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).

Lucky Year 13

Vivian and celebrated 13 years of marriage on Monday with an anniversary not quite as elaborate as ones in years past, but certain just as memorable. It was actually the first legit date we’d had since our “first date anniversary” back in December.

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I’ve lost around 75 pounds since January, so I decided to grab a few new clothes over my lunch break before our fancy date night together. Then we spent the evening down at Charlie’s on the Lake (a restaurant we’d been to in 2009, 2010, and 2013) putting some of that weight right back on. We both had ribeye, and I added a lobster tail to commemorate our honeymoon in Bar Harbor. We got clam chowder as well, of course, along with a tasty gorgonzola shrimp appetizer. Neither of us were able to finish it all, and we even got a free raspberry cheesecake for our anniversary, which is sitting in the fridge now waiting for dessert tonight.

We exchanged a few presents as well. I presented Vivian with my annual Anniversary Comic, which details events throughout the last year, including events as recent as the windstorm a week ago. Vivian gave me some tasty treats as well — Wild Maine Blueberry Jam, whiskey cornichons, and sriracha almonds — along with some new swim trunks and shorts (as the ones I have now are starting to fall off).

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We finished off our evening with a lovely walk around the lake, watching some adorable ducklings with their mommy and hopefully walking off some of our massive dinner together. We would have gone for ice cream or even a shopping spree at Trader Joe’s, but everything in town seemed to close at nine, so we called it an early night.

We had one last little adventure on the way home. A mom and her daughter got their Kia stuck on the Chandler offramp with one tire half-submerged in a foot-deep puddle of water on the shoulder. They couldn’t get it to back out and had called a tow-truck, but I had the bright idea of straightening the wheel and trying to push it out instead with the help of another guy who stopped. That worked almost too well, as the car sped back onto the onramp, and I went falling into the puddle myself, soaking my left leg from the knee down. It still felt good to have been able to perform a good deed for the day.

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Happy Anniversary, sweetie!
Here’s to 13 years, and many, many more!

Splashing, Bouncing, and Grammy’s Birthday

It’s been a busy week post-blackout having some summer fun with the kids and spending extra time with both sets of grandparents.

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On Tuesday, I pedaled down to Seymour Smith Park to have lunch with Vivian and the kids and get a little wet at the splash pad. We like to visit this little splash pad at least once every summer, and its proximity to the Keystone Trail means it’s just a quick bike ride from my office down to the park. It was a particularly refreshing way for me to spend a lunch break (though it hasn’t helped my farmer’s tan at all).

In the meantime, Jack and Donna remained without power nearly all week, which meant Jack’s been spending the night with us to plug in his oxygen. We also got to help use up some of the thawed food from their freezer. That involves Jack and Vivian frying up tilapia, scallops, shrimp for us to eat. It’s a sacrifice, but I’ll do my part.

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Then on Thursday, with the last election season barely over, we kicked off a new one as State Senator Brett Lindstrom officially announced his bid for governor. I’d bumped into him numerous times recently as the Walk for Life and the Ralston Parade, and several of my mutual Republican friends have already hopped aboard his campaign.

I was able to bring along our friends the Folkens to say hello and ask a few questions of the candidate after his stump speech, and I spent much of the evening snapping photos and rubbing elbows with several members of the Lindstrom family (and the fake news media). One of the nicest things about Nebraska is how easy it is to get close to the folks running for office like this — something I try not to take for granted.

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In other news, I’ve been riding my bike every chance I get, going to and from work and getting  to see mist over the prairie grass as the sun rises.

I also got some extra exercise at lunch on Friday when Vivian took the kids to Altitude for some quality time bouncing around together. We even got in a game of dodgeball, which was immensely fun for me, as it was the only sport I like playing back in elementary school and I hadn’t had the chance to play in over a decade.

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On Saturday, I got to spend a little quality time with my folks in my morning. First, we headed down to McDonald’s for breakfast with a couple of their fellow “seasoned citizens” — a group that’s been meeting for breakfast on Saturdays just as a way of getting out and socializing for a couple decades now.

Then after breakfast, my dad needed an extra pair of hands to help mend a fence, which had come apart in the recent wind storm. It wasn’t broken too badly, but we had to put a few deck screws through a few new boards to attach the fence back to the supporting post. Then I stuck around long enough to help my dad uninstall some Adobe malware on his laptop, AKA Creative Cloud.

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Saturday was also Grammy’s birthday, so much of the day was spent celebrating and keeping our kids occupied (with a board game they created) while Vivian and Jack fried up some calamari steaks for dinner. The kids also made Grammy some handmade cardsas did I, of course — and then we gave Grammy a handful of presents, which included a new ice chest, some habanero-blueberry jelly, and a grown-up coloring book.

Vivian made some Mississippi Mud Pie for dessert, which Hannah and Aaron decorated with a few “worms,” AKA Twizzlers before we blew the candles out. It was a pie with enough sugar to make Hannah go a bit crazy, so I took her for a quick bike ride to my parents’ house and back to work it off before going to bed.

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Then on Sunday, I got up early enough for a nice long ride along the full length of the West Papio Trail, all the way from Culver’s in Bellevue to Downtown Milliard. It was a lovely little ride that went past some hidden street art and a large tortoise crawling along. In Millard, I saw the Dairy Queen that was briefly featured in the movie About Schmidt on my way to Millard Avenue and back. I also passed a quaint little bike shop that might be worth visiting should I ever make it back.

Back home, we went to the late service at Wildewood so we could attend their summer social at noon immediately afterward (making time for Hannah to ride her bike and Aaron to have a shadow-fight with me). We had a nice time having “walking tacos” and some ice cream and chatting with a few other parents as our kids bounced around in the bounce house for a bit (and got a family photo).

Weathering the storm

We’re still dealing with the aftermath of a record-setting windstorm and blackout that occurred in the early morning hours on Saturday. We were without power at our house for most of the day on Saturday, and Vivian’s parents are still without it yet today (and staying with us in the meantime). Fortunately, we’re all just fine, and our houses and trees were relatively unscathed.

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The weather’s been quite lovely, otherwise. On Thursday, I took a nice ride past the Omaha Silos for a few new photos in front of Kent Bellows’ graffiti at the bottom. Then I walked with the kids down to Chick-Fil-A for some ice cream that evening, just to get a few more steps on my FitBit.

The next day, I biked down to Elmwood Park to join Vivian and the kids for lunch, bringing some salads I picked up at Aldi, among other things. We got in a little extra park time now that school’s out for Aaron, much of which I spent pushing the giant disc swing once again.

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Then, just after midnight, a massive windstorm ripped through Omaha, with wind gusts hitting 96 MPH at the airport, the equivalent of a category 2 hurricane. It toppled tree limbs and power lines all over town, leaving a couple hundred thousand people without power. I checked on our parents and then went by Dunkin Donuts in Papillion (which still had power) to get some coffee and donuts for breakfast.

We enjoyed most of the day off the grid, picking up fallen sticks and branches from our yard and having Hannah do her schoolwork by flashlight. (Hannah also used her own headlight to temporarily replace our light switch in the bathroom.) Aaron and I watched round two of the storm pass by in the garage, and then Vivian use up some eggs and bacon before they went bad to make breakfast for dinner on our gas grill.

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That evening, we took the kids down to Halleck Park, where they got to see some more of the damage up close. They spent some time playing on the playground as the sun went down, and then we walked down to Papillion City Park to catch a bit of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, presented by “Stronger Families Church.” Our original plan for the evening including a trip to the SumTur, which was cancelled in the wake of the storm.

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Our power was restored that evening, and we were able to return to some semblance of normalcy on Sunday, which included doing lots of laundry and dishes. The rest of Omaha continued dealing with fallen branches and power outages, with trucks lined up for the tree dump near our house almost non-stop throughout the day. Some neighbor kids had the bright idea to open a lemonade stand right at the end of it.

Vivian’s parents remained without power, so they brought over some thawed food from their freezer and had dinner with us that evening. Then Vivian’s dad, who relies on electricity for his oxygen tank, spent the night in our living room. The next morning, I found the Keystone Trail blocked with giant tree limbs on my bike ride to work commute, so it seems we’ll be dealing with the aftermath of this storm for a while. I’m just grateful we’re all safe and our homes are intact as we’re getting through it.

Fourth of July 2021

Happy Independence Day, everybody! We had a long weekend packed with events to help celebrate America’s birthday. which meant food, fireworks, and fun with friends and family all weekend long.

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We kicked things off on Friday night by taking the kids down to Lake Manawa for a couple hours of swimming. The kids brought along a couple pool noodles and had some fun getting wet and splashing mommy and me as the sun slowly went down. We brought along a few snacks, including some cape gooseberries I got from Trader Joe’s, and I even grabbed a bunch of funnel cake fries from the concession stand, where our friend Jolene was working (and selling her mulberry jam).

They lit some tiki torches once it got dark, and then at ten o’clock they lit up the sky with a twenty minute firework show for us. It was doubly impressive with the reflection from the lake, of course, and there were so many fireworks set off independently that it was hard to tell when the show actually started (though the coordinated music on 101.9 The Keg helped).

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The next morning, I got up early for a run and then went to have a pancake breakfast with my folks down at Converge Church.

Then that evening, we gathered with a bunch of our old friends at Jenny and Kody’s house. We hadn’t seen some of these folks in years, and half of them seemed to have kids growing up right before our eyes. We got our fill of party food for the evening, including an American Flag veggie tray made by Vivian, and once the sun went down, we set off a bunch of fireworks in the streets with the kids.

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The next morning, I dropped by the Ralston Parade Route to set down a blanket before we got dressed in our best reds, whites, and blues to go to church on the Fourth of July. Grammy dropped by our house with some star-spangled cupcakes afterward, and I dropped by Walmart with Hannah to get some ice cream treats for tonight.

Then Hannah and I went down to Ralston to see the Independence Day Parade for the first time in a couple years. We got to see the usual batch of politicians — Don Bacon, Pete Ricketts, and Jean Stothert all showing up, as well as gubernatorial candidates Herbster, Pillen, and Lindstrom. Hannah got her fill of candy from passersby, including the parish of our friend Father Marcus. There were also Shriners, clowns, and a few American cosplayers in the crowd, but not as many float as one might expect.

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Then that evening, we were just wondering what to do for dinner when Grammy called and said her neighbor Toni needed help eating a bunch of Fourth of July food she and her husband Tom had made for guests who somehow didn’t show up. We were more than happy to oblige, showing up with the kids to have some smoked brats, ribs, and pulled pork hot off the smoker in their shady front yard. The kids particularly like the rope swing and the play structure (AKA “tree house,” sans tree), while I enjoyed being made in the shade in a reclining lawn chair.

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Then once it started getting dark, we returned to our house to set off some fireworks in our driveway — and apparently the entire neighborhood. I served up ice cream bars and sorbet to all four of our grandparents (and Uncle Jonny), and we all watched as Vivian lit some fountains, sparklers, and artillery shells in the street.

Our neighbors also ignored their own fair share of explosives, including a couple dozen artillery shells all at once as their “grand finale.” It was an explosive end to a weekend that felt very much like a war zone, but a heck of a lot more fun.

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We spent most of Monday recovering of all the fun we had. Hannah and I went on a lovely bike ride through a shady trail in Ralston, going past the old United Seeds grain bin, and then we went on got root beer floats at Dairy Queen. Afterward, we spent some extra quality time with Harold’s mommy Ginny before she had to go home with the Mills.

We had some more fun on Tuesday when I met up with Vivian and the kids at Banner Park after work. We got a little wet together in the spray round, which was lovely after a hot bike ride, and then we had some pizza before trying out a set of Stomp Rockets Vivian got a year or two ago. Then I biked with Hannah on back to my car at Culver’s with Hannah and got her a sundae before returning home.

Happy birthday, America!

Shakespeare — by any greens necessary

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When Shakespeare on the Green was cancelled for a second year in a row, I thought for sure we wouldn’t be able to enjoy a live performance of the Bard’s this year. Wrong! I stumbled upon the Flatwater Shakespeare Company in Lincoln, who were performing Twelfth Night at James Arthur Vineyard of all place — in a setting very much like the one we were used to in Elmwood Park. Joining us were Phil and Jen, Randy and Jolene (and their kids), Jon Paper, and Lisa Barrett. The play was performed “in the round” in the picnic area of JAV, and we were even able to claim a table for our guests and vittles (including homemade hummus and jam).

The show itself was quite good — played “straight” unlike the modern, musical version we saw together some eight years earlier. They didn’t have the same budget for sets and sound equipment as Nebraska Shakespeare, but we were all able to enjoy the play from every angle together. Maybe we’ll do it again next year!

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On Monday evening, I decided to go on a biking adventure with Hannah. We started at Culver’s and rode about a mile up the Keystone Trail to Banner Park and back — enjoying cornfields and 72° weather for an hour or two. Then we had ice cream sundaes at the end to celebrate our trip.

Then on Wednesday, Hannah and I took a much longer ride together — starting at the same spot but going nine miles west to Papillion and back on the West Papio trail. We went all the way through downtown, going under Washington Street (and by a small waterfall) and then over it via the pedestrian bridge. Hannah showed me some milkweed along the way, which she learned from her American Heritage Girls’ group has a milky substance on the inside (hence its name). We also passed through a carnival of sorts, where we got some nice animal balloons from one of the vendors as she was closing up shop for the day! We managed to carry them all the way home as the sun set behind us, though we had to take a quick trip past Halleck Park to see the fountains before we headed home.

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Then on Thursday, we had our “Shakespeare on the Other Green” down at Memorial Park — which was really more of a picnic — in recognition of the evening Shakespeare on the Green should have had its opening night. The Mathis family joined us on our blanket out on the giant west lawn, and we had some wine and cheese together, along with some mulberry jam brought by Jolene.

I read a few pieces of Hamlet, Julius Caesar, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream before letting the kids run around and play on the playground for a bit. It was a beautiful evening for a picnic, with or without Shakespeare, and Memorial Park was certainly a nice place for the kids to run and explore, at least before we come back with a crowd to see Elvis Costello and Wyclef Jean, who will perform here in August. (Stay tuned for that later.)

Hannah’s new bike

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It was an exciting week as Hannah got her very first bike — one she learned to ride almost immediately without training wheels. We bought it used in northwest Omaha and then dropped by Bridlewood Park so she could try it out for a bit. Then that evening, she she quickly got the hang of riding it in our own driveway! The next day, we went to Elmwood Park for the Omaha Homeschool picnic, and Hannah and I got to ride together on a few of the paths there and go exploring all the way up to Dodge Street (in-between hot dogs). I was amazed at how quickly she picked it up. She’s a natural!

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I’ve been busy riding my own bike almost every day, of course, taking it all the way back to Bellevue to have burgers with my dad at Culver’s over a lunch break.

I also rode it all the way from work to home and back — doorstep to doorstep — without a car in-between, just to say I could. If my car ever needs work done on it again, I won’t have to hitch a ride to get to the office. Mostly, it’s been a great way to get out of the office during the day and enjoy some fresh air — even if I have to time my rides between passing thunderstorms.

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Then on Saturday, I took a trip down to Lincoln for a Freedom Rally on the steps of the state capitol. My friend Tim had been holding them since the election, so I dropped by to join a few patriotic folks waving flags for an hour or two. It was an interesting group of conservative outsiders from groups with speakers such as Patrick Peterson of the Nebraska Freedom Coalition, Jennifer Hicks from Nebraskans Against Government Overreach, and former Omaha City Council candidate Tyeisha Kosmicki. Tim seemed to expect counter-protestors, but the only one who showed up was a guy who circled the capitol there times to yell obscenities. Mostly there were just happy honks from passing cars and even a few passersby who stopped to listen. We did get photobombed by a wedding, one of at least three that seemed to be happening around the capitol that day. Then a guy from KLKN-8 came by to have a few words with us before we wrapped up.

I grabbed some pho on the way home to have for dinner, and then that evening Harold’s mommy came to pay us a visit as the Mills went on a trip for a week. I also broke out the dragon fruit I got at Trader Joe’s for the kids to try. We even gave Harold some, which left it with some strange purple lipstick.

Next stop, Shakespeare — by any greens necessary!

Speakeasy swing dance and Dual Father’s Days

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It’s been a hot week leading up to Father’s Day, with temperatures hitting 102°F on Thursday. Of course, that didn’t keep me from biking on down to Chick-Fil-A to have some lunch with Hannah and Vivian when they stopped by. I’ve been biking nearly every day, finding new places to explore along the trails in Omaha. I’ve also been taking more walks — both with Hannah to Chick-Fil-A and by myself in the early morning before it gets too hot. It’s a quiet, beautiful world before the sun rises.

The kids have been having some quality time indoors as well. They’ve both had some fun playing Trouble with me in the morning before I leave for work, and both Hannah and Aaron have been learning how to play Uno. We love video games, but nothing can replace the good old analog kind.

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On Friday, I decided to take a trip to the Starlight Chateau to encounter Jordan and Jared and their “Speakeasy” swing dance. Back when Covid shut everything down, they decided to start their own covert swing dance in the basement of the old St. Clare’s Monastery. Now that JNO has started up again, they’ve mostly retired the venue, but they put on a dance one more time on Friday when the power went out at the Eagle’s Lodge. That meant old-timers like Dan Wondra and me decided to show up for a little old school swing dancing.

It was a fun venue all its own, and their DJ played actual vinyl records on turntables rather than MP3s on an iPod. They had all the JNO staples, such as a birthday jam, a shim sham, and a jam circles, but they also played actual neo-swing music (specifically Zoot Suit Riot), which immediately got me on the floor.

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On Saturday, I celebrated a bit of Father’s Day with my dad, bringing the kids over to look in his old toy chest. They got see his old Howdy Doody marionette and play with a “Changeable Charlie” game — which Hannah used to make a portrait of my dad. We also found some old Father’s Day gifts and an art project or two that my dad had stored away. The kids seemed only mildly interested, wanting instead to get in a workout on the elliptical machine.

We got some lunch from Taco John’s afterward, and then dad opened a few presents inside. I gave him a copy of Andy Ngo’s new book, as well as a “Le Tooter,” which Leslie Nielsen famously used on the Conan O’Brien show to make fart noises. Great minds must like alike, because Uncle Jonny gave him the same thing — four of them, in fact — so now we can have the whole family making covert flatulent noises together. Quality time.

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Then in the afternoon, I took Hannah down to the Papillion Days Parade to enjoy our first parade since well before the pandemic started. We got to see an assortment of Shriners, tractors, marching bands, and costumed characters. Hannah was a bit disappointed in the lack of candy, but she got a nice little Hippo plushie from a princess passing by, as well as a gift card for a free kid’s meal at Chick-Fil-A (which we’ll certainly walk down to use sometime). We stopped for ice cream at Dairy Queen afterward and got to watch a helicopter giving rides by Halleck Park for ab it before returning home.

Then I went by Aldi for some groceries and a pizza or two, which we ate while watching Pixar’s Luna, which I discovered was available for free on Disney+. Family movie nights with pizza are quickly becoming a family tradition in our household.

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Then came Father’s Day! Vivian made me a tasty breakfast burrito for breakfast, and the kids had a pair of adorable handmade cards that they gave to me before we got ready for church. Then that afternoon Jack and Donna came by with some hors d’oeuvres and some things for dinner. Vivian fried up a couple ribeye steaks for us, as well as some shrimp, and Donna put together some loaded twice-baked potatoes. We all ate together as a family before going back to open presents. Vivian had a few new T-shirts for me, as well as some barbecue sauces and tortillas made from almond flour and cauliflower.

After presents, Donna broke out the dessert, which was blueberry cake (leftover from Aaron’s birthday) topped with blueberry cheesecake ice cream, mixed berries, and whipped cream. The kids helped put them together, which was also part of the fun.

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Happy Father’s Day, everyone!

Mulberries, VBS, and Aaron’s Birthday

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Summer is here, and that means the mulberries are in full bloom. I took the kids for a walk down 25th Street just to pick up a couple, where several trees seem to be littering their wares all over the sidewalk. Vivian also finally broke out the pool on Wednesday so the kids could cool down a bit, as the temperatures push into the 90s and beyond.

That still hasn’t stopped me from having a few beautiful morning walks, whether to Chick-Fil-A or an old country road just to watch the sunrise. I’ve also been using my bike nearly every day, pedaling by Arby’s for a free lunch (using four-year old coupons that apparently don’t expire) or up to Memorial Park just to stop and smell the roses. I’ve got to keep it up if I want to burn off things like the cheesesteak Runzas I somehow convinced Vivian to make (from a “recipe” consisting entirely of blurry photos on Facebook).

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Hannah’s been attending First City Church’s VBS (“Concrete and Cranes”) down in La Platte. It was held in the old high school next to a few even older buildings, relics from a time when La Platte was a legit town generations ago. A bunch of kids from our area, including the Mills, have been attending the VBS week, and the kids all put on a little performance for the grown-ups on Friday morning, who were invited as a surprise. I had the day off, so I got to go as well, and they even gave us a sack lunch afterward. We were supposed to have a picnic, but a thundershower happened to be rolling through Omaha at the moment and put an end to that.

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Aaron’s birthday was also on Friday, so we picked him up early from a half-day at summer school, where he got a paper crown to celebrate the day. We dropped by Schwer Park to check out their splash pad as a possible spot for Aaron’s party the next day, and we wound up staying for an hour or two. Because of the rain and the weekday, we had the entire place to ourselves, so Hannah and Aaron (and even Daddy) got to run around and get thoroughly soaked — even though we hadn’t brought our swimsuit!

It turned out to be a lovely little park, with a pretty lake and a small, sandy playground in addition to the splash pad. Most important, though, it had those “buckets” that Aaron loves to get dunked underneath, so it seemed like a no-brained destination for a party.

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We celebrated Aaron’s birthday that evening with visits from all four grandparents. Grammy and Pop-Pop came by with some presents, which included some Mario stickers for Aaron to decorate his room. We had some burritos for dinner (at Aaron’s request) and then had him blow out candles on a pair of brownies Donna brought by for a “cake.”

After dinner, we dropped by my parents’ place to continue celebrating. They got Aaron some paper and dice to make his own board games, Uncle Jonny gave him a Mega Man board game, and Uncle Nathan gave him a Dr. Wily action figure. Mommy and I also had a few presents, including a pair of dart guns and a plush “Magolor” from Aaron’s current video game. After the presents, Aaron got to play Mario Maker with Uncle Jonny for an hour, dictating a level design with him — something he’s wanted to do pretty much every time we’ve visited for the last year or two.

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The next day, we returned to Schwer Park for the afternoon, where Aaron got to have several hours to run around getting wet with a bunch of his friends. We got there early enough to claim a few tables for ourselves, and Aaron wore himself out running from one end of the park to the other, chasing after his little friends and then getting dunked repeatedly with the “buckets” at the end of the afternoon (and even Mommy and I wound up joining in).

Hannah picked a few mulberries with Sammy to tide her over until Grammy before the cake. She made a giant camping cake, which was all chocolate except for the tent, which was blueberry. It featured a little fondant Aaron fighting a “tree boss” and a “rock boss” with several other people and a gelatin lake. A few nesting birds kept us company in the pavilion before we left for the evening. We got some burgers at McDonald’s on the way home, and Aaron crashed pretty much immediately afterward.

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We managed to make it back to church bright and early the next morning. They had some waffles for the Wildewood parents in the multi-purpose, so we got to visit with a few oft he grown-ups as Hannah and Aaron got properly sugared up before we headed home.

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Happy birthday, Aaron!

Happy Trails, Camping, the Zoo, and Pie

Summer’s finally here, and that nmeans finding new ways to enjoy the great outdoors while tryinhg to stay cool at the same time.

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I had a fun time getting to know Omaha’s bike trails a bit better this week. I took a ride up the South Omaha Trail by the abandoned grain silos, which travelers can see clearly near the 480 interchange on I-80. I took a trip by Trader Joe’s the next day, and then I rode up to Esther Pilster Park for a lovely picnic lunch (and a nap) under some tall trees the following day.

It’s been fun being able to explore some of the hidden trails and parks in Omaha that you can’t exactly see from the main roads. I also seem to have gotten bit of a farmer’s tan, with a nice white outline of my Fitbit, in the process.

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Over the weekend, Vivian and Hannah went camping together with the American Heritage Girls down at Lake Manawa. Hannah learned how to sharpen a knife and whittle soap, tie some knots, paint some rocks, play UNO with some friends, and practice hitting a volleyball.

She also got to find a “gooey” frog or two, something she’s always enjoyed doing while camping, and she also got to have pizza baked in a cast-iron Dutch oven for dinner (along with s’mores, of course).

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Aaron and I got to have some “guy time” in the meantime. On Saturday morning, we visited grandpa to help clean up some of the things he’d used to smoke the brisket we had on Monday. Then I helped to get the water turned back on for their lawn sprinklers, which Aaron immediately used to cool off while outside. He wanted to play some video games, and he eve found Uncle Jonny’s giant collection of old NES titles, but we were able to get him to draw out what he’d like to build in Mario Maker sometime on paper instead.

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Then that evening, I grilled some burgers and fries for dinner (with avocado) and then took Aaron for an evening at the Omaha Zoo. We went to see the new Sea Lion exhibit first, which had some lovely viewing windows underground where we could see them swimming about. We got a bit sidetracked by the mazelike “Children’s Adventure Trails” on our way to the aquarium, and Aaron had some fun there climbing, sliding, wading, and hanging in a chrysalis as a few monkeys climbed overhead and prairie dogs ran about. Then we finished our visit seeing some puffins, penguins, jellyfish, and other sea life in the Scott Aquarium before things began to close down. Of course, no trip to the zoo would be complete without a visit to the wet, spinning globe or the lion statues, where Aaron got a few obligatory photos before we headed home.

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Vivian and Hannah returned home the next day. I took the kids by Grammy’s house to have some lunch as I trimmed some hedges. Then that evening, I went by Wildewood for Praise and Pie Night. We had about an hour of worship songs with a performance by the South Sudanese church singing Amazing Grace in one of their native languages (and garb). It felt like a spiritually cleansing time for myself, with the weight of trouble and turmoil in the world being ripped away in the light of God’s presence there in the sanctuary.

We had a bunch of pie afterward, and I got some peach and cherry for Vivian and the kids, along with some all-American apple pie for myself (with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, of course).

Lee Greenwood and Memorial Day Weekend

We had a beautiful Memorial Day weekend here in Omaha, with perfect weather for food, family, and some patriotic outdoor activities.

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I kicked things off Friday night in downtown Omaha for the Memorial Day parade and concert. I’d never attended as something so fun and festive on such a solemn holiday, but it seemed quite appropriate, with veterans and gold star families taking prominent roles.

There were a few giant balloons of an American flag and a Purple Heart, as well as several trollies and buses full of veterans riding along. There were a handful of politicians, such as Gov. Ricketts and Congressmen Bacon and Fortenberry who lead the parade (with a few Grand Marshalls). A few other participants wore historic costumes, and there was a troop of nurses handed out candy. The Budweiser Clydesdales came toward the end of the parade, followed shortly by the Omaha Jitterbugs, who I nearly missed seeing.

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Afterward, in the Durham Museum parking lot, there was a gallery of fallen heroes and also free hot dogs and apple pie served by Hy-Vee. Hal Daub played emcee before the concert, introducing opening act Camille Metoyer Moten and recognizing a few politicians in the audience. Then Lee Greenwood took to the stage, bringing with him a few people to lead the crowd in singing happy birthday to a little boy and his grandmother. Then he sang his signature song, “God Bless the USA,” inviting the crowd to stand and sing the chorus with him, which gave me legitimate goosebumps.

After Greenwood’s performance, we got to hear some more patriotic music from the Omaha Symphony Chorus, who sang the anthems of each branch of the military. The evening concluded with the Grateful Hearts gospel quartet, who sang a medley of patriotic and gospel songs to finish off the night. It was an uplifting event that didn’t seem a bit tainted by political partisanship — something I wished I could see a bit more often these days.

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I had a nice long walk with Hannah bright and early the following morning, going all the way down to Chick-Fil-A for breakfast together. We stopped by the Sandy Park on the way back and then swung by my parents’ house to say hello before returning home. I kept busy the rest of the day cleaning gutters, mowing the lawn, and getting some groceries for our Memorial Day Dinner.

Then on Sunday, we got T-shirts at church for their new sermon series, “Not Today, Satan,” (which I wore over my patriotic shirt and tie afterward). I went by my dad’s house to help set up his smoker for our Memorial Day brisket, and the kids came along to climb a few trees and play with some branches. Then we returned home to have fresh-ground burgers for dinner with frozen bananas for dessert.

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On Memorial Day, I took a nice long walk up to Bellevue Boulevard and back, just to burn a few calories in anticipation of a big brisket dinner. Vivian made two delicious kinds of potato salad at home as Hannah celebrated Jane’s birthday and made a doll out of string.

Then at four, I walked over to grandma and grandpa’s house with the kids, where they played with some trains and blocks as grandpa finished up the brisket. Grammy and Pop-Pop came with bakes beans and a patriotic dessert, and Nathan dropped in with a bunch of tomato plants, which he helped plant after dinner. We had a lovely, beautiful evening sitting outside and eating way too much together, and Pop-Pop finally got to use the steps my dad installed back in 2019 for him to use, which was nice to see.

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We had some gorgeous weather on Tuesday, which was Aaron’s last day before heading off to summer school, so Vivian and I took them to Elmwood Park around noon for one last park visit. We had some burgers for lunch and then let the kids swing for a bit. Then we took a nice walk along the trail, finding a fairy house on our way to the grotto, where the spring water was flowing once again. We hiked further into the trees and encountered some painted trees and fallen logs, as well as a bog. We also found the brick remains of an old sewer pipe, which was quite picturesque somehow.

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Then that evening, my Uncle Tom and Aunt Barb came by to visit — the first time we’d seen them since Ben and Carol’s anniversary back in 2014. We had some ice cream and cookies together and caught up with them about family, jobs, and life in general. Then before we left we got a few group photos. Barb took one of my whole family, and I realized afterward it was the first time the whole Johnson clan — grandma, grandpa, uncles, wife, grandkids, and me — had all been photographed together. Ever. That was something.

Happy Memorial Day, everyone!

Lee Greenwood sings, “God Bless the USA”