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Posts from the ‘Lincoln Life’ Category


Dear God, Please don’t let my son die in a cornfield today

Alec (left) and Jacob (right) manage to muster a smile after returning from a long day of detassling.

How many Moms are so proud of their kids for doing a job that they take pictures of them after their shift ends?

Probably not many. But I often see Moms with cameras when the big yellow school bus rolls up to the church in southwest Lincoln carrying a load of young teenagers coming in from the cornfields after a day of detassling. Including my 14-year-old son, Jacob.

I’d never heard of detasseling until I moved to Nebraska, but it seems to be a rite of passage for many teens around here. To create hybrid corn seed, machines pull tassels off the cornstalks, and ambitious teenage Nebraskans pull off the ones that are missed for about three weeks in July.

It’s one of the few ways a young teenager can make a lot of money in just a few weeks. Somehow, the boy who often asks me to fetch him a drink of water decided he wanted to do it this summer.

His friends sold it as a fun adventure or some kind of get-rich-quick scheme. He cut off the footies on a pair of soccer socks, put them on his arms, pulled on a white T-shirt, shorts and long baseball socks, and off to the fields he went. He wears a bandana around his neck, and one of those net hats like beekeepers.

He has asthma and allergies, and I was afraid he’d die of an asthma attack out there in a cornfield. I briefly considered riding the bus with him and supervising his every move, but his allergy doctor said to give him a Zyrtec every day and send his inhaler along with him, and he’d be fine. I still think I should have gone with him, just in case.

The night before his first day in the field, we returned to Lincoln from a vacation in Texas and it was so humid here that the windows in my sunroom were fogged up. Someone told me the heat index was like 112 degrees that night.

What a great way to start the detassling season! I sent him on his way at 5:15 a.m. and prayed many times that day that he would live. That he would not have an asthma attack. That the heat wouldn’t overcome his 105-pound body. That he’d remember to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

I’ve never been so happy to get a text message from my son, saying the bus was on its way back to Lincoln. He was ALIVE! He got off the bus dirty from head to toe — with mud caked on the bottom of those $90 Nikes he just HAD to have a mere year ago. I think he realized his friends’ idea of “fun” was not the same as his.

Rain doesn’t stop the detasslers, who sometimes wear garbage bags over their clothes when it’s wet or dewy. Some days start out cold, like after a stormy night, and then suddenly turn hot. The kids often wear high-top shoes because it’s hard to balance and not twist ankles in the ridged rows as they reach for tassels, pop them off and throw them down. Over and over and over.

The jug full of ice melts to warm water within a few hours in the field where the heat index has regularly soared past 100 degrees this summer. And wherever the corn pokes through the clothing, he develops a nice little “corn rash.” And all of this for minimum wage.

In the paper today a Wahoo crop consultant said in all his years of checking out cornfields, he’s never seen it so hot in “the corn canopy.” Some parents make their kids detassle, to teach them to work. My son said one of those forced laborers simply laid down in the middle of the field one day and said, “I quit.”

I’ve picked rock and weeded gravel and pulled a garden full of weeds that were taller than I was for $5 — and my first real job was washing dishes in junior high — but I know I’ve never worked as hard as my son is out in the cornfields between here and York. I am quite certain that if you sent me out in a cornfield in the weather we’ve been having, I’d lay down and quit within an hour. Maybe sooner. And I’m not known for being a slacker.

I don’t know if it’s peer pressure or if he inherited my stubbornness or what, but he keeps going back, day after 100-degree day. After two weeks, he finally said, “Mom, I want to quit.” I said it was up to him, but he could take a day off. You don’t get a bonus if you miss a day, and he wanted that bonus. But he needed a break.

I told him no matter what he does from this point on, he’ll always look back on this job as the toughest job he ever had. When he’s the CEO of a Fortune 500 company some day, and Newsweek comes to interview him (more likely he’ll talk about those days in the cornfield, where he learned how to work.

He took a day off. Then another day, because he had a baseball tournament. And on Monday morning, he went back to the fields for more.

My little detassler, after a day in the field.

I’m proud of him, but sometimes I cannot believe it’s legal to send those kids out into the fields when it’s this hot (although they start very early and quit early in the afternoon, escaping the brunt of the heat). A part of me fears one of those kids is gonna die out there. My friend makes her son do it and won’t let him skip a day. My mechanic thinks it outta be illegal.

And then I hear stories of “the old days” when Nebraska kids detassled without shirts on and without strict regulations and supervision or roving nurses.

So I tell myself to stop worrying so much. The season is almost over. The text saying “We’ll be home in an hour” will come. And it’ll be time to empty the cooler, wash it and fill it with tomorrow’s lunch.

And ice. Lots of ice.


Lead of the week

Only reporter Art Hovey could draw me into a corn pollination story with a lead like this in today’s Journal Star:

When it gets really hot during the pollination phase, the plant sex in the cornfield is not so hot.


Woman calls police because McDonalds pop tasted “funny”

No I am not making this up. Why would you think that?

I have a police report to prove it: A 30-year-old Lincoln woman called the police Monday night to report that a Diet Coke she’d purchased at the McDonalds at 27th and Pine Lake Road tasted “funny” — that it tasted like rum was added to it.

“The McDonald’s manager concluded the syrup was low and fixed the problem,” Lincoln police spokeswoman Katie Flood said via e-mail. “No citations issued.”

Personally, I think they should have issued a citation: The pop at Lincoln McDonalds always tastes funny to me, and I’ve long suspected they just aren’t adding as much syrup as they’re supposed to. But what to cite them with? Syruptitious behavior?


Could it happen here? Oh, yeah

Three years ago, when Iowa was being swamped with water, I wondered just how bad it could get in Lincoln if Mother Nature converged on it like it is other cities up and down the Missouri River today.

So I asked city officials. Their words then are worth revisiting today — when cities like Minot, N.D., and Bismarck, N.D., are seeing rivers overwhelm levees and inundate areas they never thought possible. I learned that in Lincoln, 19 square miles of low-lying areas could be under water if the city were hit with a 100-year storm. (That’s about 5.5 inches of rain dumped within 24 hours, spread across about 100 square miles — Lincoln’s about 80.)

Portions of University Place, East Campus, the Russian Bottoms, Malone and Clinton neighborhoods would be under water. Other vulnerable areas: the area around Beal Slough — from 14th Street to 56th Street along Nebraska 2 — and the area north of the stream called Dead Man’s Run from North 33rd to 48th streets.

We don’t have a Missouri River or a Platte River running through town, but 11 creeks converge with Salt Creek in Lincoln, draining more than 1,000 square miles — all pointed like a gun at the heart of Lincoln. It’s easy to forget the city has battled more than 100 floods since 1900 — 17 of them major, two of them catastrophic.

That’s why 10 dams and levees were built in the Salt Creek watershed in the 1960s, but even now, Lincoln’s earthen berms can only handle up to a 50-year storm. That is a pretty low threshold.

Lincoln is protected by a 7-mile-long levee along Salt Creek that was designed to withstand 100-year storms, but detailed floodplain mapping in the late 1970s led the feds to conclude it wouldn’t stand up to a 100-year storm if all those streams peaked at the same time. The levee was built with dispersive clay, which is high in calcium and erodes and dissolves when it comes into contact with water. Which is why holes started showing up in the levee in the 1970s. Not exactly what you’re looking for in a levee.

The levee was decertified as a 100-year-flood protector due to the clay material and fact that it isn’t high enough.

And remember, scientists say climate change will produce more extreme weather — as we’re seeing now — and more precipitation in our area.

The great 1908 flood in Lincoln — which killed nine and left 1,000 homeless — is believed to have been a 100-year storm.

When it’s the middle of August and dry as a bone, it can be hard for city officials to get excited about updating flood plain maps, preserving flood storage and mitigating flood risks. City Council members sometimes act as if city officials are just trying to make work or put an onus on businesses. But you never know when Mother Nature is going to defy all expectations and swamp your city — and by then, it’s too late.


Sheridan Boulevard coming up, brick by brick


Sheridan Boulevard is in the middle of a million-dollar-makeover — that’s why the historic street is blocked off with detour signs right now — and tons of bricks are coming up with the pavement from the days when Sheridan was paved with bricks.

As you can see in my photo, beneath the pavement is a layer of bricks. And although the city considered converting Sheridan back to a brick street again, ultimately they decided against that route. (Darn! Lincoln’s few remaining brick streets are one of my favorite things about this city.)

Some adjacent homeowners asked the contractor if they could have some of the historic red bricks, so the contractor, Dobson Construction, has been keeping a few piles for people to scavenge bricks. A worker told me today the bricks go fast.

But please, don’t go looking for bricks when they’re trying to build a road. You could end up with brick on your face.

The city is doing a mill and overlay, new curbs and gutters and some new sidewalks from South Street all the way to Calvert Street. The $1.2 million project is being paid for with city wheel tax dollars.


A green battle begins

Some say the city's push for bike lanes and roundabouts are more sinister than you might think.

Remember back during the spring campaign, when I wrote about the “green grenade” I expected Republicans might throw at Mayor Chris Beutler?

Well they never did really go after Beutler for pushing green initiatives, but now, it turns out, LIBA is.

LIBA wants the mayor to drop out of that group I wrote about in March — the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, or ICLEI. (Read LIBA’s press statement here: EPA Position Statement)
ICLEI is an international association formed in 1990 to promote sustainable development. More than 1,200 cities, towns and counties and their associations are members of ICLEI.

Mayor Beutler quietly signed Lincoln up with ICLEI in July 2010, saying the group would help Lincoln city government reduce its energy use by 20 percent and the city reduce its energy use by 10 percent over the next two years. LIBA doesn’t like it, saying,

Unfortunately, under the guise of being green, some special interest groups attempt to use the
environment as a weapon to defeat private property rights, curb individual choice, and promote
“social justice.”

LIBA says groups like ICLEI support regulations that would impose unnecessary controls and costs on business and property owners. The city of Lincoln recently hosted a meeting about sustainability goals, during which an EPA official said, “walkability is the issue, non vehicle travel.” He said the keys were more trees, fewer vehicles and strong air quality agencies.

Another consultant said during the meeting, “Lincoln’s development codes have to change to deal with sustainability” and said Lincoln should make the following code changes:

• Adopt a clothesline bill of rights, “The Right to Dry.” (Some homeowners associations don’t allow clotheslines. A law would override homeowner covenants to block clotheslines.)
• Require bicycle parking and bike lockers in all apartment buildings.
• Adopt outdoor lighting regulations that give each project a “lumen budget.” Once you have reached your “lumen budget”, you are not allowed to have any more lighting.
• Require showers in office buildings to encourage people to bike to work.
• Require separating our household waste prior to putting it into the trash.
• Allow gardens in homeowners front yards.

LIBA says Greg Shinaut, of Black Hills Energy, has been loaned to the city half time to promote a green city. Greg said when he met with Mayor Beutler, “The Mayor told me to inject green into all the codes.”

All of this may be music to some people’s ears. Not to LIBA’s.

“Environmental activism must be balanced with respect for private property rights and freedom of choice,” they said.

Lincoln’s membership in ICLEI is up for renewal in July, and LIBA wants Beutler to drop out, saying, “We feel that the citizens of Lincoln are best suited to manage our city’s needs rather than having to take direction from ICLEI, an organization connected internationally with entities like the United Nations and the EPA that seek to implement an agenda that is counterproductive to Lincoln’s business climate.”

Some cities and counties have dropped out of the group due to controversy like the one swirling beneath the surface in Lincoln — including Albemarle County, Charlottesville, Va.; Carroll County, Westminster, Md.; Edmond, Okla.; Spartanburg County, Spartanburg, S.C.; Garland, Texas; and Montgomery County, Norristown, Penn.

I learned just how suspicious some people are of the green movement and the way Beutler is spending $2.4 million in federal stimulus money for green initiatives when I went to a meeting about it in March at a local church. About 60 people were there, including almost all of the Republican candidates for city offices in the spring election — mayoral candidate Tammy Buffington and council candidates Melissa Hilty and Travis Nelson.

The meeting was hosted by the Rev. John Morrow, who calls himself “a right-wing, radical, flag-loving, God-loving, conservative, Bible-believing pastor” and Don Raskey, a local accountant.

Morrow talked about the history of the sustainable development movement — noting that a Seattle planner advises cities to call it “comprehensive planning” or “smart growth” to avoid controversy. He said often city officials hold “visioning sessions” with facilitators or “change agents” to “give the appearance of public buy-in” to their goals.

He said individual rights take a back seat to ICLEI goals, and the ultimate goal is international redistribution of wealth and “public-private partnerships” and “putting nature above man.”

Morrow talked about a plan to eliminate humans on at least 50 percent of land, population control and mobility restrictions. He talked about groups that want to limit water consumption to five gallons per day.

“That sounds like a stinky deal to me,” Morrow said.

Raskey noted that Milo Mumgaard was hired to be Lincoln’s point man on spending the federal green money — without being “subject to the usual hiring review.” He talked about how the city’s “traffic-calming measures” like bike lanes and roundabouts and city lighting upgrades and smart meters (LES) and the solar-powered stoplight at 84th and Highway 2 are all part of this sinister movement.

“They want you out of your car, folks,” he said.

He said Beutler’s Cleaner, Greener Lincoln’s goal is to make Lincoln the “green capital of the Great Plains.”

It was clear most of the people in the audience were on board with the idea that the green movement has sinister underpinnings. People ate it up with Amens and oohs and aahhs.

Frankly, I’m not sure which side is right. My parents are pretty conservative and my Dad loves his Fox News and so they’d probably believe a lot of what the anti-Greenies are saying. However, my Mom is more green than most Obama-lovers and taught me to:

• Save rainwater and use it to water plants (long before rain barrels became cool)
• Recycle Ziplock bags and aluminum foil, when possible.
• Use plastic grocery bags as garbage bags.
• Shut off the A/C and open the windows at night in the summer to let the cool air cool the house, rather than electricity.
• Never waste food if you can avoid it.
• Open and close the window shades to keep the house cooler in the summer and use the natural light, rather than electric lights, whenever possible.
• Plant a huge garden and can as much as she could to feed our family.

I knew I’d taken her conservation mantra too far when I found myself debating the most frugal way to delete words on my computer one day at work.

She’s a conservative Republican, but she’s also practicing green principles every day, in a thousand ways. Not to over-simplify, but that tells me there has to be a sensible middle ground on this issue.


Omaha, cool? Who knew?

First Esquire magazine declares The Slowdown the best indie-rock club in the country. Then, NPR calls Omaha — particularly that area around the Slowdown — cool.


OK, so the NPR blog is thinly reported, and typical “Look! They have culture in the boring Midwest,” but still, we’ll take it, right?

It reminds me of a few years back, when several national press outlets did stories about how Fargo, N.D., was actually quite “wordly and stylish” — contradicting its reputation in the movie “Fargo.”

Downtown Omaha is actually much more hip than downtown Fargo — the Old Market is probably my favorite place in Nebraska, so far. I love driving up for a meal at a place like La Buvette (even though once when we were there a wine bottle literally exploded and injured a customer) and then strolling around the shops (like Jackson Street Booksellers and the awesome Flying Worm), shopping for whatever I forgot at Patrick’s Market (the cutest little grocery store ever) and staying the night at the Italian-style Magnolia Hotel (if I were getting married, I’d have the ceremony in the courtyard). Oh, and buzzing over to Urban Outfitters and Ruth Sokolof Theater (that arthouse theater near the Slowdown) for a movie. That’s a great day trip.

The Old Market Passageway. Courtesy

A few years ago, I did a story about Old Market, and also wrote an accompanying column about how the Old Market is better than the Haymarket. However, the features editor spiked the column — apparently thinking Lincolnites would not tolerate that kind of heresy. But let’s face it: It is better. Mainly because they have critical mass: There are lots of destination points that draw you into Old Market; not as many in the Haymarket.

But the good news is the Haymarket certainly has the potential to be just as hip as the Old Market. We’ve got a good start — with places like Maggie’s and Ivanna Cone and Bread & Cup. If I could wave a magic wand, I’d move Stella (a boutique), the Black Market and Tsuru into the Haymarket — and then open my own little recycled, reused and repurposed furniture store in the middle of it all.

However, from what I’ve read, the Old Market got where it is today not by government dictating development — it happened organically, through individuals. We’ve got some individuals trying to make things happen in the Haymarket now — chiefly, those WRK twins, Robert and Will Scott. Although they’ve lured more chain restaurants than I’d prefer (Noodles & Co., Panera, Qdoba), they are definitely changing the landscape of downtown Lincoln. They are also guiding development near the arena — it’ll be interesting to see what they bring there.

Will an Urban Outfitters be next to the Haymarket? An awesome little grocery store like Patrick’s? The mayor has mentioned Kansas City’s Power & Light District as a model for the area near the area (although other city officials later downplayed the comparison). Time will tell.

Kansas City's Power & Light District -- a shopping district near the Sprint Center that Lincoln officials have cited as an example of the private development that will spring up near Lincoln's new arena.


Lakefront property for sale

A Wendy’s and hotel near the intersection of Nebraska state highway 2 and Interstate 29 were both closed when I drove by them Monday — with dirt dikes nearly obscuring them, to protect them from Missouri River water expected to continue to invade foreign territory. More water is on the way from my home state of North Dakota, where the U.S. Corps of Engineers opened the spillway on the massive Garrison Dam for the first time in its 57-year history. Lake Sakakawea is brimming with water, and they did it to ensure the dam doesn’t burst, which would, in the words of a dam official, “divide the country” and destroy railroads and interstate.” The sign on the hotel marquee said, “Lakefront property for sale.”



Hail in Lincoln



Guess who got sent to the office at Southeast High yesterday?

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A gaggle of ducklings was found wandering aimlessly — and Mom-less — on the Southeast High School campus Tuesday, so several security officers rounded them up and took them to the office.

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