All posts filed under: Community

Residency at Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts

I have been awarded a one month residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. In March, I shall be living at the Center in Nebraska City and writing a creative nonfiction book about my insights and experiences drawn from the project, a couple of 830 mile long conversations. I am eager – and daunted – at the chance to create something fresh and meaningful out of the project. My hope, moreover, as part of the writing process, is to create ways to share my draft writing in conversation with people in the Nebraska City community. This is a wonderful opportunity to amplify the project’s outcomes and the potential for ongoing outreach.

The Bean Broker

Andrea “Andie” Rising, the proprietor of the Bean Broker Coffee Shop and Pub in Chadron, is a lovely contradiction. A ranching child, she relishes the rural life, riding horses and wrangling cattle. “I love to hear the curlews and to smell the meadow. I could be alone for months,” she said. And yet Andie is one of the most gregarious people I have met. “I think it’s so important to be able to talk to people that have had other experiences.” She relishes not just the activities within the building, but the Mildred Block Building itself, which Andie acquired over 15 years ago. Built in 1912, it started life as the New Citizen State Bank and has been many things since, such as a Non-Commissioned Officer Club and an armory. Now, the ground floor contains the coffee shop and pub, as well as Andie’s flat. Upstairs are more than a dozen rooms that are being restored for use by local entrepreneurial tenants. Some of the design features include the original tin ceiling, mosaic tiled floor …

Lukas and Mark

The young professional and entrepreneurial spirit in Wayne, Nebraska has a couple of standouts in Lukas and Mark, who own both Rustic Treasures and The Coffee Shoppe adjacent to it on Main Street. Although Lukas could count on both hands the number of similar entrepreneurs, he observed that their slice of Main Street is a vibrant retail hub. I observed in turn that Lukas is vibrant. His enthusiasm is uncontainable and he’s a chatterbox, but a smart, insightful and entertaining one. Mark is the calm and unflappable one, according to Lukas. The success of their business, Rustic Treasures, can be seen in the numbers, in a year growing staff from a couple to six full-time and four part-time and increasing revenues threefold. But it isn’t just their success that caught my attention, it is that they are a paradigm of the entrepreneurial ethos that every community should be seeking and nurturing. Lukas, for example, told me that he cleans the street of trash every morning along their entire block. They use social media not only …

It’s because you waved

“It’s because you waved,” said Luke.  In his early twenties and studying intercultural studies in Omaha, Luke was the first person to stop and engage in conversation with me as part of this project, a couple of 830 mile long conversations. He stopped because of that wave and my welcome. It is premature to begin filtering for commonalities, though I can say that the people I engaged with, whether at Millard branch library in Omaha, West Point, Pender and Wayne, demonstrated a curiosity and willingness to interact. For his part, Luke had moved when he was 13 to Spain with his family (his Dad did missionary work and was a military contractor). Luke lived in Europe for 5 years. It remains to be seen if broad exposure to different cultures is a theme arising out of this project, but it is impossible not to want to explore that thought as I go. It is at this time worth noting, perhaps, my own capacity to be curious and to engage. The point building up to the …

Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley

In my teens I read Of Mice and Men, which led me to Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row. It was in Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, though, that the seed of my interest in America took root. Some thirty years later that compulsion has matured. Now, I intend to venture onto the American byways crossing Nebraska, into its communities and into conversational engagement with its people, my statewide neighbors.


You can see from my route that one of the towns I look forward to visiting is Loomis. As noted on this county website, BusinessWeek Magazine picked this town of 382 people in 2006 as “one of the top 25 places in the country to raise a child.” With some friends here in Omaha that hail from Phelps county, I eagerly anticipate a delightful and intriguing time in this “undiscovered gem.”

Why am I doing this?

Why am I doing this? I’ve been asked this a lot over the last few weeks. It is a great question with many answers, but let me share just a few. Conversation sustains vibrant communities. My work with Habitat for Humanity and Justice for our Neighbors has shown me that community is not an experience that is felt from the outside, but must arise and be sensed from within. Even to begin to talk of Nebraskan communities requires listening and sharing in amongst those physical spaces and with their people. As well as exploring communities, this project adventures into Nebraskan culture. The cultural anthropologist, Edward T. Hall, asserted that, “Culture hides more than it reveals,” and, moreover, “It hides most effectively from its own participants.” As an outsider – a British expat and new American citizen – to learn about the stories that shape our sense of who we are necessitates being with Nebraskans in their towns. “… purely vagabond.” The question inherently includes consideration of why drive an RV on this long, meandering route? …