Category Archives: Birthdays

Parents’ birthdays and Living Nativities

We’re inching closer and closer to Christmas, which means Christmas movies, egg nog, and checking more items off our holiday bucket list. (That apparently includes making enough Chex mix to feed an army.)

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We had a bit of a warm spell last week that made the weather ideal for a visit to an outdoor Living Nativity down the street at Avery Presbyterian Church. It was a lovely, festive little gathering, and I’m glad we go to visit before a passing cold front created a bit of a winter wonderland the next day. The kids got to see and pet a live camel, a donkey, some goats, and a calf all under a tent with folks dressed up as Magi and Shepherds. They also had some lovely shell-shaped sweet rolls for us, along with a table of gifts from “Santa’s Workshop” for kids to pick through to find gifts to give to loved ones. We got them to pick out a few things for all four grandparents. We also got a brief visit with “Santa” for a few pictures before we left. (I also got to overhear a few things for “Santa” to bring our kids come Christmas morning.)

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Saturday brought a blanket of snow to the world, which stayed wet enough to me to shovel without any trouble, leaving our neighborhood quiet picturesque by the end of the day (and nightfall).

My parents also had their birthdays this week, so we celebrated both of them on Saturday afternoon. My dad wanted to go through one of his trunks of treasures with us, which included such things as handmade floor rugs from my grandmother, a Shakespearean tapestry from England, paraphernalia from my parents’ time as missionaries in Brazil, and some unique knick-knacks and tchotchkes made by Brazilian natives, ranging from stylized animal carvings to an actual carved Brazil nut.

My folks opened a couple gifts from us afterward, and then we went down to HyVee to get a bunch of Chinese food for dinner. I also baked my parents a birthday cake, but they’d gotten one of their own from the Uptown Bakery on Fort Crook. They blew out some candles on mine before we ate and then played a few games with my brothers in the living room, including a Family Feud game of all things.

Less than two weeks more until Christmas!

Harold and Hannah have a birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Highlights from Hannah’s birthday

Two Birthdays and a Four More Tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life, the Universe, and Everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron turns six

Well, summer is well underway, with lawn mowing, gratuitous road destruction, frozen bananas, and of course Aaron’s birthday.

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With temperatures in the 90s pretty much every single day (with barely a drop of rain), we’ve been trying to keep cool in all the standard ways. We broke out the wading pool, which Hannah had been using as a makeshift tree house, and filled it up with a garden house as I got the sprinklers going. We also dropped by the Papillion Dairy Queen to make use of a Groupon Hannah got in exchange for watching the Mills guinea pig.

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Then on the following Thursday, we celebrated Aaron’s sixth birthday. I took the entire day off from work, giving me the chance to help Grammy pick up a pop-up tent for a potential summer camping trip and to snap some pictures when she brought over Aaron’s cake along with a couple of presents.

Then that afternoon, we had a party for Aaron’s with a bunch of his little friends down at Eagle Ridge Park. We had been hoping the neighboring splash pad would be turned on, but it wasn’t — the only water we had came in the form of a large, stagnant puddle (which the girls waded in anyway). Aaron still had fun just running around with his little friends at the park, however. We had some of Donna’s cake halfway through, which was decorated with some characters from Aaron’s favorite video game. We opened presents afterward, which included a bunch of Mario Kart toys that Aaron and his crew immediately began racing with. Hannah and Sammy dug a tunnel in the sand in the meantime, and we finished off the day getting pictures of everyone inside of a comic book picture frame.

Then that evening, Aaron got to have his favorite dinner, chicken wings and french fries, before opening a few more presents. One of these was a plush King Dedede, which happened to be Aaron’s favorite video game character of the moment.

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The next day, Hannah and Aaron discovered the Legos that were in some of the extra gift bags we had from the party, immediately building a number of tiny structures with them (and asking me to photograph).

Then that evening I walked Hannah and Aaron over to Grandma and Grandpa Johnson’s house for a post-birthday dinner with them and Uncle Jonny. The kids got to spend some quality time playing with grandpa’s old blocks, and then my folks treated us all to a feast courtesy of Sonic, followed up a cookie cake. Afterward, Aaron got to open his presents (wrapped with in dancing monkeys wrapping paper he almost didn’t want to tear) — a pair of books of mazes, which quickly became his new favorite books. We finished off the evening watching a bit of Quarantine Tonight, which is some kind of variety show filmed out of Norfolk on channel 27-2.

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In the meantime, our basement was undergoing some demolition work. We’d found a leak coming out of our basement floor under the toilet when I ran the dishwasher upstairs, which a plumber told us came from a broken pipe underneath the cement. He spent a good portion of Friday evening while I was at my parents’ house with the kids tearing up a couple square feet in our basement. After this, he replaced a giant section of cast-iron drain pipes with new three-inch PVC, covering it all back up with cement afterward.

It’s been a bit of a harrowing mess, but we now have water flowing out better than ever before — and a functioning toilet once again! I’m mostly thankful not much more damage had been caused by the leak in the meantime.

Social Distance

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As the world shuts down to deal with the Corona Virus, I spent Wednesday evening breaking quarantine to wish Uncle Jonny a Happy Birthday. The kids each decorated some birthday cards for him, which included such things as watermelon, corn kernels, Mega Man, and a maze. Vivian and I gave Uncle Jonny a gift card for RiffTrax to tide him over during the quarantine. He’s now working from home, and while everything else seems to be cancelled, they’ll be spending a lot of time indoors.

My mom made brownies for us, but we otherwise kept “socially distant.” I’m not sure when such things as walking with the kids to grandpa’s house will become a regular thing again, but I hope it’s soon.

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Of course, sheltering in place means more time for spring cleaning, so on Saturday I spent some time clearing out our storage area and setting up some shelving I’d bought at Aldi to help get things organized. I also gave our little apple tree a good pruning with the tips I’d learned from my visit to Ditmar’s a few weeks ago, and I even got a stake in the ground to help straighten it up a bit.

Then on Sunday, we had our virtual church service from Wildewood in our living room while eating some bacon and pancakes (and kale for Harold). We’d gotten a bit stir-crazy by lunchtime and decided to get outside a bit, stopping by McDonald’s for a lunch of double Big Macs before going downtown. We had a nice little walk around the Old Market despite the gray and drizzling weather. The kids seemed to enjoy just running around the nearly vacant streets. We did find that Dolci was still open for business, so we all got some Italian ice cream before heading home.

How are you spending the quarantine? Let us know in the comments below.

Birthdays and Guinea Pigs

It’s been a busy, busy week, with multiple church programs, birthdays for both my parents, a new candidate running for office, and a new family member for the Johnson family.

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On Friday night, I got to attend the campaign kick-off for Robert Anthony, who’s running for the State Board of Education in the Second District. Because Board of Education districts are different from both congressional and school districts (and since it overlaps with other counties), I had to do a bit of research first to make sure I could vote for him. We had some barbecue from Big Bubba’s Que and talked a bit about educational issues before he gave his stump speech. He’s a strong conservative and actually home-schools his own kids, so he’s tuned in to the sorts of needs homeschooling families likes family would have, and that was encouraging. It’s safe to say he has my vote.

Because I wound up being the one guy with a “Real Camera” for the evening, I wound up snapping a few photos of other guests with Robert before calling it a night. The kids were both asleep when I returned home, and Vivian made up some ahi tuna and scallops for dinner before we watched A Christmas Carol.

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On Saturday, we celebrated my dad’s birthday with the gift of “face time” — i.e. going through a trunk of memorabilia in the basement, looking at some groovy old photos in a few photo albums, and watching a couple old home movies. I was surprised to find a few unique treasures among the family photos and college art projects, including an autographed picture of Mr. Rogers, original campaign posters for Barry Goldwater, and some original artwork from Tribune editorial cartoonist Wayne Stayskal. My dad was friends with Staysakal and apparently gave him ideas for multiple cartoons. When this happened, Stayskal would often send my dad the original artwork, which he kept. (The funniest cartoon, of course, came in the form of a homemade birthday card from Nathan, circa 2002.)

I spent nearly the whole day at my folks’ house, taking a brief break for Arby’s at lunchtime and then heading home as the sun went down.

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On Sunday evening, we had a Christmas program at Wildewood Christian Church (titled “A Country Christmas” for some reason). It was very brief, with just 15 minutes of setting up and decorating a tree interspersed with kids singing a few Christmas songs (with obligatory Christian Hand Motions™). All four grandparents were able to come and see the program, and even Aaron was able to sit still for all 15 minutes of it.

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After the Christmas program, we dropped by the Mills house to meet the newest member of our family — a new baby guinea pig! The Mills had adopted their own guinea pig (named “Ginny”), who unbeknownst to them was already pregnant! She popped out a little baby boy who’s now been weaned and ready for a new home. I’d gotten a cage with bedding and food recently and we were able to set it all up and take our new little pup home that evening. We’re still settling on a name, but Hannah is leaning toward “Scratcher” at the moment.

In the meantime, our poor cat Zoey doesn’t know what to make of this strange creature, who could just as easily be food as a friend.

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And because one birthday visit wasn’t enough, we dropped by my folks’ house again on Tuesday. I made my dad some barley bread, which he’d said a while ago he wanted to try. His father (my grandfather) had mentioned having to eat it during World War I because of food rationing and never liking the taste. Since barley bread is hard to come by, my dad had wanted to try it, so I managed to find some barley flour at Natural Grocers and made him a loaf. It was all right, similar to brown bread or corn bread but much more crumbly (with no gluten holding it together).

We stayed long enough my my folks to open some presents and had a hand-drawn birthday card from Hannah before calling it a night.

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Then on Wednesday night, Hannah and the rest of her friends from MPact had a mid-year awards ceremony in the basement chapel. It was a shorter ceremony than in years past, as the groups didn’t all perform skits or sing songs to show what they’ve been learning so far this year. Everyone on stage got a certificate, and then we stayed just long enough for some punch an cookies before heading home.

Hannah’s been a part of this group since she was a Rainbow, and it’s so nice to see her growing up with all her little friends together!

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!

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 slice 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.