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).

Family Bike Ride and Grandpa’s Toy Box

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The Christmas season is whizzing by! The kids got a sticker poster at church for advent, which they’ve been busy decorating. Hannah got to make a tiny graham cracker “gingerbread” house at the CC Christmas party, while Aaron’s discovered the quadratic formula (which he asked us to “solve” for him). I also grabbed some half-priced meat from Aldi, which included a delicious beef tenderloin. I even got in a bike ride to work, despite the near-freezing temperatures. Otherwise, we’re basking in the glow of our Christmas tree from the comfort of our living room.

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The temperature got up into the 70s on Thursday (a record high), so Vivian and Hannah dropped by the office for a family bike ride up and down the Keystone Trail. We pedaled down to Karen Park and then took the South Omaha trail up to 50th street, where we stopped for lunch at Arby’s before heading back. It was the first time Vivian had ridden her bike since before Hannah was born, so I was quite happy to have her along for the ride with us!

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On Saturday, Vivian kicked us out of the house so she could have the place for brunch with the girls from WAG. I walked down to my parents’ house with the kids, where Hannah and Aaron did some exercises before grandpa shows them some of his old toys. He brought out a working model steam engine, which he got moving (and whistling) for us. He also had a model rocket-car that he’d made — and won a blue ribbon for.

Then we moved along downstairs, where dad showed the kids a few of his wind-up toys, which included an acrobatic little mouse. After that, we went to get some McDonald’s for lunch as Grandma made a paper “fortune teller” with Hannah and Uncle Jonny showed Aaron some games on his phone. Then we ate while watching some home movies on the TV before calling it a day.

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That evening, we drove downtown hoping to enjoy a drive-thru Christmas experience in Olde Town, but the line of cars rounding just a block or two was so slow that it took folks upwards of two hours to make the trip, so we gave up and went down to watch The Santa Clause instead. We did get a glimpse of Washington Park all lit up, however, so we may come back later and enjoy it on foot.

Then on Sunday, I raked up some leaves, which Aaron used to pretend to be a baby bird.

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Then on Monday, I did a little politicking over lunch as Charles Herbster had a meetup down at the Pizza Ranch around the corner. The party room was standing room only. He talked about school choice, property taxes, and Critical Race Theory during a brief stump speech and then took a few questions from guests. He then sat down to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge at the end, which read, “I will oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes.”

The primary election’s going to be very interesting next year, and I’m not even entirely sure which of the candidates I’ll be voting for. Hopefully I’ll get to bump into Jim Pillen before long and be able to say I’d met every candidate on one side of the aisle. (Carol Blood, the lone Democrat running, is actually my state senator, and she’s usually nowhere to be found.)

Thanksgiving Weekend 2021

We just got done with another lovely Thanksgiving weekend here in Omaha, having all four grandparents, Uncle Jonny, and even Harold’s mommy under one roof once again — something for which to be truly thankful. We’ve also kicked off our Christmas season in style, getting our holiday in gear well before the start of December.

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The fun started Wednesday, as we took the kids down to Elmwood Park before a cold snap on Thanksgiving Day for a romp in the park. We still had a few colorful leaves on the trees to do a nice family photo or two, and the kids got some lunch and had some fun swinging, running around, and getting some exercise in the park.

In other new, Aaron’s had some interest in playing some analog games, so I showed him and Hannah how to play checkers and chess, which provided some fun away from a screen for a change.

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Then on Thanksgiving Day, Vivian and Jack made a lovely Thanksgiving Dinner together as I kept Aaron occupied with a walk down to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. They had a few leaves in the backyard that needed raking, so we helped them with that a bit in the nearly freezing (albeit sunny) weather outside. My dad also made some Swedish rosettes, which he shared with us at our house when everyone gathered for Thanksgiving Dinner.

We had the usual assortment of foodTaber salad, stuffing, potatoes, green bean casserole, and roast turkey, of course. We all ate together and had pie afterward, and Hannah got to open a few belated birthday presents from my folks somewhere in-between, which included a Baby Yoda from Uncle Jonny (which Hannah inexplicably named “Clap.”) My mom also gave Hannah some nail polish, which she helped Hannah put on before heading home.

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On Friday morning, I went down to the Governor’s Mansion with my friend Phil and his son Gabriel for a little Tailgate Party with Pete Ricketts. They had pulled pork and chicken with pasta salad from Hy-Vee. We even got a couple cans of “Dear Old Nebraska Brew” to wash it all down. It was still a chilly morning, but quite nice under a pavilion outside with the warming lamps. We also got our picture taken with the Governor, of course. His son Roscoe took it for us, who coincidentally took one of me and Vivian in 2015.

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We kicked off the Christmas season that evening with the kids down at Aksarben Village. They lit up the spire at Stinson Park with a cone of lights, and they had hot cocoa for the kids and free carriage rides around the park, which was quite lovely.

We were a bit hungry afterward and stopped by Golden Mountain for a little dim sum, primarily to show Hannah what a “real” dumpling looked like — as opposed to the rubbery toy she got for her birthday.

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Then on Saturday, we had some lovely weather to go up to Santa’s Woods and pick out a Christmas tree for this year. We took a hayrack ride over to the “woods” and said hello to Santa Claus along the way. The kids got a few pictures with him and on a nearby sleigh before we headed through the rows of pine trees to pick out our own. The kids managed to find a seven foot Douglas fir on one end of the lot that seemed to do, so we had it cut down and strapped to our car to take home.

Before we left, we stopped by a few selfie stations for some photos and then went back to get some hot cocoa. We also got the kids a s’more kit to roast some marshmallows over an open fire, which they had going in perpetuity. Twinkle the reindeer was also back again, so we said hello to her. Most memorable for me, however, was dropping inside the barn to see the second floor, where Vivian and I had had a barn dance put on by GAMe back around 14 years ago, which brought back some fond memories. It’s because of that dance at Santa’s Woods that Vivian got introduced to the Omaha Jitterbugs — and me as a result — so it was quite special.

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We got some McDonald’s for dinner and then we hauled in the tree and got it lit. I also finished decorating the house for a few nice nighttime shots once the sun went down. Then we showed the kids the movie Elf for the first time, which they seemed to enjoy. Aaron in particular was laughing nearly non-stop through the whole thing.

Then we continued putting on ornaments the next day, with Christmas music piped into our house via my Sonos speaker. It truly started to feel like Christmas once again.

Birthdays & Braces

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We had a couple birthdays to celebrate over the past week. First off was our little guinea pig Harold, who turned two years old on Tuesday. We celebrated by giving him some colorful carrots for breakfast and then a few treats in the evening, such as a timothy hay lollipop and a blanket with a fleece pocket to snuggle in.

We had another minor celebration as Hannah got her braces off after nearly a year of having to wear them. Vivian and I took her down to Denny’s to celebrate beforehand, and then Grammy brought her some chewy licorice candy as a treat after the came off.

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Next, of course, came Hannah’s birthday! We celebrated with her friends on the Friday before she turned the big one-oh, meeting up with them down at the Kroc Center for some indoor swimming at their water park. The kids got to have some fun swimming about in the lazy river and the “whirlpool,” and both Hannah and Aaron took at least one trip down the big red slide.

Afterward, Hannah opened a few presents in the Kroc Center lobby before we headed back to the house for some cake. Grammy made a chocolate ice cream cake covered with chewy candies that Hannah can now eat with her braces off, which was quite delicious (and fruity).

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On Saturday, after teaching Aaron how to play checkers, I took a trip down to Memorial Park for a rally down on Dodge Street to protest vaccine mandates. Tim Davis of Freedom Rally USA and Allie French of NAGO were there once again with a couple dozen others waving signs. Among them was gubernatorial candidate Theresa Thibodeau, who came by to wave signs with others along the south side of Dodge Street.

It was gorgeous weather for such an event, and I didn’t even need a coat as I walked both sides snapping photos.

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That evening, we dropped by Phil’s house to celebrate his birthday with a bunch of bacon. Vivian made some candied bacon on our grill, and our friends Jenny and Kody made some bacon-wrapped imitation crab sticks. Phil had ingredients for BLTs on the counter, so we all made a couple of those as well as our kids played together (and got read a story by Jen’s dad).

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Hannah’s actual birthday came on Monday. Got up and made some of my mom’s “retreat toast” for breakfast before Hannah opened a few presents and put on her pink Birthday Shirt, which we’d helped her decorate the day before.

Then that evening, Grammy and Pop-Pop came over with Bella and a few more presents. Uncle Nathan also dropped by with a gift of his own, and Vivian and I gave Hannah the plush Cinderace Pokémon, which we knew Hannah wanted but decided to keep hidden until the last moment. I also drew a birthday card for Hannah commemorating her turning ten (with Ten from Number Blocks). Then we baked a few pizzas for dinner, grabbed some popcorn, and watched The Secret of NIMH in the basement together to call it a night.

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In other news, we’ve had a couple lovely days for bike-riding as we head on into Thanksgiving. I rode up to Regency Mall to do some shopping on Tuesday and then across the pedestrian bridge into Iowa on Friday (if you follow me on MeWe, you know why).

We had a record-breaking high in the 60s just ahead of Thanksgiving, and I took a ride up the Field Club trail to snap a before-and-after pair of photos commemorating a great year of bike-riding in 2021. Not sure yet how many more rides I’ll get to enjoy before the snow comes.

Deena’s Surprise Party and a Debate

Vivian took a bit of a road trip down to Wichita and back to attend a friend’s wedding, so I had a day to myself with the kids, doing homeschool stuff with Hannah, grilling some burgers for dinner, and showing Hannah how to do video chat on her phone.

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On Saturday, we drove down to Twin Valley Church (now Sojourn Church) to attend a surprise birthday party for Deena Stubbs. The kids got to play with their friends the Mills as I got to see some old friends from our old church before Deena arrived. Don invited a bunch of her friends and family members (including her old sensei), and then he lit a large group of candles that together nearly set the building on fire. We had some cake and got some photos in the makeshift photo booth Don put together before heading out.

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Then I took a trip down to the Cass County Fairgrounds in Weeping Water to attend a gubernatorial debate with Brett Lindstrom, Theresa Thibodeau, Breland Ridenour, and Michael Connely. Charles Herbster and Jim Pillen couldn’t make it for some reason, but I enjoyed being able to hear from the four candidates on issues such as education (specifically critical race theory), coronavirus overreach, illegal immigration,, broadband infrastructure and China, medical marijuana, voter ID, and the “heartbeat bill.” Thibodeau is a newcomer to the race, having previously been the Lt. Gov. pick for Herbster, but showing up for the debate on fairly short notice showed me she’s serious about running.

State Senator Lindstrom seemed to have the most (or at the most vocal) supporters in the crowd, though Connely and Ridenour also had a few fans, including Allie French from NAGO, who worked the crowd afterward. Pastor Ryan was there as well, and we chatted with Ridenour afterward, as the other candidates seemed to leave fairly quickly to attend a dinner with Joni Ernst up in Omaha. It was mostly nice to be back in the swing of campaign season doing what I like best — being close to the action, wherever it may be.

Bella, Huskers, and a Fire Pit

We’ve had some lovely fall weather over the past few days, allowing us to enjoy the great outdoors a bit before winter comes.

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I was able to nab a free sandwich at Chick-Fil-A on Friday and pedaled it all the way to Memorial Park for a lovely lunch among the rosebushes — which are still in bloom even in November.

In other news, Grammy just adopted a little dog named Bella, who’s a poodle mix and seems very sweet, albeit nervous — especially around men. Hannah and Aaron got acquainted with her for a bit and also took her for a walk or two down Bellevue Boulevard.

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We had perfect weather Saturday for a Husker game down in Lincoln. I won a pair of free tickets at work and got to leave the kids with Grammy for a bit as Vivian and I headed down to watch the game. It seemed to be a good game — even though the Huskers lost, it wasn’t the blowout everyone was expecting. There was one particularly impressive interception in the first quarter that I managed to photograph, and it was particularly fun to watch the game live — especially with the crowd getting riled up after a few bad calls.

We had some Runzas for lunch and were able to spot a few of our friends in the crowd of 84,000+ (though I’m sure there were a few more). At the end of the game, I recorded an impression of Rob Schneider’s character from Waterboy, just to amuse my friend Richard, who uses the clip as a meme.

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Then that evening, we stopped by Grammy and Pop-Pop’s to have a little “porch party,” inaugurating their new front porch. They’d had work done replacing some beams, adding new concrete, and removing a line of massive hedges, so celebrated with burgers, barbecue potato chips, and egg nog — a menu entirely of Aaron’s invention.

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Then on Sunday, I spent some time with Aaron enjoying the autumn leaves at Halleck Park. The leaves are at their peak, so it was nice to get out of the house (where Aaron’s been obsessed with math problems) and walk among the fall colors for a while.

Then back at the house, we brought out the firepit to roast some hot dogs with the kids on the driveway (and even a s’more or two). Daylight saving time ended, so it was dark an hour sooner, so I brought out the laptop so we could watch Beauty and the Beast (the original animated version, of course) by the fire. We even got to roast some marshmallows together before heading back inside.

Trunks and Treats

Happy Halloween, everybody! We had a great Halloween weekend as we hit peak autumn with leaves changing colors and the weather going from gorgeous to almost freezing day-by-day. I’ve been making the most of my bike rides before winter hits and enjoying the fall colors while the kids geared up for trick-or-treating.

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On Tuesday before Halloween, I had an evening watching RiffTrax with my dad and Richard Burney. We dropped by Culver’s for dinner before the show, per the norm, but the dining area was closed due to lack of staff, so we went to Dickey’s down the street instead. I’d never been there before, but it was quite nice to have ribs and brisket without spending the entire day tending a smoker.

Afterward, we headed back to the Twin Creek Theater to see the Amityville 4, the spooky tale of a haunted lamp, starring Patty Duke. I’ve been able to see every RiffTrax live event thus far, though the number of people we can find to come along has varied over the years. Richard has been a consistent attendee, however, joining us for nearly all of them.

Not sure when the next one will be, but perhaps Hannah may be joining us, if I can introduce her properly to MST3K over Thanksgiving. Until then, we’ll have to “keep circulating the tapes.”

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On Friday, we dropped by Grace Bible Church with the kids for some trunk-or-treating. They had some fun trunks in their parking lot, with themes such as Narnia, a gumball machine, and a wild west shooting gallery (which was so much fun it seriously held up the line). Our kids got candy and plastic teeth, and we bumped into a few friends along the way, such as the Campbells and the Halliburtons.

The church makes its home inside the old Southroads Mall, so we went inside for a few carnival games and some hot dogs for dinner. Then we got to see a puppet show with “Douglas Speaks,” a Fraggle-like puppet with his own YouTube channel who told a very interactive group of kids in attendance about Jesus. He stayed to chat with Lily and Jonah afterward, but many of the kids seemed quite eager to see who was behind the curtain instead.

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Saturday was absolutely gorgeous, with a high of 72 and no wind, so I dragged Vivian and the kids down to Swanson Park down the road to see some of the fall colors. We had a picnic lunch and let the kids play on the playground a bit before going on a bit of a hike through the woods, seeing some fall colors and fallen trees, along with a shelter made from fallen branches. We also saw what seemed to be the remnants of the old Rock Island railroad line that went through this part of town.

Afterward, I took Hannah to my parents’ house to help rake some of their leaves before giving their lawn one last mow. It was the perfect evening for it, and I managed to get over 29,000 steps on my FitBit through the whole day.

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Halloween was about thirty degrees colder, but we still got some quality time outside trick-or-treating. We took the kids by Wildewood first for their trunk-or-treat, seeing cars with themes including bible verses, Jonah, and the Ten Commandments (along with the Wizard of Oz and a Fire Department).

Pastor Ron dressed and Pooh and flew a drone around, much to Aaron’s fascination. Vivian and I wore our Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man costumes and got a photo in front of the 80s-themed car, of course. Our kids came as a Pink Power Ranger and a Red Ninja, and Hannah even dressed her sock money up as an “alien,” with his own little bucket for candy.

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We had some dinner at home before going out for one more round of official trick-or-treating afterward. We hits our neighbor’s house and Betty’s across the street before heading to my parents’ neighborhood. My dad got us a family photo when we dropped by my folks’ house, and then we walked the block until the kids got too cold to continue.

Then we finished off by visiting Grammy and Pop-Pop along with Tom and Toni before calling it a night. We returned home and warmed up watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” together for the first time — a TV special from 1966 that I may have seen once but was too long ago to remember.

Happy Halloween, everybody! On to Thanksgiving.

Sioux Falls and a Costume Party

We’ve hit peak fall, with some beautiful fall colors exploding everywhere. It’s also time for parent/teacher conferences, giving Aaron a few days off from school and us a little time for an impromptu trip up to Sioux Falls and back.

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I met up with Vivian and Hannah on the Monday preceding the trip, stopping by Learning Express Toys at Regency Court to play with a few of their toys (just for fun after an orthodontist appointment). Then we took Hannah by Whole Foods for her first salad bar experience, where she assembled a fairly healthful lunch.

We’ve had some nice, brisk weather in the meantime, making for some cold bike rides as I pedaled to work without a car so we could give the CR-V an oil change before the trip. I made a stop by Hanscom Park, where a few flowers are still in bloom as warm weather comes to an end.

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Then on Thursday, we packed up the car and headed on north on I-29. We stopped by Sneaky’s Chicken in Sioux City for dinner, a cozy little diner off Gordon Drive, where we had some broasted chicken and the kids got a bit of a break from the car ride.

We continued on north as the sun set and got checked in to the Wyndham by the airport, where Hannah and Aaron both some a bit of exercise jumping from beds before we crashed for the night.

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After breakfast at the hotel the next morning, we to spent a rainy morning inside the Washington Pavilion in downtown Sioux Falls, an old high school turned children’s museum. The kids got experience a wind machine and go inside a space suit, and Hannah got to participate in a science demonstration blowing Styrofoam balls into a bucket with a hair dryer.

There were also a couple exhibits on physical fitness as well, giving Hannah the chance to use a stationary bike, Aaron and Vivian the chance to race together, and me the chance to practice my dancing moves.

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We grabbed some burgers for lunch and then headed down to Falls Park for the afternoon. It’s years since Vivian and I visited the park on our one-year anniversary in 2009, and we had much more time to walk around the rocks snapping photos of the falls with the kids. Hannah got a kick out of the foam down at the water’s edge, and she gave us a bit of a scare when she managed to fall into the water, as the foam concealed a steep drop off. Fortunately, she pulled herself out in a matter of seconds before daddy had to jump in after her.

After getting dried off, we walked with the kids some more, playing on and around some of the statuary. We even took a trip to the top of the gift shop’s observation deck to get a better view of the place. I also got the kids a couple souvenirs from downstairs, including a plush buffalo Hannah immediately named “Buffy.”

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We returned to the hotel for a bit to take advantage of the indoor pool for a bit, getting wet with the kids while working up more of an appetite for dinner.

We headed a mile or two up the road to the Crack’d Pot Restaurant & Bakery on Minnesota Avenue, an old school family-style restaurant with wood paneling I remembered from my childhood in the 80s. The kids got some breakfast for dinner while Vivian and I both got the 12 oz. prime rib special with au jus, having our fill after our long day — even before hitting the soup and salad bar (which we learned afterward came with every meal).

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We had breakfast again at the hotel the next day before a long and scenic drive home. We stopped in Sioux City around noon and went by the Sergeant Floyd memorial, which is the burial site of a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition (which you can see prominently from the Interstate).

For lunch, we went to the Tastee Inn & Out, a restaurant I thought was a one-of-a-kind place in Lincoln (and had long since shut down). It’s an old drive-in restaurant with loose meat sandwiches and onion petals — just like I remembered. We took our food down to the Chris Larsen Park and got to walk along the riverfront for a bit, giving Hannah a close-up look and stretching our legs on the playground before hitting the road again.

Then near Little Sioux, we stopped by an old abandoned Citgo gas station I’d seen from the Interstate. It was a creepy place that has been left to deteriorate over a decade or two, and it seemed to serve as the dumping ground for various electronics, such as a microwave, old TVs, and even a TRS-80 (that miraculously was in one piece).

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Then that evening, because we just can’t get enough fun, we went to Jenny’s birthday party out in West Omaha. It was an 80s-themed party, so I assembled some Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man costumes for Vivian and me, as Hannah and Aaron went as a pink Power Ranger and a Red Ninja, respectively. Our kids had some fun playing in the backyard as Vivian and I caught up with our cluster of mutual friends. Then, of course, I got a group photo of everyone before Kody broke out the cake for Jenny.

It was a long, fun weekend, but we’ve still got more happening soon on our way to Halloween. That’s coming up next.


Video highlights from our trip to Sioux Falls

Bikes, horses, and a Haunted Hayrack

We’ve hit Peak Fall and are enjoying some of the best weather of the year, making the most of the Great Outdoors before winter rolls around.

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Last weekend, Jack and Donna’s neighbor Toni invited us over for an outdoor movie night in their yard. We dropped by with the kids to have some chili dogs and potato salad as they played on a few of their swings as a reel of weird, old cartoons played on their makeshift bedsheet-turned-movie-screen. I think the kids had a little more fun making dancing shadows behind the screen rather than anything that happened to be projecting on it.

The next day, we stopped by Ralston Park after church, just because the weather was so absolutely gorgeous. We got some McDonald’s for lunch and then let the kids run around a bit on the playground afterward. Aaron and I both hit the swings for a bit, and then we practice some martial arts together afterward.

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I kept busy the following week with an Education Program at work, which involved me putting together presentations and then doing a group photo hanging from a ladder in a hotel lobby, which was interesting. I still had time to bike down to the local Chick-Fil-A for lunch with Hannah and Vivian after BSF on Thursday. I’d been hoping their play area (which Hannah is still small enough for) would be open, but it wasn’t. We still enjoyed having some chicken together and seeing some of the restaurant’s pumpkin décor.

Then on Friday, we took the kids down to Mangelsen’s to look for some Halloween costumes. Hannah decided to be a Pink Power Ranger, while Aaron wanted to be a Cat Ninja. We couldn’t quite find a suitable cat or ninja, so he decided to be a Skull Ninja instead, which seemed to work just as well.

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On Saturday, Vivian took Aaron clothes shopping while I took Hannah on a lovely bike ride around Walnut Creek Lake. I showed Hannah the “secret” entrance via the tunnel near Santa Fe Circle, which went through a tunnel under Highway 370 and through a bit of woods before coming up to the lake. Hannah and I pedaled around the entire lake together, stopping to get a closer look at the water (and a stray leaf) and stopping at a playground before circling back.

On Sunday, Pastor Ron donned a dreadlock wig to talk about Samson as the kids learned about the Ten Commandments. Then that afternoon, Hannah did a little horseback riding with her friends with American Heritage Girls. She’s been learning about taking care of horses as part of earning a badge with her group (as is Sammy), and she wound up riding for 45 minutes while on horseback for the first time.

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Capping off the weekend was a trip to James Arthur Vineyards for a Haunted Hayrack Ride. It’s an immensely popular event, with tickets typically selling out in less than half an hour once they go on sale. We bumped into our friends Jenny and Kody while we were there (who I hope still read this blog, since I mentioned it!) and had some ribeye steaks and wine together for dinner (with Kira the dog begging for scraps). Owner Jim Ballard told a few “true” ghost stories to the group about such characters as local ghost Charlie Werner (who has a port-style wine named after him). Then local musician Chris Sayre sat down to play music on a saw and tell a few ghost stories, such as the “Legend of Blackbird Hill.”

Of course, there was also a haunted hayrack ride, which mostly involved us puttering around the vineyard in the dark while a lone guy in an orange mask chased after us. It was a beautiful evening with or without the haunting, though, and we were even allowed to take glasses of wine along on the trip, none of which spilled.

Halloween’s just around the corner, and next on my agenda will be scrambling up some costumes for Vivian and me — as well as a family trip to Sioux Falls right before Jenny’s Halloween party. The fun never stops!

Apples & Pumpkins

Fall is well underway, and that means enjoying as much time outdoors as we can before Nebraska turns into an arctic wonderland.

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On Friday last week, Aaron had the day off school, so I rode down to Elmwood Park to spend a lovely lunch break with Vivian and the kids. This park is known for having an assortment of stray toys, and Hannah found a little cart that she and Aaron took turns pushing each other around in. I also gave them a good swing in the saucer for a while, and they finished off with a little exercise in the workout area.

Then on Sunday afternoon, I decided to use up some leftover ground beef by showing the kids how to grill a few hamburgers for lunch, which they cooked and ate with us.

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Sunday was also the last day of Nebraska City’s Applejack Festival, so we decided to drive down to Kimmel Orchard for some apple-picking. We got to see how the kids measured up before letting them take a spin on the playground. Then we took a hay rack down to the orchard, where we filled a couple bags with Winesap, Jonathan, and Braeburn apples, to name a few. We also stumbled upon a nature trail and “Natural Playground” that the kids both liked playing in for a bit — partly because of the shade from the sun blazing down overhead.

We spent a little more time on the playground before heading home around closing time. I stopped by Union Orchard hoping to get an apple pie, but they were closed, so we may have to leave that to Vivian’s devices later on. (No sour grapes.)

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Then on Tuesday, I took the day off so we could spend a day at Vala’s on their Homeschool Day. The kids have been to Vala’s every year of their lives so far, and Hannah said it was her favorite day outside of Christmas and her birthday. We’re old pros at seeing all the attractions and had it down to a science by now — hitting Bunnyville and the Pumpkin Mine first before doing some trikes and then catching a Train Ride while the line was short. We did the jumping pillows after that and checked out the duck races before taking a few spins around the Highway 6 bike track — both on the family cart and individually (even Vivian).

We got some fries for lunch before taking a dip in the corn bin, where I helped Hannah and Aaron get completely buried. We headed back for some Pig Races around one, and Hannah got to be a Pig Leader this time. We got some time on slides and a tractor before going to see Xander the Dragon, and Hannah and Aaron got a few balloon bracelets from an old Jitterbug friend along the way.

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We hit the schoolhouse, the haunted house, and the Big Chair before going down to Prairie Hill Town, where the kids got to run on a hamster wheel (as did I) and run around a bit more. We hit the obstacle course next, took a swing at a “high striker” or two, before taking a few trips down the Big Slide. Then we went through the Corn Maze together as a family for the first time, which was a bit of an adventure, but I had the map on my phone that helped us get through fairly easily (much to Hannah’s irritation).

We got some more of a maze fix in the Pirate Maze for a bit before dropping by the spider web, getting a pretzel, and visiting the Storybook Village. We also took the kids to the petting zoo to feed some goats before having some donuts (which we watched being made that morning) and then picking out a few pumpkins to take home. Aaron picked out a giant 32 pounder, which I had to lug a ways before getting a wheelbarrow to haul it to the car. I’m hoping we can turn our produce this year into something interesting, either a Jack-o-Lantern, some roasted seeds, or anything other than a rotting mess to leave in the garden.

It was a bit exhausting to hit a pair of our favorite fall events within just a few days, but it was worth it. Now we just have to get ready for Halloween — and the chain of Thanksgiving and Christmas events that follow shortly thereafter, of course.

A Boulevard and Jack’s Birthday

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On Wednesday, I took a lovely, long bike ride up to Midtown Crossing and back over lunch, passing through some quaint neighborhoods along Turner Boulevard, including Kathy Bates’ house in About Schmidt.

Then that evening, we all went to Vivian’s parents’ house to celebrate Jack’s 78th birthday. The kids got some quality time with their fairy village as Jack grilled some lobster tail and scallops on the grill. Vivian helped in making some of the sides, such as truffle-dusted baby potatoes and a vegetable medley. Then we all had dinner out on the deck, finishing it off with some chocolate cake and presents for both Vivian and her dad to cap off the evening.