Category Archives: Tom’s Photos

The Latest: Winter/Spring 2023

I’m finally catching up on “The Latest” with this post. After the holidays, I made a quick trip to San Diego for a short business summit with one of my partners. It was a great way to kick off the new year. Not only did we get in some great strategy sessions, but we also got to enjoy some very good meals and some very fine cigars on the balcony of the local hooka lounge. When you live your entire life in Iowa, the opportunity to get 60 degrees and sun is a godsend. I laughed at all the Californians walking around La Jolla in their parkas.

My mother moved into Memory Care at the Wesley Life Cottages in Pella just before Thanksgiving. It was an emotionally tectonic shift for both my mom and my dad. Dad struggled with the daily conversation they had when he would get ready to leave and she would ask why she couldn’t go with him. The nurses quickly determined that mom showed all of the signs of giving up, and suggested that allow the Hospice team to take over her care, which we did. She slept more and more and ate less and less. Some days she would sleep all the way through my visits, so I would sit by her bed and read the Psalms to her. She would occasionally open her eyes, look at me, and smile.

Wendy and I enjoyed a getaway to Cabo San Lucas in February. We had never been there before and were planning on having Suzanna and her family join us from nearby Mazatlan, but they had to decline just before we left and it turned out to be a wonderful vacation for the the two of us. We had an absolutely gorgeous view from our room and spent most days watching whales, reading, lounging by the pool, and taking naps. It was glorious. We also had some fun with Milo, who left one of his toys, Paul, at our house after the holidays. We took Paul with us on our various travels and sent Milo photos to track his adventures.

We have been so blessed by the Wesley Life family since my parents moved in last fall. My dad has worked with stained-glass for many years, and they helped him convert an old, unused Computer Room into a shop for his stained-glass. Dad even received a commission for a stained-glass piece from dear friends who are building a new house and who also have a loved one in the same Memory Care unit that mom was in. It has been so good for him to have something to keep his hands and mind busy, as well as a sense of purpose. I’m glad to say he’s already getting interest and inquiries for more projects and commissions.

Mom continued to decline as February gave way to March. All of my siblings made trips to Pella as the amazing Hospice nurses communicated each phase that brought mom closer to the end of her earthly journey. In the final days we spent a lot of time by her bed. She had fewer and fewer lucid moments, but I was amazed how peaceful she was, and in her conscious moments she would make little facial gestures just to crack us up along with the nurses. She was joyful and playful to the end.

Mom left her earthly body behind and crossed over into eternity on March 13th about 9:45 a.m. Her final moment was so peaceful. It was me, my sister, and my dad by her side as she left the Alzheimer’s riddled prison of her brain and body. It was a holy moment. Mom wished to be cremated and didn’t really want people staring at the frail remnants of what was physically left after Alzheimer’s had done its thing. A quick visitation and memorial service was planned just a few days later. On St. Patrick’s Day we celebrated her life together in a day filled with joy, just as she would have wanted it.

Spring 2023 also included some quietly joyful moments. Wendy and I always enjoy having friends over to the Vander Well Pub for a bevy and some good conversation. We enjoyed a belated Valentine’s Day feast thanks to our friends Matthew and Sarah. I even had a couple of trips to the lake. One was with my friend Kev and the other with Matthew. Always good to have a few days of retreat and guy time together. Kev even arranged a Saturday afternoon stogie gathering at a local smoke lounge. Our grandkids have been totally immersed in the Star Wars universe this past year. “May the Fourth” is now a thing with our family.

Another interesting wrinkle in life this year has been the fact that Wendy and I have given our home over to the youth group from our local gathering of Jesus’ followers on Wednesday nights so that several small groups can enjoy gathering in our home.

Wendy and I have turned the Wednesday night invasion into an opportunity to have a date night. We eventually started making Liberty Street Kitchen, our favorite restaurant in Pella, our go-to spot. This led to us enjoying table 40 with our dear friends Eric and Amy and we have become big fans of the amazing people who serve there.

Easter this year was a very quiet affair. Wendy and I had her folks, her grandmother, her Uncle Brad and Aunt Barb, along with my dad over after church for a traditional turkey and ham feast followed by a quiet afternoon of visiting together.

I unexpectedly had the blessing of a quick trip to South Carolina. Our company gained a new client based in Columbia, where Madison and G live. It was so much fun to be with the two of them and the pups, as well as the prospect of future, regular business trips there. Even got to go to a Columbia Fireflies game!

My birthday was uneventful. Another trip around the sun: check. Wendy and I once again did our annual community service for Pella’s Tulip Time the first full weekend in May. We dressed as Pella’s founding couple, H.P and Maria Scholte and welcomed people to the Scholte House Museum. We always enjoy getting a ride in a horse-drawn carriage for the afternoon parades. Other than a few sprinkles and a short deluge on Friday night, it was a beautiful Tulip Time weather-wise and the town hosted huge crowds.

Wendy’s mother celebrated a big birthday with a zero on the end. For months, her seven children had been conspiring to surprise her by showing up for Mother’s Day weekend. She knew that Wendy’s sister Becky would be in town with her family, but she expected it to simply be Becky with Wendy and Lucas who both live nearby who would spend Saturday at the folks’ house. About 10 a.m. on Saturday morning the doorbell rang and she opened the door to find her other four children who had flown in from east coast, west coast, and Mexico to be there. It was a great day of love and laughter. It’s so rare that all seven sibs can be together in the same spot.

The Latest: Holidays 2022

I’m still catching up on the Vander Well events of this past year. It’s time to revisit the holidays. I mentioned in the Autumn post that my folks moved into Wesley Life’s Pella Manor in October. One of the major reasons for the move to Pella and into the Wesley Life senior living community was so that my mother could move into Memory Care when a bed was available. She had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for many years. My dad had lovingly and dutifully cared for her despite his own major health issues, but it was time for her to get the round-the-clock care she needed.

God’s timing is always perfect. A Memory Care room at the Cottages came available and Mom moved in the day before Thanksgiving. I will always remember this Thanksgiving as the last holiday that Mom celebrated with us in our home. We didn’t realize at the time that this year would be the final holiday season we would celebrate with Mom here on earth.

With all the physical, mental, and emotional labor of moving Mom into Memory Care, Thanksgiving Day itself ended up being a very quiet affair this year. Dad picked Mom up from her room and brought her over to our house. I must confess that Wendy and I made the executive decision to buy a warm-and-serve Thanksgiving Dinner from our local Hy-Vee, and I am so glad we did. It was so easy and so delicious. After dinner, we settled into the living room to watch football. I will always remember sitting there next to Mom holding her hand as she faded in and out. It’s one of those precious memories that my brain stores in a special mental file. Wendy’s folks stopped by for a visit after having dinner with the Vander Hart crew.

The Scotland crew was with us for a couple of weeks over Christmas and New Year’s before they headed back to the UK. Milo celebrated his 5th birthday while they were here and it was Sylvie’s first visit to the USA. The season held lots of events. There were gatherings with friends, our niece Anya’s birthday party, Pella’s wonderful holiday Kerstmarket, and family visits to the Cottages to see Grandma Jeanne. We got Madison and Garrett home for just a couple of days but they were here on Christmas Day and we made the most of it. It was so much fun to wake up on Christmas morning with all the kids and grandkids in the house. Wendy made her famous Christmas breakfast with Cinnabon cinnamon rolls. Dad, my brother Tim and his wife Kumi, and Wendy’s folks all paid a visit in the afternoon. Wendy put out her (now traditional) Christmas charcuterie spread for people to enjoy all afternoon. The Vander Well Pub hosted our 2nd Family Christmas Cocktail contest.

Since Papa Dean was now in Pella, our kids requested an old Vander Well family treat: eireflensjes, which is basically the Dutch version of a crepe. We made the most of having our grandkids that week. I took Milo to Smash Park for a little lunch and game of Connect Four. New Year’s Eve was our 17th wedding anniversary. We celebrated with having our friends over for an evening in the Vander Well pub. On New Year’s Day we capped off the holidays with another family tradition: the Vikings-Packers grudge match with my Packer-loving nephew Sam and his amazing Viking-loving wife Lydia. It turned into a whole family gathering which was fun. The Vikings lost, which was not fun.

Scotland! Oct-Nov 2022

Wow! How did I get so far behind in keeping everyone up-to-date on the seasonal happenings of the Vander Well clan? My apologies. It has been a very full season of life since I published The Latest: Summer 2022. While I’ve got Autumn 2022 and the Holidays 2022 still on the blogging task list, I wanted to start catching you up with the most fun event of the last seven months!

In October Wendy and I flew across the pond to visit our kids and grandkids in bonny Scotland. It was our first trip back since Christmas of 2019 when we celebrated with the kids in London. We were especially excited to meet our granddaughter Sylvie for the first time. She was born June 28 and it would be our first opportunity to get our loving arms around her. The timing of our trip was planned to coincide with Milo’s Fall break from primary school.

Wendy and I stayed at a VRBO flat across the street from the kids’ flat in Edinburgh. It was so convenient, and allowed us to get some work done during the day while we were there. We arrived on a Monday morning and spent the first few days simply enjoying the opportunity to be together. Papa and Ya-Ya had the joy of bed time reading. We took walks and enjoyed the fall colors. We enjoyed the kids’ favorite local pizza pub, One Canon Mills.

Taylor took us on a date that week. We started with cocktails and a small lunch at The Alchemist, where they make the most amazing craft cocktails. We then walked to the to see Girl From the North Country at the Edinburgh Playhouse. a thoroughly enjoyable musical based on the songs of Bob Dylan. It was so much fun. That evening Wendy and I had a little date ourselves at O’Connors Pub. I had the most amazing plate of bangers and mash! Wendy and I also enjoyed taking Milo on a lunch data with Ya-Ya and Papa which, of course, included a stop at the toy store! ☺️

On Thursday of that week, we rented a van and headed to the highlands! Taylor secured us a lovely VRBO in a caravan park on the River Tilt in Blair Atholl. From there we headed to an annual event in the picturesque town of Pitlochry called The Enchanted Forest. It was so cool to walk through the misty Scottish forest that was so beautifully lit as music played in the background the entire time. Gorgeous.

We also spent time enjoying being together, taking walks in the beauty of the Scottish landscape and hanging out together. Papa and Ya-Ya watched the wee ones one evening so that Tay and Clay could have a little dinner date. Most of all, we got as much fun with the grandkids as we could.

We spent a day driving into the Highlands, beginning with a stop in quaint Fort William for lunch at The Geographer. I should probably mention the adventure of driving a nine-passenger van into the Scottish Highlands. Driving from the right-side of the car on the left-side of the road is adventurous enough, but then to be on very narrow, windy roads that have no shoulder is kind of nerve wracking. Wendy spent much of the trip lying down in the back seat with her eyes closed. I will confess to filling out my first damage report on a rental car ever. I’m happy to say that no one was hurt, not counting my pride. The retaining wall suffered no damage, but the bumper of the van didn’t fare so well.

Our return trip to Blair Atholl in the afternoon took us to the breathtaking spot where Clayton and Taylor got married during the pandemic. It was so fun to be there and take family photos on the shore of Loch Achtriochtan outside of Glencoe. Our return trek took us by the remote road where the scenes of James Bond’s boyhood Skyfall estate were filmed. We also stopped at a really cute town called Killin where we had coffee and a snack.

We enjoyed our final morning in the Highlands window shopping in Pitlochry. Clayton and I spent some time checking out a Whisky shop and sampling a small batch single-malt Scotch, Daftmill, that has created a bit of a stir there.

Our final day in Edinburgh I got to help Taylor walk Milo to school where I met some of his friends as they queued up for class. Taylor and I then enjoyed a Daddy-Daughter coffee date (they never get old). We took a bus to the Royal Mile for lunch at The Devil’s Advocate. Clay took me to his favorite Scotch shop so I could buy a bottle for the Vander Well Pub. The kids then headed home to put Sylvie down while Wendy and I enjoyed shopping along Victoria Street and enjoying a pint at the White Hart Pub, which we fell in love with on our first trip to Scotland. I should also mention the Pub Trivia evening that Tay, Clay, and I enjoyed with a colleague of Clayton’s. I’m happy to report that we won a beautiful pub mat that now graces the bar of the Vander Well Pub for having the worst score of any team in the competition!

Wendy and I spent our final days in the UK with a train trip to London that took us through Leeds, where our friends James and Hannah live. We had promised to pay them a visit when we were in the UK. We also enjoyed an amazing dinner in Leeds at Riva Blu Italian Restaurant. We really enjoyed traveling by train. It prompted an enjoyable text conversation with Wendy’s dad back in the states with regard to Oreo cows and different sheep breeds. We found it relaxing and enjoyed watching the countryside fly by. Our final three days of this trip were spent in London. We saw the iconic The Mousetrap (the world’s longest running show) along with the musical Six. We had great dining experiences at El Camion, The Porcupine and The Breakfast Club. We can’t wait for our next UK trip!

The Latest: Summer 2022

It’s a gorgeous autumn day in Edinburg, Scotland. It has taken several weeks and a vacation across the Atlantic Ocean for me to make the time for this post. What a year 2022 has proven to be (and it’s not over yet).

This past summer was packed full of fun, both the usual and the non-usual. It began in what has become the usual way over the past twelve years, and that is at the lake with the JPs and VLs. Wendy and I arrived a little early and stayed a little late to enjoy time to ourselves and with friends Dave and Lola.

After returning to Pella, the social calendar included our support of the Pella Opera House at their annual gala.

We also enjoyed our friend, Shanae’s wedding in Des Moines. I was honored to be asked to pray a blessing over the wedding feast, and we had a lot of fun with friends. Wendy and I were anxiously awaiting the arrival of our granddaughter across the pond, which may (or may not) have prompted Wendy to offer to adopt dear little Audrey as an honorary grandchild for the evening.

We were ecstatic when, just days later, our 2nd grandchild, Sylvie Ruth, arrived. Taylor, Clayton, and Milo welcomed our new bundle of joy in Scotland on June 28th while Wendy and I were at the lake to celebrate a quiet July 4th (Taylor’s birthday, btw) holiday. I toasted Sylvie’s birth with a pint and a stogie on the deck while scoring the Chicago Cubs game. Other than having to spend a few extra days in the hospital to hit all of her health markers, everything went according to plan. So excited to have sweet Sylvie with us.

July ushered in another wedding. I was honored to officiate the joining of Megan and Tanner at the Hotel Fort Des Moines. Megan has pretty much been another daughter and we’ve had so much fun getting to know Tanner. It was a fabulous wedding and an amazing reception.

Our friends Kevin and Linda were back in Pella for five weeks this summer and we tried to make the most of it by getting together several times over those weeks. We enjoyed a summer evening of drinks and stogies on the patio. Enjoyed another evening at the Atkins Oasis. The VLs joined us for a Cubs night at the Vander Well Pub, and the six of us helped celebrate Pella’s 175th birthday at a special Pella Soiree one evening.

We also enjoyed visits from a niece and nephew this summer. Our nephew Asher joined us for a night along with his dad, Wendy’s brother Josh. We actually got to host our niece Lydia for a few days while her folks, (Wendy’s sis) Becky and Court got a few nights off. We had fun taking Lydia and Miss Camille to Pella’s new SmashPark. Uncle Tom got to take Lydia to Adventureland. It was her first visit to an amusement park.

We actually had even more gatherings with the Hall and Vander Hart crews. Wendy’s Uncle Brad and Aunt Barb moved back to Pella from Dubuque and we had multiple gatherings at their place. Wendy’s brother Jesse also came to town with his girlfriend Ania, and we enjoyed a great lunch with them and Wendy’s folks. We also enjoyed our nephew Owen’s first birthday gala.

As far as the Vander Well crew goes, all is well. Grandson Milo graduated from Nursery School and started primary school. All is well for Madison, Garrett, and the Rotties down in South Carolina. Papa Dean won both a first-place blue ribbon and a third-place white ribbon for the two stained-glass pieces he entered in the Iowa State Fair. The folks began considering a move to Pella this summer. Mom’s Alzheimer’s continues to progress, but she still manages to be adorably cute. One day on FaceTime my father was telling a long story and was holding his phone so that mom and I were basically staring at each other while Dad talked. I started making faces at her and she started making faces back at me. She’s so funny.