Category Archives: Lauritzen Gardens

Summer schooled


Summer vacation doesn’t seem like it’ll be happening this year, as we suddenly find ourselves busy every moment of the activity between work, school, and summer activities together (and also some time at the park hunting for mushrooms). Grammy is taking off for a month-long trip to see family in California, so we had her over for one last haircut and then a goodbye dinner with the kids before she left.

In the meantime, both Hannah and Aaron are going to be in summer school full-time for around a month. This is a whole new public school experience for both of them, but we thought it would be a good experience to try something new, at least for a few weeks, to see how it goes. They both seem particularly happy about riding the bus to school, and mommy and daddy have been watching them take off every day this week.


Then on Tuesday, we spent an evening at Lauritzen Gardens with the Mills. The Bellevue Public Library was hosting a free event showing us a variety of “wicked” plants and letting us plant our own venus flytraps, which was particularly fun. At the same time, an oldies cover band called the Greasers was playing to several hundred gray-haired Boomers who seemed to cover every free space of green in the patio area out back.

Once we were done with our plants, we walked right past and spent an hour or two exploring the gardens, looking at the trains, gnomes, and usual sights such as the children’s garden, the Japanese shrine (and dance hut), and a rose garden in full bloom. It was a quieter night than we’ve ever spent, and it felt very much like we had the gardens to ourselves.

This next week, we’ll have a trifecta of events to bring summer busy-ness to a fever pitch — namely Arch Omaha Unite with Jim Gaffigan on Saturday, Aaron’s birthday, and a week of VBS filling every other spare moment. Maybe when that’s over I’ll have another blog update for you (but not before)!

Mother’s Day Traditions


I just got done with a very busy weekend celebrating my three favorite moms in the whole wide world. I took Friday off so we could start the weekend with a new Mother’s Day tradition: touring the Lauritzen Gardens (for free). Grammy came along with us as we let the kids run around looking at the tulips, peonies, and lilac in bloom. We made the usual stops at the waterfall, the Victorian Garden, and the trains, of course. We spent some extra time at children’s area to check out some tee-pees (under construction) and sample some mint. We also walked to Mount Fuji together as a family.

We finished off the visit by looking at some colorful recycled plastic sculpture inside, which seemed to be a theme running throughout the gardens today. There weer also some bees, and Hannah made a bean sprout necklace before we left.


Sunday was Mother’s Day, of course, so the kids and I woke up mom bright and early with some cups and cards they’d decorated along with some breakfast in bed. We went to church together, and then I spent the afternoon doing a bit of cooking for the big evening meal. I made some crab dip as an appetizer, some chocolate liqueur cake for dessert, and some potato salad to go with the burger and hot dogs Jack was bringing in-between. We had all four grandparents over later in the afternoon, including Uncle Jonny (who’d also watched the kids for us on Saturday so we could tidy up). We opened a few presents in-between hors d’oeuvres and dinner, and then I grilled up our burgers and hot dogs. We were fairly stuffed before it was all done, as usual.

In other news, Hannah lost two teeth in the past few days. Our little girl is growing up too fast.

Stinko, Rainbows, and 88 Improv


Aunt Jessica had a last-minute birthday thing on Friday, so I dropped on by with the kids for some “pupcake” and some tacos with a few of our mutual friends. Kate brought a few of her girls, so they got some quality time with Hannah and Aaron as the rest of us played some adult games, namely Qwirkle, Telestrations, and a few others.

I was also able to coax Jessica into playing the piano for us, so she favored us with some Bohemian Rhapsody and the theme of Cheers — both of which we sang along to, of course.


Then on Saturday, Vivian and I (along with Kate) went to see our favorite comedy troupe, 88 Improv, for the first time in about four years. Tim, Nate, and Sarah took the stage at the Backline Theater and performed a bowl full of scenes suggested from the audience for us for the first act (half of which involved a culvert for some reason). Then for act two, they did a long sketch about Little Red Riding Hood starting fires with her “imaginary” wolf, Mayor Jean putting panda habitats in the median of city streets, and two guys getting all vehicular traffic banned — including fire trucks — to make way for bike lanes.

I first saw these guys about a decade ago before I even started dating Vivian, so I’m very glad they’re still performing after all these years!


On Sunday, it finally stopped raining long enough for me to take the kids to the park for a picnic and some fresh air.

Then that evening the whole family (plus Grammy and Pop-Pop) went to Bellevue Christian Center for an awards ceremony at Rainbows. Hannah got an Honors Pin for completing all of her lessons for the past two years. It was very cute to see her and her little friends standing together one last time before getting sugared up right before bedtime.


Vivian and I had some culinary fun later in the week, frying up some of the bologna we’d bought in Pella for Phil and Jen to help us eat. We made some sandwiches with them using toasted pretzel buns I bought at Aldi.

Then on Wednesday, we took the kids (and Grammy) to the Lauritzen Gardens to see Stinko, the corpse flower. The gardens have free admission until the giant flower blooms, (which is hasn’t yet, so it wasn’t even one bit stinky). We took a brief tour through the flora in the greenhouse, and then I took the kids for some exercise on a long walk through the gardens to the rose garden and back before we called it a day. We had nearly the whole gardens to ourselves, which was amazing since the place is usually packed when admission is free (and in the springtime).

We’ve been enjoying some gorgeous weather this past week, and it should hold out long enough to shake our booties at Loessfest on Friday. More on that next time.

Lauritzen Gardens, featuring Stinko

Welcome to 2017

IMG_74332016-12-28 16.49.18

Happy New Year, everyone! We had a lovely welcome into 2017 with a quiet week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. I had time to enjoy some of my Christmas presents, such as ingredients for some Moscow Mules and an egg patty maker for my breakfast sandwiches. The weather has also been wonderfully accommodating — warm enough to rake some leaves or take one last trip to the park (for cupcakes).


Lauritzen Gardens also had free admission through the end of 2016, so I took a long lunch break and went to visit with Vivian and the kids on Thursday. We’ve been to the gardens in the spring, fall, and now the winter, and every time it’s a different experience. This time, there were winter flowers inside along with a giant poinsettia Christmas tree. The train sets had also been moved inside for the season, which Aaron was naturally fascinated with. We didn’t expect much to be in bloom outside (other than a Christmas tree or two), so we had a long walk through the greenhouse before we left.


Then on New Year’s Eve, we celebrated a countdown at the Bellevue Library. Mrs. B, who has since retired, got roped into introducing a few of the new books for 2017 to the cluster of children gathered there. Then we threw confetti and blew party whistles to ring in the New Year (which was happening someplace over Uzbekistan at the time).

Then that evening we went to Twin Valley Church to have a game night with a few of our friends as we counted down toward the new year. We played a couple rounds of Telestrations and Apples to Apples while eating our standard New Year’s feast of chips and dip, washing it down with sparkling cider (in champagne flutes) as the ball dropped in New York City. We packed things up and returned home in time to celebrate 2017 in the Central Time Zone before heading off to bed.

I had an extra day off on Monday to relax as the kids played inside and Vivian and I went out to lunch at Beijing Tokyo. The holidays seemed to linger a bit as we left our tree and lights up long enough to get some pretty pictures of them with my new tripod, but it’s about time to say goodbye to Christmas and then hello to January. At least there’s a Cheese Party involved.

Goodbye, Christmas

A Week-Long Pizzarrific Birthday

I just finished wrapping up a long week full of birthday that lasted from my actual birthday all the way through Labor Day weekend. Thank you to everyone who helped make it so enjoyable — especially to our grandparents who made certain portions possible via babysitting!


The fun kicked off on my actual birthday, of course. Hannah woke me up with a bag full of presents she picked out herself at the Dollar Tree, which included a plush Shark that now graces my desk at the office. At work, my co-workers presented me with a lovely birthday cake and decorations outside my office door.

Then over lunch, Vivian took me out to Sergeant Peffer’s, a Beatles-themed Italian restaurant in midtown, where we shared a couple pizzas and even a side of anchovies. Then I dropped by Ted & Wally’s for my birthday ice cream, and Vivian gave me her special present — a 12-photo picture frame, which I was able to use to showcase all of my presidential selfies, something I’d been itching to do ever since Tom Becka suggested the idea back during the primary.


Tuesday marked the grand opening of Coneflower Creamery, the brainchild of our long-time swing-dancing friend Brian Langbehn. He’s been planning the “farm to cone” ice cream shop for some time now, and he even grew a legit ice cream man beard in the process. I dropped in during my lunch break for a sugar cone full of raspberry cream goodness to show my support on day one. Be sure to stop by sometime, but be prepared for a long line reaching out the door!

That evening, Hannah’s preschool had orientation, so she got to play with all her school friends as all the grownups got briefed on the school year ahead. Our little girl is growing up so fast!


In other news, Jack and Donna returned from their month-long road trip to California and back. They visited friends and family around Fortuna and Yosemite National Park, and they brought back gifts for all of us, including a pair of coonskin caps for Hannah and Aaron.

At the same time, the trusty bike my dad had given me to commute to work finally called it quits. I’d spent just over $100 on new tires and broken spokes, but after it left me stranded for the third time on Wednesday, I had had enough. Rather than give the bike repair shop $228 to replace a wheel and the same tires I’d bought a few months earlier, I instead paid $100 for a fairly decent Trek 720 I found on Craigslist. It gave me a lovely smooth ride to the office, and I’m looking forward to riding it to work from now until the snow comes (which hopefully won’t be for a while).


On Friday night, we kicked off a long, Labor Day Birthday Weekend by setting up at JNO and then dancing into the night with the UNO Jazz Band. They had a few singers who performed in the style of Louis Armstrong and the Andrews Sisters, and the band played a great variety of dance-able songs throughout the night. I had my birthday jam as well, of course, and then we grabbed a few pastries at the Donut Stop on the way home to say “thanks” to Vivian’s folks for babysitting.

Then on Saturday, my parents invited all of us over for a dinner of smoked ribs to celebrate the Labor Day Weekend. I made some broccoli salad in between mowing my lawn and my parents’ lawn before dinner time. Then afterward, we went to the patio and roasted some s’mores over Nathan’s fire-pit, which he’d given to my parents a few weeks ago. Aaron got to have his very first s’more, and Hannah got her fill as well before running off the sugar high on the lawn before we headed home.


On Sunday Night, we had my “official” birthday party at our house. Hannah spent the afternoon at Grammy’s house decorating my birthday cake herself, and then a handful of my friends brought pizza over to help celebrate. (Sunday was our friend Richard’s actual birthday, so we let him blow out his own candles in a separate ceremony.) I got a pair of MST3K DVD movies from Richard, a six-pack of unique sodas from Phil and Jen, and a lovely bottle of Scotch from Mark. After pizza and cake, we played a few hilarious rounds of Telestrations together while Kate’s girls kept Hannah and Aaron occupied until well after their bedtimes, mostly by building a fort in the basement. (Emma actually joined us in the game as well.)


We’d planned on some major downtime on Labor Day Monday, but then Lauritzen Gardens decided to have free admission, so we headed down with the kids see all the flowers in bloom for fall. We usually visit the gardens on Mother’s Day weekend in the spring, so it was a treat to see all the plants and flowers in full bloom before fall truly sets in. That included banana trees with fruit ready to drop in the greenhouse, the rose garden in its full splendor, a corn maze, and a tasting area with stevia, curry, and chocolate mint plants all available for sampling. We also got an extended tour of the miniature train set, which we discovered included models of recognizable Omaha landmarks, including the Woodmen Tower downtown. Then before we left, our friend Jessica from KMTV Channel 3 dropped by to get some B-Roll of Hannah and Aaron for the 4 PM broadcast (which we unfortunately missed).

Now I’m back at work still recovering from my busy birthday week. Thank you everyone for making getting older so much fun!

Three-Day Mother’s Day Weekend


The Johnson Family had a lovely (and busy) little three-day weekend together, starting things off on Friday with a trip to Lauritzen Gardens. Once again it was free for National Public Gardens Day, so we went to see what blooms were out with my mom and dad and the Mills family in tow. There weren’t quite as many blooms out this year, but we had a nice time looking at the model trains, tasting some mint, and keeping the kids from drowning in the surprisingly deep fountain in the children’s area. Hannah and Aaron also got some quality time with their little friends as mommy visited with Lexi and daddy took pictures of the happy blooms that poked out to endure the sunny, 85-degree weather.

Donald Trump was also in town, but we decided not to spend all afternoon crammed into a giant hangar waiting for him to make an appearance.


On Saturday morning, we made our annual trip to South Omaha for the Cinco de Mayo parade. It featured the usual batch of politicians, costumers, native dancers, and lassoing gauchos with the dancing horses right behind. Hannah’s attended the parade every year of her life, so it felt good to keep up the tradition. She seemed far more interested in playing with her new toy balloon than competing with all the other kids for candy, however. Aunt Jessica joined us at our spot in front of South High School to snap some pictures, and then we had some burritos from Abelardo’s for lunch afterward.

That evening, I did some yard work in preparation for Mother’s Day, and the kids were nice enough to help. I also ran some errands wearing my new Mexican flag style t-shirt, prompting at least one Hispanic to ask me, “¿Mexicano?” Just for today, mi amigo.


Sunday, of course, was Mother’s Day. At church, Pastor Ryan had a lovely little Mother’s Day tribute video prepared to honor all the moms in attendance (as well as some Dove chocolate). Then at home, I baked some quiche for a brunch as mommy opened presents from Hannah and Aaron, which were wrapped in their own scribbled decorations. Grammy got a flower pot with Hannah and Aaron’s footprints on it, and Vivian got her usual gift bag of smelly cheese (among other things).

Then at dinnertime, we took the kids to grandma and grandpa Johnson’s house, where Hannah learned she and my mom have an affinity for black licorice. My dad smoked up some pork ribs for dinner, and both my brothers were there to eat with us. Dad and Aaron played with puppets, and I got to read a story or two, and then after dinner we watched a slideshow with family pictures dating back to our time in Kentwood.

I also got to show everyone a special video I’d made for Vivian featuring our two kids. You can see that below.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Botanical Gardens and Mother’s Day


On Friday, admission to the Lauritzen Gardens was free in honor of National Public Gardens Day, so I took the entire day off so I could have a day enjoying some flora with the family. There were a bunch of peonies and roses already in bloom, as well as plenty of tulips, some fragrant lilacs, and multiple family photo opportunities. We met up with Lexi and her kids in the Children’s Area, where our gaggle of youngsters were able to play on some stumps, taste some mint, climb on a dinosaur, roll a composter, and explore a tiny cabin together. It was the perfect spot for a handful of cute pictures before taking a quick peek at Mount Fuji before heading on.

Back at the entryway, we bumped into the Rietjens and got to check out the koi pond and the giant conservatory before calling it a day. The enormous greenhouse-like structure had been built sometime during the last year, and it was now home to loads of tropical plants that could never survive a Nebraska winter — palm trees, kumquats, pitcher plants, a shrimp plant, any number of palm trees, and even little sprigs that soak moisture out of the insanely hot and humid weather inside this place. We walked all the way through up to the Tiki thing at the top before collapsing and calling it a day.

Breakfast with the grandparentsIMG_8200

On Saturday, we had breakfast at my parents house with our kids and my two brothers. My dad had been wanting to recreate the “eat eggs and watch MST3K” we experienced while in college, but instead of Movie Sign we got to watch Hannah try to play the harmonica. We’d gotten to see Mike and the “Bots” tackle The Room via RiffTrax Live on Wednesday, so we got our fill of riffing already. I did, however, get to roll my Ford Taurus over the 200k mark, which was fantastic. I have some smug family who work for Toyota who said it’d never make it past 100. (By the way, how’s that unintended acceleration working out for you?)

Vivian went off to do girly things at Jenny’s bridal shower, such as pinning the goatee on the Kody. I had a busy afternoon with the kids putting together a nice little set of hand and footprints of our little ones as a Mother’s Day present for Vivian. It was a bit crazy, because I realized only too late that the ink pad was permanent, despite having a kid-friendly name like “Silly Winks.”


Sunday, of course, was Mother’s Day, so I treated Vivian to some breakfast pizza before going to church. Aaron got to learn how to climb stairs in-between being passed around, and Hannah got to have a tea party with Rachel — a quintessential “little girl” moment, if ever there was one.

Both moms (and dads and Uncle Jonny) came to our house afterward for a Mother’s Day lunch of grilled hamburgers. We all juggled a handful of tasks, with the dads managing the grill, Uncle Jonny setting the table, and me figuring out just about everything else before we ate. It was a lovely afternoon, particularly because the severe weather that had been predicted mostly passed us by. I had been anticipating an event like last year, with tornado sirens that sent us and our ice cream cake into the basement for an hour or so.

In other news, Aaron is 11 months old, and as adorable as ever.

Lauritzen Gardens

Flower Gardens and Mother’s Day

It’s Springtime, and the living is busy! Vivian’s old friends Sherry and Rob are in town again trying to fix up and sell their house, so we had them (and Jack) over for dinner on Thursday night, which gave me an excuse to whip up a double batch of chicken alfredo, which we ate while catching up. Rob showed me a bunch of his nature photography and snapped a new family portrait for us before we put Hannah off to bed.


On Friday, Omaha’s Lauritzen Gardens had free admission for National Public Gardens Day, so of course we had to drop by and take advantage. Grandma and Grandpa Johnson came along with us to sniff around in the Victorian Garden, and Hannah got to check out some peonies, lilacs, and many other fragrant blooms that were on hand (no roses yet, though). Hannah also stumbled upon a children’s area with a wood cabin and a cluster of mint that she and other children were able to taste (according to the sign). It was perfect weather for a nice long walk in the gardens and there were plenty of other people on hand taking advantage of it.

That evening, Jack dropped by to babysit Hannah as Vivian and I went off to set up at Jitterbugs Night Out again. We had another large crowd for the beginner’s lesson, though we wound up calling it a night before doing much dancing. I hate to admit it, but I’m either old, out of shape, or both. (Or maybe I just need new shoes.)


Saturday was a busy day full of mowing lawns (namely my parents’), buying furniture (a new dresser for Hannah), and buying groceries (for Mother’s Day). Sunday was a quiet day at church as more and more people seem to be out of town, but we still had lovely Mother’s Day flowers for all the moms in attendance. I spent a good portion of the afternoon trying out some recipes for fruit salad, honey-lime chicken, and coconut lime rice for a Mother’s Day dinner. My parents and Jack dropped by to eat with us, and as soon we were finished, the tornado sirens went off. There was apparently a serious storm rolling through, but we didn’t get much more than lightning and rain as it passed. We did stay in the basement for a while watching the weather report and having ice cream cake. We also had a few gift baskets with goodies for my mom and for Vivian. Hannah and I spent Wednesday evening painting a ceramic mug, which Hannah really seemed to enjoy.
Happy Mother’s Day!

A week with the family

IMG_4196.JPG IMG_4050.JPG

Last week, my parents and my brother Jonathan drove across the country to spend a week in Nebraska with me and Nathan. Since moving to North Carolina in 2003, my parents have come back to visit every summer (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and for my wedding in 2008), but this was the first time they’ve visited me as an old married man. Of course, they also had to put up with our other “roommates,” but Dad seemed to take to Flappy and Babo without much trouble.

My mother-in-law is attending a high school reunion in California, so we kept my father-in-law company by taking him down to one of our favorite restaurants: El Chalateco. It’s a small Salvadorean restaurant in Bellevue, and they served us plantain, yucca, and other foods Jack enjoyed growing up in the Canal Zone of Panama.

IMG_4062.JPG IMG_4115.JPG

Much of my parents’ activties while in Nebraska revolved around visiting old friends such as the Lefebers or colleagues from the National Association of Scholars (which inevitably meant eating out and packing on a few extra pounds).

I also took them by the Lauritzen Gardens to enjoy the unseasonably pleasant weather. I’d been there only once before and hadn’t had as much time to explore the grounds. I saw a variety of interesting plant life, from Fiber Optic Grass to some globe amaranth that looked like little fireworks.

IMG_4236.JPG IMG_0021.JPG

Saturday was a big day for the family. Part of Jonathan’s trip to Omaha involved getting a new job interview in Wayne, so he and my mom drove up to look at some apartments. Dad, Vivian and I spent our afternoon in Wisner at the old firing range my dad had helped get started when he lived here several years ago. It was a gorgeous day with temperatures in the 70s most of the afternoon, and the once dirt-covered grounds were now lush and green with foliage (which included some interesting weeds that the Lauritzen Gardens didn’t seem to have on display.) We enjoyed some quality “dad time” trying out some pretty fancy firearms together (specifically an AR-15). It turns out Vivian’s a pretty good shot, so don’t mess with her.

That evening, the whole family had dinner with Nathan and his girlfriend Ranae, and then returned home to play a couple rounds of Apples to Apples and What’s Yours Like.

It was great to have the family back home again, and it’s going to be interesting having Jonathan back in the Cornhusker state once again. My dad had hinted pretty strongly that he and mom will be moving back here when the day finally comes for them to retire. Then maybe we won’t have to wait a whole year to have them back over again.

Prairie Cats at the Lauritzen Gardens

070626_192547.jpg 070626_203101.jpg

Viv and I celebrated our five months together by joining some of our Jitterbug friends at the Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha where the Prairie Cats were playing. It was awfully hot and humid outside, but that didn’t keep over a dozen of us from working up a sweat outside dancing to their swinging tunes. We all had a great time, and I was quite happy to give Viv somebody to dance with this time around. Onion-Boy has his side of the story posted here.