Biden my time

It’s the dog days of summer, with highs breaking the century mark, right on schedule for our anniversary (which we usually celebrate at a water park). Naturally, we’re finding ways to have fun while keeping cool, like running through the fountains at Stinson Park and installing new light fixtures in the basement.

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Over the weekend, Hannah and Aaron got to participate in the annual River City Confectioners’ Association cake show once again. Hannah made a cute little snowman while Aaron made a shark cake, and they each won a ribbon and a bag of prizes for participating. The cake show was held at the Douglas County fair, which itself was inexplicably held in a series of empty storefronts at Village Pointe Mall. I didn’t see any show animals or rides, but we did stop by an exhibit full of science-related toys and activities. They also got some balloons and paint-work done before we called it a day.

A few days later, my Uncle Andy and Aunt Nancy stopped by for a visit, so we took the kids over to visit with them a bit and play a few rounds of charades with the kids.

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A few days later, former Veep and Democrat front-runner for President “Sleepy” Joe Biden stopped by Council Bluffs for a visit. The button brigade was outside as usual as a couple hundred people showed up to squeeze into the Grass Wagon events center. The crowd included the usual media types along with former Congressman Brad Ashford, local blogger Dave Begley, and the  pair of autograph hounds who followed every candidate back in 2016. Biden was introduced by a local cancer survivor named Connie Gronstal shortly before eleven, and then Biden gave a remarkably short stump speech — just under 19 minutes — focusing on standard Democrat topics like healthcare and free college.

Afterward, Biden stayed for nearly an hour afterward to greet everyone along the rope line and get photos with anyone who wanted one (including me, of course). I’ve never been a fan of Biden, but sticking around to meet and greet that many people when you’re already the party front runner put him up a notch in my book.

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That day also happened to be Grammy’s birthday, so we had her over for dinner and cake that evening. Jack grilled up some “tomahawk” rib-eye steaks, which he carved up for us (letting Aaron take a whole bone to devour). The kids had also decorated a chocolate bundt cake, which we lit with candles and let Grammy blow out afterward. Then Grammy opened a few presents with the kids as the evening wound down afterward.

The Fourth

I hope you all had a wonderfully explosive Independence Day! I took Friday off, as most people did, for an extended four-day holiday weekend, which turned out to be more low-key than most of our fourths of July in the past.

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We kicked things off Thursday morning with some pancakes in Elmwood Park at the DCRP pancake breakfast. We got to rub elbows with a congressman and a few other familiar faces as we got pancakes and sausage served up by the Mayor, the Governor, and a few other folks running for office. Our friends the Mills came (as did by dad, briefly) and shared a table with us, and we hung around with them a bit afterward to play in the adjacent playground. Lollipop the Clown was also on hand, making balloon animals for the kids, which we miraculously kept intact before we finally headed on home.

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We had a fairly quiet afternoon before having Jack and Donna and grilling up some burgers for dinner. A little later, my folks came by with Nathan and Jonathan and we set off some fireworks in the street as one big patriotic family. Donna even brought some ice cream for us to enjoy halfway through the evening. We were able to set off nearly every fountain, Roman candle, and artillery shell before our eleven o’clock “curfew” (set by the city), and we were able to whip out a handful of sparklers as well.

Aaron, however, somehow crashed in bed shortly before we started setting things off and couldn’t be roused (either by us or the noise).

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The next day, we marked a milestone for our kids by showing them the Lion King for the first time, which traumatized Hannah halfway through (of course). Then on Saturday, we had a birthday party for our old friend Timothy. The Mathis family has been living abroad in Thailand for a couple years, and we’d last celebrated a birthday with Timothy in 2013. The kids played on a sprinkler mat in the backyard and picked some mulberries together. A little later we had lunch, a cake, and also a piñata for the kids to break apart. A handful of our mutual friends showed up as well, so we got to catch up with them a bit before calling it a day.

We kept things fairly quiet afterward, settling the kids into some summer break activities. We also got Aaron his first legit Big Boy Bed, nabbing both a twin mattress and bed frame with drawers all for the low price of absolutely nothing. Aaron gave it a good test-run with Hannah and seems to approve.

In other news, Burger King has Tacos.

Hot, humid, and Hamlet

We’ve hit peak summer! The kids are done with summer school, and the temperature and humidity are cranked up to high, turning all of Omaha into the world’s biggest sauna.

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Of course, little things like heat stroke won’t keep us away from some of my favorite annual traditions, specifically the concert at Memorial Park, which almost didn’t happen at all this year. Tens of thousands of people took their usual spots on the green to welcome Chris Isaak and Steven Van Zandt (AKA Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul) to Omaha for a hot, steamy evening of music outdoors. We arrived just in time to see the conclusion of the opening local Band, The Firm, before having a couple hours to run around and sweat as the sun went down.

Our old friends the Mathis family returned from living several years abroad in Thailand and joined us on our blanket for the duration of the performance, as did Jon Paper and Kate and her girls. Jolene kept the kids busy with some fun patriotic head gear, games, and glow sticks, while I kept busy trying not to pass out while chasing Aaron around the park. The evening concluded with the traditional fireworks, which we got to see before trudging back to our cars.

I wasn’t even familiar with the bands that were playing, but I’m very glad the concert still happened — especially since Loessfest is now permanently cancelled for the year. Special thanks especially to a few “anonymous” donors including Susie Buffett, who was unexpectedly outed by Little Steven at the end of the concert.

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We spent a quiet Saturday celebrating the last day of Chick-Fil-A appreciation month. Then we welcomed Grammy back after her month away in California by having her babysit the kids as we went off to see Hamlet. It wasn’t much cooler the next day, but the “green” in Elmwood Park had shade and even a breeze that made for a far more comfortable performance.

An almost entirely different set of friends joined us on our blanket for our second “Shakesperience” of the year, including Randy and Jolene, Mark, Phil and Jen, and also Lisa (again). We shared food on the blanket briefly before the show began, and It was a very good performance, as usual. One actor played three roles as Hamlet’s father’s ghost, a grave digger, and an actor. Hamlet was also played inexplicably played by a woman, as were multiple other male parts of the play, but aside from brief confusion as to which character was which, I was able to follow the classic story without any trouble.

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On Sunday, we had a welcome back dinner with Grammy with some homemade ceviche, but for the most part we stayed inside and cool (though some of Hannah’s toys ventured out to the driveway for whatever reason). Then on Monday we spent the evening down at Seymour Smith park to swing and run around in their spray-ground. We invited Lexi and her kids along and made an evening of it before returning home for some pulled pork sandwiches for dinner.

Next stop: Independence Day!

All’s Well

We’re creeping up on the busiest time of summer, when we hit a slew of our favorite outdoor activities just as the temperature ramps up to smoldering (and hopefully without any rain).

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First on the agenda is our first visit to Shakespeare on the Green. It was the evening that almost wasn’t, as the National Weather Service was predicting an 80% chance of rain during the show all the way up until a few hours before it started. I fortunately hedged my bets and saved us a spot on the green. A handful of our friends joined us for a relatively pleasant (and perfectly dry) evening. As usual, we got to play a bit of dress-up and share some food and drink together before the show started. This evening’s program was All’s Well that Ends Well, played entirely by a female cast this time around. I was only vaguely familiar with the plot of the play before it started, but it was fairly easy to follow, even with the gender-bent cast.

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Saturday was my brother Nathan’s birthday, so my dad grilled up burgers for lunch and we even had a “7-up” cake to celebrate. Hannah and Aaron both decorated some cards, and we played a game or two after lunch. (Dad also wanted to play some old movies of his, but his ancient movie projector decided not to cooperate.)

Then that evening, our friends Kody and Jenny hosted a “deck party” up at their house in Bennington. Kody had some pork tacos for everyone, and we got to eat outside with a handful of our friends and their kids. Aaron had Hannah played some made-up games with hula hoops and had a particularly good time chasing bubble around. There were more thunderstorms in the area, but we were fortunate enough to remain dry the whole evening once again.

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I decided to take Monday off for a delightful kid-free day of cleaning the garage. I also wound up mowing three lawns in the space of a few days — my dad’s, Jack’s, and our own. Jack actually cooked up some barbecue pork chops and shrimp for dinner, which we ate with the kids out on the back deck after I gave the lawn a trim.

This is the kids’ last week of Summer School, so Vivian and I have been making the most of it — particularly having a breakfast or two together without the need for babysitters. On Wednesday, we went to First Watch here in Bellevue, and then on Friday hit Burger King, just for the heck of it. It’ll be nice not having to shove the kids out the door every day for school, but it’s also been nice to have some quiet days for cleaning up the house as well.

Next stop: Memorial Park Concert and the Fourth of July!

Father’s Day and Long Goodbyes

We’re still recovering from our a crazy week juggling both VBS and Aaron’s birthday, but we couldn’t slow down long before running right into Father’s Day weekend.

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I told Vivian all I wanted to do for Father’s Day was “as little as possible,” and I got to enjoy that for the most part. I still wound up mowing my parents’ lawn on Saturday morning, and I also brought along ingredients for a Father’s Day lunch of burgers and fries. My dad warmed up his smoker and used his own special rub on them, which seemed to turn out quite well. I added some grilled mushrooms and cheese to the mix. Our plan was to go through one of my dad’s old trunks downstairs, but he was a bit beat afterward and we wound up playing a game and then tinkering with his YouTube page instead.

Then on Father’s Day, I got a couple lovely cards from Hannah and Aaron. I had some alone time burning calories at the Kroc Center and filling them right back up again at Don and Millie’s. Vivian invited her dad over for dinner and made prime rib for us, with loaded baked potatoes, asparagus, and shrimp salad. She also had some berry cobbler for dessert, which we had after herding the kids off to bed. Then she had some presents for me, which included a jar of Mister C’s spaghetti sauce and some tools for my bike, which I hope I’ll be riding to work more often soon.

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In the midst of all this, we had to say goodbye to a pair of classic Omaha restaurants closing within the week. First was Gerda’s, a German restaurant of over 40 years. I’d eaten there with Vivian before and more recently with my dad, having schnitzel and spaetzle and German sausage as well as pastries from the bakery. The original owner died last year, however, and new government regulations made it financially unfeasible for the restaurant to remain opened any longer.

Second was Amato’s, the Italian diner-style restaurant down in the Aksarben neighborhood, which has been operating even longer. I first heard about them from Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” which aired an episode with them in 2009. I’ve loved their homemade sausage and ricotta pancakes and had the chance to eat there a number of times, their location just down the street from where I work being super-convenient. Vivian I had breakfast there one last time on Tuesday, and I got to have polpetti for the first time (and maybe not the last if I get it to go this week).

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The hardest goodbye, however, was to our dear Honda Civic. We’ve had it for about a decade now, and it was the car that first took Hannah and Aaron home from the hospital since they were born. Even after being totaled in late 2017, I’d still been able to drive it on a regular basis, unwilling to part ways until the “wheels came off.” Well, after a year and a half it’s finally time to say goodbye. Bought my brother’s Corolla have been enjoying driving a car with new tires, smooth-riding suspension, and functioning heat and air conditioning for a while.

Our kids had turned our Civic into a makeshift playhouse for themselves in the meantime, but now that the car is gone, I hope they can find a place in their heart for this new member of our vehicular family.

Gaffigan, a governor, and Aaron turns five

We’ve had a busy, busy week here in Omaha mixing work and fun and family all together — with a little bit of gorgeous weather along with it.

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First up was Unite, a huge event held by the Archdiocese of Omaha. The Pope Paul VI Institute, where I work, was one of about a dozen organizations invited to showcase their work to several thousand Catholics who came to participate at the Qwest/CenturyLink/CHI Center in worship, mass, and fun. Our booth was the result of six months of planning, with graphics and banners and eight keynote speakers at our corner of the concourse. I was on hand to take loads of pictures for several hours, so I definitely got my “steps” for the day.

As a reward, Vivian and I got to see a performance by Jim Gaffigan in the afternoon. We’d seen several of Gaffigan’s routines on Netflix previously and were well versed in his food-related humor (specifically Hotpockets). I was also aware he was a Catholic, which was likely part of the reason he was recruited as the “draw” for this event. His set included a few jokes specific to Omaha, including comments on the Runza (and how its name tells you what it gives you). We got seats fairly close tot he front, and I was even able to smuggle in my camera to get a few halfway-decent snapshots for the blog.

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Then on Sunday after church we had a birthday party for Aaron with some friends at Elmwood Park. The weather went from mid-90s to 70 literally overnight, so the weather couldn’t have been more perfect for playing on swings, slides, and sand toys during the afternoon, getting a little exercise before getting sugared up.

A bunch of Aaron’s little friends were able to join us, as were mom and dad and Uncles Nathan and Jonny. Donna and Vivian had prepared a birthday cake decorated with characters from “True,” Aaron’s current favorite show on Netflix, which we cut into around 3:30 (and even lit candles on for a few seconds). Then Aaron got to open a few presents before calling it a day.

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In the meantime, Wildewood Church is having a week-long VBS with the theme “In the Wild.” Because of Aaron’s birthday (and sheer exhaustion) we weren’t able to attend the opening night. We were able to drop in on Monday, which was a lot of fun. They had some outdoor activities and crafts that parents and kids were invited to participate in, as well as crafts and songs with crazy hand motions that felt more like 80s-style aerobics. They also had a bible story and a snack sandwiched in the middle. I wasn’t entirely sure if we’d have the energy to participate with all the other stuff going on this week, but the kids seemed to have a lot of fun, and Vivian and I wound up crawling on the ground on all fours along with them.

This was actually the first VBS I’d actually attended since I was a kid, and I was amazed at the amount of work and energy the volunteers must have put in to pull it off.

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Then on Tuesday I got to meet Steve Bullock, Democrat Presidential Candidate and Governor of Montana, over my lunch break. His meet-and-greet was held at Barley’s in Council Bluffs, of course, which has become the go-to place for Presidential candidates for reasons I can’t quite understand. He spoke briefly with reporters (and Tom Becka) outside on the sidewalk before speaking to a crowd of a couple dozen inside afterward. He hit a bunch of fairly standard Democrat talking points, such as climate change and “women’s health” (AKA abortion), and he emphasized his work as a lawyer with the IBEW union.

The crowd was largely friendly, and I shook his hand afterward telling him that I hoped whoever becomes President in 2020 can help heal the divide in our country.

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Then that evening we celebrated Aaron’s actual birthday with pizza and presents with the family. I got three large pizzas from Papa Murphy’s for dinner, partly to ensure leftovers for a couple days, and we ate with Pop-Pop, Grandma and Grandpa, and Uncle Jonny. Then Aaron got to open a few more presents, which included a glowing dinosaur nightlight from Uncle Jonny, a soccer ball from grandma, a cornhole game from Grammy, a marble chute construction set, a singing Baby Shark from Hannah, and a periscope from Grandpa (which Hannah immediately seemed to take possession of).

We also had a second cake, this one being decorated inexplicably with Hannah being eaten by an alligator while Aaron looks on with a shark (I still don’t get it).

We’ll have more fun forthcoming this week, and hopefully I’ll have the chance to catch my breath soon. Maybe for Father’s Day.

Summer schooled

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Summer vacation doesn’t seem like it’ll be happening this year, as we suddenly find ourselves busy every moment of the activity between work, school, and summer activities together (and also some time at the park hunting for mushrooms). Grammy is taking off for a month-long trip to see family in California, so we had her over for one last haircut and then a goodbye dinner with the kids before she left.

In the meantime, both Hannah and Aaron are going to be in summer school full-time for around a month. This is a whole new public school experience for both of them, but we thought it would be a good experience to try something new, at least for a few weeks, to see how it goes. They both seem particularly happy about riding the bus to school, and mommy and daddy have been watching them take off every day this week.

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Then on Tuesday, we spent an evening at Lauritzen Gardens with the Mills. The Bellevue Public Library was hosting a free event showing us a variety of “wicked” plants and letting us plant our own venus flytraps, which was particularly fun. At the same time, an oldies cover band called the Greasers was playing to several hundred gray-haired Boomers who seemed to cover every free space of green in the patio area out back.

Once we were done with our plants, we walked right past and spent an hour or two exploring the gardens, looking at the trains, gnomes, and usual sights such as the children’s garden, the Japanese shrine (and dance hut), and a rose garden in full bloom. It was a quieter night than we’ve ever spent, and it felt very much like we had the gardens to ourselves.

This next week, we’ll have a trifecta of events to bring summer busy-ness to a fever pitch — namely Arch Omaha Unite with Jim Gaffigan on Saturday, Aaron’s birthday, and a week of VBS filling every other spare moment. Maybe when that’s over I’ll have another blog update for you (but not before)!

Memorial Day Weekend

We’re having a lovely spring, with baby bunnies running through our yard and the lilac, peonies, and hostas all in bloom. We had a couple thunderstorms as well, one of which blew out the side panels in our deck and knocked a tree down across the street. Fortunately, they haven’t done much worse — or interrupted any of our fun, outdoor activities.

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First up was the first outdoor movie of the year at the SumTur Amphitheater (AKA the “Movie Park”). Some middle-school age kids were giving some kind of performance with the “House of Music” through much of the evening, playing some cover songs as the kids got to run around on the grass for a couple of hours.

Then, (well) after the sun went down, we got to watch Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse, an animated film that featured various incarnations of Marvel’s web-slinger. It was a fairly interesting movie, though it was played several decibels too loud for my liking and was far more violent than I expected from the Dove review I’d checked out.

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I got a good deal of exercise over the weekend cleaning gutters and mowing my parents’ lawn. We also had dinner with our friends the Lenarts on Saturday and spent Sunday afternoon swimming at the Kroc Center to cool off.

Then on Memorial Day, we broke out the American flag and walked the kids to my parents’ house to have beef ribs (and cobbler). Jack and Donna joined us, as did as my two brothers. After we ate, Grandma brought out some old photos to show Hannah her grandpa in his army uniform. We’d told the kids the meaning of Memorial Day, which Hannah managed to illustrate in her sketchbook later on.

We enjoyed the outdoors a bit more in the afternoon, playing some ball with the kids and uncles in the backyard and then playing a few other games indoors before calling it a day.

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In other news, the kids will both be attending all-day summer school through the month of June. This was an elective decision on our part to give them both time for intense socialization in a public school environment without making a full-year commitment. As such, we had one last lunchtime rendezvous at “daddy’s park,” giving the kids the chance to swing and splash about in the recently-activated fountains by the spire. I even brought along a chance of clothes so I could join in with them. We won’t be able to do this again until July or so.

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Then on Thursday night, I dropped by St. Luke’s in South Omaha for a town hall with Congressman Don Bacon. He holds these types of events regularly (unlike his predecessor), so I try to take advantage of the opportunity whenever I can. The room was about half Republican and half Democrat, if my gauge of the applause and boos are correct. Everyone had the chance to submit a question, which were pulled at random from a box. My question was what he though he’d be ale to do with the other party controlling the house. “We need to do better at that … It’s a frustrating thing,” he responded.

There weren’t too many fireworks, but I was surrounded by constituents who were grumbling, sighing, and even yelling out their own opinions out of turn throughout the event, so it was a bit difficult for me to bite my tongue and stay silent. Still, it was a good exercise in self-control, and it felt good to know we live in a country where you’re allowed to yell at your congressman without getting thrown in prison.

Parks and Politics

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Well, we’re getting a taste of summer in the midst of spring, with temps going from 90 to 55 like they just saw a state trooper. As such, we’re taking advantage of every opportunity when the weather’s gorgeous to take the kids out for quality park time, running up the Keystone Trail, swinging on the playground, and getting a semi-serious family selfie like we’re ready to drop an album.

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Then after park time, I dropped by DJ’s Dugout to hang out with some Young Republicans. I’m a bit too old now to be a YR myself, but I was still invited along to hear a few words from Mayor Jean on the state of the city. A few other local Reps were also on hand, such as Congressman Bacon’s communications chief Kyle, to give a few updates.

Mickey Manley (whose party affiliation I’m unsure of) was also there to encourage the youngster to join his Facebook group called “500 Millennials of Omaha,” which seems to be a lively place on social media to say the least.

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On Saturday, we had a fun outing with the kids to Mahoney State Park, which had free admission for the day. We took an obligatory trip to the top of the (perpetually shaking) observation tower to get a good look at the Platte River together and get a few goofy photos). Then we explored the forest near the river down at ground level afterward (and climbed a tree or two), as well as the lodge. We spent more time down at the newly-refurbished playground, trying out the rope bridge, merry-go-round, racing snail, and family swing.

We drove a few miles north to Ashland and had a quiet lunch at Breadeaux Pizza afterward. We walked up and down Silver Street just long enough to look at some meat before stopping by another playground just until some rain clouds came moving in.

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Then that evening, we watched Aquaman and planted a garden the next day. Then on Monday, I dipped into the political waters again to have dinner with the Governor down at the Garden Cafe. Gave a 40-minute talk to a handful of the River City Republicans to talk about on-going relief efforts from the massive flooding we had back in March, which included rebuilding major roadways and bridges. He also talked about taxes, specifically two bills in the legislature that will likely be raising them if they manage to pass.

There was some brief Q&A afterward, and I got to talk a bit with Ricketts about his recently “kicking over the hornets nest” posting support of pro-life bills in Alabama and Georgia. He’d recently been told by some left-wing groups that they were planning to protest him over it, which didn’t seem to phase him in the slightest.

Mother’s Day Weekend

So Spring is still here, which this year is including far more not-blistering-hot and not-still-snowing days than last year. It also seems to include far more birthdays, for reasons I can’t fully understand.

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We kicked off the weekend last week with a trip down to Stinson Park with the kids after work. We mostly avoided the Heart Walk preparations, which were happening at the same time. Our friend Ryan was in charge of that, so Tamra brought Quinn (and grandpa) down while that happened.

Our kids got in some quality swing time and running around, and I tried unsuccessfully once again to introduce them to dim sum for dinner. Hannah seemed to like the Vietnamese spring rolls, but Aaron only wanted the fortune cookies.

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The next day, our friend Kate celebrated all three of her girls’ birthdays simultaneously down at the Armbrust YMCA. We got to have cake and ice cream with a veritable herd of other little ones running around (and getting sugared up). Then we managed to fill an Olympic-sized pool for an hour splashing around together with mommies, daddies, and siblings.

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This year, Vivian and I decided to split Mother’s Day between our two respective moms, which meant I took my folks out to dinner at Roma’s on Fort Crook. It was a decent family-style restaurant just down the street from us with giant portions of Italian-American standards, like the chicken parmigiana, which I had (and bread rolls). Vivian stayed home with the kids, negating the need for a babysitter and giving me some rare one-on-one time with the folks.

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The next day, of course, was Mother’s Day. After church, Vivian and her mom spent the afternoon together shopping at both the World Market and the Old Market (no relation).

I stayed home with the kids, helping them prepare a homemade Mother’s Day card for mommy, which included one from Zoey. Jack was busy making some ribs and potatoes for dinner, and I contributed with some roasted broccoli and my first-ever loaf of homemade bread. I had to scramble to find a recipe that didn’t require five hours of “proving” to have it ready in time, but it turned out surprisingly well, with a nice, hard crust that I knew Vivian liked. We ate together with the kids and then let mommy open a few of her Mother’s Day presents before breaking out the chocolate cream pie Grammy brought with her.

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The next day, we had a belated birthday party for our little friend August. A cluster of his little friends (and their moms) gathered at the reclusive Twin Ridge Park II between Ft. Crook and Highway 75. The kids had fun spinning on the merry-go-round before and after getting sugared up with a tasty camping cake, courtesy of Donna. I stayed long enough to get a few pictures and then went to tear up our garden at home in preparation for a season of home-grown tomatoes (and other produce, probably).