Memorial Saturday

It feels like the pandemic is winding down in a major way, partly because toilet paper now seems to be plentiful in places like Costco (though yeast is still hard to find). As such, as did a little breaking from quarantine this weekend to celebrate Memorial Day.

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We took the kids off to a good, long romp around Memorial Park once again, which seemed appropriate. There were a few new statues in place at the World War 2 memorial, one of which seemed seemed to be watching Hannah. The kids had the chance to walk (and roll) down the hill while smelling a few of the nearly-blooming flowers on display. The sun was beating down hard enough for us to seek shelter in the shade of a few ancient trees before making our way back to up climb one (and get re-hydrated).

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Then that evening we went and visited my parents for the first time in several months. My dad smoked up some ribs for a Memorial Day dinner (on Saturday), which we ate with my brothers and some potato salad I’d brought (and grilled mushrooms). We didn’t stay long, but the kids did get the chance to play a bit in the yard flinging rockets and swinging a few toy golf clubs before we headed home.

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Memorial Day itself was fairly low-key as everyone expected rain and cancelled such things as our drive-in church service only to have clouds and gray drizzle wander through. Vivian made some banana bread for breakfast, and we had a bit of a scare watching a plume of acrid smoke over our neighbor’s house only to discover it was from a barbecue.

In other news, Harold the Guinea Pig’s mommy is staying with us for a few days while the Mills are at camp. He seemed genuinely happy to see her — chittering excitedly as she nipped angrily at him when we re-introduced the two. Zoey, on the other hand, doesn’t seem sure what to think — another delicious little rodent in the house that she’s not allowed to eat. Sorry, Zoey.

Bacon, Elmwood, and Cinnamon Rolls

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Tuesday was Nebraska’s primary election day, so I got a little taste of “normalcy” by hanging out a bit with the Bacon Brigade down at 120th and L. They were waving some signs to get out the vote for the Congressman (along with Ian Swanson for Sasse), and I naturally wanted to drop by for a few photos as well. Congressman Bacon was wearing his own patriotic mask, but most everyone went mask-free as they waved and called to cars coming from all four directions — many of which responded with happy beeps.

It was the first political event I’d been a part of since the Iowa primaries, so it was nice to feel one thing a bit more “normal” after all these weeks of shutdown. I also told Don I hoped we’d been able to see him in a parade again soon.

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We had some lovely weather on Friday, which was enough to justify a long lunchtime trip down to Elmwood Park. We had a nice, long walk along the wooded path and the grotto area, checking out the local wildlife and getting some much-needed fresh air before kicking off the weekend. We got some ice cream sandwiches for the trip home and then had some Italian beef sandwiches for dinner.

Vivian and I were up bright and early the next morning to check out a “smiley face moon,” i.e. an alignment of a waning crescent moon with Jupiter and Saturn to form a “smiley face.” Unfortunately, it turned out to be completely fake news, but that didn’t stop me from snapping a photo anyway just to document getting up at 4:30 am for no reason. We had some more excitement that evening as the tornado sirens went off to alert us of a pending light rain shower. It didn’t interrupt the Johnny Mazetti we had for dinner, and I snapped a photo of the storm that barely penetrated the OmaDome (and a newly blooming iris) for lack of anything better to do.

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Then on Sunday, Vivian made up some hot cinnamon rolls, which we ate during our weekly Living Room worship service with Wildewood’s Facebook live-stream. Hopefully, next week we’ll be attending an almost-in-person drive-in service at the church, though we’ll still have to bring along our own communion elements.

Later that afternoon, I introduced Aaron to Tron, a game he immediately picked up on and became surprisingly good at playing. Maybe soon enough we’ll show him the film on Disney+ (or at least the light bike scene).

Fireworks and Mother’s Day

It’s been another strangely busy week, mostly preparing for Mother’s Day along with another bike ride to work and making a giant batch of ceviche on the heels of Taco Tuesday.

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We had some lovely weather on Saturday, which I spent mowing the lawn, tilling the garden, and letting the guinea pig roam in the freshly-cut grass.

Then that evening we packed up the kids with a batch of blankets and headed back to Werner Park to see some more fireworks. This show was specifically for the graduating class of 2020, many of whom showed up in their cars decorated for the event, some even wearing caps and gowns. We weren’t allowed to park on the picturesque grass this go-around either, so we crowded onto the west side of the park, which was muddy and apparently under construction. We got McDonald’s for dinner and kept the kids amused with a tablet before the show started. We had some low-hanging clouds and some massive wind, but neither disrupted the show, which lasted about ten minutes. Most of all, it was nice to have something to do as the great pandemic of 2020 starts winding down.

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Sunday was Mother’s Day, so I got Vivian up with the kids for a breakfast of Coconut Toast and coffee (and a tiny pot of roses). We had church again in our living room, and today’s service featured various people thanking their moms in a video that preceded the worship service (ones of me and the kids included of course). Donna came by afterward with some treats for Vivian and a bouquet of flowers from her garden. Then Vivian followed Donna back to her house with some presents of her own. I got my mom a carton of her favorite ice cream, which I left on her doorstep before giving her a Happy Mother’s Day greeting (via Zoom) back at the house.

Vivian had some more presents of her own, which I’d tucked into a canvas bag that I’d let the kids decorate a few days earlier. Then I made up a fancy dinner of ahi tuna steaks, fettuccine alfredo, and roasted Brussels sprouts. I also baked up a chocolate liqueur cake for dessert, which was delicious and way too easy to make (so I’ll have to do it again).

Happy Mother’s Day, all you mothers out there!

Dandelion Soup and Buttermilk Biscuits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other news, Aaron lost his first tooth!

Biking, Testing, & Park Reopening

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I’ve been doing a few things over the past week to try to stay healthy as the pandemic seems like it might be winding down. First off, I got my bike fixed up to ride to and from work on the Keystone Trail. Since the Kroc Center is closed for the time being, it’s the best way I can think of to get some exercise for the time being — and save on gas (all $1.50/gallon of it). Mostly, it’s nice just to get some fresh for a while each day. The weather’s been absolutely gorgeous — 60s and 70s with barely any wind.

I also got myself tested for Covid-19 — not because I had any symptoms, but because back in February I had “the worst cold of my life” with very similar symptoms. I went to the drive-thru clinic at 84th and Center (courtesy of Pivot Concierge Health), and they had me in and out (with just a finger prick) in just a few minutes, and I got my results back a few minutes later — NEGATIVE. Unfortunately, they couldn’t tell me whether I’d had it back in February, but for the time being, I’m in the clear. It was also free. If you’re interested in a test yourself, stop by CovidOmaha.com and make an appointment.

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In other news, Omaha decided to open up its public parks a little early, so we spent a little time on Saturday enjoying some of the blossoms down at Memorial Park. We went by Five Guys first to get some messy burgers and fries for a picnic, and then we let the kids have some extra time to run around and climb a tree. Some passing thunderstorms kept us from staying for long, but I’m glad we got the chance to see some of the blossoms before they disappear. (And Aaron enjoyed feeling the rain on the way home.)

The kids have been finding other ways to have fun at home. Hannah earned enough money to replace her digital camera, which she’s been using again to shoot videos and take pictures again. She also build some kind of “hideout” in the backyard under our evergreen trees, something she was very proud to show to me on Sunday.

April Snow & Fireworks

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People talk a lot about the weather in Nebraska, often because we have bizarre weeks were it’s winter one day and springtime the next. That’s what happened on Thursday last week, when a blizzard rolled into town and delivered us a winter wonderland over the course of an afternoon. It melted right off the roads but coated everything else with a snowy frosting, much to the bewilderment of the robins and squirrels that had been expecting spring.

Our pair of tulips fortunately made it through the snow, and Vivian took he kids outside to play in the snow and make a snowman and have a snowball fight before the white stuff was almost entirely vaporized by the end of the day.

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The rest of our weekend weather was absolutely gorgeous — 60 degrees and sunny. It was nice enough for a “walk” with the folks from the Autism Society of Nebraska, (who had a “virtual Fun Fest” today in lieu of a real one), and Hannah also got to do some art reproducing one of our tulips.

Then that evening, we headed down to Werner Park for a drive-in fireworks show hosted by the Omaha Storm Chasers. It was a community event that seemed to be held just to lift up some spirits in the midst of a pandemic. It seemed the whole metro area came to join us, lining the streets and parking in empty fields adjacent to the park. We got the perfect view of the show from our spot on the west side. Hannah got an eyeful standing atop our CR-V while Aaron hunkered down in the trunk (with the window open). The show started around 8:45 and lasted all of ten minutes, but there was something magical and fun about seeing fireworks in the open air with thousands of others sitting a top their cars and in the beds of pickup trucks.

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Things stayed fairly low-key on Sunday. We tuned in to Wildewood’s service on Facebook live (a weekly tradition in many pandemic-bound households, I’m guessing) and took Harold the Guinea Pig outside to graze in our front yard for the first time. I spent the afternoon cleaning the garage as Hannah brought out her entire collection of dolls for some fresh air. Vivian made some homemade pizza for dinner that evening, and we tuned in to the Hope Rising benefit concert online, making use of my Raspberry Pi plugged into a Goodwill TV in our living room (which is usually used as a weather/calendar kiosk).

How are you faring during this world-wide lock down? I’m quite grateful we’re able to live more or less normal lives with the kids during all of this, albeit without weekly visits to grandma and grandpa’s house. My hope is that we’re on the down slope now and will soon see this period of time in the rear-view mirror of history. For the moment, though, we’re still enjoying life very much — and grateful all of us are healthy!

Easter Weekend in Quarantine

I hope you and everyone you love had a wonderful Easter Weekend. Despite the pandemic and nearly everything in some state of lock down (including Omaha’s public parks, of all things), we still managed to have a whole lot of fun with our friends and family.

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On Friday night, we had a Virtual Fish Fry with some of our mutual friends. Vivian made some battered fish fillets, french fries, and even some mac and cheese doctored up with beer cheese (and apple strudel, courtesy of Betty Across the Street). Naturally, we couldn’t share any of this with our friends, who all joined us with their own food at our dining room table via Zoom on my Chromebook. We were still able to catch up with everyone, and they even joined us for a round of “Sweet Caroline” as Paul even broke out his guitar. It didn’t turn out so well, thanks to Internet lag, but it was worth a try. Even Zoom’s 40 minute time limit couldn’t keep us down, as most of us were able to reconnect without much trouble and carry on until nearly nine o’clock.

Some of our friends had to bail for Good Friday, but it was still great to catch up with everyone. I expect some kind of catch-up party once the pandemic is over (whenever that may be).

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On Saturday morning, we got to see how bored people were getting with the pandemic by participating in a “Mask-eurade ‘Drive Along’ Parade” with the Omaha Children’s Museum and Rose Theater. A mile-long line of cars were packed Douglas Street and barely moved for an hour just to roll their way to 20th Street and pass by a few costumed characters. We saw the Paw Patrol, Bob the Builder, Leonardo, Cat in the Hat, Darth Vader, Miss Frizzle, Pooh and Piglet and a handful of others along the way.

The weather was gorgeous, so I got out to snap photos as we waited. It was still fun just to get outside nonetheless. Mostly, I hope the kids will have one more memory of the strange things people did during this unique time in history.

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After the “parade,” we had a little lunch across the river at Rivers Edge Park. All the parks in Omaha are closed (because “social distancing”), but Iowa’s are still open, so we ate some burgers and fries on the steps where Loessfest would normally be happening had the park not been flooded repeatedly.

Since our last visit, they’ve installed a giant sculpture made of scrap aluminum, which stared at the sky as we wandered the grounds around it. It was a gorgeous day to get out and run around a bit, as birds and blossoms seemed to indicate that spring was finally here — despite snow forecast for the next day.

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Our extended outdoor lunch was more than just a fun diversion — we were also giving Grammy (AKA the Easter Bunny) the chance to plant some eggs in our yard so the kids could return and find them. You couldn’t have asked for a better day for an Easter Egg hunt, and the kids had some fun running around the front and back yards gathering them up for us. My parents came by to watch (as did Grammy) and even dropped off some Easter gifts for us before saying goodbye.

It was warm enough to do a little bit of yard work afterward, and our happy little flowers were peeking up and blooming for us. We spent the evening having some chicken sandwiches made with the legendary “red bag chicken” from Aldi, which are chicken patties not unlike the ones at Chick-Fil-A and have developed a strange reputation online for being both delicious and perpetually out of stock (I can confirm both are true).

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We got up bright at early on Easter Sunday as both our kids managed to find their Easter Baskets long before the “Easter Bunny” expected. We got dressed and headed down to Bellevue Christian Center at 8:30, where they had a “drive-in” Easter service in their parking lot. Despite the drizzling rain and cold, it was quite nice, with a worship team singing on a makeshift stage and broadcasting via short-range FM to our car radio. Pastor Hooker wandered the lot greeting cars spaced strategically six feet apart (both for social distancing and a view of the stage), and then Pastor Andy got up and gave a message, looking a bit like Billy Graham in a hat and coat (according to Vivian).

Our kids remained happy and quiet in the backseat all the while as well, which was something of an Easter miracle in itself, and we rewarded them afterward with some after-church donuts from Dunkin.

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The rest of our Easter Sunday was full of quiet fun at our house, fueled with sugar from Easter baskets and a handful of delicious, flowery cupcakes that came courtesy of Grammy later in the afternoon. We watched the Wildewood Easter Service online as Aaron danced happily to the music, and then the kids played with some of their Easter basket goodies, which included some headlights and wind-up chicks. Later on, we broke out the eggs and dye and got the kids to color a dozen eggs together at our kitchen table. We let the colors set as we had some Easter dinner of ham, scalloped potatoes, and biscuits toward the end of the day.

It was certainly a unique Easter weekend with the pandemic still in full force, but considering we got to enjoy an Easter egg hunt with the grandparents and even get out of the house for church together, it still felt very much like a traditional Easter all around.

He is risen, everyone!

Drive-by Palm Sunday and Dim Sum at the Park

It’s been another quiet week in quarantine, though we’ve been able to find excuses to get out of the house and enjoy some fresh air as more and more of our daily go-to activities seems to be getting locked down.

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On Thursday last week, Omaha “lit it up blue” for autism, so Vivian and I took the kids for a drive to check it out. They were fairly underwhelmed, as seeing the Woodmen Tower and the pedestrian bridge lit in blue lights wasn’t quite the thrill they were expecting — at least not with the cold and drizzling rain (which turned son to snow) that kept us inside the warm car. We got a dusting of snow the next day that made roads slippery and wintry again, but it was vaporized within days once the temperature broke 80 again.

We’ve been getting a lot more use out of the teleconferencing app Zoom as well. We attended bible studies at church both on Saturday and Tuesday using Zoom, and we also let the kids say hello to Grandma and Grandpa again on Saturday morning.

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On Palm Sunday, we decided to take the kids for a ride around the neighborhood with some homemade palm fronds, which we waved our friends the Mills and Campbells as well as Grammy and my parents, shouting “Hosanna” from an socially distant six feet away (at least).

It was a good enough excuse to get out of the house, and we celebrated later with some German chocolate cake courtesy of our across-the-street neighbor Betty and some homemade pizza.

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Then on Tuesday, we continued celebrating Take Out Tuesday with a trip to Golden Mountain for some Dim Sum (steamed pork and shrimp dumplings and Vietnamese spring rolls). We ate picnic style down at Memorial Park, up by the rose garden. I was hoping for more than just a few blossoms, but it was a gorgeous day with temperatures that broke into the 80s, and it felt good just to get out and let the kids run around (literally), climb a tree, and pay our respects. Loads of other people came by to enjoy the park as well — more than a “no parking” sign would allow for, at least. Now the city of Omaha has announced all parks are being shut down through the end of April, so I guess I should be glad we enjoyed it while we could.

Then on Wednesday we decided to celebrate the Last Supper on Wednesday with some kosher wine and unleavened bread. Next stop: Easter!

Fresh Air and Take-Out Tuesday

Spring is beginning to bud all over town (and in our yard), so over the past week, the Johnson Family has stopped “sheltering in place” long enough to have some fun outside, getting fresh air while waiting out the coronavirus (whether the kids like it or not).

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On Thursday, we had a picnic underneath the stage of Stinson Park and then had a lovely walk up and down the Keystone Trail. We got to see such things as fussy buds on a few trees, a stay birds’ nest, and some “shooting heart” graffiti underneath a bridge.

There are only a few restaurants open in Aksarben Village (and no movie theater) during the coronavirus lockdown, so the most activity I’ve seen are the window washers “flying” outside the Pacific Life building.

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In the meantime, we’ve been trying a few new things at home, such as homemade pizza, pretzels, sauce and salsa from Volcanic Peppers, and some “whipped coffee” that seems to be a craze online.

My parents also celebrated their 45th anniversary, but since we couldn’t join them, I installed Skype on my computer and let the kids say hello virtually. It’s getting a little frustrating not being able to say hello to grandma and grandpa these days, but hopefully this lock down will be over soon.

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On Sunday, we got some more fresh air walking the trails of the Fontenelle Forest. The doors seemed to be open for both members and non-members alike, so we got some exercise with the kids exploring the hilly trails, ponds, and overlooks around the forest, as well as the playground of course. We also got to see a red-headed woodpecker and the Constitution Tree before getting too tuckered out. Then Jack was kind enough to lend us some expiring fuel points to use on the way home, where we filled up at around $1.16/gallon.

When we’re not outside, I’ve been helping with some of our homeschooling as well, teaching Aaron math with Khan Academy, which he played out with chalk on the driveway one day driving home from work.

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We had a particularly special night on Take-Out Tuesday (as designated by our Governor). First, we swung by Dinker’s Bar and Grill to get some of Omaha’s Best Burgers for dinner, which we ate with fries picnic-style at Hanscom Park down the street. I’d visited this 150-year old park once or twice before, but this was the first time with the kids. Hannah was particularly interested in the “twisty tree” that swirled like a soft-serve cone.

Then after dinner, we drove down the street for a drive-by birthday parade for our Jitterbug friend Billy, who was turning forty. Some of our friends wanted to throw him an socially distant parade, so we and several Jitterbug friends lined up in our cars, some decorated appropriately, and drove past his house honking and waving around a 6:45. I think it made his day.

Social Distance

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As the world shuts down to deal with the Corona Virus, I spent Wednesday evening breaking quarantine to wish Uncle Jonny a Happy Birthday. The kids each decorated some birthday cards for him, which included such things as watermelon, corn kernels, Mega Man, and a maze. Vivian and I gave Uncle Jonny a gift card for RiffTrax to tide him over during the quarantine. He’s now working from home, and while everything else seems to be cancelled, they’ll be spending a lot of time indoors.

My mom made brownies for us, but we otherwise kept “socially distant.” I’m not sure when such things as walking with the kids to grandpa’s house will become a regular thing again, but I hope it’s soon.

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Of course, sheltering in place means more time for spring cleaning, so on Saturday I spent some time clearing out our storage area and setting up some shelving I’d bought at Aldi to help get things organized. I also gave our little apple tree a good pruning with the tips I’d learned from my visit to Ditmar’s a few weeks ago, and I even got a stake in the ground to help straighten it up a bit.

Then on Sunday, we had our virtual church service from Wildewood in our living room while eating some bacon and pancakes (and kale for Harold). We’d gotten a bit stir-crazy by lunchtime and decided to get outside a bit, stopping by McDonald’s for a lunch of double Big Macs before going downtown. We had a nice little walk around the Old Market despite the gray and drizzling weather. The kids seemed to enjoy just running around the nearly vacant streets. We did find that Dolci was still open for business, so we all got some Italian ice cream before heading home.

How are you spending the quarantine? Let us know in the comments below.