- In January, Zoey Happy Johnson became a member of our family. We joined the Kroc Center, had an hors d’eourve party, and celebrated another sushi anniversary. We also had some pizza in Lincoln, and Matt met Ann McElhinney and various politicians at the Walk for Life. There was also Star Wars at the Children’s Museum, and then we barely saw a lunar eclipse.
- In February, we saw Ben Shapiro speak at Creighton University. There was a Super Bowl and some sledding. We celebrated Valentine’s Day, a 40th anniversary with Grammy and Pop-Pop, and birthdays for Kate’s girls and also Gabriel. I also attended a Free Speech event and drove a Dodge Challenger for a week.
- In March, I rubbed elbows with Don Bacon, a few of his friends, and the Vice President of the United States. We attended a St. Patty’s Parade and had a Rock ’em Sock ’em birthday with Uncle Jonny. We had fish fries at St. John Vianney and at home, Jessica had a chili cook-off, and Phil and Jen had a baby. We also went to the Fairy Fair, and I started reading 12 Rules for Life.
- In April, we had Easter on the First (no fooling). Vivian had her first (obstacle course) 5K, and I got to meet the Mads again. I also rubbed elbows with Republicans at the county convention, and I also got to meet Charlie Kirk. Jen had a General Tso’s for her birthday, and Hannah finished her first year of Classical Conversations. Winter also refused to end.
- In May, August and Ben had birthdays. I got to meet Reb Brown, watch a debate, and attend a victory party for Deb Fischer. We visited Lauritzen Gardens, and I made burgers, crab dip, and cake for Mother’s Day. We few kites with the family, played in mud, and lit a fire in our driveway. Hannah and Aaron graduated from Daisies and Rainbows. We also went to the SumTur, saw Frankie Valli at Loessfest (followed by a concert and fireworks), and had a Memorial Day Feast. Hannah also lost some teeth.
- In June, we said goodbye to the Kuehmichels, Aaron played tee-ball, and we ate more sushi. Aaron turned four at the splash pad, and we celebrated Father’s Day with steak, Golden Corral, and some old photos. We had water balloons at Lindy in the Park, and then I got to meet Starship at Memorial Park!
- In July, we saw Much Ado About Nothing and King John at Shakespeare on the Green. There were fireworks at Jon’s house, a breakfast with some politicians, and a parade with friends for Fourth of July. Vivian did the Color Run, the kids did VBS and a cake show, and Grammy had a birthday with Paella. Vivian and I also celebrated ten years of marriage with Schlitterbahn, lobster, and barbecue in Kansas City (also a drone).
- In August, I went over-the-hill (literally) and celebrated my 40th birthday with steak, pancakes, a distillery tour, and a picnic party at Elmwood Park. We kept cool at Louisville Lake, the Stinson Park fountains, the all-play splash pad, and our backyard pool. We saw some planes at the Offutt Air Show, and I saw political tour buses for Brett Kavanaugh and Tax Cuts. We had a night of hot dogs, balloons, and face-painting at B&B, we took in one last movie at the SumTur, and we had some swing dancing with the Gooch (followed by Fazoli’s). The kids also headed back to school.
- In September, I went to Memorial Stadium to see my very first Husker Game with Vivian (followed by Pho and a flat tire). We picked apples in Nebraska City, got pumpkins at Gifford Farm, and saw some balloons at Ditmar’s. Vivian had a birthday with beautiful weather, lasagna, and calamari steak. I also had lunch with Deb Fischer (and Hal Daub and Mike Foley), a pool party with Don Bacon and Pete Ricketts, and a steak fry with Pete (and his dad) governors from Indiana, Iowa, and Texas.
- In October, we had a chilly camping trip to Fremont Lakes with the Mills and all our kids. Vivian went on a Bubble Run and attending a (rainy) Trump rally for the first time with me. We had beautiful fall weather (along with a freak snow) and roasted s’mores and hot dogs with a fire pit or two. The kids trick-or-treated at First Presbyterian and around the neighborhood, and I wore two costumes for Halloween parties with the Jitterbugs and Jenny. I also took the family to Vala’s for our annual visit and had dinner with Pete and Don ahead of the election (along with a New York Times reporter).
- In November, I hung out with Ben Sasse and a few other congressmen, and then I spent election night with Pete Ricketts and his gang. Hannah turned seven with a kitty party and continued celebrating through Thanksgiving. Then we kicked off the Christmas season with tree lighting ceremonies at the Gene Leahy Mall and Union Station, and Turning Point brought their first speakers to UN-O.
- In December, we celebrated Christmas with a murder mystery, a Christmas light driving tour, a Christmas program with Hannah, and parties with Jenny and my workplace. My parents celebrated their birthdays with seafood, I said goodbye to the Bush Train, and I watched a debate with Kara Eastman and Scott Voorhees (among others). Vivian and I had a first date anniversary, we celebrated Christmas with both sets of grandparents, and then we rang in the new year with cards and cheese fondue.
Yearly Archives: 2018
Favorite Foods of 2018
As my bathroom scale can attest, I love food — often to a fault. Food isn’t just a means of sustenance — it’s an every day celebration of cultures and flavors and pairs deliciously with friends and family and many happy occasions we celebrate throughout the year. In 2018, I picked ten special dishes to highlight memorable moments of eating throughout the year. If you’re not hungry now, you will be at the end of this list.
I recently learned how to make ceviche with a simple recipe involving freshly-squeezed lime juice and a white fish (usually tilapia). It was particularly easy to make but also very, very tasty. I put a bowl of this together for Cinco de Mayo last year and could have easily eaten the whole bowl myself. I never thought I could find something tastier than sushi that I could do with fish without cooking it with heat, but I was wrong — ceviche wins every time.
9. Ice cream layer cake
This was a fun treat for Father’s Day — a frozen chocolate cake with layers of ice cream woven in-between. This cake was particularly special because my kids helped to make it! I also regretted not taking a better picture of it — I actually put my “good” camera aside so I could enjoy most of Father’s Day without worrying about the pictures, but somehow I missed getting better documentation of this fun little dessert.
8. Super Bowl Food
In our house, the Super Bowl isn’t about the game. It isn’t even about the funny, memorable commercials. It’s always about the food — and nothing but the food. Nachos with gooey cheese and buffalo wings with blue cheese on the side especially make this day something to look forward to.
I also have a tradition of getting Hannah to pick the winning team, and so far she’s been four-for-four. I don’t know if she’ll pull it off again, but I know one thing — our whole family will be well-fed (and our stomach lining will be regretting it for days).
7. Garden Bruschetta
In my opinion, the whole purpose of having a garden in your backyard is to grow your own tomatoes — those ripe, succulent fruits with flavor you can’t buy in any grocery store. And one of my most favorite things you can do with tomatoes is turn them into bruschetta — with basil from out own garden as well along with fresh-chopped garlic and olive oil served in a toasted baguette. Sprinkle some shredded Parmesan on top and you have the best appetizer you can put in your mouth. There has never been an occasion where we’ve had any of this left over.
6. Chocolate liqueur cake
For Mother’s Day, I found a recipe for a chocolate liqueur cake online and decided to roll up my sleeve and try making it myself. It wasn’t terribly difficult, much to my relief. It came out moist and delicious, with quite a bit of the actual liqueur flavor coming through even after baking. I was particularly proud of this one.
5. Tiny cheeseburger from Golden Corral
I came upon this inexplicable morsel on Father’s Day. My dad wanted to go out to breakfast with my brothers for a morning full of fat, sodium, and calories down at the Golden Corral. The food was greasy and mediocre, but on the way out they started to bring out the lunch items, and this was one of them. I had just enough room to pop one of these teeny, tiny cheeseburgers in my mouth on my way out the door, and my goodness, it was delicious. The burger tasted flame-broiled, the bun seemed to be buttery and toasted, and the pickle just seemed to bring it all together in cheeseburgery goodness. It was by far better than anything else on the buffet, and I only wish we’d come for lunch instead.
4. Pete Ricketts’ steak fry steak
On a rainy September day, my dad and I headed up to Fort Calhoun for a steak fry with the Governor. I’d wanted to go mostly to rub elbows with four different governors and a handful of other VIPs in attendance (including patriarch of the Ricketts family, Joe Ricketts).
What I didn’t expect was that the steak at this fairly modest shin-dig would be really, really good. I couldn’t identify which part of the cow the steak came from, but it had been slow-smoked by the All-American Beef Battalion and seasoned with Walton’s out of Wichita. And it was darn good steak, too — far more tender than the cut would suggest.
Some of my favorite foods have more to do with the memories behind them than the food itself. After a fun night of dancing with some Jitterbug friends, I suggested we get something to eat at a nice Italian restaurant around the corner. Unfortunately, they were either too busy, too understaffed, or too indifferent to serve us anything. After half an hour of waiting, we hadn’t even gotten someone to take our order, and even the drink I’d ordered at the bar hadn’t made its way to our table. I wasn’t terribly eager to pay $20+ for a plate of spaghetti, so I suggested we bail and wound up going to Fazoli’s instead.
Wow, what a difference. The food probably wasn’t the same “quality,” but we got it right away, paid a fraction of the price, and had unlimited bread sticks to boot. And believe me, after all that waiting, we were absolutely starving, and the pile of noodles with red and white sauce you see above was absolutely delicious. Naturally, the company of good friends made it even better.
2. Rib Eye Steak with Mushrooms
No steak in the world (or Omaha) beats Vivian’s steak. She sautéed it in butter with her cast-iron skillet and served it up with fried mushrooms and garlic cloves, which go well either atop of the steak or on a baked potato (or both). Whenever Aldi has a deal on rib-eye, I make sure to pick up a bunch — both to cook right away and to freeze for later. This is my favorite dinner item any night of the week.
1. Jack Stack “Mom’s Carrot Cake”
Kansas City may be known for Jazz and Barbecue, but Jack Stack will always be known for the warm, gooey ecstasy that is its carrot cake. Vivian and Jenny discovered it by accident when a waiter found himself with one extra cake and decided to give it to them for free — and they’ve have been clamoring about it ever since. Mention “Jack Stack,” and they won’t talk about the burnt ends or the ribs — they’ll mention the carrot cake every single time.
Seriously. It’s served piping hot with cream cheese frosting melted on top, and you will savor every freaking bite. At the end, you’ll wonder why you bothered eating anything else that day when you could have just had this.
Merry Christmas, 2018!
Merry Christmas, everyone! The Johnson had a lovely yuletide with the family, celebrating with presents and eating way too much food, per the norm (including tamales, Nachos Navidad, and the occasional graham cracker gingerbread house).
We kicked things off on Friday the 21st by driving around town and looking at Christmas lights on display. Wood River Drive had a lovely display that featured Santa handing candy canes out to those of us driving past. We went by Linden Estates up north as well, and Hannah and I dodged traffic and tour buses to get a close-up look at the glowing trees on Nicholas Drive. We swung by Aksarben Village to see the Stinson Park spire lit like a Christmas tree and then headed north to Memorial Park, lit up in red, white, and blue splendor. We finished off the night with the most elaborate display in town, which was ironically a few blocks from our house. Every year this thing seems to get bigger — I suspect the owners add a new bit ever season.
I burned CD with a custom mix of traditional Christmas songs to keep us in the spirit all on our drive, which was a welcome change from the local “Christmas station” that plays mostly ads in-between non-stop loops of “Last Christmas,” “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime,” and other horrible ear worms from Michael Buble and Mariah Carey.
Then on Sunday, Vivian and I celebrated our twelfth first date anniversary in downtown Omaha. We had plans for the night other than dinner, so we wandered through the near-frozen waterfront by the Gene Leahy Mall one more time and wandered by our favorite candy shoppe, where the candy man was busy making a chocolate cabin, among other things. We got our usual batch of Christmas fudge before heading back to have dinner at a lovely new Indian place we stumbled upon named Shahi (in what use to be in the O Lounge). Vivian and I stuffed ourselves with a dinner for two, which included a handful of appetizers, lamb curry and chicken tikka masala over rice and garlic naan bread, some tea for each of us as well as dessert (which we didn’t have room for).
We took one last walk down to our favorite bench just t say goodbye, as the city plans to destroy this lovely little spot in town and remodel it for a couple years. I for one will certainly miss it.
I took a half-day on Monday and then went with Vivian and the kids to the four o’clock Christmas Eve service at Wildewood (dressed in our Christmas finery). I was somewhat surprised to find the place packed wall-to-wall, with only a handful of seats available and ushers hauling out rows of folding chairs for the near overflow crowd. A string quartet from the Omaha Symphony played music up front as the Pastor led everyone in a series of scripture readings, songs, and a skit revolving around Away in a Manger. We also had the obligatory candlelit singing of Silent Night (with glow sticks for the kids). Afterward, we were invited to put prayer requests on the “western wall,” as well as sending selfies to people we cared about. It was a nice little service, but if we return next year, we’ll have to try to come earlier (even though we won’t).
Back at the house, Jack and Donna came by to prepare a roast beef and potatoes for a Christmas Eve Dinner. After dinner, we introduced the kids to some Christmas Crackers, which they had fun pulling on to open with us but were somewhat underwhelmed at the prizes inside, which included a luggage tag, a tape measure, and a tiny picture frame, among other things. We settled the kids down for a long winter’s nap in their new Christmas jammies before hauling out a truckload of gifts from the car to start arranging underneath the tree. We basked in the tree’s glow for a little while afterward and had some candy cane pie from Village Inn, which Jack had apparently been saving for weeks.
There was certainly something magical in the air this Christmas Eve. I was actually so impressed with the full moon when I took out the garbage that I let loose with a jolly “Ho ho ho” as loud as anything that might come from Saint Nick. Little did I know, however, that Hannah was still awake in her bed and bolted out of there in shock at having actually heard Santa Claus.
Hannah, of course, could barely contain her excitement as Christmas morning approached and actually got up to peek in a few stockings (one for her doll) and set out her toys to watch the tree. Vivian and I eventually got up a little after six to have coffee and then have Hannah hand out the presets as we slowly set about opening gifts. Hannah got some toys based on characters from a few of her favorite shows, and Aaron got a plush Kirby, a new sled, and a comfy new sweater. Both kids also got a pair of plush sleeping bags for sleepovers, the first of which they got to have in our living room at the end of Christmas Day. I got some new cargo shorts, a fidget spinner, and an ice bucket, among many other things, and Vivian got a giant Bible timeline, which well have to figure out where to put someday.
Sometime mid-morning, I popped some quiche and banana bread in the oven, which I’d prepared in a rush the day before. We had a nice little Christmas brunch together (and mincemeat pie afterward) as a break from opening presents and then let the kids watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer before setting about opening stockings as the afternoon began to wind down.
It was a rather pleasant 45-degrees outside, so once Jack and Donna headed home, I walked to my mom and dad’s house with Hannah and Aaron for a lovely Christmas Day walk. We got to open a handful of new gifts at my parents’ house, which included a Squirrel Girl for Hannah and a plush Mega Man for Aaron. I’d bought a bone-in ham for dad to cook in the oven, and we all sat down for some Christmas Dinner around six. We opened a few more gifts afterward, which included a Nintendo Switch from Uncle Nathan to Uncle Jonny. I borrowed it long enough for some soy face selfies and then let the two of them play some Smash Brothers as the rest of us packed up and headed for home.
I’ve got the rest of the year off now as I use up some accumulated vacation time at work, getting to do such mundane things as getting oil changes for our cars and catching up on laundry and housework. The end of the year is just around the corner, though. Stay tuned for a few of my highlights through the year as we close out 2018!
Civil discourse and the Bush Train
A few weeks ago, America said goodbye to the 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush. It was a relatively long goodbye, as even when the funeral was over the former President’s funeral train, the Union Pacific 4141, came to Omaha to be on display for a couple days. I was one of the many who stopped by to pay our respects last Wednesday up until the moment the whistle blew and pulled away. I was impressed with how many people came to pay their respects — people of all stripes, including one black man with an Obama hat (who got his photo taken in front of the train). It made me feel just a little better about a country that too often seems so divided.
Not long before his passing, I uncovered an old video my dad took when President Bush when he came to campaign at the Riverchase Galleria in Birmingham, Alabama. I was only 14 at the time but still vividly remember that day — particularly the long security lines and the rain that drenched everyone before the President spoke. Lee Greenwood himself was there to play music beforehand, and First Lady Barbara Bush was on stage as well. I even got a glimpse of Mrs. Bush through the window of the motorcade as it came by afterward. What I didn’t remember until I found this video, however, was that my dad had recorded highlights of the whole day, which you can see on YouTube.
On Saturday morning, I got up early to attend an event hosted by the Free Speech Society down at the Omaha Bakery. There I got to watch a talk with William King, Kara Eastman, and Scott Voorhees on the Obama Legacy, along with a packed room of thirty or so other people. Eastman and Voorhees were predictably left-wing and conservative of course, while King seemed to straddle the line as a centrist, having supported Obama but just recently emceed Pete Ricketts’ election night victory party. The crowd as well had a healthy mix of left-wing people and staunch conservatives in the crowd talking about everything from Obamacare to climate change, to Supreme Court nominations.
While the discussion was lively, everyone was civil and nobody made any personal attacks, which was a refreshing change from online discussions. The best part, of course, came from a back-and-forth with Scott Voorhees and Tom Becka, with Scott remarking “I miss this” in the midst of it. I think what made the biggest difference was that everyone was required to listen to others as they waited their turn to speak, and that’s something that’s missing from our current conversation.
That evening, Grammy watched the kids as we headed up to Jenny and Kody’s annual Christmas house party at their place up in Bennington. About a dozen of our mutual friends joined us there (and briefly the Simpson family) as we shared Vivian’s vegetable medley and had some of Kody’s smoked ribs and chicken (and a dessert platter).
I wound up being a long night, as we played a round of Christmas trivia (which I won!) and then some 90s trivia followed by a round of two or What’s Yours Like. Kody also had a “sexometer,” some old gag gift from the 60s, which we all passed around and tried out. Of course, we didn’t leave without someone sneaking off and rearranging some of Jenny and Kody’s clothes to make interesting surprises in random spots around the house. I know this only because photographic evidence wound up on my camera. Ahem.
It’s also been a lovely and warm couple of December days, which meant extra playtime with the kids outdoors. I took them for a trip to the park on Saturday, and I got some exercise pushing them on swings and on an X-Wave teeter-totter together.
Then on Sunday, the kids rode a tricycle in our driveway and Hannah made an x-marks-the-spot treasure hunt for Aaron and me to go on. We even took a walk to grandma and grandpa’s house in the wagon so Aaron could play with trains as we introduced Hannah once again to Mr. Bean (who played with a Nativity Set).
Next stop: First Date Anniversary and Christmas!
Singing, Shuck’s, and a Five-Year Plaque
The Christmas traditions continue as we made our way toward the Big Day. On Saturday night, Vivian and I went to our fifth Pope Paul VI Institute Christmas Party, where I received my commemorative five-year plaque! This year’s party was at the Garden Café, so we enjoyed some comfort food as Institute veteran Terry Little played a medley of Christmas songs (along with songs from the Beatles and other artists thrown in). Terry produced videos for the Institute years ago and performed at its Gala celebrating the 25th anniversary of Humanae Vitae back in 1993. Christmas parties for the Institute are always kind of like homecomings, as many former employees pay a visit after retirement just to catch up with their old co-workers.
Special thanks to Uncle Jonny watching Hannah and Aaron.
The next day, Grammy watched the kids as we went off to lunch to jointly celebrate my mom and dad’s birthdays at Shuck’s. My dad specifically marked the occasion with shrimp cocktail and a whiskey sour, which he’d enjoyed with a friend some 50 years ago in California (and likely hadn’t had since). I got a haddock basket as the rest of us filled up on seafood (and raw oysters of all things).
We spent a little more kid-free time at my parents’ house afterward, where my parents got their gifts — a copy of Jordan Peterson’s book for Dad and some new slippers, a puzzle, and candy for my mom. She somehow wears through a pair of slippers every year, so they have a perennial place on her Christmas list.
Then that evening, Hannah got to participate in her very first Christmas program at Wildewood Christian Church. The youth there were able to put on a presentation of the Nativity story, complete with angels and even King Herod having roles. Hannah and the other kids sang a handful of songs (with motions), and it was the first time I got to see Hannah singing and participating on stage without standing stock-still looking terrified.
There were some cookies and crafts for the kids to enjoy afterward, so we stayed long enough to take part in that before heading home.
Two more weeks until Christmas!
Merry Murder Mystery
It now feels like the Christmas season is truly upon us, specifically because we now have a blanket of the “white stuff” all over everything. But first, other news.
On Wednesday last week, the University of Nebraska-Omaha chapter of Turning Point USA brought their first speaker to campus — Anna Paulina, Director of Hispanic Engagement. She was joined by L. James Wright, deputy director for Congressman Don Bacon, to talk about how Republicans and conservatives can reach out to the Black and Hispanic communities.
It was a fairly modest turnout, but a good discussion overall. In the audience was Dr. Jonathan C. Benjamin-Alvarado, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at UN-O, and he seemed to give TPUSA a much warmer welcome that they received at that other University down the street, which was encouraging.
Over the weekend, we got some more Christmas festivities underway, specifically finishing our decorations putting up the tree and getting it decorated with the kids. It was nice to bask in its soft, warm glow once again, and both kids seemed to be a bit more eager to help decorate the tree this year rather than take down and play with all the ornaments within reach.
We also brought out Santasaurus after a year in the garage to join in the festivities. Zoey the cat, on the other hand, seemed somewhat sad to lose her perch in front of the window.
Then on Sunday, we got a fair bit of snow that turned Omaha into a white-frosted wonderland. It was a heavy, wet snow, which was thick enough to break my shovel as I tried digging Grammy out of her house.
The roads seemed clear enough, though, for us to continue to host the Christmas-themed murder mystery we’d planned with a handful of our friends. Because of the weather, several guests dropped out, but we still had enough left to put on our show, which was fun. We had people playing reindeer, elves, and Santa Claus all mixed up together with food and wine (and donuts) to go around. We also handed out prizes for the best costume, the best actor, the best sleuth, and the guest who took the most bribes (which was apparently part of the game).
It was lots of fun overall, but I feel terrible for our mutual friend Kate, whose car was hit that same evening by a truck that crossed the median on Highway 370. Everyone walked out of the accident fine, but her car may be totaled in the process, so please keep her in your prayers. (Thankfully, the driver who hit her has insurance.)
Thanksgiving Birthday and the Longest Christmas Season Begins
It’s been a busy, crazy couple of weeks preparing for both a birthday for Hannah, Thanksgiving with the family, and a handful of celebrations to kick off a long Christmas season.
The fun started last weekend as Hannah had a kitty cat themed birthday party with a handful of her little friends at our house. Grammy made a Zoey birthday cake, which was both adorable and frightening, particularly when Vivian decapitated it to give Hannah the first piece. Lily (and Jonah), Nicholette, and Sammy came over to share in the cake and make paper cut-out cats with Hannah. Hannah also got a bunch of presents, which included Play-Dough and a sequined toy that was particularly fun for Hannah to “draw” on.
Thanksgiving the following week landed right on Hannah’s birthday, so we had to juggle both roasting a turkey for our Thanksgiving Dinner and hosting a family birthday party with Hannah. Grammy brought a new, “little Zoey” cake for Hannah, and she got to open some more presents in the morning, which included a Knuffle Bunny and her long-expected “Hannah Doll” (an American Girl actually named Willa).
All four grandparents dropped by, along with both Uncle Jonny and Nathan. Grandma read the kids a story as Jack and Vivian got Thanksgiving Dinner ready. Then around one, we sat down for turkey, stuffing, potatoes, green bean casserole, Taber salad, and also pie for dessert. Hannah also got to eat her cake, of course, blowing out the candles before going “head first” into a new sugar rush.
That evening, we took the kids downtown to see the Gene Leahy Mall lit up in Christmas splendor for the last time before its multi-year demolition. It had warmed up to a lovely 50 degrees, but there was still enough ice left on the waterfront for some geese to walk on (“Just like Jesus,” said Hannah). We got a glimpse of Christmas Island and saw a man playing Christmas songs on a legit hurdy-gurdy near 12th and Farnam. Aaron (and mommy) tried out the slides before we headed up to 14th Street for the lights to turn on.
Some young kids sang some Christmas songs on a bandstand in front of the library before the emcee from 104.5 rattled off an endless list of sponsors. Then Mayor Jean took the stage to lead the countdown for the mall to light up. It was bittersweet to see the beautiful lights with the kids for the first — and last — time together. We stuck around just long enough to get a photo in front of them before hurrying on home to bed.
On Black Friday, I had an early-morning breakfast at the 11-Worth Cafe with Uncle Jonny and my folks, starting the day with hash browns and sausage biscuits smothered with sausage gravy (AKA the “General Lee.”) Afterward, Vivian and I did just a bit of Black Friday shopping, specifically enough to confirm everything advertised had been sold out on Thursday.
Around four, we dropped by the Durham Museum to have Christmas at Union Station. The kids got to meet Santa and decorate cookies with Grammy and the River City Confectioners Association. They had some reindeer crafts, but we spent most of our time on a reindeer scavenger hunt downstairs, finding nine cut-out reindeer in order to claim a light-up glow stick upstairs as a prize. There were some toy trains (and a piano) that Aaron enjoyed playing with, and Hannah got to run through the various train exhibits and vintage passenger cars on display. We also saw the model of the 1898 World’s Fair in Omaha, a building of which one other girl said looked like “Donald Trump’s House.”
Later on upstairs, we got front-row seats for the tree-lighting, as the only spot to sit was right in front of the stage. Michael Lyon was back to sing some Christmas songs (after a recent bout with throat cancer of all things) before Mayor Jean and a handful of VIPs took the stage to lead the countdown. I let Hannah handle the video this year as I snapped some photos, and then we managed to join everyone else in the crowd in getting a selfie in front of the tree and playing in the paper snowflakes to kick off the Christmas season.
We had some lovely weather on Saturday, which I spent putting up our Christmas decorations and taking the kids on one last wagon ride to my parents’ house for a visit. Our neighbor Betty also gave us some kolaches, and Vivian planted our tulip bulbs while we still had one last warm day before winter.
On Sunday, we got a dusting of snow that mostly just left the streets wet and slushy (before they turned to ice). It was fun to hear Aaron exclaim with a gasp, “It’s Christmas!” as he looked out the window. We were still able to go to church and then drop by Sam’s Club afterward for cheese and ice melt (among other things). We spent the rest of the day indoors catching up before our four-day weekend came to a close.
One interesting thing I learned this week was that when Hannah’s birthday falls on Thanksgiving, what follows is the longest Christmas Season possible on the calendar — 33 full days. I’m glad we were able to start them off right!
Happy birthday, Hannah — and Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Election Night 2018
So there was an election on Tuesday, and I got a front-row seat on Election Night, rubbing elbows (literally — the place was crowded) with a few candidates and hundreds of other people crammed into the Omaha Marriott. Everyone I voted for on my ballot pulled out a win, including Pete Ricketts, who got a second term as Governor. Practically the entire Ricketts clan was there, and I got to meet lots of them including Pete’s mom and dad and his sister Laura throughout the night. I also went “backstage” with the family of Theresa Thibodeau, who tensely watched the election returns for her bid for State Senate (which she sadly lost). I spent a good deal of time chatting with Thibodeau’s mom, who worked at the Pope Paul VI Institute some 30 years ago.
I had hoped to stick around to see Don Bacon win re-election, but it was still too close to call by 10 PM, so I called it a night. I talk a lot about politics on this blog, particularly how I enjoy meeting so many of the people I get to vote for, but things seemed to be more personal after this night. Personal attacks in campaign ads suddenly hit a lot closer to home when you hear about them from a candidate’s mom. I also got to see Pete Ricketts give his dad a hug after his victory speech. It’s so easy to see candidates and politicians as just their party labels and not as human beings, especially in our detached age of social media sniping.
In other news, winter came through in an arctic blast last week (and a new banner from Grammy). We also changed our clocks, and now Aaron’s been getting up before 5 AM every single day. That’s been a nice change, actually, since I’m now getting in a morning workout with still an hour or two left over for coffee and breakfast with Vivian and the kids before work. Of course, I also have to get to bed that much earlier, but “Early to bed and early to rise,” as the inventor of Daylight Saving Time once said.
Next stop: Hannah turns seven!
Halloween and the Home Stretch
It’s been a busy week back at work, juggling Halloween in-between and trying to enjoy a lovely, sunny week of fall. On Wednesday night we went trick-or-treating with the kids — and Uncle Jonny — in my parents’ neighborhood one street over. Both kids got a fairly good haul of candy, and Aaron’s bag was dragging along the ground as he excitedly went from door to door all the way around the block as the sun went down.
My parents had a busy night as well, with over a hundred trick-or-treaters at their own house (many of whom drove in from other neighborhoods). By comparison, our house only had around twenty for the whole night, which left us with quite the stockpile of candy afterward (and Johnny Marzetti).
We also have some mid-term elections coming up, which seem to be a bigger deal than usual for some reason. As such, there was a “fly-in” rally featuring Mayor Stothert, Congressmen Bacon and Fortenberry, Gov. Ricketts, and our ever-elusive Senator Ben Sasse. We had about a hundred our folks show up for the event (along with a few familiar faces), and all five politicians got to say a few words before breaking for lunch. Sen. Sasse hurried out almost immediately, but I was able to catch him for a moment and learn he was planning to be a guest on the Steven Crowder program in the near future. He’d also been invited to the Ben Shapiro Sunday Special but likely wouldn’t make it soon because of a “rule” that he’d have to fly to L.A. to be filmed on-set for the show.
Election Day is tomorrow, so I’m hoping the political noise will wind down a bit before the 2020 Presidential Campaign starts up, but I have a feeling that won’t be happening. In the meantime. I have an extra hour of morning to enjoy as Daylight Saving Time comes to and end (which I spent down at the Kroc Center).
My wonderful week off from work
I’ve just returned from a week-long vacation that I spent entirely in the Omaha area, catching up on things around house and spending some quality time with the family. It’s the first time I’ve had a full week off work since our trip to California in 2012, and the first time I can remember with that much free time on my hands. It was lovely.
On Sunday, we kicked things off doing some costume shopping down at Mangelsen’s, where we tried out various masks and accessories before eventually getting Aaron and Hannah to decide on being Batman and Poppy (from Trolls) respectively for Halloween.
Then that evening, I managed to literally burn through all the wood we’d accumulated from fallen branches over the past year or so in a fire pit. I invited my parents over and we roasted hot dogs over the open flame, which worked out amazingly well. The weather was downright gorgeous most of the week with highs in the 60s or so, which was just about perfect every single day.
I spent nearly all day cleaning house and doing laundry as Vivian was out doing school stuff with the kids. Then on Tuesday, we had our annual trip to Vala’s. Tuesday was just about the perfect day to go — we got the home school discount, which included free pumpkins and a train ride, and the weather was beautiful all day long. We got Hannah and Aaron measured up before hitting the pig races and getting our family photos taken behind cut-out characters (and on the big chair). Hannah’s favorite attractions were the haunted houses and the pumpkin mine, so we wound up wandering through those multiple times. We grabbed some apple donuts for a snack and spent extra time in the school house pretending to teach the kids. We also spent some extra time at the Pirate Cove dancing to music by the Skeleton Band.
The fall colors were glowing everywhere, and I tried multiple times to get a decent autumnal photo of Vivian and the kids, but they were too excited to sit still for long. We got a wagon ride and a ride on the train and stopped to see an animatronic show or two on the way between exhibits. We also paid a visit to Bunnyville and saw Xander the Dragon as the suns tarted going down. Storybook Village had a few new items, such as the Hungry Catterpillor (sic) and a sword-in-a-stone. We ended the day taking Aaron on the big slide (where his reaction was “I’m scared of that … I wanna go again) and then the pie barn for “dinner.” We grabbed a few pumpkins on the way out before heading for home, where we all pretty much crashed afterward.
Hannah and Aaron got to try out their costumes for the first time at First Presbyterian for some trick-or-treating on Wednesday Night. They got their fill of candy and played a handful of games along with a few of their little friends.
The next day, I went out to lunch with my parents to a place in downtown Papillion called “Brownie’s.” They had $8.99 rib-eyes (thinly cut) and I got to catch up with them a bit without having to wrangle two kids wreaking havoc at the same time, which was nice.
On Friday night, Vivian and I went to the Omaha Jitterbugs’ Halloween Dance together, the first time we’d been to the Eagle’s Lodge since the last Halloween dance. I went as a Steven Crowder “Change my Mind” meme, complete with mug, which got me into the finalists’ row during the costume contest. Vivian went as a “one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater,” a last minute thing thrown together once she and I realized we had all the components at home.
It felt strange to be back dancing with the Jitterbugs after being away so long, partly because there were so many new people, and also because I’m darn OLD and dancing all night long isn’t as easy as it was a decade ago. We still had a fun time, and we even grabbed some donuts from the Donut Stop, which will be sadly closing its doors forever on Halloween.
We had a lovely lazy Saturday for most of the day. Then that evening we went to Jenny’s annual birthday/costume/Halloween party up in northwest Omaha at Dean and Sarah’s house. Our kids got to bounce around for a couple hours (in costume) with a handful of our friends’ kids as we had some cake and played a bit with our grown-up friends. Takashi led us all in Thriller, of course, and we also got our group picture before people started to leave.
I came in my second costume of the night, an “NPC,” which has become something of a political meme online. Nobody seemed to get it, which was mostly fine with me. I may reuse the mask to be Michael Myers from “Halloween” instead, which is what most people thought I was anyway.
It was a great week overall, helped in my doubt by the lovely weather and fall colors we got to enjoy. We took a walk or two around the neighborhood with the kids just to enjoy them (and see the Pumpkin Man).
We also raked a bit of leaves in our yard on Sunday so Hannah and Aaron could play in them (along with Hannah’s family of toys) before it got too cold. Then we watched the sun set on my last day of vacation before Vivian fried up a whiskey-marinated sirloin for dinner, which was quite tasty.
It was a good week, and I may wind up doing something like it again before long, as I have a couple hundred hours of vacation time left to use up (eventually.)