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


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Happy Sashimi


Over the weekend, we celebrated both Vivian and Jack turning another year. On Friday, it was Vivian's birthday, so we kicked off the festivities with a lunchtime birthday date at La Buvette in the Old Market, sampling wine and cheese and a few Greek things and enjoying some gorgeous fall weather eating outdoors. Afterward, we walked up the street to Ted & Wally's so Vivian could get her free birthday ice cream for dessert.

That evening, we gathered with a bunch of our friends at Tokyo Omaha (coincidentally a few blocks away) for a birthday sushi binge. Vivian took full advantage of the restaurant's all-you-can-eat format by getting a plate full of tasty sashimi. A whole bunch of our favorite, goofy friends came along to join us for the birthday bash, and then afterward we went to the Eagles' Lodge for Jitterbugs Night Out. You can't have a birthday without a birthday jam, of course! We barely had room when we returned home to have some of the massive angel food cake Donna made for us. Fortunately, my brother Jonathan stopped by to help us eat it over the weekend (and brought a pie of his own from Village Inn).

Vivian got to open a few presents before we all went to bed, which included tickets to see Les Misérables on Friday next week. (Check back for that update next week!)


Of course, this weekend was also Jack's birthday, having been born two days apart from Vivian (and a couple years, of course). We celebrated the way we have for many years — bloomin' onion and rib-eye steaks at the Outback Steakhouse. We returned home to open some presents afterward and then went to Ted & Wally's for some more birthday ice cream. Jack found a way to ruin a perfectly good cone with two scoops of black licorice ice cream (and a scoop of pistachio in-between).

In other news, we had a bit of sadness as Vivian's Uncle David passed away in California after an unfortunate fall. He was taken off life support on Friday and was fortunate enough to leave this earth with no long-term suffering or illness. Hannah got the chance to meet him when we stopped by to visit Fortuna last year. He will be greatly missed.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Apples, corn, and Johnny Boyd


Fall is officially underway once again, and there's no better way to kick off another season of autumnal fun than taking a trip down to Nebraska City for the Applejack Festival. We crashed at the firehouse for pancakes once again (per tradition), and bumped into Jenny and her family along the way. We skipped down to the library's used book sale, checked out a few sights, and then drove by Arbor Day Farm for Apple Cider. We finished things off with a nice, long trip to the Kimmel apple orchard in the afternoon, where Hannah got to have her first pony ride. She was a little nervous at first, but she was soon asking for more as soon as the ride was done.

Of course, we couldn't leave without picking a peck (or two) of apples in the orchard. Hannah got to see some apples up close and personal and found one small enough for her to pick herself. We also stumbled upon some ripe plums and Asian pairs hiding around a corner, far away from where the hay rack ride usually deposits everyone. I'd never had a juicy ripe plum fresh off the tree before, and Hannah instantly found a new favorite fruit.


Meanwhile, the Cowtown Jamborama had been going on since Thursday. Vivian had been able to drop by Thursday night and Friday during the day, but we saved our time, energy, and feet for Sunday night's festivities. First up was the infamous corn-eating contest in the lower level of the Eagle's Lodge. Hannah had already been practicing with an ear of corn at church and was more than eager to take on a whole gang of kiddos who'd come to compete for the title of baby corn-eating champion. She did all right for a one-year old but just couldn't stand up to her ten-year-old competition.

Immediately following the kids' competition, naturally, came the adults, and much to my surprise, my name had been somehow added to the list of competitors. Seriously, I didn't sign up, but neither did I back down once someone decided to sign me up. It was eight minutes or nauseating yellow mess, but guess who came out on top for the second time? Yep. Vivian also managed to break her third-place streak by coming in right behind me, following closely by the ever-corny Ben Cass.


After a few hours of recovery (and time to shuttle Hannah on home for some babysitting courtesy of the in-laws) it was time for the main event: an evening of swinging music with Johnny Boyd and his band. Johnny Boyd was the vocal talent behind the neo-swing band, Indigo Swing, which I had been introduced to by my old friend Legostar many years ago. The new ensemble sang all my old favorites, as well as several new ones, and Johnny's voice hadn't changed a bit. I'd done the Lindy Hop to How Lucky Can One Guy Be countless times, but I never thought I'd be doing it right in front oft he man himself right here at the Eagle's Lodge.

There was a solo Jazz competition somewhere in-between sets, and I stuck around for every song of the night, despite having to get up early the next day. I'm glad I did, since Johnny stuck around to meet and greet fans afterward, sign autographs, and get pictures taken with him. He'd performed in Omaha years ago at the Stork Club during the height of the swing revival in the late 90s. Several people in attendance (cough Lisa cough) had remembered those days quite well and hung around to gab about old times. It honestly made me think about how darn fond I am of this swing-dancing crowd that's still been jumpin' after all these years, and I'm happier than ever to be a part of it.

Special thanks to Nate Woodhams for helping to bring one of my favorite musicians of all time to Cowtown.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Haircuts and swimming


Our little girl had a couple of adorable firsts over the weekend. On Friday, Grammy came by to give Hannah her very first haircut. She's been getting a bit shaggy over the past few months and now had bangs down to her eyes, so it was time for a trim. We kept her satiated with Pooh and a cookie, and she took her little trim like a champ. (Mom kept some of the clippings in a plastic bag for her keepsake box, of course.) Donna gave the rest of the family a trim while she was over and then we all went out to Hector's for dinner to celebrate

The next day, Vivian and I took Hannah down to the Sarpy YMCA for her very first swimming lesson! Hannah has experienced a swimming pool before, but this was the first time she got serious training on jumping around in the water with mommy (down at the deep end, no less). We went downtown afterward for some Japanese food at Matsu Sushi for lunch, and afterward Hannah got to experience climbing around in a tree for the first time before heading home.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Birthday weekend


I love birthdays, especially when they're mine! I had a very happy one this year. It all started on the day itself, which was a Thursday. Hannah and mom paid me a lunchtime visit with balloons and a couple presents picked out by my little girl. Then we headed down to Amato's for lunch. I'd eaten there with my folks once before, and the call of homemade sausage and ricotta pancakes was just too strong to resist any longer.

That evening, Vivian took me to a birthday dinner at the 801 Chophouse, where we had some pork chops, lobster mashed potatoes, and my favorite fried mushrooms with boursin cheese. Of course, we had to walk down to Ted & Wally's afterward for my free ice cream (coffee and baklava). Vivian decided to have some tamarind candy ice cream that was quite hot for being so cold.


The next day was Friday night. That called for some burgers with friends in the heart of South Omaha at my favorite burger joint -- Louie M's Burger Lust. I'd discovered the place with my dad ages ago and we've come back again and again ever since (it's even made its way into my comic once or twice!)

After all that good eating, we went to burn as much off as we could down at the Eagle's Lodge. It was easier than we thought, since the air conditioning had broken and turned the upper floor into a giant swing-dancing sauna. It certainly wasn't too hot for a birthday jam or a Jack and Jill competition shortly thereafter, though. A little heat never kept us from dancing indoors or out.


We had a lovely three-day weekend to unwind after all the celebrating was done. A storm wandered through Sunday night and made things lovely and cool for Sunday and Monday. Our mutual friend Jessica Ritchie decided to move to North Carolina and came around to say her last goodbyes at the Upstream and then later at JNO and our church. I think we said goodbye to her about a dozen times before she finally left town.

On Monday evening, the in-laws had a cookout at their place with some friends in honor of Do Nothing Day. Jack brought a few flatiron steaks out of the freezer and onto the grill, I brought up some potato salad, and Vivian made a pot full of nacho cheese dip that kept us full for a while. (Hannah provided adorable entertainment, as usual.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Jam sessions


Well, summer is finally here, though after the last few months of unseasonable coolness, I won't complain over a few days in August in the 90s. It certainly won't keep us from having fun outdoors, such as having a family picnic for Hannah's 21-month birthday! My two ladies stopped by Stinson Park, and we had some sandwiches before letting Hannah run through the fountains by Center street. Then she found some kid's discarded toy car and decided to claim it as her own in-between shooting down the slides. On Saturday, we had another rendezvous with Dennis and his clan in Papillion. He had an "end of summer" party, even though it feels like it just got started. We had burgers and dogs with some of our mutual friends as the kids terrorized one another in the other room.


On Sunday, we had one last, hot Lindy in the Park for the 2013 season. It almost didn't happen, since Billy wasn't around to set up this time, but Dan Wondra stepped it with his Tailgater, and I'm awfully glad he did. Despite the heat, we got a handful of friends out to dance underneath the pavilion, but the real fun started when a few stray musicians wandered our way. If you've been to Stinson Park over the past few weeks, you may have seen a piano bearing the words, "Play Me, I'm Yours" (which part of a larger street art project). After an hour of dancing to stock swing tunes, local musician Gene Klosner dropped by to improvise some blues and boogie woogie for us on the fly, which was fantastic. About an hour later, a man named Jim Snyder came by to bang out some amazing rockabilly and bluegrass for us for at least an hour after we were going to call it a day. It was the first Lindy in the Park ever with live music, and you couldn't possibly have planned it. We had a handful of other jitterbugs join in the fun, and at least as many other pedestrians walking by filming the spectacle. I'm so glad we were able to have one last (hot) dance outdoors for the season! Special thanks to Dan Wondra, Jim Snyder, and Gene Klosner for making it so memorable.