Wander: House tours

Philip Johnson Glass House / Good House Guest

Judd Foundation / Good House Guest

The first house that I remember living in was a cozy ranch with a big back yard on a block lined with other modest one-story homes. Except for the two-story colonial where Annalise lived. Annalise was older (well, big enough to go to school all day) and she had a fairy tale-like older girl’s room with an enviable doll collection and a giant doll house.

I still can’t distinguish if the following memory was fantasy or a true event, but I recall sneaking into that house one afternoon. Her mother was preoccupied on the phone, and I scampered up the stairs (such a luxury!) just to steal a glimpse of all the wonderful grown-up-girl things lining the shelves in Annalise’s room. Her mother called up and I hid under the bed (chest heaving) until she found little trespassing me. I’ve always been fascinated with the interior life of a home.

I still am. I love taking an evening stroll to soak up the vignettes playing out in brightly-lit living rooms or bedrooms. I can’t pass up a good period room in a museum (don’t try to rush me through the Colleen Moore Fairy Castle), and I’m a sucker for a house tour.

Frank Llyod Wright’s Fallingwater outside of Pittsburgh – the architecture, the casual ‘gift from a friend’ original artwork and custom furniture – make it well-worth the trip. There’s hardly enough time on the tour to cover all of the details, and it’s the sort of place where I would want to spend even just one night as a guest.

Super-modernist fans should flee from New York for the day via the Meto-North to wander the contemporary art and architecture campus (kingdom?) that is the Philip Johnson Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. Private writing hut, personal art gallery and one crystal-clear domicile. This New York Times story offers insight about the influential couple who lived there.

After years of restoration, Donald Judd’s home and studio in New York’s Soho neighborhood was opened to the public in 2013. Tours are intimate (six or so to a group) and leisurely paced, and you gain a true sense as to how Judd’s philosophy extended to every space – from the vibrant-feeling kitchen to the almost monastic bedroom (if not for the dazzling artwork found there). It’s a meditative space in what is now one of the cities most label-wagging commercial hubs. I wonder what Mr. Judd would make of the old neighborhood today…

Wander: Keep At It

Japanese flourishes at the Berkshires Shirakaba.


My dad, a successful salesman, left me with three very sound words of advice: Persistence Pays Off. I never had the patience to adopt this mantra. Nor did I understand (or think I had what it took) to truly keep my head down, ignore linear time, abandon the need for instant gratification and just keep at something. Until now.

Five years ago, while sharing a cheeseburger at Diner my husband and I stopped our wrestling with the what-ifs and decided to move to New York. It’s that convincing of a  burger. Plus, I was motivated by an inkling to make a career change. A change which is happening now, still very slowly, but there has been an evolution of sorts.

It’s hard to know when to consider a path complete folly or worth continuing down, especially when you’re defining things for yourself. In veering off my other career path, I’ve found that this new one isn’t guided by promotions, an office with a window, performance reviews or raises that signal progress.

So I’ve established my own benchmarks. And the one I set, the one that meant ‘Ok, you’re really doing it now, keep going’ was rather lofty for a no-name cold-calling writer: a story in The New York Times Travel section. For every year that I continued to send proposals (some were answered, others were not) I would return to my dad saying “Laur, persistence pays off.” I just kept hoping he was right.

Well, he was. I did eventually have a pitch accepted and was assigned a story. I think the most real moment of being published occurred the week after the piece ran when I snagged the section from a pile of papers plunked down on the curb left out for recycling day.

I was thrilled to write the piece which balanced my fascination of Japanese culture, love of an off-beat adventure and need to travel a little closer to home as a parent. And people were immensely supportive of my little moment in print. Being published, or more importantly realizing all that persistence-pays-off business is true, also marks that I’ve arrived at a place where I better understand my dad’s wisdom. It goes without saying that I wish he could have been here to see the story in print, if only for me to be able to tell him that he was right.

Ps&Qs: Make a Reservation

One of my favorite gifts for friends who invite me for an extended stay is to treat to a lovely dinner out. This might seem like a last minute cop-out, but with a little planning it’s really quite thoughtful. You get to spend time together, experience your host’s town from another perspective and no one has to worry about the dishes.

I research places––linger-over-everything-and-really-catch-up-spots––on Zagat, Urbanspoon, Eater, The New York Times (Dining & Wine and Travel sections), or a local magazine or city paper. I like to offer a few options before making a reservation. Nothing like booking at a top steak joint only to discover that your friend is now a vegetarian. Perhaps there’s a new place they’ve been wanting to try, but just needed an occasion. Well, here’s the opportunity.

Also, If you’re staying with someone who won’t let you pick up the tab for anything, this is a way to sneak in a little something. Pick up a gift certificate for a excellent restaurant and leave it behind for them as a thank you. By the time they can even try to argue, you’ll be halfway home.