Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall at sunset

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fortress of the Britons

Dun Breatann, or the Fortress of the Britons, is in Strathclyde, west of Glasgow, Scotland.

In my second book (which I have just finished editing and revising and I just sent out a query to an agent and I am so excited!!!), Eleri's Tale, the action takes place in 3 main places.

The first is this ancient fortress, which stood on this two-headed plug of basalt volcanic rock that rises out of the water to a height of 240 feet.

The Romans originally had a fort at this site and could control traffic and trade from it. Now called Dumbarton Rock, this is where Coroticus, the British chieftain, had his fortress after the Romans left.

Dumbarton Rock was still in use as a military base as recently as World War II. The buildings there now date from the 18th and 19th centuries.

For hundreds of years it was considered impregnable until the Vikings invaded around 900 AD.

Mary, Queen of Scots, hid here for several months in 1548 before being removed to France for her safety.

It is a rarity in that Dumbarton Rock has seen 1500 years of continued use as a military fortress.

It was a great place to visit in the summer of 2008 when I went to Scotland to check out the sites where my story played out.

The other 2 sites are Whithorn, in southwestern Scotland, where St. Ninian had his monastery, "Candida Casa", the white house on the hill, and modern day Carlisle, in northern England, where Hadrian's Wall stands.

In the 5th century, Carlisle was called Luguvalium, and was a Romano-British city. You can travel the length of Hadrian's Wall all across the "waist" of Scotland and visit many of the remains of the Roman forts.

Hadrian's Wall was buit in 122 AD, and large parts of are still standing today.

In upcoming posts I will write about those places. I absolutely loved Scotland and want to go back!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hosea 5:6

"...with their flocks and their herds they shall go to seek the Lord but they shall not find Him..."

I can't think of anything more awful that seeking the Lord and not being able to find Him. To have sinned and offended Him so terribly, to have ignored Him for so long that He withdraws from me. Just the thought strikes terror in my heart.

Even at my lowest point, I always know that He is here with me.

One of the reasons I'm going through Hosea is to remind myself of His faithfulness. And He has indeed been faithful to me.

I am trying to rediscover the "early love of my betrothal", when I was so young and untested, and meld that into now, 35 years later. I am older but I still want to "follow You through the wilderness, through a land yet unsown".

I still want to sing "as in the days of my youth."

Show me how, Lord.

I bless You and praise Your name.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ancient Jewels II

Continuing my thoughts on ancient jewels, my character Coroticus in my current novel, Eleri's Tale, wears a pair of bronze armlets similar to the ones in the photo.

Coroticus was a fierce British chieftain whose name is known today chiefly because he abducted a group of St. Patrick's converts in Ireland shortly after their baptism and brought them to Britannia to be sold into slavery on the auction block.

Patrick's response was to write a scathing letter that circulated among the churches in Roman Britain and condemned Coroticus for his heinous deeds, which included "giving girls away as prizes" without a second thought.

The armlets in the photo are actually Greek and made of gold. The pair that I used as my model for Coroticus are in the British Museum but I was unable to locate them in their current database.

The British Museum has a great website, http://www.britishmuseum.org/, and it's a lot of fun to navigate around the site. Currently they have an exhibition on the Aztec rulers.

Check them out!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ancient Jewels

I use historical research to drive much of the plot for my historical novels, which means that I usually don't know how the story is going to end until I get there.

As I mentioned before, I love archaeology and the study of ancient civilizations. Many of the artifacts that people use in my stories have come from historical finds.

In my second book, Eleri's Tale, the British chieftain Coroticus' wife, Minacea, is dressing for an important banquet. The gold body chain shown above is a piece currently in the British Museum in London. It was part of the Hoxne hoard, found buried in Hoxne, Suffolk, England in 1992.

The hoard was buried in the 5th century and the piece itself dates to the late 4th century.

It contains an oval setting of gold for 9 gems:a central amethyst, 4 garnets and probably 4 pearls, which had long since decayed when the body chain was found.

This is the body chain that Minacea puts on as the finishing touch to her outfit for the banquet.

It is an exceedingly rare piece, and in marvelous condition considering that it's about 1600 years old!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

There's something I like to do whenever I'm at a professional sports game, or even when I'm watching a game on TV. But it's especially great when I'm at a real game, in the middle of tens of thousands of people. Before the game starts there is a festive air. A buzz of anticipation flows through the crowd. Excitement is palpable. People are smiling and happy, united in affection for their favorite team.
The announcer comes onto the microphone and the level of anticipation shoots up. The teams are about to enter the stadium. He works the crowd, extolling the team's greatness and victories.

Your team bursts onto the field and the crowd goes wild. The applause multiplies, there is yelling, chanting, horns blowing.

Then the fireworks explode into the sky above. The crowd gives a collective sigh at their beauty and the cheering and shouting escalate. It goes on and on for a good while.

Here is what I like to do when I'm in that scenario.

I like to pretend that this is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

I imagine that I'm standing with all the believers and we are waiting for the Bridegroom to arrive.

The anticipation is phenomenal.

Then the roar goes up and you know He has appeared in the auditorium. Your heart pounds and the crowd goes wild.

For Him!

Try it the next time you find yourself in a stadium surrounded by thousands of people. One day it will be real.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Latin Man and other Friends

In my search for historical authenticity in my writing, the Internet has proven to be a wonderful resource.

I have made the acquaintance of a number of professional people in very disparate areas.

Teresinha and her marvelous website on woad I have already written about.

I also can count a Celtic historian, Anthony McKinley, among the wonderful people who have taken time out of their busy lives to help me get things right, answered many question about ancient Celtic history, and who critiqued a funeral scene for me.

My first book has a blacksmith character, and I corresponded with a modern day blacksmith named "Paw Paw" Wilson, who instructed me on the finer points of smelting iron. PawPaw has since passed away but I hope to give a copy of Ciara's Tale to his wife when it is published.

Professional beekeepers and sheep farmers have assisted me, too. All in all, I have been amazed at the generosity of the online community to help a new author.

The most recent friend I have made is a Latin teacher at Cardinal O'Hara High School in Tonawanda, NY. I graduated from O'Hara in 1970 and when my sister Bernadine recently informed me that Latin was one of the languages being taught there now, I wondered if I might presume to write and ask for his/her help.

I did indeed find an email address for Mr. Calvin Steck and sent off a note. He responded quickly and soon I had the distinguished assistance of a Latin scholar. In my second historical novel, Eleri's Tale, my main character is learning to read and write Latin and I desperately needed help to make the scenes correct.

Mr. Steck kindly and cheerfully gave me the benefit of his years of study and knowledge.

So thank you, Mr. Steck!

Your students are fortunate to have you.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Burren is a high limestone plateau in County Clare, Ireland. It's a huge open place and eerily quiet because no trees grow there so there aren't any birds. The sound of the wind is all you hear.

It's quite easy to become lost. You lose your sense of direction when you can't see any particular landmarks.

I visited the Burren in 2005 and my husband decided that he had had enough traipsing about the Irish countryside in the rain.

It was warm in the car and he had a newspaper so he decided to stay there and let me take the path up the hillside alone.

The top photo is of a megalithic tomb, 4000 to 5000 years old. I stood in that place and contemplated the people who built it so long ago.

There aren't too may places left in the world where you can hear absolute silence. The Burren is one of those places.

I am not superstitious but I do have Irish blood and I almost thought I could feel the presence of something else up there.

I think it was God.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ted's and Tonawanda Tales

Growing up in Tonawanda in the 50's, when I look back at it now, was pretty neat. Of course, these were the days before computers, cell phones, Nintendo, and all that stuff.

We played outside all day and our mothers never knew where we were but they didn't worry either.

My mother whistled when she wanted us to come home to 159 Findlay Avenue. She would stand at the foot of the driveway and whistle down the block, one long note followed by a second lower note, and we always knew it was her.

We lived around the corner from Ted's Hot Dog stand. If my sister Bernadine and I could wheedle a quarter out of my mom, we'd go there after school for a bottle of pop and some popcorn.

If we didn't have any money we'd collect pop bottles in our red wagon and return them to the A & P. The small ones were worth 2 cents and the big ones went for 5 cents. We could get candy bars then, 6 for a quarter at Leader Drugs, and they were way bigger than the fun-size candy bars you get today.

Another favorite place was Jet Donuts across the street from Ted's. It's gone now but to this day I have never eaten a Bavarian cream donut that could rival theirs.

And of course, for anybody who lived in Tonawanda, there was Anderson's Custard stand - still thriving today. Their lemon ice was to die for. I was in Tonawanda last summer and my sister and I stopped at Anderson's. I had the lemon ice.

I don't know if it changed or if my taste buds had gotten older but it didn't taste the same. It had a chemical aftertaste and was nothing like the lemon ice I remembered - tart and sweet at the same time and so refreshingly lemony that you ate in in tiny bites to savor the flavor as long as possible.

Many of my memories of my childhood revolve around food. Lots more revolve around St. Amelia's and the Polish nuns who ruled our lives.

But that's another post.

Monday, October 5, 2009

St. Paul's Tomb in the Vatican

In 2005 a marble tomb was discovered deep under the Papal Altar in the Basilica of St. Paul-Outside-The-Walls in Rome.

It bore the Latin inscription PAOLO APOSTOLO MART. The Apostle Paul, Martyr.

Further investigations were done in 2007. A small hole was drilled and endoscopes inserted to gather material. Bone fragments were carbon dated and the report was that they belonged to a man who lived between the 1st and 2nd Century.

Paul was beheaded somewhere between 62 - 67 AD.

Also found in the tomb were several red grains of incense, fragments of purple cloth with gold sequins and blue linen cloth.

If you would like to see some photos, go to www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_paolo/basilica/tomba.htm.

Due to copyright laws, I couldn't put them in this post but they are quite interesting.

Sometimes people ask me what is so fascinating about historical monuments and archaeological sites. Did you ever read H.G. Wells book "The Time Machine"? The idea of being able to step back in time and observe a civilization is not a new one. Sine we can't time travel, the next best thing is to get as close as we can to those people. I think that's why archaeology fascinates me so.

To stand in Newgrange where people stood 5,000 years ago, waiting for the sunbeam to travel down the dark corridor and light up the carved stone at the back of the monument -

To stand on Tower Green where Anne Boleyn lost her head -

To stand before Golgotha in the place where Jesus was crucified -

To walk through the ruins of a Roman Army camp along Hadrian's Wall in Carlisle, England -

For me it is an absolute thrill. I'm not sure if I can explain it any better than that!

Sunday, October 4, 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, right after I was born again at the age of 22. I remember the sense of completeness, the feeling that I was finally "home". 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, the secrets that no one else knew, the dark places. And You still loved and wanted me. The was the 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 35 years - how do I still be that young girl? There are times when I grow cynical and weary, mostly of myself, but sometimes of the people around me.

One thing I have learned, especially when I feel like that, is to remember Your loving kindness, and to be thankful for all you have done for me, all you have given me, all you have blessed me with.

You said that Your yoke was easy and Your burden is light.

Lord, help me daily to lay my life before You.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls isn't far from the town of Tonawanda in western New York where I grew up. We went there on dates and after proms and sometimes just when we were bored and needed something to do. I've seen the falls in every season and every kind of weather, crammed with tourists and virtually deserted. I have always felt that the most beautiful time to see the falls is in winter, when most tourists are long gone.
It's dangerous at the falls in the winter. Ropes seal off the most dangerous parts and you may not get as close to the falls as you can in summer. This is due to several things.

First, being close to Buffalo and Lake Erie, there is almost always a thick layer of snow on the ground. Then, because of the continuous mist that is produced by the falls, there is a layer of ice over the snow. On top of the ice is a layer of moisture. Extremely slippery!

That's why certain areas are roped off - so you don't slip and slide right through the bottom of the fence and over the falls.
But it is exactly this combination of factors that makes the falls so beautiful in winter. Every tree, every bush, every fence rail is coated with a thick layer of ice. When the sun comes out, it's like fairyland - everything glitters.

It's also very cold. So wrap up well if you decide to make the trip.

I remember in 1969 the falls were "turned off". The US Corps of Engineers wanted to study if there was anything that could be done about the huge rocks that sat at the bottom of the falls due to erosion. It was dammed somehow above the falls. A mere trickle of water was left. It was so odd! And also somehow just not right.

The falls were turned off from June 12 to November 25 of that year. Tourism took a nosedive. Everyone was happy when the dam was removed and the mighty waters of the Niagara River were free once again. Years later, the engineers decided to do nothing about the rocks and let the falls continue to erode naturally.

I've always wondered what it must have been like for early explorers on the river. What if they didn't know about the falls? The undertow of the Niagara River is very strong and by the time they realized they had a problem it might have been too late to get back.

You hear the falls before you ever get close enough to see them. The tremendous roar and power of the water is hypnotic. Niagara Falls has an interesting history. Tightrope walkers crossed the falls and many people have tried to go over the falls in barrels and other contraptions.
An interesting website to learn more about Niagara Falls is http://www.niagarafrontier.com/.