Monthly Archives: July 2012

Four Years and a Fruit Bouquet

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On Thursday last week, I celebrated four wonderful years of marriage with my lovely wife, Vivian! We stayed in Omaha this time around, but I took the afternoon off work and Vivian recruited her mom and dad as babysitters so we could spend the afternoon at Fun Plex together. Vivian did manage to surprise me with a lovely fruit bouquet, which arrived in the morning at the office. I enjoyed showing off the arrangement of carved pineapples and chocolate-covered strawberries and apples to all my co-workers before leaving for the day.

It’s been excruciatingly hot and dry here in the pit of Death Valley, Nebraska, which is typical for July, so spending the day at a water park sounded as good as it did last year and the year before. Fun Plex was having a special where we could visit both the water park and the rides at the large amusement complex for the same price. That meant in addition to lounging in the lazy river, the wave pool, and shooting down a couple water slides, we also got to play on some bumper boats, putter around in race cars, and fly around in the roller coaster (which I did twice, since there was no line).

After a long, fun afternoon, we headed over to Red Lobster for a gigantic dinner together. We also exchanged gifts. Vivian got me some lovely linens, and I got her a couple books. I also presented her with my traditional gift of a cartoon illustration featuring highlights of our fourth years of marriage together.

After dinner, we dropped by the Rave Theater to see Pixar’s Brave, which was all right. We got done just as the kids were wandering in to see the midnight showing of the third Batman movie, and I almost wished we’d stayed to see that. Unfortunately, I had to work in the morning.

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That weekend we celebrated Donna’s birthday at our house. Vivian made some delicious quiche and fruit salad, which we ate at our house for brunch before opening presents.

That evening, our friends Phil and Jen were hosting another “Ingredient Party.” I decided not to be as “offal” as I was last time and simply brought some ground turkey, coleslaw, and bread. They managed to turn it into a tasty pad thai stir fry, beet coleslaw, and bread pudding with the help of our mutual friends Lisa, Kristen, her boyfriend, and Phil’s sister. We ate and spent the evening laughing at Monty Python, Spaceballs, and Top Secret. It was as fun as Skeet Surfin, but time seemed to pass with ludicrous speed, and we had to head home to get Hannah in bed at a semi-reasonable hour. She did seem to enjoy watching Monty Python when she wasn’t banging around with her rings, but she needed her beauty sleep before her eight-month photo shoot, which we had the next day in our front yard.

The heat is on!

So it’s July in Nebraska, with temperatures pushing their way up into the 90s. Sweltering outside? You bet. Staying inside where it’s nice and cool? Not a chance! There are just too many fun things to do outside — even in the midst of a hot and muggy Nebraska summer.

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Vivian and I got to partake in another summer tradition on Thursday last week — Jazz on the Green! We’d both joined our fellow Jitterbugs for some sweltering hot dancing some five years ago, when this annual Jazz event was still being held on the steps of the Joslyn Art Museum. Mike Gurciullo and His Las Vegas Lab Band kicked off the first concert of 2012, and we had a handful of Omaha Jitterbugs on hand to keep things interesting on the grassy area in front of the stage. Grass isn’t the best surface for a Lindy Hop, but everybody still seemed to manage (and work up a sweat).

Vivian was also there doing secret, girly things with her girly girls’ group.

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On Saturday, Vivian and I decided to take Hannah for her first trip to a Farmer’s Market in downtown Omaha. We wandered through several pavilions in the sweltering heat looking for the Grill Magic seasoning people, but they were unfortunately MIA this year. We did get some pie, some enchiladas, and some fresh basil, and then we crashed for lunch at the Upstream. I also decided to order a sampler platter of 12 different beers, all brewed right at the Upstream. The whole tray of bubbly, multicolored liquid seemed to captivate Hannah and put quite a smile on her face. Being underage, however, Hannah had to satisfy herself instead with a bottle of Hunt’s ketchup.

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On Sunday, the Hall family invited everyone at church over to their home in the country for some outdoor fun and a potluck dinner. Hannah got to see a few baby chicks for the first time out in the Hall chicken coop. They also had their pool open in the backyard, so I got to take Hannah on her very first dip in a swimming pool. She’s loved splashing in the bathtub, but she didn’t quite know what to make of being half-submerged in chlorinated water. She and Lily got to squeeze into a flotation device and scoot around the pool together. It’s always fun to see Hannah having all these new experiences with us.

Family and the Fourth

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Vivian and I just got finished a fun, week-long visit with my parents, who came for their summer visit over the Fourth of July week. Our first activity on the agenda (other than eating pizza together and playing with Hannah) was to brave the triple-digit heat and dance in the Ralston Independence Day parade. A dozen or so of the Omaha Jitterbugs were present to Lindy Hop down the hot asphalt along with a nearly endless number of floats. We were almost at the very end of the parade, so it took even longer than usual before our group got moving. Hannah got to participate in the parade mostly by sleeping in the stroller and getting sprayed with water to keep from overheating. As usual, we crashed at Dairy Queen to recover with ice cream, courtesy of Nate Woodhams.

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That evening, Vivian and I lit up some sparklers with the folks and then skipped over to Anne’s to set off some fireworks afterward. We shot off a couple Roman candles, and I had a good time experimenting with the setting on my camera so I could capture the fiery trails created by a sparkler or two. We also set loose one of those lantern things, once Jon Paper figured out that you had to let go of it in order for it to work.

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On Friday, we met up with dad’s associates form the National Association of Scholars for lunch at Malara’s in Omaha. Vivian and Hannah came along for the first time, so everyone could see the newest addition to the Johnson Family. One noteworthy absence was Ed Rauchut of Bellevue University, who sadly passed away earlier this year. We all had a toast in his memory.

On the way home, we dropped by the Sarpy County Museum, the self-described “best kept secret in Bellevue,” which Vivian and I found recently when taking her car in for a check-up around the corner. They had a wide variety of Nebraska-related memorabilia, including a buffalo head, a scale model of Offut Air Force Base, and a list of nine rules for teachers circa 1872.

That evening, all the grandparents came over for a giant taco dinner at our place. Vivian made some pico de gallo and we sliced up a giant watermelon. Dad got to chat about familiar places in northern California, and Vivian and I made a couple notes of things to visit when we fly up there later in September.

P1130353On Saturday, Vivian and I took the folks down to Joslyn Art Museum, which is conveniently open for free on Saturday mornings. We toured a few of the traveling exhibits, which included a bunch of mid-nineteenth century photographs of the old west courtesy of Union Pacific and our favorite groovy still life of a boob, an orange, and a phone. It was a welcome escape from the oppressive heat and humidity outside (and gave us the chance for some random rule-breaking as well). We dropped by Absolutely Fresh for Calamari Steak to eat on Monday and then dropped by Jacobo’s for some tamales that we served up that evening once Jonathan arrived.

IMG_6909We had church together on Sunday morning, and then once Nathan and Ranae arrived in the afternoon, we spent the rest of the day with the Johnson Family under one roof. We played a couple games, including Telestrations and a makeshift round or two of Family Feud. Vivian served up some barbecue chicken and corn on the cob for dinner and later we had some chocolate cake courtesy of me.

On Monday, we spent the last day with the folks wasting time at an overpriced thrift shop (masquerading as an antique mall), and then had some Five Guys for lunch before dropping by John Galt Boulevard for some random picture-taking. That evening, Vivian cooked up her calamari steaks along with some asparagus and a couple artichokes (courtesy of my dad). We wrapped up our week together playing a couple rounds of Apples to Apples, and Hannah joined in as before.

It was a great, relaxing visit full of loafing, visiting, and eating, and I felt quite lucky to be able to have time off for the whole week for it.

Niobrara Canoe Trip

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Summer wouldn’t be complete without a camping trip! This year, Jenny and the gang returned to the Niobrara River for a canoe trip up between Valentine and Springview, where Vivian and I had camped back in 2007 and 2010. With the weather dry and pushing triple-digits, it was nice to have a campsite right by the river, ready for us to take a cool dip at any time. A nearby hill seemed to be daring me and Jon to scale it on Friday, so we trekked up to the top to check out the scenic view high above our campsite.

That evening, we broke out the burgers and s’mores around the campfire. Then, when the sun started to set, we dropped by the field behind our campsite for a completely random photo shoot with Libby.

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The next day, after a brief bagel breakfast, we headed off to start our long, 20-mile trek down the Niobrara River. We started our journey at the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, which meant we didn’t have to put up with any tubers swilling light beer at nine in the morning.

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Our first stop was at the Fort Falls, which provided a quick cool shower and an overlook to anybody interested. There were also little waterfalls all along the river, some of which were useful if you needed a cold shower to wake you up along the river. Vivian and I actually ran out of water on our trip, and I was so thirsty I actually drank from one waterfall we passed by. The water was so crystal clear and cold it was impossible to resist (and I’ve no Montezuma’s Revenge to speak of, either).

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Smith Falls State Park was our halfway point for lunch, and we made our usual trip up to the tallest waterfall in Nebraska along with dozens of other people crowding into the slippery, rocky base for a photo opportunity. Of course, everyone also had to take a turn underneath the torrents of water as well.

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We continued up the river to our favorite spot along the Niobrara — the “jumping off point” I’ve since learned is called Fritz’ Island. After 18 miles of paddling in the sun, it was a welcome relief to jump off a rocky base into a churning river and get carried downstream. The Niobrara is actually quite low this year, which means Vivian and I had to deal with getting stuck on dozens of sand bars that weren’t there before. That always makes a canoe trip even more difficult.

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I was pretty dead on my feet when we returned to camp. I guzzled a bottle of water in one gulp and then headed to the showers to wash off the river (and eat the Best Ice Cream Sandwich in the World). We had brats around the campfire that night and played our annual camping trip games: of Catchphrase, Story-go-Round, and a few “experiments” with Diet Coke and Mentos, courtesy of Jon.

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The next day — after having pancakes and sausage for breakfast, tearing down our campsite, and comparing bug bites — we headed back home to Omaha. A couple of us had the same bright idea of stopping by the O’Neill Pizza Hut for lunch.

Jack and Donna had been kind enough to watch Hannah for the weekend and treated us with barbecue ribs and potato salad when we got home. Hannah only seemed mildly curious when Vivian and I returned after a long weekend of camping. We let her have her first rib to chew on as a reward for being such a good girl.

Thanks to Jenny for planning yet another fun outdoor experience!