Goody Two Shoes


For me, one of the many advantages of senior citizen status and semi-retirement is the rediscovery of time. While I presumably have less time to spend on this earth, I am more careful to choose how I use it. I am dedicating this blog post to my sister-in-law Kathy Shields who left us this Fall after a courageous struggle with illness and mortality. My husband lived in a birth family with one older brother and five sisters. (That’s a lot of sibling history and dynamics going on in my book.) Typically, I will only cultivate relationships with a few favorites in my extended family pool. Blessedly, I became acquainted with Kathy over the almost 2 years preceding her death. She was the mother of two young women. She seemed to love and enjoy spending time with her granddaughter. She dedicated her life to educating 2nd Grade students in Fremont, Nebraska. She was hardworking, thrifty, and gentile in her manner with zero swear words in her vocabulary. I learned something about humility and courage in our association. She was completely aware of how even brief human connections can help us grow wisdom and character. I will try to remember and share her contributions to my life’s direction and the daily path I choose.

God bless and keep you Kathryn.




September and October took me on enjoyable personal travel to Florida and Europe. It was comforting to see how maturity on everyone’s part can avoid toxic conflict and unnecessary drama. I greatly appreciate my family’s contributions to a New Age of Tolerance and Civility. I only wish we could roll this program out to and through the media. I am totally disgusted and honestly more than a little afraid of all the hate and vitriol I see daily on social media. The political cycle feeds this monster in a political climate of our own making. Of course, I am a recovering political road warrior myself. I understand how fear and irrational beliefs have always been a factor in political contests. Social media just shines a hot spotlight on all our anxiety and impatience. I try to be thoughtful, tactful and kind. I carefully reflect on my social media presence to be as authentic and constructive as I can. I appreciate that what I consider a strength may be viewed as a crippling weakness. I can live with that. I am proud to wear the mantle of “Little Goody Two Shoes.” I am in fact a do-gooder. I can also be a busy body. I can live with all that too.

                   GO BIG RED Miami 






I hear from more friends than foes on Facebook. I benefit from varied connections I have made. My life is enriched by information and perspectives I glean from Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, et al. Pinterest helps me flesh out my life story. I share this experience with my favorite cousin Micki. Instagram visually connects me with a sampling of interests, friends, family and miscellaneous persons of interest. Tumblr is a platform for this blog and others I mostly enjoy through photographs. I occasionally look at Google+ for random stuff on science and technology. Snapchat is a new addition where I was delighted to connect with my spouse and a grandson who shares status reports on geckos. The benefits of LinkedIn are not as obvious to me looking in the rearview mirror of my employment history. I still have some professional connections who carefully avoid Facebook, Twitter, etc. LinkedIn provides a snapshot of their journey if they remember to keep it current.


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Team Spirit

  I am blogging again after a much needed Summer vacation. I celebrated my 66th birthday and 30th wedding anniversary. 

Summer fun headshot

    My little dogs are 4 years old.            

 4 years   J's                                                                                                                                                                                       

My grandnieces in Florida are adorable.    

I am still processing some thoughts and feelings about my political experiences over the past decade. Before whining and opining much about this mostly enjoyable saga, I need to wrestle with one quandary.

What ever happened to my sense of humor?

I am pretty sure I used to be hilarious. Though as a younger child in Blair, I was a textbook introvert. This was convenient because I happened to dwell in a household where “seen but not heard” was tolerated, if not appreciated. I filled my 1950s childhood days with entertaining hours of T.V. viewing. I had outstanding comedy role models – Jack Benny, George Burns, Bob Cummings, Phil Silvers, Soupy Sales, Bugs Bunny, etc. Sure, these were all male entertainers, except maybe Bugs who was technically a cartoon. For some reason, I did not really appreciate the humor revolving around Lucy Ricardo in “I Love Lucy.” Fred Mertz always got some neighborly laughs at her expense. His amusement orbited the antics of Lucy and his wife Ethel. This made Fred a pretty big jerk in my eyes. Otherwise, I nostalgically recall feeling amused by most of my early exposure to comedy. I did not show much comedic potential myself until puberty when I lost my “cloak of invisibility.” I then discovered opportunities for social interaction.

I developed a humorous viewpoint that I shared with my peers from time to time. I think it all started on the city bus ride to R.M. Marrs Junior High School in Omaha. I recall exchanging verbal barbs with boys I found interesting or attractive. I would also whisper an occasional comment to my girlfriend disdaining our feminine competition. I have since learned that the signature type of humor I adopted as my own falls into the category of “Deadpan Snark.” This social construct served me well in high school, college, law school and well into my 30s. Around my 30th birthday, I did particularly notice that certain men who took themselves very seriously did not find my sarcastic comments all that amusing. Of course, this was not always a problem. Socially, I could just scorn and avoid the uninteresting dudes. I did not value their opinions or attention. Unfortunately, some of the totally dour fellows happened to be superiors in a professional work setting. This was harder to manage.

Another developmental milestone challenged my snarky perspective – I became a mother. Obviously, it is not at all nurturing to communicate with your child in a deadpan or sarcastic way. Nobody had to tell me this. It was basic human nature. I soon discovered that I had this new lilting “mother voice” that I used to speak to my child. This voice was higher in pitch, softer, soothing, and embodied my feelings of unconditional love. I think it conveyed my motherly love and support even when I was a stressed and scattered single mom. I take comfort in the fact that my son became a loving and responsible parent, although his political views went down a totally unexpected conservative path.

My late 30s and early 40s were spent in graduate school where I studied courses in psychology, psychotherapy, and social work strategies. Not much use of Deadpan Snark skills there. The insight I was given into empathy, compassion, tolerance, respect and Basic Humanity 101 took my own journey in another direction.

Along the way, I picked up another reason to put my humorous asides aside. I heard or read somewhere, possibly in Glamour, Cosmopolitan Magazine or a career self-improvement seminar, that sarcasm becomes unattractive when one attains middle age status. It is considered both sane and appropriate to be mature and earnest while aging into your enlightened years. I wanted to be taken seriously and appreciated for my character and hard earned wisdom. This instruction also coincided with the dawn of my political life. So, for the various reasons noted, my practiced and lethal snarkiness has faded into the beautiful Nebraska sunset. It has gone the way of saddle shoes, Slinkys and roller skate keys. It was great in its time and place, but now it is part of my “HERSTORY.”

IMG_1408 (2)     IMG_167690712072188    Charlene at O Finest

53633_492749248271_570333271_7109525_4688261_o    Smartphone download 309   IMG-20141104-02143


Thus far I have devoted 12 years of my life to Democratic Party activities. I was a Nebraska candidate in a total of 3 races: Congressional Democratic Primary 2004, Secretary of State 2010, and Attorney General 2014. I have served in several party leadership positions: Chair Nebraska Democratic Women’s Caucus, County Chair Dodge County, and First Congressional District Caucus Chair. I have served on the Nebraska Democratic Party Executive Committee and standing committees; i.e., Nominations, Rules, etc.

I have personally connected with thousands of Nebraska residents, considerably more if you count parades and the media. I found some lifelong friendships, and admittedly irritated more than a few in my statewide travels. Lots of acquaintances seem to really like me. I know some of these folks respect me. I truly appreciate it when friends and acquaintances share their life stories and journeys with me.

I have touted my academic background and professional resume, which is moderately impressive. I am a lawyer, mediator and counselor with degrees in Economics and Social Work. I am pretty well read in history, psychology, philosophy, world religions, and science. I have traveled to some interesting places near and far. I have served in leadership roles in non-profit organizations.

What truly surprises me, after all these years, is that I am hardly ever asked for advice or an opinion on any topic. Why, you ask? I honestly do not know. Of course, I do have theories and suspicions. Perhaps, a collective perception of my studious and analytical thinking combined with the devolution of my sense of humor? For now, I will spare readers the specific details of these musings. If you read earlier blog posts, you can likely see some themes emerging. If you have any guidance for me, I solicit your comments. What I am going to talk about in the rest of this post is some of the opinions I have curiously never been asked about.

Today, I am launching the debrief I was never asked to give. A brief description of context is probably necessary. There has been an on-going debate within the Democratic Party. I discovered and experienced this over the past decade. It concerns the allocation of resources, organizational structure and strategy. It applies directly to the electoral results of state parties. Nebraska is considered a “Red State” where registered Democrats are in the minority. The Nebraska Secretary of State reported that close to 31% of registered voters were Democrats for the 2014 General Election. In this electoral environment, a disturbing reality presents itself. It is in stark contrast to the concept “Too Big To Fail” we often hear in the media.


State Democratic Party. The Nebraska Democratic Party has a state convention every 2 years. Party leaders are elected for terms of 2- 4 years. It is only fair to acknowledge that these leaders are volunteers. They are not paid staff. They spend personal funds to travel, host events, make donations, etc. Democrats run for these offices for various reasons. You have the occasional leader who just wants to be somebody and have a platform from which to speak. Other leaders want to do something; often supporting a particular candidate, constituency or cause. Leaders at the top of the state party pyramid get to participate at the Democratic National Committee, and become super delegates at the Democratic National Convention. (I can only assume it must be interesting and exciting.) I appreciate the efforts of all the volunteers who actively participate in the activities of the Nebraska Democratic Party. Those who know me well will understand why my discussion does not end here.

The Nebraska Democratic Party has a Constitution and  Bylaws that are read and reviewed from time to time. A fair reading of the same suggests the existence of the party has some connection to electing Democrats to public office. The recent track record on this mission has not been good for at least a couple decades. A systematic and wide-ranging discussion of why and what to do about it is overdue.

My question of the Day: If you pay staff, rent and office expenses to manage events to raise funds used to pay salaries, rent and office expenses, are you really getting the job done? I know some other things get done along the way. I just think it is important to periodically and objectively look at the results. I understand this is where constructive feedback may come into play. What are we doing and how effectively? For the purpose of this discussion, I think we can assume Nebraska Democrats, if asked, would want leaders focusing more attention and resources on winning elections.

My decade in Nebraska Democratic politics led me to one inescapable conclusion. Candidates make a significant investment in the institution of the Nebraska Democratic Party. This is often a thankless and gratuitous gesture. In addition to the time and financial contribution candidates have in their own campaign, they are asked to contribute generously to various party coffers. For example, campaign costs for tables or tickets to Democratic Party events. Typically buying an entire table of seats will get the candidate’s name in the event program. An introduction from the podium is usually made. This “pay for play” tradition is harmless enough. It never gave me reason to throw in the towel. This custom just does not get anyone elected to office. Sometimes, it actually enables candidate dreams of reciprocal support that never materializes. This is a harsh reality candidates face. It can be a big disappointment to the novice campaigner. Candidate expectations of services and support may be fanciful in the current environment. Still, I think volunteer leaders of the Nebraska Democratic Party can do more to help their candidates.

It’s a conventional wisdom strategy to be a Czar (or Czarina) marshaling scarce troops and assets. When resources are limited, there are some other things to try. It is helpful to always remember enthusiasm and loyalty are free.  Party leaders, without incurring additional time or expense, can accept the role of volunteer coach. Here’s a hypothetical to consider: you coach your child’s sports team. They lose a lot. Do you quit? If not, why not? The same dynamics can apply to the Nebraska Democrats’ team. You cannot win if your team is complacent and expects to lose. You cannot motivate a team to win unless you believe in their potential and show it. You cannot win unless your political fan base throughout the state believes in your team’s ability and a viable shot at victory. You cannot win if you see your team as quixotic challengers to reigning champions. Your “brand” as the also-rans seems to be holding us back. It can still be re-imagined. This is best done by promoting, supporting and investing in your team. To belabor my amateur sports analogy – I believe it’s called having some skin in the game.

County Democratic Party organizations in Nebraska are distinct entities, often disorganized and disconnected. They may be carrying forward local traditions and annual events, or not so much. How do they encourage and help elect Democratic candidates to office in the 21st Century? Voting for the ticket and putting some yard signs on their lawn is never going to be enough. One obstacle is that Nebraskans really long to be on the winning team (see above). Currently, some of the fans and players on our team are too embarrassed to show their allegiance. As a Democratic candidate, it became apparent just how important it could be for state and local leaders to activate the base and various constituencies.This is not a job for a single leader or committee, but Nebraska Democrats need to take more ownership of the Party statewide and in their communities. Could it make a difference if Nebraska Democratic Party leaders rallied team spirit consistently throughout the state? It’s a daunting challenge for sure. If it was easy, we would not need your leadership.

Obviously, I have more to say on this and other topics that I will get to eventually. In conjunction with team spirit, I have been pondering the role of issue advocacy in building a Democratic voter base in Nebraska. The discouraging Voter Registration situation is an impediment worth some transparent reporting and disciplined scrutiny. If you are interested in the discussion, please join me! 


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Accidental Feminist Part 3


As I coasted to college graduation, I uncharacteristically spent some time considering the future. My spouse suggested I look for a job. Seriously? That was certainly not my top priority. I tried an employment agency. An undergraduate degree in Economics from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 1971 meant nothing, even if I was one of the top students.  I was offered 2 jobs as a Property and Casualty insurance underwriter at the disappointing salary of  $400 – $450 a month!  I suspected I might have done better if I had been a male graduate. Being a lifelong night owl, I was unwilling to get up early and to work by 8 a.m. for that amount of money.

Graduate school seemed an alternative until I discovered a new direction for my life’s journey. I really did not have the math skills to succeed in a graduate program in Economics. This was in a time long ago before personal computers or electronic calculators. My manual calculation skills matched my dreadful typing ability. What should I do?


The Young Lawyers 1969 – 1971.

Once again, a television program became the compass I used to set my course.  There was a show running about young lawyers helping the poor. It was sort of a “Mod Squad” with young lawyers instead of police. I watched it occasionally and noticed there was a streetwise woman lawyer in the mix. So …the idea of going to law school was born. It is helpful to recall that this was undiscovered territory for me.  The adults in my family never attended college. I did not know a single lawyer. I had watched Perry Mason for years. My working class parents, still absorbing my unexpected graduation from college, were incredulous when I reported an interest in law school.

I spent a gap year working the night shift at Hilton Reservation Service. I liked the work and learned about faraway places to visit. I am still working on that bucket list.

I applied to 2 law schools, University of Iowa and Creighton University, and was accepted at both. My enrollment decision was made when my husband extended his college graduation again. There was no Vietnam War reason for his delay anymore. (His Draft lottery number 6 had already been resolved by a 4F classification.) His plans of attending the Masters of Fine Arts program at Iowa were definitely slipping away. At the time, I was not as appreciative of his willingness to support me through law school as I could have been. I regret this now. Anyway, Creighton Law became the plan.

I was noticeably alarmed to learn that my Creighton scholarship would only pay for 1 semester’s tuition or books. The Student Finance office introduced me to the harsh reality of Student Loans. The process was streamlined. Getting myself in the Schoolof Law door was the easy part.

I knew nothing about law school, and did not think to look into it. I naively assumed it was a continuation of college with a focus on “The Law.” Of course, I was one of the students who arrived the first day not knowing I had missed almost 200 pages of assigned reading. We were then assigned seats alphabetically in all classes. Really? This was a bad omen.

The professors did not lecture or share much concrete information about the various Law courses we studied. They did challenge students ; i.e., verbally abuse us, with questions. I became aware that this vacuum of information was “The Socratic Method.” These drills did mirror press interview experiences I faced later in politics. The interrogator asks a series of questions until you embarrass yourself, and then noticeably smirks at your deficiencies. This “communication”style always conflicted with my mother’s earnest guidance on manners.

There were 14 women in my freshman class at Creighton Law – roughly 10% of the total students. One of the women students dropped out before 2 weeks. I often wondered if she made the wise choice. My own rationale for staying was dubious. I had suffered the worst 2 weeks of my life, and it would be for nothing if I did not get a law degree!


Law School Entertainment Therapy

I was blessed with great friends during my Creighton years. We bonded around our stress and deflated egos. We felt collectively vindicated by the movie “The Paper Chase” that proved to the world that we were all being disrespected and victimized. We were good students and graduated at the top of our class. I became a mother 3 weeks into to my senior year. My close friends were very supportive. Most of the faculty pretended not to notice that I was barely able to squeeze into my classroom seat and then absent for 3 weeks.

I became a Feminist in spite of myself. There were several guideposts on this leg of my journey.

I had read a book titled “The Feminist Mystique” by Betty Friedan in my gap year before Creighton. This book resonated with me to an extent I had not experienced up to that point and have not felt again. It explained the underlying low grade sadness I had seen in my mother’s life. It also evidenced some of the obstacles I faced in my own personal goals and relationships. It revealed my current situation in a light I might never have discovered on my own. I am not sure the book would mean so much to a woman of the Millennial generation today. It was the Rosetta Stone for Baby Boomers like myself.

Constitutional Law was a freshman requirement. I was an devoted student of History so I enjoyed this course more than most. At some point in the year, we received a pocket part insert for our already too heavy Con Law casebook. It had a “hot off the press” Supreme Court opinion Roe v. Wade. I learned much later that this case was apparently a really big deal. In typical Janet Elizabeth Stewart fashion I had no clue. I had literally heard nothing about the case before it became assigned reading. I am going to share my personal evolution on reproductive rights, at some point. This particular post will focus on another revelation that solidified my identity as an “Accidental Feminist.”  A defining moment in my political evolution emanated from “The Equal Rights Amendment.”

I had an unbelievably uninformed understanding of the Feminist movement. I belatedly noticed that I gave up my maiden name unnecessarily, which I instantly regretted. Otherwise, I kept some distance from the few so-called “feminists” I encountered in my later college years. These young women seemed to have more interest in my husband who held court in the UNO student center playing Bridge and opining on the issues of the day. One of these women actually scolded me over the telephone for my resistance to her efforts to marginalize my marriage. Apparently, I was too possessive with some lingering Middle Class values. I really did not appreciate the competition or criticism.

One day, I was approached by a Creighton classmate who revealed that several of my law student peers would be travelling to Lincoln to witness the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature’s reconsideration of the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA was another historical moment that had passed under my personal radar screen. I had not become aware of its passage, the ratification process underway in the States, or that Nebraska had been one of the first states to ratify the amendment to the United States Constitution. Having a mountain of reading assignments, I somewhat reluctantly agreed to join in the pilgrimage. I became a Feminist true believer in Lincoln, Nebraska, the next day.

Arriving at the Unicameral, I witnessed our democratic process firsthand. A line of yellow school buses had transported groups of spectators on both sides of the issue. We crowded into the gallery and watched the spectacle unfold below on the floor of the Legislature. The orchestra appeared to be conducted by a Senator named Richard Proud who, in my memory after some 40+ years, exhibited a smarmy demeanor opposing women like me just seeking some fairness. Some snazzy woman from out-of-state had been brought in to fluff up the egos of male legislators and explain how they had been sold a bill of goods by some of their women colleagues.

Nebraska had actually ratified the ERA quickly having been swayed by the opportunity to “make history” by being the first state legislature to do so. (The half-baked decision making process is something I have seen on more than one occasion at the Nebraska Unicameral.) Hawaii, having a time zone advantage, beat Nebraska to the prize, which was a hard pill for some state senators to swallow. After the fact, groups opposed to gender equality had the opportunity to feverishly protest the outcome. Nebraska rescinded its prior ratification of the ERA – not the first or last time a reactionary public policy decision was swayed by ignorance and fear in the Cornhusker State.

I was heartbroken by what I saw on the Unicameral floor that day. When my group dejectedly returned to Creighton Law, we endured the comments of previously admired professors who patiently explained why the Equal Rights Amendment was not needed. My professional and political life since is a reflection of their mistaken and insulting Conventional Wisdom and legal prophesy espoused on that day. Nebraska legislators and legal scholars abandoned me and other women just when we needed their understanding and support the most. 

For more information about the history and current status of the ERA you can visit:


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Accidental Feminist Part 2


RECAP I closed out the 1960’s by defying my working class family’s wishes BIG TIME.



While attending the University of Nebraska at Omaha, I impulsively married another student who I hardly knew. It amazes me now to comprehend the uncharacteristic courage I discovered in September 1969. I turned my back on a socialized conformity to launch my adulthood.  A lot of my peers did the same, but I was probably more timid and shy than most.

My birth family really did not preach values to me in any overbearing way. I noticed Patriotism was important to us and we were Protestants. Mother shared some early instruction on how to behave as a  lady.  “Little lady” challenges exist in my earliest memories. As a toddler, and much to Elaine Stewart’s embarrassment, I showed off my ruffly new underpants on a visit to downtown merchants. She had taken such pride in dressing me up, I incorrectly guessed she wanted the folks to see the whole outfit. Mommy was amused, but explained my awkward social transgression. She hoped I would be more demure in the future. I mostly complied and still do for the most part.

Following my hasty marriage to Bruce Arnold, I moved into the basement of my new in-law’s North Omaha home. My trendy bargain basement wardrobe and 30 pairs of shoes were added into my young husband’s closet. Our space was in a cinder block room with temperatures that ranged from cool to cold depending on the season. The bathroom facilities were spartan and icy in Winter. I had some experience with freezing toilet and showers at one of my family’s rental abodes so I knew what to expect.


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