Pleasure matters

By Caitlin Kelly

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I was struck recently by a social media post by someone I know who works in a demanding healthcare specialty. She had treated herself to a fantastic day trip to a nearby natural wonder and a gorgeous splurge of a breakfast.

Alone.

What struck me most was the sense this was something, perhaps, to apologize for.

That taking —- making — time to care for herself and her soul was somehow suspect or self-indulgent.

I think being consistently kind to ourselves is essential and something too often overlooked or dismissed as silly, by others and worse, by ourselves. Women are so heavily socialized to take care of everyone else’s needs first and foremost that, when there’s a lack of time or money — and there often is — we get the short end of the stick.

I’m not someone who advocates self-indulgence or hedonism, (and who draws the line?) but I’m absolutely committed to what is now called self care.

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For me that’s everything from playing my beloved vinyl on a Sunday morning to making home-made meals I can enjoy during the week, with my husband and on my own.

I spend real money at our local florist, sometimes as much as $25 a week, to fill our apartment with blooms and greenery, whether fragrant eucalyptus or bright gerbera or the tiny purple orchids that come all the way from Thailand. To me, it’s an investment in daily joy and beauty.

I go to a spin class at the gym to burn calories, manage stress, to enjoy the music and see familiar faces. It offers me a low-key social life and human contact when I work alone at home, now 11 years into that isolating workstyle.

I make play dates with friends, meeting them face to face for a coffee or lunch or a concert or ballet performance, creating memories we can share years later. I went to a fantastic Iron & Wine concert this week at Town Hall with a dear pal and made her spit with laughter over Manhattans at the bar in Grand Central. Priceless!

I love to travel, so am always looking a few weeks and months ahead at where we might be able to afford to go, and for how long. It refreshes me, whether seeing old friends back in Toronto or meeting new ones, as I did this summer in Berlin and Zagreb.

I commit a few hours each week to my favorite television shows. (Poldark!)

And this year — for the first time in my life — I’m driving a brand-new car, a luxury vehicle we’ve leased. Despite my initial trepidation, it is sheer bliss: quiet, beautifully designed, with intelligent and helpful technology. Our other vehicle is 16 years old, dented and scraped and, no matter how much money we drop at the mechanic, always has the check engine light on; freedom from that anxiety alone is a form of self care for me now.

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It can feel weird, even guilt-inducing, to put yourself first, to say no, firmly (and mean it!) to others’ demands on your limited time and energy.

But without adding even the smallest pleasures to our days, and to our lives, we can end up stewing in resentment and self-denial.

No one really benefits from that.

Six weeks away: assorted epiphanies

By Caitlin Kelly

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This was my longest break from work since 1988, (not including job-searching!)

It was the best possible birthday gift I could have given myself as I enter another decade, and with fewer ahead than behind me now.

Some of what it reminded, or taught me:

 

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The world is filled with kindness

 

Yes, we live in an era that can appear utterly savage: terrorism, racism, violence, economic inequality, grinding poverty. All of these exist and can destroy our hope, our belief, that there is also counter-balance, much active kindness and compassion.

I was so lucky and so grateful, even in the busiest and most crowded cities in the blistering heat of summer, to be treated with kindness by almost every single person I met. It was deeply moving to me, just one more random stranger amid the millions of tourists out there.

 

People’s lives are complicated — everywhere

 

When we go on vacation/holiday, we switch off from our daily cares, which is the whole point. It was powerful to hear of Europeans’ challenges, from the Venetian chambermaid whose wristband prompted our conversation (27 years lifting heavy mattresses had injured her) to the Croatian tour guide who told us his monthly wage is about $200, typical there, to my London friends and colleagues who are seeing some pernicious effects of Brexit already.

Listening at length means the world you’re passing through isn’t just some postcard.

It’s full of fellow human beings struggling as we do.

If you feel disconnected from the world, from others who seem so different from you, travel and speak and listen to them with an open heart and a healthy curiosity.

 

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Slowing down — and getting off-screen — is essential for mental health

 

I wish someone could put electrodes on my head right now as I can feel a major difference in my brain function and mood between when I left New York and how I’ve arrived home:

I didn’t listen to or read news.

I didn’t watch television or movies or listen to the radio.

I didn’t waste hours every day on-line attached to a screen and social media.

I didn’t consume two newspapers every day.

I interacted on-line maybe an hour a day.

Instead, I was outdoors in sunshine and nature, watching and listening to and connecting with people.

In real life.

Here’s a great recent essay about the value of sleep and silence.

 

So many stories!

 

I enjoyed the people I spoke with on my journey, from a woman at the Venice airport from Calcutta who’d traveled the world to the Romanian professor of anthropology I talked to on a bench in Zagreb to the young women who vividly recalled living through the Bosnian war as children.

Unless you get out into it, and speak to people, the rest of the world can feel very distant and literally invisible when you live in the enormous and self-centered United States, where “foreign” coverage of the world is shallow and the “news” forever dominated by American politics and violence.

 

 

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Working alone at home can render you a little feral

I’ve been working alone at home — no kids, no pets — since 2005 and rarely in a cafe or library, although our suburban New York town offers both.

Being surrounded by so many people in crowded cities reminded me what a hermit I’ve become. By the end of my journey, I was relieved to withdraw to silence and solitude.

But this trip also reminded me how stimulating and fun it is to meet new people, so this has shifted how I now think about spending more of my time in others’ company.

 

 

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Jose in our rented cottage in Donegal, June 2015

How can I miss you when you won’t go away?

 

Having been with my husband for 17 years, and now both of us working from home much of the time, we can end up in one another’s pockets.

I missed the hell out of him on my trip!

There are some husbands who would freak out if their wife said: “Bye, honey! I’m traveling Europe alone for the next five weeks.” But we have the savings, I have the time off I need as someone self-employed — and he knows he married a restless globetrotter. Tethering someone like me to home/work is not w prudent decision.

 

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Routine is comforting — but deadening. Break it!

 

It feels good now to be home again and to enjoy my routines: the gym, the coffee shop, cooking, favorite television shows, two newspapers every morning thumping onto our apartment doorstep.

But it’s also deeply confining to keep doing the same old things the same old way, day after day, week after month after year. Only by cutting the cord to all of them could I envision — and in solitude really think through — some new ideas and ones I’m really excited about.

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If something makes you really happy, savor it now

 

I arrived home in New York to the terrible news that a local writer, someone whose work I’d seen for years — envying her Big Magazine bylines and steady, well-paid work for them — had died.

At 46.

Leaving three children and a husband.

With 1.5 months between her diagnosis and her death.

We have no idea, ever, how long we will live or how many more precious opportunities we will have to seize joy, to hold our sweetie’s hand, to cuddle our kids or pets, to connect deeply with work we still enioy.

Or to travel, even a bike ride or bus ride to a nearby and beloved beach or mountain-top or museum.

Travel makes me happier than anything else, ever, anywhere.

I’m so grateful for taking this time and having, for now, the health and the income to do it.

Nothing is guaranteed to us.

 

Do it now!

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!

 

Rest. Just…rest. Or play

 

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An afternoon at the ballet. Bliss!

By Caitlin Kelly

In an era of constant distraction and exhortations to be more productive — (never, Be more creative! Be more still! Be more silent!) — I’m finally seeing published pleas in favor of doing nothing.

Like this one:

Recently I heard someone say if you want to see where your priorities really lie, look at two things: your calendar and your bank statement.

If you believe your priorities are what truly matters to you, look no further than those two places to confirm or deny your hunch.

Let’s do an experiment. Take a look at your calendar, and take an inventory with me. How much of it is work related? How much of it is spent in social engagements? With family? Doing hobbies? Self improvement?

And how much white space do you see?

We have become a culture that is severely uncomfortable with white space. We don’t like being left alone with ourselves, and that’s because it’s not always fun.

 

And this, from The New York Times:

To Dr. Brown, co-author of a book called “Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul,” the discussion begins with defining the term. He describes it, among other things, as a voluntary activity that can take us out of time or at least keep us from tracking it carefully. It is spontaneous and allows for improvisation.

Another crucial component, according to Dr. Brown, is play’s capacity to elicit diminished consciousness of self. Or, to put it in layman’s terms, it gives us license to be goofy. In an interview, Dr. Brown provided the most familiar example: how almost every person makes faces and sounds when meeting an infant for the first time.

“If you take a look at relatives looking at the bassinets, turn your camera back on their faces,” he said. “What you see is nonsense. There is this deep, innate proclivity for nonsense, which is at the core of playfulness.”

Finally, play is also purposeless, at least in the moment.

We’re now at the end of a break for the holidays in Canada, staying with my father at his house in a small town — with nothing to do.

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Port Hope, Ontario. pop. 16,500

The town is filled with very beautiful old houses and has a gorgeous waterfront trail along the edge of Lake Ontario. But there’s no movies (my drug of choice!) or theater or museums.

It’s forced Jose and I to…be still.

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Time to just sit still and enjoy the beauty all around us — June 2015 in a rented cottage in Donegal

So what have we done?

Organized photos, talked at length with friends on the phone or gone to see them in person for a long lunch, read entire books start to finish, slept, cooked a terrific Moroccan lamb stew for friends who came for the afternoon, browsed several bookstores and bought new books (yay!).

I binge-watched an entire season, 13 episodes, of Frankie and Grace on our computer.

I’ve written multiple blog posts and planned several new ones — Q and As with some fantastically creative and successful people I hope you’ll find inspiring — freed from the production line of life as a journalist. Planned a possible vacation next July and decided against one in Spain this spring.

Lit a scented candle bedside every morning and at night. Enjoyed the rumbling and whistles of passing trains. Savored the skeletal beauty of bare trees and bushes against a wintry gray sky.

Played gin rummy. Talked. Sat in silence to watch the jade green waves crashing against a snow-dusted beach. Emptied my email in-box. (OK. not so playful!)

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When do you just…sit?

Took bubble baths in my Dad’s old claw-foot tub.

I loved the Times’ story about planning for play because it’s so deeply unAmerican to even breathe a word of…laziness. Rest. Downtime.

The entire culture is one of non-stop doing, not mindful being.

It’s one reason we keep coming back to my native Canada for breaks; Canadians, in general, value a more balanced life, and love to be outdoors even in winter. In my decades living near New York City, a place of frenzied ambition, I’ve always felt like an outlier for wanting — and carving out in my life — a lot of room for play and relaxation.

Like one of the people featured in the Times story, we’ve chosen to remain in a one-bedroom apartment and drive an old, paid-for car in order to be able to work less.

There are times I’d kill for more space or a shiny new vehicle. But the time and freedom we gain by not having to gin up an additional $500 or $1,500 every single month for years to come to pay for them?

Priceless.

Our priorities are retirement, (so we have saved hard and lived fairly frugally to do so), and travel. Without children, we also have the means, and the time, to focus on our own desires and how to pay for them. Selfish or not, it gives us a life we enjoy and value.

Anyone who’s been reading Broadside for a while knows I’m a high-octane person. But recharging, for me, is every bit as essential as rushing around.


 

How about you?

Do you make time, and deliberately set aside money, to just relax?

 

Routines and rituals

By Caitlin Kelly

We eat by candlelight every evening
We eat by candlelight every evening

I’m writing this post with two different streams of music coming into our apartment.

In the living room, our new favorite station, TSFJazz, which we discovered during a taxi ride into Paris on our last trip there, in December 2014.

It’s terrific! We listen to it now as a default choice and I love hearing French all day (I speak it) as well their broad array of choices.

On Saturday mornings, I listen to a reggae show on WKCR, the radio station of Columbia University, learning new-to-me phrases like “large up” (to praise or remember.) On a cold, gray winter’s morning, what better way to start the weekend?

I love rituals and routines, for the rhythm they add to my life.

In a world where things change so often and so quickly, I increasingly appreciate unmoving touchstones.

My daily pot of tea, usually at 4 or 5pm
My daily pot of tea, usually at 4 or 5pm

From age 8 to 16, I attended boarding school and summer camp, each with decades-old routines and rituals, some of which I loved, (we sang en masse after every meal at camp), and some of which I hated, (we had to be back at boarding school by 6pm Sunday evenings to listen to yet another missionary talk about their good deeds overseas.)

What I did enjoy about that ritual was the closing song of every Sunday evening, the lovely hymn, Abide With Me,…fast falls the eventide, the darkness deepens, Lord with me abide…

I can still remember the timing of the school’s bells: 6:55 wake-up; 7:10 out for a walk around the block; 7:25 head to the dining hall for breakfast. Each afternoon someone would bring back to our boarders’ house a huge green basket filled with cookies for our afternoon snack.

For special occasions, like graduation, a bagpiper arrived in full regalia, another ritual I cherished.

Each one of these shaped our days, weeks and months, adding form and familiarity to the inevitable craziness and changes of growing up.

I like how, as an adult, we can create our own rituals and routines, for ourselves and our children. It’s comforting to have things we know we can look forward to, like the Saturday morning pancakes my husband makes.

Jose bought this book -- I look forward to reading it!
Jose bought this book — I look forward to reading it!

A few of ours:

We drink our morning coffee from a thermos, a habit of my parents when I was growing up, which seemed eminently sensible for people who like consuming a lot of caffeine over many hours.

The reassuring red of a British bus, post-box and phone booth
The reassuring red of a British bus, post-box and phone booth

I still plan ahead using a red leather Filofax, a beautiful and sensual way to store the information I need to stay organized.

I love cutting recipes out of magazines and newspapers, sticking them with a glue stick onto a piece of paper I three-hole-punch and put into a binder. Of course, I could do it all on-line and clear my home of all those cookbooks and stained bits of yellowing paper.

But I won’t.

After every game played with my co-ed pick-up softball team, now into our 15th season, we always head to the same local pub. We know the menu off by heart and have eaten everything on it a bazillion times. But it’s where we go.

We eat dinner at home by candlelight, and an overhead light dimmed low. I love the gentle mood that candles create.

Every afternoon at home, I get in touch with my British/Canadian/Irish roots and put on the kettle to make a fresh pot of hot tea. No sad little bag in a cup! I have a selection of herbal, Constant Comment, Earl Grey and fruit-flavored teas. Such a soothing, comforting way to take a break, relax and re-hydrate.

I tend to avoid mentioning religion here, but I also love the rituals of the Episcopal church services I occasionally attend: the liturgy, Nicene creed, the collect, my favorite hymns. In an ever-shifting world, there’s something grounding and, yes, deeply comforting to know what we will say and do collectively.

Every weekend, we dive into three newspapers (yes, in print), the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. Our favorite, by far, is the FT and its magazine supplement entitled (yup) How to Spend It, filled with ads for custom-made yachts and editorial images of $100,000 jewels, an amusing peek into 1%-world. The paper, though, is filled with terrific writing on books, travel, food, gardening.

I’m reluctant to fully unpack and put away our suitcases after a great trip — until we’ve planned our next one.

For Jose, it’s an hour of quiet time every morning, listening to music, reading or just thinking, before I wake up. Plus his cup of hazelnut coffee.

Every year, the Rockettes perform their Christmas show here, a beloved tradition for many New Yorkers
Every year, the Rockettes perform their Christmas show here, a beloved tradition for many New Yorkers

What are some of your favorite rituals and routines?

Travel — and enjoy it! Ten tips from a globe-trotter

By Caitlin Kelly

Slieve League, County Donegal, Ireland -- Europe's highest cliffs
Slieve League, County Donegal, Ireland — Europe’s highest cliffs

I’m writing this from a gorgeous hotel in Dublin called The Schoolhouse, which was converted from a red-brick Victorian schoolhouse into a hotel with a small, lovely garden. Jose and I are here for seven nights.

As you can see, we prefer places the Irish would call characterful to the mass-market chains — places that are small, intimate, quirky and historic. We typically rent or borrow an apartment when in Paris or are lucky enough to stay with friends.

Having — so far — been to 39 countries, and often on a tight budget, I’ve learned how to have a great time out there, whether a road trip near home or a long-haul flight away.

Here, a few tips; we have no children, so these are likely most useful for people without them.

This odd little plant was outside our Donegal cottage
This odd little plant was outside our Donegal cottage

What do you want most from your vacation?

I think this question is the single most important of all. If all you really want to do is slarb out, sleep/eat/read/repeat, own it! Nor do you have to head to a beach to enjoy a lazy time of it. It might be a cottage in the woods or a luxury hotel or a rented flat. If your partner/spouse/BFF wants to be up at dawn and hitting all the official sights the second they open, how will that affect your vision of happy time off?

A full, frank discussion before you start booking lodging or travel is a good idea. Few things are more miserable than arriving somewhere with a person, (or a crowd), with wholly different notions of what “holiday” means.

I loved traveling in a dugout canoe in Nicaragua
I loved traveling in a dugout canoe in Nicaragua

What makes your pulse race?

For me, it’s armloads of natural beauty — so places like the Grand Canyon and Thailand and the coast of British Columbia, not to mention Ireland! — fit the bill perfectly. But I’m also a big city girl, and love to shop, eat, sit in a cafe and people-watch for hours. So my perfect vacation combines both. Your great love might be the craps table or flea markets or museums or a cooking class or…

Fewer/slower beats seeingeverythingallatonce!

I realize that, for many people, a distant journey might truly be once in a lifetime, so the compulsion to try and see and experience everything is a strong one. Resist it!

Our three weeks in Ireland, which is my fifth time here and my husband’s first, has included only two stops, Dublin and Donegal. The Oklahoma couple stepping into our rental car reeled off the list of their destinations and it made me dizzy. I loved getting to know Donegal much better, and doing quick day trips — an hour each way or so — from home base, (a rented cottage), easily allowed for that.

This photo contains all the things that make me happy, whether at home or far away: painting, writing, a pot of tea and a stack of newspapers
This photo contains many of the things that make me happy, whether at home or far away: painting, writing, a pot of tea and a stack of newspapers

Know/respect your own typical rhythms and those of your travel companion(s)

Few things are as nasty as fighting endlessly on vacation, a limited time as it is, about who’s sleeping in too late, “wasting” hours on a late-afternoon nap or partying too late into the wee hours.

Jose and I often take a “toes up” while traveling to recharge us after a day out before heading out again for dinner. On this trip, we bought a small bottle of gin, cans of tonic water and even a few lemons. Nothing like a shower and a fresh G & T in the room at day’s end! We also bought biscuits, nuts, dried fruit and fresh fruit so we had some healthy snacks waiting for us.

If you long for a lazy lie-in and an hour’s bath, do it! Dragging yourself all over the place to satisfy someone else’s schedule, or your own expectations of doingitallorelse! is no fun.

Pack lightly, and carefully

Especially in Europe and in smaller hotels, (i.e. no bellhops), you’ll be humping your own baggage, whether up and down the London Tube stairs or across a cobble-stoned street. Ireland is known for offering all four seasons every day, even in summer, so I packed light wool cardigans and plenty of over-sized scarves while Jose layered cotton T-shirts beneath his dress shirts. Unless you’re in the wilderness or a very poor country —  (both can make great vacations, obviously) — you can likely buy whatever else you need in-country. My bag was six kilos under the allowed weight on the way over to Ireland, and I planned to ditch several books here. I knew I’d also be shopping!

Give your tired old dogs a rest!
Give your tired old dogs a rest!

Rest!

It’s tempting to spend your precious vacation driving long distances every day and/or racing from one tourist site to the next. I saw a fellow guest here with a very long list in his hand. Sigh. We had only six days in Donegal and a very ambitious list of what we hoped to see. Hah! Instead, we enjoyed lazy mornings and headed out at 11:00 or so for lunch and exploration; daylight til 10:30 pm helped.

But there is much left to see, even in that one county, and we’re already planning a return trip. On our one rainy, cloudy day I read, painted, snoozed.

The whole point of vacation is to restore, refresh and recharge our work-weary souls.

Consider renting a place

We don’t use Air B & B but have rented apartments in Paris and a cottage in Ireland. It’s great to shop local food markets, get to know the local baker/butcher/produce store and see what different products are on offer in the grocery stores.

Washed Roosters?! It’s a potato.

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Aubergine = eggplant.

I also like being able to cook breakfast and dinner at home, which is both cheap and healthy; our groceries for a week (in which we also ate out), were 70 euros which bought so much food we took some away with us when we left.

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Being able to do loads of laundry, even daily as needed, saves a fortune on hotel laundry costs and allows you to pack much less. (More shopping!)

Leave room for serendipity

Highlight of this trip?

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An unplanned exhausting/exhiliarating golf game with two retired schoolteachers on a links course on Cruit Island, (pronounced Crutch); if we’d had a rigidly-planned schedule and insisted on sticking to it, we’d never have had this amazing experience. It was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve ever had on the road: spectacular scenery, 2.5 hours of vigorous/fun exercise, making new friends, experiencing one of the most Irish of sports — links golf, (from an old English word for ridge, hlinc.)

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Another night we headed to Dungloe’s Corner Bar, and ended up listening to one of the nation’s top musicians who just happened to be in the bar that night.

In Dublin, where the flea market is held only one day a month, it was the one Sunday we were here. Yay! I scored a gorgeous plum-colored wool sweater (five euros), an antique Rajasthani mirrored bag (10 euros) and a set of five silver-plate forks for five euros.

Make time for yourself, all alone

If you’re dying for a haircut, massage, mani-pedi or some shopping, do it. By yourself. Maybe you’d rather take photos or just sit still and read a book, magazine, email or newspaper. Jose and I already share a small apartment and now both work from from home — so three weeks’ vacation joined at the hip can feel a bit oppressive.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a day or two off from your companion(s) — or vice versa — and coming back with fresh stories and photos to share.

Sit still and just be (there)

Found in Nicaragua
Found in Nicaragua

In a world of constant connection, turn off your bloody phone!

Ignore email/Twitter/Instagram/your blog.

The only way to truly savor where you are is to be there. To remain fully present. To sit in total silence, whenever possible.

One afternoon, I spread out on the spongy vegetation of Arranmore Island and just napped. I sat on the edge of a cliff and stared at the gulls below me, the waves crashing against the rocks, the bobbing orange lobster-pot markers.

I treasure the combination of a blessedly-emptied mind and eyes filled with beauty.

Simple pleasures

By Caitlin Kelly

Some of the past week’s small town pleasures have included:

Walking two blocks to a local cafe for breakfast

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The local variety store — owned by the same man for 31 years

Walking past heritage homes

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Boxes filled with penny candy — even if it’s now five cents a piece

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Patting a gorgeous 11-week old puppy outside the pharmacy named Otis

Patting a huge white Bernese dog in the park named Sugar

Chatting to a stranger in the park and learning more about this town, where he was born, raised and now works

Saying hello to people walking and cycling past

Butter tarts!

This is a butter tart. Yum!
This is a butter tart. Yum!

The frogs’ singing from the backyard pond

Watching the robins and doves lining up — bird spa! — to bathe in the backyard pond

A cold beer and a bowl of peanuts

The best!
The best!

Reading a great new novel given to us in a stack of free books

Naps

More naps

Not driving

Tulips in the park across the street

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Washing cars in the driveway (and spraying Jose “by accident”)

Climbing the stairs (we live in an apartment)

Having to holler across the house to be heard (ditto)

A big backyard

Sitting on the verandah and staring into the sky

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Not needing to know what time it is

Beating Jose at Bananagrams

Being able to keep up with my freelance writing work even while sitting at the kitchen table in Canada

Blueberry pancakes for breakfast

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The haunting sound of passing train whistles

Meeting our old friends for a long lunch

The warm sun on bare skin after an endless and bitter winter

A Canadian farmer’s market specialty (which Americans call Canadian bacon)

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Tossing a softball in the park at sunset

Silence

Having the maitre d’ at a local restaurant remember me from our last visit

Hitting a big bucket of balls while listening to a nearby woodpecker

Finding a 1960 black Ford pick-up truck for sale

$8,000 Canadian or best offer...
$8,000 Canadian or best offer…

Take a bath!

By Caitlin Kelly

Literally.

After 20 years with a nasty, shallow old tub, the new one arrives -- Jan. 2009
After 20 years with a nasty, shallow old tub, the new one arrives — Jan. 2009

Some people — really?! — only take showers.

These are not my people.

Loved this recent piece from my favorite weekend read, the Weekend FT:

The difference between showers and baths is both temporal and temperamental. Who has time for a bath? Fast, convenient, economic: showers have a utilitarian purposefulness that befits our productivity-obsessed contemporary mode. A quick once-over and out you jump, ready for the day.

Baths, on the other hand, are a positively analogue way of scrubbing up. They are slow and contemplative. All that time spent waiting for the tub to fill, then the meditative lolling, the body scrubs and face masks and, if advertising is to be believed, the accompanying soft music, chocolate and candlelight.

Short of this legendary 1793 portrait of the French revolutionary Leader Jean-Paul Marat slumped, dead, in his bathtub, we generally think of the bath as a place to lounge and relax.

And think of all the gorgeous art of women bathing — is there a famous image (other than the film Psycho?) of a woman — or man — in the shower?

(I admit, I love a rainhead shower and a huge, spotless stall, as some good hotels now offer.)

And for those of us in Canada and the U.S. suffering this brutally cold winter — weeks of temperatures of below zero with wind chill — few things can melt your bones and soften your chapped skin like a long, warm, oil-filled bath.

Maybe my deep and fervent desire for a bathtub that is deep, private and mineallmine! is a holdover from my childhood and teen years attending boarding school and summer camp.

At boarding school, a favorite way to torture someone you didn’t like much — and that was sometimes me — was when someone would lob into the tub, over the wooden partition that didn’t reach the ceiling, whatever was handy.

You’d be alone, finally, basking in the brief, coveted breath of privacy. Then — wham! splash! shit!

It was often a bit of your precious store of food. Oranges, for example. Nothing quite so calming after a long day of school and study than bits of citrus bobbing around you.

Summer camp, eight weeks every summer, meant only showers. Or very cold lake water.

I designed a broad ledge of marble to allow for comfortable seating
I designed a broad ledge of marble to allow for comfortable seating

So when it finally became possible for us to renovate our one tiny — 5 by 7 feet — apartment bathroom — the biggest and deepest tub was a no-brainer. Ours is fiberglass and 21 inches deep, which, I admit, makes it difficult to clean. I almost fall in each time!

In the photos here, you don’t see the glass swinging door we later added for the shower; I loathe shower curtains — clingy, clammy, mildewy.

We spent some serious coin on this space, about the cost of a quite-nice new car; priced per square foot, it’s gob-smacking. But every minute I spend in there, which is of course quite a bit, makes me and my husband happy. So, the hell with it. Even our high-end contractor’s workmen loved my design and said I should go into business. (Not yet, maybe someday. If you click this link to his website, you’ll see he’s posted my kitchen, which I also designed.)

I also hope to stay in this apartment for a while longer; having studied and written about “aging in place” and the interior design that accommodates it beautifully, I specified a wide, comfortable bullnose edge to allow me to sit and, if needed, spin in place atop it. In February 2012, I needed full left hip replacement — my design worked perfectly!

I created a small wall niche for bath products, currently holding some of my favorites from Roger & Gallet, Penhaligon and Fresh’s Hesperides.

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My favorite, which my late grandmother used to use, is a delicious deep blue gel called Algemarin. None of this “shower gel” nonsense. This is serious stuff! Pour a bunch into your tub and you get deeply blue tinted water, lots of bubbles and a delicious scent. Capri, here I come!

And because I am a Francophile everywhere, those little mosaic tiles we bought in Paris and shipped home
And because I am a Francophile everywhere, those little mosaic tiles we bought in Paris and shipped home

12 things I can’t live without

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

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!