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Archive for July, 2012|Monthly archive page

The freelance writers’ life, continued…

In behavior, books, business, journalism, Media, work on July 11, 2012 at 12:25 am
Vancouver Canucks vs Calgary Flames

Vancouver Canucks vs Calgary Flames (Photo credit: iwona_kellie)

I’ve never done this before, but yesterday’s post has, happily, proven popular and provoked some terrific convo…

So here are some additional thoughts:

Stamina

You gotta have it, possibly more than almost any other quality. For four years, I was a nationally ranked saber fencer, a sport I took up in my mid 30s, and had a two-time Olympian as my coach. He pushed me to my limits, and beyond, for which I’m forever grateful. Fencing a tournament means no matter how tired or sore or cut or bruised you are you keep on going. If you drink or drug or stay out late on school nights, you will simply be unable to compete effectively with the boring people like me who are lucid and well-rested enough to eat your lunch.

Freelancing usually means you work alone from home. It doesn’t mean you go all boho and sleep in until  2pm when you maybe make a call or two.

EQ rules

I can’t say this too often; emotional intelligence is the new black.

If you’re unwilling or unable to man up for difficult/scary/terrifying conversations — whether with an editor, your agent, a source, a PR gatekeeper — you will starve. I guarantee it. You must locate your cojones and use them whenever necessary. The challenge is knowing when to be a total bitch, (I was told I made one personal assistant cry. Puhleeze), and when to be a sweetie and a cajoler and a charmer. Because you will need to be all of these, quite possibly within the same hour!

Today I made a call that I’d been putting off for weeks, to my current agent, with whom some things have been sub-optimal. She also just buried her father, having lost her mother in May 2009. So I waited, and sent a condolence card, because no matter what other shit we’ve been through, she’s a human being and losing your parents is sad and painful.

But I still pressed hard on the many issues that we have to get a handle on right away. You gotta figure out (it’s not easy) how to be tough enough to consistently look out for your interests professionally — and how to be kind, but not a doormat people take advantage of all the time.

If you’re too scared of rejection to make the call or take the meeting or send the email, you will not make a living in this game.  Handling conflict, disappointment, deceit and sudden turns of fortune are all part of this lifestyle (as they are in any job!)

Know what’s happening in this industry, today

I learned a lot from a conversation with my agent this afternoon. It wasn’t a lot of fabulous news, but I needed to hear it and I need to know it in order to sell this book and my next one and, I hope, the one(s) after that. Read industry blogs, newsletters, journals, books, magazines. Go to conferences and pay attention (or buy the CDs or podcasts.)

What did I learn? Ugh….the book industry is totally screwed in new and fresh ways. Paperbacks are not selling. Hardcovers are barely beating them. Because e-books rule.

Make friends in your industry and keep them for decades

Do not make enemies. Once you’ve found a wise and helpful pal, be good to them. Remember their birthday and anniversary and know when they’re celebrating or mourning and send flowers. Yes, it’s expensive — hello, that’s a deductible business expense!

If you’re young, get to know some older veterans and vice versa

The very first thing I did, when I was 19 and starting out as a freelancer, (I had a column in a national newspaper before I left college), was volunteer to help put out a book of interviews with some of Canada’s most established journalists.  I wanted to hear their wisdom, but also, selfishly, wanted to get my name out there, early, as someone passionate about the biz and willing to show up and be useful.

Barely two weeks ago, I interviewed a woman for my financial blog whose husband remembered me from that gig.

Do not be a suck or a user or a sycophant.

But I’ve seen time and again that forging cross-generational alliances is often a very good thing for both people involved. I got a young friend (30, maybe) a fantastic job in Ottawa a year ago while he was still living in Vancouver — because the hiring manager who needed someone smart, stat, took over my apartment in Montreal in 1988 and reconnected with me on LinkedIn. (See above.)

I got my young journo a gig because he’s classy, smart and presents well; the other day, completely desperate on deadline for a source I called him. He came through for me. Yay!

Keep your nose clean

Do not lie, steal ideas, cut corners, plagiarize or “forget” that you heard that great book idea from someone you met last week at a conference. It’s a small world and we have elephantine memories. Someone once tried to spread a lie that I’d been canned from a job. A journalist visiting India from Canada told a local stringer — ie. young, powerless, unconnected — that lie. She, actually being a pal of mine, defended me and told him he was a nasty asshole.

Like that.

Glad this has been helpful….feel free to ask any questions you like!

What’s freelance writing for a living really like?

In books, business, journalism, Media, work on July 10, 2012 at 12:13 am

My summer office

I recently read this blog post by a man who hasn’t held any writing job more than two years.

And David Handelman is no deadbeat:

When Aaron Sorkin left The West Wing in 2003, I was the only writer of 11 who immediately cleared out my office. I didn’t want to have to go back to fetch things later if I was let go. As it turned out, eight of us weren’t asked back.

The experience — and, I’m sure, my then-recent divorce — taught me it’s better to assume a job isn’t going to last, and be pleasantly surprised when it does, than presuming the opposite and being caught without a parachute.

As I look around me, more people of my generation seem to be in the same boat. Whether it’s editors who pinball from one job to another, college professors who are forever “adjunct” instead of tenured, newspeople who jump from network to network, it feels like there’s little security. I just happen to be one of the more extreme versions.

I lost my last staff job in June 2006, at the age of 50.

After sending out 48 resumes — with no reply — my heart just wasn’t in it. Like many people, I hate job-hunting. I do not interview very well when on the other side of the questions.

I returned to working freelance, picking up the pace with some long-time clients and finding new ones.

Then the recession hit, slashing my income to 25 percent of my staff salary. Major (i.e. well-paying) magazines were disappearing or cutting their freelance budgets.

My income is, thank heaven, steadily rising, now 50 percent of my old salary. But many print pay rates are lower now, and the costs of living a lot higher so, like many freelancers, I’m running to stay in place.

Bear in mind that some people have several regular columns and/or an advanced degree (allowing them to teach), or write for film or television or do corporate work, (all much more lucrative), none of which I’ve yet tried.

So what’s the freelance life like?

You do need to write well, as American novelist Francine Prose’s book, “Reading Like A Writer”, points out.

Kelly James-Enger, an American friend, colleague and savvy and successful freelancer, has published several helpful books on how to write freelance for a living. Her blog is also filled with good tips.

The one thing you never ever do is make shit up — like the two interns recently fired for outright fabrication, one of them working for The Wall Street Journal. If editors can’t trust you, you’re toast.

It’s a non-stop hustle.

My current income comes from:

Newspaper articles. I write for The New York Times as often as I can find an editor willing to assign, usually 3-6 times a year.

– Magazine articles. I don’t do a lot of magazine work these days. It’s often a hassle of multiple, unpaid revisions and the top rate — once $3/wd is usually, at best, $2/wd, meaning a check of $5,000+ is very difficult to attain when most pieces run at 700 to 1,200 words. Editors only pay you after they’re happy, so I try to work only with editors who like what I submit initially.

Web writing. I recently picked up my first-ever steady gig, writing a personal finance blog for Canadians.

Photo editing. I began my photography career at 17 selling three cover photos to a Toronto magazine and have since had my work published in Time, the Times and the Washington Post, among others. I also studied interior design, so am doing slideshows for HGTV.com, a wholly new way to finally integrate my skills.

Editing others’ work. People come to me to read and critique their own writing. Last year I edited a thriller translated from Spanish, sections of a business book and a few chapters of a memoir. (I charge $150-200/hour.)

Writing books. My last advance payment on “Malled” came in in April 2012. Time to sell the next book!

Speaking engagements. I’ve addressed three retail conferences so far, with my next one at the University of Minnesota on October 30.

Television option rights. My retail memoir, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” was optioned by CBS as a sitcom and a pilot script written. Like most pilot scripts, it didn’t make the cut. But I got some cash for the option, a one-time payment.

I’d ideally like to add a few more reliable revenue streams, like teaching writing at a college and/or holding my own writing workshops.

If you want, or need, to earn your living freelance, it takes almost daily client relationship building. And each client — unlike your one or two bosses at a staff job — has a different personality, billing cycle, narrative style. You have to adapt constantly.

And, yes, you need to be on LinkedIn; here’s why.

If you want to sell books to commercial publishers, you’ll need to find (and manage) an agent. If your work has value to film or television, you’ll be working with another agent, (who will claim even more of your income) and you might, (as I did), also pay an entertainment lawyer to review your agent-negotiated but possibly dense and incomprehensible contracts.

Freelancing also means a major shift in how you conceptualize work and labor — you’re selling time, talent and skills. They’re not “giving” you a job.

And financial success relies less on office politics (none), than your ability to find, nurture and retain profitable clients, while spotting or quickly shedding the PITAs (pain in the asses.)

People fantasize wildly about how great it is to manage your own time. It’s pleasant indeed to work, as I’m writing this, in a T-shirt and shorts in the cool morning on my balcony in silence.

But the only paycheck you get is the one you did the work successfully, and invoiced for; people with weekly paychecks too easily forget to make sure you also get yours in a timely manner.

Which is why when people offer you “exposure” instead of cold, hard cash for your skills, you must chuckle audibly at their naievete — and remind them that “exposure” is not yet accepted as legal tender anywhere.

You also have to man up enough to ask for more money on a regular basis — because some people with “real” jobs still get raises, bonuses, promotions and commission.

Freelancers only get what they are willing and able to negotiate — and your “value” is a highly subjective and relative term.

And, sadly, you’ll have to deal effectively with cheats and deadbeats.

I live near New York but have hired lawyers in Vancouver, Canada and Kansas City, Missouri to successfully sue two such publishers who, like some of their ilk, assume freelancers are weak, powerless, naive or too nice (hah!) to come after them.

After one in-flight magazine’s editor tried to wriggle out of paying me, I wrote to the airline CEO — and was sent a free ticket to anywhere they flew.

I’ve also hired assistants, who help to keep me productive. Freelancing brings with it a fair amount of administrative work but I don’t need to be the one doing it. I recently filled that position — with five offers within minutes — by posting it on Facebook.

Here’s an excellent blog if you work freelance in any capacity.

Do you freelance for a living?

How’s it going?

Related articles

Your life looks so much better than mine

In behavior, children, culture, domestic life, family, life, Money, women, work on July 8, 2012 at 1:01 am
Portrait of John Jennings Esq., his Brother an...

Portrait of John Jennings Esq., his Brother and Sister-in-Law (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a great essay from Salon:

“We bought a new house,” my older sister said a few months ago, in one of our rare phone conversations.

“I’m so happy for you,” I said, though I’m sure the octaves and intonation were off. “You deserve it.” And she does. My sister has worked tirelessly ever since I can remember. Unlike me, she’s always been responsible, never leaving a job before accepting another, and certainly never leaving a job and then, instead of finding new employment, flying to Southeast Asia and staying for three months.

“We’re finally going to live in a grown-up house,” she continued. (By “we” she meant her two girls, ages 4 and 7, and my photogenic, equally successful brother-in-law.)

I loved this piece because it unpacks what we sometimes feel but rarely say out loud: I’m jealous, dammit! I want your life(style)/income/husband/wife/house/country house/cottage/car(s)/job/body/wardrobe/kids.

I want to feel like I’ve made it!

And I don’t.

Do I?

House-sitting for a friend was an eye-opening experience: a lovely, huge rear garden shaded by towering pines; a large swimming pool; multiple bedrooms; a home office; enormous closets; a washer and dryer unshared with others. I’ve never lived in a house with so many accoutrements.

She makes more money than I do, and I’m certain her husband significantly out-earns mine.

So, it’s comparing apples and oranges, right?

I’m hardly lazy, but I don’t work nights and weekends and really don’t want to, even if (which it could) it doubled my income. I take as much time off every year, and travel as far away, as I can afford.

I also chose the wrong industry for big wages — journalism — which pays, at the very top, in print, what 24-year-olds earn in their first year in corporate law or their Wall St. annual bonus. If you make it as a writer, you can make some very big bucks.

But if you don’t, you wonder what you did so wrong…

I avoided sibling rivalry by not having any, then, as the only child of my parents’ 13-year marriage. But I also have two younger half-brothers, one 10 years my junior, the other 23 years younger than I.

My 10-years-younger brother drives a very sexy shiny new car and owns a large house. He also lives in an airplane, traveling the world selling the arcane-but-popular software solution his company created.

Jealous? Moi? Well, yes, actually.

But my brother has a totally different skill set and works in a burgeoning field. He’s also been willing to risk his savings  to build his business and has also won a ton of VC cash.

My much-younger brother also travels the world, doing policy work so sensitive he needs a security clearance from the American government.

My father’s partner, a woman I really like and admire, has super-accomplished adult kids a bit younger than I am. One is married to a gazillionaire and speaks fluent Chinese. Oy.

I like feeling I’m doing OK. But, by many conventional measures, I’m not. People my age own and run major corporations or universities. They boast about their kids and grandkids; we have neither. They look like grown-ups while I often feel (and am, happily, mistaken for) a decade or so younger.

So — which is it?

Life is cool? Life sucks?

It’s too easy to look at other lives and find the flaws in our own.

My 10-years-younger brother, when I was once — as I often do — flagellating myself for my relative lack of success, pointed out that my generation had a hell of a lot more competition for jobs and a lot worse economy within which to get one, or several.

It’s all relative…given that millions of people in this world survive on less than $1 a day in income. The challenge is to remember this, not to focus on the in(s)anity of the material wealth flaunted before our eyes, by friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, let alone the mass media.

Times are tough, and with growing income inequality — with American CEOs typically pulling in 475 times the pay of their least-paid workers — it’s getting even uglier.

Do you find yourself feeling envious of others’ success?

Do you compare yourself to more successful/settled siblings?

Twelve tips for fresh grads– includes a job offer!

In aging, behavior, business, culture, education, life, parenting, travel, urban life, US on July 6, 2012 at 12:24 am
stay cool

stay cool (Photo credit: yewenyi)

So, unless you majored in computer science or engineering (congrats if you did), you may have just entered one of the worst job markets in history. Awesome!

Not.

I’ve been seeing a lot of hand-wringing, despairing blog posts lately from frustrated fresh grads wondering if or when they’ll ever find a job, let alone a job that matters to them, let alone relevant to anything they studied. Plus all the other grads, two or three years out, who still can’t find a job that makes them feel that all the costs of college were worth it.

Here’s a great article with a lot of common sense suggestions, once you do land a job, no matter how menial. It’s from the U.S. edition of Glamour, a women’s magazine, but the savvy therein is unisex...

And here’s a funny, smart blog post by a young British female journalist about the need to “fake it until you make it.”

Here are my 12 tips to help you cope:

Don’t panic

By all accounts, your generation has been cooed at/over since birth, almost without interruption, with a chorus of “Good job!” The second you’re not accomplishing something or winning an award or polishing your resume, (and getting lots of attention for it all), you feel ill at ease, possibly useless. Praise is so sweet…and yet, often, so meaningless.

Take an hour every day unplugged from all forms of technology

Savor it. Your best ideas will come to you alone, in silence and probably while in the natural world. Do not tether yourself to Facebook or Tumblr clutching for some sort of emotional blankie.

Read challenging, smart material. Every day

It’s easy to think “Thank God. I’m done!” No more papers, tests, exams, finals. Just because you’ve snagged your diploma doesn’t mean it’s time to turn your brain off. Veg for a while, but make a point of reaching for some smart, tough work. If you’re an art history major, are you up on the (latest) banking scandal ? Do you know what Libor is? Read the business section of the Wall Street Journal and/or New York Times, the Financial Times if you’re really ambitious. If you’re an economics or political science major, take the time to read history, arts and literature. Throughout your life, and not just to get or keep a job, you need to keep broadening your horizons and stay sharp!

People tend to hire and promote people with insatiable curiosity and the ability to quickly analyze and sift through complex data.

Stay healthy

Find an activity or hobby you love so much you can’t wait to do it every day

Make it something physical, tactile, sensual, practical. If at all possible, make it outdoors, social and an activity that produces something visible, useful and/or beautiful. It’s deeply satisfying and will keep your confidence up.

Spend time around people much older and/or much younger than you are

Visit your grandparents or a nearby nursing home. Do it face to face. Read to someone whose eyesight is failing. Anyone over 40 has already survived three recessions since they graduated — so they get it. And they’re OK. Anyone who lived through the Depression really gets it; perspective is useful. Hang out with your younger siblings or cousins, if you have any. Play is good. Get far away from your peers on a regular basis — they’re probably either equally whiny and miserable or happily employed which will make you even more miserable.

A dream deferred is not a dream necessarily permanently denied

The economy is somewhat on the mend. I see it in my own freelance business, which was in the tank 18 months ago. So you can’t, right now, have the job/income/life you want and think you have earned and are so certain you deserve. Take a number! Stay cool and focus on things that can make you happy in the meantime. Keep taking baby steps toward your goal, even if it means working without pay for a while. If nothing is making you happy, get a grip. Or get help.

Whenever someone gives you a chance to work for/with them, be amazing

It’s “only” retail or dog-walking or baby-sitting or waitressing or whatever…Rock it! I’ve spent the past month working with a fresh grad from the Midwest who is smart, brave, organized and follows up and through on everything I ask her to do as my assistant. (She’s getting busier with her internship — if you want to help me out, paid, email me. I’d prefer someone in Canada or the U.S. who understands how American business works. You must be ethical, a very quick learner and 200% reliable.) 

Find a community and show up regularly

It might be a faith-based community or a softball team or your local yarn-bombers. You need to be around fun, funny, happy people face to face who’ll keep your spirits up and remind you that work is not the only thing in the world. One of the toughest parts of graduating is leaving the home you created for yourself at school — friends, frats/sororities, clubs, dorms, campus groups, maybe even a few favorite professors. The comforting routines are gone. An unstructured life is fairly terrifying, especially if you’re not terribly self-disciplined.

No whining!

Many of the people you hope will hire, mentor, network with, refer or promote you are people who have likely already weathered a whole lot more than you have yet. They may have survived serious illness, the loss of loved ones, being fired from one or several jobs with all the financial and emotional stress that entails. Professionals do not vent at work and certainly never to their bosses. We don’t want to hear how tough things are. We know.

Travel, as far, often and cheaply as possible

Even if it’s only within a 10 or 20 mile radius of your home, you’ll learn something new if you’re open to it. Take a notebook and camera and be observant. If you can possibly find a way to flee the borders of the United States, preferably alone and cheaply, do so. Get a passport, and use it! You’ll quickly learn a great deal about how other people think and behave, and why. We all live and work in a global economy. You need to get that on a fundamental level to thrive in the 21st century.

Bonus tips:

Make a good-looking business card for yourself

“But I don’t have a job!” Yes, you do — job-hunter. Your card, which is simple, clean and elegant, will have your full name, your home and cell numbers (if you have both), your email address and your website(s) that show your work. Every time you leave home, carry your cards with you so you can use them whenever you meet a potential job lead. This alone will make you stand out from the sweaty, desperate pack.

Informational interviewing

I’m amazed more grads don’t know what this is, but it’s the best way to find out if you even really want to work in a particular kind of job or industry. I decided, in my mid-30s, to leave journalism and become an interior designer, but before I even enrolled in school, (which cost plenty), I went out and interviewed three women who had worked in the field for many years. I learned a great deal, and a few things that surprised me.

People are generally happy to help if: 1) you do your homework first so you have intelligent questions to ask them; 2) you take no more than 20 minutes; 3) you send a hand-written thank you note on good quality paper through the mail the next day; 4) you do not ask them for a job! The point is simply to learn, but very often, if you leave a fantastic impression, you’ve opened a door for future contact. Things to ask might include: Why did you choose this field? What do you enjoy most/least? What’s a typical day/week/month? What are the three most essential skills to succeed in your field/industry? What’s the worst deal-breaker you typically see when you meet a job applicant? What has surprised you the most about working in this field? If you were to start again tomorrow, would you still choose it?

Here’s a good recent piece on the power of optimism from the Times’ health writer Jane Brody, with more good advice for tough times.

Fresh grads — and recent ones — how’s it going for you?

Twenty reasons I love where I live

In beauty, cities, culture, design, domestic life, immigration, life, urban life, US on July 4, 2012 at 12:03 am
Looking Down Main Street Tarrytown (cropped)

Looking Down Main Street Tarrytown (cropped) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Home again, after a month away.

Feels good!

I was born in Vancouver, Canada; moved at the age of two to London, England for three years; grew up in Toronto and also lived twice in Montreal, in rural New Hampshire, Cuernavaca, Mexico and — since 1989 — in Tarrytown, NY, a town of about 10,000, founded in 1648, that’s 25 miles north of Manhattan, whose lights we can see from our street.

As an ambitious writer, I wanted to be close to New York City and have ready access to its publishers, agents, editors and fellow writers.

I could never have afforded an apartment like the one I bought, with a stunning and unobstructed tree-top view of the Hudson River, with a pool and tennis court, in the city.

So here I am, all these years later. Before this, I typically moved every few years. Between 1982 and 1989, I changed cities three times and countries (Canada, France, U.S.) as well. Enough!

Forbes, a major American business magazine, recently named my adopted town one of the 10 prettiest in the U.S.

Here are 20 reasons this feels like home:

The Hudson River

This is the view from our apartment balcony. Tarrytown sits on the river’s eastern bank, and the river is easily accessible, for boating, or a picnic, bike ride or walk by the water. Sunsets are spectacular and the ever-changing skies mesmerizing.

The reservoir

A ten-minute drive from my home is a large reservoir with otters, ducks, swans, cormorants, egrets and turtles basking in the sun. You can lounge on a bench, skate there in winter and safely walk around it in all seasons.

Mint

This great gourmet store and cafe is a treasure, filled with delicious treats offered by owner Hassan Jarane, who I also profiled in “Malled”, my book about retail. (You can see our funky street lamps in the window reflection.)

The Tarrytown Music Hall

Built in 1885 as a vaudeville hall, this 843-seat  theatre hosts a wide range of concerts, mostly rock and folk. I saw British singer Richard Thompson there last year playing a two-hour solo set, and my fellow Canadian Bruce Cockburn. I can bop down on a Friday afternoon and snag a ticket for $25.

Phelps Hospital

Yes, seriously. Having had four surgeries there and having been too many times to their emergency department, (broken finger, my husband’s concussion, a bad fall), I know it well. Small, friendly, well-run. It’s a little weird to like a hospital, but I’m really glad it’s a 10-minute drive from our door to theirs.

Bellas

Our local diner, and one of three. Big booths, perfect for spreading out my newspaper and settling in for a while.

Horsefeathers

Great burgers and the best Caesar salad I’ve eaten anywhere.

The Warner Library

Its magnificent carved bronze doors come from an estate in Florence. Built of Vermont limestone with tall ceilings, enormous windows and a lovely quiet elegance, its reading rooms are airy and filled with light. It opened in 1929, a gift to the community from a local businessman, Mr. Warner.

Easy access to Manhattan

It’s a 38-minute train ride or 30 to 40 minute drive by car. I love being able to spend a day in the city — as we all refer to it — and come home broke, weary and happy. I can be at the Met Museum or see a Broadway show or just stroll Soho without stressing over the cost of airfare or hotel. Living in Manhattan is terrifyingly expensive and the air here is always about 10 to 15 degrees cooler and fresher.

The Rockefeller State Park Preserve

Yes, those Rockefellers, one of the wealthiest founding families of the nation. They donated this  750-acre piece of land, open to everyone, whose gently rolling hills, forests and lake feel like you’ve escaped to Devon or Vermont but only a 10-minute drive from my home. The lake is 22 acres and 180 species of birds have been seen there.

They shoot movies here!

Thanks to its small, low-scale downtown with a well-preserved set of Victorian or earlier buildings, Tarrytown offers a perfect streetscape for period films, often set in the 1940s or 1950s. I missed seeing Keanu Reeves and Julia Roberts when they were here, (“Mona Lisa Smile” was partly filmed here), but almost saw Matt Damon when they were shooting “The Good Shepherd”, one of my favorite movies. If you watch it, a scene where he is to meet his sweetie outside a theater — that’s really the Tarrytown Music Hall!

Goldberg Hardware

Greg’s great-grandfather founded the place and he lives upstairs. It’s extremely rare now to find a third or fourth-generation merchant still doing business and thriving, even with a Home Depot not far away. Also mentioned in “Malled.”

Philipsburg Manor

It’s fairly astonishing, in a relatively very young country like the United States, to drive past 18th. century history. A beautiful white stone house, mill and mill pond remain in town from this era. Here’s a bit of the history.

The Old Dutch Church

Built in 1697, it’s the second-oldest church — and still in use — in New York State. It’s technically in Sleepy Hollow (which is the old North Tarrytown.)

The EF Language School

Young students come from all over the world to this Swedish school’s Tarrytown campus to study English. It adds a seriously cosmopolitan flavor to our small town to overhear French, German, Italian, Swedish and Japanese spoken on our main street.

My accountant, Zambelletti, and my dentist Zegarelli

They keep me financially and dentally healthy. I love that both start and end with the same initials. Great guys, too!

Coffee Labs

Our local coffee shop, with live music and great cappuccinos.

Silver Tips

Americans are not the world’s biggest tea drinkers, but this lovely tea room does a booming business.

A diverse population

With a median income of $80,000, we’ve got both enormous Victorian mansions and three-family apartment houses. (Westchester county has towns nearby so wealthy their median income is more than $200,000. People like Martha Stewart and Glenn Close live out here.) But Tarrytown has remained blessedly down-to-earth, even as its Mini-Cooper count and yummy-mummy numbers have risen rapidly in recent years. We have Korean nail salons, Hispanic grocers, two Greek-owned restaurants, two Brazilian restaurants, a Greek-owned florist and a car wash owned and run by an immigrant from Colombia. Hassan, who runs Mint, is from Morocco.

The Castle

Yup, we even have a real castle, on the hill right beside our apartment building. Built between 1897 and 1910 by a former Civil War general, it’s now a Relais and Chateaux hotel with a gorgeously intimate bar, a lovely garden and great restaurant. And it does have stone walls and turrets! We nestle into its curved window seat at the bar on a winter’s afternoon and feel like we’ve jetted to Normandy.

Here’s a blog post from Mathurini, an artist in England, with three reasons why she loves her home.

What do you most appreciate about the town, city or area where you live?

Simple pleasures

In behavior, life, travel on July 2, 2012 at 1:45 am
English: The 1959 Williamsport Grays, an Ameri...

English: The 1959 Williamsport Grays, an American minor league baseball team. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sigh.

Vacation is over and we’re heading home to New York today. I’ve been gone from my home for an entire month, and alone for the past two weeks.

Some things I enjoyed most:

– Watching  a minor-league baseball game. My ticket was $8, for one of the best seats in the stadium.

– Attending the 9:30 a.m. service at the local Episcopal church. It was a tiny A-frame, whose screened windows faced the grass of the Champlain exhibition grounds. Seagulls squawked. A man played banjo for Amazing Grace. The peace — the part of the service when everyone greets one another — went on, charmingly, forever.

– Eating at the bar of a dive-y pub a very good cup of home-made corn chowder and a cold local ale. Watching the NBA draft and a baseball game on two TVs at the same time.

– Not turning on the television once in two weeks of house-sitting. Didn’t miss it a bit.

– Reading fiction, which I almost never do. Loved “The Art of Fielding”, a new first novel by Chad Harbach and “Cannery Row”, the 1945 classic by John Steinbeck. Harbach’s book has sold 250,000 copies and he was paid $650,000 for it, after a decade working on it in broke obscurity. I really liked his book, despite the hype.

– Canoeing.

– A phenomenal blood orange martini and salmon with chive risotto on a splurge night.

– Washing my car with a hose in the driveway, (forbidden at our co-op.)

– Watching two hot-air balloons soaring over my head at dusk, the roaring of the gas flames audible and mysterious. Even the little dog was impressed.

– Meeting someone at a party on a farm in Vermont whose grandparents came from the same small tiny Breton town, Concarneau, where my mentor is buried.

– Having a small, playful, cuddly dog to accompany me on road trips, to hog the bed at night and whose silky ears I will miss terribly. On the car trip home from Montpelier, in the dark, she laid her head on my shoulder.

– Lying in the sunshine reading.

– Naps.

– My first few Zumba classes. Ouch! Now I get why people so enjoy it. Planning to continue them at home.

– Playing endless games of Scrabble on the Ipad.

– Missing the hell out of my husband, with three weeks apart to remember all the things I love and none of the stuff that annoys me.

– Driving up to the ice-cream stand for a huge cup of very good ice cream, for $2.60.

– The Friday farmer’s market, with wood-oven-fired pizza, luscious tomatoes, crusty baguettes and live music.

– The astonishing mist and cloud over the green hills as I drove southeast through rain to an outdoor party.

– Meeting new people who were welcoming and kind and offered amazing barbecue ribs at that party.

– Scoring some great, cheap-o antique finds, like four silver-plate knives for $7 and a lovely transferware cup for $10.

– Snagging some CDs, including the new Patti Smith.

– Introducing myself to local indie book-sellers and asking if they’d stock my book.

– Seeing the Camel’s Hump, a 4,800-foot high mountain southeast of where I stayed, in all sorts of light and weather conditions.

– The river at the end of our street. When I went to its edge, I found a tarp/tent and a very deep large hole dug at the edge of a cornfield. Shriek. Fled…quickly.

– Taking lots of cellphone photos for future visual reference, mostly of anything with patina.

– Going dancing with Jose, shaking my tail feather for 90 minutes, with kids half our age coming up to say “You’re a terrific dancer!” That new left hip works just fine.

I love glam trips to Paris and London, but the past month, doing the rural/small town thing, has been a wonderful and relaxing change. I’ve really enjoyed it.

What are some of the simple pleasures you’ve been enjoying lately?

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