Axis & Allies, Valentine’s Day, and Temperature Tuesday

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Cold enough for you? We’re in the middle of a record cold snap, with temperatures down to -26°F and making Nome, Alaska look warm by comparison. It’s so cold that wind generators are frozen solid and our power grid is having rolling blackouts just trying to keep up. It’s weather made for warm popovers and staying in bed — at least until that global warming finally kicks in.

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Saturday happened to be Jake’s birthday, so Aaron and I were invited over for a round of Axis & Allies and then pizza for dinner. I’d never played the game before, but I was vaguely aware about how complicated it was and how long it would take to play. Nate and I spent a good half hour just setting up the board with tiny plastic miniatures before Lexi, Jake, and a few friends came by to try to play. I played for England as Jake played the United States, but each turn and its subsequent moves took so long that eventually people started leaving the table in-between rounds. I kept Ginny occupied in the meantime before letting her take over the game board, and even Aaron came by to see what we were up to, taking Jake’s pieces and having a war of his own until it was time for Jake to actually play.

We stuck around for some pizza and wings along with red velvet birthday cake for dinner before heading home. As for the game, it was abandoned after an hour or two, but I think Nate probably won, as he seemed to be the only one with anything resembling a strategy by the time we packed it up.

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Sunday was Valentine’s Day, so I made some heart-shaped banana bread and frittatas for breakfast — making good use of Vivian’s cast iron skillet. Then at church, they had the multipurpose room set up for their “café” for the first time since last March, so we were actually able to have coffee and donuts (or shortcake made by Hannah in her class) with a few of our friends before heading out.

On the way home, I grabbed some burgers and a heaping bag of fries from Five Guys for a Valentine’s Day lunch — keeping up something of a tradition we’ve celebrated in years’ past. Then we exchanged some Valentine’s gifts at home, which included a squishy taco cat, some cuddly toys, some cheese for Vivian, and some chocolate strawberries made by Hannah. I also decorated some cards, of course, which Hannah and Vivian thought were funny.

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Sunday evening, we returned to church with a family night with several of our friends. They church had a fancy dinner of chicken strips and chicken sandwiches served up by the youth group, and every family had their own table (with name cards on the center pieces). After dinner, the had a series of goofy “minute to win it” games, where Sammy got to collect candy hearts with chopsticks and our family got to stack candy hearts on a tongue depressor in Vivian’s mouth. Every family got to participate, including the Lenarts, who tossed cookies and marshmallows into a bucket on Matthew’s head. Then afterward we got some stylish family photos taken in the photo booth before calling it a night.

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The record cold came on Monday and Tuesday, so Vivian and I tried tossing some boiling water into the air to see if it would turn into snow. It didn’t quite work, but it did create a whole lot of steam (and the kids seemed to enjoy watching out the window). We celebrated afterward with breakfast pizza.

Then on Tuesday, I also dropped by Runza for “Temperature Tuesday,” scoring a free Runza with the purchase of onion rings and a drink thanks to the bitter cold. It’s so cold out that the drain pipe from our washer froze to a clog and widespread power shortages knocked out some traffic lights on my way to work (thanks, green energy). I did see a bike left by the Keystone Trail, making me wonder if someone had gone for a ride and given up halfway. Before long I’ll be riding back to work myself (and complaining of triple-digits highs once again).

In the meantime, I’m keeping warm with jambalaya for Fat Tuesday and Chili at the Men of God Tuesday night meetup at Wildewood.

Trunk Time and a Super Bowl

We’re still in the reign of the White Witch for the past week or two, with temperatures in single digits and us making the most of the Great Indoors when we’re not venturing out for a Bible Study or something. Hannah’s made some balloon friends, and daddy’s made some more popovers (which go great with avocado, strangely enough).

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On Saturday night, the Mathis family invited us over for dinner. We had some corned beef and broccoli along with some Valentine sugar cookies we brought. Emmett has been celebrating Mardi Gras early with masks and a table decoration with appropriately colored balloons. After dinner, we played a memory game called Say the Word, which was very much like the “picnic game” (which Aaron has enjoyed playing at grandma and grandpa’s house). Our kids mostly enjoyed a kind of playdate afterward playing with dominos, and Hannah made a picture of a bear with some tiles.

It was around zero degrees when we left and found the car had a nearly-flat tire. Fortunately, the Mathises had an electric pump I was able to use to fill it back up.

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We went to church the next day, and Aaron and his Sunday school class had fruity treats for everyone as we came out of the service. I spent some time during the afternoon going through another one of my dad’s trunks, this one containing some old coins and stamps collected by my grandmother, as well as some odd currency sent to my dad by a friend (including a paper Shekel and a gag seven dollar bill with Jesus on it).

That evening was the Super Bowl, so I headed home and helped Vivian put our a spread of food for us to watch the game. My parents and Uncle Jonny came over to watch the Buccaneers roll over the Chiefs, and even Harold came out of his came to watch with us (and munch some salad). Hannah kept herself busy making little hors d’oeuvres for us with the crackers, chips, and dip we’d had set out.

It was a fun weekend, but I’m looking forward to some warmer days ahead. In the meantime, we have a tire to fix.

Snow Time like the Present

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So, it’s still winter, but we’re always finding things to do, both inside and out. For instance, Hannah broke open the geology kit she got for Christmas and has been proudly showing us the rocks she’s dug out of it.

Then on Friday last week, Grammy stopped by to help Hannah and her friend Sammy make and decorate some cakes together. They created a few cupcakes first for practice before putting together some lovely cakes with underwater themes — complete with gummi fish and sea creatures. The girls did all the decorating themselves, and Hannah got to cut herself a little piece afterward — right from the middle of course.

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The weekend was full of cold and cloudiness, so we decided to take the kids down to Lincoln for a trip to Lost in Fun — our first time there in about a year and a half. Usually, I have some other business in Lincoln to warrant such a trip, but this time it was entirely just to get out of the house. Hannah got plenty of time in the foam ball pit, climbing on the walls to jump in — or be thrown in by daddy. Aaron discovered the ball cannons and got to explore some of the large “Habitrails” with Hannah, and both kids had a little time on the bouncing pillows as well.

We called it a day after about two and a half hours, and we stopped by Big Sal’s for some pizza for dinner on our way out of town (per tradition).

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On Sunday evening, I visited Converge Church in west Omaha with my dad for some “Burgers and Batman” with the men’s fellowship group there (fellowship being code for “pigging out”). Someone had been having fun in the snow out front and made a giant “Kool-Aid Man” sculpture, which can be seen quite plainly from 144th street. Inside, the men had brought a couple dozen foil-wrapped “sliders,” and they asked us all to bring along various sides and ingredients to put on them. I got some peanut butter and pickle for mine, along with some guacamole and bacon.

After that, we settled down to watch The Dark Knight Rises, the third installment in he Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy. I’d seen the movie way back in 2012 with Vivian and Hannah at the Boulevard Drive-in Theater in Kansas City, but I wound up missing much of it because Hannah got cranky and unhappy toward the end instead of falling asleep as I’d hoped. I rather enjoyed it the second time around, partly because it was made back when Hollywood had no problem portrays cops as the good guys, particularly when fighting an angry mob of anarchists.

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We had a little more fun on Monday, when Aaron got to make some homemade ice cream as part of a school project. That meant mixing up some chocolate and cream in a bowl along with a few cups of actual snow scooped up from our yard. Then we actually gave it a taste, and it wasn’t too bad, though the kids both wanted the “real thing” afterward.

I watched Groundhog Day on groundhog day with Vivian, one of my favorite movies that doesn’t seem to get old after all these years. Then on Wednesday, we took the kids sledding out by Bellevue East once again. The weather was predicted to turn much, much colder, so we enjoyed the above-freezing temperatures for just a bit before calling it a night.

Walk for Life and a Sushi Anniversary

It feels a bit more like January now, as we had a record amount of snow and temperatures back below freezing once again. This may call for more sledding in the coming few days, but we’ve still been finding other things to do in the meantime.

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Last Saturday, I drove down to Lincoln to attend the Walk for Life, my first political outing since Election Day. It was a little below freezing, but apparently warmer than it had been the year before, as a thousand people gathered on the north side of the Capitol. I got to see a few familiar faces in the crowd as a handful of speakers, including Gov. Ricketts, Don Bacon, and Jeff Fortenberry (and his daughter) spoke to the crowd. A handful of newly-elected state legislators were in the crowd as well, including Brett Lindstrom, Julie Slama, and Rita Sanders. There was a launch of pink and blue balloons that sailed by the capitol once the speakers were done, and then the crowd made its way south on Centennial Mall to the University.

I hung around for a little while afterward, taking a brief tour of a nearly empty capitol building, saying hello to Abe, and then dropping by Pho Nguyenn for some Vietnamese food to bring home for lunch — steak pho, spring rolls, and avocado smoothies.

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The following Tuesday, I dropped by Wildewood for their Men of God dinner, where we had Italian food from Spaghetti Works and got to hear from a few men from Abide, a non-profit organization that buys house since in North Omaha to serve as “lighthouses” for the community there.

Then on Saturday, Hannah received her sash and certificate for her participation in Prims from Ms. Ruth. We used to attend every week at BCC before Covid came along, and I hope we’ll be able to start attending again soon.

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In other news, also finally replaced our old dishwasher, which broke way back in September, and we’d been handwashing them ever since. We got some Christmas money from both sets of grandparents that helped to pay for the cost of a new one, a top-rated Bosch model I’d found on Consumer Reports that was only around $500. I even got one in what that matches our cabinets. It took us a while to get it installed, first because the first set of installers claimed we’d have to have our floor torn out to remove the old one, which we didn’t — it just needed a little extra wrestling to pull out, which I did myself. Then we got a record amount of snow, which kept them from coming back until several days later.

That record amount of snow came on Monday — nearly 12 inches and more than we’d seen in a single day since 1975. I had to shovel the driveway three separate times just to keep up, and then I shoveled Donna’s for good measure (including unburying their car). Vivian made some homemade olive garlic bread to keep warm in the meantime. Hopefully we’ll still have enough to go sledding later.

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In the midst of all this, Vivian and I had a Sushi Anniversary! It was initially on Tuesday, and I wore a sushi tie and brought home some “Lover’s Rolls” from Beijing Tokyo to celebrate. I was so busy shoveling snow and also attending the last of my Screwtape Letters bible study (via Zoom), that we put off our proper celebration for the following day.

Vivian’s idea us for both of us to gather sushi from four separate restaurants — combing our take-out orders into a massive sushi feast! I went to Sakura Bana for sushi and maki rolls (also miso soup and salad) and then swung by Umami in Bellevue for a few more. Vivian went by Golden Dragon and Hutong. I even got some shrimp tempura from Aldi, which was as good as any restaurant’s that I’ve had. We both had our fill of sushi and then some, and I had enough to take with me to work the following day for my lunch.

Happy Sushi anniversary, sweetie!

Haircuts and Hot Wings

It’s been a remarkably quiet week or so as the holidays fade away and a new year begins. Vivian smoked the discounted salmon I got on New Year’s Eve, which was quite tasty on a bagel. I also finally took down our Christmas tree and took it off to the dump to be with its many other tree friends.

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On Saturday, Donna came over and gave everyone a much-needed haircut. I’d been in need of one for some time, as I was reaching mullet territory, and Hannah got a short pixie cut and used some of Aaron’s scraps to make some adorable wigs for her little dolls.

Then on Monday, I went to my parents’ house to watch Alabama crush Ohio State in the National Championship game. My dad made some wings with homemade hot sauce, and I brought along some celery, blue cheese, and ranch to complement.

Roll Tide!

Fondue, football, fireworks, and fun in the snow!

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Happy New Year, everyone! We’ve had a fun and busy week as we usher 2020 out the door and welcome in 2021, and once again we were able to spend much of it with our family.

On Tuesday last week, a winter storm blew through town, dropping around six inches on us and prompting me to take a “snow day” to work from home. It was actually quite nice, as I let the plows do their work rather than slipping and sliding to work, and little Harold kept me company on my makeshift office on the couch. I got a decent workout afterward shoveling our driveway and my in-laws’ before having a burrito for dinner and having a bible study over Zoom.

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Next came New Year’s Eve on Thursday night. The City of Omaha had some fireworks down by the riverfront, so we took the kids down there to watch the show. People were told to park in various lots around the Qwest Center (I know what it’s called now but I don’t care), but we found a spot with a better view down at River’s Edge Park in Council Bluffs, where Loess Fest is usually held. We got to see the fireworks a little after seven with music coordinated with 104.5 FM. The kids snuggled in the back seat (mostly paying with their Mad Lib Elf), and then we slogged through the traffic afterward to make our way home.

We had a dinner courtesy of Taco Bell before watching The Lorax, some TV shows, and playing a video game as the time crept toward midnight. Our neighbors set off some fireworks, which we watched out the window, and when midnight rolled around. Aaron fell asleep on the couch, but we roused him for a New Year’s toast (with sparkling white wine for us and eggnog for the kids) after the clock struck midnight.

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The college football playoffs happened on New Year’s Day, so I went over to my dad’s house to watch Alabama beat Notre Dame via a free trial of FuboTV. I brought along some cowboy caviar, which we had with chips as we watched the game.

Then I returned home to have some fondue with Vivian’s parents afterward. We had a cheese fondue once again with parsnips, shrimp, and other things that the kids dipped for us (but didn’t eat themselves). We also wound up watching another football game, as the Ohio State Buckeyes beat the Clemson Tigers (which made me happy, since we weren’t going to have yet anther Alabama / Clemson championship game).

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We finally got around to getting some fresh air and enjoying the snow on Saturday and Sunday. We went out and threw some snowballs with mommy in the driveway, and Hannah tried to build a tiny snowman on the side of the driveway, but we found the snow was still a bit too powdery to make a real one (that would have to wait until Monday).

Then on Sunday, we woke up to a world with trees frosted white, and I took a brief walk snapping pictures of some of its wintery beauty. Then that afternoon we took the kids sledding down at Bellevue East (on “suicide hill“). It was above freezing and the snow was packed down, which made for good sledding conditions. Several other kids and families were there as well, so we had to be careful to avoid collisions with other sledders. Aaron seemed to prefer rolling around in the snow and making snow angels as Hannah tried repeatedly to fly her way into the ditch at the end of the hill.

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Then on Monday, we did even more sledding down at Memorial Park around lunchtime. The weather was in the 40s and lovely as we sent the kids down the east side of the park. Once again Aaron seemed to want to run around and play in the snow with mommy rather than sled, while Hannah tried repeatedly to hit a small snow ramp someone had made — and she was quite happy when she finally succeeded.

We’ve had a fun week kicking off the start of 2021. I hope the next twelve months are filled with more fun with our friends and family, and the pandemic of 2020 quickly fades into a memory. Here’s to hoping!

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 church.

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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.