Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Job I Took (Delayed Post)

I left law firm life for an in-house role at a government agency. My role involves negotiating and documenting investments. There is a fair amount of substantive overlap with my prior work.

Here are the pros and cons I identified during the interview process with updates (in italics) as to how I perceive each issue now that I've been on the job for six months.


  • Interesting work that would make use of my current skill set, but also require building out skills in a new practice area. This has held true. I like that an assignment involving a deal type that is newer to me is often followed by a deal type I know cold. It's an ideal mix that makes me feel like I'm growing while maintaining confidence. However, learning now substantive areas of the law is much more challenging without the support a firm offers (both in terms of resources and partner expertise).
  • Investing is at the core of this agency's work. I'm convinced that the best in-house opportunities with a given organization are the roles that most closely align with that organization's lead profit center (the tip of the spear, so to speak). My current role fits this description, but there is still a need to improve the business people's perception of their counterparts in legal. (One very senior person in the organization was overheard saying that the agency doesn't need lawyers because the business team can negotiate their own documents just as well--despite that I have observed first-hand that this isn't true, it's a problem that this perception exists at senior levels in the organization.)
  • Collegiality. Many times during my orientation, employees emphasized a culture of niceness. With very few exceptions, this has held true. What a welcome change!
  • Predicable work schedule with reasonable hours. This is the chief reason I went in house, so it's important that the promise of reasonable hours has been kept. I've worked past midnight once--for a project involving the managers of multiple profit centers that needed to wrap up quickly after six months of work. I generally do not check my email on weekends and leave work at a reasonable hour. As a result of my reasonable work schedule, I've been able to sleep regularly, exercise regularly and spend more time on hobbies.
  • Fantastic location. Words cannot describe what a relief it was to stop commuting to and from Dallas. I generally drive to work, but have walked a few times.
  • Pay. Law firms increased associate pay during my first week at the new job and I experienced some pangs of jealousy. Having said that, my new salary is equal to my prior law firm salary if you take commuting and lodging expenses, significantly cheaper benefits and pension into account. 
  • Defined benefit plan. We are required to contribute 7.7% of our gross salary to the plan. This reduces cash flow, but I would be saving that money anyway. Ultimately, I'm optimistic that participating in this plan will be a wonderful thing for my future, but there are plenty of horror stories out there so I continue to max out my pre- and post-tax savings opportunities. I save at least 50% of my salary each month.


  • Unpaid maternity leave. This still frustrates me given that I didn't have a chance to participate in big law's generous parental leave programs. The solve here is to stockpile vacation and sick days (a solution that comes with its own frustrations).

Issues that I didn't emphasize during my decision making process that were/are important (in no particular order):

  • New employees aren't eligible for healthcare benefits until they've worked for the agency for 60 days. The solve is to rely on COBRA benefits from your prior job and start your job at the agency immediately after your last day at your prior job. (A helpful Twitter friend pointed out that you have up to 60 days to elect to pay for COBRA and, even if you enroll on day 60, your coverage is retroactive to day 1, which saved me a bundle of money.) 
  • New employees aren't eligible to use vacation days until they've worked at the agency for six months. I've never had an employer with a rule like this so it was a surprise to me.
  • I became eligible to work from home one day a week after six months on the job. The agency didn't flag this as a perk during the interview process, but it's something I appreciate.
  • No longer keeping time notes matters for surprising reasons. There are many reasons that I'm thankful I no longer track and record my workday in six minute increments, but I was surprised to find that I concentrate much better now that I'm not keeping time. It turns out I had been in a constant state of worry as to whether I was spending too much or too little time on any given task.
  • I have a manager with boundaries. At the firm, it always felt like we were competing to see who could be more accommodating or sacrifice more of their personal life. My new manager is so good at setting boundaries with our internal clients that it was almost uncomfortable at first. My life is much better for it.

All in all, I'm happy with my new job. My quality of life during the last six months has been better than any other time in my life since graduating from the JD/MBA program. I feel very fortunate.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Getting Fit

One of my goals for the year was to visit the gym at least 50 times. I set this goal while I was still at the firm and commuting between Austin and Dallas each week. For the first half of the year, I was struggling to get to the gym even once per weekend. I was just so tired and so burnt out.

Then I left law firm life. Without question, there was time to get fit.

For the first few weeks, I enjoyed jogging on a treadmill in the air conditioned gym. Soon, though, I found myself just walking on the treadmill so I could simultaneously read my latest book on loan from the public library's electronic bookshelf. My workouts lacked intensity--some days I didn't even break a sweat.

That's when I downloaded the Peloton app and started using a bike in my gym's empty spin studio to take spin classes. Although I like spinning, I'd never taken too many classes because at $25+ per class spinning felt like a special treat not something I could afford to turn into a habit. Unlimited access to the Peloton app, by comparison, cost $19.49/month plus tax as of the date of this writing. At this price I could (did and still do) take a spin class every day of the week.

Two weeks into working with the app and I could feel tone in my muscles for the first time in a long while. I lost a little weight, but most importantly, I was awash in beta endorphins that gave me a sense of well being around the clock. I was hooked. And relieved.

In the 15 months prior, I had subsisted on Diet Coke and french fries (literally--this is what I would pick up from the McDonald's drive through on my way from the office in Dallas to the motel where I stayed during the week), worked out sporadically with little intensity, and spent nearly all my time sitting at a desk or in my car while working or commuting. I'd had a miscarriage that resulted in the loss of so much blood that I needed a blood transfusion. I'd been hit from behind and knocked off my feet by a SUV while walking across the street. I'd been rear ended in what was a serious car accident. And, for the first time in my life, the results of basic lab work drawn at my annual physical looked bad. Long story short, I was in terrible shape.

I had started to believe that I had already experienced the best health I would experience during my lifetime. That I had let things go to far.

I'm so happy I was wrong.

I'm so grateful that my body has turned out to be more resilient than I anticipated.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

12 Books in 2018 (Part 2)

Part 1 is available here.

I loved reading as a child and young adult. It set me on a path towards a liberal arts major in college and, ultimately, law school. As an attorney, I read hundreds of pages of material every week, but it's not the sort of stuff that sparks the imagination.

So, when I was pulling together a list of goals for 2018, I decided to read 12 books this year just for fun.

To facilitate this, armed with last year's library card and a hand-me-down iPad, I downloaded the Libby app, linked it to my library card number, and unlocked a universe of ebooks. Incredible! I am in love with this tool that makes the library's collection so accessible.

Here are six books that I've read just for fun during the second half of 2018:

  • Hunger by Roxane Gay. About all the invisible things that influence and flow from the authors relationship with food and her body. 
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. A story about finding worth at the end of life when you're feeling left behind by the ones you love. This tugged at my heartstrings because I have worried a great deal while watching my grandfather struggle with the death of my grandmother.
  • Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman.  I came back for a third novel by Backman--a spinoff of My Grandmother Asked me to tell you She's Sorry. American popular culture largely ignores the elderly. Each of the three Backman novels that I read this year were led by an older, if not elderly, character. I enjoyed this shift of perspective. (Backman is a Swede.)
I finished this goal earlier than expected (no doubt as a result of moving from a law firm to in-house role at work). During what remains of 2018 I plan to focus on non-fiction. Have you read any good books lately? Some of the best recommendations I've received in the last ten or so years have come through this blog or #lawtwitter.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

New Dessert/Bread Recipes

One of my 2018 goals is to try six new-to-me dessert or bread recipes. Mission accomplished! In order of increasing complexity:

1. Carrot Cake

I have lost count of the number of times I've repeated this recipe in 2018. Nearly all of the ingredients are pantry staples. Have a leftover carrot or two? Make this! No cream cheese for the frosting? No worries. The cake is tasty on it's own.

This cake is petite (the red dish pictured above measures 5" x 7"). By my appetite, that's four servings per cake--just enough to be worth the effort without so much that it goes stale before you can eat it.

This recipe can be found in America's Test Kitchen's Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook.

2. Molasses Spice Cookies

Don't let the name fool you--these are gingersnaps. I love a crispy store bought gingersnap, but had never tasted a variation of the cookie that was crisp on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. This is a new favorite that I plan on including in my holiday baking traditions.

This recipe can be found in America's Test Kitchen's Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook.

3. Maple Pecan Scone

I tried this recipe at the beginning of the year because I had a bag of pecans left over from holiday baking. The recipe yields four scones. After toasting the pecans, the dough can be assembled in a small food processor, then plunked onto a sheet of parchment, hand shaped, sliced into four wedges and transferred to a cookie sheet (just pick up the piece of parchment and plop it on top of the cookie sheet to keep things simple) to be placed in the oven. The glaze is made of maple syrup, powdered sugar and a splash of water. You'll never open your wallet for a stale Starbucks scone again!

This recipe can be found in America's Test Kitchen's Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook along with cranberry/orange and ginger variations that I look forward to trying in the future.

4. Soft Pretzels

Not my first attempt at homemade soft pretzels, but certainly my first successful attempt. I give all the credit to the recipe, which explained that, once shaped, each pretzel should be dipped in boiling water spiked with baking soda before going into the oven. This extra step makes all the difference.

This recipe can be found on the Pioneer Woman's website.

5. Fig Newtons

I've never tried a Fig Newton, but there's someone special in my life that adores them. When Smitten Kitchen posted her Fig Newton recipe days before this someone special's birthday, I knew I was meant to give this recipe a try. (Trader Joe's will have sticky dried figs you need in just the right quantity.) Piping the fig filling and rolling the dough around that filling was a challenge, but the cookies tasted great in the end.

6. Sticky Buns

Holy hell, this was a labor intensive recipe. First, there are the chopped and toasted pecans. Don't let them burn! Second, there's a yeasted dough that you let rise for two separate 1.5-2 hr periods. Next, there's a from-scratch caramel sauce. (Caramel sauce has gotten less intimidating since I purchased a candy thermometer, but it's still a bit daunting.) Then, there's shaping and slicing the buns. (Pro tip from America's Test Kitchen: use a piece of dental floss to slice the buns and they'll retain a picture perfect swirl.) Finally, there's flipping over a hot pan that contains scalding caramel sauce in order to turn the buns out onto a serving dish. If you make it through, you'll end up with stick buns that would make Cinnabon swoon.

This recipe can be found in America's Test Kitchen's Baking Illustrated.

I'll challenge myself to try six new dessert recipes next year. I love the perceived progress that comes with building up my repertoire of recipes, the novelty of trying new foods and the joy of discovering a new technique that elevates the recipe's results from mediocre to memorable.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Bucilla Christmas Ornament (Airplane Santa)

I just finished making this Christmas ornament, most of the materials for which were included in the kit for the Airplane Santa Bucilla Christmas stocking that I made last winter. Finishing small craft projects like this one gives me a sense of control and progress, feelings that can be hard to come by in other areas of life. The sequins seem a bit cheesy, but I bet I'll like the way they sparkle under the lights on the Christmas tree.

As with the Christmas stocking, the instructions for this ornament call for tagboard to be inserted in the wings and tail fins of the plane to provide structure and dimension. Due to the small size of the ornament, I found that old business cards served perfectly.

Here's a look at the matching stocking:

Bucilla has plenty of cute stocking designs, but I'm partial to this one!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

12 Books in 2018 (Part 1)

I loved reading as a child and young adult. It set me on a path towards a liberal arts major in college and, ultimately, law school. As an attorney, I read hundreds of pages of material every week, but it's not the sort of stuff that sparks the imagination.

So, when I was pulling together a list of goals for 2018, I decided to read 12 books this year just for fun.

To facilitate this, armed with last year's library card and a hand-me-down iPad, I downloaded the Libby app, linked it to my library card number, and unlocked a universe of ebooks. Incredible! I am in love with this tool that makes the library's collection so accessible.

Here are six books that I've read just for fun during the first half of 2018:

  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. There's a lot of pride in the prose. As with most tragedies, I was full of frustration with the major characters. Not a pick me up, but this is literature where the rest of the books on this list verge on something you'd expect to see on Bravo.
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. The protagonist is not as likable as Eleanor Oliphant, but the plot twist is on par. A decade ago, I would have found it all incredibly far fetched. Now I know better.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Are you SURE you're ready to leave Big Law? (Delayed Post)

After I'd received the (non-law firm) offer I intended to take, but before I'd accepted and given notice, a partner departing my current firm invited me to follow him to another traditional Big Law shop, where a number of friends currently (or recently) practice(d).  It is a wonderful thing to have options, but the invitation caused me to second guess all the big decisions I'd just made in a big way.

I was tempted by (in no particular order):
  • The salary. 
  • My friends. Wouldn't it be fun to practice among friends again?
  • The location. The partner lead by offering that I would be able to work from my hometown. No relocation required.
  • The brand. Better brand than my current firm.
  • The platform. I could return to cross-border deals, which is exciting, but also tough on an associate's sleep schedule.
  • Some continuity. A lot is lost in a lateral move, but this move would offer some continuity in that at least one of my working relationships would remain intact.
  • The maternity leave. Standard Big Law maternity leave policy, which outshines the unpaid leave policy at the new job I had intended to take.
I was turned off by:
  • Internal politics. Concerns related to continued post-merger growing pains.
  • Long-term prospects. This would be a 2-3 year job since I don't believe there was real partnership opportunity.
  • The schedule. Getting out of the Austin to Dallas commute helps a lot, but it's still a Big Law schedule. I'd already given a lot of thought to how I planned to spend my personal time once I started the new job.
The most important issue that I identified was whether extending my law firm career would meaningfully improve my job prospects post-Big Law. To sort this out, I reached out to friends who are already in house. Their advice was consistent--two more years in a firm was unlikely to meaningfully improve my job prospects and that I should stick with my plans to start new job. None of them regretted their decision to leave the law firm environment. They remembered what it was like to hesitate/worry about making the leap, but each and every one encouraged me to jump and never look back.

Still, I worry about leaving money on the table (and all the news regarding the shifting Big Law salary scale hasn't helped in this regard).

Friday, June 8, 2018

Interviewing (Delayed Post)

Over the past few years, I have explored a number of non-law firm employment opportunities. I'm writing a brief summary of the three most interesting (to me) opportunities below.

A quick note regarding my focus during my job search:*

One of the most important lessons I learned from spending time in-house via secondment was that when you're accustomed to a role as a revenue generator it's difficult to adjust to being perceived or pigeonholed as a cost center. This perception may translate into scarcity of resources or support (e.g., no administrative or IT support). It may also translate into less satisfactory compensation arrangements or more limited opportunities for advancement. With this in mind, I focused on in-house opportunities with organizations that placed M&A at the core of their respective business strategies, where I hoped my prior experience and future contributions would be valued. Time will tell whether my instincts were right.
  • Publicly traded, household name, in-house M&A counsel for Bay Area company. Process included a phone screen with HR; video interview with more than five members of the in-house team, including the GC, the one other attorney in the M&A vertical, and a handful of attorneys in other specialties; and an in person interview. The types of questions asked were no different than those I have experienced in a law firm callback interview.  I was invited to an in person interview, but they wanted me to travel for the interview the same week that I was scheduled to have time-sensitive surgery that could not be rescheduled. They were not understanding when I asked if we could push the travel back a week. What I liked: the company has a reputation for treating employees well; AGC was an attorney I had worked with at my original firm, where he had been a partner and had a reputation for being brilliant, fair and fun to work with; and large, well established department offered opportunity to learn about process and management, which would be a useful stepping stone towards taking a first lawyer position with a startup in the long run. What I didn't like: according to the existing M&A attorney in the department, he was working just as many hours as I was working in my firm for far less compensation; the company might be acquisitive now, but that strategy could change at any time and there were so many other specialists in the department it was unclear whether there would be job security; and salary was a six figure pay-cut and Bay Area living expenses would be a shock to the system.
  • Publicly traded, household name, in-house M&A counsel for Swiss company.  Process included a tremendous number of phone interviews; a video interview at the nearest office of one of the company's subsidiaries (in my case, this was a 7 hour, round trip drive); and an in person interview. I was invited to travel to Switzerland for the interview (this position was based in Switzerland), but they then asked me to complete another phone screen with an executive outside the M&A vertical before setting up the travel for the in person interview. At that point, the interview process felt disorganized and the HR point of contact didn't seem to understand the path forward. I declined to schedule the final phone interview for two reasons. First, I wasn't too excited to sign up for an expat gig with a company whose HR function seemed disorganized. I know from my experience as an expat in Tokyo that a competent HR function is critical to a positive experience working abroad.  Second, a family member was critically ill at the time with what we thought was a terminal illness (later found out the illness was a drug toxicity issue) and the time did not seem ripe to leave the US.  What I liked: serial acquirer with M&A at the core of the company's business strategy; more than three in-house M&A attorneys; and location--I was smitten with the idea of living in Switzerland.  What I didn't like: disorganized HR function; Swiss tax laws, and cost of living in Switzerland. Guys, I have serious regrets about not pursuing this position further (there's some wanderlust left in me yet).
  • Investment counsel for government agency.  Process included a phone screen with senior in-house attorneys and more than four hours of callback interviews. I've interviewed with this agency twice. The first go around, the governor of the State of Texas announced a hiring freeze the day after my callback.  Nearly a year later, they were ready to hire. I applied again (as this job had been constantly on my mind in the interim), completed the interview process a second time, and received an offer. What I liked: interesting work that would make use of my current skill set, but also require building out skills in a new practice area; investment is at the core of this agency's work; collegiality; predictable work schedule with reasonable hours; fantastic location (I could walk to work); no pay cut vis-a-vis my firm salary (after taking my significant commuting costs into account); and defined benefit plan.  What I didn't like: maternity leave is completely unpaid.
*  Throughout the process, I found myself clinging to the idea of staying in a resource-rich law firm environment. However, (1) the last year took an undeniable toll on my health (still in denial over the lab results I received after my annual exam), (2) I seem to have reached the end of my shelf life as a law firm associate after seven and a half years (i.e., I find myself bored of having the same argument with opposing counsel deal after deal, I'm out of patience for cancelling vacations and working through the night on a regular basis, and I'm at a point where I can't hide these feelings anymore), and (3) I can't tolerate my current commute any longer (in April, I billed 225+ hrs and spent 45+ hours commuting, and was a shell of a human by month-end).  

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

New Entree Recipes (Part 2)

I'm still chipping away at my 2018 goal to try 12 new entree recipes. (I set this goal because without it the only new recipes I try are desserts!) See Part 1 (new recipes 1-4) here. Recipes 5-8 are as follows:

5. Shepard's Pie

In a continued effort to keep the boyfriend involved in what's going on in the kitchen, we made shepard's pie (his favorite) in a cast iron skillet.

The recipe can be found in Cook's Country's Cook it in Cast Iron. Cook's Country is affiliated with America's Test Kitchen, which is why I snagged this cookbook when I found it at Costco a few months ago.

The recipe calls for piping the mashed potatoes on top of the filling. Nonsense! (I doubt I'm the only one who groans and turns the page whenever a recipe calls for the use of a piping bag.) I skipped this step in favor of carefully spooning the mashed potatoes on top of the filling, patting it down with the back of a serving spoon, and then dragging the tines of a fork through the top of the surface to make a fun design that would "pop" under the broiler.

At some point in the future, I'd love to try a variation with mashed sweet potatoes.

6. Eggs in Purgatory 

Eggs in a homemade spicy tomato sauce finished with some crumbled bacon if you're feeling indulgent. While I now understand that this is a common and beloved recipe (known to some as "shakshouka"), it was a revelation to me and completely different from anything my family ate growing up. Loved it. Great excuse to crack open my very first can of Rotel--how is it possible that I have lived in Texas for more than eight years and am just now discovering Rotel?

This recipe can be found in America's Test Kitchen's Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook.

7. Spice-Rubbed Flank Steak with Spicy Corn and Black Bean Salad

Not particularly photogenic, but quick and simple. I made a double portion of this salad to use for lunches during the work week. Relatively light due to the absence of any sort of dressing in the salad.

This recipe can be found in America's Test Kitchen's Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook.

8. Sichuan Orange Chicken and Broccoli

Now that I've gone to the trouble of accumulating some of the required pantry staples (hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, toasted sesame oil, etc.), I'm having a lot of fun with the wok at home. This recipe calls for the juice of one orange and some orange zest. The fresh flavor shines through--a welcome change from the cloying orange sauce I've encountered at many takeout chains.

(Use a red bell pepper instead of green for a better presentation.)

This recipe can be found in America's Test Kitchen's Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Deciding It's Time to Move On (Delayed Post)

After commuting between Austin and Dallas for more than a year, I feel ready to give up on my current job. The logistics are tough and the job doesn't make the sacrifice (or prospective relocation) worthwhile.

There have been a wave of associate departures in my firmwide subgroup since January 1st, mostly at the senior level. Our local office has been particularly hard hit: (i) we started the year with with six associates in our subgroup, by mid-summer only two of those associates will remain, and (ii) I'm the only senior associate left.

The senior departures have to do with compensation issues and that we have a set of midlevels who have been encouraged to think they are senior associates and refuse to do proper work for senior associates (one associate in particular is guilty of turning in assignments to the senior associates weeks late, if at all, and rife with errors in order to take assignments directly from partners; I understand the logic, but I don't like it). Locally, that leaves us with just one junior associate who is completely overloaded.  According to the partners, the solution is for senior associates to handle deals "soup to nuts," which is to say, solo with no support for the indefinite future.

As an example of this, last week I was at the office past 2 am Sunday through Thursday night. Eighty percent of that time was spent on work that I would consider too junior for my level (we're talking an 8th year associate doing material contract review for due diligence). I expect to work those hours in my specialty area, but I am never going to advance if the majority of my time is spent on junior tasks to make up for the firm's persistent human capital management problem.

There's so much more to say, but that's all that's fit for a public forum.

So it's time.

Would part of me love to go to another, more functional firm? Yes. I like the resource rich environment that firms offer. My subspeciality is better suited to a firm than in house environment. And a firm environment is... what I'm used to.  Having said that, I'm out of moves. You can only lateral so many times. I also feel that I'm out of time--too far out of law school--with atypical experience.

So I'm interviewing for all sorts of jobs.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Long Weekend in Lake Tahoe

To celebrate my boyfriend's graduation from business school, we planned a (last minute) trip to Lake Tahoe for the holiday weekend. I had saved some money thinking we would head to Europe, but due to timing issues related to his job, we needed to stick closer to home. When my boyfriend suggested Tahoe, I couldn't refuse!

Since we planned to stay on the north side of the lake, we flew into Reno, a relatively sleepy airport. Our flight arrived just before midnight. We snagged a cheap room in Reno on HotelTonight (an app for last minute hotel bookings). In the morning, we made our way to Tahoe. The weather was cool and crisp, and it was fun to experience a dramatic change in landscape--when was the last time I'd seen a pine tree?

We stayed in a condo right on the water. The units were in excellent condition and offered all the amenities I could have hoped for--steam shower (can I have one of these at home one day!?!), kitchen, fireplace, washer/dryer in unit and access to a pool and hot tub. Something I'd never realized before home ownership is the extent to which my mental list of home maintenance and housekeeping chores wears on me whenever I'm home. By putting myself in a location where I couldn't complete any chores (and my cell phone hardly functioned), I was able to truly relax.


We didn't have much of a schedule and spent most of our time enjoying the fresh air and otherwise resting and recharging (and seeing Solo, which we thought was a lot of fun). I'd love to come back when it's a little warmer to spend some quality time hiking!

Emerald Bay State Park

Our one scheduled activity was a guided kayak tour. It was a touch cold for this activity, but I know I'll relish the memory of those cool temperatures during the upcoming, hot and steamy Texas summer. The Keep Tahoe Blue folks have been doing a great job: the water was remarkably clean (on par with New Zealand).

Near Sand Harbor

This was my first true vacation since my graduation (eight years ago!?!). I'm fortunate that this trip coincided with some changes at work that made it possible to limit the amount of time I billed over the weekend. I learned that while tacking an extra day or two on to a work trip or travelling to visit family is fun, it's just not the same as taking a real break from everyday life to recharge. 

Many thanks to the boyfriend (and the boyfriend's brother who owns the condo where we stayed) for suggesting this trip. I didn't want to come home! 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Graduation Dinner

My boyfriend graduated from the full-time MBA program at UT earlier this month.

I'm proud of him. He had a full career in the military before heading back to school. As much as it's been a time for learning finance, accounting and Excel, it's also been a time for transitioning his vocabulary and acclimating to the civilian perspective. It's been a lot to take on at a time in life when change is less appealing to most.

I had to talk him into participating in the graduation ceremony. Ironic, given that I refused to walk in my own law school and MBA graduation ceremonies eight (8!) years ago.

By the time I won this negotiation, every restaurant we tried for post-ceremony dinner reservations was already booked. This meant I had to pull together a modest celebratory dinner to be enjoyed at home, which was a touch difficult because we needed to leave the house for the ceremony mid-preparation and had a house full of hungry guests immediately thereafter. Here's what we came up with:
  • Main - Picked up chilled brisket from Franklin's to reheat using a pseudo sous vide method that required minimal supervision.
  • Side 1 - Cowboy beans that simmered in a slow cooker throughout the day.
  • Side 2 - Corn on the cob. This was the only item I cooked after the ceremony.
  • Side 3 - White bread (because, as I was surprised to learn at my own UT Law orientation, in Texas, white bread goes hand in with BBQ).
  • Dessert - Pecan pie baked the day before.
It was simple and very fitting for a Texas graduation. I would have loved to do something more involved, but think it was smart to dial it back and reduce stress so we could all enjoy the celebration. He was happy about the menu and that's what was important!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Bucilla Christmas Stocking (Christmas Drive)

One of my goals for 2018 was to complete a Bucilla stocking for my nephew who is nearly a year old. The Bucilla kits are part of a family tradition reaching back to my great grandmother's generation. I have a Bucilla stocking that my mom made for me when I was a toddler (can you believe it's held up after all these years?) and I completed the Airplane Santa stocking kit for my boyfriend (who is a pilot) last December.

In January, I started the Christmas Drive stocking kit. I picked this kit for my nephew because it features a big red truck, which I hope will be a hit with the little guy during his childhood. He won't use this stocking every year--my sister in law has a khaki/beige color scheme for her Christmas decorations and this stocking clearly isn't in conformity with that scheme--so it's just for the years that they celebrate Christmas with our side of the family at one of our houses. I'll also make a Bucilla stocking for my sister-in-law so that everyone is included.

Bucilla stockings are made of felt and decorated with embroidered, sequined and beaded appliques. Building up the details that make these stockings so delightful takes time and patience (and a good pair of sharp, detail scissors). I usually work on just one or two pieces per session, which explains why this stocking took five months to complete!

Unlike the stocking I made for my boyfriend last year, this kit calls for a name to be embroidered across the top of the stocking. I gave this a try and felt like my attempt was unattractive and ruined the look of the entire stocking. To reverse this error, I carefully pulled out the name embroidery and then took a trip to the craft store to pick up some gold cording and matching thread. I twisted the cording into my nephew's name, tamping it down with the matching thread for a better result.

Here is a look at the finished stocking:

I'm happy with how this turned out, but if you're working on this kit, I would use dark brown thread, instead of black, to define the muzzle of the teddy bear.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

On the Condition of my Car, >2 Months After the Accident

I'm checking in to close the loop on my last post regarding the condition of my car after two attempted repairs by Service King over the course of more than a month.

Due to the long list of still-not-repaired damage to my vehicle after two visits to Service King, I spent hours on the phone with Allstate to get them to agree that the remainder of my service would be completed at a different Service King location.

Upon delivery of my vehicle to the new location for Service King's third attempt to repair my vehicle, I brought with me a written list of the still-not-repaired damage and reviewed it in detail with the manager. The key issue being that the front passenger door, when closed, would not seal because the door of the vehicle had been bent out of shape while the vehicle was in Service Kings custody.

After a week, the new location called me to notify me that my vehicle was ready. When I arrived to take delivery of my vehicle, the front passenger door was still not repaired. I advised that I would not leave the shop until this issue was resolved. They reacted quickly to this feedback and resolved the issue in about 15 minutes while I took client calls in their customer waiting area. (As always seems to be the case, this errand coincided with a particularly busy day at work.)

Driving away from the body shop, two remaining issues were immediately evident:

  1. Loud rattle while vehicle was in motion had not been resolved.
  2. Blind spot monitoring system was no longer functioning (dashboard indicated a complete system failure). This was a new issue. We would later learn that the reason for this failure was a poorly executed, incomplete repair completed at the first Service King location.
So, I was once again on the phone with Allstate and Service King advocating for the complete repair of my vehicle. Ultimately, I demanded an opportunity to take the vehicle to a different body shop recommended by my vehicle's manufacturer. Representatives from Allstate and Service King met me at the new body shop to review the still-not-repaired damages (presumably, in case I was making all of this up). They agreed that there were unresolved issues and the new body shop took custody of my vehicle.

Within a week, the new body shop had coordinated with my vehicle's manufacturer for repair of the blind spot monitoring system and independently resolved the rattle. 

After four visits to the body shop over the course of more than two months, repair of my vehicle is finally complete!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

On the Condition of my Car, >1 Month After the Accident

I was in a car accident on March 1st (tl;dr: while stopped in construction traffic on I-35, I was rear ended by a distracted driver travelling at highway speed). Ever since, I've been in a protracted battle with Allstate, my auto insurer, and Service King, their recommended body shop. It's been more than a month and Service King has tried to deliver my vehicle to me as "finished" twice, but the following issues are still outstanding:
  1. Front passenger door, when closed, does not seal because either the door or the body of the car is still bent out of shape.   This is a new issue that has emerged since the vehicle was delivered to Service King on March 5th.
  2. Surface of back quarter panel of car is covered with fine scratches. It appears that there was a rock or other abrasive material on the buffer when they buffed out this panel.  This is a new issue that has emerged since the vehicle was delivered to Service King on March 5th.
  3. There are still deep scratches on the edge of one of the panels from the accident that have not been resolved.
  4. There are two new rattling sounds when the vehicle is driven at highway speed. This is a new issue that has emerged since the vehicle was delivered to Service King on March 5th.
  5. The "new" rear bumper that Service King has attached to my car is scuffed and scratched and clearly not new.
  6. There is an unknown material or adhesive that is a pale yellow in color that can be seen in the crack between panels that Service King has attached to the vehicle. This is a new issue that has emerged since the vehicle was delivered to Service King on March 5th.
The first time Service King tried to deliver my vehicle as finished, the muffler was still dangling from the vehicle, there were numerous scratched and imperfections remaining in the paint job, the "new" bumper was crooked, various "new" body panels were misaligned, and there was a new, big grease stain on the cream colored interior of the car.

All of this is only the surface-level damage that I can observe as a layperson that knows very little about automotive repairs. I hate to think what an independent third party expert might find upon inspection of the vehicle.

You might be wondering why I took my vehicle, which I had purchase new from the dealer less than six months prior to the accident, to Service King in the first place. Good question!

Here's the answer:

Service King is a member of the Allstate All Hands Network. When I called in my claim, I was put in touch with the nearest Service King. Because I had never had an accident requiring body work before, I didn't know that, under Texas law, I had the right to select my own collision center (for example, a collision center certified to repair my specific brand of vehicle). Allstate did send me a notice explaining that I was entitled to select a collision center, but that notice arrived by mail after my vehicle was in Allstate's possession and repairs were underway. Upon receipt of that notice, I reached out to a collision center certified to repair my specific brand of vehicle, but they refused to work on my vehicle now that Service King has touched it due to liability concerns.

What a nightmare.

Normally, I'm the sort of person that does a lot of independent research before taking action, but I was shell shocked from this accident, and from another accident three weeks earlier when I was hit by a SUV while walking across the street. Overwhelmed, I just wanted to get my car repaired as soon as possible. This was a mistake. When in doubt, slow down and do your research!

I'm posting this because, if you're in an auto accident here in Texas, I hope that:
  1. You'll remember someone saying that you have the right to choose your own collision center.
  2. You'll think twice before taking your vehicle to Service King for repair. No doubt that certain Service King locations perform better work than others.
  3. You'll explore a diminished value claim. It is possible to make such a claim against the insurer of the at-fault driver.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Costco Roses

The bare root rose I bought at Costco last year continues to produce. Here's its first bloom of the season:

I've largely given up my efforts in the garden on account of my work schedule, but last weekend I took some time outdoors to appreciate the remnants and make a few additions. Currently, herbs and snap peas are going strong. The lemon sapling bloomed. I've added some more ornamental plants and flowers, and this lavender plant in the hopes of bringing some bees to the yard.

I'm always dreaming of what this yard could look like "some day." It sure hasn't changed much since I moved in.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

New Entree Recipes (Part 1)

Life has been a bit glum what with a chronically achy hip from getting hit by that SUV, my new car still in the body shop after having been rear ended, and three of the senior associates in my group having quit. There is a lot of turmoil that can't be described here, but life experience has taught me the dust will soon settle and we'll all move on. In the interim, I'm trying to focus on the simple things I can control.

For example, my 2018 goal to try 12 new entree recipes is on track. I set this goal because without it the only new recipes I try are desserts. Here are the first four recipes for 2018:

1. Strata with Sausage, Gruyere and Thyme

I had leftover hot Italian sausage and sourdough from my family's visit over the holidays, so this seemed like a perfect choice. The recipe was straightforward. Preparation was quick. Results were hearty. I'll make this again.

This recipe can be found in America's Test Kitchen's Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook. This cookbook is incredibly reliable and has been a great help in reducing food waste for my small household. It's available at Costco from time to time, but currently even cheaper at Barnes and Noble.

As an aside, I discovered another fantastic use for leftover sourdough: homemade croutons. I added a little butter and pepper before toasting under the broiler. Why did it take me so long to try this!?!

2. Whole Roast Chicken

This was my boyfriend's idea. He found the recipe in one of his cookbooks (something related to manly cast iron skillet cooking) and I took him up on it right away because I want to encourage him to get more involved in the kitchen. I'd never roasted a whole chicken at home before and we were impressed by how great it tasted. At our grocery store, a whole chicken was cheaper than two chicken breasts, so it was economical too.  The vegetables in the pan are carrots and yukon gold potatoes. Red potatoes would have been better, but we had leftover yukon golds we needed to use.

3. Pulled Pork Sandwiches

This recipe provided me with my first opportunity to use my small crockpot. I rubbed some pork ribs down with spices, placed the meat in the crockpot with some broth and two pieces of bacon (you remove this bacon before shredding) and about five hours later shredded the meat and combined it with a semi-homemade sauce. I loved this and the pulled pork made truly great leftovers. I'll make this again.

This recipe can be found in America's Test Kitchen's Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook.

4. Southwestern-Style Chicken and Biscuits

I went ahead and made the full recipe so that we'd have some leftovers. The base included shredded chicken thighs, red pepper, corn, onion, celery and thyme, but didn't have enough kick. The biscuits included cheddar, cayenne and pepper. I liked this dish, but it wasn't good enough to justify the two hours I spent making all of the components from scratch.

The recipe can be found in Cook's Country's Cook it in Cast Iron. Cook's Country is affiliated with America's Test Kitchen, which is why I snagged this cookbook when I found it at Costco a few months ago.

Friday, March 2, 2018

On Getting Rear-ended on I-35

Somehow, my life has become a series of posts about frightening accidents.

Last night, I was at a complete stop in construction traffic on I-35 listening to Originals by Adam Grant. There was a big white truck behind me, also at a complete stop. With no warning (i.e., no squealing break sounds), the big white truck hit me hard. It turns out a little red car has slammed into him at full highway speed.

Here is a picture of that little red car:

Despite the scary condition of her car, the driver of the little red car walked away. The big white truck was also totaled--bent axle, four flat tires and crumpled front and rear (and that's just the damage that we could see). My car, which is unfortunately a brand new car, also has a lot of damage. The rear and back corner panels, wheel wells, tail lights, and sensors all need to be replaced. Other electronics on the interior of the car aren't working properly.

I seem to be okay, but I'm concerned because I had a concussion just three weeks ago, when a SUV hit me from behind while I was crossing the street next to my office. Doesn't seem great to follow up a concussion with a car accident.

I am angry and frustrated with the driver who caused the accident. When I jumped out of my car, assuming she would be badly hurt, I found her with her cell phone in hand. She was probably texting.

Hope my luck turns around soon.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

On Getting Hit by a SUV while Crossing the Street

We have been hitting it hard at work. I have two buyouts closing any day now--one of which is a three step transaction, which means that it involves three closings. As of today, my billable hour pace is at 2,350/year.

(This is pretty unusual--over the last 7 years I've learned to expect January to be a very slow month.)

This is all to say that I've been staying at the office late to meet deal deadlines. Because our firm is cheap, we don't have Seamless and reimbursement for overtime meals is discouraged. This is how I found myself walking across the street to grab dinner on Wednesday night.

After eating, I walked back to the office. I was walking in the crosswalk under a signal telling pedestrians to walk. An SUV travelling down the same street turned left, struck me from behind, knocked me off my feet (clear out of my shoes) and up into the air and continued down the street without stopping. There were more than ten other cars at the intersection. No one stopped to provide witness information. No one stopped to check if I was okay.

I landed on back and hit my head. I had a concussion and am generally bruised and sore. The items that were in my purse at the time of the accident were busted to smithereens. Fortunately, I have no broken bones.

I filed a police report. The police are looking at surveillance camera footage to see if they can capture the license plate number of the driver that hit me. If they can, the driver will be ticketed for the collision and for leaving the scene of the accident without stopping. I'd also like to ask the driver's insurance company to reimburse my medical expenses.

I emailed the partner that I'm working with immediately to tell him about the accident and that my delivery of work product he was expecting that evening would be delayed. (Frankly, I also thought he might want to review any work I turned in in the immediate aftermath more closely since I had had a concussion.)

Those of you who work or have worked in a law firm environment will probably not be surprised to hear that folks seemed generally annoyed by the delay in the work and that no partner from my group stopped by my office the following day to see if I was doing okay.

The sheer lack of humanity is what bothers me most about this:

  • The lack of humanity of the driver. Accidents happen, but to make a conscious decision to run instead of stop after you have hit a pedestrian with your SUV is unforgivable.
  • The lack of humanity of the drivers of the ten or more other cars at the intersection. I know that everyone has their nose in their phones these days, but I am hard pressed to believe that not one of these drivers witnessed the incident.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Egg Freezing: Transfer to Long-Term Storage

Just in time for the holidays, I received an invoice from my doctor's office: $1,000 to cyropreserve my eggs for the next year! I tweeted my surprise and immediately received a helpful reply pointing me towards another facility in town.

Transferring my eggs from my reproductive endocrinologist's short-term storage to long-term storage at the recommended facility saved me $830. (It turns out the recommended facility offers a promotional price to patients transferring materials out of my doctor's office.)

To effect the transfer, I completed and submitted paperwork to both facilities. The paperwork included a notarized statement regarding my intentions for the use (or non-use) of my eggs for procreation after my death and granting ownership of my stored eggs to a designee. Wills and trusts professors, I can't even begin to imagine the exam questions you could dream up on these facts.

A couple weeks later, I received a letter from the recommended facility confirming receipt of my eggs, stating that they'll charge me $45 each time I remove containers from their facility, and noting the number of containers and eggs per container that they have stored under my name. Here's hoping they're safe and well-labeled.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Follow-up: Division of Household Responsibilities

Thank you for your thoughtful comments and reactions to my post last week.

One of the anonymous comments correctly identified that the straw that broke the camel's back was his decision to watch Bladerunner while I was painting the house (without so much as an offer to help). I'll cover for him while he's studying for finals, but I'm not going to be doing the lion's share of chores so that he can sit in front of the TV.

I had some time to cool off after I posted because I had to travel during the week. During that time, I alternately billed away like a good little associate and fumed over the issue. I was less emotional by the time I rolled into Austin for the weekend.

On Saturday morning, we sat down to identify the universe of chores that need to be done.  I invited him to pick the chores he would handle. We discussed and prepared a list.  I've yet to see any chores completed, so the jury is still out.

On a more positive note, he took the lead on planning dinner on Saturday night and participated in the cooking. This felt like a step in the right direction. With two people participating, each step of the process was much easier.

Prior to his move in day over Thanksgiving weekend, I had been living by myself since 2003.  I don't have much experience with sharing space with another person and I'm sure I'm part of the problem. Learning to be more flexible will take time and patience.

At the core of my frustration last week was my belief that if you care about another person, you do your part without the other person having to identify your part, instruct you as to the procedure for doing your part, and then follow up to remind you to do your part.

PS - In an anonymous comment, someone asked why I'm not asking him to pay rent at present. There are many reasons, but for the attorneys who are reading, I have some concerns about the transmutation of separate property. I'm not a family lawyer and need to take steps to understand this issue in greater detail. Until I do so, I wanted to create a clean factual record. (If this seems cold to you, I understand, but after a terrible prior relationship I made a promise to myself to be careful about these sorts of things.) Other reasons include, (i) helping him while he finishes his last semester (my stress level related to my financial situation was very high by the last semester of grad school, so I assumed he would value a break), (ii) demonstrating sensitivity to the disparity in our financial situations (friends who are aware of my salary advised that it would be "rude" for me to ask him to contribute rent), and (iii) paying it forward (it seems likely that in some point in the future, I might take a break from work while he continues).

PPS - In the back of mind throughout all of this is the advice I received from the managing partner of a very big Big Law firm that, in her view, the most important predictor of a female associate's success is whether she makes a good deal with her partner at home (with respect to allocation of household responsibilities). What do you think of this advice?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

On the Division of Household Responsibilities

In 2016, I repainted substantially all of the interior surfaces in my house. The builder used a flat paint that didn't wear well--one touch to the surface would leave a permanent smudge. This just wouldn't do.

So I repainted everything except for the utility closet and the garage.

The utility closet is a second closet in one of the upstairs bedrooms. When my boyfriend moved in, we decided the utility closet would be the best place for his beat up bookcases. This meant that if I didn't repaint the utility closet now, there wouldn't be another natural opportunity until we move out of the house.

So I repainted the utility closet, while the boyfriend watched Blade Runner, which brings me to the real point of this post.

What are your tips for constructive conversations about the division of household labor?

I own the house.
I work full time.
He is a grad student.
He works part time as a reservist.
I would like the house to remain my sole and separate property, so he is not paying rent (unless you count the electric bill, which is the bill that is his responsibility).

Under these facts, I think there is a reasonable argument that I should be solely responsible for big ticket maintenance items, for example tree trimming and repainting. Yet, there is also a reasonable argument that he should do his part with respect to routine housekeeping.

Presently, I find myself doing the grocery shopping, laundry and housekeeping because--you guessed it--"you're so good at it." This is a response I did not expect based on our dynamic prior to his move in. To some extent, I invited this problem because he moved in immediately before his final exams and I offered to take care of things so that he could focus on studying.

Still, the current arrangement is not acceptable long-term.

To some extent, it seems men are either the type that help around the house or not, and we have to choose our men accordingly. Let's assume (since he's already moved into the house and all!) that he's more adaptable when providing any suggestions that you may have. In addition, I am not open to a race to the bottom (a piece of advice I have received offline is to stop doing chores until he starts helping).

Thanks in advance for your input.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

2018 Goals

Since 2011, I've been setting a long and varied list of goals each year. You can find the lists in the tabs in the header of this blog. Creating and posting these lists was a helpful accountability tool. Many a milestone was met! Until 2017.

Last year, I was in a work arrangement that required a lot of travel. Spending so much time away from home zapped my energy. I was in survival mode. I completely neglected my goals.

This year, I'm hoping to resume my usual productivity. My 2018 goals, as of today's date, are listed below. I try to choose clearly defined and actionable goals. If I come up with some bigger and better ideas (and I hope I do--this list looks mundane), I'll modify the list under the "2018" tab above.

Finally, while not listed here, a move to another state is a possibility in 2018. There is so much to research, plan and potentially execute related to this that my head is swimming!

  1. Pass the CIPP certification test
  2. Write a work related article
  3. Prepare and give a training presentation
  4. Reach out to the partners in the firm that are doing venture work
  5. Get PLI CLE lectures on my phone to listen to in the car during the commute
  6. Improve timekeeping
  7. Prepare for in house job
  8. 50 hours of pro bono
  9. Solve the commute problem
  10. Work at initiating plans with friends and family
  11. Plan a vacation to celebrate M's graduation
  12. Plan a trip to visit hometown friends
  13. Visit family in California
  14. Add some strength training to exercise routine
  15. Attend 12 yoga classes
  16. Visit the gym 50 times
  17. Transfer eggs to long term storage
  18. Take multi-vitamins
  19. Lose 8lbs
  20. Incorporate Retin-A and sunscreen in my daily routine
  21. Write 50 blog posts
  22. Read 12 books
  23. Try 12 new main dish recipes
  24. Try 6 new dessert or bread recipes
  25. Get the Cooking for Two cookbook bound
  26. Sell three Christmas stockings on Etsy
  27. Make my Christmas stocking
  28. Make the bonus ornament that matches M's Christmas stocking
  29. Max out annual 401(k) contribution
  30. Roll over my old 401(k)
  31. Improve investment allocation
  32. Find a new side hustle to pay down car loan
  33. Hit net worth goal
  34. Repaint garage
  35. Repaint upstairs utility closet
  36. Project 10 Pan
  37. Deep clean one zone of the house each month