Monthly Archives: July 2017

Cakes, a lake, and a housewarming

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Hot enough for you? Yes, it’s July in Nebraska, which means steamy summer days and trying to find ways to stay cool other than boarding up inside the house with air conditioning. This is why we have sprinklers in the front yard, which Hannah and Aaron made use of on Thursday.

On Saturday, we took a trip down to Louisville to cool off in the lake. We brought along an inflatable alligator and killer whale for the kids to float around on, and then we stayed just long enough to have some lunch (and a little sunburn) before heading home.

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Then that evening we dropped by Phil and Jen’s new house for a little Housewarming Party. Naturally, they had a bunch of unique food, including some bacon toffee and other things made in their giant, industrial strength stove. They also made some coffee in a strange glass vacuum brewer, which looked like an odd science experiment or drug paraphernalia. The coffee it made was good, though.

The usual batch of our friends were there, and Hannah got to have some quality time going crazy with Kate’s girls before we called it a night.

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Then on Sunday, I took Hannah and Aaron to the River City Confectioners’ Association Annual Sugar Arts and Cake Show. Hannah and Aaron had each made some prize-winning cakes and stuck around to collect their blue ribbons (along with prize lambs and some cookies).

There were several other unique entries, including a Cinderella Cake, a Fast Food cake, a cactus, some literary characters, and a detailed living room set that was made entirely out of sugar (even the glass ship-in-a-bottle). Vivian even made a cake topper, which she brought home on Friday night.

It was back to work after that, which included short-circuiting the Civic. Fortunately, I just needed a new battery and a fuse replaced after that mess.

Anniversary on Cloud Nine

It’s been nine lucky years since Vivian and I first tied the knot, so we decided to celebrate by spending the day down the road in Lincoln getting some sun and getting stuffed (per the norm).

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We started the day exploring Wilderness Park, home to the Secret Bridges and also the “Devil’s Gate,” which I only recently learned about online. The whole area had been a kind of retreat for Methodists around the turn of the century but had since been turned over to the city as one large, meandering park. After some quick lunch at D’Leon’s, we checked out the Gate and then tried finding our way back to the Secret Bridges, but it had since become nearly unrecognizable, overgrown with trees and foliage and a new barricade that made it much harder to traverse. (A stopped train didn’t make it any easier, either.) We only got as far as the first bridge for a selfie before giving up.

We spent the rest of the afternoon down at Star City Shores, a water park built back in 1996 that I wasn’t really even aware of until now. They had a few water slides, and a giant, water-dumping bucket that kept us cool as temperatures climbed into the upper 90s (with enough humidity to push the heat index well above 100).

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Then that evening, we had dinner at the Rodizio Grill in the Haymarket. It’s a “Brazilian Steakhouse” that specialized in serving you an endless parade of meat carved tableside — ham, sirloin, chicken, ribs, and a dozen other options all cooked via rotisserie and served until you tell them to stop. If that weren’t enough, they had a salad bar that included such items as seviche and four-cheese mac and cheese (with bacon) that could have easily served as a meal in itself. Throw in a series of endless sizes (which included fried polenta fries) and we were pretty much stuffed from the word “go.”

Vivian and I had anniversary gifts for each other as well. I got Vivian a hand-thrown cheese plate and a voucher for a paint-your-own pottery place in La Vista. Her gift for me was an amazing make-your-own Scotch kit, complete with barrel. That’s going to be fun to try out!
Of course, I also had my ninth Anniversary Comic, featuring all the fun we’ve had with our friends, family, and each other over the past year. Thanks for making so many memories with me, sweetie! I can’t wait for Year Ten.

Grammy and a Garage Sale

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It’s been a massively busy week or two for the Johnson household, much of it spent getting ready for and hosting our very first (and probably last) garage sale. We spent several weeks collecting things to sell, pricing them all, and then arranging our makeshift driveway thrift store on a series of borrowed tables in our garage. It’s been a miserably hot July so far, but thankfully there was (almost) no rain during our three-day garage sale. We were able to make a couple hundred dollars parting with a collection of household items, all of which will be going to help fund Hannah’s schooling this year (which will either be at Cornerstone Christian School or homeschooling, depending on what financial aid may or may not come through). Our mutual friend Kate had an assortment of things to sell as well, so she and Vivian tended to the shop on our driveway as Kate’s girls played with Hannah over the course of three days. After the garage sale ended on Saturday, I got some extra steps on my FitBit walking the kids to grandpa’s house to mow his lawn and have some smoked chicken for dinner.

The whole garage sale was an exhausting exercise in decluttering and learning how much old belongings are really worth when you put them on your driveway. We likely won’t be doing this again, however, because we’ve learned since the sale that an Espresso maker that wouldn’t go for $3 on our driveway can somehow get sold for $15 once we put it on the “buy/sell/trade” group on Facebook. Hooray for online capitalism!

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Then came Grammy’s Birthday, which (as always) happened two days before our wedding anniversary. The whole family went out to Golden Corral to get stuffed with shrimp tacos and steak, among other things. Then at home, Grammy opened some of the presents we’d bought her, which included a large plastic car-shaped jar full of individual tubs of gelatin, which I picked up at an Asian food market (along with Dragon Fruit — because you can’t not try something that crazy and colorful). We also had a giant, chocolate birthday cake that Hannah and Aaron helped to decorate, so we all got nice and sugared up before heading off to bed.

Things finally started to wind down mid-week as Vivian and I prepared for our nine-year wedding anniversary together. More on that in the next update.

O Comic Con 2017

On Saturday last week, the whole Johnson Family had a fun, jam-packed day down at O Comic Con at the Mid-America Center. This was just the third year O Comic Con has been held (ironically in Council Bluffs), but it was the first time all four of us took advantage of crossing the river and exploring this venue.

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O Comic Con is a relatively small convention, particularly compared to some of the others I’ve been to, but that’s part of the appeal. The lines were short and it was remarkably easy to get in and see everything that was going on. The vast majority of people who attended did so in costume, dressed as superheroes, anime characters, Jedi, and other random creatures. There were plenty of people selling superhero merchandise, and several comic book folks filled in the booths in the main arena.

It was a very family-friendly event, with activities from Hannah and Aaron like decorating their own cardboard armor or playing with Legos. They had the most fun, however, with the yarn-knit strawberry and carrot we bought for them from a vendor.

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My favorite part of the event, of course, were the celebrity guests, most of whom came from various TV shows and movies I’d seen in my childhood. These included Darth Maul from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Rob Paulsen from Animaniacs, Jonathan Lipnicki from Jerry Maguire and Stuart Little (among others), Non from Superman II, Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie, the original blue Power Ranger, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and Big Bird from Sesame Street. Our kids got to meet all the celebrities along with us, but they couldn’t quite appreciate how the Caroll Spinney was actually a giant yellow Muppet or that Rob Paulsen was actually a cartoon character.

The Q&A sessions were the most fun for me. Ray Park spoke to a packed room about his time doing The Phantom Menace and even demonstrated swinging a light-saber with one he borrowed from an audience member. Several of the actors still keep in touch with their old cast members. David Yost said he would be spending the weekend at Amy Jo Johnson’s beach house. Alison Arngrim fights with Melissa Gilbert on Twitter, and Rob Paulsen had Tress MacNeille to one of his kid’s birthday parties. Yost and Paulsen both also mentioned hearing from fans that their shows were bright spots in an otherwise dark childhood, which was kind of sad.

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The highlight of the day (and the weekend, and maybe the year) for me was Ron Paulsen’s Q&A. Paulsen is the voice actor behind many cartoon characters, including Yakko Warner from Animaniacs, who is also known for singing the Nations of the World song. I managed to learn this entire song to amuse a two-year-old Hannah when pushing her in her swing, so I’d been dying for the chance to sing this on stage with Rob Paulsen ever since I’d learned he was coming to O Comic Con. He actually invited both me and another guest on stage to sing the whole thing, which we were together at the end of the Q&A. You can see the whole, crazy video below. At the end of the song, Paulsen also sings a brand-new bit that includes many of the countries that either didn’t exist when the first song was written or were somehow left out. Check out the whole thing and be amazed!


This actually happened. Thanks to Spotlight Omaha for recording it.

It was a long, fun day, but I’m very glad we went and can’t wait to see which guests they have in store for next year. In the meantime, we’ve got a garage sale to make happen.

“G’night everybody!”

Raining on our parade…and concert…and play

We just wrapped up a long, fun, and very busy Independence Day weekend, which featured several outdoor activities that were bombarded with rain at one level or another.

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First came the Bank of the West Celebrates America concert at Memorial Park. Kool & the Gang, who we had seen last year at Loessfest, were the headliners of the evening. We grabbed our spot on the green along with the West Family and around 60,000 other people (and Takashi) as emcee Nikki Boulay kicked off the evening. A line of ominous clouds gathered on the horizon as opening act, the Emmett Bower Band, sang country songs about beer. Then the Confidentials took the stage just as a thundershower broke, quickly drenching everyone on the green for half an hour and driving away a fair chunk of concert goers.

Those of us who weather the storm, however, were treated to a double rainbow at the end, followed by Kool and the Gang. It was the first time I’d seen the same band twice at one of our free outdoor concerts, and it was fun to hear a different mix of the songs than the ones they played last year (though they finished off with Celebration, of course). The kids were more interested in the fireworks and playing with their new bubble gun, but everyone had a good time, despite getting drenched.

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The next day, we returned to Elmwood Park for another night of Shakespeare on the Green, this time featuring the Merry Wives of Windsor. There was a much bigger crowd this week, but I was still lucky enough to snag a spot near the front. Tamra, Lydia, Anne and Brandon joined us on our blanket to share in A lovely spread., and pesto bread before the show. There was also a brief Q&A with a few of the actors, and then Editorial Cartoonist / Swing Band Leader Jeff Koterba took the stage to kick things off.

The play itself was very good, and a little more risqué than I would have expected for a Shakespearean comedy. The forecast called for clear skies for the evening, but halfway through the first act, it started to rain once again. The actor paid no mind, of course, but several members of the audience took off before the rain cleared up around intermission. A few stagehands mopped the stage, and the cast finished off the play without a hitch (that we could tell).

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Then came Independence Day, which fell on a Tuesday, happily interrupting our 40-hour work week. I kicked off the day claiming a spot on the parade route for the Ralston Parade, and then I dropped by the pavilion at Elmwood Park for pancakes with the Douglas County Republican Party. Mayor Jean Stothert, Governor Pete Ricketts, and Congressman Don Bacon were all on hand to meet and greet, take photos, and serve up food. Ian Swanson from AM 1420 was also there rubbing elbows with County Chair Jon Tucker among others, and I even bumped into Bellevue Mayor Rita Sanders, who was out for a bike ride with her husband Mike.

There was also a car show going on in the parking lot, so I walked past a few classic cars, and I also took a minute to check out the grotto, which was created when Elmwood Park was first built, which had a natural spring neatly hidden away from street traffic.

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I headed home to cool off with the kids for a bit before we returned to our spot for the Ralston Parade. Jenny and Kody joined us on our blanket as we got to watch the usual batch of clowns, roller-skaters, Shriners, bands, stormtroopers, and jitterbugs make their way down Main Street. A real-life troll from some left-wing group (who also trolled Sen. Fischer’s town hall) actually followed Don Bacon’s entourage to harass him, but the congressman took it in stride.

Halfway through the parade, it started raining once again. We huddled underneath a tree and stayed relatively dry through most of it, and even though the rest of the parade wound up getting drenched, they kept on marching through it all. We dropped by Dairy Queen afterward for some ice cream (along with the Jitterbugs) before heading back home.

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Then that evening, my parents had us and Vivian’s folks over for some dinner and fireworks. Vivian and I brought along burgers and hot dogs, and Donna brought some lemon lasagna for dessert. We ate outside, which was lovely and cool after the rain on our parade.

Then after dinner, we took to the driveway to set off some fireworks along with the rest of the neighborhood. We had a modest number of fountains, sparklers, and artillery shells in our arsenal, but our fireworks were dwarfed by our neighbors’ who had a whole series that rivaled what we’d seen on Friday night at Memorial Park.

All things considered, it was a super fun weekend. Next year, however, we’ll have to remember to bring our umbrellas, no matter what it says in the forecast.