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Monday, December 26, 2011

pop-we Dinner Club Reviews Carrabba's Italian Grill

Looking for a little piece of Sicily? This month population-we™ Dinner Club foodie Kris picked Carrabba’s Italian Grill. Carrabba’s was founded in Houston, later acquired by Outback Steakhouse in 1995. There are currently more than 200 Carrabba locations nationwide. In the U.S., you can find a location near you or check out their menu at

Shrubs greet you at Carrabba's.
We went to the Omaha, NE location, 14520 West Maple Road. When you arrive at the location the front roof of the building is covered with shrubs and other greenery. We recently had a snowfall, so on this night, the shrubs looked like a holiday card. You walk inside there is a bar area to the left, which is lit with holiday lights; off to the right is the dim lit restaurant area decorated in a Tuscan style. Along the west wall is an open kitchen in which you can sit and watch the chef and cooks prepare each dish in Carrabba’s signature exhibition-style kitchen.

This night we had 11 in our party, they pushed two tables together but it was a little cramped for the number of people. This was the best they could do; since, Carrabba’s gets extremely busy especially on the weekends.

Worth noting, they have the best bread and olive oil spice appetizer. Free with every meal, it includes Carrabba’s herb mixture, olive oil and warm bread served at each table. The popularity of this dip could not go unnoticed when we uncovered our herb mixture was almost gone. For my main meal, I decided to have the Chicken Marsala with garlic mashed potatoes. The dish was very good; the chicken was tender, the marsala sauce with mushrooms was excellent. Other foodies commented: “Very good, great menu and the desert was good sized,” and another said, “the sirloin was great.”

After compiling the surveys from the other foodies the pop-we Dinner Club gives Carrabba’s Italian Grill: 4.03 star average on a scale of 1-5.

Atmosphere/Decor – 4.18

Cleanliness – 4.09

Wait Staff – 4.27

Menu – 4.09

Food Presentation – 4.27

Food Portions – 4.18

Food Taste – 4.45

Cost (was the cost worth meal?) – 3.73

Noise Level – 3

Overall Experience – 4

Fellow population-we™ readers, if you've been to the Carrabba’s Italian Grill leave us a comment and tell us what you thought?

Want to do this yourself? To review how to start your own dinner club, visit our January post about doing just that. Remember it is a template; tweak it to fit you and your friends’ tastes. pop-we Dinner Club: good food…good friends…good times.
Carrabba's Italian Grill on Urbanspoon
-population-we™ blog post by Brian Brown
© 2011 population-we, LLC 
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Monday, December 19, 2011

pop-we Contributor Reviews Dr. Deborah Serani's Book on Living with Depression

Dr. Deborah Serani studies her opponent with as much tenacity as an FBI profiler, a prosecuting attorney, or a defensive coordinator in football. Her opponent is depression. Depression is a liar and robber. She knows that you can’t just snap your fingers and it will go away. But one need not worry because she knows its triggers and how to survive its attacks. In her book Living with Depression Why Biology and Biography Matter Along the Path to Hope and Healing, her passion for learning all she can about depression in order to learn how to overcome -- it is infectious. The book is a detailed overview of therapies, medications, and alternative treatments that have had positive results in treating unipolar and bipolar depression. She is very open-minded in her approach and is excited for the future research. She writes, “When I think about the future of mental-illness treatment, I brim with excitement.”

I have been following Dr. Deb’s blog since around 2005, so I was pleased to learn that she had a book published in 2011. I have gained a great deal of respect for her as a blogger who posts about important awareness days for mental health. When she tackles a subject a difficult subject such as cutting, sexual abuse, bullying or suicide; she does so with professionalism and compassion. Educating people in a way to help eliminate stigmas is common in both her blog and her book.

As much as I wanted to learn more about her insights on depression I was also curious to hear her story, which was seldom told and often only between the lines in her posts over several years until a few recent posts that were more revealing.

I think I first saw Dr. Deb in the comments of an online friend who blogs about her struggle with bipolar. Dr. Deb has frequently commented on her blog over the last six years during good times and bad times. Another online friend who suffered from depression also received steady comments from her until he stopped blogging some years back. I wondered why she was so thoughtful. After reading her blog for an extended time, I did receive hints that she had her own battle as she spoke of defying the odds in both her professional and personal life. In the book, she describes a time prior to technology that allows people to touch base easily when she felt isolated and desperate.

Dr. Deb’s story is woven in meaningful ways into this thorough book on depression. She shows how biology and her stressful life events made her at risk for major depressive disorder, which is a clinical mood disorder characterized by prolonged sadness and fatigue. I don’t want to give away all of her story as it really impacted me to read it as the story develops. I will say that she is one of the fortunate ones who was able to find a good therapist when her symptoms were at their most severe. Later, she had symptoms return and by that time Prozac was on the market. She shares what she discovered through taking this medication and makes a good case for responsible use of this medication for short term and long term use despite some side effects.

Dr. Deb believes that Talk Therapy can be an important part of the treatment plan for those with unipolar or bipolar depression. According to her if you don’t learn about your biology and biography that you are helpless in not knowing “who you are and what you need.” She believes awareness empowers you. A theme in the book is that depression while experienced universally it is very individual needing individualized treatment. She contends that you should not compare yourself to another person and how they are coming in their recovery. In addition, clients who have treatment resistant depression (TRD) can find alternative treatments that can help, and she has had success with these clients finding relief. Specializing in trauma, Dr. Deb knows what role trauma can play in depression, and also understands how important it is to treat trauma that is interfering with healthy living. According to evidence based research cited in the book, all traditional types of Talk Therapy can help reduce mild to moderate symptoms of depression. With Dr. Deb’s training as a psychologist, she has had a chance to explore different schools of theory and thought and received personal gains from each. Her personal practice comes from the field of psychotherapy integration, which uses curative features from other fields including behavior and cognitive therapy. Before using long explorative methods such as psychoanalysis, she recommends first having the depression stabilized.

A chapter of the book is dedicated to preventing suicide. The book states that a majority of suicides are from those with mental illness with many of them suffering from mood disorders including depression. There are over one million deaths worldwide each year resulting from suicide. The chapter outlines both suicide risk factors and also suicide protective factors to help inoculate against suicide.

As people have shared their thought processes with me when suicidal, it is evident to me that they can have distorted thinking when suicidal. Rather than seeing the pain and suffering of those left behind, they may be deluded into thinking that loved ones will be better off without them. When they are lucid again, they recognize how distorted their thinking was. There is no shame in having suicidal or depressive thoughts. I think of suicidal thoughts in many cases as a symptom. It may be a symptom of depression or it may be a reaction to a medication that was prescribed by a doctor. Dr. Deb shows in a compassionate way how to choose life and have a life plan. In the event of an emergency, I would urge a person to seek medial help immediately. No matter how alone you feel, there are people who care and can help.

Advocate is the one word that I think best describes Dr. Deb. She fights for her patients to get services medication, and treatment. She also broadcasts the gaps in the Mental Health coverage in the U.S. and advocates for mental health to receive the same amount of coverage as physical health coverage. For some depression is a chronic condition such as diabetes and cannot be treated like an acute condition such as the common cold. According to research cited in the book, adults and children are less likely to have a relapse if they continue treatment until they reach a full remission. In addition, she calls for pharmaceutical companies to spend less money creating “me too drugs” that copy drugs already on the market and more money researching drugs that would help those unresponsive to the existing drugs on the market. She encourages patients to be equally informed on treatments and medications and to be their own advocate.

Dr. Deb knows the signs of depression. She also knows firsthand that you can transform into a positive person and live a successful life with depression. I can visualize Dr. Deb Reaching out her hand as she seeks to help readers learn how to beat depression. When you are in recovery from depression, one can honestly say, “Life is worth living!”
-population-we™ blog post by Barb Bohan
© 2011 population-we, LLC 
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Monday, December 12, 2011

Relive 19th Century Christmas Past at the General George Crook House Museum This Holiday Season

In 1879, the General Crook House (Quarters One) was built for Gen. George Crook at Fort Omaha. In these hallowed halls the General and his wife Mary entertained President Grant and Hayes as well as other dignitaries who came to Nebraska. More than 133 years later it is still a gathering place. On this occasion, my husband and I were there for a private holiday party, and guests were allowed to roam around the house freely. A Docent was on hand for tours as well, which Brian and I took full advantage of.

Tree in Gen. Crook's Bedroom
The Crook House Guild, with help from area design students and designers, help transform every room in the house to provide a glimpse of Christmas past every November until the end of December. If one likes Christmas trees now is the time to visit. Several trees are scattered throughout the palatial house. Not one tree is the same. My favorite tree greets visitors as you walk up the stairs to the second floor landing. It’s a Christmas tree full of hats. Various different dainty hats are scattered throughout the limbs. They aren’t just any hats – all so ornate and delicate – these vintage hats could’ve perhaps been worn by the Queen of England herself or reproduced for the recent royal wedding. No matter, the hat tree surely will bring a smile to others who happen upon it. The trees will remain up until the first of the year.

Fort Omaha where the house resides is a National Register District and the General Crook House Museum is on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1878, Gen. Crook was given $12,000 to build the residence and he came well under budget at $7,716. The laborers were all soldiers. The house is solid brick. Inside the walls it’s foot thick brick. Look for the area next to the powder room on the second floor that unveils a glimpse of the interior brick wall.

The General Crook House Museum is one of the few houses in the Omaha area still standing that represents Italianate style architecture. In 1976, The Douglas County Historical Society acquired the house from Metro Technical Community College and the restoration begun. The wallpaper is documented reproductions. When visitors enter into any room remember there was a lot of study to what authentic wallpaper appeared like in that period.

The furnishings are from the 1880 Victorian period. The furnishings are genuine antiques only one piece was owned by the Gen. Crook, a recently acquired ice chest. All the rest are representative of the period he lived in. A horse hair chase was the most unusual piece of furniture we encountered. A rope was draped across it preventing visitors from using it as a resting place. Made of horse hair, at the touch (I asked permission of course), it was soft and velvety supple. We were also told that it was stuffed with horse hair. All the wood work, door fixtures the knobs and hinges are all original to the house. The original wood floors still remain, too. Documented reproductions of the wallpaper, curtains, rugs make up the rest of the house. The writer in me loved the travel writing desk our Docent pointed out in the President’s Bedroom.

Tree in Presidential Bedroom.
Don’t forget there’s a game going on as you tour the residence. A game for the young and young at heart; Gen. Crook and Standing Bear paper dolls are secretly hidden in each room. Though a great "Indian fighter" for the military, Gen. Crook was also sympathetic to their plight. Visitors are encouraged to play along and spot the paper dolls in each room. The game is to see who can find them first in each room -- no surprise to me that Brian was good at this.

Hearing the backstories about Gen. Crook, his wife, Standing Bear and the restoration of the house really made us come to cherish that we have a landmark such as this in our hometown. The house is available for parties, organizations, businesses or private groups. Anyone may choose to rent out the whole house or meet in the Educational Level (basement), only area in the house that has been fully renovated. Those wanting to also stop by, museum visiting hours are: Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, visit; call 402.455.9990; or email
- population-we blog post by Becky Bohan Brown
© 2011 population-we, LLC 
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Monday, December 5, 2011

Hospitality Never Goes Out of Style No Matter What Time of Year

Hospitality is not always about trying to host the perfect party. In my quest to learn more about different traditions and views regarding hospitality, I sent some questions to a friend, her friends and my sister. I was happy that the responses did not parrot ideas focused strictly on etiquette for etiquettes sake but were centered on people and their needs.

Jessica Remington ( who hosts play dates in her home said that you should strive to make a person feel welcome in your home even if you never met them before. The first time we met in person outside my home, I made a peculiar request that may make me seem as a hypocrite in writing this post, but Jessica understood my challenges and kindly complied. An important part of the role in hosting is to start conversation to make people feel at ease according to her. I would add that it is important in starting conversations to be mindful of people who have difficulty with small talk and may prefer to listen rather than participate. Elaborating on her thoughts on hospitality, she expressed, “I think hospitality is not just about being kind in your home, though I did focus on that. I think hospitality is in all parts of your life, whether you are helping someone feel like they are a part of a group and BELONG or whether you are hosting a party for 100. It's all about helping others feel special, just as you yourself have the confidence to know you are!”

Candace Wood who puts hospitality into practice also feels that consideration for guests and hostesses and their comfort is the key to entertaining. “Cooking comfort foods, serving fun beverages, playing fun music, making sure there is laughter, having warm blankets to cuddle up when needed, and starting interesting conversations,” are some of the suggestions Candace gives for putting others at ease. When visiting others homes, she shows respect by bringing gifts such as flowers or wine, possibly bringing a side dish or dessert, offering to help make beds or with the cleanup. She likes the tradition that her grandma has of giving candles or arrangements to hosts.

Jeni Mari Caillouet is very concerned about making the comfort of her guests a reality upon their departure. She inquires about favorite dishes or food allergies ahead of time. She avoids hot topics that might make a guest uneasy such as religion and politics. If her guests leave “full, fat and happy…but mostly happy” she feels like she has done her job.

Katie E. ( was gracious enough to fill me in on some of the nuances of the art that is Southern hospitality. Having never been to the South other than a quick dash over the Mason Dixon Line in Maryland, I have been curious about what this entails as I heard it referenced by more than one Southern transplant to the Midwest including Jessica. She explained rules of timing a visit to not impose on a host during the dinner time so they didn’t feel obligated to feed you and not out staying your welcome on a visit. If people drop by unexpectedly, you do an inventory of the food on hand that you can feed them. The elderly will insist upon feeding their guests and this is regardless of whether people have just eaten, which may be a custom from the Depression Era when food was rarer. The first ritual of a Southern host is to ask if someone would want to drink coffee, tea, or another beverage. It seems to be very important to also be sure to drink the beverage offered. She adds that while there may be an obsession with this rule the number one rule of Southern Hospitality is to make the guest feel comfortable. In Southern Society, it is important to leave before it is time to bathe children and put them to bed. Many of the customs she outlined were very much like the ones for us reared in the Midwest. Making people feel comfortable really is the key wherever you call home.

Katie E. describes someone we should all try to emulate. The person who is the epitome of southern hospitality for me, is my Aunt T. She is one of those “honorary aunts” southern children acquire as they grow up. She and my mother have been close friends for years, helped each other plan their daughters’ weddings, and baby showers. Anytime you come over you get a hug and a kiss, a cup of coffee and a seat at the table. You are loved on and asked about your day. Kids, jobs, love lives are all discussed, as are most of your relations. Aunt T’s house is where you go if you need to know something. If you need a sympathetic shoulder to lean on, or someone to give you a little bit of a nudge in the right direction, Aunt T’s is where you could get that as well. I really think she must have fed half of the teenagers in the area. She and her husband would cook for an army instead of their family of four, and usually had no leftovers due to the stray teens who would show up for supper. I still enjoy dropping in whenever I am in the area to have myself a cup of coffee and a bit to eat. Her house really is everyone’s home, and that is southern hospitality to me.”

Kids at Becky's B-day party.
My sister, Becky Bohan Brown, shares her ideas on hospitality. Anyone who knows my sister and brother-in-law Brian Brown ( know they both love to entertain. Their La Casa is the place for entertaining friends and family whether: a movie night with girlfriends; poker night with the guys; a stop for pop-we dinner club after an outing and celebrating numerous family birthdays and holiday gatherings. "Most important memories are born from each of these gatherings which we hold dear to our hearts and hope our guests do, too," is the true meaning of hospitality according to my sister and her husband. Becky celebrated a significant birthday this year and decided to entertain big. Our youngest niece, Bridget, woke up one morning and asked her parents, "Is it Aunt Becky's birthday yet?" "Thanks to a dear friend Elizabeth my birthday was epic. We combined our decorations and a Tiki Birthday Party was born." On this occasion, Brian and Becky decided to also surprise guests with a "Walking Taco Bar." Guests came dressed in Hawaiian attire and were presented with a Leigh at the door. Each floor had a different theme. The main floor was strictly Tiki with totem poles and a cutout for picture taking. The basement was decorated with flamingos. "No matter the guest list, what is most important to Brian & I that everyone feels welcome -- especially the little ones." The margarita machine they rented also had cherry flavored slushies for the kids. "For every occasion, we have extra kid-friendly seating in the kitchen and a bedroom that we let all the kids play and run rampant in." The kids room was the site for a Parrot Party with parrots and decorations everywhere this birthday.

As these interviews highlight, I do think that there can be something special of entering in one another’s homes as there is no place that is more of a reflection of you than the space you live. Potentially you can be more down to earth in this setting and feel more intimacy with friends. Making the right setting can involve nice table arrangements, decorations, fancy appetizers but that’s up to you. I don’t think there is a one size fits all. I hope none of these suggestions are set in stone so that we would judge another person if they don’t follow a rule. I think the real key is being thoughtful. I recall visiting homes where the family made a larger feast than they normally enjoyed for themselves or another time when a man informed us of the pound cake that he had made for our visit.

While hospitality does have application in the virtual world, there is no substitute for face-to-face contact and making time to get together. It’s not about wearing red while everyone else is wearing grey. It’s about getting to know people better and letting them know that they matter to you. Entering each other’s homes can bring a friendship to the next level of intimacy.
-population-we™ blog post by Barb Bohan
© 2011 population-we, LLC 
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