Smile, honey! Why what I do with my face is none of your business

By Caitlin Kelly

No one tells him/her to smile!
No one tells him/her to smile!

Have you heard of “bitchy resting face”?

A piece in today’s New York Times has, so far, drawn 564 comments on the bizarre notion that a woman’s face is something total strangers can expect to make them feel happier:

RBF is now the topic of multiple “communities” on Facebook, dominated by women.

Plastic surgeons say they are fielding a growing number of requests from those who want to surgically correct their “permafrowns” (again, primarily from women).

The country star Kacey Musgraves recently helped Buzzfeed create a list of 17 more accurate names for RBF (among them, Resting “this wouldn’t bother you if I was a guy” face).

A New Jersey business journal, NJBIZ, even published a special report on the topic.

If you’re an American woman, the larger culture demands you be real friendly! all the damn time — and a woman who doesn’t walk through the world with a big fat reassuring smile plastered on her face is deemed angry, annoyed, frustrated and (wait for it), rude as a result.

FFS.

I grew up in Canada, a British-inflected nation (see: stiff upper lip, emotional reticence, subdued expressions of feelings) where no one — thank God — expects you to be chatty and charming to every single person you meet. It’s exhausting!

London -- where no one expects me to be all cheerful all the time
London — where no one expects me to be all cheerful all the time

I moved to the U.S. in 1989 and one of the biggest cultural adjustments I’ve made in the 25 years since then is the cultural norm of being genial to strangers. Why, exactly, is never made clear.

It’s just a cultural norm. I still don’t feel compelled to be “friendly” to anyone, and don’t feel compelled to apologize for not doing it. Civil, polite — of course!

Beyond that? I conserve my emotional energy for situations I think require it.

It was much worse in the 2.5 years (Merry damn Christmas, already!) I worked retail as a sales associate for The North Face, working in a suburban New York mall, serving customers who were often extremely wealthy and whose behavioral expectations were off the charts. Surrounded daily by minions they’d hired and could fire in a heartbeat — nannies, chauffeurs, au pairs, maids or their workplace employees — they were positively stunned when we dared to utter a one-syllable word to them.

No.

As in, “No, we don’t have that jacket in your size/color.”

The only way to soften the terrible blow of their delayed gratification was by offering an automatic huge smile and a heartfelt apology — all on low wages. (This is called emotional labor and it is, very much, a thing.)

My second book, published in 2011
My second book, published in 2011

I wrote a book about that experience; the link is here.

I know I’ve got a severe case of BRF and I’ve even addressed it explicitly in job interviews because when I concentrate hard I don’t always keep eye contact (bad) let alone I fail to smile reassuringly (even worse) at the person trying to decide if I’m likeable enough to hire.

One reason I work freelance alone at home!

I have no doubt my lack of reflexive emotional appeasement helped tank some of my student evaluations this past year when I taught at a very expensive private college in Brooklyn. I don’t smile a lot. I don’t make an effort to ingratiate myself. I have a sense of humor and love to laugh, in the classroom and outside of it.

But sticking on a fake smile to soothe people for no apparent reason? No.

Me, hard at work on assignment in Bilwi, Nicaragua. No smile? OMG!
Me, hard at work on assignment in Bilwi, Nicaragua. No smile? OMG!

To me, learning is a serious business and those who feel cheated without fake bonhomie are a poor fit for my style.

So to tell women walking down the street, or buying groceries, or chairing a meeting or sitting on a park bench, “Smile, honey!” is a normal grotesquerie for many of us. Because, somehow, if we’re not making you feel better about yourself, we’re failing you.

It’s our face.

Have you been told you’re not perky enough?

How did you respond?

Ten days in Maine…

By Caitlin Kelly

Sunrise from our bedroom window
Sunrise from our bedroom window

If you’ve never been to Maine, go!

As the furthest northeastern state in the U.S. with only a few regional airports, it’s probably not high on the list of Europeans or Canadians on their first-ever visit to the U.S. but it’s so well worth it, even with the hours and hours of driving on winding country roads that its coastal geography requires — getting almost anywhere can take 30 to 45 minutes, even if it’s only 10 miles or so.

But such gorgeous landscapes.

We’ve been staying in a tiny town called Brooklin, home to Wooden Boat magazine, to several boat-builders, including the grandson of legendary American writer E.B. White, and to Franklin Roosevelt, the American President’s great grandson.

We were last up here about six years ago, visiting our New York friend who owns a rambling 19th century farmhouse here. I love, and am so grateful for, the privilege of settling into an easy and relaxed week of bare feet, a lit woodstove on a rainy evening, nights of total silence, the cold, clean ocean a quick bike ride away.

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The kind of place I can leave my bike outside unlocked while I get a library card and take out a few thrillers.

We cook and eat and sleep in and read and play gin rummy. We dry our clothes on a long clothesline. We eat dinner on a long screened-in porch (mosquitoes!)

Dinner on the verandah
Dinner on the verandah

Turned out our friend’s next-door neighbor knew my father, visiting from Canada, 30 years ago in small-town Nova Scotia. The world can feel very small!

We’ve also eaten some terrific meals, like very good Mexican food at El El Frijoles, (a Spanish pun on the legendary Maine retailer L.L. Bean), and burgers at Tasha’s a roadside restaurant just past it on Route 15.

Brooklin has a beautiful small library, a general store, a few shops and…that’s it. It’s on the Blue Hill peninsula, a mix — fairly typical of coastal Maine, at least mid-coast — of wealthy second (third and fourth) homeowners from as far south as Virgina and Florida and locals working as lobstermen, clammers and running local businesses.

A bushel of freshly-gathered clams
A bushel of freshly-gathered clams

Blue Hill is a town where you can buy a $300 sweater or $8/pound tomatoes — or just sit and stare at the harbor.

It’s hard not to develop severe house lust here — one enormous, 8-bedroom Victorian home for $239,000 (not cheap but oh this house!) and a pale mauve Customs House on the ocean’s edge for $300,000. Why, remind me, did I choose such a poorly-paid field?

The sky here goes on forever, with views of distant hills, islands and inlets. The closest major city, Portland, is 2.5 hours southwest. The backroads are lined with potters, weavers and artists.

We’ve played golf several times at the local club, founded in 1928; several tee boxes had miniature lighthouses as markers. One misty afternoon we heard a low, moaning sound as we played — a foghorn.

As we were about to turn into the club driveway, we spotted a red fox who gazed back at us.

Seagulls fly overhead, the sun gleaming through their feathers.

Thick yellow-green beds of seaweed line the shore, weathered granite covered with shattered lavender mussel shells dropped from on high.

Rough, boulder-studded fields bristle with blueberries, a Maine specialty — with 44,000 acres of them under cultivation.

I love its timelessness.

Have you been here yet?

A jug of cool water sitting on a table down a nearby road on a hot afternoon
A jug of cool water sitting on a table down a nearby road on a hot afternoon

More simple pleasures…

By Caitlin Kelly

At my Dad's house
At my Dad’s house

The smell of Jose’s cigar

A fab new watch — $11

IMG_20150608_115938965My first facial. Oooooohlala.

Having friends come for dinner, savoring hours of good food, good wine and lively conversation

We love to have dinner on our balcony, a pleasure we eagerly await all year long
We love to have dinner on our balcony, a pleasure we eagerly await all year long

The sound of wind soughing through the trees

The fragrance of sun-warmed pine needles

Birdsong to start the morning

Sunset over the Hudson river, our view

IMG_20150604_203602942_HDRA mid-afternoon nap

A birthday phone message from my best friend who lives a six-hour flight away, who I met in freshman English class a bazillion years ago

A fun pair of sunglasses, scored for $12 at a London flea market

A silly winter selfie...
A silly winter selfie…

Treating myself to lunch at Cafe Saks, at Saks Fifth Avenue, with its great view of midtown

IMG_20150606_135522501Fireflies

A bouquet of roses

Lunch under the trees at Maud’s with my co-ed softball team, friends ages 20-something to 70-something, a group that includes a former network TV producer, a retired ironworker and a few lawyers

Watching tugboats pushing huge barges along the Hudson River

Living in a town filled with beauty, even in unlikely places, like the walls of a newly-emptied store

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A cocktail on the roof at Red Hat at sunset at the river’s edge

The thwack of a well-hit golf ball

Pretty earrings, a gift from Jose for my recent birthday

An X and an O, one for each ear
An X and an O, one for each ear

Butterscotch pudding — only 130 calories!

Hitting to the outfield, (ok, the edges anyway)

My crisp, citrus-y new fragrance, Oyedo, by French brand Dipthyque. The original name of Tokyo — Edo — is apt, given my love of Japanese design and ukiyo-e prints

Yuzu -- yum!
Yuzu — yum!

Setting a pretty table for guests, place cards and all

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Late afternoon tea, loose leaves, made in a pot and drunk from my Moomin mug

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What are some of yours?

Making a pretty home: grace notes

By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s the next in my ongoing series, which includes 10 tips; lighting; choosing and using color and customizing/DIY.

If you’d like personalized help or advice, send me some photos and I’m happy to help you find a solution to your decorating dilemma. I charge $150/hour.

As a former student at the New York School of Interior Design, I learned a lot in those classrooms!

The smallest home — even a shared dorm room — can still be made personal and lovely. And it doesn’t have to take much money, but a bit of imagination.

A few ideas:

 

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— Look for items that are similar, in size, shape, color and texture. Group them together

A small (or large collection) has much more visual impact than one item. Here are two wooden horses I found in Port Hope, Ontario, a small town east of Toronto. I found the smaller one (new? not sure) at auction for a few dollars. The larger one, hand-carved folk art, was more than that, just over $100. But the pair work nicely together.

— Don’t overlook the beauty, color, texture and life that flowers, greenery and plants can add

But have fun with it. Don’t keep them in their sad little plastic nursery or grocery store pots! A funky antique or vintage tin, a glass jar, a pretty pottery container are so much nicer; this site, Jamali Garden in New York City, is a trove of amazing and affordable ideas. Keep an eye out at your local thrift and consignment shops for affordable ideas and inspiration. I found this terrific metal cachepot at a local consignment shop for $25 and have been adding various pieces of greenery and flowers over weeks, replacing them with fresh ones as needed.

 

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Treat yourself to a few tools, like Oasis, the green foam used by florists to line pots and dishes so you can adapt a wide array of containers to any design you like. A frog, a glass or metal holder into which you stick plant stems, will also offer you more arrangement options.

 

$10 for five at my local thrift store. Score!
$10 for five at my local thrift store. Score!

— Color!

A calm soothing white/cream/neutrals color scheme is gorgeous (albeit difficult with small children and/or pets). But adding pops of color keeps it fresh. I scored five of these lovely wine glasses for $10 at my local thrift store. So pretty with a holiday table!

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— Add a personal and unexpected detail

This velvet sofa is at least a decade old and the welting had worn thin on the cushions. Replacing it was too costly, so was re-upholstering or slip-covering. All that needed fixing was the welting. But the scale of the welt was also key, something bold and interesting. I looked at plenty of polite, safe pale green options on-line before going in this direction instead. Love it.

 

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— Relate texture and colors to one another

I found this Victorian mirror in Port Hope as well; its soft apricot velvet interior echoes the color of fabric on a table below and several frames we hung nearby. The table-covering is dark embroidered silk (texture, color, pattern), with a pierced copper-colored lantern (texture, color, pattern) atop a bold cotton print (pattern, color.)

 

At night, with a votive inside it, it casts such gorgeous shadows!
At night, with a votive inside it, it casts such gorgeous shadows!

— Keep your eyes open for surprises

I found this pierced metal lantern in, of all places, a shop at the back of a cafe in Minneapolis, when I was out there for a presentation at the University of Minnesota about my book, Malled. I’m a curious traveler and, no matter where I journey, even for a short business trip, I build in a day or two to explore local shops, museums and/or restaurants. Regional tastes can vary widely and you never know what you might find. This one cost very little — $13.50 — so I bought two, (pairs always have more impact!), and shipped them home via FedEx since they were light but too bulky for my suitcase.

 


 

One error many people make is assuming their rooms have to be all-done-all-at-once. Buying everything from one place, whether Ikea or some other retailer, can make a room look cookie-cutter and boring.

If you’ve inherited some nice pieces, find ways to incorporate them, whether some lovely china and glassware or a great old chair (if the shape and condition is good, re-upholstering is well worth it.)

Read design magazines and borrow some books from your local library, (not to mention hundreds of on-line sites for inspiration), to find rooms you find really attractive — so much so you want to go live in them!

Don’t worry if they’re in a huge mansion or tiny cottage; don’t focus on cost or whether you’ll find something just like it. Look at all the details you find appealing and figure out why so you can make (more) thoughtful and informed choices when you buy something to add to your home. 

Clear, fresh colors (lemon yellow, aqua, fresh white) or moody, jewel tones? Worn and weathered surfaces or clean, shiny modern ones? Do you prefer a floor of bare hardwood (and what color)? Or an area rug? Maybe sisal?

The most interesting of all rooms are added to, (and subtracted from!), layer by layer, year after year, decade after decade. The richest, visually, use different textures, tones, materials — like wood, glass, stone, metal, wool, silk, cotton, velvet, mirror and ones that relate to one another the way old friends find much in common to discuss.

Also look at some specific styles of design, whether French, English, Japanese or Swedish; you might find you’re suddenly and deeply passionate about tansu chests, Navajo rugs or bergeres. (Hello, Ebay….)

This book, from 1977, A Pattern Language, is widely considered extremely helpful.

I like this one, Decorating With Pattern, from 1997; (as you can see, the newest books aren’t necessarily the best!)

Of all my many design books, I love Home, by Stafford Cliff, with great photos and interviews with people about their quirky, lovely homes. Certainly the only design book I’ve ever seen with an athlete included (Sebastian Coe)!

Have fun!

 

 

 

20 more things that make me happy

By Caitlin Kelly

Hearing a loon call — and it’s someone’s ringtone

Touring an Ontario heritage site hosted by a young ranger, D. Fife, whose mother is Ojibway and father is Scottish — classic Canada

Scoring a gorgeous teapot at auction

$31. Score!
$31. Score!

Paying a lot of tax on vacation purchases in Canada — knowing that it helps to pay for cradle-to-grave health care for everyone there and supports Canadian students’ $5,000/year college tuitions.

The scent of sun-warmed dried pine needles

The sun back-lighting a garden, iris glowing

Sitting very still in an Adirondack chair watching Lake Massawippi

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Hearing French spoken all around me, and on the radio, and speaking it myself

A bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich on toasted whole wheat bread, with mayo

Stocking up on Big Turks

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Floating alone in a swimming pool, motionless and silent

Eating butter tarts,  peameal bacon and smoked meat while home visiting Canada

Reading a terrific murder mystery set in the Eastern Townships, with a chapter that begins “‘Tabarnacle,’ whispered Beauvoir.” Quebec slang! Written by a former Canadian journalist living within a few miles of where I was reading her work

A very good professional massage

Huge squishy pillows covered in soft white cotton

Driving through Vermont in the rain listening to U2’s Joshua Tree

Awakening to birdsong

A pretty new cardigan in ballet-slipper pink at Ca Va De Soi, a knitwear firm with shops in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto — and also soon online

Feeling so well-loved by dear old friends who welcome us back into their homes, year after year

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A badly-needed 10-day vacation — then returning to multiple freelance assignments and teaching gigs

Bonus: Having two countries I’m legally able to belong to, and to work in: Canada, where I was born and raised and the U.S., where I have lived since 1988 and am lucky enough to have a “green card”. I get to celebrate my two countries in the same week each year —

Happy Canada Day! (July 1) and Happy 4th of July!

Two sets of fireworks!

 

 

 

The man in the chair beside me at the hair salon

By Caitlin Kelly

Alex’s salon is smaller than our living room, barely 200 square feet, with a large window facing north onto Grove Street, a quiet part of the West Village of Manhattan. He used to be on Carmine Street, a few blocks east, but, as it always does in New York City, the rent went up.

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So he moved into this space — once a clock repair shop — and re-made it, adding black rubber flooring, a long, narrow metal bench and all the newest magazines.

His salon has three chairs. Such a tiny space, situated on an unusually short, quiet city block, with one assistant sweeping up hair or shampooing, creates a sort of immediate, comfortable intimacy. Strangers a few minutes earlier, clients often end up trading business cards, sharing jokes, laughing together at silly videos on our phones.

Here’s a young executive about to take his pregnant wife on a “babymoon” to the Turks and Caicos. Here’s a woman in her 50s scrutinizing the edges of her pixie cut. Here’s a woman in her 70s, regal and serene, her hair a mini bouffant.

Some men — like my husband (who used to go to Alex when Jose had hair) — prefer a barber shop: quick, in, out, cheap.

Some women prefer the girly refuge of an all-female salon, where they call you honey and bring you cups of tea and it feels more like a dorm room than a business. And some women really don’t like being seen by men, let alone men they don’t even know, with a head full of foils or their eyebrows slathered with dye, mid-tint.

Let alone running across the street looking like a crazy person in this deshabille to plug the two-hour parking meter.

I also like supporting a man who’s stubbornly stayed in business for decades, holding out against brutal rent increases and, this year, a bitter, snowy winter that kept many clients home instead. His shoulders, he once confided, ache every day from the physical demands of his job.

So much of quirky, small-business, independent Manhattan is disappearing beneath the boot of greed and real estate development; streets like nearby Bleecker — once filled with dusty, intriguing shops — are now jammed with tourists buying pricey crap from the Big Name Designers who have totally taken over.

Regulars like me — more than a decade — still ask after Alex’s earlier assistants, like Bree, who long ago moved to San Diego and got married, or Eddie, a gentle soul with bright blond hair, who now works at a salon uptown.

Everyone comes to Alex: gay, straight, Wall Street execs, fragile old ladies from Queens, museum curators, publishers, writers. Few places in New York City — where every zip code has its own tribal markings and style codes and few stray beyond the precincts where they fit most comfortably, whether in Dockers or Prada — bring together so many different kinds of people, generally happy to chat with one another.

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Last week, the man sitting beside me quoted Chaucer in Middle English, an experience (of course!) I loved and could identify with, as I’d read Chaucer in Middle English when I was in college.

Everyone is welcome here.

He has a young autistic client who freaks out if he sees the odd mask on the salon wall, so Alex makes sure to cover it up when he comes in. I’ve seen very old, very fragile women in wheelchairs, their patient attendant waiting for them, come to him for their color and style. I’ve seen him lean in and quickly offer one a gentle kiss even though he talks a tough game, and he brooks no bullshit. Make no mistake.

It’s New York City, filled with hundreds of more-glamorous competitors for my business.

I could get my hair cut and colored anywhere else.

But why would I?

How much does “pretty” matter?

By Caitlin Kelly

Cover of "Pretty Is"
Cover of Pretty Is

Loved this blog post, from dressaday, by brilliant Bay area writer and dictionary editor Erin McKean, about why women don’t have to be pretty — unless they choose to:

You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness toanyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.

I’m not saying that you SHOULDN’T be pretty if you want to. (You don’t owe UN-prettiness to feminism, in other words.) Pretty is pleasant, and fun, and satisfying, and makes people smile, often even at you. But in the hierarchy of importance, pretty stands several rungs down from happy, is way below healthy, and if done as a penance, or an obligation, can be so far away from independent that you may have to squint really hard to see it in the haze.

And this essay from The Wall Street Journal by an Iranian writer, Marjan Kamali, about returning to her homeland, where every woman she meets urges her to pretty up:

The first thing we noticed as we strolled to a fancy shopping mall were the couples. Young women in bright tunics and scarves that slipped back to show their hair walked with guys in jeans and tight T-shirts. The women’s eyes were accentuated with eyeliner and shadow…Their nails were red and green and hot pink.

“I didn’t know they were allowed boyfriends here,” my daughter said. “I didn’t think they could do lipstick.”…

Later that evening, over a feast of jeweled rice and walnut and pomegranate stew at my aunt’s home, we caught up on family and politics. Suddenly my aunt said: “I can take you if you want.”

“Take me where?” I asked.

“To our best beauty salon.”

“I didn’t come here for a beauty salon.”

“As you wish,” she sniffed. “But what is this look that’s no look that you have?”

At another relative’s house, it was the housekeeper who pulled me aside. “Madam,” she whispered. “Those eyebrows. Please. You’re a mother of two. You need to be tweezed.”

My naked face stood out among a sea of lipsticked and glamorous Tehranis glowing under their hijabs. The surprise bordering on concern at my un-made-up ways was everywhere. “Why don’t you wear more makeup?” asked women whose cheeks were caked with foundation. “What do you have against lipstick?”

In Tehran, it turned out, the standards for fashion and appearance were extremely high. Women dieted and went to Pilates and yoga. Though by law they had to cover up outside their homes, many women rebelled, especially the young. They let their head scarves slip as far back as they could and wore tunics that, while not revealing any skin, were vivid and tight. And they obsessed about their faces, moisturizing and plucking and exfoliating.

And this, from Danish blog Rebelle Society, one I recently discovered:

Brace yourself, beautiful.

We’ve now entered the PhotoShop era, where a fanciful fiction of fairness leads to a fall down the rabbit hole of deception and discontent, all designed by an ad executive who will tell the world what your ass should look like in those $300.00 jeans.

It’s a dizzying effect of distortion and contortion of beautiful form without adding real function and it’s pretty damn ugly.

I’m also re-reading DV, one of my favorite books, by the late, legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, a famous jolie laide, whose style was defiantly and gloriously and confidently eccentric.

Women use their disapproval of one another’s appearance as a channel for aggression, according to this recent study. Facepalm.

While we’re heavily socialized not to appear mean, women can be sneakily vicious to those who fail to meet our standards of thin, stylish beauty.

Here’s Emily Graslie, who does videos of science from the Field Museum in Chicago, talking — with considerable and real frustration — about the haters who comment on her appearance, not her effing big brain and all the cool stuff she shares. Morons!

If you’ve got time to watch it, this new British documentary about six extraordinary women — ages 70s to 91, including an active choreographer and the oldest woman in the House of Lords — is lovely. Each is stylish in her own way, from the Baroness visiting her hair salon of 30 years to the defiantly confident Bridget, who visits Vogue to see if they’d like to hire her as a model.

They each have terrific elan and confidence, and none is Botoxed or rolling in bags of cash. The film is 47 minutes long, and worth every minute.

Pretty is as pretty does.

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A beautiful home nourishes us — 10 ways to nurture yours

By Caitlin Kelly

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it:
Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe
to be beautiful.”―
William Morris
Chinese Jade ornament with flower design, Jin ...
Chinese Jade ornament with flower design, Jin Dynasty (1115-1234 AD), Shanghai Museum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the few architecture blogs I read is from Alabama firm McAlpine Tankersley. I love their designs, even though the mega-mansions and second homes they are hired to create are far beyond my reach financially.

A recent post:

Architects and Interior Designers are in the business of affecting the physical plane of our world by producing a scape that can be seen and touched – lived in and on.  Integral to its success is the layering of texture, tones, and the reflection and refraction of shades of light and dark.  Depth and scale of shape in measured doses to elicit a calculated response…

Our sensual experiences have a physiological response by stilling our minds, calming our hearts and relieving stresses.

Great beauty has the power to relax and center our energy and emotions.  Lowering our internal pressures free us to see more clearly and calmly.  It is always a goal to create a meditative space that is restorative in nature, a space that you feel better in and are compelled to linger through.

…Beauty can be a retreat for healing.  Luxury is a tonic for the soul.

As someone who has seriously studied antiques, art and interior design, these words deeply resonate with me.

I spent much of my childhood at boarding school — brown metal beds, chenille bedspreads, weathered floral wallpaper, linoleum floors — and summer camp. Living with other people’s institutional aesthetic choices has left me with a fairly ferocious desire to make every place I live in lovely, welcoming and, as Susan writes here eloquently, a retreat for healing.

Journalism is also a business often conducted in atrocious working conditions: noisy, filthy, crowded and/or filled with stress, whether financial or professional. By the time my husband staggers in the door after a long day and a long train/taxi commute, he’s ready to be soothed!

I loved studying design seriously, understanding why some colors and proportions are inherently beautiful and others jarring and wearying. In our color class, we were taught the color scale and how to use shades and tones. In our materials class, we learned the relationships between textures and how to use them safely and elegantly.

It doesn’t matter if “home” is a small dorm room or a trailer or an apartment or a house. It’s what you make of it.

Here are some ways to create beauty in your home:

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The bouquet above cost $30 — a splurge, for sure — but provided enough material for bouquets in three rooms that will last for at least two weeks.

Fresh flowers, a plant or some branches

Unless I’m totally skint, every week includes a bouquet of fresh flowers or greenery from my local florist. No, it’s not a necessity, but what a lovely touch to have even one bright pink gerbera, the tart scent of eucalyptus or some branches of curly willow. I also stock up on Oasis (florists’ foam) which can turn any water-tight container into a vase and frogs (glass and metal holders that fit into a low or flat container), easily found in thrift shops and flea markets. Or — take your kitchen shears and find some bittersweet or holly growing wild.

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I found these pierced-metal lanterns for an unlikely $13 each in a cafe in Minneapolis.

Candles, votives and/or tea-lights

Not a day goes by that I don’t light a candle, or several, usually as we sit down to dinner. It creates a totally different mood from any other sort of illumination. Instead of leaping out of bed on a cold, dark winter’s morning, take five minutes to light a small bedside candle.

Fresh towels or linens

Even a new $5 dishtowel, in a fun pattern or color, can cheer up your kitchen. I find unusual shams, sheets, coverlets and pillowcases like this gorgeous floral duvet cover at Anthropologie and these super towels in a blue and white pattern from Zara Home.

Three or four sources of light per room — and overheads only in bathroom, hall and kitchen

Think about the most soothing and beautiful interiors you’ve been in. They may have been in a hotel or restaurant, where professionals have seriously considered how to create a mood using light and darkness. There are different kinds of lighting, (task, overhead, floor lamp, table lamp) as well as different colors of bulb. Three-way bulbs allow for different levels of brilliance. Overhead lighting — especially fluorescent — is often depressing, unflattering and too dim to be useful. If you can afford it, consider adding dimmers to every overhead light.

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On my desk, I’ve layered a 19th-century woven wool paisley shawl underneath a Peruvian manta.

This hand-embroidered vintage linen tablecloth perfectly covers our headboard.
This hand-embroidered vintage linen tablecloth perfectly covers our headboard.

Vintage textiles

My passion! Few items add as much character and warmth to an interior as an early hand-made quilt, gently worn vegetable-dye rug, embroidered linen napkins or pillowcases. You can easily find vintage fabrics on-line through EBay and Etsy, as well as flea markets and antique shows. If you know how to sew, whip up some throw pillows or a tablecloth.

Scent

It might be a scented candle or lavender sachets tucked between your linens or your sweaters. I love making sachets from vintage textile scraps. (Also great to toss into your suitcase!)

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Lovely flatware

You can find great old things for pennies. We use mis-matched silver plate I’ve found in flea markets everywhere I travel. A bottle of silver polish will restore them to a soft gleam.

A piece of pottery

It might be a spoon-rest or a teapot or a bowl. Having a useful object made by someone’s hands is a great reminder that not everything in our homes has to be made cheaply by overseas labor. I recently wrote to the Ontario potter who made this teapot, which Jose bought for me in Toronto years ago, just to thank him for adding such beauty to our lives.

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Vary the shapes and sizes of your objects and furniture

Is everything you own shaped like a square or rectangle: (sofa, tables, rugs, bed)? Add some curves! A round or oval mirror, a round or demi-lune side or console table, even a long, narrow runner in the hallway will mix things up. An over-sized round lantern or bowl can change the look of a table or chest of drawers.

Pools of darkness, to add mystery

Obviously not in places that need to be very well-illuminated for your safety, like stairs, kitchen or bathroom. But the most alluring spaces have a feeling of discovery or mystery. I found my small, dimmable uplighter lamp at Home Depot for a big $13.05.  This once-dead corner of our living room now contains a round covered table, on it two marble garden ornaments, an antique planter and a pierced metal lantern found on sale at Pier One. The Victorian mirror was an antique store find in small-town Ontario.

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Get that needle away from my face!

By Caitlin Kelly

Having had four orthopedic surgeries in 12 years is enough to put you off needles for a long, long time, between pre-op blood tests, IVs and anesthesia.

So I’m not going to be reaching for the Restylane or Botox — face freezers or fillers that make you look calmer and younger — any time soon.

No needles in my face, kids!

Pretty Face
Pretty Face (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a recent column from The New York Times about how to age gracefully, without all the paraphernalia:

Some days it seems everyone I meet is afraid of getting old — or at least of looking as old as they are. Occasionally, I see women who have had so many face lifts that they can barely move their lips when they talk, let alone smile.

Business is booming in the anti-aging market. Plastic surgeons who specialize in lifts, tucks and fillers barely noticed the recent recession. Cosmetics with anti-aging properties fly off the shelf, and new concoctions appear almost weekly.

I admit to supporting the multibillion-dollar skin care industry with my long use of night creams, as well as a slew of daytime facial and body lotions that purport to “smooth out” aging skin while protecting it with sunscreen. I also color my hair, which in its natural state is now about 80 percent gray.

But I draw the line at injectable fillers and muscle relaxants, face lifts and tummy tucks. I’ll do everything I can to stay out of an operating room.

I’m with her on that. I also really like her emphasis on who you are are as you age, not just the shape, size and condition of our bodies and faces:

Youthfulness is not just a question of biology. People are perceived to be younger than their years if they smile and laugh a lot (be proud of those laugh lines!) and are generally cheerful and upbeat, the kind of people who smile at strangers and wish them a good day.

People often guess me as 10 to 15 years younger than my true age, which is pleasant. This week, a NYC cabbie guessed me 13 years younger, and young people looking at me in broad daylight (i.e. their eyesight is fine!) do so as well.

If people perceive me a decade younger than some of my peers, it’s likely a combination of things:

— I’ve never smoked

— I get a lot of sleep

— I disconnect, often, from technology to meet people in person, read books in print, get into the real world

— I minimize my use of social media (however hip) to recharge and reflect

— I enjoy my life, and have a wide network of supportive friends

— I only drink moderately

— I exercise 3-4 times a week, often outdoors in nature

— Genetic good fortune — my aunt, who died at 82, looked amazing (she might, having been a well-known actress in England,) have had “some work done” along the way.

— I have much younger friends, some even in their early 20s, and love being part of their lives

— I’ve never hit rock-bottom, terrifying poverty, the kind where you have no idea where your next dollar, or dime, is coming from. Terror and 24/7 anxiety will age anyone quickly.

Here’s a great post from Emma Johnson, aka Wealthy Single Mommy, a fellow New York journalist, who is 36, about accepting and enjoying how our bodies change with age:

In the past year or so I’ve noticed other first, albeit subtle signs of aging: The large pores. A second glass of pinot grigio at night and I wake to extra-dark circles and creping under my eyes. The cellulite that has hugged the back of my thighs since I was 12 has spawned and now also covers the front of my thighs. After two babies and four decades, I don’t expect to see a flat tummy again. Everyone knows bodies age, yet are surprised when it happens to theirs. Here I am.

And yet.

And yet for the first time in my life, I see something else that wasn’t there before. When I see pictures of myself smiling I notice the fine laugh lines, yes. There is something else in my whole face that is new. The same thing when I catch a reflection of my eyes in the rear-view mirror as I glance at my children sleeping in the backseat. I see the crow’s feet at the same moment and I see a pretty face. I did not see pretty before. It may have never been there, I’m not sure.

For the gentlemen in the audience, here’s a smart/funny column from Details magazine on the subject:

We now have a small army of male archetypes suffering sartorial midlife crises.

There’s the man still padding around dressed like the 28-year-old Silver Lake hipster—Vans, Daft Punk tee, thigh-hugging jeans—he was a decade ago. His proliferation is easy to understand, because his style requires no effort. Change nothing. No wonder he has numerous stuck-in-time siblings, like his urban-styled brethren.

Women, certainly in the U.S., are judged harshly when we’re not deemed sufficiently  thin, perky and unwrinkled — which rules out plenty of us over 40, let alone 50.

It also focuses way too much attention on the size of our hips or ass when we really need to focus attention on the size of our paychecks and investments for retirement.

Active, curious,open minds and generous hearts are every bit as important — and generally far more within our control — as the inevitable ravages, and sometimes really lousy luck, faced by an aging body.

Some of the coolest women I know live in my apartment building, like M. who’s 80 — and feels about 60 — with fab clothes and a pompadour, a booming laugh and a spirit that still kicks ass.

I want to be her.

When you look in the mirror — especially those of you over 30 — are you happy with what you see?

What did you make today?

By Caitlin Kelly

It was the end of the day, time to go for my walk along our town’s reservoir.

It’s a walk I’ve made dozens of times, in every season, for many years, along an asphalt path shaded by towering trees, the  reservoir on one side, filled with ducks and swans and turtles. People come there to fish, or sit, or jog.

Cyclists whiz past.

Nothing new.

All familiar.

But for…a trick of the light.

Spider web
Spider web (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’re in the right place at just the right moment, and you’re paying attention — not yammering on your cellphone or texting or racing past — you’ll see stuff.

A deer. A small black turtle. Some ripe raspberries.

And there, shimmering in the early evening sunshine, was a huge spiderweb, as big — I measured — as the entire size of my hand, from base of my palm to the end of my middle finger, seven inches.

It was spectacular!

It was attached, with multiple strands, to the thick bark of a tree, as if, like some bivouacking mountain-climber, s/he’d decided to latch on and dangle. There were multiple attachment points, and then the web itself, with so many concentric circles I couldn’t count them all — 20?

In the center sat a very small brown spider, (probably exhausted!), perhaps half the size of my smallest fingernail. Even better, there were about five other, smaller webs nearby, sort of a spider condominium, each with its own spider. (Relatives? Tenants? Guests?)

I stood there for a few minutes, awestruck by the skill, artistry and the spontaneous beauty it brought to the end of my day.

What on earth could I possibly make of such delicate strength?

What did you make today?