AK Monthly Recap — May 2020

Black lives matter. As we fight to dismantle structural racism, it requires all of us to take action — this is not a cause to be carried by Black people alone. The only way to eradicate white supremacy is to have white people tearing it down just as hard.

To white people: Working to deprogram yourself of a lifetime of absorbing racism is difficult and necessary work. It takes a lot of time and effort. You will second-guess a lot. You will fuck up at some point. You will be embarrassed at yourself. Your pride will hurt. You will be laughed at, yelled at, labeled as “difficult.”

But you’ll be alive. As a white person, you’ll have the freedom to move in a world where your race won’t make life harder for you.

Educate yourself in private. Listen, support, and defend, and amplify Black people and voices in public.

Welcome to allyship. Your work will never, ever be done. It’s worth it.

To travel bloggers: We have a lot of racism within our own industry, and it’s going to take a lot of work to dismantle it. Right now a lot of the conversations that have been happening privately have exploded into public: namely, the fact that Black content creators and other content creators of color are routinely overlooked, undervalued, and tokenized. Read through the conversations. Listen. Learn. Demand equity.

To travel companies and brands: Please take seriously the need to hire a variety of diverse bloggers for your campaigns, including Black bloggers — not just because it fills your quota, but because it’s good business for you. The myth that “Black people don’t travel” (!!) is pervasive, racist, and untrue.

Additionally, please stop hiring the racist travel bloggers. (Watch how they’re acting now. If they’re twisting themselves in knots to avoid saying that Black lives matter, that’s probably a racist.)

To US expats living abroad: Please don’t use this as an excuse to say America’s fucked and check out permanently. Stay politically involved. Organize online. Donate money. Vote. Not everybody has the ability to leave like you do.

To my Black readers: Your lives matter. I’m sorry for your pain and I will always fight for you.

A red colonial-style home with a blossoming white tree in front.
I’ve been taking photos of my favorite houses in Reading.

Destinations Visited

Reading, Lynn, and Winchester, Massachusetts

Kate poses with a mask on by an "Eastern Bank" sign, giving the thumbs up with a rubber gloved hand.
Being in a bank while wearing a mask…and I wasn’t robbing it!

Highlights

As per the last few months, this month was spent mostly at home, only leaving for long walks. Here are the highlights:

Getting a PPP loan to keep my business afloat. It was a huge challenge getting this loan and I struck out with a few other banks before it went through with Eastern Bank, a small local bank in Massachusetts. I want to sing their praises for going to bat for me and not giving up. My banker told me my loan was the hardest one she’s ever done.

But honestly, you guys — working with a small bank is the way to go. I walked in the other day to sign some more paperwork and one of the bankers who doesn’t even work with me looked up and said, “Hey. I read your Bulgaria post.” Seriously, this is like working with Dunder Mifflin instead of Staples.

Walking the town. I love taking long walks, and now I walk for two hours or longer each day — if I can get in 2.5-3 hours, it’s a great day. And because I’m competitive as hell, I’ve decided to walk every street in my town!

I started to get serious about this goal on May 25. So far I’ve completed about 47% of the streets in town. Will I actually finish? I’d really like to, but it’s getting to be a bigger challenge as my house is not exactly central and walking to the other side of town can take an hour or longer.

Cooking together from afar. I left my Cravings by Chrissy Teigen cookbook in Prague (seriously the BEST cookbook), and Charlie and I made a few of the recipes together over FaceTime.

Socially distanced meetups! It was so good to hang out with two of my best friends in person, even though we’ve all been hunkering down a few miles apart for nearly two months. Standing about 10 feet apart at all times, of course.

Home stuff. Working on my embroidery; doing skincare; cooking some dishes. This turmeric-black pepper chicken with asparagus is fabulous, but I recommend punching it up with some crushed red pepper and ginger.

"Why can't you protest peacefully?" Black Lives Matter graphic.
Why can’t you protest peacefully? Not like that. Or that. Or that.

On the Protests

This doesn’t belong in highlights or challenges; it deserves its own category. The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor were horrific. Structural racism in our society is abhorrent, and the way police operate in this country — abusing people, using weapons of war, protecting every other cop no matter what horrible things he’s done — is shameful.

But seeing people rise up to protest structural racism and demand change — it’s extremely heartening. Perhaps this is what will finally enact the changes our country so desperately needs. I’m shocked and proud that people around the world are protesting in solidarity with Black Americans. It feels like this is FINALLY going to have an effect, and that it IS possible to create a public safety system that is not part of the police.

I wish I were out protesting; I feel guilty for not being out there. Right now I’m living with family who can’t risk getting COVID, so it’s not an option. If I still lived alone in New York, I would absolutely be out there.

Instead, I’m doing what I can from the sidelines — donating money (I chose the Massachusetts Bail Fund, Black Lives Matter, Black Visions Collective, North Star Fund, and Fair Fight Action), amplifying Black voices, educating my audience, fighting for changes in the travel media industry, and continuing the hard work of deprogramming the racism that I’ve absorbed my entire life.

You can do that, too, even if you can’t go out to protest.

White flowers on a tree in Reading.

Challenges

A medical emergency and surgery. My dad became ill with gallstones and ended up getting his gallbladder removed a few days later, which is pretty low-key as far as surgeries go (they did it robotically!), but it was scary before we knew what was happening.

Take time to familiarize yourself with gallstone symptoms here — these symptoms popped up for him every few weeks for the last few months, but they cleared up within hours each time. (And yes, Dad is cool with me sharing the details here. Hopefully his experience helps someone in your family!) The good news is that you can resume your life as normal after the surgery; you don’t even have to change your diet.

It was a strange time to have a medical emergency — he was in the hospital for three days and I couldn’t go inside due to COVID. I want to give a shout-out to the doctors and nurses at Winchester Hospital for providing him with outstanding care! He’s almost back to normal now, telling everyone that he gave birth to five little gallbladders.

Wedding cancellations. All four weddings I was planning to attend this summer have now been cancelled. My heart is with the brides and grooms, who are in an impossible position. Several of them are electing to have a small ceremony this year and a big reception next year.

Still waiting to find out when I’ll be able to get to Prague. Things seem to be moving very slowly when it comes to the EU opening up to non-EU visitors; it won’t be until July at the very earliest. I can handle it. It’s just tough for those of us who have been separated from our partners for months.

Continuing work fears. Earnings have fallen off a cliff, and while the PPP loan was extremely welcome, it’s not enough long-term. I’ve been making plans for the next stage of my business.

Oh, and it snowed on May 9. Seriously. That is the latest it has snowed in Massachusetts in my entire life!!! Of course, late May was in the 90s, because New England.

Kate making a face at snowflakes falling in MAY!
How can it snow on May 9?!?!?!

Blog Post of the Month

The Ghost of Montenegro — Finally, the story about how I was haunted by a ghost for five nights while staying in a haunted Airbnb in Kotor, Montenegro, back in 2015.

Pink flowers on a tree.

Patreon This Month

We are more than one month into the Adventurous Kate Patreon, and I am LOVING this. We have built a really wonderful community and it’s been SO nice to have the freedom to write creative, fun posts again.

The long-form story for May was called Antarctic Lovers — about all the couples and non-couples I observed in Antarctica, including a woman who seemed to be there only to find a husband.

I’ve also written mini essays on things like McMansions in my hometown and the one time I almost stopped full-time blogging for a job.

I’ve been holding off a bit in content because it hasn’t felt appropriate to post anything not related to the protests, but more is on the way. The next long-form story is about the intersection of money and dating in New York.

Two billboard ads: one says "Worried? Jesus offers security." Other says "Do you like saving money? GEICO."
‘Murica.

Book Club

This month we had a fantastic first-ever Book Club meeting, reading and discussing If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha with the author herself! More on that in the review below.

Join us for our next meeting! On June 24, we are discussing Ayiti by Roxane Gay, a collection of short stories about the Haitian diaspora. You can sign up here! Hope to see you there.

What I Watched This Month

The Good Place. What a lovely show! The premise is that Kristin Bell’s character dies and ends up in “The Good Place” of the afterlife — but soon she realizes that she was a horrible person on Earth and isn’t supposed to be there. The series is about her and other people learning to be good.

Also, my dad and I have started watching Christopher Guest’s mokumentaries (in part for Fred Willard — RIP). I loved Best in Show and A Mighty Wind was so lovely.


Once I got over the initial hand pain afterward, I’ve really grown to love embroidery!

What I Read This Month

Back into the reading! After breaking my book record in 2019, 2020 started slowly — but I’m getting back into it. This month the New York Public Library began limiting digital holds to a maximum of three due to the increased demand, which definitely helps me read faster.

I’m now on a kick of listening to self-improvement books while walking. Since I’ve been walking 2.5-3 hours per day, I’ve been getting through them pretty quickly! I especially listened to finance books this month.

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha (2020) — This debut novel tells the stories of four women living in the same building in Seoul: Kyuri, a beautiful woman who works in one of Seoul’s top room salons; Miho, an artist dating one of the country’s most eligible bachelors; Ara, a mute hairstylist obsessed with a K-pop star; Wanna, a newly pregnant woman unsure she and her husband can afford to raise a child.

This was our first book club pick and we had the pleasure of the author joining us!! Frances was so kind and offered a lot of interesting context — like how vicious and violent fights between Korean middle school girls can be.

I loved this book. I cared deeply about so many of the characters — and cheered the ending for some of them (definitely not all of them!). When I visited Korea back in 2013, I felt like this culture was hard to get to know — so much heavy drinking, so much plastic surgery, a conveyor belt of rotating pop idols, couples that dressed in matching outfits. But with K-pop and K-beauty exploding worldwide at the moment, Korea is finally taking its rightful place in international pop culture. If you’re not familiar with Korean culture, this book is a wonderful introduction.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (2020) — In this novel based in part on her life, Vanessa at age 32 reflects on a relationship she had with her 40-something English teacher that started when she was 15 and lasted for several years. Now her teacher is being accused of abuse by other students, and she’s not sure what to do — she knows it was wrong, but he transformed her and remained a presence in her life.

I read this book so fast — I couldn’t put it down. It was incredible creepy yet relatable in a lot of ways, and I appreciate that she knew it was a crime but also understood the levels of moral ambiguity. I went back and forth between understanding young Vanessa’s feelings, older Vanessa’s feelings, and even her mother’s feelings.

There was controversy with this book — much of the book is similar to Wendy Ortiz’s Excavation, which is an actual memoir. Since then Russell revealed that while she did read Ortiz’s book along with dozens of others in her research, her book is based on abuse she experienced. And no author should have to do that. No author should have to reveal their trauma and abuse to the world in order to be taken seriously. I believe her.

But Ortiz struggled to get her book published, period, and yet Russell got a huge advance.

The problem is that authors of color are not compensated appropriately for their work — the big deals and publicity are disproportionately given to white authors, even when they’re writing about foreign subject matter. Part of the scandal of American Dirt, written by an author who identified as white until recently, is that it was full of errors and seemed completely unfamiliar with Mexican culture — yet this is the book that got the million-dollar deal and Oprah’s Book Club selection, not the dozens of other books about migration by Latinx authors.

I hope to read Ortiz’s book soon.

Severance by Ling Ma (2019) — This novel tells the story of Candice Chen, a thirty-something New Yorker who barely notices when a pandemic takes over the city and the world — then once the city becomes abandoned, she finds her way to a crew of survivors on their way to “the Facility” somewhere in the midwest.

Was it a good idea to read a novel about a pandemic during a pandemic? Ultimately, no. For me I think it made me more upset and worried. That being said, this is a really wonderful novel, beautifully written, with an immigrant’s point of view that is too often undervalued and underpublicized. The ending is a bit weak, but leading up to that, the book is very strong. And it’s scary how much she wrote that turned out to be true in this pandemic.

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris (2014) — When ABC News reporter Dan Harris had a panic attack on-air, he knew he had to make major changes in his life. A nonbeliever who was plugged into the religion and spirituality community from his reporting, he began meditating, and it led to sustained positive changes in his life.

Here’s why I liked this book: it isn’t a how-to guide for meditation so much as a memoir about overcoming toxic masculinity. Dan Harris partied, did drugs, lived the high life in New York, and was kind of an asshole — but then he realized he was wrecking his life. Humbly, and skeptically, he began to make changes. You’ve got to love a powerful transformation in a memoir. I appreciated the book for that, and also for all his stories about being a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan.

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis (2018) — Part self-improvement guide and part memoir, Rachel Hollis shares the lies we tell ourselves as women and why we shouldn’t believe them, instead using our own strength to become who we should be.

This book is a massive bestseller, but for the most part, it didn’t do anything for me. It wasn’t aggressively religious, but I did roll my eyes when she started talking about the evils of pornography. Also, her husband treated her terribly when they started dating, but he did a 180 and now they’re ridiculously happy — I’m glad for them, but I don’t like that being glorified in a book. She does talk about her experiences as a foster parent, which are incredibly sad but riveting.

Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez (updated 2008) — This book was a major hit when it was published in the early 90s, and has since been updated for our current times. This book is designed to rewire your relationship with money by breaking down the hours spent earning it and the amount of good it brings to your life in spite of the bad, and introduces how to aim for financial independence, the point where your investments earn you more than your income.

This book is a total mindfuck in a good way when it comes to money. It will completely change how you think about money. Some of the most important parts are pointing out how much you spend for work — not just work clothes and commuting costs, but happy hour drinks to unwind, vacations to recover, etc. A lot of people figure out that they would earn more money overall in a lower-paid career that makes them happier.

In fact, I realized that I’ve been doing a lot of this for the last 10 years — I downsized to a career that took awhile to pay as much as my “real jobs,” but gave me SO much more in return. It’s priceless. Highly recommend this book to see how you can improve your life.

Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey (updated 2013) — Dave Ramsey has a very specific financial plan, complete with his baby steps: 1. Save $1000. 2. Pay off all debt except your house using the debt snowball method. 3. Fully fund your emergency fund for 3-6 months. 4. Save 15% to retirement. 5. Fund your children’s college. 6. Pay off your house. 7. Build wealth and give. This book goes into it in great depth.

I listen to his podcast sometimes as a guilty pleasure, sometimes a bit of a hate listen — Dave is an evangelical Christian, often sexist in his advice (oh and queer people do not exist in Dave land), and I hate how he talks over and interrupts women much more than men. You soon notice how much his co-hosts are afraid to cross him. But I do enjoy hearing him help people get their finances organized.

There are some things to know before reading this book: Dave is essentially AA for debt, for people who are in over their head. His advice for getting people out of debt is great, but it’s not universal, and I think living credit-free with no credit score is unrealistic for most people. Plus, he targets evangelicals, who tend to live in low-cost-of-living areas, so it’s not realistic hearing people pay off their $120,000 homes early when the cheapest houses in your area are more than three times that.

Most people in the personal finance groups I’m in think Dave’s advice is great for eliminating debt but then to focus your efforts elsewhere (i.e. you’ll usually make more money in investments than paying off a low-interest mortgage early), and I agree.

Rich Bitch: A Simple 12-Step Plan to Getting Your Financial Life Together…Finally by Nicole Lapin (2019) — You want to get your financial life together, but it seems overwhelming. This is what you do, today, short-term, and long-term. The advice is tailored especially to women.

I listened to this as an audiobook, and while I wasn’t a fan of Lapin’s voice (usually a dealbreaker for me), I’m glad I pushed on and listened, because this book is full of GREAT advice. I’m especially glad that she kept emphasizing that “rent is throwing money away” is a myth — home ownership ABSOLUTELY is not for everyone at every time, and experts need to stop saying this. A great listen while walking.

Reread: You Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero (2017) — I adore this book, I go back to it all the time, and I think it’s the most inspiring book about money I’ve ever read. It’s a combination of business plan, spiritual guide, and get-your-shit-together ass-kicker. Highly, highly recommended. I listened to it on audio for the first time this month, and it was a good listen, but I preferred it as an actual book so I could take notes and flip back and forth. First reviewed here in May 2018.

An eggplant-purple old-fashioned colonial home in Reading that looks a bit like a barn.
I love houses like this that embrace their historic look, rather than going for the McMansion look.

Coming Up in June 2020

More of the same, obviously. But that’s fine.

Massachusetts has been slower to open than other states, but I hope to eat an outdoor restaurant at some point during the month, and maybe even go to the beach (walking only, no lounging allowed!) one day. Crazy stuff, I’m telling you.

If I really want to party, I’ll head to New Hampshire for the day, which is opening up much faster. Live Free or Die, et al. I’d like to create some content about Portsmouth, one of my favorite New England destinations.

What are you looking forward to in June? Share away!

The post AK Monthly Recap — May 2020 appeared first on Adventurous Kate.

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