Friday, November 30, 2012

The Log Pile

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The Village Post Office

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Nooks And Crannies

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Hidden Garden.....

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And Very Old!

Tudor Cottage, one of the oldest houses in the village.

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Very New.....

DSC03295 by Elizabeth @ The Garden Window
DSC03295, a photo by Elizabeth @ The Garden Window on Flickr.
This is the newest house in our mediaeval village.....
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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book Review - His Love Endures Forever

His Love Endures Forever
By Beth Wiseman

Published by Thomas Nelson,
October 2012

I had every expectation of enjoying this book, having read and loved the first two in this series, but this one way surpassed my expectations and I am currently reading it for the fourth time :-)

 In this book, the normally harmonious relationships between the Amish and English families in Canaan  are disrupted when Danielle, Martha and Arnold's semi-adopted teenage daughter, falls pregnant by her Amish boyfriend who promptly abandons her and runs away from hs family too.

Danielle's best friend, Levi Dettweiler, steps up to the plate and offers to marry her, convinced that God is calling him to do this and to care for Danielle's baby as if it were his own child. Needless to say, his family are appalled at the prospect of the devout Levi abandoning his Amish faith and his mother Vera does everything she can to prevent the marriage taking place... her efforts are unsuccessful and we follow Danielle's attempts to come to terms with learning to be a wife when she does not know how to cook, clean or mend properly.

Both she and Levi are faced with an extremely steep learning curve as their lives change dramatically. Levi is outside the normality of his Amish community and Danielle is faced with living in a tumble-down house with no electricity.

Will they be able to overcome their initial difficulties and make a success of their very unconventional mixed marriage ? Will Vera ever accept Danielle as a true daughter-in-law? And what will happen when the baby's biological father turns up on the scene again part way through Danielle's medically complicated pregnancy? 

This was a true pleasure to read, following Danielle's breakneck journey from teenager to wife and mother in quick succession, and also her journey from being more or less agnostic to finding a growing faith in God, assisted by her loving husband Levi..
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Well, folks, I did it!
My story, Pumpkin Pie, reached the 50,000 words needed
 to successfully complete NaNoWriMo on Monday 26th November.
The story is nowhere near finished yet, but I had such fun doing it :-)
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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Book Review - Any Given Monday

Any Given Monday
by Dr James Andrews
Published by Simon & Schuster, Inc
Released on January 8th, 2013
This is a great reference book for parents whose children take part in competitive sports, or whose children train hard at sporting activities in general, for teenaged athletes and for those who coach sports.
There are many misconceptions about how injures happen, and  Dr Andrews has distilled the wisdom of his long and distinguished career in treating sports related orthopaedic problems to try to lessen the numbers of injured youngsters visiting his office every week.
Many people think that the younger  their children start a sport and train really hard at that sport, the better the chances of them succeeding.  In fact, the reverse is often true. Young children's bodies do not react to hard physical training in the way that older teenagers' or adults' bodies do, and once muscle mass is broken down as a result of over-exercise, it can be a long process to heal.
Injuries which an adult might dismiss as  minor can actually be extremely serious, and continued overuse of the injury can result in permanent damage by the time  medical help is sought. Some youngsters are on training schedules comparable to those of professional adult athletes, which is counter-productive at best and hazardous at worst.
Everyone wants  youngsters who show talent or interest in sport to reach their full potential, but there are pitfalls in most sports and Dr Andrews discusses twenty five different physical activities from cheerleading to basketball to wrestling and gives information on what warning signs to be aware of and what risk reducing measures can be taken to avoid incurring sport-related injuries.
A fascinating book, and well worth reading.
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Monday, November 19, 2012

Book review - The Amish Family Cookbook

The Amish Family Cookbook
by Jerry and Tina Eicher

Published by Harvest House Publishers
October 2012

I requested the digital edition of this book from NetGalley and received it in June.  I enjoyed it so much that as soon as it was released in the UK, I headed straight over to and bought a "real" copy of my own :-)

 I have pored over this book, chuckled over this book and enjoyed every single page. It is more than just  a cookbook; humorous stories about the Amish are scattered throughout the book and on every double page spread there is an Amish proverb.  On the pages which tell us how to make Chicken Fajitas, Spanish Rice and Chicken and Ham-Stuffed Manicotti, is this gem:

"To admit I was wrong is but saying I am wiser today than I was yesterday."

Many Amish cookbooks are collections of Amish recipes which have been collated by "Englisha" writers. This book consists of Amish recipes handed down from their families to Jerry and Tina Eicher, both of whom were themselves born and raised in Amish families.

We learn which recipes are special favourites of their own family, and the particularly hearty breakfast recipes are a special delight, though I think they will need to be reserved as very occasional treats for those of us who have a more sedentary lifestyle.

Many recipes can be prepared ahead and served later in the day or the next day, and have obviously been developed over the years to fit in with the particular constraints of a traditional Amish lifestyle.  Some convenience foods are included; this is not a "You will prepare every dish the hardest way possible" type of cookbook and the shortcuts are generally highly practical and sensible, The determined cook can easily do things the hard way if so desired......... with the possible exception of marshmallow fluff, which is an essential ingredient in making Jerry Eicher's favourite peanut butter spread !

So, what is in this cookbook? The chapters include:
  • Appetizers and Beverages
  • Breakfast
  • Cakes
  • Candies
  • Cookies and Bars
  • Desserts
  • Grilling
  • Main Dishes
  • Pies
  • Quick Breads
  • Salads and Gelatin Salads
  • Soups and Sandwiches
  • Vegetables and Side Dishes
  • and last but certainly not least, Yeast Breads.
There are recipes for venison as well as more commonly used meat, and I can think of at least one of my friends who might well be interested in trying some of those out soon.

Several recipes mention Velveeta cheese, which I have not been able to source here in the UK, but am assured by expat American friends that British Red Leicester cheese is a good alternative. Marshmallow fluff is fairly widely available here, but I have not been able to find an alternative for Miracle Whip yet, nor  refrigerated packs of buttermilk biscuits. If anyone can suggest one, or a UK source for cartons of frozen juice concentrate, I would be truly grateful!

I really do love the fact this is a spiral bound (comb-bound) cookbook, so it will happily stay open and flat when I am busy cooking. It doesn't have glossy photographs, but it does not need them - the book speaks for itself.

If you visit the publishers, and click on the Google preview at the bottom of the cover photo,  you can browse through the book and even download a chapter !
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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Book Review - Making Transit Fun!


Making Transit Fun!

How to Entice Motorists from Their Cars (and onto their feet, a bike, or bus)

By Darrin Nordahl
Published by Island Press
 April 17th, 2012
This is a book which was way, way overdue to be written, and it deserves to be widely disseminated, read, discussed and its ideas implemented in as many places as possible.
Everyone would agree that cars are useful, have a definite place in society - and that our roads are congested and our larger towns and cities are becoming difficult to traverse simply because of the enormous volume of vehicles on the roads.
The answer is not likely to be to build more and bigger roads and parking areas; even with restrictions on vehicle exhaust emissions, environmental pollution from cars remains a matter of concern to many "ordinary" people as well as to scientists and politicians.
Many urban car users would argue quite forcefully that they are forced to use their cars rather than public transport or alternative modes of transport because of cost, accessibility and ease of commuting; there are obviously many variables to take into consderation, but this book cleverly pulls together information and evidence from communities around the world and postulates that it really is possible to get motorists out of their cars and using other forms of transportation instead.
Interesting, thought provoking and full of remarkable photos, this book emphasises that alternative transport can be made to be fun, cheaper for communities to provide and use than cars, and that walking and cycling are also viable urban alternatives.  I was particularly taken with the idea of cycle sharing, which I knew had been introduced into London with a high degree of success.
Nordahl examines the sociological, political, town planning, safety  and time perspectives of transportation, as well as the all-important financial  perspectives; he fervently believes and teaches that it is necessary to think and plan "outside the box" to produce acceptable and viable alternatives to our traditional modes of transport. I'm not entirely certain how practical some of the ideas are -  it would certainly be interesting and fun  to have swings at bus stops to keep commuters happy while they wait, but in our community, they would sadly be vandalised within a short space of time - but I am still convinced there are ideas in this book which could change our community for the better.
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Book Review - A King James Christmas

A King James Christmas

Biblical Selections with Illustrations from Around the World

Edited by Catherine Schuon & Michael Oren Fitzgerald
Published by Wisdom Tales
12th Octber, 2012
This is yet another truly delightful book from Wisdom Tales publishers.
 So many of the Christmas Story  books aimed at children are written in contemporary English of varying degrees of banality.
This hardcover book tells the traditional story of Christmas in excerpts from the King James Bible, carefully chosen and placed in chronological sequence to tell the familar tale as a seamless whole whilst still retaining the sonorous dignity and beauty of the traditional language.
 It is divided into three main sections: The birth of Christ, the childhood of Christ and the teachings of Christ, which include the Lord's Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount, making this an incredibly versatile and useful book for parents seeking to teach their child about Christ.
It is copiously illustrated; there are very modern paintings, including some by the co-editor Catherine Schuon depicting a variety of cultures  but there are many colour  reproductions of classic works of religious art by great artists such as Fra Angelico and Giotto, some Greek, Russian and Coptic icons and wonderful photographs of details from mediaeval illuminated manuscripts and stained glass windows from European churches as well. It is a feast for the eye as well as for the soul and the heart of the reader.
 It even comes with an illustrated  presentation page, where it can be recorded who gave the book to whom. I think this is a particularly nice touch and marks this out as a  special and thoughtful gift idea.
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Book Review - Saint Francis of Asissi

 Saint Francis of Assisi
 by Demi
 Published by Wisdom Tales
 October 31st, 2012

Although this is an Eastern Orthodox blog and St Francis of Assisi is a RC Saint who was canonised post-Schism, I am mindful of the fact that I do actually have many Roman Catholic readers.

  I would like to draw this exquisitely written and illustrated book by the immensely gifted Demi to their attention.

The life of St Francis is deeply embedded in the Western world, even in this cynical age, and I was initially rather sceptical as to whether this book would add anything to the enormous amount of material already published about this perennially popular saint.  I am glad to say I was wrong to think so.

This small hardcover book  may be short in length, but it covers the life, deeds and legacy of St Francis in loving, beautifully written prose and superb full-colour  illustrations which grace every page. If I were a RC parent looking to choose just one book about St Francis for my children to read, enjoy and treasure, this would definitely be The One.
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Monday, November 12, 2012

Book Review- Accidentally Amish

Accidentally Amish
by Olivia Newport
Published by Barbour Books, October 2012

I really did not know what to make of the first chapters of this book, and I didn't know if I was going to enjoy it enough to continue reading. After a slightly hectic and initially confusing (to me, at least!) beginning, the book began to gain strength after strength, and I found I was thoroughly enjoying it.

Past and present are intertwined in the book, as our heroine, Annalise (Annie) Friesen, meets the Amish Beiler family under under highly unusual circumstances; she is the wealthy and successful owner of a company writing and selling business computer software and is being pushed by her soon-to-be former boyfriend/ lawyer to sign documents about which she has serious reservations. When she becomes concerned about her own physical safety, she goes on the run  and accidentally ends up at the Beiler family farm in the San Luis Valley.  She discovers a way of life diametrically opposed to her own, and is forced to re-evaluate her own beliefs about how best to conduct her life.

We also follow the historical journey of the original Beyeler family from religious and social persecution in Europe, to America, more specifically Pennsylvania, where they are encouraged by William Penn to settle and become an established community. Things do not run smoothly for the Amish settlers, and with the marriage of Jacob to a non- Amish woman after his wife dies, leaving him with a young family to care for, the family gradually splits into Amish and non-Amish branches.

The developing love interest between Annie and Rufus Beiler is a tad predictable but nicely handled,  and while it becomes ever clearer to Annie  that she may have to take decisive legal action to protect her intellectual property and her business, Rufus is faced with having to deal with sabotage and treachery from a business rival in a way that is congruent with his Amish beliefs.

Their paths continue to cross intentionally and unintentionally, and as she finds out more information about his family's emigration to America, she investigates her own family history, intrigued as they shared the same family name a few generations back.  Annie finds peace of mind in the small town setting rather than in the hustle and bustle of Colorado Springs; her decision to live more simply  and make some radical changes in her life makes no sense to her family and colleagues, but it does to Rufus and Annie is the catalyst for healing some family breaches both from the past and in the present.

The book is cleverly constructed and although I could see where the plot was headed, I did enjoy the resolution at the end. The only quibble I have is that Annie is pretty much a very nominal Christian at the outset, and over a very short period of time seems to be surprisingly willing to adopt Plain ways without having the necessary underpinnings of faith behind them, though to be fair, her faith does grow stronger and her relationship with God deeper as the book progresses.

The book is based upon the true story of the author's emigrant ancestors, and knowing that, the sufferings of the Beyeler family are all the more poignant.  This is the first in a series, with two more books being released in 2013. I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for them.
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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Not Quite The Weekend We'd Expected....

Only now am I sufficiently de-stressed to be able to look back on last Sunday and smile.

Earlier this year, we bought season tickets to enable us to travel to Longleat whenever we wanted  could afford to. We've managed to go back on several occasions,  and had great fun visiting the safari park, stately home and various other attractions.

After our last visit, which we all loved, we checked on the website and found that  Longleat was putting on a firework display last weekend.  Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, we were able to book a cheap family room at  nearby hotel, and leaving Basil in the loving care of Mrs DoomHamster, we left on Saturday morning. The journey there was very uneventful and pleasant, full of autumn colours and we  were lucky to avoid any traffic snarl-ups.

As always, I simply had to snap the Second Severn Crossing !

I also managed to get a snap of the first Severn bridge in the distance for DH, who likes it better.....

We passed through lovely countryside and some interesting places:

and finally, the stretch of Roman Road.


We arrived in Longleat nice and early, knowing that lots of local people would be taking advantage of the cheap rate £6 entry ticket just to see the fireworks starting at 6.30pm. We were directed to parking areas on the field of long grass near the river, which did make DH wonder what would happen if it rained later on as we do not have a four wheel drive vehicle.....

Longleat was its usual lovely self:

and we went on the train, which had been spookified for the occasion!
Because we had arrived early, we avoided the truly massive queues that built up later on.
Part way through the journey, the train slowed, then stopped,  and several of these jumped out at us.....
.... making the younger children scream.
They were in fact handing out sweets to all the passengers, and as I tried to photograph the one who leaned into our carriage, the train started to move, so this is what happened in the rapidly fading light.
Enough to give me nightmares :-)
We ambled over to the display area, where thousands and thousands of people were crammed in. It was dark and bitterly cold, and I could not believe that some parents were wearing hat, coat, scarf and gloves themselves, but were carrying very young children who wore only thin winter coats. One little girl we saw had hands that were blue with cold, and lots of babies were out without hats on. Crazy.
The fireworks were lovely, set to music. My camera in no way did them justice.
We had carefully positioned ourselves right by the only exit point, so we could make as speedy a departure as possible once the display ended. After the last firework, we turned and galloped as fast as we possibly could back to the car, knowing that if we had to wait for long, all the other cars passing over the grass would have churned  it into muddy ruts which our car would never have been able to safely navigate, especially in the dark and with hordes of other cars waiting impatiently behind us.
 Other people obviously had the same thought, as we were closely followed by one man who was running and pushing a small child in a pushchair at the same time and then by a procession of others. We reached the car, and were still fastening our seatbelts as DH carefully drove off the grass and onto the private road leading out of the estate. There were five or six cars ahead of us, and by the time we reached the junction between the grass and the road, the ground had indeed been churned into ruts, and it took us several attempt to get over them and safely onto the road. If we had left it any longer, we would most likely have been stuck there :-)
The traffic queues behind us were unbelievable by the time we reached the brow of the long incline leading out to the main road, and we headed straight for the supermarket to get some food, then back to the very comfortable hotel  room and a nice hot drink. 
Next morning, we slept late, till about 8.30am, and we were discussing what time we should get some breakfast and go back to Longleat to while away a few hours. We thought we'd made sensible plans, and it was only when DH opened  the curtains that we realised we would have to cancel our plans and head straight home as fast as we  could. At no point had the weather forecast included snow, but it was snowing heavily and settling on the ground. My husband said he'd been aware of some heavy rain in the night, but we hadn't expected this....
Needless to say, we grabbed our things and headed for the car, knowing we would be crossing lots of small country lanes and minor roads before we got safely back on to the motorway.
 It was lovely, but unnerving.
The journey home took almost four hours, and in some places there were nearly six inches of snow, which is a lot for those of us living in temperate climes :-)
 As many of the country roads were up and down hills, this meant some hair-raising moments, including when one police vehicle was stuck coming up a narrow hill and we were travelling down it.
 At several points we were travelling at  5 - 10 miles per hour, and then we hit the areas which had been hit by flash floods.  We ended up traversing many deep floods, crawling along at one or two miles per hour to avoid creating any "waves" which could send water up the exhaust of the car and causing us to get stuck. Of course, these were always the areas furthest away from civilisation and had no mobile phone signal either. It was really quite scary, and I was so unnerved I could not take any photos. That was the first time I'd ever been in a vehicle crossing flooded roads, and luckily our people-carrier is a "high" vehicle; if the floods had been an inch deeper, we would have been stuck. Several roads were completely impassable and one near Bath town centre was blocked off by police cars to prevent vehicular access as it was deemed too dangerous.
No sooner did we leave a flooded area than we would travel a few  miles and hit snow again. Luckily the  travelling conditions  improved a great deal when we managed to rejoin the motorway.
It was only when we reached the approach to the Severn Bridge that we took a deep sigh of relief and all trace of the snow disappeared.
And soon we were back on my beloved bridge again......
...and giving thanks for getting safely home.

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Friday, November 09, 2012

Book Review - Always Put in a Recipe and Other Tips for Living from Iowa's Best-Known Homemaker

Always Put in a Recipe and Other Tips for Living from Iowa's Best-Known Homemaker
by Evelyn Birkby
Bur Oak Books/ University of Iowa Press
 September 2012
Evelyn Birkby started to write her column - "Up a country lane" - in the Shenandoah Evening Sentinel newspaper in 1949, and has been writing it ever since. She went on to develop a career as a radio then television broadcaster, as well as writing several books. In this volume, she has revisited her articles and reflected and expanded on her favourites, producing an autobiographical memoir which is utterly absorbing and is one of the very nicest books I have read this year.
Despite the title, not every chapter does contain a recipe, but each one is sweet, honest, and rings very true to the reader. Life in a rural part of Iowa is described matter of factly but vividly, conjuring up a multi-faceted picture of the columnist's life as a farm wife with a young family and a variety of pets. Their family history, her memories of local history and events are all given this straightforward but lyrical treatment. Sixty five years of marriage and four children later,  she writes with enormous amounts of wisdom, humour, poignant reflections and plain good old common sense, which is in all too short supply these days. Living in the good old days was often harsh and hard when weather conditions were dreadful in the winter months. She looks back on the past with fondness but crystal clear clarity and does not fall into the trap of donning rose-tinted spectacles. The horrors of having to brave the elements to visit the outhouse on a cold winter's night are not glossed over!

She is honest about her cooking failures and mistakes; she was not initially a terribly good cook, but armed with the recipes given her by family, friends and readers, and after much practice, she became a good cook and realised that food was an important form of social and familial cohesion and bonding  as well as fuel for the body. Her section on potlucks will bring a chuckle to anyone who has ever provided food for a potluck. The entry about aprons, their uses, abuses, and cutting the apron strings off for her children when they grew up was one of my absolute favourites.
 I am not surprised that she was such a popular columnist for her local newspaper; I found something to enjoy or marvel at in each article. An absolute delight of a book, and the recipes are pretty darn awesome too !


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Friday, November 02, 2012

Book Review - The Horologicon

The Horologicon
A Day's Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language

By Mark Forsyth

Published by Icon Books, Nov 1st, 2012
For anyone who loves words, is intrigued by words, is baffled by words, or just likes to use intriguing words, this book would make the perfect present.

I actually fall into all of the above categories, so I settled down to read this with enormous anticipation and I was definitely not disappointed. For those of us who like browsing in dictionaries, but would like something novel, Mark Forsyth has come up with a remarkably clever plan of structuring unusual words according to the hour(s) of the day when one would be most likely to need them. Hence we start at dawn, with the dreaded alarm clock and debating whether to get up or feign illness, followed by washing and dressing, having breakfast, and so on. This provides time and space for the introduction and elucidation of interesting words and snippets of history and geography too, in some entries, especially 4pm, which is devoted to Tea.

The very first word in the book, the Old English "uhtceare", has only ever been recorded once, and means to lie awake before dawn worrying. Most of us have done this at least once, so it is a shame this potentially useful little word doesn't enjoy popular acclaim. One can only hope it will find a new lease of length after the publication of The Horologicon ! I was familiar with a handful of words through havng read the books of the wonderful Georgette Heyer, who was a rigorous researcher, determined to make her portrayal of the Regency period accurate to the minutest detail, but I have found dozens and dozens of new words to delight me and quite possibly drive the rest of my family insane.

If you've ever wanted to find a way to use the immortal phrase "night-foundered vicambulist" - a street walker who has got lost in the darkness, look no further, for this is definitely the book for you.
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Book Review - Mac & Cheese Please!

Mac & Cheese Please!
By Laura Werlin
Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, December 4th, 2012

 I was thrilled to find this book available for review at NetGalley, as my second daughter has been a massive fan of macaroni cheese ever since she was a toddler, and she is now grown up and living away from home! She has never met a macaroni cheese recipe she didn't like, and in this book there are loads more variations for me to try for her when she visits.

The book is chock full of hints and tips to make your mac n' cheese a triumph, whether you are cooking it on the stove- top or in the oven. Pages of cheese suggestions are given, most of which are available on both sides of The Pond. The only real drawback is that Velveeta cheese is not available here in the UK, but I am assured that a good substitute is Red Leicester cheese, which is widely available in British supermarkets.

 I was surprised to discover mac n' cheese's venerable history; it dates back to the time of Thomas Jefferson and was first included in a recipe book by his cousin, Mary Randolph. I knew it had a long history as a "boxed” food produced by Kraft in the 1930s, but not that it was this old. There are 50 recipes, each of them provided with a number of variations. They range from the basic, cheap and cheerful types to the luxurious and positively decadent, eminently suitable for entertaining guests.

 Whether you like your mac n' cheese cheesy, hot and spicy, filled with seafood, meat, poultry, vegetables or grains, made with whole-wheat macaroni or gluten-free, there will definitely be recipes for you to enjoy in this great little book !
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Thursday, November 01, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012

Yes, I have entered the glorious month of insanity that is NaNoWriMo for the fourth consecutive year!

I woke up this morning wondering what topic to choose, and sat at my computer desk with a blank page and an equally blank, I posted on Facebook:-

"I could write:
  •  a fictionalised history of our town
  • stories of the lives of the Saints of Wales
  • something dark, brooding and introspective
  • or have a bash at something completely different, maybe a hybrid Orthodox/Amish community.
Hmmm, some possibilities there. Time for coffee and some focused pondering..."
After some interesting banter with my FB friends, I decided to see how many of the above I could manage to incorporate into a post-Apocalyptic type scenario.  Surprisingly, I managed to crank out 1819 words in 55 minutes.  My typing is atrocious, and it wll take a while of editing to make it legible to anyone else, but I don't know whether to be impressed by my creativity or absolutely terrified by my undoubted ability to ramble excessively :-)
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