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?

 

It’s Saturday and…

By Caitlin Kelly

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Our view of the Hudson River

“What is a weekend?” — The Dowager Countess of Grantham, Downton Abbey

 

Ohhhhhh, blessed Saturday morning…with spring around the corner and the forsythia (too soon!) already blooming.

First, a cinnamon bun from the amazing Riviera Bakehouse, our local bakery filled with delicious things.

Music, next…The Animals, live at Wembley Stadium, from 1983. A little vinyl to get the blood moving. Great stuff, like Boom, Boom and O’ Lucky Man and House of the Rising Sun.

An egg and bacon with Jose (my husband.)

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The opening and skimming of the weekend newspapers, tweeting out the good bits, deciding what to read first — being a New Yorker now, it’s often the Real Estate section, to examine the latest insanity. After living here a while, you see a listing for $1.5 million and think that’s not such a bad price. (Insurmountable for us!)

Watching my smart personal finance friend, and columnist for Slate, Helaine Olen on MSNBC, warning about how broke we’re all going to be in retirement.

Hanging, finally, all our photos and art to make a gallery wall.

A little housework.

Listening to some of my favorite NPR shows on WNYC, Radiolab at noon, This American Life at 1:00 and The Moth at 2:00. You have to tear me away from the radio, still my favorite medium.

Enjoying the flowers I bought yesterday, a weekly indulgence — these cost $32 and are worth every penny to me.

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Choosing recipes for the week, and food shopping.

Deciding whether it’s too cold to join my softball team for a game. Maybe just for lunch! Here’s my NYT essay about them.

Savoring the silence, only the clock ticking in the kitchen and a jet far overhead. Weekday traffic on the nearby Tappan Zee Bridge normally noisy.

Perhaps we’ll go out for a burger at one of our local restaurants, now that our town, Tarrytown, NY, has become — thanks to the $$$$-real-estate-induced exodus from Brooklyn — hip. It’s all McLaren strollers and Mini Coopers now.

Maybe go out for a long walk through the Rockefeller estate, a lush and quiet public 750 acres a 10-minute drive north of us. Or along the Hudson’s western shore.

I love our half-urban, half-rural existence. Technically, we live in a suburb of New York City, but our town is lively and fun, economically and racially diverse. In 40 minutes’ drive or train ride, I’m in midtown Manhattan or, heading north, can reach the gorgeous town of Cold Spring, right on the river, to meet a fellow writer for lunch.

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

Here’s a mug for sale with the Countess’ immortal words…

What does your Saturday look like?

Take That Photo Today — Here’s Why

Cover of "The Purple Rose of Cairo"
Cover of The Purple Rose of Cairo

My little town, 25 miles north of Manhattan, is so charming it’s been used as a set for several films: Purple Rose of Cairo, The Preacher’s Wife, Mona Lisa Smile and The Good Shepherd.

But Oliver’s Barber Shop, used in the Purple Rose of Cairo, is suddenly gone.

It had two huge, perfect 1930s windows, filled with plants and flags and signs. It was, in its own funky way, a set piece, literally.  I loved everything about it and even did a watercolor painting of it about six years ago, framed it and gave it to my sweetie for Christmas. Oddly, the brick around those windows remains a lighter beige, painted for the movie to look more photogenic.

But the barber shop (now a trendy hair salon) is gone for good and I’m in shock and in mourning. I will miss that window, in its ancient messiness, terribly.

I love old things and their patina of age, doors whose paint is alligatored and faded, porcelain that is crazed with a thousand tiny cracks, silver a little banged up, textiles worn thin by someone else’s skin. I can’t explain its hold on me, the ancient. Maybe because it helps me feel anchored by centuries past, not adrift in a world of noise, plastic and neon.

We tend to photograph the unusual and the special: births, christenings, graduations, weddings — but not the quotidian. We’re too busy or assume the things we love about our neighborhoods, our cities and towns and rural landscapes, will always be there.

The disappearance of Oliver’s was a great wake-up call.

Love it before it’s gone.

Take a photo — keep a memory.

Five Easy Adjectives — Can You Describe Your City Or Town In Only Five Words?

This is a stitch made from three photos. Taken...
Where the Blue Jays play...The CN Tower in the background.Image via Wikipedia

Can you describe your city or town in five words?

Here are some attempts to do so for Toronto, where I grew up and lived until I was 30.

From the Toronto Star:

Star blogger Tonika Morgan was on vacation in the United Kingdom last week when she was asked to describe Toronto to those who have never visited the city. She struggled to find the words. What she came up with initially was “fantastic, a great mix of people and we have a CN Tower.”

I prefer some of the sardonic comments she got:

overpopulated, underfunded, expensive, polluted, home: Sorry fellow Torontonians, I lived the first 20 years of my life in Toronto and absolutely loved it…… I_think_I_know_all

underdeveloped, out-of-date, expensive, dysfunctional, mediocre: underdeveloped, out-of-date, expensive, dysfunctional, mediocre… codeman

A Little Aliteration: Dysfunctional, divided, delusional, debt-ridden and doomed.… CanadianBiker

1.city 2. with 3.crippling 4.inferiority 5.complex: Sorry, but Toronto is not as relevant as everyone imagines that it is. Sure, it has size going for…… Snas

I left Toronto in 1986 and go back 3-6 times a year to see family and friends, and occasionally, editors.

I’d pick: overpriced, diverse, workaholic, gray (winter skies), changing.

One of the oddest ongoing features of Toronto, and one of the reasons I was happy to leave, is the crazy price of buying a home, certainly a freestanding house. Toronto house lots are often postage-stamp sized and it’s not uncommon, in many neighborhoods, to look right into your neighbor’s windows from barely six feet across a shared alley or driveway. And the prices! It’s “normal” for people to bid way over asking — like $50,000 to $80,000 — not the $5,000 or $15,000 more typical in other places.

I live north of New York City….expensive, crowded, sexist, dynamic, divided. I now live in Tarrytown, a town of 10,000 on the Hudson River: funky, fun, affordable, diverse, historic.

I’d love to hear your five words about where you live.

Looking for A Rich Single? Come To My Town

Tarrytown, including US 9 and NY 9A, in 1938.
Image via Wikipedia

What a hoot! I moved to this suburban Hudson River town back in 1989, when it was most definitely not a cool place to live. The main street — so vintagely picturesque it’s been featured in the films “The Good Shepherd”, “Mona Lisa Smile”, “Purple Rose of Cairo” and “The Preacher’s Wife” — was then lined with small, dusty mom and pop shops. Manhattan lies a 38-minute express train ride south, close enough we can clearly see the city’s towers, glittering like Oz, in the distance.

Now, Tarrytown has made a list of the nation’s top 25 places to find a rich single, says Money magazine. Only one other New York town, Dobbs Ferry, about a ten-minute drive south of us — also with a median income of $112,000 — made the cut.  (Our town’s median income has doubled since I moved here.) The catch? While $112,000 a year may sound like, and actually be, a lot of money in some places, where you can buy a great house for maybe $150,000 or $200,000, with low property taxes; in this town, you’d be lucky to find a one-bedroom apartment at that price, and a house for maybe $450,000 because it’s a lousy market. So as long as you don’t focus on the “rich” part, sure, come check out our town, because it has begun to attract a more affluent crowd and has gotten a lot more fun and stylish over the years.

Tarrytown, when I arrived, had Mrs. Reali’s dry-cleaner, with a dessicated palm tree in the window. Now, of course, it’s a trendy art gallery. We have, at last count, three art galleries and a framing shop. The old video store is now a candy store. The crowded and appealingly messy antiques center, a great place to browse away a rainy afternoon, now houses Edible Arrangements, a fancy fruit-basket sort of thing. I’m perversely happy, even though I’ve never stepped foot in it, that the VFW is still there. The funky liquor store, too.

I’ve certainly noticed the up-scaling of my little town. I now see Mini Coopers in the parking lots, the lots so full you can rarely even find a spot anymore, and the yummy mommies with their costly strollers.  Luckily, we’re not yet, and never will be, Scarsdale — wall-to-wall Hummers and Mercedes and wealthy women with whippet-thin bodies and surgically sculpted faces. Tarrytown still has enough diversity to feel real. The shoe repair guy, Mike, is Russian; the diner run by Gus’s son, a Greek; the local gourmet shop owned by Hassan, a Moroccan former photographer. I can comfortably wander around, as does our town’s much better known writer, a male humorist who rarely smiles, in sweats and sneakers.

I’m gratefully already off the market, having found my sweetie in Brooklyn. But there are plenty of spots to look for a partner: well-reviewed restaurants like Chiboust  and The Sweetgrass Grill, Saturday morning yoga class at the Y, kayaking on the Hudson, at our farmer’s market, maybe over a latte at Coffee Labs. Happy hunting!