My Kind Of Town, Chicago Is…

On account of business, I had reason to be downtown several days this week. I lived, worked and went to university in Chicago for many years, as well I now live just on the cusp of the city, in Evanston. I could power walk over to the city limits if I was feeling up for a good workout, and I can see the skyscrapers from the lakeshore just down the street…

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That’s why it’s kind of hilarious that while I was racing to and from the train in the city this week (appropriately wearing my ready-to-hike-those-long-city-blocks-sneakers and my extra-warm-winter-trappings-to-buffer-me-against-the-city’s-bone-chilling-winds), I kept halting in the middle of the sidewalk to take a photo. The city folk probably thought I was a tourist. What can I say? I’m still awed by the city, and probably always will be…

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Nowadays, I’m not so sure I’d want to live in the city, as I have before. It’s still exciting, but hustle-and-bustle, expense-and-noise, are the song of any city, and I’m quite enjoying my slower-paced living these days…

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I was baffled by the stream of commuters pouring out of the trains and walking over the river toward the skyscrapers, even though I’ve been amongst them hundreds of times. Thousands of workers flooding in, flowing out, each and every day…

I was of course absolutely delighted with the excess of tasty-looking dining options, and peered into many an eatery as I zipped right past. And as I walked over Michigan Ave., I hadn’t enough time to cross and stood standing between the lanes of speeding cars, hoping withal that I wouldn’t get misted with dirty water…

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I stopped and pretended for all of 8 seconds as I peered down a dark, steaming alley that Chicago was in fact Gotham City (because it totally is) and that Batman was going to fly down at any moment and stop a bad guy (yes, I have a big imagination)…

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I peered out over the river and pondered taking a ride on a water taxi…

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I believe folks mainly take a water taxi on the Chicago River for sightseeing…commuters are in too much of a rush to hop on a boat!

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I ate a delicious hot sandwich to fuel my work and walking, paired with my favorite…a fizzy, chilly berry La Croix! It was berry refreshing…

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I kept looking up, every enormous building making me feel tiny and insignificant…

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And I remembered some of my favorite things about the city, the museums, the ballet, the theater and the amazing dining. I especially smiled when I spotted an older couple walking hand-in-hand down the very busy sidewalk. It was like everyone was going in the opposite way at top speed, and they, dressed elegantly and walking peacefully, were going in another. They looked dressed as though they were heading to an early dinner and theater. They seemed very happy to be on an outing in the city, and I was happy for them…

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It was fun to shake up my routine with a little work adventure in the city this week! It’s inspired me to visit again very soon…perhaps for a day at my favorite museum!

Here’s wishing you many life adventures, some planned, many unexpected! Keep smiling, stay inspired!

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!

The Doge’s Ball of Venice

The annual Venetian Carnevale recently ended, taking place from January 27th to February 13th this year. Every year when this festival approaches, I get excited dreaming about it, wishing that I could be in Venice to experience the beauty and excitement for myself…

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As most of you know, Venice has a very special place in my heart. I love everything about the city, and was inspired to write several books that take place there, Venice and Veleno. Every moment I’ve spent in Venice has been precious to me, and I can’t wait to return…

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I had the good fortune of attending the Venetian Carnevale one year with my mother (I’m above in red and she in gold), and it was a trip neither of us will ever forget. There was one thing that we did not do however, attend a masked ball, those magical events that have taken place for centuries. One in particular, Il Ballo del Doge (The Doge’s Ball) is famous and highly covered by the media…

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[Here I am again in an olive and black gown and veil, looking a bit ghostly!]

A thoughtful reader here on Inspired By Venice, who also cherishes the city, sent me the link to a video of the 2017 Il Ballo del Doge this week, and I was of course riveted. The ball is currently planned by designer Antonia Sautter, whose imagination and costumery is exceptional. Enjoy the video!

For many of us who love Venice, revelry, costuming, magic and mystery, attending such a ball (and this one in particular) is on our list of must-dos in our lifetime…

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I hesitate to mention that not everyone who has attended the Doge’s Ball has loved their experience. The tickets can run you thousands of dollars. So after considering all of your expenses on travel, lodgings, costume rentals, etc., ticket buyers expect some very good food, beverages, service and entertainment. Where some have treasured their experiences, others have found the food lackluster, their seating obscuring full views of the entertainment, cheesy disco music to dance to, and other disappointments…

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But I consider everything a matter of perspective. It must take a great deal of money, effort and rehearsal to put on what I see in this video. In fact, it blows my mind and makes my heart race with excitement! A once in a lifetime event! Sometimes it takes suspending criticism in order to fully appreciate and enjoy an experience, whatever your expectations might have been. As for me, I’ll continue to dream of attending, and when I get the chance, I’ll feel privileged, and will savor every moment! Thank you for bringing this dazzling and decadent ball to life, Antonia Sautter!

The Itty Bitty Littles: Audio Chapter 1

Hello friends! I thought it would be fun to have a little story time! This morning, I recorded the first chapter of The Itty Bitty Littles (applying the theatrical accent I use at my tented shop The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire)…

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I will always remember what a pleasure it was when my grandma and I had story time when I was just an itty bitty myself. How we giggled when she read my favorite books! So I thought it would be a treat to share one of my tales here…

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If you enjoy this audio version of the first chapter of The Itty Bitty Littles, I’ll happily record and post the rest of the chapters so that you can hear the adventure in its entirety. Be sure to comment if you’d like to hear what happens next in the tale!

Waiting For Spring…

Here in Evanston, I’m sure waitin’ on spring! I’m awful tired of wearing a big coat with all my winter trappings and sloshing around through the snow and slipping around on the ice. I want some sun on my face, I want to wear my flip-flops, I want to walk through a garden! Know what I mean?! I’m doing my best to be patient!

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In the meanwhile, I’m working on getting back on the vegan bandwagon, and let me just say that lunch was pretty delicious today! Nowadays there are so many great vegan products out there to help you craft a satisfying and healthy meal, it just takes a bit of getting used to…

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Today I had two crispy Boca vegan chicken patties topped with melty vegan Chao cheese, a spread of Vegenaise, some crisp Pete’s Living Greens lettuce, sliced yellow onion and tomatoes. On the side, celery sticks and a can of cucumber melon fizzy water by Soleil! Just some of my favorite brands when I’m eatin’ vegan!

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In other news, I moved into a new home back in early January and things are quite cozy! I’ve figured out most of the quirks and charms of my new house and Tiddo the cat has adjusted with ease. One of my favorite parts are the large vintage windows that let in so much bright light!

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When Tiddo isn’t scratching up the furniture or racing around like the road runner, he quite enjoys the windows and light too. It’s impossible to believe that he is 18 years old, which means he’s 88 in human years. Let’s just say, he doesn’t act his age!

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In my new home, there is a charming nook for my writing desk. I’m still arranging my home office just how I would like it to be, but I’m loving this quiet little alcove to write in and it gives the room a little more space with the desk set into the wall…

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My newest novel is coming along swimmingly (out early July). It is a romantic odyssey set in ancient times. The title, quite fittingly, is Ancient. Tiddo frequently offers writing advice. He thinks there should be lots of mice in the story. I’m not so sure I can fit that into the plot, but if I devise to add a plague of some sort, I suppose mice could do in place of locusts or pestilence?

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And here’s a sneak peak of the cover art for Ancient before the title and author name are set into place. The screen shot doesn’t do it justice, but it’s really attractive. I can’t wait to share the finished cover and synopsis for Ancient, as the next few months progress!

Beware The Ninja Pepper…

Hello folks! Today, I invite you to enjoy a good chuckle on my expense. After all, we all need to laugh more, it’s good for the health!

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Last night, I was perusing the produce section of my local grocer. Often there are appealing ‘ready-made’ options along with the vegetables. In past weeks, I’ve tried two kinds of stuffed portabella mushrooms from this section, filled with garlic, spinach, cheese and such. They made some rather delicious vegetarian dinners for me!

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I’d once noted some stuffed green peppers and thought I’d like to give them a go. The next time I saw them in the produce section, I was going to pick them up. A little spread of cream cheese over crisp green pepper, some cheddar sprinkled over top. They looked bright and fresh, and some melty cheese would make them even more delicious…

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Last night, I saw the peppers and snatched them up. When I got home, I heated half of the peppers up for supper, excited to try something a little different. Right when I was the hungriest for dinner and the peppers were hot, I portioned out a plate and cut a very big piece of pepper. I then forked it up, and put it into my mouth…

Now, in hindsight, I question why I didn’t realize that those peppers were not regular green peppers? They plainly looked like homemade jalapeno poppers. The peppers were long and not round. But when I opened the package, they sure smelled like fresh-cut green peppers! Was I just willing them to be what I wanted them to be?

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[Photo of the offending peppers uncooked]

So I take that first good crunch right into the mouthful and immediately understand that there has been an error. I glance down at my dinner plate, full of jalapenos, while this first bite makes me want to pass out on the kitchen floor. Call me a baby if you want, but I have no tolerance for a mouthful of jalapeno. I’m now in Hades and my nose and eyes are starting to run. But then something even crazier happens…

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No lie, I went deaf. I was still standing there trying to swallow the first bite, and all of the sudden my hearing goes from normal, to as though wads of thick cotton were in my ears. I’m underwater, and all the background noise is muffled out. I was of course too distressed over the fire in my mouth to be much concerned with my hearing, but the sensation of deafness was memorable…

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“My ears feel funny! Do they look normal to you?”

It took about 20 seconds for my hearing to return, just as I was frantically dumping the steaming peppers into the trash and running for kleenex. Dinner was foiled! Ninja peppers! Sneak attack! You tricked me!

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“Guys? Guys! I can’t hear anything! Where’d everybody go?”

Once fully recovered and munching on an alternative meal choice, I knew I had to look this up. Temporary deafness from eating a hot pepper? I certainly couldn’t be the only one.

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Turns out, I’m not. “Could Spicy Foods Cause Temporary Deafness?” By Hearing Wellness was an enlightening article. Granted, sounds like digesting some of the world’s hottest peppers would more likely cause such a thing. But just a shout out to otolaryngologists…I didn’t eat a Ghost, Viper, Reaper or Komodo Dragon pepper, just a wimpy Jalapeno, and it happened to me

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“Get it out! Just get the hot pepper OUT!”

*An otolaryngologist is an ear, nose and throat doctor. I learned how to pronounce that word here.

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To summarize the article, there are two theories. Either nerves are temporarily affected, or mucus buildup (which rushes in to save you from the burn) is the cause. If I were to take a good guess, it felt to me like some nerves went berserk!

*Berserk: Violently or destructively frenzied; wild; crazed; deranged. (Dictionary.com)

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“I’d rather eat this table than another jalapeno!”

Yikes! But you know, let’s just say this was karma. For, once upon a time when I was a kid (but old enough to know better), I told a much younger cousin to take a big bite of a pepper from our grandma’s garden. I told her it was not the hot kind, even though I knew that it was. Yes, even nice girls play not so nice (albeit harmless) jokes for a giggle! When the poor mite bit into the pepper and began to cry, grandma scolded me knowingly, but I claimed innocence. Naughty indeed! Well, I received my comeuppance…

 

Delicious Mushroom Toasties, And Some Decadent Bruschetta Too!

As you might recall, I consider myself the Mad Hatter of toasties. I’ll put almost anything on a piece of bread and throw it into the oven for a good crisping up. Especially on a freezing winter night! I’d had a craving recently for some mushrooms, and thought to make a creamy pasta dish with them. But instead, I made the most delicious toasties imaginable…

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First I sautéed red onions and a bit of fresh minced garlic in a wee drizzle of olive oil and Earth Balance vegan butter, low heat, stirring frequently until they were cooked and soft. Add extra olive oil if more moisture is needed…

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I then tossed in chopped mushrooms, the common white button variety, and splashed in balsamic vinegar. I’m crazy for the sweet tang of reduced balsamic, and toss my veggies in balsamic in the skillet all the time. It will burn though (which tastes terribly icky), so again, low heat while tossing often. Let those veggies soak in the flavor and allow the balsamic to steam out its bitterness…

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Top pieces of Italian bread with this colorful, flavorful, appetizingly-smelling concoction and sprinkle on sea salt and pepper. Try not to spoon it all into your mouth directly, because that can happen. Place into the oven until the bread crisps up and the whole house (not just the kitchen) smells like Heaven…

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Or, if it is a sub-zero winter evening, dark out at only 4:30 p.m., and you can’t pass up that half-tub of parmesan shavings calling your name from the fridge, do what I did and pour liberally, your mouth watering as you await the cheesy melt. Vegans, look away…

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I spent a little more prep time on these toasties to allow the onions, garlic and mushrooms to really cook down and get flavorful. It was worth babysitting the pan, for they were absolutely amazing. Very inexpensive to make, vegan if you don’t add cheese, a hearty vegetarian dinner if you do. Add some simple mixed greens to the side, and a magnificent meal awaits you!

And now for the most sinful bruschetta on the planet…

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What are you trying to do to me Maggiano’s?! My life will never be the same…

Maggiano’s Little Italy is a Chicago-born Italian restaurant that you can now find across the U.S. They are known for large portions and their warmly-lit, family-style dining rooms. I’ve always enjoyed eating there, and especially love their salads. Their house dressing is dreamy (and so is a basketful of their soft bread if you please)…

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While recently enjoying Maggiano’s salads to-go, some of their new ‘bruschetta bar’ options were given a try, and holy cow. I now sometimes dream about what you see on this plate above. I literally picture these bites and salivate at random times of the day. The to-go order has been repeated, more than once. Each bite of bruschetta a transcendence into the realm of the ever-pleased tastebud. You can peruse the menu here, but be sure to try it for yourself if you spot a Maggiano’s. Truly decadent and delicious!

What’s cookin’ in your kitchen? What’s your favorite take-out lately? Happy eating!

Welcome 2018! Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to each and every one of you! May your 2018 be filled with good health, happiness, love, laughter and light…

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My very best wishes that you’ll stay inspired in this new year! Keep your nose to your goals, and you can achieve your special hopes. Most importantly, don’t forget to look for the beauty and wonder that can be found all around you in each new day! God Bless!

Lovin’ That! Grandma’s Slaw In 5 Minutes

So many of the best things I’ve ever eaten came from my Grandma Ina’s kitchen. We spent a lot of time together when I was young, so I got to eat a lot of her wonderful cooking. Whipped mashed potatoes, meatloaf with sweet ketchup glaze, bbq ribs, rhubarb pie, zucchini casserole. I admit that I didn’t appreciate her stuffed green peppers the way I would today (cooked peppers were a bit bitter as a kid), or her garden salads straight from the garden with fresh-made dressing shaken up (I’d love that now…but I was young). But one of my favorites will forever be her coleslaw, which I fondly just call slaw

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Grandma Ina took this photo from her kitchen window. That’s me! I was reading a book on the swing. Probably Anne of Green Gables. Perhaps a Choose Your Own Adventure. Obsessed with books. Still am! Wonder if Grandma was making some slaw in that kitchen when she snapped that photo?

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Now, my grandma moved down to Southern Illinois some years ago (where she was originally born). She lives in a renovated one room school house (I have to tell everyone this because I think it’s neat), with an outhouse out back (no, it’s not in service…but I’m sure a snake lives in there). She’s loving life in the countryside, just as she did living here up north in the countryside. But I digress…what is to be done with grandma so far away all this time and no access to her slaw?! I guess a gal has got to put on her big-girl breeches and make her own!

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I’ve made it now a great many times. However, I’ve gotten quick about it. This gal does not have time to finely chop up a head of green and a head of purple cabbage (and carrots too!). Time draining, and makes your hands turn purple. And anyway, I recall grandma using a coarse chop in the blender with just a head of green cabbage for her slaw, so I feel quite ok with using shortcuts!

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After previous chopping toil, I now buy the precut package of slaw at the grocery. No chopping at all! Chopping is torture! Don’t do that to yourself, unless you find the act of an hour of chopping cabbage relaxing…

In a bowl, mix a few heaping tablespoons of mayo (vegan or regular) with a splash of milk (almond or regular), a pinch of salt and a ton of pepper. In my opinion, you can’t have too much pepper. It can’t be possible in slaw…unheard of.

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Mix up the dressing with a wire whisk to make sure there are no clumps, then pour over the slaw and stir well. I find that a little dressing goes a long way, even in a big bowl of sliced cabbage…

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Cover in wrap (but maybe sprinkle on some more pepper first). Then let settle in the fridge for a bit (slaw tastes even better the next day). This process takes all of 5 minutes, and makes multiple helpings. I like to bring this dish anywhere I’m invited. The fresh crunch compliments most any meal, and cabbage is good for ya’…

This recipe isn’t exactly grandma’s, but it is just as simple and almost as delicious, and makes me think of her. Lovin’ That!

Come Say Hello At The Holiday Fair Extravaganza in Skokie, Illinois!

Hello, hello! The holidays are coming! Once Halloween passes this Tuesday, every store will be filled to the brim with decorations and everything to fill your gift list. Jingle Bells will be playing on the radio and those warm and fuzzy commercials tempting you to buy, buy, buy, will begin. Oh my!

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I always love the sparkle and the meaningful themes that this season is truly about. But don’t you feel like the holidays always come too fast and then are over in a flash? If only we could enjoy the merriment a little more, without all of life’s constant hustle and bustle, and stress. That is my wish to you, that you’ll enjoy this season to the absolute fullest, surrounded by friends and loved ones!

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I wanted to share a special event, with hopes that you’ll come by to see me! Just a few weeks away, I’ll have a table for book signing at the Holiday Fair Extravaganza in Skokie, IL. The event will take place at the Weber Leisure Center and supports local crafters and artists. Taking place on Saturday, November 18th from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., there will be lots of handmade fare, hot drinks and baked treats! Good ole’ holiday craft fair fun to start the season out in the most cheerful way!

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I just had a sudden craving for some peppermint bark and a raspberry linzer cookie (or five). Linzer cookkieeessss…..mmmmm….nom, nom, nom. I digress…

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My books will be available for purchase, with hopes that some of my tales will make it into a stocking or two, inspiring some winter reading and adventure! I may or may not be wearing an ‘ugly Christmas sweater’ for my own amusement…

If you live in the Chicagoland area, I sincerely hope to see you there! Click here to see a list of my works, with many more harrowing adventures to come!

My very best wishes to you from the very start of this season of goodwill and cheer!

The Blessing Of A Friend’s Garden

I’d set aside today as a strict writing day and nothing was going to pry me away from my desk, nothing! I’m working on my newest novel, a romantic odyssey set in ancient days, and the perilous passages were just ready to spill from my fingertips (because I’ve decided a romance needs lots of peril). But then I got a text from a girlfriend across town. I brought the garden for you today!!

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My friend doesn’t have a garden. These greens actually come from her friend’s garden. My friend is house sitting and some greens were just calling to be picked and eaten before they went to waste. And if anybody has any extra greens, I’m all too happy to eat them. Granted, I finished the chapter I was working on before I hopped in my car to zoom across town…

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I was gifted with a bag of lettuce, Swiss chard, dill, rosemary, chives and itty bitty tomatoes. Life is good! Have you ever sauteed Swiss chard with a little olive oil and garlic? Takes 2 minutes and tastes heavenly

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Tiddo the cat was checking out the herbs before I even knew he was in the kitchen with me. He wanted to see if the greens were some of that fresh catnip I nab from neighbors’ front lawns from time to time…

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Earlier in the week, this said friend also gave me some zucchini from said garden. Tonight, it took me all of 10 minutes to prepare supper. I made a vegetable tian with one zucchini, some Campari tomatoes I had on hand, and the fragrant rosemary. Drizzled over a little olive oil, sea salt and balsamic. It’s in the oven now…

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Rinsed the Swiss chard, plucked off the veiny tough stems, and will toss in the skillet just before the tian is ready (it wilts like a side of steamed spinach, but tastier)…

Goodness is it a blessing to have a friend with a friend who has a garden!

Stay inspired, eat your veggies, show someone you care!

Lovin’ That! Mercato At Starbucks

I’ve always gotten a kick out of reading other bloggers’ favorite things lists. Lists such as my favorite beauty products, or my favorite places to get a donut, or here’s what I got for for Christmas this year, or my list of best food trucks ever! I guess it’s entertaining to see the spectacular diversity in what others cherish and enjoy. These lists are always colorful, amusing, lighthearted and often informative…

So, I’m starting a new string of posts called Lovin’ That! to share some of my favorite things with you!

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First up, Mercato At Starbucks. Mercato is a new lunch menu that Starbucks recently launched in Chicago and Seattle. Now, I usually don’t stop at Starbucks because I make my own coffee each morning. But occasionally when I’ve run out of grounds and I’m in a hurry, I stop to treat myself on the go…

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That’s what happened a few weeks ago, and while waiting in line, I spotted what looked like some pretty tasty salads. I snatched up a cauliflower tabbouleh side salad with vegan written clear on the label and decided to try it for lunch. It was delicious and very healthy. I wondered if there was another salad that might be vegan too? Well, if you don’t indulge in the little cup of creamy salad dressing served with the green goddess avocado salad, then you’re good to go! A second green and healthy favorite on the menu!

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The point of their new menu serves two purposes. One, adding lots of tasty variety, including lovely looking sandwiches. Their roasted turkey and dill havarti sandwich sounds dreamy, along with everything else. Starbucks planned delicious new items that covered a variety of tastes and dietary considerations. Lovin’ That! But the second part of this menu, is that Starbucks donates all leftovers at the end of the evening to the hungry. Lovin’ That!

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The Mercato menu is a tasty step up from their past on the go lunch offerings, are made fresh daily, and any extras are given to those in need. Even though I don’t frequent Starbucks, as someone trying to eat a plant-based diet, I was very happy to find something that I could grab on the quick when I’m out and about. Eating vegan is tricky. It’s hard to find fresh, fast options. If you’re not in Chicago or Seattle, I hope they extend this to a city near you, so you can try it too!

*Starbucks did not fund my eats on the go. All opinions are my own.

Rock on friends…stay happy, stay healthy, stay inspired!

Holy Beets And Brussels Sprouts!

Hands down, the best plant-based meal I’ve eaten of late was at one of our local favorites, Roka Akor in Skokie. This Japanese grill smells heavenly, the ambiance is always hip and relaxing, the service is excellent, and the food is ever amazing…

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The amuse-bouche was a beet puree topped with a hint of greens. I’m nuts for beets, so I was very pleased to start the meal with this flavorful spoon. I could have eaten a bowl of this…

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Handsome started his meal with tender grilled scallops. I’ve had them before at Roka and know just how exquisite they are. Though my chopsticks did not sneak across the table to steal one this time, I was very tempted…

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The amuse-bouche had me wanting more beets, so I started the meal out by going to town on this salad. Not an almond sliver, or carrot shred, or beet medallion was left on that plate. Isn’t this dish so colorful? I could eat this fresh salad every day…

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For the meal, I ordered up the mushroom hotpot. Inside this cooking vessel above, the metal of which is inadvisable to touch due to its lava-like temperature, a steaming mushroom and rice mixture awaited. As our server dished out a bowl for me and a bowl for my date, I secretly wanted to snatch up both bowls. NO sharing the mushroom hotpot…mine, all MINE! Ha-ha-HA!

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I also had grilled vegetable maki with broccoli and sweet potatoes. You could taste the grill on those potatoes…

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Handsome ate a lobster. It was pre-cracked to display the most succulent morsels of meat for ease of eating. Though I did not partake, it was another temptation. I envisioned a snatch and run. My partner would later find me in the parking lot, broken lobster claws scattered around my feet, a crazed look in my eyes, not a single bite of lobster meat left…

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But I did not exact my shellfish fantasy, and instead inhaled a plate full of Brussels sprouts. The marinade on these sprouts rocked my taste buds! These sprouts also had a hint of seafood flavor to them. Ethereally thin bonito flakes (a Japanese tuna) were lightly sprinkled over the top. Definitely not a plant-based topper…oops!

Another fresh and savory meal at Roka, with plenty of options for this veggie lover! The smell alone coming off that Robata grill keeps us ever coming back for more. Holy beets and Brussels sprouts!

A Hawk’s Tale…And one fine striped tail it is!

For years now, there has been an elusive winged creature out back. I’d thought I’d seen a large hawk dozens of times, but it was so fast that I could never get a really good look…

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It’s not like when one flies across an open country road and perches for all to see on top of a telephone post. Our backyard abuts a dozen other backyards, all wooded, gardened and spectacularly green, so a bird, even a large one, can stay camouflaged…

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Earlier this summer, I’d gotten a pretty good look at it swooping over the alleyway between houses. And then last week, I was witness to it swooping down to try to snag a squirrel off a tree. No lie. The squirrel was a bit too big and skittish for the hawk to grab, but it was a gutsy attempt and certainly left my eyes round with surprise! The squirrel proceeded to squall in shock for about half an hour, (to the displeasure of my sensitive ears), an acorn still clutched in its mouth, completely unharmed but scared out of its wits…

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So, I’m making coffee this morning and looking out into the sunny backyard. I see something! Is it what I think it is? Is it the bird! I tear off up the stairs faster than Tiddo the cat on one of his running rampages, snatch up my camera and fly over to my bedroom window. First time I really saw it as not just a flash of wings, but as a sedentary creature! And let me tell you, it’s a big one. Larger than I thought. He (or she) is living off of chipmunk, bird, bunny and squirrel meat. These backyards are no slim pickings for this fierce hunter…

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Can anyone take a guess at what I’ve got? Perusing the pages of my North American bird book, it looks like it might be a Cooper’s Hawk, but I’d love your input! I’ve definitely been hearing a hawk’s strong kak-kak-kaking call all summer long. (You can listen to a voice recording of a Cooper’s Hawk on its wikipedia page here). Cooper’s Hawks are uncommon, live in wooded areas, and are newly removed from the Illinois endangered species list!

LOVING This Show!

As everyone else seems to these days, I’m quite enjoying the plethora of new t.v. series available! I’ve always been more of a movie lover, and have hardly watched a stitch of television over the years, but with so many imaginative, vibrant, creative series lately, I admit that Netflix has lured me into a few programs. What am I loving?

Hands down, the BBC’s new series, Versailles. It just about broke my brain into a million pieces with its first season. Wow. Too good for words. It is brilliantly made, absolutely stunning and really powerful. The last episode of season one moved me to big dollopy tears, so crushing was the story. Watch this program and be instantly transported into Louis XIV of France’s dreamy yet dangerous court at Versailles!

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery was one of the first books I ever fell in love with as a child. Anne was so smart, willful, and imaginative, as well I loved the healthy farm setting, the rural school house, and Anne and Diana’s (bosom buddies) adventures. The movie adaptations, staring Megan Follows, also held me captivated for quite a chunk of my childhood. Season One of the new series Anne With An E, has captivated me once again! Actress Amybeth McNulty’s performance of Anne is genuine and impressive. Do watch this trailer!

What else am I loving? When Calls the Heart is delightful! A young woman of high society named Elizabeth Thatcher takes on the role of school teacher in a remote coal mining town. Her adventures are abundant, and actress Erin Krakow plays the part with utter charm. This program fills my heart for its themes of community, caring, perseverance and love. If you are interested in a wholesome program, this one will have you hooked!

I’ve also much enjoyed Reign, a series surrounding Mary Queen of Scots. Historically accurate? Heck no! A dazzling, pretty, adventurous, entertaining show? Yup. Actress Adelaide Kane plays Mary Stuart with strength and grace, and all her courtly ladies master their girly yet willful characters. I think this series is fun! Further, actress Megan Follows (from the original Anne Of Green Gables movies) plays Queen Catherine de’ Medici, and puts on one witty and powerful performance!

I’ve only seen the first season of Downton Abbey and I’ve not even spied one single minute of Game of Thrones. But with so many entertaining new series, what can I say?

What are your current favorites?

A Cicada’s Ethereal Birth

Only on account of my one and only super-human power (my bizarre knack for spotting insects), I spied a movement in the dirt yesterday near dusk and had to take a closer look. At first it appeared to be something like a May Beetle (June Bug), but was not dark enough in color. I then knew right away that it must be a cicada just come up from the ground…

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I bent down and oh so carefully picked up the little creature. He stretched his legs a bit in surprise, but seemed hardly bothered. I guessed that he must be a little sleepy, after living underground for so long. For as cicadas, they might live a few years, or even 13 or 17 below the dirt before emerging! I inspected his transparent tan shell and could see that there was a beautiful green below its surface. How long would it take for this insect to hatch out of his skeleton and fly free?

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Gingerly setting him back down just where I had found him, I spied nearby, what looked like a little hole where he’d surely just burrowed out from. The cicada dawdled on his way, right up to a planter, and began to climb. At his own pace, he’d gotten to a good place and height, and then took hold beneath the lip at the top of the planter…

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At this point, I imagined that he’d just sit there all night, and that I would see nothing of his metamorphose. But I was wrong. I wouldn’t call it trembling, more like vibrating. At intervals, he appeared to vibrate his way out of a slit on the back of his shell. His folded wings looked like swirled sea shells, sea-green and peach in color. He vibrated these coiled wings again and again until they unfurled…

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His skeleton soon fell to the ground, and my heart was singing to behold such a beautiful creature. All in all, from his emerging from the ground to his fully transforming from his shell, took about an hour and a half. I don’t know how long he clung there, for I’m sure his wings needed to dry and solidify before taking flight…

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Though cicadas are a big part of summer here, their song accompanying each moment of these long hot days, and though I’ve found a great many discarded skeletons, and see quite a few adult cicadas flying around…this was the first time I’d ever seen one emerge from its shell. The moment was magical. Tears were nearly pooling in my eyes, and I whispered to myself, What a beautiful creature God has made.

I’m a softie for bugs. What can I say?

A Basket Full Of Flowers Giveaway!

Today is the day! The day for a giveaway! Why? Just because! Because summer is still as light and lovely as ever in these parts! Because the world is green and the flowers are full. And though the cool nights and autumn weather are fast approaching, today’s giveaway will have you ever reminded of the joys of summer!

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This pretty little piece is a print from one of my artist mother Lita’s paintings. Her precious works accompany my adventures at The Quill And Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire!

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Her nature and fantasy designs always delight and inspire on a festival day! How the kiddos light up when they see her drawings of fairies and dragons!

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Today we are giving away three of these sweet little prints, size 5 by 7 inches. They are perfectly delightful to brighten any nook, desktop or bedside table. Put the art in a glass frame, or set it out just as it is. This pretty basket will make you smile!

To enter for your chance to win one of three of these delightful prints by Lita, simply leave a comment below sharing one of your favorite parts about summer. Is it the flowers? The swimming? The barbecues? The festivals? Three winners will be randomly selected on Friday September 1st at 6pm, Chicago time, and announced here!

Here’s to the beauty and bounty of summer, and to your enjoying every moment you can of it!

The Merriest of the Merry!

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

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

My Cup Runneth Over!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Meet, Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again!

A Scorpion In My Bathroom?!

The strangest creatures are regularly found in my potty. Huge spiders, fast running centipedes, that enormous cave cricket. But this last Sunday evening, there was something in my bathroom that was quite strange indeed….

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First, let’s set up the scenario. I’ve just gotten home from day two of a very hot and muggy weekend at my tented shop, The Quill and Brush. It’s around 9pm. I’m exhausted. My costume is damp from rain and perspiration, and far past uncomfortable. I’m feeling claustrophobic in it. I’m a wee sunburned, my ankles are swollen, and I’m in need of a bite (though the heat is making me second guess whether I want to eat at all). I’ve been eaten all up by an army of mosquitoes. I want to get into that shower, now

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I tear off my costume and fling it to the bathroom floor before the toilet and take my shower. I then pick up the costume and put it in the hamper, and then go back into the potty…

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But I must digress in this story to first tell you this. I have a superhuman power. One, single, superhuman ability. Yup. And anyone who knows me will tell you that it is true. What is it? I see the tiniest bugs, the littlest movements. Whether in the leaves, or on an outdoor path (or crawling on my bathroom floor). It’s the funniest thing, especially as my eyes now require reading glasses!

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How many times has someone said, “How did you see that?!”

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I dunno. I think it’s because I spent a lot of time outdoors as a youth and I noticed bugs, and because I take great interest in insects in general. I also took a field science course in college, which amped up my excitement for them. Nope, I can’t fly or see through walls…but I see bugs…Ha-Ha-HA!

Ok. So I’m sitting on the potty. I spot this tiny black dot on the floor. We’re talking the size of a pen dot of black ink. Really, really, itty-bitty…

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And I think that it is moving. This little dot is moving around on the floor, but it is so small, that I believe my tired eyes are playing tricks on me. This must just be a speck of dirt! But as I watch, it does indeed take a walk. A short little walk no further than a quarter of an inch. Hmmm, what bug is so small and black? It is not taking up flight, not a gnat. What is that? Oh no! Is it a tick?

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Of course a tick is very possible. I’ve been up in a wooded place in Wisconsin all weekend, walking around in the grasses, sitting in my tented shop under the trees. I suddenly am sure that I’ve carried it home and that it dropped off my discarded costume. I now believe I should do a quick look-over of my legs. You see, I abhor ticks. I would rather a very scary, hairy spider with fangs run across my face, than to discover a tick in one of my crannies. UCK! ECHK! They give me the heebie-jeebies because their bite can deliver disease…

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But first I must determine if this little black spot is indeed a tick. I scurry for a mini post-it note, and my mini flashlight, and I’m on the bathroom floor with a spotlight on the little fella. I put the post-it before it and it walks up onto it. I’m like, squinting. What is that? It must be a tick, but I’m not so certain. I’ve seen ticks aplenty, and this little dude isn’t quite fitting the bill. I hurry downstairs and push the mini blue post-it into my honey’s eyes. I blurt…

I think this is a tick?! Do you think this is a tick?! I hope this isn’t a tick?!

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Handsome’s eyes are squinting and I’m trying not to drop the bug. I’d never find it again, it’s so small, and I don’t want a tick in my house. He concurs that it looks like it might indeed be a tick. But neither of us are certain. I toe into the kitchen, as careful with my cargo as possible, where the light is much better. I’m flashing that little flashlight and the bug is reacting.

He’s got pincers!? He’s clawing his little pincers out, imperceptibly screaming, “Turn off that light lady! Geez! Put me down!” I holler for my (very patient) man to come into the kitchen and see this…

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He says, “It looks like a scorpion.” And I agree, “Yea, like a lobster?!” Meanwhile, the little dude is scuttling around, indeed like a little crab of sorts, snapping the tiniest little claws in the world. As it is not a tick, I cannot dispatch of his precious little life. As with every insect I find indoors, I gingerly carry him outside and let it free. I immediately snatch up my bug identification book. I’m so curious, it’s crazy. What did I find? What if I’ve just discovered some new species, and now I’ve let it go, and no one will ever believe me (except for handsome)…

So what did I find?

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[Photo Credit: Kaldari]

I found a pseudoscorpion. Pseudoscorpions are of the arachnid family, as are spiders and ticks. I wasn’t too far off my initial identification! They live worldwide, and are not considered pests, but helpful rather. They eat the larvae of the moths that nibble fabric. They gobble up mites, and hunt for ants and little pesky flies. They live in leafy debris, amongst the dirt, and on trees. There are a great many species of them, and they vary in their tiny size-range. So itty are they, that they usually go unnoticed. And in those pincers, which they use to hunt, they do indeed carry poisonous glands!

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[Photo Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0]

I can’t tell you how exciting it was to discover that I’d found such a unique little creature, of which I’d never known existed before. He’d clearly caught a ride on the hem of my gown as I trudged through the grasses on the way back to my car Sunday evening, and had taken a ride all the way back with me. Then when I threw off my dress, he tumbled to the bathroom floor. Where am I? 

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[Photo Credit: Sarefo]

Pseudoscorpions can live up to three years! I’m glad I didn’t step on him. I’m glad I actually saw him, and let him free on the porch. I hope he’s feasting on the peskier bugs around my front door even now. What a magical little moment to watch him snapping his pincers at me! Aww, my little pet scorpion from the bathroom! Go eat those mosquitoes!

Here’s to the delight of discovery, and to keeping your eyes open to the wonders (both great and small) that are all around you!

The Versatile Blogger Award!

A big thank you to Michael Atkins of Japan Trekker who nominated Inspired By Venice for the Versatile Blogger Award! I’ve always called my site eclectic, so this award was very exciting to receive!

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Michael’s Japan Trekker is a treasure trove of inspiring travel photography centered around Japan. As a lover of travel myself, and as someone who works to express the human experience through my writing, I really enjoy sites such as these. They keep me thinking, entertained and curious! Photography has such an amazing way of catching beauty and expression, while travel photography in particular keeps us inquisitive and connects us to the larger world. Be sure to visit Japan Trekker yourself, a getaway without even hopping on a plane!

About the Versatile Blogger Award:

  1. Display the award on your blog.
  2. Thank the blogger that nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  3. Share seven facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 15 bloggers for the award and provide links to their blogs.

Seven facts about Michelle, author of Inspired By Venice

Hmmmm…let’s be random here…

  1. When I was a little girl, I once dispatched a grasshopper (poor fella), covered it in melted chocolate chips, and gave it to my grandma as a ‘surprise treat’. She nibbled on it, producing the funniest faces, acting delighted (in spite of quickly figuring out what I’d done), and was a super good sport about it. My grandma is awesome!viridissima-100883_1280
  2. I think that the dice game Yahtzee, which my folks are pros at, is a form of torture. Anything that makes me do quick, continual math feels like work, not fun. Keep that cup of dice in the closet, let’s play Charades!
  3. I think swimming is the loveliest form of exercise, for I don’t feel like I’m exercising at all! That buoyant feeling of being in water is divine!beach-2179183_1280
  4. In another life, I would have chosen entomology as a career. I think insects are fascinating. Except for ticks. I’m horrified by ticks!
  5. Though I implicitly believe in following the rules of the road, and though I certainly would not wish to be a race car driver, I quite enjoy driving fast! Vroom-vrooom!adorable-1850465_1280
  6. I think lilies are the prettiest flowers. Especially Stargazers, which though loud in fragrance, smell glorious. When I was young, I was very into ‘survival’ and ‘edible wild plants’. I still have my edible wild plants book on my desk! You can eat unopened daylily flower pods. I used to march into my grandma’s garden and munch on them. I think they taste a little like okra…lily-561074_1280
  7. As a youth, I once had an unfortunate fray with a German Shepherd quite as big as I, and stronger still. It left my face in need of stitching. Sitting in the hospital, and seeing the needle about to thread up my wounds (my mom nearly in a faint), I of course cried. However, as I laid down, and the stitching began, I could see the reflection of the procedure in the doctor’s glasses. I was strangely awed by the sight of the sewing and cried no more. Looking back, what a quizzical reaction! I now give dogs a wide berth while admiring and respecting them from a distance…german-shepherd-464612_1280

My nominees for the Versatile Blogger Award (in no particular order):

Earthstar

Getting The Picture

Fashion Through History

Fed’s Life

The Third Planet

Sawaworld

The Merry Thought

The Wifey’s Corner

Smart Veg Recipes

The World According To Dina

Jess Did What

Meandering With Misha

Experience Of Thinking

Japan Etc.

Agreeable Things

Thank you for your awesome, inspiring blogs!

What’s New, Shelly-Poo!?

Shelly-Poo was my older cousin’s nickname for me growing up, a term of endearment. Shelly is short for Michelle of course. And poo? Well that word is added onto names sometimes as a sign of affection. “Oh, your little puppy-wuppie is so cutie-poo!” Oh goodness!

So what’s new, Shelly-Poo? Let’s see…

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Guess where I was today?! Setting up our shop, The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire! We’re so excited for our 2nd season! Opening weekend is next weekend, July 8th. We have moved locations, but are still on King’s Landing. We can’t wait to see all of the friends we made last year, and all the new friends we are yet to meet! It is the 30th Anniversary of this beloved festival, and one beautifully tended park awaits you!

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Now, I do not consider myself clever with crafting/decor, but don’t you think the little ‘book case’ I put together to display my fairy tales is cute? I was pretty proud of myself…

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My business partner and artist mother Lita, will be displaying some lovely painted canvases this year, along with her illustrations. I don’t have a sneak peak for you here, but can say that when I first saw them, I wanted them all for myself. But then, we would have none for our sweet little shop! Come by, and peruse…

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Maid of Honour and The Mermaiden will be available starting first weekend!

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Veleno will be available for Marketplace Weekend (3rd weekend) through the end of the season. Official release date just around the corner (with convenient availability through Amazon). This one’s for mature readers only…

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In other news, I love cheese. The word love hardly begins to describe my craze for cheese. But being in Wisconsin setting up shop today, the very state that won the World Champion Cheese Contest in 2016, I was made a very happy woman. Ellsworth Garlic Cheddar Cheese Curds, Buddy Squirrel Cheezzzy Cheddar Popcorn, and Sartori MontAmore (the size of a small brick). I’m in Heaven. If you’re ever in Kenosha, WI, stop into Tim and Tom’s Cheese Shop. Attached to a sizable antique shop, and with cheese galore, it’s a field trip…

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In other, other news, I have a pet jumping spider who lives on my writing desk between my book Venice, and Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City. He’s hopped out during 3 consecutive days of writing hours to keep me company. I must say, he has good taste in books!

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Speaking of great books, I’m currently reading The Stranger in the Woods; The Extraordinary Life Of The Last True Hermit. A true story…hermit Christopher Knight of Maine…written by journalist Michael Finkel. Order this book right now, and thank me later…it is too spectacular to put down…

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In further, further, further news…this vegetarian is still cookin’ up the veggies! Whatever I’ve got in the fridge. Look at those healthful veggie tacos! Summer is fresh veggie time! Love it!

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And, after all my veggie-loving years, I’ve gotta say that radishes are the apple of my eye. Read my previous ‘Swimming Radishes’ post here. I think I love radishes as much as cheese! Gasp! Is that possible?

Here’s to your daily good health and happiness, and to your taking delight in simple pleasures every day! Here’s also to the joys of an excellent read, and to the deliciousness of your table favorites! Best Wishes!

Peek-a-boo, I see you!

I am currently watching an amazing program called Weird Wonders of the WorldIt is filled with remarkable natural occurrences and bizarre creatures from around the globe. The show is so strange and amazing. I highly recommend it! I guarantee, you’ll be entertained. Of course, I’m learning some incredible things…

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This little guy is a jumping spider. They are very common, are gifted with excellent eyesight, and tend to have pretty impressive jumping skills! Their great leaps assist them with hunting for food and making quick escapes. You might recall the handsome jumping spider I caught on photo last summer in Wisconsin…

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Having seen these little jumpers all my life, I was quite amused when Weird Wonders of the World (Season 2: Episode 6) introduced a unique species of jumping spider. Jotus Remus, the peek-a-boo spider from Australia, discovered by Jurgen Otto…

What makes this spider so special are two hairy, paddle-like feet. Of this species of spider, only the males have these hairy feet. But why? Does it help them with their jumping prowess? Nope. It helps them get a girlfriend in the most hilarious way!

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[Photo Credit: Jurgen Otto]

The peek-a-boo male spider is smaller than its female counterpart. These ladies can behave quite aggressively when they’re not interested in going on a date. In order to avoid getting hurt by an agitated female, the male peek-a-boo spider first waves his fuzzy paddle around from a safe distance. If the female attacks, no coupling. If she’s calmly wooed by the behavior, it’s date night!

While watching the show, I got the giggles seeing the peek-a-boo spider in action. I think it will make your day to watch this video. Poor little guy has to work hard to find the right lady!

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Jurgen Otto has a whole lot of other amazing spider photos and videos! I entreat you to also watch this incredible footage of another jumping spider, Maratus Volans, the peacock spider! This colorful fella is also trying to win over a lady. Absolutely amazing!

Here’s wishing you’ll never forget your curiosity for the world, for it is filled with great and inspiring wonders!

Just Where I Want To Be

Today feels like a summer’s day! 81 degrees and sunny, the birds are singing joyfully and everything is as green as ever after recent thunderstorms. Thus, for the first time since the weather was fine last summer, I can be found in one of my favorite nooks…

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My little writing table on the front porch, mostly private from the sidewalk, where I can look up to the trees and the sunny skies and feel happy, refreshed and inspired. I’ve just made a healthy salad for lunch. Delicious!

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For the rest of the afternoon, I’ll be typing away on my stories and there’s no better place for it. Spending time out-of-doors is said to have a lovely impact on your health!

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My front porch chipmunk is keeping me company. I’ve bribed him with some strawberries and blueberries, hoping they will keep him distracted so that he doesn’t get curious about my bare toes. I think they think toes are peanuts. Don’t nibble my toes Chippy!

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I can definitely say, on a beautiful day like today, I’m just where I want to be…

Here’s wishing you a great many such beautiful days, and that you’ll find the time for yourself to enjoy them! 

Insomnia Cookies

I want you to pretend that it’s two o’clock in the morning and you are wide awake…

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Unless you’re 21 years old on a Saturday night, or work the night shift, or have trouble sleeping, I don’t know why you’d still be up, but just pretend that you are. Not only are you awake, but you’re having a craving that you just can’t beat…for cookies! Only, you have no cookies in your house. This is very bad. No cookies to eat at 2 a.m. What to do?!

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Just call Insomnia Cookies! They deliver fresh made cookies (I’m guessing still warm), pizza-box style…until 3 a.m. in the morning. How do I know? Was I up ordering cookies after midnight like a crazed cookie monster? Heck no!

On Friday evening, we decided to skip dessert at dinner and walk over to a new business. I saw it buzzing earlier as we drove past toward our reservation. The canopy over the window read Insomnia Cookies. So of course, I had to know what that was all about…

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My date tried vanilla ice cream with oatmeal raisin cookies. I’m nutty for anything mint, and so had mint ice cream smashed between two mint chocolate cookies. We should have grabbed spoons, because they were tricky to eat as we walked with them back toward the car. The cookies were very soft and warm, so the sandwiches didn’t stay in tact. I ended up licking ice cream off of the paper plate in a very unladylike manner, another one of my pretty looks…

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So what did we think? The cookies and ice cream were a fun treat and we enjoyed trying it! Our returns will be on a whim rather than as regulars however, as the place itself offers no seating and it’s awkward to eat ice cream cookies on the run (though I enjoyed a good laugh at myself). I would use their delivery service to send cookies to cheer a friend if the occasion arose. Nothing makes people smile like a cookie!

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About that insomnia part, I’m curious how popular their after-midnight deliveries will prove; we do live in a university town! However, even if the kiddos are up late studying, students often don’t have extra dough (pun intended) for such novelties. Nonetheless, I wish this cute little business success! If I’m up at 2 a.m. and in need of a cookie, we all know who I’m calling. Never say never!

Here’s wishing your days filled with smiles, and sprinkled with sweet moments!

The Itty Bitty Littles Giveaway!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Sneaky, Slithering Sea Snail!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lizzadro Museum Of Lapidary Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A 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…

Welcome To The Venetian Carnival…A World of Wonders!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Carnival of Venice

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogger Recognition Award!

I am absolutely delighted to be nominated by the very talented food blogger, Pooja Tameshwar of Smart Veg Recipes, for a Blogger Recognition Award! Thank you!

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As someone who tries to cook a mostly plant-based diet for my own good health, I enjoy perusing recipes that focus on the good things of the earth…

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I’m also ever fascinated by different cultures and cuisines from around the globe. That’s how I got hooked on reading Pooja’s posts! Not only are her veggie-based dishes from around India unique, pleasing to the eye, and mouthwatering, but she also writes insightful descriptions about what makes each dish culturally special. Be sure to visit her site!

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Blogger Recognition Rules:

  1. Write a post to show your award.
  2. Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you and share the link to their blog.
  3. Give a brief story of how your blog got started.
  4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
  5. Nominate 15 bloggers of your choice for the award.
  6. Comment on each blog to let them know that you’ve nominated them and provide a link to your post.

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How did Inspired By Venice come about? With the publication of my book Venice, a choose your own adventure that takes the reader on a journey through that enchanting Italian city! At the end of each chapter, you decide where you will go next! Enjoy the adventure!

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But books aside, I also wanted to share my passion for good food, culture, travel, history, nature and costuming…

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And of course…

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Tiddo the cat…

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What I share is meant to be eclectic, uplifting, inspirational, silly, informative. Most importantly, it’s written to brighten your day! Thank you for reading!

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My advice for new bloggers? If you have a passion you want to share and you start a blog, don’t give up if readers don’t show up overnight! Yes, writing posts is a time investment, and you may sometimes wonder if it’s worth it if there aren’t a lot of visitors to your site. Just remember that blogging shouldn’t focus on how many likes, comments, and followers you have. It’s about your sharing something unique with the world, just because it’s a joy to do so. Just keep writing, and you’re bound to inspire others, and gain readers, in time…

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My second bit of advice to new bloggers comes from me as a reader of blogs. I find it hard to stay focused when reading super long posts that look like one eternal paragraph without any pictures. I prefer posts that share a story that flows, keeps on track, and has a little eye candy! One of the hardest things for a writer, is to keep words succinct while still fully communicating your story. Those who do this best, are artists with the pen!

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And my nominations for the Blogger Recognition Award are (in no particular order)…

  1. The Third Planet
  2. La Venessiana
  3. Agreeable Things
  4. Fashion Through History
  5. A Cupcake For Love
  6. JessDidWhat
  7. SawaWorld
  8. Meandering With Misha
  9. Michael Philip Atkins Travels
  10. Japan etc.
  11. Melinda Little Blogs
  12. Lisa’s Project: Vegan
  13. The Wifey’s Corner
  14. Fed’s Life
  15. Getting The Picture

Thank you bloggers, for inspiring me!

A Night At The Museum

There are three places in the world that I deeply treasure in my heart. Venice, Italy. The Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, WI. And, The Field Museum in Chicago, IL. So when handsome and I received an unprecedentedly exciting invitation to an evening soiree at The Field, my mouth dropped open, my eyes grew sparkly, and my brain broke for approximately five whole minutes…

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Chicago was having a bit of a blizzard, but that didn’t stop us. It made the evening even more charming (especially because my date was driving while I yapped on, cozily in the passenger seat). I was delighted to see that we had valet right at the bottom of the steps leading up to the museum, and a white tent hovering over the grand stairs to keep guests covered from the wind and snow…

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After checking in our coats, we filed up marble stairs to the second floor, where hors d’oeuvres and beverages were passed on silver platters. The view was breathtaking, the holiday lights and enormous wreathes of greenery were hung festively, and jazzy music echoed all around. I had a perpetual grin on my face as my eyes darted around in every direction. The secrets within the museum halls were calling my name…

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It was an absolute privilege to amble through the exhibits at night, with the halls dim and the cases enchantingly lit, hardly bumping into another guest. It was like we had the whole museum to ourselves. The beautiful botany, the pinned insects, the dinosaurs, the ancient artifacts…I swoon, I die…actually I gasped, and giggled, and smiled and felt as merry as a lark…

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I whispered with the dinosaurs and my imagination went wild with prehistoric visions…

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I told Sue that she was pretty. 65 million years have nothing on her!

If you haven’t seen the incredible documentary about this T-Rex, titled Dinosaur 13, I entreat you to watch it immediately. The story was so moving that I cried. Yup. I secretly shed tears for a dinosaur. Sue’s story is truly amazing…

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And her enormous teeth are nightmare worthy…

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I love, love, love the bugs! In another life, I am an entomologist! Aren’t they fascinating?!

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This dude had some serious spine. I wonder if he suffered from back aches?

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And in my other, other life…I’d like to be a full-time scale models, replicas and diorama maker for museums! Tell me this beach scene doesn’t look real? The figures in the sand are no bigger than my pinky finger. Ahhhh! I’m nuts for dioramas!

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After adequately losing my mind with childlike excitement, we sat down to a delicious dinner. I very much enjoyed my salad of greens with blue cheese crumbles, crusty artisan bread, and mushroom risotto with asparagus. It was perfect…

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There were adorable little desserts too, tasting of egg-nog and peppermint. Miniature winks to the festive season! And after our sweet treats, we roamed the halls of the museum once more, and then ended the evening with much dancing…

If you ever have the chance to visit The Field, I hope that you will and will spend some time. This museum has an incredibly rich history, its roots taking hold with The World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago, 1893). The Field Museum is truly magnificent, and offers so much learning. I will cherish it for all of my days!

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!

Demise of the Duckie…

Awww, Tiddo! You’re sitting so nice with your duckie! I have some things to do, but will be back soon.  The Cat Mom

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Wait, wait lady! Where are you going? You’re not going to leave me alone, are you? The Duckie

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Oh no, she’s left the room! Nice kitty, kitty…we’re friends, right? Shall we play cards? Chess? Watch cartoons? Color?

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You’re such a quiet kitty, I hope there’s nothing dangerous on your mind?

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Aaaaaahhhhh!!! Help!!! He’s got me!!! I’m flying in the air!

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I’ve been flung and can’t get up, now I’m just a sitting duck! Tremble, tremble, tremble…

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My family is plush, kitty. They’ll give you all the cat crunchies you want. Just don’t hurt me…

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Oh please kitty, nice kitty! You don’t want to eat me! I bet you have a far tastier plate waiting for you in the kitchen…

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He’s got me pinned with his giant claws! This is the end! Please say goodbye to the flock for me…

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He’s licking his chops! My days are over. Quack, quack…

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Whaaaa! EEEhhhhh!!! Noooooeeeewww!

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Chomp, chomp, chomp…nom, nom, nom. Burp! Tiddo The Cat

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The next day…Oh, Tiddo. I’m sorry to hear you say that your friend duckie ran away! I wonder why, when you are such a sweet and docile kitty. Well, here is a new friend for you! I’ll be back soon. You two have fun! The Cat Mom

We Are All But Buds And Berries

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

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

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

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

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

The Golden Egg Part II.

Just a little over a year ago whilst making breakfast, I discovered that one of my hard-boiled eggs had a double yolk (which I shared in the post The Golden Egg). I was pretty excited to cut open that egg and discover two yolks, for in all of my years of egg eating, I’ve never seen one. My grandparents raised chickens and ducks when I was a youngling (and still do), but I don’t recall seeing any double yolks amongst those fresh eggs. Perhaps grandma called my attention to one in the skillet at some point, and I forgot about it…

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According to Fresh Eggs Daily, only about 1 in every thousand eggs will have a double yolk. But because most egg producers discard eggs that are outside of an established commercial norm, it is even rarer to get one when buying a carton at the market. However, I’m guessing that my purchasing both ‘organic/cage free’ (farmers who are less likely to away with a perfectly good egg in spite of shape or weight) might have something to do with my good fortune…

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This is my second golden egg! I went to fry some eggs for supper two nights ago and was tickled to find another double yolk when I cracked my eggs into my pan! On researching this phenomenon again, I discovered that some farms breed chickens that are more likely to produce these eggs, and sell double yolks by the dozen!

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There are also plenty of superstitions around cracking open a double yolk. But as for me, there is only one of these omens that I am willing to believe, and that is that I’ll receive some good luck. But I guess I already did, for that egg supper was delicious and I received the blessing of a full stomach!

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Here’s to interesting curiosities that delight and always learning something new; and also wishing you much good fortune, a double yolk or two!

The Book Of Dragons Giveaway!

Because it’s November 1st and the season of thankfulness is upon us…because it is an unbelievable 74 degrees and sunny in Evanston…because gift giving is so much fun…and because one of my greatest joys is to share my stories…I’m feeling like today is the day for a giveaway!

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After his courage shines through during one unexpected act of valor, young Lambert finds himself knighted by the wise King Gerald of the Kingdom of Echoes. After five years of knightly training and surprising adventures, Lambert and his heroic brothers receive an urgent request from the King; all knights must go in search of a magical text that has gone missing from right under the King’s nose at Halves Castle.

This isn’t just any book however. It is the Book of Dragons, a text filled with magic. In the wrong hands, the peaceful Kingdom of Echoes could be destroyed forever.

As Sir Lambert embarks on his quest to return the book to King Gerald, he learns that its magic would be nothing without living, breathing dragons!

Join Sir Lambert, who with the true heart of an honorable knight will do anything to protect the good people of the realm. Even if it means he has to fight one ferocious red beast!

To enter for your chance to win one free copy of The Book of Dragons, please tell us in the comments what your dragon’s name would be if you owned one as a pet. Further descriptions, such as what your pet dragon looks like, its temperament or habits, would also be highly amusing to hear about (but is not mandatory). Have fun with your imagination!

One winner will be selected at random this coming Sunday, November 6th at 10 a.m. Chicago time and announced here, and the magic inside The Book of Dragons will be theirs!

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!

What’s Up, Chippy?

We have chipmunks living under our cemented front porch. I enjoy watching them race around and make unique chirping noises, and they love to get a handful of nuts or fresh berries when I’m feeling generous…

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This little fella spent the greater part of an afternoon hopping up and down on a little edge of the porch. He ate his acorns and watched me. I typed on a story and watched him. They’re adorable, but they will mistake your toes for nuts if you are wearing flip-flops like I was. I’ve had to holler for them to get away from my toes on more than one occasion (and no my toes don’t smell like nut butter). The last thing I need is to have to hobble the block down to the local hospital for a stitch to my big toe, and explain how I got injured…

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Chipmunks burrow paths under the dirt, where they sleep, have babies and store their food. A single chippy can store up to eight pounds of food! (If a disaster hits town and I run out of victuals, I know where I’ll be digging! Acorn soup it is!) They also don’t like other chipmunks hanging around their dens and will brawl and chase them great lengths from their burrow doors. I’ve seen them fight, they’re spunky for certain…

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Chipmunks are also known to be very clean, keeping their burrows clutter free. They make comfy nests out of grass and leaves, and though most people think they hibernate in winter, that is only sort of true. They do sleep quite a bit, but they rouse a few times a week to eat, run around the burrow and use the chipmunk amenities…

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I originally believed that they only ate nuts, seeds and plants. However, they also eat bird eggs, insects and frogs. I can attest that this is true, for my mom and I once watched one hold an earthworm in its little claws and munch it while it squirmed. Gross!

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They can birth two broods a year (early spring and early fall) with between 2-5 little chips in each set. Sadly, chipmunks don’t live long. About 2-3 years. No wonder they brawl, hoard food and zip around like race cars. With such short lifespans, they’re living life in the fast lane!

Here’s to living life to the fullest, and always having enough acorns in your burrow!

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?

A Delightful Giveaway!

Because today is a beautiful day…because it’s a holiday weekend…because I’ve still got one last festive weekend left at Bristol…today feels like a great day for a giveaway to share a little delight with you…

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Today, I’m giving away a copy of Delight! To enter, use your imagination and tell us what your fairy name would be if you were one of those magical creatures, and share it in the comments! I’ll randomly choose a winner on Tuesday, September 6th at 10:00 a.m. Chicago time and announce the winner! Here’s wishing you a delightful weekend!

My Pretty Venice

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

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

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

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

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

The Mermaiden

Can you smell the briny air? Hear the seagulls screeching? See the sand crabs scuttling? Feel the power of the ocean’s waves? Won’t you come sit a moment with a mermaiden and get lost at sea?

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Bess lives in a cottage beside the sea in the village of Salty Row. Her father is a respected fisherman, providing fish to both the people of their town, and also the nobles who live nearby in a great castle.

Bess loves her life by the ocean, filled with wind and water. Especially on the days her father brings her along on his boat; his hardworking crew is a spectacle to watch, and how exciting it is when the fishing nets are pulled up, brimming over with curious creatures!

As Bess is soon to learn however, the good fortune and security always enjoyed in Salty Row is about to experience some turbulent waters! Of course, facing hardship isn’t easy. However, one captivating mermaiden with her tales from the deep, might just be the key to keeping Bess’s good spirits afloat!

Available now on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

Silly Fun with Shadows and Sun!

When you are bored, yet there be some sun…

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Don’t be a grump, go have some fun…

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Form a shadow; shimmy, dance and shake…

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See what silly shapes you can make!

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Ha-Ha-Hee! Haw-Hoo-Hoo! It be fun to play the fool!

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Here’s to making your own good fun and laughing often, whether or not the sun is shining!

Summer Storms, Sunny Smiles

What an adventure I’m having with my mother Lita (the artist) and step-dad, at the Bristol Renaissance Faire each weekend while we man our little shop The Quill and Brush (selling our books and art)! We are three weekends past, with six more to go. Though the weather has been mostly agreeable (even if beastly hot and humid), we’ve already met with several thunderstorms that had us covering our heads as we hovered inside of our tent…

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Because we are playing as village merchants from the 16th century, we can’t go about lunching on our regular 21st century fare, and using our plastic cutlery! The little picnic shown here is an example of what we’ve been nibbling instead (though I sort of cheated with the glass bowls)…

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Unfortunately last Sunday morning, a storm blew in even before we opened for the day and an intense wind billowed up our tent and flung my table away with a crash! Our delicious food, so nicely prepared, went into the mud and my glass bowls shattered…

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But the frogs sure didn’t mind the rain! This little guy hopped into the tent, surprising me when I found him hanging around under my table of books…

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And we see this busy dude each day, going in and out of his hole right next to our tent…

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And after another thunderstorm this last Saturday, this crayfish emerged (likely flooded out of his hole). That was pretty neat, for we don’t see these all that often…

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I rolled my ankle walking in the faire’s midday parade and have had a mean little sprain for over a week. We sweated buckets, got crispy in the sun, and labored with our bins, tables and tent. And I might have screeched a little as we covered our heads and huddled as the thunder and lightening boomed and lit the sky!

However, reward comes only after a challenge and my reward are the smiles I see when I share my stories. It makes my heart sing. And how happy I am to watch one of my books being carried away, knowing the delightful adventure that awaits the reader!

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I’ve been nursing my sprained ankle with good food, for I can’t imagine anything being better medicine? Delicious whole wheat pasta with veggies and parmesan shavings…

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Arugula salad with soft boiled eggs…

Salmon and roasted veggies, delicious! If you like roasted salmon, try this little concoction I spoon over mine…

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Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, seed mustard and honey! Oh heavens! When the fish cooks, this glaze hardens on the top and it is just wonderful!

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Outside the high temperatures have brought on one of the loveliest parts of summer, the cicadas’ song! Just snapped a photo of this handsome creature. Look at those pretty pink flecks in his wings! Magical!

Here’s wishing you sunshine in your life today, and many joys from life’s simple pleasures!

Good Tidings From Bristol!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

A Bushel Of Books

A bushel of books, a bundle of words, sitting in a basket just there. A great many more, all carefully nesting, all tenderly wrapped with care…

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But why do they wait? Such adventurous volumes! Do they not have some place to be? Why yes, oh yes! They’re looking their best, for at Bristol all will soon see!

Just 10 days until The Quill and Brush will be open to all, sharing stories and art, inspired and drawn from the heart!

Bringer of Peace

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

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

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

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

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The snowy path to our little secret garden…

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

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

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

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

Egg-in-the-hole!

Have you ever made an egg-in-the-hole? It’s fun, ridiculously easy to make, and so tasty!

‘Unless it’s tuna fish, I’m not coming out to help you make breakfast mom. I’m cozy right here…

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The first time I ever had an egg-in-the-hole was in grade school. As my mom went to work early in the mornings, I joined a ‘before school program’ where they served breakfast and I could play games with the other early birds, until classes began. The school cooks prepared breakfast for this little band of kiddos amidst prepping to feed the entire school a hot lunch.

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I begin by buttering two large pieces of sourdough bread. However, some folks simply melt butter in the pan first and throw the bread in. I also use a glass to cut out the hole (which is small enough for the egg to nest, but large enough that the egg doesn’t begin to ease over the toast). Throw the little rounds into the pan too!

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Next, crack the eggs in and let this side of the toasties get crispy.

…the days that the school’s lunch ladies made egg-in-the-holes, were the best days ever. Each child was allowed one. If you were still hungry for a second one when you were finished, you could go back in line and they would make you another (as long as all of the children had received their first one).

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The key to great egg-in-the-holes are that you allow the bread to get crispy (requiring ample butter). But at the same time, you don’t want the eggs to cook completely. You still want the yolk to be liquid. For this balance, let the bread toast up a moment before putting your eggs in so that you don’t end up with gooey bread…not so good.

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Use the little toasted rounds to dip into the yolk. Why is this so darn delicious? There is something about the way the bread toasts and soaks in the egg…awesome.

So, did I get in line for a second helping when I was a wee one? Oh yes! Those eggs-in-the-holes (using good ole’ Wonder Bread) were it. All these years later, I’m still making them.

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This morning I was out of sourdough and had whole grain bread in the house. Folks make their egg-in-the-holes using whole grain, but I just as prefer to eat that kind with over-easy eggs. There’s something about sourdough, or Italian bread that makes an egg-in-the-hole just right. Check out Pioneer Woman’s entertaining post for this recipe here!

What foods did you eat as a youngster, that fill you with nostalgia today? Do you ever make them?

That old April Adage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And turned on the fireplace, which Tiddo cannot resist!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s wishing you a wonderful day!

Queen of the Elves Is Here!

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Clois has always lived a happy and peaceful life at her family’s field cottage surrounded by nature. Her father is a beekeeper and her mother collects wildflowers to sell in the village. Their garden is magnificent too, filled with wonderful things to eat.

Today is Clois’s birthday and she is looking forward to celebrating with her parents and friends. But as she wakes, she finds that the day isn’t starting out how she expected it to. Her parents are nowhere to be found, there is a curious raven in the garden, and she’s not alone. Elves have come to bring her to Crest Castle where sits the throne of an elfish kingdom. As if that were not surprising enough, they claim that Clois is their queen!

Join Clois as she reunites with her family, discovers the truth about her identity, and defends Crest Castle against terrible dragon-riding ogres, all on her first day as Queen of the Elves!

Now available here on Amazon! Enjoy the adventure!

Good Morning! Good Day!

How lovely the start of a new day! Today, mine includes…

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A golden sunrise just outside the window…

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And a friend to watch it with…

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Even if he is more interested in the waking birdies than the sunrise…

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A sweet little bloom in my front yard. What a pretty white flower it will make. I think it’s waiting to open up when it’s not so chilly, brrrrr….

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And these yellow darlings too, I can’t wait!

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A hot cup of coffee (or three) and a bright kitchen view…

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Another one of my odd breakfast concoctions (and some people thought I’d never learn to cook…HA-HA-HA!!!)…

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And time spent working on my new adventure, the very best way to start the day. A magical world awaits!

Here’s wishing you a blessed and beautiful morning, and a day filled with good things!

Spring Morning Walk

Hey there handsome…

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Welcome back friends…

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Good morning darling buds…

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So happy to see you, precious friend…

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The sun shines for you, little flower…

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Well hello there ladies!

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How I’ve missed you, green…

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How pretty you are!

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Come on out, you sturdy blooms…

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Your delicate purple petals make my heart sing today…

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

Queen of the Elves

It’s almost here! One harrowing adventure for Queen Cloisinia and her kingdom of elves!

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Clois has always lived a happy and peaceful life at her family’s field cottage surrounded by nature. Her father is a beekeeper and her mother collects wildflowers to sell in the village. Their garden is magnificent too, filled with wonderful things to eat.

Today is Clois’s birthday and she is looking forward to celebrating with her parents and friends. But as she wakes, she finds that the day isn’t starting out how she expected it to. Her parents are nowhere to be found, there is a curious raven in the garden, and she’s not alone. Elves have come to bring her to Crest Castle where sits the throne of an elfish kingdom. As if that were not surprising enough, they claim that Clois is their queen!

Join Clois as she reunites with her family, discovers the truth about her identity, and defends Crest Castle against terrible dragon-riding ogres, all on her first day as Queen of the Elves!

Pretty As A Picture

These photos are of my cousin, who is some years younger than I (though now a young woman). Lita (my mother, artist & costumer) made this Elizabethan gown for her for an outing at the Bristol Renaissance Faire.

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This little lady was so patient (in quite warm weather and having never worn a full costume before), and so polite (walking here and there with grace), and so pretty! I don’t know how she did it; when I was her age (and well beyond it) I fussed a great deal with my costumes (squawking when something didn’t fit) and romped around like a wild thing on the run (hardly graceful). She was a natural! A true noble!

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The headpiece was spectacularly stitched with pearls lining the top and a veil hanging from the back. The white and green color combination smiled upon youth and innocence. The entire silhouette was perfect, with a crisp bodice and perfectly measured skirts over just the right size of farthingale. Such a well crafted costume!

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And look at that pretty smile, the perfect accessory for such an ensemble!

I think kiddos make the best historical reenactors; mini nobles and peasants, awesome! They make the reenacting of history more authentic. For instance, it is ever obvious when adults are acting in their costumes (as much as they try to be a merchant or lady-in-waiting, etc.). But when children are dressed up and start playing, talking and running, they forget that they are in costume and just behave naturally (just being, not acting).

My cousin was a lovely addition that day, and certainly convinced all that she was a noble young lady from the days of yore!

Fur For Fleas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brainy Ravens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pearl Earrings Giveaway Part III.

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First an excerpt from Veleno…a terrible tale, soon to come!

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Standing before her, he held out a large mollusk, far more generous in size than the ones they regularly ate. It was a fine catch, a basket of those would fetch an excellent price, especially on a feast day when the noble houses were entertaining guests and wanted to impress. Pulling a sharp knife from his belt, he sliced between the shells and carefully pried the animal open, discarding the top of the creature’s case to a table. Skilled, he swiftly cut beneath the meat and detached its membrane to make it easier to consume. He smiled once more and carefully handed over the plump, briny offering. Mafalda was embarrassed, the oyster was rather big and she felt hesitant to swallow it before Baldovino. Oysters were said to cause passions in the eaters; she was certain he knew that. As well he stood closely enough that she swore she could feel the heat radiating from his body, though it could have just been the kitchen blaze. He watched her expectantly, almost eagerly, standing tall enough to look over her. She wanted to move away, but only far enough so that she could spy on this man unnoticed; he was very desirable. He wiped the knife in his alternate hand upon a rag hanging at his hip and slipped it back into his belt.

Tentatively accepting the halved shell, the size of which completely engulfed her hand, she looked meekly up at Baldovino and then slowly brought the shell closer to her lips. Just as she was about to tilt the creature’s vessel up to slide the oyster into her mouth, he whispered for her to wait. She paused short and her eyes grew large. She began to blush. Why had he stopped her? She didn’t want to prolong this. Martinella would be back soon, or Tonia might catch an eyeful of the two and Mafalda felt that the man was standing too close, too familiarly. Carefully taking back the shell from her, he again pulled out his knife and scrapped gingerly at the flesh, quickly exposing a large and glistening white orb. It was a pearl, a very large pearl.

Today’s the day, the day for a pearl earrings giveaway! As you know, I’m nuts about pearls! Renaissance Venetians were too, such as the noble lady Mafalda in my soon to come Veleno…one terrible tale! You can check out Inspired by Venice‘s past pearl giveaways here and here.

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These delightful fresh water pearls are drop shaped, and white-yellow-peach depending on the light. Dainty and so lovely! These sweet earrings are by Brenda Duncan of The Black Pearl, purchased at the Bristol Renaissance Faire!

To enter the giveaway, get your imaginations brewing and write a sentence or two to describe what happened next after the pearl was discovered in Veleno‘s excerpt above. Write it in the comments! Does Mafalda gasp and greedily snatch the pearl right out of the oyster? Does Baldovino get called away, leaving the gift on the table for her to discretely take? Does she tell him she prefers diamonds? Does a kitchen maid accidentally spill something on them both, tripping as she walks by, and they all laugh? Be funny, or romantic (keep it classy), silly or serious…it’s for fun!

I’ll choose a winner at random from the entries, one week from today (on Monday, March 7th, 2016 at 9:00am Chicago time) and will announce the winner here! Please share news of the giveaway; the more fun entries there are, the merrier for all!

Here’s to smiles and laughs, good stories, and pearls of happiness in each and every day! Enjoy your adventure today!

Dining with Grace

A week ago today, handsome and I had a special occasion to celebrate and wanted to make it remarkable. For some time, we’d been wanting to visit Grace, a restaurant in downtown Chicago with an exceptional reputation!

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I can hardly describe, how otherworldly and magical this dining experience was. There are really no words for the glorious eight course meal we had, along with remarkable wine parings, impeccable service and truly exquisite ambiance.

This restaurant isn’t flashy from the street (we weren’t even initially sure we were at the right address), and when you enter, what peace and elegance; dim lighting, soft colors, minimal decor, gentle music…we immediately melted into our seats and relaxed (after a rather heroic city drive under some intense city winds that closed off streets due to high-rise debris falling on cars, during rush hour. Not terribly uncommon in the Windy City.)

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When you first begin, you select from one of two menus and the courses begin. Flora (for the plant lovers) or Fauna (for those who want seafood & meat). I tried Flora, and my companion, Fauna (though we shared, of course).

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Above was the amuse-bouche, “mouth amuser” in French, which isn’t ordered, but served prior to the meal gratis of the restaurant. I was fascinated with the forest plate set before us… we were told to use our fingers (no cutlery).

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To start: Parsnip with malt, pink grapefruit, lemon balm…(mine). So beautiful!

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Osetra Caviar with brandade, lemon, scallion…(his). Oh heavens!

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This one was served with a lid, and when you remove it, you’re instructed to lick the delicious lemon creme on it (like a yogurt cap). From within, smoke pours out, the wood smoke scent was amazing!

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Butternut Squash with ginger, mint, coriander blooms…(mine). I cannot express how divine the taste of coriander blooms are. I’d tasted coriander seeds before, but these little blooms were packed with a burst of spicy, flowery, herby flavor that I’d never tried…it’s a wild little plant!

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Alaskan King Crab with sudachi, cucumber, lemon and mint…(his). On this one, delectable bites were nested at the bottom, and layered over the top. You crack the shell up top with a spoon and then mix it all together. So, so pretty and the crab was so fresh.

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With the main dishes, small house-made breads were served to the side of each course (each piece unique), presented with a very special herbed butter. I could eat that butter with a spoon and I’m not ashamed to say it!

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Pumpkin with coconut, finger lime and sorrel…(mine).

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Hamachi with black cardamom, yuzu and chard…(his). The fish was so tender!

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Beets with goat cheese, cider, red amaranth…(mine). Do you see the goat cheese? It has been crafted into that edible white bowl right there!

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It melts, releasing the incredible liquid onto the plate to meet with the vegetables. I am a huge fan of beets…I was so delighted with this dish!

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Trumpet Royale with oat, cara cara and sea cress…(mine). Mushroom bliss!