Monthly Archives: December 2020

Hindsight is 2020

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The year that felt like a lifetime is finally over, but 2020 was a lot more than just some pandemic! Let’s take a look back at everything that happened throughout the year!
Three cheers for the beginning of a New Year!

Christmas 2020

Merry Christmas, everyone! We just wrapped up a lovely Christmas weekend, and we managed to celebrate with all four of our grandparents (as well as a pair of uncles). I’m very happy that in spite of the pandemic, we were able to be with the whole family this holiday.

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Things kicked off with a busy Christmas Eve. First, we fired up NORAD on the Raspberry Pi to watch Santa’s progress throughout the day. I spent half a day at work (where someone brought donuts for those who showed up) and then spent an afternoon busy wrapped presents as Aaron built a gingerbread house and Vivian made roasted vegetables for our Christmas Eve dinner. Then at dinnertime, we headed over to Vivian’s parents’ house, which was decorated with lights outside and a Christmas village inside for Christmas Eve. We had a dinner of roast beef, Taber salad, and sweet potatoes, all washed down with Martinelli’s.

Afterward, we opened our stockings, which had such gifts as animal masks, a hair wrap for mommy. toys for the kids, and sushi socks for me. We had some pumpkin pie for dessert before the kids changed into the Christmas jammies (an annual tradition) before we headed home. After the kids were all snug in their beds, I got a few snapshots of our tree and the lights glowing outside, which is always a beautiful thing to see at the end of Christmas Eve.

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The kids were naturally up bright and early Christmas morning to start opening presents. Hannah got a plush Raboot, and Aaron got a Metaknight and Waddle Dee. They also had lots of Legos, which they immediately opened up and started to build with. Aaron also had a hand print towel that he made up in Kindergarten, and both kids had snow globes for us, which they made together in Sunday School.

Around mid-morning, I made up my traditional Christmas quiche for breakfast, as well as a batch of eggnog pancakes for the kids. It was a fun, lazy day otherwise, and in the afternoon, we watched A Christmas Story and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer together in the living room.

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That evening, we headed over to my parents’ house for some more gift-opening with them and my brothers. Hannah got some more Pokémon toys and a fossil-digging kit from National Geographic, Aaron got a new digital camera, and Vivian got a Pioneer Woman cookbook. I got my dad a copy of Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning along with a photo calendar of the kids and a book for my mom.

For Christmas dinner, my mom had chips and sandwiches, along with some olives and sweet pickles. It was simple, but it seemed to work. We also had a hot Crock-Pot full of wassail, which was particularly warm for Christmasy. We headed home not long afterward, stopping by to see a Grinch stealing some Christmas lights before returning home to watch The Nativity Story before bed.

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Our Christmas Day was so full of gifts and visiting tat we forgot to have the kids open their actual stockings in our basement, which were mostly filled with candy and little toys (such as scented Play-Doh). It was also warm enough for a walk around the block with a few of their plush toys before the sun went down.

In many ways, I was very happy with how “normal” this Christmas was — being able to visit all the members of our family on a holiday like this is something I’ve learned to appreciate, especially after a year like this one.

Caroling and a Great Conjunction

Christmas is nearly upon us once again, and that means wrapping up our preparations and having a week full of special holiday moments with our friends and family.

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On Sunday, our friends the Mills invited us to go caroling with them and their kids. They have a tradition of giving little bags of cider ingredients to their neighbors along their street, so we joined them with our kids to sing Jingle Bells, Silent Night, and We Wish you a Merry Christmas up and down fourth street together after the sun went down.

We stuck around a bit afterward as the kids decorated and then ate some gingerbread men. I brought some actual wassail to warm up, and Hannah got a taste of an actual cinnamon stick for the first time before we headed home.

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Then on Monday, we had a Great Conjunction in the sky, as Saturn and Jupiter made a once in eight-hundred year pass at each other. Vivian and I took the kids out to Mahoney State Park (in the dark) to see the sight, though we probably could have seen it just as well from our house. We were far away enough from the city to see a handful of extra stars, some of which I captured behind the clouds overhead while playing with my camera. I was able to get a mostly stable shot of the planets, though every other picture turned the two into little streaks of light.

On the way home, we stopped by Werner Park to catch a glimpse of “Santa’s Rock n Lights Drive-Through Light Show.” It actually cost upwards of $20+ to drive through (and a wait of over two hours, according to our friends), but we got a good view right from the street.

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We had some lovely weather in the 50s on Tuesday, so we took the kids down to Stinson Park for one last lunchtime romp before the cold and snow returned before Christmas. Hannah got some swing time, and Aaron and I went on an adventure around the park fighting imaginary bad guys. Then before we left, we celebrated our last trip to the park with some cupcakes down at Jones Bros. They weren’t free like they were a few years ago, but I figured we could handle a once-a-year splurge before Christmas.

Then that evening, I swung by Jacobo’s in South Omaha to get some tamales for dinner —another one of those annual traditions to check off our list!

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Wednesday brought some cold and snow to the metro, with temperature dropping and snow blowing throughout much of the day. Vivian and I still braved the elements to celebrate another “first date anniversary” together — marking fourteen years since I first asked her out way back in 2006. We went by Luigi’s in Bellevue and got some Italian food together (with some toasted raviolis to start).

Then afterward, we went down to the Old Market to pay our annual visit to the Old Market Candy Shoppe. The whole Old Market was decorated with lovely Christmas lights, illuminating our brief walk through the blasting arctic winds to get our Christmas fudge. I’m so glad we were able to mark another year together — in spite of the weather and everything else that 2020 has brought us.

On to Christmas!

My Favorite Foods of 2020

If you know me, you know I love food — and not just for the taste, but for the memories of family and friends that go with every bite. We’ve had lots of good food together this year just like every other, and I’ve whittled down our selection of tasty dishes down to these top ten. Bon Appétit!

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#10. Buona Italian Beef Sandwich

Our local Aldi began selling giant tubs of this “Italian style gravy and sliced beef” back in May, and I learned about it online. It’s apparently from a very popular chain out of Chicago. We ate ours inside an Italian hoagie with sautéed onions and peppers.  It was very similar to a cheesesteak, but I liked doing mine “French dip” style with the au jus left over (and there was a lot of it).

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#9. Fish fry at St. Charles Borromeo

Lenten fish fries have been a tradition for me ever since I was introduced to them over a decade ago, and I think St. Charles Borromeo has my favorite fried fish of all the ones I’ve visited.

This year’s visit was particularly special, however, because it came at the start of the fish fry season, which was before everything was locked down for Covid a week or two later. I was very happy to have gone to a real, in-person fish fry during this window, and we likely wouldn’t have gone at all we hadn’t been invited by our friends the Simpsons.

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#8. Sickie’s Fried pickles

Sickies Garage Burgers & Brews” opened in the old Summer Kitchen in Bellevue with great anticipation back in January. Vivian and I had been planning on eating there for months. In fact, we swapped our “sushi anniversary” with our First Date anniversary just so we could stop on by. We weren’t disappointed and had three delicious burgers between the two of us. My favorite item on the menu, however, wasn’t a burger, but the fried pickles appetizer we had beforehand. Very tasty!

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#7. Red Bag Chicken

Red bag chicken” at Aldi refers to the frozen, breaded chicken breasts that are very similar to what you’ll find in a Chick-Fil-A sandwich. Combine it with some pickle slices and a brioche bun, and you’ve got a delicious sandwich that’s an easy dinner any day of the week (with or without waffle fries).

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#6. Avocado Toast

I’m just a bit too old to be considered a Millennial, but I’m certainly not too old to appreciate the deliciousness of a toasted piece of sourdough smothered with avocado and sprinkled with “Everything Bagel” seasoning. It’s probably my favorite thing to have for breakfast, so long as I time the ripeness of the avocado just right. I could eat this any day of the week, and often do.

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#5. Sage’s stuffed mushrooms

We held our biennial hors d’oeuvres party again this year, and we had many tasty competitors, but Sage’s mushroom caps stuffed with cream cheese and ground beef were the clear favorite. (And I don’t think we had any leftovers.)

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#4. Homemade Pizza

Vivian made some homemade pizza several times this year, kneading the dough with her new KitchenAid mixer. It’s a delicious thing to have any time of year, but I particularly enjoyed one we had al fresco on our deck with leaves of fresh basil picked from our garden.

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#3. Dinker’s Hamburger

The sign calls it “Omaha’s Best Burger,” and while I certainly have my favorite burger joints in Omaha, Dinker’s was my favorite this year. What makes these burgers particularly unique is how tasty they were without slathering them with seasoning, toppings, or much of anything else. Somehow, the meat by itself is just that good.

We went there for a “Takeout Tuesday” back in March and had a lovely picnic dinner on a beautiful evening at Hanscom Park — our first time visiting the park, which made the occasion even more special.

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#2. Buttermilk Biscuits & Gravy

These delicious biscuits are about as homemade as you can get. Not only are the biscuits made from scratch, but the buttermilk itself is made from scratch — being the result of Vivian’s experiment making fresh butter from cream. She whipped up some sausage and gravy and we had some for a lovely Sunday breakfast before tuning in to our “virtual church” with Wildewood.

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#1. Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream

This was the highlight of our trip to Mount Rushmore — sitting down after a long walk around the monument to have a giant cone of vanilla ice cream made from a recipe by the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. It was remarkably good ice cream, but part of the fun was eating right in front of Mount Rushmore itself.

We had other delicious contenders on our road trip, including a Runza on Lake McConaughy, an Egg McMuffin on the road, and a burrito from Scotts Bluff, and spam while camping, but this alone was the most memorable.

Parents’ birthdays and Living Nativities

We’re inching closer and closer to Christmas, which means Christmas movies, egg nog, and checking more items off our holiday bucket list. (That apparently includes making enough Chex mix to feed an army.)

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We had a bit of a warm spell last week that made the weather ideal for a visit to an outdoor Living Nativity down the street at Avery Presbyterian Church. It was a lovely, festive little gathering, and I’m glad we go to visit before a passing cold front created a bit of a winter wonderland the next day. The kids got to see and pet a live camel, a donkey, some goats, and a calf all under a tent with folks dressed up as Magi and Shepherds. They also had some lovely shell-shaped sweet rolls for us, along with a table of gifts from “Santa’s Workshop” for kids to pick through to find gifts to give to loved ones. We got them to pick out a few things for all four grandparents. We also got a brief visit with “Santa” for a few pictures before we left. (I also got to overhear a few things for “Santa” to bring our kids come Christmas morning.)

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Saturday brought a blanket of snow to the world, which stayed wet enough to me to shovel without any trouble, leaving our neighborhood quiet picturesque by the end of the day (and nightfall).

My parents also had their birthdays this week, so we celebrated both of them on Saturday afternoon. My dad wanted to go through one of his trunks of treasures with us, which included such things as handmade floor rugs from my grandmother, a Shakespearean tapestry from England, paraphernalia from my parents’ time as missionaries in Brazil, and some unique knick-knacks and tchotchkes made by Brazilian natives, ranging from stylized animal carvings to an actual carved Brazil nut.

My folks opened a couple gifts from us afterward, and then we went down to HyVee to get a bunch of Chinese food for dinner. I also baked my parents a birthday cake, but they’d gotten one of their own from the Uptown Bakery on Fort Crook. They blew out some candles on mine before we ate and then played a few games with my brothers in the living room, including a Family Feud game of all things.

Less than two weeks more until Christmas!

Union Station and Outdoor Lights

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One of our annual Christmas traditions is a visit to Union Station downtown, which we did again this year — pandemic or no pandemic! We got a lovely family photo in front of the tree and got to walk through a train car and a streetcar down in the basement, just like always. Santa was on-hand to hear the kids’ Christmas wishes as well, though he had to stay several feet away and take their requests via telephone (though we did get a photo).

The highlight of our trip was the Jim Henson exhibit, which featured several very original Muppet characters on display, including Bert and Ernie, Fraggles Red and Wembley from Fraggle Rock, Bunsen and Beaker, as well as Gelflings and Mother Aughra from the Dark Crystal and even coffee commercial mascots Wilkins and Wontkins. There were some interactive activities as well — Hannah and Aaron got to assemble features on a “fat blue” Anything Muppet, and they also got to perform with a Muppet in front of a TV camera in a recording booth.

We finished off our visit with a few “phosphates” at the soda fountain before heading home.

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I got some chores done over the following week, cleaning out the garage and unearthing treasures such as my old Game Boy (which I let Aaron try out). Our friend Scott also stopped by and helped replace the latch on our stove.

We also had some fun looking at Christmas lights with the kids. On Tuesday, we took them down Larimore Avenue to see some houses adorned with enough lights to make Clark Griswold proud (one with a Family Truckster on the roof). We also stopped by Wood River Drive, but once again missed seeing Santa.

Then on Thursday, we had some homemade Nacho Navidad (and Christmas cookies from out neighbor Betty) and then took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to stroll around Washington Park in Bellevue. The park was filled once again with multiple light displays, all animated and timed with music that played overhead. The kids had some fun walking around the displays with us, particularly Aaron, who seemed to feel like he was inside a giant video game.

We’ll be having some more Christmas fun happening in the weeks ahead. I just hope I’ll have time to get all my shopping done.


Christmas at Union Station