Category Archives: Friendship Program

Friendship dancing and air boating


Last week, Vivian helped carry on a tradition that’s been going on longer than I’ve even known her: swing dancing at Friendship Program! Yes, a few stray Lindy Hoppers and member of the Jitterbug “performance team” dropped by to demonstrate their fancy footwork to the good folks up on Maple Street during a lunch break. Most people had to wander back to work (aka “real life”), though Dan Wondra, Linsday and I got to stay until the very end with Vivian, kicking up our feet for Charleston or whatever else we could come up with before the music ended.

Then on Saturday, the Johnson Family spent a little more time taking advantage of the Best Summer Weather Ever down on the Platte River with some friends and co-workers from the Pope Paul VI Institute. The whole event was held at a complex of “cabins” and beautiful landscaping owned by the Labedz family, which was open to any member of the family, a few of which we happened to know. The lot of us had chicken and ice cream hanging out on the patio, and then Mr. Labedz dad broke out the air boat to roar a couple of us up and down the river. There’s nothing quite like being able to shoot right over a shallow sandbar when you’re used to scraping over it with a canoe. Hannah, of course, just had fun running around outside and playing with other kiddos before crashing in our car on the way home.

Fun, fun, fun


The Johnson Family has been having fun, fun, fun here in Omaha, and we didn’t even need to get a Thunderbird. On Tuesdays for the last month or two, Hannah (now 18 months) has been having fun participating in “Mud Pies” at the Fontenelle Nature Center. It’s a program for small children where they can explore the outdoors, paint pictures, and yes, even make mud pies. It’s been a fun weekly activity for her and a chance to spend quality time with Grammy.

On Thursday last week, Friendship Program had its Senior Prom. Vivian was able to recruit me to come and take pictures of staff and participants in front of an archway of balloons she’d made up with her co-workers. They also had a singing, dancing DJ to help get everyone up on their feet. Everyone dressed up and had a great time, including Vivian and me. I have to admit it’s great to be involved with such a fun organization!


On Saturday, Vivian and I were bored, and she happened to discover that the Beach Boys were going to be in town performing a free concert to a crowd of 17,000 at the new River Edge Park in Council Bluffs, an area that had literally been underwater not more than two years ago. They also had a special guest performing — John Stamos! Yes, Uncle Jesse from Full House made an appearance to a crowd of squealing women of the eighties. There were people of all ages in the crowd, but the baby boomers seemed to be the liveliest, kicking up their heels and starting conga lines at random during different songs.

Mulberry Lane, a local girl group, was also on hand for the opening and closing acts. Then the Beach Boys managed to play every song from the their extensive catalog —Kokomo, Barbara Ann, I Get Around, Surfer Girl, California Girls, Be True to Your School, and of course Fun, Fun, Fun. John Stamos even sang Forever, the song his character sang to Becky during their wedding on Full House. He also made a point of thanking veterans in the crowd in recognition of Memorial Day, bringing one soldier up on stage to have a brief jam session in front of the crowd. It was a very thorough performance to say the least. All it needed were a few original beach boys other than Mike Love (but that’s another story).


Oh yes, it was also Memorial Day weekend, so we had a few picnics to attend as well. Jenny and a few of her friends went on their annual bike ride to Silver City and back, and then they crashed at Jon Paper’s house afterward for a makeshift barbecue. Vivian and I dropped by with Hannah and got another picture of her sitting on the stump we propped her on a year ago, making for a cute comparison. There was plenty of football tossing and food to go around, and after we were done, Richard had to get weighed in to see how big that watermelon was that we never even touched.

The next day, Vivian had a big reunion picnic with the gang from her old bible study at BCC. One stray member, Jenn, had moved to North Carolina, but was visiting long enough for a reunion of sorts. It was the first time the “gang” had gotten together in quite a while. Some members such as Kevin and Bob had gone off to have enormous families of their own, so we had plenty of kiddos on hand for Hannah to play with (she mostly just wanted to play on the slide). Others such as Tim and Amy had moved away briefly but had somehow moved back, and others such as Matthew, Venche, and Vivian had never really left —they just needed a catalyst such as Jenn to bring everyone back together. It was a fun evening of playing games and catching up before the sun went down.

Go home, weather. You’re drunk.

“Go home, weather. You’re drunk.” That seems to be the theme of 2013 thus far, and a kind of running joke that doesn’t seem to know when to quit. (Can you believe that Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring this year?)


On Saturday, Vivian and I decided to help Tamra move into her new condominium in Bellevue as a way of saying “Welcome to the neighborhood.” A bunch of our mutual friends showed up to help with the move, and I had the strangest sense of déjà vu, having moved Tamra less than a year earlier. Her new place is within walking distance of legendary burger joint, Stella’s (where I haven’t shown my face since being humiliated by a pile of meat in 2011). Ryan was kind enough to grill a pile of burgers and save us the trip, however. As far as I know, nobody ate them on a napkin. Hannah seemed to enjoy toddling about Tamra’s new backyard, and she even got her have her first faceful of watermelon.


A few days later, I took Hannah to her very first trip to the dentist, which was a slightly traumatic experience. Her teeth were just fine, but she absolutely did not like having strangers poking around in the there and spreading foaming fluoride all over the place. I took her up to spend some quality time with mommy during her lunch break at Friendship Program afterward. We went out to Benson Park, where Hannah got to chase a few geese and play on the swings while the weather was still “sober.” Of course, we had to bring her back to work afterward to say hello to Vivian’s co-workers and friends (and play with a few balls).

The next day it freaking snowed. And by freaking, I mean the freakish freak snow to hit the area in many a decade. Our tulips were fortunate enough to survive the few inches of snow we got by shutting themselves in self-defense. Still, there’s nothing quite as surreal as seeing snow on the ground in early May — especially since Hannah was swinging in our backyard just a day or two earlier before it got covered in snow. It was all vaporized by that afternoon.

Next stop: Cinco de “What month is this again?”

Christmas Reunions

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On Friday night, Vivian and I headed to Venice Inn to crash the Friendship Program Christmas party. Vivian hadn’t seen many of her co-workers since she left for maternity leave back in November, so every few minutes she was excitedly greeting someone. She also got to have her first official “drink” in about ten months (a chocolatini, of course). We filled up on meatballs, sausage, and toasted ravioli courtesy of Venice Inn in the meantime while Betty passed out seasonal door prizes to 80+ different people. Anthony accepted his ceramic snowman as if it were an Oscar and gave a stirring speech until Betty grabbed the microphone back.

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Friday night also marked our first trip back to Jitterbugs Night Out since the baby came. Friday was the Jitterbugs’ annual Christmas party, so they had the Stan Harper Experience drop by to belt out some swingin’ renditions of Christmas songs, (my favorite of which was that Peanuts’ Christmas piano song). There was a white elephant gift exchange later on, where a dozen or so guests got to receive random gifts ranging from a collection of swing music CDs to a can of Progresso soup. There was also a Jack and Jill competition toward the end of the night, but Vivian and I had worn out our feet by then and were ready to call it a night. I think we must be out of practice. Still, it was great to see several of our old swing dancing friends, and I’m sure we’ll still be coming back.

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On Saturday night, the whole family headed up to northwest Omaha for Jenny’s annual Christmas party. We put together “gingerbread” houses (with graham crackers) once again, and I took a stab at it this time, finding frosting to be a somewhat inadequate adhesive for constructing anything much larger than a graham cracker tent.

We had our own white elephant gift exchange, which enabled Vivian to trade in a star-shaped candle holder for a half-full bottle of washer fluid. I lucked out by swapping a kitschy “Have a Dickens of a Christmas” diorama for a set of “hobo tools” (consisting of a Swiss-army style fork and spoon), narrowly escaping the clutches of a stainless steel necklace holder in the process. Other noteworthy “prizes” included a copy of The Day I Shot Cupid by Jennifer Love Hewitt, a book Jon seemed to enjoy leafing through quite a bit.

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On Sunday, Vivian and I took our turn lighting the advent candles before the church (the theme for this one was “peace”). It also gave us the chance to introduce Hannah formally to the rest of the congregation, though almost everyone has had the chance to see her being adorable for just about anybody willing to hold her so far. That afternoon, Grammy and Grampy dropped by for a photo shoot with Hannah, and later on we took her on her very first walk around the neighborhood. She seemed quite fascinated with being outside for a change and looked up at the sky (or what she could make of it) with amazement.

That evening, a large group of us went by Hillcrest Home down on Harlan to sing Christmas carols to the residents there. Jessica Ritchie accompanied us on piano when we found one available, and we decked the halls together for a good hour making sure everyone possible got a bit of Christmas cheer. Afterward, we retreated back to Twin Valley Church to have some spicy venison chili courtesy of Jeff before heading home.

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Monday evening a big night for reunions for both Vivian and me. I took a trip down to Lincoln to catch up a bunch of my fellow Land and Sky “alumni” over dinner and drinks at Granite City. Joining us were (from left to right) Dan, Jeanie, Vanchessa, Julie, Paul, and Mark. It’s been a good three years or so since I’ve seen anybody from the old “gang,” and it brought back a lot of memories — most of which I probably shouldn’t repeat here. Thanks, Julie for getting us all together once again!

As for Vivian, Gail — her old best friend from high school and “Babo’s” previous owner — dropped by with her husband and little girl to pay us a Christmas visit. Vivian had been communicating with her online via Facebook for as long as I’ve known her, I think, so it was nice to finally meet up. They spent the day touring the Children’s Museum downtown, where Hannah got to “ride” on a slide and wiggle around in the “wiggle room.” We’ll have to take her back there older when she’d big enough to stand inside of a six-foot bubble. We had dinner that evening together at Carlos O’Kelly’s and then I took everyone downtown for some ice cream at Ted & Wally’s. The place still seemed to be packed in spite of the fact that it’s December, but we managed to beat the rush and have a scoop of egg nog, maple walnut, and “halva nice day” ice cream before calling it a night.

Christmas, here we come!