— A great selection of teas, loose and bagged: Earl Grey, Irish breakfast, orange spice, pomegranate, Constant Comment, PG Tips
— A lovely teapot to make that second cup. No sad bags in mugs, American-style!
— a hot bath scented with eucalyptus oil
— an aptly named, very good red wine
— a scented candle, bedside
— votive candles to light upon waking
— a cozy bathrobe and slippers in which to lounge in style; (mine is a burgundy cashmere with burgundy sheepskin slippers. Bliss!)
— games! Chess, Bananagrams, gin rummy.
I bought these in July. Have only read five of them so far!
— lots and lots of unread newspapers, magazines and books
— looking at French real estate on-line and fantasizing about une vie francaise
— a bowl of clementines
— a finger of single malt
— or a Mimosa!
— baking something delicious: apple crisp, muffins, a Bundt cake
— fresh flowers or green plants
— ironed linen or cotton napkins
— a tablecloth with a table pad underneath
— a duvet under which to snuggle and snooze
— a nap!
— a lovely scented soap. Our go-to is the classic Maja, made in Spain.
— two boxes of comfort
Absolutely no embarrassment to have two boxes of beloved stuffies nearby. The tiny black and white bear I’ve had since childhood; same for the white one with the fabulous pin. The sheep is from Ireland, the loon from Canada, the alligator from Florida. The little rhino saw me through breast surgery in 2018. The elephant I’ve had since my tonsils were removed in London, maybe age four
Some people live their entire childhoods in one home, maybe in a house, maybe an apartment, maybe a trailer. But it’s home. There’s no doubt.
They feel safe, welcome, happy and well-nurtured there. They can’t wait to get home and miss it terribly when they are away.
For others, it can be a place to flee, for a while or forever.
Here’s an astonishing essay about home and house keys from a writer who — oddly — recently moved into the same small coastal British Columbia town my mother lived in for many years.
It brought up so many feelings for me.
Like this passage:
I first visited my father’s house when I was sixteen; we’d not shared an address for fifteen years. A few months later, I moved in, having nowhere else to go.
I used the keys like a tenant on a month-to-month lease—non-committal, curfew-blind—as did everyone else there: my father; his second wife; his stepson; the woman from church his wife invited to stay; the woman from Mexico his wife brought back to stay.
The whole crew pushed off eventually. My father sold the place and took an apartment next door to his office. I slept in his RV for a December and a January, then left for a commune six-and-a-half thousand miles away.
It was already my observation that you can peg the quality and tenor of your in-house relationships by how you feel when you’re steps from the door, key in hand, about to let yourself in. Are you braced for a hurricane? Ready for the dull emptiness of dead air? Smiling before your foot crosses the threshold? Quiet like a mouse?
My parents split up when I was seven, and sold the large house we lived in in one of Toronto’s best neighborhoods, on a quiet street where I played with the neighboring kids. My mother and I moved into a two-bedroom apartment downtown and I went off to boarding school.
But at 14.5, I also plummeted, with almost no notice, into my father’s home, shared with his live-in girlfriend, only 13 years older — a 28-year-old poorly suited to nurturing a troubled teen. It was often challenging for all of us.
They sold the house we later lived in when I was in my second year at University of Toronto, giving me a month’s notice to move out and find a place to live at 19.
I found a ground-floor studio apartment, at the back of an alley in a not-great downtown neighborhood — the sort of place a more attentive parent would have immediately ruled out. But he didn’t.
I was attacked there, so I only lived there for about eight months, glad to flee.
Between 1982 and 1989, I changed my place of residence a lot: Toronto-Paris-Toronto-Montreal-New Hampshire-New York. That included two apartments in Toronto, a student dorm in Paris, a gorgeous two-bedroom apartment in Montreal, a farmhouse in New Hampshire and then, finally, a one-bedroom, top-floor apartment I bought, thankful to never deal with another landlord or rent increase or cracked window or drafty kitchen, in suburban New York.
I haven’t budged since.
I love this moment when the rising sun hits the windows across the river!
In this apartment, with a stunning view northwest up the Hudson River, I’ve been through plenty: a marriage, divorce, being victimized by a con man; two knee surgeries, a shoulder surgery, hip replacement, early stage breast cancer. Three recessions. Jobs won, jobs lost. Friendships gained, friendships that withered.
A happy second marriage, now almost 21 years!
Bu throughout all of this, it’s been a good home.
I love our street — atop the highest hill in our county. Across the street is a low-slung townhouse development (so never a blocked view) and downhill another two-story apartment complex. Our street is winding and quiet, with old growth trees and stone walls. At the bottom are dozens of raspberry bushes — and yet (!) we can also easily see the towers of downtown Manhattan, 25 miles south.
So, yes, it’s the suburbs, and yes it’s pretty damn boring. But also quiet, clean and beautiful. Our town is so attractive it’s often used for film and television locations. It’s diverse in age, ethnicity and income, unlike many others nearby.
Our town reservoir
So, for me, home isn’t just the physical structure where I sleep and eat and work, but a larger vibe where I and my husband, who is Hispanic and a winner of a team Pulitzer for The New York Times, feel welcome.
I keep trying to envision our next home — whether a second home or selling this and leaving — but haven’t seen anything yet (affordable for us) that makes my little heart sing.
I have always longed to live in a private house again, with a fireplace and a verandah and a bit of land and privacy, although I am also very wary of the costs of renovation and surprise/expensive maintenance. The one downside of living in our 100-apartment building is having neighbors who keep opposing its very badly needed renovations — which could easily boost our apartment’s market value by 50 percent.
Tell me about your home — the residence, your town or city or region.
Only after December 21, in the Northern Hemisphere, will we slowly inch/centimeter back toward longer days and more light.
The long, cold, dark, rainy, slushy, sleety, snowy days of winter can be rough!
Add the isolation of avoiding COVID, and it may be the most difficult some of us have ever faced. Some of you are grieving the loss of loved ones.
My go-to solution, however shallow and silly it may seem, is to zhuzh our home — i.e. to make it as lovely as possible. Few things are more depressing than a dark, dirty cluttered home and few more deeply nurturing than one that is clean, well-lit, comfortable and welcoming.
If you don’t sigh with relief and happiness when you open your front door, as we do…maybe this is the time to make your home, no matter its size or location, the respite you so badly need.
Add colorand pattern
This can show up in so many ways.
If you can handle the physical work alone, a gallon or two of paint can totally transform a chair or chest of drawers or a room, certainly a small one; include the baseboards/skirting boards for a unified look. As regular readers here know, I’m a huge fan of this UK-based, now U.S.-owned paint company, Farrow & Ball, whose colors fill every corner of our one-bedroom apartment. The sitting room is Peignoir (likely soon to change!), the rest Skimming Stone, and the bathroom a strong mustard yellow and the kitchen a green-ish gray; one benefit of their brand is that you can always request more of a discontinued color. Highlight of my 2017 England visit — a trip to their Dorset factory! SWOON.
A pretty throw rug or tablecloth or placemats and/or linen/cotton napkins, a throw or comforter.
We have and enjoy all of these.
Our duvet cover and bedside rug
There’s such a dizzying universe of options, and each can really change the style and flavor of your sofa, chairs or bed. I like this new-ish site, St. Frank, with its ethnic styles. My super cheap-o pillow-cover hack? Buy two gorgeous napkins and hand-sew the edges around an existing pillow you already own. Like these cheerful green and white cotton, 20 inch square — four for $32. That’s two pillow covers at $16 each.
Nothing like glowing green on a wintry day.
Fresh flowers in every room, even the bathroom and kitchen. Invest in a few flower frogs or floral foam and you can use a wide variety of containers, not just a standard vase.
Team duvet! If you’ve never succumbed to the floaty, puffy, super-cosy allure of a duvet…go for it! Blankets are fine, but once you’ve snuggled beneath a duvet and a pretty, removable, washable cover, it’s hard to go back. Covers can be found on plenty of sites, from Anthropologie to Garnet Hill to Zara Home. I LOVE these solid color linen ones –– 19 colors.
Same for shams and pillow cases. Freshly ironed cases and shams, changed frequently, are a simple luxury.
A sheepskin rug, bedside, is a lovely way to start the day.
My pillow is so so so sad. If yours are as well, fresh new ones (with pillow protectors from the start) are a good investment.
Found, of all places, in Minneapolis!
Candlelight is especially lovely these days. Go 18th century with a candlestick bedside. Dine by candlelight, a mix of votives and tapers.
If you can get a handyman, MASKED, to come to your home, install dimmers in every room you have overhead lighting; few things are as harsh and unflattering than standard overhead lights. Every room should, ideally, have multiple sources of light: table lamps, task lamps, standing lamps. Keep bulbs and shades dusted and replace shades when they become torn, stained or burned. A bougie addition I love are pretty finials, like these — make sure they thoughtfully match the style, color and scale of your lamp and shade. When the light glows up, it can add a pretty grace note.
Changing up your lampshades can make an enormous, stylish difference to your room and style. Ballard Designs has many sizes, shapes, colors and styles, as does Fermoie. I also love these pleated fabric ones from Oka.
Our former living room curtains — for sale!
And how about your windows? Too many ready-made curtains are saggy, thin and just…sad! They droop and drag and don’t insulate drafts or block light when you do want to sleep. A huge splurge, if possible, is having curtains made — they will be properly weighted and lined. But there are some good options; love these from Madura, whose curtains we had a few years ago and the quality was excellent. If you choose a color, remember that when closedyou’ll have a large unbroken block of color and how will that play in the space? If you choose a pattern, is the scale of the design too small to register from a distance or so bold you’ll soon tire of it? And how does its color, scale and pattern relate to everything else in the room?
Lanterns and lovely votives along shelves and windowsills (safely, probably not great with little kids or cats!) add a flickering glow. I love this lantern, which looks like it comes from a bazaar in Srinagar or Tetouan — not Bed, Bath and Beyond! I found my favorite lanterns at the back of a Minneapolis cafe, of all places.
I’m not a huge fan of smelly candles, but a few can be lovely during months of no outside fragrance.
I love something as simple as dropping affordable eucalyptus oil into my bath — scenting the entire (small!) room; I buy mine at Whole Foods. Other great winter bath scents are cinnamon, lavender, vetiver or patchouli.
Dust and polish
Boorrrrrring….but more necessary than ever, certainly if you live with kids and hairy pets…let alone everyone’s now dragging in road dirt, gravel, sand, salt and slush.
I keep a good supply of silver and brass polish and fresh pads for our mop, and cleaning cloths and Windex because, in the gloomy funk of winter, it’s easy to overlook how damn dusty things get.
Use the good stuff!
Some people inherit lovely linens or china or silver or glassware and never really use it, saving it only for special occasions.
Life is a special occasion!
If this terrible terrible year has taught us anything, it’s the shocking, desperate brevity and fragility of our lives, work and connections.
There is tremendous esthetic pleasure to be had sipping your tea or coffee from a delicate bone china teacup or making the bed with vintage linens or drinking your juice or wine from a bit of etched glass or crystal.
The number 6 has always been a good one for me — my birthday is the sixth day of the sixth month.
We live on the sixth, top floor of our building — the third time I’ve had that spot in an apartment, first as an undergrad in Toronto, attending University of Toronto, and later in Montreal, in a gorgeous 30s complex called Haddon Hall; I dream of actually getting that apartment back! Two bedrooms, great views, perfect condition, working fireplace, tall ceilings….sigh. All for $600 a month, mid 1980s.
My ongoing decision to live on the highest floor of a building, far away from any access to it, is the result of a terrifying experience in my second year at university, when I lived in a studio, alone, at the back of an alley on the ground floor, in a sketchy downtown Toronto neighborhood.
The kind of place, if anyone had been paying attention to my welfare, someone would have said: “No way! Not a safe choice!”
But no one paid attention and it was affordable.
One night I yelled out the window at people making noise. A few nights later (I really don’t remember), a man tried to pull me out through the bathroom window — as I was taking a bath, directly below the window.
I was wet and slippery and the window too small and narrow.
But that was the end of that apartment.
I spent the summer, recovering emotionally from this attack, in a shared sorority house on a quiet and lovely street, surrounded by other women.
My next home was the 6th floor studio at the back of a six-floor 60s building, with a balcony, overlooking a park.
No one could possibly get at me.
No one ever did.
It was a great little apartment, only one long block north of campus, so I could zip home and change clothes in fall and spring as the temperature shifted. It gave me back the confidence I could live alone, safely, and enjoy my independence again. I was already writing for a few national magazines and would sit at my desk, tapping on my pale turquoise manual typewriter, staring out over the park’s treetops, like a bird in my own little nest.
In Montreal, that high perch proved, sadly, less secure as our building was broken into repeatedly, thieves assuming that renters were wealthy, which we weren’t. I got so scared I went to the police for advice since my bedroom was at the very opposite end of the apartment from the front door — no escape. They had little comfort to offer except that burglars were likely unarmed. I lived there for 18 months while working as a reporter for the Montreal Gazette.
When my first husband and I bought this suburban New York apartment, the first attraction wasn’t its great view of the Hudson River, or the lovely grounds — it was all we could afford! I was lucky enough to have a decent down payment, thanks to an inheritance from my maternal grandmother. The place was a bit gross, thanks to wall-to-wall filthy beige carpet that stunk so badly of cat urine even the realtor stood on the balcony while we looked it over.
In the decades since, by far the longest time I’ve ever lived in one home, (the longest before that was maybe three or four years, in childhood/adolescence), I’ve repainted each room and hallway multiple times. The living room morphed from a mushroom beige/gray faux finish to a brilliant Chinese red to the pale yellow/green we last did in 2008. The bedroom went from a faux-finish crisp blue and white to aqua to apple green to Skimming Stone, a lush, warm gray from my fave, Farrow & Ball.
I really love the quiet perch of a top floor.
We’re literally in the treetops and red-tailed hawks soar close by daily, one even landing on our balcony railing once.
Our river view, looking northwest, is now obscured by tree growth, but fine in the winter. We watch barges gliding upriver and storms heading south.
In these perilous times, home up here once more feels like a nest, safe and enclosing.
Montreal’s Habitat, a legendary bit of architecture
By Caitlin Kelly
If you’ve moved around a fair bit — as every child in a military family knows well, like the author of Small Dog Syndrome blog — it’s sometimes challenging to decide where home really is.
I’ve now lived decades in the same one-bedroom apartment in the same building in the same suburban New York town, by far the longest I have ever lived anywhere.
When my adult midlife peers lament the final sale of their beloved childhood home, I think: “Huh.” Not me.
I’ve moved a lot and have lived in five countries. But it’s now been a long, long time since I last changed residences, absolutely worn out after changing my home location six times in seven years.
It takes time to settle in, to get to know a place and its rhythms.
And, sometimes — despite all your highest hopes and best intentions — it’s just a really poor fit.
I did not enjoy living in Montreal, even with the nicest apartment anywhere ever (fireplace, 15 foot ceilings, spacious rooms) — the winter was too cold and long and snowy and the professional possibilities far too limited. Plus incredibly high taxes and, then anyway, a disturbingly high crime rate. Our building was broken into a lot.
Same for my 1.5 years in small-town New Hampshire, before the Internet, with no family/friends/job and an exhausted/absent medical resident for a boyfriend.
Born, lived to age two.
ages two to five, with my parents, while my father made films for the BBC.
The Ex, an annual event in Toronto
Toronto, ages five to 30
— a gorgeous huge house with a big backyard. Parents divorced when I was seven.
— boarding school Grades 4-9 and summer camp (four of them) ages 8-17
— a downtown apartment shared with my mother.
— a second apartment in the same building, shared with my mother.
— an apartment with my father and his girlfriend.
— a house (owned), also living with with them, in a lovely neighborhood, facing a park.
— a ground-floor, back alley studio in a bad neighborhood, until a man tried to pull me out of the bathroom window while I was in the bath. Lived alone.
— a sorority house, for the summer. Shared space, very comforting!
— a top floor studio apartment near campus; alone.
— a top floor apartment in a downtown Victorian house; with boyfriend.
— the top two floors of a (rented) house; with boyfriend, then alone.
— six months with my mother in a rented apartment, age 14
Montreal has some amazing buildings!
— one year, with my mother in a rented apartment in a downtown brownstone, age 12
— 1.5 years on the top floor of a luxury 1930s-era rental building in downtown while a Montreal Gazette reporter; alone.
Now that’s my kind of delivery! The Marais, one morning…
— eight months in a tiny student dorm room in Cite Universitaire while on an EU-funded journalism fellowship.
Lebanon, New Hampshire
— two years in a rented apartment on the main floor of a farmhouse, with boyfriend-later-husband.
Tarrytown, New York
— current residence; married, divorced, solo, now re-married.
I know people here now.
I run into D, the amiable Frenchman who helps choose stock for our local thrift shop and notice he’s still limping, months after he broke his ankle.
I chat with M, a hardware store sales associate I interviewed in 2009 for my retail book, and who works for a man whose great-grandfather started the company.
I say hello to Hassan, who hands me shards of ham and bits of candied pecans at his gourmet shop.
I bump into friends on the street and at the gym and the train station and the grocery store and at church.
When I return to Montreal and Toronto, I’m also delighted to spend time with old friends and to enjoy familiar foods and sights and sounds and all our shared cultural references that none of my American pals will ever get.
So I feel lucky that so many places have been my home. I feel as bien dans ma peau speaking French in Montreal and Paris as I do hablando en Mexico as I do ordering a bagel with a schmear here in New York.
A very quick primer on what makes a room really work, and what can kill even the best-laid plans.
One interior designer, the late legendary Albert Hadley, used to talk about skylines — think about a typical urban one; it has high and low points, spots of light and pools of darkness. It offers inherent drama and a bit of mystery.
The most attractive rooms have one as well.
Our dining room: Custom-made curtains. The wall color is Farrow & Ball Peignoir and the framed image is from a British design magazine.
Look around your rooms. Is everything the same size and shape? (i.e. all chunky rectangle or squares?) Does your eye stay only on the same level?
Is all your lighting (noooooo!) coming from an overhead source (noooooo!) without a dimmer to alter the mood? The ideal room is lit with at least four or five different sources, preferably for task work, reading, mood — a single glaring central ceiling fixture is harsh, unflattering and inefficient. Our living room has two matching tall lamps (symmetry helps!) that illuminate the sofa; a small lamp in a corner that lights up a photo on a wall and a lamp on a chest by the front door. No bulb offers less than 100 watts.
Scale is tricky — people often choose pieces that are too small for a space or too large. Or there’s just too much stuff in the space so you always feel a bit out of breath and annoyed but don’t know why.
Smaller pieces — like light, moveable side tables and stools — can be much more versatile and useful than the standard sofa/chairs/coffee table. We ditched two large club chairs and splurged on two square, low, deep green velvet stools, They offer comfortable and stylish seating without consuming nearly as much space.
Since re-arranged, a glimpse of our living room — looking a bit cluttered! Found the antique mirror in a Quebec antique shop and the small wooden table at a Connecticut consignment shop. Wall color is Gervase Yellow by Farrow & Ball.
The most interesting rooms have a range of different textures: suede, leather, chenille, velvet, silk, cotton. Smooth glass and rough stone. Gleaming brass or lucite.
Color can be challenging to get right, and I’ve blogged on this many times before.
Learn which colors work best with one another, and why. For example, a room combining red and green doesn’t have to look like a Christmas stocking if the red is a soft rusty-burgundy and the green a pale sage (the colors of our sofa and trim) — and it works because these colors are opposite on the color wheel.
Design magazines, books and websites offer a lot of great tips and inspiration, from Apartment Therapy to Insta accounts belonging to designers.
Making a home beautiful isn’t always quick, easy or cheap. It can take longer to afford and assemble the look you want most, but it’s worth it. I saved up for years to buy my Tizio lamp — it cost $500 in the 1980s — but I still use it today and still love it.
I’ve never regretted investing in the beauty, efficiency and comfort of our home.
As someone who studied interior design and spends far too many hours on Instagram and reading shelter magazines for inspiration, I love nothing more than a good zhuzh — making something more attractive.
As winter’s short, gray cold days descend on those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, here are some of the recent things we’ve done to feather our nest, a kid-free, pet-free one bedroom apartment of about 1,000 square feet. We’re both full-time freelance now, so this is also a place we do a lot of writing and editing work as well.
Sanding, spackling and painting all cracks in the walls
So boring! So annoying! So damn necessary. It’s either us and our own sweat equity or shelling out even more money — again — to a company to do it for us. There will still be some bad ceiling cracks and we’ll pay someone to deal with those. For reasons I do not understand, this 60-year-old building still (!?) settles and creates these damn cracks.
A fresh coat of paint on the dingiest spots
The cheapest way to clean and brighten your space. I’m a huge Farrow & Ball fan, and one of the many things I love about them is that they will custom make their discontinued colors, like the yellow-green we used in 2008 for the living room and hallway. Our dining room is painted in Peignoir, and our bedroom in Skimming Stone.
Steam-clean major upholstered pieces
Seriously! We spent $180 recently to have our seven-foot-long velvet-covered sofa and two cream-colored wing chairs professionally cleaned (in home.) It’s well worth it given how much we use these pieces.
Invest in a few good rugs
Nothing is cheerier than a few great rugs on a clean, shiny hardwood floor, adding color, warmth and texture. So many great choices out there, from flat-weave dhurries (a favorite) to bright, cheerful cotton ones (like these from Dash & Albert, whose stuff I keep buying.) Avoid harsh, bright colors and crazy wild designs as you’ll soon grow sick of them.
Throws for bed and living room lead to much happy napping
Is there anything nicer than a snooze under a soft, comforting throw? We have several, in cotton and wool, and they’re very well-used. These, in waffle-weave wool, come in gray and cream. Classic,
Are your light bulbs/shades clean and bright?
Everything gets dusty!
Stock up on flowers, plants and greenery
A room without a plant or fresh flowers — especially on gray, cold, rainy days — can feel static and lifeless.
Get out the polish!
I know, I know — very few people even want to own silver, or silver-plate or brass now, but few things are as lovely as freshly-polished cutlery, (ours is all flea market) or gleaming brass candlesticks.
Lots of candles
Obviously not a great choice, perhaps, if you have cats or small children, but we have neither. I keep a small votive candle bedside and light it first thing every morning, a softer way to wake up. At dinner we use votives, tapers and a few lanterns; I buy my votives in bulk at Pier One so they’re always handy and within reach. Here’s a candle-maker I follow on Instagram with a great selection.
Treat your home to something pretty, new and useful
Could be a score from a consignment shop or thrift store, estate sale or something new. It might be fresh tea towels for the kitchen, a bath sheet for the bathroom, soft new pillowcases, a vase for flowers…Your home should be a welcoming, soothing refuge. Its beauty can and should nurture you.
Two years ago, I splurged on the above-pictured early 19th. century tea set — with cups, saucers, plates, teapot, tea bowl. Every time I use it it makes me happy.
Our view of the Hudson River with its newly-opened bridge
By Caitlin Kelly
It’s hard for me to believe, but this June will mark the 29th. year I’ve lived in the same apartment, by far the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere.
Born in Vancouver, Canada, I lived in London ages two to five, in Toronto ages five to 30 (in 10 different homes, one for a few months, eight of them rented apartments.) Since then I’ve lived in:
Paris (8 months in student housing)
Montreal (stunning top-floor 2-bedoom rental apartment, 18 months — miss it still!)
New Hampshire (18 months in a farmhouse apartment) and…here.
Home is a suburban New York one-bedroom apartment, a co-op, top-floor (6th) with stunning and unchanged views northwest, atop a high hill, of the Hudson River and lots of trees. It’s about 1,000 square feet, plus a 72 square foot balcony which we can’t wait to use every summer and reluctantly leave in October or so.
I bought it with my first husband, and it was then a stinking mess, literally — the floors were covered with dirty beige-wall-to-wall carpeting and cat urine had saturated it so badly even the nasty real estate agent stood outside on the balcony while we looked at it.
Nothing a little paint and renovation couldn’t fix!
I blogged here about transforming our kitchen to my design, as I also did with our one tiny (5 by 7 foot) bathroom.
Staying put in a small-ish space has allowed me, and now Jose, to meet other goals, like saving for retirement and traveling frequently for pleasure. (We have no children.)
The building itself is nothing special, a generic mid-60s red brick thing, but it’s part of a much older former estate, so it’s surrounded by lovely low stone walls, which, when snow-covered look like teeth. The land has many trees, from towering pines to my beloved red Japanese maple. (And a pool!)
Our narrow, sidewalk-free street is both very hilly and very curvy, so we don’t have racing cars or noisy trucks.
Our summer balcony banquette, (the fabric, a bedspread), covers an ugly glass divider; the bench beneath holds our tools and gardening equipment
But we’ve made it a lovely place, and one that welcomes guests — for a night or several, (on our comfy sofa) for meals, for tea — as often as we can afford. Few things make me happier than sharing our space and preparing good food for people we enjoy.
For me, staying so long in this home means many things:
assured physical comfort and safety; a lovely environment beyond our front doors (nature, silence); kind and quiet neighbors (many of them in their 70s and beyond.)
We found this great Mideastern mirror in the antique shop in one of our favorite vacation spots, North Hatley, Quebec. The carved black horse is from an antique store in Port Hope, Ontario and the silver-plate teapot I bought there at auction. The black and white photo in the reflection of a table is an image of former First Lady Betty Ford standing on the Cabinet Room table. Our gallery wall is all photos by us or other photographers.
It’s also been a place of comfort and refuge during times of turmoil: a sudden divorce, the loss of several good jobs, friendships that have disappeared, family dramas.
It’s good to have a place you can just rely on.
Since I spent my years ages eight-13 in boarding school and ages eight-16 at summer camp, creating a place to our exact desires is huge for me — years of drab bedspreads and metal beds will do that! Our greatest splurges are often for our home: original art and photos, linens, custom-made pillows and curtains, antiques and pretty tableware.
Our home also reflects our travels: our bed’s teal headboard fabric is from The Cloth Shop, an amazing find on London’s Portobello Road, (which sold many items to the Harry Potter films’ costume designers). Even some of the bathroom tile I found in Paris and had shipped to New York.
If — like me — you’ve left behind the country where you were born and raised, let alone if you’ve moved many times domestically and/or internationally — you can end up feeling rootless.
I have three young female friends, ages 26 to 33, whose lives look like a game of Where’s Waldo? moving between Guam and Virginia and Luxembourg and Baltimore and Brussels and more, each thanks to their father’s work.
I also belong to a far-flung tribe of fellow journalists, web mavens and photographers, who are — to name only a few of them — in Madrid, Colombia, Berlin, London, Mexico City, California and Kabul, either permanently or on assignment.
I was born in Vancouver, lived in London ages two to five, Toronto five to 30, (with stints in Paris, Montreal and Cuernavaca, Mexico in those years), then New Hampshire and then, finally, New York, a suburban town north of Manhattan.
Despite living for decades in the U.S., I’m still, in some ways, not very American, clinging to some of my Canadian roots in terms of my political values, (the collective over the individual, single-payer healthcare, stronger unions) and also in shared cultural references that only fellow Canadians — here or there — can appreciate.
What is it that roots us deeply into a place?
What is it that keeps us there, for years, or a lifetime?
Is it family?
A political climate that best suits us?
A place — for me, Paris, where a year-long fellowship launched my career in earnest — that forever, and for the better, changed your trajectory?
Our parents die — freeing us to move anywhere. To live anywhere. To root anywhere.
I’m headed back up to Canada for the third time in four months tomorrow, a 12-hour train ride. It’s a lot of travel in a short time, the first time, to Montreal, for work, but the second and third for pleasure, and to see friends.
I’ll be dog and house-sitting for a friend, someone I met when she worked in New York at the Canadian consulate and with whom I’ve stayed in touch.
I’ll mourn the deep cuts in my hometown newspaper and former employer, The Globe & Mail, and its weird new re-design.
I’ll savor some Canadian treats like butter tarts, (sort of like mincemeat, but better.)
I’ll ride the Red Rocket, aka the streetcar.
I’ll visit with friends I’ve known for decades, renewing deep ties and hearing their news.
Then I’ll get back on the train and head south again — for a brief few minutes suspended between my two countries on the bridge over the Niagara River, its spume just barely visible — and return to the United States.
It’s recently become a place I’m deeply ambivalent about, with rampant racism, sexism, homophobia, relentless gun violence, climate change denial and an administration determined to damage the lives of all but the wealthy.
My life is now neatly bisected, divided into two exact halves, between the nation of my birth and upbringing and the place I chose to move.
I wonder more and more these days about whether it’s time to uproot.