A year ago, my sister was in town for some auntie time with the kids. We had kept Lilly out of school and told Jocelyn that she should stay home until we “knew more.” We went to Hi Hi Room for lunch and sat in their empty dining room eating French fries and talking about how much sanitizer we needed to get through the next few weeks. We knew so little, and we were so vastly unprepared for what came next. That Monday, New York City shut down and things went from uncertain to very bad to horrific almost. Jocelyn got sick almost immediately and we spent the next two weeks terrified for someone we love, until she finally started to recover. When I think about last April, I hear the nonstop ambulances and see the eerily empty, rainy streets. I remember feeling so sick looking at the apocalyptic images of our embattled hospitals and holding Lilly so tightly that she asked me what was wrong.
There are and there will be countless thoughtful pieces to mark the one-year anniversary of the worst year in memory. The outsized impact on Black and brown communities and on women, the vast inadequacies of our social support systems. The people we’ve lost, so many of them. I’ll read them, and cry.
It was a year that changed the way I look at the world, and my place in it. It was also a year that reminded me of the importance of community — the friends, family, neighbors, local businesses – that got me through. I think it will take us — even those of us who have been so fortunate throughout — a long time to process this experience, and it’ll take even longer for our country to recover. But today, with the sun shining, the CDC news that my fully vaccinated parents will be able to hug their grandkids, and the stimulus bill signed and sealed, I am quietly hopeful. If anything, maybe this year will help us recalibrate on everything, from who we consider essential, how we spend our dollars, and where we put our time. May we learn from this year and this loss and to be better citizens, consumers, and partners because of it.
Thank you for reading. Here are some things that are giving me energy right now: Sharing superpowers: On International Women’s Day, I saw someone post on Twitter (sorry, I can’t remember who it was!), “Happy IWD. Now go tell a friend how much you make.” It made me think about all the pep talks and advice I’ve received over the years from friends and former colleagues with different work superpowers and experiences. My friend Melanie held my hand as I entered consulting and I’ve paid it forward by sharing her straightforward roadmap with plenty of others. My friend Becca is a consumer insights marketing whiz and has shared her tips for productizing her consulting and also just staying motivated (see below for an event we’re doing together!). While there are formal versions of this in Chief and other networks, it’s worth remembering to ask for help from our friends and then to give it back in the form of advice, toolkits, and yes, salary comps. No more dryness, finally: I recently connected with Abena Boamah-Acheampong, founder of Hanahana, a clean, sustainable beauty brand. I am impressed by many things about her and the brand, from their thoughtful approach to sourcing — they work directly with women’s cooperatives in Ghana and go far beyond just offering a fair price — to the fact that they’re completely bootstrapped and make all their products by hand. I immediately ordered the Discovery Set, which has their hero Shea Body Butter as well as Exfoliating Body Bar. During the winter, my legs are usually irretrievably dry — not so anymore, which is pretty extraordinary. I’m also in love with the lip balm, which is satiny but not sticky and has the faintest honey-cocoa scent that is delightful.
Learning and volunteering: Before this year, I hadn’t heard of mutual aid, which describes systems that are designed to support the entire community (this is a good primer). I am newly involved with South Brooklyn Mutual Aid, which is doing incredible work in Sunset Park, Borough Park, and Bay Ridge. They recently opened The People’s Market, a weekly free store stocked with donations from the community. If you’re interested in donating, click here. If you’re looking to support your local mutual aid organization, check out Mutual Aid Hub or (if in New York) Mutual Aid NYC. Giving in to the home gym: My highly romantic birthday present from Rob was a set of weights so I can try to approximate my beloved bootcamps and strength training. They make me so happy. The first time I used them it was like my muscles woke up for the first time in a year. Yes, I know this is nerdy but the moral is: If there’s something in the self-care space that will make a difference, just buy it. Getting organized, version 829: If you’ve been following along, you are familiar with my love of notebooks. Every time I am in a transition period (which have been many over the past four years), I keep a notebook of all the good/bad/meh conversations I’m having, lists of what I do/don’t want to do etc. This time, in addition to my new Goods for the Study notebook, I’m using Poketo’s Quarterly Goal Planner to help me be more proactive about setting goals and feeling in control of my trajectory. Side note: If you’re in the market for a wall calendar, I love theirs.
Healthy for all: I am a longtime Julia Turshen fan (if you have any new parents in your life, her turkey-ricotta meatballs are the way to go) and her new book, Simply Julia, speaks to me in so many ways. I love her approach to “healthy comfort food” and her honest commentary about body image, weight, and diet culture. I also love that she describes her recipes, which are nutrient-dense, delicious, and approachable, as feeling like “a warm hug.” So far we’ve loved her Garlic Sesame Noodles recipe and the Best Black Beans, as well as tktk. New alternative to iced tea: Our friend Shelley gave us a huge bag of dried hibiscus leaves and general instructions on how to make Jamaican sorrel. I remember very sweet agua de jamaica in Miami but her version is much more aromatic — ginger and cloves — and less sweet. I’ve been drinking it every afternoon when my usual iced coffee craving kicks in and it’s incredibly refreshing. Here’s a recipe by food historian Jessica B. Harris by way of the New York Times.
A food magazine to savor: I don’t actually like the word “savor” but that’s the first thing that popped into my head when I started paging through the inaugural issue of For the Culture, which features Harris on the cover. Founded by chef and cookbook author Klancy Miller, For the Culture is a biennial food magazine that “celebrates Black women and femmes in food and wine” and I can’t recommend it enough. The vibrancy of the stories, images, and flavors invite you to sit down, settle in, and take your time. Disney+ continuing to deliver: We bought “Raya and the Last Dragon“, Disney’s latest animated movie, the day it came out and it was 100% worth the $29 (BYO popcorn). Lilly was enthralled by the heroic Raya (Disney’s first Southeast Asian princess) and I loved hearing Awkwafina as the goofy dragon Sisu. And like “Soul” earlier this year (another favorite), I’ve just been heartened to see more kids movies featuring underrepresented communities in title roles. Omsom, one of my angel investments and staple in our house, partnered with Disney (!) on a limited edition “Raya and the Last Dragon” sampler, and has shared what it means to them as daughters of Vietnamese immigrants to see Southeast Asian culture normalized on the big-small screen.
Upgrading our fort game: My friend Tamara gave us Lakeshore’s Ultimate Fort Builder last year but it’s only been recently that Lilly’s really gotten the hang of it. She delights in constructing elaborate “houses” for her (and sometimes Finn) and decorating them with every blanket in the house. Weeknight flexitarian staples: I met Phil Wong and Ann Yang years ago and was immediately impressed by the two recent grads who had started an ugly-fruits-turned-delicious-juice business out of their Georgetown dorm. I signed on as an investor and advisor to Misfit Foods and have remained impressed as they and the company have changed, with Ann transitioning to an advisor and the brand pivoting to flexitarian- and climate-friendly sausages and meat blends that feature 40-50% veggies. You can catch them on “Shark Tank” tonight and highly recommend the new beef blends — the Beet Gochujang, created with chef Sohui Kim is crazy good.
Last thing! I mentioned in my last newsletter that I’m offering weekly office hours to any BIPOC individuals who want to talk about brand, careers, or threenagers. I just wrapped my third week and I’ve loved getting to meet so many passionate founders and builders. I’m also going to be teaming up with marketing expert Becca for an upcoming webinar on how to link customer insights and brand to unlock growth. Here’s the link to sign up.