Why Work Parties Make The Best Reunions

I haven’t attended a college reunion since my 10th, way back in…never mind…but the main memory I have of that time is of painting a house in Dorchester, Mass. No drama, just good, wholesome fun—and a wonderful chance to reconnect with folks while doing something more constructive than drinking.

Back when the Mate and I lived in North Carolina in the 1980s, we were building a New Hampshire-style timber-frame barn together in our spare time. Well, he was project manager; I was definitely unskilled labor at the time. But boy, could I organize a work party! They were always potlucks, always featuring a cookie we came to call “barn bars,” and always well attended by folks who didn’t have enough manual labor in their lives…or maybe did, but doing someone else’s, in a festive atmosphere, was a whole different, fun animal.

We grew so fond of “barn bars” that I made them into our wedding cake. Here’s the 25th Anniversary version.

Last summer our cousins in Vermont, who are young parents, were struggling a bit to run their farm, take care of their kiddos, and make some headway on the little house they were trying to restore in order to move out of the family-owned (and often occupied) farmhouse. The Mate proposed a work party to get their home at least roofed in for the winter. Sons One and Two were in the neighborhood, and they joined in, with other cousins and friends. They worked for a week and had a BLAST.

The Mate in his element

Since this was in August, I couldn’t get away from the bakery, but I pouted and plotted from afar…

…so this year? Vermont Family Work Party II is NOW. Which is why I won’t be blogging for a little while. But don’t worry; that cyber-silence you hear will be punctuated with ringing hammers.

(Who am I kidding? With my skill set, I’ll most likely end up as Crew Chef.) 

What do work parties need at the end of a long day? PIE! (And maybe some barn bars too.)

But I’m still bringing my work gloves just in case.

Work parties. Have you been to one? Have you held one? If so, please share. If not–what are you waiting for?

Reading Weeds, Part III: Roadside Roses I Don’t Deserve…But Thank You Anyway

Roadside roses are my own personal metaphor for life’s overflowing blessings.

Nature finds a way.

I’ve shared this song before, but it’s that time of year again.

Roadside Roses

 

As if the scenery weren’t already sweet

The air is alive with wild rose

As if my life weren’t already complete

This mountain of gratitude grows.

           

Chor.   Roadside roses, how they scent the evening air

            How they decorate the brambles of the past

            Sometimes happiness becomes too much to bear

            Some blessings are impossible to grasp.

 

No need to analyze, no need to think

How these wild gardens came to be

No cause and effect, there is no link                                                                                 

But it feels like they’re blooming for me.

           

Chor.   Roadside roses, how they scent the evening air

            How they decorate the brambles of the past

            Sometimes happiness becomes too much to bear

            Some blessings seem too delicate to last.

 

Bridge: Don’t take it personal, but make sure you take

            The portion that Nature has served                                                                                        

Joy’s universal, and so’s the heartache

            Of having more than you deserve.

 

Chor.   Roadside roses, how they scent the evening air

            How they decorate the brambles of the past

            Sometimes happiness becomes too much to bear

             Some blessings are not meant for us to ask.

 

If I were to linger here and breathe this perfume

Sweeping my duties away

Would I feel entitled, would I start to assume

That I’ve earned the privilege to stay?

 

Chor.   Roadside roses, how they scent the evening air

            How they decorate the brambles of the past

            Sometimes happiness becomes too much to bear

            Some blessings are not meant for us to ask.

             Some blessings are impossible to grasp.

G. Wing, June 2013

Now multiply this by an entire island

Do you have a favorite nature metaphor of your own? I collect them. Care to share?

Mmm…

 

Reading Weeds, Part II: The Thorns Beneath the Blooms

Spring, like new-fallen snow, makes photographers of us all. Whether or not we have a camera to hand, the freshness of new green and new blossoms sets our noticing muscles to full workout mode. Everything is worth capturing. 

And everything worth capturing is worth musing over. Spring beauty is full of metaphors. One that caught my eye a couple of years ago was the hawthorn, a blooming European tree that’s gone feral all over our island, spread by birds who enjoy the hawthorn’s deep-red berries in fall.

Wild hawthorn

So I wrote a song about lovely spring, and what its loveliness hides. Since it speaks for itself, I shall let it do just that:

Golden Day

Bless the spring, bless the earth,

bless the blossoms of rebirth.

Bless the hawthorn’s sweet perfume,

bless the thorns beneath the blooms.      

There’s no place for suffering on such a golden day,

but I know it’s hovering, not so far away.

Bless the one who struggles for a little grace;

to this tender sunlight let her lift her face.

—G. Wing, 2015

Bless the thorns beneath the blooms…

 

Reading Weeds, Part I: I’ll See Your Beauty And Raise You One Misery, or Vice-Versa

You may have heard of the millennial-era game, “Kill, F**k or Marry?” That (to me) distasteful phrase popped into my head the other day as I was riding by fields of green…or partial green, rather, sprinkled sometimes more than liberally with other colors. The colors of “weeds.”

Technically, I suppose, weeds are any plant growing where they aren’t wanted. The question that raises is, “Wanted for what?”

Who could object to moi???

If you’re growing hay, you abhor daisies. Kill. If you want a nice photo or a pretty bouquet, daisies are cool. F**k. And if, like me, you enjoy pondering the difference between weeds and crops, or sending love to all your friends with horrible allergies, daisies are an invitation to philosophy and empathy. Marry.

Late dustings of snow? Nope—early onslaught of daisies.

Daisies, of course, are only a convenient example; they have lots of pretty, invasive friends. Like the red-tinged sorrel in the photos above. Or buttercups.

I call this one, “Black Steed With Buttercups.”

And around here at least, even lupines want a piece of the action—you know, those tall, lovely blue numbers.

See ’em out there being tall, lovely and blue?

At the end of the day, the hay is cut, the daisies and their pretty friends die, and the allergy-sufferers close their windows and wait for September.

Well, hay there…

…leaving me to ponder the significance of something that provides more lasting nourishment in its dried-out state than alive. Damn. Farms are the philosophical gift that keeps on giving. THEM, I want to marry.

Intimacy and Old Lace: Up-Cycling My Forebears’ Wedding Dresses

I don’t know what year Stella Moore Jayne was born, but I do know that she died of tuberculosis in 1924…just 16 years after giving birth to my grandmother, Edith Jayne. Her husband, William Jayne, died just a few months later in an auto accident, leaving Edith–or Dede, as she was called–an orphan.

Stella Moore Jayne with baby Edith, 1908.

Dede Jayne Smith, my grandmother, was born in 1908. Unlike her parents, she lived to old age–to an incredible old age, in fact: 103 and a half. She died peacefully in 2012.

Why is this important to anyone but me and my family? It isn’t. And yet I made sure that a young friend of mine, who’s planning a wedding next fall, knew these details, because she will be using parts of both Stella’s and Dede’s wedding dresses to decorate her own.

Because I was the granddaughter who most enjoyed playing “dress-up,” Grandma Dede bequeathed these precious dresses, and other antique clothing, to me. But they were already falling apart by then, the delicate silk of bodice and skirt literally dissolving into sparkling flakes and filling the air with fairy dust.

Handle with CARE.

Great-grandma Stella’s dress was probably made around 1904. Grandma Dede’s dates from the late 20s, probably 1929–the year of the Crash. You can definitely see a nod to flapper style.

Somewhere I have a picture of me in this dress, but it would come apart if I tried it now.

So the dresses are shot. But the lace? It might be more beautiful than ever.

Just look at that detail. Grandma Dede said it was made by French nuns.

Can we get a close-up?

That’s what I’m talking about.

All antiques are special, but some are more special than others. Antique clothing is more intimate than anything I can think of that lasts down the years: not only is it worn next to the skin, it absorbs the body’s sweat and smells. There’s a reason clothes are the hardest thing to part with after a loved one’s death.

Couldn’t resist including this one. The card says “Made in 1890.” The rose on the bodice is carved of ivory. Can you imagine the corset it would have taken to get into this?

And these dresses were worn on what was very likely the most exciting day, to date, of these women’s lives. (Too bad birthing gowns are not treasured in the same way as bridal gowns!) 

So, because I can neither preserve nor wear them, I decided to up-cycle these dresses. But NOT anonymously.

I am beyond thrilled that Stella’s and Dede’s lace will live on in another wedding. I like to think of them as a blessing passed down from a century of womanhood. And I hope and trust that the new bride will remember their story as she sews it into her own.

Better Bundo Book: How an Adorable Bunny (and John Oliver) Remind Us That Love is Love

Do you like bunnies? How about adorable illustrations? Are you in favor of marriage equality? Then you might appreciate this post…

…especially if you subscribe to the “Be Careful What You Wish For” school of Maybe Impeaching Trump Isn’t the Greatest Idea.

Here’s how all those concepts connect: in this crazy, sweet book.

OMG that is one cute bunny!!!

Quick back story, in case you are not a follower of comedian John Oliver’s show “Last Week Tonight”:

Back in March, Oliver did a show reminding the nation of our Vice President’s hostility to gay marriage. I won’t go into detail; you can watch the episode here.

Here’s where the adorably illustrated bunnies come in, if you don’t have time to watch the clip. Mike Pence’s daughter Charlotte wrote a children’s book from the perspective of the Pence family’s pet rabbit, Marlon Bundo (gotta admit–cute name, and cute rabbit too). Her mom, Second Lady Karen Pence, illustrated—very skillfully, I might add.

But John Oliver, in order to highlight the VP’s less-than-warm & fuzziness toward gays (and to cause trouble–he is, after all, a comedian), chose to commission and co-write his OWN bunny book. Only this one’s about Marlon Bundo himself.

Safe to say Pence is not the hero of this one.

And even more, it’s about Marlon’s Very Special Day, where he meets…

Awww….

I won’t be a complete spoiler: please, buy your own copy of the book (which, by the way, has been massively outselling the original it’s spoofing). Buy several copies. It’s a great story, even better read aloud. Don’t believe me? You can practice right now with this final page:

Amen to that.

Expiring Educator: Now There’s A Job Description

“Expiring Educator Certificates 06/30/18” the email heading read.

My goodness, they’re being awfully casual about dying teachers, I thought. But reading on…oh. They mean ME.

Our records determine that you hold an educator certificate with an expiration date of June 30, 2018. You may log into your EDS account at any time to submit an application:https://eds.ospi.k12.wa.us. The application must be received no later than June 30, 2018 in order to continue to hold a valid certificate. If the process is delayed due to non-submission of an application, you risk beginning the 2018-2019 school year with an expired certificate. 

Ha! If I started teaching again next fall after an 8-year hiatus, I’d risk a lot more than an expired certificate! To say nothing of what those kids would risk with me as their returned-from-island-exile teacher.

“Um, Ms. Wing? We scan our homework in now. Nobody needs that lined paper.”

“We’re not supposed to raise our hands anymore. We just tap the icon. You didn’t KNOW that?”

“Pssst…where’s this lady been? Can you believe she just said we could email her if we had questions?”

I’ll probably have a work-stress dream tonight just thinking about it.

American Studies field trip, pausing on Tacoma’s Bridge of Glass

Except…here are some teaching things I miss the HELL out of:

  • watching teens, sleepy as lizards, slowly come to life during first period (if they didn’t, well–try harder tomorrow!)
  • joshing (“Hey, I like your shoes–can I have ’em?”)
  • those internal gasps of awe when some kid writes something I never saw coming
  • feeling the esprit de corps grow, falter, then grow again during group projects
  • throwing pieces of candy across the room to get someone’s attention (and calling Jolly Ranchers “Happy Farmers”)

    My 4th Period AP Lit. class showing off its food drive efforts

Not much suspense to this post. I’m not renewing the certificate I first earned in 1987. (If I’d planned to, I would have had to start many months ago!) I’ve been an ex-teacher for eight years now; this just makes it official. 

Except…is there such a thing as an ex-teacher, REALLY? Since I’m still chewing on this teachable moment, I’d say not. Better assign myself a longer essay than this to get that bittersweetness out of my system.

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Marathoners: Whoops, Too Late

I’m a child of marathon runners, and a distance runner myself. But I have managed to keep the marathon bug at bay my whole life–even the half-marathon! Without going into detail, let’s just say I watched my parents train and race enough to decide, at a young age, that this marathon thing did NOT look like fun.

My folks, in the 1970s, finishing a Ride and Tie—a kind of cross-country marathon with horses, and mountains. (Only the finish looked fun to me!)

The Mate’s and my sons are the children of non-marathoning distance runners. And we thought that they had inherited that particular set of genes. But we thought wrong. This coming weekend, Son Two will run his first marathon, at age 26. Apparently marathoning can skip generations. (Thanks, Mom & Dad.)

Son Two finishing a 5k a few years ago

Actually, I’m fine with the whole thing. Son Two is, admittedly, a tad under-trained, but he’s smart enough to take it easy and even quit at the threat of injury. I also admire the way he got into the race: not the usual “I must test myself” stuff, but “yeah, a friend asked me to keep him company, so I said yes.” And honestly? I’m a little bit proud of the family tradition asserting itself after all.

Not only were my parents marathoners, my mom in particular was a very GOOD one. In the 1970s, when the running craze first peaked, she set a national age-group record at 39. And therein lies a tale.

See, Mom chose the Buffalo to Niagara Marathon as her first–can’t remember why; maybe its lack of giant hills. Because Niagara Falls used to be considered the classic honeymoon spot, and because honeymoons USED to be when nice young women lost their virginity, she was struck with the parallel between running one’s first marathon and…you know. So she wrote a little story about it and sent it to Runner’s World.

Would you believe they thought it was too risqué? (Can’t believe those editors missed the chance to call it “too racy.”) So it never got published (except by my folk’s local track club)…

…until now. Without further ado, in honor of marathoners and women everywhere, I present “Honeymoon At Niagara,” by Martha Klopfer:

They stood together by the railing and gazed at the falls. Entranced at the swirling ropes of falling water, she wondered how such continual motion could resolve itself into something so constant, so beautiful. She raised her eyes to his and he smiled and squeezed her hand. Softly her mind shifted from the mystery of Niagara Falls to that other mystery she was soon to encounter. She was aware of prickles of nervousness and wished she could shrug them off. It wasn’t that she was afraid or thought that she wasn’t ready. In fact, she had gone pretty far already, even if she hadn’t yet gone all the way. It was just that you couldn’t really know what it was like until you had done it.

She leaned closer against him and took comfort from his strength. It was easier for him because he had done it before, and besides, he was a man. What was she worrying about, anyway? Certainly, she had read enough about it. She knew all about the importance of timing, and things like that. He had told her that he had trouble holding himself back long enough, but she didn’t think she’d have that problem. She was more worried about just finishing. No! She didn’t want to start thinking about the mechanics now. The most important thing was to relax. After all, one was supposed to enjoy it.

She shivered in spite of herself, and he put his arm around her and suggested that they go back to the motel. This would not be the time to catch a cold, would it? She heard the nervousness in his laugh and felt a rush of love tinged with amusement. His prior experience didn’t make him immune to the jitters either!

At dinner it was even more obvious to her that he was as nervous as she was. They talked about all sorts of unrelated things, but he was playing with his spaghetti more than eating it. Their half-filled plates were carried away. No doubt the waiter was used to that in Niagara Falls, she thought. It amused her, knowing what hearty appetites they usually had.

Back in their own motel room, they quickly got ready for bed. She suggested watching TV for awhile, because it really was so early. She was glad enough to snuggle against him in bed, but she still sought the distraction of their electronic companion. Was she really ready, she wondered?

Then, firmly decisive, he reached over and turned out the TV and the light. Tenderly he kissed her, then said goodnight, and rolled over. They should both try to get a good night’s sleep before the Marathon tomorrow.

Note: She was 4th of 17 women, 125th of 420 starters overall, in a time of 3 hours, 22 minutes, 12 seconds; age 39. First marathon, and a North American age record.

Notice that last bit? Told you she was good, didn’t I?

Mom still runs. Here she is in 2015, celebrating her 80th birthday with a mile on the track.

Why couldn’t I have inherited those legs???

So here’s to you, son. And you, Mom & Dad. And to all of y’all with more grit than me, doing what’s hard for whatever reason, because you want to test yourself, because it’s there, or just because a friend asked you to. Thanks for your example. Now, GO!!!

Gangstagrass: Building Bridges One Song At a Time

Hip-hop and Bluegrass: could there be two American musical genres further apart? (OK, maybe Hip-hop and Country. But I’m not holding my breath.) Chances are, if you love one, you loathe the other.

image from Gangstagrass.com

In this oh-so-polarized nation of ours, any sign of crossover strikes me as positive, like hearing about about interracial, inter-political, or interfaith marriages.

Gangstagrass , out of New York City, is almost exactly what it sounds like, except their style of rap is NOT what I would call “gangsta.” It’s progressive. Literally; just the fact of its existence moves us, as a country, forward. My friend Steve recently came across Gangstagrass at the Wintergrass Festival in Bellevue, WA this year. (Thanks, Steve, for sending the videos.)

Here’s what their website has to say:

Gangstagrass has toured internationally, blowing minds on main stages from SXSW to Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, with a live stage act taking full advantage of the improvisational aspects of both hip-hop and bluegrass. With two emcees R-Son and Dolio The Sleuth trading verses, Dan Whitener on Banjo, Landry McMeans on dobro, and Rench on guitar, and frequent 3 part harmonies, the Gangstagrass live show has garnered a reputation among fans for its dynamism and spontanaety. Currently touring across the US, Gangstagrass is using live performances to organically develop new material for an album that will further explode the boundaries between genres generally thought to be incompatible.

This is not a puff piece, so I’m not going to claim that Gangstagrass is top-level bluegrass OR rap. What they are, though, is a group worth listening to: for the music they make, and for the fact that they came together to make it at all. Whom else might they be bringing together?

Give them a listen, OK? And feel free to recommend other mixed-genre groups you might know about. Our country needs them right now.

Bread School Post-script: Staycations Are Cool

Don’t worry, I’m done talking about bread for now. Bun there, doughn that.

What I did want to mention is, how cool it was to spend five days in Mt. Vernon, a town barely 17 miles from our ferry terminal. I’ve never had a “staycation”; now I want more.

To avoid going back and forth on the ferry each day, the Mate proposed renting an Air B ‘n’ B place so we could do our own cooking. He planned to spend the days exploring via foot and bike while I baked. So we got this cute lil’ ol’ bungalow on a street of cute lil’ ol’ bungalows.

See what I mean?

Mt. Vernon is famous for its bulb fields: daffodils, iris, and especially tulips. 

Can you tell?

Every morning I rode to class, crossing the Skagit River on a bridge (with a scary-narrow sidewalk). The weather was pretty grey and windy each day, but that’s just April here.

Who needs sunshine when you have tulips?

In the name of exploration, I took different routes to the Bread Lab each day, but of course one of them took me past the tulip fields. Since they weren’t open for visitors yet and I didn’t want to trespass, I settled for this shot of alpacas with a tulip backdrop.

Just another day in Paradise…

Not pictured: the coyote I saw

Each evening we dined on Things You Can Eat With Bread, brought from home or purchased at the wonderful Skagit Valley Food Co-op. One staycationy thing we did NOT do: dine out at restaurants. (Did I mention all that BREAD?)

So this isn’t a travelogue post about the delightful town of Mt. Vernon–though we did find it delightful. I didn’t visit stores, poke my nose into quaint corners, or even take very many pictures.

What I did: appreciated how simpatico it felt to be in, essentially, the next town over. Like being invited over to the home of a neighbor you don’t know well, and finding out you have the same taste in food, decor, and books. 

Happy spring, neighbor.

This is simply an ode to the Staycation. For those of you who’ve already discovered that delight–good on ya! Care to share?