Monthly Archives: November 2016

Winter Wonderlands

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We kicked off another holiday season at the Johnson house over the weekend as we celebrated Thanksgiving with the rest of the country. Jack walked Vivian through all the steps of preparing the Turkey, and we had all four grandparents and my two brothers over to share in Thanksgiving dinner (and pie).

We had the Macy’s Day Parade on the TV downstairs along with parts of the streaming MST3K Marathon, but the latter went mostly unnoticed throughout the afternoon. Hannah learned to be a delightful little hostess serving up ham roll-ups, and she also got play with the fort-making materials she got for her birthday (though they quickly became goofy generic toys instead).

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We spent Friday night the next day at Union Station for their tree-lighting ceremony. There was a decidedly smaller crowd this year since many people were busy watching the Huskers get humiliated by Iowa. That meant no line to see Santa and plenty of time to make cookies and explore the museum. Hannah and Aaron got to run through the train cars and play with a few snowmen, and a capella group called the Bathtub Dogs sang a few Christmas songs before Santa and Mayor Stothert lit the tree around seven o’clock.

We hung around afterward to get our annual Christmas photo taken. We also checked out an exhibit on prohibition, and Hannah and Aaron got to play dress-up with some revolutionary garb before we headed on home.

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On Saturday, I spent the afternoon decking out our house in Christmas lights while the weather was nice and accommodating. Then on Saturday night, Vivian had a “Norwex Party” at our house for some reason. I rescued the kids from that by taking them to downtown Papillion for some of their winter festivities. Mom and dad our friend Phil joined us for hot dogs and chili at the fire station for dinner, and then Phil and I took the kids down to the park, which was dressed in Christmas lights for the season.

They had plenty of festivities for the Winter Wonderland event, which included live music from the Plucking Nuts outside the middle school and some frightening costumed characters wandering about. They also had visits with Santa and Carriage Rides available, but the lines for those were so ridiculously long that we just headed home instead to put the kids to bed and then watch some Mystery Science Theater (Monster a Go-Go — don’t bother, not worth it).

Ten Years of Traditions

It was a whole decade ago, back in 2006, that I first started a humble little blog over on blogspot.com. This was back before the age of social media, so telling friends and family what you were up to was done via blog post back then rather than via status updates. As such, I’d found many of the new friends I’d made swing dancing had blogs of their own, including a lady named Vivian I had been trying to get to know better. So, I signed up to have a blog of my own, and I’ve been updating it regularly ever since, documenting my entire relationship with Vivian in the process.

So, to commemorate these past ten years, here is a list of my top ten favorite traditions that have come about in my life since I started this little blog. Enjoy!

  1. The Applejack Festival: It seems the only time we get down to Nebraska City is when thousands of other people are jamming the roads to watch the parade or buy caramel apples around town during the Applejack Festival. We always start our visit by getting pancakes from the Pancake Man down at the fire house. Then we might check out the used book sale at the library before taking in a parade, sampling apple wine down at the Arbor Day Farm, or picking apples up at Kimmel Orchard. Hannah and Aaron have gone every year of their lives (so far).
  2. Vala’s Pumpkin PatchThe pumpkin patch / amusement park out in Gretna is a tradition for anyone with kids or who are kids at heart. The jumping pillows, go carts, the mechanical dragon, and acres and acres of play areas are a draw for us and lots of other people each year. The price of admission goes up every year, but I have a whole blog entry to help you save money.
  3. Shakespeare on the Green: Nebraska Shakespeare puts on a comedy and tragedy at Elmwood Park every year for free (with donations), so we usually make a day of it coming early to lay down a blanket and then hang out on the green with our friends, a bunch of snacks, and a bottle or two of wine.
  4. Friday Fish Fries during Lent: I have to credit Eric/Onion-Boy with introducing me to the uniquely Midwestern (and Catholic) tradition of standing in line for hours drinking beer and then gorging on fried fish, all inside a church. St. John Vianney has been our Fishy Friday destination for years, not just for the assortment of beige, carb-laden food, but also for the live music, raffles, bake sales, and more. Good times never seemed so good. (So good! So good!)
  5. The Cheese Party / Hors D’oeuvres Party: We hold one of these every year, alternating between the two themes. Vivian and I love food, and having some kind of party / competition with our friends has been a great way to break through the gloomy months of winter, post-Christmas.
  6. Christmas at Union Station: Kicking off the holidays wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Union Station. Vivian and I go with the River City Confectioners to help visitors decorate cookies while Hannah and Aaron see Santa. Then we’ll join the crowd as everyone sings along with a Christmas carol or two before watching the Mayor of Omaha light up the tree.
  7. Concerts at Memorial Park & Loessfest: every year, a couple well-known bands come to give free concerts in the metro area, and I always look forward to seeing who they’ll be. We’ve seen Kenny Loggins, Kool & the Gang, Joan Jett, Eddie Money, ChicagoThree Dog Night, Loverboy, Pat Benatar, Smash Mouth, Uncle Cracker, Sugar Ray, Styx, Foreigner, and even the Beach Boys with John Stamos, and we usually bring the kids along for the ride.
  8. The Sushi Anniversary: When Vivian and I made our dating relationship “official,” it was immediately after a trip to Sakura Bana for sushi with friends on January 26, 2007. Every year, we mark the occasion by having sushi someplace. It’s usually in Omaha, but we once celebrated at the Rio’s seafood buffet in Las Vegas.
  9. First Date Anniversary: Vivian and I went to the (now closed) French Cafe for our first official date (before we made it “official”) back on Dec. 23, 2006. Every year, we mark the occasion with dinner — often in the Old Market — and then a brief walk in the bitter cold to see the Christmas lights at the Gene Leahy Mall. We also buy some Christmas fudge down at the Old Market Candy Shoppe.
  10. Wedding Anniversary and Comic: Every year on July 19, Vivian and I have a tradition of celebrating our anniversary by going someplace (usually with a swimming pool or a water park). Sometimes it’s a trip to Kansas City, a road trip to Mount Rushmore and back, or just a drive across the river to Des Monies. We finish the day with a lobster dinner to commemorate our honeymoon in Bar Harbor, Maine, and I present Vivian with a comic illustration of our year together.

Rapunzel, a Tea Party, and a Christmas Castle Cake

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Winter is nearly here, which means drinking in all the unseasonably warm weather we can before the gray gloom and snow of winter comes bearing down on us. That meant a lunchtime trip or two to the park, where Hannah shared some of the pumpkin bread she made in a tin can at preschool with us. We also dropped by the park by the Keystone Trail where I’d left my car after a tire spontaneously burst in my office, which I wound up having replaced long enough for one or two more rides to the office.

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November also seems to be a popular month for birthdays. Our friend Deena celebrated down at Romeo’s for some reason, so we dropped by with the kids for a few sanchos together.

Our friend Phil also celebrated his birthday down at his house in Papillion, so we joined him and our cluster of mutual friends to celebrate with pork loin spiced up with some of his homemade ghost pepper sauce. Jen’s parents were also there to be loved and abused by the many youngsters running around. Phil was smoking half a hog’s head on his back porch, but we only stayed long enough for cake and never quite got to see what he wound up doing with it.

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The biggest birthday of all, of course, was for Hannah on Tuesday when she turned five years old. I took the day off and spent the morning distracting the kids with grandma as Vivian prepared our house for a cute little tea party. A handful of Hannah’s little friends came over to have cookies and (apple cider) “tea” in the afternoon. Then they got a special surprise visit from Rapunzel, courtesy of Real Omaha Princesses. She had a song, a story, and a game for the kids to play in-between a handful of photos, of course.

Hannah got to open presents after Rapunzel’s visit, and then she got to blow out candles on her Christmas Castle Cake. Yes, Grammy asked Hannah exactly what kind of cake she wanted for her birthday, and her request was about as a five-year-old could get. The resulting cake was amazing inside and out, but it was especially weird to see Hannah and Aaron eat fondant effigies of themselves.

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The next day, Vivian took the kids down to the Children’s Museum to burn off an extended sugar high, and I joined them during an extended lunch break. We call this place the “indoor park,” as our trips to the “outdoor” park will now be sporadic until around springtime.

Next stop: Thanksgiving, and the start of the Christmas season!


Highlights from Hannah’s fifth birthday

Leafpiles and Election Night

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Fall weather in Nebraska is continuing to be awesome. I’ve been riding my bike to work and having plenty park time with the kids. On Saturday, Kate had another game night, so Hannah and Aaron got to play with Kate’s three kids as the rest of us tried to figure out a game Mark brought called High Noon Saloon over tacos. Good times. Then after church, the leafy fun continued as Hannah and Aaron got to practice diving into a pile of the raked-up foliage with Chloe.

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Then on Tuesday was Election Day. I don’t know if you’d heard, but some guy named Donald Trump wound up getting elected President. I kicked the day off voting as soon as the polls opened, at which point there was already quite a line. Vivian gave the kids an Election Day Picnic out on our lawn for lunch. Then, as a part of voting, I got to have some free spaghetti down at Fazoli’s. I invited Vivian and the kids along and we made an evening meal of it before heading home.

After putting the kids to bed, I broke open a bottle of Port to settle the nerves before watching the election returns. I, along with pretty much all the polls, expected Hillary Clinton to be our next President, so it was with great surprise that I turned the TV on to see The Donald doing far, far better than anyone expected. We stayed up past midnight as votes continued to be counted, but as Pennsylvania remained “too close to call” we went to bed expecting long recounts to continue. Then, right before we went to sleep, we heard fireworks outside. Puzzled, we returned to the TV to see Pennsylvania had been called for Trump, he’d won the 270 necessary electoral votes, and was going to become our next President.IMG_5235 I’m kind of glad I stayed up to watch that moment live, and I was even greater that I’d taken off the next day from work, as I had pretty much no sleep by the time dawn came around.

I got to have a lovely leafy time the morning after with the kids in the front yard. The weather’s continued to be gorgeous, and I hope we’ll be able to enjoy more and more of it before winter finally comes.

One Final Election Day Note

Eight years ago, I remember the cultish glee that followed Barack Obama as he went from Senator to President within four short years. I saw him as an inexperienced, big-government politician who was thick on rhetoric and light on ideas, but what bothered me most was the abject worship of the guy. I see much the same in Donald Trump, but everything surrounding him is upside down — the left sees him as #LiterallyHitler, while the right remains split between #NeverTrump (because he’s not a conservative) and #NeverHillary. I remain in the firm position to remain happy in life regardless of who occupies the White House and remain friends with those who vote differently than I do.

That said, this has been one of the most amazing election cycles of my lifetime, and it’s not just because of the historical upset that came at the end. I got to meet many cool people over the past year and a half, including candidates, their supporters, Republicans, Democrats, and even Greens. I feel privileged to have been able to get this close to our electoral process and getting to meet so many different candidates. Over the past year, I’ve personally met the next President, seen the sitting President, and shaken hands with a former President. And I’m just a nobody from Nebraska.

God bless America!

IMG_7893The end.

Halloween 2016

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It’s Halloween again, a holiday that seems to be as much for grown-ups nowadays as it is for kids. On Friday night, we took Hannah and Aaron down to the Sarpy YMCA for some trunk-or-treating with various little ones, getting bucketfuls of candy from various folks with decorated trunks. Then we let them burn off some of their sugar high inside a bounce house or two in the Y before we headed for home.

Then mommy and daddy had a turn as dress-up as we headed down to the Eagles Lodge for their Halloween Dance as Trump and Hillary (or The Oompa Loompa Billionaire and Crooked Vivian, if you’re easily triggered). Nate and Lexi came along with us as a double date, though we didn’t get much time to dance with one another outside of the lesson.

Vivian and I weren’t the only Trump and Hillary, but we did take second place during the (RIGGED!) costume contest. We decided to “fight” with one another during the parade around the dance floor, which is what Nate told us sold” it to the judges. Other winners were Homer and Marge Simpson and Bob Ross and a Pretty Little Tree. We also had our shim sham and performance of thriller before calling it a night.

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Saturday was delightfully warm for an October day, so Vivian and I took the kids down to the Fontenelle Forest to enjoy being out in nature with so much as a jacket. We walked farther down the trail than we’d never been before, reaching a picturesque little bridge and bond next to the railroad tracks. The kids also had fun along the boardwalk and playing in the tree-house before we headed home.

That evening, we had brats for dinner at my parents house, eating and playing outside until a cold front started moving in. Then we headed back indoors and watched a terribly embarrassing slideshow of me and my brothers growing up. Ah, memories.

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Vivian cooked up a tasty pre-Halloween dinner on Sunday of liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti (pfft pfft pfft pfft). We saved some of the leftovers for Halloween night, when Jack and Donna came to watch our house as we took the kids trick-or-treating. We stayed mostly in my parents’ neighborhood, where we first went to their house and then rounded the block, filling their buckets yet again with cavity-inducing goodness. I’m hoping we got enough mileage out of their little outfits. They certainly were cute!