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.

Twitter in free-fall…what I’ve loved, hope not to lose

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m not sure how many of you use Twitter or appreciate it or have been following the nightmare takeover by Elon Musk whose every move as its new owner reeks of weird desperation and feudal overlord vibes.

Here’s the latest on it from The New York Times:

A taste:

The order for immediate layoffs, the ensuing panic and the about-face reflect the chaos that has engulfed Twitter since Mr. Musk took over the company two weeks ago. The 51-year-old barreled in with ideas about how the social media service should operate, but with no comprehensive plan to execute them. Then he quickly ran into the business, legal and financial complexities of running a platform that has been called a global town square.

It’s really depressing!

OK, it’s really depressing for those of us — many of us writers and journalists — who have relied heavily on the site for years as a great place to promote our work and our skills.

I found two of my favorite assignments ever there, one a profile of a senior energy executive for a Finnish company (referred to an editor in Helsinki by a Twitter pal in London) and a time writing blog posts about, of all things, pancreatic cancer research, also for a woman who found me solely thanks to my posts there.

I’ve never blogged about either topic and would never have put my hand up for these assignments — but they were fascinating and well-paid and I’m grateful!

But my love for Twitter (which I know is a hellscape of trolls and bots if you end up in the wrong corners) is also based on the global connections and some new friendships I’ve made there, as have so many.

And, yes, I’ve blocked some truly obnoxious people, usually men who can’t tolerate the idea of a woman who dares to disagree, even politely, with them.

One of my dreams has been to get my first book back into print, revised and updated. Thanks to Twitter, I recently contacted an editor whose house might be a good fit — that just wouldn’t have happened for me otherwise. I wouldn’t have dared and I wouldn’t have known the etiquette.

What I like most about the platform is how real (or not) you can be. I post serious stuff about writing and travel and sometimes about politics. I retweet art and photos. I’m just me. I’m not there to be fake or hard sell although some are.

This week I got into a lovely and sentimental conversation with two other Canadian women (strangers!) about our much beloved childhood hamsters — one even shared a photo. I love this stuff.

Social media was designed to be social.

Some of my many treasured Twitter finds:

— an archeologist in Berlin whose main work is based in Turkey at Gobekli Tepe, a Neolithic site. I think we connected through a Twitterchat. When I finally visited Berlin in July 2017 we met for lunch.

— A prolific mudlarker in London, Laura Maiklem, who routinely posts images of treasures like a Tudor shoe. She’s gained more than 200,000 social media followers.

A fantastic daily stream of Canadian paintings, in every medium, from every era. It began in 2018. So cool!

— Photos of 18th century clothing from various historians.

— pictures of various ancient mosaics from several female archeologists.

— inside dope on aviation from professional and amateur pilots, a group of #avgeeks.

— a Dutch woman who (!) is knitting me an amazing hat

— Gorgeous landscape photography, much of it from Scotland and England.

— I also really enjoy two weekly Twitterchats, where I meet up with fellow enthusiasts from around the world; #TRLT, for The Road Less Traveled, which draws people from Vancouver to Malawi. And #FreelanceChat, which assembles freelancers for a lively conversation and which teaches each of us new tips and insights.

I know a lot of people have already left Twitter and fled to Mastodon.

I haven’t yet, It feels really unwieldy and not nearly as easy to find and spark this sort of cross-disciplinary conversation.

Have you been a Twitter fan?

Have you left?

Have you joined Mastodon?

How does one become creative?

In 1845, a young girl made this sampler…early creativity

By Caitlin Kelly

Back when I started this blog — 2009 (!) — one of my first and best-read posts was about the endless American fetish for “productivity” when creativity is really what drives most innovation, and certainly the arts.

As every blogger knows, blogging demands creativity! Ideas, some skill and the eternal optimism there might actually be an audience out there for us.

As readers here know, I only moved to the United States at the age of 30, so its cradle-to-grave obsession with work and being seen as obsessed with work — above all other pursuits (family, friends, health, a spiritual life, etc,) struck me, then as now, as weird. Yes, I know about the Puritan work ethic. But we’re not all wearing shoes with buckles or moving around by horseback and making our own soaps and clothing either…

In a country whose minimum wage pushes millions into poverty, millions will never find the time and energy and encouragement to savor creative pursuits, even for their own pleasure — cooking, knitting, crocheting, embroidery, woodworking, making music or visual art. American capitalism makes sure only the well-off have the leisure to do it without sacrifice — I still get a payment every year from Canada’s Public Lending Rights program, a sort of royalty system that pays authors for the library use of our books. It’s not a large amount, but is deeply meaningful to me, both because it democratizes access to our work and sends a powerful message to creators — you matter!

I don’t have children, but I do see the tremendous pressure American children face — to pass endless state tests, to do terrifying “active shooter drills”, to get into fancy and costly colleges.

None of which seem likely to foster creativity.

So I’m always in awe of creative people, some of whom manage to keep producing their work in the face of some serious odds.

Here’s a 9:07 video of actor Ethan Hawke talking about creativity; it’s gotten 5.2 million views.

“We’re educating kids out of creativity” says Sir Ken Robinson on this 2006 TED talk; it’s 19:12 minutes long and has received 74 million views, with lots of laughter and insight. “We need to radically rethink our idea of intelligence,” he says. Worth it!

Here’s one unlikely and interesting example of creativity — a book out May 16, 2023 from a San Antonio nephrologist whose Twitter threads on medicine were moving and powerful. Social media networks like Twitter, Instagram and YouTube have fostered and spread all sorts of creativity, from high schoolers to seasoned professionals.

We recently visited friends who worked with my husband at The New York Times for decades, one a photographer renowned for his portraits and his wife, a photo editor. Her father was an architect and her mother a textile designer; his father and grandfather were bakers.

I grew up in a home filled with all sorts of art — Inuit prints and sculpture, 19th c Japanese prints, Mexican masks, a Picasso lithograph — and all three of my parents (father, mother, stepmother) worked in creative fields: journalism, TV and film-making. So it feels natural and felt inevitable I’d work in some creative capacity, as I’ve done since my teens when I sold three photos as magazine covers in Toronto while still in high school.

But creativity requires many things some people never have:

  • silence
  • solitude
  • uninterrupted time to think deeply
  • a physical space in which to paint, draw, print photos in a darkroom, weave, sew
  • access to needed tools and materials
  • the disposable income to buy needed tools and materials
  • a larger culture that admires and celebrates creativity, whether family, school, neighborhood, country
  • skill sufficient to make something you might want to keep or sell
  • time, energy and spare income to learn and perfect those skills
  • good health and mental focus
  • encouragement!

My favorite book on the subject is the 2003 book The Creative Habit by American choreographer Twyla Tharp.

She is ferocious! No awaiting the muse!

When, how and where does your creativity emerge?

Have you been encouraged along the way?

By whom?

The ole cultural code-switch

By Caitlin Kelly

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

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

Canada

poutine

pouding chomeur

Tourtiere

a two-four

pogey

RRSP

GIC

a riding

Mounties (and stuffed teddy bears that look like them)

an MP

Public Lending Rights Program

The Canada Council

OSAP

OAS

CPP

NDP

The Privy Council

portage (verb and noun)

how to pronounce Yonge Street

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

peace, order and good government

QC

Crown land

post-secondary education

Two Solitudes

cultural mosaic

Order of Canada

to deke

Tim Horton’s

CBC

Je me souviens

Hochelaga

Upper/Lower Canada

Getting screeched

Algonquin Park

Queen Victoria’s birthday holiday

wearing a poppy pin on November 11

In Flanders Fields poem

Banting and Best

U.S.

Emmett Till

Lincoln bedroom

The people’s house

GOP

the Dems

gerrymandering

Final Four

NCAA

CD

Medicaid

Medicare

SNAP

WIC

ACLU

NPR

the BQE/LIE/ Route 66

co-pay

deductible

pre-existing condition

District Attorney

SAT/ACT

AP classes

a full ride scholarship

Pell grants

FAFSA

life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

a Hail Mary pass

calling an audible

the thrice-folded American flag presented at military funerals

OK, what did I forget?

A visit to Charlevoix, Quebec

By Caitlin Kelly

Baie St. Paul, Charlevoix, Quebec.

Only once — decades ago — had I ventured this far into northeast Quebec, writing a feature story when I was a Montreal Gazette reporter.

Jose and I planned a Montreal visit, our visit in 3.5 years, but were also lured to Charlevoix, a mountainous region bordering the St. Lawrence on its north shore.

We decided to try it on the recommendation of a travel writer and came to Le Germain, one of many hotel properties developed across Canada by the Germain family; I’d stayed in one of their first, in Montreal, a long time ago and loved its chic, minimal style.

When I looked at it on the website, it didn’t woo me. The buildings are large blocks of glass, metal and wood and the landscape didn’t seem that compelling.

It’s a four hour drive from Montreal.

But the room rates were excellent — $215 Canadian/night (right now about the Canadian dollar is 72 cents to the U.S. dollar, a serious saving for American visitors like us.) Most hotels have really jacked up their prices to painful levels. We also arrived right after Canadian Thanksgiving, when their rates were about $75 more per night.

Our room was small but the views were amazing and it had a small balcony with two chairs and a lovely wooden rocking chair in the room.

The St. Lawrence River

We loved our five days there: our second floor room offered incredible views across the valley south to the St. Lawrence, cloud-wreathed hills still filled with fall colors, two lunchtime visits to Joe’s Smoke Meat, where they go through 10 to 15 slabs of 26 pounds of meat every day.

We savored the hotel’s spa and heated outdoor bathing pool.

The heated pool — looking west around 4:00 p.m.

We loved waking up to the unlikely sights and sounds of mooing of longhorn cattle below our balcony and the baaaa-ing of stampeding sheep as their morning feed arrived — there’s a small working farm on the property.

And chickens!

Lavender beds directly below our balcony were done for the season.

We arrived at a slow time for the hotel and town, so the hotel was blessedly quiet and we had the large dining room mostly to ourselves at breakfast and dinner, and enjoyed its excellent morning buffet. (A wedding party of 150 arrived the morning we left.)

There wasn’t a lot to do or see, but we enjoyed that, as it gave us both time we needed and appreciated to nap, to enjoy slow mornings, to read, to take photos.

Most people speak English but it’s been great to speak French again every day, several times a day. I miss it!

My favorite French word! It means pastries.

Wash day in Baie St. Paul

We drove further east to Les Eboulements, a series of small villages tucked into the hills, most houses with the distinctively curved metal roofs typical of rural Quebec. We drove to the very edge of the St. Lawrence and visited a gorgeous paper-maker in St. Joseph-de-la-Rive, where we each bought 10 sheets of home-made paper which we’ll likely use to print photos on.

Quebec, of course, is heavily Catholic, with many double-spired churches.

A rainy day Madonna

The hotel staff told us many Germans and Italians like to visit here as well. It’s a timeless landscape with some very steep hills and dramatic views of the river — and we saw several freighters going by.

The hotel also sits right beside the town’s train station and bus station, with service back west to Quebec City and upriver (not very far) to La Malbaie. It was fun to see and hear the small train arrive.

I especially treasured how silent it was, and the delicious smell of woodsmoke.

We will miss this morning view, and look forward to a return visit.

Do you have a shadow life?

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

By Caitlin Kelly

Not sure what else to call it.

Maybe a ghost life.

I don’t mean you’re haunted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are no do-overs!

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

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

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

I left Canada for a variety of reasons:

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

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

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

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

Have you lived outside your native land?

Is this a question for you as well sometimes?

10 reasons to watch Babylon Berlin

By Caitlin Kelly

I may have raved previously about this series — the most expensive German TV production ever made (2016) — “with a budget of €40 million that increased to €55 million due to reshoots” says Wikipedia — but am now re-watching it for the fourth time, both savoring the smallest details I missed or misunderstood before and the comfort of favorite scenes and moments.

It’s a neo-noir detective series that starts in Berlin in 1929, during the Weimar Republic, a period of incredible tumult and change.

And Season Four starts next week in Germany — not sure when we’ll have it here.

The many characters are indelible, including:

Charlotte Ritter, young, broke, working her way into becoming the city’s first homicide detective but working at night as a prostitute because she’s supporting an older sister and her deadbeat husband and their two infants, a younger sister, a mother and grandfather — all sharing the same squalid flat.

Gereon Rath, a cop who comes to Berlin from Cologne, both innocent and hardened by his WWI PTSD. He’s a “trembler”, much mocked by a colleague for his ongoing post-war trauma.

Helga Rath, his sister-in-law, with whom he’s been having an affair for a decade, with his soldier brother MIA.

Detective Chief Inspector Bruno Walter, whose heart harbors both compassion and terrible, deadly ambition.

If you’ve never seen it (on Netflix), 10 reasons why it’s worth your time:

  1. To understand the many currents of Weimar Germany — intense nostalgia for The Fatherland, humiliated and broke after WWI, terrible poverty, unemployment, major new cultural changes like cinema and women joining the workforce.

2) To watch Gereon’s face as he takes his first airplane flight, moving from terror and disbelief to wonder. Magic!

3) To appreciate Charlotte’s blend of innocence and optimism in the face of relentless poverty and odds against her, and her toughness and determination.

4) To enjoy the long slow simmer of love between Gereon and Charlotte.

5) The music and sets and costumes! The soundtrack is also available — and it’s so good.

6) If you’ve never been to Berlin, to get to know it a bit through location shooting.

7) To feel as though you’re living their life with them, in all its complexity and fear and small joys — like a sunny afternoon swimming in a local lake (Berlin has more than 50! I spent an idyllic afternoon at Schlactensee.)

8) To travel to Berlin vicariously — without a mask or jet lag!

9) To keep unraveling so many layers of deceit and betrayal — and surprising loyalty and generosity.

10) For sheer pleasure!

And enjoy this terrific blog about the series — lots of inside intel!

Some very good news

By Caitlin Kelly

Last spring, Jose and I were chatting about doing a possible book, a sort of guide for fellow freelancers, as millions of people are now eager to try this way of living and working.

Over July and August we worked really hard and, writing it together, produced a full book proposal which we shared with a pal in Toronto who worked for years in book publishing and now teaches it. She liked it a lot but made some very specific suggestions to improve it.

We did that and started submitting it to agents, with a few rejections.

Then — yay! — we found an agent quickly, also in Toronto, my hometown I left decades ago. So we are now officially represented and very excited. She won’t be submitting it to editors until early November after we take a badly needed break, (Jose’s first for 2022), to Quebec and upstate NY.

Then, all digits will be crossed!

It’s a wild notion to be co-authors after 22 years together, and Jose is a photographer and photo editor and photo archivist — not a writer! But he writes very well and has been a good soldier with all my demands for revisions.

I haven’t sold a new book since September 2009, when I sold Malled, so am eager to rejoin the fray. The industry has changed a lot since then, and getting tougher, of course. There’s been a lot of consolidation so fewer places to submit to. Then the nasty fact of payments in 25% increments…the first payment (- 15% to the agent, standard every time) upon signing the deal; the second upon acceptance of the manuscript; the third upon publication — up to a year later then the final one (!) a year after that. Unless you get a huge advance, which few do, it’s not a way to make a lot of money!

But we know for sure there’s a global market for this subject and we’ve read some of the “comps” — comparable books, a must for every non-fiction book proposal. I won’t get specific yet, but ours has at least six very distinctive features that competing books just don’t offer.

Wish us luck!

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?