When Routine Is Anything But: Finding A Daily Path That Requires Open Eyes

Hey, welcome back to Wing’s World in its non-travel-blog iteration. If you’re hoping to read about travel adventures, sorry–you’ll have to wait till my next trip. THIS entry is about the art of staying home, one day after the next.

Home, for me, begins with a ferry ride.

If I were still teaching school, finding a daily routine would be no struggle; the struggle, as all teachers (and students, and parents) know, is keeping your head above water enough to teach/learn/communicate/eat/sleep/repeat with some minimal effectiveness. In my 20 years of teaching, I got all the news I needed during my commute.

As a former teacher, however, employed in one part-time, manual-labor job and one completely non-paying, artistic one, the idea of routine is usually just that: an idea. I gave up commuting, but I was fine with creating my own balance of baking and writing and keeping vague touch with the rest of the country for the first several years of my post-teaching life. Then came the election of 2016, and the real illusion was revealed: that America was on the right path, that Dr. King’s good ol’ Arc of Justice was bending appropriately.

Since that time I, like a lot of my White friends, have been working hard to re-educate myself in American reality, recognizing my own unwitting but comfortable complicity in helping make Trumpmerica possible. Routine is long gone as I cast about for the best way to make of myself a better instrument, a better citizen.

Going back to teaching is a decision I have moved beyond. I’m too deeply immersed in my writing career to be willing to sacrifice it, and too respectful of both jobs to be able to do justice to both at once. So I work at the bakery I continue to love, and fill my non-baking, non-writing time with a slew of different types of volunteer activity. This makes for a ragged schedule. I rather like the variety of my days…after breakfast. It’s that first hour that, since 2016, has really gotten to me.

See, my Mate is an early riser, and starts his day with a workout. Which he does in front of the TV, watching the news. He keeps the volume low, but our living room lies between our bedroom and kitchen. So by the time I’ve prepared my tea and sat down with my cereal, I’ve had, willy-nilly, an injection of CNN that makes my stomach hurt.

How I don’t want to start my day: angry, defeated, cynical, self-berating.

How I do want to start my day: hopeful, inspired, open-eyed, empathetic, challenged.

I’m lucky to live in a place where the scenery itself can inspire. But this view is NOT available to me first thing in the morning; it takes a 25-minute drive to the ferry dock. Not to mention clear skies.

Here are some steps I’ve taken to try to shape that first hour:*

  1. Hum to myself to drown out any CNN until my tea kettle does it for me.
  2. Before turning on my computer, re-read the poem I read yesterday from the collection of poetry I keep on the kitchen table. (Currently: Seamus Heaney.) Then read a new poem. (By this time CNN is a mumble in the background, nothing my brain cares about.)
  3. Turn on my computer, but before going to email, read some news stories. Lately, after finding myself turning to BBC, NPR and the Christian Science Monitor to escape CNN’s Trump focus, I decided to subscribe to the good old “failing” New York Times. The story that really got me today was about the escalation of violence against women in Honduras.
  4. Again, before email, I look at the weather forecasts, not just for Lopez Island, but for the whole country. I try to imagine how different people are being affected in different states and regions. (Road trips help with this–we know a lot of folks in a lot of different states and regions!)
  5. OK, now it’s time for email, Facebook, all that delicious focus on ME and my near-and-dear, or far-and-dear. But because I started with the bigger picture, it stays with me in perimeter even as my focus narrows. And because of the poetry, my brain feels brighter, my noticing muscles primed to do their job.

*on baking mornings, which start around 3 a.m., this routine is foreshortened, of course. I don’t need to worry about the Mate’s news habits; I’m actually up before him. But I spend the first ten minutes of my ride (if biking) or my drive, saying the names of people in need of special attention and love–anyone from an ill neighbor to, for example, the people of Puerto Rico.

I have tried, by the way, to internalize this kind of empathic meditation and make it part of my day when I’m not leaving for the bakery. But I haven’t yet found a place and time that feels natural. Still a work in progress.

“No man is an island, let that be my prayer/ no matter how alluring be the shore…”

Because of that, I would love to hear of other people’s routines. What special things do you do to start your day off on the right foot, for both brain and soul? 

 

My Mountain, How I’ve Missed You: Nostalgeology 101

Since I moved from North Carolina to Washington 26 years ago, I’ve continued to miss 5 things: my parents, oak trees, GOOD fried chicken, Tarheel basketball, and NC-style BBQ. (OK, if pressed, I could come up with five or ten more–like friends, and dogwoods.)

Since I moved from Tacoma to Lopez Island six years ago, I miss about the same number of things. But #1 on the list doesn’t even begin to exist as a category of my southeastern nostalgia: The Mountain.

Here in the San Juans, we have occasional views of Mt. Baker–sometimes, from the ferry, downright excellent ones. A recent camping trip last month reminded me of what a lovely mountain Baker is.

Not bad, Baker, not bad.

Not bad, Baker, not bad.

But I knew Mt. Rainier. Mt. Rainier was my goddess. And you, Mt. Baker, are no Mt. Rainier.

From my first view of her as a still-North-Carolinian in 1981, she called to me. In 1986, I climbed to her summit–not to conquer, but to adore. (It was so damn cold up there that my adoration took the form of 10 minutes of exhausted gasping before heading back down, but still.) I’m glad I climbed before I was old enough to know better, and I wouldn’t do it again, but I still get a little shiver of love when I look up at her gleaming dome and think, “I was THERE.”

Adoration from below served me just fine for those 20 years in Tacoma. I saw her out my kitchen window while cooking. I saw her from the parking lot of the high school where I taught. I spent hours discussing which part of The Mountain was “out” at which part of the day, how she looked last night at sunset, or this morning at dawn. She was part of my daily life, my vacations, my identity as a converted Northwesterner.

Has it really been THREE YEARS since my last visit, with Son Two?!

Has it really been THREE YEARS since my last visit, with Son Two?!

Now, when I’m lucky enough to see her at all, she’s a tiny lump on the horizon. Not so tiny considering she’s 100 miles away, but still–hardly a part of my day.

Which is why yesterday’s all-too-brief ramble, introducing my Lopez friends to my Mountain, felt so sweet.

Even better: sharing my Mountain with friends.

Even better: sharing my Mountain with friends.

There are mountains and mountains. And then there’s The Mountain. My goddess. But I realize not everyone’s nostalgia is nostalgeology. For someone else it might be a precious old oak, or the feel of the air, or even the sound of a certain bird call.

Or is nostalgeology somehow more powerful than trees or birds? What do y’all think? What geological feature, were you removed from, would leave a hole in your otherwise happy life?

Leaving Traces to Leave No Trace

Sometimes, to get where you want, you have to go the wrong direction. Chess and soccer players know this. Being neither, I’ve been learning this lesson firsthand these past few weekends, helping to close down “social trails” on my beloved “big backyard,” which also happens to be a National Monument.

For better or for worse, a ton of other people love it too. The place is being loved to death. And with no official marked trail system, folks wander all over. Most know not to trample wildflowers, but what about when they’re not blooming? And what about lichens? Most people don’t know how key lichens are to the entire ecosystem. This is what happens when lichens meet feet too many times:

Left side: good. Right side: bad.

Left side: good. Right side: bad.

Lichens lose.

So, enter the trail-blockers, led by Nick, World’s Most Awesome Bureau of Land Management Non-Bureaucrat. Over three Saturdays, and using approved Leave No Trace methods, the work party hauled old branches from the nearby woods to make the trails say “CLOSED” as obviously as possible.

Happy, sunny-day workparty!

Happy, sunny-day workparty!

Notice all the lichens we’re not stepping on?

Guess what? Rainyday workparties are happy too!

Guess what? Rainyday workparties are happy too!

Looking at the pictures of our work, however, you might notice something.

Pardon my debris.

Pardon my debris.

It’s UG-LEEE.

Yep. Really, really ugly.

Yep. Really, really ugly.

But it’s absolutely necessary. Under those logs new grasses will grow, new wildflowers, and yes, new teensy-weensy baby lichens. Lesser trail blockades–let alone courteous signs–wouldn’t be enough to protect this fragile, precious place. So even though I wince to see those logs scattered about so hideously amid all the beauty, I’m willing to live with it, in order to make the right side of this photo one day look like the left.

Do not enter. Lichen it or not.

Do not enter. Lichen it or not.

So, pardon our debris, everyone. Sometimes we have to leave one heckuva trace, short term, to leave none in the end.

There Is an “I” in “Community,” But It’s a Small One

Humbling experiences aren’t always fun. Or tasty. The other day, I had one that was both. I got together with a bunch of people to press apples into cider.

(all photos courtesy Gene Helfman)

(all photos courtesy Gene Helfman)

It started out totally fun, as I’d expected. A huge pile of boxed and bagged apples of all colors and sizes awaited us on the sunny grass. We set up a rough assembly line along two picnic tables: wash, bleach, rinse, cut. Ferry bowls of cut fruit to the pressers; ferry bowls of bruised bits to the compost. Chat, munch, switch roles. Joke, chat, munch. Ah, work parties! On a sunny day in October! What could feel more comfortable, neighborly, plain old right?

! DSC_7127

Except that it was taking FOREVER. At one point somebody glanced up and noticed that the giant apple-box pile did not seem to have shrunk at all. Then I made the mistake of asking what time it was. I had budgeted two hours in my busy day for this communal activity. We had been there for an hour and a half, and we were maybe a quarter done.

Uh-oh.I could feel those comfy communal feelings begin to evaporate. Cue pun about “pressing issues”…

I have SO MUCH to do. Gotta finish my Book Two proofs to get them to my book designer in time to upload the fixes and still be able to have Headwinds ready at its launch party. Gotta paint the signs and put up posters for the Gretchen Wing & Friends concert next week. Augh, my concert!!! Gotta practice that run in the third song which keeps tripping me up, and that horrible C-B-flat-G progression I haven’t nailed yet. And I’m having friends over for dinner and I promised them pie. And, oh shoot, when’s the last time I vacuumed?

Did I mention that the group doing the cider-pressing was the Quaker Meeting I attend?Can there be a more communal, thoughtful, self-less group than a bunch of Quakers? Anyone else feeling the irony here?

DSC_7146

Of course I couldn’t leave. That would just have increased the workload for everyone else. No one else was leaving early. Probably no one else was even thinking of leaving early. And plenty of them had more pressing job or family concerns than I did.

Apparently publishing a book and performing in a concert–especially within the same week–can make you kinda self-centered. Especially if you tend that way already.

So I stayed. We rinsed and chopped and chatted and munched. We laughed a lot. Finally, we stopped…not because we ran out of apples. We simply ran out of containers.

! DSC_7134

I biked home, two hours later than I had expected to, with two gallons of cider, and another gallon of perspective. Did not get my proofs fixed until the next day. Did not practice. Still have to paint those signs. Haven’t touched that vacuum. But yeah…that pie was delicious. And the cider–even more so.

Does this sound at all familiar to anyone? Do you ever struggle to let communal work find its place amid your personal “stuff,” or do you have the opposite problem? Any tips for finding that balance?

 

Sibling Sweetery

We get a lot of summer visitors. Why wouldn’t we? Scenic island–check. Sunny, mid-sixties-to-seventies days–check. Kayaks, trails, farmers market–check. Terrific bakery (OK, I’m a little biased since I work there, but 99% of customers agree, “Holly’s Buns Are Best.”)–check.

https://gretchenkwing.wordpress.com/?s=In+my+professional+opinion&submit=Search

By the way, lest you think I am bragging–the rest of the year is largely clouds, rain of some form or other, wind, and temperatures in the 40-50s range. Not so many visitors then. But summers here in the San Juans are AWESOME.

So, lots of visitors: family, friends, friends-of-friends. Currently we’re being visited by the family of the sister of my best friend from high school. And she has the Best. Kids. Ever.

The daughter’s about to turn sixteen, the son’s not quite thirteen. I’ve known families with just this configuration of ages, and their parents usually end up apologizing for infecting our island paradise with their squabblesomeness, as though it were contagious. “Pshhh,” we say. “All sisters and brothers fight. That’s nothing. You should’ve seen me and my sister…”

(courtesy someecards, via Pinterest)

(courtesy someecards, via Pinterest)

The thing is, this bro & sis DON’T fight. They LIKE each other. They’re affectionate. They tease, but in a sweet way, like besties. Even when they’re playing competitive games that  my husband and I have learned not to engage in without marriage counseling. Crazy Eights and Hearts? No fights. Bananagrams? Nothin’. Washers? They try to beat their parents.

And of course they split the last piece of pie as a matter of course.

My husband and I are astounded…and delighted.

And I am CURIOUS. How did this come to be? Why is it so uncommon?

Is it parenting? These kids’ parents are certainly mellow, cool people. But I know lots of mellow, cool parents whose kids act like contestants in The Hunger Games.

(courtesy someecards, via Pinterest)

(courtesy someecards, via Pinterest)

Is it birth order? Our own two boys always got along pretty well, but our younger son acknowledges that if he’d been the elder, there’d have been a new sheriff in town. Maybe our friends’ girl is just one of those sweeties like our son. (Where was she when I was undergoing mental waterboarding by MY older sister?)

Is it the fact that they’re on vacation? In my own experience, that makes the squabbles worse, not better. So much interesting new stuff to squabble over!

Is my sample skewed? Maybe there are tons of great sister-and-brother pairings out there, and I’ve somehow never met ’em.

So help me out here. What causes some sibling pairs to get along while others fight like cats and dogs? What variables are at play? How did your own experience with your siblings inform your thinking on this?

(someecards, courtesy Pinterest)

(someecards, courtesy Pinterest)