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!

cropped-littles-300dpi-3125x4167-2.jpg

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!

Littles-300dpi-3125x4167-2

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]

I’m A Hummingbird…

Cue the music please:

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

IMG_3111

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

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

IMG_3112

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

IMG_3093

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

IMG_3091

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

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

My Grandma’s Garden

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

img_0620

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

img_0626

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

img_0647

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

img_0649

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

img_0623

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

img_0619

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

img_0645

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

img_0646

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

img_0622

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

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…

cimg1439

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

cimg1433

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…

wreath

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…

cimg1444

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…

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…

img_0382

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…

img_0384

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!

img_0383

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…

img_2828

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

img_2826

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

img_2824

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

img_2819

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

img_2825

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

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

A Moment With Nature

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

IMG_2749

IMG_2741

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

IMG_2740

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

IMG_2738

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

IMG_2748

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!

IMG_2746

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

IMG_2736

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!

Bringer of Peace

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

IMG_2267

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

IMG_2272.JPG

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

IMG_2276.JPG

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

IMG_2277

The snowy path to our little secret garden…

IMG_2278.JPG

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

IMG_2279.JPG

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

IMG_2275.JPG

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

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

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).

CIMG1343

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.

Garden.JPG

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!

CIMG1397.JPG

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.

CIMG1398

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!

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.

CIMG2349.JPG

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.

CIMG2361.JPG

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

CIMG2362.JPG

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

CIMG2363.JPG

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…

IMG_1579

The flowers made me forget the clock!

IMG_1580

The pinks, they blushed for all to see…

IMG_1583

And the yellows, filled my heart with glee!

IMG_1709

The robins gobbled plump juniper berries…

IMG_1699

IMG_1724

There were fresh smelling pine cones and fallen cherries!

IMG_1712

IMG_1726

The roses were so moving, they danced…

IMG_1713

And the bright fall leaves, they shook and pranced!

IMG_1719

That adorable squirrel had rather fuzzy ears!

IMG_1734

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

IMG_1644

That seagull dove right at my head…

IMG_1664

And his friends thought that was funny!

IMG_1591

The ducks were having a pleasant swim…

IMG_1590

This drake was with his honey!

IMG_1630

All was well until the gulls swooped in,

and said “Give us all your money!”

IMG_1603

The three foot fishies, they frighten me…

IMG_1617

Summer swims bring nibbled toes, you see!

IMG_1736

I could go on and on with this nature talk…

IMG_1732

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

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).

IMG_0757

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.

IMG_0770IMG_0779

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.

IMG_0582IMG_0583

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

IMG_0593

And this Goldfinch.

IMG_0590

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

IMG_0588

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

IMG_0347IMG_0346

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!

IMG_1396

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!