15-year-old Rita Aronstein (my cousin) hugs younger brother Jesse at the Kansas City airport, after returning from a month-long ballet camp in New York City. Rita says she got used to the faster pace but is glad to be home. Friends she met at camp called her Dorothy.
"I can breathe again. I feel like I've been holding my breath for four weeks," says Mom, Laura (right).
My cousin, artist Nathan Schultz, 26, stands in front of two self portraits at his home in Lawrence, Kansas. He's created a menagerie of contemporary characters, including this image of "Dimebag Darrell," former lead guitarist for Pantera. Darrell was murdered in 2004 while performing onstage with metal band Damageplan.
Most of Schutlz's work is in acrylic but last winter he made this collage using a cherished photo of Kurt Cobain. Called "Kurt has a posse," it features cameos from girlfriend Evie, friend Chris and the artist.
"I think in America where you have the luxury of not worrying about politics, there's a lot of tension," says Schultz. There are a lot of people who just do art that's internal. That's what most of my art is. And then there's people that just do art that's political.
"The art world is definitely changing," he adds." But right now "I think that has more to do with technology than politics."
Friends Tori Reeves, 22, a waitress at La Parrilla Mexican restaurant in Lawrence, and Jessie Unruh, 21, a student from Kansas City, met about a year ago and frequently swap clothes. Jessie is wearing Tori's skirt in this photo. She owns about 15 pairs of boots, many unique and old.
Tori cuts the neck out of most t-shirts. "If it's not completely comfortable, I don't care how cute it looks," she says.
Sherman Tolbert, 56, (left) sets up his chess board in downtown Lawrence almost every day. "It's the conversation with people. Some of it's spiritual. Some of it's political," he says. "I like to think."
His partner for this game is Ken Soap, 29, a Lawrence DJ.
Tolbert oversees the Salvation Army's local shelter and teaches cognitive therapy to inmates." "People teach you the alphabet and they teach you social studies. But no one teaches you to look at your thinking," he says.
He voted for the first time in the November elections, though for a presidential write-in instead of Obama. "I wasn't pleased with any of the candidates."
Lawrence is a university city with about 100,000 year-round residents. It's the birthplace of basketball, too.
Here's the entrance to a used record store where I bought a Candelbox and three Tom Petty CDs. That store and several others lure in customers with resident kitties adopted from the local no-kill shelter.
The downtown area has seen a few businesses close during the past year — among them a drug store (not pictured) that had been locally run more than 100 years.
And the Acme towers! It's all so unreal to me.
Kansas is the first state that feels like a story book. I went to Lawrence with relatives and got back late. Took Armani for a walk down a long dirt road. Horses, soil and grass lend top and base notes to the humid air.
I'd never heard cicadas till I got here. You would not believe how loud they get. I looked up at the funnel-shaped clouds and the stars and couldn't help but click my heels.
The prairie has a similar appeal as the desert. It puts me, a lowly human, in my place. The landscape fosters simplicity, clarity.
On the other hand, Kansas planners love their toll roads. There is a fairly high sales tax and an income tax, too. Bigger cities have metered parking, though it's cheap.
There are some wonderfully unique houses here, including a Frank Lloyd Wright and others with unique detailing in Wichita:
And in Lawrence, I found some yin and yang: