Celebrate America–by Remembering Philando Castile

Philando Castile died two days after Independence Day, July 6, 2016. Shot to death in his car, in a traffic stop in Minnesota, in front of his girlfriend and her young daughter, by a police officer who later swore he was in fear of his life. One year later, in July 2017, the officer was acquitted by a jury containing men and women of different races.

Courtesy Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota, via Wikimedia Commons

 This is not a post about guns, shooting, police, or even Black Lives Matter. This is a post about love. This is a signpost, showing a way forward.

According to a story by Michelle Krupa of CNN in March of this year, Philando’s legacy is still alive, helping children the way he used to, when he worked as a custodian at a public school in St. Paul:

One by one.That’s how Philando Castile, who was killed by a police officer during a 2016 traffic stop, used to help kids who couldn’t afford lunch. The school nutrition supervisor would dip into his pocket and pay the bill.

Now a charity run in his name has multiplied his mission by thousands, wiping out the lunch debt of every student at all 56 schools in Minnesota’s St. Paul Public Schools, where Castile worked.
“That means that no parent of the 37,000 kids who eat meals at school need worry about how to pay that overdue debt,” according to a post at the YouCaring fundraising page Philando Feeds the Children. “Philando is STILL reaching into his pocket, and helping a kid out. One by one.”
This July 4th, I’m going to celebrate my country, which I love, as much as anything, for its ability to rise from its own evil–slavery–and become better. And I’m going to remember Philando Castile, who died because the legacy of slavery has legitimized the idea of a black man being scary, even as he sits in his car with his family. I’m going to celebrate the fact that an American like Philando, held to one of the lowest jobs, chose to help children the way we all want adults to help children.
God bless America. God bless the example of Philando Castile. Let’s make ourselves and our country better.

 

The East Coast’s Secret Weapon: Fireflies

If you’ve been reading my blog for even a few months, you probably know I’m a homegrown Southerner who left the South decades ago and never looked back except to visit my family, cheer for the Tarheels, eat some excellent greasy meat and smell the oak trees. 

In short, I’ve become one of those terrible west-coast snobs. Northwest, in particular.

But last week I got slapped upside the head with one huge, enormous, unforgettable advantage the eastern half of America has over the western: FIREFLIES.

(All credit and kudos to Radim Schreiber for that video.)

You might well ask how anyone could forget something so magical. Here’s the reason: fireflies are a summer phenomenon. And since North Carolina’s hot, muggy summers are one of the factors that sent me and the Mate fleeing for the west, I have made it a point to visit only in the other three seasons. So I simply have not seen fireflies. Out of sight—apparently, sadly—out of mind.

For the scientifically minded, here are some quick, wikipedia firefly facts:

  • They are winged beetles, commonly called fireflies or lightning bugs for their conspicuous use of bioluminescence during twilight to attract mates or prey.

  • Fireflies produce a “cold light”, with no infrared or ultraviolet frequencies. 

  • About 2,100 species of fireflies are found in temperate and tropical climates, especially in marshes or in wet, wooded areas.

  • In many species of fireflies, both male and female fireflies have the ability to fly, but in some species, the females are flightless.

  • They are endangered, mostly due to habitat loss.  [Thanks, Wikipedia!]

But for your inner child, here’s all you need to know: being in the presence of fireflies, in the moist, breathing darkness, is beyond anything videos can capture. It’s otherworldly…the kind of other world where nature is that benign goddess-mother we all love to imagine. Nothing bad can happen in the presence of fireflies, can it? They twinkle one’s breath away, but unlike the stars, they don’t make one feel small. Just blessed.

For a visual representation of fireflies’ geographical distribution, and to learn more about all things firefly, click here on the Massachusetts Audubon’s firefly page.

Thank you, magic creatures of “cold light.” Thank you, Mom & Dad, for raising me in a place of magic. To all y’all who haven’t been to the rural east in the summer to experience the glow: I hope you can give yourself that gift someday. (And have some greasy meat while you’re at it.)

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.

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.