Drive-by Palm Sunday and Dim Sum at the Park

It’s been another quiet week in quarantine, though we’ve been able to find excuses to get out of the house and enjoy some fresh air as more and more of our daily go-to activities seems to be getting locked down.

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On Thursday last week, Omaha “lit it up blue” for autism, so Vivian and I took the kids for a drive to check it out. They were fairly underwhelmed, as seeing the Woodmen Tower and the pedestrian bridge lit in blue lights wasn’t quite the thrill they were expecting — at least not with the cold and drizzling rain (which turned son to snow) that kept us inside the warm car. We got a dusting of snow the next day that made roads slippery and wintry again, but it was vaporized within days once the temperature broke 80 again.

We’ve been getting a lot more use out of the teleconferencing app Zoom as well. We attended bible studies at church both on Saturday and Tuesday using Zoom, and we also let the kids say hello to Grandma and Grandpa again on Saturday morning.

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On Palm Sunday, we decided to take the kids for a ride around the neighborhood with some homemade palm fronds, which we waved our friends the Mills and Campbells as well as Grammy and my parents, shouting “Hosanna” from an socially distant six feet away (at least).

It was a good enough excuse to get out of the house, and we celebrated later with some German chocolate cake courtesy of our across-the-street neighbor Betty and some homemade pizza.

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Then on Tuesday, we continued celebrating Take Out Tuesday with a trip to Golden Mountain for some Dim Sum (steamed pork and shrimp dumplings and Vietnamese spring rolls). We ate it picnic style down at Memorial Park, up by the rose garden. I was hoping for more than just a few blossoms, but it was a gorgeous day with temperatures that broke into the 80s, and it felt good just to get out and let the kids run around (literally), climb a tree, and pay our respects. Loads of other people came by to enjoy the park as well — more than a “no parking” sign would allow for, at least. Now the city of Omaha has announced all parks are being shut down through the end of April, so I guess I should be glad we enjoyed it while we could.

Then on Wednesday we decided to celebrate the Last Supper on Wednesday with some kosher wine and unleavened bread. Next stop: Easter!

Fresh Air and Take-Out Tuesday

Spring is beginning to bud all over town (and in our yard), so over the past week, the Johnson Family has stopped “sheltering in place” long enough to have some fun outside, getting fresh air while waiting out the coronavirus (whether the kids like it or not).

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On Thursday, we had a picnic underneath the stage of Stinson Park and then had a lovely walk up and down the Keystone Trail. We got to see such things as fussy buds on a few trees, a stay birds’ nest, and some “shooting heart” graffiti underneath a bridge.

There are only a few restaurants open in Aksarben Village (and no movie theater) during the coronavirus lockdown, so the most activity I’ve seen are the window washers “flying” outside the Pacific Life building.

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In the meantime, we’ve been trying a few new things at home, such as homemade pizza, pretzels, sauce and salsa from Volcanic Peppers, and some “whipped coffee” that seems to be a craze online.

My parents also celebrated their 45th anniversary, but since we couldn’t join them, I installed Skype on my computer and let the kids say hello virtually. It’s getting a little frustrating not being able to say hello to grandma and grandpa these days, but hopefully this lock down will be over soon.

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On Sunday, we got some more fresh air walking the trails of the Fontenelle Forest. The doors seemed to be open for both members and non-members alike, so we got some exercise with the kids exploring the hilly trails, ponds, and overlooks around the forest, as well as the playground of course. We also got to see a red-headed woodpecker and the Constitution Tree before getting too tuckered out. Then Jack was kind enough to lend us some expiring fuel points to use on the way home, where we filled up at around $1.16/gallon.

When we’re not outside, I’ve been helping with some of our homeschooling as well, teaching Aaron math with Khan Academy, which he played out with chalk on the driveway one day driving home from work.

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We had a particularly special night on Take-Out Tuesday (as designated by our Governor). First, we swung by Dinker’s Bar and Grill to get some of Omaha’s Best Burgers for dinner, which we ate with fries picnic-style at Hanscom Park down the street. I’d visited this 150-year old park once or twice before, but this was the first time with the kids. Hannah was particularly interested in the “twisty tree” that swirled like a soft-serve cone.

Then after dinner, we drove down the street for a drive-by birthday parade for our Jitterbug friend Billy, who was turning forty. Some of our friends wanted to throw him an socially distant parade, so we and several Jitterbug friends lined up in our cars, some decorated appropriately, and drove past his house honking and waving around a 6:45. I think it made his day.

Social Distance

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As the world shuts down to deal with the Corona Virus, I spent Wednesday evening breaking quarantine to wish Uncle Jonny a Happy Birthday. The kids each decorated some birthday cards for him, which included such things as watermelon, corn kernels, Mega Man, and a maze. Vivian and I gave Uncle Jonny a gift card for RiffTrax to tide him over during the quarantine. He’s now working from home, and while everything else seems to be cancelled, they’ll be spending a lot of time indoors.

My mom made brownies for us, but we otherwise kept “socially distant.” I’m not sure when such things as walking with the kids to grandpa’s house will become a regular thing again, but I hope it’s soon.

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Of course, sheltering in place means more time for spring cleaning, so on Saturday I spent some time clearing out our storage area and setting up some shelving I’d bought at Aldi to help get things organized. I also gave our little apple tree a good pruning with the tips I’d learned from my visit to Ditmar’s a few weeks ago, and I even got a stake in the ground to help straighten it up a bit.

Then on Sunday, we had our virtual church service from Wildewood in our living room while eating some bacon and pancakes (and kale for Harold). We’d gotten a bit stir-crazy by lunchtime and decided to get outside a bit, stopping by McDonald’s for a lunch of double Big Macs before going downtown. We had a nice little walk around the Old Market despite the gray and drizzling weather. The kids seemed to enjoy just running around the nearly vacant streets. We did find that Dolci was still open for business, so we all got some Italian ice cream before heading home.

How are you spending the quarantine? Let us know in the comments below.

Sheltered in place

So, how’s COVID-19 treating you and your family these days? The sheer number of things that have been shut down in a week is just staggering. A week ago, I was taking Hannah to her Wednesday night church group without a second thought. If you read my blog, you can see every entry has some activity where we’re around ten or more people at one event of another.

Now, we can’t go anywhere with ten or more people and every church, restaurant, and public facility is shut down. We’re still making the most of this downtime, but it’s still hard to come to grips with so much of the world being turned upside down.

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We’d planned on going to a St. Patrick’s Day parade on Saturday, but it was cancelled, so I went out with my folks to breakfast at First Watch instead, hoping to get in one last meal in a sit-down restaurant before everything became take-out only a few days later.

We also got a bit of a freakish, mid-March snow in the meantime, leaving us with a frosted winter wonderland for a day or two. With all group activities cancelled, we’ve been taking the kids on a few extra walks outside just to get some fresh air — one thing that hasn’t been restricted by any guidelines from the CDC.

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St. Patrick’s Day was similarly low-key — we got some corned beef and cabbage with red potatoes for dinner, but shopping has become a bit of a thrill ride. Every other store seems to be completely out of something — not just the famously impossible-to-find toilet paper or hand sanitizer but now pasta, canned tuna, bread and even milk can often be completely cleaned out of one store or another. Hearing rumors from friends with “friends close to the Trump administration” whispering about a two-week mandatory quarantine looming in the near future doesn’t help much with the urge to panic buy. I did fill up on some extra loads of rice, canned beans, and spam, though — not because I’m afraid they’ll run out but just because I like them.

We’ll soon have to figure out some creative ways to have fun with ten or fewer people at a time, just to avoid cabin fever as we’re busy avoiding the Corona Virus. Fortunately, we got a head start on this schooling-from-home thing long before it became mandatory for everyone.

Pruned

It’s been a remarkably quiet week, with some lovely early spring weather that we’ve been enjoying as we hunker down and try not to get an unexpected case of COVID-19 (which seems to be tiptoeing its way into Nebraska). We were able to give our friends Nate and Lexi a night out for their anniversary by letting their kids play at our house for a couple hours Friday night, which I think was fun for everybody.

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Then on Saturday morning, I headed off to Ditmar’s Orchard with the family to learn how to prune a fruit tree. A guy with the Nebraska Extension office was there to show us the subtle art of clipping off tree branches, specifically picking off the ones that were likely to run against each other or cause potential problems, leaving us with enough “holes” to “throw a farm cat through.” In the meantime, the kids got the play area of Ditmars’ all to themselves for an hour or two before we headed home.

The rest of the weekend’s been fairly uneventful. I was able to clean the garage during the nice weather and then seemed to come down with a cold just as we lost an hour of sleep on Sunday. The kids got an extra hour of daylight, which they spent at the park, in the backyard, and chalking up a maze on our driveway. Good times.

Lent, Thomas More, and Kevin McCarthy

We kicked of Lent last week with a fun and busy cross-section of activities that included politics, a fish fry, and plenty of time outside enjoying some spring-like weather.

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On (Fat) Tuesday night, I got dressed up to attend the Thomas More Society dinner at St. Vincent de Paul Parish Center, courtesy of the Saint Paul VI Institute, which bought a whole table for me and my co-workers. I knew almost nothing about the Thomas More Society beforehand, and I got hear from founder Tom Brejcha talk about their legal work defending pro-lifers — particularly their right to protest.

The keynote speaker for the evening was David Bereit, founder of the 40 Days for Life campaign. He actually had a surprising connection to the Saint Paul VI Institute — his wife was actually treated for infertility by Dr. Hilgers many years ago and had two grown children now thanks to him. That was certainly surprising news to everyone at our table.

It was a lovely evening, and I even got to take home a tiny Mardis Gras mask for Hannah’s doll in honor of Fat Tuesday.

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Ash Wednesday kicked off that Lenten season, and that means it’s time for fish fries! Our friends the Simpsons invited us along with them to St. Charles Borromeo for their annual fish fry. It was the first time our kids have had the “full line experience,” but they got to run outside a bit and then played a keep-away game with mommy as we shuffled our way through the line waiting to dish up.

The fish itself was probably the best of all the fish fries I’ve attended — fried fresh, crispy and golden — and even Hannah wound up stuffing herself with a filet or two. (Gabriel helped himself to his mom’s mac and cheese.)

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Vivian and I had a night out planned on Saturday, so we made a point of getting the kids outside to enjoy some of the lovely 60-degree weather. We had a picnic lunch in the shelter together and then burned off the PB&J on slides, the teeter-totter, and rolling aimlessly down the hill. Hannah also brought along her doll “Suki” to chase Aaron around the playground in-between rounds of play-fighting.

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Then that evening, Grammy watched the kids as Vivian and I dressed up and headed off to the Elephant Remembers dinner downtown. It’s the second time we’d been invited to this annual gala fundraiser, which meant we got to rub elbows with some of the typical Republican friends I bump into at town halls or parades (looking at you, Stephen). Scott Voorhees played emcee, and introduced a chain of speakers, such as Mayor Jean, Mike Foley, Ben Sasse, and Don Bacon. The keynote speaker was House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who gave an stump speech about entering politics as a young man and his optimism about Republicans taking back the house in November. McCarthy received a few gifts before he left the stage — a bottle of whiskey from local distiller Soldier Valley, and an plaque naming him Admiral of the Nebraska Navy (an apparently annual joke I have yet to understand).

The honorees of the evening were Lee and Robyn Terry, and there was a nice table of Terry campaign memorabilia set up in the lobby for everyone to see as they came in. Bacon’s wing-man James Wright introduced Lee and Robyn, who both said a few words before being awarded a Nebraska baking pan by DCRP chair Theresa Thibodeau. There was one more award to Young Republican Spencer Head and a few words from Bacon’s second-in-command Kyle Clark to wrap things up. Naturally, plenty of folks stuck around to meet-and-greet a few of the speakers (and get photos), and I got to briefly shake McCarthy’s hand and told him I looked forward to him being the next Speaker. I also wound up taking a group photo of the Terry Team on my way out the door — always happy to lend a hand with my lens whenever possible.

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We had a nice and quiet Sunday, unexpectedly bumping into our friends the Lenarts at church over donuts. Then that evening we took the kids by First Presbyterian to play outside (and let Hannah try out her scooter) in the gorgeous weather before enjoying another one of their movie nights. This time it was 101 Dalmatians, a Disney classic I’d actually never seen, which we watched while eating Hot Dogs, sloppy joes, and Scooby Snacks of all things. They had some fun crafts afterward that included Dalmatian head bands, and Hannah made her own Dalmatian out of Play-Doh before we called it a night.

Cheesy Movie and the Circus

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There were a couple more fun things in store for us this week. On Tuesday, Joel Hodgson of MST3K fame came to Omaha to riff a movie live at the Orpheum. I got some Chinese food before the show with dad, Uncle Jonny, and Richard, and then we met up with Nathan to get wanded up and down before squeezing inside the Orpheum to find our seats (with LIsa’s help) with a couple hundred other MSTies. As usual, there were a number of dressed for the occasion, either as a character from the show or toting a life-sized Tom Servo.

The show itself followed the format of the original MST3K TV show. Joel came out and played the theme song on guitar (with the audience chiming in with a “la la la” or two), and then they introduced the cast — which included an “assistant” named Emily, a Pearl Forrester clone (and some Pearl puppets), as well as Krow and Servo. The movie being riffed was a monumentally cheesy Karate Kid knock-off called No Retreat, No Surrender, which was so delightfully cheesy it could be watched without riffs. Joel and the Bots performed a few skits during breaks (preceded with video of the classic “tunnel sequences”), and they had a curtain call with the actors themselves at the .

It was a very good show, though it felt like a much more formal a production than the similar shows I’ve seen with “the Mads.” Specifically, Joel and his cast stay on stage, while the Mads sit with the audience and have a Q&A after each show making for a much more interactive experience (especially with the meet-and-greet time before and after the show). Still, as a long-time fan of MST3K, it was great to see Joel himself up close and personal for one last “movie sign.”

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Then on Thursday, I took the entire day off just to enjoy about an hour at the Tangier Shrine Circus in Council Bluffs with Vivian, Grammy, and the kids.. They performed a shortened “free” show on Friday, which included a motorcycle on a swing, some trapeze artists, quick-change artists, a dog and pony show, and a few acts by the local Tangier clowns. They had one new act — a trio of motorcyclists riding around simultaneously inside a spherical cage. My favorite act, however, was the Chicago Boys, who I’d seen multiple times before bouncing around and jumping rope to energetic music. Aaron actually got up and started dancing during their act, which was especially fun to see. Grammy also bought the kids some cotton candy just to get the kids properly sugared up before we headed home.

In the meantime, we’ve had a couple lovely weekends with spring-like temperatures — warm enough to venture at least one trip to Stinson Park during a lunch break this week, and likely more on Saturday. Soon enough it’ll be time for flowers to blossom and for me to get back to work on the lawn and garden again.

V-Day 2020

It’s been another fun and busy couple of weeks, much of which involved romantic activities on and around Valentine’s Day.

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Last Thursday, I took Hannah out for a “Daddy/Daughter Date Night” down at the Chrysalis Event Center at Papillion Landing. It was a cute little occasion for dads and daughters to get dressed up and then have dinner together. There was also some dancing on the little space available on the dance floor, which Hannah seemed to enjoy after getting properly sugared up. A group of little girls even started a conga line during one song, which was adorable, though I couldn’t get Hannah to join in on it. Our friend Dennis was there with his daughter as well, so the two of us tried taking shaky, blurry photos of each other dancing with our little girls before calling it a night.

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A week later, it was Valentine’s Day, so I decided to take the day off for some romantic family fun on a Friday. I got up early enough to make some heart-shaped banana muffins, heart-shaped eggs, and avocado toast for breakfast. I also had a few bags of treats for the kids along with some hand-cartooned Valentine’s Day cards, per tradition. Hannah also had an assortment of cards made by her assortment of “kids.” Vivian had some things for me as well, including brigadeiro chocolates that she made up when I wasn’t looking.

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Then that evening, Vivian and I took a trip down to Raymond for a romantic dinner at James Arthur Vineyard. We’d been there a couple times before on V-Day for dinners and wine-pairings, but this time was a bit different — a got to pick a bottle of wine to eat over dinner that was served via a buffet line. Most of the food had some kind of chocolate theme to it, even the salad and the tacos. I think our favorite was the Triple chocolate beef and bean chili. We washed it all down with a bottle of “3 Legs White,” named after the very affectionate three-legged cat we met in the doorway on our way in (and out).

James Arthur Vineyards’ Valentine’s Day Buffet

  • Spring mix salad with chocolate chunks and strawberries and a chocolate vinaigrette
  • French bread with chocolate butter
  • Chocolate zucchini bread
  • Tortilla chips dipped in chocolate
  • Triple chocolate beef and bean chili
  • Strawberry brie and chocolate grilled crostinis
  • Cider and beer braised pork with chocolate mole and hwite chocolate rice
  • Chocolate chili tacos

Dessert table

  • Chocolate bread pudding
  • Coconut macaroons dipped in white chocolate
  • Chocolate dipped strawberries
  • Oreo truffles
  • Chocolate bacon and potato chip brownies
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We got to have some lovely, spring-like weather after Valentine’s Day, so I took the kids down to the Sandy Park for some quality time running around. Vivian got some chicken Parmesan happening back at the house, which we ate with our friends the Lenarts. Our kids got some quality time playing together and watching The Little Mermaid for the first time, while the grown-ups enjoyed a family tradition of eating too much for no particular reason.

Pizza Machine and Super Bowl LIV

 

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Over the weekend, we got to enjoy a fabulous amount of family fun. We spent nearly all of Saturday in Milliard at the Amazing Pizza Machine, courtesy of CRCC Omaha. I’d never visited this place before and expected it to be on-par with Chuck-E-Cheese, but I was happy to find it much closer to a Dave & Buster’s. We got to introduce Hannah and Aaron to such things as air hockey, whack-a-mole (or shark), and skee ball, and they both got to go on a few of the rides, including a Frog Hopper that Hannah wanted to ride non-stop. Aaron spent a good amount of time on a Ninja Turtle arcade game, which he eventually played to the finish, and Hannah got to ride a bumper car solo for the very first time.

We had some lunch in the middle of all this, which was especially fun for the kids since they got to pick out whatever foods they wanted from the buffet (including ice cream).

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We had some gorgeous weather on Sunday, so I took Aaron on our first walk of the year to my parents’ house before the Super Bowl kicked off. All four grandparents and Uncle Jonny joined us in our annual tradition of watching football and filling up on food like nachos, chicken wings, and homemade pizza rolls, along with Peppermint Village Inn pie for dessert. Our kids were up to watch most of the game as well, as was Harold the Guinea Pig. Hannah rooted for the Chiefs — and she even had a “pillow pet” to watch the game with her.

I’d recently bought a $10 TV at Goodwill that I set up for the kids in the basement so they could watch a bedtime show during the pole-dancing halftime show. Aaron was in bed before the fourth quarter, but Hannah stayed up all the way through the exciting finish. It was probably the best Super Bowl I’d seen in a while — so good that I barely paid attention to the commercials (aside from Bill Murray’s reprisal of Groundhog Day).

Congratulations, Chiefs — and to the great state of Kansas!

The Week before Caucus Night

The Iowa Caucuses are finally being held today, so it might be worth a quick look back at a busy, busy week in Presidential politics if you happened to be living within a stone’s throw of Council Bluffs, where we had a candidate visiting pretty much every day of the week (some of whom I missed, such as Amy Klobuchar on Tuesday and Joe Biden on Wednesday).

IMG_7164First up was Andrew Yang, who held a rally with around 300 at Abe Lincoln High School on Monday. Our friend Nate had wanted to visit either Yang (or Tulsi — the two sanest Democrats running, IMHO) before the primaries started, so he came along with me to hear what he had to say.Yang was introduced by a few local Democrats and then his wife Evelyn before taking the stage in front of a very friendly crowd, which happened to include Alex Wagner from Showtime’s The Circus. As before, the focus of Yang’s stump speech was on helping workers displaced via AI technology through his “freedom divided,” and I found his keen focus on the economy to be what set him apart from his more socialist-leaning competitors. He took a few questions afterward, including one from a woman whose sister died of an opioid overdose (who Yang also called up front so he could give her a hug). He stuck around afterward for a quick series selfies with everyone who came (including me, of course), and I had the chance to thank him for appearing on the Ben Shapiro show — and that both sides need to listen to one another.

IMG_20200130_143955074Then on Wednesday, the Vice President himself paid Council Bluffs a visit on his way to a rally with President Trump in Des Moines. Nate’s son Jake had expressed interest in meeting President Trump, which I told him was a tall order. A meeting with the Vice President, however, was far more doable. The event was held at the Thunderbowl’s Gathering Room, which was a fairly small venue, so we showed up around two and a half hours early to help ensure we got good seats (in the second row)! The Fox News Channel was among the media there to cover the VP’s visit, along with a handful of local media and even Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, who came with the motorcade. There was an opening invocation and a recitation of the pledge of allegiance before Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds took the stage to introduce the Vice President.

IMG_20200130_144052666I’d seen (and shaken the hand of) Mr. Pence three times before, but this was the first time I’d been allowed to bring my good camera with me, so I happily snapped photos as the VP gave a brief stump speech highlighting Veterans’ issues and the economy. The real excitement happened in the moments afterward, of course, when Jake and I were quickly able to make our way to the front to meet the Veep himself. Jake was easily able to get a handshake and a selfie with Pence. I brought along a copy of A Day in the Life of the Vice President, a book written and illustrated and Pence’s daughter and wife, respectively, which Pence seemed very happy to autograph for me when I asked.

Among the familiar faces in the crowd were the Halliburtons — David, Mason (the Button Boy), and Haley — who had met the Veep multiples times before but this time brought previously-snapped photos of themselves for him to autograph. We stayed just long enough to watch the motorcade make its way out of town before heading home.

IMG_7449The last Presidential candidate to visit Council Bluffs before the Caucus was Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who held a rally in Ballroom-B the Mid-America Center. Since I’d gotten to see the first candidate visit more than a year ago, I thought it was nice to be able to see the last one as well.

He gave a stump emphasizing the need to bring Democrats, Republicans, and moderates together while also stumping unapologetically for abortion and criticizing Christians for being too selfish to sign onto his social welfare programs. I only stayed long enough to snap some pictures and rub elbows with a few other familiar faces before watching the 2020 Caucus draw to a close.

IMG_7593Then on Saturday, I was up bright and early to attend a nine o’clock town hall with Don Bacon. He’s held more than a dozen of these since taking office in 2017, and as always it drew people from both sides of the political aisle. The left-leaning members of the audience asked questions about climate change and the impeachment, the latter of which seemed a sore spot as the Senate had just voted to draw their proceedings to a close. The event was moderated by KFAB’s Scott Voorhees, who kept things moving along even as some members wanted to ask more than their share of questions — some of which got heated as one guy spontaneously started screaming out of turn. Even though things got heated, the Congressman stayed cool. When accused of voting to end Obamacare with no replacement, he pointed out that he had, in fact, voted for the AHCA, and when one audience member accused Trump of soliciting a bribe, Bacon pointed out that bribery should have been included in the articles of impeachment in that case — and it wasn’t.

I mostly enjoyed the back-and-forth, and at the end of the event, Congressman Bacon said, “Agree or disagree… we’re all Americans.” I’m glad we live in a country where the folks in power — whether a candidate, a Congressman, or the Vice President — are so easily within reach of a nobody like me living in Nebraska. I just hope the Iowa Democrats didn’t screw up their Caucus so badly this year that they’ll pick another state to go first in 2024.