Settling In. Part Two.

Ava, Emma, Sophia in Living Room

So we’re more or less moved in. Sure, there are a couple of random boxes here and there, but we’re no longer sitting in an empty house! There are still a couple of loose ends here and there, and we’ve had our maintenance guy on-site throughout the last week or so, but it’s getting there. The hot water works, the doors are sealed up, our recyclables tied off, and the basement is dry. Most of our furniture is settled, the clothes are hung in their closets, and the books have found their places on their shelves. Of course, the bathtub has been put through its paces as well. Now of course, it will take quite some time for this place to go from house to home, but that’s normal. A few weeks will go by, and there will be doubts, but it’s part of the package. As soon as it starts to really feel like home, we’ll have the age-old question of “do we move again?” to answer. Considering we started looking at other properties last fall, it’s great to be nearing completion on this prolonged move.

It’s also pretty great to explore another neighborhood, and one that feels like a real neighborhood. Chelsea and Downtown Brooklyn were great for a season, but they don’t have the same “lived-in” feel as Bed-Stuy. In those prior neighborhoods, I always felt like a tourist in my home, and that’s certainly no longer the case. There are multiple coffee spots within a couple of blocks of my house, some great bakeries, and a few great restaurants. Not to mention the wine stores, and the local hardware store that I’ve already frequented a number of times (and no, not the nearby Home Depot). Not to mention a diversity that makes New York such a great city in which to live.

All of this effusing aside, I’m excited to take a little break before diving back into the professional world (seriously, I promise news there soon), as the family and I will be traveling this coming week. More on that later.

Settling In. Maybe.

Anyone who knows me knows that my family and I move every 12-18 months. It’s kind of crazy. It’s also the life I lived growing up (and actually enjoyed most of the time). When we’re not moving halfway across the world for a few months, we’re trekking across the country to change cities. Even if we don’t change cities, we change houses. School districts. Boroughs. Neighborhoods. And this time is no different…kind of.

I can’t talk about what’s happening in my professional life yet, but I’m very excited for it. It’s another new beginning, but at the same time more of the same. But it also means I have line of sight for the next couple of years at least. It means that my family and I can settle in somewhere.

We recently signed a lease for 286 Clifton Place. We’re staying in Brooklyn, which is incredible. I’ve loved living here, to be honest. I’m stoked. While it doesn’t have a dedicated home office space for me, maybe I can find one nearby. Plus, the condo has plenty of space, a yard (puppy!), an outdoor patio, and a fantastic living area. It’s also in a great location, right on the border of Clinton Hill & Bedford-Stuyvesant, just a block away from some great local haunts. Not a crazy commute, either. We’re moving in this weekend. Pictures coming soon.

Does this mean that we’re settling in for a while? Maybe. Does this mean we’re settling in for now? Certainly. And I, for one, think it’s great.

Song by Song: Maggie Rogers’ Heard It In A Past Life

I was first exposed to Maggie Rogers in the same way that most people were: that adorable video of Pharrell Williams reacting to her pre-mastered cut of Alaska. I immediately fell in love with her brand of folk-driven pop, and began following her on all the appropriate channels, wondering if she was going to be a one-hit wonder or if there was real talent that would produce additional gems. Over the last two years or so, I’ve been pleased to find that the latter is true: I don’t believe Maggie has yet to produce a truly bad song. Seriously.

This hasn’t been more evident than in her 2019 debut album, Heard It In A Past Life. The first full-length album contains that first breakout single Alaska, as well as the few singles she’s released over the past two years in a drip campaign. Additionally and thankfully, there are a few songs on the album that haven’t been released prior, making the album both a journey back in time and a look forward as to where the young artist may be headed with her music.

Overall, I give Heard It In a Past Life 9/10. Had there been a cohesive narrative throughout the album, I think the debut would be perfect. We’ll have to deal with consistent themes of coming-of-age pop instead: relationship ups & downs, discovering one’s self, etc. There are certainly themes, but no top-to-bottom story. We get themes on a track-by-track basis. No worries, though: the album is still phenomenal, and will be on repeat for some time to come. Below, a song-by-song breakdown:

Give a Little: This anthem for the national gun walk-out is also an anthem for compromise and empathy. It accomplishes this without compromising on production quality, however, with background vocals beautifully haunting the entire song and a bridge that outshines the chorus. For all of the the sonic strength in the song, it’s one of the weaker tracks on the album due to the oversimplified lyricism that we don’t find on some of the subsequent works. 6/10

Overnight: Maggie’s favorite song from the album is pretty close to my own (though not it). She’s probably very personally attached to it, being a letter from pre-Pharrell Maggie to post-Pharrell Maggie. The dangers of fame (or any other sudden life-altering change) are real, and Maggie addresses them clearly but also is honest in her assessment: she appreciates the new her (“don’t say you miss me”), while recognizing that the old Maggie is vital to her identity as well. All of this introspection is wrapped with synth-led packaging which includes samples from frogs and glaciers as her signature inclusion of natural sounds. Catchy and stunning. 9/10

The Knife: While the previous Overnight seems to be Maggie’s favorite, this track is my favorite song from the album. Meant to be a song about “dancing it all off with your friends”, I’ve found myself moving with the track regardless of how full the room is. As seducing as the melody is, the real star on the track is Maggie’s vocals. Her voice moves between falsetto punctuations and sultry phrases flawlessly, and the emotional effect is real. 10/10

Alaska: The one that started it all, and a true highlight of Maggie’s brand of music. The most impressive part of the song for me? The fact that somehow Alaska seems to have so much space in it while simultaneously being lush. I think this is a direct result of including natural samples alongside Maggie’s vocals. At times full and other times breathy, her vocals move the song along the percussion river that also keeps the head nodding. It was a hit for a reason, mastered or otherwise. 10/10

Light On: Intended as a “song of gratitude” towards her fanbase, this is one of those songs that strikes me initially as an upbeat, hope-filled tune…but upon further listening is a bit more melancholic than that. I know it has that whole “I’m feeding off your vibes when I’m down” thing going for it, but it’s low-key a downer. I don’t connect with it emotionally like I do some of the other songs. That said, musically speaking, the song is a solid middle track with a catchy and singalongable chorus. The 80s-esque synth loop provides a great layering until it drops out, focusing on the last vocalization from Maggie which brings the song to a sharp resolution. Side note: the music video is really fun. 5/10

Past Life: And now, for something a bit different. This track which according to Maggie herself “ends Side A” is a slow one, supposedly written at her grandmother’s piano. Not sure if it’s just me, but I totally get a Stevie Nicks vibe from the track, with the simplified arrangement highlighting Ms. Rogers’ vocals. Not my favorite song on the album, but that’s more a personal preference than actual song construction. 6/10

Say It: We go from the 80s vibe of Light On to the Stevie Nicks tribute song in Past Life and with Say It, we’re finally to the TLC era of 90s R&B. Maggie is just showing off at this point. Lyrically one of the simpler songs on the album (shout out to the word “swelter”, though), you really do get the sparkly feeling of having a crush from the airy vocals and giddy cadence of the chorus. Highlight on this track? The percussion, hands down. Listen to that hi-hat! 8/10

On + Off: Unlike the previous two tracks, this one is a previously released single (appearing on Now That The Light Is Fading, Maggie’s 2017 EP), and remains one of my favorite Maggie songs to date. The pendulum nature woven throughout the song (staccato verses, swinging chorus, steady bass layer) drives home the emotional impact of the lyrics: puppy love isn’t everything; relationships are also about consistency & stability. I think it could’ve been shortened a tad, as the ending seems extended past its expiration. 9/10

Fallingwater: Maggie’s song dedicated to Frank Lloyd Wright shows her utter devotion to architecture and….I’m kidding. It’s another song about the roller coaster ride that Maggie’s been on over the last couple of years. The biggest thing about this song to me is not what it contains, but rather what it doesn’t. Throughout Fallingwater, it becomes very obvious that Maggie has pipes. Like real pipes. Classic pipes. Like Sister-Act-Mary-Robert-singing-Salve-Regina pipes. But they’re never unleashed, always restrained. Sure, you get glimpses of it toward the end, but only just so. We never get the full picture of Maggie’s vocals. Hoping to get to hear them soon, but in the meantime, they’re still enjoyable on this solid, but not extraordinary, track. 7/10

Retrograde: Another fun track, and another one where we get a real glimpse at Maggie’s vocal range. I think Retrograde is actually one of the most sonically interesting songs on the album, the meat of the song is a different topic than one that’s been covered, and the track itself is one of those belt-out-when-alone-in-the-house type songs. Particularly love the guitar on this one, and hope to be able to see it performed live, considering it’s one of Maggie’s favorites to perform. Bonus points for using the word retrograde as a title. 10/10

Burning: A song for summer in NYC. Headphones in, sunshine out, enjoying life, so you blast it and sing in your head along the sidewalks of West Village. That’s this song. It also helps that it brings the aural whitespace of Alaska back in full-force, to the point where I’d consider them the fraternal twins in Maggie’s family of songs. Maggie is also obviously joy-filled in the booth singing this song; you can sense the smile on her face while she sings “I’m in love; I’m alive, oh, I’m burning”. 9/10

Back In My Body: The ending to the “other side” and the album altogether, this song is the final song along the theme of self-discovery. Despite the resemblance to a Florence & The Machine track, I didn’t connect with this one as much. Maybe it’s the theme, maybe it’s the composition, I don’t know. I still think it’s a decent track, but one that I’ll likely skip a bit more often than the others. 5/10

Fast Forward 2019: Goals

Despite my intuition-driven, roll-with-the-punches nature, I also firmly believe in the values of setting goals. And I’m not talking about the New Year’s resolution type nonsense, but more of a concrete achievable thing, along with the “hows”. In addition to setting personal goals this year, we also had a family discussion about what our collective goals should be. This post is a look at those goals, along with some of my thoughts on each.

PERSONAL GOALS

  • Read 60 books this year. I set a reading goal of a 50-book pace in the middle of the year last year along with some concrete steps to get there, and started tracking my reading seriously for the first time in quite a while. I read over 30 books in the last half of 2018, and hope to continue that pace for a year in 2019. It will certainly be challenging, but in my Reading Strategy post, I’ll talk about how I plan to do that.
  • Figure out the next phase for Exeq (and by extension, myself). We’re going through some great changes at Exeq right now, and I’m excited about where it all could lead. It’s a bit too early right now to discuss, but could end up in a very exciting place for myself professionally. Goal for 2019 is not to drop this ball.
  • Make progress on a novel. If you can’t tell, I enjoy writing. I’ve had a world in my head for literally decades now, and I need to get it on paper. I don’t think I’ll actually finish a novel this year, but I want to make substantial progress on it (namely, a fairly firm plot outline).
  • Blog weekly. It’s been a few years since I wrote with any substantial regularity outside of my professional life. I’ve enjoyed writing here thus far, and hope to continue doing so, with a goal of writing at least 52 posts in 2019.

FAMILY GOALS

The way we determined these is literally going around the dinner table and everyone gets one goal, no matter how ambitious. Miranda and I whittled them down to within reason, and here’s the list along with the likelihood that it gets done, at least in my opinion. Pretty interesting to hear the suggestions.

  • Take 2 family trips this year. This one is pretty straightforward: travel as a family at least twice this year. Outlook good.
  • Take 3 food adventures this year. A “food adventure” in our parlance is going to eat somewhere (even in our own backyard of NYC) and trying something outside of the girls’ comfort zone. This can include momos from Nepal or Japanese BBQ. It’s also an excuse for the adults in the house to eat good food with minimal noise. Outlook good.
  • Collectively read 300 books as a family this year. I’m not yet sure the best way to track this, but I’m sure we’ll get it done. We’re a reading family, and an average of 60 books per person is doable but a stretch all at the same time. Outlook good.
  • Learn Spanish as a family. This one is probably the biggest stretch, I think. It’s also hard to define. Should we start with courses? Books/workbooks? Should I start teaching it & speaking it in the house? I need to work on this one a bit more, it seems. Outlook not so good.
  • Improve manners and respect. Our girls are generally very respectful, particularly among strangers. But behind closed doors, they’re typical sisters and daughters. We want to reduce the backtalk, the infighting, and the whining. I’m sure we’ll make progress against this, and calling it out in January will help us remind the girls throughout the year. Outlook good.
  • Eat more vegetables. See the above goal. Calling it out explicitly as a family goal has already started to pay off, and not just for the girls. By forcing me to not be hypocrite, I’ve found myself eating a bit more with every dinner sitting. Don’t judge me. I became an adult so I wouldn’t have to eat vegetables. Outlook good.
  • Try one new fruit per month. This is a good one from the girls. It’s in the same vein as a food adventure or travel, but it’s also concrete and clear. Not sure what we’ll pick for January yet, though. And will we run out of available fruits to try? Unclear. Outlook iffy.
  • Grow plants. More greenery around the house. I’d love to see herbs or other usable plants in the house. But our housing situation right now is in flux (oh, NYC housing market!), so TBD on how realistic this goal is right now. Outlook iffy.
  • Build LEGO project. We want to build a large-scale LEGO project this year. This will be hugely dependent on resources (namely space and time), which I don’t have clear insight into this year. The girls and I are very excited about getting to it, but we’ll have to see. Outlook iffy.
  • Look for a new house. We put in notice to leave our apartment (long story, summarized with massive building issues), but haven’t found a replacement yet. The girls obviously are concerned about this, and rightly named it as a goal. I figure that we will accomplish at least this goal this year. Outlook good.