Monday, February 25, 2019

Learning to use Procreate for Digital Illustration

One of my goals for 2019 is to learn how to create digital illustrations. I’m just getting started.

After a friend lent me an iPad and Apple Pencil, I downloaded Procreate (an app available in the App Store), watched a few free tutorials available on YouTube and started with a few simple still life illustrations. Here are some doodles I created during my first few days working with Procreate:

All shiny red objects so far.

I can’t believe that Procreate is a $10 program. It’s intuitive and the potential applications seem limitless. Bonus: I enjoy the absence of the mess I once created when working with traditional pastels and colored pencils. It’s incredible to have an entire studio’s worth of supplies accessible in electronic format.

Looks likely that I’ll keep working at this and purchase an iPad of my own.

If Procreate is your thing and you’ve got some tips for learning how to best use it, I’d love to hear from you.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Health - Incremental Progress

One of the reasons I left law firm life is that I was terrible of taking care of my health while I was working 70-80 hours per week at a firm. So how's it going? My health has improved in measurable ways--just received the results of my bloodwork from my annual physical and was so relieved to see that my numbers have normalized. While this is good news, I view it as having clawed my back to zero. Now it's time to see whether I can do a little better than average.

What is going well right now:

  1. Cardio. I enjoy cardio. Peloton has helped a lot with this (this morning I hopped on the bike for a fun, Diana Ross-themed 30 minute ride).
  2. Sleep. My struggle with sleep started in earnest in law school and amplified as I progressed through my law firm years. Due mainly to my reduced stress level in my new job, I've found that I'm sleeping more, dreaming more, and waking well rested.
What could be better:
  1. Flexibility. From my very first dance class as a toddler, I've been the most flexible person in the room, so this problem is relative to my own abilities. Spending so much time spinning on the Peloton without stretching regularly has tightened up my legs. I'm less flexible today than at any other point in my life.
  2. Strength. I can lift a heavy suitcase overhead, so it's not like this is an emergency, but I'm not currently putting any effort into building strength outside of my cardio routine. This is something that I want to change in order to prepare for optimal quality of life in my later years.
What is going poorly:
  1. Hydration. The core of this problem is my soda habit. A few years ago, I transitioned from regular soda to diet (important change since I drink 2-3 sodas a day). This was a step in the right direction. Today, I find myself cracking open a Coke Zero whenever I feel thirst, which makes it my primary source of hydration. That can't be good. And while I tend to feel like corporate America's marketing machine has seized on the need for proper hydration in order to sell sporty drinks and spendy water bottles, every doctor I've seen in the last couple years has commented that I'm dehydrated. I'm inclined to think this is a real problem.
  2. Nutrition. Let's be real. In my last year at the firm, my workweek dinner was a large Diet Coke and medium fries, procured from the McDonald's across the street from the Best Western where I stayed while in Dallas. Rock bottom. Things are better now, but I'm not thoughtful or intentional when it comes to nutrition.
What I'm going to try in order to improve:
  1. Flexibility. As a first step, at the end of each spin class, I'm going to roll into one of Peloton's on demand five-minute post ride stretches. I started this today and am optimistic it will become a habit in short order. As a more challenging second step, I'm going to try to complete one yoga class a week since this will help with flexibility, balance and strength. I plan to rely on Peloton's on demand yoga classes in order to avoid accumulating too many subscriptions.
  2. Hydration. Changing my habit is going to be difficult since soda is my main vice. I plan to start by pouring myself a glass of ice water each morning. (Embarrassed to say that I've been starting my days with a Coke Zero.) I'm also going to set a couple calendar reminders to prompt me to drink a couple of glasses of water throughout the day.
  3. Nutrition. When I was a junior associate, I bought a Nutrition Plan from Tone It Up. I read through it, but never got started. Since this is a resource I already have on hand and I just received an updated "Love Your Body" eight-week plan, I'm going to use it as a starting point for adjusting my habits. I plan to do more research and make adjustments, hopefully ended up in a better place. 
I could use help with:
  1. Strength. I'm not sure how to incorporate strength training into my daily routines and I'm not sure how to measure progress. Still brainstorming. If you have ideas, I'd love to hear them.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Rolling Over All the 401(k)s

One of the projects that I slated for completion during my first year out of law firm life was to simplify my finances. The first task: rolling over all the 401(k)s. Here is an article from NerdWallet that identifies issues to consider before initiating a rollover and here are some high level notes on my personal experience with the process:

Context. I had worked at three firms and participated in each firm's 401(k) plan. Each 401(k) plan was administered by a different financial services firm (Charles Schwab, Bank of Oklahoma (!?!) and T. Rowe Price). I rolled my 401(k) funds into an IRA  that I had opened years before graduating from law school.

Why? When you leave or lose your job, you can do one of three things with your 401(k) funds: withdraw, rollover or do nothing.
  • Withdrawing pre-tax dollars may result in penalties or taxes. No thanks! Unless faced with an emergency, I would not consider withdrawing 401(k) prior to the age of 59 1/2. 
  • Rolling over funds from a 401(k) into an IRA may allow you to reduce expenses without incurring taxes. Seemed like the obvious choice.
  • Doing nothing--leaving the funds in your former employer's 401(k)--may or may not be an option depending on the terms of your 401(k) plans and may result in fees. For example, my first law firm's 401(k) plan tacked fees on funds of former employees if such employee's balance within the fund fell below a certain amount. Some of my 401(k) funds had languished for years before I got around to rolling them over.
I took taxes, fees and a desire for simplicity into consideration when I decided to rollover my 401(k) funds. Next, I would need to decide where I would deposit my rollover.

Where? I considered rolling my 401(k) funds into my current employer's 401(k) and my IRA, and decided an IRA worked best for me.
  • Current employer's 401(k). While I've read online that this is sometimes the best option if your rollover amount is too small to meet minimum investment requirements elsewhere, this didn't apply to me. I reviewed my new 401(k) plan and quickly realized that rolling into my current employer's 401(k) offered no benefits, and would result in higher fees than any of my prior employer's 401(k) plans and a significant loss of flexibility. (This article from NerdWallet was a helpful starting point for thinking about how to assess my current employer's 401(k) plan.)
  • IRA. This option offered the most flexibility and the lowest fees. It's worth taking some time to make sure you've got the right sort of IRA set up to avoid headaches further down the road. (Vanguard offers a short and sweet explanation here.) I rolled traditional 401(k) funds into a pre-existing, traditional IRA because I wanted to continue deferring taxes on my contributions and gains.
How? This should have been easier than it was. Dear millennial, I warn you that you will likely need to pick up the phone. (Cynically, I think the 401(k) administrator's make this process difficult to try to deter rollovers.)
  1. Convert to cash. If you're particular about the timing of your exit from non-cash positions currently held in your 401(k), you may need some lead time to convert your holdings into cash.
  2. Understand the 401(k) administrator's process. Visit the 401(k) administrator's website to read about the steps they require to initiate a rollover. (The 401(k) administrator is the financial services firm running the 401(k) plan, e.g., Charles Schwab.) Each of the administrators I worked with required a slightly different process pursuant to the 401(k) plan documents. Jot down any questions you may have. Some process steps that surprised me:
    • Each plan issued a paper check instead of transferring funds electronically. How much longer are we going to carry on like this? It's 2019.
    • One of the plans stipulated that the rollover check could be sent only to my home address. This was a concern since the security of my mailbox is in question (I've had three checks stolen from my mailbox in the last year). So I watched for the mailman like a hawk and, upon receipt, forwarded the check to my IRA administrator via carrier pigeon. Joking about the pigeon, but the process sure felt like it took forever.
    • One of the plans levied an unavoidable $25 administrative fee on the rollover. Funny how plan terms reflected each firm's culture.
  3. Understand the IRA administrator's process. Visit the IRA administrator's website to read about the steps required to receive rollover funds. In particular, look for requirements related to how the 401(k) administrator should write the check when transmitting the rollover funds. Some wrinkles in this process:
    • My IRA administrator requires that a rollover check be payable to "[administrator's long firm name] FBO [beneficiary's name]" which in all cases exceeded the character limit in the 401(k) administrator's systems. I placed a call to the IRA administrator to confirm which abbreviations would be acceptable, but I think many administrators include truncated payable to information on their websites. When in doubt, confirm!
    • My IRA administrator required the completion of an online form to alert them as to the incoming rollover. I suppose this is when you'd want to set up your IRA if you didn't have an existing one.
  4. Coordinate with the 401(k) administrator. Call the 401(k) administrator to confirm that your former employer has notified the administrator that you are no longer an active employer, ask the questions accumulated in step 1, and initiate the rollover (in my case, via online form).
  5. Monitor progress and follow up as needed. Once the rollover check was mailed (but not yet deposited), my 401(k) account reflected a zero balance. I kept an eye on my IRA administrator's website to confirm that the rollover check had been processed in the expected amount.
    • One of the plans issued a pro rata interest payment shortly after my rollover, which meant I had to repeat the rollover process to completely close out my balance in that plan. 
  6. Watch for tax forms related to the rollover. Some of the plans sent my 1099-R immediately after the rollover, others waited until the following February.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Spark Joy!

tl;dr: I use a lot of dry shampoo.

In my 20s, I loved to buy makeup and personal care products. I amassed a treasure trove of the stuff, much of which went unused. In my 30s, when I returned to my storage unit in Pasadena after two years in Japan, I was horrified by the excess of it all.

The firm had sent me to Tokyo with just two suitcases. To my complete surprise, this was enough stuff to sustain me for two years. During that time, I had learned to appreciate that less stuff often results in less stress. My affection for minimalism has hung around (recently bolstered by the new Marie Kondo show on Netflix) even as my memories of Tokyo fade into the past.

Towards the end of 2018, I started wondering which personal products I use the most. If I could figure this out, I could stave off the desire to purchase products I don't use, further pare down the stash under my sink, and justify buying nicer versions of those products that I actually use (or, as Kondo-san would say, those products that spark joy). To track this, I created an album in my iPhone and snapped a photo of emptied personal product containers before disposing them.

The results were rather boring, so I've limited this post to photos of 10 products:


  1. I don't go through as much skincare as I'd thought. 
  2. Most of my consumption relates to haircare (chiefly dry shampoo).
  1. My consumption of dry shampoo has decreased since I've left the firm. (Guys, there were so many times I was just too darn exhausted to wash my hair.)
I try to buy a different brand of dry shampoo every time I visit the store, but I still don't have a clear favorite. Which brand do you recommend? Does it spark joy!?!