Meantime, Back in Greenwich

With the switch to Daylight Savings Time coming soon, it seems timely to revisit Greenwich, England.

You’ve heard of Greenwich Mean Time. Folks here seem to have invented time itself. Well, to be more accurate, they invented how to measure time, and I am thankful for that.

Clocks, antique timekeepers, and all sorts of devices for astronomy and navigation are featured throughout the Royal Observatory here, which was founded by Charles II in 1675.

The Great Equatorial Telescope (1863) is impressive.

To fully appreciate what’s on display at the Royal Observatory, you have to realize the problem of being lost at sea and the problem of longitude.

Back in the 1700s, longitude was an urgent problem, especially for sea-going nations involved in international trade. The precious lives of sailors and the valuable cargoes their ships carried made navigation at sea a matter of life and death. Skilled sailors, out of sight of land, could only find their north-south position (latitude). They had no methods or instruments to accurately calculate their east-west position (longitude). They did not know where they were!

Unfortunately, mapping the night sky and trying to predict the complex motion of the Moon does not work so well on cloudy days at sea. So after lots of trial an error and a big invention competition, the problem was solved by the development of a portable clock that could keep accurate time on board ships.

John Harrison, an 18th century clockmaker, made the first practical marine timekeeper, a monumental development in navigation.

Way back in 1775, Harrison claimed that his clocks were a hundred times better than those made by his contemporaries.  And a few years ago, this clock, titled “Burgess Clock B,” set a Guinness World Record for being the most accurate mechanical pendulum timekeeper of its type. It uses a radical theory proposed by Harrison, and it varied by only half a second in 100 days, finally proving in 2015 that Harrison’s claim was correct.

If you have time to read it, the book Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time tells all about Harrison and how important longitude is to navigation. My sailor husband highly recommends it.

The biggest tourist draw at the Royal Observatory is not the clocks, though. It’s the Prime Meridian of the World. That’s zero degrees longitude, where the eastern hemisphere and western hemisphere meet.

And it’s a prime spot to stand in line outside to take a selfie.

The Prime Meridian covers 12,427 miles from pole to pole, but most of that is an imaginary line that doesn’t show up in a selfie.

Inside and away from the crowd, I couldn’t resist standing with one foot and one daughter in each hemisphere.

Learning about longitude and time made me ponder it for a while. How do we know where we are? Where does time go? Why does it disappear faster and faster the older we get?

Frequently in motherhood, when I see my kids growing taller and notice the years flying by so quickly, I want to panic like a sailor lost at sea. It’s easy to feel like time is running out and I don’t know where in the world I am. It’s easy to wish for some way to stop the clock or maybe even turn back the hands on the clock.

But I don’t truly want to go back in time. Not really.

One of my favorite authors, Ann Voskamp, writes: “I watch the hands move grace on the clock face. I’m growing older. These children are growing up. But time is not running out. This day is not a sieve, losing time. With each passing minute, each passing year, there’s this deepening awareness that I am filling time, gaining time. We stand on the brink of eternity.”

Likewise, author Elizabeth Foss writes: “No, I don’t really want to stop time. But I do want to fill it. I want to fill it with gratitude and grace worthy of the days I trade for them… I want to take each one of these days…and really live the story [God] intends. I don’t want time to stand still, but I do want to still my soul and fill the time with His blessings.”

The idea of filling time with gratitude and stilling my soul encourages me.

My prayer is that God would teach me to number my days so that I gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12). My prayer is that, as I count the days, that I make the days count. And my prayer is that I would walk carefully and wisely, making the best use of my time and understanding God’s will for me (Ephesians 5:15-17).

 

 

 

 

 

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5 Picture Books to Brighten Your Winter Days

Dumping more than a foot of snow in a 12-hour period, the blizzard Minnesotans endured a few days ago went into the books as the biggest snowstorm in seven years. Travel was nearly halted and schools closed early, but lots of folks rejoiced heartily as they shoveled. Snow!

Minnesotans seem to find plenty of ways to take advantage of the snow and ice. Downhill skiing, ice skating, ice fishing, sledding, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing all help fill our long winters with merriment and outdoor exercise.

As amusing as those activities are, though, my favorite winter pastime is admiring the bright snow outside while reading aloud indoors. Ideally, I am reading beside a crackling fire, snuggled under a cozy blanket, and within arm’s reach of a steamy cup of hot tea. Or hot chocolate. That’s because admiring the magically snowy landscapes in beautifully illustrated picture books helps me keep my eyes open to the wonder of God’s wintry creation in real life. It feeds my imagination. And it helps me resist the temptation to grumble about my nose and toes being cold or about how quickly the mudroom fills up with snow boot tracks and soggy mittens.

Well, sometimes it helps.

A few years ago I put together this list of 10 Books for Winter Read-Alouds, and now I have some new picture books to recommend. So whether you are fighting the winter blues or just feeling annoyed with the zipper that keeps getting stuck on your 4-year-old’s coat, here are five picture books about winter that may cheer you up a bit.

Waiting for Winter by Sebastian Meschenmoser is truly laugh-out-loud funny. The illustrations are clever and induce lots of giggles, and the concise text relays the story about a squirrel, a hedgehog and a bear eagerly awaiting winter’s arrival. Meschenmoser’s book Mr. Squirrel and the Moon is also quite humorous, and I am looking forward to reading It’s Springtime, Mr. Squirrel, which comes out next month. Also, I am mesmerized by the enchanting watercolor and oil painting illustrations Meschenmoser created for the recently published version of Kenneth Grahame’s classic The Wind in the Willows.

In First Snow by Bomi Park, striking black and white illustrations — with just the right amount of bold red splashed in for a dramatic effect — capture the colorlessness of winter so creatively. The result is magical, and the story itself is sweet. Featuring very simple text, this is an ideal book for some beginning readers to try reading aloud to mom or dad.

Kate Messner’s Over and Under the Snow offers a fascinating nature study about the “secret kingdom under the snow” while intertwining the story of a father-daughter cross-country ski adventure. The author keeps the story rather brief as she alternates between what is happening over the snow and what is going on under the snow. The nature and animal illustrations are done well, but the somewhat flat illustrations of the father and daughter left me slightly disappointed in the artwork.

Similar to First Snow, the illustrations in The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi masterfully use splashes of red and yellow to brighten the primarily black and white artwork in this imaginative tale.  The story captured my affection with the woodland creatures serving tea, and the beginning reminds me of another favorite: Brave Irene by William Steig, which I reviewed in my original list of winter picture books.    

How delightful to read (or sing!) Walking in a Winter Wonderland in a book with such charming illustrations by Tim Hopgood. Don’t worry; the text of this giant picture book stays true to the lyrics of the classic song we all know as sung by Peggy Lee and composed by Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith. Even if your littlest listeners don’t yet know the song, this is a fantastic way to introduce it. And when winter is over, don’t miss Hopgood’s other equally delightful works: Singing in the Rain and What a Wonderful World.

Boatloads of Tea

What warms me up while a Minnesota blizzard rages outside my door? Hot tea. Fireside Spice from TeaSource is one of my winter favorites, but usually any steamy cup of black tea with a bit of fruity sweetness will do.

Not surprisingly, January is officially known as “National Hot Tea Month.” And with French lessons and ballet lessons cancelled this afternoon because of white-out driving conditions, it’s a perfect time to thank God for the gift of hot tea and to reminisce about a warm day last July when we explored a boatload of tea in Greenwich, England.

To know our family well is to know that we collect loose-leaf tea and sailboats. I adore tea partying as much as my husband adores boating. So what else could we do to escape London’s crowded sidewalks? We climbed aboard a “river bus” at Westminster Pier and headed down the Thames River to Greenwich to see the historic Cutty Sark, one of the fastest tea clippers ever built.

On the boat, the girls enjoyed munching on black currant Skittles candies. (American Skittles don’t offer this flavor, you know.)

Traveling by river turned out to be our favorite way to see London. The air is much fresher than what you breathe in the Underground, and the sightseeing is fantastic. Plus, traffic and weather are not so much of a concern.

The river bus dropped us off right at Greenwich Pier, just a few steps from the Cutty Sark, which has been dry-docked and restored. It was raised and converted into a museum of sorts that opened in 2014.

Built in 1869, the three-masted Victorian sailing vessel could make the tea run from Britain to China and back in eight months, carrying enough black tea to make 200 million cups of tea!

That actually might be enough cups of tea for me, Queen Victoria and C.S. Lewis.

Maybe.

Clearly, the British are passionate about their tea. And that all began in 1662 when Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese royal, married King Charles II and became Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland. Crates of Chinese black tea were part of her dowry. And because drinking tea was already a custom among the Portuguese nobility, she introduced it to the British court and made it the fashionable thing to drink.

Thank you, Queen Catherine.

According to best-selling author Steven Johnson, the mass adoption of tea as Britain’s national beverage coincided with population growth in the early part of the 18th century because drinking tea helps ward off waterborne diseases like cholera. In his book The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, Johnson explains that brewed tea possesses several crucial antibacterial properties. The steeping process releases tannic acid, which kills off bacteria that have survived the boiling of the water.

“The explosion of tea drinking in the late 1700s was, from the bacteria’s point of view, a microbial holocaust,” he writes.

Dysentery and child mortality dropped dramatically, physicians noted, and thus England’s population grew.

That’s yet another reason to adore tea: It could save your life!

But let’s get back to the ship.

The Cutty Sark’s main deck boasts lots of rope, a nifty wooden ship’s wheel and a brass bell.

Its copper hull is impressive to see from the café area built right below it.

And who could resist having afternoon tea (with scones) beneath the hull of the world’s only remaining tea clipper?

Also below the hull is the world’s largest collection of Merchant Navy figureheads.

My girls kept asking me to photograph close-ups of these colorful figures so that they could draw them later. Many portray historic characters such as Florence Nightingale, William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln.

I was surprised by how much our family enjoyed this unusual collection, which originally belonged to a gentleman who wore an eye-patch and assumed the nickname Captain Long John Silver.

So that’s all from the Cutty Sark. Up next time is another key stop in Greenwich: the Royal Observatory. Until then, I’m off to sip another cup of hot tea.

Happy National Tea Month!

 

 

 

 

A Kingdom of Glorious Splendor

The fresh, woodsy scent of balsam fir fragranced the living room as I hung three new ornaments on our tall, skinny tree. Each ornament came from a royal palace – two in England and one in France. All three were souvenirs of our family’s first summer vacation in Europe – a trip somehow squeezed in between frequent jaunts to the dance studio, the orthodontist and the library.

Visiting a palace is a humbling experience.

Even before you set foot inside, the high gates, uniformed guards and long “cues” remind you that you are one of many foreign tourists, not really a guest.

Inside, massive collections of fine art and treasured possessions join with expensive décor to offer an impressive glimpse into the personal lives of the kings, queens, princes and princesses you read about in history books. Looking at Queen Victoria’s own doll house as we stood in her childhood bedroom, the very room where she was born, was a memorable moment.

In London, Kensington Palace is now home to Prince William and his growing family. And Buckingham Palace is still home to Queen Elizabeth II. But in France, despite its glittery gold gates, grandiose Baroque architecture and expansive gardens, the Palace of Versailles is no longer home to any royalty.

Long gone are King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. Both were beheaded in 1793 when the monarchy was abolished in the French Revolution.

It’s strange indeed to gaze at the king and queen’s magnificently grand lifestyle knowing how terribly their reign ended. The kingdoms of this earth totter and fall.

While touring the homes of kings and queens was fascinating, at some point, no matter how old or fancy it is or who once owned it, stuff is just stuff. No matter how rich or powerful a ruler is, eventually he passes away and leaves it all behind.

This realization could make life seem rather meaningless. But by God’s grace, it instead reinforced for me what is meaningful and made me long for God’s eternal kingdom.

Can I tell you about the glorious splendor of God’s kingdom? First Timothy 6:15 says our God is the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords. Psalm 145 says God’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion endures through all generations. And 1 Peter 2:9 says we who are God’s children are His special possession, chosen and royal.

One glad day the King of kings will welcome His children into His holy palace not as tourists or guests but as adopted sons and daughters. Members of His royal family!

As King David prayed in 1 Chronicles 29:10-13: “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is Yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and You are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all. In Your hand are power and might, and in Your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank You, our God, and praise Your glorious name.”

I pray this gives you hope and joy this Christmas. And I pray that God draws you ever closer to Him in 2018. Merry Christmas!

-Diana

 

The Oxford Martyrs

On this day, Oct. 16, in 1555, a few powerful words were exchanged between bishops Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer just before they were both burned at the stake in Oxford, England.

“Be of good heart, brother Latimer, for God will either assuage the fury of the flame, or else strengthen us to abide it.”

Nicholas Ridley (1500-1555)

“Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”

Hugh Latimer (1485-1555)

Well-known and favored as bishops under Henry the VIII and Edward VI, these men were disliked by Queen Mary as she came to power and restored papal authority and Roman Catholic doctrine. They were accused of heresy for spreading the truth of God’s Word. They were imprisoned and mistreated in the Tower of London, tried for treason and then sentenced to death. Queen Mary’s terrible persecution of the Protestants gained her the nickname Bloody Mary.

“Latimer and Ridley share more than a martyrdom,” writes Scott Hubbard, a seminary student at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis. “The bishops also join each other on the list of England’s most influential Reformers — men and women whose allegiance to Scripture and the glory of Christ transformed England from a Catholic kingdom to a lighthouse of Reformation.”

Until a few months ago when I stood in Oxford on the steps of the Martyrs’ Memorial — just yards away from the place on Broad Street where their martyrdom took place — the powerful stories of these two men and their counterpart Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, were pretty much unknown to me.

I had very briefly heard about Cranmer when my daughters and I studied Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for nine days after the death of Edward VI at age 16. But otherwise I somehow had missed these martyrs and their remarkable contributions to the Reformation and church history.

A great way to learn the stories of Ridley, Latimer and Cranmer is to listen to the Here We Stand podcast, a 31-day journey about the heroes of the Reformation, produced by Desiring God. Cranmer’s story is featured in episode 14, titled “The Gospel Lobbyist.” Latimer’s and Ridley’s stories are featured in episode 16, titled “The British Candle.”

Two other great resources are Reformation Heroes, written by Diana Kleyn and Joel R. Beeke, and Trial and Triumph: Stories from Church History, written by Richard Hannula.

Also, if you’re studying the Reformation this month in connection with its 500th anniversary, you’d probably enjoy this great biography titled Lady Jane Grey by Simonetta Carr. It’s excellent for kids and adults.

Finally, another fantastic and very concise book on the Reformation is Michael Reeves’ Freedom Movement: 500 Years of Reformation.

In this book, Reeves concludes: “For us today, the Reformation has sparkling good news — news of an enjoyable and satisfying God. A God who lavishes His love on those who have not made themselves attractive to Him. A God whose love can liberate the most broken and guilty.”

He continues, “What Martin Luther discovered in the Bible pulled him out of despair and made him feel he had ‘entered paradise itself through open gates.’ Nothing about that message has changed or lost its power to brighten lives today.”

Indeed. The Gospel continues to change lives. And by God’s grace, Latimer and Ridley’s candle shall never be put out.

 

A Tale of Two Countries: Oxford

Known as the “City of the Dreaming Spires” and home to the oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford, England, is like no other place I’ve visited.

Bicycles and weathered stones intertwine the new with the old.

The first landmark we found was Tom Tower. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, this bell tower serves as the entrance to Christ Church. Christ Church is one of Oxford University’s 38 colleges and is part of the Cathedral of the Oxford diocese. Famous graduates of this college include 13 British prime ministers and Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland.

This punt is on the River Cherwell, a major tributary to the River Thames. We found it while strolling between Christ Church and the Oxford Botanic Garden. If you look closely between the trees, you can see the square Magdalen Tower off in the distance. The landmark is part of Magdalen College, which was founded in 1458. Author C.S. Lewis was elected as a fellow and tutor in English literature at Magdalen in 1925.

North of Christ Church on Queen Street is St. Martin’s Tower. Also called the Carfax Tower, it is 74-feet tall and includes a clock with two bells that chime every quarter of an hour.

This is Broad Street.

On Broad Street is the Sheldonian Theatre, also designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built in the 1660s.

The Sheldonian Theatre is the University of Oxford’s official ceremonial hall, so activities like graduation happen there.

Just across the street is Blackwell’s Bookshop, where I purchased a hardback pocket edition of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

(Please note: The title does NOT include an Oxford comma, even though the book was written by a professor and graduate of Oxford University, was published in Great Britain and was sold in Oxford at the UK’s largest academic bookstore. Therefore, as a former copyeditor, I now rest my case that the Oxford comma is optional most of the time.)

Another remarkable building situated between Broad Street and High Street is the Radcliffe Camera. It was built in 1737 and is a notable library only open to Oxford students.

 

This is the courtyard of Lincoln College, which was founded in 1427 and is the ninth oldest college of Oxford University. The ivy here is in a league of its own.

Isn’t the size of this ivy’s “trunk” amazing? I wonder if it has been growing since the 1400s.

The dining hall at Lincoln features a portrait of theologian John Wesley, founder of Methodism. Wesley was a fellow at Lincoln College from 1726 to 1751. We also found his name etched in the glass doors to the chapel.

Nearby is the University Church of St. Mary. There’s been a church on this site since Anglo-Saxon times. St. Mary’s is where, in 1555, the Oxford martyrs Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer were tried for treason. It’s also where C.S. Lewis delivered his outstanding sermon “The Weight of Glory” in 1941.

This stone monument is the Martyrs’ Memorial, located just around the corner from a cross set in Broad Street, which marks the actual scene of the martyrdom.

Besides the statues of Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer, the monument features an inscription that reads: “To the Glory of God, and in grateful commemoration of His servants, Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Prelates of the Church of England, who near this spot yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truths which they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for His sake; this monument was erected by public subscription in the year of our Lord God, MDCCCXLI.” 

Just down the street from the Martyrs’ Memorial is The Eagle and Child, where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the other Inklings met every Tuesday to discuss their writing projects.

In honor of C.S. Lewis, who once said he could never get a book long enough or a cup of tea large enough to suit him, I ordered a large cup of Earl Grey tea.

It was such an honor to sip tea and talk about books with our lovely friend and extraordinary tour guide, MariAnne.

Seated in the top front seats of a double-decker bus, we left Oxford with hope that someday we’ll return for more adventures in this historic city.

A Tale of Two Countries — Day 3: The Lewis Close

Such a magical day! We took the bus to Oxford, where we met up with our dear friends MariAnne and Gail at Christ Church’s Tom Tower. After a quick tour of this astounding college town (which I’ll blog about next time) we grabbed sandwiches and dashed off to catch a bus to nearby Headington, where the renowned author C.S. Lewis lived with his brother Warnie and others.

On the bus to Headington we met a charming 85-year-old gentleman with a hat and cane. He gathered that we were going to the Lewis Close and told of meeting C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien years ago when he was a student at Oxford and was misbehaving with his classmates at a pub called The Eagle and the Child.

Evidently Lewis commented on how unruly he and the other boys were behaving. The gentleman chuckled about that experience and went on to say that his own property is adjacent to the Lewis Close. He added that his late wife is buried only 15 feet from C.S. Lewis in the Trinity Church graveyard. What an interesting chap! He brightened our day with his friendliness, stories, and delightful English accent.

At our stop, we got off the bus and took a very short walk to the Lewis Close.

As MariAnne had suggested, we ate our tasty baguette sandwiches right there in C.S. Lewis’s garden. I truly cannot think of a lovelier spot for a picnic.

Afterward we stepped inside the house for a fantastic tour by our guide Rachel, an Oxford student who resides in the house.

This is the study upstairs where Lewis wrote the Chronicles of Narnia in the 1950s. I love that the desk is situated so that he looked out the window, which was dressed with scratchy World War I army blankets for curtains. From this desk, Lewis had a clear line of sight to the attic room, where the children he cared for during World War II would often play.

Lewis smoked a pipe and wrote his books with pen and ink.

Thankfully, Lewis’s older brother Warnie very kindly typed up the stories, enabling them to be published and enjoyed by all of us.

This door leads into the attic room where the famous wardrobe was. I won’t share my picture of the attic room itself. In case you visit someday, I feel I must leave it a bit of a mystery for you.

This is the only original doorknob in the home, and all the aspiring writers on our tour were encouraged to touch it. So we did.

Those of you who have read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe will appreciate the significance of this dish of rose and lemon flavored Turkish Delight.

Like Edmund, we could not resist the temptation.

Next we trekked on to a spot not far beyond the house called the C.S. Lewis Nature Reserve. This area was part of Lewis’s private property and includes a large pond and woods, which they say he wandered about while he wrote the Chronicles of Narnia.

The Nature Reserve felt a bit magical, I must say. It obviously creates quite a scope for the imagination.

He might have been there, but we did not encounter Tumnus the Faun nor did we find the lamppost. But nonetheless, the entire visit to the Lewis Close was most magical and memorable! Special thanks go to MariAnne who coordinated this special tour for us. We loved it!

More of Oxford itself is coming up next time.