The best place in the world, right now

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

Is here, on our suburban New York, small town balcony.

After three full months of isolation, this is now our extra room and my outdoor office and a break from so much life lived safely only inside our apartment.

We face northwest, facing the Hudson River from its eastern side.

Those white things in the distance that look like sails — that’s the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

The light is gorgeous, and we can see the sunrise reflected in the many windows of the houses on the western side as the rising sun hits them.

I call it the “ruby moment.”

 

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We’re on the top floor, 6th floor, with only the sky above us — and plenty of (noisy!) helicopters and jets, as we are on the flight path to the local county airport.

Sometimes we hear the very distinctive thud-thud-thud of a twin-rotor CH-47 Chinook, a $38.5 million military helicopter moving along the Hudson on its way to West Point, the military academy just north of us.

Before he left for good, my first husband built a sturdy bench on the balcony that serves both as comfortable seating (with custom-made cushions) and storage for potting soil, paint supplies and tools. We repaint it every year to freshen it up.

And the area is blessed with quite a few good plant nurseries, so we budget for a blast of gorgeous color every summer.

 

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I love how dramatic this view is — ever-changing. We see rain and snowstorms long before they arrive

 

We’re literally at tree-top level, with dragonflies and bumblebees and songbirds coming to visit — there’s a daily chorus of birdsong every morning around 4:30 a.m.

I can’t wait to set out lanterns and invite friends back for summer meals here, lounging against all the blue and white and yellow and green pillows we’ve accumulated.

 

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Our winding, narrow street slows down traffic, and we don’t get a lot of it, which also keeps it quiet. There is only one remaining house, and the rest are low-level condominiums or co-op apartment buildings, so our terrific view has never changed and never will.

It really is a refuge, and the best summer break we will get for quite some time to come.

Cabin fevered? A mid-pandemic zhuzh

By Caitlin Kelly

As our governor Andrew Cuomo said at his daily press conference yesterday — we’re only on day 57 of self-isolation to slow the spread of COVID-19, still claiming more than 400 people daily in New York City.

Staying home and doing our very best to not further spread this terrible virus has already saved 100,000 lives, he said.

But it’s not the most fun staying indoors all the time.

How sick are you of staring at the same four walls?!

 

Time for a zhuzh?

 

Even though some of our freelance work has dried up, we’ve spent a bit (about $200) on some micro-fixes to our one-bedroom apartment, desperate for a bit of visual relief and freshness.

Here’s the new bedside rug I scored on sale from Bed, Bath and Beyond:

 

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The duvet cover is Pottery Barn, from a few years ago

 

We also bought a fresh set of bedsheets, a new sink mat for the kitchen and a new shower mat for our bathtub — to my horror and annoyance, the spray-on white surface we had done last year on our 12 year old tub is now bubbled and peeling off in sheets. It’s disgusting and will now be a long time before we can have anyone in to re-do it.

I’m buying fresh flowers every week as usual, doing lots of cleaning and polishing and we re-arranged our living room gallery wall:

 

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l to r, top row: my own image, Paris; a colored pencil drawing by a Canadian artist; a print by Henri Lartigue of early Paris

l to r middle row: a photo by our friend, Michael Falco, his pinhole camera image of Civil War re-enactors; one of the world’s widest trees, in Mexico; former First Lady Betty Ford atop the Cabinet Room table, by former WH official photographer David Hume Kennerly, another friend

bottom row, l to r: Me and a pal in a food photo shoot in the 60s; Bernie Boston’s classic anti-war image

 

We’re even considering a complete re-do of our hallway/living room wall color…unchanged for 13 years. That’s a huge commitment — not so much of time (we have lots right now!) — but finding a color what will work with our current furnishings and accessories. A creamy beige would be bright and fresh…but also boring as hell.

The current color, now discontinued but we can order more, is Gervase Yellow by Farrow & Ball.

Here’s the view from our bed.

The color’s a bit off — the poster is black and white, not  yellow. It’s one of my most treasured possessions, bought on my first honeymoon decades ago. My husband and I spent a day at the Pont du Gard and came back to find the trunk of our rental car broken into and both suitcases, with every stitch of clothing and toiletries, stolen. Thank heaven, they didn’t bother with the interior, where they would have found this.

The curly metal mirror I bought in Halifax in the 80s, the antique Chinese jar-lamp in rural Ontario at an antique shop and the chest of drawers decades ago at an antiques show. The black and white photo is Jose’s family, pre-Jose.

The wall color is Farrow & Ball’s Skimming Stone, a warm gray.

 

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We’re very glad we invested in renovating our kitchen and only bathroom (bathroom, 2008, kitchen 2013) as to be stuck 24/7 living in a place that’s dirty or in crappy condition, is really depressing.

I’m also grateful we only share the place with one another, and not — as many New Yorkers do — with multiple kids, now home all the time, and pets. It’s tough enough fighting cabin fever since our daytime temperatures are still in the 40s F (!) and it’s raining  probably five days out of seven, which is so damn confining!

If you’re seeking affordable inspiration, Apartment Therapy has many global images and projects, many on tight budgets.

Have you made any changes or done any projects to keep you busy and cheer your home up a bit?

 

Will New York City be gone for good?

 

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In true NYC spirit, on a miserably rainy day, these middle-school students went sailing for the first time on the East River, in tiny wooden boats they built by hand

 

By Caitlin Kelly

If you’ve never been there, it’s hard to imagine — a daily crush of energy, talent, ambition and haste.

It’s a city people flock to from across the globe and across the U.S., to study, work or enjoy a great vacation.

I first came to the city, (as suburbanites here call it, as if there were no other!) around the age of 12 or so, to visit my great-grandmother, Blanche, the Countess Casagrande. (Yes, really, thanks to an Italian husband I never met.) She lived on Park Avenue, still the ne plus ultra of Manhattan real estate.

I came back in my early 20s a few times, once to perform as an extra in Sleeping Beauty with the National Ballet at Lincoln Center for a week, other times for pleasure. I met a handsome young man in the shoe department of Brooks Brothers who took me that evening to the town’s most exclusive joint — Studio 54. Of course, we went to Fiorucci first to buy a pretty dress.

Back when Conde Nast — still the publisher of Vogue, Vanity Fair and many other glossy magazines — was at 350 Madison Avenue (next to Brooks Brothers!) I met with editors at Glamour and Mademoiselle, leaving my enormous black portfolio of clippings there for a few days, hoping beyond hope one day to write for them. Amazingly, they read an as-yet-unpublished story tucked into my portfolio’s back pocket which was due to be published in a Canadian magazine, and re-bought it for Glamour.

That, at its best, has been my New York City — a place where even a young (very lucky!) Canadian, even wearing all the wrong clothes! — could quickly sell to a market of her dreams.

 

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Via Carota, Grove Street

 

So my New York is archeological, layered with memories over decades.

Since moving to a NYC suburb in 1989, I’ve spent countless hours in New York City, 95 percent of them in Manhattan; Brooklyn, now impossibly hip, is too far, as we say, a schlep.

So I miss it!

My hair salon — owned by Alex, a man in business for decades, whose three chairs welcome everyone from a Grammy-nominated musician to Brooklyn museum curators to Wall Street executives but also silver-haired seniors accompanied by their aides — is on Grove Street, in the West Village. (That’s Greenwich Village, which no local calls it. Either the West Village or East.)

Across the street from him is Via Carota, admired as one of the city’s best restaurants — and what a delight it is.

Was.

 

Will it be again?

 

That’s the question hitting everyone here, hard.

So many people rely on one another, economically and professionally, from the nannies and chefs and dog-walkers employed by the wealthy to the owners of the 25,000 bars and restaurants and all their staff to the thousands who work in orchestras and theater, not just Broadway.

And rent here is so high that many who’ve fled back to their parents’ for the duration — like one young woman who told the Times she was paying $1,800 a month with two room-mates —  may never return.

 

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The Koch Theater, Lincoln Center

 

Here’s an analysis of what the city faces going forward (as we say, fah-ward):

It took just a matter of days to shut down New York City, once the coronavirus took hold. Restarting it will take much, much longer.

The economic impact in the city from the global pandemic has been striking: Hundreds of thousands are already out of work; at least $7.4 billion in tax revenue is projected to be lost by the middle of next year.

And the changes will be felt long after New York begins to reopen its economy.

How New York City, the epicenter of the country’s outbreak, begins to recapture its vibrancy is a question consuming political, business and cultural leaders.

The very features that make New York attractive to businesses, workers and tourists — Broadway, the subway system, world-class restaurants and innumerable cultural institutions — were among the hardest-hit in the pandemic. And they will take the longest to come back.

 

 

The city has lost 13,000 people, so far, to COVID-19.

 

 

So many have died so quickly — 400 to 700 every day for weeks — that hospitals now have refrigerated trucks outside as morgues, with bodies stacked on makeshift bunks three high. That plain wooden coffins, stacked, are being planted on Hart Island, the place for unclaimed bodies.

 

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The annual orchid show at The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx

 

Friends in the city are traumatized by the constant wail of ambulance sirens.

Beloved neighborhood haunts are closing, like Coogan’s:

 

Coogan’s was the promise of New York incarnate: multiethnic, friendly, welcoming, smart. The premise of the business was the opposite of social distancing.

It opened in 1985 and in time became an Irish place where the bartenders were Dominican-Americans and the waiters African-American and the customers, all of the above and more. So many held court there over the years, it is hard to keep them straight. Did Mr. Walsh still remember the Israeli karaoke singer?

 

There’s the New York City you’ve all seen in films and TV and commercials.

Then there’s the real New York, home to millions, some for generations, others for a few years.

My mother was born there and married my Canadian father — who she met in the south of France — at St. Bartholomew, one of the city’s most beautiful churches, on Park Avenue and enormous. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like, at 17, to walk down that aisle. They moved to his hometown of Vancouver, where I was born.

But New York City always beckoned me; for an ambitious Canadian journalist who could get a green card thanks to my mother’s citizenship, why not try?

I’ve had some great adventures here.

Found two agents who sold my two books to major publishers.

 

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The first time, after a meeting on a bitterly cold winter’s day at Simon & Schuster, (its hallways lined with the framed covers of all their best-sellers — SO intimidating!) I went around the corner to another city institution, The 21 Club, and had a strong cup of coffee and some celebratory profiteroles.

The second time I almost fired my agent after we met with editors at Portfolio, downtown on Hudson Street — she later called with their offer as I sat at the chipped and worn Formica counter in one of my diner haunts, Neil’s, on Lexington. (Which you can see in the terrific recent movie Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Spent a glorious afternoon, on assignment for the Daily News, aboard a tugboat.

Stood on a Broadway stage to interview a woman for The New York Times making history in the theatrical industry.

 

This is the city I’ve known well, worked hard in, wept a few times in — and mostly enjoyed.

 

It’s layered with my own memories now:

— the office building at 200 Madison, my first magazine job

— Central Park, around which I once roller-skated and where, after winning a softball game with my Canadian team-mates we burst into the Canadian national anthem in French, to the astonishment of our opposition.

— the block on Mercer which held the Coles Center, NYU’s athletic wing, and now (of course) will be condos

— Fanelli’s,the 173-year-old bar a block south of there with its gorgeous etched glass doors and crazy mix of patrons.

When I arrived — with no family, friends, job or alumni network, and a recession — I took up fencing. Of course! The NYU coach,  a former Navy man, was a two-time Olympian. Where else could this happen?

It’s never been an easy place for a newcomer.

People walk fast, talk fast, prize social capital and Ivy League degrees, genuflect to the right addresses and clubs, to money and power.

It’s normally expensive, intimidating, crowded, noisy, dirty…

But what will become of it?

What do you miss most right now?

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

I woke up one morning this week and said…I miss antiquing.

How weird is that?

In our one-bedroom apartment, we certainly have no need for another item! We try to purge on a regular basis, donating to our local thrift shop or to Goodwill.

What I miss, really, is the distinct pleasure of a long, lazy afternoon wandering a flea market or indoor antiques mall — which two French verbs describe beautifully: fouiner (to nose about) and chiner (same, for old stuff).

Also — French again! — flaner, to wander without specific purpose. (Couldn’t find the circonflex symbol!)

I lived in Paris when I was 25, and every weekend I happily rummaged through piles of old lace and grimy bits and bobs at various flea markets. I have the happiest memories of looking for 1960s girl group records with my friend Claes, a gay Swedish journalist who was another of 28 foreign journalists spending an amazing eight months together in that city on an EU-sponsored journalism fellowship, Journalistes en Europe.

Claes died later of AIDS.

I still treasure the mix-tape he made for me.

 

 

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A friend’s decanter…I love cut crystal!

 

Today I follow a number of vintage clothing and item-sellers on Instagram, like Ruth Ribeaucourt, an Irishwoman who married into a French ribbon-manufacturing family, and who is passionate about lovely old things, some of which she sells through her online Instagram shop, @the_bouquiniste.

As I’ve blogged here before, I really appreciate old things in good condition, items well-used and cared-for and which offer me — sometimes centuries later — more utility and esthetic pleasure.

I write this atop an oak gate-leg table my father gave us, likely made in the late 18th century; ours is a dead-ringer for this one (circa 1780.)

So many questions arrive with antiques, an attachment from history.

 

Who sat here before us?

What did they eat?

What did they wear?

 

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Didn’t buy them…but, as always, just enjoyed their beauty en passant

 

Love this recent blog post from London-based friend Small Dog Syndrome blog, who misses, of all things, her daily commute:

We are lucky to live in central London and on a normal day I can get from my front door to the office in about thirty minutes if I catch the right train, perhaps slightly more if I don’t. I tend to give myself 45 so that I can walk at a leisurely pace to the train station and pick up a nice coffee if I feel so inclined. I pass a historic churchyard that’s typically filled with dogs on their first walk of the day, and a famed antiques market every Friday.

My transit time tallies to between an hour and an hour and a half a day. It’s exercise, fresh air, and usually I get an episode or two of a podcast in or a chunk of time on my current audiobook (which I listen to at at least 1.5x normal speed so this can really add up in a work week).

I miss it. Genuinely. This was prime “me time” and I miss the start of my morning that got my bloody moving and switched my brain on.

What are you missing most right now?

 

6th floor life

 

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Our view

 

By Caitlin Kelly

The number 6 has always been a good one for me — my birthday is the sixth day of the sixth month.

We live on the sixth, top floor of our building — the third time I’ve had that spot in an apartment, first as an undergrad in Toronto, attending University of Toronto, and later in Montreal, in a gorgeous 30s complex called Haddon Hall; I dream of actually getting that apartment back! Two bedrooms, great views, perfect condition, working fireplace, tall ceilings….sigh. All for $600 a month, mid 1980s.

My ongoing decision to live on the highest floor of a building, far away from any access to it, is the result of a terrifying experience in my second year at university, when I lived in a studio, alone, at the back of an alley on the ground floor, in a sketchy downtown Toronto neighborhood.

The kind of place, if anyone had been paying attention to my welfare, someone would have said: “No way! Not a safe choice!”

But no one  paid attention and it was affordable.

One night I yelled out the window at people making noise. A few nights later (I really don’t remember), a man tried to pull me out through the bathroom window — as I was taking a bath, directly below the window.

I was wet and slippery and the window too small and narrow.

But that was the end of that apartment.

I spent the summer, recovering emotionally from this attack, in a shared sorority house on a quiet and lovely street, surrounded by other women.

My next home was the 6th floor studio at the back of a six-floor 60s building, with a balcony, overlooking a park.

No one could possibly get at me.

No one ever did.

It was a great little apartment, only one long block north of campus, so I could zip home and change clothes in fall and spring as the temperature shifted. It gave me back the confidence I could live alone, safely, and enjoy my independence again. I was already writing for a few national magazines and would sit at my desk, tapping on my pale turquoise manual typewriter, staring out over the park’s treetops, like a bird in my own little nest.

In Montreal, that high perch proved, sadly, less secure as our building was broken into repeatedly, thieves assuming that renters were wealthy, which we weren’t. I got so scared I went to the police for advice since my bedroom was at the very opposite end of the apartment from the front door — no escape. They had little comfort to offer except that burglars were likely unarmed. I lived there for 18 months while working as a reporter for the Montreal Gazette.

When my first husband and I bought this suburban New York apartment, the first attraction wasn’t its great view of the Hudson River, or the lovely grounds — it was all we could afford! I was lucky enough to have a decent down payment, thanks to an inheritance from my maternal grandmother. The place was a bit gross, thanks to wall-to-wall filthy beige carpet that stunk so badly of cat urine even the realtor stood on the balcony while we looked it over.

In the decades since, by far the longest time I’ve ever lived in one home, (the longest before that was maybe three or four years, in childhood/adolescence), I’ve repainted each room and hallway multiple times. The living room morphed from a mushroom beige/gray faux finish to a brilliant Chinese red to the pale yellow/green we last did in 2008. The bedroom went from a faux-finish crisp blue and white to aqua to apple green to Skimming Stone, a lush, warm gray from my fave, Farrow & Ball.

I really love the quiet perch of a top floor.

We’re literally in the treetops and red-tailed hawks soar close by daily, one even landing on our balcony railing once.

Our river view, looking northwest, is now obscured by tree growth, but fine in the winter. We watch barges gliding upriver and storms heading south.

In these perilous times, home up here once more feels like a nest, safe and enclosing.

And impossible, we hope, to breach.

 

 

Cards, letters, all on paper. Yes, please!

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Charlotte Bronte’s writing desk

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Sorry to see the closing of all Papyrus stores — an upscale stationery chain.

As someone who loves using and receiving lovely stationery, I found this sad.

I love love love beautiful stationery. I just bought a new Lamy fountain pen.

I have personalized stationery. So does Jose.

We used to have shared personalized stationery and I may order some more. Not something we use a lot, but still good for condolence letters and thank-you notes.

Obviously, I enjoy social media — as here we are! But I love the heft and weight of Christmas and birthday cards, which we still send out. I love opening a drawer and finding a Valentine’s Day card from Jose from a decade ago. History!

Historians of the future may have quite the challenge if all we leave them are emojis and texts and emails. Will they exist?

There are many gorgeous options out there — like classic Parisian manufacturer  G. Lalo. How elegant are their pale green, deckle edged cards! They come in eight other colors — including white and a stunning deep pink.

And these, from Papier, lovely marbled notecards.

Toronto, my hometown, has a stunning store, The Japanese Paper Place; I stop in every visit and buy some pens and labels and gift paper. They sell online!

This has been called the best stationery store in the U.S. South…Scriptura. I discovered them when I visited New Orleans…Such lovely things!

Rifle Paper Co. has some fun greeting cards — every time I look at the drugstore selection now I find most of them adolescent and crude or too saccharine.

We keep stamps clipped to the fridge and plenty of lovely papers, so we have no excuse to fall out of touch or stick to social media.

 

Do you write letters or cards on paper still?

 

 

A mid-winter zhuzh

By Caitlin Kelly

How I love this silly design-world word!

It means “to make something more attractive“…and if you live in the Northern Hemisphere (and some of you don’t!) you’re probably pretty ready for a little hit of pretty, fresh and NOT another cold, gray day with months more of that yet to come.

A bit of novelty!

Some suggestions for a mid-winter pick-me-up:

Try a new form of exercise

Whew! I recently took a class of Barre3, a combination of ballet, yoga and isometrics that had me quickly breaking a sweat and re-discovering new/lost muscle groups. I was older than 95 percent of the students — all white, all female (held in a suburban NY town at 9:30 a.m.) and easily 50 pounds heavier.

But no matter. I tried something new and challenging, and I’m going back.

 

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This was a splurge — but five hours’ worth! It was worth every penny

 

Buy some tickets to upcoming events

 

This weekend we’re going to a concert of Baroque music at Columbia University and on Feb. 13 I’m hearing A Roomful of Teeth, a capella group led by the youngest person to win a Pulitzer for musical composition. I also bought a tickets to our local music hall for Natalie Merchant. I need fun stuff to look forward to!

 

New linens

We can always use a fresh new set of pillowcases or dishtowels. I splurged at this website, on sale, for a new set of towels and four French dishtowels.
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Fresh flowers or green plants

After (sob) six weeks of clinging to our fresh Christmas tree before abandoning it, it was time to add some more plant life. This week, lots of yellow tulips.

 

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Both of these are custom-made from new fabric I found online

A cosy throw or set of decorative pillows

Nothing nicer for a nap, on the sofa or bed, than a lovely throw.

We have a few of them — cotton, wool and fleece — always within easy reach. They add color, texture and warmth.

Some favorite places for nice things are the obvious: Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn. But there are also cool things at Etsy and EBay and local consignment shops. My cheapo trick for making a new cushion cover — find two napkins and stitch them around a throw cushion.

 

 

 

Indulge in some lovely stationery — and use it!

 

My business card is made by Moo, a company whose products are consistently gorgeous and well-made — thick paper stock, great designs. Every time I hand over my card, I get a compliment, so if you’re self-employed, think about the subtle message your business card (if you use them) is sending: creative, high-quality, unusually lovely. 

And they’re on sale (25 percent off) for the next five days!

I also have personalized stationery and send paper greeting cards as often as possible — for condolence, sympathy, get well, new baby, new home, Christmas cards. There are amazing companies out there to find lovely paper goods, like Rifle, Papier, Paper Source. My favorite stationery store is on Magazine Street in New Orleans, Scriptura, named “the most beautiful stationery in the south.”

The creative life has never been easy

 

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The bright lights of Broadway

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Imagine needing a job.

Imagine having 20 children to support.

Meet Johann Sebastian Bach, who in 1721 presented six concertos — now named the Brandenburg Concertos, named for the Margrave for whom they were written — to a local official he hoped would offer him a job.

Today, these much beloved pieces resonate still.

The Margrave did not hire him and it’s possible he never even heard them.

The 1946 Christmas film, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart and Donna Reed, is equally hailed as a great of the film classics.

It failed at the box office and the original story met with such rejection that its author decided to self-publish and send it to 200 friends instead.

At museum shows of the legends Michelangelo, Charlotte Bronte and the Japanese print-maker Hokusai — whose Great Wave is one of the most familiar of all images — I learned the more nuanced truth of these lives, of penury and struggle, their lost and cancelled commissions.

It’s tempting to think that all the great art and music and literature we still enjoy today was produced from warm homes filled with good food, with healthy children and wives and husbands. In fact, there was much sorrow to endure.

 

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Bronte’s dress and boots

 

Bronte suffered the early death of all her siblings, married late (37) and died the following year.

 

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Bronte’s writing desk

 

I so admire anyone who chooses the creative life.

My father made films and documentary television shows. His second wife wrote and edited television scripts. My mother worked as a print and radio journalist.

I get it!

We lived its ups and downs, emotionally, intellectually and financially. Rejection can feel annihilating, most often wielded by people with salaries and pensions, unwilling to take creative risks themselves while harshly judging those of us who do.

Without a wealthy family or partner (and some have this) it can mean many years of financial struggle, and the endless hope of recognition.

No one needs a new novel or oratorio or painting!

So I gave my husband — a freelance photo editor and photographer this book for Christmas.

 

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One of my favorite sources of inspiration is Tharp’s first book, The Creative Habit; she’s a choreographer, but the challenges she faces, and her wisdom and practical advice, are just as fitting to many other creative efforts.

 

If you’re working to create something new, keep going.

The world needs it.

You need to make it.

 

Two chairs

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That tiny crystal pyramid on the shelf? Jose’s Pulitzer!

 

By Caitlin Kelly

They came to us in a sad way, one we think about every time we sit in them.

In our co-op apartment building, we have many older folk — in their 80s and 90s — and some are long-married. One of them, always elegant, always together, went out one Friday afternoon for lunch.

On the drive home they were struck by a drunk driver, a woman. The wife was killed and her husband died later at the hospital.

Their children held an apartment sale to dispose of their belongings — so we went downstairs and found a pair of wing chairs, something Jose had wanted for many years. A good quality wing chair is easily $500-1,500+ so this had remained out of reach.

We got both of these for $450.

The upholstery is not 100 percent my taste, but neutral enough to work with our current color scheme. I’d like to change it to something else, but it will be costly.

Jose and I sit there and talk, sometimes for a long time. There’s something lovely and formal and intentional about sitting side by side in an elegant chair.

We think of that couple. We miss them.

But we cherish their chairs.

 

30 terrific holiday gifts; 2019 edition

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

Welcome to this annual tradition, my personal selection of 30 gifts for men and women of all ages, except kids and teens.

No tech. No affiliate payments.

Lovely things for home, body, life!

 

Have fun!

 

Here’s a great pair of cufflinks, tiny blue birds, from Liberty of London, one of my favorite stores in the world. $64.74

 

Also from Liberty, this white woven leather handbag is super-chic, minimal, and blessedly free of designer logos. (I have a fairly similar bag in black and get compliments every single time I use it.) Personally, I would have a cobbler add metal studs to the base to help keep it clean. $485.48

 

There are so many ways to donate to charity and all so individual. I have previously here included the Daphne Sheldrick Trust, established in 1977, which works to protect East African wildlife, especially elephants.

 

This is a great French brand, Laguiole. A set of six wooden-handled steak knives, $98.00

 

You can’t beat a short pair of fabulous ankle boots for a hit of style in a long, boring, cold winter. Love these, in three colors, from Anthropologie, (which offers four pages of amazing boot options, short and tall.) $160.

 

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The chic-est winter women I know are those in Montreal and Toronto, and a brightly colored, oversized wrap adds warmth and style to any outerwear. This one comes in five colors, including teal, red and bright yellow. $48

 

I love anything with a patina — the weathering of age and use. This 15-inch-high ceramic vase looks like an amphora dredged up from some Cretan shipwreck, but it’s new. I love its organic simplicity and its scale. $88

 

And these, in two sizes, for candles, look like something from the 18th century with their coppery floral exterior. $18-28.

 

I love, love, love the elegance of UK old-school stationery brand Smythson. How about a tiny, perfect leather notebook marked, in gold script: Small Book, Big Ambition? (So many other great choices here as well.) $60.  Or this jaunty striped 2020 agenda, the perfect size to tuck into a suit pocket. $110

 

A cable-knit crewneck men’s sweater is hardly (as Miranda Priestly might drawl) ground-breaking…but in a cool pale blue? Also in red, from UK brand Boden. $120

 

You’ll love or hate this 8 foot by 11 inch rug — but I love its sharp, graphic black and white stripes. In the right room, it would be terrific. Also in 5 by 7 size for $199. From Ikea. $299

 

This throw, in charcoal gray with caramel stripes, is elegant and simple. It’s polyester, which explains its crazy low price. $4.99

 

This tea towel is so gorgeous I’d even frame it, with fantastic colors, marking an essential piece of American gay history, the June 29, 1969 attack on Manhattan’s Stonewall Inn. $22

 

A splurge, but John Robshaw’s linens are really special. This Japanese-inspired quilt, in crisp blue and white, reversible, is a lovely investment, for full/queen size. $296.25 on sale

 

I recently bought this yummy sandalwood soap from the classic American company Caswell-Massey, (which offers many other products) and am really enjoying it; this one is oversized and soap on a rope. $22

 

A huge fan of transferware, I like these new brown and white bread and butter plates in that style, also perfect for appetizers. $21 each

 

An odd gift, perhaps — but this black oak shelf is minimal and elegant; imagine three or four of them…$135

 

Really lovely and totally useful, a corkscrew that resembles a small bird, from a fantastic museum gift shop, The Morgan Library & Museum in New York City. $14.95

 

Also from the same shop — and do explore their website deeply for a wide array of lovely things — how about a Mad Hatter or Alice in Wonderland tote bag? $24.95

 

Well, you all know how much I love jewelry! But with a very specific aesthetic — not rubies, emeralds, sapphires or diamonds. Not Big Brand Names. This company, which I follow on Instagram, has two shops, in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, and I want everything! The look is minimal, clean and modern but also very beautiful. Like these oxidized silver pierced earrings in the shape of an ammonite $253.

 

And I’m also a big fan of London-based jeweler Ruby Jack, whose earrings I purchased in 2018 and absolutely love. (These are the ones I bought.) She has much expanded her line, which is sculptural and dramatic, but not weird. She ships internationally (obviously!) and was very helpful. This sculptural silver ring is a knockout. $423.51

 

I love fragrance and wear it daily. Now you can wear the smell of where I live (!) — THVF — That Hudson Valley Fragrance. I smelled it at their Manhattan store and it’s quite lovely, as are their several other options. $110

 

For your favorite tools nerd — the old-fashioned analog kind — this cotton black and white Hermes scarf with an illustration of elementary mechanics is a cool choice; it’s on their men’s site, but anyone could enjoy its graphic simplicity. $200

 

If you’re offended by curses, this is not the site for you — but this terrific red and white hockey jersey is safe-for-work, made by my Canadian pal Aaron Reynolds, inventor of Effin’ Birds, a mini-empire of sweary pins, T-shirts, mugs, sweatshirts, playing cards, posters and more. I love the baseball shirt he gave me, (moi?!) that says “Listen to My Opinions ” — and we laugh so hard every time we play with his playing cards it’s positively distracting. $60

 

Another talented Canadian, another highly creative friend, Ali G-J of Toronto, makes scarves, tote bags, laptop cases, phone skins, phone cases, pillows and more. This gray and white throw pillow with a pattern of tree branches, made from her own watercolor, is simple and lovely. $64

 

Books are such a deeply individual gift, but I’m going to recommend two that I love and own — fascinating and visually beautiful reference books to savor at leisure: A History of the World in 100 Objects, published in 2010 and What Great Paintings Say.  $20

 

Coffee! There are so many ways to make it, but this is terrific — a stoneware French press, in six gorgeous colors. I house-sat a few years ago for someone who had a similar style and it was efficient and perfect for just a few cups — and without fear of the inevitable shattering of the usual glass container. From Williams-Sonoma, in red, orange, light and dark gray, navy blue and white. $95; Not as pretty, but also in stainless steel $55

 

For your favorite Star Wars fanatic, an R2D2 popcorn maker. Yes, really. $99.95

 

 

Shameless self-promotion!

I sell my images from Instagram — CaitlinKellyNYC — and I also coach other writers of journalism and non-fiction; details here.