Summer for Wendy and me has increasingly become a series of celebrations in recent years. The big three summer holidays (Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day) are the pillars of the season which we spend at the lake. Then there are minor celebrations and summer moments unique to each year’s trip around the sun.
This summer began with the annual VL, JP, VW Memorial Day gathering at the lake. When we started this tradition the eldest JP and VL children were babies. Now we have high school and middle schoolers enjoying the rays, waves, and lake fun.
June was marked by a visit from Wendy’s sister and her family. Wendy’s sister let us know that raising their daughter, Lydia, was like raising a “little Wendy.” Lydia let Aunt Wendy know that we’re welcome to adopt her. We also enjoyed the perks of having a brother in the sign business. Tim and Kumi stopped by on their never ending travels to install that sign that he designed and made for the Vander Well Pub.
After the year of COVID, I was feeling the need to get out of Dodge and indulge a growing case of wanderlust. What better way to appease both than the Great American Road trip? One week, three-thousand miles, and over fifty hours behind the wheel. Pella, Elkhart, Logansport, Richmond, Columbia, Gainesville, Little Rock, Sunrise Beach, and back home. I got to mix a little business with a little pleasure, as well as meeting a few old friends face-to-face. By the time I got home my body was a little stiff, but my soul was full.
Wendy and I continue to enjoy supporting our community (the coolest small town in America). We loved supporting the Pella Opera House at their annual gala. We also loved celebrating the Pella Historical Society on a gorgeous summer evening of Big Band music. The new Wyatt Earp experience (Did you know Wyatt Earp grew up in Pella, Iowa?!) is amazing.
The pinnacle of the summer was our Fourth of July week at the lake with the family. Tay, Clay, and Milo were back in the states for six weeks from their home in Scotland. They were with us for a week in Pella. We got to spend some time at the Atkins’ Oasis and Milo got to ride on the tractor with Papa. We then for a week at the lake. Madison and G (and Bertha) made the road trip from SC to join us all at the lake. It was so fun getting to introduce Milo to his first water slide ride, fun on the beach at Captain Ron’s, and swimming off the dock.
One of the worst parts of COVID has been the way it has kept us from being with people we love. We were, therefore, so excited to have our friends Kevin and Linda with us at the end of July for a visit. The visit was way too short, but we made the most of it doing the things we love: great food, great drink, cigars, laughter, love, and spirited conversation. We can’t wait to visit them in Palm Springs.
We were sad to see our Scottish crew go in August. Nevertheless, we were so excited to have Tay and Milo join us for one last night together and to join us at our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. Clay joined us for a final meal together in Pella. We also made a quick trip to DSM for one last hug before they left for home.
This summer was also marked by the arrival of two new nephews, bringing our total count of nieces and nephews to a baker’s dozen. Ian, born to Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, was born at home in Mexico. We can’t wait for the opportunity to meet him in person. Owen, born to Wendy’s brother, Lucas, arrived here in Iowa and we have enjoyed getting to hold him.
As always, Labor Day weekend marks the end of the summer. It has been a tradition for many years to toast the season’s finale with an adult weekend at the lake with the VLs and JPs. We did so again this year. It was a mellow weekend of good meals, good drink, and good conversation. Our friends left a few hours ago.
Wendy and I love the week after Labor Day at the lake. The crowds are gone, but the summer weather remains. We’re looking forward to working remotely this week and enjoying some time together in the quiet, by the water.
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” Ruth 1:20-21 (NIV)
Along my journey, I’ve known many people who I would describe as having been dealt a bad hand in this life. I have experienced multipole stretches of the journey in which I felt I was dealt a bad hand. There are unexpected tragedies, unforeseen illnesses, and circumstances that come out of left field. As I ponder things, I feel as if the entire world got dealt a bad hand the past year-and-a-half. It’s one of the realities of this earthly journey. Despite all the wonderful promises of name-it-and-claim-it televangelists, the Sage of Ecclesiastes reminds us of a hard reality: in this life there are times and seasons when things like death, war, tearing, weeping, searching, relational distance, mourning, and hate are our experience. In every time and season, we have to play the hand we’re dealt.
Today we begin the short story of Ruth, one of only two books of Great Story named after women. Ruth is one of a select handful of women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus, so her story is a meaningful chapter in the Great Story. It is set in the dark period of time known as the time of the Judges. The story begins with a woman, Naomi, to whom God deals and incredibly bad hand.
There is a famine in the land, and Naomi’s husband leads her and her sons to the foreign land of Moab in a search to find food. At first, it appears that they’re playing their cards right. They settle in, have food, and even find Moabite wives for their sons. There was nothing illegal with Hebrew men marrying Moabite women, though it will certainly raise some orthodox, prejudicial eyebrows if and when they should return home to the little town of Bethlehem (yep, that Bethlehem).
Then there’s a change in seasons, just like the Sage reminds us. Naomi’s husband dies. Then both of her sons die. For a woman in the dark age of the Judges, this was the worst hand God could deal her. Widows had no status, no viable means of income, and there was no social structure to provide for their needs. Naomi’s situation is essentially hopeless.
Naomi recognizes that the situation for her daughters-in-law is not as dire. They are young, beautiful, and have child-bearing years ahead of them. She urges them to “fold” their hand, stay in Moab, and trust that their local Moabite god will deal them a new and better hand. One takes her up on the offer, but Ruth chooses to ante up, stick with Naomi, stick with Naomi’s God, and see this hand through. On the surface, this is a bad decision. Being a Moabite widow in Bethlehem and expecting a positive result is about the longest odds one could imagine in the context of the times.
Sure enough, widow Naomi’s return to Bethlehem with her foreign, widowed daughter-in-law, has the two buzzing with gossip. Naomi sums up her situation by asking people to call her by a different name:
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara (which means “bitter”), because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
Bitter. What a great word for those times when I suddenly find myself playing a bad hand in life. Bitter at God. Bitter with the situation. Bitter that others seem to have it easier than me. Bitter that all the televangelist’s prophesies of my prosperity and the self-help guru’s promises of my success turn out to be null and void. Bitter that God dealt me this hand when He could have dealt me something different.
In the quiet this morning, I feel for Naomi, I mean Mara the Queen of bitter. I find myself recalling some of my top-ten bitter moments of this life journey even as I admit not one of them was nearly as dire or life-threatening as Naomi and Ruth. At the same time, I’m reminded that the Great Story is ultimately a redemption story that is layered with redemption stories. The way stories work, you can’t experience redemption without first experiencing the bitter. The bitter hand is the pre-requisite of redemption. I don’t experience the latter without the former.
It’s one of the lessons I’ve learned along this journey of following Jesus. When dealt a bad hand, never fold, because that assures perpetual bitterness. Playing out my hand is the only path to redemption, even against the longest of odds.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
Wendy and I were blessed to have the family together for a summer celebration at the lake. Taylor is our firecracker, born on the 4th of July. Taylor, Clayton, and Milo joined us on a trip to the lake on July 2nd. Madison and Garrett, along with Bertha, drove from South Carolina to join us on the Fourth. We had such an enjoyable time together.
We enjoyed time at the beach at Captain Ron’s. We swam off the dock and got lots of sun. We took the boat to Bear Bottom. Milo had his first experience driving the boat with Papa and going down the Water Slide. We had enjoyable family meals. We watched “Men in Kilts.” The SC crew headed back south after lunch at the Branding Iron. A good time was had by all.
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.
I got to wear a sombrero like Shay, when my bud Matthew took me out for lunch to celebrate my birthday at the end of April. Actually, Kev, Beck and I all have birthdays within 13 days of one another, so it’s become a tradition to get together to celebrate each year. This year the celebration was in Pella. We enjoyed some time at the Peanut Pub and the rooftop of Butcher’s Brewhuis before retiring to Vander Well Manor with George’s Pizza.
Tulip Time and Mother’s Day2021
There was a modified Tulip Time this year, but at least it didn’t get completely cancelled like it did last year. Wendy and did our annual turn as Pella’s founding couple. We make a couple of pop-up appearances each day of the festival to give a little spiel about the history of Pella. There was a great turnout for the festival and, as usual, we got stopped many times each day to have our pictures taken with new friends from all over.
Not to be redundant, but the year of Covid-19 was a year of a lot of redundancy in so many ways. Mother’s Day (the Sunday of Tulip Time weekend) we hosted Wendy’s grandma, folks, and my folks. Wendy’s brother, Josh, was also back in Iowa for a visit. We had a light lunch and shared family stories around the table. It was good, once again, just to be together.
And, there you have it. The highlights of the past year. More memories to be made this weekend as Memorial Day kicks off another summer.
In the fall of 2018, m’luv Wendy was inducted into our local community theatre’s Walk of Fame. She gave me the honor of introducing her that evening. As I was going through some old files this weekend, I found the text of the introduction that I prepared and delivered that night. Please indulge me. I’d like to post this tribute to Wendy so that it will be preserved on the world-wide interweb until, and perhaps beyond, the apocalypse. She deserves that.
“I have taken a billion photographs of Wendy. I take a lot of photographs period, and over the years I’ve noticed that I have this mysterious internal catch in my spirit when a certain photograph rises to the level of a personal favorite. I don’t always know why. I just know it’s special, and I have to spend time with it to figure it out. This photograph of Wendy is one of those. I’ve meditated on why it’s special and I’d like to share a few reasons why.
The first time I saw Wendy Hall was in the same place this photograph was taken. Our daughter Taylor and I were new residents of Pella and had been cast in USP’s South Pacific. We sat at the back of the Joan Kuyper Farver Auditorium as Wendy, Prop Master for the show, made her way to the front to make an announcement. I saw her from behind just like this photograph as she strode with purpose and intensity up the aisle toward the stage. First impressions. Oh my, that hair – which I’ve come to love as metaphorical of the wild-child, the explosion of passion tinged with red.
Wendy stood on that stage and gave the well-known rule for all large cast shows filled with children and teens: “Look!” she said, “Rule number one! If it’s not yours, DON’T TOUCH IT!” That little bit of a thing with the wild, red-streaked hair spoke with such assured, intense authority. I knew in that moment I was NOT going to touch a prop that wasn’t mine. I was a little scared.
In this photo, we see Wendy in the off-stage darkness, which is where I first got to actually know Wendy Hall during South Pacific. What I learned about Wendy back stage is that she knew theatre, she cared about doing theatre well, and in her arena of responsibility things were going to be done well down to the minute details. While on-stage as Captain Brackett, I had to eat a sandwich.
“What kind of sandwich do you like?” she asked me in one early rehearsal.
“Why?” I asked honestly, caught off-guard by the question.
“If you have to eat a sandwich on stage it might as well be something you like,” she responded as if it was the most logical question in the world.
But as a stage veteran, it wasn’t the most logical question in the world. Anyone who’s been involved in theatre of any kind, especially in community theatre, knows that props are thrown together at the last minute using whatever is expedient by half-hearted volunteers who aren’t sure what they’re doing. I expected a sandwich that was two slices of cheap white bread hastily purchased at the Dollar General before tech rehearsal two weeks ago and by opening night it’s dry and crusty with hints of mold.
But Wendy Hall was in charge. She was Prop Master. You’re going to have a freshly made sandwich, a real sandwich that is something you like. Because, I was Commander Bracket (dammit!), and Commander Bracket would eat a sandwich he wanted prepared for him by the mess cook.
In one of my South Pacific scenes, I had to sit on stage for a period of time while action and dialogue were focused elsewhere. During the final weeks of rehearsal, each night I found on Captain Bracket’s desk clipboard different things to read. A Shakespeare sonnet one night, a list of corny jokes the next, a Robert Frost poem. Prop Master Wendy Hall figured if you have to sit there on stage looking at a clipboard you might as well have something interesting to read. I’d never met a Prop Master or Stage Manager who cared about the actors and their experience down to the smallest of details.
An unknowing person looking at this photograph is likely to see only a dark, contrasting figure. A two-dimensional shape: “Female figure in black.” Over the years I’ve observed that people who don’t really know Wendy, this is what they see. A simple figure contrasted by her intensity, her strong opinions, her kick-butt and take-charge attitude which is so easy to dismiss just as simply: Female figure in black.
I look at this photo and observe she is not in the spotlight but in the shadows off-stage because Wendy, the amazingly capable and talented leading lady, has no need for the spotlight. In fact, she does her best work on-stage during the rehearsal process. Her best work off-stage is in the shadows where she is intensely focused on what’s happening on-stage and thinking of every detail that will make this production sing – not just for the audience but for the actors and the crew members. She cares, not just for the show that takes place on stage but the experience of the entire production from the first audition to the post-production cast party. Those who only see and hear an oft intense director demanding exactly what she expects and exactly the ways she wants it do not see her on the couch at home obsessing about actors not having to be at rehearsal if they don’t have to be, parents being able to count on a well-thought-out rehearsal schedule that will make for worry-free planning, or people having a great experience from first to last.
When I look at the woman in this photograph I see someone who knows what she’s doing. She’s standing tall, intensely focused, doing the work, orchestrating the action; Pen in one hand and the other hand open and ready to edit the show and the production if they are the right changes to advance the quality of the show and the good of the whole.
From 2003 through 2017 Wendy has been credited with 43 roles in USP productions, only 12 of them as an actor. Seven of those 12 roles I had the privilege of playing opposite her, and there is no one I would rather be on stage with than Wendy because I’ve rarely met another actor who shares my passion for the process of bringing a character to stage. Thirty-one of Wendy’s roles were off-stage roles: Producer, Director, Assistant Director, Front of House, Make-up, Costumes, Props, Publicity – she’s done it all and that doesn’t count some 15 years of continuous service on the USP Board of Directors, organizing Award Nights, helping organize Drama Camp registrations, Picnics, Costume Shop help, and of course making lots-and-lots of cheesecake.
The final thing I want to point out in this photo is the mystery it makes me feel. You don’t see this woman. You don’t really see her. You see just an impression of her. When I look at this photo, I both enjoy the mystery and experience the selfish satisfaction of being a secret keeper. I do know her. I have been granted the privilege of seeing what no one else sees.
My theme song for Wendy, and I’m not sure I’ve ever shared this with anyone, contains these lyrics:
Tonight as I stand inside the rain Ev’rybody knows That Baby’s got new clothes But lately I see her ribbons and her bows Have fallen from her curls She takes just like a woman, yes, she does She makes love just like a woman, yes, she does And she aches just like a woman But she breaks just like a little girl
In this journey of theatre with Union Street Players I have shared her public triumphs and wiped away her private tears. I can tell that both spring from love: love of God, love of doing things well, love of theatre, love of this crazy organization, and most of all love for each of you with a depth and passion you likely know not – from this two-dimensional, female figure in black.
May I present to you my leading lady, my best producer, my life director, my muse, and my partner on Life’s journey. M’luv! And the newest member of Union Street Players Walk of Fame, Wendy Vander Well...”
The last time I shared an update of what the family has been up to, it was March. Wendy and I had just completed the longest stretch of travel in the shortest amount of time in our lives. Our sojourns included but were not limited to Madison’s wedding in Columbia, SC, Suzanna’s wedding in Mazatlan, Mexico, Christmas in London, New Year’s in Dublin, and our vacation and cruise in Florida and the Caribbean. That doesn’t include all of my work travel between those trips. Basically, between October and March, I was at home less than 50% of the time. So my last update on this blog happened after Wendy and I had just returned from a cruise with our friends and there was rising concern about this pesky little virus from China.
That seems like it was another lifetime. From non-stop travel to staying at home all the time. What a contrast.
So, I guess I should start off by letting everyone know that everyone in our family is healthy and safe. Living in a small town in rural Iowa has its advantages. For Wendy and me, that means a total of only 73 cases of COVID-19 in our county with zero deaths. A few of Wendy’s family members had the virus but quarantined and were fine.
So let’s go back in time…
(Love that meme!)
Right before our cruise and right before COVID lockdown, Wendy and I had been asked if we would allow our home to be the location for a special birthday blow-out for our friend, Sarah. Of course, we said “yes,” and we loved that our home could be used for the event. It was a great night of meeting lots of new people, serving as hosts to our friends and their guests, and celebrating Sarah’s big day.
Of course, right after we returned from our cruise the world stopped. All of my business travel was canceled. The lockdown also happened right before St. Patrick’s Day, which happens to be one of our favorite holidays. Thankfully, the Vander Well Pub right down the stairs in our basement. Wendy and I celebrated in a private affair.
For a couple of months, Wendy and I barely got out of the house. In some ways, it was a nice change from the plethora of travel we’d just finished. Like most people, we took the opportunity to accomplish tasks that had been on the to-do list for years. This included stringing up a shade-sail and lights over our patio. We were so excited to use the grill for the first time this spring.
Our kids, Madison and Garrett, made a brief weekend visit (they were the only passengers on the plane) to Iowa in early April. Because my parents (who had never met Garrett in person) were unable to attend the wedding in South Carolina and Garrett had never been to Pella, they wanted to make the trip and it was awesome to have them. Of course, they couldn’t actually meet my parents in lockdown, but they stood on the sidewalk and spoke to them through the folks’ second-story window. C’est la vie.
About that time, I was playing a little driveway basketball with m’man, Nathan, and took a tumble while chasing the basketball into the yard. In one swift move, age met with athletically-challenged coordination. I chipped an ankle bone, strained my Achilles tendon, and tore my calf. Ugh. Welcome to weeks of crutches and sleeping in a recliner followed by several weeks on hobbling in a bionic-boot.
I continue to teach on occasion among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers and volunteer in leading the teaching team, but even that has been weird. Like most churches, we went to live-streaming the service from an empty sanctuary to those watching on YouTube at home. This year, Wendy made a lovely Easter breakfast and we ate as we attended Sunday services on the couch in our living room.
On a couple of occasions, I also got the chance to join our friend, Jenny, in hosting the eerily Today-like pre-and-post-service on-air chat.
Wendy and I made good use of the patio on my birthday. Of course, COVID meant that the celebration was limited, so we invited the VLs (who moved into the neighborhood! Woot! Woot!) over to cookout and celebrate one more orbit around the sun.
Of course, celebrating May fourth is always important.
Spring is when Wendy and I are usually busy portraying our town’s founding couple at the annual Pella Tulip Festival. The festival was canceled along with every other event in the known world, but by May things were starting to begin a scaled opening and we were desperately ready to get out of the house. Our friends Kev and Beck brought their kids to Pella for a day of enjoying the tulips, even if there was no festival.
While our business has been, understandably, slow, Wendy has kept busy this year working as the studio manager of a new yoga here in Pella: Selah Studio. The studio is owned by our friends the VLs and it has been holding classes in various rented spaces while they got the studio space uptown ready for prime time. Wendy and I were so excited when we got the opportunity to join them to pray over and bless the space.
In the world of COVID-correctness we tried very hard to balance being safe and wise with continuing to live life. While we stayed away from most social situations, we considered our inner-circle of friends the “family” with whom we do life. So it was, that Wendy and her girlfriends decided to have an old-fashioned girls’ sleepover at our house and I was politely asked to vacate the premises for a night and a day. So, my friend Kev and I took his son, Harry, to the lake for a little male rite-of-passage weekend before the young man headed off to forge his own path in life. This dudes weekend with father and son had been discussed for years. I was so glad we finally got to make it happen!
Our “family” normally spends Memorial Day at the lake together, so we kept up our tradition. Always a fun time with the crew.
My folks continue to hang in there through the COVID craziness. Their retirement community locked down pretty tight, but they were given a special dispensation to go to the lake for a long weekend with me and my sister. We tried to remember the last time we spent a weekend together, just the four of us, which we figured was probably sometime in the late 1980s. It was a great weekend reliving memories and spending time together at the Playhouse. Dad and I fixed the dock light together. Jody and I helped dad alter his Memoji so that it actually looked like him. We went for boat rides, spent the mornings on the deck and the afternoons on the dock. It was a great time of making memories.
As June continued we realized a years-long dream of getting the friends together for a Godfather night. The JPs and VLs came to VW Manor for a really amazing Italian dinner. Wendy made Chicken Parmesan (so good) and fresh-baked Italian bread (so, so good). Dinner was followed by a showing of the original Godfather. After the movie, we enjoyed Cannoli (yes, we left the gun) as we talked about the movie. It was awesome.
As for the rest of our crew: Tay, Clay, and Milo are still living in Edinburgh, Scotland (way too far away for Papa and Ya-Ya’s liking). A HUGE congratulations are in order for Clayton for finishing his doctorate from the University of Edinburgh while navigating life with a new and unexpected wee-one. Clay has been hired to participate in a three-year research project, and we’re really proud of him. Milo is two-and-a-half years old and is totally into dinosaurs and fire trucks. Taylor continues to work for storii.com and loves advancing the cause of care for Alzheimer’s and Dementia in our world. They recently got out of lockdown and celebrated Taylor’s 30th birthday with their favorite team of Iowa ex-pats in Scotland.
Meanwhile, Madison and Garrett purchased their first house in Columbia, South Carolina and they adopted our first-ever granddog, Bertha. Garrett continues in medical device sales and Madison continues to work in development for the Governor’s STEM high school in South Carolina.
So, that’s the skinny on February through June 2020. Cheers!
Hey everyone. Just a quick note to let you know that I’ve changed my podcast host from WordPress (the host of my blog) to Anchor, which will distribute the podcast to various platforms using a new feed.
Bad news: If you subscribed previously on Apple iTunes or GooglePlay then you will likely not be getting new episodes until both of those platforms change to my new feed. Sorry. I will continue to post the audio at the top of each chapter-a-day post so you can always listen to it there.
Good news: Anchor has already established the new feed on Spotify for those of you who are on Spotify. Simply for “Wayfarer” or “Tom Vander Well” under “Podcasts” on Spotify and click “Follow.”
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!)