Category Archives: Travel

The Big Ten

Vivian and I got to enjoy a couple lovely days in Kansas City to celebrate a decade of marriage together! Grammy was kind enough to handle the kids while we were gone, which made this a rare chance for us to get some kid-free time together.

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We headed on down Thursday afternoon, putting some 535 miles of wear-and-tear on a rented Kia, which I’d estimated cost less than the same on our own car.

Then we spent the rest of the afternoon at IKEA, having a few of their signature meatballs as a snack before browsing the various home and kitchen items on two floors and finding quite a few things that we actually needed — and all dirt cheap. Vivian was most impressed with the children’s play area, where we play to drop the kids of the next time we visit (so we can have a meatball lunch all by ourselves).

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From there, we checked into our hotel and then strolled down to the Power & Light District to have a surf-and-turf dinner at Bristol, commemorating our honeymoon on Bar Harbor ten years ago. I got to give Vivian an aluminum cheese plate and a couple souvenir packs of cards I’d been holding onto for nine and ten years. (There was also my ten-year anniversary comic ready as well, of course.)

We got some Crème brûlée for dessert and then took a quick walk around the District, checking out a free concert with the Casey Donahew band just around the corner. I’m not a country music fan, but it was fun to see such a packed house enjoying the free music. After that, we dropped by Union Station long enough to poke around a few of their exhibits and see the colored fountains across the street before heading back to the hotel.

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The next day, after a greasy breakfast at Waffle House, we spent a couple hours getting wet at Schlitterbahn. A number of our friends had raved about this particular water park for years, so we’d had it on our short list of places to visit in Kansas City (even after that particularly gruesome incident in 2016).

We had a good time going down a few slides on tubes and riding through the rapids and waves on the multiple rivers around the park, but the place seemed to be a bit of a disappointment. About half of the rides were closed for various reasons — some having failed inspections and others being “short-staffed.” I doubt we’ll be going back anytime soon, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it closed before then. I also discovered my dad’s waterproof camera wasn’t quite as waterproof as advertised, which was another massive disappointment, but we still enjoyed ourselves (and got tickets at a discount from Groupon).

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We spent that evening at the Country Club Plaza, having dinner at our favorite KC restaurant, Jack Stack. I got my usual platter of meats (beef ribs, beef brisket, and burnt ends) with a cheesy potato bake, and we shared an obligatory piece of their insanely good carrot cake for dessert.

The weather was an insanely gorgeous 70-80 degrees during our stay, making for a much more pleasant walk through the Plaza than in previous years (when it was around 100). We walked down to the Better Cheddar to splurge on some fun cheeses from their collection, as well as a bottle of balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy. Phil Rosenthal had raved about it on his Netflix show, Somebody Feed Phil, and while it tasted similar was “regular” balsamic vinegar, we found it to be far smoother and a bit sweeter, much like a fine wine.

We finished off the evening watching The Incredibles II at the Cinemark before having a romantic walk along the riverfront before calling it a night.

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We headed home the next day, but not before a quick trip to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. I can’t recommend this place enough, as they have a lovely collection of work from all different eras. Vivian and I especially like the Impressionists, and I love the broad, vivid brushstrokes of Claude Monet and Paul Cézanne. I also admired a pair of paintings by Rococo artist Gaspare Traversi, each of which featured one person eerily breaking t he fourth wall (and staring into your soul).

The weather was still lovely outside, which made for a nice stroll through the Museums beautiful (shady) grounds to and from our car (parked a few blocks away). Then we got some lunch (and tacos) at Jack in the Box before heading home — a place Vivian had grown up with and one you can’t find in Nebraska.

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We made a brief detour through Nebraska City to pick up some apple wine and an apple pie on our way back home. Hannah and Aaron had been surprisingly good while staying with Grammy for the past couple of days, and Hannah’s room had somehow become magically clean while we were away. I’d gotten them each a mouse from IKEA as a surprise when we returned home (which Hannah named “Lisa” and “Dockendock”.)

Happy ten years, Vivian! I can’t wait to see what the next decade has in store.

Wham, Bam, Franklin Graham

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Wednesday was an especially fun day for the Johnson Family as we loaded everyone up into Grandma and Grandpa Johnson’s SUV and took a road trip down to Lincoln to see Franklin Graham on the Capitol steps. Franklin Graham, son of revered evangelist Billy Graham, is visiting every U.S. capitol as a part of his Decision America tour to encourage Christians in all fifty states to pray, vote, and run for office. We arrived an hour early and saved a spot for all of us to sit. Then Vivian and I took our kids inside to tour the capitol with them for the first time, which included a trip up to the very top to look down at the crowd below. Vivian and I had visited the capitol twice before in our dating years and again for our sixth anniversary, and it felt special to share the experience with our own kids now.

Back outside, the crowd grew to over 3,200 people as everyone began to wave flags and swing along with the praise team up on the steps. Rev. Graham took the stage shortly after noon to speak to the crowd and led everyone in prayer for the nation’s elected officials, as well as personal forgiveness for the nation and its people. Graham didn’t endorse any specific candidates of course, but he was insistent that everyone get out and vote, even if it means “holding your nose” to vote for the lesser of two candidates. I could only imagine who he might have meant by that.

IMG_1326We saw a couple friends in the crowd once everyone started to disperse, including our old friends Mike and Bekah, who have one more kid since we last saw them over three years ago. We also bumped into Sarah Redfield, who we hadn’t seen since her 80s party back in 2008. She’s now married, lives in Lincoln, and has two kids.

The kids got to stretch their legs a bit as the grandparents went into the Capitol to meet a state senator or two, and then we all went out to eat at my favorite pizza joint, Big Sal’s. We made a serious dent in two giant combo pizzas and then took the scenic route home via Highway 34. (For those interested, Rev. Graham went to eat at the Hog Wild BBQ Pit. I’ll have to try them next time.)

Photo of Aaron at the top comes courtesy of Franklin Graham’s Twitter Team.

Pizza in Lincoln, Circus in Council Bluffs

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The weather has been steadily getting warmer here in Nebraska, making for several days where we can get some quality time outdoors without so much as a coat. On Wednesday last week, the Johnson Family took a road trip to Lincoln for a day nearly identical to the one we had in mid-March last year. I got to do a morning’s worth of freelance work for my old employer at Land and Sky, and Vivian took the kids to Lost in Fun in South Lincoln where they had a ball bouncing around and shooting hoops. Afterward, we all went out to lunch at my favorite pizza joint, Big Sal’s on 27th Street. The weather was so nice, we drove up the street for a little play time at Pentzer Park up the street to wear the kids out a bit before heading home.

In other news, Jack and Donna got to celebrate their 38th wedding anniversary with us over at the Crab Shack, we all got our fill of seafood before stuffing ourselves even further across the street at the Cheesecake Factory.

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A few days later, the Shrine Circus was in town, so Vivian and Grammy took the kids down to the Mid-America Center to see them. It was Aaron’s first trip to the circus, so I had to be sure to get a picture of him with one of the terrifying clowns. They had tigers jumping through flaming hoops and a dog and pony show, just like our visit a few years ago. They also had some new acrobats, Mr. Springs and Tulga, and a whole team of “jumping people” AKA The Chicago Boyz, who Hannah seemed to like the best. I was able to take a break from work to join the family for a bit during the day, which was nice. Of course, the kids also had to get their own souvenir light sabers from the show, and we had to struggle to keep Aaron from whacking his sister on the head with his.

Wedding in Iowa Falls

Vivian and I just got finished with a long, enjoyable weekend celebrating the long-expected wedding of our two friends Jenny and Kody up in Iowa Falls. (And it was a weekend spent mostly without the kids — hooray for grown-up time!)

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The long weekend started on Thursday evening, where we took Hannah and Aaron out to a “Throwback Thursday” concert at Loess Fest. Jessica and her housemate Amanda joined us on a blanket as the opening act, Red Delicious, played some 80s cover songs before Journey Recaptured took the stage. I’d heard some rave reviews of this band after they performed at Stinson Park last year, and they were very good. Hannah and Aaron were more interested in playing around on the great lawn, but it was good just to get outside with them before our long trip.

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On Friday morning, Grammy came to watch the kids for the weekend, and Vivian and I headed off to Iowa. We stopped in Des Moines at Zombie Burger, where I ate a mess of fried insanity called Better Off Ched, which included slabs of fried mac and cheese for a bun.

We continued on to Iowa Falls up north, a quaint little town where Kody grew up. We met up with our cluster of friends at Immanuel Lutheran Church for a wedding rehearsal, and we also got to meet the Pastor of the church and Kody’s cluster of groomsmen and family members — including his mom who made everyone lasagna for dinner. Kody and Jenny passed around gifts for the wedding party, which included make-up bags for the ladies and such novelties as driftwood keg tap handles for the guys (OK, one guy).

We finished off the evening grabbing some last-minute items at Walmart as a blazing sunset happened, and then we made use of the AmericInn hot tub as Jenny and Kody told embarrassing stories over beer in the party room.

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The next morning was a blur of getting ready, starting at the Trends hair salon down the street, where the girls all got their hair done. A killed some time snapping pictures of the scenic little town and some geese passing by. The girls continued prepping for the wedding at the church with make-up and curling irons, while the guys basically threw on their suits and called it good. Jenny got to “reveal” her dress to Kody in a painstakingly posed shoot by the photographer before we headed inside for a few hours worth of formal portraits of the bride, groom, and wedding party.

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Eventually, of course, we had the actual wedding ceremony itself. Friends and family members started pouring into the church around three as the bride and groom went into hiding (for selfies). The church was eventually filled up before the wedding procession came down the aisle, ending with the bride and groom. One pastor read some scripture, another delivered a short sermon, and then came the vows, an exchange of rings, lighting of a candle, a pre-recorded song by Kody, and at least three prayers/blessings before there was a sudden and unprompted kiss that concluded the service.

The bride and groom dismissed everyone row-by-row before signing their wedding certificate and making their grand exit of the church to their heavily-decorated (with condoms) getaway car. They also had two bikes strapped to the roof, one of which was a wedding present for Jenny that Kody had presented to her earlier — giving them multiple means of making their getaway.

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Of course, we couldn’t go to the reception without one more photo shoot down at Assembly Park. With the wedding party still dressed and hair all done, we got some photos on the playground, by a bridge, walking down a path, and of course jumping into the air. Kody was a bit preoccupied with getting back to the food, but the rest of us reminded him that this was pretty much the only time ever we’d be getting these snapshots. The barbecued ham could wait a bit.

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Finally came the long and happy reception down at Ellsworth Community College, with cake, cupcakes, dinner, and toasts, all followed up with the standard lineup of Wedding Reception dances — the father-daughter dance, the mother-son dance, dollar dances, and the Cupid Shuffle. Bouquets and garters were also tossed.

As videographer-by-default, I stuck around until the very end so I could capture the bride and groom taking off when they finally made their exit at 11:30 — after much prompting by me that they could leave the clean-up to everyone else and get on with their wedding night.

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Vivian and I were so tired the next morning that we slept way past the continental breakfast at the Super 8, which ended at nine o’clock. As such, we made our way down to the Red Rooster Grill for some American-style diner food before heading out of town.

We decided to tour the giant Salisbury House in Des Moines with Lisa during the afternoon — the dream house of cosmetics magnate Carl Weeks designed after the King’s House in Salisbury, England. It was a gorgeous house built to suit a true anglophile (with splashes of French decor), and housed amazing pieces of artwork including one of only four Van Dyck paintings by in the United States. It was a lovely day, perfect for wandering the gardens afterward and then having an outdoor dinner at Zombie Burger (again). Lisa came with us to try a trailer trash burger and share a giant basket of blue cheese fries before heading home.

So thus ended a lovely weekend getaway for Vivian and me, full of quality adult time without having to wrangle our two kids. Of course, we did spend some time with them at the park the day after we arrived home. They seemed to miss us. Congratulations, Jenny and Kody, and thanks for giving us an excuse to a have a lovely weekend with you and all of our friends.

Holy Name and Homemade Pizza

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It’s been a busy week here in Omaha, with lots of fun involving food (of course). On Monday last week, with temperatures pushing their way into the 90s, the whole family took a trip down to Lincoln. I had some freelance work to attend to, and Vivian took the kids to Lost in Fun for an afternoon of bouncing around. Hannah had been there when she was just one year old, but now she was old enough to visit more exhibits than just the ball pit, such as the big ceiling-projected video game in the “dark room.”

For dinner, we drove up to Big Sal’s and gave Hannah and Aaron her first taste of mom and dad’s favorite pizza place in Nebraska. Yes, Aaron got to nibble on bits of black olive and pizza crust, and Hannah managed to finish a whole piece by herself.

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The next day was St. Patrick’s Day, so we got to imbibe in our annual tradition of corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread, and red potatoes. Every store was selling out of corned beef up until March 17, and then the price plummeted to less than $1/pound, so we picked up some that on sale to have a couple reubens down the road (which were, in fact, invented in Omaha. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.)

No green beer or Bailey’s, however — I’ve given it all up for lent.

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On Friday, we had our second Fish Fry of the year, heading up to Holy Name in north Omaha with a cluster of our fabulous friends. I’d heard about this fish fry from our mutual friend Lisa, primarily being one of the first and biggest fish fries in the area. It was also notorious for having one of the longest lines, which was quite ironic, because when we arrived, there was absolutely no line at all. Seriously, we were able to walk right in, but we stood in the hallway for some time just to get the whole standing-in-line experience. (A crowd outside was hanging around for the same reason, I expect.)

The cafeteria was packed pretty tight, however, steaming hot and filled with the smell of fried fish that stuck to your clothes. The fish itself was hands-down the best I’d had at any fish fry before. We had freshly-battered chunks of pollock that were steaming and delicious the moment they were put on your plate. I washed it down with a can or two of Cheerwine that I smuggled in from outside and a fun night of goofiness fueled by deep-fried goodness.

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Then on Saturday, we celebrated Uncle Jonny’s birthday down at my parent’s house. Jonathan had been wanting to relive his childhood, so my dad put out the lawn flamingos and spent the afternoon playing Intellivision and eating homemade pizza for dinner (literally the way mom used to make). Vivian also brought along one of her legendary chocolate cheesecakes.

We brought the kids along, too, of course. They got some time being cute with grandma and grandpa, which included learning the joys of chasing a red dot from a laser pointer all over the house.

Caleb and Lacie

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Over the weekend, Vivian and I made our way back to Cedar Rapids (with Hannah and Aaron in tow) to attend a wedding for Caleb de Souza and Lacie Thompson. Caleb is my cousin Mary Ellen’s son, and I’ve known him since he was about two or three years old, so being able to see him get married as a grown man was quite an experience (and it reminded me how old I really was). The wedding ceremony was held at the surprisingly picturesque Cedar Rapids Public Library, which had a beautiful view of Greene Square Park from the Whipple Auditorium.

My Uncle Ben was the officiant, of course, and the ceremony had a number of interesting choices in music — including a wedding procession made up entirely of Beatles songs. The father of the bride gave his little girl away, sand was poured, and many tears were shed. Even more amazing was that Hannah and Aaron were perfectly well behaved throughout the entire event (though Aaron had a bottle to keep him occupied). We stuck around to greet several of our family members, many of whom broke away for official wedding pictures. My cousin David was there with his photographer wife Bridget, and she was nice enough to snap a few family pictures for us up on the lovely “green roof.”

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We all made our way a few blocks north to the Masonic Temple for the reception, where the real fun started shortly after the bride put on her running shoes. Caleb and company made their way into the grand ballroom to Michael Jackson’s Beat It, they kissed a couple times, and then we all started stuffing our faces at the buffet. Cake also happened, which helped fuel a bit of a sugar high for the grown-ups before the dancing started. Caleb and Lacie are both very gifted singers, so the bride and groom’s first dance featured Lacie singing Christina Perri’s A Thousand Years, and the mother/son dance had Caleb singing Mark Harris ‘ Find Your Wings, which was just beautiful.

In the meantime, Hannah made a few new best friends on the dance floor, spending a good portion of her sugar high dancing around, playing ring-around-the-rosy, and learning how to make funny faces before inevitably crashing into Uncle Jim’s arms at the end of the night. Vivian and I had to cut and run just as the line dancing got underway, but we both did take a few minutes out for a dollar dance or two. You can’t have a proper wedding without dancing, of course!

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The next day, Vivian and I spent the morning roaming the countryside exploring the autumnal fireworks in the trees around Cedar Rapids. Naturally, that took us down to the Amanas, hunting for such legendary things as Iowa’s largest rocking chair. We got in a few quick family photos and stopped by a shop or two for fudge and peach wine. We even got in time for Hannah’s first ride on a porch swing before heading out. The kids both slept all the way to Cedar Rapids, where we had lunch/dinner at the Machine Shed, where I’d taken Vivian back when we were just dating way back in 2007. We filled up on chicken fried steak and got some obligatory photos on the tractor out front before calling it a night.

Congratulations, Caleb and Lacie! I hope you have a wonderful, happy life together. See you at the next reunion, whenever that may be.

Ben & Carol’s 50th Anniversary

Vivian and I enjoyed a wonderful (and long) Labor Day weekend in Cedar Rapids surrounded by my extended family celebrating my Uncle Ben and Aunt Carol’s 50th wedding anniversary. It’s been several years since I’ve seen most of the people, and it was great to spend time with them again and introduce them to our little ones.

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We started the weekend off with a little birthday celebration at the Flying Wienie, since my birthday happens to fall on my Aunt and Uncle’s anniversary. We’ve passed by this little place every time we went to Valley View for church on Sundays in Cedar Rapids, but it took us years to finally visit when they were open. I got a Chicago-style hot dog and some homemade fries, and Vivian even brought some little birthday cupcakes that she dressed up with candles for me to blow out. It was a nice little way to start the weekend, and I even got to show Hannah an upright video arcade game for the very first time.

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That evening, we gathered at Edgewood Baptist Family Fellowship Church to see Ben and Carol renew their vows, the same church they were married in 50 years ago. Caleb and his fiancee Lacie sang for them, and then Ben and Carol said their vows and exchanged rings (again). A whole cluster of family members from the Geho clan and my mom’s side of the family were on hand. A bunch of them had grown up quite a bit during the past six years, and several others now had kids of their own. Hannah seemed right at home running around in the midst of all of them, and we had more than a handful of people willing to hold Aaron for us throughout the night.

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The party moved along downstairs, where Arlan introduced Ben and Carol along with all their kids before the food was served. The Geho girls and their gaggle of kids sang a few songs in honor of the happy couple, and of course there was also the Cutting of the Cake™ and a few toasts to top off the evening. Mostly, it was fun catching up with all our family members after so many years apart. Caleb and Lacie handed out wedding invitations in person to save postage, and he wished my brothers had come along so they could play “DAK” one more time before tying the knot.

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The next day (after a brief workout at the hotel) we went down to Ellis Park for a long picnic lunch with the family. Arlan and a bunch of the Uncles gathered around the grill, and Hannah got to play with a few of her cousins over on the playground. It was so nice to let her run loose for a few hours with so many family members available to keep track of her, and Aaron got passed along from one family member to the next throughout the afternoon. I couldn’t let the opportunity for a giant group picture to pass us by, either, so everyone gathered on the steps in front of my makeshift tripod, and I was able to snap the whole group in a photo worthy of framing (despite one person’s determination to hide his head the entire time).

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That evening, we drove down to Arlan and Barb’s place to have some apple crisp and watch a couple home movies I’d burned to DVD as a gift for Ben and Carol. My dad and I have been recording family get-togethers like this for as long as I can remember, so I gathered as many clips as I could that featured Ben and Carol and put them all into a half hour compilation. That meant everyone had to cram together in the basement, making for more fun group photos. Hannah also got to spend more time getting thrown around by her cousins as Vivian and I got to have an extended conversation with Abby and Shannon about the differences between our generations. (“Roseanne Barr? Is that like a bar with drinks?”)

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We weren’t quite done with our family by the next day, either. We got up and had a long breakfast with Ben and the Lockridges at the hotel, checking out photos from the wedding fifty years ago over biscuits and gravy. Then Vivian and I took off to visit the Amana Colonies on the way home, and we managed to bump into the Gibbs. They had come to visit with my mom’s next-door neighbor Pam for lunch (and more gratuitous pictures, of course). Then we bumped into Vivian’s former co-worker Cynthia, proving again what a small world this is. When we weren’t running into old friends and family members, Vivian and I walked around the lovely old streets of Amana buying some wine, cheese, and sausage, and we let Hannah run a bit wild in the candy store picking out something sweet while Aaron got a bottle.

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The fun trip wasn’t over then, either. On the way home, we dropped in at Fong’s Pizza in Des Moines, which was highly recommended to us by the culinarily-savvy Phil and Jen. They had pizzas done in the style of classic Chinese dishes — Kung Pao Chicken, Happy Family, and even Crab Rangoon. It required an open mind, since none of them has tomato sauce (or tasted all that much like pizza), but they were all very good. A heavy thunderstorm started rolling in on the way back to Omaha, which gave us a nice light-show and some rain, but fortunately not much else. We did have time to stop by Adair to see everyone’s favorite smiley face water tower and get some quality play time in the park before calling it a night. It was a fun, long trip, and I really didn’t want it to end so quickly. Fortunately, it looks like we’ll be heading back again in October for a wedding, so we’ll probably be seeing a bunch of our friends and family again a bit sooner than six years from now.

Introducing the children, grandchildren, and great-greatchildren of Uncle Ben and Aunt Carol

Anniversary in Lincoln

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It’s been a relatively quiet couple of weeks for the Johnson Family. Our little boy Aaron turned one month old and seemed to be growing up so fast. Uncle Jonny came down for a brief visit, and Vivian got a snapshot of three generations of Johnson men to mark the occasion. We also had a lovely visit from the Polar Vortex, which sent the temperatures in Omaha down to a lovely 70 degrees for an entire week, giving us the chance to visit the park with Hannah multiple times before it left.

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This last weekend was also our sixth wedding Anniversary, so Vivian and I decided to celebrate with a trip to Lincoln (with the kids — thanks Grandma and Grandpa!) I’d lived in Lincoln for six years but never really got out and saw much of the attractions around town while I was there. Our first trip was to the state capitol, where we rode to the top for some picturesque views and a few obligatory selfies underneath the dome. The Senate wasn’t in session, but we were able to pick out pictures of our State Senator from the gallery down below. (I also tried making off with some marble tile from the courtyard as a souvenir but decided against it.)

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We had a brief lunch at my favorite pizza joint, Big Sal’s on 27th Street, and then headed on to the UNL State Museum at Morrill Hall. One of my Comic Genesis friends told me months ago that the Titanoboa was paying the museum a visit, so I made sure to get plenty of photos of myself with that horrifying model snake. There were also plenty of old bones and glowing rocks to check out, and we even dropped into the Planetarium to see a show on the Google Lunar XPRIZE (narrated by Tim “to Infinity and Beyond” Allen).

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After our visit, we dropped by the Sunken Gardens to check out the many flowers in bloom before heading back to Omaha, where we had dinner reservations waiting for us at the 801 Chophouse. We’d had steak there plenty of times before, but this time around we split a lobster in honor of our honeymoon in Maine (which is an anniversary tradition now). Throw in some souffle for dessert, and we were stuffed for the night (not counting Vivian’s special truffles when we got home).

We also exchanged our anniversary gifts. Year Six is the iron anniversary, so I gave Vivian a heart-shaped cake pan, and she gave me a lovely graffiti cocktail shaker .I had also done up a new anniversary comic to celebrate our sixth year — a tradition since our paper anniversary. Every year, I get to remind myself of all the fun things we’ve gotten to do throughout the year and all the milestones that have come and gone. I love you, Vivian! I can’t wait to see what Year Seven has in store for us.

Bonus: Hannah plays “baseball” with a flyswatter as the Blue Angels fly over our backyard.

Keeping busy in Lincoln

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On Wednesday, I had some business that took me to Lincoln, and I decided to take the family with me to make a day of it. We took a trip up to James Arthur Vineyard since we had Living Social coupon that was about to expire. We used it to sample a couple wines and have some bread, cheese, and sausage together. It was a nice, quiet place in the middle of the day, and I made a note to look into coming back sometime in the summer, when the combination of live music and wine makes for a fun evening.

Before leaving town, we dropped by to visit our old friend Bekah at the Duewling dwelling. Mike was out of town, but we did get to introduce Hannah to Bekah and her four kids (soon to be five). It’s always a thrill to see Hannah interact with other kids close to her own age, and especially nice to let her run around another childproof house with the grown ups catch up over chai tea.

California, here we come!

Vivian and I just got back from a long, fun week in Northern California. We brought Hannah along for the ride, who turned out to be a good little traveler on her first big family trip.

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After a brief diversion to Oakland, we flew into sunny San Francisco Tuesday afternoon. We had a bit of an adventure getting out of the city, fighting rush hour traffic, learning what “sharp crest” means on Divisadero Street, and of course passing over the most-photographed bridge in the world.

We spent the evening with Vivian’s “granny” in Petaluma, who got to meet a Hannah very happy to get out of the car. Vivian and I had fettuccine alfredo with Donna at one of Vivian’s favorite haunts, the New Yorker on Petaluma Boulevard, and Hannah crashed after a long day of travel by car and plane.

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The next day, after a brief stop by Miwok Park and Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders, we hit the road to Fortuna and beyond. Of course, we had to drop by a few tourist traps along the way, such as a drive-thru tree in Leggett. Hannah got to sit inside of a hollowed-out redwood, sharing her adorableness with a bus of senior citizens who dropped by to snap her picture.

That evening, we met several members of Vivian’s extended family. First was her grandmother, “Nanny Nonie,” which meant we had four generations of ladies hanging out with us for a couple days. We had fish and chips together down at the Eel River Brewery with Vivian’s Aunt Judy, some of which Hannah got to nibble, which made her very excited.

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We spent the next few nights at the 150-year-old farmhouse of Vivian’s Great Uncle Rich in Hydesville. Donna practically grew up there, and Vivian had several visits to the farm during her childhood. She got to do such things as ride on Uncle Rich’s donkey, Neeta, who was still around for Hannah to ride on.

Hannah got to meet a couple more relatives while we were in town, such as her great Uncle Sandy, her great Uncle David, her second cousin Shannon, and her other great-great uncle, Ernie. I was quickly enamored with picturesque views of distant hills and the flowers that seemed to grow almost everywhere. (Hannah seemed to like them, too.)

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We drove back down to Petaluma on Saturday, which happened to be Hannah’s ten-month birthday. Naturally, we had to snap a decent picture of her for Facebook. We took several around various redwoods we dropped by on our way down south, which took us most of the day. That evening, Vivian had a reunion with her old Youth Group from Petaluma Christian Church. I picked up some pizza from Pinky’s, an old-school pizza parlor that Vivian’s dad and Uncle Lewie had actually worked at years before. Hannah spent the evening playing with new friends in the church multipurpose room, and I got to watch a few home movies of Vivian as an angel in a Christmas pageant in-between changing diapers.

We went back to PCC the next day to attend church together, and Vivian had the chance to say hello to several of her old friends again (and get some cute pictures in the garden out front).

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On Sunday afternoon, we took Hannah to up Santa Rosa to say hello to her great Uncle Lewie and Aunt Sandra. We had some lunch out on their newly-repaved backyard and spent a couple hours keeping Hannah from crawling aroudn on the ground eating everything she found.

We had one last day in Petaluma on Monday. Vivian took Granny shopping at G&G and got several things she could only get here in Northern California, such as a variety of brie cheeses that were actually might right here in Petaluma. We stopped by Jennie Low’s for some Chinese food and then later took Hannah by Luchessi Park (AKA the “duckie park“, where Vivian had spent many days playing as a child). For dinner, we met up with my old bible study friend James (who drove all the way from Stockton) and Vivian’s friend Ann for dinner. We ate at Mi Pueblo, which was coincidentally the very same restaurant Vivian and I ate at right before leaving Petaluma four years ago. I’d met James over a decade ago at Wayne State College but hadn’t seen him in years, so it was good to catch up.

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On Tuesday, we flew back home, but we had a few extra hours of rushed sightseeing before our flight left SFO. We stopped first in Novato to get a glimpse of the Good Shepherd Lutheran School, where Vivian had attended (and Donna had taught) when she was a child. We headed on to the Marin Headlands, where I got my first glimpse of serious bay area fog. I’d hoped to get a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge and the bay itself, but a thick sheet of white unfortunately kept that from happening.

We wound up having a lot more fun cruising through San Francisco itself. We headed downtown via Lombard Street, famous for being the Crookedest Street in the World for about a block between Hyde and Leavenworth (and hilariously recounted by Bill Cosby). Vivian and I had to dodge about a hundred tourists snapping pictures at the top and bottom of the winding street, and then of course I had to go and join them with Vivian creeping behind. We wound through downtown snapping pictures of various sights as we came upon them, from the Transamerica Pyramid to random trolley cars, to the Bay Bridge. Vivian wanted to visit Chinatown, which she remembered visiting as a child, so we wound up visiting one of the east side and west side of the peninsula (who knew San Francisco had two of them?)

We dropped by See’s Candy to pick up some toffee and grabbed some lunch in a small Chinese restaurant around the corner. We had time for one last stop before rushing to the airport, and that was to Lincoln Park to check out the Western Terminus of the Lincoln Highway. For some reason, I’ve been fascinated with America’s first continental highway, particularly since it passes right through Omaha, so I wanted to stop and get a good look at the end of it before flying home.

And in case you were wondering, Hannah was an excellent little traveler. This was her first time on an airplane and she slept through about half the trip. The rest of the time Vivian and I just had to make sure she was fed, watered, and entertained. Hopefully she’ll be just as amicable when we hit the skies as a family in future trips (when she’ll be more likely to remember them).