by Grace aka costofcollege

Among the 8 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Relatives During the Holidays is this one.

8. Find reasons to be grateful. Be thankful that you get to cook, or that you don’t have to cook. Be thankful that you get to travel, or that you don’t have to travel. Be thankful for your family or your friends. Be grateful for electricity and running water. Find something. Studies show that gratitude is a major happiness booster. Also, feeling grateful toward someone crowds out emotions like resentment and annoyance.

What are you grateful for?  Do you expect to encounter difficult relatives tomorrow?  Do you have relatives who put the “fun” in dysfunctional?  I think tip #6 that recommends we not expect perfection is a good one.  What else is on your mind this Thanksgiving eve?

What time do you usually eat Thanksgiving dinner?  We’re eating earlier than usual this year, 1:pm,  because some guests have to get on the road by early evening and some will be working early on Black Friday.

There will not be a post on Thanksgiving Day or on Friday, but let’s chat about anything you’d like.  How’d your dinner turn out?  Are you shopping on Black Friday?  Is the global travel alert stressing you out or making you yawn?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Life grows bigger, then smaller

by Mémé

When I retired, Rhett was very worried about what I would do all day.
I quickly found plenty to do, taking up or increasing time spent on hobbies and activities, helping out with my grandchildren, and making plans for lots of travel. I had money, energy, time, and my sweetie. Then a young family member got sick and I had to keep my time flexible for most of a year just in case. When that passed my husband was diagnosed with a serious heart condition and exotic travel is no longer on the agenda. Managing his medication, rest, and diet in addition to running the household, the calendar and being his companion, uses up a lot of time and mental energy. The dear cats we adopted have increased in importance from cuddly greeters when we got up or got home to our full-time furry roommates. We are still planning to travel, but in geezer class, not active retiree class.

I don’t have any wisdom to impart from these life developments beyond carpe diem. I have a good life and the ability, at least in decent weather, to engage in solo outdoor activity for both physical and mental health. I guess it is a bit like waking up a few months or years after the children are born, especially if one or more has serious issues or if other life events intervene– elderly parents or tragedy or divorce or job loss – and realizing that although your life is different and in the long run good, it is even less in your control than you expected or imagined it would be.

Today as the days shorten I am just feeling the little losses. By the time the post goes up I’ll be restored and bubbly and positive, I am nothing if not resilient. (I am editing the post the day after initial composition and just the writing of it has given me an idea. I am going out, in the car, to purchase a wheeled shopping cart so that I can do my local grocery runs on foot.) So please share encouragement or challenges or hopes – whatever you feel today – about how to hit the curveballs of life.

Would you welcome Syrian refugees in your community?

by AustinMom

I came across three links in my Facebook feed this week that I found very interesting. The first I thought it was a helpful primer. The second shows where those refugees already allowed into the US have been settled. The third shows those states opposed to and/or refusing to accept more refugees. My state is one that has a number of refugees and is “refusing” more. How do you feel about this? Would you welcome them into your community?

And, lastly, is a fourth link about the US opposition to accepting Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. Do you see this as the same or different and why?

Syria’s war: A 5-minute history

Paris Attacks Intensify Debate Over How Many Syrian Refugees to Allow Into the U.S.

Here’s a map of every state refusing to accept Syrian refugees

Pre-WWII poll shows that Americans did not want to accept Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany

My new favorite things

by Mémé

These are a few of my (newly acquired) favorite things….

In addition to posts on a specific consumer topic, rarely a day goes by that someone in hijack form does not describe a new acquisition or activity, or ask for advice on how to do something or on a purchase,.    I noticed that this year I had come across a number of small items that have improved my day-to-day life.  So I will list my modest household acquisitions from 2015 in no particular order, and invite you all to do the same.

  1. Free programs to change the hue and intensity on all electronic devices with time of day. Read, work, or play games closer to bedtime without blue screen stimulation.   I use f.lux on my laptop,  Twilight on my android phone,  still trying out the somewhat limited offerings on the Kindle Fire.
  2. “No Cry” kitchen gloves. This is something I read about on the Totebag.  The various graters and the mandoline have been retrieved from the back of the cabinet and are in daily use.
  3. Teak shower stool. When the shower was constructed during the master bath reno 6 years ago, I made sure that there were grab bars and enough space for a stool, but never purchased one.  I finally did after DH got home from the hospital.   I can’t recall anymore how I washed my feet or shaved my legs without it.
  4. Apple peeler/corer/slicer – simple hand-operated machine that attaches to kitchen counter with suction. DIL has one.   Lots of apple desserts for the winter.
  5. Nonstick Egg/pancake rings. I saw them at my daughter’s house and make perfectly sized pancakes or uniformly cooked whites on fried eggs on my griddle.
  6. Wireless charging pad for the Samsung Galaxy.    The charging port was going to give out far before I was ready to trade in the phone
  7. PVC woven placemats – I use attractive gray ones matching my kitchen color scheme on top of my need-ironing midcentury table cloths. Apparently they are okay right on wood as well

Duds –  Fitbit, TV-advertised headlight wipe cloths.

2015 also saw the acquisition of many 50s vintage decorative items and pricey kitchen machines that give me great pleasure and use, but it is the little handy things that sometimes cause me to slap my head and say, why didn’t I get that before?

The long and winding career path

by Grace aka costofcollege

When asked how she ended up as White House press secretary, Dana Perino explained that her career began with an unlikely job.

Well, it started with a job as an overnight country music DJ in southern Colorado. The truth is, there’s no clear path. Everything I did — taking lots of risks, getting over my fears — led me to be the right press secretary at the right time.

Many careers take a winding path.  My first job out of college was in the dusty oil fields of West Texas, and my last job was amid the skyscrapers of Wall Street.  I’m both delighted and nervous to observe the unlikely paths of my children’s careers,  As happens in many cases, the jobs they have now were not on their radar screen until very recently.

Has your career followed a straight and narrow path, or a crooked and winding one?  What do you observe around you?  What do you see or expect for your children?  What relevant career advice would you like to share?

Also notice that Perino’s big job required her to sacrifice work-life balance.

Q: How did you maintain a healthy work-life balance when you were working in the White House?

A: I didn’t. I ate little, slept terribly and was susceptible to migraines. But I got through it. I think it helped that there was an end date, so I could give my all for those days, knowing the best opportunity of my life wasn’t going to last forever.

Healthier habits

by Risley

Here’s an article about the recent announcement re: the carcinogenic properties of red meat and processed red meat. The article dispels the “red meat causes cancer” scare by explaining something many of us in this group have said many times: all things in moderation. A bit of red meat, like a bit of sun or a bit of alcohol, has benefits. A ton of red meat, like a ton of sun or a ton of alcohol — not a good plan.

Red Meat for Health: A Recent WHO/IARC Ruling

What health scare information — real or imagined or later debunked — has changed the way you approach your health? Here are some of the changes we’ve made in our house, some based on actual science (though I’ve already forgotten the details) and some based on overreaction or instinct:

Limited microwave use. Not so recent, actually–we’ve been doing this for many years. As I write this, though, I can’t recall reading a single thing that says microwaves are a health risk. I don’t recall if we read something about this once and I’ve simply forgotten it, or if we came up with this ourselves. It makes sense to me instinctively though, so I avoid them. (Meanwhile, I go through the x-ray scanner at airports quite happily. This is not a post about consistency, evidently!)

Limited processed soy. I read that processed soy is a potential issue, particularly for young girls. Something about hormones in the processed soy, maybe? No memory of it, but I have three young women in the house, two of whom eat a lot of tofu at their mother’s, so I figure our house should be pretty much soy free, to be safe. (I understand certain tofu–extra soft, maybe?–is okay but other kinds aren’t Obviously, I’m not good at remembering details, so I just avoid it all, for the most part).

No more plastic unless it’s BPA-free. Again because of reproductive health, and all the girls running around this house. We do have some of those little IKEA dishes (plastic). I’ve told the kids not to eat hot things in those and not to put them in the microwave. I really should just dump them all, I suppose. Again, I’m not scoring consistency points.

Limited/no lunch meat. Again, the processed meat thing. And a nitrate thing I vaguely recall reading. We used to use those little squares of ham in fried rice, but now we sub in shrimp. Of course, now the go-to sandwich choice around here for kids is PB + Nutella, so I’m not sure this was a true health move.

Michael Pollan’s rules. I still try to keep us following these. Things like, “Don’t eat something with more than 10 ingredients/with ingredients you don’t know/that your grandmother wouldn’t recognize/that comes from the aisles of the grocer rather than the perimeter” etc. One thing I love about The Lady is that her ingredient lists are 90% or more from the perimeter, so I don’t have to think about it much. No idea if they’ve debunked these guidelines but I can’t see how we can go wrong eating mostly produce and avoiding processed food with a ton of chemicals, so I’m sticking with Mike. We’ve taken this to another level over the past half year or so, meaning that we no longer cheat as much. I’d say we cheat 0-5% on groceries and a little more when out. Those numbers used to be far, far higher. I swear I have more energy, particularly in the afternoons. It could be because of something else, but I’ve decided it’s from cutting out sugar and processed food.

Probiotics. One every morning for gut health. Maybe it’s these little guys, or maybe it’s that DH and I have stepped up our workouts quite a bit over the last several months, but he and I have reached a whole new level of lean lately. We had already been following the Pollan guidelines more strictly, so it seems like the final step of adding a probiotic was the game changer.

No more than one drink/day for women. Breast cancer risk if you drink more than one. No idea if this has been debunked or not, but I can think of various other good reasons to stick to one/day, so I’m sticking to it and have warned the girls a trazillion times that they should do the same.

What about you? Have you taken things too far for reasons you can no longer recall, or for reasons that may never have existed in the first place, except in your gut? Or do you figure that all these rules/discoveries/warnings change all the time anyway, so there’s no sense getting too fired up about them, and just stay the course instead, eat/drink what you’ve always consumed, whether in moderation or not, and assume it’ll all be fine?

Freedom of speech on campus

by Sky

Two incidents involving freedom of speech on campus have made the news in recent days:


October 28: Dean Burgwell Howard and the university’s International Affairs Council sent an email to students, discouraging students from wearing costumes that featured feathered headdresses, turbans, blackface, and war paint, noting that “while students…have a right to express themselves, we would hope that people would actively avoid those circumstances that threaten our sense of community or disrespects, alienates or ridicules segments of our population based on race, nationality, religious belief or gender expression.”

October 30: Wife of the Silliman Master (the faculty adviser who lives in one of the undergraduate dorms) Erika Christakis sends an email to Silliman residents in response to students’ questions. The key excerpt:

Even if we could agree on how to avoid offense – and I’ll note that no one around campus seems overly concerned about the offense taken by religiously conservative folks to skin-revealing costumes – I wonder, and I am not trying to be provocative: Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive? American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition. And the censure and prohibition come from above, not from yourselves! Are we all okay with this transfer of power? Have we lost faith in young people’s capacity – in your capacity – to exercise self-censure, through social norming, and also in your capacity to ignore or reject things that trouble you? We tend to view this shift from individual to institutional agency as a tradeoff between libertarian vs. liberal values (“liberal” in the American, not European sense of the word).

Nicholas says, if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society.

Protests erupted on the Yale campus, and a confrontation with Erika’s husband Nicholas was filmed and posted on YouTube. The undergraduates surround Christakis and yell obscenities at him over his wife’s email.

Despite the efforts of the administration to quell the outrage, the protests continue and the students involved are now demanding that the university hire black psychologists for the campus health center and adopt more ethnic studies curricula. (Yale recently announced a $50M effort to hire more ethnically and racially diverse faculty.)

University of Missouri:

September 12: People in a passing pickup truck allegedly shout racial slurs at the student government president, who is black.

October 5: A drunk white student allegedly yells a racial slur at a group of black students. The university chancellor posts on a blog in response, condemning racism on campus.

October 8: Mandatory online diversity training for faculty is announced.

October 10: Black protestors block the University president’s car in the Homecoming Parade, demanding he talk to them about the incidents.

October 21: A student group called Concerned Student 1950 issues a list of demands, including an apology from the university president and his removal; diversity training for all faculty, staff and students; and more funding for black faculty and staff and for social justice centers on campus.

October 24: A swastika drawn in feces is found on a dorm bathroom wall.

November 2: A graduate student begins a hunger strike until the university president resigns. Students protest.

November 7: The football team announces that it will not participate in practices or games until the university president resigns.

November 9: The university president and chancellor resign.

* * *

The atmosphere at Yale was described to me as a “witch hunt,” even before the Halloween email controversy.

In My Day – which was not so long ago – even the most progressive students gave lip service to the value of diverse views. What has changed? Is this a return to the campus activism of the 1960s, or something different?

Paris open thread

by Grace aka costofcollege

This post was created in case you all want to post thoughts and opinions on the Paris attack.  If you’re not interested, please ignore.

Paris Attacks Were an ‘Act of War’ by Islamic State, French President François Hollande Says

PARIS—French President François Hollande on Saturday blamed Islamic State for the terrorist attacks across Paris that left at least 127 people dead, and vowed to retaliate.

“It is an act of war that was waged by a terrorist army, a jihadist army, by Daesh, against France,” Mr. Hollande said, using an Arabic name for Islamic State. “This act of war was prepared and planned from the outside, with accomplices inside,” he added, saying France would respond to the attacks.

“France, because it was freely, cowardly attacked, will be merciless against the terrorists,” Mr. Hollande said in an address to the nation broadcast on French TV. “France will triumph over barbarism.”…

Mr. Hollande’s remarks may herald a sharp escalation of France’s military action in Syria and Iraq against Islamic State. France has been bombing the group’s positions in both countries, but has so far refused to put troops on the ground.

President Obama characterized the attack in a slightly different way.

… it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.

What does this mean?

We stand prepared and ready to provide whatever assistance that the government and the people of France need to respond….

Is this act of terrorism a turning point of some kind?  Troops on the ground?  More aggressive routing out of potential terrorism within country borders?

Old clothes

by Grace aka costofcollege

What’s the oldest piece of clothing you own?

Style blogger Angie recently wrote about the golden oldie items in her closet.

In an era of throwaway fashion and where purging our closets to minimal status is popular, it makes me feel GREAT that I’ve had these pieces for years and am still wearing them with a happy heart….

You’ve probably heard the saying, “I’ve got ties older than you”.  I’m sure I have clothes older than some of you.  I got this faded hoodie about 35 years ago on my first visit to Yellowstone.  (That was before they were called “hoodies”.)


Wedding gowns, special baby outfits, and team jerseys are some types of clothing often saved for sentimental reasons.  Sturdy jeans and classic suits are saved for continual wearing.

What old clothes do you own?  Do you still wear them?  Are you an investment shopper, or more likely to buy the latest styles?  Have you found yourself resurrecting old clothes that have been put away for a while?  Do you keep some old clothes for sentimental reasons?  Do you ever buy vintage clothing?  Do old clothes make you feel old?  Do you periodically clean out your closet?  Maybe it’s as simple as “when in doubt, throw it out”?

The Full Empty Nest

by Louise

I didn’t think it was much fun at the time but now I miss my children’s early years

This piece has a British context but it still rings true for me because it is the stage of life I am in or soon will be. Totebaggers are at different life stages. Let us know your favorite life stage, what do you like about it ? What about your least favorite ? Why did you hate it ?

Presidential politics

by Grace aka costofcollege

Are you a democratic socialist like Bernie Sanders? Take the quiz.

I suspect most Totebaggers are democratic socialists.

Who’s your candidate at this point, a year ahead of the presidential election.  You can use to help you decide.

Would you prefer that the Totebag avoid political topics?


by WCE

I was fascinated by two aspects of this article on cancer — the lay description of how cancer cells work, and the frustration with how outdated laws inhibit cancer research.

Death of cancer

Here’s an excerpt of the biology part:

Humans derive their energy from two forms of metabolism: oxidative phosphorylation and glycolysis. Oxidative phosphorylation, the most efficient form of metabolism, takes place in the presence of oxygen carried by red blood cells in the bloodstream (that’s what ‘oxidative’ means). It results in the complete metabolism of nutrients to glucose; that glucose is then converted into water and carbon dioxide, which are easily excreted by the lungs and kidneys.

On the other hand, humans generally derive energy from less-efficient glycolysis only when oxygen is in short supply. Glycolysis is the metabolic system tapped by the muscles of long-distance runners, for example, after oxygen has been spent.

Very rarely, however, glycolysis can take place when oxygen is present. One of those rare instances includes the circumstance of the cancer cell, which prefers glycolysis, as inefficient as it is, because it burns glucose only incompletely, leaving parts of molecules behind that can be used to synthesise DNA and other large molecules that rapidly dividing cells need. The cancer cell, like the embryo, retains the ability to switch back and forth between the two forms of metabolism, depending on a cell’s needs at the time.

The political aspect of this article is how outdated laws — on overtime, the environment, and cancer research, among others — are very difficult to fix. What do you think of “sunset provisions” for laws, where a law either has to be re-approved after a period of time, re-approved with changes or lapse? Would this result in legal chaos? I know we have enough lawyers that I’ll get an informed opinion.

School dress codes

by Finn

Do your kids’ schools have dress codes?

The Sexism of School Dress Codes

If so, what are those codes? What do you find good and bad about them? Do the codes treat boys and girls (and others) equally? Are boys, girls, and others treated equally in enforcement of the codes? Is it difficult to find clothes that meet those codes?

What changes would you like to see in your kids’ dress codes and their implementation and enforcement?

No Memorial Service or Funeral for Me!

By Pregnant Teen Mom

I just redrafted my will. I think Rhode is the one who wants my Lincoln so much, and I want to make her happy.

In this draft of the Will, which I went over with Junior, other than the Lincoln, he’ll get the house in The Villages, the cat, the golf cart, the box of Depends from Costco and pretty much everything else.


Now, of course, this declaration doesn’t mean anything. Upon my death—and I do plan on dying—Junior (if he is 18) will have custody of my body and he can do what he wants. If he wants a parade with a jazz band down Jeb! and Columba’s street, he can do it. But I hope he won’t. My guess is that I won’t know.

I am aware this will bug some of those I am close to. This may also bug Jeb! and Columba. That is not my intention.

I find funerals and memorial services beyond gruesome. Far from providing closure for those most closely affected, they tear open a fresh wound and provide a spectacle for those who wish to gawk.

I so regret my wife’s service. My dad had to practically hold me up. My mother had the pain of trying to explain things to my son. I am sure there were many people who wondered why I couldn’t “man up”.

I left the reception before I could enter. My mother graciously greeted guests (but she didn’t like my wife).

I would never want to put my loved ones through that! Even if they have to pretend.

The evils of helicopter parenting

by laurafrombaltimore

Yet another article on the evils of helicopter parenting:

Former Stanford dean explains why helicopter parenting is ruining a generation of children

I think the folks here know me well enough to know I’m not a helicopter. But this time, all I could think was “that’s rich.” Why? Because by definition, her experience is with helicoptering that is aimed getting the kids into a “top” college – specifically, Stanford, for which she served as dean for a decade. But that means her experience is based on *the students that Stanford chose to admit* (and via an extremely selective admissions process to boot). She has written a whole book criticizing parents for doing what it takes to get their kids into Stanford – and doing it better than everyone else.

So what’s her analysis of the “college admission arms race,” which she admits drives much of this? It appears to boil down to “well, not everyone has to go to Stanford,” with maybe a soupcon of “not my problem.” All of her suggestions (optional SAT/ACT scores, limiting the number of schools each kid can apply to) impose the constraints on the students, not the college – not to mention make it less likely that those who actually follow her advice will get into that top college (who here really thinks Stanford will choose the kid who “opts out” of the SATs over one with a 1560?). And the colleges are (conveniently) scot-free to continue to operate as they always have.

How about this: if top colleges really care about “life skills and a work ethic,” how about they base their admissions decisions on those criteria? If colleges think it’s so valuable to have kids do chores and have jobs and such, then how about requiring that information on the applications – and actually weighing that more than, say, sitting 4th chair in concert band? Parents who care about getting their kids into a top college are going to do what they think those schools value, period. If the result of that arms race is brittle, helpless kids, then that says as much about those colleges’ admissions priorities than it does about the parents and students who are doing the best they can to play the game based on rules they didn’t write.

Scary stories

by Rhode

It’s Halloween time and I’m all for scary stories…

I love lists like these…

14 Creepy Things Kids Have Actually Said

There’s also this take – scary 2 sentence stories (Reddit has a similar 5-word scary story thread).

20 Terrifying Two-Sentence Horror Stories. I Didn’t Think It Was Possible Until #5… When The Hair On My Neck Stood Up

Totebaggers, share with us your creepiest kid-tale or your scariest story in 2 sentences or less…

How adversity affects us

by Grace aka costofcollege

This topic was touched upon in a recent Totebag thread.

The Funny Thing About Adversity

Does adversity harden hearts or warm them? Does experiencing deprivation, disaster or illness make a person more — or less — sympathetic to the travails of others?

You’ve probably encountered examples of each: survivors of hard knocks who lend a compassionate ear to beleaguered souls, and those who offer only a disdainful “suck it up.” As a result, it may seem that adversity’s effect on kindness is unpredictable.

Some studies help explain this unpredictability.  In general, adversity increases our compassion.

… Those who had faced increasingly severe adversities in life — loss of a loved one at an early age, threats of violence or the consequences of a natural disaster — were more likely to empathize with others in distress, and, as a result, feel more compassion for them….

But it’s different when we have endured the same adversity someone else is facing.

… reflecting on your own past experience with a specific misfortune will very likely cause you to underappreciate just how trying that exact challenge can be for someone else (or was, in fact, for you at the time). You overcame it, you think; so should he….

I recognize these conflicting feelings within myself.  Do you?

Look who’s asking for work/life balance

by Rhode

So Paul Ryan did something I didn’t expect – he asked for work/life balance.

Paul Ryan’s Remarkable, Personal Demand For Becoming Speaker

While he is known as the “family man”, he’s also considering a position that will require a lot of dinners with donors, hand shaking, and kissing babies. A powerful position requiring more career and less family time.

If the Republicans accept his terms, and he becomes Speaker of the House, do you think his family-time request will become mainstream? Could this change our national view on work-life balance?

And because I have to ask – what does this mean for the Republican party?

Parent Teacher Conference Season

By AustinMom

It’s that time again, the announcement and sign up for parent teacher conferences is here. Elementary conferences were pretty straight forward, with usually only one teacher to visit. If you weren’t certain about what topics to raise a quick search provides a plethora of results.

Middle school and high school conferences, at least in our area, are both set up for you to allow you to visit every teacher, or at least as many as you choose to. For both of our schools, you get a 10 minute slot per teacher, making it important to use that time effectively. With the current technology, we see grades posted online and generally have a good idea in advance of how they are doing from a numeric perspective.

At this level, I find that the teacher rarely has something specific they want to convey and the parent must lead the conversation. I have a few questions I ask every year tailored to each of my kid’s general approach to school. For my introvert, it focuses on class participation and advocating for herself. For my child who receives minimal accommodations, it focuses on feedback that these are working, which generally tells you if the teacher is implementing them. I also always ask for feedback on where each child is compared to their peers, about any standardized tests that have been taken, and anything that is coming up before the end of the semester that I should be aware of, especially if they require parental involvement. In the Spring I ask about next year’s class placements, will they be recommending the more rigorous courses, such as accelerated math in middle school or AP Calculus AB or BC in high school.

Totebaggers, Do you go to the conferences? If so, what do you try to glean from them? Do you have a favorite question or topic to discuss? Or, do you think they are a waste of time?

Halloween activities and food

Finn and Honolulu Mother have some thoughts about Halloween.

by Finn

Halloween is coming up soon, a fact of which you are well aware if your kids (or you) have been watching the Disney Channel, which has been trying to turn the entire month of October into Halloween.

This year it’s on a Saturday, which will change its dynamic relative to the more common weekday Halloween.

What are you and your family doing for Halloween this year? Throwing a party? Going to a party? Treating it like any other Halloween? Hiding in the bushes with a water hose?

by Honolulu Mother

Do you make any special recipes for Halloween? A spiderweb cake, mini hot dogs wrapped in pastry to look like mummies, a ghastly punch? Or perhaps food traditions that may not be Halloween-themed but that you associate with it?

We’ve taken to having pizza on Halloween night as it’s easy to eat for costumed people and also is something the kids are likely to at least eat a slice of before heading out to gather sweet Halloween bounty.  We’ve also made various Halloween-themed treats, both for friends’ parties and our own place.  The Taste of Home website has a bunch of Halloween recipes, broken down by category (spider theme, graveyard theme, etc.).  If you prefer a more upscale approach, Martha Stewart’s site is another option.  A couple of years ago I made a shrimp mousse brain, similar to this one.

So in addition to Finn’s questions, please also let us know what special foods or drinks you might be trying for Halloween!

Smart slackers

by Grace aka costofcollege

“I divide my officers into four classes; the clever, the lazy, the industrious, and the stupid. Each officer possesses at least two of these qualities. Those who are clever and industrious are fitted for the highest staff appointments. Use can be made of those who are stupid and lazy. The man who is clever and lazy however is for the very highest command; he has the temperament and nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious is a menace and must be removed immediately!” — General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord



Do you agree? Which quadrant do you occupy?

As a kid, I got lectured for only doing the bare minimum to complete a task. As an engineer, I get paid to do just that.

Does this work in real life?  How do you apply this idea when parenting?  And, is there a gender component to this way of thinking?

Picture-perfect families

by Grace aka costofcollege

Does your family look like this at holiday gatherings?


Looking at this photo and other similar ones from a recent Lands’ End catalog reminded me that few families present a picture-perfect image during holiday gatherings.  And not only in appearance, but also in behavior.  Maybe you’ve observed some of this firsthand.  Does your teenager spend all evening texting instead of chatting with grandma?  Does your brother-in-law insist on bringing up politics or other controversial topics that intrude upon pleasant conversations?  Do any of your relatives drink just a little too much?

On the other hand, many Totebaggers probably do bear some resemblance to the happy family in the catalog photo.  Do you play flag football after Thanksgiving dinner?  Do your little ones play nicely with their cousins?  Does everyone wear stylish clothes?

What does your family look like during holiday gatherings?  What do you all do before and after your meal?  Does everyone behave?  How do your gatherings today compare with the ones when you were growing up?  Do you look forward to getting together, or do you dread it?

Individual eating habits

by Louise

This post has come about because increasingly we have to cook around whatever issues the adults in our family have with certain foods. These are not allergies, just that some foods don’t agree with them.  Then, there are my parents who would like to eat everything but cannot due to health reasons. It seems that as I come to know of and would like to try new things, my family is moving the opposite way, becoming more restricted in their eating. Totebaggers have mentioned various diets and I confess to be bewildered by them, since I am still following my everything in moderation playbook from twenty years ago. I don’t think I am alone. What have you learnt from your diets, cooking for a family with differing food tolerances and eating healthy in general.

Trip review — Rome & Spanish Basque Country

by Fred MacMurray

I thought I’d share my experiences on a recently completed trip to Rome and the Basque Country of Spain.


Hotel Teatro Pace
Via del Teatro Pace, 33
(just west of Piazza Navona on a quiet street; excellent location to walk pretty much anywhere in the areas tourists will want to visit)
Price (euros): 250/night double room; 140/night single room, breakfast included

Very good accommodations on the European scale. Quiet, clean, rooms, firm beds. Breakfast is served in the room, choose what you want from the menu the night before. Worked very well. I’d stay there again.

Some restaurants:
Campo di Fiore: Il Mercato. Kind of typical tourist restaurant, but pizza, pasta, salads, grilled vegetables were good. I had eaten there in 2009 and went back. Probably one of the better “touristy” places you can eat at for a reasonable price

Il Forno: pizza to go. Excellent.

Navona (about 4 doors down from the hotel): La Pace del Palato. Via del Teatro Pace, 42. Not a touristy menu at all. Very nice service and food. Recommend as a more upscale place when you’ve had enough regular pizza/pasta.

Gelato: not that you can really go wrong, but a couple we liked: Ice Crome and Frigidarium, both on Via del Governo Vecchio.

For the Vatican, I used . This was very good; I had also used them in 2009.
For Roman Forum & Colosseum, we went with The Rogue Historians. We had a private tour with Ian, but there are also group tours that are less expensive but also a mile wide and an inch deep.

Spanish Basque Country

Stayed in Bilbao
Hotel Miro Bilbao (5 min. walk from the Guggenheim Museum)
Price (euros): 200/night junior suite; 180/night deluxe king including breakfast and a complimentary snack bar in the lobby.
Modern hotel; would fit right in the US.

Serrantes III (right next to the hotel) Great seafood, especially the Fish Soup and the Fish Salad. Tremendously fresh food and good service

Pinxtos (Tapas) Bar
Casilda. Pinxtos are the Basque version of tapas. Much more elaborate than typically found in Madrid and other parts of Spain. There are plenty of other bars offering similar pinxtos; this place had the widest variety and best price (1 euro each).

Note: while there is plenty of English spoken in Rome…I think you could do it without knowing a word of Italian, English is much less common in Bilbao and the rest of the Basque Country. I happen to speak good enough Italian and I used to be practically fluent in Spanish, so my experience may have been atypical.

Happy to answer anybody’s questions, whether in the comments or privately.

Totebaggers, what places can you recommend to other travelers?

Before and after ‘constant connection’

by Rhode

What it feels like to be the last generation to remember life before the internet

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that all of us were born before 1985. According to Michael Harris, the author of The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection, we are the last generation to know life before the internet. We remember the Before and After, as he puts it.

So how has that shaped your life?

Do you remember working when you had a room full of typists clacking away? Or have you only ever worked on a computer or word processor?

Do you use Back In My Day to discuss life before 24/7 communication? Other than the typical eye rolling, have those stories elicited a response/conversation that’s beneficial?

Do you miss a time when you weren’t connected 24/7?

And lastly, Michael Harris talks about “analog August” where he went off the internet grid for a whole month to finish the book. Back in 2014, his publisher promoted the book by having readers go off the grid for a weekend. Could you do it? Have you done it? Did it change you?

Ask the Totebag – Van Talk

by Up North

Our family is planning to upgrade our minivan soon. We currently have a 2008 Town & Country that we bought new. The 2008 was a new model year and we experienced many issues with the van (most covered by warranty). I don’t mind the general style of the T&C and like the stow ‘n go seats and doors that open and close with the push of a button. However, given the issues with our T&C and a desire for AWD, we are thinking about buying an AWD Toyota Sienna. We haven’t done any test drives yet.

I’d appreciate any minivan buying advice this group has to offer. Any thoughts on Toyota vs. Honda vs. Chrysler? Is getting an AWD minivan worth it (for winter driving)?

Any general car buying advice is welcome too. It’s been awhile since we bought a vehicle. Last time, it made financial sense to buy new since used vehicles were relatively expensive. I’m not sure if that is still the case or if getting a year old van would make sense.

‘self-directed eugenics’?

by Grace aka costofcollege

What If Tinder Showed Your IQ?
A report from a future where genetic engineering has sabotaged society.

As genetic science becomes more precise, the potential for editing your unborn child’s genes to select for higher intelligence is growing. With that, however, will come a cultural shift in how we value intelligence—and how attractive it is when seeking out a potential partner. Parents will have to grapple with not just their unborn child’s chances of being smart, excelling in school, and getting a job, but also with their chances of getting a date.
We imagine a future where dating apps like Tinder don’t just let users judge others based on pictures of themselves, but on their intelligence scores, too.

Although this article is about an imaginary future, it’s possible to imagine the serious downsides of reprogenetics.

But there was a catch. There was always a catch. The science of reprogenetics—self-chosen, self-directed eugenics—had come far over the years, but it still could not escape the reality of evolutionary tradeoffs, such as the increased likelihood of disease when one maximized on a particular trait, ignoring the others. Or the social tradeoffs—the high-risk, high-reward economy for reprogenetic individuals, where a few IQ points could make all the difference between success or failure, or where stretching genetic potential to achieve those cognitive heights might lead to a collapse in non-cognitive skills, such as impulse control or empathy.

Against this backdrop, the embryo predicted to have the higher IQ also had an eight-fold greater chance of being severely myopic to the point of uncorrectable blindness—every parent’s worst nightmare….

The early proponents of reprogenetics failed to take into account the basic genetic force of pleiotropy: that the same genes have not one phenotypic effect, but multiple ones. Greater genetic potential for height also meant a higher risk score for cardiovascular disease. Cancer risk and Alzheimer’s probability were inversely proportionate—and not only because if one killed you, you were probably spared the other, but because a good ability to regenerate cells (read: neurons) also meant that one’s cells were more poised to reproduce out of control (read: cancer).3 As generations of poets and painters could have attested, the genome score for creativity was highly correlated with that for major depression.

But nowhere was the correlation among predictive scores more powerful—and perhaps in hindsight none should have been more obvious—than the strong relationship between IQ and Asperger’s risk….

Do you care about this?  What is your prediction about how this will go?  Mostly positive, or ruinously negative?  And for both today and tomorrow, how do you feel about your offspring marrying someone with a much lower or higher IQ?  Does it matter?


The popular topic of recycling drew submissions from three totebaggers.


by LauraFromBaltimore

Following up on our recent thread on recycling, this article suggests that it is significantly overrated:

The Reign of Recycling

In the interest of full disclosure, the article dove me nuts — it was like a clever legal brief that cherry-picks facts and makes apples-and-oranges comparisons to lead to a misleading premise. For example, why talk about all of the extra recycling trucks on the road and ignore all of the extra trucks and miles that would be necessary to ship regular waste out to this farmland that some unidentifiable states are apparently so eager to convert to landfills? Why measure bottle recycling to cross-country flights, instead of, say, the costs of manufacturing them from scratch? Why point out the composting facility that was forced to shut down while totally ignoring the huge citizen opposition to the new landfills and incinerators he advocates? (I have been tangentially involved in a couple of those, and I can tell you, it is about as ugly as you can imagine).

All of which frustrates me, because I do think he has a point — I just struggle to see it through the rhetoric and stacked comparisons. I would love to see an objective assessment of the relative costs and benefits of recycling vs. the various other disposal options.


Proactive not Reactive

by Grocery Bags

In my town, you have to pay for curbside recycling pickup. It is a mixed bin with lots of restrictions – only 1 and 2 plastic and no glass. We are definitely not this!:

Here’s a Clip from Portlandia Season Two: Recycling!

In the neighboring town, there is no curbside recycling and my friend complains that hauling her recycling to a drop-off center makes her feel like it is still 1997. Then I read this article (similar to the NYT articles) and posted it to FB.

American recycling is stalling, and the big blue bin is one reason why

But in response to the economic arguments, one of my friends said, do we pay the price now (by paying to recycle or maybe subsidizing recycling companies maybe) or later (by having to clean up our land and water) and quoted William McDonough: “There is no away”

Honolulu Mother posted an article a while back about Costco that said the one near her was the world’s busiest. That reminded me of the last time I was in Hawaii for vacation. I saw a family hauling their Costco purchases, including a case of bottled water (the worst thing on Earth, IMHO), into their condo, and I thought, this is an island! Where do these people think the trash and recycling go? I know, they don’t think about it, but I do. (BTW, I learned there is at least one waste-to-energy facility on Oahu, but I don’t think it accepts trash from the other islands.)

So my personal, Totebaggy goal is simply to try to consume less upfront. Be proactive – fill up reusable bottles rather than buy bottled water – and not reactive – because it appears that recycling is not going to save us from ourselves.

What about you? Do you care what happens to your trash and recycling?


And from WCE:

Let’s Modernize Our Environmental Laws


by Grace aka costofcollege

‘Friends’ Has New BFFs: New York Teenagers

Young people have discovered old sitcoms.

… If you are somewhere between 13 and 20, however, and particularly if you live in New York, you may find yourself very much in the “Friends” zone. This is not because you landed on an episode, after coming home semi-wasted, on late-night television, where it is almost always on in syndication, but because you watch it methodically, on Netflix, in sequence, through its more than 230 shows.


Which “Friends” character are you?

… “We are really into categorizing each other as a Rachel or a Monica; it’s fun to play into that.”…

My teen has even categorized one of our dogs as more of a “Ross” and the other as a “Joey”.

What old (or new) TV shows are your kids (or you) binge-watching?  What were some of your favorite TV shows from your younger years?  Have they aged well?  Have you bonded with your kids over old shows, movies, or music?


Public vs private pre-school

by winemama

Opinion: Middle-class families need more public preschools

I am very fortunate that our state offers public pre-school. Private pre-school is very expensive, which is a huge burden on the middle class. Did/do your children attend pre-school? Was it private or public? Should there be public pre-school offered in every state? Discuss.

The Funnies

by Honolulu Mother

I recently came across an article on Charles Schultz’s long run with Peanuts, and the way the strip changed over the years.  I grew up with those paperback Peanuts compilations that everyone had, so the 60s and earlier strips were familiar to me, and then of course I was reading the 70s strips in the paper every day as they ran.  I agree with the article that the later strips all about Snoopy and his extended family were . . . not good.  It was somewhere in the midst of an extended story arc about Spike talking to a cactus that I finally stopped reading the strip.  Although Woodstock I always liked as a kid.  Then again, I liked Garfield and Marmaduke too at that age, so I wasn’t really a discerning comic connoisseur.

Calvin and Hobbes wasn’t around yet when I was a kid; I’m sure I would have loved it if it had been.  My own kids certainly do.  The same goes for Foxtrot, for that matter.  The kids have pretty well loved my Foxtrot and Calvin and Hobbes paperback collections to death.  I have a particular fondness for Foxtrot’s Camp Bohrmore story arc.

Bloom County was big during my teen years, along with The Far Side.  My husband has a precious, irreplaceable Far Side mug that he sweats over whenever a kid uses it.  Calvin and Hobbes appeared on the scene when I was in college, and that was also when I discovered Life in Hell — this was in Matt Groening’s pre-Simpsons years.

Of currently running comic strips, there are several I enjoy, like Pearls Before Swine, but none that really stands out as The Best.  I have mixed feelings about some of the family-based strips.  Take Zits — it never was a favorite, and still isn’t, but lately I keep getting the unsettling feeling that I may actually be the mom from the strip.  Regardless, the Sunday funnies is far and away the most thoroughly read piece of the paper every week, especially by the kids.

Some old-style comics have online, unofficial “improved” versions with strategic editing.  Garfield Minus Garfield, for instance, or Dysfunctional Family Circus.

And then, of course, there’s the wide world of webcomics, which is a whole field by itself.  Skin Horse, XKCD, and Hark! A Vagrant are some of my favorites.

Does your household still get a newspaper in which to read the funnies?  Or do you read them online, or in book form (even checked out of the library)?  Which strips are your favorites?  And are some of them associated with different parts of your life?

College rankings

by LauraFromBaltimore

This article follows up on a recent discussion we had:

College Rankings Fail to Measure the Influence of the Institution

The article and accompanying graphic seem to do a decent job of discussing the different ways to measure the value of a college degree, including the pros and cons of each. Personally, I like the “value added” approach they discuss (the revised Brookings approach in the article), because it tries to take away the impact of a number of factors that seem to be self-selecting (and I’m sure it’s, ahem, entirely coincidental that my own alma mater looks a lot better under that analysis than under the College Scorecard approach). But this crew seems to enjoy nothing more than data analysis and college education, so — discuss!

How are you parenting wrong?

by Honolulu Mother

How are you parenting wrong?

Now I want to try Twitch Plays Parenting. My sons would pay more attention to that than my actual parenting.

My failings that I’m aware of are probably: insufficient tigering, does not hold their feet to the fire enough on chores, not always willing to listen to some long account of some tedious thing. In other words, all the things that result from getting home tired and with not that long a time to get everyone fed in the evening. My failings that I’m not aware of, I’ll hear about years from now.

Sports Betting vs Daily Fantasy – What’s the Difference?

by  Mémé

Here is one of many recent articles prompted by the deluge of DraftKings and FanDuel ads during fall sports broadcasts.

Why Betting on Fantasy Sports Is Legal But Betting on Regular Sports Is Not


1. Do you play fantasy sports (in the old sense of a league among friends/colleagues with modest cash prizes and a lot of beer, pizza and bragging rights)?
2. Do you play daily fantasy games?
3. Do you place bets with a bookie?
4. Do you see any difference between 2 and 3?
5. Do you see a difference between betting on sports and other gambling activities?
6. Do you consider gambling a victimless crime and think it should be legal across the board?

Or do you just dislike (as I do) the proliferation of shows and segments and ads ads and more ads focused on fantasy not actual games?

The power of routine

by Grace aka costofcollege

The Morning Routines of 12 Women Leaders

What’s your routine?

How 12 Highly Productive People Used The Power Of Routine To Achieve Greatness

Keeping to a routine can help save your energy for other more important stuff.

Avoiding Decision Fatigue: Why I eat eggs for breakfast everyday

Mark Zuckerberg:

He said even small decisions like choosing what to wear or what to eat for breakfast could be tiring and consume energy, and he didn’t want to waste any time on that.

Do you use the power of routine to achieve greatness, or at least to enhance your happiness and productivity?  How important are routines to you?  Perhaps you’re more of a free spirit who believes routines are boring and confining.

Marriage and car maintenance

by Thang

Some time ago, I was thinking about marriage, as one of my friends was going through a divorce, and I felt that it was like watching a car accident. So I was thinking how can we help people understand what they have to do to maintain their marriage. I figure since everyone drives/own a car and so should at least understand the care and maintenance of a car, and once you equate a marriage to that, it’s much easier to digest.

So, here is my car analogy

What kind of driver/car owner are you?
Car Marriage Rationale:
Gas Sex If you don’t put gas in car, it doesn’t go far
Scheduled Maintenance- oil change, 15K tune ups, etc Anniversary, Birthday celebrations Without maintenance car would begin to fall apart
Maintenance – new brakes, tires, etc. Vacations Not replacing worn out parts caused car to fail
Car wash Movies, dinner out Not washing/cleaning car cause it to look old/shabby
Not causing accidents by driving badly Not causing marriage troubles by treating wife/marriage badly Sometimes cars in accidents are never the same again because of structural damage
Not getting into accidents by driving defensively Not causing marriage troubles by being aware potential trouble spots and avoiding it. No matter whose fault it is, an accident will damage a car, sometimes irreparable
What kind of car are you?  
Type Characteristics
sedan bland, functional
sports car flashy, fun, not functional, often high maintenance, attract lots of attention
van bland, functional, family oriented
fancy sedans flashy, functional, often high maintenance
trucks functional but not family oriented, not comfortable


The ‘simple’ life

by LauraFromBaltimore

I almost didn’t read this:

Cabins, the New American Dream

I don’t really have a cabin fetish, and I’m not really drawn to the “tiny house” movement, so I thought, meh. And then I got to this part:

“The truth is, without a modicum of success and career-preoccupation, this life would look a bit like poverty — like the rural existence people have struggled for so long to escape. The desire to have not is a desire of the haves.”

Which seemed to explain why I don’t really have a cabin fetish and am not really drawn to the “tiny house” movement. I think my people are just a few generations too close to the farm to appreciate the “simple” life. The movement (such as it is, and as generally photographed in the NYT) feels a little like modern-day slumming, with wealthy dilettantes rhapsodizing about the joys of the simple life and playing house in the woods for a few days before going back to the real world. I look at the kitchen in the picture and don’t see simple, plain, humble; I think, dude, try cooking three meals a day in that puppy, then tell me in a year how awesome it is.

And yet I do feel the pull of self-sufficiency. I make jams and cook, DH woodworks, and none of this is economically efficient; we do it because we like doing for ourselves. I watch Tiny House Hunters and see twenty-somethings building teeny homes on a $20,000 budget, and I am happy to see them deciding for themselves what they truly need and what makes them happy. I read in the Washington Post about people building communities of tiny houses in alleys and back yards and I think, awesome, good for them. I look at Airstream trailers and I get it: affordable, beautiful, well-designed freedom.

So maybe it’s not the thing itself. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with a cabin in the woods. Maybe it’s the difference between building something genuinely humble with your own hands, because that is what you can afford, and building an $800,000 cabin that only looks humble, so you can really-truly-I-mean-it experience “the simple life.”

Exotic locales

by Ada

I enjoyed this recent piece in the Atlantic about someone who has achieved his goal of going to every recognized country in the world – and the 10 places it was most difficult to obtain visas to visit (who knew that Saudi Arabia did not allow tourists?).

The Hardest Places in the World to Visit

It reminded me of this piece published in The Onion during the Arab Spring – when tourists were evacuated from many Middle Eastern nations. A good friend had just been to Libya the month before – she had talked up the trip for months – such a safe place, amazing Roman ruins, really under appreciated. She had a great experience – and fortunately missed the turmoil by a matter of days.

State Dept. Asks U.S. Citizens In Libya What The Hell They Were Doing In Libya

Another interesting take on this is about a place where guidebooks still matter – Myanmar. “The travelers one sees there are mostly Germans, many of them visibly miffed that we’d brought our daughter somewhere so seemingly remote as to be at the very end of the Lonely Planet. If a three-year-old’s there, it must be too late.”

Confoundingly Picturesque

We traveled to the Amazon headwaters to stay in a lodge several years ago. We took a plane over the Andes from Quito, a bus several hours down a dirt road and then a motorized dug out canoe several hours into the rainforest. Our travel time from Quito was about 10 hours. I realized that it would be faster to get from Quito to New York City than to the jungle cabin we slept in

What remote places have you been?

Boyz to Men

by Louise

My experience prior to having a boy has been around girls and women. I had male cousins but still women dominated. Then, I became the mother of a boy. It was a different experience. There is lots of energy that has to be channeled or burnt off.

Band Aids fly out of the medicine cabinet. The learning process is different. The color blue was with us for many years. Now, it is a gradual transition from a boy to a man. Socks, shoes and athletic wear are a riot of colors. The brighter the better. Unkept hair is giving way to a more groomed look. The one male teacher is the leader of the pack.

What are your experiences around boys and boyhood? How about the transition from a boy to a man? Three cheers for boyhood!

Best and worst retailers

by Grace aka costofcollege

4 reasons Walmart is the most-hated retailer in America

Probably no surprise to most of us, Nordstrom scored the highest and Walmart the lowest.

When I bought a prom dress at Nordstrom last spring their service was impeccable, as usual.  I have enjoyed the service and atmosphere at Walmart stores in other parts of the country, like Texas and Arizona, but not so much here in New York.

Which retailers are your favorites for service, and which do you loathe?  Are you gravitating to more online shopping, or do you prefer brick-and-mortar stores?

 ***  ALSO, we’re running short on posts so feel free to send some in.  ***

Getting the chores done

by Sky

What systems do you use to keep your household running smoothly?

I’m starting to think about going back to work, but will need to streamline the household work first. We have a once-monthly housekeeper, but the rest of it is my job. DH expects the house to be clean and organized when he gets home at 9 PM, but his participation is limited by his work and commute. (His own stuff is always impeccably neat, at least until the children find it.)

For chores, I’ve just assigned each day of the week a time-consuming chore:
Mondays = Laundry
Tuesdays = Baking & dusting (I have to do a fair amount of baking due to kids’ food allergies)
Wednesdays = Floors & errands
Thursdays = Laundry again
Fridays = Meal planning & grocery shopping
Saturdays = Yard work

About a month in, this seems to be working, except that with sports practice and games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday I often have to throw in another load of laundry on Saturdays.

I clean the bathrooms and kitchen and tidy up the kids’ toys every day.

My kids all have their own chore lists – even the toddler. There is a small cash incentive for each chore completed, because my kids are not motivated by stickers.

The chores for the younger two include making their own beds (with help), wiping the kitchen table, putting dishes in the sink, sweeping the floor, and putting away toys.

The oldest (6) is expected to make her own bed and lunch. I’ve heard that some of her friends can do laundry and cook breakfast, so we are working on those. With the return to school and sports, the incentive system is not getting me the amount of work I would like – DD decided this morning that she would rather watch Curious George than get 25 cents for making her bed.

How have you gotten your kids to do their chores? What kinds of chores do you expect them to do?

Back to school night

by Denver Dad

What do people thing about back to school night? We’ve usually found it to be pretty informative and worthwhile, but our school changed it around this year and it was pretty much a complete waste of time.

They used to do it the standard way where you started in your kid;s homeroom and then went to their classes where the teacher provided the syllabus and discussed the specific class. You got to meet all of their teachers and find out what would be covered in each class, what they were expecting from the kids, etc. It worked very well.

We have a principal who is starting her second year and she decided to change it up this year to try to fix what she thought the flaws were, which were time spent moving between classes, and juggling classes for multiple kids. So the new format was to have a room for each grade (there are only 2 classes per grade so space wasn’t an issue) and have the teachers come to the room. Then they had a second session, where they would repeat the presentations so you could go to one grade and then to another if you needed to.

However, in our opinion it failed miserably. First, they do performance grouping, and there was only one math and one language arts teacher in each room. I went to 8th grade and DS’ math teacher wasn’t there, and DW went to 7th grade and DD’s math teacher wasn’t there. And they just talked in generalities – all I found out from DS’ LA teacher is that they will read 7-10 books and have to do a 10 page research paper. No specifics as to what books or anything else. The math teacher said they are using a new curriculum this year, but didn’t give any info as to what will be covered at each level. DW said the math teacher in her room went over what they are covering in 7th grade math, but DD is in 8th grade math so that didn’t help.

Then the science and social studies teachers stayed in one room. So all we found out about 8th grade science is they are doing chemistry and physics, there was nobody to answer questions or provide more information. DW said all they heard about social studies was what they read on the PowerPoint slide because nobody in the 7th grade room knew anything about it. And because they were doing two sessions, it was too short. Time ran out before the SS teacher could start his talk in the 8th grade room, so he had to whip through it in about 60 seconds. The Spanish teacher did go to both rooms, but because of the time crunch, she only talked for about 2 minutes and couldn’t get into nearly as much detail as she has in previous years.

How do they do BTS night at your schools? Do you find it worthwhile?

I want a pink iPhone

by Grace aka costofcollege

The 10 most important things from Apple’s iPhone 6S event

Are you buying anything new?  I’ll probably get an iPhone 6s, maybe in rose gold.

As usual, my brain seems to shut down when it comes to shopping for electronics.  Particularly now that Verizon is ditching contracts and subsidized devices in favor of new contract-free plans.  This comment from a CollegeConfidential thread was helpful.

There are 2 reasons to buy the new iPhone. (I pre-ordered the large one this AM.)

1. 3D Touch. This changes how you access and do things on your phone. We all have lists of emails and messages, etc. and we have to open this and then tap to move back and do something else to shift to another program. 3D Touch – which is an accurate name – uses the force of your press to “peek” into an email or message or a little harder to “pop” it open and then be able to do stuff like reply or whatever all without actually opening up the app, having to move back and forth among apps, etc. … Once you see this in action, it changes how you interact with your device….

2. Live Photo. Think Harry Potter: the new default for the camera is to capture 3 seconds with your shot “in the middle”. If you think about it, it’s an application of burst mode converted algorithmically into something else. What happens is you get a picture just like now but if you touch it, it comes alive. So your kid smiles at you. And you can put one on your lock screen and Facebook and Instagram, etc. will be supporting it soon. It’s really that Harry Potter effect of living pictures. … it’s on by default and you just touch the photo and it moves.

They talked a lot about the camera improvements but I haven’t seen any work yet other than their demo….

What grabbed me about the new iPhones is they presented the great mass of users with immediate ways to simplify their interactions with their phones and immediate ways to enjoy them more.

There’s also an interesting change in the way we buy phones. First, Apple’s new way is you can now buy the phone from them for a monthly charge AND this charge is not excessive and includes Applecare+, which lasts 2 years and includes accidental damage (though the service fees for replacing or repairing a wrecked phone remain high). Basically, a 64GB phone is $36 or $40 (for the Plus) a month and that’s $4 more than Verizon, for example, charges but includes Applecare+ and you can upgrade each year. Second, I use Verizon and decided to order from them because they “offer” a credit against your line charge when you buy. So I’m paying about $35/month for the 64GB 6S Plus but they credit me $25/month. That needs a bit more explanation. You’ve probably seen the new ads for Verizon’s plans. If you get one of those and buy a new iPhone, they’ll give you a $20 credit each month but since I already have a plan I can keep mine and get $5 more. So to me the actual cost per month is $10/month and I’m selling my old phone for about $120 so I’m not actually paying anything other than an activation fee for the new phone. And I can sell my new phone and keep this cycle going with very little to no outlay for the newest phone.

What are the latest and greatest technology products or features you are currently enjoying, or just lusting after?  Let’s talk technology.

Kids riding shotgun

by Finn

When your kids ride in a car, where do they sit?

In the September 2015 issue of Consumer Reports, there’s an article that says that, “In cars made after 2006, a person sitting in the rear seat, even when wearing a seat belt, has a 46 percent greater chance of dying in a car crash than someone riding in the front passenger seat, according to a recent study….”

“The rear seat is still best for kids under 9 years old, probably because of the added protection of child restraints. We still recommend that all children under the age of 13 ride in the back.”

Shortly after reading this, DD sat in the front seat of my car for the first time (well, for the first time while the car was being driven). We were going to a camping trip, and the back of the car was full of stuff, so that worked out well, and she and I had a very nice conversation as well; she was quite excited about going back to school.

When will your kids move up to the front seat? For families with multiple kids, does this signal a return to the days of kids fighting over the front passenger seat?

Non-traditional learning

by Louise

Why Unschooling Is the Next Wave of Home-Based Education for Kids

What is Unschooling?

Unschooling 101

I know families who are homeschooling their kids. In these families the mother was already at home and for whatever reason, starting very early the decision was made not to send the kids on to traditional schools. These families follow curriculums put out by publishing companies. For high school they are thinking of supplementing with online courses. This is still not unschooling which goes a step further.

Does your family or people you know follow non traditional learning approaches? How has that worked out?

Please bring a main dish and salad or dessert . . .

by WCE

Between scouts, church and sports, potlucks are common in my life right now. I’m interested in potluck-friendly recipes that aren’t too fussy. A crockpot meal or casserole is a straightforward main dish and I have tons of great dessert recipes, but salads are harder. I don’t like them to require mayonnaise, be too time-consuming to prepare, require me to visit a specific grocery store, require ingredients that aren’t “adequate” year round, be too high in calories or anything my kids won’t eat, since we’ll be eating the leftovers. I also would like my salad to be visually appealing, so I typically choose a yellow bell pepper to contrast with the avocado, red onion, black beans and tomato in this salad. (You can also use mini peppers in a pinch.) This recipe is one of my favorites. What other suggestions do you have for potlucks? Feel free to expand this into a general recipes post — I partly just want to share this salad recipe, since it’s become a favorite. The lime juice, olive oil and salt in this particular quantity are ideal.

2 c shell macaroni, cooked according to package directions
1 c tomatoes, chopped (or use grape tomatoes, halved)
1 avocado, peeled and diced
1/3 c diced red onion
1 diced bell pepper
1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained (I like low salt S&W)
4 T chopped fresh cilantro
2 T extra virgin olive oil
juice of one lime (I use ~3 T bottled lime juice)
1 t salt

Toss ingredients through cilantro with pasta. Mix olive oil, lime juice and salt into a dressing; toss salad with dressing mixture. Ideally, refrigerate for 1-4 hr before serving.

Are You a Super Recognizer?

by WCE

Do You Have a Face-Finding Superpower for Fighting Crime?

This National Geographic article on people who fight crime by recognizing faces exceptionally well intrigued me. I read the New Yorker article (linked within) on prosopagnosia by Oliver Sacks and did the University of Greenwich facial recognition test. I recognized 5 out of 14 faces, so I’m not good at it, even though the faces are Caucasian and I grew up around mostly other Caucasians.

I’m curious about whether women would be easier to recognize than men are and whether women have roughly the same range of facial recognition ability as men do. I’m also curious if this ability changes with age. The military is largely young and male, and it seems like this ability would be really useful when fighting terrorism. I’m also curious if Mooshi thinks computers will ever be as good at recognizing people as super-recognizers are. Of course, I accept at face value the claim that the distribution of this talent in the population is largely Gaussian, like virtually every other human characteristic.

On a personal level, I read the article because I feel like I’m bad at remembering people and wondered just how bad I am. In the lab where I work, we wear bunny suits that cover your face. People have observed that colleagues notice women’s pregnancies earlier when they wear bunny suits, because of how their gait changes. In the lab, we recognize people by their gait rather than their face.

The article on Oliver Sacks made me think of my Dad and Mr. WCE, who can both remember how to get somewhere after a single visit. My Dad sometimes remembered which way to turn in a village in Germany nearly twenty years after his only visit. Mr. WCE carries a GPS now, but he hunted with topographic maps for his first couple decades in remote areas of Washington and Montana. To my knowledge, he’s never been lost. One of my friends has an uncanny ability to remember what people wear. She remembers my clothing, including shoes, and has occasionally made comments like, “You were wearing that shirt last time I saw you.” This talent amazes me, since in my world, the purpose of clothing is to keep other people from having to look at me naked. On an emotional level, I’ve enjoyed watching the development of Baby WCE’s face over the past months as I nurse her, from squished newborn to a face so like her father’s that my colleagues who saw her commented that she looks JUST like her Dad.

Are you a super-recognizer? Do any of my reactions trigger similar thoughts of your own?

Farmed Fish

by Louise

Farmed fish could bring us cheaper food, but is it ethical?

I have wanted to discuss this topic. We like fish but usually don’t buy salmon or tilapia. We prefer wild caught but will buy farm raised shrimp. We eat fish often enough where we can tell if something doesn’t taste right but we are not experts able to tell if the fish is farm raised or wild caught. We also buy fish from Asian markets which are frozen and shipped over (mainly Asian mackerel and sardines). Are those from waters that are over fished? I don’t know. It’s fishy, all right….discuss.

‘September is the Other January’

by Grace aka costofcollege

Agree, Disagree? September is the Other January. Time for a New Start.

… January is the official start of the new year, and I always get a burst of renewed zeal at that time … September also gives the same feeling of an empty calendar and a clean slate. The air seems charged with possibility and renewal.

Back-to-school is a time of self-evaluation and reflection–and also a time when I feel the urge to clean out my office.

I’m back from summer traveling and feel energized to start and finish some projects.  I look forward to getting back into a more structured routine.  How about you?

How much does your routine change when school starts?  Do you welcome the change?

Horrible Jobs

by Grace aka costofcollege

In advance of Labor Day on Monday, let’s talk about jobs.

You may not be surprised to learn that middle managers are some of the unhappiest workers.

… In a new study from researchers at Columbia University, of nearly 22,000 full-time workers (from a dataset from the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions), they saw that 18 percent of supervisors and managers reported symptoms of depression. For blue-collar workers, that figure was 12 percent, and for owners and executives, it was only 11 percent.

What’s so bad about a middle management job?

All of the downsides of being a subordinate, combined with all of the downsides of having to tell people to do things they don’t want to do.

What’s your opinion?  Are you or have you been a middle manager?  What is the worst job you ever had?  And what did you learn from that experience?

There will not be a post on Monday, Labor Day.  But we can keep our conversation going here.

School Start Times

by AustinMom

I know my kids’ private school start dates are earlier than many as both start the week of August 17 this year.  The article below talks about school start times and how middle and high schoolers shouldn’t start before 8:30 am given their internal clocks stay up to11 pm and they need to get the requisite 9 hours of sleep.  Our middle school begins at 8:00 am and high school begins at 8:20 am.

In our metro area we have at least 6 different school districts with different start dates, though not before August 24, and different start times.  Those high schools with 9 am start times do not let out until 4 pm and kids riding the bus are often not home until 5 pm.  The main complaints of parents I have heard about this later start time are (1) the kids have an hour or more at home after the parents have left for work before they have to leave for school, (2) after school sports practices then often go over into the dinner hour, and (3) it often means the kids are up doing homework after parents have gone to bed.

Some discussions I have had with other parents have raised the following points about 9 am starts – (1) start time really doesn’t matter because often club or some sports practices are moved to the mornings which still puts the kids on campus as early as 7 am, (2) after school activities are just shifted later, so a 4-6 pm practice moves to a 5-7 pm practice, which interferes more with the dinner hour, especially if you have younger kids whose school hours in the same district are 7:45 am to 2:45 pm, (3) kids with lots of homework (especially after an after-school practice) often aren’t in bed by 11 pm as you have just shifted it later in the day, and (4) even to take the bus for a 9 am start kids are to be “at the stop” by 8:15 am, so assuming they are getting up at 7:30 am, they would have to be in bed by 10:30 pm to get their 9 hours.

Totebaggers – What hours do your kids attend school?  Do they start earlier than 8:30 am?  Do you think it’s a problem?  Do you like later start times, if your district has them.

You won’t believe how early school starts in some states


by Rhode

We just experienced our second power failure this summer. In 9 years in RI, we’ve lost power 2 times before this summer. This trend makes me think about generators.

Our knee-jerk reaction is to buy a whole house generator. Is it worth the cost? Could we get away with a generator to run the refrigerator, a lamp, a charger, and maybe a space heater?

Do you have a generator? What type? How large? What appliances or electronics do you run on your generator?

Family Movie Night

by Seattle Soccer Mom

On Friday nights, we often like to order takeout/delivery and watch a movie. Our kids are 15 and 10 so it can sometimes be a challenge to find a movie that both kids enjoy. Here are some recent movies all four of us liked.

  • Galaxy Quest with Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, and Allen Rickman. PG. Highly recommend this comedy – all of us enjoyed it.
  • My Cousin Vinnie with Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei. Rated R because close to every other word is the F word. If you don’t have a problem with frequent use of the F word, it’s a pretty funny movie. All of us enjoyed it.
  • Oceans 11 with George Clooney and Brad Pitt. PG-13. What’s not to love?
  • Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. PG. A classic.
  • Elf – we like to watch this at Christmas and let the kids invite friends over to have an Elf dinner: spaghetti with chocolate sauce, candy corn, pop tarts, etc.
  • When the kids were younger, we really enjoyed Hayao Miyazaki’s movies: Howl’s Moving Castle, Castle in the Sky, Spirited Away,….

Fellow Totebaggers – what movies or tv shows do you like to watch as a family?

The Really Big One

by WCE

The Problem:
The Cascadia subduction zone will likely experience a magnitude 8-9 earthquake off the Oregon/Washington Coast. Based on historic periods between major quakes and knowing that the last major quake was in 1700, the chance of a major quake by 2060 is estimated at 1 in 3. Coastal regions will be inundated by the resulting tsunami. Utility infrastructure, roads and bridges are expected to be severely affected.

WCE’s Commentary:
This article is kind of long, so I’ll summarize it and paste a quote for the less interested. I will also note that if your child wants to become a paleoseismologist, (s)he should consider Oregon State. I was motivated to read it in part by paying the bill for our Earthquake insurance, which is 50% of our regular homeowner’s insurance premium and has a high deductible. Another article noted that 80% of Oregonians don’t carry earthquake insurance. One author helpfully noted that the federal government will pick up the tab in the event of a disaster. A bridge/seismology expert for the State of Oregon (met her once) is concerned by the lack of interest/concern regarding the likely destruction of much of our infrastructure. A tsunami would affect the Oregon/Washington/BC Coast- I’ve included a map of the likely Oregon effect from a related article.. So this post could go in all kinds of directions. :)

From the article:

… In Oregon, it has been illegal since 1995 to build hospitals, schools, firehouses, and police stations in the inundation zone, but those which are already in it can stay, and any other new construction is permissible: energy facilities, hotels, retirement homes. In those cases, builders are required only to consult with DOGAMI about evacuation plans. “So you come in and sit down,” Ian Madin says. “And I say, ‘That’s a stupid idea.’ And you say, ‘Thanks. Now we’ve consulted.’”

These lax safety policies guarantee that many people inside the inundation zone will not get out. Twenty-two per cent of Oregon’s coastal population is sixty-five or older. Twenty-nine per cent of the state’s population is disabled, and that figure rises in many coastal counties. “We can’t save them,” Kevin Cupples says. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it and say, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ll go around and check on the elderly.’ No. We won’t.” Nor will anyone save the tourists. Washington State Park properties within the inundation zone see an average of seventeen thousand and twenty-nine guests a day. Madin estimates that up to a hundred and fifty thousand people visit Oregon’s beaches on summer weekends. “Most of them won’t have a clue as to how to evacuate,” he says. “And the beaches are the hardest place to evacuate from.”

Those who cannot get out of the inundation zone under their own power will quickly be overtaken by a greater one. A grown man is knocked over by ankle-deep water moving at 6.7 miles an hour. The tsunami will be moving more than twice that fast when it arrives. Its height will vary with the contours of the coast, from twenty feet to more than a hundred feet. It will not look like a Hokusai-style wave, rising up from the surface of the sea and breaking from above. It will look like the whole ocean, elevated, overtaking land. Nor will it be made only of water—not once it reaches the shore. It will be a five-story deluge of pickup trucks and doorframes and cinder blocks and fishing boats and utility poles and everything else that once constituted the coastal towns of the Pacific Northwest.”

The Really Big One


Cutting The Cost Of College

by MooshiMooshi

Everyone loves to discuss the high costs of university education, and everyone seems to have an opinion as to how to get those costs down. This article looks in some depth at the effort to deal with significant funding cuts at U Wisconsin Eau Claire, which is a classic directional state U, and one with a pretty good reputation. The son of one of my best friends went there, and had a lot of good things to say.

There are some points of interest in this article. First of all, the funding cuts forced the administration to look closely at some of their processes, which really made no sense in some cases. Layers of administrative approvals to get catering? That is the kind of thing that just adds to everyone’s workload. As I have noted before, a lot of times universities end up with lots of bureaucracy, added costs, and added workload (usually dumped on faculty and lower level administrators) because there are no real chains of command. Everyone in the various administrative offices are all doing their own thing. The one-stop student services office is also a great idea. I have never understood why universities make students run from office to office to get things done. So there is a silver lining to these cuts – forcing the school to weed out and streamline offices and processes.

However, the centralized advising is a huge mistake in my opinion. And each advisor will have 300 students? In a school with a 30% 4 year graduation rate? Seriously? My department is actually trying to wrest advising away from the central advising process, largely because we think it will improve retention. The centralized advisors make so many mistakes, mistakes that actually cause students to have to spend more time here.

And of course they will end up with fewer course sections, which will also make it harder for students to get finished on time.

It is interesting that they used alums to help identify inefficiencies, instead of hiring consultants. I assume the alums were volunteering their time? That is actually a really interesting idea – instead of hitting up alums for money, ask for time instead.

Struggling to Stay True to Wisconsin’s Ideals

As usual, the comments on the article are interesting too. Do you have anything to add? How would you approach drastic cuts at a school like this if you were the president?

Are Engineers Good Marriage Material?

by Grace aka costofcollege

 10 Reasons Engineers Make Good Partners

I don’t agree with all their reasons, but some good points are made.  Let’s explore this further.

10 Reasons Engineers Make Bad Partners

10 Reasons [fill in the blank with another profession] Make Good/Bad Partners

What makes for a good or bad partner?  Any correlation with profession?

Alcohol or Marijuana?

by Seattle Soccer Mom

Dr. Aaron Carroll is a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University who also writes columns for the NY Times Upshot. In the linked article below, he sorts through the dangers of alcohol vs. marijuana for teens. Dr. Carroll argues that alcohol is a factor in 40% of violent crimes (no link for pot); there are alcohol related deaths (e.g. binge drinking deaths) but not pot related deaths; more ER visits due to alcohol than pot; alcohol is more of a danger when driving; and a higher % of users end up dependent on alcohol than on pot.

His conclusion:

When someone asks me whether I’d rather my children use pot or alcohol, after sifting through all the studies and all the data, I still say “neither.” Usually, I say it more than once. But if I’m forced to make a choice, the answer is “marijuana.”

Fellow Totebaggers, which would you rather your teen experimented with – alcohol or marijuana? (and yes, let’s assume the first choice would be “neither.”)

For me personally, since I’ve never smoked pot, I’m more comfortable with the idea of DD experimenting with alcohol. After reading the article though, I’m a little less freaked out about the idea of DD experimenting with pot (my first choice is still “neither.”)

Alcohol or Marijuana? A Pediatrician Faces the Question

Pets and More Pets

By Sky

We already have a cat, but my kids have decided we also need a dog. Luckily the pleas of the youngest are still limited to pointing at dogs and saying “woof woof” plaintively, because the other two bring it up every time we see one.

I think I have persuaded DD and DS1 to settle for some betta fish for now, but I started to wonder if I should have campaigned for a virtual pet when I started reading about tank cycling and betta sororities. I manage sibling fighting all day as it is!

What pets have you had? What low maintenance pets would you recommend? Have you had any exotic or unusual pets?

What about pet care? How much do you think is reasonable? Does your pet get holiday gifts and go on the family vacation?

And most importantly, who does the work? Are there any Totebag children who walk the dog and clean up the mess, or is it all on the parents? (I know what the answer will be in my house, so we are not getting a dog!)

Continue Ban On Gay Blood Donors?

by winemama

Should the Red Cross change its stance on blood donations from gay men in light of the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage and other recent events? Safety is the main factor, but I would think they could ensure safety without such a strict rule (male who has had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977). It seems like it is based on an out-of date stereotype.

Currently this is the rule:

You should not give blood if you have AIDS or have ever had a positive HIV test, or if you have done something that puts you at risk for becoming infected with HIV.

You are at risk for getting infected if you:
  • have ever used needles to take drugs, steroids, or anything not prescribed by your doctor
  • are a male who has had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977
  • have ever taken money, drugs or other payment for sex since 1977
  • have had sexual contact in the past 12 months with anyone described above
  • received clotting factor concentrates for a bleeding disorder such as hemophilia

Panel Recommends U.S. Keep Ban on Gay Blood Donors

Joint Statement Regarding National Gay Blood Drive

Blood Donor Eligibility: Medications & Health | American Red Cross

Home Remodeling Advice

by axs54

This post is from a long-time lurker from the TOS.  Recent discussion has prompted me to submit a post.

We have been living in our house for about 9 years and are considering doing a large addition (add master suite, expand kitchen, add mudroom, etc). Our house is a typical (for Boston suburbs) 1960’s raised ranch, which our family of four is outgrowing (it is 1,500 sq. ft.)

We are in the very initial stages of the project. We have hired an architect and he is just beginning his work on the plans. We are looking for any suggestions re: contractor management, accommodations (we would have to move out for at least one month), and any other pitfalls that Totebag readers have experienced. It seems that a decent number of regulars has gone through a significant home improvement project, so please share your wisdom!

Why Organic Agriculture is a Colossal Hoax

by WCE

The Colossal Hoax Of Organic Agriculture

I’ve mentioned before my concerns about organic agriculture and how it’s implemented. This article discusses some of the issues that affect consumers but it doesn’t discuss the production issues, such as lower yields, associated with organic agriculture. Organic produce is popular among my set in the Pacific Northwest but its proponents don’t seem particularly knowledgeable about its pros and cons, so I’ve learned to smile and nod. Is anything in this article (it’s short) new information for you? Do you share my skepticism about organic food from China or Mexico?


Dressing Down At The Office And Elsewhere

by Grace aka costofcollege

The trend toward more casual dressing draws mixed opinions.  I mainly like it, but sometimes it goes too far.

For the love of God, stop dressing like crap

… So while you can hold on to your crop tops and ratty band tees, you may also think twice about where and when you wear them. After all, if you dress better, you’ll feel better.

Recently while enjoying sushi at a “nice” local restaurant, I couldn’t help but notice the guys at the table next to us who were dressed like this guy, but with team logo tank tops.



I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s sometimes a bit confused about appropriate dress.  Lately my questions have been more about men’s sartorial style.

What does “business casual” actually mean at your workplace?  This seems to be common garb for the men I’ve seen lately on their way to the office.  Later when the weather turns cooler, many will add a blazer to their look.

Is the “3-day beard” look acceptable at your office?  Even if you don’t look like Ben Affleck?


And can men wear shorts everywhere these days?

Do you trend toward casual or more dressed up?  How do people dress at your workplace?  Do you care how other people dress?


by Honolulu Mother

My husband suggested this article for a Totebag topic:

How to Fix Our Interstates

The following are his comments on it.

“I found this interesting on several levels.

First, the article is in contrast to my father’s perspective on the interstate coming to Washington state during his coming of age as a driver. His claim was that many of the planners of the initial interstate build favored ring roads around the major cities, but that the merchants of the day overrode that in pursuit of tourist dollars.

Second, having commuted the “interstate” in Hawaii for several decades, I have often found myself stuck in traffic and wondering if the whole thing would move better if we added stoplights for through traffic and merging traffic at major choke points and treated it like any other major city street. Our highway in urban Honolulu is actually grandfathered under design requirements of the 60s. As I understand it, our upgrade options are severely limited short of bringing the system into compliance with current requirements.

Third, I lean libertarian and tend to agree that if we left transportation funding and decisions at the local level we would achieve better results. Under the current system, if a local government spends ninety cents in added costs for federal compliance to receive a dollar of federal funding it counts as ten free cents.

It’s traffic, folks, I know everyone’s bound to have opinions.”

Rewards That Aren’t Raises

By AustinMom

When we first start out in our careers, it is often all about the money as parents withdraw their financial support and our paychecks must cover all of our basic needs plus our desires. However, when pay exceeds those basic needs, do we value that raise or other rewards, such as more time off?

The article below opines that workers who are taking other rewards in lieu of raises may be hurting themselves in the long run. In my opinion, the article mixes some non-monetary and monetary benefits in the same category. For example, paid health insurance – assuming you will carry health insurance, shifting the cost from the employee (automatic payroll withdrawal) to employer paid does free up cash for the employee. Others, such as time off or access to a gym membership you won’t use (due to location or desire) do not impact your paycheck.

Has your company shifted to other rewards in lieu of raises? How has it affected you? How do you see it affecting the next generation of workers (including your kids)?

Companies have found something to give their workers instead of raises

What’s for Dinner?

By Seattle Soccer Mom

I’m always on the lookout for dinner ideas that I can make in 45 minutes or so and that at least 3 of the 4 of us will eat.

Do you and your partner split the cooking or does one of you handle most of the cooking? I do most of the cooking; DH cooks once a week and makes something easy that doesn’t require a recipe. This summer, I’ve started having the kids each cook dinner once a week. DD is 15 and DS will soon be 10.

Cooking a family dinner was one of the bigger adjustments we had to make after having kids. Before kids, DH and I would often do our own thing on weeknights. I’m ok with having cereal for dinner while DH likes a hot dinner preferably including meat/fish. DD takes after DH. DS is a pickatarian. I love sauces – so I often make things where the sauce is added at the end or on the side so DS can have his plain (or uncontaminated depending on your perspective). I aim for cooking something that 3 of the 4 of us will eat.

Here are some typical dinners for my family – what does your family like to eat?

Fish –salmon, Dover sole, or halibut. Generally pan-seared with some sort of sauce (salmon with a port wine sauce; Dover sole that’s been breaded or coated in parmesan with a tarragon sauce). If we’re splurging, crab cakes from a local fish store (easy and delicious but expensive). Clams steamed in white wine. I learned to eat seafood as an adult so my repertoire is pretty limited.

Chicken/Steak – on the weekend, I often like to do some version of roast chicken thighs – easy but takes a little more time. Pan-seared chicken cutlets with a lemon white wine sauce or steak with a stone-ground mustard sauce. Panko crusted chicken thighs with egg noodles.

Pasta – favorites include pasta with a tomato-vodka cream sauce (with either prosciutto or bacon); kale bacon pasta with fresh oregano; pasta with a sausage-vermouth cream sauce.

Easy – tacos; steak salad (broiled/grilled steak on top of a bed of greens with goat cheese, tomato, avocado); spaghetti with marinara; ravioli with prosciutto, pear, and avocado as optional toppings; grilled cheese/BLT’s.

Other – chicken pot pie, lasagna – I have two easy recipes from a great cookbook called “Keepers.” For the chicken pot pie, you use puff pastry for the topping – and it includes bacon. Yum.

Where do you take your out-of-town visitors?

by Grace aka costofcollege

One Los Angeles resident wanted to offer his out-of-town visitors “authentic” local experiences as well as typical tourist attractions.

Figuring out how to provide an authentic experience that isn’t challenging for visitors who aren’t intimately familiar with this city’s quirks is a true local struggle.

I’ve faced this dilemma twice in my seven years of Angeleno-hood, and for the second time last weekend. For my parents’ most recent stay, I wanted to switch things up, focus less on tourist attractions and more on the places I find most interesting in Los Angeles.

My out-of-town visitors can check out famous local attractions like the Statue of Liberty and Broadway shows, but they can also spend a quiet afternoon at a less well-known place like Untermeyer Gardens on the Hudson River.


What are the famous tourist attractions near you?  And what are some other “authentic experiences” that visitors to your area might enjoy?  Do you host visitors very often?  How does it usually go?

College Budgeting Fail

by ssk

I just read this online and thought it might be a starting point for a blend of two of our favorite topics: paying for college and teaching fiscal responsibility.

22-year-old college student blows her $90,000 college fund and blames her parents

While this article (and the accompanying videos) is tongue-in-cheek, it makes you wonder about how you have done (or will do) teaching your children about finances. Has anyone encountered a young person like “Kim”?

Marriage In The Real World

by Moxiemom

The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give

Saw this in this week’s Modern Love column and felt like it really spoke to my 19 years of marriage and would be good required reading for all people considering marriage. I also found the positivity of the comments section to be a big surprise. How about you, do you think this is a realistic portrayal? Do you wish someone had told you something like this before you got married? Unmarried toters – does this make marriage more or less appealing? Discuss.

Household Appliances

by SWVA Mom

I’m getting ready to move into my new home, and fortunately it comes with all appliances except washer & dryer. The laundry room is a little tight – just a space between the garage and kitchen – so I don’t want the extra-large, super-capacity set from my current house. (And H wants to take them anyway.) Anyone have a recommendation?

I’m also very sad to be leaving my dishwasher behind. We were never happy with the one we originally selected for this house because it was too loud. So when the dishwasher in our rental property died a few years ago, we got a new one for home and had the installer take the old one to the rental. It’s a Miele, and I can actually have a phone conversation in the kitchen while it is running. The dishwasher in my new place is actually the same brand I had before but the model is one step down! I guess I’ll just have to remember to run it when I leave in the mornings or when I go to bed.

Totebaggers, what are your favorite home appliances? And let us learn from your mistakes – what about choices you have regretted?

Housing ‘Trends’

by Grace aka costofcollege

The tiny house movement

Could you live in a tiny home that measured “between 65 to 400 square feet”?  I’m enjoying the tiny home shows on HGTV, but no thanks for me.  Maybe 1,000-1,200 square feet could work.  This family likes their small space.

4 People, 650 Square Feet: A Love Story

This made me laugh.

And, real talk, when someone went No. 2, the house had to be evacuated. The bathroom’s proximity to the kitchen was equally disturbing. The folding door did not, I repeat, did not seal odors well, and you had to wash your hands at the kitchen sink.

Modular homes

9 new built-in-a-day modular homes rise in Yonkers

The factory-made houses appear to be very well made, and offer some nice architectural details and lifestyle choices, including hardwood floors, crown moldings, second-floor outdoor decks, master suites, glass pocket doors on either side of the dining room, granite counters and stainless-steel appliances in the kitchen, and a washer/dryer on both floors. The bedrooms are carpeted and the bathroom fixtures are chrome.

Check out the slide show at the link to see the process of building these module homes.


Here are the listings.  At $650,000 each, they are relatively affordable for the area.

Why is homeownership slumping?

Homeownership rate drops to 63.4%, lowest since 1967

Household formation, however, is rising. The number of occupied housing units grew, but all on the renter side….

What’s your take on this analyst’s opinion?

“All the governmental attempts (certainly aided and abetted by many players in the private sector) at boosting homeownership has gotten us to this point in time with all the havoc it wreaked over the past 10 years. It’s just another governmental lesson never learned, of don’t mess with the free market and human nature.”

What housing trends interest you?  What do you foresee?  Are you ready to downsize, upsize, or stay put?

When Reality Hits

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

I’m 28, I just quit my tech job, and I never want another job again

Young person learns that jobs are sometimes boring and stupid and your
personal fulfillment isn’t the boss’s priority. Film at 11.

More seriously, should we be doing more to help our snowflakes
understand that the adults around them will suddenly stop caring about
their Maslovian self-actualization as soon as they turn 22 and hit the

Should You Book Your Flight On A Tuesday?

by Grace aka costofcollege

You’re booking your flights all wrong

This article says it’s a myth, but last week I booked a flight that dropped in price on a Tuesday, and I’ve had that same experience at least a couple of times before.

What’s your experience?  Any tips for booking flights?  Hotels?  AirBnB?  Other travel tips?

Summer Books

by Honolulu Mother

I meant to send this topic in the late spring, so it’s a bit late in the season, but since we’re apparently low on posts I thought I might as well send it in.

Let’s talk about beach books, aka shit lit. What are you reading this summer? Trashy nonfiction still counts — Primates of Park Avenue, the book by the lady who claims to have uncovered “wife bonuses” came out last month. All the also-reads for Primates seem to be shit lit — I haven’t read the sample of Crazy Rich Asians, linked to from the Primates book, but unless the cover is greatly misleading, it’s shit lit. I read a lot of genre fiction for my light reading — mysteries, fantasy, SF — and in that line, I really enjoyed Naomi Novik’s new book, Uprooted. That one’s probably too well written to really be shit lit, but it’s fast paced and very readable.

One of our road trip audiobooks was The Colonel and Little Missie, by Larry McMurtry. It was a fun look at the lives of Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley, with the story-telling feel you might expect based on the author. Bear in the Back Seat is another eminently readable non-fiction choice. My 10 year old ended up reading part of it too after hearing me laughing. Those of you with a farming background may particularly enjoy his description of how he decided to change his focus away from agriculture.

If you’re reading Dostoevsky or Piketty this summer, I suppose you can share that too. Are more serious books on your summertime reading list? Or do you save those for the fall, or for the twelfth of never?

The Course Not Taken

By Sky

What class do you regret not taking?

While in graduate school in a non-medical field, I had the opportunity to take an EMT course for free, as long as I committed to a certain number of volunteer hours. Back then, I had the time for the class, but not enough to be sure I could do the volunteer hours.

Now I wish I had taken it, even if I had to pay for it.

I have had to deal with all sorts of minor medical kid emergencies, and I really have no idea how to tell a sprain from a break, or the start of anaphylaxis from bad hives. I’ve spent much more in unnecessary co-pays than I would have on the class – today’s jaunt to the x-ray for a possible broken ankle will cost me $800.

What class would you have taken if you could do it over again?

What would you take now if you had more time?

Managing Screen Time

by WCE

Screen time v play time: what tech leaders won’t let their own kids do

This article on how different technology leaders manage their kids’ use of technology made me consider what limits are appropriate. My boys love TV, Netflix, Minecraft, etc. and their daily time is subject to completion of chores and homework. It can also be revoked for misbehavior. We have a Waldorf school nearby and I know people who like it, but avoiding screen time/electronics until you’re 12 seems unnecessary and a lot of work for the parent… and I’m all about avoiding lots of work for the parent. On the other hand, I worry about excessive gaming by my future-young-adult sons. Lack of self control in this area has affected college achievement and marriages of people I know.

When I spent a couple hours in the hospital lab for gestational diabetes testing, I took along a Disney Classics book from the library book sale and read my children the long stories I never read them at bedtime, due to lack of anything else to do. I try to make choices to interact in nontechnological ways. I sometimes waste too much time on the computer, especially when I’m tired or stressed or know I’ll be constantly interrupted if I try to read a real book. However, I also do lots of work on the computer (paid work as well as paying bills, researching travel, e-mailing with family, reading up on taxes or home repairs, managing finances). Sometimes the distinction between doing work and wasting time isn’t always clear. When our carpet cleaner seemed to be misbehaving, I read a lot about what was wrong and watched some videos on how to disassemble it, but read far more Amazon comments on different machines than strictly necessary since we didn’t end up replacing it. I do a lot of shopping online. Knowing where to find a replacement for the electric teapot and ordering a long-sleeved white shirt for Twin 1’s Storm Trooper costume are cases that come to mind.

What are your views of screen time and kids? Am I the only one who admits to wasting time this way as an adult?

Telemedicine — Yay Or Nay?

by Grace aka costofcollege

Telemedicine may be the wave of the future for many types of health care.

The same forces that have made instant messaging and video calls part of daily life for many Americans are now shaking up basic medical care. Health systems and insurers are rushing to offer video consultations for routine ailments, convinced they will save money and relieve pressure on overextended primary care systems in cities and rural areas alike. And more people like Ms. DeVisser, fluent in Skype and FaceTime and eager for cheaper, more convenient medical care, are trying them out….

But telemedicine is facing pushback from some more traditional corners of the medical world. Medicare, which often sets the precedent for other insurers, strictly limits reimbursement for telemedicine services out of concern that expanding coverage would increase, not reduce, costs. Some doctors assert that hands-on exams are more effective and warn that the potential for misdiagnoses via video is great.

Legislatures and medical boards in some states are listening carefully to such criticisms, and a few, led by Texas, are trying to slow the rapid growth of virtual medicine. But many more states are embracing the new world of virtual house calls, largely by updating rules to allow doctor-patient relationships to be established and medications to be prescribed via video. Health systems, facing stiff competition from urgent care centers, retail clinics and start-up companies that offer video consultations through apps for smartphones and tablets, are increasingly offering the service as well.

My new doctor has a terrific email system that allows us to conveniently discuss health issues.  I know a person who is very happy with her Skype psychotherapy sessions.  The possibilities are intriguing.

What’s your experience with telemedicine?  Do you welcome the convenience, or fear that it will lead to many errors and lower quality healthcare?

‘Odd’ Jobs

by Sheep Farmer

The many different ways people make a living fascinates me. Most of us who read the Totebag have predictable jobs-lawyers, professors, engineers, etc,, but what I find interesting are the unique ways that people have found to make a living. For example, DH has a friend who is an apiarist. He makes his money not only from selling the honey and the beeswax. but also from selling bees to those who want to start their own hives. DD has a classmate whose dad has a business making large fiberglass sculptures for theme parks and other road side attractions. Totebaggers, what jobs do your friends and family have that you find most interesting? Do any of you have any unusual business ideas that you hope one day to pursue?

Summer Homework – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

by AustinMom

Students scramble to complete summer homework

I came across this article, just after my daughter received her third summer homework assignment. So far, she has to (1) read a novel for English class, (2) read a book for World History, (3) read a couple chapters out of the World History textbook and answer some questions, (4) read a chapter out of one Chemistry text and answer the questions for that chapter, (5) read 2 chapters out of the second Chemistry text and answer the questions for those chapters, and (5) watch 2 Chemistry videos and complete the guided notes. All this is due on the first day of school. She is also expecting some pre-calculus homework as well.

I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, this is the equivalent of 2-3 nights of homework for each class or similar to what a week will feel like once school starts with her block schedule. If it seems overwhelming now, it will give her the chance to change her schedule the first day from all AP and Pre-AP to a mix that includes some “on level” classes as well. On the other hand, she worked very hard in school all year, she uses summer to catch up on her pleasure reading, and she went to an academic camp for 3 weeks that included reading almost the entire textbook, a short research paper, a presentation on another topic, and small group project. In short, she isn’t vegging out for 11 weeks in front of the tv or computer. But, even if she were, don’t these students deserve down time?

Totebaggers, do your students have summer homework? Did you? Is this summer homework really necessary? Does it only result in students dropping higher level courses to get out of the homework? Do the students benefit? If so, then why is summer homework focused on the higher performing students and not assigned across the board?

Public Speaking

by Grace aka costofcollege

Hillary Clinton Can’t Give a Decent Speech. Does It Matter?

… Great speeches require something Clinton has refused to give: exposure, access, the illusion of intimacy….

Rhetorical skill alone has become something of an essential skill for the modern politician. It has put several of them on the map as serious presidential contenders, from Ronald Reagan to Mario Cuomo to Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren.Consider the defining campaign speeches. At the 1992 Democratic convention, Bill Clinton memorably invoked his belief in “a place called Hope,” while George H. W. Bush delivered a weak and disjointed address littered with phrases like “serious business” and “You bet.” There were Obama’s 2008 remarks on race and John F. Kennedy’s on religious freedom.

Speech making may be important to politicians, but I doubt anyone counts on beating Clinton just “because she can’t give a good speech”.  And it’s not as if many of her opponents are particularly outstanding in that department.

I agree that great public speakers give “the illusion of intimacy”, and in that way they effectively engage their audience.

Are you a good public speaker, or even a great one?  How did you build up your skills?  Or, do you fear public speaking?  How have good or bad public speaking skills affected your career or other parts of your life?  Which politicians are the best and the worst speechmakers?

Related:  “How I Overcame the Fear of Public Speaking”

Out-of-print Children’s Books

by WCE

I looked for Scott Corbett’s book The Lemonade Trick at the library and was disappointed to find it was no longer available. Fortunately, Amazon has used copies. A couple other favorite children’s authors — Sally Watson and Sydney Taylor (All of a Kind Family) — now have their books back in print. We have a collection of Childhood of Famous Americans books (including lots of out of print ones) and other history books, including the Badger books. What books did you enjoy as a child? Are they still available? Have they been removed from libraries for a reason? (I doubt that drinking unknown concoctions made with your Feats o’ Magic chemistry set is still an acceptable plot line for children’s literature.)

Who Goes To College?

by MBT

Here is a chance to test your knowledge based on years of discussions on this site. The NY Times wants you to draw a graph showing the relationship between family income and college enrollment. The article links to a couple of other similar studies plotting relationships of various markers of achievement to family income. How accurate is your graph?

You Draw It: How Family Income
Predicts Children’s College Chances

The Sins of the Fathers Are Visited on the Grandchildren

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

Many childrearing practices are reactionary — parents raise their kids partly in rebellion against how they were raised. We often complain about how every kid now has to be treated like a special snowflake, and groan about helicopter parents making bizarre demands on schools and colleges. But I know why that happened — when I was growing up, we kids conformed to the system, not vice versa. We didn’t get any snacks during the day and I was often hungry. Not only was there no school choice, but your parents couldn’t even pick which teacher they wanted you to have. No one had learning disabilities — you were either smart or dumb. Things like Scout Camp were long exercises in being scolded for all your moral and physical failings, and being forced to eat disgusting canned carrots, being punished as a group for something stupid that one or two of the brat-girls did, and so on. Rules were rigid and punishments were swift and often unfair. Childhood was in large part a matter of putting up with a lot of injustice, having no choice over outside activities, enduring nasty behavior from teachers and other authority figures who were never held accountable because Adults Were Always Right, and so on.

So that’s partly why today’s kids are snowflakes, and each has to have customized care and an IEP, and why no one can have peanut butter because Madison’s allergic, and why frantic parents are now faced with a million decisions about schools and programs and teachers. It’s because my generation said “As God as my witness, my child will never eat canned carrots or put up with Mrs Sorenson for 6th grade. Their lives will be better.”

Totebaggers, what do you think this generation of kids is going to rebel against? What will schools look like in 40 years? How will recreational activities be handled? Will future children get one bowl of gruel per day and a sound beating for being dyslexic? Will they complain that they didn’t have parents, just friends who happened to be biologically related? Will it be Tom Brown’s School Days?