In the year leading up to my 30th birthday, I set myself an ambitious goal to lose 100 pounds before I turned 30. It was the first year of my life that I consistently worked out, but the progress on the scale was nonexistent. The entirety of my effort focused on adding activity, not shifting my eating habits.
In 2018, I did Whole 30, mainly as an experiment to see if I could drastically change my eating habits. For 30 days from October to November, I cut out added sugar, grains, dairy, legumes, and preservatives. The goal of this wasn’t to lose weight–in fact if you follow the program strictly you’re not allowed to weigh yourself–but at the end of that month I had lost 20 pounds. The entirety of my effort here was focused on controlling what I was eating.
While of course this evidence is anecdotal, I learned an important lesson through this. At least for me, if I wanted to lose weight, I needed to go to the kitchen, not the gym.
The truth to this has been proven to me time and time again since I started the process of getting approved for bariatric surgery in 2020. In the time between October 2020 until May 2021–in a time where I wasn’t going to the gym thanks to COVID–I lost 60+ pounds solely by controlling my eating.
Since having surgery in May 2022, I’ve had to focus on both the kitchen and the gym–plus so much more. It’s been a period of adjustments–new rules, new foods, new responses, new vitamins. So much new all at once. There have been times where I have mentally compared myself to a new mom AND a new baby. The mom has got a whole new thing to take care of that has a schedule all of its own and there’s a lot of new information for her to take in, but life goes on for everyone else. She’s tired, disoriented, and afraid to make a mistake. But on the other hand, I also felt like the baby, who has *feelings.* It doesn’t know what it wants, but it wants you to know it’s not happy. As someone who has not had a kid, this is the closest analogy I’ve been able to come up with to what life is like post bariatric surgery. Everything is new. (FWIW, I’ve named my new stomach Her Majesty.)
A little after the two month mark, I started feeling like I was finding solid ground. I’d been progressing out of all of the various stages of post-op diets and finally could eat, within reason, normal foods. I was starting to see progress both visually and on the scale. As a creature of habit, I was finally starting to feel settled after 2 month of straight up upheaval.
Right around the 2.5 month mark, I had my first post-surgery trip. After the first leg of my trip was done, I realized that travel itself had been worrying me more than it had in the past; another familiar thing made a stranger by this experience. Before surgery, I could just go and get food wherever. Now, there are certain goals I have to meet: get the requisite amount of protein (80g per day), drink the requisite amount of water (at least 64 oz), take all of my vitamins (way too many). Also for the first time since May 2022, I wouldn’t be fully in control of preparing my own meals–I would be a guest in someone else’s home. It was a lot to process and preparing to travel had me very nervous.
Fortunately, the trip was incredibly affirming and as per usual my anticipatory stress was unfounded. I was supported by those I was visiting. I felt at liberty to get what I needed and was able to adapt what was available to me to fit my needs. Even better, I was able to judiciously sample foods that I had not had before within reason. For example, one evening dinner was spaghetti and meatballs–I was able to eat a protein-packed dinner of ricotta, meatballs, and sauce AND try a few bites of pasta. The best part of trying these old (problem) foods was to see just how little would satisfy me. I was able to try pasta, bread, and even bites of bagel and brownie in the perfect environment. I did not need to bring these troublesome treats into my home and I was stealing bites from those willing to share.
The feeling of empowerment this trip gave me was a huge boon–to my mental health and to my overall satisfaction. I am no longer feeling quite like the new-mom/baby combo; rather, I know I’m in control. The week I got back, I had my 3 month post-op appointment (2 weeks before the actual 3-month mark). I told them about my travel and what I had eaten–slightly fearful they would tell me I had done something wrong. I had also been concerned because I have had very few poor reactions to food. However, they told me I was doing everything ‘correctly’ and the reason that I hadn’t had any poor reactions was likely because I wasn’t eating too much of these foods. Problems–quelle surprise–usually happen when eating these foods in excess.
Beyond these non-scale victories (NSVs), my travel also made me aware of many other such victories. I am able to move my body more easily: I navigated NYC subway turnstiles with my fat body and a suitcase with so much more ease; I did not need a seatbelt extender when I flew; in general, I felt like my body took up less space and attracted less attention from those around me. I gloried in each one.
All of these positive realizations seemed to spawn even more. Since then, I have been able to do more in barre, achieving positions that I had not been able to do previously. I haven’t had a nap in ages. I have energy and concentration the likes of which I haven’t had before. Then, this week, I achieved one of my goals that I wanted to reach by 3 months post-op: I have lost 100 lbs from my highest weight, when I started this journey in October of 2020.
100 lbs seems such an incredibly large number of pounds to have lost. For comparison, here are some things that weigh 100 lbs: a baby hippo (55-120 lbs); grown Rottweilers (95-120 lbs); a 2-month old foal; around 12 gallons of water; 119 cans of soda; and a mother effing cheetah. The mind boggles. In my appointment, I marveled at the doctor about how much easier I was finding every-day things. She remarked that people–especially those who have been morbidly obese for a while–often drastically underestimate the toll that the weight makes on the body. (She did note that not all bodies are built the same and have different limits. I know this seems contradictory to a lot of fat people’s experience in the world of medicine, but some of the best–most humane–treatment I’ve received by doctors has been in the bariatric space.)
The past 3 months have not been easy, but I feel like I’ve turned a corner. I’m not suggesting it will all be sunshine and puppies from here on out, but I feel in control and excited to test out this new normal. I’ve done something I honestly never thought I’d be able to do–the majority all on my own without the help of surgery. All of the NSVs, and to be sure, the scale victory, too, have given me an unexpected boost of confidence.
I’m looking forward the victories and challenges that the next 3 months will bring.
May of 2022 will perhaps go down in history as one of the impactful months of my life. To sum up, I started the month in Bloomington after a quick visit to see some of my BTown loves. About a week or so later, I went to NYC for a conference, and ended that trip by seeing THREE BROADWAY SHOWS with one of my besties (blogs forthcoming on both her blog and mine), and then immediately upon returning home, I began my pre-op liquid diet.
Before I knew it, it was May 23rd the date of my scheduled Roux-En-Y gastric bypass. On of my besties Ashley agreed to be my person at the hospital and I asked her to aggressively document and to contribute to this blog with stuff I couldn’t or wouldn’t remember. Thanks, boo.
Ashley’s stuff is in teal.
The 7-Day PreOp Liquid Diet
On May 15, I had my last Before meal. It was nothing exciting—I definitely gave a tasteful goodbye to food in NYC. It was strange to think about how something as routine as eating food would not be part of my next month or so and how my habits, hopefully, would never be quite the same.
In order to prepare for my surgery, I had to follow a very strict liquid diet for seven days. On this diet I could only consume protein shakes (4-5 times a day), broth, water, sugar free popsicles or jello, and decaf coffee or tea. THAT IS IT. NO VARIATIONS. Drinking off that strict list could put my surgery in jeopardy.
I was expecting this week to really suck. I spent a long time prepping mentally for this week as well. I convinced myself that it was going to be a fun experiment in not having to do dishes for a week (that def worked, yay laziness). I had heard wild stories about this phase—the one that sticks with me is a woman who was cooking dinner for her kids and just desperately wanted to lick her kid’s pizza just to taste the salty cheesy grease. This phase seemed to be the one that people struggled with the most.
I didn’t have a terrible experience. The first day was not bad. The second day, as my doctor warned me, was AWFUL. I was tired, achey, and emotional. I cried in front of my boss. I had a headache and felt like literal and physical shit.
Day 3 through 7, however, felt totally fine. A creature of habit, I quickly developed a routine that worked. Put some decaf espresso in my first protein shake in the morning for a delicious faux latte. Drank another protein shake at noon and at dinner time. Depending on how I felt, I’d usually have one in the afternoon or at night after dinner.
Weirdly, I’m a little nostalgic for this period now because it was SO EASY to drink that fluid. I also can’t stand the protein shakes I had pre-op. Now, post surgery, drinking liquid and getting protein is a struggle. It was so easy to get that protein!
One of the most emotional days of this process was the day before my surgery. I was nervous, excited, and pondered whether I was crazy to be doing this. It was a Sunday so I cleaned my house and made it as ready as I could to not really be cleaned for a few weeks since I didn’t know how long it would take me to recover. I read a book. I cried. I pondered some more.
It ended on a high note, though! I went to get Ashley, who was going to be my person at the hospital. We watched a movie I’ve needed to watch for a LONG time and then tried to go to bed a decent hour since the next day we had to be up EARLY.
I can’t even say it was BRIGHT and early because it was pitch black dark as night when we left the next morning. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t sleep well. I had to chug a thing of gatorade before leaving, but we managed to leave my house at about 5:15 AM to get to the hospital at 5:30 AM. I checked in, then waited for maybe 20 minutes before getting called back to the pre-op prep area.
This is where my anxiety really started to climb. I had to don the operating gown; pee in a cup; got my IV hooked up; people asked me my name, birthdate, what surgery I was having precisely 100 times; chatted with my surgeon, nurses, anesthesiologist, etc.
You did NOT seem overly anxious! You seemed very calm and matter of fact about everything.
Everyone was so nice, and efficient. What a seemingly well-orchestrated machine they have going on.
I may be projecting, but sometimes when people asked “And who do you have with you today?” it felt like they were expecting “partner” or “sister”, but I was just “friend” — and not that they had a LOT of surprise on their faces, but there were moments where I got the impression that wasn’t the answer they were expecting?
(I also got this impression.)
Remember we thought the anesthesiologist may have been attractive? He was nerding out with you about art history, seemed about our age, maybe a tad younger, had kind eyes. And then I found him on the hospital website….. and it was NOT a flattering photo. At least he turned out to be good at his job!
He totally WAS nerding out with me about art history. He had an MA in art history and you could tell he still really loved it. I called myself a “failed art historian” and he said, “well, in that case we both are, and we’re not doing too bad.” Or something like that.
Eventually, it was time. I don’t actually remember saying goodbye to Ashley, though I’m sure I did (she says we high-fived!), or being rolled down the hall to the surgical suite. I DO remember being in the surgical suite and remarking “IS THAT THE ROBOT?” (I had a robotic laparoscopic procedure) and having it confirmed that it was the robot and that one of the nurses showed me where the surgeon would sit to control the robot. And that’s all I remember of before.
The older nurse, with the long hair, very hippie dippie, was soooo sweet and was just bragging on you when I got to recovery. She said you were basically a model textbook patient. Gold stars across the board. Great pre-op weight loss, a perfectly tiny liver, no issues at all going under or coming out (though you were slow to come off it). She was VERY pleased and told me all about it 🙂
Your face looked like grumpy cat for a solid hour.
Apparently, I took a while to wake up afterwards, but my first memory was having two nurses fussing over me and not being very happy about it. I think slowly I realized Ashley was there too. I think I became moderately happy that yay, I hadn’t died on the table (a small risk, but nevertheless one that had worried me). The pain was not too bad, but I was definitely uncomfortable. They had placed an abdominal binder on me and I wanted it OFF. I felt a lot better after it was off, but I still was pretty grumpy in recovery.
Embarrassing/funny story: So after surgery, before they admit you to your room, you need to pee. They pump you full of fluids so usually after surgery your bladder is full. However, since they essentially temporarily paralyzed you for a few hours, your bladder doesn’t always get the message, so they have to drain your bladder with a catheter. WELL. This happened to me. I tried to pee IN FRONT OF THE HIPPY NURSE and it just wasn’t happening. Well, as they were situating everything they asked me to lift my hips and I did, apparently really well—because the nurse said, “nice hip lift!” And I—grumpily and somewhat arrogantly told them “I DO BARRE.”
After recovery, it was time to be admitted. Two nurses came to transport you and I followed with all of our stuff. We chatted with them along the walk, about all sorts of random things including hairstyles and how much they walk around in a day.
We had to trek pretty far and I would have gotten lost if I wasn’t walking with y’all. They pushed your bed manually, until we got out of one of the elevators and to a very long, UPHILL hallway. They pushed the bed into this motorized contraption that pushed the bed for them and we slowly made our way from one building to the other, to go into the children’s hospital… which was REALLY nice and like a total scene change. The nurse you were assigned over there was kinda sassy and reminded me of our friend Lin in her speech patterns and mannerisms. I could tell you were in good hands with her!
Bladder drained, I moved to my room, which was a lot nicer and more private than I was expecting. My room was in the children’s hospital (I later found out that they keep adult patients who are stable there—bariatric patients, orthopedic patients and the like). Not too long after getting to my room, Ashley headed back home and I was in for the night. It was a continuous cycle of sleeping, getting woken up every few hours to be poked and prodded and get meds, drinking water, peeing, and walking around.
In order to go home, I needed to demonstrate that I could keep myself hydrated, that I could walk, and that my pain was under control. Walking wasn’t hard. I wasn’t in too much pain, though I definitely had some discomfort on both of my sides. The hardest bit was honestly getting in the liquids. They gave you four little 1-oz cups and you had to try to drink four of those cups in an hour with tiny little sips repeatedly. It was DIFFICULT. They also brought soup and jello (no thank you) at dinner, breakfast, and lunch time—though I was not interested in any of it.
For my first ever hospital stay, it really wasn’t that bad. I wasn’t in nearly as much pain as I expected, walking around was easier than I thought, but I was a little frustrated I couldn’t just sleep. The nurses were a delight. My last nurse didn’t want me to go home and said I was a “good one.” I got to go home around 1 PM.
Home & Recovery
The ride home was honestly one of the most painful things so far, largely thanks to NASHVILLE’S VERY BUMPY ROADS AND CONSTRUCTION. #potholeseverywhereallthetime
COME ON NASHVILLE FIX THE GD POTHOLES
At home, my cats pretty much immediately glommed onto me and I developed a very lazy routine where I wore the loosest fitting clothes possible (soft dresses and nightgowns), tried to get my water, vitamins, and protein in, and mostly failing that first week (as expected). However, before my one week post-op appointment, I had already stopped taking my pain meds and generally was feeling great. I tired easily, but all in all, I wasn’t feeling too bad. I began wondering if surgery wasn’t so bad, and the first week wasn’t so bad, maybe the transition to soft food is the super hard part?
After two weeks, I moved on to soft foods. I could now eat yogurt, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, refried beans, vegetarian chili, tuna (YUCK), and vegetables that could easily be cut with a fork. I didn’t have any problems with this transition to soft food–the only thing that occasionally makes my stomach hurt is water–it’s sometimes hard to remember that I can’t take as big of sips as I used to do.
Right now, I’m about a week into the transition to solid/normal food. I was excited to eat a vegetable, something I have not had since May, but I still struggle to eat all my protein. From here on out, I will eat my protein first, then veg, then carb and I will have to pay close attention to my portion sizes and make sure that I listen to my body as I eat. I am starting to wonder if THIS transition from such a strict diet to “regular food” is the hard part—and it’s going to last for the rest of my life! Again it came with a learning curve, but so far it is progressing, slowly but surely as I learn my new limits.
On June 23, I reached a month post-op and am officially cleared to do fun things like zumba (yay!) and get into pools and hottubs! I need to wait a little bit longer for core-centric activities like barre and water aerobics (I love the outdoor classes at the Y in the summer!), but I’m fine waiting a bit on that.
Surgery Done: As I’ve been prepping for this for so long, it’s been wild to actually experience it and be done with the “surgery” part of the journey. It’s done and in the past—no longer something to anticipate.
Physical Restriction: It’s strange to feel the physical restriction. It changes something as basic as how you drink water. This makes it really difficult to get the appropriate amount of water in—at least 64 oz of water a day. It’s gotten easier over the past month but every once in a while I forget and gulp down a sip of water and OW. It does not feel good.
I have decided to name my stomach “Her Majesty” because when she has opinions she demands that you listen to them.
Habit Changes: Both my liquid diet and my post op experience so far has really highlighted how much of what I considered previously as hunger was mind hunger. I imagine this too will be a continuous journey and process of learning. I am physically not hungry and that in and of itself is a weird sensation.
Before, I habitually would eat my meals in a fashion that would save the “best” bite for last. The one that had the perfect combo and ratio of ingredients. Now, I 100% eat that bite FIRST.
There are times where I feel like a teeny tiny baby that’s on a very strict feeding schedule, and sometimes that baby doesn’t want any more protein, but that baby really doesn’t want to lose more hair than she has to (as is typical for most bariatric patients 3-6 months post op, because of the surgical trauma and lack of protein, but then it comes back). And that can be frustrating.
All in all, I am incredibly glad to be done with the surgery part of this journey. But so much of this is still mental and it’s going to be a process and I have a lot to learn about myself and my new tumtum.
A huge, huge thanks to my sisters-from-other-misters, Ashley and Tina, and my Nashville family, Sherra, Winn, Justin, and Arthur, for checking in on me and making sure I had all I needed. Your support was so valuable and I love you all to pieces. Thanks too to my family and friends who were far away–experiences like this really do show a person just how lucky they are.
It’s America’s city. I think most Americans have strong feelings about it, details about this place are baked into our cultural consciousness without our even trying. You either love it or you hate it.
The Big Apple. The city that never sleeps. The city so nice they named it twice.
Until 2022, I had only been to New York City once, in 2006 for a choir trip. It was a good trip and I had a blast, but it very much was not a self-directed trip. I was with a large group most of the time and a small group of folks for the rest. I was a broke college kid so I definitely could only do so much exploring and experiencing.
As a part of my research travels, I have been to most of Europe’s biggest cities, checking off collection after quintessential collection of Roman art. If you had told young me that I would have managed to go to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen before making it to The Met, I don’t think I’d have believed you. Alas…
So in 2022 when I was finally heading to New York City to see one of my dearest friends and to see my first Broadway shows, I knew that I would finally have a chance to do New York City more the way I wanted to do it.
GOALS FOR TRIP
Most of these adventures were had with my friend, Katie, who lives in NYC, so by that very fact it was a great trip. You can read all about my first Broadway shows, which were totally amazing and perfect. It was a life-changing weekend, where I existed in the presence of some of my favorite performing humans.
That NYC Experience
I love being in a city. The hustle and bustle. The architecture, the sites, the smells, even the bad ones. There is something about a city that when you figure out how to navigate it, you just feel like you’re so in control and independent. Some cities work with you to make it happen (others work against you and are hard to navigate–these are frustrating cities).
New York is probably the most easily navigated city I’ve been to yet. It’s the griddy-est of grid cities. It’s relatively straightforward to mark the cross-section of your destination and move in the correct direction (To be fair: I’m not sure how this plays out in boroughs other than Manhattan). The buses and subway are all relatively straightforward, especially with google maps. They’ve also introduced a new ticketing system called OMNY that lets you just tap your card to pay your fare rather than needing to purchase a separate card (really a relief for the visitor). After a couple of days, I felt confident that I could navigate anywhere I needed to go without much stress.
I had done some Midtown exploration back on my first visit in 2006, but I had no real idea of where I was going (someone else was almost always navigating during that trip because they knew the city better). In 2006, I also had only really explored one major city by myself (Paris, and well, I guess D.C., which was near home). Since then, I have navigated London, Berlin, Munich, Copenhagen, Paris (again and again and again), Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice, Athens, and many other cities, all by myself. Being able to guide myself around New York and definitely seeing it with “grown-up” eyes was great, and it let me see its many strengths that 20-year-old me was not able to see (and to be fair, its weaknesses).
Without even trying, I imagine most Americans have general cultural knowledge of New York City’s sites and offerings, more than they possibly realize. I am no different, and it was great to wander the streets of NYC, even if it was painfully cold for half of my trip. The worst was definitely the Saturday of my visit, when the high for the day was 16*. Way too cold for comfortable walking around. Way too cold. I can’t wait to go back and explore in more comfortable temperatures. I’ll be able to give Central Park more than a passing glance. I’ll feel more comfortable just walking around to explore, since it won’t literally hurt to be outside. I’ll get to notice all of those city details that make a city unique. I can’t wait to explore more of in NYC.
That NYC Food
My food goals were random. I just wanted to eat well. I wanted to go to a French restaurant. I wanted to eat a bagel. I wanted to get cupcakes from Magnolia bakery (lolz), and I wanted to eat a corned beef sandwich from a Jewish deli.
I managed to have that delicious corned-beef sandwich, get cupcakes from Magnolia bakery, and a nice dinner at a French restaurant. In addition to the things I wanted to do, I also had some delicious Mexican and Greek food, an honest to dieu croissant, and a happy-hour cocktail that cost $19.
Those NYC Museums
I honestly barely scratched the surface of NYC museums: I visited the Met, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Met Cloisters. Of these museums, I only feel as if I fully did the Cloisters (and I would happily go back). I am sure I will revisit all of them again in turn in subsequent visits to NYC, plus hit many of the museums I missed.
I have wanted to go to The Met since reading The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg as a child. (I’m pretty sure the only way you could convince me to go camping would be if it was in a world-renowned museum.)
Obviously, I started with the Greek and Roman Wing. Duh. Highlights of The Met’s G&R collection include, among many others, the New York Kouros, the frescoes from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale, frescoes from the imperial villa at Boscotrecase, oodles and oodles of ceramics, oodles and oodles of statuary, Greek and Roman, portrait and idealized. Twas a little-ole recovering art historian’s paradise.
I did have a few moments of profound sadness, though. This was my first visit to a major collection since deciding to not pursue a straightforward academic trajectory of a tenure-track job. As I perused the Met’s antiquities, in some ways it felt like a physical pain akin to grief. Well, no, I suppose it is legit grief; grief for the path that is no longer mine. I no longer know what my role in the art historical world is. For that matter, I don’t know what I want it to be, either.
I meandered through the Egyptian collection, taking a nice little footrest in front of the Temples from Dendur (standing on stone floors is hard, literally!), before making my way to the American Wing, which I only had time to do partially. I basically sprinted through some parts of the European painting collection and then to visit oh-so-briefly the medieval section. I didn’t linger in the medieval wing since I knew I’d be going to The Cloisters later that weekend.
I am so glad to have checked the Met off of my list. It was about damn time and I’m sure I will be back.
American Museum of Natural History
“The” Museum that is a quintessential stop for many visitors to NYC was without a doubt the most hopping place I visited this trip. The rest of NYC, honestly, seemed a little empty thanks to the pandemic.
I could have spent almost the entirety of the visit looking at the murals in the entry hallway, if it weren’t so crowded. In fact, this post took so long to write because I got lost in a research-esque wormhole looking up these batshit insane murals, which celebrate the (dubious) accomplishments of Theodore Roosevelt. (I think I’ll do a separate exploration of them later, because they are wild, and truly quite awful.)
I mainly wanted to see the dinosaurs and gemstones. I cared less about the anthropological bits and non-dinosaur life-forms. I just wanted to see some dinos and shinies. It was so busy compared to all of the other places in NYC, that it was a little overwhelming to my post-pandemic self. The whole time I was just thinking about those murals. But I love seeing dinos.
The Met Cloisters
The Met Cloisters is an extension campus of the Met focused solely on medieval art from western Europe. Built in the early 20th century to house cloisters that were brought from Europe to NYC, the museum displays Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic, and early Ren art in various media: manuscripts, sculpture, frescoes, windows, tombs, architecture, ivories, textiles, and on and on and on.
It is a literal HOOF to get The Cloisters–you definitely don’t feel like you’re still in Manhattan–you are, but only just, it’s on the northern edge of the island. We had to climb a fairly significant hill to get to the museum, which just felt right. I feel like every monastery I’ve visited required a “nice” climb to get to it (I blame Italy).
It was an evocative space, it definitely felt like I was transplanted to Europe. There were even lots of other visitors speaking not-English, which definitely contributed to that sensation. It’s a great museum, the quietest that I visited this trip. it’s totally worth a visit and the hoof. I definitely want to visit it again, in the spring or summer when all of the gardens are more active.
Until we meet again….
It is now weeks later and I am still just so pumped from my extended weekend to New York. I feel like I packed a lot into a relatively short amount of time and I can’t wait to go back. Fortunately, I might not have to wait too long as I am currently scheduled to go to a work conference in NYC! This time I get to do NYC as a professional and it will not be nearly as cold.
In January of 2022, I journeyed to NYC to see my first shows on Broadway. After a lifetime of dreaming, it was becoming a reality. I was schedule to see The Music Man starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster and Company starring Katrina Lenk, Patti LuPone, and many others. I was full of apprehension…would I see these stars of screen and stage? Would the shows even happen because of the ever-evolving omicron wave of the pandemic? And…how would I react to finally seeing a show on Broadway?
Meredith Willson’s The Music Man: January 13, 2022
The Music Man was my first show, scheduled for the day I arrived in New York.
I have never been a huge fan of the musical The Music Man, maybe because I’ve only seen film versions of it. Robert Preston, who originated Harold Hill on Broadway and in the film version, didn’t do it for me. He was charming, but I think he was more cemented in my brain as Toddy from Victor/Victoria, and just felt too old, especially set up against Shirley Jones, who was too virginal and missish for me–not really surprising for 1962. (Fun fact: Apparently Robert Preston was 44 when filming The Music Man–almost 10 years younger than Hugh Jackman. The process of aging is SO DIFFERENT now.) In the 2003 film version, Kristin Chenoweth was a fine Marian Paroo, but Matthew Broderick… honestly, I found his Harold Hill to be creepy and charmless.
So going into this show I was excited for some fun dance numbers and the two stars and not much else.
All day I had been relatively calm; I was thrilled to be back in a bustling city, I felt alive and somehow myself again. It was a good day. Even if, for some reason, Hugh Jackman or Sutton Foster called out that night, I would still get to see my very first Broadway show.
After walking around Midtown and having a very nice dinner with my friend who lives in NYC, we walked over to the Winter Garden Theatre. My friend was not joining me for the musical, but she very kindly took some pictures of me before heading back to her apartment.
It was time for me to enter the theatre!
I showed my vaccine card and ID to the usher, then my tickets, and was seated almost immediately. None of this slow line nonsense I’ve experienced at local theatres where it takes for-freaking-ever to filter into your seats.
Everyone was masked and ushers walked up and down the aisles with signs to mask and they definitely made sure that everyone was wearing their mask properly. (My COVID travel anxieties were practically non-existent in NYC since people consistently wore their masks correctly and you had to show your vaccine card everywhere.)
Next to me, a woman was telling her daughter that she wasn’t getting a Christmas present or birthday present this year. “My credit card is done after this trip.”
When she mentioned having seen Company the night before, I totally butted my way in: “Oh my god was Patti there?” She was! I tried chatting more with her, but I wasn’t in Nashville anymore and she did not engage. But that was okay because the show started PROMPTLY at 8:00 PM.
It’s hard to describe the rest of the evening. It was surely one of the best experiences of my life.
It was magical.
And yes, BOTH Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster were there!
Their pure, unadulterated talent blew the roof off the house. Hugh’s Harold Hill was charming and debonair but also vulnerable. His charm was legit and never felt creepy or old. Sutton’s Marian Paroo was smart, sharp, and sassy. They just worked. Together, they are a powerful pair. I felt like I was riding high the entire time from start to finish, and I loved every moment of it.
For the final dance number, I had tears in my eyes because they literally danced for 10 minutes. I had seen Sutton sing in person before, but I hadn’t seen her dance. I didn’t want it to end.
But then it did.
It was over.
Making my way back to my friend’s apartment I was just totally overwhelmed. After 36 years of waiting, I had finally seen a Broadway show. And it was fantastic.
I felt like my life would never be the same or as perfect and wonderful as it was in that moment. I pretty much cried with joy the whole way back to my friend’s apartment, arriving on her doorstep with raccoon eyes (thanks, mascara).
I remembered how much my mom had loved The Music Man. How perfect was it then that this was my first show. A show that my mom would have loved. My mom, who without a doubt, started this whole obsession.
It felt like a perfect full-circle moment: I had been waiting my whole life to see this show.
Stephen Sondheim’s, Company: January 15, 2022
While writing this weeks later, I am still riding high from seeing The Music Man. So two days after seeing The Music Man, it was strange to head into my second Broadway show. This time, Stephen Sondheim’s Company, starring the grande dame of my heart, Patti LuPone.
After a very cold day in New York, my friend once again walked with me to the theater and snapped my pic in front of The Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. I was nervous. After seeing BOTH Hugh and Sutton, would I actually get to see Patti too? It seemed impossible. I couldn’t be that lucky.
Bernard B. Jacobs is a smaller theatre than the Winter Garden and my seats were a lot closer to the stage (though cheaper than my MM tickets, haha) and the whole tone of the set and audience was different. It felt older and more mature. (Which makes sense given the the two shows I was seeing!)
My friend texted me that she had heard someone asking an usher outside if Patti LuPone would be on and the person said she was.
I didn’t want to hope but as the lights went down, an announcement was made: “There is no photography and please make sure your cell phones were off….or else.” I knew. I knew that voice.
That voice belonged to none other than La LuPone. In that moment, I was glad to be wearing a mask because my face was doing some real stupid shit.
I was about to see Patti LuPone perform live.
For once in my life, I was squeezed in between two people that were bigger than I am, so it was a physically uncomfortable viewing experience, but it didn’t matter. The moment Patti came onto the stage, the entire theater drew in a breath. There was a group of gays (<3) behind me who literally audibly gasped. She commanded the whole goddamn stage, filling the whole room with her charisma.
Besides being in awe of experiencing a long-and much-loved voice, IN PERSON, it was a remarkable show. First of all, I owe Sondheim an apology for all of my previous ambivalence about his shows. I recognized his genius and we can not overstate his contribution to American theatre, but I just didn’t like his work. To be fair, I think the Sondheim shows we see the most often are not his best, especially the ones geared to younger audiences; like how many bad productions of Into the Woods can you deal with?
Company, often regarded as one of Sondheim’s master works, however, is one of his that I actually knew most of the words to. I was familiar with the general gist of the plot, but had never paid much attention to the show. In short, it tells the non-linear story of a single 30-something who is questioning their life choices as a single person in a group of marrieds.
First, it was hilarious, something I didn’t fully appreciate from simply hearing the songs. Second, I do not know what gave Sondheim the right to personally attack me with this musical. This staging, departing from every previous incarnation of the show, is gender swapped. The lead, formerly Robert, is now Bobbie (played by Katrina Lenk). As a woman in her mid-30s, like Bobbie, also single and not sure how she feels about it, the musical felt so real: tagging along as the ever-present third, fifth, or seventh wheel, not wanting to be alone, but also not really wanting to deal with lame bumble dates, or any dating apps for that matter, feeling like you’re racing to GET IT DONE whatever the hell IT is, how even though from the outside looking in couples have tons of problems of their own and coupledom seems like a hot mess, yet it’s something that is just regarded as normal and desired, but is it something I desire, I don’t even know, how am I supposed to know!?
…Wait, am I talking about me or Bobbie? What a gut punch.
I am fascinated with gender swapping narratives. So much can change based on such a simple choice to change the gender of the main character. This show originally from 1970, it would 100% not hit the same if Bobbie were still Robert in the 2020s. In addition to changing Robert to Bobbie, the engaged Amy becomes a gay male named Jamie–also a perfect choice that made the musical feel way more authentic to the current era. This show would not have hit the right notes (heh) if it had been a straight male lead surrounded by all hetero couples. The success of the gender swap has made me ponder what other musicals would do well with a similar treatment. There are a few that, like Company, I think need it. I’ll save that for another post.
Obviously, I fell in love with this show. This staging was one of the last things he worked on before he died, and he saw this cast perform not long before his death. One of his greatest legacies is that he continued to support and mentor aspiring artists and playwrights, and how he gracefully let his work live through the kinds of changes made in later interpretations–like the swap from Robert to Bobbie and Amy to Jamie.
After seeing a staging of Company, I finally understand his genius. And I also think Sondheim is not for the young–Company would have hit me completely differently had I seen it in its entirety at 22 or 23; honestly I doubt I’d have been into it at all. Seeing this at 36 was, at times, a little too on the nose. I am sorry I didn’t see it and appreciate it sooner, but each season in its moment, eh?
The only thing that would have made this musical better for me is the casting of the lead. Katrina Lenk’s voice was passable, and her acting serviceable, but the whole musical builds up to this one song, where Bobbie just has a MOMENT. It’s THE song. If you know any songs from Company, it’s likely this one. “Being Alive”has long been a favorite of mine. It has frequently been sung by Sondheim-ites such as Mandy Patinkin, Raul Esparza, Bernadette Peters, and, you guessed it, Patti Ann LuPone (of course, my fav version). It is one of THE songs of the Sondheim repertoire. Lenk’s rendition was… fine. Technically, nothing was incorrect with her performance…she hit the notes and sang the song, but compared to the rest of the stellar cast, it was weak sauce, lacking in emotion, a disappointing culmination where there should have been a powerful punch of a finale. It was a bummer end of what was otherwise a fantastic show.
The rest of the cast was amazing–I especially look forward to seeing what Matt Doyle, who played Jaime, will do. Patti LuPone is a goddamn goddess and national treasure, and it was literally a dream come true.
I managed to hold it together after this show. It wasn’t the same surge of adrenaline that I had post-Music Man. Rather, it was a reflective kind of post-show joy, more of a diffuse warm glow that kept me warm on the very cold journey to my lodgings.
I can’t wait to do it all over again
I still can’t quite believe that I had this AMAZING experience, where I FINALLY SAW SOME SHOWS ON BROADWAY. I am still pinching myself that I got to see all three of the stars I wanted to see. Unsurprisingly, I am addicted and I can’t wait to go back for more. Beyond the shows, I also had a brilliant time exploring the city, eating delicious food, and seeing some world-class museums. More on my general New York-y experience in my next post.
**You’re Going to See a Broadway Show.
This line is from one of my favorite musicals, The Drowsy Chaperone, in the opening monologue by the Man In Chair. If you got it, congratulations, you get 10 points. Do with them what you will.
*10 points if you can tell me what show that’s from!
I have always loved musicals.
My mom started me down this path with some oldies-but-goodies at a very young age: Meet Me in St. Louis and The Sound of Music were constant repeats. She introduced me to others that became favorites like Singing In the Rain, White Christmas, Hello, Dolly!, Fiddler on the Roof, as well as some of her favorites that I didn’t like, The Music Man (heh), Paint Your Wagon and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers Disney classics, such as Beauty and the Beast, still my personal favorite from childhood, contributed to my love of expressing your feelings through song. Barbara Streisand, Bette Midler, and Judy Garland were my DIVAS. In high school, I fell in love with Les Misérables, which initiated my love of STAGE musicals. College ushered in the age of Wicked, which only increased my love of a powerful diva belt. In 2005, my friend Ashley introduced me to the Broadway version of Thoroughly Modern Millie starring a young triple-threat actor, the incomparable Sutton Foster.
In this same period, I feel like YouTube really took off (crazy to think about life, pre-YouTube, eh?) and I clicked around the internet falling more in love with diva belters like Sutton Foster, Audra MacDonald, Bernadette Peters, Sherie Rene Scott, and (my love of all loves) Patti LuPone. It was around this time when she was Mrs. Lovett in the 2005 revival of Sweeny Todd, only to shortly thereafter go on to her iconic run in the 2008 revival of Gypsy, and win her second Tony.
Obviously, given my penchant for the genre, I have always wanted to see a show on the Great White Way, but the opportunity never really presented itself. Growing up, our family vacations were more battlefields and journeys to historical sites. We’d go to baseball games (go, sports, go?), and visit with family. But never New York.
I saw a few touring casts, though–the first of which was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS! in the late 1990s. Then grad school happened and money, time, and logistics just…it wasn’t possible for expensive tickets and an expensive stay in an expensive city, just for the pleasure of seeing something on Broadway.
Fast forward to 2021.
I’ve finished grad school. I have a grown up job. Ashley, my friend who introduced me to Sutton Foster, is planning a trip to NYC to see To Kill A Mockingbird and The Music Man starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster. I am, understandably, instantly jealous…. but in that way where you’re still excited for your friend.
Until, I get a text from her. “Charlotte, I have to tell you something. It’s okay if you get mad at me.”
What would make me be mad at Ashley? I already knew that she was planning on seeing Sutton Foster, her OG fav, but I couldn’t hate her for that. Unless… Oh. She must be going to see someone else big, someone else famous…. Someone that I adored.
“You’re going to see Patti LuPone, aren’t you?”
PATTI LUPONE in Company.
SUTTON FOSTER and HUGH JACKMAN in The Music Man.
Two of my favorites (and obviously, hers; she would at least appreciate the genius she was witnessing so, like, it’s fine, but still). I pouted grumpily for a solid five minutes like a petulant toddler.
But then, like a high kick straight in the face, it hit me. I have a friend in NYC who I was going to visit. I could just…go and see the shows, too.
Could it really be that simple? I could decide to go? And then do it?
In classic Charlotte fashion, I decided immediately: I WOULD GO TO NEW YORK, TOO. Within days, I booked flights, and got myself tickets to see BOTH Patti LuPone and Sutton Foster, for my first ever Broadway shows at the tender age of 36.
At the point of booking, things seemed to be looking up pandemic wise. Delta was on the downward spiral, I had been boosted, things seemed to be straightening out. Then, as it came time for our trips to happen (mine just a few weeks after Ashley’s), omicron started to rear its ugly head.
Would we both get to see these amazing leading ladies?
In late December, Sutton Foster got COVID. A few days later, Hugh Jackman also tested positive. With Harold Hill out of commission, The Music Man announced it was shutting down until a week or so before my show. Ashley’s show was canceled.
We both knew performance cancellations were possible; we are still living through a pandemic. But that was the whole reason for her trip! To see this show! Then, the night she went to see Company, it seemed like she would at least get to see Patti LuPone; they even included a sheet in the playbills listing the evening’s cast members with La LuPone on the roster. However, right before the performance began, it was announced that her understudy would be playing the role of Joanne that evening. (She still loved the show.)
This has always been one of my fears: finally getting tickets to that Broadway show, starring one of my favorites, only to show up and have them call out. Enter COVID and that possibility became much more likely. With Music Man shutting down and Ashley not seeing Sutton or Patti, I had to confront the fact that I might not see either of them, too.
Combating all of my nerves, both about flying for the first time since the pandemic started and the possibility of my shows getting canceled, I ventured on my own to the greatest city in the world: New York.
Would it be all that I dreamt of? Would I actually even see the shows? Would I see Sutton? Would I see Hugh? Would I see Patti LuPone? The nerves were real.
Spoiler alert: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And Yeeeeees (you need those extra LuPone vowels). Check back next week to hear all about it.
I love to travel so much that it is part of my identity. There is no Charlotte without travel. I love the planning, the execution, and, most especially, the return home.
Over the past two years of pandemic life, I’ve reflected a lot on travel–what I miss about it, what I don’t miss about it, and what I can’t wait to do when it becomes a regular part of my life again.
During that same stretch of two years, I also made some pretty big life decisions that will impact how I travel going forward. The first is to proceed with weight loss surgery (WLS). The second is the revisioning of my career and my life: no longer am I on the quest for a tenure-track life, but rather a much less circumscribed path.
Both of these decisions have changed how I think about travel. The WLS angle is complicated: I’m really excited to go places feeling more fit and hopefully having more energy, but WLS also means that I won’t be able to eat certain things anymore, and food definitely factors into what I enjoy about travel.
As much as the WLS disrupts things, the life change that impacts my travel habits the most is actually the career flip. Nearly all of my travel so far has been in service to my education and research. The places I have gone and the things that I have seen have all been dictated by my professional goals. Granted, my professional goals were closely tied to my personal interests and desires, BUT…I had to have a legitimate academically-motivated reason to go where I did, because I had to intellectually justify that reason to people who judged that rationale (and helped fund these trips).
It hit me.
My future travel will no longer be dictated by professional reasons.
I can go where I want because I want to go. I don’t have to apply for funds or offer supporting rationales for why I need to go there.
I can go where I want because I want to go there. I don’t have to schedule time for research or site visits. I don’t have to meet with other professionals in my field.
Within reason. And within budget. (Ugh.)
Because…wanting *is* a reason.
This realization felt at once freeing and terrifying. I am one that likes to have purpose and intention in all that I do. I like there to be an end goal. I’m not great at “for the sake of” adventures. But now I wonder: how much of that is from habit? What if I am able to just go for the sake of going, and I just don’t know it yet?
With all of this swirling around in my head, I started thinking about what I love about travel and the different types of travel that exist. Because I am, and forever will be, a recovering art historian, I love putting things into categories (and perpetually revising and expanding those categories), I present the first iteration of my categories of travel.
Categories of Travel
The Visit There is no other reason for you to visit this place besides seeing someone who lives there. Your primary goal is to see that person or group of persons, and anything else is secondary. You stay in their home and “spend time” with one another.
The Event Rather than simply going to visit someone, you go somewhere for a specific event, be it a holiday, baby shower, graduation, concert, wedding, or themed party. Generally speaking, the Event requires your participation. You buy a gift, you prepare, you must engage with the event, as well as the people you see at the event. The locale is irrelevant.
The Destination You are going to see a place that cannot be replicated elsewhere, such as architecture, art, food, shopping (I guess? for some people?), and other cultural experiences. This requires engagement instead of simple passive existence in the space. You will get out of it what you put into it (which, your goals may be different depending on how you travel). You can do this by plane, train, or automobile.
The Wandering There are some who can just wander. See where the day takes them, motivated by god knows what, by their own two feet or by car and public transit. I think camping, backpacking, and some road trips fall into this category. I am not a wanderer.
The Vacation Ahh, the elusive vacation. Some might call the above 4 categories vacations, but I would argue that they are not at all the same category. A vacation can happen anywhere, but the goal is to vacate….your responsibilities, your agendas, your obligations. Travel is not necessary to vacate, but is oftentimes more enjoyable when you do. You can have a staycation or a destination vacation, subcategories which I think are self-explanatory.
The Trip This category can comprise facets of each of the above. Elements of relaxation, visiting specific destinations and people, but there is an agenda. You have things to do, places to go, maybe even people to see. Some trips are more akin to vacations, while others more akin to a visit. It depends.
The Extended Stay For some, this will take the form of a study abroad, for others perhaps a home exchange (my friend and fellow blogger can talk your ear off about this). I categorize an Extended Stay as remaining in one place longer than 3 weeks in order to really understand the place that you’re visiting. You’re there long enough to develop some kind of routine, an understanding of the local grocery store, and pick out a favorite something in your “neighborhood,” be it a gelato shop, fruit stand, pizza place, bakery, etc.
Modes of Travel
Group Travel “Group” can be loosely defined. I would say that this is not family travel, though families can participate in group travel. The dynamics of the group can be ever variable. You can have smaller groups of non-related individuals or large groups of non-related individuals such as a tour group or class, or somewhere in between. Your travel will be impacted by the way that you interact with the group creating an additional layer to the experience.
Family Travel Family travel can have lots of the same features as group travel, but the dynamic can shift and change more rapidly, and is infinitely more mercurial. Anyone who has been trapped in a car with their siblings knows how rapidly that dynamic can shift.
Solo Travel You fly solo. You arrive solo. You may meet up with people for an activity or share a hotel for a few days, but for the most part, you drive the itinerary and the pace, pick all of the restaurants, and dictate the agenda. There are definite advantages to solo travel: not having to fight with people about what’s for dinner or doing activities you do not like. There are also disadvantages: being alone; sometimes not feeling safe; people seeing your being alone as an invitation to talk (it isn’t, ever, in my case); and being the only one to make decisions can be exhausting…but rewarding.
Business Travel This is a type of travel that I have only had some experience with, though you could make an argument that lots of my research travel was business, none of my trips were driven by commercial reasons. Most were not collaborative in any way. I see business travel as traveling to a location for a meeting, be it with collaborators or investors; travel for participation in a conference as a representative of an organization or institution; and travel for which someone else foots the bill.
Most of my travel so far has been some combination of solo/business, extended-stay, destination trips. There’s so much more I want to do and see! It’s liberating to know that I can do what I want rather than having to provide justifications for why. The only person I have to justify anything to is ME.
Here are some immediate goals that come to my mind:
An all-inclusive vacation type vacation. I want to go somewhere pretty and scenic, where I can experience a view, eat tasty food, and read books all day long. This could be a colder climate vacation. I’ve always wanted to go somewhere like Aspen or Vail, not for the skiing (because clearly I would kill myself) but for the cozy. Snuggle by the fire with a good book and make some trips to the hot tub (to read there too). It could also be a warmer climate vacation at a beachy type resort. Same activities, just different bodies of water, and different drink choices. Choice of location can be based exclusively on how pretty the view is and how comfortable I am able to be while enjoying that view.
A non-research related destination trip, international. The place that immediately comes to mind is Ireland. I have always wanted to go. Like many Americans, I’m vaguely of Irish descent (Forstall is an Irish last name, though there are many spellings). I could…just go? I need to start thinking outside of my research-driven travel box and think about other places I want to go…just because.
A non-research related destination trip, domestic. I’ve been to a bunch of places in the US, but my list could expand greatly. A lot of my travel in the US has also been in the category of The Visit (again, not a bad thing) but there’s a lot to do and see in this big dumb country. Similarly, I need to start thinking outside of the box.
What do you think? Are there categories and modes I’ve neglected? Where should I go? What type of travel should I try? What should I add to my list when literally anything is on the table? (Besides camping, I don’t camp.)
In 2021, I turned over a new leaf. I think some of it is finally being free from that initial pandemic anxiety and also settling into post-grad school routines. I still only read one fiction book at a time, but I’m learning how to mix and match non-fiction (usually the popular kind, not the academic variety) in a way that works for me.
Goals in 2022 are to continue to expand my horizons in terms of reading. It will still be a heavy diet of romance; that’s never going to change. I particularly want to reincorporate direct academic reading into my routine. It’s a different kind of reading for me, one that is infinitely more active, but I miss it. I miss the active output of reading too (writing), and part of my goal in this blog space is for this to be a remedy to that.
1. These Truths, Jill Lepore
This book was a magisterial feat. Essentially a history of political thought and ideals, Jill Lepore traces the central tenets of American government from European colonization to the Trump presidency. Equally engrossing and enraging, this book highlights the manner in which discrimination based on race, gender, sex, and religion has always played a role in American public life and discourse; the role of Christianity in American government; and how absolutely nothing ever really changes.
Perhaps not surprisingly, I found the earlier portions of the book to be more interesting and enlightening than the later bits. The later part of the 20th century and the first part of the 21st century just made me too angry and discouraged. It also was interesting to read this volume during the pandemic—thinking about how a theoretical next version of this history would have to include the pandemic.
To borrow John Green’s style of rating, I give These Truths 4.5 stars.
2. The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet, John Green
If I had to pick a favorite book I read this year, it might be John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed. In this series of essays, Green rates and reviews things that belong to the Anthropocene, from Diet Dr. Pepper, velociraptors, to Halley’s Comet. At once memoir, history, and contemporary cultural commentary, John Green ties together his life experience with that of great thinkers, writers, artists, and events. Truly his masterwork.
I give the Anthropocene Reviewed 5 stars.
3. The Trials of Apollo, series, Rick Riordan
This summer, I did a massive reread of Rick Riordan. I reread the Percy Jackson series, as well as the Heroes of Olympus, each containing 5 books. I was a little unsure about The Trials of Apollo, because it didn’t seem like quite the same thing from the outset, but I really ended up loving it. It was classic Rick Riordan, an engaging and fun epic that emphasizes being who you are, even when you’re different or it’s hard, and working together with people who might not look like they bring a lot to the table. In this book, Apollo loses his immortality after messing up one too many times for Zeus. Apollo, not unlike a certain demigod of yore, has to complete some tasks before regaining his immortality. Trapped in the body of an acne-ridden 16-year old, it’s hard to imagine a being more helpless. Apollo struggles with this past and the repercussions of his actions while learning how to grow up.
I give The Trials of Apollo 4.5 stars.
4. A League of Extraordinary Women, Evie Dunmore
I am a sucker for a good historical romance and tend to prefer those that take place in 19th-century England. This series, currently comprising 3 books, is about a group of like-minded women that find love against the backdrop of the fight for women’s suffrage and rights. In keeping with this theme, Dunmore manages to take classic romance tropes and turn them on their head, providing a more satisfying AND romantic feminist ending. There are three books in the series so far and a 4th on the way.
I give A League of Extraordinary Women four stars.
5. Written in the Stars, Alexandria Bellefleur
I picked up this book at my favorite local bookstore on their romance shelf. I picked it up not realizing it was an LGBTQ+/sapphic romance. When I started reading (and took at look at the front cover, you’d think my visual analysis skills were more on point as an art historian…) I realized that the two romantic leads were both female. I was frankly thrilled. How cool was it that I, a straight woman in 2020, unknowingly picked up a romance between a lesbian and a bi character? I kept reading and it was a delightful romance. Gave me all the right heart feels that I look for when reading a romance. Even better, this is the first in a series—the second book was just as good (the second couple was a straight/cis couple). The third books comes out in early 2022.
I give Written in the Stars four stars.
6. Kiss Quotient series, Helen Hoang
Continuing the section of romances with an inclusive twist is Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient Series. The other two books in the series are The BrideTest and The Heart Principle. Diagnosed with high-functioning autism (what once would have been called Asperger’s) in her 30s, Hoang writes romances with characters that have autism. The tie that binds the series together are male members of a Vietnamese American family in the Bay Area: Michael (Stella), Khai (Esme), and Quan (Anna). The best part: autism isn’t presented as a barrier to romance, but just simply a part of who they are. Fair warning, book 3, the Heart Principle, what Hoang called the most autobiographic of the series packs a real bunch. I cried for almost the whole second half of the book.
I give The Kiss Quotient series four stars.
7. Get a Life, Chloe Brown, series, Talia Hibbert
The Brown sisters series is a total treat. Again continuing the inclusive romance, Talia Hibbert writes characters with disabilities and who have multiracial relationships. These books generally makes visible things that have been ignored in traditional romance (though sometimes left to the imagination). I loved each book, though I want to say that Take a Hint, Dani Brown was probably my favorite.
The new romances I read this year really demonstrated why I love this genre and its ability to adapt and be inclusive and amazing. I only hope this trend continues. (I’m sure it will—its my opinion its inherent to the best of the genre.)
I give the Brown Sisters series four stars.
8. Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language, Amanda Montell
This book was quite a read. Amanda Montell, who has a degree in linguistics, examines how the English language reflects our cultural attitudes, for better or worse, about women. Exploring how we talk about women, sex, and everything in between, Montell shows how we can work to make our language more inclusive and less inherently patriarchal. I can’t wait until I get Montell’s second book, Cultish!
I give Wordslut 4.5 stars.
9. The Viscount Who Loved Me, Julia Quinn (reread)
I read this book every year. It probably will appear on this list every year. Starting last Christmas with the release of season 1 of Bridgerton on Netflix, my favorite romance series became part of everyone’s cultural knowledge. I loved the season when I first watched it. Though I still have generally positive feelings about it, there is one big quibble I have with the tv show, but that’s a post for another day.
Season 2 will be the dramatization of my favorite in the series, The Viscount Who Loved Me. Kate and Anthony are my favorite. I like inherently understand their personalities (both the eldest with the weight of responsibility upon them) and Anthony’s fears (his big bugaboo to overcome) is one that I oddly share. (Though I have loved this book longer than I’ve shared his fear. No spoilers!) I read it when I need to be grounded or a fast pick me up, so some years, like in 2020, I read it more than once. This was a one read kind of year.
I give The Viscount Who Loved Me five stars.
10. Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery (reread)
I have been wanting to do a big Anne of Green Gables reread for a few years now. I decided to begin it this year. I love this story—with small exceptions, this story holds up over 100 years after it was first published. I love the story to love what has been unloveable and to see beauty in simplicity. This book definitely settles in my top 10 favorite book of all time, so it definitely has to fall in my top 10 for 2021. I will be doing a bigger reread of the rest of the series probably starting in 2022.
My friend Erin issued me this challenge: You are in Paris for a 24 hour layover. What do you do?
I am not sure a more difficult challenge could be issued to me, and I only mean that a little bombastically. Paris is one of my favorite places on earth. I know it well–it’s definitely the place outside of the USA where I’ve spent the most time. On the other hand, it never ceases to surprise me, it is never the same, but is always familiar. I know it’s cliche to be that bougie American bitch who loves Paris, but I like to think that my relationship with the city is not a superficial one.
There are so many different ways that I could pass a day in Paris. It could be a nostalgia walk—in areas that remind me of people and times that I love and cherish. It could be a museum day, where I visit some of my favorite museums, the ones that led me to my love of art and history. It could be an architecture walk, visiting some of the best Paris has to offer. It could be a food tour—hitting up some of my best and favorite places to grab some French treats. Honestly, it really has to be all of the above.
Let’s set the stage. I am off on a trip and I have a layover at CDG, where I have enough time to go into the city for the day. I’m going to pretend that customs and security lines don’t last forever. I’ll arrive in the city proper at 9 AM and my flight leaves at midnight, so I’ll need to RER to the airport at like…9 PM. TWELVE hours in Paris. I am able to leave my stuff in the airport so no chucking around luggage (phew). I am imagining that this day is in the springtime, still chilly, but comfortable.
Mission 1: Prend un café crème et un chausson aux pommes.
I will probably, owing to habit, take the RER to the Luxembourg station, disembarking there and finding a place near the Luxembourg gardens to eat my breakfast. For that breakfast, I will consume a cafe creme and a pastry, probably one of my favorites, the chausson aux pommes. Yes, I will be hungry in less than an hour, but this is my French petit-dejeuner of champions. A cafe crème is similar to a cappuccino or a cafe au lait, but with a little bit less milk. I might go back and forth between a cafe crème and a noisette (a macchiato)—or heck, go for both.
But the real treat will be the pastry. If you google “chausson aux pommes” you will see english results that call it a “French apple turnover” with pictures of triangular pastries. I feel like this is a description that loses something in translation. There is no triangular shape, but a semi-circular pastry with scalloped edges that show off the intensely laminated layers to perfection. On chaussons, there is no crunchy sugar topping, or even worse, some kind of icing drizzle. Filled with an apple compote, the texture of the chausson aux pommes is ridiculously delicious in its simplicity.
I will eat my petit dej, while enjoying the sounds of a city coming alive. I love Paris to such a degree that even just existing within its arrondissements makes me a happy girl. It has its own smell (there’s one stretch of metro that you could take me to blindfolded and I could tell you where we are immediately) and its own feeling and I love it so, even when it’s mildly (or egregiously) disgusting.
At that cafe, preferably in outdoor seating, I’d spend about 45 minutes to an hour sipping my cafe creme and eating my chausson and reading some kind of trashy novel–likely ordering une noisette after I finished my cafe creme. At the 45 minute mark, I know I’d be hesitant to get going, but simultaneously anxious to do so. Getting up, I’d do a little stretch and leave the little bit of comfort that the table and this spot provided. It was mine for breakfast, and I’ll leave it to someone else to enjoy.
Mission 2: Morning Walk through the center of touristy Paris
Given my choice to breakfast near Luxembourg Gardens, I’ve set myself up for an exemplary walkabout in some of my favorite areas of Paris. This walkabout is NOT for the weary. I’d walk my way up the Rue Sufflot and say hello to the Pantheon and St. Etienne. I’d maybe walk toward Rue Mouffetard and Place de la Contrescarpe, reveling in memories of my misspent youth. That sounds poetic doesn’t it? It really wasn’t that misspent, but I did traipse about with a backpack full of cheap wine, beer, and liege waffles for nights of youthful exuberant fun with mes amis de Paris.
Then, I’d wind my way back to the Rue Saint Michel and the Seine. I have oddly affectionate memories of Place St. Michel. At this intersection, there are several French bookstores that I might wind my way through for a hot second maybe picking up some postcards and bric a brac. I’d turn my sights toward the Seine and move toward Ile de la Cité and Notre Dame de Paris. I haven’t seen the cathedral since it caught on fire in 2019, so I’m sure I’d spent some time inspecting the structure to the degree that I am able. After finishing up with NDdP, I would think about going to see Ste. Chapelle, but then remember that it costs something absurd like 10 euro to go in and tell myself I’d go the next time I’m in town. I’d hie over to the Rive Doite and take in the Hotel de Ville. From there I would likely decide do I head east toward the Marais? Or west toward the Louvre?
I think heading west would win out. I’d walk along the Seine until I get to the westernmost bit of the Louvre. I’d go and check on my Napoleonic arches. La Grande Arche only from a distance; it’s too far out to really pay attention to today, but I can at least see it down that fine Hausmannian road. Nevertheless I’d pay attention to the Arc du Carrousel for many minutes and enjoying one of my favorite prospects, les Jardin des Tuileries. I’d cut back over the Seine, and keep walking. This walk would allow me to glimpse sights of some of my favorite Parisian buildings, most of them stereotypical touristy items like the Tour Eiffel, the Musee D’Orsay, the Academie Francaise. I’d conclude at the Tuileries. I’d hop on the Metro, ligne 1, en direction de Porte de Vincennes. I’d disembark in the Marais at the station St. Paul.
Mission 3: Lunch at L’As du Falafel OU un sandwich jambon beurre
Unsurprisingly, my chausson aux pommes would have long since left my memory during this jaunt around Paris. After getting off the metro at St. Paul, I’d head toward L’As du Falafel to get some of my favorite food to eat in Paris, the sandwich grecque, done, or falafel, whatever you want to call it. There are so many of these little shops and restaurants in Paris that sell the delicious doner kebab and its variants that to me, it’s one of the most dependable foods that I can always rely on to be cheap, fast, and filling when I’m traveling in Europe. It’s never led me astray and always satisfied me. This place, however, is *good*. It’s in the Marais, a neighborhood that is traditionally Jewish and still has a very strong Jewish presence (this is where you would go in Paris to find a bagel!). Given this fact, it is one of the only restaurants open on Saturdays in the area and is often overwhelmed with customers. Still, I’ve never seen it without a line. This day, since it’s my perfect day, is not going to be a Saturday. I will order a sandwich with frites, and literally shove it in my face with glee.
As tempting as this food will be, there is a good chance that hunger might drive me to seek sustenance elsewhere if faced with a substantial line at L’As du Falafel. In that case, I’d seek out the simplest and best of the French repasts, the sandwich jambon beurre. The smooth, rich saltiness of the French butter on that crunch, bien cuite, fresh baguette with the not-as-salty-as-in-the-US ham is just one of my favorite, favorite sandwiches that I cannot replicate aux Etats Unis, as much as I might (and I have) tried. My disappointment at not finding a smaller line at L’As du Falafel will not last long.
Whatever my lunch choice, I am also confident I would acquire a Fanta au citron and guzzle it down. I would be in a state of complete and utter happiness and exhaustion, but fortified to move on to the next mission.
Mission 4: Macarons from Pierre Hermé
Ah, the macaron. The crisp meringue cookies sandwich delightfully flavored buttercream. Rich and indulgent, these are among some of my favorite French sweets. Not too far from L’As du Falafel is one of the best establishments to get macarons, Pierre Hermé. No, not Hermès. Ladurée is great in a pinch (and available in the US, though only in NYC, DC, Florida, and California).* I’d hustle over there and pick up a box of these confections and eat them throughout the rest of the day.
Per usual, I’d choose my favorite parfums: vanille, café, pistache, and framboise (raspberry), and perhaps I’d try some more adventurous flavors. After getting my loot, I’d choose one to eat, and pocket the rest in my bag to be enjoyed later.
* There is also a Pierre Hermé in the US, but only one in Saks 5th Ave in NYC.
Mission 5: Une musée!
This is a hard decision to make. I must go to a museum while I was in Paris. As much as I would long to go visit the oodles and oodles of Roman statuary at the Louvre or the architectural awesomeness of the Musee D’Orsay, that’s just too much. For this single day of awesome, these museums take up too much time and energy. So I’d likely choose between a few of my favorites, which are all smaller, but stellar, museums.
Musee Marmottan Monet: Massive collection of Monet including one of the most famous Impression, soleil levant, as well as other works that date from the medieval to the modern eras.
Musee Gustave Moreau: Not going to lie, this is one of my favs but not for the collections, which are exceptional. The former home of Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau, this museum preserves his home and workshops which he left to the state at his death. It also happens to contain one of the most magnificent staircases of all time. The entire edifice just screams Belle Époque to me and I love every bit of it.
Musee Rodin: Housed in the Chateau Biron, a building in which Auguste Rodin, one of the best sculptors since Bernini, used several rooms as his studio space, this museum is a treat. The museum’s collection is composed of lots of his works, in addition to works that he collected, including a room dedicated to sculptures by Camille Claudel. Best of all, this museum is both indoors and out with sculptures in the well-manicured gardens, including a cast of his remarkable La Porte d’Enfer and iconic Le Penseur.
Musee Carnavalet: This is the museum dedicated to the history of the city of Paris. Not going to lie, this is the one that will probably win out amongst the others. For one, it isn’t too far from Pierre Herme. However, it’s also just an awesome museum that occupies two hotels particuliers. The Musee Carnavalet just opened after a large renovation in May of 2021, so of course I’d have to check out the changes, if my poor memory can fully recall what it was before. This museum’s collection goes well beyond painting and objets d’art, though it certainly contains oodles and oodles.
Mission 6: Confit de canard
After hours of museum going, I know my appetite would be demanding for some noms. I’d walk around a little bit more, probably in a direction that would let me accomplish goal number 8 (see below). The goal for dinner will be to find a classic French bistro that’s not toooooo touristy to eat my favorite French dinner. Confit de canard, crispy potatoes, and a salad with a lemony vinaigrette that I have not yet figured out how to make. I would probably glance at the dessert menu, but forcefully say no—there are better treats to be had elsewhere.
Mission 7: Trouvez des carambars fruits et des gaufres
The timing of this particular mission is inconsequential and should be based entirely upon opportunity. Carambar fruits are manna from heaven. They are what Starburts should aim to be. There are several varieties of carambar. The original flavor is a kind of a caramel chocolate tootsie roll that is *very* chewy—could pull your tooth straight out of your head if you were not careful. The fruit versions come in four parfums: orange, citron, fraise, and framboise. Unlike starbursts which are so sweet they hurt your teeth, these aren’t as sweet and they’re much softer in texture and less waxy. They’re my absolute favorite candy of all time.
Mission 8: See the Tour Eiffel sparkle
My last and final mission is a silly and sentimental one. Every night, on the hour, the Tour Eiffel sparkles for five minutes. It’s a sight that never fails to bring a smile, however small, to my face. I can’t deny that part of my love of Paris is its tendency to hit all of my favorite whimsical and romantic notes. I fell in love with Paris before I ever visited. My grandparents traveled a bunch and my grandpa would put together scrapbooks of their trips, with matchbooks, pictures, tickets, napkins, menus, all of the random things you collect while traveling. In addition they had all of these guidebooks. Whenever I visited, I would pore over them. The pictures, the history, the food, the cafes! Paris just seemed to have this aura that I wanted to revel in. It would have been hard for me to pick a favorite of their scrapbooks (one which I very much wish I had), I know I probably spent most of my time in their Paris albums and their Ireland albums. Taking French in high school and in college only pushed my love of Paris further. I finally got to meet Paris in 2004, for a 3-week trip for January term.
I was 18, and it was my first trip outside of the United States. I was lonely (definitely the only dork on the trip more interested in France than drinking), experiencing some unexpected travel shock, and my camera had broken on our first outing. I had been approaching Notre Dame for the first time—its size shocked me and it seemed unreal. I tried to snap a pic on my point and shoot (ugh, I’m ancient) and it just wouldn’t forward the film. I nearly cried. So later that day, when I saw the Eiffel Tower sparkle (which I’m not even sure I knew it could do until that moment), I just remember that feeling of contentment and disbelief that I was actually there, in Paris, in France across the ocean from my home overwhelming me. The bright sparkling lights brought joy and excitement for that trip and that experience back to my mind. Ever since, it’s moments like those that I try and chase that deep-seated contentment with the view in front of you and the experience at hand. A sparkly tour Eiffel now has the benefit of memory accrual—it brings to mind all of the wonderful memories I have when the tour was sparkling.
After winding my way through the city and my memories, my belly full of duck and potatoes, I’d probably try to find a crepe au sucre just to round out the culinary delights of the day. I’d head to the Pont des Arts before needing to catch the RER back to the airport. On the Pont des Arts, I’d feel that same feeling I felt in 2004, that deep-seated feeling of rightness. I can’t believe I am here in this city that I love, how lucky am I to be here. How lucky am I to return. And then the tour will sparkle.
This blog has no thesis. It started as a travelogue, to keep interested parties updated with my travels during my PhD work. My travels were many, but the blogging was hard–I have a backlog of some 15+ entries to work through, but some of the motivation has faded as time has passed. At its inception, I thought this website could also serve as a professional portfolio as I went on the academic job market and (hopefully) became a professor. That ship has sailed, and thus the professional portfolio became irrelevant. Then, I decided to have bariatric surgery and this seemed a useful vehicle to keep interested folks updated easily. I have absolutely no interest, however, in making my surgery or my body the primary topic of discussion on this blog.
I still have the impulse to write. I no longer think that an academic setting is the path that I want to take. It doesn’t mean that I think my previous work was unimportant or has no teeth, I am just not sure that I want my work to exist and develop in and around a system that doesn’t have room to employ the scholars it turns out; can’t compensate me (and others) for my research; and for which I have to use my own precious free time and resources to accomplish. It’s a scenario in which I am doomed to be playing catch up. However, I will never say never.
Thus, the idea of branching out in my writing is also attractive. I love a good memoir and I love fiction. Am I capable of writing either? Who knows! Could I be an author of popular non-fiction? I don’t know! I haven’t tried. I’m not ignorant of the fact that all genres of writing require time and effort to get right. (Also, some academics have written some truly terrible fictional works…not all of us are Umberto Eco who can do both. I really, really don’t want to be THAT academic.) However, I don’t know that a public blog is the place to practice fiction writing and I’m not sure I would subject anyone to those attempts. (You’re welcome.)
In John Green’s latest book, The Anthropocene Reviewed, he quotes a writer friend of his, Amy Krause Rosenthal, who said, “For anyone trying to discern what to do with their life, pay attention to what you pay attention to. That’s pretty much all the info you need.”
This sentence stuck with me and I ruminate on it often still. The things that come to mind when I think of this approach are abstractions and not things for which you can be compensated nor or they ones on which you can (easily?) make a living. That’s okay for me though. I choose to interpret these words to mean what to do with your life not what to do for your work. They are not the same thing.
For now, I think this blog will take as its focus the things to which I pay attention. Crafting? Yep, probably. Random thoughts? Oh most definitely. Semi-academic explorations of mundane things? You can place your bets. Gushing and nostalgic book reviews? The odds are in your favor. Other here-to-unforeseen forays into randomness? Indubitably. Travel blogs? Yep, can’t stray too far from my origins and I can’t wait to travel once more.
Whatever this space winds up being, I hope you’ll join me for the ride.
Unsurprisingly, my blog backlog has grown since moving. Thus, this blog is…old news, but a day I want to remember nonetheless. Who says blogs have to be timely?
On June 21, 2021, I said goodbye to my home of 9 years, Bloomington, Indiana. I woke up very early thanks to my cat, Fitz, who cried nearly the entire night. The movers and truck arrived at 8 AM, and before I knew it all of my stuff had been loaded up and was on its way to Nashville–not too much longer after that, I–along with my two cats–was on my way, too.
The drive was tough. Emotionally, I was a little wrecked. I was leaving people I loved dearly to live in a new city, for a new job, a new adventure. Yet, even with so much in store in Nashville, on my way out of town, I mostly just felt a deep sense of loss. Not long after we crossed into Kentucky and left Indiana, Mother Nature decided to put on her own show–it rained and rained and rained. The really heavy kind where the only thing is to put on your blinkers and drive 30 mph while 18-wheelers SOMEHOW drive by going full tilt. Low on sleep and emotional resilience, I couldn’t wait to get to Nashville and my new apartment.
The first smile of the drive happened when I rolled into town. In a total cliche move, the clouds parted, the rain stopped, and the sun shone exactly as Nashville’s skyline rolled into view. I grinned. YES, I was saying goodbye to Bloomington and closing a door, shutting the book on that part of my life. The people I would miss, but I know better than most that geographic distance is nothing between true friends.
I had rented my apartment sight unseen, which is always nerve wracking. Everything was as promised. The truck had arrived before we had. My cats were firmly ensconced inside the apartment when the movers showed up (my greatest fear was them getting out). The vise around my chest that I had been holding since I left Bloomington started to loosen a little. With each box and piece of furniture, I began to relax even more.
One of the movers recommended Martin’s BBQ “as the best in town,” so when I went to get my internet kit, we grabbed our dinner. It was good BBQ but I definitely thought Nashville probably has better to offer (it does, can confirm).
Exhausted, finally a little excited for the possibilities Nashville would offer and all of the adventures that I would have, I went to bed. I expected to have a wonderful night’s sleep, but my Fitzwilliam again had different plans. I started my day as I began it, listening to my cat sing me the song of his suffering, tired, grateful, excited, hopeful, sad, and just generally full of emotion.
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