Choosing a Vacation Destination Based on its Economy

by Honolulu Mother

Vox put together this Vacation Index showing which countries are the best – and worst – bargains for vacationers at the moment. According to the article, it’s not intended to compare bang for the buck in absolute terms, but rather to show which countries are cheaper or more expensive than they usually are. Do you think the index is an accurate representation of that? Would you consider choosing a vacation destination based on it?

Our next vacation is to the very worst bargain listed, and yet the exchange rate is still better than it was the last time I was there. I think the index is looking at a relatively short-term timescale.


by Rhode

Venezuela should be rich. Instead it’s becoming a failed state.

This article came across my Facebook news feed. The person who shared it asked that if socialism failed in Venezuela, is it wise to try to bring it to the US? He’s a very strong conservative who tows the party line every chance he gets.

I have to ask, does this article scream “socialism”? Is that really what caused the downfall of Venezuela? Or was it cronyism? Does cronyism equal socialism, or can it equal socialism?

Some services (police, fire, ambulance, public education) are all socialist ideas because everyone pays for the service even though they don’t need it or use it. Can other socialist ideas (health services, so-called entitlement programs) exist and thrive in the US? Would we then be a socialist country?

Your smart home

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

Amazon Wants Alexa to Take Control of Your Smart Home

I was thinking, “Good thing I have a dumb home.” Then I realized that my
sous vide talks to my phone, and my phone talks to Alexa, so probably
Alexa and my phone gossip about the sous vide. Never mind the horror
stories about the smart houses taking over and killing us. I expect that
the Internet of Things will form cliques, unfriend each other on
Facebook, ditch each other right before prom, cry a lot, and refuse to
cooperate on group projects.

Oh, and my phone answers the doorbell, so who knows who they’re letting
in for parties while I’m out?

Totebaggers, how smart is your house? How smart do you want it to be?

Multilevel marketing

Both L and Honolulu Mother sent in posts about mulitlevel marketing:

by L

MLMs: your thoughts? Does anyone have FB or real life friends selling these products? What about the church connection?

I have one friend on FB who sells LuLaRoe, but I have never been to an MLM party or been pressured to attend one.

Why your Facebook feed is filled with women selling essential oils and press-on nails

my boss wants to secretly recruit my coworkers and me into a money-making scheme



by Honolulu Mother

Let’s all gripe about our “friends” selling Jamberry on Facebook!

This Vox article tackles the important question of “Why your Facebook feed is filled with women selling essential oils and press-on nails.” Actually, mine really isn’t, but that’s because I know how to use the “hide” feature. In some circles, though, MLM’s parasitical profiting off the social and family connections of its victims / salespeople is hard to avoid.

Totebaggers, your thoughts on multilevel marketing?

Graduation costs

by Grace aka costofcollege

This time of year many families are celebrating graduations, whether preschool, elementary school, middle school, high school, or college.  The costs can mount up, as discussed in this CollegeConfidential thread.

Cap and gowns, diplomas, yearbooks, photos, rings, invitations, dinners, parties, travel, and gifts are some of the typical expenditures.  If your child is receiving honors of various types, costs for awards dinners can mount up.  One parent with twins complained she would be spending several hundred dollars for those.  Other end-of-year expenditures like recitals and proms can also strain family budgets.

How lavish is your spending for graduation celebrations?  What is common among your friends and relatives?  What about spending for other types of milestones, like First Communions or bat/bar mitzahs?

Work for free?

by Sara

When does it make sense to work for free? I have a 24 year old daughter starting out in digital marketing and a friend at a start up asked her if she would create and manage their social media program for free. I told her that she should go for it – great experience, resume builder, and opportunity for good references. Plus, if it’s not a great experience – or you get a paid job offer – you can just resign (they’re not paying you!)

I wonder what group’s advice would be – I know several senior finance execs who got laid off in tough market and were out for several years. Coming back and working for free at a small financial boutique is a way to get back in the game, prove yourself and demonstrate your value. Several ended up impressing the CEO to such a degree that they ended up getting hired by the firm.

Is Luxury Fashion in Trouble?

by Honolulu Mother

This Daily Beast article on the flagging performance of various luxury fashion brands suggests alternately that luxury brands have saturated the market to the point that they no longer seem, well, like a luxury; that they’ve alienated the consumers who buy the real stuff by focusing more on celebrities who borrow gowns for the Oscars than on the paying customers; and that it’s simply priced itself out of the general clothing market.

Do you think luxury fashion’s time has come and gone, or is this a blip? Is it something you find worth paying for?

Let’s Talk Cars!

by Fred MacMurray

Time to talk about how we all express ourselves through our cars.

– what do you drive as your everyday (commute/errand) car(s)? why did you pick those?
– is anyone a real “road” warrior, driving >20- or 25,000 miles a year?
– do you have a separate “fun” car for the summer or just because?
– what’s your dream car, the one you’ll buy to satisfy your mid-life crisis, because you win the lottery, etc.
– do you have your car serviced at a dealer, an independent shop, national/regional chain? Why? Speak up if you / partner do-it-yourself.
– anything else we should know about your automobile state of mind?

This post was inspired by:

Why Americans Are Buying More Trucks And SUVs Than Cars

Is there hope for weight maintenance?

by MooshiMooshi

The article on the study that followed the contestants from The Biggest Loser was huge last week. Basically, they found that all of the contestants they followed gained the weight back, sometimes more, despite their best efforts. The reason? Their metabolisms were lowered to the point where they couldn’t keep the weight off. And the lowered metabolisms appeared to persist over time.

After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight

Some of the followup articles are even more depressing. This article pretty much says that if you want to keep weight off after dieting, you are condemned to a near-anorexic way of life, and that nothing else works

So what hope is there for weight maintenance?

Anecdotal reports by people who have succeeded in keeping weight off tend to have a common theme: constant vigilance, keeping close track of weight, controlling what food is eaten and how much (often by weighing and measuring food), exercising often, putting up with hunger and resisting cravings to the best of their ability….

Short Answers to Hard Questions About Weight Loss

The takeaway for me is “Never get fat in the first place”. Maybe we are just a species evolved to exist at near starvation levels and that eating enough to be comfortable is unhealthy.

Am I being too bleak? Are these articles too bleak? Has anything worked for you?

Bubbles within bubbles

by Honolulu Mother

We’ve talked before about the idea that Totebaggers generally live within a comfortable urban-coastal bubble. But this Prospect article suggests that many of our business and political leaders live in yet a smaller and more comfortable bubble, which makes it difficult for them to understand the everyday experiences of the great majority of their fellow citizens:

Sanders, Trump, and the Hassles of Regular People

Daily life is more and more of a hassle for more and more people, whether it involves insecurity of jobs, of pay, of schools, of health care, of retirement, of unaffordable apartments and tuitions, of long lines and crumbling transit systems—you name it. And the super-elite doesn’t care, because they literally don’t experience any of this.

The article is short and unfocused and a bit of a humblebrag, but the idea it raises is an interesting one. Totebaggers, what do you think?


by Louise

I watched this documentary – Silicon Valley. I was struck by the description of the atmosphere of innovation described in Silicon Valley. The many companies that were started as a result. Have you been at places where there was something new being discovered or something old being reinvented ? What do you think of risk taking, not being afraid to fail which accompany innovation ? Have you been innovative at work ? Any other areas ?

Silicon Valley

Does parenting destroy creativity?

by Honolulu Mother

An interesting article on the effect of parenthood on the ability to create:

A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Mom

I pretty much agree with the conclusion, that having a house full of kids can pretty much eliminate any prospect of having the mental space, the Woolf-style Room of One’s Own, to write or do other creative work; but in the long term, the immediate chaos will lessen and the parenting experience gives one a richer experience of life to draw on in creative work.

What do other Totebaggers think?

Language choices

by Louise

The choice of foreign language comes up during discussion of academic choices. A lot of kids are taking Spanish. Their parents hope that they will be able to communicate with Spanish speakers in the U.S. There are a couple of issues though. The teaching of foreign languages, at the neighborhood schools (excludes language magnets or immersion programs) is not rigorous enough in my opinion. The languages are in many cases taught by non native speakers and the graduation requirement is only two years. It seems that the goal of being fluent in a language is not achieved. I am not sure if fluent in a language was ever the goal of the education system. I know some posters studied abroad during high school and college. What has been your experience as a student or as a parent ? Any language teachers among us who want to weigh in ?

Paying for luxury

by MBT

How much are you willing to pay for the good life?

I know some totebaggers extol the virtues of paying extra for first class air travel, particularly on international flights. Others find big vacation splurges, or luxury cars, or home renovations to be worth it. What luxury experiences are worth it to you? Are you willing to pay extra to not rub shoulders with the hoi polloi, as the article suggests?

In an Age of Privilege, Not Everyone Is in the Same Boat
Companies are becoming adept at identifying wealthy customers and marketing to them, creating a money-based caste system.

Noncompete agreements: Good, bad, or indifferent?

by Honolulu Mother

Job hopping helped Silicon Valley thrive. So why do other states restrict it?

This Vox article points to enforcement of noncompete agreements as the villain in the shrinking of Route 128’s hi-tech sector relative to Silicon Valley’s. It also raises concern over the growth of noncompetes in such areas as sandwich making and janitorial services, where the argument that they protect trade secrets is unconvincing.

Does your state support noncompete agreements? Do you have personal experience with them? Do you think they’re a bad thing, a good thing, or a necessary evil when appropriately limited?

How do our young teens spend their summers?

by Denver Dad

In a recent thread, I talked about our issues finding a suitable “camp” or
other activity for the summer for 14-year-old DD. Some people commented
that they don’t understand why a teenager needs to go to camp.

So I’ll ask the question: what are your young teenagers doing for the
summer, or if you have older kids, what did they do when they were in the
13 to 15 range? I’m particularly interested in replies from families
where both parents work outside the home so the kids can’t get to/from
activities that are less than a full day.

Are you a Rebel?

by Grace aka costofcollege

The start of the Totebag 30-Day Challenge seems an appropriate time to learn about Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies and how they affect habits.

When we try to form a new habit, we’re setting an expectation for ourselves. Therefore, to change our habits, it’s crucial to understand how we respond to expectations.

I suggest you take this quiz before you read more.

Gretchen Rubin’s Quiz: The Four Tendencies

Are you an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel?


Do you think the quiz reveals your tendencies?  Or is all this just a frivolous exercise in pseudo science?

If you’re participating in the Totebag 30-Day Challenge, go to the WEEK ONE page to check in.

What’s Your Favorite and/or Latest Gadget?

by Seattle Soccer Mom

Fellow Totebaggers – have any favorite gadgets you’d like to share? What’s the most recent gadget you’ve acquired? My latest gadget is the Chef’n PalmMincer Fresh Herb Mincer. I have several recipes that call for minced fresh herbs and I find this gadget much faster than using a knife to chop them.


ALSO, go to the Totebag 30-Day Challenge final countdown! page to declare your participation.  We start on Sunday, May 1.

Informational graphics (and some housing information)

by WCE

Why the Great Divide Is Growing Between Affordable and Expensive U.S. Cities

Given my abstract interest in demographics and my practical interest in moderate cost of living areas, I enjoyed this article on how housing prices have changed since 1980. I especially enjoyed the graphic below.

Did anything in the article surprise or trouble you, or is it all “old news”? What do you like or dislike about the graphic, which I’ve also pasted below?



GPS and navigation skill

by Honolulu Mother

Technology: Use or lose our navigation skills

Is GPS ruining our ability to navigate for ourselves?

The above articles suggest that our increased reliance on automated GPS or smartphone directions is eroding our ability to get around without them. Do you find that to be the case? Do you think it’s a problem? And has GPS ever betrayed you?

I don’t use GPS that much myself, largely because I live on an island and I know how to get places, and if I don’t, I can easily check the directions and even “drive” down the street via Google StreetView before I go. But when I have used it, it has a different “feel” than finding my own way and I can see how it could over time replace the old-style navigation skills.

I haven’t gotten spectacularly lost following smartphone directions — not like the Gibraltar guy! — but I did once end up at a residence when trying to get to the local ice rink with a car full of girls. Maybe it was the owner’s house? If I’d been really looking around instead of trustingly following the directions I would have realized the problem sooner.

Cliques, social groups, and popular kids

Today we have two posts on similar topics

Cliques and social groups

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

Grace:  Oh, he’s very popular Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads – they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.

I had an interesting discussion with some online friends the other day. In my high school, the social groupings were very much like the scene above from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Well, not quite, but we had the rah-rahs, the jocks, the jockettes, the nerds (represent!), the burnouts, the Beautiful People, the Jesus Freaks, the stoners, the Band Geeks, and more that I’m probably forgetting.

My friend from Florida: “Are you crazy? We had three groups. The whites, the blacks, and the Cubans. That’s it”
My friend from rural Ontario, Canada: “We didn’t have social groups. We were all rural Canadians.”

And I kind of get that. At Paly in my day, we had a black kid. Her name was Cammie. She didn’t really count as a social group, though. So the many, many white kids all subdivided ourselves into the groups I mentioned.

Do your kids go to a school with many different social groups, or are they mostly divided by race? By rural/urban? Something else? What about your high school?


Popular kids

by Louise

Recent posts from Totebaggers have described taking action against bullies. My kids are now navigating through the tween years where kids split into groups. I would describe my kids as being in the middle – generally getting along with everyone. Do you see a change from when you went to school ? Have the anti bullying and respect for different types of kids programs worked ? If you could go back what would you do differently ?

Popular Kids

Geography matters for the poor

by MooshiMooshi

The NYTimes has been doing a series on health and longevity among different groups, All of the articles have been interesting, but this one popped out at me: If you are poor, where you live has a big impact on your lifespan.

And it turns out you are much better off in large cities on the coasts.

According to the article, if you are wealthy, you can pretty much live anywhere without an impact on your lifespan. That isn’t surprising, since the wealthy live pretty much the same way, and have access to similar services, no matter where they live.

But if you look at the chart towards the end of this article, you can see that the places where poor people live longer are pretty much clumped on the coasts: For poor men, the longest lifespans are in NYC, San Jose, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Newark, Boston. Poor women live longest in Miami, NYC, Santa Barbara, San Jose, San Diego, Port San Lucie, Newark, Los Angeles, Portland ME, Providence.

Now look at the places where poor people have the shortest lifespans: Gary, Indianapolis, Tulsa, Las Vegas, Cincinnati, Knoxville, Little Rock and so on. Not a coastal city on the list, save possibly Honolulu which shows up for women but not men (what is with that?). Clearly something bad is going on in the middle of the country. The article mentions the drug abuse belt. But why is drug abuse so much worse in the middle of the country?

The positive takeaways from this article: first, average lifespans among the poor are still pretty good, but clearly should be better, especially among men living in the lower middle of the country. And second, poverty is not destiny: cities on the coasts are doing something right in terms of keeping poor people healthier. We need to figure out what that is.

The Rich Live Longer Everywhere.
For the Poor, Geography Matters.

Storage and the ‘4Ds’

by Grace aka costofcollege

Need to Store That? Booming Self-Storage Industry Says No Problem
Extra Space Storage shares surge; investment firms look to cash in

It’s possible to profit from our pack-rat habits.  Why is the self-storage industry booming?

… Some refer to the 4Ds—death, divorce, downsizing and dislocation….

Have you gone through any of the “4Ds”?  How did you deal with storage issues?  Any general tips for taming the storage beast?  Any good investment tips?


10 things to throw away right now

 Go vote for your preferred group activity if you plan to participate in the TOTEBAG 30-DAY CHALLENGE.

College tours

by Sheep Farmer

DD and I recently spent a cold and windy Saturday touring UVA. The tour and information session are both led by UVA students. I was disappointed with both, especially considering the reputation of UVA. We first went to a general information session. The UVA two students leading the presentation were frequently not able to answer basic questions posed by the parents (and almost all the questions came from the parents). We then went on a walking tour of the campus which was led by a different student. Instead of giving us new information, he just basically repeated what was said in the earlier talk. What new information he did give focused on the social aspects of the college. The guide spent ten minutes talking about the tradition of streaking across the lawn. Personally, I would much rather have heard him talk more about academics and less about silly college pranks.

This was only our third college tour, so I am definitely not an expert on the subject . The tour that has impressed me the most was at WPI. The session was led by staff from both the admission and financial aid offices. They were able to answer every question from the audience. I liked the fact that they gave information concerning average starting salaries for their graduates, what percentage have jobs already lined up by graduation, etc. I realize that UVA is much larger and has many more majors than WPI, but UVA still could have managed to give us some of this same information.

For those of you who have already been on college tours, what schools impressed both you and your kids the most?

Post-Retirement Aged Workers In the Workplace

by Honolulu Mother

This Pacific Standard article on a 91 year old working as a designer was interesting, both because the woman herself sounds like an interesting and impressive person and also for the points it raised about whether our culture drives post-retirement-aged people away from potentially continuing to work and the effect on our workplaces:

We’ve marginalized a lot of populations based on blanket prejudices, and our attitude toward old people is no different, Irving says. “The ironic thing is that aging is the one thing we have in common, if we’re lucky.” All generations have to think about aging, since we’ll all be affected. The mixed workplace may help reduce these prejudices. By keeping older adults active and integrated in our communities—and by thinking about our communities as wholes, instead of as isolated pockets—we will all benefit from the knowledge and expertise that comes from lives lived with purpose and vigor.

Do you have co-workers who are post-retirement age? Would you like to keep working after normal retirement age?

Open thread

by Grace aka costofcollege

Today we have an open thread to talk about anything we’d like.

We can keep conversations going online here indefinitely.  But what about IRL, either in person or on the phone?

The best way to end a conversation, according to science

I sometimes have a hard time easing out of a long-winded conversation, particularly on the phone.

In other news, I’m excited about possibly having a chance to make a difference in the upcoming New York presidential primary.  I’m very curious to see how my neighbors will vote.

How to diversify elite public schools?

by Lauren

The process for entry into the best academic public high schools in NYC has not changed in the time since I graduated from a NYC public high school in the 1980s. The problem is that the demographics of the city changed during the last 30 years, and many people would like the high schools to be a better reflection of the diverse group of children in the city. There is no question that even though certain minority groups are under represented, the kids that do gain entry actually are a reflection of the economic diversity in the city.

What do you think? Do you think it should continue to be just an entrance exam similar to the SAT, or should other factors be considered to gain entrance to these schools?

Proposals To Diversify NYC’s Top High Schools Would Do Little To Help, Study Finds

Friday open thread

by Grace aka costofcollege

Today we have an open thread to discuss anything on your mind.

The Totebag 30-Day Challenge is scheduled to begin on May 1.  My initial idea had been that each participant could pick a particular activity they want to do, not that we would all do the same thing. However, some Totebaggers would prefer that we all do the same activity.  A compromise would be to select one activity for the group, but leave open the option for individuals to select their own personalized challenge activity if they wish.

Let’s brainstorm.  You can suggest group challenge activities in the comments,  Or let us know if you have a particular activity you’re considering for yourself.

Advice for ‘your “average” excellent student’

by Grace aka costofcollege

Truthful advice about getting into top colleges, for your “average” excellent student

… Your excellent student, (especially if a white girl, or Asian), in a good school district, with excellent test scores, grades, and a range of ECs is very, very unlikely to get into any school with an acceptance rate under 20%. UNLESS the kid is, or does, something exceptional, or is hooked.

That’s one CollegeConfidential parent’s opinion after going through the college application process with her daughter this year.  I suggest you read through the discussion if you’re interested in this topic.

Many families have unrealistic expectations for their “average” excellent kids.

In our town (and all over the Northeast, I suspect), a smart, hard working white or asian girl with good/great stats is a dime a dozen. Actually, I think the same is applies to the boys as well.

We have a number of young men and women who are still shell shocked that they did not get into certain schools. It was all so predictable, and unfortunate that their parents did not “get it”. I know of one mother who is embarrassed her daughter was only accepted to UVA. It’s heartbreaking.

Not all Totebaggers aspire to have their children attend tippy-top colleges.  Some just want their children to be academically qualified for the most selective schools so as to be eligible for merit scholarships elsewhere.  Other Totebaggers would be happy with their children attending your average state school.

Your thoughts?

European travel plans?

by Finn

How have the recent bombings in Paris and Brussels affected you?

I’m guessing that one impact they might have on totebaggers is on travel plans. While Europe is not high on my list of places to go and things to do, there are a few places on my list, but those will probably have to wait for less turbulent times.

We’ve recently been affected. The kids’ school just hosted a group from Japan, who had originally planned a trip to Paris. But the bombings there caused a change of plans, and they came here instead.

‘Take this job and shove it’

by Anonymous

Would you ever resign from your job before you have another one lined up? What about to move to a dream location, such as NYC or San Francisco?

What circumstances would need to be in place to have you even consider? As a single person only responsible for yourself? What about a sole breadwinner of a family?

If I did something like this I would need to dip into my home equity and/or 401k savings.

Health insurance would either be through COBRA or ObamaCare.

I am currently miserable where I am (the boss, not the work).

Effects of increasing international student populations on college campuses

by WCE

I have friends who are STEM academic advisers at OSU and UIUC. My OSU friend confirmed the accuracy of this article. When I was in graduate school, my department was ~75% international students. I think people can learn the fundamentals of engineering in the U.S. with a limited grasp of English, but I’m not sure that other disciplines, especially language-intensive ones, are suitable for people with limited English proficiency. I was surprised to see how high the percentage of international students at Mt Holyoke and Bryn Mawr is (28%) and I wonder if the education there is affected. One of my acquaintances left his engineering professorship in part over how repeated cheating by international students was handled by the local university.

Do you think a US college education will continue to be valuable? Do you share my concern about students with limited English requiring slower instruction in language-intensive disciplines?

On a recent Monday, 22-year-old [Shao] woke up in the apartment he shares with three Chinese friends. He walked to an engineering class at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he sat with Chinese students. Then, he hit the gym with a Chinese pal before studying in the library until late into the night. He recalls uttering two fragments in English all day. The longest was at Chipotle, where he ordered a burrito: “Double chicken, black beans, lettuce and hot sauce.”

At first glance, a huge wave of Chinese students entering American higher education seems beneficial for both sides. International students, in particular from China, are clamoring for American credentials, while U.S. schools want their tuition dollars, which can run two to three times the rate paid by in-state students. On the ground, American campuses are struggling to absorb the rapid and growing influx—a dynamic confirmed by interviews with dozens of students, college professors and counselors.

Heavy Recruitment of Chinese Students Sows Discord on U.S. Campuses

Trip of a lifetime

by Milo

Looping With Little Ones

The family featured in this article took a year off from work, sold their house, bought a used cruising yacht, and took their three kids on a trip around the Eastern half of the United States via the Great Loop–the 5,000-mile circular journey from the mostly sheltered waters of the Eastern Seaboard to the mighty Midwestern rivers known to East Coasters like me only through the novels of Mark Twain.

I’ve mentioned that this is a brand new retirement goal for me, but this family, with children close in age to my own, got me wondering why they would do something like this and I wouldn’t. There are reasons, to be sure. He’s an independent contractor; I’m an employee. We’re pseudo-Totebaggers and therefore are loath to alter the kids’ path through traditional schooling. I’d feel too much regret over a year’s lost earnings at this point in my life.

But, oh to daydream about the possibilities if I were a little less boring and a little more adventurous.

What do you think about this trip in general? How about with kids, specifically? What great, long journeys have you enjoyed, or plan to do, or dream about?

What a drag it is gettin’ old

by Mémé

Many of us have older relatives who need nearby if not active supervision – not because they are demented or frail, but because the details of daily life have become too much to manage. Some of it is adjusting to modern electronics and communications. Some of is a result of spread out car dependent communities and a declining ability to drive oneself. But some of it seems to be avoidable.

One example, as described by this New Old Age column in the NYT, is medication management.

A Prescription for Confusion: When to Take All Those Pills

Lest you think this is an exaggeration, I present DH’s pill regimen. I am live-in, obviously, and manage it because even though he can still win regional bridge events, he can’t keep track of all of this, for example, the meds that have been eliminated but the pharmacy stills sends refill reminders, the varying dosages by day of the week. Or the generic supplier is changed and the refill is a different size and/or color. Or there are five white round pills that resemble each other. He has one of those 7 x 4 pillboxes I fill every Sun morning. The first pill was recently adjusted over the phone (did I mention he is hard of hearing and doesn’t wear his hearing aids around the house?) throw out old pills (trip to police station required for safe disposal). Get new pills different dosage (trip to pharmacy required.) I had to pry the phone from his hand to speak directly to the nurse.

Upon waking –
Thyroid – 1 pill 4 days a week, 1 ½ three days.

Breakfast – must wait a full hour after wake up pill
Diuretics (F & S)
Heart C (1 ½ pills)
Heart D (1 pill 4 days, ½ 3 days)
Vitamin D
Mood B

Dinner –
Mood B
Blood thinner – twice a month blood draws at the doctor’s office – dose then adjusted over the phone – sometimes just for a day or two

Bedtime –
Mood E
Sleep aid
Heart C (1 ½)
BP L ( ½ )

Totebaggers, what would you suggest to make life less confusing for elders (or children) and their caretakers? I also know that an orderly family life, even without elders in the mix, is made more difficult by seemingly artificial constraints relating to kids and school and work, but somehow we expect that children need help navigating and employers will be arbitrary.

Preparing to leave the nest

by Finn

Like several other regulars, I have a kid that will be leaving the nest for college soon.

As that day approaches, I realize that there are some things I should do before he leaves. Some fall into the category of things to teach, while others are tasks to be done in the remaining time. Among them:

-Take him to open a checking account, and teach him how to use it and to safeguard his checks.
-Walk him through a credit card application, and teach him how it works, and how to use it (e.g., always pay the balance, and never use it to buy something that will lead to a balance you can’t pay).
-Get a new phone and plan. We want him to have unlimited talk and text, because we want to have those channels to him wide open.
-Teach him to drive, and make sure he gets his license.
-Take him bike riding, both to sharpen his skills, and to teach him how to ride in traffic.
-Have him sign a health care directive/proxy and a HIPAA form, and keep copies on his, DW’s, and my phones.
-Have him do laundry. I’ve already taught him how to use the washer, but give him practice.
-Teach him how to use a non-solar dryer.
-Teach him basic cooking, and have him prepare some meals for the family.

Of course, in a lot of cases, ‘teach him’ can mean, ‘direct him to learn.’ I’m reminded of a story from a dad who was looking forward to teaching his son how to shave, only to have the son learn how from a YouTube video.

What’s on your list? How do you plan to prepare your kids before they fly the nest?

Our future virtual life

by Grace aka costofcollege

Where does your imagination take you as we consider the ways that technological innovations will continue to change our lives?

Here’s one way learning may be made more efficient and easier.

Scientists develop Matrix-style technique of ‘feeding’ information directly into your brain

“As we discover more about optimising, personalising, and adapting brain stimulation protocols, we’ll likely see these technologies become routine in training and classroom environments.

“It’s possible that brain stimulation could be implemented for classes like drivers’ training, SAT prep, and language learning.”

We may be able to implant memories of vacations that we actually never took.

More possible trends:

Anthem Tells Customers to Visit Virtual Doctors, Therapists, and Psychologists
Growing number of insurers push virtual visits to doctor

The Rich Are Already Using Robo-Advisers, and That Scares Banks

The Language Barrier Is About to Fall
Within 10 years, earpieces will whisper nearly simultaneous translations—and help knit the world closer together

Roaches to the rescue: insect provides blueprint for robotic first responder
Researchers at University of California at Berkeley are developing a mechanical roach after finding its exoskeleton is uniquely suited to fitting into small spaces

Robots will force experts to find other routes to the top
If grunt work of professions is automated, an important way that juniors hone skills will be lost

Domino’s Is Testing the World’s First Pizza-Delivery Robot

Isn’t sex the driving force behind so much of technology?

Makers of ‘mindblowing’ sex robot with virtual vagina swamped with orders

The sex toys of the future: Talking high-tech dolls can be given a personality via an app to create the ‘perfect lover’

What Women and Men Want from Sex Robots

And the scariest proposition of all?

A lot of people who make over $350,000 are about to get replaced by software

Let’s discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of how technology will affect the future for us and our children.

Monday open thread

by Grace aka costofcollege

Today we have an open thread for anything you’d like to discuss.  Maybe politics?  Here’s a question to ponder:

What event divided your life into “before” and “after”?

The survey so far shows that many of us are interested in doing a Totebag 30-day Challenge. — 19 yes, 10 maybe, 6 no.  I’ll get it organized.  Should we start right away on April 1 or wait until May 1?  You can express your preference in the comments.

P.S. — send posts.

The 30-day challenge

by Grace aka costofcollege

The New Era of 30-Day Fitness Challenges
Options to help people spend a month focusing on running, yoga, exercises for abs and more are proliferating …

The 30-day exercise challenge is increasingly popular, especially as an alternative to New Year’s resolutions, which often fail this time of year. The pitch is to stick with a commitment for a month, whether to reach a specific benchmark, mix up a routine or try to establish an exercise habit.

Thirty-day challenges push people to chase goals big and small, from cutting out soda to writing a novel. More than 200 smartphone apps for Apple’s iOS operating system have “30 day challenge” in the title, 10 times the number available in 2014, according to App Annie, an analytics and market-data company. Internet searches for “30 day challenge” have climbed 140% since 2013, according to Google. Gyms and yoga studios offer them as a way to win customers, hoping that a 30-day stint will turn into a habit.

Some Totebaggers have done the Whole 30 Program successfully.  Many other types of 30-day challenges exist — eliminating soft drinks or another food from your diet, reading, acts of kindness, walking or running, planks or pushups, journaling, decluttering, etc.  Part of the appeal is that the commitment is relatively short term.

We recently had a post about the challenge of developing good habits.  What do you think of the 30-day challenge trend?  Have you tried it?  Is the idea appealing to you?  What activity have you done or would you consider doing?  Are you interested in doing a Totebag 30-day challenge, one where we could each pick a particular activity and track our progress here on the blog?

Common Core

by laurafrombaltimore

In the interest of setting things off, here are two hot-button issues rolled into one: Trump and Common Core.

Donald Trump Doesn’t Understand Common Core (and Neither Do His Rivals)

OK, really, I was more interested in the discussion of Common Core, because the description here fits my experience: there is a huge difference between what Common Core is and what people think it is.

Example: as seems to happen every spring, DD went into one of her periodic grade spirals, and so we did the standard swoop-and-poop (our deal is that she can handle her work on her own, as long as she’s actually handling her work; when she doesn’t, she gets to do it our way). During the discussion of why her math grade went from a 90-something to a 70-something, she exploded about her frustrations with Common Core. ??? Hunh? What does a 14-yr-old know about Common Core?

The answer is that DD had head this from her math teacher. He is having them work in groups, because Common Core “requires” student-led learning, where they all work together to figure out how to approach problems and get to the answer; the teacher explained that he is allowed to ask questions but cannot give them the answers when they get stuck. And DD’s entire group basically cratered on one particular chapter (so, what, I am supposed to be happy that she got a 70-something when the others in her group got a 30-something?).

We had a little re-education of our own at home that night, explaining that Common Core is just the standards kids need to understand. The Board of Ed is the one that determines whatever dumb-@$$ method-du-jour the teachers need to use to get there.

What do you think about Common Core? Have your districts made changes in their teaching methods in an effort to achieve the Common Core standards?

The eyes have it

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

What Google Learned from Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team

This is a long article about which work teams are successful, and why.
It has a lot to do with the soft skills of being able to read others’
facial expressions and body language and respond to those. I think there
are parallels for families, too. Do the conclusions seem correct to
you, Totebaggers?

That time of year, again

by Finn

We are well into that least favorite time of year for many of us: tax time.

While some may already be done, others are yet to start.

Do you have any tips to share? Potential gotchas?

Tax time is also a good opportunity to review financial decisions, and make adjustments. What have you learned from this tax season? What worked, and didn’t work, financially over the past year?

Who’s Your BFF?

by Mémé

It is fashionable these days to designate your spouse/partner, if you have one, as your best friend. I certainly feel that way about my husband, although I do have a female friend for the past 15 years who fills the role of “best girlfriend”. She and her husband also married later in life, there are no children on either side, and their marriage is even tighter than mine, so the friendship works for both of us as another place to share.

I still think there is another sort of relationship with a traditional best friend that I don’t have and that has great value for adults, partnered or not. Almost everyone has the real or faux mom/dad or work friends. Some have a long history with college or childhood friends, maybe not one special but a special group.

Totebaggers, please share your thoughts and experiences. And your opinion – can your partner really be a best friend?


Heart attacks and other silent killers

by Grace aka costofcollege

She thought it was only a 24-hour bug. What she really had almost killed her.

A 46-year old woman awoke suddenly before dawn feeling “kind of funny”, and then ran to the bathroom to throw up.  Her husband insisted on taking her to the emergency room because he thought she could be having a heart attack.  It turns out he saved her life.

Don’t think it can’t happen to you and don’t trust your instincts. 

I would tell you to trust your instincts — except in this case my instinct was to chalk up my symptoms to something else and to worry about whether the doctors and nurses would think I was crazy. So I’ll say don’t trust your instincts, if your instincts are to wait and see what happens. When you just don’t feel right, don’t ignore it. Fredi says that 9 out of 10 women with my symptoms would not have gone to the hospital. I wouldn’t have gone either, if it weren’t for Tim.

Many women have no chest pain, no tightness, no pain in the arm or jaw until it is much too late. Many women suffering a heart attack simply “don’t feel right,” just as I did. So if that happens, don’t ignore the feeling and don’t worry about someone thinking you’re crazy. Get yourself checked out. The worst thing that happens is they send you home and tell you you’re fine. You can live with that.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has thought about similar scenarios, and hopes to make the right decision if a heart attack, stroke, or other calamity strikes.  I can relate to the woman in this article.  Once while on a tropical island vacation I woke up in the middle of the night with severe pain in one arm.  Although I considered that I might be having a heart attack, I ultimately decided not to go to the hospital.  It turned out to be the right choice, but I could have been deadly wrong.

Have you ever wavered in deciding whether to rush to the emergency room?  How did it turn out?  Do you feel confident about knowing how to react to the symptoms of heart disease, the “No. 1 killer of women in the United States”?  What lessons have you learned from the experiences of family or friends?  Any advice to share?

The world we have lost: Evenings before TV

by Honolulu Mother

My attention was caught by this paragraph in a FiveThirtyEight article about the decline of terriers in dog shows and national attention over the last century:

And then television came along. While Black Tuesday changed the business from the U.S., a few decades later, mass media changed it from England. The English working class that was largely responsible for raising the dogs turned to other leisure pursuits. “So instead of you going outside in a cold shed and pulling hair, you can watch a football game, and you’re sitting in your kitchen by the fire,” Green said. “Well, which would you rather do for a hobby?” And so went the terrier supply.

Terrier care and breeding is time-intensive, apparently, the kind of thing that might be worth doing as a hobby you enjoy and get a little extra money from but not as a job in its own right.  I don’t know if the article is correct that a collapse in supply led to a decline in terrier popularity, but I don’t doubt that sitting indoors watching tv is a more appealing method of relaxation than sitting out in a cold shed grooming terriers.

What interested me was not the terrier angle so much as the idea that a shift toward more passive, in-home types of leisure activities can affect something so seemingly unrelated as what dog breeds are popular.  I’ve seen something similar with community theaters:  I’m aware of a couple that have shut down because there are no longer enough people interested in spending their evenings rehearsing, painting sets, and so on, not to mention people interested in turning out to see their friends and neighbors perform when they could just Netflix and chill.  There’s no population loss to blame; it’s the internet, and before that, tv, giving people an easy alternative evening pastime.

I don’t mean to tsk tsk over this — people can spend their leisure time how they choose! — but I do find it interesting how such a shift can eat away at those parts of our cultural and commercial life that sit on the boundary between profession and hobby.  Perhaps I should also fold in the Garden Clubs and Ladies’ Societies that once depended on the volunteer work of women who weren’t expected to work for pay after marriage.

Are there parts of our world that are fading away in response to the ease and variety of in-home entertainment options?  I live in a city, and there are still community orchestras and theaters and orchid clubs to supplement the professional options, but does it take a larger town than it once did to support a community theater or put on a flower show?  And is the internet also responsible for a contrary trend toward greater interest in jam-making, crafting, and other Pinterest-worthy hobbies?

Temporary rental rights and wrongs

by Finn

A recent post on the impact of luxury housing construction on the affordable housing market led to a discussion of the conversion of housing into short term vacation rentals, often referred to here as TVR, or temporary vacation rentals or transient vacation rentals, and how websites like AirBnB and VRBO have facilitated that.

This raises the question: Should such short-term rentals be limited to certain geographical areas, e.g., by zoning laws? Are those who convert housing to TVR, and their renters, infringing on the lives and rights of their neighbors?

Here’s a somewhat extreme example of that, in which a college student rented his dorm room via Airbnb:

An Emerson College student rented his dorm room on Airbnb. Now he’s in trouble.

How would you feel about someone in your kid’s dorm renting out his room to strangers with no connection to the college, and not vetted by the college? How about if the dorm didn’t have private bathrooms?

How would you feel if your neighbors converted their home to a TVR? Would you welcome it? Would you think they should pay a higher property tax rate than homes used as residences?

All the single ladies

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

The Single American Woman

This is a long article about the influence of single women on the
political scene. On the Totebag we have several members who hold strong
opinions about single mothers, for example. This article addresses why
remaining single often seems to be in women’s self-interest. It looks at
affluent single women as well as lower-income women. Totebaggers, if you
found yourself single tomorrow, would you look for another partner? Or
would you say “BTDT” and forge ahead independently?

The golden years

by Louise

My husband has stopped cheating on me after 35 years

This piece caught my eye. I know of a few long-term marriages where there was cheating and dysfunction. Everyone knew including the kids. Now, there is posting of pictures on FB of the happy couple in their golden years. I want to shout “fakes” but am I right ? Is it possible for partners to change ? To let go of resentments and forgive ? To enjoy their golden years together ?

Skills that kids need

by Grace aka costofcollege

The skills Americans say kids need to succeed in life

Pew Research Center recently asked a national sample of adults to select among a list of 10 skills: “Regardless of whether or not you think these skills are good to have, which ones do you think are most important for children to get ahead in the world today?”

The answer was clear. Across the board, more respondents said communication skills were most important, followed by reading, math, teamwork, writing and logic. Science fell somewhere in the middle, with more than half of Americans saying it was important.

Rounding out the bottom were skills more associated with kids’ extracurricular activities: art, music (sorry, right-brained people) and athletics. There was virtually no difference in the responses based on whether the person was a parent of a child aged 18 and younger or not.

20160305.PewKidsSkillsI take it that communication skills include speaking and writing.  Go to the link to see differences based on the respondents’ level of education.

Your thoughts?

Would you trade your current life to be filthy rich 100 years ago?

by Honolulu Mother

I ran across a post on the blog Cafe Hayek asking the question

What is the minimum amount of money that you would demand in exchange for your going back to live even as John D. Rockefeller lived in 1916?

The author concludes that he would not:

This fact means that, by 1916 standards, I am today more than a billionaire. It means, at least given my preferences, I am today materially richer than was John D. Rockefeller in 1916. And if, as I think is true, my preferences here are not unusual, then nearly every middle-class American today is richer than was America’s richest man a mere 100 years ago.

A Bloomberg View item took issue with the first post’s implied suggestion that if we’re all better off than the richest few from a hundred years ago, inequality is overstated as a issue:

Comparing folks of different economic strata across the ages ignores a simple fact: Wealth is relative to your peers, both in time and geography.

After reading both (in reverse order), I asked myself whether I’d make the trade. Two things occurred to me: first, would I be treated like John D. Rockefeller, or would I be treated like a very wealthy woman? In other words, would it be taken for granted that my political and economic views were important and worth listening to, or would my desire to so much as vote in the 1918 election be viewed as an eccentricity to be tolerated only because of my money? And second, what I’d really want would be to try the 1916 wealthy life before making my decision. I have a sneaking suspicion that I could learn to live without television and movies when I had my pick of theater, opera, concerts, and fancy parties every night to amuse me. Microwaves and washing machines might seem less important if cooking and laundry took care of themselves with all the effort hidden from me, and I could probably handle the increased travel time given that I’d be doing it in luxury and my time would be fully my own. But then again, maybe after a couple of months I’d start to feel like my technology-free retreat had been relaxing but I was ready to bathe in the internet’s welcoming light once more.

On the question of the implications for inequality as a political issue, I agree with the response that comparing wealth of people separated by large gaps of time is not particularly meaningful. How do you weigh antibiotics and Netflix against a small army of servants and the day-to-day freedom of time and movement that comes with great wealth?

Totebaggers, would you take the deal to trade your life for a John D. Rockefeller-type life in 1916? And do you think the question is just a fun exercise in historical perspective, or something with real significance when talking about economic inequality today?


by L

Did any Totebaggers move as children? If so, do you remember or were you too young?

This Totebagger moved prior to age 3 and has no memory of the first house. As we contemplate moving now, I am sad to think that our youngest child will have few or no memories of this house.

In addition, any tips for moving with kids? Changing school systems? What are your must-dos and must-avoids?

Preparing Children for a Move


by Risley

I just saw this Lifehack article about good and bad habits and thought of this group. It’s not real science, but I love these kinds of “small steps toward self-improvement” articles, and we’ve talked about this sort of thing here before.

The Benefits and Dangers of Habits

Totebaggers, what bad habits would you like to get rid of, and what good habits would you like to replace them with? And more than HABITS, are there MINDSETS you would like to delete and replace?

I’ll start: I would like to delete my HABIT of collapsing into my favorite armchair after a day of work and zoning out in front of Bravo! TV. This comes from a MINDSET of believing I am so mentally fried after a day of lawyering or writing that I can’t possibly focus on anything that requires real brain power.

I might not care about this so much if I could suck in 20 min of silly reality TV and then jump up, energized, and attack the evening (or even simply pick up a book). But for me, one of those shows often leads to many more, while on the flip side, doing one productive thing usually leads to an entire evening of productivity.*** I suffer greatly from inertia, and benefit greatly from momentum.

***By “productivity,” I’m talking about very easy evening activities like reading, not cleaning out the garage or alphabetizing the spices. For me, anything other than melting my brain w/ TV counts as “productive” in this context.

In terms of pure HABIT, I’ve had some success in making myself do productive things rather than collapsing in my chair and clicking on the Real Housewives of Wherever. But that’s surface-level behavior (which is what a habit is), and it feels very forced. I WANT to be collapsing in my chair; I’m simply not allowing myself to do it. A daily struggle like that doesn’t seem like a recipe for longterm happiness. By this point in my life, I’ve engaged in plenty of delayed gratification, self denial, rule setting, etc. I’m not sure I want/need/should engage in more of this.

So for me, real success would be replacing the “I’m so fried” MINDSET with an “I have a second wind!” one. I want to WANT to be productive in the evenings. (Jennifer Aniston would totally get this: “I want you to WANT to do the dishes”).

I don’t know what the secret is to replacing an entire mindset. Self talk? Years and years of forced habits until repeated action slowly brings about a new mindset?

Anyone have success with this? And what about the simpler question of HABITS? Any luck deleting bad ones, adding good ones?

Totebaggers’ unfortunate fashion choices

by L

Which fashion choices do you regret? How old were you then? I predict we will see some generational differences here.

My list: beige plastic glasses (age 8), bright floral leggings (age 11), red plastic GIANT glasses (age 12), overalls and pegged pants (middle school), electric blue camisole to work (age 21),

Trends I’m happy I never got into: permed hair, waterfall bangs, sequined prom dresses, tanning.

Recycling made hard

by Mémé

We have been in our townhouse for 8 ½ years, and this winter’s task has been to declutter and divest of old furniture, financial records, and inherited junk. In the course of that I have come across many items that have to be discarded, some under hazardous waste or special recycling protocols. Since this is a northern climate, for many things the monthly drop off Saturdays are only scheduled from April through November. So I have quite a pile in the corner of the utility room.

My complaint is that the sorting and disposal process is extremely complex. It is not helped by the fact that we don’t have a municipal culture of putting stuff out and having it scavenged within hours, and the additional hassle of living in a condo development without public street frontage.

The items awaiting disposal. (Paper, glass and recyclable plastic are taken on trash day.)

  1. Old but functioning oil filled space heater. Technically a “white good.” Requires a special call to hauling company, payment of fee, scheduled pickup. Not clear where we are supposed to leave it – on condo property or on the street in front of someone else’s house. Winter pickups unreliable. I am going to make my son take it to his town dump. I’ll pay the white goods fee.
  2. Lots of old pills. Police station lobby in town.
  3. Paint thinner and similar waste. Special drop off Saturdays in warm weather to the county disposal site in the next town. Our town has a designated week, other open Saturdays are not permitted and I have to bring a property tax bill with me. (Our town will get charged).
  4. Electronic waste, small appliances and computer stuff. Progress made here. Town DPW will take any of this during weekday business hours (open one night till 7) and one Sat a month in warm weather. For weekday you have to go into the office up the stairs to bring some stuff, register and pay the lap top or tv fee. You have to be able to remove the stuff yourself from your car without town help.
  5. A mercury thermostat. Some batteries (rechargeable, button, lithium) are in category 4, as is all mercury.
  6. Backup battery from FIOS box. This is in category 3, not 4.
  7. Fluorescent bulbs. One of the hardware stores in town.
  8. Hard plastic and Styrofoam – not required to be recycled, but if I want to do it I have to bring it to the town DPW on the designated warm weather Saturdays.
  9. Old latex paint . Can go in regular trash if I leave cans open to dry out or use the powder to quick dry them. Need to carry them up to the attic to let them dry out– no private outdoor open space and basement is finished.
  10. Large trashy furniture items. Cannot go in condo dumpster. If we had street frontage we could put them out. Will give to son and pay his local fee as with white good.

I am just too cranky about all this? I want to follow the rules, especially with respect to hazardous waste, but how does someone who doesn’t have a car manage all this? Four different sites for various types of waste and limited hours? What is your experience with gov’t mandates (trash or otherwise) that are not user friendly?


by Grace aka costofcollege

No Touching: The Countries That Dislike Physical Contact the Most
A study suggests you should hug a Finn, but not a Brit.

Do you greet a stranger by kissing them on the cheek or giving them a firm handshake? In the largest study ever quantifying where people were comfortable being touched and by whom, 1,300 men and women were asked the same question. The results suggest that when greeting most people, you’re better off with a handshake.

The participants, from Finland, France, Italy, Russia, and the U.K., detailed where strangers, family members, friends, and romantic partners were allowed to touch them. Researchers from the University of Oxford and Finland’s Aalto University then combined the results to create a so-called “heat map.”

It is not surprising that the study found “some nationalities were less enthusiastic about touching than others”.

…True to their stereotype, British participants were right at the bottom on the touchability index. And to the researchers’ surprise, Italians were less comfortable with being touched than Russians.

Some families are lavish in expressing affection with hugs and kisses.  Lately I’ve noticed that it’s still not uncommon to see Latin Americans and some Europeans of both genders walking arm in arm down the street.   It seems some stereotypes still hold.

These cultural norms can get tricky in dealing with business colleagues from different countries.  Intermarriage between different cultures is another area that can get complicated for families.

What’s your style, touchy-feely, stand-offish, or in between?  Have you had to adjust your style for family or business?  Any awkward situations?

What other cultural differences have you had to navigate in your personal or professional life?

The effect of stress on health

by WCE

This article on stress levels and cholesterol made me think. How much does avoiding stress affect your work/life choices? I’m curious about whether control affects the perception of stress. When I have a lot going on, but I have control over it, I am less stressed than when I am subject to someone else’s arbitrary schedule or needs. I think my Dad and MIL, who each cared for a terminally ill spouse, were affected as caregivers in ways that affected their long-term health.

Why do you think there is so much research on diet/exercise and so little research on stress?

Stress Raises Cholesterol More Than You Think

Retirement savings

by Grasshopper

Do you think 401(k) plans and IRAs will work as retirement savings for most Americans?
Are most of your friends and relatives saving enough for retirement in 401(k) plans and IRAs?
What have been your best 401k investments?
Do you think Teresa Ghilarducci and Hamilton James’s plan as described in the linked article would work?

A Smarter Plan to Make Retirement Savings Last – The New York Times

The current system — a mix of 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts (I.R.A.s) — is broken. These plans are individually directed, voluntary and leaky. Just over half of workers don’t have access to a workplace retirement plan. According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, Americans between the ages of 40 and 55 have retirement savings of $14,500, when they will need between 20 and 30 times that amount. Many people take money out before they retire. And the wealthy tend to pay lower fees and get higher subsidies for their savings.

Hot political issues

Today’s post includes two submissions, both offering the writers’ perspectives on what they consider crucial issues surrounding this year’s presidential election.


by Sheep Farmer


Our recent discussion on health care made me realize how important this issue is in this year’s election cycle. For me, it will probably be the deciding factor as I head to the polls for my state’s primary next week. My family has benefited greatly from the Affordable Care Act, and I would hate to see it dismantled. The ACA is a great start, but as shown in our discussion last week, health care in this country is still too expensive and complicated. It is an issue that needs to be addressed. The economy, government spending, social issues, foreign policy, and immigration are all issues mentioned regularly by the candidates. If you are headed to the polls in the next few weeks, what issues are driving your decision?


By Mémé

Why I fear a Republican President

I put this post off for a long time because I didn’t know how to say what I meant clearly without giving possible offense to other members of our online community. But after a couple weeks of pointed political discussion in our new and less timid iteration of the Totebag, I have decided to go ahead.

It comes down to one word. Religion. The conservative religious supporters of the GOP have been loyal for 30 plus years and have received little or nothing in return. The bill for services rendered will be presented to a Republican President and Congress and it will be paid. (The Supreme Court without Scalia, even if the new Justice is appointed after the election, is always a wild card. We could get a corporatist or even a true libertarian.)

So why do I care? Plenty of economic but not social conservatives, including non Christians, are not particularly bothered by the idea that so-called individual religious liberty will become the first criterion in determining the hierarchy of civil rights when there is a conflict. That government will be forbidden to enforce any law or regulation that anyone objects to on religious grounds. Social moderates often assume that the inability to enforce will lead to lifting of legislative and regulatory mandates, so that the market and common social norms will be decisive. It will require adjustment from people (usually not “people like us”) whose current rights and freedoms (many of which were established over the past century, bit by bit) will as result no longer be guaranteed. They will gradually take their business elsewhere or move to more hospitable localities or home school or find workarounds or accept the conditions that their forebears endured – after all, many of the things the social conservatives want to see changed resulted not only from changing social standards but also from government granting and enforcing rights that the conservatives consider immoral or that impinge on their personal freedom. And this does not even take into account the likelihood that the legislative legacy will not be entirely libertarian/reduced government, but will also include new morally inspired restrictions (and more government interference) on personal freedom that is deemed to have crossed over into immorality or socially destructive behavior.

Ross Douthat, in a column on Islamophobia sets out the terms of the ideological conflict from his conservative religious point of view. “[C]osmopolitan liberals… are also convinced that many conservative Christians are dangerous crypto-theocrats whose institutions and liberties must give way whenever they conflict with liberalism’s vision of enlightenment.”

I really don’t see how a requirement to serve all comers in a public business or gay civil marriage or Season’s Greetings means that anyone’s institutions or liberties are being constrained. Please, conservative Totebaggers, explain this to me. I do from my own people’s experience see how religion has been used for millennia as an excuse to limit personal and property rights or worse – periods of acceptance/inclusion/honor alternating with periods of actual persecution, so I don’t buy the argument that the march of progress and economic power means that it won’t happen again.

Luxury housing and affordability

by Honolulu Mother

Our local news seems to take it as a received truth that building new luxury housing is at best neutral and probably harmful to the cause of creating affordable housing for local residents. This is something that usually causes me to rant to my husband, while clutching the paper, about how that is incorrect because there will always be something at the top of the market and someone with the money to buy the best available, so building new expensive housing (which is what developers are motivated to do) will push each preceding generation of housing slightly downmarket, and the ultimate effect is that the top-of-the-market housing of 20 years ago eventually becomes the middle-of-the-road housing of today, and ultimately more housing is more housing. This theory has in the past been based on My Personal Analysis rather than Actual Research, with examples drawn from aging condo buildings around town.

But now, how sweet to learn that Actual Research is backing me up! The study reported in this article found that building new luxury housing actually does increase the supply of affordable housing in an area.

Is affordable housing a hot issue in your area? Do you think the conclusion drawn from this study applies, or do you think there are other factors to consider in your area?

How to be persuasive

by Grace aka costofcollege

How to change someone’s mind, according to science

A new paper from researchers at Cornell University sheds some light on how and why people are convinced to change their minds. The researchers analyzed nearly two years of postings on ChangeMyView, a forum on the internet community reddit where posters present an argument and invite people to reason against them….

Their research suggests that the arguments that end up changing people’s minds have certain dynamics. Numbers are important: The more people that try to persuade the original poster, the greater the likelihood of changing their view. So is timing: Those who write back first to the post first are more likely to persuade the original poster than those who write later, as the lefthand chart below shows.

Interestingly, the researchers find that some back-and-forth exchange between participants is a sign of success in convincing someone, but that a lot of it is a sign of failure …

More on this study:

Why are people more persuasive when they use language like “it could be the case”?

A Subreddit Sparked a Scientific Inquiry Into How to Change Someone’s Mind

What do you think?  Have you seen these dynamics play out on this blog or on other online forums?  How does this relate to real life discussions?

She Blinded Me With S̶c̶i̶e̶n̶c̶e̶ Funding

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

Here’s a discouraging article from the Chronicle of Higher Ed on the way funding agencies can manipulate science. From the article:

I am very concerned about the culture of academia in this country and the perverse incentives that are given to young faculty. The pressures to get funding are just extraordinary. We’re all on this hedonistic treadmill — pursuing funding, pursuing fame, pursuing h-index — and the idea of science as a public good is being lost.

I wouldn’t expect private funding sources to be any better than the government ones. Is there a solution?

The Water Next Time: Professor Who Helped Expose Crisis in Flint Says Public Science Is Broken

The right amount of exercise

by L

How much exercise do Totebaggers get? More or less than you need? Right now I get far less than I need, but at this point my desire for sleep overcomes my desire to increase my exercise level. For several years in my 20s, I exercised far too much and more than was good for me; growing up I only exercised occasionally.

Physical activity guidelines: How much exercise do you need?

High deductible plans = fewer, not cheaper medical expenditures

by Mémé

A widely reported study last fall, summarized below in a Vox article, found that high deductible plans do not lead to cost shopping, but to lower utilization of medical services.

This study is forcing economists to rethink high-deductible health insurance

The researchers had a particularly fortunate natural testing pool. A corporation changed from a Cadillac plan to a high deductible plan, and deposited 3750, the amount of the deductible, into a Health Savings account for each employee. Economically, the fact that a formerly fully covered service would have a visible cost should have had no effect on behavior. (The article does not state whether the company provided a medical credit card that would draw from the HSA account – I suspect that cash outlay was required followed by reimbursement.) However, people reduced costs by simply not going to the doctor at all, even those with chronic conditions who would easily blow through the deductible quickly and re-enter the fully covered stage early in the year.

I personally noted a change in my behavior – when I have to pony up the “full” health plan reduced cost (I never reach the deductible) for something, I don’t bother to consult the doctor and just use Dr Google and non-prescription remedies. I can certainly afford it – I have a self-funded HSA with a Visa attached. But it just seems wasteful to spend 150 just to be told to put liniment on an aching joint. I used to go to the company nurse for minor complaints when it was free or to the HMO when it was just a small co pay. Last fall I could not shake a cold/bronchitis so I spent the money and went twice. (She finally suggested a Neti Pot. One look at it and the how to video and I was “healed.”) In Sept I start with Medicare advantage and I assume my behavior will change back to my old habits.

For those of you with high deductible plans, do you comparison shop or forgo non-emergency visits? For those who don’t have high deductible plans, is that a conscious choice because of actual usage, or perhaps because of the psychological issue described above?

Would You Support a Four Day School Week?

by Honolulu Mother

As explained in this Slate article, the idea would be to give kids who struggle one day a week for extra tutoring, while other kids have the option to come to school for enrichment activities, or even to stay home on Fridays.

Can a Four-Day School Week Actually Help Kids Who Are Struggling?

It is true that after our state’s notorious experiment with “Furlough Fridays” six years ago, test scores actually crept up slightly. However, I think that was attributable less to some benefit of cutting instruction time by 20%, and more to the schools having pushed the kids extra hard (and having cut out or cut back on art, music, and PE) during the remaining days.

What do you think of the four day school week idea?

Open thread on President’s Day

by Grace aka costofcollege

Today we have an open thread.  Any and all topics are welcome.

Would you be tempted to participate in a reality show in return for $40,000 in home renovations?

HGTV’s Property Brothers are returning to my area, and this caught my eye.

What’s the budget you need to have to be considered?

‘Buying & Selling’ is the best deal you’re going to get from any television show. It’s unreal; the homeowners contribute from $10-$15,000 and they’re getting a $50-$60,000 renovation. For one house, we just redid the entire exterior siding, which was lemon yellow, before we even filmed. It’s huge benefit to have this quality of renovation and to have this incredible team come in to renovate your house.


Love, lust, and longevity

by Grace aka costofcollege

Sunday is Valentine’s Day.  Here are some random thoughts on love.

Why is marriage so hard over the long term?

One of the main reasons is what science calls it “habituation.” Which is a fancy way of saying we get bored.

Early on, when a couple can finish each other’s sentences it’s romantic. But over time “predictable” is a huge negative.

Chris Rock puts it this way:

You stop talking . . . because at some point you’ve heard everything that person has said . . .

Read the article to see if you agree with these 3 Things That Keep Love Alive.

  1. Learn from arranged marriages.
  2. Focus on the good.
  3. Do more exciting things.

More food for thought:

Do you and your spouse lead parallel lives?

This question implies that a couple does “a lot of separate activities but still live under the same roof”.  Here’s a section from one comment in the discussion.

..I’m a firm believer that it can be healthy to develop one’s own interests outside the marriage – as long as it’s not hurting the marriage. Most of the time, if it’s beneficial to an individual, that person will bring the benefits and satisfaction back to the marriage. Just my theory.
I know people who did everything together – and are now split up. But I also know people who did most things separately and split up, too. I think it’s all about balance….

What about sex?

What Keeps Couples Happy Long Term
A large, new study on sexual satisfaction finds happy long-term couples share certain habits

I thought this was a pretty good way to describe the early stages of romance, at least from a woman’s perspective.  What do you think?

…  by “romance,” I know they mean the traditional version, the one that depends on living inside a giant, suspenseful question mark. This version of romance is all about that thrilling moment when you think that someone may have just materialized who will make every single thing in the world feel delicious and amazing and right forever and ever. It springs forth from big questions, like “Can I really have what I’ve been looking for? Will I really feel loved and desired and truly adored at last? Can I finally be seen as the answer to someone else’s dream, the heroine with the glimmering eyes and sultry smile?” And this version of romance peaks at the exact moment when you think, Holy Christ, I really am going to melt right into this other person (who is a relative stranger)! It really IS physically intoxicating and perfect! And it seems like we feel the exact same way about each other! Traditional romance is heady and exciting precisely because — and not in spite of the fact that — there are still lingering questions at the edges of the frame: “Will I be enough for this person? Will she stop wanting me someday? Is he as amazing as he seems/feels/tastes?”

What Romance Really Means After 10 Years of Marriage

Do you do anything special for Valentine’s Day?

The lessons of Prohibition

by Mémé

The popular view today of Prohibition is that it was a failed attempt by a repressive, primarily religious segment of society to legislate morality and conduct for the entire population. I decided to look into the historical record in relation to some serious concerns of mine about the current national political landscape. I read many articles on the era from all across the spectrum (from Cato Institute to Mother Jones), but here is a balanced one from the AJPH that might be of interest

Did Prohibition Really Work? Alcohol Prohibition as a Public Health Innovation

Key takeaways from my reading are the following:

Alcohol consumption, primarily beer after the waves of German immigration, was a serious public health problem in the 19th century among men of the laboring classes. Alcohol was not consumed primarily in the home, but in saloons which were usually established by liquor manufacturers. Men spent time there instead of at home, often with pay envelope in hand, and had ready access to all of the manly vices. Wives and children suffered poverty and abuse with no recourse.

The origins of the “dry” movement were in white evangelical old stock Protestantism, primarily in the Midwest and the South, and women were a major force. The early movement was very successful on a local and state level in creating dry zones outside of the cities in those regions.

Around 1900 reform minded men, many of whom were not themselves dry or evangelical, redirected the movement toward the goal of a national ban on saloons and alcohol production. Their idea was to improve by legislation the social condition of members of the lower and immigrant classes who lacked the bourgeois virtues of restraint and delayed gratification, to use a modern phrase. They allied themselves locally and strategically with every possible progressive and regressive movement from the NAACP to the Ku Klux Klan. Opposition at a national government level waned with the imposition of the income tax. Prior to that, liquor taxes were a principal source of US Govt revenue. President Wilson imposed a wartime prohibition on manufacture supposedly because grain was needed for other purposes, and anti-German feeling was whipped up to add one’s Lutheran neighbors with their beer to the previously targeted big city Catholics with their whiskey (Irish) and wine (Italian). So the 19th amendment was ratified very quickly. Huge numbers of people were thrown out of work, but that was collateral damage to the national reformers, many of whom fully intended to keep consuming alcohol in middle class moderation in the privacy of their own homes.

The most interesting thing to me is that despite the religious overlay of the long standing temperance movement, the forces that actually achieved a national ban on liquor were do-gooders who thought that they knew what was best for other people. The fact that the wets were either sophisticated high church Protestants or city dwellers/ immigrants / Catholics made them “other” and eligible for loss of personal liberty.

Totebaggers, what parallels from this piece of history do you see to current differences in outlook between the regions, or to movements to impose one region’s views on another? Do you agree with libertarians that Prohibition was the camel’s nose under the tent that established government, especially Federal, power to regulate the daily lives of citizens? Do you think that legislated public health or moral/religious concerns should curtail individual freedom of choice? What if the freedom being curtailed for a secular purpose is indirectly religious in nature?

The Sandwich Generation

by AustinMom

I am a typical member of the sandwich generation that the article below describes – caring for an elderly parent and raising minor children. As regular Totebaggers know, I lost my father about eight months ago and, as an only child, have been taking on more and more caregiving responsibilities for my elderly mother, whose health is also declining. Thankfully, my parents worked very hard to ensure they have sufficient resources at this stage in their lives and I am not providing financial support. I provide almost all the emotional support to my mother as well as handle most of the major decision making and a fair number of day-to-day tasks such as bill paying and grocery shopping. And, I attend all doctor appointments and try to be present a significant amount of time during any hospitalization and visit almost daily when she is in any type of rehabilitation situation.

This article talks more about the statistics and less about the physical and emotional challenges of the sandwich generation. While some articles look at these issues, I find they fall into (1) how to prepare financially so that when you are the elderly parent you have sufficient income/wealth, (2) resources for you to wade through to find a community/facility/services appropriate for the elderly person, or (3) caution caregivers to be aware of their own symptoms, usually focusing on mental health. But, there doesn’t seem to be much about how to balance or appropriately handle all the different directions you are being pulled.

I have been looking for those articles because lately I am just feeling exhausted and very pressed for time. While I am thankful that my mother has been around this long in my life, I also feel that I am missing part of my children’s lives as they will soon be entering college and moving on. And at the very same time, I know my children are looking at my actions for what is reasonable and ethical behavior for handing elder care.

The Sandwich Generation

So Totebaggers – Are you part of the sandwich generation? Do you feel that you are always blazing the new trail or that one is there that is easy to follow? Are you that primary caregiver? If not, how to you feel about the other family member who is providing all this care?

Which live events are worth the money?

by L

EXPERIENCES. Which experiences are “worth it” to you? Totebaggers may disagree on whether the following are worth spending money on:

  • Concerts (non-classical).  For this Totebagger, concerts are uniformly not worth it:  too expensive, too LOUD, and too late at night.  I have only been to a handful during my life, and found the Depeche Mode one the best.  (I saw U2 in 2001, and Bono was unfortunately flat during many of the songs!)
  • Concerts (classical).  Definitely worth it, but at choral concerts I find myself wishing I was performing instead of watching/listening.
  • Opera – Nope, unless one of my friends is performing.
  • Ballet – yes for the Nutcracker or similar fairy tale; for the modern ballets, I would go more if I had a non-DH friend to go with.
  • Broadway musicals.  Worth it!  I plan to see “Hamilton” later this year.
  • Plays.  YAWN, except for comedies (“Noises Off” and similar).
  • Live sports.  Pass, other than the Red Sox once a year.
  • Kid shows (Disney on Ice and similar).  We have so far managed to avoid going to these!

What about other Totebaggers? I know some of you are bigger sports fans than I! What is the most you have ever spent on a live event ticket? My max is $150.

Should kids learn cursive?

by Honolulu Mother

This Vox article, by Libby Nelson, notes that several state legislatures have passed bills requiring cursive to be taught, and questions the necessity of teaching it.

There’s no reason for kids to learn cursive, but politicians keep trying to make them

I learned what must have been somewhere between the Palmer method and the Zaner-Bloser method (loops at the top of all the capital letters like Palmer, but the capital F looked like the later version). I now write chicken-scratchings when I’m marking something up or writing notes, and passable cursive when I’m sending a note to school. My kids’ teachers took a brief stab at the D’Nealian method somewhere around 2nd grade, and then quickly abandoned it. The kids print, but have all made the effort to at least be able to sign their names in cursive.

Do you think cursive should be taught? Do your own kids use it?

Grocery bills

by MBT

I am fascinated by those of you who have mentioned in the past how you spend so little on groceries each month for your families. I spend multiples of what the SNAP monthly allotment is, but several people on here said that the SNAP number was consistent with their spending. So because one of my goals for this year is to reduce some of my mindless spending, my overall grocery and takeout food budget is under careful scrutiny right now.

I often don’t meal plan, and just buy things I think I’ll use, which results in waste. So I am trying to start meal-planning on weekends and only shopping off of my list. But I want to know what some of your secrets are for a consistently low grocery bill. Here were a few of my questions:
– Do you buy store brands and/or generics?
– Does your total bill include wine, beer, etc?
– Does your bill include meat? (I order most of my beef from an online steak company, so my weekly grocery spending does not include this)
– Does your number include household cleaning products like paper towels, detergents, etc?
– Does you number include personal care products like shampoo, razors, etc?
– Do you intentionally choose recipes that require lower cost foods, or do you cook whatever your family likes?

What other things do you do to watch your spending, so you don’t end up with the $150 quesadillas?

Russia’s ‘loneliest woman’

by WCE

Helicopter rescue for Russia’s ‘loneliest woman’ who shuns modern civilisation

When I read this article about a woman who was born in Siberia after her family fled Stalinist persecution in 1936 and who recently requested medical assistance, I thought about how lonely her life is and how much trade benefits humanity. I especially thought about language (when discovered, her language was stilted from not having talked to other people) and metals (their cooking pots had disintegrated, making cooking difficult). I was happy that the governor has given her a satellite phone and regular gifts of food and clothing to make her life less difficult in her old age.

This article appeared at about the same time that bklurker posted about how speech signifies class, and how speech changes over time. I’ve read that distinct accents have emerged in North and South Korea since 1953. What does this article make you think about?

Open thread — food manners, Super Bowl recipes, or whatever

by Grace aka costofcollege

Today we have an open thread, with hijacks welcome.

Here’s a topic to get you started:

Don’t cut spaghetti, never ‘air butter’ bread and slice bananas on the plate: Expert reveals the correct way to eat the trickiest foods in public (politicians take note!)

I have never noticed anyone using an empty mussel shell to eat mussels.  I’m guilty of air buttering and other infractions.  Do you have perfect food manners?  What do you notice among other diners?  Any pet peeves?  Any embarrassing incidents?

What do you do when you’re a guest and you are served something you don’t/can’t eat or is unappetizing?  I recently ran into food that was too hard to cut with the flatware I was given, so I picked it up with my hand to eat it.  It was a little tough, but edible.

Any good Super Bowl recipes to share?  What else is on your mind today?

Also . . .
I’ve been using these open threads to fill in due to the recent scarcity of submissions. These open posts are fine to free up discussions for timely topics of our choosing, but if you submit more posts we can make sure they don’t become too frequent. As always, your ideas and comments are welcome.

Social media — what not to do

by Louise

The 10 worst parental crimes on social media

This is a piece about teens, their parents and social media. What are some things about people’s posts on social media that annoy you ? What shouldn’t people post ? Are there age limits to posting certain kind of pictures ? Are there things that are appropriate on one type of social media that are inappropriate on others ?

Powerball fantasy

by Finn

With the huge Powerball jackpot having put lotteries into the spotlight recently, perhaps we can indulge in a bit of fantasy.

What would you do if you won a lottery? Would you take the lump sum, or the annuity? Would you keep working? Buy a new house? Pay off your mortgage? Invest it, and if so, how?

Obviously, one factor in the answer to these questions is the size of the prize. What would you do with, say, a $1M (lump sum) prize? A $10M (lump sum) prize? A $100M or larger (annuitized, less if lump sum), prize?

At a more mundane level, do you buy lottery tickets? If so, do you buy regularly, or just when the jackpot reaches a certain point?

Your first time

by Grace aka costofcollege

Your first time buying a house, of course!

82 Things That Every Couple Thinks When House Hunting For The First Time

I remember this:

51. For the love of God, how much paperwork do we have to sign?
52. Oh, look! More paperwork.
53. Let’s just drive by and look at our house again.

What’s your “first house” story?  Were you married or single?  How about the second, third, or later houses?  If you have not bought a house, what’s your story?

Self-study SAT prep?

by Honolulu Mother

The author of this Vox article was charging $650/hour and up and still turning away clients, so he eventually made his lesson plans and materials available for self-study. He found that the self-study students did better than those paying for in-person instruction.

I made $1,000 an hour as an SAT tutor. My students did better without me.

Have you ever considered hiring an SAT tutor for one of your kids, or for yourself back in the day? Or do you think self-study is a better bet?

BTW, I can see that this article is partly a promotion for his expensive test prep software, and I don’t mean to suggest that his is the only effective self-study alternative. Free alternatives such as Khan, or simply taking practice tests and then carefully going over the answers both right and wrong, are more what I was thinking of.

(Sorry Mémé and others whose kids are much older or younger, not to mention those of you without kids — this one’s going to be tedious for you.)

Open thread — politics or whatever

by Grace aka costofcollege

Today we have an open thread to discuss politics, or anything else on your mind.  Hijacks are encouraged.  Go at it.

The presidential race continues to be interesting.
Bernie is giving Hilllary a run for her money.  (The Millennials I know are going for the “Bern”.)  Trump is trumping his rivals, apparently garnering considerable interest among Democrats as well as Republicans.

Political Polarization & Media Habits

A Pew study finds that conservatives rely on fewer news sources.  But could that be because conservatives tend to believe most news sources have a liberal slant?

Have you been following the Flint water crisis?  There’s plenty of blame to go around.

Series of Mistakes Tainted Flint Water
Blame for water crisis is spread among Michigan city’s emergency managers, state environmental officials, the mayor, the governor and the EPA


by MooshiMooshi

I have noticed that lots of book oriented or food oriented websites and magazines do a Best Cookbooks of the Year in January. Those lists are useful for deciding which new cookbooks to buy, but one problem is that recent cookbooks haven’t yet passed the test of time. So, I went looking for Best Cookbooks of All Time lists, and found a few. Here is the one on

Introducing the 2015 Epicurious Cookbook Canon

and another on Huffington Post

The Best, Most Useful Cookbooks Of All Time

There are other lists out there as well, many of them more specialized (cooking light, vegan, kid oriented etc). One of the first things I notice is that Joy of Cooking always appears on these lists. I have to ask, why? I’ve owned it in the past, and never used it. The recipes are just not that good.  The other one that commonly appears is Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which I do not own but know very well. I like the book, and I realize that it was an insanely influential book, especially in my mother’s time, but it isn’t that useful on an everyday basis.

I don’t think I own any of the other books on either list. The epicurious list includes “community cookbooks”, and I will admit I own a lot of these, sort of a semi collection, but I would never cook from them because the recipes are usually so awful. Lots of garlic powder and onion soup mix.

So, I decided to list the 10 cookbooks that I actually use.  I am asking everyone to do the same – list your 10 (or 5 or 3) favorite cookbooks. Maybe I will get some good ideas for new purchases this way!

First I realized when I looked at my cookbooks that the ones I really use tend to be specialized. I don’t own or use many of those all around cookbooks. Most of my favorite cookbooks are highly specialized, usually on some type of cuisine. For general purpose, “how long do I roast that?” questions, I usually hit, though I am increasingly a fan of NYTime’s cooking site.

So here is my list, not in any particular order

  1. Gourmet Today
    This is the book that I use when I need to look up, say, how to make basic potato salad or how to roast a lamb leg.
  1. Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking
    We were all absolutely blown away by real Sichuanese food while spending several weeks in Chongqing, and of course wanted to be able to cook it since there weren’t that many restaurants serving it (something that is starting to change btw). For English language books on Sichuanese food, this is the go-to book. Fuschia Dunlop studied at the cooking academy in Chengdu, and learned many of the standard recipes, the real way. Her book on Hunanese cooking is good to (Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook), but this one is one of my most consulted books
  1. Indian Cooking, a Golden Cooking Card Book
    This was purchased by my parents at an Asian store in Seattle in the early 70’s. The cards have all fallen out, so I keep them bound together with a rubber band. My mother used to cook from it all the time, and so do I. The Bengali style cabbage and potato dish I know so well that I don’t need any recipe – I can cook it in my sleep. This was published by a Japanese publisher in 1968 (Shufonotomo Ltd), but amazingly, there is a page for the book on Amazon
  1. One Big Table:A Portrait of American Cooking
    This book covers regional American specialties and has some fine recipes.
  1. Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking
    This is a good general purpose overview of classic Chinese recipes.
  1. Maangchi’s Real Korean Cooking
    I love Korean food but never thought I could make it myself. Maangchi’s blog, which was around for a couple of years before this book came out, convinced me I could do it (having an HMart helped too).
  1. The Food and Wine of Greece
    In the mid 90’s I visited Greece and much like I did in China, I fell in love with the food. I bought this book when I got back, and a number of the recipes went into our rotation. Which means I rarely pull the book out any more because i can make the dishes without the recipes since I cook them so often. I should get the book down and look for more ideas.
  1. The Best Recipes in the World, Mark Bittman
    I don’t own it but I get it out of the library every so often for ideas
  1. A book in French on basic French cooking, kind of a Betty Crocker for French women type book. I learned all my basic French dishes from this one, things like ratatouille and cassoulet and choucroute garnie. I don’t know where it is now, but I know how to cook those dishes!
  1. My binder of recipes, xeroxed from various sources. A lot of the recipes were my mother’s, but some are ones I found in the pre Internet days, and my DH’s family tourtiere recipe is there too.
  1. and NY Times These days, we keep our recipes in online recipe books. I started using Epicurious around 1995 or so, when it was the poster child for the potential of the Internet. It was truly one of the first commercial sites. These days, I  find the best recipes on the NY Times site, and they have an online recipe box too.

What are your go-to cookbooks?

The Oscars

by L

Totebaggers, which movies have you seen lately? Which stood out as the best of 2015 for you? Oscar nominees, or others?


Typically, I only ever see 2 or 3 out of the Oscar nominees. This year, I particularly liked The Martian and Spotlight; for my DH Star Wars would be far and away the top movie. We also enjoyed watching Inside Out with the kids.

My favorite category at the Oscars is costume design, although I almost never agree with the winner! I never watch the ceremony, but will always follow the arrivals and red carpet fashion online.

College fit

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

We sometimes talk about whether our kids would be a good fit at one university or another. This author had the experience of going from a very poor immigrant family in a rough neighborhood straight to Harvard, and her experience there was not a happy one. Are there schools your kids might not fit into?

Poor and traumatized at Harvard

Race in America

by Grace aka costofcollege

On Martin Luther King Day, 5 facts about race in America

Here’s one.

A growing share of Americans say that racism in society is a big problem. Half of Americans now say this, up from 33% five years earlier, reflecting an increase across all demographic groups. Nearly three-quarters of blacks characterized racism as a big problem, as did 58% of Hispanics. Although whites were far less likely to say racism is a big problem (44%), the share of whites expressing this view has risen 17 percentage points since 2010. There is a partisan divide too: 61% of Democrats say racism is a big problem, compared with 41% of Republicans – though the share of Republicans saying racism is a big problem has doubled since 2010, when it was just 17%.

What are your thoughts on this?  Are you surprised we have not experienced more racial healing over the last few years?  Anything else on your mind today?