Author Archives: Matt J.

About Matt J.

I'm a graphic designer, an off-and-on cartoonist, and an occasional swing dancer living in Omaha with my wife and daughter (and loving very minute of it).

Harold and Hannah have a birthday

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We had a couple of birthdays in the Johnson household this week. First up was our guinea pig Harold, who surprised our friends the Mills by popping out of his mommy’s tummy one year ago Monday. Hannah made him a plate of his favorite foods arranged in a smiley face for breakfast that morning, and then that evening I had some cilantro and baby cucumbers for him to much inside of a new, snuggly guinea pig bed I picked up from PetCo. I’ve had four guinea pigs growing up, but I never actually knew any of their actual birthdays, so this was a special day!

In the meantime, Aaron got to bake some cookies he prepared at church during Sunday School. Hopefully the ones he’s saving for Uncle Jonny and August make their way over before they go stale.

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On Tuesday, I joined the Men of God group at Wildewood for a barbecue dinner — the first time I’d attended since before the pandemic. Our guest for the evening was Charles Wilson from the Omaha Street School, and he shared his story growing up and getting into trouble in college before coming to Omaha to attend Grace University.

We also enjoyed some lovely weather later in the week and decided to take the kids down to Stinson Park. Even though we’d visited several other parks throughout the year, we hadn’t been to “Daddy Park” since way back in March, so it felt good to be back. The kids got to have some quality time running around and playing on the swings. Temperatures were around 70, so we didn’t even need coats. It felt good to get outside for some fresh air, and Aaron even lay down to watch some of the airplanes leave trails in the sky overhead.

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Then over the weekend came Hannah’s birthday (shortly after a few birthdays for her dolls). We had a little party for her and a few of her little friends at our house on Saturday. Sammy and “Other” Hannah came over and made a variety of crafts on our dining room table in the afternoon. Donna brought over a Camping Cake featuring the four of us together (and me taking photos of the food), filled with lemon, strawberry, and chocolate cakes.

Hannah opened a few presents from her friends in the living room afterward before blowing out her candles (on a makeshift “nine“), and everybody had fun eating the little miniature fondant sculptures on Grammy’s cake, which included a butterfly, a bunny, a squirrel, a picnic table, hot dogs and hamburgers, and all of us, of course.

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Hannah actual birthday happened on Sunday, so we got up early for a breakfast of bacon and donuts together before opening some presents. Grammy got Hannah a “bed tent,” which I immediately helped set up for her and Aaron to play in. She got a handful of other presents from mommy and me, including potato chips and Hatchimals. Aaron also had some gifts he picked out, along with a birthday card decorated with the Pokémon Cinderace, which is apparently the final form of Hannah’s favorite Pokémon Scorbunny.

We dropped by Grandma and Grandpa’s house in the afternoon so Hannah could opened a few more presents, including a giant 24-piece set of “Twosie” characters, as well as a plush Scorbunny from Uncle Jonny, which immediately became Hannah’s favorite gift. We went by Dairy Twist for some ice cream afterward, and then settled the kids down watching Finding Nemo while eating (ironically enough) shrimp for dinner to finish off the day.

I think Hannah had a very happy birthday, but we barely had time to catch our breath, as Thanksgiving is right around the corner. (And that meant rushing to buy a turkey in time to thaw!)


Highlights from Hannah’s birthday

Election Day and Autumn Fun

Well, election day turned out to be more like an election week — with margins far narrower than any poll predicted and results much different on election night than they appeared days later. It wasn’t nearly as much fun as it was four years ago, but I’m still glad most of the people I voted for — particularly Congressman Fortenberry and Senator Sasse — will be returning to Congress.

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Last week, Vivian and I participated in the democratic process and cast some ballots down at Calvary Christian Church. I expected long lines and crowd, so my parents were kind enough to watch Hannah and Aaron while Vivian and I did our civic duty. There were a couple dozen people in line when we finally got inside to vote, and not much more had arrived by the time we were done. In the meantime, Hannah and Aaron build a few things with blocks and Lincoln Logs before we returned took them home.

Then that evening, Don Bacon and his crew were doing some last-minute sign-waving down at the corner of 72nd and Dodge. Because I work not far from there, I drove down to say hello and grab a few pictures. Among the sign-wavers was Senator Ben Sasse, who must have felt pretty confident about his chances to spend the waning moments of the campaign giving Congressman Bacon a hand. (I even mentioned this on my Twitter account.)

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We had some delightfully warm weather over the weekend, so we spent as much of it as we could outdoors. On Saturday, I raked up some leaves so the kids could have some quality time jumping into them. Hannah also brought a few of her stuffed animals — reconfigured into Pokémon, since she and Aaron are currently enjoying that show — into the pile with them.

On Sunday, Hannah and Aaron made an herb garden and some no-bake cookies in Sunday school, respectively. Then we spent the afternoon down at Dreamland Park across the river. The place was very busy with people enjoying some nice weather before wet and cold hit us this week. They got some more time on swings and a merry-go-round or two before we headed on home.


Thoughts on the election

I’ve had a lot of thoughts about this election, which still feels up in the air despite everyone knowing what the outcome will be. I’m not, however, going to join with many of my friends in saying the election was stolen. I don’t think it was. The margins were ridiculously close, particularly considering what the polls were saying. There may have been some shenanigans that need to be looked into, but I highly doubt there was enough ballot-stuffing going on to flip the margin of victory, small as it was.

This was an election where the Democrats were supposed to make major gains, and at the moment, it looks like the GOP will keep the Senate and gain at least seven seats in the House. Even if Trump had won, he would have had his hands tied with a divided Congress. Now, the Republicans look poised to take Congress back in 2022 and perhaps the White House in 2024.

So now, I’m focused now on the future, and the potential of meeting and greeting a whole new slate of candidates in a few years. And for now, the goal I had several years ago of getting a selfie with a POTUS was finally realized — just not in the way I expected. How do you like that, you dog-faced pony soldiers?

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See you in “four more years,” Joe.

Halloween 2020

It’s been a fun, long Halloween weekend — a holiday that I think I’m enjoying more and more as an adult than I did even as a child, partly because I get to live through it again vicariously as a dad.

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The fun started Friday night as we somehow made it to two trunk-or-treat events. First was at Lifespring, which was a drive-thru trunk-or-treat. It was very slow-going at first, but soon our kids got various candy and treats handed to them by a variety of costumed characters — including the cast of Wizard of Oz, a cow, Thanos, clowns, pirates, astronauts, campers, a karate guy, a donut baker, and even Aaron’s Kindergarten teacher. There were even some Christmas elves at the end to remind us how badly we want 2020 to be over, along with some Bee Keepers to talk about the “Bee Attitudes.” Everything seemed to be very Covid-friendly and socially distant, but it was still a fun little experience, especially for the kids (who made out like bandits).

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Afterward, we immediately went down to Grace Bible Church at Southroads Mall, which was having its own trunk-or-treat event. Our kids got some candy from a lumberjack, a gumball machine, a fishing hole, and a shark cage.

Then inside, they had hot dogs and chips along with a bunch of carnival-type games for extra candy. We arrived at the tail-end of the event and didn’t get to stay for long, but the kids definitely enjoyed being able to get out of the car and move around a bit to get candy instead of staying strapped in. We even got a family photo before we headed home.

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We had some gorgeous weather on Saturday, which Vivian and I thought warranted a trip to the park with the kids. We went all the way to Mahoney State Park, making use of our annual pass before the year ends, and giving them some quality time at the Robert H. Storz Family Children’s Recreational Area. The kids got some quality time on slides and swings, and even mommy took a turn on the springy snail with Aaron.

We took a bit of a break back at the house to make some milk jug Jack-o-Lanterns with the kids. Vivian came up with the idea, and it was certainly less messy than carving an actual pumpkin. The four of us took turns making faces with a Sharpie marker, and then we dropped glow sticks inside each of the lanterns to adorn our front porch. I think they turned out very cute!

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On Halloween night, we all headed out to walk our own streets for a bit for some real trick-or-treating. I also got into the fun this year dressing as the late Wilford Brimley to walk along with the kids, and I also made a special Protoman Shield to go with Aaron’s Mega Man outfit. There were noticeably fewer houses participating this year (because of Covid, I’m sure), but the ones that did seemed to go all out. Our neighbors down the street had a giant block party with decorations all over the place, while another house around the corner had spent five weeks filling its yard with haunted memorabilia — and turning its garage into a walk-through haunted house.

Other folks handed out candy per the norm, such as Betty down the street along with my own parents. Others had “help yourself” bowls of candy out on the front steps, which was what we did as we had no one this year to tend to our door while we were gone. We finished the night at Grammy’s house, and she had bacon of all things ready for the kids when they arrived. Despite the pandemic, it was a fun night, and I even got to share a bit of my childhood with the kids by showing them Garfield’s Halloween Adventure when we returned home.


Final thoughts before Election Day

Election Day is almost here now, and this will be by last update until then. I’ll have plenty of thoughts once the election is over — though that may not be for a while, depending on what shenanigans go on with absentee ballots. I do have a few final thoughts before the election, though. Despite all the negativity, anger, and actual civil unrest that has gone along with this year, riding the Trump Train has been a thrill. The crowds only seem to get bigger every time President Trump comes to town, and the atmosphere is more like a football or a rock concert than a campaign rally. I got to hang around plenty of Democrats during these past two years as well, and one thing I’ve learned is that the anger each side hast toward the other is based on the misconception that Americans who disagree intend to do each other harm. While there are genuinely bad people out there, just about everyone only want to live their lives in the best way possible, and they vote for whichever side they thing will make that happen.

I’m voting for President Trump, but I pledge that I’ll remain friends with anyone who doesn’t. And even though I’ll be disappointed if Biden wins on Tuesday, I’m still happy I got to meet him twice. Being able to shake the hand of anyone seeking the highest office in the hand is a unique privilege, and I look forward to taking that journey again when the next election season starts (which I believe is going to be on Wednesday).

Trump Returns to Omaha

President Trump returned on Omaha on Tuesday this week for a campaign rally down at Eppley Airfield in a series of last-minute events in an increasingly tightening Presidential campaign. The rally apparently trended on Twitter yesterday, and not for any of the reasons I would have guessed. More on that at the end.

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I brought my friend Jake along again for the rally, warning him ahead of time about the expected crowd (25,000 according to the Omaha Police Department) and hours of standing in line. We got there early at 2:30 PM hoping to beat most of the crowd. We immediately got on a shuttle bus that took us to the rally site, where trump staff took everyone’s temperature coming into the rally and had free masks, hand sanitizer, bottled water, and hand warmers for everyone. There was a respectable crowd in line already when I arrived, some having brought chairs, coolers, and even heaters like one big tailgate party. I saw some familiar faces while waiting to get inside, and I enjoy chatting with some of the die-hard Trump fans, one of whom wore a blanket with a photo of Trump they’d personally taken at the White House.

The crowd continued to pour in until OPD eventually shut off traffic around 6 PM — with thousands more still arriving. A series of local candidates and politicians got to up to speak before the President arrived, including David Young, Don Bacon, Kristi Noem, Deb Fischer, Gov. Ricketts and his brother Todd. Finally Rick Holdcroft, running to represent my state district, gave an opening prayer before the National Anthem.

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There was a bit of a lull after the speakers concluded. A couple staff members threw hats to the audience and other waiting in long, long lines for food vendors and free hot chocolate int he warming tent. Then around 7:45 PM, we saw the lights of Air Force One descending onto the runway, with plenty of cheers as it taxied along the tarmac behind the bleachers. President Trump emerged a few minutes later to the tune of Proud to be an American and took the stage. He made a few quips about the cold as he launched into his stump speech. This was his third rally of the day, but he had plenty of energy, taking shots at Biden (Joe and Hunter), particularly recent scandal involving Hunter’s laptop.Trump also had a few videos that played overhead, highlighting civil unrest among other things.

The crowd was very responsive, particularly when Trump pointed out various Nebraska politicians in the audience. The crowd started chanting “Bacon! Bacon!” when he pointed out the 2nd District congressman, and Trump took a brief shot at Ben Sasse, commenting that Deb Fischer was his “favorite Senator from Nebraska.” Then he wrapped up shortly before 9 PM, telling the crowd “we will make America great again” before dancing to YMCA by the Village People, which blasted overhead as people began to make their way out.

The Aftermath

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The long walk back.

As you may have heard, getting out of the rally proved to be a bit of an adventure, but the media has blown it way out of proportion. Jake and I followed the crowd out of the rally fairly quickly, hoping to get an early spot on a bus to get back to the parking lot. The buses hadn’t arrived yet, however, and the majority of the crowd seemed to just want to keep on walking down the road on foot. I didn’t quite realize they weren’t just walking to a bus stop but were actually walking the entire way back to the parking lots — a trek of over 3.5 miles.

It took Jake and me around an hour and a half to walk the entire way, at which point we were quite sore and tired and ready to collapse. Adding insult to injury, the first fleet of buses passed us along the way, making me wish we’d just waited a while at the curb for them to arrive. We had about half an hour after that to squeeze out of the south parking lot before we could finally head home.

The story didn’t seem to end there, however. The news media picked up the story, and declared that Trump supporters were “left stranded in freezing temperatures” after the rally, which was ridiculous. Only those of us dumb enough to walk back (raising my hand here) were left in the cold. Some folks discovered partway that they couldn’t make the trip and needed medical attention, some of which included blisters or cuts on feet from all the walking. What the media aren’t pointing out is that the crowd was far, far larger than expected — and may very well be a leading indicator for the election next week. We shall see.

Jake was a real trooper through the whole experience, and he even said he’d do it again if he had the chance. In particular he liked bragging to his dad that he got to see Kristi Noem, who they missed at the Governor’s steak fry a month ago.

A Day to #WalkAway

I spent the day on Sunday with Brandon Straka and his gang from the #WalkAway movement — a campaign of former liberals who’ve found themselves pushed to the center as the American left moves further to the fringe. The event was jointly-sponsored by the Nebraska Log Cabin Republicans and the Nebraska Liberty Caucus, and like Scott Presler’s visit a few weeks ago, there was a significant emphasis was on building a “big tent” party (specifically including the gay community).

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The day began with a “Walk Away Rally,” which was moved from Memorial Park to the Starlight Chateau due to winter-like conditions that dropped on the city with a dusting of snow, and a crowd of a little over 100 packed the hall. While they were mostly conservatives, I got to chat with one guy who supported Amy Klobuchar but was also voting for Don Bacon. He didn’t like the way Kara Eastman treated her Democrat primary challenger Ann Ashford, and he’d been brushed off by her campaign while being greeted by the Bacon Brigade with open arms. He’d also been called a “closet homophobe” for not supporting Mayor Pete and a racist for not supporting Kamala Harris, who was his second choice.

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The rally started with the pledge of allegiance and the national anthem, both initiated with a flag from the audience (as the venue didn’t seem to have one). Then Brandon Straka took the stage, introducing himself as a Nebraska native from O’Neill who left the state a liberal and returning as a conservative. He also talked briefly about the WalkAway campaign and highlighting the bias in the media, who refused to cover violence directed at his members and instead trying to blame them for initiating it. Congressman Don Bacon took the stage next, making his case for a third term in Nebraska’s second district, and then KFAB’s Chris Baker played emcee introducing the rest of the WalkAway gang. First up was Karlyn Borysenko, who found herself castigated when her knitting community went woke (knitting the “pink pussy” hats you may have seen at the Women’s March). Next was political commentator Shemeka Michelle, followed by the most “banned person on Twitter,” Mike Harlow.

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Straka re-took the stage briefly to introduce a woman named Lydia, who is a Catholic living in Bellevue who emphasized the “big tent” idea that we don’t have the luxury of voting only for people who align with all our religious beliefs. Straka then led the crowd in a sign-holding chant to wrap up the rally, which he posted as a video on Twitter.

Following the rally was around half an hour for pictures and selfies with Straka and his gang, and among the audience members getting photos were Straka’s parents, some of Omaha’s finest, and me, of course. After most of the guests had cleared out, Straka then took his WalkAway team downstairs to check out the crypt beneath the Starlight Chateau. The facility had once been a monastery with nuns entombed underneath in a series of vaults in a crypt, which the gang dubbed “Biden’s Bunker” before heading back upstairs.

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Then that evening, Straka and the WalkAway gang went up to the Cross Training center on north 72nd for a more dressed-up evening with a few more guests. More people got pictures and selfies during the cocktail hour, and then KFAB’s Scott Voorhees played emcee, introducing Straka and the WalkAway gang as they spoke a bit more about the campaign and their experience being homeless former liberals after the ground shifted left underneath their feet. Most interesting among the evening’s guests was Chris Janicek, the Democrat running against Ben Sasse for the United States Senate. I didn’t get the chance to ask if he were walking away, but he stayed a while chatting with guests, including Straka’s parents before the evening wrapped up.

It was a long, fun day for me, being engaged in politics, but I found it particularly interesting how the political ground has shifted so significantly since the days of George W. Bush. There is a clear libertarian movement on the right that eschews foreign wars and embraces gay marriage and legalized marijuana and a strange, almost religious purity test on the left that’s leaving more and more Democrats without a home. It will be interesting to see how this continues to evolve after Election Day.

Covid 19 and a Trunk or Treat

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October’s been a crazy, topsy-turvy month so far! It started with a couple weeks of quarantine as both Vivian and I tested positive for Covid 19. That meant I worked from home in a makeshift office while watching such things as Aaron doing virtual school on an iPad and Hannah building a fort in the backyard. We had some wonderful friends bringing us food during this time, and we also had some beautiful weather that tricked our lilac tree into blooming a second time. After my mandatory two weeks of isolation, I tested negative at a drive-thru testing site and was happily cleared to leave the house again.

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On Friday last week, we took the kids out for some trunk-or-treating down at Beautiful Savior Luthern Church. Aaron is dressed as Mega Man this year, and Hannah’s going as a tiger. It was windy and cold, so we didn’t stay long, but we got to see a handful of decorated cars and get the kids all sugared up early in the Halloween season.

Annual Trip to Vala’s

The Johnson Family kicked off the month of October with a fun, day-long trip to everyone’s favorite autumnal amusement park, Vala’s! We would have written about it sooner, but Vivian and I almost immediately came down with a couple cases of COVID-19 shortly after our trip, so we’ve spent the last couple of weeks in quarantine/recovery. But more on that later.

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We’ve been to Vala’s enough times to have a fairly good “game plan” to make the most of our day. Our first stop this year was the tricycle track, where ended our trip last year, giving Hannah and Aaron got to start their day pedaling around the little track with each other. Then, we walked across the road to the Lost Pumpkin Mine, walking through and saying hello to the Miners we usually visit toward the end of our day.

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We walked on across the creek and let the kids spend some time bouncing around on the jumping pillows. One real advantage to visiting Vala’s on a weekday is that they can have as much time as they want to jump, where on the weekends it’s so busy they have to have a time limit (and lots of waiting in line).

We went by the duck races afterward, but found the corn bin sadly empty — likely due to Covid concerns. Then we got some whole-family exercise taking a trip around a track on a pedal cart. I think I wound up pedaling for all four of us, which was quite a workout.

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I got some buckets of fries for a snack as Vivian got some seats for the dog show around lunchtime. We got to see a few trained “rescue” dogs doing tricks for us, including one little guy named Chrome who liked to hop for a frisbee or two. We’d never seen the dog show before, but I found careful attention to the Vala’s schedule helped us be in the right place at the right time.

We bumped into a few friends of ours before heading on to the train for a trip around the park, seeing a few of the goofy scenes of the old west before heading back to the train playground for the kids to play before we moved along.

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We took a trip through a Haunted House or two after our train trip, which is always one of Hannah’s favorite spots. Then we walked down to the opposite end of the park for a little extra exercise with the kids on a spider web. Another favorite spot is the neighborhood of tiny houses and rope bridges called Prairie Hill Town. Next door is a zip line, where Hannah and Aaron got to ride back and forth on a rope a couple times, along with an obstacle course that they both took a few trips on.

Then we walked up the hill to the Big Slide for a couple rides down on a burlap sack. Aaron discovered a few carnival games along the way and got to try his hand at ringing a bell with a hammer.

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Of course, no trip to Vala’s would be complete without a visit to a few of their signature live shows. First was up was the pig races, with everyone’s favorite pig wrangler. Sadly, Hannah didn’t get to be a Pig Leader this time around, but we enjoyed calling the pigs (“sooweee”) and watching them scamper around for a crumbled up cookies.

We stopped to pet a few goats on our way up the hill to see Xander the Dragon afterward. He picked up a pumpkin to smash, but he didn’t greet the line of kids by his fence post by name this time around, which was disappointing.

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We finished up our visit walking around the fairy tale village for a bit, getting a photo on the hungry caterpillar and pumpkin carriage. Then we stopped by a pumpkin bun to pick out a couple pumpkins to take home with us. It was a long, fun day, and I found visiting this early in October gave us more daylight at the end of our visit, so we weren’t walking home in pitch black.

Two weeks of quarantine with Covid unfortunately put an end to some of our other fun, fall activities, but I’m very glad we didn’t miss our on our annual trip to Vala’s.

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