Tag Archives: Christmas

My 2019 Letter to Santa Claus


Santa with marketing crew at MMU at Christmas Club Friday this fall semester. Image by Audrey Sheller.

Dear Santa:

How are you, big guy? Good luck on the deliveries this year. You’ll need to wax the sleigh runners even more this year, there is not a lot of snow to land on these days in our area of the world. Of course, snow is only a 50-50 shot for Christmas in this part of Iowa anyway, but global warming is changing those odds.

For me, asking for a lot of stuff for Christmas makes little sense—my life is brimming with things, and I’m at a time in life when, while I do appreciate a special gift, mostly I don’t have lots of objects to desire.

So, I’m going to go the Amy Grant route and make a more grownup Christmas list.

What would I be asking for if I could ask you, as if you were a magic genie, for anything?

Well, world peace, naturally. Humans have a shocking capacity to tear at each other. Our literature is full of monstrosities that we can fear (if you don’t ever catch Dr. Emily on the PBS Monstrum YouTube channel, check it out), but most of the time, the most fearsome monster that humans face is us. I not only would like us to stop killing each other, but not eliminating other species and trashing the only planet in our neighborhood we can inhabit would be nice, too.

Item one, then, is to achieve world peace partly by humans recognizing the value of the world we have and learning to act together to preserve it.


Volunteer helps to plant a new pollinator garden at Mount Mercy campus in 2019. May there be more of this in 2020.

I would ask for peace at heart, too. For myself, naturally. I do get too stressed at times, and have a natural ability to look at the dark side. When my phone blings with a message tone, I almost always imagine some catastrophe, which the message, thank goodness, almost never is. The imagining is irrational, but that doesn’t make it go away.

Still, I’m blessed, for the most part, with decent mental and physical health. Not everyone I know and love is in a happy zone in their life right now, and I would wish for peace at heart to all my family and friends.


Digging this chick more and more all the time. If the caucus were tonight, I would be standing in the Amy corner. Not a formal endorsement, I am still playing the field, but I”m feeling more like I’m on Team Amy. Image from Wikimedia Commons, a 2019 picture of her by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ.


From The Gazette’s web site, the “Impeached” front page.

I have a few more practical items on my list. We have a president who has been impeached, but the Republican Senate is unlikely to convict and the party of Lincoln can’t seem to free itself from the destructive hypnosis that seems to have descended on it.

I want Trump to not only not be re-elected, but to be soundly trounced. Only a thorough thrashing is likely to help renew our poisoned politics. So, Santa, put a landslide defeat for Tangerine Hitler on my list, please.

Right now, I’m liking Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, so if I get to add more results for the voting in 2020 to my Christmas list, it would be great to have the Senate flipped so that incoming President Klobuchar can look forward to fights within her party rather than being constantly blocked by the GOP.

I have a few smaller-scale items on my list, too. I hope to do better as a professor, to find strategies to communicate with and teach my students to the best of my abilities. I know that their success or failure is not primarily due to anything I do—it’s decisions that these young adults make—but to the extent that I can, I want to be a better role model and mentor to students and help them to decide to succeed. Not sure how to write that on the list, but Santa, I think you get the idea. Or at least I hope I am communicating it clearly enough. Help me get through to my students, but most of all, help me to understand what I’m trying to get through.

I am a biker, and right now the bicycling world in Iowa is riven by civil strife: Iowa Ride v RAGBRAI. I’m on team RAGBRAI in that fight, by the way, and I hope that ride can find a way forward. I also think that it needs reforming, and maybe the current crisis will lead RAGBRAI to be better—but I don’t want it done away with.

So, a successful RAGBRAI 2020 is on my Christmas list.

We welcomed a new grandchild in 2019. I won’t wish for another in 2020 (although I would also be thrilled if it happened)—I think my own children should guide those kinds of big life decisions for themselves—but I hope to see and have fun with all of my grandchildren, somehow, in 2020. Some are at a distance, and how and when I will see them isn’t 100 percent clear, so mark it down, big guy. Joe wants more grandpa time.

Have I been good enough for this list? Hard to say. Unlike President Trump, I can think of things in my life I could do better or should apologize for. And, while many items on my list are beyond my control (world peace), others are more aspirations that I can have an impact on.

So maybe that’s the final item on my Christmas list. A sort of version of the Serenity Prayer. If I can’t change it, help me to deal with it, and if it’s in my power to change, help me do the best I can. And may I and more of us flawed mortal creatures act in 2020 to achieve a place on the “nice” list.


PS: And let’s let Dr. Emily get us into the holiday spirit:

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And as a Bonus, Snow Started Falling


Christmas cookies, baked by Katy, decorated by adults in a contest judged by daughter and son-in-laws who could not be there. I am sad to say that “Red Dwarf,” my thick, red star, did not win.

Merry Christmas, 2017—there are still some presents wrapped in the living room, so after Mass this morning, I’ll get to find out what my wife bought for me. For her, there will be less mystery because she was with me when I selected most of her gifts, and by “I” I mean “she.”

Still, we are going inexpensive this year with only a few low-key gifts, deliberately. We purchased a second vehicle this fall, and are counting the Dodge Dart as our main mutual Christmas gift. And there is one box that she doesn’t know the contents of—containing nothing of expense or of consequence, other than I wanted her to have at least some small surprises.

I hope you and yours are enjoying family and friends this holy holiday season, and whether you celebrate the birth of the Christ child, the secular gift-giving winter (or summer) school break or neither, I wish for you the joy of loving human connection this season of kin.

Although there are some presents still present in my house, our main Christmas celebration fell on Christmas Eve. Our oldest son and his wife were able to fly out from San Francisco for a week, and most of our local clan gathered—daughters from Dubuque, Marion, Monticello; and a son from Ames.

The house was full of noise and chaos on Christmas Eve, with the sounds of a few Christmas songs played on the piano by my oldest son mixed with jazz improvisations, especially when grandchildren decided to join in. Play was constant and boisterous. One son-in-law and grandson had to skip the party due to illness, which somehow seems true to family tradition, but it was good to have a full, loud house at this time of year.


At the piano.

The youngest grandson didn’t get his nap in, and it did show by the end of the day, but that’s just life.

We had a full Thanksgiving-style Christmas dinner, with turkey and most of the trimmings (we skip the cranberries and other fancy salads, and had been snacking all day on Christmas cookies, so pie wasn’t in the picture, but otherwise it’s the full TG deal, cooked almost exclusively by my wife). After stuffing ourselves with stuffed turkey, it was time for the big gift opening, which involved a few presents for adults, but mostly the grandchildren’s gifts.


Chaos of gift opening. Scooter, used as chair, is headed my way so grandson can sit on it and chat.

Several gifts were immediate hits. Two grandsons loved the remote-control spider that their grandmother found for them. A scooter for a 2-year-old from an aunt and uncle was mostly a pushed platform that performed as an impromptu moveable chair, but it was very much in use. A doctor kit led the daughters of a mother who is in the final stages of studying to be a nurse to become a medical team treating an ailing patient (said mom). Treating her included laying on her stomach and poking her face with various toy plastic medical instruments, and I’m happy to report she survived treatment, although it looked a bit dicey for a while.

The gathering was slightly delayed. For one thing, again true to Christmas tradition, we were missing a few items and there was a last-minute shopping trip. For another, Mother Nature made morning travel a bit hazardous with her own gift to us.

A White Christmas! We are in a mild drought in this part of Iowa, and true to form winter so far has been mostly dry, with just a few flurries here and there. The best chance of snow in the forecast was Friday, and while there were flakes in the air that day, it amounted to no accumulation on the ground.

But Christmas Eve started with genuine white stuff. Not a lot, maybe three-fourths of an inch, but enough to make it officially white out. As the snow ended mid day, it turned cold and will be bitterly cold today, Christmas Day, but only in a weather sense. Inside, we’ll look out on a pretty white world and think of a coming new year, of an ancient birth and its meaning, and of family—it will be pretty warm.

All in all, thanks Mother Nature. And Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to us all and to you all. God bless us every one.

Eve Snow

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I Was Asked For A Ho Ho


Santa, students and Mrs. Claus at MMU.

It was Christmas Eve, in the morning, and I was at the gym. A janitor who chats with me now and then came up and said, “can you say ho, ho, ho?”

Well, I have, now and then. I was a mall Santa when I was in graduate school, and had minor Santa gigs this Christmas season at Mount Mercy University.

I hope your Christmas was fine. Mine was good. I’m still munching on the plethora of chocolates available due to that day (who knew the birth of a poor Palestinian refugee 20 centuries ago would be so good for candy sales?). I got and gave several nice gifts—my wife decided it was the year of the gnome for me, and I am quite fond of both the gnome coffee mug she found, and the figurine of a T Rex devouring gnomes that will no doubt grace either my office or my gardens.

For her, I mostly gave gifts related to a new three-season room we added to the house—pictures to hang there, a clock and a radio. We’ve got to have some NPR and KMRY in that room.

Christmas Day itself was a bit odd due to weather—we don’t often have thunderstorms on Christmas Day. Note to our new president: The Chinese did not invent global warming. Trust me on that, please.


Granddaughter in Christmas cat mask.

Anyway, besides the odd rainstorm, it was a great day. There were enough grandchildren running around to cause a constant Christmas cacophony, which is the way it should be. We got to Skype with the daughter and grandchildren in England, and my wife chatted with our California son. Turkey was cooked and eaten, a bottle of wine opened and consumed.

It was, in short, a fine holiday. I hope yours was filled with fun and family, if you celebrate Christmas, and if you don’t, I hope you have some fun family day around this time anyway. To celebrate the season, here are a few more Christmas lights I made pictures of.

I’ve always liked Christmas, although I’m happy to report I’m slowly growing out of the habit of waking at 5 a.m. on that day. This year, I slept in. Until about 6:30.


Santa filter glasses turn Christmas lights into these images.

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Christmas Cactus in Bloom

a02Although we’re having the Big Bird Meal today—more convenient for family, we had very nice roasted pork yesterday—it’s now past Thanksgiving.

So I guess it’s timely for this plant to bloom.


We’ve had several Christmas Cactus plants over the years, and this is one of two we have currently. The other is ailing and will be lucky to survive—but this one, which has bloomed several years in a row, is pretty robust.


Welcome to the holiday season, also known as the time of tiresome music on the radio. Has anybody in modern America ever roasted a chestnut on an open fire?


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Christmas 2013–Projectiles of Love

Red-bellied woodpecker brings some Christmas colors to my back deck Dec. 25, 2013.

Red-bellied woodpecker brings some Christmas colors to my back deck Dec. 25, 2013.

A fierce gunfight has been raging for some minutes in my living room, with my wife and youngest son Ben as participants. We’ve wondered if the neighbors could have heard recent dialogue:

“You’re lying on my gun. Quit lying on my gun!”

“You’re lying on your own gun. It’s your own fault you can’t shoot.”

It’s probably helpful to note that these are Nerf guns. And raging mother-son gunfights are one of the themes of Christmas 2013.

This was also the Christmas that Nina introduced us to record bowls—decorative bowls made my warming an old vinyl album and reshaping it. Nina asked me to pick up a couple of $1 albums at Half-Price Books, so I sacrificed Rod Stewart. It’s the equivalent of picking which albums to toss at zombies. The bowls look pretty cool. From her blog, here’s how to make them.

And this was the Christmas where we’ve enjoyed multiple birds at our feeders. It’s been colder earlier than usual, and we have about a foot of snow on the ground, but at least that means we get to see more birds (and squirrels) visiting us for food.

During the holiday season, both Ben and I have used the family Santa suit, which adds a bit to the festivities.

Santasaurus! If you're bad, you'll be lucky if he tells Santa. Otherwise, he will eat you.

Santasaurus! If you’re bad, you’ll be lucky if he tells Santa. Otherwise, he will eat you.

Finally, this is the season that Amanda, through Facebook, has introduced us to Santasaurus. It’s a T Rex in Christmas garb who has been hanging out with her girls in Norwich, England, this season. Is it bad that her 3-year-old is particularly smitten with this jolly old carnivore? I think he makes Elf on the Shelf look like a helpless wimp.

And the Christmas season hasn’t ended, yet. We still have the New Year’s Day 2014 brunch at Cate’s. And I have the Epiphany Concert Jan. 5 at St. Pius X.

Ho, ho, ho!

NOTE: As Amanda points out in a comment, it’s her 2-year-old who loves Santasaurus. And it’s also SANTASAURUS!


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Sunday Ringing, Saturday Singing?-Music Weekend

Self portrait. I'm sitting on a couch, trying to rest the camera on the end of it due to very slow shutter speech. Me as a Christmas ornament. One of my two disguises in this post.

Self portrait. I’m crouching by a couch, trying to rest the camera on the end of it due to very slow shutter speech. Me as a Christmas ornament. One of my two disguises in this post.

The above video shows Kathi and I rehearsing, or something like it. Do you like my little girl disguise? I’m the one on the left, by the way.

The Mount Mercy University Handbell Choir is playing this Sunday, Dec. 15, at 2 p.m. in a free program at the Cedar Memorial Chapel of Memories at Cedar Memorial Cemetery near Lindale Mall in Cedar Rapids.

Y’all are welcome. It’s one of two times, I think, you can hear my generation of Sheller make music in the CR area this weekend—on Saturday night, my sister Cate sings in a Quire concert (or so I suspect, I am not certain). I think it’s at 7:30 at Zion Lutheran Church in Iowa City, but sadly, I am not sure (about date or time or location) so maybe check with her if you want to hear her sing. I do. So comment Cate and let the blogoverse know the true story.

Anyway, along with attempting to ring along with the group and sometimes (knock on wood) succeeding, I’ll be playing a duet with Kathi, who can ring better than I can and looks better as a little girl, too. So come on out and listen to me try to do it in a duet.

The full program includes:

  • In the Week When Christmas Comes : a poem by Eleanor Farjeon
  • Bell Peal by Derek K. Hakes
  • O Come All Ye Faithful arr. By Douglas Wagner
  • Pastores a Belen arr.by Carlos J. Avila Baez
  • Lo How a Rose ere Blooming arr. By Janis Yarbrough; solo ringer: Janis Cummings
  • O Little Town of Bethlehem arr. By Sharon Elliott Cheek; solo ringer: David Mione
  • Night of Silence by Daniel Kantor; soprano: Hillary Kaefring; cellist Ben Nelson; oboist, Abby Konzen
  • That Glorious Song of Old arr. By Tammy Waldrop; cellist, Ben Nelson
  • Good King Wenceslas arr. By Sharon Elliott Cheek; solo ringer: Brad Nachtmann
  • O Come Little Children; arr. By Douglas Wagner; duet by Kathi McLaren and Joe Sheller
  • Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella arr. By Cathy Mocklebust
  • We Three Kings arr. By Valerie Stephenson
  • Go Tell It On the Mountain arr. By Douglas Wagner; duet sue Boyens and Jenn Boyens
  • Bidding antiphon: Let Us Live in Holiness and Love; Hillary Kaefring, soprano
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas arr, by Carolyn Sternowski

Hope to see you there! And, maybe, Saturday night, too!

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Tune For Tuesday: Enjoy! Merry Christmas

Well, somebody thought it was a good idea …

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Holiday Comes Despite “Christ” Grinches

Nativity set

I like most of our nativity sets, but this plastic one that is left on a table so grandkids can play with it is mildly creepy. No eyes on baby J.

I am not a Christmas hater. In fact, I very much like this time of year and all the family gatherings and all the food and the music (well, most of it) and going to church on Christmas Eve and the nativity story and angels we have heard are high and all of it.

(Yes, I know I miss-typed a line from a carol, no it was not a typo, yes it was a very funny, witty, insightful and advanced joke. Ha ha).

Yet, as usual, Audrey handled most of our modest decorating. Not that I don’t like trimming the tree or carols on the spinet (there’s an old saying for you college students—10 points if you can explain what it means), but December is the mad rush to finals. I am blogging around 11 p.m. when I should be in bed, just to show CO 280 students it can be done, so there.

Anyway, I do like it that, as I sit in my basement at the new “work” table, there’s a lighted tree, several nativity scenes and a glowing angel to keep me company. Here are a few Christmas photos to put you in the holiday mood.

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There, I said it, the H word. Yes, I celebrate CHRISTmas. No, give me a break, I don’t care if the governor of some tiny eastern state (Rhode Island) puts up a “holiday” tree or that people otherwise celebrate this time of years as a secular festival or when they wish me happy holidays.

Indignant Christians who get all huffy about them darn “others” who are attacking God and all that seem to forget that our “Christmas” is a stolen pagan solstice festival anyway. Somewhere there is a Druid cursing all those darn Christians for taking the sun out of solstice and sticking the son in.  Those Druids are a bit ridiculous. So are some grumpy Xstians.  (OK, that one bothers me, too.  There is no Xmas.  Even pagans weren’t worshiping the next to penultimate letter).

So, even as I celebrate Christmas,  I am fine with celebrating the holidays, too. Happy holidays! And if you want to keep Christ in Christmas, more power to you. But getting upset at “holiday” greetings?

Bah. Humbug.


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Ready for some Christmas ringing?

Stello Hall

Stello Peformance Hall, in Warde Hall at Mount Mercy University, seen from the balcony. A rehearsal on the last day of November was the first time I had evern been there.

For once, I won’t wait until too late to note a hand bell concert. Details are here, but if you want to hear some Christmas music, including some hand bell ringing, come to Stello Hall at Mount Mercy University Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m.

For this concert, we’ll be in the balcony of Stello Hall, a place I’ve never been before in my decade at MMU. Earlier this week, on Wednesday, I helped set up the bells in the balcony and then practiced ringing while the choir sang.

I need more practice. Are you kidding me? Three notes on one beat? What the heck is that? A sixth note? Come here, composer, I want you to hear my bell loud and clear.


It will be a thrilling concert. At one point, I’m supposed to count 34 measures of rest before playing.

Ha ha. So fun.

Anyway, despite some honest trepidation, I’m looking forward to this concert. A university choir usually provides the best Christmas music there is (unless they decide to sing “Little Drummer Boy,” but I’ll just grin and bear it if they do). This will be the first time I’ll hear the newly formed MMU band, which will be interesting.

And the first time I’ve played in the balcony of Stello Hall. It’s pretty high up there.

Enjoy the view …. this video shows all of the pictures I took in the balcony of Stello Hall on Wednesday.

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Christmas 2010 Snow Scenes


I didn't get the framing right, but was lucky to catch the focus and I still like this image.

As noted before, there’s no need to dream of a White Christmas in 2010 in Iowa.

While Audrey took a quick nap, I went outside to try to capture some snow photos. This picture post is the result.  I’m not sure it worked all that well–it’s hard to photograph snow and the biggest problem I have with my digital minicam is that it doesn’t let me control the focus.  Still, although it was hard to get it to focus on the head of a coneflower, I think I got some nice snow pictures, but you can comment and let me know if you agree.

Lilac in snow

This is one of the few "inside" shots out the office window in my home--snow on a lilac bush. Background is backyard snow. I like the plain view this photo shows.

Why does ice seem so pretty when it’s mixed with dust and puffed with air to form delicate six-sided crystals? I got a bit chilly taking these and worried a bit about keeping my Kodak dry, but all in all, I think it worked out.  Click on an image to see it bigger, and then click “back” to see more, I’ll finish this post with dozens of snow photo, a total of 20 images, just to celebrate the beauty of snow on this fine Christmas day!

Once again, Merry Christmas from snowy Iowa.

Lilac on chimney

One of my favs in this big group. Lilac with chimney stones as background.

Lilac and snow

Again, a nice lilac image. Can't have too many flower photos! Even when the flowers are long gone.


Next series is crabapples--like the contrast of red and white snow. Squirrel has not managed to reach them all yet ...


An even better one, I think. Crabapple in backyard.

Maple bark

Now, a more abstract phase--snow on maple bark


Clothesline in back with snow "waves"


Clothesline again, looking west instead of east


I like the way the aging wood of the fence contrast with snow, and the way the snow overhangs the top of the fence

Plant hook and fence

One of our plant hooks and the top of the fence

Fence again

Final fence post--closeup of snow wave

Plant hook

OK, the fence is still h ere, but I think this is a photo of the hook ...


We meant to take this swing down before winter, did not get done ...

Road Crud

Looks like an interesting mineral--is really just road snow crud crusted in a van wheel well


Woods in snow

Woods and stream bed south of our back fence (looking over fence, actually)


Fern in front in snow

Dogwood leaves

Dogwood leaves with snow--first of a few dogwood photos

Dogwood leaf

Dogwood leaf--took some time to get the camera to focus ...

Dogwood again

Dogwood leaves buried in snow


And the final photo--number 20--again a coneflower, better framing

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