Category Archives: Friends

Rare Breeds

We’ve had a few gorgeous days here and there this week, necessitating a trip or two to a park, but mostly it’s been hot and muggy as summer absolutely refuses to make way for fall. Fortunately, our tomatoes have started kicking into high gear, giving us plenty of tasty treats for bruschetta and such.

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On Wednesday, I spent the evening with Tom Becka and Jeff Koterba in Benson, who were helping to raise a few dollars to renovate the Benson Theater. The theater has been vacant for several decades, but there are some very elaborate plans to bring it back to life, and they’re about half a million dollars shy of meeting their goal.

The event was at the “B Side,” which was once the “PS Collective” connected to the Pizza Shoppe where 88 Improv used to perform (and Tom once “performed” for use amusement years ago). The room was now sealed of from the pizza, but there is now a bar where I got a “figure of speech” to sip as Tom and Jeff introduced themselves and dove headlong into a Facebook argument IRL on stage for us. The title of the event was “Rare Breed,” and asked “are cartoonists and commentators going extinct.” I would certainly say “no,” as the Internet has made it easier for anyone to have a platform to spread their views or cartoons with almost no overhead whatsoever, but it did launch into a long-form discussion on such things as “fake news” and red light cameras, among other things. We also got to try drawing our own editorial cartoons from a list of topics, a la the Kaneko event a few years back, so I tried my hand at a caricature of Ben Sasse.

It was a fun evening, primarily because I always prefer arguing “IRL” as opposed to online, where being snippy and sarcastic often gets you likes when thoughtful discussion gets ignored.

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Friday brought along some gorgeous weather, so we took the kids to the park for a lunchtime visit. Then that evening, Vivian and I attended a “Tribute to Patriots” event, where we got to hear from Congressman Devin Nunes of California, emceed by KFAB’s Scott Voorhees. He’s been in the headlines recently for his role in investing Russian collusion, but he had a few other interesting stories about his interactions with President Trump. We saw several familiar faces there, including Don Bacon, Lt. Gov. Foley, and the usual band of GOP volunteers. They had a few awards at the end for the “five that drive,” which included several of them.

It was a lovely evening, though I forgot my memory card, so I couldn’t use my “good camera” to get any pictures. We also had a late dinner, so we wound up crashing at our old Village Inn for chicken pot pie and a french dip sandwich together (and pie, of course) before calling it a night.

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Saturday turned out to be the perfect day for just about everything outside — including a bit more house painting in the morning followed by a picnic lunch at Hickory Hill Park with our friends, the Lenarts. We’d been aiming at having another meetup for a while and managed to land on the perfect day for grilling a few burgers outside while letting the kids play on a new playground together.

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Then that evening, we had another trip to the zoo, courtesy of the Autism Society of Nebraska. We dropped by around six and had a look around the mostly too-dark-to-film “kingdom of the night” beneath the desert dome. We saw an alligator or two in the swamp and some snakes before heading upstairs to the drier part of the dome, where we got a peek at a fox, some mongooses, and some rattlesnakes.

The kids spent plenty of time playing on zoo statuary before we headed to the jungle to hang out for the rest of the evening. The bats were out in full force once again as we looked around upstairs and down, and then we dropped by the Wild Kingdom pavilion to cool off with a dance and a ride in a Humvee before calling it a night.

Hot in the Pot

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We’re enjoying the downward slope of summer and getting a few things done around the house before fall. I’ve been doggedly putting a fresh coat of paint on the house, which would have been hard enough if the paint store could consistently match the paint. Donna also came by and got the kids to help her plant a few new daisies in our yard (transplanted from her own). In addition to this, we’ve had an abundance of visitors — namely bag worms wrapped in leafy cocoons — descending from our maple tree into the yard. I’ve been busy getting rid of the little pests and hoping they haven’t caused any permanent damage.

We had some lovely cool weather on Friday night for our second and final trip to the SumTur this season. The August and Gabriel (and Joe) came along for some quality running-around time with Hannah and Aaron, dancing by the stage and flipping chairs before the sun went down. Then we headed back to our blanket to watch How to Train Your Dragon 3.

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On Saturday, we took the kids down to Dream Land Park for the first time since its major remodeling last year. They got an hour or two of swinging on giant saucers and climbing on a rope merry-go-round. There were plenty of other fun places to explore, like a rope bridge, captains helm, bouncy bridge, sticky metal slides, and some replicas of a few historic buildings in Council Bluffs (redone as play areas). I also found a stash of a certain plant that I’d found there last time we visited three years ago. (Apparently nobody’s gotten rid of it yet.)

Afterward, we stopped by Arby’s to have a dinner of sandwiches, fries, and milkshakes with the kids before heading for home,

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Then on Sunday, Phil and Jen invited us over for a “hot pot” at their house. I can’t recall having such a thing before, but it apparently involves cooking a variety of raw ingredients in a giant wok — shrimp, beef, chicken, fish balls, fish cakes, boh choy, rice noodles, and any number of things — full of boiling chicken stock. Another family was invited with their kids, so our kids got to play with some new friends for a while before we sat down to eat.

I managed to help myself to multiple tiny bowls along with some Asian “barbecue sauce” (mixed with raw egg and soy sauce). I was also happy that our kids sampled a bit of everything, including the fish balls we’d brought from the Asian market. After we’d had our fill, we got to sample some of Jen’s birthday scotch before she served up some shaved ice with vanilla ice cream, sweet red beans, and frozen fruit for dessert before we called it a night.

Mother’s Day Weekend

So Spring is still here, which this year is including far more not-blistering-hot and not-still-snowing days than last year. It also seems to include far more birthdays, for reasons I can’t fully understand.

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We kicked off the weekend last week with a trip down to Stinson Park with the kids after work. We mostly avoided the Heart Walk preparations, which were happening at the same time. Our friend Ryan was in charge of that, so Tamra brought Quinn (and grandpa) down while that happened.

Our kids got in some quality swing time and running around, and I tried unsuccessfully once again to introduce them to dim sum for dinner. Hannah seemed to like the Vietnamese spring rolls, but Aaron only wanted the fortune cookies.

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The next day, our friend Kate celebrated all three of her girls’ birthdays simultaneously down at the Armbrust YMCA. We got to have cake and ice cream with a veritable herd of other little ones running around (and getting sugared up). Then we managed to fill an Olympic-sized pool for an hour splashing around together with mommies, daddies, and siblings.

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This year, Vivian and I decided to split Mother’s Day between our two respective moms, which meant I took my folks out to dinner at Roma’s on Fort Crook. It was a decent family-style restaurant just down the street from us with giant portions of Italian-American standards, like the chicken parmigiana, which I had (and bread rolls). Vivian stayed home with the kids, negating the need for a babysitter and giving me some rare one-on-one time with the folks.

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The next day, of course, was Mother’s Day. After church, Vivian and her mom spent the afternoon together shopping at both the World Market and the Old Market (no relation).

I stayed home with the kids, helping them prepare a homemade Mother’s Day card for mommy, which included one from Zoey. Jack was busy making some ribs and potatoes for dinner, and I contributed with some roasted broccoli and my first-ever loaf of homemade bread. I had to scramble to find a recipe that didn’t require five hours of “proving” to have it ready in time, but it turned out surprisingly well, with a nice, hard crust that I knew Vivian liked. We ate together with the kids and then let mommy open a few of her Mother’s Day presents before breaking out the chocolate cream pie Grammy brought with her.

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The next day, we had a belated birthday party for our little friend August. A cluster of his little friends (and their moms) gathered at the reclusive Twin Ridge Park II between Ft. Crook and Highway 75. The kids had fun spinning on the merry-go-round before and after getting sugared up with a tasty camping cake, courtesy of Donna. I stayed long enough to get a few pictures and then went to tear up our garden at home in preparation for a season of home-grown tomatoes (and other produce, probably).

Pizza, Dancing, and an Old New Car

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The whole state of Nebraska is dealing with the aftermath of the record-breaking floods we’ve had this week. Everywhere we go we’ve seen signs of neighbors helping out, including disaster relief trucks all over the place in Omaha. Every church we know has been collecting supplies to help those affected by the floods, turning every available multi-purpose room into a storehouse of food, clothing, and cleaning supplies. It makes me proud to live in a state where everyone seems to be ready and willing to help complete strangers when something like this happens.

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In the meantime, we had a bunch of birthday events happening over the weekend. First off was on Friday, when Catherine (or Dr. Keefe, as I call her at work), celebrated a birthday with the Omaha Jitterbugs down at the Eagle’s Lodge. Vivian and I had the rare opportunity to attend the dance together, setting up ahead of time and then dancing with a handful of our friends when they arrived. Some kids from Arts in Motion came to demonstrate a handful of dances before the evening got underway, and Catherine brought a batch of cupcakes to share before we had her birthday jam.

It was nice to see the crowd for Jitterbugs Night Out was still as large as ever, and it’s remained very much the same since I first attended around 13 years ago. While many of the same people still attend regularly (looking at you Dan Wondra), there are now so many more “regulars” I’ve never met that I now feel a new generation has taken it over. And that’s OK.

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The next day, it was birthday time at the Simpson House. Little Gabriel turned one year old, while Phil celebrated a birthday of his own several months late. We got to make our own pizzas (or garlic bread) using dough from a gigantic bucket and an assortment of ingredients laid out on the counter. We even got to try tossing the dough in a stereotypical fashion that was more fun to watch than practical. There were plenty of kids on hand as well, providing good company for Hannah and Aaron as we got a little grow-up time (and stuffed our faces).

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Then on Tuesday, I managed to crash a fancy dinner Vivian had planned with her parents when I turned out not to be driving to Lincoln as she expected (to get a car, more on that below). I’m not sure how secret the dinner plans were supposed to be, but they fortunately had enough calamari steak for me to have some, along with some shrimp and tasty cheddar jalapeño bread (which Vivian finally got to make right now that she used non-expired yeast).

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In other news, I’m nearing the end of my pledge to drive our Honda Civic “until the wheels fall off.” It’s had a number of minor issues that culminated a week or two ago when it had an irreparably flat tire combined with a spare I discovered has a leaky valve. I’ve been carpooling with my dad and Uncle Jonny since then as I’m getting ready to take ownership of Uncle Nathan’s Corolla — which has its own unique set of problem but far fewer miles on the odometer.

On Thursday, I went down to Lincoln to officially buy the car from Nathan. Dad came along and the three of us went out to Big Sal’s to celebrate with pizza. Now we’re busy trying to get the car fixed up so it’ll be properly driveable before I actually start driving it. Say a quick prayer as we try to get all that sorted out before saying goodbye to our dearly departed Civic!

Also: happy Spring Equinox.

Sushi, a Judge, a Drone, and Splash Canyon

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Still fresh from our trip to Kansas City, Vivian and I spent the evening the next day with a bunch of our mutual friends, their kids, and a baby at Aunt Jessica’s apartment. She got sushi for everyone for one “last hurrah” at her apartment before… well, I don’t think anyone’s sure yet. Anyway, it was a chance for us to hang out with our friends again and let our mutual cluster of kiddos play with one another, mostly by taking the balcony hammock for a ride.

Considering I’d been at this apartment less than two years ago for the “housewarming,” it felt strange to be coming full-circle so soon.

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A few days later, I attended a reception for L. Steven Grasz hosted by the Federalist Society’s Nebraska Lawyers Chapter. Grasz is a Nebraska native and was recently appointed to the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals by President Trump. There were a handful of VIPs in the audience, including Lt. Gov. Foley, Hal Daub, Aimee Melton, and plenty of law students and practicing attorneys in the area. The emcee was State Senator Mike Hilgers (whose dad I happen to work for), and he gave a brief introduction to Grasz before he took the stage.

I was fairly impressed with Grasz. He illustrated his judicial philosophy with a passage from Animal Farm, where the pigs famously altered their list of commandments painted on the barn. He seemed to differentiate between being a Constitutionalist, an Originalist, and a Textualist in ways I couldn’t follow, but he clearly laid out his philosophy when asked during the Q&A when popular opinion could override parts of the Constitution. His answer, outside of amending the Constitution, was never.

I think I can see why the ABA declared he was “unqualified.”

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In other news, Vivian gave me a drone for our ten-year anniversary. It was an interesting little “Foldable Rocket” with a camera that could broadcast a live feed to my mobile phone as I piloted it around. I took it for a test-fly at the park, but Aaron quickly found another kid’s bike to be far more interesting. The little drone took quite a few crash-landings as I tried to get the hang of flying it, but it proved to be fairly durable, barely getting a scratch as it ran into trees, buildings, and other things (including me).

The battery only gave me about ten minutes of flight time, but that was more than enough time to get some fun pictures and videos from it. Once I get the hang of it, I may try flying it somewhere more interesting than the backyard. I did have some fun showing it to my dad at his house. My kids seemed to have more fun with his new chair, which they could apparently take for a ride up and down.

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In the meantime, Hannah and Aaron were also having a week of VBS at First Presbyterian in Bellevue. I didn’t get to see any of this myself, but Hannah and Aaron got to tell me when I got home how they learned about Baby Moses, the healing of Naaman, and other river-themed Bible lessons (which went along with the “Splash Canyon” VBS package the church was using). Then on Sunday we attended church at First Presbyterian, where Hannah and Aaron got to do some of their songs at the front of the church (with the motions, of course). It was very fun to see them doing this with all their friends, and we stayed afterward to have fried chicken for lunch afterward.

We’ve had a lovely cool end to July, just perfect for breaking out the bike for a ride or two to work. We’ll have to squeeze in a few more things before summer’s end — a trip to the lake, the splash pad, and hopefully a bit of painting our house.

Spring sprung and General Tso

Can you believe we had a blizzard just last week? It seems now we’ve skipped right past spring and gone into summer, including our kids first sprinkler-run of the year and Grammy’s house.

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On Saturday, our friend Jen celebrated a birthday with a General Tso’s chicken taste-testing at her house. A handful of us brought samples of the signature Chinese dish from various places from around Omaha. Vivian and I got ours from Sina Way in Bellevue, which turned out to be the winner. Phil made some fried pork while Jen and her mom made a bunch of scallion pancakes, among other things.

We also had cake, provided by a few of Jen’s nieces. Vivian gave Jen a jar of homemade bacon jam and a batch of bacon gingersnap cookies, which we made with the leftover grease. Hannah and Aaron seemed to have fun with Miriam’s boy Ezra, and several people got to pass around Baby Gabriel before the night was over.

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On Sunday, I took the kids to my parents’ house to get them outside for a bit. They played with Uncle Jonny in the backyard and did some drawing at the kitchen table. They also made some disgusting “soup” with debris from the yard to gross out grandpa. Then on Monday Vivian took the kids to her parents’ house for a run through the sprinkler. Hannah and Aaron also made villages with fairies and gnomes under the large evergreen tree, and we stuck around to have some burgers Jack grilled up for dinner on the deck afterward.

Then on Tuesday we took the kids for a romp at Stinson Park for the first time in well over a month. It was a nice excuse for daddy to break out the remote control car he got for Christmas and give it a test-run. The kids had a fun time running around and chasing it before it was time to call it a day.

Rock’em Sock’em Birthdays

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Winter has been having fits and starts, but it looks like we’re on our way to spring. Last Wednesday, Vivian brought the kids to the park along with some cupcakes to share (in lieu of paying $4 each at Jones Bros). After some brief time on the swings (with Raffie), we ran up and down a few hills to burn off the sugar rush before calling it a day.

Then on Friday, we paid a brief visit to Phil and Jen and their new baby Gabriel. This was a long-anticipated miracle for the two of them, and I was quite happy to take a few new family pictures of the happy parents.

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On Saturday, we joined my parents and two brothers to celebrate Jonathan’s birthday at the local Pizza Ranch. Hannah and Aaron each made a birthday card for Uncle Jonny (featuring Mega Man characters), and then we binged on pizza and fried chicken as the kids played horsey around the party room.

Back home we had some “impossible pie” cake and got to play a bit with a prize Jonathan brought home — a classic Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots game. We also looked at some old family slides and played a couple rounds of Use Your Worlds together, but Hannah was more interested in watching her shadow jump in front of the screen.

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That evening, we gave the kids some green foods for St. Patrick’s Day, and then Vivian made a feast with corned beef, potatoes, cabbage, and Irish soda bread. We also had some Irish cheese, which we ate while watching the classic Disney film, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, which is about as Irish as movie as you could find.

The next day, I got some one-on-one time with Hannah and decided to make some mint chocolate brownies with green icing just for fun. There’s never a bad time for sugar around our house!

Summer Wind-Down

Things have been exciting as we’re gearing up for the big solar eclipse here in Nebraska. Of course, there are a few other fun things happening as summer begins to wind down.

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We’re still enjoying the last bits of summer together, which means taking in one more movie at the SumTur (Finding Dory) and getting quality time at the local splash parks. The Fountains at Stinson Park are finally up and running, so I brought along my swim trunks for a run through them with the kids during one particularly warm lunch break.

We also dropped by Seymour Smith park for an afternoon run through the spray ground there after work. Aaron specifically wanted to see the “blue buckets” again after having seen them in action at his birthday party back in June.

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On the Friday before the Eclipse, I took the day off to go to Lincoln with the kids for some quality time at Lost in Fun. I’d brought Hannah and Aaron there a couple times before when doing freelance work at Land and Sky during the day, and Hannah had been asking to return for over a year. We all got to jump on the bouncing pillows together and climb around in the plush ball pit, and Hannah and Aaron both got a couple hours of slides, carts, and bubbles together. Afterward, we had a late lunch at Big Sal’s pizza before heading home, per the norm.

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That evening, Aunt Jessica invited us to spend some time in her apartment complex’s pool while it was still warm. The kids got to try out some goggles and beat each other with pool noodles for an hour or two as we finished off the day.

Then on Saturday, we went to Papillion for a Nebraska-style family photo shoot just in time to lose Hannah’s favorite toy, Zoe the Cat, making for a frustrating launch into Eclipse Weekend.

Cakes, a lake, and a housewarming

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Hot enough for you? Yes, it’s July in Nebraska, which means steamy summer days and trying to find ways to stay cool other than boarding up inside the house with air conditioning. This is why we have sprinklers in the front yard, which Hannah and Aaron made use of on Thursday.

On Saturday, we took a trip down to Louisville to cool off in the lake. We brought along an inflatable alligator and killer whale for the kids to float around on, and then we stayed just long enough to have some lunch (and a little sunburn) before heading home.

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Then that evening we dropped by Phil and Jen’s new house for a little Housewarming Party. Naturally, they had a bunch of unique food, including some bacon toffee and other things made in their giant, industrial strength stove. They also made some coffee in a strange glass vacuum brewer, which looked like an odd science experiment or drug paraphernalia. The coffee it made was good, though.

The usual batch of our friends were there, and Hannah got to have some quality time going crazy with Kate’s girls before we called it a night.

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Then on Sunday, I took Hannah and Aaron to the River City Confectioners’ Association Annual Sugar Arts and Cake Show. Hannah and Aaron had each made some prize-winning cakes and stuck around to collect their blue ribbons (along with prize lambs and some cookies).

There were several other unique entries, including a Cinderella Cake, a Fast Food cake, a cactus, some literary characters, and a detailed living room set that was made entirely out of sugar (even the glass ship-in-a-bottle). Vivian even made a cake topper, which she brought home on Friday night.

It was back to work after that, which included short-circuiting the Civic. Fortunately, I just needed a new battery and a fuse replaced after that mess.

Stinko, Rainbows, and 88 Improv

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Aunt Jessica had a last-minute birthday thing on Friday, so I dropped on by with the kids for some “pupcake” and some tacos with a few of our mutual friends. Kate brought a few of her girls, so they got some quality time with Hannah and Aaron as the rest of us played some adult games, namely Qwirkle, Telestrations, and a few others.

I was also able to coax Jessica into playing the piano for us, so she favored us with some Bohemian Rhapsody and the theme of Cheers — both of which we sang along to, of course.

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Then on Saturday, Vivian and I (along with Kate) went to see our favorite comedy troupe, 88 Improv, for the first time in about four years. Tim, Nate, and Sarah took the stage at the Backline Theater and performed a bowl full of scenes suggested from the audience for us for the first act (half of which involved a culvert for some reason). Then for act two, they did a long sketch about Little Red Riding Hood starting fires with her “imaginary” wolf, Mayor Jean putting panda habitats in the median of city streets, and two guys getting all vehicular traffic banned — including fire trucks — to make way for bike lanes.

I first saw these guys about a decade ago before I even started dating Vivian, so I’m very glad they’re still performing after all these years!

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On Sunday, it finally stopped raining long enough for me to take the kids to the park for a picnic and some fresh air.

Then that evening the whole family (plus Grammy and Pop-Pop) went to Bellevue Christian Center for an awards ceremony at Rainbows. Hannah got an Honors Pin for completing all of her lessons for the past two years. It was very cute to see her and her little friends standing together one last time before getting sugared up right before bedtime.

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Vivian and I had some culinary fun later in the week, frying up some of the bologna we’d bought in Pella for Phil and Jen to help us eat. We made some sandwiches with them using toasted pretzel buns I bought at Aldi.

Then on Wednesday, we took the kids (and Grammy) to the Lauritzen Gardens to see Stinko, the corpse flower. The gardens have free admission until the giant flower blooms, (which is hasn’t yet, so it wasn’t even one bit stinky). We took a brief tour through the flora in the greenhouse, and then I took the kids for some exercise on a long walk through the gardens to the rose garden and back before we called it a day. We had nearly the whole gardens to ourselves, which was amazing since the place is usually packed when admission is free (and in the springtime).

We’ve been enjoying some gorgeous weather this past week, and it should hold out long enough to shake our booties at Loessfest on Friday. More on that next time.


Lauritzen Gardens, featuring Stinko