Tag Archives: 2015

My Photos: 2015

Last year I put together a slideshow of some of my favorite photos from 2014. I thought I would continue the tradition again this year. So, for Photo Friday, here is a compilation of some of my favorite photos from the year 2015. Some of them are favorites because I liked the shot from a photographic point-of-view, and others are favorites simply because of the moment and the memory.


Christmas 2015

Wendy and I have been excited to celebrate Christmas for the first time here on Utrecht Laan. Wendy got to work early getting Christmas decorations up this year, which inspired a desire for changes and additions next year. Let the after-Christmas sale shopping begin!!

Having said that, Christmas itself was a reminder of the transitional phase of life we are in. Suzanna has been home working on Christmas break, but she headed to Ankeny on Christmas Eve day to spend the weekend with Mom and Dad Hall. So we opened gifts with her before she left.

Wendy is so cute to individually wrap all of the various knick-knacks in the girls’ stockings. She is right that it feels a little bit more like Christmas gifts when you have to unwrap the roll of Scotch tape, but the girls all seem to love it. Suzanna decided to identify each item before unwrapping it like the Carnac the Magnificent (here’s a video for those of you too young to know who that is). I think she batted a thousand.

That left the house relatively empty for Christmas Eve as Taylor was in Des Moines with family. So, Wendy and I attended the 4:30 pm. Christmas Eve service at Third. It was a really nice service. I don’t think I made it through a Christmas carol without tearing up. It is said that Jesus “takes away your heart of stone, and gives you a heart of flesh.” The older I get, the softer and softer I find my heart becoming. As I stood there during O Holy Night with tears streaming down my cheeks unable to get the words out, I thought to myself that if this keeps up, by 65 you’ll be able to find me simply by looking for the perpetually blubbering old guy in the corner of the room! We ran into Cyndi and Megan in Fellowship Hall after the service and got to chat with them for a bit.

Knowing that we were going to be home alone on Christmas Eve, Wendy and I planned a special meal just the two of us. We have a recipe for Filet Mignon in a red wine sauce that we pull out for special occasions. I took care of the steak and Wendy maee her sweet potatoes. We opened our very last bottle of 2009 Warburn Estates Barossa Shiraz, an Australian favorite of ours that is no longer available in the States. It was a wonderful meal.

I pulled the guitar out after dinner. I haven’t played in a long time, and serenaded Wendy as we relaxed. Taylor arrived home later in the evening and we received a visit from her friend, Andrew, who is home from California. The four of us enjoyed a drink in the pub downstairs before the two of them headed off to midnight mass.

Madison is flying over the holidays. She had to arrange her schedule as a flight attendant so that she could be off most of the first half of December to study for, and finish, her finals. That left her putting in a lot of hours over the holidays.

Thus, it was just Wendy, Taylor, and me on Christmas morning. Wendy made her traditional Christmas breakfast. We had French Toast this year made with her homemade bread along with eggs, bacon, sausage and the typical fare. Delicious and delightful as always. There had been just a dusting of snow on Christmas Eve so as to make the landscape outside the dining room windows frosty. We stoked the fireplace and enjoyed ourselves.

We opened gifts after breakfast. Madison joined us by FaceTime and we got to watch her unwrap the AA batteries in her stocking before she headed out to take care of passengers in the friendly skies.

While the girls cleaned up I took one of Wendy’s Dutch Letter Cheesecakes over to the church. Our church does a big community meal for anyone and everyone every Christmas and Wendy donated one of her cheesecakes. When I took it in and revealed it to the volunteers in the kitchen you should have heard the “oooohs” and “aaahs.” It was really sweet.

We cleaned up and headed to Des Moines around noon. My parents moved into a retirement community earlier this year. They live independently, but the facility provides them with great community, a meal day, and proximity to the help they need when they need it. Dad’s chemo has done its job, keeping Multiple Myeloma at bay. The treatment is on-going, however, and takes its toll on dad’s body in other ways. We’re still very thankful that he’s doing so well. Mom’s Alzheimer’s is still in the early stages and continues to progress (she hadn’t forgotten how to beat us all at cards!).

Dad reserved the community room in their building for the afternoon on Christmas Day. Everyone brought goodies to share, though it was a rather small gathering this year. My brother Tim and his girlfriend, Kumi, were up from Texas. Jody and Emma joined us from the Keithley clan along with Wendy, Taylor and me. It was a quiet afternoon. We ate, chatted, and exchanged gifts before settling in for playing a few card games together. The three of us headed back to Pella around 6:00.

Christmas with the Vander Hart clan was at our house this year. It took place on Sunday afternoon. Wendy, Taylor and I went to the 11:00 service at church. Wendy was mobbed by multiple people telling her that her Dutch Letter Cheesecake had been a huge hit at Christmas dinner. She was thrilled. After church we high-tailed it back to the house in time for the VH brood to arrive. They were, as usual, almost all early.  More and more goodies (ugh! Sugar overdose!) and conversation flowed. We were so excited to see Becky, Court, and our darling little niece, Lydia. It had been way too long.

Christmas 2015 - 36 Christmas 2015 - 37

On Wednesday night we headed to Ankeny to celebrate Christmas with the Hall clan. Luke’s fiancé, Brooke, joined us for Christmas for the first time. It was a fairly small gathering, however. Beck, Court, and Lydia were there with us and Lydia was the center of attention (though I’m not sure she was thrilled with all the attention!). We had lasagna and soup along with the requisite spritz cookies for dessert. We opened gifts after supper and then enjoyed spirited conversation about the presidential race along with the family enjoying reminiscing about their memories of living in Albia and Norwalk.

Thanksgiving 2015

Our first Thanksgiving here at Vander Well Manor in the Pella Theatre District, and the family from both sides came our way to break in the digs. It was my first time cooking the Thanksgiving turkey, but I’m happy to report it went really well. By the time the family arrived the house was filled with an amazing aroma.

Anyone who know Wendy knows m’love does hospitality right. We had appetizers and wine as the house filled with the din of family conversation. The kitchen and the dinner was well planned like the D-Day invasion. Because there were 16 of us, we had to split the crew. The elders feasted in the dining room while the five youngest (along with Uncle Scott) dined nearby in the Great Room.

Dessert was a splendid spread of goodies provided by all. The men enjoyed a little nip of single-malt downstairs at the V-Dub Pub. I had several family members who came into the studio for a little photo portrait, which was a lot of fun. Madison, who was spending Thanksgiving working on a term paper in an Asheville, North Carolina hotel room, joined us for a FaceTime visit.

Driving rain and falling temps chased everyone away far sooner than we would have preferred. I get it. They wanted to get home before the rain turned to ice and snow. So did we, really. We’ll rest easier tonight knowing that everyone is resting, all snug in their beds, with visions of Christmas dancing in their heads.

After a generous dose of clean-up, Taylor, Suzanna, Wendy and I watched This is Where I Leave You which was a wonderful way to end a family holiday. We then settled in for a little Thanksgiving football and relaxation. I didn’t get a Thanksgiving nap, so I think an early bedtime will have to do.

So thankful today for family, friends, loved ones, and blessings innumerable.

Top Five: Thanksgiving

Wendy and I are hosting Thanksgiving this year and the house will be packed with both my family and hers. For Top Five Tuesday, here are the Top Five Things I’m looking forward to on Thursday:

  1. Gathering with loved ones, quieting our hearts for just a minute, holding hands, and thanking God together for the abundant blessings He’s showered on us.
  2. Making the Thanksgiving turkey for the first time (say a prayer…for all of us!).
  3. Having so many family members together around the table (there will be 16 of us! Yikes!).
  4. The pre-feast goodies, the feast, and the dessert.
  5. Afternoon games, conversations, and naps.


featured photo by Satya Murthy via Flickr

These Cubs Aren’t Following the Narrative

This Cubs team is not sticking to the narrative. The narrative is legendary. It is mythical in proportion, and as a long time Cubs fan you begin to trust the narrative like the you trust the impending arrival of winter.

Our friends Kevin and Linda experienced the narrative when they made a pilgrimage to Wrigley Field this past summer to watch the Cubs play the rival Cardinals in the friendly confines. The Cubs had a 5-4 lead in the rainy 9th inning. Two outs. Two strikes. Wrigley was rocking and the fans were pumped to take the mid-season series at home. Then the narrative kicked in. Jhonny Peralta belts a two run homer off Pedro Strop. Once again, our hopes are dashed at the moment we were about to experience eucatastrophy.

Soaring hopes tragically dashed. That’s the narrative. The ’84 Cubs get to the postseason for the first time since 1945 then watch Steve Garvey take our hopes away. The ’03 Cubs up 3-1 in the NLCS and the Wrigley faithful preparing for our first trip to the World Series since World War II. Then the narrative kicks in with a fly ball to left, an angry outburst from Moises Alou, and it all unravels before our eyes as the Marlins take three straight and go on to win the World Series. The ’07 and ’08 Cubs packed with all-stars and raising our hopes with stellar regular season play. Then the narrative kicks in early we couldn’t eek one postseason win in either year.

“That’s the Cubs,” Cardinal fans laugh with smug arrogance as they smooth out the wrinkles on their latest World Champions t-shirt. That’s the narrative and this is our lot.

Last night Wendy and I stood in our living room and watched Hector Rondon take the mound against the rival Cardinals in the 9th inning. Up two runs and here we are again. We’re just a few outs away from going to the NLCS. We’re just a few outs away from beating the dreaded Cardinals in the postseason for the first time in history. This is when the narrative kicks in. This is when the meltdown happens. This is when Peralta homers, or a Cubs player trips on a shadow, or a black cat appears and steals the eucatastrophic moment from us all.

Then, a strange realization creeped into my conscious thought as I stood stood there behind the couch and felt the adrenaline rush I have not experienced since 2003. This Cubs team is not following the narrative. This batch of talented youngsters and their aged hippie Manager seem to know nothing of Billy Goats or curses or mythic narratives. This is not our father’s Cubs teams running from the past and feeling the pressure of the ages. With the death of Ernie Banks this past spring, his spirit seems to have been freed to descend on this group of boys. These young men in Cubbie blue pinstripes are playing with joy. They are living in the moment. They are rewriting the narrative.

Swing and a miss. Strike three. Cardinals vanquished. Cubs win!

I make no predictions. This young, inexperienced team may yet fall short to the Dodgers or the Mets. The Cardinals are not the only team who know the Cubs’ narrative. Nevertheless, I wake up this morning and look out the window to see the “W” flag wafting over Vander Well Manor. We beat the Pirates in Pittsburgh. We beat the Cardinals at Wrigley. It’s the first time we’ve beat the Cardinals in the postseason in history. It’s the first time a Cubs team has ever won a postseason series at Wrigley. It’s the first time a team with so many rookies has won so many games, made it to the postseason, and hit so many home runs. And on, and on, and on it goes.

These 2015 Cubs appear to be rewriting the narrative. I can’t wait to find out what kind of story we get to experience in the coming week.

Blood Moon

Blood Moon - 1

Last night we had a spectacular view of the lunar eclipse from our back porch. Wendy, Taylor and I stood outside and watched the event. It was a gorgeous evening and I set up my camera and tripod to take some shots and experiment. I loved some of the results like this photo.

The Latest: 08-30-2015

State Fair is over. School is back in session. Summer is quickly fading back into the routine of autumn. Cooler temperatures even meant that we could turn the air conditioner off for a few days this past week.

Our lives paralleled the societal trend this week as work routine took over. I headed to the Twin Cities for a long couple of days with a client while Wendy and Taylor held down the fort back at home.

On Friday afternoon the week’s work gave way to wedding festivities. Wendy’s Uncle Brad got married to his fiancé Barb in a small wedding in the lobby at Third Church. I felt privileged that Brad asked me to stand up with him at the ceremony, so I donned my best gray suit and stood by him as he and Barb were hitched. All of Brad’s girls were present as were all of his siblings sans Linda. Wendy took my usual role as amateur family photographer during the ceremony and handed the camera back to me at the reception.

The reception was in the back room at Monarch’s, a room where Wendy and I have great memories. Our own rehearsal dinner was held in the back of Monarch’s. It was a lot of fun to hang with the family for the celebratory evening. There was a lot of laughter and cheer. The joy was radiating off of Brad and Barb and it was fun to be part of their launch.

Saturday was a good day of getting things done around the house. My honey-do list included pocket-door adjustments and a sticky door knob. I then spent the afternoon going through the tub of family photos given to me by my folks. One of my fall projects is getting them organized and to begin scanning and digitizing them.

almost maine reading

Saturday evening we walked down the block to McQuade’s Pub for a script reading of Almost Maine, which Kevin will be directing for Union Street Players. Wendy and I had never read the script and were really, really impressed with it. We were the first to leave the party, but it was still late when we walked the half-block home.

Wendy and I were both on camera at church this morning. Wendy spent the afternoon working while I continued my photo-sorting project. We’re settling in for a Cubs vs. Dodgers evening and pita pizzas. I’ve got my scorecard ready and plan to relax and score the game.

The Latest: 08-09-2015


It was a crazy, mixed-up sort of week this week. Life felt like it was all over the map.

Suzanna's Birthday

Monday was Suzanna’s birthday, so Wendy, Taylor and I gathered for  a birthday dinner in the evening. Hard to believe the girl is 19 and will be headed to Cedar Falls in a week or so. So much water under the bridge since this teenager came to live with us two years ago. I’m so proud of her and she is so ready to launch. Salmon and rice was the birthday girl’s dinner request with Wendy’s Ghiradelli lava cakes for dessert. Scrumptious.

Tuesday Wendy and I headed to the lake to work remotely and get a little R&R. Huge storms Tuesday evening cut power off for several hours. It’s amazing how dark the Playhouse gets when there’s no electricity.

Wednesday I spent a day in travel hell with a drive to Kansas City International from the lake in the wee hours of the morning trying to get to San Antonio, but getting stuck making my connection in Minneapolis. I was trying to be penny-wise and fly stand-by using the travel perks afforded us with Madison being a flight attendant. I ended up being pound-foolish as I got bumped off one flight after another and couldn’t get where I was going. I was fortunate to get back to Kansas City that evening and drive back to the lake. Business trip scuttled. Frazzled. Tired. Not a great day.

Thursday and Friday Wendy and I worked a lot from the lake, which is always a good place to be even if you’re working. We took a boat ride to Bear Bottom on Friday afternoon for a few hours at the swim up bar soaking in the sun. Enjoyed a nice dinner on the grill. Was surprised on Thursday evening when an old classmate and fellow swimmer from Hoover High School, Jeff Davidson, pulled up to the dock with his daughter. They were at Captain Ron’s for dinner and thought they’d swing by to say “hello.” Nice to see him.

More blasts from the past came on Saturday when Wendy and I drove to Ankeny to attend the baby shower for our friends Dave and Maria Fidalgo-Eick and their new arrival, Jimmy. It was great to see Dave’s sister, Jen, and her husband Jose. I officiated their wedding many moons ago. Also got to hang out with old high school buddies Matt Hill and Doug Reeves. Small world moments were experienced with the Crumleys, and Nancy McClimen who was my Sunday School teacher in 3rd grade and we discovered was a fellow Central Alum with several friends back in Pella. Even Grandpa Dean and Grandma Jeanne were there. It was great to welcome little Jimmy into the world.


Memorial Day Weekend 2015

Memorial Day Weekend is the traditional start of summer at the lake. The Pella VLs joined us for a weekend that, unfortunately, was cooler and rainier that we had wished, but it didn’t dull the fun. There was fishing: a few small ones caught, a big one got away [sorry Chad], and Aaron dropped his pole in the lake (thanks to Dad for fishing it out of the bottom of the lake on Sunday morning). There were movies: Star Wars was a big hit with the kids (of all ages) this year. There was also reading, frisbee golf, boat rides, Captain Ron’s beach, and plenty of food and laughter.

Wendy and I arrived late on Thursday afternoon and got the Playhouse ready for fun. The VLs arrived just after 9:00 p.m. and everyone hit the hay fairly early. On Friday we headed to the beach at Captain Ron’s in the afternoon. It wasn’t exactly sunny, but the rain held off and the kids enjoyed the sand and water. In the evening we had a lovely dinner with salmon on the grill and, after the kidlets went to bed, the adults enjoyed conversation on the deck.

Saturday started out pretty rainy, but by the afternoon there was a break and we headed to Larry’s for dinner. We’d never been there, so it was fun to try. Food was great and we all enjoyed the boat ride there and back.

Sunday we headed back to Captain Ron’s in the afternoon and enjoyed grilling out burgers and brats in the evening. The VLs headed into Osage for some frozen custard while Tom and Wendy held down the fort.

Monday morning was the requisite donut run to Sunrise Donuts. Afterwards, Tom and Chad took the kids for a long boat ride. Then, it was time to pack up for home. It goes so fast, but the memories last a lifetime!

Birthday 2015

The 49th birthday does not call for a particularly memorable experience. It’s a pre-cursor to a “big one” with a zero on the right-hand side. Still, a birthday is not to be wasted, and I had an enjoyable one.

I worked ahead this week so I could take my birthday off. I slept late (for me) and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with Wendy. We readied ourselves and headed to Des Moines mid-morning to run some errands necessary for our fiesta birthday party planned for Friday night. I was excited to get a Face Time video call from Maddy Kate who was at Venice Beach in California. Always nice for a land-locked Iowan to catch a live shot of the Pacific on his birthday! 😉

We took my folks out for lunch at the Market Grille for lunch and enjoyed conversation, returning back to their house for even more enjoyable conversation. Adjustments at the Chiropractor followed as well as more errands before meeting Kev & Beck for some birthday cheer at Nick’s. Taylor tried incessantly to get a Face Time connection from Scotland, but we were never able to get through to her 😦

Wendy and I celebrated with our first Iowa Cubs game of the summer. It was a GORGEOUS evening at the ball park. Too bad the home team couldn’t give me a birthday “W.” We actually headed home with things tied after the 12th inning and listened to the I-Cubs drop the game in the 13th on our drive home.

My birthday party came on Friday night. Wendy slaved away all day making Grandma and Grandpa V’s lemon cake and a host of Mexican dishes for our fiesta celebration. We so enjoyed having Kev & Beck, Chad & Shay, and Matthew & Sarah join us for a wonderful evening of food, drink, and wonderful conversation together.

Another year falls into memory, and I look ahead to the final year of my fifth decade on this life journey. Praying that it is filled with life, love, and unforeseen blessings!