Life

ON HAPPINESS: HOW TO RETURN TO “NORMAL”

The Steele Maiden: Classic White Shirtdress at South Street Seaport

What if we treated the last two and a half months like an elimination diet for our lives? We were forced to quit all of the excess cold turkey, but now – we get to slowly reintroduce elements of our old lives. Isn’t it worth examining which of those old elements actually brought us happiness? What if you realized during this time that there were some habits you actually felt better off without? Certain people that you didn’t miss. Why go back to exactly how things were before?

From what I’ve seen in my 30+ years, life hands us very few opportunities to do a hard reset. So you just might want to take this opportunity. I’m definitely not one of those people going around calling this time “a blessing” – it wasn’t. Millions of Americans are out of work and nearly 100,000 families are grieving a loved one. But in the race we all seem to be in to return to “normal” – why not shift the sails and create a new and improved normal?

I’m honestly still not sure what the rest of this year will look like for me – but I do know that when everything was pared down to absolute basics it was easy to see the things that actually brought me happiness. My closest relationships, my home here in New York City (with or without the usual energy), exercise, reading & writing. And honestly – I really loved working from home. So I want to find a way to continue focusing my energy on each of these things and growing where I can. What would your new normal look like?

The Steele Maiden: Classic White Shirtdress at South Street Seaport

(Images are from this original post two years ago)

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MY 2020 SUMMER PLANS

Summer is far and above my favorite season. Adam likes to joke that I’m like a solar powered device that comes to life again after being in the sun.. and he’s not wrong. This city comes alive in a different way too and I love the way that the longer days and warm nights loosens everyone up – an extra long lunch break in the park.. one more drink at a rooftop bar. It’s the season of outdoor concerts and the Pride parade and spontaneous trips to Rockaway beach. Or at least it was.

This weekend marks the unofficial start to summer and I have no idea what this city will look like over the next few months. And while I want to optimistically believe that we can bounce back in a big way – I also don’t want to set myself up for heartbreak over cancelled plans. So instead I’ve come up with a new set of summer plans. It’s perhaps not as grand as in year’s past, but there are plenty of things to look forward to – no matter what lies ahead for New York.

  • Find a place to hear outdoor music. Even if it’s just a jazz band in Washington Square Park. While I’m at it – keep up with my amateur ukulele lessons so I can make my own music. I’ve admittedly only mastered a handful of chords and one basic song so far.
  • Go for a long drive. I haven’t left this island in three months and this summer I know I’ll want a change of scenery even if it’s only for the afternoon. Even if we only get a lobster roll to-go and then get back in the car.
  • Make an epic summer reading list. Remember when you used to have required reading over the summer in school? Kind of like that but filled with books I can’t wait to dive into instead. See what I’ve been reading lately here.
  • I’d love to master a good “summer dessert” – when I was a kid my Mom had a few go-to recipes and when I think of warm weather cook-outs and having friends over for pool parties I still can taste those desserts. I’d love to have a signature dessert dish of my own.
  • Celebrate Pride Month – even though there won’t be a big parade this year I want to find ways to support the LGBTQ community. So far I’ve thought of two easy ways: Purchase a few books by LGBTQ authors to support their work in the publishing world and take the money we might otherwise have spent the day of the parade (last year we went out for a fun brunch and hit up a couple of bars) by donating to a charity instead. I’ve heard great things about It Gets Better.
  • Pack a picnic and take it up to Central Park. We actually just did this for my birthday and it was so lovely, I want to be sure we get back there plenty of times this summer and explore new, off the beaten path areas of the park. For those who aren’t that familiar – Central Park is truly huge at over 800 acres so even after all these years there are parts I haven’t seen.
  • Increase my monthly savings goals. Adam and I are both incredibly fortunate to have kept our jobs through all of this and if we can’t do as much this summer in terms of going to concerts, traveling, etc. – the silver lining will be that we can add more to our savings. So that when we can actually plan our next big adventure, we’ll already have the funds set aside.
  • Work on writing my novel. I’ve mentioned this a few times before and while I have no idea if it will ever go anywhere, I have a loose outline of the story and some short snippets so far. I’d love to take a more formal writing class (maybe online) at some point too.
  • Spend time at the lake house. We haven’t felt comfortable going out there yet (and Adam’s family has been spending time there on and off during quarantine so we didn’t want to risk it), but I’m hoping that schedules allow us to visit for a few weekends at the very least.

May it be a summer of reveling in the little things.

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LET’S CATCH UP 5.15.20

Here we are. It’s mid-May. Two months into our time at home and this week I celebrated my birthday. While it wasn’t exactly what I would have imagined this time last year, it was a nice day and will certainly be a birthday I’ll remember. The weather finally feels like it might be turning here in New York and I’m looking forward to an extra day off for Memorial Day next week – even if it’s hard to believe that’s already here. Below, a few more things on my mind before we head out into the weekend.

  1. While there have been many people to flee the city during this whole mess, you can always count on a few classic New Yorkers who are never going anywhere. I loved this interview with Fran Lebowitz and this interview with Chloe Sevigny on why they’ll never give up on this city. I’m with them.
  2. Maybe it’s their ability to hide second day hair, but my love for headbands has only grown lately. I’ve currently got my eye on this daisy version.
  3. After reading Normal People last summer, I’ve been watching the TV adaptation on Hulu. You can read my review of the book here (honestly, I had mixed feelings) but I do think they’ve done a great job of staying true to the book. And the Irish accents are fun to listen to! Same goes for Little Fires Everywhere, which I read and loved – my book review for it was part of my very first Steele Maiden Book Club post here! The limited series adaptation is also on Hulu and while I’m only halfway through – I think Reese Witherspoon, Kerry Washington and all of the young teen actors were cast perfectly. What else have you been watching?
  4. Inexplicably, despite being much more of a shoe-girl, I’ve been on a purse kick lately. My friends at Cambridge Satchel Company sent over this classic satchel in their new lily white color which I’m still swooning over and I keep eyeing this little 1960s vintage crochet bag on Etsy. Don’t beat me to it.
  5. By now most of you know about my enduring love for Dolly Parton. I loved this article about how one writer came to terms with her appeal to him as a young boy.
  6. I have a tendency to want to buy a fun purse (case in point above) but not own a single plain white crewneck t-shirt. It’s infuriating. So one of my goals for 2020 was to “invest in basics” – and make sure that my closet had the things I truly find myself reaching for week after week. I finally stocked up on some nice plain t-shirts and it gave me such a boost of happiness.
  7. More people live alone now than ever before in history (a fact that in better times would be a pleasant reflection on women’s economic growth) – but what does that mean in a pandemic? This round-up of people quarantining alone around the world was equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking.
  8. More than ever I find that I want to support small businesses right now. I’ve placed orders from: Brooklyn Candle Studio (my favorite candles), Neely & Chloe (a vintage inspired handbag company based in New York – they’re having a major sale so I finally bought a style I’d been eyeing for ages and am so impressed with the quality), Reformation (the prettiest dresses that are also sustainably made) and McNally Jackson & Strand (for books, naturally). Every little bit helps.
  9. If you need a pick-me-up, I highly suggest catching up on the SNL At Home episodes. Out of all of the strange little skits that the cast has thrown together from the confines of their apartments – this one with Aidy Bryant, where she digs back through some of her childhood journals, might have made me laugh the most.
  10. I’m all about a comfortable “house dress” at the moment and the one I’m wearing in the photo above is a new favorite. Likewise for the floral denim jacket below, which is so cute for spring/summer and looks great with a simple tee. And as always – everything is better when surrounded by fresh flowers.
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MY HOME OFFICE MAKEOVER WITH CALICO CORNERS

It took me about four hours on the first “work from home” day to realize I needed to make a change to my desk space.. and quickly. Since Adam and I both work full time in an office, the desk and chair that is tucked into the corner of our bedroom was used solely as a storage space for stacks of books or laundry, depending on the day. After two years in our apartment, it’s the area that got the least use and therefore had demanded the least attention. Below, the “before” shot. Eek.

And then March 13, 2020 rolled around and everything changed. Suddenly I found myself painfully squinting in the mid-day sun at my computer screen, not wanting to close the blinds because they made me feel even more isolated from the world outside my window. I knew the space needed curtains for function and I knew it needed personality – for my sanity.

I hustled to order quick ship draperies and hardware from Calico Corners and after an easy install, love the way the rich, navy fabric adds depth and how it softens the light while still letting me see out to the city around me.

Without wanting to spend more on things that weren’t exactly “essential” right now – I borrowed from other spaces in the apartment to fill in the space. A lamp from our entryway to add light when I work late, plants and artwork from the mantle to give this corner some life, a basket on the floor beside me to organize all those scattered books.

I’d love to add a patterned pillow for back support down the line and maybe switch up the artwork, but for now – I’m happy to spend my days in a space that feels much more functional – and aesthetically pleasing. Even within the confines of this strange new reality. Below the “after” shot. Muchhh better, right?

Head to Calico Corners blog to see the full guest post I did with them today – and thanks for having me Calico!

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THE STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER FOURTEEN

I have to say – all these weekends and evenings spent at home are kind of my book-loving heart’s dream! That is, if it didn’t come with the anxiety of a global pandemic outside my windows. Honestly, the first week or so of quarantine I couldn’t read more than probably 15-20 minutes at a clip before needing to pick up my phone to check the news. But in the past few weeks I’ve settled in and have really been getting through my “to be read” stack. Also, it seems like a true lifetime ago but a couple of these books I read while we were on vacation in St. Pete Beach, Florida at the end of February/beginning of March. What I wouldn’t give to be poolside with a fros√© in my hand and a good book in the other right now…

Alas, my reviews on the books I’ve just finished and what I’ve got stacked up next. And if you’re looking for more – see all my book club posts here.

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott: This was a book I’d seen around quite a bit and picked up on a whim at the library. It takes place during the Cold War and follows a typist turned spy for the CIA as well as the USSR mistress who inspired Doctor Zhivago. While I often really like historical fiction, I’m not really a big fan of “spy” stories and found myself a little bit bored with some of the characters. I powered through but I’m not sure I’d resoundingly recommend it to anyone. (3 out of 5 stars)

Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover and Me by Adrienne Brodeur: I devoured this memoir in a day or so on vacation and loveddd it. It’s the almost impossible to believe story of a mother and daughter irreversibly bonded over the mother’s extramarital affair. I love memoirs and this is one of my favorites I’ve ever read. (5 out of 5 stars)

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston: I’m way late on reading this as it was such a best-seller last year, but I’m SO glad I finally picked it up because this book is exactly what the world needs right now. A fantasy love story between the son of the first female US president and a British royal prince. If you want to escape into a fun romp of a romance right now – this is your ticket. (5 out of 5 stars)

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin: Historical fiction inspired by the real life friendship between mid-century society queen Babe Paley and author, and enfant terrible, Truman Capote. While this book definitely wasn’t an altogether “feel good” read (Babe and Truman had a darkness under all of the high fashion and fancy parties and this story delved into that) I love thinking about that glamorous time in New York City and this was an interesting backstory to many of the names I’ve known from afar. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson: This book says so much with so little. In brief, abbreviated chapters the story of three generations unfolds. Race, marriage, parenthood.. resilience. It’s a short read but so beautifully written. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller: This was the first book I read since staying at home and it was basically the literary equivalent of comfort food. A light read story about a Boston elite baker who moves to a small town in Vermont to work at a cozy inn. Hijinks and, as expected, love ensues. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

SHOP MY BOOK CLUB PICKS:

Next up I’ve got a couple of new release (Writers & Lovers), a couple of non-fiction (Modern Love and Know My Name), a rom-com type read (The Flatshare), and two that have been on my list for a long time (The Care & Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls and The Great Believers). Should be a good stack!

SHOP MY NEXT BOOK CLUB PICKS:

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Fashion, Travel & Lifestyle. Based in NYC.