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Archive for the ‘domestic life’ Category

Why being “productive” is a waste of time

In behavior, business, culture, domestic life, life, Money, U.S., work on April 2, 2016 at 11:56 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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Attending the ballet and staring at the ceiling — OMG, wasting time!

If there is an obsession I really hate, it’s “being (more) productive”, i.e. making sure that every minute of our every day is spent doing something, preferably as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Do more!

No, do even more. Better!

I live near New York City, a place where if you’re not working reallyhardallthetime — gobbling lunch at your desk with no break in your day — you’re seen as some witless, gormless slacker.

It’s hardly a point of view confined to New York, but it does feel very American, with a deep-rooted and long-established cultural emphasis on making lots and lots and lots of money and never wasting time because…you could be making more money!

All of which strikes me as sad and weird.

This mania for measurement began, as some of you know, with Taylorism and Fordism, ways of manufacturing, (to profit corporate owners and their shareholders), more quickly and efficiently, named for the men who created these systems.

Here’s a great video from the website Aeon, on the topic.

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Time or money? Which do you value more? Must we always choose?

As the video wisely points out, you simply can’t quantify intellectual output the way you can time with a stopwatch how long it takes to install a windshield or weld a joint.

The other essential problem with focusing all our energy on being more productive is that we are not machines. We are not industrial creatures, made of metal and oil.

We need to rest, to think, to reflect, to stare at the sky.

Constantly pumping out goods or services guarantees burnout and resentment.

It’s like dancing with fog, really, if you try to make creative work more efficient.

How long does it take to produce an idea?

A good idea?

An idea that isn’t shot down?

An idea that actually earns a profit?

And must that profit be purely monetary to have value?

What if your idea, instead, saves a life or soothes a colicky baby or gladdens your neighbor’s heart?

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Here are a few things you can’t do more productively:

 

Kiss

 

Die

 

Be born

 

Pray

 

Create a work of art

 

Meditate

 

Comfort someone

 

Be generous

 

Breathe

 

A life-changing week — without easy access to water

In culture, domestic life, education, journalism, life, travel, urban life, world on March 23, 2016 at 1:33 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

In a good way!

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On assignment in rural Nicaragua…

Two years ago this month, I was returning home to our apartment in suburban New York from a week that radically altered my views on work, on luxury, on life.

With a multi-media team — a photographer from Cuernavaca, Mexico (where I lived as a 14-year-0ld), a blogger from Brunswick, Maine and a communications officer from New York — I spent a week working with WaterAid in Nicaragua, a country I had never been to before.

On paper, the whole thing sounded a bit crazy, putting together a team of people ranging in age from 20s to 50s, who had never met or worked together, and jamming us into a rickety van we needed to push occasionally to work 12-hour days in 95-degree heat.

 

Best week of my life.

I had gotten to know the comm’s person, Alanna, and knew she was fun, smart and warm. That was enough for me, so whoever else she had chosen would be fine. And they were. We had many hours together, traveling in a very small plane (so small they weighed each of us, not just our baggage!) and by van.

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Our WaterAid team

We met up in Managua, a three-hour flight from Atlanta. We flew from there to Bilwi, a town on the eastern coast, of 40,000 people.

We quickly learned that our hotel’s showers and toilets and sinks with running water were a rare luxury there — that almost half the population had none of these things. They had a pipe in their front yard with water supplied by the city, if they had it at all. Or they walked a mile or more to the nearest well.

It was really hot, about 90 degrees every day all day. When you sweat that much, you need to drink a lot of water and you really want to bathe and clean off at day’s end. Now, I realized, these were luxuries I had taken for granted for decades. My whole life.

We drove into the countryside, a two-hour journey each way, to watch local villagers building their own toilets and sanitation projects so I could write about them for WaterAid and Rodrigo could make photos and videos. Jen and I did a Twitterchat later in the week to explain what we were seeing; it gathered a staggering response.

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Reporting in Bilwi, Nicaragua for WaterAid; Jen beside me, Dixie in the background

To conduct interviews, we worked in Spanish and in Miskitu, for which we had a translator, a local academic with the delightful name of Dixie. Tall, gentle, Dixie was our right hand.

One night we all stayed in the home of one of the women we were writing about, Linda. The house was all made of wood, with a corrugated tin roof and wide open windows, without glass but with curtains. The floors were soft and smooth beneath our bare feet, meticulously clean and free of insects.

 

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Linda’s home

We brought our own food, which Linda and her family cooked for us on their clay stove. Their home has no electricity or running water, so they cooked by the light of flashlights and headlamps.

We slept together in one large room on narrow cots with sleeping bags and mosquito nets, lulled to sleep by the sound of someone speaking in Spanish from the transistor radio hanging from a very large nail on the balcony.

In the morning, Jen and I traveled with Linda and her mother in law and her daughter across a river to collect vegetables from their plot there. We walked through the forest to reach the river, followed the whole way by a very large, very friendly and very determined turkey, one of the many animals living beneath their home.

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Our host, Linda Felix, paddling her canoe

As we reached the river’s edge, Linda’s mother in law, wielding a very sharp long machete casually reached behind herself, lopped off two lengths of bamboo, cut their ends at an angle and dropped them into the wooden dugout canoe for us — seats!

We were accepted without demands or interrogation. Welcomed into their home and treated as guests with kindness and respect. For most of us, there are few moments in life when you connect across culture, language, nationality, age, education. They are deeply moving. Unforgettable.

 

On both side of the river, we climbed steep sandy banks to reach the vegetable crops. By the time we returned to the house, the sun was so hot that I feared heatstroke, heading to the well to throw buckets of water over me.

The time we spent in Nicaragua — working as a team, meeting and interviewing and getting to know some of the local people — also could not have been a greater contrast to my work at home in New York.

It was a week of easy cooperation (not relentless competition.) Open-heartedness and kindness (not resentful close-fistedness.) Bottles of ice-cold water and comfortable beds to keep us going, comfortably (not the standard annoyance of being ignored or rejected by busy editors.)

And what joy to be part of a team of smart, passionate, funny and warm professionals. I work alone at home, and have done so for a decade. This was a great break from isolation and total self-reliance.

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When we parted ways in Managua, we were teary. Two years later, Jen and and Alanna and I remain friends, in close contact still. Their country director, a fellow Canadian named Josh, came all the way out to our home to visit when he came up to New York.

I cried several times over this experience, which shocked me — I never cry.

But what I saw and felt there deeply touched me, both the ridiculous contrast between our easy life here and the penury we saw in Nicaragua. And also for the kindness and camaraderie I felt that week.

Journalism is very often a brutish business and its people too often gruff and dismissive, no matter what level of experience or skill you offer. They rarely praise or thank. They fight you over every penny you need to earn or to do the job well, and more than 24,000 of us have been fired or laid off in recent years.

To be treated as…valuable? Enjoyable? That was a blessedly unfamiliar feeling.

I now look for different kinds of work and deeper relationships with people whose values I admire.

I also turn off the water when I brush my teeth.

650 million people worldwide lack access to safe water.

Imagine being one of them.

 

 

It’s Saturday and…

In behavior, domestic life, life on March 19, 2016 at 3:05 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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Our view of the Hudson River

“What is a weekend?” — The Dowager Countess of Grantham, Downton Abbey

 

Ohhhhhh, blessed Saturday morning…with spring around the corner and the forsythia (too soon!) already blooming.

First, a cinnamon bun from the amazing Riviera Bakehouse, our local bakery filled with delicious things.

Music, next…The Animals, live at Wembley Stadium, from 1983. A little vinyl to get the blood moving. Great stuff, like Boom, Boom and O’ Lucky Man and House of the Rising Sun.

An egg and bacon with Jose (my husband.)

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The opening and skimming of the weekend newspapers, tweeting out the good bits, deciding what to read first — being a New Yorker now, it’s often the Real Estate section, to examine the latest insanity. After living here a while, you see a listing for $1.5 million and think that’s not such a bad price. (Insurmountable for us!)

Watching my smart personal finance friend, and columnist for Slate, Helaine Olen on MSNBC, warning about how broke we’re all going to be in retirement.

Hanging, finally, all our photos and art to make a gallery wall.

A little housework.

Listening to some of my favorite NPR shows on WNYC, Radiolab at noon, This American Life at 1:00 and The Moth at 2:00. You have to tear me away from the radio, still my favorite medium.

Enjoying the flowers I bought yesterday, a weekly indulgence — these cost $32 and are worth every penny to me.

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Choosing recipes for the week, and food shopping.

Deciding whether it’s too cold to join my softball team for a game. Maybe just for lunch! Here’s my NYT essay about them.

Savoring the silence, only the clock ticking in the kitchen and a jet far overhead. Weekday traffic on the nearby Tappan Zee Bridge normally noisy.

Perhaps we’ll go out for a burger at one of our local restaurants, now that our town, Tarrytown, NY, has become — thanks to the $$$$-real-estate-induced exodus from Brooklyn — hip. It’s all McLaren strollers and Mini Coopers now.

Maybe go out for a long walk through the Rockefeller estate, a lush and quiet public 750 acres a 10-minute drive north of us. Or along the Hudson’s western shore.

I love our half-urban, half-rural existence. Technically, we live in a suburb of New York City, but our town is lively and fun, economically and racially diverse. In 40 minutes’ drive or train ride, I’m in midtown Manhattan or, heading north, can reach the gorgeous town of Cold Spring, right on the river, to meet a fellow writer for lunch.

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A walk along the Palisades, on the western shore of the Hudson River

Here’s a mug for sale with the Countess’ immortal words…

What does your Saturday look like?

Ohhhhh, Canada! For Americans hoping to head north

In behavior, cities, domestic life, immigration, journalism, life, politics, U.S., urban life, US on March 13, 2016 at 4:00 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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Lake Massawippi, Quebec

It’s become something of a new anthem in itself…”I’m moving to Canada!” if Trump (or whichever Presidential candidate most terrifies/disgusts/depresses you) wins the nomination, or Presidency.

 

Not so fast!

 

I left Canada, where I was born (in Vancouver) and raised (in Toronto and Montreal) in 1988 to take a temporary editing job in Lebanon, New Hampshire.

Why there? I was madly in love with an American, a physician doing his medical residency at Dartmouth College after studying at McGill; we met when he was in Montreal. We later married — and divorced.

I came to the U.S. on an H1-B, a visa that’s difficult to get — the employer must advertise the position and be demonstrably unable to fill it with a qualified American. I initially came for three months, but had long wanted to come permanently, able to do so thanks to my mother’s American citizenship, which allowed me to obtain a “green card”, and become (o’ infelicitous phrase!) a “resident alien.”

I’ve lived in New York, in a suburban town near Manhattan, since 1989. It stuns me sometimes to realize it’s been so long, but I’m still here.

Like many Canadians, blessed with a terrific university education, (and zero debt upon graduation, thanks to low tuition costs), I felt, and was, able to compete with sharp-elbowed Americans all grasping for the various brass rings of publishing and journalism.

Here’s my recent story for Money.com about the savings one can realize by choosing to attend college in Canada.

I craved a larger place to test out my skills. (It’s not easy!)

My maternal grandmother and her antecedents were all American, as are many cousins, some of them highly accomplished, one an ambassador, another an archaeologist. I was curious to know more about the culture that had shaped them.

Canadians are deluged by American media so it’s not as though we don’t hear about the place, all the time.

I was also tired of constantly being mistaken for an American, a very odd experience from fellow Canadians, where being openly ambitious is a no-no.

Not in New York!

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New York — where I’ve lived since 1989

Canada is usually routinely invisible to American news outlets. We’re used to it.

But now that the 2016 Presidential election campaign has become a bizarre and frightening circus, many Americans are wondering if that nation to the North — the one they typically ignore in quieter times — is a better option.

 

Here’s my story for Salon and an excerpt:

While Canada recently welcomed 25,000 Syrian refugees, don’t be too quick to assume there’s an equal welcome for thousands of panicked Americans eager to flee a political scene they find abhorrent.

Read the Canadian government website for potential immigrants and you’ll find a list of exclusions, from health and financial problems to a DUI conviction. Yes, some of you will be able to obtain work visas, but many Canadian jobs pay less than you’re used to – and taxes are higher. You’ll also wait longer for access to some medical care.

Before assuming Canada is a default lifetsyle option, read its newspapers and listen to the CBC. Read our history and some of our authors, not just the ones you know, like Margaret Atwood or Alice Munro. Talk to people who live there. In other words, before you reassure yourself that if it comes to a Trump inauguration, you can pack your bags and head to Vancouver (maybe not Vancouver – CRAZY expensive to live there), you might want to take a minute to acquaint yourself with some specific attributes of that country to the north

 

I wrote the piece from a place of mixed emotions.

In some ways I miss Canada terribly — my oldest and dearest friends, my personal history, a political climate that doesn’t demonize women for wanting reproductive freedom or gays for wanting to marry.

I miss a shared culture and its references.

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Not to mention Justin Trudeau, our new 44-year-old Prime Minister.

But I also left for reasons.

This is the challenge of every ex-patriate and immigrant; we leave a place we know well and possibly love, throwing our fresh hopes onto a new land and its values, political and economic.

For the first time since moving here, I’ve wondered about moving back, even for a year. My American husband loves Canada and has portable skills. We’ll see.

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How about you?

 

Is moving to Canada an option you would ever consider?

 

Why?

 

A return to vinyl

In culture, design, domestic life, entertainment, music, Technology on March 9, 2016 at 2:19 am

By Caitlin Kelly

“The digital era gives us everything to own,  but nothing to touch” — Stephen Witt, writing in the Financial Times

 

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Do you own a collection of vinyl, aka records aka LP’s — short for long-playing?

I do, but hadn’t been able to listen to it for a long time after ditching my college-era sound system more than a decade ago. They sat, forlornly ignored, in a pile in the hall closet, and I longed to hear them: Genesis, lute music, koto music, Juluka, Joe Jackson, Rickie Lee Jones. All of it!

For Christmas this year, my husband finally bought us a turntable and all the digital stuff needed to listen to my music again and I’m so happy!

But it’s also been an odd and sometimes deeply poignant experience, because my vinyl, which I haven’t added to since the 1980s, is a mini time capsule. Listening to it whisks me back to my 20s and the jumble of complicated feelings — intense, professional ambition, wanderlust, moving within six years from Toronto-Paris-Toronto-Montreal-New Hampshire, unrequited love — I felt throughout most of that decade.

When I put on Hejira, Joni Mitchell’s 1976 classic, a gift from someone, I’m back in my second year of university, living alone in a tiny, ground-floor studio apartment in a not-very-good-neighborhood of Toronto. I’m scared, broke, starting to freelance for national publications, even as a sophomore attending a very demanding school full-time. I have an answering service.

I eat a lot of tunafish and can still remember all the clothing I then owned, as there was so little of it. Her songs of one-night stands echoed my life at the time, flailing about romantically and wondering when I’d ever feel safe.

I discovered the terrific South African band Juluka and have never tired since of their anthemic music. I went to see Johnny Clegg performing near me about two years ago and danced non-stop through the whole show.

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Listening to the legendary French chanteuse Barbara brings me back to the house lent to me by a friend there at the end of my Paris-based journalism fellowship, and where I savored her eclectic music collection. I had never heard of this singer, and love this live double album.

One of my favorites is American guitarist Leo Kottke, who I interviewed many years ago. His voice is a bit of a foghorn, but his music is timeless.

And Canadian Bruce Cockburn (pronounced Co-burn), who morphed from gentle folkie to rocker and is still performing  and touring 40 years into his career. I love his early work, like Salt, Sun and Time — and the first track, All the Diamonds (2:41), makes me cry every time.

If you live in Colorado, he’s playing two dates there later this month.

I’ve been a huge Genesis fan since high school — prog-rock anyone? If you’ve never heard their double album, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, give it a try. Many people have since heard of Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel, both of whom were initial members of this seminal group. It’s an astounding set of music, based on a story about Rael, a Puerto Rican kid living in New York City. Voted one of the best prog-rock albums ever by Rolling Stone and NME.

Anyone remember Kate Bush? Apparently thousands of people, as she performed 22 shows in London in 2014 — and her last ones had been in 1979. If you haven’t heard her music, check it out. I love Running Up That Hill — which was chosen for inclusion in the closing music of the 2012 Olympics in London.

And Joan Armatrading, another British singer, who recently played the music hall in my town.

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It’s a totally different physical experience playing vinyl again after years of cassettes, CDs and downloads. Only cassettes, like LPs, had actual sides, and you had to participate in turning them over, as I now have to do again. I love the rituals of turning on the turntable, sweeping the grooves smooth and gently lifting and dropping the needle.

Here’s a recent story about the best new record shops (!) in my hometown, Toronto. Can’t wait to get in there and stock up once again.

Do you own, love and play vinyl?

What are some of your old and new favorites?

 

Our attachment to objects

In antiques, art, beauty, behavior, culture, design, domestic life, life on February 14, 2016 at 1:48 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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Silly, perhaps, but I get such pleasure from using my red leather Filofax!

Why do we form our attachment to certain objects?

Whether something inherited from a beloved ancestor or a gift from a friend or our partner or spouse or something we buy that we’ve always wanted or have saved hard for.

I was listening to the terrific NPR radio show Radiolab as I drove into Manhattan recently to attend the Winter Antiques Show, arguably the best show in that city each year, and probably one of the world’s best places to look at — and buy –museum-quality objects of every possible material, design and period.

 

Radiolab’s episode was all about why and why we become emotionally attached to certain objects or why some of them fill us with awe.

One of my favorite travel moments was finally seeing the Bayeux Tapestry in Bayeux, Normandy, France. As someone passionate about early textiles, I had long wanted to see it in person, and so we did. Amazing! It’s actually embroidered on linen, 230 feet long, created in 1070.

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Another object, also red, that I enjoy. I found this little robot in the window of a children’s clothing shop in the 7th arrondissement in Paris

I grew up in a home filled with interesting art and objects, from Japanese prints and Eskimo sculpture, (now called Inuit), to a Picasso lithograph to my father’s own handiwork in oil, silver, lithography and etching.

I’ve also been lucky enough along the way to be able to buy some art and photographs and antiques, so our apartment is filled with reference books on art and design and a variety of decorative objects we enjoy using or looking at.

So attending the Winter Antiques Show was a special treat. Admission is $25 and it’s held at the Park Avenue Armory, an enormous red brick building on Park at 67th. It accepted 75 dealers from all over the world, from Geneva to London to California, some of whom wait for years to be allowed into the show.

And what a show!

 

Imagine being let loose in a great museum, able to touch, hold and examine closely the most exquisite objects — whether a fragment of an Egyptian sarcophagus or a 16th century atlas or a piece of porcelain made in 1740.

You can wander about with a glass of white wine or champagne, coming face to face with a boy’s sword from 1300, ($20,000), or an astrolabe made in 1540 for the Spanish king ($1.3 million). I assumed I wouldn’t be able to afford a thing, and many prices were four, five and six figures.

But, despite my worries, it never felt snooty.

Sure, there were women wearing furs and quite large diamonds and lots of cashmere; I wandered about in my black Gap cotton Tshirt and black leggings. I’ve studied antiques at several institutions and bought and sold them at auction, so I know what I’m looking at when it comes to several categories.

For me, it was absolute heaven, and most dealers were surprisingly kind and welcoming,  making time to explain their objects’ design and histories, like a $55,000 blue enamel pendant made by a famous British architect as a birthday gift.

It was originally found at a flea market!

Having bought some good things for low prices at auction and flea markets, I’m also always curious to find out their current market value and learn more about them. Dealers are de facto always passionate about their area of specialty, so no one seemed to mind my curiosity.

I even bought a photograph.

That was a huge surprise, and I hadn’t bought art in ages. But I discovered a Finnish photographer whose black and white work mesmerized me and the price was manageable — less than the cost of three months’ groceries.

Here’s a link to his work, and the gallery I bought it from.

One reason I so enjoy flea markets, auctions and antiques is making my own design choices. My maternal grandmother owned some very good things — but she never bothered to pay tax on her inherited fortune, so when she died almost all of it was sold to pay off those debts.

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This Tizio lamp is one of my favorite possessions. The light it casts is clean, bright and has two intensities. Because the base is so small, it’s versatile. The lamp can also be flipped upwards to cast reflected light instead.

I never saw a thing from either grandfather or my paternal grandmother and almost all my mother’s belongings were also sold quickly when she suddenly had to go into a nursing home.

Jose’s parents left him a few belongings, but we’re not a family buried in heirlooms.

Almost everything lovely in our home, then, is something we’ve bought, and an expression of our aesthetic and taste. My husband is a career photographer, (here’s his blog), so we have a growing collection of images, from one you might know (of JF Kennedy standing at the window of the Oval Office) to an early Steichen.

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These 3 pendants were given to me by my mother, a friend and my late grandmother. They have sentimental value to me as a result.

My favorite objects include:

my Canadian passport, a stuffed Steiff bear the length of my thumb, another small stuffed bear, a few good photographs, two silk Hermes scarves, a photo of my paternal grandfather, who I never met.

What — if any — objects do you treasure and why?

 

20 ways to survive winter, even enjoy it…

In behavior, domestic life, entertainment, life on February 1, 2016 at 11:57 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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Our view of the Hudson River

Some of you — lucky things! — live in much warmer places right now than frigid snowbound New York, (and much of the Northeastern U.S.)

For newcomers to this climate, like the refugee Syrians tobogganing in Canada, it can come as a hell of a shock.

I grew up in Toronto and Montreal, cities annually subjected to a sort of winter that makes finding ways to enjoy it essential. I thought I knew snowfall until I spent an adult winter (only one!) in Montreal, when it didn’t stop snowing for about 12 hours and I had to walk my poor little nine-pound terrier across the plowed mountains of snow on either side of the street.

I now live in a suburb of New York City, whose climate is similar, with many days and weeks of cold, ice and snow ahead.

My favorite blogger Chelsea Fuss is now living in Lisbon and recently posted a terrific list of 21 ways to enjoy winter, inspiration for this post.

Here are some of my tips for making cold, snowy, windy weather your friend, or at least less of a foe:

Moisturize!

Indoor heating parches your skin and lips, as do wintry winds. I keep a tub of lavender-scented body butter nearby and am now using it multiple times every day. A bottle of cuticle oil and a pair of cotton gloves to wear while it soaks in are good, too. Olive oil is a terrific moisturizer as well. I never leave the house now without a small tube of heavy-duty cream in my pocket or purse — and don’t forget to carry and use lip balm.

Sunblock

No matter that it’s cold, keep using your SPF.

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A silly winter selfie…

Sunglasses

The winter sun can be super-bright as it reflects off snow and ice. Not to mention brutal winds whipping into your eyes. Keep a great pair of sunnies handy.

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These are your best friend for navigating slippery, icy streets and paths. They slip over your shoes or boots to help grip the surface you’re walking on — falling on ice is no joke and emergency rooms are filled with broken bones this time of year.

Cashmere

Whether you’re wearing gloves lined with it, a hat or scarf or sweater made of it, it’s warm and light, saving extra bulk while keeping you super-warm. You can find it on sale and in some thrift and consignment shops and it wears well for years. (The photo of me above includes my favorite cashmere muffler, now a decade old or so.)

Warm Feet

Not sure if you want to spend $300, but these battery-heated socks are worn by the Austrian ski team, who surely know what cold feels like! Even indoors, warm toes will make you so much happier; I’m loving these gorgeous suede sheepskin slippers I received for Christmas this year — now on sale for $69 — in  jewel tones of burgundy, navy and tan.

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Greenery

Plants! Fresh flowers! We recently had two glorious purple hyacinths scenting our apartment and it felt like spring, even as the wind howled outside in frigid temperatures. Treat yourself to a bunch of tulips or a few green plants.

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Wear cheerful colors

I love buying winter gear when I’m home in Canada as the selection is so terrific. My winter wardrobe now includes deep purple nylon boots, purple mitts and cap, a soft orange winter coat and a neon yellow faux-fur muffler. Not to mention the turquoise coat I had custom-made a few years ago. No tedious gray, black or brown for me!

A goosedown duvet

I love ours. Nothing is more cozy — and lightweight warmth — than a down duvet. Choose a pretty cover and snuggle in.

Cook some comfort food

Everyone has their favorites, whether cassoulet, mac and cheese, risotto or baking up a batch of muffins. Cold winter afternoons are a perfect time to pull out your cookbooks and find a great new recipe to try; one of my standbys is Bistro Cooking.

Have friends over

If you can woo friends over for a visit, enjoy an afternoon of cards, conversation or binge-watching together. Get off the bloody phone and computer and hang out in the same room with someone whose company you really enjoy.

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This gorgeous path is a five-minute drive from our home…

Go for a walk

If you’ve bundled up enough and your gait is steady, you’ll find it invigorating. The winter landscape is so beautiful — elemental, graphic, monochromatic — and so dramatically different from every other season. After a snowfall, the lights and shadows across those white expanses are also spectacular. I went out right after the enormous snowstorm of Jan. 23 and found our local woods walkway largely empty and silent.

Take photos

Not easy when it’s freezing out, but take advantage of the lengthening days and seasonal beauty to capture some of it. Winter offers such spare, sere beauty: shadows on snow, the low, slanting light, a coral and gray sunset, the gleam of ice.

The most fun for me of the recent snowstorm battering the East Coast was seeing all the images on Twitter and Facebook of people enjoying it all — even snowmen in Times Square!

A fireplace!

Few things are as welcoming as a wood fire…One of my favorite travel memories was arriving at Le Germain in Montreal to see a fire blazing in their elegant glass fireplace. Here’s a list of 10 New York City restaurants with fireplaces, including my longtime favorite, Keen’s Chophouse, (steps from Macy’s!)

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A Babar hot water bottle cover!

A hot-water bottle

Classic. If your bed or sofa just isn’t warm enough, fill a hot-water bottle and tuck it at your feet. I loved this one, spotted in a Paris store window last January — still regretting not getting !

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Our (only) bathroom. I spend many happy hours in this tub!

A long soak

When we renovated our apartment and our tiny bathroom, a super-deep tub was top of my list. It’s 21 inches deep — hell to clean! — but covers every inch of me. Add plenty of bath oil and some glorious scent like jasmine or eucalyptus from a bottle like this one.

A spa or hammam day

One of my happiest ever travel memories — going back maybe 20 years — was a bitterly cold, dark, dreary winter’s day in Paris when I retreated to the steamy depths of a hammam in the 5th arrondissement. Hammams are what I miss most about Paris in the winter, a Middle Eastern tradition, a place to relax, refresh, enjoy a gommage (exfoliation), massage, sauna. Last January I tried one in the 18th and the steam room was so hot you couldn’t even see across the room! Here at home in Tarrytown, we’re  blessed to have a gorgeous spa literally next door to us in a luxury hotel. What a lovely way to while away a frosty Sunday afternoon. Treat yourself!

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Pleasure matters! A cup of tea at the Ritz in London

Drink lots of tea

One of my favorite beverages is hot tea in all its glorious forms — oolong, rooibos, jasmine, green, herbal. And never a lonely little teabag dumped into a cup of hot water, American style. Please! Invest in a proper teapot and loose tea or bags, whether fragrant Constant Comment or the tangy, smoky Lapsang Souchong. I love discovering great tea rooms whenever I travel — like Le Loir Dans La Theiere in Paris or Bosie in Manhattan, so nice that I visited it twice in one recent week. It’s easily missed, on a very short block in the West Village but well worth a visit.

If you’re in the West Village, head east or west a few blocks and stock up on tea at Porto Rico on Bleecker or McNulty’s on Christopher, each of them a tin-ceilinged 100+-year-old institution.

Not to mention, a pot of fragrant tea is so much more comforting than slugging yet another bottle of cold, boring water — we all need to stay hydrated in dry/heated homes and offices.

I love this bright red enamel teapot!

Maximize interior light

Look to pre-industrial historic interiors for how best to boost winter’s weak low natural light — add a few large mirrors near your windows, candles and reflective surfaces like glass, crystal, gleaming brass, silver or copper. These might be candlesticks or lamp-bases or decorative objects. Dust every lightbulb in your home and, if feasible and safe, up the wattage to make sure you’ve got sufficient light to read, cook and work by. Thoroughly clean, dust or replace your tired old lampshades. Throw open those curtains!

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New curtains for the sitting area…no more black bare window glass on cold winter nights

Make or order something charming for your home

By mid-winter we all start to feel a bit cabin feverish — and if your cabin/house/apartment/room is less than cosy it can get really depressing. Even if you’re in a tiny rental, find something affordable that will cheer you up every single time you look at it. Maybe it’s a stuffed animal (oh, go on!) or a floral tablecloth or a lovely throw that you crochet or knit yourself. It might be an antique bit of beauty or something shiny and modern.

Think of it as your gift to your home, a way to say thanks to it for sheltering you and keeping you warm, safe and dry through these long few months.

 

 

 

Taking inventory

In aging, behavior, business, culture, domestic life, life, women on January 27, 2016 at 2:09 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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Lincoln Center, one of my greatest pleasures of living in New York. More culture in 2016!

It’s a normal and essential activity in retail — where I worked part-time for 2.5 years from 2007 to 2009, (and the subject of my last book.) An entire team of strangers, all wearing matching golf shirts, would take over our store for a few days while we watched in awe at their efficiency.

It’s a good idea to take stock of our own lives as well. So often, we just keep stumbling, or racing, ahead, too exhausted or distracted to notice the patterns guiding our behaviors. We’re all creatures of habit.

And some need a reboot.

As we slip and slide into 2016 — I’m writing this post during the first huge snowstorm of the year — I’ve been thinking about what to keep, what to ditch and what to add to my life, whether personal or professional.

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Jose, at my Dad’s house

Keep

A happy marriage

Thank heaven! Jose and I met 16 years ago in March after he saw my profile and photo on aol.com (remember?), posted for a story I was writing about on-line dating for Mademoiselle magazine, (also long gone now.) My headline, truthfully, read “Catch Me If You Can.” He did. We would never have met otherwise — he lived in Brooklyn and I north of Manhattan. But we  both worked for The New York Times, he as a staff photographer and photo editor and I as a freelance writer.

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Our living room, reflected

A home we love

It’s been more than 20 years since I bought a one-bedroom apartment in a suburban town north of New York City, whose downtown towers we can see — 25 miles away — from our street. Luckily, we’ve had the funds to pay for high-quality renovations of our bathroom and kitchen and have made minor upgrades like a glass door to our balcony and lined custom-made curtains. As someone who spent ages 8-16 in boarding school and summer camp, sharing space with strangers in rooms whose design I couldn’t choose or alter to my taste, and a few years in fairly basic rental apartments, I love that we can create and enjoy such a pretty space.

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January 2015, meeting a young blog follower in Paris

Deep and abiding friendships

I’m so grateful for the friends I’ve made, worldwide, and for their support and belief in me, even when things are rocky; it’s the measure of true friendship that we don’t flee one another during the tough times. I love chatting with them on Facebook, Twitter and Skype, from Berlin to Dublin to New Zealand to Toronto.

The tedious-but-necessary habits of frugality

Ugh. So boring! But the only way I know to save money is to…save money. You can spend it or save it. If you never save, like millions of Americans who don’t or can’t, you can never, ever stop working and you live in daily terror of the next fiscal crisis. I’ve been working since I was 15 but didn’t start saving hard for a while. The only reason retirement is even an option is decades of living carefully and saving money.

Ditch

Toxic relationships

I recently resigned as co-chair of a volunteer board I had served on for seven years. One of its members, an imperious and demanding older woman, immediately showered me with  a Niagara of personal insults — and publicly — for my putatively disastrous tenure, however brief. QED, kids. Happy to flee such a swamp of nastiness. Same goes for anyone whose SOP is constant criticism, undermining, snark and whining. It’s exhausting to listen to, respond to and absorb.

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Who owns your time?

Miserable work

Last year was an eye-opener, as I took on a few projects that looked initially pretty alluring, clear-cut and decently paid. Nope! They blew up within weeks, costing me thousands of dollars in lost and anticipated income, not to mention the emotional wear and tear of working with people who were bullies or micro-managers. Not this year, thanks.

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Not going to feel as trapped as this guy…

Soul-sucking situations

Like that volunteer commitment above, which I struggled with for months before walking away. My nature is to be extremely tenacious, to keep going to the end, no matter how desperately unhappy I am along the way. That’s a decades-old habit and one it’s time to shed.

Worry

As my Jamaican-born friend said, “Don’t borrow trouble.” If it’s fixable, get it fixed. If it’s not, move on.

Self-doubt

I suspect many women struggle with this one. New motto? “Give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.”

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New horizons!

The unappreciative

My hourly fee for reading your work or advising you on how to improve it is $225 and I may raise it yet again this year. I prefer being generous, but after reading too many words unpaid, I’m weary of seeing young writers crow loudly on social media about their supposedly solo writing accomplishment — when in fact their weak first draft required  many revisions, and many invisible and unacknowledged editorial questions and suggestions.

All those bloody unread books

They clog up the shelves and prop up my ego — oooh, I feel so smart for having them around me for all these years. But I’ve never read so many of them and I doubt I ever will. Better to box them up and sell them, as we’ve done so in the past successfully. Allowing me to buy new books I’ll actually, you know, read.

Add

Healthier choices

More exercise. Fewer calories.

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Our visit to Donegal, June 2015

More travel!

I’m insatiable when it comes to exploring new places, while wanting to revisit old favorites like France, Ontario and California.

Professional help

Whether turning to our trusted career coach, accountant or lawyers, when I need help to quickly and effectively resolve a difficult or messy challenge, I’m bringing in the big guns. Yes, they cost money. So does every lost minute of my mental health and focus!

More face-to-face meetings

I’ve vowed to spend at least one day every week — that’s 52 meetings — sitting face to face across a table with someone, whether for work or friendship. In an era of social media , texting and mediated communication, I increasingly want to see people at close range, and have them see and know me, not some virtual notion of who I am. Intimacy is ever more a rare and precious commodity now and I’m determined to add more of it to my life.

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Attending more cultural events

A mix of live music, dance, theater. Art galleries and museums, as every time I do so, I come home refreshed and enlightened and inspired. My default choice, always, is going to the movies, and my best weeks I might see several films in the cinema. But I need to be more adventurous.

Music lessons

Gulp. Terror! I don’t even  know how to read music, but a friend has lent me (!) a practice cello, now standing in a corner of the living room and making me feel guilty for not getting started.

I loved this inspiring blog post about choosing a theme for your year.

How about you?

What’s on your keep/ditch/add list these days?

 

 

 

“North of Normal”: Q and A with best-selling Canadian author Cea Person

In behavior, books, children, culture, domestic life, family, journalism, life, parenting, women on January 13, 2016 at 3:03 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

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Sometimes you read a book and think…how did the author survive this?

The best-selling Canadian memoir “North of Normal” was that book for me in late 2015. I immediately started following its author, Cea Person, on Twitter.

I told her how much I admired her memoir and her ability to survive a childhood spent living in tipis in the Canadian wilderness with a family with very few boundaries.

An only child, she also had few friends and very little contact with others beyond the chaotic and isolated world her family created.

Cea, whose book was optioned as a possible film, and whose next book, “Nearly Normal” will be published by Harper Collins in early 2017, very kindly agreed to do a Q and A with me for Broadside, which we conducted via email.

When did you first decide you would write this book?

I first decided in my teens that I would write it — one day. I knew I had a crazy story to tell, and I just trusted that the right time to write it would reveal itself. I was finally prompted to start writing it at age 37, when my mother was ill with cancer and my marriage was falling apart. I knew I had to look into my past to find answers to my present.

(Her book is somewhat similar in tone and experience to the American best-seller The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls.)

Did Glass Castle strike you as a better/worse/wholly different sort of childhood than yours?

I think our childhoods were equally hard in that we had to struggle to have dignity and get our basic needs met every day, and to try to make our parents realize how misguided they were.

Jeanette had siblings, which in a way was probably both a comfort and added burden to her troubles, whereas I was on my own — so I think we were probably equally challenged. I would love to chat with her one day, but haven’t had the opportunity yet.

Was it hard to remember and to recreate your early life?

Yes, I had a hard time with some memories, my mother and family members helped me fill in a lot of details and straighten out the chronology before they died. I also used photos, but I didn’t keep journals. Also, I used storytelling devices to recreate some scene details and dialogue, as remembering every detail is of course impossible.

Did you ever study writing?

I did not take any writing classes — I just wrote and rewrote my book (about 25 times!) until I got it right! I would not recommend this method to others who want to write their memoir, however😉

 What other books like that one were helpful in conceiving of and structuring your own narrative?

My structure and narrative came from many drafts of trial and error, trying many different voices and structures until I found the right one. I was a lot like a person feeling my way through the dark with no idea where I was going! But I must say that all that experimentation really benefitted me in the end, because I really know what does and doesn’t work for me now — and I was able to complete my second book in a fraction of the time it took me to write my first.

I remember being greatly inspired by Angelas Ashes, White Oleander and Shes Come Undone. As I read them, I dreamed that I could one day write a book that would move people as much as I’d been touched by them.

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 Can you describe the writing process — how did you decide what to include and what to exclude? It’s a tough job with memoir to know what’s (most) important to the reader as it may have felt most important to us, the writer.

For me, this was by far the most challenging part of writing. In the beginning, I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing, because I didn’t know where I was going to end up.

This is key: you should know where you will end up before you begin. Once I decided that my story would go right up to present day, things became a lot easier. Deciding that three-quarters of the story would be devoted to my childhood was also an important decision, because it determined the pacing.

I also knew that I had to begin with my grandparents’ history before I was born, because that information was critical to the reader understanding their motivation for moving to the wilderness. After that, I literally just made a long list, chronologically and in point form, of all the scenes that I wanted to include in my book.

Then I asked myself how and why each scene was critical to the themes of my story. If I couldn’t find a connection, I either scratched it or found a way to make a connection to my story in the way I wrote that scene. As I wrote each into my book, I would simply cross it off my list. This list waxed and waned as I wrote, but it kept my vision of what I wanted to convey to the reader clear. The scenes at first were pretty bare-bones, and I went back and filled them in and connected them to each other in later drafts.

For me it’s about keeping the momentum going and not allowing negative self-talk to sabotage my process . . . so if my excitement about a scene starts to wane, I’ll move on to another one that I’m excited about and go back to the dud scene later, with a better attitude.

 How did you find an agent?

I actually queried for agents four times over the six years it took me to write the book. On my second round of query letters I actually got one, but he wasn’t able to sell the book. I went back and rewrote it many times after that, and when I finally did get it right I had offers from five agents. After so much rejection, it was exhilarating! I got my dream agent, Jackie Kaiser, who has been the best thing to happen to my writing career.

 Was this a difficult book to sell?

As I mentioned, I had some false starts and difficult times when I wondered if I should just give up. The whole writing/querying/selling process was extremely hard to go through. But I always had this feeling that if I just stuck with it, I would find success.

When I finally got my agent, she sold it in Canada within 24 hours and then in the US in a bidding war between three publishers. So, I have experienced the full range of writer’s dismay and joy!

How long did you take to write it — and what were some of the toughest challenges in doing so?

Six years of writing, and besides the challenges mentioned above, there was the tough part of wondering how my family would react to it, reliving difficult memories, and mostly just finding the time to write at all.

When I started writing it I had a toddler, no childcare, and a business I ran from home, and when I finished writing it I had three small children and no childcare. I wrote the book in ten-minute increments and during stolen moments on the weekends when my husband would take the kids to the park for a few hours. I still think it’s amazing that I got it written at all!

 What sort of reader reaction did you get and do you still? Do you get personal emails from people with similar untold stories?

The reader reactions have been by far the most amazing and rewarding part of this whole experience. I’ve received hundreds of emails from people who related to my story in one way or another—the mental illness, counterculture family, young single mother, little girl who never fit in—all of these are elements that people have related to.

I’ve also been shocked by the number of people out there who’ve told their own stories to me that are similar to mine. And I’ve been humbled by the friends and acquaintances I assumed had led “normal” lives who revealed their own troubled pasts to me after reading my book. It’s funny, because when my book first came out I was expecting some negativity, but it’s been completely positive. My readers were my inspiration for writing my second book.

 Were you at all concerned (many memoirists’ fear) how your own family would react? How did they?

Of course it was a concern to me. But I also knew that I had to tell my truth, and that if you tell the truth fully and show your characters as human, both good and bad, there isn’t much people can get upset about. I think that if we are upset about being written about, we should probably take a look at ourselves and the choices we’ve made and why.

In my case, because it took so long for my book to be written and published, most of my family had passed away by the time it came out. My father was the only family member who was in the book that was still alive and/or that I was in touch with, and he embraced it wholeheartedly after he got past his guilt. There have been a lot of people who knew me and my family when I was young, who stayed with us in the tipis or knew my grandfather in more recent years. I was afraid they would find my writing about my past too unvarnished, but they have come forward to tell me how well I captured the Persons in all their strengths and weaknesses. It’s been amazing.

 What were your happiest memories of that childhood?

Riding my stick horses through the meadows, close moments with my mother and grandparents when the rest of the world wasn’t yet a concern to me.

Your worst?

The constant instability I felt, never knowing what was coming next, fear of losing my mother to the cops or to her boyfriends, the open sex and drugs, feeling I didn’t fit in, feeling like a freak from the wilderness, knowing my mother and I were reliant on her boyfriends for our survival, wondering how I would ever escape and find the life I wanted.

 What strengths do you think it gave you long-term?

Definitely resiliency and courage.

I’m very proactive — if something isn’t working for me, I change it. I’m always striving for something better for myself and my family. And I have a deep appreciation and gratitude for the life I’ve created now — the stability, my wonderful husband and children and friends.

Wisdom can be slippery for me, because the little realizations I have don’t always stick with me long enough for me to change my habits, and I think a lot of my current happiness comes from the reality I’ve created for myself rather than the lessons I’ve learned from my past.

I don’t know that there’s any one thing that I know for sure, except that I value courage, strength and the ability to laugh at life and oneself perhaps more than anything else in people. I have learned that I can do anything if I want it badly enough — I wanted to have a normal life, to have a modeling career, a happy marriage and to write my book, and I achieved all that by being tenacious.

I have my grandfather to thank for that — he succeeded at the lifestyle he wanted against all odds, and though I wanted the exact opposite of him, it was his courage that inspired me. Also that we so often repeat the patterns of our family members despite our best efforts, and recognizing those patterns are key to changing them — but they are sneaky!

Thank you, Cea!

Your book is extraordinary and I’m so grateful you made time to talk with me for Broadside.

The immigrant’s dilemma — where’s “home”?

In behavior, domestic life, immigration, life, travel, U.S., urban life, US on January 10, 2016 at 1:10 am

By Caitlin Kelly

New York -- where I've lived since 1989

New York — where I’ve lived since 1989

Have you seen the new film “Brooklyn”? From the excellent novel by U.S.-based Irish writer Colm Toibin.

I saw it this week and was once more struck by the question of what’s home for those of us who have chosen to leave behind the country of our birth.

We didn’t flee in terror, so we’re not refugees who simply can’t stay in our country of origin, and leave knowing that we might never be able to return.

If we’re really lucky, we arrive in our new country with health, some savings, a good post-secondary education and skills, speaking the new language and with friends, relatives and/or a decent job awaiting.

 

In the film “Brooklyn”, young Eilis, the heroine, leaves the small Irish town of Enniscorthy for Brooklyn, with a job as a sales clerk in a department store arranged for her. A local priest also pays for her night classes in accounting.

It’s a lovely film, and one I enjoyed — but it is a golden story, and a much smoother arrival than many face.

Lake Massawippi, Quebec, one of our favorite spots to which we keep returning

Lake Massawippi, Quebec, one of our favorite spots to which we keep returning

I left my native Canada in 1988 to move from Montreal to small town New Hampshire, legally allowed to do so because of my mother’s American citizenship, which gave me access to a “green card”, the coveted right to live and work legally in the U.S.

I arrived in New York in 1989 with the man I would later marry — and soon be divorced from — with no job or contacts or advanced degree, which I would discover most my competitors in journalism possessed.

Then I weathered three recessions and an industry that has lost 40 percent of its workforce since 2008. Reinvention once is challenging enough. Post-secondary education in the U.S. is often extremely costly, and student loans are the only debt you can never discharge through declaring bankruptcy; I recently interviewed a young woman who owes more than $200,000 — for an undergraduate degree at a non-Ivy League school, a choice she now bitterly regrets.

I’ve been back to Canada many times since then, sometimes as often as four to six times a year. I’m not super-homesick, but it’s an easy drive for us, and I still have very close friends back in Ontario.

Every visit leaves me with a mixture of regret and relief. Regret for leaving friendships of a depth I’ve never found here and a kind of social capital impossible to achieve in a nation with 10 times the population of Canada.

But also relief for the option of another place to be, to try new things — like becoming a nationally ranked saber fencer and studying interior design — the freedom to create a new identity. I know I’ve done things while living in the States I’d never have ventured at home.

(I’ve also lived in England, France and Mexico, albeit for shorter periods of time.)

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The oddest moment for me is when I head north by train, because as it’s crossing the bridge high above the Niagara River we’re briefly suspended between the United States and Canada, their respective flags visible as well as the clouds of mist rising from Niagara Falls.

What better metaphor?

In the film, Eilis is initially wracked with homesickness; small-town Ireland, though, is so much more different from Brooklyn than big-city Toronto, where I grew up. It was no huge shock for me to arrive in New York, having visited many times before.

It was a shock for me to adjust to some American ways of behaving, from the relentless pressure to be real friendly all the time (exhausting!) to the omnipresence of privately-owned guns, (the subject of my first book.)

I still have difficult processing, (which I now pronounce as prawh-cess, not the Canadian pro-cess), the values of a country where everyone, everywhere, exhorts one another to “Have a good day!” — while millions of people own guns and many people now fear teaching in any classroom (thanks to so many college campus shooting massacres and that in Newtown, CT) or going to the movies (ditto) or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.p

Pre-emptive pleasantry?

And the poverty rate of 18 percent — 12 percent in Canada (OECD figures) — is depressing as hell to me.

The level of poverty in the U.S. is deeply shocking -- given the astonishing wealth here

The level of poverty in the U.S. is deeply shocking — given the astonishing wealth here

Watching a movie about immigration to the U.S., (my favorite of the few on that subject is the 2009 indie film, Amreeka), suddenly brought up a host of feelings I usually keep under wraps;  when you move to another country, you’re expected to fit in, to adopt its ways, to salute its flag and (in the U.S.) recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which I still don’t know or do.

In “Brooklyn” Eilis flees a tiny, gossipy town with few job prospects — the same reason I left Toronto, a city of 2.6 million now.

I recently had lunch there with a young friend, 32, who is super-smart and has a fantastic work history in his field. Yet he echoed what I keep hearing from people decades younger than I there, a deep aversion to taking risks. As one friend, also in her 30s, reminded me, if you misjudge the size or enthusiasm of the Canadian marketplace for your idea, there’s nowhere to hide your failure. With only a few major cities, where to go next?

And failing, getting fired, losing market share — these remain shameful in Canada for many people. That, in itself, discourages innovation, let alone the social and financial capital it takes to move ahead.

In the States?

Hah! People like Martha Stewart go to prison and come out unscathed, returning to their wealth and social circles. It can create a culture of lying and deception, (see: New York Legislature and its parade of felony convictions for corruption), but also encourages risk taking.

Lincoln Center, one of my greatest pleasures of living in New York

Lincoln Center, one of my greatest pleasures of living in New York

If dozens, if not hundreds, of people hadn’t been willing to take chances on me here, I’d have nothing to show for my own risk in coming here. I’m always grateful for that, and to them.

 

When you leave your home country behind, you also lose — especially in pre-Internet, social media days — the intimacy of your friends and family’s lives, all those births and christenings and showers and weddings you probably can’t afford the time or money to celebrate in person.

When I married for the second time, I chose to do so on a small island in the harbor of Toronto, a place filled with happy memories and the people I still feel closest to, even decades later.

I’ve made some friends in New York, but few, and several friendships here I thought would — as my Canadian relationships have — last for decades ended abruptly, three of them within a few years.  That’s a cultural divide I’ve never accepted or been able to successfully breach.

In Toronto on our last visit, I sat with a friend from university and her 23-year-old daughter, who I’d first met as a bump in her mother’s belly at my first wedding and only once more when she was 13. Now she’s an accomplished actress.

Another classic NYC pleasure. It can't be all work-all-the-time!

Another classic NYC pleasure. It can’t be all work-all-the-time!

There are some immigrants whose lives explode into massive wealth and success when they choose the U.S. Others find the grinding lack of social safety nets and ever-shaky job market, (zero job security, few unions, low wages, extraordinary competition), simply too much and return ‘home” once more.

If you have changed countries for a new one — especially the U.S. — how does/did that feel?

What have been your biggest adjustments?

My first book, published in 2004. As someone who grew up with no exposure to guns, I was deeply intrigued by this most American of obsesssions

My first book, published in 2004. As someone who grew up with no exposure to guns, I was deeply intrigued by this most American of obsesssions

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