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.
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).
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.
Chocolate or Funfetti cupcake. Which will he choose?
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo….”
Maddy napping on Christmas day.
Aunt Maddy and Milo.
Madison and Milo.
Tom and Milo.
Milo and Ya-Ya Wendy.
Tom & Wendy at Vikings game.
Great-Grandpa Dean with Milo.
First time at the Vikings’ “Mother Ship”
Nothing like a tunnel for your birthday!
Helping grandma cook.
“Skol! Vikings! Let’s win the game!”
Milo, Papa Tom, and Great-Papa Dean
“The stockings were hung by the stairway with care…”
Wendy and Rudolph, er, Milo.
Whiskey Stones for Christmas!
Milo and Ya-Ya Wendy.
Gotta love the Nutcracker apron!
Thanks for the push, Aunt Maddy!
Milo, Tom, and Great-Grandma Jeanne
“Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, had a very tired mom!”
Not just one, but TWO cupcakes from which to choose!
It has been a while since I’ve posted anything but my chapter-a-day. Forgive me. I’m feeling good just to get that done most days. Nevertheless, I’m well overdue to, at the very least, post a brief synopsis of all the events of autumn.
Summer ended and our fall began with what has become an annual adult weekend at the lake with the VLs and JPs. It’s so much fun with this crew and there is never a dull moment when the six of us get together, which we did again a few weeks later with dinner in Ankeny for JP’s birthday.
A quick update on the girls. Madison continues living and working in Columbia, South Carolina as an area sales and training coordinator for Laura Geller cosmetics. She loves it there and we don’t foresee getting her back to the midwest without an act of God. She’ll also be home for a week at the holidays, which we’re ecstatic about. She and her boyfriend, Garrett, made quite a turn as “The Incredibles” for Halloween this year.
Taylor, Clayton and Milo moved to Edinburgh, Scotland early this fall. Clayton is finishing up his Doctorate from the University there. Taylor was hired part-time by Storii, a fabulous company helping senior care centers tell, and utilize, the stories of their residents who are struggling with dementia. They’ve had a busy few months with travels to Sweden, Denmark, London and the Scottish highlands. Thankfully they will be home for a few weeks in December for the holidays, and we can’t wait to have them here.
Sadly, the kids weren’t the only ones we had to say good-bye to this fall. Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, left for Mazatlan, Mexico where she is attending Discipleship Training School with YWAM (Youth With a Mission).
We also bid farewell to our dear friends Kevin and Linda as they moved to Palm Springs, California. While the snowbirds promise to come back and spend summer in Iowa, it was hard to watch them pack up all their belongings and head west (though we are headed there to visit them soon!). I was also glad I was able to enjoy Kevin’s turn as host of the Pella Opera House’s first-ever Scotch and Cigar night. Almost 50 men attended, and Kevin did a fabulous job.
Farewell lunch with Suzanna. We’re so much fun, our server wanted to get in on the photo!
Scotch & Cigar night at Pella Opera House. Greeted by a piper.
Kevin hosting Scotch tasting.
I have been kept busy in leadership of my company including a major rebranding from C Wenger Group to Intelligentics. There will be more responsibility transferred my way with the start of 2019. I’m excited to see where it all leads.
Wendy and I stepped down completely from leadership in our community theatre after nearly a decade and a half. We’re taking an indefinite hiatus from community theatre with all the other things going on in life. That said, Wendy was honored by Union Street Players for her years of service by being inducted to their Walk of Fame during the group’s annual Awards Night on October 6th. Here’s a little clip I put together of some of my fave photos of Wendy over the years at USP. I’ve also, for posterity sake, posted a video of my introduction and her acceptance speech.
We were scheduled to be part of an independent production of Freud’s Last Session in October at Central College with our friends Kevin and Linda. We were forced to pull the plug on the production at the last-minute because of unforeseen and ultimately insurmountable scheduling obstacles placed in our way. It’s a long story both sad and frustrating. Not only for us, but also for the Central theatre students and professors who were looking forward to being involved in the show and with whom we were excited to work on the production. We are discussing an attempt to resurrect the project next year.
Chocolate always makes her smile. Celebrating Chad’s birthday at Malo.
Autumn at the lake with Kev n Beck.
Or Pella. It’s a regional thing.
Pella Opera House Gala
Me and the ladies, out for Chad’s birthday.
You know what fall means? Vikings football!! SKOL!
The fall included some annual events such as a fall weekend at the lake with our friends, Kev and Beck. Fall means you’ll find Wendy and me in purple and gold every Sunday afternoon cheering on the Vikings. We also enjoyed the annual fundraising gala for the Pella Opera House. And then there was an evening out with the VLs and JPs to celebrate Chad’s birthday. A wonderful dinner at Malo and nightcap in Des Moines.
Our support of Pella Historical Society included a couple of new experiences this fall. Wendy and I once again found ourselves portraying our town’s founding couple, H.P. and Maria Scholte, in a cemetery walk. There were a number of costumed actors stationed around the local cemetery portraying historic individuals from our town’s past. As visitors approached we delivered a short monologue. It was a cold, blustery fall day, but at least the sun was shining to provide a little warmth.
Just this past weekend I had the honor of being Master of Ceremonies for the annual Tulip Queen Announcement Party. Twelve young ladies were finalists in the annual festivities that select a Tulip Queen and four members of the Tulip Court who will preside at Pella’s annual Tulip Time festival in May. As M.C. I spent Friday evening and Saturday morning in rehearsals, then got to join the candidates at a special luncheon on Saturday. At the Saturday evening event I introduced and interviewed all of the candidates before a packed audience in the high school auditorium. Each candidate did a three-minute presentation and were interviewed by a panel of over 30 judges representing a diverse cross-section of our community. It was a tough decision as all twelve of the young ladies were exceptional and would have been great representatives of the best our community has to offer. Then I got to make the big announcement at the end of the evening. It was a lot of fun, and I’ve already been asked to M.C. next year’s event, so I guess I did okay.
Wendy and I have also been focusing on getting some projects done around the house this fall. We finally completed a DIY project that’s been in the works for a couple of years. We made a console table out of old dock wood from the lake to sit behind the couch downstairs in the Pub. We also designed a sign for the pub and actually had one made by the local sign company.
The Vander Hart name lives on!
No one starves at a Vander Hart gathering.
A house full of Vander Harts.
With the world progressing at breakneck speed, it’s nice to know some things never change 😉
Wendy and I also enjoyed playing host to her mom’s family this past weekend. The Vander Hart clan descended on us Sunday afternoon. There were 20+ of them for a potluck lunch and hanging out. Wendy’s cousin, Ethan, and his wife, Kim, recently gave birth to the only Vander Hart male to carry the family name into the next generation, so it was fun to meet him and celebrate.
Of course, then there’s the regular activities of both physical and spiritual exercise. I’m more involved than ever as a teaching leader. Wendy and I were asked to present at a fall retreat on our experience with the enneagram, which prompted another opportunity coming up in December. Wendy has been faithfully doing yoga and I continue to show up at CrossFit.
Wow. Writing this post reminds me just how busy we’ve been. But, life is good and we are blessed. Next week the holidays begin, and Wendy and I both have hearts full of gratitude ready to give Thanks.
Ten years ago Wendy and I made what was a rather momentous decision for the two of us. We decided to buy my parents’ lakeside property and the 70′ single-wide on Lake of the Ozarks. It was their retirement home that became an annual family destination for family, love, and fun. Both Taylor and Madison had grown up spending summers at the “Playhouse” with Grandpa and Grandma. Wendy and I dreamed that it might be place with which we could bless others and someday share with our own grandchildren.
That in mind, just a couple of weeks ago was another rather momentous milestone. Our family gathered at the lake for a week of fun together, and it was our grandson Milo’s first trip to grandpa and grandma’s “Playhouse” at the lake.
The kids actually all arrived before Wendy and I did on Sunday. Madison flew into St. Louis with her boyfriend, Garrett. They rented a car and drove to the lake. Taylor, Clayton, and Milo drove from Des Moines, stopping in KC for a lunch and road break. It was late afternoon when Wendy and I arrived.
The week fell into a rather pleasant groove. It’s interesting to note that every adult had some kind of work they could, or needed to, do remotely so there were hours of each day in which everyone was engaged in doing his or her own thing.
Wendy had done a masterful job of arranging the evening meal plans and the girls pitched in helping with sides. It was fun enjoying an evening meal together each night along, having conversation around the table, and of course there were the requisite slices of Wendy’s cheesecake for dessert.
We enjoyed watching movies together at night and spending mornings and afternoons in the sun (and ducking the unexpected rain) on the dock. Milo got his first swim in the lake (he wasn’t exactly sure about the whole thing). We had wave runner rides and an unexpected wave runner breakdown resulting in pulling it out and taking it to the shop. There was an enjoyable afternoon in the pool at Bear Bottom.
Madison and Garrett headed back to SC on Thursday. The rest of us enjoyed lunch at the Red Head on Friday and the kids headed for home on Saturday morning. Wendy and I had a lunch date, taking the wave runners to Popeyz for lunch on Saturday. Then it was and afternoon and evening of clean-up and preparation for our next guests.
“I wish that all of you were [unmarried] as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” 1 Corinthians 7:7 (NIV)
Paul was unmarried, and in his letters to the followers of Jesus in Corinth he expresses his appreciation for being “undivided” in his loyalties. He means, that as an unmarried person he could devote himself fully to the work of God without having to invest time, energy, and resources into a marriage relationship. I understand the common sense in his reasoning. Marriage certainly takes work and a large investment of time and energy.
Over my earthly journey I have observed that we as humans tend to err on the extremes of many earthly issues. I have come to believe that my culture often does a disservice in fostering a pervasive expectation of marriage for all young people. Marriage is a great thing when it is right, but many young people walk into marriage thinking it will solve problems when it can actually creates more problems (with greater complexity) than it solves.
The traditional marriage vows of the church state that “marriage should not be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but soberly, deliberately….” but I’ve observed that this is what happens more often than not. If the church wants people to heed that advice, then I think we need to do a much better job of communicating that singleness is a healthy, acceptable, and advisable life choice.
On the other end of the spectrum, it’s clear that some find celibacy and singleness to be a better spiritual choice. While I appreciate much about the Roman Catholic traditions, I have always thought the blanket prescription of celibate priests a silly idea. Just as it is wrong to think that everyone would be better off getting married, it is equally wrong to think that everyone is better off spiritually by staying single. I understand that the Roman church wants their priests to follow Paul’s example and be fully dedicated to their work, but I’m not convinced that celibacy is universally better for serving God.
This past Sunday I delivered the morning message in two services among my local gathering of Jesus followers. While I could have done it without Wendy, I am much better off with her by my side. She takes care of my needs in the morning (all the time, really) so that I can be prepared. She is a sounding board for my thoughts and ideas and helps me refine my message. She is quick and adept at helping me get wired for sound. She is constantly by my side providing relational and emotional support. She runs and gets me water or coffee if I need it. She gives me flawless and on-target critiques between services to help me improve. She is my greatest cheerleader and my strongest prayer supporter. After the service she helps me debrief. Paul may have been better off serving God without a wife, but I am certain I would not serve God as well were it not for Wendy.
This morning I am thinking of my unmarried friends and family, some of whom struggle constantly with the cultural (or personal) perception that there is something wrong because they are not married. I’m thankful for them, and happy for the good things in this life that they enjoy with their freedom. I am also thinking about Wendy this morning. Like all marriages, ours has its constant challenges. Nevertheless, I am constantly aware of the many ways she makes me a better human being, and a better servant of God.
January was an unusually busy month for me. Along with two business trips there was a lot of extra-curricular activity that filled our evenings and weekends.
Jana DeZwarte and Spence Ver Meer with Director Kevin McQuade in Almost, Maine rehearsal
Jana DeZwarte and Spence Ver Meer rehearse Almost, Maine
Director Kevin McQuade with Jana DeZwarte and Spence Ver Meer.
Jana DeZwarte and Spence Ver Meer in Almost, Maine rehearsal
Jana DeZwarte and Spence Ver Meer in Almost, Maine rehearsal
Jana DeZwarte and Spence Ver Meer in Almost, Maine rehearsal
Rehearsals continue for Almost, Maine. Wendy and I have really been enjoying the 3-4 rehearsals each week. The fellow cast members are awesome to work with and we’ve loved the ensemble. Our friend, Kevin McQuade, is a blast to work with as a director. Wendy and I play three scenes together as three different couples. We’re loving the challenge of developing completely different characters and quickly moving from one to another. On Thursday night Kevin called an early halt to rehearsal and took the cast to Kaledra for drinks. He knows how to keep his cast happy! Almost, Maine will be performed here in Pella April 14-17.
Taylor will be moving out next weekend. She’s decided to move to Des Moines and live in the Catholic Worker community full-time. She’s working on a couple of different creative projects and has taken up gaining a more in-depth understanding of photography. She and I took a couple of hours this week to play around with light and lenses in my office studio.
My friend Matthew Burch and I have been doing a four-week series of Sunday morning messages in the Third Church auditorium on the subject of shame (audio here). The messages were a microcosm of our men’s workshop, More Than Conquerors which we then presented at Westview this past Friday evening and Saturday. Wendy and I headed to Des Moines on Friday. While Kevin Roose and I were at the workshop, she and Becky enjoyed some girl time and Wendy helped Becky organize their basement storage room.
The More Than Conquerors workshop uses Shakespeare’s trilogy about King Henry V as a backdrop to discussing issues of shame. We loved our time with the 24 guys who attended. It was a great journey. How did it go? I think the answer to that question is in the picture (above) I snapped of Matthew sitting at a table of guys who stayed well after the conference was over to ask more questions and continue learning. When men give up their weekend, sit for almost 12 hours listening to you, and then want to stay for more…I’ll take that as a good sign.
Wendy and I are looking forward to a quiet day today. Here comes February.
Last night the rehearsal process for Almost, Maine began in earnest and it killed me not to be there as I’m traveling on business all week. Wendy and I were cast as part of the ensemble back in December and the show will be performed in Pella April 14-17.
Almost, Maine, is likely unknown to many people though in a short period of time it has become arguably the most produced play in schools and community theaters across America in the past few years. It is a wonderful script.
The setting is a moonless night in the dead of winter. The action takes place in the mythical, unincorporated small community of Almost in northern Maine. A solar storm has kicked the the northern lights, the Aurora Borealis into a spectacular display of heavenly fireworks. At exactly 9:00 p.m. there is a magical moment for several people in Almost.
In a series of eight scenes (plus an ninth story that acts in an overarching theme) we meet and witness that magical 9:00 moment for 18 people who are all searching for and struggling with love. The show is poignant and thought provoking. It’s the perfect show for a date night or a small group evening out to the theatre.
A few reasons I’m excited about Almost, Maine:
Wendy and I get to play opposite one another in three different scenes and there is no one I enjoy being on stage with more than Wendy. We’ve had precious few opportunities to actually act together, and I’m so pumped to work with her.
The show is being directed by our friend, Kevin McQuade, whom I love and respect as a fellow lover and student of the stage. I am really looking forward to being directed by Kevin, exploring the world of Almost, Maine, and putting together an awesome show.
The ensemble cast and crew are a spectacular group of talented individuals. Some I’ve worked with before and a couple people are new to me. It’s so much fun working with a great team.
In the course of two hours I get to play five different characters. While I’ve occasionally played dual roles, often that means one or more characters are smaller, secondary roles. In Almost, Maine I get the challenge of creating five fully developed characters and presenting them to the audience in a way that their unique differences are distinct and believable.
So I learned today that it was “Kiss a Ginger” day and #Kissaginger was the top trending topic on twitter. Redheads have historically gotten a bit of a bad rap, kind of like lefties (Wendy and I are both lefties). I immediately warned our daughter, Madison, to be prepared for any unwanted advances. I then started thinking about the red heads I’d want to kiss … appropriately!
For Top Five Tuesday, here are five red heads I’d give an appropriate smooch:
Wendy has red streaks in her curly locks. So I would, first and foremost, appropriately give a deep and passionate lip lock to the only woman I care to truly kiss. That is, I would kiss her if I were home tonight (but will take a rain check until Friday!).
Our daughter, Madison, would then get a loving, paternal peck on the top of her carrot topped head.
I would give Carol Burnett a traditional show biz peck on each cheek if I had a chance to meet her and thank her for a lifetime of laughs.
Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson is one of my “brushes with greatness” as I unexpectedly looked up to see her standing right in front of me at O’Hare one late night many moons ago. Love her pluck, and the charisma was oozing out of her as I understood in a moment why she is so beloved by so many. So a peck on the cheek for the cheeky lass.
It was just over ten years ago that I asked Wendy to marry me. These days it seems that video technology and social media have made popping the question an industry unto itself with ever crazier stunts and extravaganzas. In August of 2005, however, few people had heard of Facebook (it started in February 2004) and Twitter did not exist. So, in the small town of Pella, Iowa I was just this one guy trying to find a creative way to ask the woman I love if she’d marry me.
The theatre seemed a good place to do it. Wendy and I met in community theatre and the stage was our shared passion. The other thing that I wanted to include were friends who had walked with us through this particular tumultuous stretch of our respective journeys. And so, I staged a little production for Wendy’s surprise that began with scheduling a dinner at Monarch’s restaurant with our friends, Kevin and Becky.
I picked up Wendy at her apartment that gorgeous, late summer evening. She’d just gotten home from work at Goalsetters and it had not been a good day for her. She was running late and wanted to get freshened up before dinner. As she prepared for the evening, I received a call on my cell phone from Pat telling me that he was at the Community Center auditorium and needed some help. Our community theatre’s summer production had just finished a week or two before and there were a few large, straggling set pieces that needed to be put away. At least, that was the story I fed Wendy. She was a bit annoyed at the interruption and asked why it had to be right then, but I assured her it would just take a moment and that Kevin and Becky would understand.
We arrived at the Community Center and I encountered the first hiccup to my master plan. Wendy was still putting make-up on in the car and told me to go in and help Pat while she finished. I went in and informed my co-consipirator that Wendy would be in momentarily. The moment lingered, however, and I became increasingly nervous as it became obvious to me that she was not planning to come in.
My heart was already pounding with anticipation as I stepped out of the Community Center door and motioned for Wendy to come in. “We need your help!” I yelled to her in the car. I could feel her increased annoyance as she got out of the car and trudged up the steps. Hastily I improvised a story about needing help holding the curtain back while we hoisted a flat up into storage. I ignored her grumbling as we made our way into the Community Center, into the auditorium, and up to the stage.
The stage was empty and the overhead floods were on. I led Wendy onto the stage telling her that we just needed her to hold the curtain at the far end while we lifted a flat. What Wendy didn’t know was that when she hit her mark, center stage, she was going to get the surprise of her life.
As she reached center stage the lights went out to the pitch blackness of a closed auditorium. Amidst the darkness, all of our friends who had been hiding behind the tormenter curtains lining the back of the stage came out to their places in front of the curtains. A spotlight came on suddenly and highlighted the two of us. I turned to look at Wendy whose eyes had grown huge in shock.
In the spotlight, I dropped to my knee and pulled out that little box. It suddenly dawned on Wendy what was happening. There, center stage, surrounded by friends and loved ones, I asked Wendy to be my wife as she melted into tears, said “Yes,” and then leaned down to kiss me.
Dinner at Monarch’s with Kevin and Becky turned into dinner at Monarch’s with all of those who shared the moment with us. It’s amazing to think that it was a decade ago. “A lot of water under the bridge,” as they say. Still, it doesn’t take much for me to be right back in the midst of that memory, and I’ll admit that my heart still skips a beat when I go there.
I should mention that I had our photographer hiding on the floor of the auditorium. As soon as the lights went black, he popped up from between the rows of seats and began snapping pictures. We turned the photos our our engagement into 5×7 notepads that were given out as gifts to guests at our wedding reception.
Some photos just happen in an unexpected moment, and this photo has become one of my favorite personal examples. Wendy’s favorite color is red. This past June while visiting Scotland’s Museum of Contemporary Art in Edinburgh, Wendy took a seat on a bench in one of the galleries to rest. I turned to look at her and realized that the artwork behind her made this gorgeous red halo. How apt. She had no idea why I lifted my camera and snapped her picture, but I loved the result.