Monthly Archives: September 2019

Holy Smokes & Applejack

Fall has finally rolled around again, though it might not feel like it yet, which means harvesting plenty of tomatoes for bruschetta and autumnal flavored coffees at Aldi.

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Men of God at Wildewood got together last week for the first time since last spring. On this week’s agenda was learning the manly art of barbecue, with Zach (and Fred) from Holy Smokes up in Sioux Falls. Zach is a hooligan-turned-pastor who has both a church and a barbecue business, so he gave us the run-down of different types of barbecue, methods for cutting a pork butt for smoking, and all the tips and tricks of slow-cooking meat on a variety of smokers to get that sweet coat of “bark” that everyone loves.

We had some barbecue pulled pork sandwiches for together before Zach’s barbecue run-down, and we each got a package of rub to take home with us. I’d never given much thought to smoking meat before, it sounds like it would be perfectly fine to do it with our humble propane grill on the deck, so maybe soon I’ll go give it a try.

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Fall also means that it’s time for the Applejack festival in Nebraska City. The weather looked foreboding, so we brought an umbrella just in case, but despite the dark cloud looming overheard we didn’t have a drop of rain until we left.

We started the day with a pancake breakfast down at the firehouse, catching a flew flapjacks and letting the kids climb on a firetruck or two. We stopped by the book sale at the library to grab a few new books for the kids and samples some honey from the Calvary Church pavilion up the street, stopping to admire some old brick-wall advertisements and smell the roses along the way.

We spent most of our time down at Kimmel Orchard, riding the hay rack down to the rows of Jonathan, Honeycrisp, and Gala trees so Hannah and Aaron could pick a couple pecks of apples to take home with us. Hannah and Aaron got some quality time on their relatively new playground and even got some ice cream afterward. They had a bunch of educational booths inside from the UNL extension office, many of which having to do with bees and pollination (and making masks). There was a sampling of a dozen kinds of honey, which we got to try out. Then on the way home, we swung by Union Orchard for a couple apple donuts on the way home.

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In other news, Aaron has been learning to play the viola through String Sprouts, a program from the Omaha Conservatory of Music. He’s only just begun, but he seems to know how to hold his viola and bow like a champ so far.

Vivian had a baby shower on Sunday, so I took the kids to mom and dad’s house for a while in the afternoon, primarily to try out the “Let’s Go Code” game Uncle Jonny gave Aaron for his birthday. Our biggest challenge was keeping the kids following the rules, but it was fun just to get them to try it out.

Then we had some delicious ribeye steaks for dinner.

Rare Breeds

We’ve had a few gorgeous days here and there this week, necessitating a trip or two to a park, but mostly it’s been hot and muggy as summer absolutely refuses to make way for fall. Fortunately, our tomatoes have started kicking into high gear, giving us plenty of tasty treats for bruschetta and such.

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On Wednesday, I spent the evening with Tom Becka and Jeff Koterba in Benson, who were helping to raise a few dollars to renovate the Benson Theater. The theater has been vacant for several decades, but there are some very elaborate plans to bring it back to life, and they’re about half a million dollars shy of meeting their goal.

The event was at the “B Side,” which was once the “PS Collective” connected to the Pizza Shoppe where 88 Improv used to perform (and Tom once “performed” for use amusement years ago). The room was now sealed of from the pizza, but there is now a bar where I got a “figure of speech” to sip as Tom and Jeff introduced themselves and dove headlong into a Facebook argument IRL on stage for us. The title of the event was “Rare Breed,” and asked “are cartoonists and commentators going extinct.” I would certainly say “no,” as the Internet has made it easier for anyone to have a platform to spread their views or cartoons with almost no overhead whatsoever, but it did launch into a long-form discussion on such things as “fake news” and red light cameras, among other things. We also got to try drawing our own editorial cartoons from a list of topics, a la the Kaneko event a few years back, so I tried my hand at a caricature of Ben Sasse.

It was a fun evening, primarily because I always prefer arguing “IRL” as opposed to online, where being snippy and sarcastic often gets you likes when thoughtful discussion gets ignored.

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Friday brought along some gorgeous weather, so we took the kids to the park for a lunchtime visit. Then that evening, Vivian and I attended a “Tribute to Patriots” event, where we got to hear from Congressman Devin Nunes of California, emceed by KFAB’s Scott Voorhees. He’s been in the headlines recently for his role in investing Russian collusion, but he had a few other interesting stories about his interactions with President Trump. We saw several familiar faces there, including Don Bacon, Lt. Gov. Foley, and the usual band of GOP volunteers. They had a few awards at the end for the “five that drive,” which included several of them.

It was a lovely evening, though I forgot my memory card, so I couldn’t use my “good camera” to get any pictures. We also had a late dinner, so we wound up crashing at our old Village Inn for chicken pot pie and a french dip sandwich together (and pie, of course) before calling it a night.

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Saturday turned out to be the perfect day for just about everything outside — including a bit more house painting in the morning followed by a picnic lunch at Hickory Hill Park with our friends, the Lenarts. We’d been aiming at having another meetup for a while and managed to land on the perfect day for grilling a few burgers outside while letting the kids play on a new playground together.

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Then that evening, we had another trip to the zoo, courtesy of the Autism Society of Nebraska. We dropped by around six and had a look around the mostly too-dark-to-film “kingdom of the night” beneath the desert dome. We saw an alligator or two in the swamp and some snakes before heading upstairs to the drier part of the dome, where we got a peek at a fox, some mongooses, and some rattlesnakes.

The kids spent plenty of time playing on zoo statuary before we headed to the jungle to hang out for the rest of the evening. The bats were out in full force once again as we looked around upstairs and down, and then we dropped by the Wild Kingdom pavilion to cool off with a dance and a ride in a Humvee before calling it a night.

Balloons, bounce-houses, and talking trash

We had a delightfully short week, thanks to Labor Day, and now we’re speeding headlong into a busy fall season and another school year.

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On Wednesday, I attended a luncheon with Mayor Jean Stothert and the Business and Professional People for Life at the Garden Cafe. I’d attended this lunch many, many times before, but this was the first time I’d brought my dad along, who seemed to get a kick out of talking theology with the Catholics at our table.

Strangely enough, Mayor Stothert kept very much to a budgetary stump speech, talking mostly about the new trash contract with the city and other fiscal issues. She didn’t talk about pro-life issues until one person specifically asked her to during the Q&A, during which she briefly mentioned she’d been pro-life since her days as a nurse and it was one reason she didn’t attend the “Women’s March” that happened a few years ago.

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Then on Friday, we took the kids out to Ditmar’s Orchard for a lovely evening of balloon watching and quality outdoor time in the country. There were a few new additions to the playground, including a rolling slide made of PVC pipe and a teeter-totter airplane (in addition to the swings and monkey bars). There were a few other photo-worthy attractions, such as a set of stocks that we made use of, and a “Dr. Oxygen” was on hand to make bubbles for the kids to fight over trying to pop on our way back to our seats.

The balloons started sailing in around 7:30, sailing over the hills to the west before getting carted back to the orchard to re-inflate and glow for everyone. Our friend Lisa sat and had some snacks with us, such as some apple cider donuts I grabbed in advance. Then the balloons took turns glowing in sequence before the guests were allowed to come up close and take a look at them. This all seemed fairly routine for Hannah, who mostly wanted to get back to the playground, so we let her and Aaron have some more fun after dark as the band Clean and Easy played songs for us until around 9:30 or so.

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Hannah and mommy went to a birthday party for her friend Lily on Saturday as I stayed home with Aaron and set up my new Raspberry Pi to play BurgerTime for his amusement. Then around dinnertime we went down to Wildewood Christian Church for their Saturday Spectacular. This consisted of BBQ sandwiches and hot dogs for dinner, along with a few indoor games, and an inflatable bounce-house and obstacle course outside, which kept the kids busy most of the evening.

Then around seven, local comedian Jarrell Roach came to do a stand-up set, much of which included audience participation. He had us doing rock, paper, scissors and singing the ABCs, and he somehow made it funny. He also brought up one “lucky” audience member to demonstrate the difference between men and women toward the end of the show. It was the first time Hannah or Aaron had seen a stand-up comic, and they surprisingly seemed to enjoy every bit of it.

We’ve got more activities in store this week, much of which will be political. In the meantime, we’ll be busy recovering and hopefully be ready for more fun soon.


Fields of Flight 2019

Pink Poodle, Tailgate Breakfast, and Turning 41

I turned a year older on Thursday last week, and boy am I starting to feel middle age catching up to me — mainly because we seem to have a non-stop schedule full of fun this time of year.

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Vivian kicked things off early in the morning with some breakfast pizza and banana bread when I got up, as well as some fun maple bacon coffee I picked up at Aldi the day before. Hannah made her own card for me, and I played some video games with the kids before heading off to work.

At the office, I found a Happy Birthday banner waiting for me, as well as Pinkie Pie with a birthday card at my desk, courtesy of Dr. Keefe (as usual). I had my own little celebration over lunch taking a brisk walk to Walmart to splurge on a few childhood treats for myself, namely Ruffles, Cracklin Oat Bran, and Pimento spread (not eaten together, of course).

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Then that evening, my parents took me out to the Pink Poodle in Crescent, Iowa, a family-owned steakhouse in a tiny town along the Old Lincoln Highway just a few miles north of Council Bluffs. I had a rib-eye steak and baked potato, which came with soup, salad, and bread served family style. I even got some chicken livers as an appetizer, which Vivian always liked to point out whenever they’re on the menu (and I decided at last that they’re not my thing). The little restaurant had a lot of home-spun charm, including cabinets filled with antique dolls and a framed newspaper article about one of their servers, who had been working there since 1956. It’s the sort of place I’d definitely go to again, if only to get the prime rib, which apparently comes in Fred Flintstone sized slabs.

Of course, we also had a smiley-face themed party waiting for me when I returned home, including a smiley-face cake and gifts from Vivian and the kids.

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Then on Friday night, I had a “pizza picnic” at Soaring Wings with a handful of our mutual friends. I’ve been to this venue for birthdays twice before, and it seemed the perfect venue, with a live band playing music on Friday nights, and with the weather clear, dry, and in the 70s, it was a perfect evening for food and drink on their lawn. Of course, I snapped a few photos of the picturesque scenery before having a few samples of time inside, eventually settling on a rosé called Hummingbird (that’s the word). We’d dropped by Papa Reno’s for a Supreme Pizza beforehand, coupling it with an alfredo pizza courtesy of Jenny and Kody and a cheese steak pizza from Jon Paper. Venche and Ben joined us as well, bringing along baby Anya and a selfie stick for our amusement.

The band played a handful of cover songs and even announced my birthday to the crowd, which was delightfully embarrassing. We even had the chance to dance a couple times down in front, which seemed an appropriate way to wrap up the night.

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I was up early the next day with my dad for a trip down to Lincoln to attend a “tailgate party” down at the Governor’s Mansion. The day started off gray and rainy, but we were quickly led inside to meet and greet Gov. Ricketts and his wife Susanne in the parlor. Then they had breakfast for us out back underneath a couple pavilions in the backyard, so we didn’t get too wet. We sat with a few other guests and talked about politics and such as we ate. One was Bob, the guy whose photo I snapped at the Millard Days parade as he walked up and down the route carrying a batch of GOP yard signs.

A couple hundred other guests came and went throughout the morning before kickoff, and I didn’t recognize anyone else other than the Foleys, who sat next to us. Dad and I headed home afterward, taking scenic Highway 6 back to Omaha as a line of cars came crowding into Lincoln, apparently quite eager to see the Huskers struggle to beat the South Alabama Jaguars.

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We had church and some more house-painting on Sunday with some truffle mac and cheese and pot roast to hold us over until Labor Day. Then my parents had a lovely cookout for the whole family on their lawn, with my dad smoking two tiers of burgers in his backyard smoker and Jack and Donna bringing up baked beans and cobbler to have with it. Uncle Nathan even took some time to draw with Hannah as Grandma introduced Hannah to a thing called a “newspaper” before we headed home.

Then that evening, because we’re gluttons for punishment, we took the kids down to Pump it Up to let them bounced around, slide, and bat some balloons to burn off whatever energy remained before bringing our long, long weekend to a close.