“Murder Ballad” Kills It-A Review

dsc_3926The musical, Murder Ballad, running through November 20, 2016 in the  Howard Drew Theatre at the  Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP) tells a tale of an affair gone bad. Unlike most love triangle stories, the adulterer here is a young mother and wife named Sara. Played by award-winning actress Leanne Hill Carlson, Sara escapes the doldrums of everyday married life and reconnects with former boyfriend Tom, played by Thomas Gjere. Their acrobatic use of bar counters and pool tables lends a creative steaminess to the love affair. Sara’s devoted husband, Michael, played by John E. Jones, loves her, despite her flaws and her obvious distaste of the drudgery of life- “Who will I be from 9-3?”

The story is narrated by the incredibly talented and humorous Mackenzie Dehmer who captivates the audience with her voice as well as her movements throughout the bar. The four-piece orchestra, seen on set, accentuates the drama but sometimes overpowers the voices.

A special highlight of this production is the functioning bar. An hour before start, guests are welcome to go on stage to order a drink, sit on a bar stool, play pool at the table, drop a quarter in the pinball machine or sit back and watch TV above the bar. Guests may even sit on the 12 bar seats at no additional cost during the performance.

Guest Reaction

Lyn and Natalie before showtime.
Lyn and Natalie before showtime.

Lyn Leach did. The stage is comfortable to him as an avid theater patron and actor. He’s starred in 8 productions and is the past president of the Lincoln Community Playhouse. He and his wife, Natalie, are OCP season subscribers who see about 50 shows a year, including recently seeing “Hamilton” in New York City.

Lyn admits, before attending the play, he knew nothing more about it than it was a musical, set in a bar and involved a murder. He enjoyed the wonderful voices most. “The purity of the harmonies and the notes they hit were impressive.”

“It was a fantastic show.  I loved the character development. I believed and understood each of them. And, I really liked the way the narrator worked the room and some of the comical places she ended up, which added life to her.”

Murder Ballad does contain situations of infidelity, adult language and mild violence. Lyn believes it’s especially appealing for a young, progressive audience. “I really love that OCP is making every effort to broaden its patron base by including more edgy and progressive plays. Their interesting and entertaining productions are at a level of quality far above the typical community theatre.”

Lyn sums up Murder Ballad this way. “It’s a musical that will take you on a journey of deception, sensuality, love, heartbreak, and above all, passion. It is one of the best overall productions in years at the Omaha Community Playhouse. As an audience member, you will feel like you are directly involved in the story. The music is phenomenal, the voices supreme, and the acting is outstanding. Get a ticket and experience the exhilarating journey yourself.”

Get a Ticket

Do this by calling the OCP Box Office at (402) 553-0800 or online at www.OmahaPlayhouse.com or www.TicketOmaha.com. Single tickets are $42 for adults and $25 for students. Tickets for groups of 12 or more are $30 for adults and $20 for students.

A limited number of Twilight Tickets are available at half price after noon the day of the performance at the Box Office. Cash or check only. These are subject to availability.

Sponsored by:  Le Voltaire Restaurant/Le Petit Paris, The Berry & Rye, David and Anne Rismiller, Whitmore Charitable Trust and CW15 (media sponsor)

Location:  Howard Drew Theatre | Omaha Community Playhouse 6915 Cass Street | Omaha, NE 68132


©Copyright. October 2016. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.














2 Free Tickets-Omaha Community Playhouse

Tickets representative, not actual.

Win 2 Tickets to Murder Ballard at Omaha Community Playhouse

“Like” Linda Leier Thomason @haulingrocks on Facebook  & Comment: What’s Your favorite play or musical of all times.

Winner announced October 23, 2016.

Play runs October 14–November20, 2016

Howard Drew Theatre @ Omaha Community Playhouse

6915 Cass Street Omaha, NE 68132

Conceived by and with Book and Lyrics by Julia Jordan
Music and Lyrics by Juliana Nash

Murder Ballad is an intimate, sung-through indie-rock musical that tells the dramatic tale of a love triangle gone wrong. At the center of it all is Sara, a young mother and wife who seems to have it all but longs for her dangerous past and begins a love affair with her old boyfriend. As events unfold, the audience is along for the ride with every twist of the story. Murder Ballad is a steamy and fun thriller with a razor’s edge.

A special highlight of this production is the functioning bar in the Howard Drew Theatre. The house will open an hour before the performance (6:30 p.m. for a 7:30 p.m. show and 1:00 p.m. for a 2:00 p.m. show), and patrons are welcome to go on stage to order a drink, sit on a barstool, play pool at the pool table, drop a quarter in the pinball machine or sit back and watch the television above the bar. In addition to the usual theatrical seating, there are both floor seats and bar seats available for purchase, for those who would like to watch the story unfold from a slightly different angle. There is no additional charge for these 12 seats and patrons may choose those seats at time of the ticket purchase.





Mackenzie Dehmer – Narrator

Leanne Hill Carlson – Sara

John E. Jones – Michael

Thomas Gjere – Tom

The Omaha Community Playhouse is supported in part by the Nebraska Arts Council, the Nebraska Cultural Endowment and the Douglas County Board of Commissioners. Established in 1924, the Omaha Community Playhouse is the largest community theatre in the United States based on memberships sold and facility size, among other factors. The organization is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

©Copyright. October 2016. Linda Leier Thomason

All  Rights Reserved.

1 Weekend of 8 Great Omaha Firsts

An Omaha Weekend to Remember

It was a weekend unlike any of the past 52. There was music, a toast, physical activity and a picnic. Also a hamburger, a priest and hail. And, shoes. Yes, disintegrating shoes.

This year I’ve committed to making time for more celebrations. Celebrating not just special occasions, but milestones. It’s not a New Year’s resolution. I’ve finally come to realize that joy matters. I’ve spent a lot of time working and ignoring milestones. Instead, I rushed to the next one without recognizing the success just achieved.

This past weekend our family experienced 8 firsts in Omaha. I understand it’s probably best to space these experiences out, but sometimes that’s just the way things work out. The difference was I actually lived in each of the moments. That’s a first too, probably the best first of the weekend!

Diana Ross

dianaI’m a Motown girl. Sure, I enjoy all types of music, but there’s something about Motown’s beats and melodies that resonate with my soul. When Ken asked if I’d like to attend our first Omaha concert by taking advantage of half-priced tickets to Diana Ross’s Friday night sold-out concert, my response was immediate and affirmative. “Of course, yes, thank you!” How could I possibly pass up the chance to be serenaded by the founding member and lead singer of the Supremes? The fact that’s she’s 72 was completely lost to my overwhelming desire to hear and sway to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Upside Down,” and 75 minutes of other recognizable hits.

All week we looked forward to sitting in downtown Omaha’s magnificent Orpheum Theater for the first time.  We were excited for our date night and wanted to be respectful of Diva Diana. Ken donned slacks with a long-sleeved, collared shirt and I wore a floor-length summertime dress with wedge heels. Until I didn’t.


My first Omaha embarrassing moment happened when opening the car door and stepping onto the searing pavement. I felt a bit off-balance, but grabbed Ken’s hand to make our way across the street. He’s my rock. He centers me. However, the more steps we took, the more I felt like I was tipping over. This sensation isn’t that unusual with the scoliosis curves I carry. But when I looked down and saw a portion of my shredded right wedge heel on the sidewalk, I knew this was greater than spinal curves. Oh Dear! Cork was dropping with each step.

I had a choice to make: Carry on like nothing was happening, turn around and go home, or quickly try to find a shoe store. Without flinching, I chose the shoefirst. I’d go barefoot before missing a Diana Ross concert. By the time I got to the Orpheum restroom, the left shoe heel was also ¾ shredded. Sitting on the stool, I examined both shoes and laughed aloud at the timing of their implosion. Rarely do I wear heels; these expired before I did. I slipped the “flats” back on, exited the restroom, grabbed Ken’s hand and strutted up to our balcony seats. During this entire journey,  I only heard one person utter, “Well, that’s interesting!” Yup. It was.  Despite the shoe calamity, our first Omaha concert was fantastic.


dinkWe ate our first Dinker’s hamburgers on Saturday. Alex, our 21-year-old son who’s here for a summer internship, has been touting this landmark restaurant. Apparently several co-workers frequent the Polish neighborhood eatery and have been lobbying him to as well. Dinker’s didn’t disappoint. After placing orders at the counter, we bellied up to the bar and enjoyed cold beverages with mouth-watering burgers, fries and onion rings. [I had the kiddie burger-more than enough for me.] It felt great to patronize a local establishment with a long family owned history.


priestWe heard our first homily from newly ordained (June 4, 2016) Father Tobias “Toby” Letak at Saturday evening’s mass at St. James.  Now I know I’m old. Father looks like a kid. He is one. However, watching him say Mass and deliver his homily, I marveled at his deep faith and gift of communication. It will be a joy to support and watch him grow as a church leader and priest. What a great vocational role model for the youth as well.

Champagne Toast

toastSaturday was a year that we moved into our Omaha home. After Mass, I gathered the Thomason men, poured Sparkling Grape Cider into champagne flutes and then we lifted glasses in a toast of gratitude. If you’ve read any of our family’s journey getting to Omaha and into a home, you understand the sentiment behind the toast. It was needed and deserved. Here’s to many more memories in this home!


Our neighborhood received significant hail in May while we were traveling in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. We obviously didn’t hear or see the hail. The insurance adjuster and seven contractors who’ve been here declared our roof, gutters and window sashes totaled. We are experiencing our first hail claim and house repairs after living here less than a year. Sunday morning, we sat down and put contractor data, by variables, into a spreadsheet to determine who to hire. We are predictably analytical and thorough in our research. It’s who we are. We know this methodology doesn’t work for all, but it always has for us. Let the roofing and other repairs begin.


bbSunday was 20 degrees cooler than the previous week where record-setting temperatures soared over 100 degrees. It was a bit much despite our heat and humidity conditioning from decades of living in the Deep South. Like most, we stayed mostly indoors last week. So Sunday, when it was cooler, we felt like escaped convicts and completely overdid it. First, Ken and I walked two miles at Standing Bear Lake. Next, we got Alex and, for the first time, used the basketball court at Hillsborough Park.

Recreational activities are something the three of us joyfully share together. In fact, in Alex’s youth, most Saturdays Ken took him to the grassy common area in the front of our Charleston, SC neighborhood with a trunk full of sporting equipment. It warmed my soul to see them bond while throwing, kicking and putting.  It’s not much different today with the exception of more competitiveness and ribbing. The togetherness and competition still warm my aging soul, though these activities are not as kind on my joints and bones.


picnicGoing to our first parish picnic capped off an eventful weekend. Our previous experiences have mostly involved pot-luck events. Not here! A team grilled pork loins and hot dogs, some cooked potatoes and corn, while others deep-fried squash and onions. There also were cookies and melons. A DJ played background tunes, including many Diana Ross hits.  Kids enjoyed a variety of carnival-like games and inflatables. Adults were in the Parish Center playing Bingo in the air-conditioning while others were managing the cake walk outside the church entrance. It was a festive event and one we will return to, for certain.

A weekend is 48 hours. We experienced 8 firsts in Omaha during this time and each was memorable in its own way.

I lived each moment, making each experience more joyful. Another first worth repeating.

©Copyright. July 2016. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.


Stroke Awareness Month- Act F.A.S.T.

strokeMAY IS AMERICAN STROKE MONTH. While stroke threatens millions of lives, it is largely preventable, treatable and beatable. Together, we can end stroke.

My family has a history of suffering and dying from strokes. Five of my mother’s sisters had strokes; most died from them. My paternal grandparents also suffered from strokes. I’m concerned. Are you?

“Stroke Awareness Month” is a great time to refresh yourself on the warning signs and to learn about the personal impact of having a stroke.

Here are some  sobering statistics on US data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  •  Stroke is the 3rd leading cause of death-140,000+ people die annually.
  • High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke.
  • Stroke is the leading cause of serious, long-term disability.
  • Approximately 795,000 people suffer a stroke annually. About 600,000 of these are first attacks, and 185,000 are recurrent attacks.
  • Nearly 3/4 of all strokes happen in people aged 65+. The risk of having a stroke more than doubles each decade after the age of 55.
  • Strokes can and do occur at any age. Nearly 1/4 occur in people under the age of 65.
  • African-Americans have a higher stroke death rate than whites, even at younger ages.
  • Someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds, on average.
  • Smoking increases chances for a stroke and atrial fibrillation (AF) is an independent risk factor for stroke, increasing risk about 5 times.

barbara todayBarbara bravely shares her story about having and recovering from a stroke. She wants you to be informed and prepared. She felt unprepared.

If you’re recovering from a stroke, let her struggle and story inspire you. Know we wish you well on your recovery journey. If you’d like to reach out to Barbara, contact me.

January 8, 2015

Barbara went about her usual morning routine preparing to play music for Sunday mass. Only this day she was dizzy with a headache and had weak legs. She found herself bumping into walls because she couldn’t walk a straight line. Since she started feeling “fluish” already on Friday, she brushed it off as flu weakness. Afterall, it was the height of flu season. Sunday night her voice became incoherent and her husband called 911.

Even while being transported to the hospital, Barbara didn’t realize she’d had a stroke. She wasn’t showing what she considered two classic stroke symptoms: facial drooping or impaired vision. At the hospital a  CAT scan was normal but a MRI showed she’d had a brain stem stroke.

Barbara spent two days in ICU and later learned her dominant right side was no longer working.

Wants to Die

She grieved losing the use of her right hand. The one she usually relied on for guitar picking, piano playing, gripping her cherished violin bow, typing, brushing her teeth and combing her hair; and driving. She loved the insurance business she’d built with her husband and cherished their travel adventures. Upon waking up in ICU, all of these perceived losses were overwhelming. She admits she briefly gave up and wanted to be taken to Oregon, where physician assisted suicide is legal, and die.


before strokeSoon Barbara had a change of heart and was determined to get well again, at whatever cost. Music and grandchildren drove her recovery. She needed to hold her year-old grandson and play hide-and-seek with her 7-year-old twin grandchildren. She definitely longed to play guitar at Sunday mass. After a month in the hospital, Barbara began 12 months of three therapies. Occupational therapy lasted a year. Physical therapy 9 months and speech therapy 6 months.


Barbara’s determination and ability to work hard to achieve what seemed like an insurmountable goal is commendable and applause worthy.

“I am so much better after 15 months. I cannot write with my right hand so I type with my left.” While not yet “up to speed” with her violin or classical piano, she can strum the guitar just fine and is back playing at Sunday mass. “I can’t do any fancy picking yet.”

She’s returned to work with 90 percent of her speech back, explaining to customer groups that she’s a stroke survivor. Eight months post stroke, her foot gave out and broke in four places. Learning to be less self-conscious about her limp is a work-in-progress.

6 months post stroke barbaraBarbara is eternally grateful for the love and support of her husband, family and friends as well as the devotion and care from her neurologist and therapists. Understandably, she’s much more in touch with her mortality.

She was a healthy, thriving woman who was vigilant about annual checkups. Physicians had not warned her about the possibility of having a stroke because she didn’t have any of the risk factors.

She had quit smoking decades ago, rarely drank and was not overweight. Nor did she have high blood pressure. Both parents passed away from cancer, not strokes.

Still, Barbara suffered a stroke.

Barbara would like you to know

  1. Seemingly perfect health does not make you immune to stroke.
  2. Flu like symptoms, especially affecting your knees or legs, need immediate attention.
  3. Just because your parents didn’t suffer a stroke doesn’t mean you can’t.

Become familiar with the sudden symptoms of stroke.

Recognize Stroke Symptoms & Act Fast

F.-Face drooping. Ask person to smile. Does face droop?

A.Arm weakness. Ask person to raise both arms. Does one hang downward?

S.-Speech difficulty. Ask person to repeat phrase. Is speech slurred?

T.Time to call 911. Check the time so you know when the 1st symptoms appeared. Get emergency medical help ASAP.

Save a life. Share this with loved ones and friends today.

Download Stroke App

©Copyright. May 2015. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.


Faith, Family & Farming: McCook, Nebraska

Pillars of Southwest Nebraska Community

townI spent 22 hours covering every square inch, and then some, of McCook-a city of nearly 8000 and the county seat of Red Willow County, Nebraska. My goal on any undercover visit is to discover the heartbeat of the community-what makes it thrive, what does it value and how is it different from anywhere else.

I left McCook with a clear understanding that Faith, Family and Farming are the pillars in this Go-To city in Southwest Nebraska.


Established in 1882 as a railroad center halfway between Denver and Omaha, McCook remains a regional trade hub for Northwest Kansas and Southwest Nebraska. Residents in this rural area flock to McCook for shopping, dining, education, entertainment, medical services and more.

Red Willow County was named for the Red Willow Creek, which is a tributary of the Republican River. The name is reported to be mistranslated from the Dakota Indian name Chanshasha Wakpala, which literally means Red Dogwood Creek. The Dakota referred to the creek as such because of an abundance of red dogwood shrub that grew along the creek banks. Its stem and branches are deep red in color and favored in basket making.

History & Trendy

The city has seamlessly blended history and modernization. In fact, the two often co-exist, as seen at The Loop Brewing Company, a former railroad beericehouse that in 2011 became a brewery and restaurant with an active railway within a few feet of its front door. The Loop was at near capacity when I arrived to enjoy a beer flight and brick oven pizza shortly after 8 pm on an unseasonably 38 degree rainy night.

Norris Avenue (The Bricks) is perhaps the best example of this perfect blend of history and hip. The historical walking tour includes, in addition to other sites, the Fox Theatre and Museum of High Plains & Carnegie Library  as well as the Norris House-a museum for its namesake, the late Senator George W norrisNorris. Go a bit south to find the trendy women’s clothing store Mint 217 and the fabulous Knowlen and Yates cooking and kitchenware store. While touring, you’ll also find the H.P. Sutton Home-the only house in Nebraska designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, which today is a private residence. Venture off “The Bricks” on East B Street and discover The Painted Ladies. This home décor and painted furniture store owned by three friends is right on trend and proves that no matter how far you live from a metropolitan area, you can keep up with the trends and be just as “cool” as anyone else. West B Street finds you at Farrells Pharmacy and Hallmark Store where the best prescription here is customer service.

Gold Star Service

In fact, every business I entered deserves a gold star for customer service. flipSure, in a community this size where folks likely know one another, I’m certain I stood out. Instead of making me feel like an outsider, every encounter was quite the opposite. “Welcome. Is there something I can help you find?” Good old-fashioned customer service still exists, at least in McCook. Equally impressive was, “Thank you for stopping in and for visiting McCook.”

Well done business owners! Your employees are impressively well-trained.


pianoNo matter where I dined during my visit, I was always a party of two surrounded by large family groups. Lunching at Sehnert’s Bakery & Bieroc Cafe was an extraordinary experience. Yes, the Jiffy Burger, especially the freshly baked bun, was exceptional as were the pastries, and I mean plural, but the sense of community in the establishment is something of day’s long gone. The ownership here has taken great care in creating a gathering place that oozes community.

After ordering, coffee-sipping customers caught up with one another in front of the pastry display cases while waiting for their lunch. As one moves to the dining area, a framed poster on “How to Build Community” greets all diners. tallThe message of the poster was perfectly put into action in the Café. Greetings were exchanged between and across tables and remarkably diners of all ages sat at the Café’s piano filling the room with background sounds deserving of a much larger audience, though greatly appreciated by their current one, which applauded after each performance.

Throughout my 22 hours as a first-time visitor, everything I saw and experienced in McCook was new, but my time in this Café left the strongest impression on me. It’s something I wish for every community. One person and one business can make a difference in building community.


Churches (20) of nearly every faith are represented in McCook. I visited St. glassPatrick’s Catholic Church. The doors were open-a rare find today in a town of any size. As with most communities, the churches in McCook appear to foster social capital and provide needed services as well as a moral compass for the city.



mooMy visit included a drive by schools, city hall, a senior center and nursing home, the community college, hospital, airport, golf course, and parks. I visited the library and the Burlington Northern and Amtrak station as well as two surrounding state recreation areas: Red Willow Reservoir and Medicine Creek. No matter where I went, I observed and understood the role agriculture plays in this area’s economy.

grainApproaching McCook on Highways 6 & 34 East, one’s senses are awakened by the aromas of feed lots and rich wet soil ; sights of windmills, irrigation systems and massively-sized, sophisticated-looking grain bins, and the sounds of bellowing cows and rumbling trains. Farming is vital and omnipresent in this region.

4hThe Red Willow County Fairgrounds, which house the Kiplinger Arena, spoke to the heart of McCook. Here young citizens learn both the values and lessons of farming and citizenship from adults who hold dear the same lessons shared by their predecessors.

Go-To McCook

golfMcCook is the Go-To City of Southwest Nebraska built on a foundation of faith, family and farming. Go to McCook. Awaken your senses, engage in conversation with the locals, shop their trendy stores, walk the Heritage Square, play in their well-kept parks and dine in one of many great eateries.

Experience a textbook example of community.

You will leave McCook a more enlightened person than when you came.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

©Copyright. May 2016. Linda Leier Thomason.

All Rights Reserved.

This undercover study was done in cooperation with McCook/Red Willow County Tourism.


Nominate your community for an undercover study by contacting me.













Sioux City Stinks: That’s What You Think

 4 Hours Changed My Opinion

snarkyCan I be snarky?
Since relocating to the Midwest seven years ago and commuting regularly between our first home in Sioux Falls, SD and our new home in Omaha, NE, we’ve skirted by Sioux City, Iowa on I-29 endless times. It was hard to do more than just get through there. Roadway construction is ever-present. It used to smell. Then it flooded. More recently the city decided to pick a fight with SD about using speed cameras to capture South Dakotans in a hurry to get past Sioux City. It was hard to love Sioux City, almost impossible to stop.
That all changed recently when our son, who’s attending USD in Vermillion, SD, suggested we meet in Sioux City rather than drive the additional 40 miles to his doorstep. If you read my January post (Parenting tab) “I Spent New Year’s Eve with a New Man”, you’d understand his suggestion. I’m no dummy. I knew it was more about protecting his personal space than saving us an additional 80 miles. But, that’s okay. We were gathering as a family, and that was the point.
Our meeting was decided rather quickly. None of us relished sitting in a chain restaurant looking at one another for half a day, so I did what I do for most family outings. I logged on to the Convention & Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) website. If you’re unfamiliar with CVBs, you’re missing out on the best local information in any community-large or small. And, much to my surprise, Sioux City appeared rather diverse and quite appealing, at least as portrayed on the CVB website. I was a bit stunned. I was curious.
I went through the “What to Do” and “Attractions” tabs and felt a bit of remorse for neglecting Sioux City all these years, and let’s be quite honest, for also saying some less than flattering things about it. I take it all back. Every single word, well, except the part about the city bullying SD for speeder revenue.

We had a half day to enjoy one another’s company in Sioux City.

Here’s what we did.
4 Hours + 4 Attractions
1.  Trinity Heights
maryThe city was hosting the NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball tournament, thus we avoided the more familiar attractions along I-29. And because it’s Lenten season, we started our day at Trinity Heights, which opens at 9am.
Breathtakingly peaceful is the best descriptor of this place. We were the only visitors, except for flocks of returning birds who serenaded us on this crisp, cool Saturday morning. Though Catholic in theology, this location clearly appeals to all. The grounds are immaculate, the statues massive and outdoor Cathedral areas inviting. Surprisingly, many Sioux City residents we met were unfamiliar with this peaceful place. Admission is free and donations accepted. There also is an adoration chapel onsite.
2. Billy Boy Drive Thru
Billy BoyThis much beloved local hamburger joint did not disappoint. Filled with character and what appeared to be a recent remodel, the half-century old restaurant offers great food at a very fair price. What did not go unnoticed was the Dairy Queen right next door to this locally owned place that had a line of cars in the drive thru all during the lunch hour. There’s a reason it’s been around for over 50 years. Try it out.  Get in line. You’ll be able to read the menu choices easily from the massive menu board. Inside dining is available. Check out the wash basin in the restroom. Super cool!
3.Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center
musicCommuning with nature is my idea of perfection; this despite severe allergies to most insects and plants. So severe indeed that I carry an EpiPen® and visit emergency rooms regularly for allergic reactions. Undeterred by warnings, I never miss visiting natural settings in new locations. And, I’d never miss the chance to stop here again. All of their well-designed marketing materials feature children interacting with the exhibits and enjoying the grounds. We all are considered legal adults yet each of us maximized every moment here. The interactive exhibits are the best I’ve seen. They’re well-designed and constructed and educate in a fun way. We swung on the wooden swing, tried to assemble the tree trunk puzzle, studied turtle anatomy, peered through binoculars and learned much about Loess Hills. We even presented a wind song chimes concert in the play area out back. Admission is free. Go. Be a kid again. Commune with nature. Learn something new.
4. Riverside Park
gameWe passed this park on the way to lunch and decided to stop in after the Nature Center and before leaving town. On such a beautiful early March Saturday, it was well used, but we still found enough space to enjoy a competitive game of Bocce . We also threw football and Frisbee and ended our day with the traditional UNO match, despite the impending rainstorm and increasing winds. Admission is free. This park is easily accessible from I-29.

We’re likely to visit these attractions during our next gathering in Sioux City:

Sioux City Arts Center
Latham Park
Sioux City Public Museum
Sioux City Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center

Fourth Street Historic District

Log on to The Sioux City Convention & Visitors Bureau site. Plan your day or weekend there. Share what you did by listing it in the box below. I’ll add it to our next visit.

Share this article with anyone planning a trip, especially a day trip from South Dakota, Iowa or Nebraska. They will thank you, as do I.

©Copyright. March 2016. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.




Naughty & Nice List

It’s that time of the year to reveal Naughty and Nice Lists. list
This year our family relocated, traveled off shore, celebrated a birthday milestone in Las Vegas, housed in temporary living quarters, and purchased and furnished a house. Our business interactions were greater than usual. Some were pleasant; others not so much. Here’s who left an impression and landed on the lists.

Patty Bain, Area Sales Manager, Lodging Dynamics Hospitality Group. Patty directed us to ideal temporary housing at the Omaha Towne Place Suites while we were looking for a house. Prior to our relocation, she advised us on how to best use the space and make the most of the temporary status. She greeted us with a welcome basket and checked in on our family often-good ole’ fashioned customer service wins every time! If you or your group needs lodging in Omaha, contact Patty at patty.bain@ldhg.com.
Megan Owens, Realtor at Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, is dynamite! Of all the agents in Omaha, we chose Megan because we consistently favored her listings and the way she staged them for sale. In addition, she was patient with our ever-changing relocation date and very responsive to our communications. Megan’s greatest trait is her superior listening skills. She quickly grasps your housing needs and works tirelessly to find you the ideal location. She has tremendous focus, energy, and business savvy. She’s well networked and respected in the Omaha real estate market. She’s mighty and will not disappoint. Contact Megan.
First National Bank Omaha has met our mortgage and personal banking needs since the relocation. There’s always a hesitation after moving to find a new bank, especially after we had such an outstanding banker in Lauren at First Premier in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. However, the mortgage banking team led by Becky Sandiland bsandiland@fnni.com couldn’t have done one thing better to land on this Nice List. Without a doubt, this financing experience was the best we’ve ever had! It was so favorable that we decided to do our personal banking there with Faye Gerteisen fgerteisen@fnni.com. Hats off to First National Bank Omaha for hiring great staff, training them well and then allowing them to serve customers in a way that retains them for a lifetime.
• Looking good makes you feel good and Ashly, Designer, at Beauty First Nebraska keeps us presentable. She’s cheerful, enthusiastic, and just a great all-around stylist. Start 2016 off with a new cut and style by making an appointment with Ashly at 402.496.1787.
Susan Anawski, owner of Prestige Travel, has been a life-saver for the traveling Thomason Trio on multiple occasions, and not just in 2015. When an airplane mechanical issue delayed an offshore family trip, Susan, yet again, rescued us and worked magic to get us to our location and secure us vouchers for our next trip. I know many think they can do better than a travel agent, and we did too, until we employed her services and found out why she’s the expert, and we aren’t. Traveling in 2016, contact Susan at 605.367.4000 or prestigetravel@sio.midco.net. No matter where you live, she can gladly assist.

Naughty List

Nebraska Furniture Mart (NFM). What a major disappointment to find out the one you’ve been pining for doesn’t care about you, even after you’ve spent a very large amount of time and money on them. We have placed five orders with NFM and there is a 100% failure rate on post-sale activity. Furniture arrived chipped with the pieces taped to the underside. Others were damaged in the move. Pre-paid assembly was not completed. Scheduled delivery times were off by 8 hours, on and on and on. The worst part of this rude awakening is that the Mart employs some pretty capable designers and sales people. Too bad they aren’t supported with after sale counterparts who share their skill set.
Hy-Vee. Wow! Major downer! We were introduced to Hy-Vee in Sioux Falls and spent every grocery dollar there. We were so loyal we knew the staff and vice versa. We loved the culture and the way they supported the community. Fast forward to Omaha and the three stores we frequented seem like they’re foreign to the Hy-Vee experience in South Dakota. Let’s just say with so many choices in Omaha, we’ve moved on because our shopping dollar doesn’t seem to be appreciated or valued at the Omaha Hy-Vee stores. We miss “the smile in every aisle.”
Caesars Palace Lost and Found Department. We stayed in Caesars for Alex’s 21st birthday celebration. Despite the horrible smoke on the no smoking floor and drunken guests pounding on our door on multiple nights, all agreed it was an ideal location. However, never plan to leave anything behind at Caesars because you won’t get it back. Ever. A necklace was left when we checked out before 6 am. We called from the airport gate and followed all of the correct procedures. It took days to hear back from the hotel and when we did it was through a form email. Three weeks later, the case remained open. We know it’s never being returned. Ironically, when we checked in, we found the previous guest’s credit card on the closet floor. Knowing that not everyone is always honest, we called the card company and informed them of our finding rather than return the card to the lost and found department. Foreshadowing at its finest. Lesson learned-never travel with something you cannot part with.

Straddling both lists is Delta Airlines. They cost my family a day at an offshore resort because of mechanical failure discovered by pilots before we were to leave on the first flight out of Omaha. Per the pilot, the issues should’ve been noticed and fixed the evening before. Yikes! However, Delta did right by speaking the truth during the day-long delay and issued travel vouchers for future travel to all passengers. On another trip, Delta baggage handlers destroyed our luggage. Once again, they processed the claim in a fair and expedient manner and offered what seemed to be a sincere apology for the damage. So even when a company makes mistakes, and they all do because humans work there, if they acknowledge their mistakes and make reasonable amends and explanations, it sits better with the consumer, or at least this one.
Who lands on your Nice List?clap Who is on your Naughty List? Have you told them? It is my policy to always inform a company when they are about to lose my business. Hy-Vee, Caesars and the Nebraska Furniture Mart were each contacted and reasons for the loss explained. As a former CEO and small business owner, I value customer feedback-good and bad. Wouldn’t it be an ideal world if all businesses did? If someone provides you exceptional service, let that be known as well. Everyone wants to feel appreciated, even at work.

Let’s hope your Nice List has more members than your Naughty List and that those on this Naughty List will work hard to make the Nice List in 2016.
©Copyright. December 2015. Linda Leier Thomason
All Rights Reserved.

5 Ways Kearney, NE Stole My Heart

I strolled downtown Kearney, Nebraska’s Central Avenue (The Bricks) under the moonlight of a chilly November Friday night feeling like I just happened upon a movie set. It was stunningly still and camera-ready perfect. Nearly all the angle parking spaces were full. Soft rock music streamed from mounted street corner speakers and store front windows were impressively designed-a lost art, but not here. friday night kearney collagePassersby hurried along as crisp leaves swirled over the clean sidewalks illuminated by business signs. The brick roadway made me momentarily listen for sounds of an approaching horse-drawn carriage from foregone days. I’d been told any community west of Omaha was like the “Old West.” Was it? Arriving still savoring the flavors and aromas of dinner at top-rated locally owned family Thai restaurantSuwanneeacross from the picturesque campus of the University of Nebraska-Kearney, I wasn’t expecting to be so captivated by this community of 30,000. But with each block walked, I began thinking, I could see myself stopping, playing and staying here. www.visitkearney.org The housing alone, many with wrap-around front porches, made me homesick for the decades I lived between Georgia and South Carolina-the only thing missing was the moss draping off the expansive front yard maple trees fully swathed in golden-colored leaves.kearney house
Kearney isn’t the “Old West.” Rather it’s a progressive, growing community with offerings to satisfy all. More publicly known as the “Sandhill Crane Capital of the World,” its soul is so much larger and deeper, though that title, in itself, is quite honorable and everyone, once in their lifetime, should experience the migration of the sandhill cranes

5 Reasons I Lost My Heart to Kearney, NE

  1. Hospitality. Without exception, all employees were genuinely hospitable-welcoming me like a member of their extended family; a rare find in today’s service economy. From Brent at the front desk of the newly renovated Best Western Suites and Hotel to handlebar-moustached waiter, Austin, at Suwannee to Bryce, House Manager at The historic World Theatre, to Marilyn Hadley, assisting at the register during the Kaleidoscope of Art-a Benefit Gift Boutique for the Museum of Nebraska Art to Amy at Skeeter Barnes restauranteach was an outstanding ambassador for Kearney, Nebraska. I left desiring to know their life stories, as they lifted my experience at their respective establishments.
  2. Well-Blended. It’s true, having a college in a town adds a certain flavor to the community. But rarely have I seen college, the arts, business, parks and recreation; and new development blended theatre collageso well. After strolling downtown Kearney and enjoying a cocktail at Cunningham’s Journal, I watched 12 short films as part of the Local Filmmakers Showcase presented by Filmstreams in the 1927 historic Masonic Temple Building now housing The World Theatre. The surroundings alone awakened my senses and flashed me back to days in Charleston, South Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia enjoying similar outings. But, I was in Kearney, Nebraska. Having one’s expectations exceeded never tires.
  3. Education. Kearney has to be one of the best communities around for educating unsuspecting visitors. The college is obvious, but spend a couple of hours inside the uniquely engineered structure, The Archway, crossing over 308 feet and 30 feet above busy Interstate 80 and leave as a well-schooled student on the history of western edu collageexpansion in the United States. Exhibits are viewed with volume controlled headsets and include narrations on trailways, railways and highways. One can even glance at the fast-moving I-80 traffic below the archway. Nearby is the Nebraska Fire Fighter’s Museum & Education Center. Filled with firefighting heritage and history and ever-changing exhibits, this museum also honors all EMS and fire providers and memorializes those who made the ultimate sacrifice in a quiet, well-appointed location behind the museum. The value a community places on education is often seen in its library. On an early Saturday afternoon, the Kearney Library was filled with citizens of all ages: reading, working on computers or being assisted by friendly, capable librarians. Well done, Kearney. Well done.
  4. Appealing Green Spaces. Kearney boasts four beautiful golf courses and 14 parks. A drive around the city reveals meticulously well-maintained green spaces being enjoyed by people of all ages and fitness levels.park collage Yanney Park is a first-class donor driven park in southwest Kearney near the Kearney Regional Medical Center. With the mission of “developing the finest family park between Omaha and Denver,” Yanney Heritage Park includes a Tower, labyrinth, a splash and playground, a Garden, an Amphitheater, a Bridge, a Senior Activity Center and so much more. For a community of this size, Yanney Park is a major “Wow” factor-one to be greatly applauded.
  5. Hub and Spoke. Within a short drive of Kearney, one can easily visit fort collageother attractions and return to the hub city of Kearney for the night. Case in point: Fort Kearney State Historical Park & Fort Kearney State Recreational Area are six miles southeast of Kearney on Highway 50A.The Rowe Sanctuary & The Iain Nicolson Audubon Center is also nearby. All worth visits.

Like most cities, Kearney has plenty of excellent lodging, restaurants and shopping-much of it near I-80. It takes a bit of work to discover the soul of a community and lose your heart to it. I did in Kearney, Nebraska and I suspect you will as well on your next visit.

Stop. Play. Stay. ™ www.visitkearney.org

You will not be disappointed.

©Copyright. November 2015. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

Done in cooperation with Kearney Visitors Bureau.

Nominate your community for a visit and review by contacting me.

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Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

Waiting For the Other Shoe To Drop

Omaha June 2015 House Hunting 047Less than 12 hours after watching my hard-working husband Ken sign a purchase agreement on a house in our new home city-Omaha, Nebraska-it dawned on me that my family has been living a life of “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” We need to change that. Rather than battle life, the Thomason trio needs to begin enjoying life, starting today.

It’s true. Since moving to the Midwest in 2009, we’ve had our share of challenges on many fronts: employment, health, housing and family. Yet, through it all, we’ve endured and remained intact as a family unit. As a parent, what matters most to me is that Alex, our 20-year-old son, sees us navigate these hurdles with willpower and grace. Knowing one can overcome challenges instills confidence and fearlessness; both attributes will guide him through his own life journey.

Last night while waiting for our outstanding real estate agent to arrive with the paperwork, the three of us walked around the house, checked out the landscaping and discussed immediate home improvements.  Omaha June 2015 House Hunting 009Then Megan arrived with pep in her step and asks, “Are you all excited?” No one responded. I jumped in and explained we are not an excitable trio; we’re pretty flatlined folks. It’s not that we don’t experience pleasure or delight, rather it’s that we are not demonstrative about it. Yet, during the remainder of our time there, I did wonder about the lack of excitement. Had the challenges worn us completely down and stripped all the joy from us individually, and as a unit? I hope not!

Omaha June 2015 House Hunting 006
Alex checking out view from back porch.

It’s my mission to pitch the idea of new beginnings to the number crunching men in my trio. To instill the need to celebrate and to feel and experience joy while bidding farewell to “waiting for the other shoe to drop” approach to each day.

Omaha June 2015 House Hunting 034
Megan’s upright shoes at new house.

It starts tonight.

We’re heading to the final game of the College World Series-a battle on the playing field, not in our lives.

It’s a new beginning and we’re celebrating!

And, gosh darn it, we’re going to be joyous about it.

Copyright. June 2015. Linda Leier Thomason.