Wendy and I experienced an unprecedented amount of travel between November 2019 and February 2020. Ironically, one of the first trips on the calendar was a Florida and Caribbean cruise getaway with our friends Kevin and Becky. It was after this trip was booked that we decided to spend the holidays in the UK with our daughter, Taylor, along with son-in-law Clayton and grandson, Milo. Then, our daughter Madison’s wedding and Wendy’s sister, Suzanna’s wedding got added to the calendar. Add business travel to these family events and I spent 57 of 105 days living out of a suitcase between mid-November and late February.
Fortunately, the first trip we booked ended up at the end of the travel gauntlet. We were ready to escape the Midwest winter, the stress of travel, and decompress with friends.
We flew to Florida in late January and worked remotely from a lovely suite in Pompano Beach, FL, just across the street from the beach. Kev and Beck joined us mid-week. We then departed from the Port of Miami on Saturday, Feb 1 for a seven-day eastern Caribbean cruise on Carnival’s Conquest. Super Bowl LII was in Miami that weekend, so it was a little crazy!
Our ports of call were Grand Turk, San Juan, St. Thomas, and Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic. This was our first cruise on Carnival. Cruising will always be my favorite type of vacation. Being at sea fills something deep within me that this land-locked Midwestern boy can’t explain.
We loved our time with friends.
As for our ports of call, Grand Turk was okay. We shopped at the port and enjoyed drinks at Margaritaville. San Juan was, once again, a highlight for us. The old city is a favorite stop. We enjoyed lunch at the Choco Bar Cortes and Kev and I enjoyed a bevy and stogie at the Cigar House while the ladies shopped. St. Thomas was also an enjoyable port, and we really enjoyed a bevy at Taphus while shopping in the central business district. We chose not to get off the boat at Amber Cove, and enjoyed being on the mostly deserted ship.
The very best part of the cruise was, of course, our time with friends. We enjoyed the sun, fun, good food, good drink, laughter, love, and the making of so many memories. They are Kansas City Chief’s fans and it was a lot of fun getting to watch KC’s come-from-behind victory after dinner on Super Bowl Sunday.
We also enjoyed making new friends at the ship’s Alchemy Bar. The mixologists, Aleks, Brian, and Sonja became dear friends during the week. We learned from them and came to sincerely appreciate each one of them.
Below is a gallery of photos from our time in Florida and on the cruise. Enjoy.
A few months ago I posted about the chaotic season of travel into which Wendy and I were entering. Don’t get me wrong. It’s all good stuff! Nevertheless, the coming and going have left us grasping for even a few nuggets of normalcy and routine. We are on the downhill side of our gauntlet of travels. It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update. So, away we go…
Two weeks after our daughter, Madison’s, wedding weekend in South Carolina, Wendy and I flew to Mazatlan, Mexico. Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, got married to Emmanuel (a.k.a. Chino) in a gorgeous sunset wedding right on the shore of the Pacific. It was an amazing, multi-cultural event. Chino’s family speaks little or no English. Our family speaks very little Spanish. Nevertheless, there was no shortage of love, laughter, and warmth as we celebrated their wedding.
Our family rented a large condo right on the beach with lots of bedrooms and living space. I will say that the accommodations were in desperate need of updating, but it was still very comfortable. There was a lovely view of the ocean and the sounds of the surf resonated non-stop. When we opened both the doors to the condo and the patio doors to the balcony there was a constant ocean breeze that blew through the living area. It was really lovely.
On Friday evening we hosted the wedding rehearsal in our condo. A large contingent of both family and friends from Suzanna and Chino’s YWAM (Youth With A Mission) base gathered. Chino’s mother made an amazing, authentic Mexican meal for everyone. There was lots of love, laughter, and joy as Suzanna and Chino blended their worlds and prepared for their big day.
One of my favorite memories of the weekend was making multiple Walmart runs with my father-in-law. He desperately wanted some heavy cream for his coffee, but how do you say “heavy cream” in Spanish? We were shown the shelves of Coffee-Mate creamers (sorry, that’s not it) and found several cream products in the dairy case, but which one is the right one? It was a hoot.
The wedding day dawned and the condo was overrun with females. Cakes, flowers, dresses, and various other wedding accouterments were being baked, decorated, assembled, judged, revised, and improvised (rinse and repeat). I slipped onto the balcony with a cup of coffee and stayed out of the way.
The wedding venue was the courtyard of a home along the pacific shore north of Mazatlan. Wendy had joined Suzanna and the wedding party in getting their early. I joined my in-laws, including Aunt Barb, in a YWAM people mover with lots of young people (some of them holding cakes on their laps). As the people mover took off my mother-in-law pointed to the driver and asked me, “Does he know where he’s going?” I remember thinking, “I certainly hope so because I definitely don’t know where we’re going and I don’t speak Spanish!” All was well.
The outdoor venue was beautiful and the wedding began as the sun was setting in the Pacific Ocean behind the wedding couple. I had very little do to with anything, but Suzanna did ask me for suggestions of music to play as the bridesmaids and groomsmen entered. Suzanna asked me for something kind of moody and bluesy. I immediately suggested a song which she immediately loved. What she didn’t realize was that the song (I am Yours by Tracy Chapman) was one of the songs Wendy and played at our wedding. Suzanna was in our wedding, but I forgive her for not remembering. She was, like, ten years old. Anyway, it was awesome that the song began just as Wendy and her groomsman escort started towards the front. I got some nice looks from Wendy. She and I enjoyed the moment, for sure.
After the ceremony, we enjoyed a lovely catered meal as the sunset behind the wedding party. Wendy gave her sister a lovely toast (by that time she needed a little iPhone flashlight to see her notes). The dance was really a lot of fun. There may be cultural differences between the U.S. and Mexico, but everyone loves a wedding dance whether the music is Tejano or R&B. I even was blessed to get in a step or two with the beautiful bride that I’ll always treasure.
Here’s a gallery of photos from Mazatlan (Keep scrolling! There’s MORE afterwards!)
Christmas in London, New Year’s in Dublin
It seemed that we had no sooner gotten home than we were packing again. This time we were heading across the pond for Christmas with Taylor, Clayton, and our grandson, Milo. Taylor’s friend, who lives in London, offered her flat to us for the holidays. Wendy and I flew out of Des Moines on the 23rd (DSM-ORD-DUB-LHR) and arrived in London early on the 24th.
It was really a wonderful week together. We went to the annual Christmas concert at Royal Albert Hall and Milo was transfixed… for about ten minutes. It really was a cool event. We made it just past intermission before Milo throwing his cars at fellow concert-goers prompted us to beat the rush and head home.
We went for walks. We played in the park. Taylor made a wonderful Christmas meal complete with figgy pudding (ugh!) and brandy butter (yum!). We played Christmas games (balance an orange on your forehead for a minute), and binged the second season of Fleabag.
A lot of the week was simply spent enjoying one another’s company, but Taylor did a nice job of planning an itinerary that included about one event per day. We went to see the Christmas lights at Kew Gardens (spectacular). The adults got away for the Harry Potter studio tour at Warner Brothers (fantastic), and also got away for a show on the West End (The Play that Goes Wrong). Wendy and I found a pub that was playing the Iowa State vs. Notre Dame bowl game (depressing). It was a great week of just getting to spend time together with this trio that we miss so much.
Wendy and I flew out of London City airport on the 30th and made the short flight to Dublin. Our anniversary is New Year’s Eve, so we figured it would be a lot of fun to celebrate our 14th year of wedding bliss with a pint o’ Guinness on the Emerald Isle. Regretfully, our time there was far too short. We were blessed to have a room at the Westin, which is an old bank building. The hotel bar was in the old bank vaults in the basement. It was really pretty cool.
We didn’t arrive until late afternoon on the 30th. After settling in we took a stroll up Grafton Street and stopped to buy Wendy a charm for her bracelet to mark the occasion. We enjoyed a pint at the Stag’s Head pub, a place I’d enjoyed when I was in Dublin twenty years ago. We had dinner at the Exchequer before making our way back to the hotel for a night cap.
On New Year’s Eve day we took a hop-on hop-off bus tour of Dublin which allowed us to get a good overview of the sites. It also allowed Wendy to start planning our next trip to Dublin (“We are coming back here,” she informed me). We ate lunch at the Brazen Head Pub (which opened for business in the year 1098… that’s not a typo). We ended up back in the old bank vaults for a nibble and great conversation with the eclectic patrons sitting with us.
Just before midnight, we walked the block or two up to the River Liffey where thousands of revelers crowded the streets and we kissed in the year 2020 as fireworks exploded overhead.
Then we quickly high-tailed it back to the hotel and went to bed.
For the record, the last six weeks have been a non-stop whirlwind of travel both business and personal. And, that is going to continue for the next six weeks or so. Thus, my general lack of blog posts. I’m warning any of my regular readers that there may be more periodic interruptions to come through mid-February.
The BIGGEST event of late that I have yet to post about was our daughter, Madison’s, wedding in South Carolina on Nov 23rd. Here’s the down-low.
Wendy and I rented a house in Columbia for a week before the wedding so that Wendy could make six cheesecakes for the reception. Taylor, Clayton, and Milo arrived the same day as Wendy. It was the first time we’ve seen our grandson in almost a year, so getting a week with Milo was a big deal for us. I, however, had a business trip early that week and didn’t join the fam until late Wednesday night. Ironically, our friends Kev and Beck were on my flight from O’Hare to Columbia, so they were able to give me a lift to the rental house upon arrival, which was a treat.
Madison’s husband, Garrett, is a hometown boy from Columbia who played offensive line for the University of South Carolina Gamecocks back in the day (FYI: He played against Iowa in the 2009 Outback Bowl in which Iowa prevailed 31-10. I don’t really talk about this. He’s a very large man.). On Thursday afternoon Garrett gave all the guys a tour of the UofSC training facility along with a quick stop on the field of Williams-Brice Stadium. It was quite an eye-opener to get a behind-the-scenes look at Division 1 SEC football. Wow!
For those who are wondering, Garrett went to training camp with the Green Bay Packers but didn’t get signed. He played Arena league ball, including a brief stint with the Iowa Barnstormers.
The Columbia Museum of Art also had a rather rare exhibition of works by Van Gogh alongside works of other artists that inspired and informed his own paintings. It was kind of a cool opportunity to take that in with the kids late on Thursday afternoon.
On Thursday evening the whole family went out for barbeque before retiring back to the house to put Milo down and watch a few episodes of the new season of The Crown.
The wedding and reception were held at a historic southern mansion and gardens called Seibels House. Wedding ceremony outside in the garden. Reception inside as well as under a tent outside. The weather forecast had been iffy all week and the family all pitched in to set up chairs and tables in the rain on Friday as we prayed for a break in the rain to at least get the ceremony in the following afternoon. Wendy’s folks arrived in the afternoon and spent a few hours with us.
We gathered Seibels House for the rehearsal on Friday evening and briefly went over Plan B if things needed to be moved indoors. We then rehearsed the planned ceremony in the garden. The rehearsal dinner was a catered affair held on a rooftop patio in downtown Columbia where Garret’s father works.
The wedding day arrived and I’m glad to say that our prayers were answered. The rain held off until after the ceremony. Madison’s cousin (son of my sister Jody) officiated the wedding (Madison: “I just want you to be dad that day” which was awesome!) There were sprinkles and gentle rain on-and-off throughout the reception, but it didn’t dampen any of the festivities. Wendy’s cheesecake was, as usual, a huge hit. After the reception, Wendy and I met up with Kev and Beck at their rental for a glass of wine.
On Sunday, we went to Madison and Garrett’s church (Midtown Fellowship). It was Celebration Sunday and we enjoyed a very loud and raucous worship service as many people, young and old, were baptized. In the afternoon, the girls’ mom and her family hosted us all for a fabulous brunch at their rental. The happy couple opened some gifts (with Milo’s help, of course).
Sunday evening was spent eating pizza and watching television with Tay, Clay, and Milo. Sam was staying at the house with us, as well, for the entire weekend, but he took off by himself for Charleston and did a little sight-seeing on Sunday.
On Monday, we met up with Garrett and Madison for lunch at their favorite local taco joint. They had an awesome little courtyard in the back where Milo could run around and we could enjoy the sun.
It was an awesome weekend full of tons of love, laughter, and memories made. Madison and Garrett left the following day on a “mini-moon.” They spent a couple of days in a treehouse before joining Garrett’s family for Thanksgiving.
As for Wendy and me, we returned to Iowa with Taylor, Clayton, and Milo who stayed with us through mid-day on Black Friday. They, however, spent most of their time that week with Clayton’s family. After all the hoopla of the wedding week, Wendy and I enjoyed a quiet Thanksgiving day at home, alone, doing nothing and giving thanks for it.
Wendy and I knew that we were entering into a fall and winter 2019-2020 that was going to be jam packed with events and travel. We didn’t plan it that way. It just sort of evolved. So, we’re embracing it.
We considered last weekend the kick-off of the chaos. Long ago we’d planned a Twin Cities getaway. It just so happened that the Twins and Vikings had home games on the same weekend. Wendy and I got a hotel in between Target Field and U.S. Bank Stadium.
Friday night was unseasonably hot and humid as we trekked about a mile to Target Field. We had seats right behind home plate and found ourselves surrounded by professional baseball scouts with their stopwatches and clipboards. We had a fun evening watching the Twins beat the Royals.
Saturday was a day of simply being together. We walked about a mile to have a wonderful breakfast at Eggsy, then trekked back to the hotel where we hung out and watched the Iowa State football game. We dressed to the nines in the late afternoon and took an Uber to the Red Cow for dinner. There was a gorgeous, cool breeze and we walked back to the hotel, stopping at Finnegan’s Brewery for a pint.
Sunday morning we headed to the “mother ship,” U.S. Bank Stadium, and really enjoyed watching the Vikings beat the Raiders. It was a really fun getaway to launch a busy season.
Earlier this year we’d heard about an occasional event at one of Des Moines’ breweries, the Foundry, called “Hymns at the Hall.” We put it on our calendar to attend the next one, which was this past Thursday. We joined our friends, Kev and Beck, and ordered some food truck pizza for dinner as we waited for the festivities to begin. We didn’t realize that one of the organizers of the event is a good friend of Taylor and Clayton’s, and we ran into some of the kids’ peeps which was a lot of fun. A very festive evening of singing great hymns and enjoying some great craft brews.
Last night was our community theatre’s annual Awards Night. Last year Wendy was inducted to Union Street Players Walk of Fame. This year it was my turn. We were surrounded by our friends and I was given a wonderful, honoring introduction by Doug DeWolf. It was a really fun evening with our theatre community. Lots of laughter and reliving memories. I was both humbled and honored. We retired to the Vander Well Pub afterwards for some enjoyable conversation.
It’s been a while since I filled family and friends in on what’s been happening. Summer had already flown by and here we are moving into autumn.
As has been true for the past decade, our summer revolves around time at our place on Lake of the Ozarks. With increased responsibilities at work and church, I think we spent less time there this summer than ever. Nevertheless, we enjoyed what has become our traditional weekends with friends, along with a few weeks there by ourselves. Here’s a gallery from our time at the lake this summer:
The biggest news of the summer for our family was Madison’s engagement. She and Garrett traveled to Scotland to visit Tay, Clay, and Milo. While they were there, Garrett chose one of the most beautiful backdrops to a proposal ever. A November wedding is planed in Columbia, SC where they both live and will reside.
Wedding plans are in full swing. We flew Madison home for a few days in early August to talk finances and wedding plans. It worked out great for her to spend a little time with her mother and the grandparents. Grandpa Dean is making them a stained-glass piece for their wedding, so Madison got to look at the design and some of the glass colors he’s using.
Speaking of grandparents, it’s been a rough summer for my parents. Mom’s Alzheimer’s continues to slowly progress. Dad’s cancer is being held in check by oral chemo, but other issues (double vision, fainting, heart issues) have had him in what seems an endless loop of doctor and specialist visits. In July, dad spent 5 days in the hospital with what was diagnosed as a light stroke. He had another couple of days just a week or so ago for the installation of a pacemaker. I got to spend time with mom while dad was in the hospital, which I wrote about in a different post.
I had my own medical bout this summer. My annual dermatology exam found squamous cell carcinoma on my right ear. I had surgery to remove it and then contracted a nasty infection. I’m happy to say it has healed nicely and all is well.
Wendy and I have each been doing our thing to stay healthy. Wendy has been regularly doing yoga and this summer Wendy she began assisting our friend, Shay, who is opening her own studio. Meanwhile, I have been doing CrossFit for over a year now. My goal continues to be simply to keep showing up.
Taylor and her crew continue to live and flourish in Scotland. When we see them at Madison’s wedding it will be almost a year since we’ve been together. We get to regularly FaceTime with our grandson, Milo, which is always a treat. Typically, Taylor calls while Milo is the bathtub because it’s the only time the wee lad will sit still enough to talk to us. He’s calling us Papa and Yaya, which never ceases to melt our hearts.
Other highlights of the summer included finishing Phase 3 of our three-year landscaping project. My rose garden out back continues to grow and flourish, which makes me happy. I officiated a wedding this summer for a lovely young lady from church. Wendy and I hosted a company pool party for our team members and their families. We took in a little theatre. I had the joy of mentoring my friend Nathan for his profession of faith, and we celebrated at the Iowa Cubs game. I’ll leave you with a few photos from the summer: