Category Archives: Weather

Watering Gardens of Worry in Fall Heat Wave


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Browning ferns in odd late September heat. The calendar says fall, but the weather says heatwave.

A former professor of mine posted an interesting video on Facebook recenlty, a Vox commentary on how news media use a war analogy to cover natural disasters, especially hurricanes.

One point of the commentary is that positioning Mother Nature as the enemy in a heroic survival struggle absolves humans from a more difficult conversation. Such as, who put all those expensive developments on barrier islands? If a dam fails and 70,000 people have to flee—what does it say about that dam idea? And isn’t climate change influenced humans and a real thing?

Mother Nature isn’t our enemy. Earth does not have to mean, but be. It’s up to us to understand and do what life has always done: Adjust.

I am not trying to belittle or trivialize the struggles or tragedy humans face. We’re all in this together. I and my wife are conversing about which aid agency we will donate to, and I’m worried about in-laws in Florida and an in-laws family in Puerto Rico.

Instead, what I’m thinking about is how tragedies tug at our hearts in the short run, but sometimes we increase risk in the long run. We should be careful about earthquake resistant construction, about leaving flood plains open for water, about farming practices in Iowa that will absorb more water and leave less runoff.

Sadly, that does not seem the mood of the times. We fuss about how we react and think less about how we act.

This morning was a weekly ritual, these days. I unwound my garden hose and sprayed on the backyard gardens, trying to save what can be saved in this odd, hot, dry fall.

Ferns are browning—not a serious problem, honestly, because I know from experience most ferns just let their tops die in a drought and emerge again when the wet returns. But young bushes, trees and perennial flowers planted this year are at risk. Given heat in the 90s, I should be watering maybe every other day, but I only have time for once a week due to the crush of school work.

So, I do what I can and do what we always do—hope for the best. And hope I’m not wasting too much precious water. We’ll see what comes back next year. If a few flowers expire in my gardens, I’m aware that’s a pretty minor issue compared to flooded homes or lost lives.

Still, I’m trying to adjust to Mother Nature in the short and, I hope, longer term. My heart was a bit heavy as I sprayed my garden, despite the assistance of two young grandchildren who helped lighten my mood a bit.

I was wondering about what it would be like to be in oppressive heat on a tropical American island with no power and no way to contact relatives to let them know you’re OK. Puerto Rico, Texas, Mexico—I hope we do what we can to help you. Thoughts and prayers are just the start; treasure and action must follow.

And I hope we learn.

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Friday Floral Feature: The Lawn Was Mowed


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Clematis buds are close to opening.

It happened this week—Tuesday night. I started the lawn mower for the first time in the spring of 2017.

It was a bit of an ordeal. It took something like 25 tries, but I got the mower going and completed the first mow in front.

I have not mowed in back yet—grass is much sparser there and I don’t mow that yard as often.

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Creeping Charlie in bloom.

In the gardens this week, I have grown impressed by both Lilac and Bluebells, spring flowers that have some staying power. Magnolia came and went quickly, ditto crab apples. But Lilacs and Bluebells soldier on, as the gardens shift from early to mid spring.

It will be crisp tonight, with a minor risk of frost. But overall, the weather in Iowa has been warm. I may even water a bit tomorrow, if I can eke out a few minutes.

Anyway, I already shot some images for next week’s update, since technically this update ends on Friday, May 5. On May 6, both early Peonies and a Clematis bloomed. Stay tuned for next week’s post!

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Lily of the Valley starting to bloom.

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Even oak trees are waking up.

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Friday Floral Feature: Stolen Tuesday Flower Photos


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Lilac in bloom. Sweet smelling time!

I already wrote about planting seeds with the aid of two granddaughters, so I’ll let that just be part of the Earth Day march for science post.

This week, cool April weather returned. We’ve had a generally warm and pretty April, but in the second half of the week, cold and clouds rolled in. It rained, and snow was also in the air, although I did not see any of the white flakes, and I’m OK with that.

While lows have been in the 30s, thankfully we have not really had a freeze, and with April entering its final days, I would expect that the weather trend soon will be much warmer.

Before the rains moved in midweek, on Tuesday morning I did a very quick walk in the gardens about before leaving for work, and I made some flower images in a few stolen minutes during the attractive golden light of morning.

I’m glad I have several different types of crab apple tree. Some are already getting past prime, but others are just coming on. In the front yard, the larger white crab apple is shedding many of its pedals, while its pink-and-white cousin (both trees were tiny twigs when they went into the ground on the same day, part of the same Arbor Day Foundation set) is just getting into its prime.

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Tulip in back garden.

Same story in the back yard—some crab apples are getting beyond prime bloom time, others are just kicking in.

The Moscow Lilac is at its peak and may be faded when sunshine returns. Redbuds, for the most part, are starting to put out leaves, so the pretty pink flowers aren’t going to be around long. One darker Redbud in front, however, is just getting ready to bloom.

Bluebells are still blooming well. Some Lily of the Valley have heavy looking buds, just getting ready to bloom. Early peonies are going to pop any day now—maybe once the sunshine returns.

Well, cool rainy days aren’t the best days to be outside. Still, to a gardener, cool damp days at this time of year are welcome. New grass is sprouting in back. And the grandkids and I recently planted seeds—and you know what they say about April showers.

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Crab apple in front yard.

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Marching Bigly for Mother Earth


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Iowa City March for Science April 22–my wife and two granddaughters and I took part.

The March for Science, planned this Earth Day, April 22, 2017, was not overtly political. After all, science is supposed to transcend politics—the chemicals of your body don’t care whether you voted for Hillary or Donald.

But, I was there, joining the nearest event in Iowa City, mostly due to politics. It feels as if both political parties ignore science, to our peril. Some liberals fuss about GMOs or vaccinations—or wonder why we spend money on NASA. But, pained as I am by irrationality on the looney left, let us give the right wing its due—it’s irrationality is much more widespread and, due to who is in power now, more dangerous.

Never in my lifetime have we elected a president so abysmally ignorant of everything—history, politics, and, yes, science. Never has one political party—the GOP—worked so hard against biology (yes, evolution is a thing), chemistry (if you burn that carbon it will go somewhere with some effect), Earth science (yes, the globe naturally warms and cools, but no, this particular extinction event is not natural), etc.

So I was in Iowa City to March. And it felt right, somehow, that I was there with two young grandchildren. Their lives have been shaped for the good by science—they live at a time when many humans, especially in northern North America, are well fed, comfortable and safe form most physical harms thanks to science.It wasn’t just the idea of democracy that made America great. It was the idea of ideas.So here is how I spent Earth Day 2017:

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Cool Iowa spring morning–planting pollinator friendly flowers on Earth Day with the help of two granddaughters.

First, we planted. I don’t even know who sent me some pollinator-friendly seeds at work, but thank you, benefactor. Those and other seeds (I’ve received bee-friendly packs from various sources) went into the ground this morning. Some of the seeds will be dormant until 2018—milkweed, for instance, must overwinter before germinating. But, where there is Iowa dirt, there is hope, and I hope this morning’s plantings will eventually aid both bees and butterflies.

Second, we marched. One daughter, with her young son, headed to Des Moines to march with our mathematician son who lives in Ames. My wife and I took two granddaughters to Iowa City. The girls made signs, petted dogs and gamely walked the whole March route. I am sure they didn’t understand what was going on, but I deeply felt that what we were doing was for their sake. The currently irrational political storm that is raging threatens science at many levels, and attacks on basic research are very shortsighted. Plus, we are delaying action that will be necessary to come to grips with global warming, and my grandchildren may suffer more than I do from our current shortsightedness. So, we march.

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One of many signs at Iowa City March for Science.

I am not naïve enough to think that today made a whole lot of difference. The miserly small-minded mindset of governments in both Des Moines and Washington wasn’t changed by my few small steps. But I was trying to make America great again.

Once, we were a courageous country that put footprints on the Lunar surface. We saved the Bald Eagle from extinction, and cleaned up much of the smog that chocked our great cities. We changed our habits so that rivers in Ohio would not remain flammable.

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Granddaughter during march.

Yet, today, we can’t even agree that Iowa water is dirty, that the planet is warming, that space is worth exploring or that science matters.

It does. I won’t be silent as my once great country falls into a deep intellectual malaise.

It’s time to speak, act, march and make some noise. We had the drive, brains and courage in our past to do great things. We still have them. We must overcome the bigly sad shrill voices of ignorance that dominate our discourse today.

Mother Earth, on behalf of Iowa and our nation, I apologize. I don’t know, somehow we got drunk in November 2016 and are living in an extended nightmarish hangover.

I don’t want us to do that again, and I vow to do what I can to do better.

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Joe’s Spring Day in 20 Images


It rained overnight, but by 7 a.m., it was over and the sky was clearing. Despite the wet streets, I rode my bike to work today. After a brief stop in my office, I had to go downtown for a visit to The Gazette that my Intro to Journalism class makes each year.

And it was a beautiful, clear spring day, warm in the afternoon, crisp and clean for the rest of the day. Here are 20 things I saw today:

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Rhododendron

1-Right outside my door, on the way to get my bike. The flower is still wet with rain, but you can see the sun. Rhododendron blooming for the first time by my front steps.

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Daffodils and Clarence

2-Just arrived at MMU and parked my bike (the bike is named Clarence). The bike is in the background as I make an image of some daffodils.

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More MMU daffodils.

3-Still in the garden by Warde Hall at MMU. Damp daffodils in the cool, clear morning.

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Cedar Lake

4-Pelican on Cedar Lake. I can’t go around the lake for a closer view because I’m riding quickly to get down to The Gazette. Just passing by the lake.

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Blooming tree by Cedar River Trail, downtown Cedar Rapids.

5-I passed a pair of CR bike cops–one of them waived me on. “We’re in no hurry,” he said. “We’ll be here all day.” And lucky they were to get bike duty today. I’m in downtown CR, almost to Greene Square and The Gazette.

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Executive Editor of Gazette and MMU student.

6-Each year, we are hosted by Zach Kucharski, executive editor of The Gazette. He always seems bright and thoughtful, and I appreciate his comments to students. On the other hand, he’s one of those men perpetually cursed or blessed to forever look 16 years old. I had an inappropriate thought when editing this image–it looked to me like the president of the chess club was trying to ask a cheerleader to prom, and it doesn’t appear to be going well. Of course, I could not say something like that on a public Facebook gallery! So I put it here in my blog. Anyway, I think Zack is actually talking about the Pulitzer Prize won this week by Art Cullen, editor of The Times in Storm Lake, Iowa.

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Zack speaks with MMU students.

7-Maybe it’s the change in angle or that there are more people in this image, but this looks more like a newspaper editor talking with college students. Note Gazette’s Pulitzer in background, won years ago. Since Art Cullen’s daughter works for The Gazette, I asked Zack if he had bought her a box of doughnuts and asked her if Pulitzer’s run in the family, and when she would win a second one for The Gazette. He did say he heard from Art Cullen this week, and Art said to give his daughter, Clare, a hug from dad and a raise.

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Diana Nolen, arts and entertainment.

8-Another Gazette journalist who each year generously spends time with my students is Diana Nolen, talking in conference room as other editors gather for morning news meeting/smartphone party.

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ME party.

9-The Gazette’s managing editor speaks, while next year’s managing editor of the MMU Times and another student listens. (Man in cap is ME–an ME cap).

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Spent forsythia flowers.

10-I am chugging up the back hill at MMU–the one that goes behind Andreas House to the library. Along the way, I pause to take some forsythia pictures. The best turns out to be spent flowers that have fallen onto the grass. Then, it’s onward, up the MMU hill!

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Pear

11-At the top of the hill, I pause to photograph the Busse Library pear trees.

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Magnolia.

12-And, near the Donnelly Nursing Building (not it’s official name, but it will do), a magnolia bush in bloom. There is also a white one blooming by Warde Hall, but this is the Donnelly magnolia.

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MMU football. Student throws (above) and catches (below).

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13 and 14–MMU students where enjoying the morning, which by 11 is finally getting a little warm, by tossing the pigskin on the campus central green space.

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Birds at Cedar Lake.

15–Now the day is ending. It’s around 7 p.m. and I am biking home. Naturally, since it’s so pretty, I head to the trail and check out Cedar Lake one more time. This is a very distant shot–I’m looking north from the south end of the lake, and way above, a bit north of the lake, I see this. Not sure at this distance, but the bird in the left corner looks like a bald eagle, to me. Some nest next to the Cedar River and sometimes can be seen over Cedar Lake.

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The maybe eagle.

16-The maybe eagle, or possibly an umbrella, heads off into the sunset west sky.

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A duck.

17-Mallard on Cedar Lake. Two males were hanging out together and I caught some couple shots, but I thought this individual shot with a hint of  reflection was better.

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Pelicans.

18–At night, I have more time, so I can circle the lake and get a bit closer to pelicans.

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Sun peeks.

19-I am now riding north on Cedar River trail, looking west over I-380. Clouds are building to the west, and the sun is peeking out through some holes in the clouds. With the late afternoon, early evening, the lights is a pretty gold.

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Hey pinkie! Get out of here!

20-And on a fence along the trail, a blackbird lets me know how much he appreciates the company of bikers. He doesn’t.

Well, that was it, my day, from about 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. It was an interesting day, and a great day to be outdoors as spring really grabs hold.

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Mercy Week & Mother Nature


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Father Tony Adawu talking about Pope Francis and Mercy. My wife, a nursing faculty member and OB nurse, was impressed Francis clearly knows how to hold a baby.

Here we go again. Just at the end of Mercy Week 2016, as we celebrate Mount Mercy’s heritage as a Sisters of Mercy institution, we have a reminder that the Sisters of Mercy take an extra vow—a vow of service. So service is part of the ethos of MMU.

In 2008, when devastating floods destroyed neighborhoods, Mount Mercy became a staging area for Iowa National Guard troops called in to help with the disaster. But that flood took place in summer—we’re facing the Flood of 2016 in the midst of a semester.

The good news, knock on wood, is the crest is not expected to reach the 2008 level. But it will be bad, and it will do some damage to some culturally important parts of Cedar Rapids—Czech Village and New Bo, for example.

And one reason that the Flood of 2016 might not be as devastating as 2008 is whole areas wiped out by the earlier flood have left empty patches of land where once vibrant neighborhoods stood.

In eight years, lots of plans have been slowly made to protect Cedar Rapids from flooding, but little has been done. Here’s hoping Mother Nature shows us some mercy—may this be a “brush-back pitch” that gives us fair warning, rather than the gut punch that 2008 was. And may it spur government, especially the federal government which provides the most finding for flood protection and must approve plans, into action.

Anyway, Mercy Week continued on campus today, with several fine events. In a morning class, which had three sections combined for the presentation, Sister Jeanne Christensen from Kansas City spoke about human trafficking, and showed this video.

She noted that trafficking can impact anybody, and can involve enslaving another person through three strategies: Force, often physical abuse; fraud, making false promises; and coercion, or various kinds of threats, such as threatening to embarrass someone by revealing their secrets.

One theme of her presentation is that local law enforcement often treats the virtual slaves engaged in sex trade as criminals, when they need help and treatment. As the woman in the video said of her own experience: “Being arrested over and over again did nothing, absolutely nothing.”

Anyway, at least the woman in the video was able to escape from her pimp. Sister Jeanne brought home the reality that slavery is not really something we left behind in history, but rather is something that has become a modern, shadowy reality.

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Sister Jeanne Christensen speaks to three 8 a.m. classes. By being there, she said, “We have all earned sainthood.”

The mood was lighter at lunch today when Father Tony Adawu spoke of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church’s Year of Mercy. He had us write down who we would want to show mercy to—and at the end noted few of us had included ourselves.

“It’s OK to be merciful with yourself,” he said. Well, that’s a relief, because I managed to accidentally erase a whole bunch of very fine images I shot of Mercy Week events today—I copied them to my computer without realizing I had files of the same name, and when the computer asked if I wanted to copy over the old files, I said “no.” I assumed I had accidentally copied the files twice and formatted my SD card before I checked.

Ouch. Mercy me.

Anyway, sadly many of the gone images were of the Peace March that took place at 11:30, but at least I posted two of those images before the fiasco. I lost some good ones—I really liked a few I shot at the end after the group reach the Peace Pole, but there’s not use crying over spilled pixels, especially when an impending flood helps make little tragedies seem appropriately tiny.

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Freshman Kasey Kaimann, who wrote a op/ed reflection on today’s presentation for the MMU Times. And, Times reporters note–she was done with her story by 4 p.m. Just saying.

Back to Father Tony—to illustrate Mercy, he talked about a man in his home town in Ghana, Kwesi Essel Koomson, recognized girls in the town had little educational opportunities. He was a driving force in setting up a new girls’ school, and in coming up with a financial incentive so that local fishing families would send their daughters to school rather than off to work.

Sadly, Koomson grew sick and died a few years ago, but the school is continuing the grow, Father Tony noted.

Well, it’s good to know that parts of stories sometimes turn out well. I hope that is the case with the Flood of 2016—may it turn out to be less than we fear and puny compared to 2008. Inevitably, though, it will hurt some. May we find ways to show them mercy.

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It Was Lucky We Missed Smashing the Monarch


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Cloudy day–on a county highway south of Lisbon. The weather slowly improved and it didn’t rain, so clouds just added a bit of interest. I didn’t mind AC, but it would have been cool enough for an old school, windows down, drive, too.

It happened on Highway 1, south of Mount Vernon, Saturday, Aug. 27. I was driving at probably close to 60 mph (I know, the speed limit is 55, I wasn’t that far over), when suddenly, to my right, a bright orange butterfly came flitting towards the path of my van.

If it had gone too far, I would have smacked right into it—neither my life nor the lives of my passengers were worth endangering over a butterfly—but I would have felt bad. Luckily, it appeared said Monarch zigged instead of zagged and eluded the Kia of death.

Such was the drama of my Saturday drive. The drive itself was a spontaneous event—the 8-month-old grandson who is staying with us has had an ear infection and may be teething and today was a bit cranky at times. He didn’t sleep well last night, and was acting tired late in the morning, but would not go to sleep. So, Audrey and I tried an old-fashioned family remedy—the drive. You strap the cranky baby in his car seat, put it in a vehicle and head out.

It worked rather well. As I headed north out of Cedar Rapids on the C Avenue Extension, the baby slowly sacked out. And so, we just went for a drive.

It felt very 1960s. When I was young, especially between 1966 and 1972 when we lived in Clinton, Iowa, the weekend “drive” was not a rare event—the family  would pile in the car and head out to see what we could see, no particular destination in mind.

The car, back then, was a chartreuse VW microbus named Clarissa. At least for the early years, it was—although, after a brief interlude owning a Ford station wagon, it wasn’t long after Clarissa’s demise that my parents brought a shiny new 1969 VW microbus.

The “drive” was a bit different, now. Our Kia minivan today has air conditioning, for one thing, so we sojourn with windows closed. A Saturday or Sunday drive in Clarissa was windier—no AC, so windows open—and also much noisier not just because of the wind, but because the small 4-cylinder German engine in the VW squeaked and thumped like an angry sewing machine. We didn’t use the radio much back then, although today we had an oldies station on.

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Sutliff Bridge. You can walk on it, but we did not because the baby was asleep, which was kind of the point, anyway.

Besides the fact that I was driving, and not my dad, another difference was bugs. Anytime we went out in the countryside for a drive in the old days, the VW bus front and windshield collected quite a coating of insects. Today, we weren’t responsible for anywhere near the bug carnage. I know it’s anecdotal—there is no careful measurement to check the accuracy of the impression—but an Iowa drive today is almost eerie for how less buggy is seems than a drive a few decades ago.

Our weekend drives, usually Sunday evenings, ended, for the most part, about the time that the family moved to Muscatine. Life became busier and more complex as the Sheller kids became teens and adults, and gas prices in the 1970s put an end to most pleasure cruising.

But today’s drive was a pleasant reminder of that bygone pastime. We meandered across part of northern Linn County—finding to our surprise that the village of Lafayette is actually a thing—there is more “there” there than one sees simply passing by on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail—and eastern Linn County near Mount Vernon is hilly and pretty. We went south of Lisbon and ended up in northern Johnson County at the old Sutliff Bridge. We’ll have to come back there and walk the bridge, sometime when the baby is awake and the place is not quite so overrun with motorcycle bar patrons.

It was kind of fun to drive, for a bit, on the route that I had ridden on RAGBRAI last year. Jesus—did I really bike some of those hills in rain?

Anyway, I don’t think we’ll be regular “drive” enthusiasts. The time of the Sunday drive as a carefree family fun activity is an artifact of a time when gas was under $1 a gallon and global warming not such a hot issue. Pleasant as today’s drive was, I would rather see the countryside from a bicycle seat. But I don’t think the bike is quite as good for soothing an uncomfortable baby.

On the way home, the baby woke up, in a pretty good mood. Grandma was riding in a middle seat beside him, and put a pillow on her head. “Look at my hat,” she said, and then the pillow slid off. The baby thought that was hilarious and chortled. So, my wife did it again, and again, and again.

No, I didn’t really tire of the joke, because it kept being funny for the baby. Such is the entertainment on a weekend drive.

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Stopped at light on Highway 100 near home. A few more patches of blue in sky. Pillow has probably just slipped off of her head. Sound of baby laughing.

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