Caprese, Caprese!

Caprese, Caprese! One for me, one for you! Make in spring or in summer, anytime! Just do! 

IMG_3138

Caprese, Caprese! One for you, one for me! So fresh and delicious! Makes life better, you’ll see!

IMG_3139

Caprese, Caprese, I adore you, you’re mine! I’ve loved many a’ salad, but must say, you’re divine!

Here’s to the small pleasures in life, and to your good health and happiness!

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…

IMG_4757

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…

IMG_4755

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…

IMG_4759

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…

IMG_4760

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!

IMG_4758

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!

Don’t Eat That Ackee, Eve!

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

IMG_3069

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

IMG_3071

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

IMG_3077

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

IMG_3085

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

IMG_3057

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

IMG_3090

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

IMG_3088

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

IMG_3089

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

Akee

[Photo Credit: DocTaxon]

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

IMG_4605

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

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

IMG_4606

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

IMG_3117

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

Nature must be respected

IMG_3108

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

IMG_3107

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

Here is hoping you are enjoying your adventure today!

Sneaky, Slithering Sea Snail!

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

IMG_4686

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…

IMG_4690

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!”

IMG_4689

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…

IMG_4687

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!

IMG_4688

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?”

IMG_4689

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

I’m A Hummingbird…

Cue the music please:

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

IMG_3111

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

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

IMG_3112

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

IMG_3093

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

IMG_3091

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

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

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

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

tree-738816_1280

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

bora-bora-685303_1280

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

jellyfish-698521_1280

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

animal-21741_1280

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

coral-reef-692957_1280

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

narrow-lined-puffer-586338_1280

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

fish-1918684_1280

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

jellyfish-593157_1280

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

jellyfish-1582746_1280

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

jellyfish-1343351_1280

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

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

jellyfish-1231820_1280

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

jellyfish-1185278_1280

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

california-1751455_1280

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

I’m A Cardinal…Part II.

Cue the music please:

I’m…too sexy for this yard…too sexy for this yard, too sexy yea!

img_2998

I’m a Cardinal, you know what I mean, and I do my little turn on the birdwalk…

On the birdwalk, on my yard walk, I do my little turn in your back yard!

img_2999

I’m…too sexy for this grass…too sexy for these leaves…way, too, sexy, yea!

img_3000

I’m a Cardinal, you know what I mean…

[I’m A Cardinal, Part I. Click Here]

Naughty or Nice? Definitely Naughty!

Unless you handle cash for business, I believe the chances that you’ll see a counterfeit bill are pretty rare. Banks and authorities filter out counterfeits, and take very seriously, the keeping of bad money off of the street. Out of many years of cash handling (ever diligent and trained to notice if a bill seems suspicious), I’d never seen a fake. Counterfeit money detector pens are a big help, turning the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ color when swiped over a bill in question…

dollar-1362243_1280

Several months ago however, I believe I finally met a counterfeit. I was handed a one hundred dollar bill that didn’t feel right in my fingers, was terribly thin and was what I considered, very poorly printed. Also questionable…the sale was small and the bill was large. As warnings of fraud go, an individual with a large counterfeit bill will try to use it on a small purchase, so that they can get real money back in the exchange. Several swipes of the detection pen (though not perfectly conclusive) seemed to indicate that something was fishy with the money I’d been handed…

pound-414418_1280

Suffice it to say, being given fake money is a very tricky and stressful situation. Some vendors will tell the payer outright that they will be ‘holding on to the bill’ and ‘calling the cops’. This seems to make sense, for if you are truly being handed counterfeit money, it is the responsible thing to report the fraud…

shopping-1761230_1280

In this particular situation (feeling uncomfortable and nervous), I apologized to the individual and told them that I could not accept the money. I suggested that they exchange it at the bank for a fresher bill (communicating that I was giving them the benefit of the doubt). I erred on the side of caution [to act in the least risky manner in a situation in which one is uncertain about the consequences; Wiktionary.org]. After all, it was possible that I was wrong, and to accuse someone of fraud is a serious matter…

img_3004

So here I am, some months later, and still feeling uneasy about the possibility of encountering another off bill some day. I’m handling money, and happen to look into the till and glimpse this dollar. Looks just fine on one side…

img_3003

But what the heck is Santa Claus doing staring back at me on the front?! BAD SANTA! Very, bad, Santa! I’ve been duped! I’ve been fooled! A counterfeit! Amidst accepting other one dollar bills, this one snuck right in…

blur-1851466_1280

I spent the rest of the afternoon with a furrowed brow and a perpetual pout on my face. I mean, I know it’s kind of funny…and I know it’s only a one dollar bill and not something larger…but I pride myself on attention to detail! How did I miss that Santa!? Further, I don’t like surprises or tricks, and money is money. Be it even a one dollar bill, I’m now short a dollar. Big business or small, fraud hurts! Whoever tricked me is going to get a lump of coal in their stocking next Christmas…

img_3008

But lo, I had yet to look this up. I’m the most curious of the curious…was there any information about Santa dollars out there? There was. Though a fake is always possible, these are usually just real bills in disguise! They are sold during the holidays at an inflated price with the proceeds going to charity. They are made into keepsakes, spreading holiday cheer, to benefit good causes…

img_3009

Well, I can’t claim that receiving this bill filled me with any sort of cheer. However, after lifting the Santa sticker (which I must say went undetectable to the touch), Washington’s face was revealed. I wasn’t given a counterfeit after all. I can reclaim my pride. And now that I know the story behind this Santa bill, I suppose it would be uncharitable for me to continue feeling like a grinch over the trick. I also suppose that whoever handed me that bill won’t get coal in their stocking next Christmas after all. Still a bit naughty though, if you ask me!

Blogger Recognition Award!

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

guacamole2

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

cimg2518

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

cimg2360

Blogger Recognition Rules:

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

photo-13

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

cimg1486

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

cimg2117

And of course…

cimg2119

Tiddo the cat…

cimg0840

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

img_2498

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

img_0201

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

img_6285

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

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

Thank you bloggers, for inspiring me!

Go Put Your Lipstick On!

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

cosmetics-1543276_1280

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

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

vintage-1499546_1280

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

red-792139_1280.jpg

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

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

Demise of the Duckie…

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

img_2361

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

img_2360

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

img_2357

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

img_2359

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

img_2356

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

img_2353

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

img_2354

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

img_2329

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

img_2328

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

img_2327

Whaaaa! EEEhhhhh!!! Noooooeeeewww!

img_2326

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

CIMG2168

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

The Mad Hatter Of Toasties: A Poem

I am the Mad Hatter of toasties, smothering my bread in everything that’s good…

img_2936

Even covering them in melty cheese and eggs, though my conscience isn’t sure I should…

img_2718

Especially best are those with eggs in a hole, how I swoon with each bite and crunch…

img_2894

Mad Hatter I am, getting crazy with my toast…I make one wild bunch!

img_2787

No, no, there’s nothing better, than such hot and toasty delights…

img_2938

Made right quick for any meal, they’re indubitably the best on chilly autumn nights!

img_2949

Of course there is salad; greens so fresh, bright and pure…

img_2910

And roasted squash of every kind, from which I don’t demure!

img_2323

Always loving am I of a tender fish, potato and asparagus feast…

img_2190

And my ardor for shrimp, shallots and beans…well that won’t ever cease!

img_2369

Wondrous goddess you are, divine caprese! So very high on my list…

img_2911

But toasties, oh toasties, you’re this Mad Hatter’s pleasure, for always and ever. On this I must insist!

What’s Up, Chippy?

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

img_2828

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

img_2826

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

img_2824

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

img_2819

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

img_2825

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

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

Silly Fun with Shadows and Sun!

When you are bored, yet there be some sun…

IMG_2722

Don’t be a grump, go have some fun…

IMG_2724

Form a shadow; shimmy, dance and shake…

IMG_2725

See what silly shapes you can make!

IMG_2730

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

IMG_2731

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

Jumping Spiders & Rooftop Riders

This little dude took a run around our tented shop (The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire) this last Sunday. I noticed him as I was closing up and I’m pretty sure I looked like a total oddball taking photos of something (while in costume) undetectable to be seen for passersby (as this table was bare at the time). But what can I say, I dig bugs…

IMG_2715

According to my favorite go-to for insect identification, Insects, Spiders and Other Terrestrial Arthropods by George McGavin…this furry fellow is a common jumping spider. This threw me off, for I’m accustomed to jumping spiders being much smaller (and hopping about constantly to show off their athletic prowess). This guy wasn’t jumping at all (though he ran pretty fast) and was a pretty big spider.

IMG_2707

I thought he was a pretty handsome dude (just as long as he didn’t jump on me).

IMG_2708

Best shot ever! I put my finger real, real close and he lifted up his fuzzy eyebrows and stared right at me with two black eyes. We shared a moment, eye to eye. Awwww! Do you think I’m an oddball too?

IMG_2700

Riding up to the faire each weekend (rather early for shop set-up), there are always folks already waiting in line just outside of the parking gate. I love that! These folks are the truest fans of the B.R.F. and I think they are awesome! Renaissance themed tailgating? I approve!

IMG_2696

And here was the scrumptious fare we enjoyed this past Saturday. We make our little picnics to reflect less of the 21st century and nod towards the Renaissance. Ever tried crackers, pepper jelly and cream cheese? I could swoon! Delicious!

IMG_2718

In other news, I have an addiction to egg-in-the-holes and there is no cure…

IMG_2719

I also started pulling out of a parking space today with my lunch box on the roof of my car. Some construction workers in their utility truck yelled out with gestures to warn me. “COOLER!” I think I might be a little tired. Thank goodness I didn’t take it for a ride around town…

IMG_2721

I also spent more moments (minutes?) trying to figure out how to twist the cap off of this tube of caulk today, before eventually realizing that I needed to snip off the tip with scissors. I felt silly. I still feel silly.

Here is wishing you all a wonderful weekend, filled with rest, happiness and much laughter!

Summer Storms, Sunny Smiles

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

IMG_2658

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

IMG_2657

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

IMG_2666

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

IMG_2667

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

IMG_2669

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

IMG_2671

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

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

IMG_2627

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

IMG_2676

Arugula salad with soft boiled eggs…

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

IMG_2659

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

IMG_2680

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

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

Cave Cricket In The Potty

Please cue the music from Jaws

IMG_2591

Duuuhh…..

IMG_2592

Duhhhduuhhh….

IMG_2593

Duuhh..duhhh….duuuhhh….

IMG_2596

I don’t startle when I see insects. However, I’d just woken up this morning and stumbled half-asleep into the bathroom and flicked on the light. This dude made me jump! It’s a cricket, but not just any cricket. It’s a variety of cave cricket and they are rather large…

IMG_2597

We’ve actually had a few hopping around the basement now and then, which I catch one by one when brought to my attention and deposit outside. I’ve seen Tiddo the cat pounce on one and munch it…eeewww! But, I’ve never seen them outside of the basement until this fella surprised me today…

IMG_2607

Not only did I startle, I squealed too because it jumped right toward me. They have very powerful legs and can jump quite the distance with force. I think bugs are neat, as long as they don’t jump in my hair before I’ve had my coffee…

IMG_2604

Let’s go outside, shall we? He’s now in the yard, eating some breakfast while I eat mine. I think it’s good karma to catch and release these little lives. Though he’s naturally a ‘cave’ dweller, hope he’s enjoying some sunshine! Hope you’re enjoying some sunshine in your life today too!

Lady In A Green Dress

This one was called the green dress, for the light olive color. It was a beloved gown (and still is, though there is no way I could squeeze into it nowadays). I wore this one for two seasons as a courtier in the Bristol Renaissance Faire’s Guilde of St. George when I was 20-21 years old…

scan

Lita, artist and designer, has a way of making elegant creations without the showy additions. Simple is often the most beautiful. How much fun I had running around Bristol’s enchanting outdoors in that dress!

scan0001

Lita is also quite the milliner, having made this hat from scratch. Oh yes, this woman has ninja milliner skills. Using plastic cross stitch canvas, she cut out the parts of the hat with precision (how does she do it? I’m not even sure I know how to use a measuring tape properly), then did the same with velvet fabric, and then handstitched the entire thing. She measured my head so that it would fit like a glove. It still does all these years later (for I guess heads don’t get bigger over time the way waistlines are apt to do).

scan0003

I danced a lot of courtly dances in that gown, and still remember the sway of the skirt as it swished over the farthingale. How merry!

scan0002

I also had a jolly time tripping over dozens of inanimate objects, like that hapless cushion there on the ground. I did it gracefully however, as if I hadn’t a care in the world…

scan0004

I also often swung on an enormous swing in that dress, an attempt to get a breeze in the 90 degree weather!

And, I remained dutiful in my role as a maid of honour to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I. She is there at the front of the line wearing her noble purple. Oh heavens! How much fun, and how much history I learned. The memories of my days in that green gown are priceless…

scan0006

Lita (artist) and I (author) are still working diligently to prepare for this year’s opening day at the Bristol Renaissance Faire! We will be getting to know our tented shop this very weekend, considering how we will delight guests with our displays of historical fiction & fantasy books and art. We are The Quill and Brush and you will find us on King’s Landing at the perimeter of Lake Elizabeth. Opening day is July 9th! We can’t wait to see you there!

Once Upon A Star

For all of you adventurers at heart, I am so happy to share Once Upon a Star!

michellewrites-72dpi-1500x2000-2

Lomina is on an adventure, traveling far from the only home she’s ever known to live in the great and mysterious Castle Eerie. Her father has been sent on a mission by the good King Olin to save the last of the unicorns, and some of these magical creatures live in the Boundless Woods, a forest that Lomina can see from her very room!

She soon discovers however, that unicorns are not the only enchanted creatures to live in this part of the realm, for there are grassland fairies, midge dragons and trolls too! One naughty fairy even frightens her horse into a gallop, taking her on a wild ride deep into the forest.

Finding herself lost and alone in Boundless Woods, Lomina will encounter both magic and dangers that will test her courage. But the greatest surprise? Saving the unicorns might not be her father’s mission after all, but her own!

Saddle your horse and ride along with Lomina to discover how one girl’s bravery and selflessness saved the unicorns and gave them one of the best kept secrets the realm had ever known!

Available here on Amazon! Also available on Amazon Europe!

A Delightful Tale

Delight is here! A sweet and adventurous story for fairy lovers of all ages!

michellewrites-72dpi-1500x2000-4

Delight loves Midsummer’s Eve, as do all the fairies that live in the enchanted Hazel Woods. It’s a night to dance and sing, frolic and tell ancient tales! But this year, on the night of that magical celebration, a great and unexpected storm is brewing.

Delight is soon separated from her family and swept far away by a terrible gale. When she wakes the next morning, she finds herself bumped, bruised and stranded upon a strange rock far out in the sea! This is very bad indeed, for one of her delicate wings has been torn and she cannot fly. If she ever wants to see home again, she’ll have to gather up her courage and use her cleverness to do it!

Join Delight as she crosses deep waters and vast lands, meets magical creatures and faces new dangers, proving that the smallest of fairies can be the bravest of all!

Available here on Amazon! Also available on Amazon Europe!

Summer Delights, and A Mystery Solved!

We’ve finally received warm weather here in Evanston! 70s and even low 80s! Now, I’m more of a cool weather gal (I get a little grouchy when it gets into the 90s) but this weather is truly perfect. I’ve spent several days writing outside on the porch (my absolute favorite way to spend the day) and am looking forward to many more…

IMG_1404.JPG

Tiddo has enjoyed his first sprigs of summer catnip, which is already growing quite abundantly around the neighborhood. He’s also been trying to dart out of the front door and is yowling like a wild thing. He wants to spend the day outside too!

IMG_2310.JPG

For me, the moment the weather turns from cool and dreary to warm and sunny, what I want on my plate changes as well. As soon as it turned mid-70s this week, I wanted a caprese salad!

IMG_2369.JPG

And though a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil usually do on my salads, once summer begins, I’ve a hankering for reduced balsamic…

IMG_2366.JPG

Pour a few cups into a sauce pan, place over low heat and then stir (and stir, and stir) until it is reduced to about a fourth of what you originally poured in. When you taste it, the bitterness should have run out and the sweetness kicked in. I like to then cool it in a ramekin in the fridge, it becomes thick as molasses. Oh heavens! Remember to keep stirring while it cooks however, or else it will burn immediately and will not turn out.

IMG_2316.JPG

I also made a delightful quesadilla for breakfast, with a caprese twist. Purple onion, red and yellow tomatoes, basil…

IMG_2321.JPG

I particularly like experimenting with breakfast. I’m weirdly ravenous about an hour after I wake up each morning. Therefore, I think just about everything sounds delicious and am more willing to cook up something out of the ordinary for that meal.

IMG_2410.JPG

And now for a mystery solved! This was so cool! The raccoons have been out, enjoying the nice weather too. This isn’t the same dude who was hanging off of our tree the other day (who looked a little scrawny I thought), this one is a real healthy size. I took this picture of him in the backyard (safely from the window of course).

IMG_2408.JPG

The shots are blurry, but if you look closely, he’s digging around in our backyard drainpipe! He pulled out some snacks to munch on, who knows what it was. Wet and stinky no doubt, gross!

IMG_2415.JPG

What made me smile when I saw this was that one, he went straight for the drain as he ambled through the yard, as though it was one of his usual spots to check for a bite. Second, if you look to the top of the photo, you’ll see a brick. There used to be a green cover over that hole that mysteriously kept coming off, and broke apart. I thought it was the result of lawn mowing. So, I placed a brick over the hole so that debris (leaves and sticks) would not clog the drain. Though capped off, it’s still designed to capture water below the surface…

IMG_2416.JPG

Mysteriously, that brick kept being moved. Usually, just aside the hole. Sometimes, a few feet away. I even asked my honey one day when I noticed this strange phenomena, “Did you move that brick???” Nope, he didn’t do it. I was puzzled, because it kept happening.

Was this noisome gases pushing up the brick? Hmmm. Was this a backyard ghost? Hmmm. A mischievous fairy? (I have an overactive imagination…good for book writing). The wind certainly can’t blow a heavy brick over. What was this! Go to bed and the brick is there, look out in the morning and it is inches away. NOW I know why! The clever raccoons know that there are snacks down there, or maybe he’s getting a gulp of water?

Here is wishing you’ll find special delights in each and every day, no matter the weather!

Making Friends

“Mom, mom, mom, MOM! This is my new friend I was telling you about!”

IMG_2382

“Yes Tiddo, who is this friend? Oh, I see!”

IMG_2379

“Mom, is he a cat like me? Can he come in and play? Can I go out and climb the tree with him? Can he come in for dinner? I’ll share my crunchy treats with him!”

IMG_2383.JPG

“Oh Tiddo, always so sweet. You and your friend can just talk from the window for today, ok?”

IMG_2381.JPG

“Pssst…hey, you there! Hey you cat! Got any grub? Got any chicken bones?”

IMG_2384.JPG

“Gotta go, my mom is calling me! Tonight, she’s teaching me how to sneak into garbage cans! I’ll save you a tuna can if I find one! See ya’ around!”

Beware The Ant’s Kiss

I am very fond of insects. I just think the world of bugs is fascinating. Because I feel this way, and also have an ongoing desire to be peaceful with all creatures, I’m not one to smush a spider or stomp on an ant. Nope, I collect every single one that makes its way into the house, and deposit it outside. I have been doing this for years…

ant-1330783_1280

But for the last few weeks, we started to see some Carpenter Ants around the house. Though not in great mass, there have been enough soldiering around that we’re keeping an eye on it. My preference is to not bring in an exterminator with their noxious chemicals if it can be helped. However, I knew that my saving each and every ant (though I tried with the first few), was not the solution.

ant-453348_1280

So, I bought some of those poison ant traps and placed them about, and have [insert a sniffle here] had to smush a number of them. However, the traps are working well and they are diminishing (though I’m putting down a few more for good measure). No one wants Carpenter Ants overtaking their house.

insects-566408_1280

So here I am a few nights ago, relaxed as ever. My honey was out of town, the house was quiet and I was in a state of complete peace. I’m lounging in bed with my computer, watching something funny and pleasant. I reach out to my bedside table for my mason jar of water and bring it to my lips…

Oh heavens! An immediate searing pain on my lips! I pull the glass away and the culprit falls and skitters. A Carpenter Ant. He’d been trying to get a sip of my water. We were both caught off guard when I picked up that glass. He got caught between the rim and my mouth, and he bit me REAL HARD, more than once. Though I don’t blame the poor fellow, I have to say that I still don’t believe that an ant bite could be that powerful!

ant-807262_1280

But the bite wasn’t the only thing…it began to sting something awful. Like lemon juice in a wound. The next morning, the ant bites were visible and tender on my lips. This was nuts, I had to look this up. Granted, I’m a gal who gets strong allergic reactions from just about everything, but geez!

ant-771071_1280

Turns out, this reaction is normal for Carpenter Ant bites, which are quite painful. The bite is made worse, because they inject Formic Acid (bee stings contain this acid as well) into it (why I felt like there was pepper spray on my mouth). Even the next morning, the bites tingled (ouch!) and the marks were visible. Some folks get bite marks that swell to the size of a pea and remain there for a week!

ant-954015_1280

In spite of it all, I won’t hold a grudge. The little dude was probably horrified that they were about to be gulped down by a giant! My lips are fine now, nothing a little lipstick wasn’t able to cover. But I’ll never forget that feisty ant kiss! Yikes!

A Magical Kingdom is Here!

michellewrites-300dpi-3125x4167-4

It’s summer vacation and Lizzy is eager to take a trip to visit her grandparents at their beautiful home in the countryside where all kinds of fun can be had!

One morning, Lizzy’s grandma offers her an exciting book to read. Hopping on her bike with the book and a picnic lunch, she settles down by a beautiful pond to begin reading the adventure.

After reading the first lines of the book, things are not as they should be. The pond is now a vast lake, and in the middle of it sits a magnificent castle! There’s also an oddly dressed woman who’s come looking for her. She looks like she’s just stepped out of the Renaissance! Her name is Milda, and she beckons ‘Princess Lizbeth’ to hurry, for she is expected at the castle.

Join Lizzy as she travels back in time to a magical kingdom and becomes a princess for a day! 

Available here on Amazon! Also available on Amazon Europe!

In A Tizzy For Tulips

Something very valuable just bloomed in my front yard. Or at least, if it was the year 1637 and I was living in the Netherlands…

tulips-1208206_1280.jpg

If I had a time machine, I’d snatch my tulips and zoom back in time. Riches would await me, and you’d see me sumptuously dressed and painted into one of the scenes on Rembrandt’s canvases…

book-1325088_1280

…for once upon a time during the 17th century, during the Dutch Golden Age (when Dutch achievements and advancements were making them the rockstars of Europe), there was a bizarre economic bubble.

Economic bubble: When you’re selling something worth a small sum for a lot of cash. Eventually the situation gets out of control, there is a crash, and everyone is financially ruined.

tulip-1290983_1280

At the height of what history has now coined tulip mania, some of these precious tulip bulbs were being sold for what it would take most regular folks to make in ten years. What?! Yes, a single tulip bulb in exchange for what you earned in a decade.

food-1216731_1280

Once when I was living in New York City, in the early evening in the spring, I spied a man stealing tulips planted by the city along the sidewalk. I was looking out over my balcony and had a clear view.

In the darkening light of dusk, the man physically laid down along the sides of parked cars when other pedestrians happened to walk by. He was hiding. When they had passed, he’d pop back up and clip some more tulips. He had quite the bouquet before making a run for it. I was both speechless and amused. And really grossed out; you do not want to lay down on a New York City sidewalk.

basket-703077_1280

Perhaps the man was Dutch and from the 17th century. He’d hopped into a time machine to zoom ahead in time to steal his fortune.

Tulip mania. Proof that real life is stranger than fiction.

That old April Adage

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

IMG_2208

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

IMG_2217.JPG

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

IMG_2218.JPG

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

IMG_2220.JPG

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

IMG_2223.JPG

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

IMG_2221.JPG

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

IMG_2225.JPG

And turned on the fireplace, which Tiddo cannot resist!

IMG_2229.JPG

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

IMG_2246.JPG

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

IMG_2148.JPG

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

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

IMG_2252.JPG

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

IMG_2250.JPG

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

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

Here’s wishing you a wonderful day!

Good Morning! Good Day!

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

IMG_2194.JPG

A golden sunrise just outside the window…

IMG_2201

And a friend to watch it with…

IMG_2199

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

IMG_2208.JPG

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

IMG_2209.JPG

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

IMG_2207.JPG

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

IMG_2212.JPG

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

IMG_2213.JPG

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

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

Brainy Ravens

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

raven-242670_1280.jpg

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

composing-168696_1280.jpg

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

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

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

crow-631740_1280

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

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

raven-643511_1280

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

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

raven-73179_1280

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

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

Pearl Earrings Giveaway Part III.

IMG_2132.JPG

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

michellewrites-72dpi-1500x2000

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

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

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

IMG_2131.JPG

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

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

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

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

Woodpeckers Wear Helmets

I had an odd thought the moment I woke up this morning. It was the very first thing to enter my brain when I opened my eyes…

bird-589653_1280

Usually my first thought is…

“Where’s the coffee!?” or “I’m starving, what am I going to have for breakfast?!” or “Croissants! Cinnamon Toast Crunch! Quiche! Cake! French Fries! Cheese! How should I start the day?”

But not today. Today it was, “How do woodpeckers peck like that without getting a headache?” Yup, that was my first thought. Was there a woodpecker pecking outside to inspire this question? Nope.

woodpecker-347116_1280

As soon as I could (after eating breakfast and having some coffee of course), I had to look it up. What did I learn?

Most importantly, these little dudes have an odd shaped bone (which looks like a crown that loops around their head) that acts like a safety belt to keep its skull snug in its place. In other species, this bone called the hyoid (much like a natural helmet), does not exist. Check it out here!

bird-1088252_1280

Also important, their skulls are less hard & more flexible than other birds’ (due to the way their skull bones are layered), thus they handle impact better.

great-spotted-woodpecker-325143_1280

Further, their top beak is longer, while the bottom is shorter and tougher. The bottom beak helps soak in the intense pecking of the top beak!

It is for those reasons that a woodpecker doesn’t need birdie aspirin. Now that I know this, I can officially start my day.

red-bellied-woodpecker-610723_1280

Woodpecker fun facts!

You may have to squint, but if you look at the tip of the beak on the woodpecker above, you’ll see his tongue. They have very long tongues (up to four inches) and they use them to help capture those delicious bugs they’re pecking for. “Ha-ha you grub! You cannot escape my long tongue!”

Woodpeckers don’t serenade and warble like other birdies. So how do the male woodpeckers attract a girlfriend? They peck out their love calls on hollow objects (like garbage cans, rotton tree trunks, the rain drain on your house). So the next time you wonder why that woodpecker is so silly to be looking for bugs by pecking on the tin of your roof (I’ve had that very thought)…he’s not looking for a meal, he’s looking for a date.

How fast can a woodpecker peck? 20 pecks per second. That’s nuts.

If you look at a woodpecker’s toes, they grow in two directions (front and back) so that they can grip and climb with ease, also using their very strong tail plumage to keep them steady as they perch and peck!

woodpecker-189657_1280

I’m really glad my honey doesn’t bang on hollow metal garbage cans to get my attention, as woodpeckers do when calling to their girlfriends. I don’t think that would go over very well!

Citrus in Chicago

Text message from my honey: “…did you give the squirrels a tangerine?”

My reply text: “They foraged in our garbage bin…………I think.”

tangerines-1111529_1280

I saw the tangerine sitting on the front lawn when I left the house. Yes, I sometimes feed the squirrels and chipmunks, even though I know that I shouldn’t because they become pesky. I learned that lesson after giving them some berries and nuts while writing outside last summer. Before long, I could hardly type a word without a chipmunk or squirrel approaching my bare feet to see if my toes were almonds.

The tangerine in the yard (which I believe was foraged in the trash) had a perfect hole bore into one side and the fruit removed. I told a friend this because I thought it was unique (don’t squirrels peel their tangerines with those little squirrley hands?). My pal moved here recently from a warmer climate. She immediately told me about the palm rat or roof rat.

oranges-1117628_1280

They live where fruit trees are abundant, which is why I hadn’t heard of them before. We certainly can’t grow citrus in Chicago! She said that when you go to pick what looks like an unblemished piece of fruit (fruit trees grow abundantly in people’s neighborhoods), you often find a perfect hole bore into the back and the fruit removed. The culprit is the roof rat. I had to look the creature up!

roof-rat-961502_1280.jpg

Though not unlike other rats, they like to nest away from the ground and love to eat fruit. They apparently plague homes by nesting in roofs and eating all the fruit from the trees. There are even ‘rat guards’ that you can put on your citrus trees to keep the rats out. I read this article and felt sorry for folks who have to deal with that. It seems to be a rather serious problem for home owners.

Of course, the tangerine in my yard had been eaten by a squirrel, who though not as precise with his drilling abilities, had made an impressive round. I’m very thankful that we don’t have roof rats; our raccoons are quite enough. Yet again, I learned something new! I’ve certainly never seen a rat climb a tree…only dumpster dive and dodge taxis!

IMG_2085.JPG

As for me, I made fresh orange juice this morning (one of my absolute favorite ways to start the day). This glass juicer is vintage! Didn’t you know that vintage juicers make the juice taste better? Wait…that’s just my imagination? When at Volo Antique Mall with my folks, I declared I wanted to find a juicer, and this pretty yellow one came home with me!

IMG_2087.JPG

Do you think the sunshine in my glass might melt that snow? Oh citrus! How delicious!

Thanks for sparing me a few oranges, you naughty roof rats!

Rascally Raccoons

The first summer that we lived in our house, we knew there was an army of raccoons living in the neighborhood. There is plenty of woodsy habitat, but also plenty of garbage bins for them to get a meal from.

We have an enormous (and this is no understatement) tree, quite old indeed, that rises up against the back of the house. As with any other house on the block, we host a family of raccoons in our tree. They have a brood of babies each summer.

animal-690159_1280.jpg

That first summer was dreadful. The wily creatures ran over the roof (presumably to descend another tree at the front of the house) a hundred times a night. We had trouble sleeping and would wake up grouchy. For a time, I thought they must be living in the roof. But inspections didn’t reveal any nests. They live in the big tree.

trees-265912_1280.jpg

Those raccoons are bold! The first summer, as handsome and I sat on our back porch enjoying a glass of wine, a raccoon descended the tree. I ran up onto the porch to get inside the house. Though I am an animal lover and certainly not afraid of raccoons, I was surprised that the animal had no issues with joining us in our rendezvous. I worried that he might be deranged to come so close (as raccoons can carry rabies).

He kept coming…my knight in shining armor swung an empty wine bottle into the air and yelled at the raccoon, encouraging it to take a hike. What did it do? It slid down the remaining few inches of tree trunk, into the grass like a Slip N Slide and lounged in the grass like a cat. That was really crazy. We finished our date in the house.

tree-439171_1280.jpg

On another evening, I went to bed after cooking a delicious dinner (which made the house smell delicious too). I left my window open and woke in the night. A baby raccoon had propped itself between the big tree and the open window. I woke because I heard a strange purring, and it wasn’t my cat. It was looking right at me through the screen as I lay in bed, I think it was a plea to let him get a bite of whatever smelled so good and was wafting out of the house!

Once, Tiddo saw one climbing down the tree and put his paw up on the window to greet it. I thought that was polite. The raccon swatted out at the window and growled something terrible. Tiddo didn’t make a new friend.

There was another evening where the raccoon growls, screeching, hissing and screaming was out of control. I sleepily got out of bed and looked out the window just as a neighbor’s motion sensor lights went on. At least a dozen of the animals could be seen scurrying in the alley where trash bins are kept. And then…an enormous one waddled across the alley and into the shadows. My first reaction was that it was a person walking on all fours. That raccoon was the biggest I’ve ever seen.

raccoon-947241_1280.jpg

Starting a few weeks ago, the neighborhood has been tormented with nightly raccoon brawls and merrymaking. We believe that the temperate weather has brought them out far earlier than the years before. We’ve hardly been able to believe our ears. When they meet, they make the most beastly noises!

Every year there is a brood of babies (2, 3 or 4) that live in our tree. We suspect we’ll be meeting the newborns sooner than usual! I’ll try to catch a photo!

I’m a Cardinal…

Cue the music please:

I’m…too sexy for this yard…too sexy for this yard, too sexy yea!

IMG_2009.JPG

I’m a Cardinal, you know what I mean, and I do my little turn on the birdwalk…

IMG_2008.JPG

On the birdwalk, on my branch-walk, I do my little turn on the birdwalk…

IMG_2006.JPG

I’m…too sexy for this branch…too sexy for this tree, way…too…sexy…yea!

IMG_2004.JPG

I’m a Cardinal, you know what I mean…

What was that?

If you look very closely in the snow you’ll see…the tracks of a tiny creature who ran past me!

IMG_2017.JPG

Was it a hopping birdie or perhaps a bounding little mouse? Why no, it wasn’t…twas something very different that ran past my house!

IMG_2020.JPG

To see this magic creature is sometimes hard to achieve…but to catch a special glimpse, all you must really do is believe!

Littles-72dpi-1500x2000

Coming soon!

Take Me With You

“Mom?”

IMG_1973.JPG

“Yes Tiddo?”

IMG_1974.JPG

“I found your bag, and your sweater…are you going somewhere? Are you going to grandma’s house? Are you going to see those other kitties? Are you going to play chase the feathers with them like we do? Why can’t Midnight, Peanut and Sasha come here to play? Why do you have to go there? Can I come too? I can fit in this bag you know.”

IMG_1976.JPG

“Oh Tiddo, I’ll just be gone one night. But I need you to stay here.”

IMG_1975.JPG

“No mom, I’m shutting my eyes and this overnight bag will go right back into the closet where it belongs. WHY can’t I go?”

“Well, because it is so cold outside that a little mouse might have come to nest inside of the house! What would I do without my hunter here to protect our home, especially my cheese and crackers, and your kitty crunchies too? Mice like those.”

IMG_1980.JPG

“Hmmm, ok then. But only if you’re gone just one night. I love you mom…”

“I love you too Tiddo.”

IMG_1979.JPG

“ZZZZZzzzzzzzzz……..mousie, mousie, mousie…zzzzz.”

Look It Up!

I love looking things up! I got that from my grandma who I always noted taking an interest in a variety of unique facts, stories and articles when I was little. She was inquisitive and I caught that bug. Each time I didn’t know how to spell a word and I asked her how, she’d tell me to go look it up.

book-863418_1280

Nowadays, we are so spoiled with so much information at the tips of our fingers. So anytime I get curious, I look it up. Here are some interesting things that I recently learned. You shouldn’t go another day without knowing…

snake-208585_1280.jpg

Snakes don’t blink because they don’t have eyelids. Instead, they have a protective film over their eyes. That’s why they are so mesmerizing when they look at you, because they aren’t blinking. For all you know, this guy might be sleeping. Snakes sneeze and its really cute. Bless you!

girl-1041005_1280

If folklore is true, the reason your hair is tangled when you wake up in the morning is because elves and/or fairies have been dancing on your head while you slept. Elflocks or fairy-locks depending on the culprit. And I thought it was because I don’t like brushing my hair!

ecuador-917099_1280

These are cocoa pods that are filled with the cocoa beans that make chocolate. When you open the pod, the beans are nesting in a pulp and the beans are purple. They only turn brown after exposure to air and roasting! There are about 40 beans in a pod. It takes 400-500 beans to make a single pound of chocolate…that’s crazy. I have a new respect for that chocolate bar in the fridge.

bees-18192_1280

I always thought that any bee that stung me wouldn’t live very long as I believed that bees die after using up their one stinger. Actually, it is only honey bees. Their stinger is barbed and when they try to pull it out, it damages their bodies and the stinger is left behind with you. Hornets and wasps however, do not have barbs on their stingers. Their stingers do not fall out after they get you…they can sting you as many times as they want with no peril to their health. Ouch!

prairie-dog-204709_1280

Bubonic (and pneumonic) plague is passed around from a bacteria in fleas. In medieval Europe, fleas carried on rats, who infested areas where people lived, caused millions of deaths over the centuries. It is a horrific disease. In the United States, prairie dogs carry the bubonic plague. Whether you pick up one that has the plague or a flea from one gets onto you or your dog (even cat), you are at risk. The plague of the Middle Ages is still alive and well in our desert regions. Aye!

hippo-783522_1280

Hippo ‘sweat’ is blood red. It’s true. Technically it isn’t sweat, its a natural skin secretion that comes out clear and then turns red and looks like actual blood. Eventually it turns brown. It doesn’t wash off their bodies in the water, but sticks to their skin. The liquid is a natural sunblock! And, it is antibacterial, keeping hippos healthy in their swampy, muddy, buggy environments. Historically, people thought hippos were sweating real blood. Nope, it’s just hippo sunblock!

penguin-1106357_1280

Penguins and polar bears have never met. Polar bears only live in the north (Arctic) while penguins only live in the south (Antarctic). I had no idea! I feel silly. Penguins don’t tend to be afraid of people in their natural environment because they don’t have any land predators (like polar bears). They’ll walk right up to you and say hello!

foliage-952186_1280

Heart attacks overwhelmingly happen on Mondays. You can probably guess why; it’s the day most people return to work after relaxing over the weekend and they are stressed out. According to this article, it still goes for folks that are retired! Guess you can’t kick the memories of getting back to the grind on Monday mornings! Perhaps we should all be doing something on this list on Mondays to keep our heart happy!

cockroach-89067_640

Ugh, cockroaches give me the chills. Eck! This is a gross fact. Cockroaches can live without their heads, sometimes up to several weeks! Apparently, they don’t breath through their mouths. They eventually succumb because they can’t drink water without their heads. Gross.

eye-743409_1280

According to this article, when you sneeze, it can blow out of your system at up to 500 miles per hour. That, is, nuts. Because of the intense force, holding in a sneeze can be extremely dangerous (pulled muscles, burst blood vessels in your head and neck, burst eardrums, broken ribs). So, do not hold in your sneeze because it can have serious health risks. However, do cover your sneeze. The particles can mist up to 10 feet, even further, making it easy to get others sick.

narrative-794978_1280

I could look it up all day, learning is never ending!

What The Scone Said

“Well hello Ms. Lemon. Haven’t seen you here for a while!” Says Mr. Blueberry Scone while taking a discreet sniff of her pretty, lemony perfume.

“Oh, hi Mr. Blueberry, yea…they’ve been so fancy with those buttery croissants lately that I don’t come here as often…ooop, there comes that hungry looking man! That’s my ride, see ya’ around!” Replies Ms. Lemon, wishing she could have chatted with Mr. Blueberry a little longer. He’s such a nice scone.

IMG_1849.JPG

“Give me a kiss, Ms. Latte!”  Says Mr. Espresso, smelling like freshly roasted beans and leaning in with a smile.

“Hurry, before the cat sees Mr. Espresso! He’s hiding behind those house plants Smmmooooch!” She blushes, Mr. Latte is so handsome.

IMG_1850.JPG

Tiddo looks on from behind the houseplants. No one believes him that the weekend pastries and coffee have a chat when they get together. Ah well, who would want that sort of breakfast anyway when you can snack on green?

IMG_1853.JPG

The Key To Everlasting Love

Once upon a time, two people came together…only, there was a dilemma.

CIMG2146.JPG

Handsome felt pretty confident with his coffee maker…

CIMG2147.JPG

But the lady simply preferred her own.

CIMG2148.JPG

They would just have to find a solution!

IMG_1760.JPG

And so they did, isn’t love so nice?

IMG_1762.JPG

…especially on Saturday mornings when the coffee maker isn’t used at all, and he braves the cold for coffee and pastries while she stays under the warm blankets…

IMG_1761.JPG

That is the key to everlasting love. Especially when the pastries are pain au chocolat! Cheers to love and good coffee!

An Autumn Poem

Today I took an autumn walk…

IMG_1579

The flowers made me forget the clock!

IMG_1580

The pinks, they blushed for all to see…

IMG_1583

And the yellows, filled my heart with glee!

IMG_1709

The robins gobbled plump juniper berries…

IMG_1699

IMG_1724

There were fresh smelling pine cones and fallen cherries!

IMG_1712

IMG_1726

The roses were so moving, they danced…

IMG_1713

And the bright fall leaves, they shook and pranced!

IMG_1719

That adorable squirrel had rather fuzzy ears!

IMG_1734

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

IMG_1644

That seagull dove right at my head…

IMG_1664

And his friends thought that was funny!

IMG_1591

The ducks were having a pleasant swim…

IMG_1590

This drake was with his honey!

IMG_1630

All was well until the gulls swooped in,

and said “Give us all your money!”

IMG_1603

The three foot fishies, they frighten me…

IMG_1617

Summer swims bring nibbled toes, you see!

IMG_1736

I could go on and on with this nature talk…

IMG_1732

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