Category Archives: Zoo

Open House, Hunter & Kingdoms of the Night

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Aaron’s elementary school had an open house on Monday night, so Vivian and I stopped by with Hannah to see his classroom again and look at some of Aaron’s artwork. He’d done a fairly accurate rendition of him and his sister along with a garden of flowers all measured with enormous numbers. We we checked out a few other rooms and signed up for a parent/teacher conference (which I think was the whole purpose of the open house) before getting a few snow cones outside before heading home.

Aaron’s also been enjoying going to Royal Rangers on Wednesday nights, doing some creative artwork and learning a bit about the bible with a few of his little friends. I’ve also enjoyed the chance to get away and read for a bit, leafing through my copy of “12 More Rules for Life” once again on the couch in the lobby.

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On Thursday, I had a political night to myself and got to have dinner at Chick-Fil-A leafing through “The American Story” by the Barton Brothers, a book given to me by one of the Royal Rangers volunteers who saw mw reading on the couch. (I was also able to cash in a few of my Chick-Fil-A reward points for some free food, which was nice.)

Then I headed north to the Cross Training Center to watch the film My Son Hunter, a kind of political satire about the Biden family directed by Robert Davi. It was a surprisingly well-done film — I’ve seen plenty of ham-fisted political films before, some of which were quiet cringe-worthy and barely watchable. This one was fairly polished and entertaining — not to mention hilarious. Much of the film seems to be done tongue in cheek with biting sarcasm, and lots of real-life quote and gaffes from Sleepy Joe to add to the humor.

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On Friday night, we stopped by the Mills house to say Happy birthday to our friend Sammy. She and Hannah have been little friends since they were born, and they got to spend time today shopping at the mall together like little tweens and having a “Sushi” cake decorated by Donna with some (pretend) sushi and cherry blossoms.

We spent a little time afterward letting the kids have more quality time playing together while Nate took Jake and Lexi down to the airport for a week-long trip to France. Aaron got to run around with Gabriel and August and playing with some of their ducks and chickens wandering around the yard. I also brought Mama Ginny out to graze for a little bit before she started getting pecked at by a duck.

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Then on Saturday, we took a family trip to the Zoo courtesy of Autism Action Partnership. This time around, we went by the desert dome to see desert animals such as a kookaburra, some owls, and a variety of reptiles (along with some ducks running loose). We moved along downstairs to the Kingdom of the Night, where we saw bats, turtles, and a swamp full of alligators, among other things.

The sun went down and a storm lingered on the horizon and we stopped by to see some giraffes and elephants upstairs, who seemed to be hidden away indoors as the storm approached. As usual, the kids seemed to enjoy playing on the lion statues and spinning the watery fountain globe most of all. It was particularly interesting to visit the Zoo at night, where the desert dome was lit up in alternating colors for us before we headed home.

School’s Out, Spray-Ground, and the Zoo

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School’s out, and we had some lovely weather the week after Memorial Day to enjoy kicking off our summer vacation. I rode my bike to work a couple days, and on Tuesday I met up with Vivian and the kids at Banner Park to use their spray-ground for a bit. I had my trunks along to join the kids in the ice cold water for a bit, and I also got them to stand by some corn to see how much it sprouts up over the next couple of weeks.

Then on Thursday, we got the CR-V an oil change and then went by Dairy Twist afterward to get some pineapple soft-serve cones to celebrate. We also dropped by Gemini Park across the street just to get the kids some more quality outdoor time before bed. Then on Friday, we got Aaron his own bike, which Vivian found via Facebook Marketplace. He’s still a bit wobbly on it but hopefully will be able to go for a family ride with us soon enough.

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On Saturday night, we got to visit the Zoo as a family courtesy of Autism Action Partnership. We stopped first by the Adventure Trails, giving the kids a chance to see some prairie dogs up close and personal. They also spent some time getting wet in the river and waterfall before running through some rope tunnels in the treehouse. After that, we walked down to see the Sea Lions before getting a photo by the gorillas and then finishing our visit in the Asian highlands, seeing a tiger, and a snow leopard, and some rhinos (oh my). We were only there a couple hours and saw just a fraction of the animals, but we were thoroughly exhausted by the time we were done.

Then on Sunday I did some yardwork and cut Grammy’s lawn before a thunderstorm rolled through Omaha. Our kids got to enjoy a bit of that outside in their swimsuits before dinnertime.

Fish Fry, Zoo, and Jordan B. Peterson

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Spring has sprung! We had some gorgeous weather for the first day of spring on Sunday, so right after church, we got some burgers and headed down for some quality time at Halleck Park. Hannah made a few new friends on a see-saw, and I got to do some swinging with Aaron over on the swings. We also got to check out the stump where a giant tree had gotten torn down during the wind storm last July (with Vivian counting its rings). Then I walked down to Dairy Queen with Hannah to get some ice cream before we headed home.

The weather was so nice that I decided to go for a bike ride with Hannah a little later in the afternoon. The rode the South Papio Trail for a couple miles West until we got to Eagle Ridge Park, so Hannah got a little more park time before we started heading back. Then I took her for a second round of ice cream at Culver’s, just because. (Don’t tell Aaron.) In the meantime, Aaron helped Vivian made dinner by glazing up some chicken legs with barbecue sauce, which he and Vivian baked for us.

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I had an exciting evening on Tuesday as I made a two-hour trip to see Jordan B. Person at the Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines. I’ve been an avid fan of Peterson’s for a couple years, having read both his books and listened to his podcast (and even gotten a t-shirt). I missed the chance to see him live in Des Moines a couple years ago, so this time around I snatched a ticket back in December as soon as they went on sale. (The show was now sold-out.)

Peterson appeared with his wife “Tammy,” who introduced him at the beginning and then gave him a list of pre-screened questions at the end for Q&A. Peterson also talked for a little over an hour about a few of his 12 Rules for Life (getting to only 2 or 3 of them). I was quite familiar with his material already, but seeing him live certainly made things interesting. The audience would laugh and applaud at various parts, and I could see Peterson was using some kind of presentation slides via trio of screens on the stage (and a clicker in his pocket). We weren’t allowed to take photos in the theater (which was painful for me, as you can guess), but I did sneak a couple blurry shots with my cell phone to commemorate the experience.

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Friday was a fairly busy day, which I kicked off with some waffles, since it was apparently Waffle Day. Then once Aaron was off at school, Vivian and I took Hannah down to spent a good portion of the day at the Omaha Zoo. Vivian got to see the sea lion exhibit at long last and watched the playful, barking things both above and below water. We got to see some gorillas, rhinos, tigers, elephants, and a cheetah, as well as some odd creatures we’d never heard of, including okapi, bongos, takin, reeves muntjac, and Père David’s deer.

Hannah and I got to pet (and feed) some stingrays at the Stingray Beach exhibit, and we got a selfie with a giraffe. The Lied Jungle unfortunately closed just as I got there at three, but then we got to watch them feeding the penguins in the aquarium before calling it a day.

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Then that evening, we celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation by gorging on fried fish at St. Charles Borromeo after a long day of walking. Our friends the Simpsons and the Dougans joined us for pizza, fried cod, tilapia, mac and cheese, and tater tots together. The line was relatively short as well, so most of us went back for seconds. It felt good to be back at a “normal” fish fry after things had been shut down for a year or two, particularly since the last time we’d been to this place was right before all that started back in 2020.

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).

Rare Breeds

We’ve had a few gorgeous days here and there this week, necessitating a trip or two to a park, but mostly it’s been hot and muggy as summer absolutely refuses to make way for fall. Fortunately, our tomatoes have started kicking into high gear, giving us plenty of tasty treats for bruschetta and such.

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On Wednesday, I spent the evening with Tom Becka and Jeff Koterba in Benson, who were helping to raise a few dollars to renovate the Benson Theater. The theater has been vacant for several decades, but there are some very elaborate plans to bring it back to life, and they’re about half a million dollars shy of meeting their goal.

The event was at the “B Side,” which was once the “PS Collective” connected to the Pizza Shoppe where 88 Improv used to perform (and Tom once “performed” for use amusement years ago). The room was now sealed of from the pizza, but there is now a bar where I got a “figure of speech” to sip as Tom and Jeff introduced themselves and dove headlong into a Facebook argument IRL on stage for us. The title of the event was “Rare Breed,” and asked “are cartoonists and commentators going extinct.” I would certainly say “no,” as the Internet has made it easier for anyone to have a platform to spread their views or cartoons with almost no overhead whatsoever, but it did launch into a long-form discussion on such things as “fake news” and red light cameras, among other things. We also got to try drawing our own editorial cartoons from a list of topics, a la the Kaneko event a few years back, so I tried my hand at a caricature of Ben Sasse.

It was a fun evening, primarily because I always prefer arguing “IRL” as opposed to online, where being snippy and sarcastic often gets you likes when thoughtful discussion gets ignored.

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Friday brought along some gorgeous weather, so we took the kids to the park for a lunchtime visit. Then that evening, Vivian and I attended a “Tribute to Patriots” event, where we got to hear from Congressman Devin Nunes of California, emceed by KFAB’s Scott Voorhees. He’s been in the headlines recently for his role in investing Russian collusion, but he had a few other interesting stories about his interactions with President Trump. We saw several familiar faces there, including Don Bacon, Lt. Gov. Foley, and the usual band of GOP volunteers. They had a few awards at the end for the “five that drive,” which included several of them.

It was a lovely evening, though I forgot my memory card, so I couldn’t use my “good camera” to get any pictures. We also had a late dinner, so we wound up crashing at our old Village Inn for chicken pot pie and a french dip sandwich together (and pie, of course) before calling it a night.

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Saturday turned out to be the perfect day for just about everything outside — including a bit more house painting in the morning followed by a picnic lunch at Hickory Hill Park with our friends, the Lenarts. We’d been aiming at having another meetup for a while and managed to land on the perfect day for grilling a few burgers outside while letting the kids play on a new playground together.

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Then that evening, we had another trip to the zoo, courtesy of the Autism Society of Nebraska. We dropped by around six and had a look around the mostly too-dark-to-film “kingdom of the night” beneath the desert dome. We saw an alligator or two in the swamp and some snakes before heading upstairs to the drier part of the dome, where we got a peek at a fox, some mongooses, and some rattlesnakes.

The kids spent plenty of time playing on zoo statuary before we headed to the jungle to hang out for the rest of the evening. The bats were out in full force once again as we looked around upstairs and down, and then we dropped by the Wild Kingdom pavilion to cool off with a dance and a ride in a Humvee before calling it a night.

Cinco de Mayo Weekend

It seems like we’re always busiest when we’re having fun, and even though I’ve been plenty busy at work lately, it doesn’t compare to our non-stop activity all throughout the weekend.

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On Friday morning, Aaron had an end-of-year “spring concert” with his little friends at Spring Lake. They sang a handful of songs for us, complete with the motions (and egg shakers) you’d expect with any children’s song. They also had displays for every class showing some of their activities throughout the year, including visits from Grammy and the raptor handlers from Fontenelle Forest. Mommy, Hannah, and Grammy came along as well, and I came just long enough to snap some pictures before heading back to work.

Then that evening Vivian and I finally watched Avengers: Endgame over a big old bowl of popcorn. We are now spoiler-proof!

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Then on Saturday morning, I took Hannah down to 24th and G to watch the Cinco de Mayo parade in South Omaha. We hadn’t been there for a couple years, and we discovered there are now barricades all along the parade route. The parade itself had the standard Mexicans dancers, costumers, horses, and Hydraulic Bouncing Lowriders. There were also numerous Halloween-themed participants, which was even more bizarre than the guy in a kilt. There were a few politicians as well, and I gave Mayor Stothert props for picking up a stray plastic bag that skittered its way across 24th street. Hannah was able to fill a big with so much candy she had trouble carrying with us back to the car.

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I returned home with enough time to catch my breath before heading right back across the river to see Democrat presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke. A couple hundred people (and some vendors) showed up to Woodrow Wilson Middle School to hear him prattle off platitudes like an old-timey preacher, but what impressed me most was his Q&A, where his first question was from a guy wearing a Gadsden Flag as a cape (and a “Make Taxation Theft Again” hat). That took either guts or complete ignorance. He also answered a question in both English and Spanish, reminding me of how I liked Marco Rubio being able to bring a message home to Spanish-speaking Americans.

Beto stuck around for photos with everyone afterward, but I didn’t get the chance to shake his hand or way hello — I had to stay on schedule!

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I returned home for a quick bite to eat and then headed right back out again for a free night at the Zoo! It had been a while since we’d all gone as a family. so it felt good to be back among such familiar sights as the giant globe and gorilla statues. Many of the animals seemed to be sleeping, though the bats in the jungle area were wide awake (and pooping on everyone). The aquarium was still open as well, making for as lovely as walk-through as always. We got to see a handful of monkeys, birds, and otters hanging around, and we also went through the butterfly pavilion before wrapping things up. Hannah finished our visit by chasing a peacock around before we headed on out.

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Then on Sunday, we went back to the La Vista Sports Complex to fly a kite with Grandma, Grandpa, and Uncle Jonny after church. This has been a family tradition for a couple years now, and we almost missed it thanks to a line of thunderstorms that were nice enough to pass us by. Dad let me assemble the kite and get it airborne this year. The wind was strong enough to make it fairly easy, and we even got to tie Tinkerbell to the center strut to spend some time in the sky. It was just about as perfect an afternoon as you could ask for, and the kids even got to have ice cream before we headed home (courtesy of Uncle Jonny).

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I got some food from Aldi for Cinco de Mayo and then headed home to give the lawn a quick mow before it started raining (for the entire week). We were lucky to have lovely weather almost all weekend long, giving us a chance to enjoy our briefly-blooming tulips and lilac, even Zoey the Cat got to spend some time outside.

Vivian made up some tacos for the kids, which Aaron helped her to make. Then once the kids were in bed, we had some tasty tilapia ceviche together, devouring two pounds of fish between the two of us while watching the Three Amigos together, a film I hadn’t seen since I was a kid (and didn’t find as funny as I’d hoped).

It was a busy, busy weekend, but now I have a week back at work to rest up before the next round of fun!

Outdoors in Autumn

We had a gorgeous bit of weather over the weekend, with the cool taste of autumn coming in-between some random storms and a few more dog days of summer hanging on. It gave us the perfect opportunity to enjoy a few autumnal traditions with the kids once again.

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On Saturday was the Applejack Festival in Nebraska City. We’ve been able to take our kids down to the Big Apple every year of their lives so far, starting first with the pancake breakfast at the fire station, of course. I caught a couple flapjacks on my own, and then we said hello to a few friends as we ate and then checked out a few fire trucks before we left. We went by the library to let the kids play in their new “under-the-sea” exhibit, playing in a few shells and starfish, playing dress-up, and finding some pirate booty before moving on.

Then we went on up to Kimmel orchard for a little apple-picking. The crowds are usually overwhelming at this place, but we arrived early enough to get in and out without much trouble. We also got to take a hay-rack to the middle of the orchard, where there were still plenty of crisp apples waiting for our kids to pick before heading out.

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I crashed at home with Aaron for the rest of the day while Vivian took Hannah to celebrate her friend Sammy’s fifth birthday at Henry Doorly Zoo. I didn’t get to attend myself, but from the pictures Vivian took, it looks like there was cake, presents, and a ride on a carousel. Of course, the kids probably had the most fun at the new “Alaskan Adventure splash parkrunning around in a spray ground built around seals, polar bears, and other various arctic wildlife.

Maybe someday Vivian will update her blog and tell everyone about these events herself.

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Then on Sunday, we dropped by Gifford Farm for their fall festival. We’ve been a part of their “family” for about as long as I’ve known Vivian, so we bring the kids at least once a year to see the animals and explore the farm with us. This year, they got to ride ponies, see a black chicken, a fluffy duck, and the usual assortment goats, pigs, and other wildlife. They also went on a few slides, decorated a few cookies, rode on the hay-rack, and spent some extra time in the tree house. We actually wound up staying until after they closed before going home to cool off and call it a day.

I still had a busy day ahead of me mowing my parents lawn and watching some MST3K, but I was OK with a little of that to finish off the weekend.

All Creatures Great and Stuffed

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Having my parents live just down the street instead of on the other side of the country means that we can drop by for a random visit “Just Because,” which is exctly what we did on Saturday night. I offered to make some chicken alfredo for dinner with my folks, and we spent a good couple of hours letting Hannah get some quality time with Grandpa and Grandma Johnson. My dad actually had a giant box of his old toys that he wanted to show her, which included an original plush Smokey the Bear and a working Howdy Doody marionette. He even had a Coon Skin Cap, which Hannah didn’t seem to care much for. Then upstairs he had an assortment of other family treasures, one of which was my grandfather’s old Bulova wristwatch. I was amazed that it still worked, so I’ve been wearing it myself this week as a way to connect to a generation long passed away (and for some retro flair on my wrist).

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As you might have heard, the Polar Vortex has come to visit Middle America once again, but on Sunday it was in the 50s and 60s. The Henry-Doorly Zoo also had free admission for the day, so we took Hannah to spend the afternoon there. This was Hannah’s third trip to the Best Zoo in the World (as ranked by Trip Advisor), and as usual, we could only see a fraction of what the zoo had to offer during our time there.

This time around, we started at the Petting Zoo so Hannah could brush a goat. The Peacocks were out in full feather, so we watched them strutting about as we said hello to a bear or two and also a gaur. We walked through the Gorilla Valley and saw a couple wild cats up above (as well as a free-range photographer). The butterfly pavilion seemed to be one of the more popular exhibits, so we had to drop in to walk through their steamy jungle for a moment. We continued on down to the giraffes and the sensory garden, where Hannah got to spend some quality time with an orangutan. We crossed the river full of koi to see some more monkeys and sea lions. Hannah spent a few minutes on a small playground, and then we saw on cute prairie dogs on our way to the carousel for a quick ride before going home.

In other news, Aaron turned Five Months Old on Tuesday (Veteran’s Day).

Christmas Countdown

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The Christmas season is moving full-steam ahead, with fun, festive events around every corner this time of year. On Friday night, the cute little town of Plattsmouth was having a Christmas on Main Street event, so we made the quick drive down to walk along the beautifully-decorated street to see what was up. They had hot cocoa and cookies on hand, as well as free pony rides for the kids. We also got to see a few Princesses along the way, as well as some Victorian Cosplayers and a steampunk Ghost of Christmas Present. It was a bit nippy out, and I think Hannah preferred seeing the lights of the Gene Leahy Mall from the back of our warm Civic instead, so we didn’t stay long.

Then on Saturday Night, Vivian got to be my date for our first legitimate Christmas Office Party. It was held down at the Doubletree, and she got to meet a bunch of my new co-workers from the Institute as we had roast beef and stuffed chicken together. The Director was also on hand to pass out a few awards to employees for years of service. A few other employees brought their little ones along as well, though Vivian and I were more than happy to hand off Hannah to “Mimi and Papa” for the night.

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On Sunday morning, Grammy called to say the Omaha Zoo had free admission today, so after church (which included adorable singing and drumming from some TVC kids), we decided to spend the afternoon visiting the animals. Hannah had visited the Zoo once last year, but now at two years old she has a better appreciation for the animals residing there. We walked through the Jungle first and saw plenty of monkeys (her favorite animal by far). We also bumped into our friends the Mathis family, who joined us on another trip around the Jungle with Hannah leading the way with Timothy by the hand. Since our last visit, the Zoo has placed massive vines here and there, including one with a loop for children to swing in. We stopped by the aquarium next to get a good look at penguins, jellyfish, and other fish behind glass walls and observation bubbles. We made one last stop to Gorilla Valley to see a few of Anne’s old friends before calling it a day. I’ve been to the Zoo about half a dozen times in my life, and I still don’t think I’ve seen it all yet. Maybe next summer we’ll come back and give the Skyfari a try.

Chicken / Zoo

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Halloween night was a big night for a few people in Bellevue, and it had nothing to do with dressing up in costumes. November 1 was the grand opening of the Chick-Fil-A down on Cornhusker Drive, and the first 100 people there — who camped out in the parking lot all night — got to have free Chick-Fil-A for a year. That translates into 52 free meal coupons. I wasn’t among them, since I wanted to be around for Hannah’s very first Halloween, but Pastor Drew was. His family stopped by to wish him luck the night before, and then he was first among the throngs to get his free goodies the next morning.

I’ve dropped in at Chick-Fil-A a couple times since for breakfast and dinner, and it’s always been crowded. There are a handful of places that carry a following this devoted — Trader Joe’s and Inn-n-Out Burger being a few noteworthy examples — and this little chicken restaurant is certainly a worthy contender.

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On Sunday, Hannah got to take her very first trip to the zoo. The Henry Doorly Zoo had free admission, and since the weather was still reasonably nice (for November), we couldn’t pass up the chance to stop by. Hannah’s still a bit young to appreciate all the animals at the zoo’s many different exhibits, but she really seemed to enjoy the monkeys, a few colorful macaws, and all the sea creatures in the aquarium. Of course, this trip was really more about mom and dad getting snapshots of adorableness with their our little girl, but we’ll definitely be taking her back again and again once she’s older.