‘I don’t…’

by Grocery Bags

Whoopi Goldberg: I don’t eat vegetables.
Joy Behar: You don’t eat vegetables?!?!
Whoopi Goldberg: I drink V-8.
Joy Behar: But V-8 has so much sodium!
Whoopi Goldberg: I drink the low sodium kind.

Marshawn Lynch: I’m just here so I don’t get fined.

Bill Clinton: I did not inhale.

Grocery Bags: I don’t like onions. I don’t like rosemary. I don’t wear skirts. I don’t do everything my yoga teacher tells me to do. I have a Twitter account, but I don’t tweet.

Totebaggers, what are your “I don’ts…”?

April Fool’s Ideas?

by Tulip

Just throwing this one out there, but I never do anything to “celebrate” April Fool’s Day. I suppose there’s been some conversation at school because my DD came home a few days ago asking if I’d do something to fool her for the day. I think the fact that she asks for it and expects it sort of defeats the idea, but that’s an entirely different issue! At any rate, I could google and search pinterest and be in way over my head, but I am guessing that other totebaggers have some low-investment ideas for April Fool’s pranks to pull on the kids?

Tax Time

by Finn

We’re now in the middle of everyone’s least favorite time of year: tax time.

We’ve already touched on a number of tax topics this year, but perhaps it’s time for a day of asking our questions, sharing our knowledge, and airing our complaints.

Totebaggers, what have you learned over the years that you can share with your fellow totebaggers that will help ease this time of year? What questions do you have that others here might be able to answer? If someone died and made you king, what changes would you make to our income tax system?

Is Fear Driving Your Career Growth?

by L

Building Your Career: Based on Fear?

I found that I gained confidence and credibility in my job once I was no longer afraid of being fired. This fear had stayed with me for the first 10 years of my career (and I had been fired more than once!). I like to think that I can see the fear behind others’ business developments efforts, perhaps in their going to as many events as possible, or over-billing for tiny tasks, or in the slightly desperate air that comes from using someone’s name 30 times in a half-hour conversation.

Totebaggers, do you feel that your career-building efforts, whether marketing, networking, or doing your job tasks as well as possible (or for some of us, as well as possible based on unit of effort) are based on fear? Or is what you do to further yourself in your career based on personal pride, type-A outdoing yourself or others, or, as the book says, “love”?

Emotional Intelligence

by Louise

Totebaggers have often mentioned social skills, emotional intelligence, soft skills – call it what you like.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict.

The one aspect emotional intelligence covers is how to communicate effectively with others. This is an area that needs working on for many people.

What tips can you share with other posters on how to apply emotional intelligence in different situations?

There are a few of us who are academics, lots of lawyers, engineers and other professions – what social skills have your students, coworkers, managers, employees displayed that you have been impressed with ?

As a parent what advice would you give to your children about this topic? I’ve come to realize that this is covered at my kids’ school in guidance class.

Discuss!

Ask The Totebag: A Parenting Surprise

by Anonymous

Fellow Totebaggers: I am asking your advice anonymously, as my question involves my child. I suspect it will be easy to figure out who I am, but I’d appreciate it if you’d maintain the fiction for my kid’s privacy. Thank you in advance.

Today, my kid (teen-aged) told me that s/he is bisexual, and I don’t want to screw this up.

If you figure out who I am, you will know that I have no problem with this, either philosophically or religiously or politically or any other “-ly.” I am just surprised and unprepared (and surprisingly unprepared), because I had not seen any signs; all prior teenage crushes had been opposite-gender, and while my kid could have been covering, they seemed convincing to me.

I am also not entirely sure this is, for lack of a better word, “permanent”; recently, 4-5 kids in class have come out as gay/bi, and this group of friends is very into gay rights; hard to tell if it is my kid finding an accepting peer group that allows him/her to be him/herself, or if it’s my kid trying to fit in with a peer group/trying on different identities like every other adolescent. But I also know that one standard parental response is to find excuses why that can’t be their kid. And whatever my kid might feel at 25, this is who s/he is right now — s/he has told me, directly, and it is my job to assume that s/he means it. It took a lot of guts for my kid to tell me this, and it was something s/he had obviously worked up to over some period of time. It would be unfair and disrespectful to assume I know better, to treat this as a phase or something that s/he will outgrow.

So where I am now, after a grand total of four hours of thinking it through, is that it’s my job to support, not question. These are some new waters for both kid and parents (for one, the idea of sleepovers just got a lot more complicated), and I need to help my kid learn how to navigate them, on top of all of the other adolescent pressures and insecurities. This is the part that I don’t want to screw up.

For the moment, I just said “you’re always safe with us” and gave the kind of half-hug you can give while driving, then asked if there was a particular crush involved (there is, although like the earlier opposite-gender ones, this one also doesn’t seem to know my kid exists). Now I just need help with the next conversation. And the one after that, and after that. . . .

Do You Use Math Much?

by saacnmama

You’ve Been Cutting Your Cake Wrong All Your Life

We talk about calculus enough in here, and have made a few jokes about its use beyond the classroom. At my undergrad university, either calculus or formal logic could be used to fulfill one of the liberal arts requirements. In other words, the value of calculus was seen not in being able to derive anything, but in following steps to make an analysis. How do you use your math background? Using simple algebra to calculate exposed area per volume of remaining cake could be one way to test out this method of cake cutting. Where else is math handy for you, and what level math do you use most often?

A Look At Luck On St. Patrick’s Day

by WCE

How luck works

I liked this article on luck better than the comments, because the article focuses on a range of views about luck (is luck stable or fleeting?) as well as casual references (medical school admission, hot hands in basketball) that describe the ambiguity with which people refer to luck. In my own life, I’ve felt comfortable taking more risks in the academic realm than in the obstetrics realm, based on my relative success over time in each of those areas. This article also made me think about how a single event (massive layoffs announced during my twin pregnancy vs. uneventful pregnancy with current baby) can shape my emotional outlook for a period of years.

A quote from the article:

For example, a gambler who had just won three times in a row, won 67 per cent of the time on his fourth bet. If he won on his fourth bet, then he cleaned up 72 per cent of the time on the fifth bet. Those who lost their first bets were just 47 per cent likely to win on the second and, if they lost again, only 45 per cent likely to win on the third. Could good luck beget good luck and bad luck really beget bad luck, just as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer?

The team then dug deeper to reveal why these streaks were in fact real: it was the bettors’ own doing. As soon as they realised they were winning, they made safer bets, figuring their streaks could not last forever. In other words, they did not believe themselves to have hot hands that would stay hot. A different impulse drove gamblers who lost. Sure that lady luck was due for a visit, they fell for the gambler’s fallacy and made riskier bets. As a result, the winners kept winning (even if the amounts they won were small) and the losers kept losing. Risky bets are less likely to pay off than safe ones. The gamblers changed their behaviours because of their feelings about streaks, which in turn perpetuated those streaks.

What do you think about luck? How do recent successes or failures influence your willingness to take risks in a particular realm?

Drop-in Guests

by Grace aka costofcollege

Imagine that a friend is in your neighborhood and decides to stop by your house for a quick hello. Since it’s a last-minute thing, they may or may not call or text you ahead of time.  Is your home visitor-friendly, clean and clutter-free?  What is your reaction?

A)  My house is a mess and I’m in the middle of a million things that have to get done, so I’ll tell them it’s not a good time.  Please just go away.

B)  As I open the door I’m trying to manage a smile to hide my annoyance at an unexpected guest.  I hope they don’t stay long.

C)  I have a ton of things to do, but they’re not more important than a chance to catch up with a friend.  Mi casa es tu casa, anytime.  What a nice surprise.

Now that the visitor is at your house, what snack or drink will you offer?  Do you have a stand-by stash of snacks to offer guests?  Or do you figure offering refreshment will only encourage this kind of uncivilized social behavior?  How often do you get unexpected visitors?

What about the kids?
When my kids were younger, neighborhood friends would sometimes drop by unannounced.  But now there’s usually texting before FTF visiting takes place.  However, it’s not unusual to have a group of teens converge on my house at the last minute, and it can be a challenge to feed them.  Seltzer, popcorn, cookies, nacho fixings, and boxed mac-n-cheese are easy to keep in the pantry.  Take-out pizza is almost always welcome.  What do you feed young guests?

Sweet Briar College Is Closing

by SWVA Mom

This article touches on some typical Totebag topics: STEM vs. liberal arts, rural vs. urban, having a variety of choices to find the right college fit, and the soaring cost of higher education.

Shocking Decision at Sweet Briar

This story caught my eye because I worked on a design & construction project at Sweet Briar many years ago. The campus is so beautiful – I hope someone will find a new purpose for the property. Another small, historically women’s college in Virginia was purchased by the Mormon Church several years ago and seems to be thriving, and a well-known Evangelical Christian university in Virginia has been growing both its online presence (recently hit 100,000 enrollment) and its campus ($400 million construction program), so maybe a church will step in and make a go of it.

Lessons From The Great Recession

by Louise

Totebaggers, it seems like The Great Recession happened eons ago. I still think about how bad things could have been for us as a family. We were lucky in that we had no job loss during that time.

Lots of changes took place in the financial services industry. Some Totebaggers have described changes to their jobs and lives because of the crisis.

How did the Great Recession impact you? Did it change your spending habits, your assumptions about the value of real estate?  What about the role of government?

Discuss…

The Kids Are Alright

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

Yeah, I know, it’s not spelled that way. It’s a Who reference, OK?

So my proposal is that we review our acquaintances and see the 20-somethings who are doing all right in life even though maybe they weren’t taking Differential Equations when they were 9. I’ll start.

First, there’s my new DIL, who majored in non-profit management and is doing very well at a large national non-profit with local, autonomous branches. She just got a 30% raise, in fact. Though she did take Calculus, the reason for her success is her good work habits, attractive personality and appearance, and excellent social skills. And of course she’s quite bright.

From church, there’s a young couple with a 6-month-old and 2 1/2 year old. Young Mama has $140K in student loans, but she has an MSW and a license to practice therapy, and she makes around $40K per year. Her hubby majored in engineering for 2 years, hated it, quit, and became a CNC engineer. He makes $45K base salary and usually pulls in $60K because of overtime. They do all the right totebaggy things to get out from under their debt — no cable, no Internet, Grandma watches the kids for free, etc. They never eat out. They’re burning down the debt and should be okay in a few years.

Also from church, we have (yes!) a nurse and a correctional officer. They have reasonable salaries and good bennies. They have one 2.5-year-old and hope to have more. They own a house waaaaay out towards Kansas, so they have long commutes in to Denver. They also have a Grandma watching the kids for free.

Come on, in addition to all the young people who know who are drowning, you must know some who are doing okay, even if they aren’t Mark Zuckerberg. Let’s hear about them.

Basic Investment Rules

by Grace aka costofcollege

Do you think your investment portfolio is diversified?  Morgan Housel at the Motley Fool believes there’s only one way to tell if you’re truly diversified.

You are only diversified if some of your investments are performing worse than others.

Losing money on even a portion of your portfolio is hard for some people to swallow, so they gravitate toward what is performing well at the moment, often at their own expense.

In other words, some people gravitate toward selling low and buying high.

That was one of 16 Rules for Investors to Live By recently published by the WSJ.

Do you agree with these rules?  Which ones seem particularly important to you?  What rules would you add?  Have you been happy with your investment portfolio?

ADDED:  If you’re having trouble seeing the WSJ article, try clicking this link to Google and then select the first result.

Do Schools ‘Require’ Helicopter Parenting?

by saacnmama

Teacher sends father a stern note scolding him for his daughter’s ‘unhealthy’ pack lunch of ‘chocolate, marshmallows, a cracker and a pickle’ – unfortunately for the school, dad’s a doctor

We’ve had lots of sideline chatter about “requirements” to be helicopter parents recently. If we want to bring it front and center, this is as good a starting place as any.

Friday Fun: The Experienced Parent

by Louise

As my kids pass each stage, I have learnt a lot. For example, in the early years I would give more of the “make your kid smarter toys” as presents, now I gift the cheesy fun toys that the recipient will actually play with.

I remember to have a few snacks floating around, wet wipes for certain outings, when to sign up for certain activities, the list goes on. What have you learnt as a parent? If not a parent, then observations from your own childhood or as an aunt or uncle.

Coffee Talk: The Hidden Cost of a Flexible Job

by Honolulu Mother

The Hidden Cost of a Flexible Job

According to this article, the flexibility to work from home tends to come with more, not fewer, hours worked; and for workers in general, the office has encroached on the home. The article concludes:

It wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time, the limitations of technology set a firmer boundary between work and home: If you weren’t at the office, you often couldn’t do your job. But that’s no longer the case.

“Technology now sets no work boundaries,” Williams says. “So we have to set these work boundaries through social norms.”

The only problem, she says, is that we aren’t doing that.

“I’ve been working on this problem for 25 years, and I actually have come to the conclusion that these organizations just aren’t going to change.”

What do you think? Are social norms a realistic way to get the office out of workers’ personal lives?

Small Gestures Make A Big Difference

by Grace aka costofcollege

Three small things

Long term relationships and marriage are hard work. But take some cues from older couples who’ve shared the secrets to keeping the spark alive after decades together: It’s all about the little surprises.

Dr. Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist at Cornell University, writes on Psychology Today that the elders she interviewed for her books said that the most effective things they’ve done for their relationships is build a habit of doing small, positive things for their partners. Specifically, these three types of gestures: surprises (spontaneous nights out or buying flowers for no specific holiday), chores (taking over an odious chore unexpectedly), and compliments (who doesn’t like positive feedback?).

This makes a lot of sense to me.  Often it’s just the small things that make a big difference.  Besides marriage, this principle can also apply to friendships, business colleagues, and many other types of relationships.  For example, an unexpected written note can make a big impression on a new business contact.  What are small things you do, or should do, that help relationships endure.  Are you the recipient of these types of gestures?  Any advice on this?

Differences In Educational Privilege

by saacnmama

Teacher: I see the difference in educational privilege every day. I live it. I am disgusted by it.

We’ve discussed this as a side issue several times. Do people want to focus on the differences in educational opportunity and what can be done about it? Note that there is a link to an article on race towards the beginning of this piece. We might want to draw it in as well.

What’s Wrong With A Services Economy?

by Fred MacMurray

Something I thought about recently as we are doing some projects with costs requiring DW and I agree on before proceeding.

Things on the immediate list include:
• Updated wills, including powers of attorney and healthcare proxies
• Having some of the rooms upstairs repainted
• Refreshing the landscaping
• Replacing our furnace (and maybe the air conditioner)
• Refacing our kitchen cabinets
• Updating the sinks/counter in the family bath

My line of thinking…so what’s wrong with a services economy?

As the economy has recovered, oftentimes in the monthly (un)employment report there’s a comment along the lines of “…most of the news jobs were in the services sector, where pay is lower…” (than in manufacturing, for example).

As I look at the list of things we are looking to spend maybe $20-25k on, it looks to me that maybe 75% of the costs are for “services” (attorney, painter, landscaper, plumber/hvac, carpenter) and maybe 25% are on the goods (the actual furnace and a/c unit, plants, hardscape, countertop). All of those services providers make pretty good money, IMO.

Both DW & I work for services providers, as do/did many of totebaggers (attorneys, professors, nurses, banking, consulting, not-for-profit management). What’s your take on a services economy?

Feeling Poor In Silicon Valley

by LauraFromBaltimore

A blast from the past:

In Silicon Valley, Millionaires Who Don’t Feel Rich

This article hits a number of favorite Totebag topics, like why high-income earners don’t feel “rich,” overspending/keeping up with the Joneses, and the uncertainty/fear associated with trying to get ahead today. My personal favorite line was “Over the years, he has tried to live off his salary, but not always successfully” (dude. Think we figured out the problem).

I wonder, though, if the article missed a critical point about the rise of the professional class. If you think back to the Richie Rich days, people got rich off of other people’s efforts: they built factories that made things — or built railroads or bought oil leases, etc. — then paid other people to do the work. It’s what Rich Dad, Poor Dad described as “other people’s time” and “other people’s money.” This required tremendous amounts of efforts to get established, but once you got over that hump, you could hire managers, delegate most of the day-to-day work, and continue to collect your profits or dividends without much effort.

In Silicon Valley, on the other hand, people are becoming rich largely by their own brains and labor (and luck): they have jobs that pay salaries and give them access to many stock options and bonuses, which provide the hope of great wealth if the company hits it big. But when you work a job instead of own a company, you can’t simply hire managers and delegate 75% of the work and wait for the dividend check — your options are to stay full-time on the treadmill, or quit. And quitting is terrifying, because you are completely severing the very income stream that got you wealthy in the first place. Of course, they could invest their nest eggs and live off of the dividends, like the old-time capitalist. But I have to think that when you’re in an industry that changes so rapidly, with companies starting up and failing right and left, that itself seems even more risky. So they keep plugging away — and then spending most of it for all of the reasons addressed in the article.

Of course, it could also be selection bias (the kind of people who are drawn to the excitement of Silicon Valley are also the kind of people who are not going to be satisfied kicking back when they have saved $3-5MM). Or any number of other things.

And as an aside, I would dearly love to see an update piece to see how — or if — some of these folks weathered the crash.

Discuss!

 

Digital Assets

by L

The latest wrinkle in estate planning: Digital assets

Wisconsin Family Struggles to Obtain Access to Deceased Son’s Facebook and Gmail Accounts

Digital assets are the new hotness in estate planning. With so many of us doing our banking, investing, and correspondence online, not to mention social media, many forward-thinking estate planners (ahem!) are struggling with how to manage planning for clients’ digital assets.

Recently, the Uniform Law Commission completed a draft of a new uniform law to address the problem:

“The Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act solves the problem using the concept of “media neutrality.” If a fiduciary would have access to a tangible asset, that fiduciary will also have access to a similar type of digital asset. UFADAA governs four common types of fiduciaries: personal representatives of a deceased person’s estate; guardians or conservators of a protected person’s estate; agents under a power of attorney; and trustees.”

Have you thought about what will happen to your digital assets if you become incapacitated or pass away?

Child Genius

by Louise

Risely brought up this program, so I gave it a go. I haven’t made it all the way through but probably will by the time this post goes up. It is a competition that tests children of high IQs in various areas like math, vocabulary, anatomy, astronomy, geography etc.

There is one child at ten, who has graduated high school and is now taking college level courses.

There are kids who are very motivated and study for long hours for the competition in addition to their packed schedules. Looking at the printed schedules in their rooms made me dizzy. The schedule was packed. There were driven parents no doubt, but two parents in particular stood out the classic Asian Tiger Mom and another Asian Tiger Dad. Then there was the bright but budding rebel who chose Boy Scout camp instead of spending the weekend studying for the competition. The prize is $100k for college.

Totebaggers many of you have high IQs. Many of you are gifted, have many interests and did very well academically. What do you as adults think of a childhood defined by the child genius label? In what way is your life better or worse?

If one of your kids was gifted how would you handle it? Enter them in competitions, spend a lot of time studying or would you say a competition is fine, but go ahead attend the Boy Scout camp?

Education: Better, Faster, Cheaper?

by MooshiMooshi

This article was in the Chronicle of Higher Education the other day. The pertinent quote, for me is ‘Middle-class college students should have more opportunities to “get the best skills possible,” as quickly and cheaply as possible, and making community-college tuition free would help achieve that goal, President Obama said’.

“Obama Says Students Should ‘Get the Best Skills Possible,’ Quickly and Cheaply”

All I could think of is that old project management triangle “Good, cheap, fast: you only get two”.

The Project Triangle

Do you think that is the case here? Can we provide quality education that is also cheap and fast, or does the project management triangle hold for education too? Since this has to do with Obama’s proposal that 2 years of community college be free, the implication is that kids can get a quality education in 2 years cheaply. Do you want your kid to have good, cheap, and fast? Or would you rather that your kid take his or her time and spend the traditional 4 years? As an aside, many commenters on this article note that Malia is visiting only traditional, expensive 4 year colleges as she does her campus visits. No free 2 years of community college for the Obamas!

How about K12? Is good, cheap, fast possible there?

Or will the fundamental laws of project management always hold?

 

Kids And Money

Moxiemom and Lauren both submitted this article, along with commentary:

Why You Should Tell Your Children How Much You Make

And Milo sent this in:

Fun, NY-centric obsessive peace about rich people and those who are forced to watch their kids envy them.

‘Daddy, Are We Rich?’

Moxiemom:

Saw this article in the NYTimes. Love the guy who brought all the actual money home and showed the kids where it all went. Genius move and kind of Montessori.

My parents did a good job educating us about money, even had my brother and I write checks for them sometimes, but I also remember my father yelling from the other room to my mother asking her to justify some expense and I remember her writing checks for over at the grocery store just to have some money to herself. I vowed never to have that kind of situation. Luckily DH and I have similar values when it comes to spending and he keeps great track of expenses which we go over periodically. If we are spending too much, I will scale back but I won’t sneak around, ever. I think the biggest lesson I took from them was to be careful of your credit. They were pretty proud of their Sears card. This was back when credit was difficult to get!

As for the family that meets weekly to look at the budget, I kind of felt like that was a bit too much info. too much control to the kids and could make them a little obsessive. What do you think? Totebaggers, do you talk to your kids about how much you make and your expenses?

Lauren:

Our fifth grader wants to know how much money we earn, and she is interested in our savings because we have stressed that it is important to save for the future.

She thinks several of her friends are “rich” because they have large houses, and expensive cars.  We tried to explain that it is possible to be rich even if it doesn’t look that way based on your home or car.   We don’t want to share the actual numbers with her because we are fearful that she would tell her friends.  This article created a discussion in our home about whether we should tell our child about our money.  What do you think? Do you share this with your family?

When To Dig In For The Big Clean?

by saacnmama

In my email inbox right now, I have “Start D E C L U T T E R I N G right now ” from Better Homes and Gardens, an ad from the Container Store, Target telling us to “Save up to 20% when you go all neat and tidy”, and Pier 1 Imports telling readers to “Get organized and save”. There is clearly selection bias, as I did something to get each of these sent to me (signed up for a frequent buyers card, probably), and they do have products to sell, but still…

The end of a year and the first weeks of a new year tend to be a time for organizing and purging for many. “Spring cleaning” is a well-known trope. After all my years in academia, the end of summer seems to me to be a natural time to pull things together. I am jealous nearly every year of a friend of mine who is Jewish and therefore has G-d telling her to clean every nook and cranny of her kitchen for the high holidays. On the other hand, there are some people who do such a great job of clearing things out as they go that they never find it necessary to do big purges and organizational moves, and still others who simply leave it all to their heirs.

What about you? Do you have a certain time for big cleaning/organizing binges, an annual cycle, or some other system for keeping your place in order? Does it work well for you? How has it changed through the years with life changes?

The ‘Things’ We Really, Really Like

Both Finn and Dagney submitted posts that asked similar questions but from different perspectives.  As usual, we can learn from each other about “things” we’ve acquired that have made our lives better.


My Favorite Things

by Finn

When Oprah had her show, her annual “My Favorite Things” shows were always among the most popular.

While she no longer has that show, perhaps we can, at least partially, fill the void. What are your favorite things that you think your fellow totebaggers would also enjoy? Have you bought or received anything recently that was really the bee’s knees?


Experiences vs. Things

by Dagney

In Jonathan Clements January 3, 2015 article “How to Keep Your Portfolio on Track – Thirty-One Rules to Guide Your Investments This Year”, the rule that made me the most thoughtful was: “10. Think about which expenditures gave you a lot of pleasure in 2014 and which were quickly forgotten. Use that to guide your spending in 2015.”

“Experiences” would be my immediate response to the question of which type of expenditure gives me the most pleasure: experiences or things. However reading this rule caused me to dig more deeply into this question. There were two expenditures of things in 2014 that brought me a lot of pleasure. The first was the $9.99 100% Pima cotton white tshirt from Costco. This LWT (Long White Tshirt) made my list because 1) below the waist it was long enough that it stayed tucked into my low-waisted pants, so I didn’t feel sloppy, and 2) above the waist it had a flattering fit. The second on my list is an 8” Cuisinart Green Gourmet Skillet. This made my list because I’m trying to eliminate our old Teflon cookware. We have eggs every day, so this gets a lot of use. (And to give credit where credit is due, my husband does almost 100% of the breakfast cooking.)

So the expenditures that gave me pleasure were things that either made me feel good about myself, or made things work better for my family. Could one argue that in fact what was pleasurable about these things was actually the experience of using them? Maybe. And that gives me another reason to pause, because I would predict that the response by both my husband and our son to the question of which type of expenditure gives them the most pleasure would be things. However today my husband and I were at the beach having a spontaneous picnic. At a gathering next to us one of the Dads asked another Dad, if he had any tools to fix his daughter’s bike? The answer was no, so my husband offered to help. One of his acquisitions was good toolkits for each of our vehicles, so he grabbed the set out of my car and fixed the bike. So maybe his things are really just waiting for the right event for them to be “experienced”.

Totebaggers, what expenditures gave you a lot of pleasure in 2014 and which were quickly forgotten?

Where do you get your news?

by Grace aka costofcollege

The current travails of Brian Williams from NBC News made me wonder how many people regularly watch his evening network news show.  Well, it turns out that 37% of “Americans get their news about politics and government” from NBC News, presumably from Williams’ nightly news show.  Color me surprised.  The idea of regularly watching a national news show at 6:00 pm after a day of constantly checking developing news on the Internet seems so foreign, but I’m clearly out of touch with the habits of many Americans on this.

Pew Research conducted a survey last year, and the top ten news sources are listed below.

Source Have heard of Got news from Trust Distrust
CNN 95% 44% 54% 20%
Fox News 93% 39% 44% 37%
ABC News 94% 37% 50% 17%
NBC News 94% 37% 50% 19%
CBS News 93% 29% 46% 17%
MSNBC 89% 27% 38% 22%
Yahoo News 80% 24% 20% 16%
Google News 71% 22% 25% 11%
NPR 53% 20% 29% 9%
BBC 76% 17% 36% 7%

The Pew link has lots of information, including political profiles for consumers of individual news outlets.  You probably will not be surprised to see that The New Yorker and Glenn Beck attract viewers on extreme opposites of the political spectrum.

Where do you get your news?  Do you regularly watch an evening network news show?  What’s the future of these shows?  Do your political profile and news habits align with the results from the Pew survey?  And what’s your take on the Brian Williams story?

Friday Fun: Life’s Little Amusements

by WCE

One of my twins was excited to discover that a local establishment had a play area, as evidenced by the “Play Here” sign he read on the door below. (He didn’t know ALL the words on the door.) He was disappointed to learn that there was no play area. What has amused you at work, at the fitness center, or within your family?

20150131.TPlay1

Retirement Dreams

by LauraFromBaltimore

What’s your (realistic) dream retirement hobby or pastime? We’ve talked about how we’d spend our days in retirement, but is there a big “thing” that you’d like to do if you didn’t have to work for a living, raise small children, etc.?

For us, it will likely be a new house. I love real estate, I love designing kitchens, but most of all I love imagining how a space will feel and how I would feel living in it — family get-togethers, reading books in warm, cozy nooks, sitting by the fire or in a hot tub as the snow falls, etc. And DH loves woodworking, tinkering, building, and generally making stuff. In short, I like to build pretty pictures in my mind of what life would be like in that space, and DH likes to turn all those pretty mental pictures into reality. But we are both constrained by all of the other demands on our time and money. We have built one house and extensively remodeled another, and we have laid flooring and done trim and other bits and pieces, but DH has never built me kitchen cabinets — it would have taken him 6 months of nights and weekends, and we just didn’t have that much time (nor did we want to devote all available spare time to such a massive project).

But I recently realized that “new house” is a perfect early retirement project — either building from scratch, completely to our taste, or buying an old one and taking our time to make it exactly what we want for the next phase in our life. We will have time to spend on it, we won’t be in a rush, and if we sell our current place, we’ll have a reasonable budget to work with. And it is an opportunity to redefine where and how we live and who we are. Sounds pretty cool to me.

You?

Instant Pot 101

by Honolulu Mother

I’d never cooked with a pressure cooker until we bought an Instant Pot in December, but since then our household has been busily learning the pressure cooker ropes. I checked a stack of pressure cooker cookbooks out from the library, looked online, and have been experimenting. A few of my initial observations are:

  • I think what we mainly need in the way of a cookbook is something that lists typical cook times for different foods and basic pressure cooker techniques. I don’t need a recipe for, say, coq au vin so much as a guide for adapting whatever recipe I might already have to the pressure cooker.
  • That said, we’ll probably end up getting the Miss Vickie book I checked out because my older son (who is very taken with the Instant Pot) marked up a bunch of recipes he’d like to try and I’m happy to encourage him to cook more.
  • It’s not that fussy in terms of the timing. Guesstimating times from traditional recipes, from recipes intended for stovetop pressure cookers, or just for things I’m throwing together off the top of my head, has worked pretty well.
  • It seems to work best for recipes with a long simmer time, especially given the need to let the pressure come down and vent the steam before opening. Cutting a 20 minute simmer time by 10 or 12 minutes doesn’t save you much time, but cutting a 1.5 hour simmer down to 25 minutes can make a weeknight dinner option of something that would otherwise have to be a weekend meal.
  • It does an amazing job of swapping the flavors of your various ingredients, and it seems to retain the flavors instead of losing them to the air.
  • When I have it full of liquid I should definitely wait until the steam vent has completely stopped hissing before I try to open the lid. When it’s not so full or the contents are less liquid, it’s more forgiving. (Unfortunate incident making stock from lamb neck . . .)
  • It does work just fine to go between the saute function, the pressure cooker function, and the slow cooker function. For instance, it often makes sense to brown your meat or cook your aromatics in oil on saute, and then close the lid and switch to pressure for what would be the long simmer. And you can use pressure to quickly do an initial step (like presoaking dried beans or doing a stock) and then switch to slow cooker for the next step (cooking the beans or the strained stock together with the soup ingredients) while you’re out of the house.
  • I should have bought one years ago.

I haven’t tried cooking eggs yet although I’ve read that they come out very well. Nor have I tried the Instant Pot’s rice cooker or yogurt function. We’ve mostly done pressure-cooked soups, stews, and braises so far. One thrown-together recipe that’s joined our family repertoire is:

Quick supper

Put in the cooker, from the bottom up,

An onion, peeled and sliced up
Bratwurst, gourmet sausages, or similar — can be frozen
Diced potato and/or carrots
Chopped cabbage or kale

Pour over it all

Bottle of hard cider or beer

Season to taste and set the cooker to do 10 to 15 minutes on high pressure. After it finishes, let it cool for 10 minutes and then vent the steam, and open the lid when it’s vented. Dinner is served!

This recipe caused my oldest child to ask me to buy more kale. More kale! Because we’d run out. He’s been making this meal for himself too.

Other recipes can be found at the Instant Pot site, or elsewhere on the net.

Totebaggers, do you have pressure cooker tips or recipes to share? Do you have tips specific to the Instant Pot? Can you recommend any uses or tricks I haven’t discovered yet?

Jack Lew, Me, And You Too

by saacnmama

Do you sign your name better than a 7th grader? Looking over my son’s end-of-semester grades, I asked about a “zero” in one class. “That’s because you were supposed to sign my graded quiz”, he said. A little more questioning revealed that I had indeed signed it, and he had turned it in. It was right there in his notebook, signature whited out when the teacher accused him of forging my signature. I was never one of those girls practicing handwriting at the board for fun, but not good enough for his teacher? That’s quite a distinction! My scrawl being pretty much the same each and every time, I’ve always figured it was “close enough for government work” and don’t usually give it much thought. I scanned in my driver’s license, signature and all, and emailed it off to the teacher with a brief explanatory note. I never heard back, but the grade changed to an acceptable “100”.

But a messy signature won’t do for some government work. The uproar over Jack Lew’s signature apparently mirrors similar issues with his predecessor’s autograph, as seen here. You can have a bit of fun at his expense here, by having the “Jack Lew signature generator” come up with a loopy version of your own.

The one bit of distinction in my signature came in my last year of high school. I had been exposed to different scripts in different places, and decided to distinguish my own with a “new” version of my first initial. I gave it an additional stroke (like crossing a “T” or the first line of a “K”), and write it that way til today. Otherwise it is hurried and messy and wholly unlikely to make it onto legal US currency in your pocket, even if I am appointed Secretary of the US Treasury.

What about your signature? Is it messy, neat, or somewhere in between? Does it tell anything about you? Post your stories, signed sealed and delivered!

Follow-up Friday: Good (Or Bad) Advice

by Finn

We regularly request and receive advice on a wide variety of topics here, from preparing for a first kid, to car selection, to vacation planning, to dealing with schools and teachers, to college planning, to retirement plans.

How did the advice received here help or not help you? What advice received here would you pass on to someone else in that situation?

Personally, when planning travel on the continental US, my family now always checks on the proximity of locations of Shake Shack, Chipotle, and Chick-Fil-A.

(We have an upcoming post on the Instant Pot, one of the appliances I learned about from fellow totebaggers.  So please let’s defer detailed comments on that for now. — Grace)

Legacy

by Louise

My parents are now attending funerals of family and friends at an alarming rate. When I hear of yet another one, I often wonder about the legacy I hope to leave behind.

A friend of my mother, a very generous woman who helped people had lots of members of the community at her funeral. In my community, a lot of different buildings be it a hospital wing, small theatre, community center are named after local entrepreneurs and banking executives. Their legacy is all around.

We as Totebaggers have often talked about the financial gifts we hope to leave behind to our children and grandchildren. Many of us are donating as we go along. Then there are the billionaires who have taken a here and now approach and are actively managing projects by which they will be remembered.

How will you want to be remembered?

Serial Podcast

by Hoosier Gal

The unexpected hit of the fall was the podcast Serial, which reinvestigates the 1999 murder of Baltimore County high school senior Hae Min Lee and subsequent conviction of her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed. Sarah Koenig, the podcast host, takes us on a week-by-week journey through her investigative process.

Serial Podcast

Do you listen? Do you believe Adnan Syed is innocent? Would *any* conviction begin to look suspicious when looked at in the same detail (doesn’t every story have at least a few inconsistencies? who can remember exactly what they were doing two months ago at a specific hour?)

Was this podcast exploitative or an expose of the flaws in our justice system?

Ethical questions raised when a murder becomes a Serial podcast sensation

What “Serial” Really Taught Us

Why did it become so wildly popular, to the point that it’s been spoofed in multiple places:

Christmas Serial (ft. Amy Adams Golden Globe® 2015 Winner) – Saturday Night Live

Serial – The Best Buy Employee

Adam@Home

And what’s the deal with Mail Chimp?

Added by Grace:  Any other entertainment obsessions you want to talk about?

More Money Than Time?

by GreenEyes

Totebaggers frequently quip that they have more money than time. It seems like many of us have some level of cleaning help, and some of us use meal prep services.

I will share that paying for grocery delivery makes my life so.much.easier. I can place the order from the app on my phone, and schedule delivery for right when I’m walking in the door after work (or, more frequently, on a day I’m working from home). Totally worth the cost!

What else do Totebaggers outsource?

Real Estate Reflections

by Grace aka costofcollege

Here’s a Zillow Home Value Index chart showing four trend lines.

  • Santa Clara County,CA (home of Palo Alto)
  • Westchester County, NY
  • Bloomington, IL (a Midwestern city two hours south of Chicago)
  • USA

20150125.THomeValuesB2

The Westchester County numbers look about right, with a slow but steady housing recovery that began in 2012.

Are you planning on buying or selling soon?

When it pays to remodel your home — and when it doesn’t

What are home prices doing in your area?  What’s your outlook?  One predication is that despite the fed’s easing of lending standards, “housing may never spring back to its pre-recession levels”.

Coffee Talk: Office Crush, Office Spouse — Bad Idea?

by Grace costofcollege

Danger, danger! The workplace crush. You know it’s a bad idea; whether it ends in heartbreak or happiness, two jobs may be on the line. But you just can’t help yourself.

Is it dangerous, or just a way to make the workplace more enjoyable?  If you’re married, can an office crush stay innocent?

What about an “office spouse”, a colleague of the opposite sex with which you have a close platonic relationship?

Having someone you trust completely in the cubicle next door certainly has its advantages. That sort of close colleague may understand situations and anecdotes in a way your non-work friends or actual spouse may not.

The experts say boundaries are critical in keeping these relationships from damaging your marriage or your career.

Totebaggers, any lessons learned from these kinds of work relationships?  What are the risks and rewards?  You can tell your story anonymously if you’d like, or report on the experience of a “friend”.

Coffee Talk: Exercise Keeps Us Young

By Seattle Soccer Mom

The NY Times Active had an article in January about a new study of the effects of exercise on aging. The study found that older people resemble much younger people physiologically. From the article: “The findings suggest that many of our expectations about the inevitability of physical decline with advancing years may be incorrect and that how we age is, to a large degree, up to us.”

How Exercise Keeps Us Young

My mother did not exercise and she was also significantly overweight. It really affected the last years of her life negatively and is a huge motivator for me to stay active.

I exercise 4– 5 times a week – mostly running and I go to a boot camp with friends once a week. I used to exercise 3 times a week – but was able to boost my exercise last year by joining a group where you pledge to exercise 1,000 minutes (or more) a month – and put in $20 as your commitment to do so. If you don’t meet the 1,000 minutes, you lose the $20. It’s been really helpful to get me to increase the amount of time I spend exercising.

Fellow totebaggers – do you exercise regularly? How many times a week and what are your favorite types of exercise? What’s your motivation?

Ask The Totebag: Cutting The Cable Cord

by MBT

Every January, I spend a little time revisiting all of our spending, getting new insurance quote, etc, to see if we can shave any of the spending creep that occurs in our house.  One of the things I think I’m going to do this year is try dropping cable and my landline.

I’m the only one who uses the landline, which is actually forwarded to my cell phone right now, so this choice impacts no one but me. I like having a line separate from my cell number to give out when I need to provide a phone number, and just generally feel weird not having a “house” phone.  So this is a baby step for me to cutting the cord. I think I’m going to go with a service called Ooma that will provide free basic phone service once I buy the router-type device.

The bigger change is dropping the cable service. We already subscribe to Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon, but I think they’ll just be a little adjustment in having to go to multiple sources to find what we want to watch. Right now I mostly set shows to tape and watch off of the DVR. I’m assuming I’ll need to get some sort of antenna to get network shows, but other than that, I really just watch HGTV.  Their website says they offer some episodes online, but I have to have a cable subscription to get a larger selection.  I found this article which offers some advice:

Cord-Cutting Calculator Shows How Much You Can Save by Ditching Cable

I saw that there is a new service coming out called SlingTV that is a subscription to just a few of the key channels I want (HGTV) or someone else in the house may want (ESPN).  Has anyone that will actually cop to watching TV abandoned cable, and if so, what streaming services do you recommend? Are there any that aren’t worth the money? Is a Tivo system or other DVR necessary?  I’d welcome any tips you may have.