Wednesday, January 30, 2019

January 2019 Shopping Reflections

The period between Thanksgiving and now has been a hectic one, to say the least. Because of a big mid-January deadline, I was working most days between Christmas and New Year's, and I hunkered down to work even harder from practically the first day of 2019. I was even, for the first half of this month, on pace to bill 3,000 hours this year (a formidable number, even to some of the hardest-working biglaw associates), and that was significantly busier than I had ever been before. Thankfully, things have calmed down now, and should hopefully stay that way for at least a few more weeks!

I'm still trying to suss out whether I think working like that, particularly if it's for longer periods and/or on a more regular basis, would have the consistent, noticeable effect of increasing my spending or shopping. Work-related stress and long hours do make me more likely to rely on delivery food and a daily latte, and at some point it could drive K and I to finally make the decision to hire cleaning help, so it definitely affects my spending in all kinds of areas outside of shopping. And of course, I've often confessed that I'm prone to online window-shopping when I'm stressed out, which can easily lead to buying more things, so it definitely has some effect on my shopping as well. At the same time, as some of my peers in the industry have noted, there is definitely a point at which one might be working so much that it has a sharply depressive effect on spending and shopping, if there simply isn't enough time to do anything but wake up, go to work, go home, and fall asleep promptly, rinse and repeat (including on the weekends sometimes), at which point even the limited mental energy required to browse an online shop and order something may be a little too much. 

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 say that my recent busy period at the office helped with not buying clothing this month, but it wasn't for lack of trying. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I ordered some clothes, but none of them worked. And after that, I even ordered and tried on one more extremely extravagant thing, a deeply discounted. but still very pricey, Mansur Gavriel braided cashmere sweater in dark gray (also available in blue), which was, let's just say, proportioned for a woman closer to six feet than to my actual height (5'3''), and also ran bigger than expected all around.

For next month, I may still be tempted by all the cozy sweaters out there, especially if the end of season clearance discounts get any better. The Vince funnel-neck sweater on my wish list seems to be fully sold out in my size everywhere, but maybe I'll see something vaguely similar from another brand. Oh, and although I'm typically not a shoe person, I ended up in an elevator with a stylish woman wearing those Gucci loafers that the Sam Edelman ones I like so much are, er, essentially imitating, and I must say, the contrast is dramatic. The Gucci loafers definitely come off much better in the comparison, as they probably quite naturally should, for obvious cost, materials, and craftsmanship-related reasons. Even though I'm perfectly happy with the Sam Edelman loafers and expect them to last quite a while with occasional reheeling, and even though the Gucci ones are far, far more expensive than any other pair of shoes I've ever tried on, much less bought, I would be lying if I said I wasn't still daydreaming a bit about the Gucci loafers now, they're so sleek and beautiful. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $171.63)
  • Alexis Bittar Hinged Lucite Bangle - $108.28* - (I haven't seen this exact design elsewhere, but somewhat similar new ones can be found here and here; or used ones here and here.) This wasn't on my actual shopping list, so I've technically broken the only actual rule I set for my shopping this year. I'd been tracking it for quite some time on another Pinterest board (the one I send to K with Christmas gift ideas), however, so I gave myself a pass. I only rarely like Alexis Bittar designs, his larger, more statement-making pieces are generally a little edgier than my usual style, but his lucite pieces, many of which are textured to resemble stone, can be intriguing. Separately from that, I've been interested in jade bangles, both more classic, plain ones and ones with metal accents (like from Choo Yilin). But I don't dare buy one myself. I don't know anything about jade, nor even about what a "good" bangle should cost. Also, I've never regularly worn a bracelet of that thickness or weight, so who knows, maybe I'd hate wearing one. For whatever reason (lucite and jade are, obviously, not at all alike), I became convinced that an Alexis Bittar bangle, in green or blue-green, would be a good way to try out this general look. I hunted through eBay and TheRealReal for quite some time to find ones I thought had the right look. This was one of my favorites. It's gorgeous, and is another one of those pieces I can't help but admire throughout the day. I'm still not used to wearing a bracelet of this thickness on a regular basis, though, it does feel like it gets a little bit in the way when I'm typing at my computer. 
  • Mejuri Dome Ring - $63.35* - I'd been thinking about this ring, or something like it, for months now, and this also came straight from my current shopping list, so I have no qualms about having made this purchase. I was going to feel compelled to try this, or a design very much like it, at some point, whether it happened now or later. Also, I went to the Mejuri showroom to make sure I got the right size, and that the design looked good on my finger. Alas, despite my diligence in seeing this item in person before I ordered it (something I almost never do), I think I may still have chosen wrong. This purchase may yet turn out to be an error in judgment after all. I'm just not used to wearing rings, I hadn't worn a single one out of the house since shortly before I started law school, so it feels fussy to me to have this on. The size 9 that fit correctly on my index finger at the showroom is now a little too big most days. (The weather's been quite cold, maybe my fingers will swell more normally throughout the day once it's warmer?) The sizing issue is making the ring even more fussy. 
**Indicates that the price included sales tax and/or shipping charges. 

One thing I'm realizing, when it comes to my rather loose set of rules and guidelines for shopping this year (the "put everything through one consolidated wish list" rule is the only particularly concrete one), is that I may not have had a clear sense of what my larger goal actually was, except for there to be "less" shopping than the year before. Sounds simple enough, but I may not even have known what "less" was supposed to mean, exactly. It begs the question, "less" of what?

It isn't really about "less" total spending, though I'd be pleased if it turned out that way. (I know that sounds absurdly extravagant, but I trust myself to manage my overall finances well, and it's always been easy enough for me to cut from other budget categories to make room if I overindulge a bit in shopping.) I don't generally count total individual items bought in each category, though I have the data to go back and calculate it, and I did find the totals a bit sobering when I looked back at the past four years, so it is sort of about "less" of that. It definitely meant "less" purchases that were not as good an idea as I originally thought, in which case my track record for the year is already not great. Was it also supposed to mean "less" time spent thinking about shopping and "less" packages from online shopping going back and forth? It probably should mean both those things, but I'm not sure I'm ready to commit to that yet.

How's your shopping year looking so far? Is anyone else also working on some kind of goal to shop less this year? How's that going so far? Also, does anyone else have as much trouble with ring sizing for fashion jewelry as I do? Way back in the day, when I was in college and was into the statement cocktail ring trend (anyone remember those YSL "Arty" rings? I thought some of the colors were gorgeous, but could never dream of owning one), none of the standard ring sizes quite worked for my index finger. A size 7 was definitely too small, but it was sometimes hard to find size 8s, much less the size 9s that may be closer to the right fit. 

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Cost of a Trip to the Optometrist

via Warby Parker, which is not where I went for my new glasses

I have terrible vision, and that's been true for most of my life. When I was a child, starting around age seven, my vision deteriorated quickly. Like clockwork, I needed a new prescription every year, and it changed by a similar (and rather significant) margin every year. Thankfully, once I was an adult, my vision stopped deteriorating quite so fast, and I no longer needed to see the optometrist so regularly, though at my mom's insistence, I still went frequently, generally at least once every two years or so during one of my visits home to California. These days, though, now that I don't get to travel home as often, I'm far less responsible.

Fast forward from law school to earlier this month, and it had been three years since my last optometrist appointment, and nearly five years since I last got a pair of new glasses (and I wear glasses often). Although my vision hasn't deteriorated much since my early 20s, and I generally never notice the slight decline, if any, between appointments, the doctor still adjusts my prescription upward every so often, maybe every other appointment or so. This time around though, I was starting to actually notice and feel that it might be high time for a new prescription. While my vision still seemed clear, I was starting to feel a little eye strain when I'd been staring intently at a computer screen for too long in one day, and feeling a slight urge to squint to read small or faraway text.

In terms of whether I have vision insurance or not, it's been about 50-50 in the years since I was a teen. I was originally going to say that I've often been lucky to have vision insurance. But, actually, looking back, I'm not sure it generally conveys much real benefit, at least, not with the vision plans I've been on. I no longer have the option of getting vision insurance through work, but back when I had that choice, it usually cost around ~$23/month, but didn't seem to offer benefits that were necessarily worth that. I did a little casual research just now into what it would cost to buy my own vision plan, and the first website I looked at was very upfront about how, at ~$20/month in premiums, typical patients only saved around $240/year, which seems to be a rather open admission by the insurance company itself that their product may not be worth it.

Way back in the day, I generally had vision insurance as part of my mom's health plan with Kaiser Permanente (a fairly common provider in parts of California), which could only be used at their in-house optometry department, nowhere else. And the vision insurance part of that health plan was pretty terrible, at least as far as I can recall. (The last time we tried to use it, I was in middle school, so the memories are admittedly quite faint.) The benefits only covered either one of contact lenses or a pair of glasses at a time, not both (which is fairly typical on other plans as well, in my experience), and one may have needed to wait longer than a year in between each instance of actually using the benefit. I'm even tempted to say that the required gap was two years, but may not remember well enough to say for sure. And the price for the exam, although it was supposed to be covered, was always quite high, often an extra nearly two hundred dollars. My mom thought it was such a terrible value that we only ever tried using Kaiser's vision benefits once, actually. We ended up going to Costco instead, for the rest of my optometry appointments in California, even if we couldn't use our insurance there.

Friday, January 25, 2019

On Working From Home

Today's post is vaguely inspired by that somewhat silly, much-criticized Wall Street Journal piece a few months ago, which recommended dressing up when working from home, with suggestions that were more formal than what some business-casual workplaces require (and included some very expensive pieces). Independently of that article, though, I was already curious about the subject of working from home, mainly about what everyone else thinks.

I suspect it might be a little bit like the question of whether one decides to hire cleaning help (particularly in circumstances when one has very little free time or energy for it, and would therefore greatly value the assistance, and is also lucky enough to be able to find room in the budget for that luxury). One would assume it's an extremely simple and straightforward question, and boring to boot. The answer may seem obvious, and, regardless, it's not necessarily a topic worth spending too much time or energy thinking about. Yet people might still have some very different personal perspectives about it, or preferences regarding it, nonetheless. 

What do you wear to work from home?

I suppose this is actually a two-part question: First, what do you actually wear? Second, do you think it helps with productivity to dress up more formally when working from home, whether because of the act of dressing up by itself and/or because, when done as a habit, it possibly adds some additional structure to work from home days? 

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!

As for what I actually wear, I wear the same things I wear the rest of the time I'm at home when there are no guests. I'm definitely the kind of person who can't wait to change out of my "outside clothes" as soon as I step in the door. At that time, I get straight into the clothes that I also wear to sleep. In winter, that's a pair of sweatpants (both of mine are Uniqlo, including the more recently purchased fleece-lined sweatpants that are on my "maybe give away" list because, alas, the size S is a little too fitted, and I like my sweatpants to have a more relaxed fit); a long, loose-fitting cotton tee (I wear these from H&M, and previously wore some long cotton-modal tees from Forever 21); and a sweatshirt (generally that ubiquitous Bobeau fleece wrap cardigan that's pretty much always on sale at Nordstrom).

Does anyone remember the anime and manga Kare Kano? I definitely related to the main character's approach to what to wear while at home.

As for whether I think dressing up helps with productivity, I'm generally inclined to thinking it's not helpful. Admittedly, I've never had the choice to be able to work from home frequently, and I don't really anticipate having that freedom anytime soon, so this question is largely a moot point, more an abstract thought experiment than anything else.

Still, back when I was a student, particularly during the final exam period (most law school grades depend on a single two to four hour exam for the entire semester's grade, and all exams take place over a period of approximately a week, starting sometime after classes have already ended), or on days when I'm working from home and need to be especially productive, getting dressed never really had any noticeable effect on my productivity. I like being able to roll out of bed and get straight to work, if needed, and generally wouldn't dress up if I was staying in all day because, well, lounge clothes are comfy. I'd get changed if I knew I had to drop by the library or pick up something at the grocery store or drugstore during the day, but that didn't seem to alter my productivity the rest of that day. Then again, this doesn't really give any insight into what it's like to work from home regularly or telecommute in the long term, so maybe I can't truly answer this second question for myself. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Wardrobe Life Lately

Some of my favorite personal style inspiration photos recently. I keep a smaller, more tightly curated board for a small number of photos that I feel like best and most accurately capture my current ideal aesthetic.

We're only a few weeks into 2019 and what I'm hoping will be a year of more restrained shopping than in recent years past. I think it's going well enough so far, though it's obviously far too early to even attempt to claim victory or success. I've stuck to only browsing for things on my consolidated "wish list", or items substantially similar in design, and have generally not gotten distracted by anything else. With certain items from the original list, I've had the chance to try them on, only to realize that they won't work for me after all.

Spoiler alert, I have shopped this month, but only for jewelry so far, and I think it's likely to stay that way. One item technically hadn't gone on my formal "wish list" before, so I sort of broke my "all shopping must be from the central wishlist" rule, but it was something I'd tracked on another of my Pinterest lists for at least a month or two before, so I gave myself a pass.

Changing Plans

Some of my plans for the first part of the year may be shifting. Savings-wise and spacing of time off work-wise, everything's in place for me to start scheduling a certain procedure, something that should, in practical terms, keep me away from most clothes shopping for quite some time. However, now that I'm finally so close to actually being able to take concrete steps towards getting this longtime goal accomplished, I may be balking a bit, mostly because of the expected price tag. Outside of my law degree, it would be far and away my most expensive single purchase ever (keeping in mind that I've never needed a car, and that I'm not yet in a stage of life where the purchase of a home is a feasible and sensible possibility). On the one hand, I've thought about this for years, saved in earnest for nearly a year, and wanted it badly for most of my adult life. I've rarely been so sure of anything. On the other hand, such big purchases should never be undertaken lightly, so if I'm feeling any sort of doubt or hesitation, however faint, I should certainly wait until those feelings have all dissipated.

I think I'm also feeling a bit of anxiety about the risk of another protracted economic downturn. Given my age, where I grew up, and the industry I chose to enter, I've always felt like a "child of the recession", always expecting a market slowdown to cause serious disruptions to life and career at the worst possible time. It is, to be frank, a specter that has haunted every year of my life since I started law school, and that haunts me still. When I matriculated, I was well aware that recessions were highly destructive to the careers of junior attorneys and, almost more importantly, to their ability to pay off their typically massive student loan balances. I don't think I can be completely free of that kind of fear until I'm completely done with my student loans, which is likely to take another three years (though within another year or two, I should have enough cash saved that the remaining loan balance won't be as big or scary a concern any longer). And when I'm feeling nervous about the economy, I want to save more cash, not spend it.

There's also the question of whether there are other things I should spend on first, namely some cosmetic dental work. One unfortunate and otherwise permanent aftereffect of my 2017 accident is that I still have a front tooth that doesn't look quite right and is a little out of alignment. I've never actually looked into what it would take to get it back into place and looking pretty again. From what I know about cosmetic dental work, it'll probably be extremely expensive, and maybe I should prioritize that first, before any other elective medical procedure!

Shopping Lately

Sweaters are among the things almost guaranteed to fit differently if I go through with the plans I'm currently hemming and hawing about, but because we've got plenty of winter weather to look forward to, I still get tempted to try on more sweaters, the cozier the better. I'd also been so busy at the office that I was feeling some stress-induced urges to shop. Though actually, I also discovered that when one is truly busy (for the first half of the month, I was on pace to bill 3,000 hours in 2019 if I worked at the same rate all year long, a formidable number for even the busiest of biglaw associates), there is barely any time to really think about shopping or even to make some online orders. Though because I like clothes and get excited about sales, I still made some orders nonetheless. And well, things have quieted down considerably at the office now, but hopefully that doesn't increase how much I shop.

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!

With regards to this year's rule that I only buy things after they've spent some time on my one consolidated wishlist, it may need to be amended slightly to allow for items that are substantially similar, including in color and design, to ones on my list. I tried on a gray Club Monaco waterfall cardigan (sold out, other colors available) that was very similar to a Bloomingdales cardigan on my list, and also a funnel-neck Club Monaco sweater I thought might be similar to the one from Vince that is on my list (both items now sold out). Neither of the Club Monaco sweaters worked, though, I think their items better suit people who are a bit taller and less busty than I am.

In terms of other items on my list, I also ordered the Bloomingdales tie-waist cardigan in burgundy, but didn't like it, it had awkwardly high side slits and the waist tie didn't sit in a flattering spot on me. Outside of sweaters, there haven't been any other types of clothes I'm interested in, except maybe that, if I end up deciding not to have that procedure in the foreseeable future after all, I might want to try the MM. LaFleur Etsuko dress in blue and black brush jacquard print. Although I generally find MM. LaFleur overpriced, they don't have that much competition when it comes to workwear, especially now that I tend not to be interested in most of Ann Taylor's and J.Crew's new offerings.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Podcasts I Like Lately

Oh my, for the past few weeks, things turned out far more hectic at the office than I originally anticipated! I was working on a large, urgent project, and the pace of it really took me by surprise. But the finished product turned out well, and I was glad to have the chance to play a sizable role in that. I always do enjoy legal research and writing, regardless of the topic or issue at hand. 

For today, here's a fairly low-key post while I ease back into writing here. There's so much that I want to discuss recently, but because I have so much to say about every little thing, it'll take a while to get all my thoughts down about any of the other ideas I have for new posts. Topics that have interested me lately include: (1) some utterly bizarre and unfair reactions to Marie Kondo, ostensibly from people who are really into books, but perhaps not enough to actually read her book and comprehend it; (2) a... situation... that arose in the minimalist-ish and slow fashion space, primarily on Instagram; and (3) that "millenial burnout" thing, and how it looks very different for different demographics. For that last thing, I certainly have my own take on it and how it plays out in my own life. And, of course, I always have a gigantic backlog of other post ideas, many of them months or even years old, that I've never gotten around to. 

Today, though, the focus is on something smaller, on a few podcasts that I've enjoyed recently. Maybe these are all very obvious recommendations that practically everyone in the world is already familiar with, but I myself am quite new to the world of listening to podcasts! Over the years, I'd listened to episodes from some of the most popular ones, mainly the first season of Serial and some of This American Life, but other than that, I'd never really been interested in anything else. It was only in the last few months that I decided I wanted to expand my podcast horizons a bit, to find some new ones to listen to while commuting. 

In no particular order, here are the podcasts I've listened to in the past few months and that I thought were particularly well done, and some thoughts on why I recommend each:

Dr. Death: Holy moly, this was a wild ride, and I couldn't stop listening! It's a shocking and absolutely horrifying story. (Be warned, there's quite a few descriptions of botched surgery, which I found rather graphic and, for lack of a better word, squicky). As the podcast tells it, a perfect storm of bad things (including some deficiencies in how the medical profession regulates itself) came together, and multiple patients paid a high price. Wondery does an excellent job telling this story, and it was engaging the whole way through. I've been trying to get into their other famous true crime podcast, Dirty John, but I don't find that one as compelling. 

Limetown Season One: And my recommendation only extends to the first season for this, unfortunately. This was my first experience listening to a fiction-based podcast, and it was really fun! They did a great job setting up the mystery and revealing just enough in each episode to keep me intrigued and eager to listen to the next one. Alas, as they revealed more and more, the story started sounding silly, and I couldn't keep listening after the first episode of the second season. Because of the cliffhanger on which they ended season one, there wasn't much momentum going into season two. It just felt like a very abrupt and clumsy transition. 

Believed: Out of all the terrible things we keep learning about these past few years, one of the things that struck me the most was the Larry Nassar case, and what it revealed about the culture of abuse in USA Gymnastics. I have such a hard time comprehending how so many adults can turn a blind eye for so long to harm that is being done to children under their care, to ignore allegations of serious abuses, and to fail to investigate or report. That breach of trust, that failure to protect people who are vulnerable and to whom one owes a duty of care, I just- My words fail me. Few other things make me so angry. 

I remember, in 2016, listening to an interview with McKayla Maroney on Gymcastic and feeling like there was something under the surface, there was something darker or heavier going on there, but that seemed to go unstated or unexplained. And to know now about what had happened, I'm just so horrified and sad, and so angry at all the adults who should have known better.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Little Thoughts from Q4 2018

A few things from the past few months that are probably too small or fleeting to ever possibly warrant their own post, even as part of a "link list": 

1. // I've started playing Pokemon Go again, after taking a nearly two-year hiatus since last time. As you can see, my best Pokemon now are much more interesting than my best Pokemon back then. I've even - gasp! - spent ~$30 of real world, actual money to buy fake, digital money (Poke Coins) to buy fake, digital products in-game (mainly item bag and Pokemon box expansions). 'Twas my very first in-app purchase ever. I was about to make one in Candy Crush a few years ago to get past a level I was stuck on for weeks, but forgot my iTunes password and never got back to it (or the game in general). I don't plan on spending money on Pokemon Go often, definitely far, far less often than once a month, but it could happen again, heh. 

2. // With regards to the health insurance and contraception co-pay situation I was fussing about earlier this year, things have settled down to my being charged $35/month in copays for the brand name. That's a monthly expense level at which I just swallow the cost with a grumble, even though the whole thing makes me extraordinarily grouchy. The generic is not covered at all (judging by GoodRx, the cash price could also be expected to be approximately $35/month, in at least some instances). It really makes me miss how I used to be able to get this exact same pill for ~$15/month over the counter back when I lived in Hong Kong! 

3. // Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was an absolutely delightful movie, I highly recommend it!

4. // I've been taking a bit of a hiatus from reading for fun since I finished Kathy Wang's Family Trust (affiliate link), which I greatly enjoyed, but also needed some time to process. It's darkly humorous and entertaining, but because some underlying aspects of the story are so personal to me, and about things I view as ultimately somewhat tragic, it put me through an emotional wringer a lot more than it would most other readers. 

One thing about the general lack of diversity and representation in media and books is that it's so rare to see a story that's so truly about people like me (this may be the first time ever that I've ever seen such large parts of my lived experience so deeply embedded in any work of fiction) that, even had the book been a much more cheerful one, I might still have needed all this time to process the great shock of finally seeing people so much like myself depicted! I never thought it was possible, much like I didn't fully believe the Crazy Rich Asians movie could be such a box office success here in the US until it actually happened. Here's hoping that there will be more and more room for Asian-American representation in American media and books in the future. 

5. // Another book I read late this year that really put me through a different kind of emotional wringer was Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy (affiliate link). It's a memoir about Stevenson's work of building the Equal Justice Initiative, the profound level of racial injustice in our criminal justice system, and some of the unjust cruelty that results when children are tried as adults and sentenced to extremely long terms of incarceration, sometimes for life. To me, it really drives home the point that the work of building a better world, particularly as an attorney with an eye towards public service, is never-ending and infinite. Even a person as extraordinary and tireless as Mr. Stevenson often finds himself realizing the devastating truth that he can't do everything, and won't always succeed in what he is able to do, but that doesn't stop him in his work.  

6. // The "White Walker" Johnny Walker product tie-in I glimpsed at a shop in JFK airport while on my way home from California is probably one of the stranger product tie-ins I've ever seen. The writing on the Game of Thrones show often displeases me (among many other things, I detest how they manufacture scenarios to show additional instances of violence against women, particularly sexual violence, that weren't originally in the book), but I'll probably still be watching the new season when it comes out. I just can't quit!

I hope that everyone is having a good start to 2019 so far. What were your favorite books or television shows in 2018? Things will be very hectic at the office for the next two or three weeks so things might be quiet around here, though I'm hoping I'll still get a chance to post once or twice in that time.