Category Archives: Children’s Museum

Millard, Museums, and Lost in Fun

Summer vacation’s officially over now, and fall-like weather is starting to make a welcome return. That seems to mean packing more fun into every possible moment, right before I turn one year older.

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We kicked off our busy weekend with our old friends Randy and Jolene to celebrate their son Emmett’s birthday. They had it down at Eagle Ridge Park, which had a playground and a splash pad separated by a small bridge, so we wound up wandering between the two with the kids to play and get wet, alternately. Randy grilled some hot dogs, and Jolene brought out a piñata for the kids to take a couple whacks at before we had cake.

We had a handful of old friends with their own kids, as well as a second birthday party next door, so we had a veritable zoo of kiddos playing together most of the evening. Mostly, though, it was just gorgeous, end-of-summer weather. (We also got some cool shades to take home afterward.)

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The next day, I was able to drag the family all the way down to Millard to enjoy at least one legit parade together before the summer ended. It was the perfect morning for a parade, cool and cloudy with a slight breeze. A handful of our favorite politicians were walking the catawampus Main Street, including Mayor Stothert, Don Bacon, and state senate candidate Andrew Sakalosky (as well as a guy with signs for a dozen more). Most of the parade had local businesses and churches giving out candy (and frightening children), as well as some Irish dancers, Country Kickers, and a few marching bands. A few men riding lawn tractors pulled a train of kids through the parade, and one guy rolled a giant beach ball toward the end (for reasons I can’t explain). One float even featured the model of Millard itself.

Our kids got a decent haul of candy, and then we stopped by BIG Meats afterward so Vivian could get a nicely-marbled hunk of beef to take home (as thanks for letting us use their parking lot).

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On Sunday, we spent the evening at the Children’s Museum with the kids. They got a brief look at their new playground outside before going in to have the usual run of their balls in pneumatic tubes, makeup table, model river water table, pretend cooking, Gordman’s animal slides, and baby hospital. We had the most fun upstairs for an “Enchanted” traveling exhibit that featured such things as a “hall” of mirrors (which was about the size of a closet), a blacksmith table with a giant foam hammer, a bubble fountain, and a stable with a dozen plush unicorns for Hannah to care for.

The whole night was hosted by the Autism Society of Nebraska, which had some of the sensory overload of the Museum tamped down just a tiny bit, (though with all the kids running around you might not have noticed).

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Hannah started the second grade on Monday (with a picture, of course). Then we spent a long, fun day in Lincoln on Tuesday. The kids got to play at Lost in Fun down in South Lincoln, getting their fill of a foam ball pit, climbing wall, and bounce house for most of the afternoon. In the meantime, I did some freelance work for my old company Land and Sky, shooting video and taking pictures of beds, continuing a gig I started some 15 years ago.

Before we headed back to Omaha, we dropped by Big Sal’s to grab a giant combo pizza for dinner together. (Hannah wanted to stick around and shoot some pool in the meantime.)

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Before we returned home, we swung by the Durham to see some dinosaur bones. They had several model skeletons, skulls, and even a model heart on display — as well as a giant, fully-assembled T-Rex skeleton named “Scotty.” The kids were a little more interested in a giant video screen that superimposed dinosaurs walking around on top of live video of themselves.

We also had enough time for a brief walk by other things, including a buffalo skin, some trains, and an exhibit on polio — which I explained to Hannah that her grandpa had when he was little. It came complete with an original “iron lung,” which a man down the street had to use when my dad was little. Polio is one of those things I’m glad we no longer have to deal with — through the magic of medicine and vaccinations (of which my mom was one of the first recipients).

Crossing Bridges and Remembering Elephants

Well the flood waters are receding, and despite the promise of more winter coming tomorrow, it feels like spring may be here at least. Now if only, it would stay put.

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On Tuesday last week, we took the kids out to enjoy some of the weather down at the now not-flooded River’s Edge Park. There were still some wet spots, along with plenty of dirt and debris to be found — a piece of which looks like the remnant of some poor person’s home or furniture. Fortunately, it sounds like Loessfest will simply be delayed until Labor Day rather than cancelled, so we’ll get to enjoy one concert sometime this year (no word yet on the one at Memorial Park).

The near sunset we walked across the river with a couple hundred others for Autism Awareness Day. The mayors of Omaha and Council Bluffs met at the halfway point to say a few words, and there were a handful of mascots on hand to meet and greet everyone. People were also dressed in blue for the occasion, though we had to head on home before the bridge was actually lit up in blue for the evening. Hannah and Aaron seemed to have more fun running around in the rock garden below pretending to be chased.

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On Thursday night, Vivian and I attended the Elephant Remembers dinner with the Douglas County Republican Party. It was apparently a sold-out event with the Omaha Hilton filled to capacity with guests. We saw many familiar faces in the crowd, including a handful of friends mingling among the politicians. Scott Voorhees was emcee and featured speakers included Mayor Stothert, Congressman Bacon, Gov. Ricketts, and both Nebraska Senators (Sasse and Fischer).

We ate dinner as the event continued, and Vivian cut up the giant Wheatfield’s cake for our table (not waiting for anyone else to tell us to do so). The Senator Sasse introduced Tim Scott, Senator from South Carolina, who was the keynote speaker of the evening. According to Sasse, they almost didn’t make it, as Chuck Schumer had been holding up a nominee in the Senate. This kept Sasse and Scott on the floor until the vote was held, missing their flight and having to charter a plane instead. Sen. Scott then said a few words on his upbringing and religious faith before being awarded the title “Admiral” of “the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska” by Gov. Ricketts.

As usual, it felt good to be able to rub elbows with once again with many of the people I get to vote for. I got to personally thank Sasse for his recent “Born Alive” bill in the Senate, which he lamented 44 senators voted against. I also told Ricketts we were keeping him in our prayers as we’re all still dealing with the disastrous flooding last month. I told him that times like these might pull some people apart, but Nebraskans pull together instead.

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In other news, I got to enjoy eating out a couple times, once at Arby’s with Vivian and Aaron and then against with my dad for breakfast in thanks for his chauffeuring me to work these past few weeks (as I’m waiting on a new car).

Then on Saturday, my dad smoked some ribs and had the whole family over for dinner, including uncles Nathan and Jonny. The weather was nice enough to eat outside in the yard (and climb a tree), and my dad also went through another one of his trunks with us in the basement (so we’d know what all this stuff was should be ever pass on unexpectedly).

We finished off the evening with dessert and charades inside before calling it a night.

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On Sunday, Vivian went to a “sharing day” with the Omaha cake club, learning how to make a mermaid tail (which she brought home).

Then that evening, we took the kids down for an evening at the Children’s Museum. They got to engage in their favorite activities, including cooking pretend food, painting on windows, being on TV, applying make-up, playing with balls, riding dinosaurs, making music, and trying out some sports (among other things). What made tonight different, aside from being free, is that a lot of the usual noisemakers were turned off specifically for autistic kids, who were invited to come. That made for a very slightly less noisy and chaotic visit than usual.

Next stop: fish frying and The Mads (again).

Enjoying the Great Indoors

We’ve had some super-frigid temperatures over the past couple of weeks, which has prompted us to find ways to keep the kids busy over the past week or two that didn’t involve being outdoors (or staying inside playing video games all day).

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Our first stop was the Kroc Center, which had a fun open house last Saturday. They had face-painting the whole family participated in, along with a red kettle bounce house and various stations around the facility we could check out (in exchange for a spin on the big wheel for a prize). We toured the fitness center, watched some ice sculptures being made, and then finished the afternoon with a long stay at the giant, indoor heated water park.

What makes the Kroc Center unique is that it’s part of the Salvation Army, a religious institution which had a praise team singing during our visit and also worship services on Sunday Morning. We learned a bit more about Ray Kroc via the docudrama The Founder, which is available on Netflix. He seemed like a jerk in real life, but his late wife Joan left enough money for a decent fitness center here in Omaha, so maybe it all evens out in the end.

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The next day, we took the kids to First Presbyterian for another movie night. This time they got to watch Moana and try out their new fuzzy blankets, which they got from Uncle Jonny for Christmas. They had some crafts and treats after the movie of course, which kept the kids busy (and sugared up) until bedtime.

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The following Saturday, we took the kids down to the Omaha Children’s Museum for another annual Star Wars Night. Our kids still haven’t seen any of the films, but they still enjoyed seeing Darth Vader and a couple storm troopers with their friends Sammy and August. They were also able to make their own foam light sabers, and Aaron particularly enjoyed dueling with his afterward. There were also several interactive exhibits upstairs, including a fishing pond, a train, canoes, and a microscope. Mostly though, they enjoyed running and jumping around after a few too many days of being cooper up indoors.

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Then on Sunday, MPact had a mid-year presentation for parents at the Bellevue Christian Center. This year, Hannah and Aaron are a Daisy and a Rainbow, respectively, which means they both shared the stage for the first time. They recited a couple bible verses with their friends and got to wear their vest and sash with badges in front of all the parents gathered there. Of course, they also got cookies afterward, which was probably the real highlight of the night for the both of them.

In the meantime, I got to celebrate working at the Pope Paul VI Institute longer than any other job I’ve had. It’s been over four and a half years since I started here, and I’m still loving it — hopefully for many more years to come. I celebrated the occasion down at Chick-Fil-A with the kids.

Fall fun at Vala’s, the Hall’s, and the Museum

Why hello, autumn! You snuck up on us while we’ve been busy, so I guess it’s now time for some of our favorite fall traditions: Vala’s Pumpkin Patch, a Hayrack Ride at the Hall’s, and getting set for Halloween!

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We went down to Vala’s last Thursday with a bunch of other home-schooled kids from Classical Conversations and had a long, fun day at the Pumpkin Patch. We took multiple trips through the Spook Shed (now Hannah’s favorite attractions), and Pig Caller Mark Celesky picked Hannah got to be a Pig Leader again during one of the many Pig Races throughout the day. We dropped by the duck races, the bouncing pillows, and the corn bin, and then got a bucket o’ fries to tide us over until dinner. We even got a free train ride around the park, getting rare glimpses of the Old West Town and the Singing Fish Wall (followed by the Train Playground afterward). The kids played on some scooters, some tractors also spent a good deal of time firing foam balls inside a the new, giant Egg Barn (which ironically had nothing to do with eggs). Of course, we also took advantage of photo opportunities on the Big Chair behind painted cutouts throughout the park during the day, including a Cow, some donkeys, some ghosts, a pumpkin carriage, and the How Tall This Fall board to record how Hannah and Aaron measure up.

We went down a couple slides and then had some dinner and s’mores by the Classical Conversations fire pit toward the end of the day. Then we visited the Dragon and let Hannah and Aaron pick out a couple pumpkins of their own before we headed home, happily exhausted.

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Dad and I spent a little time fixing things around the house on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we went to the Hall’s for another campfire and hayrack ride through the country. The kids tossed around a football, Aaron got to play on a tire swing, and Hannah chased some of the farm cats (which resembled her toy cat Zoey, which has gone missing yet again). I brought along my tripod for a few family pictures on the hayrack before Rick drove us around the dirt trails as the sun went down. We kept warm by the fire afterward while filling up on chili and things for dinner, and some of the guys broke out some guitars for some worship songs before we headed home.

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Then on Tuesday, our kids got to break out their Halloween Costumes for the first time (after mommy dragged them to three or four stores trying to find them)! They dressed as characters from PJ Masks, Cat Boy and Green Gecko, and we took them down to the Omaha Children’s Museum for an evening of “healthy” treats and checking out the exhibits. They had some kind of obstacle course set up for Halloween along with a “forest” exhibit upstairs with a canoe, Brio Train Set, and logs to climb on. Some of the parents came in costume as well, prompting me to start thinking seriously about my own costume this year.

On the way out the door, Vivian stopped to get a picture with museum employee Shawn Toovey, also known for playing Brian Cooper on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman back in the 90s. He was very nice, and Vivian asked him if he’d enjoyed being on the show as a kid and whether he kept in touch with former cast members. I never actually watched the show growing up, so Vivian was a bit more star-struck than I was, but maybe I’ll have to give it a watch sometime. (I think it’s available on Amazon.)

Trolls, Cupcakes, and Dr. Seuss

We got to have a fun weekend with the kids, fueled partly by continuing warm weather that’s lasting just long enough for it to snow again. No time like the present to enjoy the great outdoors, whatever weather comes our way.

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Thursday was apparently Dr. Seuss’ birthday, so Bellevue Mayor Rita Sanders came to read to the kids at the library once again (per tradition). Then on Friday night, the Children’s Museum was open late with some Seussical activties. A lady dressed as a Snuv with Gloves did some science experiments for us (which included liquid nitrogen, of course). There were some Seussical crafts happening as well, but Hannah and Aaron both seemed to get a lot more mileage playing with Lego race cars and goofing around in the kitchen together.

The temperature climbed into the 70s on Saturday, so we broke out the tricycles and took the kids down to the “Sandy” park for the afternoon. This was the same park we’d gone sledding the week before, but there was not even a trace of winter left when we returned.

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Then on Sunday, we had another movie night down at First Presbyterian Church. We had a few hot dogs for dinner with the kids and then watched the Trolls movie together on blankets on the floor. For a film based on the ubiquitous (and cheap) plastic troll dolls everyone seems to remember from their childhood, it was a surprisingly decent film. Kate and her girls joined us for the movie and some cupcakes afterward, and Hannah’s preschool classmates Sammy and Nicholette were also on hand to get sugared up after the show.

In other news, cheesesteak and jalapeño poppers.

Star Wars Night and New Beginnings

Winter seems to be here at last, with snow and ice coming in fits and starts between lovely sun-shining days. When we time it just right, Vivian and I can take the kids to the park or go for a ride down the street. Such is the weather in Nebraska.

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On Saturday, I made pancakes with the kids and then went and test-drove a Honda CR-V to replace my poor, ailing Ford Taurus.

Then that night, we took the kids to Star Wars night at the Children’s Museum. Hannah and Aaron got to explore the usual exhibits, such as the water table, the hospital, the ball area, and the carousel. Tonight, however, there were also numerous events related to Star Wars. The children’s orchestra played a medley of tunes from the series, and a bunch of cos-players got to have an Imperial March down the middle of the museum. This was the first time our kids had ever been exposed to the Star Wars franchise, but Hannah said she liked the “big gorilla,” AKA Chewbacca.

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We had an ice storm on Monday that kept me home right before we got the CR-V checked out by our mechanic and then officially purchased at the dealership on Tuesday. On Wednesday, it warmed up to near 50, so the kids got to come to the park to play for a bit out in the sunshine over lunch.

I took the day off on Friday so I could both watch the Inauguration of President Trump with the kids and also clean up the house in anticipation of the Cheese Party this weekend. This was the first full inauguration I’ve actually watched live, and it was surreal to see Donald Trump and Mike Pence being sworn into office after having seen both of them in person a few months ago. This campaign has been so long and crazy that it feels like it’s been going on forever. My Democrat friends online are already fussing about the 2018 mid-terms, which I’m not ready to think about just yet. I expect by mid-2019, when Iowa starts buzzing with politicians again, I’ll be ready to break out my camera and start rubbing elbows with them once again.

If you missed the inauguration, I highly recommend this highlight reel.

Christmas Fun and Dim Sum

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The holiday fun continues for the Johnson Family as we took our kids down to the Children’s Museum on Friday night. They had their usual run of the place, which included the carousel, bulldozer, the “Fantastic Future Me” machine, and a science show involving liquid nitrogen.

Of course, they also had a surprise visit with Santa! The “snow queen” and a frighteningly excited elf were on hand to introduce St. Nick and spread some Christmas cheer with soap suds with the kids.

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On Saturday, after being warned of a MASSIVE blizzard coming next Wednesday (which never materialized), we got our first actual snowfall of the year. There were just enough flakes to make our house pretty and the roads a bit treacherous. A car in front of us slid off the road and took down a light pole, which we didn’t notice until we ran into it. Fortunately, the car and everyone inside were OK.

On Saturday night, we had a “holiday game night” with Kate and Jessica and a few of our mutual friends. We had chili and potato soup and played a couple hilarious rounds of Telestrations, which included a Party Pooper, a Man Purse, and My Dad (AKA a butler, for some reason).

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Then on Sunday, we had dinner with Phil, Jen, and Jenny at the Golden Mountain in northwest Omaha, a Chinese place specializing in Dim Sum, among other things. Dim Sum, as I learned, was a bit like tapas, and we all shared in a bunch of dishes that Jen took the liberty of ordering for us: pork dumplings, chicken feet, pan-fried turnip cakes, spicy shredded pork ear, pork and rice wrapped in lotus leaves, and some Steamed Egg Custard Buns for dessert. The food was excellent, but the most fun was just having some kid-free time with a few good grown-up friends.

Afterward, Vivian and I had a brief drive through the Linden Park neighborhood for our annual gawking at the rich people’s Christmas lights before heading on home.

One week closer to Christmas!

Rapunzel, a Tea Party, and a Christmas Castle Cake

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Winter is nearly here, which means drinking in all the unseasonably warm weather we can before the gray gloom and snow of winter comes bearing down on us. That meant a lunchtime trip or two to the park, where Hannah shared some of the pumpkin bread she made in a tin can at preschool with us. We also dropped by the park by the Keystone Trail where I’d left my car after a tire spontaneously burst in my office, which I wound up having replaced long enough for one or two more rides to the office.

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November also seems to be a popular month for birthdays. Our friend Deena celebrated down at Romeo’s for some reason, so we dropped by with the kids for a few sanchos together.

Our friend Phil also celebrated his birthday down at his house in Papillion, so we joined him and our cluster of mutual friends to celebrate with pork loin spiced up with some of his homemade ghost pepper sauce. Jen’s parents were also there to be loved and abused by the many youngsters running around. Phil was smoking half a hog’s head on his back porch, but we only stayed long enough for cake and never quite got to see what he wound up doing with it.

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The biggest birthday of all, of course, was for Hannah on Tuesday when she turned five years old. I took the day off and spent the morning distracting the kids with grandma as Vivian prepared our house for a cute little tea party. A handful of Hannah’s little friends came over to have cookies and (apple cider) “tea” in the afternoon. Then they got a special surprise visit from Rapunzel, courtesy of Real Omaha Princesses. She had a song, a story, and a game for the kids to play in-between a handful of photos, of course.

Hannah got to open presents after Rapunzel’s visit, and then she got to blow out candles on her Christmas Castle Cake. Yes, Grammy asked Hannah exactly what kind of cake she wanted for her birthday, and her request was about as a five-year-old could get. The resulting cake was amazing inside and out, but it was especially weird to see Hannah and Aaron eat fondant effigies of themselves.

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The next day, Vivian took the kids down to the Children’s Museum to burn off an extended sugar high, and I joined them during an extended lunch break. We call this place the “indoor park,” as our trips to the “outdoor” park will now be sporadic until around springtime.

Next stop: Thanksgiving, and the start of the Christmas season!


Highlights from Hannah’s fifth birthday

Museum and Friends

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It’s been another relatively quiet weekend with friends and family here in Omaha. On Friday night, Hannah mentioned that we hadn’t been to the “big indoor park” (AKA the Children’s Museum) in quite a while. It was the first Friday of the month, which meant they were open until eight o’clock, so it seemed like an ideal time to drop by. The kids got to sort produce and play with birthday cakes in the food area, ride a zip line and make comic book superheroes upstairs, and also take a ride on a carousel, a slide, and crawl through an obstacle course or two. We also bumped into some old friends paying an evening visit to the museum with us.

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Spring has definitely sprung, with trees all over Omaha turning blooming white all at once. Our daffodils have also bloomed in the front yard, making for the perfect time for a front-yard picnic with Hannah during nap-time on Sunday afternoon (as a hawk loomed overhead).

That evening, we dropped by Dennis and Kara’s house for a barbecue and belated birthday celebration with their boy Matthew who turned four last week. We had a few Scooby-Doo toys for him and got to have some quality grown-up time as the kids played with each other (and the dog) most of the afternoon.

Little Red Wagon

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Vivian and I got to spend a little more quality time with the kids over the weekend after having a long, three-day weekend with just grown-ups. On Friday, Vivian and Grammy took them over to the Children’s Museum to see the new Lego exhibit, so I stopped by as they had a pretzel and rode on the carousel and the train. There was also some kind of Princess event downstairs that involved lots of foam falling from the ceiling.

On Saturday, Hannah and Aaron went to Toni’s house to celebrate her grandson’s seventh birthday. Parties at Toni’s house usually involve a bounce-house, so both our kids got to have a little time hopping around in a giant castle and burn off some energy in the afternoon.

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On Sunday, we had another potluck luncheon at Twin Valley Church and then hosted a baby shower for Kelly, who’s expecting a girl very shortly. This particular baby was very much a surprise, as Kelly had given up on having a second child many years ago (and now will have a ten-year-old boy and a baby girl).

That afternoon, I finished assembling a new red wagon we got to tow around our two kids, and I was able to take them on a nice little walk over to Grandma and Grandpa Johnson’s house, completely  on a whim. It’s so nice to have them so close by!