Last night Adam and I reminisced about summer nights in the city. We have a shared favorite memory that started at happy hour in the East Village followed by a crowded subway ride, then an outdoor movie in the park – a blanket squeezed in among strangers – which led us to a loft party in Williamsburg and finally a cab ride back to my old apartment on the Upper East Side. It was the kind of night that began with almost no plans at all and was swept along by the current of New York City in the summertime. A night that seems as impossible now as it seemed possible then.

A few of you have asked me to describe New York right now and if I had to sum it up – it would be that the spark has sort of gone out this summer. That feeling of spontaneity (the best kind of uncertainty) has gone missing. The spark has been replaced instead with a slow burning tension. A shared understanding that we’re all but powerless over the fate of this city.

Teenagers sit on stoops looking restless, itching to get into trouble just to have some say in the story of their summer. A cashier at the grocery store laments to me that he used to work in theater and misses the creativity.. but is thankful to have a job. The park is full of women and their babies in the morning, many of whom look unsure about their newly appointed title of stay at home mom. They wear workout clothes while their heels presumably collect dust at home. 

Cops stand guard alongside barricades outside our neighborhood precinct and in front of the Washington Square Park Arch. Protecting themselves and their monuments while a convenience store 20 blocks away is robbed at gunpoint. An older woman in our neighborhood compares it to the New York of the 1970s. She says she’s seen it all. Tells us to be careful.

Moving trucks line the streets as fair weather city dwellers go in search of fairer weather. Without the usual swarm of summer tourists those of us that are left spread out like we own the place – because well, we do. The streets are ours alone to rule or to ruin.

The truth is that no one has ever known what’s next for New York but that hasn’t stopped the evolution. And so, we go on. The protests and the progress. The work that needs to be done and the feelings that need to be wrestled with. The thick August heat and our relentless hope keeping the embers of this city hot until it can spark up again.



Since my last reading round-up post in April, I’ve probably gotten through 5x the amount of books that I mentioned were in my “to be read” stack. What’s even better is that SO many of them were 4 or 5 star reads. Thanks for something quarantine! In order to play catch-up – I’m going to change the format of these posts a bit going forward and instead of sticking to just a handful of pre-selected books, I’m simply going to recap and review everything I’ve read since the last post. Ideally once a month. And if you’re ever curious about what I’m reading in real time – you can find that on my bookstagram account @prettywords.

Shop all my reads from 2020 so far + my 5 star favorites here (and help support indie bookstores while you’re at it!).

Writers & Lovers by Lily King: If you liked Sweetbitter or Wild – I think you’d like this story of an aspiring young writer who waits tables in Boston to make ends meet. (4 stars)

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner: One of the “fluffier” books I read these past few months but not without substance – if you liked The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society this will be right up your alley, featuring an ensemble cast of Jane Austen-lovers. (3.5 stars)

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah: I loved this book and truly feel like I learned a lot – Trevor approaches everything from his childhood to in Apartheid South Africa to his relationship to his mother to his insights on racism with honesty and humor. Everyone should read this book. (5 stars)

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman: How did I wait for so long to read this book? A crushing “first love” story that just viscerally grabbed me and didn’t let go. Plus – then I finally got to watch the movie which I loved too. (5 stars)

The Caring & Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray: A family torn apart by the conviction of two parents, as the daughters and Aunts try to grapple with life without them. (3.5 stars)

Pizza Girl by Jean Young Frazier: A debut novel that really dazzled me – I read this in just a couple of days and still am thinking about the antihero at the center of the story. (4 stars)

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes: A pitch-perfect (pun intended) rom-com novel – make this your next beach read. (4.5 stars)

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai: An engrossing novel about a group of friends in 1980’s Chicago battling the AIDS crisis. (5 stars)

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary: A quirky British rom-com of a book that has the type of lovable characters you can’t help but root for. (4 stars)

My Name by Chanel Miller: This memoir allows the world to see the famous Brock Turner sexual assault case from victim Chanel Miller’s point of view. One of the most powerfully moving books I’ve ever read, in my opinion this should be required reading for every high school student in this country. (5 stars)

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle: If you’re a fan of rom-com type reads that aren’t too fluffy, you’ll like this one. Love, loss and friendship set in (nearly) present day NYC. (3.5 stars)

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender: A heartwarming story of a Black trans boy navigating high school and first love in NYC. (4.5 stars)

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin: I’ve always been a fan of Steve Martin and I also love comedian’s autobiographies (a specific niche I know..) so I really liked this look into his humble beginnings and motivations behind his craft and career. (3.5 stars)

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid: I’ve been a fan of hers since I devoured Daisy Jones last summer and this one didn’t disappoint. (4.5 stars)

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead: Really just one of the most soul-gripping books I’ve read in my life, based on a real life Jim Crow-era boys reform school. Please read this book. (5 stars)

Sissy by Jacob Tobia: A “coming of gender” memoir that will make you laugh and cry, Tobia’s writing reminds me of Mindy Kaling meets the LGBTQ+ experience. (4 stars)

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: I’ve got my virtual book clubs meeting on this next week so I’m not going to say too much – but suffice to say I thought it definitely lived up to all the hype. (5 stars)

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We’re almost exactly at the halfway point in this year and I think, whether we are ready to admit it or not, 2020 has changed us all. As jobs, relationships, health and homes have shifted externally, many of us have also been internally examining our priorities, goals and privileges. It’s a lot to process for just 6 months time. And who knows what the next 6 months holds? It feels like we’re in that muddy, middle period. Which is often so uncomfortable. But it also serves as a good check in point so that you can make sure you’re pointed in the right direction for the rest of the year.

When I look back on my resolutions for this year – I wanted to prioritize health and happiness. There have been some obvious stumbling blocks on those fronts – but overall I think I’m still doing my best to make those areas a focus. It’s just that how I achieve both looks slightly different now. With my gym closed for the foreseeable and my commute now consisting of nothing more than the walk from my bed to my desk – I’m taking long walks every morning instead. While work/life balance has been tricky in this time with my job being more demanding than ever – I’m making it a point to go to bed earlier and set hours aside on the weekends to read.

Aside from my resolutions I also make a lower pressure list every year (19 for 2019, 20 for 2020 and so on) that I don’t share here as they’re more personal. Some are totally fun, frivolous things – like see a Broadway show. And some are bigger picture items, such as specific financial goals. This list feels the most out of touch when I look at it now – as so many of the things on it that seemed totally achievable at the start of the year are completely impossible now. They’ve closed Broadway until January 2021 after all! I’m thinking of making a revised list, drafted with our “new normal” in mind?

This year looks nothing like any of us thought it would on January 1st. But on July 1st – we can set intentions, no matter the circumstances – for what the rest of the year might look like. Here’s to braving the unknown and checking a few things off our 2020 lists along the way.


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LET’S CATCH UP 6.19.20

This week felt like the first of what will be our “new normal” around here. Meaning Adam started commuting back to his office in New Jersey and I started working, permanently, here at home. As with any big change, it’s going to take some adjusting but overall, after 12 years behind at desk for 9+ hours a day, I’m pretty excited by the promise of a little bit more flexibility in my day to day life. Below – a few thoughts before we head into the weekend.


  • Today is Juneteenth in America. In brief summary – while the 4th of July celebrates independence from Britain – that freedom only applied to White Americans, while Black Americans remained in slavery. Even after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the state of Texas continued the practice of slavery until over 2 years later, when on June 19th, 1865 slavery there was finally abolished – and truly all Americans were free. You can sign the petition to make this a national holiday here.
  • My 25 minute walk to the office and back was among the best parts of my day and I miss that daily time spent out and about in the city – and my legs sorely miss the routine of 3+ miles it entailed. With my new commute only about 3 steps from my bed to my desk, I’ve been talking myself for a “faux commute” each morning and afternoon. Just to get out and get some added exercise in. Without the rushed stress of an actual commute and with the added benefit of making up a new route each day – it’s felt great so far. Stop me before I become David Sedaris – his essay on becoming obsessed with beating his FitBit goals is one of my favorite pieces of his writing.
  • As restaurants begin to reopen in new, modified and socially distanced ways – I miss the particular buzz of a crowded NY eatery more than ever. I loved this article (found via Cup of Jo) where authors share their favorite restaurant stories.


  • I’m thrilled that after years of toying with the idea I’ve finally started not one but TWO book clubs. The first will meet in person here in NYC and the other will meet virtually so that anyone, anywhere can join. For the NYC book club this month we’re reading Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo and for the Virtual club we’re reading The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. If you’d still like to join but missed the sign-ups send an email to jessica @ thesteelemaiden . com
  • One of the easiest ways that you could honor Juneteenth is to take the time to learn more about the history of our fellow Black Americans. I just finished The Nickel Boys by author/journalist Colton Whitehead which is based on the story of a real Jim Crow-era Boys Reform School and was so heartbreaking and beautifully written. I immediately ordered The Underground Railroad by Whitehead too.
  • In honor of Pride Month I’ve been reading Sissy by Jacob Tobia – a “coming of gender” story that recounts their experience growing up gay and gender non-conforming and how they hid/grappled with that and then finally learned to live out loud. It reminds me a lot of Mindy Kaling’s writing – with humor and pop-culture references thrown in alongside more difficult personal truths.
  • You may have noticed if you clicked on any of the above book titles – I’m now sending book-buying traffic to Bookshop instead of Amazon. If you make a purchase I will receive affiliate commission, but far more importantly – this site supports independent bookstores nationwide. See my full Bookshop store here.


  • After taking advantage of some big sales back in May, I haven’t bought a thing yet this month and might even do another “no shop month” in July like I did last year as a kind of mid-year reset. That being said – being at home so much has really turned my attention to the fact that we could use some more bowls in this household. I like the look of these light blue ones.
  • Same goes for workout wear, as I realize I’m in desperate need of gym shorts. Am I brave enough to try the bicycle shorts comeback trend? This very simple pair look comfortable but still chic – with in the world of workout shorts seems like no small feat.
  • Okay – and just for fun – something impractical and splurge-worthy that I’ve been eyeing. How pretty are these shoes? Even if I would have to make up a reason just to walk them around the block.
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Between a worldwide pandemic and a nationwide uprising, for the first time – maybe ever – a lot of us have seen just how fragile (and often downright broken) our economic ecosystem truly is. And it’s compelled a lot of people, myself included, to spend their money differently. From donating to an organization that provided meals to healthcare workers from local restaurants to placing orders with Black-owned small businesses.

And that’s great. But these efforts need to be a movement and not a moment. Money is power and if we want to see change, we have to start distributing that power in a more responsible way. For most of us though, especially in the aftermath of said pandemic, money isn’t just endlessly abundant. Which means we need to budget for activism. In my opinion this can be done in two ways.

DONATIONS: The donations that I made in the past have been in response to an immediate need. A hurricane, pandemic, social injustice, etc. The problem is that this spending has been “discretionary” when it really needs to be “fixed”. I’ll explain. Discretionary money in a budget means that you see you’ve got $50 leftover at the end of a week after paying all of your bills and buying groceries and you choose to use it towards a donation instead of a new skirt. But to make long-lasting impact in our communities, we really need to move donations to monthly reoccurring payments and consider these fixed costs in our budget. Just like our electric bill. And if you think you don’t have $20 extra a month to give – I encourage you to call your electric, cable and phone companies and negotiate your bill. I promise you between the 3 of them, they’ll offer you at least a $20 discount per month to keep you as a customer. Boom! You just saved yourself $240 a year that can go straight to an impactful non-profit organization of your choice.

SHOPPING: This category falls into discretionary spending, but even within that part of your budget we can make conscious changes. Can 50% of your discretionary spending go to small businesses this year? How much of that can go to businesses owned by people of color or the LGBTQIA+ community? I, for one, want to do much more to support the small business community, especially here in New York City. Going forward I plan to share brands I’ve shopped and love or am inspired by in this space. Be that an awesome Black-owned wine bar/bookstore in the Bronx or a vintage-inspired handbag brand owned by two sisters here in Manhattan (gingham bag shown above!). I’ll be spending my money with activism and equality in mind. And if you aren’t in a place where you can be shopping right now – don’t forget that a “follow” on Instagram is free. And engaging on social media helps to bring exposure to new brands which might mean PR opportunities in a bigger publication or better placement in google ads that will reach consumers ready to shop.

Let’s put our money where our mouths are.

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The Steele Maiden © 2012

Fashion, Travel & Lifestyle. Based in NYC.