Monthly Archives: October 2015

Village Pointe and Pastor Drew

Halloween is nearly here again, and with dropping temperatures and shorter days, you can feel autumn will be moving fast into winter too long. That means taking advantage of the odd warm day at the park to run around in the fountains making footprints is more important than ever.


I mentioned in a few previous updates, Pastor Drew Rietjens and his family will soon be leaving Twin Valley Church to move on to Clear Lake, Iowa. To thank them for all their years with us, Vivian and I invited them over to our house for an evening of tacos of playing Wii Mario Kart downstairs. I always love having other kids over to the house, since Hannah and Aaron both seem to love playing with other kids (which gives us grown-ups time to chit-chat, of course). We also had a couple family portraits to give to the Rietjens as a going-away present, but we naturally forgot to give those to them until Sunday.


On Saturday, we took Hannah and Aaron down to Village Pointe to go trick-or-treating at the mall in their little costumes. We actually put Hannah into her pumpkin outfit for her annual Pumpkin Outfit picture, but she somehow didn’t want to take it off, so we let her wear it all afternoon. She seemed initially reluctant to take candy from strangers at the mall, oddly enough, and she enjoyed seeing all the other kids dressed up as goofy characters even more than free candy. I also helped a bunch of guys move a giant pumpkin or two up onto a big pumpkin display. They’d had some kind of pumpkin-carving event earlier in the day, but I didn’t stay around long enough to watch them light them al in the evening.

Next stop: Halloween!

Welcome back, Marty McFly

If you’re a child of 80s, you know that October 21, 2015 has a very special meaning — it’s the day Marty McFly arrives from 1985. I don’t think anyone really expected our future to have the flying cars, hover boards, and double neckties portrayed in the movie, but it’s still cause for celebration, especially during a month where every adult can dress like a bojo.


On Saturday, Hannah and Aaron got a taste of trick-or-treating by donning their Halloween costumes (Anna and Pooh) and going down to Gifford Farm for some candy and hay-sliding.
Then that evening, Vivian and I celebrated Jenny’s birthday Back to the Future style at Dean’s house in Bennington. All our friends came dressed as characters from the Back to the Future franchise, representing all possible settings and timelines throughout the movie — past, present, and future. We had multiple versions of Biff and Marty (though only one Doc Brown) and people even came as inanimate objects such as the clock tower and the lightning that hit it. It was especially fun reenacting moments from the movie. Vivian and I came as the Flux Capacitor and Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen, and it was particular fun to join the party completely in-character. We even had cans of “Pepsi Perfect” to go along with Vivian’s Flux Capacitor Cupcakes.

Jenny had a Back to the Future trivia quiz, and Vivian won a Cafe 80s tumbler. We also had a little dancing, which wasn’t easy in my knee-high boots. It was definitely a party for the ages. I only wish we could have stayed later, but time isn’t quite as wibbly-wobbly and timey-wimey in reality as it is on-screen.


On Sunday, we dropped by the Hall’s place for their annual Hayrack Ride and Campfire Potluck with our church. This would be the last Hayrack Ride with the Rietjens, as Drew will be leaving Twin Valley Church to preach at Clear Lake Christian Church this November, so I snapped a few family photos for them as a going-away present. Our group spent a little while goofing around on a Salmon Ladder and riding giant wooden spools before climbing on the Hayracks to putter around the countryside. Every now and then I get to appreciate what it means to live in Nebraska, so close to rolling fields full of horses and one-room schoolhouses. We lit up the campfire and ate back at the Hall’s House as the sun quickly set.

Wednesday, of course, was the big day, and it could only be celebrated one way: with a large Pizza Hut pizza, half pepperoni, half green pepper. (And a bottle of Pepsi Perfect!)

Welcome back, Marty!

Blooming where you’re planted


On Friday night, the Jitterbugs held an anniversary dance in honor of fifteen years of Jitterbugs Night Out, a night that was even made 100% official by the Omaha City Council, thanks to our friend Lisa, who happens to work there. It seems like just yesterday I was awkwardly wandering into the Eagles’ Lodge for the first time. The volunteers went all out with elaborate balloon displays, snacks, and one of my favorite swing bands in the area, the Little Harper Big Band to provide the music. I was somewhat disappointed at the lack of true swing dancing veterans at the dance itself, but there were plenty of cool people to dance with. And despite actually biking to and from work today, I managed to stay on the dance floor during nearly every song.

Then at the end of the night, we brought home a bunch of balloons to surprise Hannah and Aaron when they woke up the next morning.


Saturday was a day of getting things done (mostly lawn-mowing), and then on Sunday we spent a long afternoon down in Avoca at the Bloom Where You’re Planted Farm. Having just been to Vala’s a few days earlier, I couldn’t help but notice the little pumpkin patch had the look and feel of a miniature, scaled down Vala’s. They had a corn bin and a water-pump duck race for the little ones, as well as a few of those head-through-the-hole photo displays. They also had a giant tire swing quite a few farm animals for the kids to check out, including goats, chickens, horses, and cows. There was also a hay rack ride, but it didn’t go to the pumpkin patch, because unfortunately they had absolutely no pumpkin crop this year whatsoever. Yes, they had pumpkins for sale, but they were all brought in (allegedly locally) from other pumpkin patches. We did let the kids get their own little pumpkins (aka decorative gourds), which could have grown on some of the vines down by the horse corral.

In the end, it was a nice little place to take the kids on a Sunday afternoon, and its smaller size made it a much easier trip than Vala’s. Vivian and I were able to sit in the shade and watch Hannah and Aaron run relatively freely without losing track of them, something that’s pretty much impossible to do at that other place.


On Tuesday, Vivian brought the kids down to the park to swing a bit, play in some sprinklers, and enjoy a stroll among the beautiful fall colors along the Keystone Trail.

Then that evening, I got to visit Hannah’s preschool along with a bunch of other guys as part of an open-house just for dads. I got to see some of the activities the kids get to do during the day, such as drawing, making paintings with rolling marbles, and hammering golf tees into foam blocks. Then Hannah’s teacher, Mrs. Sauerdyke, sat us down for “circle time.” This included going over the calendar, the days of the week, and singing a special little song for the dads present, which was very cute.

Afterward, they gave us vouchers for ice cream at Dairy Queen so we could take our little ones down to get inappropriately sugared up right before bed time. It was a sweet little daddy-daughter date, though. I’m always happy to spend time with Hannah before she’s too old to want to be seen in public with me.

Mid-Week Vacation at Vala’s


I’ve been to Vala’s Pumpkin Patch, the infamous autumnal amusement park of Nebraska, manymany times over the past few years. It gets more and more expensive every year, but that hasn’t stopped it from being maddeningly crowded on the weekend as well. Now that Hannah is there years old and no longer admitted to Vala’s for free, I had the bright idea of taking a whole day off of work so we could attend on a Wednesday, when the rates are one-third cheaper.

Wow, it was a great decision, and I don’t think we’ll ever go back to Vala’s on a weekend. There were virtually no lines for anything at the park, including such photo opportunities as sitting on the big chair. We could even jump on the pillows for as long as we waited, with no waiting whatsoever.


Since we were visiting Vala’s on a weekday, our usual gang of friends weren’t able to come with us. That turned out fine, however, as we were able to focus exclusively on activities that interested the kids, such as playing in the giant corn bin and watching the giant dragon smash a pumpkin. The kids also liked playing on the slides and wandering around the storybook village.

At two o’clock, I was able to corral everyone to see one of the pig races. Hannah had gotten her photo with the Pig Man back in 2012, and I got a follow-up photo with Aaron this time around. Picture-taking seems to be a huge part of visiting Vala’s, whether it involved those stand-up pictures you stick your head through or the obligatory photo of the kids in front of the “how tall this fall” measuring stick. We even got a picture of the family around a pile of pumpkins thanks to a nice lady at the gift shop. The park was so not-busy that she was able to snap a photo without leaving any customers unattended.


We didn’t get to see all the sights in the park before the sun went down, but we did get to visit some new areas (to us), such as a play area with a tractor ride and a giant rope spiderweb. Hannah climbed all the way from the middle to the perimeter by herself, which made me proud (she did better than mommy did six years ago). We finished off the day with a dinner of giant pork tenderloin sandwiches and a brief visit to the gift shop for our annual picture wearing cowboy hats. Both kids were fast asleep by the time we got home around seven, which was downright lovely!

The day went so well, I decided to share some of my tips and tricks of navigating Vala’s right here on my blog, which you can read here. Check it out if you plan on going anytime soon.

Doing Vala’s Right (and at a discount)

If you visit Omaha in the fall, you’re likely to hear somebody mention a place called Vala’s Pumpkin Patch. It’s a kind of an autumnal amusement park in the outskirts of town (in Gretna, actually) with lots of activities for little ones. It attracts thousands of people every year and has recently been summed up with one word: expensive. In 2015, tickets on the weekend go for $15.75 each, and children over two — i.e. any children old enough to fully appreciate the experience — pay full price. This means a family of four will shell out over $70 with tax for a day of pedal bikes and jumping pillows, and that doesn’t even include a pumpkin.

So if you’re like me, and you’re set on actually visiting Vala’s (rather than exploring the many other alternate pumpkin patches in the area), you’ll want to know how to do it right and maybe save a few bucks. And don’t bother vying for certain online “specials” you see where you can get a stack of tickets at half price. They sell out in seconds and you won’t grab any. Trust me.

Instead, to here are a few things to consider.

  1. Don’t go on the weekend. If it’s at all possible, visit Vala’s Monday through Thursday. The tickets will each cost $6 less, and you’ll have far fewer crowds to deal with. We went on a Wednesday this year, and there weren’t any lines for any of the stores, attractions, or food vendors. If you’ve stood around a good twenty minutes waiting for your turn on the jumping pillows, it’s a big deal to get to hop right on and stay as long as you like.
  2. Get your tickets online. If you plan on visiting Vala’s Friday through Sunday, you’ll save $1 per ticket if you buy your tickets online. Even better, you will get to walk more or less right on in when you arrive. This is a big deal on weekends when you could be spending your first half hour standing around waiting for Granny to figure out how to sign her name with her finger on an iPad.
  3. Don’t take 180th street. Enjoy sitting in traffic for an hour? Then by all means turn off Highway 370 and sit idling in your car for a mile as you creep along 180th along with hundreds of other cars waiting to squeeze into Vala’s giant parking field/lot. Want a shortcut? Take 168th street. It curves right around to Schram Road and there’s virtually no waiting, even on Saturday.
  4. Bring your own water. After an hour or two of hiking around in the dry dust and dirt of Vala’s, you’re going to get thirsty — over and over again. You’re going to hate yourself for spending $2 on a small bottle of water when you could have just brought your own and filled up at the water fountains down by the restroom. This is the only water fountain in the park, so bring your own bottles and use it.
  5. Time the live shows right. Certain attractions, like the pig races and that dragon thing, happen only at specific times during the day, so if you want your kid to get picked as a “pig leader,” be sure to be at the pig races at the top of the hour (except for 3 pm or whatever). It’s also worth checking the calendar for special live shows going on during the day (or evening).
  6. Bring a snack. Vala’s staff doesn’t (yet) check your stroller or belongings for outside food, so bring along a bag of trail mix for you and the little ones when you get hungry. And you will.

If you haven’t visited Vala’s yet, do it soon, because it all wraps up on Halloween night and the doors stay shut until next September. Have any advice of your own to add? Put it in the comments below.