Turning 30 – Thoughts on Housework

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Casual celebration at home! Ignore the mess 😉

It’s storytime!

It was the start of a great day. It was Friday, the last day of school before spring break, and also my 30th birthday. I woke up to sunlight streaming in my window, and felt great. It was going to be a good day! I stumbled out of bed to the kitchen, ready to make my usual breakfast (oatmeal with milk, honey, berries, and nuts), which I eat every day without fail.

In the kitchen, I froze. There was a GIANT PILE of dishes in the sink. I had seen this pile of dishes last night, but I had been expecting that the pile would magically disappear by morning. After all, dishwashing, we’d agreed, was my partner’s job in this household (he even had it on his calendar!), and he had gone to bed later than me with plenty of time to load the dishwasher.

Ugh, I thought, irritated. I’d just have to use a large cup to make my oatmeal, since all of the bowls were dirty. I dumped all the ingredients in the cup, put the cup in the microwave, and set it to heat for 3 minutes, which I knew from past experience was the optimal cooking time.

When the microwave dinged, I opened it up to find all of the oatmeal overflowing out of the cup. Argh! This morning was turning worse and worse. The smaller cup size, compared to my usual bowl, had caused milk to boil out of the cup. I reached out to remove the cup from the microwave and nearly dropped it onto the stove. It was burning! More oatmeal spilled everywhere, and my right hand was throbbing. Great.

I stomped back into the bedroom, angry now at my partner. “Why are there no clean dishes?”, I raged. “Why do I have to wake up on my 30th birthday to dirty dishes and not even have the ability to make my breakfast in peace? Why should I have to deal with this at my age?”. I burst into tears and started crying into the pillow.

Not exactly the best start to the day, and certainly not how I wanted to remember my 30th birthday. But it was memorable, and leads me to something that’s been on my mind lately – housework.

I suppose on its own, missing one day of dishes is not a big deal. I consider myself fairly lax – I don’t mind dishes piling up in the sink for a few days (to the irritation of my college roommates, sorry guys!), but I would certainly get them done once every few days.

S, on the other hand, was even more of a slob than me. When he’d first moved in, we’d agreed that I’d do the cooking, and he’d do the dishes. After some initial friction about the frequency of dishwashing, S had agreed to put dish washing on his calendar, twice a week. Initially, it was good, but after a while, the the calendar reminders got ignored. This led to huge arguments.

What would usually happen is that I would notice the pile of dishes growing larger and larger, encroaching on the counter space, and making cooking or just being in the kitchen a less and less pleasant task. I had two options: either I could bug S repeatedly, which was exhausting on my part, and would lead to responses like “stop nagging”; or I could bottle up my emotions, which was also exhausting, and usually led to an explosion at a later point, with S’ characteristic response being “why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

It was frustrating, to say the least.

Underlying all of this frustration was a sense of unfairness – I felt that I was already doing more household chores (laundry, general tidying, vacuuming), and S was only assigned a single task: dishes. And he couldn’t even do that! I’d like to think that I’m a modern day woman with her own career and independence, and I want equality in my domestic life. But somehow I’d ended up shouldering most of the household burden, like an old-fashioned housewife. I knew that S simply didn’t notice the state of the house and its general cleanliness. (I’m not talking extreme cleaning – I mean things like vacuuming once a month – don’t judge 😛 ) If I didn’t do it, it would never get done. And my taking up the burden was causing resentment on my part and hurting our relationship.

(By the way, I don’t mean to bash S repeatedly. He’s a good person and a fantastic partner in other ways, and I love him for other reasons. But as far as I can tell, he never had to do chores at home, and his personality is a bit scatterbrained in general. He’s the type of person who would forget to respond to a social invitation by email, but would be delighted to show up to the actual event and would be the life of the party. I should also mention that S has exactly the same job title as me, so that’s why I expect him to pick up an equal share of the housework.)

When I look at my own family, I can see this household imbalance, although I didn’t realize it as a kid. I feel positively guilty now when I’m home for the holidays, and my sister, my dad, and I lounge on the couch while my mom spends all evening bustling around the kitchen, cleaning up and preparing food for the next day. Of course, my dad does handle many chores outside of the house (at my mom’s insistence – good job, mom!), but my mom still seems under-appreciated by my family.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. There’s a great Harper’s Bazaar article that went viral a few years ago (Stop Calling Women Nags), and when I read it, I couldn’t stop thinking “yes, that’s exactly how I feel!” or “omg, that situation has happened exactly in our household!” There’s also a New York Times article (Mom: The Designated Worrier) with a similar premise, more centered on childcare (which thankfully, at the moment, we don’t have to deal with). I don’t feel as much of the guilt mentioned by others (An Invincible Summer), but more the burden and weariness of being the only one who cares (enough) to deal with it.

The most full-fledged reflection of my emotions, which I devoured this weekend, is a book called Drop the Ball, by Tiffany Dufu. Dufu talks about her own experience with domestic life while balancing a busy career, her perfectionism with household tasks, and how she gradually learned to let go of perfectionism (hence the title, drop the ball), allowing her partner to pick up the ball and assume some responsibilities as a result. I learned a lot from the book, and one of the most reassuring things was hearing someone else voice exactly the same frustrations/resentments that I feel, and to know that it can get better over time.

So based on the book and my thoughts, there are some action items that I’m going to try:

  • Doing my own laundry only: I used to do both of our laundry, because I thought, well, doing one person’s laundry isn’t that different from doing two peoples’ laundry. But my partner generates way more laundry, and folding takes time. Without doing his laundry, I can halve the amount of time I spend doing laundry. I’ll still do the general household laundry, like sheets and towels.
  • Not doing/reminding about the other person’s tasks: Along with major tasks like dishwashing, there are plenty of minor things that I think each person should be responsible for. For example, putting your own clothes in the laundry basket, or putting away your own dishes after dinner. Just simple things that I would expect from a child, must less an adult partner. Once expectations are clear to both parties, I will not remind or do these tasks, even if they are piling up (this might be tough!).
  • Write down a list of household tasks and divide them: This was one of the things suggested in Dufu’s book. Make a list of tasks, allowing both people to add to the list, and then divide them equitably with discussion. The list can be adapted over time if life circumstances change, but having the list to refer to can hopefully help forestall future arguments. Sort of like an informal contract, in a way.
  • Hire a house cleaner: I’ve heard this advice from sooo many people. We’re lucky enough to be able to afford this. I’d like someone to come in once every two weeks and vacuum, clean the bathrooms and kitchens, and do general dusting. I don’t enjoy this task, and getting my partner to do it is like pulling teeth (I’ve tried!) I have some leads on finding such a person, although this is just another task that gets added to my to do list…

Well, that’s all for today. I didn’t realize I’d write such a long post, veering towards the negative side, but the thoughts really poured out as I started writing! I guess it’s a topic I feel strongly about. And it’s not a topic that I have anyone to discuss with IRL, because my friends/colleagues are not in a similar situation (i.e., their spouse stays at home, or they’re single).

I don’t really have any answers either, as still this is still a work in progress. But I’m optimistic that things can improve, as I think my partner is starting to understand my concerns and wants, at least in theory, to help out more.

How do you handle splitting housework duties in your home? Any tips or suggestions?

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Stress Reduction Goals

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A nice walk in the park this weekend. I love seeing the snow-capped mountains in the distance, juxtaposed against the flowers and trees.

I’ve recently been somewhat distracted from blogging, due to a bunch of factors: stress, a new hobby (making leather goods!), and house hunting. I’m planning a post on each of them, so for this post, I thought I’d focus on the first one.

In general, I don’t mind feeling busy or even slightly stressed if the work is interesting and it’s not an *overwhelming* busy. I think you need a bit of stress in order to produce good work, especially if you’re your own boss, as in my job. You know that “good busy” feeling: you’re in the zone, doing interesting things, churning through your to do list, getting stuff done. Like a boss.

But the beginning of the year kicked my butt. It was a combination of two main things: writing a proposal with four other faculty, and organizing a workshop with another faculty. Both of these involved working extensively with other people, and needed good leadership skills, and people to pitch in and do their part. I was a primary organizer for both of these projects, and didn’t have the easiest experience trying to herd the cats faculty. Part of it was my inexperience leading large projects with senior people involved, and part of it was some people’s lack of contributions. Let’s just say there are certain people who I won’t be choosing to work with again.

Anyway, as a consequence of this, I kind of developed some minor health issues: mainly insomnia, and, uh, women’s health. I would wake up in the middle of the night with feelings of dread, and be unable to fall back asleep. And Aunt Flo stopped visiting regularly, which really freaked me out.

All this made me realize: this is not healthy! I need to slow the heck down. Whatever I was busy with at the beginning of this year, and at the end of last year, was having consequences on my physical health. That’s a scary thought to me, especially in the long term.

So I’ve been thinking a bit about what lifestyle changes can be made, and have tried implementing some of these in practice. Let them be recorded here on the blog in stone, so that I can be held accountable!

Reduced email checking

I’d already disabled work email notifications on my phone and laptop, but I decided to take this one step further, and stop checking work email over the weekends. I first tried this last weekend, and had this vague feeling the whole time that the world was going to collapse and/or multiple people were about to be mad at me for not responding. I know that most of my colleagues are responsive at all hours – I’ve emailed my dept chair at 10pm on a weekday, and gotten an immediate answer. So it was hard for me to let go. But come Monday, guess what happened when I opened my email inbox? A piddly 9 emails came in over the weekend! (most of them spam) I’ve skipped checking email this weekend as well, so hopefully my inbox doesn’t explode come Monday morning 🙂

Light work in the evening

I generally try to do some work in the evening after dinner and an appropriate break, but I’ve been trying to make this light work that doesn’t require much brainpower. For example, grading midterms, or catching up on administrative emails. Nothing complicated that would bring up stressful emotions or get suck me into the work vortex until midnight. When this happened in the past, I’d then require another hour or two to decompress, and only got to bed around 1-2am, which was hurting my sleep, since I tend to wake up early and have trouble sleeping in. So far, this has been effective – I’ve been setting aside certain tasks during the day, and designating them for nighttime when less brainpower is available. This also frees up time during the day to work on more challenging tasks.

Ditching electronics in bed

I used to go to bed with my phone/tablet. I know, I know, this is against every piece of sleep advice out there, but there was always this feeling of just one more blog post to read, or just one more Instagram feed to scroll through. This was definitely impeding my ability to fall asleep quickly. I had to feel dead tired before I could turn off the electronics and close my eyes to pass out. I’ve now switched over to reading a book instead, and the feelings of sleepiness come much faster. (But it can’t be too interesting of a book, as that would defeat the purpose!)

I still want to work on ditching electronics when I wake up. My phone is already located in another room, but somehow my sleepy brain sleep-walks my legs to grab my phone in the morning and bring it back to bed. I feel that I could sleep in better if I didn’t have this automatic instinct to start reading BBC News in the morning. This one will probably be harder to break than the no electronics at night rule, but hey, baby steps, right?

Self-care

Yeah, I know self-care is a big buzzword, but I’m really trying to take it to heart and do things that I enjoy on the weekends. So far, this has included: being a foodie and driving to restaurants in other cities, visiting open houses, the leather crafting hobby that I mentioned above, and taking advantage of our beautiful California winter weather to go hiking. The wildflowers are out in full force! The streams are full of water! The park is across the street from my place, so I really have no excuse. Overall, I want to take that time that used to be spent browsing random websites online, and do things away from the computer for a completely different change of pace.

How do you deal with workplace stress? Have you found that it affects your physical health?

Automating Our Home (Roomba 690 and Nest Thermostat Review)

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Semi-peaceful coexistence between the cat and the robot vacuum.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how much home automation can simplify household chores. There are so many little chores to do around the house, which individually are quite simple, but on their own, can really add up! For example, every night before I go to bed, I clean the cat’s litterbox, feed the cat, turn off the air filter, turn on the air humidifer, and close the curtains. In the morning, these steps are reversed (minus the cat parts). They are little chores, but they do take up a small amount of brainpower every day. With all this talk of automating your personal finances, why not automate your home?

Not all chores are automatable, though. (I wish someone would invent a machine that automatically cleaned the toilet! Or maybe they have?) But I’ve been trying some home automations around the house recently, and thought I’d report on them here.

Electric timers

There are so many “smart” things these days (smart blenders, smart lightbulbs, smart paper towels, and so on…). Most of these I find to be overkill for our household, but I do like the idea of automatic scheduling. So I picked up five electrical outlet timers at Home Depot as a low-key solution. And they’re amazing! They automatically turn on/off the air filter, humidifier, string lights, nightlight, and Christmas tree lights (when applicable). They make me happy. Although it sounds like such a small thing, having all those items switch on and off on their own schedule, without me having to think about it, has been pretty freeing.

Robot vacuum (Roomba 690)

Vacuuming is my favorite chore, not. Cat + carpet (mandated by my condo) + dust allergies is not a good combination, but still I don’t drag out that vacuum often enough. So last Black Friday, we got this Roomba 690 for $250 (the simplest model), and have been using it for the last few months.

The good

  • It picks up visible dirt, and then some. For example, after an hour of vacuuming every other day, it picks up a large handful of dust and pet hair. Although that may not seem like much, it’s better than that dirt sitting on the floor, isn’t it?
  • It runs on a schedule!
  • If I know the Roomba’s going to run that day, it encourages me to tidy things off the floor that it might get stuck on later (like charging cables = Roomba’s nemesis).

The bad

  • It gets stuck pretty often, at least once or twice a run  (rug corners, inside the bathroom when it pushes the door shut). In the several months that I’ve had it, it’s successfully completed an entire run on its own maybe once or twice.  It runs best if I’m home and can rescue it when needed.
  • The smartphone app is pretty buggy in terms of reporting its progress. It works great for controlling it though (and it even syncs up to Alexa, the height of luxury).

Conclusion? A pretty good buy. I wasn’t sure if the Roomba would work well on carpet, but it seems to be picking up a reasonable amount of dirt. One downside is that it’s made me even more lazy about regular vacuuming though, since I feel like Roomba’s taken care of it already.

Smart thermometer (Nest 3rd generation)

I didn’t have as good a reason for getting a smart thermostat, except that the old thermostat was falling off the wall, so I needed to get a replacement at some point. Plus, the Nest looked all fancy and flashy with the turnable knob, so why not give it a shot.

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Nest set to a chilly 18 C. This photos is actually an excuse to show off the hand-painted plates from my in-laws, which were a wedding gift 🙂

The good

  • It works. It’s handy to control the AC/heat when you’re lying in bed, or when you’re away from the house. It’s nice how it only turns on when it senses that you’re home (it knows when you’re home through the smartphone app).
  • It’s easy to schedule. A normal thermostat could do that do, but it’s easier with the app with the pretty user interface.
  • I got a rebate from my utilities company ($50). That’s nice.

The bad

  • The much-touted “learns your schedule and adjusts the heat automatically” feature isn’t very useful. I didn’t find the schedule it learned very accurate, so I just manually set up the schedule instead.

Conclusion? It’s fun to use and used pretty regularly, but a regular thermostat would’ve done just fine. Oh well, it looks cool and it works, so no harm done.

Summary

The outlet timers are amazing, the robot vacuum is pretty useful, and the smart thermostat not so much. If I take a step back and think about all the “gadgets” that we have in this house to reduce household chores, it’s really the traditional appliances, like the laundry machine and dishwasher, that are the greatest time savers. I get such a kick out of sitting on my couch and hearing the laundry machine wash my clothes, or the dishwasher clean the dishes, while I relax in leisure. Am I weird? In any case, thank you, modern technology! But please hurry up and develop that toilet cleaning robot and dish stacking robot right away.

Have you tried any smart devices? Any tips for reducing the amount of little chores around the house?

How to Deal with Racist Comments?

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Essentially my mood right now. There’s a heating pad under the fluffy blanket, and Zuri spends basically all her time lying there in the winter.

Hello world! I’ve had my head down with work for the past month or so, but am back now. An incident recently happened to me that I’m trying to untangle in my mind, so I figured writing about it would be as good a way as any to digest. For context, I’m a visible minority (East Asian) who has been living in a western country since the age of 2.

There’s a grocery store near my house where I pretty regularly stop off. A few months ago, I was zoning out somewhere near the fried chicken section, minding my own business, when a teenage boy with his arm around a girl walked past me, and quietly said a racial slur. The girl said to the boy, “oh my goooosh” in a you’re-so-daring-and-cool kind of tone, and they walked away.

Then last week, after a particularly long day at work, I again stopped by the grocery store and was staring at the frozen pizzas wondering what flavor to take home for dinner (don’t judge!), when two men came up behind me, quietly made a racial comment, and walked away, saying to each other “psych!”.

What are you supposed to do in these kinds of situations? In both cases, I couldn’t believe my ears at first, and wasn’t sure if I had heard them correctly. I followed them, caught up with them, and said “what did you say to me?”. Shifty eyes and awkward looks ensued. In the first case, the teenage boy said “oh I didn’t mean you” and in the second case, one of the men said “it was a mistake”. COME ON PEOPLE.

I was so angry after both incidents, especially after the second time. I know these people are not worth my time, but why do they feel the need to say such things? I guess they like to pick on small, harmless-looking Asian women who presumably don’t speak English and won’t talk back.

Maybe I’ve just been sheltered so far? I’ve lived in a bunch of places in the US (New York City, New Jersey) and around the world (Canada, Hong Kong), and I’ve been lucky enough never to have out-of-the-blue comments made by strangers like this. (Well, except cat-calling, but that’s a whole other post.) Most cases of comments I’ve encountered have been at a milder level, like “ewww your (ethnic food) lunch smells” (middle school), or “what restaurant do your parents own?” (huh?), or “wow, you speak really good English!” (academic conference in grad school), or the dreaded “where are you really from?” (all the time). While jarring, these were less offensive to me because they were made by, in my opinion, well-meaning people, or by children.

But now, living in this small/medium-sized city in California, is where I’ve found these random comments made explicitly. It’s strange, because California has tons of minorities (are Asians even the majority in this state? ha, not sure), so this is the last place I would’ve expected this. I don’t know if it’s the current political climate or what that emboldens these people.

So what is the appropriate response? I vented a bit on Facebook. I vented a bunch to my partner. What should I do next time? Because I’m convinced there will be a next time. Take a picture of them? Demand an apology? Call the store manager?

Oh yeah, and the absurd thing was that in the second case, the two men were also a(nother) visible minority. Is that not sad?

What Does It Cost to Legally Immigrate to the US?

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Seem to have aged backwards a few decades in this photo.

A few weeks ago, we got a very special email from our lawyer. It said: your permanent residency has been approved! Now, we’ve been waiting a while (4 years) for this. After 12 years of living full-time in the US, we can finally skip the long immigration lines at JFK and LAX. Oh glorious day!

This got me to thinking about the pros and cons. I wanted to count: Over the years, how much have we “put in” to the country, and how much do we “get out”? Luckily a lot of the monetary costs were covered by my employer, but it’s still interesting to count it up.

Cost: Monetary

  • Immigration fees: $2000 (covered by employer)
  • Lawyer fees: ~$8000 (covered by employer)
  • Work permit fees over 4 years: $6000 (covered by employer)
  • Doctor’s fees: $250 (out of pocket) to verify that you’ve taken all your vaccinations and don’t have tuberculosis. This is not covered by insurance or even done by normal doctors’ offices, only by special doctors.

So about $10k for the immigration, and $6k to maintain a work visa during the process of immigrating. Seems like a hefty chunk of change! I’m very grateful that my employer covered all of the direct fees. (Most of the big companies will do this, but not the small ones, since it’s an expensive process.) My employer offered $8000 to cover immigration fees as part of the startup package, but we went over, which they graciously still covered. The reason the fees are set so high is that USCIS is self-funded by the fees (so the current government shutdown didn’t affect processing of our application).

In addition to the direct fees, I think as my income tax contributions as an indirect payment to the country. Over 12 years (4 years of working), that totaled:

  • Federal income tax contributions: $67k
  • Social security and Medicare contributions: $22k
  • +State taxes, which I couldn’t find the numbers for

I don’t really have a good sense of monetary scale, but it feels l like I contributed enough to the country to “earn” a permanent residency, although this isn’t counted anywhere officially in the application.

Cost: Time

Dealing with USCIS (the government body that handles immigration) is like dealing with the DMV… except it’s a DMV that has no phone number, public-facing office, or really any human interaction at all (until the very last stage of the process). It’s basically a mysterious address that your lawyers mail huge stacks of paper to, along with a huge cheque. Then you wait 2-9 months for a reply in the mail saying whether your paperwork was accepted or not. And this repeats 2-3 times as you complete different stages of the process.

It took us 4 years to finish the process, which felt so so long. There’s lots of waiting, and uncertainty, and more waiting. There was a point in the process where USCIS made a mistake with our application, and we sent them multiple letters and emails trying to tell them of their mistake, but were met by a wall of silence. So frustrating! /endrant

To be honest, the immigration also sped up our marriage plans. We would’ve gotten married anyway, but doing it earlier rather than later simplified the immigration process for both of us.

On the flip side, there are also advantages to permanent residency, amirite?

Pro: Not getting deported

You can only work for 6 years in the US under a work visa, unless you immigrate. So getting permanent residency is HUGE weight off of our shoulders. We also no longer need to work to be able to live in the country, which is nice. For the past 12 years, it’s been study, study, study, work, work, work. Funemployment break imminent? Unlikely, but who knows 🙂

Pro: Eligible for more opportunities.

Before, there were so many opportunities that I would eagerly be reading about, and then see the dreaded words: “Citizenship or permanent residency required.” Part-time Starbucks job while in school? Not allowed. Scholarships for school? Most likely not. Now with my permanent residency card in hand, I can apply for stuff like government defense research grants, or simple stuff like TSA Pre. It also simplifies financial things like opening a bank account or applying for a mortgage. Woohoo!

Conclusions

Reflecting back while writing this post, I somewhat question why I came to the US.  I think I could’ve stayed in my home country and ended up with a similar career path and salary, plus the social services are way better back home. Out of my friends from home, maybe 10% came to the US and are working here now. I find the American pace of life generally more hectic and stressful, although the salaries are higher to partially make up for that, but probably not completely. But anyway, I am already here and settled, so the US will do nicely for now! Now just to get permanent residency for my siblings, cousins, and great-aunt… just kidding, just kidding.

Next step: US citizenship? Nah, it’s unlikely for me, as I feel a stronger affinity to my home country. My partner may go for citizenship though, as he’s getting tired of trekking to a consulate to a get a visa every time he travels abroad.

Clothing Budget: December 2018

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This month I went shopping crazy! I bought a whole bunch of stuff during Black Friday that didn’t arrive til December, and also took advantage of post-Christmas sales and random mall browsing while on vacation. Back home we have Boxing Day, which is the day after Christmas which is full good sales. They don’t have it officially in the US, but there is still good stuff to be found. I also found some good replacements for older favorites that have worn out, so overall I’m happy.

Since there are a lot of items, I’ll try not to write an essay about each of them 😛

Shoes

  • Black flats (LK Bennett, $70): As I mentioned in a previous post, I’d been looking for some new black flats. I was super impressed when these showed up. In the online photos, it just looked like a plain pair of flats, but the cut is really… elegant, is how I would describe it. It’s an almond toe without toe cleavage. The quality feels rock solid, although time will tell.
  • Sneakers (Nike, $65): My old Nikes were a few years old. I can definitely tell the difference with this new pair – there is more arch support and traction.

Clothes

  • Sweater blazer (J. Crew, $90): After seeing this on a million blogs, I finally tried it on in store. So far I’ve really enjoyed wearing this – comfy yet polished.
  • Olive pants (Lululemon, $40): I was looking for a pair of olive work pants to replace a worn-out favorite pair from H&M. Who would’ve thought that Lululemon would be a  good place to find work pants?
  • Sports tee (Lululemon, $40): Lululemon was a madhouse when we went right after Christmas, since they rarely have good sales. In the same trip, I got this tee, and the sweatpants below.
  • Sweatpants (Lululemon $65): Not really a need, but you can’t really go wrong with a nice pair of sweatpants that you can actually wear out. The cut is somewhere in between a legging and a sweatpant, although the material is definitely sweatpant.
  • Long-sleeve top (MEC, $20): This tee is amazing! The quality is excellent, way better than my Banana Republic and Everlane tees. The cut is a good basic (slim, not too low-cut, long). I’m definitely going to stock up next time I visit Canada.
  • Linen top (Zara, $25): My mom and sister wanted to go to Zara, so I tagged along. I wasn’t planning to buy anything, and was just absentmindedly touching clothes on the rack, when I felt this linen top. I love linen, and the quality felt reasonable.
  • Black tank (Old Navy, $5): I saw on Sherry from Young House Love (one of my favorite clothing-related posts ever, have re-read multiple times). I like the high-neck cut that is trendy this year, and might pick up more tanks in this cut.
  • Lace tank (A&F, $15): I’ve been looking for a lacey nighty-style cami after seeing the silk version from Cami NYC and the Nordstrom knockoff. Surprisingly, A&F has pretty cute styles! It’s a little low-cut for me though.

Accessories

  • Earrings (Mejuri, $65): I’ve been liking the styles at Mejuri. The sapphire is a lot smaller than I expected, but I like dainty jewelry, so it’s all good.I also have this pair of hoop earrings.
  • Wristlet (Duluth Trading Company, $35): I really wish I had stocked up on wristlets when they were popular a few years ago. Now it seems like everything is pouches/clutches, without a wrist strap. This was my first time ordering from Duluth, and I really like the solid feeling of the full-grain leather.
  • Leather belt (Duluth Trading Company, $35): Replacing a cheapie old belt from H&M. Solid and serviceable.

Winter 2019 budget: $300 – $560 = -$260

Oops, went quite a bit over! Many of the items were replacements / necessities, though, so I don’t feel too guilty. Thank u, next month (as the young folk say 😉 ).

As a reward for reading to the end of this long shopping post, check out this adorable video about a vet and his cats. Commenters compare him to Bob Ross because of his soothing voice and interactions with the cats. This video came up because I took my cat to the vet recently for the first time, and the vet was so amazing at handling her calmly. I came home and started browsing YouTube to see how it’s done, and ended up watching a whole bunch of cat videos, ending up on this one.

Books Lately

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Although I claimed to be super busy over the past few months, I somehow did find the time to read a bit. My recent preferences have definitely been for autobiographies, so if you have any recommendations, I’m all ears!

Becoming – Michelle Obama

I listened to this as an audiobook (mostly while driving to a work event in Arizona), and it was really great. Just really, really great. For one thing, it’s read aloud by Michelle Obama herself. And secondly, after hearing about her and her family’s devotion to public service (she went from private law to the non-profit/public sector), it really changed my perspective on the importance of public service. I’m ashamed of saying this, but I always had a tough time answering those “what have you done for your community?” type scholarship application questions, and considered them somewhat lame. Even now, on research proposals we write to the National Science Foundation, there’s a page or so where you’re supposed to describe your project’s impact on the community, but most people (myself guiltily included) treat it was a throwaway section and mostly write some boilerplate about doing outreach events with local high schools.

But listening to the way that she described service as a high calling… I think I get it now (at least better than before). Yes, we should drive ourselves to produce the best technical work/ideas that we can, but helping others along the way can have just as much or even more impact on society. I’m very grateful that, even if some people consider it extraneous, my job does give brownie points for community service. I’m not saying that we should do it just for the brownie points, but rather if we go out and do these things (like high school camps, which I’ve done a few of), those things are counted (in a minor way) by the tenure and promotions committee. I don’t know if that’s true in other professions – for example, would a tech company care if an employee was doing STEM outreach, and reward that?

In my mind, that’s one interesting thing about the American education system – for scholarship applications, while grades surely matter, so does service. Yes, it can end up being a throwaway (e.g., “I went to South America for a week and helped build two toilets”, which my younger sister did), but at least it encourages people to start thinking about service. When I see my foreign students, they really don’t have that mentality at all – it’s all grades, grades, grades.

Anyway, that was a bit of a digression from the book itself, but that’s the train of thought where it led me – it was very thought-provoking. The book also talks about her growing up in Chicago, experiences going from there to an elite university, and transition into political life. Highly recommend!

Born a Crime – Trevor Noah

I don’t have nearly as many deep thoughts about this one, but just reading about his upbringing was pretty eye-opening to me. The apartheid conditions when he was born, the conditions under which he grew up, the economic environment, the challenges he overcame… all these serious issues presented, somehow, in a hilarious and lighthearted way. I grew up in basically the opposite environment: first-world country, educated family, opportunities to succeed. Reading about the kinds of conditions that people grew up in (and overcame) is just mind-boggling and inspiring.