I had a great birthday celebration this year. But, I have to be honest. Since the arrival of our first grandchild last December all of our family gatherings are “all about Milo.” I’m totally cool with that. The greatest gift I received was having Madison, Taylor, Clayton and Milo with us on Sunday. The whole brood under one roof to share in a family meal. It happens so rarely any more, and for it to happen to coincide with my birthday was awesome.
Madison flew into Des Moines on Saturday morning, and we knew that number one on her list was spending some time with her nephew. So we dropped her off to get some cuddle time with both her nephew and her sister.
Meanwhile he headed to our friends’ house. Kev and Beck both have April birthdays as well and a few years ago we started a tradition of celebrating together. This year is was low-key affair as we ordered pizza and spent the afternoon on their deck enjoying the spring sunshine. Kevin and I enjoyed a couple of fine cigars that had been a gift to me from a team member.
We picked up Madison and headed back to Pella, then enjoyed the evening together. Madison joined us for worship on Sunday morning. We grabbed George’s pizza after church and got home in time to welcome the trio from Des Moines.
Wendy outdid herself making a fabulous chicken parmesan dinner that we enjoyed with an equally fabulous wine. Wendy gave me my pick of desserts and while I love her Cheesecake and Chocolate Lava cakes, I chose to go with one of my childhood favorites: Grandma & Grandpa V’s lemon cake.
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!”
“Here are the stages in the journey of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt by divisions under the leadership of Moses and Aaron.At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey. This is their journey by stages….” Numbers 33:1-2 (NIV)
Yesterday our daughter Taylor was featured in a blog post by Ivory House photography. It was an artistic and poignant photo essay of our very pregnant daughter, and a tribute to all of the incredible qualities that emanate from her empowerment as a woman. Last night I read the essay and took time to appreciate how Whitney captured the beauty of Taylor and her pregnancy. I was struck at the new stage of life into which Taylor is ushering us as she gives birth to this little man we are so anxious to meet.
I woke up in the wee hours this morning. My heart was stirring. My brain wouldn’t shut down. I got up and started journaling. What came out was a stream of thoughts, fears, and hopes as I sense Wendy and me on the precipice of a new stage of our life journey. Unexpectedly becoming grandparents at the end of this year is a significant piece of it, but just one piece. This has been a year in which certain callings and responsibilities have been relinquished. There are new things coming for us at work that were unforeseen a year ago. We feel God pressing us forward in other areas of life. Again, things we didn’t see coming a short time ago.
This New Years Eve will be our 12th Anniversary. Twelve years. In my unending journey through God’s Message I’ve come to learn that twelve is a significant number. It’s a number of completion.
One stage coming to completion.
Another stage about to begin.
“Old things pass away. New things come.”
Some days I’m amazed at God’s synchronicity. Finishing up my journaling, I opened up today’s chapter and what do I read?
Journey, stages, and God’s command to Moses record the stages.
Every life journey has its stages. In my experience, some stages are harder than others. Some stages feel like an endless trek through Death Valley, while others are an oasis. Some stages are an uphill grind, while others are a coast. Some are obstacle courses, and some stages are mountain top experiences so full of goodness and life that I don’t want to let them go or move on from them.
Moving from one stage to another may be a relief, or a sudden terrifying drop off the cliff, or an anxious unknowing. No matter the shift, I always find the transition comes with questions, trepidation, fear, and anxiety. Even transitioning from a difficult stage to an easier stage is still a step of faith. I rarely know what a new stage truly is until I’m well into it.
Moses and the Israelite tribes had stages of their journey from slavery in Egypt to Promised Land: Victories. Trials. Blessing. Conflict. Miracles. Struggle. And, God wanted them to record it.
“Pay attention,” God says. “Record. Remember so you can look back and see in context….”
Where have we been? Where are we right now? Where are we going?
This morning I’m thinking back to the stages I’ve been through. Through all the ups and downs I can see God’s provision, God’s faithfulness, God’s goodness, God’s presence and leading. That’s helpful as I turn my gaze ahead and contemplate the next step.
I stand at the precipice of a new stage of life like the Israelites standing at the River Jordan. What will this new stage be?
I have been going to baseball games since Grandpa Spec threw me in the passenger seat of his 1972 Volkswagen Beetle (sans seat belt) and hauled me to Sec Taylor stadium to watch the Iowa Oaks. It’s been a lifetime of going to games as a kid, of taking my kids to baseball games, of attending games of the Iowa Cubs, Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Royals, San Antonio Missions, and Laredo Lemurs. Somewhere along the way I gave up on the notion that winning the ballpark lottery is in the cards for me.
I’m never the one lucky enough to catch a foul ball or a home run shot. Wendy and I have never been on the “Kiss Cam” even when we’re one of ten couples at Principal Park on an April afternoon. I’ve never caught a hot dog out of the golf cart cannon. The t-shirt cannon never shoots the t-shirt my way. I’ve never won Ballpark Bingo. My row or seat has never been chosen to win the free car wash. Yes, there was that one time that they announced my birthday on the board, but that was because Wendy paid for a suite for a birthday party for me with our friends. It’s not so special when you pay for it. (Anyone who heard my message last Sunday is laughing at the sheer pessimism of this paragraph)
So it was that on this past Tuesday night Wendy and I arrived at Principal Park to watch our Iowa Cubs take on the Sacramento River Cats. It was a gorgeous night for baseball. We had been invited to be guests of our daughter Taylor who had some “Cubbie Dollars” given to her for her birthday in July. She also invited a few of her friends. It was “dollar hot dog” night and also “bring your dog to the ballpark” night so we were eating our hot dogs, drinking our beer, and enjoying all of our canine friends running around the place.
At the bottom of the second inning I suddenly heard Wendy on my left scream at the top of her lungs and I saw her jump up out of her seat in my peripheral vision. I turned to see her hugging Taylor, who was on her left, and screaming with joy and laughter.
“Didn’t you see it?!”
“Didn’t you hear her say, ‘Look!‘?”
No. You’re on my left. That’s my really deaf ear.
It was then amid the laughter and celebration that Taylor’s friend Kim showed me the video she was taking with her phone. It showed the big video board at the ball park with the message “Grandma and Grandpa Vander Well IT’S A BOY!”
My turn to scream and shout and laugh and hug our daughter, even if it was a little bit late.
Just my luck. I missed it. I didn’t hear her say, “Look!” I didn’t see it in the moment. But you know what? That’s okay. I am so blessed. I may never catch a foul ball, or a t-shirt, or a stale hot dog shot from a cannon. I don’t care.
My grandson is on the way (and I caught the good news at the ball game).
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.
Life continues to feel like a whirlwind, whipping Wendy and me from one thing to the next. This past couple of weeks and weekends was no exception. I spent the entire work week, last week, on the road to Texas, working with a client there in Laredo and San Antonio. Wendy stayed busy with rehearsals for The Christmas Post here at home.
I arrived home on Friday evening in time for the Cubs first playoff game against San Francisco. Wendy had beer, hot dogs, and nachos ready and the living room here at Vander Well Manor was transformed into our own little ball park for the game. Glad to say our Cubbies won in dramatic fashion. Classic pitcher’s duel into the bottom of the 8th when Javy Baez hit a solo-shot to left for the game’s only run. I spent the late innings texting updates, like a modern form of the telegraph, to our friend Kevin who was monitoring the game in Palm Springs. So much fun to get to text the good news.
Wendy’s Cheesecakes were, as always, a hit of the evening.
The evening’s honoree, Spence Ver Meer, and Wendy got to enjoy a moment on stage. Their first since starring in “Barefoot in the Park” in 2005.
Wendy enjoyed the improv troupe’s performance.
Saturday was Union Street Players annual Award’s Night. This year our friend Spence Ver Meer was inducted to the USP Walk of Fame. Spence starred with Wendy in the 2005 production of Barefoot in the Park and it was an honor to be part of the festivities. While Wendy spent Saturday morning at rehearsal, I spent the time preparing slides, video, and music for the festivities. It was a full day of preparation as Wendy had made cheesecake’s for our dessert. The event went really well. The local improv group who performed (made up mostly of USP members) even got Wendy to volunteer to help out on the final game. That’s not an easy feat but it was hilarious to watch (see featured image).
Wendy continues to do a masterful job directing The Christmas Post for Union Street Players. Performances are scheduled Dec 2-4, 6, 8, 9 here in Pella. You don’t want to miss this! I’ll be on stage reprising my role as Mr. Herzog.
I preached again last Sunday morning in the auditorium at Third. We kicked off a series on the love chapter. Wendy and I got a little rest watching the Vikings beat the Texans in the afternoon before our preparations for the coming week kicked into high gear. The whirlwind continues.
Madison is safe and sound in South Carolina. Hurricane Matthew gave Madison her first taste of a tropical storm, but Columbia was mostly hit with heavy rain and 25-30 mph winds. She hunkered down in her apartment and killed flying cockroaches. I sent Madison some Cubbie swag so she can “keep the faith” down south for a Cub’s World Series.
Taylor has received some encouraging signs regarding potential employment across the pond. And, some interest in employment here in Fun City. Where will she end up? More on that as things prayerfully progress.
Summer has begun! And, it’s been a busy couple of weeks for Wendy and me. After my last installment of “The Latest” back in early June, we afforded the opportunity to spend time with Wendy’s family while they were in town for Lucas and Brooke’s wedding.
Wendy, Taylor and I met Court, Becky, Lydia and Suzanna at Principal Park for an I-Cubs game. It was young Lydia’s first baseball game and we had a ball sitting in the sun, eating ball park food, and watching our boys of summer playing ball.
Wendy and I headed down to the lake the next day for our first real extended time of relaxation this summer. Wendy and I worked remotely during the day, but took the opportunity of getting out on the boat and enjoying the unseasonably warm weather. Kevin and Becky joined us for what has become our annual kick-off to summer weekend (10th year in a row!). They arrived on Thursday evening and we enjoyed a long moonlight cruise in the boat. On Friday we slathered up and headed to Bear Bottom for sun in the pool and a late lunch on the deck. Beck wasn’t feeling great in the evening so she called it a night while the three of us watched Green Lantern. Saturday was another beautiful day and we headed back out in the sun to Bulldog’s. As always, we enjoyed great conversation and mourned having to depart.
This past fall Wendy and I stepped down from the Board of Directors of our local community theatre, Union Street Players. As the past President I’m responsible to stay on as an ex-officio member of the Board for one year to help with the transition which I have done. Now Wendy has had her turn to extend her service. As past Treasurer, she had been asked to audit the books for the group, which resulted Wendy’s appointment back to her old position. So, much of the past two weeks has found every minute of Wendy’s free time getting a handle on things. I told her that I thought she missed her calling. She should have been a forensic accountant.
We headed to Des Moines a week ago Friday for a quarterly company staff lunch. Wendy and I took the opportunity of being in Des Moines to run a few errands. We connected with Kev and Beck in the late afternoon and, for the third year in a row, enjoyed an evening watching Kennedy’s dance recital.
The following morning I enjoyed a bit of a treat. I discovered on Memorial Day that our friend Rob K was a disc golf player. I also found out that Central College actually has an 18-hole disc golf course on campus (who knew?). Rob and Vandy are moving to the Carolinas but Rob wanted to show me the course before they left. I spent a lot of time in high school and college playing disc golf. When I was a youth pastor I taught it to a whole crew of youth because it afforded time to hang out talk, and it was FREE! But, I hadn’t actually played an actual course in over 12 years. So, I pulled out the discs and enjoyed the morning walking through the woods with Rob and Vandy. Don’t even ask about my score. It was awful.
After 16 months being in our house, Wendy and I have been working hard on actually getting some things up on the walls, especially in our basement. We did a DIY project together making four 8 foot gallery shelves. I assembled the shelves using two 1x4s and one 1×2. Wendy then primed, sanded and painted them. We now have 32′ of shelf space in the V-Dub Pub for displaying our collection of posters and prints from all our shows. Wendy also did a little summer wreath project for our front door, which I think looks awesome.
It was a fairly normal work week for us this week. On Friday I had a business lunch in Des Moines. Wendy came along to run errands while I was in my extended lunch meeting. We then got together with Taylor for an early birthday celebration. Her birthday is on the 4th of July, but I’m traveling next week and then we’re headed to the lake. She’s heading to Scotland right after her birthday, so this was kind of the best chance we had to celebrate with her.
Wendy and I enjoyed getting a tour of the Catholic Worker Community in Des Moines where she lives. We saw her room and meet the eclectic mix of wonderful human beings at the worker who live there and serve the poor in Des Moines. The team at “The Worker” were just getting ready to serve the first of their two daily meals to the homeless that so we got to experience that, which was cool. I noticed on the bulletin board that there was a picture of Taylor and right above it a picture of Wendy’s cousin Kathryn, who has volunteered there. Small world.
Taylor and Wendy on the porch at Catholic Worker House where she lives.
Taylor introduced us to the laying hens
Fun in the sun at Art Fest!
A flight of Exile craftsmanship for Taylor’s Birthday party
A little birthday smooch!
Checking out the art work at Des Moines Art Festival
On the bulletin board at “The Worker” there was a pic of cousin Kathryn right above a pic of Tay!
We celebrated Taylor’s birthday by spending the rest of the afternoon at the Des Moines Art Festival. We had a blast looking at all the art, and we all agreed that our favorite part was the local children’s artwork. We then walked down to Exile Brewery for dinner. After dinner we went back to the Festival and listened to a bit of the Gin Blossom’s concert (from afar) while dipping our feet in the water of the fountain near the Des Moines Central Library.
Madison continues to build a life in South Carolina. In the past few weeks she’s suffered the scariness of getting food poisoning and having to deal with health care alone in a new city. She survived with flying colors. She got to fly to Texas and experience her first big sales training in her job with Laura Geller Cosmetics. She FaceTimed us from Myrtle Beach yesterday where she had been working all day. She posted some gorgeous sunset pics she took after enjoying dinner on a patio overlooking the water.
As I mentioned, Taylor will head to Edinburgh, Scotland after the 4th and will participate in commencement at Queen Margaret University and officially receive her Master’s Degree. She will then stay in Edinburgh and work the Fringe Festival from late July through early September. For those who have never heard of “The Fringe,” it is among the largest and most prominent arts festivals in the world. It will be a great opportunity, will look great on a resume, and will afford Taylor the opportunity to network there. She has applied for some 60 jobs in the arts world since returning to the U.S. and finds herself in the no man’s land between “you’re over qualified” and “you don’t have enough experience.” Praying for something awesome to open up for her.