Thursday, December 30

Artist and designer Joey Ruiter

Remember when we visited my Nana and Papa (and the fabulous Nana Bag) in Grand Rapids, Michigan? Who knew that next door to my grandparents traditional home--all beige, greige--is artist and industrial designer Joey Ruiter and his family, in a fantastic 1960s number that's much more my style? I kept hearing about this Joey guy from my mother: Joey welded my birdfeeder; Joey and his wife brought Nana the best cookies. Joey, Joey, Joey. "Mom, who is Joey?!" "Oh," said my mom, "Joey was in the running for the ArtPrize. He's a designer. Uncle Bill says his house is really something!"

Wait, what? My grandparents have fashionable neighbors? Well, I invited myself right over while I was home. The place is amazing. (And read what Fast Company had to say about his entry, the Inner City Bike, for the big-money ArtPrize in Grand Rapids.)

I'm traveling today, so I'll post more photos tomorrow. Meanwhile, read about Joey and get to know my new extended and talented family. Mom and I consider them totally in.

Wednesday, December 29

Bad things I did as a kid

During the holidays, my mom puts all these adorable little vintage houses up on the mantel, on top of Christmas lights and bristly green garlands. The glittery things are small, they fit on my extended palm, and each one has a little hole in the back--near where it says "Made in Japan"--so you can thread in one bulb and light them up. 

When I was little, I loved the warm glow coming from the delicate colored-tissue windows crafted on the facades. What brought more holiday joy, of course, was punching out these fragile constructions with my sticky child forefinger--the snap of the paper, the release in tension from how they were secured in their fine tinseled frames.
I'd elbow my older sister out of the way, or clothesline my younger brother in the throat, because we all fought to get at them, turning them over to find some virgin pane. Breaking these windows was the best thing ever, infinitely better than popping bubble-wrap, because these houses were rare sightings--seasonal. And bubble-wrap can be found any old week; it's not valuable or special or handed down from Grandma Arnold. Ugh, I'm awful. Pop! I feel better already. 

Saturday, December 18

The earth-sheltered house: land as a blanket, roof as a playground

It made George and Alice just a wee bit nervous, but their five guests walked up onto the steep roof anyway, and it was so much fun! Rolf, in the white hat, led the way, and explained the terrain from the peak. I climbed up after Ada. Rolf lost his hat in the wind. (The Kansas wind! It's invisible in photographs, so this is good evidence.)

Friday, December 17

George & Alice's toasty sun room

Back in rural Saline County, Kansas, sorta near Salina, this is the sun room at George and Alice's, also known as the parents of my friend Rolf Potts. Rolf lives nearby, so on the recent pilgrimage that a group of us made for his birthday, we spent a lot of time visiting with George and Alice, who were kind enough to have coffee and fruit and homemade baked goods waiting for us every morning in their kitchen. This is the sun room before noon. Isn't it amazing! It's an earth house, which means it's built into the land (Rolf's dad is an environmental biologist), but this side is open to the prairie and welcomes an abundance of light, making the room--and the rest of the house--toasty warm. Also, plants!

Thursday, December 16

Hans Neleman, WIN-Initiative

I'm at the studio and Soho apartment of Dutch photographer Hans Neleman. I wrote about his and his wife's New Canaan home for the current Connecticut Cottages & Gardens magazine. Here, at the HQ for his stock photography company WIN-Initiative, he plays third head to the conjoined twins.

You know I love taking bad-quality photos of professional picture-makers.

And we're off to N 33 for drinks...

(via iPhone)

My mom went back to Michigan and left me...

...a folded $20 tucked under the handle on the lid of my lentil soup! The morning she left, she said, "Anything I left behind was intentional." Funny thing to say, I thought, because I knew she meant to leave the stack of Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons, which I collect and forget to use; the mittens she thinks I should wear; and her travel toothbrush she'd like me to use to take to the edges of the bathroom's tiled floor. But money in the fridge? A nice surprise.

Thursday, December 9

Mom's in town!

My mom is in town from Michigan. Pause on Kansas posts while she re-caulks my bathtub with white stuff, not clear -- "the clear turns black, shows all the grime" -- and smooths the bead with a cut-corner credit card (or a CVS card she picked up) just like how Martha Stewart explained. Thanks, Mom! 

I'll be back soon with a post or two about another Mom: Rolf's, back on the prairie. Until then, it's all about black socks in the bathtub and other such tasks. Below, my mom, right, with her sister in New Jersey, my lovely Aunt Jana.

Wednesday, December 8

Retractable maps, travel-writing awards, Kurt Vonnegut

Above, writer Rolf Potts at his desk: a typical early morning on the prairie. He hates those glasses he's wearing, but we all have our dorky home personas, no? I skipped the opportunity to help out with morning chores. I think I'm not so into goats. I am ridiculous with envy over those built-in bookcases that Rolf's brother-in-law built. They're huge and wrap around the corner! Below, a cozy reading area that glows in the morning light. And that's a retractable map used as a shade over the window. Oddly, I was just searching eBay for one similar. It's all about old-school Nystrom

Saturday, December 4

Rolf's Country Kitchen

It's hard to imagine now, but only a few Saturdays ago I was sitting in Rolf's kitchen in Salina, Kansas, nudging a fork on the counter a little bit closer to the cowboy hat to create a better composition, and drinking an entire pot of black coffee by myself. The barstools at the counter were too comfortable to leave, so I opted out of the six-mile run that Rolf and Ada (she's below, on the rollercoaster), were about to take on. 

I poked around the kitchen instead, not before Rolf captured my pre-coffee morning portrait with this newish, short-hair bedhead. That's the running duo in the living room behind/in front of/next to the kitchen, just before takeoff.

Have you ever gone running in Kansas? The wind! Man vs. nature! It's so windy that there's a constant force working against you, or depending on the direction, driving you forward with such gusto you have no choice but to pick up your feet so you don't fall on your face in the prairie dust. The Kansas wind was a constant mortality check: I don't remember ever being so aware of trying to keep my human self planted safely on the ground. This is the real reason why I didn't run; I needed another 24 hours of the invisible flogging before I was truly ready to take on the currents.
It's a good thing Ada, above, brought yummy Chinese cakes (purple box) from Arcadia in Los Angeles, because they were beautiful and delicious and look below at how empty Rolf's kitchen cupboards are! Tuna. Macaroni. Peanut butter. Rolf, a travel writer, says it's because he lives in this house only a few weeks out of the year. On a recent stint, he circled the world in six weeks without baggage, so I suppose these spartan cupboards could seem lavish.
More photos of the kitchen. No wind in the kitchen.
On the fridge below, pics of the family--especially ones of his adorable two nephews. One of them let me pet his black, glassy-eyed rabbit.

Friday, December 3

Rolf Potts: Home on the Range

At long last, we begin Homebodies: Homes on the Range! A few weeks ago, before I was consumed in finishing my third semester of grad school (sorry for the disappearing) and before tendonitis struck again (I don't know why surfing the internet doesn't love me back), I flew to Salina, Kansas, with some buddies from Bennington to celebrate the birthday of our classmate Rolf Potts

Honestly, how often to you get an invite to Kansas that begins by getting picked up from the Wichita airport and packing full a white eight-seater minivan that your host-slash-driver, an award-winning travel writer, drives back across the state while explaining--in a way only a fact-squirreling adventurer can--the history of the area and its settlements, the birthplaces of the state's celebrities and fast-food tycoons, and the contributions of Kansas's great forgotten publisher, until you arrive at his modular home on an actual prairie and kick it at the goat farm with good bourbon and better company? Where I'm from, the tourism board's motto is, "Say yes to Michigan!" But I left the prairie saying yes to Kansas, too.

"Rolf, can I get a picture of you climbing up the stairs to your house?"
"Like this?" (The photo above; Yes, exactly.)

Normally I write some kind of bio thing about how I met my Homebodies guest, but I have absolutely no recollection of meeting Rolf, and, for the record, neither does he. That's sort of the vibe of the MFA program we're in, I guess. In June of 2009, thirty of us were thrown into a co-ed dorm situation and tried to figure out if we were supposed to share, boy-girl style, the bathrooms (no).  Before not long, I found myself having endless chats with Rolf in the campus's many Adirondack chairs, which he refers to with affection as "the insane-asylum chairs." Fast-forward a year and a half, and check out the view of the prairie in the morning from the guest bedroom below!
Below, Rolf at his office area in the living room. On this morning, I'd skipped out on farm chores (his parents live nearby) and skated around his place in my socks, taking pictures of books, masks from foreign travel or Halloween...
and the exterior of the house in the morning light...