The Dior show at the Brooklyn Museum. Swoon!

By Caitlin Kelly

This is really one of the best museum shows you will ever see anywhere — even if you’re not a fashionista.

Christian Dior, the French fashion designer who died so young at 52, and who was quickly succeeded by 21-year-old (!) Yves St. Laurent, left an indelible mark on fashion and fragrance.

I love the contrast here between the simple rope and layers of crisp tulle!

This show, which ends February 22, is a massive, gorgeous, mesmerizing tribute to Dior and all the in-house designers who followed him — Marc Bohan, Raf Simons, Maria Grazia Chiuri and John Galliano. Each brought a specific vision to their work, from the clean-cut elegance of Bohan to the riotous OMG-ness of Galliano.

1949, silk taffeta

The show begins with Dior’s earliest work, sober-suited dresses and coats from the 1940s, as Europe was emerging from the misery of WWII — and a fantastic tomato-red coat with deep patch pockets and a cravat-type collar is a hit of joy.

One of the many terrific elements of this show is how well it also explains and unveils some invisible design processes — like the creation, for every garment, of an initial muslin prototype, which is refined until it’s time to use and cut expensive fabrics. (If you’ve never watched the film Phantom Thread, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as a fashion British designer, it’s a great primer.)

A wall of paper sketches, each with a tiny swatch of fabric pinned to each design, helps us see how designers plotted out an entire season, as do the “inspiration books”, (which reminded me of “The Book” taken home every evening by Miranda Priestley in The Devil Wears Prada.)

There’s a wall of magazine covers, vintage and contemporary, showing how the house of Dior has stayed fresh and relevant decades later.

I’m obsessed with textiles and fabric (no idea why!) so seeing the spectacular fabrics used here — in addition to the final design — was a great joy for me, like this, by Fortuny.

I loved the gallery of photos, black and white and color, of models and celebrities wearing Dior. If you know and love Richard Avedon’s classic 1955 image, Dovima with Elephants, the dress she wore is here!

The museum’s central atrium is astounding, with dresses somehow stacked all the way to the ceiling and a dazzling light show and music, leaving you happily awestruck by so much elegance. The curators also showcase a few gowns in glass cases you can literally sit beside, soaking up every detail, like a gown with embroidered tarot cards.

A detail of a French Revolution inspired gown by John Galliano
Oh, no big deal — just a skull and snake of gold lace guipure.

There are dozens of mannequins to admire and benches to sit on for a bit to just savor it in comfort.

As you finally leave, a bit drunk on beauty, there’s a room full of the dresses worn by current celebrities at the Oscars or Golden Globes or at Cannes. I’m not really a celebrity follower but I do love fashion, so it was actually a thrill to see the exquisite pale pink gown, a sort of damask with roses, worn by Jennifer Lawrence when she won her Oscar — I remember her working hard to gracefully scoop up the enormous train to climb those steps to the stage.

And — oooooh! — Absinthe, the stunning chartreuse satin cheongsam with fur trim worn by Nicole Kidman.

Why read a grim book?

By Caitlin Kelly

There are happy books and there are books you think…really?

I’m expected to get through the whole thing?

There are books, whether novels or non-fiction, about alcoholism, drug use, family abuse, that can feel like a real slog. The subject is undeniably depressing, frightening, even terrifying and most of its characters are people you would never want to meet.

I admit, I didn’t enjoy reading a huge 2018 best-seller, Educated, by Tara Westover, about the terrible family she grew up with, eventually escaping to a better life. I was (however unfairly) impatient with her for staying so long in an environment that was so awful. An earlier best-seller, also by a white woman, Jeanette Wells, was 2005’s The Glass Castle. But I did enjoy a Canadian book like this, North of Normal.

One of the best books I read last year was also emotionally difficult, In The Dream House, by Carmen Maria Machado, a memoir of lesbian domestic abuse. Now that sounds appealing! But her writing is extraordinary and it’s a great book.

I recently read the 2020 Booker Prize winner, Shuggie Bain. As I described it to a friend, a fellow journalist, she said she just couldn’t do it. I found that interesting as journalism, with our decades of exposure to some very tough stories, tends to harden us somewhat.

I did enjoy it, but it’s rough — a young boy, Shuggie, living in Glasgow poverty with an older brother and sister and a severely alcoholic mother, abandoned by his father.

I also found elements of it painful and hard to read because my mother was also an alcoholic, and the novel is filled with his hopeless hope that someday, someday, she won’t be — a fantasy painfully familiar to any child of an alcoholic.

The author, Douglas Stuart, survived a very similar childhood, so his ability to turn such grim fare into a compelling novel is impressive. And his background isn’t the standard trajectory of writing classes, workshops and an MFA — he worked in fashion design for decades and was writing it while working as the senior director of design for Banana Republic.

From Wikipedia:

In a conversation with 2019 Booker winner Bernardine Evaristo on 23 November, livestreamed as a Southbank Centre event, Stuart said: “One of my biggest regrets I think is that growing up so poor I almost had to elevate myself to the middle class to turn around to tell a working-class story.”[22] Discussing the “middle-class” publishers’ rejections he had received for Shuggie Bain, he told Evaristo: “Everyone was writing these really gorgeous letters. They were saying ‘Oh my god this will win all of the awards and it’s such an amazing book and I have never read anything like that, but I have no idea how to market it’.”[22] Stuart said in a 2021 conversation with the Duchess of Cornwall that winning the Booker Prize transformed his life.[36]

But I also liked a very tough book, Triomf, from 1994, by Marlene van Niekirk, the most celebrated Afrikaans author of South Africa. It’s dark as hell; the family she features even includes incest.

What, then, is the appeal of such books?

For some, voyeurism….thank God it’s not me!

For some, curiosity, having never experienced poverty and/or alcoholism, or life in a cult in the woods.

I hope, for some, as a way to develop or deepen empathy for people whose lives are wholly different from their own, as — in non-fiction — the storytellers have clearly been able to survive and thrive despite a really difficult earlier life. It becomes a narrative of resilience, not despair.

I admit, I cried hard at the end of Shuggie Bain, as it brought up a lot of unexpressed and painful memories of my own experiences of being “parentified”, always worrying about my mother’s health and safety instead of my own, (even though we were not, thank God, poor), and tied to a woman who was unable or unwilling to create a larger social safety net for herself. So reading a similar book can be painful but also cathartic — someone else really gets it. And, God forbid, someone else had it much worse.

Do you ever read books like this?

Which ones?

How have they left you?

NOTE: I refuse to use Amazon for any purchases, (I loathe its labor policies), so links to these books will not connect to their site.

More simple pleasures

By Caitlin Kelly

Happy New Year!

As we plunge into 2022, COVID raging, so many of us confined to quarters, we all really need some extra cheer!

First — a big thank you to everyone still showing up here. It’s been (!) 13 years since I posted for the first time, and here we all are.

Also — I am very much hoping you will stay healthy, but if this terrible disease catches you, you are well-vaxxed and it won’t be too grim.

A few things I enjoy:

Regaining our full northwest view of the Hudson River now that the treetops are bare

The exact moment, easily missed and so lovely, when the rising sun behind us on the east bank of the Hudson hits a row of windows on the west bank — making them look like signal fires. I call it the “ruby moment.”

Twinkling lights on a Christmas tree

Getting up for a morning bath, then back to bed under the duvet for more snoozing

Lying in bed reading

The astonishing burst of brilliant orange just as the sun sets

Enjoying all the Christmas cards we stick to the back of our front door

Fruitcake! (yes, really)

Fresh flowers in every room because the skies are so gray — and so are our moods

Silence, broken only by the hissing of radiators

So much great music on Sirius XM: jazz, classical, Classic Rewind, Deep Cuts

The endless beauty of the sky and clouds — just look up!

English and French decorating magazines — all those charming 17th c Cotswold cottages and rambling chateaux!

Playing my vinyl records, from Rocky Horror Picture Show to Vivaldi to Billy Bragg

Clipping and organizing recipes

Trying out new recipes

Clearing out clothes, shoes, household goods for donation or sale

Organizing every drawer and closet, ready for 2022

Re-watching beloved TV series (Derry Girls!) and movies I know so well I can quote the dialogue (The Devil Wears Prada, Casablanca, all the Bourne movies.)

Starting every cold dark morning with the gentle glow of a scented bedside candle

What are some of yours?

A family reunion, of sorts

My maternal great grandmother, Blanche Gresham, 1924

By Caitlin Kelly

For years, my late mother and I were estranged. When we were in touch, even as her only child, she almost never discussed her childhood or adolescence before, at 17, she met my Canadian father in the south of France, then left her native New York City to move to his hometown, Vancouver, where I was born six years later.

Both parents grew up wealthy — in large houses with servants, attending prep school (my mother), owning a horse and a sailboat (father). But neither childhood was necessarily calm and happy.

So their histories have remained mostly a mystery to me.

My mother died April 15, 2020 and a very large, heavy packing crate arrived a year later from her final home, a nursing home in Victoria, B.C.

For a variety of reasons — partly fear the works inside would be very damaged (they weren’t), ambivalence about owning the final items of hers and knowing we have no one in our family to leave these things to — I didn’t open it for nine months.

It took a lot of hard work to get it open — thank you Jose!!

This week, finally, we did, and my husband Jose attacked it with a hammer and crowbar and a lot of determination!

Amazingly, the four things inside were in excellent shape; only a few bits of one frame had chipped off and the glass was wholly intact on everything (having been taped.)

There were two family portraits and a gorgeous Inuit print of a polar bear from 1961 I had long admired. And a sampler, from 1845.

This is one of the earliest Inuit prints, by Lucy, 1961; ignore my unbrushed hair!

So now my maternal great-grandmother — Blanche Gresham — later the Countess Casagrande of Park Avenue — has come almost full circle, some 3,011 miles.

I only met her once, as a very old, very infirm lady in that apartment. My mother adored her. I adored my grandmother — while we both had very difficult times with our own mothers. Go figure!

These women led quite extraordinary lives, cocooned by enormous wealth, but with marital mayhem — my grandmother married six times, four in a decade. I never met any of them, long gone by the time I met her.

I think (?) the smaller image is her with my grandmother Aline, and her sister Lois

I am very curious about these women and their lives; the money came from my great grandfather, Louis Stumer, a Chicago stockbroker and developer of a gorgeous skyscraper in 1912, The North American Building, on State Street in Chicago, (since torn down):

Developers Stumer, Rosenthal and Eckstein hired one of Chicago’s busiest, and best, tall building architectural firms Holabird & Roche for the project. William Holabird and Martin Roche, along with a team of talented designers and engineers, had developed a commercial building system that was not only pleasing to the eye, but more importantly for an investor could be built quickly, efficiently, and ready for rent-paying tenants on schedule. They were instrumental in helping make what came to be known as the Chicago School world famous.

One reason I chose to move to the U.S. was my fascination with this family and their lives. One relative became an ambassador, one an archeologist, one (!) a bullfighter. My cousins had lives that included piloting their own Cessna and running a rug business from Morocco. They were all intimidatingly confident — and so much larger than life than most of the quiet, polite Canadians I grew up around.

It’s quite comforting to finally have these women in our home now.

Some Christmas memories

1995…Jose (later my husband) working for a month in Bosnia as a New York Times

photographer. It was a cold, lonely, hungry month. Unforgettable.

By Caitlin Kelly

The holidays are a time of a lot of emotion. This year, like last, will be one with far too many empty beds and places at the dinner table — with an unfathomable 800,000 Americans now dead of Covid.

If you are one bereaved, I hope you can find some joy this season.

I thought I’d share some holiday memories, most happy. When I was single, I would spend it with my mother or my father and his second wife and son. I have to admit it wasn’t always enjoyable; my mother drank and my stepmother, although an amazing cook, rarely made me feel welcome in their home.

Since my father has four adult children by four women, one of whom I’ve never met and don’t want to, and one of whom refuses to reconcile with me after more than 15 years…we don’t even try for a “family” Christmas. It’s too messy and impossible. The closest we came was 2017, when Jose and I drove up to Ontario and my half-brother and his girlfriend joined us.

While my maternal grandmother was alive, her presents were always wrapped in silver paper with blue ribbon, from Holt Renfrew, Canada’s nicest department store. She was a lavish gift-giver…gone since 1975.

We had been looking forward for six months to spending four days over Christmas at a resort in Quebec. Of course, we cancelled, thanks to COVID.

Instead, we’ll have a tree and a lovely meal at home and just enjoy each other’s company.

A happier one!

Montreal/London, age 11

We lived — my mother and I — in a brownstone at 3432 Peel Street, midtown. That year she was the host of a TV talk show, and that Christmas we flew to London to stay with my aunt and uncle, both Canadians, but very well-known figures in British TV and radio. We had Christmas dinner with Montreal friends, then a trans-atlantic flight with wreaths somehow suspended across the aisle, then another holiday meal. I remember most fondly discovering clotted cream…swoon! And Hamley’s, for years one of the world’s best toy stores.

Cartagena, Colombia, age 23

My mother was traveling throughout Latin America, alone, for years, starting in this coastal city, then barely opened to tourism. We went the cathedral for Midnight Mass — and were pulled over and frisked by police in case we were going to do harm to the tourists, aka us.

We spent the day on the beach, unaware of possible heat stroke thanks to a steady breeze. We had pizza for dinner — then took turns in the bathroom, quite ill.

My favorite Christmas cookies!

Paris, 2015

Friends loaned us their apartment, in the most perfect location — a block from Rue Cler, one of the city’s best for markets and restaurants. Daunted by the high prices of restaurant meals, our Christmas dinner, eaten in their small kitchen, was a roast chicken. It was unseasonably warm and I walked over to the Ferris Wheel near the Tuileries and rode high above the city, sweaty even wearing only a sweatshirt.

Cuernavaca, Mexico, age 14

This was the worst of all, the night my mother had a full-blown manic episode and drove down the highway with her car lights off. I’ll spare the details, but it ended in a city where we did not live, at midnight, after she drove into a ditch. I left her there, leaving with two friends, and never lived with her again. I moved back to Toronto soon after and moved in with my father.

Toronto, age 15

My first Christmas living with my father and his girlfriend. I hadn’t lived with him since I was seven. I still remember the lavish gifts he offered — skis and a brightly colored patchwork quilt I used for many years. It felt good to be so welcomed.

Irvington, NY, can’t remember the year!

We attended midnight service at our church and it was just starting to snow as we left. “Let’s go to the lych gate”, said Jose. It was cold! He insisted and, under that small canopy, proposed to me there. He knew that Christmas Eve was a night of very bad memories with my mother, and wanted to re-brand it with a much sweeter memory. It worked!

Do you have a special holiday memory?

10 reasons to watch Succession

Logan Roy, media mogul (played by Brian Cox)

By Caitlin Kelly

This is not a television show for the faint of heart!

There’s no physical violence — not the endless gunfire of cop shows or the bloody murders of Dexter — but every episode means someone, and likely several, will feel a verbal knife between the ribs.

This much-lauded HBO series has been booked for a fourth season, its finale of Season Three tomorrow.

It follows the fortunes, (which are considerable), of the Roy family: the father, Logan and his three hapless adult children, (in age order), Connor, Kendall, Siobhan and Romulus. The family business is Waystar-Royco, a global media conglomerate, and the succession is who, if anyone, will take over from Logan.

Ten reasons I think it’s worth your time and attention:

Peeking into how the 1% live

They call their private jets PJs. How cute! No one ever drives because there is always a gleaming black Escalade, with driver, waiting for them. No cabs or public transit. No commercial flights. So many servants.

At the end of Season Two, the Roys convene in Croatia aboard a luxury mega-yacht — you know, the kind with a helicopter landing pad and its own swimming pool. If you’ve never boarded one (and lucky you, if so!) it’s an interesting peek at opulence. Their Hamptons house is enormous. Their Manhattan townhouse, typically, has its own elevator and is both restrained and very luxurious.

Siobhan Roy, (played by Sarah Snook)

Sibling rivalry!

It’s both absurd and scary to see the sniping between these supposed adults, especially between Roman and Shiv, endlessly jockeying for Logan’s fickle favor. Connor is a low-key buffoon and Kendall is determined to bring down the whole castle.

Here’s a profile from the Hollywood Reporter of Kieran Culkin, who plays Roman.

The endless courting of investors

It all looks so shiny and effortless, but if your company’s health or survival relies on fellow billionaires investing millions of dollars in your abilities, things can get dicey very quickly — as they do in Season Three.

Tom Wambsgans (played by Matthew MacFadyen)

Marrying into money? You’ll earn every dime!

The marriage between Tom Wambsgans and Siobhan is…troubled. He’s a midwestern schlub — and I still have no idea how they met or what she ever saw in him?! — and she’s a spoiled rotten heiress who’s never held a job, apparently. She’s a skilled manipulator but, especially in this current season, he’s become wary and withholding. About time!

Ethics, schmethics!

It’s all about the power, baby! If your lawyer can’t get you the results you want, hire another one!

Nicholas Britell’s unforgettable theme music and score

Here’s a fascinating look at how he makes these musical decisions; a 5:24 video explaining his choices for Season 2.

Once you hear it, you’ll never forget it, a mix of discordant notes played with abandon. He uses his music in so many ways, from a funereal dirge to a gentle acoustic guitar to a stately symphonic rendition.

Kendall Roy (played by Jeremy Strong)

Kendall

This is one deeply sad human being. He has no apparent relationship with his two children. His current flame, another heiress, seems less than. There’s a deep sadness in his eyes and everything he says, with hearty bravado, just feels off. Actor Jeremy Strong is extraordinary.

Here’s a very long New Yorker profile of Strong.

Siobhan

How perfect that her nickname is Shiv — the home-made knives prisoners make to stab a guard or fellow inmate with. Played by Australian actress Sarah Snook, Shiv is a slippery shape-shifter, all cooing suck-up to her father and cold-as-ice to her hapless husband. She desperately wants power but never seems to find a way to legitimately earn it. Even when she does (in Season Three), her achievement is undercut and dismissed by Logan. It’s brutal to watch.

Here’s a Harper’s Bazaar profile of Snook.

Logan

He is a true brute, whose tactics may make this show unwatchable for some. His typical reply of “uh-huh” speaks volumes — by never committing to anything he hasn’t already planned or sabotaged. The definition of ruthless.

Wealth doesn’t protect you from abuse

Read this brilliant analysis, from Vox, of how deeply traumatized the Roys really are.

And this, about Kendall and the actor who plays him, Jeremy Strong.

If you’re already watching it — here are some interesting re-caps/analyses.

If you have been watching it, what do you think?

Come join our pitch slam! Dec. 15, 6-7 ET

By Caitlin Kelly

On December 15, between 6-7pm ET, my friend Abby Lee Hood and I are offering a Zoom pitch slam — $25.

If you have been pitching (some of?) your ideas fruitlessly, this is a great and affordable opportunity to get smart, kind, helpful feedback from two busy full-time freelancers; I’ve sold more than 100 stories to the very demanding editors of The New York Times and Abby writes for a wide variety of outlets, some in their native Tennessee (i.e. local and regional news) but also for the Times, Teen Vogue, Washington Post and more.

Pitching isn’t easy!

So this webinar, which will be recorded, offers everyone a chance to either pitch their idea and get our candid-but-kind feedback or just watch, listen and learn.

Here’s the sign-up!

Hope you will join us!

10 reasons to love Mame

By Caitlin Kelly

Starting a new occasional series here, dedicated to cultural things I love — and hope to inspire you to check out as well: music, books. films, art and more.

Do you know the book, musical or movie of Mame?

If you’re below 50, probably not!

Written in 1955 by Patrick Dennis, it sold more than two million copies and stayed on The New York Times best-seller list for 112 weeks. Then it became a play, a musical and a film, nominated for six Academy Awards.

The 10 year old boy at its center — also named Patrick — is sent to live with his madcap aunt Mame, who defines fabulous; in the 1958 film, Mame re-decorates her apartment almost every scene.

I adore Mame, and its spirit of joie de vivre.

I know all the songs by heart and love singing along, although “My Best Girl” always makes me weepy.

From Wikipedia:

A June 1958 Los Angeles Examiner article named six different styles: Chinese, 1920s Modern, “Syrie Maugham” a French style named for writer Somerset Maugham’s wife; English, Danish Modern and East Indian. When the Upsons visit Mame, they run afoul of the Danish Modern furniture, which is equipped with lifts[5] The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction (Art Direction: Malcolm Bert; Set Decoration: George James Hopkins).

The costume design for the film, which includes outfits for Mame that coordinate with those sets, was provided by Orry-Kelly,[6] who had worked with Rosalind Russell on a number of films. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther observed: “The lavish décor of Mame’s apartment is changed almost as frequently as are her flashy costumes, and all of them are dazzling, in color and on the modified wide-screen

Ten reasons I adore Mame, and hope you will too!

— Although Patrick lands abruptly in her care after his father suddenly dies, she’s thrilled to now be taking care of him, not resentful.

— Her glamorous Beekman Place apartment is a froth of over-the-top fun and fantasy.

— That cigarette-holder!

— The characters are great, including lock-jawed snob Gloria Upson and gloomy Agnes Gooch.

— Mame can not stand snobbery!

— She reminds me so much of the wealthy, profligate Chicago-born heiress who was my late maternal grandmother, all raw silk turbans and custom-made raw silk muumuus and gold-topped canes and limo’s everywhere.

— Like me, Patrick is sent off to boarding school but treasures his visits with Mame.

— Despite moving in wealthy Manhattan circles, Mame is always urging Patrick to be curious and adventurous: “Open a new window, open a new door, travel a new highway you’ve never tried before…”

— She knows how to cheer everyone up, singing: “Haul out the holly, put up the tree…We need a little Christmas, right this very minute, candles at the window, carols at the spinnet!”

— She’s a figure we can all enjoy in our lives, whether we’re a lost little boy or a happy play, musical or film-goer. She stands the test of time.

32 terrific holiday gifts — 2021 edition!

By Caitlin Kelly

This is my favorite blog post every year — and I hope you enjoy it!

Everything on the list is a gift I think might delight the right person and I’ve worked hard to offer a wide range of prices, styles and vendors — $12 to $637.

(You won’t find — sorry! — gifts for kids, pets or tech.)

I get not one dime for this! So no one has influenced these choices and I get only the pleasure of seeing, every year, which picks you find most appealing.

I’m always most moved by gifts that clearly show the giver has thought carefully about my specific tastes and preferences — generic stuff can feel depressing, even if you think “Well, I got them something!” (I speak from experience here.)

So if you have absolutely no idea what someone would really enjoy, ask their partner or sister or spouse!

Or them.

Anything is better than the banal go-to’s of scented candles and journals, even a gift card to their favorite store or service.

A gift to a charity they admire is also a great option.

Enjoy!

I love this pretty Indian print cotton small wallet, from Simrane, one of my favorite sources for printed Indian goods — also tablecloths, napkins, clothing, bedspreads, wash-bags and more. 30 euros, $34.00

If your gift recipient, like me, spends a lot of time at the gym, they need and really value lots of comfortable bike shorts. I live in these — and very few places offer a more modest 9-inch leg! From my go-to Vancouver-based brand. Aritizia, they also come in 3, 5 and 7-inch — and a delicious array of 13 colors, like this pale lavender. $38

I love having lots of little bowls — for food prep, for butter or jam or mustard, or to hold earrings or rings. These four, ceramic in shades of blue, are $24

How boring is a Henley T-shirt? Not in all these gorgeous colors and with J. Crew quality. I think Henleys are sexy, and I bought several of these last Xmas for my husband. $45

I have a cephalopod obsession I share with a dear pal, so anything with an octopus on it gets our attention. I love these navy blue and white dishtowels, practical, but fun and stylish! $25 for two

Everyone can use a gorgeous platter, for holiday gatherings or our favorite no-cook dinner in the summer — a platter meal of meat, cheese, veggies, hummus, olives. This one, with a lovely blue floral rim, is from a new company, Caskata, with a lot of stylish offerings. $95

I wear jewelry and I travel….I bet you know someone who does as well! Having a nice small jewelry box to tuck into your purse or backpack is a simple and reliable luxury. This one comes in yellow, white or black leather. $115

If I were a very rich lady, I would buy everything from Hermes! Huge fan of their bags and scarves and their delicious fragrances…so I liked this small cord bracelet a lot; in red/orange or dark blue/black or soft pink leather, with an elegant gold-colored knot clasp. Could work for a man or woman. $300

Few daily luxuries are as affordable and pretty and unisex (and a nice gift for people of almost all ages) as a very good soap, like this set from classic American maker Caswell-Massey, $29. Or these, in rose geranium scent, from Floris London, three for $45. I dream of one day visiting the legendary Italian hotel Le Sirenuse, but in the meantime can enjoy their fabulous soaps with their signature scent, three for $55

Let’s just go for comfy and cosy and be done with it! Love these waffle sweatshirts in 11 colors, from one of my go-to brands. Aerie. $32.97

If you have never seen Inuit art (pronounced In-weet, meaning The People in Inuktitut), it’s really special stuff. I was fortunate enough, growing up in Canada, to have Inuit prints and sculptures in our home, and love them. This calendar would make a great introduction to their colorful and very distinctive prints — and a nice and practical gift for any Canadians in your life! $19.95

I love love love this carved stone owl — by a young Inuk, its beauty typical of their carvings’ simplicity and power. $350

OK, so this is kitschy — but also it’s chocolate! A basket of every possible NYC icon (yes, even the Empire State Building) made by Manhattan’s oldest chocolate company, Li-Lac chocolates. $160

We have two of these throw pillows on our sofa and I love them….this gorgeous Swedish store, Svensk Tenn, has a lot of great stuff. It may be the only retailer whose profits also support medical research. $200

How can you resist a small tray with elephants? In green, red, pale pink, black or yellow — also from Svensk Tenn. $44

Travel these days is…not much fun! A soft, stylish, warm cashmere wrap in 10 colors is a great way to cover up on chilly flights or add a hit of color to anything you wear. From Garnet Hill, $189

Do you know someone who’s highly creative — or longs to be(come) more so? This book might be a good fit. $49.95. But also my favorite, a classic by American choreographer Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit; I find it smart and inspirational, written by a tough and talented New York woman still working at 80. $20

I know, this idea is….unusual. But so gorgeous! It’s from one of my favorite vendors anywhere, selling extraordinary wallpaper and fabric, based in England — and this wall mural is amazing. You could build the most extraordinary room around it. $637

From one of my favorite jewelers, Meeka, in Pennsylvania, pierced earrings, small round amethysts in silver, $165. And these, oval white topaz — I really like the prong setting. $560. And this brushed silver ring, with one teeny black diamond, is minimal, cool and low-key, $290

Take a very close look — at binoculars! This page has 30 pair, $109 to $3299 a pair. I got a small, light good pair for my first wedding as a gift and love having them, from using them at the ballet to looking at architectural details while traveling. Not an obvious gift, perhaps, but one anyone can appreciate at any age.

I do love great tableware — and this pensive blue bunny side plate fits the bill. From a fantastic site full of great things, Wolf and Badger, $39

Definitely not for everyone, or budget, but this studded white leather, multi-level jewelry box is spectacular, $605

For the yoga enthusiast, an elegant cream and back travel yoga mat inscribed with symbols. $104

I live in scarves: wool, silk, cashmere, cotton. I love how they accessorize (and add warmth and style.) Love this bold black and cream graphic print one, in cashmere, (the site offers 29 pages of alternatives!) $178

Oh yeah! For the playful power broker in your life who rocks French cuffs, these sterling silver cufflinks — POW! and BAM! $321

And…yes, a shameless plug for my coaching! I’ve been helping other writers of non-fiction and journalism, worldwide, strengthen their skills, whether book or story idea, sharpening pitches, editing essays or long-form pieces. The hour is theirs to use in any way that’s most helpful. Booking now for December 1-20 and into 2022. $250.

This bronze octopus is spectacular as an art object in its own right — but can also hold and display a phone or tablet. $96.75

Who couldn’t enjoy this tiny cast iron bunny on their desk or shelf? Nice stocking stuffer! $12

For the person in your life who sews…a small bird whose cushion holds needles and pins. $34.60

I so love the old-school wit and elegance of British brand, Smythson, makers of gorgeous thick stationery and lovely leather goods and playing cards and this fab bright leather red little notebook, embossed on its cover in gold: “Make It Happen.” (also in pale blue and deep blue) $74.95

I bet you know a LOT of people for whom this would be a lovely gift — a leather notebook, its pages edged in gold, embossed in gold on the cover, in navy, red, black or pale blue, also from Smythson. It says “Super Hero.” $255

And, in an era of all digital, I still love being able to write a more personal physical note — in pen, on good heavy card stock — and slip it into a tissue-lined envelope. Smythson’s navy initial cards are $27 for 10, both simple and stylish. (That page offers all sorts of other styles as well, from a bee to an elephant.) Add a terrific fountain pen, like this one, which I love and use, the German-made Lamy Safari, in orange or green and three widths of nib. $25.99

The Nova Scotia debacle…

By Caitlin Kelly

Note the small lot….a problem for adding a septic in a town of dug wells and septic systems…

Well, kids, it sure wasn’t dull.

The house dream blew up in fairly spectacular fashion Monday morning the 15th.

That was the day we were to commit to purchasing the house or losing our $3,000 deposit if we missed that deadline.

Friday morning — i.e. with two days to spare — I discovered the house is actually illegal, thanks to its antiquated septic system that, like many in that village, empties into the ocean.

Gross!

Also, against Nova Scotia environmental laws.

We needed probably three weeks to seek and win necessary government approval to install a wholly new system ($12,000) but the seller — a wealthy and powerful local businessman — refused us even an extra day.

Busted!

That was that. We bailed.

Then — do not ever mess with a skilled reporter! — I placed three calls that day to the local office of the environment and an official called me right back and is launching an investigation.

Also writing a letter to the top three people of the seller’s realtor to point out how crappy this is: either she lied or the seller lied and this put us in tremendous financial jeopardy if we’d been forced to buy an uninhabitable house.

Lessons learned:

1. The house’s owner, a local grandee accustomed to deference from the little people, isn’t going to suddenly get all ethical and nice for an outsider. Probably the opposite. Our realtor made clear he was furious to have dropped his price and then we dared ask for more time.

2. Never assume that a small town in a largely rural province is de facto any nicer or gentler than the iron-fisted ways of New York City! It’s very clear that panic pandemic buying has massively inflated prices and created a feeding frenzy for realtors and sellers that only leaves any buyer vulnerable.

3. Never stop asking questions!!

4. Take lots and lots and lots of notes; an email paper trail is also useful for reference. Also photos and videos.

5. If something feels off, it is!

6. My love for the physical structure of a charming house was blinding me to local conditions that would have made life there unpleasant and expensive — to reach the town means taking a car ferry and missing it (as I did one day) means losing valuable work time. I was warned that no one would even deliver a sofa that far because of lost waiting time; same for other services like pumping out the septic.

7. Take time to do every possible inspection and made each one a condition of purchase.

8. Getting a larger sense of the community and its culture quickly reduced my enthusiasm — after people lied to me, I had no wish to live there, even part-time.

Waiting for the car ferry; it carries 17 vehicles, and takes about 10 minutes

This was also just emotionally painful for me to let go of all the attendant hopes I had:

— welcoming friends

— getting to know a new community and province

— coming back to Canada

— a chance to use my decorating and design training to make the house lovely

— maybe getting summer rental income from it

— owning a place with no rules (like our co-op apartment)

— finding a property within our budget. Impossible now, really.