Tag Archives: Birthday

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.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.


Filed under Uncategorized

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 …


Filed under Uncategorized

On turning 51 …

I’ve been 51 for almost a week, now, so I should be an expert at it.

It’s kind of nice to have a birthday that’s not a “big” number. No one teases you about turning 51. Until Puerto Rico becomes a state, it’s not a number that has much larger significance. It’s not what Douglas Adams suggested is the answer—whether or not you have life’s question.

I think in some ways I’m in better shape at age 51 then I was at 50. I’m a bit thinner (although losing weight has been a very tough up-hill battle). Perhaps it’s not entirely rational, but I have a greater sense of well being. Then again, even if you’re disappointed in some of President Obama’s policy actions—I, for one, want a single-paper healthcare system—it does feel as if there is a steadier hand at the wheel then there was last year.

On the other hand, the senses do decline with age. Maybe I just think I look better because I don’t see as well …

Politics and personal appearance aside, what do 51 years add up to? What life lessons have I learned?

1) It is critical to floss. In the past year, I maxed out dental benefits because I had two teeth that cracked in the same months. Be good to your teeth. They’re the only ones you get.
2) Aging is inevitable. I was biking home yesterday when a young person on a bike whizzed by me. I used to be the young person on the bike who was whizzing by grey-haired people. It didn’t really bother me (that 51-year-old sense of irrational well being), but it’s also true that this “young person” was a woman who, as she flashed by and disappeared, seemed to be in her 30s. You know aging is a process that is irrevocable when 30-somethings are “young people.”
3) Life is all about balance. I was going to mow the lawn on my birthday, but Audrey said “it’s your birthday.” So I didn’t. I still haven’t. Somehow, that feels good.
4) Don’t wash your cell phone. Get used to checking your pockets. Short-term memory does deteriorate over time. So much stuff gets stored in the attic of your brain that new trivia (such as, I put my cell phone in my pocket today) has trouble getting in. Except that after the laundry is underway, it ceases to be trivia that your cell phone was in your pocket.
5) It’s not yet too late to learn new things. In fact, I think there is some special joy in learning when learning itself is a bit more difficult, when you have to practice more. Time to learn is more precious, but the pleasure of learning is undiminished. Poached an egg for the first time last night—didn’t taste it, but Ben says it was good.
6) Stuff grows. I don’t just mean grass. It’s hard to keep up with the weeding. Enjoy babies while you can, they grow and change quickly.
7) Other stuff doesn’t grow. Where are my tomatoes?
8) Huh? When you get to about number 8, you start to forget what other points you were going to make.  (By the way, why does WordPress interpret a return, a numer eight and a paranthetical mark as a smiley face?  If you want an answer, don’t ask a 51-year-old).

Anyway, all for now. I have a meeting on a dull, bureaucratic topic in a few minutes. If by age 61 I’ve figured out a way around that, I’ll blog it for you.


Filed under Uncategorized