Category Archives: Hayrack Rides

Fall fun at Vala’s, the Hall’s, and the Museum

Why hello, autumn! You snuck up on us while we’ve been busy, so I guess it’s now time for some of our favorite fall traditions: Vala’s Pumpkin Patch, a Hayrack Ride at the Hall’s, and getting set for Halloween!


We went down to Vala’s last Thursday with a bunch of other home-schooled kids from Classical Conversations and had a long, fun day at the Pumpkin Patch. We took multiple trips through the Spook Shed (now Hannah’s favorite attraction), and Pig Caller Mark Celesky picked Hannah got to be a Pig Leader again during one of the many Pig Races throughout the day. We dropped by the duck races, the bouncing pillows, and the corn bin, and then got a bucket o’ fries to tide us over until dinner. We even got a free train ride around the park, getting rare glimpses of the Old West Town and the Singing Fish Wall (followed by the Train Playground afterward). The kids played on some scooters, some tractors also spent a good deal of time firing foam balls inside a the new, giant Egg Barn (which, as it turned out, had very little to do with eggs). Of course, we also took advantage of photo opportunities on the Big Chair behind painted cutouts throughout the park during the day, including a Cow, some donkeys, some ghosts, a pumpkin carriage, and the How Tall This Fall board to record how Hannah and Aaron measure up.

We went down a couple slides and then had some dinner and s’mores by the Classical Conversations fire pit toward the end of the day. Then we visited the Dragon and let Hannah and Aaron pick out a couple pumpkins of their own before we headed home, happily exhausted.


Dad and I spent a little time fixing things around the house on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we went to the Hall’s for another campfire and hayrack ride through the country. The kids tossed around a football, Aaron got to play on a tire swing, and Hannah chased some of the farm cats (which resembled her toy cat Zoey, which has gone missing yet again). I brought along my tripod for a few family pictures on the hayrack before Rick drove us around the dirt trails as the sun went down. We kept warm by the fire afterward while filling up on chili and things for dinner, and some of the guys broke out some guitars for some worship songs before we headed home.


Then on Tuesday, our kids got to break out their Halloween Costumes for the first time (after mommy dragged them to three or four stores trying to find them)! They dressed as characters from PJ Masks, Cat Boy and Green Gecko, and we took them down to the Omaha Children’s Museum for an evening of “healthy” treats and checking out the exhibits. They had some kind of obstacle course set up for Halloween along with a “forest” exhibit upstairs with a canoe, Brio Train Set, and logs to climb on. Some of the parents came in costume as well, prompting me to start thinking seriously about my own costume this year.

On the way out the door, Vivian stopped to get a picture with museum employee Shawn Toovey, also known for playing Brian Cooper on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman back in the 90s. He was very nice, and Vivian asked him if he’d enjoyed being on the show as a kid and whether he kept in touch with former cast members. I never actually watched the show growing up, so Vivian was a bit more star-struck than I was, but maybe I’ll have to give it a watch sometime. (I think it’s available on Amazon.)

Game Nights

Whenever life gets hectic and it seems we don’t have one spare moment to catch our breath, I like to remind myself (and Vivian) how nice it is to have friends. I was reminded of that this weekend hanging out with three separate clusters of our own mutual friends.


On Friday night, Kate and Jessica had another game night, which was always a good idea for us, since Kate’s three girls seems to negate any need for babysitting Hannah and Aaron. Kate had an assortment of food, which included pizza dough, which Vivian made use of. I brought along some pumpkin spice Irish cream and we played a couple rounds of a card game called Baseball, which I nearly figured out how to play before we were done for the night.

Then on Saturday, we went up to Blair to see Tamra and Ryan’s new house for an evening of Tea and Telestrations. There was a campfire and Giant Jenga happening outside, but the carnivorous bugs seemed to be too much for everyone, so we stayed inside playing games upstairs and down. Hannah and Aaron also got to know a certain Siberian Husky up close and personal (and without freaking out).


On Sunday night, Twin Valley Church had its annual shin-dig at the Hall’s, with a roaring fire for s’mores and food brought by everybody. The kids had some fun swinging, rolling a giant wooden spool around, and checking out the chicken coop before the sun went down. Sadly, there was no hayrack-riding, since there was a conspicuous lack of hay, but we decided by the end of the night to have a bean-bag chair rack ride next year (BYOBBCs).

Then on Monday night, it was Daddy’s Night at Hannah’s Preschool. I’d gone last year with Hannah and got to see some of the same activities they engage in this time around, including the Daddy Song that the class sang for us. Hannah’s friend Sammy was there as well, and they got to spend a little time playing together. It had been raining all day, and when we left there was a giant rainbow to the east that spanned the entire sky — the biggest most of us had seen in our entire lives, I think.

Fall’s kicking into high gear now, and we’ve got plans for some outdoor fun over the next few weeks before Halloween (and winter) start to set in. Hello, autumn!

Welcome back, Marty McFly

If you’re a child of 80s, you know that October 21, 2015 has a very special meaning — it’s the day Marty McFly arrives from 1985. I don’t think anyone really expected our future to have the flying cars, hover boards, and double neckties portrayed in the movie, but it’s still cause for celebration, especially during a month where every adult can dress like a bojo.


On Saturday, Hannah and Aaron got a taste of trick-or-treating by donning their Halloween costumes (Anna and Pooh) and going down to Gifford Farm for some candy and hay-sliding.
Then that evening, Vivian and I celebrated Jenny’s birthday Back to the Future style at Dean’s house in Bennington. All our friends came dressed as characters from the Back to the Future franchise, representing all possible settings and timelines throughout the movie — past, present, and future. We had multiple versions of Biff and Marty (though only one Doc Brown) and people even came as inanimate objects such as the clock tower and the lightning that hit it. It was especially fun reenacting moments from the movie. Vivian and I came as the Flux Capacitor and Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen, and it was particular fun to join the party completely in-character. We even had cans of “Pepsi Perfect” to go along with Vivian’s Flux Capacitor Cupcakes.

Jenny had a Back to the Future trivia quiz, and Vivian won a Cafe 80s tumbler. We also had a little dancing, which wasn’t easy in my knee-high boots. It was definitely a party for the ages. I only wish we could have stayed later, but time isn’t quite as wibbly-wobbly and timey-wimey in reality as it is on-screen.


On Sunday, we dropped by the Hall’s place for their annual Hayrack Ride and Campfire Potluck with our church. This would be the last Hayrack Ride with the Rietjens, as Drew will be leaving Twin Valley Church to preach at Clear Lake Christian Church this November, so I snapped a few family photos for them as a going-away present. Our group spent a little while goofing around on a Salmon Ladder and riding giant wooden spools before climbing on the Hayracks to putter around the countryside. Every now and then I get to appreciate what it means to live in Nebraska, so close to rolling fields full of horses and one-room schoolhouses. We lit up the campfire and ate back at the Hall’s House as the sun quickly set.

Wednesday, of course, was the big day, and it could only be celebrated one way: with a large Pizza Hut pizza, half pepperoni, half green pepper. (And a bottle of Pepsi Perfect!)

Welcome back, Marty!

Rabbits and Hayracks


On Saturday morning, Vivian and I took both of the kids down to the Farmer’s Market, braving a brisk October morning to walk among the vendors looking for “unusual” produce and other unique edibles. I think many of the vendors must have cut and run this late in the season, since most of the items for sale were available at any grocery store (and likely much cheaper). Our favorite vendors such as the bakery and root beer stands were missing, but we did get some coffee from Tap Dancers down at the corner. We eventually nabbed some tiny eggplants, peppers, and some Chinese Spinach, all of which seemed suitable for an ingredient party.

Of course, we also had to stop by the Upstream for lunch so Vivian could get the flight of beers I got for her birthday. It was too cold to eat outside, but that didn’t stop us from recreating a photo of Hannah happily watching the colorful, bubbling samples of beer in front of her. (No tasting, sweetie.)


That evening, Phil and Jen had us over for another Ingredient Party, which included a Mel Brooks movie marathon (History of the World, Young Frankenstein, and Blazing Saddles). Hannah got to see some of the fluffy bunnies downstairs that our favorite culinary couple were raising for Hasenpfeffer, and I was just sick enough to get a gruesome “before and after” picture. Phil had invited Vivian’s folks along, and they were actually the ones who brought along rabbit to have fried up for everyone. (It tasted like chicken.) A few other mutual friends were there as well, including Kristen, who got to meet Baby Aaron for the first time, Luke, Cameron and S. Jael, and Tamra, who kept Hannah occupied with the many stuffed toys she brought with her.

The food was all good, of course, though at the end I got to have a taste of masochism by tasting some Seven Pot Pepper spice. It’s not quite unlike setting your tongue on fire, though after ten minutes or so of sheer agony, it went away without so much as a tingle left behind (and took the burn from the jerk chicken with it, strangely enough.)


On Sunday afternoon, we headed down to the Hall’s place along with the rest of Twin Valley Church for a Hayrack Ride and Potluck dinner. After chasing Shawn’s new cat for a few minutes, a quick trip on the swings and a hop on the trampoline, everyone climbed onto the hayracks for a quick trip through in the country. It was a lovely, brisk fall day, with plenty of horses roaming the countryside for us to yell at as we passed. There were a few showers rolling through the area, which made some some gorgeous pictures once the sun started to set. It started to sprinkle just as we returned to the ranch, so we had to grab our chili and duck in and out of the shed as the rain passed.

We had a roaring fire that was useful for roasting both weenies and marshmallows, and then we showed the kids gathered around how to tell a “progressive” story around the campfire. The median age of our group of storytellers was about six, so we naturally got opening lines such as “It was a dark and poopy night.” The younger they are, the easier it is to crack them up. Meanwhile, the grown-ups played a marshmallow-stuffing game of “Chubby Bunny,” which I would have gotten a picture of if I hadn’t been engaged in such riveting storytelling (and snapping pictures of the mortal combat happening on the trampoline) before heading home.

Curry, hayracks, and a pumpkin patch

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The month of October is always jam-packed with fun events with our circle of friends, and this weekend was certainly no exception. On Friday night, Vivian and I dropped by the Regency Lake & Tennis Club to attend a wedding reception PK with a bunch of her former co-workers. PK and his new bride are both from Nepal, and brought an entire cross-section of his family to come and celebrate in true Nepalese style. There was some amazing ethnic food available out front — chicken chhoyla, vegetable pakoda, palak paneer, rajma, chicken tikka masala, and mutton curry — every one of which was a new treat for us. Hannah even got to try a few bites, though she seemed content to munch on shrimp crackers and naan. I’m definitely grateful that the venue allowed PK and his family to bring their own food. Afterward, we got to burn it off with some dancing to energetic music once a few of us got over ourselves. Naturally, there were about a dozen cameras pointed every which way, so people had a few inhibitions before hitting the floor, but once PK’s mom got into the fun, nobody wanted to sit it out.

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On Saturday, we continued the fall traditions with a trip to Vala’s Pumpkin Patch. This was Hannah’s second visit to Nebraska’s famous autumnal amusement park, and this time around she was big enough to participate in some of the “big kid” attractions, such as the jumping pillows, the new Big Slide, and even the family-sized go-cart (though I did the pedaling and steering while Vivian held on for dear life). Of course, we had to bring a gang of our great friends to join in the fun (and the lines). Li Ya also brought her little boy, who immediately took a shine to Hannah. A crashed for food when necessary between trudging through a corn maze and pumpkin mine, and we grabbed a photo opportunity on a giant chair, in a coffin, in the gift shop, in jail, and by a pile of pumpkins when we got the chance (with the help of some friendly passersby). Hannah also got to see a pig race, a dragon or two, and definitely enjoyed the storybook village, riding in a pumpkin carriage and giving Little Bo Beep a hug. We finished off the night with Amazing Arthur (where I missed Jenny getting called up on stage), and found our way out through the gift shop, grabbing an obligatory caramel apple along the way.

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On Sunday, the Halls opened up their home again for another fun campfire and hay rack ride with our friends at Twin Valley Church. It was a gorgeous day for being outdoors and riding around in the countryside. Hannah is old enough now to play with the cluster of little friends from church who came along for the event, and she got to discover some of the fun of riding in a tire swing and eating tasty fall things in front of a campfire. One of the things I love best about our little church group is how much fun we all seem to have together. Of course there were plenty of pictures being snapped from every angle, so Teresa recruited a couple of us to snap pictures of her family while we were being so shutter-happy.

The s’mores family

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October’s always been a month jam-packed with events, and one reason for this is the slew of birthdays that all seem to cluster around this time of year. On Friday night, I paid a visit to the Eagle’s Lodge to join in Jenny and Lisa’s birthday jam. On Saturday afternoon. Vivian and I dropped by her old neighbor Toni’s house for a fun outdoor birthday barbecue (bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers, anyone?)

That evening, Hannah got to experience dressing up for Jenny’s annual birthday costume party. This was our first chance to dress up as a family, so we decided to come as a s’more. I got to squeeze myself between two large piece of cardboard graham cracker, Vivian wore a Hershey Bar apron, and Hannah got herself stuffed with a couple extra onesies to be our little marshmallow. Our collection of costumes took third prize at the party, coming in second to Paul and Leane as a couple of Spartans and Heather was a shower scrub. We had several other noteworthy costumers in our ranks, including Tamra and Ryan as Aesop’s Tortoise and Hare, Libby as a bamboo-wielding kung-fu person, and Jon Paper and his (malfunctioning) duct-tape pants of the future.

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Of course, no autumn would be complete with a hayrack ride, so on Sunday afternoon we took Hannah on her very first. The Halls at Twin Valley Church host an annual potluck dinner at their ranch south of Omaha, so we dropped by with a couple dozen other church members and got toted around a couple square miles of countryside. The weather was darn near perfect for this time of year — around 80 degrees and quite cozy (at least until the clouds and wind started rolling in later in the day). We finished off the day evening with a roaring campfire and s’mores once the sun went down. We also had chili and soup for dinner with such treats as Donna’s miniature Ghost Cookies for dessert.

Costume Party and a Hayrack Ride

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The fall fun continues for Vivian and me. Last Saturday we partook in another autumnal tradition — Jenny’s birthday costume party, which we’ve attended for the last four years in a row. This year I came as Number Two from the 1960s TV series The Prisoner. Pretty much nobody in our group knew who I was supposed to be, but that didn’t matter. I loved the show, and I needed to buy a gray turtleneck anyway. Vivian came as a cat-who-swallowed-an-entire fishbowl, making use of her eight-month-old pregnant tummy. We had several other hilarious costumers in our ranks this year — the Straussers as the Super Family, Heather as a Major Award, Jon Paper as a headless person, Keith as… Captain Keith, the Kams as a pumpkin patch, and Jenny as Lady Gaga (singing Bad Romance via karaoke just as we walked in the door). Dean West was our host this evening dressed as Bamm-Bamm, and his parents just happened to show up to join us.

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We drifted between karaoke and pumpkin-style food upstairs and a dance floor downstairs. Jenny got to have another birthday jam (after getting one at JNO on Friday). Vivian and Venche served up pumpkin cheesecake and pumpkin pie (respectively) to contribute to our sugar rush throughout the evening. We continued on with the Hokey Pokey for some reason and wound down the evening setting up a Christmas tree with random objects gathered from Dean’s basement (which included boots, a beachball, and Scotch tape among other things).

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On Sunday, Vivian and I partook in another fall tradition — going on a hayrack ride. This year, we went with several of our fellow members at Twin Valley Church to the Hall’s ranch down near rural Plattsmouth. We loaded up in two hayracks and got toted about for a couple miles, enjoying the gorgeous weather and countryside along the bumpy country roads.

Everyone brought plenty of food to stuff ourselves with afterward, and we had a roaring firepit going as well, which was just perfect for toasting s’mores with some of the ginormous marshmallows Jeff West was able to smuggle in. The weather was absolutely gorgeous the whole time we were there — warm enough for a T-shirt — but as the sun fell we were reminded that it is, in fact, October now, so the fire was a welcome addition to the evening. (Little Rachel just stared in awe as if she’d never seen an open fire before.)

Fall Fun

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Fall’s finally here, and with it comes weather that’s only slightly cooler than the weather we’ve enjoyed throughout the summer so far (which is insanely wonderful). Per tradition, Vivian and I went by Vala’s Pumpkin Patch to check out this year’s festivities. We went with our bible group from Christ Community Church, (which is the first time I’ve mentioned them in my blog so far, oddly enough) and got to wander through a corn maze, have some succotash, and pick out a pumpkin for carving later on.

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Another fall tradition is the Great at Adventures Hayrack Ride up in Santa’s Woods. Vivian and I opted to take the less “rowdy” hayrack ride so we could enjoy looking up at the stars and not have to pick straw out of our clothes and hair for the next two weeks (like some other friends of ours will have to do). We did get to enjoy swing dancing in the barn to some country music and grilling hot dogs and smores on an open fire as well.

Hayracks and Pumpkins

IMG_7721It’s been another weekend of Fall Fun and Games. The leaves are changing color, the weather is getting cooler, and it seems like everywhere we go we get to mooch of everyone else’s food. Our fellow Jitterbug friends Merinda and Becky Ives had birthdays over the weekend. That naturally meant dancing down at JNO on Friday night, and then heading over to Dave and Buster’s on Saturday night for just a little bit of mayhem.

IMG_7731Vivian and I stayed only for the food, ordering an appetizer and a coupler drinks, and then stuffing ourselves with the leftover food nobody else wanted. We weren’t the only ones joining in the spoils of someone else’s dinner. Mark got to have nearly an entire meal gathered up from extra plates, and there were plenty of tempting desserts floating across the table.

After dinner, Vivian and I drove up to Blair for the annual Great Adventures Hayrack Ride That Sticks Gets Inside Every Crevice event. I went on this last year and was picking stray pieces of straw out of my clothes for weeks afterwards, so this time Vivian and I decided to go on the hayrack that didn’t require signing some kind of legal waiver. It was still just as nice and romatic, and much easier to get out of my hair afterwards.

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Continuing in the spirit of fall fun, Vivian and I headed with our mutual friends to Vala’s Pumpkin patch to enjoy what turned out not to be a day full of thunderstorms (as had been forecast). It rained all day last year when we went to Vala’s, so this time around we got to enjoy such things as the pedal carts and the balloon jump, which was great fun and a terrific workout. It left me sweatier than I usually get while dancing. They also had a tremendous corn maze. I ventured into the tall stalks with Hugh, who for some reason insisted on holding the map the entire time while constantly forgetting where we were in the maze. We didn’t seem to get as lost as our friends, however, who wandered into the maze without a map and seemed amazed that Hugh and I found our way out after only half an hour.

It was another fun weekend, with more on the way. This week had been a bit of a bummer, however, since my dear Ford Taurus decided to leak all its transmission fluid onto the HyVee parking lot, rendering it undrivable. Say a prayer for the Beige Bomber and hope he’s fixable once again.