Tag Archives: Christmas

Making the Whole Month Feel Like Christmas

November 5, 2019 by
Photography by William Hess

Growing up, Ashley Ross chose a Christmas ornament every year for her family tree. Now, she lets her two daughters, Ever and Story, continue the tradition while she decorates the rest of the Ross family home for the holidays. Hanging outdoor lights is the purview of husband Andrew Ross.

“Christmas is obviously the biggest [holiday],” Ashley says, “and our favorite.”

For this “most wonderful time” last year, the Ross family began decorating the first of December.

“I am one of those ‘right after Thanksgiving’ people, because I want the whole month of December to feel like Christmas,” Ashley says.

The Ross’ custom 1 1/2-story home has an open floor plan, allowing their large Christmas tree to be viewed from the foyer, kitchen, and living, dining, and play rooms. Last year the home was decked in living evergreen boughs and wreaths, including a centerpiece for the dining room table, fireplace mantle, and touches in the kitchen.

“I like the live garlands,” Andrew says. “When you walk into the house, you know it’s Christmastime.”

White walls “keep the house bright and happy,” while neutral accents make changing decorations for the season easy. Wooden tones on the mantle, exposed ceiling beams, shelves, and leather furnishings warm the space. They also complement the organic decorations and lighter tints of red, rich greens, silvers, golds, and even pinks in the Ross’ Christmas decor palette.

“Whimsical is kind of the look we have,” Ashley says. “It just feels magical with everything up.”

While the main tree and wreaths may be the headliners of the Ross’ decor, Ashley points to little details her husband and daughters enjoy. Changing out books in her children’s reading nook with holiday titles and adding a festive Scandinavian-style throw blanket and seasonal pillows to the couch are a few ways she brings the Christmas spirit alive.

“It is kind of like a giant puzzle…Just making everything work,” says Ashley, for whom interior design has always been a keen interest. She expresses her creativity and fine eye for detail through photography as well, capturing family moments and sharing them on her Instagram account.

Andrew and Ashley, who both have degrees in journalism and were raised in the Millard area, met after college through mutual friends. They finished the basement of their first home together, getting a “taste” for a custom build.

“My main thing was the lot,” Andrew says. “I spent a lot of time driving through neighborhoods.”

The Ross family lives within walking distance of grandparents and friends in Elkhorn. Their backyard opens into lush greenery formerly of Skyline Woods golf course, whose developers lost a lawsuit to the Skyline Woods Homeowners Association in 2008, reinforcing land use limitations. Andrew is a golfer, but is satisfied his daughters have outdoor and indoor spaces to play.

“We decided we wanted a different style of home,” Ashley says. “We worked with the architect. We would bring in pictures, show him, and he would draw it up—a lot of back and forth.”

From planning to building, the process took two years working with Garrett Friesen of Dreamhome Drafting in Elkhorn, and Denali Homes of Omaha. Design elements include natural light, a connected laundry room and master closet, a home office, and an open floor plan.

“I knew I wanted that [first floor] open to the second story with the play loft upstairs,” Ashley says, “so [the kids] could play and have their own space, but we could keep an eye on them.”

The Christmas decorations permeate every room, with small trees in the kids’ rooms, potted holiday plants in the bathrooms, and mistletoe above the front door in the foyer. With two toy poodles, two rescue cats, and two children, decorations sometimes take abuse and need replacing.

“We’ve had to say, ‘Don’t put the ornaments on the very bottom of the tree because the kids or cats will bat them off,’” Ashley says. “There is nothing we have that is crazy priceless. That’s kind of how you have to live your life when you have little kids.

We always lose a few ornaments.”

One of the kids’ favorite activities every year is unboxing all the decorations. Ashley saves most items, adding a new one if it “just fits,” such as a new tree topper for the 2020 season. She finds pieces locally at the Fremont boutique fia + belle, “The Studio” by jh Design Studio, and Mulhall’s, as well as through national retailers and online Instagram makers.

“If I like it, I don’t really care where it came from,” Ashley says. “Every year I get a little bit more.”

Ashley suggests designing a room by selecting a favored item, then “focusing the rest of the room around that piece.” The Ross’ ability to both work from home provides them with time to enjoy the decorations, Christmas and otherwise, for many weeks.

“If the decorations are all done, it gives you more time to shop, spend time with family, and all the fun Christmas stuff you want to do,” Ashley says.

For the Ross family, this means hot chocolate and Christmas light-viewing drives, watching holiday movies, viewing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at the Orpheum Theater, visiting Santa, and opening advent calendars.

“You know it’s going to be a lot of family time,” Andrew says. “A lot of traditions you do every year. A feeling of happiness.”

“You slow down a little,” Ashley says. “With Christmas, it’s whatever makes you happy.” 

Meet Minden

November 4, 2019 by
Photography by Mike Peterson

The winter months bring more than a flurry of festivities to Minden, a magical Midwestern town known as “Nebraska’s Christmas City.” Those whose travel plans don’t include eight reindeer and a trip to the North Pole this December may find childhood wonder in Minden, 186 miles west of Omaha.

The main attraction is the “Light of the World Christmas Pageant” at the courthouse in downtown Minden. A reenactment of nativity scenes is performed by 115 locals (regardless of inclement weather) on the north and west sides of the courthouse. This year’s pageant will be performed at 7 p.m. Nov. 30, Dec. 7, and Dec. 14. The show commences with the lighting of more than 12,000 multicolored bulbs strung across the Kearney County courthouse dome and throughout the square.

“You can probably see it from space,” jokes Minden Chamber of Commerce Administrator Kathi Schutz.

Minden’s Christmas lights tradition began in 1915, when an abundance of outdoor lights, originally intended to be used earlier that year as decoration for the state convention of the fraternal organization Grand Army of the Republic, were put away due to harsh weather conditions. City Light Commissioner J.C. Haws found another use for the lights that December: coloring them green, yellow, and red with gelatin so he could cover the dome of the courthouse. He turned on the lights that Christmas Eve, and the illuminated building inspired and awed locals. The citizens of Minden have continued the tradition of covering the courthouse in lights for over 100 years.

In 1946, the Methodist minister the Rev. Art Johnson and townsman Clayton Morey wrote the pageant, dubbing it the “Light of the World Christmas Pageant.”

In 2015, the town celebrated a Century of Lights on the Friday after Thanksgiving with a full day of events, culminating in the official lighting ceremony. The event was so successful, the town started the weeklong event known as the Christmas Traditions Festival in 2016. Shutz explains that the schedule has now grown to include dozens of other activities.

This year’s festival starts the Friday before Thanksgiving, Nov. 22, with Ladies’ Night Out. People are encouraged to come to the town for deals to kick off their holiday shopping. Other activities include local artists at the opera house.

Those who are not interested in shopping can take time off at the Breakaway Bar, which has an event called “Take Over the Taps.” The bar offers televisions with sporting events, and different drink and appetizer specials.

While thoughts turn to turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie the next week, Minden jumps back to the Christmas spirit as soon as the dishes are washed. They hold a lighted Christmas parade the Friday after Thanksgiving, culminating in the new Miss Christmas City lighting of the courthouse for the first time each year.

The next day is the busiest day of the festival. It is known nationwide as “Small Business Saturday,” and thousands will fill this small town to shop and participate in the festivities. Many businesses will offer specials, and the town will have a carnival and other activities for children such as a Polar Express-inspired train to ride, bouncy houses, and a carnival. That Saturday offers the first showing of the Christmas pageant.

The festival continues the next weekend with a Christmas run, and an elf run for kids, at 8 a.m. on Dec. 7. That day also features a pancake feed, local artists on the square and a craft show.

Sunday, Dec. 8 is the end of the official festival and features a community choir concert at 2 p.m. at Westminster United Presbyterian Church. Following the concert is another favorite Minden tradition, the Holiday Tour of Homes. In this bi-annual tradition, local residents embellish the interior and exterior of their houses with Christmas decor and open their doors to the public for tours. Lynette Beahm, chairperson for the Tour of Homes event, says, “It’s all about tradition, it’s all about community, and it’s all about bringing everybody together to really celebrate this season and to remember what this season’s all about.”

The week ends with the final performance of the Light of the World pageant.

Minden complements these traditional events by adding new activities each year. The addition in 2018 was a holiday-themed escape room, which was successful enough last year to be recreated for the coming season. This year, participants in the festival will be able to take part in a selfie scavenger hunt that will guide them on a walking tour through holiday attractions in downtown Minden and other areas of the town.

Laying the groundwork for these festivities usually begins in July, and the planning board relies on local volunteers to help plan, coordinate, and run the events. Schutz says the months of hard work are always worth it for those involved. “Everyone really comes together to make this happen because they know that it’s a showcase of a community that they love and are very proud of,” Schutz says. “Everybody steps up and participates.”

While the official festival ends Dec. 8, Minden is a city to visit any time in December, as the community holds activities throughout the month. Churches have presentations, the library will have a holiday story time on Dec. 12, and community organizations hold special events.

“We called it ‘Seize the Season,'” says Schutz. “Up until New Year’s there will be lots of different things highlighted. It’s just a joy to be able to plan something that you know so many people are going to love and cherish, and families are going to walk away with those memories.”


Visit mindennebraska.org for more information.

This article was printed in the November/December 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

lighted building in Minden Nebraska

The King of Christmas Music

October 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Despite Best Buy no longer selling CDs, and big-box stores like Target reducing their music inventory to a few small rows of releases, Chip Davis remains married to the physical product. 

His Omaha recording-rehearsal studio is connected to a warehouse full of Fresh Aire and Mannheim Steamroller CDs and albums, ready to be shipped out. But if you want to listen to Mannheim Steamroller’s latest release, you’ll have to pick it up at the merch booth during one of their performances at the Orpheum Theater. 

Davis has released his share of physical product in 2018. In addition to his latest CD, Exotic Spaces (again, currently only available at performances), he released a young adult book trilogy in October. Titled The Wolf and The Warlander, the story about a horse and a timber wolf was written as a collaboration between Davis and Mark Valenti (who has written for Disney, Nickelodeon, and the Hallmark Channel). 

Releasing a book trilogy and a new CD in the span of a year would make a hugely productive calendar for most artists. But for Davis, it’s even more of an accomplishment, given that he was prepping for the holiday season for nearly half of the year. 

In mid-August, Davis was at his studio, getting ready to welcome two different Mannheim Steamroller touring groups into his rehearsal room. The setup is old hat at this point: bring in the musicians, run through the set, and make tweaks where appropriate. Most of the musicians have been in the touring band for years and know the routine, Davis says. As a result, he avoids over-rehearsing the material. 

“They’ve played this stuff so much, you don’t want to beat a dead horse,” Davis says. 

On a hot August afternoon, Davis was in casual mode, wearing lime-green shorts and an Under Armor shirt. He walked through the process of choosing a setlist for each of the cities for this winter’s tour. Davis reviews the cities where Mannheim Steamroller will play, and then pulls up what has and has not been played in the past for those audiences. 

“You have to have certain pieces in there, or the audience is going to mutiny,” Davis says. “But you have to have a certain amount of new.” 

Davis won’t be in attendance for the majority of the touring Mannheim Steamroller shows. Instead, he’ll be at Universal Studios in Orlando, conducting the production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas with another Mannheim Steamroller band. This will be his 10th year conducting the production, which runs the week before Thanksgiving through Christmas. 

“They’ll probably have me doing it until I drop dead on the podium,” Davis says with a laugh. 

The success of the Mannheim Steamroller Christmas albums and tours has enabled Davis to pursue other sonic adventures. For Exotic Spaces, he set out to do a musical characterization of places that inspired him, like the pyramids and the Taj Mahal. For each of the tracks, he tried to use musical instruments native to each location. For one track, he used Naval-grade hydrophones to record a whale song off the coast of Oregon. 

In terms of drawing inspiration from newer bands, Davis says he typically sticks to listening to the classical music radio station KVNO. He rarely listens to the radio at home, but in the car, he prefers to listen to Supertramp’s album Crime of the Century. 

“It’s a fabulous album,” Davis says. “Their rhythm chops are so good.” 

Though Davis may stick with the classics, he is a big fan of some of the musical software used by today’s electronic artists. Some of the tracks on Exotic Spaces were recorded with Pro Tools. 

“The percussion sounds [in Pro Tools] are better than real. It’s dead clear,” Davis says. 

Another benefit of Pro Tools is it gives artists the ability to create a virtual symphony. Records that used to demand a full recording studio can now be done on a laptop or tablet. Davis agrees that software like Pro Tools can enable a person to record a symphony, but software can only accomplish so much. 

“The next thing to that is, ‘Do you know how to use a symphony?’” he says. 

If Pro Tools can offer a somewhat inexpensive way to record, then sites like Bandcamp and Spotify represent how artists now use technology to get their work out to mass audiences. Mannheim Steamroller is available on Spotify and iTunes. But Davis says streaming sites are not a good medium for his music. 

“One of the things that throws me for a loop is that this entire company has been devoted to creating the highest audio possible,” he says, “and when you get into streaming, you can’t really do that.” 

However, Davis believes there’s still a place for the physical product. 

“There are people who want it,” he says. “The problem is ‘How do you find them’ and ‘How do they find us?’” 


Mannheim Steamroller Christmas by Chip Davis will offer two live performances at the Orpheum Theater in Omaha on Dec. 22-23. Visit mannheimsteamroller.com for more information. 

This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

60Plus Opener

October 16, 2018 by

‘Tis the season for snowbirds to fly south. It’s hard for me to imagine being a snowbird, though. I genuinely enjoy Nebraska’s winter months: the blowing snow, beautiful scenery, and families gathered for holidays.

These days, it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas is arriving earlier every year. Santa’s face appears in promotions around town as soon as we clean off Thanksgiving dinner plates. Nevertheless, my heart warms with anticipation for candy canes and silver lanes aglow.

But not everyone in the Lemke family is—in the words of Bing Crosby—“dreaming of a white Christmas.” One of my granddaughters will be traveling to Japan, taking advantage of her school’s winter break. Japan is still in the northern hemisphere, and it can get quite cold in the winter. This granddaughter, Sarah Lemke, must take after me—not being a snowbird and all. (She is a contributing photographer with Omaha Magazine.)

Japan is a truly remarkable country, and I feel so blessed to have traveled to Japan on multiple occasions over the years.

Although Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, the holiday is celebrated by many throughout the country. Devout Christians may shudder at the thought, but it’s true that Christmas has become a commercial holiday (enjoyed even by those who do not observe the date’s religious significance) all over the world.

In Japan, there are many unique Christmas variations that American travelers—including my granddaughter—may discover to be delicious. Local restaurants have capitalized on the occasion to create Christmas ramen (designed to look like a Christmas tree), sashimi Christmas cakes (with raw fish), and seasonal bento boxes (lunch boxes produced with artistic flair).

It came as a surprise to me, but Kentucky Fried Chicken is a beloved Christmas dinner in Japan, thanks to the long-running marketing campaign “Kentucky for Christmas” (which the American fast-food franchise launched in 1974).

Call me old-fashioned, but when I gather with family and friends for Christmas, I think I’ll stick with a more traditional family dinner spread.

Merry Christmas! 

Gwen Lemke

Contributing Editor


This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of 60Plus in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

The Tail-Gunner’s Grandson

May 1, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Filmmaker Ben Drickey’s lifelong fascination with history turned personal in 2001. That’s when he documented his grandfather’s return to Germany, revisiting the sites where the U.S. Army Air Corps serviceman crashed and was captured during World War II.

Drickey’s video of the emotional trip has only been seen by family, but the project inspired him to make video production his career after years working with still photography and politics. Today, he creates documentaries and branded film content through his studio, Torchwerks.

Growing up, Drickey was spellbound by family patriarch Wendell Fetters’ stories of being a tail-gunner on a B-26 Marauder flying with the 9th Air Force, 391st bomb group.

On an ill-fated daylight bombing run during the Battle of the Bulge on Dec. 23, 1944, his plane crossed the English Channel and delivered its payload over the Ahrweiler bridge. Enemy artillery and fighter flak killed the left engine, igniting a fire, but the crew bailed out before the plane went down.

Fetters’ chute pitched him into a tree. The impact broke an ankle, but he cut himself down. Alone, injured, and afraid, the 20-year-old Iowa native took a sun reading and hobbled west behind enemy lines in sub-zero cold and snow. Two days later, militia captured him. A family housed him over Christmas, and he spent the next four months in a POW camp before the war in Europe ended. After a stay-over in England, he came home to resume his life. He worked, married, and raised a family.

Ben Drickey of Torchwerks

Fast forward nearly six decades. Drickey was attending a family reunion, where he learned of his grandfather’s plans for returning to Germany to visit the plane’s crash site. German amateur historian Hermann Josef Stolz found its debris and used a piece stamped with identifying information to trace the plane’s manufacturer, bomber group, and crew. He invited Fetters to come pick through remnants.

“The rest of us were totally intrigued and we quickly realized this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Drickey, who, along with his mother, two aunts, and an uncle, joined his grandparents on the summer 2001 trip. Drickey went as a video documentarian even though he was strictly working as a still photographer at the time.

“I had no formal experience creating a moving image. I borrowed a friend’s camera and pirated a copy of Final Cut Pro. But I just knew I had to go do it,” he says.

With Stolz as guide, the Americans traveled to the site, where a cross memorializes the remains of the pilot, Jack Haynes, who died in the crash.

Even all this time later, Drickey says, “pieces of fiberglass, aluminum, and rubber” are strewn about. “I was picking up things to take home.” He displays one piece on his desk in the Mastercraft Building.

He says his “ecstatic” grandfather “was like a little kid being reunited with something from his past.”

The Americans next went to the nearby two-story wood and stucco farmhouse of Josef Hayer, the man who—at age 14—first arrived on the scene of the 1944 crash. Hayer had salvaged things from the smoldering debris. Among his finds was a tailpiece with a yellow triangle on a canvas peak.

“It was the first time on our trip where my grandfather was presented with the past in such a dramatic way,” Drickey says. “You could see on his face the memories just flooding back.”

Fetters then wanted to return to Eisenschmitt, the village his captors paraded him through to the home he was billeted in. He recalled a tannenbaum atop a table and framed photos of two German Army conscripts hanging on a wall. He was fed dinner and slept in the barn, then he was taken to the rail depot for transport to the POW camp.

After nearly giving up the search for the home all those years later, Fetters noticed a familiar landmark. Sure enough, just beyond the hill sat the house. Through translation, the elderly woman occupant said she remembered that war-torn Christmas when an American airman was brought to the house. She was 9 years old then. She recognized Fetters standing before her 56 years later.

She explained that the uniformed men in the photos were her brothers, and the pictures still hung in the same spot. She invited Fetters to see for himself. He refused.

“My grandfather said, ‘No, no, no, let’s go,’” Drickey says. “He went to the car and wouldn’t come out. He was visibly shaken. We didn’t know what to do, but we were standing there in awe reliving this history with him.”

As the visitors drove off, the woman hurried behind clutching oranges as a gesture of friendship. She handed them to Fetters. A family meeting ensued. Fetters held firm. Drickey explained he’d come too far not to go back, so he did.

“In my business, I would rather beg for forgiveness than ask for permission most of the time,” Drickey says.

He filmed inside the house and interviewed the woman, one of many interviews he conducted for the project.

The experience gave him a career path and archived a precious family legacy.

“I’m so glad I did it. It was such a learning experience for me about myself, my eye, and my ability to capture an image,” he says.

“So many things happened on this trip,” and Drickey says he can only appreciate them all by re-watching the footage.

His grandfather lived to see the video. “He thanked me for taking the time to do it,” Drickey says. “He was very pleased it will live on past him.”

Drickey has gone on to produce slick corporate videos, commercials, and short films. He also worked as cinematographer on the feature film It Snows All the Time, but nothing compares to that first personal project.

His grandfather—the airman who also served in the Korean War—passed away July 31, 2015.

Visit torchwerks.com for more information.

This article appears in the May/June 2017 edition Sixty-Plus, a publication within Omaha Magazine.

Show Of Hands

February 22, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

If you love trips to the museum and trips to the manicurist, Imagine Uhlenbrock is your one-stop shop for a day of art, style, and self-care all rolled into one stunning experience.

Uhlenbrock is the “nail genie” and artist behind Just Imagine Nails. Keratin is her canvas and her work is constantly showing on the hands of happy clients throughout Omaha.

“I started doing my own nails when I was about 4, because I was an only child and it was something I could do for myself,” Uhlenbrock says.

Her interest in nail art grew through middle school and high school, culminating in her first steady nail job at a downtown Omaha salon. It was meant to be her college job, but Uhlenbrock loved the craft so much she launched her own business doing natural, ethical nails at age 19.

For those skeptical that a manicurist can be a “real” artist, one look at Uhlenbrock’s vibrant Instagram portfolio provides ample evidence of her artistry and talent. Intricate, hand-painted designs, patterns, and messages mingle with hand-placed bling. Colors and textures pop, and unique, creative themes inspire the urge to scroll right on down the rabbit hole because no two sets are alike and your eyeballs will want to collect them all.

 

 “It’s just like commissioning any other piece of art,” Uhlenbrock says. “I always have ideas, so I have clients who just come in and let me do whatever I want every two weeks, or sometimes they come in with a theme or idea in mind. Most of the time it’s a collaborative process and we customize it based on the vision and what they’re feeling like that week.”

This process has resulted in galaxy nails, Vegas- and beach-themed vacation nails, desert sunset nails, snowflake and Christmas nails, Fourth of July “red, white, and bling” nails, Ouija board nails, Netflix and chill nails, ice cream and French fry nails, nails that are geometric, plaid, rainbow, floral, color-blocked, gradient, holographic or chrome, and nails that mimic abstract paintings, among others.

“I take inspiration from everywhere. The print of your dress, the pattern of that chair, the texture of this pillow, someone’s artwork,” Uhlenbrock says.

Then there are the pop culture nails. She’s done sets that honor artists including Eartha Kitt, Prince, Beyoncé, and Frida Kahlo, that appreciate cultural icons ranging from Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson to Grumpy Cat, that recognize the Broadway Hamilton phenomenon, that reference literature from Harry Potter to local author Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park, and that celebrate TV shows from The Golden Girls to The Powerpuff Girls. Her popular annual Halloween special has taken inspiration from The Addams Family, Stranger Things, The X-Files, and Hocus Pocus sets, as well as one of her personal all-time favorites: Michael Jackson “Thriller” nails.

“You can see from my themes that I like weird,” Uhlenbrock says. “I’ll put anything on a nail as long as it’s not problematic.”

Uhlenbrock’s political work is also incredibly compelling. She’s done anti-pipeline nails, Black Lives Matter nails, and nails that read “Go Vote,” among others.

“One of the roles of an artist is to get people to think or to spread certain messages. Nail art is no different than any other art form in that way,” Uhlenbrock says. “That’s how art and social justice can intersect by creating visuals, sounds, or whatever the medium to raise awareness, to educate, or to relieve pain and pressure for the oppressed. So, a lot of what I do is people’s regular self-care.”

In December 2016, Uhlenbrock opened her Hand of Gold Beauty Room space in the Fair Deal Village Marketplace, near 24th and Lake streets. She currently shares the space with two subcontractors, Qween Samone and Ria Gold, who help support the service menu of natural nails, makeup, and braiding. Uhlenbrock enjoys working in the thriving area among neighboring small business owners and she’s committed to using her space to support her peers.

“We support small businesses here,” Uhlenbrock says. “Economic disenfranchisement has been a huge tool of oppression against people of color. So, it’s really important to me as I grow and have my own economic development to reach out and empower others through that as well.”

Uhlenbrock stocks body care products from Lincoln-based Miss Kitty and Her Cats, pieces from Omaha’s Amaral Jewelry, and gets all of her regular polishes from Ginger + Liz, a black woman-owned, vegan-friendly, toxin-free nail lacquer company. She also sells jewelry from her other business, The Bigger the Hoops.

Besides providing an important platform for a network of artists and makers, the petite Hand of Gold Beauty Room just feels like a place you want to be. A plush, amber-colored couch beckons from the pedicure platform that Uhlenbrock and her mother hand-built. The walls are decked with striking work by Lincoln artist Brittany Burton, featuring black-and-white depictions of “thick” women with sparse flashes of green and yellow. Soul music fills the air and large windows let ample natural light stream in.

“Everyone should probably go to a therapist, but not everyone does—some people get their nails done instead,” Uhlenbrock says. “They can come here, have a good conversation, and leave feeling like a million bucks with something good to look at for a couple weeks. It’s a lot easier to feel like you have your shit together when your nails are on point.”

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

Year of the Rooster

December 23, 2016 by
Illustration by Matt Wieczorek

Chinese Lunar New Year falls on January 28 this year. The holiday is like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s all rolled into a week of celebrations. This year will be my third Lunar New Year in Omaha. Since relocating to the Midwest, I have developed a small go-to list for dishes that taste like home (or at least satiate my appetite until my next return visit to Hong Kong).

When coworkers ask me to recommend “real” Chinese food, I often probe how adventurous they are with eating. Authentic Chinese cuisines do not usually come with a thick brown or red sauce. Sometimes, signature dishes also feature uncommon ingredients. Although I never fancied chicken feet, I know several European Americans who will gobble down the dish (which translates to “phoenix talons” in my native Cantonese language) at any opportunity.

Chinese cuisines vary depending on region. Sichuanese (from western China) is known for its “mala” numbing spice. Cantonese (from Hong Kong and Guangdong) is famous for fresh seafood and dim sum. Dumplings, maybe even more than rice, are beloved in northern Chinese cuisines. You might even say Americanized Chinese food is authentic in its own way, with its distinct flavors and history woven into the story of Chinese migration.

1. Fresh housemade dim sum

I was excited to see barbecue pork and duck hanging on display upon entering Canton House Restaurant during my first visit; the Cantonese diner reminds me of the typical Hong Kong-style café (also known as a “cha chaan teng”). The chef started his career in Hong Kong decades ago and has brought a long list of authentic Hong Kong dishes to his restaurant in northwestern Omaha. Dim sum—bite-size breakfast hors d’oeuvres—are freshly made to order; I highly recommend ordering a variety and enjoying them with a group of friends. Stuffed eggplant, fish slices in congee (rice porridge), and sliced beef with pan-fried rice noodles are among my top three choices.

4849 N. 90th St., No. 1, Omaha, NE 68134

402-505-9446

cantonhouseomaha.com

2. Savory Shandong cuisine

Tucked in the corner of a strip mall on 72nd Street, Blue and Fly Asian Kitchen is a homey eatery that is crowded with Chinese students every night. The traditional Chinese menu features a range of quick-fried and fish dishes that are iconic of Shandong cuisine. A bilingual handwritten menu beside the kitchen offers a further selection of seasonal delicacies. The owners are generous in sharing their cultural heritage with patrons; for example, in the last Mid-Autumn Festival, they gave out handmade “mooncakes” to diners to share celebration of the Chinese holiday. I have yet to order anything I do not enjoy at Blue and Fly (and I am definitely a frequent patron). My personal favorites include spicy shredded potato (a cold appetizer), spicy pig intestine (an entrée), and a specialty dessert—caramelized sweet potato.

721 S. 72nd St., Omaha, NE 68114

402-504-6545

blueflyasiankitchen.com

3. Cantonese-style barbecue duck and barbecue pork buns

Order a Cantonese-style duck (half) to go with a bowl of rice, and you will get an authentic Hong Kong lunch experience. Grand Fortune Chinese Restaurant also has an extensive dim sum menu—the baked barbecue pork pastry and baked barbecue pork bun are must-tries as you may only find the steamed version in other dim sum shops in town. Steamed barbecue pork buns are known as “cha siu bao” in Cantonese. Cha siu bao, pork and shrimp dumplings (“siu mai”), and shrimp dumplings (“har gow”) are regular fixtures of dim sum brunch anywhere in the world.

17330 West Center Road, Omaha, NE 68130

402-697-9888

grandfortunecuisine.com

4. Dim sum brunch after church

New Gold Mountain is crowded with families after church on Sundays. The restaurant has an intimate atmosphere. Its fried items—such as salt and pepper shrimp, deep-fried minced pork shrimp dumplings, and crispy fried tofu are all finger-licking good. Meat lovers can try barbecue pork with five spiced beef. The meat platter is a common dinner staple in Hong Kong, and is best enjoyed with a bowl of rice and some stir-fried vegetables.

15505 Ruggles St. No.105, Omaha, NE 68116.

402-496-1688

newgoldmountain.com

5. Mouthwatering tofu dishes

People may not associate Three Happiness Express with authentic Chinese food. But its kung pao tofu is a good representation of Chinese cooking. The tofu is perfectly fried to form a crispy crust; the dish is not drowned, rather it is drizzled with a light brown sauce. The restaurant’s steamed dumplings are also authentic, as long as you skip the sweet and spicy sauce and dip it in soy sauce. Friends from the neighborhood have professed a deep love for the crab rangoons, Princess Chicken, and Loc’s Chicken Wings (and these dishes are definitely American Chinese inventions).

5107 Leavenworth St., Omaha, NE 68106

402-558-8899

facebook.com/threehappinessexpress

6. Classic American Chinese food

Golden Palace has an old-school menu and an Oriental interior design that suggest the restaurant has been passed down through generations. The restaurant serves polished classic American Chinese food. The barbecue back ribs are the absolute bomb.

4040 N. 132nd St., Omaha, NE 68164

402-493-2777

goldenpalacene.com

7. Unlock the secret menu 

The “secret menu” of Jade Palace offers authentic Chinese cuisines. Even if you don’t read Chinese, pick a protein and ask the server what he/she recommends. The owner suggested we try “water boiled fish”—beware though, the Sichuanese dish is cooked with a lot of red hot chili peppers. The heat index of the fish is a challenge (southerners, like me, are not known for eating spicy). Be sure to discuss the level of spiciness before ordering.

1702 Galvin Road South, Bellevue, NE 68005

402-558-8899

jadepalacebellevue.com

8. Hot pot special

China Garden Restaurant has a winter hot pot special. The communal dish is popular in colder months. Select meats and vegetables from a list, and the server will bring a pot of broth and a portable stove for you to cook the food in. The restaurant offers most of the favorites of Sichuanese cuisine. To drink, ask the server if sweet-sour plum juice is available. Other thirst-quenching options include Tsingtao beer and canned Chinese herbal tea, “Wong Lo Kat.”

8315 Tangier Way, Omaha, NE 68124

402-397-1995

chinagardenomaha.com

9. Fusion Chinese food

P.F. Chang’s modern take on Chinese food results in a range of light, savory fusion cuisine. I highly recommend the chicken lettuce wrap.

Westroads Mall, 10150 California St., Omaha, NE 68114

402-390-6021

pfchangs.com

10. Oldest Chinese restaurant in town

The interior design of King Fong Cafe resembles that of Chinese courtyard houses. The wood carvings and chandeliers (imported from Canton, the old name of Guangzhou) are well-preserved—the visual enjoyment is a feast in itself. The restaurant is not only the oldest Chinese restaurant in town, it is the longest-running restaurant in the city.

315 1/2 S. 16th St., Omaha, NE 68102

402-341-3433

facebook.com/pages/king-fong-cafe/117861274906131

* Note: King Fong Cafe announced its temporary closure in 2016 and had not announced a reopening date at the time of Omaha Magazine‘s publication deadline.

Another great way to discover new dishes is to ask the server what Chinese customers have ordered. If something looks delicious at another table, ask your server what it is. For anyone looking to celebrate the Lunar New Year with a Chinese feast, please note that restaurants may close during the festival, so check ahead to confirm if they are open.

Authenticity aside, I absolutely love when fortune cookies arrive with the bill. The American Chinese invention (or American Japanese, depending on the origin story) coincides with Chinese affinity for auspicious signs. Happy Lunar New Year! May your fortune cookie bring good luck!

How do you say Happy New Year in Chinese?

“Gong hei fat choi!” That’s Cantonese (the language of Hong Kong and Guangdong).

“Xin nian kuai le!” That’s Mandarin (the official language of mainland China and Taiwan)

mattsrooster2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and for a preview of the 2017 Nebraska Chinese Association Lunar New Year Celebration:

Mary Beth Harrold

October 16, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For Mary Beth Harrold, “decking the halls” means something a tad more extravagant than outfitting a fir tree with antique Santa-themed artifacts. A long-time Papillion resident, Harrold has spent the last four decades doing what she loves: decorating homes.

Harrold started her company, Papillion Flower Patch, 40 years ago with a dream and minimal experience. She currently manages the store with the help of her daughter, Stephanie Crandall.

christmascaravan1“I had a love for beautiful home décor,” Harrold says of her conception for the business. “I had to learn with experience, and buy books, and get support. After that, I competed in contests and learned more to become a designer that traveled the United States.”

The most wonderful time of the year also happens to be Harrold’s busiest decorating season.

For the past 15 years, Harrold’s holiday home decorating style has been featured on the Christmas Caravan Tour of Homes, a fundraiser on the first Thursday of November (Nov. 3 this year) to benefit the Assistance League of Omaha. Preparation for the grand tour, Harrold explains, involves spending a full week prepping houses with fellow decorators and florists.

“It’s a lot of work because we have to build a shop in the basement from scratch,” Harrold says of the week-long frenzy. “Then we sell (products) from there.”

The Christmas Caravan gives attendees the opportunity to browse high-end homes decorated by local florists and interior designers, as well as purchase products from the vendors. 

Each house includes a boutique where attendees can purchase featured decorations. Twenty percent of revenue is donated to the Assistance League, with proceeds directly benefiting programs such as Operation School Bell (which has provided clothing to more than 58,000 Omaha children in need).

christmascaravan4

Harrold prefers to design homes with winter in mind, as opposed to the Christmas holiday, so decorations can be used all season long.

“We put up our decorations the first week of November and they last long after Christmas,” she says. “So, I decorate in more warm, earthy, wintery tones so it lasts through the season.”

Harrold’s home on the Christmas Caravan tour demonstrates her philosophy of seasonal décor. Natural elements like pinecones, birch branches, holly berries, and sprigs of pine provide an ambiance of warm wintery tones despite the chill. Glowing candles halo Harrold’s stone figurine nativity set; the color palette of browns, earthy greens, and pale blues set each scene. The main piece on the dining room table features white branches, small cardinals, and a dusting of faux snow.

A collection of birch branches wrapped with clear lights, small logs, and large pinecones preface the main staircase—a greeting to anyone wandering in through the front door. Every room of the house, including the master bathroom, contains a subtle touch of Harrold’s woodsy holiday flair. And yes, there is the occasional, familiar snowman.

christmascaravan2

“Cozy” is the word that would best describe the atmosphere of Harrold’s Christmas Caravan home, but it seems oddly over-simplistic for the attention to detail and artistic eye that clearly drove the decorating process. The consistency of design carries through even the most minimal of elements— towel racks, windows, bedroom shelves.

Harrold has decorated what she estimates to be hundreds of homes over the years, tailored specifically to her customers’ aesthetic tastes and desires.

“For the Christmas season, the glitz and glamor is gone,” she says of time’s passing decoration trends. “Now, (people prefer) the more natural, simple home look.”

The most rewarding part of the job, she says, is her relationship with customers. Harrold spends weeks leading up to the holiday season consulting with clients who often return each year for her decorating services.

“It’s fun to try to please a lot of different types of people and try out a bunch of different tastes,” Harrold says.

What about decorating her own home?

christmascaravan5

“My decorations are very simple and not overly done,” Harrold explains. “I’m not a bright-color decorator, so the style is more subdued. I just like the closeness and the warmth of looking out at wintertime, and feeling cozy, and getting the thought of, ‘I love my house.’”

After all the good tidings and decking of halls, perhaps Harrold can enjoy a well-deserved day off on Christmas Day with her family. Afterwards, the preparations for next season will begin.

“Family is always the best part,” Harrold says with a smile. “I love the warmth and joy, and the feeling of happiness and love, that come with the holiday time.”

Visit alomaha.org for more information about the Christmas Caravan Tour of Homes. OmahaHome

christmascaravan6

Holiday,HoliDIY

October 14, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ornate picture frames can be used for more than framing photos or prints; however, that wasn’t my original intention when I found the perfect frame at a thrift store last year. It contained a hideous old photo, but I just loved the frame and decided it was going to “frame” my coffee table’s holiday décor.

holidiy1I went through most of my decorations looking for items to highlight until I was at the bottom of the Christmas box.

Even without the picture frame, holiday ornaments can be used to create vignettes—small ornamental designs to fill a space—for tables and nooks around the house. Include any of your favorite decorations.

Instructions:

Place items inside the picture frame or arrange as a vignette. Consider different heights and textures for added interest, and don’t be afraid to think outside the box. This DIY project doesn’t have to be just for the holidays. It can be adapted for any season.

Items used
Ornate picture frame

Christmas greenery

Christmas bulbs

Glass candle holders (place décor of different heights in the center)

Christmas ornaments

String of white lights

OmahaHome

Looks Like We Got Us A Failure

October 3, 2016 by

We all know the old quote. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

This kind of persistence is considered a virtue, especially when one is engaged in a noble pursuit like trying to cure the common cold, discovering America, or attempting to rig a bird feeder so that the squirrels can’t loot it, boldly, right in front of you, day after day, no matter what you do…but I digress.

“It is fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”

Yeah, Bill Gates said that. Of course, there’s another old maxim: “That’s easy for you to say.” Bill Gates is the richest guy in the world, or close enough that it doesn’t make much difference. I mean how many diamond-encrusted, squirrel-proof bird feeders can one man use, right? Failure’s sting can be numbed more than a little bit by just one $55 billion success.

“They all laughed at Alexander Graham Bell. They all laughed at Steve Jobs.  They all laughed at Jeremy Geomorphia…”

And yet we have telephones, or at least we used to have them. Anyway, now we have “smartphones,” and nobody’s laughing anymore. Jeremy Geomorphia?  Well, they were right to laugh at him. Turned out nobody needed his innovative, non-slip collars for their pet boa constrictors.

People laughed at Chip Davis, too. But that’s exactly what he wanted them to do.   

When the kid out of Ohio came to Omaha to work for an advertising agency, he brought the funny. He and Bill Fries put together the “Old Home Filler-Up an’ Keep on A-Truckin’ Cafe” campaign for Old Home Bread. It was a huge success. That success naturally led to Davis and Bill (under the pseudonym C.W. McCall) catching the CB radio wave and surfing it all the way to a number one hit song, “Convoy.”

Within two years, Davis was riding the wave even higher. No less a Hollywood icon than Sam Peckinpah was bringing Rubber Duck, Pig Pen, and Sodbuster to life on the silver screen in a big-budget movie starring Kris Kristofferson and Ali McGraw. The 1978 flick remains a cult classic to this day, and…interesting fact: Convoy was the biggest grossing box office success of the legendary director’s career.

Davis wasn’t finished succeeding. About the same time “Convoy” was taking the pop music world by storm, he started a little thing called Mannheim Steamroller. FYI, the moniker comes from “Mannheim Roller,” a crescendo passage having a melodic line over an ostinato bass line originating in the Mannheim school of composition in the 18th century. Add a little Christmas in the `80s and the rest is, as they say, history—or just plain success.

Success. Success. Success. So what’s missing?  Ah yes, failure. Where’s the failure? What huge mistake taught Davis a valuable lesson? What misstep gave Davis the chance to appreciate all of his success?

In a word, his biggest failure was me.

Disco was running big in the `70s. Really big. Davis decided to paddle towards that ocean swell. Thus he produced the dance club classic, “I am the Boogie Man,” a disco anthem for the ages. The lead vocalist? Me. But this time the muse had misled Davis. Almost simultaneously, Steve Dahl held “Disco Demolition Night” in 1979 at Comiskey Park in Chicago and nearly destroyed the venerable stadium when a riot broke out. Disco was dead.

There was an apocryphal story that thousands of unsold vinyl copies of “Boogie Man” were unceremoniously dumped in Davis’ driveway in the dead of a cold Nebraska night. It was the biggest disaster of his long career.

And I was to blame.

If it is true as Sophocles said, “There is no success without failure,” then I must finally take credit where credit is due. 

Chip, you’re welcome.

OtisXIIOtis XII hosts the radio program, Early Morning Classics with Otis XII, on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.