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Archive for the 'Potpourri' Category

Ballet and Pas De Death

I’ve been thinking about ballet recently, which is peculiar since I have never been a ballerina and know nothing about ballet. My one experience of ballet was when we lived in London. A customer of the pub where we worked gave us two tickets to attend the ballet at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. It was a programme of short dances, and we enjoyed the show even though we didn’t understand a lot of what we were seeing. The thing I remember most was how noisy their shoes were since the sound of shoes scraping across the floor was easy to hear from our seats.

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Pas De Death (The Dani Spevak Mystery Series)

A side note: I was looking for a ballet picture to illustrate my post and remembered fellow Romance Diva Amanda Brice has a mystery series featuring a ballet dancer. I thought I’d use the cover from her latest release and give her series a shout-out. The first book in her series is called Codename: Dancer. If your teenager is a reader and a ballet fan, you should definitely check out this series.

Now back to the reason for my post. One of our holiday stops in August will be at St. Petersburg in Russia. Since we have the opportunity to attend the ballet we’re grabbing it with both hands. After all, the Russians are very good at ballet. I believe we’ll be seeing Swan Lake.

I decided to do a little research about the history of ballet. Here are a few highlights:

1. Ballet seems to have originated in the Italian Renaissance courts during the 15th century.

2. The nobility learned the steps and danced in the performances.

3. King Louis XIV was responsible for making ballet even more popular and standardizing the dances. It’s said his passion took ballet from a hobby or interest for amateurs to entertainment carried out by professionals.

4. Until the 1730s ballet was performed mainly by men. They were able to wear tights while the women were restricted by long skirts.

5. No one is sure when pointe shoes were first used, but historians credit Marie Taglioni with dancing on pointe in the 19th century. She certainly developed the technique.

6. 18th century Marie Camargo was the first dancer to dance with shortened skirts. The audience could see her ankles and were scandalized, although they appreciated the skill of her footwork, which they could now see clearly. Tights were in common use during the late 18th century.

Sources: www.dancer.com and www.histclo.com

Are you a ballet fan? Did you learn ballet as a child? Please tell all.

The Origin of Hen’s Night

Hen’s night, stagette, bachelorette party. They’re all terms for the same thing—the last party that a bride has with her female friends before she gets married.

The stag or bachelor party has origins long ago in history. Stag parties were held back in Henry VII’s time, and it’s said that they could even date back to Spartan times when the bachelor about to get married would have a meal and drinks with his friends the day before the marriage.

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The Hen’s night is a lot more recent—around the 1960s, (some say it’s even later) according to my research, and they began as a kind of equality thing with the male stag party.

However, Cleopatra had a party with her friends before marrying Mark Anthony. It’s also said that the term could come from the word henna. In countries such as India, North Africa and the Middle East they have a ceremony the night before the wedding where the bride’s hands are painted with henna designs.

These days anything goes for a hen party. They can range from elegant dinners to down and raunchy nights at a strip club and everything in between.

Here are a few suggestions for a hen’s party night:

1. Organize a fancy dress theme and go out and party.

2. Do special T-shirts.

3. Organize a spa day or weekend.

4. There’s the stripper thing

5. A sex toy party

6. Something unique like a photo shoot, a cocktail or chocolate making course or a course in something that interests the bride.

7. Have dinner at a themed restaurant.

8. Attend a special concert

9. Have a high tea or afternoon tea at a hotel.

10. Tell embarrassing stories about the bride.

11. Organize a scavenger hunt.

12. Hire a bus and go on a wine tour.

I’m off to a hen’s party at the beginning of March. I’m not sure what we’re doing but I’m looking forward to both the party and the wedding.

Did you have a hen’s party? What did you do? Have you attended a hen’s party recently?

A Lesson in Cheese Making

I stepped out of routine last weekend. After packing my handbag with necessities, including my camera, I went off to be a Cheesemaker for a day at the New Zealand Cheese School.

There were about ten of us on the Dairy course, and we learned how to make milk ricotta, sour cream, cultured butter, yoghurt, quark and mascarpone.

We listened and learned. We made our own cultured butter and milk ricotta. We tasted samples of every type of dairy product.

It was so much fun.

One of the people who ran the course owns her own cheese company. She took a course much like this one back in 2000 and loved it so much, she started her own cheese company. We tasted several of her cheeses (ranging from cow and goat brie to a tasty blue) for morning tea.

Since the course, hubby and I have made our own yoghurt and some mascarpone. I like making things from scratch. They don’t necessarily turn out cheaper, but I can control what goes into my products, they taste good and I get satisfaction from making something myself.

As a side benefit, I have the perfect occupation for my next book—a cheesemaker!

Here are a few photos from my cheesemaking adventure.

Greek Yoghurt

Here we’re straining yoghurt to make it thicker – the consistency of Greek Yoghurt. When this is done commercially, milk solids (i.e. milk powder) are added back into the yoghurt to thicken it. This is why most thick Greek yoghurts purchased in the supermarket are higher in calories.

Cultured Butter

This is cultured butter that we made from sour cream. When I was a kid, we used to separate the cream from the cow’s milk in a machine called a separator. (Funnily enough!) The milk would come out one tube and the milk out another. When we had a lot of cream, we’d make butter in the butter churn. Both the separator and the churn were of the manual variety and used a lot of energy. I remember churning the butter—not an easy chore! The butter above was made using a kitchen mixer. So much easier.

Shelley_Milk Ricotta

This is me in my cheesemaking outfit – an apron and hairnet. I’m in charge of the milk ricotta. The curds have lifted to the top of the liquid, and I’m placing it in molds. The milk ricotta reminded me of scrambled eggs when I tasted it.

I enjoyed this course so much, I think I might go back at a later date and learn how to make feta and some of the molded cheeses like brie and blue cheese.

Are there any cheesemakers out there? Cheese fans?

In Praise of Strawberries

dreamstimefree_1868210_Strawberries

The strawberry season is drawing to an end down here in New Zealand. I’m a huge fan of strawberries. Let me count the ways….

Reasons Shelley Likes Strawberries:

1. The appearance of the first strawberries is a signal that summer is underway.

2. They’re low in calories and very tasty. Often I’ll pick and eat. They never make it inside.

3. Strawberries and chocolate are a match made in heaven. They’re the perfect treat to eat during a romantic rendezvous.

4. Strawberries also go well with champagne. It’s that romance thing again!

5. Strawberry shortcake muffins are delicious. Recipe to follow tomorrow.

 

Sundry Facts About Strawberries:

1. They say wild strawberries grew in Italy as early as 234 BC.

2. Settlers of Virginia discovered wild strawberries in 1588.

3. The acids in strawberries help to whiten teeth.

4. They’re full of vitamin C, contain flavonolds and help reduce cholesterol. They also contain folic acid, potassium and fibre.

5. Black pepper and strawberries go well together. Better for diets, no?

6. If you ever go to the Wimbledon tennis make sure you have some strawberries. It’s a tradition, and they go through thousands of kilos of strawberries during the tournament. Around 27,000! And I have to say it’s an enjoyable experience.

7. They’re a member of the rose family.

8. There are around 200 seeds in each strawberry.

Are you a fan of strawberries, and if so, what is your favorite way to eat them?

11 Tips for Hiring Women

Doing the Sports Jock hop? Scroll down or here’s a direct link to the Sports Jock hop

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This article appeared in the winter issue of Best of Times, a magazine for senior citizens and was reprinted from the July 1943 issue of Transportation Magazine. It made me laugh, but I’m really glad that times have changed!

This is the advice given to the male supervisors who were in charge of women in the workforce during the second world war.

1. Pick young married women. They usually have more of a sense of responsibility than their unmarried sisters, and they’re less likely to be flirtatious.

2. When you have to use older women, try to get ones who have worked outside the home at some time in their lives. Older women who have never contacted the public have a hard time adapting themselves and are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy.

3. General experience indicates that ‘husky’ girls – those who are just a little on the heavy side – are more even tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters.

4. Retain a physician to give each woman you hire a special physical examination – one covering female conditions. This step not only protects the property against possibilities of lawsuit but reveals whether the employee-to-be has any female weaknesses that would make her mentally or physically unfit for the job.

5. Stress at the outset the importance of time – a minute or two lost here and there makes a serious inroad on schedules.

6. Give the female employee a definite schedule of duties so they’ll keep busy without bothering the management for instructions every few minutes. Women make excellent workers when they have their jobs cut out for them, but they lack initiative in finding work themselves.

7. Whenever possible, let the employee change from one job to another during the day. Women are inclined to be less nervous and happier with change.

8. Give every girl an adequate number of rest periods during the day. You have to make some allowances for feminine psychology. A girl has more confidence and is more efficient if she can keep her hair tidied, apply fresh lipstick, and wash her hands several times a day.

9. Be tactful when issuing instructions or in making criticisms. Women are often sensitive; they can’t shrug off harsh words the way men do. Never ridicule a woman – it breaks her spirit and cuts off her efficiency.

10. Be reasonably considerate about using strong language around women. Even though a girl’s husband or father may swear vociferously, she’ll grow to dislike a place of business where she hears too much of this.

11. Get enough size variety in operators’ uniforms so that each girl can have a proper fit. This point can’t be stressed too much in keeping women happy.

I bet the male author of these tips never once considered that New Zealand might have a female prime minister one day. We’ve actually had two different female prime ministers and have many women members of parliament. Women can rule the world!

The One About Afternoon Tea

Thursday Thirteen

Recently my husband took me to a traditional afternoon tea at Cornwell Park in Central Auckland. It’s always fun setting aside the jeans for something a little dressier and enjoying the occasion. Our afternoon tea inspired my TT this week.

Thirteen Things About Afternoon Tea

1. We had our afternoon tea at the Cornwall Park Restaurant. They’ve been selling refreshments and cups of tea since 1908.

Cornwall Park Restaurant

2. Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford is said to have invented afternoon tea. At the time most people ate two meals during the day—breakfast and dinner, which was taken late in the evening (around 8 pm). The Duchess started to have light refreshments and a pot of tea in the afternoon. She invited friends to join her and took the habit with her when she returned to London. Other women liked the habit so much, they started to follow suit. Afternoon tea was born.

Cornwell Park, Afternoon Tea

3. A traditional afternoon tea consists of scones (usually still warm from the oven) served with jam and cream, a selection of sandwiches (usually egg, ham, salmon, cucumber) and finished with a selection of delicious cakes. This is all washed down with lots of cups of tea.

Afternoon Tea selection

4. Tea was first drunk in China and it’s said that Catherine of Braganza, the consort of Charles II first introduced tea to England.

5. The British government placed taxes on tea, which meant smugglers played a big part in bringing tea into the country. They found that churches were excellent places to hide their smuggled goods.

Lapsang Souchong tea

6. I chose Lapsang Souchong tea, which has a very smoky taste, while Mr. Munro chose Nepal Masala Chai tea with cinnamon, ginger and cloves.

7. No one knows where scones originated, but they’ve always been associated with England, Scotland and Ireland. It’s thought that they most likely came from Scotland.

8. Our scones came served with whipped cream and raspberry jam. Personally, I prefer them with clotted cream. Yum!

9. Clotted cream is thick cream, which is obtained by heating milk slowly and allowing it to cool. The cream content rises to the top in coagulated lumps. It’s decadent and delicious and not exactly good for you Who me?

10. John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich is associated with the sandwich. He loved to gamble and didn’t want to leave his game. He ordered his valet to bring him meat placed between two slices of bread. Other men called for meals the same as Sandwich.

11. We had egg, salmon and ham sandwiches, but most British afternoon teas have cucumber sandwiches. Here’s a link to two versions of a cucumber sandwich that look delicious.

12. Cakes. Yummy cakes in small bite sized pieces. We had chocolate cake, lemon meringue pie, sticky date, lemon friands, a flourless nut cake. Chocolate eclairs are also a good addition. Just saying!

13. My favorite place to have afternoon tea is the Ritz in Picadilly, London. It takes place in the Palm Court, and there’s a dress code. No jeans allowed. This is something that must be booked ahead of time—weeks ahead—but it’s well worth it with relaxing piano music and very attentive waiters. Here’s the menu for the Ritz afternoon tea.  I highly recommend this experience if you’re ever in London.

Are you a fan of afternoon tea? Do you have a favorite afternoon tea spot?

The Story of the Wedding Dress

Bouquet and bride

The white wedding dress made with silk and lace is a twentieth century tradition, and the cynical among us might say that those who work in the wedding industry have embraced the elaborate white gown for commercial reasons.

In past centuries, couples would wear their best clothes to their wedding, which meant they wore colors other than white. In fact sometimes it was difficult to discern the bride and groom among the crowd of well wishers.

Here is a traditional rhyme that tells us the significance of the color of the bride’s dress:

Married in white, you have chosen all right

Married in grey, you will go far away

Married in black, you will wish yourself back

Married in red, you’d be better dead

Married in green, ashamed to be seen

Married in blue, you’ll always be true

Married in pearl, you’ll live in a whirl

Married in yellow, ashamed of the fellow

Married in brown, you’ll live out of town

Married in pink, your spirits will sink.

There are also several superstitions associated with wedding dresses. Most of us are probably aware of the one in which it’s said to be unlucky for the groom to see the bride in her dress before the wedding. It’s also said to be bad luck for the bride to make her own dress.

Sometimes brides of the past didn’t wear a dress but married in their chemises or shifts. This meant the bride came to the wedding with nothing, and more importantly to the groom, he didn’t acquire responsibility for the bride’s debts.

The above rhyme made me laugh because my dress was pink. Smile

What color was your wedding dress? Or if you’re single at present, what color would you like?

Source: Discovering the Folklore and Traditions of Marriage by George Monger

Behind the Mask…

Chinese Masks

Masks in a Chinese craft shop

Since I’m off on a mini holiday and leaving before the birds even think about chirping tomorrow morning, I thought I’d give you a virtual tour through China during the next four days. I hope to pop in and chat during the day, so I’m going to leave you with a question.

If you could pick any mask to wear what would it be? Something elegant, something silly or something else?

My husband would probably pick a snorkel mask since he loves snorkeling. I have trouble getting him out of the water when we’re on holiday! I’d pick a half mask–one that would be perfect for a Regency masquerade ball. A mask to conceal yet seduce…

What would you choose?

Twelves Pieces of Advice For First Dates

Going out with someone new can be nerve-racking and stressful. I’m currently researching a new story where first dates are involved, and here are some commonsense suggestions I’ve discovered to get through that date without breaking a sweat. I’ll definitely be using these in my fictional first date…or not!

1. Don’t call it a date. Keep it casual and keep the pressure off.

2. Limit the length of the date. If the date is a disaster, it’s best not to prolong it! Choose an activity such as coffee or a walk in the park or go for a drink.

3. Have a backup plan in case something goes wrong.

4. Don’t be late. It sets a bad impression.

5. Agree on what to wear so neither of you are surprised when you meet for the date.

6. Groom appropriately i.e. wear a deodorant and make sure you don’t still have lunch stuck in your teeth.

7. Don’t drink too much alcohol.

8. Be assertive without being aggressive. Make decisions but don’t be too bossy!

9. Go somewhere quiet so that you can hear each other talk and get to know each other.

10. Don’t talk about your ex! No one wants to hear about the one who got away.

11. Offer compliments if there is something about your date that you like.

12. Don’t do all the talking. Listen as well.

I didn’t date that much, since I met my husband when I was quite young, but I do remember a first date where the guy reeked of garlic and wanted to kiss. Yuck!

Do you have any advice for first dates or any first date horror stories?

Twelve Facts (?) About Werewolves

1. Legends of werewolves have been with us since Greek times and even earlier.

2. European folk law in particular is full of tales of men shifting to wolves.

3. In one of the legends, Ovid (Metamorphoses) served human flesh to Zeus. In punishment, he was changed to a wolf.

4. Lycanthropy is a mental illness where a patient believes they have transformed into a wolf.

5. Curved fingernails, red hair, eyebrows that meet, hair that grows beneath the skin are all signs of a werewolf.

6. Werewolves have superhuman strength but are vulnerable to silver bullets.

7. The vulnerability to silver only appears in tales after 1935.

8. Werewolves are very active during a full moon.

9. In some tales, a special salve is rubbed over the body and this transforms a man to werewolf.

10. Some werewolves transform after donning a wolf skin or a wolf skin belt.

11. If a werewolf bites a human, the human will become a werewolf. This method of turning is a modern invention and does not appear in early legends.

12. Many of our recent thoughts/perceptions are due to Hollywood movies and popular novels, and they bear little relation to the old legends.

Today kicks off my Lone Wolf tour. My first stop is at Book Junkie. I hope you’ll pop over and visit. Don’t forget – every time you comment on one of my Lone Wolf VBT posts you’ll go into a draw to win a $20 Amazon gift card.

What do you think about werewolves? Do you have any tidbits to add to my werewolf list?