Tag Archives: Birthday

Celebrating My 61st Birthday


Aug. 31–Just in time for family birthday party, the Monarch caterpillars have a party, too.

Another year on the globe. Besides mowing the lawn, I’ve also dedicated part of this Labor Day weekend to celebrating my 61st birthday. The actual day was Friday, while a family party was Saturday.

It’s been good. My wife got me a cool GPS bicycle computer and an interesting-looking grammar game. My children got me a copy of the class board game Risk, a hibiscus bush which should have huge, pretty pink flowers next year and a birdhouse for my backyard nature oasis.

Friday featured some breakfast scones that my wife got up and made for me. Lunch was in the school cafeteria at the university where I teach—which does not sound all that special, but I take my lunch most days and consider eating in the cafeteria a special treat. Supper was Thai food at a nearby restaurant we like.

And Saturday’s birthday feast featured the last summer day meal—brats, hot dogs, potato salad, macaroni salad, baked beans—and brownies and ice cream for dessert.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day. It was great to have my youngest son, who is headed overseas for a couple of years for a post-doctorate position at a university in China, home for it, and it was great for my other nearby kids to make it.

Thank you, universe, for another year. I’m not much into resolutions, I don’t typically make them at New Years, but I think birthday resolutions make as much sense as any others, so here are some resolutions or goals for my 61st year on this planet:

  • Vote for a Democrat who wins. That way Tangerine Hitler can fade into the trash heap of history. Really, I know, suddenly this happy birthday post got all political—but the Dunce-in-Chief said today that he’s not heard of a Category 5 hurricane before. Someone please check his meds? And vote him out.
  • Re-watch a substantial part of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I started with season three the day after my birthday. I won’t be able to re-watch much more during the semester, but these are annual goals, right? And that show just so often make me smile, even if it is very ’90s.
  • Learn something new. I just downloaded a new language ap, and plan to work a bit on my rudimentary Spanish. I also may try to learn to count in Hungarian—my father’s family were all Hungarian, and I would like to visit that country. Can’t make that visit a goal yet for this year—it probably will be a retirement trip and I’m not there yet—but I can start learning a bit of the language. And I’ve already visited some Spanish-speaking places—it seems like I would not be hurt at all to improve on language skills.
  • Get some kids to like Tessa Violet. To be fair, not all college students go crazy when I start playing my Tessa tunes in the newspaper office—one editor a few years ago learned to love Tessa when she went through a tough breakup and saw herself in “Sorry I’m Not Sorry.” But I’m always a bit surprised so few of the new generation listen to her I like the idea of her.
  • Learn to appreciate some new cuisine. I like many international foods—Thai, Chinese, Ethiopian. But there’s a lot of the globe that, culinarily speaking, I have not explored. I like to try new foods and want to find the next taste. Any suggestions, readers?

Well, that’s it, for now. I may be getting older, but I enjoyed myself this weekend. But I still want to have more fun. Maybe it’s time for the next episode of Buffy.

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How to Turn 60

Audrey and I pause for a selfie before riding the Sac and Fox Trail.

My 60th birthday won’t come again, but tomorrow will the only day after my 60th birthday, and that day won’t return, either.

But if I were to be stuck, “Groundhog Day” style, in a 24-hour period that would repeat—well, today might not be my best choice, but it would be a decent choice. Today was a pretty good day.

It began with me fixing a special breakfast for myself—I made plain oatmeal, added some butter, salt, pepper, two over-easy eggs and cheddar cheese. It was a tasty way to begin my birthday.

We’ve had rain recently in Iowa, a pattern expected to return tomorrow, but today was cool in the morning and very pretty in the afternoon. I have been driving to work most of the week, but today I put on the special bicycle shoes and rode my road bike. A day at work is always a better day if I get there and return on two wheels.

And for lunch, my wife took me to Taste of India—probably the best restaurant in Cedar Rapids for a birthday lunch, if you like Indian food. I do.

After afternoon work, I got home about 4:30, and noticed a flat of mums on the front stoop. My wife had already gotten me two Rose of Sharon bushes for my birthday earlier this week, and I will plant those this weekend. Mums are one of her favorite flowers, but I enjoy that splash of fall color, too—and I love to plant pretty things. I think of it as an investment in hope, the future and the wonderfulness of this planet we find ourselves inhabiting. Planting always boosts my mood, so seeing the flower flat was another reason to smile today.

And the house smelled divine when I got home. Someone had baked an apple crisp for me.

Before we watched “Thor: Ragnarok,” a DVD someone got for me on this special day, I attached the bike rack to the van and loaded our mountain bikes on it. My wife had suggested that, if the weather was right, we might enjoy a bicycle ride on my birthday—if I agreed. I did, and I suggested we got to the Sac and Fox, a trail I have been on several times this year, but have not shared with her before today.

And the bike ride on the trail was delightful, featuring perfect late afternoon golden light, and clouds enough to keep us from warming up. We had ridden maybe 5 of the 7 miles on our way to the south end of the trail, and I had noted to Audrey that, although it had been a very pretty ride (the Sac and Fox is the prettiest bike trail in Cedar Rapids), I was surprised there had been no deer. I had encountered deer on my summer pre-RAGBRAI rides on this trail.

And almost immediately, on cue, there, up ahead—a group of maybe seven deer, adults and fawns, loitering on the trail. They moved north off the trail as we approached, but stayed nearby in the woods, so I paused and photographed them.

Two of the deer.

Yes, the ride went well. And we felt we had earned our post-ride supper of apple crisp with ice cream (that’s all we had—but honestly, after a Taste of India buffet, how much could we have possibly eaten?).

My birthday season hasn’t really ended yet. The weekend after Labor Day, we’ll probably host a family brunch with kids and grandkids, and that will be fun. And probably there will be cake.

I don’t know that I would recommend 60 all that much. My body is aging, and showing its wear and tear in various ways. I’m still battling a stubborn ear infection, and getting to learn what my father’s life was like as his hearing faded away. My arthritic knees and hips dictate a certain slowness to my gait, when they don’t inflict pain. My family has a weight-loss challenging going, and I truly am trying, but at the start of your seventh decade on this planet, trust me, weight does not melt away. Well, I suppose apple crisp suppers (or savory egg and oatmeal breakfasts followed by spicy buffet food) don’t help, either.

But, whatever. I’ll do what I can and also try to enjoy myself. I’m 60. The little things don’t matter any more. And today I had a very good day—thanks, mostly, to my wife. Shout out to my delayed twin, my four years to the day younger sister, who still lingers in the midst of her sixth decade.

Sis, 60 is coming, knock on wood. And when it gets here for you, I hope its arrival is at least as nice as it was for me.

We ride off into the sunset.

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A Fortnight Plus One Before Christmas—A Birthday


Nathan, holding hands with his mother.

It seemed like a good day to enter the world, baby boy. It was warm today in the upper Midwest, windy, sometimes cloudy and sometimes bright with sunshine.

For a Dec. 10, it was a nice day. It was a good day for a birthday, little Mr. Nathan. Don’t expect you’ll always see 50 on your birthday if your life’s journey keeps you this far north of the equator, even with global warming.

True, the world in a mess today—terrorism and war and Donald Trump and all don’t seem like portents of a placid time. Then again, in my lifetime I don’t think there has been a placid time. I hope for better for yours.

But despite the global mess, it was still a beautiful day. I saw you today for the first time, and as usual with a young grandchild, or any small baby, for that matter, you were an instant hit. There’s something inherently charming about such a small squirmy warm bundle with the head that is so huge—too big for its tiny body—and yet, at the same time, seems impossibly small for a human begin.

Well, your head will swell and your body will grow and you’ll get smarter and more interesting. But, I don’t know if you’ll ever be as inherently charming as you were today, sleeping there in your basinet, dreaming of warm, cozy wet places, recovering from the ordeal of birth, just waiting for a willing grandfather to pick you up for a time.

As your mom took a much-needed nap this afternoon, I paced around your hospital room with you in my arms.

The nurse from the night before, who had aided your mother while she was in labor, stopped by and quietly inspected you as I held you. You had the hiccups.


Grandma holds Nathan.

Nonetheless, in a whispered voice intended to let your mother stay asleep, the nurse said: “He’s beautiful. Look at all that blond hair!”

If your hair was dark or you were bald, you would still be beautiful, I’m sure. Still, when she whispered, I thought she spoke with a sense of awe. No doubt she has inspected many a baby boy or girl, and probably pronounced most of them beautiful, and meant it more than 90 percent of the time.

But you are beautiful, and entered life on a beautiful day made even more so by the fact that you chose today to enter the world.

Welcome, Nathan. By the day of your birth and your healthy weight, you cost me a lunch in a bet with one of your ornery aunts, but you’re totally worth it. Today was indeed a beautiful day.


Pretty baby boy in grandma’s hands.

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The State of Joe at 56

We had the flag out for Labor Day weekend today, not for Joe BDay season. But it could have been. Redbud tree casts shadow on flag in later afternoon image.

We had the flag out for Labor Day weekend today, not for Joe BDay season. But it could have been. Redbud tree casts shadow on flag in late afternoon image.

I just checked—a line of severe thunderstorms is headed my way and may hit before I get done writing this blog post.

And yet, the thing that makes me most anxious is not that a tornado may swoop down, but that it’s 10:03 and I have not started watching “Project Runway” yet and I want to get it watched tonight before I go to bed.

So I’ll have to make this quick. Because, you know, either tornado or Heidi. You decide which is the bigger factor.

What is the state of Joe at 56?

Well, busy. Labor Day weekend comes just as fall semester starts taking off—and after just four days of classes, I have a lot of grading. Labor Day will mostly be a day of labor, because so far this weekend, I’m proud to say, I’ve done virtually nothing school related (unless you count piano practice, but I don’t suppose I should).

Busy native bees on flowers. I shot this as I was getting ready to mow the lawn on my birthday. I mowed, cut back some dead parts of a bush and planted some grass seed. I like spending time outside, so it was a good way to use part of my day.

Busy native bees on flowers. I shot this as I was getting ready to mow the lawn on my birthday. I mowed, cut back some dead parts of a bush and planted some grass seed. I like spending time outside, so it was a good way to use part of my day.

Friday I went to my first MMU track meet, which was a bit of unexpected fun. When my kids were in junior high track, a track meet meant hours of dull unexcitement in a cold and damp stadium in some featureless small town. The Mustang Gallop, however, was hanging out in a county park—and waiting for just two races, which started and ended very quickly. That’s not a bad way to have a track meet.

Saturday I had a bike ride with my wife. It was 23 miles, which is a substantial, but not very long, ride for me. Since she is not a biker, it was a big commitment to my birthday wishes on her part.

Then again, she goes to the gym a lot more than I do. She didn’t suffer any ill consequences, as far as I know. She did announce a desire to own biking shorts, which I think would be a good move.

I also mowed and planted some grass seed. Tonight’s storm may do some good.

Physically, I’m doing well. I’ve bounced back, I think, from my RAGBRAI exhaustion. My weight is not down, but not up. The struggle to control it, and thus keep my blood pressure down, is more important in my 56th year, but then again, I’m about 10 pounds lighter than my peak, so I’ve slowly started to lose some pounds.

Work is a mixed bag. I love being a professor and am thrilled with the reaction to the World War I series. On the other hand, I sure wish I had more PR and journalism students, and a newspaper editor would be nice.

So I guess the state of Joe is not too bad. And it only took me 10 minutes to write this. My birthday celebration got an early start Friday when a daughter was confused at the date and called me a day early. One of my sons was also confused and called me a day late. So, I guess that means my birthday this year was a 3-day season.

That is fine with me. Not a bad way to turn 56.

Wife is in the lead as we round the north end of Cedar Lake on our Saturday bike ride. Later, there was ice cream. It was a very nice ride.

Wife is in the lead as we round the north end of Cedar Lake on our Saturday bike ride. Later, there was ice cream. It was a very nice ride.

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Rock Me, Baby

Well, here they are, the refuges from the Norfolk shore of the North Sea, settled here in Iowa in my front garden.  These are the rocks Audrey and I picked up on the beach in Great Yarmouth while visiting our daughter Amanda and her family in Norwich, England in March


Rocks rock. The black one and the grey and white one are English rocks now home here in Iowa in our front garden.


The marbled grey and white one is mine, the black one is one Audrey picked up and delivered.

Rocks are part of a running joke in the family right now—for Nikayla’s fourth birthday, Audrey promised to give her a rock, a notion Nikayla angrily rejected because, as she notes, “I don’t want a rock.”

Nor did she get one. Despite great temptation.

Rock on! And just for fun, here are a couple of rock ear worms for you:


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It’s Your Party, Wish You Were Here


Bunch of these birthday butterlfies showed up, but luckily no kangaroos. Yay dollar store.

Jon had a nice birthday party. There were hats, balloons, cake, even singing “happy birthday.”

Only problem was that Jon lives in the Seattle and the party was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

It was a pretty spontaneous affair—a suggestion by Theresa to Audrey that we should have cake on Jon’s birthday. Somehow, that morphed a bit into the balloons, etc.

Nikayla and Tristan got into the spirit too. Nikayla started with one party dress, changed into another, and insisted on wearing a party hat . Tristan was typical Mr. T, a funny little party animal.

And although Jon couldn’t be there in person, he was there in spirit. We had a Jon stand-in, as you can see, and Legolas-Jon even had a small friend, a micro-buddy, maybe a co-worker at Microsoft?

Jon and buddy

Jon and a micro (soft?) buddy.

Well, Jon, I hope you enjoyed your birthday in Seattle even more than we did in Cedar Rapids. And I hope there was a fun party in both cities.

Cake round 1

Cake, round one. The "it's" failed.

cake round 2

Cake after some "it's" surgery.

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Looking Back 25 Years to 2 Days of Terror

Wasp on flower

Took this photo on Ben's birthday--Aug. 5, 2010. White isn't just the color of winter snow!

Why a wasp and flower picture? In 7 months, it will be Ben’s birthday, and the weather will be hot, the hydrangea will be in bloom and I’ll be dodging wasps. Really, it won’t be too long at all—no need to complain about the weather. But today, it’s not Nina’s or Amanda’s or Theresa’s or Ben’s or Katy’s birthday—it’s someone else’s.

Audrey asked me this morning as soon as I woke up whether I remembered what had happened 25 years ago today, and my immediate answer was “Jon was born.”

Turns out, I gave the right answer, which is good.

I do know that 26 years ago and some change, when Amanda was born, it was wicked cold. We were worried about whether the old Nova would start for the ride to the hospital, but it did and it was some time before Amanda entered the world.

The next year, 25 years ago today, on a warmer winter day, Jon entered planet Earth a bit too early. He should have had a March birthday, not a February one—and when he was born, his lungs were not mature enough to supply his suffering little body with oxygen. That led to a two-day roller-coaster emotional ride for his young parents as we got good news, then bad news, then good news—he’s turning blue, he’s breathing on his own, he’ll need O2, he could be on a ventilator soon, we’re transferring him to the U, but NICU at the U is full and he’ll have to go to Omaha (we lived in central Missouri at the time, the U was the University of Missouri Hospital), but we can wait a while.

Then, as suddenly as the storm struck, it dissipated. Jon’s lungs started to kick in. He was slightly wheezy, then less wheezy, and by the end of those turbulent 48 hours, all of a sudden, he was healthy, pink, and ready to go home.


Kathryn Hagy, my department chair at MMU, recently returned from Nepal. At today’s first department meeting of the spring semester, she casually remarked that any problems we think we have at MMU are pretty darn small—after all, unlike any U in Nepal, we have electricity all day long. We even have heated buildings.

It’s worthwhile, I guess, on this bitterly cold winter day, to remember that we don’t have it bad here at all. When we’re cold, we turn up the heat. When we’re thirsty, we have safe, potable drinking water at the turn of a faucet. Our food is so abundant that avoiding some of it so we don’t ingest too much is our biggest eating problem.

Jon’s been breathing well for almost 25 years, minus about 48 hours. Thank goodness; thank you, universe; thank God.

It’s good to remember, sometimes, when the big things work out, the rest is just details.

Jon Thanksgiving Day 2010

Jon unwraps a Christmas gift on Thanksgiving Day, 2010, as his mother looks on. Jon and his lovely wife Nalena were visiting from Seatte, and he had the family Christmas gathering a month early while they were here. A month early--that's Jon.


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Noontime in the Garden of Light and Dark

New bird bath, gift from Audrey, installed and filled. I like how the bush over the bath reflects in the water.

I was being lazy today—not a surprise, enjoying my final day of being 51 years old. After church, as Audrey worked on a lavish birthday meal for me because Katy and Theresa and assorted members of their families (kids in Katy’s case, spouse in Theresa’s) were coming over for a 1 p.m. birthday dinner, I lazed in a hammock in the back yard.

First, I skimmed a few news stories, a few opinion columns, and read the comics.

Then, after swatting one of the many mosquitoes to whom I unwillingly served as an egg maturing protein source, I looked up and thought about light.

Me, in hammock, contemplating light. Shady back yard with sun shining between leaves is a good place to ponder photons.

One of the frustrations of having any pretense of being a photographer is that the human eye is so much more sensitive than most cameras are to color and light. We look up through the canopy of an enlarging tulip tree, and have no problem seeing greens in the shade, in the light and the blueness of the sky. Yet, to a camera, the scene is much more harshly light or dark.

A camera is to our eyes what Sarah Palin is to a functioning brain. One sees the world in stark lights and darks, the other deals much more deftly with subtly.

Anyway, despite even a modern digital camera’s limits compared to the potent potential of rather advanced optic sensory organs and a huge brain to process the data, I think much of photography, particularly interesting photography of details, dwells in the contrast between light and dark.

I present numerous exhibits, with some commentary. With the exception of the candle photo, which I think Audrey took (not 100 percent sure, Theresa used the camera a lot, too), these are all pre pre-birthday dinner, taken in the back yard, some without leaving the hammock.

Looking up through the tulip tree at light and dark leaves.

Now, I don’t claim that these are great photos, or fantastically artistic. But I will say, from having dealt with students using cameras, that seeing the light, the way it plays across a scene, where light and dark contrast and the direction from which light is coming, are keys to taking pictures.

Light, dark, sky, shade--leaves shining as they diffuse the sun, a leaf in shade. All of which was more vivid and ever quickly changing when viewed by eye.

I hope you enjoy some of these images. I enjoyed taking them and thinking about them. Now, after posting this (it will take a while with all these jpg files), back to work.

Some additional day before birthday photos on Facebook.

This one is a magnolia leaf. I lIke the leaves that are blurry in the background, suggesting the kind of canopy there is in the back yard.

Magnolia, part one. Sharp lines between light and dark.

Same leaf, different angle, zoomed out a bit more for context.

Hammock fabric shimmers in light like armor, deeper color in shade.

OK, I got up and moved. This is the hammock swing on the maple tree, not the hammock. Light on white rope, darkness in background (which is just part of the yard and fence, would not look so dark to human eye).

New birdbath in place again. Like the way the ceramic surface gives a distorted suggestion of a reflection.

Yeah, almost the same view, closer to patches of light and dark.

Bush is a volunteer in the side garden so I don't know what it is. But it's in the light ...

I think this one is the weeping cherry tree. Colorful spots in background are toys in the sandbox. OK, camera may not react as quickly as eye, but frozen instant with depth of field is something it does well.

Native violet leaf in garden near bird bath. With, yes, dark background.

Not quite as arty as a Kathryn Hagy water photo--but me filling birdbath with one hand, and photographing with the other. Lucky right hand can handle hose, because it leaves my good left hand for more complex work (I am a southpaw).

The birthday picture I did not take, Audrey did, I think. Nikayla and I with my brithday brownies.

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So Little Sister Turns 50

Cate party

Cate (far left) and her spouse Paulette (penultimate on right) enjoy Cate's 50th birthday bash.

Well, as a wag once whined, getting old may suck, but it beats the alternative.

Cate seemed to take it all in stride—my impression was that she had a blast Sunday. Her birthday bash was held at “Marsha’s” house in Mount Vernon, a small town near Cedar Rapids filled with quirky and interesting old houses—we almost bought a house (a new one) there when we moved from western Iowa.

I posted some photos of the party on Facebook and Cate said she looked like a “loud, wine-swilling nut.” Well, my family hasn’t always been quiet, but she didn’t seem like a loud, wine-swilling nut to me, but a person enjoying herself, which was great.

We had a quorum of the family together and nobody had died. Five of the seven of us Sheller kids made it, and it was nice swapping garden stories with the older sisters. (Some bad news in the garden. Bunnies are back.)  Nikki and Sam were there too–didn’t get as much chance to chat as I should have, but it was fun to see them.

Nikayla giggles as grandma makes a stuffed toy do funny things. What funny things? Hard to say. Certain words will randomly set off the giggle factor for a 2-year-old. Note cute party outfit (yes, both are wearing cute party outfits, but I mean Nikayla's) picked out by Theresa.

Katy brought Nikayla, who was resplendent in a magnificent monkey party suit that had been picked by Theresa the day before. Got to hand it to Theresa, she can put together an uber-cute party outfit for a 2-year-old.

What does it mean to have a “little” sister who is 50?

  • It means I’m going to turn 52 this year. Oh dear.
  • My old journalism prof, a recent Facebook friend addition, noted on a note to the photos I posted that he is soon to turn 61. The surprise to me is that he’s not much older than me. Oh dear.
  • Could not find a birthday card, which I was sure we had, and went to party empty handed. Oh dear. We’ve settled on a “World Vision” animal as the charitable contribution gift for Cate—have to decide if the set of chickens, a goat or a share of a cow seems more appropriate. (Yeah, what the heck. Oh dear.)

Anyway, Cate, by the time you read this and it’s edited with photos, I’ll try to post an album to “Walgreens,” which means you can go to any Walgreens store and get prints. Congrats on your first half century, and may there be many pleasures and pleasant surprises in the second.


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The Wild “Ide” Side of Life

Nikayla and Audrey

Audrey hands Nikayla birthday presents to unwrap. Family party was on Easter Sunday, Nikayla had turned 2 on Holy Saturday.

I wasn’t sure what Nikayla was saying.

I was alone with her and Tristan, which I have been several times and that’s OK. Although child care isn’t always easy, I did father six children, and while two youngsters can be frazzling (trust me, two are more than twice as much work as one), I had been having a pretty good time with the dynamic duo.

Have a routine, go with the flow, make sure food and diapers are part of the plan and you’re OK.

Except when your granddaughter, on the cusp of age 2 (she has since turned 2) is using some new words, and you can’t quite decipher them, and she is getting a bit peeved. Old people can be so slow.

“Eyed?” “I’d?” “Ayed?” What does that one vague English syllable mean, and why does Nikayla keep repeating it while patting the back door?

It was only days later that I figured it out. As a quicker person may guess sooner, “ide” is the last syllable of “outside,” which is where Nikayla wanted to go.

Got it.

Toni and Nikayla

It's easy to blow out birthday candles if your great aunt supplies the air ...

She can say “juice” and “milk,” but often uses “juice” as the generic term for any drink, so “juice” can mean milk or water (but usually means juice). Milk is strictly white and comes from cows. She pronounces “oops” in an interesting, elongated way that sounds sort of British for some reason. Things she likes are often greeted with “yay” or “whee!” When she wants you to read one, she will hand it to you and say “book.” If you drop it, she’ll tell you “uh-oh.”

Of course, having just turned 2, about 60 percent of her spoken vocabulary is comprised of her favorite word.


It will be an interesting year. The first year of life is an extraordinary and dramatic one, where size and shape and cognitive ability and locomotion pass in a rapid cascade of changes. Comparing a 1-year-old and newborn are like comparing a kindergartener and a pHd candidate. (Pause or any obligatory Matt jokes.)

The year 1 to 2 is not quite as dramatic, but still a lot happens. A child gains much more physical control of himself or herself, and, while the change is not as huge, grows a great deal. The babbling starts to imitate language more, the locomotion becomes more firmly bipedal and words appear. Even before sentences are fully mastered, the toddler engages in conversation that is meaningful through a combination of responses to words through behavior and sounds, some of which require experience to understand. (It is not “ayed.” It’s outside.)

Matt in hat

"Matt jokes? Why would anybody make any Matt jokes?" asks Matt in hat.

What will happen in Nikayla’s third year, which she began the day before Easter?

Sentences, certainly. More physical dexterity. Potty training.

Not such dramatic growth. When she turns 3, she will be bigger than now, but will not grow at the demonic rapid rate of year one nor the slower but still quick pace of year two.

Still, she will be more verbal, more muscular and more of a little girl rather than a toddler.  And, I guess, if a “toddler” is a baby who has just become bipedal and, thus, “toddles,” she is already past that stage.

Another exciting adventure is underway …


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