Yearly Archives: 2016

2016: Year in Review

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2016 has been a surprising, fun-filled year!
Here are some pictures of the things that happened.

What new adventures will 2017 bring? We’ll just have to wait and see!

Favorite Foods of 2016

If you know me, you know I love food. There’s something about good food that brings people together, and some of my favorite memories are spent with good food enjoyed with family and friends. Here are my top ten favorite dishes from 2016 (in no particular order).

Dinner at the Bohemian Café
10. The last meal at the Bohemian Cafe

The Bohemian Cafe, a mainstay in Omaha’s historic Czech neighborhood, closed its doors this year. It was the first place Vivian came to eat when in Omaha (with our late friend Keith, who also passed away this year). It was also where I bumped into Warren Buffett when Vivian took me there for my birthday in 2011. The food was from another era. This particular dish was their roast Beef with burgundy gravy and mushrooms, sweetsauer cabbage, and dumplings (which were especially memorable). This place was a gem and it will be missed.

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9. All-you-can-eat Sushi at Tokyo Sushi

We went to this place twice in 2016 to get our fill of sushi, and we also took Vivian’s aunt and cousin there when they came to visit (pictured above). The sushi is very good and the menu is fairly extensive. You can even get sashimi at certain time, but the fact that you can have as much as you like makes this place particularly special.

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8. Big Sal’s Pizza

My favorite pizza place in Nebraska or anywhere else nearby. Whenever we stop by in Lincoln, whether for a freelance gig or to visit the state capitol, we try to make a trip to Big Sal’s for lunch. I always get a large combo and also try to use a Groupon whenever it’s available (and it usually is).

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7. Brats and hot dogs at the Costco food court

One of the highlights of shopping at Costco with the family is being able to stop by the food court for one of their 1/4 lb. hot dogs for lunch. You can get them with a drink for just $1.50, which is likely a loss-leader for Costco. The best part, however, is just being able to go out to lunch with the family after shopping (and nibbling on samples, of course).

Mother's Day Quiche
6. Quiche for Christmas & Mother’s Day

This year, I learned how to make some simple quiche for both Mother’s Day and Christmas. Preparing these things was remarkably simple. I buy pre-made frozen pie crusts and then fill them with cooked bacon and sausage, cheese, onions, peppers, spinach, or whatever. Then I pour an egg-and-cream mixture over them and bake for 15 minutes at 375° F. It’s especially nice to prepare these a day ahead of time so they’re easy to throw in the oven when it’s almost time to eat.

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5. Jen’s birthday cake for Dennis

For Dennis’ birthday this year, our mutual friend Jen made this super-rich, super-dense, multi-layer carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. You could hear it landing on my plate with a “thud” and it was the sort of thing you savor with every bite.

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4. Vivian’s Jalapeño poppers

One of Vivian’s specialties are bacon-wrapped Jalapeño poppers stuffed with a cream cheese and onion soup mixture. She usually tried to get all the seed out ahead of time so they’re not too spicy, but I don’t mind them hot. It just means it take a little longer to enjoy them all. (I would recommend removing the toothpicks, however.)

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3. Father’s Day Cubano Lunch

I first learned about the cubano sandwich while watching the 2014 Jon Favreau film Chef via Netflix. It’s made with ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and sometimes salami on bread put through a panini press, and it’s quite delicious. For Father’s Day, I got to have one with onion rings and a seafood salad that was quite generous with crab and avocado. Best Father’s Day lunch ever!

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2. Liver with fava beans and a nice chianti

I must be unusual in that I love liver and onions. Somehow, the iron-rich dish tastes good and feels good, particularly served hot and smothered in a sauce made with butter and red wine. The fava beans added a nice, meaty side, and a good red wine, in this case a Chianti, is a must.

Pfft. Pfft. Pfft. Pfft.

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1. Valentine’s Day Apple Roses

Vivian made these beautiful little things for me for breakfast on Valentine’s Day this year. What can I say? They were nearly too beautiful to eat, but I made sure I got a nice picture of them first, of course.

A Stormy Little Christmas

Another fabulous Christmas has come and gone. This year, we got to enjoy a three-day weekend for the holidays, which was particularly nice since we had a whole Monday just to recuperate and clean house after a busy time with the whole family.

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The Christmas weekend started on Friday, with Vivian and me celebrating ten years since our very first date way back in 2006. We managed to squeeze in a movie this time around, ducking into the Aksarben Cinema to see Rogue One before anyone on Facebook could spoil it for us. We went down to the Old Market afterward to get our Christmas fudge from Mike at the Old Market Candy Shoppe, and then we crossed the street to have some Indian food for dinner at Himalayas (located in the Indian Oven’s old spot).

Vivian and I got to reminisce about old times before our traditional walk up and down the Gene Leahy Mall, lit with festive Christmas lights. It was much warmer than usual, with not-quite-freezing temperatures that made it a much more pleasant walk. Several other couples were out at the same time and asked us to get their pictures on the bridge while we were getting our own. We made one last stop by Ted & Wally’s for some date ice cream to celebrate ten first dates together!

  1. 2007: The French Café
  2. 2008: La Casa Pizza
  3. 2009: The Melting Pot
  4. 2010: The Passport
  5. 2011: The French Café
  6. 2012: España
  7. 2013: Venice Inn
  8. 2014: J’s on Jackson
  9. 2015: Le Bouillon (formerly the French Cafe)
  10. 2016: Himalayas
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On Christmas Eve Day, we got a little taste of a white Christmas as the world was covered with fog and icy mists throughout the day (what Vivian would call a “California Christmas”). After spending the morning cleaning house and getting food ready for the next day, we dropped by First Presbyterian Church in Bellevue for their Children’s Christmas Eve service at three o’clock. They had some live music and some traditional Christmas songs, as well as a story for the kids abut Mortimer Mouse.

We returned home to put some reindeer food out on the lawn before going inside for Christmas Eve Dinner. Jack and Donna made pork and chestnut stuffing along with some mincemeat pies for dessert. Hannah and Aaron put on their jammies, and I recited I recited Twas the Night Before Christmas before sending them off to bed (dancing sugar plums optional). After that, we — I mean Santa — filled the stockings and laid the presents under the tree. We also opened a few stocking gifts for each other, and Jack hot his milk and cookies before taking the sleigh on home.

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On Christmas Day, we got to have some thundershowers early in the morning as the kids got up to see their presents. We let them open a couple to each other, including a set of matching baby kitties for Hannah to go along with her plush black-and-white cat Zoe. I made some banana and chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast, which we ate before we headed off to church. Yes, I insisted on going to church — it only happens once every seven years.

Back home, I made up our Christmas quiche for lunch before we opened some more presents. Hannah got a new “friend” named Layla, who stayed with us for the rest of the day. Aaron was quite happy with his train set and drum set, and mommy and daddy got a few gifts as well. Grandma and Grandpa Johnson came by later with Uncle Nathan and Jonny to spend the evening with us. We had some Christmas pizza for dinner and opened more presents, some of which were goofy gag gifts from the kids to us. Hannah got a good deal of mileage out of some wind-up Groucho Glasses. Even Santasaurus had a gift before Christmas was done.

It was a busy, busy weekend, and I’m glad we had Monday to recover. Mostly, it was wonderful just to have all our family under one roof again. Merry Christmas, everybody!

Christmas Soup

It looks like it’s going to be a rainy, wet Christmas with highs in the upper 50s, which is unusual for December but not entirely unwelcome to people who might be traveling places. We may wind up lighting a fire in our fireplace anyway, just for the ambiance.

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It was a completely different story a week ago, when it was below zero and we drove off to Jenny and Kody’s place for a Christmas Party with our mutual friends. Kody made some stuffed pork loin for dinner, and we sat around playing Christmas charades and a game trying to open multiple layers of present with a pair of oven mitts. Our usual crew of friends were all in attendance, of course, and it was good to have a warm place to celebrate the holidays together.

The next day, we took the kids to church to sing some Christmas Carols together with some folks from the Louisville E-Free church. Hannah seemed particularly in the spirit, dancing in her seat, going up front to sing with the little ones and even dragging mommy up as well. We stayed afterward and had some soup downstairs with everyone before heading home.

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After the bitter cold, it warmed up enough later in the week to justify a trip to Stinson Park. Hannah and Aaron got to run around outside a bit, and we even got some cupcakes at Jones Bros. for old times’ sake. It was nice to get outside with the kids, though they do have plenty of fun inside when it’s too cold to go out.

Then went the sun went down, we took the kids out to look at some Christmas lights. Some of them were very impressive, with music timed to the blinking lights and broadcast via FM radio to anyone who wanted to drive by and tune in. Clark W. Griswold couldn’t have done a better job.

A funny thing happened on the way to the White House

I’ve personally given this book to Rudy Giuliani, Jill Stein, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Ben Carson.

The electoral college is meeting today, so here’s one last election-related post before the process officially draws to a close. I’ve posted quite a few times about meeting and greeting various people running for President over the past year, but there’s a story behind these meetings I haven’t told before.

You see, I’m the marketing manager for the Pope Paul VI Institute, a Catholic non-profit specializing in women’s reproductive healthcare. Our founder and director, Dr. Thomas W. Hilgers, wrote a short book in 2014 titled “An Insider’s Look at the War on Women,” which consists of 17 stories of real-life women who came to the Institute for help.

In mid-2015, I went to a event for Marco Rubio and was surprised at how easy it was to walk right up and chat with him. He was one of the front-runners in the polls at the time, but it was early enough in the campaign that one of his rallies consisted of a hundred people having lunch at a Bass Pro Shop. When I heard Ben Carson was coming to town, I had the bright idea of taking along a copy of Dr. Hilgers’ book to hand to him. (Being a doctor himself, I thought Dr. Carson would appreciate it.) The plan went off without a hitch.

As more candidates came to town, I brought more copies of the book along to hand off to them. Before long, I’d been able to pass along copies to nearly every Republican candidate running for president.

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Hillary Clinton’s people pushed the book away as I tried giving it to her.

I’d tried giving copies to Democrat candidates too, of course. Bernie Sanders seemed to avoid me at his rally, greeting audience members along the barricade only to wander away (twice) when he got to me, so I gave a copy of the book to one of his aides. The book came within inches of Secretary Clinton as well, but her staffers physically pushed it aside as she walked by (but not before I got a photo). I even brought along a copy when Barack Obama came to town, but I wasn’t able to get anywhere near him at the event.

At all these events, there were many people seeking autographs, and I quickly learned how valuable a Presidential autograph can be. A $20 book is worth several hundred dollars more with an authentic POTUS’ signature inside the cover. One of my friends from the campaign trail got close enough to President Obama to ask for an autograph at his rally — with two copies of The Audacity of Hope in tow. I asked him if he’d gotten the POTUS to sign them for him, and he told me Mr. Obama actually reached for his pen, but Secret Service told him, “no,” and he put it back.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump signed the book himself.

Donald Trump was an entirely different story. When I went to see Mr. Trump nearly a year ago, there was a predictable swarm of people pressed around the stage trying to get his autograph at the end of his speech. Fortunately, I knew where to get into position beforehand to get close enough to hand Mr. Trump my copy of the book. He walked the line signing autographs and getting selfies taken for half an hour or more. A guy near me wanted to get a Trump Bobblehead Doll signed, but a Secret Service agent told him that he couldn’t do it. When Mr. Trump came close enough to hear his request, however, he waved off the concerns with his hand and gestured for the man to give him the doll, which he signed.

When I finally got to hand Mr. Trump the book, he actually autographed the cover with his own name. Then, he picked up the book, narrowed his eyes as he looked at the title, and asked, “Whose is THIS?!” I told him, “That’s a gift for YOU, from my boss,” to which he nodded shrugged, and handed the book to an aide before moving along.

So far, I’ve given copies of this book to over a dozen politicians, several of whom now have cabinet positions in the new administration. I’ve never learned if any of them have ever read a single page of the book. I imagine many copies could have been tossed in a recycle bin, but I’m fairly certain that the one I gave to Mr. Trump is still out there somewhere. Donald Trump’s autograph on the book makes it worth actual money, but the irony that the book is titled, “An Insider’s Look at the War on Women” — that’s priceless.

Tom & Jeff

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On Thursday last week, Vivian and I spent the evening with Tom Becka and Jeff Koterba, who both gave a brief talk about their careers in broadcasting and editorial cartooning, respectively. The event was held at the Kaneko, which is both an art gallery and studio for Japanese ceramic artist Jun Kaneko (who also attended the event). I was used to rubbing elbows with Tom throughout the Presidential election, and both Vivian and I get to see Jeff occasionally when performing with the Prairie Cats, but this venue was certainly unique. Tom showed clips from “Becka’s Beat” on KPTM, and Jeff showed a handful of his cartoons. They took questions from the audience and then invited everyone to draw our own editorial cartoons and show them to the group.

It was a fun event, but I’ll have to go back sometime to actually look at the gallery itself sometime. We didn’t get to see much more than the room where the talk was held (which contained mostly giant, placid-looking heads).

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On Saturday, we celebrated my parents’ joint birthday at their house for breakfast. I assembled a breakfast casserole that cooked in the slow-cooker overnight, while Vivian made some bacon and cut up strawberries for everyone. My dad made some crispy “rosettes” with powdered sugar (one of his mom’s favorites), which he’d last made for us seven years ago when we visited in North Carolina. He and mom got to open a handful of presents afterwards from both the kids (which they picked out from the Dollar Tree) and us. Nathan and Jonathan also surprised mom and dad with a giant, new TV (which required a bit of assembly afterward).

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Then that evening, Vivian and I went to the Pope Paul VI Institute Christmas Party together. The party committee did a great job with entertainment, which included a pictorial Christmas Song trivia game and a round of Christmas Jeopardy with all the tables competing for prizes. An a capella group from Roncalli Catholic High School sang to us during dinner, and afterward the fun was mostly done, several employees got some festive pictures taken around the Christmas Tree.

I also gave Dr. Hilgers a special present — a picture of our new President-Elect holding a copy of his book. I snapped this photo myself nearly a year ago after handing the book to Mr. Trump from the autograph line at the Mid-America Center. It had been my goal from the beginning to get that book into the hands of the next president. Mission Accomplished!

(I’m going to have another post shortly about this book and the story that went along with it. Stayed tuned for that — it’ll probably be my last political post for a while.)

Christmas Fun and Dim Sum

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The holiday fun continues for the Johnson Family as we took our kids down to the Children’s Museum on Friday night. They had their usual run of the place, which included the carousel, bulldozer, the “Fantastic Future Me” machine, and a science show involving liquid nitrogen.

Of course, they also had a surprise visit with Santa! The “snow queen” and a frighteningly excited elf were on hand to introduce St. Nick and spread some Christmas cheer with soap suds with the kids.

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On Saturday, after being warned of a MASSIVE blizzard coming next Wednesday (which never materialized), we got our first actual snowfall of the year. There were just enough flakes to make our house pretty and the roads a bit treacherous. A car in front of us slid off the road and took down a light pole, which we didn’t notice until we ran into it. Fortunately, the car and everyone inside were OK.

On Saturday night, we had a “holiday game night” with Kate and Jessica and a few of our mutual friends. We had chili and potato soup and played a couple hilarious rounds of Telestrations, which included a Party Pooper, a Man Purse, and My Dad (AKA a butler, for some reason).

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Then on Sunday, we had dinner with Phil, Jen, and Jenny at the Golden Mountain in northwest Omaha, a Chinese place specializing in Dim Sum, among other things. Dim Sum, as I learned, was a bit like tapas, and we all shared in a bunch of dishes that Jen took the liberty of ordering for us: pork dumplings, chicken feet, pan-fried turnip cakes, spicy shredded pork ear, pork and rice wrapped in lotus leaves, and some Steamed Egg Custard Buns for dessert. The food was excellent, but the most fun was just having some kid-free time with a few good grown-up friends.

Afterward, Vivian and I had a brief drive through the Linden Park neighborhood for our annual gawking at the rich people’s Christmas lights before heading on home.

One week closer to Christmas!

Winter Wonderlands

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We kicked off another holiday season at the Johnson house over the weekend as we celebrated Thanksgiving with the rest of the country. Jack walked Vivian through all the steps of preparing the Turkey, and we had all four grandparents and my two brothers over to share in Thanksgiving dinner (and pie).

We had the Macy’s Day Parade on the TV downstairs along with parts of the streaming MST3K Marathon, but the latter went mostly unnoticed throughout the afternoon. Hannah learned to be a delightful little hostess serving up ham roll-ups, and she also got play with the fort-making materials she got for her birthday (though they quickly became goofy generic toys instead).

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We spent Friday night the next day at Union Station for their tree-lighting ceremony. There was a decidedly smaller crowd this year since many people were busy watching the Huskers get humiliated by Iowa. That meant no line to see Santa and plenty of time to make cookies and explore the museum. Hannah and Aaron got to run through the train cars and play with a few snowmen, and a capella group called the Bathtub Dogs sang a few Christmas songs before Santa and Mayor Stothert lit the tree around seven o’clock.

We hung around afterward to get our annual Christmas photo taken. We also checked out an exhibit on prohibition, and Hannah and Aaron got to play dress-up with some revolutionary garb before we headed on home.

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On Saturday, I spent the afternoon decking out our house in Christmas lights while the weather was nice and accommodating. Then on Saturday night, Vivian had a “Norwex Party” at our house for some reason. I rescued the kids from that by taking them to downtown Papillion for some of their winter festivities. Mom and dad our friend Phil joined us for hot dogs and chili at the fire station for dinner, and then Phil and I took the kids down to the park, which was dressed in Christmas lights for the season.

They had plenty of festivities for the Winter Wonderland event, which included live music from the Plucking Nuts outside the middle school and some frightening costumed characters wandering about. They also had visits with Santa and Carriage Rides available, but the lines for those were so ridiculously long that we just headed home instead to put the kids to bed and then watch some Mystery Science Theater (Monster a Go-Go — don’t bother, not worth it).

Ten Years of Traditions

It was a whole decade ago, back in 2006, that I first started a humble little blog over on blogspot.com. This was back before the age of social media, so telling friends and family what you were up to was done via blog post back then rather than via status updates. As such, I’d found many of the new friends I’d made swing dancing had blogs of their own, including a lady named Vivian I had been trying to get to know better. So, I signed up to have a blog of my own, and I’ve been updating it regularly ever since, documenting my entire relationship with Vivian in the process.

So, to commemorate these past ten years, here is a list of my top ten favorite traditions that have come about in my life since I started this little blog. Enjoy!

  1. The Applejack Festival: It seems the only time we get down to Nebraska City is when thousands of other people are jamming the roads to watch the parade or buy caramel apples around town during the Applejack Festival. We always start our visit by getting pancakes from the Pancake Man down at the fire house. Then we might check out the used book sale at the library before taking in a parade, sampling apple wine down at the Arbor Day Farm, or picking apples up at Kimmel Orchard. Hannah and Aaron have gone every year of their lives (so far).
  2. Vala’s Pumpkin PatchThe pumpkin patch / amusement park out in Gretna is a tradition for anyone with kids or who are kids at heart. The jumping pillows, go carts, the mechanical dragon, and acres and acres of play areas are a draw for us and lots of other people each year. The price of admission goes up every year, but I have a whole blog entry to help you save money.
  3. Shakespeare on the Green: Nebraska Shakespeare puts on a comedy and tragedy at Elmwood Park every year for free (with donations), so we usually make a day of it coming early to lay down a blanket and then hang out on the green with our friends, a bunch of snacks, and a bottle or two of wine.
  4. Friday Fish Fries during Lent: I have to credit Eric/Onion-Boy with introducing me to the uniquely Midwestern (and Catholic) tradition of standing in line for hours drinking beer and then gorging on fried fish, all inside a church. St. John Vianney has been our Fishy Friday destination for years, not just for the assortment of beige, carb-laden food, but also for the live music, raffles, bake sales, and more. Good times never seemed so good. (So good! So good!)
  5. The Cheese Party / Hors D’oeuvres Party: We hold one of these every year, alternating between the two themes. Vivian and I love food, and having some kind of party / competition with our friends has been a great way to break through the gloomy months of winter, post-Christmas.
  6. Christmas at Union Station: Kicking off the holidays wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Union Station. Vivian and I go with the River City Confectioners to help visitors decorate cookies while Hannah and Aaron see Santa. Then we’ll join the crowd as everyone sings along with a Christmas carol or two before watching the Mayor of Omaha light up the tree.
  7. Concerts at Memorial Park & Loessfest: every year, a couple well-known bands come to give free concerts in the metro area, and I always look forward to seeing who they’ll be. We’ve seen Kenny Loggins, Kool & the Gang, Joan Jett, Eddie Money, ChicagoThree Dog Night, Loverboy, Pat Benatar, Smash Mouth, Uncle Cracker, Sugar Ray, Styx, Foreigner, and even the Beach Boys with John Stamos, and we usually bring the kids along for the ride.
  8. The Sushi Anniversary: When Vivian and I made our dating relationship “official,” it was immediately after a trip to Sakura Bana for sushi with friends on January 26, 2007. Every year, we mark the occasion by having sushi someplace. It’s usually in Omaha, but we once celebrated at the Rio’s seafood buffet in Las Vegas.
  9. First Date Anniversary: Vivian and I went to the (now closed) French Cafe for our first official date (before we made it “official”) back on Dec. 23, 2006. Every year, we mark the occasion with dinner — often in the Old Market — and then a brief walk in the bitter cold to see the Christmas lights at the Gene Leahy Mall. We also buy some Christmas fudge down at the Old Market Candy Shoppe.
  10. Wedding Anniversary and Comic: Every year on July 19, Vivian and I have a tradition of celebrating our anniversary by going someplace (usually with a swimming pool or a water park). Sometimes it’s a trip to Kansas City, a road trip to Mount Rushmore and back, or just a drive across the river to Des Monies. We finish the day with a lobster dinner to commemorate our honeymoon in Bar Harbor, Maine, and I present Vivian with a comic illustration of our year together.

Rapunzel, a Tea Party, and a Christmas Castle Cake

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Winter is nearly here, which means drinking in all the unseasonably warm weather we can before the gray gloom and snow of winter comes bearing down on us. That meant a lunchtime trip or two to the park, where Hannah shared some of the pumpkin bread she made in a tin can at preschool with us. We also dropped by the park by the Keystone Trail where I’d left my car after a tire spontaneously burst in my office, which I wound up having replaced long enough for one or two more rides to the office.

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November also seems to be a popular month for birthdays. Our friend Deena celebrated down at Romeo’s for some reason, so we dropped by with the kids for a few sanchos together.

Our friend Phil also celebrated his birthday down at his house in Papillion, so we joined him and our cluster of mutual friends to celebrate with pork loin spiced up with some of his homemade ghost pepper sauce. Jen’s parents were also there to be loved and abused by the many youngsters running around. Phil was smoking half a hog’s head on his back porch, but we only stayed long enough for cake and never quite got to see what he wound up doing with it.

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The biggest birthday of all, of course, was for Hannah on Tuesday when she turned five years old. I took the day off and spent the morning distracting the kids with grandma as Vivian prepared our house for a cute little tea party. A handful of Hannah’s little friends came over to have cookies and (apple cider) “tea” in the afternoon. Then they got a special surprise visit from Rapunzel, courtesy of Real Omaha Princesses. She had a song, a story, and a game for the kids to play in-between a handful of photos, of course.

Hannah got to open presents after Rapunzel’s visit, and then she got to blow out candles on her Christmas Castle Cake. Yes, Grammy asked Hannah exactly what kind of cake she wanted for her birthday, and her request was about as a five-year-old could get. The resulting cake was amazing inside and out, but it was especially weird to see Hannah and Aaron eat fondant effigies of themselves.

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The next day, Vivian took the kids down to the Children’s Museum to burn off an extended sugar high, and I joined them during an extended lunch break. We call this place the “indoor park,” as our trips to the “outdoor” park will now be sporadic until around springtime.

Next stop: Thanksgiving, and the start of the Christmas season!


Highlights from Hannah’s fifth birthday