Tag Archives: UK

The December Celebration Gauntlet

When Wendy and I married, December suddenly became much more than just a Christmas holiday. Wendy’s birthday is December 21, and we married on New Year’s Eve. That means that I have, arguably, the three most important gift-giving days of the year in an 11 day stretch. After 12 years (a number rife with Biblical significance) trying to find balance in this celestial conjunction of celebrations, our first grandchild unexpectedly, like the star of Bethlehem, appeared on the horizon last year and plotted his arrival on December 11th. An already crazy month just got crazier.

Milo and his parents (I state it this way because, let’s be honest, it’s all about the one-year-old) arrived home from the UK in early December. I picked up them up and drove them home from MSP. The kids made our house command central out of which “Operation Celebrations” would be conducted. Milo has four sets of grandparents, a full contingency of living great-grandparents, and at least one great-great-grandparent. Long story short: There’s a lot of people needing a Milo fix.

Our celebration of Milo’s first birthday happened the night of the 12th. We had a small cadre of family over for a relatively small affair. Ya-Ya Wendy made Milo both a chocolate cupcake and a white, funfetti cupcake. He seemed to prefer the funfetti cupcake, proving that his taste bud genes are inherited from his paternal DNA coding.

Walking is a lot easier with one of these things!

The rounds of family visitation continued on the 19th when Taylor, Milo, and I stopped by my folks retirement community to have lunch with the folks. Milo was, of course, a huge hit. Milo also had a fascination with all of the various walkers with wheels. As he is in training to get the whole “walking” thing down (we’re up to about six consecutive steps without falling at this point), it was a huge discovery for him that there are devices designed and manufactured to assist in this basic human motor skill (special “thanks” to Mary for letting Milo run free with her walker).

Skol! Vikings!

Wendy and I began celebration of her birthday on the 15th when we headed to the Twin Cities. On the 16th we went to our first Vikings game at their new “mother ship” stadium. An annual trip to see the Vikings had become a bit of a tradition for us until it was announced that the new stadium would be built. Wendy and cold get along like Hamilton and Burr, so we skipped the seasons they were playing at the U of M’s outdoor stadium. We finally decided to all the trigger on  our old tradition. It was a lot of fun. We’ll be back.

Wendy’s birthday was otherwise fairly quiet except for the doorbell ringing incessantly. She got a trifecta of flower bouquets on her big day. The florist here in Pella was grateful for the business, though they somehow couldn’t get the deliveries consolidated. On the following weekend our friends Kevin and Becky came to Pella to celebrate Wendy. A pint at the Cellar and a pizza from George’s was in order with the rest of the evening relaxing at Vander Well Pub.

Maddy Kate flew in from her home in South Carolina on Christmas Eve day. We visited Grandpa Dean and Grandma Jeanne before I drove her back to Pella. She joined Wendy and me at Christmas Eve services at church while Milo and his entourage were making an all day tour stop at Na-Na Brenda’s.

Christmas day, I’m happy to say, was an all-out, love-and-laughter, food-and fun, lazy lounge-fest with just the six of us. Wendy made her traditional Christmas morning cinnamon rolls, along with an awesome breakfast. I threw French Dip into the crock pot for the evening meal. Lunch was a charcuterie menagerie for all. We opened gifts together after breakfast, then moved a mattress into the family room next to the sectional for a blissful day of binge watching (This is Us took up the entire afternoon), eating, and napping together.

The “Divine Right” (to Be Equal)

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
1 Corinthians 1:26-29 (NIV)

Wendy and I have a guest room that we’ve been decorating with a UK theme. We’ve loved our trips to the UK and thought it would be kind of fun (“cheeky,” even) to channel that into our home. On one of the walls we’ve hung portraits of royalty as well as some of our favorite British writers and actors. Of course, we felt the need to separate the portraits with the royals (and a couple of Prime Ministers) on one side and the those low-life, “commoner” artist types on the other 😉

Having grown up in a representative republic like America, the notion of royalty is a bit of romantic idea and the stuff of nostalgia for us. For most of human history, however, the idea of people being better than others simply because of the blood in their veins and the family into which they were born was part of the fabric of every day life. And, going all the way back to ancient rulers, it was commonly believed that there was some sort of divinity that marked the distinction. Rulers often claimed to be gods themselves. The idea of monarchs ruling by “divine right” was popularly held (mostly by the royals themselves) until recently.

Even in the times of Jesus and the early Jesus Movement, the notion of “divine” rulers was popular. One of the reasons the early believers were executed or thrown into the Roman circus to be eaten by lions for the sake of entertainment was that they refused to swear that Caesar was god.

In today’s chapter Paul is quick to reference that the believers in Corinth were not people of wealth and influence. For the most part they had little status in the eyes of the world. He reminds them, however, that they are highly esteemed by God.

We easily forget that one of the things that made the early Jesus Movement so radical was that everyone could freely accept the gift of salvation offered by Jesus. Everyone was equally a member of the body of Christ. Spiritual gifts were bestowed on every believer by Holy Spirit, and when the Spirit came upon a group of believers everyone manifested the experience regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, or social standing. When believers met together for a love feast and to share in the ritual of the Lord’s supper everyone was welcome at the table. If a slave and the slave’s master were both believers, they had equal status at the table of Jesus’ followers.

This morning I find myself meditating on the reality that as the Jesus Movement became the institutional church and gained both power and influence, it quickly abandoned its egalitarian roots and developed rigid systems of hierarchy and status that exist to this day. In personal practice and in my, admittedly small, circles of influence I am consciously trying to lead us back to the egalitarian spiritual roots of the Jesus Movement where everyone is of equal status in the body of Christ and where everyone is welcome at the table. We’ll let the ancient notion of “divine” rulers  or those of higher or more noble “status” be simply a bit of nostalgia on our guest room wall.

Speaking of that. One of the decorative touches we want to make to our guest room is a collage of postcards from the UK. If I have any readers from across the pond who would like to contribute, we would be both humbled and blessed to have you send us a postcard (or two, or three!). Simply drop it in the mail it to:

Tom & Wendy Vander Well
c/o Intelligentics
801 Franklin St. #526
Pella, IA 50219 U.S.A.

Tomorrow begins the Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S. Please know that I am truly thankful for you who faithfully, or occasionally, (or even rarely) read my posts. Cheers!

Edinburgh Travel Journal: Days 1-2

Over the next week I will be publishing my travel journal from our trip to Edinburgh which  took place this past week, June 1-8, 2015. I am posting my journal entry and pictures from each day in chronological order.

Days 1-2

Wendy and I left Iowa on a gorgeous, cool, early summer afternoon. We flew United out of  Des Moines to Chicago O’Hare at 2:20 p.m. Had a 2.5 hour layover in Chicago before boarding a United 757-200 for our 6:00 p.m. flight to Edinburgh. We were in the next to last row of seats but thanks to a snafu there was no third traveler in our row so we were able to spread out a bit!

We both watched movies on the way over. Wendy watched “Still Alice” and I watched “Fury.” We tried to get some sleep but were largely unsuccessful. The result was that we landed in Edinburgh and our bodies were experiencing 12:30 a.m. ready for sleep but it was 7:30 a.m. in Edinburgh and we had a full day ahead. Hoo-boy! Here we go.

It was rainy, very windy and chilly when we arrived. The airline pilot in his final comments at descent said, “If you are golfing today I hope your tee time is in the late afternoon. Otherwise, it’s going to be a very windy round!”

Wendy and I collected our luggage and took turns cleaning up a bit in the airport loo. Per the excellent, detailed instructions Taylor sent us, we grabbed a tram from the airport to St. Andrews Square. Taylor texted that she might not beat us there and to hang out in the square to wait for her. It was very windy and chilly so we took up standing behind the square’s small cafe building for a wind break. It was only a couple of minutes before we spotted Taylor running towards us. Big hugs all around. It was so good to be hugging her.

We made a generous, up-hill hike towards our hotel. We stopped at the bus terminal to get a week “ride card” but there was a long line and the computers crashed, so we opted to stop later. We walked up castle hill against the wind pulling our suitcases. It was the best workout we’d had in a long time! Dropped our suitcases off at Apex City Hotel. The hotel is on Grassmarket, an old street at the base Edinburgh Castle known for being the site where people were executed. It’s not a gorgeous street lined with pubs and restaurants. Once our bags were dropped off for safekeeping we ventured out into Edinburgh for the first time.

We were both extremely impressed with Taylor’s knowledge of the city. She was an amazing guide and seemed to know every shortcut and back alley in the city. She said that most of her friends from Edinburgh laugh at her as she knows the city better than they do. Later in the week Wendy, Taylor and I were musing about the way we travel. I tend to be given to simple exploration rather than lots of detailed preparation. Taylor said that was how she learned the city. For weeks she simply walked, and walked, and walked everywhere and explored every nook and cranny. She obviously found a lot of cool things.

Our first unexpected stop was Armstrong’s, a vintage clothing store just down the street from our Hotel. It was like a crazy, huge costume shop filled with all sorts of historic and vintage clothing from different periods. We were stunned by all that they had and had a lot of fun exploring the shop.

Our next stop was a hike through Greyfriar’s graveyard. Taylor at first was going to walk past it, and then remembered that a couple of the graves in Greyfriar’s were how J.K. Rowling named a few characters in the Harry Potter books. We went looking for them and didn’t find them, but we enjoyed walking through the graveyard. It was so interesting to look at the different gravestones. At the top of the hill outside Greyfriar’s is a statue of a small dog known as Greyfriar’s Bobby. The story goes that the dog guarded the grave of his master for 14 years until his death and the locals would feed and care for him. His statue is a popular tourist attraction now.

We walked some more and Taylor led us to Dovecot Studios which is an old bathhouse now home to one of the world’s foremost tapestry studios. Master weavers at Dovecot team with the world’s leading contemporary artists to design and make some really amazing tapestries. We started by going through the gallery and then took a break for a cup of coffee in the coffee shop. By the time we were done the observation gallery was open and we were able to walk around on a balcony that surrounds the weavers’ studio and watch them work. It was fascinating. I’ve never really considered weaving tapestries as an art medium. Shame on me. I could have sat and watched them all day.

The sun was making intermittent appearances as we made our way to the Royal Mile. I needed to exchange some currency so the Bank of Scotland referred me to an exchange on the Mile. We found it and then decided it was time for lunch. Taylor led us to a pub just off the mile called Arcade Bar, Haggis, and Whiskey House. It was a lovely little pub. Taylor and Wendy had fish n’ chips. I opted for lighter fare and had a cup of cream of garlic soup. I was SO excited to find they had Amstel Light on tap. Amstel is one of my favorite beers and you can’t find it on tap anywhere in the U.S.

Wendy and I were starting to fade and needed a little break, so we headed back to the hotel to check-in. It is a nice boutique hotel and our room was very comfortable. Wendy found the French Open tennis tournament on the telly and the three of us curled up on the king sized bed for a cat nap. Taylor introduced us to an Irish comedian on YouTube which we really enjoyed.

It was enough of a rest to give us a second wind. We headed back out to visit the Camera Obscura museum which was more fun that I thought it would be. At the top of the museum is an antique camera obscura. Mirrors and lenses mounted on top of the tower project an image of the city onto a concave table many feet below. The operator can rotate the mirror/lenses which rotates the image on the table and you get a 360 degree view of Edinburgh. Each floor from the street to the tower is filled with different optical illusions, camera tricks, and hands-on exhibits which were a blast to experience.

It was late afternoon and both Wendy and I were feeling a bit zombie-like. We stopped at the White Hart pub across from our hotel and enjoyed a pint while we sat at the bar together. It was so good just to be with Taylor and to have conversation with her. We nursed our pints as we talked. It was 7:30 p.m. and Wendy and I had essentially been up and going without sleep for about 30 hours. We hugged Taylor good-night, staggered into our hotel room, and slept for 12+ hours.

Edinburgh Travel Journal: Days 1-2
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 3
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 4
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 5
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 6
Edinburgh Travel Journal: Day 7