Category Archives: Mom and Dad

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).

Labor Day and the Gooch

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I had a bit more birthday fun in store on Friday last week as we kicked off the Labor Day Weekend. I usually drop by the Eagle’s Lodge for a birthday jam around my birthday, but this Friday the Gooch Big Band was performing down at Rockbrook Village, so I decided to drop by to enjoy some good swing music instead! Some of our regular Jitterbug friends were there, namely Dan, Sara Pirtle, and Connie. We danced in front of the stage as the Gooch lead the band through several of my favorite classic swing tunes, including a few originals. The show only lasted for about an hour, but I danced nearly every song, so it was worth every second.

Then afterward, we dropped by Fazoli’s with Dan to reminisce about old times over plates of spaghetti and lasagna. I always love hearing Dan’s old stories, including the time he scared off Debbie Reynolds by asking her to dance. (Yes, that Debbie Reynolds.)

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We had a lovely, quiet Labor Day Weekend for the most part. Hannah got to attend a fairy birthday party with her old friend Lily down the street. Then when she returned to our house, she decided to make a leafy house for a stray dragonfly we found underneath a tree in our yard.

I got to have a little quality time with Aaron in the meantime, and I wound up making waffles multiple times for the kids using the tiny waffle iron I got for my birthday. I also introduced Hannah to Earthbound Zero, which might wind up helping her with her reading as she navigates the controls.

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Then on Monday, we had a nice relaxing Labor Day. My dad smoked some angus burgers and brats from the Stoysich House of Sausage at his house, and we came over with some cowboy caviar and chips to have for lunch. Jack and Donna also came, as did Uncles Nathan and Jonathan.

After lunch, dad showed a bunch of embarrassing slides from our childhood, and then Uncle Jonny introduced Hannah and Aaron to Photo Dojo, a Gameboy fighting game where they get dropped into the action via the built-in digital camera. Uncle Jonny showed this to Vivian and me back to 2010, but it was even more fun watching our kids get into action so many years later.

Happy Labor Day, everybody. I hope you didn’t work too hard.

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.

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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.

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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.

Jean, Scott, and Rick

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On Monday, in a dramatic counter-play to the Bernie Sanders / Heath Mello rally on Thursday, Gov. Pete Ricketts brought Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to a rally for Jean Stothert on Monday. It was as different an event as you could imagine. The crowd was noticeably smaller, but the event started on time, the speakers stayed on message, and they had time to meet-and-greet the three VIPs afterward. The crowd seemed remarkably happier than the disgruntled hipsters I’d stood in line with on Thursday (and no buttons with four-letter words were to be seen). There was a large number of (union) protesters lining the street outside, but their signs weren’t nearly as fun as the protesters at the Bernie rally.

I saw a few familiar faces in the crowd, such as PowerLine blogger Dave Begley, State Board of Education member Pat McPherson, and former Mayoral candidate Taylor Royal (who has endorsed Stothert). An eight-year-old boy named Mason came adorned with campaign pins on his blazer, and I got to see Scott Walker personally add his flag pin to the collection. Most noteworthy of all, however, was that Vivian was able to join me at this event. She and I have both been fans of Scott Walker since before 2015, and it gave me a bit of a thrill by proxy for her to meet him for the first time (as I did a year and a half ago).

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In other, non-political news, we had a lovely cookout with my folks on Saturday, and my dad used his new smoker to make some tasty pork ribs for all of us. I also took in a episode of the MST3K reboot on Netflix, which seemed to be a worthy successor to the original.

On Sunday, took the kids to the Sandy Park to get some quality outdoor time. I discovered a baby doll that I’d seen left on the gazebo roof way back in March was still there (and apparently undamaged from two months’ exposure to the elements), so I retrieved it to get some happy care from Hannah later in the afternoon.

Also: tulips, tulips, tulips, and lilac — enjoy them while they last!

Trains, Pets, and College Football

So now it’s January, and feeling a little more like January, so that means spending quality time with the kids indoors until it warms up enough to be called Spring.

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On Saturday morning, I made some Crockpot Breakfast Casserole and took the kids to my parents’ house for breakfast with them and Uncle Jonny. I mostly wanted to give Vivian was quiet time as the kids played with toy trains and read stories with grandma for a couple hours in the morning. We also got to try a vintage soda called Moxie, which contained gentian that gave it a flavor not unlike aromatic bitters.

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Then in the afternoon, we took the kids to the Mid-America Center for a model train show. Aaron in particular loves model trains, and we got to see several of them ranging from tiny, tiny model trains to ones big enough for your backyard. The most fun part of the visit, however, were the little pump-action train carts that Hannah and Aaron got to noisily ride around in a circle. I’m not entirely sure it was all worth the price of admission, but they both seemed to have fun.

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On Sunday night, we took the kids to Movie Night at First Presbyterian Church. We had hot dogs together and then watched The Secret Life of Pets, which was an unexpectedly cute and funny movie. They had a few crafts afterward involving making paper plate characters and Puppy Chow before we packed it in and headed home.

Then no Monday, dad and I had a guys’ night out at Pastor Ryan’s house as we watched the BCS Championship Game. I’m not normally a fan of football, but I’m always up for watching Alabama play in the Championship title game. The game itself was quite a nail biter and exciting to watch even though Alabama lost. It was more dramatic than any football-related activity around here anyway, if you don’t count who Riley is firing before next season.

Kid-Friendly Weekend

It’s been a quiet middle of August so far as the dog says of summer wind down into fall. Our garden has been blooming just enough to give us fresh tomatoes and basil for bruschetta. Grammy and Pop-Pop have been on a road trip to California and back, which means we’ve been bird-sitting Diggy and leaning even more on my own parents than usual for babysitting-related issues (and appreciating them more than ever!)

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On the fifteenth, Mrs. B retired after twenty years with the Bellevue Public Library, so Vivian and I took the kids down to say goodbye. I first discovered Mrs. B’s weekday morning story time way back in 2013, when I brought one-year-old Hannah by during the week for a visit.

I got to spend a little more quality time with the kids down at Stinson Park as Mommy had an appointment at the Institute. Both the kids and daddy got to run through the fountains a bit over the noon hour, which was particularly fun. I’d also been making use of the rain-free weather to ride by bike to work, which worked out nicely as long as the tires don’t go flat (which one did at least once).

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On Saturday the 20th, Vivian went on a camping retreat with her girls from WAG, which gave me a whole weekend alone with the kids. They got to have a little quality time both with daddy and grandma and grandpa Johnson, as I took them to the park to play and then spent the afternoon mowing the lawn and having dinner with the folks. My parents found a surprise squash in their garden, which we had for dinner with penne pasta.

Then on Sunday morning, we all got to go to Chandler Acres Baptist Church with my parents. Our own church no longer has Children’s Church available, so without that or Vivian or her parents to help corral both our kids during the service (which I’m usually handling the video), I chose to find another option for Sunday morning. Chandler Acres had some Sunday School for the kids, and I got to say hello to several of the people my parents meet with every Sunday. We went by Burger King afterward to get some lunch together before heading home. Vivian came home later that afternoon with stories of shooting bows and arrows at Platte River State Park. I suppose if she still updates her blog, we would get to hear more about that (but she won’t, so we won’t).

Prairie Cats and Kool & The Gang

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Summer’s almost here, so last week when the kids decided to climb into Aaron’s water table to use it as a swimming pool, I broke down and hauled up their pink wading pool for some quality splash time on the deck. With temperatures in the mid-to-upper-80s, even I found myself climbing in with them to get cooled off a bit. The fountains are also on again down at Stinson Park, which naturally makes for a nice way to go down and cool off with the kids during a lunch break at work (between swing times). Just remember to bring a towel!

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On Friday night, Vivian and I had a special evening at Jitterbugs Night Out, which featured the return of the Prairie Cats, who last performed at the Ozone four-and-a-half years ago. The band is apparently back together and will be performing regularly again, which is great new for swing dancers all across the metro area. We had a large number of attendees, including Jessica, who got to have a birthday jam and a tattoo courtesy of Dan Wondra. Lisa was also on hand with her pink cowboy hat, which Jeff Koterba got to wear once again.

The most conspicuous of the guests, however, was KPTM’s Tom Becka, who’s a friend of Jeff and wanted to hear him perform again. It’s the first time I’d bumped into him since the Iowa Primary ended, so I told him I’d try getting him a new Facebook profile picture. (I did get one for myself with both Tom and Big Daddy K.)

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On Saturday, we dropped by Jessica’s parents’ house for a barbecue birthday lunch with her and a bunch of our friends. It was going to be held at Elmwood Park, but it got moved in anticipation of a storm that never materialized. Jessica showed us her parents’ gigantic garden as her dad grilled burgers and hot dogs, and then she even shared with us a bottle of 16-year Aberdour that Mark was nice enough to give her. Jessica’s roommate Kate was celebrating her birthday as well, and a bunch of our mutual children got to have fun playing with one another as the grown-ups snapped goofy selfies of one another.

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On Sunday evening, we took the kids down to Rivers’ Edge Park for the fourth annual opening concert at Loessfest. We got a couple beach balls to keep the kids occupied (replacing the one Hannah lost three years ago) as the brutally hot sun beat down on us, and we also stayed fed and hydrated under an umbrella as the crowd slowly gathered for the show. A few friends of ours joined us on the blanket, and I bumped into a few more around the park. I took Hannah and Aaron up to the bridge before Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh and his special friend kicked things off. This year’s opening act was the Atlanta Rhythm Section, a southern rock band that seemed to be 90% guitar riffs, which didn’t impress me all that much.

The main event was Kool & the Gang, and they managed to put on a remarkable show with their catalog of R&B, soul, funk and disco hits (finished off, of course, with Celebration). Front men Shawn McQuiller and Lavell Evans engaged the crowd from the very beginning, but the whole group had a terrific amount of energy. Dennis Thomas actually did a cartwheel on stage before picking up his trombone. I was surprised that the Bell Brothers stayed toward the back and out of the spotlight until near the end, when Kool himself got to have a guitar solo.

I was particularly impressed with our own kids, however, who stayed for the whole concert playing ball with their new friends even after I asked if they wanted to go home early. It was a great night, and I’m looking forward to doing it again in a month when we see Kenny Loggins at Memorial Park.

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We finished off the fun, busy weekend at my parents’ house on Memorial Day, where I mowed the lawn and then dad grilled up burgers and hot dogs for the family. Both my brothers were in attendance, as were all four grandparents. We all got to eat together and spend some time outside with the kids before a chain of light showers rolled through the metro area.

Then on Tuesday, Aaron got his first haircut, He’s looking more like a little man every day.

Gardens and Braids

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It’s been a relatively quietly week at the Johnson House. Hannah had her last day of preschool, Vivian and I had our last sessions of BSF, and Aaron got to have his last monthly photo shoot with Hannah in their little red wagon. Meanwhile, the weather’s become increasingly gorgeous, which means more time outside tending to the yard. Over the weekend, Vivian planted some new berry bushes in the yard, as well as a new batch of tomato plants for the garden. Hannah came along to help, of course.

We also got to spend some quality time with my folks over the weekend. On Saturday night, Vivian attended Tamra’s bachelorette party, which somehow involved running an obstacle course while wearing a white dress, so I took Hannah and Aaron by to visit. Grandpa microwaved some peeps for them as they looked around the garden and got to see some robin eggs. Then on Sunday, I returned with the whole family to give the lawn a mow. Vivian braided my mom’s hair in the meantime, and then we had some pizza and Jell-O for dinner. I also taught our kids some basic exercises like push-ups and jumping jacks, which they seemed quite tickled to follow along with.

Hanging with the One-Percenters

If it seems like I’m posting a lot about politics lately, that’s because the Iowa Caucuses are a few weeks away, and the whole state Iowa is overrun with politicians. I’ve met everyone in the race but Jeb so far.

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On Friday night, I got to meet Rick Santorum at a house party in the hills of Council Bluffs. Struggling at one-percent in the polls, the former Senator is running a modest campaign consisting of town halls at Pizza Ranch restaurants and small gatherings at “house parties” like this one. A couple dozen people showed up, and it was very easy to ask the Senator a question or get a selfie with him before or after his talk (which you can view in its entirety here, for now).

Policy-wise, Santorum talked almost entirely about foreign policy, the Iranian nuclear deal, fighting ISIS, etc. It surprised me, since he’s known for being a socially conservative Catholic, but his knowledge of foreign affairs impressed me. He’s more “hawkish” like George W. Bush, however, and has no problem with collecting mass metadata without a warrant, which many in the party believe now is a clear violation of the fourth amendment.

Once the party was over, Santorum and his staff retreated to one of the bedrooms for a prayer meeting before the end of the day. Before he did, however, I suggested to him, he visit Brickway or Upstream across the river, as I knew he was a man who enjoyed a good beer.

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On Saturday, we had a lovely day with our kids visiting grandma and grandpa Johnson. We got to watch MST3K episode 609 “The Skydivers” and then had some tomato bisque and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. Afterward, we took Hannah and Aaron downstairs for an hour or two so they could play with the old Brio train set that I had as a kid. It’s amazing how well our kids can entertain themselves with such simple, wooden toys.

That evening, Omaha had a bit of tragedy as an explosion and subsequent fire at M’s Pub in the Old Market destroyed the entire building. Firefighters battled the blaze in near zero temperatures, causing the entire corner to be covered in sheets of ice and jagged icicles by morning. When I visited the following day to see the damage up close and personal, it was astounding. The smell of smoke and natural gas still hung heavy in the air as a lone fire hose continued to spray into the building. Some reporters were there covering the story, and several others lingered about taking photos, but the tragedy left everything dead quiet fort he most part. Fortunately, a waitress discovered the gas leak in time to evacuate the building before anyone was hurt.

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On Sunday evening, I dropped by Barley’s in Council Bluffs to meet Governor John Kasich. I’d been following his career since his first run for president back in 2000 (when my parents got to meet him), and I’d even watched him fill in for Bill O’Reilly, so I’m glad I got the chance to say hello. Like Rick Santorum, he’s also hovering around 1% in the polls in Iowa, but he does well enough nationally to make it to every prime-time debate. He’s an old-school “moderate” republican from the days when Phil Gramm was a democrat and Bill Clinton reformed welfare. He touted his record rather than new ideas, eschewing Ted Cruz’s 10% flat tax for a vaguely “simplified” tax code with three brackets. He also brought a 12-year-old girl from the crowd up on stage as an example of who would be paying the nation’s $18 trillion debt in a few years. It was a fairly modest crowd, with more than enough time afterward for me to get my obligatory photo with the Governor before heading home.

I apologize for the constant political posts, but in a few weeks it’ll all be over. In the meantime, however, I’m actually going to be seeing two Presidents of the United States within a week — Obama on Wednesday and Clinton on Saturday. Let’s just see how close I can get to a selfie with either of them.

Mike Huckabee and a Birthday with the folks

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Christmas is coming soon, and that includes such things as our first legitimate snowfall and hanging ornaments on the tree.

It also means a few more presidential candidates wandering through Iowa before Christmas. One of these was Mike Huckabee, who dropped by Iowa Western for a chat with Mark Christian of the Global Faith Institute and Scott Voorhees from KFAB. It was a 90-minute chat revolving mostly around terrorism and religious freedom, though there were questions from the audience on a wide variety of topics. The governor left almost immediately when the event concluded, which left only a few seconds for handshakes before the left the stage (meaning no obligatory selfies with schlubs like me).

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December is also when my mom and dad have their birthdays (the eighth and tenth, respectively), so we had a joint party at their house on Saturday. My dad made ribs for all of us, and my mom made the cake, which Vivian lit up with candles for both of them to blow out simultaneously (something they’ve never done before, strangely enough). Both my brothers were there for the occasion, and my dad showed us a bunch of old photos of our ancestors going back generations all the way to Sweden in a presentation he’d put together. He also had some “stereo” pictures he’d taken of us three boys as kids, but his viewers didn’t cooperate for very long. Among the presents my parents got were a new Roku we bought for the both of them. Now that they have Internet at the house, I was able to rig up Netflix to stream on their TV for the first time.

We had a potluck luncheon at church on Sunday, and singing from all three West girls, but the kids both unexpectedly sick and had to stay home.