Monday, August 13, 2018

Link List: Go Watch Crazy Rich Asians!

Pictured above is sisig, tocino, grilled pork belly, and garlic rice from Grill 21. It was only after I decided on this photo for this post that I realized I had already posted another photo of most of the same dishes little more than a month ago! Grill 21, BCD Tofu House, Sushi Yasaka, and Congee Village are some of K and I's more moderately-priced restaurant mainstays in the city. 

1. // By now, I think everyone has read the Hollywood Reporter long-form about Crazy Rich Asians, and how Kevin Kwan, John Chu, and others involved in making the film passed on big paydays to ensure that the movie could come to the big screen with an all Asian and Asian-American cast. It's impossible to understate how important the success of this movie is to Asian-American representation in entertainment (if it doesn't succeed, I have no doubt it'd be years before we have another chance at a big-screen film where we're this well-represented in the cast). I was glad to hear from Lea (who saw an early screening) that it's a fun and enjoyable movie.  

I've mentioned before that my outspokenness on diversity and representation, which extends broader than just representation in media and entertainment, was first ignited by the whitewashing of the Avatar: The Last Airbender movie. I truly believe that more representation of this kind helps with diversity and implicit bias-related problems in other contexts. I'll be seeing the movie shortly after its wide release this Wednesday, and I hope many others will do the same, and that it'll be a raging success.

2. // This is random, but I've suddenly become interested in learning more about the issue of access to dental care and economic inequality in the US. I ordered myself a copy of Mary Otto's Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America (affiliate link), which is probably where this interest begins and ends, as it's a little-researched topic. I was somewhat inspired by this discussion at r/personalfinance, where someone pointed to this photographer's account of accompanying a close friend to get extensive dental work (which would have cost ~$30,000 here) done in Croatia.

Because of my own recent experience with needing expensive (though nowhere near as expensive as it could be, as I ultimately didn't need any crowns) emergency dental care, it's natural for me to be interested in this. I also still have a lingering minor cosmetic issue left over from the accident, one affected tooth is still a tiny bit out of position, and I'll need to think about whether to pursue further treatment for that at some point.

3. // In other things I've been reading online lately, I enjoyed this take on Netflix's Queer Eye and emotional labor, which Revanche first shared.

There was also this article in The Atlantic about some of the really terrible, sexist experiences many women litigators have. Because most of my work has been been in federal court (it's generally far more orderly and genteel, everyone is better behaved, and attorneys who mostly practice in federal court often consider most state court systems to be a relatively lawless and chaotic Wild West in comparison), I haven't encountered much of this kind of open and shameless sexism yet. I'm grateful to have been insulated from it so far. 

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!

4. // I made my way to a Uniqlo store recently because there were a few items I was interested in  trying, including a double-face wool-blend collarless coat, pictured below, and a cotton ruffle-sleeve dress. The dress, had it worked on me, would have been an excellent summer dress for the office, as it doesn't look too obviously like a casual tee dress, though it's made of that kind of material. Sadly, both items would only have looked good on me if I was taller, and in the case of the coat, a bit less curvy. (Many waist-tie coats don't look quite right on me, it's difficult to get the self-tie belt to stay in the right place, and if it slips even a bit, it makes my waist look bigger than it is.)

They also currently have many blouses and tops in the rayon-poly blend I like for wearing under by suits, including a sleeveless one, but with a different neckline from the ones I got last year (long sold out) that I really liked. I tried on the three-quarter sleeve "skipper" blouse, but alas, as with most of Uniqlo's longer-sleeved blouses in this general type of material, whether polyester or this rayon-poly blend, it didn't fit right over my chest and shoulders. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Reading Life Lately

I've had a touch of writer's block lately when it comes to my ideas for more serious posts. Things may also slow down more here in the coming weeks because soon, for the first time since spring 2016, K and I will be taking off for a long vacation! In large part because of the scheduling needs and pay cut associated with the clerkship, I've only taken shorter, smaller trips for fun in the last two years. We'll be traveling to Japan, and we've basically done zero planning up to now because it took so long for us to confirm dates that we'd both be able to take off from work. We're looking forward to getting our travel plans in order in the next few weeks! 

Today's post is about a few books I recommend. Lately, I've been trying to read more for fun, something I go through on-again, off-again phases with. My taste in books can be oddly fickle, so there are times when I pick too many dud books in a row, and then I lose momentum and fall out of the habit for a while.

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!

Bad Blood, John Carreyrou's book about the rise and fall of Theranos, is excellent. It had been years since I read a popular nonfiction book I enjoyed quite so much. (I've stalled on and dropped quite a few other bestselling ones in the meantime.) I found this to be a quick read because Carreyrou is such an good storyteller, and the facts themselves are just so wild. David Boies, super-prominent litigator and a big player in Ronan Farrow's account of Harvey Weinstein's Army of Spies, is also a part of the Theranos story, in another arguable example of what may be questionable judgment when it comes to trying to get people to keep quiet about one of his clients. 

I'm also enjoying Sarah Waters's The Little Stranger. It's rather slow-moving, but her writing style is engaging and immersive. One unfortunate thing that keeps me from enjoying this book as much as I think I otherwise would is that I was only inspired to pick it up after seeing the trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation starring Domhnall Gleeson and Ruth Wilson, and it turns out that the trailer gave away the entire plot (which is fairly simple, admittedly). Although I'm still enjoying the experience of reading this, it's a fairly long book and a very slow burn. Part of my brain is definitely wondering if it's still worth keeping at it if I already know exactly where it's going. So be forewarned, avoid the movie trailer if one has any interest in the book. 

This is a book I read years ago that I don't think I've ever mentioned here, but Andrew Solomon's wonderful Far From the Tree has been made into a documentary, which I hope to see at some point. It's a difficult book to describe, with sometimes heavy subject matter and it takes some work to fully get into (it's a giant volume), but it's well worth it. To try and put it simply, the book is about how parents grapple with having children who are different from themselves, but it's really about much more than that. It touches on themes of love, identity, and the incredible resilience of the human spirit, among many other things. Andrew Solomon writes with such extraordinary empathy and compassion. I can't recommend Far From the Tree enough. 

Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think? Have you read anything else that was particularly excellent recently? I've also tried and failed to get into some other popular books in recent memory. Particularly disappointing were Ruth Ware's The Woman in Cabin 10 and Shari Lapena's The Couple Next Door, both of which I thought were boring, tedious, and had annoying, poorly-drawn lead characters. I keep trying to recapture the magic of reading Gillian Flynn's novels, all of which I loved and devoured in about a day and a half total, one right after the other, but I've never found any other bestselling thrillers quite like those. Oh, and if anyone has any must-see, must-do, or must-eat travel recommendations for Japan, particularly Tokyo and Kyoto (we're maybe thinking about a third location, but I really haven't done my research yet), those would also be much appreciated! 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Money Life Lately: Medical Insurance Woes

Dagne Dover Accordion Card Case (affiliate link)

It seems that most of my "money life lately" posts are inspired by at least one complaint. What can I say, I'm inclined to raising a fuss about inconveniences and perceived indignities! Today's complaint is about the illogic of American medical insurance, which I think we can all agree justly deserves the criticism. I suppose it's a milestone of American adulthood, navigating one's first serious point of disagreement with one's medical insurer. 

First Ever Spin Class

But first, something more cheerful. One spending category in which K and I are relatively frugal is physical fitness. Our building (for which we pay a lot of rent, thanks in part to that most indulgent of NYC luxuries, in-unit laundry) has a small, and more importantly, free in-building gym that meets most of our needs, which we supplement with a folding stationary bike (affiliate link) K got us when the gym was closed for renovations a while back. (The bike makes a guest appearance in the background of many of my outfit photos.) 

That particular lifestyle choice, at least for me, isn't actually motivated primarily by frugality. I've occasionally been inspired to buy boutique fitness classes, only to remember that, though I've long been able to stick to my habit of regularly working out 4-5x/week in the comfort of my apartment building, the extra effort of getting out the door to attend a class is almost always too much for me to regularly do, even with a partially unused and kind of expensive multi-class package burning a hole in my pocket and nearing its expiration date. (Shamefully, this has happened more than once, albeit usually only for $12/class with three to four classes left.) 

It has, therefore, taken me a long time to try out a spin class. While visiting my sister recently, she introduced me to a studio she likes. The 45-minute lunchtime class we tried typically costs $18/session (with some multi-class packages available to reduce the cost), though I got my session for free as a new customer. I thought it was quite fun! I'm always suspicious of any trendy and expensive new thing (and after finally attending a class myself, I still think the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Soulcycle parody was totally on point), but it was fun, time flew by, and I felt accomplished and like I got a good "burn". I certainly liked it better than the barre classes I tried ages ago, though they're very different workouts, of course. 

On Birth Control and Insurance Coverage

Since I was a teen, I've been lucky with my health insurance coverage on the contraceptive front (not always a given, unfortunately, because America). Even before the Affordable Care Act ("ACA"). I'd always gotten my brand name birth control for $10/month copay on my mom's insurance. Before law school, when I worked in Hong Kong, the same brand name pill was available over the counter for $15/month, which was even better in some ways (and another reason to be annoyed about drug pricing here in the US). 

Post-ACA, my pill (still the same one, though pharmacies started giving me the generic a few years back) was generally free, whether on my law school insurance or some workplace plans. With my first firm's health insurance, it was an unpleasant surprise to be charged $10/month again because I'd assumed it'd all be fully covered under the ACA. In practice, it seems that some plans only offer full coverage for a limited list of options, like in the above illustration. It might even be a long list, but well, none of my women colleagues at my first firm actually used anything that was fully covered. I had previously assumed the $10/month would be the highest price I'd ever be subjected to while the ACA remained in place, but alas, I was recently proven wrong.

Fast forward to last month, when a new insurance plan kicked in at my current workplace, I pick up the exact same prescription that was free under the previous plan. I've been receiving the generic for years now, and I receive it again, except that now, the copay is a whopping $49/month! I was shocked, and the pharmacist explained it was an insurance issue.

I actually got two different explanations of what was going on from the insurer's customer service hotline on two different calls, so their customer service people are... not terribly competent. The first person stated that the prescription was written for the brand name, so they charged me for the brand name, even if I actually received the generic. (In the course of that conversation, they confirmed that they thought the generic was covered for a $10/month copay.) They suggested I call the doctor and ask them to rewrite the prescription. Then, between calling my doctor and the pharmacy again, both places confirmed the prescription was, in fact, written and filled for the generic, so that first customer service rep was totally wrong.

The second person at the insurer then claimed that the actual issue was that this plan covers only the brand name and not the generic at all, which is a thing that happens, because America, so the only way I'm getting this prescription is by paying the brand name copay. Even though they give me the generic, because that's what the pharmacy has. What a misadventure! And by the way, when I log in to the insurer's website, there are about a dozen different lists of which prescription drugs are covered at which tier of pricing for the many plans they offer, and each of their representatives pointed me to a different list that allegedly applied to my plan, each of which actually listed the generic as a $10/month copay drug. (There exist other lists that don't, however, and it's likely that one of those governs my plan instead. Oye.)

It goes without saying that there generally are ample reasons why a woman and her doctor select a particular contraceptive over the many others available. One generally cannot just easily pick one of the cheaper alternatives and switch just like that without running risks of potentially gnarly side effects (hormones have big and sometimes scary effects) and other problems. My specific pill has been a big part of my acne control regimen since it was first prescribed, so it's not something I'm willing to play around with. And I'm lucky, both to be insured and that the added expense is ultimately not a significant financial problem, and maybe also lucky that my first big problem with any insurance company is ultimately a small one, only costing ~$40/month. My doctor and I could try some kind of written appeal to get lower-tier pricing or full coverage on the grounds of medical necessity (or something), but unsurprisingly, when I wrote by email to the insurer to inquire about this process, they couldn't give me a clear explanation of how it works. 

What's the most you've ever had to pay for contraception, whether before or after the ACA? If you're US-based, have you had any issues with coverage since the ACA was passed? I really hope nobody else has had the issue I'm having, where their insurer covers only the brand name, and therefore charges more, even if the patient in fact receives the generic!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Style Inspiration: Elizabeth McCord from Madam Secretary

Madam Secretary is, more often than not, an extremely silly show, with some outlandish storylines involving secret agents and the wackiest foreign policy situations (including one where Mongolia was voting on a referendum to become part of China, which is... wild), sometimes involving fictional countries, but I actually kind of love the show nonetheless. The actors all do a great job with the not necessarily high quality material, and generally are likable and funny, especially Tea Leoni as Elizabeth McCord, the titular Secretary of State. It also shares some of the traits I loved from The West Wing, presenting this idealized vision of government and the people in it as these larger than life, smarter, and just all-around better than real life people (even when they've made mistakes) which, well, was fun back in the day, and makes me sad now, given the officials we've got.

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!

It's hard to find enough screenshots to fully illustrate this, one may need to watch the show, but one strength of Madam Secretary is the costume design. It may not be realistic for its setting (I've not spent any time working in DC myself), but I think it's an accurate take on how these particular characters would approach mostly business formal and sometimes business casual if they had a bit of freedom and well, infinite money, to do so. In particular, I find a lot of workplace style inspiration, and even some general personal style inspiration, in how they dress Elizabeth McCord. 

Some of it may just be that I'm totally jealous of Elizabeth McCord's fictional life. She's written to be  an impossibly perfect person, incredibly intelligent and capable and simultaneously warm, personable, down-to-earth, and good-humored. (And because Tea Leoni does a good job, it's not annoying.) She has - literally - been able to "have it all", spending much of her life in a high-intensity career until shifting gears to be a professor before getting appointed Secretary of State out of the blue, with a professor-slash-secret-agent husband, and they've somehow still managed to raise a happy family with three kids and spend a lot of time with them. Oh and she's independently wealthy too, so lived comfortably and looked fabulous through it all. My own secret, outlandish, impossible dream is to be an independently wealthy academic with a lot of free time on her hands, dressed in nice, expensive things, who also gets to do other cool things on the side, so basically Elizabeth McCord, and similarly fictional!

The costume designers dress her like someone who likes fashion and is open to some experimentation  on that front (as seen in the occasional more adventurous work outfit, or when she dresses up for galas and state dinners), but generally needs to suit up in business formal and thus sticks to more of a uniform (sharply tailored suits, generally with a subtle detail or two that suggests they're designer) most of the time. She mostly still manages to put a bit of her own spin on that uniform, in particular with many fabulous silk blouses with feminine details rather than more traditional cotton button-downs (rather like Stella Gibson in The Fall). She also re-wears many of the same blouses, and I noticed in the most recent season on Netflix that she has a few suits in multiple colors. As for her casual style, it's laid-back and emphasizes comfort, whether with her law school sweatshirt or the kind of cozy, slouchy knits in neutral colors that I like.

As for how to translate that style to real life? I think it may, honestly, just be too rich for my blood. The thing I'd want to bring into my closet most is those silky blouses with interesting tucks and draping, but after searching on a few occasions, I find it's a genre one is likely not going to find at my typical Ann Taylor or J.Crew on sale price. Out of the mall brands I typically shop from, Ann Taylor is the only one that typically offers something approximately similar, usually with a tie neck or sa ruffled or pleated neck. Except that I know from experience that I rarely wear polyester work blouses of this type anymore because they're not comfortable, I tend to get sweaty. Plus, I think the key part of Elizabeth McCord's look is that it looks really expensive and luxe, both in design and material. Just for fun, I window shopped for a few higher-end silk blouses that had the general look, and of course, they're all too fancy in price for me. For instance, there's a St. John tie-neck shell in white and a Milly tie-neck shell in blue-green. There's also a L'Agence pintucked white blouse with long sleeves and a Rag & Bone faux wrap blouse in pale blue.

In actual practice, this is not a category of item I'd be buying anytime soon, both because of the price point and because my sizing for blouses might change in the near future. Oh, and I do have a lot of other silk blouses that are similar to some of Elizabeth McCord's more standard silk blouses, but they are somewhat impractical for frequent wear, as they're very delicate, need to be hand-washed gently, and I've found it very difficult to get stains out of silk without causing weird darkened spots to appear on the fabric. Certain silks also don't retain their texture well after being hand-washed and air-dried. It's very likely that Elizabeth McCord goes to the dry-cleaner frequently! Both the Ann Taylor and more high end options I've linked are also in the below widget, along with some other pretty, high end options to look at.

Anyone else watch Madam Secretary? Are there any television or movie characters that you get personal style inspiration from? The last character I posted about like this was Amy Dunne from the Gone Girl movie (Rosamund Pike is gorgeous), so I clearly have, er, diverse and sometimes strange interests when it comes to personal style inspiration from the screen.