All posts by verily sherrilee

Directionally challenged, crafty, reading mother of young adult

Uncommon Knowledge

Today’s guest blog comes from Sherrilee.

As many of us on the Trail have discussed before, as we get older, it’s an interesting phenomenon that information that used to be part of our cultural lexicon has passed out of usage. As the mother of a teenager I am constantly reminded that the younger generation doesn’t have the same cultural knowledge that my generation has.


When I was a kid, Lucretia Borgia was well-known as famous poisoner. I didn’t know much more about her except that she had lived in the olden days and wore a big ring that opened up to deliver deadly poisons to her enemies. In fact, I remember a Charlie Chan movie, Castle in the Desert, in which the femme fatale was a descendant of Lucretia and had inherited the venomous ring (which, of course, was the murder weapon). I have since read up and learned that poor Lucretia Borgia was greatly maligned and probably didn’t do any of the dastardly things that used to be “common knowledge” about her, although her father and brother were certainly very poor role models for anything remotely resembling nice guys.

Although she was born out of wedlock, her father, Pope Alexander IV, didn’t hesitate to use her for his political gain. He married her off repeatedly to political allies beginning at a young age. Then when the political winds shifted, he and her older brother Cesare arranged various endings for those marriages (annullment and murder topping the list). Her final marriage survived her father’s ambitions (and life) and she lived the remainder of her life in Ferrara. She died from complications of childbirth in 1513.

She was just thirty-nine

In my job, I arrange a lot of functions in hotels throughout the world – welcome receptions, breakfasts, theme parties, meetings. About 10 years ago, I was working with the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco and arranging the final night dinner for a small group. In discussing the evening, I asked where my event was scheduled and my contact replied “in the Borgia Room”. We finished our conversation but as I hung up the phone, I turned to one of my co-workers and laughed… “I’m not sure if I were one of my participants, I would want to have my final night dinner in the Borgia Room.”

The Borgia Room

My co-worker, who is not that much younger than I am, looked at me blankly. Not only did she not get my joke, but when I explained who Lucretia Borgia, it didn’t even ring a bell. I went on a small surveying trip around my department and with the exception of my boss, no one had heard of Lucretia Borgia. I was dumbfounded to realize that something I assumed was common knowledge was NOT.

My group’s dinner went off without a hitch and no one seemed concerned about eating a meal in the Borgia Room. But I have never forgotten it!

What things used to be common knowledge in your world, but aren’t anymore?

The Matchbox Tree

Today’s guest blog is by Sherrilee.

My dad didn’t go to law school until I was born so didn’t settle into his career until a little later in my life. One of the results of this was that we moved around a lot when I was a kid. This meant I was ALWAYS the new kid on the block and I struggled to find friends and fit in.

When I was five, we lived on West Cedar in Webster Groves, Missouri for about a year. It was a great old house on a tree-lined street and as a family, we went through quite a bit in that house. My younger sister had her open-heart surgery when we lived there. My mother survived scarlet fever in this house and I learned to ride a bike on the street in front.

But my favorite memory of living on that block was being befriended by the little boy who lived across the street. His parents had welcomed us to the neighborhood early on; his name was Bobby and he was a year older than I was. There weren’t any other kids on our block that summer (except my sister who was too sick to play outside with us) and this was back in the day when you made do in your neighborhood. You just didn’t get driven around by your parents for play dates back then.

Bobby had a huge collection (or so it seemed to me at the time) of matchbox cars, all different shapes and colors, that he kept in a big shoe box. He knew all the names of the different makes of cars and could tell you when he got each one. He could play with those cars for hours and he invited me to join in his adventures. He did have a little track for the cars in the house but the hands-down best place to play was around the base of the big tree in front of his house. You know the kind of tree I mean – one of those trees with the root systems jutting out of the ground and winding all around. It was the perfect setting for all our matchbox action. We drove the cars all around, up and down the various roots and even placed popsicle sticks across some of the roots to make carports and caves. We had quite a few different scenarios to play out, but it seems that many of our games were spy games, with one spy chasing another all around the tree, in and out of our little caves. It never seemed to bother Bobby that I was a girl and I don’t remember our folks worrying about how much time we spent playing with those cars that summer. My family moved away that fall, but that summer of the matchbox tree still remains as a sweet childhood memory for me.

What childhood game brings back good memories for you?

Machinery on the Mississippi

Today’s guest blog is by Sherrilee.

My father was proud of his intellect and his vocabulary. When I was a kid, my sister and I would try to stump him by picking out random words in the dictionary to see if he knew them. He was better at this than most, since he had studied Latin for law school and could weasel out the meaning of almost any Latin-derived word. We quickly learned to look for words with their origin in Greek – he wasn’t as good at those.

When I was in junior high, my dad decided that he didn’t like the words “get” and “got”. He thought they were “lazy” words and that it was a sign of intelligence if you could use other words in their place. If you slipped up and used “get” or “got”, he would said “What?” until you replaced the little offender. This led to some hilarious conversations when my younger sister decided just to use the word “obtain” all the time, even if it didn’t make sense. “Do you think we’ll obtain rain this weekend? or I’m going upstairs to obtain a sweater.” Finally in college I decided that I didn’t have to play anymore either and my dad had to give up trying to enliven my language.

So, it was these memories that I was thinking of when I happened upon In response to the Mark Twain professor who is bringing out an n-word free Huckleberry Finn, the Kickstarter group is raising money to print an edition of Huckleberry Finn with the n-word replaced by the word “robot”. If you pledge a dollar or more, you get a hard-copy version of this book when it is finished. I coughed up the dollar immediately and just the fun of getting the e-mail updates has been worth the price of admission.

If you could get rid of a word, which word would it be?

Bridge in Brooklyn for Sale, Cheap!

It can be a perverse pleasure to own a pretty thing, especially if that thing is highly coveted by others. But this story may be the ultimate.
Today’s guest blog is by Sherrilee.

Even I, who love winter more than anyone I know, can get a little tired of the season by February. The slippery streets, the slush in the shoes, the high mountains of snow at each side of the driveway that make pulling out onto my street a life-threatening event every day. I often feel like I might be the writer of the Diary of a Snow Shoveler, which has been around forever:

So I read with interest about a woman in Spain, Angeles Duran, who had registered herself as owner of the Sun. Apparently she did her homework, discovered that there is an international agreement that no country may claim ownership of a star or a planet, but that there is no stipulation that an individual cannot make such a claim.

The part of Spain that Angeles hails from is Galicia, which is thought of as the rainy region of the country, although this is certainly relative, since Galicia is in the south of Spain so probably doesn’t have anything close to a Minnesota winter. But apparently the weather is quite volatile there, so you can go many days without seeing the sun. I suppose that claiming the sun as your own might make the gray days a little easier to take. Kind of like taking a vacation to Florida in January or February makes the shoveling a little easier to take.

Of course, it didn’t take Angeles long to try to make some money off her new claim. She wants to make sun-usership a fee-based activity, with the proceeds going the Spanish government, the nation’s pension fund, research, world hunger and 10% left over for herself. Generous woman.

What planetary object would you like to claim?


Guest Blog by Sherrilee

Most of my growing up years were spent in a big city in the Midwest, where the wildlife consisted mostly of squirrels and sparrows. So it was a big deal when we vacationed every summer in the northern part of Wisconsin at the family homestead. We saw deer from the car windows and even the occasional black bear at the town dump. When I was seven, an animal park opened up in St. Croix Falls, which was along the route my family always drove to get to Wisconsin.

Fawn Doe Rosa was (and still is) a place where you can feed and pet a variety of animals, from deer to ponies to geese and ducks. Always looking for a way to break up the long drive to and from up north, I’m sure my parents were delighted to find anything to get us girls out of the car and out of their hair for awhile.

That first year, when I was seven, my sister and I wandered all over the park. Except for dogs and cats, I had never had any interaction with an animal before and was a little leery of the deer, some of whom were bigger than I was. So I opted for the smaller and safer geese and ducks that abounded at the park. At one point, as I was feeding some geese along the little pond, a young elk spotted me.

A Stealthy Approach

Clearly understanding that I was the repository of food, he headed right for me, although I didn’t notice him, so intent was I on my task. My father, who was capturing our day with the camera, snapped a shot as the elk approached me, but didn’t feel the need to warn me. Of course, even though the elk was quite small (as elk go), he did scare me out of my wits and I stepped into the pond and got my feet wet.

It took my mother several minutes to get me to approach the poor elk, who was probably as scared by my antics as I was by his, but was willing to forgive me for my outburst, since I still had food. Within a little bit, I was petting him and feeding him, like he was no more different than the family dog.

Friends for Life

I think about this day often, as the teenager and I still visit Fawn Doe Rosa at least once a summer. What would have been a scarring experience that scared me off animals for a lifetime, turned out to be the beginning of a lifelong love of creatures great and small. We trek out to our two zoos here several times a year, love the Wolf Center in Ely, visit any animal park we find along the way and I believe my love of animals may have rubbed off; the teenager has expressed an interest for a career with animals, although it’s still a little too early to tell.

Has being afraid of anything ever led to something good for you?