More simple pleasures

By Caitlin Kelly

 

An ongoing series…

 

The last few days of our outdoor pool, swimming laps beneath a blue sky

A new bathing suit that really fits!

Having that new bathing suit fit even better after weeks of daily laps

Hanging it from a doorknob, ready for the next day

The cool side of the pillow

Snuggling beneath the duvet as evenings grow cooler

 

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Newspapers and breakfast in bed

 

Strong coffee with half-and-half

Fresh pineapple

Wondering what birds we’re hearing in the treetops

The low, golden, slanting light of autumn, so distinct and different

Sitting on a friend’s back deck catching up after months apart

Fresh scones from a local bakery

Watching the bees arrive every morning to enjoy our small balcony garden

New York City’s museums re-opening soon!

My gym (we’ll see how I feel) re-opening soon!

 

 

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A vintage kilim rug, bought at auction

 

 

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Enjoying meals on the balcony

 

 

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Diner rice pudding!

 

 

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Homemade iced tea

 

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Late afternoon living room shadows of a carved wooden horse atop an armoire

 

 

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Endlessly re-watching  favorite films like this one, The Maltese Falcon

 

 

What are some of yours these days?

The hell with excellence

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Worrying doesn’t get you there…

 

By Caitlin Kelly

When Kamala Harris was named as the Democratic nominee for Vice President, a somewhat bitter joke made the rounds of social media — every Indian parent wondering — why not President?!

I realize it’s a mark of real privilege not to strive and struggle to be the best all the time and have done plenty of struggle, thanks — try starting at 30 as a new immigrant to New York City journalism (a cabal of Ivy League graduates) and weathering three recessions in 20 years!

I grew up in Toronto, the media capital of Canada, and competition there has always been extremely fierce, so I’ve always known to bring my A game to work.

But the rest of my life?

Feh!

Our home is lovely and I do brush my hair and we cook some very good meals and I do dress up nicely when I got out and enjoy making that effort.

 

But the endless pursuit of excellence is just too tiring!

 

It feels so American, to constantly be proving you’re better/stronger/faster/cheaper/whatever it takes to be at the top of the heap.

For work, and especially in some fields, of course this is necessary, for years or even decades. There’s no choice.

And I know, firsthand, being married to a Hispanic-American-born man whose own family expected excellence of him, that high parental expectations can be really important.

But the perfection so many people now perform on social media is also so weird to me. I’m so very much imperfect, and I’m fine with it.

There are only two groups of people whose approval I most value —  people I love and respect and people whose good opinion of me as a professional means I can make a living.

So when my poor husband urges me, repeatedly, to improve my golf game — lessons, a special glove, practice — I make a nasty face and shrug because the word amateur means someone who loves….not just someone who’s a REALLY good non-professional.

We recently played one of our county’s most challenging courses, all 18 holes (a first for me) and we did not play slowly (as is deemed extremely rude) and thereby hold up the many players right behind us. So I did fine, even playing poorly compared to many others.

Golf is meant to be fun, but knowing (and seeing!) others right behind you at the last hole is not wildly relaxing at all.

So I need to be good enough to not mess up others’ enjoyment, and I get that. But I don’t feel compelled to get really good at golf or other leisure pursuits.

 

It’s leisure!

 

It rhymes with pleasure.…not work.

This summer I finally started swimming laps in our apartment building pool, building up to 30 laps, about 20 to 25 minutes. I could have pushed much harder but I want to enjoy my life too!

I’ve just never been someone attracted by “perfection” — which is also deeply subjective, as any writer quickly learns. Any creative person learns. What one person adores about you and your ideas another may loathe.

 

So, maybe because of this, you learn to value yourself and your own internal standards.

 

I think this is an overlooked and undervalued superpower.

 

Travel memories…

By Caitlin Kelly

As readers here know, travel is usually my greatest joy in life.

I took my first international road trip — in my playpen in the back of my parents’ car — from Vancouver to Mexico. I took my first flight, at seven or eight, to Antigua from Toronto. I always know exactly where my passport is and my Canadian currency and my leftover euros.

Being confined to the disease-riddled political madhouse of the United States right now is, for some of us, really frustrating.

So here are some of my favorite travel memories:

 

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My last taste of elegant hospitality, Middleburg, Virginia, March 2020 — just as the pandemic shut everything down.

I was on my way to D.C. to attend and speak at an annual conference, and added two extra days in this town to play and relax and enjoy some solo time. I loved it. I also had breakfast there with a local friend, an extra pleasure.

 

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I do love a great hotel bar. This is the freshly and beautifully renovated Royal York, in my hometown of Toronto; September 2019.

 

When you’re traveling and need to meet people for business or pleasure, an elegant hotel bar (if not too noisy!) can be a good option. I interviewed a psychiatrist for my healthcare story here, while sitting on those stools, and later enjoyed a cocktail with a young pal from Twitter.

 

 

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I had never seen elk — or a sign like this! New Mexico, June 2019.

 

This was a great day — Valles Caldera is a national preserve where we spent a day enjoying nature and silence during our week’s vacation. My husband Jose is from Santa Fe, so we love returning to his home city and state, where we have friends and he once more revels in being home.

 

 

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Lacing up my skates for some ice-work at Beaver Pond, Mount Royal, Montreal. Winter 2019.

 

It’s a really Canadian joy to skate without a fee and in public. I really miss all the free public rinks I took for granted in Toronto —- and in New York, I generally only skate on an indoor rink and have to pay for it, a wholly different experience. This was a lot of fun and the rink, very sensibly, even has benches in the middle, so you can plop down whenever pooped.

 

 

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I love funky vintage diners. I meandered happily along Route 25 on Long Island’s North Shore and loved every minute; June 2018.

 

I love to meander! It’s such a pleasure to find a winding country road and savor all the sights — farm-stands, diners, little shops, old houses. This road terminates at the eastern end in Orient, where there’s a wide pebbled beach. It was a great day spent solo while Jose was working locally for the week and we were given a hotel room.

 

 

Georgetown

 

Georgetown, DC is such a beautiful neighborhood. Fall 2017.

 

I’ve been back to D.C. over the years many times — attending awards dinners, on a fellowship, visiting friends, on my way heading further south. It feels so very different from New York in every way, and Georgetown’s narrow cobbled streets and early 19th century homes are a lovely escape.

 

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Love the Atwater Market, Montreal.

 

I loved coming here to shop for food when I lived in Montreal for 18 months as a reporter at the Montreal Gazette. I didn’t stay long as a resident; the winter was brutal and the newspaper not a great fit for me. But, a six hour drive from our New York home, Montreal makes for a terrific break for us now. I get to speak and hear French, catch up with old friends and colleagues, shop for the kinds of clothes I really like (much more European!) and always visit our favorite restaurants.

 

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Pies! Pumpkin, apple, blueberry, sugar, maple syrup; Atwater Market

 

Maple syrup pie! Sugar pie!

 

 

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I love these ghost meringues! Atwater Market, Montreal

 

These were on display just before Hallowe’en. Love them!

 

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Dublin. So much beautiful weaving!

 

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Jose went to the local barber, ex-boxer Patrick Quinn. His haircut was 5 euros. Ireland, June 2015.

 

I’ve been to Ireland five times so far and could easily return many times more. It’s so small you can easily see a lot, even in a week or two. People are so warm and welcoming. The landscapes are astounding. Filled with history. I actually cry when I leave.

 

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Not the loveliest image, but definitely Venice, July 2017

 

I’ve been to Venice three times so far: I spent my 21st birthday there, alone, and enjoyed it, went back on my European fellowship year at 25 and hadn’t been back for decades — and made the crucial error of doing so in July when it was brutally hot and massively crowded. I am glad I went again, though, for all of three days, and remain determined to visit in cooler, quieter late fall or even winter next time!

I loved Giudecca, a mostly residential neighborhood and even found a small playground surrounded by low-level apartments. I sat on a bench in the shade there for a while and just savored the silence.

 

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One of the great pleasures of travel is…sitting still! Taking it all in. July 2017

 

I really loved my first-ever visit to Berlin, a city I’d only seen in films. I took the train from Paris and stayed at a terrific old hotel, the Savoy, on Fasanenstrasse, in Charlottenburg. I loved everything about our hotel — the white tablecloths in the gracious, spacious dining room, a quiet, small back garden, an adjacent cigar bar!, even a hair salon next door. I visited the Pergamon museum and enjoyed the Biergarten and biked around and spent a fantastic day swimming at Schachtensee, one of the many lakes surrounding the city and easily reached by public transit.

I stayed in Berlin 10 days and just got to know it a little. I’m eager to return.

 

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Since 2001, we have been visiting a gorgeous resort, Manoir Hovey, on Lake Massawippi, in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. This is their dock, in fall. Oh, we miss it!

 

After 9/11 Jose and I were pretty shell-shocked as we both covered the truly grim details of its aftermath, I as a journalist and he as a New York Times photo editor. We fled north right afterward to this terrific small resort and have been back since then every two to three years, in every season — named Canada’s number two best resort hotel for 2020 by Travel & Leisure magazine.

 

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Must have tea in London! This was the Ritz

 

OK, so it’s touristy. But fun!

 

 

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I love the details that are so spectacular — not just the official “sights” but the memorable specifics like this Paris cafe

 

I’m wild about all aspects of design. I loved this detail.

 

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This is so French! That gorgeous, polished, oversize doorknob and the deep viridian and the gloss. Ooooohh, Paris!

 

Tell me about some of the places you miss!

Who’s buying clothes now anyway?

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I miss retail style! I miss shopping in person! These two stunning oversized pillows are on a bench in the Brown’s shoe store in Montreal.

 

By Caitlin Kelly

A recent story in The New York Times magazine asks if we’ll ever go back to buying fashion. With a global pandemic forcing us all (OK, those unselfish enough to stay out of crowded places full of other people) to stay home and work at home and look decent from the waist up for Zoom meetings, why on earth would anyone put on proper clothes not made of loose cotton or spandex?

Who’s even wearing a bra these days?

No high heels.

No pocket squares.

No suits.

No style?

Here’s a brand making clothes for people with no need to dress to impress:

On an average day, the brand — still in its nascent stage — sells 46 sweats. That day they sold more than 1,000. When they ran out of sweatsuits, shoppers moved through the T-shirts, socks and underwear. By month’s end, the brand’s sales were up 662 percent over March the previous year.

The day we met, April 24, was the highest-grossing day in the company’s history. A new shipment came in that morning and promptly sold out again. Entireworld had now grossed more in two months than in its entire first year in business.

 

Since early March, I’ve bought:

 

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— a pair of pale pink Birkenstocks and two other pairs of shoes

— five simple cotton T-shirts

— four bras and seven pairs of panties (most on sale)

— one vaguely dressy shirt

— a long navy blue shift dress (on sale!)

— a bathing suit (on sale)

— two scarves (my weakness!)

 

I actually bought everything but the underwear and bathing suit in a store, while masked, moving quickly, and with very few other shoppers in the store.

Like many others, I soon weary of online shopping.

From the Times story, and designer Marc Jacobs:

 

When asked about online shopping, Jacobs told Business of Fashion: “I love to go to a shop. I like to see everything. I like to touch it. I like to try it on. I like to have a coffee. I like to have a bottle of water. I like to get dressed up.” He raised his eyebrows for emphasis. “But ordering online, in a pair of grubby sweats, is not my idea of living life.”

 

Team Jacobs!

I’ve never been a big shopper but I miss the hunt, especially browsing through small/indie shops, the kind that line some streets in lower Manhattan.

I love to chat with the store staff, often the owner, enjoying their taste and editing.

Or did.

So many small businesses are going to die, or already have, so who knows who will make the cut?

Big/chain stores just exhaust me — too much merch, often badly made, standing in line (!) to pay. Not fun.

I also enjoy consignment and thrift shops, but in those places I really want to see and touch the quality.

I follow a few very well-dressed men on Instagram and really savor their sartorial choices.

I’ve always loved elegance and style: a well-cut piece of clothing, a gorgeous print, an interesting color. I lived for many years in Toronto, Montreal, Paris, cities with plenty of style, and pre-pandemic, was in Manhattan usually once a week —  and haven’t been there in seven months.

I really miss seeing other people well-dressed as well, gaining pleasure and inspiration from their choices — the suburbs offer very few of these, like the 50-ish woman I saw  recently wearing a white linen dress and carrying a brightly colored woven ethnic bag. That was a treat!

 

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I love the colors in this

 

So when I recently met a pal for coffee I made sure to wear some pretty clothes and the drop earrings Jose bought me in Santa Fe, coral and silver, and my yellow sandals and the brightly colored embroidered bag a friend brought me from Mexico.

It’s just too sad and too grim to never celebrate beauty!

With nowhere to go now, have you given up on fashion and new clothes?

 

 

 

How to re-charge your creative juices

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By Caitlin Kelly

If you live and work in the United States, as I do, you will daily — hourly! — be exhorted from every direction to be (more!) productive.

It’s a Taylorist industrial model and has nothing to do with creativity.

An early blog post of mine (2011) — chosen for Freshly Pressed — challenged this:

 

Shutting down the production line for a while — silence! solitude! no immediate income! I’m wasting time! — can feel terrifying.

It’s absolutely necessary.

But we don’t talk about the downtime, the quiet moments of connection and insight that can, when allowed to blossom quietly unforced by another’s schedule, birth wonders.

Whenever I’ve taught or lectured on journalism, I crush a few young dreams when I make clear that traditional news journalism more resembles an industrial assembly line than an artist’s studio.

360 people liked it.

Nine years later, with so many of us working from home (or living at work!), it’s even harder to carve out the time, privacy, silence, solitude and lack of income-producing pressure to just think.

Uninterrupted.

Not worn out.

Not grieving.

Without free and unstructured time to ponder, noodle, make connections you’ve never seen or noticed before, how is it even possible to create?

Only in conversation last week with a friend we visited upstate for a few days did I realize how much we have in common and how that shared passion fits perfectly (!) into my potential book proposal — because hanging over the toilet in the cramped bathroom of his rented 235-year-old country house is a gorgeous lithograph of the topic I want to explore and which he knows very well.

These serendipitous moments can only happen when we step out of the grooves of everyday life.

I also love reading books that inspire or offer new and helpful ways to think and behave. Not a fan of woo-woo, but practicality!

An older business book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, includes my favorite chapter — Sharpening the Saw —  finding ways to stay sharp and refreshed and use your strengths.

The title is goofy, but there’s a lot of smart stuff in it, even if you work at home in leggings and not in some corporate environment.

I sometimes read business books as well and have found smart ideas in the Harvard Business Review.

 

Here are some of them:

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The Tharp book– by the American choreographer — isn’t new but is excellent. She is not one to sit around waiting for inspiration since no working artist can afford it. Much discipline!

 

Time to get cracking! I’ve written many book proposals, but it never hurts to read up again.

 

Have heard a lot of good things about Big Magic.

 

Uncommon Genius is a brilliant idea — go out and interview winners of the MacArthur “genius” prize about how they think and work.

 

Daily Rituals is good fun — dozens and dozens of creative folk, including those from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, in all kinds of fields, and how they work (or don’t!)

Where and how do you find creative inspiration?

A return to earlier pleasures

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Age six or seven, in our former Toronto back yard, with one of our two Siamese cats, Mitzpah and Horowitz

 

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m very lucky to live with a skilled photo editor and archivist for the United States Golf Association — whose ability to rescue faded, torn, wrinkled images is amazing.

I’d lost hope for this photo, which is in color and was so so faded! But he brought it back.

Me, back.

This photo means a lot to me, because it’s the only image I have of the last home I shared with both parents, on Castlefrank Road in Rosedale, a lovely neighborhood of Toronto. It would prove to be the last time I lived in a house until I was 15, as my now single mother and I lived in different apartments in Toronto and Montreal.

Bored by isolation during this pandemic, I’ve recently returned to two activities I haven’t done in decades and used to really enjoy —- swimming and playing the guitar.

In my teens, I was a skilled swimmer and used to compete, do synchronized swimming and worked part-time through high school as a lifeguard. But I’ve never enjoyed swimming at the Y — the pool is enormous and even one length daunting.

Luckily, our apartment building pool is open this summer, even if only for two months, and I’m trying to do multiple lengths every afternoon. To my surprise and joy, I’m finding it really relaxing, and a great time to stretch out muscles cramped from too much sitting.

I used to play guitar and write songs and haven’t even touched it in 20 years. But it’s time! I’m excited and nervous to start building up the calluses needed to play without pain. I love singing and really miss it.

 

Have you taken up new skills or activities in the pandemic?

 

Or re-discovered older ones you’d let go?

 

The woods, as metaphor

 

IMG_6319By Caitlin Kelly

 

In the decades of living in our suburban New York town, I’ve walked the reservoir path — a mile each way, paved — many many times, in broiling summer heat (blissfully shaded by old-growth trees) and in the dead of a snowy winter.

There’s something really special about getting to know a landscape well, to know what to look for and anticipate — from the fragrant purple lilac bush at the western end of the walk to the benches at the other end, a perfect spot to stare out across the water at sunset.

I love to watch the woods change with each season, always with my favorite smell in the world — sun-dried pine needles.

 

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I know where the creek is, and love to hear it gurgling — now disturbingly silent and completely dry after weeks without rain. The enormous pond has also shrunk, and I can now see rocks in the reservoir that reveal its drop as well.

 

 

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The pond in springtime

 

 

I love the landmarks — watermarks? — like the beaded strand of little black turtles that line up along a rubber tube on one edge of the water.

The cormorant who chooses to stand on the same rock every year to dry his wings.

The elegant swans.

The screeching red-tailed hawks.

The rustle of a chipmunk fleeing through dead leaves.

There are many trees wrapped tightly in vines — like people who so desperately cling to others.

 

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There’s a rock split in two by a tree — reminding me how much force we can bring when needed to even the toughest problem.

 

There are many live trees with dead ones propped against them, where they’ve fallen — like dear friends sustaining the ill or grieving.

 

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There’s lacy ice in winter

 

When I bend down and look closely, there are entire worlds in even just an inch or two beneath my feet: moss, acorns, lichen, stones, earth, leaves, bits of feather and foliage. Everything contains multitudes.

 

 

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Hobbit holes?!

 

 

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I value an intimate relationship with nature.

 

Do you have one like this?

Something blue

By Caitlin Kelly

For Joni Mitchell fans, this 1971 release, Blue, remains one of her best albums.

These days, it’s also how I’m feeling, really worn down by endless months of isolating and mask-wearing, not seeing friends, losing friendships over endless drama, working too hard without breaks (while always grateful for work!)

Borders slammed shut because American “leadership” on this pandemic has killed 100s of thousands, with many more ahead. So, no travel!

 

Instead, please just enjoy some of my images, filled with blue, and beauty!

 

 

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A bit of cutwork linen, dyed blue, found in a Paris flea market, which I used as a pillow applique

 

 

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The blue sky over Long Island, NY. Loved this elegant wrought-iron gate.

 

 

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A truck-side sign — “apple-grower” — at the Atwater Market in Montreal.

 

 

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I saw this at one of the entrances to the Piazza San Marco in Venice

 

 

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Sigh.  Spent a perfect solo afternoon here,  Croatia, July 2017

 

 

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A vintage tablecloth scored in Maine

 

 

 

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Fishing lines at rest, Burtonport, Co. Donegal, Ireland

 

 

 

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Try climbing those steps in the dark, wearing a headlamp! A Nicaraguan toilet we used while reporting there for WaterAid in 2014

 

 

 

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One of my favorite Toronto sights, and journeys — the ferry to the Islands

 

 

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I was so touched to get this in the mail from fellow Blogger Elizabeth Harper, then working in a pub, who kindly thought this might be appropriate!

Simple pleasures, summer version

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

 

Watching the bees enjoy our balcony garden

Welcoming butterflies

Starting and ending the day on the balcony

 

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Dining al fresco

Watermelon!

Birdsong at (!) 4:30 a.m.

Long evenings — soon to (sob!) start getting shorter again

Flapping about in our Birkenstocks, Jose in brown suede Arizonas, me in pink suede Madrids

A soft swirled ice cream bought from an ice cream truck

Buying a parks pass for the first time

Listening to music outdoors through a Sonos speaker

Lit lanterns

Hitting a bucket of balls at the driving range

The rustling of treetop leaves

Watching fireflies glow in the dark

Making sun tea

Falling asleep in an AC-chilled room

Getting out onto the water — canoe, kayak, sailboat, paddleboard, surfboard

Our apartment building pool! (Only opening this year in July)

Corn, berries, tomatoes — delicious produce in season

 

What are some of yours?