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?

 

 

More simple pleasures

 

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Another fab sunset from our balcony

 

By Caitlin Kelly

 

Strong coffee

 

Breakfast in bed on a tray

 

Our favorite radio stations: WKCR (Columbia University), WFUV, (Fordham), WNYC, TSFJazz (Paris) and my latest, channel 163 on Sirius XM, Chansons, all songs in French

 

A long walk with a good friend

 

A long phone chat or Skype with a pal living too far away

 

 

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Tickets for a forthcoming event, (Porgy and Bess at the Met Opera in January)

 

Red-tailed hawks flying low over our balcony

 

A new pair of loafers

 

 

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A cocktail at a gorgeous hotel bar — this is the Royal York, Toronto

 

An all-clear dental exam

 

Fresh pillowcases

 

A long soak in our 21-inch-deep bathtub

 

Baking lemon bread and tomato-leek quiche

 

What are some of yours?

Simple pleasures

By Caitlin Kelly

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 Georgetown, D.C., November 2017

 

Late afternoon sunlight

 

Fireflies (aka lightning bugs) twinkling in the darkness

 

A pot of hot loose-leaf tea

 

Freshly laundered pillowcases

 

A hummingbird hovering in our garden

 

Snoozing under a throw

 

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Reading for hours and hours, disappearing into another world

 

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Exploring rural antique stores and flea markets

 

Watching a movie, in the cinema, eating popcorn

 

Vanilla ice cream

 

A single espresso

 

Walking barefoot through wet grass

 

A calm and quiet place to sit and think for a while

 

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A long phone chat with a friend living far away

 

Walking through a lovely landscape

 

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A vase filled with tulips

 

A crisp apple (possibly with a sharp cheddar)

 

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What are some of your simple pleasures?

Six favorite activities

By Caitlin Kelly

 

Listening to the radio

 

It’s a rare day I don’t have my trusty little black transistor radio on beside me. I listen to BBC World News when I have time, (it’s an hour), and many NPR shows, from All Things Considered, Fresh Air and The Takeaway, (now hosted by old friend Tanzina Vega, who worked with Jose at The New York Times) to fun weekend shows like The Moth, This American Life and even silly ones like Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.

I’ve been working alone at home since 1996 so the radio is a steady companion. We’ve even sent a gift to Jeff Spurgeon, host of the morning show on WQXR, New York’s classical music station — a tiny plastic T. Rex — an in-joke he appreciated after he once joked about dinosaurs in the Hudson River; (probably historically accurate!)

Our new car has Sirius XM so I love listening to CBC as well.

 

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Reading the Weekend Financial Times

 

The FT is a very specific read, as one wit dubbed it: “the hometown paper of the global cosmopolitan elite.”

Its real estate pages — larded with country estates in every corner of the world and enormous penthouses in Paris and New York — can leave you somehow concluding that five million euros/pounds/dollars is actually a bargain, considering. Its glossy magazine, with classic fuck-you British snottiness, is called How to Spend It, and typically features a watch at $300,000 or a $20,000 gown.

But the paper itself, and its arts section, is a delight. Its columnists include a few thoughtful sparky women (albeit an Oxbridge-y crowd) and so many book reviews of books you’ll never seen mentioned in the American press. I appreciate a non-American perspective on business, politics, art, design…everything.

 

 

 

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Trying out a new recipe

 

I have a whole shelf of cookbooks and endless binders filled with recipes I’ve clipped on paper from magazines and newspapers over the years. Few things are as fun as leafing through them and searching out an old favorite, (leek-tomato quiche from the Vegetarian Epicure Part Two), or trying something new. I always mark down the date I first tried a recipe and whether we liked it.

Entertaining gives us a chance to try even more!

 

Introducing people who’d be a good fit

 

This is the best. I recently connected two of my favorite younger friends — one in London and one in St. Louis, as one grappled with an issue I thought the other might have some wisdom on. They have other things in common as well; my connections aren’t random!

Another friend was visiting Shanghai and one of my freelance colleagues was teaching there, so I made the introduction from my home in suburban New York — even though, normally, they both live in New York City. Done!

 

 

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Seeking treasure at flea markets, consignment shops, thrift shops and antique stores

 

As someone both frugal and design-obsessed, this is a consistent pleasure. People are so eager to ditch possessions that there are wonderful finds waiting — early glass and silver and silver plate, rugs, furniture, linens and tableware. I recently read a fantastic book on the topic and highly recommend it, and here’s a used copy for $7.95!

 

 

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Discovered this fab 1940s diner on Long Island on a road trip

Road trip!

I’ve done many over the years — across Canada with my Dad at 15 and with him driving all around Ireland; from Montreal to Charleston, S.C. with my first husband and, most recently, from our home 25 miles north of New York City to north of Bancroft, Ontario — solo. I did it in four four-hour legs, which helped! I’ve done solo road trips through Arizona, and through some of Texas while researching my first book.

This combines multiple sources of happiness: travel, new sights, seeing old friends, listening to the radio, getting out of town. And, when we have a nice new car as we do right now, the sheer pleasure of a quiet, well-designed automobile.

 

What are some of yours?

Carpe the damn diem!

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All the time in the world? Maybe not…

 

By Caitlin Kelly

 

You know how this goes.

I’ll do it: tomorrow, next week, next month, next year.

Sometime.

But not right now.

I’m too: busy, tired, broke, otherwise committed, ambivalent, not sure it’s going to work out perfectly.

It might be trying for a dream job.

It might be repairing a broken relationship — or starting a tender new one, romantic or platonic.

It might committing to a course of study.

It might mean selling everything you own and/or disappearing for a while (not abandoning your loved ones.)

 

Whatever it is, I urge you to get on with it.

 

It’s the worst cliche, but a cancer diagnosis — even one as incredibly hopeful as mine is — will instantly alter how you perceive time and its brevity and its value.

I’ve cut off useless drama. I’ve turned down invitations. I’m avoiding situations I know will stress me further.

But I’m also making and planting gorgeous new wooden planters for our balcony and accepting assignments for later this summer and planning a trip, possibly to Cornwall, in the late fall.

Two dear friends — one in London, one in California — were widowed in the same week. Both were, sadly, expected but still.

Now another friend’s husband is newly diagnosed.

 

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This time last year I was carefree, solo, sunning myself in a tiny, beautiful Croatian town on the Adriatic, Rovinj. I stayed in, and loved, a boutique hotel made up of two buildings from the 18th and 17th century, walking down smooth cobble-stoned streets.

If this had happened last year, I would have lost a ton of money on prepaid flights, tickets and hotels and had to cancel a trip that was absolute heaven.

This year I’m walking down hospital corridors and consulting with six physicians, submitting to seven presurgical tests and procedures — slightly less amusing!

I am so glad I was able, financially and physically, to make that journey as a birthday gift to myself.

To take it for myself.

To give it to myself without reservation or guilt or remorse for that “wasted” time or mis-spent savings.

 

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Whatever brings you joy, get out there and claim it.

 

Today!

 

 

 

 

33 things that make me happy

By Caitlin Kelly

 

Lunch with a friend that lasts until dinner

 

Any film starring Kristen Stewart or Michelle Williams

 

Big band music

 

Maja soap

 

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A pot of tea

 

Fresh flowers in every room

 

Diner rice pudding

 

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Anticipating the next journey, whether a weekend road-trip or somewhere distant

 

Speaking and hearing French

 

Reading design and interiors magazines, in print, especially English and French ones

 

Sitting in a movie theater, with popcorn, waiting for the film to start

 

A snooze on the sofa

 

Playing Banangrams and gin rummy (not simultaneously!)

 

Taking a canoe out for a solo ride

 

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Unscheduled time

 

Trimming jib

 

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Setting a pretty table for a party

 

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Lighting candles

 

The delicious sillage of someone’s very crisp cologne

 

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Paris

 

The “blue hour” of dusk when the sky is a deep indigo and everything else silhouetted against it

 

Sleeping beneath a puffy duvet on a frigid winter’s night

 

A crackling fire in a weathered fireplace

 

Saying hello to and patting passing dogs

 

Staring for a long time at a painting in a museum or gallery

 

Browsing for hours in an indie bookstore

 

A very cold, very dry gin martini, straight up, with olives

 

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I love patina! This is the doorknob to our friend’s home in Maine

 

Old, well-made and well cared for objects, the earlier the better, especially textiles, glass and porcelain

 

Reading and choosing recipes

 

Making someone’s day easier

 

The work of Finnish photographer Pentti Sammallahti

 

The stunning opening chords of  Tschaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C

 

Playing vinyl

 

What are some of yours?

How to plan a perfect vacation

By Caitlin Kelly

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Toronto, March 2017

One new friend, a Zagreb travel agent, says: “A perfect vacation is one without expectations..”

She might be right.

When I plan a vacation I focus on what I, (and/or my husband), really want to do, (not what we see on social media or what’s “hot” this year) — informed by my participation in multiple weekly travel Twitterchats, and reading travel websites, blog posts and articles that offer specific ideas and inspiration.

Having been to 40 countries, I’m torn between visiting the familiar, like Ireland, (five visits), and France (many more), and seeking out new experiences.

Things to consider when planning your holiday:

For how long? (Will it be enough or will you get bored?)

Using what transportation?

With whom, (or alone?)

How much activity, and how much downtime?

How many (tiring) travel days and transfers?

What will you give up to stay on budget, (e.g. luxury hotels, taxis everywhere)?

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Washington, D.C. June 2016

 

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The Donegal cottage, 3 bedrooms, great views

“Perfect” for me includes:

 


 

Easy/safe/quick/affordable, (hello, $$$$$ London!), public transit in and around the city/town, ideally without cars or taxis. My favorite vacations involve no driving, unless it’s a road trip or touring.

— Making emotional connections. I travel out of curiosity, and having long conversations with a country’s residents is a great joy for me. I got to know two sisters in Croatia whose powerful memories of Zagreb being bombed are much more powerful to me than any lovely vista.

Kind and welcoming locals. I liked Berlin, but didn’t enjoy “Berliner schnauze”, a biting, sarcastic edge that’s quite common. Travel is disorienting enough and you can feel vulnerable, especially if you’re alone. Croatians have been terrific.

Healthy food at decent prices. Easy access to farmer’s markets, (in cities like Toronto, Paris, London, Zagreb, New York), can make a real difference to your budget and ability to eat well.

A climate with some variation. If it’s a sweltering 80 to 90+ degrees during the day, a drop of even 10 degrees and a breeze is a blessing. I can’t handle humidity; cold, for this Canadian, is not a problem.

Ready access to nature: lake, river, ocean, forest, parks, gardens. Too much concrete makes me feel ill, even on a city-focused trip.

Great shopping. I love finding items, styles and colors I just can’t get in New York (yes, really.). I treasure wearing and using them for years to come.

— Culture/design whether music, museums or just well-designed lighting, streetscapes and buildings.

Personal safety.  Especially in an era of terror attacks, I avoid crowds whenever possible and am extremely aware of my surroundings in large cities..

Fleeing American violence and toxic politics. I’ve lived in the U.S. since 1989, but am so sickened and embarrassed by its current politics and President I want to be as far away from of it as I can afford, and for as long as I can afford.

Nor do I want, on vacation, to be surrounded by Americans, so I choose places, and hotels, with a more international clientele.

While trying to relax, the last thing I want to think or talk about is American politics.

— History. The town I’m writing this in, Rovinj, Croatia, has buildings from the 16th century — and my hotel dates from the 18th and 17th, two buildings later combined. I’m happiest in places with a rich, accessible history.

Eastern Europe also offers something I’d never seen before — in Berlin, Budapest and Zagreb, museums of torture, places where its citizens suffered unspeakable crimes. History is filled with darkness, too.

Grace notes

Everything from the starched, spotless linen napkins and tablecloths in my Rovinj hotel to the oleander blossoms that fall onto my breakfast plate from the terrace’s overhanging trees. For me, touches of beauty and elegance make a place deeply memorable. 

— Rest!

It’s so tempting to gogogogogogogo. I finally lay in bed one afternoon and napped and listened, on the Internet, to my favorite weekend radio shows from NPR.

— A mix of solo and accompanied time

So many women are afraid to strike out alone, to eat alone, to walk alone.

I’ve done it in Istanbul, Spain, Mexico…

Dig through the archives here and you’ll find several posts detailing how to do it safely and enjoyably.

Ideally, I like a mix of vacation time both solo and accompanied; alone here, I’ve had terrific conversations with bus and train mates, at cafes and in shops and restaurants. These included two U of Texas accounting students; a Croatian art history major; a Romanian professor of environmental anthropology; an epee fencer, and an electrical engineer, both from Zagreb and an IBM exec — who I met smoking a hookah! — who’d worked for NGOs in Africa.

Even when I travel with my beloved husband, taking some daily time apart is essential.

 

Some of our best vacations have included:

 

• Our rented cottage in Dungloe, Donegal, in June 2015, (through this website), and the flat we rented twice on the Ile St. Louis in Paris (friends.)

• A five-week bus journey throughout Mexico in May 2005, including Mexico City, Queretaro, Patzcuaro, Oaxaca and Cuernavaca, where I lived as a teenager.

• Since our first visit in the fall of 2001, exhausted by covering the events of 9/11, we’ve returned six (!) times, so far, to Manoir Hovey, a resort on Lake Massawippi in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, a 7-hour drive from our home in New York; elegant but not stuffy, welcoming, great food and lovely in every season.

 

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Lake Massawippi, Eastern Townships

This European trip has offered virtually no disappointments, not bad for a month on the road through four countries so far. I chose a mix of larger and smaller cities, with a seaside break in Istria, Croatia.

I also chose three long train journeys — Paris-Berlin (7 hours), Berlin-Budapest (13 hours), Budapest-Zagreb (6 hours) —  in order to rest and see the countryside. I dislike flying, so this also reduced my stress.

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This trip’s two greatest surprise expenses?

Hotel laundry, (sweaty from walking all day in 80+ degree heat; one hotel even forbade hand washing!), and taxis, when my arthritic right knee gave out. I could have used laundromats, (as I have in Paris), but right now, free time is more precious to me.

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Lincoln Center, New York City

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Bucks County, Pennsylvania

 

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Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

 

What’s your idea of a perfect holiday?

 

Have you had it — or planned it — yet?

More simple pleasures

By Caitlin Kelly

The comforting, rasping sound of my husband shaving

The insistent ratatatatatatatat of nearby woodpeckers

The first bike ride of spring

Birdsong

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Trees and bushes finally exploding into starbursts of white, pink, yellow and purple blossom

A freshly-painted room

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New buds

Sandals!

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Holding a tea party for female friends, using my new-to-me early 19th. century tea-set

The sun finally hitting our balcony — giving us a much-loved additional outdoor room

This Moomin mug — what a fun way to start  my morning

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This Moomin mug also makes me happy!

Backlit forsythia — everywhere!

Discovering a gruff local businessman has a softer side, meeting him with his two French bulldogs

Gorgeous, enormous canvases by a local artist on display at our local coffee shop

A kid’s lemonade stand at the end of his suburban driveway

Reading on a park bench in warm sunshine

Watching river traffic — boats and barges — on the Hudson River

Putting away heavy, bulky winter clothing and slipping back into cotton and linen

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!