Stories from middle America

I was sitting in the place where my grandmother died just 12 hours earlier.

In the time it took me to pack, grab my work computer and drive four hours to my hometown – her imprint on my childhood home was already vanishing. Where hospice had put her hospital bed the couch now sat, quickly replacing the empty spot in the living room. I sat on the third cushion in from the inside wall and read the evening news headlines.

This is death. To help with the pain, we try to go back to normal as quickly as possible.

Jewelry

Two years ago, Gram left her beloved Florida to live with my parents. Dementia paralyzed her mind into an almost-toddler state. My mom cared for her own mother in ways that mirror how my brother takes care of his five-year-old daughter. She stepped up to the task with little question; it was just what she had to do.

There’s a hint of the things my mom is free to do now. Today, we drove to a town an hour away and grabbed a burger. For the last two years, mom would have been glued to her phone; worried a home healthcare nurse would call with an emergency.

But no one wants to say anything about that.

No one wants to tell my mom that the norm of her last two years is now different. We don’t want to get excited about the weekend trips that she and my dad can take now. In the back of our minds, there’s the spicy chili my dad can make again. No one wants it to be different, but yet – they do. Because getting old, as my Gram would say, is for the birds. And watching your loved one slide downward is hell.

Death can feel incredibly personal even when it has nothing to do with you. An accident you hear about from a friend of a friend. An obituary you read in the newspaper. We never talk about it, and it’s always there. I thought about the bartender who served me a beer at lunch the day I left town. I can still see her, in an ivory and black printed shirt and bright pink matte lipstick. She smiled at me with those pink lips and asked why I was driving four hours into the middle of Nebraska on a Tuesday.

“My grandmother died,” I answered, with slight hesitation. I knew what would come next: the apology. The sorry everyone says when someone dies. The sorry I don’t know how to respond to because it was time for Gram to go. The sorry that makes me feel bad for my mom, for losing her mother. The sorry I worry about receiving when it’s my turn to lose a parent. I instantly regretted exposing my personal tragedy to a stranger when I could have just said “for family.”

Last night, I was elected to stay in Gram’s old room since the three other bedrooms were taken. New sheets and blankets were put down. But it smelled like her. I slept with the light on, opposite of her spot, and stared at her pillow. I wasn’t that close to her. I felt the predictable pang of regret for not trying harder before dementia took her. I felt the predictable resentment for her not trying harder.

Bed

When I think about the death of my Gram and about when I’ll take care of my own family, I think about what kind of legacy I want to leave. I will not be remembered for my subpar musical talents or nonexistent basketball skills. My mother has given me the greatest lesson there is: We accept the love we think we deserve, and we deserve great love from those we chose to surround ourselves with. My legacy, I hope, will be that those I care about will never have to question my love. I’ve never had to question hers.

Rest in peace, Gram. You raised one hell of a woman in my mom.

Photo album

I spoke to a college class last week about Birdhouse and COOP and my vision for both. At first I didn’t really know what to say, but as the students asked more questions, I realized I was consistently telling a story. The story of what I care about.

I care about exposing people to original art. I care about designing with vintage pieces full of history and character. I care about working with local makers and not taking myself too seriously. Those have been my guiding principles for the last five and a half years, in business and in my personal life.

When my friends at hutch were looking to scale their furniture store in a similar manner, with similar principles, it made a lot of sense for us to figure out how to continue to collaborate with each other.

Previously, hutch had exclusively been a vintage furniture store. Now they wanted to expand their offerings to include new, contemporary pieces and work with a lot of the local makers that Birdhouse has partnered with over the years. It sounded like a great opportunity for Omaha to have a highly curated and design-focused store. So when they approached us to stylize the individual room vignettes, mixing and layering pieces to create a more intimate and homey feel, we were game for the challenge.

After a lot of work and a lot of planning, hutch finally opened their doors a few weeks ago, and I’m excited about the feedback the shop has gotten so far from our city.

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The first complete room vignette as you enter the space. Accessorized shelves line the opposite wall. 

The space flows from one room vignette to the next, a layout that navigates people naturally throughout the store. Brandon and Nick (hutch fellas) were very cognizant of the need for that natural guidance. They also wanted us to alternate the functionality of the vignettes from living room to dining room and so on.

A particular challenge for me were several walls of shelves throughout the store that showcase loads of accessories. Ginger helped a hutch employee with all the visual merchandising. They killed it, thankfully. Before they got on it, I was just standing at those shelves like, “Huh?” Note to self: Merchandising is very different from styling.

hutch

A combined living room and dining room vignette featuring Gus Modern furniture, a media cabinet by local furniture designer Roost Artisan Home, handmade table lamp from Roger + Chris, and art pieces by Nicholas Bohac, Kim Darling, and Sarah Rowe

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Matryoshka by Nicholas Bohac, Media Cabinet by Roost Artisan Home, and Jack lamp from Roger + Chris.  Kim Darling art pieces.

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The room vignette that guests pass through at the front of the store. (You can barely see the door to my office back by the exit sign.)

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Gus Modern dining table and chairs, Roost Credenza, Bend pendant light and stool, and Matt Carlson limited edition screen prints.

Though I’m incredibly excited about the end results, there were a few challenges to this job. The retail floor space is close to 4,000 square feet. That’s big, and at times it felt overwhelming. I also didn’t source any of the furniture or accessories. Basically, I had to take a giant box with pre-selected pieces and put a crazy puzzle together. Holy buckets! That was not easy. But I think it honed my skills substantially and forced me to trust my gut more.

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A complete blank slate to start out with at hutch.

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Sooooo much empty space to fill!

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I did help curate some of the original art in the space. These limited edition prints are by local artist Matt Carlson

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Art by Kira Nam Greene. Yellow couch by Gus Modern.

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Nicholas Bohac art, Kartel pendant light and table lamp. Vintage Bertoia chairs. 

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 The vignette as you circle to the back of the store.

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A group of Peter Cales ceramic and wood balloons hang from the ceiling in a large area in the back of the shop.

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Kim Darling art

Looking ahead, the fellas at hutch and I realized that it would be fun to designate one room vignette where Birdhouse will receive complete creative control. hutch carries some really great lines of furniture and accessories, and we’ll have access to new arrivals before they’re even on the showroom floor. I’ll be like a kid in a candy store: free reign to cherry pick all my favorites and put together a showstopper room!

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The largest combined vignette. Kim Darling large art, vintage dining set, and Nicholas Bohac art in the salon wall. 

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My favorite vignette. I am slightly obsessed with this pink Gus Modern couch and I can always support some gold lamp action. Art by Kim Darling, throw pillows from Ferm Living.

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Art by Kim Darling. Fig tree from Mulhall’s.

Along with stylizing the store vignettes, Birdhouse has a small studio office housed within hutch. We collaborate on events often, and I source a fair amount of their pieces, so I love that my clients can get a peek at them in-house. However, we aren’t their in-house designer — we’re more similar to a co-op of sorts. By piggybacking our services onto one another, we can continue to inspire and challenge each other to give Omaha an amazing resource for furniture, art and design.

All photos by Dana Damewood Photography.

Three years ago I was living in South Asia. I’d never really tried to meditate before, but just a couple months before my yoga-teacher training in India I was finally open to the idea. On the plane flying into Kathmandu, I saw a blurb in the Nepal Lonely Planet about a 10-day silent meditation course. Fast forward two weeks, and I found myself on a bus headed into the foothills outside the city to a Vipassana Meditation Center.

How meditation ruined my life and put it back together again

Vipassana is a form of meditation popularized by Gautama Buddha during his lifetime. The practice, also referred to as “The Art of Living,” has experienced a resurgence in Asia and beyond in recent years. During the 10-day course, meditators take a vow of noble silence, which means no talking, eye contact or interaction whatsoever. I surrendered my laptop, phone, books and writing materials. Each day started at 4:30 a.m. and held more than 10 hours of seated meditation.

It made me deal with my past

I was surprised by what happened as I sat in silence trying to observe my breath.
I got really angry.
I kept thinking about people who’d done me wrong.
I thought about times in my life when I’d felt victimized or treated unfairly.

How meditation ruined my life and put it back together again

That went on for a couple of days until I started to understand that I was only a victim because that’s what I was telling myself. I started to recognize my habit of blaming others without taking responsibility for my own actions.

I also realized that my behavior as a human being had been less than stellar in recent years. I’d been selfish and hurt people who cared a lot about me. I’d been fueled by resentment that was only tearing me apart. It made me sad and embarrassed to think about all that wasted time and energy. But it also motivated me to make a change in myself that would have ripple effects into the world around me.

The stillness and the silence are productivity tools

That was the start of my desire to live more mindfully. Through this practice of observation without reaction or judgement, I’ve learned to be more accepting of the present moment without trying to control everything. I’ve cultivated a genuine sense of compassion that shades everything I see in the world. It’s taught me to trust my instincts and to be less afraid to express my truth.

Practicing meditation and mindfulness has transformed every aspect of my life. It’s a major productivity tool in my work. When I’m feeling stressed or unsure of my next move, I just sit with eyes closed, observing my breath to help refocus.
It does the trick.
Every.
Single.
Time.

You can do this! Just start slow

The best part is that you don’t need to take a vow of silence or go to another country to learn how to benefit from these techniques. You just need an open mind and a few minutes.

How meditation ruined my life and put it back together again

Sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Start to observe your breath. Notice any sensations that come with the inhale and exhale. When you notice your mind wandering, just gently guide your awareness back to the breath without any judgement. Know that it’s completely normal to feel distracted. It gets easier with practice. Start by setting a timer for two to five minutes. Extend the time as you feel comfortable. I aim for 20 to 30 minutes daily and sometimes break that into two different sittings depending on my schedule.

There are many different types of meditation. And you can find a plethora of great free resources online. It’s worth exploring a little to see what style you like best. That way you’re more likely to stick with it. It’s also worth noting that you can turn any activity into a meditation by bringing all of your awareness to whatever it is that you’re doing.

Good luck and happy meditating!

I mentioned last time that deviled eggs are the perfect blank-slate snack because you can build so many great flavors on top of a simple base: the yolks of 6 eggs, 2 tablespoons mayo, and 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard.

For example, yesterday I showed you the magic of the Sriracha deviled egg. Now it’s time to experience two more delicious (and super easy) variations — tuna deviled eggs, flavored with lemon and capers, and beet-stained deviled eggs with goat cheese.

Tuna deviled eggs

Tuna deviled eggs Squeezing lemon for deviled eggs Ingredients for Tuna deviled eggs Filling tuna deviled eggs Adding parsley

6 hard-cooked eggs, peeled, halved, and yolks placed in bowl
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp mayo
1 4-oz can albacore tuna, drained and flaked
1 Tbsp lemon juice
3 anchovies, minced
1 Tbsp capers, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
fresh parsley leaves for garnish

Combine yolks and next 7 ingredients in medium bowl making sure to thoroughly mash the yolks. Add salt and pepper to taste. Using two small spoons or a spoon and small spatula, fill whites with mixture, and top with fresh parsley leaves.

Beet-stained deviled eggs

Beet pickled deviled eggs Ingredients for beetpickled deviled eggs Mixing ingredients for beetpickled deviled eggs Filling beetpickled deviled eggs

For beet pickling liquid:
6 hard-cooked eggs, peeled
1 ½ cups water
1 medium beet, peeled and sliced
½ cup white distilled vinegar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced

For filling:
6 hard-cooked, beet-pickled eggs, halved, and yolks placed in bowl
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons mayo
2 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
fresh parsley leaves, for garnish

Bring water, beets, vinegar, sugar, salt and onion to a boil in a medium saucepan. Lower heat to a simmer, cover and allow to cook until beets are tender, about 25 minutes. Cool completely, uncovered. Place eggs in a container or jar (I used a quart mason jar) and pour beet pickling liquid over, making sure to completely cover eggs. Place jar in refrigerator and allow to marinate at least two hours, or overnight.

Remove eggs from jar and pat dry, discard pickling liquid. Combine yolks and next 6 ingredients in medium bowl making sure to thoroughly mash the yolks. Add salt and pepper to taste. Using two small spoons, or a spoon and small spatula, fill whites with mixture, and top with parsley.

Three deviled egg recipes

All photos by Hooton Images