Saturday, December 24, 2011

Snapshot Saturday - Layla and Lizzie

I'm sharing two photos of Layla helping us bake cookies...her job was to clean up all the powdered sugar that fell on the floor...not only did she create the job herself, but she also took it very seriously.

The next photo is our Christmas miracle ;) 
Layla and Lizzie seem to finally be settling into a "sisterly" relationship.  I caught them playing together without any snarls or yips yesterday, and after a couple of tries was able to get this photo of them "hugging."  

I didn't have time to adjust my settings, hence the flash in Layla's eyes, but I still think it's a keeper :) 

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce @ At Home with Books.

Merry Christmas to all!! 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Children of Henry VIII - Book Review

The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir
Ballantine, 1996
Why? I'm obsessed with the Tudors
What now? into the glass case of keepers it goes 

Golden Lines

Edward VI, meanwhile, was growing up fast and excelled at riding, running and shooting, despite increasing short-sightedness.  Consistently striving to emulate Henry VIII, he was becoming more and more like his father.  Hands on hips, he would imitate Henry's straddling pose, and emit 'thunderous oaths' in his high, imperious voice.  By calculated displays of wrath and coldness, he sought to make men fear him as they had his father.  By now a fanatical Protestant, he was fond of lecturing those around him in the articles of his faith, a role which sat oddly with his youth.  His councillors and courtiers were already in awe of him. 'He will be the wonder and terror of the world if he lives,' declared Bishop Hopper that year. 

The watching lords and ladies waited politely for their new queen to compose herself, believing that she wept for the late King, since between sobs she had muttered something about 'so noble a prince.' After a while Jane calmed herself and rose to her feet, bracing herself to make a stand against what she knew to be tyranny.
'The crown is not my right,' she stated flatly, 'and pleaseth me not.  The Lady Mary is the rightful heir.'

Mary was, indeed, a political innocent, incapable of subtlety or the ability to dissemble.  Unlike the other Tudor monarchs, who made a virtue of expediency, she ruled according to the dictates of her conscience, which sometimes made her a formidable person to deal with, for she could be ruthless in carrying out what she believed to be her duty.  But, if her conscience did not point the way, then she suffered agonies of indecision; if it did, she never lacked the courage of her convictions.  An objective point of view was beyond her; she was single-minded to a fault.  The quality she admired most in anyone was goodness, which was a quality she herself could boast.

As far as religion was concerned, Elizabeth kept her own counsel.  We know very little of what she was taught as a child, only that she came under the influence of the Cambridge reformers who tutored her and her brother, and of her Protestant stepmother, Katherine Parr.  Although she herself came to embrace their views, circumstances often dictated that she had to be discreet, so she learned a certain pragmatism with regard to religion.  As a result, she was never a bigot or a fanatic.  She was not even very pious.  As an adult, she commissioned a private prayer in which she gave thanks to God for having 'from my earliest days kept me back from the deep abysses of natural ignorance and damnable superstition, that I might enjoy the great sun of righteousness which brings with its rays life and salvation, while leaving so many kings, princes and princesses in ignorance under the power of Satan'.  On another occasion she displayed an unusually enlightened view for her time when she declared: 'There is only one faith and one Jesus Christ; the rest is a dispute about trifles.'

The Tudor reign is probably one of  the most recognized time periods in British history due to King Henry marrying 6 wives, one of whom was Anne Boleyn, the woman for whom Henry broke away from the Catholic Church and began the Reformation Movement.

Edward, Mary and Elizabeth were the three legitimate children of King Henry VIII  and heirs to the English throne.    Henry divorced his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, mother to the Princess Mary, executed Anne Boleyn, mother of the Princess Elizabeth, and lost Prince Edward's mother, Jane Seymour, in her childbed before marrying 3 more times.  His relationship with each of his daughters was strained due heavily to his failed relationships with their mothers.  Prince Edward, on the other hand, was treated as a King from birth because he was a male heir and because his mother survived her marriage.  The children's relationships with one another were also complicated.  Mary and Elizabeth were brought up in different faiths, Mary in the Catholic faith and Elizabeth as a Protestant.  This issue alone caused strife between them all their lives.  Edward was also partial to the Protestant faith, but as a young King was very much led by his uncles and others of his council.  Each reigned as sovereign with Elizabeth ruling as the last of the Tudors.  Weir presents the children of Henry VIII as children first, their interactions or lack of interaction with each other and their father.  Only Princess Mary was lucky enough to have a few years with her own mother before she was sent away.  King Henry's children, their individual lives greatly influenced by the religious and  political climate during their lifetimes, and the favor of their father as well as the people of England shaped each of them into the person they would become and the kind of sovereign they were to England.

What I Liked

Information on King Edward - because he died so young I've not read much about him...He was young, and his reign was short and controlled by his handlers, so I can see why he might be considered less important than the others...however, Edward was a Protestant.  If he had not ruled before Mary, things could have been very different.

Elizabeth, Elizabeth, Elizabeth - what an absolutely tough cookie this one was...not only tough but smart...she made mistakes but she learned from them...she didn't get caught up in ridiculous stuff and called her own shots.  I knew this about her as Queen but from Weir's research it becomes apparent that those personality characteristics were hers from the beginning.  I like to think she got the best of both her mother and father...the anger and power from her father and her cunning from her mother.  

Historical documentation - while I love a good piece of historical fiction, I especially appreciate a work like this one that presents history in a narrative form.  By the time I got to Mary's reign, I couldn't put the book down...even though I knew what was going to happen next.  Weir pulls the reader in so that he/she feels like these are regular people somehow.  Weir weaves in comments of documents that still exist, those that don't, lands and castles and who they belong to then and now...but in such a way that it feels part of the story.

The Bibliography - I'm a geek.  I know it.  I just love a good bibliography.  Weir provides the reader with access to the documents she studied, previous books read, and lots and lots of primary research.  Her story is based on artifacts and information that is known, not assumed.  I spent an hour just scouring the Bib.

Jane Grey - Jane Grey's story REALLY gets swept under the rug in history, but Weir doesn't shy away from it.  Jane Grey's story may be one of the saddest, in fact, being a pawn of the greedy adults around her and then paying the ultimate price for crimes that were not her own.

Queen Mary - I don't like Mary, never have.  But, Weir gives more of a glimpse into who Mary was and why she was.  There's a lot of information on Mary, and it seems Weir is very careful in the chapters focusing on Mary as queen to produce evidence rather than accepted rumor or stories that have survived centuries but aren't based on fact.  I don't like Mary any better now that I've read the book, but Mary's life was much more complicated than just her nickname, Bloody Mary, implies.  

What I Didn't Like

Mary - in all fairness as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, I've never been a Mary this dislike really has nothing to do with the book really...just my personal opinion.  Weir does present Mary in such a light that the reader does get a lot of inside information on WHY Mary acted as she did.  But, that info is presented in an objective manner...the reader gets to decide for herself.  I have always believed Mary was ill suited to the monarchy...while she had many positive attributes and a strong personality, she was too emotional and too sentimental.  She was, of course, the only child of a loveless marriage, watched her father put her mother away, and then never was able to see her own mother again.  Those events alone would render a person psychologically unbalanced; unfortunately, the psychologically unbalanced don't always make good leaders.  I believe Mary was a religious fanatic...she held hard to her catholic faith because it represented something stable to her....something she never experienced anywhere or anytime else.  She truly believed she was chosen by God to be the one who healed England's religious dissention.  Because of this fanaticism she earned the title Bloody Mary...she reminds me of what we know of terrorists today.  

An overwhelming amount of information - it's not that I didn't like the amount of information....but...if a person is not into this kind of history or doesn't have at least a little background in Tudor history, he/she could easily get lost.  This isn't a read for the faint of heart or for someone who's looking for a skimmed over romanticized view of King Henry's children's lives.

Not enough Elizabeth - Elizabeth has her own books later of course so I'm sure that's why Weir chose to cut off this story at the beginning of Elizabeth's reign, but she's my favorite so I would have liked to see more of her.  

Overall Response

Weir may be one of the most talented historical writers in the world.  So much so that I added her newest book on Mary Boleyn to my Amazon auto ship before it was published; I don't do that often.  Her ability to weave facts into a captivating narrative is incredible.  Most books chocked with factual information are dry and read like a textbook...not these.


Anyone who is interested in British history, the British monarchy, the history of the relationship between church and state, King Edward, Queen Mary, or Queen Elizabeth should read this book...NOW.  

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wanna Be More Organized Wednesday

There are times in life when even organization seems chaotic...Christmas is one of those times.  
However, I refuse to let the human made Christmas hustle and bustle break my spirit...even when I venture out like my middle child and I did tonight...even when a car honked at me from behind for no reason...even when there are children screaming in Target, Books A Million and even in Toys R Us.  
Does that seem weird to anyone else?
And, yes, there really were screaming (and I mean screaming) children in all 3 of those stores.

I've cooked meals each night, and my girls and I have baked cookies.   We've watched Christmas movies and Christmas specials together and sipped hot cider and hot chocolate.  My youngest even got her ears pierced with her two big sisters holding her hands so she wouldn't be scared.  A full house is the best Christmas I could ever receive.  I mean that.  

I have a few small items left to purchase to help out my mother-in-law, but I, my dear friends, am done shopping...except for a small pick-up on Saturday at PetSmart.   Yes, Virginia, we are getting a hamster And, yes, I am aware that we have enough animals already.
What's your point?
Tomorrow I also do have to go to the post office and put some items in the mail that should have been sent a week or so ago (ahem, cough, cough).  More about that later.
But, the best shopping news of all is that I stayed within my budget...I knew exactly how much I had to spend...and that was all I spent.
I have NEVER stayed within my budget at Christmas.
I'm a little nervous that I might have forgotten somebody...Yikes!

We've enjoyed a week of home cooked meals so far; we had PW's Dr. Pepper pork last night, will have PW's spaghetti and meatballs tomorrow night and Parmesan Crusted Tilapia Friday night.  We'll begin our traditional Christmas meals on Saturday night after Christmas Eve church services at our local Chinese restaurant...(cue the FaRaRaRaRa  song from "A Christmas Story").  Please watch this movie.  Please.
On Christmas morning my family and I will enjoy a breakfast casserole recipe from an old friend of mine and PW's cinnamon rolls.  We will have a light Christmas lunch with a Honey Butter Pork Tenderloin and sides for our Christmas dinner that night.  
These are definitely wonderful times :) and I am blessed beyond measure.

Anyhoo, even though I'm a little late with the mail, this Wednesday post at 10:35 p.m., and my house is a mess (wrapping paper, cookie baking paraphernalia, and laundry...always laundry), it makes me happy.

Fa ra ra ra ra - ra ra ra ra!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Top Ten Books I Hope Santa Brings

It's no secret this is my favorite meme...I love participating as much as I love reading everyone else's lists.  
But, this week's Top 10 is my favorite list of the entire's not the easiest, considering I have almost 600 books on my Amazon WishList :/ but it's still fun! 

Dear Santa, 
I know that I really don't need any more books...but you know how wonderful they make me feel :)  I had a difficult time narrowing my list of 600 to 10 but I did it!!!  What do you think about these selections?? 

1.  The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

I haven't read anything by Eugenides and plan to take care of that problem asap!  I've heard so many good things about this novel since even before it was  officially released.  

2.  Nighwoods by Charles Frazier

I just finished reading Cold Mountain with my students and loved it.  I loved the story steeped in history and description.  I'm determined to read all of Frazier's novels...lucky for me he has a new one :)

3.  The Girl in the Blue Beret by Bobbie Ann Mason

I've been a fan of Bobbie Ann Mason ever since I read her YA classic In Country.  I can't say enough about her writing and can't wait to dig into this one.

4.  Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward 

I'm all over anything that has to do with my home state Mississippi...Ward's new book is the talk of Indie bookstores all over our state so I MUST have this one.

5.  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This is my peer pressure selection on the list.  Just by reading the synopsis, this is not a book I would usually pick up...but blogger after blogger, whose opinions I trust have given Morgenstern rave reviews.  I can't stand not having an opinion, so what else can a gal do??  

6.  Joan Didion's Blue Nights 

I know this one will be sad...I meant to read Didion's first novel after her husband's in the world has this resilient woman lived through now the loss of her child.  Writing.  That's all I can figure.

7.  Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Review after review has Jobs pegged as a complete total jerk...but at the same time...a genius.  I've always heard there's a fine line between genius and insanity...Jobs may very well be an iconic example of that very premise.  

8.  Hemingway's Boat by Paul Hendrickson

Another genius...alcoholic...sometimes happy, sometimes distraught...but a writer whose novels have withstood generation after generation.  A must have.

9.  Catherine the Great by Robert Massie 

I am constantly reminded that to be a feminist today is NOTHING compared to what women like Catherine the Great, Elizabeth I, etc. had to deal with during their lifetimes.  To be GREAT during times where women were expected to be anything just astonishing.

10.  Food Rules by Michael Pollan

The more I read by Pollan and others like him, the easier it is for me to make healthier choices for my family and my life.

Dear Santa, I usually follow the rules of this meme, but I realized after I'd made my list that there's a book that I desperately need that's not on the list.  I tried very hard to remove one of the original 10 and replace it with this one...but then I decided to let you do that ;)

11.  Honorable Mention - can't believe I forgot this one...of all books to forget :/

Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean

I'm sure I don't have to explain this one :):)

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the ladies @ The Broke and the Bookish.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Weekend Cooking - Family Fun's Cookies for Christmas and Chocolate Crinkles

When my two older daughters were very young, one of my favorite magazines each month was Family Fun...I liked the format, the ideas, the stories, the pictures, and especially the family oriented (kid oriented) recipes.  In 1998, the magazine published a small hardback book with recipes for Christmas cookies, and I had to have a copy.  That was the year my girls and I started our Christmas cookie bake marathon :)  Of course, then I was the one doing most of the baking, and they decorated whenever possible.  Each year we pull out the little book and pick what we want to make.  We don't try to make a bunch of batches in one day...we plan a recipe a day...for as long as we choose.  So far, we've made Reindeer cookies, The Gingerbread Clan, our own version of Gingerbread houses, Penny Snickerdoodles, Chocolate Crinkles, Thumbprint Cookies, Snowballs & Crescent Moons, & Peanut Butter Sealed with a Kiss.  This year the girls have requested that we add Celebration Sticks and Chocolate Pretzels to our repertoire. 
We vary our choices each year but Reindeer Cookies, Penny Snickerdoodles, Thumbprint Cookies and Crescent Moons make the list every. single. year.  

Last year I couldn't find the little book, and I was so disappointed.  It's not that the book itself is that important to me; it's the memories that book brings back each year.  Fortunately, about March, I found the book!  It was on the shelf amongst my other cookbooks. It's such a slim volume that I guess I just scanned right past it.  I was also sure I had packed the book away in the Christmas boxes so I looked there most of all.  Whew!!

We've made our Reindeer cookies, Penny Snickerdoodles, and Chocolate Crinkles so far this year.  For this week's Weekend Cooking, I decided to share our Chocolate Crinkles :) 

For this recipe the dough must be made at least 2 hours before you want to cook.  We made the dough last night and actually made the cookies this afternoon after church.  In the above picture, my youngest is rolling the dough into balls.  The dough is that hunk of chocolate stuff on the right. 

Here she's rolling the dough balls into powdered sugar.

And here my middle child decided to help as well.

If you don't like chocolate or you don't like powdered sugar all over your kitchen counter, this is probably not the cookie recipe for you. ;)
I don't freak out over stuff like that though.

Even Layla enjoyed cleaning up the powdered sugar that fell to the floor :):)

You don't flatten these cookie dough balls...they flatten themselves as they cook, forming the crinkly look you see in this photo.  Obviously that's why these are called Chocolate Crinkles.

These cookies are a fluffy chocolaty cross between a double chocolate chip cookie and a brownie...melt in your mouth goodness. 

Here's the recipe: 

3/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla 
1 6-ounce bag semisweet chocolate chips (about 1 1/4 cups)
confectioners' sugar for dusting (about 3/4 cup)

In a large bowl, mix the melted butter with the cocoa powder and sugar until well combined.  In a medium-size bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and vanilla into the chocolate mixture.  Slowly mix in the dry ingredients until combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Cover and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours or overnight.  
Preheat the oven to 350.  Roll the dough into balls about 1 inch in diameter.  Pour the confectioners' sugar on a plate or in a shallow bowl; then roll each ball in the sugar. 
Place the balls on an ungreased baking sheet, leaving 2 inches between them (they will flatten and spread).  Bake for 12 minutes, or until the cookies are set.  Lay the baking sheet on a wire rack and cool for about 5 minutes; dust with more confectioners' sugar if desired.  Transfer the cookies to racks to cool thoroughly.  Makes 25-35 cookies.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Candace @ Beth Fish Reads.