#ThrowbackThursday: It’s a Mystery

This is a post from eight years ago, July 8, 2012, from my old blog over on Blogger. Still valid. Hmm, I think I could start rereading those M. M. Kaye mysteries again; I’ve probably forgotten whodunnit by now.

It’s a Mystery

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I really like mystery novels. It’s a little odd, that, as I loathe and abhor violence, and you pretty much can’t get any more violent that murder. But for some reason, reading about cranky old rich men being offed for their money doesn’t disturb me, probably because it’s not a fate that’s likely to ever befall me – I’m not a man, will (alas) probably never be rich, and as for being cranky and old, I’m hoping to stave those off for a while yet.

Actually, there is a weird sense of safety in reading murder mysteries – the kind I like, anyway, which are the English cozies, preferably the genuine “Golden Age” article à la Agatha Christie & Co. They’re set in a proscribed circle of people, in a time and place far removed from my own reality, and the sleuth always finds out whodunnit, so justice is served and peace restored. And if the story includes a charming romance between a pretty young girl and a handsome young man (amateur detective, part of “the Force”, or simply mysterious stranger, I’m not picky on that), then my satisfaction is complete. Ah, escapism.

However, there’s one thing that strikes me as being a genuine mystery, in reading mysteries. It concerns those aforementioned charmingly beautiful young girls. In addition to being charming and beautiful, they are usually also quite intelligent – it’s part of what makes them so well suited for being a focal point of the story. They see the clues, they sense that something is wrong, they shiver in the cold draft emanating from the sinisterly-left-open window and jump when the soft-footed tabby cat silently brushes by them in the darkened room where they sit, thinking about the handsome young man who is so disturbing to their tender feelings but might still be the murderer. They even almost solve the mystery, usually. However, they seem to be afflicted by a peculiar disability.

See, it’s like this: whenever one such girl is told, usually by said handsome young man of chiselled brow and masterful demeanor, that she should not, under any circumstances, tell anyone of her suspicions (which she has just voiced to him in the darkness of the night, leaning on the balcony railing overlooking the rose garden) – or, alternatively, that she should not, whatever else she may do, leave the house without informing him of it (this is usually accompanied by a look of more than usual seriousness from the grey/brown/deep-blue eyes of said handsome gent) – somehow or other it seems to cause the girl’s brains to trickle out of her pink and shell-like ears. Or something like it.

Because as soon as a directive of this kind is issued, the girl is guaranteed to do the very thing she was told not to do. She hears the command, fully agrees to it, but somehow always figures that it must not apply to Mrs White (who is, after all, only the cook), or Colonel Mustard (who is surely too pukka sahib to have done anything so sordid as commit the murder), with the inevitable result that she spills the beans to and/or leaves the house in the company of the murderer him- or herself. Of course, as anybody could tell her, it directly leads to her undergoing several pages’ worth of hair-raising suspense, being menaced by said murderer in the kitchen/conservatory/ball room with the revolver/rope/lead pipe while he or she monologues about his or her reasons for committing the murder and gleefully prophecies that no one will ever find the girl’s body, foolish thing. All of which she could have avoided if she had only paid attention to what she was told.

So what do you think – auditory processing disorder? Something that affects only one very small part of what she’s hearing? Because it can’t be stupidity; the whole rest of the book establishes very clearly that the girl in question is not stupid.

Ah well. It doesn’t really matter all that much, because, fortunately, in the nick of time, just as the murderer is about to pull the trigger/tighten the rope/swing the lead pipe, he of the chiselled features comes bursting (or, alternatively, stealthily creeping) through the french doors, incapacitates the villain (having taken careful note of the monologued confession which clears up the remaining questions about the murderer’s guilt), then roughly pulls the girl into his arms while angrily exclaiming “Don’t ever do this again, darling!” and presses a hard kiss on her trembling lips, thereby removing the last vestiges of doubts that the girl had about her feelings for him, and/or making her realize for the first time why she always went weak at the knees whenever he glared at her (which she had previously taken for a sign of dislike). D’oh. The End.

Life, the Universe, and Mysteries. It’s a mystery, what?

Yours Truly @ Enchanted Conversation: On Spindles and a Pet Peeve

I recently let off a rant about spinning wheels and one of my pet peeves, and Kate on Enchanted Conversation Magazine kindly consented to publish it. Here you go:

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On Spindles and a Pet Peeve

Enchanted Conversation recently republished an older post by Elizabeth Creith, a highly informative article on flax that is aptly entitled “STRAW INTO GOLD.” As a fairly new convert to spinning, it caught my interest—and it reminded me of one of my pet peeves where “spinning and fairy tales” is concerned. 
 
Full disclosure: I let my fascination with “Sleeping Beauty”—my favorite fairy tale—led me down the garden path into learning to spin. First it was a drop spindle, then a little castle wheel, and now I own an old Ashford Traditional, which is one of those really classic items that look exactly like what you’d expect to see when you hear “spinning wheel.” You know, a big flywheel; a treadle; a thing that whizzes around; sharp pointy bits sticking out at every angle for unwary princesses to prick their fingers on and fall into hundred-year sleeps… 
 
Actually, no. My spinning wheel, which is one of the earliest iterations of this model of wheel, has no pointy bits on it anywhere. None. Zero. Nada. It does have the flywheel and the treadle and the thing that whizzes around, though. The latter item is called the flyer, and it contains, right in its center, the spindle. Which, on this kind of wheel, is a hollow tube. Did I mention “no pointy bits”?
 
So what, then, did the princess prick her finger on?
 
That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it.
Life, the Universe, and the Pointy Bit on Spindles. Hop on over to EC and leave a comment!
 

Straw Berries

I was probably in my teens, visiting relatives in the Lake Contance region, the fruit basket of Germany, close to the Swiss border. We were going for a walk, and came by a large strawberry field. All along the ground beneath the plants was spread a thick layer of straw.

And all of a sudden the penny dropped: strawberries!

I was already familiar with the English word, which I had learned in school. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “[t]here is no corresponding compound in other Germanic languages”; the German word is Erdbeere, earth (or ground) berry – presumably because they grow so low to the ground. But seeing that straw spread under the berries suddenly made sense of the English word.

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“What’s the straw for?” I wondered. Somebody explained (or maybe I figured it out myself, I don’t remember): it’s to keep the ripening berries from sitting and rotting directly on the damp soil.

It makes sense that in rainy England, it would have been common practise to protect the precious crop that way, and so have given rise to the name. Strawberries are extremely susceptible to wet: they can rot in a matter of hours on a rainy day, right on the vine, and even after they’ve been picked. (So if you’re picking strawberries, do it when the sun is shining; and if you’ve brought home a flat of strawberries from the farmer’s market on a soggy, dreary day, better get them into those jam jars or freezer bags ASAP, or you’ll lose half your purchase. Yes, I know that from experience.)

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I have no idea if “strawing” the berries is common practise anywhere, or is even done anymore back in the Lake Constance region. However, in my own garden, I actually got some strawberries for the first time this year (I don’t have much of a green thumb, so this is a triumph). And, well, I didn’t “straw” them, but I had a cardboard box of wood shavings around (I think they were left from somebody’s project). So I “sawdusted” the beds between the berries. Or one of them, anyway – I didn’t get around to the other one in time. And sure enough, the berries in the bed with the wood shavings were nice and clean; the other ones had dirt stuck to them and weren’t as happy-looking. I’m going to have to see about doing this again next year – I think grass clippings would work as well, or maybe even bark mulch.

And meanwhile, we’re going to enjoy this year’s strawberry harvest, the whole pound of it.

Life, the Universe, and the Straw in Strawberries. The best fruit ever.

PS: Old-fashioned strawberry jam: 1 kg of strawberries, 800 g of sugar. Mash the berries, mix with the sugar, bring to a rolling boil, boil for 10 minutes. Put in clean jars and cap to keep from drying out (doesn’t need to be sterilized or refrigerated; the sugar is preservative enough). Very sweet, very tasty, keeps in the cupboard for a long time (except it doesn’t because it gets eaten so fast).

There Is Not Just One Way

Last week, I was watching the online graduation ceremony of one of the Offspring. The university did a lovely job, complete with cheesy “photo op” with the university president (he paused for a minute, smiling at the camera, with an empty space beside him so the graduates could stand in front of the screen and take a selfie).

One of the things that stuck with me was the speech of one of the valedictorians. He talked about how weird it was to address his talk to a camera rather than an auditorium of smiling faces; how different from what he had expected. He had expected one thing, but had to do it quite differently. And then he issued a challenge:

“Let us dispose of this idea that there is one way of doing things.”

One way of doing things. The only way. The right way. And if we can’t do it this way, we might as well not do it at all. Isn’t that’s the way it works?

I learned how to knit when I was in Grade 3, or maybe 4, in needlework class in school. Well, actually, I think I already knew some of it before we got to it in class; my mother had shown me. But that was all right, because she knew the right way to do it, so I didn’t have to unlearn anything.

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There is, of course, only one way to knit. You feed the yarn through the fingers of your left hand, hold the index finger up with the yarn looped around it, grasp the left knitting needle with the remaining fingers, take the other needle in your right hand, insert it into the stitch, and scoop the yarn through. That is the way to knit, the right way. Everybody does it that way – my mother, my grandmother, my teacher, all my friends… That’s how I learned to do it. That’s how knitting works.

And then I came to Canada.

I still remember the first time I saw a Canadian knitting. At least she said it was knitting, and she had knitting needles and yarn. But what she was doing seemed really weird. Awkward. She was somehow trailing the yarn from her right hand, poking the needle into the stitch, then picking up that trailing yarn, looping it around the needle, and pulling it through. With every stitch she did that loop-around thing. So odd, so slow. She’d obviously never been taught how to knit properly, poor thing…

But you know what?

That very weird and awkward style of holding yarn in your right hand and looping it around the needle with every stitch – which, incidentally, is called “English knitting” or “throwing” – is not only a perfectly legal method of knitting, but it produces a piece of knitwear that is indistinguishable from one done the “right” way. Honest to goodness! Take any handmade sweater, toque, mitten, sock, or scarf, and I defy you to tell just by looking at the stitches whether the knitter held the yarn in her right hand or left hand, whether she was “throwing” her stitches or “picking” them in “continental style”.

Furthermore, English-style knitters are just as capable of producing vast quantities of knitwear with just as many variants in patterns and colours and fancy stitches as us continental-style knitters. True, continental knitting seems to be faster, on average, and, once you learn it, run more automatically. But really, what it comes down to is how you learned to do it, and what style you prefer. Left hand knitting or right hand, it’s your choice.

But wait! There’s more! Yes, there’s English (or American or French) knitting, and Continental (or German) knitting. But then there’s Western style (needle inserted in the front of the stitch) and Eastern style (needle inserted in the back)! Needle held under the hand (standard American) or above the hand (British English or Parlour style)! Portuguese! Norwegian! Russian! Shetland! Combination style! Picking, flicking, throwing! Looping your working yarn through your fingers; wrapping it once, twice, three times; just letting it hang loose!

I had no idea. I was taught how to knit one way, and a very good way it is, too. I can make sweaters and socks and mittens and even little hats to put on boiled eggs to keep them warm*. But, contrary to what I used to think, it is, by no stretch of the imagination, the only way.

“Let us dispose of this idea that there is one way of doing things.”

Life is better when you like more things – and life is better when you can think of more than one way to do things.

I recently taught myself to knit and purl the “awkward” English way. I still prefer continental style – I’m literally twice as fast at it; I timed it – but now, when my shoulder starts to ache from knitting with the yarn in my left hand or I get bored, I can just switch to the right and fall into another rhythm for a little while. The slower pace and slight awkwardness that still remains makes the process that much more meditative, and at the end, I can’t tell which parts I knit continental and which parts English.

“Let us dispose of this idea that there is one way of doing things.”

The students to whom this valedictorian’s speech was addressed via a Youtube livestream are just as graduated now as they would have been if they had listened to it in a big auditorium, shoulder to shoulder with their fellow graduants. The times required that the graduation was held differently – with the yarn in the right hand, as it were. But it’s just as valid this way.

Life, the Universe, Graduations and Knitting. There is not just one way of doing things.

img_20200622_141949754 *This is an egg hat. In case you were wondering.

#ThrowbackThursday on EC: “Beast”

Just had a nice surprise: Kate at Enchanted Conversation reposted my fairy tale flash fiction piece “Beast” for Throwback Thursday, with a very kind & encouraging preamble. You’ll probably remember the story from last March, but in case you don’t, go over here to read it (again).

Life, the Universe, and Throwback Thursday! Go check it out.

#ThrowbackThursday: The Power of Music

I was looking at my old blog, amo1967.blogspot.com, and this post from Sept. 12, 2014, caught my interest. I clicked on the embedded Youtube video, and once again, the music lifted my spirits. It struck me how little has changed – replace “our province” in the first paragraph with “our world”, and this could have been written today. So I thought I’d share it with you.

I was feeling kind of down this morning, for a number of reasons. It’s morning, it got cloudy, the political situation in our province is not good at the moment. Especially the latter. Politics really gets me down. And much as I try to stay away from it, in this case it directly affects me, so I can’t. Ergo, frustration and depression.

And then a friend shared a video clip on Facebook (I’ll try to embed the link). It’s a group of orthodox Jewish men singing, a capella, around a table (at Seder, maybe?). It’s a five-minute movie, and it hit me straight in the heart. Hit me, and lifted my spirits. I don’t understand the words to their song, don’t even know what language they’re singing in – Yiddish, probably – but the sound cut straight through the gloom that surrounded me today. I don’t know what it is about those minor keys and the strong beat of Jewish music, but it grabs me like no other and makes me want to start dancing the grapevine.

And that’s the power of music. It bypasses all those intellectual barriers, the thoughts and ideas that crowd around us, and goes right for the emotional solar plexus. It crosses international, cultural and linguistic boundaries. And it has the power to soothe, to cheer, to comfort. Martin Luther said that “Once sung is thrice prayed” (which is why he wrote a great number of hymns for the purpose) – it’s that powerful. It can express our hearts like nothing else can, even, or perhaps especially, when words fail or when we do not even know we need the expression. That’s what I experienced today. I needed to hear that music today, and I didn’t even know it.

Life, the Universe, and the Power of Music. It lifted me out of the clouds today.

Addendum: after I posted this to Facebook, another friend of mine managed to track the singers down on Youtube. Apparently it’s the Shira Choir, from the States, and the song is called “Im Hashem Lo Yivneh Bayis” and was sung at a Bar Mitzvah. And here it is on Youtube: