Category Archives: Politics

Backing the Blue

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It’s been another fun, busy week making our way through the dog days of summer. On Tuesday, I rode my bike to work again, and I met up with Mr. Nate at New Golden Mountain to have dim sum in thanks for helping us with our siding project. Then after work, I stopped by the All Play Sprayground, where Vivian brought the kids to cool off at the end of the day before heading home to turn leftover brisket into BBQ sandwiches.

Then on Friday, Aaron had a bit of a cold, so I took Hannah down to the SumTur for a Daddy/Daughter date night. We’ve been going to the SumTur for their outdoor movie nights every year since Hannah was born, and I’m glad it’s one tradition that wasn’t cancelled due to Covid 19. We did have to use red dots on the lawn to keep our distance from other patrons, but the weather was lovely and we even got to share some popcorn and Skittles when the sun went down. The movie of the evening was Toy Story 4, but it was upstaged halfway through by a giant frog that decided to hop in front of us and steal the show.

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On Saturday morning, my dad and I went down to Memorial Park for a “Back the Blue” rally, a patriotic counter-protest to the guys who were smashing windows and spraying graffiti downtown a few weeks earlier. Around two thousand people were in attendance (including some elected officials) carrying American flags (of varying stripes) and arriving on motorcycle or even a decorated station wagon. The festivities included speakers from the Omaha Police Department (and former Omaha North principal Gene Haynes) and a few singers, such as the Sarpy Serenders and local musician Steve Spurgeon, who sang in all his star-spangled attire (and guitar).

Former Mayor Hal Daub played emcee, introducing the speakers and musical guests. The event was apolitical, though a few people brought Trump flags and a handful of protestors also made their way through the crowd. There were no ugly confrontations or outbursts, however. I was amused when one protestor tried to get people riled up by screaming, “black lives matter” only to be shouted down with “all lives matter” by the crowd. I also managed to bump into KFAB’s Chris Baker, who was live-streaming the event, which you can watch in its entirety here. I enjoyed hearing from all the speakers, though Sgt. Connor absolutely brought down the house at the very end of the event, giving a passionate, fiery speech (which you can watch here) lambasting the media for its role in making all cops look like villains.

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Things were quiet for the rest of the weekend. On Sunday, we set up a new wading pool on the driveway for the kids to splash in. We were lucky enough to nab one for for $25 at Aldi while they were in stock — similar models were being scalped online for $100. I even joined the kids as they splashed about a bit, finding the ice cold water from our garden hose massively refreshing.

Then after dinner, we went down to Dairy Twist to have some ice cream for dessert, taking a short detour on our way home through the St. Columban Mission, where we saw a handful of deer out to graze in their sanctuary.

Father’s Day

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We had a very nice week running up to Father’s Day this weekend. On Tuesday, I had some breakfast with my folks down at Village Inn to celebrate our massive plumbing project finally wrapping up (with a new working toilet). I was hoping to go to the 11 Worth Cafe instead, but some racial agitators shut it down because they didn’t like the name of a breakfast menu item, which was disappointing to say the least.

The next day, Donna brought over an early birthday present for me — a new, functioning grill for the deck! I was very happy with it, but now I’ll have to make some time to do some grilling while the weather’s nice enough for it (and to buy a grill cover).

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On Saturday, we got a bit of a cold front that pushed temperatures down to the 70s from the 90s, so we decided to enjoy the afternoon down at Memorial Park. We had a McDonald’s picnic for lunch and then walked a bit through the rose garden, which was now in full bloom. The kids skipped down the hill and then found some mulberries on the way back up. Then we finished the afternoon over at the recently-reopened playground, where the kids played for a while before making a project of dumping sand onto the twisty slide for no particular reason.

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Then that evening I joined some of the Young Republicans at the DCRP headquarters to watch Trump’s rally down in Tulsa. Having been on the floor of such an event before, the President seemed very much the reality show entertainer and comedian / plain-talking (and occasionally foul-mouthed) POTUS we’ve come to expect. I personally think Trump’s improvised comedy and self-depreciation are some of his biggest assets, and despite the crowd’s apparent lackluster size (which some are blaming on either Covid 19 or disruptions outside), it was fun to watch.

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Then on Father’s Day, I woke up to a lovely (and giant) breakfast burrito courtesy of Vivian, which some nice little cards handmade by the Hannah and Aaron (and Elmo/Luke). After our online church service, I headed over to mom and dad’s house, where I had a handful of soon-to-be “collectors items” I’d accumulated over the week, starring Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and the Cream of Wheat chef. My dad went through a trunk full of old family photos in the basement with us, and then we got some Taco John’s for lunch (namely six pack and a pound times three). We watched some of my dad’s old reel-to-reel films after that and got some milkshakes from Culver’s mid-afternoon before digging into another family photo album from our time in Grand Rapids before heading home.

Then that evening, Vivian had a few more gifts for me at home and a dinner of sushi from the Jade Palace to finish off the day.

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The day after Father’s Day, we took the family down to Jack and Donna’s house to celebrate Father’s Day with Vivian’s dad. Vivian and her mom made up a dinner of steak with scalloped potatoes, vegetables, and their usual hors d’oeuvres. — all of which we ate under their porch in the midst of a brief rain shower.

In the meantime, the kids got the chance to play in Grammy’s yard for the first time this year. They also got to see some of Grammy’s decorative rocks and blooming flowers before we had our dessert together. Jack also got to open a few presents, including some of Vivian’s parmesan chicken wings, before we called it a night.

A rocket, a riot, peonies, and geese

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We had some gorgeous weather over the past week that made for some extra time outside with the kids ahead of the oppressive heat of summer coming right around the corner. On Friday afternoon, we dropped by Memorial Park again in time to see the peonies blooming (as they are at our house). Hannah had her camera out and was snapping just as many pictures as I was as we walked about (and climbed a tree). Then that evening, I stopped by Johnny’s Cafe and picked up a pair of “TV Dinners” they were selling. I’d wanted to to find a way support my favorite Omaha restaurant ever since everything shut down for the pandemic months ago, and a couple meals of chopped steak with mushroom gravy seemed like a nice idea (which we ate while watching Brain Donors).

Then on a lovely rainy Saturday, we tuned our Raspberry Pi over to the SpaceX shuttle launch, watching the lift off more or less live along with the rest of the world. We brought the kids out to watch along with us in hopes that they would remember the historic moment.

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On Sunday, we celebrated Pentecost by attending a drive-in church service at Bellevue Christian Center once again. We were getting a bit tired of having church livestreamed at home every week, and it felt good to get out of the house for an in-person worship service, even if it was in our car. Pastor Andy’s message was focused on some of the civil unrest going on around the country, even here in Omaha, and he brought up Pastor Hooker for a joint prayer for peace at the end.

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Afterward, I headed downtown to see some of the aftermath of the rioting that happened on Saturday night. I was somewhat suprised to find downtown was fairly crowded with hundreds of people there to do volunteer clean-up work. There were folks spraying and scrubbing graffiti off buildings and sidewalks, and lots more cleaning up broken glass from broken windows and boarding up windows. One guy by the courthouse was handing out bottles of water to volunteers, and saw men wearing an NRA hat and a BLM T-shirt both helping in the cleanup.

I eventually found myself in the Old Market, where I bumped into Don Bacon and his brigade, who were cleaning up at the corner of the Hollywood Candy shop. Strangely enough, volunteers for Kara Eastman, who’s running against Bacon, showed up to scrub the opposite corner (though Kara herself was nowhere to be found). By some coincidence, our friends the Mills drove by a few minutes later, just looking to help wherever they could. The owner of the Hollywood Candy shop came out with fudge to thank everyone for their help shortly before we were cleared out, as another “protest” was allegedely gearing up. I saw a glimpse of some left-wing nutjobs raising their fists a few blocks away near the Hive Bar down the street, where the owner apparently shot and killed a protestor in self-defense.

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On Monday, the playgrounds at Omaha’s city parks were supposed to be open again to the public, so we stopped on by Hanscom Park with the kids for some noontime fun. We’d visited the park twice before during the Pandemic but couldn’t wander far beyond the “twisty tree” to the playground by the lake, where the kids had some fun playing after having some burgers for lunch. We also took a nice walk along the little pond and fountain, getting close to a few geese hanging about. Hannah and Aaron both found goose feathers left behind, and we even kicked off our shoes to dip our feet in the water together. It was a lovely day for a park visit altogether, particularly before the oppreesive summer heat starts ramping up.

Bacon, Elmwood, and Cinnamon Rolls

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Tuesday was Nebraska’s primary election day, so I got a little taste of “normalcy” by hanging out a bit with the Bacon Brigade down at 120th and L. They were waving some signs to get out the vote for the Congressman (along with Ian Swanson for Sasse), and I naturally wanted to drop by for a few photos as well. Congressman Bacon was wearing his own patriotic mask, but most everyone went mask-free as they waved and called to cars coming from all four directions — many of which responded with happy beeps.

It was the first political event I’d been a part of since the Iowa primaries, so it was nice to feel one thing a bit more “normal” after all these weeks of shutdown. I also told Don I hoped we’d been able to see him in a parade again soon.

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We had some lovely weather on Friday, which was enough to justify a long lunchtime trip down to Elmwood Park. We had a nice, long walk along the wooded path and the grotto area, checking out the local wildlife and getting some much-needed fresh air before kicking off the weekend. We got some ice cream sandwiches for the trip home and then had some Italian beef sandwiches for dinner.

Vivian and I were up bright and early the next morning to check out a “smiley face moon,” i.e. an alignment of a waning crescent moon with Jupiter and Saturn to form a “smiley face.” Unfortunately, it turned out to be completely fake news, but that didn’t stop me from snapping a photo anyway just to document getting up at 4:30 am for no reason. We had some more excitement that evening as the tornado sirens went off to alert us of a pending light rain shower. It didn’t interrupt the Johnny Mazetti we had for dinner, and I snapped a photo of the storm that barely penetrated the OmaDome (and a newly blooming iris) for lack of anything better to do.

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Then on Sunday, Vivian made up some hot cinnamon rolls, which we ate during our weekly Living Room worship service with Wildewood’s Facebook live-stream. Hopefully, next week we’ll be attending an almost-in-person drive-in service at the church, though we’ll still have to bring along our own communion elements.

Later that afternoon, I introduced Aaron to Tron, a game he immediately picked up on and became surprisingly good at playing. Maybe soon enough we’ll show him the film on Disney+ (or at least the light bike scene).

Lent, Thomas More, and Kevin McCarthy

We kicked of Lent last week with a fun and busy cross-section of activities that included politics, a fish fry, and plenty of time outside enjoying some spring-like weather.

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On (Fat) Tuesday night, I got dressed up to attend the Thomas More Society dinner at St. Vincent de Paul Parish Center, courtesy of the Saint Paul VI Institute, which bought a whole table for me and my co-workers. I knew almost nothing about the Thomas More Society beforehand, and I got hear from founder Tom Brejcha talk about their legal work defending pro-lifers — particularly their right to protest.

The keynote speaker for the evening was David Bereit, founder of the 40 Days for Life campaign. He actually had a surprising connection to the Saint Paul VI Institute — his wife was actually treated for infertility by Dr. Hilgers many years ago and had two grown children now thanks to him. That was certainly surprising news to everyone at our table.

It was a lovely evening, and I even got to take home a tiny Mardis Gras mask for Hannah’s doll in honor of Fat Tuesday.

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Ash Wednesday kicked off that Lenten season, and that means it’s time for fish fries! Our friends the Simpsons invited us along with them to St. Charles Borromeo for their annual fish fry. It was the first time our kids have had the “full line experience,” but they got to run outside a bit and then played a keep-away game with mommy as we shuffled our way through the line waiting to dish up.

The fish itself was probably the best of all the fish fries I’ve attended — fried fresh, crispy and golden — and even Hannah wound up stuffing herself with a filet or two. (Gabriel helped himself to his mom’s mac and cheese.)

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Vivian and I had a night out planned on Saturday, so we made a point of getting the kids outside to enjoy some of the lovely 60-degree weather. We had a picnic lunch in the shelter together and then burned off the PB&J on slides, the teeter-totter, and rolling aimlessly down the hill. Hannah also brought along her doll “Suki” to chase Aaron around the playground in-between rounds of play-fighting.

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Then that evening, Grammy watched the kids as Vivian and I dressed up and headed off to the Elephant Remembers dinner downtown. It’s the second time we’d been invited to this annual gala fundraiser, which meant we got to rub elbows with some of the typical Republican friends I bump into at town halls or parades (looking at you, Stephen). Scott Voorhees played emcee, and introduced a chain of speakers, such as Mayor Jean, Mike Foley, Ben Sasse, and Don Bacon. The keynote speaker was House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who gave an stump speech about entering politics as a young man and his optimism about Republicans taking back the house in November. McCarthy received a few gifts before he left the stage — a bottle of whiskey from local distiller Soldier Valley, and an plaque naming him Admiral of the Nebraska Navy (an apparently annual joke I have yet to understand).

The honorees of the evening were Lee and Robyn Terry, and there was a nice table of Terry campaign memorabilia set up in the lobby for everyone to see as they came in. Bacon’s wing-man James Wright introduced Lee and Robyn, who both said a few words before being awarded a Nebraska baking pan by DCRP chair Theresa Thibodeau. There was one more award to Young Republican Spencer Head and a few words from Bacon’s second-in-command Kyle Clark to wrap things up. Naturally, plenty of folks stuck around to meet-and-greet a few of the speakers (and get photos), and I got to briefly shake McCarthy’s hand and told him I looked forward to him being the next Speaker. I also wound up taking a group photo of the Terry Team on my way out the door — always happy to lend a hand with my lens whenever possible.

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We had a nice and quiet Sunday, unexpectedly bumping into our friends the Lenarts at church over donuts. Then that evening we took the kids by First Presbyterian to play outside (and let Hannah try out her scooter) in the gorgeous weather before enjoying another one of their movie nights. This time it was 101 Dalmatians, a Disney classic I’d actually never seen, which we watched while eating Hot Dogs, sloppy joes, and Scooby Snacks of all things. They had some fun crafts afterward that included Dalmatian head bands, and Hannah made her own Dalmatian out of Play-Doh before we called it a night.

The Week before Caucus Night

The Iowa Caucuses are finally being held today, so it might be worth a quick look back at a busy, busy week in Presidential politics if you happened to be living within a stone’s throw of Council Bluffs, where we had a candidate visiting pretty much every day of the week (some of whom I missed, such as Amy Klobuchar on Tuesday and Joe Biden on Wednesday).

IMG_7164First up was Andrew Yang, who held a rally with around 300 at Abe Lincoln High School on Monday. Our friend Nate had wanted to visit either Yang (or Tulsi — the two sanest Democrats running, IMHO) before the primaries started, so he came along with me to hear what he had to say.Yang was introduced by a few local Democrats and then his wife Evelyn before taking the stage in front of a very friendly crowd, which happened to include Alex Wagner from Showtime’s The Circus. As before, the focus of Yang’s stump speech was on helping workers displaced via AI technology through his “freedom divided,” and I found his keen focus on the economy to be what set him apart from his more socialist-leaning competitors. He took a few questions afterward, including one from a woman whose sister died of an opioid overdose (who Yang also called up front so he could give her a hug). He stuck around afterward for a quick series selfies with everyone who came (including me, of course), and I had the chance to thank him for appearing on the Ben Shapiro show — and that both sides need to listen to one another.

IMG_20200130_143955074Then on Wednesday, the Vice President himself paid Council Bluffs a visit on his way to a rally with President Trump in Des Moines. Nate’s son Jake had expressed interest in meeting President Trump, which I told him was a tall order. A meeting with the Vice President, however, was far more doable. The event was held at the Thunderbowl’s Gathering Room, which was a fairly small venue, so we showed up around two and a half hours early to help ensure we got good seats (in the second row)! The Fox News Channel was among the media there to cover the VP’s visit, along with a handful of local media and even Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, who came with the motorcade. There was an opening invocation and a recitation of the pledge of allegiance before Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds took the stage to introduce the Vice President.

IMG_20200130_144052666I’d seen (and shaken the hand of) Mr. Pence three times before, but this was the first time I’d been allowed to bring my good camera with me, so I happily snapped photos as the VP gave a brief stump speech highlighting Veterans’ issues and the economy. The real excitement happened in the moments afterward, of course, when Jake and I were quickly able to make our way to the front to meet the Veep himself. Jake was easily able to get a handshake and a selfie with Pence. I brought along a copy of A Day in the Life of the Vice President, a book written and illustrated and Pence’s daughter and wife, respectively, which Pence seemed very happy to autograph for me when I asked.

Among the familiar faces in the crowd were the Halliburtons — David, Mason (the Button Boy), and Haley — who had met the Veep multiples times before but this time brought previously-snapped photos of themselves for him to autograph. We stayed just long enough to watch the motorcade make its way out of town before heading home.

IMG_7449The last Presidential candidate to visit Council Bluffs before the Caucus was Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who held a rally in Ballroom-B the Mid-America Center. Since I’d gotten to see the first candidate visit more than a year ago, I thought it was nice to be able to see the last one as well.

He gave a stump emphasizing the need to bring Democrats, Republicans, and moderates together while also stumping unapologetically for abortion and criticizing Christians for being too selfish to sign onto his social welfare programs. I only stayed long enough to snap some pictures and rub elbows with a few other familiar faces before watching the 2020 Caucus draw to a close.

IMG_7593Then on Saturday, I was up bright and early to attend a nine o’clock town hall with Don Bacon. He’s held more than a dozen of these since taking office in 2017, and as always it drew people from both sides of the political aisle. The left-leaning members of the audience asked questions about climate change and the impeachment, the latter of which seemed a sore spot as the Senate had just voted to draw their proceedings to a close. The event was moderated by KFAB’s Scott Voorhees, who kept things moving along even as some members wanted to ask more than their share of questions — some of which got heated as one guy spontaneously started screaming out of turn. Even though things got heated, the Congressman stayed cool. When accused of voting to end Obamacare with no replacement, he pointed out that he had, in fact, voted for the AHCA, and when one audience member accused Trump of soliciting a bribe, Bacon pointed out that bribery should have been included in the articles of impeachment in that case — and it wasn’t.

I mostly enjoyed the back-and-forth, and at the end of the event, Congressman Bacon said, “Agree or disagree… we’re all Americans.” I’m glad we live in a country where the folks in power — whether a candidate, a Congressman, or the Vice President — are so easily within reach of a nobody like me living in Nebraska. I just hope the Iowa Democrats didn’t screw up their Caucus so badly this year that they’ll pick another state to go first in 2024.

Happy New Decade

Hello, 2020 — a New Year, a New Year, and a new season of writing on the wrong year on everything. Seriously, it’s going to take a while for 2020 to sound more like a real-life year and not a TV show.

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Somehow, we ended the year in the same way we started it — with a visit from Senator and Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Warren. I’m honestly surprised she’s still in the race, considering the gaffe claiming Native American ancestry. She’s one of the farther-left candidates on the Democratic ticket, which is a shift from her earlier days when she supported such things as school choice. She’s still one of the front-runners, however, so I joined a couple hundred people at Woodrow Wilson Middle School to hear her talk about teachers’ unions, climate change, and other Democrat issues. (Strangely enough, she didn’t once mention Donald Trump or the impeachment, which was something of a surprise.)

Her husband Bruce Mann was also in the crowd, which seemed a mix of older folks, families, and young people. Sen. Warren also seemed to make a point of making time for “selfies” after her Q&A session, which at least half the crowd of around 300 stuck around for. It was interesting to see how many people were getting selfies before the event started. Unlike most folks in the crowd, however, I wanted to get a question on video rather than a selfie. Her staff didn’t seem sure hat to make of that (and seemed a bit suspicious of me), and they insisted on holding my phone for me when I got up to meet Sen. Warren. Was going to ask if she’d appear on the show of her former student, Ben Shapiro, but I decided to ask a softball supplied by my daughter Hannah and asked about Warren’s kids instead. You can see a video of that here.

It’s always a bit of a thrill to meet the Presidential candidates I hear about on my daily podcasts, even if I’m not planning on voting for them. In about a month, they’ll all be gone!

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Then on New Year’s Eve, we celebrated the only way we know how — with lots and lots of food! We made some homemade corn dogs with a corn dog maker unearthed from our basement, along with some frozen fruit smoothies using a smoothie maker Hannah got for her birthday. My folks (and Uncle Jonny) came by a little later and got to meet Harold the Guinea Pig. They brought along a fondue set and some sirloin steak to cook in boiling canola oil, which was quite tasty. We also sampled some unique cheeses I’d gotten from Aldi, which included an “ash” brie and Borgonzola.

After my folks left, Hannah played Trouble with Mommy and Grammy while waiting for midnight. Jack and Donna joined in and stayed later for a cheese fondue that Vivian cooked up for us. Hannah stayed up late as well, having fun dipping things in the cheese fondue and serving them to us rather than eating them. We had the TV tuned to the ball drop in New York City and then toasted the New Year when they replayed it for the Central Time Zone, ringing in a new year and a new decade.

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We slept in on New Year’s Day and then had a mostly quiet day cleaning up and then playing at the park with the kids. It was warm enough for them to have an hour or two to run around the Sandy Park before Jack and Donna came over to our house for dinner. Jack brought a black-eyed pea soup made with leftover Christmas ham (specifically the bone), which we had with a table full of hors d’oeuvres (hooray for meat roll-ups).

Now that the holidays are officially over, we’re going to have to start taking down our decorations and thinking about all the things we can expect in 2020 — fun and otherwise. Happy New Year, everybody!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Thanksgiving, Christmas Kick-Off, and Corn Pops

The Johnson Family got to enjoy a fun four-day weekend here in Omaha doing all our traditional favorite Thanksgiving things — eating too much food with family, seeing Santa at Union Station, and decorating for Christmas. I also got to meet Joe and Jill Biden right before he went viral for nibbling her finger.

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We kicked things off on Turkey Day watching the Macy’s Day parade before breaking out the hors d’oeuvres — and for the first time, Hannah and Aaron were both interested in watching. I also kept the kids distracted by introducing them to Minecraft on my Raspberry Pi. They immediately fell in love getting me to build underground “houses” for both of them with tunnels and paths connecting everything together.

Jack and Donna came over to help get Thanksgiving Dinner ready in the meantime, and my parents and brothers joined us after that to dig in later that afternoon. We had all the traditional foods, from Taber Salad to Pumpkin and Pumpkin Pecan pies for dessert. Other than loads of dishes to do afterward, it was a nice, quiet holiday — something I’m quite thankful for.

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It was cold and rainy on Friday, so we stayed inside drawing and doing laundry for the most part. Then that evening we made our annual pilgrimage to Union Station to see Santa. Grammy and her confectionery crew were decorating cookies again, and Vivian and I got to take the kids on an extensive tour of the trains and activities downstairs. A traveling exhibit had some political memorabilia that include Joy Villa’s famous Trump Dress, and while they kids liked the model trains and old trains and trolleys on display, they gravitated toward a magnet board and set of toy trains for a good portion of our visit.

Then upstairs, the massive crowd pressed in for some caroling with Camille Metoyer Moten following by a tree-lighting with Mayor Stothert. We saw a few other familiar faces during our visit, including the other Johnson Family and the Mathis Family. I’d hoped for another nice Christmas picture with the tree but had to settle of a quick selfie instead as one of our kids was too tired to stay much longer.

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Then on Saturday, Joe Biden came to Council Bluffs to kick off his “No Malarkey” bus tour — getting some viral coverage for a painfully outdated slogan and nibbling his wife’s finger, among other things. It was a remarkably small crowd for a former VP and front-runner, with only around 100 people in attendance (in my vague estimation). A few regulars showed up as well, including Tom Becka, Fake Security Guy, and AP photographer Nati Harnik. After a few words of introduction, Dr. Jill Biden took the stage with her husband Joe to introduce him.

Then Joe stood up to give a very brief, ten-minute stump speech before working the crowd for around half an hour more. As with his last visit, he stayed to meet and greet just about everyone who wanted to say hello. Several people wanted autographs, and I brought along a box of Corn Pops hoping he’d sign it (if you don’t get it, watch this). Unfortunately, his staff took the box away and though he wound up not signing the box, I did get the cereal back.

I didn’t pay much mind to Biden’s speech itself, but I enjoyed seeing him interacting with attendees, even taking a phone call with someone’s grandmother who wasn’t able to attend. I’m not sure why the crowd was so small — folks could have been turned away by the cold and cloudy (and somewhat rainy) weather or busy with Thanksgiving weekend, but the vibe I got was that Joe was past his prime and folks were looking for someone younger and fresher for the nomination this time around — someone who doesn’t use words like “malarkey.”

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I also spent some time putting up our Christmas decorations during the sunnier moments on Saturday. Then on Sunday Vivian and I put together the tree and our house a bit more ready for Christmas. That included setting up the tree and breaking out Santasaurus and a few of his friends. Even Hannah got into the act with her Calico Critters decorating their own house.

We have a very short season this year, but putting anything up before Thanksgiving still felt wrong, so we had to get the house a bit more festive before the weekend was over.

Let’s get this holiday started!


Christmas at Union Station

Marianne & Pete and Hannah turns Eight

Our little girl turned eight over the weekend, so we celebrated for a couple days with friends and family on Friday and Saturday.

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First on Friday, Vivian and I blew up some balloons to greet Hannah when she woke up, per tradition. Then, I made Hannah a special “8” pancake in the morning before she headed off to her home school co-op. Then that evening, we had all four grandparents over (and Uncle Jonny) to share in some of Hannah’s favorite foods for dinner — shrimp, oranges, strawberries, black olives, and potato chips. She got to open up some presents as well, including some calico critters, a baby doll, a musical puppy, and a “Little Live OMG Pet” from Uncle Jonny.

After blowing out a candle on her cupcake, we headed on our to Skate City afterward for some evening rollerskating with friends (and some hot dogs). Hannah and Mommy strapped on some skates and took a few laps around the rink, and even daddy took a turn rolling around trying desperately not to fall over (Aaron was preoccupied with some classic arcade games). Our friends the Mills came by to skate as well with us, but they unfortunately weren’t able to stay long. Miss Lexi took a tumble and somehow fractured her fibula, which is going to require surgery to fix. Vivian’s already planning a meal train to help her out while she’s recovering from that.

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Then on Saturday, we invited a handful of Hannah’s friends over to celebrate her birthday together. Donna brought a cake modeled after the girls’ equestrian Netflix show “Spirit” with a giant “8” on the top. Hannah got a few new presents from her friends as well as Uncle Nathan, who stopped by just long enough not to have any cake. Hannah’s friends mostly played with one another as the moms talked, and then Hannah and Sammy put together horses out of foam tiles as a craft before calling it a night.

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And because we’re still in a perpetual Presidential campaign season, we had a few more candidates some around. Last Sunday, it was Marianne Williamson, a kind of new-age spiritualist who actually spent three days in the Omaha area making appearances. She visited Unite Omaha on north 90th on Monday night and spoke to a few hundred people in something that felt more like a church service than a campaign rally. There was even a legit choir singing hymns about Ferguson and “hands up don’t shoot.” Marianne gave an hour-long stump speech touching on standard Democrat topics such as climate change, reparations, and the evils of “trickle-down” economics. This was followed by a Q&A with audience members, some of whom seemed even more colorful that the candidate — one being an anti-vaxxer and another being a member of the “UFO community.”

She stayed afterward to meet and greet guests and sign autographs. I got to meet her briefly and commented that a quote she cited that was often attributed to Voltaire (“To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize”) actually came from a Neo-Nazi. This upset her enough that she had to run back stage to delete a tweet she shared recently that included the quote. While I wasn’t that impressed by her political idea, I did appreciate her understanding that political animosity is not all coming from one side. One man had asked what he could do to get family member to see Trump “for what he really is.” Marianne responded that his family members feel the same way about Democrats. “We’ve got to stop projecting onto others that their values are inferior,” she said.

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Then one week later, Mayor Pete Buttigieg from South Bend, Indiana came to town. He’s currently the front-runner and spoke to a gymnasium of around 2,100 people at Abraham Lincoln High School in Council Bluffs. I was a little late to the event (having a toilet emergency at home that needed overseeing), so I didn’t get close enough to ask Mayor Pete to go on the Ben Shapiro program. I did get a nice spot on the balcony to snap pictures of the stage below, which was a good enough spot for a guy from the New York Times to stake out as well.

Mayor Pete seemed to be a very polished, articulate candidate who knew how to work a crowd, but I found a lot of his talk about “uniting” the country to be terribly disingenuous. He went almost immediately from talking about “values that unite us all” to praising abortion and the impeachment proceedings, which brought easy cheers from a left-wing crowd but were unlikely to get the “other half” of the country on board. I also couldn’t help but notice the crowd was almost entirely white. This isn’t something I normally care about, but it highlighted the difficulty Mayor Pete has had connecting to black voters. I guess using stock photos of Kenyans didn’t help bring anyone on board.

Next stop: Thanksgiving, and the kick-off of the Christmas season!