An A-maze-ing Mystery

I just watched about the silliest movie ever – Clue – with Tim Curry, Leslie Ann Warren, etc,. etc., etc.,  But what is a ‘clue?’  According to Business Insider a clue is “(noun): a fact or idea that serves as a guide or aid in a task or problem.” And in the movie, as in the board game, there are an overabundance of clues.

We are all familiar with clues from our favorite detective books and shows:  from Sherlock Holmes, to Miss Marple, to “C.S.I.,” to “Blue Bloods.”  All of the crime stories involve finding the clue or clues and – in an impossibly short period of time – solving the mystery!  But where did we get this word?  How did it come into use?

Thank the Greeks.  Sort of.  Actually, the word we know, ‘clue,’ did not exist until the mid-1500’s.  But there was a homophonic word, ‘clew,’ around long before that.  A clew is a ball of twine, rope, or cord. It was and is usually associated with sailing, where it has two meanings – the ball of cord, OR a ring in the bottom of a sail that cord is run through to attach the sail to the ship.

But what on earth does all that have to do with solving mysteries, you ask?  Well, back to the Greeks. Theseus, an Athenian prince, had many mythic adventures.  One of them took him to Crete to stop the Minotaur from slaying Athenians every 7 years. (For details as to why, check Wikipedia.) However, the king of Crete’s daughter, Ariadne, fell in love with Theseus and found a way to help him.  She knew the way in and out of the labyrinth which confined the Minotaur, so she told Theseus how to get in AND gave him a – wait for it – a CLEW of thread to help him find his way back out! So the clew solved the mystery of the maze.

Now humans being the way we are, the word ‘clew’ came to mean something that points the way (out).  And of course, illiteracy being more common than not in the 1500 and 1600’s, the spelling changed to ‘clue.’

So whether you are tying a sail, navigating a maze, or solving a mystery, you will probably need a clew at some point.  Or do I mean a clue?  Maybe I’d better get one.  A clue, that is!



It’s funny the things we do to cope.  14 years ago in September, I was at Walt Disney World with my honey, Steve, on our honeymoon.  One night, on the way out of the park, we went into one of the large shops in one of the parks.  I always liked to look at the clothing and nightwear )and everything else!)  Steve was someplace – lost him.  Anyway,  as I was wandering around, here he comes with a LARGE Disney bag.  I wondered what on earth he bought, because he was generally a window-shopper.

So he opens the bag and pulls out — Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger.  18 inches each worth of Pooh and Tigger!

For 13 years, these two buddies either sat on our bed or on the chest at the foot of the bed.  Last fall one morning, they got tossed over against the wall, on the cedar chest, with other unsorted junk.

Finally, today, they came home.

Pooh and Tigger come home.jpg

A Word Becomes An Encounter

What happens when a non-science type person encounters an essayist who happens to be a paleontologist?  Quite a lot, actually.

It began one year when I was in college.  My mom gave me a subscription to Natural History magazine one Christmas, simple because she knew I enjoyed the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.  I enjoyed reading about the various exhibits at the museum and many of the articles, skipping over the more scientific ones.  But I gradually began reading the monthly column, “This View of Life,” by Stephen Jay Gould.  I imagine that the first time I read it was because of an interesting title or subject.

I was hooked – even if I found nothing else of interest in the rest of the magazine in a given month, I never missed reading “This View of Life.”  I even started reading and collecting Dr. Gould’s books.  The first ones I read were collections of his essays from the magazine, usually being related to a central theme.  Gradually I began to read other books of his, including The Mis-measure of Man­ and Wonderful Life.


I often felt challenged by Dr. Gould’s massive vocabulary, and hindered by my own lack of knowledge regarding biology and other sciences.  (After all, what need does a language major have of knowing a thorax from a dorsal fin!)  I often read his books, especially Wonderful Life, with a dictionary on one side of me and an encyclopedia on the other.

Because I read so many of his books, I noticed that there was one word in particular that Dr. Gould liked to use quite regularly. That word was ‘polymath.’  I could not find it in my rather large (but apparently not large enough) dictionary at home, so I went to the public library one day and tried their HUGE dictionary.  Nothing.  Having some small knowledge of word origins and Latin roots, I knew ‘poly’ meant ‘many,’ and ‘math’ obviously had to do with knowledge or numbers somehow, but that’s as far as I could get through deductive reasoning.

One day, I was at work and someone asked what I was reading, and in the course of the conversation, I mentioned trying to find the meaning of ‘polymath.’  My co-worker said, “Well, why don’t you write to him and ask what it means?”  Hmm.  So, I found a phone number for Harvard University, and called them up, asking them for a mailing address for Stephen Jay Gould.  Surprisingly they gave me a general address for his department. So I wrote.  And he answered!  A handwritten letter, even.  He said that a “polymath was a person who was skilled in many different areas or disciplines.  (Thank you, mystery solved.)  Oh, and by the way, I’m lecturing at the Free Library in Philadelphia in a few weeks – I would love to meet you if you are interested.”  Was I?  Brother, you know it.

So, I called the Library to see about a ticket.  They gave me another number, called that, tickets sold out, but I can view a free simulcast in the library rotunda and they’ll put me on a waiting list.  Co-worker (same one – smart girl!) says, why don’t you write to him and tell him you can’t get a ticket – maybe he can get a pass?

Well, I thought it was a long shot, but since he wrote on Harvard letterhead, I now have an exact address to send it to, so, why not?  Fast forward about 3 weeks.  Busy day at work as usual.  My coworker takes a call, places it on hold, and says to me, “Jackie, it’s Dr. Golden for you.  I think he’s with the University of Pennsylvania.  Are we still handling that account?”  I didn’t think so, but a call is a call, so I picked up the line.

“Hello, this is Stephen Gould from Harvard.  I have a guest pass for the lecture, and I will leave it at the desk for you.  Will you come backstage afterwards?  I’d like to meet you?”  I nearly fell off my chair! Needless to say, I went over to Philadelphia, found the library, and went backstage after (with my copy of Wonderful Life, naturally!)   I listened as Dr. Gould spoke to others there who there asking him to sign books, and telling them he never personalizes them, just signs his name, if that’s alright.  When I was able to speak with him, I explained who I was.  He immediately took my book and wrote in it.  But I could tell, he wrote more than his name! He did indeed personalized it!  When he handed it back to me he asked if I could wait and have coffee with him later.  Naturally, I agreed.  After all, coffee at the Four Seasons and conversation with such a mind -who wouldn’t?

What an experience speaking with such a brilliant man.  He was down to earth, speaking about his son and his love of baseball, his family, his work.  What struck me is that he didn’t have separate vocabularies for speaking and writing, as most people do.  No, he used words and used them well.

But all good things come to an end. After all, it was a weeknight, I lived an hour away, and I had to go to work in the morning.  He walked my back to my car, I dropped him back at his hotel.  Good night, farewell.

The only other time I met Stephen Jay Gould was in New York, at the American Museum of Natural History, several years later.  Another lecture, another line of people having books signed.  He was looking down at the table as each one placed a book there for him to sign.  When it was my turn, I just said, “You already signed mine in Philadelphia.”  He looked up then, stood up and smiled, gave me a hug, and said, “It is so nice that you came to another lecture.  It’s good to see you again.”

He died a couple of years after that, but I still remember how a simple word led to such a memorable encounter with one of the most interesting men I have ever met.

The Incredible Newness of Being…Not-Us

I’m starting to understand why the Victorians and Edwardians set aside a year of mourning. It seems an arbitrary time frame, but in retrospect it’s not. It takes time to adjust, to change, to redefine. It takes time to create new patterns, habits, and plans. After a year, you start feeling kind of normal. Oh, not the way you used to feel normal, but normal for this newness of being.

In some ways it stinks. Well, in most ways it stinks. Old ‘us’ plans and dreams give way to new ‘just me’ plans. Dreams are still in the future, though. Planning is hard enough. It’s been 1 year and 23 days now – and that alone shows the newness. I’m not someone who remembers numbers. I always had to ask Steve what date my dad died! (Now I have to go look it up.) But I know what date, about what time, and even what day of the week Steve died. Ugh.

I’m getting better. I can focus on a book or project for more than 10 minutes at a time now.  I’m getting involved with new, not-us activities, like line dancing classes and teaching youth Sunday school. But it’s still difficult on an everyday level. I can’t just turn to someone in the morning and say ‘Let’s drive down to the shore, (or the mall, or wherever,)’ anymore. Now I have to decide to either go by myself or plan ahead with someone.  That, too, is the newness of not-us.

God has been faithful.  He has brought friends alongside to take care of what I couldn’t, and some things i still can’t.  He has given me people who call and say “Let’s go out.”  He has given me Himself, most importantly, and put up with me when I can’t seem to focus on His word.  But He is ever there with His peace.

So thank you to everyone who has stepped in and stepped up.  Thank you for caring, for loving, for just being there, And thank you, dearest Lord, for Your ever-present comfort.


Greetings, dear readers.  I know it’s been a long while since I’ve written anything but it’s been a rough year.

I decided to write tonight because I just finished a book, and have been pondering it since finishing.  The book is called The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club, by Gil McNeil. I don’t usually purchase books by unfamiliar authors and never buy paperbacks if I can help it – I tend to borrow them from the local library – but I went into Barnes & Noble on Saturday to buy Jan Karon’s latest in hardcover, and bought this on a whim, based on the title. Being a knitter myself, it intrigued me.

The plot and characters were well written and well-developed. The basic plot involves a 30-something woman who is married to a foreign correspondent for a British news station. We meet Jo on moving day, when she can’t find the tea kettle, and packed the list that shows what box it is in. We also meet her two young boys and Jo’s best friend Ellen, a well-known newscaster, who saves the day by enticing the movers to pop out for coffee.  We learn that Jo’s husband recently earned a big promotion, but after he shares this news with Jo, he also informs her he wants a divorce because he’s having an affair.  An argument ensues, Nick storms out, and crashes his car. Not only that, we find out he took out a second mortgage on their house, making it impossible for Jo to afford to continue living in London.  Instead, she moves to a seaside town near her grandmother, and takes over her Gran’s yarn store, which Gran has given her.

The book details Jo’s transition as she begins a new and unexpected life.  We meet many interesting characters in the town – the stiff and disapproving shop assistant, Elsie; the warm-hearted and loyal new friend, Constanza; the local big-time movie star, Grace.  Ms McNeil has a fine touch of revealing the personalities and traits of these and the many other people who inhabit Jo’s world.  I was often reminded of the complex characters we met in Maeve Binchy’s novels.

But one thing I find hard to deal with is Ms McNeil’s constant use of expletives and foul language.  I have spent a good deal of time in England, among a similar class of people as in this novel, and have never heard them speak this way.  certainly with all the myriad of words in the English language, Ms McNeil could find another way to express herself without using the f-word on every page, or using the name of the Lord as a curse word.  Take a page out of Shakespeare, and get a bit more creative if you must curse, Gil!  She makes her characters sound as if they are all truck drivers and stevedores by the way they speak.

In conclusion, I liked the story, and would enjoy learning more about Jo McKenzie and her life, but, I think I will forgo reading any sequels until Ms McNeil cleans up her language.