Tag Archives: Gathering

The Latest… June 2019

It is a beautiful June evening at the lake as I sit to write this post. The forecast for the weekend called for rain, rain, and a little more rain. Instead, we were treated to plenty of sunshine and only a few minor episodes of precipitation. That’s a nice change of pace. This spring and early summer have been rainier than I can remember for some time. The lawn tractor has been getting a lot of work as I’ve been mowing 2-3 times a week to keep up.

The rain has been definitely good for growing things. Wendy and finished phase 3 of our landscaping plans. We had new beds put in around the back of the house and around the patio. We still have one section we need to finish on the north side of the house, but it feels great to have it done. I planted some more roses and they have really been going to town.

Speaking of flowers, Wendy has been planning for many years to have a tat reworked. She was never really happy with the original and fixing it has been a topic of discussion for a very long time. Molly at Creative Images in Des Moines did her masterful work, as usual, and the result was just what m’love wanted.

Before and after.

We got our first I-Cubs game of the year in these past few weeks, and we kicked off the summer with what’s become a traditional Memorial Day Weekend at the lake with the VLs. Our arrival at the lake was delayed as I officiated the wedding of Joel and Kara (Zondervan) Larson at the Scholte Gardens in Pella. It’s been a while since I’ve officiated a wedding. Ironically, I received a surprise message on Facebook from the couple who were my very first wedding over 30 years ago. How cool to know that they are still together and happily married. I take no credit, of course. Asking the questions is the easy part.

The rest of the weekend at the lake was fun, as always. It’s so much fun to watch the VL kids enjoying themselves and having watched them grow up right here at the Playhouse over the years. As the kids have gotten older and now entertain themselves quite nicely, it also affords the adults more time and space for conversation and that was wonderful.

Wendy and I stayed a few extra days and worked from the lake, but we had to buzz home as our friends Kevin and Linda were making a rare, brief appearance in Iowa. We met them, along with our friend Cyndi, for dinner at Cooper’s in Valley Junction and then for an after dinner drink at the Hall. Can’t tell you how much we miss having them living across the street.

The following weekend was another rare treat as all of Wendy’s siblings came home for a Hall family gathering. It was the first time that the entire Hall crew were in the same room since 2010. The agenda was very simple: be together, eat together. We got to meet our nephew, Asher, for the very first time and found out that we have another niece or nephew due to arrive by the end of the year as Wendy’s brother Luke and his wife, Brooke, announced that there was a bun in the oven. It was so much fun to be together as a family again.

It was back to the lake this past weekend for our annual early summer pilgrimage with our friends, Kev and Beck. Again, it was nice that we had better weather than was forecast. We enjoyed lunch and a leisurely few hours in the pool at the Redhead on Friday, along with some sun and relaxation on the dock on Saturday. As usual, the real focus of the weekend was sharing life, great food, great drinks, and endless conversations that move us all further up, and further in.

Hope you’re having a great summer wherever your journey finds you. Play ball!

Dean Vander Well Turns 80!

We had a lot of fun yesterday as my siblings gathered to host an open house for our dad who celebrates his 80th birthday this coming Tuesday. Dad’s brother, Bud, traveled to Des Moines with his entire brood. Friends past and present joined us in the community room at the folk’s apartment to enjoy a bite of cake and share in celebrating our dad. Thanks to everyone for coming out and making it a special day.

When the open house was over the family headed to Noah’s Ark Restaurant, an old family favorite, to share some time together. Happy Birthday, Deano.

dad-vws-80th-birthday-at-noahs-ark-1

New Years 2016

New Years is always a whirlwind and a time of celebration for Wendy and me. This year was no different, and the holidays were stretched out more than normal for us.

New Year’s Eve was our 11th wedding anniversary. Wendy and I gathered here at VW Manor with a small group of friends. Last year was a bit of a blowout as we celebrated our 10th. This year was a low-key affair. We told everyone to wear sweats or pajamas if they wanted to do so. We snacked, we chatted, we played a few rounds of Head’s Up, and we laughed. It was a laid-back way to say good-bye to a very strange 2016 and welcome 2017 with all its possibilities.

Madison could not get home from South Carolina until late last week. So New Year’s Day was the first we got to see her since she joined us at the lake this past summer.  Wendy and I drove to Ankeny for a New Year’s Day gathering of the Hall clan. Taylor and Madison drove up from Des Moines to join us. It was a chance to see Becky, Court, and Lydia one more time before they flew back to Colorado and a chance for the girls to hang out with the family.

We returned to Pella in the afternoon and had our Christmas celebration with the four of us. It was fun to sit together in front of the fireplace ad enjoy opening gifts between the four of us. We then settled in for a relaxing evening together on the family room couch. Supper was a hodgepodge of leftovers on the counter to snack on. We watched the recorded Vikings/Bears game and then watched Cinderella together. It was really a lot of fun.

Yesterday was the only full day we had with Maddy Kate. Wendy made a fabulous breakfast for us. The entire morning was spent eating, drinking coffee, and great conversation around the dining room table. The afternoon was an equally laid-back affair. We opted for a Sherlock binge. We watched. Taylor knitted. Madison and I worked on editing a video for a little project she wanted to do together. Wendy scoured Pinterest and we discussed house ideas. And, in true family fashion, we baptized the living room rug with two spills that necessitated moving of the couch and cleaning up.

Wendy made a wonderful evening meal of tilapia, sweet potato wedges, and rice. We then capped our evening by planning our wardrobe for family pictures we’re taking this morning, and watching the newest episode of Sherlock which premiered on New Year’s Day.

It feels like a bit of a stretched out holiday this year. With Christmas and New Year’s on Sundays, it feels like we’ve stretched two two-day holidays into two four-day holidays. Today we take family pictures, say good-bye to Madison, and then settle back into routine.

Increasingly Rare (and Priceless) Moments

Taylor Madison Gma Gpa VW

A couple of weeks ago we were blessed to have Madison home for Tulip Time. Taylor’s sudden bout of stomach crud meant that Wendy and I did not get to spend time together with the four of us, but before Madison flew back to South Carolina Taylor joined us at Grandpa and Grandma Vander Well’s apartment and I got to capture this lovely moment with my iPhone.

As our girls have left the next, it seems that these little family gatherings are increasingly rare. Therefore, I find them increasingly precious…priceless really.

Easter at Grandpa Spec & Grandma Golly’s

Easter with the Hall family last week got me thinking about family Easter celebrations when I was a kid. The day would always begin with mom having hid a bunch of small, bright, foil-wrapped milk chocolate Easter eggs around the house. My sister Jody and I would take our baskets and scour the house. When I was younger there were what looked like bunny tracks the folks made with flour and their fingers across the counters and tables of the house. We usually took in a pretty good haul of candy. Mom always had a sweet tooth. I remember her giving us warnings about not eating too much, but she never really policed it. Our older brothers, Tim and Terry, were seven years older than me, so by the time I can remember the easter egg hunt, they’d already kind of outgrown it.

More often than not, I remember going to my Grandpa Spec and Grandma Golly’s house for Easter dinner. They lived on the east side of Des Moines on Hull Avenue. After church services at Immanuel United Methodist Church, where my family attended until I was in high school, we would make the cross town trek in our Mercury Marquis station wagon (complete with wood paneling on the sides!).

Our "Merc" was a lot like this one from a 1973 ad.
Our “Merc” was a lot like this one from a 1973 ad.
A Mercury dashboard with 8-track player.
A Mercury dashboard with 8-track player.

The “Merc” (as dad called it) was stylin’ transportation in those days. There was a rumble seat that flipped up in the “way back” so that two children (that would be Jody and me) could sit and look out the back window as you drove along. Tim and Terry are always in the back seat together. Mom and Dad were, of course, in the front. Tim and Terry would make sure they had their favorite 8-track tapes in the car and would encourage mom and dad to play their requests on the 15-20 minute drive across town. We might have listened to the best of Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles, or the Guess Who.

Me with my Grandpa Spec & Grandma Golly
Me with my Grandpa Spec & Grandma Golly

When you got to Grandpa Spec and Grandma Golly’s the first stop would always be a hug and kiss from grandma and grandpa. They were both smokers. I can still smell the smoke from grandma’s cigarettes and grandpa’s pipe as you hugged them. The next stop was the candy dish that sat on the end table next to the living room couch. Jody always beat me there. It was always filled with Brach’s hard candies or maybe some mint patties.

I loved my grandma, but cooking was never her strong suit. So, when a lot of family came over she often let “the Colonel” do the cooking. There would be a big bucket of chicken with all the “fixin’s” and sides. I always wanted the drumstick. On big holidays, we would occasionally get grandma’s sister, Aunt Ardie, joining us. I remember inexpensive red wine being served. Grandpa might enjoy a beer with his meal, though he often saved that for later in the afternoon when he’d have a “beer and a bump” which was a can of beer (e.g. Schmitz, Pabst, or Old Style) with a shot of Old Crow whiskey. Some people’s motto is “Go big or go home,” but Grandpa Spec’s motto would’ve been “Go cheap and go home.”

We would sit as a family around the dining room table and enjoy conversation while we ate. Grandpa liked to tuck his napkin in the top of his shirt and let it drape over his tie like a poor man’s bib. Dessert would usually be homemade pie (Grandma Daisy’s chocolate pie recipe or Graham Cracker Cream which was basically vanilla pudding in a graham cracker crust) along with ice cream. Grandma also kept a steady supply of ice cream cookies and fig newtons on hand. When dinner was over, grandpa would push back from the table and light a Dutch Masters cigar.

The adults would continue to visit while we kids would go off to find things to do. We often would hit practice golf balls with grandpa’s clubs in the backyard or play croquet. There was a park right across the street, so we also loved playing on the swings and jungle gym if the weather was nice. If we were confined indoors, then the fun was in the unfinished basement exploring through grandpa’s huge desk or all of the junk piled on the shelves. The basement was one giant room and you could kind of make an oval track out of it and chase each other around in circles or have races if you had a mind.

It’s funny the things you remember. Some things change, but it’s nice to know that there is still family, good food, good conversation and good times spent together.

 

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

The Latest 07-26-2015

It felt like a long week, but it always does feel long when most of it is spent on a business trip. And, I didn’t have much rest going into it. I was asked to give the message at Central in Oskaloosa last Sunday. There were two services, one at 8:30 for the older, more traditional crowd and 10:45 for the younger, more contemporary crowd. I was pleased when Howard and Donna DeGroot came up to say “hello” after the first service. I hadn’t spoken to them in a long time. They seemed excited to meet Wendy and it was good to catch up.

After the service Wendy and I high-tailed it to Ankeny where members of the Vander Hart clan had gathered. Becky, Court, and Lydia were visiting from Denver. We had lunch and hung out all afternoon. It was the first time we’d seen Lydia since she was a newborn. It was fun to get reacquainted.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We buzzed home in the evening and I packed for my trip. I spent the week with our client in San Antonio and Laredo, Texas where it was very hot. Good week, however. While I was away Wendy and Suzanna played host to Becky, Court, and Lydia who introduced Lydia to Pella. I was sad to have missed it.

I landed back home in DSM (relatively on time) Friday evening about 7:30 p.m. Almost immediately upon arrival back at Vander Well Manor, Wendy and I walked over to McQuade Pub and were refreshed, body and soul, by Kevin and Linda’s hospitality. As usual, it was a late evening of drinks and meandering conversation.

2015 07 Suzanna in Fiddler

It’s opening weekend for Union Street Players Fiddler on the Roof. Wendy and I usually take summers off of productions, preferring to spend whatever free time we can manage at the lake. Suzanna, however, is in the chorus and Wendy and I are involved behind the scenes with ticket sales and various production issues. We announced at USP’s monthly meeting that we will be stepping down from the Board after 10 years. Grandma Vander Hart told Wendy that the local radio station even found the event newsworthy enough for their local news broadcast this week. You gotta love small town Iowa.

knia story

Wendy’s mom came yesterday and is spending the weekend to see Suzanna in Fiddler. VW Manor feels like a Bed and Breakfast this week and we love it. We are excited for the coming week. Taylor moves home after her year of grad school in Scotland. Madison arrives back in Iowa on Thursday. The entire Vander Well clan joins to celebrate nephew Sam’s wedding to Lydia Yoder on Saturday morning.

Thanksgiving Thoughts

“Only a few years will pass
    before I take the path of no return.”
Job 16:22 (NIV)

Wendy and I enjoyed our Thanksgiving yesterday. We were up early to put turkey in the crock pot and a loaf of bread in the bread maker. We headed to Des Moines with our contributions to the Thanksgiving meal and arrived at my folks’ house just before noon. The house was full. Tim and Kumi drove up from Texas. Terry, Bonnie, and Ellie made the trek from Chicago with their two Rhodesian Ridgebacks in tow. Our nephew Sam had to work the weekend and was unable to accompany his parents out east, so he joined us as well.

This was the first Thanksgiving meal, the first real family gathering, since my mom was diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s. Many things yesterday were, to quote the Talking Heads, “same as it ever was.” And yet, beneath the visible surface of our traditional Vander Well Thanksgiving meal, afternoon conversation, and family game time around the dining room table, there had been a major shift in the tectonic plates of life. Some things will never be the same again in this lifetime.

In this morning’s chapter, Job makes his next speech. After dismissing the poor comfort of his friends, Job draws inward and becomes introspective about his plight. He contemplates the reality of the end of this life journey that each one of us will reach. I believe that most of us spend our days filled with the minutiae and urgent details of daily life to the point that there is no room left for looking too far head. The end of the journey for ourselves or our loved ones is not a comfortable subject. There are, however, certain way-points along life’s road that remind us where the path leads. And, having reached the way-point and looking back, we realize there are certain places to which we will never return in this journey.

Today, I’m thankful. I’m thankful for family who gathered and prayed and feasted and laughed and played and hugged and loved. I’m thankful for a lifetime of Thanksgiving memories. I’m thankful for parents whose deep faith leads and comforts them on a the murky path that lies before them. I’m thankful for our daughters, both off on their own journeys, who had good friends and companions with whom to give thanks. I’m thankful for Jesus, whom I follow, who promised “I am with you always – to the very end.”

Fifth Annual JP-VL-VW SummerFest

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Theme from the Photos

2013 08 19 VW Pizza Night Collage Most often we look at and contemplate photos one by one. One of the things I’ve come to realize over time, however, is that when I import a large batch of photos and rifle through them, I often catch a theme from the event that one single photo doesn’t quite convey.

Last night three generations of my family gathered at my folks’ house for an evening of pizza. We did nothing more than have some pizza together and sit around the table and talk for a couple of hours. As I looked through the photos this morning I realized how many of the photos were of my family members smiling and laughing.

I know plenty of people who have never experienced this kind of love and laughter at a family gathering. The theme that arose from all of my photos last night was a reminder to be grateful and to enjoy these moments.