Stories from middle America

About a year ago I had the overwhelming feeling of needing space. Life had been a series of extremes for me – from ventures that didn’t quite work out as planned, to meeting my partner in life. It left me taking on emotions at such a speed that I wasn’t really processing, or for that matter, enjoying or learning from any of them.

I doubt I’m alone with this, but when I’m in a distracted headspace it’s hard for me to be creative. And since creativity is a main component of what I do for a living, something had to give to allow some unfettered room in my noggin. Unfortunately, the open little brain bubble came at the expense of this site.

But I’ve missed it.

I like having an outlet to share the ramblings of my brain. And I realized that writing a blog post is actually really good for organizing my thoughts, which motivates me in other aspects of my life.

Then there are the contributor essays.

I once read an article where some famous actress loved Ina Garten (duh, she’s a badass) and wanted to be on The Barefoot Contessa. Ina politely declined because she preferred doing the show with her friends. That’s kind of how I feel about these ladies. I like them. I like hanging out with them in real life because I think they have interesting things to share. So it’s fun to see which things they choose to write about and put out into the world.

Yadda yadda yadda – you get the point. I’m back on this train.


This is a guest post by my college friend, Katie Rhone. Katie is a generous, kind, talented, worldly woman who was one of the first of my peers who taught me what being a feminist was all about. Please check out her post from her blog, My Expat Table, where she chronicles life living abroad in England.


It has been a while since I have written a post. This isn’t because nothing has been worth writing about, a lot has happened in the past couple of months and worth sharing. When you get out of the habit of doing something (kind of like when you stop exercising) and it can be really hard to get back into it. Then something happens that spurs you back into action, last night was that time for me.

After putting the kids to bed, I was lying down doing some mind numbing searches on Pinterest trying to unwind from the day. Jasa was off to France so I had the quiet house to myself. In the middle of looking at some quinoa recipes, I heard a faint cry from the other room. Then I realized it was Adrian and thought that was odd. As I turned the corner into his room, he was tucked into his Batman blanket laying on his side in a fetal position crying. This was the type of crying that I could tell was coming from his heart.

I kneeled down next to his bed and asked him what was wrong and he said “I want to see JoJo” sobbing through his tears whom is one of his grandma’s. I grabbed him quickly and pulled him into our bedroom so he didn’t wake his sister and he nestled into me like it was freezing outside and he was fighting for any ounce of warmth he could. I repeated back to him what he told me and I asked him if he wanted to call her right now. Adrian still crying said “No, I want to have a sleepover at her house in Nebraska” and then asked “When can we go and see her?”

My heart sank again as a parent and thought we were over the missing Nebraska stage. Then I realized of course he is feeling this way after an amazing month home, how could you not!! Adrian and Juliette had the opportunity to spend time doing things with friends and family they love to do- go to the swimming pool, play in the garden, run through sprinklers, go four wheeling on the farm, drive the tractor, stay up and watch movies, have gobs of ice cream, do wheel barrel races, bike races, etc. As young child, it must have been magical. It was so strong for him that out of the blue he started thinking about home and Nebraska which illicted sadness, tears and a urning to go back. I don’t blame him.

Before going home in August, I would get those feelings often. Our trip home was wonderful. We had the opportunity to see old friends, family, business partners, and others we have missed dearly. The highlight of the trip was my brother’s wedding in Atlanta. This was the finale of our trip as the next day, it was back to Manchester. As this day approached and the morning of the wedding, I was sad cause I knew it was all coming to an end. The day of the wedding was really special and so happy we got a chance to be a part of Dan and Alli’s day. I will never forget saying goodbye to my family at the airport, man was that tough.

As we boarded the plane back to Manchester something strange happened, I got renewed energy. It was a readiness to come back to our home in Alderley Edge. I felt a sense of calmness and relief walking into our house- almost like coming back home. I remember then being confused as to what I was feeling.

Is this home? Or did where we just come from home? Can home be in multiple places? I guess this is where the expression “Home is where the heart is” applies.

When you are an expatriate, the concept of “home” becomes somewhat blurred. We are Americans living in another country and culture that is different but we are still very American. Yet, we are trying to integrate into a community the best we can, although our lovely American accents are always a dead giveaway. There are things that we like and don’t like about each culture. This is why it was so hard to answer the question to our friends and family “So how is it living in England?” Often times I wanted to ask “How much time do you have?” It was very difficult to sum up to an elevator speech our thoughts and feelings about living in England because in many ways, it is becoming our home.

No matter what happens with our time here in England, this experience has made our lives richer. I hope that this will give our children a different perspective of the world that will follow them into adulthood. Until that time comes, we just have to work through these feelings together as a family and help each other on this adventure. Anytime I am yearning for a familiar Nebraska countryside, I know exactly where to go on a trail up by The Edge to get this view….

england view

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 2.20.08 PM

Sometimes, old is bad. As in, don’t eat that moldy peach, and you should probably toss out your gross toothbrush after a few months. Sometimes, new is totally awesome. I’m always down to cuddle with babies, puppies, and fresh paychecks.

When it comes to architecture, age is an amazing storyteller. But you can combine old and new to tell an even greater story.

Our recent Birdhouse project, collaborating with Dicon Corporation, did just that. The old? Omaha’s version of the Flatiron building: built in 1912, and inspired by New York’s original version, the triangular building was originally office/retail spaces with a ground floor restaurant. It later became a hotel and then another round of offices last updated in the ’80s. (Oh, and let’s not forget the rumor that it once served as a mobster safe house in the ’20s.)

The new? Our restoration and renovation plans, which shook up the building’s traditional styles and injected them with fun details to make the building stand in an era all its own.

After languishing for some time in a stagnant area of the city, Dicon had another vision for the historic building and tasked HBA architects to carve out 30 apartments from the irregular shaped footprint. Birdhouse was brought on board to select finishes throughout the building, design the lobby and transform the 3-story interior courtyard area into a shared lounge space for tenants.

Hotel Flatiron - Birdhouse Interiors

Hotel Flatiron updated lobby. 

flatiron omaha north lobby

Kim Darling original painting and postcards of the building through the ages.

flatiron stairs - wallpaper bend chairs vestibule

For the lobby, we wanted to add back some of the character and grandeur that the original architect envisioned. We suggested a classic black and white stone tile laid on a diagonal pattern, and neo-traditional furniture pieces. The original trim was beautiful, but disappeared with a dingy coat of off-white paint. I loved the idea of making it a focal point, so we upped the contrast by painting it high-gloss black.

As we helped update the space, it was important to remember that we weren’t the first to stake our flags here. Omaha is fortunate to have Restoration Exchange which is an awesome organization focused on historic preservation. We happily worked with them to secure historic postcards from the early 20th century featuring different parts of the building (including the Flatiron Cafe). Once we blew them up, they made really personal and original art pieces.

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 6.16.52 PM flatiron lobby before

The lobby before. 

hotel flatiron courtyard - birdhouse flatiron hotel omaha - Birdhouse Interiors bar

Next came the interior courtyard. The ceiling is a giant skylight so the lighting situation took a little creativity. We eventually settled on custom brackets attached to the walls that played nice with some really interesting hanging lanterns that I thought bridged that old-meets-new land. Seriously, they are rad.

courtyard in progress

In progress.

flatiron sign in progress

Lots of scaffolding to paint the 3-story sign.

Roost custom table

Original table top from Roost Artisan Home. You can see the space from every floor so we wanted the tables to complement the custom floor pattern we designed.

A larger project like this also afforded us to bring in several local makers who contributed their talents to breath new life into the area. Sharon Davis painted the Flatiron sign in the courtyard; Jeremy Estill of Roost Artisan Home made custom tables with laser cut tops; Reify Design created concrete coffee tables; we sourced several furniture pieces from hutch; and there is an original oil painting from Kim Darling in the lobby. A lot of local love!

flatiron omaha model unit

It was pretty fun to stage one of the model units. 

flatiron birdhouse interiors

Because I’m casually walking with my bag, duh.

unit other view

Hotel Flatiron Unit - Birdhouse Interior Design

That’s a damn fine kitchen in a rental unit. 

kitchen during

The unit kitchen in progress.

Buildings are a direct tie to a city’s culture and evolution. People were around before us, and those people cared about their city in the same way we do. They worked hard to design something beautiful; to build something strong; and to create something lasting for their community. I really appreciated how Dicon wanted to tell the story of the building and honor those people, but encouraged us to add some contemporary flavor to attract a current audience. Highlighting the history and existing architecture, while updating the design in fun new ways is pretty much Birdhouse’s sweet spot, so this project was a perfect fit.

All photos (minus the exterior and before shots) by Dana Damewood.

I’m sitting on my couch eating kimchi. It’s delicious. Kimchi used to be way too strong for me, taste wise. Since I like it now, I worry my taste buds are dying.

Last summer, I tried to make kimchi and have yet to try it. I bought the wrong kind of spice at the Asian Market, and it turned brown instead of the vibrant red I had expected. “That looks disgusting,” my friend Miranda observed as I hand mixed it. I now wonder since I am not of Asian decent, if making kimchi in my kitchen using Mason jars makes me a special kind of culturally illiterate asshole. I throw the jar out.

It’s almost weird to be in this moment, with these things. At the height of the Recession, I started a long unemployment journey that often left me with barely enough money to pay my bills. Buying kimchi on a whim at Whole Foods was a luxury I wouldn’t go near.

Despite my sudden financial trajectory, I still lived a life of privilege. I had parents who stepped in when I called. I had friends give me cheap housing and others got me a job when my unemployment benefits ran out.

For about a year, from 7 AM to 3 PM, six days a week, I would transcribe handwritten comments into typed text. Since I couldn’t afford the parking garage, even in the dead of winter I walked over a mile to my building. When my productivity slowed or I made too many spelling errors, I would get lectured about “increasing my output” for approximately five to seven minutes by my manager while her subordinate listened in. I was allowed two 15 min breaks and one 30 min lunch during the day, and was encouraged to work all major holidays for no increase in my hourly wage (which I did, because I needed the money and not a day off without pay).

I still job searched in my field, which ironically was copywriting and marketing. I was the finalist for so many jobs in exotic sounding cities like Seattle, Boston and New York City. So many times, I would lose out in the final interview round and be forced to return to my beige, windowless cubicle. So many times, I would cry the whole day.

Years later, eating this over-priced, Whole Foods kimchi – I’m mortified by how I looked down my nose at that job. It was a job; it helped me pay my bills, on time, every month. I worked next to Lyndsey – an aspiring self-taught photographer who loved her mom. And Gunther, a talented musician who came to work, got his shit done, and went home to his beautiful wife. To be ashamed meant I thought I was above the work and these people. Now I understand – you’re never above honest work.  

Dreams and reality don’t always mash up. But you do the work to get you there. Fanaticizing about a certain lifestyle or job won’t put the skills on your resume. Appreciating the here and now, the actions you’re taking to reach your dreams – that’s when you look back, connect those dots and think, “I got through that so I could be here.” So often, I’m reminded that many people never get the resources to pull themselves up.  If you’re able to better your situation, remember to not be an asshole  – life doesn’t owe you a cushy career trajectory paved in nice salaries.


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