Monthly Archives: December 2021

Look back at 2021

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2021 is in the can!
Here’s a photo montage of everything we did.
Three cheers for the beginning of a New Year!

Favorite Meals of 2021

I have a fondness for food that only seems to grow stronger every year. Over the past year, I finally managed to start counting calories, so everything I eat tends to become a little more special as a result. This year’s top ten list, as always, includes foods that I enjoyed both for the foods themselves and the occasions that went with them. And it was quite difficult to pick just ten. Here they are. Bon appétit!

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#10. Tom & Toni’s Fourth of July Dinner

We had a tremendously busy Fourth of July, with fireworks and a parade and even a trip to church (since it was a Sunday). Somehow in the midst of all this, we forgot to make plans for dinner. That’s when Donna called to say that her neighbors Toni and Tom had prepared a giant feast for Independence Day and none of their guests showed up to eat it. We were more than happy to oblige to help relieve them of their burden of ribs, hot dogs, and pulled pork — all with plenty of time to shoot off fireworks afterward. It was a blessing with perfect timing!

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#9. Little Caesars at the Splash Pad

Deleted: This is a meal we’ve enjoyed as a family on multiple occasions. Throughout the summer, often right after work, I’d meet Vivian and the kids at a nearby “splash pad” and grab a box of Little Caesars’ Hot & Ready pepperoni pizza to eat while we were there. The pizza was cheap, but the memories from every time we did this as a family were priceless. And honestly, the pizza wasn’t that bad. Hannah even ate two slices of it!

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#8. Christmas Eve Lunch from the Philippines

Uncle Nathan has a new lady friend form the Philippines, and when she came to visit us for Christmas Eve, she happened to bring along food for the entire family! She brought pancit, spring rolls, and chicharrones, along with flan and macaroons for dessert. It was certainly a step above the cold sandwiches we’d brought along to make ourselves, and a very welcome introduction to the family!

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#7. Gretna Fish Fry

Our annual tradition of Lenten fish fries was able to continue unbroken this year, despite the lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. While every church in Omaha had their fish fries shut down (or turned into ridiculous “drive thru only” events), the VFW in Gretna had its own, and it was just as traditional as any other. It was an all-you-can-eat affair with hand-breaded fillets, and no mask mandate in place. It was very much back to normal for us and our friends as we ate together, and that made the food even better.

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#6. Runza sandwich at Memorial Stadium

I have a fondness for the Runza sandwich, the little fast-food item from Nebraska that my dad describes as “a sock filled with ground beef and cabbage.” It was somewhere around -20°F on a Tuesday back in February when I decided to drop by Runza and take advantage of Temperature Tuesday, where you could get a sandwich for free if the temperature dropped below zero (when buying fries and a drink).

Of course, the best place to have one is in Memorial Stadium watching the Nebraska Cornhuskers. They’re only $5, and it makes for the most Nebraskan photo you can imagine (that doesn’t include corn or Chimney Rock).

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#5. Blackout Breakfast-for-Dinner

A windstorm tore through Omaha one midsummer’s night in mid-July this year, downing tree branches all over town and cutting the power to most of the city. It gave us a real appreciation for electricity, even though we were only without power for a day or so. In the process of emptying our fridge and salvaging the food we had on hand, we made some breakfast for dinner on our gas grill using cast iron skillets, a truly unique feast made possible only through necessity.

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#4. Tastee Inn & Out

Tastee Inn & Out was an old-school drive-in restaurant in Lincoln that started in 1948 (an actual historic landmark). It sold loose meat sandwiches and onion chips and had a menu that remained unchanged for half a century. I was quite sad when it closed in 2014, because it seemed like a one-of-a-kind place. I didn’t think I’d see another one.

And then while driving through Sioux City in October (on our trip to Sioux Falls) we saw another one. Yes! There was apparently a second Tastee Inn & Out that was nearly identical to the first. The loose meat sandwiches and onion chips (and dip) were just as I remembered, so on our way home from our trip to Sioux Falls, we stopped by and got ourselves some lunch. We ate it down at a park by the Missouri River, and it was like going back in time. Quite a treat to find this place I thought was gone forever was still around.

Half-pound Chicago-style hot dog from the Flying Weenie in Cedar Rapids
#3. Half-Pound Hot Dog from the Flying Weenie

The Flying Weenie has had a place in my family’s heart for decades. We would see it every single time we visited Valley View Baptist Church on a Sunday, driving past its location on 8th Avenue on our way to Sunday services. Now I have to visit anytime I’m in town. Back in August, I dropped by before Shannon’s wedding (my cousin once removed), getting a giant half-pound Chicago style hot dog.

I’m not sure how many calories that was, but it was worth it.

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#2. Jack’s Grilled Lobster Tail

Dinner at Grammy and Pop-Pop’s house is always a treat, and more than on of the meals we’ve had there could have made this top ten list (including the Thanksgiving Dinner in May and a Porch Party dinner menu made by Aaron). None of them will quite beat out the dinner Jack made for us on his birthday, however. It was a seafood feast, with cheddar bay biscuits and scallops, but the centerpiece were the lobster tails, grilled on the barbecue and drenched in butter — a sight to behold (and better than any restaurant).

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#1. Father’s Day Surf and Turf

There were many hard choices for the #1 slot this year, but nothing can beat Father’s Day Dinner. Rib-eye seared and fried by my wife Vivian along with shrimp and a loaded baked potato. Delicious doesn’t even come close. Number one, without a doubt!

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Honorable Mention: Ice Cream at Werner Park

Not included in my list (because it wasn’t a meal per se), but it’s absolutely worth mentioning. We took the kids down to Werner Park to watch a baseball game in early September. It was a particularly warm day, and with the sun beating down, the peanuts and cracker jacks just weren’t as appealing as some soft-serve vanilla ice cream. Somehow, this basic treat was all the more delicious when eaten from the stands on a hot, hot, day, and it was so good that I actually went back for seconds just to get the photos you see above. It was that good.

Christmas on all Cylinders

Another Christmas has come and gone in a flurry of busy days that passed in a blur! Vivian and I sent off a batch of Christmas letters to our friends and did a bit of last-minute shopping before all the fun began.

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On Wednesday, we took the kids down to Wildewood Church for their Wildekids Christmas Party. It was a fun little event, with groups of kids divided by age making ornament gifts, having pretend snowball fights, and getting sugared up while watching VeggieTales together. Aaron in particular seemed to enjoy meticulously coloring his ornament, which he gave to Grandma and Grandpa on Christmas Eve.

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Then on Thursday, I went downtown to visit the Old Market Candy Shoppe, where Vivian I had visited for our First Date some 15 years earlier. I got a batch of fudge and then went down to the waterfront to the bridge to rent a bike and pedal up and down the trail there by Rivers Edge Park in Council Bluffs. It was a lovely December day for a ride, especially with some new scenery for a change!

Then that evening, Vivian and I celebrated our First Date by going down to Twin Creek Theater to watch Spider Man: No Way Home. Afterward, we rove down the road to visit Lil Burro for dinner. This little Mexican place has been a Bellevue establishment for decades now, and Vivian had never visited it before and thought it would be worth a try. It was pretty good — we both had chile relleno with tamales and beef tacos, along with a pair of tasty margaritas. It was a lovely way to get stuffed to celebrate a decade and a half of dating!

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We had lovely weather Christmas Eve morning, once the fog cleared, and I walked with the kids down to Grandma and Grandpa Johnson’s house to open some presents together. Uncle Nathan brought his new lady friend Cheryl, who is from the Philippines, and she brought along a batch of very cute gifts for each of us, which included toy Filipino Jeeps and and Filipino tapestries. She even brought lunch for us all, which included a vegetable lo mein called pancit, spring rolls, flan, and macaroons, which was all ate together.

My dad also had a surprise for us: he had been on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson some 39 years earlier. They’d stumbled upon an old episode form 1982 that featured a photo taken of my dad while at the Brooks Institute of Photography, which the Tonight Show used in a sketch about cancelled TV pilots. It was quite a surreal moment, which you can watch for yourself on YouTube here.

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Later that afternoon, we attended a Christmas Eve service at Wildewood Christian Church, singing some Christmas songs and lighting candles together in the sanctuary. They even had a few gifts for our kids on the way out, which was very nice.

Then on the way home, we drove by a few homes in our neighborhood to see some Christmas lights before returning to the house to kick off a proper Christmas Eve.

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Grammy and Pop-Pop came by with a platter of hors d’oeuvres for us, which included barbecued meatballs and some pot-stickers (because you HAVE to have Chinese food at Christmas for some reason). We ate together and then opened a few of our “stocking gifts” in-between giving Grammy’s dog Bella a walk up and down the sidewalk outside.

Hannah and Aaron also got a new pair of Christmas Jammies to wear to bed as Mommy and I broke out the Egg Nog once Grammy and Pop-Pop had gone for the night. We got to sip it while bathing in the glow of Christmas magic (with Zoey) in the living room before bed.

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Then on Christmas morning, I made up some quiche and coconut toast for our Christmas brunch as Jack and Donna returned to watch us opened a handful of presents in our living room. I got a copy of Jean Shepherd’s “In God We Trust, all Others Pay Cash,” (the basis for the movie A Christmas Story), along with an audio version of Jordan Peterson’s new book. Hannah got a plush Mew, a Rubik’s Cube, and a toy horse for her dolls, while Aaron got a Mini PC loaded with Mega Man Maker, (clearly his favorite gift). Hannah also got matching dresses for her and her dolls, which she modeled for us.

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The weather was nice enough that afternoon for Hannah and me to take Bella for a walk down to the Sandy Park while Jack and Vivian started on some Christmas Dinner. Between the two of them, they put together a pot roast with roasted vegetables, Watergate salad, and Brussels sprouts. We washed it down with some Martinelli’s before watching The Snowman to bring a close to our magical Christmas season.

We somehow had enough energy to attend a joint Sunday morning service at Wildewood the next morning, but mostly we just enjoyed eating leftovers and spending the day playing with gifts together. It was another lovely Christmas, one I’ve learned to appreciate more while having all four grandparents still with us.

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Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night!

Unseason’s Greetings

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We’ve had some lovely unseasonable weather over the past week that made December feel more like springtime. I’ve continued riding my bike and even had a picnic lunch (with free Chick-Fil-A) during the week. Then on Wednesday, the temperature got up to the 70s, so we took the kids down to Elmwood Park for a little quality time on the swings and playground as well as a walk through the woods, where we found wild origami and a little shrine (in memory of someone named “Josh”).

Of course, this was also the day that a large line of storms came through much of Nebraska and Iowa, a line we’d been warned about for days that shut down schools and businesses all over town. When the storm finally rolled through, however, it did little more than thunder and blow a bit before it passed on by — and sent temperature back down to freezing.

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We’ve stayed busy with a handful of other holiday activities over the weekend, such as finishing up our Christmas letters. Vivian made some Nachos Navidad for us on Friday and then a giant set of sliders on Saturday, which I had with some spicy ketchup from Volcanic Peppers.

Then on Sunday, we took the kids down to Washington Park to see some of their Christmas lights. It was a lovely little walkthrough show, though we spent a little more time on swings than actually walking around, and it got a bit too cold for us to stay long.

On to Christmas!

Careening toward Christmas

Is it just me, or has time shifted into Warp Speed as we’re just a week or two away from Christmas? I’ve been scrambling to get Christmas gifts as we continue checking off all our holiday traditions as time flies by before the big day.

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My parents both have birthdays in December, so I took them out to Famous Dave’s for some barbecue to celebrate. I got a two-meat combo with some brisket and burnt ends, and I had a couple gifts for my folks, which included a Tucker Carlson book for my dad and “The Baron’s Apprenticeship” by George MacDonald for my mom (a very specific request).

Then on Thursday, we went on a family Christmas lights tour together. Vivian brought the kids to my office first so they could say hello to the “angel” and see where I work for a moment. Then we let them run around Stinson Park (AKA Daddy Park) for a bit to get the wiggles out before we hit the road. We got some McDonald’s along the way and then went up Steinauer Family Lights on Larimore Ave. Vivian and I found this street on a tour bus a few years ago, and it’s quite the spectacle, particularly when you get out of your car and walk up close to it all. If it didn’t remind of the Griswold Family with the sheer number of light, they’ve got an inflatable Family Truckster on the roof just as a reminder.

We then drove through the displays in Linden Estates before making our way back to Omaha.

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On Saturday morning, we woke up to our first legit snowfall of the season, just just under an inch in the metro area (enough to dust our pumpkins a bit). Then around lunchtime we took the kids down for some quality time at the Durham Museum at Union Station. We got an obligatory selfie in front of the big tree before going downstairs to see some photos of Billie Holiday and run through the trains a couple times. Some of the cars that had been closed off before, such as the executive board room and the toilets, were now open for viewing, which was fun to see.

We took Hannah and Aaron by to see Santa, of course (when he came back from his break of milk and cookies), and then we visited the trolley car and a few other exhibits before we felt worn out. Then we got a few treats at the café before heading home.

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That evening, Uncle Jonny came to watch the kids as Vivian and I went to a grown-up Christmas party with Jenny and Kody and a few of our friends up in Bennington. Vivian and I got some festive T-shirts to wear just for the occasion, and Kody’s black poodle was similarly \ as well. Kody put together a fancy charcuterie board for starters and then served up a pork tenderloin for dinner filled with stuffing like a Swiss roll, and we ate it with some macaroni and cheese, Greek salad, and some sweet potatoes Vivian brought with us. Jenny made some pistachio pudding for dessert, which we had with some chocolate banana cake from Jen.

After dinner, we played a game afterward taking turns unwrapping a giant ball of plastic wrap filled with a progressive series of gifts from the Dollar Tree (an a $10 Amazon gift card at the end), and then we finished off the night with a round of Say Anything before heading home.

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On Sunday, Vivian and I had the honor lighting an advent candle at church and reading a bit of scripture from Matthew for the “Love” week of Advent. Then that evening, we took the kids to the Children’s Museum. They had the same exhibits we’d seen back in August, but the kids still had fun throwing balls and making some Lego racecars to go down the Pinewood Derby track. Santa and his elves were there as well, so the kids got to pay another visit before running through some soapy snowfall together. We finished things off in the play grocery store and a few other exhibits for a bit before heading out, and I got wistful thinking of all the memories Hannah and Aaron have had at this place — and how they’ll be too old for it before long.

We grabbed some gas at Casey’s on the way home, and I grabbed a few slices of pizza for dinner, just to try it out. It’s less than a fortnight before Christmas. Hang on, tight everyone! Here it comes.

Family Bike Ride and Grandpa’s Toy Box

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The Christmas season is whizzing by! The kids got a sticker poster at church for advent, which they’ve been busy decorating. Hannah got to make a tiny graham cracker “gingerbread” house at the CC Christmas party, while Aaron’s discovered the quadratic formula (which he asked us to “solve” for him). I also grabbed some half-priced meat from Aldi, which included a delicious beef tenderloin. I even got in a bike ride to work, despite the near-freezing temperatures. Otherwise, we’re basking in the glow of our Christmas tree from the comfort of our living room.

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The temperature got up into the 70s on Thursday (a record high), so Vivian and Hannah dropped by the office for a family bike ride up and down the Keystone Trail. We pedaled down to Karen Park and then took the South Omaha trail up to 50th street, where we stopped for lunch at Arby’s before heading back. It was the first time Vivian had ridden her bike since before Hannah was born, so I was quite happy to have her along for the ride with us!

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On Saturday, Vivian kicked us out of the house so she could have the place for brunch with the girls from WAG. I walked down to my parents’ house with the kids, where Hannah and Aaron did some exercises before grandpa shows them some of his old toys. He brought out a working model steam engine, which he got moving (and whistling) for us. He also had a model rocket-car that he’d made — and won a blue ribbon for.

Then we moved along downstairs, where dad showed the kids a few of his wind-up toys, which included an acrobatic little mouse. After that, we went to get some McDonald’s for lunch as Grandma made a paper “fortune teller” with Hannah and Uncle Jonny showed Aaron some games on his phone. Then we ate while watching some home movies on the TV before calling it a day.

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That evening, we drove downtown hoping to enjoy a drive-thru Christmas experience in Olde Town, but the line of cars rounding just a block or two was so slow that it took folks upwards of two hours to make the trip, so we gave up and went down to watch The Santa Clause instead. We did get a glimpse of Washington Park all lit up, however, so we may come back later and enjoy it on foot.

Then on Sunday, I raked up some leaves, which Aaron used to pretend to be a baby bird.

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Then on Monday, I did a little politicking over lunch as Charles Herbster had a meetup down at the Pizza Ranch around the corner. The party room was standing room only. He talked about school choice, property taxes, and Critical Race Theory during a brief stump speech and then took a few questions from guests. He then sat down to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge at the end, which read, “I will oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes.”

The primary election’s going to be very interesting next year, and I’m not even entirely sure which of the candidates I’ll be voting for. Hopefully I’ll get to bump into Jim Pillen before long and be able to say I’d met every candidate on one side of the aisle. (Carol Blood, the lone Democrat running, is actually my state senator, and she’s usually nowhere to be found.)