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March 30, 2009

Family Visit

Center of attention 032909 LR While we were dress shopping yesterday we took the opportunity to swing by Jesse & Heidi's place to pay a visit. Josh came over, Heidi whipped up some loaded nachos and we had a regular family reunion. It was great to see them and our little neice, Sophia, who continues to grow like a weed. She's changed a lot since we saw her at Christmas.

You can tell by the picture who is the center of attention around the household. It was great to visit for a few hours and catch up. We brought Jesse and Heidi some of their favorite Walkers shortbread cookies from England (No, we didn't buy them at Target - we got them in London, thank you).

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 116

Wedding dress shopping 02 032909 LR What can I give back to God for the blessings he's poured out on me? I'll lift high the cup of salvation—a toast to God! I'll pray in the name of God; I'll complete what I promised God I'd do, and I'll do it together with his people. Psalm 116:12-14 (MSG)

I took my daughter shopping for a wedding dress yesterday. She looked so beautiful and grown up. It felt strange. But, it was a good kind of strange. Where has the time gone? How did I wake up and find myself so far down the road along life's journey? My baby is getting married. She's a loveable, valuable, capable young woman.

I look back at where I've been. I look around me. This stretch of life's road looks different than I had expected. Don't get me wrong. It's a good place. I've been so blessed. God has been so good through all of the troubles, sorrow, and anguish along the way. "What can I give back to God for the blessings he's poured out on me?"

"I'll complete what I promised God I'll do..."

That includes walking my daughter down the aisle.

March 28, 2009

Tulip Time Production Starts

Dominieswife2006_lr When Wendy and I got back from London this week we started production on Union Street Players Tulip Time play, Letters from Pella. Our community theatre does a one act play for the tourists every other year at Tulip Time. Letters from Pella tells an interesting story about Pella's first immigrants. It uses actual letters between the first residents and their native Holland to reveal some of the conflict, hardship and division the fledgling community faced as they forged a new life for themselves on the Iowa prairie.

This is the fourth Tulip Time production for Wendy and me. We're reprising our roles as Dominie (Dutch for "pastor") H.P. Scholte and his young wife, Mareah. We played the Dominie and Mareah in USP's 2006 production of The Dominie's Wife.

Performances are 4:30 in the afternoon each day of Pella's annual Tulip Time festival. If anyone is coming down for Tulip Time, I hope you'll sneak over to the Community Center and see the show!

March 27, 2009

Chapter-a-Day: Psalm 115

Negative...again. He gives childless couples a family, gives them joy as the parents of children. Hallelujah!  Psalm 115:9 (MSG)

For two years, Wendy and I have been praying for a child. For two very long years we've been deperately trying to get pregnant. I'll spare you all the details of what a long journey it's been, but it has been a very long, painful, expensive journey. I'm tired of praying. I'm emotionally exhausted from tears and faith unrewarded. I'm tired of the monthly roller coaster of hope and disappointment. I'm tired of sweeping up the pieces of my wife's broken heart every four weeks and unsuccessfully trying to glue them back together.

For the past three days the psalms have proclaimed promises of children to the childless.

God, I'm tired of trusting. I'm scared of hoping anymore.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and slayer23

March 26, 2009

Back to Reality

Yesterday was the dreaded day of return to reality. Wendy and I realized that most of our vacations are spent with at least some attention to voice mail and email so that, when we return, the pile is not so huge. Going to England seemed a good time to completely unplug, however. And, it was a great time to forget about everyday life for a while and just "be" in London. It was nice to just experience it and forget about everything else.

Yesterday, we realized why we don't always unplug completely when we take time off. The stack of "to-dos," emails, voicemails, and snail mails appeared as mountains before us. Plus, we had a week's worth of dirty laundry and "stuff" to unpack from London...all the while getting over jet lag.

Yesterday was not a fun day.

Today will be better.

Won't it?

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 114

He turned the rock into a pool of cool water, turned flint into fresh spring water. Psalm 114:8 (MSG)

Some days God's promises are a life line on which to cling. Other days they seem hollow and empty; a cruel joke in the midst of present circumstances.

Today, it feels like the latter.

March 25, 2009

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 113

Embankment Station London 031909 LR God is higher than anything and anyone, outshining everything you can see in the skies. Who can compare with God, our God, so majestically enthroned, Surveying his magnificent heavens and earth? Psalm 113:4-6 (MSG)

It was interesting reading these verses after a week in London and two long flights "across the pond." There was much about London that was different. You had to look the opposite way when crossing the street (they drive on the left hand side). There were very few public trash cans (they employ street sweepers), and there was no place to write in a tip for your server on the credit card slip.

There was much about London, however, that was the same. Some people were extremely polite and courteous. Some people were very rude. There were good times and trying times. There were things that we enjoyed and some things we didn't enjoy. Wendy and I had moments of exhiliration and moments of utter frustration. God is God, enthroned and reigning over all. Whether you live in the United States or the United Kindgom, we are all just your basic boogerheads in need of God and plodding along on this journey through life. 

London Days 6 & 7: The Last Day & the Journey Home

The only thing on our itinerary on Monday was the play England People Very Nice at the Royal National Theatre in the evening. Wendy and I went down the list and thought of the last few things on our "to-see" and "to-do" list. Our final day would be spent doing the last few things on the list.

After a leisurely morning getting up and ready, we hopped the Tube and headed for Harrod's department store. Harrod's is one of, if not the most famous department stores in the world. The son of the owner was Princess Di's boyfriend, the one who was killed in the car accident with her. Just as the Mall of America would be a "must see" on a trip to Minneapolis, Harrod's is a "must see" when you go to London. It's four floors and an entire city block. There's nothing you can't find at Harrod's. They don't just have chocolates, they have an entire room filled with counters representing different chocolatiers from around the word. It was quite and experience just walking through the place and seeing products like jellied ox tongue. We didn't spend a lot of time at Harrod's, but we walked through, bought a few souvenirs, and the hopped back on the Tube.

Our next stop was Kensington Royal Gardens, and this stop was for Taylor. She and Clayton are reading some classic novels together and they've begun with Peter Pan. There is a famous statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, so we went to take some pictures for her. It was at this point that we felt the weather turning for the worse. We'd enjoyed five days with lots of sunshine, but as we made our way into the park the wind was chilly and cold. The statue was a lot of fun and we stopped for a few minutes to watch the swans on the lake, but it was getting cold and we soon headed back to the Tube station. I should mention, at some point, that Wendy had downloaded this really cool application for her iPod Touch which had a map of the London Underground system. You could plot where you were and where you wanted to go and it would calculate the route complete with which trains to catch at which stations and approximately how long it would take. That little program was a lifesaver all week and Wendy was constantly planning our routes.

One of the things we'd wanted to spend more time doing was walking through one of London's open markets. We'd visited Covent Garden Market on Friday, but we were there in the evening as the vendors were shutting down. As we headed down to the Tube I noticed that we were two stops from Notting Hill, the neighborhood where the movie Notthing Hilltakes place and the site of one of London's most famous markets on Portobello Road. So, we went two more stops and hiked about a mile up the narrow street of antique dealers, vintage clothiers and one-of-a-kind shops. It was Monday, so most of the vendors weren't open. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the walk and stopped at a few shops.

We went back to our apartment briefly to drop off our packages and then headed back towards Covent Garden. By this time, I was craving a good American restaurant, and we'd walked past a T.G.I. Friday's on Bedford Street several times. So, we went there for lunch. It was, indeed, much like any Friday's here in the states. By the time we left, the rain and started and we knew we were in for some traditional London weather.

The Covent Garden market was also largely shut down on Monday, so we hoofed our way back towards Trafalgar Square. We'd picked up a few trinkets during the week, but thought that this would be our last chance to stop in one of the requisite cheesy tourist shops. As we entered, the rain began to pour. We shopped, and picked up a cheap umbrella for four pounds. Exiting the shop and heading back for our flat, we opened our new umbrella, It took all of about a half block for the wind to turn the cheap umbrella completely inside out and break it. So much for that.

Our final night in London was at the National Theatre. England People Very Nice was a very interesting play that tells the story of four waves of immigrants that have come to London throughout history: the French Heugonots, the Irish, the Jews, and the Bangladeshis. The theme of the play reveals that each group was rejected and harassed upon their arrival, but eventually they became "English" and subsequently harassed the next wave of immigrants for not being English like they were. It was extremely well done and done with a lot of comedy. It was a great way to end our trip.

Yesterday (Tuesday) was sunny once more and we were anxious to get home. We were a little rushed, having not given ourselves as much time to pack and get to the airport as we should have. But, we made it on time and had relatively uneventful flights home. There was one small delay in Chicago that left Grandpa and Grandma Vander Well waiting an extra hour at the airport, but it was so good to be home and to see them there waiting for us. We walked in the back door to be greeted by Taylor about 8:30 p.m. (though to our bodies it was 1:30 a.m.). We grabbed a bite, chatted with Taylor, and headed to bed.

Now we face theunpacking, laundry, stack of mail, full email inbox and backlog of work awaiting us!

Pictures:

  1. Peter Pan statue in Kensington Garden.
  2. Peter Pan statue in Kensington Garden (detail).
  3. Peter Pan statue in Kensington Garden (detail...notice all the characters and animals in the base of the statue).
  4. Peter Pan statue in Kensington Garden (detail).
  5. Swan at Kensington Gardens.
  6. Wendy uses her iPod Touch to map our route on the Tube.
  7. Portabello Road Market, Notting Hill.
  8. Wendy at Lancaster Gate Tube station.
  9. Notting Hill Gate Tube station.
  10. Notting Hill Gate Tube station.
  11. Villiers Street outside Embankment Station. This was the view that greeted us as we headed back to our flat from the Tube station. Two blocks up, two blocks right, one block right. If you look on the left side of the street you can barely see a Starbucks sign. That's where we met John on Sunday.
  12. Tom at T.G.I. Friday's on Bedford Street.

Pan statue 01 032309 LR  Pan statue 02 032309 LR  Pan statue 03 032309 LR  Pan statue 04 032309 LR  Swan @ kensington gardens 032309 LR  Wendy checks the tube map app 032309 LR Portabello Road @ notting hill 032309 LR  Wendy at the tube stop 032309 LR  Notting hill gate tube station 032309 LR  Notting hill gate tube station 02 032309 LR  Villiers Street outside Embankment Station 032309 LR  Tom @ TGIFs in London 032309 LR

March 23, 2009

London Day 5: Family Reunion

One night about six years ago I went on a Google search to see if I could unearth any information about my family still living in Holland. I knew that we had cousins there and my Grandparents visited them many years, but nothing else. All I had to go on was that my Great-grandfather had a brother named John van der Wel that he left behind when he came to America in the late 1800s. A Google search revealed one possible lead. A man with the name matching my Great-grandfather's brother was posted on a forum along with an email address. I took a shot in the dark and emailed him. Miraculously, he turned out to be my third cousin.

Since that time, John and I have been corresponding through email and John has been working on the family tree in Holland. When John read on my blog that Wendy and I were going to be in London, he made arrangements to fly to London from Amsterdam and meet us.

It was another beautiful day in London as Wendy and I made our way down to the Starbucks across from Embankment station where I'd instructed John to meet us. The sun was bright and warm and we enjoyed sitting out in the sun drinking our respective coffee and chai. There is another Starbucks about a block up the street and somehow John managed to sneak past us and was waiting for us there. Eventually I suspected we may have missed him and I found him waiting for us there.

It was a gorgeous day to walk, so we walked over to the London Eye, which John had hoped to see. The weekends are huge for tourism in London and the lines were already very long. John decided he didn't want to wait in line, so we walked back to Trafalgar Square and then down through St. James Park to Buckingham Palace. John and I enjoyed talking and Wendy was enjoying herself snapping pictures.

We eventually made our way back to Trafalgar Square and had a quick bite of lunch before hooking up with a walking tour that went to famous rock and roll sites in the Soho district. We saw Paul McCartney's music publishing company, Trident studios, the mural that inspired the cover of the Beatle's St. Pepper album and the place where the Beatles started Apple records and held their famous rooftop rock concert.

We were tired and thirsty from all the walking and we headed back to The Sherlock Holmes pub where we enjoyed a few pints and a bite before John had to catch the train back to Heathrow for his flight home. John brought us a gift of some Dutch bitters and a pint of a Dutch beer. We really enjoyed the day with John and are looking forward to paying a visit to the Netherlands and hosting John somedahy when he  decides to come to the states.

Wendy and I headed back to the apartment and realized that we were really, really tired. There's not much happening in London on Sundays, so that gave us a good excuse to stay in, get some rest, and go to bed at a decent time. We called the girls and were able to Skype with Taylor, which was wonderful.

It's our last day in London. Harrod's, Kensington Gardens, and the National Theatre are on the agenda today!

Pictures:

  1. Wendy at Starbuck's outside of Embankment Station.
  2. The famous lions of Trafalgar Square.
  3. Tom & John van der Wel on the Trafalgar Lion.
  4. St. James Park (photo by Wendy).
  5. Tom & Wendy in front of Buckingham Palace.
  6. Tom & John in front of Buckingham Palage.
  7. Tom & John at the Buckingham fountain.
  8. Lion at Buckingham palace (photo by Wendy).
  9. Buckingham fountain (photo by Wendy).
  10. John & Wendy at The Sherlock Holmes.

Wendy @ embankment station 032209 LR

Tom & wendy @ Trafalgar Square Lion 032209 LR 

John vdw & tom vw @ trafalgar Lion 032209 LR  St. james park london 032209 LR    Tom & wendy @ buckingham palace 032209 LR  Tom & john @ buckingham palace 032209 LR  Tom & john at buckingham fountain 032209 LR  Lion of Buckingham Palace 032209 LR  Buckingham Palace Fountain 032209 LR  John & wendy @ the sherlock holmes pub 032209 LR

March 22, 2009

London Day 4: Tennis Anyone?

Our fourth day in London, once again, dawned sunny and warm. We've certainly had a nice stretch of weather for our visit. Since our initial trip to the National Gallery was made on our sleepless first day, we decided to stop back and see a couple of the works we'd missed on our initial stop. Afterwards, it was back to Embankment station to catch the Tube (a.k.a underground or subway) to Wimbledon.

When planning your visit to London, you read that the Tube is the fastest and easiest way to get around town. Wendy and I prepared with maps and iPod apps to plan our underground commutes. What they don't prepare you for is the fact that certain stretches of the Tube can be closed with little or no warning for repair, forcing you to find a bus route instead. Bus routes in London are a bit more complicated. Those famous red London buses bustle around like an army of red ants and finding the right one can be a bit dizzying.

Nevertheless, we made it to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (otherwise known as Wimbledon) just before they were going to give away our reserved spots on the tour. That would have been a shame because the tour of Wimbledon was one of our favorite stops on our trip. Wendy and I love watching the annual summer tennis tournament with all it's pomp and tradition. Being on those famous grounds and learning about the tournament was really fascinating. The tour takes you to many of the places that only players get to experience during the tournament, including the players entrance, the television studios, the interview room, the underground tunnels, etc. We even got to see the Wimbledon trophies. Unfortunately, Center Court was under construction, having a retractable roof put on, but we were able to see Court No. 1.

I had made an appointment in the afternoon to meet up with Jonty Pierce, who publishes an on-line magazine called Call Centre Helper here in the UK. He'd named my blog, qaqna.com, one of the 10 best Call Center related blogs in 2008. We were supposed to meet at the Victoria Terrace Cafe' in Kew Gardens at 3:30. What was estimated as a 30 minute trip (which would have put us at our destination about five minutes late) turned into a 60 minute bus and taxi fiasco. After waiting around the cafe for a half hour hoping that Jonty hadn't completely given up on us, we decided to give up and made our way back to the bus station. As we were waiting for what we hoped was the right bus, I saw Jonty and his family walking out of the gardens and head the other direction. So, I ran and caught him. They were on their way back to their hotel, but we were at least able to personally apologize and chat for a few minutes.

We did get back to Richmond and found the Richmond Theatre where we had tickets for the Royal Shakespeare Company's performance of "The Tempest." Now we were a few hours early, so we found a place to eat. It was an Irish pub, but as we entered past the two security guards we found things a bit in chaos. We'd been told that there was a huge rugby match between England and Scotland at one of the local stadiums, followed by a rugby match between Ireland and Wales. The Ireland Wales match had just started as we arrived and the pub was packed with rugby fans (you could tell the Scottish fans by their kilts). It was really crazy, but the table furthest from the television was vacant, so we decided to stay and eat.

After ordering our meal, I had to use the restroom, but 1) I couldn't find it in the crowd and 2) there was no way I could get to it. So, I decided to exit the pub and go to the McDonalds next door to use the facilities. When I made my way back I was stopped by security and told that I couldn't enter because the pub was too full. They had started to make people line up outside the entrance. I tried to explain that I'd just left, my wife was inside, and I'd already ordered my food - but they didn't care and refused to listen. So, I found myself standing in line hoping that I'd get in before my food got cold. I did, but it was a bit surreal. By the way, Ireand beat Wales.

The Shakespeare performance was the best performance we've seen in London and among the best performances we've ever seen in our lives. Royal Shakespeare combined with a South African Theatre to produce the show. "The Tempest" takes place on a deserted island off the coast of Africa, and the production brought rich African tradition and music to the production (think Hamlet meets the Lion King). It was amazing!

After the show, we had to find the right bus to the right Tube staion where we could catch the right line back to our flat. We made it without a hitch, but were really glad to be back at our apartment!

Picutres:

  1. The players' entrance to Wimbledon.
  2. Wendy stands on "Henman Hill" outside Court No. 1
  3. Wendy looks over the grass courts.
  4. Tom sits in the players' after-match interview chair.
  5. Tom & Wendy with Court No. 1 behind.
  6. Richmond Theatre where we saw Royal Shakespeare Company's production of "The Tempest."
  7. Wimbledon Court No. 1 [click on picture to enlarge]
  8. Wimbledon Complex from "Henman Hill" (Cranes are working on retractable roof over Center Court) [click on picture to enlarge]

Wimbledon 032109 LR  Wendy on henman hill 032109 LR  Wendy looks over the grass courts 032109 LR  Tom interviewed after his match 032109 LR  Tom & wendy @ court one 032109 LR  Richmond Theatre 032109 LR Wimdledon Court Number One Wide LR  Wimbledon from Henman Hill LR