Tag Archives: reading

Lending Book and a Helping Hand

March 16, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

On a recent Monday evening, Omahan Kalli Pettit wheeled a squeaky book cart down a hospital hallway. A pair of teenagers jostled each other as they walked past.

Kalli, not much older at age 18, continued pushing the cart toward a family waiting area where she spotted a father busy on his cellphone and a preschooler bouncing from seat to seat.

“Book on a cart,” the young boy shouted with excitement.

“Would you like to pick out a book?” Kalli asked. 

The father placed the caller on hold to help his son.

“Look, Dad! Dinosaurs!”

Even though the interaction was brief, Kalli says seeing the young boy’s smile stretch from ear to ear was worth every bit of time she spends volunteering at Omaha Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.

The Marian High School senior started volunteering with the hospital in summer 2017. Teen volunteer services at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center typically increases in the summer months as young students are on break from school. Kalli started volunteering a few hours each week in June at the hospital’s Kids Camp, which is an area designated for siblings of family members attending routine clinic appointments to long-term care.

Friends and family say she’s always gravitated to helping kids. Perhaps it’s because not so long ago Kalli was in their shoes.

Kalli had a recent episode that forced her to spend a few nights at that very hospital’s sixth floor—the next area in which she planned to wheel the book cart. 

It wasn’t her first trip to the hospital. In 2009, Kalli—daughter of Mark and Kristie Pettit—was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 9.

“I remember being so young when nurses and doctors explained what was happening to my body,” Kalli says. “I was worried all of the time, but remember how calm the nurses and doctors were. They really inspired me to give back. It’s why I’m here today volunteering.”

She wants to spread that support and positivity to other kids.

“Having been a patient there initiated the whole idea,” says Kristie of her daughter’s volunteer work. “She loves to work with kids. Always has.”

“These kids have so much going in their lives. They’re trying to stay strong,” Kalli says. “As a volunteer, you can’t show them you’re sad.”

Kalli volunteers in the Teen Connection at Children’s Volunteer Services with roughly 50 other students to help in various capacities from the book cart to kids camps and hospital greeters.

“She’s been a great volunteer,” says Angela Loyd, a spokeswoman who oversees the Volunteer Services department. “She’s so cheerful and nice when helping families.”

“I want to make kids feel welcome at the hospital. Just knowing their minds are at ease a little bit as we play is worth my time,” Kalli says. “Sometimes we would paint or draw or play house. Really whatever they wanted to do that day. I always felt bad when it was time to leave because I didn’t want to leave.”

Knowing she has the power to make a difference in someone’s life is rewarding, Kalli says. She encourages other young people to consider service opportunities in their areas.

“No matter what, always have a positive attitude,” she advises. “How you express yourself can affect the way other people view you and how they’ll react to you.”


Visit childrensomaha.org for more information.

This article was originally printed in the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of Family Guide.

One of Ours

February 21, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“There aren’t a lot of people in Nebraska writing new musicals,” says Roxanne Wach, executive director of Shelterbelt Theatre.

The Omaha theater company is in the middle of its 24th season of producing original work by Midlands theater artists, and Wach reads around 200 original plays a year. But when she discovered the musical Catherland, it stood out from the pack.

A collaboration between Lincoln-based theater artist Becky Boesen and musician-composer David von Kampen, Catherland will open at the Shelterbelt April 21. It’s the latest incarnation of the project after a staged reading was produced at the Red Cloud Opera House in 2015, followed by a workshop at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln.

“I championed the piece because I thought it had such potential. I liked the music to begin with, and that’s a huge hurdle with musicals. I liked a lot of the script and where it’s going,” Wach says. “David has really captured something in the music, and Becky is really talented with her lyrics, and it’s a pretty engaging score.”

It’s hard to imagine a story more quintessentially Nebraskan than Catherland, which is set in Red Cloud, the central Nebraska hometown of writer Willa Cather. The musical focuses on a present-day couple, Jeffrey and Susan, who move from Chicago to Red Cloud. Susan has some reservations about leaving Chicago; but early in their marriage, the couple agreed that once she finished her first novel they would slow down, move to Jeffrey’s hometown of Red Cloud, and possibly start a family.

Boesen explains that when people are experiencing culture shock they go through a honeymoon phase. Jeffrey and Susan are in that phase when “someone crashes into the barn outside and their life starts to unravel as a result, and there’s an immediate life or death problem that has to be solved,” Boesen says. “Willa Cather shows up, too. Susan, the novelist, is not a Willa Cather fan, and that’s a problem.”

That would be the ghost of Willa Cather. Boesen says that a lot of her own writing tends to include ghosts, though the ghosts are not always literal.

“I mean like a missing piece of your heart. Anything that’s missing to a protagonist,” she says. “But in this [show], there are legit ghosts, which is pretty fun.”

Von Kampen agrees, “And I don’t really like ghost stories. I don’t seek out movies or books that are like that, but from a creative standpoint, it feels really good.”

Boesen was born in southern Missouri and von Kampen is originally from Michigan, but they both moved to Nebraska as children. They’ve lived other places thanks to their careers, but are now settled in Lincoln raising their respective families. Boesen and von Kampen are full-time artists and arts educators who met briefly in 2013 while working on another project.
Boesen’s company, BLIXT, is an arts management and consulting firm that produces projects for the Lied Center, Lincoln Arts Council, and other entities. Von Kampen is a musician and composer who also teaches at Concordia University in Seward as well as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Roughly a year after their initial meeting, Boesen talked von Kampen into working as the musical director on a staged reading she was directing.

Von Kampen says, “I remember when (Becky) called, and I was thinking, ‘How can I get out of this?’”

She talked him into working with her, and it went well.

“David said, ‘Hey, don’t you write stuff? We should get together and talk about writing sometime.’ And I said, ‘cool let’s get together,’” Boesen explains.

They discovered their work “sort of sounded alike” and began to share ideas. Boesen had been thinking about her experience as a teaching artist in Red Cloud. Her play, What the Wind Taught Me, ran at the Red Cloud Opera House while on tour, and she says she fell in love with the town.

“You’re driving in Nebraska and all of a sudden you feel like you’re on Mars, because the prairie is like an ocean out there,” says Boesen, who started thinking about Cather and “what it must have been like to live in Red Cloud, Nebraska, in the late 1800s.”

The Nebraska prairie might be considered a character on its own in some of Cather’s work. That striking landscape also has inspired the creative team behind Catherland.

“It’s an exploration of sense of place, what it means to be home, what does it mean to make a commitment, and how does that change over the course of time, and the messy nature of long-term love,” Boesen says.

“I really think they’ve captured something. I’m so excited to be working on it. I just can’t wait for people to see it,” Wach says, impressed with Boesen’s willingness to revise her script. “To have somebody who’s that fearless in the process is a real asset to Shelterbelt in really giving new works their highest potential.”

Wach points out that supporting and nurturing new work by local artists is essential to the vitality of the Omaha theater scene.

“There are very few theaters our size who do new work in a city of our size.” Wach says, “We have a very vibrant theater community, and having new works helps feed it.”

Boesen says she and von Kampen feel lucky to have such a joyful creative process, “We just like making stuff, and we make stuff well together, and we have a lot of fun doing it.”

Visit shelterbelt.org for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Parkinson’s Disease

January 26, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The way Terry Currey looks at it, Parkinson’s disease is a battle of the mind versus the brain.

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2009, Currey describes his brain as an antagonist that controls his body. The protagonist is his mind, which he applies with persistent determination and will power to overcome the malevolent part of his brain.

Currey knows that in the end, his brain will be the victor. “But it’s not whether you win or lose,” he says, “it’s how you play the game.”

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease—Alzheimer’s disease is the first—and usually occurs in individuals after age 60. The disease typically advances over a period of many years and affects movement, muscle control, and balance. Symptoms include a tremor, slow movement, loss of balance, and stiffness of the limbs.

“When the disease reaches a moderate stage, the motor [skills] problems become more pronounced, medications may begin to lose their effectiveness, and non-motor symptoms begin to develop, such as swallowing issues, speech and sleep problems, low blood pressure, mood and memory issues,” says Dr. Danish Bhatti, neurologist and co-director of the Parkinson’s Disease Clinic at Nebraska Medicine.

Dr. John Bertoni, co-director of the Parkinson’s Clinic, is Currey’s physician. “The needs for Parkinson’s patients are very diverse and become more complex as the disease progresses.”

Early diagnosis is the key to beginning proper treatment and helping manage progression of the disease, Dr. Bhatti says. Most people with Parkinson’s can get significant control of their symptoms with medications and a combination of other therapies, including occupational therapy, speech therapy, nutrition counseling, support groups, and regular exercise.

“The benefits of exercise early on, and throughout the disease process, is significant,” he says. “People who are independent after 10 years are the ones who were very active early in the disease. The more active you are, the less likely you are to have severe symptoms.”

Currey has been fighting the disease with an arsenal of tools that include medications, exercise, diet, and mind games. He says exercise has been critical in helping him stay active and keeping his muscle memory in place. He regularly uses his treadmill or elliptical, lifts weights, and participates in other activities like fishing, camping, mowing the lawn, snowblowing during winter, reading, and writing. Each is an important element in staying in the battle, he says.

“Some days it’s not only hard to move, but to want to move,” he says. “You have to have a mission. You have to set your mind to whatever it is you want to accomplish and not let the enemy win.”

To help others with the battle, Currey recently wrote a book, titled Neural Combat: Strategies and Tactics for your War with Parkinson’s Disease, available on Amazon. There were several goals Currey says he wanted to achieve with his book, such as helping individuals newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s to overcome their fear of the disease; to explain what is happening to them medically; and to assist them in developing tools to cope with the symptoms.

“With Parkinson’s disease, you go through the stages of grief and denial, and finally resignation and acceptance,” Currey says. “It took me a while to accept it, but once I came to that realization, I decided that I’m in it to battle this to the end for as long as I have my cognitive abilities.”

Visit pdf.org for more infomation.

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At the Heart of St. Matthew

November 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“When I see a student no longer having to struggle to read or do a math problem—that is why I teach. They take so much pride in them-selves when they become independent in their thinking.”

-Lisa Benson

As a young Girl Scout in Texas, a lightbulb went off when Lisa Benson’s troop adopted a special needs class during her middle school years. She knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up. That connection to those students made her realize that her future place in life was in a classroom. She held on to that joy of helping others when she attended Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, and majored in elementary education. She dedicated her education further by continuing on for her master’s degree in literacy from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Now, at 58 years old and with over 20 years of teaching experience, Lisa Benson was recently honored as one of the Educators of the Year in the elementary category by the Archdiocese of Omaha at the Archbishop’s Dinner for Education on Sept. 29, 2016.

Nominated by the principal, staff, and community of St. Matthew Catholic School, where she has taught first grade for the past 14 years, Benson was just as shocked as she was thrilled to receive the award: “I was so surprised. I feel I have always given my best to St. Matthew School, my students, and their families. It is such an honor to be recognized for hard work and dedication. I truly appreciate all the support from the archdiocese, my fellow teachers, and the families at St. Matthew.”

It’s that heart and dedication that is exactly why she was nominated, according to school principal Jim Daro, who has worked with her during the four years he’s been at St. Matthew.

“Mrs. Benson is an outstanding teacher,” Daro says. “She cares deeply for her students and their progress in and out of her classroom. She maintains a classroom environment where students are cared for and comfortable; they know they are there to learn. They respect her just as much as she respects them.”

As a mother of three grown children, Benson loves cultivating independence in not only her own children but those she teaches every day in the first grade classroom. “At this age, they love learning,” she says. “So all I have to do is present it to them, and they soak it up. When I see a student no longer having to struggle to read or do a math problem—that is why I teach. They take so much pride in themselves when they become independent in their thinking.”

But teaching hasn’t always come easy to Benson. She didn’t start her teaching career until after raising her children. At the start of working at St. Matthew, she felt behind in the field of education. “Things had changed since I graduated from college. This struggle has made me aware of how my students, or even a new staff member, may feel when a concept isn’t clear to them.”

That empathy is what led her to become like a support system to many other teachers at the school. Daro raves about Benson’s ability to help others, “She is a mentor and a leader with the rest of the faculty. She is highly involved in our school and community beyond the classroom. Mrs. Benson is involved with our school board, our development team, and our school improvement team.”

As for what Benson will do with the $5,000 award prize from her prestigious Educator of the Year recognition: “My husband and I are still figuring that out. Maybe a trip!”

And with all the hard work, time, and heart Benson puts into each day of teaching, a trip is definitely a great way to celebrate her dedication to the St. Matthew students and educational community.

Visit stmatthewbellevuene.net for more information.

This article was printed in the Winter 2016 edition of Family Guide, an Omaha Publications magazine.

Bricks & Molder

February 24, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in March/April 2015 Encounter magazine.

The rustic charm of Jackson Street Booksellers is practically an undisputed fact amongst Omahans. Narrow and crooked aisles, packed with books, wind back into the store in a seemingly endless labyrinth, scattered along the way with haphazard stacks of more unshelved books. Piles of unpacked boxes brimming with new book arrivals, crowd the store’s front entrance. A peek behind the curtain into the staff section reveals more mountainous piles of unsorted books, subjects ranging anywhere from Christian artifacts to World War II history. The entire place smells like the dust that drifts off old pages, and ink—lots of it.

It’s somewhat hard to believe that this sprawling jungle of a library—a bibliophile’s nirvana—was nothing more than a decrepit vacancy on 13th and Jackson in 1993.

“The block was completely abandoned,” storeowner Amanda Lynch said. “No condos, no Upstream’s across the street. The windows were all blown out. Just one bookstore to pioneer the block.”

Lynch, along with fellow storeowner Carl Ashford, traveled the country first for a few months, then over the course of several years starting in the summer of 1992, they examined and handpicked books from various stores, sales, and collections from “one side of the country to the other,” in Ashford’s words. Although they picked up the book trade in their hometown of San Francisco, Ashford and Lynch eventually settled in Omaha to open a store stocked with the nearly 100,000 works they had collected. They were later joined in the business by Sara Adkisson-Joyner, a fixture of the store’s staff for 10 years now.

Lynch said they expected the store to last maybe two years or more. Almost 22 years later, Jackson Street Booksellers remains a hub of quiet activity for a variety of readers—which, according to its storeowners, is the fun of the job. Although Ashford admits that rare book-collecting can be tedious and time-consuming, new faces are a good way to keep his job refreshing.

“Everyday I learn something new, like Vietnam in 1961 or some thing,” Ashford said. “I like the idea that as long as I’ve been doing this, I know probably half of the one-percent I could possibly know, as far as books are concerned.”

Lynch agrees.

“I like the interaction with the people who come in,” she said. “This may sound corny, but in this business, you can’t judge a book by its cover. It’s always a revelation to see what people are reading.”

As for types of books that Jackson Street amasses, Lynch claims they collect works from all subject fields, from a generic price range to “very eclectic, collectible books.” Many customers nowadays bring in books to sell, which are then hand-selected by the store’s three employees. Some purchases are house calls. Lynch recounts one time in which a customer offered them a collection of over 10,000 western Americana books that had been preserved in his family since the 1848 California Gold Rush.

Ashford notes that a handful of celebrities have also meandered through the shelves of their bookstore, most recently David O. Russell, the director of Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. Ashford added that in a speech Russell gave at the Holland Center, he mentioned their store “quite a bit.” Among the other icons that have passed through Jackson Street are director Alexander Payne, comedian David Sedaris, classical pianist Emanuel Ax, actress Laura Dern, and “a lot of rock guys that come into town.”

Although both Ashford and Lynch refuse to divulge their favorite books over the years (“It’s like picking a favorite child,” Lynch said), the “world of book-collecting,” as Ashford puts it, remains fresh through the customers that frequent the store. Those who wander in request a range of reading material anywhere from classic American literature to Haitian history—or even books about the process of making books.

“It’s always fun to meet relatively interesting people,” Ashford said. “Especially younger people, twenty-somethings. When I first moved here, Omaha was kind of sleepy. There’s more young energy in the city now.”

As for more intriguing customers, Lynch cited one example she recalls in which a handful of farmers in overalls ambled into the store one day—and bought entirely heavy-duty philosophy books.

“It’s amazing how revealing it is about people and the kind of books they buy,” Lynch said. “Someone you wouldn’t know on the street is buying the most esoteric or racy or brilliant math book, and he looks like the most ordinary person. I’m constantly amazed by people.”

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Christopher McLucas thinks laughter 
is the best 
medicine.

December 20, 2013 by
Photography by Keith Binder
Illustration by Bob Donlan

Way down on the Giggle Farm, the Guffaw family grows grinning laughing stalks and chuckleberries by the bushel full. Farmer Guffaw and his wife proudly watch as their children spend days playing outdoors, inventing clever contraptions, daydreaming, and getting lost in reading. Soon, though—as is the case in all families—their children grow up and move away to lead their own lives. The Guffaws become sad and lonely while the laughing stalks wither and the chuckleberries shrivel.

Spoiler alert: The story does have a happy ending. The Giggle Farm, by 25-year-old Christopher McLucas, is a rare kind of children’s book, one that is funny and profound by turns. That’s because the young author didn’t want to write a typical children’s book. Instead, he set out to create the kind of story that would take both parents and children alike on a thoughtful and interactive journey.

Laughter: Something kids and adults love

Focusing on laughter as the book’s theme was a logical choice for McLucas, whose previous book Feint Peace & Other Stories, a collection of science fiction stories, was published in 2012. “I didn’t want the message to be just for children. I wanted it to be for adults, too,” he explains. “I wanted to communicate that laughter really is the best medicine. Laughter is what gets us through a lot. I thought it important to reference what both children and adults would know.”

A laughing stalk shown as a positive rather than a derisive term provided McLucas with his starting point. “I thought, ‘What if laughing stalk was something you could grow?’” he remembers. “The whole story started rolling from there and didn’t stop. I could see the entire idea in my head.”

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That idea involves witty puns, crisp story telling, and an imaginative interpretation of traditional family life. As a child, McLucas was particularly fascinated with how artist Norman Rockwell encapsulated entire narratives in his paintings. “There were stories locked inside them,” he says. “I wanted The Giggle Farm to be like that and to be an ode to Norman Rockwell. I wanted New Age Americana. We can all associate with this family.”

This is what gives the book a charming retro feel. For example, the small town of Gale (as in gales of laughter) has old-fashioned storefronts featuring a barber, a dry goods shop, and a laugh ware store. In place of a traditional county fair, there is instead a more playful Funny Festival. There are no video games, mp3 players, or cell phones. They use their imaginations, which McLucas sees as deeply important to 
childhood development.

It’s another reason why he wanted to make The Giggle Farm interactive and developed it as a coloring book. “I want parents and children to be able to work on it together,” he says. “It changes the dynamic of family reading. It makes reading time a family activity.”

Interaction: Something kids and adults need

McLucas also envisioned using coloring as a way to reinforce reading. The letters are in a plain, white, bubble font so that children can sound out the words as they color them in. Participating in how each page looks makes the experience personal and creates a sense of ownership in the book. “That way,” McLucas says with a smile, “it’s more yours than mine.”

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Illustrator Bob Donlan perfectly captures the Rockwellian mood that McLucas’ words convey. His illustrations have a gentleness to them and are filled with the kinds of details children can get lost in for hours. Donlan says he was impressed with the author’s vision for the book. “Chris wanted an interactive book for children to read and color. He liked the idea of a coloring book that would have sophisticated art,” he says. “He wanted it to have an imaginative quality. It is completely original.”

The element of The Giggle Farm with the most impact, McLucas thinks, is the dialogue that will occur between parents and children. “I really want them to talk about the story and for children to come back to it over and over.”

A book signing and launch party for The Giggle Farm (CreateSpace; $15.00) takes place on Jan. 23, 2014, at 6 p.m. at Legend Comics at 52nd and Leavenworth. You can also find the book at Chapter Two Books in Bellevue and on Amazon.com.

Stimulate Your Kids’ Brains This Summer

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Summer Time = Fun Time! This is true for all of us, especially kids who are looking for a break from school. But according to Harris Cooper, author of Summer Learning Loss: The Problem and Some Solutions, a concern of educators and parents is that the long summer vacation breaks the rhythm of instruction, since children learn best when instruction is continuous. Long breaks from school can often require educators to do a significant amount of review of material when students return to school in the fall. Below are some suggestions on ways to keep your child’s brain engaged throughout the summer while still having opportunities to practice skills they acquired in the classroom.

Lakeshore Learning Center, located at 12005 W. Center Rd., offers free crafts for kids every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can even check the website to preview the craft. While you are there, pick up some educational games and activities your child can do during the week. The store offers educational games for all ages and in every subject area in which your child may have an interest.

If your budget is a little tight, your children can participate in the Omaha Public Library’s free summer reading program. Each library will post a schedule online describing the special activities your children can participate in, along with the days and the times they will be taking place. They also can earn points for reading each day and exchange their points for prizes. Another good source for free activities is familyfuninomaha.com. This website features a page entitled “Summer Fun Series,” in which parents can find free summer activities throughout Omaha. Some of these may include special kid-friendly activities at the local malls, free local fine arts performances, and community events.

We all know how much our children love to spend time on the computer, so make it worth their while by directing them to websites that encourage them to practice reading and math skills while still having a good time. Try out some of the following sites:

Remember—making sure your kids’ brains stay active throughout the summer will help them transition into the next grade smoothly and lessen their stress level at the start of the year.

British Regency, French Chic

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“My favorite thing in life is to read a book and be cozy,” confesses Julie Kenney. So when she is designing a space in her Dundee home, she thinks, “Would I want to sit here and read a book?”

Thus, it is no surprise that one of her most-loved spots in the house is a small chair and robin’s egg “poof,” as she dubs the felted, flower ottoman, tucked by the fireplace in her living room. On cold, rainy days, a crackling fire with cup of tea and engrossing book are the tickets to contentment.20130111_bs_0634 copy

Kenney and her husband bought the Georgian brick 13 years ago. Though the architecture is purely British Regency, her interior decorating is unabashedly French chic. She mixes wood, iron, and upholstered furnishings and is drawn to crystal chandeliers and light fixtures. Silver-framed snapshots capturing family and friends are clustered on a French country side table, and works by local artists Paula Wallace and Dan Boylan hang conventionally on walls and unconventionally from molding and overlapping windows. Kenney would call it “shabby chic,” though even a cursory peek into her foyer would indicate it is more “chic” than “shabby.”20130111_bs_0640 copy

Kenney only fills her home with items she loves, though the space for which they are intended is rarely where they end up. “I buy things because I like them. Then, I find a place for them,” she reveals.

The sideboard in the entry called three other spots home before landing in its present location. But it shouldn’t get too comfortable there; Kenney has a propensity to move smaller pieces of furniture and decorative accents around. It keeps things feeling fresh in her home, she says.

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She also likes to pair investment pieces with inexpensive finds. To wit: the high-back upholstered couch facing the fireplace and the chair kitty-corner to it in the entryway. The couch was a substantial purchase. Its Old World character and metal stud trim caught her eye. But then while perusing the nooks and crannies of McMillan’s Antiques on 50th and Leavenworth (the day the Kenney family moved into the house, no less), she spied her sofa’s black sheep of a step-brother—a slightly banged-up wingback chair very nearly the same color with almost identical bronze-stud trim—and promptly purchased it for a song.

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But that is Kenney’s way. Be open to possibility. Look for fun additions in the most unlikely spots. The crystal chandelier in the dining room is a modern (albeit a good one) replica of a French antique. She made the chairs at the ends of the table her own by reupholstering hand-me-downs from a friend. The hanging light fixtures on either side of the bed in the master bedroom were cast-offs from another friend who thought them “God-awful.” Kenney didn’t. She snatched them up off her friend’s front stoop (literally) like a wide-eyed kid given free rein in a candy shop.

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Whimsy is important to Kenney. Function does not preclude fancy; utilitarian does not mean ugly. After searching for a canister set in vein, Kenney decided to store her dried goods in glass containers. Cluster them on an antique silver tray and you’ve added another layer of interest. The greenery adorning her kitchen light is last Christmas’ mantel decoration. “I use the bay leaves in soups and cooking all year,” Kenney shares.

And the miniature serving platters filled with lemons and limes? They are actually antique silver ash trays. So, yes, they come out at parties still…But to a healthier end this time around.

Small spaces are her favorite. Sometimes, it’s just a nook she has created in a larger room: her reading spot or her children’s computer space, tucked into the corner of her living room and delineated with a bookshelf “wall.”

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Sometimes, it’s an actual room. Guests, she says, gravitate to the butler’s pantry during gatherings, with its Toile paper and dimpled and dented concrete countertops. She is particular to her office space off the master bedroom. The walls are painted black and white stripes—“because I’ve always wanted a black-and-white-striped room”­—and the ceiling is papered. An oversized red, lacquered mirror which was intended for her foyer adds a dramatic pop of color to the room.

Large or small, home for Kenney is where her family gathers. “I would rather be home than anywhere else,” she contently confides.