The Gudgel Family Advent Calendar — “Friendships”


When Sonja and I had been dating for less than six months, I asked her if I could take her out to eat for her birthday, and she agreed. I spent the next several weeks in preparation; I had invitations printed to her birthday party, arranged the party room at Vivace’s — a terrific, now-closed restaurant that had fantastic gluten free Italian food, and I invited every one of her important friends that I and her closest friend Anna (top, second from left) could name. Then my friend Heather and I stayed up late one night at Barrymore’s stuffing envelopes and I mailed them. I even had a gluten free cake made with her, now our, dog Mollie’s face on it.  When I took Sonja out for dinner that night, I genuinely think she had no idea she had a surprise party coming. Then the hostess escorted us to the back and, long story short, Sonja had a surprise birthday party and I cemented my position as boyfriend of the year. Soon after we got engaged.

As we count down the days to Christmas and the advent of, amongst other things, 2019, Sonja and I are thinking a lot about the things for which we are grateful, and at the top of the list are our friends.  In the six plus years we’ve been together, we’ve assimilated so many of them to the point that they are mutual, and in addition made new ones. We value people a great deal, and go out of our way to see them as often as we’re able. It’s easy with kids not to do that, but at the end of the day it’s the humans in our lives that make them so incredibly rich and fulfilling, and we are grateful to them — you. Thank you.

I have some great memories from this year with friends. I’ve reconnected with many I don’t see often enough, and had a few fun excursions. In particular, the time spent with Tylr, whom I’ve known now for three and a half decades, fills a lot of the highlight reel. If you missed it earlier, here’s a snapshot:

I’m grateful also to Brian, with whom I pace half marathons, and to Logan with whom I catch up sporadically to talk about the Huskers and life in general. I’m appreciative of Sky for his long talks, Mike for always brightening my day, and Barron and Travis for filling so many of our nights with meals and mirth. I could go on and on here, and maybe I should, but I’ll stop for now. Please just know that if you are one of Sonja and my friends, then wether we’ve seen or spoken to you recently or if instead it’s been a while, we love and appreciate you dearly, and we are grateful for all that you add to our lives.

Friday night, we had six friends over for a special dinner. The friends ranged from Mark and Meg, a couple we see somewhat frequently, to Christa and Ryan, whom I hadn’t seen in years and Sonja hand’t met, to Todd and Michelle, with whom I went to dinner and a play a few weeks ago, and who live in our neighborhood.  I looked forward to it all week, and when Friday night finally came I had a sensation something akin to what I used to feel like on Christmas morning as a boy. One by one they arrived and we hugged and took off coats. Then we all sat down to raclette.

Raclette is a cheese, yes, but also a meal, and it was another wonderful set of friends, Geri and Stas, who first introduced Sonja and I to this. In short, it’s a swiss tradition, a meal of cheese melted over potatoes and vegetables, usually pickled. It’s as wonderful as you’d expect a cheese-based meal to be. Here’s a play by play for my foodie readers:

We love sharing this meal with friends; it’s a long meal and we typically ask that folk not sit by those with whom they came in order to make still more friends. For several hours we noshed and drank and talked about our weeks, our jobs, World War II, and more. Part of me wished we could just have a sleepover, and in the morning I’d make waffles. I love hanging out with friends.


Paired with this special meal for special people was a wine I was very excited about. I always take great care an pairing wine for raclette, and I don’t know that I’ve ever done better than I did Friday night. “D2” is DeLille Cellars flagship wine. DeLille, in Woodinville, Washington, is one of my favorite producers, and does fantastic things with Columbia Valley fruit. My friend Jay actually introduced me, first to their wines, and later at Taste of Washington to their winemaker, Chris Upchurch, who has rightfully obtained the status of legend as a winemaker. DeLille’s wines are all terrific, though for the money I don’t think D2 can be beat. A Right bank style blend, D2 is a terrific combination of soft upon the palate and yet structured enough to last. While the 2016 vintage, their 25th vintage of this wine, is drinking beautifully right now, the wine is undeniably young and you shouldn’t hesitate to lay it down for a while, depending on your own preferences. I decanted it for about an hour, and this smooth, easy-drinker with beautiful aromas and a flavor profile of blue and purple fruits, some earthy notes, and oak was so undeniably Washington, so undeniably Merlot — it was everything I hoped it would be and more. For the locals, I last saw this wine at Whole Foods.

Our friends are perhaps the single most precious thing in our lives, next of course to Titus and Zooey, and we couldn’t possibly be more grateful to them. If you are reading this and you count yourself among them, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you for all that you pour into our lives. It has been a truly extraordinary year in a lot of ways, and as we look back over it that is in large part because of the cast of characters who make our lives so meaningful and complete. Thank you.

Cheers to our wonderful friends,


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