A Spirited Tune!

I wanted to share this lively tune of the Renaissance, captured at the Bristol Renaissance Faire in 2015. May it put a smile on your face and a hop in your step today!

Only one final weekend left of the 2017 Bristol season, but it includes three days over the Labor Day weekend to make merry! Be sure to stop by The Quill and Brush on King’s Landing!

Also, don’t forget the giveaway here on Inspired By Venice! This Friday, three of Lita’s cheery floral basket prints, regularly on display at The Quill and Brush, will be given away! To check out the giveaway and enter for your chance to win, click here!

A Basket Full Of Flowers Giveaway!

Today is the day! The day for a giveaway! Why? Just because! Because summer is still as light and lovely as ever in these parts! Because the world is green and the flowers are full. And though the cool nights and autumn weather are fast approaching, today’s giveaway will have you ever reminded of the joys of summer!

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This pretty little piece is a print from one of my artist mother Lita’s paintings. Her precious works accompany my adventures at The Quill And Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire!

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Her nature and fantasy designs always delight and inspire on a festival day! How the kiddos light up when they see her drawings of fairies and dragons!

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Today we are giving away three of these sweet little prints, size 5 by 7 inches. They are perfectly delightful to brighten any nook, desktop or bedside table. Put the art in a glass frame, or set it out just as it is. This pretty basket will make you smile!

To enter for your chance to win one of three of these delightful prints by Lita, simply leave a comment below sharing one of your favorite parts about summer. Is it the flowers? The swimming? The barbecues? The festivals? Three winners will be randomly selected on Friday September 1st at 6pm, Chicago time, and announced here!

Here’s to the beauty and bounty of summer, and to your enjoying every moment you can of it!

My Cup Runneth Over!

Good day, good day! I hope this message finds you well! As for me, life is full and lovely. In fact, my cup runneth over, and I am filled with gratitude…

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More than running over, my cup is spilling! Why? Because I’ve been so blessed lately to know such good people. To start, many folks have revisited our tented shop, The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire. The feedback has been so positive and supportive that I feel humbled and inspired. To you who have come by to say ‘hello’, to you who have picked out one of my books, to you who have come back to tell me what you thought, to you who have returned for another story, thank you. It means a great deal…

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And more…as I was driving into the faire grounds before opening a week ago Saturday, there was this beautiful sign hanging on the sign post before our shop! I unrolled my car window and squealed with delight! Oh my gosh! Where did that come from? Mom?

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But surely my artist mother Lita had no time to secretly create such a masterpiece of a shop sign. How often we remark that our summer weeks are so busy that we hardly even have time to do a load of laundry! So where did this remarkable gift come from?!

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The sweet and talented artist, Cody Zibung. Her family’s shop Sow’s Ear is our neighbor at Bristol. They offer the most creative bags and pouches made by Cody’s mother, Mickey. Cody works just next door of the Sow’s Ear, at Pyewackets Face and Body Painting delighting a great many with decorative body art! Nothing says ‘festival day’ better than pretty face painting with a bit of sparkle!

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This sign, with a quill on one side and a brush on the other, painted on the cutout of a scroll, is larger and thicker than it may appear in this photo. The wood had to be sawed, drilled for hooks, paint-stain-lacquer applied, oh my! This sign is an investment of time, money and ability. I was stunned by Cody’s generosity! And why did she do something so kind and generous? Because we needed one, because other shops have such signs, because Cody is an angel with a paintbrush. The moment I saw the sign, I felt like I had a real shop.

If you are a part of the Bristol Marketplace and are in need of an attractive sign, Cody is open to commissions! Thank you Cody! And thank you to the Sow’s Ear for being such exceptional neighbors!

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And then there’s even more to be humbled by! Above to my right is one kind and patient lady. Mary Hough is one of the directors for the Guilde of St. George, the court of Queen Elizabeth I. at Bristol. Some years ago, for four seasons, I performed with St. George…

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I am the lady at the very back with the pink sash…following Queen Elizabeth (then played by actress Mary Kababik). I don’t see Mary Hough in this particular photo, but she was certain to be nearby, for she was always known as The Queen Wrangler. Why?

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Year after year, Mary playing a lady of Elizabeth’s court, has walked by the Queen’s side. To play the role of Queen Elizabeth at the Bristol Faire (now actress Jennifer Higgins), is a monumental undertaking. How many places to be at certain hours of the day! How many people to speak to (hundreds), to take the time to share a bit of history and splendor!

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From a ride through Bristol upon a horse, to a rip-roaring joust, to a courtly feast, to the knighting of little children in Kid’s Kingdom, each festival day in Bristol is filled to the brim. To say nothing of the summer heat and weighty costume…

And somewhere nearby Ms. Hough has always been, checking a time-piece for the minute, offering a cool goblet of water or a handkerchief, always there to support the Queen’s person. In this video from the end of Bristol’s 2015 season, you will see Mary peak out from aside the Queen. My point illustrated…

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Mary kindly took the time to stop by The Quill and Brush two weeks ago, and purchased one of each of my adventures to donate to a school. 12 books! I was speechless. And in the graceful way that she has always exhibited, after paying full price for the books, she jested that donations could be accounted for in one’s taxes. Uhm…only truly good people try to draw attention away from the fact that they’ve just done something very generous. Taxes-smaxes Ms. Mary! Thank you for supporting The Quill and Brush, for supporting my writing, and for giving a donation! And thank you for all you’ve done to support the splendid performance that is Queen Elizabeth and her court at Bristol…

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I love Bristol! I love the history! I love the merrymaking! I love everything about it! If you have not already visited this season, there are yet three weekends to celebrate it’s 30th anniversary. Be sure to visit The Quill and Brush on King’s Landing. I’ll be there with a heart full and a smile, for what a wonderful season it has already been!

Merry Meet, Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again!

What’s New, Shelly-Poo!?

Shelly-Poo was my older cousin’s nickname for me growing up, a term of endearment. Shelly is short for Michelle of course. And poo? Well that word is added onto names sometimes as a sign of affection. “Oh, your little puppy-wuppie is so cutie-poo!” Oh goodness!

So what’s new, Shelly-Poo? Let’s see…

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Guess where I was today?! Setting up our shop, The Quill and Brush at the Bristol Renaissance Faire! We’re so excited for our 2nd season! Opening weekend is next weekend, July 8th. We have moved locations, but are still on King’s Landing. We can’t wait to see all of the friends we made last year, and all the new friends we are yet to meet! It is the 30th Anniversary of this beloved festival, and one beautifully tended park awaits you!

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Now, I do not consider myself clever with crafting/decor, but don’t you think the little ‘book case’ I put together to display my fairy tales is cute? I was pretty proud of myself…

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My business partner and artist mother Lita, will be displaying some lovely painted canvases this year, along with her illustrations. I don’t have a sneak peak for you here, but can say that when I first saw them, I wanted them all for myself. But then, we would have none for our sweet little shop! Come by, and peruse…

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Maid of Honour and The Mermaiden will be available starting first weekend!

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Veleno will be available for Marketplace Weekend (3rd weekend) through the end of the season. Official release date just around the corner (with convenient availability through Amazon). This one’s for mature readers only…

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In other news, I love cheese. The word love hardly begins to describe my craze for cheese. But being in Wisconsin setting up shop today, the very state that won the World Champion Cheese Contest in 2016, I was made a very happy woman. Ellsworth Garlic Cheddar Cheese Curds, Buddy Squirrel Cheezzzy Cheddar Popcorn, and Sartori MontAmore (the size of a small brick). I’m in Heaven. If you’re ever in Kenosha, WI, stop into Tim and Tom’s Cheese Shop. Attached to a sizable antique shop, and with cheese galore, it’s a field trip…

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In other, other news, I have a pet jumping spider who lives on my writing desk between my book Venice, and Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City. He’s hopped out during 3 consecutive days of writing hours to keep me company. I must say, he has good taste in books!

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Speaking of great books, I’m currently reading The Stranger in the Woods; The Extraordinary Life Of The Last True Hermit. A true story…hermit Christopher Knight of Maine…written by journalist Michael Finkel. Order this book right now, and thank me later…it is too spectacular to put down…

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In further, further, further news…this vegetarian is still cookin’ up the veggies! Whatever I’ve got in the fridge. Look at those healthful veggie tacos! Summer is fresh veggie time! Love it!

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And, after all my veggie-loving years, I’ve gotta say that radishes are the apple of my eye. Read my previous ‘Swimming Radishes’ post here. I think I love radishes as much as cheese! Gasp! Is that possible?

Here’s to your daily good health and happiness, and to your taking delight in simple pleasures every day! Here’s also to the joys of an excellent read, and to the deliciousness of your table favorites! Best Wishes!

My Grandma’s Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Summer Delights, Simply Delicious!

My honey and I are about to dive into one very busy summer, each tied up with our own exciting endeavors. We’ve always done our best to have a weekly date night to catch up, relax and enjoy a good meal together. This summer however, date nights will be harder to fit in and will likely be a bite at home. Thus, we had to get to one of our favorites before we’re both carried away with summer…

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Evanston’s Boltwood is simply delicious, every time! First on the menu, beets with greek yogurt, pistachios and saffron honey. So fresh and earthy!

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Next, grilled carrots with harissa, black sesame seeds and apricot. Oh heavens! I could have eaten that sauce with a spoon!

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We’d be tempted to make a trip to Boltwood just to eat these crispy potatoes with garlic schmaltz! We order them each time we go and are completely blissed out with every bite. So, so good!

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I love seafood anytime, but especially in summer when it’s served with bright flavors and color! This swordfish with citrus, fennel, radish, avocado and chives was light and excellent!

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The crispy tofu with coconut rice, broccoli, chili garlic and sesame seeds was the best dish of the night! This dish was on fire and so was my mouth! Spicy! I normally don’t eat spicy food because I can’t take the heat. This dish was hot, but I couldn’t stop eating it. The spicy sauce was offset by the coconut rice (perfect al dente) and the tofu. And though a large dollop of a tear ran down my face from the heat, I kept eating. Wow!

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I think I heard angels singing when I took my first spoonful of the budino. Butterscotch pudding, caramel, sesame tuile and whipped cream. It made me remember how much I love butterscotch. This pudding was so smooth and dreamy!

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Strawberry and rhubarb sing summer, so we quite enjoyed the strawberry rhubarb crisp with oats and chamomile ice cream. A wee tart and wonderfully fruity.

Here’s to the flavors and fun of summer, and spending time with the people you care about. I hope your summer is off to a great start and wish you many sunny days ahead!

Summer Delights, and A Mystery Solved!

We’ve finally received warm weather here in Evanston! 70s and even low 80s! Now, I’m more of a cool weather gal (I get a little grouchy when it gets into the 90s) but this weather is truly perfect. I’ve spent several days writing outside on the porch (my absolute favorite way to spend the day) and am looking forward to many more…

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Tiddo has enjoyed his first sprigs of summer catnip, which is already growing quite abundantly around the neighborhood. He’s also been trying to dart out of the front door and is yowling like a wild thing. He wants to spend the day outside too!

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For me, the moment the weather turns from cool and dreary to warm and sunny, what I want on my plate changes as well. As soon as it turned mid-70s this week, I wanted a caprese salad!

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And though a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil usually do on my salads, once summer begins, I’ve a hankering for reduced balsamic…

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Pour a few cups into a sauce pan, place over low heat and then stir (and stir, and stir) until it is reduced to about a fourth of what you originally poured in. When you taste it, the bitterness should have run out and the sweetness kicked in. I like to then cool it in a ramekin in the fridge, it becomes thick as molasses. Oh heavens! Remember to keep stirring while it cooks however, or else it will burn immediately and will not turn out.

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

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I particularly like experimenting with breakfast. I’m weirdly ravenous about an hour after I wake up each morning. Therefore, I think just about everything sounds delicious and am more willing to cook up something out of the ordinary for that meal.

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And now for a mystery solved! This was so cool! The raccoons have been out, enjoying the nice weather too. This isn’t the same dude who was hanging off of our tree the other day (who looked a little scrawny I thought), this one is a real healthy size. I took this picture of him in the backyard (safely from the window of course).

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The shots are blurry, but if you look closely, he’s digging around in our backyard drainpipe! He pulled out some snacks to munch on, who knows what it was. Wet and stinky no doubt, gross!

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What made me smile when I saw this was that one, he went straight for the drain as he ambled through the yard, as though it was one of his usual spots to check for a bite. Second, if you look to the top of the photo, you’ll see a brick. There used to be a green cover over that hole that mysteriously kept coming off, and broke apart. I thought it was the result of lawn mowing. So, I placed a brick over the hole so that debris (leaves and sticks) would not clog the drain. Though capped off, it’s still designed to capture water below the surface…

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

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

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

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!

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!

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!