Monday, August 31, 2020

Kitchen Gadgets That Bring Disproportionate Joy

Our kitchen storage situation is unusually cramped. Typical units in our building have an overhead cabinet on the wall in this space, but somehow ours ended up without.  The overhead cabinets on the opposite wall are also extremely small. Photo is from when we first moved in, and this corner now holds even more pantry items, now that we're cooking every day!

I recently posted about some things I haven't been spending on or buying due to COVID-19 shutdowns. But there are also certain things I've been buying because of staying home to socially distance. Today, I thought I'd write about some of the smaller items in that category, namely a few fairly basic kitchen tools or gadgets that have brought me a disproportionate amount of joy through their utility. Now that I finally have them, I wonder why I waited so long to acquire them!

For the most part, these are items for which I first recognized the need or potential use at least a few months - if not years - ago. But, in each case, I dragged my feet regarding the purchase for an unnecessarily long time. It's only now that we're cooking every single meal at home that I was finally inspired to actually buy these kitchen tools.

I've mentioned a few times over the years that I can be really weird about putting off certain basic and fairly inexpensive purchases for the home and kitchen, even when the need for them is abundantly clear. K and I put off buying a full-size vacuum cleaner for years, sticking with a small hand vacuum I bought when I started law school, even as we started getting to an age where our bodies make complaints known about our repeatedly crouching down to the floor to use a hand vacuum to clean our entire - admittedly not that large - apartment. And I've previously used significantly warped cutting boards and also oven mitts on which the protective silicone layer was actively peeling off... for an almost stupidly long time, before finally replacing them. That's despite the obvious potential kitchen safety issues caused by both things. 

Friday, August 28, 2020

August 2020 Shopping Reflections

I can never quite figure out whether it makes more sense to report made-to-order purchases in the month where I place the order, or in the month where I receive it. For the most part this year, I've been doing the former. I suppose this is partially because I've made a personal commitment to avoid troubling people with return shipments as much as possible while the COVID situation remains serious. If I make an order these days, I'm pretty certain about keeping the item, or at least, about finding a new home for it on the secondary market if I've made an error in judgment about whether something will suit me.

This month's purchase has, in a way, been on my radar for a long time. I've had a photo of this dress pinned to my spring and summer personal style inspiration board on Pinterest since quite a while ago, but I didn't know the designer at the time. I never really looked up whether the dress would be within reach for me price-wise, and I never knew whether the item was from a long-ago season or whether it was currently available. 

Separately, I noticed that a few people I follow, namely Erica and Elaine, had purchased Heinui dresses in the past few months. And even then, after I started following the designer on Instagram, I didn't initially realize this was the designer and brand that made the exuberant blue and white printed dress I'd seen on Pinterest. It took a while for me to put two and two together, as the designer's website wasn't selling any dresses in this specific print when I first started following her. 

Fast forward to a few days ago, and the designer posted on Instagram stories that she had just enough fabric left to make a handful more of these "Cora" dresses in this exact print. But because she lives in a different time zone, those dresses were all sold out by the time I saw the posts. I was disappointed, but hopeful that maybe she'd re-release the dress again sometime. Then later that day, she decided to take more pre-orders for the dress in this print, and so I jumped right on it. In other words, this kind of does count as an impulsive purchase, as it really only took less than an hour for me to make a decision after the designer opened up new pre-orders for this dress. She's hoping to make and ship the dresses by the end of September, so it'll be a while before I receive this order. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $327.11) 

  • Heinui Cora Dress, blue girls and koi print - $327.11 - So this dress design is definitely one of those that probably billows down and out from the widest point of the bust, something I used to be really nervous about when it comes to selecting clothes for myself. (It's a bit crude, but I feel like the best way to describe how this general silhouette can look is by saying that it could cause a "boob tent" effect.) I'm a fairly busty hourglass, measuring approximately 37''-28''-38'' on my 5'3'' frame before we embarked on the current staying-at-home-to-avoid-COVID lifestyle, and I generally prefer to deemphasize my chest measurement a bit with how I dress. But over the years, I've bought enough of these potential "boob tent" dresses that it seems clear I've shaken off my apprehension about wearing such silhouettes. I probably don't need to fuss so much about such designs anymore, as I clearly seem to be comfortable wearing them in most instances! Though I think this Heinui dress is a more intentionally oversized look and a lighter, floatier material than any of my other dresses that flow down and out from the widest point of the bust, so it might still take some getting used to. I really love the print and how exuberant it is.

And that's it for this month's shopping! Now that I have quite a few more fountain pens and inks than I did this time last month - enough that I'm not too far from owning so many pens that I can't really actively use my entire collection at once - my brain seems to be slightly more inclined to thinking about shopping for my closet again. I do remain focused on trying not to shop too much, though, so I'll try to keep those shopping impulses to reasonable limits. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Link List: On Federal Mail and Wire Fraud

via Unsplash
Current events from this past week give me some opportunity to discuss a topic about which I have some general professional knowledge, namely the law governing US federal mail and wire fraud. So let's get right to it! There actually manage to be two significant news stories from last week that illustrate certain distinct things to do with federal mail and wire fraud. 

And because today's post discusses legal topics, a reminder: While I am an attorney at my day job, I am not your attorney. Nothing in this blog should ever be construed as legal advice or as forming an attorney-client relationship. 

1. // First up, Steve Bannon and a number of alleged co-conspirators were arrested on a federal indictment for - among other charges - mail and wire fraud in connection with what started as a GoFundMe scam, purportedly to help the government "build the wall" along the US's southern border. In part to extract the ~$20 million originally raised on GoFundMe for this, to put it lightly, truly bonkers purpose (there appear to be various legal and regulatory complications associated with trying to gift money to the federal government to "build the wall"), defendants allegedly represented that they would not be paid out of the donated funds. Those representations have allegedly been shown to be false. (See paragraphs 19 to 25 of the indictment.)  

This story corroborates an unrelated point I recently made when discussing some viral tweets - initiated by at least a few known alt-right agitators - that accused the Minnesota Freedom Fund or "MNFF" (a small local bail fund and beneficiary of an unprecedented-for-them ~$30 million in donations in the days immediately following the killing of George Floyd) of misusing funds due to failing to immediately spend that money in barely two to three weeks. 

At that time, there was no real basis for any reasonable actor to believe funds were being misused. It had been barely two or three weeks since the donations came in. MNFF had been operational for at least a few years before 2020, and had always made clear that part of their work was immigration bail, not just bail for defendants arrested on criminal charges. They appear to have been well-known in their own community. They promptly asked for donations to start going elsewhere within the first few days, which I tried to honor when I wrote about my donations. They had already spent six figures on bail by the time the viral tweets accusing them of wrongdoing started going around. 

Regardless, the US is a country where GoFundMe or other crowdfunding donation scams occurring conspicuously in the public eye become a likely target for prosecution. The indictment and arrest of Steven Bannon and his alleged coconspirators is certainly evidence of that. Should these defendants be convicted, I'd be willing to bet real money that their sentences will be longer than a year - and probably by a significant margin - unlike the sentences associated with this next story... 

2. // Secondly, by now you may also have heard that Lori Laughlin and her husband were sentenced last Friday for their role in the "Operation Varsity Blues" case, as parents who paid someone to facilitate getting their children into college with falsified credentials. Lori Laughlin received two months incarceration, and her husband five months. These are not long sentences by any conceivable standard. They are also fairly "typical" sentences for the parent defendants in this case, for those who have already been sentenced. Nor did the Government typically request significantly longer sentences than each of the parents actually got. 

There are so many ways in which the American criminal justice system is both immensely cruel and profoundly unjust. While my professional experience with federal criminal defense is limited, I can at least point to certain background facts relevant to understanding the sentences for the Varsity Blues parent defendants. I have not generally been surprised by the duration of these sentences, including Felicity Huffman's 14-day sentence. There are at least two major reasons for this.

Friday, August 21, 2020

COVID-19 Spending Changes

Chloe Alphabet Wallet (affiliate link)

This post about COVID-19 lockdown-driven changes to my spending is somewhat inspired by Luxe and Kathy. Over the past five months of staying home and observing fairly strict social distancing, I've continued my longtime practice - six years and counting - of tracking my spending down to the individual transaction - no matter how small - using old YNAB. With all the data I've collected, it's easy to look back and analyze exactly how much my spending has changed due to our new lifestyle under COVID. 

Although New York's already-favorable COVID numbers are continuing to improve, K and I still expect to observe fairly strict social distancing through at least the end of the calendar year. Our friends in the city are still not inclined to socialize in-person. My  mom would also not take lightly the decision to have my sister or I get on a plane to see her - or vice versa - basically until we've all been vaccinated. We are mentally preparing for the possibility that we may not feel comfortable enough with air travel to visit each other during the Christmas holiday period this year.

K and I desperately miss indoor dining at our favorite restaurants, but we would absolutely not feel it was safe - or socially responsible - to sit down inside a typically-cramped NYC restaurant before a vaccine becomes widely distributed. In any case, indoor dining is still banned in NYC, and there's no indication of when our state or local government would consider allowing restaurant dining rooms to reopen. 

In short, I think it's likely most of my spending changes from the past five months of COVID-19 lockdown could persist through the end of the year. I don't see any way K and I will go back to traveling or restaurants before 2021. And unfortunately - because the US national response to COVID has gone so poorly - we might end up needing to stay away for longer than just through the end of the calendar year.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Working From Home Lately

via Unsplash

Oops, it's been quite a while since I last posted! I've been incredibly busy with work for the last two weeks, including for two days straight where another team member and I both needed to work until 5:00 AM. But I don't mind it too much, because long - sometimes punishingly long - hours are just part of the job of private-sector legal practice in biglaw - and biglaw-adjacent - workplaces. And a lot of our work recently has been pro bono and directly related to the fight against police violence and racially discriminatory policing, which is extremely important. 

I should note that, in all my years in the industry, I've never had to stay up anywhere near this late before, much less for two days straight. Though staying at the office until 10:30 or 11:00 PM and doing at least some follow-up work from home afterwards was not uncommon in pre-COVID times. (Now most of us just do those same hours from home.) And I don't think working past 1:00 or 2:00 AM is especially common for litigators in general. Between all my litigator friends and I, we've only each done that a handful of times at most, in several years of practicing law. 

And I think, if these were pre-COVID days where we were all in the office for business completely as usual, those 5:00 AM nights would not have run anywhere near as late. I've found there's a lot of inefficiencies added to the workday in these pandemic times. Those inefficiencies are particularly noticeable when productivity is - to a large extent - measured by an attorney's billable hours. I used to pretty consistently bill seven or seven-and-a-half hours in a typical 9:30 AM to 6:00 PM day at the office, with normal lunch and coffee breaks (which included going out and taking a quick walk to buy said lunch or coffee). But these days, it typically takes me until at least 7:30 PM to bill seven hours, even with all the commuting and going out for takeout time completely eliminated from my schedule. 

I'm reminded that I once wrote a post about working from home, mostly focused on my typical practice of wearing very relaxed-fit and relatively un-cute lounge clothes anytime I'm at my apartment, including if I'm working a full day there. Now that I'm working from home all the time, I haven't really changed my manner of dress. I'll put on Zoom-appropriate "real people clothes" if I have a video call, but otherwise it's schlubby lounge clothes all day long, mostly just a short-ish cotton tee-shirt dress (affiliate link) without sweatpants or a sweatshirt now that it's summer. 

By now, you've probably already seen that long-form New York Times article about "The End of Fashion," which touched somewhat on COVID-driven changes to workwear and increased interest in loungewear, but is also a lot more focused on larger disruptions and changes to the fashion industry from recent, pre-COVID, years. It definitely isn't the end of business formal wear for my industry. Someday, courts will reopen, and we'll no doubt still need to dress as formally as we used to for that. But I don't know if COVID might cause long-term changes to what we typically wear day-to-day at the office, once we're able to return there consistently. 

Has COVID-19 caused any changes to your efficiency or productivity levels when working from home? (It's hard for me to compare my current level of productivity with how it was pre-COVID because I worked from home so rarely back them.) If you read that "End of Fashion" article in the New York Times, what did you think? 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Recent Small Joys

In no particular order, here are a few things that are bringing me some small amount of joy and levity these days, as my household looks ahead to the daunting prospect of continuing to observe fairly strict social distancing for the indefinite future. NYC's relatively favorable COVID-19 numbers are continuing to hold steady, so the mostly outdoors activities allowed to us do feel quite safe. (Though we should all continue to exercise caution by wearing masks while outside the home, of course.) But there remains a lot of uncertainty for everyone here about whether any significant new indoor activities - including in-person schooling - can safely resume in the foreseeable future.

1. // I've been working on a pro bono litigation project that's part of the larger fight against police violence and racially discriminatory policing in NYC. I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to contribute directly to these efforts. 

2. // I'm really enjoying the loose leaf tea I got from Blk & Bold. The passion fruit black tea is delicious, it smells lovely and the taste of passion fruit works perfectly with the black tea. Their jasmine green tea has a subtle jasmine fragrance and flavor that makes it a good "everyday" sort of green tea. (That's different from the dragon pearl jasmine and Yin Hao jasmine green teas I get from Harney & Sons, which have an extremely assertive jasmine taste that might be a bit more polarizing.) Sadly, both teas are currently sold out from Blk & Bold's website, so it may be a while before any new customers can try it.

3. // K and I binge-watched all four and a half currently available seasons of the Showtime show Billions in extremely short order in recent weeks. We really enjoy Billions, it's fast paced with highly creative storylines - to the extent where the legal and courtroom drama side of it is completely, absurdly unrealistic, which is typical for just about any legal drama on television, but Billions is just a bit wilder than most - and some really hilarious writing. While the various legal storylines are mostly quite absurd, there are occasionally some very on-point jokes about our experience of the legal profession in NYC that K and I really appreciate.

Though I should note that the main characters in Billions aren't very likable, and definitely aren't especially moral or ethical in their behavior. (Given that one of the main characters is a billionaire hedge-funder and the other is an increasingly corrupt prosecutor, this is not especially surprising.)

Please note that this portion of the post contains affiliate links that could result in a commission, typically a few cents, for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

4. // I'm still completely enamored with my new fountain pen hobby.  My current favorite inks are Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-Jaku (a gorgeous teal shade), Pilot Iroshizuku Tsuki-yo (a deep blue-gray color which looks particularly good on the pale blue paper contained in Smythson notebooks; this color is actually supposed to have a hint of teal, but not in my experience with any of the finer nibs I've tried with it), and Sailor Shikiori Oku-Yama (a nice, moody dark red with a surprising amount of complexity).

Keeping this post relatively light and brief today! Work has gotten a lot busier for me recently, which is a good thing - particularly as my pro bono work is a significant part of it - but I find that it's hard to feel like I have any work-life balance when there's so little separation between my "work" space and "home" space.