Friday, November 24, 2017

Gifts I'd Love to Give (and Receive)


Maybe in part because my family does gifts eclectically (recipient picks, giver orders item or reimburses recipient who has already ordered it), I'm not very good at selecting gifts for others. I am capable of hitting it out of the park on occasion, though usually only because the recipient once mentioned offhand, "oh I'd love it if I had x," in which case I took note and bought the item for the next gift-requiring occasion. Otherwise, I get kind of lost. I've bought a lot of things such as, say, that year's version of a Peter Thomas Roth mask set for a skin care lover, something I even thought was cool enough to buy for myself later, only to see it go utterly unused by the recipient. Alas!

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in a commission, typically a few cents, for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

So maybe I'm not the best at gift suggestions, but over time, there's been a few items that I've greatly enjoyed receiving, or that I'm certain would make an awesome gift, at least from my perspective. Maybe some of these ideas will also be good for someone in your life!


The linked ones are by Index Urban (similar pictured), which appears to be an independent, family-owned luggage shop in San Diego that sells customizable leather luggage tags both on-site and via Etsy. They have tons of colors and options. A friend got one for me as a graduation gift, and mine has held up great through being attached to my checked bag on several international trips, some with multiple stops.


Porcelain and Stone is a woman-owned small business based in Massachusetts, where I went to college. I purchased one of her small necklaces last year, and requested a pair of her "Navigation" dangle earrings for Christmas, so I'm already amassing a small collection. These earrings are actually on my personal wishlist for this holiday season. You can follow the artist on Instagram and she has some additional selections at her own shop. She makes both larger, statement pieces as well as a few smaller designs. 

Cuyana Classic Passport Case, $95

This is one of those things I haven't tried out yet, but that I think I'd be thrilled to receive. I don't particularly need a passport case for personal travel, but because I generally opt for a throw everything in and go tote without much internal organization, I sometimes need to dig around for small but important items like a passport or boarding pass, which I'd rather not need to do when traveling for work. I prefer a larger passport case with room for both the passport and boarding pass to one that just accommodates the passport. (I actually ordered the larger Cuyana Travel Wallet to try a while back, but found it much too big for my needs and returned it. I don't need my passport holder to also serve as a wallet, I just need it for my passport, boarding pass, and maybe some receipts.) 

H&M Premium Wool Scarf, $50 

This was one of my birthday gifts a while back, which I picked mainly because it looked vaguely like that Acne scarves, though I don't know if they're similar dimensions anymore. Confession: I don't actually wear this as a scarf because my down coat zips up fully to the neck and doesn't leave room for a heavier scarf, but I've really loved having this as a wrap at my office desk. It's warm and brightens my day, and it feels luxe to me to have one in wool. While my scarf may be a little wider, I think 21.5 inches is still wide enough for it to serve as a smaller lap blanket when folded up. 

Plaid Blanket Scarves, ~$13

Total blast from the past, my first ever post was about this type of unbranded acrylic plaid blanket scarf. They're now very commonly found on Amazon, in all kinds of plaid and check designs, and well, I think that's generally the most frugal place to obtain one year-round. At the time, I was looking for designs that were first found at Zara, but had long since sold out. (I believe they were first popularized by Atlantic Pacific.) These are admittedly kind of overdone. In the winters of 2014 and 2015,  it felt like I saw as many as two or three women wearing them practically every single time I stepped out the door in NYC. Nonetheless, I still wear mine when I need a warm scarf and am in one of my wool blend coats that doesn't fasten fully up to the neck.

Happy belated Thanksgiving! This has been a sometimes tough year, but I have so much to be thankful for: my loving and supportive family, who make the difficult things as easy as they can ever be; my life with K; my wonderful friends who commiserate with me when things are hard; and my wonderful colleagues and bosses/mentors, who have made my current and previous jobs totally awesome. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Cup of Tea


Thank you to everyone for your kind and thoughtful replies on my previous post. She was a wonderful mother and grandmother, always unfailingly kind. Things were difficult for a long time in the last few years, but everyone has so many good memories to hold on to. She was deeply loved. My family and I are doing well. 

Today's post is about a few items I bought recently for my desk at work, or that I plan to buy soon, all in service of my tea-drinking habit. I drink tea every day at work, usually going through three to four cups a day, enough that loose leaf is absolutely the only way, and the most cost-effective way, to go. It's an important part of my every workday, so it makes sense to treat myself to a few items to facilitate brewing and drinking tea at the office.

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in a commission, typically a few cents, for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

This will show that I'm absolutely terrible sometimes when it comes to the sustainability and low or no waste-preferred components of minimalism, but at both of my private sector jobs so far, I've relied primarily on... disposable plastic or paper cups for water and tea or coffee. (I know, I know, it's awful of me, and I'm totally kicking myself!) In my partial defense, most of my time since graduation was spent as a government employee, where I used real mugs. The public sector doesn't provide constant, infinite refills of, well, either paper cups, or of coffee, unlike my private sector jobs. Anyway, I'll be better now, with the help of some of these recent purchases. None of this is too exciting, but it's all things that I know I'll be able to make good use of (that tea habit is definitely not going anywhere), and that will make my workday more enjoyable, even during my busiest periods:

  • Mr. Coffee Mug Warmer: This is a new item for me, but I've had it for a few days, and so far so good. The nature of the job means that I often get distracted by a call or a new task that just came up, so quite a few servings of coffee or tea that I prepare for myself get forgotten long enough that they get cold. I don't think I've ever found, or read about, a solution more elegant than an electric mug warmer, so there it goes. Reading the Amazon reviews, it seems that these tend to be a fairly clunky and failure-prone gadget, but I haven't had any issues so far, though, well, it's been a very short time. I'm going to need to be extremely careful about shutting this off whenever it's not in use and not using it for excessive periods of time, as there's some risk of it overheating. 
  • Silicone Drink Cover: These are not something that would normally be on my radar, as I spent more than a year at my last job without, but most of the reviews for the mug warmer suggest that a lid helps significantly with getting a hot drink to stay warm. I see a lot of similar silicon mug or cup covers at various stores, including when I'm traveling in Taiwan, so I figured they'd do the trick, and are generally useful. I picked one of these flower-looking Charles Viancin drink covers, specifically the sunflower ones. They're four inches across, which should be good for most mugs. These are also a new item for me, but are also good so far. 
  • A Pretty Mug or Two: Whatever else one thinks of Anthropologie (I feel like the clothes aren't as nice-looking as they used to be), they stock some of the prettiest and most fun mugs. Out of the current selection, I'm particularly partial to the Liberty floral printed mugs and the pretty Mimira mugs pictured above. I'll be getting something at Anthropologie in person the next chance I have to stop by, but for now I've purchased a Pusheen mug for my desk. I tend to keep both a cold and hot drink at my desk and drink, so having two reusable mugs is the right number for me. 
  • Metal Tea Infuser: I've used quite a few tea infusers or filters in my time, including the little mesh ball-shaped ones, paper tea filters (bad minimalist of me, again!), and even a silicone "manatea", which is absolutely adorable, but also not the most practical, as it's a little difficult to fully clean out and the really small holes seem to prevent some teas from brewing as well. From that set of experiences, I'm thinking that a larger cup-shaped metal filter, preferably one that comes with a little lid that also serves as a drip tray, is the way to go, something like this, though this one on Amazon is cheaper. 
  • Electric Kettle? This is a little more unusual, but I may also be thinking about getting an electric kettle for my office. Like at my first firm, there's a hot water dispenser at my new workplace, but the water doesn't seem hot enough to brew oolong tea, one of my go-to kinds, though it's hot enough for green tea, so I've been holding out for now. I bought and donated this basic metal Hamilton Beach kettle to my previous workplace and it was great and still going strong, though 1.7 liters is a little big if it's just me using it for single servings.

Anyone else a habitual tea drinker? Any favorite kinds? I usually just pick out one of the green teas from the fairly broad selection of loose leaf tea at a nearby supermarket, and I have a range of different oolongs from my trips to Taiwan that will take me quite some time to use up. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Unexpected

Photo from Gaomei Wetlands.

My maternal grandmother in Taiwan passed away suddenly late last month. She lived with us in the US for a long time, helping take care of my sister and I for most of our childhoods. She had been extremely frail and in poor overall health for a long time, with unrelenting chronic pain, likely from rheumatoid arthritis, complicated by dementia, which is why she went back to Taiwan, where she'd have readier access to medical care and assistance from our extended family. We'd been bracing ourselves for this for a long time, though it was still a great shock. I went to Taiwan for a week to attend her funeral. 

I think my offline reactions to my grandmother's passing would strike many as being rather emotionally detached. I haven't cried much. Because of when the funeral was scheduled, I had four full working days at the office between when I first heard and when I got on the plane, and well, I think most of my colleagues would have been surprised if they knew I had so recently received tragic news. I may not have come across as being sad, though I wasn't completely myself. I certainly didn't talk about it, except to the extent absolutely necessary to set up my time off from the office.

While I'm generally someone who loves to talk ad nauseum about the small problems in my life, even long after I've already decided exactly what I'm going to do about them (which might be somewhat apparent in my writing), when things actually are bad, I go into "crisis management mode." Then, I'm all action, with minimal patience for talking things through, except to put the solution in place. So I'd like to think that I'd long since shown my love for my grandmother, my commitment to family, through my actions. In college, I once spent a month of a summer caring for my grandmother while she was in a back brace after a car accident, and while my mom was at work, a job my mom previously hired someone to do when I was away for an internship earlier that summer. I played a similar role the summer I studied for the bar, after her health had taken its dramatic decline, though I never talked about it then. I don't talk about these things to the vast majority of people in my life.

Culturally, as a Taiwanese family of Chinese descent, we place extreme value on caring for family members, particularly elderly parents and grandparents. There's a profound fear of and strong social stigma attached to putting relatives in nursing homes, and I think most families from our cultural background that I know of, including my own, make sacrifices of both time and money that could come across as extreme, in order to ensure that elderly or sick relatives can be adequately cared for in a family member's home. My mom took on those responsibilities by herself for a long time, so she's the real hero. I assisted only briefly, sharing my mom's burdens only a little. Ours isn't a culture that allows for complaints about how difficult it is, but I saw how hard it was for her, and also how much pain my grandmother was in for more than two years. Acceptance as a stage of grief came remarkably quickly because, as a family, we'd been prepared for so long. It feels as if I'd already started going through the earlier stages of grief much sooner.

This was originally going to be a post that tied all this into the extent to which family, and the possibility of needing to care for family (both financially and otherwise) at later stages of my life motivates my personal finance journey. That includes going to law school (insane loans and all) because it felt like the best way to build up the necessary resources while also supporting my hypothetical future children, mainly in having the high-quality education that has been so important in determining the course of my life, hopefully without the same student debt burden. It also ties into my probably excessive emergency fund (that I may bolster even more, rather than turn that extra money towards my student debt). Part of that predilection for possibly slightly excessive cash reserves was that I don't want to be one of those "left biglaw with insufficient savings while barely denting the loans" horror stories (link one). Also, an emergency fund was critical to my handling a huge emergency dental bill recently, as well as immediately traveling to Taiwan, both in short order and without even blinking. No doubt it'd help immensely in weathering future crises as well. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

October Shopping Reflections


Another excessive shopping month, yikes! The good news is that my shopping frenzy of the last three months, instigated largely by my return to a private-sector paycheck, is starting to die down. It was a very dramatic change in a short time, and, in my defense, I had accumulated a backlog of work wardrobe needs. For instance, I didn't explain this fully before because I'm so self-conscious about it, but that extra inch around the chest, and probably some extra to my shoulders as well, sized me out of all my black blazers, hence the J.Crew Factory suit last month. I also needed that pair of presentable and walkable flats for court, for which the Cole Haan Tali Bow flats were perfect.

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in a commission, typically a few cents, for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

The not-so-good news is that I have at least one more expensive month coming, though I'm much more confident of the big purchase that's coming up. Namely, I'm likely replacing my large Longchamp Planetes tote (now the Neo). In my usual way of not realizing something is totally worn out until several wears later, like when there was a hole in a pair of much-loved boots I was about to weatherproof, it was only during my recent business trip that I noticed how the leather handles had stretched out, making the bag hang awkwardly lower, and how the whole bag's turned really droopy and shapeless, even if I pack it carefully. Also, the shrinkage when Longchamp repairs the corners (by taking in the entire bag), ended up with it right on the edge of too small to comfortably accommodate my laptop in a sleeve.  I bought my Longchamp in December 2010, so it's seen almost seven years of heavy use, including as a constant companion on all my travels. These days, I'd almost always opt for either a leather bag or, if I'm carrying a serious volume of papers and my laptop, a backpack, for the office, so a new Longchamp might only be for travel, which might make the price tag frivolous. Yet it's been such a large part of all my many travels for years that I honestly can't imagine being without. (As for why I'm not using my Longchamp "Miaou" tote instead? I'm too scared of getting it dirty to shove it under the seat in front of me when flying. That one has not, therefore, been my most practical purchase, but it "sparks joy" enough that I don't regret it.) 

As for this month, the bulk of the spending was from a visit to the MM. LaFleur showroom. I'll write a more detailed post about the brand later, but to preview it now: I'm not the target customer, as the items are just too much more expensive than my usual; they do some things really well, including very consistent and true to their size chart sizing; I'm utterly baffled by their predilection for unlined dresses; and I really do love the things I bought, though because of the dramatic step up in price for me, I can't be sure that I made the wisest choices. For now, here are some other  blogs' comprehensive MM. LaFleur reviews that I found very helpful: here and here

Fashion - (TOTAL: $564.40) 
  • Nordstrom Cashmere and Silk Wrap - $59.40 - I generally don't talk much about the items that come to me as gifts, but my mom's generous Christmas gift the year I graduated (a surprise, unlike with our usual gifting practices) was a lovely, thin but actually warm, 69% cashmere, 31% silk Burberry scarf (identical design now in 80% modal, 10% cashmere, 10% silk, which strikes me as a serious step down even if I'm fond of modal for pajamas). I'm totally sheepish about how generous my mom is, though in my slight defense, as a tight-knit Taiwanese-American family, we do money differently.* I loved the material of that scarf so much that I'd been stalking this 55% cashmere, 45% silk Nordstrom brand scarf for a year, and leaped on the teal one when it went on sale. (Alas, the only color that remains on sale now is a bright pink that I find less versatile.) Do be warned that this fabric is fragile, even the weight of the sewn-in fabric tag was likely to pull a thread or two loose. With the higher silk content, this one is softer and has a more "slippery" texture than my other scarf. 
  • MM. LaFleur Didion Top, Ink Wash - $157.00** - I have an irrationally powerful fondness for this top, even though it's polyester (two layers that feel nicer and drape better than polyester tops I've had before, though given that all previous ones cost 25% of this, that's no surprise), and the design and the way it photographs on others, including on MM. LaFleur's own blog, suggests that it may have a "boob tent" effect or look deceptively broad and boxy on bustier women. Nonetheless, I love it, and the sort of dolman effect, wider cut of the top (the most similar shape I've seen is in the Everlane Square silk shirts, but those have a very different overall look with a collar and buttons) makes it drape particularly nicely when tucked in to a pencil skirt. The price is such a step up from my usual, it's even almost double the price of the Everlane shirts, that I don't know if I've made a completely silly decision, but I could see myself rebuying if a good color came up. 
  • MM. LaFleur Toi Dress, Deep Plum - $289.00** - This is lovely, and lined, and it fits me remarkably well, given that it's often photographed on significantly less busty women. I needed to size up to an 8, from my "typical" MM. LaFleur size of a 6. It's not one of their "bust-friendly" items, as it's quite fitted through the chest. There's a little extra room at my waist (and probably more flare to the a-line skirt at the hips than I need), though less than I expected. I'm incorporating this dress into my wedding guest outfit rotation. I've gotten tired of my Ann Taylor lace shift dress that I love, but that gets really boring when I wear it to the fifth straight wedding in a year. I've retired and will soon ThredUp consign the DvF Zarita dress (super sale at Nordstrom Rack, and cheaper in many sizes and colors at TheRealReal) I bought on sale before I started blogging because it's not flattering on me, as a stretchy dress with no structure. 
  • Pearl Source 7-8 MM Pearl Studs with 14K Gold Posts - $59.00 - Ugh, this was careless, but unlike with my February 2015 pair, which I wore for two years, I lost an earring while I was asleep barely eight months after purchasing my new pair, and couldn't find it. I like stud earrings that I never need to take off, even when showering, and I've been relying on pearl studs from Amazon (always competitively priced, and particularly affordable for sterling silver posts) for that purpose, as I need earrings with (actual, not plated) gold or sterling silver posts in order to wear them for even a few hours without irritation. I know from experience that two years of that kind of wear is too much, but keep at it nonetheless. It's definitely a bad at minimalism thing that I do, but I know myself, and the extra effort of taking off the earrings every night isn't something that generally fits well into my life. Also, if I fail to wear earrings for too long, the holes close up.
** Indicates that price includes sales tax.

If you're a Longchamp fan, did you also experience your tote getting extremely worn out with time, particularly with stretching out or excessive softening of the leather handles? If you have any experience with buying or trying on MM. LaFleur, what did you think?

*Law school peers from similar backgrounds often had considerable parental subsidies for tuition, sometimes in the form of interest-free loans with highly flexible repayment terms, rather than straight gifts, neither of which my family can provide. I'm extremely privileged to have their help in so many other ways, however, including my cell phone family plan and paying for my meals when I visit. Also, I send $60 home per paycheck as a symbolic gesture.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sunday Reading: Asian Americans in the Legal Profession

via NPR

This story is a few months old now, another one of those serious topics that linger in my queue of drafts for weeks and weeks while I gather my thoughts. Things aren't excellent for Asian Americans in the legal profession (first link), which I always knew, but hadn't previously seen much comprehensive documentation for. We're extremely well-represented in law schools and the junior echelons of the field, but quite underrepresented at the higher levels. California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu and a few students at Yale recently published a very comprehensive report explaining that. None of the statistics are at all surprising, even for someone barely two years in to their legal career, but it's good to see it all gathered in one place.

Of particular relevance to me, and this also goes to diversity problems affecting all other minority groups, not just Asian Americans, was the discussion of clerkships starting page 12. White students are 58.2% of the graduates from top 30 law schools, but obtain a whopping 82.4% of federal clerkships, an almost necessary prerequisite to many important and highly influential legal jobs (think academia, the judiciary, and federal prosecution, among others).

A federal clerkship is, from firsthand experience, also a job that comes with massive financial opportunity costs, at least for those who would otherwise be going into biglaw. Just by choosing to do one, I was basically guaranteed to lose two year-end bonuses entirely, passed up a year of biglaw salary to take a large paycut, and needed to postpone refinancing my massive (despite a half tuition scholarship) student loans for at least an extra year, which probably cost me nearly $10,000 on its own, just in that one year. All that is somewhat offset by the prospect of a clerkship bonus upon returning to biglaw, but that covers maybe half at most. Nonetheless, I'd happily do it all over again, though probably would still grouse about the financial implications. I absolutely wouldn't have my current, wonderful job if I hadn't clerked. I expect that my clerkship will also be an integral component to getting future "dream jobs." Yet there's no getting around how one can only make that choice from a place of financial privilege. It is a staggeringly expensive choice.

Then there was Justice Liu's recent follow-up (click first link), which also discussed another, more recent, relevant study. Of particular relevance was an anecdote that I (and too many of my friends) could relate to:
There is a little bit [of a] paternalistic attitude towards women,” reported one Asian-American woman litigator in the AJD study. “You can either be relegated to the role of being sort of a submissive little worker bee or, if you’re more assertive, and I'm definitely more on the assertive side, I feel that sometimes I scare the guys a bit.”
I may discuss this with more specificity someday in the future, but well, I know that feeling all too well. This isn't something that has yet, to my knowledge, obviously affected my career advancement , but I've often found that colleagues and law school classmates get confused on the rare occasions when I speak up in a noteworthy way (when doing a mock trial exercise during my firm's summer program, a male colleague was horrified and scandalized by my very standard performance, "you turned mean" he'd hissed at me under his breath, shaking his head - excuse me?), or when I disclose something that's against stereotype, including that I had bad grades for much of high school and undergrad (people have straight up told me "no, you didn't" - you have no way of knowing that, jerkface).

Even in as cosmopolitan and diverse a city as NYC, among a set of professionals quite well-versed in anti-discrimination law, discrimination, and implicit bias, is often apparent. Interviewers compliment natively born Asian-American job candidates on their English. Colleagues mix up different Asian-American attorneys who don't look at all alike, are of different seniorities, and work on entirely different projects. During a recruiting lunch, where everyone should be on their best behavior, a white partner awkwardly and repeatedly, out of nowhere, directs and redirects the conversation to topics such as their impressions of how annoying it is to go to Beijing and how "ABCs" (American-born Chinese) differ from those born elsewhere, at a table with several Asian-American juniors and summers. Two of those three things have happened to me personally in biglaw, and I wasn't there long. Oh, and much like when I was a summer, minorities and women always got noticeably less substantive work and fewer opportunities than certain other demographics.

Anyway, I recommend the report, it's very interesting, and there are a few odd new trends brewing. Among other things, Asian American enrollment in law school has dropped precipitously since the 2008 recession, more than for any other group. Diversity issues, for all minority groups, in law generally, and clerkships in particular, are near and dear to my heart, so I probably can't help returning to these topics again at some future date. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Money Diaries Chatter

Smythson Panama Wallet (affiliate link)

I'm realizing that, whenever I have interesting links to share, I'm generally tempted to ramble way too much and overthink what I write, which makes me hold on to the draft entries for weeks, if not months, long past the time when everyone else on the Internet (if it was something that had gone viral) had already gotten tired of the topic. Even when I'm specifically trying not to write so much, in the interests of sharing the links sooner, I still write a ton!

By now, it's old news that I'm quite fond of Refinery29's "Money Diaries", even if I sometimes find, reading between the lines, that the individual diaries can seem a bit incomplete, and are less helpful or educational for that reason. The comments are often aggravating too, as people can be quite mean. It makes a reader feel like women just can't win when it comes to how they manage their money. Lots of people in society at large will always want to accuse them of freeloading off their parents or a significant other, or of being wasteful or frivolous. 

I was, for instance, quite grouchy about the poor reception to this biglaw midlevel's Money Diary. Reading it again now, though, I can see why people may have been confused. The commenters might have reacted better if the author was chattier and explained the context for some of what was likely going on with all the reimbursed food and cars home. The lunches she bought for herself were likely so cheap because they came from the firm's subsidized cafeteria, and would indeed have cost almost twice as much otherwise. Those rather expensive reimbursed lunches or drinks out with "friends" or colleagues were likely part of the summer associate program or business development, things the firm chooses to reimburse as a matter of clearly-defined policy, and not chargeable to a client. The reimbursed delivery food for dinner and car home policies are also perfectly in line with industry standards. (Yes, a $35 Seamless order chargeable to the client is pricey, but so is the attorney's time, which likely costs the client $550 dollars, or more, an hour, billed out in six-minute increments.) Anyway, the author must have worked really hard all her life to get those full-tuition scholarships, and was so good about both savings and charitable giving. 

All this is a rather roundabout way of introducing the links that I actually wanted to share today: the Money Diary of a woman who is part of an extremely high-earning power couple, each making more than $500,000 including bonus, and her follow-up interview, where she shared much more about her life and background. She sounds pretty cool: self-aware, thoughtful, and extremely hardworking. In the interview, she was very real about how, as a woman of color, she had experienced the effects of implicit bias and discrimination in her career.

Do you have any thoughts about  the Money Diaries comments sections? I feel like I've rarely seen even a single one where most of the comments were positive, people are always complaining about something! How about that specific interview? As an aside, I'm thinking of trying to do periodical Money Diaries of my own soon, once my spending stabilizes a bit with my new paycheck, and after I start being eligible for 401K contributions at my new job.