Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall at sunset

Monday, September 28, 2009

Snettisham hoard, Staffordshire hoard

Have you ever seen people using their metal detector at the beach?
Their hobby is looking for coins or other items of possible interest. I wouldn't be interested in doing it here but if I lived in England, well now, that's a whole other story. If I lived in England I'd forget the flea markets and the antique shops. I'd be out in the fields and moors with my metal detector looking for gold.
Every day in England people find items from the past buried in the soil under their feet. The 2 photos below are from the Snettisham hoard. Between 1948 and 1973, 11 different hoards were found. They all contained torqs - circular necklets made of gold or silver. All the ones pictured below are gold, and very elaborate gold at that.

Archaeologists don't know if these items were a jeweler's hoard, buried for safety, or if they had been deposited in the earth as part of a ritual sacrifice.

Just this week, one of the largest and most important hoards ever discovered was announced - the Staffordshire hoard.

It was found by an jobless man in a field with a an old metal detector that cost about $4.00.

The find is 1400 years old and valued in 7 figures.

If you'd like to read more about the Staffordshire hoard and see some of the items, go to http://www.dailymail.co.uk. Click on the Science & Tech tab. There is a small box that says "Field of gold unearthed after 1400 years."

It's definitely worth a look!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Hosea 2:15

"...she shall sing there as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt..."

I remember those days, Lord, right after I was born again. I remember the sense of completeness, the feeling that I was finally "home", and the awe I felt that You cared for me personally. Almost too good to be true.

But it was true.

Knowing that You knew everything about me, all my sins, even the secrets no one else knew. And You still loved and wanted me. That was the most unbelievable part.

So I did "sing in the days of my youth", rejoicing in what you delivered me from, and in the future set before me.

Now, looking back after all these years - how do I still be that young girl? There are times when I grow cynical and weary, mostly of myself but also the people around me.

But You said that Your yoke is easy and your burden is light.

It always comes back to basics. Being thankful and mindful of all that You have done for me and given to me.

Lord, help me daily to lay my life before you and praise and worship you, Almighty God.


Saturday, September 26, 2009


Remember Mel Gibson in Braveheart? The battle scenes with the warriors and their blue painted faces? That blue paint or dye would have come from woad, a plant that has been used for about 2000 years to make a highly coveted blue dye. You start by picking the woad leaves, shown in above photo.
Making woad dye is a laborious and time consuming process. In my second book, I have a character named Gethin, and he is a woad-maker. Woad makers had to live far away from any other population because of the odors produced in its manufacture. The scent of cat urine and rotten cabbage mixed with feces is one description!

Woad villages existed solely for the production of woad. The woad makers and dyers would have had various shades of blue permanently staining their bodies, especially their hands. If you look at the photo above of a young man lifting wool out of a dye vat, you can see that the rubber gloves he has on are stained a deep vivid blue.

Woad dye produced a gorgeous blue color. It must have been quite a contrast to the drab reds, browns, greens, and yellows that were usually worn. Only the wealthy could afford garments dyed with woad.

Woad was also used by the Picts and possibly the Celts to paint their faces for battle. It's also possible that the woad dye was used to tattoo men and women. The research I have done is inconclusive. I have a Pict character in my second book, too, and I chose to write that his tattoos were permanent.

The tattoos may have looked something like those on the young man and woman above. The Picts used designs of animals and fish in interlaced designs.

If you would like to read more about woad, check out Teresinha's site http://www.woad.org.uk/.

Last year I corresponded with Teresinha about some of the finer points of making woad while I was writing about my character Gethin. Her site is fascinating and it just might inspire you to whip up a batch of woad dye yourself!

Friday, September 25, 2009


Newgrange is a famous megalithic tomb or passage grave in County Meath, Ireland. Opinions differ as to its age - some say 3200 BC, other 5000 BC. Either way, it's older than Stonehenge by a 1000 years, and predates the pyramids in Egypt.

This is the entrance to Newgrange. Those large rocks are called kerbstones, and they are decorated by carvings in the stones. Below is a close-up of a figure called a "triskelion", composed of three interlocking spirals.

Below is a photo of one of several stone bowls inside Newgrange, probably used to hold the bones of the departed. In my first book, Ciara's Tale, my character Ciara hides inside a tomb at the Loughcrew mountain complex, and she crouches down into a bowl like this one.

The interior of Newgrange is cruciform in shape, the main passage leading off to three side passages, one of which is shown below.

But Newgrange wasn't used only for religious and funeral purposes. It also marked the winter solstice. In ancient times, people awaited the return of the sun and the longer days of summer with great anticipation. Winter was hard and cold, and many people didn't survive until the spring.

Each year the winter solstice takes place around December 19th to the 23rd. On those days, a beam of light from the rising sun at dawn would enter the roofbox over the main lintel at the entrance to the tomb and travel down the dark corridor.

It would pierce through the darkness and light up the back wall of the central chamber for 17 minutes. The people would know then that the they had reached the middle of winter and the shortest day of the year. Spring would come again.

In our modern age today it is hard to fathom what it must have been like for these ancient people. No calendars or clocks, just endless dark cold winter days. How amazing it must have been to stand inside this dark place and watch the sunbeam move down the dark corridor.

If you are interested in seeing a video clip recreation of an ancient solstice, you can go to

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Rose-Red City of Petra

This is the pathway through the mountain that leads to the rose-red city of Petra in Jordan. Petra was the ancient city of a people called the Nabataeans. It's a mysterious place that dates to 600 BC. The journey into Petra begins with a donkey ride down the steep mountainside until you reach the floor of the valley. Then you follow a narrow track through towering stone canyons.
At the end of the track you get your first tantalizing glimpse of the city of Petra, above.

Theories differ as to the function of Petra. Some think it was a ceremonial religious city, others think the Nabataeans actually lived there.
All the buildings and monuments are carved out of the soft red sandstone. There were public baths, garden, waterworks, and an amphitheatre.

This building is named "The Treasury", and it is the first building you see as you emerge from the narrow passage through the rock walls.
I visited Petra in 1978 and would love to go back again. If you'd like to see more of the buildings and monuments, you can go to www.nabataea.net/.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

You can never get to the end of God.

Psalm 139 says:

"Where can I go from Your spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?

If I ascend into heaven, You are there.

If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me."

The photo above is an electron microscope picture taken at 1000X magnification. The pointy spheres are grains of birch tree pollen, resting on the stigma of a passionflower. The little green things on the bottom right are passionflower pollen. How amazing is that?

Scientists are developing ever greater magnification abilities and guess what? As far down as you can go, there is no end to the structures they find. It's infinite.

Conversely, looking out into the skies beyond, new galaxies and star clusters are being discovered daily. The bottom photo is from NASA. It's a massive cluster of galaxies called Abell 1689. It is 2.3 BILLION LIGHT YEARS away from earth. I can barely get my mind around that.

And here's the truly amazing thing. God is there. As far down as you can go. As far out as you can go. God has already been there. I look at the perfection of the birch pollen - its tiny spikes made to catch hold of the flower's stigma. How can that be random?
I try to remember this at times when I have allowed God to be too small in my own life. I know that as a finite being, I will never be able to truly comprehend infinity until I see Him.

But these photos help me remember what an awesome God I serve.

That nothing is impossible with Him.

And nothing is too hard for Him, either!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Colonoscopy Tales

Just came home from work, which is an Endoscopy unit in a large hospital. For those of you without a medical background, that's where you go to have a colonoscopy (scope into the colon), an EGD (scope into the upper GI tract), or a bronchoscopy (scope into the lungs).

By far, the procedure we do the most is the colonoscopy. Which brings me to the topic for today.


And their underwear.

For the life of me I cannot understand why a man, in our unit to have a colonoscopy, would ask if he can keep his underwear on.

The first time this happened, 14 years ago, I thought the patient was kidding. But he wasn't. So I guess I'm used to the question by now but honestly, if you know where the colonoscope goes, how could you possibly think you should wear your underwear into the procedure?

So I started telling the male patients, after I had given them the gown to change into, "you need to take off all your clothes INCLUDING YOUR UNDERWEAR." I figured this would take care of it.

One time I came into the room after the patient had changed, and as I helped him into the bed I could see that he still had his underwear on. So I said to him "Now I know I told you to take off your underwear. Why didn't you?" (I said this very nicely, not mean.) And he said "I didn't suppose you really meant it." True story, no lie.

Now if a patient asks me if he can keep his underwear on, I tell him it's OK if he has a trap door in it. (This is only if I think the patient has a good sense of humor.) Or sometimes I'll say "Now what do you think?" At which point he smiles sheepishly.

I told a patient once that nurses had to have a good sense of humor to work in the Endo unit. And he said "Whaddaya mean! You have to have a good sense of humor to be a patient here, too!"

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Hosea 2:8

"For she did not know that it was I who gave her grain, new wine and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold - which they prepared for Baal."

I think this means that we take the good things that the Lord has given us - our gifts, talents, and abilities, our material possessions - and we squander them for things, habits, and vices which don't glorify God.

It's a double slap in the face. First, we don't understand and acknowledge that they are all given lovingly by the Lord. Then secondly, we use them to serve Baal (the flesh and the devil -the one He died to save us from).

Help me to remember that anything good in my life - my gifts and talents, my husband and my children, my home, my friends - have all been gifts from you, Lord.

Help me to remember the source and guide me to use my gifts and talents to serve and bless you - the source and wellspring of all good gifts. Amen.

Hosea 1:3

"So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son..." Hosea 1:3

I've been studying the book of Hosea in bits and pieces since July. The Scripture says nothing at all about how Hosea felt about what God asked him to do.

We know he was obedient. But how much did he grasp right away of God's plan?

Yes, the Lord said "take a wife of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry..."

So he must have known. How difficult was it for him to do it? Knowing she had been with so many other men? If Hosea had family and friends, what must they have thought?

Apparently, sometimes God asks us to do things that others won't understand. God will use you in ways that go against tradition. How many of us are willing to do that?

Hosea was amazing. What can I learn from him?

That God ALWAYS has a plan. Nothing is coincidence. I can trust Him because He is trustworthy.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Highgate Cemetery, London

This is the gate to the famous Egyptian Avenue in Highgate Cemetery, north of London. Highgate was built in 1839, and by Victorian times it had become the fashionable place to be buried. There are lots of famous people buried in Highgate. Karl Marx, for one, and the scientist Michael Faraday and the writer, George Eliot, for others. Highgate is a mysterious place, full of birds and flowers and ivy-covered trees. But it's the monuments that take your breath away.

One of the most poignant monuments is that of Mary Nichols, above photo, of an angel sleeping on a bed of clouds.

Much of the cemetery was abandoned and many monuments ruined by vandalism until the group, Friends of Highgate, was formed. They run the tours and are responsible for maintaining the cemetery now.

If you are interested in seeing more, simply google Highgate cemetery. If you visit London, it is certainly worth the trip to see it for yourself. Just don't go at night!


This is Golgotha, or the Place of the Skull, named in Scripture as the site where the Romans executed Jesus.

This morning I was praying, and I thanked God for the single most amazing thing anyone has ever done for me - Jesus dying on the cross to atone for my sin. For loving me while I was yet hostile to Him.

My husband often says if God never did another thing for us, He has already done enough by giving us eternal life. And he's right.

Can you see the eyes of the skull in the photos? The one on the left has the best view. I stood on this site in 1979. The three crosses would have stood at the top of the hill.

I have traveled and visited many places where momentous events in history took place. The Colosseum, Tower Green in London, Westminster Abbey, Hadrian's Wall - to name a few.

This will always be the most significant.

Friday, September 18, 2009


I wanted to be an archaeologist from the time I was about 12 years old.

Tutankhamun, the boy-king of Egypt, came to my house sometime in the 60's in the form of a book with full-color photos of the excavations. Tutankhamun's death mask to the right was on the cover of the book my father had purchased. I was instantly hooked. Devoured the book. And that was that - I was going to be an archaeologist. But that's another story.

Howard Carter was a British archaeologist who discovered the untouched tomb in 1922. By 1929, 11 members of Howard Carter's excavating team had died, including Lord Carnarvon, the financial backer of the expedition. This was the inspiration for all the Curse of the Mummy movies.

It was rare even in 1922 to find an Egyptian tomb that hadn't already been plundered by tomb-raiders. The wax bust above was done by a French team that specializes in facial reconstruction. What do you think? I think his chin is a little weak, myself.

This boy-king lived 3,000 years ago. When the tomb was opened for the first time, the glint of "gold, gold, everywhere gold.." stunned the observers.

It is said that when the sarcophagus was opened, a circlet of faded blue cornflowers around the mummy's neck still gave off a faint perfume.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Forest Lawn, Buffalo, NY

Sometimes I think back to how I began this whole writing journey.

I started writing historical fiction in 2004 but the process really started when I was a child. My Dad loved old cemeteries, history and antiques, and flea markets. He was known on occasion to turn his collar up, put his sunglasses on, and make one of us kids get out of the car to scrounge an interesting piece of furniture waiting to be picked up by the garbage man. Of course we hated it at the time but my sisters Jeanie and Mary Jane keep up the family tradition to this day.

My sister Bernadine and I used to visit a famous cemetery in Buffalo, NY called Forest Lawn. It's an amazing place with gardens and flowers, graceful sloping hills and marble fountains.

We were most fascinated with the mausoleums. Many of them had windows you could look into and gorgeous stained glass. One particular line of mausoleums were built into the side of a hill. My favorite had an iron grille built across the doorway, and the "door" was built as if it had been deliberately left half open. For someone to enter? Or perhaps to leave? How eerie it was, especially in the fall, when dead leaves had been swept inside the crypt by the wind.

I'm not sure if the photo above is that mausoleum or not. Doesn't look too scary in this photo but I assure you, on a windy autumn evening at dusk, it certainly was.

Forest Lawn was one of the first steps in the journey to becoming a writer and that step was developing an imagination.

We would spend hours reading inscriptions and wondering about the people behind them.

There are still lots of stories in Forest Lawn waiting to be told.

Thanks, Dad.