Category Archives: Aunt Jessica

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.

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.

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

Mayors, Blossoms, and a Final Fish Fry

Spring has sprung, if the flowers in our yard are any indication. That means bike rides to work and starting my battle once again with the weeds in the yard. Of course, we’re also on that hairline trigger before we switch from heat to AC as the summer months loom around the corner.

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It’s also Election Season in Omaha as the city gets ready to pick a Mayor once again. I spotted young upstart Taylor Royal doing some campaigning on the corner of 132nd and Center on Tuesday last week on Primary Day. The 26-year-old candidate got 11% of the vote and went on to endorse incumbent Jean Stothert.

Meanwhile, Lent is winding down, so we went for one last Fish Fry with my parents and our friends the Mills. This was actually my parents’ first-ever fish fry experience. We went to St. Matthews’ in Bellevue, which was unfortunately not the all-you-can-seat experience I had been hoping for, so some of us were disappointed. On the upside, there was no mile-long line to stand in before dinner, which was just as well since the Mills had to flee to Homeschool Prom, and my parents left as soon as the band started up. Vivian and I let the kids play outside for a bit and rewarded them with the Last Piece of Pie before calling it a night.

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Lots of flowers are blooming all over Omaha in the meantime, including a bunch in our own front yard. On Saturday, we took the kids to Memorial Park to have a picnic under some blossoms and get some quality time on the playground while the weather was sufficiently gorgeous. We also ran into Kaleb and his family for the first time since the Murder Mystery last year. We may have to do one again sometime (perhaps with our kids).

Then that evening, our mutual friend Kate had a game night with a bunch of our mutual friends. We played a few hilarious rounds of Telestrations while having pulled pork and chicken doctored up with some of Phil and Jen’s Insanely Spicy Barbecue sauce. as usual, I was deeply appreciative of having friends with kids, which cancelled out the need for a sitter.

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Sunday was Palm Sunday, and I got to round up some palm branches for the kids to wave during the opening song, as nobody else seemed to think about it. We stuck around afterward for a lovely family photo outside, since we were all in our Sunday Best (and I just happened to have a tripod and telephoto lens in the car).

Then on Tuesday, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert appeared at Big Mama’s Kitchen in a meet-the-candidates event held by “the hungry club.” I dropped in just long enough to grab a picture or two before being pulled away by a few guests who happened to show up at the office while I was away.

Christmas Fun and Dim Sum

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

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

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

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

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

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

One week closer to Christmas!

Leafpiles and Election Night

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Fall weather in Nebraska is continuing to be awesome. I’ve been riding my bike to work and having plenty park time with the kids. On Saturday, Kate had another game night, so Hannah and Aaron got to play with Kate’s three kids as the rest of us tried to figure out a game Mark brought called High Noon Saloon over tacos. Good times. Then after church, the leafy fun continued as Hannah and Aaron got to practice diving into a pile of the raked-up foliage with Chloe.

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Then on Tuesday was Election Day. I don’t know if you’d heard, but some guy named Donald Trump wound up getting elected President. I kicked the day off voting as soon as the polls opened, at which point there was already quite a line. Vivian gave the kids an Election Day Picnic out on our lawn for lunch. Then, as a part of voting, I got to have some free spaghetti down at Fazoli’s. I invited Vivian and the kids along and we made an evening meal of it before heading home.

After putting the kids to bed, I broke open a bottle of Port to settle the nerves before watching the election returns. I, along with pretty much all the polls, expected Hillary Clinton to be our next President, so it was with great surprise that I turned the TV on to see The Donald doing far, far better than anyone expected. We stayed up past midnight as votes continued to be counted, but as Pennsylvania remained “too close to call” we went to bed expecting long recounts to continue. Then, right before we went to sleep, we heard fireworks outside. Puzzled, we returned to the TV to see Pennsylvania had been called for Trump, he’d won the 270 necessary electoral votes, and was going to become our next President.IMG_5235 I’m kind of glad I stayed up to watch that moment live, and I was even greater that I’d taken off the next day from work, as I had pretty much no sleep by the time dawn came around.

I got to have a lovely leafy time the morning after with the kids in the front yard. The weather’s continued to be gorgeous, and I hope we’ll be able to enjoy more and more of it before winter finally comes.

One Final Election Day Note

Eight years ago, I remember the cultish glee that followed Barack Obama as he went from Senator to President within four short years. I saw him as an inexperienced, big-government politician who was thick on rhetoric and light on ideas, but what bothered me most was the abject worship of the guy. I see much the same in Donald Trump, but everything surrounding him is upside down — the left sees him as #LiterallyHitler, while the right remains split between #NeverTrump (because he’s not a conservative) and #NeverHillary. I remain in the firm position to remain happy in life regardless of who occupies the White House and remain friends with those who vote differently than I do.

That said, this has been one of the most amazing election cycles of my lifetime, and it’s not just because of the historical upset that came at the end. I got to meet many cool people over the past year and a half, including candidates, their supporters, Republicans, Democrats, and even Greens. I feel privileged to have been able to get this close to our electoral process and getting to meet so many different candidates. Over the past year, I’ve personally met the next President, seen the sitting President, and shaken hands with a former President. And I’m just a nobody from Nebraska.

God bless America!

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Mike Pence and Another Housewarming

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Aunt Jessica has her own place again in Omaha, so she had an “apartment warming” at her new place for our cluster of mutual friends and family members. That meant snacks and games and a long afternoon together talking about Pokémon, among other things. Kate brought her three girls, so naturally Hannah and Aaron had friends to keep them occupied as daddy played Origin o Words with the rest of the crew in the living room.

Vivian, in the meantime, was having a Bachelorette Party Scavenger Hunt with Venche and her girly friends off in Westroads.

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Then on Monday, Indiana Governor Mike Pence came to speak at the Mid-America Center. Even before he was Donald Trump’s running mate, I’d been following his career in Indiana, particularly when the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed a few years ago. I got to see the usual batch of political junkies, media types, and button-sellers I had rubbed elbows with back during the primary season. They also had a batch of left-wing protesters, who were literally raising red flags (i.e. for communism) outside the Mid-America Center.

The crowd was decidedly smaller than the one that came to see Trump last December or even Hillary last week, but it was a fairly good turnout for the running mate. Tana Goertz, an Iowa native who appeared on season 3 of the Apprentice, was the emcee for the evening, and up-and-coming Iowa Senator Joni Ernst got to introduce Pence before he took the stage. He seemed very statesman-like, with a clear stump speech that didn’t run off the rails for ninety minutes like Mr. Trump tends to do. He wasn’t even phased when a few left-wing radicals started screaming in the middle of his speech (only to get shouted down with thirty seconds of “USA! USA!” from everyone else present). I hate to say it, but I wish he were at the top of the ticket this election year.

I got to shake hands with Gov. Pence as he came around to greet the crowd after his speech (and gave him a copy of The Book, of course). It was nice to have one last chance to rub elbows with political folks before November (which strangely enough included Abe Lincoln). I’m guessing I won’t get to do this sort of thing again until probably 2019. We’ll see.

Furries, a Cake Show, and Jimmy B

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We’ve had a couple fun and busy weekends since Vivian and I got back from our little overnight anniversary. Last Sunday, Hannah’s little forest cake won the blue ribbon down at the Douglas County Fair (held inexplicably at Crossroads Mall), so the whole family went with Grammy to pick up her award and her gift bag of prizes. We nearly lost her cake on the way home, but fortunately it stuck to our roof long enough for a passing car to warn us that it was there.

Then on Monday, we had an picnic lunch at the park with the kids and got a little wet playing in the fountains. In the meantime, actual grown-ups wandered around looking for Pokemon, in a case where life imitated art, as shown in my web comic. It’s always good to enjoy being outdoors, though — I did that by biking to and from work every day of the week, a lovely commute through the cornfields.

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On Friday night, we made our first visit to the SumTur to see Zootopia with a handful of our friends. It was a remarkably cool July evening for the kids to run around. I was surprised the crowd wasn’t even larger than it was. Among them were a group of actual, legit furries, who showed up in full fur-suit to delight children and horrify adults.

Then on Saturday night, we had a game night down at Jessica’s friend Kate’s place. Hannah and Aaron got to run around and play with some kids closer to their own age as the grown-ups played a few crazy rounds of Telestrations over tacos. The best thing about mutual sets of kids is that they negate the need for a grown-up to keep them occupied.

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On Sunday, I made a last-minute decision to drop by the Sokol Auditorium to witness the final performance of Jimmy B and his orchestra. I’d heard about Jimmy B for ages (mostly from Dan Wondra), but I never got the chance to see his band in person. The Sokol is a lovely old venue that feels like walking back in time, and this year’s Cowtown Jamborama will be happening there as well. I got in a few dances, but there was a serious lack of Jitterbugs in the (mostly gray-haired) crowd, so I was content with taking a handful of pictures before I headed home.

That evening, Jack and Donna came by for dinner with us before going on a road trip to California. They brought Diggy to live at our house for a bit, and Vivian got to show Donna my anniversary present, which I installed myself the other day. The kids also played a few rounds of the Memory Card game, but they kids seemed to get a bigger kick out of playing with the leftover frames after punching out the cards.

Sadly, we missed seeing their show this year, but we did get to see a few of the jets from our house as Aaron napped.

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One last thing. On Monday, Hillary Clinton came to Omaha, and I decided to take one last stab at giving her a copy of Dr. Hilgers’ book, reliving my glory days from the presidential primary. What happened instead was that I stood outside for a couple hours getting burned to a crisp (and dehydrated) only to be escorted into an “overflow room” to watch the event on a giant TV screen. I was particularly disappointed when I saw pictures of the event online later and saw there was plenty of room left in the gymnasium that somehow went unfilled.

I still had fun chatting with a few friendly democrats in line (and caught a glimpse of Ben Nelson) and witnessing protesters from both the right and the left denouncing Hillary from the sidelines. If I were smart, of course, I would have brought a few cases full of ice water and sold them to the thirsty throngs waiting in line. I could have made a fortune. Maybe in four more years.

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.

Birthday weekend

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I love birthdays, especially when they’re mine! I had a very happy one this year. It all started on the day itself, which was a Thursday. Hannah and mom paid me a lunchtime visit with balloons and a couple presents picked out by my little girl. Then we headed down to Amato’s for lunch. I’d eaten there with my folks once before, and the call of homemade sausage and ricotta pancakes was just too strong to resist any longer.

That evening, Vivian took me to a birthday dinner at the 801 Chophouse, where we had some pork chops, lobster mashed potatoes, and my favorite fried mushrooms with boursin cheese. Of course, we had to walk down to Ted & Wally’s afterward for my free ice cream (coffee and baklava). Vivian decided to have some tamarind candy ice cream that was quite hot for being so cold.

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The next day was Friday night. That called for some burgers with friends in the heart of South Omaha at my favorite burger joint — Louie M’s Burger Lust. I’d discovered the place with my dad ages ago and we’ve come back again and again ever since (it’s even made its way into my comic once or twice!)

After all that good eating, we went to burn as much off as we could down at the Eagle’s Lodge. It was easier than we thought, since the air conditioning had broken and turned the upper floor into a giant swing-dancing sauna. It certainly wasn’t too hot for a birthday jam or a Jack and Jill competition shortly thereafter, though. A little heat never kept us from dancing indoors or out.

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We had a lovely three-day weekend to unwind after all the celebrating was done. A storm wandered through Sunday night and made things lovely and cool for Sunday and Monday. Our mutual friend Jessica Ritchie decided to move to North Carolina and came around to say her last goodbyes at the Upstream and then later at JNO and our church. I think we said goodbye to her about a dozen times before she finally left town.

On Monday evening, the in-laws had a cookout at their place with some friends in honor of Do Nothing Day. Jack brought a few flatiron steaks out of the freezer and onto the grill, I brought up some potato salad, and Vivian made a pot full of nacho cheese dip that kept us full for a while. (Hannah provided adorable entertainment, as usual.)