Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Black Friday and Cyber Monday Sales on Things I Like

via Unsplash

It isn't too common for a Black Friday or Cyber Monday sale to include clothing, shoes, or accessories I've had my eye on. Generally, the better sales for products in that category come after Christmas or New Years, provided the specific products I was looking at didn't sell out in the meantime. This year, I thought I'd make a list of Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales that include specific items I've bought and liked - generally available in at least slightly different colors than when I bought the item - or fairly narrow categories of items I feel I can somewhat vouch for. 

I'll keep this list updated throughout the next few days. Happy Thanksgiving to those of you in the US, or who are currently celebrating the holiday! 

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in my earning a small commission - at no extra cost to you - if you click and make a purchase. Thank you for your support!

Babaa Sweaters and Lounge Sets: The Spanish slow fashion knitwear brand Babaa is running a fairly broad holiday sale, apparently through this weekend. The brand doesn't offer sales too, too often, and their products are - reasonably - quite pricey, so this is an alright opportunity if you've been eyeing some of their sweaters or lounge sets. A number of the merino wool lounge sets are on sale, through sadly the light turquoise "seaside" color I bought is sold out. That dramatically chunky No. 15 jumper I got is also on sale in a few colors, including the gray-brown "oak" color I have. Admittedly, the No. 15 jumper is so intentionally oversized and chunky that it isn't too practical, I can't layer it under any of my coats. 

Jasmine Chong Ella Silk Organza Scrunchie: This handmade pleated silk organza scruchie was a social distancing-time pick-me-up I purchased in June this year, and I think it's quite lovely and well-made. I was happy with my purchase at full price, though I know I won't likely get too, too much use from it once I'm back to working in-person. I definitely don't expect super-small brands and businesses to run Black Friday sales, though I certainly appreciate when they do. Jasmine Chong is running 20% off accessories this year, including this scrunchie (use the code HOLIDAY20). 

Cuyana Leather Totes and Cases: Cuyana has put a limited number of their leather totes and leather cases on sale through Monday, with a 15% off discount applied at checkout. K got me this set of two leather travel cases for Christmas one year. I also own the non-zipper version of their classic leather tote -  the zippered version of which is on sale - and both are good, unbranded, and very simple-looking leather tote for work. Their classic totes are nice and feel sturdy, but the leather is also very soft and pliable, which makes the bags a bit floppy. 

L.L. Bean Boots and Blankets: L.L. Bean is running a sitewide 15% off sale (with code THANKS15) that includes both the Wicked Cozy blanket I've recently become so fond of and my trusty L.L. Bean boots lined with Gore-Tex and Thinsulate

J.Crew Sweater Blazers: This is admittedly a set of products that doesn't get any use from me while I'm not going to the office - for now, I prefer softer, less structured sweaters - but in normal times I wear my J.Crew sweater blazers frequently throughout the fall and winter. (Though always layered under a wool-blend or down coat, these are not made to block the wind, as I personally found from wearing one out without a coat on one chilly day.) I particularly like the collarless Juliette sweater blazer (styled for work here; styled casually here) for wearing over sheath dresses as part of my "work uniform". I mostly keep the collared Sophie sweater blazer (styled for work here; styled casually here) at my office for use year-round as an "office sweater" when the HVAC system runs too cold, though I think it suits my outfits best as a more casual piece. Note that, at least when I bought them, both sweater blazers ran very large. I ended up taking a size XS in both, which is almost unheard of for me! 

As of today, November 25, J.Crew is currently running a 50% off full-price items and extra 60% off sale items Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale (use the code EARLY) that includes both sweater blazers, though some colors seem to be backordered and might not ship until after the New Year. 

In the past, I believe J.Crew has sometimes run a pretty good sale leading right into Thanksgiving and then slightly hiked up the discount percentage afterwards for Black Friday or Cyber Monday. But given the size of the discount right now, I'm not sure that's likely this year. One relevant anecdote: I specifically recall holding on to a bunch of potential J.Crew purchases to take advantage of this hoped-for increased discount in 2018. I wasn't the only one with that idea, because J.Crew's website couldn't handle the volume of customers throughout the Black Friday weekend that year, and it took me several hours of trying on and off before I could check out successfully online. J.Crew's social media accounts were inundated with a dramatically large number of complaints that year, and I was taken aback at how intensely angry people were willing to get on Twitter and Instagram, where the comments are publicly visible. 

Vince Boiled Cashmere Funnel Neck Sweater: I was just talking about how much I enjoyed this cozy, very soft (but a bit unusually fuzzy, zoom in on the most close-up store photos to see what I mean) sweater I bought last year. Sizing-wise, it's intentionally oversized, and even at a 38'' bust measurement, I still get a slightly oversized look from the size S. Vince is currently running a 30% off sale site-wide (use the code NOVEMBER30). (I feel like I  recall last year's Black Friday or Cyber Monday discount being only around 15%!) From browsing the Vince store and Nordstrom in person back in pre-COVID times, I've found that Vince sweaters for the fall/winter season generally all feel nice, thick, and soft in person. Though I'd still look carefully at the fabric composition details when shopping, because I'd prefer all-natural fibers at their fairly lofty price point! 

Alighieri Jewelry: As is typical, based on at least some of the past few years, Alighieri is running their own sale this year on a limited number of designs. This year's "Archive Sale" has the most generous discounts (more than 40%, I think) I've ever seen for the brand, though not on any styles I own. But because this is from the London-based brand's own store, prices are in GBP (and will incur a foreign exchange fee unless you're using a payment method without one) and international shipping will also be fairly pricey. 

More Alighieri Jewelry: A number of Alighieri jewelry designs are currently on sale at SSENSE and Matches Fashion, though not any of the styles I own. I've bought a slightly extreme number of Alighieri pieces over the years, and haven't seen any tarnishing with the 24 carat gold plating they use. I just love their organic, antiqued aesthetic. (I store my jewelry in a set of stackable jewelry trays with a lid from Amazon, to keep the vermeil and gold-plated pieces away from too much exposure to air. But that isn't enough to keep some of it from tarnishing, unfortunately, as most of my Mejuri collection isn't doing that well...) I'll drop my favorite of the currently on-sale designs of Alighieri jewelry into the Shopstyle widget below. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

November 2020 Shopping Reflections

It may be premature to draft this post before some of the post-Thanksgiving Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales have begun. But given that any post-Thanksgiving orders I make will almost certainly be delivered after December 1 - and that I generally don't report purchases until I've made a final decision about whether to keep or return, with occasional exceptions for made-to-order items with a longer lead time - I think the tally for November should already be final.  

No surprises this month, my sole purchase is something from my planned shopping list for the rest of 2020. Preorders for The Curated's Classic Coat in camel (many sizes still available) opened in the first few days of November, a little earlier than I originally expected. Shipping was also remarkably fast, they sent out my package barely five days after I put in my order! 

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'm satisfied with my Classic Coat purchase and I think the price is very fair, but my feedback also needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt because I likely won't get a real chance to road-test this coat outdoors until some time in 2021. As The Curated is a very small direct-to-consumer company - and each of their out-of-stock items seem to be on its own schedule when it comes to when the next preorder might begin - it can be a bit difficult to shop from them. I felt like I needed to follow their Facebook group (thank you to Kristy for recommending it!) and Instagram to keep track of things. But the company owner is very responsive in their Facebook group, and I'm sure their customer service team is responsive by email as well. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $375.00) 

  • The Curated Classic Coat, camel - $375.00 - The price of this coat for US customers is $350 and shipping costs $25. They generally use DHL to ship items from abroad, which may account for the significant shipping price, particularly with larger packages like coats. Much like the bloggers I linked to in my previous post about this coat, I really like it! The 70% wool, 30% cashmere blend feels nice and it's fairly thick and soft and drapes nicely over the body, even though the coat is unlined. I don't have experience with many good comparator items because wool or cashmere-blend coats with no synthetic fibers in the shell are not common at this general price point. 100% wool Fleurette coats on sale may be the only generally available thing fitting this criteria. A number of Fleurette designs get into the ~$350 range when discounted, for example at Hautelook or Nordstrom Rack here, here, and here. (I tried on a 100% wool shell Fleurette coat in 2018 and it felt nice, but was also a bit stiffer or more structured than this coat feels.) I own an older Polo Ralph Lauren coat (no longer available, worn here) - a generous birthday gift from my mom -  that's 90% wool, 10% cashmere and which started at ~$550, but went on sale for closer to ~$350 when my mom got it for me. That material is noticeably thinner; a little rougher to the touch; and drapes less well, even with a lining. I'm 5'3'' and roughly 38''-28''-38'' right now, and the size M of this Classic Coat was the correct choice, I think it fits exactly as intended. One thing to watch out for is that this coat is very straight up and down, it doesn't taper out at all around the hips, unlike most other women's coat designs. I think the smaller-than-expected hip measurement tends to be what throws things off for people who feel they ordered the wrong size. 

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you in the US! K and I are staying home, and we'll cook a special meal for just our household. We'll use Google Meet or FaceTime for a video chat with his parents and my family. K's cold symptoms last week were super-mild and fleeting, he's already feeling much better. But given the timing and our inability to get COVID-19 testing without additional indoor exposure to people outside our household, canceling our Thanksgiving plans was absolutely the correct and responsible thing to do.

As for Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales, I'll definitely only be shopping online, but that isn't too different from other years. The Reset is doing a 25% off discount code starting now, so I'll think about that polo sweater a bit more and possibly put in that order towards the end of the week. Recently, some sparkly slippers have caught my eye, like these colorful sequin Ugg "Scuffette" slippers (I particularly like the dark purple "medallion" color) or these gold glitter Birdies (mostly sold out, may not restock in time for Christmas), but I've never really liked wearing slippers at home when given the opportunity, so I think I should stay away from this idea. Plus, I'm not sure either shoe will be part of any special Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Social Distancing Life Lately: Change of Thanksgiving Plans

via Unpslash 

Well, we always knew this was a possibility. Two days after my previous "Social Distancing Life Lately" post went live - on the ninth day of our stricter-than-usual 14 day pre-Thanksgiving quarantine - K started experiencing some very mild cold symptoms. Naturally, our plans for K's parents to come pick us up and to spend Thanksgiving with them are now officially cancelled. 

K's feeling just fine, the symptoms are almost nothing compared to when we both came down with nasty colds a few weeks ago, and I haven't been sick at all this time around. But in this situation, where symptoms began within 14 days after our last outings - one masked grocery trip together and my visit to the office for some work that needed to be done on-site - and it's not currently possible for us to get a COVID test without additional indoor contact with people outside of our household, the right thing to do is clear. We cannot spend time indoors with K's parents and risk getting them sick. (See, for example, this CDC-derived graphic that's been going around, and these charts from the New York Times, which I learned about here.)

We're all disappointed. K's parents haven't seen him since February, except for a few curbside exchanges where they drove to our apartment building in NYC and stayed in their car with masks on while we also masked up and dropped off some things they'd asked for in their trunk - typically some Asian groceries delivered by Southeast Asia Food Group - and picked up items they'd gotten for us, including their extra Instant Pot. We wouldn't be able to live with ourselves if we got them sick. Cancelling our plans now is the correct and necessary thing to do. 

To tell the truth, K and I had been feeling some uncertainty about whether our original plan to spend the holiday together was going to work. Because we would need to travel through our apartment building's lobby - a shared space that generally has at least our or two other people around, even if everyone is masked - at least one time when they picked us up, it's impossible to have a perfectly airtight 14 day quarantine before we see each other. The risk there is probably minimal, it'd take barely a minute to pass through, but it can't be eliminated. 

Plus, COVID-19 conditions in all parts of the US can change so rapidly, both the NYC-area COVID data and the national conversation surrounding how to approach Thanksgiving kept shifting between when we first formed the plan in late October; when we started quarantine after I got back from the office on November 10; and as the days of our quarantine ticked by. The situation throughout the US has only gotten worse - far, far worse in some parts of the country - throughout those weeks. 

It's strange, I felt sometimes like K and I had sort of been outliers since July or August, in terms of still taking so many precautions and staying home so much while NYC was doing great with its COVID numbers. But, by having potential plans with his parents until today, we suddenly sounded reckless and foolhardy in the past week or two. So many of my friends - generally all very cautious, but who didn't always stay in quite as much as we did during the summer, particularly if they had their own car or could rent a car - cancelled potential holiday plans with their families at least a few days before we did. 

K, his parents, and I are still holding on to plans to start another 14 day - or longer - quarantine before Christmas Eve, in hopes of maybe trying again to be able to spend a holiday together. (We may even be able to arrange for it to be 17 or 18 days.) Once again, we are all in agreement that we would pull back and cancel if any of the four of us gets any symptoms during the 14 days, or if work makes it impossible for me to adhere to the quarantine due to being needed in the office again. But with how easy it seems to be to pick up a cold just from masked grocery trips outside the home - and with our lack of easy access drive-through COVID testing in NYC and the unknown availability of outdoor testing -  the likelihood of moving forward with December holiday plans may not be great. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Recent Small Joys

Part of me still feels the occasional flutter of stress about the recent US presidential election. Obviously, the outcome it abundantly clear, it's not a remotely close call. President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris will be inaugurated next January. But with all the undignified posturing and truly bonkers lies about election-related litigation coming from our outgoing President and his team, it's hard for me not to feel some momentary distress at times. 

All that "amateur hour" litigation work done on behalf of the Trump campaign by the time major news networks called the election results last Saturday has been followed only by maneuvers plumbing shocking new depths of incompetence. I cringe frequently from secondhand embarrassment when reading about their lawyers' statements during hearings and in some written filings, knowing these are the sort of things that'd likely earn a well-deserved scolding and withering retorts from basically all judges I've ever practiced before. And that's usually exactly what happens. 

Admittedly - at least in the SDNY, where I practice most frequently - judges regularly administer remonstrations and sharp words even when it actually isn't particularly warranted, something I've personally experienced more than a few times. So any tale of judicial exasperation or anger, no matter who it's directed to and how richly they deserve it, brings back bad memories. But I digress. Long story short, anyone as pleased as I was with the outcome of the US presidential election has nothing to fear at present from the courts. 

Ah, but let's move on, because this is meant to be a light-hearted post about things that have brought me some small bits of joy and levity in recent 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!

Election Celebration: Following the widespread acknowledgement of the presidential election results last Saturday, K and I couldn't help but want to celebrate, just the two of us at home. I made the Cook's Illustrated "Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies" and K made us Instant Pot ribs. (His parents gave us their extra Instant Pot - not sure how they ended up with two - during a socially distanced and fully masked curbside exchange a few months ago, when we gave them some Asian groceries they requested from Southeast Asia Food Group's delivery service.) Both recipes are pretty good.

The Swan Rescue: I thought this was a sweet and very NYC story, about how an experienced wildlife rehabber rescued a sick swan from Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens. Getting the bird to the Wild Bird Fund in the Upper West Side of Manhattan was apparently an arduous journey that involved taking the swan on the subway, where apparently none of the other passengers had any real reaction. (It's definitely typical NYC behavior to ignore strange sights on the subway.) There's a video update in this Daily Show clip, among other places, and the swan seems to be on her way to recovery. 

Time's 100 Best Fantasy Books: I've read and enjoyed 27 books on Time's list of the "100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time". I thought it was a great list, with an expansive view of the genre, including works geared towards all age groups and books that aren't all shelved in the sci-fi/fantasy section of your average bookstore or library. My one small quibble is that maybe it's a little arbitrary to include two books from certain series but not others. (Though in each instance where I've read both books on the list from the same series - C.S. Lewis's The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; the Harry Potter books; and Ken Liu's The Grace of Kings and The Wall of Storms - I agree that both books are strong.) 

Standout favorites of mine include: The Ken Liu books, particularly The Wall of Storms, though you'll need to read The Grace of Kings first; N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but the only reason I can't yet vouch for her other novels on the list is that I haven't been able to read them yet; Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana, though I'd personally recommend The Lions of Al-Rassan or Sailing to Sarantium instead to a first-time Kay reader; and David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks. But it's really hard to choose, because so many of the books I've read on this list are wonderful!

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Social Distancing Life Lately: Eight Months, The Holidays, and Beyond

via Unsplash

EDITED 11/22/2020: Nine days into our pre-Thanksgiving quarantine, K started coming down with super-mild cold symptoms. Because there is no way for us to get COVID testing without risking at least some indoor exposure to people outside our household, we decided on November 20 that we needed to cancel our Thanksgiving plans in order to protect K's parents. We're all very disappointed, but I think what we know about the science makes very clear that this is the right and necessary thing to do. The original text of this post, from before we made this decision, is below.

- - - - -

When I wrote my previous "Social Distancing Life Lately" post in mid-September, I was really hoping it would be the last. Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic wasn't over, and it probably wouldn't be over in the US until an effective vaccine was widely distributed. K and I knew we were going to need to continue taking precautions and practicing social distancing until then, at least through the end of 2020 and probably for at least a few months beyond. 

But the COVID data had been relatively good and stable in NYC for several months by mid-September with gradual reopening. I hoped this meant we had settled into a "new normal" here, in which life could continue moving forward, with further reopening of schools and other indoor settings in a limited way with heavy precautions without causing serious spikes in new COVID cases. In other words, I was optimistic that while social distancing would certainly need to continue here in NYC, there wouldn't be any new, significant negative developments worth writing about. 

Unfortunately, that hasn't quite been the case. When last I wrote about our COVID progress, NYC had maintained a citywide percent positive rate of ~1.5% or less since mid-June, trending closer to ~1.2% or less since mid-August, all with robust COVID test availability. By mid or late September, public schools reopened for in-person classes two to three days/week for students opting in, and indoor dining rooms at restaurants were also permitted to reopen at 25% capacity at the end of the month. To my knowledge, those were the only significant new indoor activities allowed by our state and city government since September. 

Our citywide COVID percent positive creeped up towards ~1.7% or so in early October, but remained stable there. That number didn't seem to be considered a "danger zone" in terms of closing schools or anything else back down. There were local hot spots or clusters with significantly higher percent positive rates, which the state government responded to with targeted shut-downs in those neighborhoods. This month, our citywide percent positive climbed solidly past 2%, then 2.5%. At 3% positive, NYC public schools may be shut down. Like in other parts of the US, things aren't moving in a good direction. 

The Holidays

K and I are currently halfway through a stricter-than-usual 14 day home quarantine in preparation for spending Thanksgiving with his parents at their home. To tell the truth, this two-week period of stricter-than-usual social distancing doesn't actually look all that different from our typical lifestyle these past eight months. We generally went at least three or four weeks between trips outside our apartment building regardless, so the only newly stepped-up precaution is that we're also avoiding picking up packages from our doorman. When we've completed our quarantine, K's parents will drive from their home in the Connecticut suburbs to pick us up. 

Our quarantine is not completely airtight. When K and I leave, we'll need to pass through our apartment building's lobby - mask on, of course - and while it's never crowded there, the doorman and maybe one of our neighbors will probably be in that medium sized space. We take out our trash to a chute down the hall - mask on, again - once every few days, though generally there's no one else around when we do so. K's parents may ask us to make a grocery delivery order or two for our visit - generally brought by contactless drop-off - if they're not comfortable with shopping in-person due to increased COVID cases in Connecticut. Those are the only weak points from our end. 

K's parents take the same day-to-day precautions we do - generally encountering no one outside their household but for occasional fully masked trips to the grocery store, pharmacy, doctor's office, and so on - except that because they live in a single-family home and own a car, they're able to go outdoors more easily while staying socially distanced. If they decide that Thanksgiving groceries should be done by delivery to us instead of their taking an in-person trip to shop, they won't come into contact with anyone outside their household in the two weeks before they pick us up. (They'll stay in the car when they're picking us up.) 

Obviously, if any of the four of us comes down with what looks like COVID symptoms in the meantime, our Thanksgiving plans will be scrapped. COVID testing is not part of our visit "protocol" because - having recently gotten a test at our closest NYC public hospital-run testing site - I know from experience that one encounters at least as many masked people in an indoor setting while waiting to register for the test as one does at the grocery store. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Skincare Update: Trying out Curology

Via Unsplash, where I think Curology has provided a lot of their own stock photography.

One random and somewhat unexpected consequence of life in the COVID-19 era is that my skin really doesn't seem to like my new working from home, never really going out lifestyle. My persistent adult acne - a decade-long issue for me, unfortunately - is noticeably worse than it generally was for the past year or two before March 2020. And it's almost certainly not because of wearing face masks whenever I leave my apartment, as most of the breakouts are on parts of my face that aren't covered by a mask. 

It's probably silly - and clearly premature - to write a blog post to announce I'm trying Curology when I only just received my prescription serum yesterday and haven't yet spent much time using it. (I always start slow with new products for my face, testing on my wrist on the first day; on a small spot on my face or neck the second day; and on a larger patch of my face the third day.*) But I've been around the block more than a few times - alas! - when it comes to seeking medical assistance for my acne. With all that experience, I'm comfortable with Curology's approach so far. 

Curology is, essentially, a dermatology telemedicine startup that prescribes custom compounded topical treatments with combinations of some of the active ingredients typically found in prescription skincare products. My prescription topical formula currently includes tretinoin, clindamycin, and azelaic acid. The first two active ingredients are ones I've used for years in other prescription products.  

I've been aware of Curology - originally called Pocketderm - for a while. It was popular with the skincare bloggers I was reading back in 2015. And over the years, a few different readers here have also commented with positive feedback. If I remember correctly, the fees have always been ~$20/month for acne treatment. I have this vague memory of their offering a higher price tier for anti-aging treatment at some point, but that's no longer the case. These days, the prescription formula is $19.95/month, plus tax and $4.95 shipping after an initial "free" month's trial, for which the new customer just pays shipping. Customers can also add Curology-branded cleanser, mosturizer, etc. for an extra fee. 

Until now, I've never been interested in trying Curology for myself because the numbers simply didn't work. Back when I first heard of them, my total co-pays for doctor's visits plus acne-fighting prescriptions always worked out significantly cheaper than the ~$20/month cost of Curology. Unfortunately that started to change for me by 2017 or so. I've always had fairly good insurance coverage, but the co-pays for the same dermatology prescriptions I've used - some on and off, some constantly - for over a decade have just kept climbing. From 2015 through late 2016, my Retin-A Micro 0.1% and Clindamycin topical refills still cost ~$10-$15/each, like when I first started using those products around 2005. From 2017 on, the co-pays grew to ~$40-$45/refill per product. Since 2019, it's more like ~$75/refill. Ouch! I believe my experience is consistent with larger industry trends for dermatology prescriptions. 

Saturday, November 7, 2020

What a Week (But it Ended Happily!)

Because of my worries about the outcome of the US presidential election last week, I wasn't able to write anything here. (Nor was I sleeping well nor able to focus much on work either, I was doing even more doom-scrolling for news on Twitter than I was at the start of the COVID-19 shutdowns here in NYC!) I'm definitely in the group of people still traumatized by the memory of 2016 and by the specter of Bush v. Gore (plus the knowledge that we have a 6-3 conservative US Supreme Court). 

Americans were waiting on pins and needles for several days before any of the major news networks were willing to call the election outcome for President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris. By and large, I think most sources were giving us enough information to be fairly certain by sometime on Thursday or Friday, but it's still hard to feel sure until everyone actually starts announcing it. 

Throughout the week, I was also keeping an eye on the election-related litigation with considerable trepidation. But it was quickly becoming clear that the election was not likely to come down to a single state (one of the necessary conditions, it seemed to me, to create a real risk that a Supreme Court case could decide the election) and that none of the currently pending cases was likely to affect a large enough quantity of votes in any state to affect the overall outcome there, in any case. Of course, we never know such things for sure until every vote is actually counted, but these seemed like very reasonable educated guesses by Thursday or Friday. And the Trump campaign's election-related litigation strategy to date has been a truly hot mess, it's all extremely "amateur hour."  

I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the major news networks and the Biden campaign made their more formal announcements this morning. The fight is far from over, especially with the runoffs for Georgia's Senate seats coming up, but for now, there is something to celebrate. 

Friday, October 30, 2020

October 2020 Shopping Reflections

K and I are both feeling pretty well now after our recent brush with unusually severe cold symptoms. By the time my post went live, we were already starting to get better, and thank goodness, that trend has continued. My COVID-19 testing experience didn't go too smoothly - there was a problem with my first sample and I needed to go back a second time - but I ultimately tested negative, so all's well that ends well! 

In accordance with my doctor's COVID precautions, however, my routine appointment will still be postponed a few weeks. I've also confirmed with my work supervisors that I'll be staying home until my symptoms are gone. (So I don't feel like I need to get a second negative COVID test to be safe to others, since I won't be going anywhere for a while regardless.) Oh, and K and I will both be getting our flu shots as soon as we can, after we've fully recovered. 

I wrote recently about my shopping plans for the rest of the year, with a list of three items I have my eye on. And as you can see, neither of my purchases this month - two colorful Aerie sweatshirts - were on that planned-for list. They're velour sweatshirts, no less, which... definitely isn't a fabric I'd ever have thought I'd reach for. 

I'm old enough to remember when those Juicy Couture velour tracksuits - a definite example of why people say the early 2000s had questionable fashion - were all the rage. I never even considered owning a Juicy tracksuit because it was too far out of the acceptable price range - I had a Victoria's Secret Pink-brand sweatshirt and sweatpants, both from the sale section, instead - but I was aware enough of the Juicy tracksuit trend that the idea of a velour sweatshirt still has a strong association with the 2000s in my mind. 

I found these colors - a bright teal and a deep purple - charming when I first came across these Aerie sweatshirts maybe two weeks ago. But I had been good about resisting the impulse because I now have plenty of stay-at-home loungewear. 

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 ultimately blame both my lingering cold symptoms and Mitch McConnell for this month's purchases. I placed the order a few days ago on Monday evening, when I was still feeling ill and after it became clear the Senate Republicans would ram through their replacement for Justice Ginsburg's seat. I know, I know, retail therapy is a terrible vice and isn't actually helpful. Since starting this blog - where I reflect on my years of closet decluttering, KonMari method, and new additions to my wardrobe, all in excruciating detail - I've gotten much better about not shopping just to soothe my feelings. But 2020 has proven to be... a special year, in the worst possible way. 

Fashion - (Total: $69.92) 

  • Aerie Velour Sweatshirt, jade - $34.46 - (sold out, other colors here) Between this month and the last, I guess it's clear I have a hard time resisting teal sweatshirts! Velour is definitely outside my sartorial comfort zone, but I'm only ever going to wear these sweatshirts at home. While I have plenty of other recently-acquired stay-at-home loungewear, I think it's clear now that I'm going to be stuck in my apartment and rarely able to go anywhere else for several months more. So new loungewear will certainly still be put to use! According to customer reviews, these sweatshirts are dramatically oversized, so I got this in a size XS because it was the only one left by the time I ordered. (I'm no longer strictly opposed to doing mail-in returns, like I was at the start of the COVID-19 shutdowns, but I'm still endeavoring to avoid returning things whenever possible. If the XS turns out too small for me, I may pass it on to my sister instead.)
  • Aerie Velour Sweatshirt, fresh bright - $34.46 - I don't know why they call this deep purple color "fresh bright." I ordered this in a size S, and we'll see whether both sizes work for me. While Aerie made matching velour joggers in some colors, neither of these shades are available as matched sets. It's a bit hard to get a good read on exactly how oversized these sweatshirts are, as I feel like Aerie intentionally didn't size down for the models in the store photos, while the average customer would probably size down, maybe even by two sizes. Here are a few photos of customers or Aerie store employees wearing the sweatshirts or the full sets on Instagram, which may give a better idea of the fit: here, here, here, and here. (Aerie may have done a social media campaign encouraging people to incorporate these sweatsuits into stay-at-home Halloween costume ideas, as you'll see from some of these examples...) 

Does anyone else remember when Juicy Couture tracksuits were cool? (Particularly when worn with Uggs?) I only learned about the trend in college, towards the late 2000s, which I think was a few years after it hit its peak. In college, colorful sweatpants with Uggs were a super-popular look, but only a few people on campus wore - or could afford - the matching Juicy tracksuits. Victoria's Secret Pink sweatpants and sweatshirts were far more common.

And is anyone else also finding that 2020 is eroding their typical resolve against retail therapy? I confess I also engaged in other retail therapy this month, not just for my closet. I ordered a few more bottles of fountain pen ink. I also bought more Cocofloss, after spending some time using normal drugstore floss when my previous pack ran out. I know it sounds kooky and extravagant to buy fancy dental floss, but every time I switch to a drugstore one again, it doesn't take long before I switch right back. I just feel I get a better clean from the thicker, more "grippy" texture of the Cocofloss. 

I'm filled with so much trepidation about the outcome of the American presidential election. I've long been of the view that our current President demeans our Constitution and the values and ideals embedded in it. I'm not sure the rule of law, which his Department of Justice actively undermines, and our legal norms can take much more. I'm genuinely afraid of what happens if he wins a second term, particularly to immigration law. This doesn't quite fit in a post that's otherwise about this month's shopping, but I just needed to get that off my chest. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Life Lately: Sick Day(s)

via Unsplash

Last Tuesday, K and I went out for some in-person grocery shopping at Trader Joe's. It was our first trip outside our apartment building in a little over four weeks. The Trader Joe's in our neighborhood continues to limit capacity inside the store and to require face masks for all employees and customers, so it always feels like a reasonably safe and socially distanced shopping experience. We were, of course, wearing face masks the entire time we were out - as was everyone else in the store -  and we also washed our hands immediately upon returning home and then again after putting our groceries away. 

Two days later, we both started coming down with symptoms of what could be a nasty cold, or a mild flu, or COVID-19: headaches, muscle aches, sore throats, moderate coughs, extremely runny noses, and sinus congestion. I briefly had a low-grade fever on Saturday and haven't been able to smell much since Saturday evening*, though my nose isn't currently too stuffed up otherwise. We have - of course - stayed home since the symptoms first appeared, with no contact with anyone outside our household. We have not, unfortunately, been able to get our flu shots yet: We would likely have gone last Thursday or Friday if we hadn't gotten sick.  

And yes, because we can't discount the possibility that we have COVID-19 until we've been tested, we'll need to test negative before we even consider going anywhere but a COVID testing site in the near future. I got a COVID test earlier today, and even if it comes back negative, I may still want to get another negative test before I personally feel it's safe for others for me to go anywhere. (COVID test availability in NYC is extremely robust and has been for months: basically everyone who wants one can get tested anytime, as often as they like.) 

With our household's continued adherence to fairly strict social distancing, I wouldn't have gone anywhere for fun, in any case.  But I may have a work task that would have required my presence in the office next week if I weren't recently sick. I also have a routine doctor's appointment on my calendar for early next week, though at this rate, their office's COVID-19 precautionary guidelines may require me to reschedule.

At their peak, my symptoms were right on the edge of being bad enough that I'd have taken a sick day away from the office in pre-COVID times. But it would have been a difficult choice because - at least in the pre-COVID era - the culture in some private-sector legal workplaces discouraged employees from taking sick days. Presently, with all the government-directed health and safety precautions in place for reopened - or partially reopened - white-collar offices in NYC, I wouldn't be allowed to enter the office while I'm showing any typical COVID-19 symptoms. (For now, I still have the sore throat, slight cough, and loss of smell, so no office time for me until those clear up!) 

And ugh, I must say, it hardly feels fair that K and I got sick from one relatively fleeting grocery outing after a little over four weeks of staying home, especially when we were properly masked the whole time, as was everyone else in the store. I mean, seriously?! We were barely out, were fully masked, didn't have sustained social contact with anyone, and washed our hands multiple times as soon as we got home! 

Anyway, K and I are doing well, just staying home to continue our rest and recovery. Whatever we have, it really doesn't feel much worse than a nasty cold. It's not severe enough for us to even suspect it could be the flu. I'm a little behind on replying to comments and writing other entries for this blog, though, since I haven't felt like being on my computer as much as usual. Oh, and K and I already voted by mailing in our absentee ballots last Tuesday. We've confirmed through the NYC absentee ballot tracking system that our ballots were received last Thursday and deemed valid last Friday, so our votes are officially in. 

* My current best way of testing out whether my sense of smell has returned is to open one of my many sample vials of Sailor brand fountain pen ink and take a big sniff. Sailor inks have a pronounced chemical smell, likely due to their use of preservative chemicals to prevent mold from growing in the ink. And if I can't smell even a bit of it when I open the vial and stick my nose up close, then well, that's how I know my loss of smell is definitely significant! 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Shopping Plans for the Rest of 2020

I've had serious writer's block lately when it comes to blogging! I have many ideas for new posts, particularly personal finance and career-related ones, but can't bring myself to do the actual writing. In times like this, shopping is pretty much the only topic I can manage to write a few paragraphs about. Lighter topics, such as shopping, are much easer to work with when my brain can't focus on writing about anything more substantive. 

With only two months left in the year, I feel as if I can now be somewhat confident in my predictions for what my shopping might look like for the rest of 2020. Though I also don't want to make overly lofty promises about buying relatively few items or about buying almost nothing! The only way to go from there is down, really, by breaking those promises if I get swept up by seeing something new that I think is beautiful or by seeing a particularly good sale. 

Though there are a few factors that make me feel somewhat more confident in saying I'm pretty sure I'll buy what is - for me, given my well-documented history of often being driven by somewhat sudden shopping impulses - a relatively small number of items for the remainder of the year:

  • First and foremost, I'm still social distancing and working from home as much as possible. I'll go to the office if explicitly instructed to or for certain tasks (basically just for filing deadlines or assisting with remote depositions or hearings, things that only happen once a month or so at most under my current caseload). Outside of that, K and I only go out for doctor's appointments or essential grocery or pharmacy trips. So I clearly don't need more clothes, shoes, or accessories! And I also don't encounter new inspiration from seeing what other people wear.  
  • Second, because I rarely go out, I almost never need to wash my outside clothes or put them in the laundry hamper. All my outside clothes are hanging up in the closet or tucked away in my dresser at the same time, a rare occurrence pre-COVID. It really drives home how much I already have. My share of the wardrobe storage space in our apartment is not quite at 100% capacity, but it's honestly getting close. That helps me think twice about potential new purchases.
  • Third, now that I'm - finally! - somewhat close to paying off my student loans in full  roughly 10 months left if I maintain my current rate of paying ~$5,100/month), I've been focused even more than before on saving and my finances. (And I was already extremely focused on these topics before, I've been doing tons of labor-intensive - though not always productive - personal finance tracking for years!) To tell the truth, cutting my fashion-related shopping spend doesn't have a huge impact on my overall financial health. My total spending in this category last year - as documented here - was $4,409.33, a personal all-time high, but that's still less than a single month's worth of student loan payments. Regardless, thinking about these things still puts a damper on my interest in spending more on my wardrobe right now. 

For 2020 so far, I've spent $3,083.22 on clothes and accessories, as described in my monthly shopping posts. Thanks to the lifestyle changes wrought by COVID-19, I definitely don't need anything new for the foreseeable future, though I might still want to add a few things to my closet because I think they're pretty. I'm hoping I can keep the rest of my 2020 shopping to a somewhat moderate level, limited mostly - maybe even entirely - to the following:

The Earrings: As I mentioned last week, I've been trying to decide on a pair of earrings from Lingua Nigra, a Black woman-owned jewelry line. I think I've decided on the smaller, slightly less dangly "Shower of Faith" baby fringe earrings, rather than the more statement-making "Fringe Theory" earrings. (I'm not used to wearing longer earrings, I mostly wear studs and get a little nervous that longer earrings might get tangled up in my hair or scarves, so smaller earrings are better for me.) 

The Coat: I totally said a few months ago that I specifically should not buy a coat this year, because I have plenty of perfectly good ones and will barely leav my apartment building this fall/winter. I even explicitly said, and I quote: "I think I can be counted on to stay away from actually buying any more [coats] this year." Famous last words, potentially. 

Since then, I haven't quite been able to get The Curated's "Classic Coat," a camel-colored wool-cashmere blend wrap coat, out of my mind. There are tons of blogger reviews out there for this coat, see hereherehere and here from people roughly my height (5'4'' or shorter) and here or here from people who are a bit taller (~5'7''). I am, however, curvier and more busty than most bloggers who've reviewed this coat, and would be taking a larger size (a M rather than S or XS) than most of them, so it's a bit difficult to predict whether this somewhat relaxed-fit coat will actually look good on me. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Recent Small Joys

Featuring the Slip Silk Pillowcase (affiliate link) in navy and the L.L. Bean Wicked Cozy blanket (affiliate link) in shade blue. 

Things have picked up a bit at the office, so I haven't been able to blog quite as much recently. Here are a few things that are bringing me some bits of joy and levity these days, as my household continues to observe fairly strict social distancing. 

1. // With the help of Hadilly's comment, I decided to go ahead and get the L.L. Bean Wicked Cozy blanket (affiliate link) I mentioned a few weeks ago. The twin size is suitable for use as a throw blanket.)The plush fleece texture (thicker on one side of the blanket than the other; the thicker fleece side is visible in the photo above) is delightfully cozy and the blanket is quite warm. I ended up choosing the medium blue "shade blue" color instead of the darker navy blue-gray "raven blue," which I think was the right choice to go with the rest of our bedding. 

I'm really enjoying this L.L. Bean blanket, I've basically taken every available opportunity to snuggle up under it since it arrived (after washing and drying it once before use, following the instructions on the label). I'm almost tempted to get these as a Christmas present for everyone on my gifting list! 

2. // Following up on my commitment to make a conscious effort to support Black-owned businesses, I recently bought some additional loose leaf teas from Blk & Bold Specialty Beverages. This time around, I got more of the passionfruit black tea and also tried out the chai green tea. Both are quite good.

Whenever I've wanted to buy a new book since June, I've purchased through The Lit Bar's (a Black woman-owned independent bookstore in the Bronx) link. Most recently, I got a copy of Allie Brosh's new book, Solutions and Other Problems. Brosh's writing and art style are as great and charming as ever. She's also been posting plenty of supplemental content on the Hyperbole and a Half Facebook page. (There's also a preview chapter of Solutions and Other Problems on Brosh's Blogspot website, with some additional supplemental content for said chapter.) 

I also have some pieces from Black-owned businesses on my fashion-related shopping wish list: The Lingua Nigra "Shower of Faith" baby fringe earrings are beautiful, as are the longer and more dangly "Fringe Theory" earrings. I can't decide which one I would prefer, but because I'm not used to wearing long, dangly earrings, I should probably just stick with the shorter "Shower of Faith" design. I also really like the Olivia top or dress from Two Days Off, both of which are made of mid-weight linen. But because the season for wearing linen has now passed in NYC - it'll be too cold soon - the potential clothing purchase will probably need to wait until next spring or summer. 

3. // Here's a fun discussion topic that started on Twitter: "[W]hat's your cultural background, and what is the pinnacle of comfort food for you?" I'm a Taiwanese-American of Chinese descent, and I have... several comfort food items I'm quite attached to, it's very hard to pick just one. 

My top choice of comfort food is Chinese-style steamed eggs, which in my household were made more plainly and simply than in most recipes people write for this dish. This is the general idea, but I often don't use any toppings - just the eggs, water, and a bit of salt are enough - and I don't use any techniques for trying to get a smooth, silken texture on the eggs. But I also really like scrambled eggs with Kraft singles - basically this Pioneer Woman recipe, except that our household often used a microwave to make this dish when I was small - and find them almost as comforting as the Chinese-style steamed eggs. Both these egg dishes were common breakfasts for me throughout my childhood. 

And there are a number of other favorite comfort foods from my childhood as well, including char siu pork, pho, and - somewhat bizarrely - KFC mashed potatoes and gravy. You can probably guess that I was a child who really liked to eat! (And speaking of people who liked to eat when they were small, I enjoyed the anecdote about Taco Bell in New Yorker writer Jiayang Fan's Grubstreet profile, that when she was 11, she could eat eight or ten tacos at a time. I was able to eat almost as many at that age. And I would definitely still eat Taco Bell now. I didn't typically use the hot sauce packets though, I only gained my tolerance for spicy food as an adult!) 

This last food-related section of this post is turning out to be a bit of a grab bag, so I might as well throw in a link to this recent profile of Sohla El-Waylly in Vulture. She was very outspoken in calling out some of the pay disparity and other racial discrimination issues at Bon Appetit in relation to their YouTube channel (which is now completely dead to me due to Conde Nast's atrocious handling of the situation). In the interview. Sohla discloses that she was ultimately offered a fair contract with back pay for continued video work at Bon Appetit, but that she chose not to accept because other team members weren't offered the same. (I think that's a very brave, admirable decision.) Instead, Sohla is now working on videos with the Babish Culinary Universe and Food52's Youtube channels. 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Small Things That Might Not be the Same After the COVID-era

via Unsplash - This is probably a cocktail party, rather than a breakfast buffet, but I used to be fond of hotel breakfast buffet cheese plates and charcuterie selections... 

The title of this post might sound gloomy and serious, but it really isn't meant to be! I was just thinking about some of the little things that might not be the same again - maybe for a long time or maybe forever - after the world starts getting back to the pre-COVID "normal," when the pandemic is finally under control. I imagine the US will likely lag behind many other countries in this, as it already has. Even amongst my work colleagues - who generally aren't as cautious as my close friends and family and who are eager, desperate even, to stop working mostly from home - there's a general sense now that we can't reasonably expect to be fully back in the office and attending in-person depositions and federal court proceedings until the second half of 2021, at the very earliest. 

While things had been looking pretty good in NYC on the COVID-management front for quite some time - with robust testing and the maintenance of a mostly ~1% positivity rate since mid-August or so, all with plenty of outdoor socializing and dining - there's now been a slight turn. Specifically, there's been a significant uptick in COVID cases in certain neighborhoods. Government-mandated shutdowns of schools and nonessential businesses in affected zip codes in Brooklyn and Queens may begin shortly.

In any case, even if the entire city were forced to shut down again, that really wouldn't change day-to-day life much for K and I. We were already staying home, except for essential errands to the grocery store and pharmacy! 

And now, back to the topic at hand, about various small things I think might not be the same again once we get to late 2021 or early 2022, when life otherwise starts inching closer to the pre-COVID "normal." But in some cases, particularly towards the end of the list, some of my ideas might just be wishful thinking on my part, unfortunately. 

Hotel breakfast buffets: I'll start with something particularly small and silly, not least because I was never actually willing to pay for them with my own money! I only ever got to partake on business trips, or when traveling to the rare destination where a free breakfast comes standard with the hotel room. But I'm still really going to miss hotel breakfast buffets, since I doubt anyone will be eager to go back to eating from them, even after a COVID vaccine has been distributed worldwide and international travel is mostly back to normal. 

The thing is, as I searched for a photo of a prototypical breakfast buffet at a fancy hotel, something I used to sincerely enjoy, all the photos started to look... not so appealing anymore, and maybe - dare I say it - even a little bit gross. Now that we've all had a painfully vivid reminder about how quickly disease can spread - and about the sheer quantity of respiratory droplets that circulate in the air just from normal breathing and talking when people aren't wearing face masks - I don't think I can ever really look at any buffet the same way again, or at least, not for a good long time. 

Face masks becoming more accepted as a health precaution in the US: Having frequently traveled to Taiwan throughout my life, and having lived in Hong Kong briefly before law school, I was always familiar with the idea of wearing a face mask as a precaution when one had a cold or the sniffles, out of respect and consideration for the public. But, I confess, I was never really sold on the idea for myself until now. Face masks were never really a thing regular people wore in public in the US. Before 2020, I only ever wore a face mask out on a single, solitary occasion, immediately after my 2017 accident, which left me with a broken front tooth and scraped-up lip (so I was wearing the mask purely for vanity before the dentist could fix the tooth). 

And even when I was on my European business trips in early March - when there was already plenty of international news about COVID-19 being serious - I ignored my parents' suggestions that I should wear a face mask on the plane. Among other things, it'd been impossible to find surgical masks in NYC for a few weeks. (I didn't have any masks in my possession until late March, when my mom was able to send me some.) At the time, our CDC was also advising that members of the general public not wear masks, guidance they didn't fully reevaluate by late March

Obviously, things have changed when it comes to the American cultural understanding of mask-wearing as a health precaution (even if there are still way too many instances of foolish, kooky people here who are vigorously opposed to wearing face masks in public). And even after COVID-19 is well controlled in the US - which will hopefully happen by late 2021, maybe? - I hope at least some critical mass of people might continue wearing a face mask out and about if they have any respiratory symptoms and/or during flu and cold season, so it won't look too strange when I continue to do so. 

Friday, October 2, 2020

A Mostly Shopping-Related Miscellarny

Today's post is a bit of a random grab bag of smaller, more light-hearted things. I'm... currently still staying off Twitter and limiting my consumption of the news to protect my mental health. I made an additional modest contribution to the Biden/Harris campaign on Wednesday morning, after the debate (which I understand was awful because our current President behaved exactly as poorly as expected). 

First, the new season of The Great British Baking Show, a.k.a. The Great British Bake Off ("GBBO"), just started last week! Since last season, Netflix has been getting the new episodes almost in real time, on Fridays a few days after the episodes first air on Channel 4 in the UK. The first episode of this season is absolutely hilarious, I hadn't laughed so hard about anything in months. The showstopper challenge at the end of the episode contained some of the most hilarious moments in the entire history of the series. Fun fact: They filmed this season in a locked-down COVID "bubble," with all contestants, hosts, and staff living together in a hotel away from the public during filming. 

Speaking of GBBO, I also really enjoy season six winner Nadiya Hussain's BBC show Time to Eat, which is also on Netflix. Nadiya's also done a bunch of other BBC shows, but sadly, those are not on Netflix. A few recipe clips from her other shows are available on YouTube, though.

Second, now that I've become a bit of a stationery and fountain pen collector, I find myself in need of a little more storage space, particularly for notebooks and bottled inks. The fountain pens themselves don't take up as much space, however, as they currently all fit in a cup I keep on my desk.

Whenever K and I contemplate acquiring any new item of even moderately significant size, we always need to think carefully about where we're going to put the new thing. Our moderately sized one-bedroom apartment - cabinets and closets included - is already perilously close to being at maximum capacity! We probably do have room for something like a small bookshelf right next to my desk in our living room/dining room/kitchen space, though. (Keeping in mind that the room in question is already cluttered-looking, and there's no real helping that, given the furniture we already have.) For context about how cramped things are, anytime one of us wants to do a workout on a yoga mat in either the bedroom or living area, we need to move furniture around to make enough room. 

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!

The current front-runner storage item I'm thinking of is a three-tiered, wheeled storage cart from Target. They have a number of very similar-looking ones available, but this "Made by Design" one seems to be the most affordable and popular. There's a question of whether we should get a more traditional bookshelf with no wheels instead, but I think this storage cart is a bit more versatile because it's easier to move around when full. I arguably got the idea from Kathy recently, though I think this type of storage cart is fairly common in various settings. For example, the stylists at my current hair salon have been using these for their supplies since they opened last year, as the carts can easily be wheeled from chair to chair to work on different clients. 

One other possible sticking point is that my current stationery and fountain pen ink collection is actually not big enough to fill the entire cart. (See this video from a stationery YouTuber to see the sheer quantity of things that can fit in another very similar cart.) I might actually only need one tier if I'm really aggressive about trying to organize things into as small a space as possible. We do have other items we could put in the remaining tiers, though, possibly including some pantry items or packaged snacks... As you might be able to guess, our storage situation at home is generally a bit chaotic due to the small size of our apartment.

Monday, September 28, 2020

September 2020 Shopping Reflections

September has been a strange month. 

In most ways, I'm reasonably well-adjusted to our COVID-era "new normal." Since late July or so, I haven't had any disturbances to my sleep schedule, which is a relief. The only downside is that -  probably because I now get a solid seven to eight hours of sleep a night, due to not needing to commute to the office before I start work - I can't really sleep in on weekends anymore. I haven't had more stress-induced slight tightness in my throat or chest, unlike in the first two months of COVID-19 shutdowns. As an introverted homebody, it's never been a real emotional hardship to be stuck at home, even if I'm now trying to process the daunting prospect of Americans potentially needing to continue taking serious COVID precautions through late 2021

But I don't feel quite like myself. At the moment - outside of the political situation in the US - I don't have any major stressors in my life. For now, I only have a reasonable, manageable workload "at the office." My family and friends are doing as well as can be expected. Yet I still find myself feeling unusually irritable at times. I also generally still have trouble focusing on reading for fun, no matter how good or engaging a book is. 

I'm sometimes tempted to describe life these days by saying that a "veneer of unreality" hangs over everything, because life changed so drastically and so quickly from the old, pre-COVID normal. With that, I feel like my judgment and ability to make decisions - whether about small, relatively un-serious things like shopping or about bigger, important things like future job transitions and career development - simply isn't the same as what it used to be. I'm probably being overly dramatic to describe life in the "new normal" this way, but I just can't shake the feeling that I don't feel like myself, because things are currently so sad and strange and - politically speaking - more than a little scary. 

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!

Turning back now to the lighter topic of shopping: If you read my recent "COVID-era staycation" money diary, you've already had a spoiler for this month's post. I've long been a fan of the London-based jewelry brand Alighieri, designed by Rosh Mahtani. One of this month's purchases is an Alighieri design I'd been thinking about for a long time. During the six-day period covered by my recent money diary, the brand had a surprise one-day sale and I just couldn't resist. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $411.12)

  • Cuyana French Terry Boatneck Sweatshirt, deep ocean - $85.00 - (sold out, other colors available) - These days, I'm really into the idea of matching lounge sets, something I'd never before had any interest in until COVID-19 caused me to start working from home full-time. There aren't a lot of bright teal sweatsuits out there, and the "deep ocean" color of this Cuyana set was what first caught my eye. (I have a bit of a thing for teal, to put it lightly.) I ordered a size L because I like a relaxed fit for things I wear around the house and because of where my chest measurement lands on Cuyana's sizing chart. I think I'd have done better with an M instead, though, because the cotton-modal-spandex blend has a very soft, comfortable stretch. The boatneck, slight balloon sleeve, and back pleat details also magnify the oversized feel even more. Put all those together with a sweatshirt that's already a little big on my short-ish frame, and it starts looking a bit too oversized in the mirror! But I decided to keep this anyway since it's still comfortable, I'd only ever wear it to lounge at home, and none of the details make it less functional for that purpose. 
  • Cuyana French Terry Tapered Lounge Pant, deep ocean - $95.00 - (limited sizes available) - I got a size M in this based on the size chart, and that's the right size for me. The lounge pants in this Cuyana set are more typical-looking, I don't think there are any unusual design details, unlike with the sweatshirt. The cotton-modal-spandex material is, again, very soft and comfortable and quite stretchy. I'm not sure, however, that this particular material is better - whether in terms of comfort and function, or durability - than the cotton-polyester-spandex blends commonly found in sweatsuits these days. The cotton-modal isn't very warm, even if it's soft and nice to wear. I've only been wearing this set off and on for two weeks and have only washed it once, so it's too early to say if the material is actually durable or not. (In the past, I've sometimes found modal to start looking worn out sooner than some other materials with regular machine-washing.)
  • Alighieri Fractured Cloud Necklace - $231.12* - I've been interested in this particular Alighieri necklace design for quite a while. I just think it's really cool looking, like a wax seal on a letter! For a few months, this design was out of stock on the brand's website, but it popped back earlier this summer. I was still going to hold off on purchasing this necklace because I don't wear much jewelry while I'm social distancing at home. But when Alighieri announced their surprise one-day sale on Instagram, I couldn't resist. The design is as beautiful as I thought it would be, the pendant has a very intriguing, organic shape. 

*Indicates that price includes international shipping charges. 

Do you have any favorite lounge clothes for wearing at home? How has your September been? Maybe I'm not the only one who feels like a "veneer of unreality" hangs over everything now, with all the uncertainty associated with long-term COVID-containment policies in most places and jurisdictions, and with all the other not-so-great things happening in the world. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Getting Into Fountain Pens

Featuring the Sailor Pro Gear Slim, Yuki-tsubaki pen. I now have... a few more pens and inks now than I did back in July. Most of these inks are samples though, I don't own many full bottles.

I bought my first ever fountain pen - a Pilot Metropolitan - back in early July, after seeing Adina post about her favorite fountain pen inks. Since then, I've been completely enamored with writing and journaling with fountain pens. Though I've only been part of the fountain pen hobby for three months, the size of my collection is already formidable. And judging from various comments and posts in the many super-active online fountain pen communities out there, I'm far from the only person who started their participation in this hobby - and then escalated very quickly - during these recent months of COVID-19 social distancing! 

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Just the pens and bottled inks I mentioned in late July, including the ones sampled in the photograph - plus a converter for each pen that needs one, so I can actually use bottled inks - totals to a retail value of approximately $240 (including the dozen ink samples at ~$2 each). Everything discussed in that post was purchased at the US retail price. (Some Japanese pens and inks can also be readily obtained more cheaply from gray market sellers, including on Amazon, because they retail for significantly less in Japan.) And, ah, I now have... at least a few more pens and inks than in late July. In short, fountain pens can be a fairly expensive hobby. I'm even omitting the not-insignificant cost of fountain pen-friendly notebooks and paper! 

It's interesting to me to think about how this hobby and its associated online communities are similar to - but also different from - my fashion hobby and its relevant online communities. Though I can't exactly say I'm an expert in either hobby, of course. 

To tell the truth, I can barely even claim to be that knowledgeable about the relevant online communities either. Outside of keeping this blog and responding to comments here, I'm basically just a "lurker" or observer. I'm extremely shy - even when online and mostly anonymous - and only rarely interact directly with other people in any of these hobbies, whether on Instagram, Reddit, or otherwise. So my thoughts do need to be taken with that grain of salt.

Similarity: Lots of Small Businesses and Independent Creators to Support

Much like with fashion, there are many small businesses and individual creators and artists in the fountain pen space. Fountain pens are a fairly specialized, niche interest after all.

I mentioned in my recent money diary that I've been shopping online for some of my fountain pens, inks, and fountain pen-friendly notebooks from Yoseka Stationery, a small independent shop that's local to me. (They're great, and I highly recommend them!) From looking at Yelp, I understand there aren't many other brick and mortar stores in NYC that stock a wide range of fountain pens and inks. Fountain Pen Hospital may be the only dedicated fountain pen shop in the city. 

Super-large companies like Amazon do sell fountain pens and related supplies. Target even has a limited selection of slightly below-retail Pilot Metropolitan fountain pens and Pilot Iroshizuku fountain pen ink (only four colors, and only Take-Sumi and Asa-Gao are below retail at the time of this writing). Though it may generally be best to avoid such non-specialist retailers, at least for ink. When ink is not packed properly - as the specialized retailers generally all take special care to do - disaster can ensue. But I should note that most new fountain pens come in very secure packaging, generally in small padded boxes, so buying the pens themselves from a big-box retailer probably doesn't carry particular risk of damage in transit. I've read anecdotal comments about counterfeit Lamy pens on Amazon, however, so that's something to be aware of. 

There are also larger stationery or fountain pen online retailers that are still relatively small businesses, in the grand scheme of things. In addition to Yoseka Stationery, I've enjoyed shopping from Goulet Pens, Jetpens, and Goldspot