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!