Sunday, November 27, 2016

Ten years of traditions

It was a whole decade ago, back in 2006, that I first started a humble little blog over on blogspot.com. This was back before the age of social media, so telling friends and family what you were up to was done via blog post back then rather than via status updates. As such, I'd found many of the new friends I'd made swing dancing had blogs of their own, including a lady named Vivian I had been trying to get to know better. So, I signed up to have a blog of my own, and I've been updating it regularly ever since, documenting my entire relationship with Vivian in the process. So, to commemorate these past ten years, here is a list of my top ten favorite traditions that have come about in my life since I started this little blog. Enjoy!

  1. The Applejack Festival: It seems the only time we get down to Nebraska City is when thousands of other people are jamming the roads to watch the parade or buy caramel apples around town during the Applejack Festival. We always start our visit by getting pancakes from the Pancake Man down at the fire house. Then we might check out the used book sale at the library before taking in a parade, sampling apple wine down at the Arbor Day Farm, or picking apples up at Kimmel Orchard. Hannah and Aaron have gone every year of their lives (so far).
  2. Vala's Pumpkin Patch: The pumpkin patch / amusement park out in Gretna is a tradition for anyone with kids or who are kids at heart. The jumping pillows, go carts, the mechanical dragon, and acres and acres of play areas are a draw for us and lots of other people each year. The price of admission goes up every year, but I have a whole blog entry to help you save money.
  3. Shakespeare on the Green: Nebraska Shakespeare puts on a comedy and tragedy at Elmwood Park every year for free (with donations), so we usually make a day of it coming early to lay down a blanket and then hang out on the green with our friends, a bunch of snacks, and a bottle or two of wine.
  4. Friday Fish Fries during Lent: I have to credit Eric/Onion-Boy with introducing me to the uniquely Midwestern (and Catholic) tradition of standing in line for hours drinking beer and then gorging on fried fish, all inside a church. St. John Vianney has been our Fishy Friday destination for years, not just for the assortment of beige, carb-laden food, but also for the live music, raffles, bake sales, and more. Good times never seemed so good. (So good! So good!)
  5. The Cheese Party / Hors D'oeuvres Party: We hold one of these every year, alternating between the two themes. Vivian and I love food, and having some kind of party / competition with our friends has been a great way to break through the gloomy months of winter, post-Christmas.
  6. Christmas at Union Station: Kicking off the holidays wouldn't be complete without a trip to Union Station. Vivian and I go with the River City Confectioners to help visitors decorate cookies while Hannah and Aaron see Santa. Then we'll join the crowd as everyone sings along with a Christmas carol or two before watching the Mayor of Omaha light up the tree.
  7. Concerts at Memorial Park & Loessfest: every year, a couple well-known bands come to give free concerts in the metro area, and I always look forward to seeing who they'll be. We've seen Kenny Loggins, Kool & the Gang, Joan Jett, Eddie Money, Chicago, Three Dog Night, Loverboy, Pat Benatar, Smash Mouth, Uncle Cracker, Sugar Ray, Styx, Foreigner, and even the Beach Boys with John Stamos, and we usually bring the kids along for the ride.
  8. The Sushi Anniversary: When Vivian and I made our dating relationship "official," it was immediately after a trip to Sakura Bana for sushi with friends on January 26, 2007. Every year, we mark the occasion by having sushi someplace. It's usually in Omaha, but we once celebrated at the Rio's seafood buffet in Las Vegas.
  9. First Date Anniversary: Vivian and I went to the (now closed) French Cafe for our first official date (before we made it "official") back on Dec. 23, 2006. Every year, we mark the occasion with dinner — often in the Old Market — and then a brief walk in the bitter cold to see the Christmas lights at the Gene Leahy Mall. We also buy some Christmas fudge down at the Old Market Candy Shoppe.
  10. Wedding Anniversary and Comic: Every year on July 19, Vivian and I have a tradition of celebrating our anniversary by going someplace (usually with a swimming pool or a water park). Sometimes it's a trip to Kansas City, a road trip to Mount Rushmore and back, or just a drive across the river to Des Monies. We finish the day with a lobster dinner to commemorate our honeymoon in Bar Harbor, Maine, and I present Vivian with a comic illustration of our year together.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Living well is the best revenge

Every now and then, I have to remind myself just how good I have it. I have a wonderful, loving wife, and two happy, adorable kids. We're debt-free, have a nice, yet modest, home in a city where there always seems to be something to do (with low crime and low cost of living to boot). We have two sets of parents nearby to help out and a whole lot of friends as well. Looking back over the past couple of years, I can honestly say that even the lowest points were filled with joy, and I'm happy to be able to share every moment with the people I love.

Thank you, everyone, for reminding me what it means to be truly blessed.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A new home for my old blog

I have a big announcement, loyal blog readers: my old blog has a new home.

Back at the end of 2006, I started my little blog here on Blogspot as an attempt to get the attention of a certain lady named Vivian. As a result, I wound up chronicling our entire relationship together — from when we just started dating all the way through the birth of our daughter Hannah. After nearly seven years of using Google's blog service, I've decided to roll up my sleeves and move my dear old blog to a new home on my own, personal website. I hope to continue updating it for you to read all the way to "'til death do us part."

Come on over and check it out!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in review

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Happy New Year, everyone! 2013 was an exciting year for the Johnson Family.
Let's look back at some of the highlights.

So what awaits us in 2014? Well, a new child for one thing, and we can't wait to see what other surprises the new year has in store for us.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Our home for the holidays

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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Vivian and I just wrapped up a busy couple of weeks playing host to my parents visiting from North Carolina. During the day, they went with Vivian and Hannah to all their fun, weekly activities, such as attending Mud Pies at the Fontenelle Forest and Storytime with Mrs. B at the Bellevue Public Library. We also spent a couple evening catching up with them, playing a few games, and watching some of our favorite shows together. We also went out to Stella's for some of their classic burgers-on-a-napkin.

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I also managed to get some much-needed work on the house done with the help of my dad. Among other things, we got a new flagpole mounted on the front of the house, which had been a gift from my in-laws on my birthday this year. It was a great chance to try out my new drill with some screwdriver bits. Nothing more father-and-sonly than that. Jonathan came down a little later as we all had a fairly standard Thanksgiving meal together: turkey, stuffing with gravy, poppy-seed biscuits, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, potatoes, pearl onions, Taber salad, sweet pickles, green olives, and grape Martinelli's. It was the first time I'd had Thanksgiving with my parents since they moved to North Carolina over ten years ago.

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The next day, mom and dad left for North Carolina, and Vivian, Jonathan, Hannah, and I enjoyed some fairly quiet Black Friday shopping. One advantage to all the stores moving their sales up to Thursday is that the stores are relatively quiet on Black Friday, with plenty of deals still waiting for us on their respective palettes. That evening, Vivian and I took Hannah to the Durham Museum once again for the annual Christmas Tree lighting. Grammy and Papa were at their stations once again at the cookie decorating booth, and Vivian and I took turns with Hannah as she went to see Santa and then made a candy cane out of pipe cleaners and beads. "Vintage vocalist" Michael Walker was on-hand again to channel Frank Sinatra in the minutes before the main event, and Omaha's New Mayor Jean Stothert joined David Mangelsen and a few other keynote speakers on stage to count down the tree-lighting once 6:30 rolled around. People then rushed the stage for some yule-tide photo opportunities before heading home.

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Vivian and I spent most of Saturday recovering from our Thanksgiving activities. On Sunday, we had a Soup Potluck at Twin Valley Church, immediately followed by some decorating for Christmas. Vivian and I took turns watching Hannah inside and out while putting up some garland and getting other ornamentation in place with the rest of the church. The day wound down fairly quickly as we continued to dig through all our leftovers from our four or five days of feasting, and we easily managed to pack away enough food for leftovers for the next week (or two). It'll be nice not to have to cook for a while!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Curry, hayracks, and a pumpkin patch

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The month of October is always jam-packed with fun events with our circle of friends, and this weekend was certainly no exception. On Friday night, Vivian and I dropped by the Regency Lake & Tennis Club to attend a wedding reception PK with a bunch of her former co-workers. PK and his new bride are both from Nepal, and brought an entire cross-section of his family to come and celebrate in true Nepalese style. There was some amazing ethnic food available out front — chicken chhoyla, vegetable pakoda, palak paneer, rajma, chicken tikka masala, and mutton curry — every one of which was a new treat for us. Hannah even got to try a few bites, though she seemed content to munch on shrimp crackers and naan. I'm definitely grateful that the venue allowed PK and his family to bring their own food. Afterward, we got to burn it off with some dancing to energetic music once a few of us got over ourselves. Naturally, there were about a dozen cameras pointed every which way, so people had a few inhibitions before hitting the floor, but once PK's mom got into the fun, nobody wanted to sit it out.

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On Saturday, we continued the fall traditions with a trip to Vala's Pumpkin Patch. This was Hannah's second visit to Nebraska's famous autumnal amusement park, and this time around she was big enough to participate in some of the "big kid" attractions, such as the jumping pillows, the new Big Slide, and even the family-sized go-cart (though I did the pedaling and steering while Vivian held on for dear life). Of course, we had to bring a gang of our great friends to join in the fun (and the lines). Li Ya also brought her little boy, who immediately took a shine to Hannah. A crashed for food when necessary between trudging through a corn maze and pumpkin mine, and we grabbed a photo opportunity on a giant chair, in a coffin, in the gift shop, in jail, and by a pile of pumpkins when we got the chance (with the help of some friendly passersby). Hannah also got to see a pig race, a dragon or two, and definitely enjoyed the storybook village, riding in a pumpkin carriage and giving Little Bo Beep a hug. We finished off the night with Amazing Arthur (where I missed Jenny getting called up on stage), and found our way out through the gift shop, grabbing an obligatory caramel apple along the way.

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On Sunday, the Halls opened up their home again for another fun campfire and hay rack ride with our friends at Twin Valley Church. It was a gorgeous day for being outdoors and riding around in the countryside. Hannah is old enough now to play with the cluster of little friends from church who came along for the event, and she got to discover some of the fun of riding in a tire swing and eating tasty fall things in front of a campfire. One of the things I love best about our little church group is how much fun we all seem to have together. Of course there were plenty of pictures being snapped from every angle, so Teresa recruited a couple of us to snap pictures of her family while we were being so shutter-happy.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Do you hear the people sing?

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Vivian and I had a memorable Friday date night last week as we enjoyed using the two tickets I was able to snag for her birthday (front row center!) We stopped by Danny's at 72nd and Blondo for dinner first, getting in some ribeye/cheese steak goodness before the show. The performance was stellar, as I knew it would be, with vocal talents including Timothy Shew, who has performed Jean Valjean some 1600 times, including on Broadway, and too many others to list in one blog post. They really shone during the thunderous group numbers, particularly One Day More right before intermission. I have to give props to the technical wizards who were able to put a revolving platform in the middle oft he stage, allowing actors to walk in place and have scenery shift around them during scenes (and it operated almost silently despite carrying a barricade full of rebellious schoolboys). Right before intermission, I got a call from my Uncle Ben, who was concerned about a tornado that hit Wayne, Nebraska this afternoon where my brother lives. I was able to get hold of him between acts to make sure he was all right.

Picture above left by Christian M. Robertson courtesy of the Omaha Community Playhouse Facebook page.

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On Saturday, we took Hannah for another swim lesson and then spent a few hours down at Gifford Farm for their fall festival. Hannah got to decorate a cookie or two, and then Grammy and I took her around to look at some animals and explored a hollowed-out tree for a bit. We took Hannah on her first hayrack ride of the season after that and then got a little lunch. Hannah also got to slide down into a pile of hay a couple times before we headed on home, which quickly became her most favorite thing to do ever. Vivian went straight from there to her women's bible study retreat, so I got some quality time with my girl for the evening (who spent some of it reading to her doll on the couch, a terrible "Daw" worthy moment in parenting).

Hannah spends some time reading to her doll on the couch.