Posts Tagged ‘relaxing’

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

In beauty, behavior, cities, culture, life, travel, urban life, world on June 28, 2015 at 7:32 pm

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!


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.


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.


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?


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.)



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

In beauty, behavior, cities, culture, domestic life, life, travel on May 10, 2015 at 2:25 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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

Walking two blocks to a local cafe for breakfast


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

Walking past heritage homes


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


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


More naps

Not driving

Tulips in the park across the street


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


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


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)


Tossing a softball in the park at sunset


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!

In beauty, behavior, design, domestic life, life on February 21, 2015 at 1:31 pm

By Caitlin Kelly


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.


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

Why take a break? Because burnout sucks

In behavior, business, culture, Health, immigration, life, US, work on February 24, 2014 at 4:02 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Playtime matters!

Playtime matters!

Here’s a smart story from the Washington Post about why we all really do need to take vacations:

The image that stands out most in my mind during the broadcast of the 2014 Winter Olympics? The Cadillac commercial with a boxy, middle-aged white guy in a fancy house striding purposefully from his luxurious swimming pool to his $75,000 luxury Cadillac ELR parked out front while extolling the virtues of hard work, American style.

“Why do we work so hard? For stuff?” actor Neal McDonough asks in the commercial that has been playing without cease. “Other countries work. They stroll home. They stop by a café. They take the entire month of August off. “Off,” he says again, to reinforce the point….

Americans are caught up in what economist Juliet Schor calls a vicious cycle of “work-and-spend” – caught on a time-sucking treadmill of more spending, more stuff, more debt, stagnant wages, higher costs and more work to pay for it all…

American leisure? Don’t let the averages fool you, he could say. While it looks like leisure time has gone up, time diaries show that leisure and sleep time have gone up steeply since 1985 for those with less than a high school degree. Why? They’re becoming unemployed or underemployed. And leisure and sleep time for the college educated, the ones working those crazy extreme hours, has fallen steeply.

I agree.

One of the weird things about Americans is their endless obsession with being productive.

A woman I know — who at 33, has already produced three children and three books — has turned this obsession with spending every minute usefully into a thriving career, suggesting multiple ways for us to be more efficient with our time.

I get her exhortatory emails, but just reading them makes me want to take a nose-thumbing nap, or an 8-week beach vacation.

You know what they call the sort of cough that horks up a ton of phlegm?


We all need adventures!

We all need adventures!

But visible professional success is seductive — here’s White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett:

She’s out the door at 5:15 a.m.  She arrives at the White House at 5:22 a.m. and hits the gym (where she assures me she watches Morning Joe!) before meeting with the rest of the White House senior staff at 7:45 a.m. on the dot.  She tries to get home before 10 p.m.

“I have to force myself to go to bed and I jump out of bed in the morning, which is a good sign, I think,” she said. “You always have to pursue a career that you care passionately about so that it will not burn you out.”

Would you be willing to work her 13-14-hour day?

I grew up in Canada, and left when I was 30. I moved to the U.S., eager to taste a new country and its culture.

The first major difference? Two weeks’ vacation a year, if you’re lucky enough to even get paid vacation.

In Canada, I felt American — too aggressive, too ambitious, too direct in my speech. But in the U.S., because I also want to take off four to six weeks’ off a year — to travel, to read, to rest, to recharge — I’m wayyyyyy too European. i.e. soft, flabby, lacking the requisite drive to get ahead, gain even more social and professional status and buy tons of more/bigger/newer stuff.


Working hard 24/7 isn’t the best way to spend my life. I’ve been working for pay since I started life-guarding part-time in high school. It’s essential to earn and save money, of course. And it’s pleasant to have enough to enjoy life beyond the basic necessities.

But after a certain point….meh.

I work my ass off when I am working. But I bring an equal hunger for leisure and downtime — like many people, I just get stupid and bitchy when I’m exhausted and haven’t had enough time for myself.

I also love to travel, whether back to familiar and well-loved places like Paris, or the many places I still haven’t seen yet, some of them a $1,000+ long-haul flight away: Bhutan, Nepal, Mongolia, Hong Kong, Argentina.

A four-day weekend — which many worn-out Americans answering emails 24/7 now consider a vacation — just isn’t enough.

Here’s my friend and colleague Minda Zetlin on 10 dangers of overwork, from Inc.:

3. You suck when it counts.

I can tell you from experience that going into a meeting tired and distracted means you will suck in that meeting. You’ll be bad at generating new ideas, finding creative solutions to problems, and worst of all you’ll suck at listening attentively to the people around you. That disrespects them and wastes their time as well as yours.

4. Your mood is a buzzkill.

The kind of irritability and impatience that goes with being overworked and behind schedule will cast a black cloud over the people around you both at work and at home. If you’re an employee, it will damage your career. If you’re a small business owner, it will harm your business.

5. Your judgment is impaired.

The research is conclusive: sleep deprivation impairs decision-making. As a leader, poor judgment is something you can’t afford. Crossing some tasks off your to-do list, handing them to someone else, or finishing some things late is well worth it if it means you bring your full concentration and intelligence to the tough decisions your job requires.

 When you have downtime, how do you relax and recharge?

The value of staring into stars/fire/backlit leaves

In beauty, behavior, life, nature, travel on August 31, 2013 at 11:38 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Comparison showing the effects of light pollut...

Comparison showing the effects of light pollution on viewing the sky at night. The southern sky, featuring Sagittarius and Scorpius. Top – Leamington, UT, pop. 217 Bottom – Orem, UT, in a metropolitan area of ~400,000 I’ve attempted to match sky brightness to how it appeared to my eyes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love you guys. Really.

But two entire days far away from email and computer is a blessed and necessary break for my hands, eyes and brain.

To spend it, as we did last weekend at a friend’s cabin in the Catskills, right beside a rushing stream lulling us to sleep — bliss!

I was very lucky to grow up with parents who loved the outdoors and took long country walks. I also spent every summer, ages 8 to 17, at a summer camp in northern Ontario, surrounded by silence and birch trees, whispering pines and weathered granite.

We canoed across deep lakes, and the sunlight refracted in the tiny whirlpool of our every paddle stroke created a star sapphire in those ancient waters.

A stand of birch trees.

A stand of birch trees. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Loons called.

For a while, my father had a 200+ year old house in the Irish countryside, complete with a wide, cold stream thick with watercress we could pick and make into salad. We stood in Galway Bay, plucking fresh mussels, and went home and made soup.

I love re-connecting with nature and after too much time indoors by artificial light touching plastic, I miss it terribly.

After a week of so much computer time my eyes were sore and watery, I really needed to look at leaves and stars and stone.

So the weekend was perfect.

Lying, snoozing, in a wide hammock strung between two towering trees, dappled by filtered sunlight, all I could see was some bright blue sky with a fresh contrail.

Walking through the woods, I marveled at moss so thick and springy I wanted to make a bed of it and settle down for a nap. Mushrooms, of every possible variety, lay everywhere — many of them with their edges delicately nibbled by something small and hungry.

At night we light a bonfire and sat beside it, feeling small and primeval — not just weary New Yorkers, (three journalists and a spokesman for one of the area’s most-used services), usually attached to cellphones rushing to deal with the latest emergency. We stared up into the night sky and marveled at a rare sight in this light-polluted part of the world: the Milky Way.

As the fire burned out, we pushed the charred logs closer and closer, the embers winking and glowing through the darkness.

In the Catskills

In the Catskills (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you make time to be at home in the natural world?

When and where?

The “What to wear to bed?” dilemma

In beauty, behavior, design, domestic life, family, Fashion, life on December 21, 2012 at 2:06 am

Nighties (Photo credit: Pete Lambert)

The easy answer, of course, is nothing.

After another fruitless quest in the sleepwear department, I came home with one simple black nightshirt. Black? Seems a bit sad, really.

Josie Natori, one of the country’s top sleepwear and lingerie designers, got into this business in the 1970s when she deemed sleepwear “lewd or frumpy.”

That just about sums it up — still.

Here’s what a woman gets to choose from, at least at Lord & Taylor, one of the U.S.’s better department stores:

Slut city! Gah. The whole red/black lace, spaghetti strap, this-will-slide-off-really-fast thing. This takes a level of self-confidence I never had, even many pounds and decades ago.

Daddy’s little girl. Yes, if you’re 16, or you have no desire to ever have sex with the person who sees you in it. Every nightie is floor-length, only in white, pale blue or pink. It has a little lace, or a lot of ruffles. It covers up all of you. It will keep you warm. It will not get you laid.

— Granny called and she wants her muumuu back. I miss my maternal grandmother fiercely; she died when I was 18. She was loaded and a grande dame and a lot of fun. She lived in capacious silky, colored caftans like these. (I admit, this is the style I prefer, both modest enough to wear for breakfast when visiting others and pretty enough to lounge in.) Easily enough slithered out of, too.

Just leave the Taittinger and roses by the door. These are the real deal, gorgeous gowns in silk prints by Josie Natori, (a canny former Wall Street exec who has made kajillions designing and selling really pretty underthings for women) and Donna Karan. I would have killed for the Karan silk caftan, but $300? I think not.

— Pretty young thing. I was sorely tempted by a lovely little slip by Kensie, a label aimed at 20-somethings, in an unusual cream color with a cable-knit print. It was both affordable, unusual and pretty. Maybe I’ll go back.

— Dorm special. Any combo of sweat pants and hoodie/henley. Cute at 20, giggling til 2:00 a.m. with the girls. Less so beyond.

It’s not much better for men.

I went out to buy some pajamas for my husband and found:

— Duuuuuuuuude! Floppy, baggy, saggy flannel bottoms with a plaid so huge you could read it from the moon.

– Where are my damn slippers? The final line of  “My Fair Lady” rings true when you consider the Henry Higgins-ish elegance of silk or cotton pajamas, a la Brooks Brothers. Veddy old-school, veddy debonair. Zzzzzzzzzzzz.

— Hand me my axe. The nightshirt thing. Thick flannel, manly, brawny, whatever.

So our default mode, for both of us, ends up being a T-shirt and some sort of bottom. Pretty boring but comfortable, warm and affordable. I wish I had the guts to wear some slinky little negligee but it’s just not me and never has been.

And if I can’t be comfortable in my own bed, the hell with it.

Here are 16 ggggggorgeous sets of PJs from (where else?) the October issue of Vanity Fair.

Fess up mes cher(e)s! What do you and/or your sweetie wear to bed?

Do you — or your bed-mate — love it?

Simple pleasures

In behavior, life, travel on July 2, 2012 at 1:45 am
English: The 1959 Williamsport Grays, an Ameri...

English: The 1959 Williamsport Grays, an American minor league baseball team. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Vacation is over and we’re heading home to New York today. I’ve been gone from my home for an entire month, and alone for the past two weeks.

Some things I enjoyed most:

— Watching  a minor-league baseball game. My ticket was $8, for one of the best seats in the stadium.

— Attending the 9:30 a.m. service at the local Episcopal church. It was a tiny A-frame, whose screened windows faced the grass of the Champlain exhibition grounds. Seagulls squawked. A man played banjo for Amazing Grace. The peace — the part of the service when everyone greets one another — went on, charmingly, forever.

— Eating at the bar of a dive-y pub a very good cup of home-made corn chowder and a cold local ale. Watching the NBA draft and a baseball game on two TVs at the same time.

— Not turning on the television once in two weeks of house-sitting. Didn’t miss it a bit.

— Reading fiction, which I almost never do. Loved “The Art of Fielding”, a new first novel by Chad Harbach and “Cannery Row”, the 1945 classic by John Steinbeck. Harbach’s book has sold 250,000 copies and he was paid $650,000 for it, after a decade working on it in broke obscurity. I really liked his book, despite the hype.

— Canoeing.

— A phenomenal blood orange martini and salmon with chive risotto on a splurge night.

— Washing my car with a hose in the driveway, (forbidden at our co-op.)

— Watching two hot-air balloons soaring over my head at dusk, the roaring of the gas flames audible and mysterious. Even the little dog was impressed.

— Meeting someone at a party on a farm in Vermont whose grandparents came from the same small tiny Breton town, Concarneau, where my mentor is buried.

— Having a small, playful, cuddly dog to accompany me on road trips, to hog the bed at night and whose silky ears I will miss terribly. On the car trip home from Montpelier, in the dark, she laid her head on my shoulder.

— Lying in the sunshine reading.

— Naps.

— My first few Zumba classes. Ouch! Now I get why people so enjoy it. Planning to continue them at home.

— Playing endless games of Scrabble on the Ipad.

— Missing the hell out of my husband, with three weeks apart to remember all the things I love and none of the stuff that annoys me.

— Driving up to the ice-cream stand for a huge cup of very good ice cream, for $2.60.

— The Friday farmer’s market, with wood-oven-fired pizza, luscious tomatoes, crusty baguettes and live music.

— The astonishing mist and cloud over the green hills as I drove southeast through rain to an outdoor party.

— Meeting new people who were welcoming and kind and offered amazing barbecue ribs at that party.

— Scoring some great, cheap-o antique finds, like four silver-plate knives for $7 and a lovely transferware cup for $10.

— Snagging some CDs, including the new Patti Smith.

— Introducing myself to local indie book-sellers and asking if they’d stock my book.

— Seeing the Camel’s Hump, a 4,800-foot high mountain southeast of where I stayed, in all sorts of light and weather conditions.

— The river at the end of our street. When I went to its edge, I found a tarp/tent and a very deep large hole dug at the edge of a cornfield. Shriek. Fled…quickly.

— Taking lots of cellphone photos for future visual reference, mostly of anything with patina.

— Going dancing with Jose, shaking my tail feather for 90 minutes, with kids half our age coming up to say “You’re a terrific dancer!” That new left hip works just fine.

I love glam trips to Paris and London, but the past month, doing the rural/small town thing, has been a wonderful and relaxing change. I’ve really enjoyed it.

What are some of the simple pleasures you’ve been enjoying lately?

Got Time To Read This? Two Meditations On How We (Should) Use Our Hours

In behavior on June 19, 2010 at 9:25 am
New P icon.

Image via Wikipedia

My favorite weekly read is the weekend FT, and its columnists. One, a 48-year-old executive named Mrs. Moneypenny, bristling with an MBA and Phd, a woman who refers to her three children in print as Cost Centres #1, #2 and #3, says every hour of her business time — and is there any other for the high-flying exec? — is worth 3,000 pounds — about $4,440. She dares not waste a minute and never takes vacation.

But a recent 360 review by her staff suggests she should “waste” some time posthaste:

The general consensus is that the pace at which I work and the number of things I take on alarms my colleagues, who believe it has the potential to be counterproductive. Above all, they fear for my health – and that is a commonly held view, not merely one aired by two or three people. So yes, perhaps I ought to slow down a little. And to show how willing I am to change, the very same week I was presented with these comments I had lunch at the Wolseley with a former Master of the Universe.

Normally, I hate lunch appointments, believing them to be a mammoth waste of time. If you include travelling time, it is likely to take up two hours, or a £6,000 opportunity cost to my business. But this MOTU was too charming to refuse. He pointed me in the direction of John Updike’s poem “Midpoint”, written at the end of his 35th year. I only ever read fiction and poetry when I’m on holiday – doing so at any other time is an extravagance (especially at £3,000 an hour). But after an hour with this guy, I would have tackled Plato in the original had he suggested it. The final lines of the poem read: “Born laughing, I’ve believed in the Absurd, / Which brought me this far; henceforth, if I can, / I must impersonate a serious man.”

I am 48, not 35, and maybe it is time to start being serious.

Laura Vanderkam, another driven urban woman — mother of two small children, sings in a choir, attends church, runs every day — has written a new book called 168 Hours, the number of hours every fresh week offers us, if we would just stop wasting it.

I have mixed feelings about this notion of “wasted” time. I love the Italian phrase farniente –– literally — “do nothing” and aspire to a life with far more undirected time. I also love the British expression for day-dreaming — wool-gathering. We all need time to fantasize and imagine, to stare into the sky and let our weary, overcaffeinated brains….chill.

Last week, the sweetie and I took a vacation and drove to Quebec where we stay at a lovely, small, quiet lakeside hotel. Our plan of “action”? Eat, sleep, read, take photos, repeat. Plus a little antiquing — where the local shopowner remembered me from our last visit 3.5 years ago — and an hour’s canoeing.

This morning, (and it’s 9:11 as I write this on a glorious sunny June Saturday), I’ve: read 1.5 newspapers, watered the plants, made and consumed coffee and toast, blogged, washed the kitchen floor, discussed what paint we need to paint our terrace door. That’s in less than two hours. Yesterday, racing to finish my book, I worked at the computer for about 10 hours — I thought my eyeballs would melt.

I’m whipped and already ready for a nap. (And, no, I have no pets or kids, so my time is my own.)

Rest. Relax. Recharge. Restore. Revive. I think we all need more of it, and less of this boot-camp, finger-wagging instruction in efficiency. I plan to make highly efficient carefully-monitored use of my time when I am dead. I’ll have so much more of it anyway.

Do you waste time? What do you do with it? Do you think we should all be productive and organized all the time?

Workaholics Hate Vacations

In behavior, business on June 8, 2010 at 10:44 am

So, three and a half days. That’s pretty good, right? I haven’t posted for 3.5 days. It’s not that work is so great, but money is. Generally, you don’t get the latter without the former. Et voila.

Fun piece in today’s Globe and Mail about workaholics who try (not very successfully) to go on vacation and…do nothing.

The photo with this post is me this morning at breakfast. We are at Manoir Hovey, a country house hotel on a lake that we know and love from repeated visits since we first arrived, shell-shocked and weary in November 2001 after experiencing and covering 9/11. The minute we drove over the border into rural Quebec — home! — my shoulders dropped with relief.

The sweetie is beside me on the sofa reading “In Pursuit of Silence” on his Kindle and I brought a foot-high stack of magazines and a few books, David Finkel’s “The Good Soldiers” and Michael Ondaatje’s “Divisadero”. (He is a Canadian writer, best known for “The English Patient”, although “In The Skin Of A Lion” is spectacular.)

Reading for pleasure! The sweetie and I, trying to survive in journalism, remain ambitious and driven, but I wouldn’t call us workaholics. I always “forget” my cellphone charge cord so no one can reach me. I read email but may not reply. My perfect recharge is eat/sleep/shop/repeat. We may bike or go horseback riding or swim. Or not.

He golfs, reads, stares at the sky. We both take lots of photos; I got some great snaps of the garden, dew-covered, at 7:15 yesterday morning.

Work is seductive, never more so than in a recession that appears never-ending. We need incomes! We need our bosses and clients to consider us well worth our cost to them. It makes us feel needed, charged, plugged-in, useful, valued. All good.

But not at the expense of our health. Staying narrowly focused all the time is what carriage horses do. It’s hard to see much else, or listen more broadly — even to silence — if we spend every minute attentive only to our professional status and value.

Work is a false god. Yes, we need to be really good at it and, for a select few, available 24/7 — I’m thinking Obama. But we all need to carve out and protect time, space and silence to not be indispensable, except to ourselves, our partners and kids, our spirits.

In the library here, we met a great Montreal couple our age; she’s a judge and he’s a psychologist. She plays flute and he plays drums in a band. I loved that both, in serious, demanding jobs, make sure to have a life without a check attached to it. I’ve recently, after way too much struggle whether I could afford to take three hours out of a Friday morning for class, re-discovered drawing and am loving it.

Do you take, or enjoy vacations? What do you think of workaholics?

Simple Pleasures

In entertainment, Style on October 26, 2009 at 8:05 pm
Fruit-bearing branches, after losing leaves in...

There for the looking...Image via Wikipedia

It’s a crazy time. If you still have a job, you’re probably working insane hours and wondering when you’ll be laid off. If you’re freelance, you may have lost more than two-thirds of your income as panicked clients cancel everything non-essential. If you’re looking for a new job, you might be ready to throw in the towel. We need simple, affordable pleasures more than ever.

This month’s Elle Decoration, the UK version (decidedly different in tone and style from the American version) offers a list of 30 simple pleasures, some well worth considering.  (There’s no on-line version, so I can’t offer you a link.) But they include: take time to print out your digital images and make an album, bake a cake from scratch, keep a soft blanket or throw on the sofa, lay a sheepskin rug by the bed for those soon-to-be-frosty winter mornings.

As we head into another week deep into this endless recession, here are some of my favorites that are, as best they can, keeping me sane and happy:

Steal 10 extra minutes to lie very still in bed before you rocket out and start your day. Stare out the window at something lovely.

Take a total techno-break one full day a week. Turn off everything that buzzes and beeps and demands your constant attention and response.

Before you go to sleep, light a candle and have it be the only illumination in your room. Staring at a small, flickering flame is deeply soothing.

Dig out your 10 favorite recipes, find a lovely, large blank notebook and copy them into it for a friend or relative, maybe a new college student learning to cook.

Spend an hour at your local garden nursery or greenhouse. Buy something small and green to bring home and nurture over the winter.

Take your camera and wander a local park for an hour. Capture, in the Northeast, what’s left of the spectacular beauty of the leaves.

Go to the library with no agenda. Browse the stacks slowly and see what looks good. Bring home no fewer than four books and three videos. Experiment — it’s free.

Come home, brew a full pot of Constant Comment tea in a china teapot, pour it into a china cup and sit alone to sip it slowly. Savor the smell and the delicious sound of tea splashing into china.

What are some of your go-to soothers?


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