Day #123: Raconteur


While reading “My Father’s Stack of Books” by Kathryn Schulz in The New Yorker, I came across her description of her father as an “epic raconteur.” I stopped. Word bliss settled in. “Raconteur.” I hadn’t thought of that word for a while. Don’t you love it when you encounter an old friend? A word that you admire for its meaning and its sound and the feelings it stirs inside you?

Merriam Webster says this about the etymology of “raconteur”: The story of raconteur is a tale of telling and counting. English speakers borrowed the word from French, where it traces back to the Old French verb raconter, meaning “to tell.” Raconter in turn was formed from another Old French verb, aconter or acompter, meaning “to tell” or “to count,” which is ultimately from Latin computare, meaning “to count.” Computare is also the source of our words count and account. Raconteur has been part of the English vocabulary since at least 1828.

I will express my gratitude for the meaning of words, the sound of words, and the origins or words more than once during this Year of Gratitude. They are one of the greatest pleasures of my life.

Do you have a word you’ve re-discovered recently?

Day #122: Taste and Smell

I have been unable to taste or smell anything for almost two weeks. Nothing. No glimmer. This is a result of a cold … and I hope I regain those senses. For anyone who is without them, you have my profound sympathy. I have been able to observe many aspects about eating for which I haven’t spent enough time being grateful. Instead, texture has become important. I don’t have much appetite. But food memory! My brain is doing its best to provide memories of taste and smell … it’s like standing on the other side of a window watching someone eat. Fascinating.

sense of taste and smell

Day #121: Game Nights

Last night we finished our Game Night 2019 season. Nine game nights, with one postponed due to a snowstorm (!), brought us from January 18th to the first day of spring, through the darkest part of the year, with merriment and challenge to look forward to each Friday night. 

This year we added three nights with Crew Two. Last night, these were our game players for a night themed Harmony & Understanding, featuring the years 1968-1972 in the US. We identified icon scenes and events from the era. We played Name That Tune with songs like Chain of Fools, Mony, Mony, and Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves. There was a Celebrity Box Stacking game in which this Crew got every single clue right. We wrote captions for New Yorker cartoons and shared a Trippy Encounter Session.

Big thanks to Crew Two and Crew One and the extraordinary Game Masters. Aren’t Crew Two’s hippie homage costumes fun? And a little later in the evening, Mike shared his musician alter ego. I am so grateful to everyone who takes part in Game Night, getting us through the winter!

Harmony and Understanding

Please note in the photo: tunic, Qiana picture shirt (formerly worn by a real, live rock musician), bellbottoms, bare feet, headbands, flowers in her hair, peace signs, and there’s a lava lamp on the cabinet behind them. Far out!

Day #120: Kate DiCamillo

In 2005, Winding Oak had been working for 17 years to provide print and website design to country clubs, asphalt testers, industrial researchers, small businesses, and a smattering of authors. At a weekend party, the woman below asked Steve and me if we would help her out on an upcoming project, the movie version of Because of Winn Dixie. She gave us until Monday to think it over. In that time, Steve and I talked about whether we should focus on children’s literature in our business … and the rest of that story is our history and future. I am grateful to Kate DiCamillo for opening our eyes to a path that has brought us so many good friendships and such enjoyable work. We love our Winding Oak family. If you haven’t yet read Kate’s books, you probably should. I recommend Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, my favorite of all her many heartwarming books.

Kate DiCamillo Leroy Ninker Saddles Up

Day #119: Alexander McCall Smith

In thinking over the many concerns in the children’s literature community, authentic voice is one that is prevalent. With friends and colleagues, I’ve had many discussions, all of which agree that there are complex layers interwoven so closely that its difficult to see the path forward.

I keep thinking about Alexander McCall Smith, a white male in his late 60s, whose most popular series features a female Motswana sleuth, Precious Ramotswe, as the main character. He crosses lines of gender and culture and yet these books are so absorbing that they’re beloved by millions. Nowhere online could I find a discussion of his “right” to write these books.

I’m grateful for the discussion, puzzling through the viewpoints, trying to make sense of authentic voice.

I love these books. Start with the first book in the series, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. HBO did a 7-episode series of these books, starring Jill Scott and Anika Noni Rose–they’re wonderful.)

Here’s an article from Botswana about Mr. Smith’s latest book:

Day #117: No Microwave

Once we made the decision to put our microwave away in a closet, the re-learning began. How would we warm up food? 

On the one hand, this feels slightly ridiculous because we didn’t cook with a microwave until 1982. I remember attending classes at Byerly’s Cooking School to master cooking in a microwave. The huge oven quickly became a kitchen staple, even when I did awful things like setting the timer for one hour instead of one minute and walked away into my office. (What happened? The interior of the microwave oven melted and so did the door.)

Lavangie silicone mats and Nordic Ware baking sheets

We’ve found two tools very handy for warming up food. Nordic Ware (shop local!) makes wonderful half sheet, quarter sheet, and large sheet baking pans. They’re very sturdy and easy to keep clean. With care, they should last us forever.

To line them, and keep them looking clean, we use Lavangie silicone baking mats. They come in sizes that fit those baking sheets.

There. It wasn’t as hard to adjust to cooking without a microwave as we imagined.

Day #116: Capriccio Italien

It’s Monday morning and, as is often the case, I need a kickstart into the week. What better than one of the soundtracks of my life, Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien Opus 45? Composed while he was in Rome in 1880, he wrote, “I have already completed the sketches for an Italian fantasia on folk tunes for which I believe a good fortune may be predicted. It will be effective, thanks to the delightful tunes which I have succeeded in assembling partly from anthologies, partly from my own ears in the streets.” I love knowing that he was listening to folk music to inspire his creativity.

Here’s a version conducted by Herbert von Karajan, with the Berlin Philharmonic:

Day #115: Book Treasures

On a hunt through a used bookstore, nothing brings me more delight than finding a book I didn’t know existed that’s written by a favorite author. Many years ago, I discovered that Carol Ryrie Brink had written a book called The Twin Cities (The Macmillan Company, 1961).

Carol Ryrie Brink and The Twin Cities

You probably recognize her as the author of the 1936 Newbery Medal winner, Caddie Woodlawn. You may not have known that although she was born in Idaho, graduated from Berkeley, she lived in St. Paul for 40 years. Her husband, Raymond, was a professor of mathematics at the University of Minnesota. She taught creative writing while she lived here. Hamline University named her as one of twenty-eight outstanding women of Minnesota in 1954.

This book is very much a time capsule and it’s fascinating to read for that reason. With a Euro-centric view of living in Minnesota, the chapters cover figure skating, the skylines and progress of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the indoor gardens, the Winter Carnival, the Minneapolis Aquatennial, the Old Log Theatre, the anticipation of the new Guthrie Theater … and many, many more tidbits. She includes several pages about the native American tribes, all of which have a 1950s lens. Those pages are uncomfortable to read but I appreciate having this perspective on where we’ve come from.

In the chapter “Dinner and a Show,” she writes, “I remember one Sunday when friends from New York tried to take us to lunch in Minneapolis. My husband and I, like our neighbors, were unaccustomed to lunching away from home on a Sunday, but we supposed that it could easily be done. We were as surprised as the New Yorkers to find that most of the restaurants were closed, and that cocktails were entirely out of the question. The only satisfaction that our thirsty friends got out of the adventure was the dubious thrilled of finding themselves in that incredible part of the world known to them as ‘the sticks.’”

She writes about “Jim Hill” in her chapter on the “Empire Builder.” Hill advertised for settlers along his railway so goods and commerce and supplies would flow. He built a fabulous art collection. He believed strongly in education, books, and libraries, so the Hill Reference Library at the St. Paul Central Library was planned shortly before his death. In 1910, Hill published a book called Highways of Progress, in which he wanted to see beyond the present to “anticipate the needs and opportunities of tomorrow.”

It’s tomorrow. We still live in the context of our history … although we’re striving to make forward progress. I’m grateful for the discovery of book treasures like this one.