Monthly Archives: July 2013

Winds of change

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Can a Nebraskan like me ever get tired of talking about the weather? Not when it’s 71 degrees in July. Earlier this week, a sweet wind of change blew through the Omaha metro area, sweeping in some fantastic clouds just in time for Hannah’s 20-month birthday (giving us plenty of opportunity for cute pictures). Along with that came a little rain and then gorgeous, fall-like conditions that provided the perfect weather for playing outside and a picnic in the park.

The cool weather also came in time for another outdoor movie at the Sumtur Amphitheater in Papillion. We’d already made plans to see Wreck-It Ralph with a few clusters of our friends, and the weather only helped in bringing about a record-setting crowd of over 1400 people. A bunch of kids did the Crazy Dance on stage (including a few we know from church) as the rest of us lounged on our blankets before the movie started. The weather was downright intoxicating, a sweet treat for late July to say the least.

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On Saturday night, we dropped by the Reed Community Center to join in the fun of Merinda and Mike’s wedding reception. It was the perfect excuse for Hannah and a few of her little friends to put on pretty dresses and bring on the cute as mom and dad danced with a bunch of their swing-dancing friends. Billy also did what no other DJ could do — combine swing music and 80s favorites (and I found myself dancing more for the latter). There was a parent-child dance, bouquet-tossing, garter-grabbing, chicken dancing, the YMCA, and a shim-sham, of course, as well as plenty of retreating outside to get another gulp of the gorgeous weather. It was what I hope my own wedding reception would have been — lots of fun for all our friends!

Congrats, Merinda and Mike! Keep dancing, keep dreaming, keep loving, keep living.

Five year anniversary

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Vivian and I celebrated a matrimonial milestone last week — five years of marriage! We got Grammy and Papa to stay with our girl for the day so we could take a brief trip up to Ashland to see some of the sights close to home, right between Lincoln and Omaha. Our first stop was to the drive-thru “safari” right off exit 426. We’d been meaning to drop by for a visit for the longest time and finally made time to see some elk, pelicans, whitetail deer, and some American bison up close and personal, all from the comfort of our Honda Civic. We got to get a look at a few bald eagles, as well as check out some of the interesting plant life that the bison much enjoy eating at the north end of the park.

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We headed across the Interstate to Mahoney State Park after we’d had our fill of flora and fauna and had some lunch at Kiewit Lodge. We spent a few hours at the water park next door after that, getting into a tousle with a fairly violent wave pool and seeing how high we could get a couple fountains to spray by stepping on their other spouts. We also took a few trips down the water slides when the lines for them weren’t unbearably long. We put on sunblock, of course, but we still managed to get burned before the end of the day, probably because we weren’t reapplying the allegedly waterproof sunblock every 80 minutes.

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We worked up a sufficiently good appetite by the time we were done frolicking and headed back to Omaha for some dinner. We dropped by Charlie’s on the Lake and picked out a couple genuine live lobsters from their tank, and then proceeded to try to tear them apart without making too much of an embarrassing mess. (The kind staff offered to help us, of course, but we were too darn adventurous.) We also exchanged some appropriate gifts. Vivian gave me a lovely office organizer set, as well as a combination corkscrew, bottle opener, pocket knife key chain (a very manly item, indeed). I gave her a wooden shadowbox frame of our wedding vows, which also plays Unchained Melody, as well as my traditional cartoon summary of our year together.

We took a brief walk around The Lake before heading home, where our girl was already fast asleep. I had one more surprise before calling it a night: the video you see below! It’s been another amazing year with my lovely soul mate, and I have to admit that every year just keeps on getting better! I love you, Vivian.


Five-year anniversary video

Living large in Omaha

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I mentioned in my last blog update that I had some big news in the works, so for those of you who don’t already know, here it is — I’m going to be in a book!

Clark Howard hosts a financial talk radio show out of Atlanta, Georgia and teaches his listened how to “save more, spend less, and not get ripped off.” I first heard about the show from my dad when I visited for Christmas in 2007. I’d wanted some fun podcasts to listen to on the flight home, and he mentioned Clark Howard. I’ve been something of a Clarkaholic ever since. Listening to the daily talk show, I’ve learned how to open a Roth IRA with a discount broker, fund it using low-cost index funds, and watch my retirement income grow over time.

Then in late 2012, a couple of Clark Howard’s co-authors gave me a call and wanted to talk with me about my story on investing for his new book, Living Large for the Long Haul. The book itself is a compilation of real stories from people around the country who’ve been able to “make it” during the last few years of the Great Recession. My portion of the book is used to explain investing using low-cost funds wrapped around my brief encounter with Warren Buffett at the Bohemian Cafe (as well as plenty of personal tidbits). The book will be available on August 6, but since I happen to be featured in it, I got an advance copy. I haven’t had the chance to read much of the book yet (I’ve been too busy celebrating an anniversary — more on that later), but I highly recommend checking it out. From what I’ve gathered so far, most of the stories are far more interesting than mine. And if you can check Clark Howard on your radio dial, I recommending tuning in when you can. if you can’t, you can find it online at clarkhoward.com.

And at an online bookstore near you, of course. (Look for my story on page 128.)

Baseball and sushi

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Vivian and I are busier than ever these days, but since it’s summertime, we still have to indulge in a great American past time — baseball! On Saturday, we dropped by Werner Park with a few thousand other people to watch the Stormchasers pound the Round Rock Express in nine short innings. It was actually Hannah’s second trip to the ballpark, but she didn’t seem quite interested in the game. Instead, there was a whole children’s area put on by Centris with a bounce house, a play area, and a merry-go-round, where she got her very first ride. She also got her first taste of cotton candy, a treat she didn’t seem to know what to do with.

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On Sunday, Vivian and I went by Aksarben Village for another episode of Lindy in the Park. We got to see a few familiar faces for a dance or two, but our visit didn’t last very long. Billy wound up closing the pavilion because another band was starting up just down the street at the park’s amphitheater. That was fine by Hannah, though — she found the five spouting fountains on the south side of the park much more interesting. She got soaked splashing around in them, and dad even got into the action, running through the fountains like a goofball just to make his daughter crack up for the camera.

That evening, we went out to a sushi celebration dinner with our mutual friends Phil and Jen. Hannah got to have her very first taste of sushi in the form of a few avocado rolls, which she seemed to like. She also got to taste squid for the very first time. That’s one thing that make me proud of my little girl — she’s not afraid to try new things, mostly because mom and dad have introduced her to just about every kind of food the doctor allows. Yum!

And speaking of “yum,” on Wednesday we had paella at our house to celebrate Donna’s birthday. And chocolate mocha cheesecake. It was sort of a coffee-themed birthday, from the collection of k-cup beverages we gave to the cartoon I doodled up for Donna’s birthday card.

I have some other news in the works, but it’s big enough to warrant its own entry in my blog. More on that later.

Independence Weekend

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It’s been a star-spangled week for us here in Omaha. With several days off and beautiful weather, the Johnson family and our band of mutual friends have been living it up and enjoying all the explosion-y goodness that this red, white, and blue city had to offer.

We kicked things off on Wednesday by taking Hannah down to Rivers Edge Park in council Bluffs to check out some fireworks. They had some balloon animals and train ride for the kids along the riverfront, but Hannah seemed mostly interested in playing with sand and running around before our friends arrived. We sat on the same patch of green where we watched the Beach Boys a few weeks earlier, and some time after the sun went down, the sky lit up with fireworks over the new ballpark downtown. It was a nice way to kick off what we be a long, Independence Day weekend, though the jam-packed traffic on the way out took over an hour for us to push our way through. Maybe next time we ought to park down at the casino and just walk.

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Vivian’s folks invited us over for a Fourth of July luncheon of burgers and all-American apple pie. Hannah marked the occasion by playing with a tea set for the first time and eating her very first ice cream cone. We left her with “Mimi and Papa” for the evening as Vivian and I went off to blow some things up with our friends.

Jenny had organized a party at Ben’s house to say both Happy Birthday to her roommate Libby and farewell to Keith, who was moving to Idaho for reasons still unclear to most of us (it has something to do with mountain biking). Jenny brought out a patriotic cake with a musical candle (that would not shut up), and shortly thereafter we broke out the sparkly thing. Everyone had the chance to paint the air with sparklers, fire off Roman candles, and fill the sky with a bunch of artillery shells. Someone even brought “homemade” fireworks that were made essentially of gunpowder in vinyl triangles, creating the perfect opportunity for someone to lose a couple fingers.

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On Friday night, a bunch of our friends returned to Elmwood Park to indulge in another performance of Shakespeare on the Green (because once is never enough). This time around, we saw a musical (and whimsically modern-looking) rendition of Twelfth Night. Since this performance was decidedly more family friendly than the gruesome Titus Andronicus, and this happened to be a holiday weekend, the crowd was decidedly larger than before. I came early enough to get a fairly decent spot in the nearly record-breaking crowd of 4,000+. A bunch of us decided to try on some old-timey clothes at one pavilion and then the girls engaged in a little swordplay with one another. (The girls especially seemed to enjoy this.) A panel of instructors answered Shakespeare-related questions, and a troop of 8-12 year olds from Camp Shakespeare performed a few scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream for us as well. The wandering singers and juggler Jek Kelly were also on hand, as usual, and we even learned that everyone’s favorite juggler will be retiring this year. He got a tearful standing ovation in response to that news.

The play itself was delightful, of course, with an enthusiastic cast and plenty of fun, hip songs to go along with the 400 year old comedy. As with Titus, I didn’t bother to read much of the synopsis before watching the show, but I was still able to follow it fairly well. The play ended with the cast dancing into a curtain call, and then our own group decided to have an impromptu dance session right on our blankets as we waited for the rest of the crowd to thin out before heading for home.

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On Saturday morning, we joined our friends Randy and Jolene to celebrate their son Timothy’s third birthday down at Lake Zorinsky. Timothy and Hannah seem to get along quite well despite being about a year and a half apart in age. Randy grilled up burgers and hot dogs for everyone, which we tried to eat while trying to keep everything from blowing away with the gale force wind that ripped through our pavilion. Timothy also opened a bunch of presents, which included some Bible stories from Vivian and me and a Radio Flyer wagon that Randy put together on site so Hannah and Timothy could go for a ride.

Vivian and I wound up resting up for the rest of the weekend. After so many days and nights filled with fun, it actually felt great just to stay in a night or two before starting another busy week. On Monday, I’ll be starting a new job as marketing manager at the Pope Paul VI Institute here in Omaha, which has been described as the Mayo Clinic of reproductive health care. I’ve learned already that they’ve helped several people we know personally to have children when they thought they never would, so it looks like a wonderful, new place to work!

Bloody good shows!

Things have been busy and fun in Omaha, with so many events happening that Vivian and I haven’t even been able to attend them all. One specifically was a very important Centennial anniversary that occurred over the weekend — the 100-year celebration of the Lincoln Highway! Apparently, a bunch of classic cars took a tour down the old brick road in West Omaha, and even the Omaha Jitterbugs made an appearance to dance for the occasion out by Saddle Creek. Wish I could have been there.

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On Friday night, Vivian and I took Hannah up to Memorial Park for Bank of the West’s annual concert and fireworks show. I’d dropped by around lunchtime to put down a blanket in advance while Hannah visited some friends at Friendship Program for “take your kid to work day” with Mommy. That evening, we got to enjoy a couple hours of rocking 80s music with Loverboy and Pat Benatar. Memorial Park was host to tens of thousands of people crowded around for the free show, so we naturally bumped into a few friends on the way up. Our blanket was pretty close to the stage, so I had to find a way to plug Hannah’s 19-month old ears, which wasn’t easy. I think next time we might place ourselves a little farther back in the park, where Hannah seemed to enjoy picking clover. A couple of Vivian’s friends dropped in to share our space as the sun went down on the park, and then some fireworks hit the sky the dazzle the crowd after the show was over. This was the first time Hannah had seen real, live fireworks, so she was happily mesmerized before we began the trudge back home amidst the thousands of people clogging Dodge Street.

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On Saturday, we partook in another fun put-your-blanket-down-in-a-park-and-enjoy-a-free-show type of event: Shakespeare on the Green! I usually enjoy setting up our spot hours before the show starts and then enjoying a long afternoon of reading in gorgeous weather before people start to arrive. We had a smaller crowd this time around, since Titus Andronicus is decidedly for mature audiences only (so no families with kiddos). Joining our blanket were Phil and Jen, Jessica, and Jon Paper, all with various things to nibble. Juggler Jek Kelly and singers Madrigali et al wandered the crowd before the show, per tradition, and then Two-Minute Shakespeare hit the stage with some very lively (and abbreviated) performances of Macbeth, Titus, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Julius Caesar. The show itself was bloody magnificent. I knew nothing about the play before it started other than the level of violence, but I was able to follow the twisted tale of revenge without any trouble at all. The dress was traditional for first century Rome, and all the players were very convincing in their roles. I should congratulate director Vincent Carlson-Brown for making the blocking on stage so picture-worthy. I’m only glad I had my telephoto lens.

We had such a great time that we might just come back to see the comedy Twelfth Night next week. We’ll see.