Appetizers and a Sushi Burgerversary

Vivian and I had a busy, busy weekend getting set for and hosting our biennial hors d’oeurves party, among other things. I actually took a day off work to help clean house and then took the kids to Burger King to blow off some steam on Saturday before taking them to Grammy and Pop Pop’s to spend the night. Vivian had helped put together a kind of Sleeping Fort in the basement with Grammy, where Hannah and Aaron spent the night.

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Then on Saturday, we had a handful of our friends over to get stuffed together by eating plates full of hors d’oeuvres. Tamra and Ryan brought Wisconsin-style Bloody Mary cocktails, Jenny and Kody brought some cranberry brie pinwheels, Phil and Jen brought pineapple cupcakes and Japanese pancakes (respectively), Anne and Brandon brought Meatball Sliders, Lisa brought phyllo-wrapped spanakopita with roasted pumpkin seeds, and our friend Sage brought stuffed mushrooms, which won the Pig in a Blanket for the evening.

We had a good evening eating and “shooting the breeze,” as well as trying out a weighted blanket and playing a round of Hit or Miss, a game that Lisa was kind enough to bring. We even brought out Harold the Guinea Pig, who seemed to enjoy being held and nibbling at leftover bits of celery, cilantro, and carrots that we fed to him.

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The next day, Vivian and I had a lovely morning of No Kids, which gave us the chance to sleep in and actually spend time visiting with people at church afterward. We picked up the kids from Grammy and Pop-Pop and also grabbed some sushi from Jade Palace for lunch in honor of our Sushi Anniversary. Then my mom came to babysit so we could finally watch Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker together, a film that seemed to do a reasonable job making up for the previous two films.

Then we dropped by Sickies Garage Burgers & Brews, which had recently opened in the thoroughly remodeled old Summer Kitchen on Cornhusker Road. It’s been an insanely busy place for the past couple weeks, and we had about a half an hour wait when we showed up for a table for two. It was worth it, though. We shared a plate of fried pickles and then Vivian and I had a “Smoky Burnout” and a “Car Lot” burger, respectively. They were so good, we got a third “Honky Tonk” burger to share when we went home.

It was a fun weekend, and a nice annual exercise — however exhausting — to spend a few days cleaning house in the middle of winter just to have some food and fun with our friends. It was also nice to celebrate 13 years of being “official” with Vivian! Happy Sushi (and Burger) anniversary!

Zoey, Breakfast, and Snow Daze

We’ve had a fairly quiet start to the New Year so far, mostly staying warm inside and quietly preparing for an Hors D’oeurves Party among other things at the end of the month.

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We celebrated the two-year adoption of our little tuxedo cat, Zoey on January 10. We had a few extra kitty treats in a bowl of premium food for her for dinner, and then we let her get her first whiff of catnip — which immediately made her go a bit crazy rolling around on the floor.

Then the next day we had a men’s breakfast bright and early with the men of Wildewood. We had a few breakfast burritos and listened to Scott talk a bit about his plans for the group this coming year. I got to sit at a table with my dad and talk a bit about evangelism as well, particularly his missionary work in Brazil.

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In other news, we’ve had snow, snow, and more snow. It hasn’t been all that much in accumulation, but we’ve had bitter cold on one end and slush on the other that’s kept schools closed and us stuck inside. It’s been a good time snuggle up on the couch under a blanket and read comic books.

It’s also been a good time for warm, comforting winter foods like beef stew, homemade bread, breakfast corn dogs, and buffalo chicken dip. Hannah and Aaron have also been finding ways to amuse themselves dressing up as video game fighters and sticking poop emojis on the ceiling. Hannah even came out to help me shovel once and spent a little time making a snowman with her doll Suki.

I think we’ve had almost enough of winter this far, but there are still a few more months to go.

Movie and last pump it up

It’s been a groggy start to the new year, getting used to a regular forty-hour work week after having a fortnight bisected by Christmas and New Year’s. Vivian’s been making use of her new KitchenAid mixer, whipping up some homemade pizza and sticky buns that have definitely been a treat.

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We spent Saturday taking down our Christmas tree and decorations, bringing an official end to the holiday season (and introducing the kids to Mr. Bean and Punky Brewster in the process). Then on Sunday, we dropped by First Presbyterian for another movie night. We arrived early enough to get in some quality playtime outside, playing hide and seek with the kids on the playground and then inspecting a tree stump to determine its age.

Then inside, we got some chili dogs with a few of our friends for dinner before watching Homeward Bound, the 1993 live action animal Disney film that Vivian and the kids have seen multiple times, but I never had. The kids got to break out their sleeping bags as well and get a nice view right up front.

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Then on Monday night, we had one last bouncy trip to Pump it Up. We’d gone to multiple outings at this inflatable indoor park, all hosted by the Autism Society of Nebraska. Hannah and Aaron have both loved going up and down the big slide and hopping across the giant balls over an inflatable pit.

We’ve even come to know a few familiar faces after coming month after month, but unfortunately Pump it Up will be closing its doors at the end of January, so this was our last trip. We didn’t tell the kids, and I hope we’ll find a new bouncy venue for them to hop themselves down once again.

We may be having a quiet week or two coming up, which will be just what we need to get the house ready for another Hors D’oeurves Party at the end of the month. Stay tuned for that!

Happy New Decade

Hello, 2020 — a New Year, a New Year, and a new season of writing on the wrong year on everything. Seriously, it’s going to take a while for 2020 to sound more like a real-life year and not a TV show.

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Somehow, we ended the year in the same way we started it — with a visit from Senator and Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Warren. I’m honestly surprised she’s still in the race, considering the gaffe claiming Native American ancestry. She’s one of the farther-left candidates on the Democratic ticket, which is a shift from her earlier days when she supported such things as school choice. She’s still one of the front-runners, however, so I joined a couple hundred people at Woodrow Wilson Middle School to hear her talk about teachers’ unions, climate change, and other Democrat issues. (Strangely enough, she didn’t once mention Donald Trump or the impeachment, which was something of a surprise.)

Her husband Bruce Mann was also in the crowd, which seemed a mix of older folks, families, and young people. Sen. Warren also seemed to make a point of making time for “selfies” after her Q&A session, which at least half the crowd of around 300 stuck around for. It was interesting to see how many people were getting selfies before the event started. Unlike most folks in the crowd, however, I wanted to get a question on video rather than a selfie. Her staff didn’t seem sure hat to make of that (and seemed a bit suspicious of me), and they insisted on holding my phone for me when I got up to meet Sen. Warren. Was going to ask if she’d appear on the show of her former student, Ben Shapiro, but I decided to ask a softball supplied by my daughter Hannah and asked about Warren’s kids instead. You can see a video of that here.

It’s always a bit of a thrill to meet the Presidential candidates I hear about on my daily podcasts, even if I’m not planning on voting for them. In about a month, they’ll all be gone!

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Then on New Year’s Eve, we celebrated the only way we know how — with lots and lots of food! We made some homemade corn dogs with a corn dog maker unearthed from our basement, along with some frozen fruit smoothies using a smoothie maker Hannah got for her birthday. My folks (and Uncle Jonny) came by a little later and got to meet Harold the Guinea Pig. They brought along a fondue set and some sirloin steak to cook in boiling canola oil, which was quite tasty. We also sampled some unique cheeses I’d gotten from Aldi, which included an “ash” brie and Borgonzola.

After my folks left, Hannah played Trouble with Mommy and Grammy while waiting for midnight. Jack and Donna joined in and stayed later for a cheese fondue that Vivian cooked up for us. Hannah stayed up late as well, having fun dipping things in the cheese fondue and serving them to us rather than eating them. We had the TV tuned to the ball drop in New York City and then toasted the New Year when they replayed it for the Central Time Zone, ringing in a new year and a new decade.

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We slept in on New Year’s Day and then had a mostly quiet day cleaning up and then playing at the park with the kids. It was warm enough for them to have an hour or two to run around the Sandy Park before Jack and Donna came over to our house for dinner. Jack brought a black-eyed pea soup made with leftover Christmas ham (specifically the bone), which we had with a table full of hors d’oeuvres (hooray for meat roll-ups).

Now that the holidays are officially over, we’re going to have to start taking down our decorations and thinking about all the things we can expect in 2020 — fun and otherwise. Happy New Year, everybody!

2019: year in review

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Cheers to 2019, and all of fun we’ve had all year!
Here’s a quick recap for you all — in pictures!

We can’t wait to see what fun we can expect in 2020!

Top 10 Foods of 2019

It’s been another year full of fond memories and good food. I’ve taken a look at the memorable things we’ve had to eat throughout the year and narrowed it down to this top ten list for 2019.

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#10. Baked Camembert Fondue

Vivian prepared this little wonder in her cast iron skillet, which consists of four blocks of camembert stacked on top of one another and baked inside a pastry crust, surrounded by baby potatoes (for dipping). I’m not actually fond of camembert, but it was a delightfully fun thing to bring out at our cheese party this year.

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#9. Dad’s smoke-ringed hamburger

My dad absolutely loves his smoker, and all throughout the year he’ll be smoking one thing or another for us to eat in his backyard. Though I love ribs, my favorite smoked treat this year were the hamburgers grilled Labor Day weekend, which were smoked so thoroughly you can see a “ring” around the meat when you take a bit out of it. This was a burger that tasted more like a steak. The best part, however, was being able to eat it after a mere ten-minute walk from our house with the kids.

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#8. Amato’s Polpetti

Among the many restaurant casualties Omaha suffered this year, Amato’s was one of the hardest. We’d gone there for ricotta pancakes and homemade sausage many, many, many, many, many, times in the past, often because they’re right around the corner from where I work. The last time I ate there with Vivian, we decided to get “polpetti” along with our meal, which was a kind of meatball covered with cheese and red peppers. It was tasty enough we bought some of Amato’s breadcrumbs to make some of our own after they closed.

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#7. Donna’s Mother’s Day Chocolate Pie

Absolutely decadent, from the whipped chocolate cream topping to the Grand Marnier soaked into the cake itself, this cake was absolutely amazing. Nothing quite says “I love you, mom” than a chocolate pie like this.

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#6. Gerda’s Schnitzel and Späetzle

Another restaurant we were sorry to lose this year was the legendary German restaurant Gerda’s. I’d been there a handful of times before, and every time was a treat, but I always liked their breaded pork schnitzel and späetzle. It was a shame to lose this place.

As I understand, when Gerda passed away, the new restaurant regulations that her restaurant had been able to avoid by being “grandfathered in” were about to take effect, and they couldn’t afford to pay for all the upgrades needed to comply.

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#5. Vala’s Bucket o’ Chili & Cheese Fries

A visit to Vala’s Pumpkin Patch is usually a very long and exhausting day walking from one end of the park to the other with the kids, checking out every attraction along the way. Down by the corn bin (next to the jumping pillows) is a stand where you can buy a “bucket o’ fries” for a few dollars, and add chili and cheese for a few more. Most of the food at Vala’s is fairly expensive, but this is an affordable mid-day energy boost, quite necessary before hurrying on to the pig races.

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#4. B&B Hot Dogs’ Mac & Cheese dog

This year, Bellevue lost a charming little place called B&B Grill and Arcade, which was like a down-scaled Dave & Buster’s with video games and a variety of hot dogs and deep-fried appetizers. The food was all creatively-themed junk food, but the noisy experience combined with video games made this place particularly special. And what better way to eat a one-pound hot dog than with by slathering it with macaroni and cheese?

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#3. Ceviche

Making the list once again is my homemade ceviche, which i made up for Cinco de Mayo. It’s not terribly difficult to make, but oh my goodness it’s the best thing to happen to raw fish since sushi.  Vivian and I together devoured an entire two pounds of the stuff while watching the Three Amigos, and we probably had room for more.

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#2. Vivian’s baked brie and garlic on baguette

Vivian and I stayed up late on a chilly evening to see a rare blood moon total lunar eclipse back in January, where a full moon was devoured in shadow and then turned ominously red. It was bitterly cold outside, and nothing could warm us up better than roasted garlic and baked brie on a baguette, which Vivian and I enjoyed in every bit of its gooey goodness in-between the stages of the eclipse.

Father's Day Dinner 2019
#1. Father’s Day Dinner

Looking back on 2019, my most favorite food was the dinner Vivian and her mom prepared for Jack and me on Father’s Day. All my favorites were there — prime rib with mushrooms and garlic, a loaded baked potato, roasted asparagus, homemade cheddar jalapeno bread, and shrimp salad (off to the side). There were so many things I liked to eat all at once they couldn’t all fit on one plate (or in one picture).

This was a particularly happy Father’s Day for food, which included burgers with my dad the day before (and another burger for lunch at Don & Millie’s on Sunday). Nothing can quite compare to this meal, however, which happily sits at the top of the list.

I’m already getting hungry looking forward to 2020.
Bon Appétit, everybody!

Merry Christmas, 2019!

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you all had as wonderful a holiday as we did here. The Christmas season always seems so busy and stressful getting ready for the “big day” that it can be sometimes hard to remember how wonderful the day itself truly is once you finally get there.

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I worked half a day on Christmas Eve and then did some last-minute grocery shopping before hurrying home to start preparing food and things for Christmas Day.

Then we took Hannah and Aaron to the 4:30 Christmas Eve service at Wildewood Christian Church. The place was absolutely packed wall-to-wall with near standing-room-only conditions by the time we arrived and got settled. We had an hour long service of scripture reading and Christmas songs, and then the kids were called up front to wave some special Christmas Light Sabers to celebrate the light coming into the world, per John 1:5.

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After the service, we headed home and had a lovely Christmas Eve dinner of beef and pork with Vivian’s folks. Then our kids got to hang their stockings and open a few special Christmas presents — their new 2019 Christmas Jammies and some new Christmas ornaments, which they immediately hung on the tree (with some help from daddy).

Once the kids were all snug in their beds, the grown-ups got to have some egg nog pie and spend a little opening “stockings” with one another, which included new ninja masks, beef jerky, and a talking boxing Trump pen for daddy. We were just about exhausted at the end of the night, but we spent a few last minutes getting the tree and presents all ready for the kids to discover at two in the morning. I also nabbed a few “beauty shots” of our glowing jewel (and the bunny ears) in the living room as the clock struck midnight.

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Christmas Morning came bright and early as the kids were up right at six,and mom and dad staggered behind to get the coffee going before opening presents. Among the loot were some reams of paper (for drawing), new dragon toys for Aaron, a FlipaZoo for Hannah, a new Chromebox computer for Jack, any number of food items for the grown-ups, and literal crap (i.e. manure) for Donna. Even our new guinea pig (whose name now seems to be “Harold”) got a gift or two on his first Christmas.

I also got some fun electronic gadgets like a wireless keyboard/trackpad for my Raspberry Pi and a WiFi AC outlet, which I’m currently using to annoy the kids by remote controlling our lamp.

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At some point mid-morning, we took a break as I made some quiche, which we ate together for brunch before opening some more presents. Things wound down for a few hours in the afternoon as the kids played with their new toys, and I got play Minecraft with Aaron and set up a new computer we got for Pop-Pop.

Then mid-afternoon, we showed a home video of Vivian’s 1986 Christmas with her family in Petaluma. I played the video on my Raspberry Pi in our living room with Jack’s new monitor, which gave me an excuse to try out my new “remote control” keyboard, which worked like a charm. Mommy had a plate of snacks for us in the meantime followed by some candy cane pie from Village Inn, just to ensure we didn’t go hungry for even one second on the way to Christmas dinner.

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A little after four, I took the kids on a walk-walk to spend the rest of Christmas with my parents a block away, where dad’s lawn flamingos greeted us in all their festivity. It was a lively 56 degrees outside and barely cold enough for a jacket as we strolled on over as the sun went down. Vivian had brought over a ham earlier (i.e. my Christmas Bonus from work) for my folks to warm up in the oven, and I’d made a potato casserole that Vivian finished baking in the oven before joining us. Both Uncles Nathan and Jonny were also there to join in dinner, with Nathan bringing along some vegan penne pasta that wasn’t nearly as bad as he said it was.

We ate and then spent some quality time opening even more presents afterward, which included a variety of gifts the kids bought at Dollar Tree for everyone along with more toys and drawing utensils for Hannah and Aaron. The big item of the night was a KitchenAid mixer for Vivian, which I’d managed to keep secret and hidden for the most part at my parents’ house and only brought out once all the other gifts were open.

We finished off our holiday with pie (mincemeat and pumpkin) before heading back home to crash. The kids were remarkably happy and well-behaved all day, which was a joy to see. As for mommy and me, I think I may take an extra day or two off from work next year to clean house and recover from of all of our Christmas cheer.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Holiday Lights & 13 First Dates

Christmas is almost here! That means we have only a few days to check a few more traditions off our Christmas list, including sending out a much belated Christmas letter (with a fresh family photo).

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On Saturday night, we decided to take a tour of some of the lovely Christmas lights in our are. We have a very festive house up the street that seems more crowded every year with illuminated Christmas statuary. We also took a trip up the street to Wood River Drive, which was lit once again this year but sadly lacking a candy-cane bearing Santa (who was sick, according to a sign).

The most impressive display we saw by far was Washington Park in Olde Town Bellevue, the majority of which was decked out with multi-color LED displays, all timed with music that was playing throughout the evening. The park even had its own Santa sitting in the pavilion waiting to greet us, though he didn’t stick around long enough for a proper picture. I took plenty of photos of the park, but still images can’t do it justice — you have to visit it yourself to get the full experience (or maybe play my video below).

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Then on Sunday, Vivian and I celebrated our 13th First Date Anniversary a day early so we could in on the last holiday light bus tour of the season. First, we dropped by Hunan Fusion, celebrating our sushi anniversary a month early with some tempura appetizers and sushi for two. We drove down to Oak View Mall and boarded our bus for a two-hour tour of Christmas lights in West Omaha. We drove through Linden Estates, Arbor Oaks, and Champions Run, criss-crossing streets around Dodge and Blondo to see various streets and houses lit up for Christmas.

We passed a few familiar streets we’d seen in years past but got to tour many we haven’t. The most impressive street by far — and the most crowded — was Larimore Ave., which had cars backed up for blocks inching east and west down the street. It was a seizure-inducing party somewhere around 135th street, with houses on both sizes all decked out like the Griswolds. Santa and his elves were even on hand to greet those who abandoned their cars and decided to take the street by foot.

The trip was more fun than I expected, since we had a driver to navigate the streets for us while Vivian and I were both able to sit back and enjoy the lights. I even made notes of the streets we took so we could potentially retrace the route with the kids. We just have to be prepared for the long crawl of Larimore — and get everyone a bathroom break beforehand.

Next stop — CHRISTMAS!


Christmas at Washington Park in Bellevue, Neb.

T’was the Week Before Christmas

Christmas is a week away, and that means we’re counting down all the various annual events and traditions on our way to the Big Day.

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First up for the Institute’s annual Christmas Party, this year held down at Wheatfield’s at One Pacific Place. It’s the one time out of the year Vivian gets to mingle with many of the folks I work with all year ’round. Vivian also got to meet my co-worker’s new baby, who will be hanging out in our workplace for the next year or so. Of course, we also had dinner followed by dessert (but not Grinch Cookies) and some music from the talented Stephen Tefft in-between. Dr. Hilgers said a few words as well and handed out work anniversary plaques, per the norm.

I’m reminded every year how nice it is to work somewhere that not only has these kinds of festive events but also has employees who genuinely seem to enjoy participating in them.

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Then on Sunday, we dropped by the Children’s Museum so the kids could spend a few minutes with Santa, along with Rudolph, an elf and an Ice Queen (definitely Not-Elsa, per Disney’s lawyers). Hannah and Aaron got to see the usual exhibits afterward, such as the balls and the animal slides, but they spent most of their time in a weird hybrid exhibit upstairs that combined dinosaurs and construction equipment. That meant they played inside a prehistoric shark submarine, dug for fossils with bulldozers, and decorated a gingerbread house… because I guess that’s construction related? I’m not even sure. In any case they had fun, and we stayed all the way until closing time.

We’ve had a few hints of a White Christmas so far, but nothing major for snow other than some hazardous, slippery roads. We’ve still got a few more stops before Christmas Day, though, so hang on until then. (And get your shopping done!)

Birthdays and Guinea Pigs

It’s been a busy, busy week, with multiple church programs, birthdays for both my parents, a new candidate running for office, and a new family member for the Johnson family.

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On Friday night, I got to attend the campaign kick-off for Robert Anthony, who’s running for the State Board of Education in the Second District. Because Board of Education districts are different from both congressional and school districts (and since it overlaps with other counties), I had to do a bit of research first to make sure I could vote for him. We had some barbecue from Big Bubba’s Que and talked a bit about educational issues before he gave his stump speech. He’s a strong conservative and actually home-schools his own kids, so he’s tuned in to the sorts of needs homeschooling families likes family would have, and that was encouraging. It’s safe to say he has my vote.

Because I wound up being the one guy with a “Real Camera” for the evening, I wound up snapping a few photos of other guests with Robert before calling it a night. The kids were both asleep when I returned home, and Vivian made up some ahi tuna and scallops for dinner before we watched A Christmas Carol.

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On Saturday, we celebrated my dad’s birthday with the gift of “face time” — i.e. going through a trunk of memorabilia in the basement, looking at some groovy old photos in a few photo albums, and watching a couple old home movies. I was surprised to find a few unique treasures among the family photos and college art projects, including an autographed picture of Mr. Rogers, original campaign posters for Barry Goldwater, and some original artwork from Tribune editorial cartoonist Wayne Stayskal. My dad was friends with Staysakal and apparently gave him ideas for multiple cartoons. When this happened, Stayskal would often send my dad the original artwork, which he kept. (The funniest cartoon, of course, came in the form of a homemade birthday card from Nathan, circa 2002.)

I spent nearly the whole day at my folks’ house, taking a brief break for Arby’s at lunchtime and then heading home as the sun went down.

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On Sunday evening, we had a Christmas program at Wildewood Christian Church (titled “A Country Christmas” for some reason). It was very brief, with just 15 minutes of setting up and decorating a tree interspersed with kids singing a few Christmas songs (with obligatory Christian Hand Motions™). All four grandparents were able to come and see the program, and even Aaron was able to sit still for all 15 minutes of it.

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After the Christmas program, we dropped by the Mills house to meet the newest member of our family — a new baby guinea pig! The Mills had adopted their own guinea pig (named “Ginny”), who unbeknownst to them was already pregnant! She popped out a little baby boy who’s now been weaned and ready for a new home. I’d gotten a cage with bedding and food recently and we were able to set it all up and take our new little pup home that evening. We’re still settling on a name, but Hannah is leaning toward “Scratcher” at the moment.

In the meantime, our poor cat Zoey doesn’t know what to make of this strange creature, who could just as easily be food as a friend.

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And because one birthday visit wasn’t enough, we dropped by my folks’ house again on Tuesday. I made my dad some barley bread, which he’d said a while ago he wanted to try. His father (my grandfather) had mentioned having to eat it during World War I because of food rationing and never liking the taste. Since barley bread is hard to come by, my dad had wanted to try it, so I managed to find some barley flour at Natural Grocers and made him a loaf. It was all right, similar to brown bread or corn bread but much more crumbly (with no gluten holding it together).

We stayed long enough my my folks to open some presents and had a hand-drawn birthday card from Hannah before calling it a night.

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Then on Wednesday night, Hannah and the rest of her friends from MPact had a mid-year awards ceremony in the basement chapel. It was a shorter ceremony than in years past, as the groups didn’t all perform skits or sing songs to show what they’ve been learning so far this year. Everyone on stage got a certificate, and then we stayed just long enough for some punch an cookies before heading home.

Hannah’s been a part of this group since she was a Rainbow, and it’s so nice to see her growing up with all her little friends together!