The Merriest of the Merry!

I captured this video on the closing day of the 2015 Bristol Renaissance Faire season, while standing just outside the gates. When I watch it, my heart is filled with joy! The singing, the dancing, the frolicking, the laughter, the happiness, the merriment…

And this is just one reason of many, for why I love this festival so much. I wanted to share this inspiring scene with you. I hope it makes you smile!

The Book Of Dragons Giveaway!

Because it’s November 1st and the season of thankfulness is upon us…because it is an unbelievable 74 degrees and sunny in Evanston…because gift giving is so much fun…and because one of my greatest joys is to share my stories…I’m feeling like today is the day for a giveaway!

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After his courage shines through during one unexpected act of valor, young Lambert finds himself knighted by the wise King Gerald of the Kingdom of Echoes. After five years of knightly training and surprising adventures, Lambert and his heroic brothers receive an urgent request from the King; all knights must go in search of a magical text that has gone missing from right under the King’s nose at Halves Castle.

This isn’t just any book however. It is the Book of Dragons, a text filled with magic. In the wrong hands, the peaceful Kingdom of Echoes could be destroyed forever.

As Sir Lambert embarks on his quest to return the book to King Gerald, he learns that its magic would be nothing without living, breathing dragons!

Join Sir Lambert, who with the true heart of an honorable knight will do anything to protect the good people of the realm. Even if it means he has to fight one ferocious red beast!

To enter for your chance to win one free copy of The Book of Dragons, please tell us in the comments what your dragon’s name would be if you owned one as a pet. Further descriptions, such as what your pet dragon looks like, its temperament or habits, would also be highly amusing to hear about (but is not mandatory). Have fun with your imagination!

One winner will be selected at random this coming Sunday, November 6th at 10 a.m. Chicago time and announced here, and the magic inside The Book of Dragons will be theirs!

Maid of Honour is Here!

I am so, so excited to share Maid of Honour with you! This wonderful story is adventurous, and so endearing. After holding it in my hands and reading it myself this week, my heart was filled with warmth by the time I reached the last page. Maid of Honour is a very special tale about bravery, humility and honor, and I sincerely hope you’ll enjoy it!

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Every young lady of noble birth dreams of being selected by Queen Carolina to be one of her maids of honour. So, when Jane receives a missive inviting her to take her place by the queen’s side at Castle Wellstone in one week’s time, she is overwhelmed with excitement and pride!

It is a beautiful day when she settles into her carriage with her friend and handmaiden Katie, especially as a dazzling court, prestigious status and days filled with merriment await. Escorted by guards on horseback, she begins her journey thinking only of her future happiness. However, as their caravan passes through a thick wood, miles from home, a terrible fray breaks out. They are being assailed by archers hiding in the forest! Confused and afraid, Jane can only wonder why this sudden attack has come upon them, and whether or not they will survive.

A harrowing run through the woods soon leads Jane to discover the veiled truth behind sustaining peace in their kingdom. And though she never expected the need to summon such great courage in the face of danger, especially on this special day, her cleverness, kindness and humility will shine through. Jane is about to become a true maid of honour!

Available now on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

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!

Jumping Spiders & Rooftop Riders

This little dude took a run around our tented shop (The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire) this last Sunday. I noticed him as I was closing up and I’m pretty sure I looked like a total oddball taking photos of something (while in costume) undetectable to be seen for passersby (as this table was bare at the time). But what can I say, I dig bugs…

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According to my favorite go-to for insect identification, Insects, Spiders and Other Terrestrial Arthropods by George McGavin…this furry fellow is a common jumping spider. This threw me off, for I’m accustomed to jumping spiders being much smaller (and hopping about constantly to show off their athletic prowess). This guy wasn’t jumping at all (though he ran pretty fast) and was a pretty big spider.

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I thought he was a pretty handsome dude (just as long as he didn’t jump on me).

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Best shot ever! I put my finger real, real close and he lifted up his fuzzy eyebrows and stared right at me with two black eyes. We shared a moment, eye to eye. Awwww! Do you think I’m an oddball too?

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Riding up to the faire each weekend (rather early for shop set-up), there are always folks already waiting in line just outside of the parking gate. I love that! These folks are the truest fans of the B.R.F. and I think they are awesome! Renaissance themed tailgating? I approve!

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And here was the scrumptious fare we enjoyed this past Saturday. We make our little picnics to reflect less of the 21st century and nod towards the Renaissance. Ever tried crackers, pepper jelly and cream cheese? I could swoon! Delicious!

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In other news, I have an addiction to egg-in-the-holes and there is no cure…

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I also started pulling out of a parking space today with my lunch box on the roof of my car. Some construction workers in their utility truck yelled out with gestures to warn me. “COOLER!” I think I might be a little tired. Thank goodness I didn’t take it for a ride around town…

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I also spent more moments (minutes?) trying to figure out how to twist the cap off of this tube of caulk today, before eventually realizing that I needed to snip off the tip with scissors. I felt silly. I still feel silly.

Here is wishing you all a wonderful weekend, filled with rest, happiness and much laughter!

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!

Good Tidings From Bristol!

How we enjoyed our first weekend as The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire this past weekend, sharing our fantasy and historical fiction books and art! The weather was lovely and the opening weekend wondrous!

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The highest privilege was sharing in the numerous conversations with the energetic, warm and amazing patrons as well as the kind and creative vendors. The faire is truly a magical place, for both its creators and visitors make it so!

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Lita hand-painted our sweet sign and I adore it! What a finer flag for the author and artist?

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Lita’s colorful art put smiles on a lot of faces and delighted the wee ones! Her nature illustrations were befitting the beautiful place around us and were quite admired…

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And I so enjoyed sharing summaries of my tales with the kiddos. Their eyes often grew wide to hear them. I sincerely hope that they enjoy reading them, and keep memories of their day at Bristol in their hearts, just as I always did as a child…

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A special thank you to my step-dad Charlie for his helping us with the labors involved with such an undertaking, and to our family and friends who visited us this past weekend and showed their support for our little business…

A sincere thank you also to each and every one of the wonderful folks who selected a piece of art and/or one of my books. Your patronage means the world to us and we hope you’ll delight in our works, which we joyfully bring to you.

Here’s to 8 more exciting weekends yet to come at Bristol! We hope to see you 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!

Lady In A Green Dress

This one was called the green dress, for the light olive color. It was a beloved gown (and still is, though there is no way I could squeeze into it nowadays). I wore this one for two seasons as a courtier in the Bristol Renaissance Faire’s Guilde of St. George when I was 20-21 years old…

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Lita, artist and designer, has a way of making elegant creations without the showy additions. Simple is often the most beautiful. How much fun I had running around Bristol’s enchanting outdoors in that dress!

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Lita is also quite the milliner, having made this hat from scratch. Oh yes, this woman has ninja milliner skills. Using plastic cross stitch canvas, she cut out the parts of the hat with precision (how does she do it? I’m not even sure I know how to use a measuring tape properly), then did the same with velvet fabric, and then handstitched the entire thing. She measured my head so that it would fit like a glove. It still does all these years later (for I guess heads don’t get bigger over time the way waistlines are apt to do).

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I danced a lot of courtly dances in that gown, and still remember the sway of the skirt as it swished over the farthingale. How merry!

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I also had a jolly time tripping over dozens of inanimate objects, like that hapless cushion there on the ground. I did it gracefully however, as if I hadn’t a care in the world…

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I also often swung on an enormous swing in that dress, an attempt to get a breeze in the 90 degree weather!

And, I remained dutiful in my role as a maid of honour to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I. She is there at the front of the line wearing her noble purple. Oh heavens! How much fun, and how much history I learned. The memories of my days in that green gown are priceless…

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Lita (artist) and I (author) are still working diligently to prepare for this year’s opening day at the Bristol Renaissance Faire! We will be getting to know our tented shop this very weekend, considering how we will delight guests with our displays of historical fiction & fantasy books and art. We are The Quill and Brush and you will find us on King’s Landing at the perimeter of Lake Elizabeth. Opening day is July 9th! We can’t wait to see you there!

Once Upon A Star

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

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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!

Beds Bequeathed, Linens Lost

Take a moment to imagine something special that you own, something that you’d like to pass along to someone close to you after you’re gone. Is it a precious piece of jewelry or a fine watch? Is it an antique car or unique collection that took you years to build? Well, if you lived in the Renaissance, one of the things at the top of your list would have been your bedding

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I have a bed sheet that’s just worn through from regular wear and washing, gaining a large rip beyond repair. In this case, what can be done but to put it on the shopping list that a new one is needed. This got me thinking about some research I’d been doing lately…

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As I’ve been doing a little writing about settings within noble Renaissance homes, I needed to be careful not to assume that the beds looked anything like the fancy ones I would dream up for a wealthy lord and lady of the 16th century, or the humbler nests I’d assume their household slept upon. I had to ask, what were beds really like?

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If you were indeed very wealthy, a large and sumptuous bed might have been a reality. Mattresses filled with downy feathers, soft sheets and a bolster (liken to our pillows but a long tubular one to be shared). Richly fabrics might have hung around it (used to keep out the cool draft and give the sleepers some privacy).

These beds however, and the linens and hangings around them, would have been considered one of the finest things you owned. Further, the area where this bed would have been displayed was far more likely to be viewed publicly, in a room where your guests might look upon it. You would have been proud for others to see these luxurious furnishings. Further still, an honored guest might even sleep in it so that they would be comfortable during their stay…with you. Further, further still, you and multiple family members might sleep in it altogether. And in your will, scribbled out with your quill and ink, you’d be certain to pass these goods on to the most beloved of those near to you. These items were regularly passed along through multiple generations.

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The household (servants) of those affluent families, had a different reality, one much like cottage dwellers. You might all find a place near the fire in the kitchen, sitting or laying where there was a spot to be found, on a handful of grasses or hay. You might have had a pallet (thatched grasses and hay). Or quite often, you may have simply slumped where you could find a seat, snoozing upright. You were fortunate to own a good cloak, or covering of that nature, for you weren’t likely to own a coverlet and it would act as one.

This would of course, not have been very comfortable at all. Vermin were rampant (and historically speaking, this was even true for the nobles’ bedding, no matter how fine). So, you’d have fleas, bedbugs, little mice too. If you lived in a cottage, leaks and bird excrement and insects would drop on you as you slept (and at all hours of the day), for all of nature would have lived in your grassy roof. Things would have been damp, drafty, dirty, uncomfortable…

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Knowing my own temperament, I can say that I would have been miserable living during the Renaissance as concerns this topic. My need for 8 hours of undisturbed, comfortable, quiet sleep each night, would have been foiled. I’d have been one grouchy lady.

Researching the topic has been fascinating however, even looking back at different centuries. For instance, during the 18th century in Europe, affluent people regularly treated their bedrooms like meeting rooms. Sit in bed, have your meal, with all your visitors hanging around. Venice’s treasured 18th century artist Pietro Longhi documented such scenes on canvas…The Morning Chocolate:

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I was very intrigued too, when I read Casanova’s memoirs. They told of his day-to-day dealings and during these memoirs, you see how quickly people fell from money into complete destitution. People commonly sold their belongings as a means of survival and when bill collectors came calling, there was always the possibility that they’d act upon the law to collect a few of your furnishings to settle what was due. Casanova repeatedly sold his belongings, regularly linens, for his own survival.

Nowadays, I couldn’t get hardly a dime for my bedsheets if I needed to. Things have changed. Unless you own priceless art or gilded furniture, in most cases the public doesn’t look upon your furniture (and especially not your bed and linens) as a part of your ‘estate’. No, it is more likely land/house/cars, that show what you’re *worth*.

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If I lived during the Renaissance, I’d march my butt upstairs right now and pull out a needle and thread and start fixing that sheet! There would be no tossing it out, and running down to the store for a new one. For its worth, would have been viewed very differently.

Check out my previous post about people’s relationship with their things in history. I twitter about how acutely different our reality is from those people of the past, as regards to our stuff. It makes you think a little differently about why and how we value what we own.

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When I lay my head down on my pillow tonight, and snuggle up beneath the soft sheets and blankets, I’ll be taking a moment to remember how very rich I am, for once upon a time, these items were considered the greatest of luxuries. Even to sell them during hard times, might have delivered me and put food on the table, when I needed it the most. I may not live in the tempestuous times of the Renaissance, but for all the comfort these items give me today, I value them still…even if they’ll only give me a penny for resale!

The Queen is Coming!

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

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

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

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

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

A Magical Kingdom is Here!

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It’s summer vacation and Lizzy is eager to take a trip to visit her grandparents at their beautiful home in the countryside where all kinds of fun can be had!

One morning, Lizzy’s grandma offers her an exciting book to read. Hopping on her bike with the book and a picnic lunch, she settles down by a beautiful pond to begin reading the adventure.

After reading the first lines of the book, things are not as they should be. The pond is now a vast lake, and in the middle of it sits a magnificent castle! There’s also an oddly dressed woman who’s come looking for her. She looks like she’s just stepped out of the Renaissance! Her name is Milda, and she beckons ‘Princess Lizbeth’ to hurry, for she is expected at the castle.

Join Lizzy as she travels back in time to a magical kingdom and becomes a princess for a day! 

Available here on Amazon! Also available on Amazon Europe!

A Very Special Announcement

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

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

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

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

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

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

In A Tizzy For Tulips

Something very valuable just bloomed in my front yard. Or at least, if it was the year 1637 and I was living in the Netherlands…

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If I had a time machine, I’d snatch my tulips and zoom back in time. Riches would await me, and you’d see me sumptuously dressed and painted into one of the scenes on Rembrandt’s canvases…

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…for once upon a time during the 17th century, during the Dutch Golden Age (when Dutch achievements and advancements were making them the rockstars of Europe), there was a bizarre economic bubble.

Economic bubble: When you’re selling something worth a small sum for a lot of cash. Eventually the situation gets out of control, there is a crash, and everyone is financially ruined.

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At the height of what history has now coined tulip mania, some of these precious tulip bulbs were being sold for what it would take most regular folks to make in ten years. What?! Yes, a single tulip bulb in exchange for what you earned in a decade.

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Once when I was living in New York City, in the early evening in the spring, I spied a man stealing tulips planted by the city along the sidewalk. I was looking out over my balcony and had a clear view.

In the darkening light of dusk, the man physically laid down along the sides of parked cars when other pedestrians happened to walk by. He was hiding. When they had passed, he’d pop back up and clip some more tulips. He had quite the bouquet before making a run for it. I was both speechless and amused. And really grossed out; you do not want to lay down on a New York City sidewalk.

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Perhaps the man was Dutch and from the 17th century. He’d hopped into a time machine to zoom ahead in time to steal his fortune.

Tulip mania. Proof that real life is stranger than fiction.

Pretty As A Picture

These photos are of my cousin, who is some years younger than I (though now a young woman). Lita (my mother, artist & costumer) made this Elizabethan gown for her for an outing at the Bristol Renaissance Faire.

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This little lady was so patient (in quite warm weather and having never worn a full costume before), and so polite (walking here and there with grace), and so pretty! I don’t know how she did it; when I was her age (and well beyond it) I fussed a great deal with my costumes (squawking when something didn’t fit) and romped around like a wild thing on the run (hardly graceful). She was a natural! A true noble!

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The headpiece was spectacularly stitched with pearls lining the top and a veil hanging from the back. The white and green color combination smiled upon youth and innocence. The entire silhouette was perfect, with a crisp bodice and perfectly measured skirts over just the right size of farthingale. Such a well crafted costume!

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And look at that pretty smile, the perfect accessory for such an ensemble!

I think kiddos make the best historical reenactors; mini nobles and peasants, awesome! They make the reenacting of history more authentic. For instance, it is ever obvious when adults are acting in their costumes (as much as they try to be a merchant or lady-in-waiting, etc.). But when children are dressed up and start playing, talking and running, they forget that they are in costume and just behave naturally (just being, not acting).

My cousin was a lovely addition that day, and certainly convinced all that she was a noble young lady from the days of yore!

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!

A Merry Band

This photo was taken when I was about to turn 13. I’m the one to the top, furthest left. Lita made all of the peasant costumes shown here and all of the kiddos were the children of a couple who were friends with my folks. My mom put in a good bit of work to make sure everyone had a costume for our special outing. What a merry band of children we made! Running, yelling, laughing! It was summer and a festival day!

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I grew up an only child and things were quiet for me. Being just one, I was also very independent. So, it was always a romping experience to gather with this troupe of brothers and sisters for a summer barbecue, a weekend camping outing, or a trip to the amusement park. But the best excursion of course, was to the Bristol Renaissance Faire! What fun we had!

Always A Lady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty in Paisley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Candy Canes On My Shoulders

Just starting college, I was fortunate enough to join the Guilde of St. George, a group reenacting the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Their home is the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, WI, though they also volunteer at schools, libraries and other venues, to share Elizabethan history. Here is Lita’s (the costumer) fabulous creation!red3.jpg

These first three images were polaroid photos! I guess we didn’t have time to spare, we needed the photos in hand immediately. They were taken in the spring just before my first summer in the guilde. Ah, the anticipation I felt! I’d already been attending Elizabethean dance and reenacting workshops all that spring.

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These were taken before the dress was completed. It is fun now to look at before and afters, as they remind you of the phases that a gown must go through to get the right fit. I was to wear this dress for about 10.5 hours each Saturday and Sunday for 9 weekends in weather that grew into the mid-nineties, and humid at that, over outdoor terrain (rocks, roots, hills). Even after dress rehearsals, I better understood how the dress and I were getting along, and Lita made some adjustments.

Here, the hem was yet to be measured. Lita already knew (with that clever-artist-sewing-brain), but I learned that the front must be higher (or you trip 50 times a day) and the back longer to cover the bum role to get the correct silhouette. Also, one must make the chemise sleeves longer than your shirt sleeves would normally be. Once you get the bodice on, it pulls the sleeves up and they’ll be too short otherwise.  I also learned that before you work with fabric, you must wash the fabric (even a few times). This is because, unwashed fabric inevitably either bleeds color or shrinks dramatically once exposed to rain or a spilled goblet of water.

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We also discovered that in spite of the excellent wire boning that was used within the bodice, a serious corsette (as every noblewoman reinactor in the guilde wears), is the only way to keep the bodice from folding at the tummy. The following season, Lita made one excellent corsette (which I think straightened me out and made me grow taller by 2 inches).

In the end (seen below at the faire), the cream petticoat (underskirt) was removed for this striped one. Did you know that Elizabethans wore stripes? Yes indeed! The cream would not do out of doors, as it became grimy with dust the first day. And, I had a serious thing for chocolate ice cream at the time, oops! The sleeve ties were removed in favor of hidden hooks and eyes as I get ribbons caught on everything.

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Though I’ve always said I have a favorite amongst all the gowns that Lita has made, it’s actually not true. I have a place in my heart for every one. What did I love about this gown? First, the pearls. I am a sucker for pearls. Those strands around my body…if it was acceptable to wear pearls like that today, strung and swinging around my torso, I’d be the lady to do it. I love how the pearls are dotted everywhere, even the hat. Secondly, Lita’s chemise was incredible. It is painstaking work to hand-fold the cotton at the neck and at the wrists before sewing it into the body of the shirt. That with the pretty little bands of color that played off the gown, loved it. But my favorite part? The upper part of the bodice was her best bodice work in my opinion. The stiff candy cane shoulder rolls and exceptional design kept the bodice from falling down my arms or shifting (I’ve got sloping shoulders and get pretty darn grouchy when my costumes shift about).

It was so exciting to be a part of the guilde that first season, and I learned a great deal of history. But you know what made such delightful memories? The workshops, the dance classes, and all the planning with Lita. We’re like history gossip girls when we get together, we can talk costumes and history for hours!

Available Now! A Festival Day in Bristol!

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Anne lives on a farm with her family in the countryside just outside of Bristol, England. She is a very happy girl who takes pride in helping her family care for all of their animals, and with the gardening too! Weekly, they sell their farm goods at the market in the city, where there are many unique things to see.

Anne has just learned that Queen Elizabeth will be visiting Bristol on her annual summer progress along with her noble courtiers! To celebrate, the city is planning a festival for her arrival.

As excited as ever, Anne travels to Bristol with her family to sell in the market and then join in the festival fun. She wonders if she’ll see the Queen for herself. Perhaps she might even meet her!

Join Anne on this special day in history, when Queen Elizabeth visited the city of Bristol, and all were merry!

A Festival Day in Bristol is available here! Also available on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

Taking Inventory

Today I am pondering things. As I finish writing Veleno, a thought has me curious…would the 16th century characters in my novel react the same way to their things as I do with my own in the 21st century? The answer is no, which changes the way I need to write about them and their relationship with their stuff.

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There is this scene I recall in the 2003 film Girl with a Pearl Earring. The movie is an artful rendering of Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer’s life at the time when he painted Girl with a Pearl Earring in the 1660s. Now, we aren’t sure who the ‘girl’ in the painting really was, some say one of Vermeer’s 15 children. But for the film, it is portrayed in a romantic way to be one of his household servants.

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The scene that struck me entailed Vermeer’s wife Catharina discovering that her husband allowed said servant to wear her pearl earring to pose for this famous painting. Catharina freaks out in an almost animal-like breakdown before her husband. It was an uncomfortable scene that had me wondering…why would she flip out like that? Goodness woman, it’s just an earring! Your husband just borrowed it for his work, which provides your house income!

Now, the actress or director may have been simply illustrating marital jealousy. But I think they were showing us both jealousy and a historically real reaction someone may have had about their things.

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As a voracious reader of history, I’m continually discovering how precious, status bearing and sacred personal and household items were for people in previous centuries. Common sense would say that the reason for this is that you couldn’t come by more things all that easily (no chain stores offering cheap deals), and that money was harder to secure.

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The real-life Catharina during the 17th century would have had the role of manager of her house. Part of the job was to keep precise inventory of all household belongings. And there would have been far stricter rules about who could use what, many things kept locked up. She’d have been proud and serious about maintaining all boundaries. Plus, ladies of elevated social status didn’t (or legally were not permitted to) earn their own money. She’d be pretty careful with what she personally owned.

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Catharina wouldn’t have left her pearls out. She wouldn’t have had many pairs. She would have considered that pair precious and would have ensured it was kept somewhere safe. She would have cared for them, and just owning them would have been lifting to her status…after all, few people could afford pearls and owning them showed her importance.

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Though we do see plenty of wealth from history’s aristocrats, I think when we look back in time, we don’t realize how few and far between those cases of utter riches were. When you think of 15th century England, do you imagine knights, lords and ladies? The truth was that it was peasants, peasants and more peasants owning no valuable possessions at all. And even if you had more than others, you still took care of and coveted what you had because that was the culture of the time. It wasn’t just fine gems and good furniture that folks kept a careful eye on either, it was all of their things. Again and again, I trip over inventory lists in my readings. And on those lists are written even the smallest, most mundane things, whether brand-new or used. When was the last time you wrote a list like that? I never have. Why not now…

Michelle’s Inventory:

1 pair $4.99 pharmacy eyeglasses, red plastic rims, scratched in left eye.

1 orange hairbrush, used, a patch of bristles missing.

1 pink toothbrush, used.

2 pair black cotton winter gloves, used, hole in pinky on one.

1 pair brown leather boots, new.

3 decorative cheese plates, chipped.

6 copies of Venice, new.

1 wooden writing desk chair, broken legs.

Tiddo’s (the cat) Inventory:

1 catnip stuffed mouse toy, used.

2 grey cat boxes, used.

1 feather-on-a-stick toy, used.

1 window stool covered in cheetah print faux velvet fabric, used.

Now imagine I kept this list around, and routinely checked if I have what I’m supposed to have and kept my list updated. Everyone would think that I was a weirdo or miserly, or that I seriously have nothing better to do and needed to find a hobby. But in history, my lack of record-keeping would be considered lazy and I, careless for not having higher regard for my things.

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This didn’t make them miserly however, it was simply normal and good economy and often a lifesaver. Take for instance Renaissance Venice. [Noblewoman gets married and brings along a portion of wealth with her to the marriage. She cannot legally get a job to earn money. Her husband turns out to be abusive and she is granted a divorce. She can take back what she brought to the marriage and is free to keep it to live on.] This is a good example of why even the quantity of the used linen handkerchiefs she owned, mattered. It could make a difference for her survival.

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When reading Casanova’s memoirs, I was baffled to see how often he sold his personal goods to survive from one day to the next. Today, when we trot down to the pawnshop, it is interpreted as humiliating desperation. But back in Casanova’s time, you could resell your belongings for far better returns than you get for used goods today (again because the value of goods was taken more seriously), and it was common, and it was what you did. You wouldn’t throw away a soiled hanky or an undershirt the way we would today, even the worst items were sold to a rag-gatherer.

I’d bet if most of us had a conversation with even our grandparents about reuse, caring for our things, fixing our things, spending, etc., we’d see a generational juxtaposition on this topic. Now imagine the shock someone from some centuries ago, would express at our general waste. My guess is that they’d also be far more territorial over their personal possessions, and for good reason.

This last spring, I lost a gold band set with a pearl and two diamonds. I took it off to wash my hands and left it in my pocket with some tissue. I then forgot and threw away the tissue with the ring (or so is my best guess). I can see Vermeer’s wife Catharina right now. I was very disappointed, but I could see her having an epic outburst over the loss. I don’t think I could get away with that…

The Queen’s Bed: An Intimate History of Elizabeth’s Court by Anna Whitelock

Queen Elizabeth I. The Virgin Queen. She…was…fascinating. Of course, she had a spectacular stage as the Queen of England from 1558 (when she was 25 years old) to 1603 (passing at the age of 70). And, she had quite memorable parents (Henry VII with his 6 wives & the lusty Anne Boleyn). England was a very powerful nation and constantly dancing politically with every other powerful European nation, while simultaneously establishing themselves in the ‘new world’. Virginia (named for the ‘virgin’ queen) was one of Queen Elizabeth’s claims.

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Now, I’m a details sort of gal. In my writing, I like to make sure you get the picture. I want the reader to feel like they are there, by thoroughly describing the surroundings and the senses procured from them. I’ve been reading histories about Queen Elizabeth’s reign since my interest was sparked as a kid, and though sometimes eloquent, they are often just the timeline of the facts. Anna Whitelock’s The Queen’s Bed: An Intimate History of Elizabeth’s Court however, is a treasure for anyone like me, those hungry for the details!

Now, hold your horses. This is not a book about Queen Elizabeth and secret hanky-panky as the words bed and intimate imply. Remember, Elizabeth was the Virgin Queen and as far as history can tell us, she was indeed a virtuous lady for all of her days, and a woman who never married. Whitelock’s title is a metaphor for the very epicenter of power…the Queen herself and her most inaccessible and protected domain wherever she went, her bedchamber.

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Imagine an onion. You peel it in layers. Every noble estate where the Queen stayed was the same. As you get further in, accessibility becomes even more difficult…until you get to the very room where the Queen slept, and only her Ladies of the Bedchamber were allowed. But it was more than where this woman dressed, ate and bathed…it was where her most incredible plots and plans were solidified. And when you look at the way this woman negotiated such a politically fierce world, and a very dangerous world, that room becomes the most brilliant stage of all.

Of course, Whitelock offers us a delicious entry into the intimate details of Elizabeth’s life: who attended her, what her toilette entailed, the fluctuating state of her health, her personal preferences, gifts that she received, how household accounting was figured, how much attendants were paid, insights into her personality, even the fragrances and sweets that she liked. Ah, the details…love it!!! But really, this is Whitelock’s brilliant and poetic way of helping us remember that this history, and any other, is not just timelines and the people in the story…those people were you and me, they had senses, they were human, they were real.

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This book helps us understand not just her routines, the Queen’s preferences and historic objects from the past, but also the stresses and strains put on a monarch, looming plagues and horrible diseases that we don’t even have names for today, constant assassination plots, threats of war at every turn. We understand what she feared and the fears of her people. I personally can’t believe she bore the stresses of guiding a nation for 45 years, and I’m in awe that she lived to be 70 when the average life expectancy was 42 years old. And there was a reason the expectancy was only 42 years; human fragility was far more obvious than it is today when you bring lack of medical advances into the picture. If you asked me if I’d like to go back in time and be one of Elizabeth’s noble courtiers, with all its fascinations, extravagances and intrigues; no thanks. Not without my 21st century hospital down the street. But I sure love to read about it!!!

My recommendation for this book: If you are already familiar with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and the basic history surrounding her life, enjoy! If you have a fascination for the life details of people during that period but don’t necessarily care so much as to whether you fully grasp what was going on politically, then go for it. But if you aren’t familiar with Queen Elizabeth’s life and you really want the full experience, I’d say flip through one of those basic fact histories first to get the gist, as this book (though it offers select events to illustrate certain points) will really be most enjoyable if you know all that this woman was really going up against in the world outside.

Private Lives In Renaissance Venice by Patricia Fortini Brown

If you are passionate about history like I am, then you may find yourself sometimes saying, “Yes, I see the dates and facts of what happened…but what was it really like to be there?”

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Since we can’t go back to experience history for ourselves, we can’t really know what it felt like, looked like, smelled like. The next best thing (besides historical reenactments, which I adore) is to review thoughtful compilation books, like Patricia Fortini Brown’s Private Lives in Renaissance Venice.

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Within the pages of this monumental work are a review of dozens and dozens of paintings from the 16th century, as well as photographs of objects in museums and private collections that belonged to that period. Along with these images, the author weaves together an amazing historic illustration of what items were used for, the meanings behind intricate décor, an understanding of the architecture, what dress styles signified, and how Venetians in the Renaissance interacted with their environment. This book offers so much unique insight (with a strong focal point on the noble elite) that you can for a moment, truly visualize what it might have been like to be in the room, in that gondola or at that celebration.

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What is also very special about this work, are the areas where Brown points out the differences between this particular culture and other cultures from that time. For instance, I was fascinated to read within her book, that it was the noble Venetian men who did the grocery shopping (as Venetian men prided themselves on the savvy merchant qualities of their sex in that city and felt they knew best how to identify value in goods). And further, at receptions within a noble home that included visitors, the luxury you saw with your eyes was more important than what luxuries were on the menu. This meant, looking at the finery and decoration around the room took precedence over a table filled with food (unlike most every other city in Europe where banqueting meant gross overeating). I love you Venice, but I’m not sure I’m on your side with this one. This gal needs to eat!

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If you have an interest in Venice’s history, and-or of the Renaissance, I highly recommend adding this exemplary and artful book to your collection. This work, paired with a little imagination, and you’ll feel transported in time!

Excerpt From Veleno…Coming soon!

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“This is no plague m’lady. I’ve seen that devil run through a house.” The old woman paused and made the sign of the cross over herself. “Your youngest has been poisoned. Do you see her eyes, as large and black as ripe grapes.” Martinella scrunched her brows together until they looked like one line. “The lady Noemi found an assassin berry just before m’lord left for Treviso, in the house. I threw it in the lagoon. I imagine more found their way through the door. We best put her to bed madam, and see if she wakes in the morning.”

Mirella motioned to the second man, who immediately swooped in and picked up the little mite as if she were a piece of parchment. Paola clasped her arms around his thick neck and laid her head on his brawny shoulder. So this is what it feels like to sway in the branches of an oak, she thought. She’d normally have been mortified to be in the arms of a strange man, the arms of any man, but this was comforting. As the poison like a dagger slashed into her stomach, she cried out into the ruffled collar of his linen shirt. She’d never felt a pain like that before. The man held her more tightly as he carried her down the hall. Too agonized to push off the onset of another faint, the last thing she remembered was the smell of leather and wood smoke from off of the stranger’s doublet.

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VELENO…Coming Soon!

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In 1576, the Black Death knocked on every door in Venice, Italy and took with it, the lives of fifty thousand…just less than the entire population of Venice today.

But for those who lived in the House of Orso, the plague wasn’t the only predator. Veleno…a terrible tale, even for those who aren’t afraid of the dark…

Virgins in Venice by Mary Laven

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Above, Saint Catherine Receives the Stigmata by Plautilla Nelli (1524-1588). Painter Plautilla Nelli was a Renaissance nun in Florence who came from a wealthy merchant family. She was enclosed together with her sister in the Santa Caterina da Siena convent. She taught herself how to paint while living in the nunnery. She is the first female painter in Florence to be documented during the Renaissance.

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As promised, another book that delves into a particular detail of Venetian history, specifically Renaissance, is Virgins of Venice: Broken Vows and Cloistered Lives in the Renaissance Convent by Mary Laven. Fascinating! I read it twice in a row, and used a highlighter to mark half the book, and I’m not even a student. Yes, I’m a nerd. Nerdy for Venice! This work inspired a chapter in my book Venice; I had to write about this part of Venetian women’s history.

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In a nutshell, for hundreds of years in Venice (and all over Europe), women were forced into nunneries. Specifically here: noble born ladies. The rich and powerful families wouldn’t marry all the daughters they had. If they did, all their wealth would become watered-down within a generation or two. Instead, they’d marry one daughter, sometimes two. For the rest, to the nunneries they went. Marriages were about money, power, politics…usually everything but love. So for those gals who were married, they may not have had a grand time of it either, being wed to men not of their choosing. However, they were at the very least free from the convent.

Now of course, some ladies chose a pious, cloistered life. However in Venice, evidence leans toward the conclusion that most were threatened, forced and tricked into going. Imagine being a very young girl, entering a nunnery one day, and never going out again. Living within for a lifetime while the world forgot about you…just like prison. Yes, this book retells a history that will make you very sad.

Ms. Laven’s extensive research gives us insight into just what that may have been like. We are able to see what this enclosed life would have been, from the moment these ladies entered the nunnery, to the people and surroundings within, the rules, the schedules, the activities, the arguments, the deceit, the rations, the regulations for visits, the rule-breakers…the escapees. Oh man, oh man, oh man! Or should I say oh lady! Shut away women against their wills and they will find a way to aggress it, to continue reaching for life, love, dignity and freedom. Read this book and you’ll see why history will ever be more moving than fiction!

Venetian Noblewomen and their Terrace Living

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This painting is Vittore Carpaccio’s Two Ladies on a Terrace, painted in 1500. When I first saw this painting, it immediately inspired the first chapter of my new novel. I envisioned a group of noble Venetian ladies from the Renaissance taking their ease on the roof of a palazzo along the Grand Canal, playing games, laughing. In today’s Venice, affluent or not, ladies go wherever they please, dressed how they please. But in Renaissance Venice, aristocratic women did things a little differently.

According to Patricia Fortini Brown’s Private Lives in Renaissance Venice, young noble ladies, should they be out on the street, would have been covered in a veil. They didn’t run around the city just for fun, face uncovered. And in their homes, general visitors likely wouldn’t bump into one of these ladies; they would have been kept away to more private chambers furthest from the front door. For the most part, male servants kept to men’s quarters and female servants to the ladies’ rooms. Now, as for married Venetian noblewomen, they were far more seen and far less veiled, though still would have remained modest in dress and behavior.

So where did all the aristocratic women, married or unwed, go for fresh air and fun? The altane above their houses and palazzos! An altana was a covered roof terrace, though many terraces were also uncovered. Eat, play games, get some sun, sing, dance, tend to plants and play with your pets. Girl party!

I love this painting because it gives us a little glimpse into this sort of Venetian setting, from 1500! The lady that is sitting tall is said to be a newlywed. How do we know? Young brides wore those strands of pearls. Don’t ask me how you’re supposed to differentiate the long-time wedded from the newlyweds…as didn’t all Venetian noblewomen drip in pearls? We’d have to ask a historian. Look at those slashed sleeves, look at those six-inch chopines (those red healed clog shoes at the left). Look at the pearls beaded around the necks of their dresses. I wonder what that missive laying on the ground says. I bet it is an intriguing letter filled with scandalous gossip! What are they doing with so many pets altogether? Wouldn’t that toothy dog take a bite out of that parrot? Love it!

Marriage Wars in Late Renaissance Venice by Joanne Ferraro

For my book Venice and a new novel I’m currently working on (which takes place in Venice, Treviso and Padua), reading a lot about the city’s history has been an important part of the research. But let’s be real, it’s hardly work when it’s just so fascinating! And though there is a lot to gain from general history books, I find that the more detailed works really help you understand the times and places one wants to learn about. There are a number of such books about Venice that I’m nuts about and have read multiple times. I’ll be sure to share them all with you!

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Today’s book is Marriage Wars in Late Renaissance Venice by Joanne Ferraro. This one is a priceless gem!

The last thing Ferraro’s book is, is a dry account of marriage unions in Renaissance Venice. Her research shares detailed insight into women’s rights, property & ownership, legalities & politics, arranged unions & contracts, courtesans, infidelity, wedding dowries, domestic abuse, prostitution, and sex. What makes this work particularly moving is that it isn’t just a general description of the times and practices, but rather, it calls upon a lot of direct quotes and written accounts from the people who lived it and those legal institutions who documented and passed judgment on these marriage disputes.

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Now, this book doesn’t really give a whole lot of insight into happy unions. It’s really about what the title suggests, marriage wars. I’m not certain that things have changed much over the centuries as countless marriages end poorly today, and sometimes over similar problems that Renaissance Venetians encountered. However, as I read this compilation of marriage stories, I grimaced continually and held my breath for the outcomes of each individual dispute (some of which are lost to history, argh!). Forget gossip magazines and reality tv, read this book instead for your dose of marriage intrigue and history!

Further, Ferraro is a seriously professional writer. If I’d recounted these tales on paper, I’m not sure that I’d have been able to help but to make more direct judgments of those parties involved. However, she keeps an open mind and an eloquent pen as she recounts these folks’ situations, delicate with assumptions and name-calling. You’re a better person than I, Ms. Ferraro, and an awe worthy, even-handed teller of history.

Joanne Ferraro also wrote Venice: A History of the Floating CityNefarious Crimes, Contested Justice, Illicit Sex and Infanticide in the Republic of Venice, 1557-1789…and Family and Public Life in Brescia, 1580-1650: The Foundations of power in the Venetian State. I’m cutting off the Netflix…these books are all the entertainment I need!

Pearl Earrings Giveaway!

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Portrait of a Lady: Francesco Montemezzano. A Renaissance Venetian women of the house of Contarini!

Pearls…I LOVE PEARLS! In fact, I have a mild obsession with them. I’m not certain when this love for pearls started. Was it with all the history books and paintings I’ve looked at over the years? Was it with the gorgeous strands my mother has crafted for costumes I’ve worn? Was it after the first time I saw Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring? No, really…look at the pearl in that painting! Was it during my travels in China where pearl vendors were abundant and I was in pearl heaven? I don’t know, but I think they are the most lovely and I could wear them everyday.

As I write my new book (a historical fiction thriller taking place during Venice’s plague of 1576…scary stuff), I think a lot about what everyone was wearing during the Renaissance. Oh man, it’s just so tough looking at all those gorgeous old paintings filled with rich clothing covered in pearls, all in the name of research. Tee-hee! In Italy, pearls were it! And in Venice, a city in the sea, people were dripping in them (at least those who could afford it were). According to Jewelry: From Antiquity to the Present, Claire Phillips illustrates just how serious Venetians took their pearls! In the early 1500s, if you made a fake pearl and were caught selling it…your right hand would be cut off and you would be banished from Venice for a decade. Poor fellow wouldn’t be making jewelry after that!

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Because today is a beautiful day! Because every gal needs a pair of pearls! Because you are as fabulous as any Renaissance lady…I’m giving away a delicate pair of pearl earrings today!  Sterling silver, freshwater drop pearls (purplish-pink) by Brenda Duncan of The Black Pearl, purchased at the Bristol Renaissance Faire. To enter, all you have to do is write the name of your favorite gemstone in the comments for this post. Your name will go in a bowl and I’ll select a random winner one week from today! Spread the word ladies!

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The Guilde of St. George!

Though I could spend days sharing all of the reasons why I think the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin is so magical, alas as the days of summer fade, so must my pen draw elsewhere…but not without a thank you to the Guilde of St. George, all of those who reenact the court of Queen Elizabeth I. of England!

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29 years ago, my mother dressed me as a little fairy and brought me to Bristol. I saw the Queen and her court and I was hooked! So mesmerized in fact, that I spent many a winter looking forward to summer and the faire, daydreaming about courtly history and begging my mother to make me costume after costume. The amazingly patient and talented artist that she is, she sewed and sewed and sewed. In 1998, I auditioned to the Guilde of St. George and was so proud to be a part of this family of Elizabethan actors for four years. I still covet the gowns that my mother made and often peek in her costume closet where they are stored. Though I’m a little biased having once been a part of this guilde, wearing the gowns, dancing the dances, learning and sharing the history, I write this as the little girl in 1986. Guilde of St. George: You are magical, everything you do is worth it!

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This photo is of actress Jennifer Higgins who plays Elizabeth. Here, she is accepting little trinkets from children who lined up with fairies to see the Queen. Children remember these special moments and they inspire them! It inspires them to learn about history, to read more, to imagine! I may still have my little certificate from when three Bristol Queens ago, I was made a lady-in-waiting with a tap to the shoulders with a sword, as little boys were knighted. Ah, memories!

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From the Queen’s audiences where there are entertainments, matters of state and courtly disputes, to the details in every costume, to the Queen’s guard and household…there is history to be learned. Every member of the guilde plays a real person from the time of Queen Elizabeth, and if you strike up a conversation, individual stories will unfold!

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I commend you gentle lords and ladies! What a wonderful moment!

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And who am I kidding, I’m not a little girl anymore and I’m still mesmerized! The swoosh of a feather fan, the courtly bow, the bows and puffs of the sleeve, the twinkling adornments, the embroidered collars, the full skirts swishing, the plaits in the hair, the goblets and kerchiefs! History is beautiful!

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Thank you for sharing history with everyone that visits the faire, and for all of the wonderful memories! “Merry meet, merry part and merry meet again!”

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!

A few fairies and witches…a lot of magic!

This source of magic from the Bristol Renaissance Faire is very reputable…the fairies and the witches!

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The fairies can be found all over Bristol, but they are very sneaky! Sometimes you’ll find them up in a tree, or hiding in a thicket of green. Sometimes they are within a foot of you and you don’t even notice until someone points it out…they’re stealth like that. We can also attribute this to the well-known fact (as I was told by one citizen of Bristol) that adults usually don’t see fairies, only children. So how do you know when the fairies are about? If you start sneezing a lot, it means the fairy folk are nearby. And I thought I just had allergies!

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The witches are hilarious! Every time they pose for someone’s photo, they scowl and grimace. One witch carries a little enclosed basket with a green frog in it (don’t worry…not a real frog). She’d turned someone into that frog with a spell, she’d said. I heard a man ask her if she could turn his wife into a frog? She said she’d love to, if only there were enough room in the basket! And then she grimaced some more. One right after the other, witty little comebacks and expressions, so funny!

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The witches delighted a crowd by singing improvisational songs to the strumming of a guitarist. Witches…you need to make an album! Those songs of doom were delightful and so clever! Encore!

Grab your mask and make merry!

All who enter the Bristol Renaissance Faire will gravitate to those themes that interest them the most. If you like action and the clanging of steel you’ll head down to the joust and watch knights swing a sword at one another. If you dream of tiptoeing through an enchanted forest, you’re going to fly over to fairyland. If you like military history, you won’t miss the reenactments by the Guilde of St. Michael. As for me, I love everything at the faire! But this season, as my interactive novel Venice approached its release, that city’s history may have affected my brain a little! And so, though Bristol, England isn’t Venice, Italy…well, I’m pretty sure I spied a Venetian or two! Just another reason why I think the faire in magical!

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Oh my! What is this Venetian plague doctor doing in Bristol? I hope we’ll all escape the pestilence! Awesome mask!

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This is Lord Fopulence from right out of the 18th century. He’d fit right in at the Venetian Carnival!

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These two look like roaming Venetians to me!

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Puppeteer Gabriel Q would captivate crowds in Piazza San Marco during the Carnevale! Check out this puppet builder-costumer-performer’s site…look for those traditional Venetian masks, they’re true art!

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The powder, the blush, that beauty mark! All she needs is a towering wig and she’ll be ready for a ball at Carnival. Fabulous!

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He’s ready to sail the Adriatic Sea and defend La Serenissima!

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And here’s to At Your Service, a commedia dell’arte troupe! Venice wants to know what you’re doing in Bristol?! Their masks, their traditional commedia characters, their truly hilarious acts…fantastico!

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Furthermore, At Your Service is affiliated with Piccolo Theater in Evanston, IL. Piccolo Theater focuses on the art of comedy to both entertain and bring together the local community. They even have comedic youth camps and classes. Be sure to check out this season’s performances!

Huzzah to the costumers!

My next reason why the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin is so fantastic? Costumes! Here’s to the costumers selling their creations at the faire, those patrons who wear them, and all those who design and wear their own!

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Like this couple, seen here donning the costumes of Felix Needleworthy.

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Those excellent works of Pendragon!

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The whimsical art of Pandoras Kloset.

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This rich long coat at Silverleaf Costumes.

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The sumptuous gowns on these noble ladies delighted everyone they passed!

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All of the awesomely innovative steampunk creations!

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And the delightful ensembles worn by all of the Bristol citizens!

A little time, a great moment!

This week, I’ll be sharing just a few of the reasons why I think the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin is such a magical place! Yesterday was Labor Day and bittersweet; though it was the last day of the faire, it was a beautiful day and what an amazing performance by all! Thank you to the actors, artists, musicians and crafters who made this season so memorable!

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Today’s reason why the faire is so amazing? All those performers who engage in memorable conversations with patrons! Now, all of the actors delight and entertain guests through their shows, whether it be a sword fight on stage, a funny street act or the dazzling courtiers reenacting a feast hosting the Queen herself. However, I just can’t help but smile when I see those little moments where performers are sitting to some small talk, sharing a story, and bringing the guest into the Renaissance!

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To learn a little about wildlife…

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To be shown how to weave a basket…

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To hear some forgotten history…

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To share a laugh…priceless!

Welcome to Bristol!

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Do you know what puts a daylong, fixed smile on my face? A trip to the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin! I’ve been attending, participating in and loving this wonderful place for almost 30 years! Yes, I skipped about in a costume as a little girl there, mesmerized by Queen Elizabeth I. and her dazzling court while pretending to be a noble courtier!

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What is the Bristol Renaissance Faire? It is a magical village where it is always a summer day, and a festival day! The year is 1574 in England and the Queen is on her summer progress. Today, she is visiting the village of Bristol and all of the noble courtiers, villagers, musicians, artists and entertainers are at their ready to celebrate her arrival!

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Why do I love the faire? It’s history! Actors and artists abound to bring you a little insight into the past, whether they be knights in the joust, courtly dancers, crafters, Renaissance musicians or hilarious street performing villagers! The festival grounds themselves are vast and out-of-doors. I could find a bench under a shady tree and sit all day. With all of the roaming actors, costumed patrons, delightful music and nature, it’s a truly delightful way to spend a summer day!

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As it is Labor Day weekend and the summer is drawing to an end, so too is this season’s Bristol Faire. This week, I’ll be sharing some of the many reasons this place is so magical. For all you lovers of history, I hope that it will inspire you to ready yourself a costume for next season (if you have a local Renaissance Faire where you are), or to check out what kind of historical reenactments you have close to home, whether it be a ball at the Venetian Carnival, a Civil War reenactment or an old-timey Wild West Town. They are wonderful places to both get your dose of history and be entertained!

Venice is here!!!

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Venice is here!!! And I can’t wait for you to read the adventure! Whether you are a lover of Venice, Italy, intrigued by interactive fiction where you choose your fate, or scenic travel and history are your interests, I sincerely hope Venice will excite and delight every one of you!

Venice is available here! Also available on Amazon!

Thank you to all of my family, friends and colleagues for your advice, energy, ideas, patience and support! This has been the most fascinating yet challenging project and I could not be more thankful for all of you! Thank you to the readers, now and in the future, of Venice and this site. It’s a privilege to share my passion for all things Venice with you. And thank you, to Venice! For your warm and inviting citizens, for your pure beauty and mystery, for your amazing history! Thank you!

You Decide Your Own Fate In Venice!

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The release of Venice is fast approaching! Venice is a decide-as-you-go historical fiction and travel novel. As the reader, you are the main character in the book and are offered choices at the end of each chapter about what you’d like to see and do in Venice, Italy during the Carnival! The book includes diverging stories and alternate endings. And though written in a woman’s voice, anyone who is interested in Venice is sure to enjoy the tour!

What inspired me to write a novel in this style? As a kid in the ‘80s, I read quite a few books from the Choose Your Own Adventure series produced by Bantam Books. This series allowed you to be quite the globetrotter! And, how awesome was it to be the main character? Reading them, I felt nervous making choices at the end of each chapter and loved to go back and see what would have happened if I had decided on a different path. I wanted to write a story like that!

I had forgotten those adventures for a time, but one day after setting out to brainstorm a novel that took place in Venice (a beloved destination), I quickly realized a single linear story wasn’t the right style to explore the city on paper, to the depth that I wanted to. How could my main character see everything I wanted her to see in Venice, she was just one lady…or was she?

I hope this style of divergent stories will inspire readers to remember how great their opportunities are right now! So many wonderful things to learn, to see, to do!

Venice was meant to peak interest in a particular place, but I hope that it also encourages readers to get curious about the history and present day situations right where you are. If you find yourself asking how that old building on Main St. got there, dig for the answers; the stories behind it may surprise, delight…or even baffle! Or if you prefer current events to history, everyday is filled with opportunities to dig deeper into the causes and communities that you care about. Whatever fascinates you; go check it out!

Lastly, my hope is that Venice excites travel! For all of those wonderful places in the world that you want to see, I hope that you get there. In the meantime, enjoy reading about them!

Stay tuned for news about Venice, as well as photos, stories and forgotten histories about the city!

What Awaits You In Venice…

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PREPARE your mistress! I must bleed her…

Even before your eyes begin to flutter open, slowly exposing you to the soft candlelight in the room, you can hear a man’s voice. His confusing words repeat several times in your mind as you begin willing yourself to come to. The room is warm, your body damp and there is a pressing thirst in your mouth, but you are not terribly uncomfortable. As you open your eyes, you start to recognize the situation which continues to be ever more bizarre. You are lying in the bed of your hotel room and it is immediately clear that you have not woken from this inexplicable situation; you appear to be living and breathing in another century. Asking for water at a whisper, you snatch the notice of the lady who caught you in a faint. Startlingly, she is standing close to the door next to the figure of a tall man with the face of a white beaked bird. If you hadn’t recognized this beastly vision, you may have been worse frightened, but it quickly registers. It is only the unmistakable mask of a Venetian doctor, who afraid of contracting a deadly pathogen wore a long beaked mask stuffed with spices and herbs in the hopes that it would prevent contagion. Having clenched the distance, the ghoulish surgeon reaches out with one hand and places it tenaciously on her arm. Though he appears to be looking directly at you from beneath his disguise, he addresses the maid by entreating her to waste no more time. The release of blood will be the only way. In that moment, you sense that he would bleed you for his evil pleasure rather than as an honest cure…