How many knives do I own? Not counting the dedicated kitchen knives, because those live in the kitchen, let’s just call it “probably enough for now, except when I really need one.” You know, Sharpes’ Corollary of Murphy’s Law – whenever you need a cutting blade, you can never find a cutting blade. Or the one you have will be 1) too small, 2) too large, 3) a good knife you don’t want to louse up on cardboard or other junk.
The idea percolated up after an on-line conversation about carrying or having access to a junk-knife to loan to people who are the sort who mess up tools. Or who don’t know enough to know how not to mess up tools.
Swiss Army knife – one, the checkered handle officer version. This is my every-day go to.
Two heavy-duty Spyderco clone lock-blades – gift from Sib-in-Law, one of these will go in a bag, because they are a little big to fit easily in a trouser or skirt pocket. Serrated and very sharp. Do not give to the clumsy or careless.
Truck knife – hunting-style fixed blade, because you need a knife in your vehicle.
Cutting Bean – a handy little gizmo for when you need a small cutting tool (opening boxes, cutting tape) but are not supposed to have a knife. Yes, locking open a pair of scissors can work, but this is safer for all involved.
Little Black Knife – no, not the one that goes with your evening wear. The one you never carry, officially. And hope never to need to use.
[Junk] knife – the one reserved for knife-killing jobs, because it’s a piece of [junk], was free, and never will be missed when it finally dies.
Small multi-tool – because why not.
Large multi-tool – because sometimes you do need a whatsis, even if it is not a dedicated whatsis.
Plus a few others that live in drawers, a desk shelf, and the one I’m always forgetting is in a bag. And three specialty blades, one of which is South American and silver, and that I have had for decades. Because vampires. No, seriously. That’s what I joked when I asked for it as a teen. To my surprise, Santa gave it to me.
The clerks at the regional B&N probably stopped raising their eyebrows at purchase combinations a while ago. I got a copy of Victoria and a copy of Medieval Warfare Magazine.
I’ve been buying Medieval Warfare and its sister publications since I first found them. They are from the Netherlands, in English, and are great resources. The writing is not quite academic-level in terms of jargon and complexity, but it’s not dumbed-down, either, and the authors of the articles assume that their readers are adults who know the basics of, oh, the Roman civil wars, or the War of the Roses. Some of the issues I don’t take to Day Job, because the blunt coverage of the subject matter might be a little much.
I discovered Victoria when I was in high school, and my homeroom teacher had a few in the room. I devoured them. Lacey things, beautiful houses, gracious living, soothing essays about domestic pleasures, articles about stately homes in England or cozy retreats in France and northern Italy, tranquil places to visit in the US, lovely food and decorating ideas . . . It was a wonderful escape, a bit like Southern Living at the time. Then Victoria disappeared, and Southern Living got watered down and turned into a slick pop-culture-with-drug-ads magazine (and the reading level dropped from 8th grade to 4th, but that’s a different rant.)
Ten or so years ago, maybe more recently, a woman in the publishing business who had loved the old Victoria revived it, more or less duplicating the original. It is still here, and seems to be thriving. Same format, same essays and letters and artist-in-residence and gardening and food.
I buy it whenever I can. It is pure escape. I have no time, place, or patience for the beautiful painted dishes and leaded-crystal table-settings, for the gracious bedrooms draped in soft silk and alpaca blankets and bedding. Going to the South of France and spending weeks doesn’t appeal all that much, unless it is to go hiking and travel to the prehistoric and Roman and early medieval sites. As much as I enjoy looking at the English gardens and stately homes, I can’t afford to stay there, and I’d probably stand out (or perhaps not. Given how my wardrobe inclines toward Victorian-inspired and English-country-shooting-party). Many of the recipes require ingredients not easily found in the Texas panhandle. But oh, it’s fun to imagine, and to look at the pictures!
Escape. The magazine is pure, 100% escape. It is a few hours in a different world, full of different people. No politics, no current events, nothing of what I deal with daily appears between the covers. It’s just attractive and entertaining. It’s the magazine version of a cup of tea (or really good coffee) and cookies or a slice of cake on a cold, wet day after a cup of wonderful home-made soup. Sort of a mental refuge, I can look at the pictures, read about places I probably would not want to spend a lot of time in during tourist season, and hide from the world. The publication features small businesses, often run or founded by women, and neat, feminine stuff that I don’t need but that’s fun to imagine having (fancy stationary, an alpaca-wool blanket, the proscuttio-stuffed black figs).
It’s as escapist as popcorn fantasy novels and formula romance books. And that’s fine. We all need an escape, some days.
I’d never really sat down and listened to the song before. A pattern caught my ear. “Wait, seven? Seven seas, seven years, seven rivers? Hmm, that’s a folksong pattern that goes back to the Bible and a few other places.” Places like the song “Greenwood Sidie-O [The Cruel Mother]” among others . . .
The lyrics to “Eversleeping” (single version):
Once I travelled 7 seas to find my love And once I sang 700 songs Well, maybe I still have to walk 7000 miles Until I find the one that I belong
Once I crossed 7 rivers to find my love And once, for 7 years, I forgot my name Well, if I have to I will die 7 deaths just to lie In the arms of my eversleeping aim
I will rest my head side by side To the one that stays in the night I will lose my breath in my last words of sorrow And whatever comes will come soon Dying I will pray to the moon That there once will be a better tomorrow
I dreamt last night that he came to me He said: “My love, why do you cry?” For now it won’t be be long any more
“Eversleeping” Writer(s): Marco Heubaum, Elisabeth Middelhauve, Philip Restemeier, Gerit Lamm, Elisabeth Schaphaus From the album Ravenheart (2004)
The motifs of seeking a lost love, of traveling over multiple obstacles, of dreaming of the lost love . . . Can be found all over the place. I grew up with “Siúil a Rún,” “The Wars of High Germany,” “Scarborough Fair,” “She Moved Through the Fair,” and a lot of other folk songs. Folk tales too include people traveling long distances over mountain and ocean to track down a lost love (“East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” several Russian stories . . .) And of course, the dead lover (“Hills of Shiloh,” Gordon Lightfoot’s “Bitter Green,” “Hills of Loch Lomand.”) https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheLostLenore
Xandria plays with those folk-song ideas a fair amount, at least in some of their albums. “Rose on the Grave of Love” is probably the most obvious (“Barbara Allen,” and a host of others). Xandria tends to be more melodic than some other Goth-rock groups, which also fits the folk-motif borrowing. And of course, mourning over a distant or deceased lover is a staple in Goth-y stories and romances and characters and so forth. Edgar Allen Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” the premise behind some of Behind the Black Veil‘s songs from Dark Sarah . . . The tropes are common, and ancient. It’s just intriguing to find them used in new ways, by new genres of music. Part of me wonders if some of this is the influence of groups like Jethro Tull, Steeleye Span, and the folk-rock side of rock, blending with the Goth and metal sides.
Since Xandria appears to have broken up [ah, band dramas!], I can’t exactly ask them, but it’s fun to speculate.
We seem to be in a time when the old, solid, tales-for-hard-times are returning to popular attention. I was reminded of this when I realized that the preacher for the church where I sing has selected nothing but the solid, old-time hymns since he got to the church. You know, things like:
You should hear a massed male choir sing that, in Welsh. WOW. You might not be a believer, but the sheer strength and power of the song grabs you.
One of my favorite old hymns, not done too often because it is too mystical and too harsh for a lot of people is “Jesus, Lover of my Soul.”
Jesus, lover of my soul, Let me to Thy bosom fly, While the nearer waters roll, While the tempest still is high. Hide me, O my Savior, hide, Till the storm of life is past; Safe into the haven guide; Oh, receive my soul at last.
Other refuge have I none, Hangs my helpless soul on Thee; Leave, ah! leave me not alone, Still support and comfort me. All my trust on Thee is stayed, All my help from Thee I bring; Cover my defenseless head With the shadow of Thy wing.
Wilt Thou not regard my call? Wilt Thou not accept my prayer? Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall— Lo! on Thee I cast my care. Reach me out Thy gracious hand! While I of Thy strength receive, Hoping against hope I stand, Dying, and behold, I live. (Charles Wesley, 1740 or so)
The tune is minor, as so many of the songs I love are.
The stories that people seem to want today are not warm and fuzzy, exactly. Soft, fun escape stories are out there, and are selling briskly, true. But what also does well are the stories about getting through the hard times, surviving the storm and coming out greyer, scarred perhaps, and with your family intact. Or just defeating the enemy and coming home.
One of the weaknesses I see in a lot of Hollywood and NYC fiction is the unending insistence on breaking or modifying the story just to have the proper characters in the tale. Anne Boleyn has to be of recent African descent. The “hero” always turns out to be corrupt, or a dog-hater, or something. You must have so many of this, so many of that, none of those, and if it means invoking waif-fu* and Mary Sues and leaving nothing but the faintest whiff of the core story in place, hey! We’re inverting the trope, Dude! Like the YA novel I saw two years ago that proudly proclaimed that it was a gender-flipped version of The Princess Bride. For all I know, the author might have been able to pull it off, if she was good enough. But the description turned me off of even reading the first few pages. What’s left is worse than cotton candy. Cotton candy is sweet, sticky, and you know that it will be a mess and bad for you. That’s the point. 🙂 This stuff . . . is corrosive, and leaves you nothing to fall back on in hard times.
Hard times call for the old stories, old songs. Where the characters go through H-ll and come out the other side, singed but stronger. The ones that you can read over and over, and that can give you ideas for how to strengthen your back-bone and get through it, whatever “it” may happen to be.
Like old, great songs, the kind that inspire, comfort, that acknowledge that life can be hard, very hard, and painful, and that we feel lost and so very alone sometimes. And that tell us that we’re not alone, that others have suffered the like troubles. We got through the Great Depression and the Spanish Influenza. We got through the Thirty Years War, and the Ottoman Wars, and the Black Death, and the end of the Ming Dynasty, and . . . “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,” except for the composers and poets and authors who did, and who survived, and left us hope and ideas and inspiration.
This is a setting of Psalm 100, a call to sing and rejoice. Note the composer’s dates. He did most of his work during the Thirty Years War and chaos around that time. He had to write motets because he didn’t have large choirs and orchestras due to the hard times. And yet he produced beautiful music that we still sing today. (This is a double-choir piece, call and response.)
OK, just because of the location and the voices:
*Waif-fu is the martial art discipline that allows a 90 lb, 5′ tall female to go hand-to-hand against a 250 lb, 6′ tall, professionally trained soldier or MMA fighter or police officer and beat him like a rented mule.
Yes, squash season is wrapping up . . . sort of. This casserole also works with patty-pan squash. You know, the little flattish white ones that look a bit like tops, and that everyone else uses to decorate with? Those. This is fairly simple once you get all the prep done, and you can make it the night before, refrigerate it raw, then bake it the next morning and take it to a brunch or the like.
Instead of saltines, I used Ritz™ crackers. You could also get fancy and use panko, or something similar.
Three pounds summer squash, sliced fairly thin*
Three red bell peppers (or orange and yellow), sliced into strips
1 C. finely chopped onion. The original calls for yellow. I used white, because the yellow onions have been past their prime recently.
Four cloves minced garlic (a large dollop)
1T plus 1t salt
4 cups shredded cheddar cheese, orange or white, your choice.
3 cups crushed crackers (or breadcrumbs)
1 tub of sour cream (16 ounces)
1 lightly beaten large egg
2 T fresh thyme
black pepper to taste (I omit)
5 T melted butter
Preheat oven to 350, and grease a 13X9 baking dish.
Combine squash, bell pepper, onion, garlic, and 1T salt in a large pot with water to cover (I use less water, because the squash have a lot of water in them). Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 6 minutes or so, depending on altitude, until the veggies are tender. Drain very well. You don’t want overly soggy veggies.
Combine squash and friends with 3 cups of the cheese, the sour cream, egg, and thyme, two cups crushed crackers or breadcrumbs, and 1t salt. Mix well, and put in the baking dish, spreading to make an even surface. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the top.
In a separate bowl, combine the melted butter with the rest of the crackers and blend. Put casserole into the oven. After ten minutes or so, cover the top with the cracker-butter blend, then bake for, well, supposedly 30 minutes, but I’m at 3600′ of elevation, and 45 was closer to the mark. Until it is fairly firm in the middle. You know, proper casserole consistency. It will be a little moist, but shouldn’t be too drippy.
It is rich, savory, and filling. This is an old school casserole, not one of your light-and-healthy ones. You know the ones, the kind your grandmother made to take to brunch, or delivered to the family of the deceased (if you are in the South or parts of the Midwest). It serves 10-12 people, or fewer if they like it and the meat isn’t too filling.
You could probably add a little bacon, but that might be gilding the lily. Or perhaps not.
*Fear not, this isn’t really as much as it sounds once you cook, then drain it.
No, that was his cousin, Meno Mosso. You’re thinking of Pie Jesu*, who was the shortstop for the Dodgers back in ’74, before they traded him to the White Socks.
Actually, those are both musical terms, describing how a composition is to be played or sung. Composers generally include descriptive terms to indicate the “mood” and pace of a piece, beyond just the notes on the page. How many quarter notes (or half notes, or eighth notes) in a minute, the feel of the tempo – fast as in driving, fast as in lively, fast as in frenetic – and how connected the notes are supposed to be. Instrumental composers, since they don’t have a text to use to clue in their musicians, lean a lot on “andante” “largo,” “piu mosso” and their cousins. Often, a full symphony will be divided into movements titled after the tempo. “Andante,” then “Largo,” then “allegro,” and so on.
The slowest I’ve seen, and that rarely, is “lento.” This is slow, often mournful. “Piu lento” means a little more lento, but don’t drag. In choirs, we tend to push really, really slow tempi, often because we feel the need for air. Orchestras can go even slower, and do, but choirs need to breathe. Or at least, we think we do. Timing a “lento” is up to sixty beats per minute, or one beat a second, but usually slower. Often the eighth note will get one beat, slowing things even farther.
More common in the music I’ve done is “largo.” Largo is thoughtful, dignified, but not painfully slow. Largo reminds me of paddling slowly across a lake. These are your deep, swelling chords, rising and falling like great waves on the sea. Next comes “adagio”, stately and steady. The so-called “Albiani Adagio” is probably the most famous adagio. Often a movement in a symphony will be labeled adagio. There may be faster bits in the over-all adagio feeling, but the general “push” of the music is slow to moderate.
Andante is a steady walking pace, if you are not walking with me. (I walk allegro). It’s your basic not too fast, not too slow, we’ll get there tempo. Choirs like andante. Orchestras see andante as a lead-up to allegro or presto, or a respite from allegro and presto. String players appreciate andante and slower, while the woodwinds and brass sometimes express doubts. (Remember, orchestra brass and woodwinds don’t breathe. Choirs breathe. Strings and percussion can do whatever the heck they want, and the pianist has a beer on the music-rest so he’s not worried about anything!) When in doubt, andante.
Allegro and vivace are “trot” and “look lively and run fast.” Allegro can be used for choral tempi, but vivace is not all that common. Usually, the composer just changes the time signature, so that instead of a quarter note getting one beat, it is the half note. That means the music suddenly goes twice as fast. At least. Beethoven, I’m looking at you. (The second half of the “Credo” in the Missa Solemnis, the “Et vitam venturi saeculi” portion.)
A musician may also see French, German, and English terms as well, and their general sense is understood. I’ve not seen much French annotation aside from organ music, but I’m very familiar with the German (organ again, and other things) and English.
“Piu” means more of whatever it was. “Meno” means less of it. So a piu mosso direction calls for a bit more speed and a more sprightly style. Meno mosso is a call to rein it in, slow a little, connect the notes more so the tempo sounds slower.
Conductors are free to shift things around, and all these instructions are a range. Some choirs and orchestras or soloists can do certain things faster, or slower, and the conductor’s job is to work within the broad sense of pacing and speed to get the most feeling or precision, or both, out of the group. Unless the composer is standing there, correcting things. Then you listen to the composer.
*”Pie Jesu,” pronounced pee-ay yay-sue, is Latin and is also the title for a movement in the mass. Although I’ve heard a conductor order a choir to “sing it like the Lloyd-Weber ‘Pie Jesu’.” It worked, because we all knew what the composition sounded like.
Or: Why Environmental History isSOOOOOOO much easier than European history.
Due to a complicated series of events, and research for the next Merchant book, I found myself wading into the politics of the Guelphs and Gibilines, or the Welf and Staufer and Salier families (for those north of the Alps). I’ve been known to joke that the Spanish Habsburg family tree is a stick, because of a number of too-close-for-their-own-good marriages. The alliances, marriages, separations, and relationships between the major and many minor nobles of the Holy Roman Empire, and to a lesser degree (but not too much lesser) Hungary, Bohemia, and Poland look like a thorn-thicket stretching from Wales to Kiev.
Which does tend to explain a few cases of “Why didn’t [Emperor] just slap down [problem person] ten years earlier?” And “Why did he think trying to intervene in [Poland/Hungary/Bohemia]’s civil war was a good idea?” Because he, whoever he was at the time, had a dog or at least an in-law in the fight. Sometimes. Sometimes? Eh, pure power politics, and once or twice I suspect sheer boredom back home.
One reason for all the complicated crosses and out-crosses is that in the 900s-1200s, give or take, the Church did not allow marriages between relatives to the 7th degree. Even second or third cousin was out, unacceptable without a lot of paperwork and penances and really good reasons. So you have Salian princes from the Rhineland looking at duchesses in Anjou, France, but since they have a common great-grandfather, the betrothal is challenged by the Church. It also means that the two family heads on opposite sides of “who gets the imperial crown” fight may also be cousins (probable), uncle and nephew (possible), and step-father and step-son (at least twice and wasn’t that a mess). And the occasional “I’m marrying from way the heck outside the region, in part for dowry, in part because I need neutral help, and in part because I give up trying to shop local.”
OK, perhaps I exaggerate on the last one, but it’s easy to imagine someone looking at the list of possible spouses and having a priest scratch off ten of the eleven candidates, and that last one is only eight years old, and you are twenty. Thus the occasional Byzantine, Rus, Anglo, or Scandinavian popping up in Germanic pedigrees. Trade, diplomacy, and other things played larger roles, but consanguinity was a major legal concern.
So, what I was trying to sort out was: if Frederick Barbarossa’s election as Holy Roman Emperor was a sort of compromise between the (Guelphs) Welfs and Babenburgs (Bavaria, Austria) and (Ghibellines) Saliens and Staufers (Rhineland, central German lands), why did Barbarossa not deal more firmly with Henry of Bavaria and Saxony earlier? Well, in part, the three most powerful dukes—regional rulers—in the central Empire were Barbarossa’s uncles, including Henry of Saxony. Among other things, but the family connection played a role.
However, when we think of Guelphs and Ghibellines, we usually think of Italy. After Barbarossa’s election, the Italians seem to have looked north, shrugged a little, kept the names of the two sides, and continued going after each other for other reasons. Ah, Italian Renaissance politics.
Alas, the giant butterfly bush (Buddleia) in the front yard succumbed to age and hard winter weather.
We had a lot of swallowtail caterpillars back in the summer. And the cardinals ate all of them. However, Mom spotted a few second-round caterpillars recently, and moved them to a dense stand of fennel, well hidden from cardinals and jays.
The monarch butterflies came through a few weeks back, in late August. This is early, and they didn’t linger. The main migration seems to have shifted east this year, although that might be due to the lack of rain in the few weeks before they appeared. NM and CO dried out a little before we did, and were hotter, so that might also have encouraged the shift. Plus we didn’t have much that the monarchs cared for. They were all next door, pestering something red and fluffy (not a Buddleia) at the neighbor’s place.
The Mississippi kites, which arrived late this year, departed about the same time. The cicadas went silent last week, more or less, and the crickets are not as numerous as in August. Spiders have begun moving into the building at Day Job. We’ve had a few cool fronts knocking the temperatures down from the mid-upper 90s to our seasonal average lower 80s, but nothing really huge, yet. Those came through in August. We are also dry, even for this time of year. It is as if a switch flipped. Last week was hot and muggy, this week is warm and dry (from upper 60s F dewpoints to upper 40s dewpoints).
Orion is at the peak of the sky when I go out at 0600 to walk. The year is turning, will we or nil we. I want cooler weather. I’m a little worried about a repeat of Snowvid 21, or the October storm of last year. But there’s nothing I can do to change the weather, or to stop the change of seasons.
I am peeved about the Buddleia, though. I have yet to find a replacement as hardy as the big yellow one in the front garden. And the big purple one in the back took quite a beating from the cold this past winter, and June’s heat didn’t help.
*shrug* Welcome to gardening on the edge of a high desert.
The textbook I use to teach history has a picture of Dante in the section about the Renaissance. This year (September 14 to be exact) is the 700th anniversary of his demise. He is most famous for a series of three epic poems detailing a soul’s journey through Hell and Purgatory into Paradise, and then back to the world.
The third chapter (Canto) of The Inferno describes souls and angels who are tormented, but are not in either Hell or Heaven, because the angels would not choose between G-d and Satan, and the people were neither good nor evil. They can’t go up because they lack virtue, but they will be lorded-over by the truly damned in Hell, which isn’t just (and would reward some of the damned, so that’s not acceptable, either.)
For some reason, this year I was skimming over bits of the Inferno to use in a lesson about education and the Renaissance, and thought of someone who was neither good enough for heaven or bad enough for the infernal realm.
Now Tomlinson gave up the ghost in his house in Berkeley Square, And a Spirit came to his bedside and gripped him by the hair — A Spirit gripped him by the hair and carried him far away, Till he heard as the roar of a rain-fed ford the roar of the Milky Way: Till he heard the roar of the Milky Way die down and drone and cease, And they came to the Gate within the Wall where Peter holds the keys. “Stand up, stand up now, Tomlinson, and answer loud and high The good that ye did for the sake of men or ever ye came to die — The good that ye did for the sake of men in little earth so lone!” And the naked soul of Tomlinson grew white as a rain-washed bone.
The poem is much longer than the excerpt above, but Tomlinson, the newly dead, can’t get into heaven or you-know-where because he never did anything. Now, [spoiler] since Old Scratch is a lawyer at heart, he finds “the roots of sin” in the unhappy Tomlinson and sends him back to go, you know, actually commit a sin and earn his place among the damned.
Both Dante and Kipling are riffing off of Revelation 3: 14-22, the letter to the church in Laodicea. Because the Laodiceans were neither hot nor cold, they are rejected. “Go do something!” Preferably good, of course, but anything is better than nothing. Dante finds himself in trouble at the beginning of the Inferno because he is guilty of acedia (sloth). He knows what is good, what he ought to do, and . . . can’t be bothered. He’s spiritually lazy. He doesn’t do any good (” . . . those things which we have done and those which we have left undone,” as one confession puts it.) That’s Tomlinson’s sin as well. Acedia, “sloth,” not doing what should be done. In Tomlinson’s case, he hadn’t bothered to do anything but read about other people’s activities. Dante . . . spent a wee bit too much time on politics, but he claims sloth/acedia.
I’m sure that Kipling had read Dante. Everyone did, in those days. I know Kipling knew the Biblical reference. And he probably had met more than one Tomlinson, people who lived only in books, and never thought for themselves. “This I thought that another man thought of a Karl in Norway,” Tomlinson claims. But he, himself, never did.
Be either hot or cold, a saint or a sinner, choose G-d or Satan. But don’t just sit there!
The short story for the next Tales Around the Supper Table anthology is done. I’m going to give it another once-over, now that it has “rested,” and send it off to the editor. That collection should be *taps wood* out later this fall.
I got the draft of White Gold and Empire done last weekend. It needs major revision before it goes to the alpha readers, mostly to get the “voice” unified across the book. Keep in mind, I started it in the fall of ’19, then set it aside, so it needs to be smoothed out, and one big plot thread tucked away.
I have the plot for another Merchant book sketched out. I’m going to work on it for NaNoWriMo (November). The tentative title is City, Priest, and Empire, and it is set at the end of the Great Cold. It appears that I can’t really do a good Merchant world book unless I am immersed in Central Europe stuff, either being there or doing a lot of heavy research for something else. *shrug* #WriterWorldProblems
The stories for Familiar Paths are well underway, and I hope to have those done by the end of October, for a December release.
I know how the next Elect story will go, it is a matter of clearing space in my head to work on it, now that the reference book I needed has arrived. The main character is Paulus, and the female lead doesn’t have a name yet. She’s an environmental science major with more Grand Plans than sense, at least until reality, ahem, bites.
Day Job is rather calm for the moment this term, as usually happens. Spring is when things tend to go rodeo.