Category Archives: First Presbyterian

Camping in Memphis

There’s nothing quite like late July in Nebraska, where it’s hot and humid and barely a whisper of wind in the air. That’s when you get to enjoy the great outdoors with just a bit more patience — and some creativity about ways to keep cool.

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Hannah and Aaron started things off with a week-long VBS at First Presbyterian in Bellevue. They attended every morning through the week and finished things off on Friday with a water fight outside. I took the day off to start our camping trip, so Vivian and I dropped by to watch them play in a sprinkler and throw wet sponges at one another. They also got some freeze pops and some candy for memorizing a bible verse, which was sweet (literally).

Then, just as we were trying to decide what to do for lunch, we saw the famous “food truck” at the library (a thing I’ve heard about from Vivian for years but never seen with my own eyes), so we stopped and got some chicken sandwiches before heading home.

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Then came the camping trip! Wee invited Mama Ginny to keep her son Harold company while we were all away. Then we packed up our things and headed off to Memphis, Nebraska with some burgers and Combos to tide us over. The trip took all of half an hour, and we grabbed a spot with convenient proximity to the lake and the sandy play area with a cabin for the kids (and ground squirrels and geese to keep us company).

We set up camp and got a fire going for s’mores that evening as the Mills family came to join us. It was already sweltering, but little Gabe brought us lemonade on a platter to keep us cool. Hannah also immediately took to the lake, going inside and soaking her little pink dress without a care in the world. Then once the sun went down, we lit a fire and roasted up a batch of s’mores for the evening.

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Vivian and Lexi scrambled up some breakfast the next morning as Hannah explored the lake looking for “gooey” frogs. Afterward, I took her with Sammy, Aaron, and August over to the playground with old school metal equipment like a teeter totter, a merry-go-round, and monkey bars, just like the kind their parents grew up with. There was even a tether ball pole Hannah and Sammy were able to bat around. The kids also had some fun climbing a nearby tree — at least until a branch snapped and Hannah came tumbling down. She got the wind knocked out of her and was a little sore but otherwise all right. Hopefully it won’t put her off tree climbing, which has become one of her favorite activities at grandma and grandpa’s house.

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We had some lunch and then tried keeping cool that afternoon with a little wading in the lake near the boat dock up the road. The water was relatively cool, albeit with a rocky and muddy bottom. I was able to traverse the lake to the little island, where a crane seemed to have made its home and mulberries were growing wild. The kids wanted to come explore the island, too, so Nate rented a canoe and took them around for a look.

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Later that afternoon, I took the kids for a walk (or in Sammy’s case, a bike ride) into town. I snapped a few photos of a few of the old buildings, including the Century-old Iliff Chapel. We also stopped by Don’s Bar and Grill (the only operating business in town) for a few drinks and snacks with the kids before heading back to the campsite.

Sammy brought a couple American Heritage Girls for her and Hannah to play with while August and Aaron played some Uno. For dinner, Vivian and Lexi grilled some brats followed by some Dutch oven brownies and a cheese dip. The kids explored the lake a bit more and discovered the waterproof nature of lily pads near the shoreline. Then we finished off the evening with some s’mores and a raging battle in the dark over a set of colored glow sticks before bedtime.

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The next morning was strangely cool with a thick, eerie mist hanging over the lake and everything around it. We got the kids up for a breakfast that included roasted marshmallows and donuts warmed over the fire. Then the kids had one last romp in the sandbox and the grown-ups packed up the tents and all our things before getting set to head home.

Of course, I had to get a big group photo before we headed off. We’ve been camping with the Mills family for a couple years now, and I don’t think we’d ever gotten a joint family photo together before. It was long overdue.

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Then that afternoon, because my weekend hadn’t been busy enough, I dropped by the Cross Training Center for some “grassroots training” with Scott Presler and around 60 other patriots. I’d met Scott before at a “pep rally” during the 2020 election, and it was interesting to see him back in a more educational role — giving a 90-minute presentation on voter registration, running for office, and get-out-the-vote efforts, among other things. He also spent most of the presentation off the stage and walking the room, and this even included some audience participation, roleplaying getting a stranger registered to vote.

It was an event held jointly by the Nebraska Freedom Coalition, Freedom Rally USA, and Nebraska Against Government Overreach, a trifecta of what I call the “populist upstarts” on the right, focused more intently on public demonstrations and online activism than “establishment” conservatives. Of course, there was also time to get selfies with Scott afterward, and I’d worn my new Jordan Peterson shirt just for the occasion. I also got to meet the “Beard Vet,” who seemed to have a followingall his own among the crowd, and his own line of coffee.

In all, it was a great weekend, and not even as hot as they’d predicted it would be. I’m always glad to have the chance to enjoy the great outdoors with our family and friends — even when it’s just down the road.


Happy campers!

Lent, Thomas More, and Kevin McCarthy

We kicked of Lent last week with a fun and busy cross-section of activities that included politics, a fish fry, and plenty of time outside enjoying some spring-like weather.

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On (Fat) Tuesday night, I got dressed up to attend the Thomas More Society dinner at St. Vincent de Paul Parish Center, courtesy of the Saint Paul VI Institute, which bought a whole table for me and my co-workers. I knew almost nothing about the Thomas More Society beforehand, and I got hear from founder Tom Brejcha talk about their legal work defending pro-lifers — particularly their right to protest.

The keynote speaker for the evening was David Bereit, founder of the 40 Days for Life campaign. He actually had a surprising connection to the Saint Paul VI Institute — his wife was actually treated for infertility by Dr. Hilgers many years ago and had two grown children now thanks to him. That was certainly surprising news to everyone at our table.

It was a lovely evening, and I even got to take home a tiny Mardis Gras mask for Hannah’s doll in honor of Fat Tuesday.

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Ash Wednesday kicked off that Lenten season, and that means it’s time for fish fries! Our friends the Simpsons invited us along with them to St. Charles Borromeo for their annual fish fry. It was the first time our kids have had the “full line experience,” but they got to run outside a bit and then played a keep-away game with mommy as we shuffled our way through the line waiting to dish up.

The fish itself was probably the best of all the fish fries I’ve attended — fried fresh, crispy and golden — and even Hannah wound up stuffing herself with a filet or two. (Gabriel helped himself to his mom’s mac and cheese.)

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Vivian and I had a night out planned on Saturday, so we made a point of getting the kids outside to enjoy some of the lovely 60-degree weather. We had a picnic lunch in the shelter together and then burned off the PB&J on slides, the teeter-totter, and rolling aimlessly down the hill. Hannah also brought along her doll “Suki” to chase Aaron around the playground in-between rounds of play-fighting.

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Then that evening, Grammy watched the kids as Vivian and I dressed up and headed off to the Elephant Remembers dinner downtown. It’s the second time we’d been invited to this annual gala fundraiser, which meant we got to rub elbows with some of the typical Republican friends I bump into at town halls or parades (looking at you, Stephen). Scott Voorhees played emcee, and introduced a chain of speakers, such as Mayor Jean, Mike Foley, Ben Sasse, and Don Bacon. The keynote speaker was House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who gave an stump speech about entering politics as a young man and his optimism about Republicans taking back the house in November. McCarthy received a few gifts before he left the stage — a bottle of whiskey from local distiller Soldier Valley, and an plaque naming him Admiral of the Nebraska Navy (an apparently annual joke I have yet to understand).

The honorees of the evening were Lee and Robyn Terry, and there was a nice table of Terry campaign memorabilia set up in the lobby for everyone to see as they came in. Bacon’s wing-man James Wright introduced Lee and Robyn, who both said a few words before being awarded a Nebraska baking pan by DCRP chair Theresa Thibodeau. There was one more award to Young Republican Spencer Head and a few words from Bacon’s second-in-command Kyle Clark to wrap things up. Naturally, plenty of folks stuck around to meet-and-greet a few of the speakers (and get photos), and I got to briefly shake McCarthy’s hand and told him I looked forward to him being the next Speaker. I also wound up taking a group photo of the Terry Team on my way out the door — always happy to lend a hand with my lens whenever possible.

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We had a nice and quiet Sunday, unexpectedly bumping into our friends the Lenarts at church over donuts. Then that evening we took the kids by First Presbyterian to play outside (and let Hannah try out her scooter) in the gorgeous weather before enjoying another one of their movie nights. This time it was 101 Dalmatians, a Disney classic I’d actually never seen, which we watched while eating Hot Dogs, sloppy joes, and Scooby Snacks of all things. They had some fun crafts afterward that included Dalmatian head bands, and Hannah made her own Dalmatian out of Play-Doh before we called it a night.

Movie and last pump it up

It’s been a groggy start to the new year, getting used to a regular forty-hour work week after having a fortnight bisected by Christmas and New Year’s. Vivian’s been making use of her new KitchenAid mixer, whipping up some homemade pizza and sticky buns that have definitely been a treat.

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We spent Saturday taking down our Christmas tree and decorations, bringing an official end to the holiday season (and introducing the kids to Mr. Bean and Punky Brewster in the process). Then on Sunday, we dropped by First Presbyterian for another movie night. We arrived early enough to get in some quality playtime outside, playing hide and seek with the kids on the playground and then inspecting a tree stump to determine its age.

Then inside, we got some chili dogs with a few of our friends for dinner before watching Homeward Bound, the 1993 live action animal Disney film that Vivian and the kids have seen multiple times, but I never had. The kids got to break out their sleeping bags as well and get a nice view right up front.

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Then on Monday night, we had one last bouncy trip to Pump it Up. We’d gone to multiple outings at this inflatable indoor park, all hosted by the Autism Society of Nebraska. Hannah and Aaron have both loved going up and down the big slide and hopping across the giant balls over an inflatable pit.

We’ve even come to know a few familiar faces after coming month after month, but unfortunately Pump it Up will be closing its doors at the end of January, so this was our last trip. We didn’t tell the kids, and I hope we’ll find a new bouncy venue for them to hop themselves down once again.

We may be having a quiet week or two coming up, which will be just what we need to get the house ready for another Hors D’oeurves Party at the end of the month. Stay tuned for that!

Bookin’

Summer’s now on a downward slope, with a week of muggy hotness and scattered days of showers, with time for some house painting, VBS, and a few visits from politicians in-between.

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On Friday, it was Cory Booker who dropped by. About a hundred people came to the Gathering Room to see the New Jersey Senator and Presidential Candidate (polling around 1.5% nationally). He was introduced by three local Democrats and then gave a brief stump speech focused on “values” rather than “policy.” He had a great deal of enthusiasm and energy, which made for more interesting photos than most other candidates I’ve photographed. He also seemed to enjoy making a number of “dad jokes,” asking me personally during the Q&A if I were walked on as a child since my name was “Matt.”

My question was a bit more seriously, as I briefly relayed the assault of journalist Andy Ngo by Antifa in Portland and asked Sen. Booker if he would condemn them for it. You can read a partial transcript of his answer here, but he essentially condemned the violence but not the group itself, saying he wasn’t familiar with the situation. I thanked him afterward (during selfie time) for the question and said that the sides these days are not so much right and left but fringe versus mainstream, and we all should be OK with calling out the fringe, no matter which side they think they’re on.

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In the meantime, our kids were having a week of VBS at First Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, learning about Jesus healing lepers, washing feet, and being a servant in many other ways. We went to the church for service on Sunday so they kids could stand up front and (almost) sing a song or two from their week with their little friends. Our friends the Mills were there as well, and we stuck around afterward for fried chicken and some playground time before dragging the kids home.

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Then on Wednesday night, I dropped by a town hall with Jeff Fortenberry, who actually represents my district here in Nebraska. It was a packed house, and as usual the crowd seemed to be peppers with members of the opposite party. Things stayed mostly cordial, though one lady seemed to want to talk over everyone else during their questions before being told my another audience member, “We came to talk to him, not you.” Another woman wanted to argue with Fortenberry over the words “climate change” and seemed uninterested in his actual proposals on green energy and reducing carbon emissions, and another wanted him to condemn President Trump’s tweets (which he did).

A few more people had more serious questions, such as a woman whose parents died of carbon monoxide after their car, which had a key-less ignition, was accidentally left running. There was also a blind veteran who talked about the difficulty deaf veterans have getting help at VA hospitals when nursing staff have to deal with calling “711” and TTY machines. It was a good exchange overall, and it was especially nice to be able to have a back-and-forth with someone who will actually be on my ballot next year.