Life

THE STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER TWELVE

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I just realized that my last book club post was in 3 months ago (!) but honestly the time between October and the end of the year always flies by to me. So here we are. A new year and a new stack of books. Below – my reviews for the books I finished (many of which were some of the best books I read all of last year!) and what I’ve got on my shelf to read next.

P.S. In case you missed me mentioning it, my best friend from college and I started a new Instagram account @prettywords dedicated solely to our love of all things reading. A #bookstagram if you will. It’s been so fun to create a little space that has no pressure and is all about one of things I love most in life. Follow along if you want, but don’t worry – I’ll be continuing these posts as well!

SHOP MY BOOK CLUBS PICKS:

Circe by Madeline Miller – This book really took me by surprise. I’m not usually a fantasy genre reader but after hearing good things about this book I picked it up on a whim from the library and really fell in love with it. A Greek mythology story that spans literally thousands of years but somehow still manages to be a page turner. Highly recommend. (5 out of 5 stars)

The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King – A look at the life and work of the inimitable Fred Rogers. This book was admittedly, pretty dry. But at the same time it was super endearing to hear the back story of such a known and loved public figure and I found myself collecting tidbits of parenting tips for the future. I definitely skimmed some bits – but my friend Claire listened to this on audiobook which I think may have been an even better option to easily digest. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl – This memoir follow’s Ruth’s time as the Editor in Chief of Gourmet magazine in the late nineties/early 2000s. A time when Condé Nast editors were celebrities in their own right and magazines had seemingly unlimited budgets. Such a fun look into a glittering world that I always dreamed about from afar. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

Toil & Trouble by Augusten Burroughs – Aside from David Sedaris, Burroughs (who wrote Running with Scissors) is one of my favorite authors in a genre I like to call ‘anecdotal memoirs’. Short stories about their lives and observations about the world around them are told with equal parts honesty and humor. This particular set of stories focuses on the theme that Burroughs is in fact, a witch. I read it around Halloween which was fun, but honestly I would have loved it any time of year. (5 out of 5 stars)

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert – Last year I waited months for this book to come out. I bought a signed copy as soon as I could get my hands on one. And then I didn’t open the book for about 6 months. As friends read it and text me to say how much I’d love it, I waited.. already knowing I’d be sad once I’d finished it. Which is silly I know. But as suspected I loved this book. And was in fact sad once it was over. It starts out in New York in the 1940s in a whirlwind of showgirl glamour and ends quietly in the same Gramercy neighborhood that I live. It’s so much fun and also heartbreaking and just all around wonderful. (5 out of 5 stars)

SHOP MY NEXT BOOK CLUB PICKS:

To be honest, this post is so delayed that I’m already halfway through the next stack – so expect another round of reviews soon! Most of these are recent library finds aside from Marilou is Everywhere which was recommended to me and The Dutch House which I’ve been excited about ever since getting bit by the Ann Patchett bug last summer when I read her novel Commonwealth. Happy reading!

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ON RELATIONSHIPS: START-UPS VS. MERGERS

Years ago I heard someone say that there are two types of relationships, start-ups or mergers. I’ve thought about it often since. It’s a generalization, but also rings so true to me. And besides being interesting to identify, I have found that little things like this can truly help you come to a deeper understanding of your relationship and in turn, learn to play to the strengths of your situation.

 So what does it mean to be a starter or a merger? Well, when I heard the phrase it was in passing – but here’s what I would define it as.

In a start-up, you meet when you’re young. Maybe you’ve had a relationship or two before, but still, you’re young enough to be bright eyed and bushy tailed and endlessly optimistic about the prospects of this new venture. You’ve got energy and resources to burn. All good things in theory. But as you grow, you’re going to have to figure out how to grow together. A start-up venture doesn’t have history on it’s side so you’re figuring out every little thing as you go. Many won’t make it this way. You’ll grow in different directions and go bankrupt along the way. But if you can withstand the growing pains, keep the same end goals in mind and somehow turn a profit – you’ll be an inspiring success story. The kind that people want to model their own business (ahem, relationship) after.

In a merger, you come in to this thing with assets. You’re a little older and a little wiser. You’ve got liabilities. You’ve likely been burned by business partners before. In a merger you are two already formed entities. And you have to somehow figure out how to get these two things to join forces and be better because of it. In the worst case scenario you find out these things will never be compatible. Too many stubborn differences, the pieces just can’t fit. But in the best case scenarios, a merger brings together two already strong individuals and makes something even stronger.

I believe that a great relationship can come from either, but I love thinking about it this way.

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THOUGHTS ON SUBSCRIPTION SHOPPING + AN HONEST REVIEW OF NUULY

If you have been following along, you already know that last January I made a major shift in how I viewed money and shopping. I overhauled my personal finances, completed a “no shopping” January (which led to 3 other “no shop” months throughout the year) and donated or sold probably a quarter of my wardrobe.

Now, when I add a new piece to my wardrobe it’s thought out and strategic. Can I wear it multiple ways? Does it reflect who I want to be? If I waited a couple of weeks would I still want it? If it was full-priced would I still want it? It’s been a strategy serving me well this past year and it truly helped to break that unnecessary urge to always have something “new”. Not to mention it’s far more sustainable as I wasn’t constantly picking up fast fashion that I probably wouldn’t wear for more than a season or two.

But what if you could have that something new feeling without financially committing? I’ve heard plenty of people (blogger’s especially who always want to have new things to wear) rave about shopping subscriptions like Rent the Runway and I have to admit – I was curious. So when Nuuly – from the geniuses behind Anthropologie/Urban Outfitters/Free People – reached out to offer me a free 3 month subscription, I knew I wanted to give it a try. After 3 free months I paid for one additional month so far just so I’d have a true customer experience.

The Pros: You get to pick 6 items of clothing each month for $89/month. They handle all of the dry cleaning, repairs etc. so what you get looks brand new. Overall, I thought the selection was great with brands you’d find at Nordstrom and Shopbop plus new arrivals from Anthro, Urban and FP. I gravitated towards more fashion/trend pieces – a fun coat, a statement dress – that I otherwise would have been tempted by on a trip to Anthropologie, but saved myself the $200 price tag and the need to make permanent room for it in my closet. And usually at the end of the month, I was fine returning the pieces.

The Cons: I’ve mentioned before but I’m a sentimental person, especially when it comes to my wardrobe. If I have a particularly great memory while wearing something – it’s very hard for me to let it go. Which means after I wore this perfect sequin dress to a holiday concert with Adam.. I couldn’t part with it. The upside is that you can buy items at a pretty good discount and don’t have to ship them back. However, if I hadn’t been trying this service – I likely would have not been tempted to get something new for the concert. So if you’re someone who is going to be easily tempted – this could actually end up make you buying more.

Overall? I like the concept. For something like a vacation or the holiday season, I think it’s a really great way – for a relatively low cost – to have a fun assortment of pretty new things to wear. Like this cute minty fresh jacket. Or if you’re in a transitional phase like a new mom or someone who is kind of figuring out there style – I think this is such a great way to get to try things on and see what you like before committing your closet to a direction or size.

But if I were to do it every single month, I kind of feel like it would eat away at the mindset I worked so hard to achieve – which is the feeling that what I have is enough and I don’t always need more, more, more… new, new, new. And, for someone who is set on building a closet full of things I love that carry memories I want to hold on to – the fleeting nature isn’t really in line with that. I’m going to hit pause on my subscription for next month, but may use it again in March when we’ve got a warm weather trip planned!

I’m curious if any of you have tried subscription shopping and what your thoughts have been? P.S. If you’re interested in trying Nuuly they gave me an offer code to share that gets you $20 off your first month. – this post wasn’t sponsored, but as mentioned my first 3 month trial was gifted.

SHOP THE STORY:

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GOALS FOR 2020

Happy 2020 friends! There’s something that feels so big about this year. In 2019 I feel like I got myself on track in a lot of ways in life, from a promotion into management at work, to finally getting the apartment really to feel like a home that we’re proud of, to completely re-hauling my financial life. I’m proud of the progress that I made. But it leaves me feeling like I should dream a lot bigger in 2020 and not let that momentum go. Which is of course, quite scary isn’t it? I’ve got some really big personal goals in my life that I’m not sure I’ll be fully sharing here – but overall I think my main focus is on health and happiness. Below – how I hope to get there.

HEALTH: Last year I wanted to put a focus on my mental, physical and financial health. And looking back, I laid good groundwork. So this year I want to kick it up a notch.

Mentally I feel best when I’m using my time outside of work to pursue creative passions and learn new things. This year that means – starting an Instagram account (a bookstagram if you will) with my best friend from college all about our shared love of reading. Follow along here! We’re only one post in but I’m really excited about this little outlet. It also means learning to play the ukulele that Adam bought me for Christmas. And it means writing more – both for this space and also for myself personally. It feels wild to type this.. but I’ve started to write a book! Who knows where it will go – if anywhere – but I know I want to try.

Physically I really pushed myself out of my comfort zone this past year with new workouts and I want to continue to do so. Ultimately I’d like to see myself being the healthiest and strongest version of myself.

Financially I almost can’t believe how much has changed since January 1st for 2019. Now is the time to get even more serious. I am just a few months away from being debt free (!!!) and want to dive into investment funds, high interest savings accounts and retirement plans. It’s daunting but I’m so proud of myself and excited about what it will all mean for my future. I want to share more about this on the blog as I go.

HAPPINESS: I want to continue to practice what makes me happy. This past year I really tried to be honest about the things that make me happy and leave behind those that didn’t. And I began to notice that my happiness lies in a careful balance. Cooking at home makes me happy but so does trying new restaurants. Saving money makes me happy but so does hunting for vintage. Traveling really makes me happy but so does staying in and building a home in our apartment. Exercise makes me happy but so does giving my mind and body a chance to truly rest. This blog makes me happy but so does being creative for no one but myself. In 2020 I want to continue to practice and perfect this balance.

Cheers to health and happiness in the new year!

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2019: A YEAR IN REVIEW

When I set my goals for 2019, I wanted to “swim”. Not to backtrack too much (in fact I’m not even going to link to last year’s recap post because re-reading it feels like a punch to the gut all over again) – but in that post I mentioned that in 2017 I felt like I was treading water and in 2018 I largely felt like I was drowning. So this year – I just wanted to swim. I didn’t have any lofty destination. But I didn’t want to feel like I was barely keeping my head above water either. And I’m happy to report, I swam a good number of laps this year.

One of the biggest highlights was our trip to Paris in May. An adventure designed to be surrounded by beauty. To revel in it. The trip fell over my birthday but also over Mother’s Day and in a year when no less than 7 women in my life were pregnant/had babies – I settled into a real peace about the fact that at 32 I wasn’t one of them. While they nursed their babies in hushed rooms – I drank absinthe in a noisy bar in Montmartre. I learned to appreciate my story more than I ever have. For that I am grateful.

I made enormous strides in all sectors of my health. Last year I said I wanted to work on my physical, emotional and financial health this year. I’ve largely refocused my life around this trifecta and although I feel like while I still have a long way to go – I built a solid foundation in 2019.

Physically, I felt lost in 2018 with knee pain that side-lined my typical running routine. This year, alongside my sister, I tried at home workout videos. I completed 140+ workouts – pushing myself to do things like squats, burpees, push-ups, lunges – that I never would have otherwise tried. And you know what? A stronger body seemed to take the pressure off that bad knee. In 2020 I’ll be slowly starting to run again – but I won’t be leaving those strength training or high intensity interval workouts behind.

Emotionally – I worked on myself and my partnership with Adam with a new resolve. In turn, Adam continued to teach me lessons in relinquishing control, fostering empathy and welcoming change. It took me many years to learn that the right partner (at least for me) holds up a mirror to your best and worst self and urges you to look directly into it. It is work I am almost confident I would not have the strength to do alone. His role in this and in my life continues to be a gift I didn’t ask for, and on many stubborn days say I don’t want. He continues to give it nevertheless and for that I am grateful.

Financially – I’m 180 degrees from where I was last January 1st. I wrote about how I shifted my money mindset, but in short I was tired of not feeling in control of my finances and tired of feeling like I didn’t know how to change that. And so I dove head first into learning how to be good with money. I tracked every penny. I made 1, 2, 5, 10 and 20 year plans. I drastically changed my relationship with shopping – and have never loved my wardrobe more because of it. I’m so deeply proud of how far I’ve come and for once am really excited about my financial future.

And lastly – I wrote more and read more than I have in years. Maybe since I was a kid. Most of that writing will never be published here (I’m saving it for another medium.. hint, it has real pages you can flip), but about halfway through the year I shifted the type of content I posted here too. Instead of showing you one pretty outfit after another I cut through the bullshit (namely my own) and started writing things I actually cared about. Relationships, money, happiness. By the numbers, you enjoyed reading these more anyway and for that I am grateful. Below a few of my favorite posts from the past year:

How I Shifted My Money Mindset | How To Fight Fair In A Relationship | What Keeps Me Up At Night | My 10 Year NYC Anniversary | How to Budget When You Live in an Expensive City | Combating Winter Blues

I’ll be back to share what my plans are for 2020. Until then – hoping you all take a moment to reflect on your past year and feel grateful for the lessons that may have come from both the ups and from the downs. Thanks for sticking around.

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The Steele Maiden © 2012

Fashion, Travel & Lifestyle. Based in NYC.