Category Archives: Cowtown

Jill Stein, Balloons, and Relay Corn-Eating

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It may seem like the 2016 Presidential Election has been going on since the dawn of time, but it’s not quite over yet. On Wednesday last week, Green Party candidate Jill Stein dropped by to speak at Metropolitan Community College, which was the same day a warrant was issued for her arrest for vandalizing a bulldozer at a Dakota pipeline protest with the words “I approve this message.” Her supporters didn’t seem concerned about this, however, and they even gave Dr. Stein a (graffiti-ed) toy bulldozer to commemorate the event.

couple hundred people were in attendance, and nearly all of them (by a show of hands) were former Bernie Sanders supporters still hoping for a “revolution” this year. I also saw some familiar faces, including Powerline blogger Dave Begley (you can read his write-up of the event here). I can’t say I agree with much of what Dr. Stein had to say, but she was very nice and met with everyone after her talk (particularly for pictures). In a way, she reminded me of Dr. Ben Carson, who was similarly recruited into politics as an ideologue despite a lack of experience and knowledge of the political world. Hopefully, I’ll be able to see Gary Johnson before the election is over and cross all four major candidates off my list.


In other news, this weekend was the fourteenth annual Cowtown Jamborama, so Vivian and I had to drop by and participate in the festivities. On Saturday, we brought our kids by for lunch and a little dancing at the Sokol Auditorium, where most of the weekend’s events were being held. Vivian ate Indian food as the kids got to run around a bit, and I discovered that both Aaron and Hannah just loved to dance with mommy and daddy, which warmed my heart.

Afterward, we dropped by Cornflower Creamery for a some ice cream with Uncle Eric. I had a Lindyhoppers’ Delight: sweet corn and black raspberry crisp ice cream with salted caramel sauce and whipped cream.


On Saturday night, we headed down to Ditmar’s Orchard with a handful of our friends (and Grammy) for their annual Fields of Flight. We squeezed in with a good-sized crowd to see a dozen or more balloons take flight and then glow after the sun went down. We actually found a “shortcut” to bypass the massive traffic backed up to the Interstate, coincidentally cutting right in front of Phil and Jen along the way. In addition to seeing the balloons fly and light up (up close this year) we also got to go inside one of them with Hannah and Aaron.

We had some food and samples of wine afterward, and both Hannah and Aaron enjoyed dancing like crazy as the live band played before we finally dragged them home. I have a feeling this is going to be another one of our favorite annual traditions!


On Sunday, we returned to the Eagles’ Lodge to participate in a corn-eating relay race on the final day of Cowtown Jamborama. This was much different from years past, where instead of eating the most ears in a certain amount of time, teams of four had to eat four ears of corn the fastest. Our team — kernel panic — came in third, but it was still fun to participate. The Jitterbugs also had an adorable presentation with the Itsy Bitsy Jitterbugs, some of whom stayed for the dance, of course.

Then afterward, Omaha’s own Prairie Cats took the stage for a farewell dance. I’ve always been partial to the fast-paced neo-swing sound of bands like the Prairie Cats, so I was on my feet and dancing for nearly every song before the dance was over.

Meanwhile back at the house, Grandma Johnson was getting Hannah to clean her room. That was a lovely little way to finish off the weekend!

In my Nothing Box

Autumn always seems to be jam-packed with fun things happening. From Labor Day to Halloween, we’ve got fall fun happening all over the place, and we’re usually busy every single weekend enjoying some of it.


Naturally, Cowtown Jamborama, the annual swing dancing convention held by the Omaha Jitterbugs, is a part of our series of Fun Fall Things To Do. This go around, however, we just stopped by for a brief lunchtime jam with the kids. That was fun in itself, as this was Aaron’s first time visiting the Eagle’s Lodge where Vivian and I first met over seven years ago. Vivian and I passed him around to a few of our fellow swing dancers before we hit the floor. We also got some time dancing with the kids. Hannah’s become a very good follow (for a two-year old), and I even got to step around with Aaron on the dance floor just a bit. Hopefully he’ll soon be big enough to lead a few girls on his own.


On Friday night and Saturday morning, Vivian and I attended the Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage seminar down at the Bellevue Christian Center. It’s a series of four stand-up-comedy style presentations hosted by Pastor Mark Gungor, who I was introduced to over a year ago via a YouTube video about, among other things, men enjoying time in their “nothing box.” Other sessions involved a personality test that Vivian and I took afterward and a few portions on using beads to get more time with the “smiley face.” Yeah, I’m not going to elaborate on that, but it was a fun and informative event. They even had childcare for Hannah and Aaron, so we didn’t need to round up my parents a babysitter to do the job for us.


On Sunday after church, we headed on over to Lake Manawa to spend the afternoon with Venche and a few of our mutual friends celebrating her birthday picnic-style. Aaron got to meet a few more people, and Hannah got all sugared up with cake before having fun running around with her new friend Bella. It never ceases to amaze me how much fun playing with dirt or crawling on the ground can be to a two-year old. Ben also brought his boat and took a bunch of us out on the lake to putter around and do a little tubing toward the end of the afternoon.

That evening, Vivian and I got to have a spur-of-the-moment date night down at the Old Spaghetti Works. My folks watched the kids (and put them to bed) while we had chicken parmesan and went down a couple slides in the Old Market. Gorgeous fall weather has descended upon Omaha again, which can only mean more times walking outside and enjoying it before the snow comes. I think the Farmers’ Market is calling our names.

Apples, corn, and Johnny Boyd


Fall is officially underway once again, and there’s no better way to kick off another season of autumnal fun than taking a trip down to Nebraska City for the Applejack Festival. We crashed at the firehouse for pancakes once again (per tradition), and bumped into Jenny and her family along the way. We skipped down to the library’s used book sale, checked out a few sights, and then drove by Arbor Day Farm for Apple Cider. We finished things off with a nice, long trip to the Kimmel apple orchard in the afternoon, where Hannah got to have her first pony ride. She was a little nervous at first, but she was soon asking for more as soon as the ride was done.

Of course, we couldn’t leave without picking a peck (or two) of apples in the orchard. Hannah got to see some apples up close and personal and found one small enough for her to pick herself. We also stumbled upon some ripe plums and Asian pairs hiding around a corner, far away from where the hay rack ride usually deposits everyone. I’d never had a juicy ripe plum fresh off the tree before, and Hannah instantly found a new favorite fruit.


Meanwhile, the Cowtown Jamborama had been going on since Thursday. Vivian had been able to drop by Thursday night and Friday during the day, but we saved our time, energy, and feet for Sunday night’s festivities. First up was the infamous corn-eating contest in the lower level of the Eagle’s Lodge. Hannah had already been practicing with an ear of corn at church and was more than eager to take on a whole gang of kiddos who’d come to compete for the title of baby corn-eating champion. She did all right for a one-year old but just couldn’t stand up to her ten-year-old competition.

Immediately following the kids’ competition, naturally, came the adults, and much to my surprise, my name had been somehow added to the list of competitors. Seriously, I didn’t sign up, but neither did I back down once someone decided to sign me up. It was eight minutes or nauseating yellow mess, but guess who came out on top for the second time? Yep. Vivian also managed to break her third-place streak by coming in right behind me, followed closely by the ever-corny Ben Cass.


After a few hours of recovery (and time to shuttle Hannah on home for some babysitting courtesy of the in-laws) it was time for the main event: an evening of swinging music with Johnny Boyd and his band. Johnny Boyd was the vocal talent behind the neo-swing band, Indigo Swing, which I had been introduced to by my old friend Legostar many years ago. The new ensemble sang all my old favorites, as well as several new ones, and Johnny’s voice hadn’t changed a bit. I’d done the Lindy Hop to How Lucky Can One Guy Be countless times, but I never thought I’d be doing it right in front of the man himself right here at the Eagle’s Lodge.

There was a solo Jazz competition somewhere in-between sets, and I stuck around for every song of the night, despite having to get up early the next day. I’m glad I did, since Johnny stuck around to meet and greet fans afterward, sign autographs, and get pictures taken with him. He’d performed in Omaha years ago at the Stork Club during the height of the swing revival in the late 90s. Several people in attendance (cough Lisa cough) had remembered those days quite well and hung around to gab about old times. It honestly made me think about how darn fond I am of this swing-dancing crowd that’s still been jumpin’ after all these years, and I’m happier than ever to be a part of it.

Special thanks to Nate Woodhams for helping to bring one of my favorite musicians of all time to Cowtown.

Family traditions

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One of the fun, new experiences Vivian and I have had as parents is taking old traditions we’ve shared and experiencing them again as a family with Hannah. One of these has been Lindy in the Park, the last of which was held last Sunday. The weather was sunny and gorgeous somewhere in the 70s, but the concrete dance floor was sadly lacking in participants (though strangely there were two Matt Johnsons available for dancing). Hannah has gotten to meet a couple new Jitterbug friends while coming with us to Stinson Park on Sunday, and it’s always fun to see her interacting with kids her own age. Special thanks go to to Billy for making this event possible again.

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On Saturday, we introduced Hannah to a couple more of our fun traditions, one of which was the Applejack Festival down in Nebraska City. We didn’t visit any orchards for apple-picking, since Hannah wasn’t quite old enough to participate (and handling a stroller on a bouncy hay rack didn’t sound like a lot of fun), but she was able to have pancakes for the first time down at the fire station, courtesy of the Pancake Man. We took a stroll through town and eventually wound up at Arbor Day Farm for some wine-tasting (which Hannah did not participate in). I have to give a friendly shout-out to the good folks there, because after we managed to break a $19 bottle of apple pie brandy while lugging Hannah and her stroller up a set of stairs, they replaced it for free, which was awesome.

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A third and most eventful tradition we introduced Hannah to was the Cowtown Jamborama. Seriously, she earns the Best Baby in the World Award, because after spending a while simply looking adorable for our swing-dancing friends, she went right to sleep just as the dance got started, and she stayed asleep until we were ready to go home. Best baby evar!

Of course, we had a lot of help from several friends/babysitters throughout the night. Vivian even invited her dad to come, who had never actually seen the dance hall where I’d met his daughter some six and a half years ago. Vivian and I danced with each other and with several other friends, old and new, throughout the night courtesy of music from the Shotgun Jazz Band (with lindy hopper extraordinaire Peter Loggins on trombone).

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On Sunday, Hannah got to celebrate her friend Samantha’s first birthday. Samantha was born a few months before Hannah and has been a kind of “sneak preview” of things to come for Vivian and me. We dropped by Nate and Lexi’s house for a lunch of nachos and then got to watch Samantha gorge on her first chocolate cake (getting it all over and looking a bit like Dom Deluise in the process).

That evening, Hannah got to participate in another important moment of family tradition — the Cowtown Corn-Eating Contest. I had the honor of taking first place back in 2007 and then second in 2008 and 2010, and Vivian had been a regular contender for third. Hannah made us proud, of course, though she was no match for three-year olds “Honey” and Mirabel. She still did quite well, as we knew she would after her practice session earlier in the week.

Vivian and I stuck around to watch the grown-ups participate in the corny fun afterward, marking the first time either of us had witnessed the spectacle from the other side of the table. Billy joined his daughter in the winner’s circle, followed by Ben Cass and Andy Meredith for second and third. The most bizarre competitors in the event, however, were the “corn of the dead” girls, who didn’t eat much corn, but did gross everyone out by bleeding on a few ears.

So what’s next on the agenda? Hannah takes a trip to Northern California to meet her great-grandma and other members of her extended family. More on that later.

Autumn kicks off

And with the blink of an eye, fall is here! We went from 91 degrees on Monday to 55 degrees on Wednesday with nary a segue in-between. I don’t care though — I love the season of changing leaves, and Vivian and I have been busy finding ways to enjoy it together.

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Last weekend, we attended Mitch and Amanda’s wedding. Amanda is one of Vivian’s co-workers and Mitch owns a comic book store out in Gretna. I’d met them all of twice and wasn’t sure how much fun I’d have at a wedding of two people I barely knew, but it was a great evening. The ceremony was short and the reception was long and fun, with beer and wine flowing and plenty of crazy dancing mixing things up throughout the night. I’ve been to plenty of long, dreary, dull weddings in my life, but this was one was ideal. I only hope everyone who came to our own wedding 38 months ago had just as good a time.

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This weekend was Applejack Weekend down in Nebraska City, so naturally Vivian and I had to go down to get our fill of apple turnovers, apple pie, and apple-picking at the orchards there. We dropped in at the firehouse’s pancake breakfast to stuff ourselves with flapjacks courtesy of the Pancake Man, and then walked down to the library book sale to grab a couple used, discount books. We skipped the parade of course, learning from experience that sitting through a couple hours of marching bands and shriners driving in circles wasn’t as much fun as exploring the rest of the town.

We dropped by Arbor Day Farm next to get a bottle cherry wine, among other things. We had the most fun at Kimmel orchard, where Vivian and I got to wander among the apple trees and stuff as many apples as we could into our ten-pound bag. We grabbed a couple stray grapes from the vineyard as well, which were absolutely succulent. I’d never eaten grapes right off the vine before, and it was like eating candy.

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Back in Bellevue, we dropped by the remains of our church picnic in Everett Park. They’d held a makeshift tailgate party outdoors completely with TVs to watch the game when it came on. I mostly ignored Nebraska crushing the Washington Huskies, who were downright pathetic (one guy literally dropping the ball at the one-yard line, giving the Cornhuskers an easy touchdown). I mostly enjoyed the chili, salsa, hot dogs, and fellowship with other members of our church (fellowship being Christian-speak for “pigging out.”)

Of course, this was also Cowtown weekend for the Omaha Jitterbugs, but the four long days of swing dancing events was more like background noise for Vivian and me. We showed up at the dances long enough to dance once or twice with each other and then pick up cups before heading home.

Corny Cowtown Weekend


The Omaha Jitterbugs held their eighth annual Cowtown Jamborama swing dancing event over the last weekend, no naturally, Vivian and I took part in the festivities. We and other members of the JIVE volunteers group moved tables and got things set up before a swinging opening night in the Elmwood Park pavilion. Playing for us were Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys, a rockabilly band Los Angeles that seemed to have a mix of country music in their repertoire. Every Cowtown feels a bit like a family reunion, with old friends who’ve moved away coming back to dance with us, as well as the usual cast of “out-of-towners” who only make it to Omaha for this one event every year.

The one other highlight of the night was dining at “Five Guys” for the first time down on 72nd and Dodge. They recently opened three locations in Omaha, and I had heard about them recently as having been voted one the best burger chains in America. I found them quite similar to Inn-in-Out, with a deliberately limited menu selection and a focus on fresh products — specifically french fries cut on the spot from actual potatoes before getting fried in peanut oil. The other highlight was the extensive list of burger toppings, which included items like fried onions, mushrooms, and jalapeños. Needless to say, we will definitely be back, but if you’d like to drop by, be prepared to wait — every dish is made to order.


On Friday night, we celebrated our friend Venche’s birthday in style down at Brix, the new “wine lounge” in West Omaha at the Village Pointe mall. It was an interesting place, with a variety of unique “small dish” appetizers and dozens of wines to sample from self-serve kiosks. I enjoyed a bubbly, sweet Australian white called Friend of Dreams and enjoyed goofing around with a bunch of our friends (one of whom decided to “borrow” someone’s camera and snap some amusing pictures).

We gathered at Venche’s house afterward to stuff ourselves further with Vivian’s delicious chocolate cheesecake while playing a couple lively rounds of The Game of Things.


Vivian and I arrived late to the Friday night dance, and I’m awfully sorry we did. We had only twenty minutes to enjoy the amazing Little Harper Big Band, who played a set of fast-paced swing music that reminded me why I first fell in love with swing music back in the late 1990s. I also enjoyed dancing with several of the far more experienced “out-of-towners” and was quite amazed at how everything seemed to “click” into place during every eight-count swing-out. It was pure joy.

The party continued downstairs during after hours, where other hungry Lindy Hoppers got to chow down on everybody’s favorite menu option: breakfast after midnight.


On Saturday, Vivian and I traveled down to Nebraska City to enjoy an afternoon at the Applejack festival. We’d attended twice before with friends, but this time we traveled by ourselves and took in a few sites we’d missed before. We ventured inside the Arbor Day Lodge for the first time, a 100+ year old manor which was home to Secretary of Agriculture and founder of Arbor Day J.S. Morton and his son Joy Morton, founder of the Morton Salt Company. Among other memorabilia, it had fascinating old blocks of lead type from the 19th century in the attic, and a hundred-year-old wooden bowling alley in the basement.

After the tour, we dropped by the Arbor Day Farm across the street for a wine-tasting, sampling apple wine and cherry wine and then grabbing some pumpkin butter and apple butter to take home with us. We ate lunch downtown at the Dinty Moore’s, a quaint lunch counter that appears to be unchanged since 1930. We both had a couple shredded beef sandwiches that gave us enough energy to visit the library’s book sale and go shopping for some apple pie before heading home.


Vivian and I returned to the Eagle’s Lodge Saturday Night for some brief dancing, which included a jam circle to showcase the talents of some of our instructors. Peter & Mia, Kim & David, Karen & Andy, and Dan & Gabi all joined in. Then we dropped by the 906 Lounge in north downtown for the after-hours dancing. We had to circle the block three times to make sure we’d found the right location. The 906 Lounge in actually a bizarre kind of art gallery disguised as an auto junkyard, completely with barbed wire on top of the chain link fence surrounding the entrance. Inside, we had the usual jitterbug fare of sleepy-eyed dancing and breakfast after midnight (with egg casserole supplied by Vivian). Some of the ladies also enjoyed posing with a bust of Grover Cleveland, which was hilarious.

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On Sunday night came the main event: the corn-eating contest! I’d kept myself deliberately famished most of the day in order to build up the appetite necessary to devour 16 eats of corn. The contest started at seven o’clock JST (Jitterbug Standard Time), which turned out to be around 8:30. We got to see the “baby” corn-eating contest first, with the adorable children of Jitterbug veterans taking their few teeth to a couple ears of their own.

As for the grown-up corn-eating contest, Vivian got third place (again), and I took a close second behind this guy (who managed to down 17 ears of corn). Eric somehow beat me to finishing the first ear of corn, which he was more than happy to announce to everyone after the contest, so I’ll have to be faster on the mark next year. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the first corn-eating contest where we actually ran out of corn. I found myself with a minute to spare at the end with nothing more to eat and had to settle for cleaning the ears I’d already racked up. Nobody had to be taken to hospital to have a stomach pumped, so I guess you could say we were all winners.

Thus ends another crazy, busy weekend around the Cowtown Jamborama. Maybe next year Vivian and I will take a class or two, but until then it’ll be nice to settle back into the more or less “normal” routine of saving dancing until midnight and breakfast afterward to just one day a week.


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The search is on! As many of you know, Vivian and I are in the process of finding a home right now in a desperate last-minute attempt to take advantage of low home prices, low interest rates, and $8000 in free money courtesy of you and me, the taxpayers. We’ve found a number of nice-looking homes, but we’re still riding the see-saw of “can we still afford it when we have kids” and “hey, a wet bar in the family room!” It’s quite a fun ride, though, and you all will be the first to hear once we manage to snag our humble, new abode.

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Our hunt for a house didn’t manage to distract us too much from the Omaha Jitterbugs’ annual Cowtown Jamborama. We didn’t have the time or funds to attend any of the workshops over the weekend, but we did manage to attend all four of the evening dances on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It was great seeing so many old friends from out of town and dancing with such a wonderful blend of people. We had some terrific live music as well, specially from the Little Harper Big Band, an amazing local swing ensemble that I hadn’t even heard of before. Alas, Vivian and I didn’t participate in the corn-eating contest either, but from what we heard, we could have mopped the floor with the guys who won. Maybe next year. (Seriously, ten ears in eight minutes is hardly even a SNACK!)

Cocoanuts, Applejacks, and Corn on the Cob

Vivian and I have been keeping busy here in Omaha, so busy in fact that we’ve had to designate a few “quiet time” nights this week just to give us a chance to recover from all the fun we’ve been having.

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Wednesday night was our “date night” last week, and we got to have dinner at the Hollywood Diner and go to see The Cocoanuts at the Omaha Community Playhouse. As a life-long Marx Brothers fan, I’ve been looking forward to seeing this play for months, and it was worth it. The cast did a great job filling in the big shoes of comics legends that graced the screen some 80 years ago. I actually think I enjoyed the play more than the film itself. The jokes were mostly the same, but they cut out a lot of the more annoying musical numbers (i.e. Monkey Doodle Doo) and had some much more creative routines instead, such as an “underwater” dream sequence with Harpo and Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies performed on the wings of an airplane.

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On Saturday, we drove down to Nebraska City for their Applejack Festival. We went to the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast fundraiser at the firehouse, then took a walk around town before going up to the Pumpkin Patch. We took home a number of tasty things they had for sale, such as apple butter, peach butter, and a frozen peach pie. We were also lucky enough to bump into a guy from the State Treasury who was helping people find unclaimed money at his booth. It seems Vivian’s had a check from another job floating around in financial limbo for the last five years or so.

We went to see the parade afterwards, the Shriners driving tiny cars in circles to help sick children and junior high marching bands playing Stars and Stripes Forever loudly and off-key didn’t impress us quite as much this year as it did last year. We had much more fun running around the Arbor Day farm, checking out some dead tree stumps, playing jump rope with a long, limp branch, and dodging piles of horse manure along the winding paths in the park.

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The Jitterbugs were having their Cowtown Jamborama this weekend, but Vivian and I didn’t sign up for a slew of classes like we did last year. We did, however, compete in the corn-eating contest once again. We only got second and third place this time around, but we did get to enjoy dancing the kernels off afterwards to the sound of the Prairie Cats. Vivian especially likes dancing with the “out of towners,” and it’s always fun to see a few of our instructors show off for the rest of us on the floor. We also got to see Jeff Koterba wearing a pink cowboy hat. That alone was well worth the price of admission.

Cowtown Jamborama

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Last weekend, the Omaha Jitterbugs held their fifth annual swing dance weekend of social dancing, contests, and workshops called Cowtown Jamborama. It was my first time attending this event, and I was sure to get my full weekend pass early and took Friday off so I could take advantage of the three days of classes and dancing the event offered. The cow was looking just a little taller than usual on Friday afternoon as he did some tandem charleston with Merinda, and Eric participated in the Jack and Jill competition along with a number of other local favorites.

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The weekend of classes were pretty intense as well, and I was able to attend nearly every class I wanted throughout the weekend. I was able to take classes in Charleston, a sweet over-the-shoulder arial, Tandem Charleston, a few dips, Balboa, 50s Style Swing, Bop, some of Frankie Manning’s Lindy Hop moves, and a number of others. My feet were killing me at the end, of course, but it was all worth it. I and a number of other Jitterbugs were taking notes in-between classes to try and remember some of what we’d learned over the weekend, and I was also able to capture some video of the lessons for future reference. They apparently won’t be offering an instructional DVD this year, but I will be putting all my video up on YouTube if any of you would like to see what we went over.

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Every night we had a social dance that often went late into the “after hours” portion back at the hotel. We danced to some crazy tunes around 4 AM, and it was a thrill to do Tandem Charleston with Merinda during the chorus of Superfreak. They even played Love Shack, a favorite song of mine that I had to dance with Vivian, of course.

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On Sunday night came the annual Corn-Eating contest, where contestants can try to win the honor and respect of their swing-dancing peers by devouring as many golden ears as they can in eight minutes without throwing up. The ears had to be 90% clean to count, and you can have ears taken off if you let the kernels fall to the floor rather than eating them. This was Vivian’s third year participating and it was my first, so I was a little nervous about the prospect of entering such a contest.

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And guess who won? I was somehow able to take first place by devouring 22 ears of corn, and Viv took third! I owe my success it all to my capacious stomach and Vivian’s coaching before the contest. We both walked away with adorable plush cows as our trophies. It was quite flattering (and somewhat embarrassing) to receive congratulations on all sides for winning this thing. Our friend Micah knew I could do it all along, and even bet a guy from Minnesota a quarter that I could take first place.

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Afterwards, it was time for the birthday jam! Several of us had birthdays this week, including Ben, so we all jumped onto the floor and got to dance with a number of lovely ladies.

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Afterwards, we had some quick lessons in fun, goofy dances from the 1960s, and then we had a twist contest for anybody who wanted to cut a rug on the floor. Afterwards, Eric got to do a little Balboa with my big plush cow. I think I’m going to need to wash that thing when I get home.