- In January, Vivian and I begin our dating relationship on the 26th, which started officially right after a trip to Sakura Bana with our friends (a day we would celebrate for years to come as our “sushi anniversary.”)
- In February, Vivian and Jenny throw a Taco Party, and a couple of us get snowed in for the night (including me). Also Valentine’s Day.
- In March, I take a memorable trip to London, where I met several of my European friends from Comic Genesis, as well as my pen-pal Caroline from the fourth grade (in addition to seeing Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, Greenwich Observatory, St. Paul’s Cathedral, a museum or two, and going swing dancing at the 100 Club).
- In April, Vivian and I continue having fun dating, which includes a picnic in Hummel Park, a trip to the museum, a trip to the zoo, and Easter Dinner.
- In May, I went to Lindy in the Park for the first time with Vivian (which was then a weekly event). I took Vivian to see the Secret Bridges for the first time, dressed for an 80s night at JNO, and saw the B-52s perform at Shadowlake Mall. We also had Free Comic Book Day, where I got to see the Comic Genesis book on the shelf and meet Margot Kidder.
- In June, I flew to St. Louis to attend my second Comic Genesis cookout, which was the biggest meetup our eclectic group of comic artists have ever had.
- In July, my parents came to visit and met Vivian for the first time. I also celebrated Independence Day with Vivian by setting off fireworks in an empty parking lot.
- In August, I went to Cowtown Jamborama for the first time, and I won first place in the corn-eating competition. I also went on my very first camping trip up near Valentine along the Niobrara River.
- In September, I threw Vivian a giant birthday party at Onion-Boy’s house.
- In October, Vivian and I have fun at Vala’s and dress up as Wine and Cheese for Halloween.
- In November, I had Thanksgiving at Vivian’s house and attended the tree-lighting at Union Station for the first time (where we met Santa).
- In December, Nathan and I flew home to North Carolina to spend Christmas with the family, and then I had a rocking 80s-style New Year’s Eve with Vivian and our mutual friends.
The rest of the week here in North Carolina has been delightfully quiet. One of the best things about coming to visit last year was being able to do absolutely nothing for such long stretches at a time. Watching a couple truly awful episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 together and doodling on the couch brought back such good memories when we would spent every Saturday morning together just like that.
Of course, no Christmas visit would be complete without plenty of sugar-loaded Christmas snacks. My mom made a couple jars of frosting-covered pretzels that were eaten almost right away. I also bought a tub of egg nog fudge for the family to try, but had unfortunately left it in my car when we were hurrying to the airport. Vivian saved the day by sending it via UPS, and we were able to receive it and devour it all on Friday.
On Saturday, Dad took me to the attic and showed me some of the family keepsakes from the vault, including old coins, watches owned by my grandfather and great grandfather, and other such heirlooms to be passed on eventually. We spent some more time playing Apples to Apples in the afternoon and watching the truly painful Castle of Fu Manchu, starring Christopher Lee in a role he’d most likely want to forget.
On Sunday, we were able to go to church together, and it was the first time I’d been able to attend my parent’s church in four years. It was nice to do it again before returning home for a taco lunch and a rousing game of Balderdash.
We dashed off to the airport later in the afternoon, but we first had to get the annual Family Christmas Photo, this time posing in front of Jonathan’s Patrick Swayze Christmas Bar Stool. We had a couple straight shots, but the picture you see above is the one we all seemed to like the best. Family togetherness just doesn’t get much better than this.
Look who came to meet me at the gate when Nathan and I arrived home: it’s my sweet Vivi, with her hair all bright red and carrying a bunch of happy Welcome Back balloons! Thanks so much, sweetie! I missed you while I was gone.
It feels so good to be home for the holidays, spending a whole week with all five members of the Johnson Family together again. We’ve been pretty busy getting in more quality time during the Christmas season.
On Wednesday, the whole family took a trip into Raleigh to stop by a mall or two and look for the AV cables necessary to connect a Wii to an analog television set. Nathan got a couple new Wii games for Christmas and was itching to play them sometime before leaving for Nebraska. I saw one restaurant at the mall called the California Pizza Kitchen and immediately thought of Vivian, who is always telling me about Round Table and other of west coast pizza chains that I would have to try if I ever go to Petaluma.
Today, my parents and I took a trip out to the coast together. Our first stop was New Bern, which had once been the capital of North Carolina. We had lunch at a lovely little seafood restaurant called Captain Ratty’s. Dad and I shared a platter of mussles, shrimp, oysters, clams, and crab legs. We walked up the street and visited the birthplace of Pepsi, which was more like a small gift shop than an actual museum, much to my dad’s disappointment.
We did a little more sightseeing on the way down to the ocean, walking around the old Governor’s Mansion (called the Tryon Palace) and dropping into the Maritime Museum to check out such things as a Franel lens from a lighthouse and wreckage from Blackbeard’s pirate ship.
Our final destination was Fort Mason state park, where we got to walk along the beach and see the Atlantic Ocean. It was the first time I’d seen the Atlantic before, if you don’t count seeing it from an airplane flying to England. We stayed to watch the sunset and then had a late drive home. I got to walk along the shore a while chasing seagulls and picking up a couple stray seashells. I also walked out along a long row of precariously-placed jagged rocks to get some shots of the sun setting over the ocean.
All in all, it was a great, busy day being a tourist, but I was definitely ready to unwind and get to bed when we returned home.
Merry Christmas, everybody! My brother Nathan and I are celebrating this week by flying out to North Carolina to visit my parents and my other brother Jonathan in Buies Creek.
On Sunday, the night before we flew down, Nathan and I went to visit with Vivian and her parents at their house in Bellevue. Donna had a beautiful display underneath her tree of tiny Dickens’ A Christmas Carol houses and miniatures. The five of us had dinner together, and then we got to open a huge assortment of gifts and stocking stuffers.
Among the gifts were chocolate penguins, nuts, a pocket calendar, nail trimmers, nuts and nutcrackers, a toy top, and a number of things. I got From Vivian, I got a Superman Christmas ornament, a remote control car, and MacFreelance, a billing and time-keeping software package for the Macintosh. It’s made by a company called Macware, which I discovered is located right in Omaha.
I had presents for Vivian’s parents, and I gave Vivian a green cashmere sweater, a plush Tigger, and a couple little things. Nathan got her some Ghirardelli chocolates, which I have since become addicted to. We had a great time together, and I was overwhelmed by Vivian and her parents’ generosity. We opened a package of egg nog fudge I had bought from the Old Market candy shop to celebrate the season before heading on home for the night.
The next day, Nathan and I flew on our to North Carolina. Vivian is taking care of the beige bomber for the week. The flight out was uneventful, and we actually got there 20 minutes early. We flew with Southwest, which always seems to go smoothly. Jonathan was still working when we arrived home, so we got to have dinner together and I hung Vivian’s Superman ornament up on the family Christmas Tree.
When Jonathan returned and the whole family was finally together again, we opened presents. I got copies of iLife from Nathan and Quicken from Mom and Dad, making this a Christmas where I received more Macintosh software than any other. I also got some Super Mario cartoon DVDs from Jonathan. Jonathan got four classic NES games from Nathan and me, and Nathan got Madden 2008 and Super Mario Galaxy from mom and dad, which should be loads of fun to play if we can manage to get an analog adapter for his Wii. We also got some cans of pringles, almonds, and Extra brand gum from mom, which were all easily consumed shortly after being opened.
Christmas Day proved to be lazy and wonderful. We watched a couple episodes of Mystery Science Theater, and Jonathan had plenty of episodes to go around again this year. I also brought out the remote control car that Vivian gave me and had a tug-of-war with Jonathan’s little remote control monster truck.
After a lazy afternoon, we got together for a nice Christmas dinner at the end of the day, with a turkey breast and all the usual extras: stuffing, sweet potatoes, sweet pickles, and pumpkin pie. It was a lovely Christmas, but the best part was being able to have the whole family together again for a whole week of Christmas.
The Christmas season is here in full swing this week, and Vivian and I have had some extra time to catch up with friends and family. On Wednesday, I went out to Old Chicago with Mike and Bekah, friends of mine since I first moved to Lincoln, and we got to eat pizza and watch their cute kids Drew and Alexa clowning around while we waited for our food.
On Friday, Jenny and Hugh, and Sarah and Ben joined us for Chinese Food at King Fong’s, allegedly the oldest Chinese restaurant in Omaha and located in a fairly stylish old building on 16th street. Their decor looks much the same as it did back in the 1920s, though they didn’t take either checks or credit cards, which made it necessary for me to make an emergency hike down to the ATM.
On Friday night, the Omaha Jitterbugs had their big Christmas dance down at the Eagle’s Lodge. We got live music courtesy of the Prairie Cats, and they called audience members up on stage to help with the percussion a few times. Vivian, Micah, and Sarah got to play some little egg shakers as “Big Daddy K” Jeff Koterba (who you may also know as the editorial cartoonist for the Omaha World-Herald) lead the band in some swinging tunes for the rest of us to dance.
Toward the end of the night, we had a spontaneous jam circle, and I got to perform in the middle of it with “Little Debbie.” We did an aerial that we had learned at cowtown, and I was so nervous rushing into the middle of it that I almost didn’t get her over my shoulder. The whole crowd let our a spontaneous “ooooh” as it looked like she might not make it, but I got her up there and marched out of the circle with no need to call an ambulance.
On Saturday, we had our last Lindy in the Mall of 2007. I did a little extra Christmas shopping in the morning, heading over to the Disney Store at Oak View to get Vivian a plush Tigger. She’d been wanting one all year. We had a late start, giving me a chance to buy Vivian’s roommate Jenny a pocket bible for her purse. Then, we danced a couple hours together. I had the chance to show Debbie’s grandparents the arial I showed everyone at the Eagle’s Lodge on Friday. Afterwards, Vivian and I did a little last-minute Christmas shopping before heading on.
December 23 is the one-year anniversary of our first date, so Vivian and I went to celebrate down at the restaurant we had first eaten at, the French Cafe. It’s a very classy place, and a couple waiters managed to get off the fire alarm with an elaborate demonstration of how to make Bananas Foster. Viv and I took a chilly walk around the Old Market and the Gene Leahy Mall, snacking on fudge from a little candy shop just as we did on that first date one year ago.
I had just one more surprise for Vivian before the night was over. I had spent the last couple of months putting together a special present for her: a music video showcasing little video clips and highlights of our year together. She has been such a wonderful part of my life over the last year that I just had to put together a few of our best memories into a little video that showed how much she means to me.
(The song is Something Beautiful by the Newsboys.)
You can feel the excitement building in the year as we get ever closer to Christmas this year. On Thursday, Vivian and I went to the Westside Church Christmas Pageant. It was an elaborate production titled “I’ll be home with Bells on,” spanning three seperate stages in their giant auditorium, featuring singing, dancing, and even live camels, sheep, and goats that paraded through the aisles during a few of the numbers. It was the biggest Christmas show I’d ever seen before.
On Friday, Vivian and I took a massage class together at Metro’s south campus. Vivian took a few classes there years ago and was spellbound at all the construction of a huge new addition joining the original two buildings together.
On Saturday, Vivian went to a party for her girls’ bible study, leaving me to fend for myself during the day. I retreated down to the local Crane’s Coffee show to finish up some work and then retreated to the Mall of the Bluffs for another session of Lindy in the Mall. That was a good time, as always. That evening, Viv and I went to a party in the cute little town of Blair thrown by her old bible study friends, Dennis and Kara.
On Sunday, Vivian and I went to church together and then went to see It’s a Wonderful Life at the Durham Western Heritage Museum, and then spent some time touring the museum afterward, checking out the exhibits of historic buildings in Omaha and model rooms from decades ago to show what typical life was like throughout the years in the last century or two.
We have one more week together before Christmas, and then it’s off home to North Carolina to visit my parents for a week.
I can’t let another blog post go by without saying something about the shooting at Westroads Mall in Omaha last week. These kinds of horrible events are the things you hear about happening far away, in much larger, crime-ridden cities, not the town you practically call home, at the mall you visit every so often with friends when you’re in town. Much has already been said about the event. My good friend Eric already has a very heartfelt post about the shooting, and there’s nothing more I could say that wouldn’t just be piling on. What I did discover after the event is that a couple of my friends from the web comic world immediately tried to contact me to see if I were all right, and their concern touched me deeply. It’s great to have friends so far away thinking of you in times like these.
On to happier news. Another pair of good friends from my bible study got married over the weekend in the tiny, tiny town of Stanton, Iowa. Vivian and I drove up to see them, promptly getting lost along the way when highway 34 wandered out from underneath us and left us spinning through Glenwood onto a scenic byway wondering where on earth we were. We arrived at the church half an hour late, just in time for the shortest wedding ceremony in the world to be over. We were able to crash into the reception to have punch, cheese, and crackers with our friends.
Afterwards, Vivian and I did a little sightseeing in the tiny town of around 800. Their claim to fame was being the home to Virginia Christine, an actress known best for playing “Mrs. Olson” in a series of Folgers Coffee commercials in the 1960s. In her honor, they had decorated their water tower as a giant coffee pot. There was supposed to be a second water tower painted as a coffee cup somewhere else in town, but I wound up sliding through a stop sign while we were looking for it and decided to give up instead. We did find time to get a picture of one of the town’s fire hydrants, a long and skinny one that was just too weird to pass by without a picture.
After getting a good dumping of snow last Thursday, it seems the winter season had us in its firm, icy grasp, so Viv and I spent the rest of the weekend indoors whenever possible. We stopped by the Apple Store at the Village Pointe shopping mall so she could play with an iPhone for the first time. We also curled up warm and cozy indoors watching Ghost, Hook, and listening to some romantic music powered by Pandora while admiring the soft glow of a fully-decorated Christmas tree.
After a couple days of dire warnings and predictions, we finally had an ice storm in Omaha early Saturday morning. The city was coated with a thin sheet of ice that melted almost immediately into a kind of drizzling slush by mid-morning. It left a nice candy-coating of ice on all of our cars that when chiseled off left them sparkling clean. It also gave us several thin sheets of clear ice to play around with.
Jenny, Vivian, and I drove out to Earl May to pick up their Christmas tree. Growing up, we’d used the same artificial tree year after year to decorate, so the idea of having an actual dead tree to haul inside was a rather new experience. Fortunately, they had free delivery on trees purchased that day, and their “helpful people” were able to set it up for us. It was quite a beautiful little tree once the needles had been properly thawed and dried.
On Sunday I went ice skating for pretty much the first time ever. I’d been skating just once when I was eight and hadn’t really gotten away from the wall. This time I got to enjoy the thrill of slipping around and trying to stay upright while venturing away from the safety of the railing. I didn’t really even slip and fall until the very end of my skating session, when I thought that I was finally getting the hang of it. I banged my hip and twisted my knee pretty well. I suppose my next step should be to go skiing and spend a couple of weeks in a cast. Viv took me home for a nice bubble bath that nearly put me to sleep after a long, busy winter weekend.
It was a fabulous four-day weekend down in Omaha this weekend as Vivian and I celebrated national Eat a Turkey Day with family and friends. My brother Nathan was able to make it up to Omaha on Thursday to have Thanksgiving Dinner with Vivian’s parents and our mutual friend, Eric “Onion-Boy.” We ate a big, juicy turkey, which didn’t seem to phase its distant cousin Diggy, who was too busy whistling the theme to the Andy Griffith Show and perching on Nathan’s shoulder to notice that we were eating one of its relatives. Vivian made some meat roll ups, and I made some deviled eggs that all contributed to filling us up with hors d’oeuvres prior to the actual meal.
The real fun came after the food, when Nathan broke out with the Wii and we all took turns playing bowling and golf together. Vivian had the chance to clobber us in both golf and bowling as I tried desperately to get my ball to go somewhere in the vicinity of a hole once in a whole. Of course, we had to create custom “Mii” characters for both Eric and Vivian’s dad, of course. The one we made for Onion Boy provided almost as much amusement as the games themselves.
On Friday, Vivian and I helped out with a cookie decorating table at the Durham Western Heritage Museum, where they were holding some Christmas festivities and lighting a giant Christmas tree for the season. It was a great time watching kids get high on sugar and mistake Vivian’s Dad for Santa Claus (he told them he was just his grumpy elf). As volunteers, Vivian and I got to participate in the festivities for free, which included live music by Heidi Joy
We couldn’t leave the museum without getting a picture with the big man himself (and his misses) before taking a long, frigid walk through the Gene Leahy mall, all lit up with festive Christmas lights, sipping hot cocoa and egg nog to keep from freezing outside in the picturesque wonderland that is downtown Omaha in the winter.
Saturday marked the return of Lindy in the Mall, an Omaha Jitterbugs event where we steal a portion of the Mall of the Bluffs for ourselves and do the Lindy Hop for the amusement of Christmas shoppers wandering by. On this particular Saturday, Sarah and the rest of the terrible trio were reunited for the first time in ages as they took to the floor.
After the dance, Vivian and I took a look around the mall, stumbling upon a kiosk selling “Power Player” video game systems. These were familiar-looking self-contained video game units designed into a game controller that plugs directly into your TV, but instead of coming with one or two games of Pac-Man and Galaga, it came with dozens and dozens of fairly popular NES games, including Super Mario Bros, Contra, Bomberman, and even Duck Hunt with its own little light gun. I quickly recognized the system as a pirated game console, with tacky packaging that lacked a company logo and including such artwork as a screen capture from Star Wars the Phantom Menace. After some investigation, I found the units had been around long enough to warrant their own page on Wikipedia. I didn’t buy one, but I was seriously tempted. Honestly, who couldn’t resist being able to play sweet little games like Excitebike and Balloon Fight again?
Hugh and a bunch of us went out to Old Chicago afterwards for dinner and then took a walk through downtown Omaha to see the newly-lit Christmas lights. We headed on to Blockbuster afterwards for a lengthy debate on whether to watch Big or We are Marshall that evening when we crashed at Ben’s to hang out until two in the morning. Ben’s such a good sport.
On Sunday, I returned to Lincoln to help Nathan move into his sweet new apartment. It’s a brand-new complex with all sorts of amenities that almost make to want to move in right next door: free golf, free hot tub, free washer and dryer in the apartment, free cable, and all sorts of extras. Plus, no more noisy college kids playing obnoxious country music at three in the morning. Boo-yeah!
It was another pretty quiet weekend, as Vivian and some of her friends had a road trip up to O’Neill and Battle Creek to visit friends, leaving me in my apartment to update my good old portfolio for most of the day. I did get to spend some quality time with Viv on Sunday, getting pictures from her road trip uploaded to her Flickr account, and then taking a walk and playing on a see-saw for the first time since I was in elementary school. Viv always finds ways to make me feel like a kid again.
My friends and I are gearing up for a big, jam-packed Thanksgiving week, with something big happening pretty much every day all the way through Friday. On Monday night, we had a dinner and worship time with GAME on Jones Street, where we got to pig out on more turkey and mashed potatoes than anybody could eat, and then had worship and time for giving thanks afterward. Micah, Erin, and their little ensemble treated us to songs on their guitars as members of the group got up to light a candle for every thing they were thankful for this year.