Breakfast of the Birds

Gabriele Münter’s “Breakfast of the Birds” (1934) has long been one of my favorite paintings and I like it to visit it in person whenever I am in Washington DC at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Right now, I feel so much like the woman in the painting: looking out at the world, watching, waiting, wishing, wondering…

Today, for the first time, I wonder: Why is the title “Breakfast of the Birds” instead of “Breakfast with the Birds.” What do you think?

In the painting, a woman sits indoors at a table arrayed with a meal. We share her view of snowcapped trees and a host of birds through the window. The heavy looking draperies that frame the window add an element of cosiness or claustrophobia, depending on one’s perspective. This interior has been interpreted alternately as indicative of solitude and quiet reflection or entrapment and emotional isolation. With her back to the viewer, the woman portrayed here has been identified by some scholars as the artist herself. In 1911, Münter and other artists, including Franz Marc, Alexei Jawlensky, and Münter’s then-partner Vassily Kandinsky, founded Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a progressive group based in Munich. Münter’s work is often associated with the expressionist style practiced by members of this group, but she demonstrated a sense of self-awareness and individuality that she applied passionately to her vivid canvases. In the midst of the Nazi era, Münter ignored the limitations imposed on her as a radical artist and continued to produce still lifes, portraits, landscapes, and interior scenes, such as “Breakfast of the Birds.”

Basket of Treats Atop Our Free Little Library

During Quarantine, we place little treats atop our Free Little Neighborhood Library. The king delighted someone today and went home with them. Also a Play-doh. We also place stationery note cards with stamped envelopes for anyone who wants to easily write a letter. Do you see the coffee sachets (like tea bags)? I thought they might be appreciated. We discovered SteepedCoffee.com in October in our Chicago hotel. They make a tasty and easy cup of coffee. They’re quite popular. I ordered more today.

This Little Light of Mine I’m Gonna Let it Shine — Part 1

My letter to the Los Angeles Times Editor about singing this song while hand washing at home and in public was printed in the March 13, 2020 newspaper. Our family has decided to sing “This Little Light of Mine” each day at 5 pm PDT (Pacific Daylight Time), wherever we are. We stop and sing to feel and spread light as far as we can spread it. (I’ve started to sing it quietly as I do my mindful walk around the block and I can tell it helps me breathe into my tummy, which feels really good.)

And this is a very fun version we sometimes play at highest volume 🙂 with Bruce Springsteen’s band performing in Dublin a year ago.

Here’s my Letter to the editor: I’ve read so many versions and variations on hand-washing songs that help people make sure they are really and truly spending the necessary 20 seconds washing hands with soap and water to protect against spreading the coronavirus. I’ve decided to embrace my public hand washing to spread a message of hope that we can work together, not only to face this virus, but to embrace a healthier future with a strong sense of responsible and caring leadership back in place. So when I wash my hands in public, I am singing out loud “This Little Light of Mine,” a gospel song that came to be an anthem of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. People sang this and other spirituals during the civil rights movement as a way of expressing unity as they fought for equal rights and freedom for everyone.

Truth & Tubman

It is time for me to make a confession: When I noticed in my public library a slick “everything is okay” children’s biography of the current president shelved between Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, I pulled it out and hid it in the library where it will never be found. This president is a soul killer. Neither Harriet nor Sojourner deserve to have him divide them. Nor do our children deserve to be lied to.

I checked out the biographies of Harriet and Sojourner and thought about the issue of “electability” we keep hearing about. The United States is so ready for an intelligent, wise, forthright, caring woman president and we have someone like that in our midst. We need to shift the “electability” (We Aren’t Ready) discussion to WE ARE READY.

87 countries have or had women elected as heads of state or government, as of 29 November 2019.
WE ARE READY.

WHAT IF:
Each of us, once a day, says to someone/anyone/everyone:
The U.S. IS READY FOR A WOMAN PRESIDENT.

Say it for Greta, Ruth, Dolores, Harriet, Sojourner…
Say it for the sake of your daughters and grand-daughters.
Say it for the sake of the country.

Do not allow “We aren’t ready” to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. WE ARE READY.

Foundation and Framing

When in doubt, go to the library.

J. K. Rowling

The foundation for the downstairs garage/upstairs library has been poured and our message to ourselves and any future inhabitants has been permanently recorded via a nail as my writing instrument. Bill realized that once the walls go up, we will have to read our message upside down, because it’s in the front corner facing the street. Well, maybe that is okay. It will add an extra detail to the story, plus a bit of laughter.


In the meantime, our Little Neighborhood Library is as active as ever, with readers picking up and dropping off books each day. Sometimes, we even find a note like this one with a new book deposit.

Library + Tea & Biscuits

A retired teacher in Italy converted this charming truck into a mobile library and drives it to rural villages so that children who don’t have easy access to libraries can check out books.

When I told Natalie I would love to convert a vehicle into a Mobile Bookshop/Tea Shop that could visit homebound older people—to check on them over a cup of tea, distribute books, and perhaps sell a small selection of food items—she reminded me that I could turn a teardrop trailer into a traveling tea shop. I am pondering the idea. In the meantime, I found these two examples.

South Africa
Massachusetts

“The Skylarks’ War” by Hilary McKay

“The historical stories we tell have a profound impact on the world.”

Dana Goldstein, New York Times journalist

Both Natalie and Pamela loved this book so much that we purchased five copies to give away over the holidays. Natalie recently read an adult novel that covers the same period (World War I) and said The Skylarks’ War was so much more affecting. Our advice to adult readers: Don’t rule out reading books for children. The best can be just as perceptive, moving, and rich as the most renowned of adult novels.

The publisher’s description pretty well captures The Skylarks’ War (originally published in the U.S. as Love to Everyone): Clarry Penrose finds the good in everyone. Even in her father, who isn’t fond of children, and especially girls. He doesn’t worry about her education, because he knows she won’t need it. It’s the early twentieth century, and the only thing girls are expected to do is behave. But Clarry longs for a life of her own. She wants to dive off cliffs and go swimming with her brother Peter and cousin Rupert. And more than anything, she wants an education. She helps Peter with his homework all the time, so why can’t she manage it by herself? When war breaks out, Clarry is shocked to find that Rupert has enlisted. Then he is declared missing, and Clarry is devastated. Now she must take a momentous step into the wide world—for if she misses this chance, she may never make it. This is an inspirational, funny, and heartwarming story about a girl who dares to open doors that the world would rather keep closed.

We loved what this Goodreads reader wrote: “What an amazing and moving story. My wife read it first and couldn’t put it down. She kindly passed it on to me and I read it in a day. I am a history teacher and often have issues with books set in the World Wars as the writers tend to make obvious errors but this was beautifully written and I felt captured the mood of the war years. I was moved almost to tears in places. It reminded me of so many amazing books like: War Horse, The Railway Children and maybe Swallows and Amazons. With All Quiet on the Western Front in there too. For a children’s novel it was quite brutally honest about how hard and dark the Western Front could be. Dare I say a modern classic? I am going to recommend this for the school library and my students. What a lovely story.”

New York Times journalist Dana Goldstein recently observed that “the historical stories we tell have a profound impact on the world.” This is particularly true for young audiences. We are glad that The Skylarks’ War is one such historical story; its impact is desperately needed.

It Began With a Page

How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way

We are building a library because we love books and we love to read so much. While this space will most often feature stories and discoveries we make in the process of building our library, I will occasionally write about a book that I love too much not to share with you.

Here is a book I recently found and I LOVE it.

This elegant picture book would make a lovely gift for any child or adult (picture books are not just for children; I will write more about this idea in a future post). It is the perfect book for anyone who you think would be interested in a moving story (written by Kyo Maclear), beautiful illustrations (by Julie Morstad), and learning about another brave woman who changed history.

A biographical picture book, it includes moving moments in the life of Gyo Fujikawa, a groundbreaking Japanese American hero who spoke up for racial diversity in picture books.

Growing up in California, Gyo Fujikawa always knew that she wanted to be an artist. She was raised among strong women, including her mother and teachers, who encouraged her to fight for what she believed in. During World War II, Gyo’s Japanese-American family was forced to abandon their home and belongings and imprisoned in an internment camp in Arkansas.

In the meantime, Gyo was living in New York working as an illustrator. This was such a difficult time for Gyo. Seeing the diversity around her and feeling pangs from her own childhood, Gyo became determined to show all types of children in the pages of her books. There had to be a world where every child saw themselves represented. Her book Babies, initially rejected, was published in 1963 and stands as a landmark: it was the first children’s book to depict infants of different races and nations sharing growing experiences. Two million copies were sold. Fujikawa’s books have been translated into 17 languages and are read in more than 22 countries.

This exquisite book includes additional information on Gyo Fujikawa, a bibliography, a note from the creators, a timeline, and archival photos.

It Began With a Page is written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Julie Morstad

Halloween Book Treats

Sharing our love of books is fun

For the second year in a row, we set up our Halloween book give-away and it was exhilarating to see how enthusiastic and appreciative everyone, both children and adults, was when they saw the boxes organized by picture books, middle grade books, young adult, and books for parents. We start collecting books in the summer, purchasing many from book shops in public libraries. One friend loves this idea so much she’s give us three boxes of books both years.

Bill sets up the books. Natalie makes the signs. From our front porch, we could see so many children and adults taking their time choosing a book.

About 500 books went home tonight to new homes. Here are a few fun things we overheard:

“This is so amazing”
“This is so dope!”
“I’m so excited to read this”
“My friend said this is a good author”

And from one mom: “This is my new favorite house.” 🙂

A Tiny Good Thing

Isabelle Nagel-Brice

We have been thinking about, researching, and planning our library project off and on for a dozen years. One good thing about things taking longer than you expect is that it allows for more learning. I will be sharing on this website not only the building of our downstairs garage/upstairs library+studio, but also the amazing things we’ve learned about healthy building materials. One person who has been an inspiration to me is Isabelle Nagel-Brice of “A Tiny Good Thing.” I learned about Isabelle because I’ve been enamored by tiny houses ever since we built our little 10’ x 7’ tiny schoolhouse in our back garden. When I visited Isabel’s website the first time, I was smitten. I read every single article and post she had written.

Isabelle’s tiny house

I watched the video tour of her tiny house. I revisited her website again and again. And then…we met Isabelle and decided to have her be our consultant for healthy building materials on the library project. I’ll be writing more about Isabelle’s building knowledge and tiny house expertise in future posts. For now, let me introduce Isabelle Nagel-Brice, someone who has inspired us to take healthy building a few steps further than we had imagined. She is the person who suggested we recycle the wood from the old garage and turn it into the hardwood floor for the upstairs library. We are so happy she suggested it.

Visit A Tiny Good Thing to learn more about Isabelle and her inspiring work.