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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.

Be Our Guest

August 27, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“They tell me, it’s up to you to change things out. We trust you.” Alex Ostblom, a landscape designer for Lanoha Nurseries, strolls across a newly transformed Westside lawn, naming flowers off the top of his head. Impatiens, begonias, mandevilla, and sweet alyssum are planted in great swaths of color, sweeping along sidewalk, driveway, and around to a brand-new back yard. Guests to the remodeled home might never suspect what the place looked like just a few months earlier.

Ostblom explains that the homeowners wanted a lawn that matched their refinished house’s new capabilities: to blend in with the rest of the stately neighborhood and to provide a perfect space to entertain family members and close friends. “Other than that,” he says, “they didn’t have too many particulars.” So Ostblom let his creativity loose, beginning the design process in March and construction in May. The entire project was completed by June 15.

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The first order of business was to redesign an unsightly retaining wall that led around the north of the house to the back yard. Originally made of concrete block, the five-foot wall created a tight alley between the house and a small mountain of unusable back yard. Its considerable height so close to the back of the house blocked off half of the dining and living room windows. A cramped patio made a stab at bringing hospitality to the space.

To simultaneously create a much less imposing wall while also making the yard itself usable, Ostblom removed tons of dirt to create tiers of lawn that allowed him to install a limestone wall less than two feet tall. The limestone complements colors in the house and can actually be found in the landscaping of nearby homes, bringing the property more into the neighborhood’s fold. Large blocks of the limestone accent the front and back yard, “giving the grandkids something to climb around on,” Ostblom points out.

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Thanks to the greatly shortened wall, guests in the dining and living rooms can enjoy a panorama of seasonal annuals (“One of the owners just loves lots of color,” Ostblom says), a rose cutting garden, and mature evergreens. “They wanted everything to look like it’d been there for years,” Ostblom says, so Lanoha Nurseries set field-grown spruce and conifers in place with machinery. “That’s a one-time deal,” he explains. “If the trees don’t take to this well, we can’t get the equipment back in here to put in more of that size.” So he’s monitoring their progress closely, already eyeing some barely noticeable brown needles on a spruce. “That one might be under stress from over watering.”

Frequent entertainment of friends and family meant the homeowners needed a large, welcoming space. In particular, they wanted a gas fire pit large enough where several people could comfortably gather. The idea of an L-shaped outdoor kitchen was tossed around, but the couple decided instead to place a simple grill out of sight around the home’s south corner to ensure that the fire pit remained their outdoor gathering place. A gas line leads from the house to the grill; no empty propane cans here.

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Ostblom notes that establishing such a mature landscape within six weeks calls for careful attention to how light will change over the seasons. Most of the yard is in at least partial shade, particularly in the front yard and to the north. To the northeast and east, the yard transitions into full sun. To cope with the variety of landscape elements (varying light, drainage, and plants with differing needs), Ostblom says he redesigned the home’s irrigation entirely. “They have turf, trees, annuals…it all requires different watering.” To facilitate easy maintenance by Lanoha Nurseries without disturbing the homeowners, Ostblom had the irrigation clock moved from inside the garage to just inside the gate in the backyard.

“I visit about once a month,” he says, though he admits he makes the rounds in the neighborhood frequently, checking in on this and other landscaping projects for any signs of trouble. “Communication. That’s the biggest part in making sure it all looks amazing.”

Family Camping

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There’s something about lying under the stars in a sleeping bag surrounded by trees and chirping crickets that’s calming. It’s the spirit of camping—that feeling of being completely absorbed in the wonders of nature.

It’s also a feeling that many people don’t experience anymore. Some say it’s because they don’t care much for being outdoors; others say it’s because they’d miss the comforts of home too much; and still others say it’s because they don’t have the patience to spend that amount of “quality time” alone with their families.

But ask any camper, and they’ll tell you that you’re missing out on a peaceful experience, one that all family members can benefit from and appreciate.

Papillion firefighter Michael Borden, 33, is a big proponent of camping. While growing up in Harlan and Underwood, Iowa, he went camping often with his parents and grandparents. “My grandparents had a Winnebago at a spot near Stanton [Iowa],” he says. “They slept inside while we slept outside in a tent. We’d set up all season long on the weekends with them, so I have a lot of fond memories of camping.”

Borden says that, while he could do without the bugs, he still thoroughly enjoys camping as an adult. “My idea of camping is a backpack and maybe a tent. Just hiking out where we won’t see anybody and spend a couple of days out there.” His wife, Tracy, however, doesn’t share the same view of camping. “If it were up to her, she would have an RV and be out at Mahoney [State Park] with a swimming pool and activities for the family.”

Borden explains their different takes on camping reflect their different personalities. “She’s the worrier and likes to plan things. I’m more go-with-the-flow and just like ‘whatever’…but we usually compromise. We’ll take the car out and set up tents. We find middle ground.”

“My idea of camping is a backpack and maybe a tent. Just hiking out where we won’t see anybody and spend a couple of days out there.” – Michael Borden

But it’s not just Borden and his wife that go out camping. They also bring their two daughters, Ella, 8, and Ayda, 6, who enjoy creating memories while family camping.

“Two years ago when we were camping, the cicadas were coming out, and the shells were everywhere,” remembers Borden. “My oldest, Ella, was 5 or 6. I consider her to be the girlier of my two, but she thought the shells were so neat.

“She had a friend there, too, and both of them were filling all of the cupholders in our camping chairs with the shells. It’s fun to watch kids go camping because they see things so differently—like everything is just fascinating.”

The family used to go camping nearly every free weekend, spending a lot of their time out at Two Rivers State Park, but Borden says it’s harder to go camping now because his daughters are older. “They’re involved in things, so we’ll try to get out as much as we can, but it depends more on schedules—swimming lessons, soccer, and everything else.”

_DSC0906_WebThey have a few camping trips planned for this summer, so long as the weather cooperates. “I wish we did it more often,” he says. “But it’s nice during the summer because I have odd hours [as a firefighter], and Tracy is a teacher, so she has the entire summer off. We can go out on a Wednesday during the summer instead of a weekend, which is usually busier.”

Borden believes it’s good for kids and their parents to spend time outdoors because it’s a perfect opportunity to be together as a family. “We just got Ella an iPod Touch for her birthday, and she always wants to be listening to music, playing games, and texting friends. I remember playing when I was a kid. We didn’t have cell phones or computers. There’s almost too much accessibility with that stuff, so it’s nice to get away from all of it and just be in the moment.”

Like Borden, Elkhorn native Elizabeth Bullington, 27, grew up camping. “It’s always been a part of the family tradition,” she says. Bullington’s brother, uncles, and grandfather were all Eagle Scouts, so her family has been very involved with the Boy Scouts, which meant plenty of camping opportunities.

“One camping trip I’ll always remember was a Boy Scouts outing my sister and I went on with our dad and the scouts,” Bullington recalls. “It was almost wintertime, so it was really cold. My sister and I were sleeping together to keep warm, and our dad came in and tucked us in to make sure we’d stay warm. The next morning, our bodies were warm, but our heads were freezing,” she laughs.

Bullington, who now works as a program supervisor with Childhood Autism Services, says camping is a tradition that she’s been able to share with her husband, Nick, and almost 2-year-old son Reese.

“There’s something about being lost in nature that develops imagination and other useful skills. It’s important for kids to discover the outside and learn to relax and have fun.” – Elizabeth Bullington

“I think a lot of people find it hard these days to go camping because of the comfort issue. [Nick and I] have a queen air mattress in our tent, but sometimes people in my family like to sleep under the stars in sleeping bags. We’ve done a camper once before, but we prefer a tent because it feels more like camping.”

For Bullington, it was easy to share this experience with Nick because his entire family camps also, gathering every year at Ponca State Park for an annual camping trip. In fact, the idea of doing an annual family camping trip spread to Bullington’s family as well. “My parents wanted to find something we could all do, and we thought, ‘Let’s go camping!’”

Bullington says she and her family are planning to meet for their annual camping trip in Clear Lake, Iowa, this July, and she’s looking forward to it. She and Nick have gone on the family trip for the last three years. “We try to choose somewhere between Madison, Wis., and Omaha because my sister lives in Madison and the rest of us live here. We’ve camped in Iowa the past few years.”

Nick and Elizabeth Bullington on a family camping trip outside the Amana Colonies in Iowa before the birth of son Reese.

Nick and Elizabeth Bullington on a family camping trip outside the Amana Colonies in Iowa before the birth of son Reese. Photo by John Gawley.

The annual trip became a lot more special for Bullington when she was able to bring Reese, even though he was still fairly young when he went for the first time last year. “We’re not going to let the age of our child stop us from camping. The way we see it, he’ll adapt to the outdoors just as we do,” she says.

Though Reese wasn’t yet walking the first time they went camping, Bullington says it was fairly easy to take him with on the trip. He slept on his changing pad in the tent with them, and they brought toys to keep him entertained while they were inside and outside of their tent. “We didn’t do a whole lot of water activities or hiking, but you have to give up some of the things you like to do to include family. [But] that doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun.”

Bullington agrees that society’s dependence on technology has made it difficult to get children (and even other adults) to spend time outdoors. But she maintains, it’s an essential part of childhood. “There’s something about being lost in nature that develops imagination and other useful skills. It’s important for kids to discover the outside and learn to relax and have fun.”