Category Archives: Twin Valley Church

Smoked Turkey and Christmas Lights

We just got finished with a fun, filling, and frankly exhausting Thanksgiving Day Weekend, where every one of our four days “off” was filled with activity.

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Thursday was a remarkably warm Thanksgiving Day, so once the Macy’s parade was done, I decided to take the kids for a walk to my parents’ house. Hannah got to try “walking” her new kitty and grandpa got to show us the giant turkey was was busy smoking in the backyard.

All four grandparents eventually joined us for another Thanksgiving Meal under one roof. Dad carved the turkey, and we had a huge assortment of stuffing, potatoes, salad, fruit salad, Jell-O salad and other standard Thanksgiving foods on the side. We even had festive plates (which were easy to clean up) and a lovely centerpiece featuring pumpkins from Vala’s. Top that off with lemon meringue and pumpkin pie and we called it another delicious Thanksgiving for the record books.

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The lovely weather continued on Black Friday, so we took the kids for a walk back to my parents’ house to play a bit in the leaves (and help rake them). Grandpa also told Hannah a story about Tomtens, and Aaron got to try extending his train tracks into the living room. We ate the rest of Hannah’s birthday cake together, and then Hannah got to open a couple late birthday presents for grandma and grandpa and Uncle Jonny — her very first purse and a set of Octonaut Toys, respectively.

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Then that evening, we went down to Union Station for their annual Christmas Tree Lighting. Grammy and her crew were decorating cookies as usual, so Hannah and Aaron got to get sugared up a bit before making a tea light snowman and then exploring the museum a bit. Santa was on hand for pictures and lap-sitting, of course, so we took Hannah and Aaron to see St. Nick while the line wasn’t too long. Then we took them downstairs for their annual run through the trains downstairs. We also got to look at a handful of “ethnic” Christmas trees upstairs, all decorated with ornaments relating to various cultures and countries around the world.

As seven o’clock approached, a high school show choir sang some festive Christmas songs before Mayor Jean, David Mangelsen, and Santa got up to light up this year’s tree. It was topped with a “150” star to commemorate Nebraska’s sesquicentennial, and everyone got to wear special glasses that turned the glare from the lights into tiny candy canes, Santa heads, or elves. We stuck around long enough to play in the confetti a bit and get a few nice pictures in front of the tree, but we eventually made our way back home, thoroughly exhausted.

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The next day, I did a little bit of work on the deck with my dad as the weather was still lovely. Then we took the kids to downtown Papillion to see their “winter wonderland” when the sun went down. They had bonfires with free hot chocolate and s’mores for the kids. There was some live music outside the library after they turned on the Christmas lights on the north lawn. We also got to see a pair of reindeer that were on-hand just for picture-taking (as were a couple Christmas trees).

We dropped by the Papillion Eagle’s Lodge to see Ariel before making our way to the firehouse for cupcakes and cannolis. Then we wrapped things up walking through some more lights and an 1860s farmhouse on our way back to the car. It was a lovely evening, but a little crowded and chaotic as we tried to see everything in the space of a few city blocks (wiping us all out again).

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Then on Sunday, we spent a couple hours having a soup potluck at church and then helping to decorate for Christmas. Vivian made a tasty baked potato soup that nearly put me to sleep before hanging garland on both ends of the sanctuary. The Papsons also got to be a Living Nativity for a few minutes by putting Simon in the manger up front.

Then that afternoon, I continued the Christmas decorating at our own house. I’d put up the lights last week, and now we hauled up the tree and put the snowman out front. We also positioned the laser display Vivian got for Christmas last year to give our house a little sparkly goodness. Most importantly, of course, was that Santasaurus came out of his box, officially ringing in the Christmas season for 2017.

It was a fun, albeit exhausting weekend, and we spent a little time recovering digging into some classic Christmas movies, courtesy of our local library.

Butterflies, Bear Hunt, and Bottomless Shrimp

The past several weeks have been a non-stop flurry of activity, so it feels eerily strange that things have settled down a bit.

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We took Jack and Donna out for his birthday (which came two days after Vivian’s). That meant steak and (bottomless) shrimp at Outback and then a few presents and some of Vivian’s signature chocolate cheesecake at home. We’ve had some lovely fall weather happening, which means getting kids out of the house as much as possible. I got one lovely bike ride to work before going through a couple days of rain that postponed our trip to Vala’s until next week.

We were also able to attend TVC’s monthly potluck and saw Ingrid Kimmons, our sponsored missionary from Thailand, stop by to announce her retirement and give the church a trophy of some kind. In other news, we’ve been treating the kids to some culinary experiments, such as engagement chicken, pork tenderloin (bought in bulk from Aldi), and even a sampling of actual coffee (doctored with lots of milk).

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We had a brief visit to my parents’ house to see some butterflies before I went and mowed the lawn. Then that evening we went back to First Presbyterian Church to see the 1967 Disney classic, The Jungle Book. We had our fair share of hot dogs, since there was a small crowd (which included the Mills), and we finished off the evening with Play-Dough.

Then on Wednesday (shortly after taking the Civic to the shop when the cam and crankshaft sensors unexpectedly went out on the Interstate), I went to Daddy’s Night at Welcome School with Aaron. I’d gone twice with Hannah during her preschool years, so it was fun to play a bit with Aaron and make a marble painting together. Mrs. Sauerdyke also brought the kids onto the carpet to sing the Daddy Song and the Bear Hunt Song, per tradition, and then we saw a herd of deer on our way back to the car before going home.

So it’s been a quiet couple of weeks on the home front, though Vala’s, a Hayrack Ride at the Hall’s, and Halloween are right around the corner, ushering in the non-stop insanity that is the Holiday Season (Thanksgiving and Christmas), of course.

Rietjens Return and a Sandbox

Summer’s here now, with temperatures creeping into the 90s, which made for perfect weather to chill with the kids in a lawn sprinkler at Grammy’s house or at the local splash park after a bike ride home from work. Of course, it’s never too hot to have some of grandpa’s cheesy bacon grits, even after mowing the lawn.

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On Sunday after church, Pastor Ryan and his family received a gift that could only happen in Nebraska: three boxes of beef from ¼ of a cow! Now, we just have to find a way to help him grill and eat all of it.

Then on Sunday night, we had a reunion with our old pastor Drew Rietjens and his family, who had come back to Bellevue to say hello. Our cluster of kids got to have some fun playing together once again as the grown-ups ate and caught up with one another downstairs.

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Grammy and Pop-Pop had us over to have burgers on the deck on Monday night, giving the kids (and daddy) the chance to run in the sprinklers for a bit.

Grammy and Pop-Pop had us over for dinner on the deck on Monday night, giving the kids (and daddy) the chance to run in the sprinklers for a bit. We also picked up a few loads of sand from neighbor Toni for a new sandbox that Vivian and I (and Grammy) have been putting together for the kids in our backyard. It turned out to be a fairly extensive project requiring multiple days of hauling sand buckets, nailing wood, and clearing weeds from our backyard. It should be a fun place for the kids (and Zoey) to play during the summer once it’s done.

Trains, Pets, and College Football

So now it’s January, and feeling a little more like January, so that means spending quality time with the kids indoors until it warms up enough to be called Spring.

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On Saturday morning, I made some Crockpot Breakfast Casserole and took the kids to my parents’ house for breakfast with them and Uncle Jonny. I mostly wanted to give Vivian was quiet time as the kids played with toy trains and read stories with grandma for a couple hours in the morning. We also got to try a vintage soda called Moxie, which contained gentian that gave it a flavor not unlike aromatic bitters.

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Then in the afternoon, we took the kids to the Mid-America Center for a model train show. Aaron in particular loves model trains, and we got to see several of them ranging from tiny, tiny model trains to ones big enough for your backyard. The most fun part of the visit, however, were the little pump-action train carts that Hannah and Aaron got to noisily ride around in a circle. I’m not entirely sure it was all worth the price of admission, but they both seemed to have fun.

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On Sunday night, we took the kids to Movie Night at First Presbyterian Church. We had hot dogs together and then watched The Secret Life of Pets, which was an unexpectedly cute and funny movie. They had a few crafts afterward involving making paper plate characters and Puppy Chow before we packed it in and headed home.

Then no Monday, dad and I had a guys’ night out at Pastor Ryan’s house as we watched the BCS Championship Game. I’m not normally a fan of football, but I’m always up for watching Alabama play in the Championship title game. The game itself was quite a nail biter and exciting to watch even though Alabama lost. It was more dramatic than any football-related activity around here anyway, if you don’t count who Riley is firing before next season.

Christmas Soup

It looks like it’s going to be a rainy, wet Christmas with highs in the upper 50s, which is unusual for December but not entirely unwelcome to people who might be traveling places. We may wind up lighting a fire in our fireplace anyway, just for the ambiance.

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It was a completely different story a week ago, when it was below zero and we drove off to Jenny and Kody’s place for a Christmas Party with our mutual friends. Kody made some stuffed pork loin for dinner, and we sat around playing Christmas charades and a game trying to open multiple layers of present with a pair of oven mitts. Our usual crew of friends were all in attendance, of course, and it was good to have a warm place to celebrate the holidays together.

The next day, we took the kids to church to sing some Christmas Carols together with some folks from the Louisville E-Free church. Hannah seemed particularly in the spirit, dancing in her seat, going up front to sing with the little ones and even dragging mommy up as well. We stayed afterward and had some soup downstairs with everyone before heading home.

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After the bitter cold, it warmed up enough later in the week to justify a trip to Stinson Park. Hannah and Aaron got to run around outside a bit, and we even got some cupcakes at Jones Bros. for old times’ sake. It was nice to get outside with the kids, though they do have plenty of fun inside when it’s too cold to go out.

Then went the sun went down, we took the kids out to look at some Christmas lights. Some of them were very impressive, with music timed to the blinking lights and broadcast via FM radio to anyone who wanted to drive by and tune in. Clark W. Griswold couldn’t have done a better job.

Reunions, Economics, and Easter Eggs

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Aaron turned 21 months old this weekend, which meant taking him to a park to see if we could crack a smile for his monthly picture. We didn’t have success, even when using the swing that got such a nice smile from Hannah at that age, but the next morning I made Aaron crack up by abusing some of Hannah’s toys. I love my kids.

Then on Monday, we got to have a bit of a reunion this week when Teresa Rietjens and her kids came to town and met up with a bunch of friends from Twin Valley Church at the local Chick-Fil-A. Hannah got to catch up with Rachel and get some quality playtime in as the rest of us ate chicken sandwiches and talked with Teresa about thier new life in Clear Lake, Iowa. Hopefully, we’ll be able to pop over for a visit sometime this summer.

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On Tuesday, I went to see economist Stephen Moore give a presentation on supply-side economics at a forum hosted by Americans for Prosperity. Moore’s a columnist for the Wall Street Journal and a contributor on the Fox News Channel, so I suppose my withdrawal from hanging out with politicians every week had started to wear off. He gave a very informative presentation showing correlations between lower taxes and higher revenue, a cornerstone idea of his friend Art Laffer’s career. Moore stuck around for plenty of Q&A with the relatively small crowd, and I enjoyed chatting with some of my political friends before going home to cry about Marco Rubio dropping out of the Presidential race. (Sniff, sniff.)

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And in case you haven’t checked the calendar recently, Easter is almost here. It’s an early Easter this year, which means our office wound up having a special egg-decorating day on St. Patrick’s Day. Pam and the events committee had eggs and dye and lots of green goodies upstairs. Our family all dressed in green for the day, and a few of my co-workers’ kids showed up for some of the fun. They made friends quickly with Aaron and Hannah. Hannah especially liked finding eggs hidden throughout the third-floor conference room, and she dyed and painted a handful of eggs herself to take home.

We concluded the day with corned-beef and cabbage, per tradition, with the kids.

Park Time

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Nebraska winters tend to be gray and cold with intermittent spurts of unseasonable gorgeousness, so when we aren’t having pizza lunches with the grandparents (which we did last week), Vivian and I like to take the kids outside whenever this happens. We hit a February high in the 70s on Saturday, so we took Hannah and Aaron down to the “Brown Park” (AKA Dream Land Park) by Lake Manawa. We had some burgers for lunch and then Hannah and Aaron got to wear themselves out swinging, sliding and exploring the large wooden outdoor playground.

In other news, our fifth member of the family, Flappy the Cockatiel, seems to be under the weather. This is often a dire situation for a little bird, particularly one who’s nearly twenty-five years old like Flappy. He seems to be hanging in there, however, with lots of cuddling for his mommy and daddy. It did prompt us to get our first “full” family photo with him, however.

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On Sunday, Twin Valley Church’s new Pastor gave his first official sermon as pastor at our church after a brief blessing for him and his family by the elders. Then we celebrated his first day downstairs with a potluck. I have to say that I really appreciate Pastor’s Ryan’s hands-on, proactive approach. He pushed for me to upgrade the church website to WordPress, and he was technologically-savvy enough to dive right in and start making edits as soon as I gave him an account.

That evening, our mutual friend Jessica invited us over to her place to play cards as Hannah and Aaron got some quality playtime. Jessica’s roommate brought along her three girls, who kept our kids occupied, as we all played Rummy along with Jon (and Aaron, when he felt like joining in). I have to remind myself how easy it is to get grown-up time when you have other little ones around to keep your own kids occupied.

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The nice weather lasted at least one more day, which allowed us to have our first lunchtime visit to Stinson Park for the year. The kids had lunch, and then they both got to make hams of themselves performing on the large stage singing and dancing for the amusement of mom and me.

Fish Fries and Chocolate Dinners

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The Lenten Season is upon us again, and that means Fish Fries (in addition to giving up Facebook). Our friends Nate and Lexi had their fourth young-un the other day — Gabriel — and dad decided to give mom some alone time with the baby by joining the Johnson Family for a fish fry down at St. John Vianney’s. They had the usual assortment of fried fish, pancakes, tomato soup, et cetera, and we got there early enough to avoid most of the line that usually accumulated by mid-evening. Of course, we also had five kids in tow, but a couple balloons (and an extra long French Fry) kept them fairly occupied before we were able to get our food. This was also Aaron’s first fish-fry experience, and he managed to clean his plate fairly well with the rest of us. We saw some familiar faces, including Frank and the Guitar Guy, as well as Cliff, who I used to work with at Land and Sky some eight years ago. It’s a small world.

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In other news, Twin Valley Church has a new pastor. You may remember back in November Pastor Drew and his family left our church and moved to Clear Lake, Iowa. Since then, we’ve been searching for a new pastor for our little flock, and after a very brief search came across the resume of Pastor Ryan Folken. He and his family used to live in Nebraska back in 2008 but had to move due to the recession. They seemed to be quite eager to move back, and after visiting extensively with our church family, Pastor Ryan agreed to become our new head pastor. On Saturday, I helped a bunch of people from TVC (and a few of Ryan’s old friends here) move into the parsonage next door to the church. He and his family seem like a wonderful fit for us, and by some coincidence they have two boys and two girls (one Hannah’s age) just as the Rietjens did.

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Sunday, of course, was Valentine’s Day. Vivian got up early and made me a lovely flower-shaped apple tarts for breakfast and a handmade valentine. Hannah and Mommy both got a cardsflowers and candy, some of which Hannah ate right away, of course. Hannah had also made cards for both grandmas, and Aaron got to give Grammy a bunch of roses when she came over to babysit.

That evening, Vivian and I went down to James Arthur Vineyards in Lincoln for a chocolate-themed Valentine dinner. There was a personal chocolate fondue, salad with chocolate vinaigrette, and a coffee and cocoa-crusted Beef Tenderloin, each with its own wine pairing. Jenny and Kody came as well, and we stayed so long talking about wine and other things that the four of us were the last to leave. Visiting JAV always brings back memories of when I poured for the Lincoln Ad Club’s Taste of the Vine events a decade ago. I’ll have to remember to come back and visit when they have live music again in the summer.

Four-course Wine & Chocolate Dinner
Food by Dinner & Company and wine from James Arthur Vineyards

  1. Appetizer: Chocolate Caramel Fondue with Fruit. Paired with Amo Te, a very sweet red wine.
  2. Salad: Spring Salad with Strawberries and Chocolate Chunks. Paired with Horizon, a lighter red wine meant for summertime.
  3. Entrée: Coffee and Cocoa Crusted Beef Tenderloin, Asparagus with Chocolate Drizzle, and White Chocolate Risotto. Paired with Nebraska Red (dry) or San Realto (sweet).
  4. Dessert: Chocolate Macaroon Bars, Raspberry Brownie Dessert, and Bavarian Mint Fudge. Paired with Aura, a clear, port-style wine.

Rand, Carly, and Long Goodbyes

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It’s been a bittersweet week for Twin Valley Church as we’re finally saying a long goodbye to our Pastor Drew and his family after many years of friendship. It was also a very busy Final Sunday Morning for all of us, with one last Sunday School with Mrs. Teresa followed by a packed church service (which even included my parents) and a baby dedication for little Grace Jashinske. The elders gathered around the Rietjens family for a teary-eyed blessing after the service, and then we got to have a baptism for one of our members out on the front steps.

We had something of a farewell potluck afterward with more people and food in attendance than I can remember in a long time. That included another lovely cake from my mother-in-law. Friends of friends also showed up, and Hannah and Aaron had a lovely time playing with a bunch of the little visitors before we finally had to go home.

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We had a few more presidential candidates pass through during the week. The first was Rand Paul, who attracted a decidedly more libertarian following at his brief meet-and-greet at the Council Bluffs Hilton, with fellow travelers in tricorner hats and a stray Objectivist among the crowd. My parents were also there, of course, as well as former Lee Terry primary challenger Dan Frei. Tom Becka also brought along junior reporter Maria Thompson from KPTM, who was quite thrilled to have a brief interview with Senator Paul at the end of the event.

Then on Friday, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina came to down for a town hall event sponsored by Concerned Veterans for America. Mrs. Fiorina gave a brief talk and then had some Q&A with pre-screened questions with Concerned Veterans for America CEO Pete Hegseth. There was a fairly good turnout with plenty of service members represented in the audience. I was also able to squeeze on stage for my obligatory picture with Mrs. Fiorina before she left to chat with the media afterward.

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Our kids had some photo-worthy fun during the week playing in leaves for Aaron’s 17-month photo shoot. They also got to build a couch cushion fort — a quintessential part of any normal childhood. Then on Saturday, Hannah spent the afternoon playing with the Rietjens kids one last time as I helped Pastor Drew haul down some heavy furniture and disassemble some beds in preparation for a big moving day on Wednesday. Hopefully now the big move will go much more quickly with everything stored in one garage, ready to be hauled into the moving van.

After we were done, the Rietjens treated us to one last meal together down at the Chick-Fil-A on Cornhusker Rd. Clear Lake, Iowa doesn’t have its own CFA yet, so the Rietjens were getting their fill of chicken sandwiches and waffle fries before making the big move. An employee came by and gave our little girls carnations for some reason, and Aaron got loaded up on a milkshake before spending some quality time with the crazy loud kids in the play area before we said our last goodbyes.

Yes, it’s been hard saying goodbye to this wonderful family, but I keep hoping we’ll see them again soon. They’re practically on the way to Cedar Rapids, should we ever drive that way to see family again. (It could happen!)

Tricks, Treats, and Chris Christie

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It’s Halloween Weekend at least, and I decided to kick things off by rubbing elbows with another presidential candidate in Council Bluffs, this time the Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie. All the usual gang was there, including Tom Becka and that one guy pretending to be Secret Service, (don’t let the earpiece fool you — it’s just for decoration). The event was held at the tiny Glory Days Bar & Grill, likely to make the crowd of 100 or so people seem much larger than if they held it at the mid-america center.

Of course, that also meant the restaurant was at capacity before I even arrived, but those of us milling around outside did get the chance to grab the Governor for a picture or two as he made his way inside. I even managed to squeeze inside for a few pictures in-between reporters after a few of them left during the Q&A. I was honestly impressed with the governor handling tough questions from the crowd on topics such as the Fort Lee lane closure scandal and a lawsuit on EPA emissions. Maybe some of these Iowans should be moderating the debates instead of the clowns from NBC.

I was also hoping to have a pizza lunch with Marco Rubio (along with Vivian and my mom), but the Senator from Florida cancelled the event to actually vote on something in Washington instead. Maybe next time.

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That evening, Vivian and I dropped by the Eagle’s Lodge for their annual Halloween dance. We helped with decorations before things got started and then spent the evening dancing with our usual cluster of Lindy Hopping friends. There was live music from a band called Three Day Weekend (mostly too-fast Jazz that left my feet aching), and we got Takashi to lead in another round of Thriller as well, which was terrific.

There was also a Jack and Jill dance competition (which involved holding pumpkins for some reason) as well as the costume contest. Winners included Dan Wondra as Groucho Marx, The Greatest American Hero (who looked a bit like Harpo standing next to Dan), and Lacey as Madame Blueberry.

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And then there was actually Halloween Night. It’s such a neat experience to participate in this event through the eyes of our kids. Hannah painted a pumpkin for our front porch, and then we took her and Aaron out for an evening of taking candy from strangers (and Grandma and Grandpa Johnson. Hannah went as Anna from Frozen, and Aaron toddled along as Pooh, insisting on carrying two buckets with him as they got filled up with fun-size Snickers and Kit Kats. Jack and Donna were nice enough to hold the fort back at our house until our kids were properly exhausted (and down from a sugar high) when we came home.

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We finished off the weekend with a relatively quiet Sunday afternoon. Our friends the Rietjens have just one or two more weeks left in Nebraska, so we went to the Burger King on Cornhusker Road with them for a kind of Last Luncheon together. The kids got some quality time running through the Hamster Tubes in the play area as well as we ate burgers and fries. We’re definitely going to miss this whole family once they go.