Well, There Goes the Neighborhood!

December: “Honey, I was going to ask you, I don’t think I’ve seen Russel at his house lately, have you?”
“Hmmmm, not that I can remember. When was the last time you think he was there?”
“Must have been when we talked after Thanksgiving. I haven’t even seen his car in the driveway.”

January: “Glad you’re home! I saw Russel carrying stuff out of his house with his brother today. He must be moving out.”
“Really? He never said he was moving. I wonder if he’s losing the house.”

March: “Well, I found out that the side door had the window broken out. I put some plywood in the window and found the foreclosure notice on the front door. Apparently, the bank has taken possession of the house.”
“How much do you think they’ll sell it for?”Image
“I can’t imagine it’ll be very much. The house is in kinda rough shape. I just hope a slumlord doesn’t get it.”

April:“Hey, honey, I just found out that Russel’s house is listed for $26,000.”
“What? That’s super cheap!”
“I know, that’s what I’m afraid of. I just hope a good family gets it, you know?”

May: “Well, Russel’s house sold, I think.”
“Do you know who it went to?”
“Yeah the person who bought it is . . . “

You ever had this conversation? This is a real conversation that my wife and I have been having for the last few months. It is such a precarious feeling when a house in the neighborhood goes through a transition like this. I’m sure a lot of you have been through similar situations and the last line has been finished with everything from “a really great young couple” to “some scummy landlord in a Mercedes.”

For as organized and separated as neighborhoods can look – being divided by yards and property lines, driveways and telephone poles – each house and the families inside it is connected to the others around it. A neighborhood is almost a single living organism made up of smaller living organisms. In it’s best version, it’s like a beehive or an ant colony with each member contributing to the well-being of the others. In its worst version, it is full of gaps and rot where members have left and problems have moved in.

How do we, as a neighborhood, deal with something like this? What should we do as good neighbors to preserve our home? I tend to organize and categorize things to help me deal with problems. I need to make them linear. Here’s how I break it down for myself.  Maybe it will help you, too.

I look at neighbors, first, in two main categories: renters and owners. It’s an important distinction that can tell you a lot about what to expect. *Disclaimer: At no time ever in the history of ever never ever should anyone assume one is better for the neighborhood than the other.* Some neighbors are quick to write off renters as generally problematic. This is a dangerous assumption. Renters can be some of a neighborhood’s best neighbors. I have found, in my personal experience, that if a rental house is problematic, it is almost, very very almost always the landlord’s fault. A good landlord cares about the well-being of his/her investment and will make sure to perform due-diligence in getting a good neighbor in it. They will keep up the property and respond to complaints or concerns from neighbors. A good landlord will even remove a problematic tenant if need be. A problematic owner, however, is under no obligation to go anywhere. So be careful about assuming that an owner is always better.

The second distinction I use (after renter/owner) is contributor, neutral, or detractor. This category is tricky, because we have a tendency to notice the negative long before we notice the positive. This is a very important role to figure out. Contributors are the ones that interact with neighborhood kids that might seem like trouble. They keep their own yard tidy and are mindful of litter and dropped branches Imagein their area. They don’t hesitate to have conversations with neighbors they haven’t met. Sometimes they attend neighborhood meetings or volunteer for events. These are the ones that hold onto the ideal that I refer to so often: “If you want a better neighborhood, be a better neighbor.” Neutral neighbors tend to be the biggest category. These are the ones who work hard to support their families. They are polite when approached but are content to hang out in the backyard with their privacy fence. Neutral neighbors are solid, beneficial neighbors to have. One Neutral neighbor might be a die hard Minne-Lusa-for-life, I’m never going anywhere kind. The next might be just as likely to move out west if a good deal pops up. These are your standard American neighbor. There’s a pretty good chance they own a pick-up. And then there’s the Detractors. These are the one’s we all know. They are actually the smallest group, but they make the biggest impression. They don’t care how long it’s been since they took care of their lawn because cut grass is for hoity-toity people. They are more likely to park on their grass than they are to cut it. You might find old furniture outside. There’s usually a window or two that are covered with cardboard. They like to party and to party late. They honk horns in the driveway, don’t return waves, will scream at an ex-Imagelover in the yard at 11:30PM, and often have a faint cat-like musk coming from somewhere on the property. Or their house might look just like a Neutral’s house, but they will be just unpleasant. Yeah, you know that guy. House is upkept, but he’s been pickled. He’s all sour and salty and prefers to stay in his jar all by himself.

Ok, so now that we have our categories, how do we address a situation when a property turns over? How do you use this new knowledge of the different types of neighbors to make the best of what might happen to that house across the street that just sold?

Here’s the key. This is what you do. You find out which category you belong in. Figure out what kind of neighbor you are because it’s the only dog-gone thing you can control. Will you be a good neighbor to whoever moves in? Or will you be invisible to them? Or will you be the one who makes them say, “Well, there goes the neighborhood” ?

And then there’s this, just for fun:

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No News . . . is NOT Good News.

“Honey, where’s the boy?” my wife asked me.
“He’s just in his room, playing . . . quietly. Oh no.”
The realization was too late. My wife and I burst into our 2-year-old’s room. We could see his little footprints showing his circular waddle pattern as he spun around his room with the now-empty bottle of baby powder. Everything was covered in snowy drifts of talc. As a parent, there was nothing I could do but to ask my son the brilliant question: “Oh, so you found the baby powder, did you?”

Anyone who’s had a toddler knows that something is already a mess once you’ve realized the toddler is quiet. The weathered adage, “No news is good news,” is really more of a punchline to young parents. We know the importance of being aware of what is going on in our home. We know how crucial it is to listen as much to the silence as to the noises – a necessary skill for us all as citizens as well.

Minne Lusa passed through some tough days in the 80’s and 90’s. Not everything was terrible, but we were hearing the noises of a changing neighborhood. However, through the efforts some really dedicated folks, Minne Lusa has experienced a bit of resurgence within the last few years. We have had some great things to talk about – and we do talk about them. Come to any Saturday Brew at the Minne Lusa House and you’ll hear all kinds of wonderful things that go on here. If you follow us on Facebook, then you’ve undoubtedly seen me ranting and raving over every little thing that we do here like we had just won the Nobel Prize for Neighborhood Awesomeness.

There’s a reason I do that. North Omaha suffers from a bad reputation. In Omaha, when people don’t hear about the good things happening in North Omaha, the negative reputation stays in place. When negative news airs, it only pushes that perception deeper into people’s collective mindset about a whole quarter of the city.

So we need news. We need good news. We need trumpets blasting and ticker tape. We need cheerleaders and handmade signs. We need baby kissing and boy scouts and news, news, news, news! We need to hear how Trinity Lutheran is donating books and other supplies to the kids at Miller Park School. We need to hear how Avery on Titus Street won an award in her third grade class for collecting the most litter. We need to hear how North High School’s Science and Technology courses have earned it national recognition. We need to hear about the renewed interest in the history along Florence Blvd and the Walking Tour happening there in Autumn 2014. We need to know more about the redevelopment happening on 24th Street and Lake, at 30th and Ames, and at the Turning Point Campus and the new Wal-Mart. So I yammer on and on at every chance I get about how great things are here. Because no news is NOT good news. Good news is good news! And good news, folks: There’s lots and lots of good stuff happening in Minne Lusa and the rest of North Omaha. There’s not enough room in a dozen blogs to hold it all. But ask around, and you’ll come across some really fantastic things. In fact, you should add your voice to the conversation. If you don’t already talk about the great things that happen all over North Omaha, please find something you really want to brag about and speak up. Let the rest of Omaha know why Life is good here.

I would love to brag on your news, too. If you know of something really great that you think I should tell people about, let me know so we can get you some ticker tape and trumpets! You can send me a note here on the blog or by contacting me on the Facebook page or by good old-fashioned handshaking at the Minne Lusa House on Saturday mornings. In the mean time, you can check out the latest news in Minne Lusa by visiting our newsletter page at www.minnelusamessenger.com. Remember folks, good news is good news.

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Preserving Food, Preserving Community

I walk into the kitchen and pour myself a cup of coffee. I spread some “blubarb” jam on one of the hot biscuits from the counter. Snuggling down into my favorite armchair in the front room, I look out the door to see a couple of my neighbors talking on the porch. It’s Saturday morning, and this is home. But I don’t live here. In fact, no one lives here. Yet, home it is – to many neighbors on several streets and friends from all over town. I’m at the Minne Lusa House.MLH Before and After

“It’s funny, I used to deliver mail to this house,” says Beth Richards. “Yeah, but it didn’t look like this then,” says Sharon Olson from behind the kitchen counter. Beth and Sharon are the two women who started the Minne Lusa House. Beth was the mail carrier for the Minne Lusa neighborhood for many years and fell in love with the people and the homes. Sharon grew up in the neighborhood. They have both been heavily involved in many of the exciting things that have taken place in this reemerging historic neighborhood. “We wanted to teach people how to can their own food. It’s becoming trendy again, but for a while it was almost a lost practice.”

Beth and Sharon offer classes to ancansyone interested in learning how to can food or make preserves. They will teach you how to make peach salsa or pickled okra or the wildly popular “Frog Balls” – which are basically pickled Brussels sprouts. “Everyone loves the Frog Balls.” says Beth holding a jar. “We can hardly make them fast enough. It’s gotta be the name, because who ever heard of someone selling out of pickled Brussels sprouts?” Most of the food that they use for their recipes is grown in their very own gardens which is part of their goal of making locally sourced food. They share samples of everything they make at the Saturday Morning Brew. Every Saturday, the Minne Lusa House is open to whomever stops by. Coffee is always going, and so is conversation. Neighbors, friends, and people from all parts of town come when they can and leave when they want. Formally, the house is open from 9:00AM to noon, though many people linger into the afternoon if the conversation is good enough. This sense of home is part of the charm that has attracted the World Herald, Edible Omaha, and other publications to feature stories on the House.

peopleThe Minne Lusa House opens its oak front door to small groups wanting someplace to meet and discuss local issues. It has hosted the mayor, city councilmen, the chief of police, as well as crafting groups, church groups, and others. This little bungalow in the heart of a bungalow district may not by its appearance tell you that it is a developing influence in the community. Yet, if you simply walk up and down Mary Street where the Minne Lusa house is located, you will see nearby houses that have begun to show signs of improvement spurred on by the resurrection of 2737. Neighbors have met each other at the Saturday Morning Brew and developed relationships. People who grew up in the neighborhood have returned to befriend current residents. New neighbors have moved into the area from Dundee, Gifford Park, Florence, and even West Omaha. The area has started to gain interest to employees from Creighton, Union Pacific, and Mutual of Omaha. The interest in the neighborhood stems predominantly from the work of the Minne Lusa House and the ladies who run it. Minne Lusa’s popular Trick-or-Treat on the Boo-levard which draws families from all over the city is sponsored and staffed by volunteers from the Minne Lusa House. It’s often hard to measure the impact an individual or single organization has on an area, but it is fairly easy in this case to understand the value Beth and Sharon and the others at the House have brought to this community. Sharon politely deflects any suggestions that she has played such an influential role, “Well, I’ve just got the time to do what hopefully most people in this neighborhood would do if they could. It’s really hard to say I’ve done much on my own. Most of this has been done by volunteers in the area. I guess we’re kind of the vehicle people are choosing to use. They just needed us to make the vehicle available.”

A considerable portion of the notoriety the area has received lately is due to the networking efforts of the House. Since the Minne Lusa House makes locally grown foods, it has connected with other groups locally who do the same: Big Muddy Urban Farm, No More Empty Pots, etc. It has been featured at the Omaha Farmers Market, the Gifford Park Farmers Market, and the Florence Mill Market. Every March, the ladies load up sample jars and tablecloths and set up a booth at the Restore Omaha Conference hosted by MCC at the South Omaha Campus. This relationship with the Restore Omaha conference has even enabled Beth and Sharon to campaign for a Historic Walking Tour of the homes on Florence Boulevard to take place in Autumn of 2014. This Restore Omaha event will draw old-home enthusiasts from all over the metro area to a neighborhood that has largely been overlooked for a long time. Whether it be locally sourced food, preservation of history, or development of community spirit, the Minne Lusa House has been a leading force in bringing refreshed interest to the community around it.

porch ladies“We thought, ‘What can we do to bring people together?’ ” says Sharon in her interview with Edible Omaha Magazine1. “People like to eat. They like to learn.” Certainly, if there was ever evidence to be found that the way to the heart is through the stomach, the Minne Lusa House may just be it. As I walk down the terra cotta colored steps to leave the House, another adage comes to mind. “Home is where the heart is.” Maybe the Minne Lusa House feels so much like home to everyone in the community because so many people have put their hearts into it.

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The Monster Among Us

*Sigh* I try to keep this page free of politics and controversy. I try to focus instead on positive civic events and perspectives. So, please forgive me if this seems a little out of character, but I am merely responding to a trend of social media posts I’ve seen by friends and neighbors in Minne Lusa that has me a little concerned. Recently there was a string of murders in the city of Omaha that had everyone ruffled and a little shocked. Good news, the police caught the monster and he’ll stand trial for what he’s done. What I am starting to see is a rash of posts crying racism that the bad guy was only caught after killing a white woman. People are starting to question why the bad guy wasn’t caught after killing minorities in different corners of east Omaha. People are accusing the police of being careless until the victim was someone from West Omaha.mugshot

Here’s what has me concerned: The police are taking the brunt of criticism for our collective failure to be outraged at the right time. The killer’s first victim, a young black man in North Omaha, was found dead and the news reported it. No media circus. No public outcry. No weeping or gnashing of teeth. Just a sickening rolling of the eyes and pre-programmed apathy about violence in North Omaha – NOT BY THE POLICE, BUT BY US! When the two men were found in their truck in South Omaha, we simply waited for the news report to give way to the 7-day forecast. No vigils. No fundraisers for the families. We as a city missed that train. Then comes the white mother of 3 from West Omaha, and suddenly the news can’t stop vomiting details at us at every opportunity. “TRAGEDY! OUTRAGE! CALAMITY!” they shout at us. And right on cue, we print t-shirts and wear ribbons and talk about it relentlessly at the office.

The fog clears, and we have talked about it so much that finally we start asking. Asking turns to suspicion. Suspicion gives way to accusations. Accusations breed a little more bitterness and the race issue seeps to the surface like infection in an open wound. Why won’t this go away? This concept of racism among our police?

For every person who posts, “Where were the police when the black man was killed?”, I want to ask them, “Where were you? Where was I?” I suggest that before we accuse anyone of questionable racial motives, we ask ourselves how we really see the race issue.

The police are accountable for what they do, and we are right to hold them to that. But so are we accountable. I trust that the next #hashtagcritic is going to be the next #ribbonwearingvigilcoordinator.

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All I Want for Christmas . . .

Christmas ElvisLet’s be real.

Christmas is awesome. It’s the Elvis of the year’s holidays. Even if you don’t like the most recent incarnation of it, you can always look back on what it used to be. Whether you like the nostalgic version or the Vegas version, Christmas is a blast.

I’m a powerfully nostalgic person, and I find joy as much in the idea of traditions as I do in taking part in them. This is what made the first Christmas my wife and I shared such a terrible one. I would have loved to have had a perfect romantic little story for our first year together, but it didn’t quite work out that way. Here’s how it went down:

My family doesn’t have a reputation for being celebratory. Birthdays, anniversaries, milestone events, and most holidays all would pass without much more than cake and coffee at my folks house. It worked for us. We’re a t-shirt and jeans, meat and potatoes kind of family. But Christmas was always special. We would haul boxes out of the attic and set up decorations. We would go to (or perform in, usually) the church productions. My parents would have the Open House every year where dozens of families would stream through the house all day long, and I would stand next to the table watching them as I ate mostly everything my folks would put out for guests.

Gramma Bonnie'sMy wife’s family had huge Christmas gatherings with gifts galore. They would sing carols at the piano. Everyone’s signature dishes would be placed on the counter in Grandma Bonnie’s kitchen. Grandma and Grandpa’s house always looked like a Southern Living Catalogue shoot.

Well in 2006, my wife and I got married and we spent our first Christmas together knee-deep in boring and weird. Christmas Eve, we had our big family gathering and gift exchange, which was great. We met the next morning back at my folks’ house for our traditional breakfast, which was lovely. We went out to a movie together, which was nice. But the movie ended at 4:30 in the afternoon. And suddenly Christmas  night was anti-climactic.

How bad was it you ask? Well, we hadn’t cooked anything that day because we had been at my folks’ house. We didn’t have any food in the house since we had spent obscene amounts of money on gifts and decorations and couldn’t afford groceries. So we decided to order out. Do you know what’s open on Christmas night for dinner? Chinese.

weird santaOn our way to Flung Poo Palace for the least Christmas-y dinner ever, we stopped by another establishment lacking in that old-time Christmas spirit: Wal-Mart. That’s right. I bet you can just imagine all the Season’s Greetings we got there. I rooted around in the dollar movie bin hoping to find a classic Christmas program on DVD for us to watch while eating on the couch. What I found was a collection of classic *read super-old* Christmas cartoons. These were like WWI-era cartoons. They were creepy looking with terrible sound. It was so grainy, it was hard to tell if Santa was eating the children or listening to their Christmas wish lists. Major jingle buster. By far my least favorite Christmas experience to date.

This led my wife and I to decide that we needed some traditions of our own. We could create things that would make Christmas better and save us from the same depressing situation the next year. We’ve both worked hard to establish the kind of traditions that would make Christmastime something enjoyable and memorable for our children every year even if there weren’t many presents from time to time.

Then, almost simultaneously, we wondered, “What if there were no presents at all? ON PURPOSE?!?” Had we done a good enough job building traditions around family, giving, events, and nostalgia that our five-year old son would love his Christmas this year even if there was nothing under the tree?

Such a radical idea sent us right to a notebook to write down everything we had done so far and everything else we had planned. It wasn’t a long list, but we weren’t looking for quantity. We were concerned about quality. Was this year going to be a good Christmas for Christmas’s sake? Or were we hedging our bets with a few gifts?

After looking hard at our traditions, thinking about the substance and motives behind each one, we feel pretty confident that we could do it. We’re making a couple little tweaks here and there, adding some more volunteering this year. But we feel that we’ve got a good balance of doing and being, with a large helping of sentiment and nostalgia.

So let me ask you? What do you do that makes this time of year great? What if your family didn’t do gifts this year? What would be left? If we all took the materialism out of the equation, would Christmas still be Elvis?

I would love to hear from you about memories, traditions, activities, or whatever you do outside the ribbons and bows. Tell me what you do for Christmas.

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And What Have You Been Up To?

When I was growing up, my brothers and I ran around the neighborhood doing what boys do. We jumped neighbors’ fences, climbed trees, played in the dirt, fell through the convertible top of the classic car parked down the alley (wasn’t me, I swear!). We would hit each other with sticks and throw dirt clods at each other. We had epic battles involving everything from soldiers to cowboys, from pirates to aliens, sometimes all at once.

“How does she always know?”

We would play until the street lights beckoned us home for dinner. We would all spill through the back door bloodied, bruised, muddied, and exhausted. Mom would ask us, “And what have you been up to?” Now, if you read my post about the Porch Ladies, you would know that this was a trick question. Still, we would always answer with “Nuthin!”

It wasn’t that we were wanting to hide anything from her. It was just that what we were out doing was so much a part of our everyday that it seemed mundane to tell her – and we especially knew that she would be bored to hear about the convertible roof.

Well, lately I’ve been running around the neighborhood again which has kept me from posting recently. I have gotten a couple of people asking, “And what have you been up to?” To which I have habitually replied, “Nuthin!” This is definitely not true. I have decided that maybe it would be good for you to really know. Plus, I have completely avoided convertible cars for years, so I have nothing to hide.

Siding Project (Personal)
The hail storm of August 2011 allowed us to put a new roof on our home which was badly needed. Christmas Eve last year, the last shingle went on, and, for the first time since we bought the house in 2007, we have only one kind of roofing. We even passed on the new gutters and window screens in order to get the really fancy triple-laminated, hail and fire resistant super shingles (apparently in case something biblical happens with fire and ice falling from the sky). Since the roof looked so nice, I decided the rest of the house could use a little updating, too.

Put roof on. House looks good :)

Soooooo . . .  I tore the siding off am tearing the siding off. Not the original siding (all you preservationists can breathe a sigh of relief). I’m talking the asbestos tile siding put on in presumably the late 40′s or early 50′s (don’t breathe that sigh too deeply, asbestos is bad news). This has been slow going as I can only send a few bags at a time, properly wrapped and labeled of course, to the landfill. I get overwhelmed at times and stand on the sidewalk staring at my house trying to wrap my head around the next step. So, if you ever see me out there just looking at my house, pat me on the back and reassure me to take it one step at a time.
Status: Work in progress

Now, pertaining to neighborhood projects, I kind of have a hard time keeping track of all the things I’ve started, but I’ll do the best I can to recap.

You may see bikes like this roaming Minne Lusa soon.

Minne Lusa Bike-Share
All through the summer, I have been laying the groundwork for a bike-sharing program for Minne Lusa. Here’s the idea: Minne Lusa is looking to have between 4-6 bikes available for neighbors to use for free if they need to exercise or run to the grocery store or simply go for a picnic with the family. I hope that by doing this we can increase bicycle awareness and culture in the area, support local businesses, reduce emissions, improve neighbor health, and create a unique identity for the neighborhood. We’re also hoping local businesses join in supporting us by making sure they offer bike racks and also maybe offering a discount to riders on a Minne Lusa bike. I have been working with the city and a couple of local groups to get info on how to get this up and running.
Status: Work in progress

Historic Parks and Boulevards Master Plan
I won’t give you a history lesson here, so I encourage you to research a little bit about Omaha’s Historic Parks and Boulevards System. It was a big deal in its day and rightfully so. It was a beautiful way to quickly move from place to place across town. It was designed for attractive views and quick commutes.

This 1917 image may give you an idea of what Minne Lusa Blvd may look like in the future.

Though it has lost much of its original notoriety, it is still an integral part of Omaha’s streetscape today. Minne Lusa has been influential in recent design meetings with the city about how best to revitalize and re-brand this historic gem of the city. Our input has helped establish design guidelines and project priorities for the city. This won’t be something done in the next year or two, but it is instead a comprehensive plan to be implemented in portions over the coming decade.  Check out the details here. Really exciting stuff.
Status: Ongoing

Be watching for more events like this in the coming year.

Backyard Bonfire
Over the last couple of years, I have noticed many young people and families moving into the area. I try to talk to them as they walk on the Boulevard, but it’s hard to have much conversation with kids or dogs peeing on your shoes, so off they go. I have encouraged many of them to come to the Neighborhood Association meetings (which are on the 1st Thursday of every month in the Miller Park Pavilion at 7PM, in case you were wondering). Some have come, few have come back.

Instead, I decided I just need to meet these people on neutral territory and get to know them. I also wanted them to get to know each other. In the middle of October, I sent out 8 invites to a few people in the area to come to a Backyard Bonfire. We met at the Minne Lusa House for chili, beverages, and conversation. If you didn’t get an invite, don’t worry. We’ve got another in the works for mid-late January. Let me know if you’re interested in showing up or know someone we should invite.
Status: Completed

Trick-or-Treat on the Boo-levard
Minne Lusa has always had a reputation for being a premier trick-or-treat spot in the area. The past few years have seen some decline in its popularity and involvement. However, this year we held the first annual Trick-or-Treat on the Boo-levard.

Currently our most notable event.

We had a “Not-So-Haunted House” for the littlest kiddos, which was basically a tent with volunteers in costumes handing out candy amid decorations. We gave out about 200 hot dogs (called hallo-weiners. Get it? Yeah, it’s ok to laugh and/or roll your eyes). We had “Spook Island” on the north end of the Boo-levard where kids could get popcorn, juice boxes, and an unexpected visit from one of the “decorations.” Neighbors raved about the event and pledged their involvement for next year. We were featured in the Omaha World Herald as one of the 5 best spots in Omaha to trick-or-treat. Next year is already looking to be bigger and better with a photo booth for taking keepsake photos of your kiddos in costume, a hot cocoa stand, and *possibly* a petting area with goats and rabbits. If there’s anything we do that can put Minne Lusa on the map, it’s this event.
Status: Completed

Wine Walk
What’s better than spending the holidays wandering into neighbors’ houses and drinking their wine before rambling out the door with an assortment of hors d’ouevres on your way to another lovely house with more wine and neighbors? We’re working on a Wine Walk along Florence Boulevard as an opportunity for neighbors to get together for fine food and drink with the opportunity to view and tour some of the larger and grander homes in our area. This is still in concept stages, but we’ve had a lot of interest in it so far.
Status: Pending

Retail/Shopping/Dining
If there’s anything that’s conspicuously absent in Minne Lusa, it is quality dining and retail establishments. You want dollar stores? We’ve got those. But signature dining experiences? We’re running a little short since Mr. C’s closed on September 30, 2007. While we do have some good eating establishments in the area, we lack a signature establishment in the immediate proximity of Minne Lusa. Retail is nonexistant unless you consider dollar stores and secondhand shops. Grocery stores aren’t faring any better. We have the last Baker’s in Omaha to get updated, our NoFrills has a reputation for spoiled produce and outdated dairy, and we lack anything with an organic food presence. If you were to take a snapshot of our area retail/shopping/dining establishments, you might be led to believe that we prefer to buy anything priced at $1. I’m trying to woo Trader Joe’s to move into a building on 30th Street instead of putting a location downtown. This has been a bit of a tough pitch and I need a lot of community support to back me up on it. Go here to ask for a location in Minne Lusa.
Status:
Pending

This may be the view as you enter Minne Lusa soon.

Nomination to National Register of Historic Places
Fake it till you make it. We’ve all heard it, and some of us have done it. Well, I’ve referred to Minne Lusa as an Historic District for a while now without any formal designation to back that up. I’ve essentially been “faking it.” However, I’ve been working with the Nebraska State Historical Society, the City of Omaha Planning Dept, and Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture to write a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places to have Minne Lusa officially listed as an Historic District. This has been my pet project. It’s been a huge priority for me since moving here in 2007. I’m certainly not the first to have this idea. A lot of preliminary work was done to pave the way for me to push for this idea. I have been helped along immensely by people in each of the offices listed above. There has been huge support from other neighborhoods, the city, the state, as well as our own neighbors. This has confirmed to me that this is a project whose time has come. When we first started this effort, we were told to expect that only Minne Lusa Blvd and maybe Redick Ave might be considered. Currently, however, we are working on including 70% of the neighborhood, making this one of the largest (if not the single largest) historic districts in Omaha. This will be a huge win for Minne Lusa when it comes to establishing a brand recognition to help market the area to future homeowners and prospective businesses. I can’t wait to see this come to fruition. If anyone is intersted in helping with the research, we’d be glad for the assistance.
Status: Work in progress

Then there’s the Facebook Page and this blog. These projects and a hundred others constantly keep me running. I love, love, LOVE doing this. I wish I could make this my profession so I didn’t have to interrupt these projects to go earn a paycheck. I wholeheartedly believe in Minne Lusa and will do everything I can to make sure the rest of Omaha knows about and comes to love this amazing neighborhood. So, now, if you see me running around the neighborhood bloodied, bruised, muddied, and exhausted, you’ll know that I’m just up to more “nuthin!”

Hopefully, this gives you an insight into the awesome things in the works for our neighborhood and spurs something inside you to want to jump in.

If you are interested in being involved in anything I’ve mentioned here, or if you have your own pet project, let me know. Many hands make light work. Minne Lusa needs people to be passionate about it for it to be brought back to its full potential, and I just have a hunch that you just might be the person we need.

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More than Porch Ladies

I grew up in the Hanscom Park neighborhood in Omaha on a street full of neighbors who had lived there together for 173 years it seemed. These neighbors apparently were immortal and had been around since before the invention of the brick. They were telepathically linked and could summon fruits and vegetables from the ground at will and could deliver information to my mother about what I was doing before I was done doing it. I couldn’t get away with anything. It was a mystical (and sometimes frustrating) place to grow up.

I recently read an article on the Facebook page for “I Survived South Omaha.” (It’s a good read so check it out here.) The writer talks about her experience growing up in a South Omaha neighborhood and how it was shaped by her “Porch Ladies.”

South Omaha Porch Lady

Greta Smolski on her porch in South Omaha ca. 1945

In the post, the writer, Janice Golka talks about her upbringing in the south Omaha neighborhood where she grew up on 50th Street. She talked about how the women in her neighborhood were always outside on the porch or hanging out laundry. She lamented the loss of one of the women in her neighborhood and talked about how this treasured part of her childhood is becoming a thing of the past and is fading away.

The article is touching. I related heavily to it. I, too, felt the lament for the loss of this part of a neighborhood. I thought about how my own son would miss out on this memory. I got a little depressed. “What’s the world coming to? Where have all the Porch Ladies gone?” I asked with my fists shaking to the sky.

Then the clouds parted, and I had an epiphany. My son lives in a neighborhood full of Porch Ladies. No they don’t sit on a porch all day. No they don’t gossip over the back yard fence. But there is a real network of neighbors in Minne Lusa that knows, cares about, and watches out for my son.

As my son and I take walks or play in the yard, he regularly waves to Miss Beth or Miss Diane. He stops to talk to Miss Roz or Miss Eileen. He’s been to movie night twice with ladies from the neighborhood. He blows bubbles with Pastor Liz and bumps fists with Pastor John.

Sharon and Beth at the Minne Lusa House

Sharon and Beth at the Minne Lusa House – photo credit to Ariel Fried and Edible Omaha Magazine

At the Minne Lusa House, my son has a drawing of Miss Sharon on the refrigerator. Miss Sonja waves every time she walks by with her dog. Liam knows Miss Shelly delivers the mail about the same time every day and he can run over to her house any time he wants a popsicle.  Miss Katie and Mister Ralph, Mister Vern, Mister Nick and Miss Debbie, Miss Amanda, and the list continues.

There are many more adults in the neighborhood who know my son, “Thirsty” as they call him. I feel pride and security knowing that my son will grow up with a sense of neighborhood, of community. He will know that he can trust his neighbors and that he is part of a group of people that extends outside his own door. He lives in a place where people do things for each other, socialize together, look out for one another.

Now when I read the post about the loss of the Porch Ladies or the death of the idea that there are people looking out for each other, I don’t feel the lament myself. I feel like, “Man, people should move here. This is where all the Porch Ladies are.” I know that when Liam/Thirsty, who is 5, grows up to be 10 . . . 13 . . . 16 . . .I will know what he’s been doing before he’s finished doing it. He will look back at Minne Lusa as a mystical (and probably sometimes frustrating) place to grow up. And I’m OK with that.

Thank you, Minne Lusa. I owe you one!

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What I Hate About Minne Lusa.

I moved to Minne Lusa in 2007, so I’m relatively new to the area. I grew up on the opposite side of town. I had never really heard of this area until my older brother bought a house here. I would come to visit him, but I knew little else than how to get to his street. When my wife and I were looking for a house, we had a very specific list of features and amenities that we wanted in a house and in a neighborhood. We found ourselves in Minne Lusa several times and ended up buying our home right on the Boulevard which we dearly love.

Since moving in, I have advocated wholeheartedly for Minne Lusa. I have talked it up to friends, have tried selling area houses to colleagues and family members who may or may not have been in the market, I have preached the virtues of this as a wonderful place to live. I don’t regret a second of it. I firmly stand behind everything I’ve ever said.

However . . . I feel that I have earned the right to say some things. I don’t ever mention them to people because I don’t want them to get the wrong impression of my treasured Minne Lusa, but alas, the time has come for me to talk about . . . What I Hate About Minne Lusa! (Duhn, duhn, duuuuhhnn! *dramatic music*)

1. I get tired of spelling Minne Lusa to every person I talk to who doesn’t live here.

2. I hate giving geography lessons to people. (OK, do you know where the Mormon Bridge is? What about Metro’s Fort Campus? Well if you go north on 75 until it turns into 30th St . . . )

3. I hate that people who don’t live here think it’s “the ghetto.” Do you even know what a ghetto is?

Ghetto

Minne Lusa. See the difference?

4. I hate that some people who DO live here think it’s “the ghetto.” If this is you, either open your eyes or buy a Celebrity home. (I know I’m going to hear from all my friends who own a Celebrity home. Let’s be real folks, you know my opinions.)

5. I hate that so many people around here still just shrug off the sound of a siren or the sight of a police cruiser as an acceptable daily happening. Most people don’t even stop watching  “Glee” long enough to stick their head out the window to see what’s going on.

Too Many Litterbugs ‘Round These Parts

6. I HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE . . .HATE! . . . the litter that I find on the Boulevard. My son and I take walks on the Boulevard with his little Radio Flyer wagon and absolutely fill it to overflowing with litter. My son is well versed now on how litter “makes the ground sick” and stops to pick up trash every time we’re out. THAT’S NOT MY SON’S JOB!! So to you kids who threw your plastic drink bottles on the ground the other day, I saw you! To the well dressed business man in the new black Impala who tried to discreetly let his Kit-Kat wrapper flutter out of his hand while his arm hung out the window, I saw you! And to the Schmuck in the grey Pontic Vibe who threw a whole Burger King bag out the window as you raced down the Boulevard, I saw you . . .and followed you! I even gave your licence plate number to the “Keep Nebraska Beautiful Litter Hotline” (877-NO LITTR or 877-665-4887 for all you other litter nazis like me). Everyone, PLEASE, quit littering. Just hold onto it until you get home.

What number am I on now? I got all fired up for a minute. Ah yes -

7. I hate that the elm trees that lined the Boulevard decades ago all died off and that they were never replaced with comparable trees.

8. I hate that the beautiful decorative lights that once lined our neighborhood streets were torn out sometime in the past and were never replaced.

9. I hate that I have to bounce and jostle my way home on about every third street because the city has let our streets get so bad.

10. Maybe I hate the bouncy streets a little less when I think about this one. I live across from Minne Lusa elementary, and I cannot even count the number of time during school hours that someone has come racing down the Boulevard at 40-50 mph. There are kids right on the other side of that fence! Cool it, Hot Wheels! I have gotten into the habit of casually walking into the middle of the street when I hear the folk of leaden feet about a block away. This slows them down long enough for me to point out that it is a school zone not a qualifying lap. My neighbor is concerned that one day, he’ll come out to just find me squashed in the road. He might be right. Maybe I should just look into a speed bump instead.

11. Rentals. I don’t hate renters. Some of my best neighbors are renters. But I hate rentals, mostly because landlords don’t care for them the way a homeowner would and renters are limited on what they can do. There’s an entire street of rentals in Minne Lusa where all the houses are owned by one guy. The houses are worn down and neglected. Again, not the renters fault, it’s not their house. Here’s the kicker. The owner lives on the same street! His own house is pristine! I don’t know yet how to approach that issue so I dedicate my resources to areas where I know I can have success, but this is going to be tough nut to crack. And it’s going to have to crack. (Any ideas?)

There are always going to be things that bother us about where we live to some extent because we share the space with other human beings. My wife and I love Minne Lusa and we’re proud to call it home. My son will grow up with utopian memories of this place. I continue to campaign for my treasured Minne Lusa. I love the place, and I am impressed by how much positive momentum I have seen recently. I hope that if you have not checked out Minne Lusa recently, that you like it as much as I do. I hope that I have not scared anyone away.

I would like to hear from you. What are your hot spots in Minne Lusa? What do you love? And (dare I ask?) what do you hate?

**Editing Note – in my comment about litter, I had previously mistakenly said the owner of the Vibe worked at the barber shop on 30th St. I have been corrected on this twice as the owner of the barber shop indeed lives in the area and has a good reputation. The owner of the Vibe has no affiliation with the barber shop or its staff. Thank you to those who corrected me on this mistake.**

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Who’s at the Controls?

I love adventure movies.
I grew up pretending to be Indiana Jones and wishing to find secret clues that led to some big adventure.

It had been a while since I had watched a good old adventure movie, so I popped in an obscure movie from the 80′s about an expedition to the sand dunes of the Sahara.

The crew was loading into an old plane. One of the young adventurers was enamored with the plane and was chatting up the old pilot about the craft. “This is a mid-30′s Lockheed Vega, isn’t it? Wow, I love these old planes!  You know Amelia Earhart flew one of these! etc.”

The pilot was obviously proud of his plane and talked about how she had always been such a good plane, even though she was older and needed some upgrades to be “a pretty gal again.” The old pilot had sat behind the controls of that plane for over 50 years and knew everything about it.

After loading the plane, they all embarked on their long flight. Everyone on the expedition team had basically drifted off to sleep as the plane floated along. The young man woke up as the wing dipped hard to the right, presumably from turbulence. “A bit rough here is it?” he asked. No response. “I was asking if it’s windy here?” he shouted to the pilot. Still no response. The young man worked his way into the cockpit to check on the pilot who had fallen asleep at the controls. The young man chuckled for a second as the old pilot’s white mustache twitched in his sleep. But then he saw it. As the old pilot slept, the plane had slowly lost altitude and was now dangerously low over the sand dunes and falling more quickly. The young man tried to rouse the pilot who muttered something about having “kept things up long enough” before he lolled into a deep sleep again. The young man quickly strapped himself into the co-pilot’s seat and tried frantically to familiarize himself with the intricacies of this old aircraft. Grabbing hold of the controls, he started pulling back hard to get the plane to lift her own tired nose again. Still the plane was falling. He strained hard against the descent, trying to rouse the other expedition members in the back of the plane to help.

The wings vibrated and the engine whined and growled through the effort. The plane was waking up, and so was the old pilot. Together the young and the old pulled back on the sticks. Some people in the back of the plane were convinced the end was near and bailed out of the plane, rolling down the sand dunes.

As a large dune loomed in front of the windshield, the wings finally caught the updraft they needed and the old girl pulled out of her descent. Finally, the airplane was soaring safely again and the remaining adventurers devised a plan to keep someone fresh at the controls to prevent the pilot from becoming burnt out by doing everything.

As I watched this scene, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’ve experienced that feeling of pulling hard at the controls. The whole event felt very familiar. Then I realized that I was relating that old plane to the neighborhood I live in and have been working on. It’s a beautiful old neighborhood that just needs some upgrades and polishing to be “a pretty gal again.” The neighborhood has been in the same slow decline that the Vega was. The longtime folks in our neighborhood have been at the controls and have “kept things up long enough” without new help and have gotten tired. I’ve felt like the last couple of years as I have worked on improving the place where I live that I have been fighting that descent, pulling hard at the controls as I have advertised, marketed, networked, and promoted Minne Lusa. There have been folks that felt the neighborhood was going down, so they bailed. I feel that, like the large dune at the end of the scene, our biggest obstacle is in front of us as a neighborhood. The biggest obstacle we’re going to have to face right now is simply getting more people to be willing to jump in and take control of something.

We can get this neighborhood “soaring” again. Minne Lusa was designed to be desirable and beautiful. We’re not trying to make the neighborhood into something it isn’t. We just need alert, able-bodied folks to be involved.

We’ve got some great opportunities to be active. We’re not talking about bake sales and reporting code violations (although if that’s your thing . . . have at it!). We’re talking about a Summer Arts Festival, landscaping opportunities, swinging a hammer in home revitalization, assisting in getting decorative lighting restored to the neighborhood, and so many more exciting projects. This is not a sleepy neighborhood who’s best days are behind it.

We are a thriving place to be activated. Come on up to the cockpit.

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Give Shade, but Don’t Be Shady

 It was our first house purchase. My wife and I had a very specific list of things we wanted in a house. We wanted at least 3 bedrooms, a good sized kitchen, at least 1700 square feet, in a good neighborhood that would provide a good return, and trees.  We wanted big mature trees on the lot to provide shade and make the house feel  snuggled into its surroundings.

Our property has two huge silver maples. They provide a lot of shade. Unfortunately, age and insects have determined that these trees will need to be removed within the next few years. I wanted to have it done already, but my wife doesn’t want to replace them because the new trees will take too long to grow.

Sun Dappled Home in Minne Lusa

Shaded Home in Minne Lusa

My wife and I aren’t alone in this. Nearly everyone wants a big tree, but we don’t want to wait for it to grow.  I was talking with a fellow old home enthusiast who lives in a beautiful older neighborhood, one of Omaha’s finest. He equated it to what people want in a neighborhood as a whole. Trees offer stability, comfort, beauty, and protection. We want the same from our neighborhoods. But like the trees, people seldom want to be the ones to put in the time to wait for the roots to go deep and strengthen the tree. He pointed out that trees and neighborhoods both die if they grow too quickly because there aren’t any roots.

Homeowners want to buy a house that someone else has fixed in a neighborhood that someone else strived to improve. Many younger homebuyers don’t want to put roots into a place for decades. They plan on leaving in a couple of years, which leaves little time to invest.

Our neighborhood needs those families that stay, that raise their children, and whose children return to buy homes. We need neighbors who put down roots, grow deep and strong and help provide that stability and beauty that we all look for. Having the neighborhood we all want takes time. It takes investment. It takes roots. Trees that grow too fast don’t have time to put those down and they die off.

If you’re not actively involved in the place where you live and raise your family, take the time to contact us and ask where you can fit in. We know everyone is busy, but there are hundreds of ways, big and small, to be involved in making Minne Lusa the best place in Omaha to live. (You could even volunteer to remove a couple of huge silver maples!)

Wherever you live, just feel free to jump in and be involved!

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