Monthly Archives: June 2011

Father’s Day and Shakespeare on the Green

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Vivian and I arrived back in Omaha after our weekend camping trip just in time to celebrate Father’s Day! We had a giant dinner with Vivian’s parents, which included glazed pork kabobs, roasted asparagus, and a giant bowl of potato salad. After stuffing ourselves silly, Jack and I set about setting up his Father’s Day gift — a new flat-screen TV. It took us a few minutes to figure out how to screw together the stand, which came in several pieces unlike the other models we’ve assembled. It seemed to work fine, so I’m hoping we won’t have to figure out how all the Styrofoam pieces fit back in the original box so we can return it later.

Vivian had her own special Father’s Day gift for me — a week of special lunches! It was so sweet to see what she’d pack for me every day the following week. One Wednesday, I got sushi from Sakura Bana. Now that was a surprise!

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On Friday, Vivian and I made an appearance at Jitterbugs Night Out — partly because it was our turn to set up for the evening, but mostly because the Grand Marquis were playing for us again. It turned out to be a busy night, with about sixty people showing up for the beginning lesson. Several other noteworthy follows making a rare appearance at the Eagle’s Lodge, including Sara and Sarah (up above). It seems strange that it’s rare these days to have a Sara(h) among our group, let alone two. Also making a rare appearance was Margaret, who we hadn’t seen since Bart’s funeral several months ago. (I among several others was quite happy to have her back among us again.)

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On Saturday night, we and a bunch of our friends attended Shakespeare on the Green, an annual traditional that combines the rich flavors of Deep Woods Off and Merlot (so saith a certain emcee/weatherman). I arrived early enough to claim a spot near the front of the crowd and then enjoyed an afternoon of being forced to enjoy the outdoors with a good book (a copy of The Fountainhead I managed to grab from the library on the way to the park). Friends started to arrived around six o’clock, and we got to spread out on our blankets together to enjoy wine, cheese, strawberries, and an assortment of other vittles as the standard Shakespearean entertainers wandered among us. The chorus of wandering minstrels sang for us, and Jek kelly made a well-expected appearance with his cigar boxes. Before the show, a troupe performed a couple rounds of two-minute Shakespeare for our amusement. They were quite good.

The show itself was excellent, of course. This year they performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play I was fortunate enough to study in High School (so I could tell what was going on). It was interesting to hear the audience laughing along with the funnier parts that were written a couple hundred years ago and are still enjoyable today. (Nick Bottom’s extended death scene was particularly hilarious).

In other news, I’m now a Virgin Mobile customer. Once I discovered that I could get an Android smart phone and actually pay $15 less per month than with Sprint, I had to jump ship. Now I’m happily playing with GPS and Facebook and trying not to become one of “those people” whose face is forever glued to a two-inch screen, oblivious of the world around me.

Camping at Niobrara State Park

It’s summertime once again, and that means going camping — an annual tradition for Jenny and our bunch of mutual friends. This year, we decided to go up to Niobrara State Park, which was fortunately still up and running despite the flood happening pretty much all around it. (Two of the three roads into town were closed.)

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Vivian and I decided to take the picturesque Old Lincoln Highway north to get to I-29, avoiding the flooded (and closed) portions of the Interstate. We got to see the swollen Missouri River and some of its subsequent flooding up close and personal, including the small town of Missouri Valley, which is all but preparing for Flood Armageddon with the amount of sandbags they’ve put out protecting their picturesque buildings downtown. Travel was fairly swift north of Missouri Valley, though we got to see some more of the flood up by Sioux City and along the Interstate (some of it dangerously close to the roadside).

The first stop of our camping trip, of course, was to check out the root cause of all this mes — Gavin’s Point Dam. Extra snow and rainwater from Lewis and Clark Lake was being expelled into the river at the rate of a million gallons every few seconds. Eric and Anne joined us along with dozens of people to watch the raging waters and get splashed by random twelve-foot high waves every few seconds. It was a surprisingly festive atmosphere considering the same waters that were soaking us like a wave pool at Oceans of Fun were responsible for destroying countless farms, towns, and homes just downstream.

(We also took a brief trip to Gayville, because I have too much of my seventh-grade humor left not to visit a town called Gayville.)

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Vivian and I stopped for ice cream at the (wonderfully retro) Tastee Treet in Yankton and enjoyed the flora and fauna at a scenic overlook across the river before heading on to our campsite at Niobara State Park. We were the first campers to arrive for the weekend and got to pick a lovely spot right down by the river with both a double-sized pavilion and a bathroom right next door. I drove around the park at least once to soak up the beautiful scenery (and take plenty of pictures). We set up our tents and had some burgers for dinner while the sun went down. Our food was ready just as a passing storm doused our campsite, but it didn’t last long. Before you knew it, the deer were out, and we were roasting marshmallows before bedtime.

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The next day, we all headed to the stables to do a little horseback riding. I’d never been on a horse before, but it was a much tamer experience that I expected. We all had very well-behaved horses, and Eric compared our experience to those automated cars at amusement parks that five year olds can pretend to drive around a race track. My horse, Sox, was pretty much on autopilot the entire time, though I had to pull the reins every now and then to keep him from eating grass and sniffing the butt of the horse in front of me. (I also wound up passing Eric’s horse when he stopped to take a whiz.)

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We did a little exploring afterward, walking up to the Interpretive (dance) Shelter where Lewis and Clark were rumored to have met with the Ponca tribe a couple hundred years ago. We headed down a nature trail to a large, old train bridge by the river that has since been converted into a walking bridge (stubbornly ignoring all the signs that told us both the bridge and the trail were closed due to flooding). We got a beautiful view of the river, the bluffs, and the various bluebirds and redwing blackbirds that called the riverfront home. We even got a glimpse of our own campsite half a mile away. (Jon and Rachel were off visiting their uncle, who happens to be a park ranger, but Vivian left a sign for them to follow.)

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We had a little lunch back at the campsite and then went to the park’s pool for a little swimming. The water was predictably brisk, but I dove right in just to get the initial shock over with. We spent a few hours throwing water balls at each other and taking turns diving off the diving board. I got to experiment with my camera’s underwater capabilities, and we basked in the sun afterward when the mandatory three o’clock pool break came around.

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We spent more time in the afternoon exploring the park, and Vivian and I took a trip down the closed portion of Highway 12 to see what the flooded river looked like. It was quite amazing to see what was once a perfectly dry highway turned into a giant swamp, complete with weeds and reeds growing right on top of the asphalt. (Check out this exact spot on Google Maps for a street view of what the scene above looked like before the flood.)

Vivian and I watched the sun set from the top of the tallest hill in the park before joining the rest of our friends back at the campsite. We roasted some hot dogs for dinner over the open fire and then passed around Vivian’s electronic game of Catchphrase as the rest of the day wound down.

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We wrapped up our camping trip the next day with bagels for breakfast and a big group picture by our campsite before heading home. We did stop by the picturesque down of Verdigre along the way to grab some kolaches from the cute small town bakery they had there. Vivian had somehow never had a kolache before, so I had to get a couple just for us to munch before starting on the long trip home.

It was a fun trip, and it felt great to break away from “big city” and enjoy getting a little closer to nature. Of course, the best part was having the chance to do almost nothing for a couple days, which is always something I should have on my to-do list.

Video from our trip

Wicked weekend

P1050211Vivian and I got to enjoy a lovely “wicked” weekend or to since we got back from our road trip to St. Louis.

On the Sunday after we returned, the Omaha Jitterbugs hosted their first Lindy in the Park event. The weather was a balmy weather near-100 degrees outside, though the shade from the trees by the 11th Farnam archway did help things a bit. It was the kind of weather that demanded a trip to Ted & Wally’s afterward for honey-sesame-walnut ice cream afterward (though everyone else seemed satisfied partaking of a random Popsicle vendor instead.)

Twin Valley Church Personal Finance small groupIn other news, I just finished hosting a class on personal finance for Twin Valley Church at our home in Bellevue. I’ve been something of a personal finance “junkie” for the past few years, addicted to podcasts from Clark Howard and Dave Ramsey (and reading websites like the Consumerist on a daily basis). Dave Ramsey’s sales team has been pestering our church to buy into his Financial Peace University system for a while, but I decided as an alternative just to go through his book, The Total Money Makeover, and discuss topics as they came up (and adding relevant information that Dame Ramsey seemed to leave out). As the class progressed, I found myself relying less and less on contact from the book and more on information I’d been able to gather from other sources, eventually creating a little personal finance curriculum of my own. I should probably try rolling all the information into a financial “university” of my own and give it out for free.

Special thanks to Jessica, Kathy, Darlene, Mark, Lisa, and Vivian for letting me use them as test subjects in this project!

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Our next weekend proved to be absolutely wicked. As you’ve probably guessed from the title, Vivian and I were able to go and see Wicked at the Orpheum theater, a show so popular that it’s come to Omaha twice in the last year. Neither of us had seen the show before, and it definitely lived up to the hype. The story itself was something of a prequel to the Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, and even though I got the soundtrack for Christmas, nothing compares to hearing (and seeing) the show in real-life. I got goosebumps when they started Defying Gravity, and the entire audience was applauding even before the song was done.

The thing I love best about live theater is the interaction with the audience (which you could tell was rapt with attention during the entire show.) Whenever there was applause or extended laughter, the characters on stage would hold their lines until it had died down, something that’s pretty much impossible with any other medium. The audience lined up before and after the show getting photos of themselves in front of the marquee, the posters out front, and even the branded Wicked truck outside the theater. I, of course, was the only one ready with my camera for the curtain call.

P1050321 The weather turned on a dime (which is more than typical here in Nebraska) and after a rainstorm or two, it was back in 70s again. That meant it was perfect weather for walking around the waterfront to check out all the flooding from the Missouri river. Areas that had once been woods or sandbars were now swamp and waterfront. Since the College World Series is happening pretty much right now, the city as a whole seems to be holding its breath to see if the ballpark will be a swampy mess when the first game starts.

I don’t know what anybody’s worried about, though. We have a much better stadium right down in Sarpy County that could be used instead. (And you won’t have to pay two sales taxes if you want to partake in any of our lovely restaurants.)

Farewell in St. Louis

Over Memorial Day weekend, Vivian and I traveled from Omaha to St. Louis to have a brief farewell get-together with the Kolters, who’d been responsible for starting the annual tradition of hosting some kind of Comic Genesis cookout together. They’ll be moving to Florida very shortly, so it only made sense to have a road trip down to St. Louis to say a proper goodbye.

My first cookout in 2006, then in 2007, a Nashville cookout in 2009, and then one right here in Omaha in 2010. Now it feels like the end of an era, where many in our group seem to have gone their separate ways.

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Our first day started with a trip from Omaha down to Colombia, Missouri to meet up at Fading Aura’s place with Mr. and Mrs. Vorticus. We played a few obligatory rounds of Rock Band together, and I got to learn the hard way that I didn’t know quite as many lyrics to R.E.M.’s It’s The End Of The World As We Know It as I thought I did (but strangely enough, I feel fine).

We headed down to the local pizza parlor of choice — Shakespeare’s Pizza — and got to have dinner with the Faubs while catching up with one another. (The food was great, but their drink cabinet that contains WD-40 for some reason.) We got some ice cream for dessert up the street at Sparky’s, another of Fading Aura’s favorite places, and then took a quick tour around the University of Missouri campus.

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The next morning, Fading Aura made us waffles for breakfast, and then we headed on over to the Kolter’s place for a farewell party. We spent the afternoon watching Ryan give Tristan piggyback rides and their new baby girl Morgan being adorable. We made spaghetti for lunch with some of my homemade marinara and spent some quality time playing Telestrations, picking through baby clothes, and staying up late performing a “purity test” on one another.

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Of course, no visit to St. Louis would be complete without a visit to the iconic Gateway Arch. We went fairly early in the morning to beat the crowds but still wound up fighting through three long lines to get our chance to ride up to the top. That was no problem since we got to play a game of checkers and visit several animatronic pioneers in the Western Expansion museum while we waited. The view from the top was spectacular, of course, though I think Fading Aura and Vivian both got a little sick with the arch wobbling back and forth in the wind.

On front, the Mississippi River had risen to the point of flooding the side streets, which gave Vivian the chance not only to see the old river for the first time in her life, but to touch it as well. (It was so hot, I went ahead and just decided to wade around for a while, which was quite refreshing.)

I would be remiss not to mention a man we met standing on the steps of the arch dressed in white and holding a Christian flag. He stood there silently without a sign of protest or a tip bucket, so we asked him why he was there. He told us he has been standing there for six hours every Sunday for the last 38 weeks or so just as a form of silent prayer, offering to pray in the name of Christ to anyone who asked. That was it — no yelling street evangelism, no angry messages of fire and brimstone, just prayer. It was an amazing display of Christian love in a way I’d never seen before.

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After visiting the arch, we grabbed lunch a cute 50s-style diner called Chuck-a-burger. I say “50s-style” when in fact it is a diner from the 1950s that still happens to be around. I’m always a sucker for old-school diners and dives, especially when the food is good, According to Fading Aura, though, the guy who owns the property has been itching to tear the place down and put a bland strip mall in its place, so I’m hoping this piece of Americana somehow manages to stay there for many more years to come.

We traveled on to Forest Park and the St. Louis Art Museum after lunch (which included a statue of the city’s namesake, a figure I didn’t even know existed). The museum was great fun for an art major like me, with works from Van Gogh and Degas that I remember from my art history class. It’s always a thrill to see those up close and personal. Fading Aura hunted for a few geocaches out in the gardens and we took a quick walk down by the boat house before heading back to the Kolter’s for dinner.

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The Kolters has been unfortunately unable to join us for most of the afternoon because the hoarder next door somehow set her house on fire, which caused their entire neighborhood to get blocked off by fire trucks for the entire afternoon (and condemned the house in the process).

We finally returned to the Kolter Kastle later in the afternoon, where I offered by limited culinary skills to make up some chicken alfredo for everyone, which I think turned out well. We let the sauce set while having our traditional dart gun war, which was fun until Vivian got Sarah square on the lips. We wrapped up our visit with a few more inexplicable rounds of Telestrations before calling it a night.

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On the way back home to Omaha, we stopped by my former home in Warrensburg, Missouri. I lived in this small college town between 1990 and 1992 and hadn’t been back in nearly 20 years. It was quite a trip down memory lane. Very little had changed about our old house other than the peeling paint and overgrowth of foliage in the backyard. I took Vivian to Lion’s Lake where I went walking with my brothers, and we stopped by the old Video Palace, where I used to rent video game every week. It has has since been changed to the “Hookah Lounge.” We even stopped by my old middle school, which has since been turned into an elementary school for grades 5 and 6. It was closed for the summer, so I was only able to get a brief peek inside, but I could still remember those long, terrible years in grades seven and eight marching along the track out back and cutting gym class to read books underneath the north stairwell.

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The way back through Kansas City, we stopped by the Country Club Plaza for dinner at Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue for dinner. It’s become almost a tradition for us to drop into this place for a rack of succulent ribs, a cheesy potato bake, and some steaming hot carrot cake for dessert. We would have dropped by the Better Cheddar to fill up on some Gjetost, but they has unfortunately closed early for Memorial Day. (We satisfied ourselves by dropping by World Market instead.)

It was great to see some old friends for one last “cookout” together in St. Louis. Hopefully we’ll be doing it again soon, but next time perhaps down in the land of oranges and Mickey Mouse.