Posts Tagged With: neighborhood

New Beginnings

In my previous post, I talked about how my family has recently moved away from the beautiful two story home on Minne Lusa Boulevard that we lived in for 10 years. It felt a little like the end of an era for our family. At the same time we were dealing with all of the feelings of ending a decade-long chapter in our family’s story, we heard from Beth Richards that the ladies who have long been the heart of the neighborhood would be closing the Minne Lusa House – another significant ending.

Sharon and Beth at the Minne Lusa House

Sharon and Beth will be closing the location of Minne Lusa House at 2737 Mary Street

After spending years working on casting a vision for the neighborhood, attending countless civil and community meetings, giving up family time to attend events, and seeing a tired community wake up, I began to panic a little that maybe things were headed in the wrong direction.

I was feeling uprooted. My family was doing a little grieving at moving away from a house filled with so many memories. The main community engine in the neighborhood was shutting down. What would this mean for me personally? For my family? For the neighborhood? Not to paint too bleak a picture, but I really questioned if all of our neighbors’ hard work from the previous years would end up being undone. That’s a scary thought for many families in Minne Lusa who have begun to feel the benefits of the stability and upward trend of the neighborhood.

But recently, it has become clear to me that what I was seeing was not the end of things. What was happening was a series of new beginnings. When we sold our home on the Boulevard, we had originally planned to move out of the neighborhood to a home that was a little more conveniently located to our extended family. Instead, we bought an adorable long-vacant pink bungalow on Mary Street. IMG_3593We moved in at the beginning of December and have been working on waking the house up from a long and neglected slumber. Our family has been building memories here as the work we’re doing is helping the Bungalow feel more and more like home. At the same time, neighbors around the neighborhood have volunteered to keep up meeting on Saturday mornings after the Minne Lusa House closes its doors. Instead, friends and neighbors will be meeting in individual homes on rotation as front porches around Minne Lusa will become new touchpoints for visitors and longtime friends. The Minne Lusa House as a location may be closing, but the original mission of the house – to create community – is actually coming to fruition in a more complete way. As individual neighbors invest their time in welcoming people into their living rooms for coffee on Saturday mornings, the ownership of the Minne Lusa House becomes widespread.

At the pink bungalow on Mary Street, we continue to scrape and sand and run wires and undo 50 years worth of time. Our goal as a family was to give this home “another hundred years”. So with every bruised knuckle and filled plaster crack, with every stroke of paint and repaired window, we remind ourselves that we are helping get this home into its next century of life. And outside of the pink bungalow, neighbors are taking the same kind of ownership of our community. With every cup of coffee and planted flower, with every decorated Boo-levard island and neighborhood cleanup, be reminded that the community here is helping get this neighborhood into its next century of life. What’s happening in my family’s life and in Minne Lusa is not the end of anything. It is a new beginning for everything.

If you’re not already a part of what goes on in Minne Lusa but you would like to be, don’t wait to be approached. Feel free to come to coffee any Saturday morning and throw out your ideas. Contact us on Facebook at and tell us what you want to see happen. We have a great network of people in the neighborhood who all give varying amounts of time and resources as they are able to make this place one of the coolest communities you’ll find in Omaha or elsewhere. Take pride, and take ownership. There’s some new beginnings happening here and you won’t want to miss out.

Here’s a quick video about why taking ownership in your community is important. Check it out if you get tired of listening to me yammer on at you about it:

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Reflections: 10 years of “Living Down North”

The end of October marks the 10th anniversary of my family’s time in Minne Lusa. As some of you know, I ain’t from around these here parts. The neighborhood where I grew up was nice, but it was no Minne Lusa. As a matter of fact, when my wife and I were looking for our first house to buy, we were surprised to find this place where we found it.

We moved in at the end of October in 2007. Our oldest son was less than three months old when we opened our front door for the first time. We have had ten years of life and memories in this house, in this neighborhood. As I try to process the idea that a decade has already passed, I’ve spent a good amount of time reflecting on what is the same and what is different.

Let me start with what feels the same. When my wife and I first moved into the neighborhood, we had just had our first son. We were trying to figure out how to be parents and we wanted a place that would be good for a young boy to grow and play in. Recently, after several years of trying to have a child without success, we have had a second son who is close in age at our tenth year to what our firstborn was in our first. We’re trying to remember how to be good parents. And we still want a neighborhood that is good for a young boy to grow and play in. When we first moved in, we relied on existing neighbors to help us feel at home in our community. Now, many of those same neighbors continue to make my family feel at home.

When we moved in, Minne Lusa was a neighborhood that had not yet fully realized its potential. Ten years later, that may still be true. We have made great strides in the last decade, but our real potential still remains unfulfilled. I’ve always had a vision of Minne Lusa being the community that starts to change unfair perceptions of large portions of North Omaha. I’ve always believed that we could be a local and national model for the transforming power of community. We’ve definitely taken good steps towards that, but we’re still waiting for that next level of neighbor participation. Major change will only happen with major involvement.

Many things have changed in the last 10 years, too. When we first moved in, Minne Lusa was a neighborhood without much of an identity. We had little to offer that would distinguish us from other Omaha neighborhoods. Now, we have a fairly effective brand that revolves around the kind of community that fuels Saturday Mornings at the Minne Lusa House, Trick-or-Treat on the Boo-levard, the incredibly fun Annual Golf Scramble, and the cheering section for the Omaha Marathon. Crime is down by almost 40% in the last 10 years and home values have risen significantly. We have been designated as an Historic District and have decorative signs installed on the Boulevard that welcome visitors and neighbors alike. We still haven’t solved the “Bad Landlord” issue, but we’ve improved the “Good Neighbor” ratio.

One of the biggest things to have changed in the last 10 years is that people aren’t surprised anymore when good things happen here. We’ve consistently worked hard to make those good things happen, to the extent that it is no longer unexpected to hear that this little North Omaha neighborhood is doing something awesome. In the first year or two of my time here, getting good press for Minne Lusa was like catching a unicorn. It was rare – virtually nonexistent. It was almost startling for people to see us in the press. Now, we’ve been in the news, locally and regionally, enough times that people aren’t  surprised anymore. That may not seem as exciting to you, but let me tell you, it’s an awesome thing. We’re a long way off from where we as a community have a vision to be, but we are a long, long way away from where we were 10 years ago.

There are a lot of emotions tied to my family’s decade in this house, in this community. This place and these people mean more to me than any of them know. The creaks in my steps, the cracks in my walls, the smell of the leaves on the sidewalks – all of these things and a hundred others have become a part of me in a way I never expected. I don’t know where I’ll be in another decade. I can hardly prepare for the coming week because life moves so fast. I can only hope that 10 years from now, I’ll be able to sit down again and look at how much Minne Lusa has continued to change and how much it has continued to stay the same.

I talk a lot about my experiences in Minne Lusa, but I’d love to hear your observations about the last decade in Minne Lusa or your vision for the next one. You can email me at or message me at

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Does Minne Lusa have Middle-Child Syndrome?

middleFull disclosure: I’m a middle child. Sometimes it feels like it takes a middle child to notice one. For those of you who don’t know what middle-child syndrome is or who roll your eyes when it’s mentioned, you must be firstborns or only children. Middle-child syndrome is real . . . so real.

I remember the first time I recognized that another person fell in the same birth order as myself. I was in 8th grade and was listening to a kid try to tell a story to one of his teachers. She got distracted with someone else for a minute and he just gave up in the middle of his sentence and worked on something else like he had never even been talking. “Oh my gosh! I do that same thing!” I thought. It’s a symptom of competing for attention. You see, we middle-children aren’t groomed to be the overachieving leaders like firstborns. We aren’t doted on like the baby of the family. We often are unsure of our own role in the family. We tend to gravitate to creative outlets to find our identity.

OK, so enough with Psychology 101. I hear you wondering what all this has to do with Minne Lusa. I figured out the other day why I’ve always had such a soft spot for my neighborhood – aside from all the wonderful people and great houses, that is. I realized that, right now, Minne Lusa plays a middle-child role in the Omaha family. We’re not among the really notable “firstborn” neighborhoods that get most of the grooming and are expected to lead the way. And we’re not the baby neighborhoods out West that get doted on just because they’re young. For a long time, Minne Lusa has been unsure of its role in the big picture. We’re socially in the middle between a heavily white part of town and a heavily black part of town. We’re economically in the middle of a business district on 30th & Ames and one at 30th & State. Both sides look at us as belonging to the other side, neither one really identifying with us. We don’t own much of the popular history of Omaha, but we own more history than some people are comfortable with. If all of the neighborhoods in Omaha were family members at Thanksgiving, we’d get stuck sitting with Weird Aunt Harriett and the two cousins who wear cowboy boots and pajamas to everything.

Like a true middle child, however, Minne Lusa has crafted our own identity and grown more confident in it every year. We realized that we didn’t want to be exactly like any of our sibling communities. We feel free to pick and choose the aspects of our identity that make sense for us. It’s actually quite liberating.

Another way that I see Minne Lusa identifying with a middle-child role is our ability to connect to people and our appreciation for creativity. This is quickly becoming our reputation around town. We are open and creative and welcoming and non-judgemental. That’s no small thing. The middle-child isn’t bent to become a CEO. They’re more likely to invent the next trendy drink and invite friends over to try it out. They see people and can relate in the way that only a person – or a neighborhood – in the middle can.

These days, it seems like we need more folks in the middle. Less extreme, less volatile, and more able to relate. We need someone between the racially and economically segregated. People want a place where there is encouragement without judgement, where they can be a part of something without having to be artificial. Minne Lusa has that in spades, and I have to believe that maybe that comes from being in the middle.

I’d love to hear about how you see Minne Lusa in relation to your own birth order personalities. Feel free to email me here or just find me on Facebook.

Not sure if your personality matches up with your birth order? Take a quick quiz HERE to find out.

Fun fact: 52% of all US Presidents have been a middle child! Also, I was going to try to find some cute video to tag on the end here like I sometimes do, but no one has made a good video about being a middle child. Go figure.

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Another Pleasant Valley Sunday

2014 House Projects 002

Like me, my house is always a work in progress.

“I’m the one with the scaffolding.”
That’s a strange way to introduce oneself, but I find it’s one of the most effective when meeting someone from the neighborhood. I’ve been progressively working on the outside of my house for quite some time and had scaffolding on the side of my house for almost 2 full years. People from the neighborhood recognize that and can immediately place where I live. Once they recognize the reference, it’s almost like we’re already friends. They smile and give  the whole “Ah Ha!” nod.

I’ve never had anyone in the neighborhood complain about the scaffolding even though I know people hope my project will eventually find its end. On the other hand, I was talking with a realtor about a neighborhood where the houses are a little more . . . alike. She mentioned that one of the houses had started a landscaping project that had taken a while to finish and neighbors were beginning to get upset. She said that in some places, people don’t mind different as long as it’s all the same kind of different. Landscaping was OK as long as it looks mostly like everyone else’s landscaping. boring

The whole rest of that conversation seemed to follow that same line of thinking. Cars, paint colors, even dogs . . . neighbors seemed to want a certain level of uniformity. It made me think of one of my favorite songs from The Monkees – “Pleasant Valley Sunday”. I remember listening to that song when I was young and feeling like there was a sense of comfort about the neighborhood they sang about. Then I got older and could see the irony underlining the words.

“Rows of houses that are all the same . . . and no one seems to care.”

There’s a scene in Tim Burton’s “Edward Scissorhands” that shows this idea with all the subtle sarcasm that Burton is known for. It’s a scene I often relate to where the titular character is being driven through one of these suburban style “all the same” neighborhoods. There’s families and kids and cars that all look perfectly identical which makes the macabre nature of Edward so evident in contrast. Sometimes I feel like Edward when I drive through some of these places.

About the neighborhood I was discussing with the realtor, she felt it was kind of eerie, but I can almost understand the idea. We’re comfortable with what we know. The problem with neighborhoods where the houses are all the same is that the people living inside them are all vastly different. The homogeneity of some neighborhoods seems to be a shelled attempt to believe that we are all the same. “My neighbor is the same as me so I am safe.” This leads to a form of dishonesty about ourselves and about the people we live near. And as any 6 year old can tell you, dishonesty leads to a need to hide. Kids hide under their beds after they are dishonest. Neighbors hide behind privacy fences and garage doors.

One of the great things about Minne Lusa, and neighborhoods like it, is our honesty. Neighbors here are who they are. There is no pretending to be something we are not. Our houses aren’t so perfect that we immediately notice the one house on the block who still needs a paint job. We all have things we need to work on. We encourage each other and are genuinely glad when one us is able to afford a new roof or to put in some landscaping. We don’t hide behind privacy fences. We sit on the porch and wave to each other. We share coffee and ideas. We are not all the same, and we like that. We are not Pleasant Valley, but we are Minne Lusa and we are proud if it.

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Confessions of a Good Neighbor Gone Bad

I became a bad neighbor today. I’m not proud of it.

There’s no “confessional” for neighborly sins, so to speak, so I’m just gonna confess to you all instead. Judge me or don’t, I just need to get it off my chest.

An ambulance has just pulled away from a house up the street from me. I stood at my kitchen window gawking almost from the time the first firetruck pulled up. I don’t know what happened to the individual. Frankly, I don’t even know the person who lives there. The house has been in rough shape for years. I’ve heard other neighbors say the person is a hoarder. ambulance

Here’s where my neighborly sin happened. Instead of standing at my window hoping and praying for the best, I gave into a thought that went something like this: “Hey, maybe they’ll have to give up the house to someone who will take better care of it.”

That thought played out in my head for a minute or two before the sickness of it dawned on me. The house?! I’m watching a neighbor get wheeled out on a gurney, unsure whether they are even alive, and I’m thinking about paint colors and landscaping?! I felt like I turned about as green as my kitchen walls. I have always wanted what was best for the neighborhood. I love seeing people rescue these adorable bungalows and bring new life to the street. Somewhere in my head, that was the justification for my terrible thought process. I just wanted to see the house improved for the good of the neighborhood, right?

One of the core ideals in Minne Lusa has always been, “If you want a better neighborhood, be a better neighbor.” Tonight, I perverted that into, “If you want a better neighborhood, hope for a better neighbor.” Wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG, WRONG!

Here’s where I went wrong. First, human life, especially that of a neighbor, should always be priority. I should have been concerned with the well-being of my neighbor, not their house. Second, I should know my neighbors. I’ve never so much as knocked on that door to say hello and tell them my name. Good neighbors are friendly and outgoing. Maybe that person wouldn’t have opened their door or wanted to hear my name. But I should have tried. Third, if I am concerned about the condition of the house, I have had plenty of Saturdays or Tuesdays or whatever to stop by and say, “Hey, I’m offering my time to the neighborhood today. Is there any work I can do for you as a neighbor? Gutters? Painting? Yardwork?”

“Be a better neighbor. Be a better neighbor. Be a better neighbor.” This keeps running through my head tonight. “But I have other commitments that take up my time!” “Be a better neighbor.” “But what if they think I’m a weirdo for offering?” “Be a better neighbor.” “But . . .but . . ” “BE A BETTER NEIGHBOR!”

If my confession can do anything for you, let it be this. Let it be a reminder to you that a neighborhood, this neighborhood, is made of people, not houses. Whether a house is pretty on the outside is less important than the neighbor living on the inside. Minne Lusa is a communitywonderful community. People love living here . . . because of the people. There are other neighborhoods in Omaha with bungalows. There are other old houses to buy. There is a whole network of boulevards surrounded by old homes with charm. What sets Minne Lusa apart from all of them is the PEOPLE. When those people become less important than the houses they live in, our community will start to fade and we will become no different from the beige plywood wonderlands of other communities where people tend to live rather isolated lives in their covenant-governed paint schemes.

Confessions mean nothing without a change in actions. So, with that in mind, I will be trying to connect with my neighbors throughout the summer. I will be introducing myself. Stopping for occasional chats on front porches. I’ll sacrifice an hour or two on a Saturday to do some raking or haul some trash. I want a better neighborhood, so I will be a better neighbor.

I hope you will, too!

PS. I’m feeling a little exposed and vulnerable after this confession. Help me feel better by letting me know your neighbor experiences in the comments. What have you done well? what would you do differently?


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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

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.

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?


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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