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Posts Tagged ‘joy’

A small, happy life

In beauty, behavior, culture, domestic life, life, love, women, work on June 2, 2015 at 12:22 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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From The New York Times:

Elizabeth Young once heard the story of a man who was asked by a journalist to show his most precious possession. The man, Young wrote, “was proud and excited to show the journalist the gift he had been bequeathed. A banged up tin pot he kept carefully wrapped in cloth as though it was fragile. The journalist was confused, what made this dingy old pot so valuable? ‘The message,’ the friend replied. The message was ‘we do not all have to shine.’ This story resonated deeply. In that moment I was able to relieve myself of the need to do something important, from which I would reap praise and be rewarded with fulfillment. My vision cleared.”

Columnist David Brooks describes this idea in his recent column, expressing a Timesian surprise at one man’s joy in his garden:

This scale of purpose is not for everyone.

What makes people happy?

There's a simple pleasure!

There’s a simple pleasure!

Not just having the newest-shiniest-costliest thing.

Nor the most well-paid powerful job.

Nor a private jet or three nannies and a $50 m apartment — which, believe me, when you live anywhere near New York City starts to seem somehow normal.

When I see an ad for a home, a house or an apartment, costing less than $1 million, and think “Yeah, that’s a decent price” I know it’s time for a reality check.

If you grow up, as I and my half-siblings did, in a family who highly values achievement and professional success — as many do — it’s tough to celebrate smaller, quieter, less-public moments.

Our view

Our view

And social media, with its non-stop parade of others’ effortless and luxurious fabulousness, offers a terrifying hall of mirrors for the chronically insecure, like one writer I know who makes the vaunted six-figures and has two Ivy League degrees, which she easily dismisses. She still wrings her hands constantly about her value.

If you persist in clinging exclusively or primarily to the ladder of professional status, ever seeking more income, status, achievement and admiration, you’re doomed.

There’s never enough.

Nor does the larger culture of the United States, a place addicted to ever-more-feverish productivity, wealth and status, offer much encouragement to those of us who actually prefer a slower pace, the lower costs of a smaller home, an older vehicle, (only one! OMG), or none.

From a story about young women’s rising levels of anxiety in Glamour:

Are our modern lives really that much more stressful? “The answer appears to be yes,” says anxiety researcher Jean Twenge, Ph.D., a professor at San Diego State University and author of Generation Me. “Anxiety rates have risen steadily over the past seven decades, during good economic times and bad.”

She believes the rise is related to a cultural shift, over the last 70 years, away from “intrinsic” values—appreciating things like close relationships and having a real love for your work—toward more “extrinsic” ones, like money and status. In fact, her research found that anxiety rates rose at the same pace with this change in mind-set. “Recent generations have been told over and over again, ‘You can be anything you want to be. You can have the big job title. You can have the big bank account.’ And in the case of women, ‘You can have this perfect body.’

That puts a lot on a person’s shoulders—and it’s also not really true. These are things that aren’t always under your control, but that disconnect creates a lot of anxiety about how hard you need to work to achieve them—and a deep fear of failure,” she explains. “And although these extrinsic values—the latest iPad, the cutest shoes—seem important, all the evidence shows that at the end of the day they don’t leave us very happy or satisfied.”

When more is never enough...

When more is never enough…

Anyone who reads this blog, or visits my website, can see that I’m a fairly ambitious, driven and productive writer — two non-fiction books, a Canadian National Magazine Award, 100+ freelance stories in The New York Times.

I’ve ticked enough boxes.

I know a woman who’s produced four children and four books in the space of a decade. And she has yet to hit 40. What on earth will she do to fill the next four decades of her frenetic life?

She’s obsessed with being productive. I admire her financial success and her love of parenting but I don’t wish to emulate her life or its choices.

I see the insane stress so many people feel — not surprising in an era of stagnant wages, record student debt and a shaky economy in many sectors. How much work is too much? How much is enough?

It is one of the few benefits of being decades into a career and having lived frugally; we don’t face the same pressures as some people I know, certainly those in their 20s, 30s and 40s juggling work/commute/kids/aging parents.

Fresh mint tea. And the time to enjoy it...

Fresh mint tea. And the time to enjoy it…

I’m writing this while sitting on our top-floor balcony, the only sounds that of birds and the wind in the leaves. We have stunning Hudson River views and sunsets that vary every day in their beauty.

I value taking time off, whenever possible.

I enjoy naps, whenever necessary.

I make time to meet friends face to face over a long, delicious meal or a walk instead of chasing yet another client.

I value our strong marriage.

I value our good health.

I gave this pin to Jose on our wedding day

I gave this pin to Jose on our wedding day

I value our dear friends, people who welcome us into their homes in Dublin, Paris, Toronto, London, Maine, Arizona.

What we may lack in prestige/power and visible tokens of fiscal wealth we enjoy in abundance in other forms.

Sure I’d like to write a best-seller or win a fancy fellowship.

But my boxes are mostly ticked and, for now, I’m focusing on small(er) wins and pleasures.

For which I’m grateful.

How do you feel these days about your life?

12 things I can’t live without

In antiques, art, beauty, behavior, culture, design, domestic life, life, Style on November 5, 2014 at 1:05 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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:

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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!

Are you including pleasure in your daily life?

Are you including pleasure in your daily life?

Fresh flowers

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.

Perfume

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.

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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.

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Earl Grey tea, poured into a bone-china cup with a saucer

Fragrant, refreshing and a nice 4:00 p.m. break.

My wedding-day earrings

Tiny, glittering, comfortable, portable memories.

 An upcoming journey

Anywhere will do!

Long conversations with old friends

Comfort and connection.

How about you?

What are some of yours?

 

20 more things that make me happy

In beauty, behavior, culture, domestic life, life, nature on July 4, 2014 at 12:10 am

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!

 

 

 

Twenty more things that make me happy: lilacs, tea and B’way tix

In beauty, culture, design, domestic life, life, nature on June 1, 2014 at 12:48 am

By Caitlin Kelly

(all photos mine)

 

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Lilacs in bloom

Looking at gorgeous (affordable!) fabric and planning projects; available for sale here.

 

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Starting Saturday mornings with reggae on WKCR, the radio station of Columbia University

Doing developpes to B.B. King live at St. Quentin my Monday morning jazz dance class

Scoring a $41 fifth-row orchestra seat for “Once”, a Broadway musical nominated for eight Tony awards (value $100+)

You can attend a mid-week matinee!

You can attend a mid-week matinee!

The tree-shaded path beside the reservoir, a five-minute drive from our home in suburban New York

This delicious macaron — named Ispahan, rose-flavored! — at Bosie’s Tea Parlor in the West Village

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Manhattan’s many subway buskers, like this literal one-man-band playing in the 42d Street station

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My Moomin mug (anything Moomin!)

 

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The visible history found in Manhattan, like this cast-iron building on Prince Street in Soho

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Found art, like the graphic design of this weathered metal piece also on  Prince Street

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Driving on the FDR — the highway on the East River of Manhattan — with tugs, barges and FDNY fireboats spouting fountains beside me

A steaming pot of fragrant tea, sipped slowly from a bone china tea cup

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A Bloody Mary and the cheese and Ritz crackers at Sardi’s sitting at the bar with my husband on a Sunday afternoon

Ritz crackers and their tart cheese spread

Ritz crackers and their tart cheese spread

Making a great Sunday lunch for dear friends

Finding bits of eccentricity where you least expect them, like this tableau in a Soho clothing store

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The comfort of small, well-loved portable pals

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Patina…on just about any surface

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Early stained glass — this, from a Philadelphia church

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Heading north/home to Canada — family, friends and vacation. Yay!

Do you speak Canadian?

Do you speak Canadian?

 And you, my dears?

Twenty more things that make me happy

In beauty, culture, domestic life, entertainment, life on April 20, 2014 at 12:08 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Last-minute $20 fifth-row tickets to one of my favorite bands ever, Johnny Clegg

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Seat-dancing like a fiend to his music and singing at the top of my lungs to old favorites like “Scatterlings of Africa”; he’s on tour in North America right now. Go!

Coming home after the concert to a midnight supper of soup and sandwiches

Treating myself to a beautiful DVF skirt on sale

The fresh-earth smell of spring

 

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Forsythia in every vase in every room

Re-finding a very good pair of earrings I’d thought I’d lost years ago

The magnolia tree that blossoms — so briefly! — and smells so delicious on our building’s property

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Listening to Yann Tiersen’s haunting, lovely music for La Valse des Monstres

After a long, cold, bitter, icy winter, finally walking along the reservoir with warm sunshine on my shoulders

Pretty new curtains — shower curtains re-purposed! — for a grand total of $50

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Finding a very good new-to-me Manhattan restaurant whose desserts are $6 — not the usual $10-12

Receiving an email this week — three years after the publication of my last book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” — which began with the words: “It was a great book. I was captivated from the start, interested in your fellow employees and appreciated the research and insight you provided.” It’s so satisfying to keep finding appreciative readers.

My husband’s surprise gift to me — deep purple suede loafers with bright orange soles

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An out-of-the-blue email apologizing for a decades-old shattered friendship from someone I miss

A hand-written thank-you note from a client

Two offers of paid work in one day, both arriving unsolicited

This amazing goat cheese, super-creamy.

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The medicinal smell, translucent brown and lush lather of Pears soap, a brand founded in 1807

Daffodils! Everywhere!

Plus:

A stack of unread library books: (I watch GOT on HBO and follow fellow Canadian and very cool astronaut Chris Hadfield on Twitter)

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What’s making you smile recently?

 

The gift without wrapping — love

In aging, behavior, domestic life, family, life, love on December 24, 2013 at 1:11 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

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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.

Twenty more things that make me happy

In antiques, art, beauty, behavior, design, domestic life, life, Style on November 1, 2013 at 10:30 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Česky: Granny Smith

Česky: Granny Smith (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

— A crisp apple — a Jonah Gold or Granny Smith — sliced, with sharp cheddar cheese

— The huge flock of starlings that flash toward our windows every late afternoon, swooshing into the sky

— A tall, cold glass of beer, probably a weissbier

— A Sunday afternoon nap beneath a woolen throw

— The BBC News theme music

— Re-playing our wedding reception mixtape, which includes the Clash, Sinatra and the B52s

— Wandering the narrow cobble-stoned streets of Manhattan’s West Village

— Buying tea and coffee by the pound at Porto Rico Importing on Bleecker

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— Lighting all the candles for dinner, votives and tapers

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— Balvenie on the rocks

— Receiving hand-written thank-you notes on heavy stationery

— A steaming cup of tea (possibly with a piece of chocolate or two on the side)

— Making my first-ever stuffed pork loin (stuffed with panko, fresh sage, fresh thyme, garlic, onions and chicken broth)

— Late-afternoon sunlight through crimson leaves

photo: Jose R. Lopez

photo: Jose R. Lopez

— The smell of jet fuel — imminent take-off!

— The white Christmas lights on our balcony, lit year-round

— Getting lost inside a great book

— The unexpected arrival of my very own personal cephalopod (thanks, Sarah!)

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— Wearing my burgundy fur headband, a la Lara in Dr. Zhivago

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— Driving out to Coney Island to see a baby walrus, eat Nathan’s hot dogs and wave at the Statue of Liberty with my friend Sarah from Tucson

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Twenty more things that make me happy

In animals, antiques, art, beauty, behavior, culture, domestic life, life on September 14, 2013 at 2:32 am

By Caitlin Kelly

— My black cashmere turtleneck

— Driving a winding country road in late afternoon sunshine

— The soft, white silence specific to fresh snowfall

— The sound that skates make carving into the ice

— Making a delicious meal for someone hungry and appreciative

— Laughing with Jose

—  A glossy, slippery pile of unread British magazines — Vogue, Country Living, World of Interiors

World of Interiors

World of Interiors (Photo credit: qwincowper)

— A glossy, slippery pile of unread French design magazines — Cote Sud/Est/Ouest, Marie Claire Decoration, Elle Decor

— An upcoming flight, preferably to a foreign country

— A large, icy-cold martini; (Tanqueray, dry, olives, no ice)

Tanqueray

Tanqueray (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

— Speaking French

— The sillage of a delicious fragrance, a crisp classic like 1881, Blenheim Bouquet or Caleche

— Gratefully applauding until my palms sting after a spectacular performance of music, dance or theater

— A fierce hug

— The white French bulldog with the jeweled hot pink collar who lives in my building, who explodes with joy when she sees me and lets me adore her in return

French Bulldog

French Bulldog (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

— A country auction, returning with a car full of affordable loot

— An hour’s conversation with someone I love

— A stack of new books

— Croissants slathered with raspberry jam

— Paris, anytime, any season

Bonus: staring into a roaring fire in a fireplace, firepit or woodstove

How about you?

Twenty things that make me happy

In animals, beauty, behavior, culture, domestic life, life, nature, travel, US on July 20, 2013 at 12:03 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I’ve spent much of my adult life striving, mostly professionally, often socially. I left my native Canada, and a thriving career and dear friends, to follow a man I married, (who walked out after two years of marriage). I’ve survived three recessions since 1989 and four orthopedic surgeries since 2000.

Would I ever have a calmer, steadier life?

Recently, I’ve felt…happy.

OMG!

Dare I even write those words? I feel like I’m tempting fate.

But things have been lovely of late.

I know one reason — the endless crisis/problem-solving/emotional dramas/fear and pain of the past few years are gone. My left hip, which caused me 2.5 years of 24/7 pain, was replaced 18 months ago. My mother, whose crises seemed endless, is now in a nursing home. Work, finally, seems to be much more solid than the terrifying, scraping pennies-from-the-sofa-cushions dips of 2008-9.

Here are some of the things that make me happy:

— Our town’s reservoir, whose landmarks are a cormorant who stands very still and spreads his wings in the sunshine, white swans, duck bums in the air, Queen Ann’s lace and orange lilies by the roadside. Best of all — turtles! There are about a dozen of them, all black and round, who line up along some rubber tubing at the water’s edge.

Queen Ann s Lace 02

Queen Ann s Lace 02 (Photo credit: Macomb Paynes)

— The flowers on our balcony, orange and purple and white and yellow, adding beauty to every day.

— My husband’s kisses.

— My dance classes, jazz and modern. It’s such a delicious relief to leave words and speech behind, to sway and bend and spin and twist with others. To stretch, still touching my palms flat to the floor. I love using a corporeal vocabulary I’ve known for decades: chassees, plies, tendues, battements, ronds de jambes.

— A surprise check at the exact moment I need it.

— An unexpected assignment, two of which showed up this week.

— A full refund, many years later, for a spendy skirt I bought at Nordstrom.

— The pool at our apartment building. On these 95+ degree days, it is such a blessing to plunge in and cool off.

— Freshly-baked banana bread, hot from the oven, that I made.

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— A full pot of tea, poured from a white china teapot.

— A big bunch of white flowers.

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— Fresh corn.

— Our new tent, which I can put up, alone, within minutes.

— Outdoors antiques fairs and flea markets, where I always find something fantastic — an Edwardian necklace, a Moroccan lantern or some vintage crochet edging.

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Mother of pearl, metal, glass beads and ebony, $55. Score!

— Throwing a party. Tomorrow we’re having about two dozen friends over to celebrate Malled’s publication in China.

— Making new friends.

Flo and Friend 1908

Flo and Friend 1908 (Photo credit: dottygirl)

— Discovering the most unlikely connections with a new friend, like the woman my age with whom I went for lunch to talk about work. She had been a professional ballerina, and danced in productions with Nureyev. I had performed at Lincoln Center in Sleeping Beauty with him in the lead. The odds?!

Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center (Photo credit: Glyn Lowe Photoworks)

— An hour+ long phone chat with a friend who’s known me for decades.

— Helping younger journalists who ask me for advice.

— Having our suburban NY street thick with bushes full of ripe raspberries.

How about you?

What makes you happy these days?

Jazz Dance = Joy!

In aging, beauty, culture, film, Health, life, women on July 22, 2011 at 12:50 pm
Billy Elliot the Musical

Image via Wikipedia

When I tell people I take a jazz dance class — while limping with every step — they think I’m nuts.

Which may well be true!

I’ve been dancing in classrooms, (and even for a week on the stage at Lincoln Center, as an extra), since I was a little girl who, like many, dreamed of becoming a ballerina.

As if.

I auditioned several times for the National Ballet School, a highly selective process that anyone who’s ever watched Billy Elliot might appreciate.

Unlike Billy, I didn’t make the cut, being told, firmly, I had the “wrong body” for ballet. Um…it’s the only one I have! Ballet is severely unforgiving in its demands of a highly specific body type: high arches, terrific turnout, a long waist, tiny hips and breasts (that must remain so after puberty.)

So I added jazz dance to ballet in my 20s, taking five classes a week. If you’ve ever watched a musical live or on film, you’ve felt the infectious joy of jazz dance — edgy, quick, sexy, playful.

I only take one class a week right now, as it’s all my wretched left hip will allow. And my battements, (kicks that should skim my shoulders or at least get that high), look more like degages at this point. But still, I can do a lot more than any physician would think (or suggest) and the benefits are many:

I’m sweat-drenched within 15 minutes.

I loathe” exercise” and machines but have to lose weight and stay strong somehow.

There’s a wide range of body type in my small class, mostly women in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Several of us are definitely larger than others, yet all of us move with grace and style, our feet and hands able to flash and flicker in time with the music, the rhythm as much a part of us as our eye color.

People are glad to see me there, encourage whatever progress I make, and miss me when I’m absent for a while.

Great music!

A huge gym flooded with light all to ourselves.

Twenty minutes of stretching, something it’s too easy to overlook when doing other forms of exercise.

A link to my athletic, carefree past.

A weekly reminder that, whatever my current physical limitations, they’re not 100 percent. That reminder inspires me out of the studio as well.

Here, my aging and injured body is still strong, flexible and graceful — not just damaged and painful. Women in an era that loathes anyone female over a size 6 who is not highly decorative, (that’s just about any era of the 21st and 20th centuries for North Americans!), need a place where their bodies are useful to themselves, a source of joy and power, not just something their husbands, children and/or employers rely on.

We use our head, shoulders, feet and arms, often independently, for beauty and pleasure — not for mere locomotion or other basic functions.

It’s what we do with our muscles and limbs — not just the size or shape of our hips and breasts — that matters here.

Movement! There is much we can express through our bodies. What a blessed respite from words.

Here’s a recent review of a book about one of the greatest jazz dancers ever, Fred Astaire.

What sport or physical activity brings you joy?

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