Luxuries/Necessities

IMG_6173Luxury!

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Like some others I know, this recent New York Times story, about people toughing out their pandemic in their second home, left me annoyed with its timing…with millions of other scared and broke Americans now facing eviction.

As they say — read the room!

Yes, I know there are rich people!

I know many of them read the Times.

But really?

While living full-time in places that usually get much less wear and tear, these homeowners share many of the same difficulties as anyone dealing with the coronavirus lockdown — working in communal spaces where their children now are present 24-7, discovering items in their homes that need updating, and then renovating a home while they are living in it. In addition, these homeowners must adjust to living in relatively unfamiliar towns, often far from friends, family, or creature comforts like a favorite bagel shop or longtime barber.

People assumed this must be a parody.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how much we can — and now must — forego.

Any form of amusement in a shared interior space? Gone!

Worshiping en masse indoors or not socially distanced outdoors? Gone!

Haircut and color? Gone, still, for many.

Massages, tattoos, other forms of out-sourced grooming? Gone!

Libraries? Gone! A few have gone to interesting lengths, from curbside delivery in brown paper shopping bags to home delivery by drone.

Oh, and travel? Forget it. In-state only, and even then only if you live in a state (only 16 left now in the U.S.) not devastated by huge numbers of COVID cases. New York lost more than 20,000 people to this virus, but thanks to millions of others who dismissed all those morgue trucks as a fantasy — we’re all now shut inside the borders of a nation in economic ruin. Awesome!

So it’s been a powerful lesson, beyond food and shelter, in what we once might have considered necessities — and know now for sure are luxuries.

 

 

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A while back, I gave some insider advice about writing a book to an MD I follow on Twitter, something I normally charge for. I didn’t. A bit later, he dropped a really nice gift into my PayPal account and I splurged for these!

 

A few luxuries I appreciate have remained possible: fresh flowers (now often from our small balcony garden), perfume and some new clothes and sandals, ordered by mail and a few bought in-store, and a quick four-day trip upstate to visit a friend and two nights’ hotel.

 

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I treated myself to a subscription, in print, (which I keep for years!) this magazine that’s hard to find here, and am in heaven swooning over 16th century cottages and gorgeous gardens, a happy substitute until, someday, I can get back there.

All of it wonderful.

For parents, certainly of multiple small children, not being able to rely on out-of-home childcare or schooling is a huge stressor with no calm, competent leadership anywhere on this in sight. STILL.

How absurd that education and childcare — both absolute necessities for a functioning economy while also safeguarding health — have suddenly become luxuries, with the most privileged snapping up teachers to teach locally-formed pods.

We’ve been very lucky to have steady work, bizarre in a time of such privation, but very aware of how lucky we are, especially as two full-time freelancers.

We’re very lucky to have savings.

And, for now, our health.

These are the necessities.

 

Everything else is now a luxury.

 

A return to earlier pleasures

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Age six or seven, in our former Toronto back yard, with one of our two Siamese cats, Mitzpah and Horowitz

 

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m very lucky to live with a skilled photo editor and archivist for the United States Golf Association — whose ability to rescue faded, torn, wrinkled images is amazing.

I’d lost hope for this photo, which is in color and was so so faded! But he brought it back.

Me, back.

This photo means a lot to me, because it’s the only image I have of the last home I shared with both parents, on Castlefrank Road in Rosedale, a lovely neighborhood of Toronto. It would prove to be the last time I lived in a house until I was 15, as my now single mother and I lived in different apartments in Toronto and Montreal.

Bored by isolation during this pandemic, I’ve recently returned to two activities I haven’t done in decades and used to really enjoy —- swimming and playing the guitar.

In my teens, I was a skilled swimmer and used to compete, do synchronized swimming and worked part-time through high school as a lifeguard. But I’ve never enjoyed swimming at the Y — the pool is enormous and even one length daunting.

Luckily, our apartment building pool is open this summer, even if only for two months, and I’m trying to do multiple lengths every afternoon. To my surprise and joy, I’m finding it really relaxing, and a great time to stretch out muscles cramped from too much sitting.

I used to play guitar and write songs and haven’t even touched it in 20 years. But it’s time! I’m excited and nervous to start building up the calluses needed to play without pain. I love singing and really miss it.

 

Have you taken up new skills or activities in the pandemic?

 

Or re-discovered older ones you’d let go?

 

20 questions — your turn, too!

 

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Think hard!

 

By Caitlin Kelly

For a change of pace, 20 questions…

 

What was the best year of your life and why?

At 25, I won a fellowship based in Paris that had 28 journalists from 19 countries, ages 25 to 35. People came from Bangladesh, Togo, New Zealand, Ireland, North America, Brazil, China, Japan. It was absolutely fantastic. We each did four 10-day solo reporting trips; I went to Amsterdam and London to write about squatting (taking over abandoned properties); went to small-town Sicily to write about Cruise missiles; went to Copenhagen to write about the Royal Danish Ballet and took an 8-day truck trip from Perpignan to Istanbul to write about the trucking industry. We also went on group trips to Munich and Siena and forged, en deux langues, deep friendships lasting to this day. My love for Paris and France runs very deep with gratitude for this life-changing experience.

 

The worst?

A toss-up between 1983 when I saw my mother in a locked psychiatric ward in London; 1994 when my first husband walked out for good; 1998 when I dated a con man and 2018 with a (not bad) breast cancer diagnosis. At least I had time to recover from each before the next one hit.

 

 

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Tea or coffee?

Both!

 

The best place you’ve ever visited (outside your home country?)

A three-way tie between Corsica, Thailand and Ireland. I cried when I left all of these.

 

 

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Best book(s) you ever read?

Whew. Too many. I loved The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachmann and My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, Cutting For Stone. Random Family (non-fiction) is astounding, as is Skyfaring.

 

 

 

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Favorite movie(s)?

So so so many! Casablanca. All the Ocean’s movies. All the Bourne movies. Michael Clayton. Dr. Zhivago. The Devil Wears Prada. For documentaries, Capernaum is a powerful, unforgettable must-see.

 

 

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A you a nervous flyer?

Regretfully, yes. I love to travel and am not good with turbulence.

 

 

 

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Secret super-power?

I can whistle really loudly with two fingers, grind jib really fast at the start of a sailboat race, have an excellent color sense and almost always know — within 20-30 minutes, day or night — what time it is.

 

Activity you most dread?

Seeing a doctor. Too many visits for too many reasons.

 

 

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Most look forward to?

Hmmmm. Landing/arriving somewhere distant at the start of a long vacation.

 

How do your weekend mornings typically start?

The New York Times and Financial Times, in print. Coffee. Probably toast and an omelette and fresh orange juice. More coffee!

 

Do (did) your parents approve of/support your career choice?

Absolutely. My father made films and my mother worked as a writer and magazine editor.

 

What do you most admire in others?

A passion for, and commitment to, social justice. Honesty tempered by kindness, tact and thoughtful timing. Deep loyalty to friends. Skills I lack — musical ability, gardening. A massive work ethic (not to be confused with workaholism.) I really enjoy people who are deeply curious and have an appreciation for beauty and elegance.

 

What do you most abhor?

Liars. Hypocrites. Rage-a-holics. Laziness. Self-righteousness. Whining!

 

What (if anything) do you most enjoy cooking?

I love making soup, roast chicken, a good salad and vinaigrette.

 

 

 

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This is easy and so good!

 

Eating?

Hmmmm. So many things! Rice pudding and flan. Strawberries. Oysters with mignonette sauce. Branzino. Baguette with brie.

 

Do you have a pet?

No. We keep discussing getting a dog but have not yet.

 

Is/was your family of origin a happy one?

No. Have mentioned this here many times.

 

 

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What’s your favorite thing to wear (clothing, shoes, accessories)?

I’m mad for scarves of all kinds: linen, silk (two Hermès), cotton, cashmere, wool. It’s really my signature. Rings and earrings — Jose has given me some lovely ones. Also very fond of quality footwear, like the low black suede boots I bought in Canada last year.

 

What are your three best qualities?

Hmmmm. Loyal friend, hard worker, mentor.

 

Your turn!!

 

 

Simple pleasures, summer version

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

 

Watching the bees enjoy our balcony garden

Welcoming butterflies

Starting and ending the day on the balcony

 

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Dining al fresco

Watermelon!

Birdsong at (!) 4:30 a.m.

Long evenings — soon to (sob!) start getting shorter again

Flapping about in our Birkenstocks, Jose in brown suede Arizonas, me in pink suede Madrids

A soft swirled ice cream bought from an ice cream truck

Buying a parks pass for the first time

Listening to music outdoors through a Sonos speaker

Lit lanterns

Hitting a bucket of balls at the driving range

The rustling of treetop leaves

Watching fireflies glow in the dark

Making sun tea

Falling asleep in an AC-chilled room

Getting out onto the water — canoe, kayak, sailboat, paddleboard, surfboard

Our apartment building pool! (Only opening this year in July)

Corn, berries, tomatoes — delicious produce in season

 

What are some of yours?

 

Looking back…

By Caitlin Kelly

With so much more time at home to reflect, it’s been interesting to flip through old photos, enjoying happy memories.

A few of these:

 

Jose and I, now together 20 years, married in 2011, met through an online dating site, which I was writing about for a magazine story. His was one of (!) 200 replies to my profile, whose candid headline was Catch Me If You Can. He did!

Not one to hesitate, he pulled out the big guns and, within two months of meeting me, invited me to the White House News Photographers annual dinner, a black tie affair in D.C. seated with senior photo editors of his employer, The New York Times. No pressure!

And, showing off his extraordinary access as a former NYT White House Press Corps photographer, we were allowed into the Oval Office.

 

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Two of my proudest moments: Malled (2011) and Blown Away (2004.) I loved writing both books and have two proposals I’m slowly working on. Journalism has been so decimated in the past decade and there are very few places that still offer room to tell a story in depth — and pay enough to make it worth doing.

 

Caitlin Kelly Health Care Story

 

September 2019, Ontario, doing one of the 30 interviews for my story on Canadian healthcare, interviewing a physician. Jose and I traveled around rural Ontario for three weeks that month and had a fantastic time — I interviewed plenty of people but we also stayed with old friends, like a woman I hadn’t seen in 50 years (!) I went to private school with. So fun!

 

 

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Jose thought it would be a good idea to photograph the judging of the Pulitzers, so he did! When you work 100 percent freelance, as we both do, you’re constantly drumming up ideas to sell. No ideas, no income!

 

 

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The fab team of radiologists and physicians my on my final day of radiation for early stage breast cancer, November 15, 2018. They were so kind and compassionate.

 

 

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We love visiting Montreal. Such charm! It’s about a 6.5 hour drive from our home in New York. I love speaking and hearing French encore une fois and we have some friends there to catch up with. We even now have a favorite room at the hotel we like, the Omni Mount Royal — which overlooks the exact site of the (torn down) brownstone I lived in at 12 with my mother. We used to fly kites on Mount Royal — and when I met my first husband in his final year of med school at McGill, took him up there on a ffffffrrrezzzing caleche ride. So many memories!

 

 

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Summer 2017, a glorious Budapest cafe. I treated myself to an unprecedented six weeks’ travel through six countries: France, Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Italy, England. It was worth every penny. Dying to travel again! Unlikely — I met up there with my best friend from university, who lives in Kamloops, B.C., whose daughter had been studying in Eastern Europe. 

 

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Yup, that’s fellow Canadian, actor Mike Myers, who I met at Fleet Week in NYC a few years ago, at a Canadian consulate event. He was a lot of fun.

 

 

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Our wedding, September 2011, on an island in Toronto. A tiny church, with 25 friends/family in attendance. It was a perfect fall afternoon.

 

 

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This would have been pre-1994, when I was competing as a sabre fencer at nationals.

 

 

 

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The view from across the road. Can’t walk down to the sea very far — thorns and bog!

 

June 2015, Co. Donegal, where we rented a cottage

 

 

I learned how to canoe at camp -- useful when we went to Nicaragua
On assignment in Nicaragua for WaterAid — Jen in the bow of a dugout canoe

 

I’ve been so fortunate to have paid adventures like this one! March 2014. My first ride in a dug-out canoe.

 

 

 

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I had planned to leave journalism and become an interior designer so I studied here in the 1990s — and loved it! Then I taught writing there for years.

 

 

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.
The Grand Canyon — whose profound silence makes your ears ring

 

I’ve been twice. What an amazing place! This is from 2013

 

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What a hoot! This would have been 2011 or earlier, before my hip replacement. They gave me the clothes to keep! And the photographer (small world!) came from Atlanta to New York, the husband of an old friend.

 

 

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This is probably my proudest writing moment — a National Magazine Award for an essay (humor!) about my divorce. I wrote it and sent to a national Canadian women’s magazine who sat on it for a few years (I got divorced in 1995), but they did a great edit — and voila!

Headwinds, tailwinds

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

As an official #avgeek, who thrills to the sight of any aircraft and loves the smell of JP4, aka jet fuel, I often think in/use aviation metaphors.

Last week I had a long heart-to-heart with a dear friend, a much younger woman still in her 20s. She’s feeling stuck and frustrated, and has had a family tragedy hit her as well. It’s a lot!

When all those around you look like they’re making much faster progress towards personal and professional goals — marriage, kids, buying a home, getting a job or a promotion — it’s so easy and so demoralizing to feel left behind. Even at my age, decades into a good journalism career, I still gnash my teeth and rend my garments when I see other writers winning big awards and fellowships and fancy book and movie and TV deals.

Envy is also a fairly human emotion.

But…

I also subscribe to the belief that, just as some flights go much more quickly thanks to a tailwind and some more slowly thanks to a headwind, so do our lives.

And many of the obstacles and many of the privileges (head/tailwinds) also remain invisible. 

And in American can-do, individual, no-social-safety-net culture, it’s completely normal — and really bad for your psyche — to blame only yourself. If only you had done X! Or didn’t do Y! So and so did Z and look at their success!

But…

We just don’t know, unless someone is completely candid with us, what tremendous advantages or disadvantages they have had to overcome or enjoy. It’s rare that we compete on a level playing field.

 

Headwinds can include:

 

Chronic illness

Mental illness

Serious illness

Acute illness/recovery — or any of these for a loved one

Disability

Caregiving

Grief

Miscarriage

Infertility

Unemployment

Underemployment

Lack of skills

Lack of access/income for training

Solo parenting

Poverty

Poor access, or none,  to transit/transportation

No medical care

Hunger

Lack of education and access to same

Race, gender, ethnicity, religious prejudice

Misogyny/chauvinism

Becoming a crime victim

Emotional or physical or sexual abuse

 

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Luxury itself is a tailwind

Tailwinds:

 

Inherited money

A high-earning spouse or partner

A safe, green and attractive home and neighborhood

Wealthy parents or grandparents offering money

Excellent health

Excellent education

Fluent English

Excellent work skills

Successful legal role models

Wise, kind, reliable people to turn to for help and advice

Secure housing

Secure employment

Secure non-work income, like a pension or other solid investments

Social capital, i.e. knowing people with power who will help you

A sense of self-confidence

A safe and reliable vehicle or ready access to safe, affordable, reliable public transit

People who actively love and check in on you

Solid, strong friendships

 

So I told my younger friend it was necessary to see her life differently, even though the tragedy is permanent and life-altering and no one seems to understand its effects, which also leaves her isolated.

I know the choices she’s made were risky and unconventional — and I admire all of them, for her guts and sense of adventure and all the skill and wisdom they have brought her.

And I told her how much I admire her.

 

 

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I worked retail for 2.5 years, a day a week for The North Face, and made $11/hour, from 2007 to 2009. It was a tiring, poorly-paid, emotionally-taxing and unrewarding job in most ways.

We needed cash. It offered steady, reliable cash. And I was not a teenager, far from it — in fact the oldest person of our 15-member staff.

How I felt about it was irrelevant to getting the damn job done.

It ended up becoming my second book, but none of that appeared likely to me until September 9, 2009 when we had a major publisher committed.

The 2008 crash was very much a headwind, and a shared one.

Now, 12 years later, we’re all screwed thanks to the pandemic — with only the wealthiest and healthiest feeling no/few headwinds.

 

The rest of us will have to fly onwards as best we can.

 

 

Managing anxiety

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

I know, for some people, it’s a chronic and debilitating issue.

There are days I think I’m going to explode.

Being asked by my doctor to monitor my blood pressure every morning is making me much more aware how chronically anxious I am, even from the moment I wake up.

This is not good!

So I’m trying to do more deep breathing.

Keeping up with my three-times-a-week spin class, which I enjoy a lot and which burns off a lot of stress.

Taking more and longer naps, even if I don’t sleep but just snuggle under the duvet and stare out into the cold, gray, cloudy winter sky from the warm safety of bed.

 

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It’s odd…some things that make people feel really really freaked out don’t bother me at all; I recently read a tweet by someone much higher profile than I who literally ran off stage at an event to vomit with a panic attack.

Public speaking has never scared me.

But it’s time to really examine why I feel so stressed.

Part of it is very real — our monthly living costs are high and we have done everything we can to reduce them. So, working freelance means paid projects we rely on can — and do — fall through. That means making sure we always have accessible savings (which, thankfully, we do.)

Part of it is just the sheer exhaustion of constantly having to manage so many relationships — professional and personal — and the inevitable conflict and misunderstanding that often comes as a result of much (too much!) online conversation. If I piss off the wrong person, I can lose valuable friendships and clients, so I too often feel now like I’m walking eggshells to avoid that.

Part of it is knowing we have zero family support or back-up, whether emotional, financial or physical. I no longer have a relationship with my mother (her only child) and my father and I have a very stormy one. My 3 half-siblings are not people I know or like, and vice versa. Jose’s parents have been dead for decades and we very rarely see his two sisters who live far away. Whatever happens, it’s all on us.

Part of it is what happens after you’ve gotten a diagnosis of any form of cancer; mine in June 2018 for DCIS, stage zero, no spread, surgery and radiation. But I live every day in fear of recurrence.

Part of it is not having quite as many supports as would be ideal, really close friends who live nearby. I have three or four close women friends where I live, but the other day, really in a panic over a work issue, I had to call one who lives in Toronto, a woman I’m lucky to see once a year but who knows me very well. At my age, most women are retired, and at leisure and/or traveling and/or obsessed with their grandchildren, so I have very little in common with them — more with peers decades younger still in the work trenches yet also at a very different stage of life and facing very different challenges.

Part of it is just my general fears about my health and how to strengthen and preserve it as I age. I’ve stopped drinking alcohol to lose weight. I’ve added another day of a different kind of exercise. I’m trying to eat less meat and smaller portions.

Part of it is age. We are not able, now to get another well-paid full-time job in our chaotic industry because of rampant age discrimination. That keeps us in the financial precarity of freelance work and extremely expensive health insurance.

 

 

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We stayed overnight in this house in a Nicaraguan village with no electricity, indoor plumbing or running water.

 

And I know — believe me! — having lived in and traveled to and worked in much poorer places (like Nicaragua, March 2014), that these are all “first world problems” — worries relatively very small indeed in comparison to those of millions of others, abroad and domestic.

 

I took six weeks off in the summer of 2017, a massive splurge of savings. It was worth every penny to travel, alone, through Europe.

When I came home I remarked to a friend that my head, literally, felt different.

“That’s what it’s like not to be anxious all the time,” she said.

I would like to feel that way again.

 

Two chairs

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That tiny crystal pyramid on the shelf? Jose’s Pulitzer!

 

By Caitlin Kelly

They came to us in a sad way, one we think about every time we sit in them.

In our co-op apartment building, we have many older folk — in their 80s and 90s — and some are long-married. One of them, always elegant, always together, went out one Friday afternoon for lunch.

On the drive home they were struck by a drunk driver, a woman. The wife was killed and her husband died later at the hospital.

Their children held an apartment sale to dispose of their belongings — so we went downstairs and found a pair of wing chairs, something Jose had wanted for many years. A good quality wing chair is easily $500-1,500+ so this had remained out of reach.

We got both of these for $450.

The upholstery is not 100 percent my taste, but neutral enough to work with our current color scheme. I’d like to change it to something else, but it will be costly.

Jose and I sit there and talk, sometimes for a long time. There’s something lovely and formal and intentional about sitting side by side in an elegant chair.

We think of that couple. We miss them.

But we cherish their chairs.

 

Some things I’m looking forward to

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By Caitlin Kelly

One of the many challenges of working freelance, as my husband I both do, is having basically no structure at all to many of our days. When he works at The New York Times and United States Golf Association (his two anchor  clients), we know what hours and days are committed.

But without setting up planned pleasures for ourselves, we often just end up working too much and even on official holidays.

So for the end of 2019 and heading into 2020 I’m going full steam ahead and making plans for fun, for culture, for travel.

Yes, it’s expensive — but without joyful things to look forward to, it’s just toil and sleep.

Especially after a breast cancer diagnosis, time is more precious to me than ever.

 

December 2019

 

On the 6th, I’m headed to a service of candlelight and carols with a friend, at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, maybe with dinner beforehand at La Bonne Soupe, a terrific French bistro in business since 1977.

On the 13th, at home in Tarrytown, The Hot Sardines are playing — and I’ve been following them since the very beginning, having met their Canadian-French singer at a dinner party years ago when she was still a journalist. They tour globally and have had huge success.

On the 17th., we’re off to hear the New York Philharmonic play my favorite music — Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos — the greatest hits of 1721!

In January, a friend and I have tickets to Porgy and Bess at the Met Opera.

A new colleague at the Times is a balletomane as well, so we’re planning to see some ballet with him in 2020.

I keep looking at sites for cottage rentals and just need to commit; I have been dying to spend time in Cornwall after the end of my favorite BBC series, Poldark, set there at the end of the 18th. century. I want to spend two weeks there, a week in London and maybe even another week elsewhere in the English countryside and October 2020 is the only time we can do it.

Thanks to my breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, the last six months of 2018 really disappeared into a fog of anxiety, tests, surgery, radiation and fatigue.

In 2020, I’m still tethered to doctor appointments and follow-ups in March and also have to renew my green card (which allows me legal residency in the U.S.), which we are told can take six months, so that also limits any international options until the new one is in my hands.

But the more art and culture I enjoy — whether paintings, drawings, concerts, ballet, opera — the happier I am. It’s why I wanted to live here, close to New York City. Not savoring its cultural riches seems silly to me.

What are some things you’re looking forward to?