Tag Archives: lifestyle

We Can’t Drive 55

June 8, 2017 by

I have a little pinback button with a red flag emblazoned with the words “Safety First.” It was produced in 1915 by the Nebraska Safety League, which seems to have been one of a number of grassroots efforts to improve public safety.

This was in response to the nationwide development of a group called the National Council for Industrial Safety, which initially focused on workplace safety, but expanded its scope in the next few years to include traffic and home concerns (changing its name to the National Safety Council).

About that time, Omaha’s city commissioner, John J. Ryder, visited New York and discovered something called the “American Museum of Safety,” which functioned, in part, to instruct school children about street safety. He was enamored with this idea and advocated for a local version.

Both recommendations came at the end of an era of almost unbridled carnage in the streets. To read the newspapers of the era, crossing the street sometimes sounded like a game of Frogger, with pedestrians dodging carriages, streetcars, automobiles, and runaway horses. Auto fatalities had skyrocketed—a total of 54 people had died in crashes in 1900, but by 1915 nearly 7,000 Americans had been killed on the roads.

The first talk of speed limits in Omaha seems to have occurred as far back as 1903, when an automobile ordinance was proposed. There weren’t many car owners in town, and they tended to be wealthy, and tended to get their way as a result. When the ordinance suggested a low speed limit of six-to-eight miles per hour, the car owners rebelled. Included among them was Gurdon Wattles, who made his fortune in transportation. He complained that cars only went two speeds, slow and fast, and slow was too slow to be much good, and fast was too fast for the speed limit. He suggested 12 miles per hour would be satisfactory.

They got their way, but almost immediately advances in auto technology rendered this limit moot. By 1905, cars were speeding around Omaha at 40 miles per hour, and police were complaining it was nearly impossible to enforce the limit—to tell a car’s speed, police had to watch a car travel from one area to the next and count seconds, and then do some quick math. In 1909, there was even a proposal to reduce the speed limit again, back down to six miles per hour, to discourage cars driving at dangerous speeds.

Instead, the speed limit crept upward. By 1911, it was 15 miles per hour. By the 1920s, with the advent of highways built specifically for automobiles, the maximum speed jumped to 25 miles per hour. By 1935, it was 35. And in 1969, speeds on the highways leapt to 60 miles per hour.

So it has been ever since, but for a brief period in the 1970s when, in response to spiking oil prices, there was a national maximum speed limit off 55 miles per hour, which proved unpopular enough for Sammy Hagar to enjoy chart success with a song titled “I Can’t Drive 55.”

The federal limits were repealed in 1995. Currently, the maximum speed limit in Nebraska is 75 miles per hour, a speed that Gurdon Wattles probably would have enjoyed.

This article was printed in the May/June edition of 60 Plus.

Twenty Minute Taquitos

November 8, 2016 by
Photography by Di Tendenza

This recipe is great for a quick and easy dinner for the kids. Each taquito can also be cut into fourths as an appetizer for those last-minute holiday parties, and the chicken mixture can be spread into bibb lettuce leaves for a healthier option.

Ingredients

  • 1 rotisserie chicken, or 3 cups cooked diced chicken 
  • 3 cups raw spinach
  • 1 cup of diced, roasted red pepper
  • 6 ounces of shredded cheese (a blend of jack and cheddar cheeses is recommended)
  • 8 ounces of cream cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste (about one teaspoon each)
  • 8 large tortillas
  • Salsa for dipping

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Set aside 1/4 (2 ounces) of the cheese.

  1. Pull all the meat off of the chicken, then chop it to bite-sized pieces, or use diced chicken. Place in a large bowl.
  2. Chop the spinach to bite-sized pieces.
  3. In a large pan, cook the spinach on medium heat until it has released most of it moisture.  Pour into the bowl with the chicken.
  4. Combine the pepper, cheese, and cream cheese with the chicken and spinach. Stir until it is mixed thoroughly.
  5. Season and taste. Season again if needed.
  6. Put two large tablespoons of the mixture on a tortilla. Spread it around, leaving 1 inch on all sides.
  7. Roll the tortilla from one end to the other. Be careful not to roll it so tightly that the sides pop.
  8. Place the roll in a foil-lined 9-by-13-inch pan.
  9. Repeat steps 7-9 until you have used all the tortillas and taquito mixture.

Make sure there is 1/2 an inch of space between each roll.

Cook 10 minutes, or, for an extra-cheesy dinner option, cook eight minutes, add the reserved 2 ounces of cheese, and cook for another two minutes.

Serve the taquitos with the salsa.

This article was printed in the Winter 2016 edition of Family Guide, an Omaha Publications magazine.

My Battle With Opiates

October 11, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

I’ve had problems with a variety of drugs, but my story hit rock bottom with opiate addiction.

I was always a very straight-and-narrow kid growing up in West Omaha. I obtained my pilot’s license when I was 17, and I was very active in sports and fitness. I graduated with a 4.17 GPA, and maintained a 4.0 in my first year studying at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Toward the end of high school, I did the typical partying with friends: drinking at friends’ houses when their parents were away, maybe smoking a little marijuana. But I never felt I had lost control. My father was a functioning alcoholic, so, you could say I was somewhat predisposed to the disease of addiction. But what did I know?

So-called hard drugs caught me the summer after high school. First came ecstasy pills. I remember the first time I “rolled,” I was in my basement with a couple friends who were more experienced with drugs. “I hope this feeling would never end,” I remember saying. My friend looked at me and just shook her head as if feeling sorry for a little kid. The next day, I felt the worst depression I had ever experienced. It scared me. But, I kept taking the pills, chasing that feeling, only for a slightly less satisfying high as my body acclimated to the drug. After a summer of taking ecstasy two to three times a week, the depression stuck with me. I couldn’t seem to have fun without being high.

As I went into my first year of college, I started trying cocaine and opiates. A lot of my acquaintances—I say acquaintances because none of those people are in my life now that I am sober—were doing things like oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and other prescribed narcotics. These prescriptions are relatively easy to get your hands on. There are plenty of other drugs that are synthetic forms of opium and heroin, too.

By my third year of college, I was spending $50-$150 per day to support my habit. Looking back, I don’t know how I could afford it.

Over the next two years my use of opiates grew more and more frequent. At first, I was able to hide my habit from everyone in my life. I can’t even remember how many times I was high in class or in the library working on homework. At the time, I felt in control. When I look back, I realize I was developing quite a few character defects: lying, manipulation, cheating, and stealing. Eventually it got to the point where I wouldn’t even do schoolwork without some sort of drug to aid me.

By my third year of college, I was spending $50­-$150 per day to support my habit. Looking back, I don’t know how I could afford it. I had a good job and minimal bills. I knew when the people I got my drugs from had a prescriptions refilled better than they did. I always figured out a way. Because without the opiates, I felt restless; I couldn’t sleep; I was simply miserable. It got to a point where I needed help. I couldn’t keep going on like that. After checking into a methadone clinic, I soon admitted to my mom and sister how bad I had gotten.

The methadone clinic was another horrible experience for me in the end. The $13 per day I spent bought me another opiate—meant to wean me off of my addiction to pills—that got me arguably higher than those prescription opiates I had been taking. Because of the high dosage, I was nodding off throughout the day. So, I made a decision to quit cold turkey. Relapse followed with a new sort of high, and a new low.

I didn’t sleep for two weeks, I was so restless I wanted to cut my legs off. I couldn’t sit still, I was tired, irritable, depressed, etc.

 After about two weeks, I shot up the pills for the first time. I remember it very clearly: I just gave in. I didn’t like life without drugs anymore. I told myself being sober wasn’t worth it. I was in the back seat of my friend’s car. We were with someone who used an IV, and she handed me my own syringe. She told me it was mine. I actually thought to myself. “What a kind gesture of her to give me my very own syringe.” Of course I had no idea how to cook down the pill we had to a point where we could shoot it up. But I paid close attention when she did it for me, tied me off, and injected it into my vein. My heart was racing. I fell in love.

It didn’t take long for me to become an expert. I had a box of 100 syringes under my bed along with all the cleaning supplies necessary to do it “responsibly.” Within about two months, my arms were beaten black and blue, I had lost about 20 pounds, and I was constantly feeling horrible. The only time I felt normal was when I was high. It was getting harder to find pills, though. There were days where I would skip class, drive around for eight or more hours with people I didn’t know just to get one pill or a few hits of incredibly overpriced heroin. Then again, there were times when it was easy to find, but never when I was dope-sick and desperate. It was a miserable lifestyle, a nightmare. One time I even drove to Denver and spent three days there just to get cheaper heroin. Aside from visiting the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, I didn’t do anything other than shoot up heroin the entire time I was there by myself.

When I started the IV drugs I spiraled out of control really quickly. I went to a different clinic to get on Suboxone, a newer drug for opiate addiction. It made it so I couldn’t get high on opiates and so I wouldn’t have withdrawals. At first, I even shot that up just to feel a little high. I hated not being able to feel happy or excited. I was on Suboxone for two years. During that time, I converted my opiate addiction into an IV cocaine addiction with a side of alcoholism. Thankfully, I was able to stop taking Suboxone, but it was the hardest thing I have ever done. I didn’t sleep for two weeks, I was so restless I wanted to cut my legs off. I couldn’t sit still, I was tired, irritable, depressed, etc. I went into a drinking binge, not leaving my apartment for days at one point. I almost wished I had never got on Suboxone in the first place, but it served one purpose: It got me away from all my opiate connections.

The story of my addiction is not glamorous. In fact, there is a lot that I don’t remember too clearly. There is a lot that I’d rather forget. Addiction is not an easy thing to put on a timeline (which they asked me to do during both of my treatment center stays). Addicts don’t exactly have a structured lifestyle. It’s a roller coaster, complicated, and devastating. It’s taken me three years of trying to get to the point I am at with my sobriety.

battlewithopiates1Every day the disease of addiction whispers in my ear, rationalizing and scheming ways in which I could get high or drunk. Isolation is what it wants, so my defense is fellowship. The character defects that fed my addiction are still with me— I am an egomaniac with low self-esteem who copes by trying to control the world around me—but I work every day to address these problems. I’ve destroyed and rebuilt relationships with my family and friends. I have squashed my loved ones’ hopes over and over again, yet my family still stands behind me. Their support is what sustains my recovery. They know that I could relapse, that my fight is not over.

Sam requested omission of his last name at the advice of his Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor. He participates regularly in Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Visit omahaaa.org for more information.

For more information about how Omaha fits into the nationwide opiate abuse epidemic, read: http://omahamagazine.com/2016/10/dying-for-opiates-in-omaha/ 

Brian Wetjen and Jill Rizzo

November 11, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Like it is in any home with small children, the kitchen can be a flurry of activity when it comes to mealtime at the home of Brian Wetjen and Jill Rizzo. Brian makes PB&J while daughter Elke (4), uses the cap of a marker to transform a slice of American into its Swiss cousin. Meanwhile son Calder (7), attempts to bring a science play-set to the dining table.

“Calder, not now,” Brian says. “We’ll do science in a little while.”

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It’s a Sunday scene that mimics their weekday lives—Brian stays home with the kids while wife Jill goes to work at Hayneedle, where she is the creative director. Brian works from home as a website designer, but took this past summer off while the kids were out of school.

Hectic though it may seem, the family’s lives have simplified over the past three years. That’s when Brian ran his own company and Jill worked as the design director at Bozell. They each toiled more than 40 hours a week, leaving little family time.

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“We hated having to use the term ‘who has to pick up the kids’,’” Jill says, “because we both wanted to pick up the kids.”

“Once Calder got into kindergarten,” Brian adds, “we realized we wanted him to be able to come home after school. That’s really what kids want—they want to be at home.”

The lifestyle transition initially caused worry for Jill, who wondered about the “what ifs,” as in what if I lose my job?

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Brian took the opposite road.

“Instead of sabotaging it in your brain,” he says “why don’t we think ‘wow—look at all the positives.’”

Also easing Jill’s worry is how the couple thinks about materialism, not just from a monetary standpoint, but as a philosophy that forms their values.

“I recognized I was spending money on just stuff,” Jill says. “Like stuff for the house. I’d buy new pillows and placemats, but we didn’t need them, it was just more stuff.”

“It was retail therapy,” Brian adds.

“And I’m in retail!” Jill quips with a laugh.

One area of “stuff” the couple have carefully cultivated is their kids’ belongings. Markers, paper, and play-dough clutter the kid-sized crafting table at the end of the galley kitchen’s counters, while a play kitchen sits next to the dining table, ready to prepare any manner of made-up meals.

“A lot of the toy choices we make for them are either a) things we loved, or b) art supplies,” Brian says. “We also built a really big sand box in the backyard so they can dig and build things.”

The kids’ creative spirits rub off on their parents. Jill is a noted artist and the kids like to spend time painting with their mom.

“We work on art projects at night,” she says. “I have an easel set up for them in my studio, and they will come down and paint with me…or vice versa. Calder, specifically, will come up and ask me, ‘Mom, why aren’t you painting?’”

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Changes in school curricula over the years have influenced how this couple organizes family life.

“There’s less art, less music, less movement in school,” Jill adds, “all so they can get better test scores. Freedom of thought allows them to be creative problem-solvers.”

“Unstructured time is just as important as structured time,” Brian says.

Calder has drifted into another room by himself to work with his iPad, while Elke bounces on the small trampoline in the TV-less family room, holding onto a small attached railing while she bounces and bounces, joyfully crying “look at me!”

Aforementioned, structured time is just as important as unstructured time.

“We have a routine,” Brian says. “I make breakfast, Jill goes to work. I walk Calder to school then take Elke to preschool.”

Calder is in second grade at Swanson Elementary.  Brian comes home and has a couple of hours to work before picking up Elke, then they have a couple of hours in the afternoon before picking up Calder.

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Once school lets out, the kids get time to do what they want—playing outside or inside.  Brian and the kids make sure the house is picked up on Fridays so the family can participate in things they want to do on the weekends. Their seemingly carefree situation is the envy of their friends.

“Most of our friends are pretty laid back,” Brian says. “Most of them have said, ‘boy, I wish I could do this.’ ”

A big focus for both Brian and Jill is travel. They have taken the kids to see Jill’s extended family in upstate New York along with trips to Colorado and North Carolina. The couple hope to travel more as the kids age.

“We want to incorporate as many new experiences as possible,” Jill says.

The less is more philosophy has worked well for the family, and they encourage others not necessarily to do things their way, but in whatever way works best.

“Not everyone can work from home,” Brian admits, “but if you think about it, you can design your life the way you want.”

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A Family Downtown

December 9, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It helps to have an elevator.

Which is just what Kristin Brown tells friends and the curious whenever they ask how in the world she’s going to get that baby stroller and other infant paraphernalia into her home. “We always get the question, ‘How are you going to carry all the baby gear in from the car when living on the second floor?’” Brown says. “To their surprise, our response is ‘Do you have an elevator in your home?’

“It’s not any more difficult living off ground level to get groceries or gear inside. It’s quite easy, and not something that should discourage someone from living in a condo.”

Kristin and her husband, Scott, have been doing just that since 2007 when the couple moved into the Kimball Lofts at 15th and Jones streets.

They had figured that when they began their life together, it would be in a house: The kind with a yard and a driveway (and mowing and shoveling). They were suburbanites, after all. Both grew up in west Omaha, attending Millard North High School together before graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

 

Their first search for a home brought them to the Dundee neighborhood. The Browns found a house they liked but waited too long to bid on it. It was snatched up by the next day. Soon thereafter, Kristin got Scott to join her on the Downtown Condo Living Tour. That took them to Kimball Lofts.

“Neither of us had spent much time Downtown, but we knew we loved city living,” Kristin says. “Within minutes of touring the Kimball Lofts building we could picture ourselves starting our lives there as a married couple.

“The minimalist lifestyle was most appealing. We knew we’d use every bit of space in our condo. And we love to travel, so being able to pick up and go without the responsibilities that came with a traditional home was important to us.”

Still, the Browns figured their downtown living was only meant for two—and not for children. Once a third Brown was added, they’d get a home with a yard. “We assumed that’s where we’d end up sooner rather than later,” Kristin says. Sooner came in 2014 with Kristin due to give birth to her first child, Brock,  in August. It wouldn’t be long until the 1,500 square feet they were sharing wouldn’t be enough.

They considered building on a lot in West Omaha, but without knowing how large their family would grow, found it difficult to commit to plans. They wanted something move-in ready. They found it across the hall in the largest condo in Kimball Lofts. Their neighbors had moved out. The Browns moved in. Now they had two bedrooms and gobs of entertaining space amid nearly 2,600 square feet.

“We decided to reevaluate our desires and what was important to us,” Kristin says.

The condo is ideal for entertaining. Natural light floods every room through tall windows inset into exposed exterior brick walls. The tops of young trees along 15th Street are visible and promise a dazzling palette come every fall.

Guests first enter a large kitchen featuring stainless steel appliances and a long stone countertop that seats six at bar stools. That flows into the living room and dining room, where the Browns have a table that can host 16 guests when it unfolds. Off the dining room is a small deck where Scott frequently grills. There’s a room for baby Brock and a spacious master bedroom. The ceiling is high and exposed throughout.

Kristin parks underground in a heated garage; Scott has a street-level stall in a gated lot. Their commute is almost nonexistent as both work downtown in sales, Scott at Gallup, Kristin with Pfizer.

“Not having to fight traffic day after day is a huge benefit,” she says.

Yes, there are space constraints. In their previous condo, Scott’s bikes—he rides regularly and competes in triathlons—were stored in the hallway. There’s room for them now in a closet, but today the baby stroller takes residence in the hallway. And the dryer is stacked atop the washer in their walk-in closet (at least there’s no trip to put away clean clothes).

But if they have to do with less stuff, they certainly have more stuff to do. The Browns are outside more often, perhaps, than their suburban counterparts with yards. From their condo, Scott can hit trails that take him through Iowa on the Wabash Trace or to Fort Calhoun. They walk downtown frequently—to the pedestrian bridge or throughout the Old Market. And quite frequently to dinner.

“Being able to walk out our front door to the best restaurants in Omaha is a huge perk,” Kristin says. “And everyone knows everyone. There’s nothing better than going to the local market or our favorite restaurant or coffee shop and being greeted by our first name.”

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Fit Mama

October 28, 2014 by
Photography by Sara Lemke

Mothers of newborns can feel overjoyed and overwhelmed; beautiful and bountiful at the same time. Working to get your figure back, or even just to lose a few pounds, is something that most moms are looking to do as soon as possible.

But getting into a routine of going to the gym and finding someone to watch the baby on a regular basis can be challenging. Some of us may not be comfortable leaving our newborn with a gym daycare. Working out at home is fine, but really…wouldn’t it be nice to be around women going through the same experiences?

Problem solved: Introducing Fit Mama Workouts. Launched in May by Liz Sampson, these boot camp-style classes range in intensity and target moms of all ages and fitness levels. “Basically, we cater to what works best with each mom and the kids that they bring with them,” explains Sampson.

Sampson strives to bring a wide variety of options to both the women who attend her classes and the children who accompany them. “The moms do their workout and we just kind of build the kids into the routine,” Sampson says. “They play with their friends and there are other activities that we bring—bubbles, colors, and sidewalk chalk.”

The children can also exercise alongside mom if they want. “There are a lot of times when the moms will be out on the mats and the kids will be part of it too.” The children in strollers are a captive audience, as the moms push the strollers while running and participating in circuit training.  “The kids witness their moms working out and see the positive example of it. It gets into their heads, at an early age, that exercise is a fun and positive thing.”

As a licensed group fitness instructor certified in perinatal and postnatal exercise, Sampson even encourages pregnant women to join in. “I know modifications that would be suitable for pregnant women and women who have just had babies.”

During this summer, classes were held at two different outdoor venues—Zorinsky Lake Park near 156th and F streets, and Lawrence Youngman Lake near 192th Street and West Dodge Road. Oak View Mall provided the indoor location, where the ladies meet in front of J.C. Penney on the lower level. With the fall season, outdoor workouts will be moving inside. That location has yet to be determined.

“It’s a non-intimidating workout atmosphere because we’re all moms and we’re all there to encourage each other,” she says. She also wants people to know that they will be getting a real workout. “We’ve had new moms with brand new babies; some of the girls will go run a
lap and some of the girls will walk it…we cater to everyone.”

Sampson says that not only have her clients lost weight, but they have found friendships as well. “I’ve seen women who didn’t know each other at all, and over the months, they became great workout friends; and their kids have become great friends.”

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Keeping the Pace

July 21, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When not chasing after his 6-year-old pup named Lily, retired University of Nebraska-Omaha professor David Corbin is keeping things interesting.

Following his 31 years teaching health education, Corbin has continued to maintain an active lifestyle both mentally and physically. He serves on several boards, including the Health Association of Nebraska, and is involved in Project Extra Mile. He also recently co-authored the textbook, Health for Life, which will be used in high schools.

At the end of a long week breaking a mental sweat, Corbin leads an exercise class for older adults at deFreese Manor. He started the class in 1983 after giving a presentation about exercise and older adults. A participant asked him if he would be interested in leading such a class and he has been there every Friday since.

The class ranges from 80 to 90 in age. His oldest participant lived to be 105, only quitting at 100.  Now, as Corbin approaches the age of his attendees, he has come to appreciate the class even more.

“I benefit from the range of motion and resistance exercises,” says Corbin. “They help me and the participants stay more fit by emphasizing the types of exercises that can help to live independently.”
The class includes many exercises that can be done while seated. Many incorporate homemade stretch bands created from old tire inner tubes, scarves for juggling, and rubber balls.

Tai chi and dance are also a part of the mix, and Corbin is no newbie to the dance scene.
He met his wife, Josie, at a dance class. She’s the director of The Moving Company, the University of Nebraska-Omaha troupe that is one of the oldest college-based modern dance companies in the country. Corbin joined the company, one that boasts an all-ages, intergenerational roster of talent.
At the age of 68, Corbin doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.

“It’s true what people say,” he says. “Use it or lose it. Learning new things is probably the best thing you can do for healthy aging.”

Jean Stothert

September 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Keith Binder

The corridor leading to the Omaha mayor’s office serves as a gallery for a long line of portraits of the city’s past mayors. It is a wall-to-wall boy’s club.

This day, the portrait of the city’s newest mayor is off at a photography studio waiting to be framed. But once it arrives, it will be an image long overdue on this wall.

It’s the first picture of a woman in the hallway on the third floor of the Civic Center.

“It was not an issue in the campaign, and it was not something I thought about,” says Mayor Jean Stothert as she sits at the conference table in her new office. “But yes, there’s no question I’m proud to be the first female mayor of Omaha.

“You get pretty sick of the ‘*-word.’” – Jean Stothert on women in politics

“Some of my biggest influences are those strong, pioneering women who broke new ground. I love Margaret Thatcher. I would love if someone called me The Iron Lady.”

So be it. Jean Stothert—The Iron Lady. It’s a name both friend and foe are likely to find fitting.

Conservative, like Thatcher. Driven. A homemaker from humble beginnings turned successful political figure. A tough, sometimes polarizing figure. A woman who can shrug off, and move on from, the sometimes vile comments only female political figures have to face.

“You get pretty sick of the ‘c-word,’” she says. It isn’t unusual for women in politics to be pushed to prove their “toughness.” So where is the “Iron” in the “Lady?” In Stothert’s case, not only did politics help galvanize her; so, too, did her years as an ICU nurse.

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Humble Roots

Stothert grew up in Wood River, Ill., outside St. Louis, “a refinery town where my dad worked at the refinery.”

He was not in a union, if you were wondering. Like Thatcher, Stothert—as she has proven already with the firefighter’s union—stands in vocal and firm opposition to some union interests.

The specs of her childhood home roll quickly off her tongue. “Tiny house—living room, kitchen, four kids, one bathroom,” Stothert shares. She’s clearly said this many times before. It is a counterpoint raised often in political spheres when people note that she lives with her surgeon husband in often-assumed-to-be-more-affluent-than-it-is Millard.

She walked to school, had a job, did volunteer work. She wanted to be a nurse “because it seemed like a good way to give back to the community.” While many of her friends chose to work in hospitals in more affluent parts of St. Louis, she chose to “be where I was most needed”—with the Trauma Center at St. Louis University Hospital in the heart of the city.

You have to become an Iron Lady to be a nurse in an inner-city trauma center.

“You see it all,” she says. “I’ve done CPR on hundreds of patients. I’ve opened people’s chests and done internal heart massage. I’ve wrapped up bodies and taken them to the morgue over and over again. That’s just how it is.

“I like the challenge of making a critically ill patient well. But sometimes, I’m not going to make that patient well. They’re going to die. The thing is, I never want to get that hard edge. You can do tough work without losing your humanity and compassion doing it.”

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From Homemaker to Politician

It was in this environment that she met trauma surgeon Joe Stothert.

After five years of dating, they married. In time, the couple moved to Seattle with his job. Then to Galveston, Texas, where the couple’s daughter, Elizabeth, and son, Andrew, were born.

Then to Omaha, Neb., “in good part for the better schools,” Joe notes. With two young children and a husband with a job that took him away at all hours, Jean decided she would stay home with her children.

“She has always been strong-willed but wonderful at listening to others and working together with people to get things done.” – Joe Stothert

In little time, being an at-home mom entailed diving into work with her local parent-teacher organization. Joe says it was a natural fit for her.

“She has always been strong-willed but wonderful at listening to others and working together with people to get things done,” he says. “Then, as an ICU nurse, she was working with an immense amount of sophisticated mechanisms. She enjoyed that. I think she was quickly interested in the mechanisms of government.”

Jean and husband Joe Stothert went out in a blizzard to campaign.

Jean and husband Joe Stothert went out in a blizzard to campaign.

Getting Out the Vote

Three years after the family arrived in Millard, three positions opened on the Millard School Board.

“There were 13 people running. A full field,” Stothert says. “I didn’t have much money, so I figured we’d have to hit the streets and knock on as many doors as we could. We won by a good bit. We learned right then how important it is to get out and talk to everyone you can.”

That shoe-leather, door-to-door campaigning with her and her supportive family at its core has been the key to her continued success. She served two more terms on the Millard School Board before her election to the Omaha City Council, which, she says, was a logical step.

“School boards are very much like city councils,” Stothert says. “You manage multi-million-dollar budgets, you have labor negotiations. It wasn’t much of a leap at all.”

During her time on the school board, she suffered her only loss so far in politics: a 2006 bid for the state legislature against Democrat Steve Lathrop.

It was one of the closest races in state history. Initially, it appeared Stothert had won by only a few votes. She celebrated with a small vacation with her husband. When she returned, she found out that after absentee votes were counted, she had lost by 14 votes. Stothert said the final margin—after some votes were contested—was five votes.

“So maybe you should have picked up 10 of your friends and driven [them] to the polls,” she recalls having wondered to herself. “Yes, I thought about it. But I truly believe we did the best we could. I think I learned more in losing than I did in winning. I also truly believe that things happen for a reason.”

She then turned her eye toward the Omaha City Council. She asked Joe if she should run. “I said ‘no,’” he says. “She ran anyway.”

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Taking on the Big Boys

She had no plans to run for mayor when she won her seat on the council, but, in time, she says, she “decided that we needed a change.”

In her race for mayor, her calls for smaller, more streamlined government resonated with voters. Her ground game grew considerably. At its core was a relentless door-to-door campaign by the entire Stothert family.

Joe took 10 vacation days prior to both the primary and the general election. Her son, who is pursuing an advanced degree at the University of South Florida, and her daughter, who works at Union Pacific, also joined in.

Stothert proudly showed off a framed photo of her and her husband in the middle of a residential street during one of the weekend campaign blitzes. The city was socked in by a blizzard that weekend. The Stotherts are wrapped in wet winterwear. Part of Jean’s hair is frozen and cocked sideways. Joe’s right thumb is protruding from a hole in his glove.

It’s a picture of resolve. They knocked on 15,000 doors. She says Joe helped push her on when she grew tired on the campaign trail. Joe insists, “She never would have gone on if she didn’t want to.” It’s also a picture, she jokes, of the Stotherts on a date. “We really have enjoyed those times together,” the mayor says.

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The Ugly Side of Politics

At times, the war of words during the campaign got brutal. Stothert, often characterized as a hardline conservative, can throw fire as well as she receives it. But particularly in the modern world of blogs, tweets, and every sort of website, the personal stabs at those in the public arena are often relentless and outrageous.

Stothert admits that, during the campaign, she failed to heed advice that she avoid reading all the attacks on her on the internet. Also, some of the nastiest—and most sexist—of the insults blew up into campaign issues she then had to address.

She boldly repeats two comments about her—one, a joke essentially about her being gang raped, and another about her being a stripper—that one would not expect to hear verbatim in an interview with the mayor.

“She would get pretty stern. She would challenge me, I would challenge her.” – State Senator Brad Ashford on Stothert

But there is often a flipside to such outlandish attacks. People get angry. In this election, Stothert admits, polls showed that a substantial number of women responded to the sexist attacks by moving into her camp.

Stothert says she’s not afraid of criticism. She invites it, as long as it’s civilized. But she knows now to avoid the constant barrage in cyberspace.

“It’s just not good for your mental health,” she says. “It wouldn’t be good for anyone’s health.” Her husband, as you might imagine, hasn’t handled some of the nastier or more personal criticisms with such a thick skin. “I don’t forgive and forget as easily,” Joe says. “She’s the one who can do that. Early on, she had it pegged. She told me the jabs were going to hurt me more than they would hurt her.”

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Tackling Tough Issues

The criticism is not going to ebb. She will continue to grapple with the powerful and vocal firefighter’s union. While sitting at her office’s conference table, she points to her desk. The gritty specifics of her proposed budget to streamline government “are sitting right over there,” she says.

She promises to cut government and cut taxes while improving government services. There are few political figures who have not claimed they could accomplish this feat. There are few who have.“We are going to succeed,” she says. “I have no doubt about that.”

If anyone can pull off this trick, it might be Stothert. State Sen. Brad Ashford, who ran against Stothert for mayor while also working with her on several issues on the state government level, says Stothert, while always civilized, is a tough and driven negotiator.

“She would get pretty stern. She would challenge me, I would challenge her,” Ashford says. “There’s nothing wrong with that. In the end, that’s how you make good policy.” In Ashford’s mind, Stothert’s best chance to save money while improving services will come “if she’s committed to consolidating” many services that both the county and city provide.

Jean and Joe with their family.

Finding Equilibrium

To keep a sense of balance, Stothert says, she knows she has to guard her personal time. She has a life outside the demands of the mayor’s office. “I love my home,” she says. “I’m pretty good at getting there, calming down, and shutting things off for a while.”

Her day is fairly regimented, as you might expect. She’s up at 5 a.m. After a usually healthy breakfast, she walks for 30 minutes on her treadmill, then takes her Australian Shepard, Ozzie (named after St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith), for a one-mile walk.

Back at home, she watches little television beyond the news. Instead, she relaxes by reading “a lot of fiction.” Her favorite books: one from her childhood, To Kill a Mockingbird, and comedian Tina Fey’s Bossypants (the cover of which inspired our magazine cover concept and, yes, the mayor enthusiastically “suited up” for the photo shoot).

If she has the time, she loves to get in the kitchen. “My friends and I used to get Bon Appétit magazine and try things all the time,” she says. “I would consider myself a gourmet cook now. I enjoy any time I can cook something myself.”

“I’m pretty good at getting [home], calming down, and shutting things off for a while.” – Jean Stothert

If she can’t, she’s also a fan of numerous Omaha restaurants. One stands out though, she says, perhaps because she fell in love with the fresh fish dinners she ate during the family’s time living in Seattle.

“The Twisted Cork has wonderful halibut and salmon,” she says. “I just love the food of the Pacific Northwest when it is done well.”

Then it’s five hours or so of sleep, the morning exercise, and off to another day as The Iron Lady.

“I’m a very black-and-white person,” she says. “I’m a very determined person.”

Meaning?

“We will achieve better services for less money,” she says. “We are not reducing city service, and we are going to balance the budget. This is what the people of this city have asked me to do, so that is what we’re going to get done.”

Zumba Instructor Iris Moreano

August 26, 2013 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Iris Moreano just can’t seem to sit still. The 66-year-old Zumba instructor keeps her days filled to the brim with such activities as exercising, gardening, and teaching. And she has no intention of slowing down any time soon.

Moreano moved to Omaha nine years ago with her husband shortly after he was diagnosed with a chronic illness. Living in a new town coupled with the new role of caretaker left her feeling a bit stressed. Not one to sit around and wallow in despair, she joined a gym to meet new people and relieve pressure. When the gym began offering Zumba classes, a total-body workout combining Latin and international rhythms with dance moves, Moreano signed up.

“I’m originally from Puerto Rico, so I grew up with that type of music: salsa, merengue, and cumbia,” she says. “It was a lot of fun, and I felt good afterwards.”

In 2007, Moreano became licensed to teach Zumba. While she currently teaches regular classes at Motion41 Dance studio at 125th and West Center streets, she also teaches at Curves in Elkhorn and at Fullerton Elementary School. All in all, Moreano teaches Zumba three to five days per week and substitutes when needed. But she has been known to teach six days per week with five classes each day.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to retire,” she says. “My age is just a number. It’s all about how you feel and live. Zumba is good for that because it’s like a party. I get e-mails from students saying that they can’t wait for the next class. So it feels good to help other people relieve their stress like I do mine.”

Moreano is also a full-time English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) teacher assistant at Fullerton Elementary, a position she finds “very rewarding.” In her spare time, she enjoys reading and tending to her garden. As a walking (and dancing) testament to the benefits of an active lifestyle, Moreano credits her clean bill of health to her on-the-go schedule. As for other Omaha seniors looking to become more active, Moreano has some advice: “Keep your mind busy but don’t take things too hard,” she says. “Try to stay positive. Try to exercise, whether it’s just walking. Do it for you. You’ve got to keep healthy and take care of yourself before you can help anyone else.”

Fighting Childhood Obesity

July 22, 2013 by

Loving, affectionate, intelligent, and a bookworm—that’s how parents described their young teenage daughter. Weighing more than 200 pounds, she often hid behind her books because it helped her feel invisible, a feeling she preferred to the teasing she endured for her acne and weight.

When she first came to the Healthy Eating with Resources, Options, and Everyday Strategies (HEROES) program at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, staff saw a shy, withdrawn, and sad young lady who stayed mostly in the background. Slowly but surely, however, she began to emerge as a leader in the group. She lost more than 30 pounds and started to incorporate fitness into her daily life. She soon discovered a love for running. After completing six months with the program, this young lady had become an intricate part of the group. She talked about the newness of having boys notice her—something that had never happened before—and she gradually began to regain her self-esteem.

The staff at HEROES says scenarios like this are quite common among obese children, and, many times, parents don’t know how to help or change the situation.

These children are often caught in a vicious cycle, notes Cristina Fernandez, M.D., pediatrician and medical director of the HEROES program. “They are bullied and made fun of, which lowers their self-esteem and makes them depressed,” she says. “This then feeds into their eating and weight problem. One of our teenage girls told us her classmates were throwing food at her like they were feeding an elephant.

Cristina Fernandez, M.D., pediatrician and medical director of HEROES

Cristina Fernandez, M.D., pediatrician and medical director of HEROES. Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

“We can turn their lives around. These children need to know they can change, they can do better, and they can do it every day. We teach them how. The quality of life for these children improves significantly once they have been in our program for a while.”

Obesity is a growing problem in this country. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that 20 percent of children in this country are overweight or obese. The problem may be even worse in the Omaha metropolitan area. A 2012 survey conducted by Children’s Hospital and Boys Town National Research Hospital found that 30 percent of children aged 5 to 17 years old were overweight or obese.

Obesity is a multi-factorial disease, says Fernandez. While genetics may play a role, the majority of children are overweight due to their environment and an unhealthy lifestyle. Lack of exercise, extra-large portion sizes, excessive snacking, and overconsumption of fast foods, as well as excessive time spent in front of computers and video games, are all taking a toll.

Minorities like Latinos and African-Americans have a higher rate of obesity than the Caucasian population, and this appears to be in large part due to their environment, notes Fernandez.

But obesity is about more than being overweight. It is a chronic disease and serious health problem that can lead to numerous health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, chronic headaches, venous stasis disease, urinary incontinence, liver disease, and cancer.

If the situation is not turned around, these children will begin having the types of health problems in their 20s and 30s that we normally see in people in their 60s and 70s, explains Fernandez.

Losing weight and maintaining an ideal body weight often requires a multi-faceted approach that includes medical management, nutrition counseling and education, exercise, behavior modification, and behavior therapy.

“Our goal is to help them work through their barriers,” says Martha Nepper, MS, RD, LMNT, certified diabetes educator and certified childhood and adolescent weight manager with Nebraska Methodist Health System. “It’s about getting accurate information about diet and nutrition and the proper support. For some children, that might be individual counseling, while others might benefit more from group classes and support.”

Martha Nepper, MS, RD, LMNT, Nebraska Methodist Health System

Martha Nepper, MS, RD, LMNT, Nebraska Methodist Health System. Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

Nepper works with LifeShapes, a program sponsored by Nebraska Methodist Health System that provides nutrition counseling and support for overweight and obese kids and teens.

Nepper says it’s a process that requires both the child and the parents to achieve the greatest success. “Parent involvement is extremely critical,” she says. “The parents are the gatekeepers—they control what comes into the house. The adoption of healthy habits, including diet and exercise, needs to start with them.”

Nepper adds that, oftentimes, just making small dietary changes can help decrease caloric intake enough to halt weight gain and allow children to grow into their weight. This includes steps like trading sugary beverages (like pop and Gatorade) with water, decreasing portion sizes, increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, and having more family meals.

Some common things for parents to avoid include:

  • Pressuring children to clean their plates
  • Allowing children to have televisions in their bedrooms
  • Bringing too many energy-dense foods into the house, like cookies, chips, and toaster pastries
  • Not being a good role model by not exercising regularly or participating in activities that involve exercise with their children
  • Eating out too often and too much fast food

Using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) MyPlate is a great way to determine what should be on your child’s plate, says Nepper. With MyPlate, half of the plate should be fruits and vegetables with the remaining half split between proteins, whole grains, and dairy.

Even after completing an intervention program, these children do best when they come back for occasional follow-up visits. “It’s a lifelong battle,” says Fernandez. “A smoker or an alcoholic can stop using tobacco or alcohol; we can’t stop eating.”