Category Archives: Ditmars Orchard

A Birthday, Balloons, and a Pair of Trumps

It’s been another fun and busy week, with some outdoor fun and a taste of cool fall weather — all sandwiched between visits from two members of the Trump family.


First up was Lara Trump, wife of Eric and daughter-in-law of the POTUS. She paid a visit to the Omaha campaign office for the Trump campaign, where about 150 people packed the tiny room off 125th and Center in the Westwood Plaza. She was introduced by former Bellevue mayor and legislature candidate Rita Sanders as well as Gov. Ricketts.

Mask usage was also in full force, with pretty much everyone who wasn’t holding a microphone properly covered with a face-diaper. When Lara arrived, she gave a half-hour stump speech for her father-in-law before getting a group photo with those of us in the room. There wasn’t any meet-and-greet time afterward, but one portly guy in a straw boater seemed to be able to nab a selfie with Mrs. Trump on her way out.


Vivian was on a women’s retreat most of the weekend, so I got to have some quality daddy time with the kids myself. Our first stop on Saturday was to celebrate our friend Lily’s 10th birthday down in Washington Park in Bellevue. It’s been cold, cloudy, and raining for the past several days, so things were especially lovely on Saturday once the sun came out. Lexi joined us with her kids and they all had fun getting sugared up and running around a while, playing on the playground, see-saw, slide, and the bench swing while the grown-ups chatted (about washing machines and routers, mostly).


After the party, I headed down to Ditmars Orchard in Iowa for their annual Fields of Flight. It was supposedly a socially-distanced event, though you couldn’t tell by the size (and density) of the crowd. The kids still had a great time, playing with dozens of others on an ever-growing playground area (this year featuring a colorful maze). I pulled them over to the field when I saw the balloons blowing up and starting to fly away so they could get a good look. Then a little later, I got some apple cider donuts to coax them back when it was time for the balloons to return and glow.

Uncle Nathan came by to join us for some of the festivities as the fun went down, and the cover band Clean and Easy played a variety of songs for everyone to dance to. Aaron in particular seems to enjoy live music and took to the grass in front of the stage to show us his moves for a bit before we had one last swing or two and headed home.


Then on Monday afternoon, Donald Trump Jr. held a rally for his dad across the river in Treynor, Iowa. It was a relatively small venue (particularly with the socially-distanced chairs)  that filled up quickly when I arrived. The room was filled with MAGA faithful both young and old, including Apprentice alumna Tana Goetz and a WW2 veteran who sat (and stood) up front. Local candidates Jon Jacobsen (state legislature) and David Young (House) made a few remarks before the son-of-a-POTUS dropped in around 2:30. Don Jr. gave a lively speech hitting on everything from the Netflix “Cuties” film to Russian collusion to the current civil unrest. “You’ll get into more trouble opening business to feed your family than you will by burning down someone else’s,” he said. He also had several jokes at Biden’s expense, doing a impression of the Democrat candidate at a teleprompter while hitting him on his fairly meager half-century record of public policy. “You can’t campaign on problems if you solve them.”

Don Jr. spent a few minutes after his speech working the rope line, signing autographs, and getting a few photos on his way out the door. Among them was by buddy Mason, whose dad brought previously-taken photos with Don Jr. for him to autograph. Others brought copies of Don Jr’s book, “Triggered” for him to sign, making me wish I’d picked up a copy myself. (I did get a quick fist-bump as he passed by.)

Fields of flight at Ditmars Orchard, 2020


It’s been a remarkably quiet week, with some lovely early spring weather that we’ve been enjoying as we hunker down and try not to get an unexpected case of COVID-19 (which seems to be tiptoeing its way into Nebraska). We were able to give our friends Nate and Lexi a night out for their anniversary by letting their kids play at our house for a couple hours Friday night, which I think was fun for everybody.


Then on Saturday morning, I headed off to Ditmar’s Orchard with the family to learn how to prune a fruit tree. A guy with the Nebraska Extension office was there to show us the subtle art of clipping off tree branches, specifically picking off the ones that were likely to run against each other or cause potential problems, leaving us with enough “holes” to “throw a farm cat through.” In the meantime, the kids got the play area of Ditmars’ all to themselves for an hour or two before we headed home.

The rest of the weekend’s been fairly uneventful. I was able to clean the garage during the nice weather and then seemed to come down with a cold just as we lost an hour of sleep on Sunday. The kids got an extra hour of daylight, which they spent at the park, in the backyard, and chalking up a maze on our driveway. Good times.

Balloons, bounce-houses, and talking trash

We had a delightfully short week, thanks to Labor Day, and now we’re speeding headlong into a busy fall season and another school year.


On Wednesday, I attended a luncheon with Mayor Jean Stothert and the Business and Professional People for Life at the Garden Cafe. I’d attended this lunch many, many times before, but this was the first time I’d brought my dad along, who seemed to get a kick out of talking theology with the Catholics at our table.

Strangely enough, Mayor Stothert kept very much to a budgetary stump speech, talking mostly about the new trash contract with the city and other fiscal issues. She didn’t talk about pro-life issues until one person specifically asked her to during the Q&A, during which she briefly mentioned she’d been pro-life since her days as a nurse and it was one reason she didn’t attend the “Women’s March” that happened a few years ago.


Then on Friday, we took the kids out to Ditmar’s Orchard for a lovely evening of balloon watching and quality outdoor time in the country. There were a few new additions to the playground, including a rolling slide made of PVC pipe and a teeter-totter airplane (in addition to the swings and monkey bars). There were a few other photo-worthy attractions, such as a set of stocks that we made use of, and a “Dr. Oxygen” was on hand to make bubbles for the kids to fight over trying to pop on our way back to our seats.

The balloons started sailing in around 7:30, sailing over the hills to the west before getting carted back to the orchard to re-inflate and glow for everyone. Our friend Lisa sat and had some snacks with us, such as some apple cider donuts I grabbed in advance. Then the balloons took turns glowing in sequence before the guests were allowed to come up close and take a look at them. This all seemed fairly routine for Hannah, who mostly wanted to get back to the playground, so we let her and Aaron have some more fun after dark as the band Clean and Easy played songs for us until around 9:30 or so.


Hannah and mommy went to a birthday party for her friend Lily on Saturday as I stayed home with Aaron and set up my new Raspberry Pi to play BurgerTime for his amusement. Then around dinnertime we went down to Wildewood Christian Church for their Saturday Spectacular. This consisted of BBQ sandwiches and hot dogs for dinner, along with a few indoor games, and an inflatable bounce-house and obstacle course outside, which kept the kids busy most of the evening.

Then around seven, local comedian Jarrell Roach came to do a stand-up set, much of which included audience participation. He had us doing rock, paper, scissors and singing the ABCs, and he somehow made it funny. He also brought up one “lucky” audience member to demonstrate the difference between men and women toward the end of the show. It was the first time Hannah or Aaron had seen a stand-up comic, and they surprisingly seemed to enjoy every bit of it.

We’ve got more activities in store this week, much of which will be political. In the meantime, we’ll be busy recovering and hopefully be ready for more fun soon.

Fields of Flight 2019

Mud, Paint, and balloons

It seems fall has fallen, which means more time for fun outdoors. One thing Hannah wanted to do this weekend


It seems fall has fallen, which calls for more fun outdoors. One thing Hannah decided to enjoy this weekend was a “mud day,” where we wet a patch of dirt in the backyard for her to slip around in one sunny Saturday. This was apparently something that required the whole family to be involved, so mommy and I obliged to get our feet dirty for a bit before hosing off.

Then that evening, we headed down to Ditmars Orchard for a Balloon Glow. The weather was a perfect 72 degrees, so the kids got to run around a bit before the balloons sailed in to land. Then when the sun went down, they all lit up with flames for our amusement as we walked around among them. The band Clean and Easy played a variety of cover songs as well, and Aaron was excited enough by them to spend sometime sanding in front of the stage with a few other little ones.


In other news, I’ve been having fun with a few do-it-yourself projects. The first is playing with a Raspberry Pi, which is a tiny, cheap computer that people buy to do all sorts of things, from running classic video games to running Lego robots (and other useful things, too). I got mine mostly for games, but I found it was remarkably easy to install a default operating system with LibreOffice software, giving our kids the chance to try out a word processor for the first time, with a $5 mouse and keyboard from Goodwill.

One other project is giving our house a fresh coat of paint. It’s been a couple years since we’d had it painted, and there are a few spots flaking off, so I finally got out the scraper, matched some paint, and started touching things up. The results weren’t bad, but a wasp nest did give me a bit of trouble when I found it wasn’t as vacant as I’d first expected. Ouch.

In other news, Hannah’s plush kitties got married.

Balloons, Arby’s, and a Firepit

Hello, autumn! Aaron is now in preschool, and Hannah is starting her first year of homeschool Kindergarten. Even so, we still have time for a trip to the park every now and again, and that also means Dim Sum for lunch.


On Friday night, we headed down to Ditmar’s Orchard for new autumnal tradition — watching balloons at their Fields of Flight event. Hannah and Aaron got to play on the playground for a bit before the handful of balloons inflated and took off. Local band “Clean and Easy” played some songs as the sun went down, and we had some apples, donuts, and cider for dinner as the balloons came back to glow. They opened the barricade and let everyone some and get a close-up look at the balloons as they fired away, which was especially fun. Jon Paper watched with us, as did Aunt Jessica and Kate’s three girls, who kept Hannah and Aaron company.


Vivian had a retreat with some of her female friends over the weekend, which gave me plenty of quality daddy time with Hannah and Aaron. We spent Saturday Morning crashing at the local Arby’s, which had some kind of grand re-opening where the first 50 customers got free Arby’s for a year. That’s right — 52 meal coupons for everyone who dropped by to get a combo meal, and I was one of them. There were surprisingly few people there to take Arby’s up on the offer when I arrived around 8:30. I called my dad to let him know, and his reaction was, “I don’t know…Arby’s?” Pastor Ryan spread the word and brought a card table to play games with others as we waited for the doors to open. Chloe also tried teaching Hannah to play SkipBo, but she wasn’t that interested. The doors opened before long, and we all got our coupon books along with Roast Beef sandwiches for everybody. Not sure if anyone has survived eating Arby’s for a year. I guess we’re about to find out!

That evening, I went to mow my parents’ lawn, and then dad broke out the fire pit for us to make some s’mores once the sun went down. Uncle Nathan even dropped by to roast some marshmallows with us before we headed home. The next morning, the kids and I attended Thanksgiving Lutheran Church with my parents. This included donuts afterward, which the kids seemed to appreciate. It was also grandparents day, so it felt appropriate to celebrate a bit with Grandma and Grandpa Johnson to finish off the weekend.

Jill Stein, Balloons, and Relay Corn-Eating

Jill Stein with toy bulldozerIMG_2360

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!

Summer’s Last Hurrah

Is September here already? The summer is winding down fast, but that means plenty of cool fall days ahead, with each weekend jam-packed with autumnal fun for the family.


On Labor Day, we took the kids over to Vivian’s parents’ house for a lovely dinner out on the patio. It was the first time Aaron has come along to one of our porch-side dinners over there, so he got to chill as Jack grilled flatiron steaks and potatoes for us and Hannah got reacquainted with her chalkboard.

Then on Wednesday, I got to celebrate one last bit of my birthday with my folks at — Johnny’s Cafe. For the past decade, they’ve had to celebrate my birthday remotely from North Carolina, so it was wonderful to be able to actually have dinner with them at my favorite restaurant in Omaha (with rib-eye steaks, of course).


On Saturday, Vivian and I had a kind of mid-birthday fling at Fun Plex in Omaha. They had a two-for-one Groupon to mark the end of the season, and since Vivian hadn’t had the chance to go swimming since having Aaron back in June, we figured it was as good an excuse as any to go get wet for an afternoon. We spent time in the wave pool, the lazy river, bumper boats, and of course the water slides, which were much more violent than I remember. Jack and Donna were nice enough to watch the kids for us, but I immediately regretted not bringing Hannah, who’s old enough now the enjoy the half of the park designated for the little ones. Maybe next year.


That evening, to say thanks to watching Hannah during the afternoon, we took Donna out to a Balloon Glow at Ditmars Orchard. It was a much more popular event than I expected, with multiple fields full of cars and the lawn crammed with people (and their cameras) checking out the lineup of fully-inflated hot air balloons parks and firing off for our amusement. We rode a hayrack over from the parking lot field and were fortunate enough to find a spot at a picnic table (since we’d forgotten to bring our lawn chairs). Hannah stared in awe at the balloons, and Vivian got us some apple cider donuts as the sun went down. There was live music from the Travelin Light band, and I got to dance a bit with both Vivian and Hannah on the grass. Our little girl was a very good follow (for a two-year old).


On Sunday, Hannah got to spend the afternoon at the Kuehmichel house celebrating Ellie’s third birthday. She had fun running around with all the other little girls (and a few boys), particularly seeing how many of them could fit on a rocker sitting in the yard.

Then on Monday, Mom and Hannah came back to the park for a lunchtime with daddy (which of course included cupcakes). Hannah got to take a shot at the Big Girl Swing and then got a quick run through the fountains. The weather’s turned decided not-too-hot-or-cold, which means getting a little wet outside is still a possibility.

In other news, Aaron loves his ExerSaucer.

Birthdays and Baseball


On Saturday, the whole Johnson Family dropped by Ditmars Orchard in Council Bluffs to help a half-centurion celebrate his birthday. That’s right, Eric celebrated the big five-oh with several clusters of our mutual friends in typical “Onion Boy” style — that means launching rockets, attempts at “skip it,” playing on the playground, and getting roasted by one or more Bens. Of course, there was also some ultimate Frisbee of some kind and a hose to soak people in the sweltering 90-degree oven outdoors. Hannah seemed quite content to swing, and climb, and play house in the little playground, and I even showed her how to use a squirt gun. Aaron got passed around in the meantime and did a good deal of sleeping. Hannah also found a new friend to play with before the end of the night (borrowed from a conspicuously unlocked car, of course).


The weather seemed to loosen up immediately afterward, which made for a lovely Monday in the park with the whole family. It was still warm enough for Hannah and daddy to take a quick run through the fountains and make footprints before going back to work.

Of course, no summer would be complete without a trip to the ballpark. I got some tickets from the Ad Club and got to sit behind first base with Vivian on Wiener Wednesday. That meant loading up on one-penny hot dogs and watching the Omaha Stormchasers rake the field with the Memphis Redbirds 5-0. The highlight for the evening was the splintered half of a broken bat flying into the audience, caught a lucky person a few rows back was able to grab without getting an eye gouged out.

In other news, Jayme, Vivian’s old youth group friend from Petaluma, dropped by to visit the family on Thursday. Vivian hadn’t seen her in about 13 years, so they had some time to catch up at Lo Sole Mio for dinner. Then they returned home to eat cheesecake with us and get plenty of selfies before saying goodnight.