Tag Archives: things to do

Exploring Omaha on Valentine’s Day

February 7, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Valentine’s Day is all about sharing the love and letting your spouse, your children, your friends—even your dog—know that you care.

But when it comes to Valentine’s Day celebrations, it can be a little difficult to share the wealth when you find yourself stuck in the stereotypical rut of chocolate, flowers, and the same dinner at your favorite restaurant every year.

Home to dozens of distinct neighborhoods, Omaha offers hidden gems that are waiting to be discovered, as well as classic landmarks that might be overlooked on Valentine’s Day.

Meghan Francis and Kerry Jones, founders of the Omaha-based blog Wise Owl + Sly Fox, brainstormed some unique Omaha Valentine’s Day activities.

“I guess we’ve always been old souls with old styles, and that’s one great thing about Omaha: There’s just so much history here,” says Francis.

Together, Francis and Jones came up with a Valentine’s Day “tour of Omaha.” Pick and choose from different activities to show loved ones a small portion of all the intimacy, history, and romance that Omaha has to offer.

Get your heart rate up in the morning with a walk or run with your loved one through the Field Club neighborhood. Located along an old railroad bend, the Field Club trail offers visitors a brief glimpse into a bygone era. Although you’ll have to bundle up, the sights of this secluded area include gorgeous ravines, snow-capped trees, and abandoned railroad tracks.

If your partner is a history buff, make a quick stop by the Gerald R. Ford Preservation Center near Hanscomb Park. An exhibition on Ford, the only president to have lived in Omaha, is open by appointment by calling the center’s main phone line at 402-595-1180. The exhibit is available for private viewing Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., free of charge. The exhibit features photos of his birthplace, family memorabilia, and gifts given to Ford by world leaders and well-wishing locals.

For lunch, hop on over to Dundee, home to both casual and higher-end fare in an all-accessible setting. Stop by the French Bulldog for something on the trendier side or try Dundee Dell for classic comfort food from an Omaha staple. Both spaces offer comfortable opportunities to spend some time watching the eclectic crowd of Dundee.

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If you’re looking for an afternoon activity once the kids come home from school, Valentine’s Day crafts are an easy way to get the whole family involved. Francis and Jones suggest making homemade cards.

“We’re big fans of sending things through the mail. It’s just always a fun thing, and it’s something that we don’t do a lot in this day and age,” says Francis.

“Send them to your grandma, your single aunt, veterans at the VA hospital, whoever,” adds Jones.

For crafting supplies, head out to South-Central Omaha. David M. Mangelsen’s has been stocking Omaha’s crafting closets since 1961, and is an easy stop to find any Valentine’s Day-related arts and crafts supplies you could think of. A few hours coloring, gluing, and bedazzling might expose some hidden creativity among the family.

If you want to end your night with a more traditional Valentine’s Day celebration, spend the night in the Old Market, which is home to a host of restaurants that offer the quintessential romantic dinners by candlelight. Francis and Jones’ personal favorite is La Buvette, a French-style café and grocer.

For some after-dinner entertainment, look to the Omaha art scene. Many of the Old Market’s art galleries, including the Passageway Gallery and Anderson O’Brien Fine Art, are open until 9 p.m. on Fridays for some late-night shopping.

Although, after a whirlwind day around Omaha, you might want to hit the sack early.

Making Tracks

February 1, 2014 by

The frostbitten months carry additional and sometimes frustrating challenges when taking my two preschool-age grandsons for the weekend. The problem is that there seems to be an inverse relationship between the temperature and the CFQ.

The what?

That would be the Cabin Fever Quotient, that restless, bouncing-off-the-walls void created when you run out of indoor activities capable of entertaining the little ones. But Saturdays are a snap if you possess an intrepid spirit and a decent pair of boots.

One of our fave winter outings is to go critter tracking in expeditions that offer a fascinating peek into the sometime-secret winter habits of area wildlife. Start by doing a web search on the subject of “animal track identification” and you’ll find gobs of online field guides and other useful resources, several of them in easily printable, carry-along formats. It’s also fun and informative to gather the children in front of the computer to watch any of the zillions of YouTube videos available on the topic in preparation for your woodland trek.

A fresh, unblemished snowfall is the perfect palette for such wilderness adventures. Virtually every interruption in the pristine blanket at your feet—yes, droppings, too—holds a mystery waiting to be unlocked by young, inquisitive minds. Forgot to print out that field guide we discussed earlier? Smartphone web search to the rescue. While you’re at it, take close-up photos and have the kids start their own wildlife journals to match prints (and poop) to the animals that left them. Pocket a small measuring tape to have the children record the dimensions of the markings and make note of where they were found. Do those raccoon prints lead to or from water? Do those squirrel tracks disappear at the base of a mighty oak?

Sprawling spaces like Fontenelle Forest, Hummel Park, and area state parks offer a staggering array of snowy finds, but even the more expansive of city parks will reveal evidence of almost everything short of deer.

Take along a thermos of hot chocolate and find a log to carve out some quiet time during your treasure hunt. Especially because the snow acts as an acoustic muffler, there is nothing quite so serene—even spiritual—as the dead silence of a winter’s morn. Be quieter still and you increase the odds of encounters with all manner of creatures.

The awe-inspiring majesty of nature never hibernates. Introduce your grandkids to the wintry landscape, and soon there will grow in them a deeper reverence for the natural world and their special place in it.

Winter Is Coming

December 2, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The day after Christmas 2011 coincided with the eight-year anniversary of the day Matt and Kim Mixan first met. At the skating rink on 10th and Howard streets, a small group of their friends quietly encouraged Matt to go through with the afternoon’s plan: proposing to Kim. “It was something I’d been wanting to do for years,” he explains. “I’d always planned that spot, that day, that event, for three years in a row, and it never panned out.”

“At lunch, he was downing the margaritas,” Kim recalls. “I was like, what is going on?” The nerves didn’t go away. It took several laps around the crowded rink and Kim wanting to stop due to bruised ankles from the skates before Matt coaxed her to the center of the ice. With their friends surrounding them, he got down on one knee and said, “I couldn’t think of a better place to do this than on our eight-year anniversary with people who love us.” Laughing, Kim asked a couple times if he was serious, then answered, “Yeah, okay!”

Of course, it’s not strictly necessary to be prepared with that level of commitment before enjoying the ConAgra Foods Ice Skating Rink, and you don’t have to plan for three years. As of Sat., Dec. 14, all that’s really required is a five-dollar bill for admission and skates, because who has those? On the weekends, night owls and lovebirds alike can skate till midnight. Wear an elf hat and feel good about yourself, because 100 percent of proceeds go to Food Bank for the Heartland. The donations translated into 1.3 million meals last year, according to event manager Vic Gutman of Vic Gutman & Associates.

Still, the rink’s varying hours can get a little tricky to keep in mind. If you just want to soak up some holiday cheer already, Downtown’s Holiday Lights Festival is in full swing from Thanksgiving evening until about a week after the New Year. What that means in English is the trees along the Gene Leahy Mall are lit by more than a million fairy lights every night. As are six blocks of 24th Street in North Omaha. And six blocks of 24th Street in South Omaha. Soak up even more nostalgia and stop by the Mall around 7 p.m. on Saturdays. Choral groups, ranging from youth to professional, will regale passersby with holiday tunes for an hour.

But sometimes standing around admiring sparkling lights isn’t that appealing because, you know, winter. It’s cold. Get thee to Beer Corner USA on 36th and Farnam streets for Holiday Beerfest. This is a one-time deal on Sat., Dec. 7, and it’s from 1–5 p.m. (drinking in the afternoon? Psh, it’s the holidays. Also, good prep for long-planned proposals, apparently). The seasonal-brew-sampling fest has been going on for the past seven years, so get your tickets early ($22 in advance, $27 at the door) and drink your way through 100 or so winter brews and three separate bars: Crescent Moon, Huber-Haus, and Max and Joe’s. “Winter beers,” explains Michael Perdue, manager of the attached bottle shop, Beertopia, “are darker, use more roasted malt, and there might be some spice as well—cinnamon, cardamom. We’ll have a lot of porters, stouts, some strong English ales, too.”

What is beer without a little snack? The Old Market Candy Shop officially has its annual offering of pumpkin pie fudge. Owner Jeff Jorgensen promises that egg nog fudge is not far behind. Sometimes they have ribbon candy too, but don’t hold your breath. It may or may not be available when you go. Of course, right next door to the Candy Shop is Downtown’s permanent homage to Christmas, Tannenbaum Christmas Shop, also owned by Jorgensen.

Consider working off the chocolate with an amble along Farnam Street near 33rd. The shop windows at Midtown Crossing are decorated once again for Miracle on Farnam, a series of intricate holiday displays. More than 20 sponsors have designed these nostalgia-inducing, shadow-box-like tableaus. The windows housing animated pieces in particular call to mind postcards of old-fashioned toy shop windows decked out for the season.

It makes for quite a romantic stroll in the evening, by the way. No ice skates required. And let’s be real, you don’t want to be that guy who stole someone else’s proposal technique anyway.