Bacon, a Bowl Game, and a Birthday

It’s been a fairly quiet week or two as we tip-toe into 2022. I managed to haul away our Christmas tree and took down our decorations as we finally said goodbye to the Christmas season. Hannah and Aaron have been having fun making levels in Pixicade and playing with their other Christmas presents.

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On Saturday, I got to attend the kickoff for Don Bacon’s 2022 campaign, along with a handful of noteworthy VIPs such as Mayor Stothert, Former Gov. Heineman, and Senator Fischer. Bacon’s gotten some heat lately for voting with Democrats on the infrastructure bill and even got a shout-out from Trump calling for a primary challenger. Bacon didn’t mention any of this in his stump speech, instead focusing both on Biden’s failures as President, particularly in the hasty and deadly surrender in Afghanistan, and also an emphasis on bipartisanship. I was able to chat with Bacon briefly afterward and said I appreciated seeing as much of him as we do in our district, and I said the same to Sen. Fischer. Agree or disagree, I appreciate being able to talk directly to those who vote in Washington whenever possible.

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In other news, we celebrated four years with our lovable little fuzz-butt Zoey the Cat. It seems like just yesterday we picked her up from the Pet Smart down on 72nd Street and invited her into our home. We had a couple toys and treats for her, including a whole bowl full of salmon to eat for dinner.

Monday was also the night of the College Football championship game, so I went by my parents’ house with some Cowboy Caviar and got to watch Alabama to watch the game. Uncle Nathan and Cheryl also brought by some red and white strawberries (which Cheryl cultivated) and some green tea cookies, which we enjoyed while watching Alabama lose spectacularly to the Georgia Bulldogs. It was a disappointing outcome, but I still enjoyed an excuse to hang our with my folks for a few hours.

Bouncing into the New Year

Happy new year, everyone! It’s been a lovely week between Christmas and New Year’s, with winter finally making its way in with some snow and wind, but not enough to keep me from one last bike ride of the year. Vivian’s also used her new air fryer a couple times, and Hannah’s enjoyed making a batch of bracelets with her bracelet-making kit.

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I had New Year’s Eve off, so I went with Vivian and the kids down to Altitude for another Homeschool Jump. Aaron played a couple rounds of dodgeball in the dodgeball court, and they both got their fill of swinging on the trapeze and falling into the pit of foam cubes.

We saw a few of our mutual homeschooling friends while we were there, and it was good to catch up with a few of the Grown-Ups as well. I even got to run around with the kids for a bit, and then we got a family photo jumping together before we had to go (thanks, Jolene).

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We had some freezing fog that morning that made our trip to Fort Street a little slippery (especially on a big hill), so we postponed our New Year’s Eve fondue and rang in the New Year with just us and the kids. I did wind up driving Hannah on by to say “Happy New Year” in person to Grammy and Pop-Pop, and she also got to show Bella her new T-shirt.

Back home, Vivian and I stayed up until midnight with the kids watching Ice Age and having some popcorn shrimp and bubbly drinks. Hannah and Aaron both made it until midnight and gave each other cheers as our neighbors set off fireworks outside. We also gave Pop-Pop a call to wish him a Happy New Year (Grammy and my parents were already asleep).

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New Year’s Day brought in some proper snow to our area, with an inch or two blowing in throughout the day. I managed to get in a good first run of the year before the roads got too slippery, and the precipitation managed to turn my goatee a frosty white before I returned home.

We stayed home nice and cozy most of the day, as Vivian made black eyed pea soup for dinner and the kids got some extra time playing Mega Man Maker in the basement. We also added an ornament or two to the tree (just a few days before we’ll have to take it all down, of course).

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Then on Sunday, we had our proper New Year’s Eve party with all four grandparents and a pot of cheese fondue. Grammy and Pop-Pop came by with an assortment of hors d’oeuvres, including some frosted cranberries. Vivian warmed up a pot of cheese fondue for us, and we all took turns dipping bread, shrimp, parsnips, and cauliflower into its warm deliciousness — washed down with some ginger ale I’d been saving in the basement. Donna also brought by a cheesecake, just in case we hadn’t packed enough calories already, which we had before calling it a night.

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Happy New Year, everyone!
Welcome to 2022.

Look back at 2021

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2021 is in the can!
Here’s a photo montage of everything we did.
Three cheers for the beginning of a New Year!

Favorite Meals of 2021

I have a fondness for food that only seems to grow stronger every year. Over the past year, I finally managed to start counting calories, so everything I eat tends to become a little more special as a result. This year’s top ten list, as always, includes foods that I enjoyed both for the foods themselves and the occasions that went with them. And it was quite difficult to pick just ten. Here they are. Bon appétit!

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#10. Tom & Toni’s Fourth of July Dinner

We had a tremendously busy Fourth of July, with fireworks and a parade and even a trip to church (since it was a Sunday). Somehow in the midst of all this, we forgot to make plans for dinner. That’s when Donna called to say that her neighbors Toni and Tom had prepared a giant feast for Independence Day and none of their guests showed up to eat it. We were more than happy to oblige to help relieve them of their burden of ribs, hot dogs, and pulled pork — all with plenty of time to shoot off fireworks afterward. It was a blessing with perfect timing!

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#9. Little Caesars at the Splash Pad

Deleted: This is a meal we’ve enjoyed as a family on multiple occasions. Throughout the summer, often right after work, I’d meet Vivian and the kids at a nearby “splash pad” and grab a box of Little Caesars’ Hot & Ready pepperoni pizza to eat while we were there. The pizza was cheap, but the memories from every time we did this as a family were priceless. And honestly, the pizza wasn’t that bad. Hannah even ate two slices of it!

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#8. Christmas Eve Lunch from the Philippines

Uncle Nathan has a new lady friend form the Philippines, and when she came to visit us for Christmas Eve, she happened to bring along food for the entire family! She brought pancit, spring rolls, and chicharrones, along with flan and macaroons for dessert. It was certainly a step above the cold sandwiches we’d brought along to make ourselves, and a very welcome introduction to the family!

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#7. Gretna Fish Fry

Our annual tradition of Lenten fish fries was able to continue unbroken this year, despite the near universal shutdown brought about by Covid-19. While every church in Omaha had their fish fries shut down (or turned into ridiculous “drive thru only” events), the VFW in Gretna had its own, and it was just as traditional as any other. It was an all-you-can-eat affair with hand-breaded fillets, and no mask mandate in place. It was very much back to normal for us and our friends as we ate together, and that made the food even better.

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#6. Runza sandwich at Memorial Stadium

I have a fondness for the Runza sandwich, the little fast-food item from Nebraska that my dad describes as “a sock filled with ground beef and cabbage.” It was somewhere around -20°F on a Tuesday back in February when I decided to drop by Runza and take advantage of Temperature Tuesday, where you could get a sandwich for free if the temperature dropped below zero (when buying fries and a drink).

Of course, the best place to have one is in Memorial Stadium watching the Nebraska Cornhuskers. They’re only $5, and it makes for the most Nebraskan photo you can imagine (that doesn’t include corn or Chimney Rock).

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#5. Blackout Breakfast-for-Dinner

A windstorm tore through Omaha one midsummer’s night in mid-July this year, downing tree branches all over town and cutting the power to most of the city. It gave us a real appreciation for electricity, even though we were only without power for a day or so. In the process of emptying our fridge and salvaging the food we had on hand, we made some breakfast for dinner on our gas grill using cast iron skillets, a truly unique feast made possible only through necessity.

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#4. Tastee Inn & Out

Tastee Inn & Out was an old-school drive-in restaurant in Lincoln that started in 1948 (an actual historic landmark). It sold loose meat sandwiches and onion chips and had a menu that remained unchanged for half a century. I was quite sad when it closed in 2014, because it seemed like a one-of-a-kind place. I didn’t think I’d see another one.

And then while driving through Sioux City in October (on our trip to Sioux Falls) we saw another one. Yes! There was apparently a second Tastee Inn & Out that was nearly identical to the first. The loose meat sandwiches and onion chips (and dip) were just as I remembered, so on our way home from our trip to Sioux Falls, we stopped by and got ourselves some lunch. We ate it down at a park by the Missouri River, and it was like going back in time. Quite a treat to find this place I thought was gone forever was still around.

Half-pound Chicago-style hot dog from the Flying Weenie in Cedar Rapids
#3. Half-Pound Hot Dog from the Flying Weenie

The Flying Weenie has had a place in my family’s heart for decades. We would see it every single time we visited Valley View Baptist Church on a Sunday, driving past its location on 8th Avenue on our way to Sunday services. Now I have to visit anytime I’m in town. Back in August, I dropped by before Shannon’s wedding (my cousin once removed), getting a giant half-pound Chicago style hot dog.

I’m not sure how many calories that was, but it was worth it.

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#2. Jack’s Grilled Lobster Tail

Dinner at Grammy and Pop-Pop’s house is always a treat, and more than on of the meals we’ve had there could have made this top ten list (including the Thanksgiving Dinner in May and a Porch Party dinner menu made by Aaron). None of them will quite beat out the dinner Jack made for us on his birthday, however. It was a seafood feast, with cheddar bay biscuits and scallops, but the centerpiece were the lobster tails, grilled on the barbecue and drenched in butter — a sight to behold (and better than any restaurant).

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#1. Father’s Day Surf and Turf

There were many hard choices for the #1 slot this year, but nothing can beat Father’s Day Dinner. Rib-eye seared and fried by my wife Vivian along with shrimp and a loaded baked potato. Delicious doesn’t even come close. Number one, without a doubt!

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Honorable Mention: Ice Cream at Werner Park

Not included in my list (because it wasn’t a meal per se), but it’s absolutely worth mentioning. We took the kids down to Werner Park to watch a baseball game in early September. It was a particularly warm day, and with the sun beating down, the peanuts and cracker jacks just weren’t as appealing as some soft-serve vanilla ice cream. Somehow, this basic treat was all the more delicious when eaten from the stands on a hot, hot, day, and it was so good that I actually went back for seconds just to get the photos you see above. It was that good.

Christmas on all Cylinders

Another Christmas has come and gone in a flurry of busy days that passed in a blur! Vivian and I sent off a batch of Christmas letters to our friends and did a bit of last-minute shopping before all the fun began.

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On Wednesday, we took the kids down to Wildewood Church for their Wildekids Christmas Party. It was a fun little event, with groups of kids divided by age making ornament gifts, having pretend snowball fights, and getting sugared up while watching VeggieTales together. Aaron in particular seemed to enjoy meticulously coloring his ornament, which he gave to Grandma and Grandpa on Christmas Eve.

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Then on Thursday, I went downtown to visit the Old Market Candy Shoppe, where Vivian I had visited for our First Date some 15 years earlier. I got a batch of fudge and then went down to the waterfront to the bridge to rent a bike and pedal up and down the trail there by Rivers Edge Park in Council Bluffs. It was a lovely December day for a ride, especially with some new scenery for a change!

Then that evening, Vivian and I celebrated our First Date by going down to Twin Creek Theater to watch Spider Man: No Way Home. Afterward, we rove down the road to visit Lil Burro for dinner. This little Mexican place has been a Bellevue establishment for decades now, and Vivian had never visited it before and thought it would be worth a try. It was pretty good — we both had chile relleno with tamales and beef tacos, along with a pair of tasty margaritas. It was a lovely way to get stuffed to celebrate a decade and a half of dating!

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We had lovely weather Christmas Eve morning, once the fog cleared, and I walked with the kids down to Grandma and Grandpa Johnson’s house to open some presents together. Uncle Nathan brought his new lady friend Cheryl, who is from the Philippines, and she brought along a batch of very cute gifts for each of us, which included toy Filipino Jeeps and and Filipino tapestries. She even brought lunch for us all, which included a vegetable lo mein called pancit, spring rolls, flan, and macaroons, which was all ate together.

My dad also had a surprise for us: he had been on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson some 39 years earlier. They’d stumbled upon an old episode form 1982 that featured a photo taken of my dad while at the Brooks Institute of Photography, which the Tonight Show used in a sketch about cancelled TV pilots. It was quite a surreal moment, which you can watch for yourself on YouTube here.

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Later that afternoon, we attended a Christmas Eve service at Wildewood Christian Church, singing some Christmas songs and lighting candles together in the sanctuary. They even had a few gifts for our kids on the way out, which was very nice.

Then on the way home, we drove by a few homes in our neighborhood to see some Christmas lights before returning to the house to kick off a proper Christmas Eve.

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Grammy and Pop-Pop came by with a platter of hors d’oeuvres for us, which included barbecued meatballs and some pot-stickers (because you HAVE to have Chinese food at Christmas for some reason). We ate together and then opened a few of our “stocking gifts” in-between giving Grammy’s dog Bella a walk up and down the sidewalk outside.

Hannah and Aaron also got a new pair of Christmas Jammies to wear to bed as Mommy and I broke out the Egg Nog once Grammy and Pop-Pop had gone for the night. We got to sip it while bathing in the glow of Christmas magic (with Zoey) in the living room before bed.

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Then on Christmas morning, I made up some quiche and coconut toast for our Christmas brunch as Jack and Donna returned to watch us opened a handful of presents in our living room. I got a copy of Jean Shepherd’s “In God We Trust, all Others Pay Cash,” (the basis for the movie A Christmas Story), along with an audio version of Jordan Peterson’s new book. Hannah got a plush Mew, a Rubik’s Cube, and a toy horse for her dolls, while Aaron got a Mini PC loaded with Mega Man Maker, (clearly his favorite gift). Hannah also got matching dresses for her and her dolls, which she modeled for us.

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The weather was nice enough that afternoon for Hannah and me to take Bella for a walk down to the Sandy Park while Jack and Vivian started on some Christmas Dinner. Between the two of them, they put together a pot roast with roasted vegetables, Watergate salad, and Brussels sprouts. We washed it down with some Martinelli’s before watching The Snowman to bring a close to our magical Christmas season.

We somehow had enough energy to attend a joint Sunday morning service at Wildewood the next morning, but mostly we just enjoyed eating leftovers and spending the day playing with gifts together. It was another lovely Christmas, one I’ve learned to appreciate more while having all four grandparents still with us.

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Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night!

Unseason’s Greetings

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We’ve had some lovely unseasonable weather over the past week that made December feel more like springtime. I’ve continued riding my bike and even had a picnic lunch (with free Chick-Fil-A) during the week. Then on Wednesday, the temperature got up to the 70s, so we took the kids down to Elmwood Park for a little quality time on the swings and playground as well as a walk through the woods, where we found wild origami and a little shrine (in memory of someone named “Josh”).

Of course, this was also the day that a large line of storms came through much of Nebraska and Iowa, a line we’d been warned about for days that shut down schools and businesses all over town. When the storm finally rolled through, however, it did little more than thunder and blow a bit before it passed on by — and sent temperature back down to freezing.

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We’ve stayed busy with a handful of other holiday activities over the weekend, such as finishing up our Christmas letters. Vivian made some Nachos Navidad for us on Friday and then a giant set of sliders on Saturday, which I had with some spicy ketchup from Volcanic Peppers.

Then on Sunday, we took the kids down to Washington Park to see some of their Christmas lights. It was a lovely little walkthrough show, though we spent a little more time on swings than actually walking around, and it got a bit too cold for us to stay long.

On to Christmas!

Careening toward Christmas

Is it just me, or has time shifted into Warp Speed as we’re just a week or two away from Christmas? I’ve been scrambling to get Christmas gifts as we continue checking off all our holiday traditions as time flies by before the big day.

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My parents both have birthdays in December, so I took them out to Famous Dave’s for some barbecue to celebrate. I got a two-meat combo with some brisket and burnt ends, and I had a couple gifts for my folks, which included a Tucker Carlson book for my dad and “The Baron’s Apprenticeship” by George MacDonald for my mom (a very specific request).

Then on Thursday, we went on a family Christmas lights tour together. Vivian brought the kids to my office first so they could say hello to the “angel” and see where I work for a moment. Then we let them run around Stinson Park (AKA Daddy Park) for a bit to get the wiggles out before we hit the road. We got some McDonald’s along the way and then went up Steinauer Family Lights on Larimore Ave. Vivian and I found this street on a tour bus a few years ago, and it’s quite the spectacle, particularly when you get out of your car and walk up close to it all. If it didn’t remind of the Griswold Family with the sheer number of light, they’ve got an inflatable Family Truckster on the roof just as a reminder.

We then drove through the displays in Linden Estates before making our way back to Omaha.

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On Saturday morning, we woke up to our first legit snowfall of the season, just just under an inch in the metro area (enough to dust our pumpkins a bit). Then around lunchtime we took the kids down for some quality time at the Durham Museum at Union Station. We got an obligatory selfie in front of the big tree before going downstairs to see some photos of Billie Holiday and run through the trains a couple times. Some of the cars that had been closed off before, such as the executive board room and the toilets, were now open for viewing, which was fun to see.

We took Hannah and Aaron by to see Santa, of course (when he came back from his break of milk and cookies), and then we visited the trolley car and a few other exhibits before we felt worn out. Then we got a few treats at the café before heading home.

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That evening, Uncle Jonny came to watch the kids as Vivian and I went to a grown-up Christmas party with Jenny and Kody and a few of our friends up in Bennington. Vivian and I got some festive T-shirts to wear just for the occasion, and Kody’s black poodle was similarly \ as well. Kody put together a fancy charcuterie board for starters and then served up a pork tenderloin for dinner filled with stuffing like a Swiss roll, and we ate it with some macaroni and cheese, Greek salad, and some sweet potatoes Vivian brought with us. Jenny made some pistachio pudding for dessert, which we had with some chocolate banana cake from Jen.

After dinner, we played a game afterward taking turns unwrapping a giant ball of plastic wrap filled with a progressive series of gifts from the Dollar Tree (an a $10 Amazon gift card at the end), and then we finished off the night with a round of Say Anything before heading home.

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On Sunday, Vivian and I had the honor lighting an advent candle at church and reading a bit of scripture from Matthew for the “Love” week of Advent. Then that evening, we took the kids to the Children’s Museum. They had the same exhibits we’d seen back in August, but the kids still had fun throwing balls and making some Lego racecars to go down the Pinewood Derby track. Santa and his elves were there as well, so the kids got to pay another visit before running through some soapy snowfall together. We finished things off in the play grocery store and a few other exhibits for a bit before heading out, and I got wistful thinking of all the memories Hannah and Aaron have had at this place — and how they’ll be too old for it before long.

We grabbed some gas at Casey’s on the way home, and I grabbed a few slices of pizza for dinner, just to try it out. It’s less than a fortnight before Christmas. Hang on, tight everyone! Here it comes.

Family Bike Ride and Grandpa’s Toy Box

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The Christmas season is whizzing by! The kids got a sticker poster at church for advent, which they’ve been busy decorating. Hannah got to make a tiny graham cracker “gingerbread” house at the CC Christmas party, while Aaron’s discovered the quadratic formula (which he asked us to “solve” for him). I also grabbed some half-priced meat from Aldi, which included a delicious beef tenderloin. I even got in a bike ride to work, despite the near-freezing temperatures. Otherwise, we’re basking in the glow of our Christmas tree from the comfort of our living room.

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The temperature got up into the 70s on Thursday (a record high), so Vivian and Hannah dropped by the office for a family bike ride up and down the Keystone Trail. We pedaled down to Karen Park and then took the South Omaha trail up to 50th street, where we stopped for lunch at Arby’s before heading back. It was the first time Vivian had ridden her bike since before Hannah was born, so I was quite happy to have her along for the ride with us!

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On Saturday, Vivian kicked us out of the house so she could have the place for brunch with the girls from WAG. I walked down to my parents’ house with the kids, where Hannah and Aaron did some exercises before grandpa shows them some of his old toys. He brought out a working model steam engine, which he got moving (and whistling) for us. He also had a model rocket-car that he’d made — and won a blue ribbon for.

Then we moved along downstairs, where dad showed the kids a few of his wind-up toys, which included an acrobatic little mouse. After that, we went to get some McDonald’s for lunch as Grandma made a paper “fortune teller” with Hannah and Uncle Jonny showed Aaron some games on his phone. Then we ate while watching some home movies on the TV before calling it a day.

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That evening, we drove downtown hoping to enjoy a drive-thru Christmas experience in Olde Town, but the line of cars rounding just a block or two was so slow that it took folks upwards of two hours to make the trip, so we gave up and went down to watch The Santa Clause instead. We did get a glimpse of Washington Park all lit up, however, so we may come back later and enjoy it on foot.

Then on Sunday, I raked up some leaves, which Aaron used to pretend to be a baby bird.

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Then on Monday, I did a little politicking over lunch as Charles Herbster had a meetup down at the Pizza Ranch around the corner. The party room was standing room only. He talked about school choice, property taxes, and Critical Race Theory during a brief stump speech and then took a few questions from guests. He then sat down to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge at the end, which read, “I will oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes.”

The primary election’s going to be very interesting next year, and I’m not even entirely sure which of the candidates I’ll be voting for. Hopefully I’ll get to bump into Jim Pillen before long and be able to say I’d met every candidate on one side of the aisle. (Carol Blood, the lone Democrat running, is actually my state senator, and she’s usually nowhere to be found.)

Thanksgiving Weekend 2021

We just got done with another lovely Thanksgiving weekend here in Omaha, having all four grandparents, Uncle Jonny, and even Harold’s mommy under one roof once again — something for which to be truly thankful. We’ve also kicked off our Christmas season in style, getting our holiday in gear well before the start of December.

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The fun started Wednesday, as we took the kids down to Elmwood Park before a cold snap on Thanksgiving Day for a romp in the park. We still had a few colorful leaves on the trees to do a nice family photo or two, and the kids got some lunch and had some fun swinging, running around, and getting some exercise in the park.

In other new, Aaron’s had some interest in playing some analog games, so I showed him and Hannah how to play checkers and chess, which provided some fun away from a screen for a change.

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Then on Thanksgiving Day, Vivian and Jack made a lovely Thanksgiving Dinner together as I kept Aaron occupied with a walk down to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. They had a few leaves in the backyard that needed raking, so we helped them with that a bit in the nearly freezing (albeit sunny) weather outside. My dad also made some Swedish rosettes, which he shared with us at our house when everyone gathered for Thanksgiving Dinner.

We had the usual assortment of foodTaber salad, stuffing, potatoes, green bean casserole, and roast turkey, of course. We all ate together and had pie afterward, and Hannah got to open a few belated birthday presents from my folks somewhere in-between, which included a Baby Yoda from Uncle Jonny (which Hannah inexplicably named “Clap.”) My mom also gave Hannah some nail polish, which she helped Hannah put on before heading home.

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On Friday morning, I went down to the Governor’s Mansion with my friend Phil and his son Gabriel for a little Tailgate Party with Pete Ricketts. They had pulled pork and chicken with pasta salad from Hy-Vee. We even got a couple cans of “Dear Old Nebraska Brew” to wash it all down. It was still a chilly morning, but quite nice under a pavilion outside with the warming lamps. We also got our picture taken with the Governor, of course. His son Roscoe took it for us, who coincidentally took one of me and Vivian in 2015.

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We kicked off the Christmas season that evening with the kids down at Aksarben Village. They lit up the spire at Stinson Park with a cone of lights, and they had hot cocoa for the kids and free carriage rides around the park, which was quite lovely.

We were a bit hungry afterward and stopped by Golden Mountain for a little dim sum, primarily to show Hannah what a “real” dumpling looked like — as opposed to the rubbery toy she got for her birthday.

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Then on Saturday, we had some lovely weather to go up to Santa’s Woods and pick out a Christmas tree for this year. We took a hayrack ride over to the “woods” and said hello to Santa Claus along the way. The kids got a few pictures with him and on a nearby sleigh before we headed through the rows of pine trees to pick out our own. The kids managed to find a seven foot Douglas fir on one end of the lot that seemed to do, so we had it cut down and strapped to our car to take home.

Before we left, we stopped by a few selfie stations for some photos and then went back to get some hot cocoa. We also got the kids a s’more kit to roast some marshmallows over an open fire, which they had going in perpetuity. Twinkle the reindeer was also back again, so we said hello to her. Most memorable for me, however, was dropping inside the barn to see the second floor, where Vivian and I had had a barn dance put on by GAMe back around 14 years ago, which brought back some fond memories. It’s because of that dance at Santa’s Woods that Vivian got introduced to the Omaha Jitterbugs — and me as a result — so it was quite special.

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We got some McDonald’s for dinner and then we hauled in the tree and got it lit. I also finished decorating the house for a few nice nighttime shots once the sun went down. Then we showed the kids the movie Elf for the first time, which they seemed to enjoy. Aaron in particular was laughing nearly non-stop through the whole thing.

Then we continued putting on ornaments the next day, with Christmas music piped into our house via my Sonos speaker. It truly started to feel like Christmas once again.

Birthdays & Braces

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We had a couple birthdays to celebrate over the past week. First off was our little guinea pig Harold, who turned two years old on Tuesday. We celebrated by giving him some colorful carrots for breakfast and then a few treats in the evening, such as a timothy hay lollipop and a blanket with a fleece pocket to snuggle in.

We had another minor celebration as Hannah got her braces off after nearly a year of having to wear them. Vivian and I took her down to Denny’s to celebrate beforehand, and then Grammy brought her some chewy licorice candy as a treat after the came off.

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Next, of course, came Hannah’s birthday! We celebrated with her friends on the Friday before she turned the big one-oh, meeting up with them down at the Kroc Center for some indoor swimming at their water park. The kids got to have some fun swimming about in the lazy river and the “whirlpool,” and both Hannah and Aaron took at least one trip down the big red slide.

Afterward, Hannah opened a few presents in the Kroc Center lobby before we headed back to the house for some cake. Grammy made a chocolate ice cream cake covered with chewy candies that Hannah can now eat with her braces off, which was quite delicious (and fruity).

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On Saturday, after teaching Aaron how to play checkers, I took a trip down to Memorial Park for a rally down on Dodge Street to protest vaccine mandates. Tim Davis of Freedom Rally USA and Allie French of NAGO were there once again with a couple dozen others waving signs. Among them was gubernatorial candidate Theresa Thibodeau, who came by to wave signs with others along the south side of Dodge Street.

It was gorgeous weather for such an event, and I didn’t even need a coat as I walked both sides snapping photos.

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That evening, we dropped by Phil’s house to celebrate his birthday with a bunch of bacon. Vivian made some candied bacon on our grill, and our friends Jenny and Kody made some bacon-wrapped imitation crab sticks. Phil had ingredients for BLTs on the counter, so we all made a couple of those as well as our kids played together (and got read a story by Jen’s dad).

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Hannah’s actual birthday came on Monday. Got up and made some of my mom’s “retreat toast” for breakfast before Hannah opened a few presents and put on her pink Birthday Shirt, which we’d helped her decorate the day before.

Then that evening, Grammy and Pop-Pop came over with Bella and a few more presents. Uncle Nathan also dropped by with a gift of his own, and Vivian and I gave Hannah the plush Cinderace Pokémon, which we knew Hannah wanted but decided to keep hidden until the last moment. I also drew a birthday card for Hannah commemorating her turning ten (with Ten from Number Blocks). Then we baked a few pizzas for dinner, grabbed some popcorn, and watched The Secret of NIMH in the basement together to call it a night.

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In other news, we’ve had a couple lovely days for bike-riding as we head on into Thanksgiving. I rode up to Regency Mall to do some shopping on Tuesday and then across the pedestrian bridge into Iowa on Friday (if you follow me on MeWe, you know why).

We had a record-breaking high in the 60s just ahead of Thanksgiving, and I took a ride up the Field Club trail to snap a before-and-after pair of photos commemorating a great year of bike-riding in 2021. Not sure yet how many more rides I’ll get to enjoy before the snow comes.