Category Archives: Vivian’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. 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.

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!

Applejack and Calamari Steak

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

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

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

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

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

Birthday Fun, Food, and Fire

Vivian turned a year older this week, and that means we celebrated in the only way we know how — with lots of fun, food, and FIRE!

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The fun started on Friday night, when Vivian and I went up to “El Corn” to see Christian comedians John Crist and Jonnie W at Bethany Lutheran Church. It was a hilarious show and proved to me that comedy that’s “clean” can wind up being even funnier (and edgier) than “blue” comedy. Vivian and I were both familiar with Crist’s work online poking fun at Christian music, Christian stereotypes, and Millennials. Jonnie W was just as funny, working a bit of guitar into his act and reminding me of Tim Hawkins, who he and Crist both performed with in the past.

What I liked best was how both comedians stuck around afterward to meet-and-greet fans, signing autographs and taking pictures. I bought a DVD from each of their merch tables just for that.

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Then on Saturday, Vivian and I went out to Sakura Hibachi and Sushi in Council Bluffs for dinner with a handful of our friends. We got some sushi and tempura before watching watch Chef Herman serve up some calamari, steak, and other meat and veggies for us with his usual flamboyant show. There was egg-tossing, an onion volcano, and even a bit of sake squirted around the table. Vivian also got to put on a chef’s hat for a moment to throw an egg on the floor before dinner was served.

Afterward, we returned to our place to fire up our fire pit in the driveway for a bunch more of our friends who came to share in its happy glow. We didn’t bring out the s’mores, but we did have plenty of chocolate cake, courtesy of Donna. Even Hannah got to stay up a bit and get in some fire time before bed. It was a lovely evening, and we’ll have to break out the fire pit again sometime when it gets even colder.

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On Vivian’s actual birthday, I took her out to lunch at Umami, a hot new sushi place on Galvin Street (inside what had previously been an unloved former KFC). It made headlines as the “pet project” of Chef Keen Zheng, a sushi chef from Manhattan who was convinced by some local friends to bring the “New York City” sushi experience to Omaha.

Vivian and I got a handful of tasty specialty rolls along with some tempura, all of which was delicious. I particularly liked the Manhattan Roll and the Naruto Yellowtail, which used thinly-sliced cucumber instead of rice or seaweed. Even the wasabi seemed uniquely special, creamer and milder than the stuff found nearly everywhere else. The staff brought out some bananas tempura and sang “happy birthday” to finish off our special birthday lunch together.

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Then that evening, Jack and Donna came by to make Vivian a special dinner of breaded pork chops, potatoes, and biscuits. The kids also got to decorate a chocolate mint birthday cake, and they even adorned it with candles for mommy to blow out after dinner. Vivian got to open a few presents, including a plush cockatiel, a t-shirt, and a few new books.

Then Grammy and Pop-Pop put the kids to bed as Vivian and I went off to see Wonder Woman at the Westwood 8. It was a “private screening,” since we were the only ones in the theater when it started. The movie itself was very good, and even though it came out on DVD this week, there’s nothing quite like seeing it on the big screen. It’s particularly nice that we still have a “dollar” theater showing blockbuster films from a few months ago when the current movie selection in autumn is usually downright horrible (the old-school sci-fi lights and even the decorative theater doors were fun as well).

In other news, my dad had his 50th high school reunion and returned to Woodland, California to catch up with his old high school buddies. Sammy also had a birthday of her own, celebrating with a bead party and flowery cupcakes from Donna. In the meantime, I’m happier than ever to be growing old with my lovely wife. Happy birthday, Vivian!

Cajun, Sushi, Viviroonie

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In case you hadn’t heard, Vivian had a birthday over the past week, an event (like mine) that spread itself out over several days with our family and friends. It started, naturally enough, at Jitterbugs Night Out on Friday at the Eagles’ Lodge. This was actually the first JNO all year where we went dancing and didn’t actually have to arrive early to help set things up for the dance. We were even able to put the kids to bed before we left, leaving Grandma on hand just in case the house caught fire. There seemed to be a good crowd that night, so Vivian got to dance with several new people in-between our various jam circles with friends before the night was up.

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On Saturday, autumn seemed to roar into town with a brief and massive thunderstorm. We took the kids down to the farmers’ market in the morning before the storm hit, grabbing a handful of tasty things like Italian sausage and garlic bread that we would inevitably turn into dinner before the weekend was over. We took the kids by Conagra’s headquarters to climb a few trees and say hello to the “Muffin Man,” and we also saw the water display on the Gene Leahy Mall one last time before winter. It was still feeling like summer before the thunderstorm hit, so we dipped our feet in the blue water before heading for home.

Then that evening, we went out to Jazz for some Cajun food with our cluster of mutual friends. Our friends Phil and Jen shared their giant plate of crawfish, which I was somewhat surprised to see looked exactly like tiny little lobsters, and were essentially eaten the same way. After dinner, we walked a few blocks up the road to catch some Improv comedy at the Backline. They had three sets of comedians on stage to perform skits based on title suggestions from the audience, one of which was “Vivian takes them down,” courtesy of Tamra. That level of personalization made it all the funnier.

As we walked to and from the Backline, Jen pointed out a local speakeasy along the way, which was Looking Glass Cigars and Spirits in the front and The Wicked Rabbit in the back. If we ever drop by the Backline again (i.e. for 88 Improv), we’ll have to try to check it out.

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Vivian’s actual birthday came on Tuesday, which started off with Camp Toast for breakfast with the family (prepared with help from Hannah) and then opening some presents from the kids. That evening, I dropped by Beijing Tokyo in Bellevue and got some sushi and a “pu pu platter” for dinner with Vivian. Donna had also brought by a big chocolate birthday cake, which we lit up with candles for Vivian to blow out before we ate some. Then we headed downtown for some obligatory birthday ice cream at Ted & Wally’s (with the kids, of course).

Happy birthday, sweetie! I love growing older with you every year.

Birthday Extra

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Vivian got a few extra days of birthday fun last week even after the Supermoon Lunar Eclipse left us for another couple of decades. Jack’s birthday is two days after hers, so we celebrated it per tradition at Outback Steakhouse in Bellevue. This time, however, we invited my folks to come along as well, making it the first time we had all four grandparents sharing Bloomin’ Onions together over rib-eye steaks. (The kids got to spent the evening at the Mills wreaking havoc with Jake, Sammy, and August.)

Then on Friday night, we returned to the Eagles’ Lodge for an evening of dancing with our mutual, swing-dancing friends. They had a good turnout that included folks like the Wests, who have kids like us and can’t always drop them off with a babysitter until midnight.

And in other news, Hannah got her first Big Girl Bed at last.

The best is ready to begin

IMG_5619We had another busy weekend here in Omaha, much of which involved celebrating Vivian’s birthday.

We kicked things off on Saturday by visiting the Centurylink Center to see some livestock and some cakes. The Aksarben Livestock Show was happening on the main level, and we took a good look at the animals being cleaned, dried, and brushed for competition. It was so strange to see cattle all puffed up and cuddly preparing to be judge. Hannah and Aaron also got to see some cows up close and personal for the very first time. One cowhand even let Aaron pet one and showed how its udder worked. Hannah was quite amazed to see where milk actually comes from.

IMG_5634On the second floor, the Omaha Sugar Arts Competition was underway. Vivian’s mom entered an amazing hanging chandelier cake, which took first place in the People’s Choice Award. She also got a blue ribbon for a painting made with fondant and cocoa powder.

The real treat for us, however, was our own Hannah, who took home First Prize in the “wee ones” division for her autumn-colored cake. She did all the work in making it herself, including cutting out the maple leaf and sticking it on top. Mom and I couldn’t have been prouder!

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On Saturday Night, Vivian and I attended a marriage seminar at Bellevue Christian Center titled Love Worth Fighting For. It featured Kirk Cameron, best known for his role as Mike Seaver on the sitcom Growing Pains, which he poked fun of right off the bat during his opening talk once the seminar got underway. The event was a kind of birthday gift for Vivian, and I even splurged on the “VIP” treatment, which meant we got to attend a Q&A and autograph session with Kirk before the show. Vivian asked if there were any plans for a Growing Pains sequel series on Netflix (a la Fuller House).

The seminar also featured the musical talents of Warren Barfield, who played a song or two, talked a bit, and plugged his children’s missionary work toward the end of session two. Much of Kirk’s talk revolved around 1 Peter 3:7 and a five-point sermon he’d borrowed from another preacher. In the end, I felt like I got more out of the Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage seminar a year ago, but this was still an enjoyable event. (Particularly going to Village Inn with our friends the Mills afterward — without any kids.)

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Vivian’s birthday itself proved to be a fairly busy day, between church in the morning and a birthday party packed with princesses in the afternoon. I made her a heart-shaped pancake sandwich for breakfast and got some sushi from Baker’s for lunch (along with a smiley face birthday cake from Donna).

Then for dinner, we met around 16 or 17 of our mutual friends for dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. Vivian got some kind of shrimp gumbo and a giant piece of raspberry lemon cheesecake, which was presented to her with a loud, embarrassing rendition of “Happy Birthday” from all her guests and the waitstaff. (And thanks to a recent court ruling, it was actually Happy Birthday rather than some knock-off not being held hostage via Copyright.)

We went outside to enjoy an hour or two of watching the Supermoon Lunar Eclipse, enjoying clear skies and perfect weather for such a viewing. It was something of a nice little celestial birthday present to cap off the weekend.

Happy birthday, Vivian, and show me that smile again. The best is ready to begin!

Vivian’s Painting, Dancing, Camping Birthday Weekend

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The end of September was a lovely, four-day weekend of Birthday Fun for Vivian and our cluster of mutual friends. The celebration started Thursday night, when Vivian and I paid a visit to Canvas and Cabernet, one of many “drink wine and paint” studios popping up all over town. We both decided to “wing it” by painting wine and cheese together for the express purpose of decorating our kitchen wall. The instructors there were very helpful, and the appetizers kept us satiated until we were done and ready to celebrate with dinner at Vivace afterward.

On Friday night, we dropped by the Eagle’s Lodge for an obligatory night of swing dancing. Vivian’s gotten to have a birthday jam for nine years in a row with the Omaha Jitterbugs, and we weren’t about to break the streak just shy of the ten-year mark. It was fun to catch up with a bunch of our old swing-dancing buddies, and we even grabbed some pastries from the Donut Stop on the way home.

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On Saturday, after a quick trip to Ted & Wally’s for some birthday ice cream, we headed on up to the Fremont Lakes to spend the night camping out! We brought the kids along, of course, and Hannah got to explore the inside of a tent for the very first time. The weather was fairly warm (in the mid-80s), which seemed ideal for one last swim before Old Man Winter comes to visit.

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Back at the campsite, Vivian’s parents joined us along with Phil and Jen, Jenny, Libby, Katie, and Jon Paper for a grilling out. We had plenty of burgers and hot dogs to go around, and there was just enough room for a lovely chunky cake of sorts that Donna had brought (and Hannah had decorated). The sun went down and we lit the campfire for s’mores as Vivian opened presents, one of which happened to be Guitar Hero for the Wii. Yeah, we’re gonna party like it’s 2007!

We had some Spam for breakfast the next morning and spent the rest of Sunday recovering from a night of sleeping on the hard ground.

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Of course, Jack’s birthday was just two days later, so after we’d sufficiently recovered, we went off to Outback Steakhouse for a couple rib-eyes and an onion blossom. Donna and I discovered the joys of unlimited shrimp, especially when our wonderful waiter Austin kept them coming and coming (even in a to-go box). And yes, Chocolate Cookie Sundaes most definitely did happen afterward. We opened presents back at our place afterward, which included a grabber for Jack and a personally dictated birthday card from Hannah. (“Happy Birthday to Pop-Pop’s Birthday Happy Day” or something like that.) Other gifts were indescribable in the presence of little ears.

Happy birthday, Vivian! I hope you enjoyed every mosquito bite we earned on our trip.

Happy Sashimi

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Over the weekend, we celebrated both Vivian and Jack turning another year. On Friday, it was Vivian’s birthday, so we kicked off the festivities with a lunchtime birthday date at La Buvette in the Old Market, sampling wine and cheese and a few Greek things and enjoying some gorgeous fall weather eating outdoors. Afterward, we walked up the street to Ted & Wally’s so Vivian could get her free birthday ice cream for dessert.

That evening, we gathered with a bunch of our friends at Tokyo Omaha (coincidentally a few blocks away) for a birthday sushi binge. Vivian took full advantage of the restaurant’s all-you-can-eat format by getting a plate full of tasty sashimi. A whole bunch of our favorite, goofy friends came along to join us for the birthday bash, and then afterward we went to the Eagles’ Lodge for Jitterbugs Night Out. You can’t have a birthday without a birthday jam, of course! We barely had room when we returned home to have some of the massive angel food cake Donna made for us. Fortunately, my brother Jonathan stopped by to help us eat it over the weekend (and brought a pie of his own from Village Inn).

Vivian got to open a few presents before we all went to bed, which included tickets to see Les Misérables on Friday next week. (Check back for that update next week!)

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Of course, this weekend was also Jack’s birthday, having been born two days apart from Vivian (and a couple years, of course). We celebrated the way we have for many years — bloomin’ onion and rib-eye steaks at the Outback Steakhouse. We returned home to open some presents afterward and then went to Ted & Wally’s for some more birthday ice cream. Jack found a way to ruin a perfectly good cone with two scoops of black licorice ice cream (and a scoop of pistachio in-between).

In other news, we had a bit of sadness as Vivian’s Uncle David passed away in California after an unfortunate fall. He was taken off life support on Friday and was fortunate enough to leave this earth with no long-term suffering or illness. Hannah got the chance to meet him when we stopped by to visit Fortuna last year. He will be greatly missed.

Birthday sushi binge

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At the end of September, the Johnson Family celebrated another vivacious year of Vivian. My mom and dad sent her a lovely cheese gift package, and I arranged to have a special cake bouquet delivered at some random point during the day. Vivian actually spent most of her day driving dad to the DMV and taking mom to the dentist after a long, expected night at the airport (trying to get home from California). That evening, however, it was all about Vivian. She asked me to make her a deep dish pizza for dinner, which was once again an adventure in kneading dough and figuring out how many toppings I could pile on top of the crush without turning everything into soup. Afterward, we dropped by Ted and Wally’s in the Old Market for some free birthday ice cream for dessert.

On Friday, I took Vivian down to the Eagle’s Lodge for her annual birthday jam. The crowd was a little thin, but we still had a fairly decent stock of leads, which was good to see just a couple weeks after Cowtown. Grammy and Grampy had Hannah for the evening, so we were able to dance without juggling babysitting duties.

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The next day, Vivian and a bunch of our friends went down to Wasabi on Maple Street for a giant sushi binge. We’d been to Wasabi a couple times before, including once for dinner, so we were well-versed in how to order from the all-you-can-eat sushi menu without winding up in the hospital. What we weren’t prepared for, however, was all of our food coming to us piecemeal, which meant we spent a great deal of time trying to remember what we’d ordered and eating off one another’s plates.

We crashed/recovered afterward at Frank’s house, where he’d set up a fire pit for s’mores and random goofing around to wind down for the evening.

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Jack’s birthday was actually also on Saturday, so we took him out for his free round of ice cream on Saturday before our sushi binge. Then on Sunday we took him and Grammy out to dinner at Red Lobster. The next week, Vivian and I dropped by the downtown Farmer’s Market for one last time. Winter seems to have nearly snuck up on us, reminding me what it’s like to venture outside without a jacket. We stocked up on kale and bok choy and then dropped by the Upstream for lunch.

On Sunday, we finished off our weekend by celebrating our friend Lisa’s birthday at church with a “surprise” potluck downstairs.