Tag Archives: Fun

The Latest: Summer 2021

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.

My road trip was highlighted by G, Madison, and me at the Columbia (SC) Fireflies game. So much fun!!

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.

Five Days with My Mom (and Alzheimer’s)

Earlier this sumer my dad found himself in the hospital for five days after suffering what was eventually diagnosed as a (thankfully) minor stroke. Being in the hospital meant that I had the honor of spending five days and four nights with my mother, who is in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. It was the most uninterrupted time I’ve spent alone with my mother since childhood. I found it a fascinating opportunity to observe her life at this point in her journey through dementia, and to interact with her in her daily realities.

Let me begin by confessing that I am no expert in Alzheimers. Our daughter, Taylor, has had far more experience with, and education in, the tragic disease. I am, however, deeply versed in life with my mother. I began noticing the changes long before her diagnosis. Conversations with her, which have always been pleasant, meandering journeys slowly became stilted and repetitious. I began to realize that there were certain subjects that she clung to like a child hanging safely on to homebase in a neighborhood game. In retrospect, I wish I had forced the issue with her and our family long before it all came to light, as we learned that medications can successfully slow the disease’s progression. C’est la vie.

I also know that Alzheimer’s and Dementia experiences can vary widely depending the patient and his or her own unique circumstances. I am in no way implying that my observations are somehow applicable to every person who suffers from these terrible diseases. For what it is worth, I am merely recording some of the observations and lessons that came from my personal time with my own mother in her current stage of this tragic disease.

First, a few general observations about my mother’s current waypoint in the descent to the cognitive darkness of Alzheimer’s. She has yet to forget any of our family members, though the names and faces of life-long friends have begun to escape her. When talking to me, she now refers to my father as “my husband” as though her relationship with him and her relationship with me have been separated from the mental compartment of “family” into separately labled relationship compartments in her brain. Nevertheless, I am still able to enjoy her recognizing me when she sees me. She has yet to fail in greeting me with the pet name she’s had for me since childhood (“Hello, Tommy Jameses“) and extending her arms for an embrace.

I have heard it said that those with ALZ can sometimes become more childlike, and many become bitter, angry and even violent. Mom has occasionally had momentary flashes of uncharacteristic anger, though more often I’ve experienced that she now lets fly with a blunt honesty about people and things that she’s never exhibited before. To be honest, I tend to find it refreshing. I am thankful that she has mostly exhibited a sweet, childlike humor I’d never seen in her before.

Watching mom now often feels like peering into the little girl she must have been. She is playful and joyous in an almost exhibitionistic way. The woman who who raised me and my siblings was sweet and fun-loving, but she carefully guarded herself, her looks, her words, and her actions. For most of my childhood she wore a partial set of dentures. I can remember her never wanting anyone, even her children, seeing her without her partial in her mouth. The mom I spent five days with this summer could not only care less, but I expect she’d be happy to pull out her dentures and make a funny face to make me laugh. My mother has always been apropriately reserved and “mature” around a camera. Now if I pull out my phone to take a picture she starts hamming it up  and making faces. A part of me asks, “Who is this woman who looks like my mother?” Then I realize that I’m probably seeing an entire side of my mother that has always been there. I just never saw it.

I spent my time with mom in quiet observation. Our days together had a certain cadence. We would rise and have breakfast together. We would ready ourselves and drive to the hospital where we sat with dad in his hospital room. Each day I would take mom out for lunch before returning to the hospital to spend the afternoon with dad. In the late afternoon we would return to their apartment at the retirement community, enjoy a bite together, and spend the evening watching television until mom was ready to retire.

I made a conscious effort not to intervene with mom in the time I spent with her. I’ve observed that her flashes of temper often come when she feels as though someone is telling her what to do or treating her like she’s incompetent. It’s much like a child who barks at a nagging parent and exclaims, “I can do it myself!” So, I never told her what to do or tried to control her in any way. I just let her do her thing and quietly paid close attention. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was only occasionally necessary to “suggest” that she might want to see if she’d taken her pills or double-check this-or-that. As long as I kept my voice tone pleasant and helpful, she always responded positively.

I discovered that she had a very specific routine each morning:

  • Turn on the coffee pot. This is always prepared before bed the night before, another part of her daily ritual.
  • Sit on the couch and turn on the television. Any morning news channel will do. It seemed to be randomly different each morning.
  • Drink one cup of coffee while watching television. She doesn’t really watch television or take anything in, but she likes to have it on. I think it allows her the illusion (for others) that she’s doing something while her mind struggles to make sense of her moment. Interestingly, when she watched baseball with me she would regularly comment on things that happened in the moment (e.g. “Boy, hit that ball a long way.”) which is something she didn’t really do with any other kind of program. One night I took her to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner. Surprisingly, she wanted to sit at the bar. She actually found all the television screens interesting. There was so much to look at and steal her attention.
  • Set the table for breakfast. This included placemats, spoons, and plates. The east and south sides of the table were where the settings went. This seemed important. If I was working on my laptop where the placemat was supposed to be set then I could tell this threw her off a wee bit, but didn’t rattle her.
  • Eat one yogurt with her second cup of coffee at the table. In the evening her meal was a Boost protein drink and another yogurt.
  • Wash her cup and spoon along with the coffee maker.
  • Go into the master bedroom/bathroom to get ready. Putting on make-up and “fixing herself” in front of the mirror is one of the things she gets lost in. One morning I finally had to “suggest” that we get going to the hospital in order to get her out of being lost in her endless loop of putting on and fixing her make-up.

I was pleased to observe that there were things that her routine helped her to remember and how much she still did without me prompting her. I watched her, at times, silently straining her mind to organize her world even if she quickly got lost in the process. If dad’s doctor started to give instructions she would get out a pen and note pad. She knew that she was supposed to do that. She might even pretend to pay attention and write “Dean’s Instructions” at the top of the page. Nothing else would be written as she would then get lost in another moment.

The mother I grew up with would NEVER have allowed this picture to be taken. 🙂

Much of my time spent with mom was me experimenting with, and even catering to, this playful, child-like spirit that has emerged in her as the Alzheimer’s has progressed.

Take chocolate malts for example. Mom’s appetite at this point is almost non-existent. A year-or-so ago her doctor said that she was, medically, at the point of starvation. Her weight was just under 90 lbs. Props to my dad and sister who have worked tirelessly to get her to eat. She’s gained weight and has been doing much better. Nevertheless, she is never hungry and will, like a child, refuse to eat almost anything you put in front of her. The one exception is chocolate malts.

Mom has developed an insatiable appetite for chocolate malts. When I asked her, “What sounds good to you?” it was the only answer she ever gave and she gave it every time. And, if I got her one she would actually eat the whole thing. So, I joyfully indulged her appetite. I mean, the woman’s almost starving and, in the near future, she’s going to forget the joy of tasting anything! Good nutrition, be damned! I decided that I would buy her chocolate malts as often as she’ll eat them. I soon learned that three chocolate malts a day was perfect.

Three times a day I would ask her “How about a chocolate malt?”

Every time I asked she’d look at me wide-eyed like a little little girl and responded, excitedly, “Oh, that sounds good!”

I started going to different places (DQ, Culvers, Bauders, Smokey Row, etc.) to see if she liked certain chocolate malts better than others. Smokey Row was clearly the winner, so that became our usual stop. It was during our thrice daily chocolate malt runs that I had another epiphany.

Mom’s ALZ has a certain repetition to it, but there’s also a routine to the repetition. Driving down I-235 always brought about the observation “I wouldn’t want to live in any of these houses along here.” Driving through the neighborhood around the hospital always brought out the comment, “I just love these big, old houses.” Pulling into a restaurant’s parking lot always brought out the comment, “Oh, I haven’t been to this place in a long time!” This statement was made the first time we pulled into the drive-through at Smokey Row even though I knew my mother had never been there before. And, it came out again four hours later when we returned for the chocolate malt she loved so well.

Two, make that three, observations sitting in the drive-through with mom at Smokey Row.

First, we often wax poetic in our culture about living in the moment:

  • “Forget the past.”
  • “YOLO.”
  • “Tomorrow is never promised.”
  • “Enjoy the moment.”

But, I find that we rarely do any of these things. We allow ourselves to be haunted by the past or refuse to deal with resentments, injuries, and relational baggage. We worry incessantly about tomorrow. We crank through our days with little or no introspection, observation, or enjoyment.

Our dinner date sitting at the bar of Buffalo Wild Wings. Mom actually found all of the television screens fun to watch.

For my mother, the present moment is her only constant reality. The past is a fog. The future is cognitively unreachable. There is only this moment. Certain stimuli bring out the same reaction time and time again. I can’t will my mother to remember. I can’t correct her brainwaves to help her conceive of the future. I can only be her companion right now, in this very moment. My brain is the one that functions “normally.” When my mother’s “moment” repeats itself in intervals of five minutes or five hours I am the one who must compassionately choose to forget the last time it happened, let go of the annoyance I feel in the knowledge it will happen again (and again, and again, and again…), and simply be fully present with her in this moment.

There is also, I realized, compassion to be had for my father who is my mother’s constant companion on this journey. That was my second take-away from the moment.

I believe that my father’s Dutch sensibility long-ago convinced him that there is a black-and-white, right-and-wrong aspect to everything in life. Add to this a touch of perfectionism and he’s always been a bit OCD, and vocal, about the correct way to approach everything. My dad was a great accountant. The books always balanced perfectly. He was also a master craftsman with anything he built or made by hand.

Of course, living with a person who forgets almost everything means you’re living with a person who gets almost everything wrong. My father’s compulsion for everything to be right means that whatever is wrong must be corrected just like an incorrect number on the spreadsheet. Alas, correcting a person with ALZ is a fruitless, even counter-productive, exercise. Here I cross-reference the culturally popular definition of crazy: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. You can correct my mother all you want, she’s going to make the same mistake when she repeats herself in five minutes. I’ve watched my dad struggle to adapt to these difficult new realities. He’s done remarkably well, considering.

Once again, I found child-like-ness to be a good vehicle to understand that I needed to surrender any compulsion I felt to correct my mother. Life for her, much like a child, is a never-ending game of pretend. Sometimes she doesn’t remember and I watch her make up an answer just like our daughters did when they were toddlers and you asked them a question that was just beyond their comprehension. Sometimes her brain is permanently confused about a fact or a memory, and nothing is going to change that.

Because she can’t remember the past, however, I began to notice that each moment can be a bit of an adventure, a new revelation, and an exploration. When I decided to play pretend with her and to even encourage it, I suddenly found it easier to give up any need I felt for anything she did or said to be right. It’s not about right or wrong. It’s a game, and I am simply playing along. And, I sometimes found it to actually be fun.

Btw, our daughter Taylor wrote a great piece in which she observed that a conversation with a person who has dementia is a lot like a playful theatre exercise. I highly recommend it. It’s a quick read: https://storiicare.com/blog/carer-amusement-absurd-conversations/

Which brings me to my third observation sitting in the Smokey Row drive-through. During our first visit that day I noticed a cemetery across the street. Mom was, as usual, staring out the passenger window trying to make sense of her moment.

Look at that cemetery over there,” I said.

Yeah,” she answered as she looked to where I pointed.

They say people are just dying to get in there,” I dead-panned.

She laughed, and laughed, and laughed. “Oh, Tommy Jameses, you’re so funny!” she giggled.

When we returned a few hours later for her third chocolate malt of the day she experienced her routine “I haven’t been here for a long time” moment. It was then that I realized: If she forgot that she’d been there a few hours ago, then she also forgot my joke. So, like a stand-up comedian working a different audience at a different club on a different night, I used my cemetery joke again just as I had before. She thought it was hilarious again! She thought it was hilarious every time I used it (and, I used it a lot).

Yes, the repetition of my mother’s dementia can be really, really annoying, but it also affords me the opportunity of repeatedly giving her a laugh or a happy moment over and over again with minimal effort. As the old saying goes, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

As I began to embrace the fun of playing with my mom in her moments, I had other discoveries. I’d read that the Church of England has started to conduct services in which they’ve consciously returned to the hymns and liturgy of 60-80 years ago. They did this because church members with dementia remember and connect with the hymns and ritual in the compartments of long-term memory they could still access. This gave me an idea.

I know some of my mother’s favorite songs from her childhood. She used to tell me stories about playing the song Sh’ Boom by the Crew Cuts so many times that her father yelled at her. So, as we left the apartment to head to the hospital I pulled up Spotify and played Sh’ Boom. My mother came to life. She knew almost every word to the song and began dancing in her seat. I then queued up Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Doris Day. We sang together and danced in our seats together all the way to the hospital.

Then, we did it again the next day and the day after that. The moment was new to her every morning, and I had the joy of singing and dancing and sharing a special moment with my mother each time. I realized that these moments are all I have left with her in this life. Alzheimer’s will eventually steal them, too.

My father and my sister are my mother’s constant care-givers. I recognize that my time with mom is grossly minimal in comparison, and I honor their love and perseverance.

Thank you for helping take care of me,” my mom, nevertheless, said repeatedly to me in the days I spent with her.

Each time she said it I repeated the same answer. “Are you kidding me? Mom, you gave me life. You and dad have given me so much over the years. Helping you out right now doesn’t even compare. I am so deep in your debt.”

Repeating that answer was somehow therapeutic for me, as was the realization that doing so brought to mind. I’d learned some important life lessons in those five days that I will always carry with me. I also enjoyed some precious moments of laughter and joy with my mother that I will always cherish. Even with Alzheimer’s, she was still giving.

The debt can never be repaid.

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!

Celebrating with the Folks at the Lake

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Wendy and I headed down at the end of the week to spend a few days with my folks who have been spending some time at the lake. They celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary this weekend so we enjoyed celebrating with them. We headed down on Thursday only to realize just before we arrived that Wendy had left the bag with all of her clothes back in Iowa. So we back tracked to the outlet mall in Osage to pick up a couple of essentials she needed. Fortunately, she had left some clothes down there and did just fine.

Thursday evening we grilled some steaks and opened a bottle of wine. The weather was gorgeous and we enjoyed a quiet evening before turning in early.

Wendy and I worked much of the day on Friday, but knocked off early enough for a waverunner ride and a walk down to Captain Ron’s to check out the boat show. We ran into Wayne and Chris Vander Leest from Pella and enjoyed a nice chat. We finished the afternoon back home soaking up some rays as we floated on the water.

We headed out on the boat Friday evening and went to The Fish & Company for dinner. When the waitress came to take our drink order I mentioned that we were celebrating the folks 56th anniversary. “HOLY CRAP!” she exclaimed. We had a lot of fun with that one. The sun was going down as we headed home and it was a little chilly on the water. The folks are taking their boat back to Iowa next week in hopes of selling it, so we sort of felt like it was a bit of a swan song for the ol’ Sylvan which has served the family so well for many years. We got back to the house and watched “Unstoppable” before heading to bed.

Wendy and I got up and headed home just before noon this morning. The folks are going to stay at the lake for a while. It was a quick trip, but a fun trip. It’s always a blast getting to hang out with the folks.

Fifth Annual JP-VL-VW SummerFest

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On Labor Day weekend Wendy, Suzanna and I traveled down to the lake to play host to the JPs and VLs for a jam-packed holiday weekend of fun in the sun. This is the fifth straight year that the three families have gotten together, and the fourth year in a row that the festivities have been at our Playhouse (for the record, I think 2010 was more about working on the basement than having fun in the sun). It’s fun to think back to how quickly the little ones grow and how life changes from year to year.  The social dynamics change with the shifting complexities of the numbers, both the sum total of people and the respective ages involved. Nevertheless, there is incredible blessing in friends and families sharing the journey of life together as we get together each summer to re-create.

Everyone arrived on Thursday evening. Wendy and I generally like to get to the lake a day in advance of the invading armies to clean, prepare, and arrange for the impending encampment. We couldn’t exactly take Suzanna out of school in order to make that happen, so we found ourselves all arriving within minutes and hours of one another. C’est la vie. When you vacation together every year, there’s a familiarity that allows for flexibility.

Friday was a laid back day at the Playhouse. The kids had a blast swimming off the dock. Wendy and I got the waverunner gassed up and running. We took it for a little spin to work the cobwebs out of it and ran over to Bulldog’s for an afternoon drink, only to have the waverunner decide not to start when we wanted to head back home. Fortunately, the folks at Bulldog’s ran us over to the neighboring marina where the generous mechanic loaned me some starting fluid. We were soon on our way back home.

Saturday was our big outing to the waterslides at Bear Bottom Resort along with a bite of lunch. We returned home for more swimming off the dock and a fantastic steak dinner together. Of course, great meals together is one of the hallmarks of our annual get together and this year was no exception. Once the meal was over and the kids headed to bed the adults enjoyed continued the feast (generally over playing cards) drinking “Tom’s coffee” and eating Wendy’s cheesecake. I don’t even want to know how much weight I put on over that weekend. It felt like a lot! Saturday evening the adults played Quelf with the usual hilarious results.

The only bad weather we had all weekend came briefly on Sunday morning. The kids jumped in the lake to get a quick swim in before the worst of it hit. I will never forget the vision of little Aaron standing on the top rung of the ladder on the swim dock looking up at the ominous dark clouds. Then as the wind began to blow he started screaming “STORM” at the top of his lungs as if he was some Shakespearean harbinger of doom. When the rain started they all ran for the cover of the house to play and watch movies while we waited for the sun to come back out. It did come out in the afternoon and we all headed down to Captain Ron’s for a swim at the beach, though the huge crowds led us all to quickly agree that we preferred the quiet (and inexpensive drinks) back at the Playhouse. So, we took the party back to the dock.

Props to Suzanna who became nanny for the weekend and with positive attitude took excellent care of the kids, providing the adults with more peace and quiet than we probably realize. Everyone headed home late Monday morning and conversation already began regarding next year’s gathering of the three families.

The Playhouse Opens for the Summer!

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Summers mean sun and fun on the water for Wendy and me. This is the time of year that we’re chomping at the bit for summer and the beginning of regular migration of family and friends to join us for time at the Playhouse on Lake of the Ozarks. Wendy and I have already made a couple of trips to get things out of storage, do spring cleaning, and prepare for the season. The weather in March and April was too cool and wet for our liking. And, while Memorial Day weekend is the official start to the summer season at the lake, we got an early start on the festivities when our friends Matthew and Sarah joined us last weekend.

Friday was overcast and drizzly with a cold north wind, but we still found our way down to the dock for snacks and chat while huddling in jackets and blankets. We headed to Cap’n Ron’s for pizza in the evening and then returned to watch Midnight in Paris. More conversation followed while Matthew melted into the couch. This is not surprising. We call it the “Lake Effect” when guests (as Grandma Jeanne puts it) melt into little puddles. I had to give Matthew a hard time because he’d been talking about looking forward to an early morning cup of coffee on the dock, but he slept far later than anticipated!

The sun came out Saturday. While there was a stiff, cold north wind the temps were in the low 70s and the sun was hot. We went out for a long, slow boat ride down to Bare Bottom and back, then ate lunch on the deck and chatted the afternoon away while getting nice and sunburned. We stoked the grill, opened a nice bottle of wine and had surf and turf for dinner: Prime Rib and smoked salmon. While we had discussed watching another movie, the dinner conversation kept us at the table until almost 11:00 p.m.!

As always, time flew too fast and the time to come home came too quickly. We got the place cleaned up and headed home on Mother’s Day. Wendy got calls from the girls and we arrived at home to find a nice card from Madison in the mail and gifts left at the house from Taylor and Clayton.

Let summer begin! The Playhouse is open!! 🙂

Ugh! Digestive Assault

Over the past year Wendy and I have worked hard to try and change our appetites. We try to make a bit healthier choices, we don’t eat out as much, and when we sit down for a meal we try to find contentment with smaller portions. The result has been that we’ve lost some weight and on the whole we are feeling a lot better.

The difference a year makes.
The difference a year makes.

So that’s the context with which I approach yesterday’s marathon of family celebrations and time with friends. Both Wendy’s mom and my dad celebrate birthdays this week, so Wendy and I headed to Des Moines early in the day to meet her folks for lunch at Outback Steakhouse. I can’t remember the last time I’d had a Bloomin’ Onion, but I jumped at Dad Hall’s suggestion that we start our celebratory lunch with one. Since the ladies weren’t having anything to do with the greasy, deep fried treat with the tantalizing and tangy dipping sauce, Dad Hall and I ended up splitting it. That was before the salad and the Filet on Foccacia sandwich came with au jus.

Blooming Onion !
Blooming Onion ! (Photo credit: Charlie Anzman)

With stomach groaning just a bit, we left Mom and Dad Hall and ran some errands in the afternoon before ending up at Mom and Dad Vander Well’s for Eireflensjes Night. Ever since I was a kid, the Vander Well family has gathered once or a twice a year to feast on the Dutch version of the crepe. I have memories of my dad and grandfather standing at the stove with their sticks of butter, cast iron skillets and vats of creamy thin batter which were fried up into stacks and stacks of the paper thin pancakes on which we would sprinkle with sugar, roll-up and consume until we’d gone through enough eggs, milk, butter, flour and sugar to feed a small island nation.


Before the Eireflensjes Night was called (most likely by my sister – she’s usually the one calling for it), Wendy and I had planned on a dinner out with our friends Kevin and Becky.  It WAS my father’s birthday, however. My brother Tim WAS in town for a few days. So, I guess we COULD stop by for a few minutes to wish dad a Happy Birthday, say hello to Tim, and visit with Jody, Scott and Emma…

“What was that? Do I want to have an eireflensje before we go out to eat? Well, okay maybe one… or two.”

“Okay, those were good. Kevin and Becky aren’t expecting us for another ten minutes. I think I’ll have another. Pass the sugar.”

2013 03 09 Night Out2

From there we met Kev and Beck and headed south of downtown Des Moines to dine at Tumea & Sons. I’ve heard of this little neighborhood Italian family eatery for years but have never been there. Believe me, it was as good as I’d always heard. The featured wine of the night was a Montepulciano D’abruzzo which perfectly complimented my Chicken Diablo with spicy red and cream sauce over penne pasta. Oh my… the food, the wine, the dinner conversation were all wonderful. Fill me up.

2013 03 09 Night Out3

And we’re weren’t even finished! Taylor has told us all about this wonderful little bakery called Creme and we’d planned on visiting after dinner. This boutique bakery just off of Ingersoll is open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. They make special dessert creations which are paired with adult libations. So, on top of the Bloomin’ Onion, Filet Sandwich, Eirflensjes, Wine, and Chicken Diablo in spicy creamy red sauce I added Deep Fried Cake Balls rolled in sugar which was paired with a citrusy sweet concoction based on a Brazilian liquor made distilled from sugar cane juice.

Despite the dreary cold and rainy weather, it was a wonderful day full of laughter, family, love, friends, and lots of good food and drink (and I mean A LOT of good food and drink!)

Ugh. Pass the pink stuff. You’ll find me on the couch.

What I Did On Summer Vacation

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It’s July and Wendy and I are spending a little 4th of July vacation at the lake. We arrived late last Thursday night. The Mathias’ had spent their honeymoon here at the Playhouse, and then the Hops came in for a little family vacation. Thanks to both of them for taking such good care of the place. Wendy and I were so pleased to arrive and find everything so spic n’ span!

Wendy and I spent early Friday getting a little work done and preparing for an onslaught of fun. The JPs arrived late in the afternoon on Friday. We had a lot of fun in the sun with excursions to Bear Bottom and Bulldog’s. The Pella VLs arrived late on Monday night and we’ve had two days with the Playhouse rockin’ from the combined kinetic childhood energy. There’s been a lot of fun in the water from swimming, splashing, jumping, tubing, skiing, boating, and wave running. There’s been lots and lots and lots of intense sun with hot temperatures which has necessitated keeping cool drinks handy (I think we should just plant a lime tree).

It wouldn’t be the 4th of July without thinking of our personal firecracker, Taylor, who celebrates her birthday in Uganda today. She called early and we were able to Skype and catch up on all the festivities she and Clayton have planned for her big day of celebration in Africa.

Captain Ron’s will be shooting off fireworks tonight and we’ll anchor the boats in the cove off the dock to get a front row view. The JPs will head home tomorrow while the VLs will stick around for another day or two. It’s always fun when you get our three families together!

Anniversary and New Year’s

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New Year’s Eve was Wendy’s and my 6th Wedding Anniversary! We enjoy being with friends on New Year’s Eve, so we actually celebrated our Anniversary the day before. We decided that we’d celebrate this year by checking out all the after Christmas sales, get a few new clothes, and then go out to eat. We had a great day together and did find some wonderful deals. Taylor was working at J. Crew and she told us that Clayton was meeting her after work for a date night, so we met them for coffee when she got off work and enjoyed some conversation. We ended our evening at the Latin King for a nice leisurely evening meal.

New Year’s Eve was spent at the Pella VL’s with a small group of friends. It was supposed to be a potluck of appetizers, but everyone brought enough food to feed an army. We had Wendy’s chicken fingers, meat and cheese platters, chips and queso, a few more meat and cheese platters, pita bread and hummus, and more meat and cheese platters. Then there was Wendy’s snicker doodle cupcakes and chocolate truffle cheesecake for dessert.

There was plenty of great conversation around the room and everyone enjoyed getting to meet baby Camille. She was the center of attention for a while. The VL boys got back from being with a babysitter and we got to enjoy seeing them before they headed to bed. I  even got to read Casey at the Bat to Nathan. With the kids down, the adults retired to the family room to play a hilarious game of Quelf and laughed until it hurt.

By the time Wendy and I got back home, cleaned up a bit, and got to bed it was closer to my normal waking time than I care to admit. We were able to sleep in, however, and we enjoyed a very quiet day spent mostly on the couch Sunday.