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!
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):
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.
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.
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.
Nassau, a very long time ago.
Drove through it on an eight-day truck trip with a French truck driver for a story.
My home and native land.
Cartagena, just as it was first being developed as a tourist destination.
Visited my mother there, who traveled the world alone for years.
Loved it! Zagreb and Rovinj, a town on the Adriatic, July 2017.
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.
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.
Thanks to my mother, on her journeys.
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.
I’ve only been to Munich, briefly, and Berlin, for 10 days in July 2017. I am eager to see more.
All of three days in Budapest, July 2017. Eager to go back.
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.
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.
One visit, with a friend who grew up there.
The best trip of my life, really — on safari.
I didn’t love Malta. I did love Mdina and a 15th century house-turned-hotel there.
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!
A visit in my 20s, before the volcano.
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.
March 2014, I did some reporting with a team from WaterAid in rural areas. Great adventures!
A quick day trip from Dublin to the (amazing!) Titanic Museum, well worth visiting.
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.
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.
Drove through it on our truck journey to Istanbul.
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.
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!
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.
Safari. Life changing beauty. So so grateful to have had the income and the time off (a month) to visit at 27 from Toronto.
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.
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,
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.
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!
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.
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!
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 colorand 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
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.
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.
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.
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 closedyou’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.
I’m not a huge fan of smelly candles, but a few can be lovely during months of no outside fragrance.
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.
I also wrote for, of all places, Mechanical Engineering magazine, on STEM education and on water treatment. Both were challenging, fascinating stories to produce and — of course! — my editor then left the magazine. So we’ll see if there’s more work from them for 2021.
Thanks to Twitter, I was hired by the Lustgarten Foundation to blog about their work funding pancreatic cancer research. I’m not a science writer, so I was happily surprised to be invited to do this. It’s been quite extraordinary interviewing some of the world’s best scientists.
I also Zoomed into eight classes around the U.S. — undergrad college classes in Utah, Philadelphia and Florida and high school journalism classes in Florida, Michigan, California. Ohio and Pennsylvania. I really enjoyed it and the students were engaged and lively. It’s the only bright spot of this isolation — that there’s a need and a hunger for voices like mine in the classroom and there’s a technology that makes it quick and easy.
The year started with the best piece of work I’ve produced since my books — a 5,000 word examination for The American Prospect of how Canadians experience their single-payer healthcare systems. I grew up there and was a medical reporter so this was a perfect fit for me. Jose, my husband, accompanied me for two weeks’ travel around Ontario and shot the images, the first time we had ever worked on a project together.
Personally, it was a year — as it was for many of us — of social isolation, fear of getting COVID, of not seeing friends or family. Visits with several physicians made clear the urgency of my really losing a lot of weight — 30 to 50 pounds — which basically feels impossible. I started 16/8 intermittent fasting November 1 and plan to keep it up indefinitely. I swim laps for 30 minutes three times a week and am trying (ugh) to add even more exercise.
I don’t mind exercising, per se, but I really hate doing all of it alone.
Probably like many of you, because seeing people face to face is so complicated now, I’ve massively boosted my phone, email and Skype visits with friends — four in one recent week with pals in London, Oregon, California and Missouri. This pandemic-imposed isolation and loneliness is very tough and I’m sure even the strongest and happiest partnerships and marriages are, like ours, feeling claustrophobic by now.
I took a chance and joined something called Lunchclub.ai — which matches you with strangers who share your professional interests for a 45 minute video conversation. My first was with a woman in another state who was half my age — but lively, fun and down to earth. Despite my initial doubts, I enjoyed it. You can sign up for two a week and at times that suit you best, between 9 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. ET.
In a time of such relentless isolation, why not?
Stuck safely at home, I’ve watched a lot of TV and movies. Favorites, many of which I’ve blogged here, include Borgen, Call My Agent, I May Destroy You, The Undoing, Trapped, Bordertown and DCI Banks.
My mother died in a nursing home in British Columbia — very far from us in New York — on Feb. 15, my best friend’s birthday. She was cremated and at some point I will go up there to spread her ashes and claim two enormous pieces of art she left me. We hadn’t been in touch in a decade, even though I was her only child.
My half-brother who lives in D.C., a five-four drive south, had twins in May, (the only grandchildren my father will ever have from his four children), a boy and girl, but he refuses to accept my overtures to rekindle a relationship — having decided in 2007 he was too angry with me. I was not invited to his wedding and have never met his wife. Estrangement is very familiar within our family.
On a happier note, thanks to a much better year for work, we were able to spark up our apartment a bit — adding a new silver velvet sofa and throw cushions from Svensk Tenn, a vintage kilim bought at auction, new lampshades and framing some art. When you spend 95 percent of your life at home, keeping it tidy and lovely helps a lot with the inevitable cabin fever. The money we’ve saved on not going to ballet/’opera/concerts, let alone commuting (a 10 trip train ticket into Manhattan is $95) or parking in the city (easily $30 to $50 for the day) has been substantial.
We’ve bought almost no clothes or shoes — why?!
We have eaten out, usually once a week locally, and if the restaurant is large and empty, will do so indoors.
We only took two very brief breaks: in July two nights at a friend’s home in upstate New York and two nights’ hotel in Woodstock, NY. It was very much appreciated!
I tried in late October to take a solo respite at a small inn in rural Pennsylvania — and ended up deep in Trump country. It wasn’t my style at all and I left two days earlier than planned.
I’ve tried to read more books, not very successfully.
Here are two I did read and really enjoyed.
And I started re-reading my own work, my first book, Blown Away, published in 2004. It holds up! Now a 2021 goal is finding a new publisher to re-issue it and financing the time it will take me to update and revise it.
How was your 2020?
What are some of your goals, hopes and dreams for 2021?
Certainly in a time of relentlessly restricted travel — when the very idea of getting on a plane, let alone crossing the Atlantic — is impossible, it’s been a real treat to visually re-visit Copenhagen with each episode. So many cyclists (none wearing helmets?!) Canals. The fluttering Danish flag.
I was there once, for 10 days, on my amazing European journalism fellowship. I loved it, even though it was so expensive I could barely afford to eat, given the small size of our travel budget and the very high costs of everything.
The series — which sounds dull as dishwater — revolves around two worlds, Christiansborg Palace, or Borgen (The Castle), seat of all Danish politics, and TVI and Expressen, a TV station and a “red-top” (tabloid) newspaper. The key characters include Birgitta Nyborg, who becomes prime minister in the first season; Kasper Juul, a troubled press secretary — which they, without irony, call “spin doctor”, Katrine Fonsmark, a tall, blond TV reporter turned spin doctor, other politicians and Birgitta’s husband and two children.
As a journalist, I sure enjoyed the many newsroom scenes and the bossy news director, Torben Friis. As someone who grew up in Canada, a multi-party political system, I enjoyed the endless horse-trading in an eight-party system to gain and hold power.
The show covers a wide range of political and personal issues — the massive invasion of privacy Birgitta’s teenage daughter faces when she goes away for in-patient psychiatric treatment or Birgitta’s breast cancer/radiation (the exact same as mine), the back-and-forth affair between Kasper and Katrina, and so on. There’s an episode about prostitution and one about pig farming. It’s also, if politics or journalism interest you, an pretty good look behind the scenes of how each product is actually made — lots of arguments!
I’m a huge fan of music and film and books and it’s fascinating to consume older media that assumed, rightly, a much longer — and much less distracted — attention span.
Different plot development.
For amusement, I once counted every single image in the introductory credits to the HBO series about journalism — The Newsroom.
The difference between its initial 2012 opening credits — with 53 separate images in 1:29 and the 45 images of the 2015 season, in 1:07 — are striking. The second set are super quick jump shots, much more emotional, much more compelling — with Ron Rosen the editor.
One of my favorite film directors is American Kelly Reichardt, whose films move slowly and beautifully, often through a rural, timeless Oregon landscape.
I keep re-watching the 1968 film “2001”, also intrigued by how slowly some scenes unfold and how very little dialogue it contains.
It demands our sustained, often mystified attention — and amply rewards it.
No doubt our brains were wired very differently before the ’90s when we all started moving online, let alone the daily deluge now on social media.
I find it more challenging than ever now sit still for hours and just read.
I often wonder what it was like to live in the 18th century where domestic amusements were embroidery — slow! — or reading or playing a musical instrument. When a letter sent, sealed with wax, took days or weeks or even months to reach its reader. Then the reply.
What different brain chemistry they must have had!
Living through a pandemic and the useless political “leadership” that’s killed so many is bad enough — add to this grief and anxiety that absolutely rob us of the ability to stay focused and pay attention and retain a damn thing.