Yearly Archives: 2017

2017: Year in Review

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2017 is finally done!
Here’s a quick (OK, long and tedious) recap.

Favorite Foods of 2017

We’re closing out another delicious year, and 2017 was certainly another record year for culinary treats. Here are some of my favorites from the last 12 months before we ring in the New Year.

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1. Valentine’s Day Breakfast.

Vivian got to use her new smoker to serve me up some smoked salmon for a Valentine’s breakfast, served on a bagel broken with cream cheese and broken apart in the shape of a heart. Smokin’!

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2. Bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers.

Yes, I included these last year, but it’s one of the most delicious things you can put on a toothpick. Crispy bacon and a creamy, cheesy, onion soupy filling inside a (seeded) jalapeño pepper. Give me as many as you can — I’ll eat them all!

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3. Easter Breakfast at Twin Valley Church.

Pastor Ryan and our Church Elders were at Twin Valley Church bright and early serving up a wide variety of different breakfast foods for the congregation — eggs, muffins, pancakes, bacon, strawberries, and nearly anything else you can imagine. The best part, however, was being able to have Fellowship together in the morning.

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4. Father’s Day Dinner.

Between Vivian and her mom, they can come up with just about the most delicious meals imaginable. This year for Father’s Day, they made for Jack me a plate of prime rib, scallops, and yucca along with a Crab Louie salad and Donna’s peanut butter chocolate pie for dessert. Rarely has such a delicious meal ever been served anywhere.

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5. Fried Bologna Sandwich.

We took an adventurous trip to Pella, Iowa back in May for Tulip Time, and we brought Hannah and Aaron along for the ride. Along with the parades, windmills, and tulips all around, there was plenty of unique food to be had. The best of which, I decided was the “Pella Bologna,” which we got from the In’t Veld Meat Market on Main Street. We fried up a few slices and put it on a toasted Pretzel Bun along with some mustard for a very delicious sandwich.

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6. Dim Sum at the Park.

Ever since Phil and Jen introduced us to Dim Sum last year, we’ve been having it nearly everywhere. We ate it on Valentine’s Day and for our First Date Anniversary, but I’ve especially grown fond of getting it at Gold Mountain in Aksarben Village, right across the street from Stinson Park, where our kids come to play at lunchtime. There’s nothing quite as nice as having pork dumplings on a lovely, sunny day.

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7. Cast iron skillet breakfast.

Vivian has become very fond of her cast iron skillets, which she particularly enjoyed using when we went camping down by the river in Louisville over Labor Day Weekend. She made some cheesy eggs and sausage with pancakes for everyone our first morning there.

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8. A year’s worth of Arby’s.

Props to Pastor Ryan for letting me know the first 50 people at the remodeled Arby’s in Bellevue got to have free Arby’s for a year. That means 52 Free Meal vouchers with your choice of sandwich. I’ve been able to eat there over a dozen times so far and haven’t had the same sandwich twice. These include the Bourbon Brisket sandwichAngus 3 CheeseCajun “Deep-Fried” Turkey, Smoke Mountain, the Venison sandwich, and the Gobbler.

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9. Big, messy birthday burger from Five Guys.

Vivian and the kids surprised me for my birthday around lunchtime with food from one of my favorite burger restaurants. You may not think it’s much to look at, but it’s delicious (and comes with a ghetto grocery bag full of fries). We ate them all together at the Elmwood Park Grotto.

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10. Vivian’s vegetable medley.

Vivian has been making a unique vegetable medley with summer squash, Brussels sprouts, and a handful of other ingredients inside her cast iron skillet and serving it for meals, side dishes for parties, Thanksgiving and Christmas and just about any other time. It’s worth a mention just because of how much everyone enjoys it, including me (and I didn’t even think I liked Brussels sprouts).

A White Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone! We’ve had a busy holiday weekend here in Omaha, and also a bit of snow to make this Christmas seem just a little more authentic.

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We kicked off our holiday weekend by splurging on some siding repair, banging up my shin slipping on some icy bricks, and then introducing Hannah to some Facebook photo filters. Then on Friday we took a tour through some neighborhoods lit with Christmas lights, which included one attended by Santa himself (who gave candy canes to Hannah and Aaron through our car window).

Then on Saturday night, Vivian and I celebrated our eleventh “first date” anniversary by seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi at the Aksarben Theater and then dining on a massive selection of Dim Sum around the corner at the Gold Mountain restaurant. We wandered downtown to get fudge at the Old Market Candy Shoppe before a quick trip through the icy cold Gene Leahy Mall to see Holiday Island and get our annual picture on the bridge before heading home (where we found someone waited up for us).

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We got a couple inches of snow overnight, which gave us a white Christmas to enjoy after all. I shoveled the driveway and then watched the kids for an hour or two as they played in the new-fallen snow, making a few tiny snowmen and smiley faces out of footprints (for mommy’s amusement). Mostly, though, they just wanted to pelt daddy with snowballs. Even Hannah’s “friend” Layla got dressed up to spend some time with us outside.

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That evening, we had a Christmas Eve dinner of roast beef and potatoes with mushrooms and gravy (and Vivian’s famous veggies) with all four grandparents. Grammy was nice enough to watch the kids as Vivian and I went to a candlelight service at Twin Valley Church.

Then we returned to give Aaron and Hannah their new, matching Elf on a Shelf jammies before reading them the story of Jesus’ birth from Aaron’s new picture book bible, as well as reciting T’was the Night Before Christmas before sending them off to bed. Vivian and I opened our “stocking presents” with Grammy and Pop-Pop afterward and got all the presents arranged underneath our beautifully-lit tree. Then I snapped some lovely photos of the tree and our house lit up with the new-fallen snow outside before going to bed for a long winter’s nap.

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On Christmas morning, Hannah was up bright and early to find her Tinkerbell toy under the tree. Daddy, Aaron, and Grammy and Pop-Pop came shortly thereafter to open presents with the rest of us. Hannah got a new digital camera (which she used to document every moment of the rest of the day), Aaron got a walking, roaring dinosaur, Mommy got a Google Home (from daddy), and daddy got a Pebble smartwatch (from Mommy). Both kids also got an assortment of PJ Masks toys, which they will hopefully be able to share.

Somewhere in-between, I made up some Christmas quiche, which we ate for brunch along with a Strawberry Shortcake for Jesus’ birthday (Hannah blew out the candle).

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That evening, Vivian baked some Johnny Marzetti to my parents’ house for a Christmas Dinner and pumpkin pie with my brother Nathan. We ate and opened presents with my folks, and Hannah got to spend more time getting pictures with her camera.

It was such a full Christmas Day that we didn’t even have time for stockings, so after a long winter’s nap, we took the kids downstairs to open them on Boxing Day Morning in the basement before daddy headed off to work. Then that evening, Grammy and Pop-Pop came back to help Hannah make a fairy house and finish off some leftovers (with shrimp salad).

It’s hard to believe the big day has come and gone already, but we’ll enjoy the soft glow of Christmas for as long as we can (or at least until New Year’s).

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Merry Christmas, everyone!

Christmas Parties, Ringing Bells

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Christmas is on its way, and there are plenty of parties to celebrate before it gets here. First up is the Pope Paul VI Institute Christmas Party (which Vivian and I have attended for the last four years straight). It was held at the Omaha Sheraton, and we got to have dinner with a some of my co-workers. Afterward, Institute Director Dr. Hilgers handed out some years-of-service awards to a handful of employees (including his wife Sue).

Then we played a rousing game of “Family Feud” with Christmas-themed survey questions. Our table managed to get second place and won some cute Christmas headgear. One table decided to cheat by consistently writing the top answers after they were revealed, and fortunately didn’t escape Ann or Donte’s keen eyes.

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My parents both also had birthdays around this time, so we dropped by with the grand-kids to give them a couple presents and some handmade cards. I got a book for my dad, and some new slippers and chocolate for mom. We also got to see our old Family Christmas Tree up once again, adorned with chocolate-bearing reindeer heads, among other things.

In other news, there’s a bright, new Aldi on 72nd Street. It’s designed to look and feel like a regular, high-end grocery store, with wide, open aisles, and even a sample lady with cheese on their opening day. I was one of the first 100 customers, which entitled me to a golden envelope containing a $10 gift card.

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On Saturday night, Jenny and Kody had their annual Christmas Party, this year at their new home way up in Bennington. Cody smoked up some ribs, chicken, and pork loin stuffed with apple chutney, which we ate with Vivian’s roasted vegetables and a bunch of other things (and Irish Cream Trifle for dessert).

We ate downstairs with a bunch of our mutual friends, and then we went upstairs for games afterward. Jenny and Kody had a sinister game consisting of unwrapping a giant ball of prizes wrapped tightly in industrial-strength plastic wrap. It took us about five rotations around the circle before we could rip through them all. I got some AAA batteries, a notepad, and Snickers bars for my effort.

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Then on Sunday night, I took Hannah to see our friends Brandon and Anne perform in the Thanksgiving Lutheran bell choir. They performed about an hour of beautiful Christmas music for us, and then they let some members of the audience come up and try to ring along with a few more songs. I got to try lugging around a giant 15-pound G bell, which isn’t nearly as easy at it looks, and I needed to use both hands just to keep time. They also had a giant buffet of cookies afterward, which was the real reason Hannah tagged along with me, so we stuck around to get sugared up with a few of our friends who came for the performance before calling it a night.

Baby Cakes and Olde Town Christmas

We’ve had a lovely, unseasonably warm start to December this year, with days in the 50s and 60s that made for the perfect time to visit the park at lunch time or to put up some Christmas decorations. I made sure to get the kids out of the house at least for a walk to enjoy the sunshine without a coat before winter actually gets started (which it will).

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On Saturday, Vivian and I threw a dinner party for a few of our mutual friends and mommies to be Tamra and Jen (and also Phil). Vivian made an elaborate chicken dinner, and Donna brought over some lovely baby cake and peanut cookies, as well as a few collections of disposable diapers arranged like little babies wearing sleepers.

We gave away a bunch of Hannah and Aaron’s old baby clothes after dinner, and Phil and I also disassembled our dear old crib so he and Jen could use it for their new baby boy next year. It was a little hard for Vivian and me to part with this piece of furniture where both Hannah and Aaron got to sleep when they came home from the hospital, but it was far past time for Aaron to graduate to a “real,” bed, which he immediately took a liking to.

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On Sunday, Hannah and Aaron played fairies and gave their kitties a weigh in before we headed to church. We skipped potluck so we could have a busy, busy afternoon doing Christmas activities in Bellevue. We stopped first by the library, where they had some snacks and crafts for the little ones. Hannah and Aaron got to make tiny “mouse” ornaments and some Popsicle stick bobsleds.

Then we went to Olde Town, where there was a Living Nativity at he firehouse followed shortly by a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus (arriving by firetruck, of course). There were some other activities at Washington Park, including some live reindeer and a puppet show. Mostly, the kids wanted to play on the slide, the teeter-totter, and the jungle gym — and with the weather warm enough for short sleeves, we couldn’t blame them.

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We were pretty exhausted by the end of the day, but I took Hannah right out again after dinner to see our friends the Mills in the Bellevue Christian Center’s Christmas program. The program was scripted by Ms. Karla who performed an original song for the finale, and it consisted of a myriad of skits put on by the kids at BCC, along with songs in-between them. Lexi, Sammy, and Jake all participated and did a great job. Hannah particularly had fun playing with the “snowballs” that were thrown into the crowd during one of the final songs.

It’s getting colder this week, but that only means Christmas is right around the corner!

Smoked Turkey and Christmas Lights

We just got finished with a fun, filling, and frankly exhausting Thanksgiving Day Weekend, where every one of our four days “off” was filled with activity.

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Thursday was a remarkably warm Thanksgiving Day, so once the Macy’s parade was done, I decided to take the kids for a walk to my parents’ house. Hannah got to try “walking” her new kitty and grandpa got to show us the giant turkey was was busy smoking in the backyard.

All four grandparents eventually joined us for another Thanksgiving Meal under one roof. Dad carved the turkey, and we had a huge assortment of stuffing, potatoes, salad, fruit salad, Jell-O salad and other standard Thanksgiving foods on the side. We even had festive plates (which were easy to clean up) and a lovely centerpiece featuring pumpkins from Vala’s. Top that off with lemon meringue and pumpkin pie and we called it another delicious Thanksgiving for the record books.

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The lovely weather continued on Black Friday, so we took the kids for a walk back to my parents’ house to play a bit in the leaves (and help rake them). Grandpa also told Hannah a story about Tomtens, and Aaron got to try extending his train tracks into the living room. We ate the rest of Hannah’s birthday cake together, and then Hannah got to open a couple late birthday presents for grandma and grandpa and Uncle Jonny — her very first purse and a set of Octonaut Toys, respectively.

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Then that evening, we went down to Union Station for their annual Christmas Tree Lighting. Grammy and her crew were decorating cookies as usual, so Hannah and Aaron got to get sugared up a bit before making a tea light snowman and then exploring the museum a bit. Santa was on hand for pictures and lap-sitting, of course, so we took Hannah and Aaron to see St. Nick while the line wasn’t too long. Then we took them downstairs for their annual run through the trains downstairs. We also got to look at a handful of “ethnic” Christmas trees upstairs, all decorated with ornaments relating to various cultures and countries around the world.

As seven o’clock approached, a high school show choir sang some festive Christmas songs before Mayor Jean, David Mangelsen, and Santa got up to light up this year’s tree. It was topped with a “150” star to commemorate Nebraska’s sesquicentennial, and everyone got to wear special glasses that turned the glare from the lights into tiny candy canes, Santa heads, or elves. We stuck around long enough to play in the confetti a bit and get a few nice pictures in front of the tree, but we eventually made our way back home, thoroughly exhausted.

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The next day, I did a little bit of work on the deck with my dad as the weather was still lovely. Then we took the kids to downtown Papillion to see their “winter wonderland” when the sun went down. They had bonfires with free hot chocolate and s’mores for the kids. There was some live music outside the library after they turned on the Christmas lights on the north lawn. We also got to see a pair of reindeer that were on-hand just for picture-taking (as were a couple Christmas trees).

We dropped by the Papillion Eagle’s Lodge to see Ariel before making our way to the firehouse for cupcakes and cannolis. Then we wrapped things up walking through some more lights and an 1860s farmhouse on our way back to the car. It was a lovely evening, but a little crowded and chaotic as we tried to see everything in the space of a few city blocks (wiping us all out again).

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Then on Sunday, we spent a couple hours having a soup potluck at church and then helping to decorate for Christmas. Vivian made a tasty baked potato soup that nearly put me to sleep before hanging garland on both ends of the sanctuary. The Papsons also got to be a Living Nativity for a few minutes by putting Simon in the manger up front.

Then that afternoon, I continued the Christmas decorating at our own house. I’d put up the lights last week, and now we hauled up the tree and put the snowman out front. We also positioned the laser display Vivian got for Christmas last year to give our house a little sparkly goodness. Most importantly, of course, was that Santasaurus came out of his box, officially ringing in the Christmas season for 2017.

It was a fun, albeit exhausting weekend, and we spent a little time recovering digging into some classic Christmas movies, courtesy of our local library.

Two Birthdays and Johnny Boyd

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We’ve had a fairly busy week getting ready for someone’s six-year birthday party, with Thanksgiving coming not too far behind. That didn’t stop Vivian and me from driving up to the Reverb Lounge in Benson to see one of my favorite swing groups — Johnny Boyd and his band. Indigo Swing was one of the very first swing bands I ever listened to (thanks to Legostar from Comic Genesis), and they’ve even appeared in a couple of my web comics from time to time.

This is the third time I’ve seen them in person (first at Cowtown in 2013 and then at the Reverb a year ago), but it’s still surreal to hear songs I’ve heard for over a decade being sung in person just a few feet away by the man himself (as I’m Lindy Hopping to them). Vivian came along with me and actually got Johnny to play my favorite song by request, How Lucky Can One Guy Be. Jitterbug regulars Dan Wondra, Lisa Barrett, and Sherri Bevins also dropped by, as well as Koterba, who got me to take both as picture of him (and his son) with Johnny and do a quick one-minute interview with him between sets, which you can see on YouTube.

It was a fun, fun night, and it reminded me just how much I love the sound of neo-swing. I bought a CD for Johnny to autograph and have been listening to it in my car during my commute for the last couple days. There’s no antidote to bad traffic like good music!

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On Saturday, we celebrated Hannah’s birthday with a handful of her little friends — Nicholette, Kate’s three girls, and Sammy (along with her brothers, who mostly stayed occupied playing video games downstairs). It was a fairy themed party, so once our guests arrived, they all received their own pairs of wings. They then got to and decorate their own fairy houses with moss, sticks, buttons, and other ornaments. They even got little miniature fairies to live inside the houses.

Donna made an elaborate cake featuring fruit-themed fairies gathered around a cake of our own house outside a giant tree house with Tinkerbell sleeping inside (Zoey the cat also had a cameo). The girls had cake (and played with the fondant fairies) for a bit before Hannah got to open her presents. It was a fun little party, but the clear highlight was the cake, which Hannah played with all week after the party was over.

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Of course, we had another birthday party to attend before the day was over. Our mutual friend Phil was turning 40, so we dropped by his place to stuff ourselves with a variety of pork products and blueberry cupcakes (blue also indicating the gender of Phil’s new baby, as we learned later). I got Phil a pack of seasonal hot sauces from Volcanic Peppers in Bellevue (which Phil was familiar with, of course) along with a card featuring himself as a bottle of “I’ve Had My Phil” hot sauce. Kate brought her girls along to the party, so Hannah got extra playtime with them before we called it a night.

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On Sunday, we brought a shoe box filled with toys and school items for Operation Christmas Child, which Lynne had blessed before the service. After church, we dropped by a new Bánh mì sandwich shop in Bellevue to grab some lunch on the way home.

Then in the afternoon, our kids got to play in leaves for a couple hours in the afternoon. We raked them up first before letting them dive into the leaves and throw them at each other for a while. I got to put up the Christmas lights as well, but Vivian had expressly forbidden me to turn them on until after Thanksgiving.

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Hannah’s actual birthday came on Wednesday, and mommy took her for some quality time at her favorite restaurant play place. That evening, we had a low-key celebration with Grammy and Pop-Pop. We had some lasagna for dinner, and then we had some more birthday cake, which Hannah helped to decorate. Hannah also got to open some more presents, which included some more kitties and a light-up moon for her room.

Next stop: Thanksgiving!

Saving the Daylight

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It’s been a remarkably quiet couple of weeks at the Johnson House. The day after Halloween, we celebrated five years of Chick-Fil-A with the kids (as if we needed an excuse to eat more chicken) and got free sandwiches for helping with their canned food drive. The sun set on Daylight Saving Time a few days later, which we celebrated with a potluck at church and one last afternoon walk-walk to my parents’ house before it starts getting dark at five o’clock. I’ve been taking advantage of the time change by getting up early to have coffee with Vivian and breakfast at McDonald’s with my dad and Pastor Ryan.

It’s still warm enough to take the kids down to the park to play and have dim sum for lunch every now and then. Grammy came by one Saturday to have pumpkin pecan pancakes with us and then give Hannah and me a couple haircuts. Vivian even took the shears to Grammy for a bit to even out the back of her head where it’s hard to reach. In other news, Hannah found her lost kitty Zoey in the back of our closet, so now she has two of them somehow.

The holiday season is about ready to kick off, but first we’ve got a date with Johnny Boyd and a birthday for Hannah to look forward to. More on that in the next update.

This is Halloween!

At some point, Halloween became a multi-week holiday season all on its own. I don’t mind of course — it means we get more use out of our costumes, and a whole lot more candy to boot!

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We kicked off the spooky fun last Sunday, when we took Hannah and Aaron for some trick-or-treating at First Presbyterian Church in Bellevue. There were plenty of tables set up with candy for the kids, and there were a handful of carnival-style games in the rec room for Hannah and Aaron to play. There was one “spooky room” with some dangling spiders and ghosts that mostly amused Hannah. Nicholette’s little brother, who could pass for Aaron’s twin under normal circumstances, also came in an identical Green Gecko outfit, which was even more hilarious.

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Then on Friday, Vivian and I dressed up as the Loan Arranger and a 404 Error and took a long-overdue trip to the Eagle’s Lodge — where we hadn’t gone swing dancing together since last Halloween. Nate and Lexi came as well (dressed as old-timey gangsters), and we saw a handful of familiar faces throughout the night. We did a handful of group dances, including the (Monster) Mashed Potato, a shim sham, and Thriller, led by Takashi, of course. There was a costume contest with prized for both most creative and most authentic. The “eclipse” couple were the clear crowd favorite, but my personal favorite was the guy who came as “Billy,” which made some plenty of hilarious pictures once I put the two of them together.

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On Saturday night, Jenny and Kody hosted their annual Costume Party, once again at Dean and Sarah’s (new) house in West Omaha. We whipped up some brooms brought along both our kids for the first time, who had fun running around with Delana and a few of the other little ones who came along. All our usual friends were there, including Phil and Jen, Jon Paper, Aunt Jessica, Anne and Brandon, Heather and Shane, Libby and Ole, the Hoffmans, Tamra and Ryan, Katie and Li Ya and several others. We had several group dances throughout the night, including another round of Thriller led again by Takashi (and this time I got Libby to take some photos). Matthew’s Star Lord mask got some extra use by Jon and me, and I got one big group picture of everyone toward the end of the night before we headed home, exhausted.

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The on Sunday, several businesses in Olde Town Bellevue held their own trick-or-treating event. The weather was an irresistible 60 degrees through most of the afternoon, so we took the kids down to get even more candy from the collection of cute little shops downtown. We saw lots of familiar faces down there, including Rutiger the Magician and Mrs. B from the library. An odd-looking group of Jellyfish also made an appearance walking down Mission Avenue together. The best costume of the night by far, however, was a girl dressed in an Owlette costume, which made for a perfect picture with our Cat Boy and Gecko in the bounce house together!

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By the time Halloween Night finally rolled around, it felt like we’d been trick-or-treating all month! It was also nearly freezing with legit snowflakes coming down, so we spent just a few minutes trick-or-treating around our neighborhood, visiting Grandma and Grandpa’s house first, of course.

Then we retreated to the Heritage Ridge assisted living facility on Fort Crook and Hwy. 370 to trick or treat with some of the seniors there, where it was much, much warmer. Grammy and Pop-Pop held down the fort with their assortment of Pumpkin Ghouls to hand out treats and keep an eye out for tricksters, such as the guy who nailed some essay to a cathedral half a century ago.

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Happy Halloween!

Autumn in bloom and Bob Krist

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for the Johnson Family, much of it spent on Halloween activities, which has somehow turned into a multi-week holiday season all on its own. More on that in the next update.

23951157048_b89e9551cb_oWe’ve been enjoying as much of the fall colors as possible while the leaves are still on the trees. I went to the park with the kids one late afternoon just to see them in their golden splendor and get a few family pictures underneath the trees’ flaming foliage along the Keystone Trail.

In preparation for winter, I bought an air compressor to blow out our sprinkler system and then took a few plants inside for the winter. I also gave my parents’ lawn one last mow and celebrated with some pizza after a wagon ride to their house with the kids. Fall seems to be inspiring lots of different culinary dishes, which Aldi seems to have in spades.

IMG_5367In political news, I went to a small meet-and-greet with 2018 Gubernatorial Candidate Bob Krist, who’s been (literally) flying around the state campaigning. He’s a former state senator — and former Republican — currently running for governor on a yet-to-be-named third party ticket. It was an extremely small gathering with fewer than ten attendees who weren’t media or with the campaign, and there seemed to be a mix of both democrats and republicans who’d shown up to meet Bob, the one common denominator being they all lived in his voting district.

I got to ask him a few questions about why he was running and his opinion on topics such as school choice, but he didn’t give a stump speech and didn’t seem to have a concrete platform other than “being bipartisan,” which seemed fairly unclear to me. I’ll probably still vote for current governor, who I’ve rubbed elbows with on more than one occasion, but I always appreciate hearing other points of view.