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).

Thanksgiving, Christmas Kick-Off, and Corn Pops

The Johnson Family got to enjoy a fun four-day weekend here in Omaha doing all our traditional favorite Thanksgiving things — eating too much food with family, seeing Santa at Union Station, and decorating for Christmas. I also got to meet Joe and Jill Biden right before he went viral for nibbling her finger.

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We kicked things off on Turkey Day watching the Macy’s Day parade before breaking out the hors d’oeuvres — and for the first time, Hannah and Aaron were both interested in watching. I also kept the kids distracted by introducing them to Minecraft on my Raspberry Pi. They immediately fell in love getting me to build underground “houses” for both of them with tunnels and paths connecting everything together.

Jack and Donna came over to help get Thanksgiving Dinner ready in the meantime, and my parents and brothers joined us after that to dig in later that afternoon. We had all the traditional foods, from Taber Salad to Pumpkin and Pumpkin Pecan pies for dessert. Other than loads of dishes to do afterward, it was a nice, quiet holiday — something I’m quite thankful for.

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It was cold and rainy on Friday, so we stayed inside drawing and doing laundry for the most part. Then that evening we made our annual pilgrimage to Union Station to see Santa. Grammy and her confectionery crew were decorating cookies again, and Vivian and I got to take the kids on an extensive tour of the trains and activities downstairs. A traveling exhibit had some political memorabilia that include Joy Villa’s famous Trump Dress, and while they kids liked the model trains and old trains and trolleys on display, they gravitated toward a magnet board and set of toy trains for a good portion of our visit.

Then upstairs, the massive crowd pressed in for some caroling with Camille Metoyer Moten following by a tree-lighting with Mayor Stothert. We saw a few other familiar faces during our visit, including the other Johnson Family and the Mathis Family. I’d hoped for another nice Christmas picture with the tree but had to settle of a quick selfie instead as one of our kids was too tired to stay much longer.

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Then on Saturday, Joe Biden came to Council Bluffs to kick off his “No Malarkey” bus tour — getting some viral coverage for a painfully outdated slogan and nibbling his wife’s finger, among other things. It was a remarkably small crowd for a former VP and front-runner, with only around 100 people in attendance (in my vague estimation). A few regulars showed up as well, including Tom Becka, Fake Security Guy, and AP photographer Nati Harnik. After a few words of introduction, Dr. Jill Biden took the stage with her husband Joe to introduce him.

Then Joe stood up to give a very brief, ten-minute stump speech before working the crowd for around half an hour more. As with his last visit, he stayed to meet and greet just about everyone who wanted to say hello. Several people wanted autographs, and I brought along a box of Corn Pops hoping he’d sign it (if you don’t get it, watch this). Unfortunately, his staff took the box away and though he wound up not signing the box, I did get the cereal back.

I didn’t pay much mind to Biden’s speech itself, but I enjoyed seeing him interacting with attendees, even taking a phone call with someone’s grandmother who wasn’t able to attend. I’m not sure why the crowd was so small — folks could have been turned away by the cold and cloudy (and somewhat rainy) weather or busy with Thanksgiving weekend, but the vibe I got was that Joe was past his prime and folks were looking for someone younger and fresher for the nomination this time around — someone who doesn’t use words like “malarkey.”

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I also spent some time putting up our Christmas decorations during the sunnier moments on Saturday. Then on Sunday Vivian and I put together the tree and our house a bit more ready for Christmas. That included setting up the tree and breaking out Santasaurus and a few of his friends. Even Hannah got into the act with her Calico Critters decorating their own house.

We have a very short season this year, but putting anything up before Thanksgiving still felt wrong, so we had to get the house a bit more festive before the weekend was over.

Let’s get this holiday started!


Christmas at Union Station

Marianne & Pete and Hannah turns Eight

Our little girl turned eight over the weekend, so we celebrated for a couple days with friends and family on Friday and Saturday.

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First on Friday, Vivian and I blew up some balloons to greet Hannah when she woke up, per tradition. Then, I made Hannah a special “8” pancake in the morning before she headed off to her home school co-op. Then that evening, we had all four grandparents over (and Uncle Jonny) to share in some of Hannah’s favorite foods for dinner — shrimp, oranges, strawberries, black olives, and potato chips. She got to open up some presents as well, including some calico critters, a baby doll, a musical puppy, and a “Little Live OMG Pet” from Uncle Jonny.

After blowing out a candle on her cupcake, we headed on our to Skate City afterward for some evening rollerskating with friends (and some hot dogs). Hannah and Mommy strapped on some skates and took a few laps around the rink, and even daddy took a turn rolling around trying desperately not to fall over (Aaron was preoccupied with some classic arcade games). Our friends the Mills came by to skate as well with us, but they unfortunately weren’t able to stay long. Miss Lexi took a tumble and somehow fractured her fibula, which is going to require surgery to fix. Vivian’s already planning a meal train to help her out while she’s recovering from that.

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Then on Saturday, we invited a handful of Hannah’s friends over to celebrate her birthday together. Donna brought a cake modeled after the girls’ equestrian Netflix show “Spirit” with a giant “8” on the top. Hannah got a few new presents from her friends as well as Uncle Nathan, who stopped by just long enough not to have any cake. Hannah’s friends mostly played with one another as the moms talked, and then Hannah and Sammy put together horses out of foam tiles as a craft before calling it a night.

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And because we’re still in a perpetual Presidential campaign season, we had a few more candidates some around. Last Sunday, it was Marianne Williamson, a kind of new-age spiritualist who actually spent three days in the Omaha area making appearances. She visited Unite Omaha on north 90th on Monday night and spoke to a few hundred people in something that felt more like a church service than a campaign rally. There was even a legit choir singing hymns about Ferguson and “hands up don’t shoot.” Marianne gave an hour-long stump speech touching on standard Democrat topics such as climate change, reparations, and the evils of “trickle-down” economics. This was followed by a Q&A with audience members, some of whom seemed even more colorful that the candidate — one being an anti-vaxxer and another being a member of the “UFO community.”

She stayed afterward to meet and greet guests and sign autographs. I got to meet her briefly and commented that a quote she cited that was often attributed to Voltaire (“To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize”) actually came from a Neo-Nazi. This upset her enough that she had to run back stage to delete a tweet she shared recently that included the quote. While I wasn’t that impressed by her political idea, I did appreciate her understanding that political animosity is not all coming from one side. One man had asked what he could do to get family member to see Trump “for what he really is.” Marianne responded that his family members feel the same way about Democrats. “We’ve got to stop projecting onto others that their values are inferior,” she said.

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Then one week later, Mayor Pete Buttigieg from South Bend, Indiana came to town. He’s currently the front-runner and spoke to a gymnasium of around 2,100 people at Abraham Lincoln High School in Council Bluffs. I was a little late to the event (having a toilet emergency at home that needed overseeing), so I didn’t get close enough to ask Mayor Pete to go on the Ben Shapiro program. I did get a nice spot on the balcony to snap pictures of the stage below, which was a good enough spot for a guy from the New York Times to stake out as well.

Mayor Pete seemed to be a very polished, articulate candidate who knew how to work a crowd, but I found a lot of his talk about “uniting” the country to be terribly disingenuous. He went almost immediately from talking about “values that unite us all” to praising abortion and the impeachment proceedings, which brought easy cheers from a left-wing crowd but were unlikely to get the “other half” of the country on board. I also couldn’t help but notice the crowd was almost entirely white. This isn’t something I normally care about, but it highlighted the difficulty Mayor Pete has had connecting to black voters. I guess using stock photos of Kenyans didn’t help bring anyone on board.

Next stop: Thanksgiving, and the kick-off of the Christmas season!

Tale of two Senators

We’ve been taking advantage of some lovely fall weather over the past week or two, taking in as much autumn fun as we can before winter hits. I also got to hang out with Bernie Sanders on Friday and then Ben Sasse on Saturday, so I guess that makes me bipartisan.

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We had a quiet weekend last week, taking the kids for a long walk through Fontenelle Forest to get some fresh air and take in as some of the remaining fall colors before all the leaves were gone. The relatively bare trees gave us a nice view of the river in some spots and even a glimpse of downtown Omaha. The kids got to play on the playground for a bit as well before we were done.

Then on Sunday, we went to my parents’ house to let the kids watch the Wizard of Oz for the very first time. I’d seen the classic MGM film multiple times growing up, but seeing it through the eyes of my kids for the first time was a fun experience for everybody. (And having subtitles let me understand some of the lyrics and dialog for the first time as well.)

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On Friday, Bernie Sanders paid another visit to Council Bluffs for a rally, bringing with him fellow socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). The crowd of young, white, and rainbow-haired leftists seemed to be more eager to see her than the man running for President. Three musical acts preceded the politics — a lady playing a ukulele (while singing about “my body my choice”),  “Democratic Socialist Songsmith” Neal Francis and his funky band from Chicago (who were surprisingly good), and an eccentric banjo player named Adrian.

A few local politicians spoke before bringing out AOC, who seemed to be able to work the crowd up to a frenzy as she alternated between sitting and walking about the stage to introduce Sen. Sanders. The two politicians are half a century apart in age, but that gave them an interesting chemistry as they took turns exulting the values of socialism to a very friendly crowd. There were apparently over 2,000 people in attendance, but I managed to get a spot at the front to shake hands with both Bernie and AOC when they wrapped up and walked the rope line. I even asked them both if they would appear on the Ben Shapiro program. (Neither of them responded with much enthusiasm.)

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The next morning, Hannah and I both got to walk in a Veterans’ Day Parade with Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse. Vivian and Aaron were at a friend’s birthday party at the time, but Grammy was able to give us a ride to Olde Town Bellevue so we would meet up with the rest of the Sasse team. Don Bacon’s crew was also on hand (sans Bacon), and we walked between them and (Democrat) Carol Blood along Mission Avenue. Hannah got to ride in our little wagon and toss candy to some of the kids lining the streets.

The whole route was only around one kilometer in length, so it was over fairly quickly. Sasse stuck around for just long enough for a photo or two before vanishing like a ninja. Then Hannah and I walked on back along the route back to where Grammy was stationed outside the Dairy Queen, watching the rest of the parade pass by along the way. Once it was over, we got some ice cream together before heading home.

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The weather was lovely for the rest of the day, so we got the kids outdoors for some fun diving into a pile of leaves. Hannah also decided to build a makeshift shelter in the backyard where she could hang out with our neighbor friends on the other side of the fence. (And went it got too cold to be outside, she made a hammock in our basement.)

Then that evening, we brought some hot dogs over to my parents’ house and cooked them over their fire pit as the sun went down. My dad and I brought along enough makeshift firewood from fallen tree branches and debris to keep the fire going for an hour or two after the sun went down. There’s nothing quite like a fire to bring people together.


My brief encounter with Bernie & AOC

Trunks and Treats

We made it to the end of October at last! That means finishing the rest of our garden tomatoes as actual snow starts to fall around the Omaha area for the first time this season (and probably not the last).

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Our Halloween celebrations started on Tuesday as Grammy and Pop-Pop came over. Hannah (fresh from her new hideout) and Aaron helped Grammy decorate the back of her Honda Passport with some pumpkins, spiderwebs, and a few of their toys to create an adorable Halloween display for Wildewood’s Trunk or Treat event.

In the meantime, Vivian and Pop-Pop made some paella for dinner, which we all ate together in celebration after the trunk was ready for treating.

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Then on Wednesday, we braved some chilly weather in the 30s with the kids to have some trunk-or-treating at Wildewood. Hannah and Aaron went as Miraculous’ Ladybug and a Ninja Warrior, respectively. We went inside to have some burgers and chili dogs for dinner along with a couple hundred other folks, including our friends the Lenarts. Then once we had enough warmth in us, we braved back outside to tour the variety of cute and monstrous trunks opened up with candy. I think my favorite trunk (aside from Grammy’s) was the giant purple monster, but the best costume was three ladies who came as cafeteria workers, dishing up candy with ladles, no less. One trunk came with a gas-powered fire for us to warm up by, and the final trunk had an entire obstacle course based around Genesis 1, ending with an apple tree of treats (and rubber snakes). I guess that’s one way to celebrate the Fall.

We warmed up inside a bit more with a few carnival style games, which involved blowing sailboats with straws, tossing footballs (and toilet paper), and bounding some ping pong balls. The kids walked away with giant buckets full of candy, which would be filling up again the n ext day as well.

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All Hallow’s Eve was a bit warmer the next day. Vivian and the kids spent some time decorating pumpkins to leave by our doorstep, along with a couple mounds of pink cobwebs to greet our visitors. Vivian baked a lasagna for dinner, which we ate before getting the kids dressed for some Halloweening in our neighborhood. Aaron switched costumes to be a Ninja Turtle, after finally finding his mask. We walked the block around my parents’ house with Uncle Jonny collecting candy from a handful of neighbors, while Jack and Donna watched our door a block over until we returned. A number of our neighbors had fire pits out to keep warm during the evening, and I’ll have to try hauling ours out one more time before it starts snowing again.

It was a lovely, busy couple of days — now we just have to figure out what to do with all of our extra candy.

Halloween Countdown

Halloween’s almost here, and that means we’re close to the time of perpetual darkness — AKA the end of daylight saving time — with winter not far behind. In the meantime, there’s more non-stop autumnal fun to be had, at least until the snow starts falling (which could be this afternoon).

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I had a busy Friday night, starting with a party to kick off Don Bacon’s 2020 re-election campaign. The event was held at the Regency Marriott, and it seems like just yesterday I was in the same ballroom for a victory party back in 2018 (or his previous kickoff party earlier that year). Don arrived moments after I did and spoke a few minutes to members of the media. Local musician Kaylyn Sahs played to music to start things off, followed by the National Anthem. Then Don had a long list of endorsements from Mike Foley, La Vista Mayor Douglas Kindig, Gretna Mayor Jim Timmerman, Bob Evnen, Aimee Melton and Brinker Harding from the Omaha City Council, and a few others. Then Don took the stage to give a stump speech touching on taxes, the deficit, abortion, and the current impeachment situation, among other things. His wife Angie and two sons were there as well, as he invited them on stage for a moment before meeting and greeting the couple hundred people in attendance.

In addition to the usual folks, there was a handful of little ones running about, including Phil with his son Gabe, so it really was an event for the whole family. I got to speak to Don for a few minutes about the Democrats’ “impeachment inquiry” being held behind closed doors in the capitol basement. Don said he actually walked in on Matt Gaetz’ attempt to walk in on the proceedings, but he only saw it from the back and had no idea what was going on. He said he’s only been able to get about 25% of the transcripts from the proceedings himself, so his view of what’s going on isn’t much better than anyone else’s.

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I returned home long enough to help tuck the kids into bed and then changed clothes for the Jitterbugs’ Halloween Party. I decided to go as “Pierre Delecto,” AKA Mitt Romney’s Twitter alter ego, which was outed only a few days earlier. Vivian donned a mask and cape and came as Super Mom. There was a fairly good crowd, though I’m no longer a regular at JNO, so I only saw a few familiar faces throughout the night — Eric, Mike and Merinda, Lacey, the Hamiltons, and Takashi (who led us in Thriller, of course), among a few others. We had a costume parade and a contest, and the winners being Napoleon Dynamite, Rey and Kylo Ren, and Star Lord and Gamora (though they were ALL winners in my book).

In addition to all the dancing, Billy managed to score a bunch of leftover food from another party that somehow didn’t need it, so Vivian and I both got some Lindy Fuel that kept us going past midnight, once the dance was done. Special thanks to Donna for letting us stay out that late!

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We started off Saturday with nothing on our agenda, but the weather was too darn nice to stay inside, so we headed off to Gifford Farm to enjoy some fresh air, see some fall colors, explore a few hideouts, and do some trick-or-treating. The staff had stations all around the farm set up for kids to collect candy, play games of ring toss (or ball toss), and many remaining animals to see, from chickens we could pet (or chase), to a horse, a donkey, sheep, pigs, and a bunny. We got a ride around on the hay rack and let the kids zip down the slides inside the straw barn for a little while.

A reporter from KETV stopped by to get some footage of Hannah that may or may not have been in their evening broadcast, which we never saw due to a football game delay. We finished off our visit by decorating some cookies with the River City Confectioners Association, which has always been a tradition, thanks to Vivian’s mom.

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And as if all that weren’t enough, we had a quick lunch at McDonald’s and then went all the way down to Union Orchard to get some pumpkins from their pumpkin patch. Vivian had lamented us not finding any “on the vine” this year or in years’ past, but they fortunately had plenty of pumpkins — large and small, orange, green, and white — all waiting for us to pick. They were quite a deal, too — just $1 each for the big ones, and three for a dollar for the little ones (which Hannah got for her dolls). We also got some acorn and butternut squashes for a dollar each as well as some apple donuts for the ride home.

It was a fun, busy weekend, with more fun this coming week in-between Halloween and potential snow. Hopefully it’ll stay warm enough for the kids to get an obscene amount of candy once again.

Fall colors

The fun fall traditions continued this week, as the trees around us all explode with colors before making way for winter. There was some beautiful weather on Saturday, so Vivian and I took the kids on a walk around the block as a family just to enjoy a few of the fall colors while they were with us.

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Then that evening, we headed up to northwest Omaha for another one of Jenny’s Halloween birthday parties. She decided to have a 90s theme this year, so we had Wayne and Garth in our midst, along with some Pokémon characters, the Y2K bug, as well as Little Caesar and Captain Morgan. I shaved my beard and donned a wig (and jogging suit) to go as President Clinton, while Vivian put on some colorful 90s clothes (and makeup) and went as Kimmy Gibbler. Hannah and Aaron were Ladybug and a Ninja, respectively.

Vivian also brought some lasagna and jack-o-lantern mandarin oranges to go along with the other Halloween foods, which gave us some energy as we danced the night away, doing Thriller, led by Takashi (of course). I also made up a card for the occasion, which I conveniently left at home. We had lots of fun as usual, though, and we only went home once it was apparent the kids had had enough.

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Then on Tuesday, I took the day off so we could spend a long, cool autumn day down at Vala’s Pumpkin Patch as a family. This year, Vivian and I actually worked out an “itinerary” so we could hit as many attractions as possible while not wearing ourselves out walking back and forth across the park, and it seemed to work out well. We got to see the jumping pillows, corn bin, train ride, bunnyville, pig races (with the pig wrangler), Xander the dragon, big chair, haunted house, wagon ride, spider web, obstacle course with net tunnels and a hamster wheel, big slide, storybook village, petting zoo, tricycle track, and pumpkin mine all without wearing ourselves out. There were still many little attractions we stumbled upon, such as rope and pulley games, spinning chairs, and a big apple that we might easily have missed.

The kids both got to fly on the new zip lines for the first time, and we also bumped into some old friends, Jolene with her kids as well as the Papson family. We got some chili cheese fries and succotash to keep us moving throughout the day, and then got some pumpkins for the kids before going home to crash for the night. In all, I took 575 pictures throughout the day, so you know we had a great time! Most of all, it was nice to see so many beautiful fall colors, which will only be with us for a week or two before winter. It was a fun day and part of an annual tradition I hope Hannah and Aaron will remember fondly as they grow up.

Barbecue Ribs

It’s been a quiet week, and it’s starting to feel a little more like fall, which I’m hoping will mean a few barbecues and fire pits before the snow starts coming. Over the weekend, I gave my parents’ lawn a good mow, and my dad gave us a rack of ribs for dinner, which he’d smoked on the patio all Saturday.

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On Sunday, we took the kids to the Fontenelle Forest for dinner with a group called Our Gathering Place, which is “a mobile monthly community dinner for families with special needs” (and specifically autism). It was a fun little event with food for everybody, as well as balloons, painting, and the usual nature-related activities they have downstairs at the nature center. There were even a few prizes to take home afterward, which was very nice. I only wish we’d had time for a nice walk along the Fontenelle boardwalk, but we mostly enjoyed making some connections with other parents inside.

The event was put on by Kinesha Johnson-Roach, the wife of Jarell Roach, who visited Wildewood to do some comedy back in September, so we felt like we were among friends right from the beginning.

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Then on Tuesday I attended another meet-up with my dad and the Men of God at Wildewood. We had another batch of boneless pork ribs and talked a bit about fellowship, particularly the direction the men’s group would be taking in the future. It seems bonding over food is a part of human culture that goes unrecognized, particularly when it involves cooking meat — a tradition that must date back to our ancient caveman ancestors.

Which reminds me, we’ve got to break out the fire pit one more time before winter.

Bacon, Steak & Wine

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Bright and early Saturday morning, Don Bacon held another feisty town hall, this time down at Liberty Middle School in Papillion. There were about 250 people in the cafeteria to hear Don talk, split around 50/50 Republicans and Democrats (and a few troublemakers), if my estimation of cheers and boos is correct. Many of the left-wing agitators who couldn’t get into his last town hall seemed to be there, jumping to their feet and yelling at Don before he was even done with his opening remarks. Things calmed down a bit once L. James told these guys they’d have to pipe down or be asked to leave, but they still made their grievances known throughout Don’s hour-long Q&A session.

A lot of the discussion was about impeachment and how Don wouldn’t put “country over party” by simply siding with the Democrats to overturn the 2016 election, but he still got in a few good words on the economy, health care, and other issues people in his district are actually concerned about — particularly “finding common ground.”

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Then on Sunday afternoon, I took Vivian down to James Arthur Vineyards to enjoy one of her birthday presents from the week before — a steak luncheon and a hayrack ride with some of our friends. The guys at JAV grilled up rib-eyes over a swinging grate above a campfire for everyone, and we ate and sipped a little wine as local musician/storyteller Chris Sayre played music (on strings and a saw) and told a ghost story or two. (There’s apparently an apparition named Chris who haunts the winery by leaving the lights on.)

After lunch, the gray skies cleared up and we got a tour of the vineyards via hayrack, puttering around the countryside to see the rows and rows of grapevines and apple trees. When this event is held in the evening, it’s a “haunted hayrack,” which apparently has some apparitions that don’t appear in broad daylight.  so we only got to see a few excitable donkeys (and other creatures) on our way back to the lodge, where we hung out for a bit before heading out.

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Grammy watched the kids in the meantime, and around dinnertime she took them by First Presbyterian for a movie night, where they got to have some hot dogs and nachos before watching the Pixar movie Coco. Vivian and I joined them for most of the movie before it wrapped up with coloring and running around before bedtime.

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Things stayed nice and busy on Monday, as Vivian took the kids down to Pump It Up for another evening of fun and slides for the kids — hopefully burning off more energy before bedtime.

I dropped by to join them for a little bit, and then I headed down to La Vista for a meet-up with a bunch of liberty-minded folks at Pizza West. Stephen Bader put the meetup together with Jon Tucker and spoke about pushing the Republican party in a more libertarian direction. There were a couple dozen guests, including my old state Senator Tommy Garrett, Millard candidate Andrew Sakalosky, Sarpy county commissioner David Klug, and even Matt Tompkins from 1290 AM. I was particularly glad to see how many young people were getting involved — there’s definitely a place for liberty in the next generation of voters.

Vivian’s Big Four-Oh

We’re all still recovering for a busy birthday weekend, fitting a 40-year celebration with Vivian and then a second one with just just a day later. We celebrated each day the only way we know how — by eating way too much.

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Vivian’s official birthday came on Friday, so I got up early to make some “retreat toast” for breakfast, a gooey concoction with coconut and vanilla I learned from my mom years ago. Then for lunch, Vivian came to Stinson park with the kids, who got some quality time playing on slides and swings while checking out local wildlife, such as a praying mantis (and chasing the birds). Then as the kids played, I got Vivian some birthday dim sum for lunch from Golden Mountain across the street, and then we all had some birthday cupcakes from Jones Bros. before going home.

Then that evening, I swung by Wild Rice Sushi & Grill in Papillion to grab a batch of sushi for a birthday dinner for Vivian. I also had a special birthday cake ordered all the way from Kansas City — a slide of Mom’s Carrot Cake straight from Jake Stack, always a warm and gooey delight!

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Then on Saturday, we had a birthday shin-dig for Vivian — hosted at my parents’ house! They were off visiting family in Cedar Rapids, so we took over the place with friends, food, and cake for a couple hours. I also put up a slew of 40-year-old decorations for everyone (and a hat for Vivian), and Donna brought over a dark chocolate cake with some buttery autumnal cupcakes (for those who are crazy enough not to like chocolate). Our friends brought some games, including “Hollywood Shuffle,” which was something between Balderdash and Apples to Apples. There were quite a few rain showers as well, but we got a reprieve long enough to light up a fire pit on the back patio shortly after Vivian blew out her candles.

It was a bit exhausting, both setting up, hosting, and cleaning up afterward, but we had a lovely time, and the house remained spotless when the clock struck midnight. We also had a lovely bunch of food from our friends, including bruschetta with garden tomatoes (from Frank) and pork loin with peanut sauce (from Phil and Jen).

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And just like every year, we have a dual birthday with Jack celebrating two days after Vivian. We took Jack and Donna up to Crescent, Iowa (taking the scenic route, of course) to have dinner at the Pink Poodle, just as I did exactly one month earlier. We got some chicken gizzards and livers to share, and then I got another tasty rib-eye while everyone else had thick cuts of prime rib, and Jack and Vivian even got cups of Pink Poodle ice cream after mentioning it was their birthday (something I neglected to do last time).

We headed home afterward for some warm brownies, courtesy of Vivian and her cast-iron skillet, and Jack got to open a couple presents as the kids played Feet Fight, including some actual pork loin (for some Octoberfest schnitzel).

Happy birthday, Vivian and Jack!

Holy Smokes & Applejack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then we had some delicious ribeye steaks for dinner.