All posts by verily sherrilee

Directionally challenged, crafty, reading mother of young adult

RIP Tomie dePaola

When I was working in the book industry (B. Dalton and then Software, Etc.), my employee discount was a blessing and a curse.  Nice to get a discount on books but dangerous to someone who didn’t have a lot of disposable income.  During those years, the books that often went home with me were children’s books, particularly those with lavish illustrations.

If you have/had kids in your life, you’ve probably seen some of Tomie dePaola’s work.  In addition to writing his own stories, he also did all his own illustrations as well as illustrating for many other authors.  Often his work depicted his vision of folk stories or legends, including stories of his most memorable character: Strega Nona.   The first of the Strega Nona stories is a bit like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  Strega Nona leaves Big Anthony at her hut while she is out and he is determined to show the village folks how her magic pasta pot works.  As you can imagine, it doesn’t go well, but Strega Nona gets home just in time to avert disaster.

Tomie dePaola passed away this week, complications from surgery after a fall at his barn studio on his property in New Hampshire, where he had lived since 1973.  He was still working at the age of 85!  Over his career, he wrote and/or illustrated over 260 books and won just about every award there is for children’s literature, including a lifetime achievement award presented in 2011 by the Children’s Literature Legacy, a branch of the American Library Association.

I have quite a few Tomie dePaola books, from a signed copy of Strega Nona to volumes of nursery rhymes, poems and folktales to The Legend of Bluebonnet, The Legend of Poinsettia (one of my holiday favorites) and a stunning pop-up book, Giorgio’s Village.  As I’ve been cleaning out and cutting back, I have hit my bookshelves hard, but I haven’t had the heart to cull any of my Tomie dePaola.  I don’t know if I’ll have grandkids at any point, but I’d better hang on to them, just in case.

We’ll miss you Tomie.

Is there a children’s author or illustrator that you’re fond of?  Or that your kids or grandkids are fond of?

Let’s Celebrate

Photo credit:  Jennifer Chen

A couple of month ago I had a doughnut ice cream sandwich for breakfast.  It was PJ’s fault – she had announced the day before that it was going to be National Ice Cream for Breakfast Day.  It was a sweet treat that was a bit too sweet even for me and has not been repeated.

Of course the very next day was Groundhog’s Day and just a couple weeks later, I saw some silly bit on the internet that February 17 was Random Acts of Kindness Day.  I decided to do some checking and

    • National Ice Cream for Breakfast Day (first Saturday in February)
    • Seuss Day (also called National Read Across America Day) – March 2
    • Pi Day – March 14
    • Star Wars Day – May 4
    • National Take Your Dog to Work Day – June 22
    • National Hammock Day – July 22
    • National Black Dog Day – October 1
    • Bathtub Party Day – December 5

There is actually a National Day calendar online and from a quick glance, there is something to celebrate every single day of the year, even February 29.  But there are plenty of things left to put on the calendar.  I looked and didn’t see Dust Bunny Appreciation Day nor did I see a National Day of Reading in Bed.  Sorely needed.

Any other days we need to celebrate?

Good News – Well, For Me Anyway

Twice before in my life in corporate America, it has been rough times.  Nothing quite like this, but for the travel industry, tough.  After 911, with all the airlines shut down and folks scared, everything went very quiet in my division for several weeks.   The second time was the recession of 2009, when companies thought that having incentive programs would make them too “visible”.  All the bank programs went first (even the banks that never took monies from the government), but many followed suit.  During both of these times, management was very serious and a vice president actually said out loud that it wasn’t a time for happiness.

I’m feeling the same right now, as if joy and happiness have been outlawed and I think this is more stressful for me than the general situation.  So it is with trepidation that I announce I am experiencing some happiness right now.

When YA was six, we took that vacation to Maine for the Machias Blueberry Festival.  I know I’ve mentioned this before.  I journaled, took photos and collected postcards, placemats, brochures and anything else I thought could be useful in a scrapbook.  When we got home, I found a good supply of stickers and doo dads at the craft store; I already had a good supply of rubber stamps of lighthouses – I’ve collected them for years.

I got the scrapbook designed and in the first month or so, I managed to get about a third of my material mounted and decorated.  Then things got busy and I put all the items in a black wire basket that eventually got shunted to the top of my studio bookshelf.  As YEARS went by, I often looked up at it, but never felt like I had time to really dig back into the project.  Well, I have time now, so last weekend, I pulled the basket down, dusted everything off (cough, cough) and got to work.  It took me a bit to figure out the font I had been using and I spent about an hour sorting everything out, putting things in piles by location and eventually finding a scrap of paper in the bottom of the basket that I had used to record where we had been each day.  Gold.

So I’m happy to announce that finally, nearly 20 years later, the Maine scrapbook is finished.  I was on a roll, so I also did two little scrapbooks for Rhiannon and Zorro as well!  I have all three of them in my bedroom, where every time I notice them, I get a little thrill of accomplishment.  Wondering if I would have such a good feeling about the scrapbook if I had actually finished it 20 years ago?

Any projects you’ve been putting off for far too long?

Birthday Party Extravaganza

I think it’s safe to say I sometimes get carried away.  Luckily there is one place in my life where this is just fine and dandy.

At my office, each of us in my department is in charge of another’s birthday.  You send around a card for all of us sign (all 10 of us), set up a time on our calendar to celebrate and bring in a treat.  We are all event account managers so planning parties is something we all know how to do.  There is a drawer full of assorted colored tablecloths, festive paper plates and plastic silverware, a few party hats.

I am the keeper of the drawer and also the schedule of who plans the birthdays.  About 5 years ago, when updating the list for a new hire, I assigned myself to my friend, Norma.  Norma lives life large.  She is a single mother of two boys; she moved here with them from Mexico when they were babies (after the death of her husband, who was an employee at my company).  She was able to put her hotel experience to good use and eventually ended up at BIW and in my department.  She is outspoken, funny, full of energy and loves celebrations as much as I do.  No one gets more enjoyment out of their own birthday than Norma does.  We are a birthday party match made in heaven.

This year I did a flamingo theme.  Not sure why although I remember that I thought the idea up a while back.  First I found a big petal envelope back in the client mailing center and did a huge card for everybody to sign.

Then I made a banner that spelled out her name.  (I got this banner die set a year ago so I am always looking for an excuse to make a banner.)  I turned off the tv in the lunchroom to hang it up.

I set up the table with lots of pink, using the cupcakes (the feature photo) as the centerpiece.  The menu included pink cupcakes with pink and white icing and flamingo straws, white chocolate popcorn with pink sprinkles (Norma loves popcorn), pink sixlets and ice cream with pink sprinkles).

This is way over the edge and created quite a stir in my building as I was getting everything set up.  People from other departments came in and some folks even took pictures.  Everyone seems to think I’m a little crazy.  But Norma was thrilled and I’m thrilled to over-do for an appreciative audience.

When was the last time you got a little carried away?

Tolkien Reading Day

Photo credit: bernswaelz

Turns out yesterday was Tolkien Reading Day.  The Tolkien Society organized the first Tolkien Reading Day back in 2003.  If you’re a really big fan, you’ll know that March 25 was the day that the Black Tower was destroyed and Sauron, the Dark Lord was defeated.

Tolkien was a fascinating man.  Born in the late 19th century, he served in WWI, studied with honors at Oxford and then returned there as a professor.  He wrote many books and articles during his years of teaching, publishing The Hobbit when he was 45 and finishing the Lord of the Rings when he was close to his retirement.

I read The Hobbit the summer of 1973 while I was living in Northfield and working at The Ole Piper Inn.  All my Carlton friends were scattered for the summer months and my boyfriend was doing an internship in the Twin Cities; except for the weekends, I had a lot of time on my hands.  I had never read any fantasy prior to this, in fact didn’t really understand that there WAS fantasy.  It was still a subset of science fiction, and I hadn’t read much of that either.  After all these years, I don’t remember exactly why I decided to read The Hobbit, but within pages I was hooked.  I was not scheduled at the restaurant that night, and I just kept reading and reading.  I finished it the next morning, having not slept a wink.

The Hobbit turned out to be the door into the fantasy genre for me.  I immediately followed up with the entire Lord of the Rings triology, Piers Anthony, Terry Pratchett, Terry Brooks and on and on.  Then I found Ursula LeGuin and Anne McCaffrey who gave me the beginnings of my dragon fixation.  To this day, while I probably read more straight-up fiction, the fantasy genre is still my favorite.  And if I need “comfort” reading, that’s right where I go.

Tell me about a book that opened a door for you.

Skim vs. Powdered

Our discussion the other day about paper plates reminded me of stories that my folks used to tell about their early married life.  My dad was in basic training in North Carolina and my mom moved there to be close to him.  She taught gym part-time and they lived in a small trailer.  One of the stories they told me about how broke they were was that they couldn’t afford to buy a set of plates.  So not only did they eat on paper plates, they cut the paper plates in half!

By the time I came along, they were in better shape, although still not great; my dad was in law school with two part time jobs and my mom was forced to quit working the minute the school district found out she was pregnant!  As a kid, things were tight, not destitute, but definitely tight. One of the ways that my mom saved on groceries was by using powdered milk.  I still remember it after all these years, chalky and for some reason never seemed to get really cold.  I hated it.

At least once a month we had Saturday dinner at my grandparents’ house – hamburger and french fry night.  There were a lot of reasons that I liked to eat my Nana and Pappy’s; one of those reasons was that they had “real” milk.  It was always very cold because that’s the way Pappy liked it and there was always plenty.  They had a special half-gallon carton holder that looked like this:

When my younger sister started school and had “real” milk every day, she began refusing to drink the powdered milk at home.  While I hadn’t been brave enough to do this on my own, I quickly followed her lead and my mom gave up and began to buy “real” milk.  I started drinking skim about 30 years ago and I’m still a big milk drinker all these years later.  My mom doesn’t understand how I can drink skim and  has suggested more than once that I “might as well go back to powdered milk”.  Yes, after all these years, she still remembers how we “forced” her to buy milk.

My milkman told me yesterday when he was making our delivery that big local dairies are going to discontinue skim milk production for a bit.  Apparently skim milk requires more steps and production time; during our current crisis, trying to keep up with demand means cutting out skim so more easily produced milks can make it to market faster.  Who would have thought?  Guess I’ll be on a higher fat milk for a while.

Do you remember any meals you enjoyed at your grandparents’?

Birth Announcement

The Birch Aquarium is throwing a baby shower!  They have just welcome two very rare babies – weedy sea dragons.  Apparently sea dragons  are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity and the aquarium has been trying for years.

Sea dragons, as you can see, look like little flotsams of seaweed and are actually distant cousins to the seahorse.  The Birch actually acquired their first sea dragons after years of successful work with other sea horse varieties.  In the wild, most sea dragon species call the waters of Australia home.

The two new additions are about an inch long and will feed primarily on shrimp, like their parents.  At this point, it is now known the gender of the babies; according to the Birch, they “likely won’t know until they reach sexual maturity in a few years. “This bit of sea dragon news caught my eye because we have sea dragons at the Minnesota Zoo; we’ve had them for years, so I didn’t realize they were rare.  In fact, while YA is joyfully trailing her hands in the shark/ray pool (which she can do for a LONG time), I almost always wander over to watch the sea dragons.  Their alcove is kept dark and they are mesmerizing as they float through their habitat, their “weeds” floating gracefully around them.

Do you have a favorite exotic animal?