Fun with Leather Crafting

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My workspace is slowly consuming the dining table…

A recent hobby over the past few months, which has been distracting me from blogging, has been leather crafting! Leather crafting is basically the creation small leather goods (like bags or wallets) out of leather, similar to sewing things from scratch, in that you need to cut pieces of a pattern out and stitch them together. It turns out to be surprisingly easy to get started and produce decent-quality goods. So in this post, I wanted to write about my recent fun times with leather crafting, some of the stuff I’ve made, and how it compares to stuff you can buy off-the-shelf in stores.

How on earth did I get into this? Well, it started with some late-night Googling (the beginning of all great adventures) looking for reviews on the Celine belt bag. I stumbled across this Medium post by Alana, who made a Celine bag knockoff, which I found really interesting. I had no idea it was possible to create these kinds of goods was possible without production-level equipment! From there, I started searching for other reviews that talked about bags from a leather quality/construction perspective, and found The Leather Crafter’s blog. She talks about her experience going to leather school in Italy and also reviews other luxury bags. It was super interesting to me that these traditional handicrafts are still being taught.

From there, I was hooked. I started obsessively watching YouTube videos from leather crafting experts (Ian Atkinson and Hahns Atelier are my favorites for their soothing music/voice and detailed tutorials). There’s also a reasonably active Reddit community, r/leathercraft.

From my observations, there are several types of leather goods that the leather crafting community focuses on. There are the more traditional goods, like knife sheaths, gun holsters, or horse saddles, sometimes with beautiful elaborate patterns carved into them. More suitable to my lifestyle are more generic items, like belts or wallets. I was especially interested in doing recreations of leather goods that you could buy in a store, which looked (to my untrained eyes at least) to have relatively simple design (think of something like the Mansur Gavriel bucket bag). So I definitely wanted to focus on the second category.

I’m not up to making a full-fledged bag yet, though! To hone my skills, I decided to start with a couple of smaller items. First, I had to get ahold of some general tools and supplies. Some of them I purchased, and some of which I already had:

  • Soft-touch hammer:  $8
  • Chisel: $15
  • Thread: $7
  • Needles: $8
  • Four kinds of dye/sealant: $30 total
  • Belt hole punch: already owned
  • Exacto knife: already owned
  • TOTAL: $68

So not cheap, by any means! But I guess any hobby has startup costs. And I had researched leather crafting extensively for several weeks before making any purchases, so I felt reasonably that this wasn’t going to be a waste of money, where I would quickly tire of my new hobby.

Belt

I’ve been missing a nice leather belt. I did order a black one from Duluth Trading a few months ago, which is serviceable, but a bit too wide for my tastes (1+3/8″).  I think a slimmer belt is more versatile (can be worn at both the waist and the hips), and is also more proportional on my body type. A leather belt was listed as one of the beginner projects in my leathercraft book, so I figured I’d try it.

To make the belt, I needed the following raw materials:

  • Belt strap (precut): $5
  • Belt buckle: $2.63

After a few curses and much stabbed fingers, here was the outcome:

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Tan 1″ leather belt.

Verdict: For $8, I like it! It looks perfectly normal and like something that you could purchase off-the-shelf. The slight exception is that the small “keeper” strap near the buckle is a little crooked, due to some construction errors, but I’m trying not to be a perfectionist 🙂 Also, the leather dents a little more than previous belts I’ve bought (particularly where the belt holes intersect with the buckle), but I chalk that up to the type of leather that I used. It took me a few hours to make this, but I expect that it would be much faster next time.

Comparison to commercial product: I think it’s just as nice as the one I purchased from Duluth ($35)! And it’s customized to my preferred length, width, and color. If I used a higher grade of leather, like the bridle leather used in the Blake Goods belt that Goblin Shark wrote about, the total cost of my DIY version would be ~$25. I’ve purchased a few more belt straps since then to make gifts for S and my dad.

Midori Traveler’s notebook

I love using notebooks to write down to do lists, random thoughts, and meeting notes. I don’t exactly follow the bullet journal method, but use notebooks more as a dump for random thoughts. Especially at nighttime, when my thoughts are sometimes racing and preventing me from sleeping, I find it really calming to write things down, to “lock them away” for tomorrow.

Somehow I always have a collection of fairly nice blank notebooks (gifts from students, freebies at conferences, etc.). But I was hankering after a nice leather version. I heard somewhere about these Midori Traveler’s notebooks, and thought it would be a good leather project. This was actually the first thing I made.

Materials I consumed:

  • Leather: 25% of  a $60 double shoulder, so let’s say $15
  • Notebook insert: $3
  • Elastic thread: $10 for the whole spool

Verdict: I’ve been using this so far to keep track of new leather projects (ha!). It’s been working great so far. I keep getting more free notebooks (nice quality ones, too), so it’ll be a while before this becomes my primary notebook. But I like the style of these traveler’s notebook, and they feel sturdy.

Comparison to commercial product: A Midori notebook from the store is about $50, and an unbranded versions on Amazon is $30. I estimate the cost of this one to be ~$20.

Passport wallet

I was always one of those people who scoffed at the idea of a passport wallet. Why would I need *another* case to store a passport, which already has a sturdy cover? But after one too many times of forgetting my immigration documents to enter the US, I decided that keeping all the documents together would be a good idea. Hence, the passport wallet, which can store my passport, green card, and (hopefully, pending approval) Global Entry card.

In addition to the general supplies/tools mentioned above, I just had to purchase some leather for this. I used some pieces of scrap from a $15 bundle of scrap, so let’s say $5 of that was used for this project.

Verdict: This was the second project I made, and I think it went fairly well. The tan dye turned out how I wanted it, and in person it has a nice sheen. If you look closely at the pics, you’ll see that my stitching is a bit wobbly. But it fits the cards and the passport snugly, which is the main point.

Comparison to commercial product: Madewell has a passport wallet for $30, which, IMO, looks much less nice (more boxy and less refined). I like mine better, heh.

Laptop sleeve

My new laptop (a Lenovo Carbon X1) was slightly longer than my old 13″ Macbook Pro, so I had a hard time stuffing it into my old sleeves. I’ve always liked fancy hipster laptop sleeves, so I decided to try making my own. This was my most ambitious project to date, and needed a larger piece of leather than before. I estimate I paid about $45 for the leather I needed. I made up a custom pattern based on the size of my laptop.

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Modeling the laptop sleeve. In the background is my new Birdling backpacker (review to come).

Verdict: It’s a bit snug because I made it too small! The first time I put my laptop inside, I nearly couldn’t get it out again. Now it’s loosened up a bit, but it’s still tight. Normally, I don’t mind taking a few extra seconds (like 10 seconds) to wriggle the laptop out. However, I’ve had some embarrassing experiences in the TSA line at the airport. Never again!

To be honest, I’m not sure if I would make a laptop sleeve out of leather again. Although it feels sturdy, it doesn’t provide much protection to jolts. Maybe I should’ve put in some kind of fuzzy lining as padding. It’s also HEAVY! This is a real pain when traveling. If there’s a next time, I would use some thinner leather and maybe felt lining.

Summary

This post is getting mega long, so I’ll just wrap up with some other miscellaneous items I made. One is a case for my sunglasses (cheapie ones from Amazon), and the other is a leather curtain pull for the curtain that divides my bathroom from my bedroom. (Why is there no door?? Seems to be a common architectural “feature” in this area.)

In summary, I’ve really been enjoying leather crafting so far. Beyond the planned items I talked about above, it’s nice to know that  I can make small things that satisfy useful needs. For instance, I recently bought a stainless steel reusable straw (regular AND boba size, hipster cred++), and rather than looking for a custom-fit case, I’ll just quickly whip one up out of scrap leather. The curtain pull was another example of something that was super simple to make, but which I would’ve spent way too long online searching for a commercial alternative. I think it looks pretty high-end, if I do say so myself.

By the way, in the above posts, I don’t want to sound obsessed with the cost of the DIY vs commercial versions of these products. I’m aware that products cost more in the store because of operational costs, labor, etc. I haven’t factored in the cost of my labor into the cost estimates above, because I consider working on these projects as mental relaxation, so the time spent is a benefit in my mind, not a cost 🙂

Have you DIY-ed anything recently? Ever see any store products make you think, “I could make it better”?

My Condo Buying Experience + Closing Costs + Mini-Tour

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View from the balcony. Flowers are out in full force this spring!

Recently, house buying has been on my brain! I bought my condo three years ago, but last year, S finally moved in, so the 1000 square feet of space seems to have shrunk a fair bit. “No, I would not like to watch Avengers at 12:30am on a Tuesday night, so could you please turn down the volume?!” 😛

I’ve been house hunting a bit recently, and that got me thinking back to my condo purchase, and the uncertainty and excitement of the process, as well as the random fees. So I thought I would write down how it all happened, things I learned, a breakdown of those pesky closing costs, and what I’m planning to do differently this time around. I’ll also show some interior photos for posterity’s sake! (plus, play “find the cat” in every photo!)

1. Browse to narrow down the choices

Since I was new to California and to my city, I didn’t have a clue about the really fine-grained stuff that matters when buying a property – which neighborhoods are safe, which are walkable, which are new/old, which are near to good grocery stores, etc. Stuff that you can’t find out just by reading online statistics about an area – you actually have to visit the places in person to get a feel for things. So the majority of my time initially was spent browsing real estate websites (Redfin is my favorite), and visiting  open houses in prospective areas.

At first, this was really overwhelming – so many choices! But gradually after seeing a tons of options, my preferences started to bubble to the top. I realized I wanted a 2-bedroom condo,  relatively new for easy maintenance (built in 2000+), somewhat upscale (e.g., granite counter tops), and close to the university (for future rental purposes, since I eventually wanted to upgrade to a house).

With those preferences in mind, the number of possible choices dropped dramatically, and there was basically only one condo complex that satisfied all my criteria. So I settled in to wait for the unit to be listed.

What I  would do differently this time: Nothing. Just remember to be patient with the process, and your personal criteria will eventually become apparent, and feel “right”.

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My favorite room in the house: bedroom! The tan hua plant went kinda wild over there in the corner. The photo above the bed is from our wedding (printed poster-size at Costco).

2. Find a good real estate agent

Ohhh boy. This was where I really went wrong the first time. I asked my colleagues for agent recommendations, and one colleague recommended me an agent called B. B was about my age and seemed really friendly and helpful, so I figured I’d work with her.

B was indeed very friendly and nice, and did her best to help. But I later realized that she was a newbie agent, and was also the girlfriend of my colleague (which was not disclosed by my colleague until later, ugh). You can tell this story isn’t going to end well!

My first offer was a unit that I found in my desired condo complex. I emailed B and set up a meeting to go over the offer paperwork. As a first time buyer, I had a lot of questions. For example, if I backed out after X days, how much money would I get back? How long was the mortgage contingency? What did this particular clause in the paperwork mean? Maybe I’m a detail fanatic, but I like to know what I’m signing for in a large purchase! B basically read back the clauses to me verbatim, and upon my pressing her to explain things in layman terms, responded “I’m not a lawyer”. Pfffft.

Anyway, needless to say, that offer didn’t work out! By the time we submitted the offer, the property was gone. I feel this was an issue on B’s part, as I had asked her at the beginning to contact the selling agent and get a feel for how competitive the bidding would be, and whether there were other offers on the property. She didn’t do that, and had no idea how competitive the process would be, hence we were late. OK, /endrant

Anyway, it was awkward disentangling myself from B, since she was my colleague’s girlfriend, but it had to be done. I told her I was taking a break from house buying, and left it at that. Meanwhile, I met another agent, J, at an open house. She had a ton of good reviews on Redfin/Zillow, and also had purchased/sold many properties in the exact condo complex I was interested in, so I decided to continue my search with her.

What I would do differently this time: Don’t be a part of another agent’s learning curve! (I read this somewhere on another agent’s website, heh). Find an experienced agent in your area who will negotiate on your behalf.

As a side note, I’ve also heard good things about OpenListings from a colleague who recently used them. OpenListings is an online startup where they assign you a local agent, and they give you back half of the commission. I feel that with information dissemination on the Internet today, the value of a real estate agent is much less than in the past. Don’t get me wrong, you still need a good agent, but 3% commission ($7000 in my case) seems like hefty sum of money for the amount of work they do. I’m considering trying OpenListings for my next house purchase. But please correct me down in the comments if you disagree! (PS: not sponsored or anything, this is just my personal opinion.)

3. Swoop in quick on the desired property

For me, the hardest part of the house buying process was knowing what I want. Once I know what I want, it’s just a matter of patiently waiting for the right property to come on the market, then swooping in on it quickly once it appears.

My new agent J emailed me one morning to tell me about a property that had just been listed in my desired condo complex. I went to see it on the same day, and it looked good. It had been used as a rental for the past few years, but was in decent condition. It also had a great view of the canyon, although it was a little closer to the road than I liked. After thinking about it overnight, and discussing with my family, I decided to make an offer. We had the paperwork filled out the next day (with all my contingency questions answered fully by J!), and made an offer at full price.

A few days later, I got the notice that we had won, and were officially in escrow! I later found out that there was another offer on the property for $5k less in cash, but the seller still went with me because I was a reliable buyer in terms of mortgage risk.

What I would do differently: Nothing. Just make sure to be quick on the good properties, they won’t last long.

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Second bedroom, which is for guests and also doubles as a home office. The sign in the corner says “I work hard so my cat can have a better life”. Truth.

4. Lots of paperwork and inspections

J was fantastic and helped me with everything! She scheduled the inspection and several repair quotes (HVAC, carpet) to negotiate repairs with the seller. She recommended what items to push for and not to push for in the negotiations, and was aggressive on my behalf. I appreciate that, as I think I’m not the most aggressive person.

The rest of the process went pretty smoothly once we had agreed on the necessary repairs. It was just a matter of responding to information requests from the mortgage broker or real estate agent when needed. All the forms were electronic, which was great. Although with the amount of forms I signed, I could’ve signed away my left pinky toe to drug smugglers, and I still wouldn’t know it…

What I would do differently: Nothing. Again, as in step 2, just making sure the agent is good and on top of things. The agent can schedule inspections, repairs, etc., so that you don’t have to chase around those details.

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Living room. The carpet was one of the first things I replaced in the condo, as the seller refused to fix it (the old one was wrinkled and stained.) My favorite part of the room are the plants next to the window, they make me happy.

5. Pay up the monies and close

At long last, we were done with escrow! Next came the final closing costs and title transfer. You typically read online that the closing costs will be 2-5% of the total purchase price. I was curious, and dug through my old records to see how much it cost. In my case, it came to about 3% of the total purchase price.

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Closing costs

Some of the fees made sense (e.g., flood certification, credit report), while others seemed like a money gouge. Why $500 for a house appraisal? What is a $50 document preparation fee? $20 audit fee? Fees, fees, and more fees. Oh well, when you’re making a huge purchase, they slip in all these little fees, and you can’t be bothered. There was also an additional ~$2000 (not shown in the screenshot above) for prepayment of property taxes, HOA, and other necessary things.

It was pretty nerve-wracking sending the final closing costs through a wire transfer. I got all these scary notices from the escrow company saying to double-check the wire numbers and to call if there was any confusion, because apparently there were cases in the past where people accidentally wired large sums of money (i.e., their down payment) to scammers.

Another issue that came up was that I was actually out of town for work on the closing date! So I had to sign and notarize all the final forms in a UPS office in downtown DC and fax them over. It wasn’t exactly the most glamorous or exciting experience. My friends told me that at their closing, there are hugs and celebrations all around, although that sounds a bit useless anyway, so maybe I’m glad to have skipped that 😉

What I would do differently: I would be more aware of the timeline so I could be in town at closing, and do a final inspection. I might also consider negotiating all those darn fees, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the hassle, or if the fees are even negotiable.

Summary

Anyway, that’s the end of my condo purchasing story! I bought it for $230k, and Redfin now estimates that it’s worth $270k, so I think that’s reasonable appreciation over the last 3 years. In terms of finances, my parents gave me the down payment ($50k), for which I’m very grateful – thanks mom and dad! I’ve been mostly happily living there since then and gradually making small home improvements, which has been very rewarding. But that’s a story for another day.

Do you think the commission of real estate agents is fair value? How do you narrow down what property you like? Any general house buying tips or struggles?

Clothing Budget: January & February 2019

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Clothing budget time! Despite being rather silent on the blog, my credit card has still been active 🙂 These are mostly purchases that I’ve been thinking about for a while, or replacements for old items, so I feel confident that they’ll get good use. I didn’t shop at all in March (woo!), and a bit in April, so I’ll be catching up with those budgets shortly.

I also started keeping a Pinterest wishlist, inspired by Xin. So far, it’s been helping me clear all the shopping thoughts out of my overstuffed brain. Plus, seeing a pictoral representation of all my wishlist items made me realize: I’m really into black and white?

Anyway, on to the shopping!

  • Sweater coat (Madewell, $110): I bought this as a longer version of my J Crew sweater blazer, which has gotten lots of use over the winter. Lots of reviews said that the Madewell version pilled, which I’m sad to say is quite true. But not as bad as I was expecting! A regular sweater shaving clears it up nicely. The coat is weighty in a comforting way, and it’s the right thickness for our California winters.
  • Cigarette jeans (Everlane, $80): I had two pairs of J Brand Maria skinny jeans, one in dark blue and one in black, but for some reason I found that the black ones irritated my skin, and tended to collect visible, um, skin flakes quite rapidly (I wash my jeans every couple of wears). I also wanted to change to a more straight leg cigarette style. After liking my Everlane skinny jeans quite a lot, I decided to try their cigarette jeans. Pros: They look nice and the stretch is comfortable. Cons: They’re unsurprisingly not as nice quality as the J Brands (the fabric is  rougher to the touch), the inseam is too short for my tastes (just above the ankle), and they have an annoying button fly that I didn’t expect. But they’re definitely serviceable.
  • Maxi dress (Revolve, $40): We’re going to a wedding in the Bay Area this month! And the dress code is black tie?! I didn’t really want to splurge on a dress for one-time use, so I browsed a whole bunch on Rent the Runway, where there were some decent options. But then this purple chiffon maxi dress caught my eye, somewhere deep in the sale section at Revolve. Still need to get it hemmed though.
  • Necklace (Mejuri, $65): This is my catching up with the coin necklace trend. My old “everyday” necklaces from Nordstrom was tarnishing, so I needed a replacement. I’ve found this Mejuri necklace quite versatile so far, although it was a bit smaller than I expected from the pics (seems like a common trend with Mejuri. Minimalist style = tiny). I’m also recently liking the Mejuri Iris necklace, which has more of an “antique” vibe, but I don’t know if I really need two coin necklaces…
  • Sandals (Cole Haan, $100): My old sandals were looking quite worn down, so I figured it was time for a refresh. Although I’m not a big fan of the “toe thong” type sandals (is that appropriate terminology? 😛 ), Kat‘s praise convinced me to try these out. I haven’t worn them out and about yet, as it’s still not yet hot enough here, but they feel very cushy. I like how the metallic horizontal strap blends is close to skin-tone, so it blends in rather than cutting off the foot.

Overall, that brings us to:

Winter 2019 budget: $300 – $560 – $110 – $270 = -$640

Which is quite a lot! I may have been overly optimistic with my $1200 budget for the year, lol. I’ve just allocated another $800 in YNAB to bring it up to $2000 for the year, which is about how much I spent in previous years. Wish me luck 🙂

 

 

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?

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?