Sailing Away From the Cold

For quite some time, I had been keeping my eyes on cruise prices; none of us have ever been on one, and I knew that it’d be a fun adventure at the very least. When Carnival finally dropped a last-minute deal on a balcony room during a week that the girls were out of school for winter break, I pounced. I had my doubts, to be honest. I thought we would be cramped in a small, sub-par room for 5 people, with sub-par food and kitschy entertainment, packed on a boat with thousands of other people with nowhere else to go for 4 nights. But I wanted to see what the hype was all about. Glad I did.

Our cruise departed from Miami, and it just so happened that direct flights out of Philadelphia were super cheap on my loyalty airline of choice (American). At the very least, I told myself, it was a way to rack up miles ahead of our anniversary trip. So I booked flights out of PHL to MIA, and then grabbed a cheap Amtrak from Penn Station to Philly. Total cost was less than our flights out of NYC would’ve been, counting taxis to and from the airport. Who knew?

NYC to Philly to Miami

The train was great as usual (one of my favorite modes of transit), and after a stop at Barnes & Noble to get some trip reading for the little ones, we headed to one of my personal delights in Philly: Tony Luke’s. You should definitely visit the touristy spots (Pat’s, Geno’s), but for my money, Tony Luke’s is the best cheesesteak in town. The wait was insane, though, but still worth it.

Grabbing a wiz wit' at Tony Luke's.
Grabbing a wiz wit’ at Tony Luke’s.

Crashing at the Admiral’s Club in PHL for a couple of hours was great as well, and gave us a break before jumping on a nearly three-hour flight to Miami. Was a fairly smooth flight, albeit long. We checked into our hotel for the evening (again, a loyalty spot at a Hyatt near the MIA airport), and I headed out into the humid Miami night to find food. The next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel, stopped by Books & Books to get some additional trip reading for me, and then headed to board the ship.

Boarding in Miami

We boarded the Victory and went straight to lunch on the primary open air deck. It was then that I began to think that we got more than we bargained for, in a good way. The tacos I had from the Blue Iguana cantina were legit: fresh made tortillas, cooked right in front of me, with well-seasoned meat and a serious hot sauce bar. Color me impressed. We shortly left PortMiami, with the Miami skyline slowly fading in the background.

Carnival Victory leaving PortMiami with Miami in the background.
Carnival Victory leaving PortMiami with Miami in the background.

After dropping our luggage off at our room (which was only slightly larger than expected, though the balcony was great), the family and I took a tour of the ship, including the kids’ club, called Camp Ocean, and the spa. The spa reeled me in with a men’s haircut & shave offer that also included a much needed skin care treatment. My generally dry skin betrays me most in the winter months. Plus, I look great wrapped in towels.

Stunning and stunned.
Sophia enjoying a meal.
Sophia enjoying a meal.

Throughout the trip, dinner was what solidified my opinion on the food. Night after night, we had exotic bites (rabbit, ox tongue, strawberry soup) paired with well-executed entrees (filet mignon, grilled pork chop, BBQ brisket) and delicious dessert options. The tiramisu was legit great.

Key West

The first mile marker of US Highway 1.

After a good night’s sleep (the king bed was fairly nice, though the pillows a bit thin), we awoke to being docked in the southernmost area of the continental US: Key West. We skipped the shore excursions, and opted instead to spend our half day wandering the Key ourselves.

We walked around for a bit, enjoying Cuban Queen coffee and meandering in and out of the small businesses lining the warm sunny streets of Key West. Eventually, we made it to a semi-educational phase of our cruise.

One of the highlights of the entire trip, at least to me, was our visit to Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West. He’s an author that’s pretty fascinating to me, in that I care more about him and his life than his actual works. Until this past week, I don’t believe that I had actually read anything by him. I changed that by picking up Old Man & The Sea, which was worth the hype, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing his creative space, his pool, and his home. While his death was tragic, his life seemed to be frenzied, enjoyable, and productive. The girls enjoyed the home as well, and Ava is currently reading Old Man & The Sea.

Emma meeting a Hemingway cat

We had to re-board the ship fairly early in the day so that we would make the trek to Cozumel for the next day. I snapped a pretty majestic picture of the Carnival Victory, and after grabbing some lunch and key lime pie, we headed back to the pools for an afternoon in the sun.

Our ship, Carnival Victory, docked at Key West.

Cozumel

Ah, Mexico. While Cozumel wasn’t our beloved Merida or Playa Mujeres, it was still great to be back within our warmer southern neighbor’s borders. Again foregoing the Carnival-sponsored shore excursions, I had booked us a beachside cabana at a park on the island. These things can often be hit or miss, and this one was a shot out of the park. We loved it.

When I wasn’t reading or spending time with the girls, I was here enjoying the view. Excuse my feet. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The ladies seemed to have a great time as well, with them splitting time between reading in the hammocks, building sand castles with the provided sand toys, and finding adventure. Ava particularly enjoyed the hammock, though I’m not sure it enjoyed her.

Ava being rejected by the hammock.
Ava being rejected by the hammock.

Our hosts for the day were wonderful, and they took to the girls well. Freshly-made guacamole and ceviche kinda helped the ambiance as well. Loved our time there, but wrapped up after a few hours and headed into the town of San Miguel before we had to be back on board. I introduced the girls to fresh churros and a marquesita, which is a Yucatan specialty, comprised of a cheese-filled crepe with Nutella. We found a local taco spot (recommended to us by a local where we picked up the marquesita), before heading back to the ship. The tacos were good, but they honestly didn’t compare to the ship’s tacos, much less the tacos al pastor of Merida or the late night tacos suadero of Mexico City. But still: it was February, snowing in New York City, and we were eating tacos in Mexico.

Los Otates in San Miguel, Cozumel. Good service, decent tacos, great beer.

The Return

Our last full day on the ship was a “fun day at sea”, and while we battled a bit of waves on the way back, it wasn’t strong enough to detract from our enjoyment of the day. I read a lot, we swam a lot, and overall enjoyed the open ocean. We got into Miami early Friday morning, and began our trek back to NYC via plane and train through Philadelphia again. Overall, a very successful trip, and the girls slept great.

The Gulf of Mexico
My current phone wallpaper, taken from our balcony.

Recap

Would I do it again? Absolutely. My family enjoys traveling, they’re good at it, and the cruise was a welcome escape from the twenty-degree weather we have been having here in the five boroughs.

What I Read

  • A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins
  • A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards
  • Old Man & The Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Week’s Soundtrack

Highlights

  • Tony Luke’s cheesesteak
  • Books & Books in Miami / Coral Gables
  • White Rose Coffee in West Miami
  • Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West
  • Our stateroom’s balcony
  • Many more memories & smiles with the girls

Until next time, here’s a GIF of Ava being Ava in the Miami airport.

Ava being Ava.
Ava being Ava.

 

Take Back Control Over Your Life

Let’s face it: living in our world today is pretty awesome. Sure, there are significant political and social issues that we have to wrestle through together, and there is unfortunately significant inequality in the global society, but day-to-day life for many American millennials is great. We’re instantly connected to anyone in our social circles, we have the world’s information available in our pockets, we can take a ride in fully-electric vehicles, and holograms are just around the corner.

But this standard of living comes at a cost. The fast-paced nature of the digital age means that if we as people are not living intentionally, then our resources will quickly be claimed by other people and organizations…unbeknownst to ourselves. We lose hours to Instagram, dollars to in-app purchases, and mental energy to the person that is currently ghosting us. Simply put: by not being intentional about who controls our lives, we are de-facto relegating control to others.

While I can’t give the end-all, be-all guide to taking control of your life, I can certainly give some quick hits about the three resources I named above. How do we intentionally take control of our money? our time? our attention? My thoughts are below; I’d love a discussion about some tips & tricks that help you ensure control over these things as well.

Disclaimer: I’m not totally there yet. I know what to do, but just haven’t done it all yet. My money, my time, my attention are all currencies that are constantly in circulation for me. This post is just as much for me as it is for anyone else.

Your Money

  • One of the first things to realize about your money is that you’re trying to accomplish something with it. Before you create a budget, create a purpose. What do you want your dollars to do? Are you funneling economic resources into social good, which means donating to charity and perhaps traveling to places where you want to volunteer for a season? Are you in the phase of life where you want to find a significant other, and are therefore going out more often to mingle with others? Write down what you’re trying to accomplish and then it’s easy to plan how to better spend your money. I use Exeq to help me do this, but I’m a bit biased.
  • Follow the tried & true guide for financial responsibility: put aside an emergency fund, eliminate your debts, set aside 3–6 months of savings, and then invest well.
  • Your initial emergency fund should be anywhere from $1000–2000. This is not to be touched unless it’s an absolute emergency. Brunch is not an emergency, for the record.
  • Eliminate your debts. There’s no “right way” to do this. Some people choose to pay down the smallest balance first, then pay down the next smallest, etc. Others choose to pay down the highest interest rate first, then the next, etc. My advice? Pick a way and be disciplined about it until you’re debt free.
  • Set aside 3–6 months of your salary into savings. You can do this via an app like Stash or Qapital, or you can simply open a savings account at your bank and transfer the money yourself. Either way works. But do it.
  • Invest well. I’m not talking about day-trading like you’re the Wolf of Main Street. I’m talking about a long-term investment. No, bitcoin doesn’t count. Open a interest-bearing CD. Open a 401K or IRA. Open an investment account full of ETFs. I use Fidelity and Wealthfront for this, with a 60/40 split between domestic and foreign investments. Set aside 10–15% of your paycheck into your stable investment vehicle of choice and don’t touch it until you need to pay for education or retirement.

Your Time

A glance at my task management system.
  • Invest in a task-management system that works for you. There are plenty of digital solutions out there, including Google’s tasks for those of you already using gMail or Apple’s Reminders for those of you already using iOS & MacOS. I use Things, and have enjoyed OmniFocus and Todoist before. You can also just keep sticky notes or a small notebook on you at all times and write tasks down as they come up. I also have a Hobonichi Weeks that I carry with me at all times to make notes throughout the day. Get in the habit of marking them done, reviewing tasks, etc. It’s easy to let things slip through the cracks, and then it costs you more time to make up than it would have if you had just performed the task on-time to begin with.
  • A lot of people will talk about time-management in terms of tasks. And that’s super important, as noted above. But that said, something that’s even more important than managing your tasks is managing your priorities. Again, if you don’t control your life, someone or something else will. Write down your to-dos/tasks, sure, but also write down your priorities. If something arises during the day that would distract from your priorities….don’t do it! Or delay it. Or be honest with the other party that it’s not a priority at the moment. As many have said, don’t just do the next thing….do what’s best…next.
  • Say no more often. There’s a party coming up. An after-hours lecture you’re interested in. An invite for drinks. Your parents neeeeed you to come home. Taking control of your life means taking control of your life. By saying no more often you’re taking ownership of your time and not letting other people own it on your behalf. You have permission to decline event invitations. You have permission to say no, which will allow you to say yes to higher-priority items.
  • This one may be the most controversial or eyebrow-raising thing I write in this article: think of your own death more often than you do. What’s the point of this? To be morbid? Absolutely not. It’s to realize that time, like your bank account, is finite. It runs out. Like money, you have to budget time. If we’re lucky, we get 70+ years to enjoy life. If we’re not prioritizing, if we’re not managing our tasks well, if we’re not saying no to good things in favor of great things, we’re essentially over-spending our most precious resource. Realizing that time is finite and that, unlike money, can’t be earned back is one way of forcing yourself to be more disciplined about how you spend it.

Your Attention

My iPhone Home Screen. No Instagram. No Facebook. No LinkedIn. Made room for Instapaper, NYTimes, and Pocket Casts. Wallpaper is a picture I took standing on our balcony during a recent cruise.
  • Attention is the currency of the digital age. It’s very related to time in the sense that it’s finite and can’t be taken back once it’s given, but budgeting attention is more than just how you spend your time. It’s also about regulating the inputs into your mind that determine your worldview, how you think, and where your focus is placed. We’re inundated with things vying for our attention: notifications, advertisements, media, etc. The list goes on and on. Realizing that your attention is being fought for is the first step in retaining control over it.
  • Do a notification audit on your phone. What apps have notifications turned on just because you clicked through their onboarding? Do you really want notifications from every activity in a random game you play during your commute? Do you need to know when your friend liked your other friend’s status about dinner? Maybe the answer is yes, and that’s fine. But be thoughtful about it. With the exception of Twitter, I’ve also removed social media from my phone altogether. No FB. No LinkedIn. No Instagram. I don’t miss it.
  • What are you learning? What are you reading? What do you listen to? What are you watching? Seriously ask yourself these questions. You’re always consuming information. Consider the sources and if it’s things that you want to be learning. Think through what you could be reading, listening to, or otherwise consuming instead. Make conscious choices over the things that you are mentally ingesting.
  • Establish rituals. Eat lunch alone. Coffee in the morning before work or class. An evening bath. Whatever it is, establish habitual time for you to think and create. This gives you a blocked-off amount of time to pay attention to whatever it is that you want to pay attention to, instead of the things that demand your attention throughout the day.
  • Get away regularly. Grab an Airbnb in the wilderness. Check out Getaway if you’re in one of the markets they serve. Go camping. On a regular basis (quarterly?) get out of the grind that you’re in day-to-day, and get an overview of your life. What’s going well? What’s not? Utilize the time to not just be in your life, but to work on your life.

Conclusion

There are plenty of resources out there for taking control of your money, your time, and your attention. Leverage them! At the same time, there comes a point where you have to simply act. Sure, you may not get it right on day one. You may change methods over and over. I know I do, often penduluming between analog and digital solutions. But, you can spend so much time, money, and focus on gaining control that you never actually do it. I’d encourage you to experiment: try some things that you think may work and iterate from there to see what works for you!

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