Tag Archives: holidays

OmahaHome Entryway

October 24, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
—J.R.R. Tolkien

With the holiday season approaching, my thoughts turn to family traditions—both old and new. 

Sometimes dusting off family heirlooms can bring a fresh take to the dinner table. 

With my children grown and on their own, I decided it was time to dust off my grandmother’s china. 

The fine dishware had remained neatly stacked in an old chest for 15 years. But it was still in the same immaculate condition. 

Readers who have followed my DIY projects may have gathered that I am all about repurposing and/or pairing the old with new. The trend continues this issue, too.

For the holidays, why not start a new-old family tradition by pairing a beautiful family heirloom with a proper holiday table setting?

Mixing the old with the new can yield remarkable results. Whether the heirloom is antique chinaware or something more modern, anyone can do this.

Regardless of how your family sets the table, one thing is certain, it’s not which side of the plate the fork goes on that matters most. The important thing is the togetherness with friends, family, and relationships nurtured by a meal prepared with love.

From all of us at OmahaHome, happy holidays to you and yours!

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

Fleece-Lined Freedom

December 1, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This time last year (December) I was pregnant, which was such a foreign feeling. The thought of spending the holidays with a little one was something I could barely wrap my mind around. Now, I can’t imagine my life without our tiny girl. This first year has been a joy, and it has meant so much to make Rosie a personalized mobile, headbands, teethers, etc. With cold weather just around the corner, a cozy poncho was in order. Turns out most vendors don’t make winter coats for 9-month-olds, and ponchos are a lot easier to just throw over a car seat anyway. Plus, I’m pretty obsessed with how cool she looks in it.

Folding Instructions











  • 1 yard linen fabric
  • 1 yard fleece fabric
  • Sewing machine
  • Thread to match fabrics
  • Scissors


  1. Cut felt fabric to 1 yard x 1 yard
  2. Fold felt fabric in half, twice, to form a smaller square.
  3. Fold corner-to-corner to form a triangle shape.
  4. Using your scissors, cut a slight circular curve through all layers of the fabric.
  5. Unfold into a near-perfect circle. Lay on top of the linen fabric, and cut out the same shape.
  6. Measure the size of your child’s head and cut out a circle that size in the center of the felt fabric.
  7. Cut out a slightly larger circle out of the center of the linen fabric.
  8. Hem the linen fabric about 2 or 3 inches in from the large circle, and about 1/4 inch from the small circle.
  9. Lay the linen fabric centered over the felt fabric, and using a sewing machine, sew the two pieces of fabric together.
  10. Cut into the visible felt fabric about 2-3 inces, all the way around, to create a fringe.

This article was printed in the Winter 2016 edition of Family Guide, an Omaha Publications magazine.

Bikers With Bells

December 15, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Christmas means Salvation Army red kettles swinging, bells ringin…and volunteers in biker gear and Santa hats.

Navy veteran Bob Swanson is one of the Salvation Army’s most faithful bell ringers. For 10 years, he has rounded up a group of fellow motorcyclists to ring bells at the entrance to Dillon Brothers Harley
Davidson in Omaha.

The riders share the holiday spirit in their own unique way. “We wear our biker’s gear with leather vests along with Santa hats,” Swanson says. “And some of us hand candy canes to the kids.”

All are members of the American Legion Riders. That big guy in the Santa hat vigorously ringing a bell might have spent time in a war zone in Vietnam or Korea. The younger man saying “thank you” may have recently returned from Iraq.

People seem to be more motivated to donate to the Salvation Army when donating through a veteran, Swanson says. “One lady said she always feels good donating to the Salvation Army, and the fact that it’s veterans who are bell ringing made it even better.”

Swanson formed the chapter of American Legion Riders for Omaha Post 1 in 2005. Members are veterans, veterans’ spouses, or veterans’ adult children who ride motorcycles.

Men and women who are American Legion Riders represent all branches of the military with a wide spread of ages. The chapter has about 55 members.

Not all who donate are motorcyclists. Some stop to drop money into the kettle as they enter the store to buy a collar with a Harley Davidson logo for their dog. Or maybe they have their eye on a bib with the logo for their baby’s first Christmas.

“It’s fun to watch the kids. They see this big, ugly biker standing there and are a little intimidated,” Swanson says. “One of our members is Santa Claus size and last year when bell ringing he wore a Santa suit.”

Ringing bells for the Salvation Army is a good fit for the American Legion, he says. “It involves the community, and that’s one of the primary tenets of the American Legion.”

After retiring from Physicians Mutual Insurance Co. where he was a vice president, Swanson, who is 72, donned a uniform and joined other military veterans to form an American Legion color guard. They perform at funerals, parades and various functions.

“I had always been moved when I saw family reactions to military funerals. It is the final opportunity to show respect for someone who served our country,” he says. “One of the main things we have to do is keep the public aware of sacrifices that go along with military service.”

Swanson will lead members of American Legion Riders as bell ringers at the entrance to Dillon Brothers Harley Davidson near 174th and Maple streets each Saturday prior to Christmas starting November 8.   

By the way, you don’t have to be a motorcyclist to ring bells. Visit RingOmaha.org to learn about volunteering.


Leg Lamps and Wooden Trees

December 19, 2013 by

This year, I decided to ask my kids what their favorite holiday traditions were. I was shocked when neither of them said “presents.”

Max: “Movies and our countdown calendar.”

Lucy: “I like our wooden Christmas tree.”

So, there it is. Those are some of our favorite holiday traditions. I was surprised my kids liked the wooden Christmas tree that was passed down to me from my aunt. I was using it as an extra the first year we had it. By the next year, the kids were asking if we could ditch the traditional fake tree and just use the wooden one. So now, we adorn a wooden tree. The kids take pride in it, and I don’t get poked by needles setting it up. We all win.

Each year, I also set up what I like to refer to as the secular countdown calendar. They get a little white bag for each day of December, counting down until Christmas morning. Each bag is filled with two Hershey’s Kisses and either a note, activity to do that day, or a little gift. Some of our countdown calendar ideas are: holiday socks, ornaments, a holiday movie, and at least two community service activities.

Another favorite in our house is watching holiday movies. A Christmas Story is not just a 24-hour Christmas Eve favorite. We watch it year-round over here. I’m the proud owner of two leg lamps (one full size that indeed does pose a glow of amber in our front window, and a mini-size one that I keep for comfort in my office year-round). And thanks to losing a bet with my sister, I also own a bunny suit.

Our celebration of actual Christmas in our faith is a beautiful and quiet one at church. All the secular stuff we choose to participate in, well, that’s fun, too. My husband and I try to help the kids understand the difference between “Christmas” traditions and “holiday” traditions. And then we embrace it all and run with it.

No matter what, don’t beat yourself up so much on whether or not you’re exploiting your faith. Chances are, the presents, the overeating, the leg lamp, well…it all brings family and friends closer together. And no matter which holiday you’re celebrating, community and family are part of your faith—I guarantee it.

Max hustles out the Christmas storage stuff: “Hey, Mom. This year, can we leave the leg lamp in the window all year?” Still not a word about getting presents. So I’m considering his request.

Happy Holidays!

Read more of Murrell’s stories at momontherocks.com.

Single Parent: Skip the 
Holiday Hoopla

December 17, 2013 by
Photography by Natalie Jensen Photography

As kids, we got to live the fantasy. But now, as adults, it’s up to us to create the fantasy of the man in the red suit and the wonderment of one’s faith during the holiday.

Being a single parent adds a unique, stressful, and pressure-filled layer all its own. Whether we want to make up for the fact that it’s only one adult doing all of the traditions, decorating, and planning to create those once in a lifetime memories, or even creating a substitute holiday because the kids won’t be there for the actual day—it takes a lot of mental gymnastics to get through the season.

Last year, I knocked it out of the park when it came to Christmas. We went to church Christmas Eve, had the family over for our traditional spaghetti dinner, and I bought everything on my children’s Christmas lists. And guess what? The day after Christmas, I still felt a little disappointed, like something was missing. And might I add, so did my kids. This actually got me angry, but then I had a revelation. Why did I kill myself to do all of these things if it goes unnoticed and unappreciated?

I began to take notice of what did stand out to my kids, and I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t the most expensive item they got Christmas morning, but my homemade coupons for extra privileges, the scavenger hunt with cheap items that Grandma does every year, and the cash in the bottom of their stockings. Could it be that the most important and memorable things about the holidays were the heartfelt and thoughtful touches? Lesson learned.

I am relieved that the holidays can be just as special without all the hoopla.

Family Success Story
: The Murceks

November 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Grief is an unavoidable part of life. Everyone encounters it at some point, and it usually strikes when least expected. And though no one grieves the same, the emptiness that follows losing a loved one is universal, whether it’s for a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a friend, a child, even a pet.

But the true test is not the grief itself—it’s coming back from it.

Looking at John and Cindy Murcek of Millard today, you wouldn’t know that they suffered a terrible family loss. John is a painting contractor; Cindy is a social studies and English teacher at Andersen Middle School in the Millard Public Schools district. They’ve been married for a little over 20 years.


They have three children—sons Eric, 14, and Will, 7, and daughter Jamie, 5. “Eric’s in tennis. Will’s in football. Jamie’s in gymnastics…It’s kind of busy, but it’s the good kind of busy,” Cindy says. When asked how the kids get along, she laughs. “Will and Jamie will either play together or be at each other’s throats. Eric, being the teenager, thinks they’re annoying sometimes. But they’re all good kids.”

John and Cindy’s devotion to their children is what Cindy believes binds their relationship. “We want our children to know that they have a secure home, and that we’re giving them the best life that we can. I came from a divorced family, so it’s important for them to know that that will never happen. And John’s from a big Catholic family, so family and staying together has always been important to him.”

Twelve years ago during the Thanksgiving holiday, however, their family was shaken when they were on their way back to Omaha from Billings, Mont., after visiting Cindy’s sister and her family. Their truck hit black ice and rolled. John, Cindy, and Eric were all fine, but Cindy’s mom, who rarely traveled, and the Murceks’ oldest son, Andy, were killed.

“It was devastating,” Cindy says. “That’s an understatement.”

While they grieved, John and Cindy found support in each other. “I think that incident made John’s and my bond stronger. Nobody loved Andy like we did, nobody can break that, and nobody can understand our loss. We had that grief to share; and though we grieved differently, we both knew exactly what the other was feeling.”


Eric, at the time, was 2. While he didn’t understand everything, he knew Andy was supposed to be there but wasn’t. “He’d ask where Andy was and if he could play with him,” Cindy says. “When we went to the grocery store, he’d ask if he could get Andy a snack. Of course, I let him. We’d even tell him stories about Andy.” Although they missed their oldest son, Cindy says that she and John were grateful to still have Eric. “He was my reason to get out of bed in the morning.”

Today, Cindy aches for Eric almost more than she did when he was too young to understand his brother’s death. “He’s a freshman in high school now. Andy would’ve been a senior. He would’ve had his big brother in school with him.”

The grieving process for the Murceks was always about time. Some days were harder than others, but each day, it got a little easier. “As time goes on, grief is more a silent battle…You deal with it on your own, you face it, and go on.”

During that silent battle, Cindy says she bought a “full library” of books on grief and went to grief groups, looking for a fix. But it was faith that turned everything around for her.

“I wasn’t really a spiritual person before. My mom was,” she says. “It’s weird, but I feel like that’s why she was on that trip with us. She knew she was going to a better place and teaching me a little faith as well.”


Cindy swears her mom is still teaching her lessons in faith to this day. She recalls a Sunday when her church’s pastor asked the congregation to open their Bibles to a specific verse. “My mom had given me a Bible several years before, and I’d never used it. But I brought it with me that day.” When Cindy opened the Bible to the verse, she realized it had been underlined. “I flipped through some more pages and saw that my mom had underlined verses she thought would be good for me to read. It was the most incredible thing.”

Andy, too, seemed to connect with them in unexpected ways. “Last Christmas, we went to the cemetery to visit him,” she says. “I thought ‘Give me something from Andy, God.’ That night, we had a party, and a neighbor brought over a journal where other people had written about memories of Andy.”

These little moments strengthened Cindy’s faith and helped her see that everything would be all right again. Then again, the addition of two more precious gifts took her mind off the grief, too.

“We assumed it was just going to be the three of us.” But John and Cindy talked about having another child. Certainly, they viewed adding another child to their family differently after Andy’s passing. “Another person to love and lose,” Cindy says. Nevertheless, it was a chance they were willing to take.


In 2005, they heard about a young girl looking to give her baby up for adoption. “[Will] was born, and in six months, we had a new baby…We hadn’t really planned on it. It just kind of happened.” Another surprise took shape when Cindy found out she was pregnant. “I turned 40 and learned I was pregnant with Jamie. John and I were both like, ‘Two little ones in diapers? We can’t handle this!’” But Jamie, like Will, was a blessing in disguise. Cindy jokes that they finally got a “little princess” after all boys.

“We feel truly blessed,” Cindy says. “Yes, we lost my son and my mom, but there are situations much worse. We’re glad to have a loving family.”

For others grieving the loss of family members, Cindy has some good advice: “I would recommend that you let your family be there for you and understand that grief is a lifelong process…I realized that I couldn’t do it on my own, and that realization made me feel so much better. Just let people help you. Talk to families with similar losses. The sadness won’t go away, but the hopelessness will.”

As for her mom and Andy, Cindy smiles. “I know we’ll see them again.”

Queenly meets quaint

Joslyn Castle Holiday Historic Home Tour

Do you recognize the scene pictured above? That’s the cover photo from our previous issue and now you have a chance to get an inside peek at this and two other magnificent homes on the Joslyn Castle Holiday Historic Home Tour.

Tour the famous Storz Mansion, the elegant, sophisticated Gold Coast Barmettler House (pictured above), and the spectacular, historic Joslyn Castle, all decorated for the holidays. Enjoy special tastings at each home and a holiday gift boutique on the second and third floors of the Castle.

The Joslyn Castle Historic Home Tour is Friday, Dec. 6, and Saturday, Dec. 7, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tickets for the tour are $20. Purchase tickets for either event at www.joslyncastle.com or by calling 402-595-2199. Tour tickets will also be available at the door on the days of the tour. A special Tour and Boutique Preview Party will be Dec. 5 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Castle. Tickets for the Preview Party are $75 and include tour admission.

iStock_000022672899Medium Country Club Community Council Luminary Night

The flickering glow of 
candlelight will warm even the chilliest of visitors on Dec. 8 as hundreds of luminaries line the streets of one of the city’s quaintest neighborhoods for one 
special night every holiday season. Organized by the Country Club Community Council, the annual luminary event renders a magical curbside tableau in the picturesque neighborhood known for its English Tudor brick homes and old-time globe street lamps. See our feature on the Country Club neighborhood. Pour a thermos of hot cocoa and pile the kids in the car for this nostalgic drive-by delight.

Where’s My Grandparent Nickname?

November 6, 2013 by

“Mee-mah” and “Boom-pah.” That’s what my grandsons, Easton, 4, and Barrett, 2½, call their grandmother and grandfather. My wife, Julie, and I think they are just the most adorable nicknames. There’s just one problem—Mee-mah and Boom-pah are the grandkids’ other set of grandparents.

As for us? Different story. When a boo-boo needs kissing or the occasional WWE slugfest breaks out among the boys, we’re summoned with the decidedly un-adorable monikers of plain old “Grandma” and “Grandpa.”

Quibbling over the unequal distribution of nicknames may seem petty, and some in the family take this injustice perhaps way too seriously (My wife won’t be reading this story, will she?). But it does speak to a larger issue, one of territoriality regarding those scarcest of resources—grandkids. And the problem can be vexing when the holiday season approaches.

Okay, maybe “vexing” is too strong a word here. Its use in this context could hint at something other than the great relationship we have with the kids’ other grandparents. You know, the ones that happen to live right across the street from Easton and Barrett. The ones whose other daughter, in turn, lives just two doors down from them, and how that happens to also supply a pair of built-in, age-mirroring, time-stealing cousins to cavort with our grandkids. The ones whose two sons could easily snap up additional properties of their own on that quiet cul-de-sac, virtually turning the place into a private family compound. The ones who regularly…oh, you get the point.

Now where was I? Oh, yes. The subject was grandparent territoriality.

Is it any wonder, then, that Thanksgiving is a two-day “one here and one there” affair distinguished as “Turkey Day” followed by “Football Day?” Or that Christmas Eve must be celebrated at our home on December 23rd? Or that the grandkids will grow up believing that Santa is guilty of countless FAA violations by flying on not one but three successive evenings to each grandparents’ home, bookended by a sooty descent down their own chimney? What kid is going to turn down three days of present unwrapping? Besides, they’re too young to grasp the improbability of St. Nick’s madcap itinerary being more hectic than that of Secretary of State John Kerry’s in his September round of Middle East hop, skip, and jump shuttle diplomacy.

And on that subject of diplomacy, readers should know that Julie and I could not hope for more loving and nurturing co-grandparents, even if the situation does occasionally give me an exasperated, eye-rolling opportunity to explain to my wife, for the umpteenth time, that yes, kidnapping is still a federal crime.

There I go again.

Julie and I don’t pretend to have it rougher than any other grandparents in that age-old balancing act of vying for time with the grandkids. One strategy we employ year-round is to look for the easy stuff—the no-brainers that almost always guarantee time with the little ones, and on our terms at that. We offer to babysit often. Overnighters are even better. What young, career-minded, perpetually harried pair of parents is going to say no to even the briefest reprieve from runny noses, skinned knees, and a certain insufferable cartoon character yammering “I’m the map” ad infinitum? Just sleeping in on a Saturday morning is priceless to them when the kids are with Grandma and Grandpa (Ugh! We simply must do something about those plain-Jane names!).

What I’m saying is…choose your grandparent battles wisely. And better yet, don’t approach them as battles at all. It’s said that the holidays are magic, so what could be more magical than three visits from Santa? Traditions are what we make them. Invent your own.

Now, does anyone know if there is such a thing as a nickname-generating program somewhere out on the interwebs?