New Quarantine Habits

Whew, it’s been a hot minute. All this stay at home business, though, has gotten me thinking about this ol’ blog again! So much has happened in year since I last wrote. Mainly career-wise.

Basically there is a really important award for junior faculty, and if you get it, you are basically set. Maybe about 20% of junior faculty receive it. I never in a million years thought I would get it, but on my second try this year, I did! The difference in my work-related stress levels is like night and day. I feel like a newborn baby. It’s basically validation of all my research ideas and the effort I’ve put into the last 4 years of being an assistant prof. And it feels amazing!!! Tenure should be in the bag now (knock on wood).

Along with feeling way more relaxed about my career, one of the reasons I stopped writing was I had gotten weirdly obsessed with checking my blog metrics (like page count), and it was stressing me out to try to write “good” posts/comments and track how well the blog was doing. I know, I know, it sounds silly for this tiny personal blog, but I guess that’s the Type A part of my personality coming out. Anyway, I deleted the WordPress app from my tablet and am making a promise to myself not to check any blog metrics, and just enjoy the act of writing and sharing my thoughts with the world!

For this post, I wanted to collect (and document for future me) some thoughts on the whole stay-at-home thing, what I’ve been up to, and how it’s changed my lifestyle and habits. As a white collar worker, I’ve been really lucky not to be severely affected by the current state of affairs. Besides working and teaching from home (which is a whole other story), we haven’t had any furloughs or other major lifestyle restrictions. (Although furloughs are likely coming given the university’s budget shortfalls.) It’s been a good time for self-reflection and resetting. So here’s what’s changed so far for me, the good and the bad.

The Good

Lots of sewing

Being home all the time has resulted in lots of sewing time. I’m all sewed out for a bit now, to be honest. But here’s what I made during this recent spurt of productivity:

  • The brown duster is my fave! It can be worn both open and closed, and has that robe-y style that is oh-so-popular now (or am I outdated).
  • The navy skirt is a basic that will be a workhouse in my wardrobe (why is it so hard to find a good, simple skirt??)
  • The white wrap blouse (inspired by MM Lafleur’s Deneuve blouse) is honestly not that great. It looks OK in the photo, but in reality it’s kind of blousy and pirate-y. Oh well, despite that expensive silk noil material, it might bite the dust.
  • The pink jacket (sans buttons, for now), was inspired by the recent flooding of chore jackets on the market. I saw one from Madewell that I think subconsciously influenced me to make this. Yay trends.
  • The aprons are well, aprons. My old one was a souvenir from China which I’m pretty sure was kids size, so I wanted to upgrade. One of the aprons is for my sister, who’s in college and becoming quite the cook herself 🙂

Cooking upgraded

So much cooking… I’m tired. S is pretty useless in the kitchen, so it’s been all on me. Because of all this eating at home, I upgraded my CSA box to come once a week, instead of every two weeks. I also discovered juicing! It’s a great way to use up all these random veggies that come in the CSA box, which was a major source of guilt before I got the juicer. There is way less food waste this way. Leftover lettuce juice? Zucchini juice? I know, it sounds weird, but throw in an apple or a beet, and it all tastes good!

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Some strange juice mix.

Early bird + gym

I have been discovering that I am, in fact, an early bird. I’m not sure if this is a pro or a con (I’ll also talk about it later below in “The Bad” section), but I’ve been waking up at 6-7am almost every day, without an alarm clock, filled energy and the need to jump out of bed. This has led to very productive mornings before settling down to work – gym, household errands, cooking leisurely breakfasts – all things that I never did before. It really makes you feel accomplished to get a bunch of stuff done before 9am!

Speaking of gym, with the school gym being shut down, I’ve been making do at home. Dumbbells are sold out everywhere, so my dumbbells are now my pots and my laundry detergent 🙂 Thank goodness I already had this pullup bar, a yoga mat, and the stretchy elastics. The IKEA stool has also turned out very useful to do exercises requiring platforms of different heights. After many months of training (starting pre-quarantine), I’m finally able to do one non-assisted chin-up!!! It feels amazing, and I can actually see  the shape of biceps and triceps on my arm (wut). For someone who’s always been the typical “skinny Asian girl” with no muscles, this feels amazing. Now to get that second chin-up…

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At home gym

Plant lady

I’ve also accumulated quite the collection of plants. Some of them are evacuees from my office, and others are just… well… more plants. I’ve also been on a planter buying spree from Target, and have way more planters than plants now. Will have to return them later. My current favorite (although you shouldn’t pick favorites from your plant children, right?) is the rubber tree. I saw it in the store and thought it looked kind of like that home blogger favorite, the fiddle leaf fig, but is supposed to be much easier to care for. I love the leaf shape and color.

And isn’t that scenery outside gorgeous? The bougainvillea (I think that’s what it is) blooms for probably half the year here… I love it.

The Bad

Insomnia

Like I said earlier, I wake up every morning filled with adrenaline/energy, and can’t go back to sleep. The energy’s not all positive, though… it seems almost like nervous energy, and I don’t feel very good. I think this got triggered from the early stages of the pandemic, when I would wake up and compulsively reach for my phone to check the latest virus statistics. Although I’ve calmed down a lot lately (and thankfully the pandemic also seems to have), I need to break this habit and be able to sleep in again. I’m going to try meditation, which I’ve been doing on-and-off for the past year (mostly off).

Elbow/neck pain

All this working from home has been very comfortable in terms of being able to take useful/productive breaks (laundry in between meetings, anyone?), but it’s been killer for my neck and elbow. I first noticed this during my home workouts, when I started feeling some elbow pain in my right arm during push-ups. I don’t think this is a good sign, given my relatively young age. I think this is from poor posture when using my mouse, so this past weekend, I went to my office and stole my chair back (after getting appropriate permission). I hope this will help solve the issue. This was also part of the motivation for my chin-up exercise routine, as I’m trying to strengthen my back/chest muscles to improve posture.

I’m also planning to order a standing desk, because it looks like we’re going to be working from home for a while. The latest rumours don’t even have us being fully on campus in the fall quarter 😮 So I want the home office to be in good shape.

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Finally have my work chair at home!

How are you handling the stay at home measures? Have you formed any new personal habits?

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”?

PSA: Avoid Online Advertising By Changing Your Settings

My name is Jess, and I’m an online shopaholic. Well, not exactly, but mildly shopaholic maybe. And if you’re like me, you want to reduce the amount of online advertising you’re exposed to. Have you had the scenario where you’ve been stalking a product, managed to talk yourself out of it, and decisively closed the tab; then a few days later, you open up your Instagram for some mindless relaxation, and in that moment of weakness, the same product is staring you in the face?

This happened to me way too many times. I want products to be out of sight, so they’ll be out of mind. The less I can be reminded of potentially buy-able products, the better. But these pesky ads kept following me around different websites, different devices, and different apps. Please, I don’t want to see cashmere wraps in my Facebook! No Birkenstocks in my Instagram!Read More »

Hand-Washing My Wedding Dress

As I talked about before, we were lucky enough to have two weddings: one in the US, and one in the Middle East with my partner’s family. I wanted to wear the same dress for both, but being a giant feather duster, the dress picked up quite a bit of dirt after the first wedding and needed a good cleaning. (This is the same dress I later sold on eBay.) As someone who basically avoids the dry-cleaner like the plague, and wasn’t very confident about our local dry cleaner’s ability to handle wedding dresses, I decided to do some research and hand-wash my wedding dress at home in my bathtub. This is my experience! (Please note that your results may vary, and you should do some thorough research before proceeding based on your particular dress design.)Read More »

PSA: Test Your Car Headlights!

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The picture that started it all.

The other day, I was lounging productively on the sofa, when my friend texted me. “Hey! Come check out the Lunar New Year festival!” followed by a picture of my favorite thing, lion dance. I got off my lazy butt, hopped in the car, and drove downtown. After spending a sunny afternoon wandering around and catching up, night had fallen, and I got in my car to drive home. As I pulled out, I saw a dreaded thing in the rearview mirror: flashing blue lights. I pulled over.Read More »

The Economics of Knitting

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Comparison of scarf options.

I learned to knit during high school. I wouldn’t say I enjoy the process of knitting itself, but I like being able to create something exactly to my specifications, and the satisfaction from the finished product. During a de-cluttering purge a few years ago, though, I got rid of all my knitting materials, because I hadn’t touched them in a while.

But recently, I was on a hunt for a new scarf. I knew what I wanted: chunky, infinity (circle) style, and dark red / burgundy color. I used to have one from Old Navy that was the right color and style, but I didn’t like the quality (it didn’t have that fluffy feeling), so I donated it. I hunted around for a replacement, and found this LL Bean one with a pretty lace pattern and ombre effect, but I didn’t want to shell out $36 for an acrylic scarf. What’s a girl to do? I decided to knit my own! I found this pattern from Stuff Steph Does that had the right look. I wanted to answer the question: Is it worth it, economically, to knit something instead of buying it ready-made from a store?Read More »