Category Archives: Birthdays

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 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!