I recently had lunch with a friend my age — a former executive at National Public Radio — who now travels the country with his very cool project, getting people into working for public radio, called NextGenRadio. I love his ambition and passion, at an age when many are thinking about retirement.
One of my spin teachers, in her early 40s, is doing the work for pre-med, and is 18 months away from taking the MCAT, the med school admission test. Another friend, a former New York Times editor, is now enrolled in a program to re-train doing yoga therapy in medical settings.
I’m slowly working on two new ways to earn an income, with no expectation that either will fully sustain me financially, but each of which makes me happier than journalism does at this point. I started writing for a living at the age of 19, while also attending university full-time. I enjoyed it, but it was also really stressful. Now the industry is in such a mess — and with pay rates, literally, back to 1970s and ’80s lows, (then a very good rate!), I’m ready to flee.
The two things I hope to do a lot more of are coaching — both writing and PR strategy (details are on my website) and selling my images to interior designers. I’ve been coaching now for several years and really enjoy it; my students get instant ROI and lots of practical advice, not the generic “You go, girl!” bullshit I so often see being touted by “experts” on social media.
My husband is a professional photo editor, who worked for The New York Times for 31 years and helped them win a Pulitzer Prize for 9/11 images, so we’re also culling thousands of my images to select the initial few hundred and set up a website. I began my career as a photographer, selling three magazine cover images while still in high school and later, to Time, The Washington Post, Toronto Star, The New York Times and others.
It’s been a rough week, slowly recovering from my last radiation treatment — October 15 — and still fighting its cumulative fatigue and insane itchiness on my left breast. I was at my wits’ end, crying in public, (I almost never cry anywhere), just done.
I had a follow-up meeting with the radiation doctor, to be told I’d gained (!?) 10 pounds in six weeks and now needed blood tests to see why. This despite seeing my clothes fit more loosely and gaining compliments on my apparent weight loss.
Our GP, thankfully, saw us an hour later and did the tests; (I’m fine.)
But I started crying in his office, weary of all of it.
I apologized for being a big blubbering baby, ashamed and embarrassed by my inability to control my emotions.
“You’re normal,” he said, calmly and compassionately.
Jose, my husband, sat in the room with us, listening as I absorbed this pretty basic fact.
What, I’m not made of steel?
Kelly’s tend to be (cough) ambitious and driven; three of us won major national awards in the same month, when I was 41, my younger half-brothers then 31 and 18; I for my writing, they for business skills and for a key scientific discovery, (yes, the youngest!)
We tend to aim high, compete ferociously for as long as it takes, (each of my books, later published by major NYC houses, were rejected 25 times), and usually win, dammit!
We keep our emotions very close to the vest and keep small, tight circles of intimates. I don’t really do acquaintance.
Being weak, scared, in pain, exhausted and, even worse, letting others see us in this condition?
I’m slowly getting used to it.
Compassion for my fragility is my new oxygen, as much for myself as the gratitude I feel for that shown to me.
I’d known of her talent through a mutual friend in my hometown, Toronto, and met Ali G-J for lunch on one of my visits. I admired her gorgeous watercolors and kept urging her to turn them into products. She did! Her pillows, scarves and totes are fun and charming. If you know a journalist, check out her “Joe the Reporter” image and the California Dreaming laptop skin. Prices start at $16 for a fab floral phone skin.
I rarely splurge on costume jewelry, but this London artist’s bold, outsize earrings and hairpins hand-cut from brass — some painted black, some cobalt blue — are gorgeous. (I chose the Gia earrings, 60 pounds, $77.
Guys, this brand combines several of my passions — swearing, birds, vintage art and Canadian bad-assery. Ottawa-based Aaron Reynolds decided to create a line of mugs, T-shirts/hoodies/baseball shirts, posters, pins and playing cards that combine gorgeous vintage images of birds with wickedly funny/furious sayings. Not surprisingly, his biggest audience is pissed-off American women. Great gifts for anyone whose head is perpetually about to explode. Pins $11, mugs $20, baseball shirts $30.
What is it with angry avians? This British brand creates exquisite wool and silk scarves, mufflers and pocket squares. Their color palette is bold and bright and their designs amazing. Perfect for stylish men and women of any age. Not cheap, but utterly distinctive. Women’s silk scarves start at 255 pounds ($331) to 290 pounds ($376) for large silk/wool combinations; silk pocket squares are 65 pounds ($84); love the ones marked FURY and LUST.
Smelly soap! I always order these, from my favorite Manhattan fragrance shop, Aedes de Venustas. They smell divine, $42 for three. I’ve loved Spain’s Maja soap since I was little; made since 1921, it comes in gorgeous black tissue paper, a box of three for $16.41
For all the feisty feminists in your life — the RBG Action Figure! Named for Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now 85 and still kicking judicial ass. $19.99
I’m mad for marbled papers, a glorious riot of color and pattern, and use them to cover books, to line a frame for a photo or print, lampshades, wrapping paper. This British woman’s work is beautiful: 8.80 pounds ($11.42) for a sheet of paper; 22 pounds ($28.56) for a gorgeous blue letter tray; 30 pounds ($38.95) for a vertical magazine holder; 14.50 pounds ($18.82) for five stunning bookmarks.
Regular readers know my love for all things vintage and vintage-looking. I’m a big fan of this website, with wicker, brass, ceramic, lanterns, candlesticks, trays, linens. Everything is well-priced, simple and lovely. Love this antiqued brass foliate key-holder, $29.
Here’s a fun practical present — combining two more of my loves: beer and a tidy kitchen! A tea towel identifying all the different kinds of beer. $20
I love the soft, soothing glow of candles and light them every day in our home. Love these, in the shape of pine cones, from Crate & Barrel. $12.95 to $16.95
I love using my Filofax, a leather-covered planner, with all sorts of cool inserts, from tiny Post-It notes to a well-used tiny ruler that measures in inches and centimeters. Mine is embossed red leather and a total pleasure to handle. They come in a rainbow of colors and two sizes; this one $101.
This handmade wooden box is large enough to store photos, recipes, love letters. Its feels vaguely Art Deco with its swirling colors. $295
Guacamole!! If you have seen it being made in front of you, you know it’s made in a specific heavy dish called a molcajete. Here’s one.$34.95
From much-beloved Opening Ceremony, a NYC retailer whose founders are now designing the line for Kenzo, I want these black lace boots!$325
Every year I include on this list a pretty duvet cover — and it has matching shams if you don’t own a duvet. This one, from Pottery Barn, is so beautiful, floral on a black background, and looks like embroidery. $60 (shams) to $249 (duvet cover.)
If you live somewhere really cold and want to be both stylish and warm, I love these huge wool scarves — they call them blankets as they’re large enough to really swathe your head and neck — from my favorite Canadian clothing retailer Aritzia. Some are named for Canadian places like Banff or Montreal. As a Canadian, I wear a lot of their clothes and appreciate their combination of style, quality, color and price. $78
My past two posts here have been about two talented, driven American journalists — photographer Peter DaSilva and the late Marie Colvin. I’d say Peter, with whom I’ve also had a personal friendship for years, is to some degree defined by his attention to detail and compassion, while she was clearly driven, among other things less visible, by ambition and adrenaline.
As the decades pass, as work becomes less (one hopes!) an uphill climb and plateaus out to a succession of accomplishments, large or small; as one begins and grows one’s family (or doesn’t), our essential values and character become ever clearer to ourselves and to others — the words or phrases used to sum you up.
Are they what you want(ed)?
I think about this a lot, maybe because I work as a journalist and my role, often, is to observe a stranger and make some decisions about who they are and why they are that way.
I’m endlessly fascinated by what people do and how they enact their values — or don’t.
A few things that define me:
A passion for story-telling
Whether here or in print or through the photos on my Insta account or sitting around a table with friends, I love to find and tell stories. Maybe it’s the Irish in me.
A momma-bear instinct to protect people I care about
Do not ever mess with someone I care about. I don’t have children, but those I love get a fierce loyalty.
An endless desire to travel and explore new places
I have already been to 40 countries and have so many more experiences I’m eager to try: Morocco, Japan, Greece and the Amazon, to name only a few.
Never a very political animal
Journalists are expected professionally to remain fair and objective, and so can’t be seen favoring one side or another (although I tend to be liberal.) I can’t vote in Canada since I left years ago and can’t vote in the U.S. as I’ve chosen not to become a citizen. I pay fairly careful attention to political issues but generally don’t have a dog in each fight.
A lover of luxury
Guilty! I wear cashmere and silk, drink champagne when there’s an occasion, and my favorite words ever just might be “Taxi!” and “room service.” Growing up watching my maternal grandmother run through her huge inheritance gave me absurdly expensive tastes, impossible to satisfy on lousy journalism wages. Challenging!
Also cheap as hell
Which is how one can afford some luxury, even if not earning a huge salary or income; I’ve stayed in the same unexciting 1960s building, in the same one bedroom apartment, for 30 years. I don’t love either of these things but I do love our view, our town and a 38-minute train commute to midtown Manhattan. Staying put and not splurging on a larger home and all its furnishings and maintenance and taxes and repairs has helped me save for retirement and travel, my two key priorities.
I work to live, not live to work
I wrecked my 20s being a workaholic and made several people quite miserable as a result — whether some of my editors, friends or boyfriends. It was all I cared most about. By 30, I was a burned-out wreck. I enjoy the work I do, but would happily stop tomorrow, having done it since I was 19. I have so many other interests — music, books travel, art, design, sports — and have accomplished enough in my career I don’t feel compelled to add notches to my belt nor be (uuuugggggghhhhh) “productive”, the great American obsession.
Zero tolerance for the pompous, whiny and entitled
I never leave home without a book or magazine or pile of unread newspapers. Reading is my oxygen.
What are some of the qualities or values that define you?
A very quick primer on what makes a room really work, and what can kill even the best-laid plans.
One interior designer, the late legendary Albert Hadley, used to talk about skylines — think about a typical urban one; it has high and low points, spots of light and pools of darkness. It offers inherent drama and a bit of mystery.
The most attractive rooms have one as well.
Our dining room: Custom-made curtains. The wall color is Farrow & Ball Peignoir and the framed image is from a British design magazine.
Look around your rooms. Is everything the same size and shape? (i.e. all chunky rectangle or squares?) Does your eye stay only on the same level?
Is all your lighting (noooooo!) coming from an overhead source (noooooo!) without a dimmer to alter the mood? The ideal room is lit with at least four or five different sources, preferably for task work, reading, mood — a single glaring central ceiling fixture is harsh, unflattering and inefficient. Our living room has two matching tall lamps (symmetry helps!) that illuminate the sofa; a small lamp in a corner that lights up a photo on a wall and a lamp on a chest by the front door. No bulb offers less than 100 watts.
Scale is tricky — people often choose pieces that are too small for a space or too large. Or there’s just too much stuff in the space so you always feel a bit out of breath and annoyed but don’t know why.
Smaller pieces — like light, moveable side tables and stools — can be much more versatile and useful than the standard sofa/chairs/coffee table. We ditched two large club chairs and splurged on two square, low, deep green velvet stools, They offer comfortable and stylish seating without consuming nearly as much space.
Since re-arranged, a glimpse of our living room — looking a bit cluttered! Found the antique mirror in a Quebec antique shop and the small wooden table at a Connecticut consignment shop. Wall color is Gervase Yellow by Farrow & Ball.
The most interesting rooms have a range of different textures: suede, leather, chenille, velvet, silk, cotton. Smooth glass and rough stone. Gleaming brass or lucite.
Color can be challenging to get right, and I’ve blogged on this many times before.
Learn which colors work best with one another, and why. For example, a room combining red and green doesn’t have to look like a Christmas stocking if the red is a soft rusty-burgundy and the green a pale sage (the colors of our sofa and trim) — and it works because these colors are opposite on the color wheel.
Design magazines, books and websites offer a lot of great tips and inspiration, from Apartment Therapy to Insta accounts belonging to designers.
Making a home beautiful isn’t always quick, easy or cheap. It can take longer to afford and assemble the look you want most, but it’s worth it. I saved up for years to buy my Tizio lamp — it cost $500 in the 1980s — but I still use it today and still love it.
I’ve never regretted investing in the beauty, efficiency and comfort of our home.
As someone who studied interior design and spends far too many hours on Instagram and reading shelter magazines for inspiration, I love nothing more than a good zhuzh — making something more attractive.
As winter’s short, gray cold days descend on those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, here are some of the recent things we’ve done to feather our nest, a kid-free, pet-free one bedroom apartment of about 1,000 square feet. We’re both full-time freelance now, so this is also a place we do a lot of writing and editing work as well.
Sanding, spackling and painting all cracks in the walls
So boring! So annoying! So damn necessary. It’s either us and our own sweat equity or shelling out even more money — again — to a company to do it for us. There will still be some bad ceiling cracks and we’ll pay someone to deal with those. For reasons I do not understand, this 60-year-old building still (!?) settles and creates these damn cracks.
A fresh coat of paint on the dingiest spots
The cheapest way to clean and brighten your space. I’m a huge Farrow & Ball fan, and one of the many things I love about them is that they will custom make their discontinued colors, like the yellow-green we used in 2008 for the living room and hallway. Our dining room is painted in Peignoir, and our bedroom in Skimming Stone.
Steam-clean major upholstered pieces
Seriously! We spent $180 recently to have our seven-foot-long velvet-covered sofa and two cream-colored wing chairs professionally cleaned (in home.) It’s well worth it given how much we use these pieces.
Invest in a few good rugs
Nothing is cheerier than a few great rugs on a clean, shiny hardwood floor, adding color, warmth and texture. So many great choices out there, from flat-weave dhurries (a favorite) to bright, cheerful cotton ones (like these from Dash & Albert, whose stuff I keep buying.) Avoid harsh, bright colors and crazy wild designs as you’ll soon grow sick of them.
Throws for bed and living room lead to much happy napping
Is there anything nicer than a snooze under a soft, comforting throw? We have several, in cotton and wool, and they’re very well-used. These, in waffle-weave wool, come in gray and cream. Classic,
Are your light bulbs/shades clean and bright?
Everything gets dusty!
Stock up on flowers, plants and greenery
A room without a plant or fresh flowers — especially on gray, cold, rainy days — can feel static and lifeless.
Get out the polish!
I know, I know — very few people even want to own silver, or silver-plate or brass now, but few things are as lovely as freshly-polished cutlery, (ours is all flea market) or gleaming brass candlesticks.
Lots of candles
Obviously not a great choice, perhaps, if you have cats or small children, but we have neither. I keep a small votive candle bedside and light it first thing every morning, a softer way to wake up. At dinner we use votives, tapers and a few lanterns; I buy my votives in bulk at Pier One so they’re always handy and within reach. Here’s a candle-maker I follow on Instagram with a great selection.
Treat your home to something pretty, new and useful
Could be a score from a consignment shop or thrift store, estate sale or something new. It might be fresh tea towels for the kitchen, a bath sheet for the bathroom, soft new pillowcases, a vase for flowers…Your home should be a welcoming, soothing refuge. Its beauty can and should nurture you.
Two years ago, I splurged on the above-pictured early 19th. century tea set — with cups, saucers, plates, teapot, tea bowl. Every time I use it it makes me happy.
It’s a rare day I don’t have my trusty little black transistor radio on beside me. I listen to BBC World News when I have time, (it’s an hour), and many NPR shows, from All Things Considered, Fresh Air and The Takeaway, (now hosted by old friend Tanzina Vega, who worked with Jose at The New York Times) to fun weekend shows like The Moth, This American Life and even silly ones like Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.
I’ve been working alone at home since 1996 so the radio is a steady companion. We’ve even sent a gift to Jeff Spurgeon, host of the morning show on WQXR, New York’s classical music station — a tiny plastic T. Rex — an in-joke he appreciated after he once joked about dinosaurs in the Hudson River; (probably historically accurate!)
Our new car has Sirius XM so I love listening to CBC as well.
Reading the Weekend Financial Times
The FT is a very specific read, as one wit dubbed it: “the hometown paper of the global cosmopolitan elite.”
Its real estate pages — larded with country estates in every corner of the world and enormous penthouses in Paris and New York — can leave you somehow concluding that five million euros/pounds/dollars is actually a bargain, considering. Its glossy magazine, with classic fuck-you British snottiness, is called How to Spend It, and typically features a watch at $300,000 or a $20,000 gown.
But the paper itself, and its arts section, is a delight. Its columnists include a few thoughtful sparky women (albeit an Oxbridge-y crowd) and so many book reviews of books you’ll never seen mentioned in the American press. I appreciate a non-American perspective on business, politics, art, design…everything.
Trying out a new recipe
I have a whole shelf of cookbooks and endless binders filled with recipes I’ve clipped on paper from magazines and newspapers over the years. Few things are as fun as leafing through them and searching out an old favorite, (leek-tomato quiche from the Vegetarian Epicure Part Two), or trying something new. I always mark down the date I first tried a recipe and whether we liked it.
Entertaining gives us a chance to try even more!
Introducing people who’d be a good fit
This is the best. I recently connected two of my favorite younger friends — one in London and one in St. Louis, as one grappled with an issue I thought the other might have some wisdom on. They have other things in common as well; my connections aren’t random!
Another friend was visiting Shanghai and one of my freelance colleagues was teaching there, so I made the introduction from my home in suburban New York — even though, normally, they both live in New York City. Done!
Seeking treasure at flea markets, consignment shops, thrift shops and antique stores
Discovered this fab 1940s diner on Long Island on a road trip
I’ve done many over the years — across Canada with my Dad at 15 and with him driving all around Ireland; from Montreal to Charleston, S.C. with my first husband and, most recently, from our home 25 miles north of New York City to north of Bancroft, Ontario — solo. I did it in four four-hour legs, which helped! I’ve done solo road trips through Arizona, and through some of Texas while researching my first book.
This combines multiple sources of happiness: travel, new sights, seeing old friends, listening to the radio, getting out of town. And, when we have a nice new car as we do right now, the sheer pleasure of a quiet, well-designed automobile.
If you’re going to somehow get through a frightening time in your life — whether it’s health, work, family, marriage, kids’ issues — you need a rock, someone you can turn to who’s as firm and solid as a boulder, something steady and calm to lean against and take shelter behind, a fixed point you know will be there the next day and the next and the next, no matter what happens.
As I got my breast cancer diagnosis — ironically, sitting on rocks at the edge of the Hudson River in the New York town where we live — my husband Jose had just left for work in the city on the commuter train. I sat in the June sunshine alone absorbing this news, delivered by phone by my gynecologist.
Those vows include, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health…Sept. 2011
Since then, as he has been throughout our 18 years together, Jose has been my rock. For which I’m so damn grateful and so damn fortunate. He came with me to every meeting with every doctor, (and there have been five MDs), listening and taking notes as a second set of eyes and ears. I’m not a person who cries easily or often — maybe a few times a year — but in the past five months, have done a lot of that. He’s stayed steady.
There’s an old-fashioned word I really like — character. Jose has it. I’d seen it on multiple occasions as we were dating. I wanted it in my second husband, that’s for damn sure.
So lucky to have had the kindness of this fantastic team!
Then there’s gravel, a poor metaphor perhaps, for the pals and acquaintances whose love and sweet gestures have also proven hugely supportive, through letters, cards, calls, texts, flowers and even gifts. None of which I really expected.
Some live in distant countries. Some are editors I’ve worked with for years and have still never met. Some are women I went to school with decades ago. All of whom stepped up.
There were several putatively close friends I assumed would check in — and who proved wholly absent. That hurt. But it happens, and you have to know, especially with this disease, some people will flee and totally abandon you.
The most depressing thing I heard this summer — and it truly shocked me — is that some cancer patients have no one at all to turn to. No family. No friends. I can’t imagine facing the fears, pain, anxiety and many tests and treatments without someone who loves you sitting in the waiting room with you, driving you to appointments, holding your hand.
I recently got a call from a younger friend facing her own crisis, and was so honored and touched that she called me. I try to be a rock for the people I love. Sometimes I’ll fail them, I know.
Maybe you — as I did — spent hours last week watching the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh to the Senate Judicial Committee, to determine Kavanaugh’s fitness to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, a lifetime appointment granting him tremendous power.
As you may know, she accuses him of assaulting her sexually when she was 15 and he was 17.
A question on many people’s minds is, how well can anyone recall something that happened over 35 years ago?
Pretty well, say scientists, if the memory is of a traumatic event. That’s because of the key role emotions play in making and storing memories.
On any given day, our brains store or “encode” only some of the things we experience. “What we pay attention to is what’s more likely to get encoded,” says Jim Hopper, a teaching associate in psychology at Harvard University and a consultant on sexual assault and trauma….
“The stress hormones, cortisol, norepinephrine, that are released during a terrifying trauma tend to render the experience vivid and memorable, especially the central aspect, the most meaningful aspects of the experience for the victim,” says Richard McNally, a psychologist at Harvard University and the author of the book Remembering Trauma.
That’s because a high-stress state “alters the function of the hippocampus and puts it into a super-encoding mode,” says Hopper, especially early on during an event. And “the central details [of the event] get burned into their memory and they may never forget them.”
Whether it’s sexual assault victims or soldiers in combat or survivors of an earthquake, people who have experienced traumatic events tend to remember the most essential and frightening elements of the events in vivid detail for life, says McNally.
I find this dismissal of another’s memories appalling — and of course, politically expedient for Republicans.
As someone whose life changed forever at 14, thanks to a traumatic event (thankfully, not assault or abuse), I think those who challenge early, brutal memories, even if they’re fragmented, both arrogant and unscathed.
I won’t get into every detail, but my mother had a manic episode on Christmas Eve when I was 14. We were living in Mexico, far from friends or relatives, not that any relatives ever cared that I was an only child in the care of a mentally ill mother.
We had no phone. We’d been there maybe four months, so even schoolmates were still acquaintances.
It was basically terrifying.
That evening, driving recklessly down Mexican highways, she endangered my life and that of two other people with us before driving into a ditch at midnight on the edge of an industrial city I had never been to.
I ended up taking care of another girl my age, alone, for two weeks, before returning to Canada to live with my father — for the first time in seven years.
Image used with permission from its creator Aaron Reynolds; a card from his deck Effin’ Birds
Some moments of that evening, and what came next, are etched into my memory.
But some others?
Not at all.
I never lived with my mother again.
Nor would I ever again allow her, or anyone, to endanger me like that.
If you’ve suffered trauma, let no one try to dismiss what you already know.
If you haven’t, don’t inflict further pain on anyone by disbelieving or questioning them.