Monthly Archives: September 2020

Two Birthdays and a Four More Tour

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Fall seems to be here at last, but we still managed to find another outdoor movie to watch as a family before the really cold weather starts setting in. On Friday, Brookside Church out in Millard showed Pixar’s “Up” to us and around a hundred other people on their lawn. They even had a snack bar and a few goofy games that involved hitting balloons and eating hot dogs before the movie started. Most fun of all, however, was watching Hannah and Aaron see the movie for the first time — Aaron in particular finding scenes with the dogs hilarious. Vivian and I had seen the film about a decade earlier, and I was surprised how much more I enjoyed it the second time around.

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Saturday was a little quite, as Vivian and her mom shopped at the Bellevue farmers’ market and I worked with the kids to surreptitiously make their mom some Happy Birthday cards and then shop for a few presents for her.

Then on Sunday, I got up early to make some coconut toast for a birthday breakfast for Vivian and the kids. We went to church together afterward, where a bunch of the kids from Sunday School — including Hannah — went to the front of the church to sing “He’s got the whole world in his hands” with various puppets and instruments. It was very cute, and Hannah even got her own puppetry certificate afterward.

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We continued celebrating Vivian’s birthday with a big sushi & sashimi lunch together, courtesy of Miyake Sushi in Papillion. Then by some coincidence, Jack and Donna came by a little later with a Sushi Birthday Cake for Vivian, decorated with various forms of sushi on top of a moist chocolate cake, along with a few presents, which Vivian opened on our driveway.

We had planned to have a big birthday dinner with Jack and Donna to celebrate Vivian’s birthday, but since they wanted to eat al fresco, we decided to put it off to another day when the ground wasn’t quite so damp. So instead, we took a joyride down to Lake Manawa, enjoying cool air with the windows open and chasing some seagulls around the lake — which Vivian seemed to find amazing so far from any ocean.

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After our ride, we had dinner at what’s quickly becoming our go-to restaurant for birthdays and anniversaries — Dairy Twist. Vivian had a craving for a cheesesteak sandwich, and we got some chicken strips for the kids — along with some ice cream afterward, of course.

Then back home, I lit up Vivian’s birthday cake with candles to blow out, followed by cards and presents with the kids. Hannah and Aaron were particularly proud of their little cards, which included pictures of sushi, Mega Man, and a cake with exactly 41 candles on it.

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On Monday (in-between birthdays), Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk brought the Four More Tour to Omaha, which included guests Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle. The event was held at the “A View on State” reception hall in northwest Omaha, and the trio spoke to a packed house of around 500. I saw many familiar faces, including Mike Foley, Derek Oden (giving Hal Daub an elbow bump), and of course David and Mason Halliburton, who were able to snag a selfie with Guilfoyle before she left.

The rally itself felt like a biting, sarcastic comedy show, with jokes all targeting the Bidens — Joe for running a campaign in which he seems perpetually absent, and Hunter, who we learned took $3.5 million from the Russians in the wake of the Trumps being investigated for Russian collusion. Emcee Charlie Kirk brought Congressman Don Bacon on stage toward the end of the show to say a few words encouraging everyone to help get out the vote, as Nebraska’s 2nd district has become a “battleground” both for its electoral vote and congressional seat. Kirk then stayed to meet and greet nearly everyone who wanted to say hello (which included me, of course), and I even managed to nab an autographed copy of Don Jr.’s new book, Liberal Privilege, on my way out the door.

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Then Tuesday evening, we celebrated Pop-Pop’s birthday by dining al fresco on his driveway. I swung by Outback Steakhouse for some bloomin’ onions for an appetizer, which we ate outside before getting dinner underway. The kids played nicely with magnetic blocks while Vivian and her dad grilled some rib-eye steaks in a dramatic flambé. We had some burgers separate for the kids (and Donna). We had a handful of presents for Jack as well, including homemade cookies from the kids, grilling trays, tongs, and some Jack Steak barbecue sauce of all things. Then for dessert, we brought out a delicious Italian layer cake that Vivian had made up, putting a lone candle on top for Jack to blow out before diving in.

It was the perfect evening for a birthday dinner outdoors. Hopefully the nice weather will persist through the week, or at least while we head off to Vala’s on Thursday.

A Sock Monkey, Scott Presler, and a Steak Fry

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On Wednesday, Hannah and I dropped by the Mills’ house to have some beef lo mein and celebrate Sammy’s 9th birthday. Hannah and Samantha have been little friends since they were babies, so this was an annual reminder of how fast they’re growing up. We also had plans to celebrate Sammy’s birthday on Saturday, but we still got to have some cake with her and give her a few presents on her birthday itself.

After we left, Hannah discovered that she’d left her toy sock monkey behind — a toy she’d had since she was a baby. The next day, Lexi brought the monkey back with a few surprises — including a photo album showing all the fun things the sock monkey got to do during its “sleepover” at Sammy’s house, which included making friendship bracelets with Sammy’s own sock monkey. That was adorable.

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On Friday, things got political for me again (and not just because of the passing of a “notorious” Supreme Court justice). Scott Presler, Trump advocate and Twitter “influencer” came to town (known for his long locks and Tucker Carlson impressions), courtesy of the Republican Liberty Caucus, and we got to have a meet-up and “pep rally” with him at the Lucky Bucket Brewery. We had a handful of local politicians in the crowd, including the La Vista Mayor Douglas Kindig, legislature candidates Jorge Sotolongo and Rita Sanders, and former State Senator Mike Friend.

Scott himself took the mic before long and gave a brief stump speech on how he came to be a Trump supporters — much of it coming at the top of his lungs. The crowd was very friendly, though I also noticed some on the populist right embrace some of the same “in your face” coarse language that I’ve also seen on the populist left. Scott stuck around for over an hour afterward meeting and greeting guests and getting pictures with just about everyone in attendance (including me, of course). It was the kind of rally I like, where folks can just talk about issues over a beer (or chicken tikka tacos) like normal people.

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On Saturday (after setting up a new mesh WiFi router at home), we celebrated Sammy’s birthday down at Swanson Park around the corner from our house. It was a cute, girly paint party, with an adorable painting cake from Donna to go with it. Each girl got to paint their own pictures on canvas, and some of Sammy’s presents included an art teacher Barbie with a painting easel.

I had been under the impression that Aaron and the boys would need to be distracted during the painting time, so my dad and Uncle Jonny came by to try to fly a kite in the meantime. Aaron had more fun just running around with his friends, however. In any case, the trees surrounding the park proved be a formidable wind-breaker that kept any meaningful gusts from getting our kite aloft, so it’s just as well.

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Then on Sunday, we had a big, fun afternoon down in Nebraska City for Gov. Ricketts’ fourth annual Steak Fry. It was the perfect day for lunch outdoors in the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, and they had a handful of activities for the kids including bubbles and play-doh (which kept them busy as daddy went off to snap some photos). Ricketts’ special guest this year was South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, who’s become a bit of a rockstar during Covid, mostly for not locking down her entire state and doing fine anyway (even hosting Sturgis — the biggest festival of its kind in the nation at this point). There were a few familiar faces in the crowd, including Congressman Don Bacon, the Foleys, and the Sanders. There was also one additional speaker — former acting attorney general Matt Whitaker, who served between Sessions and Barr (and got “the biggest applause a Hawkeye’s ever gotten” in Nebraska, according to Ricketts).

A live band played some music after the speakers were done, and while Noem took off right away, Ricketts stayed for an hour longer meeting and greeting just about everybody who came by. Our friends the Mills came by to join us for lunch, and our friends the Halliburtons were there as well, nabbing a photo and an autograph from Noem before she left (of course). It was a beautiful afternoon, so we walked down to the playground for a bit to let the kids play, and we foudn an interesting memorial for J. Sterling Morton next door. It had a pair of statues, one of the Greek goddess Daphne and one of Morton himself, along with a “whispering bench,” designed acoustically so a person talking on one end could be heard in the other.

It was a fun, busy weekend, but not we’ve got to gear up for another one — as somebody will be turning one year older soon (along with her dad).

A Birthday, Balloons, and a Pair of Trumps

It’s been another fun and busy week, with some outdoor fun and a taste of cool fall weather — all sandwiched between visits from two members of the Trump family.

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First up was Lara Trump, wife of Eric and daughter-in-law of the POTUS. She paid a visit to the Omaha campaign office for the Trump campaign, where about 150 people packed the tiny room off 125th and Center in the Westwood Plaza. She was introduced by former Bellevue mayor and legislature candidate Rita Sanders as well as Gov. Ricketts.

Mask usage was also in full force, with pretty much everyone who wasn’t holding a microphone properly covered with a face-diaper. When Lara arrived, she gave a half-hour stump speech for her father-in-law before getting a group photo with those of us in the room. There wasn’t any meet-and-greet time afterward, but one portly guy in a straw boater seemed to be able to nab a selfie with Mrs. Trump on her way out.

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Vivian was on a women’s retreat most of the weekend, so I got to have some quality daddy time with the kids myself. Our first stop on Saturday was to celebrate our friend Lily’s 10th birthday down in Washington Park in Bellevue. It’s been cold, cloudy, and raining for the past several days, so things were especially lovely on Saturday once the sun came out. Lexi joined us with her kids and they all had fun getting sugared up and running around a while, playing on the playground, see-saw, slide, and the bench swing while the grown-ups chatted (about washing machines and routers, mostly).

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After the party, I headed down to Ditmars Orchard in Iowa for their annual Fields of Flight. It was supposedly a socially-distanced event, though you couldn’t tell by the size (and density) of the crowd. The kids still had a great time, playing with dozens of others on an ever-growing playground area (this year featuring a colorful maze). I pulled them over to the field when I saw the balloons blowing up and starting to fly away so they could get a good look. Then a little later, I got some apple cider donuts to coax them back when it was time for the balloons to return and glow.

Uncle Nathan came by to join us for some of the festivities as the fun went down, and the cover band Clean and Easy played a variety of songs for everyone to dance to. Aaron in particular seems to enjoy live music and took to the grass in front of the stage to show us his moves for a bit before we had one last swing or two and headed home.

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Then on Monday afternoon, Donald Trump Jr. held a rally for his dad across the river in Treynor, Iowa. It was a relatively small venue (particularly with the socially-distanced chairs)  that filled up quickly when I arrived. The room was filled with MAGA faithful both young and old, including Apprentice alumna Tana Goetz and a WW2 veteran who sat (and stood) up front. Local candidates Jon Jacobsen (state legislature) and David Young (House) made a few remarks before the son-of-a-POTUS dropped in around 2:30. Don Jr. gave a lively speech hitting on everything from the Netflix “Cuties” film to Russian collusion to the current civil unrest. “You’ll get into more trouble opening business to feed your family than you will by burning down someone else’s,” he said. He also had several jokes at Biden’s expense, doing a impression of the Democrat candidate at a teleprompter while hitting him on his fairly meager half-century record of public policy. “You can’t campaign on problems if you solve them.”

Don Jr. spent a few minutes after his speech working the rope line, signing autographs, and getting a few photos on his way out the door. Among them was by buddy Mason, whose dad brought previously-taken photos with Don Jr. for him to autograph. Others brought copies of Don Jr’s book, “Triggered” for him to sign, making me wish I’d picked up a copy myself. (I did get a quick fist-bump as he passed by.)


Fields of flight at Ditmars Orchard, 2020

Labor Day Ribs

We had a lovely Labor Day weekend together, watching temperatures climb to near 100 and then drop to the 50s with a clash of thunder once the weekend was over. We made the most of the time, however, particularly having fun outdoors for one last taste of summer.

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On Friday night, Bellevue Christian Center hosted a movie night. Vivian and Aaron had missed out on our one outing to the SumTur back in July. Hannah and Aaron got some much-needed time running around on the playground before the movie started. We had been told the film would be “Homeward,” which is a knock-off of Pixar’s “Onward” produced by the infamous low-budget film company, The Asylum. Fortunately, it turned out to be “Homeward Bound,” an undoubtedly much better film, albeit one we’d seen a couple times before.

Vivian seemed happy either way to have seen at least one outdoor film this season, particularly with Covid cancelling pretty much everything fun between March and summer.

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On Saturday, we had a big smoke-out/cookout at my parents’ house with a big batch of beef short ribs I’d bought from Just Good Meat. I’d never smoked ribs before, so my walked me through the process as we prepped his smoker, lit the coals, and then seasoned up the meat (with some spice from Volcanic Peppers) for a five-hour smoke job on the patio. I was amazed at how much the ribs shrank, going from square blocks to giant bone-in-meat chunks reminiscent of the Flintstones. We cut them up and served them around six, and I found just one of these meat hunks was enough for a meal it itself (in fact, I sliced some for a barbecue sandwich the next day). I’m just glad everyone was able to have a bite.

We had some fun playing with Uncle Jonny’s Nintendo Switch before we left, specifically letting the kids put together a few levels in Super Mario Maker 2, a game that wound probably keep Aaron occupied for years (if we ever got around to buying a switch). Uncle Jonny was hesitant to let him play, as he predictably wanted to keep playing well after the sun went down (and the next day as well).

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Sunday was predicted to be around 100 degrees, so after church (and a little house cleaning), we decided to take the kids off to a water park. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts of research online, we found every single public pool and water park on this side of the state had been closed, some of them for the whole year. So instead, we went down to Louisville Lake for a second dip in the water instead. There was a predictably giant crowd there already for the Labor Day weekend, but we had a good time getting wet in the cold water and letting the kids have one last float on their floaties before fall.

We also had a bit of a surprise when we went to get ice cream afterward and ran into Vala’s Pig Wrangler. When he isn’t calling hogs at Vala’s, Mark Celesky runs the concession stand at Louisville Lake. We got to tell him we were looking forward to seeing him next month, and he gave our kids a pig nose before we left, which was very nice.

IMG_20200907_174728809Labor Day itself was quiet and lovely, with temperatures dipping down to the 70s. I helped my dad put away his smoker and took a nice walk with the kids to and from his house, and later on I mowed the lawn in the cool and cloudy afternoon and didn’t even break a sweat.

We’ve also been taking care of Harold’s mommy while the Mills have been in South Dakota, so we let her and Harold have a nice graze in the lawn before the cold and rain came upon us for the rest of the week.

I hope you all had a lovely three-day weekend as we unofficially kick off another fun fall season!

Life, the Universe, and Everything

I had a fantastic little birthday over the weekend, celebrating Life, the Universe, and Everything as I turned 42 — AKA the “answer.” What made it great were all the great friends and family I had to share in all the fun — and food.

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I started off my birthday having breakfast with my folks down at Summer Kitchen in Gretna. I’d gone to the Summer Kitchen in Bellevue a number of times (before it mysteriously closed), and found this one very much the same, enjoying some chicken fried steak and several cups of coffee while watching up with my folks about everything. The only difference was bulletin board full of sternly-worded Covid messages at the front door that was just a bit off putting on our way to breakfast.

Then back home, Vivian and the kids had a handful of lovely little gifts and birthday cards for me — all hand decorated with images of pizzas and mazes and cartoon versions of myself and the family. I got a candy burger and a sleep shade from the kids, along with a lovely T-shirt and a gadget for connecting our car to my smart phone from Vivian. The T-shirt was a particularly nice surprise, as I wanted a nice, goofy shirt to wear for my birthday, and this fit the bill perfectly (especially for a CATurday).

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The weather had also suddenly gone from weeks and weeks of smoldering hot and humid weather to nearly fall-like 70s, so we took advantage by taking the kids down to Washington Park. We let them climb around and play on the teeter-totter while I had a lunch of fried mushrooms and cauliflower along with a banana split, all from Dairy Twist. The cool weather was heavenly after so many weeks of unbearable heat, and we could have stayed all afternoon, but I had more fun in store.

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I decided to have a redo of my birthday back in 2014, namely heading down to Lincoln for some pizza at my favorite pizza joint, Big Sal’s. Yes, I’ve tried many other pizza places in Omaha and elsewhere, but I keep coming back to this little dive at 27th and Vine. Joining me were our friends Nate and Lexi, along with Phil and Jen, Jon Paper, and Jolene. Even my brother Nathan showed up, so we all enjoyed a combo, a Big Sal, and a Hawaiian pizza together. (Along with wings and chili cheese fries from Phil and Jen — who even knew Big Sal’s had those?)

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After dinner, we headed on up the road to James Arthur Vineyards in Raymond. They had an evening of live music planned with no cover charge, so naturally the place was absolutely packed. The weather was also absolutely gorgeous, with temperatures in the 70s that made for the perfect evening to sit out on the patio sipping wine (and a peach boba drink courtesy of Phil and Jen). They also had a live band — Tunafish Jones — coincidentally the same band they had when I celebrated my birthday here back in 2014.

We were able to claim the very last open table in the place and watched the sun set over the rows and rows of St. Croix grapes on the horizon. I even walked up to the top to watch the sun go down and the deer come out. Lisa was able to join us for the last bit of the evening, as were Nathan, Richard, Jolene, Phil, and Jen. Nate and Lexi somehow hid inside eating truffles most of the evening, but I caught up with them later and got a pair to take home with me.

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We still had things to celebrate on Sunday, not the least of which was the return of children’s Sunday School at Wildewood church. Vivian and I were able to get the kids out the door on time to participate in the kids’ activities that morning, something he hadn’t been able to do since March this year. It felt good to be back out and fellowship in person, though Vivian seemed to miss the “virtual church” we’d been able to do in our jammies instead.

Then that afternoon, Grammy came by with a birthday cake for me. This year, she created one with an ocean theme — with a chocolate layer cake sitting in a translucent ocean of blue gelatin. She was even able to put little sea creatures in the “ocean” itself. Naturally, when it came time to eat, Hannah and Aaron laid claim to various sea creatures they could see in the gelatin ocean.

The celebrating didn’t quite stop there, either. After the kids were in bed, Vivian brought up a large batch of ceviche, which she and I ate downstairs while watching Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (in preparation for the third installment of the franchise).

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Then at work the next day, Dr. Keefe had our standard birthday surprised waiting at my desk — birthday banner, birthday hat (and sunglasses), and Pinkie Pie. There was also cake later, of course with candles I carefully blew out (which re-lit).

Dr. Keefe also had a gift for me: the book “Lost Restaurants of Omaha” by Kim Reiner, a book that coincidentally contains a few pictures I personally took at Venice Inn before it closed! The author had contacted me four years ago for permission to use them, which I’d given and since forgotten about. That was a very nice surprise.

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In other news, the starter went out on my car right before my birthday weekend, but I had so much fun on my mind that it barely registered. Instead, I managed to “make lemonade” of the situation and had another breakfast with my dad in Olde Towne Bellevue as the starter got put in on Tuesday morning. We went by the Downtown Coffee Shop (literally called the “Downtown Coffee Shop“) which was a cozy, hole-in-the-wall diner, perfect for bacon and eggs and coffee on a cool Tuesday morning.

It was a long, fun weekend, one I enjoyed celebrating not just getting older, but also spending time with some of the friends I’ve made on this journey called life. Now let’s see how year 43 goes!