AK Monthly Recap: February 2019

What’s the best thing that could have happened this month? I became an auntie again! My beautiful friend welcomed an adorable baby boy to the world and that, more than anything, made this month special.

I’ve been an auntie for ten months now and it is one of my favorite roles I’ve ever had. I love having a few special kids in my life, watching them grow, and knowing that I’ll be a loving, supportive adult in their lives.

Beyond that, this was a month of being a workhorse and not being super social. The expression may be “make hay while the sun shines,” but if you work online, it should be “type away while the weather’s gross.” I probably drank hundreds of cups of herbal tea this month while working behind my laptop.

And for that reason, I have almost no photos to share this month — the vast majority of them were of my two little baby friends, and I don’t share kids’ photos here anymore.

Destinations Visited

New York, NY

Washington, DC

National Harbor, MD

Lynn, Reading, Wakefield, and Boston, Massachusetts

Highlights

Far and away the arrival of my friend’s new baby. And taking a quick 24-hour trip to Massachusetts just to meet him and hold him while he’s nice and squishy. I love so many of the baby stages, but the squishy stage is something special! And my friend is such a natural mom, like she’s been doing it for years.

A wonderful panel and conference experience in Maryland. A few months ago I was invited to be on a panel about influencer marketing at CCRA PowerSolutions in National Harbor, Maryland, just outside DC. I do a lot of panels and they vary enormously — some are great, some are terrible. This panel was excellent — tight, informative, and moderated extremely well. I’m really glad I took part in this conference. I met some interesting people and potentially fruitful business contacts!

Seeing Be More Chill on Broadway. I was offered two comped tickets to this show, which brands itself as Dear Evan Hansen meets Little Shop of Horrors. I hadn’t heard of it, but it actually became successful because of going viral with teens and young adults! It’s about a teen outsider who feels awkward, but decides to take a mysterious pill called a “squip” and instantly becomes the most confident guy alive.

If you have a teenager in your life, especially one who feels like a bit of an outsider or geek, take him or her to this show and you will be THE COOLEST PERSON ON EARTH. It’s sweet and funny and the costumes are amazing. The cast are SO talented and the choreography is fabulous too. It reminded me of Mean Girls as well. I cracked up at the song “When You Love Somebody, You Put Your Pants On For Them.” HA! As far as the plot, though, my friend Beth and I felt like we weren’t quite the right audience for this show. But then again, we were obsessed with RENT when we were teens, and if we had first seen the show at age 34, we would have sided with Benny, and where’s the fun in that?

But if you like your musicals lighthearted and fun, and especially if you have a teen or young adult in your life, go to this show and bring them!

My new favorite place in New York is Caveat! I’m so glad I finally went this month. It’s a venue on the Lower East Side that does intellectual comedy shows. I went for the Encyclopedia Commedia show, where they do 5-minute bits on encyclopedia entries within a small part of the encyclopedia (I was there for HA-IB and some of the topics were halcyon, heaven, hell, and iambic pentameter). Totally up my alley, plus they cost around $10 per show. Highly recommended!

Enjoying a low-key month at home. Some of the highlights: trying lots of recipes in my Instant Pot (especially risottos) and hitting a new deadlifting best with 5 sets of 5 reps (usually when I hit a new best I can lift it 3 times max, but I was on fire that day!).

Lots of good times with friends in New York. This city is endlessly interesting.

Challenges

Some guy spat in my face. I was walking down Broadway, just a few blocks from my apartment, and a teenage boy walking past me turned to me and spat in my face.

He then ran away as I yelled after him, “What the fuck is your problem, motherfucker?!”

I was hesitant to share this — to my city-fearing friends, it casts a bad light on New York living, and to my friends in other neighborhoods, it casts a bad light on Harlem. But the truth is that New York is an extremely safe city and horrible moments like these are highly unusual. I would still rather live here than anywhere else.

And honestly, it was much better than it could have been. It was a spray, not a loogie.

I took the bus again…and it sucked. About a year and a half ago, I vowed only to take trains between New York and Boston from now on, but for my latest trip, the bus was so much cheaper that I decided to just roll with it. Big mistake. Both of those bus rides were miserable: the first because it was fully booked and I had to sit with my bags on my lap the whole way, and the second because I shelled out for a seat with a table — only to learn that the table was too small for my laptop and there was no space for both my legs and the legs of the woman facing me.

Back to trains. They are SO much better. I love trains so much I’d ride them to nowhere and back again.

Most Popular Blog Post

Solo Female Travel in Mexico: Is it Safe? — I’m so glad this post resonated with so many of you.

Other Blog Posts

Where to Stay in Bangkok: Best Neighborhoods and Accommodation — Finally, I write a post I’ve been meaning to write for ages.

Solo Female Travel in Europe: Complete Travel and Safety Guide — Yes, it’s very safe to travel solo in Europe, and you don’t need a man with you! As if!

124 Things to Do in Harlem, New York City — I am so very proud of this post. It took me three years of living in Harlem before I wrote it — the most comprehensive guide I could find on the web.

An Evening in Dallas with a British Superstar — And his name definitely wasn’t Shmelton Shmohn.

Most Popular Photo on Instagram

My bud Jiyang took this photo of me in Paris a few years ago and I never shared it. A lot of my friends liked it but I wasn’t sure about posting it publicly — then I did and it exploded. Wow. I like that it combines a street I discovered on my most recent trip (Rue Montorgueil) and the store I loved the most on my first trip (NAF NAF, basically the French version of Express).

For more photos from my travels, follow me on Instagram at @adventurouskate.

What I Wore This Month

I really loved this red Diane Von Furstenberg top. It was perfect for being on stage. I got it, as always, from Rent the Runway. I’ve been renting a lot more tops as opposed to dresses lately — partly because of the chilly weather — and I’m wearing my rentals a lot more often as a result!

What I Listened To This Month

I’ve been listening to a few podcasts, including “The Drop Out” (based on Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos — see my book review for Bad Blood further down in this post), but my favorite was a single episode.

I encourage you to listen to “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” — the episode with Stephen Colbert. It is magnificent.

I love Conan. I love Colbert. And I love listening to comedians talk about comedy. But this podcast goes beyond. Conan and Colbert are obviously two very intelligent people, and the way they go from talking about comedy to opining on sorrow and spirituality and art is surprisingly moving.

What I Watched This Month

Abducted in Plain Sight was definitely my WTF watch of the month. It’s on Netflix. It’s a documentary about a girl who was abducted by a close family friend in the 1970s.

And I think that’s all I should say. Go in knowing as little as possible. And be ready to throw things at the TV.

What I Read This Month

This month I read 14 new books. 24 for the year so far!! At this rate it looks like I’ll read 100 books within a year for the first time ever (my standing record is 72). I’m still cracking away at the Book Riot #ReadHarder Challenge and reading a lot of books I wouldn’t touch ordinarily. The categories fulfilled by the challenge are listed after their descriptions.

Here they are, in the order of what I enjoyed the most to what I enjoyed the least:

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou (2018) — Elizabeth Holmes was hailed as the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. She dropped out of Stanford at 19 to found Theranos — a company pushing a portable medical device that could run hundreds of tests with just a drop of blood. It would have been a game-changer. Soon, the company grew and grew and became valued at 10 billion dollars, making Holmes the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world. But behind the scenes the company was in chaos, desperately trying to cover up the fact that their device didn’t work. EVERYONE fell for it.

I could not put this book down! What an amazing story! I can’t believe they got away with as much as they did. (And I have to admit, it’s kind of a new measure of equality that a woman can get away with what men have gotten away with for centuries.) It’s also the subject of a podcast (“The Drop Out”), an upcoming HBO documentary, and a feature film starring Jennifer Lawrence. In short, this is THE story of the moment. I’m recommending it to everyone I know. Category: a book of nonviolent true crime.

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan (2018) — It’s Barbados in 1830 and George Washington Black is a young slave on a plantation, under control by a sadistic master. When the master’s abolitionist brother arrives, he takes Washington with him — fleeing the island and setting off on a journey to America and beyond. Through it all, Washington develops his talents as an artist and scientist and learns what kind of life he can build for himself as a newly free black man.

Easily the best novel I read this month. Immensely readable, endlessly interesting, and thoughtful about what a good life looks like — I couldn’t put it down. And what was special about this book is that while it was billed as a warped Huckleberry Finn, a black man and a white man fleeing slavery on a journey together, it’s centered on the black character, written by a black author, and points out the problematic nature of the “kind abolitionist” or “nice slave owner.” That’s too rare — and I appreciated the nuance of this book. Category: a book by a woman and/or author or color that won a literary award in 2018.

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis (2018) — While a lot of salacious books have been written about the Trump Administration, this one is far more sedate — but serious. It focuses on a scandal that didn’t get much attention — the fact that Trump completely bungled the transition and didn’t adequately prepare for people to take over hundreds of government roles. The transition usually includes weeks of the old and new employees working together so that it’s as seamless as possible; instead, only one person was sent to each department for only a few hours. The book then details goings-on at the Department of Energy and other critical departments.

I loved this book — especially the fascinating section on data. It makes me want to pick up a book on data next — maybe Freakanomics? But overall this is an extremely important book — less salacious than Fire and Fury, not as esteemed as Fear, not as junky as Omarosa’s book, but extremely important, and one that I recommend everyone to read. Category: a book by a journalist or about journalism.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (2019) — Bri is a teenage girl with one dream: to become a famous rapper. And she inherited the talent of her father, an underground hip-hop legend who was murdered just before he hit it big. But when Bri suddenly goes viral in this internet age, she becomes famous for all the wrong reasons. While balancing her newfound infamy and her family’s financial troubles, she tries to survive and fight for her integrity as an artist.

Just like The Hate U Give, written by the same author, I finished this book in a (very long) day. I love that it takes place in the same neighborhood and literary universe of Thomas’s previous book, referencing the events that took place. This is a book that will make you feel so hard for Bri, her family, and the other characters, and it’s nice to have a book centered on a character dealing with food insecurity with a parent in recovery from addiction.

An added bonus — Thomas herself was a teen rapper and all the raps she wrote were excellent.

Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom (2019) — Tressie McMillan Cottom is a leading voice on identity and ideas and the intersectionality of black feminism. This collection of essays covers several different ideas — from BBQ Becky and infant mortality to Trump rallies and Saturday Night Live.

I love Cottom’s voice and point of view, and I read this entire essay collection in one sitting. Like most collections, there were some that I liked more than others, but this is overall such a valuable book. Every piece is filled with striking observations about race, class, economics, feminism, and how they intersect with each other. Well worth a read if you’re interested in social topics like these.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (2014) — Everyone knows about Marie Kondo, thanks to her hit Netflix show, and this is the book that started all. Kondo is a famous organizer from Japan, and she claims that once people tidy with her methods, they’re able to keep it up for the rest of their lives. An audacious claim. Kondo’s main method is that you should keep what “sparks joy” rather than getting rid of what is negative.

Do I need this book? Yes. I think we all do. I think it makes so much sense to pare your life down to what makes you happy, rather than discarding the things you actively dislike. It’s like American Idol‘s method of voting for the people you love rather than Survivor‘s method of voting out the people you hate. I plan to do a major purge this month or next, and I already feel better about turning down items that people offer to me. I don’t need more stuff in my life! Category: a translated book written or translated by a woman.

Love Anthony by Lisa Genova (2013) — This novel tells the story of two women living on Nantucket — Beth, who is trying to deal with her husband’s infidelity while raising her daughters, and Olivia, who is grieving the loss of her son Anthony, who had autism and died after a seizure. Beth begins writing a book told from the point of view of a nonverbal child with autism, and shockingly, she begins to write the true story of Anthony, without even knowing Olivia, as if Anthony were channeling his story through her.

I read this book because I had technically borrowed a three-book collection of Lisa Genova’s from the library when I read Still Alice, and it fulfilled the neurodiverse book for the challenge. I did like this book in a lot of ways, but it’s nowhere near as good as Still Alice. You’re definitely sucked into the story, but it was a bit cheesy for my taste, especially with the cutesy voice Beth used to write Anthony’s story. A much better book by and about a neurodiverse character is The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang. Category: a book by or about someone who identifies as neurodiverse.

Inside This Place, Not Of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons, edited by Robin Levi and Ayelet Waldman (2017) — While quite a lot is written about male prisoners in America today, almost nothing was written about women until Orange is the New Black came along. Women face a lot of challenges that men don’t — their crimes are far more likely to be the result of poverty and they’re far more likely to be victims of sexual abuse. In other words, with a stronger social net, far fewer of these women would have committed these crimes in the first place. This book is told in first-person essays by current and former prisoners.

This book was a heartbreaking and important social justice read for America. What stunned me the most was how similar so many of the women’s stories were — how they were sexually abused by a stepfather or close relative from an early age, and coupled with poverty, that led to sex work (often underage) and petty crimes escalating into felonies. But the most shocking parts were about their treatment in prison and especially how widespread sexual abuse is within the prison walls. Criminal justice needs to be a major issue in the next few years, and that includes prison reform. Closing private prisons permanently would be a good first step. Category: a book written in prison.

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit (2015) — Mansplaining had been a word for a few years before Rebecca Solnit wrote this collection of essays, but she has perhaps the best story about it yet — how a man persistently mansplained the book that she herself had written and repeatedly ignoring her as she said, “Yes, I know, I wrote that book.” This book is a collection of essays — as always, some better than others — about the journey toward gender equality while wrestling with rape culture, the erasure of women’s accomplishments, and mass killings influenced by toxic masculinity.

I wanted to add more feminist reads to my shelf in 2019, and this slim collection was a quick and easy way to do it. I did like Solnit’s writing a lot, but I found it a bit echo chamber-esque — perhaps it’s because this book came out a few years ago and so many writers have based their writings on hers in the years since. I do love how it ended on a positive note: Pandora’s Box has been opened, and there’s no going back now.

Emma by Kaoru Mori (2015) — I had to read a manga for this challenge, which I’ve never done before, and one of the few non-sci-fi non-war mangas that came recommended was this book, about a maid in 19th century London. It’s a pretty basic story — a wealthy man falls in love with the maid! — but entertaining. Emma was kind of a manic pixie dream girl with the twist that the guy was in love with her for no reason, not the other way around. You read manga from right to left, even in English, and though that took some time to get used to, I’m glad I’ve had a positive introduction to the genre. Category: a book of manga.

A Hope Divided by Alyssa Cole (2017) — Marlie is a free black woman living in Carolina during the Civil War, the daughter of a formerly enslaved mother and unknown white father. She lives in a community of people opposed to the Civil War, giving her little protection. When an escaped white prisoner from the Union Army named Ewan takes refuge in her house, a friendship between them turns into love, and soon they must escape together. While this is book two in a three-book series, it stands alone well enough to read it without reading the first book.

I’m not into trade romance novels, and this one was fairly formulaic — especially when the female protagonist kept manufacturing imaginary conflicts to see whether her love interest was still into her. But I did appreciate that this book was about a person of color in the past, written by an author of color — something that is all too rare in the trade romance novel world. Cole has written several historical romances, and while they’re not really my cup of tea, I’m happy she’s been so successful at expanding what people believe the genre is. Category: a historical romance written by an author of color.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (2015) — In this novella, the first of a trilogy, Binti is the first-ever Himba woman chosen to attend Oomza University. Dealing with her family’s disapproval is hard enough, but it gets worse when her spaceship is attacked by the alien beings known as the Meduse, and every human but her is killed. Binti finds a way to communicate with the Meduse and bargains with them to keep her alive until they get to Oomza.

What I love about this book challenge is that it stretches you to pick up books you’d never touch, even if you try to read diversely like I do. The most amazing thing about this book is that it’s totally Africa-centric — among the humans, it’s all about the Himba tribe (who come from Namibia) versus different tribes from Nigeria. A book entirely about Africans in space, grounded in their tribal traditions, is so rare and unusual. (Okorafor herself is Nigerian-American.) I don’t think I’ll read more in this series, but my Reddit Secret Santa gave me a book of short stories by Okorafor, mostly set in Nigeria, which I plan on reading soon. Category: a book by an author of color set in or about space.

Black Panther: World of Wakanda by Roxane Gay with Ta-Nehisi Coates (2017) — When I heard I had to read a comic by an LGBTQIA creator, I instantly knew it would be this: I love Roxane Gay’s writing and enjoyed Black Panther, so this was an easy pick. This book is about the Dora Milaje, the elite female guards that protect the Black Panther and Wakanda — and a rivalry between two of them that turns into a romance. It was nice, but I don’t think I’ll be reading more superhero comics anytime soon. Even so, I hope future Black Panther movies focus more on the Dora Milaje! I found them to be some of the most interesting characters of all. Category: a comic by an LGBTQIA creator.

A Deadly Eclair by Daryl Wood Gerber (2017) — Mimi Rousseau has put her life together after the death of her husband and paying off his hidden debts. Today she runs a successful French bistro in Napa Valley. But when her business partner is found dead with an eclair shoved into his mouth, Mimi decides to track down the murderer herself.

I had never heard of a “cozy mystery” before — apparently it’s its own genre. A “soft” mystery, without too much gore or violence, usually solved by an amateur sleuth. And after this book, I’m pretty sure that I’m done with cozy mysteries for life. If you’ve been here for any amount of time, you know that my reading taste trends toward the intellectual, and this book was the complete opposite. And I think I’m going to stop myself before I say anything worse. Category: a cozy mystery.

Brazil-Guyana Border via David Stanley

Coming Up in March 2019

I’m going to Guyana! I’ve got a weeklong trip here in the middle of the month. Guyana is one of the least visited countries in South America but the Guyanese don’t consider themselves Latin American — instead, there’s a Caribbean culture on the coast and an Amerindian culture more inland.

One of the things that frustrates me about the travel blogging industry is the emphasis of the same destinations over and over. For that reason, I’ve been looking to cover more unusual destinations in 2019. Guyana feels like an antidote to the same-old — a country that gets very little press and is at the beginning of developing its tourism industry. It should be an interesting journey.

What did you get up to in February? Share away!

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