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Barbecue Ribs

It’s been a quiet week, and it’s starting to feel a little more like fall, which I’m hoping will mean a few barbecues and fire pits before the snow starts coming. Over the weekend, I gave my parents’ lawn a good mow, and my dad gave us a rack of ribs for dinner, which he’d smoked on the patio all Saturday.

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On Sunday, we took the kids to the Fontenelle Forest for dinner with a group called Our Gathering Place, which is “a mobile monthly community dinner for families with special needs” (and specifically autism). It was a fun little event with food for everybody, as well as balloons, painting, and the usual nature-related activities they have downstairs at the nature center. There were even a few prizes to take home afterward, which was very nice. I only wish we’d had time for a nice walk along the Fontenelle boardwalk, but we mostly enjoyed making some connections with other parents inside.

The event was put on by Kinesha Johnson-Roach, the wife of Jarell Roach, who visited Wildewood to do some comedy back in September, so we felt like we were among friends right from the beginning.

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Then on Tuesday I attended another meet-up with my dad and the Men of God at Wildewood. We had another batch of boneless pork ribs and talked a bit about fellowship, particularly the direction the men’s group would be taking in the future. It seems bonding over food is a part of human culture that goes unrecognized, particularly when it involves cooking meat — a tradition that must date back to our ancient caveman ancestors.

Which reminds me, we’ve got to break out the fire pit one more time before winter.

Springtime Fire pit

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On Monday last week, Hannah celebrated her last day with her Classical Conversations classmates for the year. The students and teachers (AKA “tutors”) gave a brief presentation for the grown-ups of the various memory work they’d done that year, and then each the students got a certificate before breaking for refreshments downstairs. I have to admit after two years of homeschooling, I’ve found it has lot more schooling outside of “home” than I expected. Between our two home school groups, Hannah’s been able to enjoy multiple field trips, special guests at her co-op, and extra classes to learn things like sewing outside her standard curriculum. This year, Vivian and I even managed to prepare a real yearbook for all the students (which thankfully we finished in time for them to sign). Aaron still has a few more weeks to go.

Springtime weather seems to be hanging on, despite a cold snap that brought more snow to other parts of the country. As such, I had our first lunchtime rendezvous with Vivian and the kids on Wednesday, taking them to Elmwood Park to play for an hour or two (as Stinson Park is currently being renovated). I got to take a few nice, long lunchtime walks on other days, making my way past some lovely blossoms (and less lovely geese) on the Keystone Trail just to grab some flavored coffee in time for Cinco de Mayo.

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Our own yard had been in bloom as well, with an explosion of tulips we’d planted last October adding to the color of our yard. We also have some lilac ready to bloom in the backyard, which only lasts about a week when we get it (if it blooms at all).

Then on Friday night, we burned off the various branches and sticks that had fallen over the past year in a lovely fire pit. We invited our friends the Mills over to grill hot dogs and roast marshmallows (or vegetables) over the open flame while the kids ran around and played together. Aaron was especially tuckered out, crashing both Friday night and again Saturday afternoon.

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In other news, Hannah and Mommy had a lovely time at the Prims’ Princess party, which happened on Saturday. I’d write more about that if I couldn’t, but it was a girls’ only event. Maybe Mommy will update her blog and tell you more about it.

Big Red

We’re approaching the end of September, but it feels more like summer now than the beginning of fall. That’s all right with me, though, as I hope to have more time to finish some work on the house and go on early morning treasure hunts with Hannah in the yard (and to Costco with Grammy).

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It’s also an election year, so that means meeting and greeting politicians ahead of the mid-terms, of course. On Friday, Senator Deb Fischer paid a visit to the Business and Professional People for Life luncheon down at the Garden Cafe. I got to attend with a number of my colleagues from the Pope Paul VI Institute and even got to share a table with Hal Daub and Mike Foley. There was something uniquely fun hearing Hal talking about free speech issues on UNL’s campus (as he’s a member of the board of regents) and watching the Lt. Gov. pass around photos of his new grand-baby on his cell phone.

Sen. Fischer also took several questions from the group on issues related to Planned Parenthood funding, bipartisanship in the Senate, and theatrics over the Cavanaugh hearings. Fischer said she’s driven 100-150k miles around the state during her term, and I think I believe it considering how often I seem to bump into her just in Omaha (unlike that other Senator we have).

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Fall also means it’s time for Husker Football, and for the first time in my 23 years of living in Nebraska, I actually got to attend a home game! I won a pair of tickets (generously donated by my boss) at a weekly drawing a work and got to take Vivian to see the Huskers play Troy at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. We arrived just in time to follow a sea of red into the stands as the mascots goofed around before the National Anthem played, and then we baked in the sun for a couple hours as the Huskers lost 24-19. I’d watched plenty of these games on TV, but there’s nothing quite like watching it with the passionate fans in the stands (even when they’re clearly unhappy with the outcome). I even got to bring my DSLR with a telephoto lens to get some closer-up pictures of the action (and the crowd). I even got us a Runza to share for lunch, making for the most Nebraska picture in the world that doesn’t involve corn.

The only downer of our trip was getting a flat tire on the way out of the stadium, which meant spending an hour or two inflating it at a gas station down the street and then getting it patched up. I’ve never been so grateful for Walmart, as they fixed the tire when every other place in Lincoln was either booked solid or closed for the day. We finished off the day with dinner at Pho Nguyenn before a long ride home.

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Fall also means the Fall Festival at Gifford Farm. We hadn’t been there since 2016, so it was good to get back and let the kids slide down into piles of hay once again. We said hello to the horses, chickens, cows, goats, and other animals. Hannah and Aaron also got to decorate cookies, ride a hay rack, and look inside their favorite hollow tree.

The kids played some more in the children’s area (making a “house” out of the various instruments, gourds, and utensils they gathered up), and then we finished our day buying some pumpkins and having some flavored ice before heading home (where we said hello to a woodpecker and bumblebees in our own yard).

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Temperatures stayed in the 90s throughout the week, which made for a steamy experience at meet-and-greet with local candidates hosted by the Sarpy County GOP. My friend Phil came (with an appropriate shirt) to meet folks like Congressman Don Bacon, who suggested throwing me in the pool, which would have been great if someone got it on video. Bob Evnen, Rusty Hike, and a handful of others also showed up, along with Gov. Ricketts. He actually came dressed in a tie and jacket and somehow didn’t even break a sweat until after his stump speech.

There was time afterward for selfies, of course, but no swimming actually took place. Between this event and the one on Thursday, I was repeatedly impressed with how easy it is for someone who’s not even a donor to the Republican party to have access to people running for office. (I don’t mind chatting with Democrats either, of course, but most of those events on my radar come with a price tag, and that’s a hurdle I generally won’t jump.)

Birthday Paella and Morning Walks

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We’ve got one day left before Vivian and I celebrate ten years of marriage together! In the meantime, we’ve got another celebration to recognize — Grammy’s birthday. On Tuesday evening, Vivian and Jack made up a giant seafood paella. Grammy got to use our new special “birthday plate,” and the kids got their first taste of several things, including scallops (which Hannah thought at first was a banana).

Hannah drew Grammy a sweet birthday card (on giant paper), and Grammy got to blow out the candles on a giant dark chocolate lava cake that Vivian made. It was made with Ghirardelli brownie mix and Lindor truffles, with enough concentrated cacao to nearly put me in a coma (it was especially good with vanilla ice cream).

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The next morning, it was a lovely 64 degrees outside, so the whole family wound up walking 1.3 miles down the street together for a morning stroll down to Chick-Fil-A for breakfast. We picked some wild mulberries along the way, and then I called my folks to come join us before it was time to head off to work.

Next stop: Kansas City to celebrate a decade of married life!

Color Run and a Cake Show

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The summer fun continues, as orange lilies and hostas bloom in our yards and the kids reenact the Memorial Park concert in our living room. Hannah also lost another tooth, making it increasingly difficult to eat an apple, among other things.

On Saturday, Vivian participated in another 5K, this time the Color Run through downtown Omaha. I dropped by to surprise her with Grammy and the kids over the bridge to Heartland of America Park. There were quite a few painted-up (and tutu-wearing) participants in the parade, but we were eventually able to spot Vivian and Tamra trotting along with the lot of them. I took Hannah and Aaron down to the street level for a few high-fives before they continued on, and Hannah got in some extra puddle-jumping for good measure.

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Then on Sunday, we spent the afternoon at the Douglas County Fair, an event that was inexplicably held at a few empty shops at the Village Point Mall. Our primary reason for going was to see Hannah and Aaron win some awards for the little cakes they make for the River City Confectioner’s Association cake contest. There were quite a few fancy entries once again this year, but Hannah and Aaron still managed to walk away with ribbons. Hannah got both a blue ribbon and a medal for best in show for her House Cake in the Wee Folk category, which was particularly nice.

There were other fun events going on at the “fair,” including a science exhibit with a variety of neat toys, as well as a Bubble Show, where both Aaron and Hannah got to be inside a big bubble for just a moment.

We’re closing in on another milestone this week as Vivian and I celebrate ten years of marriage together. More on that in a bit!

Teed Off

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We skipped right over spring and ran right into summer, and that means it’s time for tee-ball! We signed up Aaron up to play with a bunch of other kids in the Bellevue area and got to attend his first practice session on Saturday morning. We actually had a pre-practice at my parents’ house the night before, showing Aaron the basics of hitting a ball and running bases. I think it helped him a lot before being put on the spot to try hitting a ball and running around with his little teammates (and I think he got to have a lot more fun as a result).

We celebrated with some pizza after the game and then had some more practice the next day at Thompson Park in-between playing on the swings and slide. The weather was absolutely gorgeous all weekend, so it was nice to spend a little extra time outdoors.

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Our other activities this week included saying goodbye to the Kuehmichels, who are moving to Pittsburgh thanks to Google (and not because Ben wrote a memo, a la James Damore). We said goodbye to them at their hotel and also got to meet their new baby girl Miriam. We also gave the kids the chance to swim a bit in the indoor pool.

Then later in the week, Vivian took Hannah and Aaron down to the Bellevue Berry Patch to pick strawberries . They gathered a bunch, and if you’ve never had a vine-ripened strawberry, you don’t know what you’re missing. They also had some play areas not unlike Vala’s Pumpkin Patch, so we’ll have to go back and check out some of it later (particularly the pirate stuff — arrrr).

Pump it up

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Kate’s girls Chloe and (other) Hannah had a birthday party with a bunch of little ones on Saturday at Pump it up, a kind of bounce-house party center in mid-town Omaha. Hannah and Aaron got to try jumping through an obstacle course and then had some quality time shooting down a giant, inflatable slide. Even Aunt Jessica, Mommy and Kate got into the action, which was quite hilarious to see. There were gifts, pizza, and cake afterward, though I drove around the corner for some more pho for mommy and me when we returned home.

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We’re definitely getting our fill of winter, with freezing rain and “weather advisories” nearly every day this week. Over the weekend, though, the weather was lovely enough to warrant a walk to Grandma and Grandpa’s House for an afternoon visit and some extra swing time on Sunday. Grammy and Pop-Pop also celebrated their 40th Anniversary, so they took us out to China Buffet to get stuffed with Chinese food and seafood from the Mongolian grill.

Then on Wednesday, I finally got our Civic — which had been rear-ended back in December — in to the body shop to see ift hey can fix it. In the meantime, I get to drive in a giant Dodge Challenger, which actually takes up more room in our garage than our Honda CR-V. It’s also handled the bit of winter we’ve had fairly well so far.

Favorite Foods of 2017

We’re closing out another delicious year, and 2017 was certainly another record year for culinary treats. Here are some of my favorites from the last 12 months before we ring in the New Year.

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1. Valentine’s Day Breakfast.

Vivian got to use her new smoker to serve me up some smoked salmon for a Valentine’s breakfast, served on a bagel broken with cream cheese and broken apart in the shape of a heart. Smokin’!

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2. Bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers.

Yes, I included these last year, but it’s one of the most delicious things you can put on a toothpick. Crispy bacon and a creamy, cheesy, onion soupy picture inside a (seeded) jalapeño. Give me as many as you can — I’ll eat them all!

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3. Easter Breakfast at Twin Valley Church.

Pastor Ryan and our Church Elders were at Twin Valley Church bright and early serving up a wide variety of different breakfast foods for the congregation — eggs, muffins, pancakes, bacon, strawberries, and nearly anything else you can imagine. The best part, however, was being able to have Fellowship together in the morning.

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4. Father’s Day Dinner.

Between Vivian and her mom, they can come up with just about the most delicious meals imaginable. This year for Father’s Day, they made for Jack me a plate of prime rib, scallops, and yucca along with a Crab Louie salad and Donna’s peanut butter chocolate pie for dessert. Rarely has such a delicious meal ever been served anywhere.

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5. Fried Bologna Sandwich.

We took an adventurous trip to Pella, Iowa back in May for Tulip Time, and we brought Hannah and Aaron along for the ride. Along with the parades, windmills, and tulips all around, there was plenty of unique food to be had. The best of which, I decided was the “Pella Bologna,” which we got from the In’t Veld Meat Market on Main Street. We fried up a few slices and put it on a toasted Pretzel Bun along with some mustard for a very delicious sandwich.

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6. Dim Sum at the Park.

Ever since Phil and Jen introduced us to Dim Sum last year, we’ve been having it nearly everywhere. We ate it on Valentine’s Day and for our First Date Anniversary, but I’ve especially grown fond of getting it at Gold Mountain in Aksarben Village, right across the street from Stinson Park, where our kids come to play at lunchtime. There’s nothing quite as nice as having pork dumplings on a lovely, sunny day.

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7. Cast iron skillet breakfast.

Vivian has become very fond of her cast iron skillets, which she particularly enjoyed using when we went camping down by the river in Louisville over Labor Day Weekend. She made some cheesy eggs and sausage with pancakes for everyone our first morning there.

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8. A year’s worth of Arby’s.

Props to Pastor Ryan for letting me know the first 50 people at the remodeled Arby’s in Bellevue got to have free Arby’s for a year. That means 52 Free Meal vouchers with your choice of sandwich. I’ve been able to eat there over a dozen times so far and haven’t had the same sandwich twice. These include the Bourbon Brisket sandwichAngus 3 CheeseCajun “Deep-Fried” Turkey, Smoke Mountain, the Venison sandwich, and the Gobbler.

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9. Big messy birthday burger from Five Guys.

Vivian and the kids surprised me for my birthday around lunchtime with food from one of my favorite burger restaurants. You may not think it’s much to look at, but it’s delicious (and comes with a ghetto grocery bag full of fries). We ate them all together at the Elmwood Park Grotto.

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10. Vivian’s vegetable medley.

Vivian has been making a unique vegetable medley with summer squash, Brussels sprouts, and a handful of other ingredients inside her cast iron skillet and serving it for meals, side dishes for parties, Thanksgiving and Christmas and just about any other time. It’s worth a mention just because of how much everyone enjoys it, including me (and I didn’t even think I liked Brussels sprouts).

Baby Cakes and Olde Town Christmas

We’ve had a lovely, unseasonably warm start to December this year, with days in the 50s and 60s that made for the perfect time to visit the park at lunch time or to put up some Christmas decorations. I made sure to get the kids out of the house at least for a walk to enjoy the sunshine without a coat before winter actually gets started (which it will).

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On Saturday, Vivian and I threw a dinner party for a few of our mutual friends and mommies to be Tamra and Jen (and also Phil). Vivian made an elaborate chicken dinner, and Donna brought over some lovely baby cake and peanut cookies, as well as a few collections of disposable diapers arranged like little babies wearing sleepers.

We gave away a bunch of Hannah and Aaron’s old baby clothes after dinner, and Phil and I also disassembled our dear old crib so he and Jen could use it for their new baby boy next year. It was a little hard for Vivian and me to part with this piece of furniture where both Hannah and Aaron got to sleep when they came home from the hospital, but it was far past time for Aaron to graduate to a “real,” bed, which he immediately took a liking to.

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On Sunday, Hannah and Aaron played fairies and gave their kitties a weigh in before we headed to church. We skipped potluck so we could have a busy, busy afternoon doing Christmas activities in Bellevue. We stopped first by the library, where they had some snacks and crafts for the little ones. Hannah and Aaron got to make tiny “mouse” ornaments and some Popsicle stick bobsleds.

Then we went to Olde Town, where there was a Living Nativity at he firehouse followed shortly by a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus (arriving by firetruck, of course). There were some other activities at Washington Park, including some live reindeer and a puppet show. Mostly, the kids wanted to play on the slide, the teeter-totter, and the jungle gym — and with the weather warm enough for short sleeves, we couldn’t blame them.

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We were pretty exhausted by the end of the day, but I took Hannah right out again after dinner to see our friends the Mills in the Bellevue Christian Center’s Christmas program. The program was scripted by Ms. Karla who performed an original song for the finale, and it consisted of a myriad of skits put on by the kids at BCC, along with songs in-between them. Lexi, Sammy, and Jake all participated and did a great job. Hannah particularly had fun playing with the “snowballs” that were thrown into the crowd during one of the final songs.

It’s getting colder this week, but that only means Christmas is right around the corner!

Saving the Daylight

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It’s been a remarkably quiet couple of weeks at the Johnson House. The day after Halloween, we celebrated five years of Chick-Fil-A with the kids (as if we needed an excuse to eat more chicken) and got free sandwiches for helping with their canned food drive. The sun set on Daylight Saving Time a few days later, which we celebrated with a potluck at church and one last afternoon walk-walk to my parents’ house before it starts getting dark at five o’clock. I’ve been taking advantage of the time change by getting up early to have coffee with Vivian and breakfast at McDonald’s with my dad and Pastor Ryan.

It’s still warm enough to take the kids down to the park to play and have dim sum for lunch every now and then. Grammy came by one Saturday to have pumpkin pecan pancakes with us and then give Hannah and me a couple haircuts. Vivian even took the shears to Grammy for a bit to even out the back of her head where it’s hard to reach. In other news, Hannah found her lost kitty Zoey in the back of our closet, so now she has two of them somehow.

The holiday season is about ready to kick off, but first we’ve got a date with Johnny Boyd and a birthday for Hannah to look forward to. More on that in the next update.