I’m lovin’ your style, Newark!

With a recent flight to New York, we flew into Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. Now, I’ve seen quite a few airports throughout the world. Some are comfortable, some are not so comfortable. Mostly they are simple, functional, designed to get you where you need to go. Perhaps you’ll do a bit of duty-free shopping, and get a decent bite to eat along the way…

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Well I just want to say…Newark, you’re one happening airport! I love your style! As you walk through the terminal, there are colorful, internet accessible, chic places to grab a seat. Ambient music plays, which I’m certain keeps travelers calm and relaxed…

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There were a variety of places to take your ease, and plenty of t.v. monitors for folks who need their daily dose of sports. The airport was clean and well, hip

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At the newsstand, there were no lines, for there were plenty of monitors for self-checkout. I tend not to like self-checkout because it never goes smoothly for me and an attendant has to come running to help. But here, things seemed to be running well…

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Further, their selection of products in the quick-grab area were so interesting! Lots of fun foods, healthy items, unique snacks. Plenty of fresh choices, whatever your tastes…

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I enjoyed the colors and the lights, and the unique flow…

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Instead of looking travel-worn and agitated, folks were catching up on work, studying, chatting, relaxing. Everywhere I looked, it seemed like people were enjoying being at the airport. That’s a new one!

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There were interesting paintings, cool chairs, patterned tiles, thoughtful lighting…

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And I would have been content to sit at any of the restaurants we passed. As we walked past Riviera, it appeared as a peaceful oasis serving gourmet food. In…the…airport.

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In any case, I got a real kick out of this airport’s modern design. It made for a fun entry into our New York outing. The designers clearly had the comfort and amusement of travelers in mind when they made such updates. Pretty cool!

Don’t Eat That Ackee, Eve!

I’m fascinated by nature, and very much so when I’m traveling. The sight of a unique plant, or spotting unfamiliar wildlife, is always exciting!

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By the looks of the markings on this yellow bird, I believe I captured sight of a Jamaican Oriole while recently in Jamaica. Even from the first hours after our arrival there on a recent trip, I was in awe of the thriving bird life and all of the beautiful songs they presented…

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This hearty bird hopped about in the foliage so constantly (in search for seeds it appeared) that I could hardly get a proper picture of him. Only a few photos from many offered more than a flash of yellow…

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Though Indian Peafowl are kept in the U.S., to see this fella dancing about a potential mate (a peahen that fled from him into the bushes) was such a treat. Look how handsome he is! On several evenings, we noted a peahen taking safe perch for the night upon a thatched roof. It looked quite the comfortable nest…

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

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Though Northern Mockingbirds can breed in Northern Illinois, they aren’t regulars. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen (or heard) one in the wild. In Jamaica, they are everywhere and their songs are simply incredible!

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

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And when I saw this fruit ripening in a tree, my first thought was of how delicious it might be to pluck one down and take a bite! Any tropical fruit so pretty must taste divine! Good thing I didn’t follow my instinct…

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This, is the ackee (not to be confused with the acai berry), the tree of which migrated from Africa to Jamaica (most likely upon a slave ship) in the late 1700’s. It is the national fruit of Jamaica. However, to pluck it down and take a bite could prove fatal. At the very least, you would become very, very sick…

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[Photo Credit: DocTaxon]

In order to eat of the fruit, it must first be fully ripe (splitting open on its own) or bad things will definitely happen. The fruity flesh is then to be removed away from the skin and seeds (these carefully discarded lest your beloved pet or child grab hold of the remnants and put them in their mouth). Next, the fruit is to be boiled for at least 5 minutes, or bad things yet could happen. The water is to then be immediately discarded, the fruit rinsed and then boiled a second time, because if not, bad things could still happen…this is one dangerous fruit!

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I therefore had to take a walk on the wild side and eat some. Ackee and saltfish is a traditional Jamaican dish. I had it for breakfast one glorious sunny morning to the sound of rich birdsong. With each bite, I had to wonder if this was like taking the risk of eating toxic puffer fish? I mean, what if the cook didn’t boil my ackee twice?

Just kidding! I wasn’t scared at all. What did it taste like? Like fish and fruit, looking like scrambled eggs masquerading on my plate. A little spicy, a little fishy, a little sweet. I liked it!

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Handsome on the other hand had pancakes made from a unique grain that morning. Fish for breakfast wasn’t quite to his taste, though he did take a nibble of my ackee and saltfish to see what it was like…

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How I love to travel, and how I love nature! However, I am ever being reminded to control my urges to simply grab out, or pet that cute insect (I think I was raised a little bit wild). Not everything is innocuous, some things are quite dangerous indeed. For instance, when I admired strands of cherry-looking berries hanging from one tree, a local said not to touch them, for the juice will burn the skin of your hand. Yikes!

Nature must be respected

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Of course, I still swam but a few feet away from a puffer fish while snorkeling in the shallows. He watching me, me watching him (terrified he might bring out the spines but too fascinated to swim away). And of course, I still had to get up close to this enormous insect nest, unable to live without knowing what was in there (I’m an entomologist in my heart)…

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

Here is hoping you are enjoying your adventure today!

Date Night in NYC!

On our way to Jamaica for our recent vacation, we took the roundabout way of flying first to New Jersey from Chicago, spending one night and then heading on down to the Caribbean. We could have flown straight to Montego Bay instead, but handsome was shopping his preferred airlines (which required a layover). This stopover proved very exciting, and I won’t forget our adventurous evening for all of my days…

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Though this photo is blurry, I love it. It is of my old haunt…

Once we arrived at our hotel in Newark, we inquired how long it would take an Uber to deliver us to Manhattan. The desk attendant did not sound optimistic. Disappointment was written all over my face. We could see the city, but hours of traffic would make waste of an evening. I remained upbeat however, for handsome had booked dinner at an Italian restaurant in New Jersey!

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However, after hopping in an Uber on our way to dinner, I couldn’t help looking longingly toward NYC. See, I lived there a decade ago, and I love New York City. So I asked the driver how long he felt it would take. Only an extra 20 minutes. Handsome canceled our dinner reservation and we were on our way to the Big Apple…

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We directed the driver to Washington Square Park (amidst the campus of NYU where I am an alumna). He proceeded to drop us on Washington Street some distance away. However, the Uber driver’s mistake proved a zesty, exhilarating NYC walk for us! Block after city block built my anticipation to see my old neighborhood (and grew our appetite for dinner). Once there, we traversed my old memories while stamping a new NYC memory into my heart with our fun evening together…

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Now, if you know anything about Manhattan, you know that it offers a bazillion restaurants (and shops, and cool things in abundance) in its 13.4 by 2.3 miles. Every other doorstep offers something you want to explore, something good to buy or to eat or to see. As we power walked approximately one mile from drop-off point, I blurted “I could eat my way around this city.” It might take me a little time, but I think I’d be up for the job…

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After our explorations (and in spite of all the enticing eateries we noticed along the way), handsome expressed a hankering to visit Little Italy. And so, we hopped in a cab and headed on over to that delicious neighborhood! As you walk through Little Italy, gentlemen from various restaurants roll out, singing for you to come and take a seat at their tables. All of the menus looked so good, it was hard to walk away from many of them as we passed through. Finally, we settled upon Da Gennaro Ristorante

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We had a pleasant view of Mulberry Street from our table, glasses of Chianti to warm us up after our evening walk, and a meal that blew us away!

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To start, tender calamari fritti with a fresh sauce and a cool squeeze of lemon…

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I must say, I’ve been blessed to try a great many amazing dishes during my life, and amongst my many unique travels. I can say without hesitation, Da Gennaro’s fettuccine (meaning ‘little ribbons’ in Italian) with shrimp, salmon and a creamy tomato sauce was absolutely one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten…

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What made this evening so special was the fact that it hadn’t been planned, yet turned out so surprisingly delightful in every way! It was random, refreshing, and reminded me how very much I love adventure!

Here’s wishing you many such wonderful adventures, whether they be within your own neighborhood or far from home…

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” ~Anonymous

Sneaky, Slithering Sea Snail!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m A Hummingbird…

Cue the music please:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Worry About A Thing…

This is how I thought yesterday would be. A blissful night’s sleep followed by an exciting view as I rode through the streets of Jamaica. Then, an awe-inspiring zip-line over the jungle, followed by a soothing swim in sparkling falls…

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This isn’t exactly how things went. I woke up around 3:30 am and did not fall asleep again. Every trip I’ve ever taken into a new country has delivered at least one such night. The kind where you wake abruptly to the darkness and the noises outside are not familiar, and you realize you are very far away from everything that you’re sure of and you feel a bit frightened by that…

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By sunrise, I was exhausted. However, the sun was shining and I was going to be a trooper. Onward with the adventure! Only, I had to make a quick call to the U.S., and it proved more difficult than expected, taking a chunk of time to connect. This made me feel again, a bit far from home…

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Handsome kept me on track with positive motivations. Let’s go! Breakfast time! C’mon baby! Though breakfast was comforting and the Blue Mountain Jamaican Coffee reinforcing, I was still feeling fretful and tired. But, I was determined to carry on with a good attitude. Only, once inside the steamy vehicle that would take us to a remote falls in the jungle, all positiveness went out the window. You see, Jamaica is mountainous, the roads thin and twisting, the driving fast and furious. You zoom through villages at intense speed, and the fear of a crash is at the forefront of the mind. I was quickly car sick, just as I was on the way to our lodgings from the airport upon our arrival last week…

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But let us pause for a moment so that you can zoom into this photo of this adorable little lizard. They are everywhere (and seemingly not afraid of my shockingly bright pink nail polish)…

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But to continue…No, I did not lose my breakfast by my car sickness. That would have been humiliating (however, not much more humiliating than what happened next). When we arrived at the falls, I thought I would faint. Remember too, it’s a tropical climate. This Chicago gal is more accustomed to cold temperatures. I was splashing cool water on my face and neck and asking for something mint (a local woman here told me that mint works well on their twisty roads). A few mint confections were procured and it was like a miracle. Mint really does help abate motion sickness! Things were looking up…

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That was, until I looked up. I am not afraid of heights, but something overcame me when I looked up. My danger radar was screaming! I kept silent until we were being geared up to zip through the canopy, high above the rushing waterfalls. It was then that tears began to fall out of my eyes in copious amounts. The tears would not abate. My hands began to shake and my heart started to race wildly. I…was…terrified. Though I would never have selected zip-lining in general (seemed risky), I was taking one for the team. I certainly wouldn’t have suspected that I would be overwhelmingly afraid…

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Once finally climbing high up to the top of the trees (sweating, winded and seriously considering turning back), I realized there was no way down except by the zip-line. More heart-stopping, there were five lines to fly across/down, not just one. My tears began to mimic the waterfalls. I wasn’t whining loudly, or scaring the wildlife with sobbing. It was just silent, unstoppable tears (and possibly the strongest look of apprehension ever seen on my face). They wouldn’t stop flowing out of my eyes. The jungle was a blur. What can I say? However, with each lockdown upon the line, the Jamaican men who were safety guides greeted me with a smile and said, Sista, don cry. Every-ting will be alright! Don worry! So I’d take a deep breath, and fly

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I can’t say I overcame fear. I just pushed it aside and did what I had to do. And even though zip-lining might be easy for some, I’m not ashamed by my tears or how afraid I was. Yesterday didn’t go as smoothly as I’d anticipated, but in the end, it was so much better. I gained strength from it…

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The blessing in travel is that you learn things about yourself you never expected, and are challenged and awed in ways that go beyond what you might have ever imagined.

If I wake again to the darkness while we’re here, I’m not going to be afraid. I’m going to let the tree frog songs sooth me back to sleep. They’ll be singing…Don’t worry, about a thing, ’cause every little thing gonna be alright! 

Far And Away…

At present, I am in the island country of Jamaica in the Caribbean Sea! It took several days of travel to get here, for first we flew to NYC from Chicago and had one unforgettable date night in the city (which I’ll be sure to write about soon). I wanted to share a few special photos with you from the last few days of our adventure…

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This is Washington Square Arch in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village with the Empire State Building in the background. We took a stroll through NYU where I went to graduate school. It was a very fond walk down memory lane. Next stop, the south coast of Jamaica!

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

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

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And here is the sweet island kitty that took shade in my chair. However, these cats (of which there is a little band) are far fiercer than they look. They hunt lizards and frogs. I’ve been witness to their dinners. Ewww!

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And here was a fisherman who dives with a spear for his catch. As he was walking by, the lobsters at the top still moving, I was in awe…

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

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Tropical flowers grow everywhere. Their smell is absolutely intoxicating. There are several kinds of hummingbirds that zip and zoom about these flowers. My attempts to capture them on camera have failed thus far, but I’ll keep trying…

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Here is wishing you special wonders in your life today, wherever you may be. As for me, I’m singing a song with my toes barefoot in the sand. “One Love. One Heart. Let’s get together and feel alright…Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel alright.” Loving your lyrics Marley!

Welcome To The Venetian Carnival…A World of Wonders!

The Venetian Carnival 2017 begins in just 3 days, running from February 11-28! Though I will not be attending the glorious festivities in person, I can still reminisce upon my past attendance and cherish Carnival from afar. Perusing photos from when my costumer mother Lita and I attended in 2005 (a trip that inspired my book Venice), I was treated once again to the sight of remarkable raiment…

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What I have always found fascinating about the mask and costume culture of the Carnival (namely throughout Venice’s illustrious history), is the anonymity it gives the individual and the new guise it may offer them. It empowers one to cast away social pressures, and become whoever or whatever they wish. The pauper mingled freely with the aristocrat, the infirm beamed with good health, and the old were filled with youth once more…

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Here was a pearly queen with her court of incandescent unicorns and magical beings. They glittered in the sun while their glimmering attire swirled in the breeze. During the Carnival, anyone can transform themselves, moving even into an otherworldly realm…

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What exotic rulers, from a distant palace filled with riches, shine like gold itself just beneath this marbled portico?

When researching this culture of mask from Venice’s history, one discovers that the majority of coverings translated into commonly known characters. This sometimes still holds true today…

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As you amble through Venice during the Carnival, inquire with the exquisitely attired and ask them who they are. Unique characters may reveal themselves (some with a wink to history and tradition). Only, don’t be offended if many remain mute. The right of anonymity belongs to the masked, and some don’t prefer to even share the vibration of their voices…

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Many don the brightest colors, covered in drifting sheer fabric and an eddy of soft feathers. Mysterious tropical birds, descending upon the city to outshine the average sea bird of the lagoon…

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And many couples (sometimes even groups) display themselves in carefully created, matching garments. I dare say, this pair would have had a hard time losing one another in the crowd! They remind me of the wind and water that are as much a part of Venice, as its majestic palazzi are…

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Wouldn’t it be fascinating to add up all of the hours spent creating such works of wearable art each season? The numbers would be telling of the passion a great many patrons put into their costumes. I thank them for keeping the magic and tradition of the Venetian Carnival, alive!

Here’s to the 2017 Carnevale di Venezia and to the city and people of Venice! Here’s also to remembering to add a bit of wonder and magic to each of your days, whether or not it be a festival day!

The Carnival of Venice

The Carnevale di Venezia 2017 is but 7 days away! Hundreds of visitors are preparing for the event, which this year falls between February 11-28. I’ve perused the calendar of this year’s events with wide-eyed wonder…what delights await all those who will have the privilege of attending…

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I took these photos when I attended the Venetian Carnival in 2005 with my costumer mother, Lita. We wore our gowns and ambled about the calle, along the waters of the lagoon and through St. Mark’s Square each day. There is nothing more enlivening than the energy in that square as crowds watch for the very best costumes on display (such as those worn by this impeccable couple above)…

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Cameras flash. People ohhh and ahhh. Laughter and chatter abound while the clamor from the lively crowd vibrates your sternum. It is very exciting. Music floods through St. Mark’s, amplified beats by day, live vocals at night…

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With pomp and mask, wig and powder, the fascinatingly antiquated carry themselves elegantly toward frivolity in every corner of the city. I swoon, I die…as I watch the parade go by…

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There is so much to entertain…cafe sittings, gondola rides, boat races and water parades, street entertainments, Festa delle Marie, The Flight of the Angel, mask and costume contests, masquerade balls and festive dinners. Along with the striking beauty of the city of Venice, its delicious fare, musical offerings and art exhibits, Carnevale could certainly overwhelm anyone with its sheer splendor…

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Though I will not be in attendance (deep sigh), I wish anyone attending this year the most enchanting time of their lives! As for me, I am anticipating the wonderful photos and videos that will soon be posting during this carnival season. They will ignite my dreaming for the next occasion when I too, will amble once more in costume through the labyrinth that is Venice!

Blogger Recognition Award!

I am absolutely delighted to be nominated by the very talented food blogger, Pooja Tameshwar of Smart Veg Recipes, for a Blogger Recognition Award! Thank you!

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As someone who tries to cook a mostly plant-based diet for my own good health, I enjoy perusing recipes that focus on the good things of the earth…

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I’m also ever fascinated by different cultures and cuisines from around the globe. That’s how I got hooked on reading Pooja’s posts! Not only are her veggie-based dishes from around India unique, pleasing to the eye, and mouthwatering, but she also writes insightful descriptions about what makes each dish culturally special. Be sure to visit her site!

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Blogger Recognition Rules:

  1. Write a post to show your award.
  2. Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you and share the link to their blog.
  3. Give a brief story of how your blog got started.
  4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
  5. Nominate 15 bloggers of your choice for the award.
  6. Comment on each blog to let them know that you’ve nominated them and provide a link to your post.

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How did Inspired By Venice come about? With the publication of my book Venice, a choose your own adventure that takes the reader on a journey through that enchanting Italian city! At the end of each chapter, you decide where you will go next! Enjoy the adventure!

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But books aside, I also wanted to share my passion for good food, culture, travel, history, nature and costuming…

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And of course…

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Tiddo the cat…

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What I share is meant to be eclectic, uplifting, inspirational, silly, informative. Most importantly, it’s written to brighten your day! Thank you for reading!

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My advice for new bloggers? If you have a passion you want to share and you start a blog, don’t give up if readers don’t show up overnight! Yes, writing posts is a time investment, and you may sometimes wonder if it’s worth it if there aren’t a lot of visitors to your site. Just remember that blogging shouldn’t focus on how many likes, comments, and followers you have. It’s about your sharing something unique with the world, just because it’s a joy to do so. Just keep writing, and you’re bound to inspire others, and gain readers, in time…

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My second bit of advice to new bloggers comes from me as a reader of blogs. I find it hard to stay focused when reading super long posts that look like one eternal paragraph without any pictures. I prefer posts that share a story that flows, keeps on track, and has a little eye candy! One of the hardest things for a writer, is to keep words succinct while still fully communicating your story. Those who do this best, are artists with the pen!

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And my nominations for the Blogger Recognition Award are (in no particular order)…

  1. The Third Planet
  2. La Venessiana
  3. Agreeable Things
  4. Fashion Through History
  5. A Cupcake For Love
  6. JessDidWhat
  7. SawaWorld
  8. Meandering With Misha
  9. Michael Philip Atkins Travels
  10. Japan etc.
  11. Melinda Little Blogs
  12. Lisa’s Project: Vegan
  13. The Wifey’s Corner
  14. Fed’s Life
  15. Getting The Picture

Thank you bloggers, for inspiring me!

Holy Chapel of Paris: Sainte-Chapelle

As most European cities are, Paris is filled with breathtaking churches; mind-boggling, Gothic-architecture behemoths built from stone. One such venerated place that I entered on a solitary wandering, was Sainte-Chapelle, meaning Holy Chapel…

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From the outside, patterns can be made out in the window panels, but the beauty of the stained glass from within the chapel are yet to surprise you…

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Religious figures and chiseled-out arches, grace its aging facade…

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And if you look carefully enough, you’ll catch glimpses of the gargoyles that are peering down at you from above…

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While the fleur-de-lis and castles that decorate the stone, are powerful markers of the history of this particular house of worship…

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Markers that continue inside of the church, painted in gold upon the ancient red and blue pillars. I gasped at such a display of color, which I was not expecting…

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Sainte-Chapelle began construction in the year 1242 and was completed in 1248, making this glorious building just about 774 years old! Folks who live abroad may not find this uncommon, but coming from the U.S., we consider a building or church that is just several hundred years old as being historically important. Therefore, I was absolutely in awe as I toed about this holy place built in the High-Middle Ages…

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Once making a slow entrance into its absolutely magnificent chapel, I heard angels singing. A whole choir of them. This was all in my head of course, for the place was so reverently quiet that you could have heard a mouse sneeze…

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It was a breathtaking moment. The sun glowing through the stained glass, the candlelight, the woodwork, the vaulted ceilings, the decorative alter…

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All I can say is, oh heavens! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!…

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And then I got closer to sneak a peek at the stories in the glasswork and my brain just broke. In the year 1248…how?! How did they do it? It’s…just…amazing…

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Some who visited the church plunked down in reverie to view the scene. I wouldn’t doubt if folks stayed for hours to do so. The hundreds of stories and patterns in glass could keep anyone mesmerized. And to think, many if not most of these scenes in glass must have a meaning, some background to them. Whether a political rendering, or a story from the Bible, how many narratives the glass holds…

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Sainte-Chapelle was built by Louis IX, King of France from 1226-1270. When he became a king, he was but 12 years old. He constructed this church in a courtyard where his palace stood in Paris, for the purpose of housing religious relics (including one crown of thorns alleged to be the very one Jesus wore at his crucifixion, and which is now housed in Notre Dame)…

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At this time in the High Middle-Ages, there was both great population and economic growth in Europe (with a blossoming of urban life). It was a period posed after centuries of barbaric invasions, but set just before the Black Death (which potentially took up to 200 million European lives in the mid-1300’s, up to 60% of the peoples)…

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Sainte-Chapelle housed just more than 30 religious relics acquired by Louis IX, items that would have caused absolute fervor in the devout. But even without the relics, if any common citizen could have gained access to such one chapel of a king (not likely), the view alone would have brought them to their knees. For that time period, the innards of a building like this would have been something hardly imaginable, a sight of unfathomable splendor…

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Alas, as I finally walked down an ancient stair to leave the church and gain access once more to the rest of Paris, perhaps I passed the ghost of King Louis’s wife Margaret of Provence as she glided up in the opposite direction, heading into the chapel to say her prayers under the rainbows of the stained glass. Only my imagination of course, but how I wish I could catch but some small glimpses back in time while visiting such ancient places…

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And as I walked back out into the light, the windows hardly giving away the colorful views that were within, I looked up to the gargoyles and said goodbye while angel song flitted up and away into the blue sky. What a place of beauty, is Paris’s Sainte-Chapelle!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nests of Great Egrets

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

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

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

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

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

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

The House of the Seven Gables

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Salem, Massachusetts in the month of October just before Halloween…

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The golden leaves were falling, grey skies and misty rain made the cobblestone pathways and colonial buildings feel mysterious. Handsome and I even traipsed out into a desolate field to visit one noteworthy graveyard, filled with tombstones from the Salem Witch Trials

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The Salem Witch Trials were a very frightening and grim part of American History. 200 innocent people were tried for witchcraft, ending with 20 of them being sentenced to death. I was sincerely touched to see the American flags dotted around this graveyard, honoring those innocent lives…

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We also wandered by the chilly ocean wharf, with no particular place in mind to head to. There, we stumbled upon an old house of unknown historical significance. And on that day (lucky for us), there was a little tour of the premises…

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This, is the House of the Seven Gables. It is the oldest mansion to be made of wood and still standing in Salem. It was built in 1668! For American architecture, this is considered ancient. We had to go inside!

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Unfortunately, I didn’t use my camera inside. Unlikely because they didn’t allow photos, but rather that I was too mesmerized by the old rooms. Visit here to see detailed photos and descriptions…

It was an amazingly restored house, where I was instantly transported back in time. I imagined cooking before the enormous stone hearth, stitching in the dainty sitting room, gathering around the table in the esteemed dining chamber, or even sneaking up a secret stairway hidden behind the wall…

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On the day we visited, it was autumn, late afternoon and rather gloomy. The natural lighting that came into the house did little to light our way through. So of course, I had all kinds of shadowy images in my mind of what it would have been like to live in that house in the late 1600’s, the sea turbulent just outside, a stormy night, the briny smell in the air, a crackling fire and candlelight playing upon the walls. And remember…the Salem Witch Trials were happening just outside…eeeeekkk!

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Some time after that visit to Salem, I’m at a garage sale with my mom. I see this book in a box and I blurt out loud, “I’ve been in that house!” Both my mom and the house owner raising an eyebrow at my random revelation. A few crinkled dollars and the book was mine!

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The House of the Seven Gables was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne (the author of The Scarlet Letter) in 1851. His cousin, Susanna Ingersoll, owned the home at this time, and Hawthorne visited her there. Thus, he knew the house intimately and used it as the stage for one bone-chilling tale…

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Hawthorne also had ancestors that were involved with the witch trials; he was steadfastly inspired by this. The House of the Seven Gables begins with an execution for witchcraft, an occasion that then haunts the generations who live in the home…

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I just read the book, which I did not consider the easiest read, yet which I could not put down. Some parts felt maddeningly in-depth (deep observations and winding verse). But then, a mere page later and I’d find myself once more in the throes of this haunting tale. The book is considered a romance; I would call it a macabre romance, inexplicably blooming under creepy, depressing circumstances…

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If you are interested in colonial or Puritan American history, I hope you make it to Salem. We visited some remarkable historic landmarks in both Boston and Salem, and I’ve an itch to go back to see more! I also especially enjoyed it with an autumnal setting, the fresh ocean air, and the best lobster I’ve ever eaten in my life.

If you are looking for a dark read with historic value, you might enjoy The House of the Seven Gables. It’s a cerebral tale of one shadowy seaside house that though I visited in real life, am very glad not to have visited as Hawthorne described it!

My Pretty Venice

Absolutely charming! That’s what I think about My Pretty Venice: A Girl’s Guide to True Venice by Isabella Campagnol, Elisabeth Rainer and illustrated by Beatrice Campagnol. This lovely book put a smile on my face at the turn of every page…

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To begin with, I greatly esteem writer Isabella Campagnol who is the author of Forbidden Fashions: Invisible Luxuries in Early Venetian Convents which I previously reviewed here. With her being a fashion, textile, and decorative arts historian who writes on Venetian topics, who better to co-author a modern guide directed toward such themes, with rich history weaved in?

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What do I love about this book? First, Rainer and Campagnol have written an uncomplicated, selective guide to Venice, directed toward delights that ladies might enjoy. That hidden garden, that charming bookstore, a place to pamper your toes or find elegant trappings. However, it isn’t just dry information, it’s playful and delightfully accompanied by Beatrice Campagnol’s darling illustrations (also including illustrative, well placed photos by Lorenzano Di Renzo). A thoughtful guide for the travel-minded, adventurous spirit that is also endearing to the imagination!

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I really enjoyed the cameos and curiosities throughout the book as well, which retell interesting histories and share snippets of important ladies from Venice’s history!

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For you gals who love Venice (like me), or have a friend who does, My Pretty Venice is an absolute treat! Whether or not you’re heading to that magical city anytime soon, a flip through this book’s pages will sweep you away on your own little holiday!

All Good Things!

I am very excited to announce the arrival of The Fairy Woods, released yesterday and available here! I hope all the kiddos will enjoy the adventure of my three fairy friends, Whisper, Wish and Wind, as well as the magical moments that take place in their wooded realm! For any child that can’t get enough fairy tales, this is a special book for them!

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I would also like to thank Johnny Jet: The Travel Insider! If you enjoy travel, this site is for you! I was interviewed for their popular Travel Style segment and hope you’ll enjoy it! You can read the interview here!

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I’ve not only had the opportunity to do some wonderful traveling in my life so far, something that I love, but my book Venice is inspired by the adventures life brings when you grab your suitcase and hit the road (or jump on that vaporetto)! For all of you who dream of the places you’ll see, I hope you get there and soon!

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I would also like to send a special thank you to La Venessiana (meaning the Venetian woman), one of the absolute best blogs about all things Venice! Several times (here & here), very kind mentions were made for my book Venice and site Inspired by Venice. For anyone who wants their dose of dreamy Venice, its food, beautiful photography, and an insider’s delightful stories, you must visit La Venessiana and often!

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I am also excited to share that 2016 is going to bring some very exciting adventures! Veleno  is just around the corner (for you adult readers looking for a terrible tale), and The Itty Bitty Littles too (a sweet, funny adventures for the little ones), but there’s more! Wonderful new adventures for every age and I can’t wait for you to see what’s next! Queen of the Elves is just one sneak peek!

The Costumer, The Artist, The Inspiration

My mother is a very talented costumer and artist. I’ve had the great fortune of watching her sew all of my years, and being able to wear some dozens of her creations: just for fun, in theatricals, and for historic reenactment. And though I am going to share a great many photos of her spectacular works on Inspired by Venice, I wanted you to first, meet the artist!

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This is Lita, my precious mother and best friend! Here she is wearing one of her own 18th century style day dresses in Venice during the Carnival.

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She wore a silk hair net covered in gold corded weave, with a gold mask and veil. The Venetian Carnevale tends to run at the end of January through the start of February, so it can be pretty chilly. Thankfully the sun shone beautifully that day, so a shawl and hand muff kept her warm enough while we took a stroll.

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We soaked in the sun with coffee in Piazza San Marco. The air was crisp and fresh, with a hint of the sea.

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On another sunny walk, she wore this piece, covered by a beautiful cape. If I’d had the sense, I would have gotten some closer photos so that one could really see some of the detail; the perfect pleated fabric over the small hip panniers, the feathered headpiece and veil, the lace at the elbows.

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Even now, I remember what it felt like to be able to walk about the city of Venice in costume (this excursion was in 2005). For me, it is the ultimate excitement to pretend for a moment that I’m visiting the 18th century and going about my business. For every occasion that I could actually wear a costume in public and ponder what it might have been like to live in another time, it is such a treat!

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Though we’d traditionally have worn a mask at all times, we sometimes went without. Our Carnival visit was also a tour of Venice, and we wanted to see everything (which a mask can sometimes hamper). I had a particular thing for veils at the time. But next time, I’m going to wear an enormous pompadour and a glitzy mask! We kept things very simple; Lita’s designs allowed us to walk about the city and enjoy the cafes without cumbersome costumes.

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We paced slowly over bridges and down lanes, peered in windows and walked by the lagoon. We laughed a lot and chattered like birds. It is rare to have the time of loved ones all to yourself for a whole week, it was lovely!

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We enjoyed each other’s company to the fullest in the midst of a mesmerizing Carnival and one beloved city. If it hadn’t been for this beautiful artist, who makes every part of the costumes I’m going to share with you (often even the jewelry), I would never have been inspired about history the way that I am, and I would never have written Venice.

Venice is dedicated to Lita, for being such a patient and generous person who taught me to be creative, be joyful, and to be inspired! Thank you!

The Island of St. Lucia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Blogger Recognition Award!

I am very excited to announce that Inspired By Venice has been nominated for a Blogger Recognition Award! It is very special to share my stories, my thoughts, my photos and wanderings, as well as my books with you, on this site. To know that readers and fellow bloggers are enjoying inspiredbyvenice.org warms my heart and puts a smile on my face! Thank you!

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First, I’d like to especially thank A Pinch Of Sea Salt for the nomination! A Pinch of Sea Salt is a fabulous food blog from which I sincerely enjoy the recipes, stories and excellent photography! Blogs like it are a special treat, so positive and so appreciated! Thank you!!

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A part of accepting this award is to share a little about Inspired By Venice! How did this blog start? With the publication of my book Venice. Venice was a six year project for me and is one of the loves of my life, as is the city of Venice, Italy. In starting this blog, I wanted a place to share not only this book and my others, but also a great many things that inspire me: culture, travel, history, costuming, nature, food, and those happy moments in life that remind me of how beautiful the world is!

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What advice do I have for new bloggers? Be yourself and write about what you love. After starting Inspired By Venice, I instantly worried that I wouldn’t have enough to write about, but I soon realized that inspiration comes from everywhere and something wonderful will always present itself, a great many things that you’d like to share with readers.

Further, my goal was to inspire, inform and uplift. That doesn’t mean that I think bloggers must avoid difficult topics, but that when they write about them, it should remind others that they are not alone, help readers to keep their chins up, and even encourage one another to be more mindful and good to others (and to ourselves, our animal friends and our environment). The world will never be perfect, but we can all make it better. Blogs are a beautiful forum for that!

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With the Blogger Recognition Award comes a special privilege…I get to nominate 15 blogs that are an inspiration to me! In no particular order, the Blogger Recognition Awards go to…

*La Venessiana Blog

*Iroha Press

*Girl In Florence

*Deliciously Yum

*For Food’s Sake

*Olive Sundays

*Travels Food

*Michael Philip Atkins Travels

*Meandering with Misha

*The Merry Thought

*Italian Home Kitchen

*Passports and Pigtails

*Once Upon A Time In Italy

*Eating Clouds In Italy

*Tesserology

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To learn more about the Blogger Recognition Award, click here! Thank you all for reading Inspired By Venice, and thank you to all those blogs that inspire us every day!

Consider The Mask

For hundreds of years, the citizens of Venice wore masks. That statement sounds so simple, so natural, right? After all, it’s one of the images we associate with that city. It is intriguing, beautiful, mysterious…

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But after all of my research for my book Venice, and while currently reading Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene Republic by James H. Johnson, I’ve realized how absolutely amazing, bizarre, intense and committed the notion of mask wearing in Venice really was.

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Consider this…it’s Halloween, you pick out a disguise and you put it on for one evening to join in the fun when you hand out candy to the trick-or-treaters. What happens after about an hour? “Ugh, I can’t see in this thing. Ugh…this mask is making me hot. Ugh…I feel claustrophobic.”

Now imagine that you are an 18th century Venetian at a time when the Carnival season lasted for months. Every single time you stepped out in public, whether to shop for your vegetables or visit a friend, you covered your face in a mask. Whether a simple disguise for walking around town, or an incredibly intricate mask for an evening of palazzo entertainments, you always had a different identity plastered to your face, and you were anyone but yourself.

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People placed masks on their babies. Yes, it’s true. Beggars on the bridges who were going without food, wore a mask. It’s true. Everyone was masked. And when you mingled with the crowds, whether on the street or at a masquerade, if you recognized the voice or mannerisms of someone you met, you never said so. To bring someone’s identity to light was considered rude.

I’m fascinated from a communication standpoint, of what that might have really been like. An entire city masked for months (and a great portion of the city masked all the rest of the year as well during the great heights of this trend). How did your personality change when you put that mask on, and depending on which mask you put on? What was it like trying to discern the real message behind someone’s words when all you had was a faux face and a voice, with no facial expressions to evaluate? How did you know whether anyone was ever being themselves? It’s dizzying to think about.

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These masks weren’t all blank disguises. There were a great many designs and characters to choose from. Wouldn’t the mask someone selected mean something? But what? Who the wearer thought they were? Or, was it how they wanted others to see them? Or, were they choosing identities that were the very opposite of their true selves? All of the above. Tricky, tricky.

Some masks didn’t allow for speech at all, removing even more of one’s personal identity. Consider the Moretta mask that was worn only by women. For the Moretta (also called the Muta because you’d be mute), a woman put it over her face and instead of securing it in place with a ribbon around her head, held it to with a button in her mouth. Can you imagine? A button in your mouth for hours on end, in silence? Talk about “Ugh…I’m getting claustrophobic.”

These thoughts hardly even scratch the surface when I actually try to consider the reality of this mask culture. And though I would merrily embrace an evening at the Venetian Carnival in mask, and though researching this Venetian trend fascinates me, for all its beauty and intrigue, I personally prefer the truth of a human face…

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!