It’s been a while since I’ve done any kind of blogging challenge. Just this morning I found out that WikiTree is starting a “52 Photos” challenge, asking members to post a family photo that matches each week’s theme. The theme for week one is “new.” So, here is one of my favorite family photos of all time. This is a photo of my newlywed parents, Dean and Jeanne Vander Well, in their brand new 1958 Chevy convertible. They would sell this pretty baby just a year or so later when they discovered that they had two babies, my twin brothers, on the way.
When Wendy and I married, December suddenly became much more than just a Christmas holiday. Wendy’s birthday is December 21, and we married on New Year’s Eve. That means that I have, arguably, the three most important gift-giving days of the year in an 11 day stretch. After 12 years (a number rife with Biblical significance) trying to find balance in this celestial conjunction of celebrations, our first grandchild unexpectedly, like the star of Bethlehem, appeared on the horizon last year and plotted his arrival on December 11th. An already crazy month just got crazier.
Milo and his parents (I state it this way because, let’s be honest, it’s all about the one-year-old) arrived home from the UK in early December. I picked up them up and drove them home from MSP. The kids made our house command central out of which “Operation Celebrations” would be conducted. Milo has four sets of grandparents, a full contingency of living great-grandparents, and at least one great-great-grandparent. Long story short: There’s a lot of people needing a Milo fix.
Our celebration of Milo’s first birthday happened the night of the 12th. We had a small cadre of family over for a relatively small affair. Ya-Ya Wendy made Milo both a chocolate cupcake and a white, funfetti cupcake. He seemed to prefer the funfetti cupcake, proving that his taste bud genes are inherited from his paternal DNA coding.
The rounds of family visitation continued on the 19th when Taylor, Milo, and I stopped by my folks retirement community to have lunch with the folks. Milo was, of course, a huge hit. Milo also had a fascination with all of the various walkers with wheels. As he is in training to get the whole “walking” thing down (we’re up to about six consecutive steps without falling at this point), it was a huge discovery for him that there are devices designed and manufactured to assist in this basic human motor skill (special “thanks” to Mary for letting Milo run free with her walker).
Wendy and I began celebration of her birthday on the 15th when we headed to the Twin Cities. On the 16th we went to our first Vikings game at their new “mother ship” stadium. An annual trip to see the Vikings had become a bit of a tradition for us until it was announced that the new stadium would be built. Wendy and cold get along like Hamilton and Burr, so we skipped the seasons they were playing at the U of M’s outdoor stadium. We finally decided to all the trigger on our old tradition. It was a lot of fun. We’ll be back.
Wendy’s birthday was otherwise fairly quiet except for the doorbell ringing incessantly. She got a trifecta of flower bouquets on her big day. The florist here in Pella was grateful for the business, though they somehow couldn’t get the deliveries consolidated. On the following weekend our friends Kevin and Becky came to Pella to celebrate Wendy. A pint at the Cellar and a pizza from George’s was in order with the rest of the evening relaxing at Vander Well Pub.
Maddy Kate flew in from her home in South Carolina on Christmas Eve day. We visited Grandpa Dean and Grandma Jeanne before I drove her back to Pella. She joined Wendy and me at Christmas Eve services at church while Milo and his entourage were making an all day tour stop at Na-Na Brenda’s.
Christmas day, I’m happy to say, was an all-out, love-and-laughter, food-and fun, lazy lounge-fest with just the six of us. Wendy made her traditional Christmas morning cinnamon rolls, along with an awesome breakfast. I threw French Dip into the crock pot for the evening meal. Lunch was a charcuterie menagerie for all. We opened gifts together after breakfast, then moved a mattress into the family room next to the sectional for a blissful day of binge watching (This is Us took up the entire afternoon), eating, and napping together.
This year’s annual Tulip Time festival was perhaps the nicest I can remember. The tulips were more gorgeous than any year I recall with almost all of the tulip beds peaking at just the right time and a few that were still starting to bloom. They were absolutely gorgeous!
For the fourth straight year Wendy and I got in costume to portray our little town’s founding couple, Dominie (that’s Dutch for “Pastor”) H.P. and Mareah Scholte. We spent each morning standing in front of the Scholte House museum welcoming visitors and then strolled the streets having our picture taken by countless visitors. We rode in the parades each afternoon. An intense Iowa thunderstorm, complete with Tornado warning, washed out the Thursday evening parade and festivities. Otherwise, the weather for the weekend was perfect.
We typically got out of costume once the afternoon parade was over. It was our chance to enjoy some grub from our favorite food stands, have a pint at the pub, and visit with friends.
Along with Tulip Time activities, we also hosted a bunch of family who came to town. Wendy’s mom and Aunt Linda stayed with us Thursday night. Uncle Brad and Aunt Barb stayed with us Friday and Saturday nights. Suzanna also came down Saturday and ended ups spending the night. My parents and sister Jody came down for the fun on Saturday and then returned home (with an armful of goodies from the Jaarsma bakery). By late Saturday afternoon Wendy I were pretty worn out. We bowed out of the final parade on Saturday night. Our friends Kevin and Linda, along with Suzanna, joined us on the patio to celebrate another wonderful Tulip Time.
Four years ago Wendy and I enjoyed a seven-day Caribbean cruise on the Holland America Line. It was wonderful, and we’ve been looking forward to repeating the experience ever since. Last week we headed out of Ft. Lauderdale Florida on Holland America’s MS Eurodam for long-awaited week-long adventure back to the Caribbean.
As Wendy and I looked back on the experience I found it fascinating what a difference four years can make. I think we were more tired going into this trip. We were less set for adventure and more interested in rest. That said, I think our expectations may have also been set higher by the amazing memories we shared from our previous cruise.
The truth is, we did very little by way of the commercial-worthy activities. We sat around in the warmth of the Caribbean sun. Most days sailed by with the two of us reading by the pool and sipping cold, fruity concoctions. We dressed up and ate good food in the evenings. We had fun being alone together. We met a few interesting people, but most of our interpersonal interaction was with the kind and warm-hearted staff who almost always went out of their way to take care of us.
For the record, here’s the summary with photos to follow:
2/24/18 Des Moines to Ft. Lauderdale. Wendy and I have some travel-hell stories from our past and we’re always waiting for some way we’re going to get screwed by weather or airlines whenever we travel. We came close this time as our flight from to DSM to O’hare was late taking off and we had zero time to run (we did the literal terminal sprint) to our connecting flight. Fortunately, the gate agents were waiting for us and they shut the door behind us. Nevertheless, the stress level was a little high as the plane made what felt like a 60 mile taxi from runway to Terminal C. We spent the evening at the Renaissance Cruise Port, took a little stroll to do some shopping and called it a night.
2/25/19 Leaving Fort Lauderdale
We took a transfer service from the hotel to the Cruise Port. The shuttle service was terribly unorganized and the whole thing felt chaotic, but we eventually made it to Port Everglades along with about 3 million other cruise passengers. Wendy and I boarded the ship and had a little lunch on board until it was announced that our stateroom was ready. We were in stateroom 7060 which was a suite with a private verandah. The Eurodam has recently been updated and the room was gorgeous and spacious with lots of features like USB ports for charging devices and a big screen television stationed directly across from the bed so you can lay in bed and watch one of the on-demand movies or television shows.
Our luggage arrived fairly quickly and we get settled in. We were really excited to finally be on board and heading out to sea. We also had complimentary champagne in the suite so we drank champagne and stood on the verandah watching as we left port. The warm Florida sun felt great on our cold, pasty-white midwest bodies.
We decided to dine the first night at one of the on-board restaurants, Canaletto’s, which was offering a discount for the first night. We enjoyed an Italian meal before heading to bed.
2/26/18 Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
Wendy and I had been to the private island, Half Moon Cay, on our last cruise. It’s a small island set up specifically for Cruise ships stop to let passengers sun themselves in relative seclusion as well as participate in any number of activities. We opted to stay on the ship this time and we settled into what became our repetitive routine for the trip:
- Get up. Eat breakfast.
- Go to the pool at the back of the Lido deck
- Read. Maybe sit by the pool for a few minutes. Go back to reading.
- Have a cold fruity drink.
- Eat lunch
- More reading, and another cold, fruity concoction.
- Watch a movie in our stateroom (nap, maybe). It was a “Marvel” week. We watched Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, Dr. Strange, and Thor Ragnarok
- Get showered and dressed.
- Go do dinner.
- Take in a little entertainment.
- Go to bed.
2/27/18 At Sea
One of the things Wendy and I love about a cruise are the “dress up” nights. The reality is that most people don’t really take it too seriously, but we like getting dressed to the nines and making an evening of it. We stopped at the Pinnacle Lounge for a pre-dinner cocktail and ran into a group of fellow passengers from Scotland who were wearing their dress kilts. Awesome. I totally have to channel my Scotch/Irish genes one of these days and do the kilt thing.
2/28/18 Ocho Rios, Jamaica
We got off the ship for, maybe, 20 minutes. Our plan had been a quiet, leisurely stroll to do a little souvenir shopping and taking in the local sights. We were so inundated with aggressive locals getting in our face and trying to sell us everything from taxi cab rides to tours and other (unmentionable) things that we ended up feeling really uncomfortable. We turned around and getting right back on the ship. Sad, really.
3/1/18 Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
We stayed on the ship and followed our routine.
3/2 At Sea
Somewhere along the line Wendy and I decided it would be fun to do our own personal Pub Crawl on our day at sea. We counted nine bars on the ship and knew we’d need plenty of time and space between stops. We started with an early Margarita by the pool at 10:30 am and gave ourselves 12 hours to hit all nine venues, ending at 10:30 pm. We had a lot of fun, a lot of laughs, and we met the challenge (but it’s probably not something we’ll repeat on our next cruise!).
3/3 Key West, FL
On our final day of the cruise we docked in Key West. It was the one port-of-call that we got off the ship and enjoyed. We walked down Duval Street, make a pilgrimage to Sloppy Joe’s (where Ernest Hemingway hung out back in the day), and stopped at Kermit’s for some authentic Key Lime pie (it was delicious).
Here are some of my photos from the week:
This year might well have been named “Christmas de Milo.” Our grandson (our first grandchild), Milo, was born on the 11th of December. He was five weeks early and spent much of the first two weeks of his fledgling journey in the NICU. He was allowed to go home just two days before Christmas. As a result, our holiday plans were largely in flux as we waited to see how things were going to play out.
On Saturday (Dec 23) Wendy and I played host to the Vander Hart Christmas gathering. The family spent the afternoon celebrating together. Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, spent the night with us and we received our first measurable snow overnight. We woke on Christmas Eve day to a white blanket of new fallen snow. I got the driveway cleared and headed to Des Moines to pick up our daughter, Madison, who flew in from SC.
Madison was anxious to meet her new nephew, so we stopped to see Milo who had just spent his first rocky night at home. After our visit, we left Taylor, Clayton and Milo to rest and recuperate. Madison and I headed back to VW Manor where Wendy’s family had reconvened to spend some time together and visit with Madison. They left late in the afternoon. Wendy, Madison and I snuggled into the sectional to watch Star Wars The Force Awakens in anticipation of seeing The Last Jedi in a few days.
It was a blessedly quiet Christmas Day, just the three of us. We told Taylor and Clayton to continue to rest up at home. Wendy made our traditional Christmas breakfast, which was wonderful. We opened gifts and then cleaned up and headed into town to be greeters at our church’s annual community Christmas meal. After returning home we once again snuggled into the sectional and embarked on a marathon binge of The Crown.
On the 26th we headed to Des Moines to celebrate Christmas with the Vander Well clan. The snow that fell on Christmas Eve Day gave way to bone-chilling cold through the rest of the holiday. The family all met in the community room at Grandpa and Grandma’s apartment. All of my siblings were home, which is always a rare treat. After spending the afternoon with the V-Dubs Wendy, Madison and I took in Star Wars The Last Jedi at Copper Creek.
Wednesday, December 27th was another Christmas celebration as we welcomed Milo to our home for the first time. Taylor and Clayton arrived just before 10. Taylor and Clayton were both tired from the lack of sleep and the infant routine. We opened gifts and let them rest as Wendy and I made homemade pizza and breadsticks for lunch. Milo, of course, was the center of everyone’s attention. We ate, and chatted and enjoyed one another’s company.
Taylor and Clayton took Madison back to Des Moines with them in the afternoon. After five straight days of family and celebrations Wendy and I began the transition back into some semblance of normal. More family gatherings to come as Wendy’s sister and family arrive from Denver on Friday night. And, Wendy and I celebrate our 12th anniversary on New Year’s Eve.
In all my years celebrating Thanksgiving in Iowa, I am slow to recall any that were simply abysmal because of the weather. Though there’s the occasional winter storm in December, typically Iowa reserves the worst of winter for January and February. I can, however, bring to mind some Thanksgiving Day memories of unseasonably sunny, warm weather. This year ranks among the best.
It was a different year for us this year. Taylor went into the hospital the Monday before Thanksgiving. Due to a condition of vasa previa she is being monitored and her baby is scheduled to arrive (early) on December 11 via c-section. Given there were some unknowns with her situation, Wendy and I did not make overtly solid plans for Thanksgiving.
What did happen began on Thanksgiving Day. My brother Tim called on Wednesday evening to let me know that he and Kumi happened to making a stop in Pella on their way to Des Moines. They stopped in for morning coffee and we enjoyed some conversation before getting our act together and heading to Des Moines to enjoy the traditional feast with the Vander Well clan at the folks’ retirement community. Once again, the family reserved the community room in their building. Jody did an amazing job making the feast including Grandma V’s cinnamon rolls. Wendy added a cheesecake and Uncle Tim contributed his traditional Figure Eight cookies. We were glad to have Sam and Lydia home, and they brought a friend, Nathan, from Chicago. We even had cousin Don with us.
Wendy and I loaded up some leftovers for Taylor and Clayton and headed down to the hospital. It was nice to visit with them for a few hours before heading back to Pella.
Wendy and I both worked on Friday, but Friday evening was the traditional Roozeboom gathering at New Hope church. We stopped by the Cellar Pub beforehand and ran into Taylor’s friend, Gabe. The last time we saw Gabe was in Edinburgh, Scotland. He just happened to be there while we were visiting Taylor. It was a blast to see him again.
The Roozeboom gathering seems to get a bit smaller each year, but it was great to see Mom and Dad Hall along with Suzanna. There is a crop of young ones which it is always good to see. As always there was food, and cards, and plenty of conversation. Brad and Barb were down from Dubuque for the weekend and came to hear me give the message at Third Church on Sunday.