Flying Alone

by Sky

At age 8, my father took the train alone over 100 miles, and transferred trains in New York City, to get home from summer camp.

At age 14, I flew cross country by myself, with transfers, in the days before cell phones.

When do you think kids should be allowed to travel alone?

When would you (or did you) allow your child to fly, or take a city bus, subway, or train without an adult accompanying them?

What limits have you set with your tween/teenage kids about traveling by themselves? What were you allowed to do?

The 4th of July open thread

by Grace aka costofcollege

Feeling patriotic this weekend?  Or just feeling happy that you have a long weekend?  Going out or staying in?  Are you going to see a fireworks show?

Here’s your chance to hijack our discussion with anything that’s on your mind.  Some random links to get us going:

Eating ‘healthy’ food may not make you fit: Study

Take a walk for your mental health.

President Obama and Jeb Bush find common ground in their stance against adding peas to guacamole.

The dance recital

by Mémé

We often spar on the Totebag about what is Middle Class, invoking regional and educational differences in raw income numbers and in cultural markers of that status. But recently someone remarked about dental health that an astounding percentage of US kids now have braces at some point in their lives. So straight teeth are a fairly universal middle class marker.

I recently had the opportunity to observe another of those universal middle class markers. The end of year Dance Recital.

20150625.TDanceRecital

A neighbor suggested that they take my eldest granddaughter to dance class along with their same aged girl. Her Cambridge/Portland alternative style parents had no idea what they were getting into. Coco and Ella (assumed names) ended up on stage for 130 seconds of a 2 ½ hour extravaganza in 50 dollar gold and sequined tutus stomping their tap shoes to a cover version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight. I knew enough to bring several wrapped and beribboned roses for presentation to the young performer.

The school is clearly the secondary “fun” one in their area – the only marginally competent numbers were adult tap and the break dancers. But all was forgiven after the chubby mentally handicapped teen with glasses and a diaphanous gown glided across the stage with her group as best she could to Every Little Thing You Do is Magic.

Totebaggers, please share your recital stories from your children’s or your own life. Parents of physical or mind sport athletes, feel free to weigh in on sports banquets and the like.

Fashion trends

by MooshiMooshi

Are Totebag tastes migrating to the upper class? Evidently rich people are increasingly rejecting flashy items with logos.

Why Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Prada are in trouble

And Gap is doing poorly, in part because millennials are also rejecting logoware.

How millennial shoppers have made Gap’s uniform look obsolete

Will Totebaggers need to start adopting flashy items in order to differentiate themselves from the rich bozos and the teens?

Who should be on our $10 bill?

by Finn

It looks like we will be seeing a woman on our $10 bill soon. What woman do you think should be on that bill, or what woman would you like to see on that bill, and why?

One restriction is it cannot be a living person, so that rules out Beyonce and the Notorious RBG, among others.

And please, no suggestions of so-and-so because that means she’s dead.

Rich or Poor – Can You Teach It?

by AustinMom

Will Your Child be Rich or Poor? 15 Poverty Habits Parents Teach Their Children

This came through my Facebook feed as it likely did for other totebaggers. I found the initial list of items of how the rich differ from the poor as interesting. However, the author then provides a list suggesting what we (parents and schools) should teach our children. I was expecting some level of parallelism between the two lists, but to me it seems that he went on to suggest what he thought was important. I noted that he did not suggest that parents attend back to school night, encourage academic achievement in order to make the honor roll, or instruct their children on proper flossing habits. What did you think of the list? Do you have other things you think are more important than the list the author provides?

Neighbors From Hell …

by Anonymous

Do you like your neighbors?  Apparently there is a link “between having good neighbors and a healthier heart”.

Maybe your neighbors are not the friendliest, but at least they don’t take advantage and quietly buy part of your property after a mix-up with property taxes.

Woman whose home straddles two states loses half the property in tax mix-up and discovers her life coach neighbor has snapped it up for $275 and will only give it back for $35,000

Then you have the case of the Michigan man who had his neighbor’s house demolished after secretively switching address signs.

Most of my neighbors are wonderful, but there’s the one whose kid stole some precious items from us and then blamed it on another neighborhood kid.  And then we have the feuding neighbors who have a spite fence between their properties, and the guy who tried to bribe the housing inspector so he could illegally rent out part of his house.

Do you love or hate your neighbors?  What good or bad neighbor stories do you have?  Are you a good neighbor?

Life Insurance And Guardianship

These two topics seem to go together.

L sent in a post about life insurance.

Kind of a different take on this. Do Totebaggers have life insurance?

Lean In Isn’t Just About Professional Fulfillment. It’s Also About Worst-Case Scenarios.


Rhode has questions about guardianship.

A recent Totebag topic shifted to safeguards in the case of death of a spouse. I worry about what happens to DS if DH and I were to die together.

Now, I know both families would rally and DS would want for nothing. But who should we ask to be DS’s guardian? Should that person (people) also have control of any finances? How do we make sure that DS is still integrated with both families?

On being a guardian: Have you, or someone you know, denied a request to be a guardian? Why? Also, DH and I are guardians to my godson and his older sister. Do we have to include them in our guardianship plans?

For quick background – I am an only child but am very close to my extended family. DH has 4 siblings and is somewhat close with his extended family. We have a few good friends, though I’m not sure how many would want to parent my son. DS’s godparents are my best friend and DH’s BIL.

What else do we need to discuss?

Coping With Fatigue And Frustration

by Mémé

20150619.TRetired

Twenty one months ago I took down my shingle for good. Rhett (and several of my children) were sure that after a few months I would go stir crazy and want to get back to work, or failing that descend into some twilight state on the recliner with HGTV on continuous loop.

I am happy to report that I am usually busy when awake. Sometimes it even feels like too busy.

Prior to retirement I never understood how people who had very hectic lives while working suddenly felt so busy when 30-50 hours per week were eliminated from the schedule. I now know the reason. Any time I put on shoes and venture off my own property, it counts as a half-day. Not in real time, but in psychic time. When I was working full time, if I took off a morning I crammed in grocery shopping, haircut, maybe a doctor’s appointment too. If I only had one of those things to do, it was an hour’s add-on to a full work day, perhaps time shifted a bit. No longer. The one- to one-and-half-hour errand is it for the morning or the afternoon. If I actually spend four hours on an activity, I often add late lunch or a short errand on the way home. That counts as a full day.

Of course the most precious regular activity is taking care of my grandchildren. It appears that what works best is for everyone is for me to be the go to sitter for those random but constant short time slots when mama can’t be in two places at once. We have arrived at the point where Nana is just one of the regular adults who might or might not be the one to show up at preschool pickup or meet the school bus. This is beyond price.

The one concern I have is sleep. Not that I don’t now have plenty of time to get it, but after years of running on fumes I was not expecting the degree to which I can’t really do well with the slightest unplanned deficit. It takes all of my adult self control and then some to keep my patience if a last minute grandma call, especially to watch all three kids, means that I have to get up two or three hours early.

Totebaggers, how do you cope with schedule disruptions, especially those that make you tired and strung out? Do you have any tips or restorative foods or back up plans that you go to when your fatigue and frustration makes likely an imminent explosion or serious error or words you can’t take back?

Middle School And Beyond

by Louise

Totebaggers – I need a middle school and beyond road map. Basically what exams, classes and camps to look out for. I am swimming upstream not knowing when to sign kids up for PSAT/SAT and other exams, how to have kids prepare etc. Now all school information for parents is online, so if I don’t look carefully I am afraid I’ll miss things.
I know for instance there are 8th grade placement exams – what does that mean?
Not having been through this school system facing decisions on what to have kid take, I value the Totebag collective wisdom.

Vanity

by Louise

Totebaggers, from the brand post, it seems that only a few of us care for brands. Many of us value experiences. Experiences aside, are there things we are vain about? My old neighbor, a regular guy who couldn’t care about brand names, did all the work around his house and yard himself, drove a very ordinary car, had two fine looking old convertibles in his garage. He drove them in the summer and I was always taken by those cars when he went past with a jaunty wave. These days, I see vintage open bed trucks with families driving to Starbucks on a Saturday morning.

Like these gentlemen, do you have something you are vain about? Do you have great hair for example, that you wear just so? What about a fit figure? A pretty garden? Any signature dishes you make? Any collections you are proud of ? What are you vain about?

What Have You Learned Lately?

by Grace aka costofcollege

Learning opportunities are everywhere — your job, your family, books, your community, travel, schools, and the Internet.

Lynda.com is an online education company “offering thousands of video courses in software, creative, and business skills … taught by industry experts. Members have unlimited access to watch the videos, which are primarily educational.”

Lynda Weinman founded Lynda.com in 1995, and recently sold the company to LinkedIn for $1.5 billion.  Weinman was ahead of her time in exploiting the benefits of online education.

“Everything we are talking about right now in online learning—how can we create lifelong learners, how can we support people changing careers, all of this stuff she was doing before it was the hip thing to do.”

Some Lynda.com photography courses caught my eye, and I hope to use them soon to learn more about editing and organizing photos.  A local camera shop may offer supplementary instruction.  I keep meaning to take a course in statistics.  Over the last few years I feel as if I’ve slacked off on learning new skills or improving existing ones.

What have you learned lately?  Do you consider yourself a “lifelong learner”?  Have you tried Lynda.com or something similar?  Or are you in a phase of life that leaves little time to learn new things because you are simply too busy keeping up with your juggle?  (Not that you don’t learn many valuable things just from doing that!)  Maybe when you retire you’ll have more time to focus on your continuing education.  What learning goals, personal or professional, do you have?

News from yesterday:  LinkedIn Offers Users Free Lynda.com Courses for the First Time

Related:  25 Killer Sites For Free Online Education

Your Big Backyard

by WCE

I attended land grant universities. In a college discussion, Finn asked me if the local land grant university is a good school. “It depends, ” I thought. If you want to study volcanoes, oceanography, veterinary medicine, rangeland management, wildlife biology or forestry, it’s a very good school. We have excellent researchers in the cultivation of pears and berries. But it probably doesn’t rank very high with US News. (It’s #138.)

Recently, I saw Facebook posts from a friend who studied forestry and then moved to Montana and Wyoming. She posted a picture of a young moose stripping leaves that she took on their family hike (below) and a video of a grizzly bear across a stream from them. I also saw a NY Times article about what researchers at University of Montana (#194 according to US News) are learning about songbird communication in the presence of predators. (It’s linked below).

20150611.TMoose

I’d like to know more about birds, and the sounds I hear when I meet the bus or go for a walk are mostly those of various birds and squirrels, so the article interested me. My kids recently watched a video about pythons in southern Florida, and they were impressed by a huge python that had crawled through the sewage system into someone’s toilet. What’s interesting about nature where you live? Do you know what is under study about nature in your local area?

Here’s the NY Times article on bird warnings that I enjoyed.

When Birds Squawk, Other Species Seem to Listen

How Those Crazy Studies Make the News

Both Honolulu Mother and Rocky Mountain Stepmom sent in posts about this article.

I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How.


by Honolulu Mother

We’ve all noticed how contradictory the conclusions from “scientific” studies in the news can be on many topics — what foods are good or bad, what type of exercise is effective or injurious, what parenting choices have good or bad effects. Sometimes this may be the result of a better understanding of a subject over time — surely the fact that eggs and butter, so reviled a generation ago, are now good for you again is an example of the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice. But most of the time, contradictions multiply and it’s never clear from the reporting what the studies were even based on.

Now a hero of our time has provided the explanation: it’s because the news media will publish any piece of crap study that sounds authoritative and has a headline-worthy conclusion, as outlined in the article linked above.

But notwithstanding the flaws in the study identified by its own author, I’m going to stick with his conclusion and make sure to get my chocolate every day. Because science!


by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

The article linked above is about the way science journalism works, or doesn’t work. One of its main points is that journalists are lazy. That resonated with me because of two work experiences I’ve had.

In 1983, I finished a Masters of Library and Information Studies degree at Berkeley. World’s easiest degree, but that’s not important right now. I had an internship at the KPIX news library. KPIX was and maybe still is the CBS affiliate in San Francisco. I got to see the local news produced every evening, and it was…startling. The reporters and producers just trolled popular magazines for stories they could regurgitate. I fetched Glamour magazine articles for the reporters to crib from. They stole from every conceivable source. It was disheartening.

My first job after library school was as an indexer for what was then Information Access Corp. (Remember Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature? It was like that.) We indexed popular magazines, trade magazines, and five newspapers: New York Times, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, Christian Science Monitor, and the Wall Street Journal. We sat in front of our Apple 2e computer and read every single article in the papers and assigned index terms. It was a very peaceful way to make a living. But one thing I learned very quickly was that the newspapers all stole from each other regularly. The same article, with just a few changes, would appear in all the papers, and no, those articles weren’t from UPI or AP. They were by-lined by staff writers. There was clearly no independent verification going on. See article, crib article, print article. Again, very distressing to naive little me. The worst was the “end of year wrap-up” stuff. You might as well just burn all the papers from about Dec. 10 to Jan 5, because unless Manhattan gets nuked, there will be NO actual news whatsoever.

Totebaggers, do you trust the news? What’s your preferred source? Are you as skeptical as you would like to be? Or do you tend to believe stuff just because it’s in print? And do you believe that chocolate can accelerate weight loss?

How Much To Spend On A Wedding Gift

by Grace aka costofcollege

June is a big month for weddings.  A recent CollegeConfidential discussion asked about the appropriate amount to spend on a wedding gift.  Opinions vary, to say the least.

This comment …

This is sooooo variable, by region of the country, socioeconomic status, how close you are to the people involved. There are weddings where I’d give $100 and feel fine, and those where I’d give $1,000 (my nieces/nephew)….

… prompted this response:

I can’t imagine spending that much for anyone but my own kids.

Several factors come into play.

In addition to region of country, another factor quite simply is your income. One family’s $300 check is done without a blink of an eye, another, $300 is the grocery bill for the month!

How much do you spend on wedding gifts?

How Does Your Garden Grow?

by Honolulu Mother

In Hawaii we don’t really have an off-season for gardening . Grass grows year-round, and there’s no general off season, although specific crops are seasonal — and it looks like a good year for lychee! I know that most of you are more tied to the seasons on this, though, and you must be well into the gardening time of year now.

Our gardening and landscaping focus is on the edible or the fragrant. I have an herb pot (a strawberry pot with herbs in the holes) convenient-ish to kitchen along with a giant rosemary bush. We periodically plant eggplant, tomatoes, and other veg in a bed up on the hill behind our house; right now it’s had all the overgrown junk ripped out for a reboot after we return from our summer travel. We have an assortment of fruit trees, an allspice tree that produces no allspice berries but is very fragrant when it flowers, scented roses, gardenia, and night-blooming jasmine.

There is very little in the way of garden design in the yard, as we just tuck plants or beds in where they seem to fit. Perhaps with more time we would do this in a more planned manner and without the periods of neglect when school and kid activities get busy. I see lots of retirees gardening as I head out or return home on weekdays, and their yards show the benefit of regular care.

What do you do with your yard or garden? Are there any serious gardeners out there? Do you outsource it all to a yard service or teenaged child? Or do you combine yard service with your own gardening? Do you try to grow your own food to any significant degree? How much do you try to design your garden? And whether or not you actually execute these plans, would your ideal garden be the grounds at Versailles, a cottage garden, a rock garden, or something else altogether?

What We Owe Our Elders

by Sky

My husband and I both come from large families with several childless aunts and uncles. Over the past few years, we’ve learned that some of them have put us in charge of their affairs as well as our parents’.

For geographic and professional reasons, we are the obvious choice to be someone’s executor or to hold the power of attorney.

But they are all within a decade of each other, and the prospect of managing the care of 6 or more 80-somethings across a few states is daunting. Better than the alternative, of course, but still daunting.

What have you needed to do for your older relatives? Other than making sure the documents are in order, what recommendations do you have?

Fast Dinner

by Sky

I’m a poor cook with low standards that probably disqualify me from the Totebag, but I’m trying to improve.

Several nights a week my daughter has practice that ends at dinnertime. I’ve been coping by buying dinner at the restaurant in the same complex, but this is not doing the waistline any favors.

What reasonably healthy dinner can you prepare in 15 minutes or less?

Assume ownership of all kitchen appliances, including an Instant Pot and sous vide, but lots of distraction while cooking and limited toddler palates that aren’t going to eat sriracha :)

Financial Safeguards For The Unemployed Spouse

by Sara

I’m a new empty nester and 2 mothers in my situation have been dumped by their husbands – and neither has worked in 15 years. Turns out their husbands blew through all their joint savings accounts so now both women are going back to work in low-level jobs. I think there still needs to be more awareness of long-term consequences of giving up your career as a mother – and actions you can take to stop free spending spouses if they seem out of control ( freeze bank accounts is one).

Tell us about your schools

by Grace aka costofcollege

Tell us about your local schools.

Do you have school choice?  Do you have charters, magnets, or other options for selecting public schools outside your neighborhood?  Do you use private schools?

What do you like about your schools?

What do you dislike about your schools?

Have your children been well served by their schools?

What else can you tell us?  Demographics?  Amount of homework?  Grading?  Discipline policies?  Quality of instruction?  Technology?  Communication to parents?  How they address needs of special education and/or gifted students?  Choice of extra-curriculars?  Transportation?  Class sizes?  SAT/ACT scores?  Number of NMSFs?  Anything else?

How about the schools you attended?  Are your kids’ schools better or worse?

Did your local high school make it on the U.S. News Best High Schools Ranking?

Use GreatSchools to complete the following surveys for the HIGH SCHOOL your child attends, attended, or will likely attend.  (Reduced price lunch program information is under the “details” tab.)

Do You Know Brand Names

by Grace costofcollege

In many business and social situations, there’s value in being savvy about brand names.  Like it or not, we are often judged by our clothes, cars, and other accouterments of life.  And knowing the same about others can help us be more astute in all types of relationships.

Here’s the hierarchy of luxury brands around the world

Do you know how to pronounce Hermes or other brand names?  To make it easy on myself, I only say “Stella” when ordering my favorite beer.

The Right Way To Say 15 Brand Names You’re Mispronouncing All The Time

Are you brand-savvy?  Can you tell the difference between a Cartier and a Timex? (Okay, that’s probably an easy one.)  How important is it for you to know brands?  Do you feel judged by the shoes you wear or the car you drive?

Dating And Marriage Across The Lines

by Louise

My children are first generation Americans. As they grow, I wonder what advice I should give them about dating and marriage. In the home country, marriages that used to last till death do us apart, are increasingly coming apart at the seams. So, advice on this topic is hard to impart.

Here, it seems that there are invisible lines. I wonder how other families would feel at having a first generation Asian boy/girl dating their kids. At school and in their lives my kids are surrounded by other Totebagger type families of all stripes. I am presuming it is most likely they will date/marry Totebagger Junior.

How have your kids handled dating/marriage. What about dating across lines? What advice do you have for kids?

Too Much Academic Pressure On Students?

by Sara

Real question: how hard should parents push top academic students without crossing the line. Where is the line? Valedictorian at our school had no friends or hobbies – like an academic robot programmed for Harvard. At our high school, one father said he wouldn’t pay for a non- ivy. Another mother hired tutors for every subject to give her daughter the edge (daughter now struggling academically at an ivy).

Memorial Day 2015

by Grace aka costofcollege

201104.eWashingtonDC67AID

“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

This photo is from a Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery, a moving ritual that honors U.S.soldiers who gave their lives for their country.  The dedication and precision demonstrated during the ceremony was impressive and confidence-inspiring.

What’s on your mind this Memorial Day?

Vacation Talk

by Rhode

Spring has finally sprung in my neck of the woods, and it has me thinking of how to use my vacation and personal time…

What is your favorite vacation spot?

Also, if money and time are no object, where would you go on vacation, who would you take with you, how long would you stay, and what would you do?

Will The Future Judge Us Moral?

by WCE

Once and future sins

I read this article on how values and norms may change in the next 100 years and Grace’s request for posts prompted me to submit it. My parents have commented on how rapidly norms and values change compared to what they remember. In all likelihood, some of these changes are good and some aren’t, and only through the lens of history will anyone be able to judge what’s what.

I am particularly intrigued by the idea of considering future people (zoning to maintain historic neighborhoods and fossil fuel consumption, for example) more in moral decision-making. I also thought about moral problems that bother me (prison rape and general mistreatment of prisoners, for example) that don’t receive much attention in society at large. How do you think norms and values will change? How do you think they should change? How do we weigh unknown and unknowable future risks (earthquakes, fracking, global warming, etc.) against known current harms? What, if any, religious norms will influence social moral change? (I’m thinking of previous movements like abolition and temperance here.) Will norms and values continue to vary across social classes?

Here’s a quote, since the article is a bit long.

The tricky question is who exactly counts as the ‘other’ whose interests we should set above our own? Every society has had its own answers, as does each one of us: we expect you would go to much greater lengths to do good for your child than for your neighbour, and it would be easier to lie to your boss than to your spouse. And some beings, whether animal, vegetable or microbial, are outside the realm of consideration altogether. In moral terms, some always matter more than others. This understanding offers us a fairly straightforward idea of moral progress: it means including ever more people (or beings) in the group of those whose interests are to be respected. This too is an ancient insight: Hierocles, a Stoic philosopher of the second century, describes us as being surrounded by a series of concentric circles. The innermost circle of concern surrounds our own self; the next comprises the immediate family; then follow more remote family; then, in turn, neighbours, fellow city-dwellers, countrymen and, finally, the human race as a whole. Hierocles described moral progress as ‘drawing the circles somehow toward the centre’, or moving members of outer circles to the inner ones.

The ‘Dadbod’

by Grace aka costofcollege

What Is the ‘Dadbod’? What Does It Mean?

… The dadbod is a physique characterized by undefined muscles beneath a light layer of flab, usually topped off with a beer belly. “The dad bod says, ‘I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time,'”…

Do you (or your partner) have a Dadbod?  What about your peers?  Do you work hard to fight against the Dadbod, or do you embrace it.  What’s the female version?  Are we more accepting of Dadbods than of Mombods?

What Historical Character Would You Like To Be?

by Louise

Wolf Hall is coming to an end soon. I am a big fan of historical fiction and often wonder what it would be like if I actually lived in those times.

Who would I be? From what I have read I would have liked to be at court in the time of Elizabeth I. I am afraid my head would be chopped off under Henry VIII or worse still I would be burned at the stake.

Which character from history would you like to be?

Favorite YouTube Channels

by Honolulu Mother

I recently added some new YouTube channels to our list from a Gizmodo article on DiY channels.  They join a list including channels with some educational value (RimStar, BrainScoop), assorted exercise channels, some British and French tv, Dead Gentlemen, Cracked, and of course such kid favorites as Kids React, Roseanne Pansino, and every Yogscast channel known to man.  This is in addition to the playlists — I have a karaoke one with everyone’s favorites for family karaoke night, a playlist with videos related to our upcoming trip that we used to help decide on our itinerary, a general to-watch list, and several playlists related to school subjects such as the Renaissance or the Silk Road.

I think we watch more shows off YouTube than we do Netflix, Amazon, or cable tv.  Perhaps more than all of those combined.  With the YouTube channel on Roku and similar devices, it’s easy to watch on the big screen, and over the course of its 10 year history YouTube has become a surprisingly broad entertainment option, with something for everyone in our family.

Does your household have favorite YouTube channels that might be of interest to other Totebaggers?  Is YouTube a part of your regular tv rotation, or do you stick to other online sources or cable or broadcast tv?  Do we have any swimming-against-the-tide Vimeo users?  And has your usage changed over the last few years?

Income Disparities and Dealing With Them

by Pregnant Teen Mom

I have a really neat problem.

A very good friend of my little family and his wife are hedge fund people. They are Mitt Romney wealthy—certainly not Warren Buffett wealthy, but what’s the difference, really? I don’t really speak to my friend all that often. He is too busy. We were puppies together in New York. But his wife and I probably yak on the phone every other day. They are both close to my son.

The thing is, they are very generous. Where do I draw the line? I mean when they come visit, they stay in a suite at the Biltmore. When they go to the Keys they stay in the Chica Lodge. We are always invited, and I can barely pay the Resort Fee. Vacations are in St. Bart’s or some equivalent place. They’re taking the Fund’s jet. Do we want them to pick us up at Tamiami?

I have always paid my own way. My friends are by no means pretentious and their invites are sincere. I know they would pay for Junior and me, but I don’t want them to. Junior and I are solidly middle class. I am pretty much retired. I don’t want Junior to get used to flying even in coach—except as a privilege—much less in a hedge fund jet.

I know my friends are well meaning and extraordinarily generous. But I am fiercely independent. (Yeah, I know that sounds like a “severe conservative”, which I am most definitely not.)

Any thoughts?

Family-Friendly Perks

by Regular Poster

My husband had a recent period of employment by one of the technology giants. Given the reputation, I expected that our lives would be much improved (in what way, I don’t really know). However, as a spouse and mother of small children, it was unpleasant to hostile. He went there from an environment that had been very inclusive (a start-up that had frequent gatherings, invited partners to important company announcements, celebrated employee milestones, etc.) Visiting the new office required registration and a badge, and after 18 months I didn’t know the name of a single co-worker.

While it is a luxury to complain about how generous benefits and perks are not working out well for your family, this recent NYT article rang true.

Silicon Valley: Perks for Some Workers, Struggles for Parents

The “great benefits” technology company he worked for had amazing things going on – I think. All of the information was contained on a secure company wiki. That means I could not find out about anything without asking DH pointed questions. There was no employee handbook. I think there was a gym benefit, there might have been some other things we could have used. In order to sort through health insurance options, I had to look over DH’s shoulder — he took seriously the admonitions about company security and not allowing me to navigate the wiki. In the end, we never used our vision insurance because it was just too complicated for me to manage.

But these examples exaggerate how family-friendly tech companies are, especially after the newborn phase… Some benefits, like free meals and on-site laundry, have a flip side of discouraging people from leaving.

In our experience, the family friendly programs seemed to be geared for employees in the first few years of parenthood. There was generous leave for new parents – sounded awesome, but we are past that stage. There was emergency child care coverage – but they would only pay for a specific day care center – and had to be booked in advance (somewhat negating the “emergency” part of the program). It was complicated – the center required for us to have vaccination records on file. The two times we tried to use it was unavailable for three children – and was a non-starter once kids had to be in school.

In any case, he ended up leaving because he didn’t like the work he was doing. He is now employed with a far more traditional employer with fewer benefits and a higher salary. He is home for breakfast and dinner. I have to say it is an improvement.

Totebaggers, what has your experience been with “family-friendly perks”? What would you want a company to offer? Would you stay for any of these benefits? A lot has been written about Google’s failed foray into on-site childcare — do you see that ever becoming a benefit that high-demand employees can expect?

Were you told to suppress your high ambitions?

by Grace aka costofcollege

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and one of the most successful women in the field of technology, has urged women to “lean in” to achieve ambitious career goals.  She wants us to break down barriers, both external and internal, so that more women will be represented in leadership positions of business and government.

A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.

I was struck by Sandberg’s own struggle with self doubt.

My entire life I have been told, you know, or I have felt that I should hold back on being too successful, too smart, too, you know, lots of things.

She grew up in an affluent household, the daughter of a doctor and a college teacher.  Presumably she enjoyed many advantages and abundant encouragement from that upbringing, yet she remembers being told to tamp down her ambitions.

I am a bit older than Sandberg and grew up in different circumstances, lacking the advantages of her upper-class upbringing.  Yet I don’t remember being told to hold back on my accomplishments.  Sure, there were times when I was discouraged from pursuing lofty ambitions, but it seems those were the exceptions.  It’s a bit puzzling why Sandberg felt so constrained and I did not.  Was I just oblivious to the negative messages all around me?

Have you or the women you know been told to hold back on being too successful?  Do you think you may be sending that message to your daughters or other young women?  Does society send that message?  If so, why do some women seem to ignore this negative directive?

Should we be encouraging women to lean in to create a society where they run half our countries and companies while men run half our homes?

Sadly, Sandberg’s husband died unexpectedly earlier this month, leaving her a widow with two young children.  She has returned to work on a modified schedule.  She “will not be doing any traveling for the time being and will adopt a slightly modified schedule that fits with when her children are at school”.

Middle Class Discussion

by AustinMom

While the term “middle class” is frequently used, even the Census Bureau does not have an official definition because the middle is relative to the entire spectrum.  A 2011 Pew Charitable Trust Study, listed the range the 30 to 70 percentiles of income in America (in dollars that is $32,900 to $64,000). However, this percentile income range for “middle class” also varies based on the cost of living and salaries in your area.  This means “middle class” is more about a frame of mind or what is viewed as important – as of August 2012 that was a secure job and health insurance (Secure Job – Ticket to the Middle Class).

The nebulousness of middle class is borne out in two recent articles.  The first article talks about middle class from a psychological perspective, near the end is an interactive chart that is interesting. (Economically Insecure Middle Class)

The second one shows how defining “middle class” by income as a fixed dollar range can be misleading.  (Living Paycheck to Paycheck on $75K).

I used the this Census site (Census State Income) to get a rough estimate of middle class based on the percentile definition. The range is $25,000 to $75,000. Based on this figure, we have dipped into the middle class in the last 10 years, but overall have remained slightly above that. However, within Texas I live in an area (as are most big cities in the state) where the cost of living is slightly above the average national cost of living. (Cost of Living)  Including this measure, our income is slightly more than the city’s average cost of living. Since that does not include saving for totebag important items such as retirement and college, I would say our family falls in the definition of middle class.

Do you think you are middle class based on your income and location?

The Engineer’s Perspective

by Milo

Yeah, it’s just another article, but it’s a great one. And it touches on a lot of recurring TB themes–personality type differences, allocation of government resources, the vast differences between our perceptions of risk and reality, emotion vs. facts, feeling vs. thinking, and, of course, cars.

I love the joke about the golfers. I feel like some form of that conversation has happened on the blog hundreds of times.

The Engineer’s Lament

Your High School Clique

by Grace aka costofcollege

Freaks, Geeks, and Mean Girls: 15 Famous Women on Their High-School Cliques

Here’s Edie Falco:

“I think we were called by the other people, the nerds. That was it. I was in the choir. I spent a lot of time in the art classes. There was nothing fancy or cool about it. It was a little horrifying, in fact. There was one group we called the circus people. I think it was just because they bought a lot of crazy clothes from thrift shops, so they always looked a little bit like clowns and like they had dressed up. I kind of tiptoed my way through school hoping nobody would beat me up.”

Describe your high school clique.  Do you have happy memories, or would you rather forget those high school days?  Do you see patterns repeated with your kids’ cliques, or are they following different paths?

Kind Criticism

by Louise

In a world where everyone gets a trophy how do we offer constructive but kind criticism?

With my kids a tug of war has ensued over my feedback of their Lego projects. An honest opinion from me is termed as being “too negative”. Too negative? Ha! Good thing they didn’t grow up in the home country where a few people told me, that I needed to watch my diet and get more exercise. It was true that compared to my peers I was fat.

How do you give criticism that is kind but effective? How can the receivers absorb the message yet not take offense? Let’s hear it for kind criticism.

Your Fantasy Home Remodel

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

So, we’ve had our house now for about 11 years. It was brand-spanking new when we bought it. Since then, we’ve redone the floors and repainted and done a few minor things. Now that my mom has been gone for two years, and the dog is gone, and it’s down to just us and the very elderly cat, we’re thinking about redoing the basement. Currently it’s just a big storage mess. Bit by bit over the last two years DH has tossed virtually all of my mom’s stuff, and I owe him a huge debt of gratitude because I just couldn’t do it — too emotional.

But what are we going to do with it? I go in circles. We could make it into a living space of sorts. Add a bathroom (it’s set up for one), try to mute the noise from the furnace, etc. Part of me thinks we should be ready to either rent it out when we get old, or use it to house homeless persons/persons in transition, though DH usually smacks some sense into me when I start thinking that way. Or we could make it into a rumpus room and wait patiently for grandchildren to show up. In the meantime, if I wanted to host Bible study groups or something, any kids could be watched in the rumpus room. The whole house is really not set up for multi-family use. It’s too open. Not enough doors. Even if we tried to make the upstairs more of a self-contained living space, it’s still a problem because all the bedrooms are upstairs, including the master.

Anyway, we have a designer/architect coming over to talk to us and help us think things through. My proposed discussion question is: If someone dropped $100K on your head and said you had to use it to remodel or fix up the house, what would you do?

Fund-Raising and Participation

by L

Totebaggers, many of us have experience with mandatory fund-raising as part of a group. We may have been part of the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts as kids (with cookie- or candy- or gift wrap-selling expectations), or now have kids in those programs; we may be board members of a nonprofit; we may be officers of a church; we may be part of a non-profit social group, masonic lodge, etc. Or our workplace may do an “optional” fund-raiser with the United Way.

My small non-profit had a very poorly attended fund-raiser recently. Many of the members of the group, and about 1/4 of the board members, did not attend! Should we be forcing members to attend or buy tickets? If so, what would be the best way to communicate this expectation to the group? If you have experience with this type of fund-raising, what strategies have worked best for you and your organization? If your workplace sponsors a United Way or similar fund-raiser, do you contribute (and if so, do you feel forced to contribute)?

How Are You Paying For College?

by Grace aka costofcollege

As the deadline for high school seniors to choose a college approaches, the challenge of how to pay is has been a recent topic of discussion for many families.  Totebaggers are savers and unlikely to qualify for much need-based financial aid, so this timeline may not be relevant to many readers here.  But it does show some generalized steps along the path to saving and paying for college while giving us a starting point for discussion.

20150412.COCPlanningTimelineB

Before High School

Start saving for college ASAP:  This is the relatively uncomplicated part.  Although we can’t predict the costs of college over a child’s lifetime, it almost always makes sense to begin saving early on.  Even if MOOCs or other innovations make higher education more affordable in the future, there’s usually not much of a risk in saving too much since there are options for dealing with “left-over money in your 529 plan”.  Still, it makes sense to look at all the pros and cons of 529 plans.

Before Junior Year of High School

  • NMS potential:  If your child tends to score in the 95%ile of standardized tests, he may have a shot at earning a National Merit Scholarship.  A little test prep can make the difference in qualifying for significant merit financial aid.
  • Base Income Year (BIY): If there is a chance your family may qualify for need-based financial aid, you should explore ways to minimize income during the BIY, which is the 12-month period that begins January 1 during your child’s junior year.  Since the BIY is used as a snapshot for determining financial need, you may want to avoid selling stocks or property that will create large capital gains, refrain from converting to a Roth IRA, and defer bonus or other income if possible.

Junior Year of High School

  • Create list of schools:  Get serious and make a realistic list that includes academic and financial safeties.
  • Can we afford it? 1-2-3:  Determine affordability by using the 1-2-3 Method or something similar.

Senior Year of High School

Senior year is the busiest time for families as they handle the many details of the college application process, including final determination of how they will be paying.  Some important acronyms:

The two main forms used in determining financial aid eligibility are the FAFSA and PROFILE.
FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid. It is a form submitted to the government that collects the financial information needed to decide eligibility for federal FA. It’s also used by many colleges to determine institutional aid.
PROFILE is the financial aid application service offered by the College Board, used by about 400 colleges to learn if students qualify for non-federal student aid. There is a fee to submit a PROFILE, whereby the FAFSA is free.

The SAR (Student Aid Report) is a summary of your FAFSA responses and provides “some basic information about your eligibility for federal student aid”.

What’s your approach in planning on how to pay for college?  Do you feel well prepared, or a bit nervous about how you’ll handle the costs?  If your kids are older, tell us what you learned.  Share your wisdom and ask your questions.

(A version of this post previously appeared in Cost of College.)

What Works For Children Of Divorce?

by Anonymous

Almost everyone has been touched by divorce. Many of you are divorced, some remarried, some have step-kids. If you’re blessed to have been happily married to only one person, you probably have a friend who was not so lucky. Or maybe your parents or your friends’ parents are divorced.

My question to you today: What is really best for the kids? What custody sharing arrangements have worked (or not), in the same town, across the country, or somewhere in between? What strategies worked (or not) to help children with the transition to separate homes? What worked (or not) in planning for expenses, like extracurriculars, cars/insurance, and college? Please share both the successes and failures you have had or observed with co-parenting.

Moving During Retirement

by L

What Mistake Do People Make When Moving in Retirement?

Grandparents Uprooting Their Lives to Move Near Grandchildren

Depending on which stage of life Totebaggers are in, either they or their parents might consider moving to be nearer their grandchildren or to live in a warmer (or lower-tax) state. Have any Totebaggers (or parents of Totebaggers) gone through a move in early retirement? What do you see as the pros and cons?

Tortes and Tarts

by Louise

“Mini tarts for an aging tart”. I loved this line and I have come to think of Totebaggers as Tortes (the guys) and Tarts (the girls).

BTW, my neighbor called her friends, women over seventy “the girls”.

As you, Tortes and Tarts have gotten older, what are things you do, that are the privilege of being a certain age? Speaking your mind, two glasses of wine, instead of one, a full cookie instead of half? What are your thoughts on aging?

Here is a snapshot of people who are 100 years old – there is drinking, dancing and marathon running.

David Bailey: this is what 100 looks like

Sex Ed

by saacnmama

My son recently brought home a paper from school:

Your son/daughter will be receiving instruction about AIDS/HIV/STDs in the 7th grade. Because of the present lack of a medical solution to AIDS/HIV/STDs, prevention has been identified as the only viable alternative for controlling AIDS/HIV/STDs. Education is the first step to prevention.

The six areas of study will be

• Abstinence
• Facts concerning AIDS/HIV/STDs
• HIV and the immune system
• The transmission of AIDS/HIV/STDs
• Risk behaviors and preventative practices
• A general overview of other sexually transmitted diseases
• Peer pressure refusal skills

Emphasis will be placed on abstinence from sex and drugs as the most effective ways to prevent AIDS/HIV/STDs.

This unit will be taught in Science class. They are just wrapping up a unit on mitosis and meiosis, so this follows logically. Over the years, I have answered lots of questions from my son. Our approach has always been biological. Explaining that the reason sex feels good so that people and animals will do it and procreate, but they sometimes do it “extra” because of that good feeling, makes sense to me as long as he sees no other reason for it. I do not know if the state we live in (Florida) is one of the states required to focus on abstinence, but that would not surprise me. This article gives some interesting information on abstinence teaching and why it may not be most successful at reducing disease and teen pregnancy. The approach it seems to suggest would be very hard to implement as just one parent, because it involves societal values.

The days of the biological scientific approach are limited. His schoolmates apparently give him plenty of examples of sexual desire at work, and he reported that one of the principle ways girls at the first and only school dance he’s been to danced was running their hands up and down their own bodies. I am sure it will not be too long until circuits are connected and his lights and buzzers start going off. He has already begun to ask me questions about my own experiences (beyond the initial “you did that once? I know you did, to make me”). I have far more experience than I think is healthy to discuss with him. I have already mentioned that I did not do a good job picking out a husband or his father (to which he snorted and agreed), that I do not want him to follow in my footsteps, that I want him to have a long and good relationship with his partner. Right now, the system is powered down and this sounds good to him. When his questions become more detailed and insistent, my plan is to switch to “don’t kiss and tell”, including how girls’ reputation, more than boys, can be ruined by this, and that he should never discuss what or he someone else has done sexually.

All of us have been through this ourselves, “in the Dark Ages”, and many of you have guided one or more youngsters through it. What do you recall, and what recommendations can you make?

Totebag Demographics

by Grace aka costofcollege

Have you tried the Esri Zip Code Lookup?  It shows you median income and age, population density as well as the predominant demographic segments for your zip code.  Try it HERE.

Take these polls to share what you found from the zip code lookup:


Do the results match what you observe?  Any surprises?  How about the demographic segments?  Which segment matches you best?  Where would you rather live — your ideal zip code?

The Good Old Days

by MooshiMooshi

I love living in today’s world. I love how DH and I can settle friendly arguments by whipping out a smartphone and hitting Wikipedia. I love that I can see constant photos of my DH’s baby relatives posted on Facebook. I love, love, love navigating with Google maps or my Garmin. It makes me far more willing to drive to unknown places. I am happy that I rarely have to enter a big box store like Kohl’s or HomeDepot. I am thrilled that I can stream Bollywood movies, or obscure Japanese art movies, or old episodes of West Wing, whenever I want.

I like a lot of the changes in the world, too. The fact that I have been to China three times, and that I realistically can visit Vietnam or Tibet, just boggles my mind. When I was 18, I never would have envisioned that. Granted, the middle east is a scary place, but it has been a scary place for a long time.

But there are some things I miss from the old days. Some of these things make me sad. I miss bookstores – not the cheesy mall bookstores of my youth or weird dusty bookstores. I miss the oldstyle university bookstores, which used to be packed with intellectual, specialized books instead of logoware. I miss the fun of a trip to Borders, and spending lots of time hanging out in their comfy chairs looking at history books.

I miss getting lots and lots of Christmas cards, with actual handwritten messages inside.

I miss vinyl records, and big splashy album cover art.

I miss thinking that it was really cool that you could write a lowlevel C program that would shoot a message through a socket, and another C program on another machine could actually read that message.

I miss feeling like it was a big deal when I got a letter from overseas stamped AIRMAIL, PAR AVION,… with lots of fancy stamps

What do you miss about the old days? What has gone away that perhaps you hadn’t even noticed was gone?

Cars For Kids

by Finn

In a recent post, Fred mentioned that he might be buying a car for his DS in the near future.

Providing cars for our kids is not something we’ve discussed much here, and this seems as good a time as any. This is especially the case for us, as DS now has a learner’s permit, DW and I are getting tired of driving him to his activities and would like him to be able to drive himself, and DW has talked about getting a new car for herself and letting DS drive her current car.

Totebaggers with kids at or above driving age, have you provided cars for your kids? If so, what kinds of cars? What responsibilities did you tie to the use of cars?

If not, how did you juggle your existing vehicles to allow your kids to drive? Or, did your kids just not drive during HS?

Many years ago, a coworker told me he had his kids pay their own insurance premiums to drive, and educated them on how moving violations would affect those premiums, and how his kids were extremely careful as a result. Would you consider this?

Sources Of Inequality

by WCE

This article argues that parental IQ, not parental income, is the primary cause of inequality. I always appreciate analyses that look at trends in countries other than the U.S., whether that’s stock market performance or educational inequality. I also appreciate the point that society needs to value nonacademic character traits, those currently referred to as “grit”.

“All high-quality academic tests look as if they’re affluence tests. It’s inevitable. Parental IQ is correlated with children’s IQ everywhere. In all advanced societies, income is correlated with IQ. Scores on academic achievement tests are always correlated with the test-takers’ IQ. Those three correlations guarantee that every standardized academic-achievement test shows higher average test scores as parental income increases…

The more strictly that elite colleges admit students purely on the basis of academic accomplishment, the more their student bodies will be populated with the offspring of the upper-middle class and wealthy—not because their parents are rich, but because they are smart. No improvement in the SAT can do away with this underlying reality.

I haven’t used the word “meritocracy” to describe this because it doesn’t apply. Merit has nothing to do with possessing a high IQ. It is pure luck. And that leads to my reason for writing this.

As long as we insist on blaming inequality of academic outcomes on economic inequality, we will pursue policies that end up punishing children whose strengths do not lie in academics. We will continue to tell them that they will be second-class citizens if they don’t get a college degree; to encourage them to accumulate student debt only to drop out or obtain a worthless degree. Worse, we will prevent them from capitalizing on their other gifts of character, grit and the many skills that the SAT doesn’t test.”

The reason I’m sending the article, of course, is that I think Charles Murray is mostly right. But I know many people think inequality is a problem that government can or should solve. Is the role of government in reducing inequality limited to income transfers from the poor to the rich, or can the factors underlying inequality be changed more than Murray argues?

Why the SAT Isn’t a ‘Student Affluence Test’

(Google the title if the link doesn’t work)

Business Travel

by Grace aka costofcollege

What are the benefits of business travel?

201503.eMiscMarPhoto1BI

A lifetime supply of hotel shampoo may be one benefit, but what else?  Chances to travel to places you would otherwise never go?  (That could mean Paris or Peoria.)  A break in the office routine?  (Too many breaks can be stressful.)  The ability to build up mileage and the associated perks?  (Even deluxe airport lounges can’t make up for too much time away from family.)

My perfect travel schedule would probably be one trip about every other month, planned well in advance, to destinations that have attractions above and beyond mundane office parks.

Do you like business travel, or hate it?  Do you travel much in your present job?  What would be your ideal work travel pattern?  Tell us your best and worst travel stories.

Best Cleaning Products of 2015

by WCE

My favorite spray stain remover, Tide Boost, has been discontinued so I’m looking for a replacement. Thankfully, my wonderful mother-in-law found and bought me 8 bottles on close-out so I have a little time to experiment. When I read this article on cleaning supplies, I decided to try Shout Triple Action. (I’m underwhelmed by the old Shout gel and Resolve/Spray ‘n’ Wash is just OK.) I already use Cascade dishwasher detergent. I may try the Great Value disinfectant wipes for cleaning the camper kitchen on our next trip but I’ll probably stick with my favorite dish soap, Palmolive, instead of seeking a particular variety of Method. Bar Keeper’s Friend is already under my sink. Weiman carpet cleaner doesn’t seem to be available locally and last year my current carpet cleaner, Resolve, won the contest so I may wait for potty training before my next round of carpet cleaner experimentation. I use the original Murphy’s Oil soap occasionally and use a rag and a bucket, rather than a mop, for heavy cleaning. I use Clorox toilet bowl cleaner and Scrubbing Bubbles bathroom cleaner already. Fels Naptha soap and Kids n Pets (good on mattresses) are missing from the list, but otherwise I thought it was thorough.

I became interested in cleaning supply performance when some friends took jobs with Procter and Gamble. On the rare occasions I care about germs, my biologist friend convinced me that Lysol, Pine-Sol and bleach are the most effective, and which is most effective depends on the germ. I will study this more if anyone in my house ever has a weak immune system.

Where I live, lots of people limit their cleaning supplies to water and vinegar, in order to avoid toxic household chemicals, so I can’t have this discussion with local friends. The regulars know I don’t worry much about chemicals.

Do you think about cleaning or cleaning supplies? What recommendations do you have? Or are you thankful you don’t have to deal with cleaning because someone else does it for you?

Friday Fun: Dessert Buffet

by Louise

The discussion of cakes – buttercream vs. fondant had me thinking of desserts. My parents used to go to a wonderful restaurant serving continental (French) food and the finale was a dessert cart. There was a chocolate cake, a black forest, a pineapple cake and a chocolate ganache cake. A soufflé and other assorted treats. I would look forward eagerly to dinner there. The restaurant changed over the years and although their food is still good and they serve individual desserts after a meal the dessert cart has vanished into the sunset.

Totebaggers what is your favorite dessert?
Do you have any recipes to share?
Are there any favorite dessert places or treat shops that you frequent. Share with us your dessert haunts.

Slow Or Fast Reading?

by Grace aka costofcollege

Maybe you should slow down your reading speed.

Slow reading advocates seek a return to the focused reading habits of years gone by, before Google, smartphones and social media started fracturing our time and attention spans. Many of its advocates say they embraced the concept after realizing they couldn’t make it through a book anymore….

Slow readers list numerous benefits to a regular reading habit, saying it improves their ability to concentrate, reduces stress levels and deepens their ability to think, listen and empathize. The movement echoes a resurgence in other old-fashioned, time-consuming pursuits that offset the ever-faster pace of life, such as cooking the “slow-food” way or knitting by hand.

Clicking on links may actually lead to lower comprehension.

Screens have changed our reading patterns from the linear, left-to-right sequence of years past to a wild skimming and skipping pattern as we hunt for important words and information.

More academics and writers are advocating a return to absorbing, uninterrupted reading—slow reading, as they call it. One 2006 study of the eye movements of 232 people looking at Web pages found they read in an “F” pattern, scanning all the way across the top line of text but only halfway across the next few lines, eventually sliding their eyes down the left side of the page in a vertical movement toward the bottom.

None of this is good for our ability to comprehend deeply, scientists say. Reading text punctuated with links leads to weaker comprehension than reading plain text, several studies have shown. A 2007 study involving 100 people found that a multimedia presentation mixing words, sounds and moving pictures resulted in lower comprehension than reading plain text did.

Skimming news articles online is different than reading a book or other longer pieces that require closer concentration, and I can see how too much Twitter and Tumblr could create habits that impair reading comprehension skills needed in other areas.  Here’s an antidote:

At Least 30 Minutes of Uninterrupted Reading With a Book or E-Book Helps

What’s your take?  How important are “slow reading” skills, or does a future filled mainly with videos and Tweets make them unnecessary?  Should schools change their instruction in any way?

Test your reading speed by clicking this link: How Fast Do You Read?  I’m betting most Totebaggers are fast readers.


QUESTION FOR EVERYONE:  ARE YOU INTERESTED IN A TOTEBAG BOOK CLUB?
 If so, would you like to suggest a book?  The idea of a book club has come up before, but I don’t remember if anyone expressed a willingness to organize and lead it.  If you are interested in taking on that role, please let me know.

Peeps Must Die

by saacnmama

We’re having a party! This Saturday, ‘saac is inviting his nerdiest friends over to destroy Peeps, a la http://www.toadhaven.com/Peep%20Science.html or the website peeped search dot com. The “science” will be entirely tongue in cheek, but the humor and creativity should be full-on.

I haven’t figured out yet if it will be indoors or out. If they’re indoors, they would be in the kitchen, where they could heat the suckers up on the stove (or in the oven), nuke ’em, and pour various things over them in the sink. Outside, we’d probably go to the shelter next to the pool. We’d take a bucket or two of water, and they could use the charcoal grill. When they’re done grilling, I could make Providence’s pizza while they jump in the pool. I’m not knocking myself out for this one, but am very open to your suggestions on how to make it easy and fun.

The Emptying of the American Countryside

by Honolulu Mother

The part of this article that most interested me was his point that rural areas of the U.S. are much emptier of people than they once were, which means that there are far fewer eyes to catch changes to the landscape and far fewer people with an ongoing connection to a particular and undistinguished little corner of the countryside (as opposed to having spent some time visiting a national park to see the natural wonders).

Farmland Without Farmers

We have an upcoming national-park-visiting trip planned, and the article made me muse on the difference between a pilgrimage to, say, Yellowstone, and regularly walking a circuit of the same few fields, meadows, copses, and country roads (like the area around my in-laws’ house) and noticing the small changes through the seasons and over the years.

Totebaggers, do you have a piece of semi-wild countryside that you feel connected to? How does that compare to a visit to the official wilderness in the form of a national park or surrounding area? And do you share the article writer’s concern about the people drain out of the country’s rural areas?

The Cost of Extracurricular Activities

by Louise

Kids’ Extracurricular Activities May Cost More Than You Think

Totebaggers – I was talking to a lady who was spending approx. $350/month on dance lessons for her two daughters. This didn’t include recital, costumes or other fees. Her daughters had been in dance since they were little but now as high schoolers their interest had waned and they were on the fence about continuing lessons. Their mother decided to cut the lessons out. “I’m tired and spending too much money”. There was some drama but the parent wanted a firm exit rather than continue to pay and have the kids not go.

Totebaggers, what do you think of all the activities your kids have been involved in ?
Worth it or not ? Are we collectively spending too much time and money ?
We have new parents who may benefit from the advice.

A New Mom’s Questions

by Rhode

I’m returning to work next Monday. My husband is taking 8 weeks paternity leave starting today.

How did moms and dads handle the transition between leave and return to full-time work? Any tips?

Also, now that my mom is moving, I’m staying with my in-laws when visiting NJ. I’m not terribly comfortable there. It is emotionally draining to be a better version of myself. With my mom, if I want to cry in a corner I can. With my mother-in-law, I need to be stoic and bite back any strong emotions. I don’t even feel comfortable enough to wear my pajamas to breakfast. Any tips from Totebaggers on how to get comfortable in their home? Any tips on how to let them help me parent my son?

Who Inspires You?

by Sheep Farmer

Several years ago, when my family was on vacation in Ohio, we made a stop at the John Rankin house. Rankin was a staunch abolitionist in the 1800s. He lived in a small house on top of a hill on the outskirts of the town of Ripley, just across the Ohio River from the slave state of Kentucky. Rankin was instrumental in the abolitionist movement. As a Presbyterian minister, he preached about the horrors of slavery; he helped runaway slaves cross the river into the free state of Ohio and he fed and housed them before they continued on their journey north. Here was a man with everything to lose and nothing to gain by helping complete strangers, yet he felt that it was his moral duty to do so. I find his story inspirational and I keep a picture of his house on my desk. Totebaggers, who do you find inspirational and why?

‘I don’t…’

by Grocery Bags

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

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

Bill Clinton: I did not inhale.

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

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

April Fool’s Ideas?

by Tulip

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

Tax Time

by Finn

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

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

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

Is Fear Driving Your Career Growth?

by L

Building Your Career: Based on Fear?

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

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

Emotional Intelligence

by Louise

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discuss!

Ask The Totebag: A Parenting Surprise

by Anonymous

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do You Use Math Much?

by saacnmama

You’ve Been Cutting Your Cake Wrong All Your Life

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

A Look At Luck On St. Patrick’s Day

by WCE

How luck works

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

A quote from the article:

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

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

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

Drop-in Guests

by Grace aka costofcollege

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet Briar College Is Closing

by SWVA Mom

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

Shocking Decision at Sweet Briar

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

Lessons From The Great Recession

by Louise

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

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

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

Discuss…

The Kids Are Alright

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basic Investment Rules

by Grace aka costofcollege

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do Schools ‘Require’ Helicopter Parenting?

by saacnmama

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

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

Friday Fun: The Experienced Parent

by Louise

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

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

Coffee Talk: The Hidden Cost of a Flexible Job

by Honolulu Mother

The Hidden Cost of a Flexible Job

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small Gestures Make A Big Difference

by Grace aka costofcollege

Three small things

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

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

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

Differences In Educational Privilege

by saacnmama

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

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

What’s Wrong With A Services Economy?

by Fred MacMurray

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feeling Poor In Silicon Valley

by LauraFromBaltimore

A blast from the past:

In Silicon Valley, Millionaires Who Don’t Feel Rich

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

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

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

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

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

Discuss!

 

Digital Assets

by L

The latest wrinkle in estate planning: Digital assets

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

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

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

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

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