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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

pop-we Dinner Club Reviews Cantina Laredo

Midtown Crossing's Cantina Laredo.
Midtown Crossing offers a Mexican fare restaurant where it's Cinco De Mayo every day. Don't let the address fool you, located at 120 S. 31st Ave. in Omaha, Cantina Laredo has an uptown vibe. The restaurant is not tucked away at all; the Cantina Laredo sign can easily be seen from the most traveled road in Omaha, Dodge St.

This month was Jackie's pick. A native of Cuba, it was truly a treat for her to share authentic Mexican cuisine with fellow pop-we foodies. However, it's not just a Mexican restaurant, Cantina Laredo is much more than tacos and burritos, the establishment offers gourmet Mexican food.

This evening we parked in the parking garage (which is free under two hours) and entered from the west entrance (see picture above). As we made our way down the staircase we could see other diners in the dimly lit, open modern space. Our first stop the bar, just left of the reservation desk. Outdoor seating overlooking Midtown Crossing is also an option. As you make your way through the dining area you notice avocado and lime at each table. For a real treat, order guacamole, and your waiter will make it right in front of your eyes. It's fun too watch and tasty too! Don't care for guacamole? If so, Cantina Laredo provides complimentary chips and homemade salsa with each meal. With a party of 10, Jackie picked indoor seating next to a fire place, which happened to peer into the next room.

Brian and I have dined at Cantina Laredo on more than one occasion, so my goal this evening was to try something new. I decided on a Tres Course Meal (Three-Course Meal) for $17.99: 1) Ensalada De Jardin 2) Enchilada De Avocado 3) Mango Tres Leches.
Enchilada De Avocado.

  • Ensalada De Jardin, a house salad full of greens, which was very refreshing and enough to share with Brian.
  • Enchilada De Avocado, avocado and artichoke enchilada topped with tomattillo sauce on a bed of spinach. It was light, but yummy. The ingredients were a perfect marriage of flavor. The avocado and artichoke burst with flavor in my mouth. The freshly made cole slaw was a nice accompaniment, too. I highly recommend this dish for vegans or avocado enthusiasts!
  • Mango Tres Leches, a creamy vanilla cake with mango cream sauce. Last but not least, dessert! I worked at Taco Johns one summer in high school; therefore, I have a love for Churros, which was the other dessert choice. However, Jackie talked me into Mango Tres Leches. Her definition of Mango Tres Leches: a cake made from scratch with heavy cream stacked between layers of mango. It was truly delicious! 

So, don't wait until Cinco De Mayo; instead, make Cinco De Mayo any day and visit Cantina Laredo soon.

After compiling the surveys from the other foodies the pop-we Dinner Club gives Cantina Laredo 4.25 star average on a scale of 1-5.

Atmosphere/Decor – 4.33

Cleanliness – 4.66

Wait Staff – 4.44

Menu – 4.33

Food Presentation – 4.22

Food Portions – 4.22

Food Taste – 4.22

Cost (was the cost worth meal?) – 4.33

Noise Level – 3.55

Overall Experience – 4.22

For more information regarding directions or Cantina Laredo's menu, visit their website at

Fellow population-we™ readers, if you've been to the Cantina Laredo 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.
Cantina Laredo at Midtown Crossing on Urbanspoon

-population-we™ blog post by Becky Bohan Brown
© 2013 population-we, LLC 
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Monday, May 20, 2013

Confucius, Classics, and the Constitution Part II

Thank you for joining us for Part II of my interview with author, Michael Austin. If you missed Part I in the series, population-we™ readers can view it at this link.

One of my studious friends from my school days remarked to me that history was the study of dead people. While that is stating the obvious for history that spans periods longer than the human lifespan, I never quite thought of it that way. I think it is so wonderful that we have recorded and oral histories so that we can learn about those who lived before us. I mourn the records destroyed of amazing civilizations by conquerors who didn’t value their societies. As someone who always liked history starting in grade school and continuing in high school, I was even more mesmerized when I took World Civilizations I in College as I learned about the people in Ancient Greece and Ancient China with names that I probably still don’t pronounce correctly. I felt a heavy weight on my shoulders when my professor gave me the assignment to write about the lessons of history. I was barely 18 and hadn’t synthesized this whole history thing. I’m still a work in progress. This is a large part of why I seek out such connections to this day. In high school, I also had a defining moment my senior year when the English teacher spoke of the themes that I should have known like the back of my hand such as: man vs. man, head vs. heart, and man’s inhumanity to man. I had avoided the heavy classes in English that were so intimidating for me. I am still playing catch up. Michael Austin has rekindled my desire to learn more of the lessons of history and great literature. Following is the continuation of my interview with Austin:

Topic: Founding Fathers 
Q: What can we learn about compromise from the Founding Fathers?

A: Quite a bit, really. If we look at the Constitutional Convention, we can see that our government could never have come into existence without compromise. But we also see that the Founding Fathers didn't like compromising with each other any more than we did. They did not compromise because they were the sort of people who liked to compromise, but because there was no other way forward.

In order for a compromise to work, there need to be two conditions: 1) something--a value, an idea, a goal--that everybody shares, even though they may disagree with almost everything else; and 2) a mechanism that cannot move forward without substantial agreement. This is what the Constitutional Convention was. The participants all agreed that the 13 colonies needed to be joined into a single nation. They disagreed about almost everything else, but the rules of the convention required that they come to a substantial agreement about the specifics--otherwise, there would be no Constitution and the Articles of Confederation would remain in force.

The 39 signers of the Constitution all agreed to move forward to create the nation, and they were willing to give up some of what they wanted on less important questions in order to move forward on the goal that they all shared.

Topic Founding Fathers 
Q: How do you think the knowledge of the Ancient Greeks and philosophers such as Locke and Milton influenced the Founding Fathers?

A: An excellent question. Perhaps the most important thing that the Founders took from the Greeks was the idea that Democracy can work. The great flowering of Athenian civilization under democracy--the first of its kind in the world--gave the Founders a model to work from. The early Roman Republic, with its powerful Senate, extended the model. But the Greeks also gave the Founders a set of concepts about an ideal government, largely from Plato and Aristotle. This kind of ideal government revolved around a class of civic minded people who studied philosophy and entered the government in order to govern philosophically (i.e. the "Philosopher King"). The first generation of American politicians held this as an ideal, but it didn't work out so well in practice. The last President in this mode was John Quincy Adams, who was trounced by Andrew Jackson and the very partisan political system that he introduced.

Locke was--along with the French philosopher Montesquieu--one of the two most important pillars of the American Constitution. Locke's Second Treatise on Government provided most of the ideas for the Declaration of Independence: that there is a natural law, that society exists as a way to extend natural rights, that people enter into a compact with a government in order to secure their natural rights, and that this compact can be revoked if it ever stopped protecting natural rights. Locke formulated these ideas to justify the British "Glorious Revolution" of 1788, and they worked very well for the American Revolution.

Locke also identified the three basic purposes of government, which became the Three Branches of Government under the Constitution: the function of making laws to protect liberties, the function of using force to enact those laws, and the function of adjudicating disputes. These are the main principles of the Second Treatise on Government, and they became the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches of government.

Locke also wrote a very important essay called "An Essay on Toleration" in which he argued that religious ideas should participate in a free market of ideas. This is also something that Milton wrote about in his essay "Aeropagetica." Jefferson and Madison were well versed in these essays, and they lay beneath the ideas of both religious liberty and separation of church and state--in effect arguing that America would have an essentially secular government that would protect all religious ideas equally.

Last, though you did not ask about Montesquieu, it bears noting here that his notion of "separation of powers" was extremely important to the Founding. Montesquieu believed that the only way to prevent a government from becoming a tyranny was to separate the legislative, executive, and judicial powers into separate hands so that they would check and balance each other. The Founders very purposefully incorporated this into the Constitution.

Topic Lessons From History 
Q: What are the lessons that we can learn from history?

A: One of the great lessons that we can learn from history, I think, is that whatever is happening to us has probably happened before, probably lots of times. I think that this is crucial. So many times in the last election, I heard people say things like, "American politics have never been as divided and contentious as they are today." But they have. Many times. From the standpoint of 1800, or 1828, our political discourse is actually rather tame. The same goes for statements like, "The _________________ administration has made unprecedented attacks on our Constitutional freedoms." 

These sorts of statements will almost never be true. Something like almost everything that happens to us now has happened before.

So, why is it important to know that things have happened before? In the first place, it calms us down and moves us out of the space of frenzy and anxiety that comes with thinking that our particular modern problems are unique and uniquely horrible. This is not a productive response. Furthermore, historical perspective can give us a good dose of humility. Whether we think that our problems are the worst problems ever, or our achievements are the best ever, we are probably wrong. And realizing what other people have suffered and accomplish can help us learn the very crucial lesson that we are not the sole focus of time and history.

Most importantly, though, understanding other people's problems--and how people have historically solved problems--can give us assurance that we can solve our problems too. And, if we read history carefully and critically, it can even give us some good suggestions about what we can do.

In short, I love how the patterns of Austin’s answers to my questions about the Classics, the Founding Fathers and the Constitution, and Confucius reveal so much about the importance of relationships and compromise.

(Editor’s note: The more we seek out the teachings of great thinkers both past and present--the more we can learn to think for ourselves. Just a reminder to all of our population-we™ readers: we are all encompassing and welcome diverse political views here.)

-population-we™ blog post by Barb Bohan
© 2013 population-we, LLC 
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Monday, May 13, 2013

Confucius, Classics, and the Constitution Part I

If you want to learn from the great thinkers of mankind, it helps to seek out those who have thought deeply about them. Michael Austin has graciously answered questions that I sent him to help lifelong learners on this quest. His training as literary critic specializing in textual analysis of eighteenth-century political novels and poems has made him very familiar with language usage of that time. At present, he is a professor, vice president for Academic Affairs, and professor of English at Newman University. He is the author of six books including Reading The World: Ideas That Matter. This anthology of some of the great thinkers of Western and Non-Western Thinkers has been used as a required text for college courses.

Austin admittedly wasn’t always comfortable with his understanding of the most influential Chinese thinker, Confucius who lived from 551 BC to 479 BC during the spring and autumn periods of Chinese history. Subsequently, he has crystallized his teachings in three volumes on Confucius, Why Confucius Matters (Boys Named Tzu).

The Founding Fathers have occupied much of Austin’s thoughts as of late as he recently released his book, That’s Not What They Meant!  Reclaiming The Founding Fathers From America’s Right Wing. Austin is a centrist and a moderate on most issues and believes that many conservatives would agree with many of his views. He is also quick to point out where some of the people on the Left are guilty of poor scholarship. As a scholar, he believes you do the research before forming opinions rather than cherry picking the information to support your opinion.

After what to me was a very heated political season last year where people on the Left and the Right had strong rhetoric, I found Austin’s words to be most comforting. He has shown how similar much of today’s rhetoric on the Left and Right mirror the early days of our country and has much faith in the future of our country regardless of who is in the Oval Office. I have seen him provide traction to slippery slope arguments on both the left and right extremist and encourage people to find middle ground. He has shown me and others respect; where we differed in our opinions. He invites people to disagree with his opinion and feels that the exchanges of diverse ideas are important in a democratic society. The background provided by him regarding the Founding Fathers and the Constitution have increased my appreciation of the document that has stood the test of time. Rather than treating the Founding Fathers as a body who spoke in unison on issues, he has restored them to their respective places in history and never denigrates these diverse men.

Below are my questions and Austin’s answers to the Part I Series of "Confucius, Classics, and the Constitution."

Topic: Confucius 
Q: Why do you think Confucius believed that virtue was more important than wisdom?

A: For Confucius, the greatest good in human society was smooth human relations. This, for Confucius, is what it means to be human--to live in a society with other humans and experience the pleasures of good relations with them. "Virtue," for Confucius, consists of all of the things that go into making human relations smooth, such as respect for authority, respect for tradition, and willingness to reciprocate good with good. Wisdom, on the other hand, is something that one gains for oneself. It is a good thing to gain, and probably the best thing to gain for one's own use. But it is essentially selfish, and, therefore, superior to virtue, which is essentially other-directed, or selfless.

Topic: Confucius and Founding Fathers 
Q’s: Confucius places a lot of emphasis on relationships and our roles in life. What relevance does this have in our personal lives and also in the leaders? Did any of the Founding Fathers exemplify what Confucius meant by relationships?

A: For Confucius, relationships were not things that people entered into as people per se. Rather, "relationships" are social categories that we inhabit, such as "teacher," "student," "father," 'daughter," "king," "subject," etc. Each category has defined relationships within the social structure, kind of like a dramatic role that we are expected to play. Virtue, to a great extent, means acting according to the correct social expectations for the role that we are inhabiting at the time.

With this definition, the Founding Fathers are in deep trouble, as they were pretty much all bad subjects to the King of England. Among the Founders, the Federalists (Hamilton, Washington, Adams) paid a lot more attention to social roles. Washington, especially, was very concerned to look like a President, act like a president, and, generally, be presidential in all things. Even when he was a commanding general, he secured the loyalty of his troops by being faithful to the expectations that they had of him. This is a very Confucian attitude.

Others of the Founders were decidedly NOT Confucian. Benjamin Franklin loved to shock people with his unorthodox ideas and behaviors. And Thomas Jefferson believed that social conventions were stifling and inauthentic, so he regularly flouted them.

The big thing to remember about Confucius is that "good relationships" are not things that we use our own judgment about. Whatever society we live in has defined what it means to be a good teacher, or a good leader, or a good follower, or whatever. Even if these rules are not written down anywhere, they exist, and, if we are sensitive to our own context, we are aware that they exist. Confucius never defined these terms himself; he simply assumed that his audience would know what their own society expected of them. Meeting those expectations is the key to Confucian virtue, and, when everybody acts the way that they are supposed to act, you get social harmony.

Topic: The Classics 
Q’s: What are some of the lessons that you have gained from reading classical literature that influence how you view individuals, yourself, or society? Are there lessons about human relations that we can draw upon from classical literature?

A: As for the classics, I will say this: there is a lot more that connects human beings than divides us. Whatever culture we live in, whatever time period we are a part of, we have the same basic psychology, and we face a lot of the same sorts of problems. The advantage of the classics is that they are generally by people who had a good understanding of human nature. As a result, they can be very useful to us in identifying and solving the kinds of problems that human beings have. More modern literature can do this too, but the classic have survived for hundreds and thousands of years precisely because they have proven to be useful to all different kinds of human beings. This being the case, there is a very good chance that they will be useful to us, if we let them.

For example, it is from the classics that I have learned how conflicts usually start and how they can be best avoided (or, if they can't be avoided, how they can be won). I have also learned about the way that self-interest does, and does not color the behavior of most people. Classic literature shows me a whole host of human problems and a wide variety of potential solutions. But it also shows me that we CAN solve problems and that we CAN overcome grief and difficulty.

Watch next week's edition of  population-we™  for Part II, and the conclusion of the "Confucius, Classics, and the Constitution" series.

(Editor’s note: The more we seek out the teachings of great thinkers both past and present--the more we can learn to think for ourselves. Just a reminder to all of our population-we™ readers: we are all encompassing and welcome diverse political views here.)

- population-we blog post by Barb Bohan
© 2013 population-we, LLC
If you enjoyed this post, make sure to leave a comment, 'Pin' or 'Like' it.

Monday, May 6, 2013

I Found the Gown in Wahoo

At the alter with my husband.
This May ushers in our 19th wedding anniversary. Those readers who don’t know; I’m married to population-we’s Food Blogger Brian Brown. I recently found myself watching “I Found the Gown” on TLC and all of the memories of how I found my wedding gown came flooding back to me. Similar to the show, I bought a designer gown at a bargain basement price.

In search for that perfect dress we trekked to a wedding outlet store in Wahoo, Neb., not once but twice. I was not alone on the first trip: my mom, aunt and cousin were all in attendance. Amy Beth (my cousin) was set to get married months earlier -- so we decided to shop for our wedding gowns together. On this trip, I tried on several dresses even a mermaid type, which did not work well with my hips. Amy Beth and I both found our wedding dresses and would put them on layaway. At the time, I was a full-time college student, so funds were low. That is one of the reasons why I picked an outlet. At Nebraska Bridal, future brides can shop for designer gowns at small town prices. I paid less than $300 for my gown.

The gown.
Months later we would be back to pick up Amy Beth’s wedding gown. On this trip my soon to be mother-in-law was also along. I liked my dress that was on layaway, but didn’t love it! So, I decided to try on some more. There it was on the rack, an original designer gown from New York City. I knew it was the one immediately...I found the gown!  I tried it on and everyone’s eyes lit up. Indeed, this would be the wedding gown I wore to marry my best friend and life partner. To this date, it still goes on record as the longest train to usher down the aisles of St. Paul United Methodist Church. I know you’ll fall in love with it. My description would not do it justice so -- I’ve attached a couple pictures courtesy of Prusha Photography-- because a picture is worth a thousand words.

So, if you're in the market for a wedding gown, take a gamble like we did and try a wedding outlet store and you'll find yourself uttering the words: "I Found the Gown," too.

- population-we blog post by Becky Bohan Brown 
© 2013 population-we, LLC
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