Are you — fellow Northern Hemisphere folk — feeling as cabin feverish as I am?
In mid-winter, it’s either gray or rainy or windy or bitterly cold or the streets are too icy.
Today was a blessed 57 unseasonally warm degrees and out I went to enjoy the walk along the reservoir.
One of the things I love most about living somewhere for a long time is getting to know a landscape intimately, like the face of a dear friend or the hands of your sweetie.
I’ve walked the reservoir path, a paved mile in each direction, shaded the whole way by tall trees, for the past 27 years now, in all four seasons, alone and with my husband and, a long time ago, with my lovely little terrier, Petra, who died in June 1996.
Here’s some of what I saw, heard, smelled and savored today:
The stream is starting to rush again as the snow and ice melt
Trees are showing the tiniest bit of bud
Winter-weathered leaves rustle gently in the breeze, the soft creamy beige of a very good camel hair overcoat
The white flash of a swan’s bum as it digs into the lakebed
The tang of woodsmoke from someone’s chimney
Soft emerald moss, tossed like a velvet duvet
Strengthening sun gilding the edges of the forest
Vines clinging to weathered granite
The soothing lapping sound of water on rock at the lake’s edge
She and I met for the first time last summer through a group of women writers who joined an on-line group and some of whom have trekked out to lunches and dinners to meet one another face to face. So fun!
One of the toughest challenges of working freelance — i.e. with no fixed income or employer — is how lonely it can be. Many of us, as I am writing this blog post, are at home in our sweatpants or gym clothes. Maybe in a co-working space (which costs precious income) or in a coffee-shop or library for a break from midwinter cabin fever.
So making a new friend, and someone with whom you can really share the ups and downs of our field, (and frank details of the places we’ve worked or want to work or think we want to work) is a joy.
It’s also the only way to make a living at this level of the game. Sarah and I are peers, with credentials and experience. We’ve won prestigious fellowships and traveled the world. We’ve taught writing at New York City colleges.
We’re still figuring it out.
When you work for yourself and have creative ambitions — like winning a fellowship (or another and another), or a writer’s residency or selling a book (or your second or third or eighth) — you’re constantly juggling short-terms needs for income with longer-term needs for growth and learning.
How many conferences to attend? Who’s speaking? Who will I meet there? Is it worth it?
How much time can I afford to “waste” on a passion project for whom no one has assigned an economic value (yet)? When will I sell it and to whom? What if no one ever buys it?
Should I take (keep) a part-time job to stay afloat? For how long? Doing what?
That same night I attended an event designed to teach me how to better make use of LinkedIn. It was a firehose of data and exhausting, although I met some nice new people and learned a lot.
I’m also in the middle of pitching several stories to several outlets and fielding requests for more details on them — among them The Wall Street Journal and a major national magazine I don’t want to name yet.
I feel like the hotel clerk in an old-fashioned hotel, the kind with real metal keys and numbers engraved on them, or a sorter in an old post office, popping letters into the right boxes. Deciding who to pitch, when and why is an art, not a science, and it requires skill, nerve, research — and self-confidence.
Rejection is normal.
If you want to crawl into bed in the fetal position when your work is rejected, cowboy up! Not an option.
Figure out what didn’t work and move on.
Freelancers live like Sheherazade, spinning tale after tale after tale to save our lives, to simply earn enough income to pay the mortgage/rent/groceries.
We also teach, online and in person; I offer individual webinars ($150, skedded at your convenience) and coaching at $225/hour. Details here!
Our health insurance bill recently jumped — from an impossible $1,500 per month to a WTF $1,800 month. So this week I’ll also be ditching a plan I like and trust, but which is killing us financially, for one I hope will give me what I need most.
Peace of mind.
I’m also trying to figure out what to do about a book proposal I wrote in December but is stalled; my agent isn’t happy enough with it to send it out. And no one wants to read a proposal without an agent’s imprimatur.
I’m also endless revising and fact-checking my latest story for The New York Times, for whom I’ve been writing for many years; some clips here.
Readers have no idea how heavily edited — and questioned and challenged, by multiple tough editors — each of their stories is. It takes a lot of time and energy, even after I interviewed eleven sources and, oh yeah, wrote the story.
Next month, I’ll once more be a finalist judge for Canada’s National Magazine Awards; I won mine in 1998. I speak fluent French, so some of them might be en francais.
That’s another way we give back to our industry, an honor when asked.
In addition to my daytime work, this week includes a variety of social and professional evenings out as well.
One is an event where an editor I need to meet face to face, (and who I’ve already written for), is speaking. Another is a new-to-me market, invited by a friend who’s already well-known to them and who generously asked me along.
The third is a retirement party for a friend, colleague and neighbor who’s leaving The New York Times.
Whether something inherited from a beloved ancestor or a gift from a friend or our partner or spouse or something we buy that we’ve always wanted or have saved hard for.
I was listening to the terrific NPR radio show Radiolab as I drove into Manhattan recently to attend the Winter Antiques Show, arguably the best show in that city each year, and probably one of the world’s best places to look at — and buy –museum-quality objects of every possible material, design and period.
One of my favorite travel moments was finally seeing the Bayeux Tapestry in Bayeux, Normandy, France. As someone passionate about early textiles, I had long wanted to see it in person, and so we did. Amazing! It’s actually embroidered on linen, 230 feet long, created in 1070.
I grew up in a home filled with interesting art and objects, from Japanese prints and Eskimo sculpture, (now called Inuit), to a Picasso lithograph to my father’s own handiwork in oil, silver, lithography and etching.
I’ve also been lucky enough along the way to be able to buy some art and photographs and antiques, so our apartment is filled with reference books on art and design and a variety of decorative objects we enjoy using or looking at.
So attending the Winter Antiques Show was a special treat. Admission is $25 and it’s held at the Park Avenue Armory, an enormous red brick building on Park at 67th. It accepted 75 dealers from all over the world, from Geneva to London to California, some of whom wait for years to be allowed into the show.
And what a show!
Imagine being let loose in a great museum, able to touch, hold and examine closely the most exquisite objects — whether a fragment of an Egyptian sarcophagus or a 16th century atlas or a piece of porcelain made in 1740.
You can wander about with a glass of white wine or champagne, coming face to face with a boy’s sword from 1300, ($20,000), or an astrolabe made in 1540 for the Spanish king ($1.3 million). I assumed I wouldn’t be able to afford a thing, and many prices were four, five and six figures.
But, despite my worries, it never felt snooty.
Sure, there were women wearing furs and quite large diamonds and lots of cashmere; I wandered about in my black Gap cotton Tshirt and black leggings. I’ve studied antiques at several institutions and bought and sold them at auction, so I know what I’m looking at when it comes to several categories.
For me, it was absolute heaven, and most dealers were surprisingly kind and welcoming, making time to explain their objects’ design and histories, like a $55,000 blue enamel pendant made by a famous British architect as a birthday gift.
It was originally found at a flea market!
Having bought some good things for low prices at auction and flea markets, I’m also always curious to find out their current market value and learn more about them. Dealers are de facto always passionate about their area of specialty, so no one seemed to mind my curiosity.
I even bought a photograph.
That was a huge surprise, and I hadn’t bought art in ages. But I discovered a Finnish photographer whose black and white work mesmerized me and the price was manageable — less than the cost of three months’ groceries.
One reason I so enjoy flea markets, auctions and antiques is making my own design choices. My maternal grandmother owned some very good things — but she never bothered to pay tax on her inherited fortune, so when she died almost all of it was sold to pay off those debts.
I never saw a thing from either grandfather or my paternal grandmother and almost all my mother’s belongings were also sold quickly when she suddenly had to go into a nursing home.
Jose’s parents left him a few belongings, but we’re not a family buried in heirlooms.
Almost everything lovely in our home, then, is something we’ve bought, and an expression of our aesthetic and taste. My husband is a career photographer, (here’s his blog), so we have a growing collection of images, from one you might know (of JF Kennedy standing at the window of the Oval Office) to an early Steichen.
These 3 pendants were given to me by my mother, a friend and my late grandmother. They have sentimental value to me as a result.
My favorite objects include:
my Canadian passport, a stuffed Steiff bear the length of my thumb, another small stuffed bear, a few good photographs, two silk Hermes scarves, a photo of my paternal grandfather, who I never met.
Every day I see a new book or article exhorting us all to fail — and enjoy it.
Like it’s really fun and comforting and the sort of thing you just can’t wait to blog about or tweet about or post an Instagram image of you at the elevator holding your cardboard box with all your shit in it after doing the walk of shame from your desk when they’ve just canned you.
Schools, particularly in the U.S., set us up for fixed mindsets, which means there is only one answer or that you believe talent is something you’re born with and it can’t be evolved or changed.
A person with a growth mindset, on the other hand, welcomes a challenge and enjoys doing things they’re not good at because they know they’ll learn.
Perhaps you’re learning how to read analytics and metrics. Or you’re trying to figure out how content and search engine optimization work hand-in-hand. Or you’re moving beyond media relations to do some really hard, but powerful communications work.
Whatever it may be, you have a growth mindset and fear of failure won’t paralyze you.
Talent can be learned. It can evolve and grow.
But I’m damn glad it’s 2016, because 2015 really kicked my ass in some new and excruciating ways.
Because four in a year, (and these are only a few of the bigger ones, the ones I’ll even admit to here), is a shit-ton of failure in my world.
Kelly’s don’t fail.
So that’s an issue right there.
I hate the tired phrase “comfort zone” — and yet I wholeheartedly agree with the premise we all need to flee ours, often, to try new things, stretch our wings, learn new skills and behaviors.
Failure Number One
I was hired to teach two classes a day, one day a week, at a schmancy private college, the kind where the rich kids fly home to Asia on long weekends and everyone dyes their hair purple and septum rings are de rigueur.
I had previously taught at several New York City-area colleges, no novice. I read up on millennials and what to expect.
This was different.
Tuition there runs a cool $60,000 a year, to study high-earning fields like…writing.
I loved the first semester, grateful for lively students who were warm and hard-working. What’s not to like? Half of them arrived each week 20 minutes before class began just to hang out. I really enjoyed getting to know them as individuals, not just a pile ‘o papers to grade.
The second semester was…not that. Suffice to say it started badly and ended much worse. I don’t teach there anymore and I wouldn’t if it were the last income source on earth. An MIA dean made it even more difficult.
Lesson learned:Adjunct teachers, especially of writing and especially in New York City, are more disposable than Kleenex. Without solid institutional support — of any kind! — it’s impossible to navigate complex scenarios you’ve never faced before.
Failure Number Two
I take on a web-writing assignment for a large charity, excited to work on something I believe in for people whose work I respect. The fee is fine and the people seem pleasant.
But they’ve never worked with an outside writer before and it becomes increasingly clear that they have no idea how to manage my time effectively, both being vague and micromanage-y all at once.
It gets worse week by week until finally it’s one Friday at 5:30 p.m. and we politely and cordially enough call it a day.
I lose $4,000 worth of anticipated income by failing to complete that project, and feel like a fool for not realizing how complex it would be.
Lesson learned: Ask a lot more questions before committing to a project, especially one that’s going to be edited by so many people.
Failure Number Three
I congratulate someone I know, vaguely, on Facebook about a great new managerial role he recently assumed.
Within a month, to my great surprise, he’s hired me to manage two complex, multi-part projects. The potential income is excellent and the content challenging. It does look a little hairy, but I’m a quick learner.
So I thought.
His managerial style proves to be a pendulum between charm and bullying. Our communication is both excessive and insufficient to our needs.
And the writers I need to hire and contract for work are fearful — naturally, given the state of our industry now — that they won’t be paid or paid quickly.
I reassure them, but with no sure knowledge of this man’s business ethics, or that of his employer. Which makes me very anxious indeed; he’s only one client, while my wide network of trusted colleagues is what keeps me working year after year thanks to their referrals. I don’t want to inadvertently screw anyone over!
Within weeks, I’m debating how soon to walk away, but hating the idea of letting down a large team — our initial meeting, (hello, warning sign) included 25 people.
I’m also hugely relieved — and out at least a month’s income because I’ve been 100 percent focused on this thing, not marketing elsewhere.
Lesson learned: If a job or assignment feels this wrong within days, let alone weeks, it probably is. If someone lashes out at me, I don’t care how much they’re paying. I’m done. I won’t tolerate this kind of behavior at this point in my career.
Failure Number Four
I’m asked to chair a 13-member volunteer committee for a registered charity, a board I’ve served on already for six years.
I’m passionate about the mission. I have a ton of ideas and am really excited to see what we can do to advance its goals and make its value much more visible.
I choose a co-chair to help, as I know some heavy lifting lies ahead.
We have no training in how to actually run a board or a meeting.
We do our best, but are soon, at every step, ignored by half the board or undermined and criticized by three women, all former presidents of it, who have very strong opinions. Nothing we say or do is met with enthusiasm, and some of it with serious opposition.
Not a great start.
I’m soon spending more unpaid time turning to others who run or serve on other boards for advice and help. Demoralized and worn out, I end up in tears.
My husband says — just leave.
We spend weeks crafting our letter of resignation, trying to be polite but honest about why we’re quitting our roles, and the board — to be met with “I’m overjoyed” by one of these women who then sends the entire board a vicious laundry list of our personal faults.
Lesson learned: Walking away is often the only choice. No one can “lead” a group of people who have no interest in supporting your ideas.
Admitting I’ve made lousy decisions hurts.
Admitting to my weaknesses hurts.
Admitting I can’t take on, and master, new projects quickly is less difficult — but I now know for sure that opposition, whether aggressive or passive-aggressive, means guaranteed failure.
Admitting I was unable to rally the support I needed is painful and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to determine what went so wrong.
We all like to succeed.
We rarely, if ever, publicly discuss or admit to fucking up.
But we all do it.
I’m guilty of sometimes moving ahead too quickly, leaping before I look deeply enough, perhaps. As a full-time freelancer living in a costly part of the world, we need steady income in the four figures every single month. I can’t sit around twiddling my thumbs waiting for the perfect fit on every opportunity.
But I’m also forever eager to try new experiences, face new challenges and grow my skills and my network. If I stick to my knitting, that can’t happen.
Maybe you just walked to work or enjoyed a bike ride or went dancing last night.
Maybe you’re training for a marathon or triathlon — or happy to race with your dog(s) along a trail.
Today’s the day I celebrate my body’s rebirth to full mobility – on Feb. 6, 2012, I was wheeled into an operating room to have my left hip replaced.
I was young for the surgery, as most people have it in their 60s or beyond; my 86 year old father only had his hip done in May of 2015.
I was very fearful, (I’d already had 3 prior orthopedic surgeries, [both knees, right shoulder] within the decade, all of which had gone well), and had put the operation off for more than two years. I was sick to death of surgeries and rehab and doctors and the whole thing.
And, as someone who’s wholly self-employed with a fluctuating income, I also had to fund a month off and the cost of co-pays for physical therapy rehab.
Those two years of avoidance, though, were crazy.
The arthritis in my left hip had required a course of steroids — whose side effects, (called avascular necrosis), instead destroyed my hip bone.
The resulting pain was 24/7 and exhausting. It made every step I took painful; even crossing a room was tiring.
Buying groceries in the enormous stores here in the suburbs of New York was a misery. Museum visits became marathons and I carried painkillers with me everywhere.
By the fall of 2010, in desperation, I went on crutches for three months just for a brief respite from pain. I bought a pair off the Internet, the short kind typically associated with long-term disability (think of FDR photos). Heaven!
With renewed energy and the ability to move more safely, painlessly and quickly, I went to the movies and theater, (scooching sideways across those narrow aisles), and even flew to Las Vegas to address a conference there.
By December of 2011, I was just too worn out from pain and booked the operation.
Three days before it, I was a featured speaker at — of all things — a conference of liquor store retailers in New Orleans, wandering that city’s streets with a limp so pronounced I walked like a drunken sailor. I’d been invited as a result of my book “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” to share my research into low-wage labor.
Sheer luck brought me that gig — and earned me $6,500, enough to take time off to just rest, rehab and recover.
A highly active person — I walk, cycle, dance, play softball, ice skate, ski and do a variety of other sports — I feared that a poor surgical result would mean the end to my athletic life. Or that my doctor would utter the dreaded word “moderate”, as a verb.
Not in my vocabulary!
Here’s my cover story from Arthritis Today about that life pre-surgery. I like the photos they took, but you can how heavy I got because it hurt so much to exercise.
Today I take jazz dance class twice a week, one of them so vigorous I leave sweat puddles on the floor, and enjoy full range of motion. (OK, I don’t do the splits anymore.)
I also live in an apartment building filled with people in their 70s, 80s and 90s, many of whom can now only ambulate safely using a cane or walker.
It’s sobering and instructive to see what aging, (and/or a poorly done surgery), can do to our blessed ability to run, dance, jump and simply enjoy the grace and power of our bodies.
My recent interview with this author, posted here, was conducted by email, a Q and A
For those of you who work in journalism, or need to interview someone.
For some people, the idea of actually having to question another human being is terrifying and which — to their professional detriment and the weakness of their stories — they try to avoid.
But very few pieces worth reading are constructed without interviews, whether they provide fantastic sound bites or simply (not simply!) the essential foundation for understanding a complex issue so you can explain it cogently to your readers.
I conduct many more interviews than may actually appear in my published stories; while I typically need three to four interviews per 1,000 words, that’s not a rule.
I’m writing a 900-word story this week and have already done more than 10 interviews, several of them 45 to 60 minutes each.
Why not use them all?
Sometimes the quotes are boring, but the information was important. Maybe what they said they sent me hurtling off in an unexpected, new direction.
Conducting an interview takes forethought, planning, skill and considerable emotional intelligence. You can’t just go down a laundry list of your questions and not, as it’s happening, respond and react to what you’re hearing.
These have included a female admiral, a Prime Minister, Olympic athletes, convicted felons, crime victims and victims of torture. It doesn’t matter who you’re interviewing — what matters most is how you approach them and your time with them.
Do your damn homework!
Read as many boring long detailed government, policy, non-profit scientific or academic reports as needed before you start asking silly, elementary questions.
Watch videos and listen to broadcasts and podcasts on your subject so you know what the hell they’re talking to you about. Get up to speed!
Because every interview you conduct is a potential and crucial link in your reporting chain; if you impress each subject with your preparation and ability to handle yourself well, they can lead you to the next one, and possibly with a key introduction.
I’ve won national exclusives this way. We are being evaluated every single time. Never forget that.
It means paying careful attention.
Who to speak to and why? What do you need from each person? How available are they — or will you get stuck with a spokesman from their PR department instead?
Will the interview be conducted by phone, email, Skype or in person?
In person is almost always the best, giving you a chance to closely observe their dress. grooming, demeanor, reactions, silences, body language and surroundings. If by phone, be sure neither of you will be interrupted by pets, children, co-workers, and block out at least 15 minutes or more — you’ll get very little of value in only five minutes.
Some interviews work well by email, especially if your subject is traveling and/or in a distant time zone; the risk is that their replies will feel stilted or, worse, be written by someone who’s not your subject. Skype can work well for subjects too far away to reach in person or by phone.
What do you want from this interview? Facts? A great anecdote? A terrific quote? Confirmation of others’ opinions — or denial? Analysis of a complex issue?
Is this interview on the record — i.e. will you be able to quote this person and use their full name, age, location and profession? If not, you need to negotiate — before they begin to speak! — if they are speaking not for attribution, on background or off the record. Only before someone speaks should this agreement be made, not afterward when they suddenly regret something they have told you. Be sure you both understand the terms of the interview before you begin.
Take notes or tape? Both? Use a laptop for note-taking or pen and paper? To me, these are highly individual choices, although some clients will insist, as part of your contract, that you not only tape record but provide them with a full transcript of your notes. I use pen and paper. I find laptop note-taking noisy and intrusive. It’s important to be able to look your interview subject in the eye! Don’t be a robot.
What’s the tone and mood of your interview? Confrontational? Insistent? Humorous and relaxed? Deferential? Just because your topic is serious doesn’t mean you have to be leaden and tedious. Think through the best way to make your interlocutor feel most comfortable and go from there.
Where will you conduct the interview, if meeting in person? Ideally, their home or office, as a space potentially filled with intriguing clues about their interests and passions. But if they’re traveling or a celebrity, you’ll likely be stuck in a hotel room or restaurant.
How much time will you spend with them? I rarely allow less than 30 minutes for my interviews. It takes time for your subject to feel at ease with you and for you to develop some rapport with them. If you’re writing a profile of them, be prepared to spend a lot of time around them to get a feel for their character and behavior patterns — I once spent eight hours (four two-hour sessions) with one woman I was profiling (plus many additional hours speaking to her family, colleagues and former colleagues.)
When will you ask the tough(est) and most challenging questions? You can’t just wimp out for fear they’ll get angry or yell at you (they might) or hang up or say “That’s the stupidest question I’ve ever heard!” While working on a fantastic national piece for the New York Daily News, I knew I’d hit pay dirt when a Homeland Security flack sneered: “There’s no story here!”
Structure your interview time thoughtfully and be sure to get those harder questions asked, even if you have to repeat them multiple times and/or rephrase them. Yes, typically, we save them for close to the end.
The snowball effect, it’s called in sociology. Ask: “Who else should I be speaking to next about this issue?” If you’ve done your homework, conducted the interview sensitively and intelligently, they’ve enjoyed it, and you, and will send you on to your next great source.
Still need some help?
I coach individually at $225/hour, with a one-hour minimum, via phone or Skype, and also offer several terrific webinars, which we schedule at your convenience, at caitlinkelly.com/classes.
Some of you — lucky things! — live in much warmer places right now than frigid snowbound New York, (and much of the Northeastern U.S.)
For newcomers to this climate, like the refugee Syrians tobogganing in Canada, it can come as a hell of a shock.
I grew up in Toronto and Montreal, cities annually subjected to a sort of winter that makes finding ways to enjoy it essential. I thought I knew snowfall until I spent an adult winter (only one!) in Montreal, when it didn’t stop snowing for about 12 hours and I had to walk my poor little nine-pound terrier across the plowed mountains of snow on either side of the street.
I now live in a suburb of New York City, whose climate is similar, with many days and weeks of cold, ice and snow ahead.
Here are some of my tips for making cold, snowy, windy weather your friend, or at least less of a foe:
Indoor heating parches your skin and lips, as do wintry winds. I keep a tub of lavender-scented body butter nearby and am now using it multiple times every day. A bottle of cuticle oil and a pair of cotton gloves to wear while it soaks in are good, too. Olive oil is a terrific moisturizer as well. I never leave the house now without a small tube of heavy-duty cream in my pocket or purse — and don’t forget to carry and use lip balm.
No matter that it’s cold, keep using your SPF.
The winter sun can be super-bright as it reflects off snow and ice. Not to mention brutal winds whipping into your eyes. Keep a great pair of sunnies handy.
These are your best friend for navigating slippery, icy streets and paths. They slip over your shoes or boots to help grip the surface you’re walking on — falling on ice is no joke and emergency rooms are filled with broken bones this time of year.
Whether you’re wearing gloves lined with it, a hat or scarf or sweater made of it, it’s warm and light, saving extra bulk while keeping you super-warm. You can find it on sale and in some thrift and consignment shops and it wears well for years. (The photo of me above includes my favorite cashmere muffler, now a decade old or so.)
Not sure if you want to spend $300, but these battery-heated socks are worn by the Austrian ski team, who surely know what cold feels like! Even indoors, warm toes will make you so much happier; I’m loving these gorgeous suede sheepskin slippers I received for Christmas this year — now on sale for $69 — in jewel tones of burgundy, navy and tan.
Plants! Fresh flowers! We recently had two glorious purple hyacinths scenting our apartment and it felt like spring, even as the wind howled outside in frigid temperatures. Treat yourself to a bunch of tulips or a few green plants.
Wear cheerful colors
I love buying winter gear when I’m home in Canada as the selection is so terrific. My winter wardrobe now includes deep purple nylon boots, purple mitts and cap, a soft orange winter coat and a neon yellow faux-fur muffler. Not to mention the turquoise coat I had custom-made a few years ago. No tedious gray, black or brown for me!
A goosedown duvet
I love ours. Nothing is more cozy — and lightweight warmth — than a down duvet. Choose a pretty cover and snuggle in.
Cook some comfort food
Everyone has their favorites, whether cassoulet, mac and cheese, risotto or baking up a batch of muffins. Cold winter afternoons are a perfect time to pull out your cookbooks and find a great new recipe to try; one of my standbys is Bistro Cooking.
Have friends over
If you can woo friends over for a visit, enjoy an afternoon of cards, conversation or binge-watching together. Get off the bloody phone and computer and hang out in the same room with someone whose company you really enjoy.
This gorgeous path is a five-minute drive from our home…
Go for a walk
If you’ve bundled up enough and your gait is steady, you’ll find it invigorating. The winter landscape is so beautiful — elemental, graphic, monochromatic — and so dramatically different from every other season. After a snowfall, the lights and shadows across those white expanses are also spectacular. I went out right after the enormous snowstorm of Jan. 23 and found our local woods walkway largely empty and silent.
Not easy when it’s freezing out, but take advantage of the lengthening days and seasonal beauty to capture some of it. Winter offers such spare, sere beauty: shadows on snow, the low, slanting light, a coral and gray sunset, the gleam of ice.
The most fun for me of the recent snowstorm battering the East Coast was seeing all the images on Twitter and Facebook of people enjoying it all — even snowmen in Times Square!
Few things are as welcoming as a wood fire…One of my favorite travel memories was arriving at Le Germain in Montreal to see a fire blazing in their elegant glass fireplace. Here’s a list of 10 New York City restaurants with fireplaces, including my longtime favorite, Keen’s Chophouse, (steps from Macy’s!)
A hot-water bottle
Classic. If your bed or sofa just isn’t warm enough, fill a hot-water bottle and tuck it at your feet. I loved this one, spotted in a Paris store window last January — still regretting not getting !
A long soak
When we renovated our apartment and our tiny bathroom, a super-deep tub was top of my list. It’s 21 inches deep — hell to clean! — but covers every inch of me. Add plenty of bath oil and some glorious scent like jasmine or eucalyptus from a bottle like this one.
A spa or hammam day
One of my happiest ever travel memories — going back maybe 20 years — was a bitterly cold, dark, dreary winter’s day in Paris when I retreated to the steamy depths of a hammam in the 5th arrondissement. Hammams are what I miss most about Paris in the winter, a Middle Eastern tradition, a place to relax, refresh, enjoy a gommage (exfoliation), massage, sauna. Last January I tried one in the 18th and the steam room was so hot you couldn’t even see across the room! Here at home in Tarrytown, we’re blessed to have a gorgeous spa literally next door to us in a luxury hotel. What a lovely way to while away a frosty Sunday afternoon. Treat yourself!
Drink lots of tea
One of my favorite beverages is hot tea in all its glorious forms — oolong, rooibos, jasmine, green, herbal. And never a lonely little teabag dumped into a cup of hot water, American style. Please! Invest in a proper teapot and loose tea or bags, whether fragrant Constant Comment or the tangy, smoky Lapsang Souchong. I love discovering great tea rooms whenever I travel — like Le Loir Dans La Theiere in Paris or Bosie in Manhattan, so nice that I visited it twice in one recent week. It’s easily missed, on a very short block in the West Village but well worth a visit.
If you’re in the West Village, head east or west a few blocks and stock up on tea at Porto Rico on Bleecker or McNulty’s on Christopher, each of them a tin-ceilinged 100+-year-old institution.
Not to mention, a pot of fragrant tea is so much more comforting than slugging yet another bottle of cold, boring water — we all need to stay hydrated in dry/heated homes and offices.
Look to pre-industrial historic interiors for how best to boost winter’s weak low natural light — add a few large mirrors near your windows, candles and reflective surfaces like glass, crystal, gleaming brass, silver or copper. These might be candlesticks or lamp-bases or decorative objects. Dust every lightbulb in your home and, if feasible and safe, up the wattage to make sure you’ve got sufficient light to read, cook and work by. Thoroughly clean, dust or replace your tired old lampshades. Throw open those curtains!
New curtains for the sitting area…no more black bare window glass on cold winter nights
Make or order something charming for your home
By mid-winter we all start to feel a bit cabin feverish — and if your cabin/house/apartment/room is less than cosy it can get really depressing. Even if you’re in a tiny rental, find something affordable that will cheer you up every single time you look at it. Maybe it’s a stuffed animal (oh, go on!) or a floral tablecloth or a lovely throw that you crochet or knit yourself. It might be an antique bit of beauty or something shiny and modern.
Think of it as your gift to your home, a way to say thanks to it for sheltering you and keeping you warm, safe and dry through these long few months.