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!

Date Night in NYC!

On our way to Jamaica for our recent vacation, we took the roundabout way of flying first to New Jersey from Chicago, spending one night and then heading on down to the Caribbean. We could have flown straight to Montego Bay instead, but handsome was shopping his preferred airlines (which required a layover). This stopover proved very exciting, and I won’t forget our adventurous evening for all of my days…

IMG_4355

Though this photo is blurry, I love it. It is of my old haunt…

Once we arrived at our hotel in Newark, we inquired how long it would take an Uber to deliver us to Manhattan. The desk attendant did not sound optimistic. Disappointment was written all over my face. We could see the city, but hours of traffic would make waste of an evening. I remained upbeat however, for handsome had booked dinner at an Italian restaurant in New Jersey!

IMG_4361

However, after hopping in an Uber on our way to dinner, I couldn’t help looking longingly toward NYC. See, I lived there a decade ago, and I love New York City. So I asked the driver how long he felt it would take. Only an extra 20 minutes. Handsome canceled our dinner reservation and we were on our way to the Big Apple…

IMG_4352

We directed the driver to Washington Square Park (amidst the campus of NYU where I am an alumna). He proceeded to drop us on Washington Street some distance away. However, the Uber driver’s mistake proved a zesty, exhilarating NYC walk for us! Block after city block built my anticipation to see my old neighborhood (and grew our appetite for dinner). Once there, we traversed my old memories while stamping a new NYC memory into my heart with our fun evening together…

IMG_4386

Now, if you know anything about Manhattan, you know that it offers a bazillion restaurants (and shops, and cool things in abundance) in its 13.4 by 2.3 miles. Every other doorstep offers something you want to explore, something good to buy or to eat or to see. As we power walked approximately one mile from drop-off point, I blurted “I could eat my way around this city.” It might take me a little time, but I think I’d be up for the job…

IMG_4369

After our explorations (and in spite of all the enticing eateries we noticed along the way), handsome expressed a hankering to visit Little Italy. And so, we hopped in a cab and headed on over to that delicious neighborhood! As you walk through Little Italy, gentlemen from various restaurants roll out, singing for you to come and take a seat at their tables. All of the menus looked so good, it was hard to walk away from many of them as we passed through. Finally, we settled upon Da Gennaro Ristorante

IMG_4374

We had a pleasant view of Mulberry Street from our table, glasses of Chianti to warm us up after our evening walk, and a meal that blew us away!

IMG_4376

To start, tender calamari fritti with a fresh sauce and a cool squeeze of lemon…

IMG_4378

I must say, I’ve been blessed to try a great many amazing dishes during my life, and amongst my many unique travels. I can say without hesitation, Da Gennaro’s fettuccine (meaning ‘little ribbons’ in Italian) with shrimp, salmon and a creamy tomato sauce was absolutely one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten…

IMG_4383

What made this evening so special was the fact that it hadn’t been planned, yet turned out so surprisingly delightful in every way! It was random, refreshing, and reminded me how very much I love adventure!

Here’s wishing you many such wonderful adventures, whether they be within your own neighborhood or far from home…

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” ~Anonymous

Don’t Worry About A Thing…

This is how I thought yesterday would be. A blissful night’s sleep followed by an exciting view as I rode through the streets of Jamaica. Then, an awe-inspiring zip-line over the jungle, followed by a soothing swim in sparkling falls…

IMG_4519

This isn’t exactly how things went. I woke up around 3:30 am and did not fall asleep again. Every trip I’ve ever taken into a new country has delivered at least one such night. The kind where you wake abruptly to the darkness and the noises outside are not familiar, and you realize you are very far away from everything that you’re sure of and you feel a bit frightened by that…

IMG_4509

By sunrise, I was exhausted. However, the sun was shining and I was going to be a trooper. Onward with the adventure! Only, I had to make a quick call to the U.S., and it proved more difficult than expected, taking a chunk of time to connect. This made me feel again, a bit far from home…

IMG_4518

Handsome kept me on track with positive motivations. Let’s go! Breakfast time! C’mon baby! Though breakfast was comforting and the Blue Mountain Jamaican Coffee reinforcing, I was still feeling fretful and tired. But, I was determined to carry on with a good attitude. Only, once inside the steamy vehicle that would take us to a remote falls in the jungle, all positiveness went out the window. You see, Jamaica is mountainous, the roads thin and twisting, the driving fast and furious. You zoom through villages at intense speed, and the fear of a crash is at the forefront of the mind. I was quickly car sick, just as I was on the way to our lodgings from the airport upon our arrival last week…

IMG_4474

But let us pause for a moment so that you can zoom into this photo of this adorable little lizard. They are everywhere (and seemingly not afraid of my shockingly bright pink nail polish)…

IMG_4441

But to continue…No, I did not lose my breakfast by my car sickness. That would have been humiliating (however, not much more humiliating than what happened next). When we arrived at the falls, I thought I would faint. Remember too, it’s a tropical climate. This Chicago gal is more accustomed to cold temperatures. I was splashing cool water on my face and neck and asking for something mint (a local woman here told me that mint works well on their twisty roads). A few mint confections were procured and it was like a miracle. Mint really does help abate motion sickness! Things were looking up…

IMG_4450

That was, until I looked up. I am not afraid of heights, but something overcame me when I looked up. My danger radar was screaming! I kept silent until we were being geared up to zip through the canopy, high above the rushing waterfalls. It was then that tears began to fall out of my eyes in copious amounts. The tears would not abate. My hands began to shake and my heart started to race wildly. I…was…terrified. Though I would never have selected zip-lining in general (seemed risky), I was taking one for the team. I certainly wouldn’t have suspected that I would be overwhelmingly afraid…

IMG_4461

Once finally climbing high up to the top of the trees (sweating, winded and seriously considering turning back), I realized there was no way down except by the zip-line. More heart-stopping, there were five lines to fly across/down, not just one. My tears began to mimic the waterfalls. I wasn’t whining loudly, or scaring the wildlife with sobbing. It was just silent, unstoppable tears (and possibly the strongest look of apprehension ever seen on my face). They wouldn’t stop flowing out of my eyes. The jungle was a blur. What can I say? However, with each lockdown upon the line, the Jamaican men who were safety guides greeted me with a smile and said, Sista, don cry. Every-ting will be alright! Don worry! So I’d take a deep breath, and fly

IMG_4480

I can’t say I overcame fear. I just pushed it aside and did what I had to do. And even though zip-lining might be easy for some, I’m not ashamed by my tears or how afraid I was. Yesterday didn’t go as smoothly as I’d anticipated, but in the end, it was so much better. I gained strength from it…

IMG_4504

The blessing in travel is that you learn things about yourself you never expected, and are challenged and awed in ways that go beyond what you might have ever imagined.

If I wake again to the darkness while we’re here, I’m not going to be afraid. I’m going to let the tree frog songs sooth me back to sleep. They’ll be singing…Don’t worry, about a thing, ’cause every little thing gonna be alright! 

Far And Away…

At present, I am in the island country of Jamaica in the Caribbean Sea! It took several days of travel to get here, for first we flew to NYC from Chicago and had one unforgettable date night in the city (which I’ll be sure to write about soon). I wanted to share a few special photos with you from the last few days of our adventure…

IMG_4366

This is Washington Square Arch in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village with the Empire State Building in the background. We took a stroll through NYU where I went to graduate school. It was a very fond walk down memory lane. Next stop, the south coast of Jamaica!

IMG_3035

This was the beautiful little blue heron I stalked on the beach yesterday morning…

IMG_3041

And the egret that stalked me as I ate grilled fish on the beach. I was pretty hungry, so I sadly didn’t share…

IMG_3048

And here is the sweet island kitty that took shade in my chair. However, these cats (of which there is a little band) are far fiercer than they look. They hunt lizards and frogs. I’ve been witness to their dinners. Ewww!

IMG_3049

And here was a fisherman who dives with a spear for his catch. As he was walking by, the lobsters at the top still moving, I was in awe…

IMG_3050

The fish were so colorful! Tomorrow, we’ll be swimming and snorkeling amongst many such live creatures ourselves…

IMG_3054

Tropical flowers grow everywhere. Their smell is absolutely intoxicating. There are several kinds of hummingbirds that zip and zoom about these flowers. My attempts to capture them on camera have failed thus far, but I’ll keep trying…

IMG_3056

Here is wishing you special wonders in your life today, wherever you may be. As for me, I’m singing a song with my toes barefoot in the sand. “One Love. One Heart. Let’s get together and feel alright…Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel alright.” Loving your lyrics Marley!

Cruciferous Crunch, Compostable Containers!

Some of my favorite local restaurants that serve healthy food options also provide earth friendly containers to take your food away in. Who wouldn’t be pleased to take their food to go, and eat out of, a container that is both compostable, but also serves up less chemicals to the body like plastics and styrofoam items?

IMG_2994

In an effort to cut back on a run of unhealthy lunches (and an insatiable daily craving for potato chips) after the holidays, I revisited thoughtful lunch prep. I also purchased a bulk of earth friendly bowls and lids from World Centric. These bowls are fantastic, for they are roomy, stackable and convenient…

IMG_2986

For lunch, I like to toast up some healthy wild rice or grains and let cool. Next comes a plentiful handful of greens, covered in whatever chopped veggies I have on hand…

IMG_2957

I also plop on a good spoonful of hummus or guacamole (or both), and maybe some pine nuts or almond slivers for crunch. I also love to put sriracha sauce on my hummus to jazz things up! Some fresh cracked pepper, a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and I’m ready to eat my veggies!

IMG_2962

I find that when I prep ahead in the evening when I’m cooking in the kitchen anyway, it frees up precious time in the morning and I don’t feel so rushed and grouchy at the start of a new day. And though I love eating out for dinner when I’m not cooking (evidenced by dozens of my posts), I prefer to make my own lunch. I make my lunch almost every day of the year…

IMG_2988

Now, I’m no expert on healthy eating (or on chemical-laden tableware and environmental practices for that matter), but I thought I’d share one small way I tried to do better for myself. More veggies for lunch, in a plant-based, less toxic, compostable container that I don’t feel guilty tossing…

Now who’s ready for some delicious, good-for-you greens?! ME!

IMG_2989

Here’s wishing you good health today, and everyday! And here’s a pat on the back for making even little changes that lead to a happier, healthier you!

My Grandma’s Garden

My grandma lives in Southern Illinois, in a house that used to be a rural school house! She still has an outhouse standing in her backyard, which she uses for storing her garden tools. This time of year, I’m betting her garden is already beginning to wake, for Southern Illinois is far warmer than Northern Illinois…

img_0620

My grandma has always had a green thumb, producing plenty of healthful veggies and planting many beautiful flowers. I spent a great deal of time running around barefoot as a child through her garden when she lived up north. I was never concerned about snakes or ticks because that didn’t seem prevalent. In the warmer climate where she lives now however, I’d be more cautious in the garden. My grandma however, isn’t scared of anything…

img_0626

She has some beautiful grassland and woodlands just beyond her property. Frequently her wild and protective sidekick, Sally the dog, likes to run off for a spell into the field. I recall hearing a story about Sally coming back with a rotten deer leg in her mouth, snatched from a carcass and brought home like a trophy. Gross! Dogs will be dogs!

img_0647

In Southern Illinois, there are fox, coyotes and common forest animals. However, my grandpa had me quite shocked as he shared news of growing populations of bobcats and sightings of cougars (mountain lions). These animals are stealthy and rarely seen, but it had me a little nervous sitting out around the campfire eating s’mores one evening. My ears were perked for the distant growl of a fierce cat…

img_0649

There’s nothing like a beautiful countryside, the bees buzzing and grandma’s chickens clucking and fussing. They eat ticks, which is great! And what fresh and delicious eggs these free range birds produce!

img_0623

Reviewing these photos of grandma’s beautiful flowers and green, I can’t wait for spring to arrive and the sweet season of summer…

img_0619

Isn’t her mirror hung outdoors on the side of an outbuilding such a quaint scene? Upon closer look, there’s a little fellow who lives behind the mirror…

img_0645

A skink! A skink is a species of lizard that has a thicker neck and shorter legs. But for real, how long is that back toe? If you try to grab a skink’s tail, it falls off so that the lizard can make its escape. I wouldn’t try that though. Though not poisonous, they bite. I’ve never been bit by one, but I have been chased by one…

img_0646

True story. I went camping with my best friend and her family in Turkey Run State Park in Indiana when I was about 14. There were lots of skinks, which I’d never seen before, and I was curious. I spotted one on the ground on the trail and tried to get close to observe it. It didn’t run away, it held its ground and gave me the skink eye (tee-hee). He had a very proud stance. This was a courageous little lizard. And then, it ran toward me. I screeched and ran away, and it chased me. I was literally turning my head back as I ran, watching the skink continue its pursuit. I honestly thought it would bite me. I ran like the roadrunner…

img_0622

God bless grandmas, and their gardens, everywhere! And here’s wishing you many beautiful days with nature, and special glimpses of wildlife (from a safe distance)!

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!

Every Time I Read The News

Every time I read the news, my heart hurts. I’d prefer not to read it, but I don’t believe that ignorance is bliss; I believe ignorance is complacency. Though the news keeps me abreast of the world, it does an even better job of reminding me to focus on compassion, and strive to contribute to a climate of peace

IMG_1427

Psalms 145:8-9 KJV

The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works…

IMG_1430

Today, here’s wishing all of us a great compassion for others, grace and love for ourselves, and hearts always bending toward peace in a complicated world…

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]

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!

A Message Of Peace Upon The Shore

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

img_1679

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

img_1678

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

img_1688

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

img_1687

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

img_1685

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

img_1689

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

img_1693

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

img_1695

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

img_1692

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

img_1694

And writings that are very wise indeed…

img_1690

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

img_1684

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

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!

My Chili Pot Runneth Over…

For many years, friends of my family have hosted a wonderful event called Chili Fest! On a most anticipated September Saturday evening, a great many folks come bearing huge pots of delicious chili and a feast is born…

img_2846

There are crock-pots, stove pots and cast iron pots to fill an entire kitchen, all brimming with slow cooked meats, chilis and gumbos! There’s always vegetarian chili too (heartily made with raisins, beans and cashews…so good)!

img_2845

But that’s not all. As the evening begins and folks start to trickle in, much love is set out upon the dining room table. Dips, veggies, cornbreads, desserts!

img_2851

This wonderful family hosts a great many people, all bringing and helping themselves to the delicious spread. Children run through the yard playing games, dogs trot about hoping for a nibble from the table, and the company gathered create a cacophony of words and laughter…

img_2857

While just outside, Bullfrog plays on into the night. Bullfrog is a popular local band that has been around for years (though recently retired from public performance). They are very talented musicians. I’ve sat in on a great many of their gigs, for my stepdad Charlie is the drummer!

img_2849

Folks are in and out, grabbing another helping of chili, delighting in another piece of pie, taking in the cool night air and music from lawn chairs in the driveway…

img_2844

Generous friends bring the bounty of their gardens to share with the visitors…

img_2850

And one remembers once more how meaningful good food and fellowship are…

img_2852

Here’s a thank you to the hosts of Chili Fest! This gathering ever brings such warm memories!

And here’s wishing all, friends by your side, smiles and laughter in abundance, and always what share of earth’s bounty you need…

Here’s A Health To The Company…

Hello Friends! What’s new?! As for myself, there’s just one weekend remaining for The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire! Our little shop (filled with Lita’s pretty art and my imaginative books) has but only this coming 3-day Labor Day weekend left to share our little treasures…

IMG_2780

We sincerely hope to see again, many of the wonderful people we’ve met this season, so that we can bid you good health and happiness until next summer! And for each and every one that took home one of our works this season, we appreciate you…

IMG_2781

The sunset was so beautiful this last Sunday evening as I trudged out of Bristol, that my heart fluttered at the sight of its glory. I was filled with peace and thankfulness…

IMG_2684

A friend of mine named Mary (an inspiring woman who in her 80’s goes to the gym regularly and is as healthy and lovely as ever), generously surprises me with her rice pudding every now and then. This unexpected, delicious gift, humbles me and makes my day, every time. When I was young, I never thought much of rice pudding…but I do now. Thank you sweet Mary…

IMG_2755

This is the grumpy albino skunk who makes an appearance at the Bristol Faire on the weekends (curtesy of a private farm). I love this skunk. I love him and want to give him hugs and take him for walks, and he could be best friends with my cat Tiddo…

IMG_2756

When we first met, he huffed, jumped towards me, scratched, grunted, and generally tried to ward me off. However, I am unmoving. I still love this skunk. With lots of cuddling, don’t you think I could bring his attitude around? (And no, he wasn’t stinky).

IMG_2764

In other news, I’ve been feeling some serious exhaustion these last few weeks. There is only one remedy for that, you know. Shrimp salad. I just pile as many veggies onto a plate as I have in my fridge, throw some shrimp in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper, and then enjoy. Its effects on exhaustion seem to be more effective if you get some sleep afterwards…

IMG_2770

In further news, this enormous spider was hanging above the potty this week, just like that otherworldly cave cricket. I think there is a conspiracy amongst the bugs in our house to frighten me when I need to use the amenities. Only, I’m not afraid of spiders! Bwa-ha-ha…

IMG_2789

…well, except for this dude in our mailbox! We have a problem with spiders in our mailbox.  Last night, no spider. This morning, an intricate web and what I considered to be a more energetic spider than most (he jumped at me in the most ungentlemanly way when I reached in for the mail). Of course, discovering that the mail lady hadn’t come yet, I had to save this hapless (if ungentlemanly) spider from the mailbox so he wouldn’t get squished when she arrived…

IMG_2794

I didn’t appreciate the way he jumped at me a second time, before skittering away on the porch. But my conscience is clear…no smushed arachnids today in my mailbox.

IMG_2782

Here’s wishing you many treasured moments in your days! And, I’m looking forward to seeing many smiling faces this weekend at The Quill and Brush, before Bristol’s winter slumber. To all our friends, here’s sending you Health to the Company

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!

Letting Live, in Love and Peace

IMG_2643

I just caught another lovely creature who was clinging to the ceiling near the front door. She was there this morning when I rushed out and was still there this evening, in the same place. I did my careful balancing act on the chair and gingerly caught her…

IMG_2636

This one is not a Cave Cricket like the one I caught in the house earlier this week, but rather a Speckled Bush Cricket. It is of the Katydid family, known for their singing (not from their mouths but from the scraping of their wings along their bodies)…

IMG_2637

Look how gorgeous her beautiful green! Know how I know she’s a gal? Her very obvious ovipositor at her rear, an appendage that pushes into the dirt and then lays eggs!

IMG_2638

Fun Fact: Do you know what the differences between a cricket and a grasshopper are?

  1. Crickets have long antennae while grasshoppers have short antennae.
  2. A cricket’s song comes from rubbing its wings while a grasshopper makes music by rubbing its legs together.

IMG_2642

In the house, she’d been unmoving on the ceiling and went mostly motionless when caught. The moment I brought her outside, her antennae twitched and she started walking around. It was like she immediately sensed she was outdoors once more. Freedom!

IMG_2644

Love this photo, her two red eyes looking at me upside down. I probably appeared as a giant monster. Think it’s too late to return to college and become an entomologist? I sure love bugs!

Here is to the sanctity of life, however great or small, and letting live in love and peace…

A Bushel Of Books

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

IMG_2586

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

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

Be Like The Vine

As I look out into our secret garden from the kitchen window in summer, I always notice the vines. They climb a fence and then aspire to grow out into the very air and make their way across…to somewhere. The next solid object they find, I suppose…

IMG_2565.JPG

They can be a nuisance when you want to walk the stone path but get thwacked in the face with one. Those vines are quite thick and hearty! We tend to keep them trimmed back, though they grow back with an urgency towards life…

IMG_2563.JPG

Today when I looked out that kitchen window, the vines inspired me. No matter that we trim them, no matter that the space between their fence and any other solid thing is vast for such a plant, no matter that gravity is pulling them down, they still reach…

IMG_2567.JPG

I thought, “Well if those vines can continue to be so darn tenacious, and keep striving for what seems like the impossible, we all can!”

IMG_2564.JPG

So today, whatever you might be striving to achieve, whatever place you wish to get to that seems so far away, whatever your goals and wishes…just remember to be like the vine. You’ll get there!

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!

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!

The Queen is Coming!

Have you heard? The Queen is coming to Bristol! Make haste the preparations! The Queen is coming! The Queen is coming!

IMG_0235

The 2016 Bristol Renaissance Faire season is fast approaching, and Lita (artist) and I (author) are incredibly excited to share our works in our tented shop on King’s Landing! The faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin is such a magical place, and we’ve been working hard to prepare a selection of her art and my books, to add to the enchanting atmosphere. Opening day is Saturday, July 9th!

IMG_2423.JPG

As my first wave of books have started to arrive, I’ve both good nerves and the biggest of smiles! I just can’t wait to share my adventures, and hope that my children’s books especially, will make joyful take-home tokens of a day spent at the renaissance festival, where history, merriment and enchanting creatures abound!

IMG_2424.JPG

A Festival Day In Bristol is the apple of my eye, and a wink to the Bristol Renaissance Faire. At the B.R.F, they recreate Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the port city of Bristol, England in 1574. This was a visit that truly took place, on one of the Queen’s summer progresses. In writing A Festival Day In Bristol, I wanted to create a story around what it might have been like to be a child visiting Bristol on the day of her arrival in 1574.

IMG_0236.JPG

The story is a tale woven around real details from that historic day, and the child in the story even meets the Queen, which would have been the most exciting thing in the world. Children at the B.R.F. get the same opportunity. Albeit an actress portraying Queen Elizabeth, it can be a moving and dazzling experience! I know, when I visited the faire as a little one, I almost fell over when I met Queen Elizabeth! Here’s hoping we’ll see you there!

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!

A Very Special Announcement

Hello dear friends! I have a very special announcement! Stop into my hobbit house while I tell you a tale…

IMG_1024.JPG

Once upon a time, there was an Author and an Artist who loved to weave tales of magic and mystery with their words and with enchanting images upon paper and canvas…

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 9.48.52 AM.png

Every summer, they hopped in their carriage and rode off to the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin where a magical festival was always to be found, and where many amazing merchants dazzled the merrymakers with their incredible crafts. The Author and Artist were inspired, hoping that one day they too might share their books, crafts and art, on a delightful festival day in Bristol…

IMG_1028

In the meanwhile, the Author and Artist went on a great many adventures and wrote down the tales and drew the characters that they met along the way. There were dragons and fairies, elves and queens, princesses and enchanted forests, will-o’-the-wisps, knights and mermaids too! They soon had a delightful collection to share…

IMG_0877

With that, I am incredibly excited to announce that the works of this Author and Artist, Michelle and Lita, will be a part of the 2016 Bristol Renaissance Faire market place! Weekends only, July 9th through Labor Day Monday, September 5th!

IMG_1055

You’ll find our magical tented shop on King’s Landing (look for this lane on the faire map…it’s close to the front gate), where we hope to bring joy to readers and amuse all with whimsical art and other delights! We can’t wait to see you there! More updates to come, please share the news!

Love is Patient, Love is Kind

Tiddo the cat has always craved attention first thing in the morning. The moment that first birdie peeps outside, he’s ready for breakfast and acts like a Tasmanian devil until he’s fed. The unique thing about it is that he only takes a few bites and then comes to see what I’m doing, checks to see that all is well, and then returns to finish eating…

IMG_2283

After he’s eaten, he immediately comes to find me once more. And if I’ve gone back to bed, he waits patiently for me to get up…

IMG_2285.JPG

For the past few months, sitting beside me in bed hasn’t been enough. I’ll be totally conked out, sleeping on my side, and he’ll literally perch on my shoulder. It’s a balancing act that only a cat could manage, and new behavior for him…

IMG_2287.JPG

My cat looks youthful, but he’s actually in his golden years. A friend suggested his eyesight might not be what it used to be, thus he needs to sit closer to me to see me? I think he’s seeing alright. I guess he’s just showing me how much he loves me…

IMG_2292.JPG

When I took these photos this week, a line from the Bible popped into my brain…

Love is patient, love is kind. 1 Corinthians 13:4

IMG_2290.JPG

Tiddo has been an example to me, of a love that is patient and kind. For all the times I was too busy to play ‘chase the feathers’ with him, or all the times I hollered for him to stop that incessant meowing, or made him wait patiently for my attention…

I think God made our beloved pets so loyal, so that we had a wonderful example of unconditional love.

IMG_2293.JPG

The triggered recall of that verse had me thinking about love, but also about patience and kindness. It felt like a little reminder to myself to be humble, and as kind to others as I can (and strive to be even half as patient as my devoted cat). For all that positiveness we send out into the world, for all the kindnesses we pass along, it makes its way back to your door…

Have you heard the song Humble and Kind by Tim McGraw? Take a minute to watch this special music video. The lyrics, oh heavens!

I also like this nice list, a few easy ways to make others smile!

Wishing you lots of goodness in your life today!

Bringer of Peace

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

IMG_2267

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

IMG_2272.JPG

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

IMG_2276.JPG

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

IMG_2277

The snowy path to our little secret garden…

IMG_2278.JPG

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

IMG_2279.JPG

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

IMG_2275.JPG

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

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

Egg-in-the-hole!

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

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

IMG_2261.JPG

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

IMG_2253.JPG

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

IMG_2254.JPG

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

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

IMG_2256.JPG

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

IMG_2258.JPG

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

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

IMG_2265.JPG

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

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

Queen of the Elves Is Here!

QueenElves-300dpi-3125x4167-2

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

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

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

Now available here on Amazon! Enjoy the adventure!

Good Morning! Good Day!

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

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!

Home Lovin’

Last night, handsome was out and I had an evening at home to myself…

IMG_2188.JPG

Tiddo of course loves any moment I’m home and follows me around the house. We’re best friends. He curled up right beside me and we chilled. After that, he only lifted his head up once to sniff the air. It was just as my supper was near ready out of the oven. He smelled the shrimp…

IMG_2190

I roasted a pan of shallots, garlic, jumbo shrimp and green beans. Healthy and homemade never tasted so good!

IMG_2191

And even now as I write this post, my little dude sits by my side…

IMG_2192.JPG

How good home is…

Here’s wishing yours full of great food, loving family, caring friends, good health, and much happiness!

Always A Lady

I had this dress on my mind today, remembering when I was but a youth. I was about 13 years old here, but I recall this dress like it was yesterday. I don’t want to make the other gowns jealous…but it’s my favorite.

scan.jpg

I love that in this dress, all that was around me was exciting and I wanted to learn everything about Renaissance history.

I love that it meant time with my mom at our favorite place; the trees, the music, the costumes, and those summer grilled foods.

I love that I was wearing something that my mom made for me during the dull winter, but that when spring came and I tried it on for the first time during alterations, I had something to look forward to…summer, dressing in a costume, being dazzled by a world of courtiers, merchants and fools!

Faire2.jpg

I love how I felt: happy, healthy and alive on this single day. It teaches me to strive to take advantage of each day that I have right now. I don’t want to take anything for granted.

Faire3.jpg

I have a distinct memory from that day. A court actor in an elegant gown said, “All you need is a hoop, and then you’ll be a lady.” It was a harmless remark; noble Elizabethan ladies wore farthingales under their skirts. She meant that once my costume had a hoop, I’d look like a noble. Sadly, I didn’t understand. I wondered why I wasn’t already a lady, when I thought I was. I felt sad. Children don’t always understand what adults mean.

Faire4.jpg

I was a persistent child however, and my mother ordered me a little hoop in a tiny catalogue of historic recreation pieces. It was a big deal to send in a check and an order form, waiting for that hoop. No internet orders back then!

I had my hoop, and Lita crafted many more gowns, and with them were more hoops. And I grew up.

But remembering this dress and this day, farthingale or no, I certainly was a lady. I’m thankful for the wonderful women in my life, who set the example. They wore no hoops at all, just jeans!

Swimming Radishes

There are a great many things I do on autopilot…like blurting lesser used (or locally unheard of) words and phrases, picking up grimy found pennies on the street and sticking them in my left shoe (for good luck of course), or this for example…

I’ve been craving radishes lately. My grandma used to grow them in the garden and I ate a lot of them growing up. The crunch, the spice, I think they are delicious. Sometimes I find them so spicy, I need a glass of milk.

IMG_1967.JPG

I sat my fresh cut radishes in the fridge the other day, covered in a bowl of water, and for the first time stopped and wondered why I did that. I instantly remembered snatching radishes out of my great grandma’s fridge after church, covered in chilled water, on Sundays as a girl. My grandma with her garden did the same. And now, I do it.

So I looked it up. Cutting off the stems and leaves keeps the radish from drying out, and the cold water keeps the cut radish crisp. I guess I knew there was logic to making my radishes swim, but never knew exactly why until now.

Funny what we pick up along the way, something taught that we didn’t know we learned, the things that make us who we are…

Reflecting on the View

How lovely to stick one’s head out of the window and get a view, whether in Venice or anywhere else! Here, I was listening to the gondoliers’ barcarole, watching them float by, observing folks as they ambled across the bridge. I couldn’t help smiling at the pigeons rising from the rooftops with their usual cooing. The air was cool, with that hint of the sea.

What is your favorite view, and what are its signature sights, sounds and smells when you poke your head out from the window to observe it?

CIMG0992.JPG

Here, I was mesmerized by the reflection of the buildings in the canal. It almost looked like there was an underworld beneath the surface, an exact replica of the one above! Or even that I was way up stories high (with the building opposite looking much taller than it was because of its reflection). Can you tell when the building across from mine met the water?

Here’s wishing you’ll find the charms in the view just outside your window today, wherever you may be! Trees, birds, corn fields, lapping blue waves? People alive and dancing past one another on their way to somewhere? Neon lights and that city buzz? There is beauty to be found in every view, go look!

Pretty in Paisley

Lita and I are known to have long, animated conversations about costumes, history, and a variety of topics that fall within. We reference period films, look at printouts of centuries old paintings and discuss costumes we’ve seen here and there. And so, for each of her creations, we have a name for it so that parts of them can be easily referenced. This one is the paisley dress.

scan.jpg

These images were taken when I was 16, in the backyard taking a stroll. We named it the paisley dress because of the pattern in the bodice and forepart (which in these photos is tied up the front).

For an Elizabethan dress, an ornate forepart would be seen at a downward V at the front. However, how useful to be able to tie up the overskirt to save the fine forepart from damage in inclement weather!

scan0004.jpg

This was one of her first Elizabethan gowns, and though not worn with any frequency, found its way out of doors on a number of occasions. The farthingale was slight and we were not using a bumroll, so the silhouette was natural.

I absolutely adored the flaps of fabric at the bottom of the bodice, which gave it such a crisp look. The bodice was firmly made and the fabric itself was a striking gold and maroon.

scan0001.jpg

Of course, I felt like quite the lady! Nothing better than sauntering around the yard in a gown. I’m not embarrassed to say, I’ve done it a great many times.

scan0003

Lita was making me laugh, she always does. Over the years, she’s made it difficult to keep a straight face when it was most appropriate to do so. But what is life if you don’t laugh, and often!

scan0002

I don’t think my bangs were the appropriate hairstyle for the Elizabethan period, but they sure were when I was 16! Ah, costume nostalgia…think I’ll drive over and dig through Lita’s costume room, take another twirl in the yard. Oh wait, it’s only 7 degrees outside…that stroll may have to wait!

Fill My Heart With Gladness

This is beautiful Sophie, the daughter of one of my dearest friends and to whom A Festival Day In Bristol is dedicated. When I opened the email with this photo, my heart was so full of gladness. Such a pretty smile, such an adorable costume, such a precious girl!

20151220_134528

I’m again reminded why I write.

Sophie hasn’t had the chance to read her special book yet, but finished Princess Liliana and the Dragon, and in her mother’s words, she loved it.

Thank you to every reader, of my books and Inspired by Venice. I not only hope that you enjoy my adventures, but that they will bring you smiles, surprises and moments of joy when you do. Every word is written for you!

A Basket Full of Kittens

This is 6 month old Sasha, and one very sweet kitten!IMG_1922.JPG

My folks have big hearts, this is the third kitty they’ve adopted recently and their home is filled with kitty play and joy. It definitely warms a home!

IMG_1927.JPG

I love, love, love cats. We’ve had them all my life. After my folks lost their last cats to old age, they said they wouldn’t have any more. If you’ve had a pet, you know how much love you have for them; it is very difficult when they pass on.

Knowing that they wouldn’t be adopting any more, I was shocked to discover on one visit that they’d not just adopted one, but two young black cats, Midnight and Peanut.

IMG_1934.JPG

And then on Christmas, this little one hops up on the table and I wondered how one of the other cats had lost so much weight? But then I immediately realized it wasn’t one of them at all, but rather a third addition.

I always say on Christmas, or my birthday, that I’d be happy to receive a basket full of kittens. If I ever become an eccentric old millionaire with a huge house and kitty sitters to help me attend to them all, I’d welcome a few baskets full. But for now, my Tiddo is the apple of my eye!

IMG_1568.JPG

IMG_1941.JPG

Though Sasha is welcome to come over for a play date!

Food & Fellowship

On Christmas evening, I enjoyed a homemade dinner at my mom and step-dad’s house. I am an only child, so it is often just us three. We had a casual picnic using used wrapping paper as our tablecloth over a low coffee table.

IMG_1954.JPG

My step-dad steamed up a big pot of crab legs, and baked us each a potato and some hot buns. I’d made coleslaw, which was the perfect fresh and crispy compliment to the meal.

IMG_1952.JPG

Mom and I had some chilled white wine and my step-dad enjoyed some beer that handsome sent over for Christmas. We ate on paper plates and enjoyed every delicious second of hunting for our meat. It was sweet and fresh!

IMG_1956.JPG

As you can see, the meal was thoroughly enjoyed. Since there were no claw-crackers, or nut-crackers in the house to be found, pliers and a hammer may have been used, and chopsticks too, to push the very last little morsels of crabmeat out of their shells. We take crab seriously.

IMG_1957.JPG

A big bowl of empty shells and a roll of paper towels later and we were lounging relaxed and merry, listening to holiday music. In our family, when crab is served, we mean business!

IMG_1948.JPG

I’m very happy to call my folks my best friends. We always have animated conversation and a lot of laughs when we get together. And though on Christmas, we tend to spoil one another with lots of gifts, this year we took it easy and just offered a few presents (I got a bread maker and I’m making a wheat loaf this very minute!!).

This meal reminded me however, that all the good restaurants and a pile of gifts can never beat good food and fellowship. How thankful I am, all the year long, for special occasions like this one. I could ask for nothing more.

Here’s wishing you many blessings this season, and well wishes for the approaching new year! May you enjoy every moment of food and fellowship that come your way!

Robata Heaven

Date night took us back to Roka Akor and what an amazing meal and excellent service it was once more! I observed that we had bouts of silence over our plates, which isn’t like us. On date night, we tend to keep it pretty chatty, that time in the week to catch up. But as we devoured each bite, we just stared around vacantly and dreamy eyed. Nothing existed but each exceptional bite.

IMG_2924

To start, Butterfish Tataki with White Asparagus and Yuzu Shallot Dressing. So beautiful to look at, incredibly fresh little bites!

IMG_2926.JPG

Crispy Fried Squid with Serrano Chili and Lime. So good, I would have had a chopsticks duel with handsome if he even tried to get one more piece than I had. Selfish? Greedy? Taste this dish and you’ll sharpen your dueling skills.

IMG_2929.JPG

Also, Forest Mushroom Salad with Truffle Citrus Vinaigrette and Robata Grilled Duroc Pork Belly with Kimchi. We had four appetizers? Uhm, yes. Confession, I’m a  pescatarian. I don’t eat meat, though I do eat seafood. But sometimes, on vacation, or at Roka Akor…I might take a nibble. Well, I might have nibbled half of that pork belly. I wasn’t strong enough to withstand this particular temptation; this grilled meat was like butter.

IMG_2937.JPG

For the main course, I had the Barramundi with Miso Butternut Squash Puree. Handsome had the Lamb Chops with Korean Spice and Grilled Eggplant. I died and went to Heaven, that’s where I’m writing this blog post from. For the sides, Chinese Broccoli with Ginger Shallot Dressing and Sweet Corn with Soy Garlic Butter. Let me tell you, delicious corn. Grilled so that there was that perfect, crisp pop to each fresh kernel. The soy garlic butter…wow! And as I’ve said about Roka Akor before, I love when my fish has that perfect crisp on the top while the meat remains tender. The barramundi was just right!

IMG_2931

I didn’t nibble on my date’s lamb chops…but now that I’m reviewing the photo, perhaps I should have made another pescatarian’s exception?

IMG_2928

Wait, let’s look at that luscious pork belly one more time. You understand how I might have faltered in my reserve and gobbled a row?

FullSizeRender.jpg

Dessert. Purple Sweet Potato Pot de Creme. Oh, my, goodness! Like creme brûlée with a tart, fruity, sweet potato twist. Life is good!

Hats off to the phenomenal service once more! Roka‘s staff are like fluid dancers giving one perfect performance. You are never inconvenienced with clutter, or served the next dish too soon. Our server Jennifer was thoughtful when making recommendations (keeping me on track when I was about to order everything that was fried/rich on the menu…I can’t help it). A balance of light and rich dishes was the right decision. Very thoughtful, knowledgeable, professional service; thank you!

FullSizeRender-2

If you’ve got one near, get to Roka Akor. You’ll thank me for the recommendation when you’re in robota heaven! But more importantly, it’s the season to enjoy a moment with your loved ones and be mindful of all your blessings. Here’s wishing you’ll enjoy each meal, those precious pockets of time you have with your family and friends, and a little restful time to yourself too!

Pink Skies

The morning sky was beautiful from my bedroom window as the sun rose this morning…

IMG_1865.JPG

The pinks, golds and purples brought beauty to the start of a new day!

IMG_1867.JPG

The trees looked proud in the glow and the sun smiled as it climbed.

IMG_1866.JPG

But in just a few moments, the beautiful light faded away. I was disappointed to see how quickly it left…

IMG_1864.JPG

It reminded me that when I see a pink, glowing sunrise, to stop and enjoy the few minutes that it lasts…the world can wait a moment!

Why I love to write

There are of course, many reasons why I love to write. Primarily because storytelling makes me happy! It is so fun! It’s challenging! I’m allowed to make up really wild scenarios, fairy tales, and thrilling moments that usually don’t happen in real life and run with them! The characters are my puppets…Bwah-Ha-Ha! I can get lost in my own worlds! But do you know what is really, really, really special and makes all the hard parts about trying to write books worth it?

 

The readers! This is my cousin Macy, to whom my new children’s book Princess Liliana and the Dragon is dedicated. She enjoyed the first chapter last night. Her mom said she loved it! She brought her copy to kindergarten today to share with her friends.

I melt, I smile, I jump for joy, I’m filled with happiness! What could be better in all the world than to be able to share all those things that come from my imagination, with you…the reader!