Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Best of Amish Friends Cookbook Collection

The Best of Amish Friends Cookbook Collection

By Wanda E. Brunstetter

To be published by Barbour Books on July 1st, 2013

This is probably the ideal first Amish cookbook to buy. Filled with mini-essays on Amish life as well as recipes, the book has photographs of Amish life and the foods mentioned and it is beautifully designed and presented. It is extremely useful having a comb-bound recipe book which will open and lie flat!

Some Amish cookbooks give recipes which are heavily reliant on convenience foods as ingredients, but I only noticed three recipes which needed cake mix or pudding mix; all the rest were "made from scratch".  There is a good selection of recipes for many foods which are commonly referred to in Amish stories, and my daughters and I are already planning out a week in the summer vacation from school when we can have a whole week of Cooking Amish.

It is particularly nice to see the names of the owners of the recipes and the places where they come from, and the only thing I think is missing  are some typical sample menus so the reader could see the amount and variety of dishes that might commonly appear on a typical Amish table.

It would make an ideal gift for anyone who loves Wanda's Amish books and it is great to see the two original cookbooks combined  into one volume. I am so looking forward to buying a  print copy to add to my cookbook collection!

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Mishan's Garden

Mishan's Garden

By James Vollbracht

Illustrated by Janet Brooke

Wisdom Publications; due out October  15, 2013

A short but incredibly sweet book which tells the story of an innkeeper's daughter, Mishan, and her plan to plant a beautiful garden in an inhospitable mountainous climate.

Mishan is a rare soul who can see the good in everyone and knows instinctively how to say things which bring out the very best in them and encourage them to behave in ways far better than their usual behaviour.

Her influence in her small village is profound, and the reputation of the goodness of the village and its inhabitants spreads far and wide, all because of Mishan's loving heart, kind words and wonderful example to others.

Ostensibly a child's book, it has the capacity to touch the heart of everyone who reads it, and the lovely illustrations reinforce the story's powerful message.

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Sunday, June 23, 2013



Why Psychiatry is doing more harm than good

By James Davies

Published by Icon Books, May 2013

What would be your worst nightmare?

How about being wrongly diagnosed with a disease for which there is no objective evidence that it even exists, and then being prescribed medication which is not only barely more efficacious than a sugar pill placebo in actually treated the alleged "disease" but also has the capacity to cause some very nasty side-effects indeed?

How about finding out that mental disorders and diseases are being "discovered" by a committee of doctors who decide precisely what and how many symptoms are  needed to be diagnostic of these "mental health problems", name them and recommend appropriate drug treatment for them, all without any objective evidence and most of the committee members receiving generous grants from pharmaceutical companies?

That by these definitions, 25% of the population at any given time is suffering from a mental illness?

How about being told that if you have not completely recovered from a close bereavement  and resumed your normal lifestyle in two weeks (yes, that is correct - two weeks!)  that you obviously have a mental health problem which needs to be treated with medication that is largely ineffective and may be positively harmful ?

How about a group of medical researchers attending a variety of psychiatric hospitals, all pretending to hear a voice which says "Thud" but otherwise behaving perfectly normally, all being subsequently admitted to hospital, diagnosed with a variety of mental diseases and treated accordingly, and that the psychiatrists concerned were not capable of differentiating between those who truly were mentally ill and those who were faking illness?

How about theories being postulated which would seem to "explain" the biological causation of some mental illnesses, and then highly lucrative drugs being developed and aggressively marketed to "treat" these illnesses, all without a shred of proof that these theories are right?

How about the very careful suppression of any data which does not show the latest (and highly expensive to develop) "wonder drugs" to be effective or safe?

Self-harming in the UK rose to public attention in the late 1980s and a  local epidemic of anorexia nervosa started in Hong Kong in 1994. Frighteningly, psychiatric and media publicity about these disorders did not help to support or cure sufferers nor reduce the incidence of these events, but in fact did exactly the opposite - some psychiatric disorders actually  increase once they have achieved some form of cultural recognition. A fascinating chapter describes "psychiatric contagion" and how people can very easily be influenced to think or behave in certain ways so as to fit in with the beliefs and actions of others around them.

The experiences of a UK doctor who was enlisted by a pharmaceutical firm to give talks about their latest "wonder drug" to other doctors make sobering reading indeed in another chapter.

Are you starting to get rather worried?  I know that I certainly am, and the scenarios I have listed are just a very few of the points made by James Davies in his expose of some of the  many flaws of modern psychiatric medicine. Davies does not have an axe to grind and has extensive experience of working in the mental health field as a psychotherapist in private practice and also voluntarily within the British National Health Service, as well as being a social anthropologist. He is extremely concerned about how people with mental illnesses are being regarded and stigmatised by the general population.

This is a riveting and rather terrifying book which made me extremely angry that some of the most vulnerable people in society are not receiving the standard of care one would wish them to have. Conflict within  the field of psychiatry over the role of medication versus therapeutic psycho-social, familial and societal interventions means that it will be hard for the specialty to change its dependence on medicating every possible mental disorder in favour of a more holistic approach, yet it does need to happen.

Anyone with an interest in  modern medicine or  mental health care issues will find much to ponder in this book.

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Revelation In Autumn

A Revelation In Autumn

Part 5 of The Discovery saga

By Wanda E. Brunstetter

Published by Barbour Books, June 1st, 2013

Meredith and Luke's infant makes a dramatic entrance to the world at the beginning of this book, and the story races along inasmuch as an Amish-themed book can do.

Meredith is getting used to life as a widowed mother and continues to worry bout her meagre finances, whilst her old friend Jonah is falling deeper in love with her everyday.  Meredith's mother-in-law is fiercely protective of her and her new grandchild and really takes a dislike to the kind and helpful Jonah, doing everything in her power to dissuade the embryonic romantic relationship she sees between Jonah and Meredith. Merry's sister Laurie has made the decision to marry her Mennonite boyfriend and will not be joining the Amish church, causing a degree of sadness within the family.

In the meantime, the amnesic Eddie is settling in well with Susan and Anne's kindly grandparents and is doing his best to be helpful to the older couple.On one of his days off, he goes to see a hot air balloon display, and in a twist of fate, he and Meredith end up in the same place at the same time, though neither gets to see the other clearly - they are so near, yet still so far from each other!

Just as Eddie  is starting to remember a few things about his former life, Merry is making the decision to allow Jonah to court her......will Eddie regain his memory about his identity and his marriage, or will it be too late for the young couple to be reunited?
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Friday, June 21, 2013

A Hobbit Journey

A Hobbit Journey

Discovering the Enchantment of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth

By Matthew Dickerson

Published by Brazos Press, September 2012

The Hobbit has had a profound influence on modern life and continues to be a bestseller in its original book form, adaptations and latterly in film form. This is a book for a real Tolkien fan, not so much for a casual reader, as it is an in-depth study of the main themes - and brings into the discussion many elements and topic areas  - both of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Silmarillion.

It manages to tie in historical themes, the era in which Tolkien wrote and contemporary viewpoints in a seamless narrative and provides some truly fascinating discussion about the treatment of prisoners in Middle Earth and in our own times post 9/11 and the ethical issues, morality and indeed the spiritual nature of warfare.

Tolkien's own experience in the First World War colours his opinions and depictions of battles in Middle-Earth; he often describes them as terrible and victory is not held to be glorious  but full of sadness and death instead. Chieftains, leaders and kings in the story are renowned for their prowess in battle, but it is the moral high ground which is portrayed as glorious. The aftermath of war and conflict leaves physical, mental and spiritual wounds which all need healing as well as physical damage and disruption to homes and communities.

The nature of wisdom and its acquisition from bitter experience, the mixed blessing of great power and the significance and meaning of the One Ring as well as the nature of stewardship of lands and peoples leads on to an examination of  the concepts of freedom, choices and compulsion as well as salvation and social justice in Tolkien's works.

A hugely important book in the Tolkien field, this is a  complex and satisfying volume which will repay slow and careful reading  with frequent reference back to the original texts .  I have not yet read all of the Silmarillion so some of the finer points of the argument have undoubtedly escaped me and an in-depth study of the Tolkien canon is high on my to-read list!

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

The First 20 Minutes

The First 20 Minutes:
The surprising science of how we can exercise better, train smarter and live longer

By Gretchen Reynolds

Published by Icon Books, January 3rd, 2013

Sports Medicine and Sports Science are rapidly changing specialties and many of the traditional ideas about exercise and nutrition held dear by many trainers, athletes and the general population are actually very out of date and in some cases, woefully inaccurate.

Even more worryingly, some cherished beliefs can be lethal... a case in point is the obsession with constantly drinking water when running marathons.  This actually caused some deaths from hyponataemia whereas nobody was recorded as dying from dehydration during the same time period. A problem has been created where none previously existed - so how many other inaccuracies are there?

Should we be carbo-loading prior to exercise?
 Is the Atkins Diet bad for you?
How much fluid do you need to drink when exercising?
When - and for how long - should you exercise for the best possible effect?
How should you assess and alter your nutrition?

She answers all of these  questions and many more, and, most intriguingly of all, she tells us why chocolate milk should be your new best friend....

Gretchen Reynolds examines the current scientific knowledge and makes it easy to understand, easy to implement and even more importantly, she writes in a wonderfully engaging style which leads readers effortlessly deeper and deeper into the science without ever overwhelming, bombarding or patronising them. Humour abounds in this book, which considering its complex scientific underpinnings, is a remarkable achievement.

Even if you do not regard yourself as an athlete and just want to generally improve your lifestyle a little, this book is crammed full of information to help you achieve your goal effectively and efficiently, as well as being a thoroughly good read.

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Telling Tales in Latin

Telling Tales in Latin

By Lorna Robinson

Published by Souvenir Press, 2013

I have been eagerly awaiting the publication of this new Latin course designed for children, and I was not disappointed. I study Latin at the local U3A and have collected a  wide variety of old and new textbooks; some are aimed at adults, some at children and all of the books so far have both redeeming features and failings. I live in perpetual search of the perfect Latin textbook, and this book is very close indeed!

I personally found the delightful colour illustrations, text layout and use of Ovid as narrator and guide to be refreshing and highly attractive, but I wanted to really put it to the "child test", so with the kind co-operation of a local primary school, I was allowed to work with a group of Year 5 children to see what they thought of it.

The book is pitched at the OCR Entry-level  Latin qualification, so I would be using it with a significantly younger set of children than the pre-GCSE children it is actually aimed at. To make it even more testing, it was a very mixed ability group and their comments were fascinating. They all liked the small format size of the book, which was not too intimidating for them. Everyone really liked the illustrations by Soham De which appear on every double page spread , the chatty, conversational style of Ovid's commentary and the use of speech bubbles. The paper  itself is sturdy and will stand up to heavy classroom use and frequent page-flipping.

These nine and ten year olds were delighted that even in the very first chapter, they were able to recognise and translate lots of the Latin words without needing to turn to the word list, which inspired them to ponder the other words to see if they could tease out their meanings. They were a little perturbed by the omission of "unda/undam" from the chapter word list and from the main vocabulary list at the back, but they liked the suggested activities and there was something to engage every child, no matter what their individual learning styles might be.

Every child was able to participate and contribute something to the discussion, and they felt this was a very accessible text for them as a Year 5 group. This would be an excellent choice of text to teach children aged 9 and upwards the rudiments of Latin, and as the book has all the vocabulary needed for the OCR exam, it is a very versatile text indeed. It moves smoothly and fairly quickly to quite complex sentences involving perfect and imperfect tenses and the first three declensions of nouns, covering a lot of Latin in its 101 pages.

Congratulations to all concerned in its production!

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Book Review - Real Men Pray The Rosary

Real Men Pray the Rosary: A Practical Guide to a Powerful Prayer

By David N. Calvillo

Published by Ave Maria Press, May 2013

The Rosary is often depicted as being a Marian devotion best suited and most commonly practiced by old ladies or by families at funeral vigils, and it is precisely this attitude which the book aims to dispel.
 I did a quick poll of my own Catholic friends and although many of the ladies pray the Rosary regularly, fewer men said they do so on a regular basis  - although they may do so on "special occasions".

The author's own encounters and his changing attitude to the Rosary set the scene for the life stories of other men who have discovered the power of prayer and depth of this devotion. The history of the Rosary is given and resources about how to go about making a rosary as well as how to begin to pray it. 

Many people actually know very little about praying the Rosary, and the fact that the Mysteries are so very firmly grounded on Scripture and the living historic tradition of the Christian faith may be quite a surprise to the casual reader from a non-Rosary praying family.  The excerpts from the writings of saints and Popes about the Rosary are very interesting indeed and add extra weight to the case for Catholic men to adopt the devotion as part of their spiritual development. The Rosary can transform hearts and lives, it can be prayed anywhere and at any time, even if you do not have a physical rosary with you. You can pray along with audio recordings, watch rosary broadcasts on TV or on the internet, or pray using your fingers when out jogging as well as praying at home with family members or in church. The possibilities are immense!

Despite the title, this book is not just aimed at men. Much of what is written is applicable to any Catholic or Anglican with a sincere devotion to the Mother of God and a desire to grow in prayer, and I also know of Antiochian Western Rite Orthodox friends who gain great spiritual comfort and benefit from praying the Scriptural Rosary. 

It was fascinating to read about the movement which has grown up specifically to  bring the Rosary back to the notice of men, and this also now has a significant internet presence. I hope this book (and its internet equivalent) may find its way into many parishes and do much good.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

How To Have Fun

I laughed till I cried,  watching the antics of these two precious little ones!

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Sunday, June 09, 2013

Margam Castle Gardens

The gardens are extensive and lovely.

Though the grass would never have been allowed to grow this long in the days of the Mansel Talbot family's occupancy of the Castle.....

The Hubster admiring what I think are miniature Japanese Acers.

A side view of the Castle.

Such colours......

And further down the hill, the remains of the mediaeval monastic Chapter House.

The stunning Orangery.

High up on a near hill is the very ancient Chapel used by the locals.

And a closer view.

Walking back to the car park, we could see more kites....

And still more kites! 
It was a lovely day out.

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Margam Castle

Margam Castle has some superb architecture. The initials M and T appear scattered in stonework and decor, referring to the Mansel and Talbot families.

The skyline is dramatic.

Even the chimney pots are decorative......

 Stained glass in one entrance hall.

And intricate ceilings.

Filming for the series "Da Vinci's Demons" continues inside the castle, and we were able to peep into the sets......

Like this one, meant to be a baronial-type hall.

A detail of the left hand side of the fireplace.

One of the wall-hangings scattered around the set.

The juxtaposition of faux-old sets, and modern film lighting was amusing.


I was not convinced at what they had done by adding greenery to the grand staircase.......

I did like seeing St Barbara placed in centre glory at the top of the stairs!


The staircase is truly magnificent, though quite tricky to photograph due to the light flooding in from the lantern windows.

I wanted an atmospheric black and white shot.....

I love this ceiling!

And the other side of the staircase. You could spend all day taking pictures......

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Saturday, June 08, 2013

Kite Festival 2013

This was the view as we were walking up the hill to Margam Castle.

It was a shame that DD3 missed the Kite Festival this year as it coincided with her school trip to Italy, but we kept up the family tradition and took all four kites with us anyway :-)

There were all sorts of wonderful kites there!

Lots of exhibitors were camping there for the whole Bank Holiday long weekend.

We saw kites on the ground, then slowly lifting up.....

The wind was slight and unpredictable, with long periods where there was no breeze at all....

But then this grey elephant and giant football did get aloft!

They made our kites look miniscule in comparison.

We were very proud to get our kite up and flying, in the end :-)

The giant penguin was great.

I could have watched it all day...

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Pond Life

I do love walking past this pond every day!

There was not a hint of a breeze - the ripples on the water were caused by fish
 rising to the surface to catch flies.

One of our resident swans.

And the rest of the family!

A nice close-up of one of the cygnets being inquisitive....

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