This review was written for my work blog, Read @ MPL. To see all posts I’ve written for Read @ MPL, click here.

No Nails, No Lumber: The Bubble Houses of Wallace Neff by Jeffrey Head

The bubble houses of Wallace Neff are something to behold indeed. Weird white bubbles of concrete, these houses look more like science fiction than suburban subdivision. The first bubble houses were built in Falls Church, VA during World War II as housing for government families. The small community was nicknamed “Igloo Village” because all the houses are odd white domes.  After that, Neff was hired to build a little community in Litchfield, AZ, a linen supply building, and a dormitory at Loyola Marymount University. Bubble houses were built as fun resorts in the Caribbean and in Turkey.

Neff created a unique method he called Airform construction – houses built with air. The houses were built by laying a round foundation and anchoring a giant balloon (imagine a giant half grapefruit, flat side down) to the foundation. They used a stronger-than-concrete concoction called gunite, firing it from a high pressure gun over the surface of the bubble. When the concrete dried, the bubble was deflated and removed leaving a dome! All told, an Airform house could be functional in about 48 hours. They were quick, cost-effective, simple, and durable structures.

When he started building his bubble houses, Wallace Neff was already a famous architect. He designed Pickfair, the Spanish colonial mansion designed for silent film stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. He designed houses for all three Marx Brothers. Reese Witherspoon owns a Neff house. And yet the houses he hoped would be his legacy were concrete bubbles. In the United States, only one of Neff’s original bubble houses still stand.  Located in Pasadena, California, it is the house Neff himself lived in. The architect to the stars decided to live in a 1,000-square foot bubble.

In addition to the house in California, there are still some houses standing today in Dakar, Senegal of all places. Between 1948 and 1953 about 1,200 bubble houses as the city started expanding. People wanted houses to replace their traditional grass dwellings, and Airform structures were cheap and fast. Today they have been adapted to be more traditional houses with bathrooms, living rooms, and other spaces, often surrounded by traditional rectangular buildings to make a sort of compound. After all this time they are quite resilient structures.

There are lots of places to learn about these bubble houses. I first heard about them in an episode of the radio show/podcast 99% Invisible, which includes an interview with a woman who lived in one of the original Falls Church bubble houses. You can also check out the 2011 LA Time feature about the last remaining bubble house in the US, and a (highly recommended) photo gallery from Planet Magazine.

No Nails, No Lumber: The Bubble Houses of Wallace Neff was published in 2012 by the Princeton Architectural Press.


2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 51 books toward her goal of 100 books.

NCECA was in my city this year! I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, and I am still processing everything I saw/learned/did.

The best part of the whole conference (for me at least) (and excluding seeing Carleton people) was HIDENSEEKAH, an independently organized event on Instagram. You follow @hidenseekah AND the 63 artists that account is following. During the conference 25 different artists posted cryptic picture clues to different locations around downtown Milwaukee. The first person to reach that spot found a piece of work by the artist who posted the picture and they got to keep it! Forever!

This was a really fun event for me. Even though I was born and raised here, and even though I work downtown every day, there were still clues that totally flummoxed me. Not all though! I was extremely lucky to find two pieces!

The first! I saw a clue posted by Joe Pintz (@joepintz). It went up at noon, and I realized immediately that it was the silly red phone booth outside John Hawkes Pub. I ran at a dead run from the convention center, literally gaving myself an asthma attack. But it was totally worth it because when I finally got there and saw something waiting in the booth, I basically lost my mind. From there I ran to Red Arrow Park where a piece by Crystal Morey had yet to be found. I didn’t find that one, but I was there when a girl did. It was so exciting!
Hidenseekah - Joe Pintz
The second! I saw the clue posted by Carole Epp (@musingaboutmud), and from there it was a mad dash to the lake front. I could tell by the stickers that it was at the Art Museum, and from the concrete wall that it’s on the old part of the building. [Side Note: The new section of the museum is the most recognizable. It was designed by Santiago Calatrava and is really beautiful and popular. Blah blah blah. The other half of the museum is still great though. It is beneath the War Memorial designed by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen. It is a hulking modernist building overlooking the lake, all angles everywhere. It’s the art museum of my youth and I love it.] I came around a corner and saw the power box with a couple parcels stuffed around it. In the picture below I am sitting on the ground for two reasons: 1. I lost my mind and was so excited I couldn’t stand; and 2. my body said, “Hey pal, you are tired. Sit down. You live here now.”
Hidenseekah - Carole Epp


In both instances, I arrived at the spot the pieces were hidden literally seconds before other people. I think over the course of three days I probably walked/ran 20+ miles around Downtown Milwaukee. At least!

I am so incredibly grateful for this event. I am a public librarian, and I don’t have access to a clay studio. I don’t have a lot of money and I also don’t have work to trade anymore. This was an unparalleled opportunity for me to own extremely wonderful ceramic things that are usually out of my price range. It was also a great opportunity for the 63 participating artists to increase their presence. I’ve been out of clay for a few years now, but now I feel like I can jump back in because I know at least a little bit about what’s going on in the wider community.

If you go to the conference in Rhode Island next year, you MUST hidenseekah!

It’s a very simple idea: a woman receives a notebook with newspaper clippings from the Bintel Brief, a long-running letter column in turn of the century Yiddish newspaper The Forward. When she opens this notebook, the ghost of Abraham Cahan springs to life and they read the columns as they interact in the present. This is the charming premise of Liana Finck’s graphic novel A Bintel: Love and Longing in Old New York.

Finck adapts 11 letters-to-the-editor, using a different style based on the content of the letter. The illustrations vary wildly from blocky and dark to spacious and delicate. The tone of the book is lovely and heartfelt, perhaps because she is a character in the narrative. As she reads The Bintel Brief, she gets to know centuries of New York immigrant Jews and she gets to know Cahan himself. It can also be difficult to interest younger people in 100 year old advice columns when there is so much else to read, see, and do. Especially when that advice was written in a Yiddish newspaper! Finck breathes new life into these columns. Plenty of life was there before, but I’m not sure they had an audience.

Every story in the book actually appeared in The Forward. These are real problems real people wrote in about. They are all a bit sad, but not in an outright weepy way. People sought advice about missing husbands, thieving neighbors, and embarrassing spouses; but at the core they’re all very respectful and earnest. Many people were haunted by the ghosts of the old world, which never seems to be far from their minds. The letters are borne from the everyday hardships of immigrant life, which is sometimes quite bleak but at the same time poignant and hopeful. These letters can tell you as much about peoples’ lives at that time than any article about working conditions, poverty, or immigration ever could.

You can read some excerpts from the book on Liana Fink’s website. If you read this book and you want more (as I did), you can read the original columns in A Bintel Brief: Sixty Years of Letters from the Lower East Side to the Jewish Daily Forward, edited by Isaac Metzger (libraries have it, but you can also buy it). The Forward also still hosts a Bintel Brief advice blog online.

Cover image via Goodreads.

I wrote this for my work blog, Read @ MPL. Additionally, this review is based on an ARC I got from netgalley.

Jessica Lamb-Shapiro is well-versed in the language of self-help. Her father is a psychologist, parenting expert, and self-help author. In Promise Land she explores the culture of American self-help, trying to find why self-help has such a strong appeal and how the self-help industry became so huge. She goes to conferences, walks on hot coals, makes a vision board, attends lectures, takes a class to deal with her fear of flying, and volunteers at a camp for teens dealing with grief.

Promise Land starts with Lamb-Shapiro and her father attending a workshop/conference by Mark Victor Hansen, co-creator of the Chicken Soup franchise. The conference focuses on how to write and market the next big self-help book series. Her father has written numerous books, but none have been best-sellers. His setbacks don’t seem to matter, because he is still relentlessly, endlessly, annoyingly positive. In addition to writing books, he makes and sells educational/therapeutic games and toys (the Ungame, anyone?). She experiences the world of self-help first-hand by helping him sell his products at conferences all over the country. At every turn she counters her father’s boundless positivity with a healthy dose of cynicism.

Her relationship with her father is a constant thread throughout the memoir. He provides a way into a lot of self-help communities, but more than that Lamb-Shapiro uses the time spent together and the self-help world to explore their relationship and her upbringing. They have an interesting rapport because her mother died when she was very young. They never talked about it, and all the knowledge of her mother comes to her secondhand. After that rather traumatic event, he remarried, moved around, got divorced – lots of change at a time when people often recommend stability. In this book she looks at the legacy of self-help within her own family, how that has shaped her, and how that can help her deal with her unresolved grief.

The real strength of this book is that it is a memoir: it is not a full-scale exploration of the culture, but her journey through it. She acknowledges that self-help can be really helpful, but that it also might be total hokum. It depends on the person, and it also depends on the self-help. She starts the book with cynicism, but in the end she learns to open herself up. That’s not to say she tried a miracle cure and it totally worked, but instead that she saw that holding all her emotions in might not be the best way for her to be healthy. That was her journey through self-help, and I enjoy being there with her.

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 31 books toward her goal of 100 books.

This year NCECA’s annual conference was held in my hometown of Milwaukee! It happened last week/weekend and it was a total blast. The last time I was fortunate enough to attend was the 2010 conference in Philadelphia, PA. It was so incredible! This conference was just as fantastic. There were so many amazing shows all around town, including one at my library!

NCECA Milwaukee: Material World

This is a bit of the graphic design used for the conference. I like it quite a bit. Image via: NCECA.

I was really worried people wouldn’t like my town. Milwaukee can be rusty and weird. We’re so close to Chicago, which is clearly a bigger better city to go to. Milwaukee often gets bypassed. Who can blame people? I’m glad NCECA wasn’t fooled by Chicago’s mass transit, cultural icons, museums, etc. and decided to come to Milwaukee. We have a lot to offer! Judging by the conversations I had during the conference and all the great photos on Instagram, I think people really liked my city! As usual, my worry was unfounded. The theme of this year’s conference was Material World, which is very fitting for a city that was once a beacon of industry and is now… not. A lot of the downtown/third ward gallery space is former industrial space. Milwaukee is lousy with defunct warehouses and factories. Clay is such a long-lived medium, and a conference of very serious clay folk seems like a great place to talk about some of the bigger issues of clay. Cities are constantly in flux, and the world of clay is as well. I think a city like mine, which is a weird mix of old and new, is a perfect fit for a meeting of the clay community.

There will certainly be a post to follow about HIDENSEEKAH, which was so insanely fun. There were a few really good lectures I attended that I want to write about as well! Lots of fodder!

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 28 books toward her goal of 100 books.

This review was written for my work blog, Read @ MPL. Enjoy!

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey is incredibly fantastic, offering a peek into the lives (and perhaps minds) of great cultural figures. The project started as a blog, so it has that same short, easy-reading format.

The book covers authors, composers, poets, artists, scientists, mathematicians, inventors, and filmmakers; and the huge variety in how different people create. Some toil waiting for inspiration, others chug ahead day after day. There are early risers (like W.H. Auden who said, “Only the ‘Hitlers of the world’ work at night; no honest artist does.” Harsh!), night owls (Jackson Pollock said, “I’ve got the old Eighth Street habit of sleeping all day and working all night pretty well licked. So has [my wife] Lee. We had to, or lose the respect of the neighbors.”), and nappers (Buckminster Fuller practiced “high frequency sleep” where he slept for 30 minutes after every 6 hours of work). There are many parents who write while their children are napping (Alice Munro and Sylvia Plath are two) and civil servants and blue collar workers who work after a full day on a job (like Anthony Trollope and Joseph Cornell).

And their eating habits! Holy moly, their eating habits! Soren Kierkegaard would pour sugar into his coffee cup so it was piled to the rim, and then slowly pour coffee in until it dissolved. He would down that concoction swiftly, then chase it with a sherry. Beethoven counted the beans in each cup of coffee (60, if you’re interested). Patricia Highsmith didn’t care much for food – an acquaintance remarked that “she only ever ate American bacon, fried eggs and cereal, all at odd times of the day.”

Currey focuses on the ritual, not necessarily the product. All of these individuals produced great work, but with wildly varying levels of productivity. People have quested for the perfect routine since the beginning of time, and this book is evidence that there are as many productive ways to work as there are people getting work done.  This book can also serve as inspiration for people looking to change up or tweak their routine.

As a sneak peek, here is Benjamin Franklin’s daily routine as outlined in his Autobiography.

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 27 books toward her goal of 100 books.

This post was written for my work blog, Read @ MPL. If you want to read all of my Read @ MPL posts, click here! Also, cross-posted at Happy Bodies!

February is still the time for self-improvement, so here are some books for anyone who wants to be more creative and who might need some inspiration for the New Year. Let these books be the kick in the behind you might need to get started.

The Artist in the Office by Summer Pierre
Artists often have to work day jobs to make ends meet, and even people with no aspiration to be a professional artist might need an artistic outlet. This book provides artistic ideas about how to use your surroundings and the materials at hand to create small projects and incorporate creative thinking into your daily/weekly routine. A lot of the exercises in this book focus on helping you examine your priorities. What are the obstacles to you making art? What are the obstacles to you enjoying your job? How are you spending your time? How do you want to spend your time? This book is a supportive guide to figuring out the answers to those questions.

Steal like an Artist by Austin Kleon
This is another great book for figuring out how to be creative in your daily life. Kleon outlines 10 principles for making creativity a priority. Filled with some amazing quotes about creativity, Kleon draws from tons of fields to make some interesting points about making stuff. It doesn’t all have to be miraculous artistic genius, sometimes you just have to do something and keep doing something until things start to click. The tips in this book are particularly relevant because they focus on creativity in the digital world. Etiquette, putting your work out there, and citing your sources (in the often anonymous internet ether) are all covered.

What It Is by Lynda Barry
I think Lynda Barry is the absolute greatest, and this book is no exception. Simply put, it’s a book about writing and how to write. Barry is very encouraging and open, mixing stories about her life with instructions for writing exercises. Most of her comics and collages are on lined yellow legal paper, making it clear that artistic expression doesn’t have to be fancy and special. Art can happen anywhere! She talks a lot about how children create so much and without scrutiny, and when we get older we fall prey to judgment and the idea that we’re not really artists/writers/creators. This book is meant to help you see that the freedom and creativity we experience as children isn’t off limits as adults. We can create! We can dance! We can write! We can draw! We just need to get off our butts and do it.

And if you need a further inspiration, you should read Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman. What’s that about? Just go back in time and read the review!

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 17 books toward her goal of 200 books.

This was written for my work blog (what are the odds, right?) Read @ MPL.

Picture Cook: See. Make. Eat.A common complaint about cookbooks is there aren’t enough pictures. Boy howdy do I have a cookbook for those complainers! Picture Cook: See. Make. Eat. by Katie Shelly is a graphic cookbook where the recipes are drawn not written. Each recipe features drawings of the ingredients and the process of preparing the dish, with the instructions contained in the drawings. The recipes aren’t strict blueprints for perfect food, but more like a framework to experiment with. Instead of a recipe for tacos, she has “Some Thoughts on Tacos” featuring a huge variety of ingredients that you can combine in any way you want to create your perfect taco. People who are strict recipe followers probably won’t like this; it’s very loosey-goosey. Shelly does finish each recipe with a ribbon across the bottom of each page featuring the measurements and quantities of ingredients, so you aren’t totally out on a limb. If you want a taste of the cookbook (pun intended!), she has posted several preview recipes on her website.

In addition to the yummy food, I am totally smitten with Katie Shelly’s drawings. The lines are beautiful and clean, the colors bold, and the recipes very tempting. Cookbook innovation is pretty infrequent. People stopped trying to change it up once they figured out a standard format. And don’t get me wrong, that format is wonderfully efficient; but not all recipes have to be that way! This cookbook is beautiful, interesting, and delicious. Some cookbooks have a tone of haute cuisine, but Picture Cook is just an artist sharing her favorite recipes.

My absolute favorite part of this recipe is the hands. Mix! Around!

Cover photo via Goodreads.
Recipe photo from

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 2 books toward her goal of 200 books.

I was looking at a gift guide on Miss Moss (whom I lovelovelove. Not to be confused with Swiss Miss, whom I also lovelovelove) and she included this stripes cup from Rennes:

Rennes stripes cup

I was salivating instantly. Look at those stripes! Look at that exposed clay! Look at the speckles! It has so many lovely beautiful things I want/love. Their ceramics collection (pictured below) is beautiful and subtle: matte glazes, simple colors, clear forms. Even though the cups, mugs, and jars are minimal, there is a lot of complexity there too. On the mugs, the handles have squared edges, extending pretty far off the surface and connecting symetrically close to the top and bottom of the form. The speckled matte glazes are another beautiful touch. The speckles let you know that the glaze isn’t uniform, that it doesn’t behave the same way on every cup in every firing. I love the squared off edges of the handles because the glaze doesn’t sit evenly there. It makes a line, emphasizing the curve of that handle, letting a little more of the clay body show through. Boy howdy, do I ever like this collection.

Rennes ceramics

Rennes, I learned, is a design studio based in Boston. They are named for Rennes-le-Château, a chateau in southwestern France that is apparently the center of some conspiracy theories about the Holy Grail! They comically note that they “were into [it] way before the Da Vinci Code.” Their ethos is to make things, close to home, with beautiful details and excellent craftsmanship. Their (too small! Gimme more!) ceramics collection fits right into that. Rennes also means reindeer, and you know how I feel about antlers.

Photos from rennes – Ceramics.

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Allie has
completed her goal of reading 200 books in 2013!

I know it’s been a while since I have posted about clay, but you forgive me, right?seletti_desktructure_warehouse_1_web_dr

I am obsessed with this: the Deskructure Desktop Organizer by designer Hector Serrano. It’s an industrial porcelain landscape for your desk junk! I love these kinds of buildings (’cause I’m a good Milwaukee girl) so I am totally smitten with this piece. There are more (a boat, a London-esque city), but the one that most appeals to me is the factory. Milwaukee was once part of the Manufacturing Belt, which has since deteriorated into the periperhy of the Rust Belt. Most of the factories have closed, but the city is still littered with incredible industrial buildings. They’ve been converted to apartments, shops, offices, etc. but they still have the look of severity and purpose that a factory or warehouse has.

I live quite close to the Milwaukee Forge (see below!), which celebrated its 100th birthday this past summer. It is such a delight to walk past and look in to see all that complex industrial machinery. It’s one of the few places that isn’t post-industrial but industrial-industrial. This ceramic organizer reminds me so much of all the component parts of the forge. If only the organizer lit up at night with big open windows in the summertime because then it would be perfect.

Milwaukee Forge

Via: Swiss Miss (whom I lovelovelove).

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Allie has
completed her goal of reading 200 books in 2013!


Best friends Friday night mending

#kintsugi Snapchat is the best babysitter B3 HOW DARE YOU

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