The comfort of home

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Our view of the Hudson River with its newly-opened bridge

 

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s hard for me to believe, but this June will mark the 29th. year I’ve lived in the same apartment, by far the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere.

Born in Vancouver, Canada, I lived in London ages two to five, in Toronto ages five to 30 (in 10 different homes, one for a few months, eight of them rented apartments.) Since then I’ve lived in:

Paris (8 months in student housing)

Montreal (stunning top-floor 2-bedoom rental apartment, 18 months — miss it still!)

New Hampshire (18 months in a farmhouse apartment) and…here.

Home is a suburban New York one-bedroom apartment, a co-op, top-floor (6th) with stunning and unchanged views northwest, atop a high hill, of the Hudson River and lots of trees. It’s about 1,000 square feet, plus a 72 square foot balcony which we can’t wait to use every summer and reluctantly leave in October or so.

 

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The ikat fabric covers our bedroom side tables

 

I bought it with my first husband, and it was then a stinking mess, literally — the floors were covered with dirty beige-wall-to-wall carpeting and cat urine had saturated it so badly even the nasty real estate agent stood outside on the balcony while we looked at it.

Nothing a little paint and renovation couldn’t fix!

I blogged here about transforming our kitchen to my design, as I also did with our one tiny (5 by 7 foot) bathroom.

 

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Those little mosaic tiles we bought in Paris and shipped home

 

Staying put in a small-ish space has allowed me, and now Jose, to meet other goals, like saving for retirement and traveling frequently for pleasure. (We have no children.)

The building itself is nothing special, a generic mid-60s red brick thing, but it’s part of a much older former estate, so it’s surrounded by lovely low stone walls, which, when snow-covered look like teeth. The land has many trees, from towering pines to my beloved red Japanese maple.  (And a pool!)

Our narrow, sidewalk-free street is both very hilly and very curvy, so we don’t have racing cars or noisy trucks.

 

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Our summer balcony banquette, (the fabric, a bedspread), covers an ugly glass divider; the bench beneath holds our tools and gardening equipment

But we’ve made it a lovely place, and one that welcomes guests — for a night or several, (on our comfy sofa) for meals, for tea — as often as we can afford. Few things make me happier than sharing our space and preparing good food for people we enjoy.

For me, staying so long in this home means many things:

assured physical comfort and safety; a lovely environment beyond our front doors (nature, silence); kind and quiet neighbors (many of them in their 70s and beyond.)

 

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We found this great Mideastern mirror in the antique shop in one of our favorite vacation spots, North Hatley, Quebec. The carved black horse is from an antique store in Port Hope, Ontario and the silver-plate teapot I bought there at auction. The black and white photo in the reflection of a table is an image of former First Lady Betty Ford standing on the Cabinet Room table. Our gallery wall is all photos by us or other photographers.

 

It’s also been a place of comfort and refuge during times of turmoil: a sudden divorce, the loss of several good jobs, friendships that have disappeared, family dramas.

It’s good to have a place you can just rely on.

Since I spent my years ages eight-13 in boarding school and ages eight-16 at summer camp, creating a place to our exact desires is huge for me — years of drab bedspreads and metal beds will do that! Our greatest splurges are often for our home: original art and photos, linens, custom-made pillows and curtains, antiques and pretty tableware.

 

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Our home also reflects our travels: our bed’s teal headboard fabric is from The Cloth Shop, an amazing find on London’s Portobello Road, (which sold many items to the Harry Potter films’ costume designers). Even some of the bathroom tile I found in Paris and had shipped to New York.

 

Where do you live?

Apartment, cabin,  cottage, house?

Rented or owned?

Why there?

What do you like most about it?

What makes “home” home for you?

By Caitlin Kelly

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

 

One of the great essayists is Pam Houston, a 55-year-old American, whose most recent story is a lovely paean to her Colorado ranch, the one she bought and paid for, alone, through her writing and teaching — hardly well-paid pursuits.

She’s a woman and a writer I admire, (and have never met), someone with a deep hunger for adventure and who has chosen, and savored, an unconventional life.

This, from Outside magazine:

It’s hard for anybody to put their finger on the moment when life changes from being something that is nearly all in front of you to something that happened while your attention was elsewhere. I bought this ranch in 1993. I was 31, and it seems to me now that I knew practically nothing about anything. My first book, Cowboys Are My Weakness, had just come out, and for the first time ever I had a little bit of money. When I say a little bit, I mean it, and yet it was more money than I had ever imagined having: $21,000. My agent said, “Don’t spend it all on hiking boots,” and I took her advice as seriously as any I have ever received.

I had no job, no place to live except my North Face VE 24 tent—which was my preferred housing anyhow—and nine-tenths of a Ph.D. All I knew about ownership was that it was good if all your belongings fit into the back of your vehicle, which in my case they did. A lemon yellow Toyota Corolla. Everything, including the dog.

The entire essay is a great read about how we find/make a home. Here’s a bit more:

I had no way to imagine, in that first moment of seeing it, that the view out the kitchen window—of the barn and the corral and the Divide behind it—would become the backdrop for the rest of my life. That I would take thousands of photographs of that same scene, in every kind of light, in every kind of weather. That I would write five more books (and counting) sitting at that kitchen table (never at my desk), looking, intermittently, out at that barn. That it would become the solace, for decades, for whatever ailed me, and that whenever it was threatened—and it would be threatened, by fire, flood, cellphone-tower installation, greedy housesitters, and careless drunks—I would fight for it as though I had cut down the trees and stripped the logs myself.

I feel a bit this way about my one-bedroom suburban apartment, bought at the same age as Pam and one, like her, I’ve stayed in since then.

Between September 1982 and June of 1989 I moved from Toronto-Paris-Toronto-Montreal-New Hampshire-New York. I had won a fellowship, had a great newspaper job, made new friends, took another newspaper job, found a man I wanted to marry and followed him from my native Canada to the U.S.

But it was a lot of moving and adjusting and I was worn out by it all. Anyone who’s moved around a lot, let alone changed countries a few times, knows it can be wearying.

We ended up here, my first husband and I, because he found a medical residency position nearby, and friends had suggested this as an attractive town. I knew nothing of New York state, nor the suburbs, having primarily lived in large cities — Toronto, Montreal, London and Paris.

My New York view, straight northwest up and over the Hudson River, is only now blocked in summer as lush treetops block my sight-line. But the view is spectacular in every season — with snow, fog, rainstorms sweeping downriver and enormous barges pushed by tugboats heading north.

A new, gorgeous bridge has just opened, spanning the river, as elegant as a Calatrava.

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The walkway along our town’s reservoir

The apartment, on our building’s top floor, is generally quiet — on a curving, hilly residential street lined with ancient stone walls — and regular sounds are crickets, hawks overhead and leaves rustling. We even hear coyotes now.

The town has a large reservoir whose landmarks — if you can call them that — are three small black turtles sunning themselves on the rocks and a cormorant who spreads his wings to dry, and looks like an out-take from a 17th-century Japanese print.

On the eastern bank of the Hudson River, we have the prettiest commute possible to New York City, and the haunting sound of train whistles as Amtrak rockets back and forth to upstate, Vermont and Canada,

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The left is before; the right is after. I designed our galley kitchen

Our town has massively gentrified in the past decade or so, losing its two diners and its restaurant prices have gone crazy-high. Parking has become difficult to find.

But its combination of ethnicities and income levels, its handsome 19th century buildings and high-tech firms doing 21st century bio-engineering, make for an interesting mix.

I can be in midtown Manhattan within 30 to 40 minutes — or sit by the river here and watch the sunset; it’s a 5.5 hour drive to the Canadian border, and about the same distance to D.C., where we have good friends.

What our town, Tarrytown, NY, doesn’t have is any sort of interesting nightlife, or news-stands or much in the way of culture. But I save a fortune by not being tempted daily to spend money in a large city full of amusements and distractions.

I often wonder if or when we’ll move. We’re not able to rent our home, (a co-op with annoying house rules), so that’s a limiting factor.

My dream has been to move back to France, probably Paris, at least part-time. But we’ll see.

It’s not always easy to find a place that meets all your criteria: shared political ideals, a lovely landscape, enough good jobs, a decent climate, friendships, culture, ready access to the outdoors, quality medical care — and affordable housing.

And, these days, some protection from fire, hurricanes and flooding…

 

How about you?

 

What makes your home feel like the right place for you?

 

Where do you feel most at home?

By Caitlin Kelly

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How about Washington, D.C.?

 

A friend recently posed the question on her Facebook page — and the many answers she received were fascinating.

Many said “Mexico”, and I was among them, and yet almost all of us were Caucasian.

I miss Mexico, having briefly lived in Cuernavaca as a teenager and having visited various regions there many time; I also speak Spanish.

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Or Donegal, where my great-grandfather is from…

But feeling most at home?

It’s always, since I spent a year living there on a journalism fellowship when I was 25, been Paris.

Seems unlikely, for a Canadian born in Vancouver and raised in Toronto, Montreal and London.

(For one American friend, it’s London or bust! If you aren’t reading her blog about life there, you’re missing out. For another, whose blog I also adore, it was a huge leap — from Portland, Oregon to Lisbon.)

It’s a cliche, I know, but I’m fine with it. I speak French, so that’s not an issue.

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One of my Paris faves…

I love all the things many people love about that city: great food and wine, style, flowers, the architecture, history, its scale, ready access to the rest of Europe.

I know the city somewhat,  and feel bien dans ma peau each time we return. It’s also a place that changed my life and work for the better, forever, so it’s marinated in memories.

And I know it’s not an easy city — as this blogger who lives there is sure to remind me!

 

 It’s not always easy to feel 100 percent at home.

 

Factors to consider include:

  • long, cold snowy winters — and/or hot, humid ones
  • lots of rain and cloudy days
  • jobs! And well-paid ones, a huge issue in this year’s Presidential election
  • quality (affordable) education — at every level
  • media — is quality journalism done there, and incisive reporting?
  • shopping. If this matters to you, what’s the quality, price and ready access to the things you value most?
  • food. Are there farmer’s markets? Great restaurants?
  • culture! Can you afford to attend ballet, theater, opera, dance, concerts?
  • style/elegance. If this matters to you, (as it does to me), a place where everyone schlumps around in sweats 24/7 is a lousy fit
  • landscape. I stare at the Hudson River every day, grateful for its ever-changing skies and beauty. One friend posts astounding images of his life in Arizona’s Sonoran desert.
  • history — is the place shiny new or filled with ancient stories to discover?
  • politics — right/left/mixed (and it the place welcoming to those who vote otherwise?)
  • guns. In the U.S., a serious issue; do your neighbors own them and carry one?
  • drugs. A scourge in many places now, whether meth or heroin.
  • public policies — what happens when you’re ill and/or out of work?
  • citizen engagement, volunteering and activism
  • the diversity of your fellow residents — ethnically, economically, religion, work, education
  • personal safety from crime
  • personal safety from natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, wildfires, earthquakes and tornadoes
  • Access to, price of and quality of housing, rental and owned
  • Do people on the street smile and greet one another — or do you prefer anonymity?
  • The quality (or lack of) urban planning and design
  • Clean, safe parks and ready access to nature for recreation
  • Clean, safe playgrounds, swimming pools, tennis courts
  • Well-financed libraries
  • Bike trails and lanes
  • Air quality (New Delhi and Beijing are now hardship posts because the air there is so foul)
  • Good medical care and safe, well-run hospitals
  • Policing — how safe are you and your loved ones? These days, for many angry and frightened black Americans, it even means being safe from the police.

Terrorism is now a serious issue for many people.

 

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

I’ve been living in a small town on the eastern edge of the Hudson River for more than 20 years, 25 miles north of Manhattan.

I love this town, (here’s my post from 2012 with 20 reasons why), and am very happy here, but it lacks, of course, the bustle and culture of a big city.

I chose Tarrytown on a recon trip for some of these reasons: it’s very diverse for a suburban New York town; its gorgeous location; its history and architecture and scale; easy access to Manhattan (40 minutes by car or train.)

It’s now become home to all the hipsters fleeing crazy-expensive Brooklyn!

I grew up and spent 25 years in Toronto, a large city that often makes lists of best places to live.

I didn’t hate Toronto, and usually return once or twice a year to see old friends there, but it has many ugly areas, a brutally expensive cost of housing, (and very poor quality below $1m), for purchase, crappy quality rentals and a long, grim winter.

More than anything, it held a limited set of professional opportunities — I know people still in the same jobs or workplace as when I left, decades ago.

As we hope to retire in a few years, deciding where to live and why becomes more and more a conscious decision, not just dominated by the proximity to enough decent jobs in our field.

I’ve long planned to spend some of that time living in France, some in the U.S. and some in Canada, with a lot of travel, as long as our health and finances allow.

 

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I believe that beauty – wherever we find it — nurtures us deeply; this is a painting of northern Ontario, a landscape I know, love and miss

Where do you feel most at home and why?

 

Is it far from where you were born and raised?

 

The quest for belonging

By Caitlin Kelly

Is there one more existential?

Maybe not, for some people, who are born, live and die within the same four walls or zip code or area code, state, province or country.

Others, like me, feel both at home in many places yet not really rooted in any of them.

I was born in Vancouver, Canada; moved at two to London, England; back at five to Toronto; then on to Mexico, Montreal, Paris, New Hampshire and then New York.

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I’m writing this on a park bench in a small town in Ontario, visiting my father for a few days to celebrate my birthday and his 85th next week. He bought a lovely 1860s home a few years ago here and has fixed it up nicely — the garden now has fruit trees and a pond with koi.

To me, it’s heaven, a place I’d be thrilled to own.

But he wants to sell it and move. To where? Anyone’s guess.

Happiest in motion...
Happiest in motion…

Itchy feet are normal in our family.

My mother has lived in New York, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Mexico, England, Toronto, Montreal, Peru, British Columbia; my father in Vancouver, Toronto, Ireland, London and for several years on his boat in Europe.

So I have nowhere to call “home” in the sense of some long-cherished family homestead, nor any expectation of inheriting one.

And longtime Broadside readers know that my husband and I are not close to our families physically or emotionally. Working freelance means those relationships are tenuous and often temporary.

I like living in suburban New York and am always glad to return there, but some of my deepest friendships  remain in Toronto, a place where real estate is breathtakingly and punitively expensive, as out of reach for me financially, even after decades of hard work and saving, as Santa Fe, New Mexico is for Jose, my husband, who grew up there and would love to return. My husband’s late father was the minister for a church there — long since torn down and replaced by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

Only a small courtyard and an apricot tree now mark his childhood home.

I joined a local church in 1998 but have not been there much recently, too often feeling out of step with a wealthy and conservative congregation focused on child-raising.

Oddly (or not), these days I most often feel I belong at my local YMCA, as I am there so often for my dance classes and to use the gym. There, I always see people I know and like.

I spent a few minutes in the library here, asking if they have my latest book. They don’t, but the librarian said “I read you!” Which was pleasant.

Then I went to the local convenience store and was thrilled to find my first-ever story in the July 2014 issue of Cosmopolitan.

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Sometimes I feel my work, friends and husband are my real home, the place(s) where I belong and always feel valued — not within family or a job or faith community or specific geographical setting.

Where do you belong?