About gretchenwing

A high school English and History teacher for 20 years, Gretchen now lives, writes, and bakes on Lopez Island, Washington.

But Wait! I Have One More Gift Idea! Just…Give! OK? Merry Christmas.

Before I sign off for the holiday week (I know, I’m not a teacher anymore, but I still think of Christmas/New Year as one lengthy holiday. That’s still better than the corporations, who seem to think it starts after Halloween.)–sorry, where was I? Right. The holidays. I know it’s late, but I have ONE MORE EXCELLENT GIFT IDEA, and it requires NO driving, NO wrapping, and very little time. But lots of thought, and heart.

Why not give the gift of giving? My best find of 2019 was the Americans of Conscience Checklist, a weekly message in my inbox full of suggestions of political phonecalls to make or letters to write (including thank-you notes to people who’ve taken good or brave action). AoCC is a regular part of my week now–usually 20 minutes’ worth.

And now, AoCC offers a curated list of causes to donate to, based on your passions–or those of the person you wish to gift. Click here to see the list.

Categories for giving include:

Migrant justice: give to an organization which collects airline miles to help re-unite separated migrant families.

Prison reform: support an organization dedicated to providing books for prisoners, while educating Americans about the prison crisis.

Election integrity: give to a non-partisan group which oversees elections at all levels, in our own country. And there’s one particular group that focuses on enfranchisement in Indian Country.

I can’t think of a better way to show your love for someone than to donate to a cause they love.

Of course, it’s not all about money. If you want to gift someone with the feeling I’ve been enjoying these past few months–the feeling of empowerment–just send them the AoCC link and let them feel it for themselves.Merry happy!

Merry, happy Everything, people! See you in 2020.

Approaching the Winter Solstice this year feels a lot like turning on the news…with this exception: history tells me that the northern hemisphere WILL, despite appearances,  soon begin gifting us with more light. But history makes no such promises when it comes to politics, poverty, or the poverty of politics. (And of course history is completely gobsmacked when it comes to climate chaos.)

So I went looking through the Interwebs for a Solstice poem to make myself feel better. Some light to look forward to, even as we declare “the first day of winter” and shiver on the sidewalk, or at the headlines.

Winter is beautiful. Winter is beautiful. Winter is beautiful…

I found several–some cheesy, some classical, some downright weird. (But write on, ye weird poets!) None said exactly what I was looking for. Then I checked my email inbox and found a jewel, from, of all places, our beloved local wine bar/deli, Vita’s Wildly Delicious. Well of course, the Vita’s newsletter! Who else but proprietor/chef/wine guy Bruce Botts to put his quirky finger on exactly what I needed?

Vita’s in a sunnier season. (Sorry, not sure whom to credit photo to–it’s from their Facebook page.)

Here’s the poem, by Raphael Kosek (who is, despite the name, a woman–here’s her website)

Young Man Lighting Up
The young man paused
       just long enough
to cup his hand lovingly
   around the cigarette
lighting it before stepping out
into the clench of four-lane traffic
   weaving his way
among us as I watched him
   slim and confident, bent
on reaching the store across
the street, careless with the surety
of youth, and I can only assume
   he reached his destination
as I didn’t hear the screech of brakes
or bray of horns as the light
   turned.
       The following
day I recalled him
   with longing,
       something connate,
and he grew
   in significance because
it was so insignificant—precisely why
I kept seeing him
   doing what we all do
       cupping our hands
around the thin flame of something

   we nurture for good or ill
as we step into the world’s
   thrash—confident, fully believing
      we will reach
the other side.

 

YES.  Yes please. Can we hear that again? “…cupping our hands around the thin flame of something we nurture for good or ill as we step into the world’s thrash–confident, fully believing we will reach the other side.”

Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful…

Thank you, Bruce, for passing on that thin flame. And to anyone reading this: may you find your own version of this poem when you feel the darkness deepen.

Happy Winter Solstice! Bring on the light!

 

Granola For Christmas: You’re Welcome

I rarely if ever re-blog myself. But this post is so dang seasonal! So…happy, merry Everything! And happy granola.

Wing's World

Would you like me to solve all your holiday gifting issues in two words? 

Homemade granola.

THIS stuff.

Okay, the average child or teen might not thrill to that. But I guarantee you anyone from college-age on up will say one of the following to you:

“This is great! I get so overwhelmed with sweet stuff over the holidays, it’s nice to have something healthy.”

“I grab a handful on my way out the door to work.”

“I keep it in my desk at work. I have to hide it from my co-workers.”

“I keep it in my freezer. I have to hide it from my housemates.”

“We eat it on everything. I don’t have time to make it, and the good stuff is so expensive.”

“What do you put in yours? Can I have the recipe?”

“What a great idea. I’m doing this next year.”

That last one? Maybe…

View original post 660 more words

Eyes White Open: Count Me In

If you’re at all political, or even if you just like bookstores, you’ve probably seen these titles on the front shelves:  Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. Debby Irving’s Waking Up White. Nell Irvin Painter’s The History of White People. And this is just the books on whiteness BY Whites. There are plenty of others by Black authors, but obviously the vibe is different. We’re clearly in a moment where folks who’ve always considered themselves “the good White people” (like me!) are suddenly feeling the need to study, well–ourselves. Our assumptions. Our Whiteness.

On the titles above, I’m two down and one to go and I’d love to talk about any of them with anyone. But since it’s easier for books to sell themselves than podcasts, I want to throw a little love to this podcast, from my hometown of Durham, NC: Scene On Radio’s series, Seeing White.

If you prefer to get your Whiteness-awareness-raising in smaller, more varied chunks, I’d suggest starting the series from the beginning, where host John Biewen (White) and his friend/mentor Chenjerai Kumanyika (Black) explain what it means to “turn the lens” onto a “race” that’s never really seen itself as such, even while determining the very meaning of the word. I’ve listened to a dozen, and they’ve all been DEEPLY thought-provoking.

But the last one I listened to, My White Friends, really made me want to share. Here’s the premise: photographer Myra Greene, who is Black, got a handful of her White friends to pose for pictures in ways that push the viewer to ask, “What is the Whiteness of this photo?”

Like this photo of a friend who’s a public high school teacher. With, yep–a Subaru. (photo by Myra Greene)

You can see more of Ms. Greene’s exhibition here. Her photos got me thinking, what is the Whiteness of some of my own? Let’s try a few.

Well, I’m obviously out in a mountainside meadow. Wilderness, or at least the illusion of wilderness, is important to me. Is that a White thing? And I have gear: knee braces, a water pump. Good boots. REI Nation! I know they’re trying to reach out, but still–REI’s a pretty White store, am I right?

OK, here, I’m performing in public–in flip-flops and a skirt sewed out of old T-shirts! I was raised to believe informality was cool, inviting even. It would never have occurred to me that some folks might find this disrespectful of the audience.

One more?

And here I am, back in the wilderness…this time very far from home. And though you can’t tell from the photo, it was taken on a Monday in March–not a holiday, mind you, just a regular workday, when I got to be on vacation. In my REI gear. What’s the Whiteness of that, you ask? Layers upon layers of privilege, which I’m only now starting to acknowledge.

If you’re up for it, and you’re White, choose a photo of your own to describe. If you look, can you see your own Whiteness?

Your Basic, Old-School Thanks-giving Post

Hot water.

Mosses and mushrooms.

Animals who cuddle with other species.

Ice.

People who are braver than I am.

Garlic.

Uniball pens.

Rhythm and harmony.

Dewy spiderwebs.

Hammocks.

People who go out of their way to be helpful.

Madrona trees. (Okay…all trees.)

Dark chocolate.

Clouds.

Cardboard.

My family. My family. My family.

Did I mention hammocks?

Keep this going, please: add yours! And may you thoroughly enjoy your Thanks Giving.

My Conscience Speaks In Joan Baez’s Voice. And I Don’t Care If That’s Weird.

A friend once offered some questions she’d brought back from a writing retreat. I can’t remember them verbatim, only that they were mind-opening. Especially the one that went something like this:

“Give your Inner Critic a persona and a voice. What does s/he say?”

I didn’t have to think at all. My Inner Critic–sometimes self-doubt, but more often simply my conscience–sounds like Joan Baez. She IS Joan Baez. And she usually wants to know, in her beautiful, stripped-down, poetic but peremptory way, why I’m not making more out of my time on Earth.

Do I need to explain this foible of mine, or defend it? Maybe I will, someday. But right now all I want to do is celebrate and share Joan singing, “The President Sang Amazing Grace.”

The song, written by Zoe Mulford, captures in song the moment Barack Obama did just that, in June 2015, while giving the eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was shot in his own church along with eight other worshippers by a young man in the depths of hate. But it also captures…amazing grace. The kind that turns hopeless grief into hopeful action. The kind that speaks, decade after decade, in Joan Baez’s voice, asking me if I’m living the best life I can lead.

That’s all I think I need to say. If the hatred of our age is getting to you…just listen to Joan. Then comment and/or share as you feel moved.

Confronting Amazon: Adventures in Moral Cowardice

I admit it: Amazon’s got me right where they want me, and I’ve been mostly loving it. And no, it’s not just ’cause I live on an island where you can’t always get what you want. I’ve slid into loving the whole experience, from the one-click purchase to the insanely speedy arrival of that smiley package at my door.

As an author and a loyal supporter of indie bookstores, of course, I rarely buy books from Amazon. (Irony! Remember when they called themselves “Earth’s Largest Bookstore?” Me neither.) For example, if you want to buy my books, I ask that you request your favorite Indie bookstore to order them.*Click on the link to see how: The Flying Burgowski.

*This shameless self-promotion brought to you by #supportyourlocalauthor

But my own books are published through Createspace, an Amazon company. And I was given a Kindle. Don’t use it much, but when I do–hello, Amazon. And did I mention how much I love finding packages at my door?

So of course I signed up for Amazon Prime. Ooh, free movies and music too! Got a little grumpy when they raised the price, but still–ooh, shiny free shipping. Which just encourages me to one-click more often.

I do support my local stationery/office supplies/gift shop, and my hardware store. I do send most of my loved ones homemade granola for Christmas, and what clothes I don’t buy at our Thrift Shop I buy at REI.

But oh wow, I can get six pairs of garden gloves for the price of one here on-island? And they’ll be here tomorrow?

Lately I’ve become disturbed by my own rampant acquisitiveness, but not enough to slow myself down much. But now, two additional considerations are doing just that.

First, I began hearing and reading news stores about Amazon using unmarked vehicles to ship, and calling the drivers “independent contractors.” Because Prime speed is the ultimate goal, these drivers are not given routes which avoid dangerous left turns (which UPS drivers do avoid). And if an “independent” Amazon driver does hurt or kill someone, Amazon dodges legal responsibility.

Second–and this was the biggie–I learned that Amazon has been making its cloud storage available to Palantir, the data-mining company that ICE uses to target people for arrest and deportation.

According to Karen Hao of MIT Technology Review,

a new investigation, published today, sheds more light on the web of tech companies involved in supporting ICE and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security.

The report, commissioned by activist organizations Mijente, the National Immigration Project, and the Immigrant Defense Project, found that Amazon has played as central a role as Palantir in providing the backbone infrastructure for many of ICE’s, and DHS’s, key programs. Amazon has also enjoyed a cozy relationship with the federal government that has helped it secure an outsize number of government contracts.

Hold up. Amazon is helping La Migra do its dirty work? THESE people?

ICE’s Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

That one hit me right where I live–or try to live. Because my first thought was, Wow, I need to join that Amazon boycott–and not just on Prime Day

And my second thought? I can’t quit Amazon! I just…can’t.

Stop selling my books? Ditch my Kindle? This is where the rubber of social activism meets the road of sacrifice. And I failed the test big time.

To salvage a few ounces of moral authority, I made two decisions.

  1. I quit Amazon Prime. At the very least, they won’t be getting an automatic $120 from me every year. And between my new efforts to avoid Amazon, and the very real costs of shipping, they won’t be getting as much of my money.
  2. I signed up for Amazon Smile, which allows you to donate 0.5% of eligible purchases to the charity of your choice. And I designated Advocates for Immigrants in Detention Northwest as my recipient.

But I’m still not very happy about my dependence on this giant company which I’ve loved so dearly and so long. Can I get an Amen? 😦

Trying on Wine, Or, A Taste of Tasting

As thirsty human beings go, I’m pretty basic. I drink Earl Grey tea all day, every day. When I eat pizza or tacos, I like a beer. If someone offers me wine, I’ll usually accept, but I don’t tend to buy it. And I NEVER go wine-tasting.

Enter The Niece (an appropriate verb, because The Niece is an actor). Last year, as her college graduation gift, I offered her an all-expenses-paid Auntie Weekend Package. She got some choices. To name a few: The Big Apple (go to NYC! see a show! eat Reubens!); the REI (stay in a National Park inn! go hiking! see moose!); the Spa (have our toenails painted in matching colors! ummm…what else do they do at spas? thank goodness she didn’t pick that one).

Obviously the National Park one would’ve been right up my alley, the NYC one right up hers–though actually a little too close to work for funsies. But I was pleasantly surprised when she picked The Sonoma: a weekend of wine-tasting in California’s sunny autumn. (Since I wanted to visit my cousins there anyway, I got to combine the trips in a two-fer.)

Of course Fate intervened last weekend, in the form of Sonoma’s terrifying Kincade Fire. Thank all those firefighting gods, at this posting, that fire is now over 80% contained–though other fires rage in SoCal. (Hang in there, SoCal!) So we pointed ourselves south instead, and off to the coast we went.

By my count, in 48 hours, we visited a vineyard, a tasting room, a wine bar, and a tap room. Also three restaurants. Not a bad alcohol: food ratio by my lights. And I definitely enjoyed each one, especially the part where you try to summon adjectives to describe what you’re tasting–I mean, I AM a writer!–and then compare your take with the official blurb.Wine, beer--whatevs. We're tasting!

But the whole time, I was aware that the activity of wine-tasting felt very alien, very Not Me.

The fact that I was more enamored of the labels than the actual wine should have been a clue.

In 48 hours, with only a minimum of driving,The Niece and I managed to absorb a whole bunch of non-tasting-related experiences. We thrilled to the unexpected opportunity to stroke some “ambassador owls” which were visiting the vineyard just then. (The vineyard’s been having some gopher issues, so they’re teaming up with a raptor center to welcome some hawks and owls there–win/win!) Being able to put fingers into the soft fluff of such fearsome birds was a dream come true.

C’mon, pet me!

Beneath the wharf, sea lions created a free aquarium display, all day.And what’s not to love about the California coastline?

Even better at sunrise!

Because it was El Día de los Muertos, we got to enjoy some extra festivities.

While in town (and yes, slightly buzzed), we allowed ourselves to be seduced by a consignment shop featuring glitzy gowns for $40 apiece. We did not buy anything, but man–I’d forgotten how fun it is to play dress-up!

Soooo tempted! Too bad I’m such a sensible person.

Thinking about it later, that dress-up activity offered itself as a fitting (pun intended) metaphor for the entire weekend. A wine person I am not. A taster I am not. But I sure had fun trying those roles on with a dear companion!

I won’t go wine-tasting again any time soon, any more than I’ll buy a silver-sequined gown. Even for $40. But every now and then, I might “taste” something equally out of character…and I might like the hell out of it.

But then I’m going back to my Earl Grey.

 

Handwritten Recipes: Chicken Soup For The Soul Even When They’re Vegetarian

The Mate and I have been downsizing again. You know. All those boxes that we decided to keep and store, the last time we downsized,10 years ago. Did they somehow go forth and multiply while we had our backs turned?

Among these boxes are old cookbooks, ones I swore I couldn’t part with 10 years ago. But have I used them in the last 10 years? Course not. So, into the boxes with them.

That part wasn’t too hard. But then I discovered the handwritten recipes.
Specifically, I found Aunt Erma’s recipe for fish chowder. Aunt Erma died 14 years ago, at the age of 90. She wasn’t my aunt, being on the Mate’s side, and she wasn’t actually even his—more of a cousin. First, once removed? Second? In truth, though, she was more of his adopted mom. Aunt Erma lived in a small hamlet near Gloucester, MA. She was a widely-renowned artist, and a wonderful cook. And her fish chowder was LEGENDARY.

Guess what recipe I found, in Erma’s handwriting?

It even includes illustrations!

In case you’re wondering, yes–I can actually read her handwriting. But the recipe’s become less legible over the years. Last time I made it, I simply modified an Internet recipe, Erma-style, by adding more butter. The point is not the exact recipe, of course. The point is the memories conjured by that loopy scrawl, that attention to detail, the voice I can almost hear as she transcribes her kitchen magic. She’d be making sure we had some good crusty bread to eat with our chowder. And of course she’d be warning us not to forget to pre-heat the bowls, whatever we do.

So I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do with Erma’s fish chowder recipe. I guess since I’ve taken its picture and blogged about it, maybe it’s time to let the actual papers find their way into our wood stove. Maybe I’ll think about it for the next 10 years.

But I do know one thing: right now, I want to cook me some fish chowder. With extra butter, and pre-warmed bowls.

Speaking of old family recipes, handwritten or otherwise…now would be a great time and place to share one! 

 

What Are We Actively Avoiding Paying Attention To? A Love Letter.

Dear Tacoma,

I know, I don’t write you often enough. As my adopted hometown, as my official Now I Am a Northwesterner Address, as the birthplace of my children, you have owned my heart since I first met you in the mid-80s. I love your grit, the hell-no-we’re-not-Seattle chip on your shoulder. I love all your big things: big trees, big ships, big trains, big Dome. Thanks for being you.

But Tacoma, you have a dark spot. No, I’m not talking about your Superfund sites–I know you’re working on those. I’m talking more a cancer, a symptom of our New American Normal of meanness. I’m talking about the Northwest Center for Detention, run by ICE in conjunction with GEO Group, a private prison firm.

The NWDC sits right smack in the middle of your industrial heart, Tacoma. And you know it. Your City Council approved it in 2004, and allowed its expansion in 2009. You probably know too about the hunger strikes that detainees have waged, on and off, since 2014, trying to improve conditions which our House Representative, Adam Smith, called “shocking.”

This particular demonstration was led by a synagogue from Seattle.

But I know you, Tacoma. I know you’d rather not think about the over 1,300 people locked up in your heart like hardcore prisoners for the crime of trying to live and work in this country, or fleeing violence in theirs, or both.

You know why I know how actively you’re avoiding thinking about those people, Tacoma? Because I’ve been doing the same thing. I’ve been REALLY good at it. Even though I moved away in 2010, I still consider myself a Tacoman at heart, and I haven’t even been aware of the NWDC until three years ago. And when I learned about it, did I take the time to learn why there were protesters out front? Did I do anything at all?

Self-explanatory.

Nope.

But Tacoma, that moment arrives when you have to look yourself in the mirror and stop pretending you don’t know about stuff you don’t want to think about. I had that moment a few months ago. It took me a long time to act on it for a number of reasons, but this past weekend I finally did. I joined the weekly protest run by La Resistencia.

Most of these protesters are from Seattle, I’m sorry to say–not Tacoma.

I’m a slow learner, Tacoma. Now that I’ve finally made myself learn about the conditions inside the NWDC–the maggots in the food, the medical neglect, the lack of clean water, the reprisals against anyone who dares to complain–I can’t un-know these things. And I can’t not get involved, and raise my voice.

Which is why I’m writing you this letter, with deep affection. You are better than this, Tacoma. We are all better. If you are actively avoiding this ugliness–ANY ugliness–as I have done, your conscience knows why.

Paper cranes of hope, outside the gates.

PS: Please don’t just take my word for it. Here’s ICE’s own website. Here’s KUOW’s take on the NWDC, with photos. And here’s the perspective of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.