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.