For the Love of Crosswords: How the Beloved Puzzle is Reshaping to Reflect Our Modern World

My addiction to crossword puzzles began with a misunderstanding. Early on in the pandemic, my mom remarked how my brother, who lives in Brooklyn, was enjoying The New Yorker puzzle. As a New Yorker addict, I immediately assumed she was referring to the magazine’s crossword. Thus, to keep up with a common activity that would hopefully link us despite quarantining on opposite sides of the country, I decided to try my hand at what would become a fabulous way to pass the time during the long days of the pandemic.

But my mom was in fact referring to the jigsaw puzzle of a New Yorker cover we had sent him—not the crossword. Oh well. My love affair with crosswords had already begun.

I looked forward to every Monday and Friday, when my beloved magazine published the “challenging puzzle” and the “lightly challenging puzzle,” respectively. Later, it would introduce a third, “moderately challenging puzzle” on Wednesdays, which felt like an early Christmas present. This addition proved to be vital, for as my skills continued to improve, I finished each puzzle more quickly and could not have waited until Friday for a fresh one.

I developed a routine where I would print out the puzzle, grab a pencil with a good eraser, and bring them with me just about everywhere. Only much later did I realize that crossword puzzles, for me, were a politically correct form of escapism, a method to distract myself from my own thoughts, the painful idleness of boredom, the excruciating feeling of a lack of productivity. Crosswords became my Netflix, my Sports Center, my reality TV. But surely the compulsion was different than these, I told myself. Crossword puzzles challenge the mind; they make one smarter! But a distraction is a distraction is a distraction, and, sometime or another, one will have to face what one was trying to escape.

The first “Word-Cross puzzle” was created in 1913 by New York World editor Arthur Wynne, who wanted to add something new and exciting to the paper’s FUN section. An illustrator later mistakenly referred to the game as a “Cross-Word,” and hence the name was born.

But the puzzles, in one sense, were vital; they provided readers a brief respite from the dire news of the first World War that seemed to dominate the papers at the time. And after the war ended, readers still gravitated toward them. Richard Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster—founders of the famed publishing house Simon & Schuster—published a crossword book, which came with a free pencil, in 1924. There was even a comic strip called “Cross Word Cal,” created by the cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller, and a 1925 Disney short entitled “Alice Solves the Puzzle.”

Today, the most well-known crossword puzzle publisher is arguably The New York Times, but the newspaper was relatively late to embrace the national—and global—trend. The Times believed that games of that sort were beneath them and undermined their high journalistic standards. Indeed, a 1924 opinion column in the newspaper described crosswords as “a primitive sort of mental exercise.”

But after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 18, 1941, The Times realized that it “ought to proceed with the puzzle,” the Sunday editor Lester Markel wrote at the time. In a grim but all too familiar world plagued by war, the prestigious newspaper realized that to provide its readers with a relatively mindless distraction was to provide them relief, if only temporarily. Margaret Farrar, who later became the paper’s first crossword editor, once wrote, “You can’t think of your troubles while solving a crossword …”

Many cruciverbalists would certainly relate to Farrar’s statement. In addition to aiding in temporarily forgetting one’s troubles, crosswords challenge the mind to think in novel ways. Clever clues often reveal the surprising diversity of a single word, or the pleasure of certain idioms when taken literally (“It’s on a roll”: SESAMESEED). What may seem obvious to one person can be entirely cryptic to another—a testament to how one’s experiences impact one’s worldview. Where my dad sees a verb, I may see a noun. Context is everything.

And yet some contexts tend to be favored more than others. Crossword submissions must be green-lighted by editors, “but one editor’s demerit is another solver’s lexicon,” puzzle constructor Natan Last wrote in The Atlantic. “Constructors constantly argue with editors that their culture is puzzle-worthy, only to hear feedback greased by bias, and occasionally outright sexism or racism.”

Puzzles are created with their audience in mind; as a result, editors hold a significant amount of power regarding what can be considered culturally relevant. I’ll admit that I was not aware of such issues until recently. I had viewed crosswords as a fun—and addictive—distraction. And they most certainly are, but they are also a reflection of the cultural climate—one curated by a rather homogenous, select group of people.

In a letter addressed to Eric von Coelln, The Times’ Executive Director of Puzzles, Anna Shechtman, puzzle-creator and former assistant to Will Shortz, the newspaper’s crossword editor, writes in response to test-solver Claire Muscat’s resignation and Last’s Atlantic article:

“Not only was [Muscat] told that she was hired to check for content that might be offensive to female solvers,” Shechtman writes, “she was also asked not to offer advice or feedback outside of that identity-based purview…she was told that her “primary role” was to be a female censor and not, in other words, a multifaceted solver like the puzzle’s other (mostly male) employees.” The letter has since garnered hundreds of signatures.

Matt Gritzmacher, founder of the Substack newsletter “Daily Crossword Links,” where he provides all “the day’s crosswords in one place,” has kept track of puzzle creators’ demographics in an Excel spreadsheet. According to his data, a quarter of The Times’ crosswords were created by “women, non-binary, or gender non-conforming” folks in 2020. At The Atlantic, only 19% were. The New Yorker’s crossword editor, Liz Maynes-Aminzade, is the first female to inhabit the role at a major news outlet since Margaret Farrar in the mid-twentieth century.

Some may attribute these puzzling statistics to a lack of interest among female and gender non-conforming groups, but this inkling appears to be false. The Inkubator, which offers weekly crosswords created only by those who identify as female, provides a space for puzzles “that may not have a chance at mainstream publications due to feminist, political, or provocative content”—content which could easily be killed by editors. (MARIEKONDO and BELLHOOKS, for instance, have been deemed too obscure by some editors.)

Other inclusive outlets include Queer Qrosswords, which seeks to disrupt the heteronormative assumptions of many clues (“Husband’s spouse”: WIFE), and Women of Letters—founded by Patti Varol, also of The Inkubator—which offers a female-created and -edited crossword book in exchange for donations to organizations like Planned Parenthood and Girls Not Brides.

Men, too, are speaking up for greater representation in the CrossWorld, as it is lovingly referred to. At USA Today, whose crossword editor, Erik Agard, wore a tee-shirt that read “Publish More Women” to a crossword tournament, 69% of their puzzles in 2020 were created by women and gender non-conforming folks, according to Gritzmacher’s data. The tide seems to be turning, but there is still ample room for improvement.

The events of recent years have taught us about the importance of language. I am certainly more hyperaware of the words I use, and I posit that I am not alone. My love of French has rendered me especially attuned to the nuances of language and how one’s culture manifests, in part, in one’s speech. What are we supposed to make of the fact that it is la as opposed to le COVID, or that the word for doctor, médecin, is still always masculine? And which pronouns do gender-nonconforming French-speakers prefer, considering that il and elle are currently the only formally-accepted options? Needless to say, words carry weight.

But why didn’t I assign the same weight to the language used in crosswords? They are arguably an even more profound window into culture considering their play on words, historical references, and knowledge of what is en vogue today. For some reason, I did not view these puzzles through the same lens as I had other forms of media. Perhaps it was because the crossword was my escape from daily life; it was a form of meditation that allowed me to unplug, think critically, and be amused.

And crosswords can still be all of these things. It is unlikely that the grandfathers of the modern crossword puzzle maliciously tried to omit certain perspectives. Still, puzzles were created in an echo chamber of sorts. Up until recently, perhaps a gay or trans cruciverbalist would not have been able to enjoy a puzzle as much as I had. But pioneers like The Inkubator and Queer Qrosswords are happily disrupting the CrossWorld, spreading the joy to more people. The word-lovers who founded such outlets saw a gap where others—including myself—did not.

I still see crosswords as a fun vocabulary lesson and an exercise in questioning what we have been hardwired to believe. In two New Yorker puzzles from last year, “support staff” denoted CANE, and “Hot spot?” referred to EROGENOUS ZONE. Not only do such clues make me laugh or smile out of admiration for the creator’s cunning, but they force me to question how much of what I think and say results from habit rather than mindful, deliberate decisions.

“Crosswords defamiliarize the familiar,” writes The New Yorker’s Adrienne Raphel. “The idiosyncratic logic of a puzzle forces the brain to stop and undo its underlying assumptions. Each clue-and-answer pairing forces you to create a different kind of connection, which makes every word pop out afresh.”

Raphel eloquently articulates the joy of solving a crossword puzzle, which often results from the joy of discovering a new perspective through which to view a word, a phrase, or an idea. Shaking things up is an essential component of a crossword’s allure. Fostering greater inclusivity, then, is a natural extension of what a puzzle is meant to do.

I recently took advantage of The Inkubator’s free trial, which generously lasts for a couple months. Their most recent iteration contained all the hallmarks of a rewarding puzzle: difficult clues few will get right off the bat (“Malaysian state that’s home to George Town”: PENANG), adroit linguistic observations (“Substance that sounds like a mendacity”: LYE), and pop culture references that require some effort to remember (“Eldest Schuyler sister in ‘Hamilton’”: ANGELICA).

But much of the clues—a greater amount than most crosswords I’ve seen— focused on women. The answer to “Bell, really” was BRONTE, referring to the famed sisters’ pen names. STILLIRISE answered “Maya Angelou poem with ‘gifts that my ancestors gave.’” OBAMA resulted from “‘Becoming’ Michelle” rather than a clue related to her husband.

Crosswords will likely never disappear. Instead, one would expect them to morph and change with the times just as novels, movies, television shows, fashion trends, and even food do. The crossword shift may be somewhat late, but the recent efforts to promote a narrative that more accurately reflects this moment in history are a testament to the power words hold, and how they can be used to broaden the stories we hear and tell.

In the meantime, I will continue to indulge in my crossword addiction, forever partaking in its celebration of language. But now I will do so with a more discerning eye. And after the successful completion of a puzzle, I invariably feel like the answer to The Inkubator’s most recent 34 Across, “Maxine Hong Kingston’s genre-defying memoir”: THEWOMANWARRIOR.

Let’s Talk About Sex: The Disparity Between How Sex Workers and the Media View the World’s Oldest Profession

Often referred to as the world’s oldest profession, prostitution has aroused controversy for millennia, with historical accounts dating back to the Book of Genesis. Sex work still exists and will likely never disappear, but the profession is nevertheless plagued with stigma. This stigma is especially prevalent in Nevada, the only state where prostitution is legal. A 2018 Wall Street Journal article labeled the industry “as much a part of the Silver State’s image of sin and debauchery as gaming and bachelor parties.” Much of the media coverage surrounding sex workers, however, delivers a skewed and incomplete representation of their work while failing to include the perspectives of the workers themselves, which reveal a completely different side to the sex industry. 

Two-thousand eighteen was an important year for Nevada sex workers as activists sought to outlaw prostitution in Nye and Lyon counties by lobbying Nevadans to vote on the issue on that year’s November ballot. The Washington Post reported on the activists’ efforts, noting how the Lyon County campaign was pioneered by the End Trafficking and Prostitution Political Action Committee, which “reject[ed] the idea that any woman would choose to do sex work for a living.” Instead, many perceive sex workers as victims forced into the profession. Awaken, a non-profit aimed at fighting commercial sexual exploitation, regards prostitution as “a legal framework which fuels sexual exploitation and violence,” according to its website.

Many sex workers, however, challenge the notion that the majority of people in their profession are forced into it, and the media rarely reflects this. The media often assumes that the majority of sex work results from human trafficking or dire financial situations. While these problematic issues must be addressed, they do not represent why most sex workers enter the industry. Kiteh Kawasaki, a sex worker at Nevada’s Moonlite Bunny Ranch, expressed a similar sentiment in an email. “I don’t want [to be] rescued from my ‘awful’ predicament. Sex is natural and enjoyable,” she wrote. Similarly, Katie Summers, who works at the Kit Kat Guest Ranch near Carson City, enthusiastically shared how much she enjoys her work. After working as a dental assistant, she chose to transition to sex work, remarking how most women enter into the profession because they want to. 

But it is difficult for the American public to recognize that many women voluntarily choose sex work. Headlines such as “4 Women Accused of Running Prostitution Ring,” which ran in several state publications in 2019, contribute to the unrepresentative, dramatic, and narrow narrative surrounding the sex industry. Kawasaki, of the Bunny Ranch, shared how “American journalists tend to portray sex workers as victims or ripoff artists,” and Summers, of the KitKat Ranch, remarked how she wanted “affirmation of being a person, not just a prostitute.” Indeed, legal sex workers were not even eligible for the Small Business Administration loans made available to help those struggling during the pandemic, further highlighting the illegitimacy many people associate with the sex industry.

Kawasaki argues that the media often succumbs to “scripted, shallow, sensational and inaccurate” portrayals. Moreover, the intimacy and connection involved tends to be absent from the discussion. Alice Little, Nevada’s highest-paid sex worker who earned over one million dollars in 2019, emphasizes the emotional labor involved in her profession, adding that much of her work revolves around caring for others. “The original group of people who did this form of labor for society were sex workers,” Little said over Zoom. “We existed before psychologists, before therapists, before doctors […] We helped people through whatever it was that they were experiencing.” While Little does acknowledge the role sex plays, she stresses that it is largely a manifestation of physical closeness and trust as opposed to mere physical desire, adding that many sex workers view themselves as “therapists, but naked.”

Summers, too, described how her interactions with clients are often more than merely sexual, “quick and easy” encounters. She will often spend months getting to know a client prior to meeting them in person and works hard to ensure that they are comfortable. Summers wishes that, instead of focusing on money, the number of clients, and sex, the media would look beyond the physical aspect of sex work, highlighting its more therapeutic, intimate components. 

The media, Kawasaki claims, “rarely gets to really know people that work in this business […] Unbiased factual reporting is a lost art.” Like Summers stressed over the phone, sex work is not so “straightforward,” and much of its nuance becomes lost in its dominantly sensationalist and unrepresentative media portrayal. Indeed, articles describing the joy experienced by sex workers and their clients are difficult to find. “I enjoy having sex for money,” Kawasaki said. “I hate fighting busybodies for the ‘right’ to do that legally every legislative session. It’s legal. Leave us alone to work in peace.”

My Favorite Podcasts

When I first discovered podcasts, it was a revelation.

Rather than listening to the same songs over and over again on the radio, or to NPR (which I loved but rarely connected to the material), or to the Dan Patrick Show (unfortunately interrupted by seemingly endless commercial breaks), podcasts provided a deliberate source of education, an entertaining means of distraction and nourishment.

Today, podcasts have become an integral part of my life. I listen to them while walking to class, while on a run, when getting ready, or during pre-bed stretching sessions. They provide food for thought, helpful advice, radical ways of reframing the mind, and various perspectives on a wide range of topics. Podcasts have taught me how to think and have made me more open-minded; they have affected how I live, which books I read, and the movies I watch. In short, podcasts have infiltrated every aspect of my life, and I am eternally grateful for their influence.

Below are some of my favorites, but there are so many I have yet to explore…

  • The Tim Ferriss Show–one of my original favorites. Tim interviews experts and top-performers in various fields. Some of my favorite guests include Peter Attia, Dr. Rhonda Patrick, Adam Grant, Safi Bahcall, Kevin Rose…so many good episodes! Tim is also raw and authentic, contributing so much wisdom and insight.
  • Making Sense–Sam Harris is perhaps one of the most intelligent, articulate people I have ever listened to. On his podcasts, he interviews journalists, mediation teachers, psychologists, psychedelic therapy experts, and so many other fascinating people. It can sometime get a bit political, but Sam’s thoughts and insights are worth paying careful attention to.
  • The Joe Rogan Experience–Joe Rogan is a masterful–and hilarious–interviewer. He is curious and friendly, never afraid to admit when he does not know or understand something. I admire his humility and open mind. His guest list is extremely diverse, ranging from comedians to actors to fitness junkies to nutrition experts to journalists to tech people to entrepreneurs…I tend to pick and choose the episodes that seem the most interesting to me, although I have often stumbled upon some unexpected gems I would not have expected to enjoy.
  • The Drive–Peter Attia, a renowned longevity doctor, interviews a host of people with the aim of increasing one’s lifespan and health span. Guests include physicians, nutrition experts, and exercise experts, but also people who have overcome tough mental challenges–such as surviving the 2009 forced landing of a US Airways flight in the Hudson River, for instance–or who have found ways to optimize their emotional wellbeing. Peter Attia is admirably self-aware and curious, curating a goldmine of extremely valuable information for how to live a healthy life.
  • The Kevin Rose Show–Kevin Rose, a friend of Tim Ferriss, has many guests similar to those who appear on The Tim Ferriss Show. I appreciate Rose’s genuine curiosity in addition to his combination of more science-backed interviews with ones that incorporate elements of Eastern forms of medicine. This is a relatively recent discovery, and there are certainly several gems!

Guide to New York City Part IV: TriBeCa

During my first year living in New York, I rarely visited Tribeca. I knew it was largely residential, with many luxury apartments as well as families. I also knew that it used to be an industrial wasteland–an unattractive and undesirable area of the city. This changed, however, in large part due to Robert De Niro, the incredibly talented polymath who invested in Tribeca property and subsequently transformed the area into a trendy, hip, and bustling neighborhood. I am not too well-versed on the subject, but if I am not mistaken, I believe that his restaurant, Nobu, helped attract an A-list crowd, which thus contributed to Tribeca’s glamorous makeover. My family and I had the privilege of staying here prior to my move back home for the summer. I discovered just how fun Tribeca was and how much more there was to explore. Bits and pieces revealed themselves to me during the year, when I met my brother for dinner, or enjoyed the final day of the Tribeca Film Festival (which just entailed viewing a bunch if movies at a nice movie theatre near Battery Park–not what I expected, but fun nonetheless). Staying here, however, elucidated Tribeca’s fun character, one I believed to be nonexistent, or at least banal in comparison to other neighborhoods such as the East Village or the Lower East Side. Once again, New York proved me utterly and completely wrong.

The Greenwich Hotel: Robert De Niro’s charming, cozy, and delightfully fancy hotel in Tribeca, complete with funky art, a lovely courtyard, a delicious restaurant, and impeccable design. The hotel room doors are wooden with a large knob in the center, and rooms house old books and vintage cameras. Details like these make the hotel so special! The staff is really friendly as well.

Locanda Verde: delicious rustic Italian restaurant at the Greenwich Hotel. Super fun and happening!

Tiny’s: a truly tiny restaurant that is at once intimate, romantic, refined, and delicious. Their thoughtful, well-composed menu contains ample mouth-watering options.

The Greek: probably one of my favorite restaurants in the city. The Greek serves authentic Greek food with a focus on seasonal, local, and organic ingredients. They have an outstanding natural wine list, and most of the staff are in fact Greek!

inside the Greek

Two Hands: though I have not been to their Tribeca location, I have been to their Nolita one, and it was delicious! This healthy aussie café serves up some delicious food with plenty of options for those with any dietary restrictions or those looking for a meal a little more on the healthy side.

Guide to New York City Part III: West Village & Greenwich Village

To be completely honest, I am unsure as to where the West Village ends and Greenwich Village begins. I have a general idea of the area each neighborhood inhabits, but the exact locations and the precise boundaries will likely always remain blurred in my mind. These neighborhoods, to me, do not possess a history that stretches as far back as the East Village and the Lower East Side, for instance, where old tenements and family-run businesses contribute to their unique character–one marked by the stories of the immigrants who moved here long ago, particularly in the 19th and early 20th centuries. That is not to say that the West Village and Greenwich Village are any less special, however, for they possess their own idiosyncrasies. Their history, too, is rich: one may think of the Stonewall riots of 1969, or perhaps the lively music scene, or the tendency of aspiring artists–poets, authors, painters, etc.–to gravitate towards this eclectic area of the city. Indeed, these villages harbor a different narrative, but one that is nonetheless rich with culture and art, as well as the ethos of self-expression and acceptance.

Via Carota : a no reservations spot that is at once rustic, refined, lively, and delicious. Expect to wait, but it is definitely worth it!

Buvette: very French and very delicious. A petit gem owned by Jody Williams, who also helped found Via Carota, along with her partner, Rita Sodi.

Cap Beauty: a beautiful all-natural, non-toxic beauty shop with a friendly staff. They also offer wonderful facials and other treatments at their spa!

Barre3: an amazing exercise studio in the West Village. I love Barre3, and being able to practice at this studio was fun, fulfilling, stress-relieving, and provided a much-needed sweat! Be sure to check out their merchandise selection as well as other products such as candles and skin stuff.

Culture: a delicious frozen yogurt shop that focuses on high-quality ingredients and milk from local New York cows.

Loring Place: a trendy spot that focuses on fresh, seasonal, high-quality ingredients. The chef is an abc kitchen alum, so you know it is good and somewhat healthyish.

Clover Grocery: a wellness mecca that provides healthy snacks, condiments, supplements, skin care products, and more. They also have a smoothie/juice bar, though I have yet to try it.

Hemp Garden: they have several locations throughout the city, but I have only been to the one on Cornelia Street. They provide a vast selection of all natural products–creams, lotions, tinctures, gummies, bars, etc.–with the benefits of hemp and/or CBD. The staff is really friendly as well.

Goods for the Study: the BEST shop for all things paper/school/office/writing related, including pencils, pens, notebooks, folders, notepads, and more!

Pink Olive: such a fun shop for gifts and other little treasures such as fun cards, prints, books, notebooks, and so much more. Rifle Paper Co. is a common theme.

Wallflower: a tiny, romantic, chic, and charming restaurant with a small but delicious menu. The perfect place for an amazing meal in an intimate setting.

Sedona, Arizona: the Ultimate Weekend Getaway

The United States possesses its own unique collection of hidden gems. One such place is Sedona, Arizona. Though it is not hidden, per se, it provides a welcome respite from the busyness of one’s day-to-day routine.

Perhaps the most awe-inspiring aspect of this southwestern sanctuary is its stunning red rocks. Layers upon layers of glorious red, orange, and tan hues color the cliffs and spires that surround the town. My family stayed in Boynton Canyon, so we were actually surrounded by the rocks, which rose to impressive heights all around us. We had to crane our necks to capture the canyon’s entirety.

The geological splendors of Sedona also serve as an intriguing link to the past. One can only imagine how old the layers of rock at the bottom of the cliffs are. As time progressed, more layers were continuously added. The spires and unique formations were created from years and years of weather, shaped by the wind and rain. Pondering the history of one’s physical surroundings is certainly exciting, especially when the evidence of aging is so visible.

The Enchantment Resort, approximately 15 minutes from town and tucked away in the canyon, was an absolute delight. The distance from town was in fact an advantage, adding an element of privacy and intimacy. Large windows allow guests to fully take in the splendor of their surroundings while tasteful southwestern décor adds to the hotel’s allure. The Enchantment also boasts delicious, sophisticated cuisine.

Mii Amo Café serves fresh, healthy, and seasonally-inspired dishes in an unfortunately cafeteria-like setting. While it is a perfect spot for breakfast or lunch, I would forgo the café for a more elegant option come dinnertime. This place is more intended for pre- and post-spa nourishment.

Tii Gavo is a casual restaurant offering delicious food with a nod to traditional southwestern flavors. A good place for groups, picky eaters (like myself) can find a dish to their liking while sports fans enjoy the latest game at the bar.

Che Ah Chi, the resort’s signature restaurant, serves breakfast and dinner in a rather hotel-like atmosphere but, at breakfast, the views make up for it and at night, the room is dimly lit. Perhaps I am being slightly harsh, as the restaurant certainly is elegant, but it would be even more so with a more modern and fresh makeover. The food, however, certainly steals the show and quickly eclipses any ambience-related qualms. Che Ah Chi celebrates Native American and southwestern flavors, especially with their divine vegetable dishes. Unfortunately, dessert was slightly lacking, as the ice cream was a bit gummy and unimpressive flavor-wise.

If you do decide to venture out into town for an evening, the Elote Café is an excellent option. The atmosphere is certainly nothing special, but the liveliness of the place more than makes up for it (they take no reservations, so expect a LOT of people and long wait times), and the food is more than worth the daunting wait. I have always possessed a deep distaste for (Americanized) Mexican food, as I always viewed it a heavy and bloat-inducing. The Elote Café converted me. While the restaurant is certainly still indulgent, the food is bright, flavorful, modern, and absolutely delicious. There are more options than tacos and enchiladas. I ordered the sea bass adobo–a perfectly tender, and very spicy, grilled fillet of fish with salsa verde and pickled onions. Everything from the guacamole to the vanilla agave ice cream was perfectly executed. Each component of the meal had so much thought put into it, making it a truly satisfying and memorable meal.

Indulging in a spa treatment is also a lovely way to fully immerse yourself in the wellness-y vibe of Sedona. The Mii Amo Spa, though world-renowned and highly acclaimed, was unfortunately underwhelming. The treatments themselves, as well as the kind and amiable therapists, were outstanding, but the physical atmosphere of the spa was tired and outdated. Significant improvements could have been made regarding the spa waiting area, which was rather small. Things one would expect from an award-winning spa, such as cleanliness, aesthetically-pleasing massage rooms, and appropriately warm hot tub temperatures, seemed to go overlooked. I know how blessed I am to even be able to go to a spa. While back from college for Winter Break, a massage was a lovely–and much appreciated–treat, but for the exorbitant spa prices, however, the physical atmosphere was lacking.

Sedona is certainly a lovely place to visit. I was taken aback by its beauty, as I was not expecting such vividly-colored, nor beautifully shaped, rocks. The nature alone makes Sedona an extraordinary getaway, but the people, hotels, cuisine, and spas add a unique element that renders it even more enjoyable.

Winter Self-Care Products*

Self-care is an essential aspect to one’s overall health and wellbeing. With the upcoming Holiday Season and chilly weather, personal wellness could not be more important. Listed below are products that will inspire both an internal and external glow, as well as soothe the body during these wintry months.

Kopari Coconut Melt: This organic coconut oil is meant to be used as a moisturizer. It is perfect for hands and legs–commonly dry areas during this time of year. Kopari is 100% natural and smells divine, making it the perfect addition to one’s self-care repertoire.

Saje’s Sleep Well Oil: This oil is perfect for facilitating a sense of calm prior to bed. It is best to roll it on the inner wrists, the bottom of the feet, the temples, and behind the earlobes. After doing so, breathing in the oil’s lovely lavender-chamomile-valerian scent will help promote an even more restful sleep.

Hemp Garden’s Elevate CBD Lotion: This quaint shop on Cornelia Street sells products containing hemp or CBD, including lotion, candies, and bars. The Elevate lotions contain CBD and are perfect for soothing fatigued muscles. The lotion physically relaxes the body and can facilitate a deeper, more restorative sleep.

The Base Collective’s Magnesium Oil Spray: This spray works similarly to the CBD lotion in that it, too, provides relief for sore or fatigued muscles. The calming effect of magnesium can also help with sleep.

Live-Live & Organic’s Bee Yummy Skincare Line: Live-Live & Organic is a lovely health food/skin care store in the East Village. Its Bee Yummy products contain natural ingredients such as wildflower honey and royal jelly to promote healthy skin. The Bee Yummy Skinfood and Honey Mask are particularly divine.

Marie Veronique’s Gentle Gel Cleanser: This cleanser is perfect for sensitive skin. After using it, one’s face feels soft, clean, and moisturized. It also smells lovely and lasts for a considerably long time, as a single pump will suffice for a thorough and indulgent clean.

*Please note that these product recommendations are based upon my personal experiences. Everyone’s bodies and skin types are different and may react differently. Please know, however, that I have personally tested every one of these products and love all of them. If you decide to try some of these products for yourself, please do enjoy.

Aussie Cafés of NYC

It is officially Fall here in New York City, and with this particularly cozy season comes a bout of chilly weather and a plunge in temperatures. Though the cool and crisp air is certainly refreshing and only adds to the excitement of the upcoming Holiday season, it is nevertheless desirable to experience some warm and summery vibes.

Luckily, the city’s latest gastronomic trend has helped combat the blues that people may experience with such a drastic weather change. Who better than the Aussies to add some warmth during these upcoming wintry months?

Australian cafés seem to have become the new “hotspot” for New Yorkers seeking a relatively healthy, but slightly indulgent, meal or snack during these cooler days. Two Australian restaurants in particular have been able to fully deliver on everything that one might expect, including delicious food, incredibly friendly staff, and a comforting, yet aesthetically pleasing, atmosphere.

In the heart of SoHo, Ruby’s Café offers a bright and airy sanctuary for a leisurely breakfast or lunch amidst a much-needed break from one’s shopping endeavors. The menu is diverse, making it the perfect spot for a group with varying tastes. Complete with a vast selection of burgers, sandwiches, salads, pastas, and “brekkie” items, Ruby’s Café can satisfy the pickiest eater while also pleasing that family member or friend who couldn’t care less about the food’s nutritional value.

What to order:

The kale salad is delicious but also indulgent. The crispy quinoa adds a satisfying crunch element. It is even more delicious with a side of avocado, for it makes the dish more substantial and also provides a dose of healthy fats.

The roasted Brussels sprouts were good, and slightly sweet, but they could have been far better had they been crispier. This dish had a funky acidic/sweet element which rendered it unique in comparison to traditional roasted brussels sprouts, although I prefer the latter to the former.

The pasta dishes looked heavenly. Though I did not order any pasta, several tables around me did. Each dish was colorful and satisfying to look at, especially with the extremely generous pile of grated parmesan cheese that crowned some of the customers’ glutenous meals.

A more homey and genuine Australian café, called Good Thanks, is located in the Lower East Side, just a few doors down from Russ & Daughter’s Café. The staff here was refreshingly genuine, kind, and attentive. There were some Aussies at Ruby’s, but it seemed that everyone working here was an Aussie, and the traditional Australian friendliness definitely showed–more so than at Ruby’s.

The food at Good Thanks is absolutely delicious. It is not fussy, but everything is made with the utmost care and is presented in a way that resembles an unpretentious piece of art. The micro greens that adorn the seasonal fruit bowl–which comes in a beautiful shallow wooden bowl–as well as the perfectly poached eggs on the avocado toast, are but one example of the admirable amount of thought put into each dish.

Their small wooden tables, ceramic plates, and quaint carafes of lemon water all add to the warmth and coziness one feels upon entering, but Good Thanks is not just another trendy café that mindlessly grasps onto fleeting trends, hoping to stay afloat in New York’s culinary battlefield. They are authentic and genuine. They take no shortcuts and ensure that everything–from the flavor to the atmosphere to the presentation– is executed mindfully and purposefully. The staff treats their customers like old friends, but a strong familial-like bond is evident among the staff members themselves.

The congenial atmosphere is reason enough to visit this LES gem, but the food is truly impeccable.

What to order:

Any of the egg dishes were delicious. I ordered two poached eggs with avocado and smoked salmon. Just be sure that, if you want to skip the toast that accompanies the eggs, to ask specifically for no bread. The salmon was not overpowered by salt, as many varieties unfortunately are, while the avocado was perfectly ripe and the eggs deliciously jammy.

My sister ordered the homemade, gluten-free banana bread, which came with a side of spiced butter. The bread, appearing gloriously dense and moist, was bejeweled with banana chunks and was, according to her, sinfully delicious.

Though I don’t drink coffee, my dad does and is rather particular about what constitutes a good cappuccino. He certainly expressed high approval of Good Thanks’ version of the classic café essential.

These two Aussie cafés are worth a visit–especially Good Thanks. In an age defined by ruthless culinary competition and stuffy restaurants lacking any character, Ruby’s Café and Good Thanks proved to be the perfect breaths of fresh air.

Natural Skincare

Our skin, the body’s largest organ, is constantly bombarded with myriad chemicals and pollutants, especially when living in a large city like New York. Because of the seemingly constant daily exposure to harmful substances, it is best to avoid skin products that would only cause further damage. The modern skincare industry produces countless products that are rife with harmful chemicals. Our skin is able to absorb topical products, so it is crucial that one takes into account the body as a whole when pondering various skincare avenues. Luckily, there are many natural ingredients that greatly benefit the skin. Listed below are some key ingredients that can be uses to care for the skin in the healthiest, most wholesome manner possible. Each ingredient is a nutrient powerhouse and will flood your skin with nutritional benefits. Self-care is essential, and the skin is indeed a major part of it.

Raw Honey

-honey contains antibacterial properties and aids in the skin’s pH regulation. It also helps regulate the production of the skin’s natural oils, which, when disrupted, can cause acne, oiliness, and dryness


-matcha is rich in chlorophyll, which helps slow the growth of anaerobic bacteria. Its caffeine content also aids in the tightening of the skin and shrinking of pores

Apple Cider Vinegar

-apple cider vinegar’s pH is very similar to that of the skin’s, thus helping to keep it in check

Cucumber & Mint

-both cucumber and mint aid in reducing redness and inflammation. As an added bonus, cucumber seeds contain Vitamin E and potassium, therefore delivering essential nutrients to the skin


-blackberries are an extremely good source of antioxidants which protect the cells from free radicals. Free radicals are produced as a result of radiation exposure, pollutants such as smoke, and the breaking down of food and pose a great threat to the health of the skin

Incorporating these ingredients into one’s skincare routine will undoubtedly benefit the skin in myriad ways. They are a welcome alternative to the many chemical-laden commercial products on the market. All of these ingredients are edible, and simply eating them is a powerful first step towards taking better care of your skin. However, to further reap their benefits, topical application is highly effective. For ingredients that are slightly more difficult to apply manually, there are several vehicles that aid in facilitating the process, such as natural Greek yogurt. One can mix any of these ingredients into the yogurt to create a more economical way to apply them to the skin. Raw honey is another useful vehicle as are smashed banana or avocado. Hopefully these ingredients will bring you much joy. Please always remember the importance of self care and how our bodies always welcome a respite from the noise and pollution of modern life.

For further information and inspiration regarding all-natural skincare, the blogs Kale & Caramel, The Beauty Chef, and Hello Glow are all lovely resources. Much of the information in this article was inspired by their wisdom and provided an abundance of knowledge to aid in natural skin care.


Everyone is well aware that one’s home is something far different than a house.

is it a thing at all?

what does the word “home” encompass? what does it include?

for many, home produces feelings of warmth, comfort, nostalgia, security

for others it conjures up memories that have long been repressed.

for me, home is a source of light and love. it is grounding and evokes feelings of utter bliss.

my home is not only a place. it includes tranquil mountains and their quaint brooks;

the lush environment and its call to deer, squirrels, foxes, bears, owls;

the orange and red leaves in the fall, enveloping the town in a blanket of fiery hues;

the silent first snow, validating our excitement that winter has finally arrived.

it includes an intimate community of diverse individuals united by their love of the town and each other;

my family sharing our meals after a hectic day apart;

the smell of fresh vegetables roasting in the oven;

the softness of my bed and the gift of its warmth;

all this, and more, constitutes my home–an indefinable term, as it is simply too beautifully complicated to be compressed into a single definition.

home–everything that brings me back to my roots, reminding me that I am never truly alone.