Haircuts and Hot Wings

It’s been a remarkably quiet week or so as the holidays fade away and a new year begins. Vivian smoked the discounted salmon I got on New Year’s Eve, which was quite tasty on a bagel. I also finally took down our Christmas tree and took it off to the dump to be with its many other tree friends.

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On Saturday, Donna came over and gave everyone a much-needed haircut. I’d been in need of one for some time, as I was reaching mullet territory, and Hannah got a short pixie cut and used some of Aaron’s scraps to make some adorable wigs for her little dolls.

Then on Monday, I went to my parents’ house to watch Alabama crush Ohio State in the National Championship game. My dad made some wings with homemade hot sauce, and I brought along some celery, blue cheese, and ranch to complement.

Roll Tide!

Fondue, football, fireworks, and fun in the snow!

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Happy New Year, everyone! We’ve had a fun and busy week as we usher 2020 out the door and welcome in 2021, and once again we were able to spend much of it with our family.

On Tuesday last week, a winter storm blew through town, dropping around six inches on us and prompting me to take a “snow day” to work from home. It was actually quite nice, as I let the plows do their work rather than slipping and sliding to work, and little Harold kept me company on my makeshift office on the couch. I got a decent workout afterward shoveling our driveway and my in-laws’ before having a burrito for dinner and having a bible study over Zoom.

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Next came New Year’s Eve on Thursday night. The City of Omaha had some fireworks down by the riverfront, so we took the kids down there to watch the show. People were told to park in various lots around the Qwest Center (I know what it’s called now but I don’t care), but we found a spot with a better view down at River’s Edge Park in Council Bluffs, where Loess Fest is usually held. We got to see the fireworks a little after seven with music coordinated with 104.5 FM. The kids snuggled in the back seat (mostly paying with their Mad Lib Elf), and then we slogged through the traffic afterward to make our way home.

We had a dinner courtesy of Taco Bell before watching The Lorax, some TV shows, and playing a video game as the time crept toward midnight. Our neighbors set off some fireworks, which we watched out the window, and when midnight rolled around. Aaron fell asleep on the couch, but we roused him for a New Year’s toast (with sparkling white wine for us and eggnog for the kids) after the clock struck midnight.

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The college football playoffs happened on New Year’s Day, so I went over to my dad’s house to watch Alabama beat Notre Dame via a free trial of FuboTV. I brought along some cowboy caviar, which we had with chips as we watched the game.

Then I returned home to have some fondue with Vivian’s parents afterward. We had a cheese fondue once again with parsnips, shrimp, and other things that the kids dipped for us (but didn’t eat themselves). We also wound up watching another football game, as the Ohio State Buckeyes beat the Clemson Tigers (which made me happy, since we weren’t going to have yet anther Alabama / Clemson championship game).

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We finally got around to getting some fresh air and enjoying the snow on Saturday and Sunday. We went out and threw some snowballs with mommy in the driveway, and Hannah tried to build a tiny snowman on the side of the driveway, but we found the snow was still a bit too powdery to make a real one (that would have to wait until Monday).

Then on Sunday, we woke up to a world with trees frosted white, and I took a brief walk snapping pictures of some of its wintery beauty. Then that afternoon we took the kids sledding down at Bellevue East (on “suicide hill“). It was above freezing and the snow was packed down, which made for good sledding conditions. Several other kids and families were there as well, so we had to be careful to avoid collisions with other sledders. Aaron seemed to prefer rolling around in the snow and making snow angels as Hannah tried repeatedly to fly her way into the ditch at the end of the hill.

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Then on Monday, we did even more sledding down at Memorial Park around lunchtime. The weather was in the 40s and lovely as we sent the kids down the east side of the park. Once again Aaron seemed to want to run around and play in the snow with mommy rather than sled, while Hannah tried repeatedly to hit a small snow ramp someone had made — and she was quite happy when she finally succeeded.

We’ve had a fun week kicking off the start of 2021. I hope the next twelve months are filled with more fun with our friends and family, and the pandemic of 2020 quickly fades into a memory. Here’s to hoping!

Hindsight is 2020

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The year that felt like a lifetime is finally over, but 2020 was a lot more than just some pandemic! Let’s take a look back at everything that happened throughout the year!
Three cheers for the beginning of a New Year!

Christmas 2020

Merry Christmas, everyone! We just wrapped up a lovely Christmas weekend, and we managed to celebrate with all four of our grandparents (as well as a pair of uncles). I’m very happy that in spite of the pandemic, we were able to be with the whole family this holiday.

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Things kicked off with a busy Christmas Eve. First, we fired up NORAD on the Raspberry Pi to watch Santa’s progress throughout the day. I spent half a day at work (where someone brought donuts for those who showed up) and then spent an afternoon busy wrapped presents as Aaron built a gingerbread house and Vivian made roasted vegetables for our Christmas Eve dinner. Then at dinnertime, we headed over to Vivian’s parents’ house, which was decorated with lights outside and a Christmas village inside for Christmas Eve. We had a dinner of roast beef, Taber salad, and sweet potatoes, all washed down with Martinelli’s.

Afterward, we opened our stockings, which had such gifts as animal masks, a hair wrap for mommy. toys for the kids, and sushi socks for me. We had some pumpkin pie for dessert before the kids changed into the Christmas jammies (an annual tradition) before we headed home. After the kids were all snug in their beds, I got a few snapshots of our tree and the lights glowing outside, which is always a beautiful thing to see at the end of Christmas Eve.

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The kids were naturally up bright and early Christmas morning to start opening presents. Hannah got a plush Raboot, and Aaron got a Metaknight and Waddle Dee. They also had lots of Legos, which they immediately opened up and started to build with. Aaron also had a hand print towel that he made up in Kindergarten, and both kids had snow globes for us, which they made together in Sunday School.

Around mid-morning, I made up my traditional Christmas quiche for breakfast, as well as a batch of eggnog pancakes for the kids. It was a fun, lazy day otherwise, and in the afternoon, we watched A Christmas Story and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer together in the living room.

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That evening, we headed over to my parents’ house for some more gift-opening with them and my brothers. Hannah got some more Pokémon toys and a fossil-digging kit from National Geographic, Aaron got a new digital camera, and Vivian got a Pioneer Woman cookbook. I got my dad a copy of Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning along with a photo calendar of the kids and a book for my mom.

For Christmas dinner, my mom had chips and sandwiches, along with some olives and sweet pickles. It was simple, but it seemed to work. We also had a hot Crock-Pot full of wassail, which was particularly warm for Christmasy. We headed home not long afterward, stopping by to see a Grinch stealing some Christmas lights before returning home to watch The Nativity Story before bed.

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Our Christmas Day was so full of gifts and visiting tat we forgot to have the kids open their actual stockings in our basement, which were mostly filled with candy and little toys (such as scented Play-Doh). It was also warm enough for a walk around the block with a few of their plush toys before the sun went down.

In many ways, I was very happy with how “normal” this Christmas was — being able to visit all the members of our family on a holiday like this is something I’ve learned to appreciate, especially after a year like this one.

Caroling and a Great Conjunction

Christmas is nearly upon us once again, and that means wrapping up our preparations and having a week full of special holiday moments with our friends and family.

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On Sunday, our friends the Mills invited us to go caroling with them and their kids. They have a tradition of giving little bags of cider ingredients to their neighbors along their street, so we joined them with our kids to sing Jingle Bells, Silent Night, and We Wish you a Merry Christmas up and down fourth street together after the sun went down.

We stuck around a bit afterward as the kids decorated and then ate some gingerbread men. I brought some actual wassail to warm up, and Hannah got a taste of an actual cinnamon stick for the first time before we headed home.

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Then on Monday, we had a Great Conjunction in the sky, as Saturn and Jupiter made a once in eight-hundred year pass at each other. Vivian and I took the kids out to Mahoney State Park (in the dark) to see the sight, though we probably could have seen it just as well from our house. We were far away enough from the city to see a handful of extra stars, some of which I captured behind the clouds overhead while playing with my camera. I was able to get a mostly stable shot of the planets, though every other picture turned the two into little streaks of light.

On the way home, we stopped by Werner Park to catch a glimpse of “Santa’s Rock n Lights Drive-Through Light Show.” It actually cost upwards of $20+ to drive through (and a wait of over two hours, according to our friends), but we got a good view right from the street.

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We had some lovely weather in the 50s on Tuesday, so we took the kids down to Stinson Park for one last lunchtime romp before the cold and snow returned before Christmas. Hannah got some swing time, and Aaron and I went on an adventure around the park fighting imaginary bad guys. Then before we left, we celebrated our last trip to the park with some cupcakes down at Jones Bros. They weren’t free like they were a few years ago, but I figured we could handle a once-a-year splurge before Christmas.

Then that evening, I swung by Jacobo’s in South Omaha to get some tamales for dinner —another one of those annual traditions to check off our list!

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Wednesday brought some cold and snow to the metro, with temperature dropping and snow blowing throughout much of the day. Vivian and I still braved the elements to celebrate another “first date anniversary” together — marking fourteen years since I first asked her out way back in 2006. We went by Luigi’s in Bellevue and got some Italian food together (with some toasted raviolis to start).

Then afterward, we went down to the Old Market to pay our annual visit to the Old Market Candy Shoppe. The whole Old Market was decorated with lovely Christmas lights, illuminating our brief walk through the blasting arctic winds to get our Christmas fudge. I’m so glad we were able to mark another year together — in spite of the weather and everything else that 2020 has brought us.

On to Christmas!

My Favorite Foods of 2020

If you know me, you know I love food — and not just for the taste, but for the memories of family and friends that go with every bite. We’ve had lots of good food together this year just like every other, and I’ve whittled down our selection of tasty dishes down to these top ten. Bon Appétit!

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#10. Buona Italian Beef Sandwich

Our local Aldi began selling giant tubs of this “Italian style gravy and sliced beef” back in May, and I learned about it online. It’s apparently from a very popular chain out of Chicago. We ate ours inside an Italian hoagie with sautéed onions and peppers.  It was very similar to a cheesesteak, but I liked doing mine “French dip” style with the au jus left over (and there was a lot of it).

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#9. Fish fry at St. Charles Borromeo

Lenten fish fries have been a tradition for me ever since I was introduced to them over a decade ago, and I think St. Charles Borromeo has my favorite fried fish of all the ones I’ve visited.

This year’s visit was particularly special, however, because it came at the start of the fish fry season, which was before everything was locked down for Covid a week or two later. I was very happy to have gone to a real, in-person fish fry during this window, and we likely wouldn’t have gone at all we hadn’t been invited by our friends the Simpsons.

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#8. Sickie’s Fried pickles

Sickies Garage Burgers & Brews” opened in the old Summer Kitchen in Bellevue with great anticipation back in January. Vivian and I had been planning on eating there for months. In fact, we swapped our “sushi anniversary” with our First Date anniversary just so we could stop on by. We weren’t disappointed and had three delicious burgers between the two of us. My favorite item on the menu, however, wasn’t a burger, but the fried pickles appetizer we had beforehand. Very tasty!

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#7. Red Bag Chicken

Red bag chicken” at Aldi refers to the frozen, breaded chicken breasts that are very similar to what you’ll find in a Chick-Fil-A sandwich. Combine it with some pickle slices and a brioche bun, and you’ve got a delicious sandwich that’s an easy dinner any day of the week (with or without waffle fries).

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#6. Avocado Toast

I’m just a bit too old to be considered a Millennial, but I’m certainly not too old to appreciate the deliciousness of a toasted piece of sourdough smothered with avocado and sprinkled with “Everything Bagel” seasoning. It’s probably my favorite thing to have for breakfast, so long as I time the ripeness of the avocado just right. I could eat this any day of the week, and often do.

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#5. Sage’s stuffed mushrooms

We held our biennial hors d’oeuvres party again this year, and we had many tasty competitors, but Sage’s mushroom caps stuffed with cream cheese and ground beef were the clear favorite. (And I don’t think we had any leftovers.)

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#4. Homemade Pizza

Vivian made some homemade pizza several times this year, kneading the dough with her new KitchenAid mixer. It’s a delicious thing to have any time of year, but I particularly enjoyed one we had al fresco on our deck with leaves of fresh basil picked from our garden.

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#3. Dinker’s Hamburger

The sign calls it “Omaha’s Best Burger,” and while I certainly have my favorite burger joints in Omaha, Dinker’s was my favorite this year. What makes these burgers particularly unique is how tasty they were without slathering them with seasoning, toppings, or much of anything else. Somehow, the meat by itself is just that good.

We went there for a “Takeout Tuesday” back in March and had a lovely picnic dinner on a beautiful evening at Hanscom Park — our first time visiting the park, which made the occasion even more special.

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#2. Buttermilk Biscuits & Gravy

These delicious biscuits are about as homemade as you can get. Not only are the biscuits made from scratch, but the buttermilk itself is made from scratch — being the result of Vivian’s experiment making fresh butter from cream. She whipped up some sausage and gravy and we had some for a lovely Sunday breakfast before church.

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#1. Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream

This was the highlight of our trip to Mount Rushmore — sitting down after a long walk around the monument to have a giant cone of vanilla ice cream made from a recipe by the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. It was remarkably good ice cream, but part of the fun was eating right in front of Mount Rushmore itself.

We had other delicious contenders on our road trip, including a Runza on Lake McConaughy, an Egg McMuffin on the road, and a burrito from Scotts Bluff, and spam while camping, but this alone was the most memorable.

Parents’ birthdays and Living Nativities

We’re inching closer and closer to Christmas, which means Christmas movies, egg nog, and checking more items off our holiday bucket list. (That apparently includes making enough Chex mix to feed an army.)

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We had a bit of a warm spell last week that made the weather ideal for a visit to an outdoor Living Nativity down the street at Avery Presbyterian Church. It was a lovely, festive little gathering, and I’m glad we go to visit before a passing cold front created a bit of a winter wonderland the next day. The kids got to see and pet a live camel, a donkey, some goats, and a calf all under a tent with folks dressed up as Magi and Shepherds. They also had some lovely shell-shaped sweet rolls for us, along with a table of gifts from “Santa’s Workshop” for kids to pick through to find gifts to give to loved ones. We got them to pick out a few things for all four grandparents. We also got a brief visit with “Santa” for a few pictures before we left. (I also got to overhear a few things for “Santa” to bring our kids come Christmas morning.)

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Saturday brought a blanket of snow to the world, which stayed wet enough to me to shovel without any trouble, leaving our neighborhood quiet picturesque by the end of the day (and nightfall).

My parents also had their birthdays this week, so we celebrated both of them on Saturday afternoon. My dad wanted to go through one of his trunks of treasures with us, which included such things as handmade floor rugs from my grandmother, a Shakespearean tapestry from England, paraphernalia from my parents’ time as missionaries in Brazil, and some unique knick-knacks and tchotchkes made by Brazilian natives, ranging from stylized animal carvings to an actual carved Brazil nut.

My folks opened a couple gifts from us afterward, and then we went down to HyVee to get a bunch of Chinese food for dinner. I also baked my parents a birthday cake, but they’d gotten one of their own from the Uptown Bakery on Fort Crook. They blew out some candles on mine before we ate and then played a few games with my brothers in the living room, including a Family Feud game of all things.

Less than two weeks more until Christmas!

Union Station and Outdoor Lights

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One of our annual Christmas traditions is a visit to Union Station downtown, which we did again this year — pandemic or no pandemic! We got a lovely family photo in front of the tree and got to walk through a train car and a streetcar down in the basement, just like always. Santa was on-hand to hear the kids’ Christmas wishes as well, though he had to stay several feet away and take their requests via telephone (though we did get a photo).

The highlight of our trip was the Jim Henson exhibit, which featured several very original Muppet characters on display, including Bert and Ernie, Fraggles Red and Wembley from Fraggle Rock, Bunsen and Beaker, as well as Gelflings and Mother Aughra from the Dark Crystal and even coffee commercial mascots Wilkins and Wontkins. There were some interactive activities as well — Hannah and Aaron got to assemble features on a “fat blue” Anything Muppet, and they also got to perform with a Muppet in front of a TV camera in a recording booth.

We finished off our visit with a few “phosphates” at the soda fountain before heading home.

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I got some chores done over the following week, cleaning out the garage and unearthing treasures such as my old Game Boy (which I let Aaron try out). Our friend Scott also stopped by and helped replace the latch on our stove.

We also had some fun looking at Christmas lights with the kids. On Tuesday, we took them down Larimore Avenue to see some houses adorned with enough lights to make Clark Griswold proud (one with a Family Truckster on the roof). We also stopped by Wood River Drive, but once again missed seeing Santa.

Then on Thursday, we had some homemade Nacho Navidad (and Christmas cookies from out neighbor Betty) and then took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to stroll around Washington Park in Bellevue. The park was filled once again with multiple light displays, all animated and timed with music that played overhead. The kids had some fun walking around the displays with us, particularly Aaron, who seemed to feel like he was inside a giant video game.

We’ll be having some more Christmas fun happening in the weeks ahead. I just hope I’ll have time to get all my shopping done.


Christmas at Union Station

The Season Starts

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! We’ve had a lovely — and busy — Thanksgiving weekend celebrating the holiday with family and then getting our tree and decoration up to kick off the Christmas season.

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We spent Thursday morning watching the Macy’s Day parade while having some quiche for breakfast before starting to get our food together for Thanksgiving dinner. Hannah and Aaron spent their time decorating the bunch of balloons we blew up for her birthday and turning them into a bizarre cast of characters to play with.

The weather was nice enough for a walk to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, during which time Hannah found a spare tire she decided to claim for herself. My dad carved the turkey while my mom made Waldorf salad (along with olives, pickles and cranberry sauce served in antique cut glass). Vivian and I brought the stuffing, potatoes, and green bean casserole. Uncle Jonny joined the lot of us as we stuffed ourselves and had pie before sitting around watching a “virtual” (i.e. prerecorded video) of the tree-lighting at Union Station. Nothing can compare to the real thing, of course, but it was better than having it cancelled completely.

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Then on Friday we wasted no time getting ready for the Christmas season and headed off to Santa’s Woods to pick out a Christmas tree. It was lovely weather for a stroll through the tree farm to find the perfect fir for our living room. We wound up picking a 6½ foot tree that Hannah and Aaron seemed to like best. They were amused at some of other trees being spray-painted various colors, we but kept ours all natural.

We stuck around a little while afterward to have some hot cocoa, let the kids roam around a bit, and say hello to the reindeer (Twinkle and Mr. Noodle). Then we got the tree tied to the roof of our CR-V and drove it on back to Bellevue, where I carried it inside and we spent the evening cutting it loose and stringing some lights. Aaron in particular seemed to enjoy putting the glowing strands on carefully before we had some pizza for dinner and called it a night.

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The Christmas decorating continued the next day, as the whole family set about putting ornaments on the tree. I played Christmas music all the while via our Sonos as the tree slowly got dressed, and then I went outside to put up the lights on the house as well as our snowman.

The kids and I spent the afternoon at my parents’ house watching Alabama completely roll over Auburn during the Iron Bowl. Hannah and Aaron came along to play a bit in the backyard, rolling the tire Hannah found and spying on the neighbors. I brought some chips and salsa while my dad made some chicken wings. I don’t watch my football myself, but it was a lovely way to spend a Saturday.

We returned home to see our house lit up in all its festive glory, and I was quite happy to see everything seemed to work after the sun went down. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving (and lots of leftovers)!

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Let the Christmas Season begin!

Harold and Hannah have a birthday

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We had a couple of birthdays in the Johnson household this week. First up was our guinea pig Harold, who surprised our friends the Mills by popping out of his mommy’s tummy one year ago Monday. Hannah made him a plate of his favorite foods arranged in a smiley face for breakfast that morning, and then that evening I had some cilantro and baby cucumbers for him to much inside of a new, snuggly guinea pig bed I picked up from PetCo. I’ve had four guinea pigs growing up, but I never actually knew any of their actual birthdays, so this was a special day!

In the meantime, Aaron got to bake some cookies he prepared at church during Sunday School. Hopefully the ones he’s saving for Uncle Jonny and August make their way over before they go stale.

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On Tuesday, I joined the Men of God group at Wildewood for a barbecue dinner — the first time I’d attended since before the pandemic. Our guest for the evening was Charles Wilson from the Omaha Street School, and he shared his story growing up and getting into trouble in college before coming to Omaha to attend Grace University.

We also enjoyed some lovely weather later in the week and decided to take the kids down to Stinson Park. Even though we’d visited several other parks throughout the year, we hadn’t been to “Daddy Park” since way back in March, so it felt good to be back. The kids got to have some quality time running around and playing on the swings. Temperatures were around 70, so we didn’t even need coats. It felt good to get outside for some fresh air, and Aaron even lay down to watch some of the airplanes leave trails in the sky overhead.

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Then over the weekend came Hannah’s birthday (shortly after a few birthdays for her dolls). We had a little party for her and a few of her little friends at our house on Saturday. Sammy and “Other” Hannah came over and made a variety of crafts on our dining room table in the afternoon. Donna brought over a Camping Cake featuring the four of us together (and me taking photos of the food), filled with lemon, strawberry, and chocolate cakes.

Hannah opened a few presents from her friends in the living room afterward before blowing out her candles (on a makeshift “nine“), and everybody had fun eating the little miniature fondant sculptures on Grammy’s cake, which included a butterfly, a bunny, a squirrel, a picnic table, hot dogs and hamburgers, and all of us, of course.

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Hannah actual birthday happened on Sunday, so we got up early for a breakfast of bacon and donuts together before opening some presents. Grammy got Hannah a “bed tent,” which I immediately helped set up for her and Aaron to play in. She got a handful of other presents from mommy and me, including potato chips and Hatchimals. Aaron also had some gifts he picked out, along with a birthday card decorated with the Pokémon Cinderace, which is apparently the final form of Hannah’s favorite Pokémon Scorbunny.

We dropped by Grandma and Grandpa’s house in the afternoon so Hannah could opened a few more presents, including a giant 24-piece set of “Twosie” characters, as well as a plush Scorbunny from Uncle Jonny, which immediately became Hannah’s favorite gift. We went by Dairy Twist for some ice cream afterward, and then settled the kids down watching Finding Nemo while eating (ironically enough) shrimp for dinner to finish off the day.

I think Hannah had a very happy birthday, but we barely had time to catch our breath, as Thanksgiving is right around the corner. (And that meant rushing to buy a turkey in time to thaw!)


Highlights from Hannah’s birthday