defend La Serenissima!


And here’s to At Your Service, a commedia dell’arte troupe! Venice wants to know what you’re doing in Bristol?! Their masks, their traditional commedia characters, their truly hilarious acts…fantastico!



Furthermore, At Your Service is affiliated with Piccolo Theater in Evanston, IL. Piccolo Theater focuses on the art of comedy to both entertain and bring together the local community. They even have comedic youth camps and classes. Be sure to check out this season’s performances!

Huzzah to the costumers!

My next reason why the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin is so fantastic? Costumes! Here’s to the costumers selling their creations at the faire, those patrons who wear them, and all those who design and wear their own!


Like this couple, seen here donning the costumes of Felix Needleworthy.


Those excellent works of Pendragon!


The whimsical art of Pandoras Kloset.


This rich long coat at Silverleaf Costumes.


The sumptuous gowns on these noble ladies delighted everyone they passed!




All of the awesomely innovative steampunk creations!





And the delightful ensembles worn by all of the Bristol citizens!

A little time, a great moment!

This week, I’ll be sharing just a few of the reasons why I think the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin is such a magical place! Yesterday was Labor Day and bittersweet; though it was the last day of the faire, it was a beautiful day and what an amazing performance by all! Thank you to the actors, artists, musicians and crafters who made this season so memorable!


Today’s reason why the faire is so amazing? All those performers who engage in memorable conversations with patrons! Now, all of the actors delight and entertain guests through their shows, whether it be a sword fight on stage, a funny street act or the dazzling courtiers reenacting a feast hosting the Queen herself. However, I just can’t help but smile when I see those little moments where performers are sitting to some small talk, sharing a story, and bringing the guest into the Renaissance!


To learn a little about wildlife…


To be shown how to weave a basket…


To hear some forgotten history…


To share a laugh…priceless!

Welcome to Bristol!


Do you know what puts a daylong, fixed smile on my face? A trip to the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin! I’ve been attending, participating in and loving this wonderful place for almost 30 years! Yes, I skipped about in a costume as a little girl there, mesmerized by Queen Elizabeth I. and her dazzling court while pretending to be a noble courtier!


What is the Bristol Renaissance Faire? It is a magical village where it is always a summer day, and a festival day! The year is 1574 in England and the Queen is on her summer progress. Today, she is visiting the village of Bristol and all of the noble courtiers, villagers, musicians, artists and entertainers are at their ready to celebrate her arrival!




Why do I love the faire? It’s history! Actors and artists abound to bring you a little insight into the past, whether they be knights in the joust, courtly dancers, crafters, Renaissance musicians or hilarious street performing villagers! The festival grounds themselves are vast and out-of-doors. I could find a bench under a shady tree and sit all day. With all of the roaming actors, costumed patrons, delightful music and nature, it’s a truly delightful way to spend a summer day!


As it is Labor Day weekend and the summer is drawing to an end, so too is this season’s Bristol Faire. This week, I’ll be sharing some of the many reasons this place is so magical. For all you lovers of history, I hope that it will inspire you to ready yourself a costume for next season (if you have a local Renaissance Faire where you are), or to check out what kind of historical reenactments you have close to home, whether it be a ball at the Venetian Carnival, a Civil War reenactment or an old-timey Wild West Town. They are wonderful places to both get your dose of history and be entertained!