Every month, Elle Decor magazine asks a designer about his or her must-haves. For some, it’s a name-brand pen or vehicle, or a luxury brand.
Here are (some of!) mine:
Newspapers and magazines, in print
Every weekend, I read four newspapers, all in print: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. I love taking an afternoon on the sofa to leaf through them, clipping books I want to read or shows I want to see. (I also look at the Guardian and Globe and Mail online.) By subscription, we receive about 20 magazines, from Wired and BloombergBusinesweek and Foreign Policy to lighter fare like Monocle, House Beautiful and Vogue. Yes, there are stacks everywhere. Otherwise, I’d never remember to read them!
No matter what the season, our apartment always has fresh flowers. For about $20 a week, I get enough beauty to make multiple arrangements for the living room, bedroom, dining room — even a few blooms in the bathroom! As we head into cold, dreary winter, even more essential.
A mixture of scents, including L’eau de l”Artisan, Bulgari’s The Vert, Opium and Prada Iris.
My 21-inch-deep bathtub
Bliss! With scented bubble bath (love Algemarin!) or oils, no better place to relax in solitude.
8-10+ hours’ sleep every night
Can’t run at my usual pace without it. If I skimp, it’s naptime.
My passport (and green card)
I treasure my Canadian citizenship, but am grateful for the legal right to live and work in the U.S.
The view from our top-floor apartment of the Hudson River
It hasn’t changed in decades. On July 4, we can even enjoy fireworks from five towns at once!
A ready stash of quality stationery
Nothing nicer than a thick, heavy piece of elegance with which to write a thank-you or condolence note; personalized is even better.
Earl Grey tea, poured into a bone-china cup with a saucer
For many of us, the holidays are a time of frenzied shopping, wrapping gifts, tearing them open with glee, (and pretending we love those socks, really!) — surrounded by loved ones, deep in the bosom of a welcoming family.
For others, it’s a lonely time of want and exclusion.
My greatest gift, for the past 13 years, has been my husband, Jose, who proposed to me on Christmas Eve, with snow falling around us, after the evening service at our small historic church. He knew that night had many painful memories for me, going back decades, and decided to “re-brand” it with something new and happy.
But we didn’t marry until September 2011, eight years later, in a small wooden church on an island in the harbor of my hometown, Toronto.
Our marriage, which we cherish for this, is hard-won.
We were — and still are — two hot-headed, competitive, stubborn workaholics, both career journalists more accustomed to pouring our best, (our all), into our work, a safe place to win recognition, awards and income. His parents died before he was 30 and we’re not close, emotionally or physically, to our families, no matter how hard we’ve tried. No one from his family attended our wedding, nor did one of my brothers or my mother. We have no children.
So we’re very much one another’s family.
We also married, (the second marriage for both), at what is euphemistically and hopefully called mid-life.
I’m grateful for the daily gift of a good man who loves me deeply.
We laugh loudly, and a lot. We talk for hours. We lean our heads against one another’s shoulders in public. He does the laundry. I do (some!) of the cooking. He’s starting to beat me (damn!) at Bananagrams. He’s the guy who — when I start waving the wooden stick after I’ve finished my ice cream bar — makes the buzzing noise of a light saber.
The furthest apart we’ve (yet) been — I was in Tunis on a solo vacation and he was in San Francisco, judging photos for the “A Day in the Life of America” coffee table book.
In this, our 13th holiday season together, he has shown me, more than anyone in my life so far, that love doesn’t come in a box or bag or sealed-plastic container.
It has no price tag or return policy.
If we’re really lucky, it’s right there in front of us.
As I get older and crankier, (OK, even crankier), I have a growing desire to enact sweeping changes.
Because: 1) I’m right; 2) you’re wrong; 3) if you disagree with me, I can have you drawn and quartered.
Ooops, sorry. Not queen just yet!
But in the deluded if pleasantly optimistic fantasy that I will soon awaken to the news that I am, in fact, in possession of: 1) ermine robes; 2) an orb and sceptre; 3) a big shiny crown; 4) power; 5) a throne…Look out.
Make every single person of able body work retail for a month, during the holiday season. You might be bagging groceries, or using one of those nifty folding boards to make a pile of T-shirts all tidy or stocking shelves. But you will definitely be exposed to the rudeness, demands, in(s) anity, germs, badly-behaved children, dumb questions and finger-snapping of shoppers. (If lucky, you will also have amazing moments of connection with some very cool people.) Only then can you possibly understand why “They’re so slow!” and learn to control your eye-roll and sighing when service fails to meet your needs. That low-paid, physically-grueling, intellectually-deadening job most likely doesn’t meet much of theirs.
Show every child, at age 12, (or earlier), the tools necessary to care for themselves and their home — and teach them to use them. Then make sure they do! Gender-free training, this would include household appliances, clothing and dish detergent, cleaners, polishes, dusters, brooms, mops, toilet bowl scrubbers, Windex, an iron and ironing board, a needle and thread, shoe polish and brushes and shoe trees, a lint roller.
Make sure every child over the age of 12, (or earlier), knows how to shop for groceries, compare prices and make wise choices on their own. When is a melon fresh? What can you make with a mushy banana? Is that cut of meat really cheaper?
Make sure every child over 12, (possibly quite a bit earlier), can read a food label, read and follow a recipe, prepare food safely and cook meals from scratch, using no canned, frozen or processed ingredients.I’ve never owned a microwave; you can make a great meal in about 6 minutes if you have the right ingredients.
Insist that no child be allowed to leave high school, (drop out or not), without passing a mandated financial literacy test. They would fully comprehend how to balance a checkbook (or ensure they are not spending beyond their means without full awareness of that); apply for a loan; understand an APR, a FICO score, a SEP and the value of a low-interest line of credit. The complex language of a vehicle loan, home mortgage or other major commitment — like college debt — would be familiar and accessible to them as they move into the larger world.
Repeat this test — like renewing a driver’s license — every two years, as the economy changes and people forget, become distracted and/or their needs change.
Make sure everyone knows the essential importance of prompt, sincere and personal thank-you notes. On paper, with a stamp.
Give every teen leaving home a toolbox with hammer, screwdriver, cordless drill, screws, nails, a level and a tape measure so they they can use them safely to maintain, repair and improve their homes.
Make every designer of every public space — especially the enormous expanses of American grocery stores — much more aware of the 47 million Americans who suffer from arthritis. Many shopping environments completely ignore the needs of those living with chronic pain and impaired mobility.
Create quiet zones in every possible public place, with severe fines and enforcement, to reduce cellphone abuse, earbud leakage and the blaring televisions that now assault us in airport departure lounges to (yes, really) hospital emergency rooms. When I am jacknifed in pain with a 104 degree temperature, television only makes me feel even worse. Surely people can distract themselves quietly and privately in shared space. Research increasingly shows that constant exposure to noise is extremely detrimental to our physical and emotional health.
Make every affluent teen spend a month, alone, in a developing nation — or zone of extreme poverty within their own country. Only by living among people earning pennies per day can someone understand what poverty is really like, what wrenching choices it imposes, what family damage it inflicts and what decisions, personal or political, perpetuate it.
Require every graduating college student, no matter their field of study, to learn a second language. We live in a global society. Insular thinking is dead.
Create many more affordable, attainable ways for lower-income teens and young adults to leave their homes for six to 12 months, working overseas or in a foreign country, to learn firsthand what other nations are doing better, (or worse), with their citizens’ lives. The “news media” is no substitute for firsthand experience. Trans-national friendships and experiences, whether created in high school, college, grad school or through your own initiative, are often life-changing.
Force Big Business to donate a fixed percentage of profit, (tied to CEO bonus and compensation as well), to re-patriating jobs to the United States. Call it a tax, a tariff, whatever. Just do it. Business must not be rewarded solely for raking in billions of corporate profits while stiffing millions of Americans of the chance to earn a living here.
Require every client hiring a freelance worker to pay a percentage of their fee up front. The shoemaker does it. Upholsterers do it. Frame shops do it. Making people wait for their payments and stress over meeting their own financial commitments is immoral and obscene. Sweeten it with some form of tax credit, but make it happen. One third of Americans do not have “a job” — they work in this manner.
Today is American Thanksgiving, a day for eating too much, family squabbles and friends’ doors lovingly opened to “orphans” and “strays”, those of us whose families are too far away or dead or don’t like us very much.t
It’s my favorite American holiday, and it took me a few years living here to figure out why. It’s the one day no one argues over, the one day that everyone — Muslim, Jew, Christian, atheist, Hindu — celebrates with relief that we all made it, relatively unscathed, through another crazy year.
I love how it begins the holiday season, at least for those of us who celebrate Christmas; Canadian Thanksgiving is in early October, which always felt a little early to me.
Every year, newspaper and magazine editors offer a gazillion ways to prepare side dishes. Brine the turkey or roast it? Host, guest or skip the whole shebang? The decisions are all comfortingly familiar.
Jose and I are heading next door to a lovely hotel, in a castle, for our 4:00 meal. No shopping, cooking or cleaning!
Here are some things I’m thankful for this year:
— You! Broadside is growing every day, with an array of readers that astonishes me, men and women of all ages and ethnicities, from Australia (hi Charlene and Nigel!) to Vancouver, my birthplace (hi, Rian!) to India, Indonesia, Spain (hola, JPP!) and dozens of other places. I know your time and attention is a rare resource and I’m honored.
— My husband, Jose. We’re heading into our 13th. year together. We met online, when I was researching a magazine story about on-line dating and he saw my ad and profile, with the headline “Catch Me If You Can.” We’re very different people in many ways, but we laugh our bums off and work like dogs and I’m lucky to have gotten a good husband on my second try.
— The view from our top-floor apartment. We overlook the Hudson River, facing northwest, with a clear blue sky full of jet contrails and military helicopters thudding home to West Point and soaring red-tailed hawks. We see snow and rainstorms sliding across the water and, if we’re up early enough, glittering pink and gold jewels on the opposite riverbank as the rising sun reflects in the windows there. Huge barges glide past every day. On July 4, we can watch six towns’ fireworks at once.
— Our town. Tarrytown, NY, named one of the nation’s ten prettiest recently by a major magazine. I love the 127-year-old Tarrytown Music Hall, its oft-filmed Main Street and Goldberg Hardware, still owned and run by the grand-son of its founder. I’ve lived here since 1989, and now run into friends and neighbors everywhere, from my former physical therapist at the grocery store to my dentist at the gourmet shop to my dance teacher at the cafe.
— My work. Journalism has been my world since I was an undergrad at the University of Toronto, so eager to get started, in my first year there, that I showed up at the weekly campus newspaper before classes even began. Through my work, I’ve had the most extraordinary adventures: I spent eight days in a truck with a French-speaking driver going from Perpignan to Istanbul, met Queen Elizabeth, climbed the rigging of a Tall Ship 100 feet to work on a footrope, visited an Arctic village and a remote Quebec commune, and have interviewed everyone from a female admiral to convicted felons, Olympic athletes and the female cop who kept New York’s mayor alive on 9/11. I have been privileged with others’ trust in order to share powerful, compelling stories.
— Supportive editors and agents. I may finally have found my next agent, and this week will finish up my fourth major feature for The New York Times Sunday business section. I need talented people who believe in my skill, willing to tether their own reputation and limited attention to me, to keep moving forward in this competitive and rapidly-changing industry.
— Good health. My mother, at 76, lives in a distant nursing home in extremely poor health. My father just arrived in Hong Kong, after a 16 hour flight, at 83, ready for his latest adventure. I’m fortunate to live in a safe, clean place with easy access to lovely spots in which to walk, hike, bike, golf, kayak, sail, canoe. I have strength and flexibility and my full faculties. I take none of this for granted.
— A new left hip. On Feb. 6, 2012, I had a new artificial hip implanted, a procedure that still awes and amazes me, and which gave me back my life and mobility after 2.5 years of extreme pain. Thanks to Jose’s job we have excellent health insurance and I found a young surgeon I like and trust.
— Friends. Funny, smart, wise, their love and intelligence sustain me.
A lovely card arrived this week for my husband, a thank-you note (real paper, lovely image, hand-written in pen) from a young female photographer whose work he had commissioned for a New York Times photo essay.
If you think thank-you notes — no, not thank you tweets or emails — are passe, think again.
If you really want to make an impression, consider the quaint, old-fashioned elegance of writing, stamping and mailing a thank-you note.
Whenever I leave home for a few days or longer, I carry personal stationery and some thank-you cards with me, so I never have an excuse not to write a thank-you note, to someone who hosted me for dinner or helped with my book or gave me a work tip.
Stories abound of big donors who stopped giving as much or working as hard because Obama never reached out, either with a Clinton-esque warm bath of attention or Romney-esque weekend love fests and Israeli-style jaunts; of celebrities who gave concerts for his campaigns and never received thank-you notes or even his full attention during the performance; of public servants upset because they knocked themselves out at the president’s request and never got a pat on the back; of V.I.P.’s disappointed to get pictures of themselves with the president with the customary signature withheld; of politicians disaffected by the president’s penchant for not letting members of Congress or local pols stand on stage with him when he’s speaking in their state (they often watch from the audience and sometimes have to lobby just to get a shout-out); of power brokers, local and national, who felt that the president insulted them by never seeking their advice or asking them to come to the White House or ride along in the limo for a schmooze.
Care and feeding has been outsourced to Joe Biden, who loves it, but it doesn’t build the same kind of loyalty as when the president does it.
“He comes from the neediest profession of all, except for acting, but he is not needy and he doesn’t fully understand the neediness of others; it’s an abstraction to him,” says Jonathan Alter, who wrote “The Promise” about Obama’s first year in office and is working on a sequel. “He’s not an ungracious person, but he can be guilty of ingratitude. It’s not a politically smart way for him to operate.
I say “thank you” a lot.
And mean it.
I say it to my husband, several times a day — for cooking dinner, or sweeping the balcony or just being a loving and devoted partner. We will not be sharing life forever, so better to voice my gratitude to him while I can.
A man whose vision changed my life, by creating a journalism fellowship I did in Paris at 25, died November 27, 1986. I found out when I returned to the Montreal Gazette newsroom, where I was then a feature writer, and burst into tears when the operator handed me the message.
In June 2007, I finally had the chance to thank him, by traveling to the small Breton town of Concarneau. I searched for his grave in vain for an hour, in broiling heat, before asking the guard to show it to me. I sat beside his stone and kept him company. I wanted to pay my respects, to thank him for the life he helped make possible for me.
Years ago, a former journalism student of mine — she had been very beautiful and lazy, often coasting, as she knew she could, on her looks and charm — sent me a thank-you note, finally understanding and grateful for why I’d been so tough and demanding as her teacher. She now had a very good journalism job, one that set the bar much higher than she’d expected, and she now saw why I’d been such a hard-ass, trying to prep them all for unforgiving editors, like the ones I’ve always had.
That note meant a lot!
Every day someone — the guy making your deli sandwich or doing your dry-cleaning or the woman who drives your bus this morning — is making our lives a little better. Maybe it’s a friend, neighbor, relative, professor or teacher who, even by their words or actions a decade or so ago, did or said something that smoothed our path or soothed our souls.
We need to say thank you.
Here’s a lovely blog post recently featured on Freshly Pressed by a woman, now a teacher, who wrote to thank one of her early teachers — who gave her a D on a paper.
I’ve now been to a few funerals, and far more than I’d like. It’s too easy to eulogize the dead, heaping them with praise and thanksgiving.
The London School of Economics has started a new study to link happiness to physical location, time of day and other factors.
If it’s Tuesday, they’ve discovered, people are least happy — and at 8:00 p.m. Saturday night, they’re feeling their best.
Another new study says six things make most people happy:
It turns out that you can be happy — without worrying — as long as you get enough sleep, spend quality time with your family and get home from work at a decent hour.
According to a new study, it’s the simple things in life that make us content: home-cooked meals, trips abroad, a night out once in a while. As for money, well, The Beatles said it “can’t buy me love,” and it doesn’t seem to do much for happiness, either.
On the list citing the keys to contentment, cash didn’t even make the cut.
Experts doing a study for Yeo Valley, a British dairy company, quizzed 4,000 adults on their lifestyles and asked them to rate their happiness on a scale of 1 to 5 — 5 being perpetually happy exercise guru Richard Simmons and 1 being Oscar the Grouch. The result was a formula that includes one night out a week with a partner or friends and a 20-minute commute to work.
According to the study, happy people have four alcoholic drinks a week. They also eat four portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
Here are some of the things guaranteed to leave me grinning, no matter what the day:
Road trip! It can be almost anywhere
Travel, preferably overseas. Preferably Paris or Corsica. OK, anywhere in France! Using my passport makes me really happy
Hanging out with a dear friend over a great meal (or cold beer)
Cold beer — Hoegaarden, Blue Moon, Grolsch, St. Ambroise, Griffon…
An authoritative G & T made with original recipe Tanqueray
A very good pedicure
Scoring a treasure at a flea market or antique show
Watching the red hawks soaring over our balcony
Setting a pretty table and serving dinner to friends
Getting a book finished and into production
Patting a friendly dog
Looking at gorgeous art and well-made objects in a museum or gallery
Hitting to the outfield
A cuddle with the sweetie
A very ripe peach, mango or strawberry
The smells of dried, sun-warmed pine needles, Oeillet-Mignardise or Hesperides soap; horse; ocean; leather; “First” perfume; old stone
The sounds of a halyard clanging against a sailboat mast; water lapping against rocks; wind in the trees; laughter