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Cindy Lange-Kubick: Grateful for the Gratitude and a magical baker named Kat

The musicians set up every weekend at the bakery in the old bank building in Bethany — the Toasted Ponies or Paddywhack, Big Bluestem Boys or Aunt Bunnie’s Parlor, Chris Sayre or the Crabgrass Duo.

They love the intimacy. A small stage carved out in front of the window, the wood-plank tables, like a living room with live music instead of a Sony flat screen.

They love Kat Cloran, too.

The laid-back baker is behind the counter in her stocking cap Saturday night, serving scones and gooey pecan rolls and coffee cake dusted with sugar, fair-trade coffee and bottles of locally brewed beer and wine.

KAYLA WOLF, Journal Star 

Kat Cloran plates an apple handpie for a customer Saturday at Gratitude Bakery. 

A duo called Ace & Dan are picking tunes on acoustic guitars for the small, attentive audience.

When they shut down the show at 9 p.m. — bakers go to bed early — Dan Cox calls out a reminder about a gig next Saturday across the street at the Cotner Center: six hours, six bands, a bake sale and beverages.

“We gotta support the Gratitude,” he says. “They’ve done a lot for our community and we need to help get them out of their structural difficulties.”

Then the two men pick up their pay. Ten percent of sales. Whatever was in that tip jar.

And the best part: brown-paper sacks filled with Kat’s homebaked goodness and a hug to go with it.

* * *

In the ‘90s, a north Lincoln girl spent Saturday mornings on the Bethany strip, hanging out at the Daylight Donuts shop while her parents haunted the antique shops in the old neighborhood business district.

The doughnut shop closed long ago and the antique stores, too, along with the beauty shop on the corner of North Cotner Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, where the First State Bank of Bethany had been built in 1914.

Kat bought that classical revival building in 2012. She brought it up to code, adding a handicapped-accessible ramp and building a bathroom in the old bank vault.

She opened her own business the next year. She called it Gratitude Cafe Bakery, after the lyrics of a Jason Mraz song. I keep my life on a heavy rotation … up up and away and over to a table at the Gratitude Cafe ...

She decorated with thrift store oil paintings and wooden signs and old family photos. She sold her homemade Groovy Guru Granola, prepared in rented commercial kitchens and hawked at farmers markets and craft fairs and art shows for years before the cafe came to be.

She sold fair-trade goods — chutney and coffees and textiles and pottery bowls.

She got up at 4 a.m.

“It was going to be smoothies and soup,” Kat says. “But that didn’t work out; a bakery was the path of least resistance.”

Soup makes an appearance on the rotating vegetarian lunch and dinner menu, but always there are scones and rolls and cookies, bars and muffins and cakes like grandma baked, filling the bakery case.

And Kat, smiling. Complimenting your stocking cap (thank you so much), wondering how your day is going (better as soon as I eat that cinnamon roll).

“Kat might just to be the kindest, gentlest soul that you and I will ever meet,” says musician Terry Keefe, a regular on the Gratitude stage. “She’s just a very lovely person.”

Saturday, Terry will do his part to support a bakery in need of repair.

“We’re hoping to get some people in and raise a little money for her. It’s just such a welcoming place and she runs the business by herself with some help from her mom.”

And Kat is grateful for the help.

Her brick building does need some love, she says, even though she tried for a long while to keep it quiet.

Her customers first found out about the trouble at 1551 North Cotner — a bad roof, a caving foundation and crumbling sidewalks — when they saw her meeting with contractors during business hours.

“They started getting really worried and a rumor started circulating that we were closing,” she says. “Then they just ran away with their generosity.”

* * *

C.A. Waller doesn’t like to call Saturday’s event a fundraiser.

The idea is to make money, yes, but it’s more than that.

“It’s just one way to take what she has — a community — and the musicians that feed that community, and show what the place is like.”

The longtime Lincoln musician calls Gratitude his favorite place to play and Kat’s food “magical, for lack of a better term.”

KAYLA WOLF, Journal Star 

Musicians (from left) Ace Bettinger and Dan Cox perform live music Saturday at Gratitude Bakery. A Saturday event with six bands performing at the Cotner Center will help raise money for the Bethany bakery, which needs structural repairs.

That works for me and it works for Sandy McBride and Bruce Chapman, who live around the corner and watched the bakery take shape during neighborhood walks.

“After it finally opened, we realized how dangerous it was having a really fabulous bakery two blocks from our house,” Sandy says.

By now, Kat knows their favorites, putting up Post-it notes for her mom on Saturdays — Make sure Bruce gets orange roll for Sandy! — and doing the same for the rest of her regulars.

She gives back, baking for the neighborhood church and local benefits, Sandy says.

“She’s really made it part of the Bethany community. And her musicians would do anything for her.”

That’s why they’ll be playing tunes for six hours Saturday — showing some gratitude for the baker they love.

“Kat’s turned out to be a real joy in my life,” Waller says, “not just because of the food, but because she’s a dear, dear person.”

Photos: Most mouth-watering bakeries in Lincoln

The most mouth-watering bakeries in Lincoln

Nebraska senators weigh special session on property tax relief

A quiet movement was underway in the Legislature on Monday to consider whether to summon senators back to Lincoln this summer for a special session targeting property tax relief.

Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon said he already has acquired commitments from more than the required 10 senators needed to request the secretary of state to poll all 49 senators to measure their support for a special session to try to reach agreement on tax reform. 

The bar is high: the support of at least two-thirds of the membership, 33 of the 49 senators, would be required to summon the Legislature into special session.

And the challenge is daunting: tackling an issue that has deadlocked the current legislative session, which is scheduled to complete its 60-day session next week.

Brewer said his effort is designed in part to "force a discussion" before any decision is made on whether to pursue such an avenue.

"We want to give everyone time to weigh in," he said.

Acquiring support of at least 33 senators "wouldn't be easy," Brewer noted.

But, he said, the Legislature should consider all options, including extension of the current 60-day session, before yielding on the issue.

Extending the current session would require the support of at least 40 senators, Brewer said, and that number seems far beyond reach.

Pressure to resolve the issue in the Legislature is being applied daily by a statewide petition drive to place a billion-dollar property tax relief initiative on the November general election ballot.

That measure would rely on refundable state income tax credits to fund property tax relief amounting to 50 percent of local school property taxes paid.

Approval of that initiative would open a huge hole in the revenue stream that supports state government and confront the 2019 legislative session with the daunting challenge of filling that gap with other tax increases or reduction in programs and services, or a combination of both. 

A last-ditch effort to secure legislative agreement on property tax relief along with other tax reform collapsed Sunday night after two weekend negotiating sessions summoned by Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk that brought sponsors of competing tax bills into urgent and private final negotiations. 

Monday, Scheer erased the three remaining legislative tax packages from the Legislature's agenda, marking an end to this session's efforts to achieve agreement on a tax plan. 

Trump furious after FBI seizes documents from his lawyer

WASHINGTON — Federal agents Monday raided the office of President Donald Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen, seizing records on topics including a $130,000 payment made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

A furious Trump, who in the last month has escalated his attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, said from the White House that it was a "disgrace" that the FBI "broke into" his lawyer's office. He called Mueller's investigation "an attack on our country," prompting new speculation that he might seek the removal of the Justice Department's special counsel.

The raid was done by the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan and was based at least partly on a referral from Mueller, according to Cohen's lawyer, Stephen Ryan.

"The decision by the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York to conduct their investigation using search warrants is completely inappropriate and unnecessary," Ryan said in a statement. "It resulted in the unnecessary seizure of protected attorney client communications between a lawyer and his clients."

The raid creates a new legal headache for Trump even as he and his attorneys weigh whether to agree to an interview with Mueller's team, which in addition to investigating potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign is also examining whether the president's actions constitute obstruction of justice.

The law enforcement action will almost certainly amplify the public scrutiny on the payment to Daniels, who says she had sex with Trump in 2006. The payment was made just days before the 2016 presidential election, and Trump told reporters last week that he did not know about it.

To obtain a warrant, prosecutors and agents must convince a judge that they have probable cause of criminal activity and that they believe they'll find evidence of wrongdoing in a search. A warrant requires multiple levels of approval within the Justice Department, and agency guidelines impose additional hurdles when the target of a search is an attorney such as Cohen.

Authorities working with Mueller chose a similar tactic last summer when they raided the Virginia home of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was subsequently indicted and is awaiting trial.

In this case, though, Mueller opted to refer the matter to federal prosecutors in Manhattan. Besides Cohen's office, agents also searched a hotel room where he's been staying while his home is under renovation.

Under Justice Department regulations, Mueller is required to consult with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein when his investigators uncover new evidence that may fall outside his original mandate. Rosenstein then will determine whether to allow Mueller to proceed or to assign the matter to another U.S. attorney or another part of the Justice Department.

A spokesman for Mueller's office did not immediately return a call seeking comment. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the U.S. attorney's office also had no comment. The New York Times first reported on Monday's raid.

Ryan did not elaborate on the documents that were taken from Cohen's office but said he has cooperated with investigators, including meeting last summer with lawmakers looking into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Cohen has more recently attracted attention for his acknowledgment that he paid Daniels $130,000 out of his own pocket just days before the 2016 presidential election. Cohen has said neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Daniels and he was not reimbursed for the payment.

Several former officials at the Federal Election Commission have said the payment appears to be a violation of campaign finance laws, and multiple Washington-based groups have filed complaints with the FEC, urging it to investigate.

There have been few signs that Mueller was interested in investigating the payment, though. One Mueller witness, former Trump aide Sam Nunberg, recently connected the special counsel with the payment, saying in an interview on MSNBC last month that prosecutors had asked him about it.

Trump answered questions about Daniels for the first time last week, saying he had no knowledge of the payment made by Cohen and he didn't know where Cohen had gotten the money. The White House has consistently said Trump denies the affair.

Daniels has said she had sex with the president in 2006. She has been suing to invalidate the nondisclosure agreement she signed before the election and has offered to return the $130,000 she was paid in order to "set the record straight."

Daniels argues the agreement is legally invalid because it was signed by only Daniels and Cohen, and was not signed by Trump.

Last month, Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, sent letters to the Trump Organization demanding the business preserve all of its records relating to the $130,000 transaction.

The letter demanded it preserve all emails by Cohen that mention Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, as well as any emails and text messages related to the alleged relationship. He sent similar demand letters to two banks — City National and First Republic — asking they preserve documents connected to the transaction.