A perfect stylish day — at last!

A grande dame of design — Bunny Williams discussing one of her projects

By Caitlin Kelly

I don’t know about you, but ohhhhhhhhh, have I so missed style and wit and elegance!

Being in a room with other people, quietly paying attention to something riveting.

So an out-of-the-blue press invitation to attend a day of panels by Big Name interior designers and architects was just the ticket. I wore my go-to black pleated Aritiza maxi-dress, black denim heels, my $3 thrift shop black necklace, a Lucky brand shawl — and off I went to the city.

Jose sent me with a toasted bagel, so one of the many commuter skills I got to use once more was unwrapping it and eating it while maneuvring the FDR, the narrow, busy highway that runs along the east side of Manhattan, beside the East River.

I scored on parking — having resigned myself to a $50 day for an Upper East Side spot — by getting into a garage by 9:00 a.m. (early bird special), for a daily cost of $18, less (yes!) than a cocktail here and even less than the round trip commuter train fare of $19.

The day offered a lively mix of topics, all focused on interior design, from the use of color to what makes a pretty room to choosing and using antiques. Each designer and architect had about 20 minutes to show slides of their work and explain the thinking behind their decisions.

Typical of this world, many had worked for some of the same firms and some had worked together on projects.

The back-stories were delicious!

But also…whew!

It’s easy to forget, or not know, or not care, how staggeringly wealthy so many people are now.

So there’s another 10,000 square foot mansion with 11 bedrooms and a bowling alley and a skating rink and a theater…

Here’s a mega-yacht with a bed inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

Here’s the 6th or 7th home of another mogul, this one in Mexico.

And so on.

It would be easy to disdain all of this as appalling excess.

I get it. I do!

Or the fact that every project employs hundreds of workers, many in the unionized building trades.

But I still loved every minute of the day, and savored the stylish people seated all around me — the woman in leopard trousers with a massive leopard hat; the older woman in her navy leather Roger Vivier flats; the man in black Belgian loafers (a very specific NYC old-money brand), the speaker in from Dallas in perfect patent Manolos….

The shoe game was strong!

I studied design at the New York School of Interior Design in the mid-90s and planned to leave journalism for a new career in the industry. After my first husband walked out, starting over at the bottom at $10/hour wasn’t a viable option, so I stayed in journalism.

But I learned a lot at school, and really enjoyed my education.

My maternal grandmother had money and hired Toronto’s top decorator, so my taste was formed early! I still remember one of her 1970s bathroom wallpapers.

I love design dearly, so an entire day listening to the greats and legends of the field — and seeing the depth of their knowledge — was a fantastic, free pleasure.

For all its challenges, New York City remains a vibrant center full of talent and inspiration. What a relief to see it finally, slowly, coming back to life again!

Manhattan memories

One of my favorites!

By Caitlin Kelly

Thanks to a generous friend who lent me her Upper East Side studio apartment for three weekends recently, I got to explore the city at leisure.

I grew up in big cities: London, Toronto, Montreal and Paris, so my life in a New York suburb for the past few decades, certainly without the social connection of having children, has been a weird experience.

I would never have chosen to spend my life outside of a city, but we had (still here!) a great apartment with a river view and a pool and I can see the towers of downtown Manhattan, even 25 miles south, from my quiet, tree-lined residential street.

If I were super rich, Manhattan could be fun — a spacious, bright apartment and not being subjected to the stinky summer streets and sweaty subway. But I would never have been able to afford and enjoy the life there I have, so I stayed out here and head in as often as I have time and money for — a round-trip trainfare is $19.

I love the variety and people-watching and walking everywhere (so much healthier than driving!) of city life. So many dogs! Such great eavesdropping.

I had a great time meandering, re-visiting some favorite spots and discovering some new ones, like:

Rockefeller Center

If you’ve never been to NY, it is spectacular, built between 1930 and 1939, 19 commercial buildings in midtown, designed by Raymond Hood. Some of its details are very beautiful, especially those facing Fifth Avenue. One of my favorites — by (!?) Isamu Noguchi — is over the entrance to the Associated Press buildings, a massive metal bas-relief of various sorts of news reporting.

Here’s the famous statue of Atlas, now wearing a mask!

Fifth Avenue

Well, if you’ve ever watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s, you’ve seen Audrey Hepburn standing before one of its windows on the famous avenue.

It’s a street with so much elegance, starting at 42d Street with the massive NY Public Library and its entrance flanked by two stone lions, Patience and Fortitude, who in winter sport holiday wreaths. Today, the street — which once housed such elegant stores as Takashimaya and Bendel’s — is now much more mass-market and full of tourists buying all the stuff they could by at home in Oklahoma.

But it’s also home to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Thomas.

The Plaza!

After 59th street, heading north, it becomes residential, with palatial buildings overlooking Central Park.

The Lexington Candy Shop

Last renovated in 1948, at the southwest corner of Lex and 83rd. this funky little place is a classic diner. I met a pal there for breakfast and it was great.

Donohue’s Steak House

How I love a classic NYC joint! This spot, in business since 1950, is perfect. I stopped by and had a club sandwich and a beer and rice pudding and it was just what I wanted and not a lot of money, hard to imagine at Lexington and 64th. The waitresses all wear crisp white shirts and black trousers — and in 2015, a regular left two of them each $50,000. That’s the UES, baby!

William-Wayne

One of my favorite shops. This is the place to buy the perfect hostess or wedding gift, from gorgeous lacquer trays to Indian print tablecloths, small throw rugs, picture frames, scented candles, and a tiny selection of vintage glassware. Also at Lex and 64th.

Edith Machinist

I told a much younger stylish friend, NYC born and raised, how I’d just scored there — gorgeous brown suede knee-high boots, a fab 80’s oversize leather satchel and a burgundy cotton jacket — and she laughed. “I’ve been shopping there since high school!”

To stay in business for 19 years in fiercely competitive NYC is a feat in itself! This vintage clothing shop is always full of terrific clothes, bags, footwear and accessories. Prices aren’t stupidly high and none are Big Name Designers, which makes it more fun and affordable. I splurged $180 on a silk 80s Genny dress a long time ago and wore it a LOT and loved it. Rivington is a fun street, and Economy Candy is next door!

In the window of Economy Candy. How could you resist?

Balthazar

Oh, my dears! This place, a classic French bistro, holds one of my most cherished memories, meeting my first agent there for lunch on a scorching spring or summer day in 2001. He was handsome as hell, looking like a younger William Hurt, and, then being a new agent needing clients, was wooing me — which is now not the case for most writers!

The restaurant is one created by Brian McNally, opened in 1997, who is a legendary restaurateur here, a Briton whose venues are both hyper-stylish and skilfully weathered.

The agent ordred Kumamotos — which were…? Tiny oysters I’d never heard of or tried.

It was such a pleasure to return to this stalwart where I ate outside, and lunch came to $87. Yes, I know. It’s a bloody fortune!

But sometimes the experience — the food, the service, the street, the people-watching — is worth every dime.

Understanding my mother…now

By Caitlin Kelly

Long-time readers here know my mother and I were estranged for the final decade of her life. I won’t repeat all those details. She died in her chair, watching TV, on Feb. 15, 2020, my best friend’s birthday, in a nursing home in Victoria, B.C.

Her friend and executor was kind enough, at 2:00 a.m., to say Psalm 23 over her body, a gesture I’m really grateful for.

She was cremated and I was to have gone to B.C. — basically impossible thanks to Canadian border closings and quarantine demands — to scatter her ashes there.

Now they’re in our living room, in a nasty plastic container they arrived in (for now) and it’s oddly comforting.

Because our relationship was so difficult for so many years, we usually lived very far apart — I in her native New York, she in my native British Columbia.

The closest ever? I was in Paris on a journalism fellowship and she lived in Bath. We had a few very good visits, until the week I was to fly back to Canada for good, and she ended up in a locked ward of a London psychiatric hospital.

So there was always tension and fear and anxiety for me with her.

A cliche, but true — her death has released me from this, and for that I’m very glad.

It has also, thank God, lessened my anger and frustration over the behaviors and decisions that cost us thousands we couldn’t really afford, over her unwillingness to address her alcoholism, even to acknowledge my annual Christmas cards and newsletters, including 2018, when I got early-stage breast cancer. (She had had a mastectomy.)

But, to my absolute shock, she left me a significant sum of money.

I would never have imagined this.

I assumed she was, by then, broke.

I assumed whatever she might have had would go to someone else.

I assumed…nothing.

That money is now in my bank account and I keep flailing about emotionally, alternating between guilt (it’s unearned) and gratitude.

It’s even enough to buy a small house, although — as one friend said — not in a place I would actually want to live!

I spent a lot of years, decades, dreading the next argument or insult or unwanted phone call alerting me to some fresh chaos. I left her care for good at 14.

She never taught me to cook or dress or wear make-up or how to handle money.

Even my minimal sex education was a booklet she left on a table.

What I did learn was how to be independent.

How to make and keep good friendships.

How to confidently and effectively manage my own affairs.

Only in a recent conversation did I finally, belatedly, understand something fundamental about her that I had always taken too personally.

She did not invite or enjoy intimacy.

Her alcoholism and bipolar illness and tough personality all made sure it was very difficult to get close to her.

That kept her safe.

It hurt me, but with hindsight and distance I now see them as coping mechanisms.

Better late than never.

Why to re-visit somewhere you’ve been

Jose’s hometown

By Caitlin Kelly

Loved this recent blog post with 10 reasons why you should go back to places you’ve already been to, instead of some frenzied checklist or bucket list of all the places you haven’t yet visited.

Georgetown. D.C., November 2017.

A few of these:

You’ve changed

Oh yeah! I spent a year in Paris at 25 on a life-changing journalism fellowship on the Rue du Louvre. Since then I’ve been back many many times, as often as I can afford, and have spent three birthdays there. I’m still me, but my perspective has changed, as it would.

I’ve been to Ireland five times — in the 80s to visit a friend in Dublin, the mid-90s when my father owned a Georgian house near Athenry, Co. Donegal; in the aughts with my father driving around, alone to cover the Lidsoonvarna singles festival and in 2015 with Jose. Happy to go back many more times!

You know what to expect

I love Riana’s detail — of bringing your Old Oyster card (yes!) back to London with you. I keep little bags of euros and Canadian currency for those return trips. I know how long it will take to get around some cities by bus or subway. I learned — in the heat of July — that city blocks in Berlin are massive! I thought New York city blocks were long, but no.

Every first visit will bring surprises (ask my husband about the pre-dawn post-flight bus I said would take us into Paris…but didn’t) but if you go back, you know better now.

Montreal has such a distinct sort of architecture

You can revisit old favorites

Well, post-pandemic I suspect many have closed for good.

But the ones that remain are a lovely comfort, whether a diner or cafe or museum or even a favorite street or park.

Riana is a pistol!

Like me, she’s Canadian and has created some fantastic adventures for herself.

Paris — bien sur!

I hope to be back in Berlin, Paris and London this fall.

And yet, there are also so many places I do want to see the first time, like:

Morocco, Japan, Jordan, Namibia, Malawi, South Africa, Botswana, VietNam, Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia…

What are some spots you love to go back to?

Feeling blah? Many of us are

By Caitlin Kelly

This recent New York Times piece summed it up well:

the pandemic has dragged on, and the acute state of anguish has given way to a chronic condition of languish.

In psychology, we think about mental health on a spectrum from depression to flourishing. Flourishing is the peak of well-being: You have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to others. Depression is the valley of ill-being: You feel despondent, drained and worthless.

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.

Maybe like some of you, I’ve been a bit shocked — before reading this story — at how little I have felt the normal drive to work and work and work.

It isn’t just about income, as Grant says:

The pandemic was a big loss. To transcend languishing, try starting with small wins, like the tiny triumph of figuring out a whodunit or the rush of playing a seven-letter word. One of the clearest paths to flow is a just-manageable difficulty: a challenge that stretches your skills and heightens your resolve. That means carving out daily time to focus on a challenge that matters to you — an interesting project, a worthwhile goal, a meaningful conversation. Sometimes it’s a small step toward rediscovering some of the energy and enthusiasm that you’ve missed during all these months.

We are privileged to not have the burdens of massive debt or kids or grand-kids or parents to support. We have savings. A recent lucrative and easy assignment out of the blue paid enough, (rare but lovely!) I could coast for even a few months.

And so I have been.

I’ve been focused instead on some work in our apartment, with managing a sudden and unexpected arrival of my late mother’s belongings and art from British Columbia, with trying to sell a book proposal seven agents have already rejected, (and managing my battered ego as I try to decide whether to just give up or not), and with slowly healing a sprained wrist and knee from a bad fall March 12.

Plus a lot of medical tests and for now, I’m fine.

My small win?

I’ve become addicted to the NYT Spelling Bee, an online daily challenge making words using some or all of that day’s seven letters. Some days are a lot easier than others — a recent one had 66 words! Whew.

Jose and I recently joined a new gym and it’s huge and spotless and welcoming and I am re-starting my routines, with a set of quite challenging weight exercises set for me by a trainer.

BUT….Here’s a really interesting different POV from artist and author Austin Kleon, arguing we’re dormant instead:

I feel very lucky to be married to a gardener, because gardening gives us rich metaphors for creative work that we don’t get from our business-focused productivity-obsessed culture. (I dedicated the last chapter of Keep Going, “Plant Your Garden,” to seasons and cyclical time.)

Over at Brain Pickings, Maria Popova posted a lovely meditation on a passage from Olivia Laing’s essay about Derek Jarman from her book, Funny Weather:

Gardening situates you in a different kind of time, the antithesis of the agitating present of social media. Time becomes circular, not chronological; minutes stretch into hours; some actions don’t bear fruit for decades.

Gardeners not only develop a different sense of time, they develop the ancient wisdom of knowing when to do things:

To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up…

a collection of Google Image Search results for dormant plants

It seems to me that the reason that so many of us feel like we’re languishing is that we are trying to flourish in terrible conditions. It is spring outside — or the “unlocking” season — but it is still “Winter in America,” and, as any gardener knows, if you try to wake a plant out of dormancy too soon, it will wither, and maybe die.

Are you languishing?

Dormant?

Maybe….thriving?

Three boxes, one crate. A life.

My favorite photo of my mother. Cynthia von Rhau, born Nov. 28, NYC; died Feb. 15, 2020, Victoria. B.C.

By Caitlin Kelly

Three heavy cardboard boxes arrived at our apartment this week, without a word of warning.

They contained a wide variety of items, including several photo albums, a small stuffed mouse, a copy of the New Testament, a white wool blanket — and my mother’s ashes.

Might have been nice to have a heads-up for those.

The woman chosen as executor of my mother’s will was a woman who, for reasons I’ll never grasp, really disliked me.

She had met my mother on a beach in Costa Rica and decided to become a close friend of my mother. Except, she really wasn’t. It was a weird relationship, subservient and deferential to my mother in ways few true intimates are.

After my mother had major surgery for a brain tumor, after decades of independent home ownership and much global travel, she decided to live in a smaller home and moved into the same city and same condo complex as this woman.

She was always sweet as pie to me in front of my mother — until the day my mother had to be moved, suddenly, into a nursing home. I’ll spare you the details, but she and her daughter and her sister were absolute bitches to me.

I think readers here know I’m made of pretty tough stuff but this was…horrible.

I never went back.

Even the nurses at the nursing home asked me what on earth these two women had in common.

Their city is a 7 hour flight from NY, where I live, and this cruelty and bizarre behavior was quite enough.

But after my mother died, Feb. 15, 2020, she left a few belongings behind, including a massive pastel portrait of her grandmother, framed. That woman took possession of them, as was her legal responsibility.

The pandemic has made travel into Canada expensive and complicated so I wasn’t going to even try to go north and deal with it all.

Now, finally, suddenly, I’m the guardian of the very few items left from my great-grandmother and grandmother.

They had lots of money but my maternal granny, who died in 1975 in Toronto, was pretty profligate and never bothered to pay any taxes, for decades, to any of the three governments to which she likely owed a fortune — American (she lived in Canada), Canadian federal and provincial. So my poor mother had to sell pretty much everything she had owned to pay them off. The quality was so good one of her armoires is in a Toronto museum.

It’s all somewhat ironic as my great-grandmother is now literally coming full circle by returning to New York — she lived for years in Manhattan, on Park Avenue.

And now I’m the guardian and wonder what will happen to these few objects when we die.

We have no children or nieces or nephews we’re close to.

So it’s prompted an overdue discussion to whom we’ll leave our assets and estate, which isn’t a quick or easy answer — and we have little nostalgia for our two universities.

The many photos of my mother are fabulous and I am so glad to have them, as she was very beautiful and there are true glamour shots from her time modeling and acting.

Seeing a pile of ashes in an ugly brown plastic tub is…sobering.

More simple pleasures

photo: Jose R.Lopez

By Caitlin Kelly

A long lazy morning spent lounging in a cozy wool or cashmere bathrobe, preferably one with pockets

Croissants, warm, with raspberry jam

Strong coffee with warm milk

Listening carefully to music — vinyl preferred

More and more birdsong

Daffodils and crocuses and magnolia and forsythia

Longer, brighter days!

Re-watching favorite films over and over, savoring familiar scenes while noticing a new detail almost every time

Going back to sleep

A warm, fluffy duvet

A deep-tissue massage — after a year!

A frigid night studded with stars

A long conversation with someone who knows you very, very well

A new and growing friendship

Mentoring

Gorgeous fresh flowers

I buy a bunch, but break them into separate arrangements. This was $42 at a local florist. Not cheap

but worth it!

The sound of a nearby creek or stream

The clanging of halyards on sailboat masts

The glurg noise of a canoe paddle carving water

A cat purring

Tossing dirty, torn, 20 year old luggage and buying new pieces in anticipation of travel, soon not quite so impossible

Clearing out the garage!

Buying plants for the balcony

The rustling sound of a bicycle coming up behind you

The THOCK of a tennis ball being hit

The THWACK of a well-hit golf ball

Filling the house with hyacinth

Walking along 38th street in Manhattan and suddenly smelling…horses! Visiting the carriage horses’ stable while Duke, a massive specimen, was getting new shoes from the farrier. MAGIC!

Vaccinations!

Six great journalism movies

By Caitlin Kelly

There’s no way past it. If you’re going to read a blog written by a journalist…

The Devil Wears Prada

I’ve seen this 2006 film so many times I know much of the dialogue off by heart and always look forward to my favorite scenes.

It follows the trajectory of Andrea Sachs, a gormless fresh graduate, who is very serious about journalism, stuck in a first job — at a NYC glossy fashion magazine — she neither wants nor respects. It’s a job.

This one always hits me!

It’s set in Manhattan, with key scenes in buildings and locations holding some great memories in my own writing life.

It’s really about what it takes to pay dues, to go along and get along in a rough and unfamiliar environment.

The price of ambition.

There are some lovely scenes in Paris as well.

Lots of arguments about whether her friends are true friends, or people who have no clue what it really takes to get ahead in this brutally competitive industry.

Plus, Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci and acres of gorgeous clothes and accessories.

It was made for $35 million — and has earned almost 10 times that since.

Spotlight

I know of no other film that so abundantly makes clear what it takes to do really slow, really detailed, really deep reporting work, aka investigative journalism. It won Best Picture for 2015 and richly deserved it.

It follows a real team of four reporters at the Boston Globe who dug up a rats’ nest of priest’s abuse. There are scenes that should be required viewing in every journalism class, like the one where Sacha Pfeiffer (played by Rachel McAdams) has to coax grim details from a male abuse victim.

No one who hasn’t done this work — and especially those who loathe and insult journalists — can really grasp the emotional intelligence (empathy, compassion, patience) it takes to get victims to share the stories that can, sometimes, create tremendous political and legal change.

I’ve watched this one many times and never tire of it.

It also makes very clear the tremendous pressure often placed on senior newsroom management by powers-that-be eager to shut down some unwanted attention.

And the military chain-of-command that still runs most newsrooms.

And the balls-to-the-wall determination it demands of reporters to keep chasing elusive answers.

Plus, again — Stanley Tucci!

Absence of Malice

This is an older one, from 1981, with Sally Field as a reporter and Paul Newman as the subject of her story.

Nominated for three Academy Awards, and written by a former newspaper editor, it addresses when, how or if a reporter should ever have a romantic relationship with someone they’re writing about it.

It also shows that speaking to “civilians” — regular people who don’t understand how journalism works — can wreak havoc on their lives.

Some of our collection of laminated press credentials….

All The President’s Men

Better known to those who love it as ATPM, this follows the Watergate scandal that brought down former U.S.President Richard Nixon, and the two Washington Post reporters — Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) — who broke the story after many months of reporting and a lot of internal and external doubt whether the story was true and verifiable.

Jason Robards is terrific as the Post’s patrician editor, Ben Bradlee, with his Gucci-clad feet on every desk.

It’s a total boy-fest, with almost no women involved in the editing or reporting, but still so worth watching.

For an entire generation of would-be journalists, Woodward and Bernstein were the ultimate role models.

The Paper

Hilarious!

Michael Keaton and Marisa Tomei — and Glenn Close — star in this send-up of New York City tabloid journalism. Having worked at the NY Daily News, I get it now!

If you want a glimpse of what newspaper tabloid life is like, this is it.

A Private War

This is a recent film, from 2018, about the legendary American foreign correspondent, Marie Colvin, played by the excellent British actress Rosalind Pike.

Colvin had already lost an eye covering the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka but never stopped worked in dangerous places.

She was killed while on assignment in Homs, Syria, Feb. 12, 2012.

And guess who’s in the cast?

Stanley Tucci!

Want to find love? Make a list!

By Caitlin Kelly

If you’re still hoping to find a partner, it can feel like an exhausting and overwhelming search.

I spent my 20s dating a lot of men, but not wanting a long-term commitment from anyone, certainly not marriage. I didn’t want children and I wanted, long-term, to get to New York, a difficult thing for most Canadians.

So after I moved to Montreal, I fell in love with an American medical student from New Jersey. I was able to obtain a “green card” allowing me to live and work permanently in the U.S.

We spent seven years together, but should never have married.

I liked this piece in The New York Times’ Modern Love column:

I experienced repeated collisions of misaligned values and discovered personality traits I wanted to avoid. Dates that caused me to be versions of myself I didn’t like and cost me time that I could have spent on my couch: just me, a Vicodin and a book about sadness.

To break this cycle, I decided to track it all. Make sense of the patterns and change them.

Cue the Trello board. As of today, the board has six stages and eight traits. It’s similar to the business development process of a salesperson, with each stage representing a step toward a successful deal and each trait representing a characteristic that is more likely to lead to success.

The stages are: To Vet, Vetting, Vetted, Scheduling, Scheduled and Dating. Each person is represented by a Trello card — a kind of digital sticky note.

Before I go on a date with anyone, his card progresses from left to right, passing through these stages until we’re dating. If we never get that far, I archive his card, in which case an archived card is all he will ever be.

I evaluate my potential dates based on eight traits. Five of those traits I try to learn about before the date. The remaining three I think about after the date.

Before the first date, I try to determine the following: Does he make me laugh via text? Does he live in L.A.? Does he like his job? Is he down to go backpacking? Will he get on the phone?

Years ago, after my miserable two-year marriage — he walked out barely two years to the date of our marriage, and remarried a colleague within the year — I found the acronym PEPSI, and used it think more seriously about compatibility with potential partners.

I stayed divorced and single for six years.

I had a few marriage proposals, one very serious.

But I didn’t want them, from those people, one from a man I had had a huge crush on in my 20s after I profiled him for a Toronto magazine. Oddly, later, we dated seriously for about six months, but there was a large age difference — that didn’t bother me at 24 but did at 39.

I did want to re-marry, even though my first husband was unfaithful, which broke my heart.

I have spent a lot of my life alone and, while I’m pretty independent, I much prefer having someone loyal and loving to share my life with.

I knew a few women like me who kept striking out and finally made a list of what they most wanted in a partner.

Everyone thinks: cute, smart, rich.

After a few decades in the trenches it’s a lot more like: funny, smart, kind, flexible, accomplished.

I wanted a unicorn — someone virtually impossible to find in New York City — a man who was both highly accomplished but also modest about it.

Someone able to be deeply serious and responsible about the matters of adult life (bills, savings, health issues) but able to laugh a lot.

Someone generous emotionally, able to easily express affection, something I struggle with.

I found Jose online while writing about online dating for a women’s magazine.

We would never have met otherwise — even though we had people who knew us both.

This was then part of my thinking if I met a man who seemed interesting.

So, how compatible, really, were we?

Hence PEPSI:

P for Professional

E for Emotional

P for Physical Attraction

S for Spiritual

I for Intellectual

There were some serious doubts on both parts.

P met the bill, both of them.

E…well, two very stubborn people!

He felt I wasn’t nearly spiritual enough for him, a devout Buddhist. I told him that seemed mighty judgmental.

I feared he wasn’t intellectual enough.

Yet here are, 21 years later!

Some of the qualities I think essential in a life partner include a phenomenal work ethic, a spirit of generosity for himself and others, awareness of the world and how it works (and doesn’t), a commitment to making others happier.

Resilience is huge. We’ve been through a lot of stuff — deep family conflicts, his turning full-time freelance, his diabetes diagnosis, my breast cancer. I wanted someone with a spine and a heart!

We each arrive to the quest with our own specific deficits and needs, our strengths and weaknesses.

But knowing who we are and what we value most is a good start.

Commitment is key.

What word games do you play?

By Caitlin Kelly

I’ve always been proud of my vocabulary and I’ve been writing for a living since university.

But it’s humbling indeed to realize how many words I still don’t know or just don’t use.

I recently began playing the New York Times Spelling Bee and am officially addicted!

It’s shaped like a flower, with seven letters — six around a central letter that must be included in every word of four or more letters.

Its feedback as you play is so New York-ishly competitive….as you make more words and score more points (with more points for longer words) it goes from Nice to Solid (!) to Great to Amazing.

The highest level (which I have yet to attain) is Queen Bee.

And I’m such a nerd that when I come up with a word that uses all the letters — that they didn’t include — there is much gnashing of teeth. How dare they!

It teaches me a lot about how I perceive, how I think, how I see (or don’t!) see patterns.

And words I never use or have never heard before.

How could I have missed anime?

I don’t follow it as an art form, even as I know what it is. So my eyes didn’t discern it.

And let’s not forget tontine — an obscure 17th-19th century word for a kind of insurance.

DONEE?!

It’s really interesting to work hard at it for a bit, get tired and frustrated, then go away for a while. Maybe an hour or more.

Almost without fail, the minute I see it anew — boom! –– there’s a word right in front me I hadn’t noticed.

I like that it forces me to take breaks and refresh my brain.

I also play Scrabble with my husband, but more often now solo against the computer at the advanced level. It drives me nuts when it — often — makes obviously French words! Like quai.

I also need to memorize a lot more words using q, j, and z.

He and I play Bananagrams and he’s gotten very good!

What I like most about it, other than it’s easily portable (the tiles come in the cutest little yellow cotton sack that looks like a banana), is it forces players to move fast and be super flexible. If the word patterns you’ve made aren’t allowing for the next letters, break ’em up and move them as needed.

This is huge, this sort of instant destruction. It’s the opposite of Scrabble, where you aim for the highest possible score every time. With Bananagrams, the goal is to use up all the letters as fast as possible then shout “Bananas!” when you win.

It’s a little odd that I work with words and also play with them. But I like that they’re not only my bread and butter but a source of real pleasure and relaxation.

These games are a fun and easy way to stay mentally sharp, to grow my vocabulary, to savor a bit of competition.

Do you play any word games?