Thursday, December 25, 2008


LIGHT looked down and saw darkness.
"I will go there", said Light.

Peace looked down and saw war.
"I will go there", said Peace.

Love looked down and saw hatred.
"I will go there", said Love.

So he, the Lord of Light, The Prince of Peace, The King of Love,
Came down and crept in beside us.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

How Many Footsteps

ON a visit to the historic city of Lincoln, we attended a beautiful and extremely moving event entitled "The Journey". Described as a "travelling Nativity", the annual event takes place in the grounds of Lincoln Castle and traces the footsteps of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men as they journey to Bethlehem. The performance takes place in the dark with figures often showing only as silhouettes, the audience led on foot behind the narrator around the grounds. Instrumental and vocal music completes the poignant display.

I felt like I was treading on sacred ground. Not because of the performance, though this would have been beautiful in any location. But here in the castle of this midsized English city I was struck by the enormity of the history that had taken place beneath my very feet. The earliest origins of Lincoln can be traced to the remains of an Iron Age settlement of round wooden dwellings that have been dated to the 1st century BC. A fortress was built by the Romans on the site of the present castle, and the town was a trading post during Viking times. In 1068, the Norman William the Conqueror had a castle built on the Roman ruins. Much of this medieval castle still stands, supplemented by later buildings used for, among other things, a debtors' prison, and a courthouse still in use today. One of the original copies of the Magna Carta also resides here. How many people - great or lowly - had stood on the same ground as I now stood over the past 2000 years? What did they do, say, think? It was a humbling experience.

Day is Done, Gone the Sun

SOMEHOW in eleven years of living in Atlanta I've never really noticed the difference in daylight hours between here and England at its higher latitude. But as the Winter Solstice approached and passed, the difference became all too evident. According to a day length calendar, there are over two hours less daylight in London than in Atlanta in December - unfortunately those seemed to be the very two hours we often spend outside at home. So on the few days we had nothing planned during our holiday, we had to rethink our daily rhythm to take advantage of the daylight hours. Mornings weren't a problem, but Emma was a little confused getting up from an afternoon nap when it was already dark. How different life must be in those places where daylight is very much more limited.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

English Holly

EN route to a park on foot, we spotted many holly bushes and trees. In residential gardens, in vacant spaces, in the woods, we noticed that of the 50-odd instances of holly we passed, only a single bush bore berries. This of course led our inquisitive minds to wonder why. Here is some of what we discovered:

* Although mature in late autumn, the berries are very bitter so are rarely touched by birds until late winter after frost has made them softer and more palatable. So maybe it wasn't cold enough...? Our hats, scarves and gloves indicated that this was unlikely.
* Hollies are dioecious. To the non-botanists among us, this means that you need both a male and a female plant for reproduction to work. So the berryless plants we saw could have been all male, or all female with no male in the vicinity to pollinate them.
* A poor show of berries can also be due to cold winds and wet periods during flowering, which deter insects from pollinating the plants. (Wind and rain in England? How could that be?)
* Of course, the birds could just be really hungry.

Whatever the cause, I was relieved to see plenty of berries on another walk, so all is not lost.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Family Gatherings

TO our good fortune, a family wedding took place close enough to Christmas for us to attend both events with family. We have now embarked on our annual visit to Europe, staying in England and enjoying also the company of German grandparents who are visiting for a few days. We always try to make the rounds of as many people as possible, but this time we have already, or plan to, see every one of our 'immediate extended' family on my side with the exception of two. For our little family of four on the other side of the world, all this clan gathering is wonderful! All in all, our visits have included or will include (from the children's standpoint) one great grandma, four grandparents, three great aunts and uncles, six cousins once removed, ten second cousins and one uncle. How lovely to see all the children playing together!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

It's a Batty World

EVER since Emma saw a bat box a few months ago, she's been fascinated by bats. So when we happened to walk out in our garden in the dark and I saw a bat flying overhead, I thought she'd find it pretty cool. WRONG! For the next few days she was petrified of them and made me shut the doors all the time so the bats don't fly in and get her. But gradually the interest is returning, and as she's asking me questions I'm finding I don't know the answers. So I thought I'd look into them a little this evening.

It's probably little brown bats we have in our neighborhood. They are brown, and 2” to 3” in length with a wingspan of 9" to 11”. Little brown bats begin foraging for food after sunset, flying 10' to 20' above ground searching for flying insects. They can eat as much as half their weight each day in mosquitoes, beetles, moths and other insects. Bats navigate by sending out high squeaks that bounce back to them from things that are in their path, a process called echolocation. They roost in hollow trees, caves, rocks and sometimes buildings, using hooks on their hind legs to help them hang upside-down. The mama bat usually has one baby in May or June. At the beginning she's into babywearing, carrying her infant in flight for a week or two. This gets old pretty quickly though - after two weeks she hangs the baby up while she goes off for food, and by three weeks the young'un's on his own. It's a tough world out there.

My next step is to get hold of a copy of Stellaluna by Janell Canon, the story of a baby bat who grows up with a family of birds. Maybe a bat finger puppet to join Emma's growing collection of animals for storytime will help dispel the fear too. Hmm... so many fun possibilities.

Five Little Bats

Five little bats ready to soar,
One flew away and that left only four.
Four little bats hiding in a tree,
One flew away and that left three.
Three little bats looking down at you,
One flew away and that left two.
Two little bats hiding from the sun,
One flew away and that left just one.
One little bat hanging all alone,
He flew away and then there were none.