14 tips for frugal style

I haven’t yet printed or framed this image, taken at a friend’s Ontario cottage. But I could!

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m not someone with a lot of disposable income to spend. I’ve worked most of my career in journalism, which I’ve enjoyed, but isn’t high paying or secure — no pensions for me! I’ve also lived in Toronto and suburban New York for most of that — two areas that are costly for rent/housing. In the U.S., if you work freelance, you’re also stuck between medical bankruptcy or paying a fortune for health insurance — like $20,000 a year, which was normal for us for years.

So I’ve always been pretty good at squeezing my money hard for full value and enjoyment.

As readers here know, my two biggest splurges are travel and our apartment; it’s only a one bedroom, so there’s no fear of a costly boiler/roof/plumbing drama or having a tree split our house in two during a hurricane or tornado.

I grew up a family that came from serious money, so we’ve had the combined blessing and curse — as we didn’t have nearly as much of it as our ancestors! — of creating a stylish and elegant home and wardrobe without lots of cash. My maternal grandmother was very wealthy and hired Toronto’s top interior decorator to do her homes, so I grew up around lovely art and furniture and wallpapers.

Here are some of the ways I enjoy stylish life without a ton of money:

My $3 18th c teapot

Flea markets and antique stores

A goldmine, potentially. I’ve seriously studied antiques so when I spot an underpriced bargain, I pounce. I’ve got an enormous 19th c paisley wool shawl (that covers Jose’s desk) for $150, an 18th c teapot (missing its lid) for $3, a massive wicker suitcase at a show in Toronto that Air Canada let me stash in the airplane overhead compartment. I recently revisited one of my favorite spots, an enormous, sprawling antiques mall in Stamford, CT that’s a favorite of NYC designers, Most items are $1,000 or more, so it’s not a hotbed of bargains, but the quality is fantastic and it’s inspiring; I did get a lovely frame for $56 and an olive green small glass vase for the same price. If you never look at high(er) quality material — or sink happily into down cushions — it’s hard to recognize and appreciate it. Half of the battle is a little education. I got a stunning handmade blue and white wool coverlet in Maryland for $100 — worth three to four times that much (you can easily Google it when in-store.)

The shadow of a black wooden painted folk art horse, found in an antiques shop in Port Hope, Ont.

Consignment, thrift and vintage shops

Such treasures! I scored four stunning ruby red wineglasses at our local thrift shop for $10 and have spotted some very good early pieces there. Since most people don’t know the real from the fake, it pays to learn a bit. Carrying a tape measure and small magnifying glass are useful to know if something will fit your space and be able to read tiny marks denoting silver plated cutlery (EPNS) or the hallmarks of sterling silver. I’ve found lovely linens in all of these — tablecloths, damask napkins, pillowcases. Most are pristine but can easily be bleached.

I’ve also found great things in Greenwich, CT at a clothing consignment shop — many larger cities have one, and if your area has a wealthy neighborhood, go! I’m not one for designer names, but got a pair of brown suede Ferragamo loafers for $100 I wore for maybe a decade. I’m still using a super-thick cashmere cardigan I got there for $100, also many years ago. No one knows it’s vintage or pre-owned!

My favorite NYC vintage shop is on Rivington Street, Edith Machinist. Her prices are very fair and the selection carefully edited. Edith is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met!

These simple metal lanterns were super cheap, found in a Minneapolis cafe

Auctions

The very word tends to intimidate — since the only auctions we generally see in mainstream media are people bidding millions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Yet there are many local and regional auction houses selling all sorts of lovely things at a wide range of prices, and they’re well worth a look — in NYC, Doyle and Swann Galleries have given me some good stuff (and I’ve sold at Swann); in NH. where I lived for 18 months, William Smith. Skinner in Boston, Leslie Hindman in Chicago. Our tribal wool living room rug came from a Doyle auction — $800 including tax and a buyer’s premium. I bought a print by Raoul Dufy and a gorgeous huge lithograph by Vlaminck at the same Swann auction and love seeing them every day on our bedroom wall.

There is always a buyer’s premium! So be sure to check as it can add 25% to your bid.

Small upgrades

Things we use every day can be a joy or an annoying mess. Invest a bit extra for a supply of fresh quality pillowcases and towels; nice soaps; candles and votives, some plants. None are prohibitively expensive. Even a very good screwdriver and basic toolbox will make life easier. Pretty lampshades, (they come in every color and style, from pleated fabric to marbled paper) are an easy upgrade; Ballard Designs is a good place as is the website OKA.

Inspiration!

I love reading design magazines and own many many reference books on every aspect of design. I love to sit back and leaf through them, always happy to see new colors or fabrics or combinations of things I wouldn’t have thought of. I won’t ever own a Tudor cottage or LA mansion, but I can enjoy looking at them and gathering style tips. Your local library will have lots of options — as do websites like Apartment Therapy, Frederic magazine, House and Home magazine’s videos.

Multiples

If you find a great — anything! — buy multiples of it: linen napkins. great loafers on sale, a lovely sweater. Saves time and energy searching. Also, when items are in pairs (like two matching side table lamps or two bedside tables) they gain more visual impact.

I’ve been collecting transferware china and silver lusterware for years, usually very cheaply, so I can set a pretty table with enough items. Choose something you love and start a collection.

Mix old and new

Whether your home or wardrobe, combining new/fresh and vintage/antique makes for the most stylish mix. I have a gorgeous Donna Karan embroidered sweater I splurged on maybe 25 years ago. It actually looks vintage and now it sort of is! I usually add a vintage accessory (shoes, earrings, bag, scarf) to a contemporary piece. And when it comes to furniture, very few items made cheaply in China offer the character, design, material quality and longevity of a decent antique, even a reproduction piece.

Keep it simple –mostly

A stylish home, and wardrobe, work best if you stick to a few key colors and styles. I wear a lot of black, gray, navy blue and almost never frills, flounces or prints. A color that repeats in our bedroom (headboard and blind fabrics) and living room (an antique painted armoire, rug, two throw pillows) is teal. The current design trend to make everything gray (!??) is so sad and tedious — add some pops of color, print and texture (velvet, silk, linen) to keep your home from looking like an insurance office from the 80s.

Lighting

Few things will make your home drearier than overly bright lighting, especially from overhead fixtures. It’s inefficient, unflattering. Get a dimmer! The world is full of really attractive lighting now, even from places like Home Depot, and a few handsome lamps can quickly change the look of a room.

Take very good care!

I am not a fan of fast fashion, at all. I don’t buy it, hate its environmental costs and dislike how it promotes mindless, endless consumption. So I tend to buy quality and hang on to it! If you invest in quality clothing and footwear, take good care of it. Visit the cobbler. Get to know your local tailor if something needs altering. Most of my beloved/ancient cashmeres all have tiny holes I just stitch up — and make sure to add cedar blocks when I store them. All our silver is antique silver-plate and I put the Downton Abbey staff to shame with my polishing!

Posters

The world is full of amazing posters! From movie classics to early illustrations and paintings. Browse pretty much any museum site and you’ll find a fantastic selection very affordably. We have three on our living room walls — one, a huge black and white drawing I bought in France by legendary artist Sempe, another from the Carnavalet Museum in Paris and one, a Hiroshige print; we framed the latter two in gorgeous red frames.

Shot at a Toronto flea market. I think this would make a great black and white print.

Custom work

I know this is counter-intuitive, since you’re commissioning someone’s skill and labor to help you, whether getting a vintage suit tailored to fit or a custom-made pillow cover, curtain or framing a piece of art. But every penny we’ve spent for this has handsomely repaid us in daily pleasure. As I’ve mentioned before, online shops like The Cloth Shop in London have some excellent fabrics at very fair prices in colors and textures I rarely find on North American sites.

Shop your phone!

If you own a cellphone with a decent camera, as many of us now do, you’ve got tremendous options for creating a gorgeous gallery wall for yourself! The world is full of beauty just there for the noticing — whether a nature image, your pet in repose, a beloved relative, an architectural detail. I take photos almost every day.

Here are a few, all taken in June 2022 on my solo California road trip, I’d consider worth framing:


Play with filters — often an image in sepia or black and white is more striking and beautiful than in color. Sites like Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn, among others, offer a wide selection of simple and affordable frames.

Also, crop as needed! If I printed that sunset (taken in Morro Bay, CA) I would crop out the boat on the left hand side.

Retail sales

Obviously, the world is full of retailers and almost all of them have sales. I’m not a coupon person but there are money-saving apps that help you find the best price on specific goods.

Living with art

By Caitlin Kelly

I think the popular notion of “living with art” means being a bazillionaire in a mansion, the person bidding millions at auctions for Monet and Picasso paintings.

So not true!

But it may be an acquired taste if you didn’t grow up around art, which I did, and it has profoundly shaped my eye, my life, my homes and how I see things.

My father was a renowned maker/director of documentaries and television shows, so we had enough disposable income for him to buy art. His eye and taste — like mine and my mother — is eclectic, so this included Inuit prints and soapstone sculptures, a wooden antique Japanese mask, a Chinese scroll, 19th century Japanese prints, a Picasso lithograph. He is a skilled artist in his own right, so he made etchings, engravings, lithographs and oils. He even worked in silver.

But if you Google Japanese prints for sale, for example, like this stunning contemporary image ($195), or this one, at $14.50 (!), you can find all sorts of beauties, from 18th century to today’s work.

I love Japanese prints, so this is an area I know something about; I saw an amazing show of Hokusai, whose Great Wave, is very familiar, at the British Museum in London in July 2017, and learned that he — like so many famous and legendary artists over the millennia — suffered some very lean years, and was much helped by his daughter, a fellow artist.

If I lived closer (like in Europe!) I would rush to this unique Vermeer exhibit currently in Amsterdam.

I was lucky to inherit some family money, even in my 20s, so I spent time in art galleries and acquired a few photos and prints, some of which I still own and enjoy. Photography is very much an art form and there are so many extraordinary images out there. I treasure this image, which hangs beside our bed, by Finnish photographer Pentti Sammallahti.

His photos, bought from the gallery I bought from, are $1600. Not cheap! But not hopelessly out of reach if this is a priority and you have the means…Here are more of his. I want at least 3 more!

What hangs on our walls is a wide array — photos by legends like Steichen and Lartigue, 16th century tapestry fragments left to me by my mother, a huge Inuit print of a polar bear (over our bed), a Vlaminck litho I bought at auction for $600, which seemed like a hell of a bargain.

The Vlaminck litho, 1929

Unlike wealthy folk, I don’t buy art for investment, although we have sold a few photos at auction when we just needed cash.

We also have three framed posters — one of a Japanese artist and two of Paris. Art doesn’t have to be expensive. You just have to love it and enjoy looking at it.

I feel really lucky to wake up to beauty every morning on our walls. We live in a basic red brick 1960s apartment building with no inherent charm and in a one bedroom, which severely curtails how much wall space we even have!

I think our favorite image (it hangs over Jose’s desk), is an original, signed by the photographer who Jose worked with at The New York Tines, and is an image many Americans know — of John F. Kennedy standing at the window of the Oval Office — by the late George Thames. You can buy a copy of it from the Times for $50 and up.

Do you own art, original or copies?

Would you ever consider buying any?

What sort?

How a kind Dutch stranger made me a hat

The world on my head!

By Caitlin Kelly

As I’ve admitted here, I spend a fair bit of my time on Twitter.

I’ve made some good friends, found a few excellent work opportunities and enjoy exploring a wide range of accounts, from a woman in Scotland who makes dyes from plants to a photographer currently in Antarctica.

Sometimes the algorithm takes you down a rabbit hole of the same sort of tweets, so a while ago I ended up seeing a lot of knitting, knitters and their many gorgeous creations.

Where I found a photo of an amazing hat with a map of the world, made by a Dutch women for her own pleasure. Not for sale.

MUST have it!

As someone who’s lived in five countries and been, so far, to 41, this was so me.

I dared to ask her if she would make one for me. She said yes!

We agreed the cost could never match the hours it would take and she graciously said she didn’t need the income.

Then…crickets.

Oh well, I thought, it’s the Internet. You never know, and it was a huge favor for a distant stranger.

But then, a few weeks ago, there she was again, and ready to mail it!

I asked if she might like one of my photos in exchange, and we emailed a selection of eight, offering it in color or black and white, at whatever size she preferred.

Unlikely but true — our neighbor across the hall now lives in Holland, was back recently, and will mail it there.

The hat is so perfect — part wool, part alpaca — so it’s very soft and very warm. It has every continent, each quite recognizable.

This kindness from a former stranger — now a distant friend — was such a lovely start to 2023.

Simple pleasures, midwinter edition

By Caitlin Kelly

Re-watching comfort films and TV shows for the umpteenth time. Of course, we know the dialogue by heart — half the fun! Life is so chaotic and unpredictable, knowing for sure what will happen next is a lovely thing. Mine include The Devil Wears Prada, All The President’s Men, Spotlight, Dr. Zhivago, Billy Elliott, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, Casablanca, The English Patient and Good Will Hunting.

A pot of tea and maybe a little something sweet to go with it. I recently made this date/nut bread and it’s soooo good! I skipped the icing.

An afternoon spent in the company of a dear friend.

Looking at art.

Savoring a great novel.

Snoozing under a blanket on a cold, gray afternoon.

A kiss from your dog.

A kiss from your sweetie!

A late afternoon game of gin rummy, possibly with a nip of single malt.

Fresh flowers in every room.

A scented candle by the bed.

The eternally glorious music of Bach, Handel, Erik Satie.

Trying a terrific new restaurant.

A long lunch with old friends visiting from Toronto. We went to my favorite Manhattan spot, Keen’s, in business since 1885. Push through its front doors, and you’ve stepped back in time: white tablecloths, a ceiling covered in antique clay pipes, a tank with live lobsters (their lobster bisque is so good!) There’s a pub room with its own bar and a fireplace and the bar, of course, has a huge painting of a nude woman above the bar.

Trying a new, fresh fragrance from my favorite perfumer, Penhaligon’s…This one, Castile, smells deliciously of orange blossoms, a memory from when I was 21 and traveling alone through Europe for four months. I was in Seville in orange blossom season. Amazing!

A day spent with a young pal visiting from Montreal. We had Chinese food for lunch, then I drove her around Manhattan to its southern edge, spotting Lady Liberty and the orange Staten Island ferry. We parked in the South Street Seaport and walked around a bit, enjoying its history and architecture.

I love quirky windows. This was in the Seaport, a private home.

Same window

A catch-up call with my bestie from university.

Longer brighter days as spring sloooooowly approaches.

A cozy new winter jacket, on sale.

The brief moment when the rising sun behind us hits the windows on the western hillside of the Hudson River. I call it the ruby moment.

Finding a surprise bit of money in a coat or jacket pocket.

Discovering a surprising and lovely find — recently a terrific dive bar a block from New York harbor and this amazing cut-metal mural on the side of the Peck Slip School, honoring a Dutch ferryman of the 1630s.

The fall zhuzh — 2022 edition!

Our winter living room rug; pristine condition, bought at auction from Doyle

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s that time again, kids!

We live, work, eat, dine and bathe in a one-bedroom apartment, so our place gets a LOT of wear and tear!

And that’s without kids or pets.

And I’ve been in the same apartment since June 1989, so cosmetic upgrades are ongoing.

Next up:

a small repair to the bathroom wall

repainting the balcony metalwork

cleaning some grout mold in the shower stall

adding a small picture light to the portrait of my great grandmother, hung on a wall with little light

a new portable lamp to help me read since it’s (DAMN) dark by 5pm now

We finally had our dining chairs recovered, from a butter yellow linen to a cool white pattern with a bit of sheen. Such a nice difference!

To get ready for fall and winter, here’s some of what we’re doing, (and maybe some suggestions for your home?)

While away for two weeks, we got the sofa cushion covers dry cleaned and did a long overdue vacuuming beneath the seat cushions.

Now taking inventory of all our china, glassware, serveware, cooking pots and pans, replacing and ditching as needed.

Taking a lint roller to every sofa cushion and arms and back; and cloth bed headboard…all of which are dust collectors and easily overlooked.

Our living room gallery wall, a mix of our photos, photos we have been given or collected

and a few posters.

Tossing as many unread books as I can stand to lose

Doing a clean rinse of the dishwasher

Removing as much indoor clutter as possible

Making sure we have plenty of candles (votives, tapers) for the dinner table as it gets dark so early

Also consider some safety issues easily forgotten like:

— dusting every light-bulb and lampshade, making sure you have enough light to read easily with shorter, darker days ahead

— is your fire extinguisher still working?

— smoke detector?

— carbon monoxide detector?

— shower mat?

— bathtub grab bar(s); love this one that doesn’t demand installation in the wall; a friend has one

Also, it’s a good time to replace things that get a lot of daily use, like:

— burned oven mitts

— worn wooden spoons

— cookware

— bed linens/towels

— wastebaskets

— napkins/tablecloths

— tired/old/flavorless spices

— shower mat

— shower curtain

— kettle or coffeemaker

Things to make life cozier:

— a lovely teapot and selection of teas and maybe even a tea cosy

— pretty cloth napkins/tablecloth

— a throw rug beside your bed

— fresh shams

— a vintage decanter

— some new bakeware; a muffin pan, bundt pan, tart tins

— a pair of colorful throw pillows for your sofa

I’m really glad we live in such a lovely home, the subject of much devoted care to cleaning, maintenance and upgrades.

I spent my childhood in boarding school and summer camp, (at home in Grades 6 and 7), and I have no doubt that so many years in shared spaces not of my own design has helped make me a bit obsessive!

I also studied for a few years at the New York School of Interior Design and learned a lot about how to make a place, even a small-ish one, beautiful, functional and welcoming.

I use many different resources:

For fabrics, basics from Ballard Designs, Calico Corners and amazing stuff (often $$$) from Svensk Tenn in Stockholm and Fabrics and Papers in England.

One of my favorite fabric sources is in (!) London, England, The Cloth Shop, who happily mailed me yardage I chose online. They have gorgeous linens and chenille at reasonable prices; one of their chenilles covers our homemade headboard, now 5.5 years old, it’s unfaded and fresh.

I don’t use Etsy or EBay but there are lots of bargains there, and so many online places from Joss & Main to Perigold to FirstDibs to Wayfair, plus all the big stores. Consignment and thrift shops and antique shops and flea markets can offer some amazing bargains.

We love Farrow & Ball paint (yes, expensive but we find it worth the price) and I splurge a few times a year on custom-made linens like curtains, tablecloths and throw pillows, all of which add warmth, silence, comfort and color.

How does one become creative?

In 1845, a young girl made this sampler…early creativity

By Caitlin Kelly

Back when I started this blog — 2009 (!) — one of my first and best-read posts was about the endless American fetish for “productivity” when creativity is really what drives most innovation, and certainly the arts.

As every blogger knows, blogging demands creativity! Ideas, some skill and the eternal optimism there might actually be an audience out there for us.

As readers here know, I only moved to the United States at the age of 30, so its cradle-to-grave obsession with work and being seen as obsessed with work — above all other pursuits (family, friends, health, a spiritual life, etc,) struck me, then as now, as weird. Yes, I know about the Puritan work ethic. But we’re not all wearing shoes with buckles or moving around by horseback and making our own soaps and clothing either…

In a country whose minimum wage pushes millions into poverty, millions will never find the time and energy and encouragement to savor creative pursuits, even for their own pleasure — cooking, knitting, crocheting, embroidery, woodworking, making music or visual art. American capitalism makes sure only the well-off have the leisure to do it without sacrifice — I still get a payment every year from Canada’s Public Lending Rights program, a sort of royalty system that pays authors for the library use of our books. It’s not a large amount, but is deeply meaningful to me, both because it democratizes access to our work and sends a powerful message to creators — you matter!

I don’t have children, but I do see the tremendous pressure American children face — to pass endless state tests, to do terrifying “active shooter drills”, to get into fancy and costly colleges.

None of which seem likely to foster creativity.

So I’m always in awe of creative people, some of whom manage to keep producing their work in the face of some serious odds.

Here’s a 9:07 video of actor Ethan Hawke talking about creativity; it’s gotten 5.2 million views.

“We’re educating kids out of creativity” says Sir Ken Robinson on this 2006 TED talk; it’s 19:12 minutes long and has received 74 million views, with lots of laughter and insight. “We need to radically rethink our idea of intelligence,” he says. Worth it!

Here’s one unlikely and interesting example of creativity — a book out May 16, 2023 from a San Antonio nephrologist whose Twitter threads on medicine were moving and powerful. Social media networks like Twitter, Instagram and YouTube have fostered and spread all sorts of creativity, from high schoolers to seasoned professionals.

We recently visited friends who worked with my husband at The New York Times for decades, one a photographer renowned for his portraits and his wife, a photo editor. Her father was an architect and her mother a textile designer; his father and grandfather were bakers.

I grew up in a home filled with all sorts of art — Inuit prints and sculpture, 19th c Japanese prints, Mexican masks, a Picasso lithograph — and all three of my parents (father, mother, stepmother) worked in creative fields: journalism, TV and film-making. So it feels natural and felt inevitable I’d work in some creative capacity, as I’ve done since my teens when I sold three photos as magazine covers in Toronto while still in high school.

But creativity requires many things some people never have:

  • silence
  • solitude
  • uninterrupted time to think deeply
  • a physical space in which to paint, draw, print photos in a darkroom, weave, sew
  • access to needed tools and materials
  • the disposable income to buy needed tools and materials
  • a larger culture that admires and celebrates creativity, whether family, school, neighborhood, country
  • skill sufficient to make something you might want to keep or sell
  • time, energy and spare income to learn and perfect those skills
  • good health and mental focus
  • encouragement!

My favorite book on the subject is the 2003 book The Creative Habit by American choreographer Twyla Tharp.

She is ferocious! No awaiting the muse!

When, how and where does your creativity emerge?

Have you been encouraged along the way?

By whom?

The comfort of the familiar

From 1963, one of the first Canadian Inuit silkscreen prints made

By Caitlin Kelly

I love novelty and new adventures, exploring places I’ve never been, meeting people for the first time. I really crave it and miss it…Covid made this much more obvious to me since it denied so much of this, and still does.

But, like many/most people, I also take tremendous comfort in the familiar, maybe much more these days — of climate grief, political vitriol, daily mayhem and violence, inflation — than ever.

I’ve now lived in the same one-bedroom apartment for more than 30 years.

I find this truly astonishing, as I changed homes/residences between August 1982 and June 1989 so many times: Toronto-Paris-Toronto-Montreal-New Hampshire-New York. It was overwhelming and exhausting, even though my Paris year was the best of my life, still.

I hate moving!

I also was lucky enough to be able to buy this apartment with my first husband, and afford to remain in it, in a place — 25 miles north of Manhattan, its towers clearly visible from our street — where rents are routinely punishingly high. Having a fixed mortgage and maintenance costs allowed me this privilege.

Our next-door neighbor on one side moved in with a shy five-year-old daughter, now a stylish, confident 15-year-old. The other neighbor, Flo, died there, and now her grand-daughter — and 4-month-old daughter — lives there. It’s been a real joy to see new lives and friends arriving.

My maternal great-grandmother’s pastel portrait…basically life-size!

I recently inherited a few items from my late mother, including the images above, and a few smaller decorative items. It’s so lovely and comforting to have that visual continuity. I’d never inherited objects before so I’d never appreciated that element of it.

I love this 177-year-old sampler that for years belonged to my late mother. I have no idea where or when she found it, but it hung in

every one of her homes. I very lightly bleached it and reframed it in acid-free paper with special glass to protect it. Now it hangs in our kitchen.

I love our street. It’s hilly and winding, with a low-level condo complex across, only one private home and lots and lots of trees. It’s normally extremely quiet — and we have terrific Hudson River views. I can’t think what better view we could acquire.

Nor has it changed one bit in all those years.

I love our town, a mix of million-dollar condo’s and projects (subsidized housing.) It’s a mix of old school townies, born and raised here, and a stampede of Brooklyn hipsters.

I like our county, stretching between the Hudson to the west and Long Island Sound to the east.

I like knowing where things are and that some of them are still there.

I like knowing the guy who owns the hardware store, the one his great-grandfather founded. And the former commercial photographer from Manhattan, who came north after 9/11, and who first opened a gourmet store, now a thriving restaurant and whose wife added a busy BBQ joint.

I like knowing the names of the waitstaff at our local diner and hearing their news.

It’s that sort of town.

I’m also lucky to have deep friendships, still, in my hometown of Toronto, so there’s always a loving welcome awaiting, even decades after I left for good. That’s comforting.

I also find it comforting to watch some of the same movies over and over, so much so I know some dialogue and theme music by heart — the Bourne movies, The Devil Wears Prada, Almost Famous, The King’s Speech, All The President’s Men, Billy Elliott, Casablanca, Spotlight and others. I also re-watch some TV series I love, now enjoying the three-season Babylon Berlin on Netflix for the third time — Season Four starts October 8 and I am super excited! And Derry Girls returns October 7.

Not to mention my older favorite music, from my 80s vinyl and my new favorite radio station, Kiki Lounge (132) on Sirius XM, with some of the most unlikely covers — like (amazing!) Dolly Parton’s version of Stairway to Heaven.

I was deeply struck — as maybe some of you were — by the death of Queen Elizabeth. As I’ve written here, I spent two weeks covering a Royal Tour of Canada and met her. To suddenly lose her after 70 years was a shock.

The familiar is comforting. Change can be tiring and disorienting (even if welcome.)

What do you cherish in your life that’s comforting in its familiarity?

The re-connection tour

By Caitlin Kelly

This week, I’m back in Toronto — where I lived ages 5 to 30 — and Jose is in Pennsylvania visiting his sister and brother-in-law. He’s having a great time.

I hadn’t been back in 2.5 years, and usually visit once or twice every year, so it’s been too long. COVID obviously made it difficult to impossible. I’m very lucky to be able to stay with a friend as Toronto hotels are now prohibitive as well.

I’m catching up with people from my past — one, even a very good friend from high school, one I met later in life, one I’ve known since my early 20s, one a fellow former journalist against whom I competed (!) covering a Royal Tour in the 80s. One is the former partner of one of my half-brothers, someone I adore.

These are all people with whom I have a lot of shared history and culture and experiences.

I miss them!

I do love my life in New York — but America right now is such a dumpster fire of violence and racism and misogny and people in politics who are so toxic I can’t even bear to look at them.

(Canada also has plenty of issues as well, no question.)

When you leave your country of origin — even one speaking the same language as your new country — you do leave a lot behind. People don’t get your musical or literary or TV references. They don’t know your national anthem. They can’t even name the capital of your country. They’ve never heard of your alma mater, only the only Canadian one they’ve heard of instead.

Americans are deeply incurious!

It’s so comforting to be with people who “knew you when”:

— as a driven/ambitious high school student

— same in university

— same in my 20s!

But who also know your family and/or their complicated history and how it affects you still.

It’s so comforting to just pick up again, even after 2.5 years, without much preamble. I stay in fairly close touch with a few of them through phone calls and emails. This was also a relief as a recent visit in NYC to friends there felt more strained and distant.

Because Canadians probably move around a lot less than Americans, I know people will still be here, not gone to a distant city — Toronto is the center of many industries and if you don’t speak good French, Montreal can be more difficult.

It’s been a glorious time to be in the city — every lilac bush fragrant, every tree in white or purple or pink blossom.

I get around only by bus, a 40-minute ride from midtown to my friend’s quiet street, and their home, literally a block from the edge of Lake Ontario.

I needed this.

The spring zhuzh

My absolutely favorite sight and smell of spring!

By Caitlin Kelly

I see flowers!

I hear birds!

The days are longer and brighter!

And so….time for the zhuzh! (A word that means to spruce up or make prettier).

The boring (but useful) stuff:

CLEAN all of it!

Weird, easily overlooked things like every light-bulb you can reach (they get dusty)

Every lampshade, whether paper or fabric — they’re big dust-collectors; both of these, left dirty, are diminishing the light you get

Rugs. I used to wash my kilims in the bathtub but now send them out to a professional rug cleaner. Not cheap but worth doing once a year.

Same for every bit of upholstery — a steam-cleaning service can do wonders.

I take a fabric lint-roller and use it on the arms and backs of our two sofas and our fabric headboard. Everything gets dusty!

How about the top of every cabinet, anything framed, bookshelf?

Here’s a smart, comprehensive guide to cleaning your living room from the British design magazine Homes & Gardens.

Then…wash/dry clean all of it!

Duvets and covers

Blankets

Make-up bags and dopp kits, backpacks and cloth bags…anything you use often and take for granted

Polish! (Ok this is my personal obsession, as I keep silver and brass polish and use it a lot on our silver-plate cutlery and tray)

Replace — anything broken, torn, stained, bent. Repair when possible. It’s depressing to see things in poor condition day after day.

Paint touch-ups are also worth considering — all those dings and scuffs.

The fun stuff:

Maybe time for some fresh new linens?

Pillow protectors and new pillowcases

A few new towels?

Fresh tea towels for the kitchen (We love ours from Le Jaquard Francais. Lovely designs and very good quality; here are some on sale.)

(Donate any used towels, blankets, etc. to your local dog shelter. I have. Keep those doggies comfortable!)

Some new throw pillows, for indoors or out (Perigold has 14,000 on offer. I love this one in crisp green and white, and this one, koi fish in blue and white…we own several.)

A picnic basket and blanket for warm days

A new paint color for one of your rooms (or your only room). A color you absolutely love being surrounded by is a guaranteed cheer-up on even the gloomiest days. Our sitting room is this color and, yes it’s strong, but we love it.

A pretty new throw rug; one of favorite sources is Dash and Albert (named for her two dogs, of course.) This one, in cream and brown, is a best-seller.

Some flowering plants

A pretty new set of napkins — love these, in blue and green, six for $32. Or these crisp neutrals, four for $44.

Get those kitchen knives professionally sharpened!

Ten cities’ hidden gems

By Caitlin Kelly

While COVID has made much travel nightmarish-to-impossible, some of us are still venturing out (vaxxed and masked!).

I recently enjoyed lunch in Manhattan with a friend in from London who I hadn’t seen in maybe a decade.

This list is highly personal and fails to include typical tourist must-see’s. I like to take my time when I travel, to settle in, to savor a few great spots for an entire day or afternoon instead of rushing all over an unfamiliar city.

If you’re still planning travel — maybe in a year or two! — here are some of my favorite spots.

Los Angeles

You know how you have a perfect day?

Mine was in L.A. in August 2000, flown in on assignment for SouthWest’s in-flight magazine. I had worked hard on the story and had some time alone. I went horseback riding through the hills of Griffith Park at sunset, then headed to Santa Monica, where I danced to live blues at Harvelle’s — in business since 1931. I really love L.A. and haven’t been back since then…is that possible?!

I’ve been reveling in its sights through seven seasons of the cop show Bosch, which is set there. I can’t wait to hit the classic bars and restaurants in it: Frank & Musso, Formosa, Smog Cutter and Frolic.

I hope to take a solo trip back there this spring.

Toronto

My hometown is a huge, sprawling city whose waterfront has been marred with hundreds of glass box condo towers. But it also still has some less-obvious charms.

One of my favorite Toronto sights — the ferry to the Islands

The Islands — easily reached in all seasons by public ferry (maybe a 20 minute ride) — offer a spectacular vision of the city, especially at sunset. In summer, you can bike for miles, enjoy a beach, go for swim in Lake Ontario. In winter, stroll and admire the hundreds of small houses where the fortunate few live year round.

Our wedding church, St. Andrew by The Lake, Centre Island, Toronto

Jose and I were married in September 2011 in the tiny, wooden church on Centre Island. Even if you’re not religious, or Anglican, it’s a lovely spot to visit!

One of my favorite stores anywhere is Gravity Pope (no explanation for that name!) The best selection of men’s and women’s shoes anywhere, including some familiar brands, and others. Styles are hip but practical. I love everything I’ve bought from them.

New York

Overwhelming, right?

Not if you flee midtown.

Old Town Bar is a classic, filled with wooden booths and an upstairs that feels like a world apart. It opened in 1892.

It’s easy to spend a few hours here (and I prefer it to noisy, costly Eataly)Chelsea Market. Lots of great meals and food shopping, even for tourists (tea, chocolate, coffee, pastas) and Sarabeth’s, a classic Manhattan bakery. Posman Books is a terrific indie bookstore. A great way to while away a freezing winter day.

Restrooms downstairs. Its only downside — no seating unless you pay for something. Very NYC.

Montreal

I love a great spa and Bota Bota is truly unique — a former boat, in the harbor — offering every amenity possible. It’s the perfect place to melt your bones on one of YUL’s bitterly cold afternoons.

It opened in 1942 and loyal locals still line up to sit in one of its booths. Beauty’s diner is a great spot and I treasure my Beauty’s T-shirt.

Vancouver

My grandmother lived there for a while when the Hotel Sylvia was apartments. I’ve stayed there a few times. It’s not fancy, but has a great history and right near the beach. Built in 1912, it’s cosy and welcoming.

Granville Island is hardly secret, but like New York’s Chelsea Market, it’s a terrific all-day place to hang out — restaurants, shopping, flowers, food and a gorgeous location.

Paris

Le Bon Marche

So many pleasures!

I do love an elegant department store — and Le Bon Marche really fits the bill. On my last visit, in June 2017, I stocked up on gorgeous linen napkins, swooning over its tabletop offerings. The shoe department is just a stunning physical space; that’s its roof pictured above.

The Musee Guimet is much less known than the Big Boys, the Musee D’orsay and the Louvre. Jose and I love Asian art, the Guimet’s focus. A smaller, more manageable museum, its cafe and gift shop are also well worth a visit.

London

Sue me — it’s Liberty or death! Liberty, the store, filled with the loveliest of basically everything.

I’m also a huge fan of flea markets — Portobello Road or Bermondsey.

Lisbon

Few non-Europeans would know Calouste Gulbenkian (what a name!) — but the museum named for him in Lisbon , holding his private collection remains one of my favorite places ever, and it’s been decades since my only visit. It’s filled with a wide array of treasures and surrounded by beautiful gardens.

D.C.

There are a few restaurants that just make you feel happier settling onto a stool at the counter, surrounded by hustle and bustle. Ted’s Bulletin, (described as an upscale diner) is one such place for me.

A few blocks away is a terrific shop, Goodwood, which opened in 1994, that offers a superbly-edited mix of clothing, shoes, fragrance, stationery, antiques, rugs. I never miss visiting and always find something lovely.

Zagreb

I loved this city, having arrived there in July 2017, alone, with few expectations.

The studio and home belonging to the former sculptor Ivan Mestrovic is here — and I was stunned by the beauty of his work. He later became a U.S. citizen and taught at several American universities.

Berlin

I stayed there, my first visit, for 10 days in July 2017, at the Hotel Savoy, an oldie-but-goodie — currently closed for renovations. I can’t wait to go back! The street it’s on also proved a treasure trove, two blocks away from the Kathe Kollwitz Museum, the bookstore and cafe Literaturhaus. And the name! Fasanenstrasse — pheasant street.