Happy Birthday Nebraska

Posted by: LuAnnin Nebraska-isms

NebraskaismsHappy 147th birthday, Nebraska!

For the most part, you look better every year. Sure, you have a few wrinkles – like the rest of us – but you seem to embrace those wrinkles, roll with the stresses of everyday life, and adapt to disruptions thrown your way.

In 2017, the Cornhusker state celebrates its sesquicentennial. Last Friday, the Nebraska 150 committee unveiled the design chosen for the celebration’s seal.

Vivid colors depict Chimney Rock, Sandhill Cranes, and the Platte River, along with native grasses. The seal will be pressed into a silver commemorative medallion, along with pendants depicting the Capitol, railroad involvement, agriculture impact and Native Americans.

Since 2012, NE150 has been planning a grand party for the 150th celebration. The committee is comprised of 19 individuals, primarily from the Metro area. (Only two members live west of Seward and no committee member resides in Northeast Nebraska.)

Throughout 2017, celebrations will be held across the state to promote Nebraska’s history, increase current economic development plans and boost Nebraska’s image across the U.S.

Nebraska First Lady Sally Ganem pushed for a virtual tour of the Capitol. NET jumped on board to bring the tour to fruition.

One of the biggest price tags associated with the sesquicentennial has been the redevelopment of Centennial Mall, which stretches seven blocks from the Capitol to UNL. Originally built in time for Nebraska’s centennial, the strip of street blocks had become run down, lacking proper lighting and a sagging infrastructure.

The updated version of Centennial Mall will include a plaza area, wider sidewalks, and public gathering areas. Each block features a specific Nebraska story, including the story of Nebraska becoming a state, stewardship and natural resources, influential people and cultures, education and art. Wi-Fi, along with an interactive history system, will be available.

Hopefully, the restored Mall will appeal to visitors and draw people to the space.


In honor of Nebraska’s birthday, here’s a bit of trivia. Do you know…

  1. What are the three USHL hockey teams in Nebraska?
  2. Hudson-Meng archaeological site and Toadstool Geologic Park are within what federal expanse?
  3. What Columbus attraction pays tribute to the resident who invented the Higgins boat of WWII?
  4. What annual event in central Nebraska consists of a 300-mile continuous yard sale?
  5. What popular canoeing destination is referred to as Divorce River due to its level of difficulty?
  6. What occupies the former Union Passenger Terminal of the Union Pacific RR in Omaha?
  7. Once a vaudeville house, what Omaha theatre is home to Broadway productions, opera and dance?
  8. What Nebraska town was the third community in the U.S. to be named an official Booktown?
  9. Where can you find the world’s largest ball of stamps?
  10. What famous outlaw began his gun slinging career at Rock Creek Station near Fairbury?

Answers, in order: Lincoln Stars, Omaha Lancers, Tri-City Storm; Oglala National Grassland; Andrew Jackson Higgins National Memorial; Junk Jaunt; Dismal River; Durham Museum; Orpheum Theatre; Brownville; Boys Town; Wild Bill Hickok.

What’s your Nebraska IQ?

NebraskaismsRecently, I read two articles in the Huffington Post, both advice pieces offering a list of seven items that Americans could learn from two spots in Europe. While the lists offered fun ideas, along with practical information, both lists defined cultural aspects of a specific region. And it got me thinking…

What can the world learn from Nebraska?

Plenty. Here’s my list of valuable lessons we, as Nebraskans, should be teaching to those who don’t live within the borders of the Missouri River and Chimney Rock.

First, appreciate the past while looking to the future. We realize the important role our ancestors played in developing this country and the land in particular. It’s probable that many of the lessons we implement in our lives are a continuation of the examples we viewed while growing up. Still, we don’t live in the past. We understand challenges facing our state, especially our local communities, and work toward finding viable solutions to problems to ensure continued growth.

Second, embrace family. Many of our families are rooted here in the middle of America. We realize that family remains an unwavering mainstay we rely on. Family keeps us grounded, strengthens our ties to community, and builds a hopeful future.

Third, work hard. Again, many of us learned this lesson while watching our parents and grandparents put in a lot of sweat equity. We know that hard work pays more than a paycheck. It’s the backbone of who we are, of the reflection we project on the rest of the world.

Fourth, value land and water. Be good stewards of both since they play an important role in our state. They provide the foundation for many livelihoods, so it’s essential to maintain them. Enjoy the rugged and varied landscape across the state, from the Loess Hills to the beautiful sand dunes. Sip purity from the Ogallala Aquifer. Most important, remember that land and water forms the groundwork that feeds the world.

Fifth, be honest and loyal. No matter where I travel across the state, I am always in awe of our deep sense of honesty and loyalty. Whether it’s a passion for Husker football or an allegiance to a certain seed company or local business, Nebraskans show their constancy. That doesn’t mean we get stuck in our ways (well, maybe a few of us do); we adapt to change and expand our circle of trust.

Sixth, take care of each other. When our neighbors need help, we pitch in. Here, where everybody knows your name, we step up when the going gets tough. We apply “do unto others” and take it to the next level because if we ever are down on our luck, we know we can depend on our neighbors to pitch in.

Finally, spend time outside. Explore your community, discover the hidden treasures here and how they share a wealth of information about who we are.

We may not be located on the French Riviera. We may not be situated against a cerulean sea. But we are located in the heart of America, where values and tradition matter.

Nebraskaisms                In 2001, I discovered a movie – Almost Famous – that quickly became a family favorite, so much so that we still randomly throw lines from the flick into everyday conversations.

Maybe what caught our attention was the music, the 70s soundtrack filled with tunes from Led Zeppelin, The Who, Simon & Garfunkel, Rod Stewart, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Fleetwood Mac and Elton John. Or maybe the storyline captured our attention, allowing us to believe for a single moment we could be like beloved character, Penny Lane, and venture anywhere the music allowed us to go.

For me, it was Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Lester Bangs, a real-life music journalist who wrote for Creem and Rolling Stones magazines. Some of the best quotables, like “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool” or “You wanna be a true friend to them? Be honest, and unmerciful,” come from this character.

This morning, as news of Hoffman’s death crowded cable news shows and ticker feeds and drew an enormous outpouring of responses via social media, those lines replayed in my head, redirecting my thoughts to a bigger question: why do we mourn celebrity deaths?

Do I feel bad about Hoffman losing an ongoing battle with addiction because I feel empathy, knowing the sting of an unexpected death of a loved one? Do I mourn because his four children lost their father? Or do I feel horrible because there’s a sense of shared territory, a common thread binding us together, based on lines from a movie that have an impact on my life?

Think about it: Where were you when JFK was shot? Michael Jackson died? Princess Diana was killed in a high speed chase? Elvis died? The day the music died? (My answers, in order: at home with the babysitter (I was 2 years, 4 months), returning home from a mom-daughter trip to Chicago, driving on Highway 81 south of Norfolk after a Husker football game, cleaning the living room of my parents’ house, not born yet.) Side note – how do I remember these events? A super, keen memory, inherited from my father.

It seems strange that society places so much emphasis on the loss of a celebrity when tragedy and loss can occur at any time. The deaths of ordinary citizens who have left an extraordinary impression on those who love and know them best do not receive prime-time coverage or a ticker feed across the bottom of the TV screen.

Does this fascination with fame create a disconnect from reality? Is society so enamored with an airbrushed image that we lose sight of core values and the beautiful, imperfect faces of those who surround us each day?

Yes, I feel bad for the Hoffman’s family. I understand the battle to conquer an addiction that leads to death because I experienced it a decade ago when my loved one died.

In this bankrupt world in which we live, don’t – or shouldn’t – we feel a sense of loss when “everyman” leaves this world?

NebraskaismsFrom my view on my front porch…

Speech season kicked off Saturday. The first meet of the year brings excitement, apprehension, nervousness and dread. I wonder how the performers felt? It’s an interesting time. First-time performers test the waters, while experienced speakers have an opportunity to build on the previous year’s learning.

Saturday’s meet was eye opening, for several reasons. A student and his or her coach knows when material crosses the line and should not be included in a high school performance. A new rule, implemented by NSAA, allows judges to deduct points for lewd or offensive material. In one performance, a group used a phrase that would not be appropriate in a classroom. Sure, you hear the phrase on network TV, but if it is inappropriate for school, shouldn’t it be inappropriate for speech? Would I have questioned it if the rule hadn’t been in place or would I have joined in the laughter with the rest of the crowd? I would’ve commented…and I did.

A nice surprise at the meet happened when a competitor’s grandparents asked what event I participated in while I waited to listen to one of my students. Ahhh, to be 18 again.


A Wilbur legislator proposed a constitutional amendment that would have voters determine whether to approve casino gambling. State Senator Russ Karpisek’s proposal would channel revenues to help lower statewide property taxes, aid public schools, assist the Game and Parks Commission, and beef up compulsive gambling programs.

The Winnebago Tribe’s economic development group, Ho-Chunk, has already disclosed its idea for a $30 million casino in South Sioux City at the former Atokad site.

Since approximately $400 million in gambling revenue leaves this state’s borders annually, wouldn’t it make economic sense to keep those funds in Nebraska? Opponents will argue that gambling does more harm than good, and the lack of slot machines and Black Jack tables is what makes Nebraska the really good life.

Cities across the state offer Keno; others have vending machines with pickle cards, which use the funds for improvement projects. To me, it makes fiscal sense to add the revenue to the state coffers. It also makes sense for individuals to play responsibly. Practicing personal responsibility should always be a winning routine.


In a phone call with our oldest daughter, we discussed her job working for the mayor in Nebraska’s largest city. She enjoys her job, but fielding calls about children being gunned down is stressful.

Nearly two weeks ago, a stray bullet killed5-year-old Payton Benson while she finished breakfast.

In a state known for ranking tops in economic development, Nebraska – particularly Omaha – ranks as the most dangerous place in America for black victimization. Translation: the state has a black homicide rate of 34.4 per 100,000 people, which is double the national average.

The Omaha situation isn’t just about gang violence or gun control. It’s about staggering poverty levels in the poorest part of the city. It’s about education and hope, about opportunity and change.

The change needs to be now.

Tipping the Waitstaff

Posted by: LuAnnin Nebraska-isms

Nebraskaisms                 It’s a thankless job, and I’ve done it.

For three years, while attending college, I waited tables, delivering baskets of greasy French fries or loaded pizzas and sloshing pitchers of cheap beer or refilling bottomless tumblers of soft drinks. I never minded the work. It brought something new every day: a new creation from the kitchen staff, conversation with regular customers, and friendship with co-workers.

Quickly, I discovered that Mondays were slow, Wednesday’s crowd was a bit rowdy but decent tippers, and Friday’s crowds varied as much as the Nebraska weather.

I guess I was lucky. I made minimum wage, $3.50 at the time, plus I got to keep all the tips I earned. After a shift, I’d pitch my change into a container on my dresser, saving for my upcoming wedding.

Things have changed.

Now, an estimated 10 million restaurant servers work in the United States. Approximately two-thirds of these servers earn sub-minimum wages. Across America, on average, wait staff workers earn $9, with tips. Cornell professor Michael Linn reports that $40 billion in tip money is exchanged each year.

That’s a lot of pocket change, but think about the true wage earned.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act show that Nebraska’s minimum cash wage for tipped employees is $2.13. A maximum tip credit of $5.12 is in effect, which brings the combined cash and tip minimum wage to $7.25.

What if an employee doesn’t earn enough in tips to bring the wage to the $7.25 mark? What if a customer doesn’t believe in leaving a tip? Or, what if a customer claims poor service or under- or overcooked food and refuses a tip?

I’m wondering because it’s Be Kind to Food Server’s Month. I’m curious because a couple of our daughters work in the food service industry. I’m pondering how many customers tip? And if so, how much?

I’m questioning, because wait staff have bills to pay, too.

Granted, I’ve experienced the inadequacies of inexperienced or overworked or I-don’t-care staff. Yet, I leave a tip.

Once, I witnessed a couple leave only the few pennies remaining from their bill. As the couple exited the dining establishment, the waitress chased them down in the parking lot and handed them the pocket change left on the table.

Granted, I understood leaving a measly tip. The same server had waited on our table and acted like it was an effort to take our order, let alone refill a drink. But, she did wait on the table, and when an order didn’t meet the customer’s satisfaction, she returned the plate to the kitchen so the mistake could be corrected.

I always got a chuckle when Courtney would come home from working the drive-thru window at Sonic and tell me she made $15 in tips. “Why would they tip me?” she would question. Easy answer: you were polite and courteous and you delivered their order in a timely manner.

And in the end, that’s what the customer will remember.