Stories from middle America

(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…

I have spent almost an entire year finding excuses to not finish a living room revival I committed to last summer.

But, to be fair, one excuse is pretty legit. An excuse that may haunt me forever: my budget. It’s always encouraging me to get back to the basics and just live with what I have.

I truly believe in the value of a well-thought-out design. Obviously. That’s what I do everyday at Birdhouse. However, I live in a world that doesn’t always understand that value. It’s sometimes difficult to calculate the monetary value of my professional experience, and it’s even harder to explain that value to a very money-focused society. So I’m using my own living room revival to demonstrate how a professional (me!) can help create a space with aesthetic qualities to love, a space that helps a family function, and a space where family can interact with one another easily and comfortably.

By addressing certain problems within my own living room, I was able to come up with a solution for a room that functioned at its best.

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Problem: Elongated shape of the room and an awkward layout off the dining room.

Solution: I created a main conversation/television watching area on the long wall of the room and another little seating area along the short wall. I layered a variety of textures and accessories to trick the eye into believing the room had better flow, mostly by focusing on other really personal additions to the room. I added new lighting, a new-to-me peacock wicker chair, a new walnut coffee table with the most amazing shape, and gave everything an overall edit to tame all the colors going on in my styling habits.

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The coffee table was built by Benjamin Petersen of Timbersmith. I worked closely with him to make this table something really special. I sent him an inspiration shape and an overall concept for the table. After selecting the materials to be used — walnut and hairpin legs — he built this one-of-a-kind piece for me. I am overwhelmed with the result!

Problem: Budget

Solution: Make a list of items needed and shop according to those needs. This eliminates excess spending. I found the peacock wicker chair for $9 at a local antique store. I selected lighting that was inexpensive: the floor lamp by the wicker chair I found at Target and the new floor lamp to the left of my sofa is IKEA. I also added depth to the room with new, lighter curtain panels. I took these panels all the way to the ceiling to create an illusion of height.

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These panels are Nate Burkus for Target and just what my budget was looking for.

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Lastly, I restyled my bookshelves by editing all the color I had previously incorporated. This helped make it more cohesive and pleasing. It’s still an eclectic mix but now a mix that all works together.

Even though I don’t love the extended completion date this project ended up having (!), I’m happy that it stayed true to the concept I created. It’s turned my living room into one the most enjoyable spaces for my family and me. As a designer, that is my North Star, my point. This project is so close to finished. I’m still on the hunt for artwork above my sofa though.

Problem: Art budget

Solution: Make my own original art. I LOVE original art, but my budget just won’t allow for that. By bouncing several of my ideas off Jessica, we’ve come up with a concept for this art that fits me completely. But, shh! The only thing I’m going to share about my art today is it’s vibe board.

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I apologize for the very amateur photos I’ve got here for now. Until I have my artwork complete and have professional photos taken, these will have to do. Stay tuned!

Never underestimate the power of a clothing exchange. You can purge your closet of unloved clothing and bring it to new life with fresh garments — all in one fell swoop.

That’s why Heather and I decided we needed to host one. We were each tired of standing in front of our closets on a daily basis with glazed-over eyes, empty of all inspiration.

Heather offered up her photography studio as a space for the event, and I offered up the mixing of a cocktail. One Facebook invite later… voilà!

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The system of a successful clothing swap

When our guests arrived, they traded in their clothes for tickets with which to “buy” other clothes. We had three ticket levels:

  • Thrifty ($0-$25)
  • Moderate ($25-$75)
  • Splurge ($75+)

To make the shopping fair and fun, we had an upgrade system! Three Thrifty tickets obviously got you three Thrifty items, or you could use all three to get one Splurge item. Two Thrifty tickets got you one Moderate item. Alternatively, if you had one splurge ticket, you could pick out three Thrifty items or two Moderate pieces. Get the idea?

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Of course, we had jewelry in the mix, as well as shoes. The jewelry was kind of a steal. You could trade one Thrifty ticket for four pieces of jewelry!

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After all of our guests had spent all their tickets and drank at least one mixed cocktail, they left with new ideas and new inspiration. Heather and I gathered up anything that hadn’t found a new home and bagged them up to deliver to Goodwill. Nothing like a full recycle of these no-longer-worn clothes!

The night was such a success that we plan to have the event again. Be sure to watch for the invite so you and your unwanted clothes can attend!

It was a Monday, and Mondays are my day to work from home. Working from home usually equals me makeup-less in my PJs, sipping coffee at my computer. So you can imagine my surprise when I received a compliment from a stranger when I ran an errand to the post office on a Monday. In drop-crotch sweatpants, no less.

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“Can I give you a compliment?” the man asked. “You are beautiful.” Of course, that simple statement took my breath away, but it also sparked a whole lot of thinking. Thinking about my style, my life and my fashion.

I believe a stranger complimenting me on a day I chose a mediocre outfit is the direct result of small steps I’ve been taking lately to really, truly like the person I’m dressing. Purposeful steps to make my style so much more than fashion.

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Let me elaborate a bit. I’ve always been one to stay up on trends in the fashion world. Not too terribly long ago, I used that as a shield. You know, “if I have that particular dress I will feel better.” But at the end of the day, the dress never really made me feel better. It was a Band-Aid.

I’m not exactly sure what sparked things in my mind to align toward loving myself. But something’s changed my North Star. My point. My point is now to be wholly myself and live my life with the intent to be exactly that. So dressing myself has become a decision to express myself, not my fashion knowledge. I’m growing into a better version of myself and the need for that dress just isn’t there. Because my point is different.

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Life is good and hard and confusing and often frustrating, but what amazing discoveries it asks us to unfold. So I’ll be damned if I’m remembered for my outfits. I want to be remembered for the style with which I wore them.

I can’t sum it up any better than Caroline de Maigret in a recent Harper’s Bazaar interview:

“Fashion gets boring to talk about after five minutes, but style is so much more. I can go on about style for hours. Style is everything — culture, your personality and what you do — that’s what makes style. It’s who you are and how you want to be perceived by others.”

Photos by Amanda Rucker

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