Author Archives: Matt J.

About Matt J.

I'm a graphic designer, an off-and-on cartoonist, and an occasional swing dancer living in Omaha with my wife and daughter (and loving very minute of it).

Brisket, Pancakes, and Fireworks

Happy Independence Day! I hope you all had a wonderfully fun and patriotic weekend celebrating America and blowing up a small part of it. We had loads of fun over the weekend with our friends and family, eating, setting off fireworks, and even doing a little more home improvement.

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On Thursday evening, I went by my dad’s house to help prepare a giant piece of brisket for the smoker, which involved cutting off some of the excess fat and then preparing his large smoker with charcoals, hickory wood, and water. We left it smoking overnight, which left it tender and juicy the next morning. I probably could have trimmed off more fat, since it didn’t seem to absorb as much of the hickory flavor as I’d hoped, but it was all still good. We ran over there with the kids on Friday night for a nice Independence Eve dinner to kick off the weekend.

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The next morning, we went on down to Elmwood Park for the annual DCRP pancake breakfast. Congressman Don Bacon and Mayor Jean Stothert served us up some pancakes and sausage, and we got to see a few familiar faces among the crowd before we ate. We walked by the games outside and the car show to take the kids to playground afterward, where we discovered a kind of electronic tennis game that they got to play before we headed on out.

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On our way home, we drove through a kind of “reverse parade” in the Field Club neighborhood, where because of Covid 19 the residents dressed up their homes in various patriotic (and miscellaneous) regalia for people to observe as they drove or walked by. They even had a drill team performing along Walnut Street.

I got out to take some photos, but quickly noticed that the street was lined with tables for Democrat politicians, and as I was wearing a T-shirt for Ben Sasse, it wasn’t long before I was spotted and told to leave. (Hooray for diversity and inclusion.)

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Then that evening, we gathered at our house to have some ice cream and set off an hour or two worth of fireworks in our driveway. We had the usual assortment of parachutes, fountains, sparklers, and flaming dog poop. The most impressive show, however, seemed to come from our own backyard, as our neighbors up the street set off a massive amount of fireworks of their own that lit up the sky. It seems like every year I think about forgoing our own fireworks and just watching the neighbors, but it’s still more fun to watch the kids play with their own.

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It’s also been a weekend full of home improvement projects, believe it or not. Our garbage disposal sprung a massive leak underneath our sink, so we had to get that replaced on Friday. Then we wound the faucet itself had its own leak (which had gone unnoticed), so we replaced the faucet as well on Saturday.

Then on Sunday, Nate and Jake came by to help finish up the lats bit of our siding work, patching up a few feet of wood siding with some new PVC trim before caulking, priming, and then painting the whole side of our house. We’d managed to save a giant five-gallon bucket of paint from the time we first painted the house a decade ago. It took us most of the evening, but we just finished the last of the paint as the sun went down, and it looked great. Thanks, Nate!

Bird Boxes

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I’m still recovering for a busy weekend doing some more home improvements around the house. There’s some rotting siding on the east side of our home that our friend Nate offered to help me replace — and by replace I mean do almost everything as I mostly held ladders and fetched things. In addition to the siding itself, there were two “bird boxes” that were severely deteriorating — one of which had an actual nest of baby starlings living in it. We called the Bird Rescue hotline to try to figure out what to do with them, and they suggested placing the next in a basket as close to the original location as possible. The birds will still flopping about and peeping when I put it up next to our gutter, so at the moment we’re praying Mama Bird finds them well.

Nate and I spent all Saturday and half of Sunday on the siding, which included a trip to the Menards in Fremont, which was the closest place that had siding to match (and an automated floor scrubber). Even now there’s still more to finish up, but the hardest parts are all over. Just a few more inches of siding to patch up and caulk and then a fresh coat of paint on everything. We thanked Nate with some sushi from Jade Palace but will have to do something more special once everything is done.

In other news, we’ve had Mama Ginny over to spend some extra time with her son while the Mills took a trip to South Dakota.

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It’s been consistently hot and muggy week after week in the meantime, but that hasn’t kept me from firing up the grill to make brats or riding my bike to work every (though random road destruction on the Keystone Trail has made the latter more difficult). There’s nothing more refreshing after a hot bike ride than chasing a couple kids through a shower of ice-cold water. Vivian was also nice enough to bring along a picnic dinner for us to eat together before heading home.

Next stop: Fourth of July!

Father’s Day

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We had a very nice week running up to Father’s Day this weekend. On Tuesday, I had some breakfast with my folks down at Village Inn to celebrate our massive plumbing project finally wrapping up (with a new working toilet). I was hoping to go to the 11 Worth Cafe instead, but some racial agitators shut it down because they didn’t like the name of a breakfast menu item, which was disappointing to say the least.

The next day, Donna brought over an early birthday present for me — a new, functioning grill for the deck! I was very happy with it, but now I’ll have to make some time to do some grilling while the weather’s nice enough for it (and to buy a grill cover).

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On Saturday, we got a bit of a cold front that pushed temperatures down to the 70s from the 90s, so we decided to enjoy the afternoon down at Memorial Park. We had a McDonald’s picnic for lunch and then walked a bit through the rose garden, which was now in full bloom. The kids skipped down the hill and then found some mulberries on the way back up. Then we finished the afternoon over at the recently-reopened playground, where the kids played for a while before making a project of dumping sand onto the twisty slide for no particular reason.

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Then that evening I joined some of the Young Republicans at the DCRP headquarters to watch Trump’s rally down in Tulsa. Having been on the floor of such an event before, the President seemed very much the reality show entertainer and comedian / plain-talking (and occasionally foul-mouthed) POTUS we’ve come to expect. I personally think Trump’s improvised comedy and self-depreciation are some of his biggest assets, and despite the crowd’s apparent lackluster size (which some are blaming on either Covid 19 or disruptions outside), it was fun to watch.

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Then on Father’s Day, I woke up to a lovely (and giant) breakfast burrito courtesy of Vivian, which some nice little cards handmade by the Hannah and Aaron (and Elmo/Luke). After our online church service, I headed over to mom and dad’s house, where I had a handful of soon-to-be “collectors items” I’d accumulated over the week, starring Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and the Cream of Wheat chef. My dad went through a trunk full of old family photos in the basement with us, and then we got some Taco John’s for lunch (namely six pack and a pound times three). We watched some of my dad’s old reel-to-reel films after that and got some milkshakes from Culver’s mid-afternoon before digging into another family photo album from our time in Grand Rapids before heading home.

Then that evening, Vivian had a few more gifts for me at home and a dinner of sushi from the Jade Palace to finish off the day.

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The day after Father’s Day, we took the family down to Jack and Donna’s house to celebrate Father’s Day with Vivian’s dad. Vivian and her mom made up a dinner of steak with scalloped potatoes, vegetables, and their usual hors d’oeuvres. — all of which we ate under their porch in the midst of a brief rain shower.

In the meantime, the kids got the chance to play in Grammy’s yard for the first time this year. They also got to see some of Grammy’s decorative rocks and blooming flowers before we had our dessert together. Jack also got to open a few presents, including some of Vivian’s parmesan chicken wings, before we called it a night.

Aaron turns six

Well, summer is well underway, with lawn mowing, gratuitous road destruction, frozen bananas, and of course Aaron’s birthday.

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With temperatures in the 90s pretty much every single day (with barely a drop of rain), we’ve been trying to keep cool in all the standard ways. We broke out the wading pool, which Hannah had been using as a makeshift tree house, and filled it up with a garden house as I got the sprinklers going. We also dropped by the Papillion Dairy Queen to make use of a Groupon Hannah got in exchange for watching the Mills guinea pig.

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Then on the following Thursday, we celebrated Aaron’s sixth birthday. I took the entire day off from work, giving me the chance to help Grammy pick up a pop-up tent for a potential summer camping trip and to snap some pictures when she brought over Aaron’s cake along with a couple of presents.

Then that afternoon, we had a party for Aaron’s with a bunch of his little friends down at Eagle Ridge Park. We had been hoping the neighboring splash pad would be turned on, but it wasn’t — the only water we had came in the form of a large, stagnant puddle (which the girls waded in anyway). Aaron still had fun just running around with his little friends at the park, however. We had some of Donna’s cake halfway through, which was decorated with some characters from Aaron’s favorite video game. We opened presents afterward, which included a bunch of Mario Kart toys that Aaron and his crew immediately began racing with. Hannah and Sammy dug a tunnel in the sand in the meantime, and we finished off the day getting pictures of everyone inside of a comic book picture frame.

Then that evening, Aaron got to have his favorite dinner, chicken wings and french fries, before opening a few more presents. One of these was a plush King Dedede, which happened to be Aaron’s favorite video game character of the moment.

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The next day, Hannah and Aaron discovered the Legos that were in some of the extra gift bags we had from the party, immediately building a number of tiny structures with them (and asking me to photograph).

Then that evening I walked Hannah and Aaron over to Grandma and Grandpa Johnson’s house for a post-birthday dinner with them and Uncle Jonny. The kids got to spend some quality time playing with grandpa’s old blocks, and then my folks treated us all to a feast courtesy of Sonic, followed up a cookie cake. Afterward, Aaron got to open his presents (wrapped with in dancing monkeys wrapping paper he almost didn’t want to tear) — a pair of books of mazes, which quickly became his new favorite books. We finished off the evening watching a bit of Quarantine Tonight, which is some kind of variety show filmed out of Norfolk on channel 27-2.

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In the meantime, our basement was undergoing some demolition work. We’d found a leak coming out of our basement floor under the toilet when I ran the dishwasher upstairs, which a plumber told us came from a broken pipe underneath the cement. He spent a good portion of Friday evening while I was at my parents’ house with the kids tearing up a couple square feet in our basement. After this, he replaced a giant section of cast-iron drain pipes with new three-inch PVC, covering it all back up with cement afterward.

It’s been a bit of a harrowing mess, but we now have water flowing out better than ever before — and a functioning toilet once again! I’m mostly thankful not much more damage had been caused by the leak in the meantime.

A rocket, a riot, peonies, and geese

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We had some gorgeous weather over the past week that made for some extra time outside with the kids ahead of the oppressive heat of summer coming right around the corner. On Friday afternoon, we dropped by Memorial Park again in time to see the peonies blooming (as they are at our house). Hannah had her camera out and was snapping just as many pictures as I was as we walked about (and climbed a tree). Then that evening, I stopped by Johnny’s Cafe and picked up a pair of “TV Dinners” they were selling. I’d wanted to to find a way support my favorite Omaha restaurant ever since everything shut down for the pandemic months ago, and a couple meals of chopped steak with mushroom gravy seemed like a nice idea (which we ate while watching Brain Donors).

Then on a lovely rainy Saturday, we tuned our Raspberry Pi over to the SpaceX shuttle launch, watching the lift off more or less live along with the rest of the world. We brought the kids out to watch along with us in hopes that they would remember the historic moment.

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On Sunday, we celebrated Pentecost by attending a drive-in church service at Bellevue Christian Center once again. We were getting a bit tired of having church livestreamed at home every week, and it felt good to get out of the house for an in-person worship service, even if it was in our car. Pastor Andy’s message was focused on some of the civil unrest going on around the country, even here in Omaha, and he brought up Pastor Hooker for a joint prayer for peace at the end.

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Afterward, I headed downtown to see some of the aftermath of the rioting that happened on Saturday night. I was somewhat suprised to find downtown was fairly crowded with hundreds of people there to do volunteer clean-up work. There were folks spraying and scrubbing graffiti off buildings and sidewalks, and lots more cleaning up broken glass from broken windows and boarding up windows. One guy by the courthouse was handing out bottles of water to volunteers, and saw men wearing an NRA hat and a BLM T-shirt both helping in the cleanup.

I eventually found myself in the Old Market, where I bumped into Don Bacon and his brigade, who were cleaning up at the corner of the Hollywood Candy shop. Strangely enough, volunteers for Kara Eastman, who’s running against Bacon, showed up to scrub the opposite corner (though Kara herself was nowhere to be found). By some coincidence, our friends the Mills drove by a few minutes later, just looking to help wherever they could. The owner of the Hollywood Candy shop came out with fudge to thank everyone for their help shortly before we were cleared out, as another “protest” was allegedely gearing up. I saw a glimpse of some left-wing nutjobs raising their fists a few blocks away near the Hive Bar down the street, where the owner apparently shot and killed a protestor in self-defense.

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On Monday, the playgrounds at Omaha’s city parks were supposed to be open again to the public, so we stopped on by Hanscom Park with the kids for some noontime fun. We’d visited the park twice before during the Pandemic but couldn’t wander far beyond the “twisty tree” to the playground by the lake, where the kids had some fun playing after having some burgers for lunch. We also took a nice walk along the little pond and fountain, getting close to a few geese hanging about. Hannah and Aaron both found goose feathers left behind, and we even kicked off our shoes to dip our feet in the water together. It was a lovely day for a park visit altogether, particularly before the oppreesive summer heat starts ramping up.

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.