Category Archives: Cedar Rapids

Our Flower Girl Ties the Knot

I had a fun little trip down to Cedar Rapids this weekend for Shannon’s wedding — my first cousin once removed. She was also the flower girl at my own wedding, so it was very cool to be able to be there when she tied the knot.


I drove on down bright and early Friday morning, grabbing some breakfast pizza at Casey’s and listening to some Jordan Peterson over the four-hour drive. I did a little sightseeing on the way, dropping by Adair to see the Smiley Face water tower, the Freedom Rock further up the road, and then getting a selfie with some cornstalks.

Then I took a detour to Tama to see the Lincoln Highway bridge. I’ve been a fan of the Lincoln Highway for a while now — it’s as much a part of American history as the Oregon Trail and Route 66, and it just happens to run both through Omaha and past the church where my parents got married.


Then in Cedar Rapids, I met up with my folks at the Flying Weenie for lunch, grabbing a half-pound hot dog that kept me going most of the day.

Then afterward, we drove up Mt. Vernon Road to visit Valley View Church (which now called “CrossLife”). This place has a long history with my family — it’s where my parents were married, where my grandma and grandpa had their funerals, and where I was baptized with my dad back in 2003. It was also our go-to place on family visits, such as my cousin Laura’s wedding or family reunions or just our church on Sunday when we visited for a holiday. It may serve as a spot for a future family reunion. We’ll see.

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I checked in to the hotel and got in a nice walk on the nature trail next door before getting a shower and changing for the wedding. My hotel in Coralville was just six minutes away from the venue in Tiffin, which was convenient.

I saw plenty of familiar faces there, including the four Geho girls and a bunch of their kids I hadn’t seen in at least seven years — many of whom have kids of their own now. My Uncle Ben did the opening prayer and the groom’s father, who is a Pastor, did the ceremony. I naturally snapped photos all the while, finding me in a few convenient spots for a nice shot while trying not to get in the way of the actual photographers.


We had some dessert and dancing inside afterward, as well as some Brazilian cheese bread (Pão de Queijo). We had all the typical wedding elements, from the cake-cutting to the dances with mom and dad. There were some very tasty cupcakes in lieu of the actual cake (which seemed to be cut just for the photo op), and the sugar seemed to be enough to get everyone nice and goofy during some group dances later. No alcohol, of course, as the bride and groom, who coincidentally shared a birthday the following day (day, month, and year) were only turning 20.

I snapped plenty of photos, of course, and also managed to catch up with a few family members I hadn’t seen in aged — and also embarrassing myself trying to keep track of family members who’d grown up when I wasn’t looking.

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I got a quick breakfast at the hotel the next morning and gassed up before driving nearly four hours straight home. Aaron had his first tee-ball game that morning, which was nearly rained out by a passing thunderstorm. It was very fun to see him in uniform swinging a bat and throwing balls with a bunch of other kids. It was a bit casual and unorganized, but I was a proud papa to see my boy having fun.

Then on Sunday, the church prayed over the students as they prepared to go back to school next week. Afterward, we went down to Papillion to grab some ice cream at Graley’s together and then check out some classic cars at the car show around the corner. Aaron got to sit in a rusted out “rat rod,” and the kids got to see some shiny old cars from before even their grandparents were born.

Another Wedding in Cedar Rapids


Over the weekend, Vivian and I made our way back to Cedar Rapids (with Hannah and Aaron in tow) to attend a wedding for Caleb de Souza and Lacie Thompson. Caleb is my cousin Mary Ellen’s son, and I’ve known him since he was about two or three years old, so being able to see him get married as a grown man was quite an experience (and it reminded me how old I really was). The wedding ceremony was held at the surprisingly picturesque Cedar Rapids Public Library, which had a beautiful view of Greene Square Park from the Whipple Auditorium.

My Uncle Ben was the officiant, of course, and the ceremony had a number of interesting choices in music — including a wedding procession made up entirely of Beatles songs. The father of the bride gave his little girl away, sand was poured, and many tears were shed. Even more amazing was that Hannah and Aaron were perfectly well behaved throughout the entire event (though Aaron had a bottle to keep him occupied). We stuck around to greet several of our family members, many of whom broke away for official wedding pictures. My cousin David was there with his photographer wife Bridget, and she was nice enough to snap a few family pictures for us up on the lovely “green roof.”


We all made our way a few blocks north to the Masonic Temple for the reception, where the real fun started shortly after the bride put on her running shoes. Caleb and company made their way into the grand ballroom to Michael Jackson’s Beat It, they kissed a couple times, and then we all started stuffing our faces at the buffet. Cake also happened, which helped fuel a bit of a sugar high for the grown-ups before the dancing started. Caleb and Lacie are both very gifted singers, so the bride and groom’s first dance featured Lacie singing Christina Perri’s A Thousand Years, and the mother/son dance had Caleb singing Mark Harris’ Find Your Wings, which was just beautiful.

In the meantime, Hannah made a few new best friends on the dance floor, spending a good portion of her sugar high dancing around, playing ring-around-the-rosy, and learning how to make funny faces before inevitably crashing into Uncle Jim’s arms at the end of the night. Vivian and I had to cut and run just as the line dancing got underway, but we both did take a few minutes out for a dollar dance or two. You can’t have a proper wedding without dancing, of course!


The next day, Vivian and I spent the morning roaming the countryside exploring the autumnal fireworks in the trees around Cedar Rapids. Naturally, that took us down to the Amanas, hunting for such legendary things as Iowa’s largest rocking chair. We got in a few quick family photos and stopped by a shop or two for fudge and peach wine. We even got in time for Hannah’s first ride on a porch swing before heading out. The kids both slept all the way to Cedar Rapids, where we had lunch/dinner at the Machine Shed, where I’d taken Vivian back when we were just dating way back in 2007. We filled up on chicken fried steak and got some obligatory photos on the tractor out front before calling it a night.

Congratulations, Caleb and Lacie! I hope you have a wonderful, happy life together. See you at the next reunion, whenever that may be.

Ben & Carol’s 50th Anniversary

Vivian and I enjoyed a wonderful (and long) Labor Day weekend in Cedar Rapids surrounded by my extended family celebrating my Uncle Ben and Aunt Carol’s 50th wedding anniversary. It’s been several years since I’ve seen most of the people, and it was great to spend time with them again and introduce them to our little ones.


We started the weekend off with a little birthday celebration at the Flying Wienie, since my birthday happens to fall on my Aunt and Uncle’s anniversary. We’ve passed by this little place every time we went to Valley View for church on Sundays in Cedar Rapids, but it took us years to finally visit when they were open. I got a Chicago-style hot dog and some homemade fries, and Vivian even brought some little birthday cupcakes that she dressed up with candles for me to blow out. It was a nice little way to start the weekend, and I even got to show Hannah an upright video arcade game for the very first time.


That evening, we gathered at Edgewood Baptist Family Fellowship Church to see Ben and Carol renew their vows, the same church they were married in 50 years ago. Caleb and his fiancee Lacie sang for them, and then Ben and Carol said their vows and exchanged rings (again). A whole cluster of family members from the Geho clan and my mom’s side of the family were on hand. A bunch of them had grown up quite a bit during the past six years, and several others now had kids of their own. Hannah seemed right at home running around in the midst of all of them, and we had more than a handful of people willing to hold Aaron for us throughout the night.


The party moved along downstairs, where Arlan introduced Ben and Carol along with all their kids before the food was served. The Geho girls and their gaggle of kids sang a few songs in honor of the happy couple, and of course there was also the Cutting of the Cake™ and a few toasts to top off the evening. Mostly, it was fun catching up with all our family members after so many years apart. Caleb and Lacie handed out wedding invitations in person to save postage, and he wished my brothers had come along so they could play “DAK” one more time before tying the knot.


The next day (after a brief workout at the hotel) we went down to Ellis Park for a long picnic lunch with the family. Arlan and a bunch of the Uncles gathered around the grill, and Hannah got to play with a few of her cousins over on the playground. It was so nice to let her run loose for a few hours with so many family members available to keep track of her, and Aaron got passed along from one family member to the next throughout the afternoon. I couldn’t let the opportunity for a giant group picture to pass us by, either, so everyone gathered on the steps in front of my makeshift tripod, and I was able to snap the whole group in a photo worthy of framing (despite one person’s determination to hide his head the entire time).


That evening, we drove down to Arlan and Barb’s place to have some apple crisp and watch a couple home movies I’d burned to DVD as a gift for Ben and Carol. My dad and I have been recording family get-togethers like this for as long as I can remember, so I gathered as many clips as I could that featured Ben and Carol and put them all into a half hour compilation. That meant everyone had to cram together in the basement, making for more fun group photos. Hannah also got to spend more time getting thrown around by her cousins as Vivian and I got to have an extended conversation with Abby and Shannon about the differences between our generations. (“Roseanne Barr? Is that like a bar with drinks?”)


We weren’t quite done with our family by the next day, either. We got up and had a long breakfast with Ben and the Lockridges at the hotel, checking out photos from the wedding fifty years ago over biscuits and gravy. Then Vivian and I took off to visit the Amana Colonies on the way home, and we managed to bump into the Gibbs. They had come to visit with my mom’s next-door neighbor Pam for lunch (and more gratuitous pictures, of course). Then we bumped into Vivian’s former co-worker Cynthia, proving again what a small world this is. When we weren’t running into old friends and family members, Vivian and I walked around the lovely old streets of Amana buying some wine, cheese, and sausage, and we let Hannah run a bit wild in the candy store picking out something sweet while Aaron got a bottle.


The fun trip wasn’t over then, either. On the way home, we dropped in at Fong’s Pizza in Des Moines, which was highly recommended to us by the culinarily-savvy Phil and Jen. They had pizzas done in the style of classic Chinese dishes — Kung Pao Chicken, Happy Family, and even Crab Rangoon. It required an open mind, since none of them has tomato sauce (or tasted all that much like pizza), but they were all very good. A heavy thunderstorm started rolling in on the way back to Omaha, which gave us a nice light-show and some rain, but fortunately not much else. We did have time to stop by Adair to see everyone’s favorite smiley face water tower and get some quality play time in the park before calling it a night. It was a fun, long trip, and I really didn’t want it to end so quickly. Fortunately, it looks like we’ll be heading back again in October for a wedding, so we’ll probably be seeing a bunch of our friends and family again a bit sooner than six years from now.

Introducing the children, grandchildren, and great-greatchildren of Uncle Ben and Aunt Carol

Grandma Gibbs: 1922-2008

Eula Faye Gibbs: April 30, 1922 – December 11, 2008
My grandmother has been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for the last several years of her life, and her passing last week has honestly been long-expected. Nonetheless, it was with a great deal of sorrow that her family gathered together to release her into the Lord’s hands over the weekend. She is survived by five children, thirteen grandchildren, and too many great-grandchildren to count (including one more on the way we discovered this weekend, congratulations, Catina!) Nearly everyone on my mother’s side of the family gathered to say goodbye to a woman I called Gramma. I’ll carry in my heart many years of coming to see my grandparents, Faye and Bud Gibbs, in Cedar Rapids for Thanksgiving and summer visits. I consider it a blessing that Vivian and I were able to come and see grandma one more time just a week or two before her passing.

The weekend itself was also a real blessing from the Lord, since we were all able to arrive before any serious winter storms hit the Midwest. Mom, Dad, and Jonathan flew in on Friday to pick up their estranged Chrysler from Nathan and travel across Iowa. Vivian and I joined them the day after, arriving in time to catch up with family at the Visiting at Cedar Memorial before going to dinner at Valley View Baptist Church. My cousin-in-law Arlan cooked up some sloppy joes for everyone made with (surprise!) venison he’d hunted down himself. My cousin Barb also brought a bunch of cookies she’d received at a cookie exchange, and I was able to work off the sugar high by giving “airplane” rides to a number of little second cousins running around.

IMG_8265On the day of the funeral, most of us gathered at the Spring House restaurant for a big meal together, having some greasy breakfast and diner-type food before heading on to the church. The service was very lovely, and I was elected to capture video of the ceremony from a convenient perch in the balcony. I’m hoping to put together a DVD with video from the funeral and other activities over the weekend for anybody who wants one. A brief ice storm passed over Iowa toward the end of the day, sending most of us out to our cars to chisel them free after gathering for a few group photos. The cold snap temporarily froze the latch shut on my car door, and it kept most of us indoors for the night. We were fortunately able to get home safely.

It was a difficult, mournful weekend for those of us gathered together in Iowa over the weekend. It gives me comfort, though, to know that my grandmother been released from her sickness at last and is now in the arms of the Lord. We’ll miss you Gramma, and hold you dear in our hearts on this side of Heaven. We’ll all be reunited once again someday.

Turkey, Hot Dogs, and Chili

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I hope everyone enjoyed sharing in the great American tradition of gorging on turkey and battering crowds of demented shoppers at five in the morning this year. Vivian and I got to enjoy having Thanksgiving in Cedar Rapids, the first time as husband and wife. We hit the road bright and early at 4:30 AM, arriving in mid-morning with plenty of time to play games with cousins and their kids. We had a big turkey dinner and then settled in to watch home movies and play games. There was a rousing game of Wii volleyball, and then Shannon got to kick my butt while playing chess. We also had a fun game of Balderdash that evening, with Vivian defining dungarunga as an Australian Pooper Scooper, and me spelling out SBA as the Sagging Bottoms Association.

IMG_8837The next morning, Uncle Ben took us out for Coffee at a local coffee shop called Brewed Awakenings, which has to be the absolute coolest name ever. We also dropped by to visit my Grandma Gibbs at the nursing home. Her Alzheimer’s is unfortunately progressing to the point where she’s having trouble eating, but it was good to visit her and see her somewhat responsive. When they started serving lunch, Vivian stayed by her side with my Uncle Jim for well over an hour coaxing her into eating something. I’m reminded day after day what a wonderful woman I married.

IMG_8850After saying goodbye, we headed downtown to have some lunch. On the way, we toured some of the flood damage from the Great Flood of 2008 There were plenty of depressed-looking homes tagged “unsafe” with spray paint and condemnation notices. I’d seen the photos like everybody else, but when you drive through dozens of city blocks that were all underwater and now remain uninhabitable, the reality really hits you hard.

Fortunately, one of the businesses that went underwater and survives just fine was the Flying Wienie: a hot dog restaurant our family fondly remembers passing by every time we went to church at Valley View (where my parents were married, by the way). We got to enjoy some supposedly authentic Chicago-style hot dogs, though I’ll need some authority like Onion-Boy to give us the official verdict on this.

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And speaking of Onion-Boy, Vivian and I returned Saturday to enjoy a Chili Throwdown over at his apartment. We had a number of admirable contestants creating some mouth-watering (and searing) concoctions. I liked Mark’s spicy little pot of steak chili the best, though I was impressed how Ben’s experimental beet chili made those dirty little vegetables nearly palatable. After stuffing ourselves, we played a bunch of games together. They included Werewolf, a 2.0 version of Mafia that included expanded roles for the bunch of us who didn’t get to participate in killing other guests while they slept. We also played a long, long game of What’s Yours Like, which offered up many “TMI” moments as we tried giving each other the worst clues ever for one word or another. It was a good time, though while we enjoyed ourselves with chili, some freezing rain outside made it a little difficult for some other people to get home. I-80 and 75 were apparently shut down due to accidents.

On Sunday, I had Thanksgiving with my new in-laws, Jack and Donna. We had more turkey, watched some home videos courtesy of Vivian’s Aunt Alice, and played a couple rounds of Mappy, a classic video game from 1983 that Donna is apparently hooked on. It came as part of a five-in-one standalone video game console that you hook up to your TV. I bought it for Jack as a Christmas present last year, and I’m happy to see it getting such good use now that we actually figured out how to hook it up to the TV.

The Chili Throwdown

Surprise Party Weekend

This was a weekend for a couple of (so-called) surprise parties, as two people both Vivian and I know celebrated some landmark, decade-turning style birthday parties this weekend.

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The first surprise party was held for Chad, the unofficial leader of the Christian singles group Great Adventures. It couldn’t have been much of a surprise, as Angie led him up to the garage where we were all hiding wearing a blindfold. For the clueless among us: blindfold = surprise party. We had a flaming grill with hamburgers and hot dogs and a volleyball court cake made with coconut and red licorice.

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Vivian and I spent the weekend in Cedar Rapids visiting with my Uncle Ben there. We came at first to talk about our wedding: my Uncle Ben will be performing the ceremony, and he’s been through this routine enough times that he gave me and Vivian a list of things to figure out ahead of time.

What we didn’t know when we arrived was that last Thursday my Uncle Ben turned seventy, so after we attended a church service on Saturday night, a bunch of our family from town came by to throw a “not so surprised party.” We had a good time, and my Uncle Ben got ribbed quite a bit over turning over another decade.

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On Sunday, Vivian and I got to visit my Grandma Gibbs. Aunt Carol said that she seemed to be much better today than she had been in a while. Vivian and I visited Arlan and his family a bit before heading on back for home. We drove along part of the Lincoln Highway, having an adventure traveling a few of the less traveled roads along the way home. We also stopped to have a picnic at a park in the tiny Iowa town of Elderon before the final stretch home.

Video from Chad’s Party

Wedding in Cedar Rapids


Vivian and I spent the weekend in Cedar Rapids to attend my cousin Elizabeth’s wedding. I got to introduce Vivian to a huge chunk of my extended family, many of whom I haven’t seen in years. The ceremony was very small and informal, and afterwards we had some refreshments that included loads of great Brazilian food. I wish I could have sent my mom a bottle of Guarana.

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IMG_2722.JPGArlan and BenjaminIMG_2770.JPGTom & Barb

I also took plenty of pictures, of course, as the family had fun together singing karaoke and visiting at Mary Ellen’s after the wedding. We also gathered at the Beckman house to celebrate Shannon’s birthday and play with their new cocker spaniel, Freckles “Gucci Gucci Goo” Beckman (the middle name picked by Shannon, spelled by me).


On the way home Vivian and I stopped by the Machine Shed restaurant in Des Moines for a dinner that included a whole lot of Iowa pork and corn on the cob that Viv told me I ate much too slowly. Viv also had an insatiable craving for root beer floats afterwards when she spotted a sign for an A&W farther down the road on I-80.

We drove through a storm just west of Des Moines and were treated to the most gorgeous golden sunset I’ve ever seen before. It was like a little treat God had waiting for us at the end of our journey.

Video from the weekend