Monday, December 30, 2019

My Favorite Books of 2019

2019 was a year of fits and starts when it came to my reading habits. I didn't have the greatest luck when it came to picking books. And anytime I selected too many relative duds in a row, or otherwise went too long without a book I enjoyed in hand, I started losing momentum with my reading habit very quickly. 

Perhaps because of all the work-related stress this year, I also felt like I was generally a far more fickle and picky reader in 2019 than I typically was in the past. I'd get into these strange moods, where books I would normally enjoy - some of them by longtime favorite authors, such as Guy Gavriel Kay - just weren't clicking with me. These days, I'm quite ruthless about dropping books I don't like and moving on to the next. Out of the 39 books I tried to read this year, I dropped and ultimately did not finish eight, most of them in the last quarter of the year, when things got truly hectic at the office and then stayed that way. 

My strange, capricious moods when it came to books may also have made me more receptive to works that many readers might find polarizing or odd. This is mostly seen with some of my "honorable mentions" for the year. A lot of those novels start with a fascinating premise, but even if I enjoyed the books greatly, I can acknowledge that there may be issues with the execution. 

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But with my main list of favorite books for the year, I can vouch for their excellence to any reader, or at least, to any reader interested in the relevant genres. As you'll see, my list is dominated by memoirs, which occupy two-thirds of the spots. (And in past years, my most enthusiastic book recommendations have generally been for other memoirs, including for Educated by Tara Westover and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. Clearly, I have a favorite genre!) A lot of my favorites for 2019 won't come as a real surprise, as I generally can't help but recommend good books shortly after I first read them. So I've already sung the praises of most of these works in other blog entries here this year. 

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung: This was a lovely, understated book, one that nonetheless packs a huge punch because of the difficult family experiences that the author describes with great sensitivity and empathy. Through her experiences as a transracial adoptee and growing up in a predominantly white town, Nicole Chung also has some sharp, insightful things to say about race in the USA. 

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant: I'm traditionally a huge sci-fi/fantasy fan, but haven't been reading as much from that genre in recent years. Seanan McGuire's series under her Mira Grant nom de plume are always delightfully creative, and they have a good sense of humor. This book is my favorite single volume yet from any of her Mira Grant series. Before reading this book, it had been a long time since I wanted to stay up hours past my usual bedtime to finish a book, because the story was so exciting and fully swept me up, and I really needed to know what would happen next. If you're a fan of sci-fi/fantasy, I highly recommend this book.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: I really enjoyed this novel, and found it charming and quite original. In the titular Eleanor Oliphant, Gail Honeyman created one of the most vivid, sharply-drawn, and intriguing characters I've encountered in any book in years. And I like that it has an uplifting, positive ending, one that Eleanor works hard for.

The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams: I first learned about this book from Kathy. It's an extremely powerful memoir. Julie Yip-Williams writes in such a direct and honest way.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah: I'm quite a few years late to the party when it comes to reading and recommending this book. It's as great as everyone says it is. Trevor Noah has an incredible life story, and an incredible writer's voice. I didn't want this book to end, and if Trevor Noah ever publishes another memoir covering other periods of his life, I would buy it immediately. This book was that good!

Heavy by Kiese Laymon: I think I waited for this one longer than I've ever waited for any other ebook from the New York Public Library ("NYPL"), more than six months.* And it was absolutely worth the wait. Out of all the memoirs on my list, this is by far the most unflinching, the most unrelenting, and the most challenging, particularly when it comes to discussing racism in the US.

And now for those "honorable mentions," of novels I greatly enjoyed, but that I can't recommend quite as wholeheartedly: The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon, My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, and The Farm by Joanne Ramos. I found The Incendiaries delightfully strange and surreal, but I'm not sure that mine is an entirely accurate reading of the novel, since my experience of it seems inconsistent with a lot of reviews out there. As for My Year of Rest and Relaxation and The Farm, they're very different books, but they're similar in that they both started with an intriguing, creative premise, but there were significant issues with execution. Both novels also happen to have weak endings that sort of just fizzle out. The Farm, in particular, is a book that might not be what readers expect based on the summary. It starts with an idea that could easily go in a more dystopian, Handmaid's Tale-esque direction, but ends up being a sometimes-clumsy novel focused more on class inequality than anything else, without really examining the many other themes implicated by the novel's premise.

What were your favorite books that you read this year? How's the ebook selection at your local library? (The NYPL's is pretty good, but there are also a number of popular works that they never end up buying as ebooks.) What's the longest you've ever been on the library waiting list for a popular book, whether hard copy or ebook?

* Admittedly, this isn't the most accurate measure of a book's popularity, since the NYPL doesn't order the same number of ebook copies for every hyper-popular or well-reviewed book. Most similarly popular books have much larger orders. The entire NYPL system only has 11 ebook copies of Heavy, but typically has at least 30 to 40 copies of other popular ebooks, and sometimes a lot more than that. (I'm also aware that libraries may not be able to immediately buy ebook copies of every bestseller. There are also many hyper-popular bestsellers that the NYPL doesn't own any ebook copies of.) 

Thursday, December 26, 2019

December 2019 Shopping Reflections

As expected, I made a few Black Friday sale orders for myself this year, some of which I kept. In fact, all of this month's purchases came from Black Friday (or Cyber Monday) sales. After that, I didn't really do any more browsing or shopping in December. As I've mentioned during other hectic periods at the office, there's a level of busy that causes stress-shopping, and then there are other levels of busy beyond that, where I don't have any energy left for shopping, or for browsing online shops. 

Next year, I think I'll stop being quite as rigid about keeping track of my shopping wish list on Pinterest. It's been a useful and fun tool for me, and I'll continue to use it in a similar way in 2020, albeit more casually. I don't think I want to feel like I need to commit to having pinned every single thing I eventually buy to the board for at last a few days - or preferably several weeks or months - before I actually order it. In the end, I just don't particularly enjoy having strict rules for myself! Flexibility, within reasonable limits, is key.

After all these years of blogging about my shopping decisions and then spending a year utilizing this more regimented method of tracking my shopping list, I feel like I now know my tastes and preferences very well, enough that I don't need to go to any special effort of planning out my purchases in order to make reasonably good shopping decisions. I know what I like, I can reliably predict what I'll wear frequently, and I also have a pretty good sense of a lot of things that definitely won't work for me because I'll find them annoying or too far out of my comfort zone.

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I'll continue to blog about my monthly shopping, of course. I enjoy using this blog as a shopping diary, and I like being able to look back at my monthly shopping budget posts to analyze how my habits have changed over the years.

Fashion - (TOTAL: $738.58)
  • Mansur Gavriel Large Tote, black/ballerina - $489.94* - Longtime readers may recall there was a time I was about to purchase this exact item as a splurge-y new work tote. But after seeing it in person, I decided to get the Coach Rogue in dark denim instead (long sold out, limited colors available). The Mansur Gavriel vegetable-tanned leather is unusual, it's quite stiff and can feel a bit plastic-y, and some say it feels a bit cheap or low-quality as a result. (I've also read that there may be issues with how some of their bags are constructed.) Despite these arguable problems, I've remained fond of the idea of the Mansur Gavriel large tote in vegetable-tanned leather, precisely because it is so stiff and structured. I like very large tote bags, but because I'm on the shorter, curvier side - I'm barely 5'3'' - big bags tend to overwhelm my frame. I personally find that a more structured bag - like this tote - can look less awkwardly oversized on me than the same-sized bag in a more slouchy or floppy leather (say, the Cuyana classic tote, or even the Cuyana structured tote). Still, at full price, this bag didn't feel like a good value. Then I saw it on sale at SSENSE during Black Friday, and the rest was history, even though the discount was ultimately fairly modest. 
  • Alighieri "Flashback" Earrings, gold - $161.14* - (sold out, available in silver) This was a more impulsive purchase than the tote - which was, admittedly, still a bit impulsive - because I didn't have any history of considering this specific item. As longtime readers know, I'm almost absurdly fond of Rosh Mahtani's work with her jewelry brand Alighieri. I already own three necklaces (including the Jaja and the Initial Spark) and a pair of earrings, and I still have a few of her other designs on my long-term wishlist, all of them necklaces. So these earrings were definitely not part of my plans, at least until I saw them in SSENSE's Black Friday sale section and ordered them along with the Mansur Gavriel tote. 
  • Naadam Cashmere Tracksuit Jogger, timber - $87.50 - I mentioned this purchase in another recent post. Earlier this fall/winter season, I'd been thinking about a pair of cashmere sweatpants - so that I could feel fancy, even if they're not necessarily more practical or warm than other sweatpants - but never seriously enough to add anything from that genre to my Pinterest shopping list. Well, these happened to be one of the items discounted 50% off during Naadam's Cyber Monday sale, and I ended up being unable to resist. I do enjoy these very much so far, and I find them comfortable enough to wear as pajamas. (My skin's never been prone to itching from wearing wool or cashmere.) I've been wearing these frequently for a few weeks, and there has been a moderate amount of pilling, but that's expected for cashmere. 
*Indicates that price includes sales tax. 

For each of this month's purchases, I was able to stack fairly generous Jewel cash-back rebates on top of the Black Friday discounts, for a total of nearly $34.00 back. As usual, I don't factor cash-back rebates into my accounting of my total shopping-related spending in these posts, since I won't actually receive the money until several weeks or months down the line. (If you're interested in trying out Jewel as a first-time customer, please feel free to use my referral link to sign up: We'll both get an extra $5 after your first purchase.)

And yes, I must admit that these Black Friday/Cyber Monday purchases were all on the impulsive side. None of the items I'd been looking at and planning for more seriously, and in the longer term, were really on sale during Black Friday this year. I guess it's consistent with my experience in past years, that Black Friday isn't generally an especially good time for fashion-related shopping: The more basic, staple fall-winter items that I've been eyeing for a while usually won't be on sale until after Christmas. I'm definitely a bit sheepish about how impulsive all of this month's buying decisions ultimately were, though I've been putting each item to fairly extensive use so far.

I hope that everyone has been having a good holiday season! Although things were busy for me at the office right up until the day before Christmas Eve, I've also been able to spend a lot of time relaxing with my mom and my sister, who visited me for the holidays here in NYC. We saw Moulin Rouge on Broadway, which was an extremely fun show. Best wishes to you all for the start of 2020!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Apartment Life Updates

Back when we first moved in...

Here are a few small things that have been happening recently to make my limited free time at home in our apartment a bit more enjoyable, in between my busy days - and nights, and some weekends - at the office this month:

Apartment Cleaning

Over the years, I've spent lots of time thinking about whether to finally, finally hire someone to come clean our apartment. Our living space isn't large, and there simply aren't that many surfaces to clean. When K and I work together on one of our "big cleans," we're mostly satisfied with the fruits of somewhere between two and three hours of labor from each of us. There are times when maybe two hours of work from just one of us is adequate to get our home mostly in shape to be seen by guests. It wasn't until this year - when both of us were simultaneously "billing significantly more than 2,000 hours a year"* busy at the office for the majority of the year - that K and I finally decided it was time. 

And even though we made that decision in September, we didn't actually get around to calling the company we were interested in hiring until late November. We had our first appointment with someone from Si Se Puede this month, and she did an excellent, very thorough job. Their price for cleaning our one-bedroom apartment was $120, but because it had admittedly been a very long time since K or I last did a "big clean" (and also because we aren't very good at it), the work took a little over six hours. We tipped $60. 

The New Trash Can

One of the only areas in which I think I can be considered particularly "frugal" by any real standard is in the area of furniture, small appliances, and other items for the home. Back when I cooked almost every meal for myself in school, I was perfectly satisfied with a fairly bare-bones set of items for the kitchen. These days, our household can go an incredibly long time before replacing fairly mundane and inexpensive items, such as cutting boards or oven mitts.

Note that I don't actually think of these practices as a good thing. The amount of money saved, if any, is extraordinarily small, especially when compared to things we regularly splurge on, such as rent and food. Plus, it's clearly not a good idea from a kitchen safety standpoint to wait on replacing noticeably warped cutting boards, or oven mitts where the protective silicone layer is... starting to peel off. It's just an illustration of our personal quirks and preferences. I get a bit of decision paralysis when trying to identify something like the most functional and "best" new cutting board or oven mitt to buy.

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Our old kitchen trash can, from back when K was in school, had not been working well for over a year. The lid wouldn't open fully anymore, and it was a pain to empty out. I do find trash cans to be a fairly expensive genre of item, and that was one of the factors leading us to delay in purchasing a replacement. Well, after struggling to empty the trash can for more than a year, we finally made the decision to buy a replacement, opting for a 30 liter rectangular step trash can from Simplehuman. And I must say, I'd almost describe it as life-changing, to finally have a trash can that is easy to empty and opens and closes smoothly, after struggling with our old one for so long. We should have done this much sooner!

Lounging Clothes

One of my Black Friday or Cyber Monday sale purchases this year was a pair of Naadam cashmere tracksuit joggers in the brown-gray neutral "timber" shade. It was an arguably impulsive purchase: I'd been browsing other online shops for cashmere sweatpants and joggers a few times this winter, but I hadn't been serious enough about the idea to add any such items to my Pinterest shopping wishlist. The very substantial 50% off discount for Cyber Monday was probably a big factor in my decision to buy. (During Cyber Monday, the joggers were final sale, so it was a risky buying decision.)

I've really been enjoying these joggers. Since the package arrived, I've worn them practically every evening to lounge around the house and as pajamas. I wouldn't necessarily say that cashmere sweatpants are especially practical, as I think other sweatpants are arguably more comfortable (no risk of the itch factor some get with wool or cashmere) and potentially warmer (the fabric on the Naadam cashmere joggers isn't especially thick, though I think it's a reasonable medium-weight). I also can't yet speak for how these will hold up with frequent wear and/or after washing. There's been a little pilling so far, mostly in the thigh area, but that's expected for the material, and it hasn't been too noticeable or extreme. But I've been enjoying them, and I find them comforting in this busy period at work where I don't get as much time to relax at home as I would like! 

* He'll have billed a little over 2,400 for 2019, mainly due to a trial. I'll likely come in right around 2,100 hours, which isn't at all extreme by biglaw standards, but is still substantial enough to make for a fairly busy year. Plus, my workflow was a bit less steady and predictable than his, so I had several weeks-long periods where I was on track for 2,400 hours or more

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Link List: The December Crunch

Photo from Yayoi Kusama's Longing for Eternity, on display at The Broad in Los Angeles.

In my experience - and that of many of my biglaw and biglaw-ish friends and colleagues - December tends to be a hectic time at work, right up to the start of the new year. We're mostly all able to travel to visit family for the holidays, at least: Our industry is more flexible than many in that regard, as long as one stays online and is ready to work as needed. (I'll actually be staying in NYC this year, and my family will come visit me, which will be lovely. Among other things, we're going to see Moulin Rouge on Broadway!)

In certain non-litigation practice areas, there's an impetus for some types of work to be done immediately before the new year. The attorneys in those specialties accept that a relaxed December holiday season is simply not in the cards for them, and that "real" vacations must be taken at other times of year. 

In litigation, there's no real reason why things need to shake out that way, but something about how larger firms assign work - or maybe about how court schedules move - generally results in December being on the busier side, at least for more junior associates. (For litigators, summer is generally the reliably quiet period. Between the partners at your own firm, your client, the judge, and opposing counsel and their client, there's always someone on vacation. The result is that everything just seems to move slower than normal.) 

That's a long way of saying that this blog will be quiet through the New Year - and for some time after - due to some new developments in my cases. I'll still post - it's a safe bet I'll get my December 2019 shopping reflections post done on schedule, for instance - but on a noticeably-reduced schedule. Anything more long-winded, or that requires more thought or reflection - including my annual blog income report - will probably only be done months after I originally planned. (Spoiler alert: there's no big changes there, and I'll likely have earned a bit less in 2019 than I did in 2018.) 

1. // This animated short film, Hair Love, by Matthew Cherry, is an absolute delight. Definitely watch it, if you haven't yet. It's an incredibly sweet story.

2. // So did anyone else notice the rather extreme online reactions to this admittedly odd Peloton advertisement? While the kerfluffle was at its peak, I hadn't actually watched the ad in full - with sound on - yet, so I wasn't in a position to have any views of my own. Though I had seen a few seconds of the ad on silent, and I did think it gave off a weird vibe. (Something about the actress's eyebrows makes her look rather stressed out or anxious.)

After all was said and done, I decided I might as well watch the ad with sound on for myself and... it didn't bother me. With the sound on, the actress didn't seem so stressed or uncomfortable after all. I would never have given this ad a second thought if I came across it organically, or were it not for all the news stories about the online reactions, and the fact that Peloton's stock price promptly saw a significant drop, seemingly just because of the ad.

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3. // Shopping-wise, it's looking like my search for a satin-looking bright teal slip skirt isn't going to pan out. That Madewell midi slip skirt in "smoky spruce" I ordered during their Black Friday sale is only okay. It has an elastic waist, so I can adjust where the waistband sits until the skirt looks midi-length on me, but the shape doesn't suit me much.

I'm beginning to suspect that this silk or satin-looking slip skirt genre is a difficult one to pull off, that it's one of those things where - if one doesn't style the outfit well - the material can look a bit cheap. Styling items that are a bit outside of my fashion comfort zone is generally not my strong suit, let's just say. (Also, J.Crew continues to refuse to include their similar slip skirt in any of their promotions, and that just annoys me.)

Thank you, as always, to everyone who reads along here at Invincible Summer! Best wishes for the holiday season to you all, in case I'm not able to check in again until just before the new year. 

Friday, November 29, 2019

November 2019 Shopping Reflections

I bought something beautiful and handmade this month... But it wasn't for my wardrobe. 

My November shopping reflection posts always feel a bit premature, given that it's usually a safe bet that I'll probably be shopping at least a few online Black Friday sales. Especially given that I'm describing this as a "no-shopping" month, which may technically be inaccurate if I'll probably be making a Black Friday sale order or two later today. But my usual practice is to only document new additions to my closet once the final decision to keep or return is made, and that's not going to happen until December.

Because of how intense things got at the office - for both K and I, with no reasonably foreseeable end in sight now for either of us until a few months into 2020 at the earliest - I stopped having any real time or energy to stress-browse online shops towards the end of the month. Things didn't escalate to that point for me until late in November, but the orders I made earlier on simply didn't pan out. 

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For instance, I was reminded that many more interesting, "weighty" rings of a certain size - including, in one of this month's stress-browsing-related orders that was eventually returned, the Monica Vinader Siren wide-band ring - simply do not suit my fingers. And I also found that even if the bright teal color of that Vince mixed-media pleated skirt (also on sale here) - which I mentioned recently when I wrote about my fondness for Mrs. Coulter's costume designs in the new BBC His Dark Materials adaptation - was gorgeous, the skirt was also too long and voluminous for someone my height. One can tell just by looking at it that it would be extremely complicated to hem, given the draping detail and the pleats! I've had my eye on the J.Crew slip skirt in academic green instead, but it's been excluded from the last few rounds of sales on their site, and it's looking like it may be excluded from their Black Friday sale as well. (There is, however, a similar Madewell slip skirt in "smoky spruce" that is included in the Black Friday sale over there.) 

In the throes of my particularly hectic last week of work before the Thanksgiving holiday - our team had a very taxing Monday and Tuesday, and a busy weekend before that to prepare - I did channel those desires to stress-shop into one purchase of a beautiful and handmade thing, this Porcelain and Stone ceramic travel mug. I've mentioned this small, artist-owned company from the Boston area quite a few times over the years, and I own several pieces of her jewelry. I follow the artist on Instagram, and I had been intrigued by her Instagram stories about experimenting with making cups and bowls.

I do already have another travel mug of almost the exact same size, the JOCO 12-ounce cup, which has been perfectly functional for my needs. Given my "latte factor" predilections in times of considerable work-related stress, I've been using the JOCO cup frequently. I've also been finding that I'm forgetful enough about bringing my travel mug back and forth that it could make sense to have another, to keep one mainly at home and one mainly at the office.

Happy (belated) American Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it. This year, I'm thankful for many things, including the fact that my post-law school student loan balance has now dropped to five figures - even if only by the thinnest possible margin - for the very first time! (I've been making $3,950/month payments for a while now, which puts me on track to finish paying off my loans in the first month or two of 2022, with my 2.6% post-refinancing interest rate.) 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Outfit Post: Neutral on Neutral

Jeans: Gap Mid-Rise True Skinny Jeans, dark indigo 
Boots: Sam Edelman Petty Booties, black (old, similar by Nisolo)

Winter weather has truly set in here in NYC! There actually haven't been too many days recently where I've worn wool-blend coats, because the weather jumped very quickly from trench coat temperatures to down coat temperatures.  

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This wool-and-cashmere blend coat by Polo Ralph Lauren is a generous birthday gift from my mom, circa two years ago. (We got it on sale.) I was surprised to find that the outer fabric is pure wool and cashmere - without any nylon, polyester, etc., as is commonly found in wool-blend coats at this general price point. When I first received it, I really loved how soft the fabric was - significantly softer than that of any other wool-blend coats I'd ever tried on - and I was probably a bit unduly impressed by that fabric composition because it was so unusual to me. At the same time, even if the fabric felt soft and lovely, I did notice it was thinner than that of most wool-blend coats. So I was initially a bit worried about this coat's eventual longevity and durability. (I don't think it's solely the fabric composition - rather, the lack of nylon or polyester - that accounts for the softness. I tried on this Fleurette single-button coat last year, which was pure wool for the outer layer, and it had more of that stiffness and structure one expects from a wool coat.)

So even though this Polo Ralph Lauren coat looks like it'd be a structured coat, it flows more gently over the curves of the body rather than holding its own shape as much, if that makes sense. It makes for a slightly different look than one might expect from what it looks like on the hanger. Because I'm on the bustier side of average, the coat does sort of flow down from the widest point of my chest, so the lines of it don't really nip in at my waist.  

As it turns out, although I've worn this coat somewhat frequently in the past two years, there haven't been any noticeable durability issues to date. Although the fabric feels less stiff and hardy than that of most other wool-blend coats I've tried on, I haven't seen any signs of wear and tear at all. Though I'm admittedly a little more careful with this than I would be with a coat of a darker color. 

I'm also really enjoying this beige Vince boiled cashmere funnel-neck sweater (gray version available at Shopbop). It's extremely plush and soft, and maybe even a little too warm for some of the temperatures we've had so far, when it's layered under some of my warmer coats. I've only worn this sweater a handful of times, but there's been no noticeable pilling as of yet. (Though I do expect some pilling eventually, as it's definitely in the nature of cashmere as a material, which I know from ample experience with other sweaters at a bunch of different price points.) The sweater is a bit intentionally over-sized through the body, so it does have a slightly boxy-looking fit all over. 

I thought this neutral on neutral combination of the coat and sweater - no desperate need for a scarf with that high funnel-neck - looked nice. Normally, I have a hard time finding camel, beige, or tan shades that look good on my skin-tone, but I think both of these colors work well on me, and they seem to work well together too. 

Monday, November 18, 2019

Resoling my L.L. Bean Boots, Round Two (with Before and After)

via Unsplash

My previous post about getting my L.L. Bean duck boots (I wear the 8'' style with Gore-Tex and Thinsulate lining) resoled currently happens to be my single most popular post of all time. I'm a little surprised that my post performs so well in the Google search results about getting Bean boots resoled, but I suppose it's because relatively few people out there spend that much time thinking about - or, more importantly, writing about - this mundane bit of routine wardrobe maintenance! 

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When last I sent in my beloved L.L. Bean boots for resoling, it was after I had worn them frequently - almost every day of the week from December through March or April - for two years. Strictly speaking, because I grind down the heels of all my boots so quickly, I could have made a case for sending them in at the end of the first year. By the end of the first winter, the textured rubber on the heels of my boots had already been worn down so much that almost half of it along the outer edges - the part that hits the ground most heavily when I'm walking, I assume - was completely smoothed out, enough that my foot could slip and slide a bit on damp tile or marble, or if the sidewalk is icy. Nevertheless, I held on until the end of the second winter, after which the yellow rubber at the heels was completely worn through, and the dark brown rubber under the soles was visible, and also starting to get worn down. In short, it was clearly past time to send them in for resoling. 

Please follow the link below for "before" and "after" photos, and a quick note about the current price for resoling the Gore-Tex/Thinsulate Bean boots:

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Style Inspiration: Marisa Coulter from His Dark Materials (BBC)

I am sometimes known for getting personal style inspiration from highly unusual places. Though I think, in this case, it's pretty easy to see why I'm inspired! Marisa Coulter from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series is not - to put it lightly - a nice person, but she is certainly compelling and complex. Although the 2007 movie adaptation of the first book in the series was not a particularly great success, I've always been fond of it, and I thought it was well-cast and that the set and costume design fit my vision of the story. From the two episodes so far, I think we can say the same good things about the new BBC series, and it's also a much more faithful adaptation of the source material. 

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I'm enjoying the series, though I think the pacing has been a little uneven. Episode one was an excellent start, but I was a little less sure about episode two and some of the revelations that they made far sooner than in the books. It's early days yet, though, and I'm so fond of the book series that there's almost no way I won't be watching every episode of this season as soon as it comes out. 

Ruth Wilson plays Mrs. Coulter very well, especially when she's being rather scary. I also really love the costume designs for this character, which focus a lot on rich textures and colors and these almost monochrome tone-on-tone outfits. As she tells Lyra: "The clothes you wear determine the way people see you." And Mrs. Coulter certainly dresses to be a striking figure who can't be ignored. 

I particularly like all of the blues and greens that she's been wearing in the show so far. They're colors that appear frequently in my collection of runway, red carpet, and otherwise more-fabulous-than-real-life fashion inspiration photos. I'm particularly in love with jade or teal shades this year, and well, it seems to be a trendy color right now! J.Crew, for instance, has a ton of items in a teal "spicy jade", and the "academic green" shade is also similar. 

The first screenshot above was particularly in line with items I've been thinking about recently, as I've been really struck by the idea of teal skirts in more satin-textured fabric, whether a pleated skirt or a slip skirt. J.Crew has both a pleated midi skirt option and a slip skirt option in that academic green color; Madewell has another slip skirt option; and Vince also has a pleated mixed media skirt in a similar color, which happens to be on sale in a few places. All these skirts are polyester or mostly polyester, though, which I prefer to avoid for anything that might be worn in warmer weather, even for more floaty, flow-y skirts that wouldn't be too constricting. (I'm very fussy about wearing more breathable fabrics during our very hot and humid NYC summers.) And while I've been really into the idea of silk-looking slip skirts since this summer, I do wonder if they're a short-lived trend that's destined to look a bit dated as soon as the trend goes away. 

Have any of you been watching the new His Dark Materials series? What do you think? It's my absolute favorite children's book series. Though I must confess that much of what was happening in The Amber Spyglass flew completely over my head until I revisited the series years later, while I was in college. 

Monday, November 11, 2019

Life Lately

I did in fact end up taking that whirlwind international business trip I mentioned. The entire trip - flight time and waiting time at the airport included - took up a little less than 48 hours in total. What an adventure! The travel-related exhaustion didn't really catch up with me until the weekend. 

Here are some of the small things that have been on my mind recently:

Money-Related Podcasts

I've been listening to a few new-to-me personal finance-oriented podcasts lately. My preference in this genre is for podcasts that talk more about the personal stories behind how different people manage their money or how they got into a particular financial situation, rather than about more technical details or how-tos. Essentially, I enjoy content like the more money-centric episodes of Death, Sex & Money. In that vein, I've been enjoying the recently debuted She Makes Money Moves by Glamour and iHeartRadio and also the This is Uncomfortable series by Marketplace. There was also a brief season of the Refinery29 Money Diaries podcast, which is also pretty good, though it's from quite a while back and was over too soon.

Out of the episodes I've been listening to in the past week or two, the most unique and fascinating one was probably this recent Death, Sex & Money episode, about someone who got into the debt collection business, found she was quite good at it, and was eventually prosecuted by the Federal Trade Commission and New York Attorney General. The ultimate conclusion of that prosecution was a settlement that included a lifetime ban from the industry and a multi-million fine that she can never hope to pay off. Very interesting, though the interview subject is not the most sympathetic figure, I don't think.

Ring Wearer

Prior to my recent engagement, I'd never spent much time wearing rings. I must say, it takes a little bit of getting used to. I find that it bumps against hard surfaces - mostly my desk - somewhat frequently, and then I worry about whether I might actually damage the stone. That makes me glad I never bought one of those opal rings I was thinking about a few years ago, as I probably wouldn't have taken good enough care of it. I sometimes look at used opal rings on TheRealReal, and I've seen stones that aren't looking too well. For instance, this one had a noticeable scratch!

I also found that I prefer not to wear my ring during long flights. On one of my many recent flights, my finger swelled so much that the ring got stuck! (I'd eaten a fair bit of salty food that day, and it was a red-eye flight, which makes it a bit easier to get dehydrated during.) The swelling went down after we landed, and I was able to take my ring off shortly after without resorting to any special tricks

Monday, November 4, 2019

Link List: On a Business Trip (or Not)

I recently got to hang out with my friend's adorable husky while I was on vacation. Those scratch mark-looking things on the floorboards aren't doggie claw marks, they're an intentional design choice made by a previous owner of the home! I was not the first person to ask about that...

As you read this, I might be on an international business trip, or I might not. I won't know if I'm actually taking this trip until the eleventh hour, less than 24 hours in advance of the flight (for which a refundable itinerary was booked).

It's a bit difficult to explain how this scenario came about. The work I would be doing is legitimately urgent and important, but it might also not ultimately be necessary, depending on how certain things turn out. One can understand why I've generally been a bit stressed, and also a bit too preoccupied to write much of great substance here! 

I've had so many ideas recently for more long-form posts, including about the legal industry - with a particular focus on the quirks of biglaw - and about personal finance. But, alas, I also have no time to write for fun. And sometimes, when I manage to put together a substantial draft for one of my bigger ideas, I lose steam when I get to the last few paragraphs. Maybe I'll be able to write more when things finally calm down again at the office, but there's no real chance of that until December at the earliest. 

1. // This may only be of interest if you're curious about fashion/lifestyle blogging as an industry - all signs point to it being a somewhat fading segment of social media-based business, when compared to ones based more on Instagram or other social media platforms - but I really enjoyed Carly the Prepster's recent interview on the Bad on Paper podcast. This also wasn't the first time that Carly has been refreshingly transparent about the business side of her work, she's done a few detailed posts about such topics, including a very recent and candid Q&A. Oh, and back in the earliest days of r/blogsnark, she did an informative Q&A there too, which included some details about her yearly revenue at the time. (I also linked that r/blogsnark Q&A back in late 2016.) 

I related to a lot of what she said in her podcast interview, maybe to the degree where it's a bit weird that I feel that way, since our backgrounds and professions are so, so different. Anyway, I highly recommend the podcast episode if you're interested in fashion/lifestyle blogging as an industry.  

2. // Speaking of other topics I have so many thoughts about that I could write an entire other blog post - or two - about them, if I only had the time: I recently got off the library waiting list for Jia Tolentino's book of essays, Trick Mirror (affiliate link), which I loved. She's a brilliant writer, and I adore just about everything she publishes. I hadn't realized that she and I are basically the exact same age, and so we had some of the same internet-based experiences growing up. (Did anyone else also make their own websites on Angelfire or Geocities back in the day?) Though of course, she's a lot more eloquent in describing those experiences than I am, and she was also consistently more savvy and hip about everything internet and pop culture-related than I was. 

One of the essays in her book was excerpted into that "Athleisure, Barre and Kale" article in The Guardian, which went a bit viral. Among other places, people discussed the essay at great length over at Corporette and r/blogsnark. Having read both versions of that essay, I think the book version is much better, and is more clear in addressing the deeper themes she's getting at. 

3. // I enjoyed this article over at The Fashion Law about consumer fatigue with regards to buying large quantities of clothing and other changes in the clothing retail landscape. Are these trends - particularly the apparently increasing popularity of clothing rental services - ones you've noticed amongst your friends and peers?

I do know that a lot of clothing companies, including Ann Taylor - of all the unlikely places - have dabbled in trying to start a rental service. I've also had friends who've briefly tried things like Rent the Runway Unlimited when they had quite a few different weddings to attend in quick succession, but I don't know anyone who would use a clothing rental service in the long term. 

Did any of you read Jia Tolentino's The Guardian essay when it was first posted? What did you think? I noticed that reader responses were a bit more divided than I expected, though I do understand why. I also didn't find that particular piece as brilliant and sharp as I usually find her other writing, in part because I couldn't relate to being a frequent consumer of barre classes (I took a few classes once, and loathed it) or athleisure (doesn't fit my lifestyle, or my tastes in clothing). Though I do eat an excessive and embarrassing quantity of Sweetgreen, so I can vouch for how her description of the spirit in which a NYC office-dweller might opt to go to Sweetgreen is... disturbingly accurate. And if you listened to Carly's podcast interview, please let me know what you thought! 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

October 2019 Shopping Reflections

October has been fairly shopping-heavy for me. Things have remained consistently hectic at the office - outside of when I was on vacation - and I keep wanting to browse online shops late in the evening after work as a way of unwinding and de-stressing after a long day. Not the greatest habit, I know. It hasn't (yet) resulted in my actually ordering too many things to try on and potentially keep, but the risk is certainly there. 

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I'd say that one of this months' purchases, the Kate Spade "Lana" loafers in a croc-embossed "cherrywood" shade, was an indirect product of those work stress-driven online window-shopping impulses. As I explained last month, my sudden interest in the trend of colorful croc-embossed leather came about that way. At the time, a pair of shoes seemed to be the most likely way I'd indulge in that trend, in part because I don't currently own many shoes suitable for warmer weather; I grind them down so quickly with frequent - or unfortunately, sometimes with not-so-frequent - wear. 

This month's other purchases, though, have been much longer in the making. Starting last winter, because of an office policy change that put the kibosh on jeans for casual Fridays, I became interested in looking for a pair of black pants in more casual, comfortable materials. The sole purpose of these pants would be to wear on casual Fridays at work during the colder seasons. One idea was for something from an athleisure brand, possibly a pair of Athleta Wander pants or something similar. 

I never did get around to shopping for something for those pants last winter. Pants shopping is generally such a chore when one is quite short and also has shorter-than-average legs, such that most "petite"-sizing pants are still a little too long. I could never get up the energy to start trying things on last winter. And as soon as the weather warmed up, I lost interest completely. Now that the weather's cooling down again, it was time to resume the search. 

I had observed that solid black denim appeared acceptable for casual Fridays under the new policy, so that was the direction I ultimately went in. Between this month's purchase and the source of my current pair of skinny jeans (similar), it seems that Gap jeans fit me best. I also tried on practically every similar design at Madewell (the 9'' mid-rise skinny jeans in ISKO stay-black were my favorite of the bunch) and Everlane, but the Gap ones looked best on me by far. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $403.57)
  • Elizabeth Suzann Ella Slip Dress in silk crepe, navy - $225.00 - (discontinued) - This dress has been on my main shopping list Pinterest board more or less since I started using it, for nearly a year. But I currently have plenty of summer dresses for the weekend that are still in good condition, so there was no real room for ordering it anytime soon. Then the company announced that the entire Ella product line would be discontinued, so I felt like it was "now or never," if I wanted it. (I like the neckline on the Ella much better than the necklines on the replacement designs, the Petra and the Polly.) The Elizabeth Suzann ("ES") silk crepe is nice, noticeably thicker and a bit more substantial than the Grana, Madewell, Everlane-ish silk I'm more accustomed to. Texture-wise, the ES silk has a little more stiffness than the Equipment silk blouses I've gotten at significant discount in the past
  • Kate Spade Lana Loafers, cherrywood - $138.60* - I had a slightly strange experience when deciding on these: I originally ordered both this Lana loafer (Bloomingdales was price-matching a sale at Kate Spade) and the Darien loafer from Kate Spade directly, both of which were supposed to be the same "cherrywood" shade. But the Darien loafer was a completely different color! On both websites, the "cherrywood" shade looks like a deep, somewhat multidimensional red with uneven shading to give it texture. Instead, the Darien loafer was this one-dimensional, very flat-looking mauve shade, not remotely like the website photo. Whereas the color of the Lana loafer on the website is accurate to what I actually received. How very strange! Has that ever happened to you, where the sample photographed for the retailer's website must not have looked at all like the actual product? Another note: This may be my first pair of shoes with a leather sole - which does feel a bit fragile - so I may need to take these to the cobbler before I wear them out, and ask them to add a protective layer of rubber. 
  • Gap Mid-Rise True Skinny Jeans, black rinse - $41.97 - All I wanted from this purchase was a pair of solid black skinny jeans that fit me well and had no fading or distressing or other design flourishes. Because Gap skinny jeans appear to suit my height and body shape the best,  based on each time I've shopped for jeans in recent memory, this pair fit the bill exactly.
*Indicates that price includes sales tax.

Going into November, the main thing on my mind shopping-wise will be holiday gifts for K and his parents. As I've somewhat sheepishly mentioned, my own immediate family takes an extremely unsentimental - but arguably practical - approach to gift-giving: The recipient selects their own gift, and might even go so far as to order it for themselves, in which case they receive reimbursement from the giver. K's family does holiday gifts the more traditional way, surprises all around. I enjoy participating in that family tradition, but it can be a little stressful trying to pick good and useful gifts. My gift selections for his parents have been a bit hit-or-miss over the years. I've had a few smashing successes, but also a few real duds, unfortunately.

Are you thinking ahead to holiday gifts for family and friends? Any good ideas for gifts this year? If you have a "business casual" workplace that observes "casual Fridays," are jeans allowed? I suspect that many business casual offices in various industries out there, in particular in non-NYC localities, generally allow jeans on at least some occasions. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Outfit Post: A Slightly Unusual Look

Necklace: Alighieri "La Fortuna" necklace
Necklace: Alighieri "Initial Spark" necklace
Dress: Elizabeth Suzann "Ella" slip dress, size M (discontinued)

Now here's an outfit I'm not sure I'll repeat: I originally wore it out of the house with a pair of black tights on, and it felt like a strange, extremely conservative-looking outfit from the waist down, since all the more modern, slightly edgier-looking details were only visible from the waist up. (I also wore my Alighieri "Surreal" earrings, which are the biggest pair of earrings I own, though they're not actually that big.) I still enjoyed wearing this outfit, it's very comfortable and relaxed, but it does feel like an unusual look for autumn weather. Silk slip dresses are just too associated with summer in my mind, and the dress does look a little odd with tights on underneath.

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This post also serves as a spoiler for this month's shopping reflections post, as this Elizabeth Suzann ("ES") "Ella" silk slip dress - recently discontinued - is new to my wardrobe. The company has now replaced the Ella series with two sets of designs, the round-neck "Polly" and the v-neck "Petra" families. I've had an Ella silk slip dress pinned on my main shopping list Pinterest board for most of this year, but I don't think I would have been ready to order one anytime soon. At the moment, I have plenty of other summer dresses in my closet that are all in fairly good shape, including ES's linen Georgia dress from June. It was only when I saw the brand's announcement on Instagram that they were discontinuing the Ella items that I decided to move forward, as it was "now or never." I received this dress just after I got back from my recent vacation. 

Adding to the relative conservativeness of this look, I had my hair up in a loose bun held in place by one of those Ficcare hairclips that I've been using all summer, since I bought them in June. I always feel very buttoned up when I wear my hair that way. (It's a very easy way to style my hair for work.) 

So yes, I'm not sure I'll be wearing this outfit again during the cooler seasons. I really wanted to try wearing my new ES Ella dress out, and this was the only way I could think to do it now that it's starting to cool down here in NYC. We're currently having a few weeks of trench coat weather here. 

Friday, October 25, 2019

Wedding Guest Dress(es)

Now that I'm back from vacation, it's time to hit the ground running again at the office. Among other things, it may soon be my turn to take an urgent international business trip. For some litigators, business travel - both domestic and international, and sometimes on very short notice - can be quite common, but it hasn't been a big part of my practice so far. Based on my current caseload, this should, in all likelihood, be a fairly isolated instance for me. I should get some airline miles out of it too, though probably not enough to get special status from any airline, given that this is likely to be my only trip this year! 

As part of my recent trip, K and I attended a wedding - and the attendant rehearsal dinner - at two swanky venues in the Los Angeles area. The wedding was definitely the fanciest one K and I have attended to date. The dress code was still standard cocktail attire for both events, definitely not black tie, but I still felt a little under-dressed. I wore the J.Crew dress with bows to the rehearsal dinner, and the Ann Taylor lace dress to the main event. Both are dresses I also wear to the office, and in the case of the J.Crew one, that happens almost as often as once every two weeks.

I've actually worn this same style of Ann Taylor dress - I own two, in slightly different shades of blue and with slightly different lace patterns - to the last five or six weddings K and I attended, over the past three years or so. There was nearly no overlap between the guest lists at most of those weddings. Though in any case, I don't think significant guest list overlap would have caused me to change my mind about wearing the same dress each time.

We attended the last few weddings before this most recent one in fairly quick succession, and then there was a long gap between events, of well over a year. By the end of that string of weddings ending by early 2018, I was starting to get extremely bored of those Ann Taylor dresses. I started wanting to look for a more interesting or colorful formal dress, though that search never panned out. For a time, I searched halfheartedly, but my interest in the project quickly petered out when it proved to be difficult, and not that much fun. Given that we had no other wedding invitations on the horizon, there was also no urgency associated with the search.

This time around, I felt bored of this Ann Taylor lace dress after attending just this one wedding.  And we do have at least three weddings we're invited to in 2020...

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Spoiler alert: I don't think I'll ultimately end up buying a new "wedding guest dress" this time either. That's mostly because the same factors that made the search so tedious and annoying last time are still in play: I'm extremely fussy about which designs I think will work for my body type. There's a pretty long list of design elements that will cause me to reject a dress out of hand, and I also need, at a minimum, for a non-strapless bra to be completely covered. I'm also generally very picky - maybe unreasonably so - about what colors or prints I think might look good on me. And for this purpose, I also prefer to avoid any print on a white or cream backing, as well as any light color that could look close to white in certain lighting, cutting down the universe of potential dresses even further. Then, there's also the question of whether a possibly workable dress design actually fits and looks good on me, which is no easy feat because I'm quite short - generally too short for most "regular sizing" midi and maxi-length dresses to look right -  and am also on the curvier side.

Altogether, given my restrictive preferences and some of the popular trends in party dress design in recent years - for instance, those Self-Portrait lace dresses that were popular for a time definitely don't work for me, nor does basically anything that looks like it could come from Reformation's "wedding guest" dress selection - I think it's no surprise that I find this search rather painful. In fact, I find the wedding guest dress search nearly as painful as the search for a pair of jeans that I actually like and that fit (a process I endure only when absolutely necessary, complaining all the while).

All of this is to say that I might have unreasonable and unrealistic preferences for this specific genre of dress. On top of that long list of restrictions, there's the limits of my budget to think about as well!

Ultimately, it's also consistent with my "minimalist-ish" values to stick with the perfectly adequate wedding guest dresses I already have. It isn't even like I didn't have other options in my closet all this time, including that Anthropologie dress featured in my first ever monthly shopping post, or that Diane von Furstenberg ("DVF") wrap dress from my second ever monthly shopping post, among many others. (Both those alternatives are out of my closet now: I resold the DVF dress back to TheRealReal not long ago. And with the changes to my chest measurement during the intervening years, I no longer fit in the Anthropologie dress, so I'll need to find it a new home.) Nonetheless, I still reached for the Ann Taylor dresses to attend all those weddings in a row, over various other options, because I ultimately felt more comfortable in those dresses than in any of my other possible choices.

So that's probably that for this potential purchase, I'm pretty sure. I really do like looking at various colorful and pretty dresses (the more intricate and opulent the better, really, given most of what catches my eye when it comes to larger-than-life or high fashion runway inspiration). But when it comes to what makes sense for me in real life, it's pretty clear that I favor dresses with a simpler, more staid look for this purpose, and that I prefer having a wedding guest "uniform" I keep reaching for - the same dress over and over - with some variety and novelty coming from my choice of accessories, and sometimes shoes. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Link List: On Vacation

personal photo taken from the Santa Monica pier

Thank you all for the well wishes and congratulations in response to my previous post! K and I are incredibly excited to be taking this next step together. (Actual wedding planning work is going to need to wait at least a few months, though, due to what we each have going on at the office.) 

But for now, I'm currently on vacation, and hanging out with some of my good friends here in sunny California. And while I'm on vacation, I'm making some time for blogging too, because writing here is definitely one of the things I do for fun.

via Architectural Digest

1. // Now this is something I only came across because another reader over at Kathy's shared it in the comments of Kathy's recent post about buying backups or copies of beloved items. I had not heard of the artist Michelle Oka Doner before, but I find her signature dress, pictured above, to be incredibly chic. (Her home and studio are also much the same.) I certainly love the idea of having one favorite and versatile dress made in multiple fabrics, to be worn in all kinds of settings and contexts.

2. // There was a recent purported biglaw attorney's Refinery29 money diary that attracted a bit of attention on r/blogsnark - more than it did even on the actual Money Diaries-focused subreddit - because the author was a bit of a character. In terms of whether this diary is realistic (or whether some major key pieces are missing), I'd personally peg this one as a bit less feasible and/or more likely to be omitting some serious family wealth than that CNBC alleged double-lawyer family finances graphic that was making the rounds a while back, and that I fussed about.

3. // When I was a teen and very young adult, it felt like Forever 21 was unstoppable. During my high middle school and high school years in the suburbs - and even during my Boston-area undergraduate years - Forever 21 felt a lot more accessible and ubiquitous than international fast fashion giants such as H&M or Zara.

So it was a bit surprising when I learned that, actually, Forever 21 has not been performing well for years now. They recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Though when I sit down and really think about it, it makes sense that Forever 21 has been overtaken by more social media-savvy brands. I'm no longer of an age to be in the target audience of either Forever 21 or any of its successful direct competitors, but even I had a distinct sense that there are many brands out there that are better about marketing over social media.

4. // A few blog links to share: I was excited to hear that Franish is making a return to blogging! Her approach to blogging was very influential to me when I started writing here. Among other things, my monthly shopping reflections series was originally inspired by her monthly "Budgeting Bloggers" link roundup back in the day. I always enjoy reading about Adina's creative endeavors. And I always love seeing Jane's photography, and these pictures from the annual art show at Rookwood Cemetary are particularly intriguing. 

Friday, October 4, 2019

A Thousand Times Yes

K and I first met right at the start of my 1L year, but it wasn't until a year later that we became good friends. The more we talked, and the more I learned about K, the more I marveled at his kindness and his conscientiousness, and at how well we seemed to understand each other. I found his good-natured sense of humor incredibly charming, and before I knew it, I had the biggest crush. A few months later, when I found out that he felt the same way, I couldn't have been happier. 

In the years since, we've traveled together, gotten to know each other's families, and taken care of each other when times were hard.

There's no one I'd rather build a life with, and I couldn't be more thrilled for us to take this next step together.