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.
Love this lady
Dean and Jeanne Vander Well
Wendy and Cousin Vicki
Those of our crew who could make it.
Bud in his element, regaling people with his jokes and stories.
Birthday cake from Jaarsma Bakery in Pella!
Dean and Bud Vander Well
Brothers Dean and Bud (Herman) Vander Well
When these two get together there is always laughter.
The Vander Well clan
Me and my siblings (Terry, me, Jody, Tim)
You don’t have to be crazy to be a Vander Well, but it helps.
Wendy and I enjoyed an extended Valentine’s Day celebration this year. This past Saturday our friends Matthew and Sarah invited us to join them and two other couples for a Valentine’s dinner of special magnificence. I don’t want to know how much time, effort, and resources went into the five-course meal they prepared for us.
The table was beautifully set and there were four different wine glasses at each table setting. Even before we sat down we enjoyed drinks with an appetizer of various kinds of cheese. The first course was a cream of leek soup paired with a Cabernet. Next came a luscious salad that blended a host of flavors and was accompanied by a wonderful white Riesling. We finished the white wine with a baked salmon filet. As if we weren’t already stuffed, the main course of Beef Wellington was served with an exquisite French red. We enjoyed conversation and let things settle while the chocolate soufflé was baking. Dessert was paired with a sweet dessert red. After dinner the men excused themselves to the deck for Cuban cigars and a sip of single-malt Scotch while the ladies continued to chat around the dinner table. It was a six-hour, five-course love feast.
Of course, while the food and drink were excellent it was the love, laughter, and conversation among good company that made the meal.
Valentines Day itself was a low-key affair for Wendy and me, as it usually is. We decided to stay in to make and enjoy one of our favorite meals together. Wendy made homemade bread during the day which we used for garlic bread. I made Filet Mignon in a dark chocolate balsamic and red Zinfandel glaze and Wendy made some of her amazing sweet potato medallions. A little sea salt caramel gelato was our after dinner treat. A romantic meal for two right here at home.
“…but abide the change of time, Quake in the present winter’s state, and wish That warmer days would come.”
– Shakespeare (Cymbeline 2.4)
Even casual readers of my blog will know that my posting has been, at best, haphazard of late. For almost 11 years I’ve managed to average close to one post a day, but I found myself in an unintended sabbatical of late. I’m at a loss to easily say why. Let’s chalk it up to a mixed winter’s tempest of draining musical production, nasty virus that won’t go away, longer than average holidays, seemingly endless activity, year-end responsibilities, new-year responsibilities, awful head cold, then topped off by what feels like endless business travel.
In the midst of it, however, Wendy and I sought to escape the depths of Iowa winter to visit our friends Kevin and Linda in Palm Springs. Our dear neighbors undertook their first adventure as “snowbirds.” We have greatly missed their good company. So, we snuck out for a relational “fix” while enjoying a week in the sun.
Neither Wendy nor I have spent any time in Palm Springs. I drove through on a business trip many years ago, but did not stay. Kevin and Linda have a lovely little condo with requisite swimming pool. They also had a cute little deck where the four of us could sit and quaff drinks while attempting to solve the world’s problems into the wee hours of multiple mornings. We didn’t solve the world’s problems, and we argued like the Founding Fathers over several issues which kept the neighbors awake. We also found things on which to agree – and in the end we toasted love in both our unity and our diversity (and then we joyfully did it all again the next day).
Our agenda for the week was very simple. We wanted to enjoy the good company of our good friends over good meals and good drink…and do a little reading for pleasure in the sun by the pool. Mission accomplished. We loved the Tropical where cocktails were accompanied with gorgonzola stuffed, bacon-wrapped plums. We also loved Melvyn’s which doesn’t seem to have changed since the days when Frank Sinatra regularly haunted the corner barstool. We had margaritas and chorizo queso on the patio of Maracas not once, but twice. So many great memories were made.
We also took the Palms Springs Tramway from the desert floor to the top of the mountains that loom like a giant wall on the town’s western border. A little shopping is always in order and we found two hat shops where we each found a new hat for the lake this summer (actually, I found two). There is a Thursday evening market along the main thoroughfare and we enjoyed an after dinner stroll through the endless rows of vendors and listened to the street musicians.
Wendy and I also took the opportunity for a day trip to Arizona where we visited our good friend Ann who has been teaching Theatre there for the past few years. It was a fascinating road trip through the desert for us, along the Salton Sea and through the Sahara-like dunes just west of Yuma. Definitely a departure from cornfields and cattle.
Kevin and I took in a baseball game one gloriously sunny afternoon. The Palm Springs Winter League is for college kids and minor league cast-offs who are are hoping for an invitation to MLB Spring Training. According to the league’s marketing, about half of them will earn one. I was excited to learn that the catcher for one of the teams played for my alma mater, Judson. It was also interesting to watch him catch for a young woman who came into the game to pitch in relief. I can’t wait for baseball season to start.
We returned home having made some great memories, and having enjoyed a nice break to the cold and snow. We are a little less apt to “quake in the present winter’s state.”
Enjoy a few of my photos of the trip.
Fear not. I escaped.
Drinks on the mountain top.
Palm Springs Mayor, Sonny Bono. My brush with greatness.
Strolling the Thursday evening market.
Bob Ross socks. Awesome.
You have to respect a town with TWO good hat shops!
Some people are less impressed with nature than others.
Palm Springs Tram… taking us to a mountain top experience.
Mountains loom over Palm Springs like a giant wall.
Baseball, sculpture, sunshine, and a gorgeous mountain landscape.
Here we go! Hangin’ in the United Club on our layover in Denver.
Even as I watch her standing and staring at some random street art, she makes my heart skip a beat.
Spartan street cellists. Who knew?
Dinner on the patio. In FEBRUARY!
We fought the crowds at the Palm Springs Winter League.
Palm trees. Palm Springs.
This private skywalk is part of a nudist colony that spans both sides of the street. We don’t have one of these in Iowa.
Cheers to Mother England from Palm Springs!
Cocktails at the Tropicale!
Love. Love. Love.
A British pub is always a good idea.
We stopped here…twice.
“My, what a big lens you have,” she said to me.
The chorizo queso was so good at Maracas, that we had to go back for more.
Drinks at Melvyn’s, where Frank hung out back in the day.
Thursday night market in the heart of Palm Springs.
I mentioned in a post a week or two ago that over the past couple of years Wendy and I, along with some other family and friends, have been engaged in finding “One Word” that is like a theme for our year. For Wendy and me, the idea is not that we consciously choose a word we desire to be the theme of our year, but that we are open to what word we believe God has chosen for each of us in that year. It’s a faith thing. Ask. Seek. Listen. You’ll know it when you hear it.
I shared in my recent post that the word I’ve been given for 2017 is “empty.” I’m still wrestling with that.
Those who know us well know that Wendy is far more deliberative (literally, about every single thing in life) than I am. I’m an intuitive go with your gut and go with the flow kind of person. Wendy typically weighs and reweighs decisions, and then she double checks her choices in case she might have made the wrong one (I can, at this moment, hear God joyfully cackling at our union). So, the reality is that one year Wendy didn’t really get her one word until sometime in the summer.
Having said this, there are times when Wendy determines something quickly and with abnormal (for her) immediacy. When that happens I’ve learned to pay attention because it’s usually God at work.
So it was yesterday during our weekly worship that Wendy told me that she felt called to go to the elders for prayer. This is a regular thing among our local gathering of Jesus followers. Elders stand ready during worship to pray for anyone who desire is. Wendy went to the side of the room to pray and was there a good while.
On our ride home Wendy shared with me that she had felt prompted to go over for prayer because she has been feeling so “empty.” Yes, she used that exact word. Then she said that as one of the elders (a dear friend and prophet whom God has used to speak into our lives at different times) prayed, she uttered a word that dropped onto Wendy’s spirit. “I went, ‘I think that’s my word!‘”
It was a few years ago now that I read a fascinating story in the Wall Street Journal about a woman named Vivian Maier. Maier was never married, never had children, had virtually no family relationships, and was a nanny by trade. She would have quietly faded into obscurity were it not for one young man named John Maloof who purchased a tub full of photo negatives at an auction.
Maloof’s journey of uncovering the story of the nanny photographer Vivian Maier is told in his documentary film Finding Vivian Maier. The mystery of this woman, her life, and Maloof’s discovery is compelling, but even without their fascinating story the photographs she compulsively took stand as amazing artwork in and of themselves. Maier took thousands and thousands of photographs in her solitary lifetime. Only a fraction of them were ever developed.
I was overjoyed when I found out that an exhibition of Maier’s photographs was on display at the Des Moines Art Center (always free admission!) and even more excited to hear that the Art Center would be showing the documentary in conjunction with the exhibition. It sounded like the perfect Artist’s Date.
So it was that Wendy and I drove to Des Moines yesterday to pick up Taylor at her new apartment (adorable). We headed to Louie’s Wine Dive for a scrumptious brunch complete with Mimosas and Beignets. We then headed to the Art Center to take in Maier’s photographs and watch the film together. Lovely afternoon.
Finding Vivian Maier is on Netflix. The exhibition at the Des Moines Art Center runs through January 22.
A few years ago our local gathering of Jesus followers went through a series of messages entitled “One Word.” One of the exercises we were challenged to undertake was to pray about one word that would be our personal word for the given year – a theme of sorts.
To be honest, I haven’t expended much thought or effort into the process. I have just tried to keep my spirit open and listen. I’ve had a sort of “you’ll know it when you hear it” kind of attitude.
Two years ago my word was fulfill, or as I liked to write it full-fill. Going into the year I had all sorts of ideas about what that meant. That year saw the fulfillment of a decade of leadership in our local community theatre. We were fulfilled to watch our daughters finishing their graduate and undergraduate degrees, respectively. We fulfilled our time of Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, living with us. We fulfilled a calling to build a house. At the end of the year was the unexpected fulfillment of a legacy as the founder of our company, and my life-long mentor, passed away.
Last year my word was focus. Once again I think my early expectations of what that might mean in coming year was not at all what it ended up being. It is easy for me to feel like it was an epic fail when I think about ways that I wanted to focus my time, energy and life. Instead, it seemed to be more about how life required me to focus my time and energy, at times in less than fun ways.
This year my word is empty which, honestly, does not strike me as particularly inspiring or Pinterest-worthy. More than once I’ve asked in my spirit, “Really?!” I always feel the confirmation.
The past two years I’ve entered the year with my word inspiring all sorts of grandiose notions of what it could mean, only to find in the end that reality was more grind than grand. This year my word has my spirit whispering, “Oh, shit.”
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.