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).

Trampolines, fossils, and enchiladas

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On Friday last week, I joined Vivian and Hannah up at Altitude Trampoline Park for some quality bouncing around time. They have a weekly special for homeschool kids, so Hannah was able to run, slide, and bounce on the various trampolines, climb on a wall, and take a few dives into a pit of foam balls. She even got to have a bit of a sparring match with me on the balance beam. I got her a blue raspberry Icee when we were done, and then we had some lunch down at the Dodge Street Chick-Fil-A — with enough food left over afterward for leftovers on Sunday. (Is that sacrilegious?)

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Hannah got to have some more fun with her American Heritage Girls’ troop as they went digging for fossils and fishing for wildlife out at Schramm State Park. She also got to see some bees, pet a sturgeon, and go on a bit of a hike in the warm afternoon.

Aaron and I spent some quality time with Harold in the meantime. Then we took a walk to grandma and grandpa’s house so I could mow their lawn and he could spend an hour or two telling them all about the “maze book” he’d created. Then that evening we got some roasted street corn pizza from Aldi and watched Zootopia for an impromptu Family Movie Night.

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We had some more fun Sunday after church as I got our two Raspberry Pi computers networked together so Hannah and Aaron could have a game of tag in a virtual, blocky world. I got a little yardwork done, and then we broke out the wading pool so the kids could have some fun with our new hose as temperatures pushed into the upper 80s. They took their plush monkeys for a swim as well and had to bundle then up afterward to dry off.

Then on Wednesday, we celebrated Cinco de Mayo with an assortment of tasty food. I got some Mexican coffee and made a breakfast burrito in the morning. Then for dinner, Vivian put together some enchiladas (courtesy of the Stay at Home Chef) with some refried beans, chipotle black beans and corn, “Crispy Taco” potato chips, and homemade guacamole. We even had churros for dessert, which Aaron ate hot out of the oven — with sleeves for potholders. I even made a margarita once the kids went to bed — and I even put salt around the rim. ¡Muy lujoso!

Birthday buddies, spare ribs, and an end-of-year ceremony

We’re having some lovely spring weather with everything in bloom, and I’ve been taking advantage of them with some daily walks throughout the day. It’s given me the chance to see such interesting sights as sidewalks lined with petals like the world’s longest wedding procession, as well as two funeral processions within minutes of each other on Center Street.

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On Saturday, we celebrated birthdays for August and Jonah down at H.W. Banner Park (without the water features, unfortunately) with a bunch of their little friends. Grammy baked a delicious Mario birthday cake, and the kids had fun picking with parts they got to eat. Mostly, it was a couple hours of the kids getting fresh air on a windy day playing and picking dandelions together before opening presents.

Then on Sunday, our kids learned they’d brought their bibles enough times to earn a couple candy bars in Sunday School. That led to a long and sugared-up afternoon for them.

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On Monday night, Hannah had her fourth annual “end of year” ceremony with her Classical Conversations homeschool here in Bellevue. Grammy came along to watch Hannah get her certificate along with the rest of her class, and each group recited what they’d learned in the form of songs that they’d memorized. Jake in particular earned a “Memory Master” award for memorizing an obscene number of lines from their “timeline song,” along with writing a paper that he recited to those of us in attendance.

The kids had fun playing together afterward, having a few sugary snacks before playing outside and then having an impromptu “glow stick party” down in the church basement when no one was looking.

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Tuesday night was the last Men of God dinner for the season at Wildewood. I went along and brought a few $2 bills for the collection basket just to be funny (and I was out of “normal” cash). Woody brought along his portable grill again and made ribs for us, and then Pastor Ron had us make a list of our “social” contacts and rank them according to which “chair” they sat in, according to the book “4 Chair Discipling” by Dann Spader.

Then on Wednesday, Hannah had a monthly meeting with the local American Heritage Girls troop, where she got to learn how to lead a horse and brush its hair with a few other girls. We’d been looking for a new social group for Hannah to be a part of, since she’s outgrown Prims at BCC, and this seems to be a very good group — more like the Boy Scouts than that other group with all the cookies. We also got her activity book with all the badges she can earn. I’m particularly looking forward to helping her with the ones on the Constitution and Graphic Design.

Medical Emergencies

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It’s been a busy few weeks since Easter for us, partly because of a few medical situations with my mom and dad. First, my mom had Covid, which eventually infected my dad, who had to be hospitalized in the ICU briefly with some breathing problems. It was a scary couple of days, but he’s since been doing better (after many prayers all around), and I was able to take him home last week.

Meanwhile, after having Covid, my mom had an emergency with her right eye, which had to have an emergency surgical procedure to relieve pressure on the retina. Her retina had fortunately not become detached, but without surgery, the eye could become permanently blind. I took her to the hospital bright and early on 5:30 AM on Tuesday, where the operation apparently went well. In the meantime, I had a lovely breakfast of Chick-Fil-A while reading Jordan Peterson’s new book, “Beyond Order” (and discovering their Chick-Fil-A sauce now comes in convenient 8 oz. squeeze bottles).

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In other news, spring has sprung once again, with tulips and daffodils popping into bloom in our front yard. Our kids have been making good use of the nicer days, getting outside and finding such things as an actual four-leaf clover in our yard. We’ve also gotten Harold, who’s been enjoying his new hammock, out to explore the kids. Vivian and I are always trying to make sure he’s not just stuck in his cage all day.

Then on Saturday last week, we took the kids down to Memorial Park to have some McDonald’s for lunch and get some fresh air. Hannah found her way to a “secret” playground across the creek by St. Margaret Mary’s School.

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We’ve given the kids some fun culinary experiences as well, including German food from Aldi, French toast, cheesesteak sandwiches, “snowball cheese,” and a take-and-bake pizza, which I thought Aaron would have fun decorating with us.

Hannah’s been rather crafty in the meantime, putting together a dollhouse with bits of scrap cardboard one day, and then creating a paper doll with its own set of clothes the next (along with a teddy bear with its own set of clothes).

Eggciting Easter Weekend

Happy Easter, everyone! It’s been a busy weekend getting ready for Resurrection Sunday, which included some fun outside during an unusually warm Easter weekend.

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We kicked things off on Thursday, when I got to have Chick-Fil-A for lunch with Vivian and mommy, and followed by some Easter shopping down at Aldi, where we grabbed a giant ham shank for our Easter Dinner. Then that evening, I decided to make some unleaved bread to go with a little Manischewitz I had in the fridge, making for a meal fit for a King of Kings — which I thought appropriate for a Maundy Thursday.

In the meantime, Hannah’s been busy in the meantime assembling custom rag dolls with old socks and yarn, creating a brother and sister she’s named Bluey and Rainbow, respectively, along with some friends named Glasses and Bug.

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I took a half-day on Good Friday and headed down to Halleck Park with Vivian and the kids, where they got to run around a bit in the wind and sunshine. We’d briefly visited the park a week earlier for an Easter Egg walk, but this time was solely to play on the giant playground and have a little lunch.

When we returned home, the kids got to spent a little more time dyeing and decorating a dozen hard-boiled eggs together. It’s a tradition most of us grew up with, so it felt nice to pass it along to our own kids — though I’m not sure when or whether we’ll actually eat any of their pretty little eggs.

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Saturday was mostly a day for cooking and cleaning house, but we did find time to take the kids to an Easter event down at Avery Presbyterian. They had a few live lambs on hand for the kids to pet and various story groups, separated by age, for kids to learn the Easter story. They also had several car trunks with eggs in the style of a “trunk or treat,” as well as a few actual Easter egg hunt for the kids, where Hannah and Aaron got to grab a few plastic eggs with candy or toys inside.

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On Easter Sunday, Hannah was up bright and early — at 3 AM — to find her Easter basket. Vivian put her back to bed until more reasonable hour when she and Aaron could both search the house for their baskets together. Hannah found some chalk in hers, which she used to decorate our sidewalk a bit, as well a few new toys, which she named Guinea Bunny and Grump-Bee.

Once we’d had our fill of fun and candy, we got into our Sunday Best to head off to church. Afterward, we stopped by Grammy’s house, where the Easter Bunny had been to hide some eggs earlier. Grammy had some Easter snacks set out for us to nibble, and the kids roamed through the front yard and back collecting plastic eggs together.

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We headed home, where the Easter Bunny had hidden even more eggs around our house, so after resting up a bit with some video games and hors d’oeurves, Hannah and Aaron collected a few more eggs in our front and back yards together.

We finished off the evening with our traditional Easter Dinner of ham, Watergate salad, cheesy potatoes, and asparagus. Vivian roasted the ham herself this time, with only a little coaching from Jack in his chair. She also made some Easter buns, a few of which I saved for breakfast. Jack and Donna brought some European Truffle Pie from Village Inn for dessert, and Betty from across the street had a batch of chocolate cupcakes for the kids she passed along to Hannah.

It was wonderful to have Easter with Grammy and Pop-Pop once again, and as usual we spent our time eating a little too much together. My parents and Uncle Jonny couldn’t join us, unfortunately, and they’re dealing with a round of Covid and are in quarantine. Hopefully soon they’ll be well again and celebrating a late Easter (or a Memorial Day) with us soon.


Easter highlights

Park Time and Easter Prelude

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Spring has sprung, and that naturally means more quality time outside. Gov. Ricketts declared last Saturday (March 20) as “Meat on the Menu” day, so we naturally grilled burgers on our back deck. Then on Sunday, we took the kids down for some quality time running around Dreamland Park, spinning around their carousel and even having a picnic lunch before it got too cloudy.

One person was selling Girl Scout Cookies, so we got some Lemonade ones for the ride home. We’ve been having some experimental treats with cookies, even concocting a mint/chocolate sandwich just for fun (when we’re not trying Aldi’s Macrons).

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The following week, we took the kids down to Halleck Park for an Easter Walk. They had volunteers handing out eggs and also an Easter Bunny and Chick on hand for photos with the kids. It was a bit chilly, but still a good day for some quality time outdoors, and Hannah was even able to break out her scooter for a bit.

The next day was Palm Sunday, and Hannah got to practice walking through a gauntlet of plastic fronds with her Sunday school mates at church. Then that afternoon, we got Harold outside for a little time grazing in the yard and even a walk around the block.

In other news, Hannah and Aaron got to try Egg in a Hole.

Peaceful Protests

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With spring officially here, and one election season blending seamlessly into another, a few groups in Omaha are coming out and waving some signs once again. One group I’ve recently become aware of is Nebraskans Against Government Overreach (NAGO), who seem to have a regular presence about town. Back on March 20, they were at 168th and Dodge protesting mask mandates and lockdowns along with a “worldwide demonstration” using the hashtag #wewillALLbethere. This was coincidentally in front of Ben Sasse’s Omaha office, and they were back protesting him more directly a few weeks later when he (allegedly) spoke at a Federalist Society event at the Regency Marriott.

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My friend Tim Davis had his own “Back the blue” rally on Saturday, which was also peaceful but decidedly noisier. Speaking at the event was State Senator Suzanne Geist and City Council candidates Don Rowe, Kathleen Kauth, and Tyeisha Kosmicki. There were also around five “counter protestors” who showed up to bang a drum, ring a cowbell, and generally scream at and try to disrupt everyone else. One of them was an actual skinhead wearing rubber “jack boots” as he tried shouting down the Tyeisha, a black woman running for city council. We learned later that they’d come by the park in advance to vandalize the war memorial, which the city had hosed down before we’d even arrived, and had also stashed boxes of rocks and eggs around the park, which the police had confiscated (and believes were meant to be thrown at us — and not part of some Easter egg hunt).

It was an interesting exercise in self-control, as most of us laughed at and jeered at the rag-tag group of hoodlums as they tried to get us riled up. They had probably dropped by the Back the Blue event held in the same place last year, but a few (uninvited) members of the “Proud Boys” were able to keep them in line.

Holey Cow

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Our Spring Break continued with some lovely weather last week, which warranted a least one more trip to the Park. We had some Burger King for lunch before walking the kids up and down the Keystone Trail. They got to see a bridge with several padlocks clinging to the chain link walls, symbolizing bonds of love in a unique counterpoint to the broken plate we saw on Tuesday.

Then that evening, Hannah and Aaron took it upon themselves to clean out our garage and extract our little red wagon for a walk up the street. It won’t be long before we’ll be using again for a concert in the park (I hope).

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Then we had a fish fry feast with Phil and Jen on Friday (say that three times fast). We brought along things to make grilled cheese as our friends Jenny and Kody brought Banana Bread and some Mac and Cheese, respectively. Phil and Kody battered up and fried several filets of fish, along with some french fries and tater tots. We grown-ups also got to sample such unique things as peanut butter beer and some of Phil and Jen’s stash of hot sauce. We also got to try various treats from Taiwan, including “horse beans” and a soft drink made from white asparagus.

Our kids ate and had some fun playing with our mutual group of kids for a couple hours. It was also Gabriel’s birthday, so he got a dinosaur racetrack to play with before we had some blueberry cupcakes for dessert.

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We had a mostly quiet weekend and celebrated “Pi Day” with some actual chicken pot pie, courtesy of Vivian. Then on Monday, Hannah and her homeschool group got to see a “holey cow” provided by Nathan from the University of Nebraska and 4H. They got to learn about the insides of a cow, partly by literally putting their hands inside of it. This cow had a surgical hole in its side, which meant you could reach inside and even pick up the grass it had already eaten. I’m still reeling a bit from the idea, but it was hopefully educational.

In other news, it was also St. Patrick’s Day this week. That meant we learned a bit about St. Patrick at our monthly men’s dinner (which featured chicken from Pizza Ranch). We also had to have our usual Irish dinner of corned beef and cabbage, along with some Irish soda bread Vivian was kind enough to bake to go along with our Irish butter. I even got some Lucky Charms for a “full Irish breakfast” in the morning.

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Thursday was Uncle Jonny’s birthday, and it was just sunny enough for an evening walk down to grandma and grandpa’s house to celebrate. Hannah and Aaron each decorated some cards for him, and I brought along a “Koffee” mug as a gift. If you’re familiar with the Pokémon TV show, you know exactly how to say that word.

In other news, Hannah likes puzzles, Aaron lost another tooth, and I used a giant batch of leftover mashed potatoes to make potato pancakes.

Banned books, a seminar, and quality park time

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Dr. Seuss’ birthday was last week, so I dropped by the library in Bellevue to pick up a couple of his books on his birthday — namely two of the books on his “banned” list, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” and “The Cat’s Quizzer.” I had put a hold on all six books but was happy to nab just the two, and I read Mulberry Street to the kids that evening.

I also made a special dinner of actual green eggs and ham. The ham itself was its normal color, but the eggs were colored both with food coloring and with spinach in a kind of frittata. I wound up making more than enough eggs, which lasted us for a couple more breakfasts before they were gone.

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It’s been more than a relief to have a break from record cold and snowfall, so on Friday we had an inaugural visit to Stinson Park over the lunch hour. I ordered a small pizza from Godfather’s, which we ate together picnic style at one of the tables before the kids had some fun running around. Hannah made good use of her scooter, which she finally started to ride after we found it back in 2016 (abandoned with a note that said “free”) at this same park a few years ago. Aaron also got some quality time in on the swings before we called it a day.

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Our church also had its first “Wildewood Academy Seminar” on Friday evening and Saturday morning. Vivian and I decided to tag-team so we could both attend, with me staying home with the kids (making spaghetti and meatballs for dinner) and listening in on the live stream as Vivian attended in person, and then vice-versa the following morning.

The guest speaker was Casey Tygrett a “Theologian in Residence” at Parkview Christian Church in Chicago, and he spoke on a Christian’s “identity.” It was an interesting set of lectures but seemed focused quite a bit more on the “self” than on God. Still, I’d heard plenty of messages about the depravity of the human race and this was an interesting twist to say the least.

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On Saturday afternoon, I took a walk in the lovely weather to my parents’ house to look through another one of my dad’s old boxes. This one was filled with old pocket knives and gadgets such as a pocket adding machine, a pocket grooming kit, and an embossing stamp with my dad’s initials. We also found an old button my brother Nathan had made, which said proudly, “I are a Brookwood student.” That brought back some memories.

Nathan eventually joined us as my dad dug through some photos and video he’d taken at age 12 of some model planes that he destroyed in an attempt to recreate World War II battle scenes he’d seen in movies. Nathan dropped by as well and showed off his new Nikon and a gigantic lens he’d bought to take wildlife pictures for a photography class at Southeast Community College he was apparently taking just for fun.

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I made some eggs benedict Sunday morning, which was a delicious way to start the day. Casey Tygrett stayed to preach the Sunday sermon at church, and the kids grabbed some donuts before we headed down to Ralston Park afterward. We got some Burger King for lunch, and then the kids got to run around a bit. The last time I was at this park with Hannah, I’d turned 34 and she wasn’t yet old enough to walk. Now I got to chase her and Aaron around a bit with Aaron as they climbed, jumped, and “fought bad guys” from one end of the park to the other.

And because we still hadn’t had enough, on Tuesday we took the kids down to Elmwood Park for even MORE park time. Aaron and Hannah ran through “levels” on rocks, on nets, and in-between swings, and mommy and I took turns pushing them together on the big swing. The kids had some PB&J for lunch before trying out some exercise equipment, and then we went on a brief walk/scooter ride to the grotto and back. On the way, we found the broken shards of a plate that seemed to be the cathartic result of someone having a literal break-up (with someone named “Braden”).

I think after a long winter spell, we were more than ready for some fun outside. But who knows? We may yet have snow coming yet in April or May. (It’s happened before.)

A Re-Fi and a Fish Fry

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I was able to check a major item off our to-do list last Thursday when Vivian and I finally closed on refinancing our mortgage, taking advantage of some record low interest rates, going from 4.125% to 2.75%, knocking out PMI and nearly five years off our loan in the process (and somehow paying less per month).

Vivian had Hannah along, and we all went out to Fuddruckers afterward to celebrate, a restaurant I hadn’t eaten at in over a decade. Because of Covid, their famous toppings bar was closed, so eating there was much more like a Five Guys than the Fuddruckers I remember. As such, I got a ribeye sandwich instead of a burger, which was quite tasty with mushrooms.

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On Friday, we were able to attend a real, live, sit-down and dine-in Fish Fry way out in Gretna, just in time for their mask mandate to expire. We shared a table with a handful of our friends and had some fried fish with coleslaw, beans, and macaroni and cheese courtesy of the American Legion Post 216. A handful of our friends joined us, including (eventually) Phil and Jen and their son Gabriel, who we hadn’t seen since the last in-person fish fry we’d attended, pre-pandemic.

Aaron made himself a bean sandwich, and we kept the kids busy with a video game and my phone, which Hannah used to take photos and videos of our table. We also let them have a few treats from the dessert table to get properly sugared up before heading home.

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The weekend itself was fairly quiet. It was warm enough outside to nearly vaporize our snowman, so I decided to take the kids on a walk over to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I’d finally put some batteries and memory cards in the kids’ digital cameras, which kept them occupied taking pictures and videos throughout much of the day.

On Sunday, Vivian made some bean soup or lunch, and then I broke open a can of Goya coconut water and tuned in to President Trump’s speech at CPAC. There’s something unforgettable about the energy of a Trump rally — not just from Trump himself but from the crowd, which can interact directly with him in completely spontaneous chants of “We love you!” As irritating as it is to see one election leading right into another, it was oddly thrilling to feel that vibe once again.

Fish, snow, and sledding

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Our friends the Mills went on another road trip this week, which meant Harold’s mommy got to stay with us for a couple days. Hannah and Aaron enjoyed having the with us and set up a giant play-area for her and Harold to run around together in the living room, including when we had Virtual Church on Sunday (because of some more freakish snow).

In the meantime, it’s Lenten season again, which means fish fries. There are only a handful of options this year, but I thought we could start with one right at home — with some battered fish, fish sticks, fries, tots, and shrimp all from Aldi. We had a bit of a feast at our house for our first Fishy Friday. Then Hannah and Aaron played some classic NES games — specifically Super Mario Bros. and Maniac Mansion. Aaron even got to beat King Koopa (and rescue Toad, who Hannah described with a laugh as “the wrong guy.”)

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On Saturday, Vivian broke open a collector’s item to make some old fashioned Aunt Jemima pancakes for breakfast. She also made a batch of bacon with enough grease left over for me to make some tasty breakfast popovers, which I stuffed with scrambled egg, bacon bits, and cheese. Tasty! (Meanwhile, Aaron’s been having fun assembling his own breakfasts in the shape of a smiley face or the “Statue of Liberty.”)

Then overnight, we got SEVEN inches of heavy, wet snow dumped on us (which was forecasted to be two or less). That meant we stayed home from church and I had a serious day-long workout digging out both our driveway and my mother in law’s, with some lunch in-between to keep me going. Thanks, Vivian!

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Fortunately, the snow melted fast as temperatures soared back into the 50s on Monday. I had a session of Beer and Bloviation with a few like-minded friends down at the Lucky Bucket. They also had a sale on cases of beer, $20 for 24 bottles, which I was allowed to mix and match. That should keep us stocked until after Easter, at least.

The melting was happening fast on Tuesday, so we took the kids down to a slushy, wet Memorial Park for one last season of the season (probably). They each got to coast down the eastern slope a bit but then turned to explore the park a bit, particularly where several people had been making snowmen and/or giant snow boulders along the south lawn. Mommy and the kids has also made one in our own yard, which hadn’t quite yet melted by the time I returned home to take a picture.