An exercise in optimism

By Caitlin Kelly

I have my new passport in hand now — and it’s good for ten years.

I hope I am!

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Lake Massawippi, Eastern Townships, Quebec, Canada

Acquiring a new passport really is an exercise in optimism, as international travel, (all travel, really) always requires three key elements:

Good health

Jose and I are now at an age we read the obituaries and keep finding people our age, and younger, who have lost their lives prematurely, most often to cancer and heart attacks. We pray for continued good health, without which travel — let alone anything else — is out of the question.

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Co. Donegal, Ireland, June 2015

Leisure

This is such a privilege!

So many people work in jobs, sometimes multiple jobs, that allow them little to no paid time off, or are too scared to actually take their paid vacation or — worst — insist in answering work-related demands even while they are supposed to be resting and recharging.

Jose and I both work full-time freelance and are only paid when we work; i.e. no paid vacation days, ever. Every day we take off without pay means we have to make it up somehow, since our overhead costs are fixed.

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A cup of tea at the Ritz in London, January 2015

Disposable income

Another mark of privilege.

Many people just can’t afford to go anywhere a passport is needed, i.e. to leave the United States (or their home country) — poorly paid or unemployed or beggared by debt service.

We don’t have children or dependent relatives, so we have more options in this regard.

Of course, travel and adventure can also be found and enjoyed close(r) to hand, exploring your own neighborhood, town/city/state/province. Both my native Canada and adopted U.S. are enormous, tremendously varied and filled with alluring places to visit.

The places in Canada I still want to see include Newfoundland, P.E.I. and some more of the Far North.

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Paris

In the U.S., I hope to visit Colorado, Utah, Montana, Wyoming and several more national parks. I really want to do a driving trip the length of California. I’d like to visit Portland, Oregon, where we have several good friends.

Internationally?

It’s a very long list of places I’ve yet to see, including Japan, Laos, Cambodia, Mongolia, Tibet, Nepal, South Africa, Namibia, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, islands of the South Pacific, Antarctica, Lebanon, Greece, Croatia, Finland, Iceland and Morocco.

Where do you want to travel to next and why?

Self-preservation

By Caitlin Kelly

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Setting a pretty table to share with friends? That’s a soothing activity for me…

 

There’s a phrase I see and hear a lot, and one I never heard decades ago — self-care.

It’s often aimed at women, especially mothers of small/multiple children, typically run off their feet caring for everyone but themselves.

The simplest of pleasures, reading a book or magazine uninterrupted, owning lovely clothing not covered with various bodily excretions, disappear in a whirlwind of attending to everyone else’s needs all the time.

It also happens when you’re overwhelmed by anything: a crazily demanding job and/or boss; trying to juggle work/school/family; wearyingly long commutes that consume hours; a medical crisis; care-giving someone ill and/or elderly.

Your own needs come second or third or fourth.

Or, it seems, never.

It becomes a matter of survival, of self-preservation.

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Music, art, culture…feed your soul!

 

Of preserving, even a little, your identity, your hunger for silence and solitude, for time spent with friends or your pet or in nature.

It’s often reduced, for women, to consumptive choices like getting a manicure or massage, (and I do enjoy both, while some women loathe being touched by a stranger.)

 

But our needs are deeper, subtler and more complicated.

 

Caring for yourself isn’t always something you just buy, a product or service that keeps the economy humming — and can make you feel passive, resentful, a chump.

There’s no price tag on staring at a sunset or admiring the night sky or listening to your cat purr nearby.

There’s no “value” to sitting still, phone off, computer off, to say a silent prayer.

It’s one reason women who choose not to have children — as I did and millions do — are so often labeled “selfish”, as if caring for a spouse or friends or the world or, (gasp) your own needs, is lesser than, shameful, worthy of disapproval.

When it’s no one’s business.

We all need to preserve:

Our souls, whether through prayer or meditation or labyrinth walking or a long hike or canoe paddle.

Our bodies, which shrink and soften, literally, as we age, so we need to keep them strong and fit and flexible, not just thin and pretty.

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Our finances. Women, especially, can face a terrifyingly impoverished old age, thanks to earning less for fewer years, and/or putting others’ needs first, (those of children, aging parents, spouse, siblings), and hence a reduced payout from Social Security. It’s a really ugly payback for years of being emotionally generous.

Our solitude. Yes, we each need daily time alone in silence, uninterrupted by the phone or texts or just the incessant demands of anyone else. We all need time to think, ponder, muse, reflect. Silence is deeply healing.

— Our mental health. That can mean severing toxic relationships with family, neighbors, bosses, clients or friends who drain us dry with their neediness, rage or anxiety. It might mean committing the time and money needed to do therapy, often not fun at all. It might mean using anti-depression or anti-anxiety medication. 

— Our friendships. These are the people we often neglect in our rush to make money or attain some higher form of social status. It can take time, energy and commitment to keep a friendship thriving.

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— Our planet. Crucial. Without clean air and water, without a way to flee flood, famine, war and fire — or prevent them — we’re all at risk.

Our sexuality. At any age, in whatever physical condition we find ourselves in.

Our rightful gender. I recently met someone now transitioning from being born into a female body into the male one he now prefers. What an extraordinary decision and journey he’s now on. For some, it’s a matter of the most primal preservation.

Our identities. Whatever yours is focused on, it’s possibly, if you live in North America, primarily centered on your work and the status and income it provides. Which is fine, until you’re fired or laid off. Then what?

Or on your role as wife/husband (divorce can really shatter that one into minuscule shards, as this blogger, a divorcee and single mother, often reflects.)

Or on that of being a parent, (the empty nest can feel very disorienting.)

I think it’s essential to claim, and nurture, and savor lifelong multiple strong identities, whether athletic, artistic, a spirit of generosity or philanthropy, creative pleasures. You can be a cellist and a great cook and a loving son/daughter and love mystery novels and love playing hockey and love singing hymns.

 

We’re all diamonds, with multiple gleaming facets.

 

Take good care of yourself!

 

A perfect Manhattan day…

By Caitlin Kelly

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Lincoln Center, one of my greatest pleasures of living in New York

It was 95 degrees, and humid — and said to feel like 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

It did!

But it was a perfect day, a day spent gratefully away from the endless grind of the computer and the claustrophobic roar of the air conditioner.

A hooky day.

I drove into the city, (a 40 minute drive from our town on the Hudson River, north of Manhattan), reveling in air conditioning and listening, as usual, to WFUV (the radio station of Fordham Univerisity, a private Jesuit college here.)

Loved seeing dinghies with bellied sails on the Hudson and several huge barges being pushed by tugs. Tugs are like elephants for me — the very sight of one just makes me really happy. Given non-stop maritime traffic here, I get to see them a lot!

I enjoy the drive south from our town, parallel to the Hudson River to my right/west, with glorious views of the city’s skyline, the George Washington Bridge and New Jersey, just a few miles across the water. I moved to New York in 1989, and I never tire of these views. I feel lucky to live close enough to afford it, and to dip in and out of the city without paying every penny to live in it.

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The railings of the David Kock Theater at Lincoln Center have lacy, gilded dividers and the diamond-like lights repeat in the exterior and hall interior

I parked beneath Lincoln Center, (whose underground parking lot was a recent discovery), and walked over to ABC — the television network — to drop off the backpack we filled to donate.

Those corporate lobbies are really something. HUGE. Boatloads of green and red marble. Mostly intimidating and not very attractive. One wall of the lobby is filled with color photos of all their stars, and you realize that each person is a brand, a polished and valuable commodity in their collection.

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I’d planned on a 1:10 movie, but missed it so I settled into a favorite French restaurant, La Boite en Bois, for a long, long (2.5 hours) lazy lunch. It’s a tiny space, a few steps below ground, and has been in business for 30 years — an impressive run in such a difficult city.

For much of the time I had the 48-seat room all to myself. Chatted in French to one of the waiters and enjoyed a three-course (!), very good meal for $27 ($32 with tip.) I caught up on two days’ worth of the Financial Times and the day’s New York Times. (And fielded a few work emails.)

Hopped a bus crosstown to meet a friend for a drink at a craft beer joint, The Jeffrey, which was terrific. One of the fun things of living here is that there’s always something new to discover — because rents are so high, places can open, even to rave reviews, and be gone within months.

Walked six blocks north, bussed back to the West side and caught Equity, a new film, at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, another below-ground gem. (Sounds like a Hobbit-y day!)

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Walking back to the car at 10:15 p.m. — past the now illuminated Lincoln Center fountain, people silhouetted against its lit-up waters — was one of those perfect, classic Manhattan moments. Like Grand Central Terminal, Lincoln Center is such an elegant icon. I never tire of its understated white marble beauty.

The day wasn’t cheap; it’s Manhattan, after all, but not as bad as some might think. I usually limit my NYC excursions to once a week or so, but make sure to maximize my pleasure once I’ve made the journey.

Total cost of my perfect day: parking $48 (10 hours); lunch $32; bus fare $2.75 x two; cab $13; beer (paid for my friend, on her work expense account — we’re both journalists); movie $15, popcorn (dinner!) $5.

 

How’s your Saturday going?

By Caitlin Kelly

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photo: Caitlin Kelly

On the balcony, in my white cotton nightie — visible only to the low-flying prop planes and helicopters and assorted birds — listening to reggae on WKCR, the radio station of Columbia University.

Enjoying the breeze off the Hudson River.

Loving the daily posts from fellow blogger Beth, on vacation in Ireland.

Maybe out for lunch later, and buying food for a friend visiting from California who’s coming for Sunday lunch tomorrow, one of our favorite traditions.

The NYT and Financial Times waiting to be read, plus all the piles of unread magazines.

Maybe down to our apartment’s pool this afternoon.

Reluctantly turned down a visiting Toronto friend’s last-minute to catch up in Manhattan – it’s going to be 100 degrees there today with heat/humidity. (We’ll see one another in Toronto next month.)

 

What are you up to this fine weekend?

Taking comfort in…

By Caitlin Kelly

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Reliving happy memories helps — my wedding day in 2011.

 

When life gets ugly and out of control, as it inevitably does for everyone at some point, we  need to rest, recharge, maybe withdraw and definitely seek comfort.

It’s a deep hunger and one we dismiss or ignore at our peril.

Many Americans turned to their faith communities last week, with churches in many cities welcoming people who are angry, confused, grieving and needing solace.

The entire country feels wounded and wary.

Things aren’t much happier in Britain, with political leaders lying and quitting at a rapid rate.

It’s also been a rough time for me personally; nothing life-threatening, but I’m weary.

So I seek comfort in several ways:

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– A walk in nature

— Hugs from my husband

— Reading for pure pleasure (not the usual glut of must-read news and non-fiction)

— Bubble baths

— A cold beer (weekends only)

— Classical music

— Playing my 80s vinyl

— Rice pudding

Freshly-ironed pillowcases

— Flowers, everywhere

Cooking a favorite recipe (this week, tomato/leek quiche)

— Entertaining dear friends; six coming for Sunday lunch this week

— Sitting a cafe with a pal, the kind who knows you really well and is OK if you start crying in public

 

When things go south, how do you comfort yourself?

 

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Simple summer pleasures…

By Caitlin Kelly

(an ongoing occasional series)

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The early morning swoosh/swoop of a flock of swallows flashing over our roofline and into the sky — returning at sunset

 

The chittering of a lone robin in the treetops

 

A cool, fresh morning breeze

 

Pretty sandals and a fresh pedicure

 

Crashing waves on the seashore

 

The scent of woodsmoke from a campfire

 

The lap of water against stone, lakeside

 

Water gurgling around your paddle as it bites deeply into cold water, canoeing

 

Wearing linen — wrinkles be damned!

 

Picnics in the park

 

Long light-filled evenings

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Beauty helps!

 

Pots, or a garden, filled with plants and  blooming lowers — and filling your home with beauty from it!

 

Free outdoor movies and concerts in city parks

 

A seersucker suit

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My handsome hubby, Jose…

 

Blueberries and cream

 

Working on our balcony, with its Hudson River view

 

Fresh corn, buttered, salted and peppered

 

The gentle whirring of a fan, its breeze lulling me to sleep

 

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A splash of citrus-y/crisp fragrance — like Oyedo (top note, yuzu), Cristalle (Chanel), O de Lancome, Eau Sauvage (for men) or my standby, from 1903, Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet

 

A red ball sinking below the horizon, a few mares’ tails in the pale sky

 

The exultant cries of “Marco? POLO!” from a pool party across our suburban New York street

 

A drippy Popsicle

 

A cold gin & tonic or gimlet

 

Sleeping out beneath the stars, in the backyard, on your balcony, camping…

 

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Stay hydrated!

 

A long drink of fresh cold water (this jug found while visiting Maine)

 

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Fleece came in handy when playing golf in 19 mph winds (yes, I checked!)

Golf! (This in Cruit Island, Donegal, Ireland)

 

Fireflies, flitting by in the dark

What are some of your summer pleasures?

 

 

More simple pleasures…

By Caitlin Kelly

An ongoing series of some of the simpler pleasures in my life…Hope they’ll inspire you.

Playing my vinyl, everything from Genesis to koto to Jacques Brel

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It’s the weekend! It begins with the weekend Financial Times and the Saturday New York Times.  Yes, we still read on paper .

 

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The weekend FT is one of my favorite reads — global, witty, incisive. It’s very much a publication of the educated upper class and its various tastes and interests but it’s smart and interesting and much more global in outlook than the Times.

The FT magazine is called — without irony or embarrassment — How to Spend It. While 99% of it is directed to the wallets of the 1%, it’s fun to read.

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There’s all kinds of beauty in our small suburban town, 25 miles north of Manhattan. You just have to look for it.

 

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Beauty is everywhere — like this Paris cafe

Looking through photos from past journeys while dreaming up the next ones…this image is from a cafe in Paris, taken on our visit there in December 2014.

Every morning and evening we get a different view of the Hudson River from our top-floor apartment on the sixth floor. Some mornings it’s so foggy we can’t see anything but the very closest tree-tops.

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Our view

 

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This Moomin mug also makes me happy!

 

Silly treasure. If you don’t yet know about the Moomins, check it out! They’re a series of storybook characters from Finland.

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Yum!

 

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Travel is our one consistent extravagance…My next trip is to Washington, D.C. mid-June for a three-day journalism fellowship. I’ll probably stay there a few extra days to relax and explore.

We had planned to visit Gros Morne in Newfoundland this summer but have postponed it for a year.

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The lilacs are back!

I live for the moment when this spectacular tree, at the very start of our reservoir walk nearby, bursts into fragrant bloom.

Few scents are as intoxicating to me as lilac…you?

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I love cooking, and reading through my various cookbooks for inspiration and ideas. This is a favorite, written by the sister of British actor Daniel Day-Lewis.

One of the things I love most about living in New York is ready access to iconic landmarks like these…

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I snapped this one from the back seat of a cab traveling from Brooklyn to midtown. This is the Brooklyn Bridge, spanning the East River.

One of the great secrets of that bridge is that it would never have been completed without the intelligence and guts of a woman — Emily Roebling — to whom a plaque is affixed to one of the columns. Her father-in-law won the prestigious and highly-coveted commission to build it but died of tetanus.

His son, Washington, took over — and got sick from going into the underwater caissons too often. Emily took over the management of the final eleven years of its construction.

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It really is a cathedral of sorts — Grand Central Terminal. Lots of great shopping and two restaurants under that glorious arched turquoise ceiling. Stop in for a drink and enjoy!

 

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Looks a bit like snow-capped mountains, but it’s one of our two local boatyards, the boats shrink-wrapped during the long winter.

 

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Jose and I have spent decades on this commuter train!

It’s a quick 38 minutes from our town into midtown Manhattan, with a gorgeous ride down the eastern edge of the Hudson River. The train itself is no great beauty, but it’s generally on time, safe, clean and semi-affordable.

I snapped this photo as I got off earlier this week, just as the sun was starting to set.

I hope you’re having a great weekend and enjoying some simple pleasures of your own!

A hundred million miracles…

By Caitlin Kelly

A hundred million miracles

A hundred million miracles are happening every day

And those who say they don’t agree

Are those who do not hear or see…

— Flower Drum Song, musical, 1958

 

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Take a walk now, anywhere there’s spring.

The light.

The wind.

The warming sun.

I love the in-between-ness of spring, how tentative and hopeful it is, all those delicate green shoots bursting forth from the pale detritus of last fall’s dead leaves and twigs and scattered acorns.

And I know this path so well, after decades of walking it in every season, so I know when the light is low and slanting, and highlights every bit of moss and lichen and leaf.

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I wait each year for a nearby lilac tree to blossom into purple fragrance. My favorite smell!

And what a basic, taken-for-granted miracle to hear the wind, to feel the sun, to walk easily and without pain. Mobility itself is a great gift.

I think of the many people who lie in a hospital or hospice bed, or waiting in a crowded and noisy and dirty refugee camp, or beneath the bombs of war…and walk in grateful silence.

It is such a simple thing, for some of us, to have a clean place to walk freely and safely, as a woman alone.

Here are a few of the lovely things I spotted on a recent walk near the reservoir in our town, 25 miles north of Manhattan:

 

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And a very persistent little leaf who came along for the ride…

 

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Why being “productive” is a waste of time

By Caitlin Kelly

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Attending the ballet and staring at the ceiling — OMG, wasting time!

If there is an obsession I really hate, it’s “being (more) productive”, i.e. making sure that every minute of our every day is spent doing something, preferably as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Do more!

No, do even more. Better!

I live near New York City, a place where if you’re not working reallyhardallthetime — gobbling lunch at your desk with no break in your day — you’re seen as some witless, gormless slacker.

It’s hardly a point of view confined to New York, but it does feel very American, with a deep-rooted and long-established cultural emphasis on making lots and lots and lots of money and never wasting time because…you could be making more money!

All of which strikes me as sad and weird.

This mania for measurement began, as some of you know, with Taylorism and Fordism, ways of manufacturing, (to profit corporate owners and their shareholders), more quickly and efficiently, named for the men who created these systems.

Here’s a great video from the website Aeon, on the topic.

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Time or money? Which do you value more? Must we always choose?

As the video wisely points out, you simply can’t quantify intellectual output the way you can time with a stopwatch how long it takes to install a windshield or weld a joint.

The other essential problem with focusing all our energy on being more productive is that we are not machines. We are not industrial creatures, made of metal and oil.

We need to rest, to think, to reflect, to stare at the sky.

Constantly pumping out goods or services guarantees burnout and resentment.

It’s like dancing with fog, really, if you try to make creative work more efficient.

How long does it take to produce an idea?

A good idea?

An idea that isn’t shot down?

An idea that actually earns a profit?

And must that profit be purely monetary to have value?

What if your idea, instead, saves a life or soothes a colicky baby or gladdens your neighbor’s heart?

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Here are a few things you can’t do more productively:

 

Kiss

 

Die

 

Be born

 

Pray

 

Create a work of art

 

Meditate

 

Comfort someone

 

Be generous

 

Breathe

 

It’s Saturday and…

By Caitlin Kelly

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Our view of the Hudson River

“What is a weekend?” — The Dowager Countess of Grantham, Downton Abbey

 

Ohhhhhh, blessed Saturday morning…with spring around the corner and the forsythia (too soon!) already blooming.

First, a cinnamon bun from the amazing Riviera Bakehouse, our local bakery filled with delicious things.

Music, next…The Animals, live at Wembley Stadium, from 1983. A little vinyl to get the blood moving. Great stuff, like Boom, Boom and O’ Lucky Man and House of the Rising Sun.

An egg and bacon with Jose (my husband.)

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The opening and skimming of the weekend newspapers, tweeting out the good bits, deciding what to read first — being a New Yorker now, it’s often the Real Estate section, to examine the latest insanity. After living here a while, you see a listing for $1.5 million and think that’s not such a bad price. (Insurmountable for us!)

Watching my smart personal finance friend, and columnist for Slate, Helaine Olen on MSNBC, warning about how broke we’re all going to be in retirement.

Hanging, finally, all our photos and art to make a gallery wall.

A little housework.

Listening to some of my favorite NPR shows on WNYC, Radiolab at noon, This American Life at 1:00 and The Moth at 2:00. You have to tear me away from the radio, still my favorite medium.

Enjoying the flowers I bought yesterday, a weekly indulgence — these cost $32 and are worth every penny to me.

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Choosing recipes for the week, and food shopping.

Deciding whether it’s too cold to join my softball team for a game. Maybe just for lunch! Here’s my NYT essay about them.

Savoring the silence, only the clock ticking in the kitchen and a jet far overhead. Weekday traffic on the nearby Tappan Zee Bridge normally noisy.

Perhaps we’ll go out for a burger at one of our local restaurants, now that our town, Tarrytown, NY, has become — thanks to the $$$$-real-estate-induced exodus from Brooklyn — hip. It’s all McLaren strollers and Mini Coopers now.

Maybe go out for a long walk through the Rockefeller estate, a lush and quiet public 750 acres a 10-minute drive north of us. Or along the Hudson’s western shore.

I love our half-urban, half-rural existence. Technically, we live in a suburb of New York City, but our town is lively and fun, economically and racially diverse. In 40 minutes’ drive or train ride, I’m in midtown Manhattan or, heading north, can reach the gorgeous town of Cold Spring, right on the river, to meet a fellow writer for lunch.

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A walk along the Palisades, on the western shore of the Hudson River

Here’s a mug for sale with the Countess’ immortal words…

What does your Saturday look like?