Tuesday, April 13, 2021

March 2021 Shopping Reflections

via Unsplash

And that's one more no-shopping month on the books for me! I really shouldn't be surprised anymore, no-shop months have not been uncommon for me since the start of COVID-19 shutdowns last year, and yet I still find myself a little bit shocked every time I manage it. 

Who would ever have thought - based on my 2015 shopping patterns and my repeated insistence that shopping fasts and shopping bans simply didn't work for me - that I could ever get through any single month without wanting to at least order something to try on, much less have several such months in a year? Knowing myself and my habits, I would certainly never have guessed.

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!

The biggest factor keeping me from shopping in March was work. I had a fairly stressful month at the - mostly virtual - office, and was particularly busy in the second half of March. I didn't really have the mental energy to think about anything but work. Things are far less busy now in April, but we have some complicated topics we're trying to figure out, so I'm still quite preoccupied with work. 

I've also started applying in earnest for my next job, which adds another layer of stress. My dream next jobs are all in government and would involve my taking nearly a 60% pay-cut, or something in that zone. (Due to some industry and workplace-specific quirks, I have the full blessing of my current employers to actively seek this type of next job. So that's one less thing to stress about, at least, I'll never really need to hide that I'm actively looking.) I should be earning quite a bit more at a future government job than when I was clerking - in keeping with how I now have several more years' work experience under my belt than I did back then - but it obviously won't be anything remotely close to what I earn right now as a sixth-year attorney at a biglaw-ish private sector workplace (I get the base salary, but I don't earn bonuses anywhere near the biglaw market rate). 

My primary type of dream job in government is known to sometimes have an extremely long interview process, in some instances it can take longer than a year between the date of the first application and the date a successful applicant ultimately receives a job offer. Afterwards, there might also be additional time needed - in the vein of a few more months - before the new attorney can be fully onboarded and actually start work. Chances are, I almost certainly won't have an offer in hand before I'm done paying off my student loans in August or early September. (My total student loan balance is now down to ~$22,000.) 

I made my last purchase for my closet, the Quince sweater from February, fairly early that month, and I received it by the second week of February. Since then, I haven't had any real ideas for things to online window-shop for. In other words, I haven't really had any ideas about any clothes, shoes, or accessories to even browse for in nearly two months now. 

This is particularly unusual for me. Even though I had three no-shop months last year - in February, July, and December - I never went too many weeks without having at least a vague idea about something to online window-shop for, even if it was mostly just loungewear. It's strange, I'm definitely not used to being completely without anything to daydream about adding to my closet for long.  

We'll see in a few weeks if I end up with any shopping this month. If I ultimately manage to have a second no-shopping month in a row, that will be a first since I started doing these monthly shopping reflections in January 2015. I almost find myself worrying I'll run out of ideas for things to write on the blog if I actually become significantly less interested in fashion-related shopping than when I first started writing here. (But it's only been two months or so, it's too soon to actually think this could be a long-term change in my habits and tastes...)

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

March 2021 Reading Reflections

As I suspected, I lost significant momentum with reading for fun in March when things got busy at work. It's not a big deal, because I definitely don't have a goal of reading a specific large number of books this year or anything like that. As long as I'm having fun and enjoying the books I pick out throughout the year, it's all good!

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!

At the moment, I seem to be having a bit of a murder mystery phase. Most of the books I read last month come from that type of genre. None of my March books are frontrunners for my favorite books of the year, but they were all pretty enjoyable and engaging. 

Here are the books I read this month, listed in the order in which I read them:

  • Broken Harbor by Tana French - I've now read most of Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series, and I think this volume may be my favorite of the series so far. The Dublin Murder Squad series is somewhat unique in that each novel is told from the point of view of a different detective, and they each have dramatically different personalities, so each book can feel very different from the last. The main detective in this novel isn't really my favorite of the group - he seemed like a total jerk from his appearances in the previous volume - but he grew on me. I also thought the mystery at the center of this book was the most interesting and strange out of the others in the series. 
  • Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz - I picked up this book after seeing Adina mention it with a positive review in her Instagram stories. It's very much a "cozy mystery," which is unlike most of the murder mystery fiction I read, there's no real content warnings needed here. Anthony Horowitz was a new-to-me author, and I was happy to find I greatly enjoyed this book because it means I have a new author I like whose back catalog I can seek out. This book uses an interesting "novel within a novel" device that I was initially nervous about because I thought it would break up the momentum of the story when the second novel started up about halfway in to the book. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was quickly swept up into the second novel as well, and its placement in the larger story didn't distract from my enjoyment of the book too much. 
  • The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix - I decided to read this book after seeing Gabby describe it as a good, entertaining read. Like Gabby, I also enjoyed this book. It's a fun read and has a fairly unique take on vampires, one that really emphasizes how gross and monstrous they can be. The story builds up a bit slowly, but becomes a wild and fast ride towards the end. It's equally about social expectations in the main characters' well-to-do Southern suburban community as it is about the vampire. 
  • The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda - I randomly saw this book listed among the popular recent  releases on the New York Public Library's ebook website and I decided I wanted to try it. I really enjoyed this novel, and I couldn't put it down! The story is told from the perspective of a number of different characters who are tied, in some way, to the event mentioned in the title, a mass poisoning at a family party. Some Goodreads reviewers report that this was a difficult book to get into, the book definitely doesn't hold your hand or clearly tell you who each point-of-view character is and how they're related to the larger story. Instead, that information is revealed slowly in each character's chapters. I didn't mind this detail about the book, and didn't find it too confusing. The ending of this book is a bit cryptic and possibly frustrating: The identity of the person ultimately responsible for the murders is made fairly clear from early in the novel, but their motives remain somewhat opaque, even at the very end of the story. 

What have you been reading recently? Anything particularly good to recommend?

Monday, April 5, 2021

Time to Get Vaccinated

Recycling another old, pre-COVID era photograph. K and I will be getting our vaccines at Javits Center, not far from Hudson Yards, where I took this photo.

I'm happy to report that K and I are officially getting vaccinated with our first doses of the Pfizer vaccine on April 7! 

For the first two days after New York state opened COVID vaccine eligibility to our 30+ age group starting at 8:00 AM on March 30, it was extremely difficult to get an appointment in NYC. Both K and I basically needed to keep refreshing several sign-up websites repeatedly throughout the day and could only get the opportunity to sign up for an appointment if we got very lucky and clicked very fast when something popped up. That was how we were eventually able to book the April 15 slot I mentioned on my Instagram stories. (Between the two of us, we were only able to sign up for that one single appointment in the first two days. We agreed I should have it instead of K because I would likely be expected back in the office much sooner than he would be.) 

By midday on April 1, however, both the state and city government-run vaccine sites and also some of the hospitals and pharmacies began releasing large blocks of up to thousands of appointment slots. Afterwards, it became significantly easier to find a COVID vaccine appointment here in NYC without needing to continuously refresh several different websites at a time. So K and I were both able to sign up for appointments on April 7 without too much trouble, and I then cancelled my April 15 appointment so someone else could take it.

My mom in California was able to get her first dose of the vaccine on April 2, and K's parents just got their second doses in Connecticut this past weekend. My sister should hopefully be able to sign up for an appointment in the Washington D.C. area in the next week or two. I'm just so happy and relieved that we and our loved ones here in the US are finally going to be protected! 

I don't believe too many readers here live in the NYC area, but if you do and you still need a COVID vaccine appointment, I've gotten most of my information about how and when to sign up through @turbovax and @nycshotslots. Both accounts post updates in a fairly timely manner when various providers in the NYC area drop a large block of new vaccine appointments. 

Based off K and I's experience, I expect that when New York state first opens up the next eligibility group, to all ages on April 6, it'll initially be difficult to get an appointment in the first few days. But it seems like the government-run vaccine sites, hospitals, and pharmacies are constantly getting in new supply and posting new appointments, so it hopefully won't take too long before it becomes fairly easy to find an appointment. 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Life Lately

Pulling out a long-ago personal photo because the weather's warming up and it's starting to feel like spring here in NYC! And with all New Yorkers aged 16+ becoming eligible to receive the vaccine on April 6, I think life will start looking better here very soon. 

Before I say anything else, a note about the events in Atlanta on March 16 and other recent examples of violent crimes with Asian American victims, including one very close to home: As you've probably noticed if you've been reading this blog for a while, I write somewhat regularly about my Asian American identity and about certain forms of discrimination against Asian Americans. It's an issue I think about often and one that is very real to me. But I've been unequal to the task of knowing what to say about the more recent spate of violent crimes against Asian Americans, particularly people who are elderly and vulnerable. 

I do not fear for myself, but I do feel some fear for my mom and for K's parents. And I do not know what an effective solution would be, cannot even begin to propose something intelligible. When I write about Asian American issues, it's important to me that I always be conscious of the position of considerable privilege I occupy - by virtue of my economic class, where I grew up, and all kinds of other criteria - and that I not take away from people more vulnerable than me, or usurp their pain or their stories. That makes it difficult to articulate a response to the events of March 16 and from the past year

- - - - -  

Whew, I've had an extremely busy few weeks at work, so I haven't been able to publish anything here on the blog since March 16. Things should be a little more quiet at the (virtual) office now, through at least the early part of April, so now I can get some rest. Here are two smaller, lighter things that have been on my mind since I last wrote.

1. // As of March 30, and as someone over the age of 30, I'm officially eligible to sign up for a COVID vaccine in the state of New York! (And on April 6, all ages currently FDA-approved for the vaccines will become eligible.) 

Unfortunately - but not too surprisingly, given that it's barely been 24 hours since we became eligible, and given how dramatic the expansion of eligibility was on that day - K and I have yet to have any luck actually signing up for a vaccine appointment. (A few of our fellow newly-eligible age 30+ friends have managed it, though.) There are lots of providers out there, including pharmacies, city government-run sites, state government-run sites, public hospitals, etc. etc., each with their own sign-up websites, so it might take a lot of madly refreshing several different websites to finally secure our appointments. 

Given that new appointment slots are always being released, I'm generally reasonably confident that K and I will have at least our first shots by the end of April, even if it might be a pain to find and book our appointments. I expect I'll be back in the office full-time almost as soon as I'm fully vaccinated. 

2. // That rather fancy Nespresso Aeroccino 4 (affiliate link) I bought earlier this month has turned out to be an excellent purchase for our household! Both K and I find ourselves using it for at least one tea or coffee "latte" a day, most days. It really does make our at-home caffeinated beverages feel quite a bit more special. As we've only had this Aeroccino milk frother for around two weeks, it's still far too soon to really vouch for its long-term durability or anything like that, but we've been finding it very functional and easy to use and clean. 

And that's it for now, just a very quick post for today. I hope that everyone has been well. I'm expecting to resume a more typical posting schedule next week, and I don't currently have anything else on my work schedule that I think would cause serious disruption to my typical blog-writing pace in the next few months. (But my work schedule as an attorney can be very unpredictable and big projects can come up on short notice, so it's hard to say for sure.) 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Busy at Work (Mostly From Home)

A black tea "latte" made with my new Aeroccino 4 milk frother (affiliate link).

Like I mentioned at the start of the month, work has been extremely stressful recently. It's also looking like my next two weeks will be especially busy. I expect I'll be billing a lot of hours through the end of the month, some of them at the office (but most of them from home). Work stress has been getting me down lately, making it hard for me to really feel optimistic about when we might start slowly returning to something resembling the pre-pandemic "normal" here in the US. 

But there are reasons to feel optimistic now: K's parents just got their first COVID vaccine doses in Connecticut. President Biden has also committed to the goal of making the vaccine available to all adults across the US by May 1, quite a bit sooner than the original late May to early June target in New York. I hear from friends who are already eligible that vaccine distribution here in NYC has been robust. (It can still take a lot of time to find and book an appointment, but my eligible friends have ultimately all been able to do so without extreme amounts of trouble.) Overall, I have no reason to doubt that all adults will become eligible for the vaccine in New York by May 1, and I'd expect that appointments will generally become at least a little easier to book over time, as capacity and supply ramp up. 

The one-year anniversary of when I suddenly rushed home from my business trip and when K and I started practicing fairly strict social distancing has just come and gone. I'd say more about that - about all the complicated feelings this brings up - except I'm too preoccupied with work right now. All I can really say at present is that, at this time last year, I had absolutely no idea what was coming. 

So far, it's looking like I might actually be able to stay completely away from fashion-related shopping this month. I simply don't have any ideas for anything I'm actively looking to buy right now when it comes to clothes, shoes, and accessories. I haven't even been browsing or window shopping online! 

I have, however, indulged in something new and quite fancy for my kitchen recently, namely an Aeroccino 4 milk frother by Nespresso (affiliate link). I haven't been to a coffee shop for my usual lattes and matcha lattes since we started social distancing last March, and I thought buying a milk frother was a good way to make my homemade coffees and teas feel a bit more special. I was partially inspired to get this specific model when I saw someone on YouTube using theirs in a "day in the life" vlog. It seemed like they used their Aeroccino 4 quite frequently, so I assumed it would be reasonably durable. I've only been using the Aeroccino for around a full week so far, so I can't really comment on its long-term durability and functionality yet, but it's been great and fun to use so far. 

It's probably a bit strange to wait an entire year in lockdown before getting the idea to finally buy a milk frother, especially since I expect to head back to the office full-time - or close to it - once I'm fully vaccinated within a few months (fingers crossed!). I had thought on and off about buying a milk frother throughout the past year, but it was one of those small appliance indulgences that was easy to keep putting off because of our limited kitchen storage. My decision to finally buy it this month did feel a bit impulsive. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Things I Bought Recently

via Yoseka Stationery

Like I mentioned last month, I'm still feeling the pandemic and social distancing blues. But I'm also guardedly optimistic that - because COVID vaccine distribution has been quite robust in NYC and with the new availability of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine - there's a chance vaccine eligibility might open up to the general public here in New York somewhat sooner than the original projected date of late May or early June. 

Because Connecticut is opening vaccine eligibility up to different age groups step-by-step, K's parents were recently able to make their first-dose appointments as part of the age 55-plus group. That's a huge relief to us! California's vaccine rollout isn't quite there yet, so we are still waiting for my mom to be eligible to make her appointment. 

I'm still mostly compliant with my low-spending goals for these few months, as I continue to work on finishing my student loan repayment. But I still allow myself occasional indulgences. In particular, I buy myself stationery or food treats semi-regularly, because those tend to be more moderately priced than clothing or accessories. Today's post is about some of the things I've bought recently, two of them fun and one of them much less so. 

Midori Five Year Diary with Embroidered Cover: I was originally not going to buy this Midori journal because I already have another five-year "a few lines a day"-type Hobonichi, but when Jetpens got these back in stock, I ended up not being able to resist. The embroidered cover is just so pretty, and I know from using another, less fancy Midori notebook that their paper is high-quality and fountain pen-friendly. (I do slightly prefer Tomoe River paper over Midori paper, however. Some extra-fine nib and ink combinations end up too dry for the Midori paper, and Midori paper doesn't show quite as much sheen or shading with some fountain pen inks compared to Tomoe River.) This journal also comes with a clear plastic cover to protect the embroidered details and keep the fabric cover clean. 

Because I'm currently using my five-year Hobonichi Techo journal for daily memory-keeping, I'm going to set aside this Midori Five Year Diary and save it for some other use later.  

Hot Chocolate Balls: These aren't quite the highly Instagrammable hot chocolate bombs with pretty, decorated chocolate shells that have been trendy recently, but they make a tasty, rich, and not overly sweet cup of hot chocolate. I heard about this company from one of my undergraduate school's alum facebook groups because they're a small business that's local to where we went to school, so I decided to try them out. I really like these hot chocolate balls, though at ~$3/serving before factoring in tax and shipping, it's definitely a splurge compared to figuring out how to make a similar hot chocolate mix at home with cocoa powder and chocolate. 

We've almost finished using up the original set I bought, two sleeves with six servings each. All the flavors were pretty good, so I'd consider ordering another set again as a special treat once in a while. 

Turbotax: (affiliate link) Ah, and now for something substantially less fun. Longtime readers may recall that I complain about Turbotax almost every year around tax time. I've even said I wanted to "break up" with Turbotax, but I ultimately failed to do so because I just couldn't get used to using any of their competitors I've tried (mainly CreditKarma and H&R Block's website version). 

I've used Turbotax's desktop software to file my taxes basically every year of my adult life - it typically costs me ~$50/year to buy - because I've become completely dependent on them. Everything else's user interface - even Turbotax's website version - just confuses me too much. I'm definitely not a Turbotax shill or anything, in fact I really hate that I'm completely dependent on their "personal income tax for dummies"-type user interface and approach. You'd think a lawyer would be less intimidated by her taxes!

Pretty much every single year, I end up running into at least one weird Turbotax software glitch. Most years, I have trouble saving my filed tax forms as a PDF, the software often crashes while trying to save or print as a PDF. A few times, the reporting of my backdoor Roth IRA conversion has been glitchy or confusing. I always figure it out in the end, but it can cause quite a headache. 

This year's problem ended up being the most annoying of the lot. Many people who needed to report a IRA distribution - which I do as part of reporting my backdoor Roth IRA conversion - found their e-filed federal tax return was rejected by the IRS due to a purported error with a "FED_Taxable_Inherited_IRA," even though none of them actually reported an inherited IRA. It was quite nerve-wracking to get this error message, because it was clear I couldn't do anything myself to fix it, I was dependent on Intuit to fix the problem on their end. Thankfully, it seems the company fixed the issue causing the error by March 5, and I was able to file my taxes afterwards with no trouble. 

I hope that you and your loved ones are doing well. If you live in a country where COVID vaccine distribution is a high priority, I hope that at least some of your higher-risk friends and family members have been able to get their shot(s) by now, or at least to schedule their appointment(s)! I'm really hoping that vaccine supply will continue to increase faster than originally expected, so that K and I - and the rest of the general public - can hopefully become eligible by sometime in May. 

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Working Life Lately

via Unsplash

Every so often, I'll get the idea to write about an ongoing situation in my life, something - whether it's big and somewhat serious or small and relatively light - that's been on my mind for at least a few months. Then I'll search through my blog archives to identify the last time(s) I wrote about that topic, in order to link to those entries as a way of providing context for a newer post. 

Often, I'm slightly confused and surprised to discover I didn't actually write at all about this topic that had been on my mind. Or if I did write about it, I was so vague and indirect no one could possibly fully grasp what I was talking about. I'd probably thought about writing about the recurring issue, but decided against it. Or maybe I wrote a draft entry that started off with substantially more detail, but decided to get rid of most of it during the two or three rounds of editing I typically do before publishing anything. Sometimes the draft was never finished or never published.

Today's post is about how my current work from home life is going. Alas, it's also more about market forces and other things outside my direct control than it is about anything else. 

First, some good news: I've been part of the team on two major litigation victories recently. (For the bigger, more significant one, which actually has great importance to society at large, I was such a small part of the team it admittedly wouldn't really be proper to actually claim that victory as partially mine. But it was huge!) In the pre-COVID era, my colleagues and I would have celebrated together. Unfortunately, these are not normal times. 

Billable Hours, Then and Now

One past topic I didn't write about as clearly or as often as I thought was how incredibly busy I was at work this time last year. From January through early March 2020, I was solidly on track to bill ~2,800 hours for the year if I continued working at that pace while also taking a normal amount of vacation days. The schedules for my primary cases - and my colleagues' cases as well - were such that it was reasonable to expect we would all stay close to that busy for at least several more months. 

I'd also been consistently busy in late 2019. I was at ~2,600 billed hours/year pace from September through December, even taking into account plenty of vacation time, including for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a number of sick days. (But because early 2019 was much slower, my year-end total was still only ~2,250 hours billed.) In other words, by January 2020, I was already running on fumes. I was being pushed beyond my physical limits for how much work I could do, billing all those hours on top of an intense schedule of international business travel

Monday, March 1, 2021

February 2021 Reading Reflections

Oops, this month-end reading reflections post is coming up a bit later than I originally intended! Work has suddenly gotten very stressful for me, so I'm going to need to slow down on posting here for at least a few weeks. Emotionally speaking, I'm also really hitting the pandemic wall now, noticeably worse than a few weeks ago. Now that work is getting busier, I think it's likely I'll also lose some of my recent momentum when it comes to how much I'm able to read for fun. 

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!

Overall, I've had extremely good luck this year so far when it comes to picking out enjoyable and engaging books to read. I think I already have strong frontrunners for my favorite nonfiction book and favorite novel of 2021. From January, Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker was so good that it's hard to imagine any other nonfiction book displacing it. From this month, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel are both great novels. 

Like in my book reflections post last month, I've listed this month's books in the order in which I finished reading them: 

  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel - I personally like Station Eleven much better than Emily St. John Mandel's newest novel, The Glass Hotel, which I read last year. Station Eleven has a bit more of a plot arc to it, while The Glass Hotel is a lot more cryptic and vague, maybe a little too much so. Based on these two novels, I really enjoy St. John Mandel's writing style and the way she ties together many loosely connected characters and story lines. I'll happily pick up and try anything else she writes. This novel begins with a deadly flu pandemic, which might put some people off given current events, but I didn't mind that. 
  • Nomadland by Jessica Bruder - This was another strong work of investigative journalism, which I enjoyed nearly as much as I did Robert Kolker's Hidden Valley Road. (That's very strong praise! Between these two books, I'd say Hidden Valley Road wins out slightly because it's so tightly focused on one family with a uniquely compelling story. It's hard for anything else to compete with that story, no matter how good the writing.) Nomadland discusses the phenomenon of "workampers," older Americans forced by the Great Recession of 2008 to live in RVs, trailers, or vans and travel across the US to look for seasonal work, including at Amazon warehouses. 
  • Weather by Jenny Offill - This was a very brief novel and a strange read. I found it easy to get through, and while it's vividly written and I felt immersed in what was happening, I had a lot of trouble following the larger plot. So I also found it a bit cryptic and vague, but in a very different way from St. John Mandel's The Glass Hotel. I probably didn't understand this novel well enough to really make a strong recommendation for or against reading it.
  • Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter - Like I said in January, I consider Karin Slaughter a very strong and reliable author for thrillers and murder mysteries. So it wasn't a surprise that I enjoyed this book, I think it may have been the most fast-paced and absorbing of her standalone novels I've read. The story really hits the ground running from the very first chapter. In terms of comparing this novel to the rest of Slaughter's work, I think I might still recommend starting with one of her other books. My first Slaughter novel was The Good Daughter and I think that's a strong place to start. The plot and main criminal conspiracy behind Pretty Girls is a lot more "out there" and elaborate than in most of her other novels, and I think it might come across as being exaggerated and cartoonishly evil if you're not already a fan of the author. Though I also think Slaughter is a much better thriller and murder mystery author than most, she can successfully pull off a plot that could sound silly and distractingly unbelievable in the wrong hands, and I think she manages that here. Please be aware there are big content warnings on this book for sexual assault and violence. I don't think she ever writes about these acts in a gratuitous way, but this book is more graphic than is typical for the rest of her work. 
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke - As I couldn't help but preview for you in mid-February, Piranesi is my favorite book of the month and also a clear frontrunner for my favorite novel of the year. It's a really delightful and unique story with fantasy elements. I think some people find the first chapter or two a bit difficult to get into, Susanna Clarke's writing style in this novel is definitely quite creative and unique and it took some time for me to settle in with it, but by the third or fourth chapter I was completely hooked. I've never managed to get into Clarke's first novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but I might be inspired to try again because Piranesi was just so good. 
  • The Searcher by Tana French - This is my fourth Tana French novel and confirms my sense that she's an extremely skilled and reliable author of police procedural and murder mystery novels, in a different - also less violent, with no sexual violence - style from Karin Slaughter. (The two are really not similar in writing style, it's just hard not to try and compare because they write in the same genres, I enjoy both authors to a similar degree, and I read both of them this month.) I generally find French's books to be a "slow burn" for me, perhaps because they feature a lot of introspection by her main characters and also because the murder mystery at the heart of each novel tends to unravel quite slowly, at least until the last third or so of each book. Out of all her novels I've read, I found The Searcher to feel somewhat more fast-paced.

In February, I picked up and then dropped two not-so-good thrillers, Camilla Lackberg's The Gilded Cage and Catherine Steadman's Mr. Nobody. Both had clunky writing and the plots were starting to seem too silly to continue with by the time I got through the first third or so. 

Over the years, I've often been sad that it's so difficult to find authors who are consistent and reliable with writing good thrillers. I love Gillian Flynn, and on the police-procedural side of things I have Karin Slaughter, Tess Gerritsen, and now Tana French (though I wouldn't really consider French's novels to be thrillers because her stories tend to move more slowly). I can't think of that many other authors worth recommending. My last good thriller from a new-to-me author was Lucy Foley's The Guest List, but I found the story and characters a little underdeveloped, so it's more a "good enough" thriller rather than an actually "good" one that makes me eager to pick up more from the same author. 

Unrelated to books and reading, I wanted to thank everyone who commented on my recent "link list" post to share their stories about navigating racial identity while growing up and looking for published stories that reflected one's lived experience, whether that experience included "lunchbox stories" or not. I'm always grateful for the opportunity to have thoughtful discussions about topics like that here at my blog! 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

February 2021 Shopping Reflections

Yes, I know what you're thinking: February is barely halfway over, isn't it far too early to write a month-end shopping reflections post? But I'm feeling pretty confident that I'm already done with shopping for my wardrobe this month. At the moment, I don't have ideas for anything else fashion-related I'd want to browse for or potentially buy in the near future. 

In other words, I think I remain on track with my current goal of not shopping too much for my closet these few months, while I focus on finishing off my student loans. I may have ideas for summer clothes I'd like to add to my wardrobe this year - I like the relaxed, flowy look of the Olivia dress and top from Two Days Off, both in midweight linen - but because the weather doesn't usually start warming up in NYC until April, it's going to be quite a while before I'm in the mood to browse for spring/summer clothes. 

You may have heard of Quince, formerly known as Last Brand, as I think quite a few bloggers - including Elaine - have done reviews of some of their items. Quince's main selling point is probably their low prices. For instance, their cashmere sweaters - priced as low as $50 - undercut most brands out there, including Naadam (affiliate link) or Uniqlo

Based on the sweater I purchased this month, Quince's cashmere feels at least equivalent to the standard Uniqlo cashmere available each year, it's similarly soft and has a comparable weight and thickness. I've been wearing the sweater frequently for around two weeks - and have hand-washed it twice, once before I first started wearing it - and I've seen relatively little pilling, though I do notice the fabric has a slightly more fuzzy appearance than with the basic Uniqlo cashmere sweaters. 

Because this is my first and only purchase from Quince, I can't really say anything about the rest of their product line. But I'm satisfied with this month's purchase, and I think it was a good value. I used a referral link and got a $10 discount off the regular price of this sweater. (If you're curious about trying Quince, you can use my referral link and get $10 off your first order as a new customer; I'll also get a $10 credit if you make a purchase.) 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $59.90) 

  • Quince Cashmere Batwing Sweater, black - $59.90 - This sweater comes in only one size, which initially made me nervous. Quince's product measurements state this sweater suits a 39'' bust measurement, and if that was actually the case, this sweater could feel uncomfortably small on my more top-heavy figure. But from the store and customer photos, it seemed clear that - because of the batwing sleeve design - this sweater should actually be quite spacious and flowy around the chest, so I took a chance and ordered it. And it does fit me comfortably, with plenty of room around the bust and the rest of my torso. I do, however, find the body of this sweater slightly short even though I'm only 5'3'', not remotely tall (but shirts and tops can look shorter on me because their hems get pulled up by the size of my chest). I'd definitely prefer it if this sweater were longer and had a bit more fabric all around. It'd feel a bit more luxurious that way, and I think it'd suit my body shape better. I don't know if everyone would like the batwing sleeves, but between the store photos and customer review photos, I think one can at least get a reasonably accurate sense of how the sleeves will fit before deciding to order. 

How has your shopping month been? 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Link List: Lunchbox Stories

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Although it's currently too early for me to start writing my end-of-month reading reflections post for February, I needed to mention the novel I just finished because it was just too good! Susanna Clarke's Piranesi is really special, an incredibly beautiful, immersive story that I was completely swept up in and stayed up late to finish reading in one day. (It's not a particularly long book, but I started reading after dinner.) These days, not many books are able to capture my attention so fully. 

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!

And one definitely doesn't need to have been a fan of Clarke's first novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell to enjoy Piranesi. I tried to pick up Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell years ago, but never quite managed to get into it. The experience of reading Piranesi may inspire me to try reading Clarke's first novel again. 

1. // I enjoyed this insightful Eater article about "The Limits of the Lunchbox Moment." You've probably heard the story at least once, about the first or second-generation immigrant child whose ethnic food is declared gross or smelly by other children in the school cafeteria. No doubt that's happened to and been hurtful to many. But it's also not a universal Asian American or Chinese-American (or Taiwanese-American) experience, and that may be obscured by how ubiquitous the lunchbox story is in American media (a space that might not have room for all the complex, nuanced Asian American stories out there). 

In my case, I've never had a lunchbox story. Throughout elementary school, I ate cafeteria hot lunch almost every day. On field trip days when school lunch wasn't available, I generally got Lunchables. I only rarely brought anything else to school for lunch, if I did it'd typically be a sandwich with a somewhat Taiwanese bakery spin like this

And because I grew up in the Silicon Valley Bay Area, where the large-ish public schools I attended always had majority-Asian American student bodies - we may have been as much as 75% of the population at every school I attended, to the point where a notorious-in-our-community Wall Street Journal article from 2005 claimed we caused a "New White Flight" by scaring off white families - it was unlikely anyone would have had a "lunchbox moment," where they were shamed for bringing ethnic food. Our Asian American student population skewed heavily East Asian and South Asian. On any given day, one saw a wide range of both western and Asian-style lunches brought from home. No one really had reason to comment on anyone else's food, we'd seen it all before. When I shared this article with a close friend who attended public school in a midwestern state with a much smaller Asian population, she also had no lunchbox story. She observed that different schools have their own culture, and not all children learn to behave cruelly in this specific way. 

One theme in this article is that, for many of the people interviewed, published articles, essays, or books written by other Asian Americans often aren't accurate to their personal experiences. There's some frustration that a more diverse range of Asian American stories isn't being told, and that's likely at least in part because certain stories are seen as more marketable or "sellable to an editor" than others. 

It's difficult to find other stories about the Chinese-American or Taiwanese-American experience that truly resonate with me. Throughout my childhood, and even in college, I was sheltered from being made to feel "less than" because of my racial or ethnic identity, I was always at schools where at least a significant critical mass of students looked like me. With regards to race and identity, my personal story is therefore dominated by experiences of workplace discrimination and implicit bias that are specific to the legal industry. To the extent I look back further in time, issues of economic class and my parents' marital status - divorce being rare amongst the Asian American communities I grew up attending school with - weigh far heavier than questions related to my race. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

COVID-Era Spending Changes Revisited

Kate Spade Cardholder

That Vince boiled cashmere funnel neck sweater I like so much is finally on sale in pretty much all of this year's colors, including the medium blue color I'm somewhat tempted by. Many of their other sweaters from this fall/winter season are also on sale, including this cashmere donegal turtleneck. (Though alas, I don't think current sale prices are better than what was available during the most recent Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale period.) 

Back in August, I wrote about how COVID-19 social distancing and lockdowns changed my spending. Now that K and I have spent quite a few more months living a socially distanced lifestyle - it's been almost a full year now - I figured I should update my analysis to see if my main prediction - that "it's likely most of my spending changes from the [first] five months of COVID-19 lockdown could persist through the end of the [calendar] year" - turned out to be true. This post also serves as a sort of "spending year in review" for 2020. 

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!

Now that I have all my 2020 You Need a Budget ("YNAB") data to work with, I've adjusted the methodology for this analysis. Last time, I compared my average monthly spend for the entirety of 2019 with my average monthly spend in the full months for which I had data available from after COVID shutdowns started, namely April through July 2020. This time, I feel like comparing my spending for each full year - 2019 versus 2020 - makes more sense, even if January through mid-March 2020 weren't affected by COVID shutdowns. When averaged out over the entire year, the extra non-COVID era-compatible spending - e.g., at restaurants - from January and February 2020 is fairly negligible. 

This time around, I've also modified the list of spending categories omitted from the analysis. Like last time, I'm still leaving out my student loan payments and charitable contributions. Unlike last time, I'm now including my taxes (which increased slightly in 2020, but by a relatively negligible amount when averaged out over the entire year) and gift-related spending for my friends and family, the building staff at my apartment, and the non-attorneys at my workplace (which stayed about the same between 2019 and 2020). 

With regards to my student loan payments, I've ratcheted up the amount I pay each month significantly over time - for instance, I was at $4,800/month last August and am now at $5,100/month - so it'd throw off the analysis to include them. It's also a spending category I could pull back on significantly, if needed, because my minimum monthly payment after refinancing is only ~$1,600/month. And if all goes well, by August or September of this year, I'll be completely done repaying my student loans for good and will never need to worry about them again! 

As for charitable giving, I omit it from this analysis because it's so discretionary. Before 2020, I was admittedly not great about making charitable giving a regular part of my monthly budgets. In earlier years, particularly when I still had a negative net worth of five or six figures - recall I only hit "net worth zero" for the first time in April 2019 - it was something I struggled with because the hours I spent on pro bono work were clearly so much more valuable than any amount of money I could hope to give at the time. Now that I'm in a much stronger financial position than before, however, I can give more regularly (~$2,630 total last year, all from after the COVID shutdowns began in March). 

When I calculated my COVID-driven spending changes last August, I found I was spending an average of ~$1,300/month less than usual. This time around, when comparing my full-year spending for 2019 and 2020, I saw I spent an average of ~$980/month less than in 2019. So that's approximately $320/month less in COVID-driven reduced spending than I originally calculated back in August. (Keep in mind, though, that charitable contributions were omitted each time, so both measures of my "savings" from COVID social distancing should arguably be reduced by the ~$200/month I donated last year.) 

So what changed? Where did that other $320/month in reduced COVID-era spending or "lost" COVID-driven savings go? 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Social Distancing Life Lately: Eleven Months

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Is everyone else here in the US - or in any other country that has failed to get COVID remotely under control - also at an emotional low point recently about the pandemic? Because I'm definitely feeling quite poorly about everything, noticeably worse than at any other point since last March. (Though what I mean when I say this is mostly that it's all relative. Somehow, I generally managed to stay in surprisingly good spirits throughout most of 2020 and am only really starting to feel the emotional difficulties of social distancing now, almost a year in.) And I can also see something similar in most of my friends and even infer it about some of my work colleagues. 

I definitely don't mean to fuss too much because I've been so incredibly fortunate - there really isn't any actual reason anyone should worry about me, I'm healthy, employed, and remain able to fully work from home - but darn, I really wish I could safely see my mom, my sister, or my friends in person. I even really wish to be able to safely go back to the office and go to court or do in-person depositions! 

Essentially, I'm really feeling this viral tweet about being "pandemic fine," and I'm sure I'm far from the only one:

Indoor dining will apparently reopen in NYC on February 12. I'm not sure that's a good idea, given current COVID numbers here. Regardless, K and I will absolutely not be partaking in any restaurant dining - whether indoors or outdoors - until the vaccine is readily available to younger, non-essential worker adults with no high-risk health conditions like us, and until we've been fully vaccinated. Recently, I do not have much faith in New York's state leadership, both as to vaccine distribution and as to COVID-related restrictions. Last I heard, we should not expect the COVID vaccine to become available to the general public - including K and I - until May or June. 

Because K's parents and my mom are all just under 65, do not work in front-line essential jobs, and do not have the types of preexisting conditions that would place them in a higher-priority category, they are also not yet eligible to receive the COVID vaccine. It's nerve-wracking to wait for the vaccine to become available to them, especially because my mom isn't able to work from home. At least she works in a very small office with no direct contact with customers or members of the general public. (But they still had a COVID exposure scare from one of her colleagues a few weeks ago, though thankfully everyone else - including my mom - has since tested negative.)  

Beginning in December, as COVID case numbers started spiking throughout the US, K and I started "double masking" whenever we leave our apartment, even if we're just going to the lobby to pick up packages from the doorman. At first, we wore basic surgical masks under our fabric Happy Masks (a brand we've been using since September). More recently, we switched to wearing KN95s under our Happy Masks, and I found that combination significantly more comfortable. Like the Happy Masks, KN95s have a more 3D cone shape, so only the edges of the mask sit on your face and the material isn't directly in contact with your mouth and nostrils. The Happy Mask shape fits nicely over the KN95 without squishing it noticeably or otherwise interfering with how securely the KN95 fits.  

We bought Powecom KN95s from Office Depot after I noticed Amanda Mull from The Atlantic had commented approvingly about them on Twitter. Stacey De-Lin - one of the doctors I follow on Instagram for COVID-related information - has recommended N95 Mask Co as a reliable source for KN95s and N95s, though N95s in particular are quite expensive. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Quiet Days at Home

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After a relatively productive January in terms of writing for this blog, I seem to be feeling a bit of blog-related writer's block again. It seems clear that when I'm trying to avoid shopping for my wardrobe, it becomes more difficult to get ideas for things to write here. Today's post is a light one, about some of the non-fashion things I've been enjoying recently. 

1. // While the weather's been quite cold out - including with a big snowstorm yesterday here in NYC - I've been making a lot of soup. Recently, I've made Balthazar's cream of mushroom soup (via Smitten Kitchen; I halve the recipe and get four light lunch-sized servings), Smitten Kitchen's white bean soup (I omit the crispy kale topping), and a baked potato soup from Delish (the resulting texture's quite thick, I add some chicken broth to thin it out), all of which were quite tasty and not too difficult to cook. 

2. // Netflix just released the second season of the glassblowing reality competition show, Blown Away, which I highly recommend! I've watched a few of the less well-known Netflix-distributed reality competition shows, including The Big Flower Fight (rather boring) and The American Barbecue Showdown (pretty good). Out of the ones I've tried, I think Blown Away is the best. 

For all that glassblowing as an art form has tons of inherent drama - lots of fire and heat, and things that accidentally break or crack - which, of course, helps keep each episode  interesting, I find I really enjoy Blown Away specifically because it still ultimately turns out to be a surprisingly low-drama competition. It's a comforting show to watch, somewhat like The Great British Bake Off ("GBBO"), particularly the older BBC seasons. All the contestants are extremely professional and also unfailingly gracious to each other, even the ones that might have more intense, potentially polarizing personalities. Because of the inherent fragility of glass as a medium and the ever-present risk of breaking or cracking, even in the hands of experienced artists, one gets the sense the contestants are all pretty good at rolling with the punches and staying calm to do their work. 

3. // After first buying Sims 4 (plus the Seasons expansion pack) years ago during a particularly good sale and then promptly forgetting all about owning it, I finally started actually playing the game over the Christmas holidays! Back when my current MacBook Pro was brand new - nearly seven years ago now -  it struggled mightily to run Sims 3 with just a single expansion pack installed, to the point where the game was nearly unplayable. I was initially worried my computer wouldn't be able to run Sims 4 either. Well, I was pleasantly surprised to find that, even though my laptop is much older now, it actually runs Sims 4 plus Seasons quite well. 

I don't find Sims 4 as interesting as Sims 3, they cut or changed a lot of things to make the newer game run better on most computers, and the experience of playing feels a bit less interesting and more empty. But it's still fun to try to build and decorate houses, so I can definitely at least get my money's worth from the heavily discounted sale price I paid for this game. 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

January 2021 Book Reflections

One thing I'm noticing - in light of my recent goal to not shop as much for my closet for the next several months, in order to focus on finishing my student loan repayment - is that this goal is... not very good for my blog writing inspiration. After all, the main focus of my blog is arguably clothes and shopping - even if I also discuss other topics - so when I'm not very interested in either thing, I have far less to write about! This is on top of the general difficulty of blogging since March 2020, after COVID-19 shutdowns began in the US and dramatically changed our day-to-day lives. 

Separately, I felt somewhat... not sad, exactly, but maybe wistful...  about how difficult it was for me to consistently read for fun for most of 2020, even with all the additional time I spent at home. Not long before, from around September 2019 through March 2020 - when work was especially hard and my billable hours particularly many - books and reading were a major source of comfort, just about the only thing that could take my mind away from work-related stress for a while. So it was surprising to me that reading couldn't fill that role for me again, or provide quite that same comfort and distraction, after March 2020. 

For 2021, I'm going to try blogging each month about the books I've read, and I'll maybe also mention the ones I couldn't finish if I think they're also worthy of some comment. Maybe it'll help encourage me to read more for fun this year. I also generally enjoy talking about, or writing about, the books I've read. It'll be a very low-pressure or no-pressure kind of project, I definitely don't have a goal to read a particular number of books this year or anything like that. 

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!

As you'll see, I enjoy books from a fairly wide range of genres. I would say that page-turners like horror novels, thrillers, or murder mystery police procedural-type series form the backbone of my overall volume of reading. Though there are many other genres I enjoy and that might also feature regularly. That's definitely all reflected in this month's selection. These books are listed in the order in which I finished reading them: 

  • The Silent Wife by Karin Slaughter - Over the years, I've mentioned my fondness for Karin Slaughter books a few times. I find her a very reliable author for murder mystery or police procedural-type thrillers, I've read through almost her entire catalog and enjoyed every single book. But be warned that many of the crimes described in her books tend to involve sexual assault or extremely violent murders, and while Slaughter doesn't write about these acts in a gratuitous way -  it's a very small portion of any given book - the matter-of-fact descriptions might still be off-putting to some. 
  • The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue - This is my third Emma Donoghue novel (I've also read Room and The Wonder), and I've enjoyed her work a lot. Out of these books, I think Room is the most famous, and it's also stylistically quite unlike the other two, which are both more straightforward historical fiction. This book focuses on a nurse and her work over a few days during the 1918 flu pandemic, so it felt like a fitting novel for these times. 
  • The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins - I enjoyed reading The Hunger Games trilogy, so I was curious about this prequel. This book is nowhere near as engaging or fast-paced as the original series - and the future President Snow is a far less pleasant narrator than Katniss, not just in terms of his moral compass but also in terms of being more passive and less self-aware - but I must say, it still grabbed my attention and I couldn't put it down. There's a lot of not-so-nice things one could say about this book: I found the world-building clunky and I don't think the story makes that much sense. I also absolutely detest main characters or narrators who are in near-full denial about or almost completely lack self-awareness about the fact they're actively choosing to do bad things. (I don't mind an objectively unpleasant main character who does terrible things - longtime readers here may recall my somewhat... unusual fondness for Gone Girl's Amy Dunne - and it's fine if they have some fatal flaws or blind spots they don't fully acknowledge, but that's not what's going on in this novel.) But these days, not many books can hold my attention as well as this one did, so it may still be worth picking up for someone who enjoyed The Hunger Games
  • The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor - This is my second C.J. Tudor novel, after The Hiding Place. Both books initially appear to straddle the line between the horror and murder mystery genres, it was not immediately clear whether there was a supernatural explanation for what was happening. I find these to be fairly quick, light reads, not the best thing ever, but readable and entertaining. It's worth giving it a try from the library if one is already interested in horror or thrillers. (There's a moderate amount of murder or other violent acts in these stories, but there's not much detail provided about those events.) 
  • Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker - This is, hands down, my favorite of this month's books. It's just a very well-written deep dive into the story of a large family profoundly affected by schizophrenia, with six of 12 children diagnosed. It's such a good book, but also incredibly sad, as the disease brought considerable pain and tragedy into all their lives over several decades. This book reminded me somewhat of Andrew Solomon's Far From the Tree, which is also extremely well-written and also addressed the theme of families grappling with the difficulties of caring for children who are indelibly different from their parents, including when the children's differences sometimes cause harm or grief to other family members. 

I also picked up one book this month I ultimately couldn't finish: Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld. I really enjoy Sittenfeld's writing, I've read three of her other books to date (American Wife, Eligible, and the short story collection You Think It, I'll Say Itand enjoyed them all greatly. But the premise of this novel - about Hilary Rodham in an alternate universe where she didn't marry Bill Clinton, and yes, they're referred to by their real names - was just too weird for me, essentially fanfiction about real people. The book is well-written, tasteful, and definitely not trying to be overly salacious, but the concept was just too strange for me to stick with. 

Have you read anything good recently? If you've read any of the books I mentioned, what did you think?

Monday, January 25, 2021

January 2021 Shopping Reflections

I stuck to my goal this month of not shopping very much for my closet. Only one purchase for January, which I already previewed a few weeks ago. Admittedly, it is a few days early to declare this, but I'm pretty sure. 

My certainty that this is it for the month comes, in part, from how I haven't been in the mood to mindlessly browse or window shop online for clothes, shoes, or accessories, even though there have been some significant stressors in terms of both current events and some of my work-related tasks. So, for now, I think the chances are looking reasonably good that I'll be able to continue buying relatively little for my closet in the next few months, as I focus my attention and extra dollars on finishing off my student loan repayment. 

Maybe this is just because I'm specifically trying to avoid shopping for fashion-related things right now, but I feel like the post-New Year's sales haven't been that good this year? At least for the very short and specific list of clothes I would maybe have been interested in buying only if an unusually good discount came along, none of them have really been significantly on sale since Christmas or New Year's. It's starting to look like Black Friday was the better time to buy, which isn't consistent with my experience from past years. Anyway, this is definitely not important because it's so much better for me that I'm not tempted, but I'm just a bit surprised. 

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!

The clothing I've been checking the post-New Year's sales for is not that interesting. There's an all-cotton white and gray melange lounge set (joggers and a turtleneck) from J.Crew that I find overpriced at the intermittently available sale price of ~$90 to $100 for the set. On paper, I think this would be a fair price for an all-cotton lounge set, except that I - like many other customers out there - have long found the quality of J.Crew items and materials especially inconsistent. And there are quite a few reviews on J.Crew's website stating that these specific items are prone to noticeable shrinkage, even when the customer follows the care instructions on the label.

If the Vince boiled cashmere funnel neck sweater in this season's medium blue shade was discounted by a significant percentage, I might consider getting it even though I already have another perfectly nice and very similar-looking cashmere sweater in a nearly-identical color. In the event of such a sale, I suspect I'd ultimately still be able to resist because, even after a large discount, it'd still be an expensive sweater, plus it really is just too similar to the one I already have. Regardless, I've been saved from needing to make a decision because I haven't actually seen the Vince sweater in this color on sale anywhere since Christmas. 

In other words, it's been easy to stick to just buying one item this month!

Fashion - (TOTAL: $70.00) 

  • Ugg "Scuffette II" Slipper - $70.00 - (also on sale here and here, limited sizes remain) These sequined shearling-lined slippers are so fun to look at. I sort of had my eye on these specific Ugg slippers since last November, but was waiting for the post-Christmas sales. On top of getting these for the discounted $70 price, I'm also getting an additional 10% cash back, or $7, from this purchase via Ebates a.k.a. Rakuten. Before I bought these slippers, I was a little concerned they might be too warm to wear in my sort-of-stuffy, sometimes overly warm apartment - we don't fully control the heat, the heaters automatically turn on when it's cold enough outside in the winter - but they've actually been just fine and comfortable. These only come in full sizes, so I sized up from my usual 7.5 to an 8. 

Have you been able to find anything good in the post-New Year's sales this year? Is it just me thinking that this year's post-holiday sales aren't that great? I'm admittedly not the most able to actually analyze whether this year's sales are of typical quality or not because I've only really looked at the specific clothing items I mentioned. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

How I Approach Investing

Kate Spade Polly Wallet (affiliate link)

How I approach my investments is a topic I've alluded to a few times over the years - see for instance here and here - although I don't think I've ever discussed it in great detail. Accordingly, I thought I might as well write a full post about it. Though, spoiler alert, nothing here will be at all new or novel to anyone familiar with what many Financial Independence, Retire Early ("FIRE") related internet forums and bloggers generally recommend! It's also mostly consistent with the recommendations in the two beginners' personal finance books I've mentioned over the years. 

One quick and important disclaimer before I continue: I'm definitely not a qualified investment professional. Please do your own research elsewhere before making any investment decisions.

Investing History

Because I didn't really start investing - whether in tax-advantaged retirement accounts or anything else - until I graduated law school, I got my start on the later side of early adulthood, at age 27. Before then, I briefly had up to ~$2,000 in a Mandatory Provident Fund ("MPF") retirement account in Hong Kong, but didn't even really know I needed to proactively select my own investments - not just let them sit in the settlement fund - much less how to actually select said investments. So my money in my MPF only really ever stayed in their equivalent of a money market account, until I eventually cashed out and used it all to help pay my living expenses in law school. (Given what I've explained, the money obviously didn't grow much. It was the equivalent of roughly two months' rent in my law school student housing.) 

My first contribution to a tax-advantaged retirement account in the US was at the tail end of December 2015, when I first became eligible to contribute to a 401(k) - with no employer match, as is somewhat standard in the industry - at my first biglaw job. And then because of the timing of my clerkship and the pay cut I took that year, I still wasn't able to invest much in the beginning. I never even got remotely close to maxing out my 401(k) or backdoor Roth IRA for any year until 2018, once I'd returned to the private sector for a while. 

Since 2018, though, I've been maxing out on contributions to my 401(k) - still no employer match, because my workplace takes many of its benefits-related cues from biglaw - and backdoor Roth IRA each year. These are the only types of tax-advantaged investment accounts I currently invest through. (Because my workplace doesn't offer a High Deductible Health Plan or "HDHP", I cannot invest through a Health Savings Account or "HSA".) On top of that, I also started investing a bit in a post-tax brokerage account beginning in early 2019. Since then, I've also budgeted to continue adding more to those post-tax investments every month. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Skincare Update: Two Months of Curology

via Unsplash

Here's a quick update about my skincare routine, even though it may still be too early to do a full review of my Curology experience. I've now been using Curology for a little over 60 days, or two months. 

Because my Curology formula includes some fairly powerful, potentially irritating active ingredients - the tretinoin and possibly also the azelaic acid as well - I use it with a fairly light hand. As with prescription Retin-A Micro, a roughly pea-sized amount should be plenty to cover the entire face in a thin layer. In practice, because of how much the Curology pump bottle dispenses with each push of the pump, I often end up using slightly less than the typical pea-sized amount each night. (One full pump is generally just shy of the right amount, but two full pumps would be way too much and result in some wasted product.) 

Accordingly, even though it's been a little more than 60 days now since I started, I'm actually still using my first supposedly one month-sized, just-pay-shipping trial bottle of my Curology formula. (Which means that the $19.99/month price of Curology may work out to be more like $10/month for me in practice, at least with my current formula.)  Because of the opaque bottle, I also can't tell how much more is left in there! 

I've mentioned that K and I spent the year-end holidays staying over with his parents at their home, after a strict 16 days of quarantine for both households before they picked us up and drove us there. We stayed with them for nearly two weeks total, and my skin reacted somewhat oddly to the change in setting.

Please note that this portion of the 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!

In general, the air felt slightly more dry at K's parents house than it usually is at our apartment, maybe from running the heater more. They don't buy or eat as much in the way of dairy products as we do, a change, however temporary, in diet that past experience suggests should improve my acne. And while we were staying with them, I switched back to using Cerave foaming face wash - a trusted part of my routine for several years, though I recently switched to and now prefer the Vanicream gentle facial cleanser because it's less drying - because that was what they had on hand. 

I was a bit mystified that my acne got noticeably worse all of a sudden while we were staying over for the holidays, especially with the diet change that should be helpful. Any new blemishes got significantly more inflamed and healed more slowly than they had been since I started using Curology. I found it very odd, since I thought the change in my skin's condition was so significant that it couldn't be fully explained by the drier air or the switch back to a face cleanser I'd used with no problems for such a long time in the past. 

Now that I've been back home for a while, however, my skin's back to improving noticeably on Curology. Back when I was around three or four weeks in, I'd already started noticing that new blemishes were smaller and healed more quickly, and that trend has continued. My skin is still a little dry and dull-looking some days, but is also still free of the extreme flakiness and irritation that I had back when I was a first-time topical tretinoin user. I might potentially inquire about increasing the potency of either the azelaic acid or tretinoin in my Curology formula for my next refill - which I may not need for four months, since I just received a two-month sized refill bottle, but haven't opened it yet due to still working my way through the first bottle - though I'm also not sure it's necessary to change my formula.