Wednesday, December 31, 2008

So long, 2008!

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It has been a tremendously eventful year to say the very least. I've gotten a new job, moved to a new city, gotten married, and had all kinds of fun with friends and family here and around the country. Vivian and I were able to ring in the New Year the same way we did 366 days ago: with a sparkling cider toast in the basement of 1316 Jones Street at GAMe's New Year's Eve party. We had live music courtesy of Big Bo and the Biscuit Eaters, who covered a series of very danceable songs as dozens of us squeezed into the too-small dance floor to bump into each other in a crude mockery of East Coast Swing. They had plenty of other things going on as well, including two rooms of Rock Band, Apples to Apples, and Foosball. After the party, we dropped by Eric's apartment for some waffles and do-it-yourself mixed drinks.

2008 was truly a year to remember. Here are a few of the highlights from the thousands of pictures I've taken:

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Here's to the end of one amazing year, and the dawn of yet another. Cheers to you, 2008!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Order of the Shovel

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It was the Saturday after Christmas, a Lisa decided to invite us to a party with the illustrious members of the Order of the Shovel. She cooked up some delicious chili and potato soup for us, and we spent the evening stuffing our faces and bull scrapping the night away over samples of wine and beer. Lisa had some Christmas Crackers for us to open, winning herself a Boy Toy in the process, among other things. Our friend Ben "Risky" Rassmussen asked Sarah and Jillian pull his cracker, earning him a knighthood in the Order of the Shovel. We worked in a game of Apples to Apples somewhere in the mix, and we had intended to watch The Princess Bride, but we had more fun just being goofballs.

Video from our evening of mayhem

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Married Christmas

Another eventful Christmas season has come and gone once again. This one was special, of course, because it was our first Christmas as a married couple. I suppose we were fortunate, in a way, to have been able to see my side of the family a few weeks ago when we gathered for Grandma's funeral in Cedar Rapids, so in a way we were able to celebrate with both sides a bit this year.

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Vivian and I spent our Christmas Eve in Bellevue. We dropped by the Bellevue Christian Center, Vivian's old church, to attend their candlelight service. They had a couple very cute skits and several of our favorite Christmas songs to sing together. After the service, we drove up the road to have dinner with Vivian's parents and open a couple presents. It was a memorable occasion for me, because I got to learn for the first time that there is, in fact, a big difference between "yams" and "sweet potatoes." I'd grown up calling those orange things mashed up with marshmallows and brown sugar "sweet potatoes." In fact, sweet potatoes seem to be golden yellow mashed things that you dress up with butter and garlic instead. At least that's the way Jack does it.

We opened a couple presents, including Dilbert on DVD and a book on marriage from my parents, and Vivian surprised me with a lovely pair of black dress shoes! They'll be perfect for dancing once I break them in.

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On Christmas Day, Vivian and I made some bacon and eggs for breakfast together and watched It's a Wonderful Life on the couch, snacking on some egg nog and pumpkin pie fudge throughout the morning. We also opened more presents. Vivian gave me the Star Wars Robot Chicken video, which was hilarious, and I gave her a sushi starter kit among other things.

We gathered at Vivian's parents' house together that afternoon. We stuffed ourselves with hors d'oeuvres, and then filled what space we had left with turkey, stuffing, and green bean casserole. Vivian invited Eric and her friends Sherry and Rob to join us. My brother Nathan also came. Sherry is quite an artist, so we enjoyed passing a sketchbook back and forth and "improving" one another's artwork. We opened our stocking presents later, which included such trinkets as a colored pencil frog, a boxing snowman pen, and mismatched socks. After the presents, some friends left and others came to play an extended two-hour game of cut-throat solitaire together before calling it an evening.

I was busy getting photos and video here and there and put together a brief video summary of the season for you all below. It includes footage of our Christmas tree, Vivian's office Christmas party, and gathering at her parents on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Merry Christmas, everybody! We'll see you all next year.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Dumplings

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Christmas is nearly upon us now, and with temperatures dropping below zero at night and drifting around single digits in the daytime, it's beginning to feel just a bit like the North Pole here in Nebraska. We're finding fun ways to stay warm, fortunately. On Saturday, a couple of us went to see the Christ Community Church Christmas program, "I'll be home for Christmas," which was a strange kind of musical mixed with shades of World War 2 1940s radio trivia blended in. I got a chance to try some new settings with my camera for low-light settings that my cousin-in-law Bridget showed me. It let me snap some fairly decent pictures in the dimly lit auditorium.

That evening, it was time for another Dumpling Party with Hugh and company. We put together a couple hundred yummy "pot stickers" and stuffed ourselves with pumpkin bars and a variety of other sinful Christmas treats. We played a lengthy game of Imaginiff afterward while dodging orange slices and paper plates thrown at us from the roudy bunch on the other side of the room.

Video summary of the evening

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

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.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Christmas season starts

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It's that time of year again, the stores get crowded, and time starts running short as the days until Christmas start flying by. Vivian and I dropped by the Eagle's Lodge for another fun Jitterbugs Night Out, and then spent most of the weekend getting in the Christmas spirit. On Saturday, we hunted down a Christmas tree in the blistering cold, hauled it home on the roof of the Taurus and started decorating with lights. I also got to show Vivian the National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation movie for the first time. I've seen it at least a dozen times, and it's still just as funny after all these years. (Got to love Aunt Bethany, played by "Betty Boop" voice actress Mae Questel).

Our other holiday preparations include doing some frantic Christmas shopping and writing up our Christmas letter for friends and family. I also want to wish my Mom and Dad a Happy Birthday this week! My dad turned the big six-oh on Monday, and my mom will be 39 again on Wednesday. I think.

One bit of sad news: my Grandma Gibbs has unfortunately taken a turn for the worse. She's been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for a number of years now, and on Monday I learned that her kidneys are starting to fail. We suspect that she had only a matters of days left, so I'd appreciate any prayers you all can muster up until that time comes.

Monday, December 1, 2008

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.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Date Night with Improv 88

Since arriving back home from our trip to Kansas City, it's been a fairly uneventful week for Vivian and me. Last Wednesday, I went to Lincoln to hang out with some of my former co-workers from Land and Sky. It was nice to hang out and have a burger while catching up on what's happening back there now that I've moved to Omaha. Vivian and I dropped by Jitterbugs Night Out for about an hour on Friday and got to hang out a bit at Village in afterward with Lisa, Kevin, and Suzie. The weekend was fairly uneventful, outside of church, watching the Hulk on DVD, and doing a little grocery shopping.

88 ImprovThe highlight for this week was having a "date night" on Tuesday. Vivian and I went up to Benson after work to have tapas and paella at Espana, and then walked next door to see Improv 88 performing at the PS Collective inside the Pizza Shoppe. They put on a good show, as usual. I'd seen them just once before, back before Vivian and I were even officially dating, so it was nice to see the, again.

In other news, I've officially completed my Nanowrimo novel, passing the 50k word mark today during my lunch break. My little piece of literature will require much more editing before it's fit to be read by the general public. I'm hoping to polish it up soon, however, and try putting together an actual bound-and-printed copy on or some such service. I'll let you all know if and when it ever becomes available for purchase that way.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Mr. and Mrs. Vorticus

Dan & Michelle get all kissy
Vivian and I had a big weekend in Kansas City, where I had the honor of being best man in the wedding of two close Comic Genesis friends: Michelle "Dragonmajik" Mayo and Dan "Vorticus" Zastrow. I got to meet them both in person for the first time at the Comic Genesis cookout in 2006, and I was there to witness their first date at the cookout last year in 2007. It was quite an amazing experience to witness such big moments in a couple's life even know we all live hundreds of miles apart from each other.

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The big weekend started on Friday when Vivian and I left early to come down to Kansas City and participate in the wedding rehearsal. I got to meet Dan and Michelle's families for the first time, and afterward we all went out to dinner at Ryan's. It felt good to catch up with them and see what craziness has been happening on Comic Genesis in my abscense. Dan's brothers and I absconded with him afterward to have a makeshift bachelor party with his dad down at Dave and Buster's, which we were able to find eventually, no thanks to Google Maps (which led us on a wild goose chance downtown and then scrambling for exits to get to west Kansas City).

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The main event on Saturday was just lovely. I and the other groomsmen got to wear Hawaiian shirts as we bore witness to the union of the couple, and after having several hundred pictures taken, got to blow bubbles at the couple on the way out the door. Vivian, along with Dan's brothers, had taken the liberty of decorating the groom's getaway car before the ceremony (with minimal damage, I hope).

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Next on the agenda came the reception, where I had the honor of giving the new couple a toast after we stuffed ourselves with prime rib and potatoes. That and the sugar-laden cake gave us enough energy for some serious dancing throughout the night. The couple went first, then the bride and her father, and finally the groom and his mom did a little Jitterbugging before the rest of us took the floor. I got to work up a sweat and work off a few calories from the evening meal before the bride and groom made their eventual escape.

Drawing with Fading Aura Jack Stack's Barbecue

Once we got the reception hall tidied up, Vivian and I did a little exploring with our Comic Genesis friend "Fading Aura." We dropped by a World Market to check out a wide selection of Missouri wines, and then made our way downtown in a vain search for a coffee shop in the midst of the busy bar district. We eventually crashed at the lounge of the Marriott to draw comics on a napkin while sipping Bailey's and hot chocolate together until midnight.

The next day, Vivian and I got to tour the beautiful Country Club Plaza, ducking into interesting little shops along the Spanish-themed streets. We had some delicious Kansas City barbecue for lunch at Fiorella's Jack Stack restaurant, finishing it all off with some warm and gooey carrot cake before driving back home.

Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Vorticus! Here's to a long and happy life together.

Video from Dan and Michelle's wedding day

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Swinging in Lincoln and our first Taco Party

Three cheers for another busy weekend! Vivian and I got to spend some time in Lincoln on Saturday hanging out with Nathan and his girlfriend, Renae. We played Pictionary together for an hour or two and got to indulge in one of the things I miss about Lincoln: Big Sal's Pizza: a warm, gooey indulgence straight from 27th and Vine.

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We spent the rest of the evening with our fellow Omaha swing dancers down at the Pla-Mor Ballroom on West O Street. It was a big night, with two bands playing back-to-back sets in a night of non-stop live music. The Prairie Cats and the Grand Marquis from Kansas City duked it out in a "battle of the bands" in a very lively night of dancing. Jillian brought some delicious cookies with her that gave some of us a much-needed sugar boost, while the presence of actual alcohol gave other swingers a chance to down a couple glasses of Rum and Coke to loosen things up on the floor.

I would have loved to stay late for a pick-me-up at Perkins or hijinks with Eric and company at an unsuspecting HyVee, but I was dangerously close to falling asleep by the time Vivian and I finally got home.

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On Sunday, Vivian and I got to have our first official get-together at our new home. We invited a bunch of our mutual friends to come over and enjoy an afternoon taco lunch together. After eating, we played a rousing game of Apples to Apples and then settled in to watch a movie. Vivian had rented us a couple choices from the HyVee RedBox, and we opted to see Journey to the Center of the Earth. Unfortunately, this was not the version with Brendan Fraser that we expected. Instead, it was a low-budget and extremely cheesy direct-to-video rip-off arguably created with the sole intention of having people rent it by mistake. It's easy to see how anyone could fall for such a sneaky trick, but we wound up playing some Mystery Science Theater 3000 and had a good laugh at the terrible acting and incredibly goofy plot of the film. I don't recommend seeing it unless you have some very creative friends.

The final score: Funny friends: 1, Bad movie: 0.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Be afraid, be very afraid

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On Friday last week, I got to celebrate my third Halloween in a row with the Omaha Jitterbugs. Before I met the Omaha Jitterbugs, I hadn't done any Halloween dress-up since I was a kid, but now I'm really starting to enjoy it. Vivian and I came as an angel and a devil once again, and we enjoyed seeing such elaborate costumes as Rob's turkey, Debbie's star-bellied sneetch, and Speed Racer.

The rest of the weekend was fairly uneventful. I finally got around to mounting our flat panel TV in the living room, so now it feels like we have a whole lot more space. Vivian and I are planning on an afternoon of tacos and a movie next Sunday, and I'm looking forward to getting some use out of it then.

As for the Presidential election, I didn't want my blog to become a depository for political commentary. I don't often share my political points of view with friends, mostly because I want to keep them. For my own therapy, however, I feel like I should write something.

I'm always impressed with how classy Republicans are when they lose. They don't demands recounts or cry about fraud at the voting booths. They don't whine about confusing arrows on a ballot or rigged voting machines, and they don't file lawsuits to have some votes recounted and others thrown out. The political right seems to come together and put their country first rather than their party. Maybe that's why they keep losing.

It's comforting to know, however, that change is a constant in politics. Four years ago, Bush had the White House and a strong majority in congress. Four years later it's flipped, and four years from now it could flip again. In 1992, Clinton had the white house and a majority of democrats in congress, and in two short years he was faced with a Republican majority for this rest of his presidential career. If Obama's "change" turns out to be business-as-usual tax and spend policy, we could have a Republican congress as early as 2010.

I won't try to predict what's going to happen over the next four years. Terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and any number of economic crises are all in the cards. My only hope is that Americans will start to discuss the issues in earnest again, rather than blindly placing all their hope in one man in the White House.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Trip to Petaluma

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Vivian and I just returned from a weekend trip to Vivian's hometown of Petaluma, California. We headed back to attend her ten-year high school reunion, but while we were in northern California, we got to visit some of her family and old friends she had while growing up.

The weather was gorgeous when we arrived, going from cold and cloudy forty degrees in Nebraska to 80 degrees and sunny in San Francisco. It was lovely weather for a bus trip up across the golden gate bridge. When we arrived in Petaluma, Vivian took me around town to see her old house, her old school, and her old church. Casa Grande High School is an "outdoor school," which turns out not to be quite as silly as I first imagined.

IMG_8080We did a lot of eating over the weekend, helped in part by the fact that everyone seems to have fruit trees in their backyard. We also got to go out for some genuine California pizza with Vivian's "granny." (Her mother's teenage friend and maid of honor who helped keep tabs on Vivian and her brother Oliver when her parents weren't around.) This included such ingredients as Italian Dry Salami, Liguisa sausage, and artichoke hearts.

We got to spend the weekend with some of Vivian's close friends from Bible study, Meg and Bob, but unfortunately, we didn't get to see much of them except when turning in for the night and after we woke up in the morning. Meg was one of Vivian's "second moms" from her old church, and Bob is her husband, who specializes in making stained glass Star Wars characters. He gave us a couple amazing R2D2s that I'm going to have to hang someplace special.

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On Saturday, we met up with some more of Vivian's bible study friends for lunch at her favorite old Mexican restaurant, La Azteca. That afternoon, we visited a few more bible study friends at their house and had a jam session. It was fun seeing Vivian getting guitar lessons from her old praise team leader, and her son played drums for them both as they jammed together.

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The reunion itself was strangely uneventful. They had a wide selection of distinctly Californian foods: more Italian dry salami, artichoke hearts, and sourdough bread. I also got to try "polenta," which is some kind of cornmeal cake. Vivian got to catch up with a number of her old friends, but there didn't seem to be much going on with the hundred-or-so graduates who showed up other than seeing how many of them could squeeze into the bar next door and drink. As such, Vivian and I left early and went to have some pizza at Round Table, the Californian pizza joint that Vivian seems to like best.

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On Sunday, we went to church with a bunch of Vivian's old friends at New Life, a ten-year-old plant of PCC that started right about the same time Vivian left. After that, we headed up north to Rohnert Park to spend the afternoon with some of Vivian's family: her Uncle Lewie, Aunt Sandra, and a couple cousins who happened to be in town. We had some lunch together, stuffing ourselves with Greek salad and roast chicken. We played some Balderdash after that and got to stuff ourselves further with some of granny's apple cake and a lovely "wedding" cheesecake. Uncle Lewie got for us.

On the way back to Petaluma, we had to stop by G&G to do a little grocery shopping. I love food, and it's amazing to see how different the selection is out in California. They had all sorts of fresh seafood at prices you'd never see in Nebraska and avocados for 59 cents each. Every store also seemed to have multiple aisles devoted entirely to wine, which only makes sense when you consider how many vineyards there are right around the corner. We also stopped by Pinky's Pizza to get a small pizza to freeze for Vivian's dad. That was his favorite pizza place.

IMG_8199 San Francisco Bay

Vivian and I spent our last day exploring the town, checking out the picturesque storefronts downtown that served as the movie backdrop for such films as Mumford and American Graffiti. They also filmed parts of Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders in Petaluma, a film known mostly for being lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000. I think I found the street where the shop was located, but can't be sure until I watch the movie again.

We headed back into San Francisco via bus, seeing such sights as the exit to Skywalker Ranch. It's apparently well-guarded, which would make it difficult to stop by and ask George Lucas what he was smoking when he made the Star Wars prequels. All things considered, it was a wonderful trip, and I'm glad that we got to miss out on the foggy, cold winter California weather Vivian kept warning me about. I only wish we'd had a little more time to spend exploring San Francisco. Maybe next year.

Watch the video from our trip to Petaluma!