Too Thrifty Chicks



OktoberFast: Failing Forward

Yes, I know it is essentially the end of November and this post is going up on THEE most high, holiest shopping day of the year, Black Friday.  But I promised y’all an update on OktoberFast.

Two months ago, right on this blog, I repented of my backsliding, wayward financial ways. I had seen the error of my money sins during Splurge September and I was going to “Do Better” this time. Or so I thought.


OktoberFast was kind of an epic fail, and I’m writing this post as a cautionary tale about budgeting, spending and well meaning but failed fasting.

If you don’t remember the OktoberFast Challenge ground rules you can read them here. But the basics of what I was supposed to do vs. what actually happened are below:

Journal my feelings instead of soothing them with “retail therapy.” I journaled 5 times in the month of October. There are 31 days in October and one thing I’m sure of is that I spent emotionally. That’s all I have to say about that. FAIL.

Save at least $300 by the end of the month. I technically accomplished this goal. But keep reading to find out why it’s not really a success. FAIL.

Go to the one grocery store I like, Trader Joe’s, twice a month. I went to TJ’s once, and looking at my checking account, I didn’t spend much money at any of the local grocery stores. FAIL.

Meal prep food I actually like to eat on Sundays. I didn’t “maintain” my grocery store high because I didn’t go to the grocery store. That means I didn’t cook very much. FAIL.

If I “must” eat out, eat a vegetarian meal at a sit-down restaurant. Lies! FAIL.

Use my library card. *in my whiney in my head justification voice* “You can’t check out coloring books from the library.” I don’t know that. I never checked and bought a fancy coloring book and coloring pencils. FAIL.

Replenish my personal hygiene products as needed. I did this, but drugstores are kind of my happy shopping places in New Haven. Book stores and the Kiko Milano makeup store are my top two happy places in the city. Going to a drugstore for a personal care item, invariably meant buying something more than what was on my list. FAIL.

Ricks, You in Danger Girl…

giphy (1)I am zero of seven on OktoberFast goals and it’s all my fault. I pretty much set myself up for failure.

I already knew that continuing to follow a really restrictive spending fast — no clothes, no shoes, no make up/nail polish, no hair products, no books, no coffee out, no credit card use — with no clear and specific reason, and no reward at the end of it was a bad idea.

I even said so in the post.

I figured, if it got me closer to my big hairy, real goal — being Debt Free by 40 — that would be its own reward. Lies! It wasn’t.

Also, the thing that always happens when you recommit yourself to your finances, but don’t actually do anything different, happened because…life and Murphy’s Law.

Serious dental work is my ministry, and I’ve known I needed some work done for some time. In my head, and on paper, I was putting a little something aside for that.

But in fact, something more immediate would always come up — mostly travel that I had already committed myself to before I had committed any actual money.

Of course, I didn’t want to “hurt” my savings that I had just restarted, so when the two created conflict, I found a “savior.”

‘Oh look,’ I thought, ‘I have this 0 percent interest credit card. I can pay the balance when I am paid for my freelance gig.’ Never mind that I had applied for that card to transfer some of the balance of my one credit card to help pay it off faster. It was an emergency. I should have used the emergency money for that.


A Life Line

Though this challenge was doomed from the start, some really good things came out of it.

It reignited passion for Operation Do Better. Reese and I started Operation Do Better to change our relationship with our finances, and ultimately leave a legacy. We’ve had some set backs, but we refuse to give up.

It killed my procrastination disorder and my aversion to planning. I was pretty disgusted with my lack of planning for things that I knew were going to happen. I knew I was going to travel to Atlanta in October. I’d known that for months, but I failed to really plan for it beyond purchasing a plane ticket. That lack of planning ended up costing me a significant amount of money because I simply had not considered the logistics. I also was experiencing some frustration with myself for a lack of planning in other areas of my life and I’m taking a more proactive approach to how I do almost everything.

I reconnected with my accountability partners. Reese, our 5509 roomie Tasha and I  have been about this Operation Do Better life for a while now and the many changes that we’ve all gone through in the last few years — moves and new jobs — have left us all a bit shell-shocked financially. The fog is starting to clear and each month we’re working together to get a better grasp on the situation. We check in with each other periodically and I always leave those conversations inspired to keep going.

I learned about You Need A Budget (YNAB). In the words of the software’s creator, Jesse Mecham, “You need a budget. Yes, you do. We all do.” And boy is he right.

Up until now, I have used Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace and Total Money Makeover to address debt, and to some extent to mange money. Reese and I used it to great success to pay off debt a few years ago because we were (and still are) hyper focused on eliminating debt.

But I confess, the day-to-day management of money always seemed to stump me. I was telling my money where to go, but aside from my fixed monthly expenses, those variable, everyday expenses were like a black hole.

When I started my new job, I had to adjust to being paid once a month. I just celebrated my one-year anniversary and I love getting paid this way. I know up front that I have all the money I need to cover my expenses. It makes me feel a sense of control that I have never felt.

On the flip side, being responsible for managing everyday expenses and planning for emergencies and retirement are anxiety inducing. I often start the month with very good intentions, but ultimately end each month feeling desperate. I needed a practical strategy to manage those very different realities in my budget and YNAB has been that for me for the last 60 days.

(Hat tip to  blogger Dad Is Cheap. I stumbled onto this post where he talks about YNAB and decided to give the 34-day free trial a go. Before the trial was over, I bought the software and, so far, it feels like the best $60 I have ever spent.)

So, with only four days before December, I have money in my checking account and peace in my heart. And, y’all it feels so freaking good! I have laid out a plan and refocused on how I can save for emergencies and retirement, pay off what’s left of my consumer debt in 2016, and manage my daily cash flow throughout each month.

The best part is that it doesn’t involve me eating ramen four nights a week, though I love me some ramen.  It also doesn’t mean giving up the few things I consider luxuries. It’s guilt free, and allows me to savor the things and experiences for which I do spend money.

That feels like failing forward to me and it feels like peace and contentment, something I’ve never felt about money. I’m actually excited about budgeting, and that excitement might be contagious. I plan to write more about it so stay tuned.

Happy #StayInTheBlack Friday people!

— Ricks



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“SCARY SCARY SCARY. Everything is so goddamn scary!”

The title of this post is taken from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic. It resonated with me; so much so that I stopped reading so that I could write about it. The book is about living a creative life, and this line appears after a laundry list of fears that keep people from pursuing creativity for the sake of creativity. I shook my head in agreement with several of them. I thought about how “adulting” often excludes carving out space and time for creating or trying new things.

“SCARY SCARY SCARY. Everything is so Goddamn Scary!”

…except it hasn’t always been. I don’t mean that in the you must be “fearless” in order to accomplish things kind of way. I mean it in the “curiosity can trump perceptions and fear” way. When I was younger, I’d read to anyone who would listen, including cows. Especially cows. I’d drag a chair in the middle of the dirt road. My teacher chair. I’d read to them. Teach them. Point at them to answer a question. Chastise them when they weren’t paying attention. Sometimes my younger sister played along, but I don’t think she fancied cows as much as I did. I also simulated funerals for bugs sometimes (creepy, I know). When I was a fourth grader, I asked for a sewing machine. My first project was a two piece pattered short set. My grandma taught me how to sew in between fussing and my tears. In high school, I ripped up hand-me-down jeans to make them cooler. I wrote really awful poetry full of teenage angst. And then…

“SCARY SCARY SCARY. Everything is so Goddamn Scary!”

…somewhere between being ambitious, figuring out life, and navigating very real structural constraints, I began to see creativity as something separate, something bonus or extra, apart from my “real” work.  Let’s look at blogging, for example. When we created this blog, it brought so much joy to our lives. But then we started to think about ways to make it more “legitimate,” and as soon as we crossed into that territory, blogging became more stressful and less about creating for the sake of creating. As I moved closer to my career goals, I worried that I wouldn’t be considered a “serious” scholar because of my blogging. Creating for the sake of creating became less important. Let’s take photography as another example. I love photography, so I took it up as a hobby. I’m pretty good at it. I started thinking about a photography business to “legitimize” my art. I stopped photography for a while. Somewhere I had internalized that doing for the sake of doing somehow conflicted with my career and life goals. So, I tried to validate my creativity…

“SCARY SCARY SCARY. Everything is so Goddamn Scary!”

…but we have a shit ton of work we have to do, don’t we? Our creative pursuits are part of that work, but in a different way. They sustain us. Keep us curious. Push back against the voices of perfectionism that tell us we shouldn’t do something if we aren’t the very best at it.  A couple years ago, I decided I wanted to learn how to rollerblade. My friend Bridget gifted a pair of rollerblades to me. I rolled around the basement for several hours. Finally, I said fuck it. I’m going out to skate. While my buddy Keila rode her bike, I skated, weaving in and out of people.  I had a blast. Even though I didn’t know how to use the brake. When I needed to stop, I’d roll into the grass or railing. I busted my ass a few times. I laughed a lot. I tried. I still don’t know how to break, but I’m no longer afraid to skate.

“SCARY SCARY SCARY. Everything is so Goddamn Scary.”

…until we try. Until we accept that sometimes, we just need to create or try things just because. No validation needed.


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When Less Is More: Goodbye Splurge September. Hello, OktoberFast!

In May, I wrote down a goal that I want very badly to achieve. I want to be Free By 40. Debt free that is. And since that time I have been plugging away at that goal. From May to August, I’d like to say I was pretty frugal. I also felt like I was clear in my commitment to the concept of minimalism (and you can read about that here, here and here), as it had organically developed in my life.

I had implemented a spending fast. No clothes, no shoes, no make up and nail polish, no hair products, no new books, no coffee out and absolutely no credit card use. (And if you know me even a little, this spending fast looks like no fun. I’m a thrifty chick, but this probably was even a little too rigid for too long.)

At first it was easy. I had splurged a little at a couple of thrift stores at the beginning of the summer so I didn’t need any new summer clothes. I’d given up on growing out my hair so I had no real need for hair products. It was summer time and far too hot to wear much makeup and ride my bike. And we have coffee in the office so no need to go out. I also had cut up one credit card and took the other out of my wallet. Out of sight = out of mind, was the way I saw it.

I had even started back cooking more, though eating out and not going to the grocery store enough was/is still one of my biggest vices.

But then came September — my birthday month — and things got a little ridiculous very quickly. To be honest, I went into my 36th birthday a bit melancholy. I don’t feel any kind of way about getting older, but I did feel down.

After working so hard to wrap up everything at work, and to save money so I could pay cash for my trip with Reese to Abu Dhabi and Dubai — a trip that we’d been planning since the end of last year — I was feeling a little flat.

So I started spending to get things I “needed” for the trip. We didn’t do a lot of shopping during our trip, but there was always something to pay for because when you’re on vacation you’ve got to eat, you’ve got to get to places and you’ve got ish to see. I got very comfortable spending money, very quickly.

While I thoroughly enjoyed our trip, that nagging sadness I was feeling before we left was waiting on me when I got back. I came back to a house that had almost no food in it, and since going to the grocery store is not my ministry, I cooked what little food I had (kale, y’all. All I had was kale), and ate out the rest of the time.

Eating out a lot seems to always result in low energy for me, and while I finally dragged myself to the grocery store and cooked some things that made me feel better, I was still feeling down. The alarms started to go off faintly. I was in a rut, a funk. I had to do something. But what?

Instead of spending a lot of time journaling through what I was feeling, I took a different, certainly less helpful approach. I watched a lot of YouTube videos and spent a bunch of money that I hadn’t intended to spend.

Splurge September, as I am now officially calling it, didn’t put me in the poor house, nor did it actually amass me a bunch of stuff that I can’t consume. But I quickly realized that it wasn’t helpful to my goal of being in the “free” house. Hence OktoberFast 2015. No it’s not me giving up beer in October. That would be just plain cruel.

For the 31 days of October I’m going to refocus my energies on my being Free By 40. I’m going back on my spending fast (yes, the one I previously said was too rigid), but this time I want to intentionally focus on what I can do instead of focusing on what I can’t do.

Ricks’s OktoberFast  Challenge Can Dos:

  • Journal my feelings instead of soothing them with “retail therapy.” Shopping isn’t therapy. It’s succor. Therapy is therapy and there is no substitute for that.
  • Save at least $300 by the end of the month. My savings game is off — way off. It’s time to get back on track.
  • Go to the one grocery store I like, Trader Joe’s, twice a month. I like to eat. I even like to cook. But going to the grocery store? Nope. I know I could get groceries delivered, but I actually like shopping at TJ’s. Though it’s in another city, I’m willing to make the extra effort to go there because I actually will eat what I buy.
  • Meal prep food I actually like to eat on Sundays. I usually go to the grocery store on a Sunday so it makes sense that when I get back I should cook while I’m still on my Trader Joe’s high.
  • If I “must” eat out, eat a vegetarian meal at a sit-down restaurant. I like to eat out, but far too often I’m grabbing something quick, made from questionable ingredients. My thinking here is that I will be forced to consider whether I a) have the time, and b) really have a hankering for eating something that I could make myself.
  • Use my library card. I like libraries. I want to get back to being more intentional about using them this month.
  • Replenish my personal hygiene products as needed. There is no need to stockpile. Period.

Reese is in on the OktoberFast Challenge, so look for a post from her about her recent move to Atlanta and how she’s holding down expenses for the next 31 days.

And that’s it.

Well no that’s not exactly it. There are the usual round of spending “no’s” mentioned above, plus no YouTube “haul” videos, but I will evaluate if the “do nots” are too restrictive at the end of the month.

It would be easy to give up on this Free By 40 goal, but I know the keys needed for getting into the free house. Discipline and persistence. I might not always win on the discipline side, but persistence is my ministry. I’m trusting all of you to hold me accountable, so I will be posting an update at least once a week.

Watch me work.

— Ricks

Below are three people I’m watching (instead of haul videos) that are helping me “fall” back in love with my finances. (See what I did there?)

Lydia Senn: I started watching Lydia over the summer. I should have been watching her in September instead of all those haul videos. While I was getting all splurgy in September, she and her family were on a No Spend September challenge. Check out her blog Frugal, Debt Free Life.

Focused Spender: This channel popped up in my feed one day when I was sad and binge watching YouTube videos. This video about the net worth of black women made me want to get back on the Operation Do Better train.

Cait Flanders: Check out her blog Blonde On A Budget because…life goals. She paid of $30,000 in debt, and then decided there was still more to do.

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When Less Is More: How I K.I.S.S. & Why I Do It (Pt. 3)

If you managed to get through those two long ass posts (which you can read here and here if this is your first time at this rodeo) about my journey to minimalism and the “why” behind what I’m doing, you might be just a little interested in how I “Keep It Simple Sista (K.I.S.S.)” and why it is important to me.

1) Knowing my reason. I asked myself whether I was doing this to follow a trend. I have friends buying houses, cars, stock options and way more elaborate dream vacations than I can currently afford. I asked myself if I was doing this to make myself feel better because I didn’t/don’t have the same kind of spending power. Was I doing this out of some weird sense of judgement of the choices of my parents? My answer: maybe. What can I say? I’m shaped by my experience.

When I started down the road to minimalism, I didn’t even know that there was such a thing. I was just trying to not spend two grand to move. I had things that were in storage that had been there since I moved to Montgomery. Surely, if they had not seen the light of day in four years, they didn’t deserve to be moved half way across the country.

I also was in a place of trying to look myself in the eye when it came to my finances. I’m still in that place. Dealing with my mom’s stuff just let me know that my personal spending habits had roots in what had been passed down to me about using money and spending it.

I don’t call myself a minimalist because I don’t need the label. I choose to live with less because it suits me and the way I want to be in the world right now. If some day that doesn’t feel like the right choice, I will make a different choice. I also am thinking through how to leave something more behind than just my stuff. There are tiny humans in my life that I want to be able to assist financially with their education, possibly their first house, or starting their own business.

2) Letting it go. Every time I’ve had to move, I haven’t had enough money to do it. That meant I had to cram stuff into a car to get it to its next destination, or borrow money on a credit card. It also meant drastically reducing the amount of stuff I had. Whenever I grab up stuff to take to Goodwill, I must confess, I feel a little silly. If I had known it was going to end up there in the first place, I certainly would not have bought it. What else could I have done with that money?

I work daily to let go of stuff and to let go of the unkind and harmful feelings I have toward myself over purchases past, and purchases given away. Reflecting on the past is helpful for avoiding mistakes, but I must remind myself daily that the opportunity to make better choices is in front of me, not behind me.

3) Getting a new hobby. Some people knit and some people hike. Some people paint and take photos. Me? I used to shop. When I felt happy, sad, celebratory, bored or depressed, I shopped. My favorite things to shop for, even now, are books, clothes, shoes, handbags, accessories and makeup. But through this process I have realized that if you buy things that you can’t use it just takes up unnecessary space and costs you money that you could be spending on something you truly value.

I’ve had more shoes than I could ever feasibly wear; ditto on clothes and makeup. What I’ve always said with my mouth is “I want to travel. I want to have experiences.” But my actions with my finances didn’t reflect that desire. So I started a travel fund and a savings fund, and I am earnestly tackling my debt, including my student loans.

I also am developing interests in other things besides shopping for more stuff. It helps that New Haven doesn’t really have a ton of places for me to spend my money and getting to the stores out in the ‘burbs here without a car is generally a pain in the ass. (Read about how much of a pain in the ass that is here.)

4) Spending fast. Reese and I introduced you all to the spending fast way back in the day when we first started Operation Do Better. Well it is back. As a part of another financial transformation that I am embarking on called Free By 40, I am on a serious spending fast.

No clothes, no shoes, no makeup, no hair products and no books until I’m free. Given all the practice I’ve had, you would think this would be easy, but it’s not because, as I mentioned above, I really like to shop.

Now that I live in New England, and my job requires an active commuting strategy, I am allowed to replace worn items, and add items that are more suitable for the weather, but now I make it a point to interject mindfulness into the practice of buying clothes. I’ll be buying only what I need. And because getting around is so difficult I will try to source thrift stores first, local boutiques next, and though I hate it, online or outside of New Haven as a last resort.

5) Slowing down. As I have paired down my wardrobe to fit my life, I have thought about what it means to buy lots of cheap clothes and goods, or “fast fashion.” And through research I’ve learned that consuming these items contributes to a lot of harm in the world including dangerous working conditions for people in other countries, and the loss of jobs in this country. The consumption of fast fashion also is contributing to the destruction of the environment. I don’t want to be a part of that so I am committed to buying less and paying more for higher quality goods; buying from local vendors and small indie manufacturers.

I was reading an article by Oprah Winfrey in which she closed it with something she tells the girls who have gone through her academy in South Africa when they call her overwhelmed with life. She said, “You must be well in order to sustain doing well. Get the being right, and the living will follow.”

Living my life with less stuff feels like my right being. Because ultimately I hope that shifting my focus away from getting more stuff will mean more mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellness. Living with less, for me, looks like simplicity. It looks like having more time to do, be and experience things, people, places and relationships, and less time for complication, frustration and anxiety.

I’m committed to finding out if my theory is right, at least for me. Watch me work.

— Ricks


When Less Is More: Thoughts on a Minimalist Life Pt. 2

I wrote a post almost a year ago about minimalism and promised y’all a part 2.  And here it is three months after I wrote it in June. (My bad y’all ’cause…life.)

My first post, which you should read here, was all about the genesis of how I came to live with less stuff in my life.

In brief, my journey to minimalism was about equal parts tragedy (dealing with my mom’s Alzheimer’s); necessity (the vicious cycle of living with debt and fluctuating finances) and desire (my quest for peace, presence and being awake to my life).

I have been going through this awakening process since Reese and I started this blog. Though we started Too Thrifty Chicks to curate a space where two quirky black girls could dream, and create our own virtual reality of funky style and sustainability, it has become soo much more.

As we’ve gone through the process of fixing our finances through Operation Do Better we’ve expanded what it meant to us to be Too Thrifty Chicks.

Spending less money necessitated shifting our focus on spending — even thrifty spending — to creating. We stopped poppin’ tags at our favorite thrift stores and started creating meals at home that we looked forward to eating together.

We created experiences with friends that costed very little. We even got to go on our dream trip to South Africa for which we paid cash.

This process of awakening also helped me think about my emotional attachment to stuff, and what it looks like to be focused on experience.

I love to travel, and I have either been to, or lived in more than half of these United States. I’ve visited our continental neighbors to the the north and the south. I’ve been to Africa, Europe and Asia and to three islands in the Caribbean. And I still desire to see more.

But I’ll be honest.

A lot of my pleasure travel was about escape. Being a journalist is as fun and exciting as it is emotionally and mentally draining. It can be particularly so when you love your job, and when you hate it, or when you live in a place that you’ve never embraced.

I confess that I was addicted to travel because I just didn’t want to be wherever I was, and I was always trying to get some place bigger and better than “here”. I also had this fantasy in my head of being a nomad who lived in exotic places abroad, and spending so much time living in southern states was cramping my style.

So I went on many a broke trip to escape my ho-hum life, and came back with the requisite knick knacks that proved I’d been somewhere. Some things I’d give away. Other stuff I simply held on to, feeding the fantasy of one day having a really nice house where I could display all my world treasures, and racking up a shit ton of debt along the way.

Movin’ On Up

When I had the opportunity to move to the DMV, I intentionally set out to do things differently. Living in Montgomery taught me that I could enjoy my life and where I lived even if it wasn’t the place I most wanted to live. I could make the best of it.

But now I was truly moving within spitting distance of a place I’d always wanted to live, Washington, D.C. I was going to be making more money than I’d ever made in my career. This was going to be great.

And in many ways it was. But just not in the ways I thought it would be. My job included travel, which was cool but exhausting, and made me think about whether I truly liked traveling and living out of a suitcase. My determination? I liked travel for pleasure, not for work.

Also, the realities of the cost of living and commuting in the DMV were staggering and I had to make some real grown up choices. I could have lived in the city, or lived in one of the ‘burbs for slightly (and I do mean slightly) less money. I chose the ‘burbs.

When I realized my mother needed more direct care, she moved in with me, and we moved into a townhouse. When I determined that that was not going to work, she went to live with my aunt; Reese became my roommate. When my old car died, instead of buying another one, I chose to give it up and use public transportation.

Little-by-little these things were preparing me for the life that I live now. When I left my job to work for myself, Reese and I changed our lifestyles drastically. We pinched all the pennies. I worked a temp position on the side while freelancing. She was babysitting and working a part-time position as a researcher in Baltimore County. We were miserable.

By the time that Reese knew she was heading to Memphis, I knew that I didn’t have the kind of financial cushion necessary to work for myself, and decided to get a job. But all that I experienced let me know I wasn’t going to go work somewhere that I didn’t love again. I wanted to a) live in a city that I could love, and b) live in a city that I could afford.

Traveling Light

I knew if I moved back to the South, I would need a car. Living in the North would mean public transit but higher rent. In the end it came down to two positions, one in Savannah, Ga., a place I knew very well, and a position in New Haven, Conn., a place I knew nothing about. Both offered an identical salary. If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know I chose New Haven.

Here’s why.

1) Roommates are temporary. Car notes are forever. I would have struggled to pay rent and a car note, and I had/have financial goals to accomplish. Unlike most journalism jobs, this one doesn’t require me to have a car. I walk, bike and bus to most places. It’s not perfect. And you can read a piece I wrote about how imperfect it is here, but it beats having to purchase and maintain a car that would spend most days parked.

2) Experience. I spent my first two years as an adult in Savannah, and while going back to a familiar place was attractive, living somewhere I hadn’t lived before was more attractive. Plus, it was closer to Philly where my mom is.

3) Community. I had initially hoped to live alone again, but then I remembered that there is community in sharing space with someone. As a single person one of my biggest fears is dying alone. And while I might technically die alone in the house that I now live in, my roommate and/or our landlords will certainly find my body if I were to meet an untimely demise. I find a strange comfort in that. Plus, I save money, and that leaves me room to pay off some bills.

4) The greater good. By not having a car, I am one less car on the road. One less person damaging the air. One less person contributing to the need for parking lots. Living with others also means I’m one less person consuming things to furnish an entire apartment or creating waste. That’s important to me.

5) Less really was more to me. Not living with more — whether it was more car, more apartment or more stuff — also had become important to me. Yes, I was probably influenced by the growing backlash against consumerism. But I also am influenced by my own personal experience being awake to my life and the reality of my situation.

Operation Do Better taught me that I could be a better steward of my finances, and overcome reckless spending. Dealing with my mom’s stuff made me realize that having an overabundance of material things is its own burden.

So today, I live in a city that I really enjoy, and I’m working in a job that is more fun than not. And while I have high hopes of being here for a little while, if for some reason I choose to move on, there is no “thing” holding me back. And that feels right.

– Ricks

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Destination Brooklyn: A Too Thrifty Day Trip

Me waiting for the bus to Union Station, New Haven.

Waiting for the bus to Union Station. IPhone has dope filters.

One of the clear advantages of living in New England is how accessible NYC is. Y’all already know that Reese and I love the Big Apple. (Read about that here and here.) But I had never taken a solo trip.

Truth be told if it weren’t for Google maps, I don’t know that I would have had the brass to go it alone. I mean, come on son. The NYC subway is mad confusing (at least to me). And compared to taking the Metro in the DMV? Fuhgettaboutit.

But I was getting crazy cabin fever in New Haven after the coldest, longest winter of my life and I promised myself a solo day trip just as soon as there was a beautiful weekend.

I wanted to accomplish two, maybe three, things: I wanted to have lunch at Smorgasburg; I had to get to the Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum; and I had to find the place where I bought these earrings that I so loved (and thought I had lost) from some random flea market-type shop that Reese and I had visited on one of our last trips to the city.

So on the last weekend of the exhibit, I hopped a Metro-North train and headed into the city.

Rocking one of my favorite pair of pants.

Rocking one of my favorite pair of pants.

The universe must have approved of my decision because I could not have asked for more excellent weather.

Pro-tip: It’s easier to get to NYC from New Haven than it is to get from New Haven to Hartford. Yes. As in Hartford, Connecticut which is in the same state and only about 40 minutes away. (Read about my transportation woes here.) Metro-North will get you to NYC in about two and a half hours. Round trip will cost you about $34. And the trains run incredibly regularly, so even if you get on the train a little later than you intended like I did, there is probably another one leaving in 15 or 30 minutes.

NYC bound on Metro North.

NYC bound on Metro North.

I arrived at Grand Central Station at just after noon, which is perfect because the absolute first thing I wanted to do was get my eat on. My friend Google maps let me know what trains I needed to take, and I headed straight to Brooklyn. I glanced in Brooklyn Flea, but gorgeous weather = ridiculous crowds, so I kept it movin’ because delicious food was on the agenda.

Pro-tip: Yo, Smorgasburg draws massive crowds. Bring cash, or do what I did and stand in a seriously long line at the ATM. No Bueno.

After I got my cash, I headed inside of what, to someone like me, is food paradise. Y’all should know this, but I really love food. And my favorite way to explore a place is through my tastebuds and stomach.

I wouldn't say the food was orgasmic, but it was tasty.

I wouldn’t say the food was orgasmic, but it was tasty.

There were so many options. And trust and believe, you will stop random strangers and ask, “Hey, where did you get that?” People were walking by with delicious looking barbecue, but the line was so ridiculous that I kept walking.

But then like a beacon: Buttermilk (Channel) Fried Chicken, or BFC, was my new BAE. Yasss! Not better than my g-ma’s fried chicken, but still tasty. (I mean really, can anybody cook chicken better than your g-ma?) I needed something with which to wash all this hot, delicious, crunchiness down. Agua fresca de sandia you say? Sold. Mexican corn, you say? Sí, por favor. I ate all this yummy deliciousness. Yes I did.

BK7And with this view? I was happy as a pig in mud. And my stomach was full.

So, I really did wander around Brooklyn thinking I could find this little shop, that I’m pretty sure was set up in a temporary space the last time I was in Brooklyn. Reese and I had come up to see the Kara Walker installation at the former Domino Sugar factory. I probably wandered for a good hour and a half before I gave up, and decided I had to get to the museum before it closed.

BK8As was the case at Smorgasburg, the lines at the museum were crazy. I was incredibly close to buying a membership to the museum, just so I would never have to stand in that line again. I still might. For $60 you get free admission for a year, and all these other bennies! Considering that the suggested donation is about $17, the membership pays for itself in about three and a half visits. I’m pretty sure I would use it. I’ve already got my heart set on attending The Rise of Sneaker Culture exhibit that will be there through Oct. 4.

So once I was tagged and released into the wild of the museum, I found the wait to be worth my while.

BK10Kehinde Wiley is renown for his portraiture, but when I tell you his sculpture is everything. I mean EVERYTHING. I loved how, in his hands, the every day became regal and extraordinary.

BK11A bonus treat: The notebooks of Brooklyn-born artist Jean-Michel Basquiat are part of an exhibit that has been on display since April. It’s called Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks. I was aware of Basquiat, but truth be told I didn’t know much about his work. His notebooks were fascinating in part because of their lack of pretension.

All of his notebooks were those old school black and white composition notebooks. Check it out and share your thoughts about it on social media using: #basquiatnotebooks. I enjoyed myself thoroughly and stayed in the museum until just after closing.

My contacts were so dry in this photo, but I was looking fierce.

My contacts were so dry in this photo, but I was looking fierce.

I took the train back to somewhere near Brooklyn Flea. The sun was getting low in the sky by this point, and of course, I was starting to get hungry again. After schlepping around the neighborhood, trying to make my mind remember some of the landmarks that were near the place I had purchased my earrings — the old factory site, the juice bar that was next door to the shop, etc. — I gave up and went into a little mini-mall that was one of the first places we did stop the last time we were in Brooklyn.

Though they didn’t have the beloved pair that I thought I had lost (and eventually found behind my dresser), I did find two other pairs that I liked and that was good enough for me! It was time to eat.

Real talk, there are so many sit down food options in Brooklyn it can be hard to choose. The only thing I knew for certain was that I didn’t want any fried chicken (Duh!) and I didn’t want pizza. New Haven has my pizza heart and I seriously don’t think I can ever eat pizza anywhere else again. Seriously. Pizza in New Haven is legendary and delicious. Period.

But I love Korean food and when I spotted a place that was doing a contemporary take on Korean food, and had their windows flung open to the street, I was like, in my best Usher-voice, “Yeah!”

This is the only picture I had in my phone because when the food came, I didn't look up until it was gone!

This is the only picture I had in my phone because when the food came, I didn’t look up until it was gone!

The place: Suoj Korean Gastropub. The time: Super Happy Hour at around 6 p.m. The Food: Yummy.

I had these amazing little steamed buns (that would have been more amazing if the waitress had written down my order and brought me the right ones, grr); my first Korean beer (not bad at all); and the Soju fries, which were poutine-esque with delicious braised short rib and melted cheese. (Yasss! Get in my belly).

With the sun going down and the chill picking up, I hopped a train and headed back to Grand Central Station, so I could make the trek home. I stopped at an outpost of Junior’s Most Fabulous Cheesecakes and Desserts for a coffee (now pronounced: caw-fee) and saw that they had red velvet cupcakes. You already know. I got one for the road.



The perfect end to a near perfect day. I probably spent about $150, and could have spent much less if I had skipped the jewelry and the Uber home from the train station, but I don’t mess around when it comes to Union Station at night.

And I only got on the wrong train in NYC twice the whole day. I’d call that a win.

– Ricks

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Hey y’all! ::waving:: Ricks announced her return to our blog a few days ago. I’m slipping in quickly to share some reflections.

Those of you who know me in real life know that I am moving to began a tenure track position in Atlanta, Georgia (inserts applause and jumps for joy).

When I was offered the job in early March, I had no idea what the subsequent three months would look or feel like. Because Memphis was a challenging city to adjust to, I thought I would spend the next three months enjoying the life-long friends I met here but generally counting down to my move. That has hardly been the case. When June hit, so did ALL THE FEELS. EVERY.SINGLE.ONE.  I’m leaving Memphis for Atlanta. Transitioning from PhD student to tenure track professor. Leaving folks I love, some of whom will not make the journey with me (literally and figuratively).

For the last six weeks, I’ve been managing, suppressing, questioning, fighting, and accepting those feels. Friday, I went to see the movie Inside Out. OMG. All the cute. Also relevant, because the whole film deals with the reality that conflicting emotions are normal and often necessary. Like…we can’t have joy without sadness.  I’m pretty sure that movie was not written for children, but I digress. (Sidenote: I may or may not have cried through half the movie, because….feelings). Anyway, that film, plus all the layers of this transition, plus long emails and conversations with my favorites led to this post. Just a few comments on transitions, in case other folks are struggling through some of their own.

1. Conflicting emotions are OK. I already told you I feel all the things. At this very moment, sadness lurks underneath a very real excitement that I have for breaking bread with some of my favorite Memphians tonight.  I’m also feeling the buoyancy that only love seems to provide. I’m excited about my new job, excited about what this dissertation will be when I have finished it, overwhelmed by having to find a new place to live. See? All the feels. And sometimes they don’t make sense.  That’s alright. I (we) need them all.

2. Transitions are multilayered. I’m not just moving to another city. I have to pack my life in boxes, sort through the things that make my apartment “home.” I am navigating requests/suggestions for lunch/dinner/happy hour, to which I have said “no” many times because I can’t manage them all. Saying goodbye over and over is a real drag, ya know? I am prepping for my fall courses. Mentally preparing to live in a different city. Surrendering to the realities that location changes often necessitate (or foreshadow) relationship changes. That’s a lot. Give yourself grace. (Note to self: Grace, Reese. Grace)

3. You need your people. My friends, family, friends-turned-family are the gift that keep on giving. In June, I drove from Memphis to Dallas to Austin to Waco to Crockett. I had planned to attend a conference in Austin, and instead of flying, I drove. Seeing family and friends blessed my heart so. We didn’t have to talk much about transitions. Bourbon, margaritas, laughs, and hugs were enough. I needed them more than I knew.  In my day-to-day life, there are some folks in Memphis and beyond who keep me sane, because they just me be my indecisive, sometimes emotional, quirky self. They know it is sometimes hard for me to articulate when I’m overwhelmed, but when I sent out an email to my inner circle saying just that, they responded with compassion, encouragement, and desires to spring into action on my behalf. My god dad always says, “if you don’t get anything else, get you some friends.” Yes. Get you some.

4. Your people will not begrudge you for needing space or time.  Between writing, prepping for the move, and all the feels, I have been selective about who I see and talk to. A few days ago, I sent a text to my friend K.T. saying, “I love you sister.  I know I ain’t been present. I’m struggling with some of these transitions.” She responded: “It’s gonna be ok. Hell, we all have moments where we ain’t present. One of those seasons. I love you too, sis. You could go radio silent for months and I wouldn’t feel slighted at all. No worries.” (cue water works) Yes, K.T. yes. That’s love and grace in action.

5.  All those things you read about self-care, loving yourself, etc.? This is the time to practice them.  Your self-care practices might look differently during intense transitions, but if they completely disappear, all the feels will just intensify. This morning Ricks sent me: “I am sorry you feel overwhelmed. I think the beautiful thing is that there are only two maybe three things that require your attention. 1. Finish your diss, 2. packing your stuff, 3. moving. The rest of it will take care of itself whether or not you fret over it.” Her message reminded me that even though I have all the feels, I have three very real action items that require my attention. To do these things, I have to make sure I am being conscious and intentional about self-care practices that are important to me. (Thanks Ricks)

6. As you feel all the feels, remember joy and gratitude are always appropriate. Always.  Always. No exception. Hard things happen. Sad things happen. But if I sit still enough, I can always find something that brings me joy or that make me feel grateful. Usually, I don’t have to look very far.

So, I know that wasn’t really an update on my life, but eh. It was necessary.  Here’s to embracing all the beauty and craziness that accompany life’s transitions.



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