What makes “home” truly home?

An earlier version of Jose’s desk

By Caitlin Kelly

Some people live their entire childhoods in one home, maybe in a house, maybe an apartment, maybe a trailer. But it’s home. There’s no doubt.

They feel safe, welcome, happy and well-nurtured there. They can’t wait to get home and miss it terribly when they are away.

For others, it can be a place to flee, for a while or forever.

Here’s an astonishing essay about home and house keys from a writer who — oddly — recently moved into the same small coastal British Columbia town my mother lived in for many years.

It brought up so many feelings for me.

Like this passage:

I first visited my father’s house when I was sixteen; we’d not shared an address for fifteen years. A few months later, I moved in, having nowhere else to go.

I used the keys like a tenant on a month-to-month lease—non-committal, curfew-blind—as did everyone else there: my father; his second wife; his stepson; the woman from church his wife invited to stay; the woman from Mexico his wife brought back to stay.

The whole crew pushed off eventually. My father sold the place and took an apartment next door to his office. I slept in his RV for a December and a January, then left for a commune six-and-a-half thousand miles away.

It was already my observation that you can peg the quality and tenor of your in-house relationships by how you feel when you’re steps from the door, key in hand, about to let yourself in. Are you braced for a hurricane? Ready for the dull emptiness of dead air? Smiling before your foot crosses the threshold? Quiet like a mouse?

My parents split up when I was seven, and sold the large house we lived in in one of Toronto’s best neighborhoods, on a quiet street where I played with the neighboring kids. My mother and I moved into a two-bedroom apartment downtown and I went off to boarding school.

But at 14.5, I also plummeted, with almost no notice, into my father’s home, shared with his live-in girlfriend, only 13 years older — a 28-year-old poorly suited to nurturing a troubled teen. It was often challenging for all of us.

They sold the house we later lived in when I was in my second year at University of Toronto, giving me a month’s notice to move out and find a place to live at 19.

I found a ground-floor studio apartment, at the back of an alley in a not-great downtown neighborhood — the sort of place a more attentive parent would have immediately ruled out. But he didn’t.

I was attacked there, so I only lived there for about eight months, glad to flee.

Between 1982 and 1989, I changed my place of residence a lot: Toronto-Paris-Toronto-Montreal-New Hampshire-New York. That included two apartments in Toronto, a student dorm in Paris, a gorgeous two-bedroom apartment in Montreal, a farmhouse in New Hampshire and then, finally, a one-bedroom, top-floor apartment I bought, thankful to never deal with another landlord or rent increase or cracked window or drafty kitchen, in suburban New York.

I haven’t budged since.

I love this moment when the rising sun hits the windows across the river!

In this apartment, with a stunning view northwest up the Hudson River, I’ve been through plenty: a marriage, divorce, being victimized by a con man; two knee surgeries, a shoulder surgery, hip replacement, early stage breast cancer. Three recessions. Jobs won, jobs lost. Friendships gained, friendships that withered.

A happy second marriage, now almost 21 years!

Bu throughout all of this, it’s been a good home.

I love our street — atop the highest hill in our county. Across the street is a low-slung townhouse development (so never a blocked view) and downhill another two-story apartment complex. Our street is winding and quiet, with old growth trees and stone walls. At the bottom are dozens of raspberry bushes — and yet (!) we can also easily see the towers of downtown Manhattan, 25 miles south.

So, yes, it’s the suburbs, and yes it’s pretty damn boring. But also quiet, clean and beautiful. Our town is so attractive it’s often used for film and television locations. It’s diverse in age, ethnicity and income, unlike many others nearby.

Our town reservoir

So, for me, home isn’t just the physical structure where I sleep and eat and work, but a larger vibe where I and my husband, who is Hispanic and a winner of a team Pulitzer for The New York Times, feel welcome.

I keep trying to envision our next home — whether a second home or selling this and leaving — but haven’t seen anything yet (affordable for us) that makes my little heart sing.

I have always longed to live in a private house again, with a fireplace and a verandah and a bit of land and privacy, although I am also very wary of the costs of renovation and surprise/expensive maintenance. The one downside of living in our 100-apartment building is having neighbors who keep opposing its very badly needed renovations — which could easily boost our apartment’s market value by 50 percent.

Tell me about your home — the residence, your town or city or region.

Do you love it?

Or long to flee?

And go where?

It’s sea shanty time!

By Caitlin Kelly

If you’re a TikTok fan — I confess I enjoy it but don’t follow people — you’ll have noticed a sudden interest in, of all things, sea shanties.

Here’s a nice piece from Vulture (part of NY Magazine) explaining why:

On the surface, it’s a little weird that digital culture in 2021 would become suddenly obsessed with 200-year-old folk songs about men on whaling boats. They sound like prehistoric oddities, which is part of the appeal. Simplistic in structure, they are deliberately repetitive and full of ideas and references that feel very, very far from life right now. Aside from the word Wellerman, they’re full of harpoons and pierheads and the specifics of butchering whales; the most recognizable lyrics are lines about “rounding the Cape” and the love of bonny brown-haired lasses.

Sea shanties are also resiliently uncool. They’re songs about whaling and strong winds…

One of my favorite songs ever, all nine verses, is by the late great Canadian folksinger, Stan Rogers, Barrett’s Privateers. Few things are as lovely for me as when I find a gang of fellow Canadians to belt out the words — some of which of course curse Americans!

Written in September 1976, it even has a detailed and helpful Wikipedia entry!

Here are some of the lyrics:

Oh, the year was 1778
How I wish I was in Sherbrooke now
A letter of marque came from the king
To the scummiest vessel I’ve ever seen
God damn them all! I was told
We’d cruise the seas for American gold
We’d fire no guns, shed no tears

But I’m a broken man on a Halifax pier
The last of Barrett’s Privateers

It’s a good time to sing and sing loudly and sing together.

There’s so much now we just can’t calmly discuss:

Politics

Massively divisive.

Money/income/economic status

Millions in desperate straits, facing eviction, job loss, unemployment — while the wealthy keep scooping up the gold

Race/Religion

Who dares?

Feminism

Same

Here’s a gorgeous, haunting song about heading out to hunt whales, Farewell to Tarwathie, sung by Judy Collins.

The challenge of intimacy

By Caitlin Kelly

If there ever was a time challenging our traditional ways to be intimate with others — from hugging a friend to cheek-kissing a new acquaintance to long conversations face to face, let alone sex with someone new — this pandemic is it.

It’s really difficult to eschew all emotional, physical, sexual contacts for months in person, soon to be years, even when we know it’s the only safe option.

And, odd as it may sound, reporting and journalism can be very intimate emotionally as people share stories, sometimes things they’ve never told anyone else. Face to face is much better for this — body language, sighs, eye-rolls…harder to parse otherwise.

Of course medicine and therapy are very different without in-person contact.

I had lunch this past weekend with a dear friend who lives in the next town; we met in the large, airy parish hall of the church where we first met and where she does volunteer work, so she had a key!

She sat very far away and I sat on a sofa and we caught up. And it was so so good to see her. She is always so elegant! I show up in matching olive green leggings and a fleece and she’s in palest cashmere.

I’ve been working hard since November 1 to lose weight through intermittent fasting 16/8 and it was nice to see her agree there’s a difference in my size and shape — she knows what I normally look like.

That’s intimacy — the trust it takes to be vulnerable and to share our weakest and most scared moments, not just the performative WOOHOO of social media.

But another friend, a much newer one, has withdrawn and I admit I’ve struggled with that. I miss her friendship, even though we only met two years ago. She has two teenagers and works, so she is busier than I, I know. But the few times we’ve gotten together recently, with our husbands, were enjoyable.

I finally told her I was pretty much giving up — having tried repeatedly to make contact. Her reply was a terse and impersonal two sentences that she has had some health issues.

The only way to grow a friendship is to share, good and bad.

So I’m sorry this one seems to have withered, temporarily or permanently. But I’ve really learned the hard way that true intimacy means both people have to want it.

I enjoy much of my life in suburban New York, but, as I’ve blogged many times, it is lonely as hell.

I work alone at home and now, thanks to COVID, all social activities and events are verboten.

I have no kids or grandkids, the two obsessions of almost every woman I’ve met here, over decades. Or work. Or both.

Friendship, here, feels very low on people’s list of priorities. I just don’t spend much time trying now.

So I’m even more grateful for those who do connect now by phone and Skype and Zoom — like C in London and my college bestie, Marion, in Kamloops, BC or Leslie in Toronto, or Melinda and Alec in San Francisco.

It’s ironic, and sad, that the people with whom I share the closest emotional intimacies live so far away.

One of my Twitter followers said it perfectly:

Burdens shared makes for lighter burdens and deepened trust.

A winter walk in the woods

By Caitlin Kelly

It had been weeks, maybe months, since I’d walked our reservoir path, the reservoir to the left and hilly woods to the right. I’ve been walking it for decades, in every season, and know it well. But there are spots I’ve still not explored, close to the water’s edge, like the moss colony I found this weekend.

In winter, the trees are bare, except for one species whose stiff, dried leaves — a pale biscuit beige — stick straight out as if in a breeze. I spied many nests and two squirrels but the silence was absolute, the only sound a tiny creek.

There’s a busy road circling the reservoir so there is some traffic noise, but no birds or animals now.

There are plenty of big flat rocks to rest on or sit on and a few benches at various points to sit and enjoy the view.

It was cold! Thirty degrees Fahrenheit, plus a 16 mph wind.

This anorak — which I’ve worn for 20 years — is the best garment ever: warm, windproof, water-resistant, elastic cuffs, a hood, multiple pockets. Even after gaining a lot of weight since I bought it, it still fits, thank heaven. I was absolutely cosy, plus lined wool hat and lined suede gloves.

It felt so good to fill my lungs for an hour with fresh cold air.

To be alone.

To sit in silence.

To look closely at natural beauty, which always soothes and refreshes me.

To see how different the familiar appears in every season.

To savor such a respite a five minute drive from home.

To know it hasn’t changed in decades and likely won’t, even though our suburban village is starting to add a lot more density and buildings, to our dismay. Some will basically wreck our fantastic Hudson river shoreline, so every unchanged vista matters even more to me.

Some images:

Be glad you live elsewhere

By Caitlin Kelly

I know many Broadside readers don’t live in the United States.

Right now, I wish I did as well.

Almost 40,000 Americans died two days ago of Covid.

Almost 10,000 people died in just my (largely affluent) suburban New York county.

The President cheers and laughs and lies and urges his base to wreak even more mayhem.

I won’t waste your time or mine trying to parse the insanity and violence and physical destruction and looting of the Capitol.

I listened this morning to a reporter, and former research librarian Brandy Zadrozny, explaining the utter bullshit these people believe and advocate.

This from a recent NPR interview:

ZADROZNY:

Trump’s referring to – we call it a misinformation pipeline or, really, a feedback loop. And what it is – is, you know, over the last four years, he has built a really impressive machine. And what it does – it’s, you know, made up of social media, of cable news sites like Newsmax and OAN, talk radio and websites on the Internet that are all sort of under his influence. So the president can make some outlandish claims, and then all of these websites and news outlets parrot those claims back and then expand them with more conspiracy theories. And then the president can say, look at all of this proof, look at all of these people that think this, as evidence for his original claims.

Here’s a 2017 article predicting this firestorm.

Americans, romantically perhaps, call the Capitol “the people’s house”, as they do with the White House.

Not now.

I can’t even express my despair and disgust.

Back in a few days after my blood pressure drops, with less-miserable news.

Must-see TV: Ted Lasso

By Caitlin Kelly

All my friends kept raving about how great this TV series is and I thought, it can’t be that good.

It is!

It has 10 episodes and has already been renewed for two more seasons.

Ted is an American college football coach hired to coach AFC Richmond, a British soccer league — with no knowledge of the sport — because the team’s owner has walked out on his wife, and she wants to ruin the team by hiring an incompetent foreigner.

You don’t have to like soccer to enjoy this (although why not?). It’s got fun characters, some interesting plot twists and, for those of us landlocked in the U.S. unable to visit our beloved England, a nice way to travel, if only visually.

As someone who also finds many Americans too sentimental and effusive, Lasso is very much this — to the ongoing consternation of his team, his boss and pretty much everyone British he meets. He is absurdly, relentlessly kind and outgoing and supportive, to a point you think — ugggggh, saccharine.

But no.

He also faces some darker moments in his private life, so he’s a character we can identify with and find relatable.

He does have lots of adjusting to do to his adopted home, from different words and meanings for things (relegation?!) to — what is this?! — his immediate dislike of and disdain for tea.

“Hot brown water,” he says. I can’t look at tea the same way now!

There’s a classic WAG, Keeley, whose bubbly exterior conceals a solid heart, the team owner who’s kinder than she first appears and Nathan, the team’s waterboy who’s been utterly overlooked until Ted arrives and starts to offer him chances to show his stuff.

A local pub plays an essential role, and there’s an ongoing conflict between the team’s youngest — Jamie Tartt, who’s 23 and supremely talented and arrogant and team captain Roy Kent who’s probably 35 or so. It all feels pretty realistic, from the many challenges Ted faces of trying to navigate a wholly new culture — being called WANKER! by everyone — while also trying to manage his troubled marriage from across the ocean.

Have you seen it?

What did you think?

A fun NYC day (albeit COLD!)


By Caitlin Kelly

There’s only so many pandemic months I can stand to live a cycle of apartment/gym/grocery store. Living in a small suburban town with virtually everything amusing closed for months is lonely and isolating!

So, occasionally, I drive the hour into Manhattan, find street parking (sometimes unpaid, when lucky) and wander a bit, savoring fresh air and sunshine and funky old buildings and stonework and little old ladies moving slowly down the block, hipsters in plaid coats and so many dog-walkers!

Carved red sandstone, exterior of an apartment building on Leroy Street

I parked this time on Leroy, a short north-south street in the heart of Greenwich Village, all residential, a mix of five and six-story walk-ups and several brick houses built in 1813.

Imagine! Who walked these streets then? What did they wear? Where were they going?

I was headed a block north to my favorite city street, Bleecker, an odd street that manages to run both north-south on its western edge (right?) then straight across to terminate at the Bowery.

Robert de Niro grew up there.

Herman Melville lived there.

Even singer Dua Lipa lived there for a year.

The legendary John’s Pizza.

Here’s its Wikipedia entry.

The pandemic has closed many places, but a few great ones remain — so I hit Rocco’s Pastry and Murray’s Cheese, stocking up on delicacies like sfogliatelle and Brie. I ate brunch outdoors — the only way right now to eat there since indoor dining is banned again and it was cold! Like, 30 degrees cold.

Safely distanced, this is the only way to dine in New York right now, regardless of weather

So I read my Sunday New York Times and covered my coffee with its saucer to keep it hot and wore my lined leather gloves as I ate my baked eggs.

Ludlow Street

I drove southeast to the East Village and parked, again at no cost, on Ludlow Street, just to explore a different neighborhood a bit. I didn’t walk very far but was happy to see two great shops on Rivington are still there, Economy Candy and Edith Machinist, a terrific vintage clothing store. I also found out there’s two-hour metered parking for $10.75 on that street — a garage can easily cost three or four times that much.

I sat for a while on a park bench, soaking up some sunshine, watching locals wander by. It’s not a cool, trendy, hip part of the city, but a weathered neighborhood where people live who don’t work on Wall Street and flee to the Hamptons.

I enjoyed lunch, also outdoors, eavesdropping — a much missed habit! — on five guys, mostly in their 20s and 30s, clearly all really good friends, joking and laughing at the next table.

I so miss city energy.

So even if “all” I can enjoy — no ballet/opera/concerts/theater — is a sunny day walking, I’m happy with that.

Laying down tools for a bit!

A recent favorite book. I’m mad about movies!

By Caitlin Kelly

I started writing this blog on July 1, 2009.

I was convinced no one would ever find it or read it or comment. Happily, I was wrong — WordPress tells me 22,000+ people have followed it and my daily stats show people arriving from across the globe, a real compliment.

I also write for a living, so the 2,315 posts I’ve so far published here have been in addition to producing dozens of paid/published articles and a book, Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.

It’s very weird to…not write. For probably every writer, it’s how we process the world and how we feel about our time in it.

Our tools are simple enough — a device, our hands, our eyes/ears/brain, access to the Internet (not easy for many!)

But I’ve spent the past week not working for income but focused on a book proposal I’ve been trying to revive for a few years, about women and journalism. I’m being vague until/unless it sells. Writing a book proposal is a lot of unpaid work, done in the hope you will actually find an agent and a publisher and get paid enough to make it worth doing. Each step offers its own challenges — having an agent sounds so glamorous but I have been bitterly disappointed by quite a few, even Big Name New York ones.

Like dating, it’s a combination of intellectual and emotional fit — and knowing your agent will do their very best for you. Both of my books faced 25 rejections each before finally selling and today publishing is so much more consolidated it’s even more daunting for the mid-list crowd like me.

Two friends — within a week — including one who works for a major publisher recently urged me to write a memoir. So I bought a book on how to do that and might start writing bits and pieces. It’s tricky for every memoirist with family dramas and unresolved issues. (Likely everyone!)

My husband, Jose, is a photographer and photo editor, working freelance for the USGA and The New York Times; he’s also my transcriptionist! I never learned to touch type, as he did, so I bang everything out with only two weary fingers. At the usual $1/recorded minute one pays a transcriptionist, I at least owe him lunch!

So I’ll enjoy the next week or so, as many of you — I hope! — will as well: eating, napping, watching movies and fun TV, taking walks. Reconnecting with yourself and those you love, ideally at home!

Wishing you all a great Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa!

The world seen…and yet to see

By Caitlin Kelly

It is, for sure, one of the most privileged things anyone can do — travel!

Even a short local road trip implies use of a safe, reliable private automobile.

It assumes having enough money to move past paying for basic necessities, and the health and strength to enjoy moving around and the time off to actually go anywhere. It’s no coincidence that Americans often show little interest in foreign travel, even if they make a lot of money, because taking even two consecutive weeks off is (sadly!) considered weird and lazy — while Europeans savor their annual six weeks.

In a normal year, barring being broke or ill, I love to get out of our small suburban New York town!

I like it and miss our view, but I also really need to get away from American…..everything. Especially, after the past four years, relentless politics, racism and violence.

Even if you don’t live it firsthand, it’s in every news report every day.

Here’s an alphabetical list where I’ve been so far (internationally):

Antigua

My first visit there was age six or seven, my first solo flight, meeting my mother there. My parents had just split up. My second, decades later, was with my first husband.

Austria

Oh, what memories! I was flown to Vienna from Paris at 25 for the weekend by my 10-years-older antiques-dealer boyfriend. I had never been flown anywhere by a beau! We had a challenging time and I broke up with him there. We watched a woman descend the hotel stairs in a very expensive sable coat and he said: “I’d buy you one if you didn’t give me any trouble.” Tempting, but no.

Australia

A very expensive mistake! I had hoped, for my first book, to interview the female sailors competing in a round-the-world yacht race, in Sydney and Auckland. Instead, they totally shut me out and the trip cost me thousands. I visited Sydney and Melbourne, briefly, much preferring Melbourne in every way.

Bahamas

Nassau, a very long time ago.

Bulgaria

Drove through it on an eight-day truck trip with a French truck driver for a story.

Montreal

Canada

My home and native land.

Colombia

Cartagena, just as it was first being developed as a tourist destination.

Costa Rica

Visited my mother there, who traveled the world alone for years.

Rovinj, Croatia

Croatia

Loved it! Zagreb and Rovinj, a town on the Adriatic, July 2017.

Denmark

At 25, I went to Copenhagen as part of my eight-month EU funded journalism fellowship. I took class with the Royal Danish Ballet (no pointe or center work!) as I was writing about them.

London

England

I lived in London ages two to five and have been back many, many times. But I have seen very little beyond London; a day trip to Dorset and a few trips to Bath when my mother lived there. I am so eager to see Cornwall, Yorkshire and Northumberland, for sure.

Fiji

Thanks to my mother, on her journeys.

High above Paris — silence!

France

I can’t remember my first visit but I lived in Paris (in the 15th at Cite Universitaire) for eight months at 25, on an EU journalism fellowship. Have been back many times, for birthdays and a honeymoon and traveled alone at times. Still haven’t seen Alsace or the Atlantic coast, but know the Cote d’Azur, the Camargue, Corsica and tiny bit of Brittany and Normandy. Seeing the D-Day beaches and cemetery and the Bayeux tapestry was amazing.

Germany

I’ve only been to Munich, briefly, and Berlin, for 10 days in July 2017. I am eager to see more.

Hungary

All of three days in Budapest, July 2017. Eager to go back.

Jose went to the local barber, ex-boxer Patrick Quinn. His haircut was 5 euros.

Ireland

Sigh. How I love Ireland! Have been five times, so far. My great grandfather was the schoolmaster of the one room schoolhouse in Rathmullan, Co. Donegal.

Italy

Have been three times, once for my 21st birthday in Venice (which I’ve been to three times.) I adored Sicily. Been to Rome, Florence, Siena but still so much more to see — especially the Dolomites, Lake Como, Puglia and Capri/Pantelleria.

Jamaica

One visit, with a friend who grew up there.

Kenya

The best trip of my life, really — on safari.

Malta

I didn’t love Malta. I did love Mdina and a 15th century house-turned-hotel there.

Mexico

I lived in Cuernavaca at 14 for a few months with my mother and have been back many times, but not since May 2006. I speak Spanish and miss the country!

Montserrat

A visit in my 20s, before the volcano.

New Zealand

An add-on to my Oz trip. I much preferred NZ to Australia, even though I was only there maybe 10 days and only on North Island. Much as I dislike long flights, I would definitely return.

I learned how to canoe at camp -- useful when we went to Nicaragua
On assignment in Nicaragua for WaterAid — Jen in the bow of a dugout canoe

Nicaragua

March 2014, I did some reporting with a team from WaterAid in rural areas. Great adventures!

Northern Ireland

A quick day trip from Dublin to the (amazing!) Titanic Museum, well worth visiting.

Peru

A fantastic two-week trip with my mother — Lima, Cuzco, Puno, Arequipa and sunrise at Machu Picchu. Plus the scariest landing at Cuzco, true white knuckle stuff.

Portugal

I started a four month journey, solo, in Lisbon, age 22, and traveled to Sinta, Beja, Evora, Albufeira. I loved Lisbon and remember it well — especially the Maneuline architecture and the spectacular Gulbenkian Museum.

Romania

Drove through it on our truck journey to Istanbul.

Scotland

Swoon. I spent my 12th summer in a tiny white stone cottage in Monzievaird, near Crieff, Perthshire, staying with my best friend from sixth grade in Toronto who had just moved there after her parents’ divorce. It was a wild summer, with lots of sightseeing but some very tough arguments with a girl who really didn’t want her mother’s attention divided right then.

Spain

I spent six weeks there, alone, and loved it: Madrid, Toledo, Aranjuez, Seville, Cordoba, Granada, Ronda, Ibiza. My favorite part is Andalusia with all its Moorish influences. There are few places as lushly romantic as Seville when the orange trees are in full fragant blossom!

Sweden

Oddly, a visit in late November, American Thanksgiving, thanks to a cheap-o courier flight. It was dark til 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. and dark again by 2:00 p.m. I loved everything about it: cobblestone streets, the Vasa Museum, the Butterfly House, the muted colors, candles everywhere. Very, very expensive but I would love to return.

Tanzania

Safari. Life changing beauty. So so grateful to have had the income and the time off (a month) to visit at 27 from Toronto.

Thailand

Probably the best travel experiences of my life: gorgeous country, kind people, affordable lodging and domestic flights, delicious food. I flew courier for $700 from New York (the full ticket price, in 1994, was something like $4,000) and spent 21 days there. My first husband joined me and we visited Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son. I then went alone south by train to Krabi and took a two-hour boat ride to Ko Phi Phi. Spectacular! Can’t recommend it too highly.

Tunisia

This was a very generous gift from my husband Jose when I finished my first book in 2003; he gave me some money and said GO! So I flew to London then to Malta then to Tunis. I loved it — my enormous room at the Hotel Majestic was about $30 a night. I adore mosaics and Tunis holds the Bardo Museum, one of the world’s best collections of them,

Turkey

Well….this was the final destination of my eight-day truck trip that began in Perpignan, France. I was exhausted and dirty (no showers for a week) and so happy to have a bed in a room and not in the truck. I only had three days there, alone, but what a city. I visited the Grand Bazaar and spent a day looking at rugs…which provoked the most severe allergic reaction (to dust, I had forgotten!) of my life. I feared I might die, alone and anonymously, in the Otel Harem. But I still use the copper jug I bought there every day in our bathroom.

Long Island, NY

United States

Half my family are/were American, so I had been to this country many times before I moved to it, in 1988, thanks to a green card thanks to my mother’s American citizenship. I’ve seen quite a bit of it, with only about 11 states yet to explore (Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Indiana, Idaho, Oregon.) One of the best experiences of my life was traveling across the country by train. It is spectacular, with such tremendous variations in scale and beauty. Well worth doing!

Venezuela

Oh boy. This was another cheap-o courier flight and my then best friend joined me. We visited Caracas, Jaji. Los Roques and Merida — in a week! But I got the last flight out after the terrifying landslides and she got stuck for a while and had (!) to be rescued by the Venezuelan navy.

Wales

I met a gorgeous blue-eyed Welshman named Nigel on a Christmas Eve flight to Bristol and he took me away to Wales for a few days. That was fun!

And where I still dream of going:

Jordan

Iceland

Finland

Russia

Lebanon

Morocco

Namibia

South Africa

Malawi

Japan

VietNam

Tibet

Nepal

India

Sri Lanka

The Pacific Islands

Argentina

Chile

Brazil

St. Lucia

St. Kitts/Nevis

Bequia

What have been your favorite journeys?

Where do you dream of visiting, and why?

The winter zhuzh

Looking down from our bedroom window

By Caitlin Kelly

We’re in it now, kids!

Only after December 21, in the Northern Hemisphere, will we slowly inch/centimeter back toward longer days and more light.

The long, cold, dark, rainy, slushy, sleety, snowy days of winter can be rough!

Add the isolation of avoiding COVID, and it may be the most difficult some of us have ever faced. Some of you are grieving the loss of loved ones.

My go-to solution, however shallow and silly it may seem, is to zhuzh our home — i.e. to make it as lovely as possible. Few things are more depressing than a dark, dirty cluttered home and few more deeply nurturing than one that is clean, well-lit, comfortable and welcoming.

If you don’t sigh with relief and happiness when you open your front door, as we do…maybe this is the time to make your home, no matter its size or location, the respite you so badly need.

Add color and pattern

This can show up in so many ways.

If you can handle the physical work alone, a gallon or two of paint can totally transform a chair or chest of drawers or a room, certainly a small one; include the baseboards/skirting boards for a unified look. As regular readers here know, I’m a huge fan of this UK-based, now U.S.-owned paint company, Farrow & Ball, whose colors fill every corner of our one-bedroom apartment. The sitting room is Peignoir (likely soon to change!), the rest Skimming Stone, and the bathroom a strong mustard yellow and the kitchen a green-ish gray; one benefit of their brand is that you can always request more of a discontinued color. Highlight of my 2017 England visit — a trip to their Dorset factory! SWOON.

A pretty throw rug or tablecloth or placemats and/or linen/cotton napkins, a throw or comforter.

We have and enjoy all of these.

Our duvet cover and bedside rug

Cushions/throw pillows

There’s such a dizzying universe of options, and each can really change the style and flavor of your sofa, chairs or bed. I like this new-ish site, St. Frank, with its ethnic styles. My super cheap-o pillow-cover hack? Buy two gorgeous napkins and hand-sew the edges around an existing pillow you already own. Like these cheerful green and white cotton, 20 inch square — four for $32. That’s two pillow covers at $16 each.

Plants

Nothing like glowing green on a wintry day.

Fresh flowers in every room, even the bathroom and kitchen. Invest in a few flower frogs or floral foam and you can use a wide variety of containers, not just a standard vase.

Add comfort

Team duvet! If you’ve never succumbed to the floaty, puffy, super-cosy allure of a duvet…go for it! Blankets are fine, but once you’ve snuggled beneath a duvet and a pretty, removable, washable cover, it’s hard to go back. Covers can be found on plenty of sites, from Anthropologie to Garnet Hill to Zara Home. I LOVE these solid color linen ones –– 19 colors.

Same for shams and pillow cases. Freshly ironed cases and shams, changed frequently, are a simple luxury.

A sheepskin rug, bedside, is a lovely way to start the day.

My pillow is so so so sad. If yours are as well, fresh new ones (with pillow protectors from the start) are a good investment.

Light matters!

Found, of all places, in Minneapolis!

Candlelight is especially lovely these days. Go 18th century with a candlestick bedside. Dine by candlelight, a mix of votives and tapers.

If you can get a handyman, MASKED, to come to your home, install dimmers in every room you have overhead lighting; few things are as harsh and unflattering than standard overhead lights. Every room should, ideally, have multiple sources of light: table lamps, task lamps, standing lamps. Keep bulbs and shades dusted and replace shades when they become torn, stained or burned. A bougie addition I love are pretty finials, like these — make sure they thoughtfully match the style, color and scale of your lamp and shade. When the light glows up, it can add a pretty grace note.

Changing up your lampshades can make an enormous, stylish difference to your room and style. Ballard Designs has many sizes, shapes, colors and styles, as does Fermoie. I also love these pleated fabric ones from Oka.

Our former living room curtains — for sale!

And how about your windows? Too many ready-made curtains are saggy, thin and just…sad! They droop and drag and don’t insulate drafts or block light when you do want to sleep. A huge splurge, if possible, is having curtains made — they will be properly weighted and lined. But there are some good options; love these from Madura, whose curtains we had a few years ago and the quality was excellent. If you choose a color, remember that when closed you’ll have a large unbroken block of color and how will that play in the space? If you choose a pattern, is the scale of the design too small to register from a distance or so bold you’ll soon tire of it? And how does its color, scale and pattern relate to everything else in the room?

Lanterns and lovely votives along shelves and windowsills (safely, probably not great with little kids or cats!) add a flickering glow. I love this lantern, which looks like it comes from a bazaar in Srinagar or Tetouan — not Bed, Bath and Beyond! I found my favorite lanterns at the back of a Minneapolis cafe, of all places.

Add scent

I’m not a huge fan of smelly candles, but a few can be lovely during months of no outside fragrance.

Room spray can be nice.

So can paperwhites or lilies.

I love something as simple as dropping affordable eucalyptus oil into my bath — scenting the entire (small!) room; I buy mine at Whole Foods. Other great winter bath scents are cinnamon, lavender, vetiver or patchouli.

Dust and polish

Boorrrrrring….but more necessary than ever, certainly if you live with kids and hairy pets…let alone everyone’s now dragging in road dirt, gravel, sand, salt and slush.

I keep a good supply of silver and brass polish and fresh pads for our mop, and cleaning cloths and Windex because, in the gloomy funk of winter, it’s easy to overlook how damn dusty things get.

Use the good stuff!

Some people inherit lovely linens or china or silver or glassware and never really use it, saving it only for special occasions.

Life is a special occasion!

If this terrible terrible year has taught us anything, it’s the shocking, desperate brevity and fragility of our lives, work and connections.

There is tremendous esthetic pleasure to be had sipping your tea or coffee from a delicate bone china teacup or making the bed with vintage linens or drinking your juice or wine from a bit of etched glass or crystal.

Savor it all!