Category Archives: Phil and Jen

Birthdays & Braces

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We had a couple birthdays to celebrate over the past week. First off was our little guinea pig Harold, who turned two years old on Tuesday. We celebrated by giving him some colorful carrots for breakfast and then a few treats in the evening, such as a timothy hay lollipop and a blanket with a fleece pocket to snuggle in.

We had another minor celebration as Hannah got her braces off after nearly a year of having to wear them. Vivian and I took her down to Denny’s to celebrate beforehand, and then Grammy brought her some chewy licorice candy as a treat after the came off.

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Next, of course, came Hannah’s birthday! We celebrated with her friends on the Friday before she turned the big one-oh, meeting up with them down at the Kroc Center for some indoor swimming at their water park. The kids got to have some fun swimming about in the lazy river and the “whirlpool,” and both Hannah and Aaron took at least one trip down the big red slide.

Afterward, Hannah opened a few presents in the Kroc Center lobby before we headed back to the house for some cake. Grammy made a chocolate ice cream cake covered with chewy candies that Hannah can now eat with her braces off, which was quite delicious (and fruity).

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On Saturday, after teaching Aaron how to play checkers, I took a trip down to Memorial Park for a rally down on Dodge Street to protest vaccine mandates. Tim Davis of Freedom Rally USA and Allie French of NAGO were there once again with a couple dozen others waving signs. Among them was gubernatorial candidate Theresa Thibodeau, who came by to wave signs with others along the south side of Dodge Street.

It was gorgeous weather for such an event, and I didn’t even need a coat as I walked both sides snapping photos.

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That evening, we dropped by Phil’s house to celebrate his birthday with a bunch of bacon. Vivian made some candied bacon on our grill, and our friends Jenny and Kody made some bacon-wrapped imitation crab sticks. Phil had ingredients for BLTs on the counter, so we all made a couple of those as well as our kids played together (and got read a story by Jen’s dad).

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Hannah’s actual birthday came on Monday. Got up and made some of my mom’s “retreat toast” for breakfast before Hannah opened a few presents and put on her pink Birthday Shirt, which we’d helped her decorate the day before.

Then that evening, Grammy and Pop-Pop came over with Bella and a few more presents. Uncle Nathan also dropped by with a gift of his own, and Vivian and I gave Hannah the plush Cinderace Pokémon, which we knew Hannah wanted but decided to keep hidden until the last moment. I also drew a birthday card for Hannah commemorating her turning ten (with Ten from Number Blocks). Then we baked a few pizzas for dinner, grabbed some popcorn, and watched The Secret of NIMH in the basement together to call it a night.

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In other news, we’ve had a couple lovely days for bike-riding as we head on into Thanksgiving. I rode up to Regency Mall to do some shopping on Tuesday and then across the pedestrian bridge into Iowa on Friday (if you follow me on MeWe, you know why).

We had a record-breaking high in the 60s just ahead of Thanksgiving, and I took a ride up the Field Club trail to snap a before-and-after pair of photos commemorating a great year of bike-riding in 2021. Not sure yet how many more rides I’ll get to enjoy before the snow comes.

A Birthday, a Fish Fry, and a Holey Cow

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Our Spring Break continued with some lovely weather last week, which warranted a least one more trip to the Park. We had some Burger King for lunch before walking the kids up and down the Keystone Trail. They got to see a bridge with several padlocks clinging to the chain link walls, symbolizing bonds of love in a unique counterpoint to the broken plate we saw on Tuesday.

Then that evening, Hannah and Aaron took it upon themselves to clean out our garage and extract our little red wagon for a walk up the street. It won’t be long before we’ll be using again for a concert in the park (I hope).

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Then we had a fish fry feast with Phil and Jen on Friday (say that three times fast). We brought along things to make grilled cheese as our friends Jenny and Kody brought Banana Bread and some Mac and Cheese, respectively. Phil and Kody battered up and fried several filets of fish, along with some french fries and tater tots. We grown-ups also got to sample such unique things as peanut butter beer and some of Phil and Jen’s stash of hot sauce. We also got to try various treats from Taiwan, including “horse beans” and a soft drink made from white asparagus.

Our kids ate and had some fun playing with our mutual group of kids for a couple hours. It was also Gabriel’s birthday, so he got a dinosaur racetrack to play with before we had some blueberry cupcakes for dessert.

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We had a mostly quiet weekend and celebrated “Pi Day” with some actual chicken pot pie, courtesy of Vivian. Then on Monday, Hannah and her homeschool group got to see a “holey cow” provided by Nathan from the University of Nebraska and 4H. They got to learn about the insides of a cow, partly by literally putting their hands inside of it. This cow had a surgical hole in its side, which meant you could reach inside and even pick up the grass it had already eaten. I’m still reeling a bit from the idea, but it was hopefully educational.

In other news, it was also St. Patrick’s Day this week. That meant we learned a bit about St. Patrick at our monthly men’s dinner (which featured chicken from Pizza Ranch). We also had to have our usual Irish dinner of corned beef and cabbage, along with some Irish soda bread Vivian was kind enough to bake to go along with our Irish butter. I even got some Lucky Charms for a “full Irish breakfast” in the morning.

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Thursday was Uncle Jonny’s birthday, and it was just sunny enough for an evening walk down to grandma and grandpa’s house to celebrate. Hannah and Aaron each decorated some cards for him, and I brought along a “Koffee” mug as a gift. If you’re familiar with the Pokémon TV show, you know exactly how to say that word.

In other news, Hannah likes puzzles, Aaron lost another tooth, and I used a giant batch of leftover mashed potatoes to make potato pancakes.

Hot in the Pot

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We’re enjoying the downward slope of summer and getting a few things done around the house before fall. I’ve been doggedly putting a fresh coat of paint on the house, which would have been hard enough if the paint store could consistently match the paint. Donna also came by and got the kids to help her plant a few new daisies in our yard (transplanted from her own). In addition to this, we’ve had an abundance of visitors — namely bag worms wrapped in leafy cocoons — descending from our maple tree into the yard. I’ve been busy getting rid of the little pests and hoping they haven’t caused any permanent damage.

We had some lovely cool weather on Friday night for our second and final trip to the SumTur this season. The August and Gabriel (and Joe) came along for some quality running-around time with Hannah and Aaron, dancing by the stage and flipping chairs before the sun went down. Then we headed back to our blanket to watch How to Train Your Dragon 3.

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On Saturday, we took the kids down to Dream Land Park for the first time since its major remodeling last year. They got an hour or two of swinging on giant saucers and climbing on a rope merry-go-round. There were plenty of other fun places to explore, like a rope bridge, captains helm, bouncy bridge, sticky metal slides, and some replicas of a few historic buildings in Council Bluffs (redone as play areas). I also found a stash of a certain plant that I’d found there last time we visited three years ago. (Apparently nobody’s gotten rid of it yet.)

Afterward, we stopped by Arby’s to have a dinner of sandwiches, fries, and milkshakes with the kids before heading for home,

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Then on Sunday, Phil and Jen invited us over for a “hot pot” at their house. I can’t recall having such a thing before, but it apparently involves cooking a variety of raw ingredients in a giant wok — shrimp, beef, chicken, fish balls, fish cakes, boh choy, rice noodles, and any number of things — full of boiling chicken stock. Another family was invited with their kids, so our kids got to play with some new friends for a while before we sat down to eat.

I managed to help myself to multiple tiny bowls along with some Asian “barbecue sauce” (mixed with raw egg and soy sauce). I was also happy that our kids sampled a bit of everything, including the fish balls we’d brought from the Asian market. After we’d had our fill, we got to sample some of Jen’s birthday scotch before she served up some shaved ice with vanilla ice cream, sweet red beans, and frozen fruit for dessert before we called it a night.

Pizza, Dancing, and an Old New Car

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The whole state of Nebraska is dealing with the aftermath of the record-breaking floods we’ve had this week. Everywhere we go we’ve seen signs of neighbors helping out, including disaster relief trucks all over the place in Omaha. Every church we know has been collecting supplies to help those affected by the floods, turning every available multi-purpose room into a storehouse of food, clothing, and cleaning supplies. It makes me proud to live in a state where everyone seems to be ready and willing to help complete strangers when something like this happens.

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In the meantime, we had a bunch of birthday events happening over the weekend. First off was on Friday, when Catherine (or Dr. Keefe, as I call her at work), celebrated a birthday with the Omaha Jitterbugs down at the Eagle’s Lodge. Vivian and I had the rare opportunity to attend the dance together, setting up ahead of time and then dancing with a handful of our friends when they arrived. Some kids from Arts in Motion came to demonstrate a handful of dances before the evening got underway, and Catherine brought a batch of cupcakes to share before we had her birthday jam.

It was nice to see the crowd for Jitterbugs Night Out was still as large as ever, and it’s remained very much the same since I first attended around 13 years ago. While many of the same people still attend regularly (looking at you Dan Wondra), there are now so many more “regulars” I’ve never met that I now feel a new generation has taken it over. And that’s OK.

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The next day, it was birthday time at the Simpson House. Little Gabriel turned one year old, while Phil celebrated a birthday of his own several months late. We got to make our own pizzas (or garlic bread) using dough from a gigantic bucket and an assortment of ingredients laid out on the counter. We even got to try tossing the dough in a stereotypical fashion that was more fun to watch than practical. There were plenty of kids on hand as well, providing good company for Hannah and Aaron as we got a little grow-up time (and stuffed our faces).

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Then on Tuesday, I managed to crash a fancy dinner Vivian had planned with her parents when I turned out not to be driving to Lincoln as she expected (to get a car, more on that below). I’m not sure how secret the dinner plans were supposed to be, but they fortunately had enough calamari steak for me to have some, along with some shrimp and tasty cheddar jalapeño bread (which Vivian finally got to make right now that she used non-expired yeast).

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In other news, I’m nearing the end of my pledge to drive our Honda Civic “until the wheels fall off.” It’s had a number of minor issues that culminated a week or two ago when it had an irreparably flat tire combined with a spare I discovered has a leaky valve. I’ve been carpooling with my dad and Uncle Jonny since then as I’m getting ready to take ownership of Uncle Nathan’s Corolla — which has its own unique set of problem but far fewer miles on the odometer.

On Thursday, I went down to Lincoln to officially buy the car from Nathan. Dad came along and the three of us went out to Big Sal’s to celebrate with pizza. Now we’re busy trying to get the car fixed up so it’ll be properly driveable before I actually start driving it. Say a quick prayer as we try to get all that sorted out before saying goodbye to our dearly departed Civic!

Also: happy Spring Equinox.

Spring sprung and General Tso

Can you believe we had a blizzard just last week? It seems now we’ve skipped right past spring and gone into summer, including our kids first sprinkler-run of the year and Grammy’s house.

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On Saturday, our friend Jen celebrated a birthday with a General Tso’s chicken taste-testing at her house. A handful of us brought samples of the signature Chinese dish from various places from around Omaha. Vivian and I got ours from Sina Way in Bellevue, which turned out to be the winner. Phil made some fried pork while Jen and her mom made a bunch of scallion pancakes, among other things.

We also had cake, provided by a few of Jen’s nieces. Vivian gave Jen a jar of homemade bacon jam and a batch of bacon gingersnap cookies, which we made with the leftover grease. Hannah and Aaron seemed to have fun with Miriam’s boy Ezra, and several people got to pass around Baby Gabriel before the night was over.

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On Sunday, I took the kids to my parents’ house to get them outside for a bit. They played with Uncle Jonny in the backyard and did some drawing at the kitchen table. They also made some disgusting “soup” with debris from the yard to gross out grandpa. Then on Monday Vivian took the kids to her parents’ house for a run through the sprinkler. Hannah and Aaron also made villages with fairies and gnomes under the large evergreen tree, and we stuck around to have some burgers Jack grilled up for dinner on the deck afterward.

Then on Tuesday we took the kids for a romp at Stinson Park for the first time in well over a month. It was a nice excuse for daddy to break out the remote control car he got for Christmas and give it a test-run. The kids had a fun time running around and chasing it before it was time to call it a day.

Rock’em Sock’em Birthdays

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Winter has been having fits and starts, but it looks like we’re on our way to spring. Last Wednesday, Vivian brought the kids to the park along with some cupcakes to share (in lieu of paying $4 each at Jones Bros). After some brief time on the swings (with Raffie), we ran up and down a few hills to burn off the sugar rush before calling it a day.

Then on Friday, we paid a brief visit to Phil and Jen and their new baby Gabriel. This was a long-anticipated miracle for the two of them, and I was quite happy to take a few new family pictures of the happy parents.

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On Saturday, we joined my parents and two brothers to celebrate Jonathan’s birthday at the local Pizza Ranch. Hannah and Aaron each made a birthday card for Uncle Jonny (featuring Mega Man characters), and then we binged on pizza and fried chicken as the kids played horsey around the party room.

Back home we had some “impossible pie” cake and got to play a bit with a prize Jonathan brought home — a classic Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots game. We also looked at some old family slides and played a couple rounds of Use Your Worlds together, but Hannah was more interested in watching her shadow jump in front of the screen.

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That evening, we gave the kids some green foods for St. Patrick’s Day, and then Vivian made a feast with corned beef, potatoes, cabbage, and Irish soda bread. We also had some Irish cheese, which we ate while watching the classic Disney film, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, which is about as Irish as movie as you could find.

The next day, I got some one-on-one time with Hannah and decided to make some mint chocolate brownies with green icing just for fun. There’s never a bad time for sugar around our house!

Cakes, a lake, and a housewarming

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Hot enough for you? Yes, it’s July in Nebraska, which means steamy summer days and trying to find ways to stay cool other than boarding up inside the house with air conditioning. This is why we have sprinklers in the front yard, which Hannah and Aaron made use of on Thursday.

On Saturday, we took a trip down to Louisville to cool off in the lake. We brought along an inflatable alligator and killer whale for the kids to float around on, and then we stayed just long enough to have some lunch (and a little sunburn) before heading home.

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Then that evening we dropped by Phil and Jen’s new house for a little Housewarming Party. Naturally, they had a bunch of unique food, including some bacon toffee and other things made in their giant, industrial strength stove. They also made some coffee in a strange glass vacuum brewer, which looked like an odd science experiment or drug paraphernalia. The coffee it made was good, though.

The usual batch of our friends were there, and Hannah got to have some quality time going crazy with Kate’s girls before we called it a night.

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Then on Sunday, I took Hannah and Aaron to the River City Confectioners’ Association Annual Sugar Arts and Cake Show. Hannah and Aaron had each made some prize-winning cakes and stuck around to collect their blue ribbons (along with prize lambs and some cookies).

There were several other unique entries, including a Cinderella Cake, a Fast Food cake, a cactus, some literary characters, and a detailed living room set that was made entirely out of sugar (even the glass ship-in-a-bottle). Vivian even made a cake topper, which she brought home on Friday night.

It was back to work after that, which included short-circuiting the Civic. Fortunately, I just needed a new battery and a fuse replaced after that mess.

Christmas Fun and Dim Sum

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The holiday fun continues for the Johnson Family as we took our kids down to the Children’s Museum on Friday night. They had their usual run of the place, which included the carousel, bulldozer, the “Fantastic Future Me” machine, and a science show involving liquid nitrogen.

Of course, they also had a surprise visit with Santa! The “snow queen” and a frighteningly excited elf were on hand to introduce St. Nick and spread some Christmas cheer with soap suds with the kids.

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On Saturday, after being warned of a MASSIVE blizzard coming next Wednesday (which never materialized), we got our first actual snowfall of the year. There were just enough flakes to make our house pretty and the roads a bit treacherous. A car in front of us slid off the road and took down a light pole, which we didn’t notice until we ran into it. Fortunately, the car and everyone inside were OK.

On Saturday night, we had a “holiday game night” with Kate and Jessica and a few of our mutual friends. We had chili and potato soup and played a couple hilarious rounds of Telestrations, which included a Party Pooper, a Man Purse, and My Dad (AKA a butler, for some reason).

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Then on Sunday, we had dinner with Phil, Jen, and Jenny at the Golden Mountain in northwest Omaha, a Chinese place specializing in Dim Sum, among other things. Dim Sum, as I learned, was a bit like tapas, and we all shared in a bunch of dishes that Jen took the liberty of ordering for us: pork dumplings, chicken feet, pan-fried turnip cakes, spicy shredded pork ear, pork and rice wrapped in lotus leaves, and some Steamed Egg Custard Buns for dessert. The food was excellent, but the most fun was just having some kid-free time with a few good grown-up friends.

Afterward, Vivian and I had a brief drive through the Linden Park neighborhood for our annual gawking at the rich people’s Christmas lights before heading on home.

One week closer to Christmas!

Rapunzel, a Tea Party, and a Christmas Castle Cake

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Winter is nearly here, which means drinking in all the unseasonably warm weather we can before the gray gloom and snow of winter comes bearing down on us. That meant a lunchtime trip or two to the park, where Hannah shared some of the pumpkin bread she made in a tin can at preschool with us. We also dropped by the park by the Keystone Trail where I’d left my car after a tire spontaneously burst in my office, which I wound up having replaced long enough for one or two more rides to the office.

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November also seems to be a popular month for birthdays. Our friend Deena celebrated down at Romeo’s for some reason, so we dropped by with the kids for a few sanchos together.

Our friend Phil also celebrated his birthday down at his house in Papillion, so we joined him and our cluster of mutual friends to celebrate with pork loin spiced up with some of his homemade ghost pepper sauce. Jen’s parents were also there to be loved and abused by the many youngsters running around. Phil was smoking half a hog’s head on his back porch, but we only stayed long enough for cake and never quite got to see what he wound up doing with it.

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The biggest birthday of all, of course, was for Hannah on Tuesday when she turned five years old. I took the day off and spent the morning distracting the kids with grandma as Vivian prepared our house for a cute little tea party. A handful of Hannah’s little friends came over to have cookies and (apple cider) “tea” in the afternoon. Then they got a special surprise visit from Rapunzel, courtesy of Real Omaha Princesses. She had a song, a story, and a game for the kids to play in-between a handful of photos, of course.

Hannah got to open presents after Rapunzel’s visit, and then she got to blow out candles on her Christmas Castle Cake. Yes, Grammy asked Hannah exactly what kind of cake she wanted for her birthday, and her request was about as a five-year-old could get. The resulting cake was amazing inside and out, but it was especially weird to see Hannah and Aaron eat fondant effigies of themselves.

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The next day, Vivian took the kids down to the Children’s Museum to burn off an extended sugar high, and I joined them during an extended lunch break. We call this place the “indoor park,” as our trips to the “outdoor” park will now be sporadic until around springtime.

Next stop: Thanksgiving, and the start of the Christmas season!


Highlights from Hannah’s fifth birthday

Mudpies, Tamales, and Rainbows

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The Johnson Family had some time to play in the dirt over the weekend. On Thursday, Hannah and Aaron got to play with mud down at the Fontenelle Center during Mud Pies. That included making muddy footprints, making paintings with mud, and also having frozen chocolate “mud bars” as a snack. It’s something they do every year for Mud Pies and the first time Aaron’s got to experience it himself.

Then on Saturday morning, dad and I got to do some manly work together as we fixed a couple fence posts in my yard. Spring rains and strong winds pushed our fence over to the point where we needed to re-anchor it with cement. It was a fairly simple job, but required two people to level the posts and tie them down with stakes before I poured cement at the base and cleaned them up with a makeshift trowel (i.e. stir stick). After half an hour or so — huzzah! Good as new.

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That evening, we celebrated our friend Jen’s birthday party with another culinary experience — making tamales! Phil and Jen both had corn husks, masa (corn meal with lard) and a pair of meat fillings — rabbit and pork — laid out for us to assemble. It was a surprising amount of work to make tamales, and I learned in the process how instead to make pupusas — pancakes made with the masa and meat and fried instead of steamed. We always love going to Phil and Jen’s house since we always learn something new about food when we come over.

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On Sunday afternoon, we took the kids to a piano recital for the Folken kids, who played a few songs for us and also recited a few bible verses from memory. It was a good lesson in getting the kids to sit still before hanging out afterward.

Then that evening we went by the Bellevue Christian Center for a kind of graduation ceremony for the little ones at Rainbows. It went very much like last time with the kids singing a song or two and displaying what they’ve learned this year (and flirting with boys). Hannah got to show us her collection of badges before returning her vest for the summer. Sammy is in her class and had to give Hannah a hug goodbye as she and her family will be sadly moving to Minnesota before long. All four grandparents (and Aaron) were also in attendance, at least until Hannah’s class was finished.