The fall zhuzh!

The summer bed coverlet

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s that time again, kids!

Our summer was terrible — the 2nd wettest July on record for New York and if it wasn’t raining, it was horribly hot and humid. Really not a good time.

So we are savoring fall, our favorite season — lots of bright sunshine, cooler temperatures, a chance to finally stop using air conditioners and fans.

Because we also live, work, eat, dine and bathe in a one-bedroom apartment, the place gets a LOT of wear and tear! And that’s without kids or pets.

And I have been in the same place since June 1989, so cosmetic upgrades are ongoing.

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

— getting our throw rugs cleaned and replacing underpadding as needed

— getting the sofa professionally steam-cleaned

— getting the bathroom shower wall grout repaired

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

and a few posters.

— framing a few new pieces of art

— changing the summer cotton coverlet for the duvet; (dry cleaned and stored there all summer)

— fresh duvet cover

— a new pillow and pillow protectors

— having a nice fabric cover custom-made for Jose’s (plywood, homemade) desk

— a new desk chair for Jose

— tossing out as many unread books as I can stand to lose

— wrapping our balcony furniture to protect it after it’s too cold to use it

— 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 light-bulbs and shades, 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, replacing things that get a lot of use and maybe it’s time for new ones, 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 cosier:

— a lovely teapot and selection of teas

— pretty cloth napkins/tablecloth; love these linen ones at $6 each (on sale) in 12 colors

— a throw rug beside your bed

— fresh shams

— a vintage decanter to fill with bourbon or a smoky scotch

— 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, and it’s the subject of much devoted care to cleaning, maintenance and upgrades.

I spent my childhood in boarding school and summer camp (home for school 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 a lot of 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.

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 — I recently found a huge, pristine white linen tablecloth for $35.

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.

Where the heart lies

Our NY view of the Hudson

By Caitlin Kelly

If you have moved around a lot, it can be hard to decide where your heart truly lies — where “home” is.

I’ve lived in six cities and two towns in five countries — my native Canada, England (ages 2-5), Mexico (age 14), France (ages 25-26), the United States (age 30 on.)

I always felt too American for Canada — too bossy, too direct, too ambitious, too much in a hurry.

Now I feel too European for the U.S. — I savor time off. I don’t flagellate myself hourly for being less “productive” than my many peers and competitors, many half my age. I like long vacations and two-hour lunches. I take naps.

So while home again in Canada for the first time in two full years, the eternal question arises again: where’s home?

While I spent decades in Toronto, and have many many memories there, is it home?

Home, to me, means a place I feel truly welcome, and while we have lifelong friends there, Toronto housing is absurdly overpriced — nasty little houses an arm’s length apart are $1 million and condo boxes $600,000. No thanks!

Then…maybe a house in the Ontario countryside? Same problem. The cost of housing is inflated by demand, beyond what is workable for us.

Then….another province?

Or another country?

Tempted by Montreal’s many charms…

I follow several Facebook pages now on living in France and look at a lot of French real estate online. Because of COVID, I don’t see spending the requisite time and money to search more seriously.

I lived there for a year at 25 and have been back many times. I know a few areas a bit: Paris, Normandy, Brittany, the Camargue, the Cote d’Azur, Corsica. I speak fluent French. I love the way of life and physical beauty and ease of getting around thanks to the TGV network. But if we moved there full-time would any of our North American friends ever come to visit?

Would we easily make new deep friendships?

So…who knows?

My mother died in a nursing home in 2020, her apartment sold a decade earlier to pay its costs.

My father buys and sells houses, forever restless. So there’s no family homestead to attach to emotionally…I left one of his houses at 19 and never again lived with either parent.

So, for now, my heart remains in Tarrytown, a small town north of Manhattan on the Hudson, a town so pretty we are constantly seeing film and TV crews arriving to set up on our main street. I landed there when my first husband found a psych residency nearby and we bought a one-bedroom apartment. I had never been there nor ever lived outside a major city. It’s dull and hard to make friends, but we enjoy a great quality of life with Manhattan only 45 minutes south and gorgeous scenery for walks and bike rides and a lot of history.

With 45 gone for now (but who knows?) life feels so much calmer and less terrifying than it did between 2016 and 2020 when, like many others, thoughts of fleeing were a daily part of our life, however impractical.

Where does your heart lie?

Heading north — after 2 years

By Caitlin Kelly

A banner from NYC Fleet Week a few years ago

I moved to the U.S. permanently 34 years ago.

This two-year absence — COVID-caused — is likely the longest time I’ve not been back to Canada, where I was born (in Vancouver) and raised (in Toronto and Montreal.)

If our COVID tests are negative, we’ll soon drive the 5.5 hours through upstate New York and cross into Canada at the 1,000 Islands, then have lunch in Kingston, Ontario, before going to stay with my father, 93, who we haven’t seen in more than two years and who lives alone in rural Ontario.

And we’re off!

I’m also looking forward to seeing some old friends who live near him.

I miss Canada.

Yes, it’s riddled with COVID — as is everywhere now. We are fully vaccinated and will mask wherever necessary.

But only on August 9 did Canada even open the land border with the U.S. so this is our first opportunity to drive back, which is what we always do. I don’t want to sit in an airplane now with un-vaccinated passengers and crew, let alone face standing in crowds at security and immigration.

Many people (especially some in the U.S.) think Canadians are just quiet, polite Americans. But we’re not.

I miss just sharing a culture and history with others there.

Whether books, magazines, films, music, politics, food — there are many specifically Canadian things and points of view that most Americans wouldn’t know unless they went to university there and got to know it more deeply. Like Canadian content, mandated by the government to boost homegrown talent and protect it from American domination — what percentage played on-air radio has to be Canadian.

I like going into a local bookstore to see what’s new from Canadian authors, certainly since so many of my journalism colleagues there also write books.

Canada has also been through its own special hells this summer, in addition to COVID — the terrible discoveries of children buried at residential schools in several provinces, schools where indigenous children were literally pulled from their parents’ arms and forced to renounce their languages and culture.

Now Canada faces a snap election and the Conservatives are as ugly as ever.

So I will be curious to hear what Canadians have to say about all of this. I follow Canadian media on Twitter so I hear and see a fair bit of coverage.

Some of the pleasure is silly stuff — little things like playing a round of golf at a lakeside course we know and love or lunch at Basil’s, a small deli in Port Hope, or eating a butter tart, not sold in the U.S., mostly sugar and calories and sooooooo good.

We are also just really ready for a break, as our last one was five days upstate in March.

Other people’s lives

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

By Caitlin Kelly

Social media can be social — meeting and getting to know new friends and colleagues solely through LinkedIn or Twitter or TikTok or blogs or Insta or Twitter — and/or, passively, it can offer us a peek into other worlds, wholly different from our own.

Given that we’ll have to stay physically distant from so many people for so many years — yes, years with this goddamn pandemic — virtual life and relationships are the safest and best many of us have now.

Travel? Also difficult to impossible; we recently lost $2,000 for non-refundable airfare and hotels after cancelling two much-anticipated vacations.

So, yes, I’m loving images (however enviously!) from Greece and Morocco and Kenya and Cornwall and the Hebrides…

Last week, Abby Lee Hood and I did a pitching workshop aimed at helping other freelance writers write better pitches — a pitch is a sort of a sales document for a story we might want to write. They’re not easy to do well and we got 47 people to sign up, which was fantastic. It went very well and people were still buying copies of our Zoom video days later.

I’ve yet to meet Abby, who is non-binary and has tattoos and owns a small pig, a three-legged cat, an albino hedgehog and a dog. They live in small-town Tennessee, a state I’ve never been to.

They are 27. I am…much older.

What on earth would we have in common?

A lot!

As we’ve gotten to know one another, we found we both share some similar issues with our families of origin. We both have high ambitions for our work. We both hustle hard for assignments. And we also share some fundamental life values.

I’ve found them to be a deeply generous person, rare these days it seems.

So I hope our workshop, beyond its obvious goal, also modeled that sort of inter-generational friendship for a few others.

Some of the many lives I enjoy witnessing, between Twitter and Instagram, include:

Three women archeologists

A male archeologist in Berlin who works on Gobekli Tepe, a famous Neolithic Turkish site; I met him on one of the travel Twitterchats I participate in

A Canadian Arctic marine biologist

A Chilean photographer

A photographer in Queretaro, Mexico

A Canadian mother of two young boys in Australia whose nature photos are amazing

A Scottish mountain climber

A nephrologist in San Antonio, Texas who writes as Doctor T on Twitter

A French illustrator

Several interior designers

Several artists, one a young British woman whose work is spectacular but who posts rarely

A London-based dealer in antique and rare textiles

Several European female commercial airline pilots

A mudlarker in London

A few economists

And (sigh) several Facebook groups about buying a home and living in France, a dream of mine for a long time.

Do you have favorite blogs or social media folk you really enjoy?

Simple pleasures, end-of-summer edition

Ice tea on the balcony

By Caitlin Kelly

Regulars here know this is an ongoing, intermittent series I produce, listing all sorts of small(er) pleasures life offers us, sometimes forgotten or overlooked:

Baking buckles, cobblers and pies with all the fresh berries available.

A very cold, stiff martini — no ice! olives! — consumed, ideally, in one of two places: an elegant hotel bar, like the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis in NYC (if you’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada, a meeting place scene) or dark, hole-in-the-wall (pre-pandemic talking to strangers) dive bar, like the ones I enjoyed years ago in Atlanta and San Francisco.

Swimming in whatever clean, fresh water is available, whether a creek, river, lake, ocean or pool. So delicious on a hot and humid day!

Pool parties! These days, very small ones, outdoors, with fellow vaccinated people.

Corn on the cob.

Huge juicy tomatoes.

Sitting for hours in your wet bathing suit.

Balcony flowers.

Playing cards or dominoes in the shade.

Watching the light (sob!) get lower and longer every day as fall approaches

Fireflies — aka lightning bugs.

Long lazy conversations with friends outdoors, knowing by winter we’ll all be shut inside again, even vaccinated, masked and scared and alone.

Spectacular sunsets.

A jaunty straw sunhat.

Having two vaccinated friends over for a long lunch.

The new normal

By Caitlin Kelly

Constant change.

It’s exhausting.

Making plans — breaking them.

Planning a vacation — cancelling it.

Thought we were safe? No, not for a long long time.

Powerful essay on Medium about this:

What if the pandemic just never ends? What if the New Normal is not some accommodated version of the old normal, but instead is just…this? What if what we are experiencing now — this constant state of anxiety and change and daily back-and-forth and in-and-out of masks and lock-downs — is what the 21st century will be? What if the economic recovery is DOA or if it somehow only makes things worse? What if this is just the beginning of much larger and more frequent health, climate, political, and economic disasters?

Jose and I were so looking forward to attending a wedding in Memphis, Tennessee in early September. It would have been our first flight in two years and our first visit out of state. We were so excited! The women getting married, a couple we met on Twitter, demanded proof of vaccination, which we were fine with.

Then, proof of negative tests. We cancelled.

I have no objection to their request.

But the pleasure was quickly leaching out of what was to have been a relaxing break. That state now has hospitals so full there’s no room left.

We had planned a month’s driving trip out to Colorado and back in October. Cancelled.

We had already planned and cancelled Hawaii or Paris.

I’m hitting bottom right now.

I admit it — I’ve been spoiled since childhood by travel being a normal and expected source of pleasure, one easily accessible. Not in luxury, necessarily, but always owning a valid passport and a reliable vehicle and having an insatiable hunger to see more of the world.\

One of our Montreal favorites

I’ve already been to 41 countries — and there are so so many places I still want to see!

Morocco, Japan, Namibia, South Africa, Madagascar, the Baltic nations, to name only a few…

And we miss our friends in Ontario and Nova Scotia and Paris and London and Scotland…

I chose to move to the U.S. and, since Biden’s election, my pulse rate has dropped from the daily anxiety of being “governed” by a madman for four years.

But the endless divisions here, and endless fawning media coverage of people who refuse vaccinations — endangering all of us — are tedious as hell. Thanks to them, going basically anywhere is dangerous.

And — most concerning — even the vaccinated can carry a lot of this virus, unknowingly infecting others while showing no symptoms.

Like all of you, we work hard.

Like all of you, we need things to look forward to!

And, as I write this on our balcony, planes soar over our heads, as we’re on a flight path from the local airport.

SIGH.

These days, all we can anticipate is constant change — and disappointment.

A bit more of the essay:

the pandemic has put life into perspective. It has made crystal clear that love and health are what’s important in this life. The rest is what it is. We must be grateful for what we have, find joy wherever we can, and be incredibly patient with, well…everything else. In cultures that have survived war, that made it through bombings and mass killings and attacks, people turn to all that does not change for comfort and hope. As their day-to-day reality changes around them, they find solace in anything that is constant and unifying: their food, their language, their songs, their fairytales, their games, their age-old traditions.

Right now, I have to take solace in what we have and can enjoy that COVID can’t destroy:

our Hudson river view

a town we love living in

a new (woman!) governor who’s a badass

deep and abiding friendships

savings

freelance work

Manhattan, literally, on our horizon, there when we need a break from snoozy suburban life

a home we’ve made beautiful through design, renovation, art

a good hospital 15 minutes north of us

we are both vaccinated and will take boosters when and if they are offered

lovely places to walk and bike outdoors safely

books and music and card games and puzzles to amuse us

How are you holding up these days?

The power of scent

Lilac — the best!

Like some of you, perhaps, I’m obsessed with fragrance, and not a day goes by (unless an appointment in small shared spaces) without wearing perfume — currently in rotation are Terre by Hermes (winter only), L’Eau de l’Artisan by L’Artisan Parfumeur, Chanel No. 5, Prada Iris and Herbae, a spontaneous purchase this year, by L’Occitane.

So this story from Spain was perfect.

He leads “smelling tours”:

“Smell goes directly to your emotions, you are crying, you don’t know why,” Mr. Collado expounded as the others leaned in. “Smelling has a power that none of the other senses have, and I must tell you now, it is molecular, it goes to the essence of the essence.”

Our lives are filled with scents, some pleasant, some less so and they can so powerfully evoke memories.

When we married, in September 2011 in a small wooden church on an island in Toronto harbor, I was so deeply comforted by the smell of sun-warmed wood — a cherished memory of my summers at camp, where we slept in wooden cabins and all our buildings were made of wood.

Some of my favorite smells include:

jet fuel (!), motorboat gas (I think it’s the connotation of motion/travel!), cut grass, sun dried pine needles, the ocean, coffee grounds, Balkan Sobranie pipe tobacco, gardenia, lilac, the peppery scent of marigolds, the briny smell of fresh oysters, good leather — shoes or a saddle or a lovely old jacket, new books!

Jose and I have an odd scent we both love, from our childhoods — the distinctive but subtle fragrance of an olive green Spanish soap and perfume called Maja. It still comes wrapped in black tissue paper.

Created in 1921, here’s a description of it:

Top notes are Geranium, Citruses, Tobacco and Orange Blossom; middle notes are Carnation, Cloves, Nutmeg, Rose, Lavender, Leather and Jasmine; base notes are Patchouli, Cypress, Tonka Bean, Amber, Benzoin and Oakmoss.

I adored a Roger & Gallet soap with the spicy scent of carnation as well but (sob!) it seems to have been discontinued.

The night I met Jose in March 2000 he wore a delicious scent — 1881 — whose top notes also include carnation, juniper, lavender and cypress, created in 1990. He was wearing a red silk Buddhist prayer shawl (!) as a muffler and, at the end of the evening, took it off and wrapped me in it.

DONE.

Perhaps my favorite memory of scent is the week I spent alone traveling across the Balagne, the northern tip of Corsica, by mo-ped. It was July and I drove across endless fields of the low, scrubby brush known as maquis, a mix of fragrant plants — sun-warmed, their fragrance filled my nostrils. So sensual!

What are some of your favorite smells, and why?

Diminishing returns…worth continuing?

By Caitlin Kelly

Well, that was depressing!

I finally made time to do an analysis of who visits this site, while WordPress tells me it has 23,193 followers.

I see no evidence of that!

Starting March 2018 — pre-pandemic and mass distraction/anxiety related to COVID — my views have since dropped to double digits per day, from three digits, which isn’t impressive but better than this.

I enjoy blogging but, like you, have no time or energy to waste pumping stuff into silence and invisibility.

I know some readers here — much appreciated!!! — have been reading and commenting since the start, July 1, 2009.

Is this worth continuing?

Are you even making/finding time for other/better/more compelling blogs?

What is this missing or doing so poorly?

Ageism is rising — and toxic!

old, weathered…now what?

By Caitlin Kelly

A friend of ours, Tanzina Vega, who used to work with my husband at The New York Times, until last week hosted an NPR radio talk show every day, The Takeaway.

She, like me, is fascinated by/horrified by/wants to end ageism — the persistent myth that older people are useless (and, sometimes younger ones, too.)

She recently did a show on this, and here is the link. It’s 32:43 and worth every minute, especially the powerful reader comment at the very end.

And Tanzina is only in her mid-40s.

Here’s this story by Stacy Morrison.

An excerpt:

Ageism as it relates to women is very much an extension of sexism, an -ism women have been living with their whole lives. And recent research shows that ageism may be the more disruptive force. According to a survey conducted by co-working community The Riveter, 58% of women say their identities or physical attributes impact their experiences at work—and age was the top factor (25%), garnering many more votes than being female (17%).

And no wonder: “As soon as women show visible signs of aging, they are actually perceived as being less competent, having less value,” says executive coach and author Bonnie Marcus, author of Not Done Yet!

Social activist Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, captures the issue more succinctly: “Women are never the right age.” Applewhite points out that when women are young in the workplace, they are considered lightweights and are oversexualized; then when women reach prime childbearing years, they are diminished if they become mothers, earning less and being given fewer promotions or opportunities to thrive at work. “And then pretty soon after that,” Applewhite says, “when you’re starting to fall away from this grotesque, obscene obsession with extreme youth as being the ideal for women, you are now less attractive as a woman. So you then become less attractive as an employee, even though that is what disqualified you when you were younger and prettier.”

There is no punishment for age discrimination, although it’s illegal.

Some job ads insist on you revealing your year of college or university graduation — like I’m going to share that!? Blatant age discrimination right there…and who does anything about it?

No one!

I lost my last staff job at the age of 50, earning a decent (for journalism) $80,000 a year at a major New York newspaper. I applied for dozens of jobs immediately, almost all of them in communications roles at non-profits — given my global life experience and speaking three languages, I thought I might bring some good transferable skills.

Not a word in reply.

I’ve applied for a few staff roles in journalism in recent years, but it’s really a waste of my time. Everyone over the age of 40 is deemed doddering, useless and completely unable to function in a digital environment.

So when I was interviewed recently, for a podcast (link here) and for a story, I never mentioned my age.

It’s no one’s business!

People here have a good idea how old I am, and my close-up photos here on my Welcome and About pages are obviously not of someone younger than 40!

But I admit to being flattered when — as an 86-year-old neighbor told me last week — I don’t look my age either.

Beyond moral, ethical and legal reasons –oh, we need more?! — denying older workers access to (good) jobs with benefits and paid sick days and paid vacation (at best) means shoving more of them into decades of crappy, part-time work at low wages, even as their minds and bodies are ready for rest.

In the United States, unless you are married to someone with heavily subsidized health insurance, you can be paying a fortune for health insurance — until you reach 65 and get into Medicare, government-paid healthcare that still requires payment for all sorts of things!

One friend, a man in his late 50s with a partner who has faced multiple cancer surgeries, is paying $2,600 a month for theirs.

This is a massive and unfair cost burden, which is why there are increasing calls for the age of Medicare access to be lowered.

So here’s what life over 40 or 50 or 60 looks like, at worst, and especially for women:

— lower Social Security payments for women who stopped work to raise children and/or be a caregiver

— lower SS payments for women, who need it most because we live longer, because we stopped making money a decade or more before we planned to, when we should have been at the peak of our earning power

— no access to well-paid staff jobs with benefits

— no access, through a staff job, to a steady, reliable income

— intellectual stagnation

— boredom

— loneliness

— isolation

— depression

— poverty

I never had children — so I have no one (should I outlive my husband) to help me financially and physically in older age. I urge everyone, all the time, to make the most money available within their industry, and to save as much as possible, which does mean a lot of self-discipline and denial, for all but the wealthy.

Because if you can’t get a job, where is your money going to come from?

Writing personal history

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m no celebrity, obviously, but have been urged for a while to write a memoir.

I’ve always resisted because…really?

How would my life be of interest to strangers?

I’ve enjoyed it, for sure, and had some wild adventures — visiting 41 countries, a two-year marriage, winning some nice writing awards — but is that of larger appeal?

I’ve had a great career: three major newspaper jobs with some fantastic assignments (going to the Arctic, covering Queen Elizabeth), a European fellowship, two books, etc. — so maybe some of that would be interesting to other journalists.

My family, as readers here know, is not a Hallmark card. My late mother and I were estranged for the last decade of her life. I have three half-siblings, one of whom I’m estranged from, one of whom is a self-made millionaire and one I’ve never met and don’t want to.

So, does a any of this add up to a book an agent will rep and a publisher will buy?

To be determined.

Most books are 80,000 words.

So far, I’ve easily and quickly written 20,000 and, to my surprise, am really enjoying it. It’s a mix of personal and professional stories, ranging from my time in Toronto to that in Paris to moving to New York knowing no one and without a job.

I have diaries from my 20s I haven’t even looked at, and a journal from 1998 of my trip to Australia and New Zealand, so I have some material there to work from.

Thanks to Google, I’m constantly fact-checking — like the distance from Montreal to the Arctic, or where the tree line ends in Quebec (the 56th parallel.) I also found a glaring error in my aunt’s Wikipedia entry, so am fortunate my father is still alive and lucid at 93 to do some corrections there; my aunt and uncle, both Canadian but British residents, were very well known in Britain in the 1960s and 70s for their work in TV and radio.

Several people who follow me on social media are most intrigued by my estrangements — how and when they happened and how it has affected me; my recent New York Times story on this topic elicited a stunning 700 comments, so it clearly struck a nerve.

We’ll see if this ends up being commercially useful.

Memoir starts with “me” — but it has to make sense to thousands of strangers.

In the meantime, I’m banging out 1,000 to 1,500 words a day.

What, if anything, would you want to know about me?