Color Me…

Good Day, Dear Friends!

I hope this message finds you healthy, content, and staying inspired today.

I’d enjoy your messages in the comments this go…I always care to hear from you!

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Our usual eclectic post here on Inspired By Venice today? My brain is uncollected and molasses after a long week, so I think random will work best. Often, that’s more fun anyhow!

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First, for all you readers of my tales…I have signed my contract for the 2021 Bristol Renaissance Faire. God willing, I will see many of you again at The Quill and Brush, a year from now.

I miss sharing my works. I miss the fellowship and conversations. I miss the magic. I miss you.

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I of course, don’t know what will happen. No one does. Progress to slow the virus is backsliding, and I can’t say when large gatherings will even be sound or permissible again. I personally hope, for a safe and effective vaccine soon.

Only time will tell. But for today, let us do our best to stay inspired

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I have decided to start a new collection. I am collecting feathers. No, I’m not worried about bird germs. I’m tired about being worried about germs. I’m going to pick up all the pretty feathers. And keep them. And collect them. And look at them.

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So if any of my friends or family find something special for me, please collect it. I will be delighted. And perhaps you, my friends here on Inspired By Venice, can help me identify some of them? The blue jay feather is my particular favorite so far…

The feathers will be joining my other passions for jumping spiders, lake glass, and found coins…

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I’m also at present, taking an interest in sidewalk animal prints.

I’ve discovered I know nothing about identification, as aware of nature as I thought I was. They all look like raccoon or black bird prints to me. Perhaps you can help me identify those too?

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My interests go to show that you don’t have to spend a penny to entertain yourself. I believe this to be a gift of being an only child. Inventing one’s own amusements.

I also believe in small delights, and taking simple, yet good care of myself. Here are some of my other current favorites…

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My closest know, or have at least observed over the years, that I can exhibit some sensitivities. It’s really just in recent years however, that I’ve even begun to acknowledge and explore this. I think sometimes, it isn’t until we are older, that we are more fully able to understand who we are, and how best to live our happiest and healthiest selves…

I was recommended the book, The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Elaine Aron. I have not completed reading it yet, but I’ve found myself in the pages. On the checklist for a ‘Highly Sensitive Person’, I meet many.

For instance, noise. It has always jarred me. Consistent and loud noises are the worst, and can quite untangle me.

Further, I used to believe that I favored one-on-one conversations, because I could make a deeper connection communicating that way. I’ve never preferred getting together with a group of friends. I now understand, it’s because when a whole bunch of people are talking, I get terribly overwhelmed. My feathers ruffle. I begin to exhibit impatience and irritation. Oh no!

Of all things, I thought this for certain, was an outcome of being an only child. That I wasn’t accustomed to cacophony. I’ve even been sometimes shamed, called selfish, for being less than easy going. Understandable response, sometimes warranted, at others unkindly.

But the truth is, God made me this way. I naturally do better in quiet, and that’s okay.

All of this to say…one of the beautiful gifts in life are the moments we can better understand and love ourselves. This also helps us to better understand and have patience, for others.

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Yet, what’s the favorite right now? Of course, the notion of growing in wisdom and grace. But also, these Sleep Pretty earplugs by Hearos! 32 NRR (noise reduction rating).

Let me tell you friends, a mouse could sneeze in the other room, and I will wake up. And this woman needs her sleep. A baby bird could peep outside the window, and stir me from fruitful writing. Construction noise? Well, that would simply be end game. Let’s just say, I’ve tried many earplugs. I sleep every night in earplugs. I’ve ordered special earplugs. And I wonder how they still haven’t invented the ultimate, and most comfortable earplugs yet. Most, aren’t all that effective.

C’mon, you inventors, you!

But the Sleep Pretty plugs…excellent. Best I’ve found.

Are you like me? Buy them. Hearos, I’ll be your spokeswoman…

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I’ve also recently discovered a favorite candy bar. Chocolove‘s peppermint in dark chocolate.

I’ve said it before…my mama must have been eating mint chocolate chip ice cream when I was in her belly, because I’m bonkers for mint and chocolate. This bar is good. Perfect, actually. This brand, very good. The salted almond butter in dark chocolate…heaven.

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What’s even sweeter? Their packaging has words of love inside.

Oh Romeo! I swoon…

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But a gal can’t live on chocolate alone. She must have her fruits and veggies…and her electrolytes!

Evolution Fresh organic cold-pressed juices have for years now, been one of the loves of my life. A green juice sets me right. When I need greens right now, a bottle of Green Devotion is a gift from Eden. Good stuff. The best stuff.

I’ll be their spokeswoman, too!

Love my veggies.

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And of course, nature will always be my favorite. Look how pretty…

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And precious…baby bunny…

Other current favorites?

Have you seen The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance on Netflix?

Amazing!

Love, love, love it! If you need some magic in your life, it is so special. And, so exciting! It actually took my breath away, I was so concerned for the gelflings!

Side note; my mom called me a gelfling when I was little. She said I looked like one.

And that’s why I write fairy tales. Because I’m secretly part gelfling.

My mom said so. And moms always tell the truth. Like, about Santa, and the Tooth Fairy and stuff…

I also recently watched the Lenox Hill series about Lenox Hill hospital in New York City. This show humbled my heart so deeply, there are no words. Thank you, to our medical workers. Thank you.

I was also, so very touched by the documentary series, Love on the Spectrum, about individuals on the autism spectrum out in their search for love. This program was beautiful!

And of course, there is always the beauty of music. I ever enjoy classical, or electronic music that is emotive and atmospheric. Makes me imagine. Makes me feel. Like I’m running through a vast field of grass, or sailing a troubled sea, or floating into deep space, or peering out from a castle way up high, into a dark forest…

There are a handful of artists that I watch for, for moving new gems. Active Child, is one of them. Song Johnny Belinda makes me envision riding into medieval battle! Love it.

But today, I wanted to share Active Child’s Color Me.

Why? The lyrics.

Essentially, ‘color me’ any way you will, but I’ll always bleed red. For me, the song just captures the notion of being human. Beyond everything, we all just need love and compassion, and to be known for who we are.

Love that.

Stay Inspired.

 

In A Gentle Breeze…

Good Day, Good Friends…my every well wish to you today!

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Just now, I am enjoying a gentle breeze. After many days of very warm weather, it is welcome. My unit has been called ‘the tree house’, owing to the level I’m affixed amidst the trees. At certain hours, the sunlight beautifully goldens the walls. And on a temperate day, the wind carries through every room, the birds sweetly larking just outside. This is just one of those particular moments, that I especially appreciate my nest. We must all have a place to call our own…

I took photos before walking down to an appointment with a new stylist yesterday. I’ll post the cut soon. My hair is short again, but not very. Technically to my collar bones. However, my locks have a mind for waves and curls when the weight is cut out, so it appears even shorter.

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Let us just say, I am…as happy as a ridiculously happy clam. Though long hair can be pretty, and an accomplishment considering the time it takes to grow to that length…I was at my wit’s end with the tangles and heaviness. Most appreciating the stylist’s scissors! Somehow, I’d managed the patience not to cut half of it off myself in advance…

This was becoming a genuine consideration.

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As I posted last time, I had been ill. Unfortunately after writing, things worsened, ending in a visit to immediate care and antibiotics. I feel I’m still recovering. It is, and I’ve been here before, a reminder of how fragile we are. Obviously, the pandemic has us all remembering this. Yet often, it isn’t until our own health is tested, that our natural vulnerabilities manifest.

How thankful I am for modern medicine, and for my doctors, and for the insurance I am even lucky enough to have. Insurance, and enough money to pay for a doctor and medicine, is certainly never assured. Especially these days.

I revisited the reality that, even a relatively common infection, seemingly innocuous, something your immune system will overcome, can turn down a dark road. My mind wandered more than once to…had I lived in another earlier century without antibiotics.

I don’t like to think about that.

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In everything these days, I am reflective. And in everything now, I see God. He who made me. Me, so temporal and fragile. Me, so human.

I wish more now, for others to be happy and laughing. And I feel more now, compassion when others are hurting. I was not always this way. Or as much, this way.

Sometimes you have to first be humbled…by life. By your mistakes, your weaknesses, your hardships, and even your deepest joys…

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I feel God every time I am in nature…

In every little buzzing life and precious petal.

And all I have been thinking, and feeling, and believing, is that God is all there is. Is all there ever was. All there will ever be. And I am content.

I believe that I, we, are in His hands. And that when we suffer, or are very happy, it is all so that we can feel the life we were given, and live more in awe and reverence of it, and with more grace toward ourselves and others.

I feel this, even in a gentle breeze…

Stay Inspired.

 

Cranberry Love…

Good Day, Dear Friends!

I am wishing you my very best today!

Unfortunately, I am writing to you this afternoon, not feeling so good. Yet, my spirits are spritely, however woozy I’m presently feeling. Let’s just say, thank the Lord for cranberry juice. Perhaps you can guess? I’ve a UTI. Nope, not at all embarrassed to share. It’s just human stuff, and I’m getting too old to be embarrassed about human stuff.

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In fact, on account of this unfortunate event, I want to offer you a pinch of wisdom. Drink your water…drink, drink, drink. It is summer in my neck of the woods, and I overdid it in the heat without hydrating appropriately. Though that isn’t the source of a UTI, I feel absolutely certain that had I properly hydrated, this unpleasantness could have been assuaged…

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Yesterday morning, I slowly trailed my way to my local Whole Foods. I knew it was the only store within walking distance that would have unsweetened cranberry juice. It was so very warm, and I wasn’t so well. Unfortunately, because of Covid, it was required to stand in a line outside the store, waiting on the monitored head-count, to get in. There in the sun, patient in line, I began to feel faint. Oh Lord, please don’t let me pass out on the sidewalk in front of all these people.

 I apologized to an older gentleman in front of me. I didn’t mean to crowd him, but I needed to stand in the slip of shade. He kindly took off his hat and displayed his bald head, and said he understood. He was prone to sunburns atop his head. He made me smile.

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Between last summer, and already in this one, I’ve been more affected by heat and hydration issues, than I ever have in my entire life. Unseasonably hot and humid? Or am I just not a kid anymore? Last summer, I took some severe heat sickness that I pray I never experience again. Let’s just say, hydrating fruits and veggies, electrolyte water, and now apparently cranberry juice, are my best friends. And if you think you can’t get dehydrated in the middle of winter, oh yes you can. So, go guzzle an extra glass. It’s good for you…

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It is so strange a time. Though we adapt, because we must, it never seems quite comfortable. As I looked at my masked self in my smoky antique mirror before my walk this morning, I wondered who that stranger was…

Yesterday, two ladies were ambling on the sidewalk in front of me, and one looked and sounded strikingly like a friend of mine. But because of her mask, I could not determine if it was her. Truly believing it was, I called out her name. Even looking directly into the woman’s face, as she paused to address me, I still thought it was her. I apologized, and said, I cannot see your face. She pulled down her mask, and alas, it was a stranger. The ladies were very sweet and we had a nice little exchange. But funny how, I could not know if it was my friend…

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The lilies have been so beautiful this year.

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 This one takes my breath away. It is her moment…

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I passed our rare books store here in Evanston, Amaranth Books, and noted a title I was intrigued to read. Alas, they were not open. Our big bookstore has just permanently closed in the neighborhood. But, we still have our charming Bookends & Beginnings, and Amaranth. They are just a few blocks apart. If you are ever in Evanston, stop and take a peek inside. Though sadly, no guarantee of the hours of small businesses nowadays…

Books. Beautiful books.

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Walking home, I spotted a half-shell from a bird’s egg. It was speckled, and delicate. Did the most precious, fluffy-headed tiny, hatch from that shell? Was he peeking out at me, from above, in his nest?

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Life is good. Even when it is as tart as a cranberry. Just look around, and you will see it. I know I do…

Stay Inspired.

Cool As A Cucumber…

I’m getting older…

Women shy about their age. But I don’t care a stitch. I’m turning 40 in September…

Maybe because, I look to both my grandmothers. And they’ve always been so beautiful.

I know, from a lifetime of knowing them, just how beautiful they are. My Grandma Ina’s red hair, infectious laughter, bright intelligence, and endless curiosity. My Grandma Novak’s silver head, confident grace, cleverness, and dedicated nature.

Let’s just say, if I’m following in the light of their way, it’s a lovely path…

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I like my age. I think being young was hard. A thousand lessons learned that I’m very glad to have behind me. And, though I can’t claim to be wise, I am wiser. And that’s a good place to be.

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I thought about this earlier today. I left half day early from work to go to the dentist. I go to Smileworks in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, worth the drive into the maze of congested city neighborhoods (seems traffic is right back up to where it used to be) because they are amazing.

{Michelle’s Self-Wisdom Insert #1: When you find a doctor, dentist, stylist, hypoallergenic-not-going-to-make-me-get-hives-and-an-asthma-attack-body-product, etc….stick with it.}

But as I was driving home, taking it easy on this hot and beehive streets sort of day, a vehicle started honking aggressively behind me. I hadn’t stalled to take my left turn, but a woman appeared instantly enraged at my not hitting the petal and burning some rubber…

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After my left turn was complete, with two lanes now available in my direction, I actually did slow down to let this other vehicle pass. I don’t need that stress. Let’s let the woman-on-fire pass me by.

But what did she do? Pulled into the lane next to me, slowed down to drive beside me, unrolled her window, screamed expletives that were downright nasty, eventually to speed off. I glanced at my speedometer, finding that even paused down, I was going the speed limit.

{Michelle’s Self-Wisdom Insert #2 (also straight from the mouths of my folks): Don’t let anyone on the road make you react. You just take your time. It’s not worth your safety.

Amazingly, and I credit my age and experience on this one, I remained as cool as a cucumber…

[Cucumbers on my salad and on my sandwich! So summer! So refreshing!]

Truthfully, that woman was doing herself harm by getting so upset. That couldn’t have been good for her blood pressure. Or her soul. My word.

{Michelle’s Self-Wisdom Insert # 3: Find empathy. Even when it’s difficult. And forgive quickly.}

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I decided to forgive the woman instantly in my mind.

If you’d seen it, I know it was road-rageous. Truly. Pulling up beside someone to honk, scream, and profane (it was yikes), borders on threatening behavior. It’s not right. However…do I remember ever getting over-the-top-upset on the road? Sure. I blush at all of the impatience I’ve had in my life. Life is stressful. It can make you bubble.

But nowadays I think…that car in front of you? Maybe that person just lost their loved one. Maybe they feel nervous on the road. Maybe they are a new driver. Maybe they are driving home from the dentist. Maybe they are overworked. Maybe they’re getting on in years.

Maybe, it doesn’t matter. Maybe…we should just be kinder to one another, through our impatience.

Maybe…it’s just me.

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{Michelle’s Self-Wisdom Insert #4: Eat lots of cookies after visiting the dentist. Didn’t have a cavity this go around? Time to live a little more on the wild side!}

I must confess however, I have been harboring a secret impatience lately. You may have guessed from these photos, but how tempted I’ve been to cut off all my own hair!!!

My head is a wild mess (you can’t see the terrible tangles…but they are there). I swear, faeries dance on my head when I sleep every night. And oooohhh, that makes me mighty aggitated! And no. It’s not because I do, and always will, refuse to brush my hair. It’s faeries. Sometimes they leave glitter, and twigs, and feathers and stuff.

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Do you believe me?

This brush my Mama bought me ages ago (I gather she was hinting at something), is still in the packaging. We should have a blog giveaway! I mean, I’m not going to use that contraption.

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I guess where stubbornness resides, wisdom still won’t grow with age.

But don’t worry…I made an appointment. My hair will be cut by a professional. This time.

Stay cool. Don’t stress. Eat your veggies. Don’t honk and curse on the road. Don’t squash a faerie if you find one dancing on your head. They’re endangered.

Grow in wisdom. Grow in patience.

Stay Inspired.

A Man Pulled Up On The Side Of The Road…

Welcome All. I hope this message finds you full with good health, safety, love and light today…

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I am well. Though, it has been another few unusual and tense weeks. There is civil stress, both locally, and throughout the nation. And there is Covid. It hasn’t gone anywhere. As with everyone else, it’s just one day at a time.

God, please bless, heal, and keep us in your hands.

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As some of you readers are already aware, being revelers, vendors, and employees at Bristol, the Bristol Renaissance Faire (and my book shop The Quill and Brush) will remain closed for the 2020 season. It was announced earlier this week. In my view, it was most certainly the right decision, for the health of all…

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Of course, there is disappointment in it, for many. Bristol is a beautiful, magical outlet. The festival (and all of the hundreds of other canceled events around the nation) are also basic income, for thousands. As I packed my costumes away yesterday, and simply sat with all that has happened these last months, this closure was harder to swallow than I’d anticipated.

My Mom mailed me masks, which she made, and which I make use of every day. I am thankful. My Dad mails me books, which in reading, have been a recent escape. I am thankful. I am thankful to have family that think of me. It is a reminder to pay it forward, with small gestures that uplift others, when I have the opportunity…

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Yet today, I want to share something personal that happened this week. For whatever reason, I normally wouldn’t. I try after all, to keep things light here on Inspired By Venice. But I feel compelled. Perhaps because what I am going to say, may be important to even one reader here, someday, somehow. God works in mysterious ways…

A man pulled up on the side of the road, as I was walking with my groceries on the sidewalk, a few evenings ago. He offered me a ride home in his car. A stranger. I said no. He encouraged. I said no.

I need not offer more detail on the happening, but this…

It quickened my heart, the way a deer must feel when it knows it needs to run the other direction. I watched nervously when the car drove away, until I could not see it anymore, and then I wove through an alleyway home, to be sure I wasn’t being watched for where I lived.

This is not the first time. And maybe it won’t be the last. I’ve a few stories that will turn the hairs up on your neck. Was this individual a bad person with bad intentions? I don’t know. But what I know is, a stranger has no business offering me a ride in their car.

I shared this to say, when your instinct alerts you, listen. This may apply, in many other ways, than this. But if your gut is telling you something, listen. And carry yourself, the other direction.

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Have I mentioned I’m eating Chuckles for stress management?

Love one another, lift one another. Love and take care of yourself.

Stay Inspired.

The Yellow Headed Blackbird

Hello Folks! I hope that you are well…

The weather here is looking lovely, and I’ve replenished my pantry with cookies and some extra cookies, so I’m doing just fine!

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I saw something very special this week, and couldn’t wait to share it with you…

As you may recall, I’ve been manning the ship for many weeks, sometimes all by my lonesome. This week was no different…

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[Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay]

As I began my daily walk in on Thursday, in a spring rain, I was rather contemplative. I observed that I was the only one trailing the sidewalk, something unique to my urban area. I peered in at a singular worker in a darkened coffee shop. Considered the inactive businesses. Wondered over the quiet. I was thinking…

And as I went along, past some homes with green and flowering lawns, all while the rain fell, I suddenly happened upon the strangest creature!

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[Image by Akiroq Brost from Pixabay]

One of these.

What was so special about this sighting, is that this is an extremely rare bird in this area. Not only that, but I had never seen one before, ever. And if you’ve met me, you know, I’m nuts for nature. I notice wildlife. I can hear a jumping spider whispering from 6 feet away (wouldn’t that be cool…can they even vocalize?…I need to look that up).

I notice everything when it comes to bugs and birds. And I’d never spotted one quite like this.

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[Image by 272447 from Pixabay]

I thought it was especially awesome for several reasons. First, I practically stepped on him. He was like a little firecracker near my feet!

As I passed a flower-box and ‘for sale’ sign in the lawns along the walk, I didn’t see him just beyond, right next to the way. He was standing just there on the grass, only a few feet from me. I looked down and halted and telepathically blurted, “Who are you?”

The bird tilted his head, ruffled his feathers, thoughtfully stepped away a bit and said, “I’m me. Who are you?”

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[Image by Souvick Ghosh from Pixabay]

We must have both looked unique to one another. I with my towering umbrella, red raincoat, red purse, neon rainbow-colored sneakers. And the bird, that bird! You cannot imagine how rich the color of that mustardy-yellow chest-plume amidst its ebony wings with strips of white, against a dreary backdrop. He was like, pow-POW! Gorgeous! Oh my word!

Now, as the lone cat at the office, sort of needed to move along. But you know, I had to stop and have a conversation. I told that bird, aloud, how handsome he was, as he kept puffing up, dispelling the rain from his feathers. He just toed around the lawn a bit, tilting his head, listening for worms I suspected, which are ample in the rain. This bird did not hop, or fly off, he just passively and gently stepped about.

Love at first sight. And what if I never saw another like him again?

And did I mention that I was talking to a bird while hovering at the edge of a stranger’s lawn? If they were looking out their window that morning, they might have suspected that the times had addled that woman in the red raincoat’s brain.

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[A Guide To Field Identification : Birds of North America : Robbins, Bruun, Zim, & Singer]

Of course, I was eager all day to consult my bird book once I got home. While on the job, a colleague suggested on our collaborative online meeting, that it could have been an Oriole, but I said, “No…no, it wasn’t.”

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[A Guide To Field Identification : Birds of North America : Robbins, Bruun, Zim, & Singer]

I’ve seen, though only a few, Orioles. But this creature, was like a blackbird.

And it was.

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[A Guide To Field Identification : Birds of North America : Robbins, Bruun, Zim, & Singer]

A male, yellow-headed blackbird.

It appears where I abide is on the very cusp of where these birds may visit to mate in the spring. Further, this fella is locally endangered. Habitat loss, of course. Here’s some information about them regarding Illinois. And you must hear their alien rattle-buzzing song, found here.

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[A Guide To Field Identification : Birds of North America : Robbins, Bruun, Zim, & Singer]

It’s a real treat to see something undiscovered before. For, though this bird might be common elsewhere, I had never seen it, and it really took me by surprise!

The other thing special about it, was where my mind had been just a moment before. The times, the strange quiet, and that feeling of uncertainty in my gut. In an instant, I was riveted by something beautiful. It seemed, a gift. I’m glad to say that these sorts of things happen to me all the time, gifts, or so it seems to me.

With this particular gift, I suddenly felt right again. I rallied.

All of my best to you, friends…

Stay Inspired

Michelle’s Musings…

Hello dearest Friends, Family, and Readers! I hope with all my heart that this message finds each and every one of you well. I know it’s hard right now. I know.

God bless you.

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I figure we’re in for a longer post today since it’s been a few weeks. Just some Michelle musings, with no particular order or theme, and which will no doubt be eclectic. As always, I only wish a smile, a chuckle, a “that’s curious”, or an Amen! in it for you

Here we go…

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As you may remember, I started a teeny-tiny kitchen herb garden weeks ago. I have since been daily brooding over my little pots like a nervous mother hen. Cluck-cluck-cluck! Do they need more sun? Less sun? More water? Was that too much water? Oh geez…

Truly, I’ve no green thumb. However, I was born with my toes in the dirt. Where was that hospital? I’m delighted by anything in nature. So, when my first sprout peeked out, I was brimming with excitement…

I’ve got cilantro and basil growing at a snail’s pace…

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But no chives or parsley. I tried to keep the faith a little while, but I don’t think those are coming…

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I’m tickled by how the cilantro is sprouting these itty-bitty leaves. How tempted I am to clip one and take a nibble. I hope the basil grows full and strong. I’ll replant it and let it get out of control. I’m bonkers for basil

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[Image by David Schwarzenberg from Pixabay]

Michelle fun fact: I have an allergy to cilantro. This is unfortunate, because I really like the herb. In general, I’ve already bad allergies. I sniffle all day long, medicine or no medicine. I’ll blow my nose in my sleeve at this point, in drapery or table linen, anything made of cloth or paper really. I don’t care. I’m so over allergies. I’ve got that respiratory system that screams No Ma’am! with great clout, the moment I so much as toe near something to which I’m allergic…

Oh that delicious, emerald-green, bright, fresh, cilantro! Sniffles, congestion, and itches! I get so itchy! The more I eat in one sitting, the louder the No Ma’am! Once, my palms itched so bad after eating a healthy portion of cilantro, that for at least half an hour, I thought I’d go crazy!

True story. Except the part about linens and drapery. I use tissue…mostly.

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Ok, I have a mystery for you!

But first, I must digress to say…look at those little flower paintings my mother Lita did! Aren’t they so pretty! They were just so cheerful, I propped them on my writing desk to celebrate spring. Love you Mama!

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Ok, back to the mystery…

Do you know what sea glass is? I honestly didn’t until recently. See, I grew up around small bodies of water, and I don’t remember ever seeing any, or it ever being introduced to my vocabulary. So, as an adult, I’ve discovered the joy of searching for this on the beach…

At first, I think I genuinely thought they were some sort of stone. Natural. Yes, go ahead, feel free to have a giggle on me! I was just ignorant of what they were. But now I know that it is actual glass, tumbled around in the water, for a long, long time. When it washes up on shore, it’s lovely.

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So, living a few blocks from Lake Michigan, let’s just say I’ve now added this to my list of mini-hobbies. And, as I’ve just learned, sea glass is only from salt water, beach glass is what we have here.

So what’s the mystery? Well according to Wikipedia, it can take many decades for these to form. I might be collecting pretty-bitties that have been tumbling around for 100 years for all I know. So, imagine how curious it was to find this one…

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Of all the billions of stones and shells and grains of sand along our shore…I found this oddity. A piece of frosty-white beach glass, etched. Now, from this photo, it may look like XXI. But I think it may have been XXX, with the right-most part of the etching fading away. I’m not entirely certain.

Roman numerals? The symbolic X’s of kissesAnd this etching isn’t new. It is worn. I can’t say how old it is, or who etched it, or simply how. But, believe me…my imagination could come up with a few stories. Perhaps I’ll write a short book of tales one day, each a possibility stemming from this one piece of glass.

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Another recent and curious mini-hobby I’ve picked up…quite literally…pennies.

You know, my step-dad Charlie always had this knack for finding money on the sidewalk, in parking lots, anywhere really. That’s always made me smile. “Look! I found a dollar!”

Well, with recent stress (to which we are all enduring), I’ve tried tricking myself into being distracted. Small amusements. I still walk to and from work, and am during this time, considered an ‘essential worker’. I have for some weeks, worked almost entirely alone. At first, this was kind of eerie (I’ve been playing a lot of classical music in my cozy little nest of an office – I helps me feel calm and focused). But now, I’ve adapted, just as each of you has had to do in one way or other…

In any case, I always delight in noticing birds, or budding flowers, along my walk. But then, I all of a sudden, started to feel both distracted and amused, by searching for pennies along my route! Instead of fretting about uncertainty, I began making a game of spotting coins. And, don’t they say to find a penny is good luck?

I’m now collecting a jar of good luck. And, I’m going to buy something special with them someday! Probably cookies…

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In other news, wearing a mask took some adapting to as well. In Evanston, it is not only suggested, but now mandatory for essential workers to do so. I don’t have to all day (thank goodness – I’d quickly become claustrophobic – God bless our medical workers) as my interactions are few. But, I wear them around others.

This specific mask with flowers on it…was left on the doorknob of my office. A gift, made by a colleague’s wife. That really touched my heart. How sweet are small gifts. Sometimes from those who know us, and sometimes from someone we hardly even know. I am so humbled by that. It reminds me to be kind to others, even in little ways, whenever I can…

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I even wear it out for walks when I am treading the urban sidewalks. Who says your mask can’t be pretty?

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With that said, I’m going to try and make one for myself. I’ve some fabric from a dress that never fit right. I’ve needle and thread. I’ve a hot iron for ironing. Yes, you read that right. I don’t own an iron. I embrace my wrinkles. So, let’s just see if my hair straightening iron can’t do the trick for this small craft? I’ll let you know! Don’t they say that necessity is the mother of invention?

I may be tempted to sew some loose pearls on it. Too bad I don’t have any spare sparkles around. Hmmm….

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As for other DIY projects, I repaired my vintage medicine cabinet door with a glue gun. A glue gun I pulled out of a box from my younger, more craftier moments. Cause I love my classic medicine cabinet. I’d use bubble gum to keep it together if I had to!

Once, I made a pair of angel wings for myself, glue-gunning every feather. It was, crazy. The very best crazy.

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[Image by congerdesign from Pixabay]

Another time, when really young, I left a glue gun plugged in on a holiday. I realized this, while on a family visit, away from the empty house where said glue gun was oozing fiery glue…

There is no worse fear for a youngster, than believing you may have just burnt the house down, while away eating mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie at a family gathering. I snuck into my aunt’s bedroom to dial my house several times. Because, you know, in a child’s innocent mind, this must mean my house was still there. I never said a word to my Mom, and was terribly anxious to get home again. When she smelled the house as we entered, that very distinct smell of burning glue and metal that can only come from a glue gun (which had miraculously caused no damage), she knew who the culprit was. The glue gun disappeared for a little while. Probably a few years…and then there were angel wings – 1996 Romeo and Juliet style baby!

In other news. God’s been good to me. Tea and cookies good…

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Fresh fruit and green juice good…

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Fill my belly good…

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Fine health, and a soft bed to rest my head, good.

What more could I need?

If you’re reading, say hello friend! Leave a comment! Share a few lines of your DIY, a beach-glass mystery, a blessing you’re thankful for, a funny story, or your favorite tea-time treat! What’s blooming in your garden? Love it!

And wherever you are in the world, I wish you ever well. Hang in there! All things have a season. From out of hardship and gloom, there is always rebirth and renewal.

So I say again, and always will…

Stay Inspired!

 

You’ve plenty of grit, you’ll see…

Hello Friends. I hope this message finds you, above all, healthy. I also wish you a calm spirit, and enduring strength, as all the world’s fortitude is being tested…

I know that for many, life is very strange, strained, and scary right now. And I’ve of course, no more wisdom that anyone on how to find those moments of tranquility, which seem so very fleeting. However, for me, there are a few things that bring a snatch of daily peace…

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[Cheerful blooms I bought myself last year…just love the smell of fresh roses.]

Thankfulness. Thinking on those people in my life that I am grateful for. Remembering all the ways that I am blessed. Being content with small things, and thankful that I have them at all…

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[Ahhh…nut butter and jam! Bringing back those shelf-stable old friends.]

Remembering that ‘It is well with my soul’. I find personal peace in my beliefs, believing that through faith, prayer, and patience, we can endure anything. And at the end of the day, no matter what happens, I rest easier undoubting that my life is in God’s hands…

[New Apostolic Church Orchestra and Choir: Silvertown, South Africa]

Memories. Looking at all the beautiful parts of my life, and believing that it won’t be long before some normalcy returns, even if things look a little different for a while. That brings me happiness…

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[Milwaukee shoreline on Lake Michigan last summer]

Just pretend like you’re camping. Okay, this one’s from my Mama. I don’t know how many times she’s said that in my life. Maybe she doesn’t even realize she’s said that a whole bunch…

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[Image by jplumb from Pixabay]

See, we used to go camping when I was younger. Loved it! There’s nothing cozier than a campfire, and no better a night’s sleep than in the fresh air of the outdoors, and nothing more awe-inspiring than a starry sky…

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[Image by skeeze from Pixabay]

But why has my Mama said that since? Maybe because sometimes in life you have to go without, and have a little less. And, you know, when you’re camping, you may run out of toilet paper and have to use leaves. Or eat beans and marshmallows for supper, instead of what you’d usually have…

This is certainly not to belittle hardship, nor the need for vital necessities. But, for so many of you who are staying in, and perhaps running out of the items you’re used to having, try to shrug your shoulders and pretend like you’re camping. Making a game of things in your mind sometimes softens the strangeness of a situation…

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[Photo by 631372 from Pixabay]

Humour. I’ve a story for you. Taking notice that one of their cats were acting oddly at the basement window the other evening, and assuming it to be another neighborhood feline on the prowl, my folks found to their complete bafflement, a wild turkey pecking at the window. What? At length, it strolled off into a neighboring yard. Though such wild fowl aren’t unknown in the surrounding farm country, certainly that was the first turkey in decades to be on such an adventure. Wish I could have seen that! No wonder the cat was acting a little strange. Never seen a bird like that before! The wildlife really is coming out while the towns are quiet…

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[Lovely pink peonies snipped from one colleague, and a piece of fruit from another, last spring. The smallest gifts can bring such joy to the heart.]

My little offering to say, I hope serenity for you today, in whatever ways are personal. And, I wish you all the grit there is as we wind through the seriousness of these current days.

You’ve enough, I promise you. You’ll see…

Stay Inspired.

Sing Like The Red Finch…

Good Morning Dear Friends! How are you doing this blustery, sunny, February morning? Did you enjoy your Valentine’s? Did you eat lots of decadent delights, stuff yourselves with fancy bonbons, and flutter rose petals into the sky with romantic abandon as you skipped down the street with your beloved?

I did none of the above, although I might have devoured half a package of crunchy-dark-chocolate-chip-cookies in bed like they were my last. Crumbs in the covers. Where would my life be without cookies?

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Yes, we’ve a bit of sun and blue sky here in Evanston, which feels like a miracle. Sunshine makes a big difference for staying inspired, so I find!

But apart from sunshine, I also spotted another precious miracle this week…

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[Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay]

We had one very cold day this week. And as I walk to work, I bundled up a bit especially. I don’t know how I can still find this amazing, having lived in North America all my life, but I can’t believe how instantly some fingers can feel on the verge of irreversible frostbite! Sometimes, it’s like, a minute…

 I like to eat my morning muffin as I walk, which means at least one hand isn’t wearing a glove. That poor hand. Yet, musteatmuffin.

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[Image by MH Rhee from Pixabay]

Along my way, there is this particular house, of which I always purposefully travel past their backyard. They have some habitat signs up, and in the warmer months, that backyard is a veritable little jungle.

I have noted, almost each day that I pass it, all year round, that the birds are going just bonkers for that yard. There is some fruity compost out on the ground, and bird feeders, and clearly the types of plants growing that yield what the chirpers enjoy eating the most…

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[Image by aekadtke from Pixabay]

As I went by on this particular morning, freezing my own feathers, there was this singular birdsong. Beautiful, beautiful warbling. Oh, my, heavens. And though I was already running minutes behind, I stopped in my tracks nonetheless. I figured some very unique bird was passing through, and I had to see it. Here in Evanston, I’ve chanced to spy some wonderfully out of place birds migrating through…

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[Image by aekadtke from Pixabay]

I discovered the creature. So pretty a soft red, and not the crimson Cardinal (which are very active and thriving right now). It was so precious. Oh my word. Having its little song on that glacial, albeit sunny, morning. As cheerful as ever…

And as I marveled, I literally thought, I want to be her. The one who’s singing. The one who, even during the coldest day, when all the other birds are so hushed by the season, is still singing. I will be her.

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[According to my Birds of North America book, it was a red finch, though I am not absolutely certain which one. A House Finch, I believe.]

How joyful, that such a tiny creature can bring such lightness to the day. She offered me a more inspired heart, a brighter smile, and a sunnier step, in just seconds. If a little bird can do that, then what can I bring to others, just by offering a more positive spirit?

Sing like the red finch, my friends…

Holding Down The Fort…

Hello, hello! Are you staying inspired today?

Some days, I’ve got to dig a little deeper for my inspiration. Like today. I can’t look outdoors for it, that’s for sure. Here in Evanston, we’ve got a snowy, wet, blustery, dismal ick going on. But that’s the Midwest in January!

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Want to know the not-so-nice place my non-stop-imagination-crazy-brain went this morning? I was thinking about how quickly the snowstorm blew up yesterday. I had mentioned to a co-worker late yesterday afternoon, that I believed we were expecting 3 to 5 inches. That’s what the report said anyway. At that moment, there wasn’t a snowflake to be seen. Within ten minutes, I kid you not, the world outside was going white, we were in a snow globe, a layer already on the ground. Within about an hour, the conditions were bad and the snow already quite accumulated…

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[Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay]

I walk to and from work, so I was worn after a long week, and a great trudge through the cold and snow last night. I was so thankful for the safe, warm, cozy little home I have. And, I’d just picked up some new and very delicious vanilla black tea! As I looked out the window, sipping away, spreading out all the things I’d traipsed home in to dry out, I thought yikes! What a storm!

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[Image by Lense_n_Pen from Pixabay]

So, what was that awful thought I had this morning? I was thinking again about my cozy nest out from the elements. And then, I thought about how hard it would have been for pioneers back in time, who built their little homesteads in the middle of nowhere, out on vast flat fields, with nothing to see for miles around…

Well, I’d learned as a kid in school, just how life-threatening instant blizzards were for pioneers. How, a hapless individual could walk just a short distance out from their house, and be immediately lost, unable to even see well enough to get back to their front door. Uhm, that’s terrible…

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[Image by mbll from Pixabay]

So, which teacher when I was a kid, put that everlasting, horrible thought into my head? The idea that dozens of homesteaders who’d stumbled out of their doors in a blizzard, to tie up a horse or a cow or something, froze to death in the snow, mere feet from their houses. And there, a loved one was waiting, fretting from the threshold, unable to step out from the safety of the shelter, lest they became lost too. That’s really tragic.

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[Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay]

Well, I guess I’m inspired today that I’m not a pioneer from the 1800’s…

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[Image by Successful4 from Pixabay]

It was probably that same teacher who gave us the most awesome assignment ever! Each student had to pretend they were a pioneer, traveling across the U.S. in a wagon with their family. We had to write a journal, and draw pictures, of our imagined journey. It had to be filled with both the good and the bad. A fatal snake bite one day, a swim in a refreshing stream the next. A broken wagon wheel alternating with making new friends with another caravan, etc. I had a field day imagining all the wild things that were happening to my little pioneer self!

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[Image by Jackie Samuels from Pixabay]

Moving on from luckless pioneers…

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Do you know what smell I think is amazing? Another item sparked from my childhood. Tomato vines. They have this spicy, earthy, strong scent that is difficult to describe. I remember it from my Grandma Ina’s garden on a hot summer day. And now, I sniff my tomato vines when I make a salad…

That may, or may not, be a true story.

Moving on from sniffing tomato vines…

I wanted to share a film that I thought was a real gem. The Good Catholic.

A new priest covering a late night confession meets a young woman who confesses something unexpected. His life gets a bit of a shake-up from there, as he continues to encounter this gal. All the while, his interactions with the two other more senior priests that he works alongside, add another interesting layer of things for this priest to ponder…

I liked it so much for the way it spoke on faith, love, and compassion. Also because it was funny and witty throughout. I thought the acting between the three priests was perfectly executed. And too, there’s a sweet friendship. A really nice movie.

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To digress, have you ever paired walnuts and cheddar cheese together? Best snack ever.

Well, I’m off to get things done, while staying cozy in my house. I’ll just hold down the fort right here. Most likely with a veggie pizza…

Stay Inspired!

Go Get Yourself A Cup Of Coffee…

I was pondering this morning, how many years I have lived in Evanston, for I didn’t originally come from here. By my calculations, it’s already been about 13 years in this town. It seems like a twirl of a wand, but a lot of life happened in that time…

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[Downtown Evanston, Dec. 2019]

Evanston abuts Chicago to the north, along Lake Michigan…

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[View of Chicago from Evanston]

It’s urban, yet comfortable and traversable. I prefer walking to my destinations however, or sometimes taking the L train, rather than driving. Seems the parking, and the bustle, give me the nerves these days. Things like that didn’t bother me all those years ago, but sensitivities can change…

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[Evanston mural below the train tracks. L train or Metra, either shortly gets you to downtown Chicago]

I remember once all those years ago when I hadn’t been here all that long, living in a studio apartment above several restaurants, I experienced a bout of sadness and ennui. My mom reminded me of what was right outside my door. She told me to “Go get yourself a cup of coffee.”

 

Newport Coffee House in Evanston is a real treat.

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[Sandwiches at Newport Coffee House-Evanston. I tried the salmon-egg-avocado. Really delicious!]

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[Healthy house-made choices at Newport Coffee House-Evanston]

[Newport Coffee House]

She told me to walk around, look at the shops, maybe get myself a new sweater. She was right. I was young, lived in a nice city, so many adventures yet ahead of me. And for a little distraction, all I had to do was take a walk

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[Evanston’s beloved Bennison’s Bakery]

[Bennison’s Bakery Treats]

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[Every delight you’d wish for at Bennison’s Bakery-Evanston]

All these many years later, seems I’ve quite adopted her advice. Whether anxious, restless, down, needing exercise, frustrated, want some fresh air, adventure, or to notice something new. Or even, just because

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Taking a walk is a wellness-booster in general. And though I don’t always get myself a coffee (have to watch that afternoon caffeine nowadays), mom’s wisdom is as applicable today as it was a decade ago, and it always will be. What she was saying was, no matter what’s going on in your life, you’ve got to take advantage of what you’ve got right now…

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However you apply that to your life, Go Get Yourself A Cup of Coffee is a catchall for…go turn on the music and dance a song…go relax by making yourself a meal…take 30 minutes to read a book you enjoy…go birdwatching…make a call to a friend you miss…get out for an amble on a nature path…go sit in the coffee house…

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[My cozy Evanston safe-haven in life’s wilderness! Love my home.]

Just remember to do something that makes you feel happy, well, thankful, and in the moment…

Thank you Mama, for your wisdom!

Stay Inspired!

…would love to hear from you friends! Do comment and say Hello! Tell me of some of your favorite delights in life! What makes you happy and inspired?

Welcome 2020! And Some Musings…

Good morning friends! It’s 2020! Here in Chicago, it’s cold, but there is a layer of beautiful snow on the ground along with a sunny bright blue sky! I’m thinking of taking a bit of a walk later to take in the air, on this, the first day of the new year. I’ll have to bundle up!

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[I’m presently reading Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman. The copy was courtesy of my dad (we snail mail each other books because we have similar reading interests). My dad nailed it. I don’t want to put the book down. An incredible, page-turning, true adventure!]

How did I bring in the new year? In my pajamas. I was chiding myself for not being asleep at that hour. I have a bedtime and all, which the holiday season has quite disrupted. 9 p.m. these days. 9:30 when I’m apparently feeling spunky…

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[My town of Evanston, on a sunny winter morning just before Christmas. The cold is nothing I find, when the sun is shining and the sky is blue, and the crimson cardinals are merry about the trees.]

So midnight, yikes! But I thought since I was already up so late, might as well take in the moment! I was snacking on salty nuts and chocolates (which I am certain assisted in making my dreams especially erratic last night…I have a ‘no-eating-chocolate-before-bed’ policy too…which I’ve hurled out the window for the holidays)…

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[Is there anything better than tea, cookies, and a book, on a cold winter’s day? Can’t every day just be tea, cookies, and books? Can I please earn a salary sitting around with tea, cookies, and books? And maybe some coffee, and cats?]

And just as the 12 o’clock hour was about to strike, I closed my eyes and began a prayer, feeling that that was a nice way to bring in this new decade. I thanked God for everything I have, and welcomed whatever was meant for me in the coming years, and asked for blessings for my loved ones and friends, and for peace for all…

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[Want to know something quirky about me (besides everything)? Each morning before I leave my house, I look in the bathroom mirror, and smile. I swear. For quite some time now I’ve been doing this. A little self-encouragement? Starting out the day with a positive expression, no matter what the day may bring? A smile, to stay inspired.]

And then it was promptly lights out! Midnight had come and gone, to sleep I went!

Now, I don’t make resolutions. But if I were to form thoughts for what I want for myself in this new year, and new decade, they would revolve around…

  • New adventures: Whether near or far, I love new experiences. Let’s add more!
  • Being brave to change: Because the new that awaits me, can enrich my life.
  • Maintaining good health choices: Because that is the best expression of self-love.

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[I digress but, I noticed these itty paw prints cemented in the sidewalk when I was out for a winter walk. Do you see those adorable little nail prints on that left claw? Was it a raccoon? Bet he didn’t like that cement on his little toes! I find the most delightful things, when I keep my eyes open…]

Well, I’m going to spend part of today writing, so I better hop to it. But, I just wanted to wish you all, the very Happiest New Year, and all of the peace, health, and joy in the world. Welcome 2020!

Stay Inspired!

A Robin’s Sweet Song…

Living in an urban environment, I walk around town all year long. When I toe out my door each day, I leave the car right where it’s parked…on the city street. I power-step to work, I stroll for groceries, I hike to the post office. If I don’t have to drive, I prefer not to…

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And I love walking, so I’ll go out for an amble just because, as often as I can. I enjoy the fresh air, the lakeside, scenes of nature wherever they are found, and I also enjoy a little bit of city bustle too. It’s specifically lovely when like today, the sun is shining and the biting temperatures have eased up…

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As I was going about my way, I heard the slightest, prettiest little song, and gazed up to see where it was coming from….

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It was an American robin, ever so gently caroling amidst the berries up in a tree. It seemed to be singing just to itself, which I found so very special and sweet…

I believe they were enjoying the sunshine and temperate weather, just as much as I was! I’m very glad that I paused a spell, to listen to this robin’s sweet song.

I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord. 

Psalms 104:33-34 KJV

Too Special For Words…

I saw something so special last week. Utterly special to me, because of my particular, lifelong love for insects. Living in an urban environment, you don’t see all that many interesting specimens. But sometimes, if you keep your eyes open like I do, you’ll see something that will amaze you…

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I was taking a brief bite of lunch out in the sun, and ran across the street to throw my apple core into a trash can. I soon almost fell over myself, coming to a halt. My jaw dropped and my chest stirred with excitement. FOR THE LOVE OF BUGS…A PRAYING MANTIS…standing there on the city sidewalk. My eyes were like two moons. I squealed out loud. I was so happy. If there had been anything difficult in my day thus far, it was over. Forgotten…

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Only then, I began to worry, for my mantid was posing so tall and proud on the sidewalk. He looked like he was ready to take on the world. Very confident. But pedestrians, and some with dogs, might hurt my beastie by accident. That would make me cry. So I hovered low, and warned a woman passing by…

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I thought to gingerly assist the beautiful animal into some building-side greenery. But then I thought, what if that creature’s sharp mandibles bite my finger? Ouch! Well, I guess I could stand such a pinch, if it meant saving the mantid’s life! Sometimes, we just have to be brave.

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Alas, as if reading my mind, the insect flew up over the walk, into blades of grass. It was amazing to watch it fly. Like a fairy. I gasped in awe.

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Safe, almost unseen, blending so well into the grass, there my mantid stayed to hunt his meal. His arms together, appearing in prayer, as praying mantis will do…

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I saw him for two days straight in the same cluster of grass, before he moved along. I of course had to look him up, and learn more about these bugs.

What did I find? A Chinese Mantis. According to Wikipedia, they are the most sizeable species of mantis in North America. I can attest…this beast was nearly as long as my hand, and when standing upright on the sidewalk, was quite dominant. Further, they are carnivorous (not just bugs, but aquatic creatures, reptiles…hummingbirds). They are also cannibals…

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Probably a good thing I was spared picking the creature up.

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I must say, I’ve only seen a praying mantis in Illinois once before, and that was some twenty years ago. That was especially why this encounter was so incredible. I’d like to have one as a pet. Only, he might eat all my pet jumping spiders bouncing around my house, which would be a conflict of interest. Some people do keep them as pets.

Of course, my heart tells me that what is wild, should stay wild…

As for you, Stay Inspired!

The Crazy Cat Lady House…

Hi Folks! How are you today? Staying inspired? I had planned to sleep in this morning, but instead woke up like a frisky autumn squirrel, ready to drink coffee, eat a blueberry muffin, clean everything, and write chapters. A few hours later, I’ve accomplished a few of those things…and I’m ready for a nap…

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I used to enjoy naps many years ago. Now, I don’t take them. If I do, I wake up not feeling so good. Does that happen to you?

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Today, I wanted to share something hilarious and delightful! Once upon a time, when I worked in a creative consultancy in Chicago, we had…well…creative competitions. The magic of working with artists and designers, is that they have some crazy talent making things. You never knew what they might come up with!

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For one of these internal events, it was decided that we should have a diorama competition. Now, I am no artist, and consider myself not at all able, in the way of arts and crafts. But I knew that I wanted to make a diorama. I loved making these things as a kid! The miniature setup in a shoebox?! What is better than that?

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The most awesome one as a child was a pyramid that you peeked into through a hole, a flashlight illuminating the innards. It was a mysterious tomb of treasures, and really sparked the imagination! I wish I still had that thing, but it fell apart three decades ago…

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To note…it sort of helped that I have a very artistic mother. Actually, it helped a lot. I begged for her help with anything to do with glitter, glue, drawing, painting, etc. You see, my brain doesn’t work that way folks. The idea of drawing is like trying to figure a complicated math equation. I can’t do it. And as an adult, nothing has changed…

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My mom was the true creative director behind my adult attempt at a diorama. I call it…The Crazy Cat Lady House. Please take a moment to admire this mini-house of mess and meows! Isn’t it awesome!

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Why did I aspire to make this house come to life? Because I’m a crazy cat lady in my heart, and always will be. I would love to own a house full of wily, frenzied, goofy, tussling cats. Only, I don’t like mess. So, I can only admire this scene from my diorama. I will never own a crazy cat lady house in real life. But I can imagine the joy of it…

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So how’d we do it? We took doll house pieces, tore them up, painted everything grubby, and made a merry mess with all the cats at play. We had a blast!

Did I place in the competition? Yup! Third. Quite impressive when you are going up against people who went to school to create! Thanks for your help, Mama!

It was so fun. It was inspiring. Life should be more about that…don’t you think?

My very best wishes to each and every one of you today! I’ll be working on my creepy new novel, Still, and keeping inspired. I wish you the same!

Inspired by Home…

Happy Sunday All! This morning is quite rainy and chilly. I think I aught to just get back under those blankets!

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[Image by LUM3N from Pixabay]

Do you know, I love home. I could stay home endlessly. Be very quiet. Just write, and read, and take afternoon walks, and cook healthy things, and eat lots of cookies, and create an inspired post everyday, and be so very content…

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[Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay]

You see, it is my dream to be a stay-at-home-writer. You’d sometimes find me hiding in a used bookstore for inspiration, sniffing old pages, because there’s nothing like that smell…

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[Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay]

Or, I might be sitting by the lake, contemplating my next chapter, the waves, the sky, and life…

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[Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay]

But mostly, you would find me at my desk, my most contented place to be…

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[Image by Andrian Valeanu from Pixabay]

That is what home inspired me to think of today…

Someday

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[Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay]

And what are your dreams? I bet they are as wonderful as mine!

Stay inspired!

Inspired By Reading…

Hello All You Amazing, Strong, Creative, Funny, Wonderful, Weird People…oh wait, the weird one is just me! Ha! How are you doing today?! Staying inspired I hope! Do you know what was so very good for my soul this last week?

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Reading. I was under the weather Monday, and thus spent the afternoon reclining in bed with books. And then…I made some more time for some more reading this week, because, you know, I just wanted more. Like M&M’s. Or blueberry muffins. Or French fries dipped in aioli…

Reading breaks my brain. It inspires me. And do you know what else I found? It makes my brain hush up. I need that. Be quiet brain, stop chattering! I’ve decided to apply reading to my life like meditation, for its wondrous calming effect…

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This week, I finished reading Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis, an inspirational book for women, a gift from my cousin Kerri last Christmas. Some of the uplifting advice applied not at all to me, or were lessons I’d learned a long time ago. Yet, other thoughts from the author had me nodding my head in affirmation, thinking, this is good advice. I don’t really read much in the way of inspirational books, but I appreciated this one for being just that. A woman, trying to lift other women, and that is always good. Right on, Rachel!

I also finished Bait and Switch: The Futile Pursuit of the American Dream by Barbara Ehrenreich. Her Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America was amazing, so when I saw another of her works at the used book store, I snatched it up. Like science writer Amy Roach, this author is an utter inspiration to me. Her research, her wit, her investigative reporting skills…I aspire. Both of these books are about why it can be so difficult, financially getting by in America. Neither book made me smile. Both increased my humility. Both remind me not to take anything for granted, and to be thankful for what I have. Very smart books, very good reads.

Now, I’m beginning Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. Another work bringing to light, an American populace, struggling in poverty and pain. Though it is doubtful I will find much uplifting in it, some stories are simply important to read…

As the days are starting to get chillier, and the sky is growing darker sooner in the evenings…

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I’ve pulled out the tea kettle and am perusing all the books I’ve collected, yet have not had time to begin…

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With that cozy time of year returning, I can’t wait to read, and write, as many adventures as I can fit in this season!

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As a side note for all you book lovers and readers of InspiredByVenice.org, I’m a Goodreads and Amazon author, and would love your follow!

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Even more, if you have enjoyed reading one of my tales, I would so much appreciate your review! Your words, inspire me, as a writer. Thank you!

Come Along On My Adventure…

For me, any outing can be an adventure, planned or unplanned! Last night I had a little trouble falling asleep, in part because I was excited for what was to come today. The opening of Evanston’s outdoor farmer’s market for the season! And, Evanston’s Unitarian Church’s annual rummage sale! I woke up before 6:30 a.m., and there was no going back to bed. Adventure time!

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Evanston was blessed with a beautiful day today! Still a bit chilly, yet sunny, green, and full of birdsong. I’ll take it!

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I figured for the first day of the farmer’s market, it would be packed with a crowd. But I was there pretty early, so I had first pick of the Swiss chard and radishes (my favorites)…

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The fresh air, the flowers, the veggies, the baked goods…love it!

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I was even able to purchase my city beach tag early with a discount! With as busy as my summers are, I don’t get to swim as much as I’d like, but I’ll be sure to fit in at least a little time on the sand. I’ve already got my beach pass! All set!

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Don’t you just want to swoon over these potted lovelies? Might pick up one of these next time…

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I did grab a cold pressed juice (the more it smells and tastes like a freshly-cut front lawn, the better) from City Press. Amazingly fresh and delicious! I think I’ll try a different juice each visit to the market…

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I walked away with some veggie goodness for supper tonight, and happiness in my soul. Next up, the rummage sale!

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The rummage sale felt much busier than the farmer’s market. Rooms full of used goods, at bargain prices. You never know what you’re going to find, and the fun is in the hunt! Clothing, furniture, dishes, books…oh my!

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Unfortunately, I have to say that I got a little claustrophobic right from the start. The tables can be close together, with a lot of folks searching for treasures. So fun, but more and more, I find I can get a little dizzy in such situations. Still, I managed to catch a glimpse of all there was to see, and walked away with this basket to use at faire for one dollar!

A morning full of adventure, and I was already home before noon! Nap time…

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What else has been keeping me inspired? Editing, writing, writing, editing. I go to places far away, and all of my own imagining…

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Trying on costume pieces that my mama made, to see what fits for this summer…

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Ever trying my best to eat my healthiest…

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Chicago’s Soul Vegan lasagna makes my heart sing…oh heavens, that lasagna!

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And delighting myself with the little things. My small local grocer had some pink roses that were looking a bit droopy. The gal at the check-out was encouraging me to look at other flowers, probably thinking I’d get the roses home and they’d fail overnight…

I wanted them anyway, and they perked up and smelled so pretty once I put them in water. I buried my face in them one million times. Small pleasures are my whole world.

Thanks for joining me on my adventure! Stay Inspired Friends!

Out Into The Storm I Go…

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Out into the storm I go…

Stay inspired friends.

Devil At The Door, Prayer On My Lips

Let me begin this post by saying, all are well and not one is hurt. Thanks be to God. I cannot speak for everyone’s nerves however…

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Yesterday, I happened to be home. With my busy summer, I am rarely at home during the day, but yesterday I was. For that, I am thankful. I had been about to go out for a walk, had even been contemplating a swim. I delayed however, when I remembered that my father’s birthday is coming up, and I needed to sit down to write out a card. For that I stalled to go out, I am also thankful…

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Just as I had sat down in my kitchen to write out a card, the fire alarm went off in my unit. It was intensely loud. Not your annoying little fire detector screech, but the mother of all fire alarms sounding out in warning. I had not been cooking, I wondered if one of my neighbors had burned something? I stood and hurried to my door. I didn’t see anything out in the hallway. I closed the door. However, I knew that I could not remain in my house…

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When you hear an alarm like that, you do what you have been taught to do since you were a little kid. You get out of the house. Yet still, in the back of my mind, I wondered if it wasn’t false. I knew it was not a test, or else all residents would have been notified in advance…

So, I know I need to go outside, but I don’t want to leave my cat. Tiddo has to come with me. The noise was already terrifying him. I hurried to peer out of my door one more time. This time, the scene was different…

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My next door neighbor was now at the end of the hall before one of our other neighbor’s doors. He yelled out that there was a fire inside. I now could see the smoke. I could also smell the smell, like burning wires. I knew right away that this was serious. I hurried out into the hall and immediately cried out whether anyone had called 911? Should I call 911? This may sound like a stupid question, but it was rather a I-sense-that-we-are-in-danger-and-there-is-little-time-to-waste-for-phone-calls-if-someone-has-already-dialed-911. In reply, I heard a voice say that one of our other neighbors was on the phone…I don’t know whose voice said this. Just at that moment, said neighbor rushed down the stairs from above with her phone to her ear. Meanwhile, my next door neighbor pounded on the doors of the imperiled unit, and then hurried out the fire escape…I didn’t see which way my neighbor on the phone went…

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What went through my head? This moment is real. I must make haste. I must get Tiddo. I must get out of the house…

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I ran inside my unit to the closet. Where is the cat carrier?! If I don’t find that carrier in one second, the cat is going out in my purse. I find the cat carrier, I snatch it out and run to Tiddo in the kitchen. The sirens are so loud. The cat is panicked. The cat will not go into the carrier. Struggle. Force the cat into the carrier, zip him safely in. Cat begins to yowl in terror…

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Snatch up my purse, throw in my MacBook, throw in my passport case with all of my important identification, throw in my hard drive. Time to go. Please know, I do not advocate pausing in your house for any items when there is a fire. The seconds I spared to grab these items should set no example. What was going through my mind? My MacBook and hard drive contain all of my written works, both published and unpublished, hundreds of hours of work, and were easily within reach. After me and my cat, that hard drive meant the most to me of anything I own. I may now officially call myself a crazy writer…I’m also lightening fast on my feet…

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I realized as I snatched these items from my writing desk that this might be the last time I ever saw any of my things, or even my new home. I immediately reconciled to this. What do things matter? Only people matter. Shaking from the fear of the devil of destruction that was just down the hall, Tiddo and I were soon flying down the stairs, another neighbor just behind, covering his ears…

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Out on the grass on the lawn, the fire trucks were just arriving. Firemen began heading up to our beautiful building, a historic building, some saying aloud that they did not know just where the fire was. I shouted and pointed. Another fireman did not know, I shouted and pointed again. It was then that I began praying, the words silent but fast over my lips. God, oh God, let them hurry! The fire will spread! Let them hurry!

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Though visibly concerned, all the neighbors convened on the lawn were calm, gathered together in twos or threes, watching attentively. The fire hoses went in, firemen went in, residents were sent to the opposite side of the street. Glass began shattering from windows, water began spraying out. Firemen were seen in windows, opening them, smoke pouring out of ones in or near to the troubled unit. When I saw a fireman in the windows of the unit just above mine, I was sorely afraid that the fire might be spreading. I also knew that if they had gone into that unit, they were in mine too. Oh God, oh God. Someone said the firemen were breaking through doors. Oh no, oh no! They might also be hosing down walls, to make sure the fire doesn’t spread? Oh, the damage! My hand flew up to my mouth more than once. Though chatting calmly with my neighbors, I felt terribly nervous inside. Tiddo chilled quietly at my feet in his carrier. I was so glad that he was outside, with me.

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To truncate this tale, the initial unit will one day be right again, but was last night upsetting to behold when it was permitted to reenter the building. Yet another unit is greatly damaged by water, and at least one other was said to smell heavily of smoke. Doors were indeed forced in for safety measures, water soaked the halls and there is damage to walls and paneling. I am so sorry for this. I am so sorry for my neighbors, and for the damage to this historic building. Praise the Lord, no one was hurt and all will be mended, it will just take time…

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No one was in the unit that caught fire. It was having some work done and it seems an extension cord might have been the culprit, though I can not attest to the facts. When standing within view of that apartment last night, the smoke stinging my throat as an officer took account of what had been witnessed in the hall that afternoon, I felt a terrible surge of anxiety, fully understanding what could have been. As my door was being temporarily repaired, as Tiddo safely yowled from the bathroom, as I swept up shards of wood and paint from my floors, I knew that I would write this post today. And this is what I want to say to everyone who reads it…

Please take fire prevention seriously and keep an eye out for potential hazards in your home. Know the risks of using extension cords. Please go check the batteries in your fire alarms and your carbon monoxide detectors…today, right now. Make sure to have an emergency exit plan from your home, and talk about it with your family. Further, home owners insurance is always a wise idea. Love thy neighbor, and never forget the power of prayer.

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Stay safe friends! And as always, stay strong, stay inspired.

A special thank you today to the Evanston Fire Department. Thank you for putting out the fire, and saving our homes.

 

The Bird Of Prey Outside My Window!

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

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

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

A Gaggle Of Geese

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

 

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

Swingin’ My Arms and Swayin’ My Hips!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hollandaise…Proceed With Caution!

Last Friday evening, handsome and I were too exhausted to go out for our usual date night, but still wanted to order something that would be really satisfying after a long week. We decided on Pete Miller’s in Evanston, a steak and seafood restaurant with a Chicago feel that always offers a great meal…

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I was going to order something simple; I enjoy their fish tacos. But as my eyes perused the menu, I saw the words crab legs and there was no going back. I wanted crab legs, I needed crab legs, but that isn’t an easy order for takeout. To truly enjoy it, we needed to get a seat! Thankfully I’ve got a fella who is flexible with plans; we hopped in the car and were on our way, grabbing a table just in time as the Friday dinner rush was beginning.

Changing up plans can prove surprising, exciting fun! We’d started out too tired to move from home, and then were suddenly having lively conversation to the tunes of a fabulous live jazz band! Of course, the excellent food also had an effect on our perking up! I started with the Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail served with cocktail sauce and lemon. The dollop of horseradish in the cocktail sauce burned my brain and caused me to make really unattractive expressions, but was too delicious paired with the shrimp to stop eating…

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My date had the Roasted Bone Marrow served with a side salad and crostini. Bone marrow is like eating a rich, fatty, flavorful butter when spread on a crispy bite of bread. Though considered a delicacy, it is said that eating bone marrow has many fortifying health benefits. As a vegetarian, I’m not suggesting you go gnaw on a bone. However, I’ve tried it several times and there’s a reason folks love it…

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With our main course, we ordered the steamed Asparagus & Hollandaise as our side to share. Ever dipped your asparagus in hollandaise sauce (same rich sauce poured over Eggs Benedict)? It’s sinfully delicious, but according to this article, terrible for your heart. Indulge with caution…

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My dinner companion enjoyed the 14oz Delmonico Rib-Eye served with truffle fries. I may have eaten the greater portion of his truffle fries (dipped with abandon in the hollandaise there on his plate…yikes, my heart!). Truffle fries…in hollandaise…dreamy…dangerous!

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For my supper, I did a face-plant into a full plate of delectable Alaskan King Crab Legs served with drawn butter, lemon and garlic mashed potatoes. There are no words.

After this meal fit for royalty, I should have committed myself to eating only a carrot for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the month to follow. However, at least in my world, good living is about good food and great fellowship! And hey, I know a little about moderation…I didn’t eat the leftover truffle fries for breakfast the next morning like I wanted to!

A Glowing Seat At Firefly Kitchen

With a recent itch to try out some new restaurants and add a few more favorites to our list, we made a reservation at Firefly Kitchen. Located on a busy road that I often traverse, I’d spied this ‘Brooklyn Style Bistro’ many times in the last few years since its opening. Finally, after catching my hundredth glimpse of its warm glimmering lights from the road at night, we secured a table…

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Our reservation was at 7:30 on a Saturday evening. When we first walked in, the bistro was buzzing with every table filled and plenty of folks taking their ease around the bar. The warm lighting, pleasant babble and soft clinking of plates made for a pleasing entry…

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From the street, Firefly is a bit of a mystery. Set on a busy road with tricky curbside parking, the restaurant first appears just a classy, cozy bar that might present few tables and a trim menu. Though certainly classy and cozy, Firefly is much roomier than first meets the eye, even supporting an event space on its upper level. The menu itself is well-rounded and plentiful; a delectable list of small bites, entrees and extras. We were delighted!

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We started the evening swirling and sniffing one deliciously aromatic glass of red, while also sharing one of their signature cocktails. The Firefly Rye with High West Rye, Abricot De Roussillon, Lemon and Cedar was exceptional. Warm yet bright with citrus, honeyed and fruity with apricot while not overly sweet. Each sip was a treat!

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We then appeased our palates with the Portabella Carpaccio with Pine Nuts, Balsamic Marinated Portabella, Arugula, Smoked Tomato Sauce, Bleu Cheese and Port Vinaigrette and also the Kale and Baby Beet Salad with Quinoa, Goat Cheese, Dried Cranberries and Tequila-Lime Vinaigrette. While handsome preferred the smoky plate of marinated mushrooms, I couldn’t stop devouring the beets, soft goat cheese and crisp kale…

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My date ordered the Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Nueske’s Bacon, Sweet Potato, Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Orange-Balsamic Gastrique. The presentation alone looks carnivorously impressive, accompanied by a sauce appropriately rich for a winter’s night meal. I cannot say exactly how it tasted, only that my fella appeared pleased as he dined upon his choice. I should have inquired, but I was too busy filling his ears with chatty-random-nonsense. I’m quite the gabby grackle when I’m relaxed and enjoying date night. To hear how I sound at the dinner table, click here!

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I ordered the earthy and flavorful Roasted Root Vegetables

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And the crunchy, satisfying House French Fries

And the Truffle Mushroom Risotto. Three full orders of carb-o-liciousness. I couldn’t help it. After all, Firefly was new to us. I had to taste more than one thing on the menu. Also, I love leftovers!

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While initially reviewing the menu, the woman seated at the table next to ours received her entree of risotto. I was immediately struck by the enticing smell of truffles and knew that I had to have a plate myself. The distinct smell of that fungus is heavenly! The Truffle Mushroom Risotto with Mushroom, Asparagus and Red Pepper Vinaigrette proved toothsome, fragrant and very satisfying…

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All the while, Firefly’s ambiance was dreamy and comfortable and the service excellent. As we enjoyed the soft glow of the bulbs, reminiscent of fireflies in the night sky, we were pleased to agree that we’d found another new favorite!

Firefly has much more than a dinner table to offer. They also serve brunch, provide catering, offer take out during select hours, host an outside back patio for warmer weather, and hold events in their loft. If you live along Chicago’s North Shore, add this bistro to your list to visit. We’ll certainly be back, and soon! I’m already perusing the brunch menu…

Miramar Bistro: A Helping Of Cuban Music With My Pommes Frites!

For New Year’s Eve, handsome booked a reservation at a restaurant we hadn’t visited before, in Highwood IL, along Chicago’s North Shore. I think we’ve both had the itch to explore for some new favorite dinner spots, so it was a fun surprise. Especially as we understood this Miramar Bistro to be a French restaurant, much like our beloved Bistro Bordeaux in Evanston…

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The first thing that caught us by surprise as we entered Miramar, was the Cuban music that was playing. We were enjoying it of course, Cuban music is delicious and has a wonderful energy. But I was a little confused, “That doesn’t sound French.” My date suggested there might be a theme night going for New Year’s…

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We began by sharing the Chilled Artichoke with Mustard Vinaigrette and were very pleased. I never ate artichokes before handsome walked into my life (or kitchen rather). I thought they were intimidating. He buys them at the grocer from time to time, throws them in a pot, whips up a vinaigrette and then cuts out their tender hearts like a pro. We’ll have to try chilling ours the way Miramar does. Absolutely delightful and refreshing…

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My date then moved on to the Salad Lyonnaise with Poached Egg. Frisee, soft egg and salty lardons make for one rich salad…

What we discovered is that Miramar is in fact a French bistro with Cuban highlights. I would not describe it as a fusion restaurant. French food and Cuban cuisine don’t combine, but they can both be found on the menu, along with a few American classics sprinkled in. Whether you’re in the mood for a Cuban sandwich, a Croque Monsieur, or a cheeseburger, they’ve got it…

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I can say without reservation that the Soup Du Jour was the best mushroom soup I have ever tasted. I could easily have been satisfied with the fresh, crispy, chewy bread delivered to the table along with a double portion of this soup for my New Year’s dinner, but who am I kidding. Of course there was more…

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For his main dish, my partner selected Steak Frites with Black Peppercorn Sauce. We were intrigued by how very thin the pomme frites were, like long matchsticks. And though we are accustomed to this thin style of French fries, we both prefer our pomme frites to be just a wee bit thicker, to enjoy more of the potato flavor and for soaking up sauce. This steak was definitely well received!

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My date specifically ordered his steak with the black peppercorn sauce because of a quaint memory from his childhood. Growing up in the south of France, home cooked meals were his family’s norm and dining out was an exception. On those rare special outings, he came to believe that steak served with a peppercorn sauce was a luxury, fancy. So as a wink to this childhood notion, he ordered this during our New Year’s supper, tying in his old memory to make the meal feel particularly special. We chuckled about this on the way home. But I suppose if I think about it, peppercorn sauce is fancy; I certainly don’t whip it up at home!

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I selected the Gnocchi with Tomato Basil Sauce (which just made me realize that Italian is on Miramar’s menu as well!). The gnocchi was certainly handmade, and was tender yet had a comforting chew. The sauce was simple, fresh and just right! After two bites, I didn’t think it would be possible to really make a dent in the dish. I was certainly going to have leftovers. That was not what happened. I ate it all…

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Another childhood memory was shared the moment my date laid eyes on this metal sign decorating one bit of wall. Byrrh sounds like it might be describing a beer, but it is actually a wine aperitif (to be enjoyed before eating). It was quite popular in France in days gone by, first produced in 1866…

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As the story goes, when just a little boy, he lived near the medieval village of Thuir at the feet of the Pyrenees, where Byrrh was produced. He had a cousin who lived in Thuir and loved to go around boasting that his village owned the largest barrel of Byrrh in the world!

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It is hilarious what kids will traipse around boasting about. I inquired whether he’d ever tasted Byrrh, since he lived so close to such an enormous barrel of it? Nope. In his words, “We were just kids.” And here I thought French children came forth from the womb suckling wine from their baby bottles? Non?

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For dessert, the Apple Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream and Caramel was ordered up with a shot of espresso for the gentleman. I love to sniff espresso (smells like heaven), but I don’t dare even taste it. I’d be up all night having a solo dance party…

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I’m actually surprised I wasn’t up all night after gobbling down one sizable Creme Brulee, with it’s sugary hard topping and rich buttery custard. Oh la la!

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On the way out, we had a moment’s chat with the proprietor and chef, Gabriel Viti. He’s an avid traveler to Cuba, and was a chef in France, and around Europe. It was neat to hear from his point of view, what he was aiming for when he opened Miramar (after the name of a district in Havana). Basically, I gathered that his goal was to bring things he loved, together. Good food, charming culture, and people. It’s clearly working, for the restaurant was packed with a jovial crowd while playing great music and providing an excellent menu. This restaurant doesn’t need the largest barrel of anything in its cellar, it has reason enough to boast already!

My Name is Alexander Hamilton

Last week, handsome asked if I’d be up for seeing Hamilton (the insanely popular musical showing in NYC and Chicago at present). Since its debut in 2015, Hamilton has had incredible success, winning many fine awards. Thus, tickets are difficult to get, and pricey too. My immediate reply was, “But won’t that be expensive?” Let’s just say there are some experiences worth the price of inflation!

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We started out the evening with a scenic ride on Lake Shore Drive. The lights heading into the city are beautiful at night. I love sitting cozily in the passenger seat. My partner said something quite true, “Chicago is a happening place. We’re lucky!” And we are, so many great cultural experiences to be had, and so much great food…

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We had a reservation at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse. Guests find it a unique experience because this style of restaurant delivers cut after cut of tender, grilled meats, right to your tableside. As I don’t regularly consume meat, I did not partake. Fortunately, they have a spectacular salad bar!

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Papaya, fried yuca, marinated mushrooms, plantains, marinated vegetables, pear salad, potato salad, deliciously dressed greens…this was not your average salad bar!

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After such a filling, decadent meal, I found it incredulous that anyone would ever order dessert at Fogo. When my honey asked to see the menu (just to take a peek), I gasped. We then promptly ordered the caramelized pineapple and ate it all…

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We then hopped back in the car and zipped on over to the Private Bank Theatre (known as Broadway in Chicago). The energy outside of the theater was awesome! Ticket holders were excited, the camera lights were flashing, the Hamilton sign aglow. We joked about keeping our eyes peeled for celebrities with everything so abuzz. As we entered inside, I was as giddy as I always am upon entering the theater…

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…and then the show proceeded to knock our socks off from our front row seats upon the balcony. Being such a revered musical, I walked in with no idea of what to expect. I wondered how they would take the dry bit out of telling a complicated life story in America’s history. How would they make it as wonderfully entertaining as Broadway musicals tend to be? Yes, history is fascinating (I’m nuts about it). However, it can also be complicated and dry, hardly whimsical…

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Hamilton however, accomplished something very difficult. This musical took the complicated, and using perfectly timed movement & dance, unpretentious yet excellent costumes, a bare yet full-of-life stage, powerfully driven voices, extensive wit, a script beyond compare, and hip-hop…turned Alexander Hamilton’s life (1755-1804), this American statesman’s incredible story, into a palpable experience for us today…

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There is much more to be said about Hamilton, but I’ll leave that to those better versed in history, politics and musical theater. What I can say is, it’s a wonderful musical. If you get the chance, don’t throw away your shot at seeing this brilliant work!

Here’s to being thankful for the peace and freedoms I enjoy today. Here’s to thankfulness for my freedom of speech. Here’s praying for the same peace and freedoms for all…

A Winter’s Night By The Fire At Roka

I love inhaling the scent of a wood fire when I’m walking outside on a winter’s day. That smell is amazing! And on a snowy winter’s night, there is nothing more alluring than the scent and sizzle of a Japanese robata grill. As the white flakes fell outside, date night last week was never so cozy, or delicious! Roka Akor isn’t just a restaurant, it’s an experience…

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Accompanying two rosy glasses of champagne to celebrate Christmas, was the Prime Beef Tataki with Truffle Onion Vinaigrette and Rock Chive. These amuse-bouches were smooth and light, with a hint of fresh herb. With the clink of our glasses and a cheery toast, the meal began…

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My tolerance for heat in any dish is limited, so a plate of Japanese Shishito Peppers with Ponzu and Bonito Flakes seemed risky. Ooohhh! Take the risk! TAKE THE RISK! How fresh and flavorful these peppers were right from the grill. Brian (our knowledgeable culinary guide for the evening) explained that only one bite in the bunch might hold that blazing seed of heat.

My date got the infernal seed in his last bite, while I was pleasantly spared. I didn’t chuckle at all when his eyes got watery and he grappled for his glass of water. Well, maybe there was a little chuckle…

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My absolute favorite dish of the evening was the Grilled Cauliflower with Wafu Butter. What is wafu butter? It’s the nectar of the gods, that’s what. Actually, it’s a Japanese vinaigrette dressing married with butter, but I’m pretty sure magic is involved in its making. How else could plain and tasteless cauliflower turn into one of the most flavorful things I’ve ever eaten?

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For our main dish, we both ordered the chef’s featured catch. The Sea Bass with Peppercorn Broth, Cauliflower and Roasted Beets was absolutely divine. I’m a great fan of a serving of fish that is fresh, soft and flakey on the inside with a flavorful crunch from the grill on the outside. Roka gets it right every time. And, I’m pretty sure some of that wafu butter made it into the broth with the cauliflower because I was mourning not having a baguette handy to sop up every last drop. I was even tempted to slurp the broth right out of the bowl. Who cares about keeping things classy when there’s wafu butter?!

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Of course dinner wouldn’t end quite right at Roka without the Ube Pot de Creme with Toasted Rice Tuile, which my date ordered. I however, opted for scoops of house-made ice cream…

One scoop of molasses, one scoop of coffee…wow! Following blissful bites, I was scraping my spoon around in the little bowls looking for more. With such rich dessert and a pour of the exceptional Yamazaki 18 yr Single Malt (nuts, spice, vanilla, cinnamon), along with the beauty of the snow falling outside and my companion sitting across the table, I was truly enjoying a respite of peace and warmth during this holiday season!

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Once again, Roka Akor was outstanding. With such excellent fare, top-notch hospitality, thoughtful and attentive staff, and warm ambiance, this restaurant on Chicago’s North Shore keeps luring us back to their grill side!

Rainy Night Dining in The Cellar

A few weeks ago while traipsing through wet and cold on over to a restaurant we had considered dining at one evening, we passed the door of The Cellar. We paused to peek at the menu posted outside and handsome proposed that we try it out! How glad I am that we did, and how surprising and pleasant an impromptu change of plans can be…

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We started with an appetizer called Cauliflower Popcorn (curried rice-flour battered cauliflower served with blue cheese dipping sauce) and let us just say I have never been more willing to eat my vegetables! It was devoured before the thought of a photo could even enter my mind…

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My date ordered the Grilled Lamb Chops with roasted fingerling potatoes, apple mustard and lamb jus. I took a nibble and must say that the rich red sauce was out of a culinary dream! A winter dish to warm the bones and fortify the spirit…

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I indulged in the New England Lobster Roll served with lobster meat, mayo, green onions and truffled fries. Oh heavens, oh heavens! Amen! Hallelujah! The lobster appears to have more mayo than necessary, but it was actually perfect, balancing out the crispy bun and large, fresh chunks of lobster. This sort of dish isn’t common in these parts, so I was very happy!

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Our bellies full, we ambled back out into the chilly drizzle and on to the movies, arm in arm. It was the perfect date night. Especially thanks to The Cellar, which is absolutely one of the best kept secrets in town. The peaceful yet stylish atmosphere, the excellent service and delectable menu has just made it our new favorite!

Chip Snatching Seagulls!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Message Of Peace Upon The Shore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And writings that are very wise indeed…

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

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

Robata Japanese Cuisine!

My honey and I are just crazy about Roka Akor in Skokie. Dining there is always a special occasion. The food is truly incredible and the staff, always attentive. You can check out my other Roka Akor reviews here, here and here. Here’s what we enjoyed on our most recent visit!

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A little ‘amuse-bouche’ on thinly sliced cucumbers. I couldn’t tell you exactly what they were comprised of, but my mouth was certainly amused!

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The Kale Caesar Salad with Bubu Arare and Roasted Charred Tomato tasted like a song! So delicious! What are Bubu Arare you ask? They are those little tan balls that you see on the salad. Traditional to Japanese cuisine, they are tiny seasoned cracker-like nibbles! Crunch-crunch

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Next, some Prince Edward Island Mussels with Wild Mushrooms and Citrus Sake Broth. These little seafood delights with toasties would take the chill out of any autumn night!

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You couldn’t pay my date to pass up the Robata Grilled Duroc Pork Belly with Kimchi on a visit to Roka Akor, and I don’t blame him. That meat is delivered right from robatayaki heaven! (If you’re curious like me, robatayaki means ‘fireside-cooking’ in Japanese)…

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Next we ordered up some Sweet Corn with Soy Garlic Butter (…mmmm) and some Sweet Potato with Ginger Teriyaki (…mmmm-hmmm) to accompany our main dishes.

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I certainly wasn’t crabby after diving into my sea of Alaskan King Crab with Chili Lime Butter (all puns intended)…

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But the real star of this evening’s dinner was handsome’s choice. This dish is very, very special and something he’d considered ordering each time we’ve dined at Roka, but had yet to. He finally decided upon this Miyazaki Wagyu served with Artisan Salts. Wagyu is a breed of cattle in Japan, and Miyazaki the place this particular cow was raised…

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This steak is considered some of the best out there, and we concur. Even though I don’t generally eat meat, I had to try something this luxurious. It was a delectable experience. The meat literally melts in your mouth (likely because Wagyu has a high level of unsaturated fat)…

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And for our dessert, the Ube Pot de Creme with Toasted Rice Tuile. Ube is a purple yam! I love the thought that a root vegetable curbed our post-dinner sweet tooth! Yet again, another memorable meal at one of our favorites, Roka Akor!

Birthday Blessings!

I recently celebrated my birthday, and it was just filled with blessings. So many people were so kind in wishing me well, and offering little surprises that filled my heart with thankfulness and gladness. There was also a special birthday meal, which handsome treated me to at Boltwood in Evanston. This is the second birthday dinner in a row that I’ve spent there, for we quite enjoy this restaurant (which I’ve also reviewed here , here and here)…

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To start, we shared the sourdough pizza with summer squash, goat’s milk ricotta and oven roasted tomatoes and the grilled octopus with greens, orange and cucumber

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Grilled octopus is a touchy dish, but Boltwood does it right. Fresh seafood that is grilled to perfection! Makes me feel transported from the Midwest to the Mediterranean…

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And of course, there was no passing up the crispy potatoes with garlic schmaltz. Need I describe something so delicious? You can see from the photo that those potatoes are heavenly!

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There was also a big salad, for I love my greens! The simple, yet satisfying chopped salad with candied pecans, blue cheese and lemon vinaigrette was delicious and is just the kind of dish that inspires my own salad makings at home…

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For the main course, handsome had the grilled pork chop with red rice, quinoa, fennel and plum salsa. All that was left at the end was the bone, so I can only conclude that it was one pleasing chop…

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Meanwhile, I relished in the wild king salmon with fresh shelly beans and mint-almond pesto. Look at that beautiful fish!

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And after blowing out my pretty pink candle, we partook in a very unique dessert. Sweet corn with ice cream, corn cake and caramel. Definitely a wink to the sweet bounty of summer!

Here’s wishing you blessings all year long, be it your birthday or any day other!

Feasting At Found

Ooh heavens! What a busy summer I’ve had! The Bristol Faire has now come to an end until next year. It is both bitter and sweet, for while I’ll be missing this beloved festival, I’ll also be enjoying the change of seasons and working on new stories…

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I’ll also be enjoying more time with my honey! We were able to fit in a delightful date night at Found in Evanston a few weeks ago, and what a treat it was!

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To start, we had the Braised Turkish & Japanese Eggplants with Silky Tofu and Naan. The crispy yet chewy naan spooned over with flavorful eggplant had me singing (only in my head of course, I didn’t want to embarrass my date)…

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Next, the Harissa Roasted Shishito Peppers, Sweet Corn, Okra & Pepitas. Sweet kernels, smoky okra, zesty peppers…this dish spiced up date night! (I dare you to say Harissa-Roasted-Shishito-Pepita out loud three times in a row real fast. Tongue twister!)…

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The Masala Fried Cauliflower, House Made Yogurt & Pea Tendrils was absolutely delicious! I may have looked like Smeagol from The Lord of The Rings as I hovered over the last piece of cauliflower with my fork, “My precious!”

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More and more, we’ve been enjoying sitting chef-side at our favorite restaurants, to watch as the food is prepared. As I watched this mozzarella being sliced (seen above), I was tempted to make handful grabs of it and run out of the restaurant stuffing mozzarella in my face. I really love cheese. But then our main dish arrived and I came to my senses…

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We shared the Ivory Char with Heirloom Tomato Fondue, Cannellini Beans, Carrots & Sourdough. It was really perfect. The fish was tender, yet meaty with wonderful flavor. The beans were al dente and the carrots sweet and summery. The sourdough toasties were crisp yet chewy, and fantastic with a little spread of the zesty-sweet tomatoes…

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If you ever find yourself in Evanston, Found will provide you with a real connection to the food and flavors that make eating a genuine pleasure! We certainly savored every bite on our romantic rendezvous and ended our evening quite contentedly with two spoons!

What are some of your favorite pleasures as the summer days roll away and the smell of autumn rounds the corner?

Summer Delights, Simply Delicious!

My honey and I are about to dive into one very busy summer, each tied up with our own exciting endeavors. We’ve always done our best to have a weekly date night to catch up, relax and enjoy a good meal together. This summer however, date nights will be harder to fit in and will likely be a bite at home. Thus, we had to get to one of our favorites before we’re both carried away with summer…

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Evanston’s Boltwood is simply delicious, every time! First on the menu, beets with greek yogurt, pistachios and saffron honey. So fresh and earthy!

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Next, grilled carrots with harissa, black sesame seeds and apricot. Oh heavens! I could have eaten that sauce with a spoon!

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We’d be tempted to make a trip to Boltwood just to eat these crispy potatoes with garlic schmaltz! We order them each time we go and are completely blissed out with every bite. So, so good!

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I love seafood anytime, but especially in summer when it’s served with bright flavors and color! This swordfish with citrus, fennel, radish, avocado and chives was light and excellent!

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The crispy tofu with coconut rice, broccoli, chili garlic and sesame seeds was the best dish of the night! This dish was on fire and so was my mouth! Spicy! I normally don’t eat spicy food because I can’t take the heat. This dish was hot, but I couldn’t stop eating it. The spicy sauce was offset by the coconut rice (perfect al dente) and the tofu. And though a large dollop of a tear ran down my face from the heat, I kept eating. Wow!

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I think I heard angels singing when I took my first spoonful of the budino. Butterscotch pudding, caramel, sesame tuile and whipped cream. It made me remember how much I love butterscotch. This pudding was so smooth and dreamy!

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Strawberry and rhubarb sing summer, so we quite enjoyed the strawberry rhubarb crisp with oats and chamomile ice cream. A wee tart and wonderfully fruity.

Here’s to the flavors and fun of summer, and spending time with the people you care about. I hope your summer is off to a great start and wish you many sunny days ahead!

Mitchell Museum of the American Indian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valentine’s Day Delights

My honey and I enjoyed another delicious meal at Evanston’s Boltwood to celebrate the holiday of love, and it was amazing! (You can also review another one of our visits here.)

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Holding hands with my Valentine…awww!…Now let’s get to the food!

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Ok, I understand some folks are squeamish about shellfish. But I had to get a picture of these oysters up close because I am mesmerized by nature. I never really thought about an oyster’s anatomy but they’ve got a heart, gills, a stomach, etc. You can read about them here. I hadn’t noticed these things before, but this particular variety had a very visible mantle on the shell and green gills!

After reading a little more about these little dudes, this vegetarian’s heartstrings tug for eating them. However, they were delicious pared with Boltwood‘s citrus mignonette. And it was Valentine’s Day, and oyster’s are said to inspire passion…

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Next we each had a slice of black bean toast, topped with avocado, cilantro, radish and cabbage. Oh my! They used a thick slice (reminding me of Texas toast), toasted perfectly with that crisp on the outside and comforting chew on the inside. The toppings were so cool and fresh, a dream dish for veggie lovers!

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Then we went to carrot heaven! Yellow, orange and plum color carrots prepared al dente, accompanied by burrata (soft cheese), mint and pesto…really, really, really delicious.IMG_3096.JPG

For our main dish, handsome had the grilled spiced octopus with almond tarator and lime relish. He enjoys octopus, having eaten it often in the south of France where he grew up, where it was abundantly pulled fresh from the sea and grilled. The hard part about ordering it locally (in the U.S.’s Midwest) is whether it will be fresh, but also grilled to a point where it isn’t overcooked, yet isn’t rubbery. This isn’t octopus snobbery, mind you. No one wants to eat a smelly, fishy tasting, rubbery octopus tentacle!

As there is an entire menu of delectable dishes at Boltwood, my date was on the fence. But our server assured him that he wouldn’t regret choosing it, and he didn’t! Cooked just right with a splendid spice and citrusy relish.

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Meanwhile, I couldn’t get enough of my grilled Indiana shrimp with miso squash, red cabbage, peanuts and cilantro. There was a taste of summer in these delicately charred shrimp and fresh slaw, wonderful! The squash was sweet and the peanuts crunchy, what a combination!

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We couldn’t go without a side of Boltwood‘s infamous crispy potatoes with garlic schmaltz. Glorious, crispy buds with fresh green onions and one addictive cool dip for them. We could eat these everyday!

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To finish, the apple tart with almonds, peanuts and vanilla ice cream. This traditional American dessert was out of this world. It tasted like a chilly autumn night, with trick-or-treaters, jack-o-lanterns and fiery rustling leaves. Oh, my, goodness good! Tart little cubes of green apple, sticky carmelized sauce, nutty crunch, cinnamon spice and cold ice cream. Loved it!

We highly recommend making a reservation at Evanston’s Boltwood if you find yourself on Chicago’s North Shore. For us, it was yet another lovely evening filled with warm ambiance, excellent food and great service; quite a charming Valentine’s dinner!

Mangia! Mangia!

We had a delicious Italian meal at Convito Cafe in Wilmette, just up the street from home last Friday evening. We love finding new places for date night, and feel doubly lucky when we discover a great place right where we live.

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I smiled when they sat us in the coziest enclave, white linen on the table, soothing flameless candles, and this print of Venetian canals. If Venice is in my view, how could a meal ever be unpleasant?

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I’m a sucker for beet salad! If it is on the menu, I order it. Some soft goat cheese and spicy arugula, earthy chilled slices of beet…this salad alone made my night.

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No helter-skelter mussels arrangement here! Didn’t you know that mussels taste better when they are arranged this nicely? The Prince Edward Island Mussels with San Marzano cherry tomatoes, white wine, parsley, marjoram (a type of oregano), butter and crunchy garlic bruschetta was delicious!

Is it just me, or could you also eat an entire loaf of ‘crunchy garlic bruschetta’, dipping it into the sauce until there isn’t a drop or crumb left, only to ask the server for a second loaf?

Fun Fact: Bruschetta is actually just grilled bread rubbed with garlic, drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with salt. You can put toppings (like diced tomatoes, onions and basil) on it, but bruschetta doesn’t mean its topped. I’m always learning something new!

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Pasta heaven! My date had the Campanelle Tonnato: bell shaped pasta, Italian poached tuna, grape tomatoes, picholine olives, capers, fresh basil, lemon, extra virgin olive oil, and a touch of chili peppers. Was it delicious? I ate his leftovers and mine the next day.

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I enjoyed every bite of the Penne Integrale: whole wheat penne, butternut squash, kale, leeks, pumpkin seeds and parmesan butter sauce. Mmmmm…parmesan butter sauce. I dug this dish! The hearty kale, soft sweet squash, flavorful leeks and crunchy pumpkin seeds made it a pasta plate to remember.

A slice of sticky sweet apple tarte and vanilla ice cream was just the right ending to our meal. That was handsome’s espresso, but I couldn’t stop sniffing it. It smelled divine. I would have taken a sip, only my eyes would have been wide open all night and this gal needs her eight hours.

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Convito Cafe was simple in the very, very best way. The food was delicious without being overly rich, the restaurant was classy yet warm like home, the service impeccable without being stuffy. We truly enjoyed our dinner.

But there’s more! Convito Cafe has a market on one side of the restaurant, filled with delectable, take-home meal options. We just picked up some butternut squash lasagna (for me), and meat lasagna (for him)…and some potato gratin (for him) and some cannelloni (for me)…and some roasted brussels sprouts (for us) and a lemon bar (for him…but I’m going to steal a bite when he isn’t looking and blame the cat). Our eyes may have been bigger than our stomachs…well, maybe not mine.

If you live on Chicago’s North Shore, take a little ride up Sheridan along the lakefront and enjoy a table at Convito Cafe. It’s a gem! We’ll see you there!

Indulgent Robatayaki

As I thought about our date night at Roka Akor this past Friday evening, the first word that popped into my head was decadence. Oh yes, we can’t stop going back (read here & here), and for good reason. In fact, we had other reservations but the moment handsome got home on that cold night, I blurted, “How about Roka Akor?” The answer was an immediate, yes.

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We started with the Salmon Tartare with Roasted Tomato Dressing and Crispy Taro Chips. The perfectly minced stack of salmon was so fresh, but the delightful, cool fresh toppings sent the flavor over the top. I felt my chopsticks combat in that bowl with my dinner companion’s, though we were on a date, so I didn’t nip his fingers like I wanted to.

You can purchase taro chips nowadays at the grocer, a healthier substitute for potato chips for certain. If they tasted like these, I’d be stocking up on bags like it was the eve of an apocalypse!

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The oysters were perfectly chilled, politely loosened from their shells, plump and topped with a hint of refreshing additions…just how an oyster should be. Bottoms up!

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Next, we once more selected the tender Robata Grilled Duroc Pork Belly with Kimchi. “Decadent”: to be luxuriously self indulgent. Yes, that sounds about right! That pork belly is amazing!

We also enjoyed the fresh, crisp Organic Vegetable Maki rolls. Earthy and simple, the perfect balance in our mix of delectable choices.

Do we always select four appetizers when we eat out? Only at Roka Akor…decadence, remember?

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For the main course, I enjoyed sweet, tender Alaskan King Crab with Chili Lime Butter. Crab is king in my book, and this plate was generously stacked with the best. And though I find it satisfying to break apart my own crab legs on the hunt for meat, I didn’t have to look like a wild-crab-claw-crusher in front of my date. They come sliced open, the meat easy to get at. That’s some classy crab!

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The Japanese Wild Mushroom and Mountain Greens Rice Hot Pot is a very special side. To open that rustic looking kettle safely planted into a wooden box feels like I’m sharing in tradition while eating the very thing to ward off winter. It is such a satisfying dish. Roka also offers shaved truffle with it. Did we get the truffle? Decadence…

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Handsome had the Yuzu Miso Marinated Black Cod with Pickled Onions. Holy cod! That fish was exceptionally light, fresh and flakey with that lovely crisp on the top. The yellow sauce was a sweet, creamy lemon and it was out of this world delicious. Sometimes, I just want to eat sauce with a spoon. How is that for decadent? And let’s not forget the pickled onions, a little sweet, a little sour, a nice crisp, loved them.

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For dessert, Warm Chocolate Cake with Coffee Ice Cream and Caramelized Peanuts; one wonderful end to a magnificent meal. That with a sip of Japanese whiskey, what can be said but perfect.

The staff once more showed their excellence in service and we were never inconvenienced with clutter or a spill left on the table (like the soy sauce I tipped out of the bowl). The folks at Roka Akor really are impeccable at what they do, making our dining experience both delicious and genuinely pleasant.

Of course, we don’t eat this way everyday. We sup on our home cooked meals, a simple menu, ever trying to strive for the opposite of overindulgence. But on date night, we love a great experience, and of course, a little decadence! Cheers to good food, and one sizzling robata grill at Roka!

La Joie de Vivre!

We had a fabulous meal at Evanston’s Bistro Bordeaux once more on New Year’s Eve!

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Though it is always lovely to bring in the new year by toasting at midnight (which we’ve had the pleasure of doing at this very restaurant before), we decided to take an early meal and kept it simple; no oysters, no dessert, no heady digestifs…but of course there was champagne!

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Handsome started with the quiche du jour, which is always filled with savory ingredients and the perfect buttery crust that melts in your mouth. Served with a mixed greens salad, this lovely plate could make the perfect meal all by itself (and often does in our house).

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I chose the soupe du jour to warm up from the cold. A creamy tomato and their perfectly crisp and chewy French baguette to dip. Heavenly!

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My companion selected the Cassoulet Toulousain for his plat principal: French white bean stew, duck leg confit, braised pork shoulder, boudin blanc, bacon lardons, chapelure. When I asked him toward the end of the dish if he’d like to reheat the other half of it on the following day, he said no and took another bite, and then another. Some dishes must be finished, not a bean left behind!

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I selected the Gnocchis Parisian aux Truffes which you can also have served with the braised pork shoulder. Truffle gnocchi, button mushroom, arugula, butternut squash, beurre noisette. I normally don’t order gnocchi in restaurants, or pasta either. It tends to be overpriced, processed, the sauce overly rich or too bland. But at Bistro Bordeaux, I order it all of the time because it is fresh, handmade, perfectly cooked and always served with delicious al dente vegetables. Over the years, they’ve made it out of different veggies (not just potatoes), which is a vegetarian’s dream. The truffle flavor made it completely special this night!

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The restaurant was aglow with hanging candled glass orbs, the chatter was buoyant, the service excellent and the atmosphere cozy. Tres charmant!

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The decor was so pretty, and I especially appreciated the heaters in the foyer that kept us toasty while we waited for the valet (who was appropriately wearing a French beret).

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It was a frigid night, but here in Evanston on Chicago’s North Shore at one of our favorites, we approached our new year warm, well fed and cheerful. We couldn’t want for more!

An Autumn Poem

Today I took an autumn walk…

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The flowers made me forget the clock!

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The pinks, they blushed for all to see…

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And the yellows, filled my heart with glee!

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The robins gobbled plump juniper berries…

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There were fresh smelling pine cones and fallen cherries!

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The roses were so moving, they danced…

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And the bright fall leaves, they shook and pranced!

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That adorable squirrel had rather fuzzy ears!

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And these vines and leaves, they’ve crept for years.

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That seagull dove right at my head…

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And his friends thought that was funny!

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The ducks were having a pleasant swim…

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This drake was with his honey!

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All was well until the gulls swooped in,

and said “Give us all your money!”

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The three foot fishies, they frighten me…

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Summer swims bring nibbled toes, you see!

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I could go on and on with this nature talk…

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Let’s just say it was a berry beautiful walk!

An Autumn Night In Evanston

“Brrrr mom, it’s getting chilly out there!”

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“I think the sun is setting, we better find a warm place.”

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“All set…please turn up the thermostat, would ya?”

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The evening meal is set…

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The house is cozy and warm…

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And the fireplace illuminates our evening…

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Happy Autumn!

Oh heavens, Bennison’s!

In Evanston, we have a heavenly place called Bennison’s Bakery. They’ve been around since 1938 and are always packed with customers. Around the holidays, you really need to place orders early and prepare to stand in a line when you arrive. But it is worth the wait! And believe me, your eyes will have so many things to look at, you’ll wish the line had been longer so that you had more time to decide on what you want.

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Bennison’s has everything from delicious cakes, donuts, cookies, sandwiches (my favorite is the Caprese), pies, pretzels, French macarons, fruit tarts, artisan bread, cupcakes and so much more. It’s aways cheery and the bakery smells will put a smile on your face for at least an hour after you’ve walked out the door…and several more if you indulge in a few of their treats. We love this place (along with everyone else in Evanston), and it’s the perfect place to stop when you can’t think of a hostess gift or you need to bring a dessert to an event. Just stop there, the receivers of these treats will thank you!

The Pleasantly Palatable Menu at the Peckish Pig

My boyfriend and I make a particular effort to plan a date night each and every Friday evening. It is always something to look forward to and we often chat during the week about what we’d like to do. Shall we dress up and head to dinner downtown Chicago? Get tickets to the ballet or theater? Do we want to order in and have a comfortable couch night (best for those exhausting weeks)? Should we grab a casual dinner in Evanston and head to the movies? It’s so nice to have that special time together that we plan ahead for.

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And oh boy! Let’s just say when it comes to Evanston restaurants, we are becoming ever more spoiled! The perfect fall evening that it was, we cozied up at Evanston’s Peckish Pig this Friday. It was our first time dining there, and we loved it!

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To start, we had their Whipped Goat Cheese & Honeycomb on toasty little slices of bread. Oh heavens! I’m a cheese addict, this was delicious! We also had the Roasted Beet and Burrata with Basil Oil which was served chilled. It was so refreshing! We also sampled their Beer Pig Mussels Cooked with House Brewed Beer & Bacon.

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For our main course, handsome had the Lamb Burger with Goat Cheese, Mango-Lime Mayo and Cumin Fries. I’m pretty sure I ate more of his fries than he did…those perfectly crispy, seasoned, large cut fries! And I had the Chef’s Fish Tacos with Pickled Cabbage and Whipped Avocado. To finish, we shared the Fresh Fruit with Creme Fraiche & Balsamic Reduction. Tart and fruity!

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The atmosphere at the Peckish Pig is awesome! We arrived for an earlier dinner and were very pleased to see all of the families, couples and bar folk, a very pleasant mix to the crowd. The lighting isn’t blaring and I particularly liked their use of candles, strung bulbs and ambiance lighting. Water is served in blue mason jars (which we also drink out of at home), loved it! Service is excellent and there is a great energy to the place. With a really nice selection on their menu, we can’t wait to head back! And I’ll make sure to be a little more than peckish when I arrive!

Catnip Confessions Part 2

Also read Catnip Confessions.

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While out on another lovely fall walk, I just so happened to look down along the sidewalk and see not one, but three healthy catnip clusters. Yes!! As I’d just stepped into the grocery and exited with a few items for us humans, how could I walk past these green growths without bringing home some sprigs for Tiddo?

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I bent down and tugged out a big handful. As I stood up, I looked to see who owned the patch…it was a church. Thief, thief! I felt a little guilty. What if they were growing this catnip to donate to the homeless kitties at the animal shelter? Or what if the church had taken in a brood of needy kittens and this was their catnip. Oops! I stuffed the clump of green in my pocket and carried on, still feeling guilty that I’d stolen from a church.

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That was until I got home and Tiddo discovered the stash. It must have been pretty potent because he behaved more excitedly than usual this time. Cats’ noses are pretty impressive. Tiddo always seems to find the pilfered catnip before I offer it to him. I hardly have time to set down my things before he’s in the purse or pocket, sniffing out the goods!

Steak & Seafood at Pete Miller’s

Every morning, I stand outside and assess the weather. The Weather Channel, what’s that? Not for me, I like to walk outside and figure it out for myself. I admit, not exactly the greatest tactic for preparing for how the weather may develop as the day progresses. This morning, as I stood looking at the cloudy sky and felt the cold air, I thought to myself, “Winter is coming”. Yes, I imagine myself as one of the characters in Game of Thrones sometimes. But winter is coming, and in northern Illinois, it can be brutal.

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There is only one way to face it, cozy restaurants with good food. Preferably, they’ll have a fireplace, and serve heavy dishes filled with tryptophan and other endorphin releasing chemicals. How else will you manage to survive?

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It isn’t winter yet, but we thought we should do a restaurant test run just to make sure we’re ready. On Friday night, we went to Pete Miller’s in Evanston. We found the ‘food coma’ inducing tryptophan levels in the rib eye steak and king crab legs to be most satisfactory. Ok, I jest…we didn’t even get sleepy from feasting like kings. But we sure as heck left feeling pretty good!

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To start, we enjoyed warm bread & butter, East Coast & Blue Point oysters with LaMarca Prosecco and a fruit & burrata salad. Oysters are served with different condiments everywhere we go. I liked the traditional lemon and cocktail sauce (which was very tasty) here at Pete Miller’s. Burrata is a creamy Italian cheese (a little like ricotta and buffalo mozzarella). For this salad, they served the cheese with merlot-poached pears & balsamic drizzle. Oh heavens! For our main course, handsome had the rib eye with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed spinach. I had the king crab legs with truffle parmesan fries and asparagus with hollandaise; served with two glasses of Uppercut Cabernet. Delicious! We were far too full for dessert (but I enjoyed leftovers the following day).

It isn’t food alone that makes for a great dining experience however. Our server Vasi was cheerful, informative with the menu and very timely, as were all the staff that kept our table tidy and our water glasses filled. We appreciate this restaurant’s excellent presentation of steak, seafood and impeccable service! To get through the winter blahs, reserve a table at Pete Miller’s if you’re near Chicago’s North Shore!

Here’s to good food at Boltwood!

When I think of Venice, I think of a city that remembers to enjoy the good things in life. A stop in the piazza to grab an espresso with a friend and watch the world go by, an umbra of wine in the afternoon at the local bacaro with a nibble of savory cicchetti, a stroll through the morning fish market to stir up fresh ingredients for tonight’s repast, open windows embracing the sounds of flowing water and a singing gondolier, a stop in the local campo to catch up with your neighbors…

With that in mind, I intend to share snippets of not only Venice, but also those things that remind me of what that city embodies; the great joys in life, like good food!

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Last night, I feasted at Boltwood in Evanston, IL. The city is just north of Chicago and hosts some excellent restaurants. Boltwood serves seasonal New American cuisine using the freshest ingredients. The photo above was of their arugula & La Quercia (prosciutto) salad with sliced plums and grilled Brun-uusto (cheese). I’d had it there before, and the treat is that they change up the fruit in the salad! If you haven’t tried prosciutto and fruit together on one plate, you must!

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I also enjoyed these Island Creek Oysters served perfectly chilled with a glass of rosato brut (from the Veneto region in Italy). So refreshing on a hot summer evening!

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As for my main dish, my eyes grew as large as quarters with the very first bite of their tilefish served with aioli, succotash and bacon. The word delicious doesn’t cut it. A lightly crisped fish on the top with delicate meat within, a nice portion of fresh vegetables and a sauce that I was tempted to eat with a spoon.

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For dessert, the chocolate cake and ice cream topped with tart kumquat slices and perfectly toasted chopped almonds. Delightful and pretty!

If you find yourself in Evanston, reserve a table! I like to sit at their intimate chef-side seating where you can get an eyeful of the dishes as they come out! The hostess is welcoming, the servers are sincerely pleasant and knowledgeable, and the manager attentive. The ambiance is dreamy and the food, spectacular!