Category Archives: Applejack

Apples & Pumpkins

Fall is well underway, and that means enjoying as much time outdoors as we can before Nebraska turns into an arctic wonderland.


On Friday last week, Aaron had the day off school, so I rode down to Elmwood Park to spend a lovely lunch break with Vivian and the kids. This park is known for having an assortment of stray toys, and Hannah found a little cart that she and Aaron took turns pushing each other around in. I also gave them a good swing in the saucer for a while, and they finished off with a little exercise in the workout area.

Then on Sunday afternoon, I decided to use up some leftover ground beef by showing the kids how to grill a few hamburgers for lunch, which they cooked and ate with us.


Sunday was also the last day of Nebraska City’s Applejack Festival, so we decided to drive down to Kimmel Orchard for some apple-picking. We got to see how the kids measured up before letting them take a spin on the playground. Then we took a hay rack down to the orchard, where we filled a couple bags with Winesap, Jonathan, and Braeburn apples, to name a few. We also stumbled upon a nature trail and “Natural Playground” that the kids both liked playing in for a bit — partly because of the shade from the sun blazing down overhead.

We spent a little more time on the playground before heading home around closing time. I stopped by Union Orchard hoping to get an apple pie, but they were closed, so we may have to leave that to Vivian’s devices later on. (No sour grapes.)


Then on Tuesday, I took the day off so we could spend a day at Vala’s on their Homeschool Day. The kids have been to Vala’s every year of their lives so far, and Hannah said it was her favorite day outside of Christmas and her birthday. We’re old pros at seeing all the attractions and had it down to a science by now — hitting Bunnyville and the Pumpkin Mine first before doing some trikes and then catching a Train Ride while the line was short. We did the jumping pillows after that and checked out the duck races before taking a few spins around the Highway 6 bike track — both on the family cart and individually (even Vivian).

We got some fries for lunch before taking a dip in the corn bin, where I helped Hannah and Aaron get completely buried. We headed back for some Pig Races around one, and Hannah got to be a Pig Leader this time. We got some time on slides and a tractor before going to see Xander the Dragon, and Hannah and Aaron got a few balloon bracelets from an old Jitterbug friend along the way.


We hit the schoolhouse, the haunted house, and the Big Chair before going down to Prairie Hill Town, where the kids got to run on a hamster wheel (as did I) and run around a bit more. We hit the obstacle course next, took a swing at a “high striker” or two, before taking a few trips down the Big Slide. Then we went through the Corn Maze together as a family for the first time, which was a bit of an adventure, but I had the map on my phone that helped us get through fairly easily (much to Hannah’s irritation).

We got some more of a maze fix in the Pirate Maze for a bit before dropping by the spider web, getting a pretzel, and visiting the Storybook Village. We also took the kids to the petting zoo to feed some goats before having some donuts (which we watched being made that morning) and then picking out a few pumpkins to take home. Aaron picked out a giant 32 pounder, which I had to lug a ways before getting a wheelbarrow to haul it to the car. I’m hoping we can turn our produce this year into something interesting, either a Jack-o-Lantern, some roasted seeds, or anything other than a rotting mess to leave in the garden.

It was a bit exhausting to hit a pair of our favorite fall events within just a few days, but it was worth it. Now we just have to get ready for Halloween — and the chain of Thanksgiving and Christmas events that follow shortly thereafter, of course.

Holy Smokes & Applejack

Fall has finally rolled around again, though it might not feel like it yet, which means harvesting plenty of tomatoes for bruschetta and autumnal flavored coffees at Aldi.


Men of God at Wildewood got together last week for the first time since last spring. On this week’s agenda was learning the manly art of barbecue, with Zach (and Fred) from Holy Smokes up in Sioux Falls. Zach is a hooligan-turned-pastor who has both a church and a barbecue business, so he gave us the run-down of different types of barbecue, methods for cutting a pork butt for smoking, and all the tips and tricks of slow-cooking meat on a variety of smokers to get that sweet coat of “bark” that everyone loves.

We had some barbecue pulled pork sandwiches for together before Zach’s barbecue run-down, and we each got a package of rub to take home with us. I’d never given much thought to smoking meat before, it sounds like it would be perfectly fine to do it with our humble propane grill on the deck, so maybe soon I’ll go give it a try.


Fall also means that it’s time for the Applejack festival in Nebraska City. The weather looked foreboding, so we brought an umbrella just in case, but despite the dark cloud looming overheard we didn’t have a drop of rain until we left.

We started the day with a pancake breakfast down at the firehouse, catching a flew flapjacks and letting the kids climb on a firetruck or two. We stopped by the book sale at the library to grab a few new books for the kids and samples some honey from the Calvary Church pavilion up the street, stopping to admire some old brick-wall advertisements and smell the roses along the way.

We spent most of our time down at Kimmel Orchard, riding the hay rack down to the rows of Jonathan, Honeycrisp, and Gala trees so Hannah and Aaron could pick a couple pecks of apples to take home with us. Hannah and Aaron got some quality time on their relatively new playground and even got some ice cream afterward. They had a bunch of educational booths inside from the UNL extension office, many of which having to do with bees and pollination (and making masks). There was a sampling of a dozen kinds of honey, which we got to try out. Then on the way home, we swung by Union Orchard for a couple apple donuts on the way home.


In other news, Aaron has been learning to play the viola through String Sprouts, a program from the Omaha Conservatory of Music. He’s only just begun, but he seems to know how to hold his viola and bow like a champ so far.

Vivian had a baby shower on Sunday, so I took the kids to mom and dad’s house for a while in the afternoon, primarily to try out the “Let’s Go Code” game Uncle Jonny gave Aaron for his birthday. Our biggest challenge was keeping the kids following the rules, but it was fun just to get them to try it out.

Then we had some delicious ribeye steaks for dinner.

Applejack and Calamari Steak


Fall is officially here, so we kicked it off with our annual trip to Nebraska City to celebrate the 50th Applejack Festival. We dropped by the firehouse for our pancake breakfast with the Pancake Man and let the kids climb inside the fire trucks. We walked down to the library hoping to see a traveling exhibit from the Omaha Children’s Museum, but they didn’t have one this year, so the kids played with Legos for a bit before we headed out.

We headed on up to Kimmel Orchard around noon and gave the kids a good amount of time to play on their new playground. Then we took a hay rack off to the orchard to scavenge for some apples. It seemed every apple we found was rotten or full of holes, which was disappointing, but we somehow managed to find enough trees with good apples to pick about twenty pounds of them, which we took home with us (perhaps to turn into Apple Donuts, since the line for those was so ridiculous).


A few days later, it was Vivian’s birthday! I took the whole day off so we could go out to lunch together at Spaghetti Works downtown. It was a beautiful day, so we had lasagna together (and ice cream) with a few friendly birds outside and then had a nice walk up and down the Gene Leahy Mall, enjoying the scenery before it all gets demolished and paved over in the next couple of years.

We also stopped by the Imaginarium in our walk through the Old Market, which was a kind of vintage toy store with many items Vivian and I recognized from our childhood. In particular were a couple Rainbow Brite dolls and a handful of Masters of the Universe toys, many of which I personally owned.

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That evening, Jack and Donna came by and grilled up some calamari steaks for dinner (which they got from some secret seafood distributor in town). I grilled up some shrimp-on-the-barbie and we had a tasty dinner with the kids, followed by raspberry lemonade cake (with candles). We had some presents afterward, including some cheese from Cowgirl Creamery and cards personally decorated by the kids (and me). It was a fairly full day, with more than a few leftover left over.

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.)

Outdoors in Autumn

We had a gorgeous bit of weather over the weekend, with the cool taste of autumn coming in-between some random storms and a few more dog days of summer hanging on. It gave us the perfect opportunity to enjoy a few autumnal traditions with the kids once again.


On Saturday was the Applejack Festival in Nebraska City. We’ve been able to take our kids down to the Big Apple every year of their lives so far, starting first with the pancake breakfast at the fire station, of course. I caught a couple flapjacks on my own, and then we said hello to a few friends as we ate and then checked out a few fire trucks before we left. We went by the library to let the kids play in their new “under-the-sea” exhibit, playing in a few shells and starfish, playing dress-up, and finding some pirate booty before moving on.

Then we went on up to Kimmel orchard for a little apple-picking. The crowds are usually overwhelming at this place, but we arrived early enough to get in and out without much trouble. We also got to take a hay-rack to the middle of the orchard, where there were still plenty of crisp apples waiting for our kids to pick before heading out.


I crashed at home with Aaron for the rest of the day while Vivian took Hannah to celebrate her friend Sammy’s fifth birthday at Henry Doorly Zoo. I didn’t get to attend myself, but from the pictures Vivian took, it looks like there was cake, presents, and a ride on a carousel. Of course, the kids probably had the most fun at the new “Alaskan Adventure splash parkrunning around in a spray ground built around seals, polar bears, and other various arctic wildlife.

Maybe someday Vivian will update her blog and tell everyone about these events herself.


Then on Sunday, we dropped by Gifford Farm for their fall festival. We’ve been a part of their “family” for about as long as I’ve known Vivian, so we bring the kids at least once a year to see the animals and explore the farm with us. This year, they got to ride ponies, see a black chicken, a fluffy duck, and the usual assortment goats, pigs, and other wildlife. They also went on a few slides, decorated a few cookies, rode on the hay-rack, and spent some extra time in the tree house. We actually wound up staying until after they closed before going home to cool off and call it a day.

I still had a busy day ahead of me mowing my parents lawn and watching some MST3K, but I was OK with a little of that to finish off the weekend.

Welcome, Fall!


Fall is just about the best time of year to be outdoors, and as such it’s also the time of year for some of my favorite outdoor traditions, such as the Applejack Festival in Nebraska City. The Johnson Family had a fairly busy weekend in store, so we didn’t have time to spend all day picking apples as we usually do this time of year. We did stop by for the pancake breakfast at the firehouse, catching our usual batch of flapjacks from the Pancake Man (while getting snapshots of the kids sitting in firetrucks as we waited in line). We stopped by the library afterward to check out their dinosaur exhibit, which included animatronic dinosaurs from the Omaha Children’s Museum and dinosaur crafts upstairs.

There was a massive traffic jam on the way back thanks to an accident at the Kimmel Orchard exit, which put an end to any hopes of picking apples before heading back to Omaha.


That afternoon, we went to Washington Park in Bellevue to say Happy Birthday to Rachel. The Rietjens clan was there, along with Aunt Jessica and a whole bunch of Rachel’s little friends from church, school, and elsewhere. There were at least there other birthdays going on at the same time in the park, so the place was fairly busy with little ones.

We also got to confirm with Pastor Drew and Teresa that they will be leaving our little Twin Valley Church to move to Clear Lake, Iowa and take over a new ministry there. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye, and I’m not sure how we’ll break the news to Hannah that she own’t be able to play with her little friends every week after church anymore. Thank goodness she doesn’t read my blog.


On Sunday, we spent the afternoon with the kids at Gifford Farm for the fall festival. They got to see some of the animals and rode some ponies. We also hit the hay rack and got our obligatory photos inside and around the hollowed-out tree. Vivian stayed to help Donna with the cookies as Hannah and Aaron rode in a canoe and played with a xylophone. Of course, there was also plenty of sliding into hay, and Aaron made me proud climbing up to slide on his own down the big slide with no prompting whatsoever.

It was a fun, busy weekend, and much better than staying indoors watching some college football team lose again. Happy fall, everybody!

In the Orchard, on the Farm


Fall is officially here once again, and means running down the list of our annual fall traditions. First up, of course, is the Applejack Festival down in Nebraska City. We got up (relatively) early on Saturday morning to make the pancake breakfast at the firehouse, catching a few flapjacks flung by Jim Kuper the Pancake Man and saying hello to the Lenart Family, who came by for a “fun run” that got rained out. The rain actually came down in torrents to start but gradually cleared up as we finished off a few plates of pancakes and sausage.


We wandered down Central Ave. and joined Jenny, Kody, and the extended Arnold Clan at their usual spot down by the Public Restrooms to watch the Applejack Parade. We hadn’t actually gone to watch the parade since 2008, when I think the never-ending chain of Shriners scared us off to other attractions. This time around, however, we had Hannah and a cluster of Jenny’s nieces (and a nephew, I think) all vying to grab candy as it was tossed by various cultural and political emissaries that came marching our way (among the high/middle school marching bands). She also discovered the joy of getting soaked by running through puddles left from the morning rain. That was a lovely parental milestone to enjoy (once she dried out).


After the parade, we grabbed a couple corn dogs for lunch and then squeezed our way up Arbor and Centennial Ave. with a slog of horrible traffic to make our way to Kimmel Orchard. Hannah got to have her first solo pony ride out back, which seemed to make her very proud of herself. Then we trudged through the orchard for a bit to try filling an $8 half-peck bag with apples. Most of the trees seemed to have shed all their fruit onto the ground, but we were still able to find a good batch of apples to pick before calling it a day.


On Sunday after church, we took Hannah and Aaron off to Gifford Farm for their Fall Festival. Hannah hadn’t been there since last October, so she got to enjoy a good run around the place — sliding into hay, riding on the hayrack, decorating a cookie, playing some instruments, and even petting a snake. She also got to have her hair dyed pink at the end of the day, which she seemed to think was pretty funny. Aaron had never been to the farm before, but he was too little to do much more than peek over his overalls to see what was going on.

Apples, corn, and Johnny Boyd


Fall is officially underway once again, and there’s no better way to kick off another season of autumnal fun than taking a trip down to Nebraska City for the Applejack Festival. We crashed at the firehouse for pancakes once again (per tradition), and bumped into Jenny and her family along the way. We skipped down to the library’s used book sale, checked out a few sights, and then drove by Arbor Day Farm for Apple Cider. We finished things off with a nice, long trip to the Kimmel apple orchard in the afternoon, where Hannah got to have her first pony ride. She was a little nervous at first, but she was soon asking for more as soon as the ride was done.

Of course, we couldn’t leave without picking a peck (or two) of apples in the orchard. Hannah got to see some apples up close and personal and found one small enough for her to pick herself. We also stumbled upon some ripe plums and Asian pairs hiding around a corner, far away from where the hay rack ride usually deposits everyone. I’d never had a juicy ripe plum fresh off the tree before, and Hannah instantly found a new favorite fruit.


Meanwhile, the Cowtown Jamborama had been going on since Thursday. Vivian had been able to drop by Thursday night and Friday during the day, but we saved our time, energy, and feet for Sunday night’s festivities. First up was the infamous corn-eating contest in the lower level of the Eagle’s Lodge. Hannah had already been practicing with an ear of corn at church and was more than eager to take on a whole gang of kiddos who’d come to compete for the title of baby corn-eating champion. She did all right for a one-year old but just couldn’t stand up to her ten-year-old competition.

Immediately following the kids’ competition, naturally, came the adults, and much to my surprise, my name had been somehow added to the list of competitors. Seriously, I didn’t sign up, but neither did I back down once someone decided to sign me up. It was eight minutes or nauseating yellow mess, but guess who came out on top for the second time? Yep. Vivian also managed to break her third-place streak by coming in right behind me, followed closely by the ever-corny Ben Cass.


After a few hours of recovery (and time to shuttle Hannah on home for some babysitting courtesy of the in-laws) it was time for the main event: an evening of swinging music with Johnny Boyd and his band. Johnny Boyd was the vocal talent behind the neo-swing band, Indigo Swing, which I had been introduced to by my old friend Legostar many years ago. The new ensemble sang all my old favorites, as well as several new ones, and Johnny’s voice hadn’t changed a bit. I’d done the Lindy Hop to How Lucky Can One Guy Be countless times, but I never thought I’d be doing it right in front of the man himself right here at the Eagle’s Lodge.

There was a solo Jazz competition somewhere in-between sets, and I stuck around for every song of the night, despite having to get up early the next day. I’m glad I did, since Johnny stuck around to meet and greet fans afterward, sign autographs, and get pictures taken with him. He’d performed in Omaha years ago at the Stork Club during the height of the swing revival in the late 90s. Several people in attendance (cough Lisa cough) had remembered those days quite well and hung around to gab about old times. It honestly made me think about how darn fond I am of this swing-dancing crowd that’s still been jumpin’ after all these years, and I’m happier than ever to be a part of it.

Special thanks to Nate Woodhams for helping to bring one of my favorite musicians of all time to Cowtown.

Family traditions

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One of the fun, new experiences Vivian and I have had as parents is taking old traditions we’ve shared and experiencing them again as a family with Hannah. One of these has been Lindy in the Park, the last of which was held last Sunday. The weather was sunny and gorgeous somewhere in the 70s, but the concrete dance floor was sadly lacking in participants (though strangely there were two Matt Johnsons available for dancing). Hannah has gotten to meet a couple new Jitterbug friends while coming with us to Stinson Park on Sunday, and it’s always fun to see her interacting with kids her own age. Special thanks go to to Billy for making this event possible again.

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On Saturday, we introduced Hannah to a couple more of our fun traditions, one of which was the Applejack Festival down in Nebraska City. We didn’t visit any orchards for apple-picking, since Hannah wasn’t quite old enough to participate (and handling a stroller on a bouncy hay rack didn’t sound like a lot of fun), but she was able to have pancakes for the first time down at the fire station, courtesy of the Pancake Man. We took a stroll through town and eventually wound up at Arbor Day Farm for some wine-tasting (which Hannah did not participate in). I have to give a friendly shout-out to the good folks there, because after we managed to break a $19 bottle of apple pie brandy while lugging Hannah and her stroller up a set of stairs, they replaced it for free, which was awesome.

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A third and most eventful tradition we introduced Hannah to was the Cowtown Jamborama. Seriously, she earns the Best Baby in the World Award, because after spending a while simply looking adorable for our swing-dancing friends, she went right to sleep just as the dance got started, and she stayed asleep until we were ready to go home. Best baby evar!

Of course, we had a lot of help from several friends/babysitters throughout the night. Vivian even invited her dad to come, who had never actually seen the dance hall where I’d met his daughter some six and a half years ago. Vivian and I danced with each other and with several other friends, old and new, throughout the night courtesy of music from the Shotgun Jazz Band (with lindy hopper extraordinaire Peter Loggins on trombone).

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On Sunday, Hannah got to celebrate her friend Samantha’s first birthday. Samantha was born a few months before Hannah and has been a kind of “sneak preview” of things to come for Vivian and me. We dropped by Nate and Lexi’s house for a lunch of nachos and then got to watch Samantha gorge on her first chocolate cake (getting it all over and looking a bit like Dom Deluise in the process).

That evening, Hannah got to participate in another important moment of family tradition — the Cowtown Corn-Eating Contest. I had the honor of taking first place back in 2007 and then second in 2008 and 2010, and Vivian had been a regular contender for third. Hannah made us proud, of course, though she was no match for three-year olds “Honey” and Mirabel. She still did quite well, as we knew she would after her practice session earlier in the week.

Vivian and I stuck around to watch the grown-ups participate in the corny fun afterward, marking the first time either of us had witnessed the spectacle from the other side of the table. Billy joined his daughter in the winner’s circle, followed by Ben Cass and Andy Meredith for second and third. The most bizarre competitors in the event, however, were the “corn of the dead” girls, who didn’t eat much corn, but did gross everyone out by bleeding on a few ears.

So what’s next on the agenda? Hannah takes a trip to Northern California to meet her great-grandma and other members of her extended family. More on that later.

Autumn kicks off

And with the blink of an eye, fall is here! We went from 91 degrees on Monday to 55 degrees on Wednesday with nary a segue in-between. I don’t care though — I love the season of changing leaves, and Vivian and I have been busy finding ways to enjoy it together.

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Last weekend, we attended Mitch and Amanda’s wedding. Amanda is one of Vivian’s co-workers and Mitch owns a comic book store out in Gretna. I’d met them all of twice and wasn’t sure how much fun I’d have at a wedding of two people I barely knew, but it was a great evening. The ceremony was short and the reception was long and fun, with beer and wine flowing and plenty of crazy dancing mixing things up throughout the night. I’ve been to plenty of long, dreary, dull weddings in my life, but this was one was ideal. I only hope everyone who came to our own wedding 38 months ago had just as good a time.

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This weekend was Applejack Weekend down in Nebraska City, so naturally Vivian and I had to go down to get our fill of apple turnovers, apple pie, and apple-picking at the orchards there. We dropped in at the firehouse’s pancake breakfast to stuff ourselves with flapjacks courtesy of the Pancake Man, and then walked down to the library book sale to grab a couple used, discount books. We skipped the parade of course, learning from experience that sitting through a couple hours of marching bands and shriners driving in circles wasn’t as much fun as exploring the rest of the town.

We dropped by Arbor Day Farm next to get a bottle cherry wine, among other things. We had the most fun at Kimmel orchard, where Vivian and I got to wander among the apple trees and stuff as many apples as we could into our ten-pound bag. We grabbed a couple stray grapes from the vineyard as well, which were absolutely succulent. I’d never eaten grapes right off the vine before, and it was like eating candy.

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Back in Bellevue, we dropped by the remains of our church picnic in Everett Park. They’d held a makeshift tailgate party outdoors completely with TVs to watch the game when it came on. I mostly ignored Nebraska crushing the Washington Huskies, who were downright pathetic (one guy literally dropping the ball at the one-yard line, giving the Cornhuskers an easy touchdown). I mostly enjoyed the chili, salsa, hot dogs, and fellowship with other members of our church (fellowship being Christian-speak for “pigging out.”)

Of course, this was also Cowtown weekend for the Omaha Jitterbugs, but the four long days of swing dancing events was more like background noise for Vivian and me. We showed up at the dances long enough to dance once or twice with each other and then pick up cups before heading home.