A Memorial and a Steak Fry

We’ve been busy weekend here in Omaha having some fun with friends and a few politicians, along with a few rather somber moments over the 9/11 weekend.

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I wound up taking Friday off so Vivian could take Aaron to a doctor’s appointment. After helping Hannah with some of her homeschool work, we drove up to Milliard to help pay tribute to a fallen Marine. If you’ve been following the news, Cpl. Daegan Page was one of thirteen Americans killed in the chaotic aftermath of America’s hasty and sudden retreat in Afghanistan. The news hit home to a lot of people here in the metro area. A few people online organized an event to welcome the fallen Marine home, with thousands of people lining the streets along the route of the funeral procession.

I was able to spot people gathering on the overpasses along I-80 on the way west to Millard. There must have been a couple thousand people just lining Millard Avenue from 132nd to 144th, which was where Hannah and I found ourselves. We came early enough to claim a spot underneath a shady tree, but when the procession finally arrived around 2:30 PM, nearly everyone crossed over to stand along the median as it came by. All you could see from one end of town to the other was a sea of American flags as the motorcycle-led procession came by. A woman next to me burst into sobbing as they drove past. I’m not sure how much of an impact the whole experience had on Hannah, but she held her flag along with everyone else as they came by. It was a rare, unifying moment, and seemed quite appropriate to come before September 11.

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That evening, our whole family drove down to Stonecroft Park to celebrate Sammy and Lily’s birthdays. There was a new “all-access” playground installation Vivian had wanted to see for a while, so the kids had a couple hours to enjoy playing on that. We had Little Caesars for dinner and some cupcakes and the girls got to open a handful of presents before we called it a night.

Then after the kids were in bed, I drove up to the Starlight Chateau for a little swing dancing with few old Jitterbug friends. Jordan was putting on his speakeasy swing dance again, though only a few people showed up to dance. I think we all wore Sara out dancing throughout the night, and Dan got to play from a playlist of goofy novelty songs, including jingles for Coca-Cola, of all things. Mostly, it was nice just to get out and dance once again — something I’ve missed even before Covid came along and ended much of it.

Saturday was a bit of a break as Aaron played baseball, daddy grilled burgers, and we didn’t do much else.

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Then came Sunday, which was a long, busy day as we headed down to Nebraska City for a Steak Fry. It was Gov. Ricketts‘ fourth such event, this time with an all-star line-up of speakers: Florida Gov. Ron Desantis, Sen. Ted Cruz, and former VP Mike Pence. The event was nominally to celebrate agriculture, but it was very much a political rally, with each candidate (and Ricketts himself) rumored to have Presidential aspirations.

We also got to see many other familiar faces while we were there, including Lt. Gov. Foley, former Gov. Kay Orr, Sen. Deb Fischer, and Congressman Don Bacon. What really made this event unique, however, was that the VIP speakers were quite accessible to the crowd at large, both before and after their stump speeches. Desantis and Pence literally walked up and started greeting those of us in line for food, making for plenty of selfies and photos all around. Each of them lingered afterward as well, making it fairly easy to simply walk up with either Hannah or Aaron (or Lexi) to say hello. It’s quite a thrill to introduce your kids to a former Veep — or perhaps the next President.

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Of course, we also had some fun that had nothing whatsoever to do with politics. A few ladies brought an accoutrement of bubble-making wands, which the kids had fun with for a while before and after the speeches. We stayed afterward to let the kids play on the playground for a while as everyone filed out, and we got to play on the Whispering Bench by J. Morton Sterling’s statue once again (as we did last year). Then we swung by Dairy Queen on the south side of town to get some ice cream cones for the ride home.

It was a long, busy weekend, with fun and excitement and a few somber moments. Mostly, I’m hoping that I’m making some memories with the kids that they’ll have at least until the next election.

Baseball, Splash Pads, and Labor Day Weekend

We got to have some culinary fun in the week following my birthday, with some VooDoo tacos with alligator meat, jalapeño poppers, shrimp tacos, and some rambutans all making their way into the menu — and most (hopefully) burned off on the bike trails.

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Then we had a fun little Labor Day weekend. We started on Saturday with another baseball game with Aaron. He got to hit a few balls and high-five a couple team members once again, and he even got to hold the flag during the National Anthem, which was very special! Then afterward, we had one last splash in the spray ground before it gets shut off for the season. Aaron managed to pull me into the spray as well, jeans and all, for a good soaking.

That evening, Vivian went to her annual WAG retreat with her female friends, and I decided to walk the kids down to McDonald’s for a couple Happy Meals for dinner (and ice cream from Subway for dessert). It was a lovely day for a three mile walk, round trip, and bets of all, I didn’t have to cook.

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On Sunday, we took both the kids down to Werner Park to watch the Stormchasers narrowly lose to the Toledo Mud Hens. It was the first time we’d had both kids to Werner Park to see a baseball game (and not just fireworks), and the first time Hannah had been there since 2015. We had seats in the fourth row by third base, but it was so hot and sunny that we soon retreated to the shade of the Centris kids’ pavilion. I think Hannah and Aaron had a little more fun in the bounce house, on the carousel, on the slide, and climbing in the play area than actually watching the game. We did eventually take them down to watch a few more innings with some ice cream to keep cool (and some cotton candy).

Toward the end of the game, we took a walk down to the berm and a line where kids could run the bases once the game was over. We let Hannah and Aaron head down to the field to make their way around the diamond as I snapped photos from the bleachers, and they each got some coupons for free chicken tenders from Hardees for making the trip. That naturally meant grabbing dinner there, since it was just down the street, and I got to have a Frisco burger for first time in ages.

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On Labor Day, I kicked things off with a long ride up to Schwer Park and back. Then at lunchtime, I went with my folks to a 9/11 Memorial Luncheon down at the Garden Cafe. We got to hear from a handful of speakers over hamburger steak and mashed potatoes, including former Gov. Dave Heineman, Don Bacon, Aaron Hansen from the Omaha PD, Omaha firefighter Michael Davenport, and Mike Conolly, a retired NYC firefighter who was there on 9/11. They all had stories to tell, mostly about where they where on that day twenty years ago and some thoughts on the situation in Afghanistan now, particularly from Congressman Bacon.

My folks got to chat with a few of the speakers afterward, which is always my favorite part of events like these, particularly when it seems like both a pandemic and partisan politics has divided us more than ever.

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Labor Day marked the last day of the season for spray-grounds and splash pads to be open, so we decided to spend our last few moments of summer getting wet down at Looking Glass park with the kids. We got some Little Caesars for dinner, which was conveniently along the way down. Then the kids had a few hours to run around in the spray getting wet, stomping and playing with a few squirt gadgets and towering sprinklers on site. Mommy and I even got into the spray for a little bit before the sun went down and we headed on home.

It was a great three-day weekend with the family, though part of me can’t quite accept yet that summer’s supposed to be over. Maybe once the leaves start changing color, I’ll change my mind. (And please, no Halloween crap yet — that’s just obscene.)

Wyclef Jean, Elvis Costello, and Turning 43

So, I turned 43 the other day, celebrating my passage into another year with dinner and dancing with friends, a return of the Memorial Park Concert, and some quality time with the family.

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We kicked things off on Friday with a trip out to Rockbrook for some outdoor music courtesy of the Steve Raybine Band. There was a passing thunderstorm that got things nice and wet to start off, and it left me worried about the prospects of dancing outdoors, but it cleared up in time for me and a handful of my friends to hit the floor once the band started up. They played jazz instead of the swing music I was used to, but the beat was in eight-count and I was able to keep time with Vivian and a few other follows for a dance or two.

Afterward, we headed down the street to Village Inn at 108th and L — a tradition from my old days of jitterbugging when the dance would run until midnight and Village Inn was the only place open. This one closed at ten, but that was more than enough time for us to have some pancakes and pie together with some goofy conversion to cap off the evening (and a card from Dan).

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Aaron had an early baseball game the next morning at 9:30 AM, so we headed down there to watch him play for a bit (as well as pet a baby bulldog, which happened to be for sale). The Pancake Man was there as well, tossing pancakes for folks to catch, so I nabbed a couple and we had a nice little breakfast together.

It was still hot and muggy outside, so the kids spent some time cooling off in the spray-ground, which will likely be turned off in the next week or so as summer officially comes to an end.

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On Saturday night, Vivian and I headed down to Memorial Park for the return of their annual free concert in Omaha, which I’d been looking forward to for months. I’d been a fan since 2010, when Kansas, Styx, and Foreigner all played the same night — and I got a T-shirt to mark the occasion. This year, they had local band The Firm kicking things off, followed by Wyclef Jean and then Elvis Costello to headline. I wasn’t familiar with any of the music, but I was quite happy to nab a spot on the green and enjoy it with Vivian as the sun went down. I was expecting it to be hot and sweltering again, but we found a spot in the shade, and a steady breeze made things just perfect.

Vivian and I both enjoyed Wyclef the best, who had the audience waving their arms, dancing, and spinning things in the air as he played guitar with his mouth and actually climbed up the steel supports on the stage just for kicks. He played a variety of music and did some freestyling in Spanish and French. I enjoyed Elvis Costello as well (who glowed red and green) during the show, though the only song they played that I was familiar with was Pump it Up, which came at the end. The night was capped off with a fireworks show, and we just happened to plant our chairs within a few feet of where they were going off, so we got a monumental eyeful as every corner of the sky was ignited with rockets’ red glare.

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Sunday was my actual birthday, and I spent most of it with the family. Vivian made me a tasty breakfast burrito to start things off, and later on I got a few cards from Hannah and Aaron, along with some presents — a new set of saddlebags for my bike from Vivian and a game and other fun things from the kids. I also went by Walmart to get a new, goofy T-shirt to wear for the day.

At dinner time, the kids and I walked down to my parents’ house for dinner. Vivian and her folks joined my brothers and my parents as we had some hamburgers that my dad smoked for us. We ate outside and then had some cake, which Hannah happened to make (and bake) all by herself. She even decorated it with a drawing of our family riding bikes together, which was very sweet.

After dinner, I opened a few more gifts inside, which included a cordless drill from my folks and some snacks from Nathan and my in-laws. Then we watched some photos Nathan took from a recent trip to Michigan, where he happened to drop by our neighborhood in Kentwood. I popped open a bottle or two of Cheerwine and we finished off the evening playing some goofy games on Uncle Jonny’s Switch before calling it a night.

I was very happy to be able to grow older once again with our family all around! I hope to do this all over again next year and for many more years to come.

RiffTrax, Water Wheel, and Return to the SumTur

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It’s the start of a new school year, so Vivian and I are crashing back into the routine of getting the kids up, fed, and out the door every morning. Aaron’s going to public school while Hannah’s being homeschooled, which is a boon for her, since she and mommy can drop by Trader Joe’s with me for an educational shopping trip buying cheese and figs just for fun in the middle of the day. Hannah also learned how to make her own macarons.

Then on Tuesday, we had a RiffTrax event for the first time in well over a year. Mark, Richard, and my dad joined me at Culver’s for some pre-movie burgers before we headed over to Twin Creek to see Mike and the “Bots” make fun of Hobgoblins, a favorite from the MST3K days. It was nice to have yet another bit of normalcy back in our lives (Richard and I also got to be twins with our shirts).

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Then on Saturday, I had a lovely bike ride to the Walnut Creek Recreation area and back before we took the kids down to Cimarron Woods for a fun, wet morning at Emmett’s birthday party. They have a lovely splash pad (with a giant water wheel) and playground there, so Aaron and Hannah got some quality time running around and getting splashed for a couple hours.

We got to chat with a handful of our grown-up friends while we were there and had a batch of sandwiches and chips for lunch. Afterward, we broke out the cake for a bit of a sugar high before winding down for a bit and getting a family photo with the birthday boy.

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Then that evening, we took the kids back out for a family movie night down at the SumTur. Summer movies there have been an annual staple for us for a couple years, but we hadn’t all four made it down since about 2019. The kids got a little time to run around (and flip chairs) before the movie started (with Looney Tunes short, Duck Amuck as a prelude). They showed Kaya and the Last Dragon, a movie we’d already seen via Disney+, but the kids seemed to enjoy it just as much the second time through.

We’ve got a few days now to catch our breath before we have another crazy, busy weekend celebrating my birthday. That’s something I’ll be looking forward to (so stay tuned).

Last Splash of Summer

School is about to start again, which means we had to have a little more fun getting wet before summer vacation draws to a close.

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I took Wednesday off specifically so we could all head down to Mahoney State Park’s aquatic center for a long, uninterrupted day of fun in the sun starting at noon. Unfortunately, they seemed to be closed until 4 PM, despite what they said on their website, so after a brief trip up and down the observation tower, we headed down the road to Louisville Lake to splash about for a couple hours instead. After that, we grabbed some ice cream cones down at the “Dari Cream” in town before heading back across I-80 to the aquatic center once they opened.

We weren’t the only ones there, of course, and the line to get inside was massive, but we had plenty of time to get wet in the play area, go down the waterslides with the kids, and get violently knocked about in the wave pool before closing time. Hannah in particular seemed eager to go underwater and see how well she could actually “swim” in all that chaos. Then we grabbed some Taco Bell on the way home before collapsing in bed.

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The next day, we had an Open House at Chandler Elementary, where we got to meet Aaron’s new teacher and see his new classroom. We got to see that Aaron’s best friend from “Nico” from Kindergarten will also be in his new First Grade class, which was wonderful. We also got to show Mrs. Smith the workbook Aaron was able to complete over the summer for a special certificate. Then we headed home to have burgers with a few of our garden tomatoes for dinner.

The next day, I went with my parents for a little end-of-year cookout at their church. We had some hot dogs and chatted with them about family and bike-riding, among other things. In the meantime, Vivian took the kids down to BCC for an outdoor movie night (Into the Spiderverse — again), where I joined them after dinner along with Gabriel and August, who came by right before the movie started.

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On Saturday, Aaron had another tee-ball game down at Seymour Smith Park with his little friends. Once it was over, Hannah and I went on a quick bike ride up and down the Keystone Trail before having some ice cream and getting a bit wet in the spray ground before heading home.

Then that evening Vivian had a reunion with her friends from Friendship Program as I took Hannah and Aaron over to the Mills’ house for dinner. Hannah and Sammy got to play dolls while Aaron ran around with Gabe and August, getting wet in the pool and chasing chickens in the backyard. Hannah even got to help clip some of the chickens’ wings while she was there.

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I’ve been keeping busy with other things on my own in the meantime. I got to see Gubernatorial candidate Michael Connely at the Bellevue La Mesa on Monday last week. A couple dozen folks came to have Mexican food and then listen to over two-hours of stories about everything from Japanese hydrogen plants, fixing helicopters, to Romanian eyeteeth.

I’ve also been getting in as much time on my bike as possible, heading by President Ford’s birthplace and stalking some corn down in Papillion on different days. I also managed to get a couple blown tubes, which I hope will be mostly fixed with a new Kevlar tires that I got on Friday.

In the meantime, we’re bracing for another school year, and hoping we can still enjoy a few more moments of summer before the leaves start changing color.


Louisville Lake & Mahoney State Park Aquatic Center

Our Flower Girl Ties the Knot

I had a fun little trip down to Cedar Rapids this weekend for Shannon’s wedding — my first cousin once removed. She was also the flower girl at my own wedding, so it was very cool to be able to be there when she tied the knot.

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I drove on down bright and early Friday morning, grabbing some breakfast pizza at Casey’s and listening to some Jordan Peterson over the four-hour drive. I did a little sightseeing on the way, dropping by Adair to see the Smiley Face water tower, the Freedom Rock further up the road, and then getting a selfie with some cornstalks.

Then I took a detour to Tama to see the Lincoln Highway bridge. I’ve been a fan of the Lincoln Highway for a while now — it’s as much a part of American history as the Oregon Trail and Route 66, and it just happens to run both through Omaha and past the church where my parents got married.

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Then in Cedar Rapids, I met up with my folks at the Flying Weenie for lunch, grabbing a half-pound hot dog that kept me going most of the day.

Then afterward, we drove up Mt. Vernon Road to visit Valley View Church (which now called “CrossLife”). This place has a long history with my family — it’s where my parents were married, where my grandma and grandpa had their funerals, and where I was baptized with my dad back in 2003. It was also our go-to place on family visits, such as my cousin Laura’s wedding or family reunions or just our church on Sunday when we visited for a holiday. It may serve as a spot for a future family reunion. We’ll see.

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I checked in to the hotel and got in a nice walk on the nature trail next door before getting a shower and changing for the wedding. My hotel in Coralville was just six minutes away from the venue in Tiffin, which was convenient.

I saw plenty of familiar faces there, including the four Geho girls and a bunch of their kids I hadn’t seen in at least seven years — many of whom have kids of their own now. My Uncle Ben did the opening prayer and the groom’s father, who is a Pastor, did the ceremony. I naturally snapped photos all the while, finding me in a few convenient spots for a nice shot while trying not to get in the way of the actual photographers.

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We had some dessert and dancing inside afterward, as well as some Brazilian cheese bread (Pão de Queijo). We had all the typical wedding elements, from the cake-cutting to the dances with mom and dad. There were some very tasty cupcakes in lieu of the actual cake (which seemed to be cut just for the photo op), and the sugar seemed to be enough to get everyone nice and goofy during some group dances later. No alcohol, of course, as the bride and groom, who coincidentally shared a birthday the following day (day, month, and year) were only turning 20.

I snapped plenty of photos, of course, and also managed to catch up with a few family members I hadn’t seen in aged — and also embarrassing myself trying to keep track of family members who’d grown up when I wasn’t looking.

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I got a quick breakfast at the hotel the next morning and gassed up before driving nearly four hours straight home. Aaron had his first tee-ball game that morning, which was nearly rained out by a passing thunderstorm. It was very fun to see him in uniform swinging a bat and throwing balls with a bunch of other kids. It was a bit casual and unorganized, but I was a proud papa to see my boy having fun.

Then on Sunday, the church prayed over the students as they prepared to go back to school next week. Afterward, we went down to Papillion to grab some ice cream at Graley’s together and then check out some classic cars at the car show around the corner. Aaron got to sit in a rusted out “rat rod,” and the kids got to see some shiny old cars from before even their grandparents were born.

Tidying up, Park Visits, and a new Uniform

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Back on the home front, Vivian’s parents dropped by our house for a little housecleaning on Wednesday. Jack grease up our sliding door and got it rolling again, and Vivian and Donna went through Hannah’s room, making her pick out a number of toys to purge in their effort to see the floor again. By the end of the day, they were able to vacuum and it make it just a bit more livable again, which was lovely.

Afterward, I grilled up some burgers and tots for dinner. Then, Donna gave me a much needed haircut (along with Aaron). It was nice not to have to feel like a hippie before attending a wedding in Cedar Rapids.

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On Thursday, we had a bit more quality time with the kids as Vivian brought them by “Daddy Park” for a quick visit ahead of school starting again. We had some lunch together and let the kids play on the playground and swings a bit, but they sadly seem to be outgrowing the little place and got bored, particularly in the hot sun. Aaron did some play fighting with mommy and me among the flowers and bees, and then we cooled off with some massively expensive drinks and treats down at Jones Bros.

Later that afternoon, we cooled things down a bit down at the All-Play Sprayground. We also picked up Aaron’s tee-ball uniform, which he’ll be using for his first game on Saturday. Then we spent a little time getting nice and wet before heading home.

Next stop: Cedar Rapids and Shannon’s wedding!

Matt Innis and Herbster & Conway

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I’ve had another couple of days busy “politicking” as a new campaign season gears up mere moments after the last one stopped. On Monday, I dropped by the Garden Café for a luncheon with Matt Innis, who had a presentation on the new “Health Education” standards, which have garnered quite a bit of contr0oversy over the past few months. Since his unsuccessful attempt to unseat Ben Sasse, he’s been giving presentations (and posting memes) to get the word out the new standards, which essentially amount to LGBT propaganda aimed at children as young as Kindergarten.

There was a fairly friendly crowd of around 50 people in attendance, with many familiar faces (such as former State Senator Merv Riepe and two school board members). I sat with a couple who were actually suing Westside Community Schools over a teacher who told other students — falsely — that their daughter was a racist and tried to use the “N-word.” It was certainly an engaging hour of discussion in the room, and I left wishing I’d have the chance to vote for Matt Innis again sometime (though he said he has no plans to run for office in the future).

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Then on Tuesday, I dropped by the Cross Training Center for a meet-and-greet with gubernatorial candidate Charles W. Herbster and Kellyanne Conway, Senior Counselor to President Trump. I saw many familiar faces in the crowd of around 60-70 people who attended, including Craig, Bob the sign guy, and my own city council member in Bellevue. Herbster and Conway arrived unannounced before the event and worked the crowd before things got started. Conway talked about her work in the Trump administration and dealing with political attacks. “People used to say you needed to have a fire in your belly,” she said, “but today you need to have the bile in your throat.”

Herbster talked for close to an hour about his campaign platform, cracking a few jokes while standing just a few feet away, making for a much more up-close and personal stump speech. They had time for Q&A and photos afterward (and of course I got one). It was an ideal campaign event, with lots of people both before and after the speeches to shake hands and ask questions. Herbster is also clearly the most Trump-like candidate in the running, right down tot he pre-rally playlist. The primary is still ten months away, so we’ll see if he can pull off an upset in 2022 as Trump did in 2016.

Gretna Daze, Museum, and Fun-Plex

We had some massively hot weather toward the end of July, broken up with a storm that cooled things off just in time for some fun outdoors (and some politicking).

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On Saturday, Hannah and I drove out west to walk with the Bacon Brigade in the Gretna Days parade. Our crew was nestled in with a few other folksBrett Lindstrom, the Sarpy County GOP, and then Charles Herbster’s crew bringing up the rear. Hannah got to hand out candy, as she did for Ben Sasse back in 2019, and she was quite happy to hand out fruit chews to kids all along the street.

I walked along mostly taking pictures of everyone else, but one lady from Team Herbster offered to snap a photo of Hannah and me during a lull in the parade, which was nice. It’s very rare I get photos of myself during events like this!

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Afterward, we met up with the Simpsons at Peterson Park to let the kids run around a bit, have a little lunch and some time snapping random family photos of them on the playground (wearing “I Heart Taiwan” T-shirts).

Some folks from “Gabriel’s Angels” was putting on a kiddie tractor pull, and Hannah was brave enough to give it a try. She didn’t place well enough to make State, but I was very impressed that she was filling to jump into the competition all on her own.

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Vivian and Aaron joined us before long, and then we all spent the afternoon at the little carnival just off Highway 6 for much of the afternoon. We got some giant corn dogs (which seriously impressed Aaron) and then checked out a few of the rides, including the Go-Gator, some little shooting planes, the bounce house, and the Jungle Fun obstacle course.

Hannah and I also went on the “Hurricanetogether, which was one of those dizzy rides that doesn’t quite sit well after having a giant corn dog, but she handled it like a champ. I also went with her, and Vivian reminded me to sit on the outside eat so I wouldn’t crush Hannah with centrifugal force.

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Then on Sunday, we took the kids down to Ted & Wally’s to have some ice cream to celebrate them both finishing their Sunday School classes for the year. I helped Grammy do a few chores afterward, hauling some sand, bricks, and mulch home from Menards and laying them out in her yard.

Then that evening, we took a trip the Omaha Children’s Museum, a place we hadn’t visited since December of 2019. They had a game-themed exhibit upstairs with a few games and balls, but much everything else was just as we remembered — the auto repair zone, the ball area with pneumatic tubes, play grocery store, and the water area. Our friends the Mills were there as well, so Aaron had some quality time with August racing Pinewood derby cars, while Hannah got a bit artistic, painting Mommy’s face and creating a paper bag puppet of ME, which was very sweet.

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And then on Monday, because we weren’t exhausted enough, we decided to take the kids to a late-afternoon trip to Fun-Plex before the end of summer! Hannah was finally tall enough to go on the big water slides with us, so Vivian and I got to share that experience with her. Aaron still had fun on the smaller watersides, going down multiple times on his own before hitting the lazy river and wave pool. The kids also hit the sweet spot for the rides, short enough for the Go-Gator, the little cars, and the planes, but now tall enough to ride go karts and the Bumper Boats with Vivian and me. We got a selfie in the hot air balloon and then got the kids some ice cream and cookies before calling it a day.

I’ve got a little more politicking going on this week before I take a trip to Cedar Rapids for my cousin’s daughter’s wedding. She was the flower girl in my own wedding, so it will be nice to be able to see her on the other side of the aisle after 13 years or so.

Camping in Memphis

There’s nothing quite like late July in Nebraska, where it’s hot and humid and barely a whisper of wind in the air. That’s when you get to enjoy the great outdoors with just a bit more patience — and some creativity about ways to keep cool.

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Hannah and Aaron started things off with a week-long VBS at First Presbyterian in Bellevue. They attended every morning through the week and finished things off on Friday with a water fight outside. I took the day off to start our camping trip, so Vivian and I dropped by to watch them play in a sprinkler and throw wet sponges at one another. They also got some freeze pops and some candy for memorizing a bible verse, which was sweet (literally).

Then, just as we were trying to decide what to do for lunch, we saw the famous “food truck” at the library (a thing I’ve heard about from Vivian for years but never seen with my own eyes), so we stopped and got some chicken sandwiches before heading home.

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Then came the camping trip! Wee invited Mama Ginny to keep her son Harold company while we were all away. Then we packed up our things and headed off to Memphis, Nebraska with some burgers and Combos to tide us over. The trip took all of half an hour, and we grabbed a spot with convenient proximity to the lake and the sandy play area with a cabin for the kids (and ground squirrels and geese to keep us company).

We set up camp and got a fire going for s’mores that evening as the Mills family came to join us. It was already sweltering, but little Gabe brought us lemonade on a platter to keep us cool. Hannah also immediately took to the lake, going inside and soaking her little pink dress without a care in the world. Then once the sun went down, we lit a fire and roasted up a batch of s’mores for the evening.

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Vivian and Lexi scrambled up some breakfast the next morning as Hannah explored the lake looking for “gooey” frogs. Afterward, I took her with Sammy, Aaron, and August over to the playground with old school metal equipment like a teeter totter, a merry-go-round, and monkey bars, just like the kind their parents grew up with. There was even a tether ball pole Hannah and Sammy were able to bat around. The kids also had some fun climbing a nearby tree — at least until a branch snapped and Hannah came tumbling down. She got the wind knocked out of her and was a little sore but otherwise all right. Hopefully it won’t put her off tree climbing, which has become one of her favorite activities at grandma and grandpa’s house.

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We had some lunch and then tried keeping cool that afternoon with a little wading in the lake near the boat dock up the road. The water was relatively cool, albeit with a rocky and muddy bottom. I was able to traverse the lake to the little island, where a crane seemed to have made its home and mulberries were growing wild. The kids wanted to come explore the island, too, so Nate rented a canoe and took them around for a look.

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Later that afternoon, I took the kids for a walk (or in Sammy’s case, a bike ride) into town. I snapped a few photos of a few of the old buildings, including the Century-old Iliff Chapel. We also stopped by Don’s Bar and Grill (the only operating business in town) for a few drinks and snacks with the kids before heading back to the campsite.

Sammy brought a couple American Heritage Girls for her and Hannah to play with while August and Aaron played some Uno. For dinner, Vivian and Lexi grilled some brats followed by some Dutch oven brownies and a cheese dip. The kids explored the lake a bit more and discovered the waterproof nature of lily pads near the shoreline. Then we finished off the evening with some s’mores and a raging battle in the dark over a set of colored glow sticks before bedtime.

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The next morning was strangely cool with a thick, eerie mist hanging over the lake and everything around it. We got the kids up for a breakfast that included roasted marshmallows and donuts warmed over the fire. Then the kids had one last romp in the sandbox and the grown-ups packed up the tents and all our things before getting set to head home.

Of course, I had to get a big group photo before we headed off. We’ve been camping with the Mills family for a couple years now, and I don’t think we’d ever gotten a joint family photo together before. It was long overdue.

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Then that afternoon, because my weekend hadn’t been busy enough, I dropped by the Cross Training Center for some “grassroots training” with Scott Presler and around 60 other patriots. I’d met Scott before at a “pep rally” during the 2020 election, and it was interesting to see him back in a more educational role — giving a 90-minute presentation on voter registration, running for office, and get-out-the-vote efforts, among other things. He also spent most of the presentation off the stage and walking the room, and this even included some audience participation, roleplaying getting a stranger registered to vote.

It was an event held jointly by the Nebraska Freedom Coalition, Freedom Rally USA, and Nebraska Against Government Overreach, a trifecta of what I call the “populist upstarts” on the right, focused more intently on public demonstrations and online activism than “establishment” conservatives. Of course, there was also time to get selfies with Scott afterward, and I’d worn my new Jordan Peterson shirt just for the occasion. I also got to meet the “Beard Vet,” who seemed to have a followingall his own among the crowd, and his own line of coffee.

In all, it was a great weekend, and not even as hot as they’d predicted it would be. I’m always glad to have the chance to enjoy the great outdoors with our family and friends — even when it’s just down the road.


Happy campers!