Horsing Around in Omaha

While in the US, we flew back to Kansas City for a few days visiting family, then drove to Omaha for two nights to visit Andy and Sugi, whose wedding we had just attended in Maui. To make the trip even more fun, we brought my six- and nine-year old nieces along. The main event: ride one of Sugi’s mother’s horses.


On the three-hour drive north to Omaha, we skirted around a rather imposing storm front, managing to stay dry most of the way. The first evening at Andy and Sugi’s house was a bit of a challenge as the girls were supposed to share a bed but the younger one takes a long time to fall asleep. Her older sister couldn’t take it, so decamped to our bedroom, where we set up a comforter, blanket, and pillow on the floor.


The next day, we headed to Sugi’s parent’s house outside of the city. Sugi’s mother has three horses, one of which is very gentle and perfect for children to ride. When we first came into the barn, I think the girls were a bit apprehensive. The older one, Emily, is a little more reticent than her sister, Ava. (Photo courtesy of Andy.)


We each took turns saddling up and riding for a little bit, first in the indoor riding area and then outdoors. (Photo courtesy of Andy.)


Don’t I look like an old pro? (Photo courtesy of Andy.)


We had the girls wear a helmet for safety’s sake. Their reactions to the horses were interesting to watch.


If you aren’t familiar with horses, I can understand how you would be a little in awe of them. They’re awful large, especially when you are a child.


We pose with our ride and Sugi’s mother, Myra. Many thanks to her and her husband Mike for their hospitality. The girls had a great time and helped brush the horse after the ride.



Andy and Ava seemed to be the perfect foil for each other.


We stayed for dinner at Myra and Mike’s house, which was a mixture of foods (including grilled items!) that included several things that spoke to Myra’s heritage growing up in a Japanese-American household on Hawaii. There were a few dishes that the girls were unfamiliar with, but for the most part they gamely gave everything a try.


After dinner, it was some time for Dance Nation!


You can probably guess which song Andy and I were dancing to.


Sugi and Emily share some dessert at brunch the following morning.


After brunch, we went to the old Union Station in downtown Omaha, home of the Durham Museum, a science and technology museum geared towards children. The station’s lobby has wonderful period sculptures, including this businessman reading the train schedule.


Downstairs at the station, there are several refurbished train cars you can walk through, to give you a sense of what life was like on the Union Pacific line back in the day.


Everyone enjoyed hanging out in the lounge car.


In the science part of the museum, we enjoyed an exhibit about puzzles. This one involved four people working together to raise and lower a “hot air balloon” to land on targets on the landscape. Each person controlled a rope that was attached to one of the four sides of the balloon. It took a lot of cooperations, communication, and coordination in order to land on the targets.


Ava and Uncle Tawn pose next to a sculpture of a soldier and his sweetheart waiting for a train to depart.


Ava and Andy got along quite animatedly.


It was a fantastic two days in Omaha and I hope Andy and Sugi weren’t too overwhelmed by our nieces!


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.



Before heading to Kansas City and the craziness that two young nieces can create, I drove north to Omaha for two days of acclimating to the American Midwest with Andy and Sugi.  (Better pics of the events on Andy’s blog.)  Since we first met a year ago when we were in the Omaha area for our wedding, Tawn and I have enjoyed having the opportunity to see Andy and Sugi several times, including in Taiwan last November.

Thursday evening shortly after I arrived, we headed out to Shucks Oyster Bar and Fish House to join Sugi’s sister, brother-in-law, and niece for Thursday Fish Taco Night.


A dozen oysters on the half-shell.  Delicious.


Fried fish tacos (also fried shrimp tacos) had a nice batter with just a hint of spice.  Different from the Baja-style fish tacos that I’m used to from San Diego, these were very tasty, too.

Thanks to a Tylenol PM, my second night in the US was a good one, sleeping straight through for about seven hours.  Sometimes I find that the best way to fight jet lag is to beat it into submission with some medication.  Sugi and Andy had both taken Friday off from work and we had a full day planned.  But first, some breakfast.


Baily’s restaurant specializes in Eggs Benedict, including this type with a slab of tomato and thick slices of smoked bacon.  The eggs were perfectly cooked with a firm white and a golden liquid yolk.


Our first stop was the Strategic Air and Space Museum a few miles west of town.  The museum focuses primarily on the history of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), the operational establishment in charge of America’s land-based strategic bomber aircraft and nuclear missiles until 1992, after which a military reorganization led to the closure of SAC.

As an aviation enthusiast, I found the museum very interesting.  Even people who aren’t so interested in aviation – Sugi, for example – enjoyed the visit as we went on a docent-led tour with Bob, a former Korean War pilot who had a wealth of information and a cute sense of humor.


Andy and Sugi in front of the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane which is dramatically displayed in the museum’s entry lobby.  The museum has two hangars with about two-dozen aircraft displayed, many of which have been expertly restored.


C-47 Skytrain, the military version of the classic Douglas DC-3 passenger aircraft.  Over 10,000 were built for World War II and General (later President) Eisenhower identified the C-47 as one of four pieces of equipment critical in winning the war.  The other three were the jeep, the bazooka, and the atom bomb.


B-1A Lancer – This bomber was actually one of four prototypes built to test all of the systems before full production of the bombers – redesignated the B-1B – began.


F-101B Voodoo – an all-weather fighter/interceptor designed to protect America from incursions over the North Pole from Russia.  Was also operated by the Canadian Air Force.


B-17G Flying Fortress – A heavy bomber that was critical to America’s success in World War II.  More than 12,700 were made and more than 4,700 were lost in combat missions. 


B-25N Mitchell – A medium bomber that was made famous by Doolittle’s Raid on Tokyo, a 1942 surprise attack by 16 B-25 bombers launched from an aircraft carrier hitting five cities in Japan.  The success in this attack helped lift the sagging American morale in the wake of Pearl Harbor and damaged morale of the Japanese civilian population, who had been told that their homeland would never be reached by bombers.


After a few hours at the museum, including a disturbing special exhibit about the Nazi’s eugenics experiments and extermination programs, we drove further west to Lincoln and visited the James Arthur vineyards.  Yes, wine in Nebraska!


The tasting room (and the winery behind it) is located atop a small hill with a cute garden around it, the perfect place for an afternoon tipple.


We tried tastings of a half-dozen different wines along with a sampling of local cheese produced by the University of Nebraska’s agricultural department.  The best of the James Arthur wines were the semi-sweet whites, the grapes of which are well-suited to this climate.  The reds were not as good.


Beautiful skies and rolling fields of corn and soybeans lent a pastoral look to the passing landscape.

After the wine tasting we drove to Sugi’s parents’ house on the north side of Omaha.  Sugi’s sister was celebrating her birthday and I was fortunate enough to be invited along.  They live on 20 rural acres with a sweeping view of the countryside.


Sugi’s mother prepared an elaborate dinner including baked lobster tails, grilled beef teriyaki, and clams boiled in a garlic-sake broth.  She didn’t want any pictures taken, but Andy and I both managed to snap a few shots.


Sugi’s mother is passionate about horses and has two that she trains and shows.  Taylor, her niece, loves the horses and they seem equally fond of her, following her from the barn to the exercise yard.  They probably know that she usually comes bearing carrots!


Taylor riding bareback on Callie, a beautiful 13-year old mare.  Lest you worry for her safety, Callie’s grandfather was standing in the back of the picture, cleverly hidden, holding her leg.


Cowgirl Taylor is eager to ride the open range.


Sunday morning after another relaxing night’s sleep Andy, Sugi, and I went for breakfast at WheatField’s, a local chain of German bakery restaurants.  The selection of baked goods was overwhelming.


The cute indoor patio seating area, which was a bit over air-conditioned.


Wanting to enjoy some fresh seasonal fruit I had the peach crepes for breakfast.  As pretty as it looks, the dish was a little disappointing.  The flavor was very one-dimensional and about one-quarter of the plate would have been more than enough.  The yogurt they drizzled on top wasn’t substantial enough to add anything to the overall flavor.


Andy ordered a seven-piece serving of Ron’s Honey-Drizzled Fried Chicken.  It was really well-prepared and the honey does add a nice touch.  You’ll be glad to know that Andy did take a few pieces home.


Sugi’s choice was probably the best – half egg salad and half chicken salad with a side of homemade chicken mushroom soup.  You can tell how cold it is in the dining room by noticing that a skin was already forming on the soup’s surface.

After that filling breakfast I hit the road for the three-hour drive back to Kansas City.  Thanks again to Sugi and Andy for a wonderful start to my visit.


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.