Category Archives: Union Station

Thanksgiving Birthday and the Longest Christmas Season Begins

It’s been a busy, crazy couple of weeks preparing for both a birthday for Hannah, Thanksgiving with the family, and a handful of celebrations to kick off a long Christmas season.

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The fun started last weekend as Hannah had a kitty cat themed birthday party with a handful of her little friends at our house. Grammy made a Zoey birthday cake, which was both adorable and frightening, particularly when Vivian decapitated it to give Hannah the first piece. Lily (and Jonah), Nicholette, and Sammy came over to share in the cake and make paper cut-out cats with Hannah. Hannah also got a bunch of presents, which included Play-Dough and a sequined toy that was particularly fun for Hannah to “draw” on.

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Thanksgiving the following week landed right on Hannah’s birthday, so we had to juggle both roasting a turkey for our Thanksgiving Dinner and hosting a family birthday party with Hannah. Grammy brought a new, “little Zoey” cake for Hannah, and she got to open some more presents in the morning, which included a Knuffle Bunny and her long-expected “Hannah Doll” (an American Girl actually named Willa).

All four grandparents dropped by, along with both Uncle Jonny and Nathan. Grandma read the kids a story as Jack and Vivian got Thanksgiving Dinner ready. Then around one, we sat down for turkey, stuffing, potatoes, green bean casserole, Taber salad, and also pie for dessert. Hannah also got to eat her cake, of course, blowing out the candles before going “head first” into a new sugar rush.

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That evening, we took the kids downtown to see the Gene Leahy Mall lit up in Christmas splendor for the last time before its multi-year demolition. It had warmed up to a lovely 50 degrees, but there was still enough ice left on the waterfront for some geese to walk on (“Just like Jesus,” said Hannah). We got a glimpse of Christmas Island and saw a man playing Christmas songs on a legit hurdy-gurdy near 12th and Farnam. Aaron (and mommy) tried out the slides before we headed up to 14th Street for the lights to turn on.

Some young kids sang some Christmas songs on a bandstand in front of the library before the emcee from 104.5 rattled off an endless list of sponsors. Then Mayor Jean took the stage to lead the countdown for the mall to light up. It was bittersweet to see the beautiful lights with the kids for the first — and last — time together. We stuck around just long enough to get a photo in front of them before hurrying on home to bed.

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On Black Friday, I had an early-morning breakfast at the 11-Worth Cafe with Uncle Jonny and my folks, starting the day with hash browns and sausage biscuits smothered with sausage gravy (AKA the “General Lee.”) Afterward, Vivian and I did just a bit of Black Friday shopping, specifically enough to confirm everything advertised had been sold out on Thursday.

Around four, we dropped by the Durham Museum to have Christmas at Union Station. The kids got to meet Santa and decorate cookies with Grammy and the River City Confectioners Association. They had some reindeer crafts, but we spent most of our time on a reindeer scavenger hunt downstairs, finding nine cut-out reindeer in order to claim a light-up glow stick upstairs as a prize. There were some toy trains (and a piano) that Aaron enjoyed playing with, and Hannah got to run through the various train exhibits and vintage passenger cars on display. We also saw the model of the 1898 World’s Fair in Omaha, a building of which one other girl said looked like “Donald Trump’s House.”

Later on upstairs, we got front-row seats for the tree-lighting, as the only spot to sit was right in front of the stage. Michael Lyon was back to sing some Christmas songs (after a recent bout with throat cancer of all things) before Mayor Jean and a handful of VIPs took the stage to lead the countdown. I let Hannah handle the video this year as I snapped some photos, and then we managed to join everyone else in the crowd in getting a selfie in front of the tree and playing in the paper snowflakes to kick off the Christmas season.

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We had some lovely weather on Saturday, which I spent putting up our Christmas decorations and taking the kids on one last wagon ride to my parents’ house for a visit. Our neighbor Betty also gave us some kolaches, and Vivian planted our tulip bulbs while we still had one last warm day before winter.

On Sunday, we got a dusting of snow that mostly just left the streets wet and slushy (before they turned to ice). It was fun to hear Aaron exclaim with a gasp, “It’s Christmas!” as he looked out the window. We were still able to go to church and then drop by Sam’s Club afterward for cheese and ice melt (among other things). We spent the rest of the day indoors catching up before our four-day weekend came to a close.

One interesting thing I learned this week was that when Hannah’s birthday falls on Thanksgiving, what follows is the longest Christmas Season possible on the calendar — 33 full days. I’m glad we were able to start them off right!

Happy birthday, Hannah — and Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

 

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.

Winter Wonderlands

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We kicked off another holiday season at the Johnson house over the weekend as we celebrated Thanksgiving with the rest of the country. Jack walked Vivian through all the steps of preparing the Turkey, and we had all four grandparents and my two brothers over to share in Thanksgiving dinner (and pie).

We had the Macy’s Day Parade on the TV downstairs along with parts of the streaming MST3K Marathon, but the latter went mostly unnoticed throughout the afternoon. Hannah learned to be a delightful little hostess serving up ham roll-ups, and she also got play with the fort-making materials she got for her birthday (though they quickly became goofy generic toys instead).

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We spent Friday night the next day at Union Station for their tree-lighting ceremony. There was a decidedly smaller crowd this year since many people were busy watching the Huskers get humiliated by Iowa. That meant no line to see Santa and plenty of time to make cookies and explore the museum. Hannah and Aaron got to run through the train cars and play with a few snowmen, and a capella group called the Bathtub Dogs sang a few Christmas songs before Santa and Mayor Stothert lit the tree around seven o’clock.

We hung around afterward to get our annual Christmas photo taken. We also checked out an exhibit on prohibition, and Hannah and Aaron got to play dress-up with some revolutionary garb before we headed on home.

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On Saturday, I spent the afternoon decking out our house in Christmas lights while the weather was nice and accommodating. Then on Saturday night, Vivian had a “Norwex Party” at our house for some reason. I rescued the kids from that by taking them to downtown Papillion for some of their winter festivities. Mom and dad our friend Phil joined us for hot dogs and chili at the fire station for dinner, and then Phil and I took the kids down to the park, which was dressed in Christmas lights for the season.

They had plenty of festivities for the Winter Wonderland event, which included live music from the Plucking Nuts outside the middle school and some frightening costumed characters wandering about. They also had visits with Santa and Carriage Rides available, but the lines for those were so ridiculously long that we just headed home instead to put the kids to bed and then watch some Mystery Science Theater (Monster a Go-Go — don’t bother, not worth it).

Your Standard Thanksgiving Weekend

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It’s fun to see just how many holiday traditions you can pack into one four-day weekend! Like most of America, the Johnson Family celebrated Thanksgiving on Thursday. Hannah got to check out the Macy’s Day parade in the basement as Vivian and Pop-Pop got a turkey and a bunch of sides going in the kitchen. We had an assortment of hors d’oeuvres out for “lunch” which some of us nibbled on downstairs as Mystery Science Theater 3000 streamed via Roku to our TV. Jonathan also got a copy of RiffTrax dismantling the cheesy 1989 classic, The Wizard, which was uniquely hilarious.

Then that evening we had the whole family, both sets of grandparents (and Uncle Jonny), to join us in eating what’s become our standard Thanksgiving Dinner together (Taber Salad included, of course).

IMG_8012My daughter Hannah and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert

On Friday night, we got to drop by Union Station for their tree-lighting event at the Durham Museum, one of my favorite Christmas events. The kids got to visit Santa and Mrs. Claus before decorating some cookies upstairs, and then I took Hannah down to look at the giant (retired) train cars on display in the lower level. Hannah loved running from one car to another, and afterward she got to wander through some of the exhibits showing homes in Nebraska through the last couple of centuries.

Vivian and Aaron stayed upstairs to help with the cookies, and then we headed to the great hall to watch the tree-lighting ceremony. Michael Lyon was singing Christmas songs for everyone this year, and then Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and her crew of dignitaries got up to count down the tree-lighting. Paper confetti fell from the ceiling, and Hannah managed to wound her way over to the VIP section before I could stop her. I took the opportunity to introduce her to Mayor Stothert while she was there (and got a picture of course), telling Hannah she could grow up to be anything, even Mayor of Omaha.

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For the rest of the weekend, Vivian and I spent some time decorating the house for the Christmas season. That meant hauling the tree out of storage and getting it put together, as well as bringing out the Christmas Frog and Santasaurus (who now has his own Facebook page). Hannah got to build a gingerbread house with mommy and string lights around the tree, and I finally got to light up our outdoor lights, which I hung a week or two ago when it was a lot warmer outside.

Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot more like Christmas. All we have to do now is wait for Santa!

The Big, Long Table

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We’ve just had another lovely, long Thanksgiving weekend and officially kicked off the Christmas season. On Turkey Day, we got to break in our new dining room table, an early Christmas gift from Grammy and Pop-Pop (we even had to add a couple extra leaves). All four grandparents were back again to join us along with Uncle Jonny, and we got to have the classic Thanksgiving Dinner together with all the usual ingredients — turkey, potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pearl onions, and of course Taber Salad. Vivian kicked off the morning watching the Macy’s Day Parade with Hannah before buttering up the turkey with Jack, and there was an MST3K marathon happening online that I got to stream through my cell phone. Hannah also got to set the table for the very first time — a milestone I hope we can follow up with such things as doing the dishes and picking up all her toys.

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On Friday, after enjoying some quality time outside raking leaves, Vivian and I dropped by Union Station for the annual Christmas Tree Lighting. Hannah and Aaron both got to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, and we got more than a couple pictures of all of them in their new Christmas outfits. When we weren’t busy having our pictures taken, we were helping Donna and the River City Confectioners Association decorate cookies with the little ones in the east ballroom. Jack got to sit at the milk table again, and Hannah sat by his side when she wasn’t making a paper Christmas Ornament.

Back in the main hall, local Jazz singer Camille Metoyer Moten got to sing a some Christmas songs for the slowly squeezing-together crowd. Around 6:30, we had a few brief words from Mayor Jean Stothert and Dave Mangelsen (from the hobby store of the same name) before lighting up the tree. Vivian and Hannah were close enough to the stage to say hello to the Mayor as the confetti started to fall, and then the crowd stormed the stage for their own Christmas pictures as Hannah suddenly became photogenic right before we got ready to head home.

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On Saturday, we got to enjoy some lovely temperatures in the 70s, and that meant taking Hannah and Aaron out to the park (in short-sleeves, no less) for some outdoor time before things became frigid again.

I also took advantage by hanging up our Christmas lights, and then we visited Trees, Shrubs & More to pick out our Christmas tree. We hauled it back home on top of the Civic and got it unwrapped and watered by nightfall.

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The next day, the temperature dropped below 20 again, so we got to enjoy some warmer activities in the Great Indoors. At church, we had a soup potluck downstairs, and then we broke out the Christmas decorations to put up back upstairs. I mostly took photos as Hannah caused brief rounds of mayhem with Rachel. Back home, we brought up more of our own Christmas decorations from downstairs, which included Santasaurus, who’s been in storage since last January. I’m not sure if Hannah remembers him at all, but she greeted him the same way she did last year — by making him “talk” by moving his jaw on her own.

Let the Christmas Season begin!

Our home for the holidays

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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Vivian and I just wrapped up a busy couple of weeks playing host to my parents visiting from North Carolina. During the day, they went with Vivian and Hannah to all their fun, weekly activities, such as attending Mud Pies at the Fontenelle Forest and Storytime with Mrs. B at the Bellevue Public Library. We also spent a couple evenings catching up with them, playing a few games, and going out to Stella’s for some of their classic burgers-on-a-napkin. Vivian and I even got to have a date night eating at the Crystal Jade and watching Catching Fire while Hannah stayed with Grandma and Grandpa Johnson.

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I also managed to get some much-needed work on the house done with the help of my dad. Among other things, we got a new flagpole mounted on the front of the house, which had been a gift from my in-laws on my birthday this year. It was a great chance to try out my new drill with some screwdriver bits. Nothing more father-and-sonly than that.

Jonathan came down a little later as we all had a fairly standard Thanksgiving meal together: turkey, stuffing with gravy, poppy-seed biscuits, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, potatoes, pearl onions, Taber salad, sweet pickles, green olives, and grape Martinelli’s. It was the first time I’d had Thanksgiving with my parents since they moved to North Carolina over ten years ago.

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The next day, mom and dad left for North Carolina, and Vivian, Jonathan, Hannah, and I enjoyed some fairly quiet Black Friday shopping. One advantage to all the stores moving their sales up to Thursday is that the stores are relatively quiet on Black Friday, with plenty of deals still waiting for us on their respective palettes.

That evening, Vivian and I took Hannah to the Durham Museum once again for the annual Christmas Tree lighting. Grammy and Papa were at their stations once again at the cookie decorating booth, and Vivian and I took turns with Hannah as she went to see Santa and then made a candy cane out of pipe cleaners and beads. “Vintage vocalist” Michael Walker was on-hand again to channel Frank Sinatra in the minutes before the main event, and Omaha’s New Mayor Jean Stothert joined David Mangelsen and a few other keynote speakers on stage to count down the tree-lighting once 6:30 rolled around. People then rushed the stage for some yule-tide photo opportunities before heading home.

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Vivian and I spent most of Saturday recovering from our Thanksgiving activities. On Sunday, we had a Soup Potluck at Twin Valley Church, immediately followed by some decorating for Christmas. Vivian and I took turns watching Hannah inside and out while putting up some garland and getting other ornamentation in place with the rest of the church. The day wound down fairly quickly as we continued to dig through all our leftovers from our four or five days of feasting, and we easily managed to pack away enough food for leftovers for the next week (or two).

It’ll be nice not to have to cook for a while!

Thanksgiving Weekend

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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! A year ago, the Johnson Family was celebrating the arrival of Hannah and having chicken and stuffing in the Bergan Mercy cafeteria. This time around, we had both a happy Turkey Day and Happy Birthday for Hannah at our home in Bellevue. Jack and Donna dropped by with a smoked turkey and pie, and Uncle Jonathan joined us with a vibrating elephant ball for Hannah. We all had Thanksgiving dinner together, and Hannah got to enjoy some of our turkey and even some tiny pumpkin pies for herself.

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On Friday, after a busy day of Not Shopping Anywhere, Vivian and I took Hannah to the Durham Museum for the first time for their tree-lighting festivities. Of course that meant taking her to see Mr. and Mrs. Claus and waiting like Ralphie in a line stretching from one end of Union Station to the other. The River City confectioners had their cookie decorating station as usual, with Jack handling the milk. Michael Walker channeled Sinatra out in the main hall as we waited for the gang to turn on the lights around 6:30. It was a fun time kicking off the Christmas season once again, and we stuck around to make a few attempts at a Family Christmas Picture before heading home.

Christmas, here we come!

Thanksgiving Weekend

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Vivian and I were able to attend our first professional football game at Rosenblatt Stadium last Friday, which was a certainly interesting experience for the two of us. We’d been to Rosenblatt several times, but we’d hadn’t seen the field dressed up for football before. It was very surreal experience. The weather and the crowds were also noticeably different — the family-friendly atmosphere had given way for beer-swilling drunks screaming at the field and fighting with each other in the stands. I could almost understand — it was below freezing and the line for hot cocoa stretched all the way around the stadium. It was still fun to watch some professional football huddled together near the end zone, but the visiting Tuskers plowed the field with the Nighthawks, and Vivian and I headed home early rather than watch the carnage play out.

Fall is quickly making way for winter, with colorful leaves turning dry and brown as the dreaded white stuff starts sputtering down from the sky. That meant Vivian and I had to break out the rakes and clean up our lawn for the very first time. We’ve come full circle in our little house — we bought it nearly a year ago and we’ve got to experience all four seasons with it now.

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We kicked off Thanksgiving weekend at Jenny’s house on the following Wednesday, enjoying some drinks and treats while playing What’s Yours Like with her new boyfriend, Kris. Ever since I made martinis at Vivian’s birthday party back in September, I’ve been a bit of a fan of mixing drinks. I made Manhattans for myself and Eric, appletinis Jenny, Venche, and Jon, and virgin appletinis for Vivian and Kris. I could have made another virgin appletini for Eric, but he seemed to like grabbing for Vivian’s.

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We got to celebrate Turkey Day for the first time at our home in Bellevue, and we had Jack and Donna over to share in a feast that included turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, pearled onions, cranberry sauce, and everything else you’d need to induce a day-long Thanksgiving Coma.

Vivian and I took a trip down to the Old Market that evening to enjoy the recently-lit Gene Leahy Mall and walk off a bit of our meal. As such, we discovered the Hollywood Candy store has a new, much larger location at 12 and Jackson. Among the aisles and aisle of candy were a new soda fountain and a small movie theater in the works. The owner bumped into us and mentioned that he plans to show free B-grade movies there once the theater is finished. I’m thinking sugar rush + bad movies = MST3K.

Despite being entirely too full, we still stopped by Ted & Wally’s for some egg nog ice cream before our walk down to the Gene Leahy Mall. We got our annual photo taken down there before heading home for the evening.

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On Black Friday, Vivian and I skipped the homicidal three in the morning crowds and enjoyed a very tame and not-too-crowded stroll through Walmart, where we picked up Batman Begins and Bladerunner for $2 each along with our egg nog. We visited the Durham that evening for their Christmas tree lighting and helped Donna’s cake-decorating group hand out cookies for the kids to decorate before the main event.

Later on, we dropped by JNO to welcome back Jillian from New Yawk City. She was able to have a Birthday/Welcome Back jam toward the end of the night. Jenny and Kris made an appearance as well, and we inducted him into the tradition of having breakfast and BS’ing down at Village Inn afterward.

Durham dancing, grilling, and smoothies

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Vivian and I had a fun, and very full weekend together. It started as usual with dancing with our friends, both briefly at JNO on Friday night, and then at the Durham Western Heritage Museum on Saturday. The museum was celebrating Jazz Jam this weekend with live performances by the Street Railway Band and the Sing Sing Swing Orchestra, so a number of Jitterbugs got to perform with them on stage to a fairly crowded house. Next time, we’ll have to encourage the museum to have the bands out in the much more spacious foyer upstairs. (Left photo courtesy of Kat via Eric’s camera.)

That afternoon, Vivian’s parents paid us a visit. Vivian and her mom got to tidy up the garden, while her dad and I put together Eric’s barbecue to grill some steaks for an early dinner a little later. I think I’ve fallen in love with grilling now that I see how easy it is (now that the grill has been thoroughly cleaned and put together).

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On Saturday night, Vivian and I headed out to celebrate a couple birthday parties. Our first was with Dennis out in West Omaha. He grilled up hot dogs, hamburgers, and steaks for everyone, and then shared in a bottle of Arbor Mist that Vivian and I brought as a present.

The second birthday party was for Leon, one of Vivian’s co-workers, and it was held at 24th and Lake, deep in the heart of North Omaha. It was definitely a cultural experience, and we got to stuff ourselves even further with fried chicken and barbecued ribs while dancing with the cast of characters from Friendship Program.

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On Sunday, Vivian and I got to deflate a bit going to church and then working off some of our excess calories at the YMCA. We had smoothies with our Journey Group that night, mixing together mixed berries, bananas, chocolate, peanut butter and any number of other things into some interesting frothy drinks. I also learned that a little instant coffee goes a long way, and I’m not really sure what Lee put in his drink, but it definitely made an impression on Chelsea (above right).

The season begins

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The holiday season is well underway, and Vivian and I have been a little busy getting our new home unpacked and ready for visitors sometime soon. This year, we had Thanksgiving with Vivian’s parents down in Bellevue, enjoying a turkey dinner with all the trimmings — stuffing, yams, and “Taber salad,” a savory gelatin made with mayo and tomato soup that was actually quite tasty. On Friday, we dropped by the Durham Museum for the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony and spent a few hours helping kids decorate cookies as part of the festivities.

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That night, Vivian and I went on a double date with Jenny and Keith in the Old Market. After dinner at Spaghetti Works, we walked around the Gene Leahy Mall, which had just turned on its Christmas lights the night before. Downtown Omaha is always beautiful this time of year, and it was nice to be able to look around before the temperatures dropped below freezing. Even so, we dropped in at 13th Street Coffee to warm up a bit and play with the plastic wind-up toys at the counter before heading off to enjoy all of 30 minutes at JNO.