30 great holiday gifts — 2022 edition!

By Caitlin Kelly

The gift list returns!

As someone who’s been assembling this annual holiday gifts list for years, I love sharing it with you and seeing which items start to gain traction.

I get no income from this at all, just the fun and pleasure of curating it.

The list includes small indie makers, a few large companies and offerings from Europe and North America – from Scotland to San Francisco.

If you’re ordering from afar, order soon!

I’ve also chosen many less expensive suggestions this year, as inflation is biting us all so hard already. Only one is near four figures and most are $300 or less, several at $20-60.

I refuse to use Amazon since I loathe Bezos’ labor policies. So every choice is something to order, ideally, directly from that vendor.

I don’t offer specific options for tech, for kids or teenagers – sorry! – but choose items I think would delight anyone stylish, probably ages 16 to 90.

The list includes art, homewares, purses, scarves, winter wear, jewelry, slippers, books and more.

I hope you find some great choices!

And away we go…

I discovered this 16-year-old store, as I often find so many great ideas, in the weekend Financial Times. Roam around their stylish website for all sorts of lovely things. I really liked this small (four by six inches) print of a bird hovering over a rural landscape, easy to frame inexpensively as well. $48

Nothing nicer than a cozy knitted hat for winter, this one striped, made in Nepal. $20

An odd choice but possibly perfect for the right person – a lightweight, strong storage box, useful for kitchen utensils, art supplies, desk things, a kid’s bedroom?  It comes in orange, deep blue or gray. $65

This British website is brimming with lovely items, many for tabletop and entertaining. I love these two tiny owls. $36.70

It’s not easy to find lovely, unusual earrings at a good price, that use real jewels. I think these, brushed sterling with four tiny sapphires in each, are terrific value and very stylish. Sold by classic San Francisco retailer Gump’s. $275

Another pair of small stud earrings made by the same designer, in splurge-y diamonds and gold. If our book sells, I might do it! $990

Diamond Charm Tiny Stud Earrings

Also from Gump’s four elegant small canape plates $110

A gorgeous wool throw – in black, brown and white checks $165

I found this amazing designer, Rowena Dugdale, who lives and works in Wester Ross Scotland, on Twitter. For 14 years, she’s been making unusual and very beautiful small purses and change purses using digitally printed images of nature, and at extremely reasonable prices.

Small purse $27.50

https://www.redrubyrose.com/product/velvet-leaf-coin-purse-one-off-for-cloth20

Her silk kiss-lock purses are $84.50. Possibly perfect for your fussy teenager?

Hard to go wrong with a pair of suede and wool slippers – these, for women, come in black, tan and a gorgeous bright purple, from the Garnet Hill catalog (which has lots of other great choices!) from Uggs. $100

But oooooh lala, this cardi is so sexy and pretty and very high on my wish list! From cool-girl brand Sezane, whose Paris-inflected styles are utter catnip for me – feminine but not twee and whose prices seem fair to me. This sweater comes in 17 colors and I’d love about five of them! $120

https://www.sezane.com/us/product/gaspard-jumper/ecru-gold#size-XXS

Sort of Goth. Sort of High Victorian. Imagine it filled with bright orange flowers! Tall navy blue pitcher entwined in the coils of a coiled serpent, from the high-drama creator House of Hackney. From Anthropologie. $68

For him! This is one of my favorite indie retailers, Sid Mashburn, offering all sorts of classic but non-boring menswear. This burnished leather card case is stunning, the sort of thing you might bring home from Florence. In seven colors. $125

Also, for the guy in your life who loves cars – this coffee table book of stories and images of legendary cars and their owners. $45

I love an old-school badger brush and razor shaving set — this one is elegant and classic, from Caswell-Massey. $225.

Love this graphic black and white wool scarf, a nice choice for men or women (and non-binary folk!) From the fantastic gift shop of the Metropolitan Museum of NY. $95

https://store.metmuseum.org/albers-tents-wool-scarf-80056183

Or this one, in black and gray wool, with cool Peruvian patterns. $95

https://store.metmuseum.org/peruvian-patterns-wool-blend-scarf-80054180

Check out these little gems – Tiffany favrile style round glass magnets $22

https://store.metmuseum.org/louis-c-tiffany-favrile-domed-magnets-80011828

This Kiddush cup is very beautiful, by the talented metalsmith Michael Aram $105

https://store.metmuseum.org/michael-aram-pomegranate-kiddush-cup-80055448

The classic cat mug! $22

https://store.metmuseum.org/the-favorite-cat-mug-80054844

These kitchen knives are gorgeous – deep blue handles. I bet a new homeowner/fresh grad would love them $159.95

https://www.crateandbarrel.com/cangshan-kita-blue-2-piece-starter-set/s216389

You can’t always get what you want…but how about this gorgeous coffee table book about the Rolling Stones? $80

On the grimmest, greyest winter’s day, a splash of deep purple is just the ticket! Cashmere scarf, unisex. Comes in 13 other colors! $170

I discovered this website, Inoui, and want everything on it! The name means “extraordinary” in French — and it really is. It’s quintessentially French, with fantastic color combinations and classical designs but a great sense of playfulness. There are leather handbags, laptop cases, throws, scarves and even super-stylish shopping totes. This 25-inch square silk square scarf comes in four stunning color combinations. $120

https://inoui-editions.com/en-us/product/square-65-turgot-green-ca16tur10

I love this pretty 8 by 12 inch china tea tray from uber-chic designer La Double J, and appreciate the stylish exuberance of everything she produces – roam around! Perfect for afternoon tea for two or an elegant breakfast in bed. $250

https://www.ladoublej.com/en/homeware/home-decor/trays/tea-for-two-tray-libellula-DIS0006CER001LIB0003.html

Salad servers in olive green, from my favorite cutlery company, Sabre, and one of my favorite Manhattan shops, Il Buco Home $65

An hour of my coaching, for you or any ambitious writer of journalism, content and non-fiction. $250

http://caitlinkelly.com/coaching

These fun winter neckwarmers from one of my favorite athleticwear companies, Title Nine. Six versions! $30

https://www.titlenine.com/p/handcrafted-womens-neckwarmer/711827.html

Baby (and adult) elephants! Back again – a former member of the holiday gift list. A long-established trust that allows people to sponsor the care of an orphaned elephant, or several. $50 and up

https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/orphans

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 ole cultural code-switch

By Caitlin Kelly

One of the pleasures/ challenges of changing countries a few times is learning a whole new vocabulary and set of cultural/political/economic/historical references.

This always strikes me when I visit Canada, where I lived ages 5 to 30, and feel comfortable sharing references there that my American friends would never get — the same issue applies when I cross the border and head back to New York.

Canada

poutine

pouding chomeur

Tourtiere

a two-four

pogey

RRSP

GIC

a riding

Mounties (and stuffed teddy bears that look like them)

an MP

Public Lending Rights Program

The Canada Council

OSAP

OAS

CPP

NDP

The Privy Council

portage (verb and noun)

how to pronounce Yonge Street

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

peace, order and good government

QC

Crown land

post-secondary education

Two Solitudes

cultural mosaic

Order of Canada

to deke

Tim Horton’s

CBC

Je me souviens

Hochelaga

Upper/Lower Canada

Getting screeched

Algonquin Park

Queen Victoria’s birthday holiday

wearing a poppy pin on November 11

In Flanders Fields poem

Banting and Best

U.S.

Emmett Till

Lincoln bedroom

The people’s house

GOP

the Dems

gerrymandering

Final Four

NCAA

CD

Medicaid

Medicare

SNAP

WIC

ACLU

NPR

the BQE/LIE/ Route 66

co-pay

deductible

pre-existing condition

District Attorney

SAT/ACT

AP classes

a full ride scholarship

Pell grants

FAFSA

life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

a Hail Mary pass

calling an audible

the thrice-folded American flag presented at military funerals

OK, what did I forget?

Do you have a shadow life?

I love having this Inuit print over our bed. A daily taste of home and its distinct arts.

By Caitlin Kelly

Not sure what else to call it.

Maybe a ghost life.

I don’t mean you’re haunted.

It’s a conversation I’ve had with other people who chose to emigrate, leaving a country behind where they likely grew up and were educated, leaving behind easy access to their childhood home(s) and earliest memories. In my case, leaving behind a thriving career as a reporter and writer, since I moved to New York at 30 — with no job, no connections and no American educational credentials, (in a city where Ivy League degrees proliferate.) It took me six months to find my first job, as senior editor of a national magazine, aided by my French and Spanish skills.

I’ve now lived in New York longer than I lived in my native Canada.

Some of my Canadian friends, some who stayed home their whole lives, have risen to stunning heights of achievement, one of whom runs the CBC; she and I used to argue ferociously as university freshmen in our philosophy class. Maybe not surprisingly, we followed oddly similar paths, from Toronto to Montreal to New York, and I kept bumping into her along the way.

If you spend your entire career in the same Canadian city, you don’t have to re-invent or explain to Americans that U of T is not Texas but Toronto…

Interviewing GP Dr. Margaret Tromp, President of the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada, in Picton, Ontario, Sept. 2019.

I recently met up with a fellow Canadian who’s also lived in New York for decades, also a writer and editor.

And, as we did, I guess predictably, we wondered what would life be like had we never left — who (if anyone) would we have married? Where would we be living? Would we, as most of my friends now do, head for the cottage every weekend between May and October? Would we attend our high school and university events and reunions? Would we have regretted not leaving and trying for our American dream?

There are no do-overs!

And yet she and I actually own our own NY homes, apartments, in a place people assume is only for millionaires — we were both very lucky to buy ours decades ago and each of us aided by an inheritance. There is nothing anywhere in our native Ontario now we could afford to buy, including in remote northern towns. That decision to stay in NY, alone, has proven a lucky and fortunate one.

We don’t regret our move, and both love living here; unlike many parts of the United States now, New York City and environs remains largely diverse, liberal, full of work opportunities and interesting, high achieving creatives. People are not legally allowed to own or carry guns; (there has been a frightening uptick in stabbings and shootings in the city, especially on public transit.)

Lacing up my skates atop Mt. Royal, Montreal in Feb. 2019, our last visit

I left Canada for a variety of reasons:

  • I could, thanks to my mother’s American citizenship. I was able to easily obtain a “green card”, to become what’s now as an alien (!) I renew the card every decade.
  • Canada has only a few major cities, and I’m usually a pretty urban person. They’re very different in character, history and climate and the only truly affordable one, Montreal, has brutally long winters and, even for a bilingual Anglophone reporter, limited longterm job prospects.
  • Half my family — my mother’s side — is American, some highly accomplished. I was always intrigued by them and their lives. Ironically, I never see any of them and am only in touch with one cousin, in California, in her late 80s.
  • I wanted to see if I had the skills to compete in a larger, tougher place. Canada, with only 38 million people, has the population of New York State — and one-tenth of the U.S.
  • I had always wanted to live in New York; I’ve lived, instead, in a small historic town 25 miles north of it, its towers visible from our street and easily reached within 45 minutes’ train or drive. Works for me.
  • I was bored of Toronto and its intensely vicious media gossips. I knew I couldn’t take another few decades genuflecting to the same half dozen people in power. New York journalism has plenty of its own drama, but — as I like to joke — I’ve clawed my way to the bottom of the middle. I have enough access to the people I want, but I remain powerless enough to avoid attack, slander and sabotage. A few people even lied and gossiped about me in Toronto; if that was the price of local success (as it was), thank God I had good options to leave and never return.
  • I wasn’t emotionally close to my father and his wife or to my mother, so no need to stick around for emotional reasons.

We head back to Canada today for a visit to Charlevoix, a region on the north shore of the St. Lawrence — ironically with lots of local advice from a fellow Canadian I knew when we were both baby reporters in the 80s, who became a U.S. network news reporter for decades. Then four days in Montreal, seeing friends and eating at our favorite restaurants and savoring sights both new and deeply familiar — I lived there for a year at 12 and for 18 months at 30 as a reporter for the Gazette.

I love speaking and hearing French, seeing familiar foods in the grocery stores — butter tarts! Shreddies cereal! — and once more being around people with whom I can share political and cultural references, even specific words, without explanation. Because, for anyone who’s an immigrant, there’s a lot your friends, neighbors and colleagues in your new country will never understand or even ask you about.

We’re very fortunate that Canada’s border is within 5.5 hours’ drive so, when and if I want to go back, it’s easy. That, or a 90-minute flight. I do miss it and I miss our friends especially.

Have you lived outside your native land?

Is this a question for you as well sometimes?

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?

Welcome to Usetaville

Our apartment building in Cuernavaca, Mexico where I lived at 14

By Caitlin Kelly

At a certain point in your life — after a few decades on earth, and especially if you know a specific location really well — you still see, and fondly remember, so many things that “used to” be there, hence usetaville.

In our Hudson Valley town, this includes long-gone antique stores, including the just-closed E-bike shop that used to be an antique store, the art gallery that used to be Alma Snape flowers and the photo studio that was once Mrs. Reali’s dry cleaners.

There’s a growing tree across our street I’ll never like as much as the towering weeping willow that once stood there, also long gone.

Of course, change is inevitable!

Businesses come and go — so many killed by the loss of customers in this pandemic — and in cities where every inch of real estate has commercial value, almost everything is up for grabs…the former three-chair hair salon I loved for many years is now part of the growing empire of two very successful local restaurateurs and the lovely cafe across Grove Street, formerly Cafe Angelique, has been a Scotch & Soda (a Dutch owned clothing chain) for a long time now. Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village of New York City, once a treasure trove of cool indie shops, is legendary for its rapid store turnover.

I enjoy reading the writing of British Airways pilot Mark VanHoenacker, who wrote recently in The New York Times about going back to see the interior of his childhood home in Massachusetts; he now lives in London.

A childhood home — if we lived in one house or apartment long enough and especially if our family has since moved out — may enclose a nearly undimmed set of early memories, as if its walls formed a time capsule we sealed behind us as we left. And if the possibility of retracing my flight from this Pittsfield house has both troubled and fascinated me for many years — if it’s what recently compelled me to write “Imagine a City,” a memoir and travelogue, and if even now I can’t decide whether to climb this darned staircase — well, my favorite stories remind me that I’m not alone as I grapple with the meaning of return.

I recall a scene from Marilynne Robinson’s novel “Home,” a modern rendition of the parable of the prodigal son, in which Jack — like me, the son of a clergyman — writes a letter: “Dear Father, I will be coming to Gilead in a week or two. I will stay for a while if that is not inconvenient.” After Jack walks into the kitchen for the first time in 20 years, his sister tells him, “The cups are where they always were, and the spoons.” I think, too, of Henry James’s Spencer Brydon in “The Jolly Corner,” who after 33 years abroad returns to his childhood home in New York and an encounter with a ghostly self who never left.

I haven’t been back to my earliest childhood home — on Castlefrank Road in Toronto — in many, many years. It was very big house with a long deep backyard and I still remember well my playmates who lived on either side of us. But I left it when my parents split up when I was six or seven and we moved into an apartment downtown. As a teenager I lived with my father for four years in a white house on a corner, easily visible when driving in Toronto, but have never asked to see it again inside.

So many changes!

I suspect these sorts of memories are very powerful if you spent a decade or more in the same home and if you liked living there. When we visit Montreal, our hotel windows overlook Peel and Sherbrooke — my home for a year at 3432 Peel Street in a brownstone — gone! My visits to Ben’s delicatessen a few blocks south — gone! But — hah! — the glorious Ritz Carlton is still there; we used to have Friday night dinners there when my mother hosted a TV talk show.

I lived for all off four months in an apartment in Cuernavaca, Mexico with my mother — and decades later went back to see how much it had changed, including the empty field next to it.

Not at all!

I had some difficult moments living there, but it was very good to revisit the place and see it again.

I’ve been back to my high school and university campus, both in my hometown of Toronto, and even once revisited my former summer camp, the one I attended every year ages 12-16 and loved.

Our town also holds a few 18th century buildings, including a stone church from 1685, the second oldest in New York state.

Do you have specific places that you remember well — now long gone?

Have you ever revisited your childhood home(s)? How was it?

Summer’s simple pleasures

By Caitlin Kelly

As summer winds down — please, no more 95 degree days! — a few pleasures we’ll miss in the frigid days of winter:

Peaches so juicy you have to eat them over the sink

Gardens bursting with color and produce

Farmer’s markets

Bare arms

Showing off a pretty pedicure

Camping

Stargazing without freezing!

Summer corn

Dressing in a T-shirt, shorts and sandals or a simple dress. No layers! No fuss!

Enjoying your patio, balcony, verandah or backyard

Longer days

The soothing breeze of a gentle fan

The squeak/slam of a screen door

For fortunate children, time away at summer camp, making new friends, learning new skills

Splash pads!

Lounging by a pool

Hanging out on the beach with a great book or a few friends

Visiting an amusement park

Eating ice cream with slightly less guilt about all those calories

Jose’s fabulous gimlets!

Snoozing in the sun

The gentle clinking of ice cubes in every drink

Making and enjoying sun tea

The gentle rustling of wind in the trees

The scent of sun-dried pine needles

Bouquets cut from your garden

Plunging into a cool lake from the sun-warmed wood of a dock

Barbecues

Vacation

A great bathing suit or pair of swim trunks

Tanned toes!

Getting to know your neighbors at the apartment pool

Outdoor movies in city parks

Rafting down a river

Pretty sandals

Snoozing in a hammock

Making s’mores over a campfire

A cool breeze

Spending the day in your bathing suit or swim trunks

Living in Birks

I loved these Birks! Bought them, my first pair, in Berlin. Those gorgeous gleaming

cobblestones are in the coastal Croatian town of Rovinj, known as little Venice

And, of course, spectacular sunsets

What will you miss about summer?

No more yelling!

If you ever watch the HBO series Succession, here’s one very toxic boss, Logan Roy

By Caitlin Kelly

My favorite place in the suburban New York county where I’ve lived for decades is an indie art film house; some weeks I’m up there multiple times to see a film. I love movies!

Its programming director was recently fired for yelling at his staff, leaving one in tears.

There have always been bad-tempered toxic bosses, but in some places there’s now (happily!) a diminished appetite for them — as several high profile male NPR radio hosts have also learned in recent years, also fired for abusing their staff.

I welcome this, as someone who grew up in an emotionally abusive family and then worked in journalism, one of the most dysfunctional of industries; with a constant oversupply of eager job-seekers, nasty bosses can thrive and rise, thrive and rise, usually without any form of accountability. If they keep losing talented staff, well, hey, whose fault is that?

Having also survived years at boarding school, also being yelled at by old women who were our housemothers, I have little appetite for people unable to hold their damn tongues and be civil. I don’t care how frustrated you are.

I’ve survived quite a few terrifying bosses, one a woman at a trade magazine publisher in Manhattan, who thought nothing of shouting abuse across the room at all of us and, when I dared confront her, stood very very close to me and leaned in further….her pupils oddly dilated. I quit within a month, and with no job waiting and newly divorced.

At the New York Daily News, I dared to ask the photo editor a question in an open newsroom so large it ran from 34th to 33rd street. His idea to humiliate and intimidate me, he yelled at me that I was asking a really difficult question; how to fill out a photo request. What a dick. This was a wholly normal question for a new employee offered zero training. I was then 50 — and quietly told him that being abusive wasn’t going to alter my request. He then ran to my boss to complain about me. Such a FUN workplace!

And, of course, there was another trade magazine boss, a weird little troll who shouted at me for disappointing him when I was editing a 48 page trade magazine with no staff at all, able to offer only extremely low freelance rates that guaranteed careless work from the only writers we could afford.

He came into my very small office and, as I pleaded with him that I was doing my best, snarled: “Define best!”

I was, no surprise, fired a few days later.

I ran into him decades later while riding our shared commuter rail line. As he went to sit beside me, he asked: “Do you remember me?”

“Yes,” was all I said.

Journalism attracts people who are smart and tough and highly impatient, expected to produce flawless results very, very quickly…not a great combo. Then the most demanding rise into management where, sure, they have high standards — but also can get away with shouting and raging with impunity.

I’ve even encountered this toxic arrogance as a freelancer, like a young woman then an editor at the Columbia Journalism Review (ooooh, the delicious irony) who I finally had to hang up the phone on since she was unable to let me finish a sentence.

And, funny thing, she too has since risen in the industry.

I shook for an hour after that phone call — because if you’ve been the subject of a lot of yelling, especially as a child, it really evokes a sort of PTSD.

So every time another abusive manager loses their job, income and authority, I’m thrilled!

Have you been the victim of such bad behavior?

How did you handle it?

Some birthday thoughts

By Caitlin Kelly

My birthday is June 6.

This year (gulp) is a landmark/milestone birthday, one many never reach.

Some thoughts from a few decades’ experience:

The house that got away! I chased it really hard (rural Nova Scotia, November 2021).

It was a bit of a debacle and cost several thousand dollars to determine it wasn’t a

wise choice. Oh well!

Take more chances

I know some of us are limited, for a while or a long time, by fear of losing a job, relationship, the comfort of the familiar, some bound tightly by bonds of duty to children and/or parents.

I’ve been lucky to enjoy a lot of independence, even within my 22-year marriage, so have been able to take on work that scared me at first with its new challenges (and met.)

At 25, weeping so hard I could barely stand up, I threw a bunch of stuff into a duffel bag, boarded a flight to Paris and began an 8-month journalism fellowship that required each of us (28 people from 19 nations, aged 25 to 35) to make four 10-day solo reporting trips across Europe. I was scared!

I knew it would forever change me, and it did, in every possible good way. I came back to Toronto brimming with new and hard-earned self-confidence, better reporting skills, a better sense of teamwork cross-culturally, fluent French, lifelong friendships and the respect of some people I admired greatly.

At 30, I left Canada for the U.S. , permanently.

SO SCARED!

I felt like a raindrop falling into an ocean. I left behind a solid career, deep friendships, my identity. Would I ever regain these?

Yes I did.

Taking chances means risk. Risk can mean disappointment and failure — but also amazing new possibilities.

Cherish your deep friendships

Oh my! My bestie Marion, maid of honor at my first wedding, 1992, met in freshman English
class at university. Still besties!

As an only child of not-very-loving parents and relatives, my friends have always really been my family — celebrating my triumphs, mourning my losses and tough times. They have stood by me through a marriage, divorce and remarriage, through unemployment, through relocation and breast cancer.

Their love and strength and constancy have been essential to my survival, literally.

I have not found this sort of devotion to friendship, certainly in adulthood, in New York and have found it lonely. If you have friends, anywhere, cherish them! Stay in touch!

Venice, July 2017

Travel as far and often as health and your means allow

I know — a very privileged point of view! I was fortunate to grow up in a family of means who really valued travel and exploration. My father and I drove from Toronto across Canada the summer I was 15, and he and I visited Mexico, Ireland and some southern U.S. states together. My mother inherited enough money she lived many places and flew me to Peru, Costa Rica, Colombia and Fiji. On my own, I’ve been to more than another 30 places, from Istanbul to Copenhagen, rural Texas to coastal Maine, Victoria, B.C. to Newfoundland. Not having children allowed me more freedom and income to do this, I realize.

Even the worst moments, (blessedly very few!), have been worth the going and seeing. I regret none of it: new friends, a deeper understanding of and appreciation for different cultures, the chance to use my French and Spanish skills.

Read/listen/watch widely and deeply

These days, more important than ever, especially in the U.S. where there are such deep divisions some fear a new Civil War soon.

Guard your time jealously — it’s precious and fleeting

Not a huge Steely Dan fan but this 1972 lyric of theirs is hitting me much harder these days:

Are you reeling in the years?

Stowing away the time?

There are so many moments in life when we’re impatient, waiting for something great we really want(ed), wishing that time would move faster.

The older I get (cliche alert!) the slower I want to move, the fewer people I want to have access to my time, attention and energy and the frightening fact that I have fewer years ahead of me than behind me.

As a full-time freelancer, I’m super selective now about who I work with and what amount of energy and time they will need from me, and at what pay rate.

Every time you feel guilty about taking time just for yourself — to sit still and think or write or pray or nap or hug someone you love — this is the time best spent.

Set and keep boundaries

Huge! Especially challenging for girls and women, socialized to be “nice” and “go along to get along”, often deeply suppressing our rage and grief behind yet another quick fake reassuring smile.

It’s taken me a long time to say “Nope!” to people and situations that are really not healthy for me, whether in work or relationships.

Therapy can help. Breaking old habits is difficult, but worth it.

Apologize sincerely and quickly

I’m not sure how anyone can manage to retain any long-term relationship without this.

It’s hard!

It demands self-awareness and humility.

What if the person is too angry at you to accept it?

Do it anyway.

Flee toxic people and places

Not easy…although The Great Resignation is making clear how badly so many people really wanted out of a job or workplace or team or corporate culture they loathed.

I’ve put up with some seriously toxic people and workplaces and it’s never good for your mental or physical health.

Keeping solid work skills and a network of peers to refer you to opportunities is crucial.

Having access to deep, nurturing friendships will also steel your spine in moments of doubt about fleeing.

Saving as much money as possible also allows us the chance to get out of a terrible situation, whether personal or professional.

I’ve fled both.

Before my first (short, miserable) marriage to a physician, I made sure I had a pre-nuptial agreement; it saved my home and the family money I inherited that gave us the down payment.

Having an attorney (luckily pro bono) allowed me some dignity when I was bullied and shunned at the New York Daily News for months.

Leave a legacy

It might be a garden or a child or a scholarship fund.

It might be a piece of work you’re known and admired for.

Think about what you leave behind.