Milwaukee’s Antiques On Pierce

Hello All! How are you today? The sun is shining in Evanston, and the birds are singing that spring is coming! That makes me smile…even if I’m sniffling! Ha! These seasonal viruses (my second this winter) are just awful. But, what can you do? I’ve been wallowing in bed for days. But, I’m hoping that this one will be my last until next season.

Please Lord.

Therefore, though I wish I could be spending this sunny Saturday on an adventure, I’ll just have to reminisce over past fun, until my bug skedaddles…

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A few weeks ago after a visit to the Milwaukee Domes, drove past a sign that made my car wheels, quite beyond my own control, emergency-bat-turn into a parking lot, in what appeared to be a more industrial neighborhood…

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It’s funny sometimes, when there appears to be not a stray cat around, and the walkways are without any traffic, that there can be a hidden gem awaiting…

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Milwaukee’s Antiques on Pierce has reminded me why emergency-bat-turns are a necessary driver’s skill to acquire…

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And why being adventurous enough to explore, when you spot an intriguing sign, can really pay off!

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This treasure trove of the bygone had my mouth gaping for at least the first five minutes…

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Continuing on with a great many more oohhs, and ahhhs, and look at this-s!

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Unfortunately, there was only about half an hour on the clock before this mind-boggling establishment was closing for the day…

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Yet somehow I still felt like I’d been spellbound, and there for quite a while, in awe at every turn…

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Antiques on Pierce reminded me of Volo Antique Mall in Volo, Illinois, which is one of my favorite places to go with my folks…

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These places are a collector’s dreamland. Hunting for things in particular, is a real treat on antiquing excursions…

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And if only you could know the history behind even just a handful of the items for sale, your mind would be broken. It’s just too awesome for the imagination!

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I repeated at least five times, that next time, this was going to be the destination, with a much longer review of all of the displays.

And as the lights began to shutter off, one section at a time, darkening the circumference of this massive cave of curiosities…

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I simply did not want to go…

Traveling out from that neighborhood, spotted at least one (maybe two) similar signs for antiques. I think I know what one of my next adventures is going to be! Think they’ll let me bring in a picnic lunch? I mean, one has to eat to keep their energy up on a day-long treasure hunt!

Stay Inspired!

Let Me Walk In Eden…

Good Day, Good Friends! Today, I am wishing you most well and happy! And, I am hoping, that you are ever finding ways to stay inspired!

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I found my inspiration yesterday, by taking a walk through a transcendent Eden. Three such wonderful gardens, in fact. Would you like to come along and see?

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On a completely impromptu whim, I found myself on an adventure at the Milwaukee Domes located in the city’s Mitchell Park…

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Three massive glass houses, each with a unique botanic garden: The Show Dome, The Tropical Dome, and the Desert Dome.

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The temperature and feel of the air was different going from dome to dome, the tropical dome warm and humid…

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In the tropical dome, there were glorious palms reaching for the sky, and vibrant flowers that were of course, very unique…

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Being that the sky was blue on this day, it truly made me feel for a time, that I had blessedly escaped winter…

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There were even birds singing at the tops of the trees, while the matted roots and vines clambered around the trunks below…

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I also immensely enjoyed watching large koi swirling together in a stream underfoot…

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Their bright colors mesmerizing…

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And their gliding like a dance…

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They almost appeared to me like little dragons, floating through the air…

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I now understand why these fish are so often prized! They were quite beautiful and relaxing to watch…

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The Show Dome had a cooler temperature, with much low-lying greenery…

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It was a cacophony of delightful scenes and plants…

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With many unexpected little bursts…

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And entertaining miniatures…

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Even Godzilla made an appearance…

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The Desert Dome seemed a little more arid, though without the blazing one would normally feel within such a zone…

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The armadillo considered it a temperate day.

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There were plenty of barbed little beasties, best to stay away from…yikes!

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This brought to mind, a recollection of a cactus my grandma used to keep when I was a child, and the several unfortunate brushes I’d had with it.

I won’t keep a cactus. It doesn’t want to be kept, and will be happy to remind you of that.

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I very much enjoyed this foreign view however, a desert scene being something completely alien to me…

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I even paused to coo at the tan-blue tinted doves, flying through…

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And for a moment, as if under a spell cast by the shifting of a late afternoon sun…

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I forgot just where I was. I had left, and gone someplace else…

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Small adventures are a gift to me. A respite from duty, and a forgetfulness from life’s pressures. A walk, through my own magical tales.

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And even if they are as short as dreams, just an hour or a single day, they are as indispensable as any sustenance.

Take your adventures, no matter how small! And as always, stay inspired!

Milwaukee Public Museum Part II.

Having my first exploration of the Milwaukee Public Museum last Saturday was a wonderful adventure! I had a few favorites from my visit, but the collections that will be bringing me back to take a little more time, were all the bugs!

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I have a serious love for insects.

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Had I known I would have felt this way growing up, I might have studied to be an entomologist…

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As you may have read here before, I took a natural field science class in college long ago, where each student had to pin their own collections. I’d always been intrigued by insects, but that added a generous amount of fuel to my fascination…

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And if I had extra time now (don’t we all wish we had more time for our special hobbies), I would pin my own collections still…

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Though, I have to tell you, my heart is so ridiculously tender these days, I’d have a hard time dispatching a single creature just to show it in the stage of a glass box. I can’t even kill a spider, and when I do by accident, I feel sad…

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I believe these little beasties deserve to live their lives, as whisper short as they may often be…

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…except for ticks perhaps. I’ve no comprehension for why God included them in His plan. Baffles me everyday. Why ticks, Lord? Why?

I just shivered imagining a tick on my neck. The horror.

Thankfully, I didn’t see any ticks on display at the museum! But I did see…

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Lots and lots of butterflies!

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Live butterflies! Baby newborn butterflies birthing from their chrysalises!

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This brought me back to grade school, when our class eagerly awaited a butterfly to be born from a chrysalis. A lesson about life and nature. That was so special.

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At the Milwaukee Public Museum, they have a room of live butterflies, that you can amble through as though walking in a dream…

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What I found most interesting, was that I observed that different kinds of butterflies have unique flight patterns. Sort of like how a goldfinch, a swallow, and a sparrow, all fly quite differently. This is probably common sense, but I enjoyed noticing it on my own all the same…

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I enjoyed too, observing all the color combinations and patterns of butterfly wings, when gazing at the pinned specimens…

IMG_5166I could spend a lot of time pondering before these displays.

Is not the butterfly, the very epitome, of the fragility and beauty of life?

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If I were a butterfly, I would like to be her, the one with the cream and pink-tipped wings.

Precious little souls…

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And now you have taken a walk with me, to see all the insects at the Milwaukee Public Museum! I sincerely can’t wait to go back, to take more time to view them!

Best wishes dear friends! Take good care of yourselves! And for those of you in the same northern climate as I, think on spring! It is not so very far.

Stay Inspired!

 

Milwaukee Public Museum Part I.

Good Day Good Friends! Are you staying inspired?

I wish that I could say that I am full of energy today, as the sun is actually shining for what feels like the first time in ten years. But, I am writing to you sick from bed, where I have been for some days. Not feeling so good. However, I am bearing it well and it could be worse. To say nothing of the endless drear of these after-December months, there’s no escaping catching at least one, if not two or three, viruses per season. How terrible. Achoo!

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[Dinos eating dinos at the Milwaukee Public Museum]

Lucky me however, I had a truly wonderful adventure last Saturday that I must share with you! It will have to come in several parts, as there was so much to see! My first visit to the Milwaukee Public Museum! And as the book I am currently working on, Still, is a thriller taking place in a museum, what better place to spend an afternoon for some inspiration?

I digress, but…whatever virus I have at present has been making me want to eat about 4-times the amount of food I usually consume in a day. I’m sort of feeling like that T-Rex up there!

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Bugs. One of the greatest loves of my life. The museum had so…many…bugs. I died, and went to buggy heaven, with all the bugs. It was beautiful.

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And there was lots of taxidermy. Which, I might have spoken aloud to, as though these creatures were still alive and could hear me speaking to them. Because, I’m a little strange like that…

“Hey little dude! Whatcha’ eatin?”

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I was particularly fascinated by this prehistoric water scene. Those oceanic beasties are terrifying! Prehistoric times were terrifying. I’m imagining that thing getting my foot while swimming in the water, and I’m terrified

I’m also really hungry right now, anyone got a cookie? Aaaachooo!

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But for Part I. of this share of the Milwaukee Public Museum, I give you a glimpse of the European Village!

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A collection of many different cultural snapshots from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Every illuminated house, and some businesses, labeling the ethnic tableau from which the scene was created…

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First, loved this because these dim and aged scenes elicited that feeling of being in a museum that can hardly be described. Of things old and mysterious, which you will never know, because you can never go back…

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I love that it made me imagine. That I lived in this or that little home…

Explored how I’d spend my days…

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Dabbled over the craft and work that I would do…

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Envisioned the ways I would have worshiped…

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Thought about how I would have survived and thrived, and about how much more I would have needed to rely on my neighbors…

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The European Village took me, quite literally, back in time and place…

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So that I forgot for a moment, just where I was, and who I am…

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I had traveled, without going anywhere at all.

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I entreat you too, to take such a journey next time you find yourself able to make a visit to Milwaukee!

But for now, wherever you find yourself, be sure to stay inspired!

Go Get Yourself A Cup Of Coffee…

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

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[Downtown Evanston, Dec. 2019]

Evanston abuts Chicago to the north, along Lake Michigan…

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[View of Chicago from Evanston]

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

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

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

 

Newport Coffee House in Evanston is a real treat.

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

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

[Newport Coffee House]

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

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[Evanston’s beloved Bennison’s Bakery]

[Bennison’s Bakery Treats]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Mama, for your wisdom!

Stay Inspired!

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

An Inspired Heart…

Hello All! How are you today? I hope you are finding ways to stay inspired?

With the holidays surrounding us, sparkle, joy, and inspiration would seem naturally about. But, I know that this time of year isn’t always glitter and gold for everyone. Whether it’s lack of money, the drearier weather (at least in these parts), the absence of a supportive family or friend circle, or thoughts of a new year (and new decade!) and all the things one is still hoping to achieve…

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{Painted wall, Milwaukee, WI}

But, you know what I think, dear friends?

I think, no matter what time of year, we should just try our best, to keep an inspired heart…

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{Me in Milwaukee…La Croix in hand…of course!}

What keeps me inspired? I’ve a little treasure of ways…first, adventure

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{Painted wall, Milwaukee, WI.}

I presently don’t have the funds for faraway travels, something I really enjoy. However, I’ve always just as equally cherished, the adventure to be had, at my own back door

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{Summer street festival, Milwaukee, WI}

Whether it’s a ride to a nearby town for a bite and a stroll. A peek about a new neighborhood…

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{A lakeside trail, Milwaukee, WI.}

A nature walk…

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{Street festival delights, Milwaukee, WI.}

Or a display of sprinkly donuts, well I just love it…

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{Mom & Charlie at Bristol, Kenosha, WI}

I’m thankful too, that I always have the adventure of Bristol before me! Mom (Lita) and step-dad (Charlie), always help me set up my little shop each summer, The Quill and Brush. We stage it all, and then have a bit of picnic lunch…

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It’s a treat each year to see Bristol in the weeks before opening day!

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So peaceful and green…

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I’m already anticipating the 2020 season!

I’m also ever inspired and thankful for all of my wonderful Bristol friends. To name a few…

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{Tammy & Dino, Bristol Renaissance Faire 2019}

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{Priscilla & Nic, Bristol Renaissance Faire 2019}

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{Stephanie & Bryan, Bristol Renaissance Faire 2019}

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{Stephanie & Bryan, Bristol Renaissance Faire 2019}

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Thank you to all who have supported me as an author. I can only hope that my tales will bring even a portion of the magic to your life, as your friendships have inspired in mine…

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Well, it also seems I find adventure and inspiration no matter what the course of my day. Yesterday afternoon, for instance, was my regular 6-month cleaning at the dentist. I go to Smileworks in Chicago, and have for years and years. Recommended by a trusted friend, they are hands-down, the best. And they gave me a pink toothbrush in my swag bag yesterday, so…

Well, Smileworks moved offices recently, and now have a spectacularly trendy spot! Yesterday was the first time I’d visited the new office. Located right in the middle of one of Chicago’s Lincoln Square ‘community areas’, I was wowed by the old-timey meets hip-urban block. I didn’t have the money for shopping, and wanted to get home for a rest, so I didn’t stroll after my appointment, but let’s just say it’s a destination. If you live local, and want to have a day adventure, this is a gem. I’m going to make a point of planning an exploratory visit at some point…

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I did however, stop in one store, Gene’s Sausage Shop & Delicatessen. I wish I’d taken photos, and next time will. It was a dreamland. An utter dreamland. I bought myself some weekend dinner, zesty quinoa salad, cucumber salad, chilled fried perch…

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A block of Northwoods Cheddar…

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Heaven. Truly heaven.

This might be the most beautiful photo I have ever taken. I call it, Cheese and Cracker.

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Isn’t that an inspiring plate? Oh my word, it was delicious too!

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I’ve also been finding inspiration lately in everything chocolate and mint!

I have always loved chocolate mint. My mom was eating chocolate-chip mint ice cream when I was in her belly. I know this because I’ve loved chocolate-mint since birth. It’s my favorite. I could eat a box of Andes Mints in one sitting all by myself. I’m pretty sure that I have.

So, Christmas-time means chocolate-mint time. Matt’s limited edition double chocolate peppermint cookies? I swoon. Superior on Main’s chocolate mint brownie bites? I faint…

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Excuse me? Mint and dark chocolate KitKat? Crying tears of Christmas chocolate-mint joy…

I’m so silly.

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To share, there’s a verse in Proverbs that I’ve been dwelling on the last few weeks, because I have plenty of moments (and hours, and days) when my joy and inspiration flicker…

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine; but a broken spirit drieth the bones. Proverbs 17:22 KJV

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And so, in this season, and in every season, I’m wishing you too, a merry heart. Find the joy you’re given in each day. Try not to worry. Love yourself. Love each other. And so especially…

Stay Inspired!

Too Special For Words…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for you, Stay Inspired!

The Crazy Cat Lady House…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to The Hen House!

Hello All! I hope that you are keeping inspired?! Glad you’re reading today, because I’ve got a special treat for you!

I enjoyed another adventure in Milwaukee last Saturday, and it included a remarkable visit to The Hen House. No, there were no clucking chickens present. Only a room full of fabulous hats, alongside one accomplished milliner!

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Ms. Kate McLaughlin, founder and milliner extraordinaire, was there to greet guests to her hat shop with a welcoming smile…

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Unbeknownst to myself when first entering, I already knew the artist! Years ago when I was a part of the Guilde of St. George at Bristol, Kate was one of the talents contributing costume expertise, helping to make history come to life!

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“I know you!” I blurted when seeing her behind the counter. We soon made the connection, and I’m sure that neither of us could believe that that had already been two decades ago!

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I soon expressed something like, “I didn’t know you loved hats so much!”

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Kate had a delightful response. Something along the lines that hats had always been her cookie of costumery. Love it!

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The Hen House is so amazing, as it brings a wonderful tradition back into our current day. The days when you could walk into a specialty shop and have something custom-made…

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I didn’t spend enough time to really dig into that process, but judging by the antiquated head-forms covering one wall, Kate and her shop must best be considered one of Milwaukee’s gems…

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This is what we will title: The Wall of Millinery Wonder…

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I digress, but…isn’t this one lovely?

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When Kate shared a little bit of her story about how The Hen House came to be, I was really inspired. When sharing that her first custom hat order after opening had been for a going home, speaking so sweetly on that memory, the gloss was readying in my eyes. When she told of the hat-making events that are hosted in her shop (wouldn’t that be fun), I imagined such a merry party. And when Kate spoke about doing what she loves, I just wanted to nod my head and smile, thinking…

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That’s where it is. Right here in this shop. Through all the hard work, there’s real joy, when you find a way to do what you love. You are an example, Ms. McLaughlin, Master Milliner! Thank you for the wonderful introduction to The Hen House!

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Now, I must add, The Hen House connects to The Brass Rooster, the master hatter of which is Kate’s husband John. It was a room full of men’s hats that is a wonder all to itself, so I’ll save it for a future post. But let’s just say, whatever style of hat you seek, I believe you’ll need look no further than 2250 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. in Milwaukee!

A Life Of Blessings…

Hello all my dear, dear friends! I know that it has been a terrible long time since I last sat down to share a tale with you! Oh heavens, months! Let’s just say, my summer was a whirlwind; it is always my busiest season! On the go, each and every day! But my stories have kept, and I’ve captured some photos of my adventures too…it is now the time once again, to share them with you…

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But first today, I want to send a sincere message of gratitude to each and every person in my life, who made my 4th season at the Bristol Renaissance Faire, so very blessed and wondrous. Each season, at my little shop The Quill and Brush, I take away so many special moments to fill my heart. I never forget what a privilege it is, to spend this time with readers and friends, both old and new. You give meaning, and great happiness, to my life. Thank you.

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Last Labor Day Monday, the final day of faire, and my birthday, Queen Elizabeth with her ladies and guards, did bless my little shop with a visit! I will share a larger post of it soon, for I received a special gift I want to show you…but I just wanted you to see my smile. That, is happiness. And that is the smile I always have at faire, when I meet so many kind, intelligent, witty, brave, talented, passionate, and generous people. Each faire day reminds me that my life is so full of blessings…

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Did I mention I’m still completely dazzled every time I see the Queen? The child in me, who was once upon a time so excited to meet Queen Elizabeth, will remain with me forever. But I suppose such fairy tale feelings are part of what help me dream up magic for my books!

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Update for the readers of my tales…

Beauty Sleeping will be available before end of September. I’ll let you know the exact day in a beat…

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Four fair princesses, a long time ago, in a castle do dwell. Their father the king, has disappeared, from just right where he fell. The queen, their mother, walked away, floating into the wood. A sorceress watches, from her dark weald, ’tis certain she means no good…

Will-o’-the-wisps, water spirits, and many strange flowers that sigh. Fairies, goblins, nymphs, and of course, tameless dragons that fly. A time from the past, filled with peril, strange conjury, and swords. Just take one step into this world, and the journey ’twill be yours…

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The world of Dragons at Dawn will carry on with a Part II., Dragons at Dusk. Coming later this fall…

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And, for you readers of the psychological thriller…I’ll be working on Still all winter. Available June 2020. My heart quickens

I’ll write again later this week…promise.

Stay inspired!

Come Along On My Adventure…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ever trying my best to eat my healthiest…

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

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

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

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

Looking Back…

I’ve had a mind for some time to go through my old photographs, most of them taken before the advent of digital cameras and smart phones. I thought I might select a handful to share with you, for a few of the travel adventures, costumes, special stories and sparks of inspiration they might contain. But also, for I am considering digitizing my photos and purging the actual bulky box they fill. Of course, some hard copies I will always keep, the most special of these slipped between the pages of my Bible, a safe place where I keep some of my treasures…

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[My baptism at the age of 12. I was very happy.]

Now, please don’t frown when you read this, for it is actually funny. If you were witness, it would make you chuckle. There are two things that make me cry on cue in this world…

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The first of these is Christian music. You could actually test this like a science experiment, and the result would be the same every time. Come sit in the car with me, for example, and switch the music to the Christian station. I’ll start blubbering in about 15 to 30 seconds. Why? I dunno. Fond memories of singing hymns in church on a sunny Sunday morning? Moved by the Holy Spirit? A feeling of hope and a vision of eternal light? Whatever it is, pass me the Kleenex…oh heavens!

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The second thing that makes me cry on cue? Christian movies. For real. Moses leading the Israelites through the Red Sea? Noah and the Ark?

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Me: “RUN MOSES! Hurry! Lead the people to safety! Sob, sob, sob, squeal. Noah! Collect all the animals!! Hurry! The rains are coming! Get your family to the Ark! Blubber, blubber, blubber. Oh, for goodness sake…

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Well, now there seems to be a new item to add to this quirky list of what makes me cry on cue. Perhaps it is because I am getting older and beginning to understand the idea of nostalgia…but my old photos now make me reach for a tissue box…oh geez!

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Here is one taken on the drive of my grandparents’ home, certainly just returning from school on the bus. I am guessing it is autumn, I in my little sweater, carrying my itty-bitty pink jacket and my red school bag. Was this where it all began? My love for school? Where my insatiable curiosity, and elation over the smell of old books and pencil erasers began? Gimme’ a handkerchief somebody! What, nobody carries a cotton hankie anymore? Snifflesniffle

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And here, a photo with my Mama at a family Christmas gathering. My beautiful mother. My hands up to my mouth with the surprise felt in opening a special present. I love you Mama! I love you the most!

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And here. Do you see the awe in my face sitting in a diner, anticipating that dinner plate?! That’s the same look I still get every time I go to a restaurant to this day! Anyone who knows me can attest that this is true…

More fun blasts from my past to come! And also, release of my newest novel Ancient not afar off! Stay tuned friends, but most importantly…Stay Inspired!

Find me in the fairy garden…

My birthday always falls over Labor Day weekend in September, coinciding with the final weekend of Bristol. For me, there is no better way to spend my special day than at The Quill and Brush, chatting with folks about my tales. It is always enchanting…

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[Above, transcendently happy to be in my little shop…]

As I get older, and I am guessing this is the case with most, I think less and less to anticipate anything more than a normal day when my birthday rolls around. If someone remembers me with a “Happy Birthday” text, or a card in the mail, or the occasional gift, I’m already feeling quite special. Such small gestures remind you that you are cared about, and I have always been fortunate to feel blessed in that…

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[Here, smiling with the most noble of ladies, Lady Ettie.]

Having only humble ideas of my birthday, imagine my extreme surprise to see this utterly beautiful, absolutely amazing fairy garden waiting for me in my tented shop when I arrived that day this last September! I assure you, my mouth hung open wide for at least a full minute…

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Who had spent such precious time (of which it seems no one has any these days) to make me something so extraordinary and memorable? Well, there is a very special family that participates at Bristol. Seasons 2015-2017 they owned The Sow’s Ear, and they also help with Pyewacket’s Body Art, the petting zoo, and alongside other vendors. Mickey (mom), Cody, Caily and Kena (daughters), have been the kindest and best of neighbors to me on King’s Landing. You might remember that Cody made the incredible sign that hangs before The Quill and Brush

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You ever meet someone (and in this case a family of ladies) who already has a toe planted on Heaven’s golden floor, so caring, helpful, and thoughtful a person are they? You know, good people. Well these gals, are real good people. I wanted to thank them for making me feel so special, and to share their oh so special creation with you, as it was so inspiring…

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Let’s talk fairy garden! This scene has a tiny house covered by the spine of a Danielle Steel novel. Love it! There are itty-bitty leather books, an adorable vine chair with table, lamp and tea cup. On the walls of the house are a birthday message, and the words to one of my fairy books, Delight. Let me just grab a kleenex…have you ever seen anything so sweet!?

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The yard of the garden is covered with moss, stones, plants, another table and seat, and a swing under a leafy canopy for the fairies to read beneath. How creative, how delicate, how wonderful! Excuse me, I need to grab another tissue…

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Of course for the rest of that Bristol weekend, everyone that stopped by The Quill and Brush marveled at the fairy garden. This gift not only brought delight to me, but to many others as well. It now has a place beneath a sunny window in my house, sure to return with me to faire next summer!

I sometimes like to imagine that when I am away from home, a fairy or two slips through my window or under the crack beneath my door, to sit a spell and read in the fairy garden…

Stay Inspired Friends!

Out Into The Storm I Go…

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Out into the storm I go…

Stay inspired friends.

A Crown Of Flowers For My Head

I just picked up a special order of fresh roses from Evanston’s Saville Flowers, all carefully bound around the stems so that they can be worn in my hair. I’ve enjoyed donning flowers at Bristol this summer, more often this season than my usual wide-brimmed hat. Aren’t fresh flowers so wonderful?

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I ordered a mix of pretty colors and sizes, for Sunday is my birthday, and I wanted to wear a crown of buds in my hair! Flowers are so reminiscent of the special and fleeting beauty of summer, and of festival days at Bristol. It has been a wonderful season for me, and it will be very bittersweet on Monday evening when Bristol closes its gates for 2018…

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There are three days left to enjoy the Bristol Renaissance Faire, and I hope if you have the chance to visit this final weekend, that you will be sure to stop and visit me at The Quill and Brush!

Here’s A Health To The Company is already singing in my heart…someone please pass me a handkerchief!

Here’s wishing you every enjoyment of these last weeks of summer! Stay Inspired!

I Am The Bug Whisperer…

Hello friends! Are you enjoying the end of your summer? My summer has been absolutely amazing, right out from a dream! I’ve a magical post to share soon from The Quill and Brush, but in the meanwhile, just wanted to take a moment to bring you this precious little creature…

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As you know, I love bugs. Love them. At present, my favorite are jumping spiders. In my tented shop at the Bristol Renaissance Faire, a fairly large jumping spider was taking a stroll around on my books. We had a moment together, me and my spider, and then he carried on his way. Not everyone will understand, but I find little moments like these spellbinding

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Goodness those eyes! They have four sets of eyes! And those fuzzy front paddle legs! To note, jumping spiders can bite (if threatened), something like a bee sting to which some might have a bit of a reaction. So, I’m not promoting playing with spiders. I was very gentle. No bites for me please!

 

Here’s encouraging you to remember to stop and notice the beauty in nature around you! It is so spectacular, yet ever easy to pass right by. Take a moment to take in the sky, to gaze at the moon, to feel the wind on your skin, to enjoy the scent of a fresh rain, to muse over a few seconds of bird chatter…or in my case, share a moment with a spider!

All my best to you today! Enjoy these fleeting days of summer! Stay Inspired!

Because You’re You, That’s Why!

You ever stop to take a moment, step back, and observe yourself? I had a little chuckle at myself a few mornings ago as I stopped and wondered…why am I drying flowers on my toaster oven, in such a strangely ordered arrangement?

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And, why do I continue to take photos of my own city like a tourist, each time I have occasion to run downtown? Like I’ve never been there before? I was clickin’ my camera merrily again last Monday morning!

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How come I like taking photos of my food so much? Food photographer in another life? You ever had roasted chickpeas on your salad? Delicious!

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Why do I get a kick out of placing my snacks in perfect symmetrical order on my kitchen counter?

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Why am I collecting tiny little quotes, and coffee bottle tops that say ‘Good Luck’, in two itty bitty jars? If you haven’t tried Stumptown cold brewed coffee…give it a try! You’ll wake up real fast…

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Why would I hang dangerously out of my window to watch a bird eating another bird?

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Wait, one more time…why are my meals symmetrical?

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Why can’t I put down the scary stories, even though I freak myself out every time?! Ahhhhh! I love the scary stories!

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Why do I insist that all the jumping spiders in my house are my pets?

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Why do I always swoon when I’m in the same room with a cheese platter? I’m an aspiring vegan with a cheese obsession! Cheese

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Why do I love my writing desk to be both crazy colorful and perfectly organized at the same time?

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Why must I eat every radish in a bowl in a row, like a crazed bunny?

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I digress, but…look at those eyes! How could you not want a house full of jumping spiders for pets? I think I should start naming them…

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Well, to all of these self-reflective questions, and to many others, there was only one answer….

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 This tee-shirt was a gift, and it explains it all. Thanks Aunt Marie!

Here’s to you…and the special individual that you were made to be! Here’s reminding you to embrace your particular quirks, your unique interests, and your special talents!

 Stay Inspired!

Turn Out The Lights And Let Them Love

As I took a long walk last night, along the shores of Lake Michigan, enjoying the setting sun above the waves and the full gardens surrounding local homes, I got to thinking about the beauty of summer and how short it lasts in these parts. Such thoughts brought me to think of fireflies…

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As many know, I have an absolute love for insects. I can’t help stopping to observe their busy little lives, and the careful design of their precious wings and unique bodies. I don’t kill spiders and winged intruders in my home, but gather them up to go outside. God gave them breath to live, I don’t feel it’s my place to take it from them if I can avoid it. But what brought me to muse about fireflies, besides the general splendor of their bioluminescence at dusk on a balmy summer night?

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Did you know that when fireflies light up in the air over a field, they are wooing lady flies? It’s lovely. The fireflies floating along, blinking in the sky, are male. Further, they are not all of the same species. Each species has a different pattern of blinking. Some fireflies blink twice, go dark while floating along, and then blink twice again. Some light up to fly diagonally, in slanted streaks, then darken, and repeat. Others fly aglow in a J formation through the air, darken for a spell, and then do it again…

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Meanwhile, the lady fireflies are waiting in the grass, taking in the lights, looking to spot what special glow might attract them. When one does, a female will light up in return, and two creatures aglow will chance to meet…

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If you go and sit quiet and still in a field at dusk, and watch, you will be witness as such careful courting unfolds. Enchanting are the blinks of the fireflies in flight, and the glowing returns from those who wait. You might even be able to make out some patterns, though I should guess that the glowing is quite beautiful enough…

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Unfortunately, it is believed that firefly populations are diminishing. In our environments, we use a lot of chemicals to tame lawns and kill insects. This is something I think a lot about, as I take my walks and observe lawns being treated. And if it’s not good for the fireflies, I’m certain it’s not good for those baby bunnies in the park, or the birds fluttering in your flowers, or your dog, or you. Do consider using environmentally safe treatments, if you must treat your lawn at all…

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But chemicals aren’t the only thing to diminish the fireflies. Light pollution is also to blame. It disrupts the glowing creatures’ ability to spot one another. Those blaring porch lights in our backyards at night are making it difficult for them see each other! The tragedy! Who dares me to write a letter to my city to request a citywide lights out policy between certain hours just after dusk, on behalf of the declining firefly population?! It would begin…Turn out the lights, and let them love!

The Delights of Summer!

Headed up to Kenosha, WI yesterday to set up The Quill and Brush. Next Saturday begins the Bristol Renaissance Faire’s annual festival, nine weekends long and the absolute delight of summer round these parts. Bristol has repeatedly been voted the #1 Renaissance Faire in the U.S. and Midwest, and I love being a part of the magic! Yesterday I heard the heat index was at 107 degrees. Definitely felt that, it was mighty warm. I have to sincerely thank my folks for planting flowers, drilling screws, moving furniture, and sweating to death, all out of the kindness of their very kind and helpful hearts…

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If you are planning a visit, be sure to and visit The Quill and Brush. We are in the very same place on King’s Landing, on the lane between the petting zoo and climbing wall. We are excited to meet with all our old friends, and to make many new! News on my newest novel, Ancient, coming soon!

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Tell me you aren’t ready to fill these quiet Bristol streets with merrymaking? Can you see the Queen’s parade even now? Can you hear the vendors hawking? Can you smell the garlic mushrooms and pickles? Don’t you hear the swords clashing and the Bristol Buskin Frolickers singing?

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After our tented shop was made ready and waiting for opening weekend, we zoomed on over to one of our favorites, Tim and Tom’s Cheeses. Just down the way from Bristol, they are both an antique shop and a cheese lover’s paradise. We made a little visit last year too, on the day we set up…

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Cheese. Cheese. Cheese. Cheese. I love cheese. Vegans look away. Cheese. Cheese. Cheese.

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This year I picked up a truffle Gouda and an onion & chive cheddar to try. The crackers are ready and waiting!

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There’s a little stretch of marshland on the country roads between Bristol and Tim and Tom’s Cheeses. There, tall barren trees tower above a wet expanse. Driving in separate cars, I honked my horn frantically to my folks and made an ‘Emergency Bat-turn’ (when Batman releases parachutes out of the back of his Batmobile) to snap some photos of nesting waterbirds…

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I’m not sure what I got this time? Flamingos? Ibis? Spoonbills? Storks? Loons? Grebes? I’m sorry birders! Please don’t cringe! But wait…doesn’t it look like 2 species up there?

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Cranes? Herons? I’m awaiting your identification in the comments friends, spotted in Kenosha, Wisconsin! Wish my view had been close enough to see some fuzzy-headed nestlings!

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My newest summer delight is chilled watermelon! Don’t know why I never went bonkers over it before. Absolutely refreshing, naturally sweet, and very hydrating. Think I can eat just one or two slices when I open a pack?

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Guess not!

Stay inspired folks! Enjoy the delights of your summer! Hope to see many of you at Bristol! My very best wishes to you!

Frayed to Feathered!

The last time I saw my wonderful Chicago stylist Krista McGann was almost two years ago, when I donated 20 inches! To see the post, click here. Judging by how many people have clicked on those pictures, I think it’s safe to say that folks get a kick out of ‘before and after’ photos as much as I do, though it was a pretty drastic haircut…

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A few weeks ago I treated myself to the snip of a fair amount of inches. And for my cuts, I trust no other than Krista. She is an artist with the scissors! And though I don’t color my tresses, she is a master colorist too. You can view some of her work on her link above. If you live in, or will be visiting Chicago, I highly recommend her!

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I knew that I didn’t want a bob quite as short as last time, but I also wanted to be free of the agitation that my thick hair can be. I’m hardly embarrassed to say (though I should be embarrassed) that I cannot stand brushing my hair. Therefore, my locks (already thick, wavy and prone to tangles) can get unruly. Some mornings I wake up feeling like the fairy queen of the forest, wild tangles, bird’s nest, glitter, braids, sticks, and every other sort of thing in my hair! Just kidding…my imagination is actually more unruly than my hair…

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But to illustrate how thick my hair is (impossible to tell from a photo), as Krista razored my hair this go around, she cut her finger real good. Oh no! Yikes! I’m sorry Krista!!! She said she remembers cutting a finger every time she cuts my hair, because of its thickness. She always razors out the weight to thin out my style, and I guess when you have thick hair, it’s easier for a razor to slip? But I’m no stylist, so I dunno? Stylists, feel free to comment on the secret of razing strands (it’s magic)…

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A few bandaids later and here was the final do. All feathered and light, instead of heavy and frayed. I’m sorry to sacrifice Krista’s finger, but the cut is lovely. Thank you!!

I hope you’re enjoying the start of summer folks! I’m heading up to Bristol tomorrow to set up The Quill and Brush. I’ll be sure to click a few photos to share. Opening weekend next weekend. Ahhh! So excited!

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!

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 the video above. 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…