Category Archives: Wayfarer’s Journal

A Spring Weekend in So Cal

It’s been a week since my last post and I’ve been on a bit of an unexpected hiatus. Last Thursday Wendy and I arose at 3:30 a.m. to catch an early flight to southern California for a long holiday weekend. We spent Thursday and Friday in La Jolla where we had a chance to spend some get-to-know-you time with our company’s newest Board member and his lovely wife.

Winter seems determined to hold its icy grip on Iowa, and so it was lovely to enjoy the warmth of the California sun. After checking into our room at the La Valencia, we got to stroll along the ocean in La Jolla and watch the seals and sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks. We enjoyed some amazing gelato at Bobboi Natural Gelato as we walked, and ended up at the back deck of We Olive & Wine Bar where we enjoyed a glass of wine and a charcuterie plate as we looked out over the ocean. Tony and Joy joined us for a few minutes to make introduction and secure the plans for the evening.

We dined Thursday evening at Catania where we sat on the deck and watched the sun set over the ocean as we dined. Thoroughly enjoyed our meal and conversation with Tony and Joy. After dinner we strolled through some of the galleries in La Jolla. One of the galleries was dedicated to the work of Dr. Seuss, who lived and worked in La Jolla. We learned that La Jolla was the inspiration for Dr. Seuss’ “Hooville.” There was also an amazing National Geographic gallery in which their award winning photography was transformed into amazing works of art. By the time we got to bed it had been a 20 hour day.

On Friday morning we had breakfast at Starbucks before rejoining Tony and Joy. Joy and Wendy spent most of the morning in a local book store while Tony and I talked business in his office. We gathered back together late in the morning spent some time chatting on their rooftop deck before enjoying lunch together at George’s at the Cove. After lunch Wendy and I checked out and headed to Palm Springs.

Traffic was completely nuts, so Google Maps took us on a circuitous route through the backroads of So Cal. What would have been a 2.5 hour trip without traffic ended up being about 3.5 hours and we arrived in Palm Springs about 5:30. We dropped off our rental at the airport where friends Kevin and Linda picked us up. We dropped our bags off at their place and then headed to the Tropicale for dinner.  We adjourned back to Kevin and Linda’s for a nightcap and cigar on their deck.

On Saturday we enjoyed a lazy morning with Kevin and Linda. Kevin and I did a read through of Freud’s Last Session by the pool. We headed to Maracas for lunch. We’d been there last year and fell in love with their queso with chorizo. We’d really looked forward to having it again and weren’t disappointed. Wendy and went to the hat shop and bought new chapeaus (I think that’s going to be a tradition!). We napped in the afternoon and then got ready for dinner at Il Giardino. We strolled up the strip after dinner and grabbed Ben and Jerry’s for dessert before retiring back to Kevin and Linda’s for the requisite conversation and night cap on their deck.

We were up early on Sunday and spent a long Easter Sunday flying back to Iowa.

It was a wonderful weekend, though I’m learning that age is catching up with me. The long days and short nights took more of a toll than I expected. It’s taken a few days of extra sleep to get caught back up and my morning quiet time and chapter-a-day routine has been sacrificed. Hoping to get back into the normal routine starting tomorrow!

Recap of our Caribbean Cruise

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:

2018 Caribbean Cruise 01
A pre-trip bevy at the Des Moines Airport prior to take-off.

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.

2018 Caribbean Cruise 02
Waiting at the hotel for our shuttle to take us to the Cruise Port.

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.

2018 Caribbean Cruise 04
Our suite was very enjoyable. Lots of room, plenty of storage, and extremely comfortable.

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.

Gotta love men in kilts.

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).

The sun sets on another lovely cruise.

Here are some of my photos from the week:

Our Week With Milo (Oh, and Taylor Too)

Last week was a special one for Wendy and me. Our daughter, Taylor, and new grandson, Milo, came for a week while Clayton was in Africa working on a research project. It was awesome to get tons of cuddle time and to be able to help Taylor out as she continues the three-hour feed n’ sleep regimen. Thankfully the Winter Olympics were on pretty much 24/7 so we got to enjoy that. Even Milo got in on the act thanks to his mommy’s amazing graphic art skills. Milo even came with us on Sunday morning and listened to Papa give the message.

I’ll admit that Papa Tom got a wee bit “misty” from time to time as I rocked, walked, cuddled, and sang a few rusty lullabies from 25 years ago.

I’ve had a lot of grandparents give me a steady stream of cliches about being a grandparent:

  • “It’s the greatest thing ever!”
  • “It’s so much fun!”
  • “Being a grandparent is more fun than being a parent!”
  • “You get to spoil them and then send them home!”

Last week proved that it’s definitely all true.

The Latest 02-05-2018

It’s been a while since I’ve updated family and friends on the latest happenings with Wendy, me and the crew. Here’s the latest…

The best Christmas gift 2018: Milo James Vander Well!
  • Our grandson, Milo, is doing really well. Arriving five weeks early and weighing in an ounce over five pounds, he’s now over eight pounds and growing. Taylor and Clayton are still adjusting to life on a three-hour sleep cycle and all of the regular challenges of a newborn. We, of course, don’t get nearly enough of him but an extended visit to grandpa and grandma’s house is coming up and we’re excited.
Sharing the message in the Auditorium services at Third Church.
  • January 1, 2018 meant two transitions for me. First, I was named CEO of C Wenger Group (CWG) the company I’ve worked for since 1994. My transition into leadership has been long planned, but the exact timing has not. A few months ago my business partner and I agreed that the timing was right, so I’ve not had long to prepare. Functionally, things won’t change much in the near term other than taking on entirely new layer of administrative work and responsibilities while I set the course for our company’s future. Second, I have accepted a slightly larger role in the auditorium services at Third Church. This means preaching a little more often [FYI: you can find messages on the TRC channel on YouTube or through the TRC website] and consistently taking the leadership role in Sunday services.

  • Wendy and I officially stepped down from leadership in Union Street Players, our local community theatre, after 12/13 years of service on the Board of Directors. We didn’t exactly know the other transitions were coming, but felt that it was time and now we feel the synchronicity of it. We will still volunteer and support USP and be in shows when the timing is right.

  • Wendy continues to work for CWG and her administrative gifts have already become invaluable in helping me with my new realities. She’s been volunteering some of her time at the Pella Opera House in recent weeks.

  • We’re headed on a Caribbean cruise in a few weeks, and can’t wait for 7 days away from the Iowa winter.
Madison with Grandma Jeanne.
  • Madison continues to work for Laura Geller New York from her home in South Carolina. She’s doing great and has settled into community there.
  • My folks are doing well in their retirement community and continue to reside in independent living. Dad continues oral chemo for his Multiple Myeloma and cares for mom with love and fidelity. Mom is her doctor’s oldest surviving Auto-Immune Hepatitis patient and continues to battle Alzheimer’s as best she can.

  • Taylor and Clayton are in Des Moines focused on little Milo. Clayton is doing a short research project for the UN in February which is a great feather in his cap. Taylor is on maternity leave for a few more weeks and then will return to her job at ThinkDigital.
Celebrating Suzanna’s birthday this past fall.
  • Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, has started a successful career with a bonding company in Des Moines and is living in the Des Moines area.
So thankful for the family and friends who fill our lives with so much love!

Christmas 2017

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.

Wendy with her mom and grandma.

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 holds her nephew, Milo, for the first time.

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.

Madison with Grandma Jeanne.

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.

Methinks Grandma Wendy is in love.

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.

The Honorable Badge of “Papa”

(Note to regular readers: It’s a crazy busy week and I’m taking a little hiatus from my chapter-a-day posts! You’re welcome to check out the archive and choose a favorite book, chapter, or simply grab something at random!)

A few years ago we were at the lake with our good friends, the VL family. My little buddy, Aaron, was only a couple of years old and he just naturally started calling me “Papa” in the course of natural conversation (this was their family nomenclature for “grandpa”). Aaron wasn’t doing this consciously. I was an old man with a lot of gray hair and the important old men he knew in his life were his grandfathers. His folks made a valiant attempt to correct him, but as he wasn’t doing it consciously I could tell that little Aaron didn’t understand what he was doing wrong. When he looked at me, he saw “Papa Tom.” I quietly cherished the moment, and pinned it to my soul as a badge of honor.

This life journey courses with a certain natural flow and I long ago gave up trying to hurry it up or slow it down. It is what it is. Embrace the moment and keep pressing on. I confess that Aaron calling me “Papa” made me really look forward to the day when, God willing, I would get to pin that badge on for real. But, I’ve been content to wait for it to happen if/when it’s meant to happen.

Yesterday, it happened. Our daughter Taylor gave birth to Milo James and I am so excited to enter this new stretch of life’s journey as Grandpa, Papa, Gramps, Bampy, Opa, Geepa, PawPaw, or whatever crazy version of the word that little Milo might come up with. Looking forward to all the experiences ahead watching him embark on his own journey, and can’t wait to offer a little support, wisdom and lots of love along the way.

Life is good.