In Which I Visit the Seven Wonders of Omaha
The first time I went to Omaha a few years ago, I wasn’t expecting it to be much fun. I was visiting relatives and since nothing much happened on that trip I was able to continue maintaining my delusion that there was nothing to do in Nebraska.
I was so wrong. On subsequent trips I explored the town in the charming company of my expert navigator husband, and found so many wonders that we didn’t have time for them all.
The Omaha Zoo can’t be beat. Beautiful exhibits, fascinating beasties, and cool stuff we haven’t seen anywhere else, like the Desert Dome. It’s the biggest geodesic dome in the world, and houses desert environments from Namibia, Australia and the Sonoran Desert here in the U.S. It’s gorgeous, worth the price of admission all by itself. The Dome is so well-designed that on a beastly hot day it was cooler inside than out.
Wonder #2: The amazing plants and trees in the Desert Dome can get a girl all fired up about needing some new cacti and succulents, so I was practically bouncing on the car seat until we got to Mulhall’s. I kid you not, this is the mothership of garden centers. It’s bigger than you can possibly imagine and every bit of greenery is in spectacular condition. (Unlike a certain local very expensive garden center that I’ve started calling Dead Tree Central.) There’s so much to see it’s overwhelming, and the succulents? Be still my heart. You can actually buy a six-foot-high pencil tree in this place if you want one and have $200 burning a hole in your pocket. I stuck to the little guys, not having either a flaming $200 or a large truck.
I did not misbehave too badly. Really. There was still room in the car for my mom and all of our suitcases when I got done buying plants.
Zesto is the reason we must never, ever, under any circumstances move to Omaha. We’d each weigh 500 pounds. I wish I’d taken a picture of the vintage ice cream stand–this place has been in business since 1949–but when we stopped at the old place we’d just finished a hot, exhausting day at the zoo and all I could think about was one of Zesto’s chocolate malts. Not blog photos. Sorry.
At lunch the next day (no visit is complete without two trips to Zesto), however, I did restrain myself long enough to photograph the pork tenderloin sandwich for you.
And the onion rings.
Nothing but fast food, you say? Uh uh. Not fast. They start cooking when you order; nothing’s sitting around under warming lights. And it’s scrumptious. Perfect fries and onion rings, perfect sandwich, malts so good you’re likely to propose marriage to whomever you’re with while you drink one. Lucky me, I was already with my dream husband.
Wonder #4: HobbyTown. This place is a hoot, even if you’re not buying what they’re selling. Even if you’re following along while your husband compares the fine points of 50 different kinds of glue and searches for just the right model to work on. See, guys in Omaha seem to be big into those funny little radio controlled cars that go a million miles an hour and jump and make screechy revved up whiney sounds; and adjacent to the parking lot there’s a special dirt track for those things, with hills and jumps and dust, and there’s always at least one guy standing out there–even on a sunny, 90 degree day–putting his little car through the paces. I’d never seen anything quite like it.
Wonder #5: The Brass Armadillo is a small chain of massive antique malls which we first discovered in Denver. The chain started in Des Moines, and there’s also one in Omaha. (There’s not an armadillo within 2000 miles of Iowa, but it’s a good name anyway.) We stopped at both of them on this trip. Hundreds of dealers and 30,000 square feet of junk to poke through. Antique shops, I think, are one of the few kinds of businesses that actually work better when they’re consolidated like this. Expenses are shared, and dealers aren’t tied to the shop all the time, so they can be out searching for great loot. Like this plate. I love the message:
Wonder #6: Blackeyed peas, cornbread, okra and baked sweet potatoes, with teacakes for dessert. My mom’s cousin has been cooking authentic Mississippi soul food since before I was born. Probably since before you were born, too. Her peas and cornbread are alone worth an eight hour drive, and her teacakes will put a serious hurt on you.
Wonder #7: You knew I’d get to it, didn’t you? Yarn shops. Omaha has some nice ones, and I had time to check out two. First up was String of Purls.
This place is in a very upscale little strip mall (which is also home to a very fine independent bookstore, The Bookworm), and it gets points for pretty. The arrangement here is gorgeous. Exotic yarns on every wall, grouped by color. It’s fun to walk around and drool, but even a sucker for color like me has to admit it’s not the easiest way to find anything. Points also for comfy armchairs and a coffeetable loaded with magazines–the M.E. relaxed while I searched. I’ve never seen so many luscious ribbon yarns, but if you’re in the market for sock yarn, this ain’t the place. “Sock yarns are in the tower over there,” the clerk told me. “The tower” was a stack of three small baskets, with some Regia and one or two skeins of Cherry Tree Hill. Nothing that made me drool, colorwise. I ferreted out some Koigu KPPM in another display. “Oh yes,” she said. “You can use that for socks, too.” Too? I didn’t leave emptyhanded…
…but was this my favorite of the two? Oh no. I just didn’t feel at home in String of Purls, pretty as it was. The best was yet to come.
Personal Threads Boutique is in an odd location (currently–the store’s moving soon) and is part of another business which sells art and home furnishings. When you pull up outside, it looks so undistinguished that you’re not sure whether or not you should bother to go in. When you do venture in, you have to
walk squeeze through the home furnishings department, which is wall to wall with stuff you’re not looking for if you’re a knitter. You worry that perhaps the emphasis will be on needlepoint, not knitting, and you’ll have driven across an unfamiliar town to find only a few stray skeins of unhappy yarn.
You would be wrong. Folks, this place is not only friendly and helpful and enthused about yarn and knitting, it’s the motherlode of Koigu. That’s right, the good Koigu’s in Omaha.
This is a family-run shop, and the proprietor (I so regret I didn’t get his name) is really, really into color. He’s developed such a good relationship with the women who run Koigu that he actually requests specifically how he wants his yarns to be made. He insists on only the most vibrant, luscious colors. And they’ve got an entire wall of it–they have one of the biggest selections in the country, and Mr. Personal Threads made certain to show me the newest colors they’d just gotten in. Could I resist? Need you ask?
This yarn doesn’t photograph well, because the color is so subtle. It’s so deep and rich with browns and mossy green you can practically smell a damp, dark forest when you look at it.
Personal Threads, in case you’re wondering, happily fills orders by mail. Check out their website. This place is top of my list for my next trip to (properly pronounced) Nebrasker. That’s it, seven wonders!
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