Category Archives: Birthdays

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!

Pink Poodle, Tailgate Breakfast, and Turning 41

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaffigan, a governor, and Aaron turns five

We’ve had a busy, busy week here in Omaha mixing work and fun and family all together — with a little bit of gorgeous weather along with it.

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First up was Unite, a huge event held by the Archdiocese of Omaha. The Pope Paul VI Institute, where I work, was one of about a dozen organizations invited to showcase their work to several thousand Catholics who came to participate at the Qwest/CenturyLink/CHI Center in worship, mass, and fun. Our booth was the result of six months of planning, with graphics and banners and eight keynote speakers at our corner of the concourse. I was on hand to take loads of pictures for several hours, so I definitely got my “steps” for the day.

As a reward, Vivian and I got to see a performance by Jim Gaffigan in the afternoon. We’d seen several of Gaffigan’s routines on Netflix previously and were well versed in his food-related humor (specifically Hotpockets). I was also aware he was a Catholic, which was likely part of the reason he was recruited as the “draw” for this event. His set included a few jokes specific to Omaha, including comments on the Runza (and how its name tells you what it gives you). We got seats fairly close tot he front, and I was even able to smuggle in my camera to get a few halfway-decent snapshots for the blog.

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Then on Sunday after church we had a birthday party for Aaron with some friends at Elmwood Park. The weather went from mid-90s to 70 literally overnight, so the weather couldn’t have been more perfect for playing on swings, slides, and sand toys during the afternoon, getting a little exercise before getting sugared up.

A bunch of Aaron’s little friends were able to join us, as were mom and dad and Uncles Nathan and Jonny. Donna and Vivian had prepared a birthday cake decorated with characters from “True,” Aaron’s current favorite show on Netflix, which we cut into around 3:30 (and even lit candles on for a few seconds). Then Aaron got to open a few presents before calling it a day.

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In the meantime, Wildewood Church is having a week-long VBS with the theme “In the Wild.” Because of Aaron’s birthday (and sheer exhaustion) we weren’t able to attend the opening night. We were able to drop in on Monday, which was a lot of fun. They had some outdoor activities and crafts that parents and kids were invited to participate in, as well as crafts and songs with crazy hand motions that felt more like 80s-style aerobics. They also had a bible story and a snack sandwiched in the middle. I wasn’t entirely sure if we’d have the energy to participate with all the other stuff going on this week, but the kids seemed to have a lot of fun, and Vivian and I wound up crawling on the ground on all fours along with them.

This was actually the first VBS I’d actually attended since I was a kid, and I was amazed at the amount of work and energy the volunteers must have put in to pull it off.

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Then on Tuesday I got to meet Steve Bullock, Democrat Presidential Candidate and Governor of Montana, over my lunch break. His meet-and-greet was held at Barley’s in Council Bluffs, of course, which has become the go-to place for Presidential candidates for reasons I can’t quite understand. He spoke briefly with reporters (and Tom Becka) outside on the sidewalk before speaking to a crowd of a couple dozen inside afterward. He hit a bunch of fairly standard Democrat talking points, such as climate change and “women’s health” (AKA abortion), and he emphasized his work as a lawyer with the IBEW union.

The crowd was largely friendly, and I shook his hand afterward telling him that I hoped whoever becomes President in 2020 can help heal the divide in our country.

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Then that evening we celebrated Aaron’s actual birthday with pizza and presents with the family. I got three large pizzas from Papa Murphy’s for dinner, partly to ensure leftovers for a couple days, and we ate with Pop-Pop, Grandma and Grandpa, and Uncle Jonny. Then Aaron got to open a few more presents, which included a glowing dinosaur nightlight from Uncle Jonny, a soccer ball from grandma, a cornhole game from Grammy, a marble chute construction set, a singing Baby Shark from Hannah, and a periscope from Grandpa (which Hannah immediately seemed to take possession of).

We also had a second cake, this one being decorated inexplicably with Hannah being eaten by an alligator while Aaron looks on with a shark (I still don’t get it).

We’ll have more fun forthcoming this week, and hopefully I’ll have the chance to catch my breath soon. Maybe for Father’s Day.

Fish Fry, Skating, and St. Patrick’s Day

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The Lenten season is upon us again, so that means touring some of Omaha’s famous fish fries, in particular the one at Holy Name. It’s is one of the biggest draws in town, attracting such guests as Congressman Don Bacon, as well as our tiny group. The fish is good, and watching it being battered in a custom-made contraption is a show all in itself.

This particular fish fry is baffling as many in the crowd outside — and packing the halls inside — seem more interested in standing around drinking instead of lining up for fish, making it difficult for the rest of us to know where to go. It’s a fun time once you make your way inside, though (and the smell will linger with us for weeks).

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The next day, I went downtown with Hannah to see the St. Patrick’s Day parade. It had been delayed a week due to unexpected snow and nasty weather, and it was about half as long as last year as well. We still saw the standard of parade participants, ranging from politicians to Star Wars characters, to Irish dancers, clowns, and even a Family Reunion of sorts. The weather was just about perfect, with temperatures rising to the fifties, so Hannah and I spent a little extra time watching geese fight along the now tree-less Gene Leahy Mall and looking at some of the flooding along the Missouri River. We even took a few minutes for a daddy/daughter date at Chick-Fil-A before heading on home.

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Later that day, we celebrated Uncle Jonny’s birthday with my parents and Uncle Nathan. Jonathan wanted to go roller-skating down at Skate City on Fort Crook, so I brought Hannah along and spent some quality time staggering awkwardly around the rink with her for an hour or two. It was legitimately the first time I’d ever gone roller skating, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined (particularly after one guy helped tighten my skates). Hannah, much to my surprise, had a grand time skating around the rink using a kind of walker they had on hand for the little ones.

Then that evening we headed back to my parents’ house for some Marco’s Pizza and pumpkin pie for dessert. We finished off the evening watching some family slides with the folks and then playing some Choose Your Words before calling it a night.

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On Sunday, we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with our traditional dinner of corned beef and cabbage with red potatoes and Irish soda bread, though we also had some special green foods for the kids that we hoped would be more palatable.

Then on Monday we headed down to the waterfront a family to get a look at some of the flooding from the Missouri River. The devastating flood has made national news, but we live and work far enough away from the flooded area that we’ve been largely unaffected. It was daunting to see the statues at Lewis and Clark landing drowning once again (as they did in 2011), as well as the entirety of River’s Edge Park completely underwater, making me wonder about the fate of Loessfest this year.

The kids mostly enjoyed the chance to get outside and run around, and we also saw a number Canadian geese migrating overhead, flying in wave after wave heading north in V formation. The effects of the flood were sobering in the meantime, but I couldn’t be prouder of the response of our friends and neighbors, who are stepping up with volunteers and supplies gathered at nearly every church I can name, including the ones we attend on Sunday and Wednesday night. Nebraska Strong, indeed.

Singing, Shuck’s, and a Five-Year Plaque

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The Christmas traditions continue as we made our way toward the Big Day. On Saturday night, Vivian and I went to our fifth Pope Paul VI Institute Christmas Party, where I received my commemorative five-year plaque! This year’s party was at the Garden Café, so we enjoyed some comfort food as Institute veteran Terry Little played a medley of Christmas songs (along with songs from the Beatles and other artists thrown in). Terry produced videos for the Institute years ago and performed at its Gala celebrating Humanae Vitae’s 25th anniversary back in 1993. Christmas parties for the Institute are always kind of like homecomings, as many former employees pay a visit after retirement just to catch up with their old co-workers.

Special thanks to Uncle Jonny watching Hannah and Aaron.

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The next day, Grammy watched the kids as we went off to lunch to jointly celebrate my mom and dad’s birthdays at Shuck’s. My dad specifically marked the occasion with shrimp cocktail and a whiskey sour, which he’d enjoyed with a friend some 50 years ago in California (and likely hadn’t had since). I got a haddock basket as the rest of us filled up on seafood (and raw oysters of all things).

We spent a little more kid-free time at my parents’ house afterward, where my parents got their gifts — a copy of Jordan Peterson’s book for Dad and some new slippers, a puzzle, and candy for my mom. She somehow wears through a pair of slippers every year, so they have a perennial place on her Christmas list.

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Then that evening, Hannah got to participate in her very first Christmas program at Wildewood Christian Church. The youth there were able to put on a presentation of the Nativity story, complete with angels and even King Herod having roles. Hannah and the other kids sang a handful of songs (with motions), and it was the first time I got to see Hannah singing and participating on stage without standing stock-still looking terrified.

There were some cookies and crafts for the kids to enjoy afterward, so we stayed long enough to take part in that before heading home.

Two more weeks until Christmas!

Thanksgiving Birthday and the Longest Christmas Season Begins

It’s been a busy, crazy couple of weeks preparing for both a birthday for Hannah, Thanksgiving with the family, and a handful of celebrations to kick off a long Christmas season.

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The fun started last weekend as Hannah had a kitty cat themed birthday party with a handful of her little friends at our house. Grammy made a Zoey birthday cake, which was both adorable and frightening, particularly when Vivian decapitated it to give Hannah the first piece. Lily (and Jonah), Nicholette, and Sammy came over to share in the cake and make paper cut-out cats with Hannah. Hannah also got a bunch of presents, which included Play-Dough and a sequined toy that was particularly fun for Hannah to “draw” on.

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Thanksgiving the following week landed right on Hannah’s birthday, so we had to juggle both roasting a turkey for our Thanksgiving Dinner and hosting a family birthday party with Hannah. Grammy brought a new, “little Zoey” cake for Hannah, and she got to open some more presents in the morning, which included a Knuffle Bunny and her long-expected “Hannah Doll” (an American Girl actually named Willa).

All four grandparents dropped by, along with both Uncle Jonny and Nathan. Grandma read the kids a story as Jack and Vivian got Thanksgiving Dinner ready. Then around one, we sat down for turkey, stuffing, potatoes, green bean casserole, Taber salad, and also pie for dessert. Hannah also got to eat her cake, of course, blowing out the candles before going “head first” into a new sugar rush.

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That evening, we took the kids downtown to see the Gene Leahy Mall lit up in Christmas splendor for the last time before its multi-year demolition. It had warmed up to a lovely 50 degrees, but there was still enough ice left on the waterfront for some geese to walk on (“Just like Jesus,” said Hannah). We got a glimpse of Christmas Island and saw a man playing Christmas songs on a legit hurdy-gurdy near 12th and Farnam. Aaron (and mommy) tried out the slides before we headed up to 14th Street for the lights to turn on.

Some young kids sang some Christmas songs on a bandstand in front of the library before the emcee from 104.5 rattled off an endless list of sponsors. Then Mayor Jean took the stage to lead the countdown for the mall to light up. It was bittersweet to see the beautiful lights with the kids for the first — and last — time together. We stuck around just long enough to get a photo in front of them before hurrying on home to bed.

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On Black Friday, I had an early-morning breakfast at the 11-Worth Cafe with Uncle Jonny and my folks, starting the day with hash browns and sausage biscuits smothered with sausage gravy (AKA the “General Lee.”) Afterward, Vivian and I did just a bit of Black Friday shopping, specifically enough to confirm everything advertised had been sold out on Thursday.

Around four, we dropped by the Durham Museum to have Christmas at Union Station. The kids got to meet Santa and decorate cookies with Grammy and the River City Confectioners Association. They had some reindeer crafts, but we spent most of our time on a reindeer scavenger hunt downstairs, finding nine cut-out reindeer in order to claim a light-up glow stick upstairs as a prize. There were some toy trains (and a piano) that Aaron enjoyed playing with, and Hannah got to run through the various train exhibits and vintage passenger cars on display. We also saw the model of the 1898 World’s Fair in Omaha, a building of which one other girl said looked like “Donald Trump’s House.”

Later on upstairs, we got front-row seats for the tree-lighting, as the only spot to sit was right in front of the stage. Michael Lyon was back to sing some Christmas songs (after a recent bout with throat cancer of all things) before Mayor Jean and a handful of VIPs took the stage to lead the countdown. I let Hannah handle the video this year as I snapped some photos, and then we managed to join everyone else in the crowd in getting a selfie in front of the tree and playing in the paper snowflakes to kick off the Christmas season.

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We had some lovely weather on Saturday, which I spent putting up our Christmas decorations and taking the kids on one last wagon ride to my parents’ house for a visit. Our neighbor Betty also gave us some kolaches, and Vivian planted our tulip bulbs while we still had one last warm day before winter.

On Sunday, we got a dusting of snow that mostly just left the streets wet and slushy (before they turned to ice). It was fun to hear Aaron exclaim with a gasp, “It’s Christmas!” as he looked out the window. We were still able to go to church and then drop by Sam’s Club afterward for cheese and ice melt (among other things). We spent the rest of the day indoors catching up before our four-day weekend came to a close.

One interesting thing I learned this week was that when Hannah’s birthday falls on Thanksgiving, what follows is the longest Christmas Season possible on the calendar — 33 full days. I’m glad we were able to start them off right!

Happy birthday, Hannah — and Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

 

My wonderful week off from work

I’ve just returned from a week-long vacation that I spent entirely in the Omaha area, catching up on things around house and spending some quality time with the family. It’s the first time I’ve had a full week off work since our trip to California in 2012, and the first time I can remember with that much free time on my hands. It was lovely.

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On Sunday, we kicked things off doing some costume shopping down at Mangelsen’s, where we tried out various masks and accessories before eventually getting Aaron and Hannah to decide on being Batman and Poppy (from Trolls) respectively for Halloween.

Then that evening, I managed to literally burn through all the wood we’d accumulated from fallen branches over the past year or so in a fire pit. I invited my parents over and we roasted hot dogs over the open flame, which worked out amazingly well. The weather was downright gorgeous most of the week with highs in the 60s or so, which was just about perfect every single day.

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I spent nearly all day cleaning house and doing laundry as Vivian was out doing school stuff with the kids. Then on Tuesday, we had our annual trip to Vala’s. Tuesday was just about the perfect day to go — we got the home school discount, which included free pumpkins and a train ride, and the weather was beautiful all day long. We got Hannah and Aaron measured up before hitting the pig races and getting our family photos taken behind cut-out characters (and on the big chair). Hannah’s favorite attractions were the haunted houses and the pumpkin mine, so we wound up wandering through those multiple times. We grabbed some apple donuts for a snack and spent extra time in the school house pretending to teach the kids. We also spent some extra time at the Pirate Cove dancing to music by the Skeleton Band.

The fall colors were glowing everywhere, and I tried multiple times to get a decent autumnal photo of Vivian and the kids, but they were too excited to sit still for long. We got a wagon ride and a ride on the train and stopped to see an animatronic show or two on the way between exhibits. We also paid a visit to Bunnyville and saw Xander the Dragon as the suns tarted going down. Storybook Village had a few new items, such as the Hungry Catterpillor (sic) and a sword-in-a-stone. We ended the day taking Aaron on the big slide (where his reaction was “I’m scared of that … I wanna go again) and then the pie barn for “dinner.” We grabbed a few pumpkins on the way out before heading for home, where we all pretty much crashed afterward.

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Hannah and Aaron got to try out their costumes for the first time at First Presbyterian for some trick-or-treating on Wednesday Night. They got their fill of candy and played a handful of games along with a few of their little friends.

The next day, I went out to lunch with my parents to a place in downtown Papillion called “Brownie’s.” They had $8.99 rib-eyes (thinly cut) and I got to catch up with them a bit without having to wrangle two kids wreaking havoc at the same time, which was nice.

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On Friday night, Vivian and I went to the Omaha Jitterbugs’ Halloween Dance together, the first time we’d been to the Eagle’s Lodge since the last Halloween dance. I went as a Steven Crowder “Change my Mind” meme, complete with mug, which got me into the finalists’ row during the costume contest. Vivian went as a “one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater,” a last minute thing thrown together once she and I realized we had all the components at home.

It felt strange to be back dancing with the Jitterbugs after being away so long, partly because there were so many new people, and also because I’m darn OLD and dancing all night long isn’t as easy as it was a decade ago. We still had a fun time, and we even grabbed some donuts from the Donut Stop, which will be sadly closing its doors forever on Halloween.

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We had a lovely lazy Saturday for most of the day. Then that evening we went to Jenny’s annual birthday/costume/Halloween party up in northwest Omaha at Dean and Sarah’s house. Our kids got to bounce around for a couple hours (in costume) with a handful of our friends’ kids as we had some cake and played a bit with our grown-up friends. Takashi led us all in Thriller, of course, and we also got our group picture before people started to leave.

I came in my second costume of the night, an “NPC,” which has become something of a political meme online. Nobody seemed to get it, which was mostly fine with me. I may reuse the mask to be Michael Myers from “Halloween” instead, which is what most people thought I was anyway.

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It was a great week overall, helped in my doubt by the lovely weather and fall colors we got to enjoy. We took a walk or two around the neighborhood with the kids just to enjoy them (and see the Pumpkin Man).

We also raked a bit of leaves in our yard on Sunday so Hannah and Aaron could play in them (along with Hannah’s family of toys) before it got too cold. Then we watched the sun set on my last day of vacation before Vivian fried up a whiskey-marinated sirloin for dinner, which was quite tasty.

It was a good week, and I may wind up doing something like it again before long, as I have a couple hundred hours of vacation time left to use up (eventually.)

Applejack and Calamari Steak

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Fall is officially here, so we kicked it off with our annual trip to Nebraska City to celebrate the 50th Applejack Festival. We dropped by the firehouse for our pancake breakfast with the Pancake Man and let the kids climb inside the fire trucks. We walked down to the library hoping to see a traveling exhibit from the Omaha Children’s Museum, but they didn’t have one this year, so the kids played with Legos for a bit before we headed out.

We headed on up to Kimmel Orchard around noon and gave the kids a good amount of time to play on their new playground. Then we took a hay rack off to the orchard to scavenge for some apples. It seemed every apple we found was rotten or full of holes, which was disappointing, but we somehow managed to find enough trees with good apples to pick about twenty pounds of them, which we took home with us (perhaps to turn into Apple Donuts, since the line for those was so ridiculous).

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A few days later, it was Vivian’s birthday! I took the whole day off so we could go out to lunch together at Spaghetti Works downtown. It was a beautiful day, so we had lasagna together (and ice cream) with a few friendly birds outside and then had a nice walk up and down the Gene Leahy Mall, enjoying the scenery before it all gets demolished and paved over in the next couple of years.

We also stopped by the Imaginarium in our walk through the Old Market, which was a kind of vintage toy store with many items Vivian and I recognized from our childhood. In particular were a couple Rainbow Brite dolls and a handful of Masters of the Universe toys, many of which I personally owned.

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That evening, Jack and Donna came by and grilled up some calamari steaks for dinner (which they got from some secret seafood distributor in town). I grilled up some shrimp-on-the-barbie and we had a tasty dinner with the kids, followed by raspberry lemonade cake (with candles). We had some presents afterward, including some cheese from Cowgirl Creamery and cards personally decorated by the kids (and me). It was a fairly full day, with more than a few leftover left over.

The Big Four-Oh

Yes, I just turned that old this week — the big “four oh.” Thankfully, I was able to celebrate with a bunch of my family in friends in a celebration that was spread out nearly all week long.

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On Saturday, I woke up to find Hannah had drawn a lovely “birthday card ” picture of me celebrating my birthday with everyone, which was a wonderful way to start the day.

Then that afternoon, we had a celebration at Elmwood Park with a bunch of our family and friends. Kody and Phil grilled burgers and hot dogs (with my dad) as the guests arrived and the kids (and adults) played on the playground next door. Vivian had gotten some lovely over-the-hill decorations for the party, and I brought the teddy bear Lisa gave me for my 30th birthday. Donna also made an amazing over-the-hill cake, complete with fondant figures of me and Vivian and a graveyard at the bottom (with a plot open for me).

It was great to have so many family and friends in one place to celebrate another year of me not being dead, and we stayed well after the sun went down. Then the next morning, I got to try out one of my gifts — a tiny waffle-maker from Phil and Jen. It was a nice way to make a little breakfast the morning after.

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In other news, it’s been a fairly gorgeous end of August. We’ve had a few scattered showers and days here and there in the 70s. We’ve also had days warm enough for a long-expected trip to the All Play Splash Pad on 72nd and Harrison the Monday after my birthday, where we got wet with the kids after work before they shut the water down after Labor Day.

We discovered on Wednesday before my birthday that Stinson Park finally turned the fountains on, so the kids got to splash about and get nice and wet during lunch that day. Hannah got nice and messy eating crab apples and needed a good rinse. We also happened to see a few accidents this same day — Vivian and a friend witnessed a hit-and-run as a confused lady played bumper cars pulling out of a parking space, and I got to hear a more serious accident on Center Street that happened minutes later. Drive safe everyone!

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At work on Tuesday, I and the other August Birthdays got to celebrate with some cake courtesy of Dr. Keefe, which was lovely. Then on my actual birthday, I got to have breakfast at Amato’s with Hannah and Vivian (while Aaron was at preschool). The last time we’d been there was five years earlier for me 35th birthday, so it definitely felt good to be back. I had some peach ricotta pancakes (as did Hannah) with some Italian Sausage, and Vivian got a “garbage breakfast.” Vivian even had some mints for me afterward, when I turned exactly 40 at 9:59 am.

After breakfast, we headed up to Memorial Park, where I literally went over the hill (with Hannah) to celebrate my turning forty. It was 72 degrees and gorgeous, so we spent a little extra time walking around the rose garden (in full bloom) and letting Hannah play on the playground with her “friend” Linda.

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The weather was still too gorgeous to stay inside, so we continued celebrating through the afternoon taking the kids to Thompson Park and then going out for ice cream at Dairy Queen afterward. It genuinely felt good to have a day to do pretty much nothing at all.

Then that evening, my parents took us out to The Drover down at 72nd and Mercy. This is an old-school steakhouse (so old-school they still have a salad bar) that I heard about twelve years ago and had been planning to visit but never have. They’re known for whiskey-marinated steaks, so Vivian and I both tried one, which was quite tasty. The food was excellent, but the restaurant itself was dark, small, crowded, and noisy, so the atmosphere alone didn’t top some of my other favorite steakhouses in town.

We finished off the night at my parents’ house, where my dad had some chocolates from Chocolaterie Stam at Shadowlake. He also played for me a 40-year-old recording of him and my mom calling their own parents to tell them about me being born. It was eerie to hear my much younger parents talking to my long-deceased grandparents about me being born, but it was so nice to hear how happy they all sounded about it. It was a very lovely gift.

Here’s to forty more wonderful years!

The big Oh-Four

Summer’s finally here, and our little boy Aaron turned four years old on Monday! More on that in a moment.

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On Friday, Vivian and I decided to kick off the summer with a little mid-year sushi binge. I had a Groupon for the sushi train, where we had our sushi anniversary six months ago, so we headed back for another round at dinner time.

Then on Saturday, Aaron had a tee-ball game and Hannah attended a birthday party with her friend Nicholette. Then our friend Kate had a birthday party for herself, which involved dinner at Sakura Sushi and then Telestrations at her apartment afterward. Hannah and I attended the latter part, which gave Hannah a few hours of quality time with Other Hannah as her sisters joined us in drawing several goofy drawings together upstairs.

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Then on Sunday, we celebrated Aaron’s birthday down at the splash pad at H.W. Banner Park. The water features were all running, so it was a fun way to keep cool (even if the temperature didn’t reach ninety-nine degrees as they’d predicted). We had some snacks for the kids as guests arrived. My folks along with Uncle Jonny and Nathan both stopped by along with an assortment of Aaron’s little friends.

Then Grammy broke out a giant jungle cake for dessert. Aaron had to pretend to blow out the candles, as the wind kept us from keeping them lit for real. Then Aaron got to open a bunch of presents, most of which had a superhero theme to them, in addition to Uncle Nathan’s pool noodles (which Aaron got a kick out of).

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Then on Aaron’s actual birthday, we celebrated with a tornado There were funnel clouds in the area, so they sirens went off right next to our house. We spent some time in the basement watching Happy Birthday cartoons on Netflix as Pop-Pop baked a couple pizzas upstairs. Once it was reasonably clear, we ate upstairs and then had some cupcakes with candles for Aaron to blow out before opening some more presents. (And he would still have a few more to open and grandma and grandpa’s house a week later.)

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It’s supposed to get hot-hot-hot again over Father’s Day weekend, so Vivian brought the kids to spend one relatively cool day at the park to have lunch, swing, and practice jumping into daddy’s arms from the stage at Stinson Park.