Peitzmeier Demolishes Competition With Fair Prices and Clean Work

Even though it says demolition in its name, Peitzmeier Demolition and Concrete Cutting, Inc. does more than just blow up buildings.
Owner Mark Peitzmeier said his team approaches every project differently, based on the desired result.
Their website elaborates: “We specialize in Commercial and Industrial Demolition Services. Our company attempts to recycle, when possible, as much of the material we work with to reduce the economic and environmental impact within communities.”
Because of Peitzmeier’s stellar reputation and vast experience, the Omaha Chamber of Commerce has named his firm the September Small Business of the Month. They serve Omaha and surrounding areas in the Midwest.
Offering everything from gutting buildings to emergency response when structures become unstable, Peitzmeier and his team are dedicated to both quality work and giving back to their community.
Located at 1119 South 6th Street and a member of the Omaha Chamber of Commerce since the doors opened in 2012, Peitzmeier values the relationships and contacts made through the many member events.
“We always seem to meet a lot of people there,” he said. “We wear shirts with our name on them and, by the end of the night, we get one or two more pieces of business out of it so that part’s always been good to us.
“All it takes is one job to pay for the membership, so it’s definitely worth it.”
Bringing 40 years of construction experience into his business, Peitzmeier was motivated to venture out on his own once his children were out of college. As superintendent at Kiewit for 18 years, he hesitated to leave a construction powerhouse and go out on his own.
“After I started,” Peitzmeier said, “I wish I’d started 10 years earlier, but then I didn’t want to take the risk.”
Having experienced life in construction during his tenure at Kiewit, he now contracts with his former employer on various projects throughout the Midwest. In fact, he has even done deconstruction on some of the buildings he helped to build.
The job that launched Peitzmeier Demolition and Concrete Cutting’s contractor business was the complete demolition and dirt work of the 170,000 square-foot Nebraska Crossing shopping mall in Gretna. To Peitzmeier, it was a “make or break” job for the budding business. They completed the job six weeks ahead of schedule despite some difficult weather.
“That started us,” he said, “Kiewit was impressed.”

Another high-profile job elicited an emotional response from the Plattsmouth community. Peitzmeier took care of the emergency demolition of a historic building that housed three downtown businesses and residences at 4th and Main Street. A fire destroyed the structure despite the efforts of seven fire departments in the frigid January weather of 2014. A thick coat of ice covered the entire area, adding another dimension to the removal.
KETV Channel 7 has Peitzmeier to thank for clearing the way for a complete renovation of the historic Burlington Train Station into its new broadcast facility. The demolition work included an extensive salvage of historic and ornamental elements of the 1898 landmark building that was originally built in the Italianate style. Coordination with railroad authorities was necessary to facilitate removal of an elevated train platform without disturbing AMTRAK daily arrivals on the lower platform.
Peitzmeier Demolition and Concrete Cutting has been successful because of Peitzmeier’s unwavering standards and connection to the community.
Not only does he give back locally; when projects are commissioned in other states like Kentucky, Colorado, Iowa, Missouri and Illinois, Peitzmeier hires local workers to contribute to the local economy.
“It’s a win-win,” he said.
They also have a “green” mindset and recycle as much material as possible from every job site.
“All of our concrete gets recycled,” he said. “We’ll take it and get it crushed down for road bases. All the steel gets taken in and re-sent out and re-melded. Same with all the aluminum and copper, glass, the carpet (if it’s in good shape), we’ll bring it in and re-sell it or donate it.”
Partnering with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and the Ronald McDonald house, Peitzmeier Demolition and Concrete Cutting is consistently contributing in some way to the community.
From demolition to dirt work, Peitzmeier’s work is mainly comprised of what is referred to as “soft” demolition like the removal of ceilings, carpets, walls and other interior structures. Their focus is to provide a quick, but quality job.
Peitzmeier’s philosophy is to, “Finish strong. Clean it up when we’re done. Broom sweep it, get all the wires, make sure the walls are clean.”
By doing things the right way the first time, Peitzmeier Demolition and Concrete Cutting maintains a reputation of excellence and a philosophy of being detail oriented.
Not only are the company’s services top notch, Peitzmeier pays for half of its employees’ health insurance. Peitzmeier acknowledges that it’s “a huge cost.”
“In our industry, it’s amazing how many don’t have insurance,” he said.
However, the return is worth the investment because it guarantees quality employees stay. That’s reflected in their high quality of work.
Working with a variety of clientele, Peitzmeier has one simple motto.
“Price it right,” he said. “We’re not getting rich overnight. We want the customers to come back. We probably get half of our business from contractors. They just trust us, they know they’re going to get the right prices right off the bat.”
The biggest reward for Peitzmeier is coming to work every day.
“I love coming into work,” he said, “so that’s a reward. A lot of people don’t, so that right there is big. Loving what I do is what makes it fun.”

Written for the Omaha Daily Record Published 9/25/18:


Don’t Shop—Adopt!: Shelter Dogs Bring Lots of Love

October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, which means now is a great time to bring home a pup in need! Dog rescues and shelters are constantly tasked with finding homes for millions of animals who need a family. An astounding 6–8 million animals are taken into shelters each year, and only half of them will leave to another home because of sheer overpopulation and lack of resources. That’s barely a drop in the bucket of the approximately 70 million stray animals currently out there! Volunteering, fostering, and adopting these fur babies are great ways to get involved and save lives. Animal shelters are sometimes criticized because of their “kill” or “no kill” categorization, but such labels don’t fully explain the situation, and this emotionally charged language does nothing to serve the overall good. The bottom line is that adopting a dog from a shelter—any shelter—or a dog rescue saves a life, and it can greatly enhance yours!

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Dog rescues provide essentials to their residents every single day. From spaying and neutering services to microchipping and vaccinating, rescues across the country are essential to the well-being of animals and the battle against overpopulation. Not only do they perform these expensive services prior to adoption, they are often done at no cost to potential adopters! As an added bonus, adoption fees go straight back into helping other dogs find loving homes of their own. If only a purebred will do, there are plenty of rescues dedicated to specific breeds! In this case, you’ll get the dog of your dreams while saving another life.

Many of the dogs in rescues and shelters are older dogs (at least, they’re not puppies). Puppies are definitely cute, but there are a lot of advantages to adopting an adult dog. Are you looking for a dog that won’t take away your beauty rest or chew your shoes? An older rescue dog is the perfect solution! Many times, busy families don’t have the time to train a puppy. Shelter dogs are already trained and housebroken, so there are no messes to fret over. Older dogs also sleep through the night, contrary to their small-bladdered puppy compatriots, who are prone to waking at 2, 4, and 6 o’clock each morning for a potty break. Adult and senior dogs are also more likely to be done with their “chewing” phase. That said, if your heart is still set on a puppy, don’t worry—shelters are brimming with them!
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Some people may fear that a stray or a dog that has been “rescued” from a bad situation may not behave well, but most rescue dogs end up making excellent companions. They are known to blossom once they know they’re in a safe environment, and they seem to show their gratitude in happy cuddles and bonding with their rescuers. These sweet pups are often openly grateful to those who give them a second chance at life.

If you are a dog lover but aren’t ready for the commitment of adopting, consider volunteering a few hours at a local shelter. Why not spend a Saturday playing with dogs, helping clean up, or educating others about rescue dogs? There are so many ways to help pups in need, and every bit counts when every dollar means saving another life. Not only will you learn more about dogs, you’ll also achieve the satisfaction that comes from helping those who cannot help themselves. Short on time? Donations in all forms are always appreciated.

Fostering a dog or puppy is another great way to help. This process makes transitioning into a forever home much easier for young or abused dogs while simultaneously opening space for more pups in the shelters. Animals that particularly benefit from fostering include pregnant females and puppies that are too young to be weaned or spayed or neutered. By keeping these dogs a bit longer, shelters can be sure their animals are in the very best shape when they are put up for adoption.

If you are interested in adopting a furry family member, there is no better choice than a rescue dog. Typically, the older the dog, the smaller the adoption fee. Puppies who are six months and younger tend to be in the highest demand, so they tend to cost more. Remember, however, that these fees are directly re-invested into helping other pooches find their forever homes. To find out more about how you can help, contact your local dog rescue or animal shelter today!


Written for Women’s Edition October 2018:

Good Planning Starts with Goals: Great Planning Starts with Blazek Estate Planning

With the mantra, “all good planning starts with goals,” Omaha native Jim Blazek knew from a young age that his goal was to become an attorney. His success, he says, can be attributed to some “happy accidents.” One of these was getting to know Creighton professor Barbara Pearlman, who pushed Jim to know all the ins and outs of estate and tax law by constantly calling on him for answers. In 1981, after Jim graduated from Creighton School of Law, he established Blazek Estate Planning.

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Another happy accident is Jim’s partner, Jared Gregg. An attorney from Ogallala, Jared has now been with the firm for nine years. According to Jim, he complements the firm because “he was doing estate planning for farmers and ranchers long before he met me.”

A unique aspect of Blazek Estate Planning is that they specialize in estate planning only. Rather than diversifying their services, the firm is dedicated to the production of quality documents to serve future generations. Offering estate planning creation, maintenance, and administration, Blazek Estate Planning specializes in only this area, ensuring that every “t” will be crossed and every “i” will be dotted.

 “Planning changes during the different seasons of our lives,” Jim notes. “A great tragedy is that people will start out with a plan and then never update it.” Large life events like marriage, parenthood, or significant accrual of wealth can change a person’s estate planning needs drastically. Being cognizant of life changes, of important updates, and of how your estate planning documents should grow with you is crucial to ensuring that you get precisely the protection that you need.

Many clients first come in for simple wills. This is what Jim refers to as the “starter will,” which makes sense for people who primarily want to name guardians for their minor children. However, for those with over $500,000 in assets, Jim recommends setting up a revocable living trust, rather than a will based plan, because it can better protect assets over time.

Unlike typical estate planning, which plans for the division of assets, putting assets in trust can protect the assets for future generations and protects them from anyone outside the intended beneficiaries. For example, Jim says, “if I die and my wife remarries, what can I do to make sure my assets go to my kids and not somebody else?” Living trusts and proper estate planning ensure the protection of assets, especially when a family member remarries. Trusts use a series of protective strategies that have an impact on succeeding generations. “That’s what’s really cool about better estate planning,” Jim says. “You can affect multiple generations.”

Jim tries to “foresee the main ways that people lose money and plan against those things.” When he initially sits down with clients, Jim stresses that all planning starts with goals. “It’s the attorney’s job to assess what the client’s goals are, because people have different goals. Some people want to come in and talk about disability or how to handle probate or capital gains tax planning. They’ll have multiple issues when they come in.” In some cases, he notes, clients need his help to discover what their goals really are. “It’s my job to identify those goals and figure out the best way of meeting them.”

“Everybody loves Monday” at Blazek Estate Planning, Jim shares. The three attorneys and five support staff members will be relocating to a larger space in the coming months. Their newest attorney is Jim’s son, Paul Blazek. Paul is pleased to be following in his father’s footsteps at a firm that innovates on traditional strategies, provides a personal paralegal for each trust client, and even conducts phone calls with clients at no extra charge. “When we give our clients good value, then we all win,” Jim says, and that supports his “everybody wins” mentality. He and his firm are proud to maintain relationships with families from one generation to the next.

The most rewarding aspect of Jim’s job is how his clients feel about the results they get from the firm. When clients walk out the door, saying, “This was so easy,” it makes the long days worthwhile. “It’s a lot of fun, and it’s very rewarding,” Jim concludes. “We have clients who we’ve enjoyed years of relationships with, and so it’s just a very fulfilling, rewarding career.”

Has your life changed recently? Has your estate plan changed with it? If you are newly married, have recently had children, are gathering wealth, or simply need to consult with an expert in tax law, contact Blazek Estate Planning today by calling 402-496-3432 or visiting

Written for Women’s Edition October 2018:

Dine at Spezia: Truly Great Service, Truly Local Steaks

Local Italian restaurant Spezia is home not only to some of the greatest cuisine in the Omaha area, but also to some of the best staff. Operated by managing partner and head chef Brian Reilly, Spezia has employed Heather Bagshaw as a professional server since 2007 (just three years after Spezia’s grand opening!). With over 15 years of serving and hotel experience prior to her current position, Heather knew right away that she wanted to work at a fine dining establishment like Spezia.

Heather appreciates the family environment that Spezia provides for its patrons and its employees. “I can’t imagine not working here,” she says. “The food is spectacular…my customers are so great, too.” Customers return the compliment by having nothing but fantastic things to say about Heather and her fellow staff. It’s no surprise that Heather is so popular—she knows her regular customers by name and even knows most of their favorite dishes!

Tom Dolan, a financial advisor, has been a regular at Spezia for 24 years, and his Thursday lunch group always asks for Heather. “She was our server for years,” says Tom. “She always makes a point to come say hi and catch up. She greets each one of us individually and makes sure we’ve enjoyed everything. She’s the reason we go there.” In addition to the outstanding service he receives each time he enters Spezia, the delicious food and the convenient location keep Tom coming back.

One of the reasons Heather is so proficient is her passion for her work. “Some people hate going to work,” Heather says. “I actually look forward to going to work. It’s my family.” Tom attests to her positive attitude and dedication, noting that “she’s very professional and works a lot of hours, and she seems never to be in a bad mood.”

As far as the food goes, Spezia’s dedication to quality is palpable. Brian starts every single morning preparing and caring for their signature wood-fire grill. “We build the fire in the morning, and it spreads out as the coals break down,” Brian says. “We’re constantly adding logs to the fire, so it’s constantly changing.” Because the heat is inconsistent, cooking on a wood-fire grill is a difficult skill to master, Brian explains. “It’s not like we turn the gas on and the cook knows exactly where to put the steak—there are a lot of variables. The smoke and flame come through and sear the meat, and the fire keeps changing.” Ultimately, you end up with a great steak.

The grill, which uses a variety of hardwoods like ash, oak, and cherry, is what truly sets Spezia apart from other steakhouses in Omaha. For example, Brian explains, “You might have a restaurant downtown that sells prime, but if they stick it in a gas grill, you don’t get that same flavor.” Having eaten at many other restaurants in town and sampled many steaks, Brian can honestly say that the best steak he has ever eaten “was cooked right here on this grill.”

Along with this artisan cooking, Brian points out that the source of any protein is just as important as the grill it’s cooked on. In 2017, Brian began a partnership with the Greater Omaha Packing Company. When Brian asked them where he could eat one of their steaks locally, they simply replied that no one had them—they ship their meat to New York for the large Manhattan steakhouses and even as far as China, Russia, and Indonesia. Brian worked hard to strike a deal with the massive distributor to acquire local meat in-house. “The big thing for me is building these local relationships,” Brian says. “When we first started this venture, they had no way of getting their meat to us; you had to buy 20,000 pounds.” Now, Spezia exclusively offers certified 1920 Omaha Angus beef from the Greater Omaha Packing Company.

After the best beef has been acquired, there’s still the aging to consider. Aging beef is an art form, developing tenderness over the course of 30 to 90 days. Once the meat has been aged to Brian’s liking, he slices it each morning to be offered on the day’s menu. This process not only gives the meat added flavor but also allows time for the muscle tissue to break down and tenderize, delivering a sumptuous experience for diners. “We just don’t get tired of hearing people say, ‘That’s the best steak I’ve ever had in my life!’” Brian concludes.

If you’re looking for a restaurant where the steaks slice like butter and the wait staff knows your name, look no further. Call Spezia at 402-391-2850 to book your table today!


Written for Women’s Edition October 2018:


August Small Business of the Month: Nebraska Tour Company

*Written for the Daily Record –

With just a little more than a year under its belt, Nebraska Tour Company has been singled out for the Omaha Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Month Award in August.

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Nebraska Tour Company and Discover Omaha recently merged to combine their expertise, offering culinary and historical tours across the Omaha metro area.
Opting for the moniker Nebraska Tour Company, their mission is to provide guests with a true taste of the town’s culinary delights and historical buildings as if they were a local. Featuring customizable themes such as Prohibition, Sushi and Sake or walking tours of downtown, Nebraska Tour Company allows natives and visitors alike to discover the city of Omaha in a whole new way.

It all started with Alan Rust, president and co-owner, moving several times for his career in retail. “Every time I move to a new place,” he said, “I always try to find the best bars, restaurants and places to go. So, I moved here to work for Gordmans … and then I decided I was done with retail. I wanted to do my own thing, sharing my passion for finding the cool places.”

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Rust connected with Dakotah Smith, joining forces to form their concierge tour company.
With a staff of two culinary experts and four locals with in-depth knowledge of local history, Nebraska Tour Company offers comprehensive, new and unique ways of exploring the Omaha metro area. Rust says his tour guides “are passionate about the city of Omaha and want to share that. That’s what we do differently.”Another great feature of this innovative tour company is their customized tours. “A lot of groups have pre-scheduled tours,” Rust said, “and if they don’t meet a minimum, they cancel them completely. We have the ability to tour any day of the week and it is a private experience.”

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Adopting the saying from P.T. Barnum – “the noblest art is that of making others happy,” Rust seeks to please and entertain his clientele by living this philosophy every day. At Nebraska Tour Company, they take care of everything, he said.

“The service is that you don’t have to worry about anything,” he said. “So, if you were elected to take care of a group, we can take care of absolutely all of it for you.”
Unlike other tour companies that have pre-planned tours and destinations, the most exciting part of booking with Nebraska Tour Company is that the client has no idea where they are going until they arrive at their destination. Just like a magical mystery tour, Rust stresses secrecy until the very last moment, and according to him, “Everybody has loved that.”

While there are classic culinary tours, district tours and many other options, Rust and his team provide an authentic, yet luxurious experience for diners at each destination. To guarantee this experience, Rust himself visits restaurants undercover to see if they may be a possible fit for their tour groups, stressing ambiance and service as well as the food quality.

“The places we choose need to provide that same high-level experience that we’re providing, or they won’t be part of our tours,” he said. “Our brand is providing that high level of VIP experience in every tour that we do, so we need our partners to do the same.”

Perfect for team-building events or newbies to Omaha, Nebraska Tour Company offers a tour for every taste. Try the Old Market Walking Tour, a Blackstone food tour, Benson food tour or perhaps customize a search for the best pizza in town. If those aren’t for you, try a Taco Tuesday tour, a mob tour, a baseball history tour or a haunted tour. Nebraska Tour Company caters to any theme imaginable.

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The most popular tour at Nebraska Tour Company is the basic culinary tour, which may include a theme depending on the day of the week. If brunch is your way of celebrating a Sunday Funday, they also offer a brunch tour, which “involves a bit of day drinking,” Rust said, but also feasts on Omaha’s best breakfast bites. The venues vary and are all locally owned, because Rust believes in helping his fellow small businesses. “We support local,” he said. “We want the community to be a better place.”

Rust’s personal favorite is the Spirits and Snacks tour. “I’m a cocktail guy,” he said. “It’s just more of a cocktail tour with a little bit of food.” If beer is your preference, there are brewery tours to choose from as well.

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After a year in business, Rust and Smith are extremely honored to be named the Small Business of the Month from the Omaha Chamber of Commerce.
“I think it is a great honor because we’ve worked really, really hard for our business to support other small businesses,” he said. “It’s a big honor because we are able to help others, so that businesses can work together to make a community better.”
Nebraska Tour Company offers concierge tours unlike any other. To book your tour, contact Nebraska Tour Company at 866-996-6242.

Heartland Center for Reproductive Medicine: Meet Dr. Elizabeth Constance!

*Written for Women’s Edition –

This month, Heartland Center for Reproductive Medicine welcomes Dr. Elizabeth Constance to the practice! Originally from Lawrence, Kansas, Dr. Constance completed her training and OB-GYN residency at the University of Kansas before relocating to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Focusing on reproductive endocrinology and infertility, she completed a three-year fellowship program, consisting of half clinical medicine and half research. During her fellowship, she researched new methods for fertility preservation for women and girls going through cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy, which can severely impact fertility. “Infertility is a very difficult situation for individuals and families to walk through,” she says. “When you add a cancer diagnosis on top of that, it can add extra stress and uncertainty. Anything we can do to take the worry off future fertility, so the woman can just focus on the immediate treatment and healing, is a huge weight off of her shoulders.”

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 For adult women going through chemotherapy or radiation, doctors can harvest healthy eggs from the ovaries and freeze them before the patient begins treatment. This helps preserve the woman’s chances for fertility in the future, after cancer treatment. However, for young girls who haven’t gone through puberty, there is currently no way to preserve eggs that have not matured enough for fertilization.

During her fellowship, Dr. Constance dedicated her research to extracting those premature eggs from young women and preserving them outside of the body. That way, in their own time, young patients might still be able to have their own biological children after undergoing cancer treatments. Her trials on mice were successful, she notes. “Our contribution was one small step toward having that technology available in the future.”

Dr. Constance brings her own empathetic experience to patient care because she herself went through the process of in vitro fertilization (IVF) to conceive her second child. “I have walked that journey and come out the other side of it,” she says. Her personal experience, however, still comes second to her passion for patient care. Her philosophy is to consistently provide individualized plans for each patient who walks through her door.

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While IVF comprises a large portion of her daily routine, there is no cookie cutter answer for every infertility patient. This is where today’s expanse of medical technology comes into play. As IVF is a costly and time-intensive procedure, Dr. Constance is constantly working to find new ways to treat fertility issues. “One-size-fits-all is not my approach,” she asserts. “I work with patients to look at personal medical history, needs, and beliefs. I learn each patient’s individual goals for building her family, and then I tailor the plan and the treatment for each person.” Her one and only goal is to help individuals and couples create the families they’ve always dreamed of having.

Dr. Constance is a constant reminder to her patients that they are never alone during difficult times, and she consistently seeks to be a support system for them throughout their treatment process. Sometimes, the most frustrating thing is when all test results come back normal…yet the patient is still unable to conceive. “Sometimes, you don’t have a hard and fast thing you can point to and say, ‘This is the reason this is happening.’ In those cases, we go on from there with the most reasonable treatment plan.”

While she was interviewing for jobs, Dr. Constance knew she wanted to be close to her Kansas roots. Omaha was “the perfect balance.” During her interview process, Heartland Center for Reproductive Medicine stood out to Dr. Constance as soon as she came into the office. “The compassion and care for patients was palpable when I walked in,” she recalls. “From the front desk staff to the physicians and nurse practitioners, it’s just obvious that everybody is completely focused on getting the best outcome for each individual person that walks through the door. I was looking for that balance. I want to be able to provide cutting edge medical therapy for patients, but I also want to really walk that emotional journey with them, to be there for them in the joyful moments as well as the heartbreak.”

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Beginning this month, Dr. Elizabeth Constance joins the dedicated team at Heartland Center for Reproductive Medicine at 7308 South 142nd Street, in Omaha. Consisting of three physicians and two nurse practitioners, the team is dedicated to helping families plan for the future, and they’re delighted to have Dr. Constance join their practice. If you are having difficulty conceiving, have suffered a miscarriage, or are looking to preserve your future fertility, reach out to Heartland Center for Reproductive Medicine at 402-717-4220 or


Pocket Pets: Tiny Critters with Big Personalities

*Story Written for Women’s Edition, September 2018

Gone are the days of Paris Hilton and Elle Woods with their chihuahuas in their handbags; now, true “pocket pets” are all the rage in the form of hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs, and even chinchillas. Pocket pets are typically some form of rodent and vary in their care. Here are a few of the most common pocket pets and how to care for them so you can determine which one is right for your household.

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If you have a household with older children, you might opt for a rabbit. Living between 8 and 10 years, rabbits come in a variety of breeds. They love interacting with humans and are easily potty-trained. They require less care than many other pocket pets and require no vaccinations whatsoever. However, they do need a good amount of time outside of the cage and at least 12 square feet of enclosure space, depending on their size and weight.
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It is essential that bunnies have access to chew toys because they are lagomorphs, which means that their teeth continuously grow throughout their lives. Chew toys are essential to whittle their teeth down to a comfortable length. Rabbits eat a varied diet, including greens, pellets, veggies, and hay (for the digestive system). An important thing to remember with rabbits (and most other pocket pets) is that they are instinctually prey animals, so they’re easily startled. It is essential to approach them slowly and let them come to you, as they can be highly sensitive at first. If you get down to your bunny’s level and let the animal make the first move, you’ll be playing and cuddling together in no time.

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Chinchillas are very energetic but are not good for households with small children because they are extremely sensitive to light and sound. Living on a crepuscular cycle, these soft critters are most active at dawn and dusk and may literally bounce off the walls of their enclosures! A single chinchilla needs a minimum of 5 or 6 cubic feet in its cage to roam, and 10 to 12 cubic feet are needed if you opt to purchase a playmate. They play with a variety of chew toys and live between 15 and 20 years. These rambunctious rodents need regular dust baths, an exercise wheel, and a very specific diet of hay and alfalfa pellets to maintain a healthy digestive system. However, with the right amount of time, money, and care invested, these soft creatures can be wonderful companions for years to come.

The greatest pocket pet for any household with children has to be the tried-and-true guinea pig. With a short lifespan of about 5 years, these cuddly critters are fantastic with children, easily potty trained, and have been kept as pets since the 16th century! Needing a cage of only about 8 square feet, these portable piggies are sweet, loving, and require a simple diet of hay, vegetables, and pellets. Like rabbits, their teeth constantly grow, so they need plenty of chew toys to keep their teeth ground down. They have poor eyesight, so handle them slowly and deliberately. It is also recommended to keep at least two guinea pigs at a time because they are happiest when living in groups. However, be sure to get two of the same gender to avoid potential conflict and unwanted offspring. Keep in mind that a pair of guinea pigs will need a larger cage than a single pet.

As with any pet, be sure to see a veterinarian regularly. Different vets specialize in different kinds of pets, so be sure to ask before you make an appointment. These tiny creatures age far quicker than other animals, so it is essential to keep their nutrition levels as high as possible. Be sure to bring them to the vet if you notice any changes in behavior or appetite. As most pocket pets are prey in the wild, they will instinctually hide signs of illness until it is sometimes too late; as soon as any symptoms show, the situation needs to be dealt with immediately. A seemingly healthy pocket pet may deteriorate and expire in a matter of hours if symptoms are ignored or left untreated.

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It is essential to make sure an animal will be a good fit in its environment to ensure the happiness of both owner and animal. Depending on the level of commitment you want to invest, the bottom line is to really learn about an animal’s needs before purchasing one. (Also note that not all pocket pets are legal in every state. If you’re looking to get a hedgehog or a chinchilla, you should check your local laws.) You can still enjoy cuddling with a pet if cats and dogs are not for you! Consider a pocket pet as a fun and entertaining companion.

An Honors Course in Giving: A Student From Whom We Can All Learn

Written for Omaha Magazine –

Jenna Liakos has already learned the immense value of volunteerism in her community—having completed countless volunteer hours contributing her time to the Omaha Warriors (her little sister’s softball team), the Aksarben Ball, and the Bickford House (through All Saints Episcopal Church). 

In fact, one of her most valuable experiences, and lasting relationships, has come from working through the Munroe-Meyer Institute and volunteering with their Circle of Friends, a social club for people with autism. She started working with kids who have disabilities because, “my brother volunteered at Munroe-Meyer, then my sister did it and enjoyed it, so I did it and really enjoy it so far.” In this capacity, she works with preschool children all the way up to kids her age. “I like being with the smaller kids, it’s just hilarious. Some of the things that come out of their mouths is so funny.” One girl who she enjoyed volunteering with loved the Husker football team, so she makes the volunteers and other kids stack their hands in a team “huddle.” Liakos enjoys interacting with the kids and their imaginations while doing crafts, exercises, and cooking. 

It is Hayden Sommer, however, who has brought her the greatest joy over their four-year friendship. When he first arrived at middle school in fifth grade, he had trouble communicating with others. According to Liakos, since they started working together, “the amount of progress that we’ve seen is really amazing.” 

Hayden’s mother, Heidi Sommer, explains, “he’s pretty severe. Back-and-forth communication is quite difficult for him, but when he sees Jenna, you can just tell that he really likes her [by] his smile.” What is great about their relationship is that it has continued to grow outside of just the Circle of Friends, and Liakos continues greeting Hayden daily in the hallways at school. She continues in a gush, “I think what’s really genuine about Jenna is that…as kids get older, you see these relationships kind of derail, and she has not done that. She values everybody, she’s showing kids and adults in the community the way it should be done.” 

In fact, during Autism Awareness Month, Liakos and Sommer, along with the other members of the Circle of Friends, put together a public service announcement for PTI (Parent Training and Information) Nebraska, an awareness group for parents of children with disabilities or special health care needs.  

While it seems as though she keeps busy with all these volunteer activities, she also competes with a traveling softball team, sings in two show choirs, and participates in musicals. Yet Liakos truly enjoys the time she spends helping others. She says her parents taught her and her siblings, from a young age, to help out in the community and give back to people. 

And the tenacious student has it in mind to beat her older siblings’ immense numbers of volunteer hours served by the time she graduates from Westside High School. Her brother, Jonathan, accomplished 400 hours in his time, while sister Victoria completed 300 hours.

Liakos is extremely grateful for all that volunteering has taught her, particularly the lesson “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Having seen those who are struggling and going through difficult times, she has learned to not judge, but rather to listen to everyone’s story. “Some of the stories that I’ve heard from them,” Liakos says, “they’ve changed how I look at people and life.”

After Service as Chief Medical Officer, She Made Domestic Violence a Priority

Written for the Daily Record –

Dr. Joann Schaefer

Before the O.J. Simpson case brought it to the national spotlight, domestic violence was a topic seldom spoken of outside the home. Joann Schaefer, M.D., ABFP, has made it her personal mission to spread awareness and prevention of domestic abuse.
Not only does Schaefer have a passion for public health, she has a personal connection to the work she has done to help victims of domestic violence.
During her first year in medical school, Schaefer’s best friend lost her life due to domestic violence. Her friend had gotten out of an abusive marriage, only to be killed by her ex-husband three weeks later.
Looking back, she said, “Her children are my godchildren, so it’s been a big journey. Right after her death, it made me try to understand what was happening in domestic violence. There was a lot being done, but it wasn’t being talked about on the national scene, and when I was in medical school I had about a five-minute education on it. That was kind of infuriating to me.” In those days, she said, medical schools paid scant attention to domestic violence.
Schaefer recounted the number of times her friend had visited the emergency room over the course of several pregnancies, presenting with injuries that “doctors didn’t seem to know how to handle or what to do.” In one episode, her friend explained to the physician examining her that her two black eyes and a fractured eye socket were the result of falling down a flight of stairs.
This unwillingness to talk about their situation is common in many victims of domestic abuse. Physicians are now being trained to delve deeper into circumstances when injuries and stories do not add up. Much of this training is thanks to Schaefer. After her friend’s death, Schaefer set out on a mission to bring education on screening and diagnosis of domestic violence patients to doctors, nurses and anyone working in the medical field. During her time working with Creighton Medical School, she changed the curriculum dramatically.
“We got the curriculum changed from about five minutes on domestic violence to over sixteen hours at both medical schools here [in Nebraska], as well as nursing schools. That’s why you are asked about your safety now when you go into an emergency room,” said Schaefer.
Her curriculum is particularly “hands-on” and includes actual ‘911’ tapes, forensic photographs, news clips and, at times, survivors. “The whole point,” Schaefer said, “is to grab students’ attention and use an actual clinical case to present all of the key teaching points.”
Partnering with local organizations such as the Women’s Center for Advancement, Schaefer stresses providing nonjudgmental support to those that may be living in a dangerous situation.
“One of my fervent interests is educating medical students, physicians and the public on the warning signs of domestic violence,” said Schaefer. “You never know a [person’s] safety situation better than he or she does. It’s important to not judge, but to be supportive and ask questions.”
Medical Resume´
One of the reasons Schaefer was in a position to act on her beliefs was due to her medical resume in Nebraska.
Originally from California, Schaefer earned her undergraduate degree in biology and public health from California State University-Fullerton, then graduated from Creighton Medical School, “fell in love with Nebraska and stayed.” She has since been recognized by both Creighton University Medical School and California State University-Fullerton for her service and as a distinguished alumna.
Given her interest in public health and safety, Schaefer’s career path has seemed perfectly logical, leading her to positions of ever-increasing responsibility. But she stressed it was never planned. “I never sought these positions,” she said. “None of them were ever on my career path. I was just focused on doing my job really well at the time, pushing for things to be better and trying to be the best person I can be, knowing you have to have a lot of self-reflection and be willing to get better.”
When tapped to serve the state after a number of years in private practice and teaching at Creighton’s medical school, she agreed to serve as deputy director if this would be a half-time position to allow her to continue her very active family medicine practice, including obstetrics; her tenured position as associate professor in Creighton University Medical Center’s Department of Family Practice; and her ongoing, nationally recognized efforts to curb domestic violence.
Schaefer moved from deputy medical officer in 2002 to chief medical officer for the State of Nebraska in 2005. She was the first woman in Nebraska’s history to hold that post. She also served in a dual role as director of the Division of Public Health for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and earned several awards for her work.
As such, Schaefer was appointed by then-Governor Johanns to devise a plan for Nebraska to adopt in dealing with cases of domestic violence and the effects on children’s lives.
She was honored in 2003 by the National Institutes of Health and Human Services’ National Library of Medicine as a “Changing the Face of Medicine: Local Legend.” That honor, whose recipients are nominated by members of Congress, was in response to her being a “crusader against domestic violence.”
Congressman Lee Terry’s nomination letter said, “she has truly changed the face of medicine in Nebraska.”
Leaving her state post in 2013, she joined Blue Cross and Blue Shield. She quickly moved up the ladder there, and now serves as executive vice president, Health Delivery Engagement and chief medical officer. She is responsible for the company’s Risk Adjustment, Health Network Services, Case Management, Reimbursement Strategy, Utilization, Quality, Pharmacy, Medical Policy and Wellness Areas.
Other things you might want to know about this accomplished professional. The six-foot-tall physician is married to Phil Haines, a retired Marine Corps gunnery sergeant, and together they have raised his two young daughters. She was diagnosed as a young woman with a genetic liver disease that would one day require a transplant. While serving as chief medical officer, she received that life-saving transplant with a partial liver donated by a friend and fellow doctor, Gary Gorby, now chief of the Department of Medicine, Nebraska-Western Iowa VA Healthcare System.
She believes both she and her husband – who underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery – survived life-threatening conditions because they were physically fit, something they both work to maintain. In fact, she won WELCOM’s “Spirit of Wellness Award,” which honors a leader and innovator in our community for their passion and advocacy concerning the WELCOM mission.
A community leader, Schaefer sits on the boards of many organizations. She loves to run and has more than two dozen marathons under her belt.
Public Health Issues
There are so many public health issues she has been instrumental in improving. During her career as a medical officer, “She was assigned smallpox preparedness planning, both pre-event and mass vaccination post-event,” Rep. Terry wrote in his nomination letter. “Because of her skillful planning, Nebraska was the first state to be ready to respond to President Bush’s call to vaccinate public health and health care workers.
In three short weeks the vaccinations were complete and we were the first to have the right people vaccinated, able to respond to a potential release of the deadly smallpox virus and we had the highest per capita rate of vaccination,” Terry said.
“Dr. Schaefer’s second task was to prepare Nebraska to receive, secure, break down and dispense the Strategic National Stockpile and, because of her thoroughness, we became just the fifth state nationwide to be approved by the Centers for Disease Control to receive the Stockpile.”
“Many states are now adopting our ideas,” Schaefer said of Nebraska’s bio-terrorism preparedness efforts. “While I realize the very sad prospect of having to do such a task, I am proud of Nebraska and honored to [have been] entrusted with the care of its citizens.”
In another public health ini-tiative, Schaefer had been working with the Charles Drew Health Center and became concerned about the state’s high infant mortality rate, particularly in that area of the city. When she was appointed deputy medical officer, she said she began “bugging” the then-chief medical officer about it, asking what she could do to help. This led to her being appointed to develop a solution.
She chaired the Child Death Review Team that reviews all deaths of children under the age of nineteen in the state for analysis of cause and prevention and make recommendations to protect the youth of Nebraska.
Under her purview, the team reviewed over 1,800 cases of children’s deaths from 1996-2004 for nature and cause of death for preventability and trending.
The findings led her to implement a multi-pronged approach to help educate new parents, including a shaken-baby program and a back-to-sleep program.
Blue Cross Blue Shield
Of her newest position, Schaefer said, “I am having a great time now because there’s so much change happening in health care and I feel like I’ve had all of these roles.” She said her Blue Cross and Blue Shield role is “extremely fulfilling,” enabling her to use creativity and innovation to make a difference in members’ lives.
Schaefer’s background in family practice, along with her public health and state government experience, gives her a unique perspective on the challenges of a complicated, rapidly changing health care system.
In such a dynamic and fast-paced environment, Schaefer said she’s proud of the work she and others at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska are doing to change the health care system and improve the way medical care is received and paid for.
Her advice to young leaders is to “be passionate about your work, learn your work and know yourself. Try to be a really good leader and a lifelong learner, look for good opportunities to serve and good things will come to you,” she said.
Even on the tough days when things don’t go to plan, Schaefer has a ritual that her father taught her to get through the tough times: “At night look in the mirror, say ‘tomorrow will be better,’ remember to accept mistakes you have made, learn from them and make the next day better.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Could Fish Be in Your Future? Aquarium Care 101

*Written for Women’s Edition (Cuddly Critters) –


With no limits but the imagination, aquariums are emerging as focal points in commercial lobbies, as elaborate inlaid headboards, or even as unique conversation pieces fit under staircases. With tanks of all sizes and fish of all colors, an aquarium can create a feeling of relaxation and tranquility by housing a dazzling array of coral, leafy plants, and fish.

Before embarking on your aquarium design quest, however, it is essential to know the basic ins and outs of the type of fish you want as well as their individual care requirements. An aquarium is a long-term investment; most fish, depending on breed and care, can live between five and 10 years. As with owning any pets, it takes time and dedication to keep an aquarium in tip-top condition for the sake of your aquatic beauties.

Generally speaking, the bigger the tank is, the more maintenance and care it will need to keep its filtration system clean. For beginners, especially families with children or other pets, the best starter aquarium is a small one (with a lid for prying paws and fingers). With a tank that holds between one and 10 gallons of water, weekly maintenance can be as easy as cleaning the filter, changing out some of the water, and removing built-up residue. For younger children, an aquarium can create the perfect opportunity to learn the responsibilities of caring for a pet.

If you decide to go with a grander aquarium and a more opulent marine display, there are a few additional steps that need to be taken before your fish can move in. If you opt for a freshwater aquarium, you must first set up the aquarium (filled with water) and let the filter run for at least 24 hours. This will allow the good and bad bacteria in the aquarium to balance out. After that, you can add in a small number of hardy fish, such as danios or gourami, that can withstand a certain amount of ammonia and nitrites in the water. These small fish are generally non-aggressive and can get along with other fish in the vicinity.

Some other freshwater fish that are very popular include neon tetras, guppies, oscars (known to perform “tricks” and eat directly from the hand), mollies (watch out—they breed like bunnies!), platies, discus, and bettas. Not all these fish live harmoniously, so it is essential to do your research before buying a particular breed. You should never buy a fish simply because of its looks! Each species has its own set of care instructions; the more extensive these requirements, the more expensive it will be to care for your fishy friends.
Siamese Fighting fish

To care for a larger aquarium, be sure to check the temperature and pH levels daily. Weekly, replace at least 10 percent of the current water supply with fresh, clean water and clean away any residual algae that may have built up. Monthly, replace 25 percent of the tank’s water with clean water, inspect or replace the filter components, and trim growing plants (if necessary). For tanks under 55 gallons, an under-gravel filter or an external power filter is recommended to cycle the water continuously and draw out impurities.

A saltwater aquarium offers the exquisite beauty of saltwater fish, but there are many important factors to consider before making the costly and time-consuming decision to care for a saltwater aquarium. First of all: If the care and maintenance of a freshwater tank sounds like a lot, saltwater tank maintenance will make it seem like a walk in the park. Also, the cost to set up a saltwater aquarium is significantly higher than a freshwater tank. However, because of the element of saline in the water, owners have the fascinating option of growing a coral reef in their aquariums. Of course, there’s also the benefit of raising some stunning saltwater fish.

The most beautiful schooling saltwater fish are the tiny neon tetras, which are red with a neon blue stripe. Coral beauty angelfish, butterfly fish, clown fish, tangs, fire-fish, and dottybacks are all vibrantly colored and will create a symphony of color in any lobby or living space. Keep in mind that the rarity and beauty of saltwater fish can raise the price of your aquarium even more—prices can reach over $100 for a single fish, and some of them are not sold in pet stores.

Clown Fish

Consider starting an aquarium! It’s a great way to bring beauty to your home or office and to teach your kids about the responsibilities of pet ownership. As you likely know if you’ve ever gazed into an aquarium, watching fish can induce a meditative state with all its potential benefits, including lower blood pressure and decreased stress and anxiety.