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.

Stay With Me: A Novel That’s Doing Just That

Ever had one of those post-partum lulls in your reading life, where you’re kind of in mourning for the last book you just read? Absolutely sure you’ll never find another one anywhere near as engaging?

I’ve been in such a slump for the last month (aided by my tendency to go straight back to Harry Potter in Spanish whenever the book fairy starts nagging). But I found the solution: stomp into your local library, pick up a book almost at random—ooh, bright cover!—and start reading RIGHT THERE.

Luckily for me, I chose Ayobami Adebayo’s new novel Stay With Me. Set in modern Nigeria, it tosses the reader directly into this scene: a young, urban wife finds her in-laws on her doorstep…bringing with them her husband’s brand-new, beautiful second wife. Which he has said nothing about.

But this is not A Thousand Splendid Suns. Yejide’s husband Akin loves her desperately. He doesn’t want another wife. What he wants…needs, requires…is a baby. Preferably a son. Or two. Which Yejide, in four years of marriage, has not produced.

That is ALL I’m going to reveal about the plot. What makes this book so poignant and gripping is that, despite its setting half a world away, and despite the cultural disjunct of plural marriage and in-laws who are in charge of the wife, Yejide is such a completely modern woman that THIS very American woman instantly related to her.

I’m so glad I happened to grab this book when I finally got stern with myself and said, “Grab something.” Here’s hoping, if you are looking for a good book or just trying to make yourself look, that you end up doing the same.

 

 

 

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? 

 

Pupils of the King: King Arthur Bread School, Part II

What I learned in a week of bread school:

I LOVE bread! But I knew that already…

  1. The things you think will be easy turn out to be hard.

RIDICULOUSLY hard to score baguettes just right!

2. The things you think will be hard turn out to be easy.

You don’t scare me, challah.

(Except when they actually do turn out to be hard.)

Turns out I’m a little scared of the pizza oven.

3. Baker’s Math is a THING, people. Now that I’ve seen how easy it is to convert recipes using metric weight instead of cups and tablespoons, I will never sniff at weighing out ingredients again.

What if you only wanted to make two big brioches? Can you math that?

4. Technology is your friend…

Oven loader? Yes please!

5. …but so is good ol’ muscle power.

Can you imagine mixing this giant batch of pre-ferment by hand? It’s been done.

(OK, I knew this already, but dealing with the volumes at Bread School–in comparison with my wee bakery–really hit that home.)

6. Dough is alive. Again, I knew that too–in theory. But until spending a solid work week studying and manipulating those four basic, precious ingredients–flour, water, yeast, salt–I never appreciated the truth of that statement. Handling those great lumps of dough, patting and pulling and prodding to determine readiness, I came to think of them as powerful animals, like horses, which need careful attention and reining in if you don’t want them to gallop away.

7. Gluten has become such a scapegoat, I really feel sorry for the lil’ protein. I realize this is a controversial topic, but if you want a scientific assessment of the issue, please check out this article by Michael Specter of the New Yorker. 

8. The folks involved in bringing good grain, good flour, and good bread back to local communities are MY KIND OF PEOPLE. Like Stephen Jones, founder of the Washington State University Bread Lab. He starts his sentences with words like “chromosomes” and “endosperm,” and ends them with words like “cookies” and “love.”

Steve Jones in the Bread Lab.

Here’s what his work has sown:

Our Mission: The programs of the Bread Lab work to breed and develop publicly available varieties of grains and other crops that will benefit farmers, processors, and end-users while enhancing access to affordable and nutritious food for all members of our communities.

Our Vision: Through innovation and discovery, and an appreciation of the culture and traditions that define what we eat, the Bread Lab plays a major role in moving food systems in more meaningful and just directions.

Or Kevin Morse of Cairnspring Mills, which we toured. Here’s what they’re all about:

Local grain, local flour, local flavor

Cairnspring Mills works directly with farmers who share their commitment to sustainable agricultural practices and mills their grain with care to maintain a transparent supply chain. Each batch of grain is milled separately to preserve its unique identity and flavor; each batch of flour can be traced back to the origin farm.

Touring Cairnspring

And probably the most important lesson I learned: how much I still have to learn. Ain’t that always the way?

Just look at all these local wheat varieties, waiting to be baked into beautiful loaves!

Any bread lovers out there care to chime in at this point? How ’bout some bread puns–I loave ’em!

 

Pupils of the King: a Week of King Arthur Bread School, Part I

“YOU’RE going to bread school?!”

said almost everyone I told I was going to bread school. The usual next response: “Oh, lucky!!!”

They were right about my good fortune, but wrong to be surprised at my need. Before I started getting paid to bake, I was always a pie/cake/sweets gal–bread, not so much. And though I’m now entering my 8th season of professional baking, I spent the first two seasons as Assistant Baker, i.e., managing neither bread nor oven. When I trained to be a Head Baker, the people who trained me had received no professional training. Now, “We do this because it works” works just fine most days, but it leaves two questions unanswered:

  1. What do you do if it doesn’t work?
  2. What if something else worked even better?

Therefore I was THRILLED when my current boss, who bought Holly B’s Bakery from Holly B, decided to make the investment to send me to an intensive, 5-day, 38-hour course in Bread Fundamentals. I knew I had a LOT to learn. Like, everything.

But the answer to “What did you learn in Bread School?” is so big and complex, I’m going to turn this into two posts. Or maybe more! That knowledge might just ferment and grow, like a certain little yeasty-beast I’ve been hearing about all week.

I should also say off the bat, in case you’re a sourdough enthusiast, that this class covered pretty much everything BUT sourdough. Those breads require a class of their own. Hopefully, someday…

But back to Bread Fundamentals. Long story short, King Arthur Flour Baking School is the brainchild of King Arthur Chef Jeffrey Hamelman (world’s mellowest rock star chef) and Washington State University Bread Lab’s Stephen Jones. They teamed up several years to begin offering intensive baking classes (mostly bread) out here in the Northwest. King Arthur, of course, has been offering classes forever, all over the country but especially on their Vermont home ground. Lucky, LUCKY me–this workshop was under 20 miles from our ferry terminal!

I started on Monday, wide-eyed. So much of this was new to me, starting with the uniform. At Holly B’s we wear aprons, but I’ve never worn Chef Whites!

Gretchen’s first-ever work uniform!

Then there was the equipment in the teaching room.

4-deck steam oven with a moveable loader. At my bakery, the only loader is me.

Best of all, however, was the combination of Chef Jeffrey’s short lectures followed by immediate demonstrations and hands-on guided practice. Here he demonstrates a Challah braid:

He makes it look so easy. Well, ok…braiding isn’t actually very hard. Ask most long-haired women.

Now here’s my own careful step-by-steps (different braid on this one):

…with four strands…

A three and a four

Both finished challahs, with a few friends…a good Wednesday!

Chef Jeffrey also wowed us with possibilities. Here’s an amazing 3-tiered Challah he built

Whoa.

I thought it looked like a ferry boat. 🙂

The teaching was always firm and immediate, but gentle. (As a teacher, I sure appreciated that; I think from TV chefs I expected to be snapped at.)

Checking the “heads” of our petites brioches…

OK, maybe I could have used a little more guidance on my Epis de blé…

By the end of Day 3, we had made baguettes with three different doughs; whole wheat batards, oat loaves, challah, brioche, sunflower seed rounds, and…I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Day 4 we got FANCY:

Auvergnats. Trés chic.

Coronnes Bordelaise. Wouldn’t that be a cool addition to Thanksgiving?

One more picture of my new, freshly-baked confidence:

Ahhhhh…

Next post: So what DID I learn in Bread School?