Category Archives: Valentine’s Day

Axis & Allies, Valentine’s Day, and Temperature Tuesday


Cold enough for you? We’re in the middle of a record cold snap, with temperatures down to -26°F and making Nome, Alaska look warm by comparison. It’s so cold that wind generators are frozen solid and our power grid is having rolling blackouts just trying to keep up. It’s weather made for warm popovers and staying in bed — at least until that global warming finally kicks in.


Saturday happened to be Jake’s birthday, so Aaron and I were invited over for a round of Axis & Allies and then pizza for dinner. I’d never played the game before, but I was vaguely aware about how complicated it was and how long it would take to play. Nate and I spent a good half hour just setting up the board with tiny plastic miniatures before Lexi, Jake, and a few friends came by to try to play. I played for England as Jake played the United States, but each turn and its subsequent moves took so long that eventually people started leaving the table in-between rounds. I kept Ginny occupied in the meantime before letting her take over the game board, and even Aaron came by to see what we were up to, taking Jake’s pieces and having a war of his own until it was time for Jake to actually play.

We stuck around for some pizza and wings along with red velvet birthday cake for dinner before heading home. As for the game, it was abandoned after an hour or two, but I think Nate probably won, as he seemed to be the only one with anything resembling a strategy by the time we packed it up.


Sunday was Valentine’s Day, so I made some heart-shaped banana bread and frittatas for breakfast — making good use of Vivian’s cast iron skillet. Then at church, they had the multipurpose room set up for their “café” for the first time since last March, so we were actually able to have coffee and donuts (or shortcake made by Hannah in her class) with a few of our friends before heading out.

On the way home, I grabbed some burgers and a heaping bag of fries from Five Guys for a Valentine’s Day lunch — keeping up something of a tradition we’ve celebrated in years’ past. Then we exchanged some Valentine’s gifts at home, which included a squishy taco cat, some cuddly toys, some cheese for Vivian, and some chocolate strawberries made by Hannah. I also decorated some cards, of course, which Hannah and Vivian thought were funny.


Sunday evening, we returned to church with a family night with several of our friends. They church had a fancy dinner of chicken strips and chicken sandwiches served up by the youth group, and every family had their own table (with name cards on the center pieces). After dinner, the had a series of goofy “minute to win it” games, where Sammy got to collect candy hearts with chopsticks and our family got to stack candy hearts on a tongue depressor in Vivian’s mouth. Every family got to participate, including the Lenarts, who tossed cookies and marshmallows into a bucket on Matthew’s head. Then afterward we got some stylish family photos taken in the photo booth before calling it a night.


The record cold came on Monday and Tuesday, so Vivian and I tried tossing some boiling water into the air to see if it would turn into snow. It didn’t quite work, but it did create a whole lot of steam (and the kids seemed to enjoy watching out the window). We celebrated afterward with breakfast pizza.

Then on Tuesday, I also dropped by Runza for “Temperature Tuesday,” scoring a free Runza with the purchase of onion rings and a drink thanks to the bitter cold. It’s so cold out that the drain pipe from our washer froze to a clog and widespread power shortages knocked out some traffic lights on my way to work (thanks, green energy). I did see a bike left by the Keystone Trail, making me wonder if someone had gone for a ride and given up halfway. Before long I’ll be riding back to work myself (and complaining of triple-digits highs once again).

In the meantime, I’m keeping warm with jambalaya for Fat Tuesday and Chili at the Men of God Tuesday night meetup at Wildewood.

V-Day 2020

It’s been another fun and busy couple of weeks, much of which involved romantic activities on and around Valentine’s Day.


Last Thursday, I took Hannah out for a “Daddy/Daughter Date Night” down at the Chrysalis Event Center at Papillion Landing. It was a cute little occasion for dads and daughters to get dressed up and then have dinner together. There was also some dancing on the little space available on the dance floor, which Hannah seemed to enjoy after getting properly sugared up. A group of little girls even started a conga line during one song, which was adorable, though I couldn’t get Hannah to join in on it. Our friend Dennis was there with his daughter as well, so the two of us tried taking shaky, blurry photos of each other dancing with our little girls before calling it a night.


A week later, it was Valentine’s Day, so I decided to take the day off for some romantic family fun on a Friday. I got up early enough to make some heart-shaped banana muffins, heart-shaped eggs, and avocado toast for breakfast. I also had a few bags of treats for the kids along with some hand-cartooned Valentine’s Day cards, per tradition. Hannah also had an assortment of cards made by her assortment of “kids.” Vivian had some things for me as well, including brigadeiro chocolates that she made up when I wasn’t looking.


Then that evening, Vivian and I took a trip down to Raymond for a romantic dinner at James Arthur Vineyard. We’d been there a couple times before on V-Day for dinners and wine-pairings, but this time was a bit different — a got to pick a bottle of wine to eat over dinner that was served via a buffet line. Most of the food had some kind of chocolate theme to it, even the salad and the tacos. I think our favorite was the Triple chocolate beef and bean chili. We washed it all down with a bottle of “3 Legs White,” named after the very affectionate three-legged cat we met in the doorway on our way in (and out).

James Arthur Vineyards’ Valentine’s Day Buffet

  • Spring mix salad with chocolate chunks and strawberries and a chocolate vinaigrette
  • French bread with chocolate butter
  • Chocolate zucchini bread
  • Tortilla chips dipped in chocolate
  • Triple chocolate beef and bean chili
  • Strawberry brie and chocolate grilled crostinis
  • Cider and beer braised pork with chocolate mole and hwite chocolate rice
  • Chocolate chili tacos

Dessert table

  • Chocolate bread pudding
  • Coconut macaroons dipped in white chocolate
  • Chocolate dipped strawberries
  • Oreo truffles
  • Chocolate bacon and potato chip brownies

We got to have some lovely, spring-like weather after Valentine’s Day, so I took the kids down to the Sandy Park for some quality time running around. Vivian got some chicken Parmesan happening back at the house, which we ate with our friends the Lenarts. Our kids got some quality time playing together and watching The Little Mermaid for the first time, while the grown-ups enjoyed a family tradition of eating too much for no particular reason.

Heartcakes, paella, and never-ending snow

Well, we’re in the midst of the longest winter in human history, with enough snow dumping on us every other day to make Narnia look like a beach resort. It hasn’t interrupted too many of our celebrations this past week, however, so we’re taking it in stride.


On Thursday, I celebrated Valentine’s Day by making Vivian and the kids a breakfast of heart waffles and bacon roses early in the morning. Hannah had some fun dressing the part with hearts on her shirt, jeans, and socks, and both kids colored Valentine’s cards to give to Grammy on their way to BSF.

I secretly stayed home in the meantime, making a red velvet heart cake and preparing a double-layer heart pizza for a Valentine’s dinner. Then I ambushed Vivian when she returned home to take her to lunch down at the special, where we had cheese steak and a pork tenderloin sandwich for our Valentine’s lunch. I had a few gifts for Vivian and the kids afterward, namely cards and their favorite cheeses, and I also had a few gifts for my mom, who watched them while we were away. (Vivian also had a heart-shaped box of truffles for me, which I’ll try not to eat all in one sitting.)


We had dinner at Dennis and Kara’s house on Saturday night right before a new winter storm rolled by. The plows seemed to take a while to get to our street, but we still made it to church once I was done shoveling the driveway. The chili cook-off they’d scheduled for that evening was inexplicably cancelled, however, so we took the chili Vivian had made to my parents house, where we ate it with them and Uncle Jonny instead (bringing along some post-Valentine’s roses for my mom to adorn the table).


Then on Monday, we got to celebrated Jack and Donna’s anniversary with some paella together for dinner. I’d grabbed the necessary ingredients the Saturday before, and Vivian cooked it all up for us to eat together. Both Jack and Aaron sat down to play some Super Mario Bros. in the meantime, which was fun to watch them play, and after dinner Vivian and I gave them a card with of my signature cartoons.

We’ve apparently got more snow in store tonight, and by now the days of sun, grass, and leaves seems to be a fading memory. It’s hard to believe soon things will be in bloom again and we’ll be complaining about mosquitoes and triple-digit heat waves once again.

Steak, sledding, and Valentine’s Day


We’ve had multiple days of snow over the past week or two, but we’re not letting the white stuff keep us down by any means. On Saturday night, Nate and Lexi invited us over to celebrate their son Gabriel’s second birthday. Nate grilled up some hot dogs and some steak butchered from a family member’s cow, which was quite delicious. We had some Orange Cat Cake (designed by Donna, naturally), and Gabe opened up a handful of presents.

Our combined herd of kids had fun playing throughout the evening as I caught up on some classic Mega Man 3 with Nate, reminiscing about how awesome (and difficult) some old school games could be. I’d let my kids experience some of that on Sunday when dad and Uncle Jonny dropped by to watch them play Donkey Kong Jr. for the first time ever.


It was a balmy 41 degrees on Tuesday, so we decided to take the kids down to Memorial Park for some sledding. Much of the snow had already melted, but the park had several hills facing different directions, so there was still plenty left for a few good hours of fun. We usually only come to Memorial Park for the Fourth of July concerts, so it was different to see the place covered in snow (instead of people) and the trees bare enough to give us a view of some lovely Happy Hollow homes. We had a few good hours of sled time before heading home for some shrimp po’ boys and red beans and rice for mardi gras.


The next day was both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. I got up early enough to make a heart-shaped breakfast for everyone before heading off to work. Then during lunch, I met up with Vivian and the kids at Five Guys with a vase of roses in hand for a little Valentine’s Day lunch. That dinner that night, I brought home some beef pho and banh mi from the local Vietnamese Asian Restaurant for dinner along with a few special treats for the kids. Hannah also made some adorable little “cards” for mommy and me, completely unprompted, which was wonderfully sweet. We finished off the day with a giant “cookie” Vivian baked for me, which we ate while watching When We First Met, a romantic comedy on Netflix that was much better than the reviews would lead you to believe.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone, and welcome to the season of Lent! Now let’s get our fish fry on before April First rolls around.

Ten Years of Valentines



It’s hard to believe, but Vivian and I have been celebrating Valentine’s Day together now for an entire decade! This year, we celebrated a bit early with a Murder Mystery Dinner at the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln hosted by the Dinner Detectives. The evening consisted of a multi-course dinner with “performances” by a few actors playing detectives, murder victims, and also guests at a few of the tables in the ballroom. As expected, our job was to try to figure out “who dunnit” throughout the course of the evening (which we didn’t), but it was more fun just to watch the funny antics of the actors throughout the night.

We were asked to invent fictitious roles to play throughout the night, so I pretended to be an IT consultant named Roy Trennaman (complete with an Irish accent throughout the evening). I actually got to be a part of the show as I was called upon to take pictures of the murder victim and some of the more suspicious patrons of the dinner event. Somehow, I also wound up being the prime suspect when it came time to guess the culprit.


On Sunday night, Hannah and her little friends at Rainbows had their mid-year presentation for the parents, so Vivian and I went down with Aaron to watch her and her class sing a song for the grown-ups and show off their badges before getting sugared up in the auditorium afterward. My little girl’s growing up so fast.


Tuesday, of course, was Valentine’s Day. I kicked off the morning making Vivian some Valentine’s Quiche (with Hannah helping to crack eggs). Then when I was in the shower, Vivian made me a bagel with salmon that she smoked herself, so we had a lovely, protein-packed breakfast together.

Later that day, I dropped back at the house for lunch with flowers for Vivian and Hannah (and Aaron). Grandma Johnson then watched the kids as Vivian and I went out for Dim Sum at the Sina Way Chinese restaurant down on Capehart. I was actually scared at first when our server gave us a menu that had only generic Chinese food one could find at any Hy-Vee, but then she gave us their actual Dim Sum menu when it became apparent we were confused. We got to have tasty steamed BBQ pork buns, dumplings, pan-fried turnip cakes, congee, and many of the other things we’d had at the Golden Mountain with our friends Phil and Jen not long ago. We learned later that our server actually knows Phil and Jen, as her husband is the general contractor on the house they’re building, and she seemed somewhat impressed that Vivian and I actually wanted the “traditional” Chinese dim sum instead of the more generic fare on the first menu. That’s one thing I love about Vivian is how we both like trying new things.

We finished off the day with dinner at Chick-Fil-A, which gave the kids a chance to burn off some energy in the play area in-between eating Mor Chikin. It was another happy, successful Valentine’s Day, and it made me want to look back at the past decade and all the other wonderful Valentines Days we’ve shared together. Speaking of which, here are a few.

Vivian and me!IMG_7532.JPGIMG_9714.JPG
Valentine MeatloafP1030537.JPGP1110044IMG_20130214_182650

Fish Fries and Chocolate Dinners


The Lenten Season is upon us again, and that means Fish Fries (in addition to giving up Facebook). Our friends Nate and Lexi had their fourth young-un the other day — Gabriel — and dad decided to give mom some alone time with the baby by joining the Johnson Family for a fish fry down at St. John Vianney’s. They had the usual assortment of fried fish, pancakes, tomato soup, et cetera, and we got there early enough to avoid most of the line that usually accumulated by mid-evening. Of course, we also had five kids in tow, but a couple balloons (and an extra long French Fry) kept them fairly occupied before we were able to get our food. This was also Aaron’s first fish-fry experience, and he managed to clean his plate fairly well with the rest of us. We saw some familiar faces, including Frank and the Guitar Guy, as well as Cliff, who I used to work with at Land and Sky some eight years ago. It’s a small world.


In other news, Twin Valley Church has a new pastor. You may remember back in November Pastor Drew and his family left our church and moved to Clear Lake, Iowa. Since then, we’ve been searching for a new pastor for our little flock, and after a very brief search came across the resume of Pastor Ryan Folken. He and his family used to live in Nebraska back in 2008 but had to move due to the recession. They seemed to be quite eager to move back, and after visiting extensively with our church family, Pastor Ryan agreed to become our new head pastor. On Saturday, I helped a bunch of people from TVC (and a few of Ryan’s old friends here) move into the parsonage next door to the church. He and his family seem like a wonderful fit for us, and by some coincidence they have two boys and two girls (one Hannah’s age) just as the Rietjens did.


Sunday, of course, was Valentine’s Day. Vivian got up early and made me a lovely flower-shaped apple tarts for breakfast and a handmade valentine. Hannah and Mommy both got a cardsflowers and candy, some of which Hannah ate right away, of course. Hannah had also made cards for both grandmas, and Aaron got to give Grammy a bunch of roses when she came over to babysit.

That evening, Vivian and I went down to James Arthur Vineyards in Lincoln for a chocolate-themed Valentine dinner. There was a personal chocolate fondue, salad with chocolate vinaigrette, and a coffee and cocoa-crusted Beef Tenderloin, each with its own wine pairing. Jenny and Kody came as well, and we stayed so long talking about wine and other things that the four of us were the last to leave. Visiting JAV always brings back memories of when I poured for the Lincoln Ad Club’s Taste of the Vine events a decade ago. I’ll have to remember to come back and visit when they have live music again in the summer.

Four-course Wine & Chocolate Dinner
Food by Dinner & Company and wine from James Arthur Vineyards

  1. Appetizer: Chocolate Caramel Fondue with Fruit. Paired with Amo Te, a very sweet red wine.
  2. Salad: Spring Salad with Strawberries and Chocolate Chunks. Paired with Horizon, a lighter red wine meant for summertime.
  3. Entrée: Coffee and Cocoa Crusted Beef Tenderloin, Asparagus with Chocolate Drizzle, and White Chocolate Risotto. Paired with Nebraska Red (dry) or San Realto (sweet).
  4. Dessert: Chocolate Macaroon Bars, Raspberry Brownie Dessert, and Bavarian Mint Fudge. Paired with Aura, a clear, port-style wine.

Wining and dining


The Mrs. and I just finished off another lovely Valentine’s holiday. The romantic fun started on Tuesday last week when we and a handful of other happy couples from Twin Valley Church assembled at Malara’s Italian Restaurant (at my suggestion) for dinner together. We’d discovered this little place a few years ago, and it was a delight to share it with our friends from church and enjoy some homemade pasta together.

I went on a shopping trip or two during the week and assembled a Valentine’s gift basket for Vivian (with an illustrated card, of course) and a bouquet of red roses to surprise her with when I returned home from work on Friday. I even got a small “love bug” pot of flowers for my littlest Valentine, Hannah.

Dining Room at James Arthur VineyardsIMG_4697

On Valentine’s Day, Hannah and Aaron brought a couple Valentine gifts to the grandparents, which included a handmade card with their footprints turned into painted flower petals.

Then Grammy and Pop-Pop came to watch the kids as Vivian and I drove down to Raymond, Nebraska to attend “a chocolate affair winemaker dinner” at James Arthur Vineyards. Vivian had learned about this romantic five-course dinner with wine pairings a year ago, so I made a note to sign us up as early as we had the opportunity (which meant calling the vineyard in January to reserve a spot before the event had even been announced!) It was a tasty affair, to say the least, with Roasted Cauliflower Soup, Chicken Pecan Salad, a roast beef on a baguettea bacon-wrapped filet, and a chocolatey dessert (including a tuxedoed strawberry), each with its own unique wine pairing. We left feeling quite satisfied and ready to come back again next summer perhaps for some live music or a murder mystery.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! I hope you were able to enjoy it with someone you love.

“Meet Your Winemaker” Five-Course Dinner
Food by Dinner & Company and wine from James Arthur Vineyards

  1. Soup: Roasted Cauliflower Soup. Paired with Amo Te or Dry Seyval.
  2. Salad: Chicken Pecan Salad with Chocolate BBQ sauce. Paired with Horizon.
  3. Appetizer: Roast Beef with Caramelized Onions & Blue Cheese on a Baguette. Paired with Sweet Charlotte.
  4. Entree: Bacon-wrapped filet with rich balsamic cocoa glaze. Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Loaded Baked Potato. Paired with St. Vincent or San Realto.
  5. Dessert: Chocolate TrioChocolate-Dipped Strawberry, Churro with Chocolate Dipping Sauce, Chocolate Truffle Meringues. Paired with Tropasti.

Swine Dining

IMG_0972_2The weather in Nebraska is hardly consistent or predictable, but while parts of the south are struggling to deal with an inch or two of snow, we in Nebraska have been enjoying what little snow we got this season before it vaporizes. On Thursday last week, we finally got Hannah into her snow pants so she could try throwing her first snowball, and we even rolled up a snowman with her to place on the front lawn. We were fresh out of coal and had to make do with some cherry tomatoes and a grape (which Hannah ate). It was good to let her experience some of the joy of snow before spring comes on too quickly.IMG_1028

That evening, Grammy and Papa babysat Hannah as Vivian and I went off to enjoy some Valentine’s Eve together. We dropped by the Claim House in midtown Omaha, where I’d brought a Groupon I had hoped to use for a noontime date with Vivian. Then they stopped serving lunch, so we were left to have a proper date night together. We both ordered the meatloaf, which was what we had for dinner on our first Valentine’s Day seven years earlier. It seemed appropriate.

Afterward, we took a drive up to Ted & Wally’s for ice cream before returning home.


Vivian and I both had some surprised rolled up our sleeves for V-Day 2014. I kicked it off in the morning by whipping up some heart-shaped red velvet pancakes for a Valentine’s breakfast for us. Hannah especially seemed to like them. Then at lunchtime, I drove all the way home so I could drop off some special Valentine gift baskets for my two special ladies. I had also grabbed some lunch for us, but Vivian had actually driven all the way to my office to surprise me there at the exact same time! We eventually met up at my office, where we got to have a nice lunch at my desk as Hannah watched Winnie the Pooh.

That evening, we all went out to Swine Dining in Bellevue, which is an amazing barbecue “joint,” and though not the most romantic place to eat certainly had some delicious smoke ribs (which Hannah seemed to like as well).

Hannah got to romp in the snow a bit more before it all melted away. On Sunday afternoon, I took her down to the park in her snow pants, and she decided splashing in puddles was better than stomping about in the white stuff. We had some more fun on Monday over lunch as we went to Rockbrook Park to take Hannah sledding for the very first time.

Love and murder

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Love was in the air last week, with just a whiff of murder. On Sunday evening, Twin Valley Church hosted its first Valentine’s murder mystery potluck party. We had almost the entirety of the congregation participating, including Mark and Lisa, Drew and Teresa, Jack and Donna, and a handful of other willing suspects. The setting was an Australian island after some kind of shipwreck involving a cluster of Olympic athletes. I got to play a Swedish ping pong champion, a la Jan-Ove Waldner, who didn’t do much other than pee on trees and run away from snakes. Several of us enjoyed getting into our characters, including Pastor “Terone” from Detroit. The actual killer turned out to be Lynn Sahs, which took almost everyone by surprise, since we had about a hundred red herrings floating around for our characters to fish for.

P1140374 IMG_20130214_193425

On V-Day itself, I made up some heart-shaped pancakes for Vivian for breakfast. Then, I spent a busy morning preparing some fettuccine alfredo for a surprise lunch visit to Vivian at Friendship Program. Of course, I brought Hannah along for the ride so everyone at her office could coo over our rapidly-growing up baby girl. (And left a surprise on Vivian’s desk when no one was looking.)

That evening, we had a modest romantic dinner at one of our favorite burger chains, Five Guys. I’d taken Vivian to other more (traditionally) romantic venues in the past, but we somehow enjoyed our burgers and fries much more, particularly because we didn’t need to worry about Hannah interrupting anyone else’s candlelight affairs. After dinner, we topped off the evening by getting Naked at Aldi. Yes, we did.

In other news, Hannah knows herself from head to “toooooooe!”

V-Day Weekend

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On Friday night, the Omaha Jitterbugs held their annual Pink Party, so Vivian and I decided to take Hannah to her very first night of swing dancing. The usual cast of characters was there in full force, of course, and we enjoyed being able to show our new baby girl to everyone who hadn’t seen her yet. Hannah slept through the entire dance, including the part where I decided to take her out on stage for her very first father-daughter dance. Hopefully, this will be the first of many long, happy years of dancing for my baby girl.

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On Saturday night, Twin Valley Church held a kind of Valentine’s dinner / surprise 25th anniversary party for Rick and Tammi Hall. We all brought an array of Italian food, and I took my hand at a bulk version of fettuccine alfredo. There was also a heart-shaped cake and a bunch of cannolis for dessert. The Hall’s wedding video played on a nearby television, and the happy couple gathered for cake-cutting and cake-feeding afterward (Jack commented, “Do what you wanted to do 25 years ago!”) Savannah West was on hand to take romantic pictures of people underneath a makeshift archway in the other room, including a couple of the entire Hall family.

After dinner, Vivian and I participated in a “Newlywed Game,” along with the Halls and the Sterups (who had recently celebrated 53 years of marriage). Vivian and I didn’t score any points in the first round but wound up taking first place by the time the second round was over. Fortunately, I’d asked Vivian questions well in advance such as, “What item would you save first if your house were on fire.” We wrapped up the night with a few kind words from the Halls’ friends and family.


Naturally, I still had a few tricks up my sleeve for V-Day itself. I woke Vivian up with a surprise breakfast of heart-shaped “egg in a hole” and bacon before she left for work. Over the lunch hour, I dropped by with chili and cornbread for lunch, along with a special gift basket I’d filled up with for of Vivian’s favorite things (note the tiny bottle of Bailey’s). That evening, we had a big catfish dinner down at the Catfish Lake Restaurant and then got some ice cream at Ted & Wally’s afterward to round out our lovely, romantic day.

It’s the five-year anniversary of our first Valentine’s Day, and I’m amazed at how far we’ve come since that night of meatloaf and wine. I love you, Vivian!