A perfect day on Arthur Ave. in the Bronx

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s a place I would guess few tourists venture to, a few blocks in the Bronx, but a place that on our recent weekday holiday visit was bustling. The people sitting next to us at lunch had come in, as we did, from Westchester County (30 minutes’ drive north) and as far away as Stratford, Connecticut, on the coast.

It’s best known as Little Italy, not to be confused with the other Little Italy, in Manhattan.

Here’s its website.

Teitel’s

This stretch of just a few streets offers unique pleasures — like a bar outside the fish market where you can slurp down fresh oysters and clams as you stand in the sunshine. There are several bakeries and we bought a sourdough baguette and a round loaf studded with meat.

Teitel’s is a legend, tiny and crowded, with walnuts and olives and cheese and meat and dried cod and almost anything edible you can think of; we bought walnuts, achovies and cold cuts.

We started the day with a bite and cappuccinos at Egidio’s, an old school pastry shop with plenty of seating and acres of yummy treats and admired a small dog named Anchovy.

So many cannolis!

Slurping fresh clams and oysters on the sidewalk

We bought branzino, my favorite fish, and shrimp, and settled in for lunch at Enzo’s, each with a glass of Montepulciano.

Then it was time to cross the street to the indoor retail market where — of course! — you can watch experts roll and cut and trim huge bags of tobacco into cigars.

Having lived in Toronto, with its huge and amazing St. Lawrence Market, and Montreal, with its Atwater Market, and Paris with Rue Cler and many other food markets, I really miss this lively and interesting European way of food shopping — the butcher, the fishmonger, the baker, the fresh pasta store, the cheese store, the liquor store. It’s bustling and social and fun, the absolute opposite of the huge and booooooring suburban supermarkets all owned by multi-national conglomerates, not by the grandchildren of immigrants who founded these individual stores, some more than a century old.

I hadn’t been back there in probably five years and it was happily, very little changed.

You can enjoy a great afternoon in only a few blocks, increasingly laden with food and drink and savoring it all with joy.

What have you kept from your early years?

This little bear used to sit deep in my uniform shirt pocket during my years at boarding school. Invisible comfort and companionship.

By Caitlin Kelly

I read very few newsletters — already inundated by Twitter, two daily newspapers, a dozen monthly magazines and, when I have an ounce of attention left, books.

But I really enjoyed the latest one from an American journalist, Anne Helen Peterson, on the boxes her mother kept for her from her teens — a time, she writes, so much more memorable to her than her 20s and 30s.

She writes beautifully about what it felt like to go through those boxes and reconnect with her much younger self; I’d guess she’s in her mid to late 30s.

An excerpt:

That big plastic storage bin was allowed to sit undisturbed because my mom lives in a small town in Idaho with a basement approximately the size of my current house — as is the Idaho way. But now she is moving to a place with NO BASEMENT, and some tough decisions have to be made. By me.

I spent the day after Christmas pouring out the contents of these envelopes, taking pictures with my camera and, as an old friend of mine used to say, with my heart, and allowing that heart to be towed in so many unanticipated directions. Because turns out: I was an excellent archivist of my teen self.

The corsages, sure, but that’s classic memory book stuff. I’m talking about movie stubs and campaign pins, about 9th grade English notebooks and printed-out (and pencil-edited) drafts of college admissions essays.

All archives are, to some extent, narratives: edited stories of the self or others. What I kept then was a story of myself that felt precious and still, at that point, untold. I wasn’t saving in the hopes of someone else discovering who I was. I think it was much more a case of ensuring my future self’s attention. The artifacts were the grammar that made the story readable.

I envy her terribly!

I lived with my father and his girlfriend (later wife) ages 14 to 19. I have very few artifacts of those years: my high school graduation yearbook, some photos. I struggle to think of much else.

My family of origin was never one to keep stuff for others…my father sold the house we lived in and went to live on a boat in the Mediterranean when I was 19 and in my second year of university. I took my wooden trundle bed and wooden desk to the studio apartment I moved it with me. And my stereo!

I really treasure the photo below.

I was maybe six or seven and sitting in the backyard of the last house I shared with my parents before they divorced. It was a big house on a beautiful, quiet street — Castlefrank — in one of Toronto’s nicest neighborhoods, Rosedale. I never lived anywhere like that again.

Luckily, my husband Jose (a photo archivist for the USGA) was able to take this one precious very faded color photo and bring it back for me.

My mother left behind several thick photo albums, but, typical of our relationship, I know very few of the people in them. She never spoke much about her life to me. I do have images of her — slim, gorgeous — modeling for the Vancouver Sun, and a spectacular photo of her that I love.

Cynthia being glamorous.

My stuff? Not much. I moved a few times and only years later found a set of excellent encyclopedias that had been in storage while I was boarding school and camp.

I still fondly remember some items from my teenage-dom — a thick caribou skin rug my father brought back from the Arctic which shed horribly, a poster and a fantastic embroidered sheepskin coat, wildly bohemian and wholly out of place in my white, suburban-ish high school. But I own none of these.

Oddly, a little embarrassedly, I still own and treasure a few stuffed animals from my childhood — like the elephant I found in my London hospital bed after my tonsils were removed. Faded but much beloved, she sits in our bedroom still.

Baby Elephant!

Because I moved around a fair bit and neither parent even had a basement — let alone the willingness to store any of my stuff in it — I’ve definitely lost some very precious teenage things, like a green and white Marimekko notebook in which I wrote my prize-winning poetry and some songs. That one really hurts. I had a storage locker here in New York, but I lost track of the payments for it — and they sold everything in it.

Do you still own treasured items from your early years?

Who, if anyone, will want or value them later do you think?

A matter of trust

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s foundational to everything we do, from earliest childhood to later years — we (have to!) place our trust in medicine and health procedures, in the men and women who pilot airplanes and drive subway trains and schoolbuses, in the chefs and cooks who prepare our meals when we eat away from home — and the health inspectors whose role it is to make sure it is safe.

If you live in the U.S. and follow news — which some of you don’t — a big story of late has been a shocking, relentless barrage of lies from a newly elected Republican congressman from Long Island, George Santos.

From The Daily Beast:

The perplexing series of alleged lies from George Santos, the Republican congressman-elect from Long Island under investigation by countystate and federal prosecutors, have continued to roll in this week—with each “embellishment” as shocking as the last.

Among the new claims under scrutiny in the last 24 hours: Santos’ high school education, his claim to be half-Black, a claim that his family’s Jewish last name was Zabrovsky, and that “9/11 claimed” his mother’s life after she’d “fled socialism” in Europe.

Basically everything he told voters is a lie. And…he will still be sworn into office.

HOW?

I think about trust all the time because trust in journalists — my career since university — is very very low.

This causes endless problems if voters believe a pathological liar like Santos — but not the reporters who uncovered those lies.

It’s a problem when people shriek “Fake news!” when they hear things they don’t want to, like COVID running rampant still.

It’s a problem when we keep sending our hard-earned tax dollars to governments that don’t do what they said they would, further eroding our trust in them, which, for Americans especially, seems subterranean at best.

From the moment a writer proposes a story, there’s a level of trust between them and their editor, whether they’re on staff or freelance. A staffer can be disciplined, suspended or fired for lying while a freelancer can lose access to a coveted market; The New York Times, for which I’ve written more than 100 stories, periodically sends every freelancer its long and detailed ethics code, and those who break it are out.

But there are legendary stories of lying reporters and their names are known to those of us in the industry, like Janet Cooke and Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair, all of whom were — of course — much lauded for brining in powerful stories and every ambitious editor wants material like that. Until they turn out to be false.

Every time I ask a source to speak to me, they generally agree quickly and kindly, which, in itself is a sign if trust that I’ll behave professionally; my website makes clear I have a long and solid career in place as testament to that. Only once, and it was interesting, was I told “oh hell no!” when I tried to get sources, by an agency that helps teens on Riker’s Island accused of crimes. Only after pleading my case to them face to face did I win the interviews, which are in my first book “Blown Away: American Women and Guns.” I’m proud of having won these stories, as they were untold and powerful and I’ve never forgotten them — and I’ve done thousands of interviews in my career.

That took trust.

We live in an era of easy, quick and profitable manipulation — of words, ideas, images. A few years ago the news agency Reuters invited a group of New York journalists (arguably pretty savvy) to listen to a powerful and frightening presentation about how easy it now is to alter images, whether video or still. It was deeply sobering to know how much energy is spent trying to sort out the garbage. My husband, Jose, is a photo editor for The New York Times, and it’s also his job — like every news editor now — to sniff out fake images. Staff photographers and longtime freelancers have earned their trust, Many photos arrive through a photo agency like the AP, Getty and and Reuters, to name three major ones — by the time they’re looked at for publication, they’ve been vetted by many editors who’ve already vetted their photographers.

Trust requires a long unbroken chain.

In 1997, as I think I’ve written here before, I became the victim — one of many! — of a skilled and determined con man who had duped many people in Chicago, done time and moved to New York where he picked up again. I won’t get into all the grim details, but it was a lesson for me, for anyone, in what behaviors inspire our trust and why.

He was physically attractive.

He dressed well.

He was very intelligent and engaging.

He was (of course!) initially charming — later creepy and threatening.

I fell quite ill the day before I was to fly from New York to Sydney Australia alone, hoping to research my first book — he brought me a pot of homemade soup.

How can one — when should one — mistrust kindness?

Read The Gift of Fear, a must-read book for every girl and woman — which includes charm and niceness as warning signs.

Are you wary by nature or experience?

The best of 2022, hopes for 2023

By Caitlin Kelly

That last post wasn’t my cheeriest!

Some of my happiest moments of 2022:

The view from my friend’s cottage

In late May I flew to Toronto, my hometown, for the first visit in 2.5 years, catching up with dear friends there; even though I moved away permanently decades ago, I stay in close touch with about half a dozen of them. I was invited to a cottage on Georgian Bay only reachable by boat…six adults, a cat and a dog and all our supplies! It was very beautiful and quite cold! The cabin I slept in had no heat so I wore a wool hat and a very heavy wool blanket.

Big Sur, CA

My tiny perfect room at Deetjen’s, Big Sur

In June, my birthday month, I finally spent a solo month driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles — a lifelong dream only made possible thanks to a wholly unexpected inheritance from my late mother. Along the way, I stayed with a pal in a town near SF, with another in Santa Rosa, had meals with nine other pals, some I had never before met — but have known for years only through social media. It was a real joy, after so much social isolation and loneliness trying to avoid COVID, to sit and chat for hours. I reconnected with two dear friends, both former colleagues of my husband Jose at The New York Times. I had lunch with a woman who became a friend after we cooperated on an exclusive story for the Times…with 150 emails between us by the time the paper flew me from NY to San Francisco to write about Google. I hadn’t been back to that city in a decade, or L.A. in 20 years. I fell very hard to California — such beauty! I cried on the way to the airport the day I left. What a joy it all was!

A great visit with Jose in November to Montreal and a hotel four hour drives’ northeast of the city on the north shore of the St. Lawrence. We live within a mile of the Hudson River — but this was a whole other sort of river! I loved speaking and hearing French again; I lived in Montreal as a Gazette reporter, in Paris at 25 and have been back to both places many times since.

A few days upstate in Saratoga Springs visiting very good friends, former Times colleagues. The hot springs did seem to help my arthritic hip!

I enjoyed some well-paid and really interesting work writing for a non-profit foundation that gives money for academic research. It allowed me to interview three brilliant, passionate and accomplished researchers. Loved it.

Jose continues to enjoy good health and has plenty of steady well-paid work, which has lightened my workload. I’m so grateful! I started writing and selling my photos at 19, hustling hard for decades. It is a great gift to just do a lot less.

Three dear friends each came to visit. We love our pals who live far away — one in Portland, Oregon, one in Milwaukee (both former students of The New York Times Student Journalism Institute) and my pal Scott, who lives in Pennsylvania. It was great to finally catch up with them, even though one of them fell desperately ill for about 24 hours — and so did we! With one very small bathroom, it was a bit of a horror movie. It wasn’t COVID or flu. Maybe norovirus.

Completely new, a much stronger relationship with one of my two half-brothers, 10 years younger, who fought stage 4 cancer and looks likely to be OK. We met when I was 15 and he was 5 but spent very little time together, even though we lived in the same city for decades; we had different mothers and never lived together. I had very early stage breast cancer (no chemo) in June 2018 so I have some idea what he’s been through and made sure to call and text him often. I’m surprised and glad (however a terrible way to get there) we have a deeper friendship now.

A lovely surprise — a C1 rating after my written and oral tests from Alliance Francaise (C2 is the highest), i.e. expert.

As you can tell, renewed and strengthened friendship remains my life’s greatest gift (beyond Jose and good health!)

For 2023 I hope:

For good health for me and Jose — and you!

Continued freelance opportunities

The health and income to allow me to travel more

To study and practice my French and Spanish

Mentoring journalists working at Report for America

A publisher for our book proposal (20 rejections so far, 16 more to go…)

What were some of your year’s highlights?

Hopes for 2023?

Christmas Eve memories

By Caitlin Kelly

Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukah or Kwanzaa, I bet you carry some powerful memories of those dates, especially from childhood. Some are happy, some painful.

Some of mine:

I’m 12 and my mother and I are living in a brownstone in Montreal for a year, at 3432 Peel Street. We have a meal with local friends, then board a British Airways flight to London with decorations across the middle aisle — and a holiday meal — then have Christmas dinner in London with my aunt and uncle. Three Christmas meals in 24 hours!

I’m 14 and my mother and I are living in Cuernavaca, Mexico, a city south of Mexico City. We live in a walk-up apartment building in a residential neighborhood, Lomas de San Anton. She attends CIDOC and I go to a school just up the hill. We know no one. We have no telephone, just a pay phone on the corner. The only people who know and care about us are far away in Canada or the U.S. or England. She is bipolar and decompensating more and more as we head toward Christmas Eve, when a friend my age is arriving for two weeks from Toronto. Things are getting weird — and I have no one to tell, nor the language to describe it.

My friend arrives on the worst night of my life, then and now. My mother is in full-blown mania, driving Mexican highways with her vehicle lights off. I’m in the camper van with a student of hers, an American who’s maybe 19. We’re terrified and captive. We collect my friend. My mother drives to an industrial town and drives the van into a ditch, where there is no way to get it out again.

We leave. My friend and I are alone for two weeks, at 14 and have some great adventures traveling around by bus as I speak enough Spanish by then and we somehow have money. She goes home (I have no recollection of how) and I move back to Toronto and move in with my father and his live-in girlfriend (later my stepmother) who I haven’t lived with in seven years. I never live with my mother again.

We never discuss the events of that night.

It’s 1996 and I’m two years divorced after a miserable two-year marriage and my mother flies to New York to visit me, but gets off the flight from Vancouver already tipsy and carrying some liquor in a paper bag. My boyfriend has driven to the airport to get her, and meet her, and I am mortified. She and I have a huge fight and she leaves to go to a local hotel. It’s Christmas Eve — and it’s chaos and misery again. I go to a nearby church, as I can’t think where else to go late at night on December 24. I squeeze into a pew beside a family (whose daughter has my name!) and belt our some carols, grateful for warmth and light and refuge and peace. My mother leaves the next day.

We never discuss this.

Jose and I have discussed getting married. We’ve been living together for a few years and he has bought a lovely vintage engagement ring. We attend Christmas Eve service at the same small church I ran to that Christmas Eve in 1996, and as we leave the church, it’s starting to snow.

“Let’s go to the lych gate,” he says. The small structure, typical of English country churches, has two benches, and a roof. “I know Christmas Eve is one of bad memories,” he said. “I want to rebrand this evening with a happier memory.”

Then he proposed!

Happy ending!

Do you have any special memories of the holidays?

My writing year in review

One of my best memories of 2022…Pete’s Tavern, one of NYC’s oldest. I sat at the bar and had a long conversation in French with a visiting historic costume designer. She bought my beer!

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m writing less now than I used to…in some ways, this is good because at higher pay rates I can afford to produce less.

These were three challenging and interesting assignments speaking to academic researchers on health policy for a grant-making foundation; the communications director and I have never spoken or met but she knows me and my work through Facebook. I loved speaking to such smart, passionate people. It’s a real privilege and their work can be somewhat complex to explain.

My favorite story of the year was my first ever for the Financial Times, a global business paper in London I read every day. The quality is amazing so it was a real thrill to sell a story to them, about women ironworkers in New York City. Here’s the link. The pay rate was half what The New York Times pays — barely $500. I had to drive an hour each way to Queens, spend an hour or so speaking to the women there, then do additional phone interviews, so it wasn’t lucrative. But it was a lot of fun and a real accomplishment to break into the FT, so I’m proud of that.

I had two unpleasant experiences with New York Times editors, which effectively shut off any chance of writing for those two sections. I hate any sort of professional conflict because you can’t make a freelance living without ongoing relationships! I also lost $3,000 from the shady crew at ZZDriggs, a furniture sales website, who had committed to $6,000 worth of blog posts from me in a year — and abruptly, and without any warning at all, dumped me in July and gave no explanation. My attempts to recoup that lost income from a CEO who lives in a multi-million-dollar brownstone (of course) were fruitless. Not cool.

Also my basic mistake of not having a much tougher and clearer contract. Beware of twinkly charm!

Jose and I spent a lot of time and energy producing a 20,000 word book proposal for fellow freelancers which, so far, has failed to find any publisher, much to our annoyance and frustration — OK, mine. There are still more than a dozen looking at it…

One win was getting my rating from Alliance Francaise after taking their written and oral tests — C1 (expert!) Only one category is higher. Those bloody subjunctives!

The work I most enjoy — and I really love it — is coaching other writers. I admit it, it’s money I make with the least friction or drama as clients seem to find me, mostly through Twitter. I don’t market myself heavily as such. My greatest weakness is my laziness when it comes to endlessly marketing myself to new clients and editors.

Usually when people come to me for coaching, they already have a defined need or problem they hope I can help them with. Sometimes it’s an essay they’re working on or a book proposal or a need to just brainstorm new markets for their work. I charge $250/hour (with a one hour minimum, paid in advance.) No one has asked for a refund!

My goals for 2023 are less about writing than reading and traveling more, working on my French and Spanish skills. I have a few potential clients lined up, but just won’t chase work hard at this point. I’ve been writing for a living since I was 19 and I’m pooped!

10 things I’ve gained from using Twitter

By Caitlin Kelly

I know…we were all supposed to have fled to Hive or Tribel or Mastodon or somewhere…oh yeah, Post, where I’m wait-listed.

No question, since Elon Musk bought Twitter, a lot of great people have fled for other platforms. For now, not me.

I started using Twitter in 2014 and still use it daily.

As one wise social media expert says — social media only amplifies who we really are. If you’re a jerk in real life, you’re a bigger, louder and more visible jerk on social media.

Here are 10 things I’ve found of value:

Access to extraordinary archeology finds, whether mosaics, Roman ruins or the oddments found on the Thames foreshore by mudlarkers liker Laura Maiklem. I’m passionate about material history, and not just that owned by royalty or the wealthy, the stuff that tends to fill museums. Laura finds things like 16th century pins or Tudor shoe soles. Amazing!

Stunning works of art. One of my treasured follows is Canadian paintings, with a wide array of art, curated by an elementary school teacher who remains anonymous. Alexandra Epps posts from London and even the man whose artwork graced the cover of Elton John’s album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Ian Archie Beck. posts his lovely contemporary work as well.

Stunning wildlife and nature photography, from Scotland, Iceland, Namibia and more.

Birders! My feed recently was filled with amazing close-ups of a saw-whet, a barred owl and a great horned owl — all in Manhattan’s Central Park.

A better appreciation for the many challenges of people with chronic illness and disabilities. There’s a lot of conversation there. Hence I learned the word “spoons” and its meaning.

I’ve made friends far away — like an archeologist in Berlin I had lunch with in July 2017 on my first visit there, and an editor near London who sent me to a colleague in Helsinki (!) who assigned me a great story. I “know” a farmer’s wife in Saskatchewan, an Australian living in France, a marketing maven in Guatemala. Not sure how I might ever have encountered them otherwise.

I recently set up a three-way, three-nation Zoom with two Twitter pals — one in England and one in Montreal and me in NY — to practice our Spanish!

Amazingly — a gorgeous box of homemade shortbread, made using a 100 year old mold — arrived this week from a Twitter pal in Ontario. YUM!

The most up-to-date information on COVID, through a network of health care workers and virologists. The government has basically given up. I see highly informative threads on matters like long COVID, handheld devices to measure a room’s Co2, and boxes used for filtration.

Almost daily I see work opportunities, some full-time and many for freelance work.

I really enjoy Twitterchats, although I only participate now in two, one for freelancers and one focused on travel. They meet every week on the same day at the same time, drawing fellow enthusiasts. The travel one, run by a man living in Nairobi, draws people from Vancouver, Dundee, Malawi, Kazakhstan! I always learn about a place I’d like to visit (like Jordan) and am able to share many of my own travel tips, having been to 41 countries and lived in five.

Thanks to direct messaging, I’ve been able to access some information I need and couldn’t really have gotten with a cold email. I’ve found it socially and professionally helpful.

I’ve been lucky — rarely trolled or bullied. And I don’t hesitate to mute or block!

Do you use Twitter?

Has it been useful to you?

A few things about me

My mother edited a food section of a national magazine for a while — this was a story about kids in the kitchen. We were ordered (!?) to have a flour fight. Dazed with joy, I’m in stripes, probably age eight,

By Caitlin Kelly

One of my weekend reads is HTSI, the glossy oversized magazine that arrives with the Financial Times.

Every issue starts with a series of questions, asked of someone interesting and creative.

For fun, I’ll do one here using their standard questions.

My personal style signifier is scarves. I have a huge collection, from two beloved Hermes carres to linen, cotton and four crinkled silk mufflers bought probably 20 years ago from Banana Republic: dark brown, rose pink, fuchsia and cream.

The last thing I bought and loved a rutilated quartz ring at a crafts fair, a gift from my husband.

The places that mean a lot to me are Paris (have had three birthdays there and spent my 25th year there on an EU journalism fellowship)l Ireland (have been five times, home to my paternal great-grandfather, a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in Donegal), Thailand, New Zealand and Corsica, so overwhelmingly beautiful I wept then the plane took off. My hometown of Toronto is sprawling and ugly, but filled with memories.

I have a collection of brown and white transferware china; silver lusterware china, antique textiles. I use all of them.

The best souvenir I’ve brought home is a huge black and white Sempe drawing/poster of Paris in the early morning. I never tire of it.

I’ve recently discovered how much endless patience it takes to sell a book proposal!

The best gift I’ve received was a pair of diamond huggie earrings, which Jose gave me on our wedding day in 2011. I wore them daily — until they disappeared entirely a few months ago. Heartbroken.

In my fridge you’ll aways find coffee, cottage cheese, pesto, fresh ginger, lemons, limes and unsalted butter.

The last item I added to my wardrobe is a pair of burgundy leather loafers. New shoes!

The very small bear

An object I would never part with is a very small stuffed bear I’ve had since early childhood.

The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Egon Schiele. Like Klimt, he died far too young, both killed by the Spanish flu.

The beauty staples I’m never without are fragrance, mascara, Weleda Skin Food.

An indulgence I would never forgo is travel, As often as possible, as far away as we can afford. Also, fragrance!

My style icon is Ingrid Berman in Casablanca as Ilsa Lund. Gorgeous gowns. Great jewelry. Fleeing Nazis in style!

My favorite building is Sir John Soane’s Museum in London and the Neue Galerie Beaux Arts mansion in Manhattan.

The works of art that changed everything for me might be the Mexican muralists — Orozco, Siquieros and Diego Rivera. Powerful, filled with images of rage and social injustice.

When I need to be inspired I reach for a reference book on design or visit a museum.

The best bit of advice I ever received was from my late mother, who faced multiple forms of cancer and survived them all — of managing anxiety…”What should I do? Jump out of my skin.” Deal with it.

I have no interest in NFTs, crypto, bitcoin, tedious gossip.

And a few of my own:

My greatest challenge is being patient. Also, our very dysfunctional family of origin.

Big Sur, CA

The best place I’ve visited is hard to choose! Thailand, Corsica, the Arctic, Big Sur and Kenya.

My deepest regret was marrying the wrong person the first time. Caused me a lot of heartbreak and self-doubt.

My greatest weakness might be persistent idealism.

My greatest strength is persistence and determination.

Five things that always make me happy are spending time with my husband, being in a beautiful landscape, heading off on vacation, long conversations with a friend, a deep, nourishing sleep.

What makes me angry is entitlement, the assumption others are there to serve you without question or challenge.

Five essential musicians/composers are Bach, Vivaldi, Joni Mitchell, Richard Thompson, Nick Drake.

Five essential authors: Mark vanHoenacker, Carmen Maria Machado, Balzac, Zora Neale Hurston, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc.

Five favorite museums: the Neue Galerie, NYC;’ The Tenement Museum, NYC; The Gulbenkian, Lisbon; the MFA, Boston.

Five lesser-known spots worth a visit: Andalusia, Charleston SC, Savannah GA, The Eastern Townships of Quebec, Big Sur, CA.

What’s something about you you might want to share?

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.