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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.

It happened next door

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An unthinkable thing happened at the house next door to my parents’ last week — it was the sort of thing you might hear on the news, but never about people you’ve actually met. If you live in the area, you’ve probably heard this story already, but if you haven’t, I’ll spare you all the details and let you read them elsewhere. Suffice it to say, the family next door had two kids, a boy and a girl, who very much reminded me of Hannah and Aaron at a slightly younger age. I’d seen them frequently when I would come by to mow my parents’ lawn. They seemed like any other happy kids I’d seen playing outside in the area — of which there were many.

Then on Sunday afternoon, I was out for a walk when I got a call from my mom. They’d seen me walking past their fence and warned me that I wouldn’t be able to come visit, if I were headed to their house. I’m glad she called, because the sight of a police car blocking their street when I came by — and police tape all around — might have sent me into a panic. She told me later that the children next door were found “deceased.” The news hit me like a punch to the gut. Deceased? I remembered seeing the girl just the other day riding her tricycle. She had talked to my mom and shown her her sparkling unicorn. Their dad — who I remember borrowing my dad’s lawn mower on one occasion — was being charged with their murder.

Making this world seem even smaller, the cop on the case was Andy Jashinske, who used to go to Twin Valley Church with us (and was on the finance committee with me). The day after, the police tape came down and was replaced by a makeshift memorial (by the metal post I would mow around). There was a vigil held for the children at a park Tuesday night, and a GoFundMe shared widely online to help with funeral expenses. I was just mostly in shock. I had been thinking these two kids could be friends with Hannah and Aaron when I brought them by for a visit. They weren’t just names in a news story — they were literally our neighbors, and the idea that they could be taken in such a horrific way was unimaginable.

It’s also reeling to see my parents’ street, specifically their house and the one next door, on the news nearly every day. We live in such a lovely, quiet little neighborhood that I already assumed — hoped, rather — that something like this wouldn’t happen. But I couldn’t do another update to my typically happy, light-hearted blog without acknowledging this event. It’s the sort of thing that shakes you to your core, but there’s very little you can do in response other than grieve and pray.

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Goodbye, little ones.
You will be missed by so many.

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!

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.

Covid 19 and a Trunk or Treat

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October’s been a crazy, topsy-turvy month so far! It started with a couple weeks of quarantine as both Vivian and I tested positive for Covid 19. That meant I worked from home in a makeshift office while watching such things as Aaron doing virtual school on an iPad and Hannah building a fort in the backyard. We had some wonderful friends bringing us food during this time, and we also had some beautiful weather that tricked our lilac tree into blooming a second time. After my mandatory two weeks of isolation, I tested negative at a drive-thru testing site and was happily cleared to leave the house again.

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On Friday last week, we took the kids out for some trunk-or-treating down at Beautiful Savior Luthern Church. Aaron is dressed as Mega Man this year, and Hannah’s going as a tiger. It was windy and cold, so we didn’t stay long, but we got to see a handful of decorated cars and get the kids all sugared up early in the Halloween season.

Last Splash of Summer

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We’re continuing to enjoy the last moments of summer as the weather cranks the heat up to near 100 as the dogs days are (hopefully) on their way out. On Saturday morning, I took Hannah down to H.W. Banner Park to celebrate Emmett’s birthday. The splash pad was in full use for the kids to run around and get wet for a little while, and there were a dozen or two total kids running around, making use of the playground, swings, soccer field, and a beach umbrella as the party got started. Jolene brought along a shark piñata, and I managed to find a couple of sticks for the kids to use to whack it open. Hannah enjoyed playing a bit with the remnants of the piñata with another girl before we headed home.

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A few days later, we took advantage of a 95+ degree day and took the kids down to Mahoney State Park to spend a couple hours at their aquatic center. We’d originally hoped for another trip to Fun Plex, but they closed early this season because of Covid, so this seemed like an adequate alternative. Vivian and I had come here on our anniversary back in ’13, and it was fun letting the kids experience the violent wave pool (which Aaron and I fought together) and the speedy pair of water slides that had essentially no line on a weekday. They were only open for a couple hours, but we made use of every minute before calling it a day.


An evening at the Mahoney State Park aquatic center

April Snow & Fireworks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sheltered in place

So, how’s COVID-19 treating you and your family these days? The sheer number of things that have been shut down in a week is just staggering. A week ago, I was taking Hannah to her Wednesday night church group without a second thought. If you read my blog, you can see every entry has some activity where we’re around ten or more people at one event of another.

Now, we can’t go anywhere with ten or more people and every church, restaurant, and public facility is shut down. We’re still making the most of this downtime, but it’s still hard to come to grips with so much of the world being turned upside down.

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We’d planned on going to a St. Patrick’s Day parade on Saturday, but it was cancelled, so I went out with my folks to breakfast at First Watch instead, hoping to get in one last meal in a sit-down restaurant before everything became take-out only a few days later.

We also got a bit of a freakish, mid-March snow in the meantime, leaving us with a frosted winter wonderland for a day or two. With all group activities cancelled, we’ve been taking the kids on a few extra walks outside just to get some fresh air — one thing that hasn’t been restricted by any guidelines from the CDC.

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St. Patrick’s Day was similarly low-key — we got some corned beef and cabbage with red potatoes for dinner, but shopping has become a bit of a thrill ride. Every other store seems to be completely out of something — not just the famously impossible-to-find toilet paper or hand sanitizer but now pasta, canned tuna, bread and even milk can often be completely cleaned out of one store or another. Hearing rumors about a two-week lock down that included grocery stores (which later turned out to be Fake News) spurred me to fill an extra bucket of emergency food just in case

We’ll soon have to figure out some creative ways to have fun with ten or fewer people at a time, just to avoid cabin fever as we’re busy avoiding the Corona Virus. Fortunately, we got a head start on this schooling-from-home thing long before it became mandatory for everyone.

Zoey, Breakfast, and Snow Daze

We’ve had a fairly quiet start to the New Year so far, mostly staying warm inside and quietly preparing for an Hors D’oeurves Party among other things at the end of the month.

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We celebrated the two-year adoption of our little tuxedo cat, Zoey on January 10. We had a few extra kitty treats in a bowl of premium food for her for dinner, and then we let her get her first whiff of catnip — which immediately made her go a bit crazy rolling around on the floor.

Then the next day we had a men’s breakfast bright and early with the men of Wildewood. We had a few breakfast burritos and listened to Scott talk a bit about his plans for the group this coming year. I got to sit at a table with my dad and talk a bit about evangelism as well, particularly his missionary work in Brazil.

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In other news, we’ve had snow, snow, and more snow. It hasn’t been all that much in accumulation, but we’ve had bitter cold on one end and slush on the other that’s kept schools closed and us stuck inside. It’s been a good time snuggle up on the couch under a blanket and read comic books.

It’s also been a good time for warm, comforting winter foods like beef stew, homemade bread, breakfast corn dogs, and buffalo chicken dip. Hannah and Aaron have also been finding ways to amuse themselves dressing up as video game fighters and sticking poop emojis on the ceiling. Hannah even came out to help me shovel once and spent a little time making a snowman with her doll Suki.

I think we’ve had almost enough of winter this far, but there are still a few more months to go.

Fall colors

The fun fall traditions continued this week, as the trees around us all explode with colors before making way for winter. There was some beautiful weather on Saturday, so Vivian and I took the kids on a walk around the block as a family just to enjoy a few of the fall colors while they were with us.

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Then that evening, we headed up to northwest Omaha for another one of Jenny’s Halloween birthday parties. She decided to have a 90s theme this year, so we had Wayne and Garth in our midst, along with some Pokémon characters, the Y2K bug, as well as Little Caesar and Captain Morgan. I shaved my beard and donned a wig (and jogging suit) to go as President Clinton, while Vivian put on some colorful 90s clothes (and makeup) and went as Kimmy Gibbler. Hannah and Aaron were Ladybug and a Ninja, respectively.

Vivian also brought some lasagna and jack-o-lantern mandarin oranges to go along with the other Halloween foods, which gave us some energy as we danced the night away, doing Thriller, led by Takashi (of course). I also made up a card for the occasion, which I conveniently left at home. We had lots of fun as usual, though, and we only went home once it was apparent the kids had had enough.

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Then on Tuesday, I took the day off so we could spend a long, cool autumn day down at Vala’s Pumpkin Patch as a family. This year, Vivian and I actually worked out an “itinerary” so we could hit as many attractions as possible while not wearing ourselves out walking back and forth across the park, and it seemed to work out well. We got to see the jumping pillows, corn bin, train ride, bunnyville, pig races (with the pig wrangler), Xander the dragon, big chair, haunted house, wagon ride, spider web, obstacle course with net tunnels and a hamster wheel, big slide, storybook village, petting zoo, tricycle track, and pumpkin mine all without wearing ourselves out. There were still many little attractions we stumbled upon, such as rope and pulley games, spinning chairs, and a big apple that we might easily have missed.

The kids both got to fly on the new zip lines for the first time, and we also bumped into some old friends, Jolene with her kids as well as the Papson family. We got some chili cheese fries and succotash to keep us moving throughout the day, and then got some pumpkins for the kids before going home to crash for the night. In all, I took 575 pictures throughout the day, so you know we had a great time! Most of all, it was nice to see so many beautiful fall colors, which will only be with us for a week or two before winter. It was a fun day and part of an annual tradition I hope Hannah and Aaron will remember fondly as they grow up.