New Year’s Eve 2020 was our 15th wedding anniversary, and we had planned a cruise down the Mexican Riviera. Covid messed up those plans like so many other things in life, and we ended up pushing it back a year.
Wendy and I headed to San Diego on December 28 where we worked remotely and took the opportunity to visit two of our team members who live there. On the 31st, our friends Chad and Shay arrived to join us for our anniversary celebration and embark with us on the cruise.
We made a late afternoon jaunt to the Gaslamp District of San Diego. It was crazy busy already so we opted to grab a quick bite at a small burger joint and pick up some wine at Ralph’s to enjoy back at the hotel. It ended up being a quiet celebration and an early night.
On New Year’s day, we headed to a great breakfast joint and did some shopping along the harbor. Chad and I found a bar to watch the Iowa Hawkeyes choke away their bowl game in the last eight minutes. We then walked up to the U.S.S. Midway museum. The decommissioned aircraft carrier was fascinating to tour. Even the ladies enjoyed it more than they thought they would. We had a ball.
The next day we boarded Holland America’s Koningsdam and headed down the Pacific coast of Mexico. After a day at sea, we made ports of call in Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. Wendy and I chose to stay on the ship in Cabo and Puerto Vallarta. We really desired to enjoy the quiet on this trip. Other than a mid-day trip to the pool to enjoy a stogie while I read, Wendy and I spent a lot of time in our cabin and on our verandah. It was awesome.
A lot of people have been curious about how Covid affected the trip. The cruise required all passengers to be vaccinated and we had to produce a negative Covid test that was taken no more than 48 hours before embarkation. Masks were required in hallways, elevators, and interior public spaces when you weren’t eating or drinking. The ship seemed to be about half-full, so it never really seemed very crowded. The two things we really noticed were that the ship seemed to have a smaller staff so we sometimes had to wait longer than expected for someone to take a drink order around the pool, and we only got to hear the B.B. King All-Stars perform once. We assume that one of them must have gotten sick because all of their subsequent performances were canceled.
Wendy and I did get off the ship in Mazatlan to see Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, her husband, Chino, and our new nephew, Ian. Suzanna and Chino live in Mazatlan where they serve on the base of Youth With a Mission (YWAM). It was fun to see their apartment, get a tour of the YWAM base, and have lunch together right on the beach. The day flew by before we knew it and we had to depart. It was so much fun to see them!
Wendy and Shay enjoyed time in the Ship’s spa during the week, and we all enjoyed our evening dinners together. The final two days of the cruise were days at sea as we journeyed from Puerto Vallarta all the way back up the Mexican coast to San Diego. It was a great week. After the winter storm that we just experienced yesterday, we all agreed that we’d rather be back on the ship!
After having our home filled with our entire brood last year, Wendy and I knew that this year was going to be a stark contrast since neither the Scottish crew nor the South Carolina crew, were going to be making it back to Iowa. Thus, we begin this holiday edition of The Latest with Halloween, which we had to enjoy vicariously from across the pond. Taylor gets the great mom merit badge for Milo’s awesome firefly costume.
Meanwhile, down across the Mason-Dixon line, Madison got into the festive spirit at work with her amazing Poison Ivy make-up design.
Late autumn felt a lot like late summer this year. The weather has been unseasonably warm. It’s Christmas Eve day as I type the draft of this post and the forecast high is 59 degrees. We have a trip to San Diego scheduled next week to enjoy some “warm” weather and escape the “frigid” Iowa winter. The forecast high while we’re in San Diego next week? 59 degrees. 🙄.
Meanwhile, Wendy and I stayed busy in November. I delivered a keynote address at the fall conference of the Iowa Communication Alliance. Wendy continues to keep me on track as the “Senior Director of All the Things” for Intelligentics while also helping to manage “all the things” for Selah Studios. I also continue to serve the teaching team at Third Church, and I preached three of the five Sundays in November. Wendy and I also enjoyed, once again, being a part of Pella’s annual Tulip Queen Announcement Party again this year. Wendy is serving a multi-year stint on the committee and acts as the Director of the evening program. I was Master of Ceremonies again this year.
Wendy and I continue to feel honored to help her Grandma Vander Hart, who turned 94 this year and continues to live independently in her apartment. Wendy and I check in with her regularly and make sure she has what she needs. Some days we get to read the daily devotional for her, along with running errands and helping with odd tasks around her apartment.
Grandma Vander Hart joined us for Thanksgiving at our house, along with my parents, who drove down from Des Moines. It was a relatively quiet affair compared to some years, but we loved hosting these three. We had a traditional Thanksgiving meal with turkey, potatoes, stuffing, and gravy. The afternoon was spent lounging and chatting.
We were also honored this fall to play host for a long-standing family rivalry. My nephew, Sam, grew up a Green Bay Packers fan. Misguided as that is, he mustered the wisdom to marry a Vikings fan which only fueled the friendly rivalry we’ve enjoyed his entire life. Sam brought his family, and our niece Emma, down to Pella for George’s pizza and the Packers-Vikings game. Vikings won this time, which was a rare treat the way things have gone in recent years.
Our place at the lake tends to sit empty from November through March, but this year my friend Matthew and I headed south for a personal retreat over a long weekend in early December. The weather was amazing with temps in the 70s and 80s. It was 75 degrees one evening as I grilled some steaks on the deck, where we were also blessed to enjoy lunch a couple of the days.
Our grandson, Milo, celebrated his 4th birthday in early December, and we had to celebrate via FaceTime. What we weren’t expecting was the present that Milo had for us. He donned his “Big Brother” t-shirt to announce the pending arrival of another grandchild next summer!
We also got to celebrate the 2nd birthday of our niece, Anya in December with a birthday party at her house. It also gave us the opportunity to hang with our newest nephew, Owen.
Last year at Christmas we held the inaugural family Christmas Cocktail Contest. The kids wanted to make it a tradition, but we had to do it this year via video call across three weekends. Not as fun as being in person, but we certainly had had fun connecting online and sharing a drink and a chat together.
Christmas without the kids in town ended up being a fairly low-key affair. With the unexpected passing of our dear friend, Shay’s, mother, Wendy and I spent Christmas Eve visiting the VLs who had driven through the previous night to return from a Christmas ski vacation. We then walked home (did I mention it’s unseasonably warm this year?) where “ma in her kerchief and I in my cap” both settled in early for “a long winter’s nap.”
Having headed to bed early, I was awake for the “night watch” and enjoyed praying, reading, and some extended quiet time in the darkness before dawn until Wendy rose for the day. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and opened gifts between the two of us. We even snuck in a FaceTime call with Milo to let him show us his Christmas haul as we were getting ready for the day.
Wendy and I hosted anyone from our families who wanted to come for a charcuterie spread on Christmas Day. The guests began to arrive late morning. Covid worries and seasonal viruses prompted some last-minute cancellations, but we had a wonderful constellation of loved ones including Wendy’s sister and her family from Denver, my brother from Boise, our parents, and Grandma VH. After eating, there was the sharing of gifts. My dad and sister made a stained-glass Santa ornament for us. My mother’s favorite color is purple, so Wendy and I gave her the most purple robe we could find along with matching slippers. About mid-afternoon, the entire VL crew walked over to join the festivities. Amidst the din of Christmas revelry, we enjoyed a Zoom chat with Madison, Tay, and Clay.
By evening, all guests had departed. Wendy and I cleaned up and then had a quick FaceTime call with our friends Kev and Beck to open their gifts to us which were still under the tree. After that, we settled in on the couch to watch the Guy Pearce – FX interpretation of A Christmas Carol (it’s amazing, trust us). Other than an emergency V-Dub Pub to-go order, we enjoyed a quiet evening before retiring together with our hearts, heads, and tummies full.
Today, we head to Ankeny for Christmas with the Hall Clan.
A hot, dry summer this year gave way to a hot, dry autumn here in Iowa. I don’t remember many October days in years past with temps in the 90s. In fact, our sump pump unknowingly died somewhere amidst the summer drought. When the fall rains finally came, we got to enjoy some flooding in the basement. Ugh!
September is our favorite time at the lake. The summer crowds are gone and things are much quieter, yet the weather remains very enjoyable. After our friends left on Labor Day, we stayed to enjoy some time, just the two of us.
Other than that, the fall has been quite enjoyable for Wendy and me. Wendy continues to take good care of her 94-year-old grandmother checking in on her during the week, taking her to appointments, and helping her with her daily needs. I became a certified Enneagram coach, which has been fun. Business travel is beginning to happen again. I made a trip to Texas in October and made a stop at one of my favorite places on earth for some much-needed quiet time.
With our beloved Cubs tanking early, our attention turned to football. We enjoyed getting out to both high school and college games. Our friends, Kev and Beck invited us to enjoy the entire college game day experience complete with tailgating before the evening game. The Cyclones even won in spectacular fashion, which was nice.
One of the joys of living life with our dear friends is the opportunity to be part of their children’s lives. Wendy and I felt so honored when our young friend, Harry, told his parents that on his 21st birthday he would like to have his first legal adult bevies with his parents, Wendy and me. We started the celebration at two of our favorite local watering holes and ended the evening back at the Vander Well pub. Fun to be part of another one of the young man’s rites-of-passage.
I was blessed with some of the best college professors back in the day. For the last three years majoring in theatre at Judson College, my Theatre prof was David McFadzean, who was not only one of the best theatre people I’ve ever worked with but was also a personal mentor in so many ways. Dave got his break and has done well as a Hollywood writer and producer. I was pleasantly surprised to get a call letting me know he and his wife, Liz, were making a cross-country road trip and had plans to spend a night in Pella. They came over for dinner and we enjoyed such a lovely evening catching up, talking theatre, and swapping stories.
Meals with friends has been sort of a theme for us this fall. One of my oldest and dearest of friends (and Taylor and Madison’s godfather) has been back in Iowa to help care for an ailing parent. He and I have been able to meet regularly for lunch, and it’s been fun to hang out with him and his son.
The Vander Well pub has also been a regular gathering place for friends, which makes us so happy. Just a few weeks ago we enjoyed a fun night out with the adults. Dinner out with cocktails and nightcaps at the pub. And, Wendy got to sport her awesome new boots.
One of our favorite things over the past couple of years is charcuterie nights. Wendy is quite gifted at putting out an amazing spread. It was so much fun to host friends for an evening of trying lots of different things while we swapped stories. I especially loved the story of our friends who met and were married in three weeks. A few weeks before charcuterie night, we were honored to be in their home to celebrate their 50th anniversary and I was asked to lead in a prayer of blessing over them. So much fun!
In family news, we were blessed to add two nephews to the growing brood. Wendy’s sister Suzanna, and her husband Chino, brought Ian into the world. Wendy’s brother Lucas, and his wife Brooke, brought Owen into the world. We can’t wait to meet Ian when we visit Mazatlan in January, and we loved having Owen visit us with his sister Anya.
The Scotland crew have been enjoying their fall in the gorgeous Scottish countryside. Milo continues to love dinosaurs and Transformers. They had a great visit to the Natural History Museum. Milo is also enjoying Rugby Tots, which Ya-Ya and Papa think is the coolest thing ever.
The South Carolina crew is also doing splendidly. Madison and G were able to take an overdue honeymoon trip to the Dominican this fall. Our fur-grandchild, Bertha, had hip surgery and is recovering well. Hazel is growing fast, as well.
I’m writing this post from the lake. For many years we’ve enjoyed annual spring and fall weekends with our friends, Kev and Beck. Busy lives and Covid have kept us from doing so for the last couple of years so it’s nice to be enjoying a lake weekend together again. Last night we enjoyed a dinner invitation from friends Dave and Lola, who also have a place at the lake. Dave smoked some salmon and we spent hours at the table. I so loved Lola’s comment as we grudgingly accepted the fact that the evening needed to end: “We could sit here and talk non-stop for twenty-four hours.” Indeed. It was our kind of night.
Wendy and I arrived at the lake last night. We’re getting things ready for our annual Memorial Day Weekend celebration with the JPs and VLs. Hello summer!
The last time I posted on “The Latest” was just about a year ago, and what a year it has been. 2020 was the year of COVID-19 and we weathered the storm like everyone else while managing to do so with our close family and friends.
Here are the highlights from the last year… the year of Covid.
June 2020 in Kansas City
Wendy and I enjoyed a really strange weekend in Kansas City amidst the pandemic. We went to see our longtime friends, Matt and Tara. Despite a narrow list of things we could do, we managed to get out for a wonderful evening with our friends and enjoy Covid-KC.
Grandma Vander Hart Turns 93
In July of 2020 the Vander Hart family gathered to celebrate Henrietta’s 93rd birthday. Since none of her children are in Pella anymore, Wendy has been helping her with her daily needs, shopping, doctor’s appointments, and etc. Wendy says with all the years Grandma watched her when she was a kid, she’s glad she has this opportunity to return the love.
Fourth of the July at the Lake
The JPs, VLs, and Schempers joined us at the lake for the Fourth of July this past year. Wendy and I actually spent less time at the lake last summer than ever. We got down just for the holiday weekends.
For the past few years my college roommate, Steve Elliott, and I have been talking about actually getting together. In July, we made it happen by meeting each other half-way in Galena, IL. Steve drove his wife’s Mustang convertible and we spent the afternoon exploring the backroads of the Mississippi River valley through northwest Illinois and southwest Wisconsin, making a stop when we stumbled upon a craft brewery.
Labor Day Weekend at the Lake
While Memorial Day and Fourth of July are typically family affairs, the Labor Day weekend has been a traditional adult weekend for the JPs, VLs, and V-Dubs. Always a nice way to celebrate the end of summer. Even summer of COVID.
Tay and Clay’s Highlands Wedding with a Stegosaurus
It was a beautiful wedding. We wish we could have been there. We wish anyone could have been there. Taylor and Clayton had hoped to have a private ceremony in Edinburgh with their close friends and then a quiet dinner. Then lockdowns nixed that. So, they opted for an even more private ceremony in the middle of the Scottish highlands with just the photographer and Milo. Milo requested to be a Stegosaurus for the special occasion, so, why not (at least for part of the time)?
Autumn Trip to Austin, Texas
Long before anyone had heard of the Coronavirus, we had scheduled a trip to Austin with our friends Kev and Beck. We had to do so to secure the lodging we wanted. We were determined to do enjoy what we could. As is always the case with the four of us, Beck had thoroughly investigated options and restrictions in order to structure an entire calendar of “fun” places where we could do what we love: enjoy good food, good drink, and good conversation.
Crowning a New Tulip Queen
A couple of years ago I was asked to be Master of Ceremonies for Pella’s annual Tulip Queen Announcement Party (TQAP), which is to say “it’s not a pageant!” Realizing that I’d had a blast doing it and would be doing it again, Wendy decided to sign-on for a six-year stint as a member of the TQAP Committee. So it was that we enjoyed working with the 13 young ladies (who were all amazing) to prepare for their presentations and I was honored to announce the new Tulip Queen and her Court for Pella’s 2021 Tulip Time.
Thanksgiving was a quiet family gathering at our house for a small gathering of Wendy’s family.
Christmas and Covid 2020
Wendy and I felt so blessed to have the whole fam at our house for Christmas, and an entire Christmas Day together. Tay, Clay, and Milo arrived in early December. They spent a few weeks with us, and a few weeks with other family. Madison and Garrett arrived in time for Christmas. Ya-Ya (Grandma Wendy) enjoyed Milo being her little helper with Christmas cookies, smoothies, and other cooking duties. We had a Christmas cookie decorating contest and the adults all participated in a Christmas cocktail contest. There were no losers.
To honest, Wendy’s birthday was overshadowed this year as she played hostess, baker, cook, and caretaker. Nevertheless, her heart was full of joy. We even took the rare opportunity of being together to have some family portraits taken.
Christmas Day began with opening stockings before Ya-Ya’s amazing Christmas breakfast complete with cinnamon rolls. Gifts were opened and we enjoyed an equally amazing charcuterie spread for lunch/dinner as we binged on The Crown. I got to use the nifty Lifegoo precision screwdriver set in my stocking to repair Lightning McQueen for Milo.
The Andersons headed back and the Vander-Boeyinks headed to Des Moines for a week of Christmas celebrations with family there. Wendy and I had originally scheduled a cruise to celebrate our 15th Anniversary (New Year’s Eve) but that had long-since been cancelled. I believe we spent a quiet evening at home and went to bed early.
The ‘Rona came to our house on January 3rd with Tay, Clay and Milo’s return. All five of us ended up getting it. Taylor, Wendy, and I had relatively minor, flu-like symptoms. For me it was a day-or-two with body aches followed by a few weeks with zero-energy. Clay and Milo were asymptomatic. Their return to Scotland got delayed due to our quarantine together, and we made the best of our unexpected, extended family time. They eventually flew back to the UK in February.
Getting Out of Dodge
In February, Kev and I were commiserating about feeling a mutual case of cabin fever due to COVID. Deciding we’d like to look at different walls for a few days, we scooted down to the lake for a week of guy-time and working remotely from a different location.
Lake Work Weekend
We returned to the lake in April for a work weekend with the JPs and VLs. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a decade since we built the Playhouse and there was a fairly decent list of things that needed sprucing up, repaired, updated, and improved.
JP discovered that our dock had been torn from the gangway due to the low water level this winter. He, along with our neighbor, got it repaired. There was a lot of power-washing, labeling, clearing out, and organization.
It also happened to be Shay’s birthday that weekend, so we celebrated the senorita at our favorite local Mexican haunt at the lake.
Easter was a quiet affair at our house. My folks and Wendy’s folks came to Pell and Grandma Vander Hart joined us for a light lunch and an afternoon of family time. It was so good to have my parents here. They spent so much of the year in lockdown in their senior community. To actually have them physically present was such a blessing.
Weekend in “COLA”
Wendy and I headed to South Carolina in April to spend a long weekend with Madison and G. It was our first time in SC since their wedding in October of 2019, and the first visit to the house they purchased last year. We also got to meet our grand dog, Bertha. Madison arranged for both Wendy and me to have facials at the salon where she works, Pout.
We enjoyed a quiet weekend and enjoyed some great restaurants in Columbia. G’s family were in town that weekend and we all got together for breakfast on Saturday morning. It was nice to spend time with them, as well. G demonstrated his grilling skills for us before we left on Sunday, and on the way to the airport we stopped to pick-up a new grand dog, a puppy named Hazel.