Visit to Omaha

Near the end of my trip, I drove up to Omaha to spent a night with Andy and Sugi.  It is normally about a three-hour drive form Kansas City to Omaha.  After about the first hour, I started to encounter snow which grew heavier the further north I went.  By the time I hit the Iowa border, I was passing cars that had spun off the road and took that as a clear warning to slow down.  Arriving in Omaha to sluggish and slushy late rush hour traffice, my trip took about an hour longer than normal.


Sugi and Andy at the Mexican restaurant they took me to, Cilantro’s.  Sugi managed to order the really good dish, a mixed fajitas that included some tasty chorizo.  Andy had some tamales that were decent.  My fish tacos totally missed the mark.  Using tilapia, the tacos had a muddy flavor that I couldn’t get past.  All in all, I decided not to post pictures because the dishes pretty much looked like American style Mexican food from just about any American style Mexican food restaurant.  That said, the company was fantastic.

Now, I’m not totally unfamiliar with snow.  But at the same time, I live in Bangkok so it isn’t something I have to deal with very often.  Here’s a short video capturing my impressions.


View of Andy’s street the morning after my arrival. My poor little rental car really wasn’t up to the task.  I wasn’t able to get it all the way up the driveway without it slipping on the ice.


The culinary highlight of the trip to Omaha was a drive across the river into Councli Bluffs, IA, where Tawn and I were married a bit more than two years ago.  In the downtown area, just a few blocks from the courthouse, is Dixie Quicks, a combination restaurant and art gallery, which just recently relocated from Omaha.


The space is fairly large, much more so than their previous space, and features an eclectic style of decorating.  Chef René Orduña’s menu is a hodge-podge of southern, Mexican, and Cajun, done to good effect.  It was featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” although you shouldn’t hold that against them.  The staff is friendly (ask Andy about his new nickname) and the food is good. 


A vintage toy robot stands guard on the beautiful terrazo counter.  The restaurant definitely has a retro-chic vibe.


A real stand-out item on the regularly changing menu is the cornbread crab cake.  Loaded with plenty of lump crab meat, the use of cornbread gives the cakes an added dimension.  The sauce is a tomato butter which is made, interestingly, using the steamer on an espresso machine.  If I had it to do over, I’d just have ordered three of these and called it a day.


Chicken Tortilla soup with a wonderful mixture of vegetables.  Good flavor and the avocado was a nice touch.


Sugi ordered tortas, which were filled with avocados and lots of other tasty things.  Served with a side of pickled collard greens.  I’ve never had pickled collard greens which were, as you might expect, vinegary.  Made for a pleasant contrast.  While I liked the tortas, I do think that a crustier bread would have been nicer.  Just my preference, though.


My breakfast was chilaquilles, a first for me. A common Mexican breakfast dish, chilaquilles makes use of leftover tortillas, which are fried then simmered in salsa.  In this version, tomatoes and peppers are used to create something that is reminiscent of lasagna but with Mexican flavors.  Served with black beans and two soft fried eggs, this was a really tasty treat and something I look forward to seeking out at other restaurants. 

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We managed to get on really well with one of the owners, the one who gave Andy his nickname.  Before we had even finished our main courses, two types of French toast had been sent out for dessert, compliments of the house.  The chocolate and banana is on the left and fresh berries are on the right.  The bread is the same as is used for the tortas and while I still maintain that a slightly crustier bread would be better, it was hard to fault this French toast.


The gallery next door was open for browsing, getting ready for a three-artist show that was debuting that evening.  Here, a giant inflatable black squirrel holds an acorn.

All in all, Dixie Quicks was a highlight meal during my trip to the US.  A drive up to Omaha is worthwhile if for no other reason that to visit Andy and Sugi. But having this restaurant there provides an added incentive.


We’re Married! (Now with Photos)

Thanks for your patience as Tawn and I went through a weekend’s worth of wedding celebrations and then tried to sort through pictures in order to share them, and the associated stories, with you.  We were fortunate to have several guests with cameras and had the opportunity to gather the pictures before the weekend ended.  Another friend, Ryan, shot with a digital SLR and hopefully we’ll have some even nicer pictures to share with you in a few weeks.

Thanks also to the dozens of congratulatory comments and well-wishes.  More than ever, this trip in which we’ve met several Xangans, has reinforced what a community this site really is.  We appreciate all your thoughts and greetings.

On Thursday morning we headed north to Council Bluffs, Iowa, about three hours from Kansas City.  While my sister, brother-in-law and the nieces went to the zoo, Tawn and I took a nap then picked up guests from the airport.

Along the way, we had a rather blogable moment as my brother-in-law borrowed the keys for the sedan in order to remove something from the trunk.  He then kept the keys in his pocket as they headed off to the zoo, something I didn’t discover until thirty minutes before Lilian and Anita’s flight was scheduled to arrive.

We ended up taking a taxi across the river to the airport, what ended up being a $50 round trip!  Thankfully, though, Lilian and Anita were easily found at the baggage claim and the timing worked well.


Above: Tawn, Anita and Lilian at La Mesa Restaurant.

After dinner at a Mexican restaurant (I realize I’m repeating a bit of a previous entry, so my apologies), we headed to the Cass County (Nebraska) Fair to enjoy the rides on the midway, a taste of cotton candy, and the roar of the crowd at the tractor pull.

Top: Tawn, Lilian and Anita in the grandstands at the tractor pull.  Middle left: The same trio buying some cotton candy.  Middle right: A single passenger spins round and round as the sun dips below the western horizon.  Bottom: Tawn, Chris, Sugi and Andy.

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Driving home along the country roads, Lilian and Tawn dozed as Anita chatted with me to help keep my eyes open.  After dropping them off at the hotel, I headed back out to the Omaha airport as Ryan’s flight arrived at 11:30.  After stopping by a local diner so he could order dinner (six hours on Southwest with only peanuts – but that is to be expected), I called it a night.

Bight and early on Friday morning, we were showered and dressed and ready for breakfast.  The obvious choice: the Cracker Barrel.  Below, Anita and Tawn wait for their grits.


We arrived at the courthouse at 10:30 and went to the County Recorder’s office to pick up the license.  The clerk, who had been grumpy on Tuesday morning when we first applied, seemed a little less so this morning.  Maybe she’s more of a Friday person?  In either case, we reviewed the document, signed it to attest to the accuracy, and then headed upstairs to the Court Clerk’s office.


Above, waiting at the Court Clerk’s window with our witnesses, Anita and Ryan.

Thankfully, there weren’t any cases in session so the waiting area outside the courtrooms weren’t filled with the scraggly assortment of people who were there Tuesday morning.  Still, there were a few people around, looking on with curiosity as the dozen or so friends and family members filled the room.

Below, pre-wedding picture with my family members who had made the trip.  Note the bemused lawyer getting into the elevator in the background!


This whole bureaucratic process reinforced for me that marriage is, more than anything, a civil function: a legal recognition by the state of the relationship between two adults.  I believe more than ever that all “marriages” should be identified by the state only as “civil unions” and that the churches should be allowed to do whatever additional ceremonies they see fit.  Separation of church and state.  Anyhow, let’s not get into the political aspect of this issue here.

While we were taking pictures, the judge came out of his courtroom and called us in.  He was very friendly and invited people to walk in front of the bar if they wanted to take pictures from the area in front of the bench.  Oddly, though, everyone respected the institution and stayed in the viewing gallery.

We asked the judge whether we could use our vows from the commitment ceremony we did in 2004 as part of the wedding.  He reviewed them and decided they complied with whatever requirements for wedding vows that the state of Iowa has, so agreed to use them instead.


Here they are:  (Video of us saying our vows here)

(Chris/Tawn), I choose you to spend my life with,
to grow with, and to make my life with.
I will honor and respect you and be by your side
as we build a life together.

You are the love of my life.
Through the challenges and joys,
the brightest peaks and darkest valleys,
the sunny days and stormy nights,
I pledge my love to you
until the last day of my life.


We then exchanged rings and continued:

(Chris/Tawn), I give you this ring as a symbol
of my love, joy and fidelity.
Wear it as a reminder of my vows to you
and your vows to me.

With that, five minutes after we started, the judge pronounced us legally married.

It is worth noting that during the ceremony, I had a view over Tawn’s shoulder of the window in the courtroom door.  I noticed two faces in it during the proceedings:  One was that of a redheaded teenage boy wearing a baseball cap, who had a confused and slightly disgusted look on his face.  The other was of the grumpy clerk from the County Recorder, whose face was beaming with a wide smile.

After the witnesses signed the license and the judge congratulated us, we headed downstairs to the adjacent park for some pictures.  Council Bluffs, a town that is perhaps a bit lost in the shadows of its larger neighbor, Omaha, still has a cute historic center and they have done a very nice job on the remodel of the park.


Above, Tawn and I pose in front of the fountain.  Below, posing with my parents, who drove in the previous day from Indiana.


After pictures, we drove to a local barbeque restaurant (C’mon, this is a midwestern wedding.  What did you expect us to eat after an important family event?) for lunch.  No pictures there as once you get your fingers wet with barbeque sauce, you don’t want to be handling your camera!

Filled up with good food and flushed with the excitement of finally being legally recognized as a couple, we loaded back into the car and headed back to Kansas City.

Reception covered in the next entry.  Once again, thanks for your good wishes.  I’m glad to be able to share this special event with you.

First Trip to Iowa

Arrangements for the Friday wedding are moving ahead quickly.  Monday afternoon I drove to KC Airport and picked up Tawn, who was flying in from San Francisco.  We then drove north two-and-a-half hours to Omaha, Nebraska where we met yet another Xangan, Andy, and stayed with him and his girlfriend at their cute suburban home.

Omaha is known for its beef (and Warren Buffet, too) so Andy took us to Brother Sebastian’s, a steak house and winery that is designed to look like a monastery.  Very good New York Strip.  Below from left: Chris, Tawn, Sugi, Andy and Ali (a summer intern working in Andy’s lab).


Tuesday morning, Andy accompanied us to the Pottawattamie County courthouse, in beautiful downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa.  It is actually a cute downtown, although the city itself has seen better days.  Andy served as our witness as we filled out the marriage license application.


Going through this process reinforced for me that the issue of same sex marriage is ultimately a civil one, not a religious one.  Nothing that we filled out had anything to do with religious beliefs; it was strictly a civil procedure, the creation of a contract between two consenting adults.

The lady working the counter wasn’t the friendliest person I’ve encountered.  I wonder if she’s just that way all the time or whether she feels forced as a civil servant to process applications for same sex weddings she doesn’t believe in.  I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she’s just grouchy.

Interestingly, the application form has “Person A” and “Person B” and you can check one of three boxes for each person: “Bride”, “Groom” or “Spouse”.  We opted for “Groom” and “Groom”.


Above, Tawn and I in front of the courthouse.

You’ll find this interesting: in the hallway of the recorder’s office is this poster:


Harrah’s Council Bluffs casino will give you a complimentary cocktail with your marriage license.  Based on the rainbow color and “Everyone Plays a Part” slogan, they must be targetting same sex couples.


Last weekend we were able to meet another Xangan, although just briefly.  Ruth Ann has been reading a lot recently as she and her husband lived in Thailand back in the early 1970s.  I really enjoy her comments as she provides nice perspectives on what it was like to be an expat in Thailand then.  Needless to say, some things have changed a lot while others haven’t.


My brother-in-law has also been doing some smoking in preparation for the guests who will be in town this weekend.  You can just smell the hickory smoke, huh?


Will have information about the wedding soon… stay tuned.