All posts by verily sherrilee

Directionally challenged, crafty, reading mother of young adult

My Long Term Plan

Today’s guest post comes from Sherrilee

I am not a big picture person. I appreciate that there are big picture people but I don’t aspire to be one of them. I like to do; I like to make lists and cross things off. Short range goals – sign me up. Long range goals – not so much.


I live on a hill and I don’t like to cut the grass that much. In addition I’m not crazy about the idea of “lawn”, especially if it involves chemicals. So about 12 years ago I decided that I wanted less grass and more flowers, but my budget didn’t stretch too far at the nursery. So, even though it’s not what you would expect, I made a 15-year plan. It’s a pretty simple plan. Every year I add a little bit more, thin out a little bit more and move a little bit more. That’s the extent of the plan; I don’t have any layouts, spreadsheets or lists. Every spring I walk through Bachmans and Tangletown Gardens and pick out a few things. I often don’t even decide where any of these items will go until I get home. I’m particularly fond of lilies, irises and peonies, but I occasionally branch out. I bought 2 sedum from a guy selling plants off the back of his truck in Rogers; I got a pigsqueak after seeing it at a friend’s house.


The front yard is farther along than the back – mostly because of dogs. They do a number on any landscaping. I eventually want a fountain (I have an artist friend who will be working on this with me) and a wooden lighthouse (about 4 feet high would be good). The fire pit and the wooden swing are in place already. I’m thinking a nice big deck as well, but I might have to fundraise for that!


These days my yard is a riot of color every spring and summer and mowing takes about ¼ of the time it used to. When I pull up in my driveway or come around the corner from a walk I think “wow, whose great yard is that?” Then I happily think “it’s mine”. My long term plan is working out!

What’s one of your long-range goals?

Last Child Syndrome

Today’s guest post comes from Pluto.

We all know the story. First child gets all the brand new clothes, thousands of photos, scrapbooks. Second child gets a few new clothes, some photos. By the third child, it’s all stained hand-me-downs and no photos.

Well I’m the ninth child.

No new clothes and the only photos were from a distance, blurry.

Then it got worse.  At one point, some people who were desperate for attention make a big deal out of announcing that I’m actually a runt and a cousin, not the 9th child.

You’d think that this would be devastating but it’s turned out to be great for me.  I was suddenly the center of attention. Groups were formed to voice outrage over how I was being treated, t-shirts were printed. Somebody even started a Facebook page for me!

And now finally, after many years, lots and lots  of miles and a few snapshots, it turns out I’m not so insignificant after all.   In fact, I’m kind of fascinating.  Not just the baby of the family, I’m much much younger than all my relatives. They were forced to admit this when they got a clear look at my complexion – cool and moist without too much acne.

It’s not nice to gloat, but at this distance, who cares?   I’ve had my close up, and it turns out I look pretty good!

What rank do you hold in your familial Universe?  



Pastry Dreams

We looked at the weather before our trip and we knew it would be cool in the mornings in the mountains. But although we took warm clothes, we seriously underestimated our ability to enjoy a cold breakfast out of the cooler on cold mornings.

That’s how we ended up driving through Castle Rock early one morning last week, looking for a warmer breakfast. We found a tiny little pastry shop, Dream Pastries, tucked between some other storefronts.


Wonderful, marvelous fancy pastries and good hot coffee – nothing frapped, latte’d or macchiato’ d. In addition to the great breakfast, the little shop has a wonderful modge podge of different tables and chairs, as if the owner had shopped at garage sales for his furniture. And along the walls there was shelving covered in cake plates!


All colors and sizes, some foster glass from the 40s and 50s, some fancy plates with “jewels” draped on them and some just whimsical designs. I asked the owner about the plates and how long it had taken him to collect them all. He also shared with me that if you purchase a cake from the bakery, you can borrow one of the cake plates to serve it on.

It made me wish I lived in Castle Rock.

As we drove away, it made me think of my collections.


My first “collection” started when I was in 5th grade. My folks took a long weekend trip to Kentucky and when they returned they brought me a brown ceramic pig bank. They’d seen in a shop there and thought I might like it.  He sits up and the hole is on the bottom with a big cork plug. I was charmed with him, kept him on my dresser and in the mysterious ways that these things happen, I received another fun pig bank for my birthday later that year.

So suddenly I was in the piggy bank collection business. I have about 50 pig banks these days, most of them stored in the attic since Young Adult was born. To make my collection a pig bank has to be really unusual, so I don’t add to the collection much. My goal is for them to eventually come back out of the attic, but I may have to wait until my youngest cat becomes less of a “knocker offer”.

Do you have any collections?

J.B.’s Expectations

Today’s guest post comes from Verily Sherrilee

Living with other people’s expectations stinks.

My dad was a terrible student. He was brilliant but never could buckle down to teachers’ expectations. He ended up flunking a few grades, but then skipping grades in between; he just barely made it through law school, graduating in the bottom quarter of his class. He was always disappointed that he hadn’t achieved higher grades or a better standing

And as often happens, his expectations for himself fell directly onto his children and manifested themselves in what my middle sister and I always called the “What Next Syndrome”. Every achievement was met with “That’s nice, what next?” What grade will you get next semester, what level class will you take next, what goal are you setting for yourself next? It made it seem as if no achievement was ever good enough in itself – only as a stepping stone to whatever was “next”. My sister got out from under this weight by blowing off school, blowing off grades and blowing off my dad whenever he got blustery. I went the other direction, excelling at school and working hard on all my next steps.

By the time I began to look at colleges, my dad’s expectations were starting to wear me down. He came home with a big fat reference book of all the colleges and universities that listed all their SAT and Achievement Test scores; he announced that I could only go to a place that had really high scores as their norm.   JBExpectationsVennAs a lover of Minnesota and Wisconsin, I promptly announced that I would only go to a school in one of those two states. If you love Venn diagrams, you can guess that the intersection of our two announcements wasn’t too large!

We both got our way. I ended up at Carleton; it was in his book and it was in Minnesota. Of course, as these things usually go, it wasn’t a fairy-tale ending. I didn’t like it all that much and ended up dropping out, not getting my degree until I was 39! I’ve always wondered if I had gone to a different school (read “with more social life than just studying”), I would have been happier and stuck with it. I guess I’ll never know. I do know that I’ve worked really hard over the years to not settle MY expectations about school and grades onto my child. And it’s been hard.

When have expectations tripped you up?

Eating Eiffel

Today’s guest post comes from Verily Sherrilee.

We talk about food a lot here on the Trail.  We even have a list of our favorite recipes.  And when we get together, food is usually an important part of the experience.  The spread at Blevins Book Club is always amazing and even when we sat on the sidewalk waiting for the Tom Keith memorial, we had a terrific array of goodies (popcorn, chocolates, cookies, fruit).   But one of my most memorable restaurant experiences was not of the informal kind.


On a trip to Paris with a client, we visited the Eiffel Tower.  As we walked around the first level, our guide mentioned the Jules Verne Restaurant, which is even higher up, on the second level.  Although we already had plans for dinner, the client was entranced by the thought of eating at the Eiffel Tower.  Our guide made a few calls, pulled a few strings and voila! – we had reservations for the evening.

I am not all that good with heights.  I’m usually OK when I’m enclosed so places like the Gateway Arch or the Washington Monument are do-able.  However when I’m NOT enclosed, I don’t like it at all.  So while I wasn’t crazy about eating dinner 125 meters (410 feet) above the earth, I figured I would probably be fine.  Unfortunately what I didn’t know until we arrived is that the Jules Verne is windows from floor to ceiling.  And our guide had managed to not only get us in that night but had swung a table right by those windows.  My stomach took off for parts unknown almost immediately and I chose the chair farthest from the window as possible.


As the waiter came around to pour the red wine, I leaned a little bit back to let him reach the glass in front of me.  That was when I learned that the chairs had a little “give”.  As I pushed back, the chair pushed back as well, giving me the sensation that I was falling backwards.  Since I was already so worried about the windows and the height, I screeched and jerked forward, knocking the arm of the waiter.  Red wine went everywhere – the tablecloth, the napkins, the plates – it even extinguished the little candle in front of me.  I managed to stay wine- free but my shriek had gotten everyone’s attention in the entire restaurant.   It was one of those classic moments when you truly understand what it means to want the earth to open up and swallow you.

Luckily the Jules Verne is quite small, so I didn’t embarrass myself in front of too many people.  The dinner was out of this world and I managed to get through the rest of the evening without incident.  But I’ll always remember my dinner at the Jules Verne as the “night of the red wine disaster”.

Have you had a dining disaster?

The Art of Winning

Today’s guest post comes from Verily Sherrilee

Art5I don’t get too excited about prize drawings because I never win. Well almost never; I think I’ve won maybe 3 drawings my whole life. This includes a big company anniversary drawing 10 years ago in which they drew 400 names. Zip, zilch, nada.

So last week, when I got an email from a supplier requesting that I fill out a little survey to enter a drawing, I almost deleted it. But it had been forwarded to me by my boss, so I decided to play along. The online survey included a smart-a** option for each question, so you know which answer I chose – for every question – as I figured it wouldn’t matter.


Imagine my surprise when I found out that my name had been picked for the prize – a trip to the Russian Museum of Art and a painting class. Not only did I win, but I won something that had value for me!

Yesterday afternoon (yes, I got off work for this) a group of 10 of us met at the RMOA. We learned a little history of the current exhibit as well as the background of two specific pieces of art and their artists. Then we took a quick walk over to Simply Jane’s Studio, where they were all set up and waiting for us.

Everyone got a penciled in canvas (we had chosen which of the two pieces we wanted to do ahead of time), smocks, brushes, paints – the works. The staff did a great job of teaching how to use the acrylics, including having us “color block” our canvas and then filling in shading and details. At first I was a little worried that mine would look terrible AND I was sharing the table with someone who was very talented, but after a little bit, I was able to let go of it and just enjoy myself.


Art4On the left side of the screen you can see the work in its color block stage, and on the right, the finished piece, which I’m calling “She’s Still Life with Apples”.

And I’m feeling like a winner!

If you have paints in front of you, which artist would YOU like to copy?

The Parade

Today’s post comes from Verily Sherrilee


I love parades; I always have. I love the floats, I love the military guys with all their flags, I love the Corn Queen’s Court waving from the backs of convertibles. Growing up in St. Louis, we went to see the Shriners’ parade every year; the flowers, the clowns, the bands – I adored it all. I even love the parade every afternoon at the State Fair.

So it was fortuitous that twenty-five years ago, I bought a house in Tangletown. This is the one neighborhood in Minneapolis that defies the grid layout that the rest of the city enjoys.  And it is also one of the neighborhoods that has an annual Fourth of July parade.

We gather at Washburn High School – everybody in their red, white and blue attire. Kids decorate their bikes, trikes, scooters and wagons for the parade. Dogs wear their best festive bandanas and there are always balloons galore. The fire engine arrives and the fire fighters pose for photos with the excited kids. Then the engine starts up, someone usually has John Souza on a boom box and we head out, weaving our way through the streets of Tangletown.  Neighbors who aren’t parading sit on their porches or front steps and wave as we go by.  After 6-8 blocks, we end up at Fuller Park where we have a fabulous party. Games and prizes for the kids, a band, kegs of root beer, hot dogs. Everybody brings their blankets and picnic lunches.

It’s a wonderful way to begin celebrating the Fourth – laidback and fun. And close to home!

How would you design your parade float?


Today’s guest post comes from Sherrilee

I’m not sure why I first started picking strawberries every year; now it’s a tradition that I don’t want to do without.  The strawberry picking window is pretty small – usually a couple of weeks in mid-June.  This year the weather has been perfect and berries are right on schedule.


Strawberry picking day starts out early; we always try to get to the fields by 6:30 a.m.  Once the sun comes up, pickers descend on the fields… sometimes the fields can be picked out by 10 a.m.  And the early morning is cooler for picking.  Young Adult and I pick in rows next to each other – she is not a dedicated picker, but understands the concept of “as soon as the boxes are full we go home”.  Of course, an integral part of strawberry picking is strawberry tasting.  The berries were sweet and juicy this year.


Once home it’s time to process all the berries.  This year we did 14 jars of freezer jam and froze about 16 pounds of smoothies over the winter.  And it was a strawberry orgy for three days straight: strawberry cake, strawberry peach pie and lots of bowls of fresh berries with whipped cream.   My mother was not a canner; I am entirely self-taught and I really enjoy it.  So when I found this poem by Joyce Sutphen, it didn’t remind me of my mother, but maybe someday it will remind the Young Adult of me.


It’s what she does and what her mother did.

It’s what I’d do if I were anything

like her mother’s mother – or if the times

demanded that I work in my garden,

planting rows of beans and carrots, weeding

the pickles and potatoes, picking worms

off the cabbages.

Today she’s canning

tomatoes, which means there are baskets

of red Jubilees waiting on the porch

and she’s been in the cellar looking for jars…

There’s a box of lids and a heal of golf

rings on the counter.  She gets the spices

out; she revs the engine of the old stove.

Now I declare her Master of Preserves!

I say that if there were degrees in canning

she would be summa cum laude—God knows

she’s spent as many hours at the sink peeling

the skins off hot tomatoes as I have

bent over a difficult text.  I see

her at the window, filling up the jar,

packing a glass suitcase for the winter.

Joyce Sutphen

(from First Words: Poems, by Joyce Sutphen, Red Dragonfly Press, 2010)

Do you have a seasonal tradition?

Summer Reading!

Today’s guest post comes from Sherrilee.

It’s that time of year when everyone across America trots out their summer reading list.

Newspapers, online `zines, libraries – they are all hawking their ideas for filling up our lazy summer days with reading. When do they think we’ll get all this reading done? I don’t know about anybody else, but my summer is pretty full – yardwork, graduation parties, out-of-town visitors and vacations. And in my world vacations are pretty jam-packed with not much reading time.

But who am I to go against tradition? In the spirit of the Summer Reading List, here are a few of the books that are on my list this summer.


Death by Rhubarb by Lou Jane Temple. This title was unearthed by Clyde last month in a discussion on the trail of toxic rhubarb.

The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo. If you are interested in Henry VIII’s second wife, for whom he upended the country, this book challenges what you think you know and why you think you know it!


The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley. #6 in the Flavia de Luce mystery series, featuring the very precocious 11-year old, Flavia.

Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee. A nostalgic look at growing up in another time. I have the Illustrated volume and it’s charming!


As You Wish by Cary Elwes. This title takes a look behind the scenes of one of my favorite movies of all time, Princess Bride.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik. I haven’t a clue what this is about but it’s by Naomi Novik, so it’s on my list!


Some Luck by Jane Smiley. The first in the Hundred Years Family Saga – promises some emotional ups and downs.

Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary by Anita Anand. Biography of Sophia Duleep Singh.

Where’s your favorite summer reading spot?

The Chainsaw Massacre

Header image: © Justin Smith / Wikimedia Commons, CC-By-SA-3.0

Today’s guest post is by Sherrilee

Two Sundays ago I finally pruned my big lilac bush.  It’s been 20+ years so it was definitely a job that needed the chainsaw.  It took a while to get all the branches small enough for the City of Minneapolis to take away so I had plenty of time to think about my chainsaw skills and history.

I moved into my current house a couple of decades ago, when I was still with my wasband. Among other things that we inherited with the house was a sick tree in the front yard. We had a couple of tree folks out to look at it and both had the same opinion; the tree had to go. While we paid for the tree professionals for their opinions, the wasband was not going to pay for someone to remove the old tree (his middle name should have been UberFrugal).  And I’ll admit, the do-it-yourself of the job appealed to me.


The new tree was delivered on a Saturday morning and we tromped down to Home Depot and purchased a chainsaw to do the job. Wasband had it “all worked out”; I would guide where the tree fell with a rope around the tree and he would do the sawing. Knowing what I know now about physics, I can’t believe this was the plan.

Just like a sit-com, the tree started to fall the wrong way.  Of course, it was much too heavy for me to guide and the rope went with the tree.  Wasband dropped the chain saw on the ground to try to help me.  He did manage to shove the tree in another direction from the house; instead it fell right on the chainsaw, splintering it into hundreds of plastic yellow pieces. It was almost as if the tree was saying “if I’m going, you’re going with me!”

So now the tree was down, but we still needed to cut it into smaller logs.  Back to Home Depot.  I’m sure that these days, after 9-1-1, someone would call Homeland Security about the couple buying a second chainsaw on the same day!

Have you ever had a DIY project go wrong?