Yearly Archives: 2015

2015: Year in Review

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IMG_2583IMG_3671img_5670_21605562520_odscn4003_22516330828_oIMG_8136Donald Trump
2015 was another very good year!
Here are some of the fun things we did to pass the time.

Donald Trump in Council Bluffs

2016 is nearly upon us, and what better way to kick off the start of a Presidential Election year than by squeezing into the Mid-America Center to get a glimpse of the Republican front-runner? (Other than having fondue with family, of course.)

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That’s right, I and my folks — along with several thousand other people — braved cold weather and a pat-down from the Secret Service (who did NOT like me taking their picture) to hear Donald Trump bloviate for an hour and twenty minutes completely unscripted. It was a unique event in that it had almost no seating for anyone, which meant in addition to fallen arches, everyone tended to squeeze together to get closer to the stage. It was a remarkably different crowd from the one that came to see Bernie Sanders — there were far more blue-collar types and families present than millennial hipsters. There were also people selling “swag” and even Donald Trump cos-player — a first for any political event I’ve attended.

If you’d like to see Trump’s speech in its entirety, it’s available on YouTube, but he spent most of his time talking about himself leading in the polls and touching on random subjects, including ending free-trade, a position he ironically shares with Bernie Sanders. I was fortunate enough to know just where to be once the speech was over to get up a close-up of Donald as he greeted attendees. So many others were pressing in to get autographs and pictures that it got just a little personal, but everyone was well behaved — the Secret Service made sure of that.

On to the New Year!

A Full-On Family Christmas

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Merry Christmas, everybody! It turns out we had a white Christmas in Omaha after all. Of course, the weather folks were predicting just barely a dusting up until a few minutes before eleven inches fell on the metro area. It made for a slippery, treacherous drive to work on Thursday morning, but by noon o’clock the sun was out and turning everything to slush. The city had also transformed into a frosted winter wonderland, but that also meant I had to get our driveway shoveled up and scraped before it froze over.

Then Vivian and I brought Hannah outside to play a bit in the snow, making a snow angel, building a snowman, and also teaching her how to throw a snowball (but she decided that snow was better to eat than to throw).

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The inclement weather brought cancellations to our Christmas Eve service plans, which was a bit of a shame, but that did give us more time to have a proper Christmas Eve Dinner together with our friend Shirley. Jack made some roast beef with vegetables as Vivian helped out with the sides. Then afterward, Hannah and Aaron each got to open up a present or two, which included some new Christmas Jammies for both of them. Then after they were in bed (and the dishes were washed), the grown-ups got to open up our “stocking” presents together while having pie. Among many things, such as lens wipes and snowman ornaments, I got a tiny tub of Marmite that I immediately put on a cracker. (And then it mysteriously went missing. We haven’t seen it since.)

Before the grown-ups went to bed for a long winter’s nap, we got the presents all sorted out underneath the tree for Hannah and Aaron to see when they woke up the next morning. They both got quite a haul once again this year. I have to wonder where on earth we’re going to put all their new loot!

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The next morning, Hannah got up around six-thirty to find that Santa had come overnight. We’d set up a tiny table with a pair of chairs for a set of “tea party” snacks for Hannah and Aaron to nibble once they got up and started opening presents. They both got a handful of books, games, and many different toys, including a plush Olaf and a set of Peppa Pig figures. Hannah also got a toy penguin that danced to Papa Americano, which she played repeatedly until Pop-Pop told her to put it away in the basement where he didn’t have to hear it anymore. I mixed up some batter and made Christmas Waffles for everyone, which we ate with whipped cream and strawberries courtesy of Donna.

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That afternoon, Donna and Vivian put the finishing touches on their cakes, which we brought to my mom and dad’s house on Christmas night. Dad put up his family of plastic lawn flamingos for the occasion, and then Jonathan, Nathan, and Ranae all joined us for a full and fairly complete family meal together. My parents cooked up a trio of Papa Murphy’s pizzas for dinner, and then we opened a slew of new presents in the living room afterward. Hannah got a Play-Dough set, Aaron got a toy train, and my mom got practical gifts such as MREs and a First Aid Kit (yay, dad). We had some cake afterward to celebrate Jesus’ Birthday, and then we finished off the evening looking at a few goofy slides Uncle Jonny had picked out for our amusement before going home.

It was a lovely Christmas overall, and we finished off the holiday by finally watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the theater on Saturday morning. Mom watched the kids, and then all five of us in the Johnson Clan went out to lunch together at Village Inn to reminisce before calling it quits.

I’m so happy to have so many lovely people to share the holiday with. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Nine First Dates

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It’s Christmas Eve eve at last! Every year, December 23 also marks the anniversary of my first date with Vivian, so this year, I decided to take the entire day off to celebrate. A good chunk of that was spent at the Omaha Children’s Museum, where they had a special visit by Elsa and Santa Claus in a flurry of cute photo-worthy moments, filled with soapy suds of “snow.” Aaron had a good time playing with the water table and then in the ball area trying to catch the near-constant dropping of balls from the ceiling. Mommy and Hannah put on makeup in the meantime, and then we went upstairs, where they had a super hero exhibit. That kept Hannah busy climbing to the top of a tower and playing with a few of the Super Hero toys available for little ones. Of course, we also had to take a trip on the carousel and the train in-between going up and down the slides. Nothing like a little exercise before nap time.

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That evening, I finally took Vivian out to see the last of the Hunger Games films, Mockingjay Part 2. I’d been waiting for the end of this series ever since I finished the books a couple years ago, and it really didn’t disappoint — or diverge very much from the book itself, of course.

After the movie, we took a trip downtown, per tradition, to get some fudge from the Old Market Candy Shop. Mike was on hand to personally package up a special order of egg nog fudge for us, which we added to our bag of truffles, white chocolate almond bark, and assorted fudges (pumpkin, dark chocolate, and peanut butter).

Then, we walked next-door to have dinner at Le Bouillon, the sister restaurant to the Boiler Room now located in the same spot as the French Cafe, where we had our first date nine years ago. The decor was very much the same as the French Cafe, though the menu was quite a bit different. Our waiter described it as a “farm to table” style of food with various categories meant to be selected in a multi-course meal. In the end, we both picked a few dishes that sounded good and shared them all — rock shrimp to start, followed by Calamari Provençale, Fougasse, and finally the Cassoulet. It was all very good, and I think we might be back again next year.

We finished off the evening with a brief walk through the Gene Leahy Mall to see the beautiful Christmas lights. It made me think about all the other first date anniversaries we’d celebrated so far, which included multiple trips to the same locations, sometimes under new ownership.

Thanks for the wonderful memories so far, Vivian. On to Christmas!

Favorite Foods of 2015

If you know me, you know I love food. And it’s not just the food itself, but the people and memories shared with every bite. I’m also one of those annoying people who takes pictures of food at memorable times, so here are some of my favorite tidbits from 2015. Bon Appétit.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup
Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Cauliflower soup from my Valentine’s Day dinner with Vivian at James Arthur Vineyards. It was the first of a five course meal but was particularly memorable for the heart-shaped croutons. (It came paired with Amo Te or Dry Seyval wines.)

Mom's Homemade Pizza
Mom’s homemade pizza

My mom’s homemade pizza. That was one of my favorite things to eat growing up. My brother Jonathan requested it for his birthday.

Dinner at the Holy Name Fish Fry
Dinner at the Holy Name Fish Fry

Fried fish at the Holy Name Fish Fry. This place was legendary, and all the fish served there was hand-breaded.

Tongue Sandwich at Big Mama's Kitchen
Pig’s ear sandwich at Big Mama’s Kitchen And Catering.

I took my parents to Big Mama’s Kitchen up in North Omaha for their 40th Anniversary and ordered this sandwich, which Guy Fieri described as “natural bologna.”

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Marbled Tea Egg

Marbled tea egg made at Philip and Jen’s place for Jen’s birthday back in march. Delicious and beautiful all at the same time.

Better Off Ched Burger at Zombie Burger
Better Off Ched burger

The Better Off Ched burger from Zombie Burger + Drink Lab in Des Moines, made with deep fried mac and cheese slabs for a bun, among other things. It’s as delicious as it is disgusting and a top contender for the “This is why you’re fat” website.

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Vivian’s Patriotic Cheesecake

Vivian’s patriotic cheesecake. Nobody does cheesecake like my wife!

Homemade Hamburger with Kimchi and Egg
Kimchi Burger

Burger with homemade kimchi and a fried egg. Served up by Philip and Jen at our house.

Dad's smoked pork ribs
Dad’s Smoked Ribs

Smoked ribs from my dad, Ed Johnson, in celebration of his birthday. Recipe taken from America’s Test Kitchen.

Daze Before Christmas

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Christmas is nearly upon us, and that means getting together with our friends at least once for some kind of a Christmas Party. Vivian and I decided not to host a party ourselves this year, but our mutual friends Jenny and Kody took it upon themselves to have a fairly low-key event at their new place. We joined them and a few other couples for sloppy joes, corn casserole, and some southwestern egg rolls that we brought along in a completely improvised yet perfectly complementary dinner together.

Then the next day, we took Hannah and Aaron out to look at Christmas Lights. We dropped by the Linden Estates neighborhood once again to see some of their large light displays, but Hannah seemed a little less interested in seeing them close and personal again this year. Next time we might stick to some of the nice little displays we have right here in Bellevue.

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Then on Tuesday, I stepped a bit out of my comfort zone and went to a rally for “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders. I’ve tried to meet up with as many presidential candidates as possible before the Iowa primary nearly a month away, and that includes any serious candidate willing to get this close to the Omaha metro. It was an interesting contrast to the ten Republican candidates’ events I’ve attended so far this year. At the Republican events, the attendees were fairly subdued, many of them coming just to hear one candidate or another without having really committed to anyone. There was a nearly religious zeal at Bernie’s event, with the crowd being led in chants and even responding to his speech like a “Greek chorus.” The Republican events were also more like town halls, with open questions from the audience, while this event was clearly more of a pep rally.

I was already familiar with most of Sanders’ political positions, but one thing that surprised me was his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, something pushed by Obama and opposed by many conservatives. Yet he didn’t mention Obama’s connection to the deal. He also railed against politicians taking money from big banks, but he had nothing to say about Hillary Clinton doing just that — even though he’s running against her. The Republican candidates I’ve seen have had no problem criticizing others in their own party. Not Bernie. In any case, we’ll see how this event compares to the rally for Donald Trump I plan of attending next Tuesday.

Office Party

Christmas is coming fast, with weather that’s so up-and-down that we’ve had days of lovely sunshine at the park followed by weekends full of rain. Yes, rain. In December. (At least we don’t have to shovel it.)

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One of the latest Christmas traditions for the Johnson Family has been the Pope Paul VI Institute Christmas Party. My current employer has been the only one so far to have a legit Christmas party every year, always at some hotel with catered food among other things. What’s also nice is our mix of co-workers who can actually have fun with one another outside the office as demonstrated by a couple of our physicians’ creative uses of peppermint cones. The choir from a local Catholic High School came to sing a few Christmas carols for us over dinner, and Vivian and I both got the chance to catch up with co-workers and their spouses, who we usually only see once a year. Plenty of photos were also snapped, of course.

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Then on Tuesday, we had an Unexpected Sushi Night out with the kids. I’d bought a Groupon to Matsu Sushi back in August, hoping to use it while downtown with the kids, but they were unexpectedly closed on Sunday. That meant we had to use our Groupon before it expired, so we sat down for some bento boxes and tonkatsu pork for Hannah and Aaron. I was very impressed how Aaron dug right into his dinner and even tried a maki roll, while Hannah managed her chopsticks like a champ.

I’d hoped for a lovely walk by the river to look at Christmas lights, but the kids seemed more interested in slides and a playground frog instead. That was fine, but then it started to rain again, which became a downpour that sent us a home a little early.

Christmas is just around the corner!

Mike Huckabee and a Birthday with the folks

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Christmas is coming soon, and that includes such things as our first legitimate snowfall and hanging ornaments on the tree.

It also means a few more presidential candidates wandering through Iowa before Christmas. One of these was Mike Huckabee, who dropped by Iowa Western for a chat with Mark Christian of the Global Faith Institute and Scott Voorhees from KFAB. It was a 90-minute chat revolving mostly around terrorism and religious freedom, though there were questions from the audience on a wide variety of topics. The governor left almost immediately when the event concluded, which left only a few seconds for handshakes before the left the stage (meaning no obligatory selfies with schlubs like me).

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December is also when my mom and dad have their birthdays (the eighth and tenth, respectively), so we had a joint party at their house on Saturday. My dad made ribs for all of us, and my mom made the cake, which Vivian lit up with candles for both of them to blow out simultaneously (something they’ve never done before, strangely enough). Both my brothers were there for the occasion, and my dad showed us a bunch of old photos of our ancestors going back generations all the way to Sweden in a presentation he’d put together. He also had some “stereo” pictures he’d taken of us three boys as kids, but his viewers didn’t cooperate for very long. Among the presents my parents got were a new Roku we bought for the both of them. Now that they have Internet at the house, I was able to rig up Netflix to stream on their TV for the first time.

We had a potluck luncheon at church on Sunday, and singing from all three West girls, but the kids both unexpectedly sick and had to stay home.

Your Standard Thanksgiving Weekend

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It’s fun to see just how many holiday traditions you can pack into one four-day weekend! Like most of America, the Johnson Family celebrated Thanksgiving on Thursday. Hannah got to check out the Macy’s Day parade in the basement as Vivian and Pop-Pop got a turkey and a bunch of sides going in the kitchen. We had an assortment of hors d’oeuvres out for “lunch” which some of us nibbled on downstairs as Mystery Science Theater 3000 streamed via Roku to our TV. Jonathan also got a copy of RiffTrax dismantling the cheesy 1989 classic, The Wizard, which was uniquely hilarious.

Then that evening we had the whole family, both sets of grandparents (and Uncle Jonny), to join us in eating what’s become our standard Thanksgiving Dinner together (Taber Salad included, of course).

IMG_8012My daughter Hannah and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert

On Friday night, we got to drop by Union Station for their tree-lighting event at the Durham Museum, one of my favorite Christmas events. The kids got to visit Santa and Mrs. Claus before decorating some cookies upstairs, and then I took Hannah down to look at the giant (retired) train cars on display in the lower level. Hannah loved running from one car to another, and afterward she got to wander through some of the exhibits showing homes in Nebraska through the last couple of centuries.

Vivian and Aaron stayed upstairs to help with the cookies, and then we headed to the great hall to watch the tree-lighting ceremony. Michael Lyon was singing Christmas songs for everyone this year, and then Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and her crew of dignitaries got up to count down the tree-lighting. Paper confetti fell from the ceiling, and Hannah managed to wound her way over to the VIP section before I could stop her. I took the opportunity to introduce her to Mayor Stothert while she was there (and got a picture of course), telling Hannah she could grow up to be anything, even Mayor of Omaha.

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For the rest of the weekend, Vivian and I spent some time decorating the house for the Christmas season. That meant hauling the tree out of storage and getting it put together, as well as bringing out the Christmas Frog and Santasaurus (who now has his own Facebook page). Hannah got to build a gingerbread house with mommy and string lights around the tree, and I finally got to light up our outdoor lights, which I hung a week or two ago when it was a lot warmer outside.

Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot more like Christmas. All we have to do now is wait for Santa!

Hannah’s Fourth

It was a birthday-ful weekend for the Johnson Family as we get geared up for Thanksgiving and t he Christmas season by first spending a few days opening presents with friends.

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We spent Saturday evening at Phil and Jen’s house with 30 or so of our mutual friends celebrating Phil’s birthday. “Bar food” was on the menu, which involved a deep frier that left my clothes smelling like delicious grease the morning after. Chips and dips, egg rolls filled with smoked pork and potatoes, as well as chicken wings were all on the menu. I was a bit anxious how Hannah and Aaron would deal with the crowd of people in a living space clearly designed to hold less than half of them, but they did fine. Other kiddos were also on hand to be cute and eat with the rest of us, but it was still a bit of a madhouse. We did wish Phil a happy birthday before we left. I’m not sure if he heard us.

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By contrast, we celebrated Hannah’s birthday the day after and just invited her best friend Sammy over to celebrate. Of course, that meant Miss Lexi and August came as well, but that was all good because it gave grown-ups time to catch up and little Aaron someone to toddle around with all afternoon. Grammy brought over a pair of Dora and Doc McStuffins cakes while Pop-Pop introduced Aaron to static electricity. My mom and dad came over a little later as well, along with Uncle Jonny, an we got to have cake and watch Hannah open presents together. We had a couple pizzas from Papa Murphy’s for dinner before calling it a night.

It was very low-key, but Hannah seemed to have a tremendously fun birthday. She actually got up at five to discover her room filled with pink balloons and was jumping all morning at church telling everyone, “I’m four! I’m four!”

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Then on Monday, we had another visit with Marco Rubio in Council Bluffs. I met him briefly back in July when he visited, and this time around I brought my mom and Vivian to hear him speak. There was some Q&A after his talk, and the Senator from Florida hung around to meet and greet just about everyone in attendance. The usual characters were on hand for interviews afterward, and I was impressed with Rubio’s accessibility. The questions weren’t screened, and pretty much anyone was able to approach him afterward. (And somehow I wound up on Fox News again as a result.)

Then on Tuesday, we brought the kids down to the park for lunch before the inevitable cold and snow comes this Thanksgiving to bring a brief end to our park time.