Thursday, August 30, 2018

August 2018 Shopping Reflections

Oh dear, this ended up being an unexpectedly shopping-heavy month. And to add insult to injury, some of my choices won't be terribly popular, and were at least partially the result of poor planning, which isn't great. Let's break it down.

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 month started out well enough. I'd mentioned how obsessed I was with Alighieri jewelry, enough to buy another piece shortly after my first, last month's Jaja necklace. It was an extravagance, and also an unusual choice for me, as I've previously balked at buying another significant piece of jewelry for years. Regardless, I was supporting an independent artist, and her work is unique and beautiful. So long as the purchase fit comfortably in my budget, no big deal! Then, something I wanted months ago, a particular color of that Nordstrom cashmere and silk wrap I liked so much, was finally on sale, so I snapped that up. Both of these things were a natural corollary to something that was already a well-loved favorite, so that all seemed fine. 

Then I indulged in a few impulsive buys, but it wasn't that many, and in categories I don't really impulsively buy from anymore, namely skincare and jewelry. (Well, jewelry has possibly become a slightly impulsive area now, so I should be a bit more cautious going forward.) I'd gone to the new Muji near Bryant Park to look for more of those acrylic storage drawers I use for skincare and makeup (pictured). Despite the units being 50% off, when I saw that they discontinued the velour inserts for jewelry they used to make, which I was also after, I quite frugally declined to buy anything. But then I saw the Deciem store next door, and you can guess what happened. Oh, and on the last day of the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, I ordered a pair of those cubic zirconia studs recommended by Feather Factor

The more awkward things to explain, given my longtime goal of more minimalist, ethical, and conscious shopping, is the rest of it. It was only in mid-August that K and I confirmed the actual dates for our trip to Japan. And then I learned that the weather in Tokyo and Kyoto when we're there can be expected to be at least as warm and humid as it has been here in NYC recently, i.e. summer clothing weather. And I don't actually own enough casual summer clothes to last the entire two weeks of our trip, if I only take items that still fit me and that I like or feel comfortable wearing. (On our previous long trips, to places in East and Southeast Asia in summer weather, we've always stayed with family in the middle of each trip, and were able to do laundry, so I only ever needed a week's worth of summer clothing before.) 

I don't like summer clothes as much as fall/winter ones, and only really get to wear casual clothes on weekends. Thus, I've been perfectly happy spending my summer weekends wearing the same two or three dresses over and over, and I'd never felt there was a gap in my closet until now. With little more than four weeks before our departure, there wasn't enough time to try out one of those linen shops on Etsy like NotPerfectLinen or a made to order brand like Elizabeth Suzann. I looked through Ebay, Thredup, and Poshmark for casual dresses that would suit (mostly secondhand J.Crew or Madewell) and didn't see anything I wanted for the right price, and so... I ended up at Old Navy. Funnily enough, Luxe just wrote about this exact scenario, about almost impulsively buying something from Old Navy for a trip, except in her case she decided not to. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $401.30)
  • Alighieri La Fortuna Necklace - $264.00 - This particular Alighieri item isn't currently available from any US-based retailer, or from any of the foreign retailers best known for quick shipping to the US (i.e. Farfetch or Ssense). I bought mine online from Mille, a boutique in Minneapolis, but I seem to have gotten their last one. This is my second Alighieri purchase, and I still have nothing but good things to say, both pieces are absolutely beautiful. With this purchase, I've exhausted my jewelry budget, unless I dramatically cut clothing expenditures to compensate. 
  • Nordstrom Silk and Cashmere Wrap, pink silver - $59.40 - (sold out, other colors) Because I loved my first one so much, I've been keeping a close eye on this, to track when they put it on sale (rarely, at seemingly random times, a color or two at a time). In May, they put a nice pale pink on sale, but I saw that I preferred this cooler-toned "pink silver" shade instead. Fast forward to now, as soon as they put "pink silver" on sale, I grabbed it right away. These silk and cashmere wraps are lovely and floaty, but also extremely thin and prone to snags. Because I don't like feeling overheated, and have a down coat with a knit collar that zips up to the chin for truly cold days, these light scarves are plenty warm enough for me for most of winter, though I don't think most other people would feel the same. 
  • Nordstrom Cubic Zirconia Earrings, 2 ct tw - $29.90 - Not too much to say here, except that these are sparkly, and also modestly priced during the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. I normally wear a pair of pearl studs from Amazon (many options, including with sterling silver or 14k gold posts) day in and day out. It's been years since I've done anything else with my earrings for everyday wear, so I was tempted to get something to mix things up with. (I recall that Jess and Lea also have these, and we generally all seem pleased with them.) 
  • Old Navy Sleeveless Tie-Neck Shift Dress - $10.00* - This is a solid-color version of a printed rayon dress I bought a few months ago, which has been in my three-dress rotation for weekends this summer (along with the older version of the Grana V-Neck Silk Slip Dress and a Madewell cotton-silk blend dress I bought secondhand). I also wear that dress and a cardigan to work sometimes, on our casual (but no jeans) Fridays. So this was an easy choice when I found myself needing more summer clothes that fit me for my trip. One thing I've noticed about rayon is that when some items are line-dried, they initially look a bit stiff and wrinkly, but once you shake it out a bit, the texture goes back to normal.
  • Old Navy Tassel-Tie Flutter-Sleeve Shift Dress - $24.00* - Note that, while it isn't clear from the store photos (it's more obvious on the white version), this one has a sort of "babydoll dress" silhouette, hanging straight out and down from a point right above the bust, i.e. it's something that could easily have that "boob tent" effect I sometimes mention as a thing I avoid. Except that this dress is also a bit slimmer and less flared out than many other dresses of the type, so it ends up looking more like a shift dress, and I think the flutter sleeves also help balance out and prevent that tent-like effect. It's a linen-rayon blend.
  • Old Navy Relaxed Lightweight Cap-Sleeve Shirt - $14.00* - This shirt sort of looks like the Madewell Courier Shirt, though the cotton-rayon blend is softer and flowier than the light 100% cotton Madewell tends to use. (And it's not as intentionally oversized as the Courier.) A year or two back, I'd tried on a striped Courier shirt very similar to this, but sent it back because the Courier was not flattering on me, making my entire torso look as wide as the widest part of my chest. This softer material and slimmer-fit shirt suits me better, though it is still has a relaxed fit. I also ordered a 100% cotton version, but it fit more awkwardly, and the buttons gapped (a common issue with cotton button-downs on bustier figures). 
* Indicates that price per item is an estimate, due to the way the discount was calculated by the store. 

Beauty and Skincare - (TOTAL: $26.50) 
  • The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% - $6.50 - I'm just about the last skincare fan I know to finally try The Ordinary. It's so affordable, with an emphasis on key active ingredients, that I think almost everyone who likes exploring new skincare would want to try them at least once. This is the only one of the three products I've tried so far. I'd thought it was breaking me out, but later determined that the actual culprit was the CosRx Aloe Soothing Sun Cream. I'm going to try this again, but haven't yet had a chance to. 
  • The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA - $10.00 - Both niacinamide and alpha arbutin are supposed to be good for fading dark spots. Post-acne hyper-pigmentation is the main skin issue that I'd turn to over the counter products to help with. (Acne is a much bigger skin problem for me, but I now rely on prescriptions to control it.) It'll probably be a while before I get to this, as I'm now very slow with testing new products. 
  • The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution - $10.00 - Out of the three products, this is the one I'm least likely to be able to easily incorporate into my current routine. After being on a newly more minimalist routine on a dermatologist's orders, and going back to nightly use of Retin-A Micro, my skin's far more sensitive now! A few months ago, I tried re-incorporating my previous CosRx BHA products (previously, the BHA Blackhead Power Liquid and BHA Returning A-Sol were a good one-two combination for me as part of my morning routine), but now that I'm back to using Retin-A Micro nightly, my skin can't handle daily use of BHA anymore. That likely means that a weekly peel like this product may not be a good idea either... That's the thing about skincare marketing though, people with problem skin always hope a new product will magically make a huge difference.

Have you tried the Ordinary products? Did you like them? Is your wardrobe big enough to keep you outfitted for a long-ish trip in any given climate? With winter clothing, I wouldn't need half as much, and am totally set, as I wear most sweaters and jeans several times between washes, possibly for several weeks. I get quite sweaty and gross in summer, however (especially in the armpits, ick, and the clothes get smelly), so most summer dresses and tops can generally only be worn once before needing a wash. I should have foreseen this situation earlier in the summer, when I would have had more time to shop more carefully for a new summer dress or two, or a new top, but well, that didn't quite happen.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Link List: On Crazy Rich Asians and Old-Time Internet Trolls

After mulling it over for months, I finally decided to get that leather cover for my bullet journal. I use a Leuchtturm1917 A5-sized notebook with dotted pages (affiliate link), and bought my handmade cover from Uncommon Elephant, an Etsy seller based in North Carolina. I picked the "laguna blue" shade, which is a pretty teal (it looks a little more green in person than in the above photo). It's quite nice, and I'm very satisfied with it. Because it's a substantial piece of leather, the new cover does (naturally and predictably) make the journal feel bulkier, which took some getting used to. I figured that, because bullet journaling has become a daily habit for going on ten months now, and because I'd also been thinking about the cover for months without my interest in getting one diminishing, I couldn't really go wrong. 

1. // I finally got a chance to see Crazy Rich Asians this weekend, and I loved it! It's a fun romantic comedy, which isn't a genre we see much of these days. Both leads were very well-cast. (Constance Wu is especially fantastic.) They've toned down some of the harsher, satirical things I remember from the book, making the story a bit more accessible and feel-good, and a bit lighter. I'm also thrilled that it's been doing well at the box office

One nice side effect of all the buzz surrounding this movie was that it gives an opportunity to discuss Better Luck Tomorrow, an Asian-American-centric indie movie from when I was in high school. I confess, I never actually watched that film (seemed quite dark and I was a very young teen at the time), but there was this great moment at Sundance that I really took to heart. Some (white) audience members (there's video) said, essentially, that the team behind the film should be ashamed, how dare they represent their people that way. Roger Ebert (forever my favorite film critic) stood up with a vocal defense of the filmmakers, saying that they (and we), have the right to be whomever we want, to tell whatever stories we want about ourselves, and that for others to think that they can tell us how to "represent" "our people" is offensive and condescending. 

With that in mind, I confess to being a bit perplexed by some of the "hot takes" from other Asian-Americans about how Crazy Rich Asians doesn't represent them, because I've always thought the point of wanting more Asian-American representation onscreen was that it would allow a more diverse range of our stories to be told, some of which one might relate to, some of which one might not. Also, it's a romantic comedy! It's not going to be all things to all people. And the book was a sometimes silly beach read. So it's unrealistic to expect it to be everything at once, or for it to get political about income inequality and diversity in Singapore. (This article in The Atlantic is supposed to be a good starting point for reading about that last issue.) 

2. // I've been thinking about internet harassment and trolling because of the thing with Sarah Jeong. It inspired me to dig through the dregs of history to share what I believe is a little-known story, which may show that, when it comes to internet trolling, lawyers and law students have long been a bit ahead of the curve, both in terms of participating in such trolling and in trying to levy real-world consequences on perpetrators.

Nearly a decade ago, well before my time, the most popular internet forum for would-be law students was Autoadmit (link is to a copy of an old article, "Slimed Online" by David Margolick). And it was not pretty. Two women law students at Yale were singled out for anonymous threats of violence and sexual assault, seemingly for nothing more than being women who dared attend Yale. They sued, though it never got far. It's a strange story, and the perpetrators they unmasked seem, from the article, to be sad, strange, and small people. Given what the internet looks like now, the whole episode may have been a bit ahead of its time. It's related to something I might want to write about later, about my own approach to anonymity as a blogger, but it's just such a wacky story that I wanted to share it on its own first. 

3. // And here are a few good blog entries I've read recently: Jess calculated how many hours she spends working as a professor. Revanche wrote about emergency funds and risk aversion, and how her position on that has changed over time. (K and I are both unusually risk averse and keep what most people would consider as excessively large emergency fund. Part of it is that, like most biglaw-ish attorneys, we expect to take substantial pay cuts at future jobs.) We had an interesting discussion at Sophie's about different approaches to treating friends at restaurants and coffee shops, which I may yet spin off into a post of my own.

I also enjoyed this post at Get Rich Slowly about blog monetization and how readers should approach all blogs with a critical eye. Although his post was about personal finance blogging, his points are also applicable to other genres. For me as a reader, the most important factor that determines whether I enjoy, follow, and link another blog is whether I get a sense of the person(s) behind it, that they're interesting, smart people, and that I also "trust" their writing and recommendations to be true to who they are and what they genuinely like and value, regardless of the extent to which they've monetized. And I was also glad to see his enthusiastic recommendation of Luxe's blog and Bitches Get Riches, both of which are excellent. 

Please note that this portion of the 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. // Spoiler alert for my monthly shopping budget post, which is coming in a few days: August ended up being a very shopping-heavy month, ack, some of it brought about by poor planning with my summer weekend wardrobe and my upcoming trip. There were also other items I tried, but didn't buy. Madewell just had a 15% off sale that, unlike most of their sales, included the Transport bags, so I ordered the Medium Transport Tote. Although it's a very simple tote and, thus, would likely be somewhat duplicative of my Cuyana classic tote, I've long been fascinated by the Madewell design and its shoulder strap. Once I saw it in person though, I knew it filled too similar a niche to many bags I already own, so I sent it back. 

I've been trying to go to Uniqlo in person whenever I'm interested in something there because I otherwise end up returning way too much of what I order online. If I'm inevitably going to be at the store anyway, might as well just go in at the start. This time, I tried on a new high-neck tunic sweater in lambswool to see if it might be an affordable take on the heavy, oversized turtleneck or mock-neck sweater I've been craving since last winter. Unsurprisingly for a sweater at its price point (and for Uniqlo, it's sweaters are generally on the thin side, making them good for layering over my work outfits), it didn't have that luxurious thickness I was after.

Have you seen Crazy Rich Asians? What did you think? And how do you pick out blogs to follow? 

Monday, August 20, 2018

Shopping Thought Experiment: Professional Backpacks

Recently, there was a brief moment of a few days when I thought I may have reached a season of my life where I could no longer endure regularly commuting to work with a shoulder bag, rather than a backpack. (I'm already at that point when my daily commute involves carrying a fair quantity of papers or binders, lunch, and a laptop, but because my current workplace doesn't issue laptops, I've been using a tote.) It was a false alarm, though I've now noticed that my Coach Rogue (~3.5 lbs by itself) is just a bit too heavy for regular use if I carry even just a tiny bit more than what I used to, a few months ago. All I've added to that mix was my Kindle Paperwhite, a light office sweater, a small folding umbrella and (in the evenings) the empty thermos from my daily homemade cold brew coffee that morning. Though the weight of each new item by itself is negligible, when combined they've pushed the Coach Rogue into being too heavy to comfortably carry every day.

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!

I'd gone and done another weird thing to my lower back while doing some super-light chores, like that time I alluded to when I talked about K and I's somewhat lax approach to house cleaning. (Like last time, I wasn't even scrubbing or doing anything intensive, I simply bent down to get something out of the dishwasher. Last time around, I was crouching down to get something from the bottom shelf of the fridge.) Thankfully, it wasn't too bad this time, far less painful and for only a day though I stopped working out for about a week until all signs of any discomfort were gone. Since then, I've become a bit more conscious of the slight, occasional discomfort one sometimes feels in the shoulders when carrying an overstuffed tote. 

At this point, I'm not ready to give up on totes for my commute yet. I have my Cuyana Classic Totes, both the classic and the discontinued tall, and those are extremely light and still fine with what I'm regularly carrying to the office. (I wouldn't describe them as a "perfect" work tote, as I find they don't distribute heavier weight very well. They tend to feel heavier on the shoulder than a nylon tote like a Longchamp would feel when carrying the exact same items, especially on the days when I need to carry documents and/or a laptop.) I have the Longchamp Le Pliage Neo for days when I need to carry more than usual. Those things, plus my trusty old Everlane Petra Market tote (sadly discontinued) for more formal occasions are all that I need for my commutes, for now. 

If I did need to switch to a backpack, however, I don't think I'd want to use my old North Face Recon (current edition, but it looks very different and a bit sleeker now) from law school anymore, like I did while I was clerking. I think it looks just a bit too sporty to match my work outfits, and I wouldn't feel quite as professional carrying it. Even when one is an attorney who ends up in a lot of more formal settings, including court, I don't think anyone actually cares or notices, but it's something I care about for the overall look of my own outfits!

The "professional backpack" is actually a genre that's somewhat well-represented in the work wardrobes of my women colleagues and other women attorneys in my larger social and professional  circles. The most common choices are from Knomo (also in leather), State (also in leather), or Tumi. I think the Everlane Street Nylon backpack (though they don't stock it in black, my preferred color for this purpose) or their Nylon Commuter backpack also have the right look. I've put some thought into what my criteria would be if I ended up needing to shop for something in this category. Given that my current job almost never requires a laptop, there'd be a big question of whether to get something that fits a 14'' laptop or not. I'm not sure which way I'd come out on that question, as I definitely wouldn't need something that big right now, but I'd always worry about the "just in case" or if my needs would change in the next job. Material-wise, I'd probably stick to something in nylon because I'd want it to be close to waterproof. (One occasionally gets caught in a torrential downpour in NYC, and laptops and work papers do not like water!) I really like the look of leather backpacks (Cuyana also does one that looks pretty cool), but because of my experience with leather totes not carrying heavy items quite as well as nylon totes like the Longchamp, I'd be a bit worried that leather backpacks would feel too heavy.

Oh and in terms of other nice, sleek, and more professional-looking (rather than sporty) backpacks that I've noticed,  but which aren't really on my radar if I decide to make the switch for my daily commute: The Lo & Sons Hanover also has the right general look, but is too big for my needs, and because of the large size, is not quite as sleek. Many of the Everlane twill backpacks have the right look too, such as the Modern Snap Backpack or the Modern Zip Backback, though I'm leery of the material not being waterproof enough. The Everlane twill backpacks were also a perennial favorite among many of my law school classmates, and we carry tons of heavy books around all the darn time, which suggests they're well made and durable. 

Do you carry a backpack, tote, or something else on your daily commute? Does anyone else know what I mean about heavier items feeling "different" and heavier in leather bags than ones made of nylon or fabric, even when the leather bag is similarly light? (I swear, it's a real thing I've noticed!)

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.

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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.