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?

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.

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 😛 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 might  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?

Money Story of an International Student in the US

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American money needs some more color!

You’ve always heard of these great schools in the US. Although education is publicly funded in your home country, you want to see the world and try your chances in the  uber-rich United States. If you’re successful, you will be covered in wreaths of glory whenever you return home 😉 . How does one make it in the United States? (aka, the story of my financial journey in the US told in the second person)

  1. You need to get accepted to an American university. For undergraduate admissions, there’s a weird balance – on one hand, schools like the extra revenue that international students bring in; and on the other hand, they want to limit the number of foreign students, to preserve the character of the school and because some of their funding is tied to residents only. (The percentage of international students at my alma mater was ~10%.)
  2. You need to find money to go to an American university. With the sky-high tuition, US schools are so expensive! Are they even worth it? All these online websites and personal finance blogs (ok, not really, I didn’t read personal finance blogs back as a high school student) advocate applying for scholarships. But most schools don’t have scholarships for international students unless you’re a Math Olympiad genius. There are a veeeery few exceptions for some liberal arts schools and Ivy League schools.
  3. Luckily, you got accepted! And you’re not paying too much, through some combination of financial aid and student loans from your home country. You show up on-campus and being a good millennial, realize you need a smartphone. You head to AT&T and find out that because you have no SSN and thus no credit history, you have to pay a $500 deposit for the phone. You also record “00000” as your zip code, which will forever cause you problems whenever you’re trying to verify your account information to a customer service rep 😛
  4. After your first semester, you look for a job to help fund your education. Since you’re international, your visa severely limits your search to on-campus jobs (also, no work-study). Through a friend, you find one! But you need to get paid. You head to the sketchy SSN office in Harlem and sit there for hours waiting to be called. You get assigned a number that will follow you around for the rest of your time in the States.
  5. Meanwhile, you’ve been steadily using your debit card but want to get a credit card. You’ve heard about something called “credit score” that seems to be something useful. You apply for several credit cards advertised specially for students, but nope, denied for all of them because in the eyes of the banks, you don’t have any credit history (catch-22!). You get a secured credit card instead by putting $300 down.
  6. You graduated, yay! Since the economy sucks (go 2010), you decide to go to grad school. You receive a small stipend from your advisor since you are studying a STEM field. But you can’t apply for any of those nice National Science Foundation scholarships because they’re restricted to US citizens only.
  7. You go to fill out your taxes, and realize you’ve been here for 5 years and thus become a resident alien for tax purposes. This means that you are taxed at slightly higher rates than before. But you’re still a non-resident for immigration purposes, boo. You still have to wait in the long-ass lines at JFK when entering the country, since you can’t use the automated machines.
  8. You want to pay back your student loan using some of the education fund that your parents invested for you back in your home country (similar to a 529 fund). But because of the unfriendly US tax code, you are charged taxes on its earnings as a foreign trust, basically removing the original tax advantages of the fund.
  9. You graduated grad school and found a job! You’ve finally made it! Happily settled, you start the legal immigration process for the US. 3 years and $10,000 in lawyer’s fees later (luckily paid by your employer), your application is still stuck in the quagmire known as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. You keep waiting… and waiting… and waiting…

Now, in all seriousness, I know some of the things I said here are trivial. For many international students, going to US for school is a dream that so many other factors have to come together for. Also, I grew up in a first-world country, and didn’t have to face additional barriers, like language, culture, money, and family support, that “true” international students have to face. I see my own PhD students (who are from China and Iran) facing the challenges above, and many more. But I wrote this post as a reminder of the little things that long-time residents of the US, like myself, take for granted.

Have you ever been a stranger in a foreign land? How did you handle “starting up” your banking/credit accounts?

The Financial Downsides of Our Marriage

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His and hers wallets. Nom nom nom.

The benefits of marriage / co-habitating are well-known: shared living costs, combined incomes, improved health in the long term, and so on. I love my partner and we got married about a year ago (for non-financial reasons 😛 ) But as an exercise, I decided to estimate how our finances have changed after marriage. It turns out that in our case, there are severe financial penalties to getting married. I had vaguely known about before, but it was kind of shocking to see the hard numbers as I wrote this post. Here we go.

Read More »

Getting Married in the Middle East

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Post-wedding sightseeing.

I’m from a multicultural background. I’m ethnically Asian, grew up in a Western country, and moved to the US for school + work, where I’ve been living for the past 10+ years. I love reading blogs about cultural differences (A Cup of Jo‘s motherhood series comes to mind), so in this post, I thought I’d share some of my experiences. In particular, my experience having a wedding in the Middle East.Read More »

Surviving a Long-Distance Relationship as a Grad Student

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Visiting the Grand Canyon together.

Today, a big life change is happening. My partner is finally moving in! Although we got married last year, we’ve never lived together for a long period of time. The reason? School and jobs. For 3 years, we were students on opposite coasts of the US, and for 2 years after that, we had jobs in different cities. We finally sorted out the job situation (it’s common issue for academic couples, since there aren’t many university positions), and he’s showing up tomorrow! I wanted to write down how we made long-distance work for so long, and my hopes and fears for finally living together.Read More »

Thoughts on Being a Female Academic in STEM

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My lovely office.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. I did my undergraduate and graduate degrees in STEM, and am currently a tenure-track faculty in the same field. So far, I’ve spent a total of 12 years of my life in STEM (basically since high school).

There aren’t many women in STEM. In my particular sub-field, I would estimate 5-10%. How was my experience? I wanted to dedicate this post to sharing some of my observations from the past 12 years.
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Welcome to the blog!

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Hi, and welcome to my blog! I’m JC, and this is my little corner of the Internet. By day, I’m a professor at a research university, and by night, I write about a variety of extracurricular interests. These interests range from fashion to personal finance to home improvement.

The name of this blog comes from one of my favorite quotes, by Oliver Sacks in his New York Times article: “Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”

A bit morbid perhaps; but hey, it’s hard to come up with a unique blog name that isn’t “justanotherblog308498.wordpress.com”.

The pic on the right is me saying hi, from a recent vacation in Mexico.

Thanks for stopping by!