St. Patrick’s Day, Part 3

Today I want to talk about Irish music and I want to play some for you.  Due to the fact that I cannot get music to play on my blog site here in any sort of nice way, I’ve decided to just link you to my basically empty website (someday I swear I will get it up and going) and have you read the post and listen to the music there.

Susannah’s Website

Hopefully, you’ll enjoy the post.  Feel free to leave comments there or here.  I get them in either case.

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St. Patrick’s Day, Part 2

This should have gone up yesterday for my usual recipe Friday and also just my usual blogging day but somehow this week has deteriorated.  I’ll still do the drawing right after this posts and let whoever won the stickers know.  I apologize if you were wondering if I was ever coming back.

All right, on to content.  Since it is my usual recipe Friday I thought I would share some St. Patrick’s Day recipes with you.  As I mentioned, we usually have a party on or around the holiday and we serve tons of fattening but delicious food.  We make NO attempt to make Irish food like the recipes I have shared previously.  These are simply green and yummy.  There are a lot of recipes here, but I thought it would be fun to share them.  Next week, I’ll do music!

Irish Flag Jello:  This is an adaptation of a Christmas salad recipe but it works really well.     This will fit in an 9 x 9 pan to serve about 9-12 people.    Dissolve 1 small package of orange jello in 1 cup boiling water and add 1 cup cold water.  Pour into pan and chill for at least 2 hours.  For middle layer, drain the juice from 1 small can of crushed pineapple and add enough water to make 1 cup.  Bring to a boil in a large saucepan  and add 1 small package lemon jello; stir until melted.  Remove from heat and add 8 oz miniature marshmallows; stir until as melted as they can get.  It’s okay if there are a few lumps.  Cool a bit.  Add 3 oz softened cream cheese (melting a bit in microwave helps), 1/2 cup whipping cream (not whipped), 1/2 cup mayonnaise, and the can of pineapple.  Pour on top of orange jello and refrigerate again at least 2 hours.  For the top layer, dissolve 1 small package of lime jello in 1 cup boiling water and add 1 cup cold water.  Let stand until cool to touch.  Then pour over middle layer and chill until firm.  Slice into pieces and it will look like the Irish flag.

“Lucky You” Mint Pie:  This has a layer of chocolate ganache on the bottom and then a nice mint pudding on top.  It is really delicious!   Microwave 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1/3 cup EVAPORATED milk in a microwave-safe bowl on High for 45 seconds; stir until smooth.  Stir in 1 Tbsp butter, poor into a chocolate crumb crust.  Refrigerate for 20 minutes or until cool to the touch.   Meanwhile, beat the rest of the can of EVAPORATED milk, 1 pkg vanilla instant pudding, 1/3 cup water, 1 tsp peppermint extract, 3 drops green food coloring (optional) in a bowl until combined.  Gently stir in 2 cups Cool Whip and another drop of food coloring if necessary for good color.  Spoon over chocolate layer.  Refrigerate for 2 hours or until set.  Sprinkle with mini-chocolate chips if desired. Garnish with fresh mint if you’ve got it.

Luck o’ the Irish Lime Tartlets:  Note:  This is LIME, not mint.  I was always trying to garnish this with chocolate the first couple years which would not be good.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees, lightly grease or line with liners 18 standard muffin cups.  Soften an 18-oz package of refrigerated sugar cookie dough.   Combine the softened dough with 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans.  Shape dough into 18 little balls, press onto bottoms and up sides of the prepared muffin cups.  Bake the shells for 12-15 minutes until set.  Remove from oven; gently press down center of each cookie cup with the back of a teaspoon if they have risen in the oven.  Cool in pan for at least 10 minutes and then remove the cups from the pans.  Cool completely on a wire rack.  In a bowl, combine 1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk; 1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp bottled lime juice, and 1 tsp freshly grated lime peel.  Stir until well-blended and spoon into the cookie cups.  Garnish with whipped cream, lime peel, and lime candies if desired.

Chocolate Pistachio Cake:  This is a great recipe, very moist.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly mist a 12-cup Bundt pan with vegetable oil and dust with flour.  (I’ve done in a regular pan also, but it works well in the Bundt pan if you have one.)  Sprinkle 1/2 cup chopped pecans and 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips in the bottom of the pan and set aside.  In a  large mixing bowl, mix 1 package plain white cake mix, 1 small package of instant pistachio pudding mix, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cup water,  1/2 cup vegetable oil, and 4 eggs on low speed for 1 minute, then on medium for 2 minutes more.   The batter will be very thick and smooth.  Remove 1 cup of the batter and put into a small bowl.  Add to the small bowl 1/2 cup chocolate syrup and stir until completely combined.  Set the small bowl aside.  Pour the green batter in the large bowl into the prepared pan.  Then pour the chocolate batter over the top, trying to keep the chocolate batter from touching the sides of the pan.  Swirl the chocolate batter into the green batter using a dinner knife to give a marble effect.  Place the pan in the hot oven.  Bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back when lightly pressed with your finger, about 55 to 60 minutes.  Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes.  Run a long, sharp knife around the edge of the cake and invert it onto a rack to cool completely.  Can be served as is, or frosted with a chocolate glaze drizzled over the top.

Green Fluff:  This is formally called Watergate Salad, but we call it green fluff.  It’s delicious and my sister-in-law always makes it for us.  Mix in a bowl 1 small pkg of pistachio pudding mix, 1 small can crushed pineapple in juice, undrained, 1 cup miniature marshmallows, 1/2 cup chopped walnuts.  Then fold in 8 oz of Cool Whip.

Cheese Ball:  This isn’t green unless you roll it in chopped parsley, but it’s good enough to ignore the non-greenness of it!  Make 1 package of regular Ranch Dressing mix with 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup mayonnaise.  Mix in 8 oz soft cream cheese and then at least 8 oz of shredded cheddar cheese.  Refrigerate until it’s nice and firm and then if desired roll in either chopped nuts or parsley.  Serve with crackers.

Knorr Dip Spinach Dip:  This is just the recipe off the back of the Knorr soup mix, but it has a mild greenish color and is really delicious.  We love to serve it with chips, crackers, and vegetables, too.  Mix in a bowl 10 oz frozen chopped spinach that you have thawed and squeezed all the extra water from (this always takes forever, plan on squeezing and squeezing and squeezing),  16 oz sour cream, 1 cup mayonnaise, 1 pkg of the Knorr Vegetable Soup mix, 8 oz chopped water chestnuts, and 3 green onions sliced.  Mix and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to let the flavors blend.

Lime Frappe:  As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t drink alcohol, so for a substitute, we make this green frappe stuff.  It’s not that original but I’ll include the recipe for you.  You can use it for the children or the teetotalers at your party.   Obviously, we make a lot of it, usually quadrupling (or more) this recipe.  1 half-gallon of lime sherbet, softened slightly, and two 2-liter bottles of Sprite.  (We don’t like 7-up with this, but it might be okay.)  Pour the Sprite into a punch bowl and spoon the sherbet into the bowl with it.  Stir slightly.  Don’t try to make it all uniform.  When you serve, get some Sprite and some sherbet into the cups.  Eat with a spoon.

Along with these recipes, we also serve sandwiches, Li’l Smokies, vegetables, Ranch dip, and whatever else anyone brings.  As you can see, we eat a lot but it is so fun.  I hope these recipes inspire you to throw your own party or make some fun food for your family and friends.

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St. Patrick’s Day: Part 1

Okay, I admit it!  I’m giving in to temptation.  I tried and tried to wait until next week so that I could legitimately say we only had a month to St. Patrick’s Day, but finally it just got to be too much.  I had to post the start of the seasonal bacchanalia that we humbly call March.

Now, you must understand.  I don’t drink, nor does anyone in my family, so I mean bacchanalia only in the “party” sense, not the drink till you pass out sense.  But it can still be fun!

We party all month. Celtic music plays whenever we have our iPods playing.  We watch Irish movies (more than usual), we go to performance after performance for my daughter’s dance school, we go to a parade, and we have a big party.  We don’t eat much green food or anything, but we definitely have corned beef at least once (plus leftovers — although it turns out that’s not really Irish-Irish), and last year we had a traditional Irish breakfast that was so lovely, I think we shall make it an annual tradition.

I will be doing posts on all these different aspects of the holiday, so please stay tuned to this  blog for ideas and fun things happening  all month, including at least one giveaway and maybe more, depending if I can find something marvelous to give.  In fact, I’ll start the giveaway right away.  Anyone who comments on my blog through this week, until the St. Patrick’s Day post part 2 gets put up next Friday will be entered in a drawing for a small gift, a set of St. Patrick’s Day stickers.  Considering how few comments I get normally, your chances are pretty good.  If you comment more than once, you get additional entries.

Today, I wanted to talk very briefly about some great Irish movies you may or may not have seen.  Of course, as in all things, you can probably find your own list with just a simple internet search, but I’d like to at least make a few recommendations.  These aren’t in any particular order of preference, but they’re all ones we’ve seen and enjoyed.

1.  Jig.  I mentioned this two weeks ago when I talked about Irish dancing, but I’ve got to throw it out there again.  This really is an enjoyable movie.  It is about Irish dancing, true, but it’s got drama and pathos and jealousy and class warfare and the whole gamut of human emotions played out on the Worlds stage.  If you aren’t cheering and holding your breath at the end, you’re not human, I promise.   Again, here’s the trailer.

2.  The Quiet Man.  I’m sure this makes everyone’s list when it comes to Irish movies, but it’s worth mentioning again.  This is a great John Wayne movie, filmed in Cong, Ireland, and it’s really authentic.  There’s beautiful scenery, the accents are gorgeous, the story is great, and really, can you pass up John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara?  I don’t think so!

3.  The Wind that Shakes the Barley.  This is not a movie for the faint of heart; it is an honestly-told story of the Irish Civil War in the 1920s and it has a lot of violence and inhumanity in it.  However, it is a well-made movie and I don’t think you can watch it without being moved.  If you remember my post about the Irish National Anthem a while back, they sing it here while one of their buddies is being tortured to give him support and let him know they’re aware of him.  That is a powerful scene, but there are others.   Cillian Murphy stars in it, and he does a marvelous job.  This movie isn’t technically rated, but I would probably give it a hard PG-13 or soft R for violence.

4.  Last but not least, Waking Ned Devine.   This is, in my humble opinion, an absolute must-see for everyone!   It is a comedy and I think it actually got on a list or won some sort of award for the funniest scene ever put on film.  Trust me,  you’ll know it when you see it.  But along with the humor, there is a great story with a lot of poignancy and beauty.   You will laugh the first few times through.  It takes a while to see the subtler message underneath.  Anyway, the music is also “Devine” . . . . and my husband insists that the closing song of the movie should be sung at his funeral. I’m not sure it will happen, but it is a beautiful, beautiful song.   This has classic dry British humor, a great story, a great message, great music, and it’s great for the whole family.  Really, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Okay, don’t forget to leave a comment for the drawing and come back next week for another countdown to St. Patrick’s Day!

Posted in Fridays, Irish Culture, Music, St. Patrick's Day, Videos | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

A Surfeit of Riches: Reading in this New Age of Books

Mondays I try to post tips for readers and writers, but I’ve noticed that lately it’s been mostly writing tips because I did my genealogical series.  So today, I’m focusing on just readers.  Of course, a lot of writers are readers, too, so hopefully everyone will be able to get something out of this post.

Today, I wanted to talk about how to find books to read that you like.  And it’s not because there aren’t any out there.  It’s that there are too many out there.   The advent of the e-book and the start of self-publishing has made books available by the millions, or at least it seems that way to me, and my biggest problem is narrowing the field of books I could read to a semi-reasonable amount and selecting books I’m likely to enjoy to make my dollar and my time stretch further.

I am constantly bombarded, even in my little social world, with ads for books, mentions of books, reviews of books, and there is no physical way I could ever keep up if I tried to read all of them.  But how do I find books I am likely to enjoy but still open myself to new possibilities?  I’ll give a few thoughts for what has worked for me but I would sure love to have feedback from you all if you have any better suggestions.

1.  Analyze your own reading preferences:  Take some time to do some soul searching on this.  Do you like romances, science fiction, fantasy?  More than that, do you like historical romances, but only Regency ones?  Or books with men in kilts?  Do you like long, epic sort of novels that are at least 400 pages?  Or do you prefer short reads that get you in and out and onto the next book?  What is the heat level you like in your romance — hot and spicy, simply sexy, inspirational, or other levels in between?  If you read fantasy, do you like romance along with slaying the dragons, or do you prefer that kept on the back burner or even nonexistent at all?  Do you like strong alpha males that rip through the heroine’s life like a tornado in your medieval fantasy stories, or do you prefer novels where they both upend each other’s existence as they hurl through space during an intergalactic war?  I think keeping a list of what “lights your fire” as you think about this would probably be helpful.   There are obviously no right or wrong answers here.  What makes you love a story is uniquely personal.  And if you’re like me, you probably couldn’t narrow it down to one genre or style.  either.  I like YA books and I like romances and I’ve read some great sci-fi and fantasy, too.   But there are common threads in all of these genres that appeal to me and you might find that to be true as well.

2.  Find a social medium that you are comfortable in and familiar with.  Are you already on Twitter?  You obviously read blogs or you wouldn’t be here, so that would definitely work.  Are you on Facebook all day every day?  Are you a member of Goodreads?  Would you feel comfortable getting multiple e-mails every day? Are you on Google Plus?  Pinterest?  Any and all of these would allow you to get book recommendations likely to appeal to you.

3.  Take advantage of reviewers and authors who have similar tastes to you, either authors who you really like and who review books similar to theirs, or one of the countless thousands of review sites that do nothing but review books of a particular genre.   Doing a simple Google search for reviews of that genre should point you to a starting place.  Then follow links, check out the blog roll, see who contributes to that blog or that site and check out their blogs and sites.  Follow or join the sites and blogs that seem to be similar to your tastes.

All right.  That in and of itself will probably get you more reviews and book suggestions than you could deal with.  But if you’re still looking for more, you could try starting a group on the amazon boards or the nook boards or on Goodreads and recruiting members to make suggestions for the types of books you want to read.  For example, I am on an Amazon group for quality romances that are decent and cheap.  I am also on a Goodreads group for quality romances.  Although not everything appeals to me on either of these, a lot of these do appeal and I have found a lot of great reads through both of them.

Okay, well that’s probably enough for now.  As I said at the beginning, I would certainly be open to any other suggestions from my readers, so feel free to chime in with how you find your books and maybe even what hasn’t worked for you.

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Garlic and Herb Dublin Bay Prawns

It’s Friday again and that means another recipe.  I was thinking about  posting something different today, and I decided to head into the realm of seafood.  Being that Ireland is an island, I am sure you are not bowled over with surprise at the idea that the Irish use a lot of fish in their cooking.   Of course, in the days of poverty and starvation they were desperate to eat anything they could find and probably weren’t too fussy about what it was.  Now, with the new Irish cuisine, I am sure they eat better and have more of a palate for the “luxury” fish.  But, in sympathy all your budgets (and mine), I’ll probably stick with recipes using fish that isn’t terribly expensive or suggest less luxurious alternatives.

This particular recipe is from the Irish Pub Cooking book and it calls for Dublin Bay prawns which are actually langoustines or scampi.  And, if you can’t get your hands on those at a reasonable price, you can also use jumbo shrimp still in their shells.   This is meant to be an appetizer, serving 2.  I know if I were making it, I’d just eat the whole thing myself.  I love shrimp!

  • 12 raw Dublin Bay prawns or jumbo shrimp in their shells
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
  • 3 Tbsp butter softened — not melted!
  • salt and pepper
  • lemon wedges and crusty bread to serve

Rinse the prawns or shrimp and devein, using a sharp knife to slice along the back from the head to the tail and removing that thin black line that you don’t want to eat.

Mix the lemon juice with the garlic, herbs, and butter to form a paste.  Season well with salt and pepper.  Spread the butter paste over the prawns and let them marinate for 30 minutes.

Preheat your broiler to medium.  Cook the prawns under the preheated broiler for 5-6 minutes.  Alternatively, heat a skillet and fry the prawns until cooked.  Turn out onto warmed plates and pour the pan juices over them.  Serve immediately with lemon wedges and crusty bread.

Mmmm.  Sounds delicious and simple.  And like the kind of thing you could serve at a really fancy meal, maybe for Valentine’s Day or something.   Enjoy!

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Review for “The Fragrance of her Name”

Cover for The Fragrance of her Name

  • Title:  The Fragrance of her Name
  • Author:  Marcia Lynn McClure
  • Length:  372  pages
  • Price:  About 3.00 for an e-book, 17.95 in paperback because it’s not in print currently.  Could find it cheaper, I’m sure.

General Plot:  Lauryn Kennsington met “The Captain” when she was 8 years old and grew up with the ghost as a friend.   He was the dead husband of her great aunt and he has spent the last 50+ years looking for her ghost, so they can be reunited.   When Lauryn grows up, she meets Brant Masterson, the great-nephew of her beloved captain, who grew up being friends with a ghost of his own, that of Lauralynn, the missing bride.   When these two meet, they realize that they must work together to unite these two lovers who have suffered for so long, just wanting to find each other.   It proves to be much more complicated than they imagined.

My Review:  I loved this book!  Although it deals with ghosts, I would not classify it as a paranormal because no really spooky or strange, scary stuff happens.  These ghosts are simply there as friends and all four of them work together to try and solve what happened to Lauralynn’s body when she died so that her ghost and “The Captain’s” can finally be reunited.  Of course, the love story is between Lauryn and Brant, but the depth of emotion between the two ghosts and their longing for each other is really beautiful and made me cry a few times as I read the novel.  It is set in the south, right at the end of World War I and it is a beautiful historical, giving us lots of marvelous details about family and setting.   There were no discordant notes in this story, even given the family aspect, which so many authors manage to mutilate (hence why I’m teaching my class about using genealogy in stories! hint, hint).   The characters are wonderfully crafted with everyone being drawn very realistically in my opinion.  It also hearkens back a lot to the Civil War and since Brant just returned from the horror of his own war experience, the novel draws some touching parallels between why men have to go to war and what it is they fight for.  I thought the ending was marvelous, surprising without being crazy, and it hit all the right strings for me.

Tingle Factor:  This novel was very chaste and I loved that.  Lauryn and Brant are deeply in love and they are very tempted to express it, but they keep it just to kissing, albeit very passionate and romantic kissing, because they both feel the need to solve the mystery for their ghosts before they can move forward with their own relationship.  I really felt their anguish and need, and the kissing scenes were exquisite.    The book ends right before they marry so there literally is no sex in this book at all, just a lot of romance for all the right reasons.  Teenagers could definitely read this without fear, although there are a few gory descriptions of battle and war (told in flashback) which might be upsetting for the very squeamish.   I definitely felt the tingles in this book and if you enjoy reading books where the romance is so much deeper than just sex, but instead a true meeting of souls, this will definitely appeal to you.

Tingle Score:  8/10

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Genealogical Sources for Writers, part 4

Well, today is my last day of posting about genealogical sources for a while, although I’m likely to do more eventually.   My class starts next week and I just got an e-mail from Savvy Authors saying that I have enough people to actually go forward with the class.  Thank you, thank you, if any of you were some that signed up.  I just want to emphasize again that although these sources we have discussed for the past four weeks (part 1, part 2, and part 3) are only a foretaste of what will be presented in my class.  We will not only be talking about sources for enriching your fiction, we will also be talking about family structure, marriage and childbirth patterns through history which will allow you to populate your fantasy world, etc., as well as giving you concrete examples of how NOT to use genealogy in your writing and how to make your writing about family accurate and lively.  Again, you are still invited to sign up.  It doesn’t cost much and there’ll be a lot of one-on-one attention.

Okay, on to today’s resource.  I batted about a few options and finally settled on . . . ta, da!  Maps!   Let me tell you, at the genealogical library where my husband works, they have county maps from England the size of dining room tables.  When you look at those, you can practically see individual houses.  Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but not by much.  Of course, for a contemporary novel set on Earth, you can always use Google Earth or something similar to fill in the accurate terrain, but there are also historical maps that allow you to see what a place looked like at a certain point in time.  Imagine being able to fill out the landscape surrounding your village, either real or imagined, with the correct rivers, hills, and boundary lines.    Imagine knowing the names of all the little surrounding villages and what county or parish they were in during the time of your novel.   Maps can help you with this.

Too many times, we assume that just because a town is currently in a certain county or parish or even state, that it’s always been that way, when really that is just not true.   County and state lines have been very fluid through the years here in the United States and I cannot imagine that we are the exception in the world.  It is  probably a lot longer ago that parishes and shires moved around in England and Scotland, for example, but this would be something you would need to confirm yourself for your particular setting.  Let me give you just a brief example of some major changes that happened in my family line.  My ancestors settled in a small town on the edge of the Deseret Territory, which later became Utah.  But the town was in a rich mining area and over the years, as the Territory got whittled down, broken down into parts of Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, Idaho, and even California, the United States government wanted to get a portion of those mining revenues.  Nevada was a state while Utah was only a territory, so they moved a big strip of Utah over the line and it became part of Nevada.  A lot of the citizens in that area didn’t want to be part of Nevada, so they moved eastward again, to St. George and Cedar City, so they could stay in Utah.   If I were ever to write a story set there past or present, these kinds of things would be very important to know.

There are a lot of historical maps available on-line for you to peruse.  Do some looking to see what is available for your particular time and your particular area.   Looking in a genealogical index for the area can guide you through the various political changes that were made so you can track which counties or other government demarcations would be accurate for your setting, then you can find maps that will help you describe your locales appropriately.

Well, I hope this series has been helpful in a small way to all of you who have taken the time to read it.   Thanks for coming back and offering comments.  I always appreciate it.

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Irish Culture Part 1: Step dancing

Today I wanted to share a bit of Irish dancing to give you a hint of  Irish culture.  My daughter has done Irish step dancing for seven years and  I thought it would be fun share with you some various videos, some from the web, some from my own movies.

Of course, we all know Riverdance:

Irish step dancing, like Riverdance, is a beautiful style of dancing and I love to watch it.  To me, when they are wearing their soft shoes, or ghillies (kind of a fancy ballet shoe except with leather on the bottom to give some padding), and dancing well, they almost look like they are flying, barely touching the ground and then only lightly.    Of course, I know that isn’t true because my daughter’s feet are always blistered and bruised so I know they hit the ground with a lot of force.

Here’s a soft shoe dance:

When they wear their hard shoes, they try to hit the surface really hard to make the most noise possible with the little fiberglass tips they have on the toe and ankle.  Again, I have seen the evidence of how hard they strike on my daughter’s ankles where she sometimes kicks herself in practice.

Here’s a hard shoe dance:

When an Irish dancer starts, she just wears a basic outfit, usually a skirt and blouse.  Then as she advances, she will earn the right to wear her school’s dress.  These can often be very elaborate, with all sorts of embroidery and applique, reflecting that school’s colors and style.

This is my daughter, a few years ago, in her team dress.  Notice the black and the school colors, purple, green, and red.

S in her team dress

Eventually, if she advances far enough, she can design her own dress, called a solo dress, that will be completely unique to her.  These are very elaborate and can sometimes cost thousands of dollars. The idea behind the fancy dresses is to make the judges at competitions notice you.   So they are usually very sparkly with lots of vibrant color and jewels.  By the way, the girls wear wigs to get their hair this curly!

My daughter's solo Irish dancing dress

S. in her solo dress, black velvet with green trim

Some of the other girls' solo dresses

Girls in their fancy solo dresses

This is the same daughter, a couple years ago, in her own solo dress.  She loves it!  And here is also a picture of some of the other girls in their fancy dresses.  Each one is different. We’ve seen some hideous ones over the years, but these are all nice.

Each school has their own steps for most of the dances and these are kept very secret.  In fact, we are not allowed to film other schools dancing at competitions in case we have intentions of stealing the steps.   There are a few standardized dances that are the same all over the world.  One of these is called “St. Patrick’s Day,” and although the music is catchy, it’s not our favorite because it never changes from year to year or level to level.  The other dances change quite often, even if they build on the same basic steps.

Here’s my daughter’s school dancing one of their fanciest dances:

I also  wanted to mention that for a glimpse inside the world of serious competitive Irish dancing in a fascinating movie, I cannot recommend highly enough the movie Jig.  It’s marvelous and so fun to watch.  It’s available to rent from netflix and probably elsewhere.   Here’s the trailer:

Hope you enjoyed seeing a few Irish step dances.  I’ll probably post others at a later time!

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Review for “Simon’s Lady”

  • Title:  Simon’s Lady
  • Author:  Julie Tetel Andresen
  • Length: About 300 pages
  • Price:  99 cents electronically,  doesn’t seem to be available in paper

Basic Plot:  Simon of Beresford is a good soldier, loyal to King Stephen of England, and a  widower as his grasping, greedy, witch of a wife died some years before.  Lady Gwynneth also lost her husband, Canute, who was firmly in the camp of Prince Henry in this civil war that dragged on for years.   For political reasons, the King wanted them to marry and literally forces both of them into it.   Simon doesn’t trust women, and certainly has no reason to trust a partly-Danish woman who only recently was his enemy.  Gwynneth’s husband was abusive, so the thought of being forced into another marriage with yet another big man who despises her is terrible, but she has no choice.  Can these two find love despite their differences?

My Review:  Right when I started this book, I was drawn into the story.  I happen to love this period of English history (as a result of reading the Brother Cadfiel mysteries by Ellis Peters which are set in this exact same time) and fortunately, the author doesn’t waste any time in setting up the conflict.  Literally, Simon is dragged from the training field, still dirty and sweaty to be presented to his future bride and within a few days they are married.   Gwynneth is a beautiful, slender, blonde and Simon is attracted to her from the first time he sees her, but he is also wary.  She is in the enemy camp, so to speak, and he doesn’t trust her; neither does the King.   Gwynneth is not particularly political, and she resents being used as a pawn in these king-maker games, but the two of them suit.  She is feisty and, once she realizes he won’t hurt her, isn’t afraid to speak her mind.  He is rude, crude, socially inept, and quite dense when it comes to the machinations of those around him.  But he is kind to her and that gains him a lot of points in my eyes.

A spy is suspected in the inner circle of the King’s court and Gwynneth is the first one under the cloud of suspicion, which leads to various misunderstandings between the two, including a near-fatal fight where her new husband could have been killed had she not acted quickly.   I have a hard time (I swear it’s a defect in my brain) following stories of political intrigue.  So although I think the story presented them well, I often had a hard time understand who was on who’s side and where their loyalties lay.  But the fault, as Shakespeare said, is in ourselves.  I think most normal people would be able to follow that part of the story relatively easily.  It’s described clearly and succinctly enough.

I will admit that I don’t like it when the plot of the story hinges on a “misunderstanding.” It drives me crazy!!  In this case, the major “plot device” that keeps them from living happily-ever-after happened late in the story and was basically just Simon assuming something that would have been so easy for him to have asked about.  That, to me, was sort of the major downfall with this novel.  I wish Ms. Andresen had taken time to develop a more complex plot.  She set them all up with political differences, cultural issues, status differences, abuse questions, and then ignores all that and goes for the simple “misunderstanding.”  Ugh.   Because of that simple problem, it also was resolved simply enough, with just a few sentences at the very end of the story, when I had just about given up hope that it would actually happen.  Pity.  I really think there could have been so much more depth.

There’s one more really odd thing about this story, that made me shake my head in disgust/embarrassment when I read it.   Though there is talk of the Danish gods (although Gwynneth is definitely a Christian) presented as sort of a cultural lesson for Simon to understand her, the book itself is not paranormal in any way.  It’s just a decent historical romance.  So I fail to understand why the author would repeatedly mention both Simon and Gwynneth seeing a small boy flying around shooting them with arrows.  This was so far out of the rest of the realm of the story that I honestly don’t know why this was included.  Did we have to be told that they were falling in love this way?!!!  Soft glances and touches were not adequate?  Strange, very strange.

The Tingle Factor:   I liked the romance in this story.   They don’t have long to get to know each other, but the description of the time they do have is almost half the book and it seems to be a slow build with both of them seeing good qualities about each other and realizing that the bad experiences of their other marriages will not likely be repeated.   She feels desire for him, which surprises her, and he feels protective of her even though he is, as mentioned above, a rather socially inept man.   Once they are married, their love scenes are very tender and he is able to teach her that submitting to lovemaking does not have to humiliating.  Things are described quite thoroughly, but not crudely, and I thought Ms. Andresen did a good job of drawing me in to their intimate play.

Tingle Scale:  7/10.

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Genealogical Sources for Writers, part 3

This is part 3 of a 4-week series discussing using genealogical sources you can use to help with your fiction writing as a foretaste of my class I will be teaching through Savvy Authors  starting two weeks from today.    Part 1 spoke about using computerized, indexed census records to help establish your characters’ names, ages, and life-styles.  Part 2 suggested using church records if census records were not available for the time and place your story is set.   Today we are moving beyond finding appropriate names to bringing your setting to life using:  Newspapers!

Yes, you read that right, newspapers.

Newspapers have been printed since practically the invention of the printing press, coming into wider circulation in the mid to late 1700s.   Believe it or not, a lot of these are available in repositories and on film still today.   Of course, you are going to be primarily interested in those records that are computerized so that you can find and search them with just a few clicks of your mouse rather than drag yourself to a genealogical library.  Not to discourage you from doing that, however, if you have one nearby you can visit because newspapers can do a lot for you.

Imagine you’re writing a story set in a small New  York town in 1842.  You have your characters in pretty good shape, but you need to bring some more interesting life to this community, to really immerse your reader in its day-to-day existence.  You find the town’s  actual newspaper archives (or a town similar to the fictional one you have created) on line and start examining the newspapers from that year.  What will you learn?  You’ll read about social events in a lot more detail than we are typically used to in our papers.  You’ll see obituaries, notices of church picnics, information about a fire on the outskirts of town, mention of Senator Loudmouth coming into town to give a speech about a current political issue.  Beyond that, you’ll see advertisements!  Yes, those little beauties could be the most important thing in the entire paper for you.  Stores will be advertising hats  with feathers and fruit for a price that seems ridiculously cheap to us today and there will likely be drawn pictures!  Who owns the grocers?  Which attorneys are advertising for which services?  What medicines are available and how much do they cost?  How much are the local drygoods stores charging for material?  For corsets?  For dresses?  For “unmentionables”?  What’s the name of the local funeral home and what services are being advertised?  I could go on, but you get the idea.   All of these details, pulled from the actual time and place (or as close as you can easily get),  will allow you to add a word here and there, a price, an event to your characters’ lives that smacks of reality.   Your reader might be forgiven for thinking  you’ve taken a time machine back to visit with your character, you’ve got their life detailed so thoroughly.

Of course, other countries beside the United States also had newspapers.  There is a huge project in England to collect millions of pages of newsprint and get them onto the web.   Imagine reading editorials from a Scottish newspaper about its relationship with England during a particularly important moment in history as you are getting ready to write your next Highland romance!  This is a subscription service at the moment, but you might check it out and see if it’s something reasonably priced for the information you can get.   There are undoubtedly some free sites as well.  Google is your friend.

There are, of course, non-English newspapers available as well and you might be intimidated because of the foreign-language aspect.  It’s true that if you don’t speak German, it would be hard to read through a Prussian newspaper.  However, don’t forget those illustrated advertisements.   They would at least give you some information, some names, some products, and some prices, even if most of the social and editorial content was over your head.

I hope that has given you another idea of how using some unorthodox sources can really beef up  your fiction writing.  We have one more week of this series and then my class starts the next week.  I would love to have anyone sign up if they want a more thorough examination of these as well as other useful sources to help bring your fiction to life!

Posted in Genealogy Sources, Mondays, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments