Who exactly is “middle class” in the U.S.?

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Can you afford a house? We can’t. Not anywhere near where we live….Maybe this is why I enjoy reading about others’.

 

By Caitlin Kelly

And, another hate read from The New York Times, somehow insisting that an annual income of $100,000 to $200,000, even $400,000 (!) or more means “middle class”:

This is the introduction, while the story focuses on seven families, with only one single man.

Being middle class in America used to come with a certain amount of leisure and economic security. Today it involves an endless series of trade-offs and creative workarounds, career reinventions and an inescapable sense of dread.

We asked readers to tell us what it’s like, and more than 500 people, with widely varied incomes, submitted responses. They described not just their financial worries but also he texture of daily life. Even those with very good incomes expressed fears of instability. They have seen their wages and bargaining power stagnate and wealth spiral to the top, while they struggle to acquire the markers of middle-class life — a college education, health care, the deed to a home.

As one reader, Kristin DePue, put it, “There is an extraordinary burden on my generation to fund our own retirement and also afford college costs for our children.” Indeed, “middle-class life is now 30 percent more expensive than it was 20 years ago,” the journalist Alissa Quart writes in “Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America.” And yet, for all the talk of “everyday Americans” among the presidential candidates, politicians do not seem to understand what it takes to get through the day, or what would really help.

 

 

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Georgetown, DC. Pricey but lovely

A few thoughts:

 

— No American — unlike some Britons who will proudly say they are “working class” — will use that language to describe oneself, even if it’s true. There are so many euphemisms for poor: broke, impoverished, low-income, underprivileged, each of which is vague and subjective. One man’s “broke” is another man’s notion of luxury.

— Many factors affect how far one can stretch a budget: housing, health insurance (if you’re on Medicare or Medicaid, free), educational costs, number of children, etc. If you’ve chosen to raise a child, or many children, that’s an assumed cost bringing many additional costs with it: food, clothing, medical care, etc. Plus childcare!

— Some areas of the country are brutally and punitively expensive for housing and if, for reasons of employment, health and/or reliable family support you can’t leave, that cost alone is going skew what you need to survive.

— If you have multiple children and every one of them attends a private university or college, let alone graduate or professional school, it will cost a fortune. Yet it remains a very loaded and un-American idea to suggest trade school or vocational training instead, even though many such workers, unionized, make very good incomes, have plenty of work life-long and tremendous pride in their skills.

— This story generated 1,358 comments (that’s a lot for the Times), as “class” is a loaded word for Americans, raised from birth on the “American dream” of social mobility.

Here’s one of them:

The median household income is $59,000 per year. All of these people in the article are far above that, but they are still struggling to afford basic things like education for their children because life is very expensive. Imagine what a family making $25,000 is going through, trying to send children to college. Everyone that is thinking about this election needs to realize that the real middle of the country is hurting. All of our security has been turned to risk, and the billionaires pay themselves as if they carry the risk, instead of us. The corporate establishment “center” has completely discredited itself, by telling us how great the economic numbers are, how “free trade” has really been great, and that there “is no money,” for the things that most people need, because, according to the owners of capital and the media they own, the only way for capitalism to work is for their corporations to get fat, no-bid, cost-plus contracts, while those same corporations have their taxes cut to zero.

Jose and I live in a suburb of New York City, in a one-bedroom apartment. Our monthly housing cost is $2,000, health insurance $1,700, various other insurances another $400+. Add food, gas, the $95 cost of a 10-trip off-peak train trip into New York City for work or pleasure, parking, dental, etc.

In our good years, we make just over six figures, as full-time freelancers — i.e. wholly self-employed; in bad years, we have had to tap our retirement savings (and thank heaven we have some.)

That, for many people, is a fortune!

But our combined income can also disappear at any moment without warning if one of our clients cuts their budget or management changes. We have no paid time off or paid sick leave.

At this point, effectively shut out of any full-time job (that would cut $20,000 a year in costs with job-supplied health insurance) by age discrimination, we are OK, partly because we have no children or dependents, and have stayed in this home for decades, driving a 20 year old vehicle.

 

How about you?

 

Where do you fit?

A fab week in Santa Fe, NM

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By Caitlin Kelly

It had been 20 years since my last visit — a 10-day trip with my husband Jose, then a very new boyfriend eager to show off his hometown. His late father was the minister of a small downtown Baptist church and he regaled me with happy memories of riding his bike down Johnson Street, where the Georgia O’Keefe Museum now houses her artwork in the shell of that original adobe building.

Santa Fe has a low, intimate building scale, since most buildings are made of brown adobe — curved, smooth, rounded forms made from a mixture of straw and earth, a visual uniformity unique to this small and ancient city.

Santa Fe is the state capital, founded in 1610, at 7,199 feet altitude, the oldest state capital, and the highest, in the U.S. — the 2012 census puts its population at 69,204.

It draws many tourists and celebrities; Game of Thrones author, and local, George R.R. Martin donated $1 million to create the arts center Meow Wolf.

On this visit, we stayed the first four days with one of Jose’s oldest friends, then at the Hilton, whose public spaces are filled with beautiful, large-scale original art, the city center a two or three block stroll away.

One weird caveat — the city has no taxis! There is a car service but $30 (!) is a fortune to travel a few blocks. I do not use Uber or Lyft and both are available.

Also, NB: the city’s altitude and strong sun mean plenty of water and sunscreen.

 

Some highlights:

 

Shopping

 

 

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I love Mexican embroidery!

I love Santa Fe style — elegant bohemian — a look more difficult to find at home in New York, where the official color is black. There is a lot of tie-dye and embroidery and insane amounts of Native American jewelry on offer, but if you like ethnic textiles from places like India, Mexico, Laos and Guatemala, you will find a lot of choice.

The city attracts some very wealthy visitors and homeowners, so some prices are eye-watering, but there are more moderate offerings:

Passementrie is a treasure trove if you, like me, love textiles — cotton, silk, linen, in pillow covers, throws, scarves and clothing.

 

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A selection of cowboy boots at Nathalie

 

Nathalie, on Canyon Road, has been in business since 1995, owned and run by its namesake, a former French Vogue editor, bien sur! A stylish mix of clothing, cowboy boots, antique and new home objects.

 

Spirit, downtown, is amazing, but spendy-y, as is Corsini, the men’s store next to it. But a great selection of floaty dresses, knitted leather handbags, basic T-shirts, wallets, jewelry. The men’s store has gorgeous cotton jeans in all those weathered Southwestern colors, $225 a pair.

 

Check out all the local food offerings to take home, from blue corn for pancakes to chile powder to posole.

 

Every day, local natives bring their handmade silver and copper jewelry for sale in front of the Palace of the Governors. Lots of choices! Many local stores also sell native jewelry, both current and vintage; Ortega’s has a huge selection.

 

If you’re interested in pottery and contemporary art, wander along Canyon Road, lined with galleries.

 

Collected Works is a fantastic 40-year-old indie bookstore with a cafe attached.

 

Act 2 is a consignment shop on Paseo de Peralta, with a wide selection of women’s clothes, shoes, accessories — including sizes large and extra-large. Not the Chanel-Gucci kind of store but lots of linen and cotton. I scored two handbags and a linen shirt.

Dining

 

Such great food!

 

La Choza

A classic since 1983, ever popular, in the Railyard neighborhood. We ate there twice: lots of margaritas and Southwestern food like frito pie (ground meat and trimmings), chalupas, enchiladas and served in a former adobe home.

 

 

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Cafe Pasqual’s

With only 50 seats, bright green wooden chairs and Mexican tiled walls, this cafe offers a long menu and delicious food, from breakfast on.

 

Izanami

This was one of the best meals I’ve eaten anywhere, sort of Japanese tapas, with a huge choice of sake and wine. The dining room is beautiful and the deck offers fantastic views of the wooded canyon. We ate soba noodles, shrimp and oyster tempura, asparagus tempura, pork ribs and gyoza, plus a glass of red wine and one of sake; $105. This is the restaurant at Ten Thousand Waves, out of town, so you’ll need a car to get there.

The Teahouse

This lovely restaurant on Canyon Road serves food all day and has an amazingly long list of teas, hot or iced. The quiet and intimate rooms are filled with black and white photos or you can sit outside under an umbrella in the shade.

Day Trips

 

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Ten Thousand Waves is a must! This spa, lodging, restaurant combination has been in business since 1981, Japanese in design. Private hot tubs, massages and dinner available. A few caveats: the women’s locker room is cramped, with only 2 showers and one toilet, while the place is very busy. It’s also at the top of a steep hill and I saw no access for those with mobility issues. The massages were excellent as was the private hot tub.

Taos

A 90-minute drive north into rugged countryside. Much smaller and quieter than Santa Fe. Worth it! Population 5,668.

 

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The Santuario

 

Chimayo

There are two reasons to make the drive, the gorgeous early Mission church, the Santuario de Chimayo (built 1813 to 1816) and the 50-year-old restaurant Rancho de Chimayo, with delicious food, shaded patios and very reasonable prices. Their sopaipillas are heavenly — and don’t forget to dip them in the pot of honey on the table; they come with almost every meal.

Los Alamos

Where the atomic bomb was developed!

Santa Fe National Forest

A short drive from town, this thick forest of pine and aspen has picnic sites, campsites and hiking trails.

Valles Caldera

Gorgeous! I’m doing tbe next blog post about this National Park, a 57 mile drive northwest of Santa Fe.

 

 

How I got my latest NYT story

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The poor kids! It poured rain all day….but they went out anyway!

 

By Caitlin Kelly

So, I have no kids and I don’t live in Brooklyn and I’ve never attended school in New York nor visited a middle school here.

Yet I found this terrific story for The New York Times about an after-school program for students who, in their classroom, build a wooden boat by hand from scratch — then set sail on an inlet of the East River, with huge boats passing and the skyscrapers of Manhattan as a backdrop.

How?

Jeopardy.

I watch the game show often and, a year or so ago, a contestant said he volunteered with Brooklyn Boatworks, a non-profit program founded by two naval architects.

As a lifelong sailor, I was immediately intrigued — when you think of Brooklyn, you don’t necessarily think first of boats or sailing.

So I did some digging and contacted the program’s executive director and asked her enough questions to pitch the idea, which was accepted. I do this a lot with my potential stories, pre-reporting them enough to create a compelling pitch — that means persuading people to talk to me even though I don’t yet have a definite assignment.

I knew I had to watch a team of students working on the boat so I visited MS (Middle School) 88 on February 14 for two hours and again for two more hours on April 18, the length of each week’s building session. I observed, listened, eavesdropped and took far more notes than I would ever be able to use — I was only allowed a maximum of 1,500 words for the story.

How would I be able to encapsulate this amazing adventure?

I took photos with my phone for later reference and interviewed several students and their two teachers. The students were friendly and easy to talk to. It was great to watch their teamwork and self-confidence easily handling tools as they built a boat together, my favorite being two young Muslim girls in hijab working with cordless drills.

 

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The boats are seven foot, six inches — those buoyancy bags help keep them afloat!

 

Few of the students had ever even been on a sailboat before and, likely, none as tiny as the Optimist, aka Opti. It all seemed like some sort of dream. Would it ever really be a boat? Was it possible? Would it sink?!

 

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Students wrapped in plastic tried to stay dry while cheering on their team-mates. That’s the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. The orange thing in the photo is a PFD, a personal flotation device every sailor needs to wear in case of capsize.

 

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Program director Marjorie Schulman was the soul of patience for the many, many emails and calls I needed to report the story. This was June 10, the day of “graduation” when every student who participated got a certificate and public recognition of their months of hard work.

 

Launch day was June 10 — a day of non-stop rain!

The event was held at Pier 2 at Brooklyn Bridge Park, with speeches beforehand and a few special guests. I met the freelance photographer there for the Times and introduced her to some of the people I needed her to focus on; typical of my freelance work, I had never met her before yet we would have to work well together quickly and under uncomfortable conditions.

That’s journalism!

 

Here’s the story, and an excerpt:

Dana Garcia, a sixth-grader, said she really enjoyed building the boat. “I sawed many pieces of it and we got to use epoxy, which my parents thought was pretty cool,” she said. “Sawing is actually pretty hard. You have to practice a lot. You have to be safety conscious and patient. We wear gloves so we don’t get cut and safety glasses so no sawdust gets into our eyes.”

Students also had the opportunity to use math and science in the workshop. “When it came to our measurements, we were always trying to get everything right and we had a lesson in the science of sailing, how to use the wind,” Dana said.

Dana, it seems, has caught the building bug. “I’d like to do a sculpture or another boat or a treehouse,” she said.

Other students felt empowered from the experience, too.

“I love learning new stuff,” Karla Miranda, a seventh-grader, said. “Before I was just doing basic girl things —- I’d watch TV, go outside, do homework. I got more comfortable using tools and how to control them,” she continued. “I didn’t know I could do all this.”

 

 

Some glimpses of my New York

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My old reporters’ notebook from the New York Daily News, whose logo is that of a classic old-time camera, the Speed Graphic

 

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s been a while since I came to live in a small suburban town on the eastern side of the Hudson River, with views of passing barges pushed and pulled by tiny, powerful tugboats. A place where red-tailed hawks glide above the tree-tops. Where one of the nation’s wealthiest families, the Rockefellers, live a 15-minute drive north of us — their helicopter always, annoyingly, thrumming too low overhead as they whisk someone south.

I love living here.

It satisfies all my desires: a beautiful landscape, access to great culture in Manhattan and at local venues like Caramoor and the art film house, Jacob Burns, economic and social diversity, (our town has million-dollar townhomes at the river’s edge, with social housing projects a few blocks inland.) I know the guys at the hardware store and the gourmet shop and the gym.

I’ve also, of course, through work and play, have gotten to know what we call The City, aka Manhattan and its four other boroughs. I know that Houston Street is pronounced How-ston and that Bleecker — perhaps confusingly — manages to run both north-south and east-west. I know where to find free street parking.

It did take me a long time, at least a decade, before I felt this was home. New York, as you can imagine of a city of eight million, many of them with multiple Ivy degrees and the most skilled and competitive in their fields and industries, can feel very intimidating.

It is also a place absolutely and rigidly stratified by wealth, social class and race, with its enormous and imposing private clubs, including the row of Ivy League-only clubs (Yale, Harvard, Princeton,. Cornell) that I’ve only visited thanks to events held there. If you head to the uppermost stretch of Park Avenue, the division between extraordinary wealth and deep poverty is, literally, across the street.

But, if you’re lucky and work your ass off, it can soften enough to become more welcoming.

Here are some images of my life here:

 

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Broadway, baby! The dream of so many performers, and the provider of many well-paid union jobs backstage.

 

Here’s a really fun story I wrote about a Jen Diaz, a young woman who won a prestigious first-ever-woman backstage Broadway management job, for The New York Times. Her father manages backstage at the Met Opera.

 

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Love this restaurant, Via Carota, on Grove Street in the West Village of Manhattan.

 

It’s expensive, but very good food, with a spectacular and enormous (!) green salad. The West Village is by far my favorite neighborhood — shaded cobble-stoned streets lined with early 19th century brownstone houses and indie shops and tiny and perfect restaurants like Little Owl. It’s become impossibly expensive to live there, but lovely to visit.

 

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This is our local reservoir. No idea what that building is!

 

 

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This is an amazing place — built in 1857. Truly a time capsule, on  the north shore of Long Island (which lies south of New York City)

 

 

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Such  beauty! I love going to the ballet at Lincoln Center (and opera at the Met.)

 

 

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Every spring there’s Fleet Week, welcoming ships to New York’s harbor.

 

 

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The New York Botanical Garden, in the Bronx. Such a treasure!

 

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Despite horrific rents, some indie bookstores hang on in Manhattan.

 

 

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I love auctions! I bought two prints at this one, a splurge. That’s my bidding paddle.

 

 

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Nosebleed seats (highest row at back of the balcony) still affordable.

 

 

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The view from our home of the new Tappan Zee bridge, spanning the Hudson

 

 

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The Brooklyn Bridge

 

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Grand Central Terminal — where thousands of commuters head in and out to the northern and western suburbs; those headed to Long Island use (hideous) Penn Station. GCT is amazing: lots of great shopping and restaurants and a food market. Commuting in from our town, now, has risen to $9.50 one-way in off-peak (non rush hour), making a day trip $19 just to enjoy the city — before a meal, drink, subway ride or activity.

 

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I love the details of this building in the West Village

 

 

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A tug and barge heading south on the East River

 

 

 

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The New York Times newsroom

 

This is a place I know well; my husband worked there for 31 years as a photographer and photo editor. I also write for the paper freelance, so have been in there many times.

 

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Our amazing local bakery, Riviera Bakehouse in Ardsley, NY, made this great cake — on 2 days’ notice. I wrote the headlines (Arthur is the publisher; Zvi a colleague)

 

I always tell visitors to New York to get out of noisy, crowded, tourist-clogged midtown Manhattan as fast as possible and head to quieter neighborhoods like the East and West Village, Nolita and even parts of the Upper East Side, which is mostly residential but has some treasures like this lovely tearoom.

Get to a riverside park and enjoy the views and breezes. Savor a rooftop cocktail or a sunset bike ride.

I haven’t even mentioned Brooklyn (as I so rarely go there,) but it’s full of great shops and restaurants and views.

There are so many versions of New York!

Climate change: what next?

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By Caitlin Kelly

I won’t repeat the endless warnings I read daily.

If you follow the news, you’re also well aware.

We were back up in Montreal last weekend where I was heartened to see this large street protest — calmly protected by multiple police officers — as students took to to the streets for their Friday school strike.

 

 

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“Don’t adapt — act” …

 

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They were inspired by a high school student far away across the ocean, Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, recently profiled by Time magazine as their cover story, extraordinary in itself.

An excerpt:

Castigating the powerful has become routine for the 16-year-old. In December, she addressed the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Poland; in January she berated billionaires at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Her London speech was the last stop of a tour that included meeting the Pope. (“Continue to work, continue,” he told her, ending with, “Go along, go ahead.” It was an exhortation, not a dismissal.)

Just nine months ago, Thunberg had no such audiences. She was a lone figure sitting outside the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm, carrying a sign emblazoned with Skolstrejk for Klimatet (School Strike for Climate). She was there for a reason that felt primal and personal. While Thunberg was studying climate change in school at the age of 11, she reacted in a surprisingly intense way: she suffered an episode of severe depression. After a time it lifted, only to resurface last spring.

“I felt everything was meaningless and there was no point going to school if there was no future,” Thunberg says. But this time, rather than suffer the pain, she decided to push back at its cause, channeling her sadness into action. “I promised myself I was going to do everything I could do to make a difference,” she says.

 

I confess to feeling daily despair over a changing climate wreaking havoc worldwide: floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, cyclones, droughts, incredible heatwaves, all of which are damaging agriculture and the oceans, drying up crucial sources of water and causing millions of people living in vulnerable areas to wonder where else they might possibly live safely.

Indians recently fled a cyclone thanks to receiving in advance millions of warning text messages —- while Ottawa, Canada’s capital, recently coped with the worst flooding in 25 years.

 

No one is safe.

 

What, if anything, are you doing to deal with climate change?

 

Is it affecting your life?

 

Will it affect how you vote?

 

Home is…?

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Montreal’s Habitat, a legendary bit of architecture

 

By Caitlin Kelly

If you’ve moved around a fair bit — as every child in a military family knows well, like the author of Small Dog Syndrome blog — it’s sometimes challenging to decide where home really is.

I’ve now lived decades in the same one-bedroom apartment in the same building in the same suburban New York town, by far the longest I have ever lived anywhere.

When my adult midlife peers lament the final sale of their beloved childhood home, I think: “Huh.” Not me.

I’ve moved a lot and have lived in five countries. But it’s now been a long, long time since I last changed residences, absolutely worn out after changing my home location six times in seven years.

It takes time to settle in, to get to know a place and its rhythms.

And, sometimes — despite all your highest hopes and best intentions — it’s just a really poor fit.

I did not enjoy living in Montreal, even with the nicest apartment anywhere ever (fireplace, 15 foot ceilings, spacious rooms) — the winter was too cold and long and snowy and the professional possibilities far too limited. Plus incredibly high taxes and, then anyway, a disturbingly high crime rate. Our building was broken into a lot.

Same for my 1.5 years in small-town New Hampshire, before the Internet, with no family/friends/job and an exhausted/absent medical resident for a boyfriend.

 

My homes:

Vancouver

Born, lived to age two.

London

ages two to five, with my parents, while my father made films for the BBC.

 

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The Ex, an annual event in Toronto

 

Toronto, ages five to 30

— a gorgeous huge house with a big backyard. Parents divorced when I was seven.

— boarding school Grades 4-9 and summer camp (four of them) ages 8-17

— a downtown apartment shared with my mother.

— a second apartment in the same building, shared with my mother.

— an apartment with my father and his girlfriend.

— a house (owned), also living with with them, in a lovely neighborhood, facing a park.

— a ground-floor, back alley studio in a bad neighborhood, until a man tried to pull me out of the bathroom window while I was in the bath. Lived alone.

— a sorority house, for the summer. Shared space, very comforting!

— a top floor studio apartment near campus; alone.

— a top floor apartment in a downtown Victorian house; with boyfriend.

— the top two floors of a (rented) house; with boyfriend, then alone.

 

Cuernavaca, Mexico

— six months with my mother in a rented apartment, age 14

 

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Montreal has some amazing  buildings!

 

Montreal, Quebec

— one year, with my mother in a rented apartment in a downtown brownstone, age 12

— 1.5 years on the top floor of a luxury 1930s-era rental building in downtown while a Montreal Gazette reporter; alone.

 

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Now that’s my kind of delivery! The Marais, one morning…

 

Paris

— eight months in a tiny student dorm room in Cite Universitaire while on an EU-funded journalism fellowship.

 

Lebanon, New Hampshire

— two years in a rented apartment on the main floor of a farmhouse, with boyfriend-later-husband.

 

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

 

 

Tarrytown, New York

—  current residence; married, divorced, solo, now re-married.

 

I know people here now.

I run into D, the amiable Frenchman who helps choose stock for our local thrift shop and notice he’s still limping, months after he broke his ankle.

I chat with M, a hardware store sales associate I interviewed in 2009 for my retail book, and who works for a man whose great-grandfather started the company.

I say hello to Hassan, who hands me shards of ham and bits of candied pecans at his gourmet shop.

I bump into friends on the street and at the gym and the train station and the grocery store and at church.

When I return to Montreal and Toronto, I’m also delighted to spend time with old friends and to enjoy familiar foods and sights and sounds and all our shared cultural references that none of my American pals will ever get.

 

So I feel lucky that so many places have been my home. I feel as bien dans ma peau speaking French in Montreal and Paris as I do hablando en Mexico as I do ordering a bagel with a schmear here in New York. 

 

Will we move again?

When?

Where?

Why?

 

Where is home for you?

 

Niksen, farniente, lassitude. REST!

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I lay for long lazy hours alone on this beach in July 2017 in Croatia. Heaven!

 

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s all sort of sad, really.

In this recent New York Times story — putatively touting the benefits of doing absolutely nothing, aka niksen — the whole reason for doing nothing is…to be more productive:

 

More practically, the idea of niksen is to take conscious, considered time and energy to do activities like gazing out of a window or sitting motionless. The less-enlightened might call such activities “lazy” or “wasteful.” Again: nonsense.

We at Smarter Living have long been fans of taking regular breaks throughout the day, as study after study shows that feeling drowsy, exhausted or otherwise mentally depleted during the workday drastically hinders performance and productivity.

In other words: Whether at home or at work, permission granted to spend the afternoon just hanging out.

 

Insert my very loud scream right here.

 

I did something unthinkable to the old me today.

I skipped the second jam-packed day at an annual writers’ conference: missing appointments and new potential clients, not seeing old friends and basically wasting the money I paid for all of it.

Instead, feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, I stayed home, alone and quiet.

I didn’t do this to become more productive!

I did it because I was tired.

I really needed to rest.

I did this because my body told me to sleep 9.5 hours last night, which I gratefully did.

I did it because I cried to a friend in a NYC tea room, worn out with anxiety.

We live in a time when millions of us are being forced into economic precarity — aka the “gig economy”, a phrase I loathe. Because this kind of work is always somewhat unpredictable (I lost my two anchor clients overnight), and can be poorly paid, one is very reluctant to turn away income, to slow down, to just….be still.

Which makes it even more important to just do that.

Nothing.

And plenty of it, dammit!

 

Do you find it hard to slow down, unplug, unwind and just rest?

 

Gimme shelter…magazines!

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By Caitlin Kelly

I need help!

Everyone has an obsession, right?

Mine seems to be shelter magazines, the industry word for magazines focused on interior design. Stacks of them fill baskets, bookshelves and bags around our apartment, and I part with them reluctantly, only because there’s no room.

I grew up, ages 8 to 16, in boarding school and summer camp, which I’m sure has something to do with this. Boarding school meant sharing a room with at least 3 or 4 others, sleeping in a twin metal  bed with an institutional chenille or cotton bedspread. Summer camp meant sharing with 3 or 4 others and sleeping in a wooden bunk-bed, its only “decoration” the graffiti of earlier residents on the raw wood.

So beauty, comfort, style and elegance matter a great deal to me.

I’m able to keep my wallet snapped shut and stay off of most on-line shopping sites, but…but…oooohh, I do love a gorgeous fabric and have splurged multiple times ordering fabric-by-the-yard and having it made into custom throw pillows or curtains.

 

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I had our old Crate & Barrel sofa refreshed with new bold piping on the seat cushions and had these throw pillows custom-made. Adding piping or welting always makes it  look more finished.

 

Our most recent purchase, from an antiques show in town, are four 1960s pale gray Chinese Chippendale-esque outdoor chairs, fabric for their cushions and a new outdoor rug for the balcony.

Because Jose and I so enjoy entertaining, it’s nice to open the door and feel completely at ease that our guests will enjoy a pretty, comfortable environment.

I also studied interior design seriously in the mid-1990s at the New York School of Interior Design, planning to ditch journalism and change careers. But my husband bailed and I couldn’t afford to work for $10/hour to start at the bottom. I loved my classes and  now really appreciate what training and skill it takes to create a spectacular space.

My parents each had terrific taste, collecting art and antiques. My father had a gorgeous Knole sofa I still remember decades later. My mother brought home lovely mirrored textiles from India and pale mantas from Peru.

And my maternal grandmother inherited a pile of money and hired Toronto’s best interior designer to furnish her apartment and, later, carriage house. I still remember a spectacular orange wallpaper from her powder room.

 

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Our living room curtains, lined, custom-made maybe a decade ago. Lots of colors to work from in here; that pale yellow-green (Farrow & Ball’s Gervase Yellow) is one of them.

 

So I happily spend hours paging through other people’s homes, whether a villa in Tuscany, a cottage in Muskoka, Ontario or a 17th. century pile in some bit of rural England. I’m not especially drawn to opulence, and much prefer simplicity, like 18th century Swedish designs or the work of Axel Vervoordt.

I love The English Home, as much for  its amazing early houses — some 400 or 500 years old — as the distinctly British sense of color and design. All those tall, tall windows, lined chintz curtains and dressing tables.

On my last visit to London, my pal Cadence, author of Small Dog Syndrome blog — who knows my love of textiles — took me to the Cloth Shop, a legendary London store that supplied fabrics and ribbons to the costume-makers of the Harry Potter films. I bought a lovely teal fabric that now covers our bed headboard.

 

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Two Farrow & Ball colors; French Gray and Peignoir (the lavender one). The drawers were custom-built into a former closet and this is the corner of our small dining room.

 

And, because I am a complete Farrow & Ball fangirl, I traveled 2.5. hours one-way by train and taxi in July 2017 to visit their paint and wallpaper factory in Dorset and meet one of their two heads of color, Charlie Cosby; here’s an interview with her and some explanations of their quirky paint color names, like Dead Salmon, Clunch and Elephant’s Breath.

Here are a few of my favorite go-to design retailers: Wisteria, Ballard Designs, Jayson Home, Anthropologie, Mothology, Dash & Albert, Serena & Lily.

 

Should women travel alone?

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I drove the 10+ hours to reach this gorgeous place for a conference — alone.

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Seems like a bizarre question — since many of us have to do so for work, and many of us like to do it for pleasure.

But this sobering New York Times piece raises some questions as well:

 

In December, the bodies of Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, of Denmark and Maren Ueland, 28, of Norway, were found with knife wounds in their necks in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Danish officials called the murders an act of terror. That same month, the Briton Grace Millane disappeared in Auckland, New Zealand, on the night before her 22nd birthday; she was found slain days later. In 2015, a 19-year-old British backpacker was gang-raped by bikers in Thailand. In March, an Australian man was convicted of kidnapping and raping a Belgian traveler seeking work after keeping her locked up in his pig shed for two days.

There’s no question that women face unique risks when traveling solo, experts say.

“We have evidence that shows that women face risks that men don’t face in public spaces, at home, wherever they may be,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, an organization that promotes female equality. Increasingly, “wherever they may be” includes alone in foreign countries.

 

 

I’ve traveled alone, most recently in the fall of 2018, driving alone for hours through upstate New York on my way to Canada. For many hours, I was out of cellphone range (although comforted by a system in our car that tracks it and had a way to communicate) and far from ready access to police or a hospital.

I drove only in daylight, as is my habit when going solo, whenever possible.

Was I scared? No.

I’ve also traveled alone in rural Sicily, Istanbul, rural Portugal, Thailand, Mexico and other places where bad things can happen and where “decent” women are generally accompanied by one of three people — their mother/father, their husband or their child(ren) and thus left unhassled.

Yet the worst things that have happened to me have always happened at home — in Toronto, Montreal and suburban small-town New York.

All were robberies, none assault or worse.

 

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Also alone, albeit in my hometown, a place filled with friends

 

I plan to spend some time alone again this summer, albeit in the cities of a Western European country, more worried about an act of terrorism now than personal attack.

I really love being outdoors and wish I could just go camping alone, but I don’t. I hate that I’m afraid of others, but I think it’s prudent. Last time I did it was about four years ago in a crowded campground at the Grand Canyon.

My mother traveled solo for years, an attractive woman in places where women don’t really go out alone, and was fine. She also taught me how put a chair beneath the door handle of my hotel room to prevent someone opening it and to dress modestly and remain hyper-aware of my surroundings and culture.

I’ve only gotten drunk once while traveling alone (in San Francisco, a few blocks from my hotel) and I don’t take drugs nor dress provocatively. I don’t walk around wearing headphones or staring into a phone or wearing expensive jewelry.

I try to be extremely aware of local customs and dress and behave accordingly.

I think it’s one of the best things a woman can do — to travel alone and know how to trust her instincts. It has, so far, given me tremendous self-confidence and brought me new friendships.

 

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Venice — alone, July 2017

 

But one of the challenges of solo female travel is knowing that we’re often being closely observed and — yes — sometimes considered vulnerable prey by the wicked. That’s frightening and I know of no very practical solution for it.

Here’s part of a wise comment (722 of them!) on the Times story by a woman in Montana:

solo travel teaches intense situational awareness, reliance on gut instincts, and a willingness to run rather than trying not to offend, as women often do to our detriment.

 

Do you travel alone as a woman?

 

Have you ever felt unsafe?

Five frosty days in Montreal; travel tips!

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s six hours’ drive from our New York home, door to door.

I lived in YUL for two years in the late 80s when I was a feature writer for the Montreal Gazette; I’ve returned four times in the past two years, twice for work and twice for pleasure. If you’ve yet to visit, it’s well worth your time and money, especially with the Canadian dollar at 75 cents U.S.

Even in winter!

Yes, it’s cold and windy. But if you’ve got warm outerwear, you’re all set. And if you need to buy some, Montreal offers plenty of fantastic and colorful options beyond the default of black nylon, like this red jacket from my fave Canadian brand, Aritzia or this cherry-blossom digital print wool scarf from 31-year-old Montreal brand Mo851.

One of the pleasures of shopping here is finding European brands and styles I can’t find in New York.

NB: City sidewalks can be appallingly, life-threateningly ice-coated — in a nation where lawsuits are rare(r) than the litigious U.S., it’s Yaktrax or bust! Walk like a penguin to be safe; lean forward and take small, slow shuffling steps, with your hands out of your pockets for balance.

Jose and I really enjoyed our break.

A few highlights:

 

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L’Express

 

L’Express

This classic  restaurant on Rue St Denis has been in business since 1980.

I love its simplicity: glossy burgundy walls, those globe lamps, a skylit back room whose walls are covered with beautifully framed images of its staff, a photo taken annually.

Food is classic French, the bread — so many baguettes they arrive in Ikea shopping bags — dense and chewy. I loved my PEI oysters, a glass of Sancerre and cacio and pepe. Jose loved his octopus salad and sea bass.

 

Arthur Quentin

Ooooooh. This store is filled with temptation for anyone with strong domestic urges: linen tablecloths and napkins, lovely china (French brands like Gien), glassware, Emile Henry cookware, spoons, teapots. Even something as basic and essential to making  a great vinaigrette as a small glass bottle with a lid. Also long in business  — since 1985! We splurged, buying everything from a glossy green crackleware teapot to new bowls, spoons and even a saucepan.

 

La Brise Du Sud

This shop offers a fantastic selection of bathing suits for men and women, and cover-ups and some of the prettiest lingerie I’ve ever seen. 3955 rue St. Denis.

 

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Dessert at Leméac

 

Leméac

Another simple room, another long-established locus of chic. This 18-year-old restaurant is on Laurier, in Outremont, an upscale French neighborhood. Delicious French food and great people-watching.

 

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This looks like a scene from Blade Runner! This is one of the views from BotaBota of a legendary piece of Montreal history and architecture, Habitat, built for Expo ’67

 

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One of the outdoor pools, by night

 

Bota Bota

Imagine a former ferryboat made into a spa. In the harbor. This place is amazing. You can go and just enjoy the waters — steam room, hot tub (on the roof watching CN freight trains rumble by and planes soaring into the blue), cold tub, showers, lots of spots to sprawl out and relax in silence. They offer a wide range of services (I treated myself to a hot oil massage and a scrub.) In its restaurant everyone sits in their white terry bathrobes, enjoying a cocktail, snack or a meal.

 

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Love this view, from our hotel room, 16th floor, looking north on Peel Street

 

Hotel Omni Mt. Royal

Have stayed here four times and love the nostalgia of seeing the condos across the street that replaced the brownstone where I lived for a year when I was 12, at 3432 Peel Street. Ask for a high floor (we like the 16th) with a mountain view and you’ll see the enormous cross atop Mt. Royal glowing in the distance. The location is terrific, with lots of shopping two blocks south on Ste. Catherine and plenty of nearby bars and restaurants (and the subway.) Rooms are elegant and spacious. I love the small dining room, which makes it feel much more intimate than a hotel with 299 rooms. Tip: For $15, with your Omni hotel key and ID, you can nip across Peel Street to the fantastic Montreal Athletic Association (admire its classic stained glass windows) and take classes or use their facilities; at 130 years old, it’s Canada’s oldest athletic club. 

 

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How gorgeous is this? Note the two enormous memorial walls listing all the soldiers working for the bank killed in WWI

 

Cafe Crew

This was once a bank. Three years ago it became a co-working space and cafe. With its coffered painted ceiling, inlaid marble floor and enormous chandeliers, its original 1928 elegance, all 12,000 square feet of it, is stunning. My grain bowl was delicious!

 

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Me, lacing up!

 

Skating at Beaver Lake

If I miss one part of my Canadian life, it’s outdoor skating on free rinks. It’s such great exercise and a fantastic way to get some sunshine and fresh air. This rink was so much fun! I brought my own skates (you can rent them) and you can get there by bus without a car. The age range was three to 70, and so civilized to have wide wooden benches to plop onto for a breather.

 

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Looking a little hesitant! I hadn’t skated in a year but I did warm up and speed up.

 

A fantastic guidebook is 300 Reasons to Love Montreal. This is a true treasure, with so many recommendations and so much to learn about this city. I dog-eared dozens of its pages!