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?

What would you do with a windfall?

Sigh. The N.S. house that got away — where I had hoped to invest my money.

By Caitlin Kelly

The word dates back to the 15th century — fruit blown from the trees, no need for the labor of picking it.

These days, it’s a bit of luck, often financial, that appears when we least expect it.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a few of these over the years, like a five-figure copyright settlement for misuse of my work (and many others!) by Canadian publishers.

A four figure sum, a dormant bank account, also in Canada, I had no idea existed.

The greatest was a surprise inheritance from my late mother, who died in 2020, after a decade of no communication with me, her only child. I would never have expected she would leave me a dime, but she left a decent sum, to my shock and gratitude, and five pieces of art I really love and wondered if I would ever own.

That money paid, in part, for my trip to California in June, one of the best vacations of my life, allowing me to explore a place I had long dreamed of, to connect with 11 friends out there and even with a cousin I hadn’t spoken to in years.

I bought myself a very good watch, an estate piece (i.e. previously owned by someone else) and love wearing it.

I still haven’t figured out what to do with the rest of this inheritance, which is a pleasant dilemma, for sure. The markets are a mess, so investing it feels like not a great choice. It’s not really enough to buy appealing North American real estate. I would never touch crypto or bitcoin, so for now I look at affordable properties in far-off places like Brittany.

If you’ve never had much money to manage beyond the basics of survival, it’s overwhelming to figure out what to do, who to trust, where to use it (or not) and how soon. Financial literacy is a learned skill — many people don’t know what a fiduciary is — someone managing your money who by law must act in your best interests, not their profit.

If you suddenly came into some serious coin — $10,000 or more (and even $100 can make a huge difference for many people, especially in an era of rampant inflation) — what would you do with it?

We often fantasize about winning the lottery, but it’s a hell of a responsibility!

Work should be fun! (Really?)

By Caitlin Kelly

Long loud harrumph.

Thumps cane for emphasis.

No!

Ok, yes, of course, often, maybe, if you’re really lucky, much of the time.

But always, every damn day of a 40+ year career?

Unlikely and foolish to desire.

The tedious cliche is “that’s why they call it work.”

The opposite fantasy is “love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Ask anyone who’s been in the working world for a decade, let alone 20, 30 or 40 years.

This is also, I know, somewhat stiff-upper-lip generational — and I think an insistence work be “fun” is really proxy for a lot of other frustrations: carrying massive student debt for decades, low wages, terrible/non-existent promotions and raises, toxic managers, coworkers and/or customers (hello, foodservice and retail!)

As I’ve written here many times, I generally enjoy my work as a writer of journalism and content marketing, coaching and teaching. But there have been many times I was utterly miserable, even for a full year — like my last staff job as a reporter at the New York Daily News — where I was consistently ignored or bullied. It was torture.

It was a steady, decent paycheck at a then-respected newspaper, then the nation’s sixth-largest.

But happy? No, I was not happy. Fun? No, it was not, ever, fun.

When I worked for a few months in Toronto at Canadian Press, the national wire service, I had to write up every weekend’s accidental deaths across the province, slugged (named) Fatalities — aka Fats. NOPE. Not fun.

As a trade magazine editor in New York, I had a terribly low freelance budget and a highly demanding boss. Not a fun combination.

I do not subscribe to the belief that all work is, or should be, drudgery. But accepting that even the coolest-looking work has downsides and frustrations is more realistic. Even the best-known and wealthiest musicians and film stars have had work that failed to find an audience, auditions that were a disaster, spent years in the trenches working away before hitting the big time. Fun? Probably not.

I think we’re fortunate if we can find work that:

pays decently

offers kind, fun, funny, smart co-workers (even one of these!)

decent management

respect for the work we do

offers room for growth, internally or a boost to our next job elsewhere

helps other people live better/safer lives

I admit that, at its best, journalism has been amazing fun for me, many many times.

But it’s not a well-paid career.

It’s not a secure career and getting fired or laid off is pretty normal, even if expensive and annoying.

Forget a pension.

It’s often insanely competitive, even within your organization. So there’s plenty of stress and anxiety as well.

What’s the most fun job you’ve ever had?

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?

A few post-vacation epiphanies

By Caitlin Kelly

The very best vacations — yes, always a luxury! — return us to normal life with some fresh ideas and insights, some new ways of thinking or behaving.

Maybe we tried a new form of exercise (hiking, biking, surfing, snorkel or scuba, kayaking).

Maybe some new foods.

Maybe we altered our daily rhythms, getting up much earlier to savor sunrise and cooler temperatures or staying up really late to enjoy local nightlife.

My month away, solo, driving coastal California, gave me much-needed solitude but also some fantastic opportunities to get to know my friends better, through long conversations, un-rushed, over a good meal or just sitting in the shade.

The best decision I made — and one I am keeping up now that I’m home: much less exposure to the news, especially the useless national nightly news on. American television which (apart from the PBS Newshour) is a tedious and predictable gorefest of violence and sticky sentimentality.

I didn’t watch TV news or listen to radio news once and my mood and outlook are much improved!

Yes, the world is going to hell. I do know that.

But marinating in it every day isn’t doing me any good either.

If it’s that crucial I will see it (and do) on Twitter.

I didn’t expect to, but I fell hard for California, and was checking real estate prices everywhere, both for purchase (hopeless!) and rentals, and am now looking for a way to rent for a month or more in L.A. and maybe also in Monterey, my two favorites.

I dropped my normal routines of spin class two to three times a week, and that felt good.

I’ve always hoped to retire to France, probably only part-time, so this new love of California is interesting — but French real estate, depending on the area, is so much more affordable, (and the euro is now on par with the U.S. dollar.) So we’ve got pleasant decisions at some point.

My best takeaway was just being out there all alone for a month. I’ve been traveling the world alone since I spent four months, at 22, visiting Portugal, Italy, France and Spain (most of it in Spain and Portugal.) It’s never scared me and I’ve never had a bad experience despite people insisting I’m “brave” to travel alone at length as a woman.

Refreshing my much-valued sense of independence was a great joy — but so was the lovely home and husband awaiting my return!

I hope you’ll all be able to take a restorative break.

California, concluded. Lots of photos!

By Caitlin Kelly

I loved stumbling into a farmer’s market in a suburban mall parking lot.

OK, I cried. It’s hard to drive an L.A. freeway while crying!

But it was painful to leave California and its stunning beauty and weather — I didn’t have even one rainy or cloudy day in 29 days in June, and I faithfully wore sunscreen but came home quite tanned!

Chinatown, San Francisco

I loved seeing 11 friends, in North California and in Southern California, some of whom I had never even met in person (Twitter, online writers’ groups, Facebook) and others I’ve known for decades. I “wasted” two sightseeing days (one in San Francisco and one in Los Angeles) with friends — just sitting for hours catching up and, of course, with lots of discussion about our work and goals in journalism. No “sight” could possibly have pleased me more.

I had 12 days — June 10 to 22 — completely alone, which never for an instant was lonely or boring; I’ve been traveling the world alone since I was 22, so I am not only used to it but really enjoy it.

I found these period Russian icons at Fort Ross so beautiful

Jose and I, like many people (and those with small children and pets) have been working in a one bedroom apartment since March 2020 and COVID — making the normal free options of our local large library impossible.

I needed out! I craved solitude! I wanted adventure and independence!

My late mother’s beloved Mousie, a perfect travel companion — at Julia Pfeiffer State Beach,

Big Sur

I stayed in six different kinds of lodging, none of which was disappointing — two renovated/attractive motels, one with a gorgeous, lush interior garden, free breakfast, laundry and a pool — and savored the luxury of a five-star hotel for my final five nights, The Langham in Pasadena. Its nightly price was less (!!) than my motel in Santa Barbara and worth 100 times the value: valet parking, multiple restaurants, pool, spa, concierge…you name it. My room had a fantastic view over their enormous gardens and the city below.

Looking down from impossibly twisty Route 1, Big Sur

Isn’t he great? The most treasured object in the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

I loved the foliage!

I was also a terrible tourist — in Los Angeles, arriving with ambitious plans — I didn’t visit a single museum or sight. I did see glorious Union Station, had dinner at Musso & Frank, (open since 1919), and visit multiple neighborhoods: Little Tokyo, Hollywood Boulevard, Santa Monica, Pasadena, the Arts district. I loved seeing how people just live, driving around different neighborhoods; most middle class houses are small and one-level, but many have spectacular gardens and often are painted in delicious colors: deep blue, mustard, pale pink, olive, soft gray.

Couldn’t find(?!) a cake at the grocery store, so I had a birthday pie! Dinner at Canadian friends’

home in Oakland.

I was also a terrible non-hiker. With daily temperatures at 90 degrees or more, it felt like an unhealthy choice and, warned about ticks and rattlesnakes, thought better to return with proper hiking boots! I did a few flat hikes (2 miles) and that was good.

My tiny perfect bedroom at Deetjen’s

Big Sur, looking south

At the astonishing Monterey Aquarium

I can’t wait to go back.

Surprises

By Caitlin Kelly

One of the challenges of travel is choosing to enter and navigate unfamiliar territory — whether cultural, linguistic, meteorological, historical, political or geographic. It can make for some lovely, serendipitous discoveries along the way or that sinking feeling of whyyyyyyy?!

You always arrive with limited time and energy and a budget you hope won’t destroy you financially for months to come — unexpected costs and some splurges.

Some of this trip’s surprises, almost all pleasant:

The incredibly low price of taking Caltrain, the commuter rail of the Bay area — $1.75 one way, versus $15 one way for the same sort of system, Metro-North, in New York.

The relative ease of finding street parking in San Francisco.

Having pals notice my Facebook and Twitter posts saying “I’m in California” and reaching out to meet up for a meal — like my cousin who I hadn’t seen in decades!

That a small hotel room isn’t the issue if it’s quiet, safe and charming. It’s why I’ve avoided all chain hotels on this trip but also because even the usual reliables got such very very mixed reviews as I was making my decisions.

That today’s monstrous-sized vehicles, especially in any parking lot more than a decade old, let alone one from the 1960s or earlier, make parking and maneuvring safely a nightmare, sometimes with mere inches of clearance.

Gas prices in California (taxes) are about $6.69 a gallon, $2 more per gallon than New York.

No rest stops?! This has been the worst shock of all, when faced with 3-5 hour drives between locations. You really have to stay well hydrated with heat and glare….but there is nowhere to use a toilet except stopping, turning off the highway and hoping to find something clean nearby. (A local friend says they do exist, but not on the roads I took.)

That so many people from very very far away swooped into California to make their fortunes…like Russians?! Also, Sir Francis Drake?!!!

The reason the landscape here so resembles that of Mexico’s…it was Mexico before 1846.

There is much less history here in some places — beyond indigenous of course — than on the East Coast, where my town contains New York’s oldest church (1685.) The Santa Barbara Mission dates from 1786. It is making me re-think history.

I do poorly with a lot of heat or hours of direct sunlight, so my good friend Merrill very thoughtfully took us hiking at two coastal sites — very very windy but cool.

I was actually disappointed by the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, having seen, everywhere, much more beautiful and unusual plants in private or commercial gardens. I didn’t explore the whole 78 acres so I may have missed some true treasures.

I had no idea what astonishing plants and flowers grow here. I stop, stunned. almost every day by a cactus or tree or flower.

I had to backtrack two hours’ driving to Morro Bay for whale-watching but found the village (10,000 people) more intriguing than shiny, prosperous Santa Barbara. I enjoyed SB (and got a haircut and pedicure and did laundry there) but Morro Bay is marked by a huge mysterious 23 million year old volcanic rock that dominates the skyline.

I loved humpbacked whale-watching. How amazing to be surrounded by them, smelling their exhaled breath (fishy!) and watching them surface then dive. Their dives leave a telltale flat pool — a flukeprint!

I didn’t expect to like Morro Bay as much as more chi-chi Santa Barbara but I liked it a lot…a working fishing village. I especially loved waking to the barking of harbor seals and the low constant tone of the foghorn.

During my true alone time — June 10 to 22 — I’ve enjoyed some good conversations along the way with strangers: a gay couple from my area of NY; a woman whose job it is to find and chase people distributing illegal hazardous material; a young college graduate in search of life advice and a pastor of a tiny congregation who planted his church 30 years ago. I love hearing people’s stories!

Churches that are enormous windowless industrial looking boxes.

I certainly knew California is known for produce and agriculture — but not for cattle ranches, many of which I’ve seen along this trip, some more than 100 years old. It feels very Old West in so many places.

I’m enjoying this break but I miss my bed and my routines and my husband.

Now down to my final five days, and headed to Pasadena and Los Angeles, where I’ll be meeting up with several friends I know through social media.

Onward!

California, cont.: heading south on Route 1

In the 19th century, Fort Ross was run by Russians…some material remnants of their church

By Caitlin Kelly

My next stop south after Santa Rosa was the small town of Monterey, which I liked a lot…very easy to get around and I soon found the gorgeous main post office with its tiled WPA murals and a very good French patisserie next door! I mailed home some stuff I’m not using or wearing. I loved my pretty, large hotel room and the hotel restaurant (Casa Munras) served excellent tapas.

I really liked Monterey’s legendary Aquarium! Simply stunning, although not cheap — $50 admission and wayyyyyy too many children, infants and strollers. I immediately threw on a mask as the crowds were noisy and intense.

But what wonderful sights! The place is very large, with two floors, and everything from a HUGE octopus to jellyfish to sea turtles to sea otters, puffins and penguins. I loved that we could watch their three sea otters then stand on the balcony and use their powerful telescopes to watch them in the wild, floating nearby in kelp beds.

I also heard some distinctive bellowing — sea lions! It’s such a thrill to see these creatures in the wild…at the harbor.

I spent a few hours in Carmel, an extremely elegant small town with amazing shopping and the prettiest residential streets, many shaded by old-growth trees; a 10 minute drive from Monterey.

I loved this tiny room! So pretty, even though very very small, at Deetjen’s.

The Santa Lucia Mountains of Big Sur, late afternoon.

I then drove south on Route 1 — extremely twisty hairpin roads on very steep hills! — to Big Sur and Deetjen’s, a small hotel/inn created decades ago by a Norwegian man who made everything there out of wood. I absolutely loved it and my minuscule room, maybe 40 square feet?, called Petite Cuisine…as in, yes, it was a former kitchen so half the room was an old sink. But the room had plenty of charm, with three floral paintings, soft curtains, a quiet and efficient fan and the prettiest duvet. I shared 2 tiny bathrooms in that second-floor section with four other rooms.

It was all worth it and was (at midweek prices) the least expensive room ($100/night) of this entire trip. I loved everything about Big Sur and have only seen such astonishing beauty in 3 other places: Corsica, Ireland and Thailand.

The Santa Lucia Mountains slope very steeply there to the turquoise Pacific, crashing against jagged rocks beneath wind-twisted cypress trees. There are dozens of roadside mailboxes…residents living very high above the road or very low below it. Lucky them!

Here are some of the many hikes and beaches locally…I visited two of them and hope to do others on a return visit.

I treated myself to an elegant and delicious lunch just north up the road at the Post Road Inn, where rooms are –yes — $1,000 a night. And another night I had nachos and beer at the Taphouse, and tried to avoid the predations of the Stellers’s jays, who are both very distinctive and quite confident!

It’s hard to explain how deeply seductive and alluring Big Sur is…like the other landscapes that have moved me to tears, it feels utterly timeless and wild. You simply cannot go fast! Road signs warn that if you have five vehicles behind you you must pull off into one of the many “turnouts” and let them pass — like a school bus and the garbage truck! Two local elementary schools are named (!) the Apple Pie School and Captain Cooper’s; older students have a long (gorgeous!) bus ride south to Cambria or north to Carmel.

On the road south I pulled over to see a beach covered with sea elephants. Amazing!

I’m now in Santa Barbara for three days, then back to Morro Bay hoping to see whales, then the final leg — Laguna Beach and Pasadena. Can’t wait for the Santa Monica Airport flea market the morning of June 26! The one I’d hoped to visit near San Francisco was rained out. The two sights here I plan to see are the Botanic Garden and the Santa Barbara Mission — then a visit to nearby Montecito, home to wealthy celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Harry and Meghan.

I was last in Santa Barbara as a university student, visiting my late great-aunt whose lovely house faced the ocean on one side and a lemon grove on the other.

I’ve also been tending to basic maintenance after 17 days on the road: doing all that sweaty laundry at a laundromat, and getting a haircut and a pedicure. Feels so good!