Sunshine Wood (Billingham)

Sunshine Wood is a natural educational and play centre for young children set in the Billingham Beck Valley Country Park. Naomi and I took Pollyanna this morning and she met her friend Isabelle there. There’s also a cafe, toilets and baby changing facility. It was our first time there, and Pollyanna really loved it. We were particularly impressed by the excellent coronavirus safeguarding precautions being taken, with thorough cleaning between sessions. There’s also a QR code for checking in with the NHS track and trace app for smartphones. You can find Sunshine Wood on Facebook.

After our visit to Sunshine Wood, we enjoyed an autumnal walk round Billingham Beck Valley Country Park, and I returned later with Freddy and Matilda after picking them up from school. Matilda needed to collect autumn objects for her school homework project.

Thankfulness for the Harvest

Bible Readings: Deuteronomy 26:1-11 & Philippians 4:4-9

It seems that ‘thank you’ letters are going out of style in our digital world, even though they are wonderful to write and receive.

Letter writing has never featured prominently as a way of saying ‘thank you’ for the harvest. Yet a letter, written by Paul to the church congregation in Philippi, provides a clue about an appropriate thanksgiving for the harvest: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say Rejoice.

Paul also tells them, Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Our part of God’s creation isn’t well-treated by humankind, and the effects of this are visible in scarred, overused landscapes, experienced in polluted air, waters empty of fish, and the issue of plastic in the oceans. We also know that farmers are a community under pressure, seeking to reduce costs and increase yields, while trying to obtain a fair price for their product.

In the Old Testament, the people take some of the first of the harvest to the priest at the place where they believe God dwells, they recite the story of their rescue from slavery, and of coming into the land which flows with milk and honey, and finally they bow down before their God.

At this time of the year, in the northern hemisphere, we say an appropriate ‘thank you’ to the Lord of Harvest and God of Creation.

As we reflect on the work of human hands in partnership with God, we unite in solidarity with farmers and express the hope that everyone may eat and drink, both for sustenance and pleasure. We also accept responsibility for looking after our environment.

We thank God for the harvest in our prayers, our praise, and our practical action – a good response for every day of the year.

You have given us
a world of beauty,
and we have spoilt it.
A world to feed us,
and so many go hungry.
A world of riches,
and we are unwilling to share.
A world to care for,
and we think only of ourselves.
Forgive us, gracious God,
every time your heart is saddened
by our selfishness,
every time we have no thought
for others, no cares but ours.
Enable us to see this world
as a gift from you
that can be shared,
and those who live on it
as our neighbours.
We ask this that your name
may be glorified
through the beauty of this world
and the service of our lives.

Source unknown.

The Magic of Reality (Dawkins)

You might wonder why I’m reading a book by Richard Dawkins and writing about it here. Well, there are at least three reasons. Firstly, I don’t see a conflict between science and my Christian faith; secondly, my faith is sufficiently robust to engage with other world views; and thirdly, he’s a great scientific academic and writer.

Having said that, I wasn’t impressed with The God Delusion. Not because I’m defensive about my faith, but more to do with Dawkins’ obvious agenda, his poor knowledge of the subject, his lack of research, and flimsy arguments. Often, he puts up a ridiculous ‘straw man’ argument and then knocks it down with an empty victory celebration. He’s best when he sticks to science.*

Dawkins still has an axe to grind in this book. Despite this, it’s an excellent science book intended for the general reader, although aimed primarily at children and young adults. For this latter reason, I found it slightly patronising at times, but would still recommend it.

His last two chapters are especially good, encouraging critical thinking and rational thought. These are so often lacking in today’s world, and qualities I’m keen to encourage in my young children.

*Note: A useful book that challenges and balances Dawkins chapter by chapter in ‘The God Delusion’ is ‘The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths‘.

Coronavirus Pandemic Second Wave

It’s been announced today (Friday 18 September 2020) that a second wave of COVID-19 is hitting the UK. Now I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist, I’m a realist. Sadly, we need to prepare for a very difficult winter with the complications of Brexit thrown in for good measure. We need to brace ourselves and hold tight, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Yes, it’ll be tough, but I feel we can get through it if we support and have consideration for each other.

Auguries of Innocence (Blake)

person holding a green plant
Photo by Akil Mazumder on Pexels.com

These are the opening lines of a 128 line poem about environmental issues that are well ahead of their time. Auguries of Innocence wasn’t published until 1863, thirty-six years after Blake’s death.

To see a World in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.

A robin red breast in a cage
Puts all Heaven in a rage.
A dove-house fill’d with doves & pigeons
Shudders Hell thro’ all its regions.

A dog starved at his master’s gate
Predicts the ruin of the State.
A horse misused upon the road
Calls to Heaven for human blood.

Each outcry of the hunted hare
A fibre from the brain does tear.
A skylark wounded in the wing,
A cherubim does cease to sing.

William Blake (1757-1827)

Why Don’t Penguins’ Feet Freeze?

emperor-penguins

I always like to read, and often have more than one book on the go at the same time. Overall, it’s probably not a good idea to have be reading too many books at once, so I’ve decided to stick with just one (with the exceptions of the Bible, a devotional book, as well as anthologies and the like). For some examples of the latter, click here and here.

why-don-t-penguins-feet-freeze-2Knowing that retirement and moving house (with young children) in a pandemic was going to be hectic, I chose one that I could dip in and out of easily. So I decided on this one, and have just finished it. The book answers a whole variety of questions drawn from the ‘Last Word’ column of the New Scientist magazine. There’s a number of books in the series, and this is the third, with a helpful index. This, or others in the series, would make a great birthday or Christmas present for someone with an enquiring mind.

Oh, and in answer to the question, well you’ll just have to read the book!

Teesmouth National Nature Reserve

This nature reserve is only a few miles from our home and is in stark contrast to the surrounding backdrop of heavy industry. It’s an unlikely setting, but one that shows how nature can adapt and thrive in the most unlikely of situations.

It comprises sand dunes and grazing marshes, along with intertidal sand and mudflats. Apart from the huge variety of flora and fauna on display, seals can be seen basking beside the tidal channels or swimming near the road bridge (like the one above we saw on a recent visit). This is somewhere Naomi and I are sure to visit regularly with our children.

Natural Health Service

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Today’s family afternoon excursion into beautiful nature wasn’t just daily exercise, but emergency treatment from the Natural Health Service.

We’re all in the same situation in the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, but everyone has their own personal challenges to face. For us, it’s having three young children, me trying to work from home, and preparing for my imminent retirement in July and moving house.

We’ve had a few bad days, and were both physically, mentally and emotionally drained. So, not only did the therapy walk do us the world of good, spending quality time with Naomi and our children really helped, but also observing and photographing nature.

Note: All the photos were taken with my smartphone, I just got in close, or low, or used unusual angles. See all the original here. Why not have a go for yourself?

Four by Four and Four by Sixteen

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Photography (a smartphone is all you need by the way) and writing, whether personal or for work, are two of the things that are currently helping me maintain my mental health and sanity in the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

Partly by accident, but also by design, I’ve developed a way of posting them on social media and here. I take four square photos and then stitch them together with an Instagram app to make a four by four photo which I share then to Instagram (and automatically to Facebook and Twitter). I repeat this three more times, and then stitch the four stitched photos together into a four by sixteen photo. The above stitched photo is today’s offering from my afternoon walk in Richardson Dees Park in Wallsend.

I then add all the individual photos to a Google Photos album, and you can see the ones from today here. I’m particularly pleased how the dandelion shot turned out, I spotted it in a ray of sunshine that didn’t extend to the background, making it stand out dramatically.

I also took four photos of some fungi on a tree stump that I’ve stitched into a standalone four by four one. Again, you can see all the individual ones here.

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Oh, and even though I concentrated on nature, I was with my family. Here’s the one shot I did take of them (Naomi was taking photos of the children), and I immediately loved it.

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