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Recipe repost: Mom’s Tuna Casserole

Reposted from http://eatineatout.ca/easyrecipe-print/2905-0/ .

Moms-Tuna-Casserole_2Serves: Serves 4-6
Ingredients
  • 1 ¾ cups elbow macaroni, uncooked
  • 1 284 mL can condensed cream soup – mushroom, chicken, celery, broccoli
  • 1 170 g can flaked light tuna
  • ½ cup milk
  • ⅓ cup red onion, finely diced
  • 1 cup shredded old cheddar cheese, divided
  • ¼ tsp EACH salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
  2. Cook pasta according to package directions, just to al dente.
  3. In a bowl mix cooked pasta, soup, tuna, milk, onion, ½ cup cheese and spices. Pour mixture into a greased 1.5 qt. casserole dish and sprinkle remaining ½ cup cheese on top.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes until bubbling.
OPTIONAL: add up to 1 cup blanched broccoli or baby spinach

Meet Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd, the National Heroine of Wales

“Cymraes ydw i. I have no need for English fashions,” in one simple line from chapter two of “Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd, the Warrior Princess of Deheubarth” Princess Gwenllian summarizes her entire life and legacy, a legacy that has touched billions of lives.

But who was she and if she was really so influential, why have few people outside of Wales ever heard of her?

Born in 1097, Princess Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd was the daughter of King Gruffydd ap Cynan of the Welsh kingdom of Gwynedd.  Gwynedd’s rugged mountains empowered its rulers to remain independent longer than any other Welsh kingdoms in the country. Today the county of Gwynedd remains one of the largest and includes Snowdonia National Park. But historically Gwynedd the kingdom was much larger than its modern namesake. In medieval times Gwynedd’s capital was Aberffraw Castle on the island of Ynys Môn (English: Anglesey).  Readers of “Boudicca, Britain’s Queen of the Iceni” should recognize the name Ynys Môn because the island was the center of British druidry and therefore bore the brunt of Roman aggression towards Brythonic and ancient Celtic culture and religion.  Ynys Môn has a long tradition of being a historical hot spot (and one worthy of your next visit to the United Kingdom).


So it should be no surprise that Ynys Môn would be home to Wales’ most pivotal leaders.


Turn of the 12th century Wales was turbulent.  After his victory near Hastings in October 1066, William the Conqueror (now William I of England) set his sights on conquering the entire island of Britain.  Many of the Scottish nobles were bribed into vassalage. But the north of England and the Welsh kingdoms were different.  If William I and his new Angevin dynasty wanted to control these lands, he would have to take them by force!

William I began this task immediately.  In 1067 construction began on the first Norman castle, Chepstow in modern day Monmouthshire in southeast Wales. Located approximately 32 miles north of Cardiff, Chepstow’s location in the kingdom of Gwent made it the perfect fortress for attacking the southern kingdoms of Gwent, Morgannwg, and Deheubarth which in Gwenllian’s time had expanded to include most of south central Wales, including the kingdom of Ceredigion.

Standing in the way of this Norman Conquest of Wales were King Gruffydd ap Cynan of Gwynedd and King Rhys ap Tewdwr of Deheubarth.  Though often forced to retreat into exile in Ireland, both men blocked the outright and permanent conquest of their realms, passing on their fight to their sons and daughters.

It was in this environment that Princess Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd was born.  Like her famous brothers, she was raised in a kingdom constantly under attack. Everyone — including the king’s daughter — needed to be battle ready or risk losing life and home to William Rufus’ and King Henry I’s notoriously brutal soldiers.

Gwenllian’s life changed forever in 1113 when King Rhys ap Tewdwr’s two surviving sons sought sanctuary at Aberffraw after recently escaping exile, torture, and imprisonment at Norman hands. For Prince Gruffydd ap Rhys and Princess Gwenllian it was true love almost from the beginning of his time there.  In 1115 they married and Gwenllian moved to Gruffydd’s Dinefwr castle as its co-sovereign, beginning a twenty year war of resistance against the much stronger Normans thanks to their successful use of the Welsh longbow fired from the cover of forest, the same tactics used by the fictional Robin Hood and Maid Marion against similar Norman knights. Unlike Robin Hood and Marion, Gwenllian and Gruffydd’s stakes in these battles were far greater: if they failed, tens of thousands of Welsh would be enslaved by the Anglo-Normans.  Their kingdom was at stake and it was their job to defend it — at any price.

Gwenllian paid that price in February 1136 when Maurice de Londres captured her following a desperate winter battle.  Instead of ransoming her as the code of chilvary demanded, Maurice chopped off her head, making Gwenllian the first sovereign ever executed by the English.  It was an atrocity that could no be ignored.

To this day “revenge for Gwenllian” remains a Welsh battle cry of outrage, an execution that remains well remembered.  The Welsh have not forgotten Gwenllian and never will.  To truly understand the history and culture of the British people it is vital that you discover her story as well.

“Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd, the Warrior Princess of Deheubarth” is available in English, Welsh, German, and Spanish on Amazon, iBooks, and a retailer near you.

Language Switching and why I do it so much

If you are a fan of the Legendary Women of World History biographies or period dramas, you have no doubt noticed that I tend to bounce around languages a great deal, sometimes at the expense of being directly understandable in a given point in the book.  So why do I do it and why will I not simply put the whole damn thing in English like normal people do?

In a word, PARALINGUISTICS.  Paralinguistics is a social science term for the parts of verbal communication that are not inherent in the meaning of the words we use.  Paralinguistics is the HOW of our speech: its melody, its pace, its inflection and so forth.  Dialect and specific word choice is also paralinguistic. It conveys to listeners a great deal of information about a person and in particular information about gender, ethnicity, place of birth, place of residence, socio-economic class, even race sometimes.  Different places have different names for the same thing.

soda-pop

The labels we use for objects varies greatly with our geography and our dialect. A classic example of this is our word for a sweetened carbonated beverage.

One classic example I studied in university in my “non-verbal communication” class was the word we use to refer to a sweetened carbonated beverage. No, it is not the same word everywhere.  In the southern United States, the word “coke” is used to refer to such beverages, regardless of brand (I heard this myself during my stay in Louisville, Kentucky).  In many Midwestern states such as Nebraska where I was born and raised, the word is “pop.”  In New England the preferred word is “soda” which is the word I default to. In fact I often very purposely avoid the word “pop,” much to the annoyance of my now late mother who complained that I “didn’t talk like a Nebraskan.” That’s because I had so thoroughly adjusted my dialect to what is normal in the greater New York City metropolitan area that I no longer sounded like someone from the Midwest.

crawdad crayfish

Is it a crawdad, crawfish, or crayfish?  The word you use is largely determined by where you are from.

Beyond geography, our paralinguistics tell listeners a great deal about our socio-economic status and education.  A person with a third grade education talks differently than a person with a university degree.  A person who has traveled a great deal also talks differently from a person who has never left her own town or village. The languages one speaks is a powerful communicator of this information and how that person is perceived.  As a rule, speaking multiple languages is a mark of education, travel, and often class.  It tells you very concisely who that person is and what her or his background is.

No where is this more evident than in the use of honorifics.

What is an honorific?  It’s a word we use to convey respect to another person.  A classic example is when we address a judge “your honour” and a member of a royal family as “Your Majesty” or “Your Highness.” In medieval societies it was especially important to show proper respect with these honorifics which include “your grace,” “my lord/milord,” “my lady/milady,” “my liege,” “sire,” “master,” “mistress,” and so forth.

Honorifics in the Legendary Women of World History biographies almost always follow the person’s nationality or adopted nationality.  So Princess Nest ferch Gruffydd respectfully greets King Gruffydd ap Cynan with the Welsh “f’arglwydd” which means “milord.” Use of “f’arglwydd” (or its feminine form “f’arglwyddes”) instantly tells you the speaker is Welsh. Likewise French Princess Catherine de Valois (book two) periodically speaks French, both to her family members and to the monolingual King Henry V, particularly during their many arguments.

When Matilda of England returns to London after the death of her husband, Kaiser Heinrich V, her persistent use of German and German forms of people’s names is there to tell you very concisely that she identifies herself as “empress” (German, Kaiserin; Latin, Imperatrix).  This is absolutely historical and it is a major reason why the Anglo-Norman nobility found her impossible to work with. Using German powerfully conveys how Matilda saw herself and how she insisted on being treated.

The use of language therefore tells you who the person is and how s/he self-identifies.  The actual meaning of the individual words is far less important than what the use of them says about the person as a whole and in the given moment.  Queen Elizabeth Tudor spoke at least six languages and therefore very fluently moved across them as she desired and the situation merited.  The immediate descendants of William the Conqueror spoke both English and French with the same fluency as many Canadians do today.  By necessity they used English, French, and Latin in the day-to-day administration of their vast realms.  Medieval Europeans prayed in Latin so all of the prayers found in the LWWH are in Latin as well.

Language switching in the Legendary Women of World History series is therefore essential in accurately communicating who these people were and the societies in which they lived.  It might be easier to render a prayer in English from a reader point of view, but it would not be historically accurate to do so. It might be more comfortable for some readers if all dialogue were in English, but doing so would strip out all of the paralinguistics that we all use everyday when communicating with other people.  It would be akin to writers universally using the word “coke” to refer to a soft drink without considering if that word is what a historical person or character would actually label the beverage.  A person from the southern United States most certainly would — but not all people in the United States are from the southern region nor are all English speakers from that region either.

 

Whether we realize it or not our word choices are an essential part of our daily communication.  More than simply which words we use, our dialects and use of borrowed words from other languages communicates a great deal about who we are to people.  Fluency in many languages is driven by many factors in our lives:  social, economic, educational, and professional to name just a few. How we speak is a major part of the tapestry of our lives.  Embrace that tapestry in your own life and use your understanding of it to enhance your understanding of other people.

 

 

 

The Peers of Beinan: A Literary Journey

Castle Fantasy BackdropThere is a lot of science fiction on the market from independent authors published these last five years since I first published “The Great Succession Crisis.”  It is a crowded field where it is easy to get lost in. As with many popular genres, a huge number of books seek to emulate the plot and character elements of mega hits on the assumption of that what works for one highly profitable author must work for them as well. We’ve seen this with “Twilight” style paranormal romances.  We’ve seen this with “Five Shades of Grey” styled erotica.  The list goes on and on.

As moderator of a book promo group on facebook, I get to see the copycats almost ad nauseam. Books all look the same after a while. And while the premise of copying another’s ideas is repulsive to me as both a science fiction author and as a dedicated historian, I do genuinely see some success in these authors following those formulas — if the measure of success is Amazon rankings in any event.

But open these books and the blandness of copycatting shows itself. The writing lacks the sort of literary luster of the books and authors whose work holds the test of time. That is, perhaps, the best distinction one makes between commercial and literary fiction.  Commercial fiction is about today’s sale.  Literary fiction is about creating timeless works of art.  My fiction is literary fiction.

The Peers of Beinan Series is everything I love about the classics. As a free thinker and intellectual with a life-long passion for learning, it has never been my habit to follow the crowd – on anything. Whatever was “hot” or “trendy” was never of interest to me.  I always liked to be different. On occasion what I’ve liked and what the greater society is into have coincided — but never by my conscious design and rarely in precisely the same way.

I started my writing career with the Peers of Beinan because I saw an America becoming more and more socially and politically divided, an America where it was becoming more and more difficult to engage in civil conversations about the stuff that matters. I saw an America that was increasingly creating false equivalences between fact and opinion and where acts of hate against those who are different was going unpunished and ignored. Sound familiar?

I wanted to engage in an honest discussion with people about the subjects that matter to me most. Looking to the great science fiction/fantasy authors I like best — Gene Roddenberry, Dorothy “DC” Fontana, Ray Bradberry, Frank Herbert, Issac Asimov to name just a few — what I noticed is they often tackled some really big social and sometimes political subjects in their books — without offending people in the process.

I wanted to do the same.  I wanted to talk to people and encourage people to really think about things that matter to me. And I wanted people to open their minds to ideas and possibilities that put a different way to them they would never listen to.

And that is, in essence, what the Peers of Beinan Series is. It’s my reaching out across the universe and saying “this is important, please think it about it” from a group of stories that don’t ask that question directly of people.

house-personal-heraldry-collage

In personal interactions I am known for my point-blank directness. I don’t play the stereotypical gender roles game — not any more at least. And so I am “bold” as a woman and a writer. The Peers of Beinan is less point-blank than I usually am. It seeks to provoke thought without being confrontational. And just as important to me personally:  it seeks to bring you hope. For in the greatest darkness and despair, there is always Light. That’s how I overcame the great adversities of my life and how you will too.

 

Death and Taxes: Lessons Learned

Death and Taxes are the two things no one can avoid. While taxes is something we face every year, the death of a parent is something we face only once or twice, depending on our family situation. As I found out with the 2016 death of my mother, our knowledge of how to handle taxes after the death of a parent or other close loved one is very limited.

Despite all the information out there online on both subjects individually, I found it all extremely confusing as I tried to navigate that complexity of what happens with your taxes when someone close to you dies.  Tax law is very complicated and tax guidance is even more complicated. No one wants the liability of telling you anything just in case what they tell you does not apply to you. In most cases, people want you to spend massive amounts of money consulting with attorneys and tax professionals instead of giving you the most basic advice.  It’s akin to a nurse not telling me to run cold water on a burn and sending me to the hospital (at a delay of hours) when my hair caught fire blowing out candles when I was in university. The burn gets worse by not taking immediate action.

The following is what I learned filing my 2016 taxes.  My situation may be different from yours. You may have a more complicated tax situation than I did. What follows is some simple advice from my tax filing as equal beneficiary to my brother who was the executor on her estate.

Taxes to be paid:

  • The executor of the state must file Federal and State income taxes for the deceased. If the deceased has no tax liability, that is fine. But the returns must be filed on behalf of the deceased.
  • If deceased owns her home at time of death and it is to be sold, sell the home as quickly as possible to reduce tax liability and simplify your tax situation. Same for any other property that is usually taxed upon sale.  If you are not keeping the property for the long term, you make your life easier by selling it as soon as possible.
  • If you inherit any annuities or retirement funds, those funds are taxable by the Federal government if they were tax-deferred plans such as 401K, traditional IRA, etc. Pre-pay that tax before you receive any funds if at all possible.  It may not always be possible to pre-pay the taxes so ask the financial institutions involved about it.

The more you pre-pay taxes, the easier filing your return becomes. In this it is no different than when you choose fewer tax deductions as you are working and thus have more taxes taken out of each check as you earn. When the tax season hits, a refund is easier to handle than a big tax bill. Err on the side of caution and pay as much tax as you can before you receive funds from the estate so you don’t over spend and find yourself unable to pay those taxes when the bill arrives.

Now here is the good news:  what is NOT taxable:

  • Cash, savings, checking, and certificate of deposit funds.  That is because the deceased already paid income taxes on those funds.  You do not report these funds to the IRS.  It’s your money.
  • Proceeds from the sale of a home if the executor has paid all applicable taxes up front.  In the common case of a home being sold and its funds being dispersed to multiple beneficiaries, those beneficiaries do not pay taxes on it nor do they claim those funds as income because all taxes have already been paid.  For example:  a home sells for $100,000.  After taxes, attorney fees, and other closing costs the net sale is $80,000.  The Will specifies two beneficiaries which then each receive $40,000. The $40,000 received is not taxable because it’s the net after taxes are paid. The beneficiary does not pay tax on the $40,000; the money stays off the tax return.

 

good-morning-america-18-june-2001-002

My mother and me during a 2001 visit as part of the studio audience for Good Morning America.  This is us with anchor Charles Gibson, one of my mother’s favourite celebrities.

Now of course I’m not a lawyer.  I am not a tax professional. I’m a historian and an author from a humble background.  My mother was not a rich, glamourous person.  She was a teacher before I was born and a factory worker and retail clerk for most of her working life after I was born. She was very average, living paycheck to paycheck and doing creative things to keep us fed and with some sort of roof over our heads.  So her estate was not massive and there were no capital gains taxes that I needed to concern myself with.

Maybe this blog post is useless. But maybe it helps you too.  I stressed out for MONTHS over the tax consequences of my mother’s death. I smartly put 30% of my inheritance into a high yield savings account (I switched to Ally Bank to maximize those earnings) in part because I was terrified that I was going to have to pay nearly everything I inherited back to the government.  I did not. A tax professional explained to me what I just posted and set my mind at ease.  I hope this post does the same for you.

Rest in peace mom. May you find joy in your new incarnation and the love you never found in this life.

King Stephen and Herr Trump: thoughts on the inauguration

Today Donald J. Trump will take the oath of office to become the 45th President of the United States. He does so as the most hated and distrusted person to ever swear that oath, an oath that he refuses to uphold and will never uphold beyond his ability to use the government of the United States for personal profit, something explicitly forbidden by the Constitution of the United States and therefore the oath he is about to take.

trump

Taking an oath of office you have no intention of upholding is nothing knew.  Nearly every king and queen regnant of England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom has sworn a coronation oath.  Here is that oath and coronation ritual as King Stephen swore it on 26th of December, 1135 when he usurped the throne of King Henry I’s daughter and heir, Empress Matilda:

stephen

“Do you Stephen de Blois solemnly swear to uphold the three duties of the king of England? Will you swear first, that the church of God and the whole Christian people shall have true peace at all time by your judgment; Second, that you will forbid extortion and all kinds of wrong-doing to all orders of men; Third, that you will enjoin equity and mercy in all judgments?” asked the Archbishop of Canterbury as he stood before the assembly at Westminster Abbey.

“I so swear!” promised Stephen.

The archbishop turned to the nobles assembled before him, “Do you, members of the Witan council consent to this man ruling as your king?”

“We wish it and grant it,” confirmed the Witan.

“Stephen de Blois, it is the will of the English people that you are to be king!  Receive now the anointing from God through me that you may be blessed in your reign!” proclaimed the archbishop as he anointed Stephen on his hands, breasts, shoulders, and arms with holy oil prepared for the coronation. In honour of the king’s duty to protect his people, he girt Stephen with a mighty sword before placing the royal crown upon his head. The royal ring he placed on Stephen’s finger. The sceptre and the rod he placed in Stephen’s hands. Finally, and at long last King Stephen sat down on his throne, his ambition fulfilled.

 

Trump’s coronation today (for there’s nothing democratic about his “presidency”) will resemble King Stephen’s in many strikingly similar ways–as will his reign. Stephen of course did not have nuclear weapons.  But like Trump, Stephen was a sort of puppet, a weak-minded monarch who allowed shrewder and even more ambitious men to use him for their personal gain — at the expense of not only the English people, but the entire island of Britain. King Stephen’s reign and its impact on England, Scotland, and Wales is an important part of “Empress Matilda of England.”  

empress-matilda-of-england-web

Empress Matilda of England tells the story of Henry I’s sole surviving legitimate child.

Matilda herself did not cross the Channel to assert her birth right upon hearing of Stephen’s treachery for she was heavily pregnant at the time and crossing the English Channel was a dangerous matter.  Stephen of course did not have nuclear weapons at his disposal.  Four hours from this writing, Donald J. Trump will.

We cannot afford delay in Resisting. We cannot afford to wait and see and hope that maybe Trump isn’t as bad as he seems.  Do not let the gas-lighting convince you to mistrust your own eyes, ears, and judgement. Do not get lulled into a false sense of security.

King Stephen inflicted eighteen years of civil war upon Britain, years called “The Anarchy.” They were among the worst years in British history.  Let us not allow history to repeat itself here.  Let us learn from history. Only our lives and liberties are at stake.

 

 

 

Repost: Sweet potato hash brown egg cups

Reposted from http://www.today.com/recipes/sweet-potato-hash-brown-egg-cups-recipe-t106986

sweet-potato-hash-brown-egg-cups

COOK TIME: 30 minutes
PREP TIME: 20 minutes
SERVINGS: 12

Eggs and hash browns go together like, well, eggs and hash browns! But eating them in a muffin-form makes them even better. I love to top mine with avocado and a drizzle of hot sauce. This is a great recipe to make on a Sunday morning because if you have leftovers, they are the perfect breakfast on-the-go for later in the week.

Technique tip: Squeezing the grated potatoes in a paper towel before baking them will remove excess water and make for a crispier hash brown shell.

Swap option: You can definitely stick to one potato or the other, depending on your preference. I like to add one russet potato to the sweet potatoes because I feel like it creates a crispier hash brown. You can also experiment by adding veggies or cheese before placing the eggs on top.

Ingredients

    • 1 tablespoon butter
    • 1 small onion, finely diced
    • 3 cups sweet potato tater tots (defrosted)
    • 1 cup regular potato tater tots (defrosted)
    • 12 eggs
    • Cooking spray
    • Salt and pepper

Preparation

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

2. In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add the onions and sauté for a few minutes. Add the tater tots, season with salt and pepper and sauté for roughly 10 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, break them up while they cook so they resemble hash browns. Set aside.

3. Line a few paper towels in a large colander. Place hash brown mixture into the paper towel. Wrap up the potatoes with the paper towel and squeeze out as much water as you can. Then place in a large bowl.

4. Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray. Take a few tablespoons of the hash brown mixture and place in each cup, using fingers or a rubber spatula to push the potatoes into the bottoms and up the sides of the cup, creating a tight nest. Spray once more with cooking spray.

5. Place hash browns into oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool slightly.

6. Crack one egg into each cup. Season tops with salt and pepper. Place back in oven and cook for another 15 minutes, until whites of eggs have set (you can cook for longer if you prefer a firmer yolk).