A Teaspoon A Day, Sort of Way…

Hello Dear Friends! Welcome and cheerful greetings!

So, I have to say, however Grinch-like this may sound, I am glad that Christmas has passed.

Why?

Well, of course I love Christmas like anyone else. And I especially love the true messages of Christmas. But it’s sort of like this…

Once upon a time, when I was in my young years, around the early-teens, someone in my extended family got married. Now, I’d always lived a quiet, simple life. And I was an only child. And yes, I had a few friends, and a sprinkle of family. And yes, occasionally exciting things happened. But generally speaking, life was just quiet and simple.

Well, this wedding was something new and interesting. I don’t recall there being much of weddings before that point, and to admit, even to this day, I haven’t been involved in or attended, all that many. And, I wasn’t involved in this one either. More, just a young lady watching the excitement of others from a distance, and thinking it was all quite different. Again, my family is small. And my life was always quiet.

Funny, just now, I’m not even certain I attended this wedding! I have some photos, but I didn’t take them. I don’t think. Was I at this service? I must have been. For why did it all make such an impact on me, if not?

How strange, our memories.

But here is what ultimately happened. Right after this wedding day, my spirit plummeted like a swallow falling down through the sky to smash into the earth. It was immediate. I don’t even know that I ever told anyone how I felt? I didn’t even have any crushing emotional attachment to any of the events surrounding the occasion, except as a happy observer of some special-goings-on.

I eventually recovered. But yikes. I was…shall we say…crestfallen and sullen. And what I learned about myself is…I don’t like a shaking up. I don’t like too much excitement. Soaring too high, and crashing too hard. I don’t like surprises either…unless they are very quiet and gentle surprises…and even then, I don’t prefer them.

HA! I’m so weird.

I have since pinpointed other scenarios from before, and many after, that time. After a largely anticipated happening. Full of sparkle and magic. Christmas fits the mold. Or rather, the whole bundle that is the holiday season. The swallow of my soul soaring too high. And even still…this being the quietest season of all times. It’s just the holidays. They can make one overly sentimental, or analyze too closely. Or expect too much. Or become sullen when the glitter is gone.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I live cheerfully and with delight in my life! But more in the a teaspoon a day, sort of way. I think each day should have simple pleasures, gratefulness, amusement and happiness in it. Just nothing to stir my pot too mightily.

Of course, if you’re the type that embraces a good shaking up, and as much as you can handle, or are someone somewhere in-between…that’s awesome. LOVE YOUR LIFE!!!!! And the opportunity to have that again, is just around the corner, I’m certain.

But all I’m saying is…I think the best magic and inspiration really is, just in the every day. When your eyes are open, you see it. And it’s stinking beautiful. That’s my favorite. And it’s enough for me.

Stay Inspired.

Charity Never Faileth

~ A Message of Charity ~

I will ever be fascinated with the Bible. And not simply in the sense of religion. Let’s just say, it’s the book of everything. It makes you think.

And whether or not you are of the Christian faith, upon reading it, you may be surprised to see just how much it is a book of today, as it was, a book of times past. For those who may say the book is ‘outdated’…well, I wonder if they’ve really read it. Or more particularly, considered the ways it applies to life.

It’s a book about humanity. And as for me, that book is eternal.

But to be specific, I sometimes come across a verse that quite literally changes the way I see life. That’s pretty powerful. Because, you know, I’m not a youngin’ anymore. I’m pretty much set in my pattern of thinking at this point. Deduced from decades of experience.

But here, I am to be humbled.

I recently heard a preacher speak the words: Charity never faileth (1 Corinthians 13:8 KJV). I didn’t even catch the context. But apparently, just hearing the words was enough to impact me indefinitely.

For certain, I’ve heard that verse a zillion times before. But this time, I was struck. Struck hard. Charity never faileth. Hmmm….

Never faileth.

But let me put this into substance. I am not particularly charitable, at present. I can however, look back at periods when I was, and my heart is moved to recall. Visiting the nursing home on Sundays to sing and deliver homemade cards to very lonely elderly (how about I start weeping right now). Volunteering time with youth with disabilities. Volunteering time with disadvantaged children. And all those other times, I simply gave.

I think back, and let me say. It wasn’t just what I was giving. It was what I was getting back in return. My life was permanently changed by those experiences. And remembering, I am deeply humbled. I am also ashamed to wonder, where has my giving gone?

To point out, charity isn’t just money. It doesn’t have to be money at all. It can just be time. Even some small effort. A little cheer. A bit of lifting up. Just giving to someone else. Caring about someone else. Or even, something else, that makes the world better. Animals, the environment, community buildings in need of repair; of course, the list is endless.

Further to mention, I’ve now lived in an urban environment for two decades. Therefore, I regularly encounter people in need as I go about. And though many instances of privation have spoken to my heart, others have hardened it.

And as this message is an honest one, I will say, I’ve often been wary to give to others, wondering if in some cases, I’m not being tricked, or manipulated. Or if my giving will be misapplied.

But then, that verse.

Charity never faileth. And I realized, in an instant, softening any hard part I’d ever allowed to grow in my heart…

No matter what, if you give, it is never, ever, in vain.

Perhaps some efforts appear they will be a loss. Or, a giving put to poor use. Or, why bother. But that is not so. Charity never faileth.

Each of us knows, in what ways, and when, we can give. Just always remember, it will never be in vain.

Please pass along the message ~ I think it is one worth sharing.

Stay Inspired.

Happy Saturday!

Hi, Hi, Hi!

How is everyone doing today? I hope you are staying inspired?

If you’re a new reader, I just want to say welcome to Inspired By Venice! Be sure to say Hello! So glad you’re here.

In the news this week, I received a care package from my mama on Tuesday.

Doesn’t a care package just warm your heart? Whether filled with treats, or things needed, or in my case, office supplies and Covid survival goods (including a bundle of pink face masks…so I can feel pretty), it’s always a blessing.

Thank you Mom!

In said box, was a huge magnifying glass. Because I have that mom that just sends cool stuff like that!

The thought of smoking ants on the sidewalk crossed my mind (you know I would never – ever), and also a cozy reverie of skimming piles of dusty books fireside with said magnifier. I’d need a pipe, and some fuzzy slippers, and a cat or five, in this dream…

But then I thought…I will magnify all my bugs! So, the glass has an important purpose now. It’s my insect magnifying glass.

With this said, I think my bug book, however faithfully it has served me over the years, and how beloved it is, is not enough.

Christmas present to self – I need a spider book. To start.

You know, spiders are very aware of you. Maybe they think we’re monsters. Maybe we look good to nibble. I think some are curious (jumpers to be specific). I’ve had some pretty awesome interactions.

A jumper who was browsing my books.

Because, spiders like fairy tales too.

It’s true. This one told me.

In other news, and as I have stated here before, anything minty and chocolate is on my list of top favorites in life. Therefore, every holiday season, I go bonkers over the selection of seasonal delights.

These dark chocolate peppermint cookies from Whole Foods? Let’s just say, I’m going back to the store, I’m going to fill a basket, and become a pandemic toilet paper hoarder…only with cookies.

In other, other news…I’ve been a vegetarian for about a decade now! That’s pretty committed for a meat lover.

Yes. I said it. Meatloaf, bacon, and ribs are delicious. (Shhh…don’t tell the other vegetarians I said that). But I don’t eat it. In all these years, the few bites I’ve had has amounted to no more than a plate. And, at least for me personally, I believe my body thanks me for that every day.

I have a love affair with salad. It’s date night every night!

{An American Greetings card I’m displaying in my kitchen for some cheer}

In other, other, other news…Is there anything better than glitter? Can I just roll in a pile of glitter and run down the street skipping, and twirling, just once in my life? Just saying.

Well now, I’m off to other writing. I hope to get Still out to the world very soon. And I sincerely can’t wait.

Stay Inspired!

Are we ready for some cheer?!

Who is already ready for some holiday sparkle?!?

Me Me Me – ME ME!!!

But really? Will some mini jingle-bells and glitter applied to my face mask be too much?

Ha – HA!

For the record…I looked up how long candy canes last, since I just happened upon a forgotten one on the shelf in my cupboard. And guess what?

I’m eating it!!

Stay inspired friends!

Merry, Merry Christmas To You All!

On this beautiful Christmas morning, I wish each and every one of you…

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…all of the peace, love, health, and happiness in the world.

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Merry Christmas to you all! May your hearts be filled with good cheer!

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

John 16:33 KJV

Make Your Own Happiness…

Hello my dear friends, family, and readers! Happy belated Thanksgiving…I am grateful for you!

I am also happy today! Can you guess why?!?

(Do you like my little hint?)

Was it because of my morning muffin (pumpkin today!) and coffee? The two things that I undeniably cannot get my day started without? Great guess, but nope…

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Is it on account of the secret stash of holiday-themed cookies I’ve been surreptitiously hiding in my cupboard? (I’m promising myself I’ll give up the habit…after Christmas…COOKIES!!!)

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Yes, cookies make me smile, but that’s not it either…

Is it because I had a hearty, healthful vegetarian Thanksgiving plate at my Grandpa and Grandma Novak’s house yesterday, and spent time with family?

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Well yes…of course I’m happy because of that…but there’s something else!!!

Have you guessed yet? Need another hint?

Beauty Sleeping is here! The most enchanting fairy tale my brain has yet to imagine. It is a delightful gem! I hope it takes you away to a beautiful, mysterious, and magical place…

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This is a snippet from the first chapter…you can ‘look inside’ the book on Amazon and read it for yourself here

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For those of you new to Beauty Sleeping, it is not a youth adventure, neither is it a novel… it’s a novella. Fantasy fans, Renaissance junkies, sword clashers, believers in fairies, those who love love…this one’s for you! Enjoy!

As for me, each day I delight in making my own happiness! I’ll be working on Still, and Dragons At Dusk as the days grow colder and colder and the snow begins to fall…

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For all of my Bristol Renaissance Faire friends, I’m looking forward to seeing you at The Quill and Brush for my 5th season July 2020! New tales in tow…

Making my own happiness lately has not only consisted of writing, but also reading…

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Various books, but also the Book. For many, Psalms is a comfort and joy to read. It is. But my favorites are Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. There’s a lot of wisdom in them both, and as I get older, I aspire to be a better, wiser, more empathetic person.

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I also want to be stronger, more firmly-sound-in-spirit, and a less-anxious human being! The Bible is a place of wisdom for all of those things for me…

Another source of happiness, several Netfix offerings have been quite entertaining recently. I have to tell you, I have never giggled so much as I did at the documentary film, Dancing with the Birds. If you subscribe to Netflix, you must watch it. I was utterly dazzled by these birds of paradise!

I have also been entranced with the documentary series Civilizations by PBS. Never one to think much about art, I’m now completely enraptured by everything I’m learning in this wonderful program. It’s made me want to travel to every art museum and church on the globe! Love it!

Heal, another documentary that moved me, focuses on how much our stress affects our health, and what activities in life can help negate that. It inspired me to think about how I can surrender more to calm, rest, and peace, rather than anxiety, burden, and worry. Love that!

As for holiday favorites, I thought Holly Star was so hilarious! The trailer doesn’t do it justice, it was such a cute movie!

And I also thought The Knight Before Christmas was a holiday delight! But I write fairy tales, so of course I would!

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Otherwise, I am quite happy with my everyday evening salads! Both healthy and satisfying, it’s a nice part of my day that I’m always looking forward to…

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And oh goodness! Here’s a photo of me when a tiny newling on my Mama’s lap, one Christmas long ago. Isn’t that a memory of happiness? Beauty Sleeping is dedicated to her. Without her, I would never have been inspired to write a fairy tale in the first place…

As for you…keep looking toward your health and happiness. There’s nothing more important. I’m wishing this season brings you much peace, joy, and laughter!

All of my best wishes! Stay Inspired!

May Your Days Be Merry And Bright! And some special giveaways!

Hello, hello! I hope that each and every one of you is feeling healthy, happy and inspired today! There was a lovely snowfall here in Evanston last night, which is making a cup of coffee and the view from the window quite cozy this morning…

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I attended a special holiday craft fair this week, a private event for the employees of a local science and technology park. It was such a festive, pleasant experience! There was holiday music playing, sparkly Christmas trees, friendly crafters and cheerful attendees. I believe a book or two might make it into a Christmas stocking!

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And speaking of stockings, Christmas is fast approaching. If you’re looking for a special gift for a youth…there’s nothing better than a book. Keep those kiddos reading, it’s good for ’em! Please consider one of my enchanting adventures this season to put under your tree…

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And now for some special giveaways! First up, this beautiful, hand-knitted pull-over cape/cowl by Andi Bilek of Kitten Crochet of Milwaukee, WI. There is a wondrous shop at the Bristol Renaissance Faire called Tangled Fibres, premiering Andi’s talents in knit. Before I had my own shop The Quill and Brush, and could spend the day perusing the shops, I purchased some lovely items from Tangled Fibres

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Take for instance these mustard, fingerless knitted gloves that I wear constantly when the weather turns wintery…

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And this delightful knitted throw that keeps me and Tiddo the cat nice and cozy…

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But I haven’t worn this knitted cape/cowl, and don’t think that it’s polite to keep it any longer just to look at. It should be worn and enjoyed by another knit-loving lady! Andi’s capes/cowls on Kitten Crochet run for about $165. Worth every hand-made penny! Gorgeous pieces! She makes other charming items too, be sure to check out her site…

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To enter to win this knitted piece, please make a comment below and tell us what your current joy of the season is. Peppermint lattes, holiday movies, festive radio tunes, visits with friends and family? What’s your wintery delight? I’ll choose one winner randomly one week from today, on Saturday December 16th, 10am Chicago time. Good luck you lovers of knit…

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As for my second giveaway today, 3 signed copies of my historic-fiction thriller Veleno are up for grabs on Goodreads. Enter for your chance to win by January 2nd, 2018. Here is the link, good luck!

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Here’s wishing you peace and good cheer, and all things merry and bright this season, wherever in the world you may be. Here is to your best health and happiness! God bless us all!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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!

A Winter’s Night By The Fire At Roka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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