Tag Archives: kids

Lenten Fish Fries

March 16, 2017 by
Photography by Joshua Foo

Lent in Omaha—a time of repentance and moderation for devout Catholics—is synonymous with crowded lines of happy, drunken people waiting for heaping piles of deep-fried fish.

Parishioners and non-churchgoers alike rejoice with the approach of Ash Wednesday. Non-Catholics who have never joined in the fun should not hesitate. All are welcome. Lenten fish fries (complete with raffles, pickle cards, and bake sales) are the biggest fundraising event of the year for many Catholic churches, schools, and charities in Omaha.

The beer-infused Friday fry-day gatherings are a popular annual ritual in Midwestern cities with robust Catholic communities. Omaha’s large Catholic population means that several dozen churches will host fish fries throughout the 40 days of Lenten fast (six weeks). Meanwhile, there are plenty of other community groups, such as the local Disabled American Veterans, hosting their own Lenten fish fries.

Some start the Friday before Ash Wednesday. Most begin after Ash Wednesday formally initiates the Lenten season. Some conclude after only a few weeks; others continue for the entire duration of the Lenten fast, including Good Friday two days before Easter.

Not all of them are bacchanals, with children running wild while parents and young adults socialize. A few are alcohol-free. But all are genuine family-friendly celebrations of community.

Expect to spend a few hours standing and waiting in line at Omaha’s most-popular fish fries. The long wait—and the chance to meet new friends while drinking beer—is sometimes the most fun part of the evening.

Omaha Magazine has compiled a list of six must-try fish fries for every week during Lent. But the list is hardly exhaustive. Other excellent fish fries are plentiful in the Omaha area. For those in a hurry, seeking out lesser-known gatherings might even save on the wait time. Or you might just discover a new Lenten favorite.

HOLY NAME CATHOLIC CHURCH (2017 Best of Omaha Winner)

2901 Fontenelle Blvd., Omaha, NE 68104 . 402.451.6622 . holynameomaha.org

Omaha’s oldest Lenten fish fry event, the Holy Name “Fryday” is famous for its jam-packed line, fried Alaskan pollock, french fries, coleslaw, and Rotella’s bread. The BYOB line makes the event especially unique for the 21-and-over crowd. Those arriving at 6 p.m. can expect to find a line stretching out the church, through the adjacent Holy Name Elementary School, and circling around the building. A wait time of three hours is not unusual. The initiated come prepared with coolers full of beer to sustain drinking through the long wait. Upon entering the main building, a free cup of beer is offered. Another free cup of beer is offered if there’s a line out the cafeteria. More beer is sold inside the cafeteria, and a storeroom accommodates winter coats and coolers. Nebraska politicians are known to make appearances at the event, which averages an attendance of 2,300 people per night. Fridays (5-8 p.m.), February 24 (pre-Lenten) to April 7

MARY OUR QUEEN CATHOLIC CHURCH (2017 Best of Omaha Winner)

3405 S. 118th St., Omaha, NE 68144 . 402.333.8662 . maryourqueenchurch.com

A packed line meanders through the halls of Mary Our Queen School, where intermittent refreshment tables allow visitors to replenish their beer pitchers/cups in one of Omaha’s most-popular Lenten fish fries. Young volunteers walk up and down the school’s hallway to collect emptied pitchers. Popcorn is available in the line near the cafeteria. A drive-through allows motorists to avoid the packed halls. Food options include: fried or baked fish, macaroni and cheese, spudsters, fries, coleslaw, bread, with assorted soft drinks and desserts also available for sale. Fridays (5-8 p.m.), March 3 to April 7

ST. PATRICK’S CHURCH OF ELKHORN (2017 Best of Omaha Winner)

20500 West Maple Road, Elkhorn, NE 68022 . 402.289.4289 . stpatselkhorn.org

The fish fry at St. Patrick’s features fried or baked catfish and/or pollock. Margaritas and a variety of beers offer a change of pace from the adult beverages typically available at area fish fries. Cheese pizza, fries, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, and dessert round out the available food options. There’s a drive-through, and there are clowns and face-painting for the kids inside. Fridays (5-9:30 p.m.), March 3 to April 7

ST. VINCENT DE PAUL CATHOLIC CHURCH

14330 Eagle Run Drive, Omaha, NE 68164 . 402.496.7988 . svdpomaha.org

A cheerful and welcoming atmosphere radiates from the jam-packed line snaking through the halls of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School. The event features $3 cups, $8 bottles of wine, and $8 pitchers of Boulevard, Lucky Bucket, or Bud Light beer. For those seeking better quality beer on the cheap, St. Vincent de Paul’s fish fry is an excellent choice. Food options include fried or baked fish, cheese pizza, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, and fries or baked potato, with assorted soft drinks and desserts also available for sale. Credit cards accepted. Fridays (5:30-8:30 p.m.), March 3 to April 7

ST. JOHN’S GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH

602 Park Ave., Omaha, NE 68105 . 402.345.7103 . stjohnsgreekorthodox.org

Alcohol is not sold at the event; however, St. John’s offers possibly the most delicious food available at any Omaha area Lenten fish fry. The church also offers historic tours of its Byzantine-style building from 5:30-6:30 p.m. A kitchen full of volunteers (some of whom grew up in Greece and migrated to the United States) cook and serve plaki—a Greek baked cod with Mediterranean sauce. Also available: panko-fried cod, breaded-fried shrimp, baked salmon, and vegetable moussaka (an eggplant lasagna), spanakopita (a pie filled with spinach and feta cheese), and piropita (cheese baked in phyllo dough). Specialty cheesecakes and baklava sundaes await at the dessert bar. Fridays (4:30 to 8 p.m.), March 3 to April 7

HOLY GHOST CATHOLIC CHURCH

5219 S. 53rd St., Omaha, NE 68117 . 402.731.3176 . holyghostomaha.com

Clam chowder is one of the unique offerings at Holy Ghost Parish’s annual Lenten fish fry. The varied menu offers: shrimp, baked or fried cod, macaroni and cheese, or a combo dinner. Each dinner comes with baked potato, salad, fruit bar, and a drink. Beer, margaritas, and “watermelons” (a mixed drink) are sold. While the line is long, the wait is neither the longest nor the most beer-soaked in town. Expedited takeout service is available at the west end of the church. Fridays (4-8 p.m.), February 24 (pre-Lenten) to April 7.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Beauty & the Cyborg Beast

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Less than three years ago, it dawned on scientist Jorge Zuniga why a childhood friend wanted nothing more than to play baseball.

It was odd. Growing up in Santiago, Chile, there were not many baseball fans. Just the one, as far as Zuniga knew (after all, soccer reigns supreme in Chile). Even more curious, Zuniga’s friend had just one hand.

Why baseball?

“There’s not one baseball field in the whole country,” Zuniga says, laughing at the exaggeration, “but this one kid without a hand wants to be a baseball player.”

Then, 20-odd years later, Zuniga and his 7-year-old son are playing catch in the long shadows of the front yard. Zuniga remembers his one-armed friend and his inexplicable love of baseball. Then it hits him.

“Oh,” Zuniga says, “I bet this kid that didn’t have a hand just wanted to do what every kid wants to do.” He yearned to play catch.

Biomedical2Earlier that same day, he had listened to a radio news report about “Robohand,” a project in South Africa that creates 3D-printed prosthetics for children. Zuniga—with a doctorate in exercise physiology and a lab at Creighton University—wanted to know more about the Robohand. But he had difficulty connecting with the researchers involved.

After several attempts to reach the people in South Africa, he relied on his own knowledge, resources, and expertise to make a prosthetic on his own. It took several months to perfect his prototype, but Zuniga’s journey highlights how the health care industry is utilizing new breakthroughs in 3D printing technology.

Nothing is more personal than health care. And few things are more customizable than the 3D-printed object. The field of prosthetics represents just one obvious medical application for the technology, one with many advantages: to provide a custom-fitted solution for an amputee; to shave thousands off the cost of traditional prosthetic limbs; to negate the financial burden if insurance doesn’t cover the device; and especially for children, to provide a fast solution to wear, tear, and outgrowing the artificial body part. 

But prosthetics only scratch the surface of possibilities awaiting biomedical 3D printing. The FDA, for example, recently approved the first 3D printed drug—an incredibly fast-acting seizure medication that dissolves in seconds thanks to a structure only possible through 3D printing.

Improvements to medical devices that were once too expensive to contemplate can be prototyped on the cheap. Zuniga, who now (as of August 15) works out of the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Biomechanics Research Building, says he has printed the model of a fetus for a blind mother who wanted to “see” her unborn baby. He has also worked with physicians at Omaha Children’s Hospital to print three-dimensional models of patient hearts so surgeons can study the organ long before they pick up a scalpel.

Zuniga’s use of 3D printing carries immediate significance and practicality. A glance at the more fantastic applications, however, can be found at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. There, biomedical engineer Bin Duan is heading up a new bioprinting unit that is printing and growing bone and cartilage for regenerative purposes. Later this year, Duan and his team will implant small plugs of printed bone into animals that should eventually integrate with the animal’s existing tissue.

Bioprinting works by printing with at least two different materials. First, a biocompatible polymer creates a scaffold or lattice in the desired shape of the tissue, such as an ear or a piece of bone. The second material, living cells, are printed onto the scaffold. The cells cling to the structure, and over the course of several weeks they live and multiply as the scaffold slowly degrades and disappears. Eventually, the scaffold material is gone, but the tissue remains.

One potential application of UNMC’s bone tests could be used to help future children born with certain defects. A printed bone implant made from the child’s stem cells would then grow with the child, eliminating the need for multiple surgeries.

In a more distant future, an organ transplant might not be from a random donor, but from the patient’s own stem cells: a new, perfect organ printed when it is needed, and far less prone to rejection. Skin grafts and bone regeneration, all of it made with a patient’s personal cells.

UNMC’s bioprinting program is still in its infancy, so a breakthrough with more complex systems will likely come from a place like Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Widely regarded as the national leader for 3D bioprinting, researchers there have already printed skin, blood vessels, bladders, and muscle—some of them implanted in humans. But complex organs like the heart, kidneys, and liver remain unsolved puzzles…for now.

In the here and now, researchers like Zuniga can make accessible what was once out of reach for many.

When he finished his first 3D-printed prosthetic arm, he showed it to his young son. The elder Zuniga expected to impress his son with the level of realism it held. The boy was not impressed.

“He said, ‘If that’s for children, that’s not gonna work,’” Zuniga says. “’Daddy, that hand is too real. You need something cooler than that.’”

Inspired by his son’s insight, Zuniga created “Cyborg Beast,” a brightly colored, prosthetic, cybernetic hand that more closely resembles something out of a science fiction movie than a human limb. The plans and instructions on how to use them are open and free to anyone with access to a 3D printer.

“You’d be surprised at how many people around the world have access to (3D printing) machines,” Zuniga says. “…It’s like the start of a revolution.”

An artificial limb that once cost $4,000, can now be had for about $50—about the cost of a trip to the ballpark.

Visit cyborgbeast.org to learn more. B2B

Veggie Crisps

Photography by Baldwin Publishing

This article appears in Her Family August 2015.

Try these “chips” the next time the kids are looking for a salty snack. Great as an after-school nibble or for a party, these veggies are a healthy alternative to fried potato chips.

Find more great recipes at HealthyKohlsKids.com. The Healthy Kohl’s Kids program is a partnership between Children’s Hospital & Medical Center and Kohl’s Department Stores to educate children and parents about healthy nutrition and fitness. 

ingredients

2 small parsnips, peeled

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 small sweet potato, peeled

1/2 tsp salt

1/8 tsp black pepper, optional

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with foil.

Clean the vegetables, removing dirt and any wax coatings. Peel, or leave the outer peel on for extra nutrition.

Use a vegetable peeler to scrape thin strips from the parsnips. Put these in a bowl and toss with 1 Tbsp of oil. Spread out in a single layer on one of the prepared baking sheets.

Repeat with the sweet potato, spreading them on the second baking sheet.

Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the baking sheets. Bake for another 5 minutes and remove from the oven if crisp and browned at the edges. If the crisps are not browned, bake for an additional 4 to 5 minutes, checking every minute, as the crisps brown very quickly. (Parsnips cook more quickly than sweet potatoes.)

Transfer the crisps to a large bowl and season with salt and black pepper. Serve immediately.

Nutrition Facts: Calories: 65, Fat: 4g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 0, Sodium: 162mg, Carbohydrates: 8g, Fiber: 2g, Protein: 1g


Yield: 8 servings (1/4 cup, or about 10 crisps)

VeggieCrisps

Oh Dear!

June 26, 2015 by

It’s summertime and I’m taking full advantage of the fact that my kids are preteens and sleeping in. Camp Mom is pretty laid back and the kids seem to appreciate it. Yesterday, I filled up 50 water balloons, declared my contribution to their summer fun, and went inside to read my book.

Max asks if we can go swimming. I tell him that I just need to finish one more thought and then we we’ll go. Two hours later, I finish the thought. Once we get to the pool, I see a bunch of familiar moms that I haven’t seen in a while.

I wave to the fellow gym moms. There was a half-hearted,  “Do I know you?” kind of reciprocation wave. That’s when I get a glimpse of myself in the window reflection. It’s not that I feel like I should get all dolled up to go to the pool, it’s that I look that awful.

My hair is a wirey mess. I have no make-up on and my current summer wardrobe is whatever I grab out of my laundry basket as I’m putting away the clean clothes, which happens to be full-length faded gym sweats in the middle of summer, a t-shirt, and my flip-flops from last year.

It’s evident that to these very put-together moms, I look a little bit homeless. And what’s the point in showering and washing my hair anyway if I’m going swimming? In short, think of that famous Nick Nolte mug shot from several years ago.

It hasn’t occurred to me until just now that I look like a mom begging for help.

I smile with pride because I’m living a dream: I’m a writer and mom. This is apparently what it looks like. I don’t have it all together, but I do indeed have it all. I mentally “high five” myself and play frisbee with the kids for a while.

When we leave the pool, I wave to the now-concerned moms. I’ve always been a low-maintenance kind of a gal, but right now I realize I’m a no-maintenance gal. I resolve to maybe give a slight bit of effort to my summer look. Camp Mommy takes on a new meaning.

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Dang Smart Phones!

April 30, 2015 by

My kids have nicer phones than me. They also have more rules to follow.

Quite frankly if it weren’t for the Bluetooth that plays my music and podcasts in the car, I think I could live with a flip phone.

“But why, Mom? Why would you even think of something so horrific?”

Suddenly the simplicity of not letting my phone be the only thing I see all day sounds delightful. But the kids don’t hear me respond, they’re busy checking texts and Clash of Clans. Whatever that is.

My kids are staring at their phones because they’ve been watching me do it for years.

How many times has little Bobby asked you a question and you actually uttered the words, “I dunno, honey. Let’s Google it.” Or how many times have you actually told your kid to hold that thought or temper tantrum because you’re reading your high school science lab partner’s updated status about her dog’s very funny howling? I mean, hold on kid, this dog actually sounds like he’s talking!

From the minute we handed the kids a phone, Chris and I established very responsible rules for them. It seems that maybe my kids Googled how to bend said rules. So, I made some more.

“Look, if you’re going to find a way around my rules, then I’m just going to make more rules. You cool with that?”

And before either can answer, I shove a homemade chocolate peanut butter cookie (I found the recipe on Pinterest) in their faces and text them a bunch of cheery emoticons.

And so it seems with every IOS upgrade, we upgrade and refresh our family cell phone rules—for both the kids and adults. But if you can’t beat them, play their game better. I text the kids their chores list.

Cellphone

Kid Coding

April 20, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in April 2015 edition of Her Family.

As an academic researcher, I write a lot of code to organize data for my research,” Burch Kealey, a University of Nebraska-Omaha accounting professor, says. “I’m not a professional programmer but there is a tremendous amount of resources on the Internet for someone to learn this on their own.”

It’s not too remarkable that an accounting professor could easily pick up on writing code. What’s amazing is that Kealey is teaching coding to his 10-year-old son, Patrick, and a handful of neighborhood kids.

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“I had begun thinking of doing this when my son was about 4 or 5, but I didn’t feel like he was ready for it yet,” he says. “None of the materials I found online looked appropriate, and I wanted him to have appropriate material.”

A few years later, Kealey discovered a book called Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming authored by Jason R. Briggs. Serendipitously, a $60 computer called the Raspberry Pi was released around the same time.

“It’s about the size of a credit card and it’s a fully functioning computer. You just have to plug your monitor into it,” he explains. Another sign that the time was right to put his concept of coding classes for kids into play: the price of monitors had dropped to as little as $100, making it possible for middle-class parents to afford a basic set of hardware for a weekly class.

A year and a half in, the young students are learning increasingly advanced coding along with what Kealey calls “intellectual independence,” problem-solving, collaboration, and other important skills.

“I think, from watching Patrick and his friends, that many in our society don’t understand how capable children are,” Kealey says. “After being around these kids, I have no reservations about their capability. I was worried about their attention span, and that’s the reason we waited a bit to start. But they’re thinking, rational beings.”

Judging by the phone calls and emails he’s received, there’s a growing interest in this kind of instruction, he says.

“In some ways this is an experiment; I have no plans to open the Sylvan Children’s Computer Programming Centers,” he says, wryly. “I give parents advice who call me and ask me if I would run other classes, but I’m too busy being a dad and my day job keeps me busy enough.”

Kealey lets his students help drive class content, which has led to incorporating the wildly popular video game Minecraft along with an assistant.

“My son has tried to educate me on how to play Minecraft, but I don’t get it,” Kealey says. “I have a high school student (Ian Maher, a Central High School junior) who’s working with me and actually taking a strong lead in the class right now. This young man ‘gets’ Minecraft, plus he wanted to learn to program.”

Kealey emphasizes that the children in the class aren’t hand-picked child prodigies, but typical, intellectually curious kids.

“I think most kids can do it, they just need to be introduced to the possibilities it in a way that’s not too deadening,” he says, adding that the children he teaches enjoy breaking new ground. “They’re doing something that nobody else is doing; I can tell that they get a little thrill about it.”

Camp Time

April 10, 2015 by

Originally published in April 2015 HerFamily.

The benefits of summer camps extend well beyond keeping children busy during summer vacation. Social interaction with a new group of people, focused exploration in a particular area of interest, introduction to fun new activities, and learning to be more independent and self-reliant can greatly enhance a child’s confidence.

But summer camp also means immersion into an unfamiliar environment, adjustment to a new group of peers and adults in authority, and time away from family that some children aren’t ready for.

Holly J. Roberts, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and associate professor of pediatrics with the Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, says readiness varies from child to child, but there are some indicators that can help guide parents in determining when and if their child would enjoy a day camp or overnight camp experience.

“Children younger than 4 are likely to not really be ready for this level of transition from a predictable routine,” she says.

However, children between 4 and 7 may be ready for day camp if they’re able to separate from parents fairly easily, and especially if they’re enthusiastic about the camp theme or activities. For this age group, Roberts says, school-based or childcare center-based summer programs provide a great opportunity to sample the day camp experience in a familiar environment. Children over 7 who are accustomed to spending the day in school usually handle traditional day camps just fine.

However, overnight camp readiness may take a few more years. “Generally, kids are usually ready for overnight camp around 11, and they begin to be comfortable being away from their parents around that age. Typically, children younger than 7 are not ready for an overnight camp,” Roberts says.

“This is not a hard-and-set rule, either, it’s based on development and the child,” she emphasizes. “Can the child manage their own hygiene, like showering? Do they have full control over toileting? Is the child able to ask for help or state their needs if they need something? One of the best indicators of readiness for a summer sleepover camp is that a child can successfully spend a night or two with a friend or a relative.”

Even the most eager child can experience pangs of homesickness, and it won’t surprise a good camp staff, Roberts says. Parents should be familiar with the process the camp has in place to address homesickness, but in the care of experienced and compassionate staffers, children usually don’t pine away for home sweet home very long.

“Homesickness is a common thing, and there’s probably going to be a wave of that even in kids that are ready,” Roberts says. Packing some comfort items and a few prepared letters from home (with a positive tone rather than a lament of how much the parent misses the child) can help alleviate pangs.

Sometimes it’s the parent who’s not ready to separate, and that can lead to what Roberts calls, somewhat tongue in cheek, “kidsickness.” Finding a quality camp with managers who welcome questions and offer tours, that conducts background checks when hiring staff, and that has strong safety policies in place can help alleviate parental fears.

“I think a parent really needs to be ready for this before a child is ready,” Roberts says. “A lot of kids receive their cues from their parents.”

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Duct Tape Dreams

February 19, 2015 by

The first years of a child’s life are jam-packed with an endless string of memorable “firsts.” The rite of passage that is climbing into your first “big boy bed” ranks right up there with such landmark moments as sitting up unassisted for the first time, learning to walk, or uttering your first words.

So it was with more than a little surprise that my wife, Julie, and I learned that it was going to be no easy task to get our grandchildren, Easton (5) and Barrett (3), into new, more age-appropriate bedtime arrangements during sleepovers in our home.

Easton sleeps on an inflatable mattress when he’s over at our place. Barrett, who was moved into his own bed at home some time ago, still sleeps in a crib when he’s with us. Now it’s time for Easton to graduate to a real bed while Barrett takes his brother’s place on the air mattress.

Which brings me to a point of puzzlement. Barrett would never accept sleeping in a crib in his own home these days, but he is reluctant to abandon his spot when it comes time to crash in our home. Compounding matters, Easton won’t budge from his air mattress.

The point is that habits, rituals, and traditions are organic. They are born of a certain set of specific circumstances, ones that may be nullified when the scenery, people, or time changes. Ritual exists to bring order among chaos. Our sleeping arrangements trump those of when they are home simply and solely because they are…well, ours. They are our way. Our tradition.

Easton associates his mattress with camping. He’s not merely on the floor at his grandparent’s house; he’s on a wilderness adventure. The latest addition to his little carpeted campsite is that he now insists on sleeping under the flickering glow of an electric candle that mirrors the dancing flames of a crackling campfire.

Understanding why Barrett persists in his desire to stick to his crib is less obvious to us, but we’re confident, nonetheless, that it has everything to do with the fact that things are just “different” at grandma and grandpa’s place.

All of which is, to me, an informative lesson in early childhood development. It seems counterintuitive on many levels, but I find it fascinating that their little brains are already so compartmentalized, so capable of receiving the very same stimuli (“It’s bedtime”) and processing that information in two diametrically opposing ways.

“Different” is okay, in this case, so long as it is supported by a framework that speaks to a child’s need to feel safe and secure when they are away from their parents.

Funny thing is, I managed to puncture Easton’s air mattress the last time we babysat, which I assumed would force the issue of moving him into a bed. But he still wouldn’t budge. Letting the air out of his mattress was like letting the air out of his sense of security…so it was time to get out the duct tape.

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Art School

February 11, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Are those balloons?” the instructor asks a young girl dressed warmly in pink sweatpants and a purple sweatshirt. The girl looks up and nods enthusiastically before returning to her drawing.

No, it’s not a school day. It’s Saturday at The Union For Contemporary Art, but the youth program is in full swing—just as it is every Saturday.

Established in 2011, The Union for Contemporary Art, located just south of 24th and Lake streets, was founded to provide opportunities to local artists and connect North Omaha youth to the arts. Founder Brigitte McQueen Shew says that the non-profit arts organization was badly needed to not only provide opportunities for artists, but to bridge gaps in the community.

Ending up here on a whim in 2001, McQueen Shew decided to move to Seattle not long after. Having come to Omaha after living in New York City, she says the divide between North Omaha and the rest of the city was overwhelming to her. But, eventually, she moved back. “I realized running away from that issue wasn’t the right thing to do. That’s something you fight against, it isn’t something you let drive you away,” she says.

A journalist, McQueen Shew had no experience in the world of non-profits. However, after she returned, she began to research North Omaha and found herself falling in love with the community. She decided to start an arts organization, not only one for local artists, but also one for area youth who would benefit from mentorship, access to materials and space, connections with professional artists, and programs designed for both them and their parents.

The Union For Contemporary Art is no doubt a place where local artists can find support and visibility—especially through the Studio Fellowship Program—but it’s greatest gift to the community may be the role it plays in offering mentoring to the area’s young people. Many of the other local after-school programs in the area revolve around athletics, McQueen Shew notes. Perhaps too many. “I’ve had parents tell me: ‘My kid can get a scholarship playing basketball but they can’t get a scholarship with art,’” McQueen Shew says. “I really wanted to address that.”

She says that while she doesn’t expect that every child who comes through the mentorship program will go on to be an artist, it still matters, she says, to immerse North Omaha youth in art. “It’s part of our everyday—from graffiti on buildings to the ways we dress ourselves,” she says. “To know art is to better know the world around you.”

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Toddler Tchaikovskys

February 10, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For some local Omaha business owners, work doesn’t necessarily mean no play.

Take entrepreneur Deborah Shimokawa, for example—creator and owner of the studio Baby Maestro and single mom extraordinaire. “I love to sing, and I love children,” Shimokawa says. “Those are my two passions. I thought: ‘If I can do something with both of those, I’ll be a very happy person.’”

Baby Maestro, created in 2004, is an early childhood music education program that offers various music, dance, and instrumental classes for parents to bond with their babies and young children. The concept isn’t exclusive to Omaha, though. Shimokawa actually picked up the idea after falling in love with a similar studio in Atlanta after the birth of her first child, Quinn.

“It was a two-fold benefit,” Shimokawa says.

“I could socialize with other moms about being new parents, and it was also a great bonding activity for Quinn and me. When I moved back to Omaha, I kind of looked around for a similar music program, but never found one that had that same happy feeling, so I said, ‘Well, I’ll start it.’”

In addition to running her own business, Shimokawa, a single mom, also juggles raising three kids aged 6 to 11 and navigating their endless repertoire of activities, which include but aren’t limited to soccer, baseball, basketball, flag football, and taekwondo lessons.

However, Baby Maestro has never been a burden that interferes with parent life, according to Shimokawa.

“The beauty of it is that I can still take my kids to school every day and help them with their homework, or take them to their activities,” she says. “I get to go out and work with passion and then come home and be with my kids and raise them. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Shimokawa adds that Baby Maestro is the perfect blend of work and play, where she can witness the relationships between parent and child that strengthen each day. Her highest reward is hearing the impact that her music classes have on her pint-sized students’ lives, whether that be babies bouncing to familiar tunes in the car or toddlers conducting their own dance classes for their parents.

“There are so many rewarding parts of my job,” Shimokawa says. “I signed a lease when my youngest was two weeks old, and I haven’t looked back. It was the best decision I could’ve
possibly made.”

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