Friday, June 22, 2018

Taking Action


You don't need me to tell you that what is happening is an atrocity, and that this administration regularly plays fast and loose with the law, the rule of law, and the truth. I had always thought that this administration demeans our institutions, our values, and our ideals, and they just keep providing additional proof. It horrifies and disgusts me. It is beneath us as a nation.

It wasn't until I became a lawyer that I truly understood how, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Although law school taught us that the law is a fallible social construct, one that has been used to facilitate countless injustices throughout our history (including Japanese internment, and by the way, those precedents have never been overruled, though are generally never cited favorably, except by our administration in an unrelated case), I still believe in the power of law and lawyers to do good. With every new and terrible thing, my brain immediately jumps to questions of what lawyers can do, what legal solutions there might to this new problem. Unfortunately, the law is fallible and our processes far from perfect and not always just, particularly in the immigration context, as John Oliver helped explain. Providing pro bono legal representation to as many asylum-seekers as possible is important.

To that end, I am making a donation now to the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project, a group that mobilizes volunteer attorneys to represent asylum-seekers being held at the detention centers in Texas. There are many groups doing good work, but this is the group I'm most familiar with through colleagues in my professional and academic circles (one distant acquaintance's description of their previous work with the group and what they're doing now can be found here). They first mobilized to address the family detention that occurred under the previous administration, which was also bad, so they've been doing this type of work for quite some time. I also plan to donate more to this cause in coming months, and will look into various organizations before deciding which to give to next. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Updated "Wish List"

Although it's far from the only way, or even the most common way, my purchases come about, my ideal approach to shopping, the one most likely to result in well-loved favorites, and that cuts down significantly on the likelihood of ending up with a rarely or never-worn mistake, is to start from a running "wish list" of specific things I think about for quite some time. I'll carefully search for what I think is the exact right item to fill each niche, and after identifying it, I'll often also wait even longer for the right sale, or for an eBay listing to come up at the right price. Now that it's been nearly six months since I last wrote about my wish list, I thought it'd make sense to write an update.

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As is typical for me, not everything on my list made it into my closet, and some dropped off my list entirely. I bought skinny jeans (the Gap Mid-Rise True Skinny Jeans in 360 Stretch) and opted against the Mansur Gavriel large tote in favor of the very different-looking Coach Rogue (similar). I never really ended up shopping for a formal dress because I have extremely exacting, almost impossible criteria for that. Among other things, I wanted something colorful (not black or navy) and in the right print (not ugly, of course, and not too much white as it's main purpose was for attending weddings as a guest). It also needed to be more interesting than what I already had, good for petites, and be something I could be wear with a bra. All those criteria are surprisingly difficult to accommodate all at once, in one dress, plus I'm also very picky about how things fit. I literally tried on one Ted Baker dress that, in hindsight, may not have actually fit most of my criteria at all. It definitely did not work, and that was that. I've since lost interest in shopping for a formal dress, in large part because K and I don't actually have any more weddings to attend in the near future. 

There are also other items I've mentioned being in the market for in recent months, but that never quite made it on to my actual list. I was totally supposed to be shopping for more tees for summer, and received some great recommendations, but alas, I think it may be something that will fit me very differently a year from now, so now's not the right time. I get so much wear out of my summer dresses that it could make sense to buy more (at the moment I like the simple "Monaco" tunic-style dress from NotPerfectLinen), but for the most part, summer dresses are weekend-only items for me. They generally skew too casual for my office. Even though my summer dresses generally show their wear far quicker than my other items, I still have an adequate backlog of ones still in fairly good shape. At the moment, I'm really loving my original Grana v-neck silk slip dress (sadly sold out in most colors, and I can't tell if they lowered the neckline on the new one, which would be bad for me) even though it's not a design one would expect to work well on a bustier figure. I love the Grana dress enough that I'd wear it all weekend, every weekend if I could, so I really don't need another summer dress. 

My current "wish list" is as follows:
  • Dainty Opal Ring: This has been on my list for years, and honestly, it's looking like it will never happen because I just can't bring myself to spend "fine jewelry" prices, even when some of the possible choices are quite modestly priced and less expensive than shoes or clothes I'm willing to buy more impulsively. (This small bezel-set opal ring from Polamai on Etsy that I keep flagging as an option, for instance.) Plus, as some of you were kind enough to point out, opal might not be a great choice for a daily wear ring, as it's a more fragile stone. Like last time, I still like the look of the ultra-dainty Wwake multi-stone opal rings, particularly the ones in the organic triangle shapes, but I think in actual practice, if I could convince myself to take the plunge, I'm still more likely to end up wanting one of the Jennie Kwon "Reese" ones. (P.S. did you know Kwon used to be a corporate lawyer? And a professional violinist? I didn't know that last time. What a diverse set of talents!) 
  • Leather Cover for Bullet Journal: So this totally isn't fashion, but it would, in practice, accessorize something that I use almost every day. As I mentioned in April, the cover of my Leuchtturm notebook has gotten a bit worn, and I'm tempted to buy a leather cover for it now that I'm pretty sure my bullet journal habit is here to stay. If I take the plunge, I've decided on the one from Uncommon Elephant on Etsy (a woman-owned business based in the US). The one pictured above is from Olkeysn Prannyk, also on Etsy
  • Heavy Turtleneck or Mock Neck Sweater: This is a totally unseasonable item , but between the sweater I bought on Taobao in January (and that I loved wearing the rest of winter), this week of outfits post on Cup of Jo (Nicole pulls off her sweaters so well!), and Mansur Gavriel's long since sold-out, luxe-looking turtlenecks, I'm still really loving the idea of relaxed-fit, thick and cozy sweaters, particularly with a turtleneck, mock neck, or funnel neck. I originally thought that, as a bustier person, I couldn't pull off such necklines, but I actually found that I like them, so long as the body of the sweater has a more relaxed fit. Anyways, from window-shopping extensively for this type of sweater, I realize this is a category that I should be prepared to get spend-y on. Practically every time I see something that has the right general look, it turns out to be significantly more pricey than any other sweater I've ever bought. The one illustrated above is from Cuyana

And that's it! I guess one takeaway here is that I really don't feel inspired by summer clothing. What's on your current shopping list, fashion or otherwise? Do you have any go-to brands for sweaters? I guess part of me really wants it to be winter again, so I can wrap myself up in warm and cozy clothes. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Outfit Post: Pajama-Like

Pants: Grana Silk Ankle Pants, black, M short
Shoes: M.Gemi Felize, gold shimmer (sold out at M.Gemi, similar, but in limited sizes or weird colors)

I thought this outfit was fun, which isn't something I say too often because I tend to stick to the same outfit formulas over and over. For work, it's almost always a dress and sweater, whether a typical cardigan or something trying to be a blazer. The dresses and sweaters aren't all similar to each other, I have a variety of colors and shapes for each, and for the dresses, there are prints too, but the formula is always the same. I go through more or less the exact same weekly rotation of dresses all year round, switching up coats, sweaters, shoes, and tights or bare legs based off the needs of the season. Each of the work dresses in my "core" rotation gets worn at least once every two weeks. Even when I pick out one of the colorful or printed dresses, it's not something I think about much when I put them on in the morning. For weekends, my clothing is often even more subdued. In the cooler seasons, it's almost always jeans and a neutral-looking sweater or top (the Uniqlo ones from early 2015 remain some of my favorites) or in high summer, it's one of my summer dresses (all black or navy) and my trusty Fit Flops. I tend to stick to my wardrobe comfort zones, and it's difficult to drag me out. I may never get used to wearing a-line midi skirts, for instance! 

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This casual Friday work outfit was a significant departure from my usual work formula in a few ways, and one I liked. It was very comfortable, basically like a pair of pajamas. I love those Grana silk pants (also seen on Jane and Elaine) and wear them to work maybe once every three weeks in warmer months, but pretty much always with an untucked top. I generally find that my proportions look a bit awkward when I tuck tops into relaxed-fit pants with an elastic waist. I like color, but the teal of this Grana silk top is a bit louder and brighter than I'm used too, especially when paired with a more attention-grabbing shoe and accessory. It's also been a long time since I wore a more statement-sized necklace to work. 

And yes, I know I was just fussing about the decline of J.Crew, but Engineer L's recent shopping roundup reminded me that I missed having a longer, less dainty necklace in my collection. I still have quite a collection of colorful, short statement necklaces tucked away in my dresser, the vast majority of which predate this blog and haven't generally been worn since, but my long necklaces from back then were generally Forever 21, and had long since been decluttered away. I did quite a bit of online window shopping, including on Etsy, and was fairly certain that this J.Crew tassel necklace was the best choice. Baublebar was just about the only other brand that had a larger gold tassel necklace I liked the look of, but I know from past experience that their costume jewelry is worse quality than J.Crew - flimsier materials, more obviously plastic-looking stones for designs that have them, less weight, uglier designs, and more likely to cause contact dermatitis on my sometimes-sensitive skin. 

Between the size of the necklace and the contrasting texture panels on the top, which aren't as visible in this photo, but are fairly noticeable in real life, I find that this outfit has a slightly dated? retro? vibe. The matchy-matchy shoes and necklace might contribute. I can't quite put my finger on it, but the rather assertive size of the necklace certainly feels a bit "off trend" to me, like it's something you generally wouldn't see in stores right now. If you go to say, Nordstrom, and look at their entire selection of tassel necklaces at the moment, you'll barely see anything similar, most are either significantly more delicate or, alternately, far more colorful and loud, not much in between.

Did anyone else really buy into the colorful short statement necklace trend that I think hit peak saturation from 2011 to 2014 or so? Some current examples are illustrated in the above widget, though they're not particularly popular at the moment and not very common. Back then, up until when I started this blog, I basically didn't meet a single example of the trend I didn't like, and generally couldn't resist buying every single one I saw for a sale price, including an extremely plastic H&M knockoff of that J.Crew bubble necklace

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Link List: On Twitter and J.Crew

Pictured above is the cake selection at Laduree on the Upper East Side. Those strawberry-shaped ones are adorable! I ended up just getting macarons, though. 

1. // I've never understood Twitter, no matter how much I try. I've been following a court proceeding that a few journalists cover, but that generally isn't making it into that many full-length articles, so Twitter has been the best platform for keeping an eye on the case. The level of discourse is... low. The journalists themselves are fantastic, with an unusual knack for explaining some rather dense legal concepts in 280 characters or less, but the people who reply to them are... clueless, despite the journalists' best efforts. When I run a more general search, the majority of tweets with the case's keywords are from obvious bots (the case is somewhat political) tweeting a string of the related hashtags and then some gibberish for unknown purposes. 

That's an awkward way of transitioning to this, a 2015 New Yorker article about the power of Twitter to do good, and how, through social media, a member of the ultra-hateful Westboro Baptist Church began to question what the church (comprised mostly of the members of her extended family) had taught her, to the point where she left. It's a great read. 

2. // There was an unusually entertaining r/AskReddit thread about petty dramas currently going on in the world of various smaller, sometimes very niche, communities or hobbies. Among the posts was a description of the Evgenia Medvedeva coaching drama. (Medvedeva has been impeccably professional in her public statements, her former coach not so much.) 

Then there's #cockygate, an instance of possible misuse of the American trademark system and the federal courts in the world of indie romance novel publishing. Speaking of Twitter, Courtney Milan did a good explanation of it and posted the transcript from a recent SDNY hearing in the matter, which has some great moments. 

3. // Blog-wise, Michelle had a great recommendation for where to donate clothes that still have some life in them (given that Goodwill and the like generally receive such a high volume of donations that most won't be resold and reused). Luxe did a great post about childhood and what children may, or may not, take away from growing up with less. Many of her readers shared their experiences and well, one takeaway is that school lunch can be surprisingly treacherous and fraught, and that each school had its own unique culture surrounding it. Breath of Fresh Wear accurately described an experience that many people, including myself, can relate to, of trying hard to resist a new trend for months because it seems silly, but eventually caving in. 

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4. // By now, it's a tedious and overdone thing to bemoan the decline of J.Crew (I last did so in 2015, and was already late to the party then), but I was there last week to try on a smaller size of that camel-colored sweater blazer I mentioned (at Engineer L's recommendation, which was right on the money), and I was confused to see outlet items, from their "Mercantile" line in a prominent section at the front of the store, alongside "main line" J.Crew items, something they're also doing on their website.

I actually love J.Crew Factory, and am in fact far more likely to buy there (especially their wool-blend suiting, I own all three colors of the blazer and pencil skirt) than at main line J.Crew. But I'm completely perplexed by their stated intention to merge Mercantile, originally designed for Factory, with J.Crew as part of a relaunch. Customers who used to love J.Crew in the increasingly-distant past almost uniformly describe how they desperately miss the higher-quality materials and construction of "old J.Crew". In that light, muddling the line between Mercantile and J.Crew will likely not help attract those customers back

As for me, I first fell in love with J.Crew in college (I have particularly fond memories of the April and Holiday 2008 catalogs), when it was a highly aspirational-to-me brand that I could only afford at the tail end of the post-holiday sales. They had this delightfully consistent aesthetic of "classic with a feminine twist", whether in the form of embellishments like a few relatively understated ruffles or vibrant, fun colors. I often hear that the quality of their items had already declined by then, but I still have a silk top I bought that year, and it's noticeably made of nicer materials than anything I've seen them stock in recent memory.

By now, especially with my recent visit, it was painfully clear that J.Crew no longer has a consistent aesthetic and most things are iffy quality, as everyone has been complaining about for years. That cap-sleeve detail dress that looks just like the sold-out except for one size Ann Taylor one I'm so fond of is just... sad looking on the rack. I've generally found recent iterations of J.Crew's wool suiting material to be thin and flimsy-looking, and that dress is no exception. The designs in their new "Point Sur" resort-looking collection are... generally weird. (What is with the ruffles under the armpit on this top and this dress?) That being said I kept that sweater blazer in the smaller size.

Do you understand Twitter? Any suggestions for how to better understand it? Do you remember the culture of school lunch from when you were small? I went to a predominantly Asian-American public school in California, almost all of us children of recent immigrants. A good half of kids who brought lunch often brought in their parents' home cooking, and nobody would ever think to make fun of any ethnic cuisine unfamiliar to them as being "stinky" or "gross". Outside of that, we probably had about equal numbers of kids bringing lunch versus buying "hot lunch", and I don't think there was any different treatment or "lunch shaming" if anyone's account fell into arrears. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Student Loan Chatter


Today's post is about two recent articles regarding student loans that left a bit of an impression. Naturally, student loans are a topic on which I have many thoughts, though neither piece was about a situation remotely similar to mine. Please note that I'm not an expert on student loan policies and the intricacies thereof. I only have the working knowledge that comes from handling my own. I may not be completely correct in my understanding of how some of these policies work. 

Knowing What You're In For

First up, Refinery29 published a piece by a NYU student who'd already accumulated $182,000 in student loans for her undergraduate degree, and who was considering journalism school. Oh lordy! For context, that's about how much my law school student loan balance was upon graduation. After roughly 2.5 years, ~$65,500 in payments, refinancing to a 2.6% interest rate with First Republic (an option I believe is only available to high-earning individuals located in cities where First Republic operates), down from ~7%, the standard federal rates available to graduate students while I was in school, I still have about 6 years of $2,500/month payments to go, or three years at $4,500/month. (The real numbers will be somewhere in between.) 

Given how noxious the Money Diaries commentariat is, the comments here were fairly reasonable. There's really not a lot to say, now that it's too late to go back and change it, except to advise the person not to go to graduate school at this time. This scenario is tragic, not least of all because, to my knowledge, undergraduates can't take out the full cost of attendance in federal loans, so the protections of income-based repayment and possible eventual forgiveness (like in the next story) may not be available. 

Is any 18 year old (or heck, even a 21 year old considering grad school before they've started making real progress on their undergrad loans) ever fully capable of understanding what they take on when they sign for student loans even a quarter of this size? Heck, I committed to law school at 23, with some adult life experience under my belt, and I don't think I made a fully educated decision. By that stage of life, of course, that's my fault and responsibility. Intellectually, I knew I'd owe ~$2,000/month on a standard 10-year repayment plan, mostly thanks to the University of Michigan's law school "debt wizard" calculator. Even then, I still found myself a bit surprised once I graduated. Among other things, whenever I calculated my expected total balance, I never processed that I should factor in the interest that accrued while I was in school, even though I knew it was happening. (Silly of me, I know.) I also never really figured out my post-tax income. Every year (post-raise and/or after new tax laws), my paycheck is always a surprise. So I never actually knew what I'd be working with.

Obviously, nobody should feel sorry for me because everything turned out a-okay, but if I, as an adult, could find myself taken aback by some aspects of my student loan situation even after doing tons of research, I'm not sure high school students can ever truly know what they're getting into. Regardless, I can't begin to imagine how the system could be reformed to take this into account. 

On Loan Forgiveness

The next piece is from the Wall Street Journal, about the orthodontist with a million in student loans and counting, but only because they're counting on income-based repayment for eventual forgiveness, and have no intention of repaying in full, so it's not exactly what it sounds like. Most reactions I've seen are a bit ambivalent, I think because most people found the headline misleading, and were expecting to read about someone working hard and living an extremely bare-bones lifestyle in order to pay their million dollar balance in full, rather than someone making the practical and understandable decision to pay the minimum for eventual forgiveness (and living a pretty sweet life in the meantime). 

I'll be the first to admit that I don't understand loan forgiveness options particularly well. I applied for and was on income-based repayment for most of my first two years since graduation, but solely as a way of getting flexibility with my monthly cash flow (I almost always paid at least my ten-year standard repayment amount while in biglaw) and then because of the pay cut I took for my clerkship. I didn't need it because, so long as I stayed mostly in the private sector, I didn't anticipate PAYE-type forgiveness being cheaper in the long run. As seen from the math above, I'd almost certainly end up paying more on PAYE. That's often the case for other biglaw types as well, unless someone took out the entire cost of attendance in student loans (there's a lot of smaller scholarships available), as seen in the hypothetical below. Both calculations were done using this calculator.

Even if PAYE or REPAYE was likely to work out for me, I'd be terrified to have such a large and ever-growing balance hanging over my head, even if it's supposed to go away at the end. I would also live in constant fear that Congress could retract the policy without grandfathering in people who took out their loans back when those policies were in place (something that I believe is generally seen as unlikely, from following discussions of it online, but who even knows). Also, there's the "tax bomb", because the total amount forgiven is likely to be deemed taxable income. 

Did you notice either of these articles? What did you think? Do you know anyone relying on PAYE,  REPAYE, or the other non public service-linked loan forgiveness programs? I know of law school classmates with much larger student loan balances than mine, maybe veering into the territory where going for forgiveness makes sense, but everyone seems to be repaying their balances in full. I have a vague sense that the financial picture is very different for medical professionals, and that they're more likely to rely on loan forgiveness plans, as they're in school or training for far longer than would-be attorneys. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

On Anthony Bourdain


I was devastated to hear about Anthony Bourdain. From all his work, his writing and his shows, he seemed like the most wonderful and fun person, with such spirit, such empathy and compassion, an always open mind, a complete lack of pretension, and a willingness to speak up sharply for what is right. I devoured his work eagerly, was always delighted by every piece of it I encountered. And because he always seemed so genuine, so vibrant, and so unabashedly true to himself, I feel almost as if I knew him. I still can't fully process what has happened. I feel such great sadness for his family and for his daughter. 

He had so much to teach us, in particular about the importance of doing our sincere best to understand other people, to meet them on their own terms. I couldn't possibly do justice to him in my own words, so I thought I'd share a few things that best captured what I knew of him. 

  • I only got to know his work a decade after Kitchen Confidential was published. I know that people sometimes find his depiction of super-macho restaurant culture and his past participation in it off-putting. Regardless, I truly believe that his body of work since then has shown his growth as a person, how his perspective has changed, and that he is absolutely one of the good people. Because I only read his book so long after it was published, I didn't necessarily see or understand that he had anything to apologize for from his Kitchen Confidential days, but what matters is that he did
  • The original New Yorker essay that predated Kitchen Confidential and gives a good sense of what's in the book is a must-read, of course. 
  • Last year, the New Yorker published a take on Bourdain and how he'd changed as a public figure over time. Parts Unknown, his current show, is still on Netflix, and I highly recommend it.
  • He did two Reddit "Ask me Anything" sessions, or AMAs, one around 2013 and one last year. They're both good, but I thought the one from last year was particularly great. You can practically hear his voice reading out his responses. 
  • I really appreciated how Bourdain was decidedly not a snob, was totally against anything pretentious. Beyond that, he was capable of great kindness and empathy. This is seen in so many of his shows, the foods and restaurants he featured, and the way he interacted with the people he met on those shows, and it was also seen here in his reaction to the hullabaloo when a small town newspaper's review of a local Olive Garden went viral quite a few years back. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

J.Crew and J.Crew Factory Open Sweater Blazers

Sweater (right): J.Crew New Lightweight Sweater Blazer, small

Since buying two J.Crew Factory Open-Front Sweater Blazers in March, I've been singing their praises and wearing them frequently, at least once a week each until recently, when the temperatures and humidity levels started to climb. We're already at average temperatures too warm for wearing even those thin Uniqlo cotton cardigans outdoors. From other blogs, I was generally aware that J.Crew also had an open sweater blazer, and that it had various design elements that looked better, except that it was labeled dry clean-only and would never be that practical for me as a result.

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During the recent memorial day sales, I ended up ordering the J.Crew sweater blazer, just to try on. (I wasn't able to get as good a price as Engineer L got recently. I only got a 40% discount.) And darn, I'm really tempted to keep it, though I really shouldn't, given that I already have a slightly excessive collection of fall and winter cardigans, many of them accumulated in just the last year or so. J.Crew currently has two versions, first a limited range of size/color combinations in merino wool from last season and second, the "new lightweight" version, in 35% cotton, 35% polyester, and 30% merino wool. I've ordered the merino wool one in black and the new lightweight one in "heather khaki", a camel color, a fairly different shade from the beige, almost off-white "heather oatmeal" from J.Crew Factory. Although the new version is supposed to be more lightweight, I find the two fabrics to be of basically identical thickness and to have an essentially identical texture. In practice, the wool one might be warmer, but I wouldn't really have a chance to test that until it cools down.

Please forgive the photography and lighting here, as I think it makes both items look worse than in real life. I've been machine-washing the J.Crew Factory sweater blazer in a mesh bag in cold water, and then air-drying it on a hanger, but it ends up a bit wrinkly-looking. (It's worse when I lay it flat to dry.) There wasn't any shrinkage, it just tends to dry wrinkly and it's hard to smooth out. I have a full-size garment steamer that should do the trick, but am, er, too lazy to actually set it up and use it. I probably need to get a handheld steamer if it's going to be part of my regular clothing care routine. As for the J.Crew one, it still has creases from when it was folded up for shipping.

Everything I suspected about the J.Crew one being a bit better-designed and looking nicer is true. The fabric is thicker and looks and feels more luxe. It's a bit more oversized in the sleeves and body, but in an intentional way. The lapels are bigger and more proportional, as opposed to the awkwardly small ones on the J.Crew Factory version (though I do like that the J.Crew Factory lapels can be worn popped up). That's not to say that the J.Crew Factory sweater blazer is a bad item, as I've loved it all this time. The slimmer sleeves and body are not a bad thing, it's just a different look. Also, it's being machine-washable makes it so much more functional and practical for me, and obviously, there's also a significant price difference.

Sizing-wise, the two items are quite different. The J.Crew Factory version is true-to-size relative to most other mall brands, and my usual size small is definitely right, though the body is a little long. The sleeves are just right, though. The J.Crew version is  intentionally oversized and, therefore, runs bigger. I think my usual size small is still the right one for me, though, to get the relaxed fit you seen on Feather Factor. It is roomy enough that I do wonder a bit about whether to size down. I'm still trying to figure out if I need the extra small instead. It looks a bit awkwardly big in the photo, but in real life, when tried on over my work clothes, it feels like it has the fit of a just-right boyfriend blazer. Over something like a thin tee, however, it starts to feel a bit too loose.

This whole post may be a bit untimely and unseasonal, given the arrival of summer and how I don't think any NYC-dweller would really wear either of these in the next few months, but I'm finding that I enjoy both these sweaters so much that I can't help but share! As for the other things I'm wearing, the necklace is from Porcelain and Stone, a studio run by a woman artist based in the Boston Area. She has both an Etsy shop and her own shop, and can also be found on Instagram. I don't wear the Sam Edelman Tristan pumps except to interviews (but they're very comfortable and I can even walk a few blocks in them without any trouble). 

Monday, June 4, 2018

2018 Goals Update

Agenda Notepad from Anthropologie (affiliate link)

This year, as an alternative to setting broader New Years' resolutions, I had a list of smaller goals, mostly monthly or quarterly ones, that I would check off and add to frequently throughout the year. Now that the year is practically halfway over, it's high time for an update!

I haven't updated before now, even though my original list only really covered the first quarter of the year, because I couldn't actually think of many new goals to add after definitively finishing up some of the more concrete items. It took those first three months of using old You Need a Budget or "YNAB" in the intended way (budgeting only the money you already have and saving up a "buffer" to "live on last month's income" and budgeting for next month as this month's paychecks roll in) to feel like I'd adjusted fully. I refinanced my student loans, though that process wasn't finished until February. I've been working hard at the office. The little steps to being lower waste thing is slow going, as I tend to wait for my existing supple of disposables (say, razor cartridges or parchment paper for baking) to run out before taking those steps, and that takes a while. 

It's probably not too surprising that some of the goals on my original list changed a bit over time. The "keep pushing myself" fitness goal took a back seat to a weight loss-related one, due to planning for a certain procedure. For me, that kind of goal relies more on dietary composition than exercise. There was a kind of amorphous goal of maybe saving money a bit more aggressively that was implicit in the "use YNAB properly" goal, and I've realized now that the main area of my budget that I could realistically cut from is food spending (both restaurants and groceries). So if I'm going to get serious, I need to decide on a few concrete ways to start, and then stick with them. Many of you have given me very good suggestions over time, and I definitely have the cooking skills and level of comfort in the kitchen that's required to act on those suggestions. It may take me a long time to get up my resolve and energy to actually do so, however.

Now for some of the new goals I'm working through now, which should cover the next few months:
  • Keep up with my bar membership-related to-do list. Unsurprisingly for any licensed profession, us attorneys have a constant list of things we need to do to stay current. It's usually just paperwork, nothing too difficult or time-consuming, but those tasks have a way of getting pushed to the bottom of my to-do list the moment there's any other work to do. You would not believe how many weeks it took me to put together my bar admission paperwork, back in the day. At the moment, I've just finished six hours of continuing education "CLE" coursework. Next up is getting a New York State court I.D. card and then one for the Southern District.
  • Get back in to the reading habit. I seem to fall away from reading for fun every other year or so, and then it takes some effort to get back into it. I lose momentum whenever I have a "dry spell" where I try a few "dud" books in a row. I have pretty diverse interests in books, and read a little of everything: popular nonfiction, memoirs, beach reads, and literary fiction mostly. I can be picky, however, and there are a lot of good books that I just can't get into and finish. 
  • Get my travel planning done. I already know when and to where my next big trips will be, one with K to Japan this fall and another with my mom and sister to Europe sometime in the early 2019. K and I normally prefer to get our travel planning done well in advance, but we've both been busy at the office, him a lot more than me, so the travel planning keeps getting pushed further down our to-do list. It's starting to look like we're going to leave it until the last possible minute several months from now, if we don't make a point of starting soon. (For my trip with my mom and sister, it's too early to book, I think, but I should put some thought into how best to accumulate and use credit card rewards points.) 
  • Shopping slowdown? Given that I expect my size and proportions to change significantly less than a year from now, there are certain categories of things I simply should not be shopping for, including most dresses (anything with a fitted bust), structured jackets, and coats. Most tops, except more relaxed-fit sweaters or cardigans, probably should also be avoided. I'm generally skeptical of the utility of shopping bans for myself because if I see something I want badly enough, I'm sure as heck going to get it. Still, by cutting out a few large categories of things to shop for, I would expect to shop less overall. 

How are you doing with your goals for 2018? Have you set any new goals for the later half of 2018? Read any great books lately? My most recently finished book was Paul Tremblay's Disappearance at Devil's Rock, but his earlier novel, A Head Full of Ghosts, was a better book (affiliate links). They're just fairly standard horror/thriller novels, nothing too special, but I enjoy them.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Money Life Lately: Rent Increases and Iced Coffee

I have an unusual fondness for small card case-style wallets. My current favorite is my long-discontinued Kate Spade Saturday one pictured here, and it's surprisingly difficult to find others like it. This See by Chloe "Polina" scalloped card case (affiliate link) is quite similar, though pricey for an accessory of this size. Presently, I use the accordion-style Fossil Mini Tab Wallet (different colors, affiliate link on sale at Nordstrom Rack), which fits more cards, but is too bulky for some purses. I still have my Kate Spade Saturday one though, so I can switch back any time. 

Rent Increases, Alas

I live in an un-hip neighborhood, far from the subway (getting crosstown is a production), but alas, with this year's lease renewal came the discovery that market rents have gone up dramatically here, at least for similar buildings and units. We are facing a ~12% rent increase, bringing my half of the rent  up to approximately 20.8% of my post-tax income. Alas. We are, I must confess, spoiled by this neighborhood and this building's perks, and we don't have the energy or inclination to move. 

I suspect this makes us a textbook cautionary tale about the dangers of lifestyle inflation and the importance of getting most of your savings "oomph" from bigger recurring expenses, primarily from rent. Once you get used to certain luxuries (in our case, slightly more than average square footage with robust closet space compared to what's available in similar buildings, a decent and free in-building gym, and also, that most remarkably extravagant of things in this city, in-unit laundry), it's extremely hard to let them go. Don't be like us!

In large part because K and I live together, even after this fairly dramatic rent increase, both of us will each still be spending less on rent than many of our biglaw colleagues and classmates. Most biglaw junior associates who don't live with a significant other that we know of, no matter their student loan balance, choose to live alone if they can't easily find a friend or classmate that will definitely be a good and non-stressful roommate. Generally, they live in Manhattan, a fair bit south of 125th street, where even a small studio in an older building is at least $2100/month, usually more. 

Iced Coffee, or the "Cold Brew" Factor? 

After a roughly two-week period where I indulged in a matcha latte almost daily (extravagance most extreme!), I switched my allegiance to iced coffee. I'm definitely no connoisseur, so I don't have particularly strong feelings about other iced coffee versus cold brew, and I find Starbucks not noticeably worse to my uncultured tastebuds than the offerings at independent coffee shops. Unlike with matcha lattes, it was obvious that I could easily and cheaply make similarly satisfying iced coffee at home. I definitely had no excuse for continuing to spend $4 a day on iced coffee. So I did what I used to do when I get an idea for a new project and did a bit of research (mostly Smitten Kitchen's cold brew recipe) before jumping right in and buying supplies online, namely a french press  and pitcher (affiliate links), this time from Target instead of Amazon Prime. 

I won't go into too much more detail about my approach, because it'd likely make anyone with even minimal coffee know-how think I'm an absolute philistine, but I'm able to make competent enough for me cold brew at home, and in a very low-waste way (only the coffee packaging might go in the trash, but it's a tin that can be repurposed) and very cheaply, with a commonly available grocery store ground coffee. It tastes just fine to me. So that's one small frugal-ish victory. 

Please follow the link below for one more point, about my recent experience with rather pricey but necessary dental work. But be warned, I go into some detail about root canals, which aren't terribly pleasant.