Stories from middle America

I love having new contributors! And today I’m excited that my new studiomate, Daphne Eck, is sharing an insightful and honest observation of herself that sparked while working on a DIY backyard project. Daphne is a writer and creative strategist at She mostly lives in Omaha, Nebraska right now, where she takes on house projects that are beyond her actual skill level. Her husband, Caleb Coppock, currently has custody of their two sweet and slightly crotchety sister cats, Carol and Nancy, in Portland, Oregon. Daphne visits her three Portland loves quite often; you can almost call her bi-regional. Or would that be mid-coastal?

My DIY Backyard Patio

This spring, I built a retaining wall in my backyard and made it into a little patio area. When my husband and I moved into our house four years ago, the backyard was a long, narrow hill with a chain link fence bordered by a sad little row of daylilies and hostas. The first two years, I added more plants bit by bit. Last summer, we replaced the broken tin shed with a new one and had a flat patio area dug into the hill. Winter came and the project was still in progress, turning it all into a muddy mess. Meanwhile, my husband, Caleb, took a kick-ass job in Portland, Oregon, and we became a couple with a LDR.

With Caleb on the west coast, I continued the project on my own this spring. I built a retaining wall – all by myself! – then got a professional to pour a concrete pad. I filled everything in with so much dirt, planted a little sod, split a bunch of perennials from my own yard and pilfered a bunch more from my neighbors (with their blessing, of course). Now it’s a peaceful spot where I feel surrounded by beauty, yet set apart from the world. I’m so proud of what I’ve done!

The project has been well timed on a personal level, too; with all the changes that were happening with our now two-household lifestyle, I realized I needed to recalibrate some things. I began to receive all the time and space I had been given for what it really was – a gift. A chance to choose (again! always again!) the way of living and being that I really want for myself.

The outdoor physical activity and alone time was just what I needed while I processed and practiced my new ways. I had a lot of time to think as I dug trenches and learned how to level the ground. I listened to music, podcasts and books while lugging concrete blocks from the shelves at Lowe’s to my car to my backyard to the slowly growing wall. My muscles and my psyche both grew stronger as I shoveled and hauled and dumped what felt like a hundred wheelbarrows of dirt. One day, on the recommendation of my therapist, I sat in the backyard and watched this brilliant little video of Brene Brown spewing some wisdom about boundaries. And then I stayed a while longer to ponder it all. Turns out this DIY project had as much to do with my life as it did with stacking concrete blocks into a retaining wall.

patio before patio progress daphne patio progress patio after

A Garden With A Wall

When you realize that you’ve spent too long
Believing not-nice things about yourself.
When someone you don’t even like anymore
Told everyone that you’re to blame.
And you went ahead and believed them for a while,
But at the same time tried to prove them wrong.
And the I’m-not-right-inside feelings
Have festered inside and gripped your belly
Then bubbled up and out your throat,
Spilled onto those you love the most.

When you let your boss or pastor or weird idea of god have the deciding vote.
When you’re good and helpful and on point with all the things
Then are mean to your husband
Because dammit you’re tired of the striving,
And mad as hell about what you gave away,
And can’t he get with the program for once?
When “compassion” looks more like resentment than love.
When you don’t know what you’ll allow and what you won’t.
When you’re Nebraska Nice but way off track inside.

One friend tells me she’s not sweet, but she’s kind.
Another one says she’s never kept a boundary that felt too tight.
My neighbor told me she’d rather show what she believes than say it.
Someone I met the other day is certain their partner is doing their very best.
This other lady I know isn’t gonna make her sister-in-law prove shit.

What if I mustered the best thought about you that I could?
What if I went a little wild and did it for myself, too?
What if I just assumed the best of us all?
What if I only worked in the wholehearted variety of yes?
What if I allowed my “no” to resound?

What if I took this project on?
Created it from a picture that’s inside my head.
The neighbors couldn’t see it yet,
But I knew that it was gonna work.
I’d get my strong hands and back and arms and legs and YouTube to help.
I’d build a wall,
Not the kind to keep people out
But one to situate myself within.
I’d ground myself in the earth
Right here under the canopy.
Imagine it into existence,
Sketch out my plan on paper
(And even with the garden hose in the dirt).
Decide where to build it up,
And what to shovel out.
I’d dig the stone blocks in, almost a foot beneath the soil,
Build on that foundation,
Just high enough to create a cozy spot.

I’d make a garden out of it
Grow what comes to me–so long as it’s beautiful and free.
I’d dig out roots from my very own soil.
And gratefully receive others from my friends.

I’d water the new plantings every day,
Kill anything that didn’t belong in the sacred space
Then once it’s done, I’d plop myself down in this chair
And look at what I’ve done.
Take a minute with it.
Let it really soak in.

(A girl on her front porch, super proud of the plants she hasn’t killed.)

After reading and loving Amanda’s post on always identifying with being single, I wanted to take a cue from her writings to share how my journey has been 200% opposite of that.

A blind date in a small dark Omaha bar with champagne on tap, we met. Eight years ago I settled very nicely into the best love I’ve ever known but somehow, in some way, it fell apart. The silent war began. We couldn’t pull through. And the thing about being single, and not-as-young-as-I-once-was single, made the life I was facing a pretty big pill to swallow. Not to mention the gaping hole in my chest.

I always thought I related to single life. But, I realize now that I’m not sure I ever did. I had a boyfriend all through high school, after that I swiftly moved into a relationship during college that led to my son (who is now thirteen, I mean, WHOA!) and then came the man from the dark bar in Omaha. (Well, technically there have been two other men of significance along the way, but I’m going to follow Rob Gordon in High Fidelity and only discuss the ones who REALLY got to me – making my list of the top three, not the top five.)

I spent too much time after the man in the dark bar being inexplicably sad, desperately holding onto the fact that my life might not include a significant other. A brother or sister for my son; a two car garage; a fenced in yard with a dog or two; added to the list of things I thought I was losing by being single. I thought one thing – expected one thing – and toted around certain truths to get through the day. But I was missing all of it. Every single ounce of it.

After hiring a great sounding board (my therapist) I realized the benefits of taking the time to see who I actually was and not the expectation of who I thought I should be. **Off topic for a second: I think everyone should have a therapist. Not because anything is wrong with you, but because we should all have someone non bias to chat with in life. One who is actually educated in the process; one who can help you through; one who can explain any kinks. MENTAL HEALTH IS SO IMPORTANT. 

Over the past few years I’ve started to wear it differently. I’m more comfortable with the idea of being single, and more at ease with the notion that this is my tale. The rest has been my history, with the future open to whatever it brings.

I have made a load of good girlfriends. I have found things I’m passionate about accomplishing (other than being a good mother, duh!). I’ve downloaded Tinder and then quickly un-downloaded it because it’s literally the WORST if you actually want to date someone of substance. I stay up late a lot, but I have not mastered the pleasure of a good whiskey drink. Maybe with time, huh?

I’ve figured out that I can have the things I felt like I was missing being single. My son and I welcomed a dog to our pack. I have a one car garage and a landlord to call when I need something fixed around the house.

I look forward to more. In 5 years, when my son is headed out of my home, I may actually be in a position to travel. Traveling alone could really be a life changing experience and I can get excited about that…

“You’re not going to get all weird on me, are you?” Josh* asked. It was early on a weekend night, I had snuck home to meet him at my place.

Moving to Omaha had been an embarrassing cocktail of recovering from an unnecessary broken heart mixed with a few other painful interactions. I was finally on my way to “no strings attached.” This guy was immature, emotionally unavailable, and attractive. Perfection.

I’ve always identified with being single. Proms as the 11th wheel, sorority functions full of drunkenly exchanged numbers that I immediately lost, Facebook stalking, 12 bridesmaid dresses – these were the telltale signs of my life.

I concentrated on solidifying friendships with a rad girl squad. Pursuing romantic relationships seemed to make people an unattractive version of themselves (which includes especially, regrettably, myself).  

Besides – I always had a good story to tell.

Josh and I continued to hang out for months. Midnight texts and playing it cool, we both made it known that we were not interested in more. I relished in how attractive he found me and rarely sent the first text: a millennial’s guide to winning the game.

During a vacation with some girlfriends, forcing them to tag me on Facebook photos so Josh would know I was have a great time without him, a friend called me out.

“You’re wasting time on him because he can’t ultimately hurt you, you don’t matter to him and he doesn’t matter on you,” she said, tagging a photo of me hiking in the desert. I shrugged it off – who cared? Maybe I just didn’t want to hurt for a while. Maybe, I wanted to be The Cool Girl for once.

As the New Year approached, I loudly declared that the next year was the “year for me”: men would be an accessory to my enchanting single life. But, at a New Year’s Day hungover lunch party, an actual human walked into my life. Someone I found endlessly fascinating, handsome, driven and creative. He was pretty forward in the fact he was interested in me. Outwardly, I balked. Inwardly, I swooned.

The Cool Girl stayed out on school nights and drank whiskey with her best friends. The Cool Girl tried to download Tinder just for the stories. The Cool Girl always had her legs shaved and her apartment clean. The Cool Girl didn’t have serious relationships with emotionally mature adults.

But there he was, threatening my Cool Girl status. I lacked the energy to keep up with shaving my legs, let alone keep my apartment spotless. We stayed up so late talking the first weekend, I fell asleep a few nights later while a friend and I were out for wine, practically mid-sip. I fielded complaints from my friends that I wasn’t around anymore.

I tried desperately to hold onto my Cool Girlness, but it didn’t last long. I didn’t lose myself, either. All those years I spent terrified I’d leave part of myself behind if I shared my life, were wrong.

I recently attended a wedding where I wasn’t a bridesmaid, just an attendee. I watched, almost jealously, as the bridesmaids flocked around the bride and shared inside jokes and danced. It was the first wedding I had ever brought a date to, and instead of keeping the bride out of awkward in-law conversations, I sat in the back with my boyfriend and kissed his cheek.

I’m finding that I can still keep a little of my Cool Girl manifesto, and even imbibe in a little mid-week whiskey. My dreams and ambitions are not diminished when I decide to share my life with someone else, I get support and encouragement from my partner. I often find myself watching this beautiful person standing next to me, and I’m glad it took me this long to find him and have him prove me wrong.

*name changed cause duh.

I like to play this game where I bribe myself to run with the treat of cruising through some of Omaha’s loveliest neighborhoods. That way I can snap a photo of some gorgeous house while pretending I live there and feeling all fancy and stuff. Inevitably, I’ll get busted by the homeowner taking a pic, often as my dog decides it’s a great time to poop in the creeped-out homeowner’s yard. After awkwardly leaving their sidewalk, I’ll scoot away with a little gem to share. Victory!

These are just some of the houses that had me charmed enough to post to Instagram in the last year.

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Dundee FTW.

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Gold Coast with the landlocked Nebraska’s take on a widow’s walk.

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Dundee and that ivy.

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Bemis Park’s historic Victorian dream.

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Country Club’s modern “House of Tomorrow” from 1936. Shoutout to East of 72nd for the info.

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Country Club with a house that looks amazing in every season.

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Joslyn Castle. OK, I kind of cheated.

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Country Club and complete lamp post goals. Those alliums are pretty adorable too.

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This fairy tale house in Country Club.

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A handsome Country Club Tudor.

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Country Club Area (not sure exact neighborhood) with the best whitewashed brick.

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Country Club with a red tile roof.

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This is actually in the Westside neighborhood of KC. But it’s too good not to share.

It’s not my goal to invade anyone’s privacy, so I never like to share street addresses. But I simply can’t stop myself from this game. There are too many cool, stately, interesting, and proud homes in the Midwest.

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