Day #56: N.C. Wyeth

In my early teens, I chanced upon a copy of Treasure Island, written by Robert Louis Stevenson and illustrated by N.C. Wyeth, when I was rummaging through the shelves of an antiques shop. I was immediately besotted with the illustrations. I purchased the book, went to the library to discover what I could about Mr. Wyeth, learned that he was a student of Howard Pyle’s (another artist I admire), and I was hooked. I have continued to learn everything about him and the family of artists he created.

“Nathan Hale,” by N.C. Wyeth

In The New York Times, Adam Gopnik writes, “But in fact his genius lay in making his pictures much less dramatic than pictures like this had ever been before—his gift was for slowing down and sobering up book illustration so that it took on some of the gravity that had in the past belonged only to high art.”

In the same article, Gopnik quotes, “In 1908, after even more commercial success as a cowpunching illustrator of westerns, he retreated into a house on a hill overlooking Chadds Ford and announced that ‘painting and illustration cannot be mixed—one cannot merge from one into the other.”’ Intrigued, I set about learning as much as I could about illustration. My forward path was paving itself before me.

I am grateful for the lasting fascination sparked by the illustrations and paintings of N.C. Wyeth.


Day #55: Cloth Napkins

Many years ago, we stopped using paper napkins. Cloth napkins feel so nice and they dress up even the most informal table. A number of our guests look at us askance and eventually ask something like, “Why would you want to wash napkins?” Well, you know, that landfill thing.

We have white napkins that go with any table setting. Some of our tablecloths have matching napkins, but I love the variety because a tablescape can always look different. And you can sew your own!

And then there’s napkin folding! What a joy! I always reserve five or ten minutes before guests arrive to sit down calmly and enjoy folding napkins. I have a book that I flip through for inspiration but just try looking up “folding napkins” on Pinterest! Wow. Endless inspiration.

I am grateful for opportunities to make everyday life and special occasions beautiful.


Day #54: Our Book Club

It is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday. He was a persistent advocate for a more just and humane life, an inspiration for all of us.

I am grateful for our book club that formed shortly after November 2016 with the intention of better understanding the people (and the politics) beyond our daily sphere. I have read books I know I would not have read otherwise so I could take part in discussions I would not have undertaken were it not for the caring of the people in this group. Thanks to each of you for this opportunity for growth and better understanding.


Day #53: e.e. cummings

Poetry has always sung to me, ever since I first read it in Highlights magazine at the dentist’s office. (Odd that I remember that so clearly.) Later, I asked the school librarian if poetry was available in books. Poetry felt like treasure to me, something exalted above mere words.

In high school, I encountered e.e. cummings’ poetry, which felt closest to the heart. Considered an avant garde poet, he usually wrote without capital letters and often without punctuation and his syntax was outside the norm, all of which appealed to my teen self. “At the time of his death, September 3, 1962, he was the second most widely read poet in the United States, after Robert Frost.” (poets.org) A complicated and controversial person, I am grateful for e.e. cummings’ poetry, which still causes me to stop, savor, consider, and wonder.

“i thank You God for most this amazing
day for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes”

from “i thank You God for most this amazing” (1950)


Day #51: Family History

I am grateful for having a deep connection to history … it’s a family tradition.

My grandmother subscribed to hometown newspapers in two states. She cut out tidbits about family and friends and pasted them with rubber cement into used ledger books and scrapbooks.

When conversation ensued on Sundays after dinner, with the day’s visitors, it was often about family history. I grew up observing the oral tradition of storytelling to keep history alive.

My mother picked up the responsibility for family history by updating a thick book with the births and deaths of my grandmother’s and grandfather’s families (they were related). My mother had 36 aunts and uncles.

Then she began to dig farther back. She subscribed to genealogy magazines, visited the Minnesota Historical Society, joined a German research group, and wrote many letters. She published a family newsletter in her own mission to keep history alive.

Imagine how pleased she was to learn that her great-grandfather’s house had been moved from its site to Old World Wisconsin in Eagle, Wisconsin. He constructed houses for a living and reportedly left Germany when the Navy conscripted all the available wood in his area. In America, he built Fachwerk houses and his own home was constructed as a model. He marked all the housing materials with Roman numerals to show how the home went together, a boon to those reconstructing the house.

We held a family reunion at Old World Wisconsin nineteen years ago. Family young and old were able to tour the house and realize they were part of a long line of interesting people, people who had hopes and dreams, who laughed and cried, who maintained lives that made our own existence possible.

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” — Rudyard Kipling


Day #50: Books for Breakfast

Last night, a group of teachers and children’s literature enthusiasts gathered to place good information in the folders each attendee will receive at the 2019 Books for Breakfast. The 25th anniversary of this event will take place at Rush Creek Golf Club on Saturday, Feb 2, 2019, from 8:00 am to 12:00 noon. I am so very grateful that this event is continuing–this connection between educators, librarians, and children’s book authors and illustrators is vital for the mental and emotional health of our children. My heartfelt thank you to Maurna Rome for organizing the event and to all those good-hearted people who worked together on a Minnesota winter evening. I hope you’ll be able to join us at the Breakfast!

Books for Breakfast folder 2019

Day #49: Glass Storage

Roughly 10 years ago, a dear friend of ours was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her doctor advised her to stop using plastic storage dishes immediately and never again cook in plastic. She relayed this to us and even gave us several glass dishes to substitute for prizes from a lifetime of Tupperware parties. We took her seriously and I am grateful for her advice. As we could, we switched over to using Ball canning jars to put up food in the freezer. (We donated our Tupperware—and my mother’s and grandmother’s—to Goodwill.) We switched to Pyrex for other types of storage. (Pyrex has plastic lids but they are sturdy, haven’t cracked, and don’t need replacing as other brands have.) We don’t fill either the jars or glass storage dishes with less than an inch of head room, so we’ve never had an exploding jar or cracked dish (and the plastic doesn’t touch the food). Smithsonian magazine wrote about Pyrex on its 100th birthday in 2015. 

Ball jars and Pyrex

Day #48: A Year with Nature

When I was in school, I chose classes in reading, writing, and art before any others. Only when I couldn’t avoid a science or math class did I learn something about astronomy or algebra. If I could roll back time, I would make difference choices. I enjoy reading books and articles about science. For Christmas this year, I’m grateful that a good friend gave us A Year with Nature: an Almanac by Marty Crump (University of Chicago Press, 2018). Steve and I have taken to reading aloud one short entry after meditating each day. So far we’ve learned about hunting salamanders along the Amazon, the genetic discoveries that identified Huntington’s chorea, and the importance of horseshoe crab blood to testing vaccines. The author’s entries invite further exploration. It’s a delightful way to learn.

A Year with Nature: an Almanac by Marty Crump

Day #47: Note to Self

practice gratitude

It may seem a bit circuitous, but I’m grateful for this Gratitude Journal. On Day 47, as I anticipate another 318 days of making a selection, I stepped back to consider. I began this effort for many reasons, but one of the most important was a daily intention for being positive in a discouraging world. In my usual fashion, I began to figure out how I could be more efficient, preparing a week’s worth of entries, gathering my visuals, and … (calming breath). I realized that the point is not production but a daily reminder, a daily opportunity to write, a daily reason to interact with friends and family. I am grateful that you’re taking this journey with me.