Too Thrifty Chicks

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A Mermaid’s Guide to Surviving a Pandemic

Stop, drop and float! A mermaid in her element.

I would not have guessed that I would be thinking and writing about swimming during a global pandemic. But here we are. I write this on a Friday, at the end of my seventh week in isolation since COVID-19 swept into the United States and forced us to participate in a global timeout.

Unlike millions of Americans who find themselves unemployed because of this pandemic, I am still working. I’m grateful for that up to a point. There is a difference between working from home because you want to and working at home because you are forced to work. A big difference.

A fish very much out of water.

I’ve been working more or less from home since I rejoined the working world in February. For those that don’t know, I left my full-time gig as a daily journalist back at the end of May 2019. I left because burnout and grief are a powerful cocktail and I was standing at the corner of hope and despair pretending that it was all fine and it wasn’t. I’ve tried despair. It tastes like what I imagine a bleachtini with a shot of Fabuloso tastes like. (Don’t drink that.)

But back then, I promised myself that I would not simply push through my despair this time. I would heal it. I also promised myself that I would finally learn to swim. And that I wouldn’t just learn to swim for survival. I wanted to get in touch with my inner mermaid. I wanted to swim and love it.

Snorkeling, kayaking, standup paddle boarding…you name it!!!

I spent the entire summer going down to Sarasota, Fla. for a week at a time to do just that. When I wasn’t in Sarasota I was in the adult swim classes at LEAP, heading to the pool at Conte School, the Orange town pool, one trip to the pool at Hillhouse High School, and eventually finding a pool home at the Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven.

I learned to swim through a program called Miracle Swimming for Adults. And a graduate of the program told me and my classmates in our beginner course that what we were learning would be useful to us in the pool and outside of it. I believed him then. And now that my pool is closed because of the pandemic I believe him even more.

Around self-isolation week three I started to ask myself: why are you so calm? 

Now listen, there are a million reasons why I should be calm. All my basics are covered. Food, shelter, water, clothes? Check. Heat, electricity, Internet access, and a safe environment? Check. Physically distant from my loved ones but still able to keep in touch? Check. 

But during a global pandemic, even the privileged get nervous. When there is no toilet paper or disinfectant on the shelves for weeks you get nervous. When you read stories about farmers plowing under their crops and businesses sacrificing their underpaid, under-protected employees, you get nervous. 

In the face of a silent killer that has struck the physically weakened and the strong, the young and the old, the rich and the poor — by no means in equal fashion — you get nervous. You get nervous because you know as the country dissolves into what seems like anarchy little-by-little, every day, all of these things could be happening more directly to you. Only time will tell.

But I really wanted to get to the root of why someone who started having panic attacks a year ago, who had been battling bouts of insomnia long before that was now experiencing an unprecedented (for her) level of calm.

And the answer floated to the surface: it’s the swimming. You are a mermaid.

Melon Dash, actual badass who swims with dolphins.

I became a mermaid through a system that teaches adults panic prevention in deep water. It is taught through a concept pioneered by Miracle Swimming founder Melon Dash called the 5 Circles Mindfulness Method

And much like near-drowning experiences, a global pandemic is built for panic. It is the deep end of the pool. It is the bottomless lake. A global pandemic is the vast ocean where you can’t put your feet down or cling to the perimeter.

Through the 5 Circles method, I learned the stages that lead to panic and how to prevent them. The short version is you want to remain in your first circle in most situations. You might be able to manage if you are in your second circle. But you don’t want to stay there because it can easily spin out to circles three through five and then PANIC!

I’ve been in what we in the swim program would call my first circle for much of the seven weeks. The first circle is your most comfortable, relaxed self. You’re in your body and feeling all the things. When we first got in the pool, for many of us, being in our first circle was standing with our feet firmly planted on the ground in the shallow end of a heated swimming pool.

Learning to swim in an outdoor, heated pool in Florida in the middle of summer might sound like madness. But there is a method. Fear can feel cold. Fear will make you shiver, even in a heated pool. Fear will make you feel cold when you consume too much news.

In these weeks of self-isolation, I realized that when I am over stimulated from consuming too much news (sorry, journalism friends) I actually tend to physically shiver. And what I was doing to compensate was putting on all my warm soft things and a heated blanket. When what I needed to do was all of that plus limit my consumption of news. 

As my swimming lessons progressed last year, being in my first circle was about my ritual for entering the swimming pool. That ritual includes entering the pool slowly. Having a nose clip and goggles. Wearing a rash guard or neoprene swim vest for warmth. Getting my face wet first. Spending some time submerged. Noticing where in my body I felt tension.

Floating comfortably in the very salty Gulf of Mexico.

Eventually, it became floating on my back with my hands behind my head, and my legs crossed.

During this pandemic, it looks like noticing my cold hands and feet AND the tightness I felt in my chest. The tightness that would cause me to look up the symptoms of COVID-19 and heart attack if I read the news for an hour. It looks like limiting my news intake to 30 minutes at the top of my day and returning to a land-based meditation and mindfulness practice because I can’t go for a relaxing float.

It has looked like identifying what we learned in our swim classes as speeding. In class, that meant doing a skill so fast that you couldn’t remember how you did it or recall the steps. Or being so freaked out doing something that you scared yourself. 

In a drowning situation, most people can’t recall what happened. If they survive, they might tell you it happened so fast. And even if their terrified mind can recall the details they will not be able to recall if they could feel the buoyancy of their body or that their flailing arms were actually holding them underwater. Or even that they were far closer to the surface and the precious air their lungs craved than their scared mind could fathom. They had no awareness of all of that because their mind had completely left their body. That’s classic circle-five behavior. That’s panic.

Interestingly enough, the way that the novel coronavirus can attack and damage the lungs, closing off the ability of a person to breathe, sounds a lot like drowning to me. And when I imagine what it must feel like, and then read about what it actually feels like, I get scared. 

On land, speeding is probably most akin to busyness. Do you remember the mad dash of the first couple of weeks as everybody tried to pivot to a home-based operation? I certainly do. The flurry of meetings. All of the emails. And the beginnings of everything moving to Zoom. For this introvert, the first couple of weeks were mentally and emotionally exhausting. 

We probably realize now at week seven that we could have done a great many of those things a little slower. Many of us who don’t have frontline jobs — essential jobs that are saving lives — could have been untethered for a week to grapple with the fact that we don’t know when we will see our coworkers again without the mediation of our computers. When our kids will see their teachers. When we will see our loved ones in person again. 

We traded our emotions and acknowledging our fear for a semblance of normalcy and productivity. For we collectively believed that if we just keep moving it will all be OK. We were desperately treading water. 

Don’t beat yourself up. I did it too. But then I remembered that rushing around with my hair on fire, even from home, wasn’t going to save anyone’s life, not even my own. Collectively, we were all in circles three through five, panic shopping and working too much.

Our week-long swimming program was highly structured. We had dry land class time for at least an hour each day before we stepped foot in the pool. We also had home-fun (sounds nicer than homework) to complete after every class. The program also included deliberate downtime and rest so we could digest what we learned in class. Some days, our swimming courses were twice a day. That meant up to four hours in one day facing for many of us what was up until then our deepest fear — the fear of drowning.

And some days there were setbacks. A skill that you learned in the morning might fall apart during the afternoon class. And you’d be heartbroken because you knew you could do it. Everybody saw you do it. 

Our instructors would kindly and compassionately suggest to us not to practice frustration. They’d gently guide us to return to a skill we could do. That might look like practicing something so easy we could do it with our eyes closed or simply taking a moment to play a pool game. We called this changing the subject.

I have found during this practice of self-isolation that I have to change the subject often. Too often, everything we talk about is heavy with pandemic speak. But guess what? The ordinariness of life is still happening for better or worse. 

People are celebrating milestones like birthdays and anniversaries. Some people’s marriages are still falling apart. People are still having babies. People are still moving, taking on different jobs. People are still dying of things other than the novel coronavirus as I brutally found out this week when I learned of a former childhood neighbor’s tragic death in a car crash.

I also got the news that yet another former newspaper colleague was losing his job to budget cuts. These painful things hit me on the same day when I was personally having a very good quarantine week. People are still peopling.

But it has been the first circle rituals that I have established in these weeks that have kept me grounded when it feels like the wildfire is far too close to my house. Like the water is rising. I can tell you what those rituals are but my rituals don’t matter. Your rituals matter. What works for you matters.

Having an awareness that every day those rituals can change because the circumstances change matters. I’m doing more reading during the quarantine. Ironically, I was reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and it’s sequel Parable of the Talents when we went into collective self-isolation mode. 

And part of the way I am “shaping change” is by remembering again something I learned in swim class: every day at the pool, every day at the ocean, is a different day. Some days, you have the whole pool to yourself. Some days it is filled with rambunctious little kids, some days it’s teenagers trying to become lifeguards. Some days the Atlantic is calm and placid as a lake. Most any other day? Not so much. 

Every day of this pandemic will bring something different. How I choose to stay present for it all will determine if I meet it with some sense of calm or panic. Some level of grace.

And I’ll be honest, going to stores takes me out of my first circle. In fact, the first couple of times I did it was right around when we began voluntarily masking. Of course, it is the law now. But when I tell you it was a speedy, feral-eye darting from here to there, dodging those who were still browsing instead of being deliberate …whew. 

My heart rate speeds up just thinking about it. I left those stores feeling like a hot and sweaty, frustrated mess. So of course, my trips to the store are fairly limited and even more specific these days. When I stopped focusing on all the ways I felt people were doing it wrong and that I couldn’t control, I began focusing on what I could. 

I noticed that the CVS I frequent is almost always nearly people free during the times I am able to go. But I had to slow down to notice that. And I had to learn to breathe with my mask on even though breathing feels like one of the scariest things in the world right now. 

Somewhere far out in the deep of the Gulf of Mexico.

What I eventually learned as I progressed to where I am now — someone who can confidently say she can swim — is what my instructors told me then. The water in the shallow end and what you can do in it works the same way in the deep end or even the ocean. 

Your body works the same way. Your breath works the same way. All the skills you know for dealing with this moment work the same way. All those real self-care things we all know we need to do more of but don’t, work the same way. And these are the things that I remind myself as I stay safe at home.

This pandemic is the deep end of the pool. Be well and may the first circle be with you.


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Serendipitous Jamaica

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Trading the beach for the rainforest.

It is stupid cold and there is snow on the ground in Connecticut so I thought why not grab a cup of tea and close out 2017 by writing this long overdue post about one of the best things I did this year: I went to Jamaica!

Let me set the mood. It was July and I was tired. My soul was weary.

Between the national foolishness that by then was seven months young and a spring spent doing the absolute most in the best way possible,  my spirit was parched. And to top it all off, I was physically coming down with some type of bug.

But Jamaica.

My wonderful friend, hairstylist, and favorite Jamaican Karaine “Kay” Holness had let

Kay

Kay makes friends everywhere.

me and another friend and client know months prior that she was planning her annual trip home.She has made the pilgrimage every year since 1999 with a travel group she founded called Sistahs Jammin’. She told us that this year’s trip would be different from any previous one —  no turn-up, no structured days. Then she showed us the small boutique resort high up in the Jamaican Blue Mountains where we would be staying. We jumped at the chance to go.

It wouldn’t be my first trip to Jamaica. I had the pleasure of spending some time in Negril several years ago. But this was going to be different

I’d known I needed a retreat — unplug back when I said yes. So you can imagine how much I needed it by July. I was more than ready to lay my burdens down and pick up my carry-on bag.

And for seven days and six nights, we did just that.

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Best travel squad.

I must confess, the idea of group travel kind of makes my ass itch. I knew two of the women on the trip would be cool. But the other two? I didn’t know them.

Would they want to do a thousand things together? Would they be incessantly picky about everything? Would we all grow to hate each other and fall out? All possibilities. All wasted energy. Nothing close to my concerns ever happened. Because serendipity.

Serendipity is defined as “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.” It also is the name of the resort where we stayed. And it is where we each reconnected with Markeshia, Babz, Karaine, Jackie, and Sharon.

At home in Connecticut, we are mothers, daughters, sisters, citizens, employees, business owners, lovers, and friends. We are all the things we do for others but don’t do for ourselves. We were all our secret anxieties and fears.

And we were a tired lot when we touched down in Kingston. But as soon as the heat and humidity of a Jamaican morning hit us, instantly creating a light dew on our skin, we began to unfurl like flowers greeting the sun.

It takes a harrowing ride from Kingston up into the Blue Mountains to get to Serendipity Holistic Resort. And this ride is not for the faint of heart honey. But when I tell you it is worth it, I mean it.

IMG_5500.jpgI don’t think anyone of us realized that our resort would be literally carved into a lush rainforest teeming with the sounds of animals, birds and the occasional falling mango.

We had the whole place to ourselves for the most part and we hadn’t counted on that. But serendipity.

We also hadn’t counted on every day that we would rise to the sound of the rushing water that flowed through the small waterfalls on the property. And the rooster. Never forget the rooster.

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I never thought that every night we’d want to come together and have amazing Jamaican dinners and laugh over the day’s adventures before tucking into the most comfortable beds at 9 p.m. or earlier.

Or that we’d rise early, for a first breakfast of the most delicious fruit our mouths had stopped to enjoy in a long time, with the juice dripping down our arms. And that at second breakfast, we’d linger over Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee so good that we’d often plot how to save the world one cup at a time.

There was time for hiking, swimming naked in a very cold waterfall, getting sunburned and being covered in the healing love of sisterhood and aloe. There was time for reading, coloring, sleeping, and yoga. There was time to think without all the responsibilities drowning out that still small voice.

And more importantly, there was time to discover the sound of our own laughter, the refreshing freedom of tears, and to listen to those hopes and dreams that we’d tucked away for someday.

The resort’s owner, who we serendipitously discovered was someone that our friend Kay knew from their younger years in Jamaica, would open her beautiful home on the property to us. And then she would teach us many things.

IMG_5550.jpgTwo things she said have stuck with me since we’ve returned home. My paraphrase of what she said is this: Guard your peace dangerously and do not leave this earth without knowing you are loved.

We would realize that everything about the resort — all of its natural beauty, the way that all of the cabins are designed, and the amenities offered — was designed with teaching these two principles to all those who want to learn such powerful things.

As I told Kay after the trip, Jamaica owes me nothing. I arrived nearly empty and left so incredibly full. Jamaica taught me the way. It’s up to me to keep up the practice.

Click below to hear what the sistahs of Sistahs Jammin 2017 had to say about the trip in this episode of LoveBabz LoveTalk on WNHH radio.


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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.

#nomnomnom!

#nomnomnom!

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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When Less is More: Thoughts on a Minimalist Life Pt. 1

I must admit I came to minimalism through tragedy.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my mother was diagnosed with early onset dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. Part of dealing with her diagnosis has been dealing with her stuff: her house, her physical personal belongings, her finances.

I discovered that my mom, retired Army veteran, lover of all media, homeowner and divorcee had an overwhelming amount of stuff! Honestly, if she wasn’t so neat and tidy, I would call her a borderline hoarder.

And I, her only child, had to dive in, when she couldn’t.

The experience of going through her house — our house — and trying to decide what to do with it all broke me down. I cried. Sobbed in fact. I was overwhelmed with the amount of stuff, but also by the memories.

At some point in the process I realized my mama wasn’t ever going to live in her house again. She had no need of all of the things she had accumulated over her now 58 years of life. Me, her only daughter? I haven’t lived in the same city longer than four years. Ever. I’m a nomad, at home every where and no where. Where would I put all this stuff if I kept if for nostalgia’s sake? I don’t have a house and the way this journalism thing is set up, I might never have one.

I’m still dealing with what to do with my mama’s stuff. It’s come a long way since that very first time I went through it, but the process continues. Dealing with her stuff forced me to have a come to Jesus meeting with myself about my own stuff. I had questions.

  • Why did I continue to drag things from my imagined life of living in a permanent space into my actual life of living in temporary spaces?
  • Did I place more value on “owning” a thing, rather than on its function in my life?
  • What would happen to my self-worth, self-esteem if I gave a lot of it away?

These are questions that I am still trying to answer.

In the beginning

When I got my first full-time gig at The Tuscaloosa News, I was stoked. And I wanted a grown up apartment to go with my new job. I did no math. Rent in Tuscaloosa and Alabama can be cheap. I would not discover until two years later how cheap it could be. All I knew was that I could get a whole townhouse for less than $500 a month. But a whole house needs furniture, right? And decorations, and, and, and…..

Yeah. That was a thing. Until I realized how much money I did — or rather, didn’t — make. I had to move to a less expensive apartment across town and try to get my mid-20 something head around the dismal state of my finances. I moved from Tuscaloosa, Ala. to Sarasota, Fla. in 2005, for a job that paid more, but I couldn’t afford to take my stuff, which I’ moved to Georgia. The re-location money wouldn’t cover getting all that stuff to Florida and I was broke. I also didn’t have a place to put it. This was Florida, pre-housing bubble bursting. Apartments were being converted to condos and rents were outrageous compared to Tuscaloosa.

Instead, I shared space with great roommates until I moved to Anniston, Ala. for graduate school a year later. I was moving toward minimalism mostly by circumstance, and a little by choice. I lived for three years without most of my stuff. I told my mama to keep what she wanted for her daycare and sell/giveaway the rest. I was on the road to Montgomery, Ala. vowing to never, ever accumulate that much stuff again.

A broken vow

While I never accumulated a house full of furniture again — Reese can attest to this — I still managed to amass a closet full of clothes, kitchen supplies and books. Oh, and there were the huge pieces of art that I had been dragging around since my summer internship in Zambia, circa 2001! And did I mention the heavy, vintage typewriter? Yeah. That was a thing. My house was mostly a statement in minimalism, but it also didn’t feel like home. It felt empty. Disconnected. I knew I wanted less stuff, but I didn’t have the language to talk about it when everything about growing up seemed to be about getting more stuff.

Two steps forward, two steps back

I got to test these questions again when I moved to the DMV. I left Montgomery, Ala. with only what I could fit into a two-door, 1997 Saturn SC2. Clothes, kitchen supplies, books. I was jammed in that car like toes in too small shoes. And still I ended up leaving a lot of things behind at a good friend’s house.

Though I had successfully managed to give away a ton of stuff, I still couldn’t bear to part with anything more. I mean, for goodness sake, I got my book collection down to four small banker’s boxes. Who does that? I vowed to purchase a Kindle and to never physically turn a page again.

And then I met Reese. This girl loves books. When she became my roommate, she came with books. Her books reminded me how much I enjoyed reading. How much I enjoyed turning a physical page and devouring a book in a 24-hour period. Her books reminded me how good it feels to walk into a book store, especially in Washington, D.C.

Our nation’s capital is home to Sankofa Video, Books and Cafe, The Children of the Sun, Busboys and Poets and Kramerbooks & Afterword Cafe. Not to mention thrift stores where you can find out of print books dirt cheap. (True story: I purged my suitcase while in Memphis because I bought books at a thrift store. Reese still had to bring some of them when she last came to visit.)

Ahh, glorious books. Truth be told, if it wasn’t for Operation Do Better, we would have spent every dime we made on books. The public library near our house, saved our pocket books to be sure.

But then it was time to move. And we both realized that in creating a home together, we had managed to amass a lot of stuff. That troubled the minimalist spirit that had developed in my heart from all my previous moves. Orchestrating a move is not my most favorite thing in the world, even though I have moved a lot in my 35 years. (Hello, Army brat.). I felt it whenever we visited friends, who had these spry, carefully edited apartments. Nothing more, nothing less. We had created an amazing space, but it was starting to feel like too much. Moving helped us both realize just how much it was.

Throw it out

When a friend posted a great article that encouraged us to throw everything away, ish got real. We jumped on a challenge to intentionally get rid of three or four things every day for 30 days. Because I was in transition, I had to modify the challenge. But I’m happy to say that by the time I unpacked my last box at my new space in New Haven, I managed to purge about 200 items over the last month.

While my stuff is still a little bit more than is necessary, it’s not much more, and that feels right. I learned while living with Reese what it means to create a space with intention, and I believe I have achieved minimalism without sacrificing comfort in my new place. I have some thoughts about how to ensure that I continue to travel light and ready for new adventure that I will share in another post.

So, I’ll leave you with these additional question to ponder: If you had an opportunity to pick up your life and move it to another country, state, city would your stuff hold you back? Would you chuck it all for the experience of a lifetime?

My courageous line sister recently did it. Check out her story and blog chronicling her adventures teaching abroad.

Do you consume, therefore you are? Share your thoughts on minimalism in the comments below.

-Ricks


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Breaking the Silence: Another Too Thrifty Update

Saying goodbye to Reese and DCA.

Saying goodbye to Reese and DCA.

It is 2 a.m. and I can’t sleep. I’ve been thinking about what to say and this post just wouldn’t leave me alone so here goes nothing.

::deep breath::

This post  has been a long time coming because, frankly, I haven’t known where to start.

I’ll begin with honesty.

As you all know, Reese’s journey has taken her to Memphis where we are expecting her to do great and wonderful things like finish her dissertation, do more research and shape young and old minds. What you need to know about that is Team Too Thrifty is still on this journey together, even if we’re thousands of miles apart.

But many of you have rightly asked, “What about Ricks?”

For a long time, I didn’t know how to answer that question. I didn’t know what to say.

Life was happening, and happening in a painful way.

Ever the wise one Reese said, “I don’t believe the Universe would provide for two and not for three.” I’ll explain what she meant a little later in the post.

Bear with me for a second, please. We will get back to fashion and fun one of these days. I just need to get this one out.

The Real

This last year — the last few years really — have been incredibly hard for me. I mean grueling, faith-shaking hard.

  • There have been a lot of changes in the last three or four years
    I uprooted my life in Alabama for a job in the big city. A job where I started off great and then burned out
  • My best friend of nearly 20 years died of an asthma attack. Her death rocked my world to say the least and it is still sometimes to tender to touch with my thoughts
  • To top all that off, my mother — my rock, my biggest fan, my biggest challenger — was diagnosed with early onset dementia of the Alzheimer’s type

Yeah. If this where a blues song, and I had a dog, somewhere in here it probably would have died.

Don’t get me wrong. There were good moments. Great, life-shaping moments.

  • Making great new friends and getting to know the DMV, which I learned to love and thought I would call home
  • Reconnecting with old friends
  • Having family reach out to help with mama. So I could work, knowing she was somewhere safe
  • Meeting Reese and birthing this blog

I would even count the day I decided to quit my job as one of those very, very positive moments.

But then my grand plan for an independent career, wasn’t so grand. Freelance is hard work. Period. And being the employer, the HR department, the complaint department, the finance department and the employee, was not what I had in mind. Hell, I don’t know what I had in mind, but that sure wasn’t it.

And I began to slide.

If it hadn’t been for Reese….

Well, I don’t like to think about what might have happened if it had not been for Reese. She was my anchor, and I will always be grateful for her love and support. For her prayers.

So.

Grateful.

Last year, I probably would have benefited from some good mental health services. I was depressed and I didn’t know how to get out. Life was throwing a lot at me, and I didn’t want to do anything but let it pummel me. I didn’t want to fight back. I was tired of fighting. I was tired of trying to make it all work.

I didn’t want to die. I simply wanted to walk away — to disappear. I wanted to abandon my life as I knew it, and all the people associated with it, because it felt so damn hard.

And the one thing that had given me — us — such buoyancy was this blog. But I couldn’t bring myself to write about any of it. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t think you all would understand.

So I kept silent. Many times on the verge of breaking down.

When spring comes….

As winter started to give way to spring, my depression started to break. My outlook shifted. I didn’t want to disappear. I wanted to be intensely present for everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Life had been trying to get me to wake up. But I hadn’t been paying attention. It was time to stop sleep-walking and be engaged. Here.

Freelancing was still tough. I decided that it was time to go back to full-time employment. I applied for a lot of jobs. Instead of the sting of rejection — though there was some of that — it was the silence that was so stunning.

If you didn’t know, cold-submitting a resume is a pretty unpleasant experience — one that I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid for much of my journalism career. It is an employer’s market and people don’t even bother to send you a, “Thanks, but no thanks” e-mail. Trying to get into the mind of a potential employer is a feat of mental gymnastics. I like to think I got really good at revising my resume at the end.

(Yes, there is an end. Stay with me.)

I applied for a fellowship that I really wanted. I was even among the final candidates. But I didn’t get it.

I was crushed. I thought I might slide again, headlong back into depression. Reese thought I might slide too. I didn’t.

I cried. But I didn’t slide.

I put my focus on helping Reese move to Memphis and trying not to panic. I saw another job that I really wanted. A job that so many thought I might have in the bag after my interview. But the position was ultimately eliminated because of restructuring. Strike two.

And then a funny thing happened. The editor at the fellowship I had applied for passed my name along to a reporter who was in the process of leaving a news organization in New Haven, Connecticut.  I talked to the editor in New Haven by phone. He invited me up for an interview. And the rest is history.

Not really. I don’t mean to minimize. It really is amazing how so many things came together from that phone interview to the moment that I am writing this post. But that is another post for another day.

But Reese was right about the Universe. The Universe didn’t leave me out of whatever pact that we, the women of 5509, had collectively signed in our prayers and our journals.

Reese, of course, landed in Memphis, but our roommate Tasha, who you will get to meet soon, landed a job in Winston Salem, N.C.

And me? I’m so glad you asked.

Today, is my first day as a reporter for the New Haven Independent, an all digital, hyper-local, five-days-a-week news site. There are so many life lessons in my experience, some that have not even been revealed yet. As I unpack it, I will share. But today I just want to be present with this moment.  Today, I am excited and present with that excitement.

– Ricks


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It’s A Dog’s Life: The Story of 1 Dog and 3 Humans

Just before the weather got too hot for, well, anything, we took a day trip to Shenandoah  with our good friend Keila and her dog, Nena. We all looked forward to the trip for different reasons: good weather, time to reflect, opportunity to get away from the city. We had a great time hiking (just a little…we were so tired), talking, and eating BBQ on the grass. But what captured our attention most was Nena. IMG_6644

Nena was THE happiest of us all. You don’t know the good life until you’ve seen a dog smile.

Between hanging her head out the car window and wandering off on her own to explore different things, she was so into her surroundings. So present. At first Keila kept her on a short leash (presumably to see how she would act on the trail), but the further we went, the more freedom she was given to roam.  And when she was tired or felt like she needed a nap, she took her rest.

Humans, with all our thoughts about, well, EVERY THING, can learn a lot from dogs.

Here’s are a few things we learned from Nena:

  • Be curious. Nena, let her senses lead her. Whatever she was smelling, seeing and hearing, she wanted to know what it was. She sought it out with boundless curiosity instead of cautious suspicion. Could she have gotten hurt? Possibly, but what’s life without a little risk? Examine the world before you with openness and curiosity.  Investigate whatever it is you’re interested in with the possibility that you will be pleasantly surprised. Do it now, whether you’re on a trail in the forest, or sitting in your living room.IMG_6628
  • Express your pleasure. If something pleases you, smile. Nena, sure did. She reminded us that it’s OK to be happy in the present moment and to feel a sense of well-being from even the simplest pleasures.
  • Show love and affection for your humans. Once Keila started letting Nena wander a little on her own, Nena always came back to show us some love, especially Keila. It reminded us that any time is a good time to show some love for the humans in your life, even when they don’t expect it.
  • Be present. When we stopped for an extended period of time Nena settled in for a little R & R — rest and relaxation that is. Even when she dozed off a little she was still aware of her surroundings. If she heard a new noise or felt a change in the atmosphere, her attention was immediate. Nena was completely present. She wasn’t worried about anything that wasn’t happening in the space that she was in.

Thanks Nena for your infinite wisdom.

— R&R