Chip Snatching Seagulls!

Living on the shores of Lake Michigan, we have seagulls aplenty. I like the sound of their aerial calls (for the noise makes me feel like I live something of a ‘beachy’ life), but I get easily irritated with their squawks and screeches when they stalk the vicinity of my beach chair for scraps from my picnics!

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I took these photos as ambling pedestrians threw bits of food into the air for swarming, squawking gulls. I was able to get some unique shots. Wouldn’t it be something to be able to fly! I think gulls are such robust, beautiful birds…

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Gulls are seabirds, though they are not known to fly out to sea. They stay close to shore and have adapted most especially to humans (who they so enjoy being given, or snatching food from). Once as I finished a lunch, I placed my plastic bag of partially eaten chips down next to my chair in the sand. One particular gull would not leave me alone, stalking that bag of chips no matter how much I tried to shoo and chase it away (which became sort of embarrassing for me with so many other beach goers around). It would fly off a few yards, and then screech at me to high heavens with one eye always turned on that chip bag!

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However annoying, I find seagulls’ tenacity and cleverness to be interesting to watch. They are known to be highly intelligent, persistent birds, and I quite like their quickness and bravery…

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Once a set of mating gulls pair up, they are together for life. They lay their eggs (about three) in shallow nests of sand, moss or grasses upon the ground. Once the precious, fuzzy babies arrive, one of the parents remain with them at all times…

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Seagulls eat a great many things (dead or alive), be it creatures of the sea (fish and squid), or creatures on land (bugs and lizards). Sadly, they are even known to gobble up baby gulls from other nests (which may be why one parent is always hovering near their nestlings)…

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I have a particular love for researching the bits of nature I encounter, and try to learn something new as often as I can. What small thing can I take from gulls? Well, it certainly isn’t that one should squawk and screech until they obtain what they desire (that’s just bad manners)…

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One thing I can say is that the local gulls deserve respect for surviving these most brutal of icy and windy winters that Chicago frequently serves up. In fact, they deserve an all-you-can-eat buffet of potato chips for that! But jesting aside, I’m inspired by the way they carry themselves with a certain pride and strength as they look out over the waters, even though they never know whether the waves will be tumultuous or whether all will be calm…

Here’s wishing you more quiet waters than rowdy, but that you’ll have the strength to ride out whatever turbulence might come your way!

Mangia! Mangia!

We had a delicious Italian meal at Convito Cafe in Wilmette, just up the street from home last Friday evening. We love finding new places for date night, and feel doubly lucky when we discover a great place right where we live.

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I smiled when they sat us in the coziest enclave, white linen on the table, soothing flameless candles, and this print of Venetian canals. If Venice is in my view, how could a meal ever be unpleasant?

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I’m a sucker for beet salad! If it is on the menu, I order it. Some soft goat cheese and spicy arugula, earthy chilled slices of beet…this salad alone made my night.

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No helter-skelter mussels arrangement here! Didn’t you know that mussels taste better when they are arranged this nicely? The Prince Edward Island Mussels with San Marzano cherry tomatoes, white wine, parsley, marjoram (a type of oregano), butter and crunchy garlic bruschetta was delicious!

Is it just me, or could you also eat an entire loaf of ‘crunchy garlic bruschetta’, dipping it into the sauce until there isn’t a drop or crumb left, only to ask the server for a second loaf?

Fun Fact: Bruschetta is actually just grilled bread rubbed with garlic, drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with salt. You can put toppings (like diced tomatoes, onions and basil) on it, but bruschetta doesn’t mean its topped. I’m always learning something new!

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Pasta heaven! My date had the Campanelle Tonnato: bell shaped pasta, Italian poached tuna, grape tomatoes, picholine olives, capers, fresh basil, lemon, extra virgin olive oil, and a touch of chili peppers. Was it delicious? I ate his leftovers and mine the next day.

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I enjoyed every bite of the Penne Integrale: whole wheat penne, butternut squash, kale, leeks, pumpkin seeds and parmesan butter sauce. Mmmmm…parmesan butter sauce. I dug this dish! The hearty kale, soft sweet squash, flavorful leeks and crunchy pumpkin seeds made it a pasta plate to remember.

A slice of sticky sweet apple tarte and vanilla ice cream was just the right ending to our meal. That was handsome’s espresso, but I couldn’t stop sniffing it. It smelled divine. I would have taken a sip, only my eyes would have been wide open all night and this gal needs her eight hours.

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Convito Cafe was simple in the very, very best way. The food was delicious without being overly rich, the restaurant was classy yet warm like home, the service impeccable without being stuffy. We truly enjoyed our dinner.

But there’s more! Convito Cafe has a market on one side of the restaurant, filled with delectable, take-home meal options. We just picked up some butternut squash lasagna (for me), and meat lasagna (for him)…and some potato gratin (for him) and some cannelloni (for me)…and some roasted brussels sprouts (for us) and a lemon bar (for him…but I’m going to steal a bite when he isn’t looking and blame the cat). Our eyes may have been bigger than our stomachs…well, maybe not mine.

If you live on Chicago’s North Shore, take a little ride up Sheridan along the lakefront and enjoy a table at Convito Cafe. It’s a gem! We’ll see you there!

Spiders In My Mailbox

I live just a few blocks from beautiful Lake Michigan. I can spend an entire summer afternoon in the sand with my lawn chair and a book; the sound of the waves is soothing. Our beach has some grassy dunes and is surrounded by beautiful trees. Some days, the waves are so large you think you’re at the ocean. Just at the end of August, thousands of enormous dragonflies fly over the sand and just over the water. I need to capture that somehow, it’s so beautiful.

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Now, I grew up around green and I know bugs. More than that, I love bugs. I really, really do. I don’t know where I got it, but I notice the tiniest movements and will go to inspect. I have seen the coolest bugs over the years! One of my favorite college classes was Natural Field Science at McHenry County College. We spent a summer traipsing about fields and woods. It was a small class, maybe 8 students. Once, we all got lost in a state park, in tall grassy fields that went on and on, under the scorching sun, in what seemed to be 100 degree weather. We really suffered that day, we were lucky no one got sun sickness. It was kind of scary. This was before cell phones with maps. Ah, memories!

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During that class, we each had to make a collection of bugs (here is my box below). I enjoyed catching and studying them, but I am still sad that I killed some of those little guys (except that one that stung me). See, I think bugs are pretty cool and I don’t like to smush them. I always catch them and let them outside. It can be time consuming, but I think it’s good karma.

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And though I’m not usually bugged (tee-hee), I’ve got spiders in my mailbox and they’re being pests (tee-hee-hee). I have spiders all over the front of my house from early spring to late fall and these aren’t the same ones I grew up with, like Banana Spiders (actually called black and yellow garden spiders), Wolf Spiders, Daddy Long Legs, Jumping Spiders, etc. I’ve got Funnel Weavers, tons of them, big ones! They are also known as Grass Spiders and though I’m sure they are common all over, this is the first time I’ve ever noticed them. My hunch has been that they are grassy lakeside dwellers, but who knows. They build some pretty cool cone-like webs where they sit in wait for prey. The webs are also strong! And they like to make them in my mailbox.

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The mailbox just had a wash yesterday, and yet, as I put my hand into the box just now, I was a little surprised at the strength of a thick web that attached and tugged at my hand (this is all that was left after). A small mouse would have had a hard time getting out of that thing.

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And here is the culprit…he moved in last night and quickly went to work on his web. He’s really big and really fast. The front of the house is regularly crawling with these guys. My boyfriend came home one evening and pulled a large bottle of peppermint oil out of the grocery bag. I puzzled at what we needed it for. Minty cupcake frosting? Minty brownies? Minty lattes? Christmas in July? The spiders…he said. I thought that was a pretty clever idea and I’ve sprayed it liberally. The front of the house sometimes smells like candy canes. Only, it isn’t working. They are super spiders! But the minty scent is nice.

Ah well. I don’t have the heart to squish them. As long as they don’t bite me. This is why my neighbors see me once a week standing on a stool and fishing around in my mailbox like a weirdo for twenty minutes…I help the little dudes out without squishing them. You should have seen the mama spider three weeks ago who had baby spiders covering her back. I tried to delicately remove her and the baby spiders ran everywhere. That was different. Good karma, remember? I also don’t want the mail lady to stop delivering our mail.

I like this spider site (just for Illinois spiders). And my favorite reference bug book is Insects Spiders and other Terrestrial Arthropods by George McGavin. The photos are excellent, you can really identify what you’ve got.