If I haven’t fled the computer and apartment and town every three or four months, I get restless!
So a quick and easy choice was the 3-4 hour drive northeast to Newport, RI, a town I hadn’t been to in decades, since a friend in a town near it loaned us her house while she was away for a week. She has long since moved away, but at a writing conference last year I met a fun young woman, a fellow writer, who spoke on a panel and with whom I later had coffee when she came to NY from Newport.
I found a very cheap and funky B and B right in town, and she and I hung out. Perfect weekend!
I was also very lucky to be there in the off season so I was able to park my car for three full days, at no cost, a block away on the street and enjoyed uncrowded tourism as the place is truly mobbed in the summer, especially with the jazz festival and folk festival.
Friday night we splurged on dinner at The White Horse, the oldest restaurant (1673) continuously operating in the U.S., and a building of tremendous history. The meal was great and the surroundings lovely.
This interactive game was amazing! It even uses a real wooden tiller to “steer.”
It can happen!
Saturday I went to the new sailing museum, which — as a sailor from childhood — I loved! It has fantastic interactive exhibits I completely enjoyed, a cut-open J24, a classic boat, examples of sail materials, great action videos, trophies, fab photos. I had a great pizza across the street and wandered Thames Street, (there pronounced to rhyme with James), lined with all sorts of shops. I bought two small lovely vases by a local potter and that evening sat at the bar at the Red Parrot, watching the busiest bartender ever manage his job with grace and calm.
Newport, as some of you know, has some extraordinary mansions — known as “cottages”, built by the country’s wealthiest. People love to tour them, but I was more intrigued, literally walking around the block from my lodgings, by row after row of elegant 18th c houses. I love history and architecture and the late 1700s is one of my favorite periods of design, so this was heaven!
I’m usually not easily moved emotionally by many official sights and monuments, but I was so struck by the humanity and intimacy of seeing the church where her new life began — and gave her barely a decade of joy and marriage and young children before being brutally widowed in 1963. Like everyone who has married in a church (as I have twice), there’s such a moment of excitement and nerves and anticipation as you stand at that front door and walk down the aisle to take your vows and begin a wholly new life. I could really feel it there.
That’s the spire of St. Mary’s in the background
Sunday morning I loved breakfast, again, around the corner, at Franklin Spa — opening hours 6 am to 1pm — and watched it filling up with locals and regulars. My friend picked me up and we drove to Tiverton Four Corners, to see a glamorous new cafe and two adjacent shops, Groundswell. So fun! On offer were glorious teas from French maker Mariage Freres and some of the yummiest pastries ever — including this astounding thing we had never seen before and LOVED. Basically a brioche full of whipped cream, called a maritozzi.
The spring sun was warm but the wind bitter; my friend very thoughtfully brought two thick blankets which we wrapped around our legs as we sat in Adirondack chairs around a propane firepit.
We looked at the gorgeous tableware and aprons and condiments for sale but I only bought some tea and a jar of ginger and jam.
We dined at The Clark Cooke House, which was wonderful — more oysters! My friends were very generous and used a gift certificate so it was free. I was so grateful to be so welcomed and hosted and shown around.
Monday morning was a visit to a place I’ve been buying from for many years, Fabric Connection, mostly to say hello to the staff. They have an amazing array of gorgeous fabrics and pillows.
I made a final quick stop at the beach — to sniff the ocean and grab a shell! — but the wind was sooooo bitterly cold.
Some of you have had cancer. Some of you have lost loved ones to the disease.
I got my breast cancer diagnosis of DCIS, stage zero (thank God) in June 2018, right around my birthday. I needed lumpectomy and radiation and five years of Tamoxifen, a pill that suppresses estrogen.
It was not unexpected as my mother had a mastectomy in the 90s…but lived for many decades afterward.
The disease has hit our family hard this year.
Last Saturday at 6:30 we lost a 45 year-old niece of Jose’s, my husband, after many years fighting cancer. She leaves behind a widow — whose birthday was the next day — and their teenage son.
Jess was a force of nature and deeply loved by a large community. Like all the Lopezes, she was very loving person and her joy in life, even through years of surgery and treatment, was obvious to all.
Ironically, though, cancer has also, unexpectedly, finally given me a relationship I had wanted for decades, with one of my three half-siblings. He and I never grew up together and he’s 10 years younger, and has had an amazing life, enjoying both personal and professional success. He still lives in Toronto, where we both, separately, grew up. I met him when I was 15 and he was five. We had a few awkward Christmases together but every attempt I made to get to know him better really went nowhere.
Until this year, when he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
I started texting and emailing him regularly, sometimes to offer comfort and support, sometimes to warn him of the emotional fallout of this disease, often much overlooked by healthcare workers focused on the physical and friends too damn scared or ignorant to keep showing up.
I dropped a former friend who said something cruel and stupid. I was truly shocked by some of the careless things people said to me. You quickly learn to tighten your circle of intimates!
The day you end radiation, in some hospitals, you ring a bell or a gong. It’s a powerful moment. You’re done! The whole staff comes around to celebrate it with you.
I also texted him the Monday after radiation ended —- and warned him it would be totally normal to feel scared and shaky and alone after so many months of hands-on care and multiple medical relationships. some of which do continue. He appreciated it immensely.
Anyone who has had the disease knows it pushes us very quickly into another world of unfamiliar language and procedures, daily anxiety (and sometimes terrible side effects and pain) while undergoing treatment and daily anxiety after remission for fear of recurrence. It’s a weird disease because so many people get variations of it, yet it’s also often deeply isolating because those who remain unscathed really have no idea what we go through. People make assumptions about our prognosis, either blithe or dire, often both inaccurate and hurtful.
Our bodies and souls are left forever altered; I still sometimes catch a glimpse of a small black dot on my upper torso — the tattoo inked on my skin so they could aim the radiation machine accurately — an attribute I also now share with my brother, for his only tattoo is a radiation landmark dot as well.
Luckily, after surgery and brutal amounts of chemo and radiation — my brother is (!) back to playing hockey, his great love.
We now speak, email and/or text quite often and we’re finally getting to know more about one another and our challenging relationship to our father, which bonds us further.
It really helps to know someone else who really knows our father and what life has been like as one of his four children, two of whom I have no relationship with at all.
I haven’t yet printed or framed this image, taken at a friend’s Ontario cottage. But I could!
By Caitlin Kelly
I’m not someone with a lot of disposable income to spend. I’ve worked most of my career in journalism, which I’ve enjoyed, but isn’t high paying or secure — no pensions for me! I’ve also lived in Toronto and suburban New York for most of that — two areas that are costly for rent/housing. In the U.S., if you work freelance, you’re also stuck between medical bankruptcy or paying a fortune for health insurance — like $20,000 a year, which was normal for us for years.
So I’ve always been pretty good at squeezing my money hard for full value and enjoyment.
As readers here know, my two biggest splurges are travel and our apartment; it’s only a one bedroom, so there’s no fear of a costly boiler/roof/plumbing drama or having a tree split our house in two during a hurricane or tornado.
I grew up a family that came from serious money, so we’ve had the combined blessing and curse — as we didn’t have nearly as much of it as our ancestors! — of creating a stylish and elegant home and wardrobe without lots of cash. My maternal grandmother was very wealthy and hired Toronto’s top interior decorator to do her homes, so I grew up around lovely art and furniture and wallpapers.
Here are some of the ways I enjoy stylish life without a ton of money:
My $3 18th c teapot
Flea markets and antique stores
A goldmine, potentially. I’ve seriously studied antiques so when I spot an underpriced bargain, I pounce. I’ve got an enormous 19th c paisley wool shawl (that covers Jose’s desk) for $150, an 18th c teapot (missing its lid) for $3, a massive wicker suitcase at a show in Toronto that Air Canada let me stash in the airplane overhead compartment. I recently revisited one of my favorite spots, an enormous, sprawling antiques mall in Stamford, CT that’s a favorite of NYC designers, Most items are $1,000 or more, so it’s not a hotbed of bargains, but the quality is fantastic and it’s inspiring; I did get a lovely frame for $56 and an olive green small glass vase for the same price. If you never look at high(er) quality material — or sink happily into down cushions — it’s hard to recognize and appreciate it. Half of the battle is a little education. I got a stunning handmade blue and white wool coverlet in Maryland for $100 — worth three to four times that much (you can easily Google it when in-store.)
The shadow of a black wooden painted folk art horse, found in an antiques shop in Port Hope, Ont.
Consignment, thrift and vintage shops
Such treasures! I scored four stunning ruby red wineglasses at our local thrift shop for $10 and have spotted some very good early pieces there. Since most people don’t know the real from the fake, it pays to learn a bit. Carrying a tape measure and small magnifying glass are useful to know if something will fit your space and be able to read tiny marks denoting silver plated cutlery (EPNS) or the hallmarks of sterling silver. I’ve found lovely linens in all of these — tablecloths, damask napkins, pillowcases. Most are pristine but can easily be bleached.
I’ve also found great things in Greenwich, CT at a clothing consignment shop — many larger cities have one, and if your area has a wealthy neighborhood, go! I’m not one for designer names, but got a pair of brown suede Ferragamo loafers for $100 I wore for maybe a decade. I’m still using a super-thick cashmere cardigan I got there for $100, also many years ago. No one knows it’s vintage or pre-owned!
My favorite NYC vintage shop is on Rivington Street, Edith Machinist. Her prices are very fair and the selection carefully edited. Edith is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met!
These simple metal lanterns were super cheap, found in a Minneapolis cafe
The very word tends to intimidate — since the only auctions we generally see in mainstream media are people bidding millions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Yet there are many local and regional auction houses selling all sorts of lovely things at a wide range of prices, and they’re well worth a look — in NYC, Doyle and Swann Galleries have given me some good stuff (and I’ve sold at Swann); in NH. where I lived for 18 months, William Smith. Skinner in Boston, Leslie Hindman in Chicago. Our tribal wool living room rug came from a Doyle auction — $800 including tax and a buyer’s premium. I bought a print by Raoul Dufy and a gorgeous huge lithograph by Vlaminck at the same Swann auction and love seeing them every day on our bedroom wall.
There is always a buyer’s premium! So be sure to check as it can add 25% to your bid.
Things we use every day can be a joy or an annoying mess. Invest a bit extra for a supply of fresh quality pillowcases and towels; nice soaps; candles and votives, some plants. None are prohibitively expensive. Even a very good screwdriver and basic toolbox will make life easier. Pretty lampshades, (they come in every color and style, from pleated fabric to marbled paper) are an easy upgrade; Ballard Designs is a good place as is the website OKA.
I love reading design magazines and own many many reference books on every aspect of design. I love to sit back and leaf through them, always happy to see new colors or fabrics or combinations of things I wouldn’t have thought of. I won’t ever own a Tudor cottage or LA mansion, but I can enjoy looking at them and gathering style tips. Your local library will have lots of options — as do websites like Apartment Therapy, Frederic magazine, House and Home magazine’s videos.
If you find a great — anything! — buy multiples of it: linen napkins. great loafers on sale, a lovely sweater. Saves time and energy searching. Also, when items are in pairs (like two matching side table lamps or two bedside tables) they gain more visual impact.
I’ve been collecting transferware china and silver lusterware for years, usually very cheaply, so I can set a pretty table with enough items. Choose something you love and start a collection.
Mix old and new
Whether your home or wardrobe, combining new/fresh and vintage/antique makes for the most stylish mix. I have a gorgeous Donna Karan embroidered sweater I splurged on maybe 25 years ago. It actually looks vintage and now it sort of is! I usually add a vintage accessory (shoes, earrings, bag, scarf) to a contemporary piece. And when it comes to furniture, very few items made cheaply in China offer the character, design, material quality and longevity of a decent antique, even a reproduction piece.
Keep it simple –mostly
A stylish home, and wardrobe, work best if you stick to a few key colors and styles. I wear a lot of black, gray, navy blue and almost never frills, flounces or prints. A color that repeats in our bedroom (headboard and blind fabrics) and living room (an antique painted armoire, rug, two throw pillows) is teal. The current design trend to make everything gray (!??) is so sad and tedious — add some pops of color, print and texture (velvet, silk, linen) to keep your home from looking like an insurance office from the 80s.
Few things will make your home drearier than overly bright lighting, especially from overhead fixtures. It’s inefficient, unflattering. Get a dimmer! The world is full of really attractive lighting now, even from places like Home Depot, and a few handsome lamps can quickly change the look of a room.
Take very good care!
I am not a fan of fast fashion, at all. I don’t buy it, hate its environmental costs and dislike how it promotes mindless, endless consumption. So I tend to buy quality and hang on to it! If you invest in quality clothing and footwear, take good care of it. Visit the cobbler. Get to know your local tailor if something needs altering. Most of my beloved/ancient cashmeres all have tiny holes I just stitch up — and make sure to add cedar blocks when I store them. All our silver is antique silver-plate and I put the Downton Abbey staff to shame with my polishing!
The world is full of amazing posters! From movie classics to early illustrations and paintings. Browse pretty much any museum site and you’ll find a fantastic selection very affordably. We have three on our living room walls — one, a huge black and white drawing I bought in France by legendary artist Sempe, another from the Carnavalet Museum in Paris and one, a Hiroshige print; we framed the latter two in gorgeous red frames.
Shot at a Toronto flea market. I think this would make a great black and white print.
I know this is counter-intuitive, since you’re commissioning someone’s skill and labor to help you, whether getting a vintage suit tailored to fit or a custom-made pillow cover, curtain or framing a piece of art. But every penny we’ve spent for this has handsomely repaid us in daily pleasure. As I’ve mentioned before, online shops like The Cloth Shop in London have some excellent fabrics at very fair prices in colors and textures I rarely find on North American sites.
Shop your phone!
If you own a cellphone with a decent camera, as many of us now do, you’ve got tremendous options for creating a gorgeous gallery wall for yourself! The world is full of beauty just there for the noticing — whether a nature image, your pet in repose, a beloved relative, an architectural detail. I take photos almost every day.
Here are a few, all taken in June 2022 on my solo California road trip, I’d consider worth framing:
Play with filters — often an image in sepia or black and white is more striking and beautiful than in color. Sites like Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn, among others, offer a wide selection of simple and affordable frames.
Also, crop as needed! If I printed that sunset (taken in Morro Bay, CA) I would crop out the boat on the left hand side.
Obviously, the world is full of retailers and almost all of them have sales. I’m not a coupon person but there are money-saving apps that help you find the best price on specific goods.
One of my favorite books, on how to be a productive creative person
By Caitlin Kelly
It’s an odd thing to ask of fellow adults, perhaps — more common for young kids and teens to have someone older to look up to and possibly emulate.
I don’t have kids and fear the adulation so many youngsters now offer to celebrities, influencers and millionaires. The best people aren’t necessarily those with the fattest bank accounts. Fame and fortune are just easy, visible metrics.
I take a spin class at our local JCC with a teacher I knew was clearly in his late 70s. He’s whippet-thin, with nary an ounce of body fat. He also teaches fitness classes. I recently discovered he’s in his 80s. Amazing!
He’s also low-key, modest and very encouraging, all super admirable qualities in my book.
As I head into a quieter period of my life with less focus — finally! — on hustling for work, I relish finding older people whose lives and values I admire.
People with physical and intellectual energy, curiosity and liveliness, people still engaged in community, or community building. Where we live, (a place I enjoy), is also an expensive and competitive part of the U.S., which means most people are focused totally on getting and sustaining high incomes, raising their children to do the same.
Those priorities leave little time, room and interest in friendship, without which we can’t really see who someone is beyond the surface,
As former President Jimmy Carter enters hospice care at home, I know millions of us have long admired a man who spent decades helping others, often through Habitat for Humanity, a program that helps build housing for those in need. I wish we had more role models like him!
People like Paul Farmer, who spent years working as an MD in Haiti, or Peter Reed, a former medic recently killed at 33 by a missile — while volunteering in Ukraine.
People who choose to put themselves in harm’s way to help others are also extraordinary to me. I admit, I have tremendous admiration for the career journalists, like fellow Canadian Lyse Doucet of the BBC, who spend their lives bearing witness in some terrifying times and places.
Brave young women activists like Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai.
I was also fortunate at 25 to meet a man I dedicated my first book to, Philippe Viannay, who died in the mid 80s, a few years after I won the fellowship in Paris he created for journalists from around the world to learn about Europe by reporting on it through four solo trips. He was a Resistance hero, helped found a major newspaper and sailing school and home for troubled boys. He was also a lot of fun! It was the greatest honor to know him and be liked by him. He came into my life when I was 25 and my own father, never an easy man, was often distant, emotionally and physically. It was deeply encouraging to meet and know someone so incredibly accomplished who — liked me! So I wasn’t simply admiring someone from a distance, but seeing up close how he comported himself in later life.
Social media can also create monstrous “role models” — like the wealthy Tate brothers, whose toxic influence on gullible teen British boys is so widespread that teachers are now addressing it.
In recent months, Ms. Stanton said, students have started bringing up Mr. Tate in class. They extol his wealth and fast cars. And for the first time in her 20 years of teaching, her 11- to 16-year-old students have challenged her for working and asked if she had her husband’s permission.
She has heard students talk casually about rape. “As the only woman in the room, I felt uncomfortable,” she said. Once, a student asked her if she was going to cry. At home, even her own three sons seemed to defend Mr. Tate.
“He is brainwashing a generation of boys, and it’s very frightening,” she said. “They seem to think he is right. He’s right because he’s rich.”
In the Midlands, Nathan Robertson, a specialist who works with students who need additional support, said that in the past year, he had regularly heard Mr. Tate broadcasting from students’ smartphones. Many in a class of 14- and 15-year-olds he worked with cited Mr. Tate as a role model. When the topic of abortion came up in class, boys began laughing, he said, and called feminism poisonous. Some said that women did not have any rights and that men should make decisions for them.
Many people see someone in their own family as a role model.
I have mixed feelings about my own parents…both born wealthy to difficult parents of their own. My mother’s mother married six (!) times, twice to the same man (my grandfather, who I never met) and my mother, desperate to flee, married at 17, never attending university, then or later.
So I did admire my mother’s spirit of adventure — she later traveled the world alone for years, living for a while alone in New Mexico, Bath and Lima, Peru. She was self-taught and read widely and deeply. She could be a lot of fun. In our good years, we laughed a lot. She offered her time as a volunteer to hospice patients in the hospital.
My father, an award-winning film-maker, is similar — their marriage lasted 13 years before divorce. He, too, loves to travel, is artistically talented as well, and was often gone for weeks working — in Ireland or the Arctic or Mideast. He is perpetually curious and has a wide range of interests, even at 93.
So in some senses, they are role models for me.
The qualities I most admire, in anyone:
A ferocious work ethic
I admit, I most often look to people who are fairly talented and highly accomplished at their work or in using their talents. But it’s not about their wealth or fame or public adulation. Too often, people who’ve hit the heights are quite happy to leave needy others behind.
We all need people to look up to, people whose behavior and demeanor set a high bar we can aspire to.