The Itty Bitty Littles Giveaway!

Because the birds are chirping outside and the sun is shining…because the lovely seasons of spring and summer are just ahead…because giving is a special delight…and because it is a great joy to share my stories with you…today is the day! The day for a giveaway!

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Old Netty Nettles has lived all alone in the countryside, between vast fields and an enchanted forest, for many years. Comfortable in her cottage, she tends to her garden and is one wonderful crafter and cook. That’s why friends coming all the way from the village of Whistling Woods love to visit her!

But Netty’s hospitality isn’t the only reason friends come calling; she’s incredibly kind and one special storyteller too. Living in the wilderness, Lady Nettles has encountered some amazing creatures. Naughty fairies, a helpful brownie, one elusive water sprite, and even a grouchy dragon! But the most memorable day for Netty was when she met a brood of rascally itty-bitty-littles!

Be a guest in Netty’s cozy cottage, grab a treat and a good seat as she recalls her time spent with some very magical critters!

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To enter for your chance to win one free copy of The Itty Bitty Littles, please share in the comments where you last spotted an itty-bitty-little. Have fun with your imagination! Did you spy one running across your back lawn? Were several to be seen peeking out from a berry bush, where they were feasting along a nature trail? They can be mischievous too…perhaps one made a mess of your garden or knocked down your bird feeder? Maybe you even had a rare sighting of one in a busy city! But where?

One winner will be selected at random next Wednesday, April 19th at 10 a.m. Chicago time and announced here, and the magic inside The Itty Bitty Littles will be theirs!

Past book giveaways: [The Book of Dragons Giveaway] [A Delightful Giveaway]

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!

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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…

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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…

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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…

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

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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!

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

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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…

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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…

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[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!

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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!

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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…

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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

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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)…

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

Here is hoping you are enjoying your adventure today!

Sneaky, Slithering Sea Snail!

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

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So, I decided to change my focus and search for starfish instead. Handsome joined me, and when he spotted this big shell sitting in some seagrass below the waves, I squealed with delight! I finally had the perfect shell to bring back with me…

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After he scooped it out of the water, I quickly snatched it from him to marvel at our treasure. The find was the size of my outstretched hand! Only, something started to move inside. I furrowed my brow and blurted, “There’s something in there!”

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A sea snail! Knowing that some of them can be poisonous or dangerous, but not knowing which variety, I was careful to keep my fingers away from the animal as he came out to say, “Excuse me…can I help you?” Especially as he had what looked like a red claw moving out at his rear…

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Wary of this alien, with his tongue-like muscle and googly eyes stretching out, I gently set the shell in the sand to see what the snail might do. Immediately, he reached out and pushed himself over. I’d set him upside down! Oops!

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Here the snail is with his body to the sand, his shell on his back, ready to make his way off into the sunset. “Which way back to the sea?”

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

I’m A Hummingbird…

Cue the music please:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

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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!

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

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

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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!

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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…

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

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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…

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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!

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When I woke up this morning, the first thought that popped into my head were pom-pom crabs (my brain works in random and mysterious ways, especially before I’ve had a cup of coffee). I was introduced to their existence when reading a recent and fascinating article. And now I think about them at random times of the day, imagine them skittering around the seafloor shouting their little crabby cheers…

[Photo Credit: Prilfish]

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The pom-pom crab (also called a boxer crab) is named after the sea anemones that it holds in its claws (reminiscent of a cheerleader’s pom-poms). Sea anemones have a nasty sting, which the boxer crab can use to scare away predators or to zap a meal. The lady crab above has her brood attached to her belly. Get away from my babies or I’ll stun you. Zzzzttt! 

[Photo Credit: Hectonichus]

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Fascinatingly, they create their pom-poms by snipping anemones in half (forced cloning where the halved creatures grow full again). Even the itty-bitty baby boxer crabs wield these stinging poms. And when a boxer crab loses its anemones, it will steal one from another crab and halve it! They take their poms very seriously. Pretty neat!

Here’s to the joys of always learning something new, and finding awe in the wonders of our world. And for each of your life’s dreams and aspirations today, I am shaking my poms to cheer you on! Stay inspired!

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…

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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…

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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!

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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…

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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!

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

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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?

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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)…

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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…

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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)…

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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…

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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)…

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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…

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

I’m A Cardinal…Part II.

Cue the music please:

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

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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!

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

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I’m a Cardinal, you know what I mean…

[I’m A Cardinal, Part I. Click Here]

A Night At The Museum

There are three places in the world that I deeply treasure in my heart. Venice, Italy. The Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, WI. And, The Field Museum in Chicago, IL. So when handsome and I received an unprecedentedly exciting invitation to an evening soiree at The Field, my mouth dropped open, my eyes grew sparkly, and my brain broke for approximately five whole minutes…

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Chicago was having a bit of a blizzard, but that didn’t stop us. It made the evening even more charming (especially because my date was driving while I yapped on, cozily in the passenger seat). I was delighted to see that we had valet right at the bottom of the steps leading up to the museum, and a white tent hovering over the grand stairs to keep guests covered from the wind and snow…

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After checking in our coats, we filed up marble stairs to the second floor, where hors d’oeuvres and beverages were passed on silver platters. The view was breathtaking, the holiday lights and enormous wreathes of greenery were hung festively, and jazzy music echoed all around. I had a perpetual grin on my face as my eyes darted around in every direction. The secrets within the museum halls were calling my name…

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It was an absolute privilege to amble through the exhibits at night, with the halls dim and the cases enchantingly lit, hardly bumping into another guest. It was like we had the whole museum to ourselves. The beautiful botany, the pinned insects, the dinosaurs, the ancient artifacts…I swoon, I die…actually I gasped, and giggled, and smiled and felt as merry as a lark…

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I whispered with the dinosaurs and my imagination went wild with prehistoric visions…

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I told Sue that she was pretty. 65 million years have nothing on her!

If you haven’t seen the incredible documentary about this T-Rex, titled Dinosaur 13, I entreat you to watch it immediately. The story was so moving that I cried. Yup. I secretly shed tears for a dinosaur. Sue’s story is truly amazing…

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And her enormous teeth are nightmare worthy…

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I love, love, love the bugs! In another life, I am an entomologist! Aren’t they fascinating?!

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This dude had some serious spine. I wonder if he suffered from back aches?

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And in my other, other life…I’d like to be a full-time scale models, replicas and diorama maker for museums! Tell me this beach scene doesn’t look real? The figures in the sand are no bigger than my pinky finger. Ahhhh! I’m nuts for dioramas!

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After adequately losing my mind with childlike excitement, we sat down to a delicious dinner. I very much enjoyed my salad of greens with blue cheese crumbles, crusty artisan bread, and mushroom risotto with asparagus. It was perfect…

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There were adorable little desserts too, tasting of egg-nog and peppermint. Miniature winks to the festive season! And after our sweet treats, we roamed the halls of the museum once more, and then ended the evening with much dancing…

If you ever have the chance to visit The Field, I hope that you will and will spend some time. This museum has an incredibly rich history, its roots taking hold with The World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago, 1893). The Field Museum is truly magnificent, and offers so much learning. I will cherish it for all of my days!

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!

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…

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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…

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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…

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

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

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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)…

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

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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!

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

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

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And writings that are very wise indeed…

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

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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!

Demise of the Duckie…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Whaaaa! EEEhhhhh!!! Noooooeeeewww!

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

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

We Are All But Buds And Berries

Some autumns ago, just as the leaves were turning and the summer was fading away, I went on a forest walk with a gathering of my family. It was the perfect day, and there simply isn’t anything so pleasant as a nature walk…

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These particular woods have a sprawling forest of pine trees that I am very fond of. I’ve always appreciated the lack of thick underbrush there, and the soft crunch of pine needles underfoot. And of course, the fresh scent of pine. I ran through that wood often as an itty bitty little

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On this particular family outing, I carried along a basket and scissors to cut wild flowers and other natural decorations. I decided that I wanted to make a forest wreath to place upon my head, for no particular reason but that it would be a pleasant activity…

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With wire and floral tape ready, I snipped up flowers, plants and berries, and bound them together into my wreath. It took far longer to construct than I expected of my whimsical craft, and I was dismayed at how much of the dried bits, seeds and petals fell away as I worked. This also caused a bit of sneezing, for I and hay fever are bound in this life…

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But the time spent working with such little snippings of nature, while chatting the time away with my closest, made a memorable afternoon. I thought the wreath turned out lovely, as fragile as it was. The circlet didn’t last for long, quickly falling away bud by berry. But I suppose that that was a reminder to cherish each precious season, and those that I love, for we are all but buds and berries…

Please Don’t Feed The Cuties, I mean the Coatis!

A few years ago while driving back to our hotel after a rainforest walk in Costa Rica, we saw something peculiar on the side of the road. I instantly blurted something like, “What are those things?”

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Of course, I was tremendously excited! I love catching sight of any wild creature, especially one that I’ve never seen before, or ever even knew existed. Were they monkeys? Large rodents? Lemurs? Jungle squirrels? Wolverines? I have an overactive imagination…

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Curiously, there was also a gaggle of people standing nearby (presumably tossing the creatures some nibbles). Of course, that is something I’d want to do (get right in the action and observe the animals up-close). However, it appeared that these long-tailed creatures were quite energetic and swarming in an unpredictable way, and I didn’t think it looked all that safe for folks to be standing so near…

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The animals were white-nosed coatis. They are also called pizote or coatimundi, among other names and are of the raccoon family. Different from raccoons however, coatis are not nocturnal. Instead of coming out at dusk to search for food, they sleep in trees at night and wake at dawn. Further, male coatis are far larger than females and like to remain solitary. The gals however, run around in crowds with their babies! The photo I took therefore, most certainly comprised only females and their little ones…

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What do they like to eat? Tarantulas. Yup. Nothing like a big, hairy, juicy spider to get the day going right! They also find rodents and lizards to be quite delicious, and delight in fruit. But, they will also eat scraps thrown to them by people. However, coatis (as cute and friendly as they can be) are wild animals and their bite (or even their scratch) can deliver rabies. They should never be fed, nor should folks get too close.

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As adorable as this nascent coati is, he should be left to learn how to hunt for his tarantulas (delicious), not beg for human snacks (yuck)!

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I was of course curious whether we have any coatis in the U.S., since I’d never heard of them. As it turns out, we do have extremely sparse populations in Arizona and in southern New Mexico. Apparently a handful live in Florida too (though certainly not native, but rather escapees from some captivity).

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Now that I’ve enjoyed learning about coatis, it’s time for me to research other odd facts! Such as, how nutritious are tarantulas? Do people eat tarantulas? If people hunt and eat raccoons, do they also hunt and eat coatis? How often do people contract rabies from wild animals? Should I have gotten a rabies vaccine that one time a squirrel jumped on my head from right out of that tree? Can squirrels even get rabies?

Here’s wishing you a great curiosity in life and learning new things, each and every day!

The Nests of Great Egrets

11/15/16: Update to this post…upon closer examination, these may indeed be Cattle Egrets rather than Great Egrets. When zooming in to the photos to get better details, I discovered tan plumage on heads and chests that is indicative of a Cattle Egret’s feathers during mating season. Further, orange-red legs point to a Cattle Egret as well, for Great Egrets have black legs. It was fun to make this mistake however, for it has sharpened my skills for future birding!

A few years ago on the Island of St. Lucia, while en route to ride out into the ocean’s waves, this amazing scene was to be found. I was in absolute awe of the abundant and beautiful life to be seen in these trees…

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When later researching these birds, I believed them to be Snowy Egrets, when in fact they are Great Egrets. Though both species are white, Snowy Egrets have black beaks and Great Egrets have orange. The activity here was so wonderful to see, these large birds and their nestlings all gathered together near the water’s edge…

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Great Egrets are members of the heron family of birds, which like to stalk their food in shallow waters (creatures like fish and frogs). They spear their catch with their beaks. In Illinois where I live, you might catch an occasional glimpse of one stalking fish in the waters of a conservation area during the warmer months, but these birds are truly lovers of tropical places. Since I’ve only ever seen a handful of lone egrets where I’m from, these trees filled with fuzzy headed egret babies just about took my breath away!

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Egrets pair up each mating season and produce blue-green eggs, which both mom and dad take turns sitting on. Their nest can be up to 3 feet wide and their little hatchlings are ready to fly out from the nest after 6 weeks old. Let me tell you, those babies are the cutest ever, with feathery, fluffy white heads! But don’t be fooled, these precious creatures grow up to be fierce aquatic hunters!

Here’s wishing you wonderful glimpses of nature today, and everyday…especially some that take your breath away!

What’s Up, Chippy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Delightful Giveaway!

Because today is a beautiful day…because it’s a holiday weekend…because I’ve still got one last festive weekend left at Bristol…today feels like a great day for a giveaway to share a little delight with you…

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Today, I’m giving away a copy of Delight! To enter, use your imagination and tell us what your fairy name would be if you were one of those magical creatures, and share it in the comments! I’ll randomly choose a winner on Tuesday, September 6th at 10:00 a.m. Chicago time and announce the winner! Here’s wishing you a delightful weekend!

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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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).

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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…

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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…

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…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…

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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.

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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

The Mermaiden

Can you smell the briny air? Hear the seagulls screeching? See the sand crabs scuttling? Feel the power of the ocean’s waves? Won’t you come sit a moment with a mermaiden and get lost at sea?

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Bess lives in a cottage beside the sea in the village of Salty Row. Her father is a respected fisherman, providing fish to both the people of their town, and also the nobles who live nearby in a great castle.

Bess loves her life by the ocean, filled with wind and water. Especially on the days her father brings her along on his boat; his hardworking crew is a spectacle to watch, and how exciting it is when the fishing nets are pulled up, brimming over with curious creatures!

As Bess is soon to learn however, the good fortune and security always enjoyed in Salty Row is about to experience some turbulent waters! Of course, facing hardship isn’t easy. However, one captivating mermaiden with her tales from the deep, might just be the key to keeping Bess’s good spirits afloat!

Available now on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

A Moment With Nature

Greetings green frog, or are you bullfrog? I wish you well about your day…

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Dearest water lily, you make me smile! You lift my heart, as I go on my way.

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Well met, lovely blossom! Aren’t you divine? How happy I am, to see your blush…

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Good day, painted turtle! How you stretch your neck! I see you are in no rush?

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Good morrow fellow, relaxed I see? Has anyone ever remarked on your ears? Goodness, oh my, don’t mind my saying, but how very big they be!

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Eeehh my, you frog! I’d made a mistake! At first I took your face, for that of a snake!

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Oh pretty white petals, how pure you be, and so sweetly yellow too! You lift my spirits and make me smile, as your countenance was made to do!

Here’s wishing you many moments with nature, to relax your mind and uplift your spirits!

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…

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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)…

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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…

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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…

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

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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…

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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!

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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…

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Arugula salad with soft boiled eggs…

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

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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!

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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

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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…

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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)…

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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…

Cave Cricket In The Potty

Please cue the music from Jaws

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Duuuhh…..

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Duhhhduuhhh….

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Duuhh..duhhh….duuuhhh….

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

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

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

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

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…

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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…

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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…

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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!”

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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!

Dragons at Dawn

I am very excited to share Dragons at Dawn! This treasure of a book is a true adventure! Especially for those who love a dragon tale! Enjoy…but beware the clawed and fanged beast! Bwa-ha-ha!

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Pious enjoys sitting with his neighbor Joseph, one of the elders of Piper’s Hamlet. Joseph shares fascinating stories about faraway places and the wild and enchanted animals and beings that live in them. Even at the edge of their village, far up upon a hill, stands Hightower. Pious learns from Joseph why the watchtower was built many centuries before. It was used to fight off dangerous creatures that used to cross into their lands, causing complete havoc in the town. There were frightening mirage elves, rowdy sand stags and beastly sun dragons. Long out of use, battling the creatures from Hightower is now just an ancient tale. Or is it?

Piper’s Hamlet soon comes under siege. A sun dragon from afar has come to attack and destroy, and an entire village must work together to survive. Pious, as curious as ever, can’t help wondering why the furious beast has fallen upon them after so many years of peace. He becomes determined to find out, soon learning that it could fall to him to save them all!

Join Pious as he learns the true meaning of selflessness, feels the kindness and unity that can be found amongst neighbors, and discovers what it means to be courageous before the fiercest of foes, for everyone’s sake!

Available now on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

Once Upon A Star

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

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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…

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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!

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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!

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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…

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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.

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

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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.

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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).

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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!

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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…

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

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

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

Making Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware The Ant’s Kiss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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The snowy path to our little secret garden…

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

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

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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…

That old April Adage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And turned on the fireplace, which Tiddo cannot resist!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s wishing you a wonderful day!

Spring Morning Walk

Hey there handsome…

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Welcome back friends…

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Good morning darling buds…

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So happy to see you, precious friend…

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The sun shines for you, little flower…

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Well hello there ladies!

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How I’ve missed you, green…

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How pretty you are!

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Come on out, you sturdy blooms…

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Your delicate purple petals make my heart sing today…

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So glad I stepped out to visit you all, before I was on my way!

Fur For Fleas

It’s fun to be wrong, at least when it comes to research. It allows you to be surprised, delighted and to learn new things!

Having always loved history, costuming and even participating in Renaissance re-enactment, there were ‘facts’ that I’ve never questioned. Learned people told me so, and I’d read so, so it must be true! Well that isn’t always the case. Take the flea fur…

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Oh heavens, look at those pearls! I digress. (If you love pearls as much as I do, don’t forget about Inspired by Venice‘s pearl earrings giveaway!)

Above is Isabella de’Medici (Italian), from 1558. At her side, you can see a special accessory. It is a zibellino or flea fur, adorned with gems.

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And here is Bianca Ponzoni Anguissola (Italian), 1557. She too has a flea fur, gilded, a head of gold, gems for eyes.

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And here, a flea fur at the collar of this woman (England, mid-1500’s).

You can find many, many portraits of nobles and their flea furs. Of course, people have been wearing furs for forever. But this particular way of wearing them (perhaps for looks, and displaying their riches) is noticed starting in the mid-late 1400’s.

I had always read, and been told, that the flea fur also had a practical purpose. It was to attract biting fleas from off of bodies. Even nobles crawled with fleas, money meant nothing when these creatures infested bedding, infrequently washed clothing, pets, etc. Nobles were said to place these furs on their person, so that the fleas would gather on the fur and then they could shake them, or beat them out.

Makes sense, only, it isn’t true. It was first surmised that this was the purpose for the pelts in the 1890’s, though no evidence has shown that the flea fur was anything but an accessory.

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Another noble lady holding her fur, Italy 1515. It’s fascinating how easily fiction becomes fact, this particular one developing in the late 19th century, and still a misdirected belief today. It reminds me to be careful to not take what people write or say, to be truth (even though in this case, I want to believe it!). Flea furs, held in the hand, hanging from the waist, laying over the shoulder, pinned to the breast, were just a vain display.

Oh well. I can still imagine this noble lady, frustrated with fleas, running outside to fling her flea fur about. Fiction perhaps, but amusing!

Brainy Ravens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woodpeckers Wear Helmets

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

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Usually my first thought is…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Woodpecker fun facts!

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

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

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

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

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

Citrus in Chicago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Garden Swan

We are blessed to have the Chicago Botanic Garden just a short 15 minute drive from our house. There are many gardens within the garden, illustrating different kinds (greenhouse, fruit & vegetable garden, Japanese garden, etc.). There is even an aquatic garden! I enjoy all of the gardens, but I really do love the English Walled Garden. It is filled with vine covered trellises, potted pretties and wooden benches, within a small walled garden (just the place to take a seat at any season to enjoy the outdoors).

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We’ve picnicked in the gardens, sat mesmerized by the birds. I’ve stuck my face into a few dozen rose bushes, chased after bugs…but I didn’t pick any flowers, that would be rude.

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When I awoke to snow this morning after we had a glorious day yesterday (sunny and 45 degrees!), all I could think about was the spring that is to come. Even though we’ve had one very temperate winter, I am particularly looking forward to spring and summer’s warm days once more, and walks with my honey in the garden!

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The gardens host many wonderful birds, including swans that float majestically over the man-made lakes there, which spout glorious fountains. If I had a big estate with a lake, I’d own lots of swans and I’d give them each a name, and they’d follow me around the yard on my walks. I’m eccentric like that. I’d talk to them and tell them how pretty and handsome they were, just like above.

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Swan fun facts!

Swan couples mate for life. (Very sweet, I’m guessing that the male swan must bring the lady swan delicious algae to eat, gives her beaky kisses and tells her that she’s beautiful…the key to true love, of course).

People often believe that swans do not fly, but only swim around their lakes and ponds. However, they do fly (some of the largest flying birds), but need a long runway (at least 30 yards) to run before they can get off the ground. They can fly up to 60 miles per hour!

Swans sleep as they float in the water, or standing on one leg on land. (Just one…no shuteye if it is two legs.)

Swans get sick when they eat mold; stale bread is one thing, but don’t toss moldy bread to a swan. (They haven’t invented birdie antacid tablets yet).

Swans are very, very smart. (Like Santa Claus, they remember if you’ve been naughty or nice! So don’t go near their nest or throw them moldy bread, give them their space…and tell them they’re special, they like that.)

Here’s wishing you a day as lovely as a garden!

Rascally Raccoons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a Cardinal…

Cue the music please:

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

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

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

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

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I’m a Cardinal, you know what I mean…

What was that?

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

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

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

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Coming soon!

Soon to be released! The Fairy Woods!

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Whisper, Wish and Wind are young fairies living in one very enchanted forest, the Fairy Woods! Together they dance, make new animal friends and explore all there is to see within their woodland realm. In the Fairy Woods, each day holds a new adventure for the faes of the forest!

Fairies however, are not the only mystical creatures. They’ve got neighbors! There are wise old hobs, naughty will-o’-the-wisps and greedy goblins called trows. With so much magic in one wooded place, all kinds of mischief can happen!

When trouble brews, can the otherworldly citizens of the Fairy Woods work together for the good of all? Whisper, Wish and Wind think so! Join these fairy friends as they show how kindness is the truest magic of all!

Pink Skies

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

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

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

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

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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!

The Itty Bitty Littles

Hello delicate dandelion…

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Soft, quiet, beautiful…swaying in the wind in a warm grassy field…

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But wait! What just bumped into you and disturbed your little seedlings?

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Who’s there? I think I hear tiny footsteps crunching through the grass…

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Oh my! An itty bitty little! What a pleasure to meet you!

Coming soon, teeny-tiny friends on a big adventure!

The Island of St. Lucia

Last spring, we visited the island of St. Lucia and took an amazing walk through the jungle. The plants were incredible!

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This is a Pink Torch Ginger, considered a highly beloved flower. It can grow to be up to 15 feet tall! This one was just a little taller than me.

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What I find remarkable about tropical flowers is how big, strong, colorful and oddly shaped they can be. Looking at some of these made me imagine for a moment that I was on another planet. The landscape and plants are just so different from what I’m accustomed to. I imagine that is how people who have never seen snow feel when they see a snowy landscape for the first time.

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What I also found incredible was how abundant the fruit was! Everywhere you looked, there were mangos, papayas and fruit that I have never seen or heard of before. I took note of a sign that read beware of falling mangos and breadfruit and proceeded to be a little paranoid that a mango would fall on my head. That would be unpleasant.

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Loved the blue-green color of this unique flowering plant!

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I’ve seen ferns unfurl from the ground but never growing into plush, soft trees. The branches weaved on the trunk and were fuzzy. The leaves looked as soft as cotton. There was a little green snake in its branches that mesmerized me.

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I couldn’t get over the enormous hummingbirds flying all over the place. They are apparently some of the world’s largest. They looked more like blackbirds than the itty-bitty hummingbirds we see at home. Their long beaks appeared useful in getting nectar from such big tropical flowers.

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We were having such a lovely time, until handsome suggested that we climb one of the local mountains…the Grand Piton. I would share photos of me at the top of that mountain, but I look like I’ve just narrowly survived torture. I had no business climbing that mountain. It was the most physically demanding thing I have ever done. At least a hundred times, I breathlessly gasped “I’m not going to make it.” The running joke has been to try to get me to admit I’m proud I made it to the top and that it was worth it…I’ll never admit it, I frown when I remember that harrowing climb.

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On the mountain, I saw a giant slug nearly as long as my foot. Awesome! And I saw several elusive mongoose bounding around (introduced to St. Lucia to control the snakes). I’m a sucker for wildlife.

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We also took an incredible catamaran ride and I saw flying fish for the first time. I couldn’t believe my eyes! They jump out of the water, spread their fins and catch the wind. They can really fly a distance and even turn directions! I pondered whether a local fisherman had ever been hit by a flying fish out in his boat…that would be worse than a falling mango.

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There were nesting seabirds altogether in several trees with their fuzzy-headed young. That was a special sight! We also went snorkeling and the coral and tropical fish were so unique…I again felt like I was in another world. The only fear I had were the jellyfish. Was I stung? Oh yes. The jellyfish always get me. Their touch is very distinct, like burning, electric, bee stings. I may have said some curse words…but I was under the water, so only the jellyfish heard.

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St. Lucia is a stunning island! The people were so welcoming, the tropical waters amazing, the jungle incredible. The local food was delicious and the wildlife inspiring! And though I will never step foot on another mountain, I’ll admit it was an unforgettable experience…in that, my poor heart muscles will never forget the memory!

One Majestic Bird

I was reviewing photos from a zoo outing I took with my folks a few years back and thought these were so lovely. This gorgeous bird (and a few of his friends) were allowed to roam the zoo outside of any enclosures, though it was clear that zoo staff kept a watchful eye on them with all the people so dazzled and close by. I was able to stand pretty close to observe, though hesitantly…to be chased by a peacock wouldn’t have been surprising for me, I just have that kind of luck.

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Fun fact…a peacock is a boy bird (with all the pretty feathers) while a peahen (the lady bird) is rather plain. Their babies are peachicks (awww) and after birth, the little dudes can run out of the nest after just a few days! Altogether, they are peafowl.CIMG2351.JPG

Isn’t he handsome! He’s looking for his gal so that he can strut his stuff.

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I didn’t see his lady friend, she must have been shyly sitting in the flower bushes to admire her boyfriend.

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It was a little windy and he was trying to keep his dance up, with some difficulty…

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The wind forced him around, but his lady got to admire his orange rear feathers. I think I heard her whistle!CIMG2350.JPG

Peafowl build their nests on the ground but like to get into the trees to sleep, safe away from predators. Like chickens, they peck around the ground for their grub. They love bugs, flowers and plant seeds, and also little water creatures like small fish and frogs…they even hunt lizards!

People also own them as pets, and like chickens, they will eat just about whatever you give them. You can fry up their eggs (about three times the size of a chicken’s egg), apparently they make a pretty good breakfast. The only problems with owning peafowl is that they really tear up the garden and they screech like something horrible. Well, I’d say they make up for their annoying voices with their looks!

An Autumn Poem

Today I took an autumn walk…

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The flowers made me forget the clock!

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The pinks, they blushed for all to see…

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And the yellows, filled my heart with glee!

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The robins gobbled plump juniper berries…

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There were fresh smelling pine cones and fallen cherries!

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The roses were so moving, they danced…

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And the bright fall leaves, they shook and pranced!

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That adorable squirrel had rather fuzzy ears!

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

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That seagull dove right at my head…

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And his friends thought that was funny!

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The ducks were having a pleasant swim…

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This drake was with his honey!

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All was well until the gulls swooped in,

and said “Give us all your money!”

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The three foot fishies, they frighten me…

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Summer swims bring nibbled toes, you see!

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I could go on and on with this nature talk…

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

Autumn Adventures in the Bog!

I spent the weekend with my mom and step-dad in Crystal Lake, about an hour and a half from Evanston. With every visit, we like to have an ‘adventure’. This usually means a restaurant in another town and some kind of destination (Volo Antique Mall, resale shops, Bristol Renaissance Faire, forest preserve, Kane County Flea Market, etc). On Sunday, we ate at Happy Jacks in McHenry, a deli and ice cream shop decorated with old-timey Coca-Cola paraphernalia. Inexpensive yet great food, casual and cheery; we love it!

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What I love about our adventures is that they often aren’t planned. “Hey guys, wanna go get cheese in Wisconsin?” “Yea, sure!!” And then we’re on our way. This time, we took an unexpected turn into Boger Bog in Bull Valley for an impromptu nature walk!

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Boger Bog has 38 acres to roam: there’s prairie, wooded land and wetland. What is funny, is that Boger Bog is not a bog but a fen. What’s the difference? Let’s just say that a fen is a more hospitable wetland for wildlife than an acidic bog.

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We really enjoyed our unplanned walk through nature, there is nothing more refreshing! If I knew what was good for me, I’d do it everyday!

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But, what was the best part of this bug loving gal’s walk? A walking stick!! Oh, I was SO excited to find this insect. I have this weird knack for seeing tiny bug movement…even in dense leafy brush. It’s super weird. People always say, “How did you see that?” I don’t know, the bugs and I are one. At first I was hesitant to pick it up because I once had an aggressive showdown with a praying mantis in Costa Rica (we ended our differences amicably with me running away in fear) and the two insects look a little alike. But this walking stick was as gentle as can be. Its body, though it looks hard like a stick, was soft. I had to be super careful not to hurt it and took my time picking it up. Once I did, I was surprised to see how speedily it could walk up my arm. And the cutest thing, when I touched it, it made his front antenna go straight like his body so that he’d look like a stick rather than prey. That little dude made my day!

Birdie Buffet! Chirp, chirp!

It’s a lovely day here in Evanston and the cool fall weather we had a taste of several weeks ago has returned. Last night, we lit the fireplace and it was divine! I may have eaten an entire pizza while mesmerized before it, toasting my toes. This afternoon, I must take a long walk (darn you pizza) to soak in the outdoors since the snow will likely be here tomorrow (I’m only sort of kidding).

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We are very fortunate to live around a lot of green and trees. I’m a big fan of nature and wildlife, so I feel quite at home in my yard…except two nights ago when that skunk waddled through and the windows were open. I like to do a lot of writing on the porch. Studies show that getting outside does a world of good for your health in all sorts of ways, including making you a happier you.

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One of the things that make me smile and sing like a lark (tee-hee) are the birds in my yard! Now, I’m not sure, but I think living just a few blocks from Lake Michigan may have something to do with this; I believe we’re on some migratory route for birds. Most weeks, it’s just your usual Sparrows, Cardinals and Blackbirds. But then, on what seems like a single morning, the entire bird world descends on our yard and we see a lot of species we usually wouldn’t. It becomes rather chatty out there! Especially when the bird feeders are filled. Birdie buffet! Then a few days later, back to normal.

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Like this Indigo Bunting and his friend, a Red-Breasted Grosbeak.

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And this Goldfinch.

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Anyone know what this guy is? A Black-Headed Grosbeak or an Orange Oriole?

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I call this dude Helmet Head because I don’t know what he is, but he looks like he’s wearing a football helmet.

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And these two Woodpeckers that were searching for their meal on the same tree. My favorites are the Wrens and the Nuthatches…I just like how they flit around and walk upside down on the trees!

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My mother lent me her copy of Birds of North America by Robbins, Bruun, Zim & Singer, which I always keep nearby. It’s a lot of fun identifying our little guests!

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.

Bristol’s Exceptional Grounds!

This week, I’m paying special tribute to the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Today’s reason why the faire is so magical? The magnificent park and the staff who maintain, beautify and keep it safe! Just look how beautiful Bristol is! As someone who loves the out-of-doors, I appreciate a day at the faire.

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A place to roam…

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A place to dance!

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A place to gallop!

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A place by the fire…

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A place to be entertained!

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A place to make merry under the trees!

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Village lanes to eat and shop…

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A place to reenact history!

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A place for archery! Ok…I had to sneak that one in. That’s me! I’d forgotten how awesome archery is (flashback to high school gym class). Can Santa fit an archery set down my chimney this year?

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A place to wander…

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A place by the pond…

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The grounds are simply a place to love!

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An especial thank you to the Bristol security team! With thousands of visitors each summer, they see many folks in need of medical attention…especially on those excruciatingly hot days when heat sickness sneaks up on a patron or two. They help find lost children, usher sprained ankles, bee stings and medieval accidents (just kidding) to first aid, and make sure the grounds are safe. Thank you!