Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What the Amish Can Teach Us About the Simple Life

What the Amish Can Teach Us About the Simple Life

By Georgia Varozza

Harvest House Publishers

 February 2013

In order to show us what we can learn from the Amish, Georgia Varozza first shows us how a typical Amish family functions. Just the absolute basic statistics are enough to give me pause:

A typical Amish family will have seven children and two adults. This means that 27 meals have to be prepared every single day. Bereft of modern electrically powered appliances, the Amish wife will be hand-washing at least 27 plates, 27 glasses, 81 pieces of cutlery plus all the pots, pans, serving dishes and utensils.  Bread and cookies will be part of the daily fare, and all will be home-made. Most of the canned vegetables and fruit will have been prepared by her too, and she will have grown most herself in her home garden.  And that’s before we start on the house cleaning, garden work and laundry work as well as child care. If some of her children are growing daughters, she will have extra help with the chores; if she has sons, they will be learning to help their father tend the fields, look after the livestock or manufacture hand crafted items.

Despite this awe-inspiring amount of work, every Amish family manages to spend a large amount of quality time together as a family by having a strong work ethic from a very young age indeed and by having good daily routines in which a great deal can be accomplished, and this is an area many of us could benefit from emulating. Children from toddler age upwards can learn to help their parents with simple but necessary chores in the home and garden. She gives book titles which may be of interest or help, as well as practical suggestions for cleaning routines and recipes for cheap and easy home-made cleaning products, laundry soap and even dish-washer soap and personal care products!

The garden receives similarly detailed treatment, from lawn maintenance to growing your own fruit and vegetables from scratch. Raising back yard livestock such as chickens, rabbits, pygmy goats or bees - even in a small urban garden - is perfectly possible in many places, and again, we are given clear, good basic information about getting started with caring for these creatures.

Chapter 6 is my favourite. Keeping technology where we want it is easier said than done in our modern technological age. The Amish are slow to accept any modern technologies and very careful to utilise only what is truly essential and has major benefits for the maintenance and well-being of their simple living lifestyle and communities.  When is enough truly enough? At what point do we realise that having more and more complex and expensive “things” is not actually making us happier or enhancing our family relationships? Thoughtful and considered use of technology is good, but allowing it to rule our lives and homes is not necessarily a good thing.

It may seem that all these ideas are just common sense but the bottom line is that all too many of us – myself included - have fallen into the trap of an ever-deepening and increasingly more expensive consumer lifestyle which is no longer financially sustainable in the current financial climate. Learning to be more frugal, more careful, more sensible in what we do and choose to spend our money on is indeed simple common sense, but also a wake-up call to be  better stewards of what has been entrusted to us – a lesson which the Amish already know.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Bum Fodder: An Absorbing History Of Toilet Pape

Bum Fodder
An Absorbing History Of Toilet Paper
by Richard Smyth

Published by Souvenir Press, London 2012

Toilet paper has to be one of the things which most of us would hate to have to live without.  A walk into any supermarket will  show  a bewildering display, shelf after shelf  of different brands proclaiming the virtues of absorbency, texture, moistness and perfumed additives to this essential adjunct to hygienic modern life.

It hasn’t always been like this, as I have hideous memories of the ghastly IZAL toilet paper that was used in my primary school in the 1960s/70s: shiny and completely useless on one side, matt and incapable of absorbing moisture on the other side, so no matter which call of nature had driven you to use the bathroom facilities, you were guaranteed to be incapable of dealing effectively with the aftermath. My great grandmother lived in a house which did not have indoor plumbing and I can vividly recall visiting her and having to use the “privy” at the end of the garden, which had neatly torn squares of newspaper impaled on a nail to use in place of toilet paper.

I had never given much thought about how people managed bathroom visits between Roman times (when the trusty sponge stick stored in vinegar had to suffice) and the invention of toilet paper, so “Bum Fodder” has been a revelation and a source of endless amusement to me. I had no idea that references to Rabelaisian type humour actually included pure toilet humour, but several  of  Rabelais’ stories do in fact relate the exploits of Gargantua, a giant who proves to be something of a connoisseur when discussing what works best in the post-toilet cleansing procedure.

No matter how bizarre a substance, humans appear to have used it in an attempt to find something which is acceptable in terms of comfort, cost and functional efficiency, from sponge, cloth, wool, moss, corncobs, leaves and shells or even handfuls of snow, right up the invention of paper by the Chinese in 100 CE and the development and usage of toilet paper as we would recognise it in the sixth century AD.  Joseph Gayetty is credited with marketing  toilet paper in the USA in 1857, although in Britain, G.W. Atkins & Co claimed to have been producing it since 1817 and proclaimed they had a Royal Warrant to do so.

Filled with detail about toilet practices through the ages and their depiction in literature and the modern media, and written with a real sense of fun, this is a book to delight anyone with a sense of humour, an inquiring mind and a reasonably strong stomach. No matter what your question about the origin, production, use and disposal of the product in question, the answer is likely to be contained within the covers of this book. Older teenagers would  love it, and it has certainly been a smash hit in our house, where it has been perused by readers aged  from  49 to 14.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Return Of The Snow

It started to snow - completely unexpectedly - again yesterday afternoon.

It didn't take long for it to start sticking and accumulating.....

Very soon the world was white.

And the snow flurries became heavier and more regular.

To the point where the bus company suspended some bus services at 4 pm and then ALL bus services at 6 pm. It took cars 80 minutes to travel the two miles from the motorway junction to our town and our daughter, DoomHamster, ended up getting a taxi home as the bus service terminated in BlogTown due to the snow. 
It was an evening of extreme anxiety till she got safely home, as the hills  (one on each possible route)  to leave our town were well nigh impassible going "up" due to the snow and ice except for four wheel drive vehicles, which we don't have. 

Heaven only knows how the taxi got back out of  dear little BlogVille to get back to BlogTown........

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Churchyard Scenes

Pictures from the Churchyard....

 View from my bedroom window...............

..and through the front door!

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Snow Days Revisited 2



Looking up the hill….



Across the fields to the next Bay.



A closer view.



The hay/sheep field, depending on the season.



Sheep were grazing today.



This one was close to the field edge and did not run away as I approached!



At the foot of the field, the sand dunes begin…



The photos simply do not begin to do the scene justice.


It was remarkable walking across the dunes in the snow.



I could have stayed there all day, just drinking in the view.


Looking back to the “new” ( 30 years+ !)housing development.



Across the dunes, across the sea towards another coastal town.



It was trying so hard to snow again whilst we were out.



And back in our garden, the snow lay on a twisted tree branch.

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Saturday, January 19, 2013


Well, we did get the promised snow, 
but nowhere near as much as was predicted. 
 It was enough to suspend the buses,
 close the local motorway and the schools,
  but it was wet snow, which  seemed to melt
 almost as quickly as it fell, 
and continued to do so all day. 

Rather earlier in the morning than  
I would have preferred to be awake.....

Looking through the window
 at the garden path....

The front garden again.

Out walking the Dog of Doom.

Walking through the village was fun.

 Artificial flowers in the churchyard provided
a splash of colour.

It fascinated me why the snow only
 partially obliterated the inscription on this gravestone.

I felt cold looking at this poor statue's bare toes!

It was a leaden grey sky, making the view 
very bleak indeed.

The preaching cross, with Our Lady and St John 
almost hidden by a covering of snow.

And by this stage, the Dog of Doom was fed up
 with having his walk interrupted by so
 many photo-stops, so off we went once more :-)

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Friday, January 18, 2013



A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God

by Mary DeTurris Poust

Ave Maria Press, December 3rd, 2012

How many of us can honestly say we  have a truly healthy self-image of ourselves and relationship with food?

 I know that I tend to eat unnecessarily because I am  bored, tired or in a bad mood as well as when I am hungry. I skip meals because I am busy, but fill up on junk food snacks instead.

This book looks at the roots of our relationship with food, from the first instance of food in the Bible - eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden to the nourishment of the Eucharist in the New Testament. The messages that Christianity has given us can be quite mixed, with examples of extreme piety often focusing on extreme asceticism too, with all the concomitant guilt and baggage that can  accumulate as a result.

Poust argues that this is not the message the Church really teaches, and that we need to respect our bodies, our stomachs *and* the food we put into them, as well as making sure we are spiritually nourished by prayer, partaking in the Sacraments and learning to be truly mindful of what, when and why we are eating food in general and high calorie, high fat food in particular.  Whether we are overly concerned with dieting or eating, we in the developed countries tend to have a markedly unhealthy obsession with food.

This is a slender volume, but one packed with wisdom and food for thought about developing a better relationship with food and our attitudes to our bodies.
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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Waiting For.........Snow

We may be getting the very first snowfall of 2013 tonight;  the weather forecasters have predicted 10 15 cm/ 4 - 6 inches of snow for our area starting about 3 am.

 We live on the coast, so we may just get sleet or a light dusting of snow, but the excitement is mounting in our house and the weather websites are being feverishly checked every half hour or so. As most of the staff for the girls' two schools live further inland, they could well be prevented from travelling to work and a  snow day may well happen even if we have nary a flake in our town!

If there is anything to report, photos will be posted :-)
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Book Review - Goodbye to Yesterday

Goodbye To Yesterday

by Wanda E. Brunstetter

Barbour Publishing, February 5th, 2013

When one picks up an Amish themed book, the stories almost always have a satisfying ending, even if it is in a way one didn't initially expect. There may well be trials and tribulations, but the reader can tell that things generally are going to work out.

This brand new series by Wanda Bunstetter looks set to buck this trend and turn it right on its head, as each book is destined to end on a cliffhanger, very much in the style of the original serialised books published in magazines, journals and newspapers.

In this, the first of six stories published at one month intervals, we meet Meredith and Luke Stoltzfus, a newly married young Amish couple who are experiencing financial problems after Luke's job at a furniture store ended some six months earlier. Their savings have almost run out and there are no new job prospects in sight.  This in turn causes emotional strain and a degree of depression in their marriage, and each fears the other may end up drifting away and losing respect for each other - a dreadful prospect. Their families have all offered financial help and support, and Meredith wants to look for a job herself, but Luke feels he should be the provider in their marriage.

When his uncle in Indiana offers him the chance to go and visit him and learn how to engrave headstones as a possible new career avenue, he is keen to jump at the chance despite his wife's reservations. What he doesn't know is that Meredith believes she may be pregnant, and she decides she does not want to add to his burdens and worries until she knows for sure. She stays at home to care for their house and dog - and wait for her midwife's appointment to confirm whether she is pregnant or not.

The promising new beginning turns very sour very quickly when Luke is attacked, beaten and left for dead on the journey to Indiana, and we have absolutely no idea what is going to happen next...... and I can't bear the suspense of waiting for the next instalment.
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Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Review - The Lesson

The Lesson

By Suzanne Woods Fisher
Published by Revell, 1st January, 2013

Mary Kate Lapp - known to many as M.K. - is Amish. In theory, her life should be simple, straightforward and pretty much mapped out for her: grow up, make a committment to God and her community, get baptised, get married and settle down.

 In reality, she is headstrong, clever and very much a free spirit, all of which tend to conspire to land her in sticky situations, much to her family's consternation. She can't quite make the decision to be baptised and settle down Amish for the rest of her life, and even gets a passport application form just in case she decides to flee the country and go travelling!

The day she comes across a murder victim and later manages to mow down the community's hypochondriacal schoolteacher seems to be her worst day yet, but when she is appointed to be the substitute schoolteacher, her life gets much, much worse.

Chris Yoder, the mysterious newcomer who is employed to help her father with the heavy harvest jobs on their farm has a complex and tangled backstory of his very own, and a young sister nursing her own secrets. Together with MK's determination to solve the murder and a spate of petty crimes as well as get to grips with having to teach youngsters who are all too well aware of M.K.'s mischievous proclivities when she was a school student herself, our heroine is faced with a set of challenges which would daunt many an adult, let alone an Amish teen.

 Little is as it seems at first glance, and Mary Kate's well-meaning efforts seem doomed to cause failure and chaos, to her dismay. M.K means so well, yet nothing ever goes according to plan. She is loveable, brave, funny, infuriating and flits from one near-disaster to another - but will she ever be truly content to stay Amish?

As one mystery is solved, things become more and more complicated, and the shocking tragic history which links the Lapps and the Yoder family finally becomes clear. This was an absolute pleasure to read, from the first page to the last.

 I was so sad to reach the end of the book, and hope we will re-visit Mary Kate's life in another volume.
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Saturday, January 12, 2013

An Amish Kitchen

An Amish Kitchen

By Beth Wiseman, Kelly Long & Amy Clipston

Published by Thomas Nelson, 2012.

This is another collection of novellas based around the experiences of the members of one Amish community in Paradise, Pennsylvania.

 It is a tried and tested format, and once again, it is both successful and enjoyable. A welcome bonus in this particular book is the welcome inclusion of 31 recipes for the Amish food mentioned in the stories: Soft Pretzels, Rose Petal Tea, Tomato Pie, Meat Loaf, Chicken In A Cloud and many more.

The stories themselves are relatvely short, gentle, spiritually nourishing and compelling reading, allowing insights into the very varied lives and characters, all of whom are united in their faith and their committment to living in their Amish community. Just as in any family, village or community, there are misunderstandings, conflicts, heartache and happinesss, and the people we meet are very much individuals.

In the first story by Kelly Long, we meet Fern Zook. Fern is a herbalist and healer for her community, who has been rigorously taught her craft by her loving - but forceful - elderly grandmother. Grandmother is keen to see Fern settled and content in a relationship before she passes on, and plays matchmaker between Fern and the critical Abram Fisher, who is caring for his younger siblings whilst his parents visit an ailing relative. His family responsibilities - and Grandmother's machinations - bring him into frequent contact with Fern, but will they manage to develop a relationship?

The second story by Amy Clipston introduces us to Hannah King and her family, who run a bed and breakfast guest house which generally caters to Englisch guests. The arrival of an Amish guest,Stephen Esh, who is looking to make a fresh start in a new community, piques her curiosity about his mysterious and tragic past.............

The final novella by Beth Wiseman introduces us to a whole family as we meet Eve Bender, who is faced with the stressful scenario of having to temporarily relocate her husband Benny and their rumbunctious young family back to her parents' home for two months while their own home is repaired after extensive storm damage. Her mother's health issues make for a truly poignant but amusing scene when she encounters her grandson's Chinese water dragon, and that is just one of the things Eve has to deal with during this difficult time. She grows closer to her mother than she had ever dreamed possible, and it turns out to be a period of great blessings for them all.

This is a gentle and intriguing collection of short stories, and one I enjoyed very much.
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Friday, January 11, 2013

Book Review - Candy Experiments

Candy Experiments

By Loralee Leavitt

Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, January 2013

Well this book was a riotous success in our household ! Right at the beginning, it says: "You may think that candy is just a sugary snack. Think again. With candy, you can become a scientific detective. Test candy for secret ingredients. Peel the skin off candy corn, or float an “m” from M&M’s. Spread candy dyes into rainbows, or pour rainbow layers of colored water. Turn candy into crystals. Make enormous gummi snakes. Sink marshmallows, float taffy, or send soda spouting skyward. You can even make your own lightning. Just try candy experiments."

It definitely shows you how to do all this and more. There are loads of experiments to try out, all with the scientific underpinnings very clearly identified and explained in simple and accessible language.

I really found it fascinating - did you ever wonder why there is sometimes "bloom" on chocolate bars? Heating then cooling chocolate allows cocoa butter crystals to split , and sometimes they reform in an unstable formation and make their way to the surface of the chocolate, causing the characteristic spots and streaks to form.

  This book would certainly be of great use to any family choosing to home-school or wishing to supplement the science classes given in school with some seriously enjoyable, cheap and purposeful, practical yet safe experiments.

  You too can turn your kitchen into a laboratory and have an enormous amount of fun!
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Book Review - Zayde Comes To Live

Zayde Comes To Live

Written by Sheri Sinykin, illustrated by Kristina Swarner

Peachtree Publishers, 2012

There are not many books dealing with imminent bereavement for young children, and although this one is written primarily from a Jewish perspective, it respectfully emphasises that there are many different religious beliefs about souls and life after death, which would make it a useful book to many people.

In this story, we meet a young girl named Rachel, whose beloved Zayde (grandfather) has come to live in her home because he is dying. Nobody initially explicitly tells her he is dying, but she is a perceptive child and quickly works it out from what family, friends and her Rabbi do not say and from her own observations of how Zayde has changed physically . He is chair-bound, reliant on oxygen and can no longer run or walk with her. Instead, their activities are limited to what Zayde can manage to do; playing cards, watching TV or what is going on outside the window, and Rachel realises that she can now do things for Zayde instead.

Her friends tell her their Christian and Muslim beliefs about the afterlife, but she realises that because her family is Jewish, these will not apply to Zayde and she wonders and worries what will happen to him when he dies and eventually asks Rabbi Lev who explains their religious beliefs.

Rachel’s relationship with her Zayde does not simply change, it deepens and she carefully stores up many memories and conversations she has with him; he assures her he is not afraid to die and that dying is a natural and inevitable part of life.

The illustrations perfectly complement the thoughtful and simple yet profound story, and it is a sweet and loving book which could act as a good starting point for a Christian family facing the death of a loved one and wanting to broach the subject with a young child.
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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Book Review: The Elephant in the Classroom

elephant-cover-e1353931162827 by Elizabeth @ The Garden Window
The Elephant in the Classroom
Helping Children Learn and Love Maths
By Jo Boaler
Published in paperback by Souvenir Press, London, 2010
I have just finished reading this, and I have to say that as a parent and school governor, this is  certainly the most important book I have read in the last five years.  Professor Jo Boaler is a mathematician and an educator, and is currently the  Marie Curie Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Sussex. She has an impressive track record as a teacher and as a researcher into how children learn mathematics, how they are taught mathematics (often very badly), and why so many children sadly fail to engage with maths on any meaningful level.
I fell into that last category very neatly; maths made absolutely no sense to me at school and I failed my Maths O level dismally badly.  At a young age I was written off by my maths teacher as having no aptitude for the subject at all, yet when faced with pages of molar equations which needed to be solved in my Chemistry O level, I came out with an A grade because the algebra needed to solve them was important, fun and actually made sense - unlike the dull, virtually incomprehensible algebra I had been taught in Maths class.  I have never really understood  why this divide between theoretical and applied maths was so wide and apparently unbridgeable,  but after reading this book, I have discovered that the teaching of maths in the UK and the US has been so narrow and proscriptive that it has doomed frighteningly  large swathes of the population to unnecessary failure.
The almost universal belief that males are much better at maths and science than females has now been exploded. It is only in recent years, as maths results of male students  have deteriorated and results achieved by females have improved that any real notice has been taken of how maths is being taught in our schools; Professor Boaler presents a convincing comparison of what she has observed first hand in schools with the research outlining how traditional methods of maths teaching fare when  compared with the results and teaching presented in other countries. The disparity between the results is huge and rather frightening; she argues that it is essential that we act now in order to stop the rapid decline in maths standards and achievements  in our students and reverse the trend. There is a substantial body of research which supports her analysis of the situation and she is at pains to provide extensive resources for interested teachers to use to enhance the learning and outcomes for groups of children or for parents to use at home with their children.  She argues that maths should be taught as enjoyable problem-solving both at an individual and a group or class level rather than a solitary pursuit involving enormous amounts of learning rules in order to achieve the results needed by schools in the mandatory SATS testing of children.
I was particularly pleased to see that she makes reference to the important role that school governors can and should play in ensuring that the  maths  taught at grass-roots level in primary schools is working, and if not, what could and should be done to improve things. I would urge anyone who has an interest in education or who has children or grandchildren of school age to get a copy of this book  and see how differently maths could and should be taught. If you struggled with maths at school, you could be in for a pleasant surprise as you find that you *do* have an aptitude for maths after all !

The book can be bought directly from Souvenir Press.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Birthdays and Books

Needless to say, I had books for my birthday yesterday, and money with which to purchase even more books :-)

I am now the proud possessor of the new Terry Pratchett encyclopaedic companion, catchingly titled "Turtle Recall", which is going to provide hours of pleasure for the three Pratchett fans in the house, and a smile from the Arnie fan in the house, even if he doesn't read Pratchett.

Special thanks have to go to my very dear friend Mary R, who sent me a veritable treasure trove of gifts, all of which are wonderful :-)  I am currently listening to the CD of the St Petersburg Chamber Choir, which is simply lovely, and am the delighted possessor of a lace effect St Nicholas ornament, a new diary, an intricate heart shaped home decor  pendant with "Home Sweet Home" on it, and photos will follow in due course........

What did I do on my birthday? The Hubster took me to Starbucks for a coffee and McDonalds for breakfast, I went to two hours of Latin class in the afternoo and we splashed out on an Indian takeaway for supper: Chicken Korma, Meat Biryani, Onion Bhajis, Pilau Rice, Chips, Peshwari Naans, Poppadoms, Mango Chutney and Coconut Chutney. It fed four of us, and there is plenty left over for lunch for the Hubster and I today. 

Happy Times !
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