Monthly Archives: September 2017

Birthday Fun, Food, and Fire

Vivian turned a year older this week, and that means we celebrated in the only way we know how — with lots of fun, food, and FIRE!


The fun started on Friday night, when Vivian and I went up to “El Corn” to see Christian comedians John Crist and Jonnie W at Bethany Lutheran Church. It was a hilarious show and proved to me that comedy that’s “clean” can wind up being even funnier (and edgier) than “blue” comedy. Vivian and I were both familiar with Crist’s work online poking fun at Christian music, Christian stereotypes, and Millennials. Jonnie W was just as funny, working a bit of guitar into his act and reminding me of Tim Hawkins, who he and Crist both performed with in the past.

What I liked best was how both comedians stuck around afterward to meet-and-greet fans, signing autographs and taking pictures. I bought a DVD from each of their merch tables just for that.


Then on Saturday, Vivian and I went out to Sakura Hibachi and Sushi in Council Bluffs for dinner with a handful of our friends. We got some sushi and tempura before watching watch Chef Herman serve up some calamari, steak, and other meat and veggies for us with his usual flamboyant show. There was egg-tossing, an onion volcano, and even a bit of sake squirted around the table. Vivian also got to put on a chef’s hat for a moment to throw an egg on the floor before dinner was served.

Afterward, we returned to our place to fire up our fire pit in the driveway for a bunch more of our friends who came to share in its happy glow. We didn’t bring out the s’mores, but we did have plenty of chocolate cake, courtesy of Donna. Even Hannah got to stay up a bit and get in some fire time before bed. It was a lovely evening, and we’ll have to break out the fire pit again sometime when it gets even colder.


On Vivian’s actual birthday, I took her out to lunch at Umami, a hot new sushi place on Galvin Street (inside what had previously been an unloved former KFC). It made headlines as the “pet project” of Chef Keen Zheng, a sushi chef from Manhattan who was convinced by some local friends to bring the “New York City” sushi experience to Omaha.

Vivian and I got a handful of tasty specialty rolls along with some tempura, all of which was delicious. I particularly liked the Manhattan Roll and the Naruto Yellowtail, which used thinly-sliced cucumber instead of rice or seaweed. Even the wasabi seemed uniquely special, creamer and milder than the stuff found nearly everywhere else. The staff brought out some bananas tempura and sang “happy birthday” to finish off our special birthday lunch together.


Then that evening, Jack and Donna came by to make Vivian a special dinner of breaded pork chops, potatoes, and biscuits. The kids also got to decorate a chocolate mint birthday cake, and they even adorned it with candles for mommy to blow out after dinner. Vivian got to open a few presents, including a plush cockatiel, a t-shirt, and a few new books.

Then Grammy and Pop-Pop put the kids to bed as Vivian and I went off to see Wonder Woman at the Westwood 8. It was a “private screening,” since we were the only ones in the theater when it started. The movie itself was very good, and even though it came out on DVD this week, there’s nothing quite like seeing it on the big screen. It’s particularly nice that we still have a “dollar” theater showing blockbuster films from a few months ago when the current movie selection in autumn is usually downright horrible (the old-school sci-fi lights and even the decorative theater doors were fun as well).

In other news, my dad had his 50th high school reunion and returned to Woodland, California to catch up with his old high school buddies. Sammy also had a birthday of her own, celebrating with a bead party and flowery cupcakes from Donna. In the meantime, I’m happier than ever to be growing old with my lovely wife. Happy birthday, Vivian!

Applejack and MemberFest

It’s officially fall again. The kids are back in school, and mom and dad are starting Bible Study Fellowship once again (as they go through the book of Romans). I’m just trying to catch my breath so this week, that meant Sushi. We’ve had a bunch of visits from migrating butterflies, and Hannah also got a cute new haircut.


Meanwhile, we took the kids down to Nebraska City for our annual apple-picking trip. We started things off with pancakes at the firehouse served up by the Pancake Man (and Mrs. Nebraska). This was Hannah’s sixth consecutive Pancake Breakfast in Nebraska City, and we won’t be breaking tradition anytime soon. Daddy also got an Applejack T-Shirt in time for a family picture, and we bumped into a few of our friends as we looked at the fire trucks on our way out the door.


We walked down to the library to get some new books and let the kids play with a bunch of blocks at their Block Party exhibit. We were able to wait out a few passing showers inside, and they had all passed by the time we left (though plenty of puddles were left behind to splash in).

We went up to Kimmel Orchard next, getting some ice cream and looking at a few bees before taking the hayrack up to the orchard. The kids excitedly picked enough apples to fill two bags (pecks?) before we headed back. There were plenty of other activities at the Education Center, such as a large checkerboard and a table to make paper plate masks. Bruce Arant, author of Simpson’s Sheep Won’t Go to Sleep! was on hand signing books (including one for our friend Lexi). There was also a large playground area under construction that we’ll probably have to check out next year. We headed home tired enough to do nothing for the rest of the day (though I did pop open a glass of apple cider wine before bedtime).


We had an extra bit of sun on Sunday afternoon taking the kids down to Metro Credit Union’s annual “Memberfest” event on Saddle Creek Road. We got some hot dogs for lunch and then the kids got to bounce in the bounce house and ride a few ponies. Hannah also got to go up an inflatable obstacle course / slide, though she wound up waiting in line a while as the other kids didn’t scale the thing quite as nimbly as she did. The weather was nice and cool for it well before heating up again later in the week.

Things are still busy at work and home, but we still squeezed in some park time as well. (And Dim Sum.)

Balloons, Arby’s, and a Firepit

Hello, autumn! Aaron is now in preschool, and Hannah is starting her first year of homeschool Kindergarten. Even so, we still have time for a trip to the park every now and again, and that also means Dim Sum for lunch.


On Friday night, we headed down to Ditmar’s Orchard for new autumnal tradition — watching balloons at their Fields of Flight event. Hannah and Aaron got to play on the playground for a bit before the handful of balloons inflated and took off. Local band “Clean and Easy” played some songs as the sun went down, and we had some apples, donuts, and cider for dinner as the balloons came back to glow. They opened the barricade and let everyone some and get a close-up look at the balloons as they fired away, which was especially fun. Jon Paper watched with us, as did Aunt Jessica and Kate’s three girls, who kept Hannah and Aaron company.


Vivian had a retreat with some of her female friends over the weekend, which gave me plenty of quality daddy time with Hannah and Aaron. We spent Saturday Morning crashing at the local Arby’s, which had some kind of grand re-opening where the first 50 customers got free Arby’s for a year. That’s right — 52 meal coupons for everyone who dropped by to get a combo meal, and I was one of them. There were surprisingly few people there to take Arby’s up on the offer when I arrived around 8:30. I called my dad to let him know, and his reaction was, “I don’t know…Arby’s?” Pastor Ryan spread the word and brought a card table to play games with others as we waited for the doors to open. Chloe also tried teaching Hannah to play SkipBo, but she wasn’t that interested. The doors opened before long, and we all got our coupon books along with Roast Beef sandwiches for everybody. Not sure if anyone has survived eating Arby’s for a year. I guess we’re about to find out!

That evening, I went to mow my parents’ lawn, and then dad broke out the fire pit for us to make some s’mores once the sun went down. Uncle Nathan even dropped by to roast some marshmallows with us before we headed home. The next morning, the kids and I attended Thanksgiving Lutheran Church with my parents. This included donuts afterward, which the kids seemed to appreciate. It was also grandparents day, so it felt appropriate to celebrate a bit with Grandma and Grandpa Johnson to finish off the weekend.

Camping in Louisville

Labor Day Weekend brought us some reasonably nice weather to finish off the summer, and the Johnson Family got to spend it camping just a few miles down the road in Louisville with our friends, the Mills. We arrived right around sunset (a gorgeous red one, in fact) on Friday night to set up our tent before it got completely dark. The whole campground was booked for the weekend, but our part of the park was still relatively empty. We got to see (and hear) some Spooky Owls after the sun went down, and then Vivian grilled up some burgers and some potato casserole before we started getting set for bed.

(For anyone planning to camp overnight in Louisville, be prepared for an endless series of trains to keep you company with their whistles all…night…long…)


The next morning, the kids had some fun playing in our tents as Lexi scrambled some eggs for breakfast along with bacon from the Mills’ own pig. I took Hannah and Sammy on a nature walk, observing bugs, spider webs, and floating leaves along the trail, as well as a clearing with fallen logs that Hannah dubbed her “playground.”

In the meantime, Nate took the rest of the kids down to the actual playground in the park for some quality time on the swings and slide. There was a pretty lake there was well, and our kids got to run around a little too close to the shore to observe a stray fishing pole that had been left there. We got to see a bit more wildlife back at the campsite, specifically a furry caterpillar that got to climb on Hannah and Sammy, as well as a cicada that somehow claimed Jake as a friend.


Before lunchtime, Lexi got a hammock as a birthday present and got to try it out (along with the kids, of course). Then we took a trip down the street to Platte River State Park to climb their lookout tower. It took about five stories and gave us a clear view of the Platte River. We could see several people tubing down the river and riding noisily up both directions on fan boats. Hannah and Sammy were both terrified of the high tower but both bravely made it all the way to the top (as did Aaron).


It was still a relatively warm day (in the upper 80s), so we headed down to the Lake for a couple hours to cool off in the afternoon. The littler kids spent most of their time playing in the sand along the shoreline, while Jake and Sammy continually tried to drown one another farther out in to the lake. This was also Baby Gabriel’s first time in a lake, so he got to get his feet wet along with his folks. Jake found a sandy toad before we headed back to the campsite, adding to the list of wildlife our kids have been able to touch and hold over the weekend.


Saturday was Lexi’s birthday, so Vivian brought a chocolate cake for the kids to discreetly decorate (at someone else’s vacant campsite) for their mom before presenting it to her back at the campsite. The Mills put together a dinner of bruschetta chicken, cherry chocolate cobbler, and corn on the cob, and I took the kids on another nature walk, where they found a seemingly endless supply of snails (and mushrooms) to take back to the campsite with them. I’d never seen this many snails in Nebraska before. Maybe next time we can bring some butter and make escargot.
The sun set and then the moon came out among some spooky clouds, so I told the kids a goofy ghost story around the campfire before putting them to bed. Then the grown-ups to to spend a little more time roasting some s’mores around the fire with some giant marshmallows I’d brought along from Aldi.


The next morning, Vivian made some breakfast casserole and pancakes for everyone (along with some s’mores for the kids) before it was time to start tearing down the campsite. I got all six kids out of the way by taking them on a long, extended walk through the forest for an hour or two (including Gabe). I got a couple cute group pictures of course, and we walked together a mile or two along the trail, getting a good look at the view of the river before heading back to camp.
It was an exhausting trip, and it felt good to return home and have a shower and sleep in our actual beds that evening, but we still had a lot of fun. Donna was also nice enough to come by the house and bring us some KFC for dinner before we got back.


Of course, there was still Labor Day as well. Wildfires off in Montana turned our sky yellow and smoky for most of the day (with an eerie pink sun peeking its way through). Vivian took Aaron to the store to get him a new backpack for his first day of preschool on Tuesday, but we otherwise spent our entire day relaxing.

Then we dropped by my parents’ house for a Labor Day cookout with all four grandparents. My dad smoked ribs along with some burgers and hot dogs (and one lone chicken breast), and Jack and I brought some beans and potato salad respectively to complete the meal, and Donna brought some banana split cobbler for dessert.

In all, it was a lovely three-day weekend, and a nice way to kick off another busy season of fall fun, which is just now getting started!

Happy Trails!

Turning 39

I turned a year older over the weekend, turning Jack Benny’s Age in the only way I know: with plenty of friends, family, food, and fun.


My actual Birthday Party happened a few days early on Friday night with a handful of friends at our house. I’d had the weird idea of having a Tomato Party a few weeks earlier — asking guests to bring their favorite tomato-based dishes, mixing up Bloody Mary cocktails, and then watching Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.

Our friends didn’t disappoint, of course, particularly Phil and Jen, who brought such unique things as sun-dried tomato sushi, tapenade, and eggplant parmesan, among other things. Donna also made the most frightening cake I’d ever seen (it was also made with tomato soup). The movie itself wasn’t even as bad as I’d remembered. It had a cheesy self-awareness that reminded me very much of the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker films that would follow in its wake.


On Saturday, our friends Libby and Ole (finally) tied the knot. The ceremony was held at Calvary Lutheran Church, and we brought Hannah along as Brandon recorded and I snapped pictures. We showered the couple with poppers on their way out of the church, and then we headed down the street to The Fountains West for the reception. In lieu of a wedding cake, the happy couple had cinnamon rolls. The wedding party made their grand entrance before dinner started, and I had a nice, long photo shoot with Hannah outside as everyone got served. It took quite a while, and when it was finally our turn, the catering staff had completely run out of meat (both chicken and roast beef).

After dinner, the buffet was cleared away for the couple to have their first dance along with their dad (and Ole’s sponsor). Then, the single ladies got to line up to catch the bouquet, and the single guys lined up to take swings at a pinata before eventually turning the stick over to Ole to break the thing apart. The floor was opened up for more dancing afterward, with most of our friends getting crazy with a couple dozens others on the narrow strip of dance floor in the middle of the hall. I even got to dance ab it with Hannah and Vivian before we called it a night.


Then on Sunday night, we decided to drop by Thanksgiving Lutheran Church for their tailgate party outreach event. There was inflatable castle and obstacle course of the kids to play on after we fueled up with some brats and pulled pork sandwiches for dinner. A couple hundred people showed up, including many familiar faces, including my parents’. It was a fun evening, and it made me want to come back and visit the church myself in a week or two on Sunday morning.


Then on Tuesday came by actual birthday. Vivian made some scones for breakfast, and then brought me a cake she’d made with the kids around lunchtime. She also got some burgers from Five Guys, and we went to Elmwood Park to eat in their pretty little Grotto. The park itself is over a hundred years old, so we had some fun walking around some of the old trails before letting the kids play for a bit on the newer playground area (which included exercise equipment for the grownups).

Then that evening, my parents took us out to Marks, a hip “wine bistro” in Benson that included menu items like a Portobello Sandwich and Tacos with Sambal chili aioli, mango, and feta cheese. We headed down to Ted and Wally’s afterward to get some obligatory free birthday ice cream before calling it a night.

It was a lovely birthday weekend. Now, we have to get back to the crazy-busy month of September, which will include camping over Labor Day and school for both Hannah and Aaron for the first time.