Category Archives: Saint Paul VI Institute

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.


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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.

T’was the Week Before Christmas

Christmas is a week away, and that means we’re counting down all the various annual events and traditions on our way to the Big Day.


First up for the Institute’s annual Christmas Party, this year held down at Wheatfield’s at One Pacific Place. It’s the one time out of the year Vivian gets to mingle with many of the folks I work with all year ’round. Vivian also got to meet my co-worker’s new baby, who will be hanging out in our workplace for the next year or so. Of course, we also had dinner followed by dessert (but not Grinch Cookies) and some music from the talented Stephen Tefft in-between. Dr. Hilgers said a few words as well and handed out work anniversary plaques, per the norm.

I’m reminded every year how nice it is to work somewhere that not only has these kinds of festive events but also has employees who genuinely seem to enjoy participating in them.


Then on Sunday, we dropped by the Children’s Museum so the kids could spend a few minutes with Santa, along with Rudolph, an elf and an Ice Queen (definitely Not-Elsa, per Disney’s lawyers). Hannah and Aaron got to see the usual exhibits afterward, such as the balls and the animal slides, but they spent most of their time in a weird hybrid exhibit upstairs that combined dinosaurs and construction equipment. That meant they played inside a prehistoric shark submarine, dug for fossils with bulldozers, and decorated a gingerbread house… because I guess that’s construction related? I’m not even sure. In any case they had fun, and we stayed all the way until closing time.

We’ve had a few hints of a White Christmas so far, but nothing major for snow other than some hazardous, slippery roads. We’ve still got a few more stops before Christmas Day, though, so hang on until then. (And get your shopping done!)

Gaffigan, a governor, and Aaron turns five

We’ve had a busy, busy week here in Omaha mixing work and fun and family all together — with a little bit of gorgeous weather along with it.


First up was Unite, a huge event held by the Archdiocese of Omaha. The Pope Paul VI Institute, where I work, was one of about a dozen organizations invited to showcase their work to several thousand Catholics who came to participate at the Qwest/CenturyLink/CHI Center in worship, mass, and fun. Our booth was the result of six months of planning, with graphics and banners and eight keynote speakers at our corner of the concourse. I was on hand to take loads of pictures for several hours, so I definitely got my “steps” for the day.

As a reward, Vivian and I got to see a performance by Jim Gaffigan in the afternoon. We’d seen several of Gaffigan’s routines on Netflix previously and were well versed in his food-related humor (specifically Hotpockets). I was also aware he was a Catholic, which was likely part of the reason he was recruited as the “draw” for this event. His set included a few jokes specific to Omaha, including comments on the Runza (and how its name tells you what it gives you). We got seats fairly close tot he front, and I was even able to smuggle in my camera to get a few halfway-decent snapshots for the blog.


Then on Sunday after church we had a birthday party for Aaron with some friends at Elmwood Park. The weather went from mid-90s to 70 literally overnight, so the weather couldn’t have been more perfect for playing on swings, slides, and sand toys during the afternoon, getting a little exercise before getting sugared up.

A bunch of Aaron’s little friends were able to join us, as were mom and dad and Uncles Nathan and Jonny. Donna and Vivian had prepared a birthday cake decorated with characters from “True,” Aaron’s current favorite show on Netflix, which we cut into around 3:30 (and even lit candles on for a few seconds). Then Aaron got to open a few presents before calling it a day.


In the meantime, Wildewood Church is having a week-long VBS with the theme “In the Wild.” Because of Aaron’s birthday (and sheer exhaustion) we weren’t able to attend the opening night. We were able to drop in on Monday, which was a lot of fun. They had some outdoor activities and crafts that parents and kids were invited to participate in, as well as crafts and songs with crazy hand motions that felt more like 80s-style aerobics. They also had a bible story and a snack sandwiched in the middle. I wasn’t entirely sure if we’d have the energy to participate with all the other stuff going on this week, but the kids seemed to have a lot of fun, and Vivian and I wound up crawling on the ground on all fours along with them.

This was actually the first VBS I’d actually attended since I was a kid, and I was amazed at the amount of work and energy the volunteers must have put in to pull it off.


Then on Tuesday I got to meet Steve Bullock, Democrat Presidential Candidate and Governor of Montana, over my lunch break. His meet-and-greet was held at Barley’s in Council Bluffs, of course, which has become the go-to place for Presidential candidates for reasons I can’t quite understand. He spoke briefly with reporters (and Tom Becka) outside on the sidewalk before speaking to a crowd of a couple dozen inside afterward. He hit a bunch of fairly standard Democrat talking points, such as climate change and “women’s health” (AKA abortion), and he emphasized his work as a lawyer with the IBEW union.

The crowd was largely friendly, and I shook his hand afterward telling him that I hoped whoever becomes President in 2020 can help heal the divide in our country.


Then that evening we celebrated Aaron’s actual birthday with pizza and presents with the family. I got three large pizzas from Papa Murphy’s for dinner, partly to ensure leftovers for a couple days, and we ate with Pop-Pop, Grandma and Grandpa, and Uncle Jonny. Then Aaron got to open a few more presents, which included a glowing dinosaur nightlight from Uncle Jonny, a soccer ball from grandma, a cornhole game from Grammy, a marble chute construction set, a singing Baby Shark from Hannah, and a periscope from Grandpa (which Hannah immediately seemed to take possession of).

We also had a second cake, this one being decorated inexplicably with Hannah being eaten by an alligator while Aaron looks on with a shark (I still don’t get it).

We’ll have more fun forthcoming this week, and hopefully I’ll have the chance to catch my breath soon. Maybe for Father’s Day.

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.)

Singing, Shuck’s, and a Five-Year Plaque


The Christmas traditions continue as we made our way toward the Big Day. On Saturday night, Vivian and I went to our fifth Pope Paul VI Institute Christmas Party, where I received my commemorative five-year plaque! This year’s party was at the Garden Café, so we enjoyed some comfort food as Institute veteran Terry Little played a medley of Christmas songs (along with songs from the Beatles and other artists thrown in). Terry produced videos for the Institute years ago and performed at its Gala celebrating Humanae Vitae’s 25th anniversary back in 1993. Christmas parties for the Institute are always kind of like homecomings, as many former employees pay a visit after retirement just to catch up with their old co-workers.

Special thanks to Uncle Jonny watching Hannah and Aaron.


The next day, Grammy watched the kids as we went off to lunch to jointly celebrate my mom and dad’s birthdays at Shuck’s. My dad specifically marked the occasion with shrimp cocktail and a whiskey sour, which he’d enjoyed with a friend some 50 years ago in California (and likely hadn’t had since). I got a haddock basket as the rest of us filled up on seafood (and raw oysters of all things).

We spent a little more kid-free time at my parents’ house afterward, where my parents got their gifts — a copy of Jordan Peterson’s book for Dad and some new slippers, a puzzle, and candy for my mom. She somehow wears through a pair of slippers every year, so they have a perennial place on her Christmas list.


Then that evening, Hannah got to participate in her very first Christmas program at Wildewood Christian Church. The youth there were able to put on a presentation of the Nativity story, complete with angels and even King Herod having roles. Hannah and the other kids sang a handful of songs (with motions), and it was the first time I got to see Hannah singing and participating on stage without standing stock-still looking terrified.

There were some cookies and crafts for the kids to enjoy afterward, so we stayed long enough to take part in that before heading home.

Two more weeks until Christmas!

Christmas Parties, Ringing Bells


Christmas is on its way, and there are plenty of parties to celebrate before it gets here. First up is the Pope Paul VI Institute Christmas Party (which Vivian and I have attended for the last four years straight). It was held at the Omaha Sheraton, and we got to have dinner with a some of my co-workers. Afterward, Institute Director Dr. Hilgers handed out some years-of-service awards to a handful of employees (including his wife Sue).

Then we played a rousing game of “Family Feud” with Christmas-themed survey questions. Our table managed to get second place and won some cute Christmas headgear. One table decided to cheat by consistently writing the top answers after they were revealed, and fortunately didn’t escape Ann or Donte’s keen eyes.


My parents both also had birthdays around this time, so we dropped by with the grand-kids to give them a couple presents and some handmade cards. I got a book for my dad, and some new slippers and chocolate for mom. We also got to see our old Family Christmas Tree up once again, adorned with chocolate-bearing reindeer heads, among other things.

In other news, there’s a bright, new Aldi on 72nd Street. It’s designed to look and feel like a regular, high-end grocery store, with wide, open aisles, and even a sample lady with cheese on their opening day. I was one of the first 100 customers, which entitled me to a golden envelope containing a $10 gift card.


On Saturday night, Jenny and Kody had their annual Christmas Party, this year at their new home way up in Bennington. Cody smoked up some ribs, chicken, and pork loin stuffed with apple chutney, which we ate with Vivian’s roasted vegetables and a bunch of other things (and Irish Cream Trifle for dessert).

We ate downstairs with a bunch of our mutual friends, and then we went upstairs for games afterward. Jenny and Kody had a sinister game consisting of unwrapping a giant ball of prizes wrapped tightly in industrial-strength plastic wrap. It took us about five rotations around the circle before we could rip through them all. I got some AAA batteries, a notepad, and Snickers bars for my effort.


Then on Sunday night, I took Hannah to see our friends Brandon and Anne perform in the Thanksgiving Lutheran bell choir. They performed about an hour of beautiful Christmas music for us, and then they let some members of the audience come up and try to ring along with a few more songs. I got to try lugging around a giant 15-pound G bell, which isn’t nearly as easy at it looks, and I needed to use both hands just to keep time. They also had a giant buffet of cookies afterward, which was the real reason Hannah tagged along with me, so we stuck around to get sugared up with a few of our friends who came for the performance before calling it a night.

A funny thing happened on the way to the White House

I’ve personally given this book to Rudy Giuliani, Jill Stein, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Ben Carson.

The electoral college is meeting today, so here’s one last election-related post before the process officially draws to a close. I’ve posted quite a few times about meeting and greeting various people running for President over the past year, but there’s a story behind these meetings I haven’t told before.

You see, I’m the marketing manager for the Pope Paul VI Institute, a Catholic non-profit specializing in women’s reproductive healthcare. Our founder and director, Dr. Thomas W. Hilgers, wrote a short book in 2014 titled “An Insider’s Look at the War on Women,” which consists of 17 stories of real-life women who came to the Institute for help.

In mid-2015, I went to a event for Marco Rubio and was surprised at how easy it was to walk right up and chat with him. He was one of the front-runners in the polls at the time, but it was early enough in the campaign that one of his rallies consisted of a hundred people having lunch at a Bass Pro Shop. When I heard Ben Carson was coming to town, I had the bright idea of taking along a copy of Dr. Hilgers’ book to hand to him. (Being a doctor himself, I thought Dr. Carson would appreciate it.) The plan went off without a hitch.

As more candidates came to town, I brought more copies of the book along to hand off to them. Before long, I’d been able to pass along copies to nearly every Republican candidate running for president.


Hillary Clinton’s people pushed the book away as I tried giving it to her.

I’d tried giving copies to Democrat candidates too, of course. Bernie Sanders seemed to avoid me at his rally, greeting audience members along the barricade only to wander away (twice) when he got to me, so I gave a copy of the book to one of his aides. The book came within inches of Secretary Clinton as well, but her staffers physically pushed it aside as she walked by (but not before I got a photo). I even brought along a copy when Barack Obama came to town, but I wasn’t able to get anywhere near him at the event.

At all these events, there were many people seeking autographs, and I quickly learned how valuable a Presidential autograph can be. A $20 book is worth several hundred dollars more with an authentic POTUS’ signature inside the cover. One of my friends from the campaign trail got close enough to President Obama to ask for an autograph at his rally — with two copies of The Audacity of Hope in tow. I asked him if he’d gotten the POTUS to sign them for him, and he told me Mr. Obama actually reached for his pen, but Secret Service told him, “no,” and he put it back.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump signed the book himself.

Donald Trump was an entirely different story. When I went to see Mr. Trump nearly a year ago, there was a predictable swarm of people pressed around the stage trying to get his autograph at the end of his speech. Fortunately, I knew where to get into position beforehand to get close enough to hand Mr. Trump my copy of the book. He walked the line signing autographs and getting selfies taken for half an hour or more. A guy near me wanted to get a Trump Bobblehead Doll signed, but a Secret Service agent told him that he couldn’t do it. When Mr. Trump came close enough to hear his request, however, he waved off the concerns with his hand and gestured for the man to give him the doll, which he signed.

When I finally got to hand Mr. Trump the book, he actually autographed the cover with his own name. Then, he picked up the book, narrowed his eyes as he looked at the title, and asked, “Whose is THIS?!” I told him, “That’s a gift for YOU, from my boss,” to which he nodded shrugged, and handed the book to an aide before moving along.

So far, I’ve given copies of this book to over a dozen politicians, several of whom now have cabinet positions in the new administration. I’ve never learned if any of them have ever read a single page of the book. I imagine many copies could have been tossed in a recycle bin, but I’m fairly certain that the one I gave to Mr. Trump is still out there somewhere. Donald Trump’s autograph on the book makes it worth actual money, but the irony that the book is titled, “An Insider’s Look at the War on Women” — that’s priceless.

Tom & Jeff


On Thursday last week, Vivian and I spent the evening with Tom Becka and Jeff Koterba, who both gave a brief talk about their careers in broadcasting and editorial cartooning, respectively. The event was held at the Kaneko, which is both an art gallery and studio for Japanese ceramic artist Jun Kaneko (who also attended the event). I was used to rubbing elbows with Tom throughout the Presidential election, and both Vivian and I get to see Jeff occasionally when performing with the Prairie Cats, but this venue was certainly unique. Tom showed clips from “Becka’s Beat” on KPTM, and Jeff showed a handful of his cartoons. They took questions from the audience and then invited everyone to draw our own editorial cartoons and show them to the group.

It was a fun event, but I’ll have to go back sometime to actually look at the gallery itself sometime. We didn’t get to see much more than the room where the talk was held (which contained mostly giant, placid-looking heads).


On Saturday, we celebrated my parents’ joint birthday at their house for breakfast. I assembled a breakfast casserole that cooked in the slow-cooker overnight, while Vivian made some bacon and cut up strawberries for everyone. My dad made some crispy “rosettes” with powdered sugar (one of his mom’s favorites), which he’d last made for us seven years ago when we visited in North Carolina. He and mom got to open a handful of presents afterwards from both the kids (which they picked out from the Dollar Tree) and us. Nathan and Jonathan also surprised mom and dad with a giant, new TV (which required a bit of assembly afterward).


Then that evening, Vivian and I went to the Pope Paul VI Institute Christmas Party together. The party committee did a great job with entertainment, which included a pictorial Christmas Song trivia game and a round of Christmas Jeopardy with all the tables competing for prizes. An a capella group from Roncalli Catholic High School sang to us during dinner, and afterward the fun was mostly done, several employees got some festive pictures taken around the Christmas Tree.

I also gave Dr. Hilgers a special present — a picture of our new President-Elect holding a copy of his book. I snapped this photo myself nearly a year ago after handing the book to Mr. Trump from the autograph line at the Mid-America Center. It had been my goal from the beginning to get that book into the hands of the next president. Mission Accomplished!

(I’m going to have another post shortly about this book and the story that went along with it. Stayed tuned for that — it’ll probably be my last political post for a while.)

Office Party

Christmas is coming fast, with weather that’s so up-and-down that we’ve had days of lovely sunshine at the park followed by weekends full of rain. Yes, rain. In December. (At least we don’t have to shovel it.)


One of the latest Christmas traditions for the Johnson Family has been the Pope Paul VI Institute Christmas Party. My current employer has been the only one so far to have a legit Christmas party every year, always at some hotel with catered food among other things. What’s also nice is our mix of co-workers who can actually have fun with one another outside the office as demonstrated by a couple of our physicians’ creative uses of peppermint cones. The choir from a local Catholic High School came to sing a few Christmas carols for us over dinner, and Vivian and I both got the chance to catch up with co-workers and their spouses, who we usually only see once a year. Plenty of photos were also snapped, of course.


Then on Tuesday, we had an Unexpected Sushi Night out with the kids. I’d bought a Groupon to Matsu Sushi back in August, hoping to use it while downtown with the kids, but they were unexpectedly closed on Sunday. That meant we had to use our Groupon before it expired, so we sat down for some bento boxes and tonkatsu pork for Hannah and Aaron. I was very impressed how Aaron dug right into his dinner and even tried a maki roll, while Hannah managed her chopsticks like a champ.

I’d hoped for a lovely walk by the river to look at Christmas lights, but the kids seemed more interested in slides and a playground frog instead. That was fine, but then it started to rain again, which became a downpour that sent us a home a little early.

Christmas is just around the corner!

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.