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.

(Long Overdue) Clothing Budget: Fall 2018

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Hellooo fall.

Work has been so busy lately that I haven’t had much time to shop, read blogs, or update this clothing budget series. I really just need a breather! I don’t think I’ve had a completely work-free weekend since the summer. The whole semester felt like I was running around frantically, putting out fires everywhere. No relaxing Saturday mornings with a cup of tea and my favorite armchair to work on this ol’ blog. But thankfully things have finally lightened off a bit. Proposals are written, papers are submitted… now just 50 final exams and projects to grade, lol. With the end of the year coming up quick, I figured it was time to summarize my fall 2018 shopping. Here we go!

  • Wrap blouse (Ann Taylor. $30): This is top is amazeballs! Itย  reminds me of the Fey top from MM Lafleur, but it has a bit of wool in it, so it’s quite warm. I wear it with a Uniqlo Heattech top underneath, and it feels nearly as warm as a proper sweater, despite being thinner by design. The drape is lovely with the bit of wool content. I hope they more colors next year! I’m even considering purchasing the pink color this year, and I never normally buy duplicates. Now that I have this top, I’m considering the MM Lafleur Soho skirt to go with it and complete the bodycon evil witch look ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • Wrap skirt (Ann Taylor, $70): Hm, another wrap design… what can I say, I like wraps! I normally love purple, but somehow this skirt is not integrating into my wardrobe as well as I thought it would. I’ve only worn it once since I got it. The skirt is a bit heavy and a tad too large for me, so it’s not as flattering as I thought.
  • Wool miniskirt (Uniqlo, $30): I like wearing these with my knee-high black suede boots. I was concerned that this would look too schoolgirl for a grown woman, but it’s not too tight, and reasonably long enough to look fine.
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On the chopping block.

Normally that would be the end of my post, but that would be pretty short, so I figured I’d talk about some things that I donated or sold. To do this, I dusted off the ol’ eBay account and listed a few things:

  • Lululemon backpack: I gushed about this in August’s budget, but after using it for a month, I’ve found the lack of interior pockets is a deal-breaker. I still love the comfort of the straps and the overall roominess. But it’s missing some more smaller pockets on the inside to hold keys, chapstick, pens, etc. The interior is also pitch black, so I’m constantly fishing around for things in the one giant compartment.Bought for: $110, one month ago. Sold for: $100. This one had very few watchers/views, but bidding ramped up quick at the end, so I was pleasantly surprised by the final sell price.
  • Madewell transport backpack: I bought this a few years ago after being inspired by Emma Stone’s style (love her street style!). I still really do like this, but it doesn’t fit my current 13″ laptop, which is again a deal-breaker. And I can’t think of that many other occasions where I need to carry a large backpack around. The only other leather laptop backpack I’ve found is the Cuyana Large Backpack, but I’m not that fond of the style. It looks like a copy of the Mansur Gavriel backpack, but with pockets. The search for the perfect laptop backpack continues…Bought for: $200 a few years ago. Sold for: $90. This one had a lot of views/watchers at the beginning, but after an initial burst, bidding was quite slow. I was expecting a slightly high final sell price, but I suppose the age of the bag and a couple of markings counted against it.
  • Lush long-sleeve blouses: I bought two of these blouses on the recommendation of Putting Me Together, one in red, and one in olive. I did like them, but eventually some oil stains got on there, and wouldn’t come off. With more expensive fabrics like silk, I find the stains can be washed off or absorbed into the fabric and aren’t that visible, while with cheaper polyester like these blouses, the stain just sits on top and can’t be removed. Donated.

And that’s a wrap for the year! (I count my “shopping year” as December to November, inclusive.)ย  The total for the season is:

Fall 2018 budget:ย $300ย  – $130 = $170

I did buy stuff around Black Friday but I’ll include that in next month’s post. In total this year, I spent $1350 on shopping for clothes, shoes, and accessories. My past years were about $2000-3000, so I consider this good progress! I’m working a summary post with tons of statistics from my last 5 years of shopping (I’m an Excel-o-holic, ok? ๐Ÿ™‚ ).

Life Updates

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My Halloween costume this year was a fuzzy leopard print onesie from Forever 21. Comfort is key; gone are the revealing costumes of my past ๐Ÿ˜› This onsie is definitely gonna get good use this winter, too!

I’ve never done of these “journal” type posts, but since it’s been a while since I blogged (whoops!), I figured I’d write a bit about what’s been going on lately. Things have been super busy lately (I know, I know more excuses), but the reason is that there’s a big National Science Foundation deadline every fall around now that keeps everyone up at night. I even saw some of the tenured profs in the office this weekend! Sigh, my job is basically constant fundraising to support my research.

So besides work that’s burning up my brain, what else has been up?

Permanent residency interview

Our green card interview is tomorrow, yippee! It’s been a long haul. I was flipping through my old passport and saw my first entry into the US was in 2006, woah! 12 years of my adult life here now. Fingers crossed that all goes well at the interview tomorrow. I never want to wait in a customs line at the airport again.

As a side note relating to permanent residency/citizenship, I realized have never been able to exercise my civic duty to vote – sad, right? The reason is that I moved to the US to go to university when I was 17, before I could vote, and after a few years, I lost the right to vote in my home country because I was no longer a resident there. And of course I couldn’t vote in the US, not being a citizen.

The other day on campus I overheard a conversation between two undergrads about the midterm elections:
– Girl A: “Are you voting?”
– Boy B: “Nah, it doesn’t make a difference anyway, it’s just one vote.”

Come on, guys, that’s sad! If you have the right to vote, use it! Maybe I should’ve said something…

Performance review

Another recent event was my merit/promotions review. In my university, this happens every two years, and the third time (after 6 years) is your tenure review (eep!). This was my second time, so I have 2 more years to tenure. The salary bump associated with each merit is on a fixed, university-wide scale, and is about $5k at my junior level.

The way it works is that you submit a record of everything you have done in the past two years (students advised, papers published, grants awarded, teaching evaluations, etc.). Probably the most important thing is the number and quality of publications. Then the rest of the department faculty sits in a room and they discuss your progress and whether you have done enough.

In my case, the feedback was essentially “you’re doing fine, but step on the gas pedal for tenure”. Which was not exactly what I had been expecting in my own self-evaluation (I thought I was doing a bit better than that). It kind of threw me off for a day, since it’s hard to hear direct feedback, and I’ve been working pretty hard, but unfortunately the results have yet to show up in terms of papers and grants. Oh well, I’d rather have that feedback now rather than in two years’ time. Onward! Harder, better, faster stronger.

Shopping for black flats

On a more fun note, let’s talk shoes. Now, everyone and their suburban mom has the Tory Burch Revas, but I’m happy/sad to report that mine are completely worn out. Sad because, well, they wore out (after 4 years of moderate use). I even took them to the cobbler, and he recommended I replace them rather than attempting a repair. Happy because, well, it’s fun to shop for a replacement!

My requirements are: black, minimal embellishment, leather, almond toe preferred. None of that new-fangled loafer or pointy toed stuff. (I do look pointed toe flats, but not in black – it looks too witchy to me). Here were my top contenders:

  • AGL – These have really good reviews in terms of comfort, but they look kinda grandma to me. I think it’s the shiny buckle that provides too much contrast with the cap toe.
  • Repetto Cendrillon – This seems to be the OG ballet flat. I like the simple look, but the Interwebs reports widespread durability issues.
  • Ferragamo My Joy – The Ferragamo Varas I have are not my favorite in terms of style, but the quality is definitely fantastic. These My Joys are from the same brand and seem a bit more casual. The gathered square toe is kinda interesting.
  • Taryn Rose Rosa – In a moment of craziness, I looked at the Chanel flats, which I actually really like the look of, but no way am I paying $750 for shoes. I’d never heard of the Taryn Rose brand, but they look like a good dupe, and they’re supposed to be comfortable because they’re designed by an orthopedic surgeon (although I’m dubious if that’s really a strong credential – operating on someone seems rather different from manufacturing shoes). I also like the non shiny version.
  • Cole Haan Tali – I have a pair of Cole Haan sandals that are super comfortable, and I’ve had great customer service experiences with Cole Haan stores (they replaced a broken pouch of mine for free). I bet these would be really comfortable, and I think that Xin had a pair she liked. However, I’m not sure sure about the bow, it might be a tad too formal for me. I’m leaning more towards a simpler (boring?) style they carry, the Manhattan.

I mightย  have to hike over to a real store at some point (gasp!) to try them on in person. The bottom three are probably the top contenders, with the best balance of comfort, price, and preferred style. But there’s no rush. I’ll continue to wear my existing shoes to the ground in the meantime.

Well, that’s it for my update! How do you deal with performance reviews at work? Any black flat suggestions?

Adventures in DIY Haircuts

I’ve been to a range of haircut places in my life, and have found that I prefer old-school Asian places – the worse English skills, the better ๐Ÿ™‚ Not because of cost (although they are definitely cheaper), but because they know how to tame my very thick, slightly wavy Asian hair. I remember going to a fancy hair salon near my school once that cost me ~$70, which was a lot for an undergrad student at the time, and the lady basically spent half the time blow-drying my hair instead of cutting it. The best haircut of my life was at the Flying Shears salon in Hong Kong, which seemed ordinary at the time of cut, but grew out beautifully and lasted longer than any other haircut I’d ever had. My standard haircut was from a random place I picked out on Pell St. in NYC, which gave me reliably average cuts, without frills or appointment needed.

After moving to current city a couple of years ago, I was on the search for a new haircut place. There were some disappointments initially: a popular hairdresser on Instagram who turned out to be a one-hit wonder and couldn’t cut other styles; and an Asian place that seemed to have the right ingredients on the surface, but was too disorganized to keep up with appointments. I did find one good place that I would return to, but it was a solid 35-minute drive away. What’s a girl to do?

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#metoo and Power Imbalances in Academia

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Hello, Miss. I’m Dr. Monster.

Whew, it’s been a hot minute, what with the quarter starting up, proposals to write, paper reviews to submit, etc… To kick things back off on the blog, let’s start with a very fun and lighthearted topic (not) that’s been on my mind lately: sexual misconduct in academia, particularly in cases where there’s an imbalance of power (e.g., a prof and a student).

The reason that this has been on my mind is that over the past year, there’s been a drama playing out at my former grad school. There was a prof who was put on probation after sexual misconduct claims with his own grad student (inappropriate touching), and later dismissed after discovery of a consensual relationship with another student. This guy was a huge giant in his field. Without him, along with several other recent personnel losses, the department is a shell of itself in that research area.

This incident got me to thinking – how common are these cases? To clarify, I consider a case as consensual or non-consensual interactions between two people of different standing in the same institution (most often a prof and a student). In STEM and academia, these cases generally involve a male prof (age 30-60) interacting with a female grad student (age 30ish)

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What are the most expensive things you’ve ever bought?

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My most expensive items.

For this post, I thought it’d be fun to look at the most expensive things I’ve ever bought in my life. By listing them together irrespective of category, I wanted to see the equivalence between different items or categories of items, and the opportunity cost of my dollars. Is a luxury item really the same cost as a household appliance? Let’s find out! Note that I’m counting physical goods only, not services or repair.Read More »

Not Perfect Linen Review

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Not Perfect Linen skirt and scarf.

California is hot, hot hot. I grew up in the northeast, and sure it does get hot and humid there, but nothin’ like California. I know people say that humidity is bad, but I swear the dry heat out here is even worse. The sun…. it burnsss… *Gollum impression*

So my wardrobe has slowly been adapting to the heat in the form of lots and lots of hats (you’re welcome, mom) and linen. I’ve been using linen sheets on my bed, and it’s heavenly, and also bought a few linen tops from Everlane and J Crew. I first heard about Knock Knock Linen on JENKR, and from there found a whole bunch of Lithuanian linen sellers on Etsy, all of them with a similar rustic sort of aesthetic. I eventually ended up ordering a skirt and scarf from Not Perfect Linen, and here’s my review!

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Luxury Shopping with My Mom

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My one stab at luxury: a Chanel wallet-on-a-chain bag. Besides my condo and car, the third most expensive purchase I’ve ever made ๐Ÿ™‚

(Btw, there was a glitch with my RSS feed over the weekend. You might’ve seen an incomplete post accidentally published, grr.)

Back in August, I was visiting my family when my mom suddenly expressed a desire to purchase a luxury handbag. Now, my mom’s not exactly a regular luxury purchaser – she used to be a big fan of Walmart bags, and gradually migrated over the last 10 years or so to Nine West and now Coach-levelย  bags. There isn’t much opportunity to purchase or appreciate luxury handbags in the small-mid-sized city where my parents currently live – the lifestyle there is probably more geared towards hiking than Hermes.

What prompted her desire for a luxury handbag? I think it was her recent visits to China – there, people are much more sensitive to brands and to “face“, and my mom didn’t want to appear cheap. Whether that’s a good reason or not, it’s not for me to judge, but I’d guess it’s a common driver of luxury purchases.

At that time, we were visiting Montreal, which has a good collection of the luxury storesย  – think Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Prada, etc. I like seeing all the pretty things, so of course I agreed to accompany her. I didn’t really know what to expect – my one luxury handbag, the Chanel bag pictured above, was a gift from S when we were dating. To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive – I was imagining snooty, elegant salespeople vs my mom, who is more… direct and hands-on, with both the bags and the price, if you can imagine ๐Ÿ™‚

Anyway, we first hit up Louis Vuitton, because, well, that LV checker pattern is ubiquitous and thus my mom knew it. The store had all kinds of trendy new models on display, but since I know *a little* bit about luxury bags from my blog reading, I asked the saleslady to show her the more classic Speedy and the Neverfull models. My mom’s major complaint with these “revered” ๐Ÿ˜‰ classics was “more pockets! these bags don’t have any pockets inside!” So we exited the store without credit card damage,.

We next headed up the street to the Hermes shop. My mom had never heard of Hermes, but I pointed out an oddly-colored Kelly on display and whispered to her that it is one of the most expensive bags in the world. A Mandarin-speaking saleslady came over, which was helpful (good staffing for overseas tourists, I suppose). The saleslady had one white glove on, Michael Jackson style, which I found hilarious. My mom asked if she also had to wear a glove to touch the bag, but luckily the saleslady allowed us to touch the bag with our greasy paws ๐Ÿ˜›

Since she wasn’t very familiar with the brand (“how will people recognize it’s a Hermes bag?”), my mom nixed Hermes and we left the store and went upstairs to Chanel. There, the most intimidating saleslady I had met all day was standing there, all French and fancy looking. I immediately felt self-conscious about the state of my fingernails and eyebrows. But she turned out to be very nice and helpful! She didn’t mind at all my mom’s window shopping and numerous questions. The store had a couple of the classic flap bags, but my mom deemed them too small and too pricey (~$4000, compared to the LV which were more around the $2000 range).

The little luxury mall we were in also had smaller brand displays, along with the standalone stores that we had already visited. So I took the opportunity to ogle the other bags and introduce my mom to some other brands, like Celine and YSL. (My current fave, in the unlikely event of me making a luxury purchase, is the Celine Classic Box or the Mansur Gavriel north south tote.) Unfortunately, the number of choices led to bewilderment on the part of my mom, who had mostly been aware of LV, Chanel, and Gucci up til then. She massaged a couple of other luxury bags and agreed they were equally nice as the LV and Chanel she had been liking up til now. What’s the difference, she asked?

Then, to really open up a can of worms, I told her about the resale website, TheRealReal. She decided to go back to the hotel and check out the options and prices online. We spent the rest of the afternoon browsing the website, and guess how that ended? Well, if the number of choices in store was bewildering, then browsing online led to real decision paralysis.

So in the end, what was the result of our afternoon of window shopping? Take a guess… My mom didn’t end up purchasing anything! Too many brands, too many styles, too many colors, too many prices… she decided to continue checking the resale website and see if anything popped up that really struck her fancy.ย  And what did I get out of it, besides a lot of FitBit steps? A very pleasant afternoon spent window shopping with my mom ๐Ÿ™‚

Do you enjoy the process of shopping as much as the purchase? Have you ever felt intimidated in luxury shops? Do certain bags jump out at you from a sea of choices?

Clothing Budget: August 2018

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The goods.

My Not Perfect Linen order came! Yayy! Actually, it came while I was on vacation, so I put a vacation hold mail notice at the post office, which worked out perfectly. Wouldn’t want that stuff sitting around on my doorstep or getting returned all the way to Lithuana (yikes!). I’ll do a full review soon, but so far it’s been awesome.

  • Linen scarf (Not Perfect Linen, $30): A nice summer scarf. It’s not quite big enough for a wrap (when did that trend of huge scarves start, anyway?), but it’s perfectly airy for hot days and low-cut dresses that you want to cover up a bit.
  • Linen skirt (Not Perfect Linen, $70): I bought the “dark graphite” color, which is a little lighter than the photograph above. At first I thought it was a little too peasant-ish, with the linen fabric and the slightly schoolmarm style, but it’s grown on me. Plus my style is a bit 1950s anyway. So hard to find good quality, longer skirts with pockets!
  • Exercise top (Under Armour, $30): After last month, I promised myself not to buy any more items for my trip to Peru, but I really wanted a long-sleeve exercise top to wear under my fleece while hiking. It ended up being quite neon, more than I expected/prefer. I think I can pull it off for now, but I think in 10-20 years, all those neon clothes will be going to the donation bin :/
  • Dress (Madewell, $25): Ah, random Internet browsing. I’ve cut down a lot on random browsing online, but sometimes one gets through ๐Ÿ˜› It’s a trendy midi length, very comfy, and a really pretty dark heather green (doesn’t show up in the photo well). I actually saw another girl wearing it on the street, with a completely different body type, and it looked great on her too. The online reviewers say that the shape changes horribly after washing, though. Let’s see, fingers crossed…
  • Work backpack (Lululemon, $115): After reading Xin’s post on professional backpacks, and flip-flopping between various options (including the Cuyana one, leather being fine out here in sunny California), I was visiting Canada and got tempted by the excellent exchange rate. After accounting for taxes, it worked out to ~$25 off compared to the US. Anyway, I like the color and the clean design (the straps don’t dangle), and somehow the fit is really excellent. I can’t say what it is exactly, but it feels more snug to my body – maybe it was designed for women specifically? The downside is that there aren’t enough interior pockets, so things end up getting lost in the cavernous main compartment.

In other purchases, I re-stocked my Drunk Elephant Vitamin C serum during the Sephora sale. The color of the serum in my new bottle is definitely lighter orange than my old bottle, which means the old one was getting ineffective. I stopped using the serum for the 2 weeks when I was traveling, as I have this weird idea in my head that my skin occasionally needs a “break” from these active products. No scientific basis at all, though. I resolutely did not order any other beauty products, as I’m waiting for my current products to run out. Next up on the replacement list is a new sunscreen (thinking of the Biore one), but apart from that I really have no excuse to be purchasing any skincare/makeup products.

Summer 2018 budget:ย $300 โ€“ย  $155 (June) – $110 (July) – $270 (August) = -$235

Oops, way over. Spent my entire budget for the year, and I still have until end of November to go. I’m not going to beat myself up over it, though, since I set a pretty tight limit this year, and I think I’m doing fairly well overall compared to previous years. I’m actually thinking of switching to a quantity-based budget rather than a monetary budget. I feel like my current system is encouraging me to purchase cheap stuff, instead of quality stuff, to stay under budget. Or maybe this whole budgeting thing is a load of tosh, but at least it forces me to think a little more about what I’m shopping.

Peru Travel Diary

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Petting a llama at Machu Picchu!

Hola! It’s been a while! For the past 2 weeks, we were on vacation in Peru and Canada, so there was a lack of activity here on the blog. I had intended to schedule a few more posts while I was gone, but those plans didn’t exactly come to fruition. Anyway, I figured I’d do a little recap of our Peru trip.

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