Category Archives: Matt’s Birthday

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!

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.

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!

Turning 39

I turned a year older over the weekend, turning Jack Benny’s Age in the only way I know: with plenty of friends, family, food, and fun.

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My actual Birthday Party happened a few days early on Friday night with a handful of friends at our house. I’d had the weird idea of having a Tomato Party a few weeks earlier — asking guests to bring their favorite tomato-based dishes, mixing up Bloody Mary cocktails, and then watching Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.

Our friends didn’t disappoint, of course, particularly Phil and Jen, who brought such unique things as sun-dried tomato sushi, tapenade, and eggplant parmesan, among other things. Donna also made the most frightening cake I’d ever seen (it was also made with tomato soup). The movie itself wasn’t even as bad as I’d remembered. It had a cheesy self-awareness that reminded me very much of the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker films that would follow in its wake.

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On Saturday, our friends Libby and Ole (finally) tied the knot. The ceremony was held at Calvary Lutheran Church, and we brought Hannah along as Brandon recorded and I snapped pictures. We showered the couple with poppers on their way out of the church, and then we headed down the street to The Fountains West for the reception. In lieu of a wedding cake, the happy couple had cinnamon rolls. The wedding party made their grand entrance before dinner started, and I had a nice, long photo shoot with Hannah outside as everyone got served. It took quite a while, and when it was finally our turn, the catering staff had completely run out of meat (both chicken and roast beef).

After dinner, the buffet was cleared away for the couple to have their first dance along with their dad (and Ole’s sponsor). Then, the single ladies got to line up to catch the bouquet, and the single guys lined up to take swings at a pinata before eventually turning the stick over to Ole to break the thing apart. The floor was opened up for more dancing afterward, with most of our friends getting crazy with a couple dozens others on the narrow strip of dance floor in the middle of the hall. I even got to dance ab it with Hannah and Vivian before we called it a night.

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Then on Sunday night, we decided to drop by Thanksgiving Lutheran Church for their tailgate party outreach event. There was inflatable castle and obstacle course of the kids to play on after we fueled up with some brats and pulled pork sandwiches for dinner. A couple hundred people showed up, including many familiar faces, including my parents’. It was a fun evening, and it made me want to come back and visit the church myself in a week or two on Sunday morning.

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Then on Tuesday came by actual birthday. Vivian made some scones for breakfast, and then brought me a cake she’d made with the kids around lunchtime. She also got some burgers from Five Guys, and we went to Elmwood Park to eat in their pretty little Grotto. The park itself is over a hundred years old, so we had some fun walking around some of the old trails before letting the kids play for a bit on the newer playground area (which included exercise equipment for the grownups).

Then that evening, my parents took us out to Marks, a hip “wine bistro” in Benson that included menu items like a Portobello Sandwich and Tacos with Sambal chili aioli, mango, and feta cheese. We headed down to Ted and Wally’s afterward to get some obligatory free birthday ice cream before calling it a night.

It was a lovely birthday weekend. Now, we have to get back to the crazy-busy month of September, which will include camping over Labor Day and school for both Hannah and Aaron for the first time.

A Week-Long Pizzarrific Birthday

I just finished wrapping up a long week full of birthday that lasted from my actual birthday all the way through Labor Day weekend. Thank you to everyone who helped make it so enjoyable — especially to our grandparents who made certain portions possible via babysitting!

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The fun kicked off on my actual birthday, of course. Hannah woke me up with a bag full of presents she picked out herself at the Dollar Tree, which included a plush Shark that now graces my desk at the office. At work, my co-workers presented me with a lovely birthday cake and decorations outside my office door.

Then over lunch, Vivian took me out to Sergeant Peffer’s, a Beatles-themed Italian restaurant in midtown, where we shared a couple pizzas and even a side of anchovies. Then I dropped by Ted & Wally’s for my birthday ice cream, and Vivian gave me her special present — a 12-photo picture frame, which I was able to use to showcase all of my presidential selfies, something I’d been itching to do ever since Tom Becka suggested the idea back during the primary.

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Tuesday marked the grand opening of Coneflower Creamery, the brainchild of our long-time swing-dancing friend Brian Langbehn. He’s been planning the “farm to cone” ice cream shop for some time now, and he even grew a legit ice cream man beard in the process. I dropped in during my lunch break for a sugar cone full of raspberry cream goodness to show my support on day one. Be sure to stop by sometime, but be prepared for a long line reaching out the door!

That evening, Hannah’s preschool had orientation, so she got to play with all her school friends as all the grownups got briefed on the school year ahead. Our little girl is growing up so fast!

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In other news, Jack and Donna returned from their month-long road trip to California and back. They visited friends and family around Fortuna and Yosemite National Park, and they brought back gifts for all of us, including a pair of coonskin caps for Hannah and Aaron.

At the same time, the trusty bike my dad had given me to commute to work finally called it quits. I’d spent just over $100 on new tires and broken spokes, but after it left me stranded for the third time on Wednesday, I had had enough. Rather than give the bike repair shop $228 to replace a wheel and the same tires I’d bought a few months earlier, I instead paid $100 for a fairly decent Trek 720 I found on Craigslist. It gave me a lovely smooth ride to the office, and I’m looking forward to riding it to work from now until the snow comes (which hopefully won’t be for a while).

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On Friday night, we kicked off a long, Labor Day Birthday Weekend by setting up at JNO and then dancing into the night with the UNO Jazz Band. They had a few singers who performed in the style of Louis Armstrong and the Andrews Sisters, and the band played a great variety of dance-able songs throughout the night. I had my birthday jam as well, of course, and then we grabbed a few pastries at the Donut Stop on the way home to say “thanks” to Vivian’s folks for babysitting.

Then on Saturday, my parents invited all of us over for a dinner of smoked ribs to celebrate the Labor Day Weekend. I made some broccoli salad in between mowing my lawn and my parents’ lawn before dinner time. Then afterward, we went to the patio and roasted some s’mores over Nathan’s fire-pit, which he’d given to my parents a few weeks ago. Aaron got to have his very first s’more, and Hannah got her fill as well before running off the sugar high on the lawn before we headed home.

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On Sunday Night, we had my “official” birthday party at our house. Hannah spent the afternoon at Grammy’s house decorating my birthday cake herself, and then a handful of my friends brought pizza over to help celebrate. (Sunday was our friend Richard’s actual birthday, so we let him blow out his own candles in a separate ceremony.) I got a pair of MST3K DVD movies from Richard, a six-pack of unique sodas from Phil and Jen, and a lovely bottle of Scotch from Mark. After pizza and cake, we played a few hilarious rounds of Telestrations together while Kate’s girls kept Hannah and Aaron occupied until well after their bedtimes, mostly by building a fort in the basement. (Emma actually joined us in the game as well.)

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We’d planned on some major downtime on Labor Day Monday, but then Lauritzen Gardens decided to have free admission, so we headed down with the kids see all the flowers in bloom for fall. We usually visit the gardens on Mother’s Day weekend in the spring, so it was a treat to see all the plants and flowers in full bloom before fall truly sets in. That included banana trees with fruit ready to drop in the greenhouse, the rose garden in its full splendor, a corn maze, and a tasting area with stevia, curry, and chocolate mint plants all available for sampling. We also got an extended tour of the miniature train set, which we discovered included models of recognizable Omaha landmarks, including the Woodmen Tower downtown. Then before we left, our friend Jessica from KMTV Channel 3 dropped by to get some B-Roll of Hannah and Aaron for the 4 PM broadcast (which we unfortunately missed).

Now I’m back at work still recovering from my busy birthday week. Thank you everyone for making getting older so much fun!

They say it’s my birthday

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Time has been flying by these days. Can you believe Hannah is already in pre-school? Then over the weekend, I turned 37, and I’m getting so old that I’m starting to lose track of how old I actually am. Of course, I’m not too old to stop by the Eagles’ Lodge for a birthday jam at Jitterbugs Night Out. Vivian and I watched the movie War Room with Vivian on Friday (the latest film from the Kendrick Brothers, who also made Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous) and then spent the evening swing dancing until after eleven. There was a decent-sized crowd at the Eagles’ Lodge, but not as many familiar faces as I’d expected. There were plenty of newcomers to dance with, and they weren’t all just college students who’d wandered in from Creighton University. No, they were fairly experienced, which suggested to me that a new generation of young dancers had moved in while Vivian and I had been away.

I still got in plenty of dancing, thanks partly to a fairly decent playlist. I’m so grateful we’ve moved on from having nothing but Dixieland Tubas and Gypsy Jazz filling every dance slot.

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On Saturday — my birthday — my parents took me out to breakfast as Hannah and Aaron played cowboy and cowgirl back at home. Then I went down to the Old Market to browse through the Farmers’ Market and get Hannah a pink kitty balloon, and then we stopped to get me some free birthday ice cream over at Ted & Wally’s.

Jack and Donna dropped by a little later with a massive chocolate mocha layer cake. Hannah helped me blow out the candles, and I got to open a couple presents: a pair of saddlebags for my bike, which would make it easy to bike to work with my breakfast, lunch, and a change of clothes, and a lovely pair of New Balance shoes.

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My birthday cake was so ridiculously rich that I almost didn’t have room for dinner at Spin afterward. Our mutual friends Phil and Jen had introduced us to the Neapolitan pizza joint back during Shakespeare on the Green, so I dropped in to try a combination chicken pesto / primavera pizza with Vivian. (I also managed to get 20% off since it was my birthday.) Our friends Phil, Jen, Jon, Jessica, Mark, Libby, and Ole all stopped by to pay their respects (and have pizza).

After dinner, Jon joined Vivian and me down at Stinson Park to spend an evening with Yesterday and Today, a Beatles tribute band. I haven’t actually been a huge fan of the fab four before, but I was aware of their existence and thought it sounded like fun. I think I left with a better appreciation of the band’s full catalog of songs, as they went through everything from the early 60s rock of I Want to Hold Your Hand to the groovy eastern sitar plucking in Norwegian Wood. They even played the “Birthday” song, which I’d never even heard before.

The concert also seemed to attract a giant swarm of bugs, who mostly pestered the band underneath the blazing lights on stage. It was a great birthday nonetheless, and I found myself enjoying the concert all the more thanks to some baby boomers in the audience participating in waving cell phones (and at least one lighter). Our Jitterbug friend Takashi also managed to work his way to the front of the stage to get a good face-full of the concert before the band called it a night.

Wine, pizza, and babies

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On Wednesday, we had a baby shower for a trio of new little ones at the Institute, which included Baby Aaron. A bunch of my co-workers got to take turns holding him as we all had cake. Our resident ethicist Sister Renee also got to meet both Hannah and Aaron for the first time ever downstairs. (She had a chewy piece of Werther’s candy for Hannah, which she immediately put to use as a mustache.)

Then on Friday, the Johnson Family headed down to the Sumtur for the final family outdoor movie of the season, The Sound of Music. The presentation came between a couple passing storms, but the rain held off long enough for us to watch (and sing along) without any “raindrops on roses.” The only people who got wet were the Sumtur Staff doing the ALS Ice Bucket Meme challenge down in front of the stage, though Hannah also got a damp arm from a temporary tattoo.

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On Saturday, I got to celebrate my birthday a little early, since I happen to share it with my Uncle Ben and Aunt Carol’s anniversary, and this year they’re celebrating their 50th in Cedar Rapids. Jack and Donna got to take the kids for the evening as Vivian and I drove down to Lincoln to have pizza at my favorite pizza “joint,” Big Sal’s. Phil and Jen and Jon Paper drove down to join us, and after getting our fill of pizza, we drove on up to James Arthur Vineyard for a little wine-tasting. I got a sampling of a red wines ranging from Sweet to a Port, and then we explored the grounds a bit as a live band called Tunafish Jones covered a few classic tunes that the middle-aged crowd could dance stagger around to.

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Sunday was roasty and toasty, so we took Hannah down to the splash park on 72nd and Harrison. Mom and dad got a little wet walking her through the sprinkler and splashing gizmos of the water zone, but she spent just as much time wandering about the “all access” playground area swinging and climbing on overhead bars (with a little help from Daddy, of course).

Then Sunday night, we decided to do a quick photo shoot with both our little ones. Aaron seemed to be in an agreeable mood, while Hannah barely sat still long enough for me to trip the shutter once or twice. It made for some fun, quick snapshots of our little kids, and Aaron even got to receive his first noogie from his big sister (and probably not his last).

Next stop: Cedar Rapids!

Birthday weekend

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I love birthdays, especially when they’re mine! I had a very happy one this year. It all started on the day itself, which was a Thursday. Hannah and mom paid me a lunchtime visit with balloons and a couple presents picked out by my little girl. Then we headed down to Amato’s for lunch. I’d eaten there with my folks once before, and the call of homemade sausage and ricotta pancakes was just too strong to resist any longer.

That evening, Vivian took me to a birthday dinner at the 801 Chophouse, where we had some pork chops, lobster mashed potatoes, and my favorite fried mushrooms with boursin cheese. Of course, we had to walk down to Ted & Wally’s afterward for my free ice cream (coffee and baklava). Vivian decided to have some tamarind candy ice cream that was quite hot for being so cold.

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The next day was Friday night. That called for some burgers with friends in the heart of South Omaha at my favorite burger joint — Louie M’s Burger Lust. I’d discovered the place with my dad ages ago and we’ve come back again and again ever since (it’s even made its way into my comic once or twice!)

After all that good eating, we went to burn as much off as we could down at the Eagle’s Lodge. It was easier than we thought, since the air conditioning had broken and turned the upper floor into a giant swing-dancing sauna. It certainly wasn’t too hot for a birthday jam or a Jack and Jill competition shortly thereafter, though. A little heat never kept us from dancing indoors or out.

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We had a lovely three-day weekend to unwind after all the celebrating was done. A storm wandered through Sunday night and made things lovely and cool for Sunday and Monday. Our mutual friend Jessica Ritchie decided to move to North Carolina and came around to say her last goodbyes at the Upstream and then later at JNO and our church. I think we said goodbye to her about a dozen times before she finally left town.

On Monday evening, the in-laws had a cookout at their place with some friends in honor of Do Nothing Day. Jack brought a few flatiron steaks out of the freezer and onto the grill, I brought up some potato salad, and Vivian made a pot full of nacho cheese dip that kept us full for a while. (Hannah provided adorable entertainment, as usual.)

Birthday weekend

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If you didn’t know, I had another birthday this weekend, passing my 34th annual mile-marker, and I loved every minute of it. The official day came on Wednesday, which Vivian and I celebrated with each other for the most part. She dropped by my office at lunchtime with some of my favorite food: onion rings and guacamole bacon cheeseburgers from Louie M’s Burger Lust! We ate at the park and gave Hannah a taste or two of guacamole, which she seemed to like.

Presents were waiting for me at home that evening as Jack and Donna stopped by to care for Hannah as we had a night out. They included a restaurant gift card, a T-shirt from Stella’s, and a bunch of books — enough to keep me reading for a good while. Then Vivian took me out for dinner at the 801 Chophouse, where we had ribeye steaks, lobster mashed potatoes, and sauteed mushrooms with Boursin cheese courtesy of everyone’s favorite swing-dancing chef, Brian.

And speaking of swing-dancing, I dropped by the Eagle’s Lodge on Friday for an obligatory birthday jam and one of Bob’s happy birthday cupcakes. We seem to get out to dance so seldom these days, but we might have to remain away from the dance floor until we either find a regular babysitter or Hannah learns how to Lindy Hop, whichever comes first.

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My “official” birthday party came on Saturday, and it started down at Orval Smith Park in Ralston. I “parked” myself at a pavilion for a couple hours and saved it for our friends before they started arriving. We had a fun crowd that was a blend of jitterbug friends, church friends, and other friends all mixed together. Jack and Pastor Drew took turns grilling up burgers and hot dogs for our crew, and Hannah brought another one of her amazing cakes. Hannah got to meet a couple new friends, and Eric brought out a frisbee as the sun went down.

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We retreated back to the house after dark and played a couple fun rounds of the New Yorker game. The object was to come up with witty captions to go along with single-panel comics from the New Yorker magazine, a task that proved to be much more hilarious after a drink or two.

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Of course, this was also Labor Day weekend, and that meant plenty of our friends were also having parties of their own. On Sunday, we made the two or three block trip south to hang out with some of our friends at the Nothnagel House for a “tri-wizard” birthday party. We got to play Cards Against Humanity, which was kind of like a horribly perverted version of Apples of Apples. I also got to hang out in the park next door with a couple of fun kids, test-driving the playground for Hannah once she gets old enough to swing around like a monkey. Hannah had a fun time indoors being adorable for everyone and crawling around after mom.

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On Labor Day itself, after cleaning house and pretending to make good use of our time, we dropped by Frank’s house for a campfire party, which was right around the corner from Troy’s and just as easy to wander by. Hannah got the chance to be more adorable, and the rest of us got the chance to have black-and-blue burgers and s’mores — at least until it started sprinkling.

a Burger, a Buffett, and a Birthday

As of August 29, I’m a year older, probably not wiser, but having more fun than anyone approaching his mid-thirties should be allowed to have.

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The fun started on Friday night, where I dropped by the Eagle’s Lodge for my obligatory birthday jam. Several other jitterbugs have birthdays at the end of August, so I seemed to be in good company on the dance floor (even considering folks like Troy and Ben Peet who didn’t join us in the circle).

Of course, any exercise I got dancing on Friday was quickly negated on Saturday when I decided to take on the horrifying “Stellanator” hamburger down at Stella’s in Bellevue. As a previous corn-eating champion, I didn’t think devouring the sandwich (consisting of six 6.5 oz burger patties, six fried eggs, twelve pieces of bacon, six pieces of cheese, grilled onions, lettuce, tomatoes, jalapeños, and peanut butter all on a bun served with a basket of fries) would be as painful and nauseous experience as it was. I came close to cleaning my plate, but not clean enough. Fortunately, I didn’t have a heart attack, and what went down stayed down.

It was enough to get me to swear off meat for the rest of the afternoon.

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That evening (after some proper digestion) Vivian and I invited a bunch of our friends over for drinks and banana splits. I’d realized earlier in the month that I’ve never actually eaten the uniquely American dessert before, so Vivian made one (small) banana split for me with some homemade ice cream. We were up until nearly stupid o’clock gabbing and playing everyone’s favorite new party game, Telestrations. We were fortunate enough to have Dan Wondra among our ranks drawing such things as a Jamaican on a hamster wheel and an angel pulling a king’s tail.

On Monday (the big day), Vivian made up a chocolate cheesecake that I was able to enjoy along with a sweet birthday lunch) Then when I arrived home, I got to see some fun decorations that Donna had left in our yard, which included a pink lawn flamingo with a birthday hat. (I’ll have to consult my dad to figure out what we can name him.)

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That evening, Vivian took me out to a restaurant we’d driven by about a hundred times but had never gotten around to visiting — The Bohemian Cafe. It’s an old-school ethnic restaurant that started back in the days when Omaha had a “little Bohemia” just south of downtown. I’m not a huge fan of Czech food, but the Jaeger Schnitzel and dumplings were quite good.

Much to our surprise, someone else was celebrating his birthday at the Bohemian Cafe in Monday: the oracle of Omaha himself, Warren Buffett! I’d heard stories of Buffett dining at such humble places as Gorat’s and Piccolo Pete’s, but I never thought I’d bump into the third richest man in the world myself. On his way out, I worked up the courage to approach Buffett and ask if he’d be kind enough to let me get a picture with him just to prove to my friends that I wasn’t crazy. He happily obliged.

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Vivian and I drove up to Dave & Buster’s to spend the rest of the evening playing games together and racking up a few cups full of tickets. Vivian actually hit the 1000 ticket jackpot on Frogger, so we were able to walk out with a trio of cute Angry Birds plushies. Vivian took me home afterward to have some chocolate brownie-mousse birthday cake and presents to round out the evening.

It was another wonderful birthday weekend, and I can’t thank my lovely wife Vivian enough to helping to put it together. What we both discovered, though, is that so many fun things can’t be planned or even expected — they just have to happen.