Category Archives: Phil and Jen

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.

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.

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!

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.

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!

Rapunzel, a Tea Party, and a Christmas Castle Cake

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Winter is nearly here, which means drinking in all the unseasonably warm weather we can before the gray gloom and snow of winter comes bearing down on us. That meant a lunchtime trip or two to the park, where Hannah shared some of the pumpkin bread she made in a tin can at preschool with us. We also dropped by the park by the Keystone Trail where I’d left my car after a tire spontaneously burst in my office, which I wound up having replaced long enough for one or two more rides to the office.

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November also seems to be a popular month for birthdays. Our friend Deena celebrated down at Romeo’s for some reason, so we dropped by with the kids for a few sanchos together.

Our friend Phil also celebrated his birthday down at his house in Papillion, so we joined him and our cluster of mutual friends to celebrate with pork loin spiced up with some of his homemade ghost pepper sauce. Jen’s parents were also there to be loved and abused by the many youngsters running around. Phil was smoking half a hog’s head on his back porch, but we only stayed long enough for cake and never quite got to see what he wound up doing with it.

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The biggest birthday of all, of course, was for Hannah on Tuesday when she turned five years old. I took the day off and spent the morning distracting the kids with grandma as Vivian prepared our house for a cute little tea party. A handful of Hannah’s little friends came over to have cookies and (apple cider) “tea” in the afternoon. Then they got a special surprise visit from Rapunzel, courtesy of Real Omaha Princesses. She had a song, a story, and a game for the kids to play in-between a handful of photos, of course.

Hannah got to open presents after Rapunzel’s visit, and then she got to blow out candles on her Christmas Castle Cake. Yes, Grammy asked Hannah exactly what kind of cake she wanted for her birthday, and her request was about as a five-year-old could get. The resulting cake was amazing inside and out, but it was especially weird to see Hannah and Aaron eat fondant effigies of themselves.

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The next day, Vivian took the kids down to the Children’s Museum to burn off an extended sugar high, and I joined them during an extended lunch break. We call this place the “indoor park,” as our trips to the “outdoor” park will now be sporadic until around springtime.

Next stop: Thanksgiving, and the start of the Christmas season!


Highlights from Hannah’s fifth birthday

Mudpies, Tamales, and Rainbows

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The Johnson Family had some time to play in the dirt over the weekend. On Thursday, Hannah and Aaron got to play with mud down at the Fontenelle Center during Mud Pies. That included making muddy footprints, making paintings with mud, and also having frozen chocolate “mud bars” as a snack. It’s something they do every year for Mud Pies and the first time Aaron’s got to experience it himself.

Then on Saturday morning, dad and I got to do some manly work together as we fixed a couple fence posts in my yard. Spring rains and strong winds pushed our fence over to the point where we needed to re-anchor it with cement. It was a fairly simple job, but required two people to level the posts and tie them down with stakes before I poured cement at the base and cleaned them up with a makeshift trowel (i.e. stir stick). After half an hour or so — huzzah! Good as new.

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That evening, we celebrated our friend Jen’s birthday party with another culinary experience — making tamales! Phil and Jen both had corn husks, masa (corn meal with lard) and a pair of meat fillings — rabbit and pork — laid out for us to assemble. It was a surprising amount of work to make tamales, and I learned in the process how instead to make pupusas — pancakes made with the masa and meat and fried instead of steamed. We always love going to Phil and Jen’s house since we always learn something new about food when we come over.

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On Sunday afternoon, we took the kids to a piano recital for the Folken kids, who played a few songs for us and also recited a few bible verses from memory. It was a good lesson in getting the kids to sit still before hanging out afterward.

Then that evening we went by the Bellevue Christian Center for a kind of graduation ceremony for the little ones at Rainbows. It went very much like last time with the kids singing a song or two and displaying what they’ve learned this year (and flirting with boys). Hannah got to show us her collection of badges before returning her vest for the summer. Sammy is in her class and had to give Hannah a hug goodbye as she and her family will be sadly moving to Minnesota before long. All four grandparents (and Aaron) were also in attendance, at least until Hannah’s class was finished.

Hannah’s Fourth

It was a birthday-ful weekend for the Johnson Family as we get geared up for Thanksgiving and t he Christmas season by first spending a few days opening presents with friends.

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We spent Saturday evening at Phil and Jen’s house with 30 or so of our mutual friends celebrating Phil’s birthday. “Bar food” was on the menu, which involved a deep frier that left my clothes smelling like delicious grease the morning after. Chips and dips, egg rolls filled with smoked pork and potatoes, as well as chicken wings were all on the menu. I was a bit anxious how Hannah and Aaron would deal with the crowd of people in a living space clearly designed to hold less than half of them, but they did fine. Other kiddos were also on hand to be cute and eat with the rest of us, but it was still a bit of a madhouse. We did wish Phil a happy birthday before we left. I’m not sure if he heard us.

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By contrast, we celebrated Hannah’s birthday the day after and just invited her best friend Sammy over to celebrate. Of course, that meant Miss Lexi and August came as well, but that was all good because it gave grown-ups time to catch up and little Aaron someone to toddle around with all afternoon. Grammy brought over a pair of Dora and Doc McStuffins cakes while Pop-Pop introduced Aaron to static electricity. My mom and dad came over a little later as well, along with Uncle Jonny, an we got to have cake and watch Hannah open presents together. We had a couple pizzas from Papa Murphy’s for dinner before calling it a night.

It was very low-key, but Hannah seemed to have a tremendously fun birthday. She actually got up at five to discover her room filled with pink balloons and was jumping all morning at church telling everyone, “I’m four! I’m four!”

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Then on Monday, we had another visit with Marco Rubio in Council Bluffs. I met him briefly back in July when he visited, and this time around I brought my mom and Vivian to hear him speak. There was some Q&A after his talk, and the Senator from Florida hung around to meet and greet just about everyone in attendance. The usual characters were on hand for interviews afterward, and I was impressed with Rubio’s accessibility. The questions weren’t screened, and pretty much anyone was able to approach him afterward. (And somehow I wound up on Fox News again as a result.)

Then on Tuesday, we brought the kids down to the park for lunch before the inevitable cold and snow comes this Thanksgiving to bring a brief end to our park time.

Kimchi burgers

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The heat is on again, with temperatures climbing back into the summery 90s and feeling more like July is supposed to. We did have one lovely cool day last week and took the kids down to Haworth Park to enjoy. Aaron got to crawl around in clover and try out a slide for the first time, and Hannah got to hang out in her own “Gazebo House.” We last visited this park two years ago, when it was still mostly devastated from the flood of 2011. It’s been improved quite a bit since then, but nothing like the glory days when we had our Comic Genesis picnic here in 2010. How’s that for reminiscing?

Then on Friday, we had our foodie friends Phil and Jen over to have some burgers out on the deck. Apparently bacon, egg, and kimchi are the perfect combination of toppings for a hamburger. (Just be sure not to wear anything white.) The oppressive July heat was already setting in, so we spent the rest of the evening inside watching the crazy surreal black comedy film Rubber.

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On Sunday afternoon, Aaron got dangerously close to taking his first steps, and then he spent an hour or two with Hannah splashing about in the water table on our deck. Then on Monday, we had a family picnic at Stinson park for lunch. Jones Bros. had a special on ice cream cones, and then the kids got to run about in the fountains for a little while before Hannah went off to a dentist appointment (where she got her teeth cleaned like a champ).

On Tuesday, I got a day all to myself and spent it having lunch with my dad at Louie M’s Burger Lust and puttering around the house. I found a $50 gift card just for cleaning out my car. All in a day’s work!