Category Archives: MPact

Birthdays and Guinea Pigs

It’s been a busy, busy week, with multiple church programs, birthdays for both my parents, a new candidate running for office, and a new family member for the Johnson family.


On Friday night, I got to attend the campaign kick-off for Robert Anthony, who’s running for the State Board of Education in the Second District. Because Board of Education districts are different from both congressional and school districts (and since it overlaps with other counties), I had to do a bit of research first to make sure I could vote for him. We had some barbecue from Big Bubba’s Que and talked a bit about educational issues before he gave his stump speech. He’s a strong conservative and actually home-schools his own kids, so he’s tuned in to the sorts of needs homeschooling families likes family would have, and that was encouraging. It’s safe to say he has my vote.

Because I wound up being the one guy with a “Real Camera” for the evening, I wound up snapping a few photos of other guests with Robert before calling it a night. The kids were both asleep when I returned home, and Vivian made up some ahi tuna and scallops for dinner before we watched A Christmas Carol.


On Saturday, we celebrated my dad’s birthday with the gift of “face time” — i.e. going through a trunk of memorabilia in the basement, looking at some groovy old photos in a few photo albums, and watching a couple old home movies. I was surprised to find a few unique treasures among the family photos and college art projects, including an autographed picture of Mr. Rogers, original campaign posters for Barry Goldwater, and some original artwork from Tribune editorial cartoonist Wayne Stayskal. My dad was friends with Staysakal and apparently gave him ideas for multiple cartoons. When this happened, Stayskal would often send my dad the original artwork, which he kept. (The funniest cartoon, of course, came in the form of a homemade birthday card from Nathan, circa 2002.)

I spent nearly the whole day at my folks’ house, taking a brief break for Arby’s at lunchtime and then heading home as the sun went down.


On Sunday evening, we had a Christmas program at Wildewood Christian Church (titled “A Country Christmas” for some reason). It was very brief, with just 15 minutes of setting up and decorating a tree interspersed with kids singing a few Christmas songs (with obligatory Christian Hand Motions™). All four grandparents were able to come and see the program, and even Aaron was able to sit still for all 15 minutes of it.


After the Christmas program, we dropped by the Mills house to meet the newest member of our family — a new baby guinea pig! The Mills had adopted their own guinea pig (named “Ginny”), who unbeknownst to them was already pregnant! She popped out a little baby boy who’s now been weaned and ready for a new home. I’d gotten a cage with bedding and food recently and we were able to set it all up and take our new little pup home that evening. We’re still settling on a name, but Hannah is leaning toward “Scratcher” at the moment.

In the meantime, our poor cat Zoey doesn’t know what to make of this strange creature, who could just as easily be food as a friend.


And because one birthday visit wasn’t enough, we dropped by my folks’ house again on Tuesday. I made my dad some barley bread, which he’d said a while ago he wanted to try. His father (my grandfather) had mentioned having to eat it during World War I because of food rationing and never liking the taste. Since barley bread is hard to come by, my dad had wanted to try it, so I managed to find some barley flour at Natural Grocers and made him a loaf. It was all right, similar to brown bread or corn bread but much more crumbly (with no gluten holding it together).

We stayed long enough my my folks to open some presents and had a hand-drawn birthday card from Hannah before calling it a night.


Then on Wednesday night, Hannah and the rest of her friends from MPact had a mid-year awards ceremony in the basement chapel. It was a shorter ceremony than in years past, as the groups didn’t all perform skits or sing songs to show what they’ve been learning so far this year. Everyone on stage got a certificate, and then we stayed just long enough for some punch an cookies before heading home.

Hannah’s been a part of this group since she was a Rainbow, and it’s so nice to see her growing up with all her little friends together!

Embracing Life, Celebrating Sushi


We’re still adjusting to the return to normalcy in the midst of arctic temperatures as January wraps up. That includes MPact starting again, and our little Prim and Rainbow got to have a brief mid-year show-and-tell with their groups at BCC. Mostly, it meant watching several volunteers struggle to keep a few little ones from wandering off stage and listening to the older ones recite scripture and sing a few songs for the grown-ups in the audience.

We’re still quite proud of our little ones, of course, and very happy they get to spend their Wednesday nights learning about the Bible with so many of their little friends (and the three different pledges of allegiance they apparently have).


Then on Friday night, I got to attend the 45th Annual Celebration of Life dinner with several of my teammates form the Pope Paul VI Institute. My boss, Dr. Hilgers, was actually being honored in absentia with a lifetime achievement award, which was accepted by his wife Sue. Naturally, I was on-the-job getting pictures and live-streaming some video (thanks to his daughter Dr. Teresa for holding the camera). Several of our elected leaders were also there, including Lt. Gov. Mike Foley (who played emcee), the Governor, and a Congressman or two.

I got to learn a bit more about the world of the newly-renamed Nebraska Embracing Life before hearing from the keynote speaker, Gianna Jessen. Gianna was the victim of a chemical abortion forty years ago and supposed to have been aborted, but she miraculously survived and lived to tell us a bit about her life (and be the inspiration for the film October Baby). She has some physical disabilities from the abortion procedure, including cerebral palsy, so she was a bit unsteady standing at the wheeled podium at the front of the room. She actually called on our Governor to literally stand by her side and give her physical support as she gave her talk, which he did like a true gentleman.


The next day, Vivian and I celebrated our sushi anniversary, marking twelve years since we made things official in 2007. We left the kids with mom and dad and went off to Hunan Fusion in West Omaha, getting our fill of sushi, including Shrimp Tempura rolls, Spicy Crab Rolls, Hawaii Rolls and Black Widow Rolls.

We walked off our lunch afterward and headed down to the Indian grocery store afterward and picked up a few things to make chicken tikka masala later in the week.


Of course, one sushi date isn’t enough, so a few days later, we swung by the Jade Palace for some drive-thru sushi in an impromptu lunch date. For fast-food sushi, it was surprisingly good (and made to order).

In the meantime, we’re enjoying an arctic snap that brought temperatures below zero (for the high) and enjoyed spending a little more quality time indoors, eating pork chops with Grammy and Pop-Pop and spending 1500 of Vivian’s Wii points before the Wii Store closed forever, letting the kids play such classic games as Mario 64 for the first time. Fortunately, things will warm up by the time the Super Bowl rolls around. This year, Hannah’s picked the Rams to win, so we’ll see if her four-pick winning streak holds up! (Aaron’s picked the Patriots.)

Oh what a night

We’ve had over a week of non-stop activities without much of a break in-between. How much fun can we fit into a three-day weekend? Way too much, apparently.


The kids started their swimming lessons at the Kroc Center on Tuesday, and I managed to squeeze in a repair job on Thursday for our washing machine (which needed a new lid switch). I was rather proud to get it up and running again.

Then on Wednesday night, Hannah and Aaron had a graduation ceremony from Daisies and Rainbows at BCC for MPact, along with all their little friends. Hannah got a special pin, and all the little ones got to recite verses and songs they’d learned through the year — before getting sugared up afterward, of course.


On Friday night, we took the kids on down to the SumTur Amphieater to see Pixar’s Coco after the sun went down. There was also a festival for Omaha area youth bands going on that provided music before the show. Kate and her girls came along to toss around a football before the show, and Jessica and Jon came along as well. The weather stayed steamy and hot most of the weekend, but we had a lovely sunset before the show started. The movie itself was very sweet and big on the value of family, though I wasn’t sure how to explain the theological implications of Día de Muertos to our kids afterward.


On Saturday, I got up early to mow the lawn and turn on the sprinklers for the first time this year, which Hannah enjoyed running in to beat the heat. Then that evening we went across the river for Loessfest. It was a balmy 98+ degrees, so we cooled off at the new “spray-ground” at the top of the hill, which had some mist, sprinklers, and a wading pool for everyone to splash in (including daddy).

Meanwhile, the Folkens were managing the shaved ice stands down in the park, so we got some multicolored slush to eat while the sun went down. Then thousands of people gathered on the green with us to see Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons perform a many of the band’s catalog of hits. Opening for them was the Heather Newman Band, which Lisa described as a “local girl done good.” The concert itself was terrific, and we took turns squeezing our way to the front of the stage to take in the music up close. Our kids, however, seemed to enjoy playing with each other and making a makeshift tent and playing in their wagon.

The only bad part of the night was spending two hours trying to get out of the park. We’d parked nice and close under the overpass, but that put us at the back of the line as thousands of people (along with everyone at Stir Cove for another concert) all had to squeeze out of the one-lane exit before we could. It took us over two hours to finally make it to the Interstate and head home.


Of course, that didn’t stop me and Hannah from coming right back the next night to hear the Omaha Symphony Orchestra. They played a medley of patriotic tunes with a little Star Wars and Indiana Jones thrown in for no apparent reason. Then local singer Camille Metoyer Moten sang God Bless America before the orchestra finished with Stars and Striped Forever.

After the concert, there was a spectacular fireworks show set to such music as Let it go from Frozen (rather than Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA, for whatever reason). We joined Kate and girls on their blanket along with Aunt Jessica, and we also chatted with the Folkens, who were came to enjoy the show this tine rather than serve flavored ice. I parked across the river this time around, which made for a much quicker drive home afterward.


Then came Memorial Day. I spent some time cleaning up the backyard and getting the kids wet with the sprinkler in the morning, and then Vivian and I prepared some shish kabobs and loaded potato salad to take to my parent’s house for dinner. The kids got more sprinkler time in my parents’ backyard as my dad brought out the smoked brisket he’d cooked up earlier in the day. Uncle Jonny kept the kids occupied as Jack and Donna joined us with some beans and dip, among other things. Then we dished up and ate together on the back patio, which was much cooler than the 95 degree forecast suggested it would be (thanks in part to a passing shower).

Nathan and his new friend Rachel dropped by almost in time for dessert afterward, and we got to have some berry pie along with Vivian’s decadent chocolate cheesecake. Nathan and Rachel also had some gifts for Hannah and Aaron from a recent trip to New York City, which they naturally loved playing with before we called it a night.

It was a long, crazy, busy week for all of us, and we’ll probably need an extra three-day weekend to recover from all the fun (and do laundry with our now-fixed washing machine).

Enjoying the Great Indoors

We’ve had some super-frigid temperatures over the past couple of weeks, which has prompted us to find ways to keep the kids busy over the past week or two that didn’t involve being outdoors (or staying inside playing video games all day).


Our first stop was the Kroc Center, which had a fun open house last Saturday. They had face-painting the whole family participated in, along with a red kettle bounce house and various stations around the facility we could check out (in exchange for a spin on the big wheel for a prize). We toured the fitness center, watched some ice sculptures being made, and then finished the afternoon with a long stay at the giant, indoor heated water park.

What makes the Kroc Center unique is that it’s part of the Salvation Army, a religious institution which had a praise team singing during our visit and also worship services on Sunday Morning. We learned a bit more about Ray Kroc via the docudrama The Founder, which is available on Netflix. He seemed like a jerk in real life, but his late wife Joan left enough money for a decent fitness center here in Omaha, so maybe it all evens out in the end.


The next day, we took the kids to First Presbyterian for another movie night. This time they got to watch Moana and try out their new fuzzy blankets, which they got from Uncle Jonny for Christmas. They had some crafts and treats after the movie of course, which kept the kids busy (and sugared up) until bedtime.


The following Saturday, we took the kids down to the Omaha Children’s Museum for another annual Star Wars Night. Our kids still haven’t seen any of the films, but they still enjoyed seeing Darth Vader and a couple storm troopers with their friends Sammy and August. They were also able to make their own foam light sabers, and Aaron particularly enjoyed dueling with his afterward. There were also several interactive exhibits upstairs, including a fishing pond, a train, canoes, and a microscope. Mostly though, they enjoyed running and jumping around after a few too many days of being cooper up indoors.


Then on Sunday, MPact had a mid-year presentation for parents at the Bellevue Christian Center. This year, Hannah and Aaron are a Daisy and a Rainbow, respectively, which means they both shared the stage for the first time. They recited a couple bible verses with their friends and got to wear their vest and sash with badges in front of all the parents gathered there. Of course, they also got cookies afterward, which was probably the real highlight of the night for the both of them.

In the meantime, I got to celebrate working at the Pope Paul VI Institute longer than any other job I’ve had. It’s been over four and a half years since I started here, and I’m still loving it — hopefully for many more years to come. I celebrated the occasion down at Chick-Fil-A with the kids.

Stinko, Rainbows, and 88 Improv


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.


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!


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.


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

Ten Years of Valentines



It’s hard to believe, but Vivian and I have been celebrating Valentine’s Day together now for an entire decade! This year, we celebrated a bit early with a Murder Mystery Dinner at the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln hosted by the Dinner Detectives. The evening consisted of a multi-course dinner with “performances” by a few actors playing detectives, murder victims, and also guests at a few of the tables in the ballroom. As expected, our job was to try to figure out “who dunnit” throughout the course of the evening (which we didn’t), but it was more fun just to watch the funny antics of the actors throughout the night.

We were asked to invent fictitious roles to play throughout the night, so I pretended to be an IT consultant named Roy Trennaman (complete with an Irish accent throughout the evening). I actually got to be a part of the show as I was called upon to take pictures of the murder victim and some of the more suspicious patrons of the dinner event. Somehow, I also wound up being the prime suspect when it came time to guess the culprit.


On Sunday night, Hannah and her little friends at Rainbows had their mid-year presentation for the parents, so Vivian and I went down with Aaron to watch her and her class sing a song for the grown-ups and show off their badges before getting sugared up in the auditorium afterward. My little girl’s growing up so fast.


Tuesday, of course, was Valentine’s Day. I kicked off the morning making Vivian some Valentine’s Quiche (with Hannah helping to crack eggs). Then when I was in the shower, Vivian made me a bagel with salmon that she smoked herself, so we had a lovely, protein-packed breakfast together.

Later that day, I dropped back at the house for lunch with flowers for Vivian and Hannah (and Aaron). Grandma Johnson then watched the kids as Vivian and I went out for Dim Sum at the Sina Way Chinese restaurant down on Capehart. I was actually scared at first when our server gave us a menu that had only generic Chinese food one could find at any Hy-Vee, but then she gave us their actual Dim Sum menu when it became apparent we were confused. We got to have tasty steamed BBQ pork buns, dumplings, pan-fried turnip cakes, congee, and many of the other things we’d had at the Golden Mountain with our friends Phil and Jen not long ago. We learned later that our server actually knows Phil and Jen, as her husband is the general contractor on the house they’re building, and she seemed somewhat impressed that Vivian and I actually wanted the “traditional” Chinese dim sum instead of the more generic fare on the first menu. That’s one thing I love about Vivian is how we both like trying new things.

We finished off the day with dinner at Chick-Fil-A, which gave the kids a chance to burn off some energy in the play area in-between eating Mor Chikin. It was another happy, successful Valentine’s Day, and it made me want to look back at the past decade and all the other wonderful Valentines Days we’ve shared together. Speaking of which, here are a few.

Vivian and me!IMG_7532.JPGIMG_9714.JPG
Valentine MeatloafP1030537.JPGP1110044IMG_20130214_182650

Mudpies, Tamales, and Rainbows


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.


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.


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.

Caucus Finale and Rainbow Badges

If you’re sick of all my election-related posts, this will be the last one for a while. It’s Caucus time in Iowa, and that means all the candidates are making one last sweep through the Hawkeye state. I was able to see three different candidates over the weekend, and I even managed to drag Vivian and my dad along for part of the ride.


Saturday started off bright and early with Rand Paul at nine o’clock. The usual gang of media types, photographers, and random libertarians were on hand to hear the Kentucky Senator give one last appeal for votes (with Rep. Tom Massie). He didn’t stick around long afterward, greeting only a few people for handshakes and pictures before speaking to the media and heading on to his next event. He even outright refused to give autographs to the few people I saw asking for them.

There was a good turnout, but I was secretly hoping for a surprise appearance by Ron Paul, who didn’t show up until Sunday night in Iowa City. (I did, however, bump into Rand Paul’s sister. I told her to say hi to her dad for me.)


Then at noon, Marco Rubio paid one last visit to Council Bluffs, this time for a town hall “in the round.” Rubio took a handful of unscreened questions and then stayed around to meet and greet every single person, just like before. I was able to coax Vivian into coming to personally meet the man she planned on voting for, and I even got a picture of the three of us. I also brought along a football for Rubio to sign, in honor of his football-related mishaps on YouTube.

A five-year old Rubio fan named McCoy stole the show, however, dressed in a white shirt and cowboy hat and snapping several photos with his own little camera. His mom said he watched the debates with her and became a Rubio fan all on his own. She even gave him a hashtag #mccoy4rubio so I could share the photos with her later. (Though I doubt Reuters will be doing that.)


Then on Sunday, Vivian and I made a trek down to the Quaker Steak and Lube to see Chris Christie — the one other candidate Vivian wanted to see in person. The small meeting area of the restaurant was packed, and Christie took an hour’s worth of questions from a handful of people (but not me, unfortunately). He also promised to be back in Nebraska come May. Hopefully he’ll still be on the ballot by then. He stuck around only for a few minutes of handshaking and pictures afterward before heading on to his next event. I didn’t get the chance to introduce him to Vivian, but he did wave to the both of us in the parking lot.


It was 50 gorgeous degrees outside, so I took the kids for some quality playtime outside before our Snowstorm Kayla hits on Tuesday. That meant walking around and splashing in some muddy puddles together, of course.

Then that evening, Hannah got to participate in a kind of open house presentation with all her little friends from Rainbows at Bellevue Christian Center. The teachers told everyone about the badges they had been earning, and the kids got to sing a song for all the grown-ups. I was there to get pictures as any proud papa, and it was hard to believe my little baby girl is growing up so fast.

Next stop: Snowmageddon!