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UPDATE: Shen Cafe is closed today, Monday July 1, for “unexpected maintenance”. We will try again tomorrow, July 2.
Please join Deena Winter and me for lunch at Shen Cafe at noon on Monday. It’s an informal gathering of Lincolnites and folks from Twitter. Or maybe it’ll just be the two of us. You never know with these things.
Deena, for those of you who don’t know, is a former Journal Star writer who currently works for Nebraska Watchdog. She has a passion for covering a variety of local and statewide issues. She describes herself as a “cowgirl flunkie who’s written for the Northwood Gleaner, Bismarck Tribune, AP, Denver Post, Lincoln Journal Star & now Nebraska Watchdog in Lincoln”.
I hope you’re able to join us! It’s always a blast seeing and meeting you folks.
I’m not going to leap to any conclusions about the work release inmate who, it appears, was responsible for the crash Tuesday night that killed Joyce Meeks. Few details have been released, and I’m sure much more investigation will go on. That’s all expected.
What I don’t presently understand is why the Department of Correctional Services won’t release information about their own policies about work release inmates. It makes sense that they won’t release information about the driver or why he was behind the wheel; that’s all pertinent to an ongoing investigation. But general policies are public information and they should be released immediately, if not made available permanently via the web. Even if the policies were followed, and even if the policies are perfectly sane, the act of “hiding” them does nothing but increase mistrust among the public and, importantly, the media.
In general, information is good. Sitting on important details just makes people nervous. I wish more individuals, organizations, and government bodies would understand that.
Hey gang, I’m back from six days in lovely Des Moines, Iowa. I joined a delegation of 19 referees and assessors from Nebraska at the Region II Youth Championships. I had previously attended the tournament several times as a referee, but this year I went as an assessor. That means I got to sit around and watch some of the best young referees in the region officiate some of the best youth soccer in the region. Weather delays aside, it was a very fun time.
Now I’m back and ready to get back to posting around here. ... Just as soon as I figure out what went on around here while I was gone.
A few days ago I mentioned that TEDxLincoln is accepting applications to speak at its November event. It’s not the only event in town, however. Ignite Lincoln is also accepting speaker applications. The Ignite Lincoln event is on August 29.
Ignite Lincoln uses a unique format for its presentations. Speakers are allotted exactly five minutes and twenty slides, each lasting fifteen seconds. It’s a fun format that keeps things moving and is suitable for a wide variety of topics.
Ignite Lincoln is also accepting applications from local nonprofits which will have a chance to win $5,000 at the event. Unfortunately the timeline is tight; nonprofits only have until June 28 to get their applications in.
The Nebraska Foster Care Review Office has put out its quarterly report and it’s worth a look. As the Journal Star summarizes it, some data are moving in the right direction: fewer children are in out-of-home care, and children are spending less time in temporary “shelter care” situations—basically limbo between home and a more long-term foster care placement. That’s the good news.
Here’s (some of) the bad news: oodles of children have been out of their homes for two years or longer, and most of those children are under the age of twelve. These aren’t trouble-making teens, in other words. These are young kids spending a significant chunk of their lives in impermanent situations. The implications for their mental, behavioral, and social health are profound.
This issue hits home for us here at 625 Elm Street. When we adopted Joey he had spent a total of roughly three-and-a-half of his eight years in foster care. Keishor spent his first 20 months in foster care, lived with his bio mom for a year, and then was in foster care with us for 1.5 years before we adopted him.
The FCRO report identifies some worrying statistics indicating that African American and Native American children are far more likely to spend more time out-of-home than other children. The question is why. The Indian Child Welfare Act is an obvious contributor for Native American kids. But there’s an easy-to-identify, much larger issue that covers pretty much every other explanation: poverty.
When I talk to people about foster care, one of the frequent complaints people have is that the bio parents just don’t seem to try very hard to get their kids back. There’s a kernel of truth in that complaint, but it’s largely based on an extraordinarily naive understanding of poverty. Not that I’m an expert on the topic; I’m still trying to wrap my head around some of the things I’ve witnessed. Lack of education and/or mental health problems play important roles, as does what might be termed “poverty culture”. Whatever the cause, the fact is that many things just take longer for people in poverty. That includes getting kids back into the home.
Complaints are the length of time children spend out-of-home make me worried. I worry that one of two things will happen as policymakers rush to improve numbers: children will be shoved back home before the home is ready or they’ll be taken away before parents have had adequate time to fix their problems, all because a page turned on a calendar somewhere deep in the bowels of the DHHS offices. If you think I’m exaggerating, if you think that DHHS wouldn’t possibly do something so arbitrary, you clearly haven’t dealt with the office very much.
So although I do want kids to spend less time in limbo, all parties must be treated fairly. That includes the kids, of course, but also bio families and foster and adoptive families. The solutions need to encompass everybody or they’re simply not going to work. Fortunately I’m aware of a couple private efforts here in Lincoln to work on just those sorts of problems. I hope they work out. The one I’m most familiar with is still in its early stages, but I will definitely post more information about the effort and its results at a later date.
There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who dislike sushi, and cool people.
If you fall in the latter camp, read on.
A restaurant’s name can communicate all kinds of things, deliberate or accidental, about what awaits customers. The name can describe the joint’s formality (or lack thereof); the type of food it serves; how the food is prepared; and even the quality of service you will receive. What, then, are we to make of the name of one of Lincoln’s newest restaurants: LeadBelly? The word “lead” makes me think of dense, heavy food that will have me waddle out in misery at the end of the meal. And the combined words “LeadBelly” resemble potbelly—not a look I’m going for.
And yet early reports about the restaurant were positive. Very positive, in fact. This isn’t a Valentino’s Buffet-style stuff-yourself-til-you-hate-yourself kind of experience, they said. Buzz about the food and the atmosphere reflected something quite different from that.
I had to try this place.
LeadBelly Contemporary American Pub is located at 8th and Q in Lincoln’s Haymarket. You’ll recognize the location. It has been the home to no fewer than a half dozen failed restaurants over the years. It’s a location with baggage, yes, but also one with incredible potential. Potential that’s increasing substantially with the impending opening of nearby hotels and, of course, the Pinnacle Bank Arena.
LeadBelly’s approach is both more traditional than many of the earlier attempts in this building, and curiously eclectic. Perhaps the best thing they’ve done is add outdoor dining with a new patio on both the east and south sides of the building. The experience is, unfortunately, quite noisy right now thanks to nearby construction, but the beepbeepbeep of backing construction vehicles won’t be there for too much longer. The interior is classy, with black booths and a variety of conversation-encouraging tables. The front room features a bar and televisions, while back rooms instead offer tables and booths. It’s cozy without feeling too crowded. Don’t come for a quiet meal, though. Conversation volumes do get a bit high.
I have visited LeadBelly twice, once on a Saturday night and once for a Monday lunch. The restaurant was busy both times. On the Saturday evening we arrived around 6:30pm. Oddly, a sign encouraging patrons to seat themselves greeted us at the door. I don’t know if that’s a regular thing or if it was due to something like a temporary shortage of personnel. Later in the evening a host was managing seating; perhaps it’s seat yourself until the tables are filled? Once we sat at a booth toward the back, we were quickly greeted by our server and offered drinks.
On our lunch visit we snagged a table outside. It took a good five or ten minutes for somebody to come along and clear off the glasses and such left over from the previous patrons. The wait wasn’t very encouraging, but neither was it surprising; a relatively new restaurant is going to face that kind of hiccup on a busy lunch service.
Overall service ranged from fine to very good on my two visits. In both cases the servers were friendly, upbeat, and energetic. They offered recommendations and they were able to speak knowledgeably about most of the items on the menu. Drinks were refilled as expected and the usual “how’s everything going?” questions came at appropriate intervals. Other tables appeared to be receiving a similar level of service. My largest gripe is that our Monday lunch took much too long to come out of the kitchen and, thanks to the slow table clearing at the start, the whole experience dragged a bit. I don’t want to be rushed, of course, but weekday lunch service generally needs to be snappy to get folks back to work.
LeadBelly’s menu (Page 1, Page 2, Page 3) is, as I said, both traditional and unique. They offer nachos and salads and burgers and tacos and sandwiches. Pretty typical stuff. Take a closer look at the descriptions in the menu. Intriguing, right?
I can’t cover the entire menu but I can spotlight a few dishes. The Missus tried the grilled cheese ($7.99) and the tomato soup ($3.49 / $4.49). She described the tomato soup as good, but not necessarily anything to write home about. The sandwich, on the other hand, was a delicious combination of parmesan, provolone, tomato, basil, and garlic aioli on a toasted baguette—a definite step up from the Velveeta on wheat I make at home.
I went a far less traditional route. While browsing the menu I couldn’t help but get drawn in by the Full Leaded Jacket ($11.99). I had to try it. It’s a burger on a cinnamon roll bun topped with cheddar, chili, queso, sour cream, and jalapenos, and served with corn chips. As with all of LeadBelly’s burgers, you can choose from ground chuck, chicken breast, or a veggie burger. I opted for the veggie burger and it was fantastic. The overall Full Leaded Jacket experience lived up to my expectations. It’s a bizarre meal, one consisting of an appetizer, entree, and dessert all on one plate. But somehow it works. It’s not the sort of meal I plan to eat every time I visit, but I would definitely have it again.
On my next visit I forced myself to try something very different from the burger. This time I went with the chicken tinga “flatcar” ($10.99). A flatcar is like a taco or tostada served on a crisp corn tortilla. Mine featured chicken, lettuce, and blue cheese. It was served with mild salsa and a side of black beans. It was a slightly messy, but tasty, meal, nicely sized for lunch, but perhaps a bit on the small side for a full dinner. The tortillas were a nice variation from the usual sort of tortilla used for tacos. The beans, though not particularly remarkable on their own, complemented the meal quite well.
Fletch opted for the huevos ranchero burger ($8.99). He was intrigued by the idea of a fried egg on a hamburger. In addition to the egg, the burger features salsa, romaine, and sour cream. It came with a combination of crinkle-cut and waffle fries on the side. He enjoyed the hamburger and I’m pretty sure he plans to put an egg on every burger he eats from now on.
LiquidRetro sent me this information about a recent trip to LeadBelly:
On Friday June 14th I ate dinner at LeadBelly with my family for the second time that week. Parking in the Haymarket was difficult as the parking garage was already full at 6pm. If going later than 6pm to LeadBelly be prepared to wait.
Despite being very busy our service was good. He was very enthusiastic and kept the water glasses full! I took a gamble and ordered the Fish and Chips ($10.99) after reading several online reviews recommending them and it being a LeadBelly favorite on the menu. The gamble paid off, with what was some of the best Fish and Chips I have had in town. They were served piping hot, the breading was thick, and super crispy. The menu said it was battered in New Castle beer but I couldn’t really detect the beer flavors. The tarter sauce was a homemade mayo based that had what tasted like a bit of garlic and onion added in. It was great for the fish as well as the fries. The fries were a mix of waffle and crinkle cut that had a special seasoning on them. They were good and the ratio of waffle to crinkle was fine for me. My only suggestion would be to include another piece of Fish and or a different vegetable side. The grilled sweet corn side that was included was overcooked and a bit mushy.
Overall if you like Fish and Chips, it’s a must try at LeadBelly.
All that being said, does LeadBelly have what it takes to break the string of restaurant failures in that location? I think it does, and I think I’m basing that on more than just short-term buzz. The improved outdoor seating, unique menu, and Haymarket expansion all work in LeadBelly’s favor. Their largest challenge at this point appears to be strengthening their service by ensuring customers are greeted well and that food comes out of the kitchen quickly, especially at lunch. If they can do that, LeadBelly may be the first to say that they’ve finally found a winning recipe at 8th and Q.
Congratulations to the organizers and sponsors behind Tracey’s Memorial Run today. This is a really fun, laid back, and very scenic race in Pioneer’s Park for the wonderful cause of beating cancer.
This kid (above) came in first place for the one mile race - Good going kid!
TEDxLincoln is looking for speakers for this fall’s event. Interested? Applications are due on June 27 so get your ideas ready now.
You may not be familiar with the event. TEDxLincoln is part of the TEDx series of independently organized events which feature talks on a wide variety of topics. It is roughly comparable to Ignite Lincoln, at which I spoke last year. TEDx is a spinoff of TED, an awesome event that features some of the world’s most brilliant minds in technology, entertainment, and design. If you aren’t familiar with TED, you should be. But be warned: once you start watching TED talks you aren’t going to want to stop.
This year’s theme is Seeking Brilliance, Pioneering Change and you can download the application [PDF] here. I’m trying to decide if I want to apply. Check that; I would love to apply, I’m just trying to decide if I have a topic in mind that would suit the event. Maybe you can help me process some of these ideas:
- Everything I’ve learned about interacting with people I’ve learned via sports officiating. While not entirely true, reffing soccer and umpiring baseball have taught me all kinds of lessons about psychology, human nature, and people management. I could talk for hours on a variety of related topics. Maybe somewhere in there is something appropriate for this event.
- Parenting or foster parenting. My Ignite Lincoln talk was about our experiences with foster care so I’m not sure I want to re-hash that. But there are plenty of other foster care tales to tell, including some great stories about people working on amazing projects here in Lincoln to help kids and bio families. On the parenting front, raising Joey has been extremely challenging thanks to a variety of mental and behavioral health challenges. Oh the stories I could tell! Parenting him has forced me to become a better dad, and to deal with many of my own personal shortcomings.
- Building communities online. Lincolnite may have its flaws (see this week’s series on The Future of Lincolnite for many examples!), but we’ve got something good going here. Between my experiences with this website and the creation and cultivation of the #LNK hashtag on Twitter, I’ve learned a few things that may be worth sharing. Who knows, maybe people want to hear about it.
What would you like to hear me talk about for 6-12 minutes?
This week I’ve chattered on about all kinds of things related to Lincolnite’s future. Thanks for humoring me! Part of the reason I did this was to generate feedback, which many of you provided here in comments, in emails, or in personal conversations. I also did this to force myself to really think about a number of issues associated with the site. Mission accomplished.
Next, of course, I have to actually put all this stuff into action. It’s going to take some time. I haven’t finalized all the decisions that need to be made, but I’m well on my way. Here are a couple of the actions I plan to take in the near future.
First up: I’m going to work on content. I need to work on improving how I generate content, getting back to my old ways of a minimum of one post each day and a game or other distraction every week or two. (Would you believe I used to try to post three items each day? Who has time for that!) Getting content quantity back to reasonable levels will help improve reader engagement, not to mention the benefits it will have for my morale. I’m also going to recruit some new bloggers / videographers / podcasters / whatever to help out around here. As I mentioned yesterday, I’ll look for both regular contributors (one or more times per week) and guest contributors (one-time or rarely).
Then I will work on the site’s design. Tweaking the layout, navigation, and similar features will be an easy enough temporary solution until I’m able to do a larger redesign. Under the hood, I need to make a decision about what system will run the show. Continue with ExpressionEngine? Move to a new system like sexy newcomer Craft? Or perhaps whip up my own system as a fun (but work-intensive) project?
One thing I haven’t discussed this week is money. Well, I’ve mentioned that Lincolnite doesn’t bring in any money. Over the years I’ve spent thousands of dollars on this little hobby of mine. It’s time to begin recouping some of that. At some point during the redesign process I’m going to begin showing ads on Lincolnite. But don’t freak out! I’m not talking about a JournalStar.com-esque disaster. Presently on the Journal Star’s website I count a ridiculous 22 advertisements; sometimes they also have pop-ups and full-page wrappers. Here on Lincolnite on any given page there will be one ad. It won’t be a pop-up, it won’t be animated, and it will always be in the same spot. In addition, the ads I show will often not be commercial—some will feature local non-profits and goings-on, for example. The goal is to be unobtrusive and unannoying, while at the same time helping to promote local stuff and help pay some site expenses. I trust you folks to beat the snot out of me if I let things get out of hand.
Thank you so much for joining me as I’ve worked through this process. Lincolnite is my baby and I want it to be something I’m proud of and you enjoy. Look for changes to begin very soon. Don’t fret, though. Lincolnite will still be Lincolnite. Just ... better.
I have talked a lot about things that need to change so that Lincolnite can live and thrive. The vast majority of it is stuff that I need to do. There are a few things I need some help with, however. Fortunately I’ve already had some volunteers. This post is a brainstorm about some of the ways you can help Lincolnite be a success.
The first and most obvious thing I could use help with is content creation. To that end, I’m going to expand the number of bloggers who post here. I have talked about this before—several times, in fact—but I haven’t done a good job of following through. That will change. The bloggers I bring in will be of two types: regular bloggers who can post on any topic any old time they like; and guest bloggers who post periodically and are more closely moderated. There will be an application process of some sort, but it won’t be anything too onerous.
What kind of bloggers am I looking for? In short, I’m looking for people who fit in here. People who care about Lincoln and who can contribute meaningfully to the sorts of conversations we like to have around here. People who can fill niches I’m not strong in (local sports, to name one example). People who can write well and engage the reader. People who aren’t going to fade out after three posts (unless they are a guest blogger, of course).
Or heck, maybe I’m not looking for a writer at all! Mr. T, for example, has become our resident photographer. I plan to expand his work—if he’s willing!—in the next iteration of the website. Maybe somebody out there wants to help resurrect Lincast, the podcast I briefly toyed with. Or perhaps there’s a videographer who wants to post some short films from around town. I’m open to all kinds of ideas.
There’s another type of content assistance that would be extremely helpful. I have many, many ideas for posts that require time-consuming activities like driving around town or setting up interviews. Having a “producer” available to help set up that stuff would be unbelievably handy. Being able to say to somebody “I want to write about X, can you find out Y and Z for me?” would open up all kinds of possibilities.
Over the past several days as I’ve been thinking through all of this, it occurred to me that I’m asking some unspecified number of folks to help take ownership of Lincolnite. That line of thinking led me to ask myself: what would actual shared ownership of Lincolnite look like? Presently there isn’t much to “own”. I’ve never made a dime off of this thing so it’s not like there are profits to be shared. But what would it look like if there were some kind of Board of Directors? To be honest, some of you already fill that kind of navigational role by virtue of the feedback you provide. Perhaps I could formalize it. Or let’s take that even further. What if the entire Lincolnite project were open sourced somehow? What if Lincolnite’s website design, backend systems, content, and everything else belonged to nobody at all? I’ve chewed on that idea for a while now and, though I haven’t figured out how it would work, I’m willing to consider it if somebody can come up with a working model.
The final thing I need help with is a biggie. As I have already mentioned, I want a new site design. I’m no designer; I can do website architecture and engineering, but making pixels pretty is out of my league. I have a good friend who is a designer by trade, but he’s not able to help out right now. I wonder if any of you can help. I don’t want some sort of cookie cutter WordPress template design. I want something creative and classy, conservative and lasting. The catch, of course, is that my budget is ... not large. Like I said, I don’t make a dime off Lincolnite. Whatever I pay comes out of my pocket. Still, if I can find somebody who can provide professional-quality work I’ll do everything I can to compensate him or her fairly.
I hope that helps you understand the sort of help that some of you can provide to keep Lincolnite going strong. Most of this has been coming for a long time (e.g. adding bloggers), now I’m forcing the issue. It’ll be a good thing for all of us.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about what comes next. In the mean time, let me know what you think in the comments!
It’s hard to believe that it was seven years ago that I made this little introduction.
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