An Open Letter to Anyone who can help: Please, they’re going to kill me.

I live in the wrong part of town, and it’s going to be the death of me. I have watched over the years as they have killed my neighbors. One by one, then whole groups at a time. Violent. Wasteful. I’m afraid for my life, for real. This is a legit plea for help.

New neighbors move in. They say it’s going to help, but I don’t believe it. Lots of new neighbors just mean that many old ones have died. And, honestly, when there’s so few of us old neighbors left, it just seems to make us targets. The new neighbors are starting to become the aggressors. They are targeting me.

Look, I’m a good neighbor. I’m clean, quiet, traditional. I don’t feel like I deserve to die. I DEFINITELY don’t deserve to die. You can call me paranoid. You can say that I’m afraid for no reason, but they’re coming for me. Right now.

They tell me there are better places for neighbors like me. If only I had been born in a more progressive city, someplace that has been at the forefront of developing the kind of rights I need to survive. I wish that someone in charge would listen for once, but the government seems to be perpetrating the attacks on me. I don’t know if I represent some kind of a threat to people or what, but I don’t think I’m going to survive much longer.

I hope you don’t think I’ve given up. I haven’t. I just have to accept reality. I’m going to die, and soon. The ones that love me don’t seem to know how to stop the ones that hate me and there’s literally nowhere else for me to go.

Look, if you think you can help, if you want to do something, go to the authorities. Let them know what’s happening to me, that they need to do something. Maybe go to the media? I feel like they’ve stopped listening to me after all these years. Maybe they’ll listen to you.

If they need to know where to find me, I’ll be in the same place I’ve been for the last 131 years. 1110 Douglas Street.

Seriously, Help Me!
The Specht Building

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Talking Dirty in Minne Lusa

I remember my first experience uttering a foul 4-letter word.

I went to a small private school staffed with teachers that rivaled the nuns of many old Catholic schools when it came to pure rigidity. These teachers (who truly did care for me) taught me the meaning of a “healthy fear.” One incident has always stood out to me – the day I said the “S” word.

My older brother tended to hang out with kids who were most comfortable standing on the other side of the moral fence and throwing rocks at all the goodie-goodies who were too chicken to follow. It was by listening to these kids that I learned the proper usage and context for the “S” word. I carried that knowledge in to my first grade classroom one sunny day towards the end of the schoolyear. I had spent the majority of the afternoon sending my imagination into orbit while my eyes glazed over and my math paper sat unfinished.

My first grade teacher sternly called my attention back to the room. “Son, you’re going to stay after school until you finish that entire math paper!”

What?! No way! It was like 75° outside! My frustrated panic came bubbling out faster than my 7 year old brain could process. “Bull $#!+ I will!” I exclaimed like a little sailor. That day, my mother told my principal to wash out my mouth with soap. I could hear her over the phone.

I never grew up to be the swearing type, because that day I learned that some words are just going to offend people. Some words are just not acceptable in polite company. And that seems to carry over to neighborhoods as well; only, here, the bad word has more than 4 letters.

I’m gonna tell you what it is, ok? Don’t freak out. The bad word for a neighborhood is . . . gentrification! *GASP!*

Ok, so it doesn’t create a visceral reaction like some of the snappier 4 letter words, but it still offends many people. Here’s why: gentrification is a term that, according to Webster, means “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.” Basically, old neighborhoods revive as new residents and developers move in, and existing residents can’t afford to keep living there.

Your feelings about gentrification will largely depend on which side of the transition you experience. The prevailing feeling is that as these outside people move in, previous residents feel pushed out, discriminated against, or isolated due to their race or economic status. The other side of the argument states that gentrification brings lower crime rates and more economic stability. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

Documented cases of broad and rapid gentrification in cities like New York and San Fransisco highlight the devastating impact to honest hardworking families who have relied on their affordable rent in order to make ends meet. Many cultural scars remain in parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx where rent prices exploded in the 80’s and 90’s as developers intentionally pushed people out of their homes in order to buy low and sell high. San Fransisco is experiencing much of the same problem right now in areas of town that have been historically multi-cultural, blue-collar communities. The increased rent prices virtually guarantee that the existing families have to leave or go broke. This leaves buildings vacant and ripe for developers to renovate.

“So isn’t that what is happening in Minne Lusa?” my wife asks me. That’s a legit question. So what exactly is happening in Minne Lusa? Are we experiencing gentrification, good or bad? I don’t think so. Let me clarify.

Gentrification is the effect of outside development and culture pouring money in to essentially change the culture of an area. It is outside pressure.

Revitalization, on the other hand, is the effect of the existing culture and residents investing time and effort into improving what already exists. It is not a changing of the culture. It is an activation of the culture. This is what is happening in Minne Lusa. Are we attracting new homeowners? Yes. But the new homeowners are moving in because they want to be part of the community that already exists here. IMG_0645We are still attracting neighbors from across the socioeconomic spectrum. We are appealing to all races and economic groups, all religions and political persuasions.

So for all of you who fear hearing that dirty word – “gentrification” – rest assured that the word you should be hearing and saying is “revitalization.” Home values are rising. Investment is beginning. Our reputation is improving. But these are all happening because of us, because we are making it happen. No developer is imposing their view of what Minne Lusa “should be,” because we already know what it should be. Anyone coming here is doing so because we already have our identity.

Minne Lusa will continue to improve over the upcoming years. But I can promise you that you will recognize it. It will not become something else.  It will be exactly what is has always been – a welcome home for everyone who wants to be part of a diverse community.

Now for the goodies:

Check out our fundraising campaign to get signage that will help welcome people to Minne Lusa.
Please, consider giving at least $5 per month for the next 5 months.


Click Here to Check Out Our Fundraiser

Also, here’s a quick chart showing the impact our Historic District designation has had on home prices. The real takeaway is watching that bottom tier of prices jump up. This effectively eliminates many of the slumlords who snatch up bottom tier homes and do the minimum amount of work before trying to get families to live in them.

Restore2015Graph outlines-page-001

And finally, SNL takes a stab at the gentrification of Brooklyn. (Funny, but beware some salty language.)

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The Power of Babel

When I was growing up, my family was the church-going kind – like the multiple times-a-week, involved in choirs, programs, and volunteering kind. My dad was the janitor, for goodness sake. So when literally no one else was at church, I was at church. I’m not interested in discussing religion at the moment, but I bring this up to say that I remember a lot of the Bible stories from my childhood. One of these stories has come to the forefront of my mind recently but for a reason that was never taught in Sunday school.

So, basically, the quick version goes like this: After God makes mankind, people become bad. Really bad. So bad that God regrets ever making man. So he tells Noah – like the only decent person He can find – “Get ready, build a boat, 2 of every kind of animal” – you remember. After all of that, Noah’s family survives the flood and starts to repopulate the earth again. Okay, now what happens after that? Most people don’t remember much after the ark lands, but there’s a really important story that comes right after that with a hidden little piece of info that gets glazed over.
In the story, civilization is building up again. People are still all speaking the same language. They decide, “We need to build a city with a big tower. This will bring us all together and keep us from scattering.” Well, you may remember that the people build the Tower of Babel – basically an attempt to claim deity status alongside God. Then God says, “Look if these people keep speaking the same language, nothing will be impossible for them. Scramble them up and send them on their way.”

Now, a lot of people tend to focus on the scrambling of the languages or the arrogance of the builders or any other number of theological points. I want to bring focus to something a little different – the idea that a building can create unity. Recently, the Omaha City Council voted to remove Landmark status from the Clarinda and Page buildings along historic Turner Boulevard. When I was having a dialogue with someone at work recently, I was asked, “What difference does it make if the buildings are torn down?”

At that point, I could understand the intentions of the builders of Babel. The real significance of the tower, at least to me now, is that the builders understood the ability of a significant building to provide stability, unity, and identity to the people around it. Was everyone going to live in the Tower? No. But it was to be part of their cultural consciousness. I’m not saying that the Clarinda would unify the people of Omaha or prevent people from scattering. I am saying, though, that these historic buildings hold part of our identity as a city, and with each building that falls, so does a piece of who we are.clar149

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if Omaha seems to lack a clear identity at times, it is probably because we as a culture have not yet learned the power of Babel. Well, in Minne Lusa, we are adamant about preserving our history and our built environment. There is an identity here that is unique, and it permeates the walls of our homes. Our culture is hidden in the woodgrain of our mantles. Our perspective is influenced by the ripples in our glass. Every creaky step, every glass doorknob, every shingle bears testament to the stories that have passed through the hands of time here. These places are sacred. They hold our history as a people. When you buy a home in Minne Lusa, you inherit the history of the families that lived, cried, married, died there before you. The built environment you come home to each night was there before you were born and, if cared for properly, will be there long after you die. Whether you intend to or not, you are adding your history to its walls. This is more than a romantic notion. Architects, preservationists, sociologists, and scientists the world over repeatedly confirm the importance of use to maintaining a building’s life just as they confirm the importance of familiar built environments to our sense of identity and belonging. When people talk about the importance of old buildings, it is so much more than just wanting to see bricks and mortar. There is a real and measurable benefit to maintaining our Babels, our Clarindas, our Minne Lusas.

Another lesson Babel teaches us is that nothing can stop us when we are united. Whether you believe the Biblical account is true or not, the lesson has persisted at least as long as the story. Cultures have acknowledged for millennia that incredible things are possible for us if we can work together for a common goal. What kinds of things could be possible for us in Minne Lusa if we could really harness the Power of Babel?

If you are curious about the story of the Tower of Babel, you can find it in Genesis 11:1-8. It’s not a long read and you don’t have to do anything with the theology in order to see some of the morals of the story. Check it out if you’d like. Any story that has endured for thousands of years must have some kind of social benefit beyond only religion. Can you find it?

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The Power of One


OK, everybody, this is one I’ve been waiting to write for a while.

My name is Matt. I am just one guy. In the scope of the hundreds of homes in Minne Lusa, I represent just one house. I am a dad. I am a husband. I have a mediocre job in a grey box looking at a computer all day. I will not save North Omaha. I will not transform Minne Lusa.

But I try. I try to be the one to transform Minne Lusa. I try to change people’s opinions of North Omaha. I try to convince organic food stores and hardware retailers to set up shop here. I try to encourage neighbors to advocate for where they live. I try to make a difference.

But why? Well, let me tell you a little story about my experience with neighborhood transformations.

Almost my entire life, I lived in a house near Hanscom Park. My parents still live there. They bought the house on 33rd street because it had a big yard, was close to my grandparents, and was very inexpensive. The neighborhood was a collection of white foursquares filled with ancient neighbors who had all vowed to live forever I think. The neighborhood was mostly quiet since most of the old folks had gotten their partying out of their systems back in the Roaring Twenties. But it wasn’t all quiet. At the top of the hill, at the end of the alley that ran behind our home, there sat a conspicuously blue house. The house stood out for more than just its color, though. The house was inhabited by a family we’ll call the “Smiths.” They contributed . . . a very different flavor to the neighborhood. They had a large, loud, smelly St. Bernard named Nard. The poor mangy beast was chained to his doghouse with a tow chain and would lunge out to the full extent of it anytime an unsuspecting kid rode by on his bike. The police paid frequent visits to the house – sometimes to break up a fight, sometimes to return one of the kids who had been caught doing something naughty like shoplifting or pointing a loaded gun at someone. One time they came to collect the meth lab from the basement. It wasn’t long after that we watched the “Smiths” move out.

Then something happened that changed my neighborhood. Another family bought the house. They were quiet, hardworking people who did what they could to fix up the damage done to it by the “Smiths.” They were not activists. They did not initiate programs or install landscape features. They just were decent people. So how did this event change my neighborhood? Because suddenly, when one of the houses in the neighborhood went up for sale, the blue house didn’t chase anyone away. Someone would buy it. One by one, the old neighbors were replaced by new ones. Young families with kids (lots of kids actually) started moving into the homes that were no longer bothered by the blue house. The new families did work to the homes. They sent their kids outside to play together. They started an annual block party. A community sprouted up on the street.

All it took was one house. One family moved out. One family moved in. It was a simple, logical change. But it made all the difference in the world. It wasn’t immediate and it wasn’t sensational. However, I learned something from watching it all unfold. I learned that one house, one guy working a mediocre job, one boring change can alter the fabric of a neighborhood. I decided then that I wanted to be that guy. I wanted to be the person that would move into a neighborhood and contribute to a change.

I want to tell you what this boring dad/husband/quasi-lawn-enthusiast has done. I’ve developed a marketing idea for Minne Lusa by creating logo work, fonts, and brochures that were handed out to realtors. I helped encourage some of the ideas that have turned into Trick-or-Treat on the Boo-levard, one of Minne Lusa’s biggest events of the year. I started the push for Minne Lusa to be designated as an Historic District. Now, before you start to get turned off by all my horn tooting, understand that I point these things out to you only to say this: if I can do it, you can do it better. I realized as I worked on these projects that I had the help of other passionate neighbors who have done their own incredible things for the neighborhood. I was not alone in any project that I undertook. As a matter of fact, many times, all I did was say, “hey, I think I wanna try to do this.” Then people would come alongside me and pick up huge portions of the work. I never really did any of the projects by myself.

Communities like Minne Lusa are hungry for awesome things to happen. We already have a network of neighbors who are ready and willing to jump on board with new initiatives. Do not – I repeat DO NOT – underestimate the power of one person with an idea or a desire to make something better. You absolutely can make a difference here or wherever you are. You don’t have to sacrifice huge amounts of your time. You don’t have to shell out huge amounts of cash. If you are sincere about wanting to make a difference, start just by talking to someone about it. Write a letter to a store or your city council person asking for the change you want to see. Post your idea or question to the Minne Lusa Historic District Facebook page. Stop by for a cup of coffee on Saturday mornings at the Minne Lusa House and talk to some folks who would love to hear about your idea.

You’re just one person. You might even have a boring job. People might wonder what you hope to accomplish since you’re just one person. But so am I. And that makes us two. Start something, and you’ll realize how powerful one can be.


P.S.  Spend a quick 3 minutes watching this video to get a quick breakdown of the real “Power of One”

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The Models of Minne Lusa

So, as most of you know, Minne Lusa was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places this last April. We are now formally Minne Lusa Historic District. This was no small feat and much thanks is to be given to Jennifer Honebrink of Alley Poyner Macchietto Architects for her brilliant work in researching and compiling nearly all of the information in the rather extensive submission. One of the treasures she came across in her research is a book of homes that were the design inspirations for many of the homes in Minne Lusa.

Everett Dodd was a local architect who designed many vernacular craftsman style homes. his designs were particulaly commendable for their simplicity, their adaptability, and their scalability. Many of the home styles are able to be repeated with a wide variety of alterations that make each iteration look like a completely new design. For a time, he had his own column in the Omaha World Herald where he would print his latest design and floorplan and talk about its finer points. In one of these articles, he responded to a critic that his arts and crafts designs lacked some of the masculinity that is a hallmark of the style. He stated that he intentionally designed his homes with the woman in mind because it was she would be the one to most enjoy it and care for it. This is evident when looking at the home designs in his book. The scale of the home and its features definitely have a slightly feminine appeal.

I thought it would be fun to post the book for you all to look through. I’m sure you’ll see some homes you recognize, maybe even the one you grew up in!

Happy Browsing!



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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 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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