Union Station, Apples-to-Apples, and a Chilly Bike Ride

The Christmas season is well underway, with the tree decorated and our Christmas letters ready to mail, and I also broke out our Christmas mugs for my early morning coffee. Harold said goodbye to his mommy after a week or two of running around with her in our living room, and Hannah finally finished her “red book” of reading exercises and celebrated with Vivian by throwing it out the window.

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On Saturday, we took our annual trip down to the Durham Museum for Christmas at Union Station. They unfortunately haven’t had a public tree-lighting since 2019, but we still enjoy being able to see the real thing (and get our family photo in front of it). Hannah and Aaron got to see Santa again before running through the train and streetcar downstairs.

Aaron watched some vintage cartoons while Hannah took a look at some of the dresses from Downtown Abbey, which were on display. Then we finished our visit with some phosphates for the kids and a couple egg creams before heading home.

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I took Hannah to church on Sunday and then to her Christmas program rehearsal afterward. I also got a free Big Mac for lunch just for signing up for the app, which was nice. I spent the afternoon getting Vivian a new garage door opener and then installing a new dimmer switch in our living room, since the old one has gone all blinky and weird.

Then we had a family game night and introduced the kids to Apples to Apples, which they were both able to play with us. Hannah wanted to add a few extra players and decided to bring her dolls into the game, which she must have enjoyed because she wanted to play again with me the next morning before school.

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On Monday, Mike Foley came to the pizza ranch to talk about his eight years as Lt. Governor and returning now to his role as State Auditor, which he held prior to being Pete Ricketts running mate. I saw a few familiar faces there, such as my dad’s old NAS friend Dwayne Ball from UN-L, along with John Glen Weaver and State Senator Jim Jensen.

Then on Thursday, I went for my first bike ride in a while, heading up to Trader Joe’s and back. The weather was 34 degrees but sunny, so it was a bit brisk, but not too bad of a ride. It seems difficult to get outside and move around during the winter months, but I try to make an effort when at least the roads aren’t too slippery (as they might be tomorrow).

Thanksgiving & Christmas Kickoff

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It’s been another busy Thanksgiving weekend for the Johnson Family. Vivian and her dad put together another fantastic turkey dinner for us. We started the morning watching the Macy’s Day Parade before switching over to watch some football (Buffalo and Detroit). Donna brought Bella over for a bit, and I got to take her for a walk with Aaron after having some hors d’oeuvres for lunch. Then a little after four o’clock, we had all four grandparents, along with two uncles (and a Cheryl) under one roof to eat together. Even Harold’s mommy, Ginny, came to visit for the holiday, giving us a very full house.

The grandmas also brought over some pecan and pumpkin pie, and Cheryl brought along some Filipino tarts. We passed it all around with cups of coffee, just like in the song sleigh ride. Then I finished off the evening turning on our Christmas lights for the first time. (And just like with Clark Griswold, they didn’t quite light on the first try, either.)

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On Friday, we jumped right on getting the Christmas season going by driving up to Nordstrom’s Christmas Tree Farm in Bennington to pick out our tree. Vivian had learned about the place through one of her home-school groups, so we were happy to give them a bit of business.

We picked out a tree together and then got some hot cocoa and a ride on their vintage fire engine before hauling it on home to start decorating. We also had more than enough leftovers to keep us fed throughout the weekend, one of my favorite being turkey breast and cranberry sauce on white bread.

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Then on Saturday, I walked with Hannah to my parents’ house to watch a bit of the Iron Bowl, as the Crimson Tide rolled over Auburn, 49-27. Hannah spent some time playing jacks with Grandma and reciting T’was the Night Before Christmas as my dad, Uncle Jonny, and I pretended to watch the game.

Then after the sun went down, Vivian and I took the kids down to Papillion and braved the crowded city streets to see them light the Christmas lights to kick off the holiday season. We got to see a few reindeer among the crowds and stopped by a fire pit or two to keep warm. The evening was actually a quite pleasant 50 degrees or so, and we decided to drop by Graley’s to get some ice cream. “Mr. Graley” was outside dressed in 19th century garb and selling “hand pies” to a long line of customers as well. Sometime, we may have to brave it back to try one when the crowds have all dispersed.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Beanie Boo Birthday

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On Friday night, we dropped by St. Paul Lutheran Church in Millard to see a music program put on by MKS Studio, which is run by a few home school moms including our friend Lexi. All four of her kids had parts in the program, with Gabe and August playing some percussion instruments, Jake playing acoustic guitar, and Sammy being a tree in a piece from The Sound of Music.

A number of our other home school friends were also coincidentally involved, including our friend Ben Kuehmichel’s daughter Aleah, Erin’s daughter Emma, and one member of our praise team from Wildewood Church. We brought Hannah and Aaron along as well to show their support for their friends, and the kids all did a great job.

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On Saturday, Hannah got to celebrate her birthday a few days early by going skating with a bunch of her friends down at Skate City. Some of the girls she invited were friends we’ve known nearly all their lives, namely Sammy and Lily, but others included a bunch of new friends from Hannah’s new school — Leah, Mercy, and Elora — as well as Annabel from AHG (as well as The Other Hannah™).

The girls got some quality time skating around the rink for a while, at one point holding hands and trying to form a “line” to skate together. They had a few games every half hour, including one with a limbo that Annabel nearly won. We stopped halfway through to have a couple bags of popcorn (which we sang “Happy Birthday” over as if it were a cake) and open some presents. Among them was a giant, plush Pui Pui Molcar from the Mills, which is from a Japanese show we didn’t even know they knew existed.

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Then on Hannah’s actual birthday, I made her some coconut toast for breakfast and let her open a couple presents from Aaron, which included a new Beanie Boo for her collection. Then that evening, we had all four grandparents (and Uncle Jonny) over for some pizza for dinner. Donna made an amazing Beanie Boo birthday cake for dessert, which we ate after Hannah blew out the candles.

Afterward, Hannah got to open a few more presents (and a card from me), which included a few more Beanie Boos (of course), a mirror, and a drone. Then we had some root beer floats downstairs and watched the Tom Hanks’ classic movie “Big” (Hannah’s choice) before calling it a day.

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Happy birthday, Hannah!

Veteran’s Day, Bloviating, and Harold Turns Three

It’s been a fairly quiet week, with me still recovering from election night and trying to get back on a normal schedule (with some help of some coffee).

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On Veterans’ Day, Hannah and I spent the evening down at the Victory VA Apartments with her American Heritage Girls troop. They were part of a program for the residents there, singing a few patriotic songs and handing out “blessing bags” they’d put together. It was a very sweet little service project and I’m glad I got to see Hannah be a part of it.

Hannah’s also a part of the Christmas program at Wildewood Church. I got to watch her and the other kids practicing together on Sunday. Their director gave us all access to the music for the program, which we’re supposed to have our kids listen to ten times as a part of their practice. (Or just see how many times I can get through it before giving.)

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On Tuesday, I had some dinner at Costco and then spent the evening with a few friends down at Lucky Bucket, talking politics and other things that might get us banned on Facebook. We grumbled about the Midterm elections, of course, and we also tuned in to President Trump announcing his third run for President. I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the idea, but it will give me the chance to wear my little red hat a couple more times.

In other news, it’s feeling a bit more like winter this week, with highs around freezing every day, but I’m still getting out for a daily jog along the Keystone Trail around lunchtime. I just have to bundle up and keep a fresh podcast or two on hand to keep me company (and distract from the cold).

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Then came Wednesday, which happened to be Harold’s third birthday. I got him a few presents, such as a treat ball and a fleece liner for his cage. It’s hard to believe we’ve had this lovable little fuzzball for three years now. Guinea pigs have a relatively short lifespan, so every birthday we get to celebrate with Harold is extra special.

I also gave him a feast of a “kale” cake with carrot “candles,” which he managed to eat in its entirety, while Vivian made some Musubi for me to try with the mold we got from orc friends, the Simpsons. Then after dinner, I took Aaron down to Royal Rangers for the evening, where I finally finished my copy of Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life.

Coming up next: Hannah’s birthday and Thanksgiving, right around the corner. Then it’s all downhill until Christmas.

Election Night & the Morning After

Another Election Day has come and gone, and I’m still busy recovering from it. The Red Wave we’d been hoping for didn’t happen, but pretty much all the candidates I voted for on my own personal ballot did quite well. All politics is local, at least for me this time.

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On the day before Election Day, I got to hear from Eric Underwood, the new Executive Director of the NEGOP, down at the Pizza Ranch over lunch. He was elected in the tumultuous convention this summer that ousted the previous Executive Director, Dan Welsch. I got to ask him personally what that was all about, and he talked briefly about the kind of top-down authoritarian nature of the previous NEGOP, which notoriously refused entry to five duly-elected delegates ans even had one of them arrested for “trespassing” when they showed up anyway. He talked at length about building relationships with voters and having the new NEGOP adhere to such things as a written Constitution and Robert’s Rules of Order rather than dictating to the grassroots from the top.

I enjoyed hearing his talk, which you can watch in its entirely on my political blog. Toward the end, he said “most Nebraskans aren’t moderate are just trying to live our life devoid of politics, not be a part of any of this, but there did come a point where we said all right, enough is enough.” That definitely summarizes where I am most of the time.

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Then came Election Day! I donned my patriotic tie and walked up the hill (with Hannah) to vote for a handful of candidates and a few resolutions on the docket. I even went so far as to put a sign out for my friend Doug, who was running for the Learning Community.

Then that evening, I went down to the Regency Marriott for Don Bacon’s election night party. I’d been hoping for a “Red Wave” and a short evening for the District 2 Congressman, but it unfortunately didn’t materialize. I still had a good time hanging out with a bunch of my political friends. Some of the candidates I’d gotten to meet personally down at the Garden Café or the Pizza Ranch, such as Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine and Douglas County Assessor Walt Peffer, gave victory speeches once their races were called. The race between Don Bacon and his opponent was ridiculously close throughout the night, with only 20 votes separating them for about an hour. Toward the end of the evening, Don began pulling away and gave a “thank-you” speech sometime after eleven, even though the race hadn’t been called. I got to shake his hand (and get a selfie, of course) before heading home for the night.

I spent most of the next day recovering, having planned ahead and taken the entire day off. I got a little laundry done and was able to surprise Hannah down at her school when it was time to pick her up. I also leafed through more of Jordan Peterson’s book when I took Aaron to Royal Rangers that evening. Then I turned in early to get about nine hours of sleep before preparing to head back to work on Thursday.


I’m still not sure what to make of the Midterm results, which I’d expected to be a whole lot better for Republicans than they turned out to be. I’ve heard a lot of people online and elsewhere blaming weak candidates, Trump’s involvement, and decidedly left-wing youth voting bloc, but I’m waiting for the dust to settle before thinking much more about the future.

What I am interested in a 2024 election season that will look a bit more like 2016 — with several Republican candidates making the rounds in Iowa doing meet-and-greets, which I enjoyed doing so much six years ago. Even better, this time Hannah (and maybe Aaron) will be old enough to better understand what’s going on they they did back in 2016. We’ll see.

On to 2024!

Ducks, Eggs, and Autumn Spice

We’ve had a lovely start to November, with a brief encounter with a cold front that turned out to be mostly rain and several other lovely, warm days that made for some leafy fun outside.

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On Thursday, I biked on down to Chick-Fil-A to join Vivian and Hannah for some lunch together. It was also the last chance for an “autumn spice” milkshake, which Vivian and i shared in in the most sickeningly-romantic way (of course).

Afterward, I took them across the street to the Asian market, where we shopped for some sushi rice (for Musubi later this week) and got to introduce Hannah to such Asian delicacies as whole roasted ducks hanging around on display. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of them.

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On Saturday, Vivian and I had an egg taste-test, sampling some of our friend Lexi’s home-grown eggs and comparing them to some store-bought ones. The verdict: not only do the they look different (inside and out), but the yolks are much tastier in the home-grown eggs.

I walked down to my parents’ house later on to help change a few light bulbs in their house and then have some Taco John’s with them for lunch. My brothers also helped them rake some leaves, and I decided to get some raking done back at home. I also made a giant pile for the kids to jump in, which was quite comfortable once I decided to crashed into them myself.

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Then on Sunday, Hannah introduced us to a card game she made up before we headed off to church. Afterward, we got some McDonald’s and spent a little time at Ralston Park. The kids got to run around the playground for a bit, enjoying the fall colors and getting quality time on the swings (and fence). Vivian took Hannah back to church for a weekly rehearsal for the church Christmas program (Hannah hopes to nab a speaking part), and afterward Hannah went clothes shopping with Vivian and Grammy.

I took Aaron home afterward for some quality time together. I also got some end-of-the-year yard work done, specifically bagging up a bunch of leaves and then giving our lawn one last mow — just in time for the sun to set.


We’ve got a midterm election coming up, so my next blog post will likely have some politics in it. Be forewarned, ye who may be triggered!

Trunks & Treats

It’s Halloween time again, which means enjoying plenty of fall food such as acorn squash and Halloween-themed pasta (which I call “Spook-Ghetti“) — along with all the usual Halloween sweets, of course.

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Aaron has a few days off of school (thanks to some parent/teacher conferences), so Vivian took him to BSF on Thursday. Afterward I biked on up to join them for lunch at Chick-Fil-A, something I’d done this a number of times with Vivian and Hannah, but never with Aaron. It was nice to spend a little time with our son having some chicken sandwiches — and an ice cream cone we got for free. He even spent a few minutes in the play area before we went home. Likely, he’ll have outgrown it the next time we come by.

We had some beautiful weather on Saturday for Hannah to sell chocolate bars with the girls from AHG outside Sam’s Club. Then in the afternoon, I dragged the kids to my parents’ house to help rake up some of the leaves that had fallen in their backyard. Naturally, they got to play in them a bit as well, but we wound up bagging five giant bags of leaves before we were done. There are more than enough leaves to have to do this again soon. Hopefully when they all fall down it will still be warm enough to rake them up without jackets.

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Then on Sunday, Vivian and I wore orange and black to church for Halloween eve. Then that afternoon, we took the kids out for for a couple Trunk or Treat events. The first was down at Wildewood, where we met up with the Campbells and the Lenarts to get candy from a handful of our friends from church. We saw some creative trunks decorated with themes such as Pac-Man, Monsters Inc., and even Insurance mascots. One had a quiz on the Ten Commandments, which I think had approval from Farmer/Pastor Ron. The kids got to play a few carnival-style games afterward and have some hot dogs and cotton candy before we headed on.

Then on the way home, we stopped by Heritage Hill Church of the Nazarene for their Trunk or Treat event immediately afterward (where we coincidentally bumped into our friend Debby, with Emily in tow). There were some swings and a bounce house for the kids to play in, along with a hayrack ride where they got to “pick” a few pumpkins from the bottom of the hill. Hannah jumped into a haystack, swung around with Aaron, and somehow lost a tooth. We got some chili for dinner before collecting some more candy and chucking a few pumpkins. and then the kids got to watch It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown as the sun went down.

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Then at long last came Halloween night! We had some pizza for dinner before Grammy came by with Bella to watch the door at our house, and then we took our kids for a long evening of trick-or-treating. We started off at my parents’ house and then walked their neighborhood as the sun went down. Then we drove up the street to visit a few neighbors by Grammy’s house, specifically Tom and Toni next door. Then we finished off with our own neighborhood, including a handful of nicely decorated houses just down the street.

I probably had more than my fill of candy throughout the (including some the treats left at work), but I hope the nice, long walk did a bit to offset it. Happy Halloween, everybody!

Bikes, Birthdays, and the Pumpkin Patch

We’ve some remarkably unseasonable weather in the run-up to Halloween, going from freezing to mid-80s in the span of a couple days. That’s made some for ideal days to enjoy the great outdoors, of course.

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On Thursday and Friday, I broke out the bike to go riding on a trail or two during lunchtime, making my way up past the old painted silos by Vinton Street on the Field Club Trail and then down the Big Papio Trail to Trader Joe’s. I’ve found myself jogging on the Keystone Trail more often these days, but I had a sore knee and thought the bike might be a little easier, but it was nice to see some different scenery on a day or two with very little wind.

Then on Saturday, I took a nice walk with Hannah down to Chick-Fil-A to see some fall colors and have a couple milkshakes together for a daddy/daughter date.

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Then that evening, Jenny held her annual birthday/costume party out in West Omaha at Sarah’s new house. It’s become something of a yearly reunion for a bunch of us mutual friends who know each other from Jitterbugs or GAMe from over the past decade or two. Hannah and Delana immediately began playing together like old friends as Aaron engaged in a war with Hugh’s boys with a couple of light-sabers (which looked very cool after dark at various shutter speeds). Naturally, we all came dressed up. I came as Steve Buscemi’s “How do you do fellow kids” meme. Vivian came as Pa Ingalls (I think), while Hannah came as Laura Ingalls. Aaron donned what I think was an Iron Mask outfit without the mask (but I can’t be sure). The Simpsons came as a rocket ship, and they had some cute gifts for us from the Spam Museum, specifically a plush Spam “Musubi,” along with a utensil to make it.

We had a group photo before Kody broke out Jenny’s cake and candles, and then we stayed up late (all right ten o’clock, but that’s late for us) sitting around a fire pit reminiscing about old times before calling it a night. Then we discovered that Hannah had somehow lost a tooth during the party, which she presented to us before heading home. (After which, I got to play Tooth Fairy.)

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Sunday was 84 degrees, so I decided to break out our inflatable wading pool for the first (and probably last) time this year. I was able to use our new air pump from camping to blow it up and then splash around a bit with Aaron in the ice-cold water. Then that evening, Vivian made some ribs and we watched The Nightmare Before Christmas with the kids for the first time.

I took both Monday and Tuesday off for our Vala’s trip, just in case one of those days had rain. That turned out to be Monday, so after dropping the kids off at school, Vivian and I went down to Village Inn for a rare breakfast date together. We got to have some pumpkin pancakes with eggs and such while sipping coffee before starting a quiet day at home tidying up and doing a BSF lesson as it rained outside.

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Then on Tuesday, we enjoyed a brisk autumn day at Vala’s, with clear blue skies and not a drop of rain that was predicted (with a 60% chance) a week earlier. The kids were big enough this year to join me on the bouncing pillows for a family jump, and I did the pedal carts with the kids but wound up pushing Aaron through most of the track. We still visited classic attractions such as the pumpkin mine, the duck races, and of course the train (which is free to everyone this year). We also got to check out “Stefan’s Country Drive” a new track with motorcars (up by the new cider mill).

We got some buckets o’ fries for lunch before the Pig Races, and I got to reintroduce Hannah to the Pig Wranglers, mentioning she’d been to Vala’s every year since she was a baby. The crowd was small enough that both Aaron and Hannah got to be “pig leaders” this year. Of course, we also visited the haunted house, schoolhouse, petting zoo, and storybook village. I went on the Big Slide with the kids a couple times and spun them around a cylinder in Prairie Hill Town. We went by the obstacle course before Aaron dragged us into the corn maze for a while to get lost. Then we got a ride on the carousel and had a few photos by the windmill (and the Pirate Maze) before having some donuts, picking out our pumpkins, and heading on home.

Halloween’s right around the corner next, followed by an election, Thanksgiving, and a landslide of activities leading up to Christmas. It’s a busy time, to be sure!

Watch the highlight reel of our trip to Vala’s!

Air Rifles, Little House, and Jim Pillen

It’s been a busy, busy week finishing another Education Program at work and juggling other things with the kids as Halloween starts creeping around the corner.

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Hannah and I got to have some special daddy/daughter time on Saturday morning down at Platte River State Park with her American Heritage Girls’ troop. We started things off with a little target shooting using a few of the air rifles in their shooting gallery. Hannah got to draw her own little target and then try to punch a few holes through it with some tiny metal slugs. It was her first shooting experience and fun for both of us to try to figure out how to get through a cartridge or two without jamming too much.

The AHG leaders lit a campfire in the meantime to make some s’mores as we had some lunch. Then we got to shake up some homemade ice cream in a plastic bag for dessert. After that, we went on an insect scavenger hunt, looking around for a handful of bugs, including a cricket Hannah found on the sidewalk (and then took around to show her friends). We finished our visiting with a brief trip up the observation tower, where I got a beautiful birds’ eye view of the fall colors all around the Platte River before we headed home.

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The next day, we got Hannah’s Halloween costume in the mail. She’s been enjoying watching old episodes of Little House on the Prairie, so this year she decided to be Laura Ingalls for Halloween. Vivian put Hannah’s hair into braids after she tried on the dress, completing the look perfectly.

Then the kids and I walked on down to the Sandy Park together, stopping by my parents’ house to show them her out new outfit along the way. just to have some time outdoors enjoying in the fall colors and the crisp autumn weather. Hannah also got to take her dress for a test run down a hill, just like Melissa Gilbert did in the theme song.

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Then on Tuesday, I got to have a luncheon with gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen down at Gorat’s Steakhouse (where I’d coincidentally first met our current governor eight years earlier). The Business and Professional People for Life had him as their guest speaker, so we got to hear him speak about his campaign and pro-life issues over hamburger steaks, followed by a short Q&A.

Joining the crowd of regulars were my parents, who I got to introduce to Pillen. My dad was a professor at UN-L for a few years “before testing positive for political incorrectness,” so he got to tell his story to Pillen, who is currently on the UN-L board of regents. My dad said that was worth the price of admission. It was a nice way to do democracy — up close and personal, asking questions directly to a candidate for governor. I even got to eat lunch right across from him, which was kind of special in itself. Just three weeks until election day.

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Happy autumn, everyone!

Steak, Pork Ribs, & Pupcakes

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I got to have a little quality time with the kids this weekend as Vivian took the weekend off to go to a women’s retreat at church. On Saturday morning, I made some pumpkin muffins for breakfast and we walked on over to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for a little “trunk time” with my brothers. We looked through some of my dad’s old books, which included an old leather-bound copy of A Christmas Carol and a couple old MAD Magazines (which I showed the kids). He also demonstrated his old stereo and turntable, where we played some vintage music for the kids as we watched a variety of wildlife in the backyard.

After that, dad and I went by Hy-Vee to get some Chinese food for lunch along with some vintage sodas. (Hannah decided that her new favorite drink is Bubble Up.) For dessert, the kids had some the root beer pops they’d put in the freezer the last time they were here. Then we watched a couple old home movies and played a round of “Use Your Words” on the Switch. The kids were even able to join in this time (with some help entering their answers on an iPad and a laptop).

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The next day, I took the kids to church, where they had Sunday School together, since they were a bit short-staffed (due to the retreat). Then I dropped Aaron off with Uncle Jonny and took Hannah down to Nebraska City for a steak fry with the Governor. The weather was just perfect, 78 degrees and funny with the trees in autumn colors at Arbor Lodge State Historical Park. I got to see a few familiar faces, such as the Horsechief family, Sen. Fischer, Congressman Bacon, and a few others. The Bubble Lady was back, and a country music quartet got to introduce Hannah to such songs as Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue.” (There was also, of course, lots of steak.)

State Senator Julie Slama and Gov. Ricketts played emcee while the guest speakers were South Carolina Senators Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham, and all four of them got to recreate the famous Iwo Jima photo trying to keep an errant flag upright. Tim Scott talked about growing up with a strict mother, giving hum “encouragement” with a switch, and Lindsey Graham essentially endorsed the idea of Pete Ricketts taking Ben Sasse’s soon-to-be-vacant Senate Seat. You can read more about it on my political blog, which includes full audio from both Senators’ speeches.

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I got plenty of pictures, but the two Senators didn’t stick around to chit-chat afterward. Ricketts and Graham made a bee-line for the exit, but I was able to stop Sen. Scott long enough for a brief photo with Hannah before he left. Hannah and I stuck around just a bit afterward as I said hello to Adrian Fischer (the one Congressman I had yet to shake hands with) and Rita Sanders. Hannah waited in line for a balloon animal and we both got to pick out a couple pumpkins to take home with us before we left.

Aaron had been having fun with Uncle Jonny and our own wooden train set, and I stuck around to help Grandpa winterize his sprinkler system before taking the kids home.

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Then on Tuesday, we had a little birthday party for Bella down at Jack and Donna’s house. Vivian and her dad smoked some ribs for us as the kids got some quality time playing underneath the fall colors. We had dinner out on the front porch as the sun went down, and then we went inside to have some ice cream and “pupcakes,” including a special one Donna made for Bella (with apples and blueberries instead of cake mix). Vivian and the kids also made Bella some special bone-shaped doggie treats, which the kids both gave Bella before we headed home for the night.