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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.

Christmas 2016

It is the 28th of December and Christmas is not officially over for us. Madison will fly back to Iowa from her balmy South Carolina home (she told us on FaceTime Christmas morning that it was 70 degrees and she was contemplating a trip to the beach). The four of us will celebrate Christmas together on or around New Year’s Day, so there are stuffed stockings and gifts yet under the tree.

Wendy and I were happy to have family visit us here in Pella this Christmas. Taylor arrived the afternoon of Christmas Eve day and the three of us attended the 6:00 Christmas Eve service at Third Church.

Christmas Eve services at Third Church.
Christmas Eve services at Third Church.

We returned home and watched a couple of Christmas movies. We got through all of While You Were Sleeping and most of the way through It’s a Wonderful Life before deciding it was time to settle down for a long winter’s nap.

Christmas Day was really gloomy. Unseasonably warm (50s F) but very, very rainy.
Christmas Day was really gloomy. Unseasonably warm (50s F) but very, very rainy.

Christmas morning dawned and Wendy made what has become our traditional Christmas breakfast. We stoke up the dining room fireplace (actually, we simply hit the button on the remote, but “stoking” the fire sounds so much more cozy) and settle in around the table. Homemade cinnamon rolls are the special Christmas treat along with our favorite breakfast fare.

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Christmas breakfast.
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Mmmmm.

The rest of the morning was spent relaxing, hanging out, and waiting for the family to begin arriving. Taylor and I had fun on the couch playing with Snapchat and making silly pictures and videos.

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Both the Hall and Vander Well clans joined us on Christmas Day. Mom and Dad Vander Well were the first to arrive around mid-day. Jody, Emma, Sam and Lydia arrived soon afterwards (Scott was home sick) along with Tim (who also left Kumi sick back in Des Moines). Mom Hall arrived with Suzanna and Grandma Vander Hart. Dad Hall met Court, Becky and Lydia at the airport and drove them down in the early afternoon.

Plenty of food. Dish up!
Plenty of food. Dish up!

We had mixed up a crock pot full of French Dip, and the kitchen island was filled with snacks and treats that family brought with them. There was, of course, Wendy’s cheesecake and Uncle Tim’s figure 8 cookies. We enjoyed a meal together and the family spent the afternoon chatting and enjoying one another’s company.

We opened gifts in the late afternoon. By early evening most everyone had decided to head home. Court, Becky, and Lydia stayed with us until Tuesday. Luke and Brooke drove down from Ames on Monday and we had a chance to hang out with them. The afternoon was spent lounging around together. It was also Court’s birthday, so late in the afternoon Luke and I took him to the Cellar Peanut Pub in town for a birthday pint before retrieving George’s Pizza for dinner.

The Court, Becky and Lydia headed to Ankeny yesterday. Wendy and I did a little clean up and then got back to work. Looking forward to our anniversary, New Year’s celebrations, and time with Madison this weekend.

 

 

Pella Tulip Time 2016

The week after my birthday and the first weekend of May is really all about Pella’s Tulip Time Festival. For several years Wendy and I were regularly a part of a production that our community theatre, Union Street Players, produced for the thousands of visitors to our town. USP stopped doing Tulip Time productions a few years back and Wendy and I admittedly took a respite from volunteering for a few years. Guilt would set in as we wandered up to the square from our house, just a block away. We vowed that we needed to get in costume and volunteer. It takes a not-so-small army of volunteers to make this thing work, and at some point it would be time to play our parts once again. Ironic that we’re more involved now that we moved far away from our prime property just off the square.

Last year was the year to dive in. We volunteered to portray our town’s founders for the annual three day event, roles that we’ve played on stage multiple times. Last year we were in costume for 12-13 hours straight all three days, but discovered that it was a little much. The 1860s fashion was a little overwhelming to don all day. So, this year we vowed to do things a little differently.

Thursday morning of Tulip Time. Just knew it was going to be a good weekend.
Thursday morning of Tulip Time. Just knew it was going to be a good weekend.

Weather for the festival this year was pretty stellar. Thursday was sunny and relatively cool. Friday was the hot day with temps reaching near 90. Saturday was cooler, much more humid, and hazy. There was a brief sprinkle during the afternoon parade and an intermittent light rain during the evening parade, but the sun made regular appearances in between..

We spent our mornings outside the Scholte House Museum greeting visitors and talking a few confused passers-by into giving the museum a try. And, we got our pictures taken somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,344,682 times. The most fun were the wandering gaggles of foreign visitors who would, as a group, whip out roughly a dozen or six cameras at the same time. Then, various members of the group would take turns running up to stand with us while cameras, cell phones, and iPads were hoisted like paparazzi next to the red carpet. Wendy said her face hurt from all the smiling! 😉

We took a brief break for lunch around noon and continued our duty outside the Scholte House until around 2:00 in the afternoon. We would then wander back across town in the early afternoon, stopping every 5.34 feet for another picture. I’m not sure how many international dialects I heard saying “One…Two…Three!”

By 2:30 we were in our places to be picked up for the afternoon parade. Our horse drawn carriage (refurbished this year and sporting a beautiful sign) was actually pulled by the Tulip Queen’s horse. So we would sit behind the Historical Village and wait for the Queen to make her pilgrimage through the parade. The horse would quickly be switched from the Queen’s luxurious ride to our humble little four seater. It was rather comical getting Wendy in her HUGE hooped skirt to squeeze into the back seat of a carriage that had been designed for much smaller people. I joked that there wasn’t enough room for Wendy, her dress, and me. We would then take back streets to the beginning of the parade route and pray that we made it on time. We actually made it five out of the six parades this year.

It was fascinating to watch the crowds at each parade. They shift and change. The Thursday afternoon crowd is filled with seasoned citizens who arrived on one of an army of buses from around the Midwest. Thursday is always the lightest day from the sheer number of humans, and the Thursday evening parade feels like mostly locals with their families and visitors. Friday is the hybrid crowd. There are still a number of bus tour visitors, but there’s a growing number of diverse visitors from all over. By Friday evening, the after-work, weekend crowd had fully descended for a picture perfect Iowa night. The parade route on Friday evening was packed. Saturday is the crowd crazy day. The sea of humanity is varied, colorful, and a ton of fun. The Saturday afternoon parade had people packed deep the entire length of the parade route.

After the afternoon parade it was time to get out of costume and enjoy being Tom and Wendy for a while. The difference between Tom & Wendy as Henry & Mareah Scholte and Tom & Wendy as Tom & Wendy Vander Well is quite a contrast, to be sure. On Thursday afternoon I had forgotten something in the Historical Society’s Curatorial Office where we’d changed back into our mild-mannered civilian selves. I returned to the office where a number of workers from the Historical Society were gathered in any number of official duties. One young woman who works for the Society thought I was a tourist and said to me, “I’m sorry sir, this house is not part of the tour!”

She was a big confused and taken aback when I simply smiled and said, “I know,” and walked right past her into the back room where we’d stored our belongings. When I returned she was still standing there looking confused and bit frustrated. As I passed by her I smiled and said, “You don’t recognize me out of my Dominie costume, do you?” It was then that it dawned on her who I was. I wish I had a picture of the shocked look on her face, before she began laughing and apologizing.

Our afternoons incognito began at the Heineken Loft in the Pella Opera House visiting with friends and relaxing in the air conditioned loft while we watched the festival pass by on the streets below. Then it was off to the food stands to try one of the many tempting options afforded by the food vendors at Tulip Time.

This year’s culinary surprises were the “Double Dutch” which Wendy had on Thursday night, and the Romanian Sausage sandwich I had on Saturday. The Double Dutch is a quarter pound hamburger topped with Gouda cheese, which then gets topped with a large slice of Pella bologna. Sounds a bit strange, I know. Wendy loved it. I only had a bit, but had to admit it was pretty delicious. Our friends from Pella’s Greek Orthodox Church sell a Romanian sausage sandwich. The recipe came from the the grandmother of one of the people in the parish and it had been highly recommended by our trustworthy City Council representative, Larry Peterson. Again, I was surprised at how good it was. Not something I would have ordered otherwise.

Of course, we also had to get our annual taste of the Tulip Time staples. Stroopwaffels, Poffertjes, Dutch Letters, corn dog, tenderloin…. You get the picture. Regular diet resumes sometime today (after we finish up a few of the leftovers!).

On Thursday night we took our supper from the food stands to the Cellar Peanut Pub’s courtyard. The Iowa Craft Beer truck was set up at the back of the Cellar’s garage and was serving a special wheat ale from Peace Tree Brewing in Knoxville that is made with wheat milled by Pella’s Vermeer Windmill. Everything the Cellar served on their 50+ taps during Tulip Time was from local Iowa breweries. It was a great addition to the Tulip Time offerings.

About 8:00 we were back at the Historical Village getting back into costume for the 8:30 parade. When the parade was over we would quick get to our car and try to navigate the back streets home before the parade was completely over.

It was good to see family and friends, as always. Taylor came to town late on Thursday and was supposed to join us again on Saturday until some kind of intestinal crud struck her. Madison and her boyfriend, Matt, arrived on Saturday morning for a cup of coffee together before Wendy and I headed into town. Madison had fun introducing Matt to everything Pella and we joined for some enjoyable conversation at the Heineken Loft in the late afternoon, then debriefed at home late into the night. Today was supposed to be kind of a 50th birthday celebration with the girls, but with Taylor down those plans got theoretically rained out just as my Cubs-centric birthday bash got rained out in both Chicago and Des Moines last weekend. I guess, once again, “there is no joy in Mudville.” C’est la vie.

Today is rest, recuperation, and reentry into routine. It’s been a fun week. Once again I shake my head in amazement at the unique community we’re blessed to call home.

Mom’s Valentine’s Day Present

We are blessed that the progression of my mother’s Alzheimer’s has been slowed by meds. We’re thankful for each day we’re able to continue to enjoy together. I’ve read that music and images are positive stimuli for those suffering with Alzheimer’s, triggering memories and hopefully lubricating the brain to continue remembering.

With that in mind, I put together a little video for mom (and dad) for Valentine’s Day this year. Some old family photos and music that hopefully gets the synapses firing in a positive way. The Dixieland jazz that accompanies photos of her as a little girl is from Bix Beiderbecke, an Iowa native. My mom’s dad loved Dixieland and attended the Bix festival in Davenport. My mom told me that when she was a teenager, the Crew-Cuts’ Sh-Boom was her favorite song. She repeatedly played it so much that it drove her father crazy (I remember having similar thoughts about N’Sync), so that’s what I chose for pictures of her as a teen. The Lord’s Prayer was sung at their wedding, and I can remember my mom listening to Whitney Huston’s CD a lot, especially after watching The Preacher’s Wife.

Our plan to take the folks out for Valentine’s dinner was scuttled by weather, but I had a chance to swing by their apartment this week and play them this video. It was fun to hear their memories, laughter, and to witness her tears as she watched. At the end of the video she wiped her tears and said, “God has been so good to us. We have been so blessed.

I hope she will enjoy watching this video over and over again. And, I hope it will continue to remind her of God’s faithfulness and blessings through the home stretch of her life journey.

My Photos: 2015

Last year I put together a slideshow of some of my favorite photos from 2014. I thought I would continue the tradition again this year. So, for Photo Friday, here is a compilation of some of my favorite photos from the year 2015. Some of them are favorites because I liked the shot from a photographic point-of-view, and others are favorites simply because of the moment and the memory.

Enjoy!

Top Five Tuesday: Distractions

 

Speaking of distractions, here are the top five outlets feeding my appetite for distraction:

  1. Facebook: Who’s doing what, where, with whom right now?
  2. Twitter: #losingmyselfin140characters
  3. MLB At Bat: All things baseball and the Cubs at any moment.
  4. Photos: So many photos, so little time.
  5. PSVita: Inside the man is a boy who loves his games.

The Groom

Sam Keithley triptychWe were at our nephew’s wedding last weekend. I had my camera out and was snapping away. When the the processional music swelled I rose with the crowd and turned to see Sam’s bride, Lydia, walking the aisle with her father.

“Sam!” Wendy urgently whispered in my ear. “Take a picture of Sam!”

I turned and snapped a series of pictures of Sam as he watched his bride walking down the aisle toward him.

So glad Wendy prompted me.

Priceless.