Category Archives: Wildewood

Splashing, Bouncing, and Grammy’s Birthday

It’s been a busy week post-blackout having some summer fun with the kids and spending extra time with both sets of grandparents.

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On Tuesday, I pedaled down to Seymour Smith Park to have lunch with Vivian and the kids and get a little wet at the splash pad. We like to visit this little splash pad at least once every summer, and its proximity to the Keystone Trail means it’s just a quick bike ride from my office down to the park. It was a particularly refreshing way for me to spend a lunch break (though it hasn’t helped my farmer’s tan at all).

In the meantime, Jack and Donna remained without power nearly all week, which meant Jack’s been spending the night with us to plug in his oxygen. We also got to help use up some of the thawed food from their freezer. That involves Jack and Vivian frying up tilapia, scallops, shrimp for us to eat. It’s a sacrifice, but I’ll do my part.

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Then on Thursday, with the last election season barely over, we kicked off a new one as State Senator Brett Lindstrom officially announced his bid for governor. I’d bumped into him numerous times recently as the Walk for Life and the Ralston Parade, and several of my mutual Republican friends have already hopped aboard his campaign.

I was able to bring along our friends the Folkens to say hello and ask a few questions of the candidate after his stump speech, and I spent much of the evening snapping photos and rubbing elbows with several members of the Lindstrom family (and the fake news media). One of the nicest things about Nebraska is how easy it is to get close to the folks running for office like this — something I try not to take for granted.

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In other news, I’ve been riding my bike every chance I get, going to and from work and getting  to see mist over the prairie grass as the sun rises.

I also got some extra exercise at lunch on Friday when Vivian took the kids to Altitude for some quality time bouncing around together. We even got in a game of dodgeball, which was immensely fun for me, as it was the only sport I like playing back in elementary school and I hadn’t had the chance to play in over a decade.

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On Saturday, I got to spend a little quality time with my folks in my morning. First, we headed down to McDonald’s for breakfast with a couple of their fellow “seasoned citizens” — a group that’s been meeting for breakfast on Saturdays just as a way of getting out and socializing for a couple decades now.

Then after breakfast, my dad needed an extra pair of hands to help mend a fence, which had come apart in the recent wind storm. It wasn’t broken too badly, but we had to put a few deck screws through a few new boards to attach the fence back to the supporting post. Then I stuck around long enough to help my dad uninstall some Adobe malware on his laptop, AKA Creative Cloud.

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Saturday was also Grammy’s birthday, so much of the day was spent celebrating and keeping our kids occupied (with a board game they created) while Vivian and Jack fried up some calamari steaks for dinner. The kids also made Grammy some handmade cardsas did I, of course — and then we gave Grammy a handful of presents, which included a new ice chest, some habanero-blueberry jelly, and a grown-up coloring book.

Vivian made some Mississippi Mud Pie for dessert, which Hannah and Aaron decorated with a few “worms,” AKA Twizzlers before we blew the candles out. It was a pie with enough sugar to make Hannah go a bit crazy, so I took her for a quick bike ride to my parents’ house and back to work it off before going to bed.

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Then on Sunday, I got up early enough for a nice long ride along the full length of the West Papio Trail, all the way from Culver’s in Bellevue to Downtown Milliard. It was a lovely little ride that went past some hidden street art and a large tortoise crawling along. In Millard, I saw the Dairy Queen that was briefly featured in the movie About Schmidt on my way to Millard Avenue and back. I also passed a quaint little bike shop that might be worth visiting should I ever make it back.

Back home, we went to the late service at Wildewood so we could attend their summer social at noon immediately afterward (making time for Hannah to ride her bike and Aaron to have a shadow-fight with me). We had a nice time having “walking tacos” and some ice cream and chatting with a few other parents as our kids bounced around in the bounce house for a bit (and got a family photo).

Mulberries, VBS, and Aaron’s Birthday

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Summer is here, and that means the mulberries are in full bloom. I took the kids for a walk down 25th Street just to pick up a couple, where several trees seem to be littering their wares all over the sidewalk. Vivian also finally broke out the pool on Wednesday so the kids could cool down a bit, as the temperatures push into the 90s and beyond.

That still hasn’t stopped me from having a few beautiful morning walks, whether to Chick-Fil-A or an old country road just to watch the sunrise. I’ve also been using my bike nearly every day, pedaling by Arby’s for a free lunch (using four-year old coupons that apparently don’t expire) or up to Memorial Park just to stop and smell the roses. I’ve got to keep it up if I want to burn off things like the cheesesteak Runzas I somehow convinced Vivian to make (from a “recipe” consisting entirely of blurry photos on Facebook).

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Hannah’s been attending First City Church’s VBS (“Concrete and Cranes”) down in La Platte. It was held in the old high school next to a few even older buildings, relics from a time when La Platte was a legit town generations ago. A bunch of kids from our area, including the Mills, have been attending the VBS week, and the kids all put on a little performance for the grown-ups on Friday morning, who were invited as a surprise. I had the day off, so I got to go as well, and they even gave us a sack lunch afterward. We were supposed to have a picnic, but a thundershower happened to be rolling through Omaha at the moment and put an end to that.

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Aaron’s birthday was also on Friday, so we picked him up early from a half-day at summer school, where he got a paper crown to celebrate the day. We dropped by Schwer Park to check out their splash pad as a possible spot for Aaron’s party the next day, and we wound up staying for an hour or two. Because of the rain and the weekday, we had the entire place to ourselves, so Hannah and Aaron (and even Daddy) got to run around and get thoroughly soaked — even though we hadn’t brought our swimsuit!

It turned out to be a lovely little park, with a pretty lake and a small, sandy playground in addition to the splash pad. Most important, though, it had those “buckets” that Aaron loves to get dunked underneath, so it seemed like a no-brained destination for a party.

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We celebrated Aaron’s birthday that evening with visits from all four grandparents. Grammy and Pop-Pop came by with some presents, which included some Mario stickers for Aaron to decorate his room. We had some burritos for dinner (at Aaron’s request) and then had him blow out candles on a pair of brownies Donna brought by for a “cake.”

After dinner, we dropped by my parents’ place to continue celebrating. They got Aaron some paper and dice to make his own board games, Uncle Jonny gave him a Mega Man board game, and Uncle Nathan gave him a Dr. Wily action figure. Mommy and I also had a few presents, including a pair of dart guns and a plush “Magolor” from Aaron’s current video game. After the presents, Aaron got to play Mario Maker with Uncle Jonny for an hour, dictating a level design with him — something he’s wanted to do pretty much every time we’ve visited for the last year or two.

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The next day, we returned to Schwer Park for the afternoon, where Aaron got to have several hours to run around getting wet with a bunch of his friends. We got there early enough to claim a few tables for ourselves, and Aaron wore himself out running from one end of the park to the other, chasing after his little friends and then getting dunked repeatedly with the “buckets” at the end of the afternoon (and even Mommy and I wound up joining in).

Hannah picked a few mulberries with Sammy to tide her over until Grammy before the cake. She made a giant camping cake, which was all chocolate except for the tent, which was blueberry. It featured a little fondant Aaron fighting a “tree boss” and a “rock boss” with several other people and a gelatin lake. A few nesting birds kept us company in the pavilion before we left for the evening. We got some burgers at McDonald’s on the way home, and Aaron crashed pretty much immediately afterward.

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We managed to make it back to church bright and early the next morning. They had some waffles for the Wildewood parents in the multi-purpose, so we got to visit with a few oft he grown-ups as Hannah and Aaron got properly sugared up before we headed home.

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Happy birthday, Aaron!

Happy Trails, Camping, the Zoo, and Pie

Summer’s finally here, and that nmeans finding new ways to enjoy the great outdoors while tryinhg to stay cool at the same time.

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I had a fun time getting to know Omaha’s bike trails a bit better this week. I took a ride up the South Omaha Trail by the abandoned grain silos, which travelers can see clearly near the 480 interchange on I-80. I took a trip by Trader Joe’s the next day, and then I rode up to Esther Pilster Park for a lovely picnic lunch (and a nap) under some tall trees the following day.

It’s been fun being able to explore some of the hidden trails and parks in Omaha that you can’t exactly see from the main roads. I also seem to have gotten bit of a farmer’s tan, with a nice white outline of my Fitbit, in the process.

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Over the weekend, Vivian and Hannah went camping together with the American Heritage Girls down at Lake Manawa. Hannah learned how to sharpen a knife and whittle soap, tie some knots, paint some rocks, play UNO with some friends, and practice hitting a volleyball.

She also got to find a “gooey” frog or two, something she’s always enjoyed doing while camping, and she also got to have pizza baked in a cast-iron Dutch oven for dinner (along with s’mores, of course).

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Aaron and I got to have some “guy time” in the meantime. On Saturday morning, we visited grandpa to help clean up some of the things he’d used to smoke the brisket we had on Monday. Then I helped to get the water turned back on for their lawn sprinklers, which Aaron immediately used to cool off while outside. He wanted to play some video games, and he eve found Uncle Jonny’s giant collection of old NES titles, but we were able to get him to draw out what he’d like to build in Mario Maker sometime on paper instead.

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Then that evening, I grilled some burgers and fries for dinner (with avocado) and then took Aaron for an evening at the Omaha Zoo. We went to see the new Sea Lion exhibit first, which had some lovely viewing windows underground where we could see them swimming about. We got a bit sidetracked by the mazelike “Children’s Adventure Trails” on our way to the aquarium, and Aaron had some fun there climbing, sliding, wading, and hanging in a chrysalis as a few monkeys climbed overhead and prairie dogs ran about. Then we finished our visit seeing some puffins, penguins, jellyfish, and other sea life in the Scott Aquarium before things began to close down. Of course, no trip to the zoo would be complete without a visit to the wet, spinning globe or the lion statues, where Aaron got a few obligatory photos before we headed home.

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Vivian and Hannah returned home the next day. I took the kids by Grammy’s house to have some lunch as I trimmed some hedges. Then that evening, I went by Wildewood for Praise and Pie Night. We had about an hour of worship songs with a performance by the South Sudanese church singing Amazing Grace in one of their native languages (and garb). It felt like a spiritually cleansing time for myself, with the weight of trouble and turmoil in the world being ripped away in the light of God’s presence there in the sanctuary.

We had a bunch of pie afterward, and I got some peach and cherry for Vivian and the kids, along with some all-American apple pie for myself (with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, of course).

Birthday buddies, spare ribs, and an end-of-year ceremony

We’re having some lovely spring weather with everything in bloom, and I’ve been taking advantage of them with some daily walks throughout the day. It’s given me the chance to see such interesting sights as sidewalks lined with petals like the world’s longest wedding procession, as well as two funeral processions within minutes of each other on Center Street.

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On Saturday, we celebrated birthdays for August and Jonah down at H.W. Banner Park (without the water features, unfortunately) with a bunch of their little friends. Grammy baked a delicious Mario birthday cake, and the kids had fun picking with parts they got to eat. Mostly, it was a couple hours of the kids getting fresh air on a windy day playing and picking dandelions together before opening presents.

Then on Sunday, our kids learned they’d brought their bibles enough times to earn a couple candy bars in Sunday School. That led to a long and sugared-up afternoon for them.

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On Monday night, Hannah had her fourth annual “end of year” ceremony with her Classical Conversations homeschool here in Bellevue. Grammy came along to watch Hannah get her certificate along with the rest of her class, and each group recited what they’d learned in the form of songs that they’d memorized. Jake in particular earned a “Memory Master” award for memorizing an obscene number of lines from their “timeline song,” along with writing a paper that he recited to those of us in attendance.

The kids had fun playing together afterward, having a few sugary snacks before playing outside and then having an impromptu “glow stick party” down in the church basement when no one was looking.

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Tuesday night was the last Men of God dinner for the season at Wildewood. I went along and brought a few $2 bills for the collection basket just to be funny (and I was out of “normal” cash). Woody brought along his portable grill again and made ribs for us, and then Pastor Ron had us make a list of our “social” contacts and rank them according to which “chair” they sat in, according to the book “4 Chair Discipling” by Dann Spader.

Then on Wednesday, Hannah had a monthly meeting with the local American Heritage Girls troop, where she got to learn how to lead a horse and brush its hair with a few other girls. We’d been looking for a new social group for Hannah to be a part of, since she’s outgrown Prims at BCC, and this seems to be a very good group — more like the Boy Scouts than that other group with all the cookies. We also got her activity book with all the badges she can earn. I’m particularly looking forward to helping her with the ones on the Constitution and Graphic Design.

Banned books, a seminar, and quality park time

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Dr. Seuss’ birthday was last week, so I dropped by the library in Bellevue to pick up a couple of his books on his birthday — namely two of the books on his “banned” list, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” and “The Cat’s Quizzer.” I had put a hold on all six books but was happy to nab just the two, and I read Mulberry Street to the kids that evening.

I also made a special dinner of actual green eggs and ham. The ham itself was its normal color, but the eggs were colored both with food coloring and with spinach in a kind of frittata. I wound up making more than enough eggs, which lasted us for a couple more breakfasts before they were gone.

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It’s been more than a relief to have a break from record cold and snowfall, so on Friday we had an inaugural visit to Stinson Park over the lunch hour. I ordered a small pizza from Godfather’s, which we ate together picnic style at one of the tables before the kids had some fun running around. Hannah made good use of her scooter, which she finally started to ride after we found it back in 2016 (abandoned with a note that said “free”) at this same park a few years ago. Aaron also got some quality time in on the swings before we called it a day.

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Our church also had its first “Wildewood Academy Seminar” on Friday evening and Saturday morning. Vivian and I decided to tag-team so we could both attend, with me staying home with the kids (making spaghetti and meatballs for dinner) and listening in on the live stream as Vivian attended in person, and then vice-versa the following morning.

The guest speaker was Casey Tygrett a “Theologian in Residence” at Parkview Christian Church in Chicago, and he spoke on a Christian’s “identity.” It was an interesting set of lectures but seemed focused quite a bit more on the “self” than on God. Still, I’d heard plenty of messages about the depravity of the human race and this was an interesting twist to say the least.

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On Saturday afternoon, I took a walk in the lovely weather to my parents’ house to look through another one of my dad’s old boxes. This one was filled with old pocket knives and gadgets such as a pocket adding machine, a pocket grooming kit, and an embossing stamp with my dad’s initials. We also found an old button my brother Nathan had made, which said proudly, “I are a Brookwood student.” That brought back some memories.

Nathan eventually joined us as my dad dug through some photos and video he’d taken at age 12 of some model planes that he destroyed in an attempt to recreate World War II battle scenes he’d seen in movies. Nathan dropped by as well and showed off his new Nikon and a gigantic lens he’d bought to take wildlife pictures for a photography class at Southeast Community College he was apparently taking just for fun.

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I made some eggs benedict Sunday morning, which was a delicious way to start the day. Casey Tygrett stayed to preach the Sunday sermon at church, and the kids grabbed some donuts before we headed down to Ralston Park afterward. We got some Burger King for lunch, and then the kids got to run around a bit. The last time I was at this park with Hannah, I’d turned 34 and she wasn’t yet old enough to walk. Now I got to chase her and Aaron around a bit with Aaron as they climbed, jumped, and “fought bad guys” from one end of the park to the other.

And because we still hadn’t had enough, on Tuesday we took the kids down to Elmwood Park for even MORE park time. Aaron and Hannah ran through “levels” on rocks, on nets, and in-between swings, and mommy and I took turns pushing them together on the big swing. The kids had some PB&J for lunch before trying out some exercise equipment, and then we went on a brief walk/scooter ride to the grotto and back. On the way, we found the broken shards of a plate that seemed to be the cathartic result of someone having a literal break-up (with someone named “Braden”).

I think after a long winter spell, we were more than ready for some fun outside. But who knows? We may yet have snow coming yet in April or May. (It’s happened before.)

Harold and Hannah have a birthday

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We had a couple of birthdays in the Johnson household this week. First up was our guinea pig Harold, who surprised our friends the Mills by popping out of his mommy’s tummy one year ago Monday. Hannah made him a plate of his favorite foods arranged in a smiley face for breakfast that morning, and then that evening I had some cilantro and baby cucumbers for him to much inside of a new, snuggly guinea pig bed I picked up from PetCo. I’ve had four guinea pigs growing up, but I never actually knew any of their actual birthdays, so this was a special day!

In the meantime, Aaron got to bake some cookies he prepared at church during Sunday School. Hopefully the ones he’s saving for Uncle Jonny and August make their way over before they go stale.

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On Tuesday, I joined the Men of God group at Wildewood for a barbecue dinner — the first time I’d attended since before the pandemic. Our guest for the evening was Charles Wilson from the Omaha Street School, and he shared his story growing up and getting into trouble in college before coming to Omaha to attend Grace University.

We also enjoyed some lovely weather later in the week and decided to take the kids down to Stinson Park. Even though we’d visited several other parks throughout the year, we hadn’t been to “Daddy Park” since way back in March, so it felt good to be back. The kids got to have some quality time running around and playing on the swings. Temperatures were around 70, so we didn’t even need coats. It felt good to get outside for some fresh air, and Aaron even lay down to watch some of the airplanes leave trails in the sky overhead.

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Then over the weekend came Hannah’s birthday (shortly after a few birthdays for her dolls). We had a little party for her and a few of her little friends at our house on Saturday. Sammy and “Other” Hannah came over and made a variety of crafts on our dining room table in the afternoon. Donna brought over a Camping Cake featuring the four of us together (and me taking photos of the food), filled with lemon, strawberry, and chocolate cakes.

Hannah opened a few presents from her friends in the living room afterward before blowing out her candles (on a makeshift “nine“), and everybody had fun eating the little miniature fondant sculptures on Grammy’s cake, which included a butterfly, a bunny, a squirrel, a picnic table, hot dogs and hamburgers, and all of us, of course.

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Hannah actual birthday happened on Sunday, so we got up early for a breakfast of bacon and donuts together before opening some presents. Grammy got Hannah a “bed tent,” which I immediately helped set up for her and Aaron to play in. She got a handful of other presents from mommy and me, including potato chips and Hatchimals. Aaron also had some gifts he picked out, along with a birthday card decorated with the Pokémon Cinderace, which is apparently the final form of Hannah’s favorite Pokémon Scorbunny.

We dropped by Grandma and Grandpa’s house in the afternoon so Hannah could opened a few more presents, including a giant 24-piece set of “Twosie” characters, as well as a plush Scorbunny from Uncle Jonny, which immediately became Hannah’s favorite gift. We went by Dairy Twist for some ice cream afterward, and then settled the kids down watching Finding Nemo while eating (ironically enough) shrimp for dinner to finish off the day.

I think Hannah had a very happy birthday, but we barely had time to catch our breath, as Thanksgiving is right around the corner. (And that meant rushing to buy a turkey in time to thaw!)


Highlights from Hannah’s birthday

Dandelion Soup and Buttermilk Biscuits

As parts of the country slowly begin to open up again, it feels like this pandemic season is starting to wind down — particularly when I start to see toilet paper and even hand sanitizer on grocery store shelves again. I’ll be happy never hearing the words “social distancing” ever again, but I’m also grateful our family has had a relatively happy, normal time during this time — and good health all around.

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Vivian’s been involved with her BSF Children’s Ministry for the past year, but because of the pandemic, her participation has been via Zoom meetings and pre-recorded videos for the little ones that I’ve helped her put together. It’s very sweet to see the little one and two year olds watching her happily singing and talking about Jesus on their computer screens.

We’ve had the opportunity to try new cuisine during this time, and not just the homemade pizza and mock Chick-Fil-A sandwiches made with red bag chicken. At some point last week, Hannah decided to make me “dandelion soup” with scraps she extracted from our yard (and some kale from the fridge). She even went so far as to write down a pictorial recipe for the dish.

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The city of Omaha opened up its parks again as well, so we spent Friday afternoon enjoying some blossoms and having a picnic (by the Twisty Tree) down at Hanscom Park. Hannah and Aaron always seem to be happier when they have the chance to get outside, and Hannah’s been having fun with her digital camera as well, snapping pictures goofing around with Aaron and also getting some snapshots of the local wildlife.

Hannah’s been busy playing outside in our yard during this time as well, either play-acting various video games with Aaron (and Daddy when he’s home) or building a makeshift treehouse by dragging a wading pool into the branches of our tree in our front yard. I’ve also been getting extra quality time with Aaron playing Kirby’s Return to Dreamland on the Wii in exchange for him completing lessons in Khan Academy. We managed to beat the game all the way through this past weekend — on “extra” mode — which Aaron proudly announced to Uncle Jonny via Zoom.

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Participating in church for the past few months has been limited to bible studies via Zoom and weekly worship service in our living room via Facebook live (streaming on my Raspberry Pi and tiny Goodwill TV). This has meant having church with such treats as homemade buttermilk biscuits with homemade butter and sausage gravy (while the kids watch Super Book and Bibleman in the basement).

We also celebrated Cinco de Mayo (AKA Taco Tuesday) with some burritos for the kids and homemade enchiladas for mom and dad. We’ve been eating fairly well in the midst of this pandemic, which means I’ll have to keep pedaling to work to burn off the extra calories (as long as the weather holds up).

In other news, Aaron lost his first tooth!

Birthdays and Guinea Pigs

It’s been a busy, busy week, with multiple church programs, birthdays for both my parents, a new candidate running for office, and a new family member for the Johnson family.

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On Friday night, I got to attend the campaign kick-off for Robert Anthony, who’s running for the State Board of Education in the Second District. Because Board of Education districts are different from both congressional and school districts (and since it overlaps with other counties), I had to do a bit of research first to make sure I could vote for him. We had some barbecue from Big Bubba’s Que and talked a bit about educational issues before he gave his stump speech. He’s a strong conservative and actually home-schools his own kids, so he’s tuned in to the sorts of needs homeschooling families likes family would have, and that was encouraging. It’s safe to say he has my vote.

Because I wound up being the one guy with a “Real Camera” for the evening, I wound up snapping a few photos of other guests with Robert before calling it a night. The kids were both asleep when I returned home, and Vivian made up some ahi tuna and scallops for dinner before we watched A Christmas Carol.

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On Saturday, we celebrated my dad’s birthday with the gift of “face time” — i.e. going through a trunk of memorabilia in the basement, looking at some groovy old photos in a few photo albums, and watching a couple old home movies. I was surprised to find a few unique treasures among the family photos and college art projects, including an autographed picture of Mr. Rogers, original campaign posters for Barry Goldwater, and some original artwork from Tribune editorial cartoonist Wayne Stayskal. My dad was friends with Staysakal and apparently gave him ideas for multiple cartoons. When this happened, Stayskal would often send my dad the original artwork, which he kept. (The funniest cartoon, of course, came in the form of a homemade birthday card from Nathan, circa 2002.)

I spent nearly the whole day at my folks’ house, taking a brief break for Arby’s at lunchtime and then heading home as the sun went down.

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On Sunday evening, we had a Christmas program at Wildewood Christian Church (titled “A Country Christmas” for some reason). It was very brief, with just 15 minutes of setting up and decorating a tree interspersed with kids singing a few Christmas songs (with obligatory Christian Hand Motions™). All four grandparents were able to come and see the program, and even Aaron was able to sit still for all 15 minutes of it.

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After the Christmas program, we dropped by the Mills house to meet the newest member of our family — a new baby guinea pig! The Mills had adopted their own guinea pig (named “Ginny”), who unbeknownst to them was already pregnant! She popped out a little baby boy who’s now been weaned and ready for a new home. I’d gotten a cage with bedding and food recently and we were able to set it all up and take our new little pup home that evening. We’re still settling on a name, but Hannah is leaning toward “Scratcher” at the moment.

In the meantime, our poor cat Zoey doesn’t know what to make of this strange creature, who could just as easily be food as a friend.

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And because one birthday visit wasn’t enough, we dropped by my folks’ house again on Tuesday. I made my dad some barley bread, which he’d said a while ago he wanted to try. His father (my grandfather) had mentioned having to eat it during World War I because of food rationing and never liking the taste. Since barley bread is hard to come by, my dad had wanted to try it, so I managed to find some barley flour at Natural Grocers and made him a loaf. It was all right, similar to brown bread or corn bread but much more crumbly (with no gluten holding it together).

We stayed long enough my my folks to open some presents and had a hand-drawn birthday card from Hannah before calling it a night.

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Then on Wednesday night, Hannah and the rest of her friends from MPact had a mid-year awards ceremony in the basement chapel. It was a shorter ceremony than in years past, as the groups didn’t all perform skits or sing songs to show what they’ve been learning so far this year. Everyone on stage got a certificate, and then we stayed just long enough for some punch an cookies before heading home.

Hannah’s been a part of this group since she was a Rainbow, and it’s so nice to see her growing up with all her little friends together!

Trunks and Treats

We made it to the end of October at last! That means finishing the rest of our garden tomatoes as actual snow starts to fall around the Omaha area for the first time this season (and probably not the last).

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Our Halloween celebrations started on Tuesday as Grammy and Pop-Pop came over. Hannah (fresh from her new hideout) and Aaron helped Grammy decorate the back of her Honda Passport with some pumpkins, spiderwebs, and a few of their toys to create an adorable Halloween display for Wildewood’s Trunk or Treat event.

In the meantime, Vivian and Pop-Pop made some paella for dinner, which we all ate together in celebration after the trunk was ready for treating.

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Then on Wednesday, we braved some chilly weather in the 30s with the kids to have some trunk-or-treating at Wildewood. Hannah and Aaron went as Miraculous’ Ladybug and a Ninja Warrior, respectively. We went inside to have some burgers and chili dogs for dinner along with a couple hundred other folks, including our friends the Lenarts. Then once we had enough warmth in us, we braved back outside to tour the variety of cute and monstrous trunks opened up with candy. I think my favorite trunk (aside from Grammy’s) was the giant purple monster, but the best costume was three ladies who came as cafeteria workers, dishing up candy with ladles, no less. One trunk came with a gas-powered fire for us to warm up by, and the final trunk had an entire obstacle course based around Genesis 1, ending with an apple tree of treats (and rubber snakes). I guess that’s one way to celebrate the Fall.

We warmed up inside a bit more with a few carnival style games, which involved blowing sailboats with straws, tossing footballs (and toilet paper), and bounding some ping pong balls. The kids walked away with giant buckets full of candy, which would be filling up again the n ext day as well.

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All Hallow’s Eve was a bit warmer the next day. Vivian and the kids spent some time decorating pumpkins to leave by our doorstep, along with a couple mounds of pink cobwebs to greet our visitors. Vivian baked a lasagna for dinner, which we ate before getting the kids dressed for some Halloweening in our neighborhood. Aaron switched costumes to be a Ninja Turtle, after finally finding his mask. We walked the block around my parents’ house with Uncle Jonny collecting candy from a handful of neighbors, while Jack and Donna watched our door a block over until we returned. A number of our neighbors had fire pits out to keep warm during the evening, and I’ll have to try hauling ours out one more time before it starts snowing again.

It was a lovely, busy couple of days — now we just have to figure out what to do with all of our extra candy.

Holy Smokes & Applejack

Fall has finally rolled around again, though it might not feel like it yet, which means harvesting plenty of tomatoes for bruschetta and autumnal flavored coffees at Aldi.

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Men of God at Wildewood got together last week for the first time since last spring. On this week’s agenda was learning the manly art of barbecue, with Zach (and Fred) from Holy Smokes up in Sioux Falls. Zach is a hooligan-turned-pastor who has both a church and a barbecue business, so he gave us the run-down of different types of barbecue, methods for cutting a pork butt for smoking, and all the tips and tricks of slow-cooking meat on a variety of smokers to get that sweet coat of “bark” that everyone loves.

We had some barbecue pulled pork sandwiches for together before Zach’s barbecue run-down, and we each got a package of rub to take home with us. I’d never given much thought to smoking meat before, it sounds like it would be perfectly fine to do it with our humble propane grill on the deck, so maybe soon I’ll go give it a try.

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Fall also means that it’s time for the Applejack festival in Nebraska City. The weather looked foreboding, so we brought an umbrella just in case, but despite the dark cloud looming overheard we didn’t have a drop of rain until we left.

We started the day with a pancake breakfast down at the firehouse, catching a flew flapjacks and letting the kids climb on a firetruck or two. We stopped by the book sale at the library to grab a few new books for the kids and samples some honey from the Calvary Church pavilion up the street, stopping to admire some old brick-wall advertisements and smell the roses along the way.

We spent most of our time down at Kimmel Orchard, riding the hay rack down to the rows of Jonathan, Honeycrisp, and Gala trees so Hannah and Aaron could pick a couple pecks of apples to take home with us. Hannah and Aaron got some quality time on their relatively new playground and even got some ice cream afterward. They had a bunch of educational booths inside from the UNL extension office, many of which having to do with bees and pollination (and making masks). There was a sampling of a dozen kinds of honey, which we got to try out. Then on the way home, we swung by Union Orchard for a couple apple donuts on the way home.

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In other news, Aaron has been learning to play the viola through String Sprouts, a program from the Omaha Conservatory of Music. He’s only just begun, but he seems to know how to hold his viola and bow like a champ so far.

Vivian had a baby shower on Sunday, so I took the kids to mom and dad’s house for a while in the afternoon, primarily to try out the “Let’s Go Code” game Uncle Jonny gave Aaron for his birthday. Our biggest challenge was keeping the kids following the rules, but it was fun just to get them to try it out.

Then we had some delicious ribeye steaks for dinner.