The Totebag

Holier than thou since 2012.

The Totebag

Rich friends

by MooshiMooshi

This study, which appeared in Nature, finds that people who grow up in areas where there are more friendships between high- and low-income people are more likely to move out of poverty and up the economic ladder. Not surprising. The interesting thing is that they break it down by county, using Facebook friendships as a proxy for real life friendships. The data shows that people in certain parts of the country have more connections across income levels than in other areas. If you look at the map in this article, it is pretty clear that there is more cross-class connectedness in the north than in the south.

What 21 billion Facebook friendships say about the economic ladder in the US

There is a far better article and graphics at the NYTimes, which of course is behind a paywall, but if you have access, I recommend it.

You can get access to the data at this site – you can click on a point in the map and see the percentage of low income people in that area who have high income friends.

For example, in Lowndes County Alabama, 20% of low income people have high income friends, whereas in Lamoure County in North Dakota, 61.9% of low income people have high income friends. Some amount of this may simply be that there are more high income people in certain parts of the North, such as the areas around NYC, but the many areas in the rural north that also have high rates of friendships across economic lines says that is not the only explanation.

Here is an explanation of the methodology from the NYTimes article
“The researchers limited the data, which did not include names, to active Facebook users. They estimated users’ incomes based on their ZIP codes, college, phone model, age and other characteristics.
For each low-income Facebook user, the researchers determined where the person was currently living, and how many high-income friends they had. That gave them a measure of how economically connected each neighborhood was. Then they compared the new data with earlier research that used tax records to measure how much a particular neighborhood raised low-income children’s economic prospects.
The researchers were also able to link almost 20 million users to both their high school and to their parents on Facebook. Using those ties, they repeated their analysis, this time on high school connections between children of rich and poor parents, to measure the impact of relationships made early in life. They did a similar analysis for teenage Instagram users. And they built on an earlier analysis of siblings who moved at different ages to show that it was the place that made a difference, versus something about the families who moved to those places.”

What do you guys think? Shall we pick it apart?

Thursday open thread

We have an open thread all day.

Starter:  We’re all living paycheck to paycheck!

…“Close to two-thirds of the U.S. population — about 157 million adults — currently live paycheck to paycheck, making it the main financial lifestyle in the United States.” That’s from a June report by the lending marketplace LendingClub in cooperation with, a payments data company. One-third of people earning $250,000 a year or more are living paycheck to paycheck, says the study, which was based on a survey and government data.

What the LendingClub report says to me is that we don’t have a good agreed-upon definition for what living paycheck to paycheck really means. If the definition of it encompasses almost two-thirds of Americans, I’d say, just looking around, that it’s too broad.

For example, let’s say you have a high income but you sock away money every month in a 401(k) plan for your retirement and a 529 plan for your kids’ education. You spend money on vacations, clothes, restaurants, home renovations. These expenses on average eat up all of your monthly pay. By one definition you’re living paycheck to paycheck, but you could pare back these expenses if you needed to.

Dementia advice

by Providence

Would love a post on caring for a parent with dementia / Alzheimer’s. Specifically, I’d love practical advice from people who have been there. What are the “best practices”? What do you wish you’d done differently?

Monday open thread

We have an open thread all day.

Starter topic: What’s your opinion on nutritional supplements?  This study ‘included thousands of people with osteoporosis or with vitamin D levels in a range considered low or “insufficient.”’

On the plane

by S&M

Whether we check bags or not, everybody needs to keep some things with them for use in flight. Because I’m planning to travel more frequently in the next few years than I have, I’m fine-tuning my packing lists.

Here’s what I usually take along for my comfort on the plane:
Chewing gum
Lip gloss
Hand sanitizer
Face mask
Something to read (my tablet)
Something to listen to/watch (earbuds & iphone)
A snack
Hair accessory
Clean underthings, toothbrush, meds—in case of forced overnight

Depending on time of day, length of flight, and where I’m sitting, I might take
Sleep mask
Big scarf/small blanket
Eye mask

The eye mask is a new addition because light is keeping me awake these days. Do you have any tips for them? I generally wear a cardi that’s easy to take on /off as needed. I wear things that keep me covered no matter how I sprawl—sleeveless jumpsuits in summer, sweater dress & tights in winter.

What do you take, and do you have any special tips?

Family travel

by S&M

What are your memories of travel as a child, and what do you hope your children gain from family travel?

When I was growing up, we spent a week at the beach and a week at relatives in Wisconsin every summer. Those blur together: sitting on the porch with grandpa smoking his cigar, petting my cousin’s horse, being very careful in my great aunt’s living room, shooting a cap gun on grandma’s steps, looking at the river across the street. At the beach I loved letting the waves tumble me around. We caught coquinas and kept them in a bucket, walked up the beach to supper most nights. One year their was a hurricane and we watched traffic creep by as others evacuated. Afterwards, a shipwreck was uncovered—exciting!

We rented a camper and went to the national parks out west one year. I remember a moose responding when I blew my nose, my sister & a cousin sharing trout for dinner and covering its head with a napkin. I read in guidebooks about where we were; my mother admonished me to put the book down and look out the window. Going out East another year, I remember walking so far out at Cape Cod, looking for waves, that the guard sent my dad out to get me. In Acadia park, my mom was so afraid of where my dad & I were hiking that he sent her back to the lodge. I have photo-enhanced memories of the stockades at Williamsburg and the geysers.

Most of the travel I did with my son was when he was quite little. We went to science museums and aquaria everywhere, he steered a duck boat in the Charles River, practiced counting down from 1000 as we walked by the green St Paddy’s River in Chicago, went to the bakery slime and played soccer with kids in the building of our B&B in Berlin.

He remembers testing different Cokes at the museum in Atlanta, seeing fall leaves in Wisconsin, not much else, that rafting was fun & the solar eclipse was cool—literally. Nothing specific about Philly, New Orleans, Oaxaca, Chicago, Puerto Escondido, San Francisco, Lauderdale, Arizona/NM, or anywhere else, aside from stories I’ve told him.

Looking back, what have you and your family gained from travel?

Friday open thread

We have an open thread all day.

Starter topic:  Are you rethinking your yard?

What’s Next in Front Yard Gardens: 7 Curb Appeal Strategies
Want the latest take on street-view style? Home and landscape designer John Gidding, host of HGTV’s ‘Curb Appeal’ franchise for seven years, has big ideas.

Before and after:

Published Credit: John Gidding

Published Credit: John Gidding

Relationship wisdom

by S&M

Revisiting classic Totebag topics, North of Boston recalled one about marriage and relationships. I’d like to revive that, with a twist. Now that the kids are older, many of them will be thinking about life partners, and we want to guide them. Romance can be fluffy and fun, but the vast majority of people on this blog have real partnerships with someone who makes life and parenting easier over the long haul.

What makes for a good relationship? Is it necessary for partners to be essentially similar? How do you bridge differences or resolve disputes? How has your relationship changed with life’s twists and turns? Divulge as much or as little of the inner workings of your own life as you wish; the goal here is a cache of collective wisdom on relationships, to be passed on just like knowledge about the calculus track and starting those 401(k)s early.

Cashing out strategies

by Finn

Retirement is rapidly approaching for me, and it’s probably approaching, at various rates, for all of us.

With its approach, I’m realizing that I need a strategy for cashing out of investments. At a minimum, I’ll need to cash out the investments, mostly in index funds, in my non-Roth IRAs and 401k accounts, to take RMDs (required minimum distributions).

While I’ve seen and heard a lot of discussion of strategies for buying into the stock market, I’ve seen very little discussion of strategies for getting out, especially for taking RMDs.

Probably the most common, and well known, strategy for building index fund balances in retirement accounts is dollar cost averaging via payroll deductions or scheduled funds transfers. That is largely set it and forget it for many, and takes advantage of the swings of the market.

Are you aware of any similar set-and-forget strategy for taking funds out of the stock market? Should I reverse dollar cost averaging, selling off the same dollar amount of index funds every month? What strategies are you planning, or considering, for cashing out your investments in retirement?

Long-distance pick-me-ups

by S&M

What are your favorite things to give or receive in difficult times, particularly to/from someone far away? There are only so many casseroles a freezer can hold; after a point, another candle or bottle of wine is one more on the stack. Jokes are good, but only if they land just right.

I’m not only thinking of one big event, like a death in the family, but also of the time afterwards, and of longer-term things that drag on and on. A house fire or “big” diagnosis that leads to months of readjustments or treatments, changes at work that make one miserable, that sort of thing. At the moment I’m thinking of a friend who reports being “Tired. Frustrated. Overworked”. They run an agency that is a small shop. Several employees have left this summer, so the friend is now doing the majority of the work as well as trying to find new employees and get them trained. Not as dramatic as falling off a cliff, but certainly draining, on top of an already busy and stress-filled life. What I’d most like to give, a lecture on self-care, would not be well-received. I want to let them feel cared for across the miles

Please share ideas for gifts and GIFs that have worked for you—links are welcome. Getting this one made me smile.

Is it the end for suburban corporate parks?

by MooshiMooshi

These buildings, I am sure, are familiar to many of us. I spent my non-academic career in two of these – one a classic standalone surrounded by trees and grass, and parking. Very nice because it was easy to go out running from there – I could even make it to a beach! It had a cafeteria, abd in the summer, they would fire up grills out on the patio. The other was very unpleasant because it was literally a city of corporate office buildings – a vast swath of land with office buildings separated by huge parking lots. There were no amenities – no place to eat, no shops, no trees, no grass. There was a daycare in one of the buildings. So I have seen both ends. DH also worked in a suburban building in a leafy setting, but it was a repurposed mansion and was really nice. However, the company, about two years before the pandemic, moved to a high rise in Stamford CT, which may have been an early indicator of the trend reported here.

So what do you think – will these buildings get repurposed? Torn down? Or will we all end up back in cubicles in square white buildings in parking lots again?

(lots of photos)

For those of you without access

Lonely Last Days in the Suburban Office Park

By Emily BadgerPhotographs by Lila Barth
July 5, 2022, 5:00 a.m. ET
The wooded campus that once housed the global headquarters of Toys “R” Us in Wayne, N.J., is 85 percent vacant today. On a weekday, the parking spots for 1,900 cars are mostly empty. The helipad is unused. So is the corporate dining hall, with its views of the serene grounds. Hundreds of cubicles — the spacious old-school kind with the high walls, not the little hot desks popular with employers today — sit empty as the property awaits redevelopment into something entirely new.

The site, first built for the chemical conglomerate American Cyanamid in 1962 and later bought by Toys “R” Us, was a grand version of an idea that ruled the postwar American workplace at varying scales: the 200-acre secluded corporate headquarters, the leafy 50-acre research campus, the three-acre spec-built office park shaded by a bit of tree canopy.

These places were decidedly suburban in nature and car-dependent in design. In every form — executive park, business park, corporate park, innovation park — the park was an essential part. “Pastoral capitalism,” the landscape architecture scholar Louise Mozingo has called it, naming the very American belief that office workers would do their best work if they could look out at manicured nature instead of the frenetic cityscape.

Today suburban office parks have drawn far less attention than downtown offices that are also threatened by remote work. But their decline reflects in some ways a more sweeping and permanent judgment — of once-dominant ideas about where Americans work, how the office should look, and what the suburbs should be. Many downtown offices, with the benefit of prime location, will need new facades and nicer interiors. Places that have been office parks will need a whole new identity.

Suburban offices built between the 1960s and 1980s were already struggling before the pandemic, with their aging mechanical systems and the changing tastes of millennials (in the Wayne case, Toys “R” Us also went bankrupt). A younger generation wants more urban offices, real estate developers say, or at least suburban offices that feel more urban, with sidewalks and somewhere different to eat lunch every day. But now layer on remote work, “and this might finish it off,” Ms. Mozingo said.

Far from downtowns, there is a different kind of emptiness in suburban settings that were already isolated and lightly populated by design. From the outside, it’s hard to know that the 20th floor of a skyscraper has gone vacant. In a suburban office park, the signs aren’t so inscrutable.

“The most obvious are the empty parking lots,” said Louis Greenwald, the majority leader of the New Jersey General Assembly, who has proposed legislation making it easier to reinvent these places. Of other signs, he said: “The worst and the most depressing are that these buildings fall into disrepair pretty quickly when they’re not occupied. So you see facades that are damaged. You see weeds in the community lawns that are unkept. Unclean windows.”

In their prime, suburban office parks offered a modern alternative to cramped office towers, and easy car access when mass transit was faltering. They promised, in the place of seemingly noisy, congested, unpredictable downtowns, a quiet space to sit in a cubicle and concentrate.

That tranquil ideal, however, might be described differently today.

“You’re in the middle of nowhere here,” said David DeConde, the real estate development lead with Point View Wayne Properties, which purchased the Toys “R” Us campus in 2019 amid the company’s bankruptcy. You couldn’t walk to happy hour after work, or bump into someone from another company on your coffee break (you might, however, meet a fox on the way to the parking lot).

But the property is so large that it could be redeveloped to include all kinds of other uses. “If I had everything at my fingertips,” Mr. DeConde suggested, “I could reside at my home, roll into work, go down to the ice cream shop, get a sandwich, get a bagel, go out to dinner, go to the gym — and it’s all walkable.”

In other suburban office parks around the country, it will make financial sense to renovate outdated offices into modern ones, with at least some of those amenities. Other sites will have to become something fundamentally different: schools, senior living centers, apartment complexes, public parks, warehouses.

“I call it The Great Repurposing,” said Douglas A. Kiersey Jr., who is in the business of repurposing last century’s land uses into today’s logistics hubs. The real estate investment management firm he runs, Dermody Properties, plans to buy the 232-acre Allstate headquarters in suburban Chicago and redevelop it into a warehouse complex. That property “sits at the intersection of two dynamic changes to our lives,” Mr. Kiersey said. “The first one: work from home. And the second one is e-commerce.”

(It also sits on the Illinois Tri-State Tollway, which is especially valuable if you want to deliver iPhone chargers to wealthy consumers across Chicago’s north suburbs in two hours or less.)

For its part, Allstate recently bought an office building in downtown Chicago, although for what it hasn’t announced yet. The company no longer needs the suburban headquarters it has had for 55 years, it said in a statement, because 75 percent of its employees now work remotely, and 24 percent split their time between remote and in-person work. At a company where most workers went into the office daily for decades, today 1 percent do.

There was a time early in the pandemic when it seemed that suburban office parks might emerge as the winners in a restructuring of work. They’re the perfect setting to do business for people who don’t want to get too close to one another, or to hold working lunches. And they stood to benefit from several early pandemic assumptions: that workers would shun elevator buildings, that people would flee cities, that density was over.

“Essentially none of those have played out,” said Christian Beaudoin, head of global research advisory for the commercial real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle. In JLL data, vacancy rates in the first quarter of this year were higher for suburban offices than for the central business district in Chicago, Charlotte, Detroit, Philadelphia, Tampa and Washington. The firm estimates that 57 percent of suburban office space nationwide is so old as to be functionally obsolete. In the New Jersey suburbs of New York, that figure is 72 percent, among the highest in the nation.

It is true that a growing number of people moved to the suburbs during the pandemic. But employers didn’t particularly follow them. That’s because it’s not all that helpful to have a suburban office for your suburban workers when those workers actually live in very different suburbs far away. If anything, as people have moved farther out — encouraged by less frequent commuting — downtown locations have actually become more important, said Arpit Gupta, a professor at the N.Y.U. Stern School of Business. Downtowns are still the most central, accessible location for a scattered work force.

The larger pandemic trend, documented by Mr. Gupta and others, is that companies have been downsizing into upgraded buildings. Sometimes those better buildings are downtown. Sometimes they’re in the suburbs. Seldom are they in secluded office parks built in the 1970s.

“These offices were built to compartmentalize workers,” Dustin Read, a Clemson professor, said of office parks. “Encouraging people to bump into each other, collaborate, share ideas — they aren’t designed with that in mind.”

The office today, experts say, needs to have things your home doesn’t: meeting rooms, common spaces, nearby delis, other humans. The home office has essentially replicated the most valuable thing about suburban office parks — the quiet place to focus.

It’s a fitting end for the original concept: Offices meant to evoke and blend in among suburban homes have been cannibalized by actual homes.

A central insight of the office park in the 1940s was that bedroom communities would welcome workplaces if they were disguised by enough landscaping, Ms. Mozingo writes. And so the offices were set back from the road by broad lawns, and their low-slung buildings were tucked among trees (zoning that mandated this mirrored rules for suburban single-family homes).

Office parks were a nifty solution to the financial predicament of the suburbs, too: “They carry a big share of the tax load but don’t clutter up the countryside,” Businessweek wrote in 1951, as noted in Ms. Mozingo’s book.

“Combine that with by the time you get into the ’70s, there’s still an enormous amount of white flight out of cities, and out of downtowns,” said Ellen Dunham-Jones, a professor of architecture and planning at Georgia Tech. Here come instead “brand-new shiny office parks on the brand-new highways and pot-hole-free roads.”

The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 supercharged their construction by enabling developers to write off the depreciation of commercial real estate much faster. Suburban office parks spread all over, typically with more mundane architecture than the first corporate campuses, and a fraction of the landscaping.

The model gave employers more control over workers. There were few competitors nearby to poach them, no transit delays making them late, no retail that might stretch lunch hours too long. Viewed from today’s blurred boundaries between work and home, there was something welcome about that model for employees, too.

“It’s definitely isolated — to me, that was appealing,” said Dawn T. Grambone, who worked as an executive assistant at the Toys “R” Us campus for three years. She would drive down the property’s long, winding driveway every morning. “You just felt like you were going into another world.”

After Point View Wayne Properties bought the vacant Toys “R” Us site in 2019, it sought smaller tenants to occupy parts of the property while planning got underway for the redevelopment. But interest dwindled with the pandemic. Today the few tenants are clustered at one end of the main building, so Mr. DeConde doesn’t have to keep the lights on everywhere. There aren’t enough people around to justify operating the dining hall.

Eventually, 1,360 residential units are planned there, some for rent, some affordable. There will most likely be retail, recreation and more modern offices, too. Chris Kok, the township planner in Wayne, is picturing small businesses and start-ups at the site.

“If they grow, they might only grow from five employees to 10 employees, but you’re doubling the number of workers,” Mr. Kok said. “Some of the businesses are going to fail, some are going to thrive. You might get one or two that really take off.”

That is a very different proposition from a single corporate headquarters with 3,000 employees. And it implies a very different identity for the site, and the surrounding community, a transition that has been jarring in other New Jersey suburbs.

“It was absolutely shocking to many people that you would take an office building and knock it down, like we used to knock down factories,” said James W. Hughes, a professor at Rutgers. “Now it’s routine.”

But in many places, that idea is still settling in. It will mean taking land long zoned for offices, and allowing townhomes to be built among them, or permitting apartments or industrial-scale warehouses for the first time. Amid a nationwide housing crisis, many obsolete office parks could be ideal sites for denser housing.

Clay Grubb, another developer, has been looking for exactly these kinds of sites: office parks with a few acres of surface parking where he could build apartments affordable to people like teachers and nurses. Multifamily housing is expensive to build, but the land now being used for suburban parking lots is cheap, so the economics can work out (if the politics do). Then build one parking garage, Mr. Grubb said, and the workers park there by day, the residents by night.

“Five years ago, we were like, ‘Oh my God, this is just going to be a gold mine, nobody in the office business sees this, nobody in the multifamily business knows how to get to it,’” said Mr. Grubb, who is now doing this in the Southeast. But it turns out, he said, “not every community wants it.”

The problem for some suburban officials: “It’ll be, ‘Oh, what do you mean we can’t just zone for single-family homes and offices? That’s our thing. That’s why we exist,’” said Tracy Hadden Loh, a researcher at the Brookings Institution. “So now it’s like an existential crisis.”

Of course, the other possibility is that some of these old office parks won’t become anything else. Their owners may not be able to afford to renovate them. Their vacancy rates will rise. Other buildings, already vacant, won’t find new buyers.

“In general in the built environment,” Ms. Mozingo said, “no type of thing completely disappears, ever.”

That’s been true of factories, tenements, mills, canals. In some form, it’ll be true of the 20th-century suburban office park, too.

Friday Advice Column

by Kim

Two tricky office situations:

Different Strokes
I work in a small firm and we recently had to hire some new people. We received very few applications. One of the applicants had what seemed like a few red flags to me, including attending a conservative leadership institute and volunteering at a far-right state rep’s office. No one else in the firm noticed or mentioned these during the hiring process and we don’t all have the same political views, so maybe I found these more troubling than others.

Now we’ve hired him, in part because we had so few options. Soon after he started, he placed a large wooden cross on his desk, which I find odd and unprofessional. Recently, he brought in some photos for a bulletin board in his office, which include a picture of himself and three other men holding rifles. I find this picture offensive and inappropriate. We do not have clients in our office, so their reaction is not a concern. As a more senior person I am struggling with whether I should mention to this new hire — this is his first job — that he may want to think about what he displays in his office or whether I just need to let it go. In addition, his performance is lacking, so maybe this issue will resolve itself. What is the appropriate thing to do in this situation?

— Anonymous, Columbus, Ohio

Leading by Example
In the past six months, my organization approved the optional inclusion of pronouns in email signatures. I learned that one of my team members uses nonbinary pronouns. In my written communication and conversation about that team member, I now use those pronouns, but I notice that no one else has made the adjustment. As the supervisor of this team, how can I fix this situation?

I feel like the longer I wait to address it, the more disrespectful and complicit I’m being. I can’t police people’s language, but I would call someone out for other kinds of behavior I interpreted as disrespectful. (For what it’s worth, I don’t suspect anyone of being intentionally disrespectful by not using their colleague’s preferred pronouns.) The nonbinary colleague has not said anything to me about this being a problem, but I have to assume it feels dismissive. I feel I owe them an apology, but what I really owe them is better leadership. What would you do?

— Anonymous

True Crime Tuesday – The “Jason Bourne” Syndrome

by Rhode

This is a fairly famous case of Hannah Upp, who disappeared at least 2 times before fully disappearing in 2017. After recovering, she moved to new places and started over. Stress seems to trigger (or at least you can draw a link between stress and her disappearances).

This long New Yorker article goes through a lot about dissociative fugue (the real name for the Jason Bourne Syndrome), and how little we really know about the brain, personality, and memory. When people have dissociative fugues, they take on a new personality – new name, hobbies, etc. But Hannah didn’t. She seemed to just wander and go through some seemingly “rote” life experiences (going to the gym, checking email, going to Starbucks, etc.). It makes her case all the creepier because unless you knew her, you would never know anything is amiss. She has not recovered from her most recent fugue, where she disappeared from St. Thomas Island ~3 days before Hurricane Maria struck in 2017. Most likely she drowned at sea, but her family holds hope that she is still in a fugue state, living on another island enjoying her life.

If you’d like a shorter article, Ranker did a good job ( though it is Ranker, so not exactly in-depth journalism.

Makes one wonder… what would happen if a person in a dissociative fugue state commit crimes… how could you prosecute that? If we ever truly understand the brain, could we “make” a Jason Bourne? The movies are fun, but the reality is certainly scary.

Thursday open thread

We have an open thread all day.

Starter topic:  Are you going to any weddings this year?  Do you know many people getting married?

Wedding Guests Are Broke, Tired and Begging for Mercy
This year could approach a record for the number of marriages being celebrated; ‘Everyone and their mom in my life is getting married’

For Mackenzie Crocker, chats with friends and colleagues often turn to weddings. But Ms. Crocker has an unusually full bouquet of tidbits to add to the conversation. She expects to attend 18 wedding celebrations this year.

“Everyone and their mom in my life is getting married,” says Ms. Crocker, a 25-year-old from Conway, Ark. “It’s become a part of my personality at this point.”

The summer wedding season is upon us, and this time it’s coming down with the force of two tons of rice. Between nuptials delayed by the pandemic and those for recently engaged couples, this year could approach a record set in the 1980s for the number of marriages being celebrated. Ms. Crocker estimates more than half of her weekends over the past year featured a wedding, bridal shower or bachelorette party.

With so many weddings being held in 2022, the year has grown beyond busy and pricey for wedding guests. They face an array of conga lines, open bars, murky dress codes—“beach formal” anyone?—and going broke paying for travel and the best stand mixer in the department-store registry. (Fatigue also sets in; there’s only so many times you can do the “Cupid Shuffle,” notes Ms. Crocker.)

Almost 2.5 million weddings are expected to occur in the U.S. this year, according to data from the Wedding Report, a research firm. That figure doesn’t include instances where couples are hosting larger celebrations after eloping or having smaller weddings earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hire a declutterer?

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

Since we recently discussed decluttering:

On the local FB moms group, there was a discussion about hiring someone to come declutter the day or morning before the cleaning people come. Many people, including me, had never heard of this, but it is surprisingly common in my neighborhood. There followed a flurry of recommendations for declutterers and it looks like a bunch of local moms will now have a Tuesday declutterer before the Wednesday cleaners.

Would you do this? I won’t, BUT I’m not picking up after kids. It’s just me and DH, though we do an excellent job of cluttering the house in the two weeks leading up to the twice-monthly cleanings. I would be afraid that the declutterer would put stuff where I couldn’t find it.

Personal credit: where do you stand on it?

by Finn

I just put together a spreadsheet of ours and I’m sure we have a much higher numbers than we really need, but not easy to close accounts that we don’t use all the time.

Me: $239k with 15 Amex, Visa, Mastercard, even Discover. Additional $14k for store cards (Target, Home Depot, furniture store)
DW: $127k (Amex, Visa, MC) + Target

Obviously nice to have lots of credit available but what should I really get rid of? What have you done?

A surprise ‘Best Place to Live’

by Kim

Are you familiar with Huntsville, AL?  Does it surprise you that it was chosen for this year’s top place to live?

Why Huntsville Is the Best Place to Live in the U.S. in 2022-23
The Rocket City’s growing job opportunities, low cost of living and clean air help it take the top spot for the first time.

To some, Huntsville, Alabama, may seem an unlikely metro area to beat out 149 others in the U.S. News Best Places to Live ranking. With a population of less than 500,000, it’s smaller than a significant portion of places on the list and it’s off the beaten path when it comes to vacation destinations or typical spots people consider when moving to a new part of the country.

But this northern Alabama metro area offers the affordability and quality of life that people seem to be craving after years of a pandemic that forced them to stay home, opened up opportunities to work from home permanently and urged many people to consider their top priorities in a place to live.

Huntsville ranks as the No. 1 metro area in the Best Places to Live in the U.S. in 2022-23 rankings, unseating Boulder, Colorado, after two years at the top. The Best Places to Live rankings are determined by factoring in housing affordability, the job market, net migration, desirability and quality of life, which includes crime rate, college readiness among high school students, overall well-being among residents, average commute time, access to quality health care and air quality. With particularly high scores in housing affordability and quality of life, Huntsville took the top spot.

You may know Huntsville for its connection to aerospace.

For those in the aerospace industry, Huntsville is recognizable for its connection to NASA. The Marshall Space Flight Center is located in Huntsville on the U.S. Army Redstone Arsenal grounds, and the area has been a significant location for NASA since the peak of the space race.

Maybe you or one of your kids aspired to attend Space Camp in Huntsville.

If you had to choose one, which city in the top ten from the Best Places to Live in the U.S. would you select to make your home?

“Are you free for a call?”

by Lemon Tree

It now seems the norm in my company to IM a coworker before calling. What are your thoughts on this practice? Do you like a heads up that they are going to call? What about for a meeting? Do you prefer an IM or an email beforehand, warning you that a meeting invite is forthcoming?
The Twitter comments below show there is a divide –

Your morning routine

by AustinMom

A convergence of Houston’s post about the alarm clock, DD#1 receiving her work schedule that includes starting at 7:30 am our time, my struggle to get up every day as early as I do on Mondays (which used to be my everyday schedule) and some of your responses to Houston may be think about Morning Routines.

What is your morning routine? Do different days look different – aside from weekends? How long does your morning routine take?

I’ll go first. I have 3 morning routines Monday, Tuesday/Friday, and Wednesday/Thursdays. Monday I work a different job and Tuesday/Friday is when I take advantage of our “fitness leave” policy to use part of my work time for a work out. Here is my Monday:
5:30 am – Alarm goes off (Alexa – with weather, traffic, and news)
5:45 am – Out of bed and make it
5:50 am – Hit the shower and dress; start to air dry hair
6:10 am – Feed the cat
6:15 am – Check email for class roster. If new students, add a few extra things to my bag (which are heavy so I only take when needed.)
6:20 am – Breakfast (I do the Wordle, scan other email, or read some of my news feed)
6:40 am – Brush teeth, dry hair, etc. and quick pick up of the bathroom
6:55 am – Fill my water bottles and grab my mid morning snack (usually a bar or nuts)
7:00 am – Load the car and start commute

Wednesday open thread

We have an open thread all day.

Starter topic:

The average American woman is a size 18 today, up from a size 14 five years ago, according to Don Howard, executive director of Alvanon, which works with brands and retailers on sizing and fit.

Average waist size for American men from a few years ago is 40.2 inches.  Can you find more recent data?


Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg said this past Wednesday that her namesake company wants to cater to as many people as possible but that producing a wide range of sizes is expensive.

“If you are a size 2 and if you are a size 16, you do not use the same amount of fabric,” Ms. von Furstenberg said at The Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything Festival. “You also don’t want to penalize the small people [who would be] paying more because the price has to be the same. It may be very controversial to bring that up. But I think it’s important.”

Here’s the article:

Old Navy Made Clothing Sizes for Everyone. It Backfired.
The clothing brand’s push for inclusivity left it with a shortage of middle sizes. ‘It’s super-frustrating.’

Help is on the way?

Overweight people lost 35 to 52 pounds on newly approved diabetes drug, study says

Thursday open thread

We have an open thread all day.

Starter topic:

Translation: This house is odd.

Translation: Small and dark.

Translation: See: cozy.

Translation: It’s not landscaped.

Translation: It’s a wreck. Get out your checkbook.

Translation: It’s a wreck. Get out your checkbook.

Translation: Right in a flood zone.

Translation: Lace up your sneakers and pack a lunch.

Translation: It’s a teardown.

Translation: See: interesting design

Translation: “You can be sure the listing agent has already shown it to many others,” said Diane Saatchi, an associate broker in the East Hampton office of the real estate firm Saunders & Associates.

Translation: “Shouldn’t all properties be priced to sell?” Ms. Saatchi asked.

Translation: The previous price was too high.

Translation: “It’s overpriced,” Ms. Saatchi said.

Translation: The house could be three years old. Or 30 years old.

Translation: Inquire further. The house could overlook the railroad tracks.

Your best purchase

by Houston

What’s the best purchase that you’ve recently made? Why do you like it? How much did it cost?

For me, I bought two new nightgowns from Lands End (approx $22 each, on sale) and threw away two worn out nightgowns. I have a hard time throwing away old clothes–especially clothes that are not worn in public, but the new ones look nice and make me happy.

The best $17.59 I’ve ever spent: A totally normal alarm clock

Rich and happy

by Kim

Who are the rich people you know?

A groundbreaking 2019 study by four economists, “Capitalists in the Twenty-First Century,” analyzed de-identified data of the complete universe of American taxpayers to determine who dominated the top 0.1 percent of earners.

The study didn’t tell us about the small number of well-known tech and shopping billionaires but instead about the more than 140,000 Americans who earn more than $1.58 million per year. The researchers found that the typical rich American is, in their words, the owner of a “regional business,” such as an “auto dealer” or a “beverage distributor.”

This shocked me. Over the past four years, in the course of doing research for a book about how insights buried in big data sets can help people make decisions, I read thousands of academic studies. It is rare that I read a sentence that changes how I view the world. This was one of them. I hadn’t thought of owning an auto dealership as a path to getting rich; I didn’t even know what a beverage distribution company was.

Totebaggers should not be shocked since we’ve had discussions on this topic.

And what makes people happy?

… money is not a reliable path to happiness. Matthew Killingsworth of the University of Pennsylvania has studied data from more than 30,000 adults, far larger than previous studies of money and happiness. He debunked a popular myth that there is no effect of money on happiness beyond $75,000 per year, but he did confirm a law of diminishing returns to money. In the end, Dr. Killingsworth found, the effects of money level off: You need to keep doubling your income to get the same happiness boost….

The activities that make people happiest include sex, exercise and gardening….

Your thoughts?

Thursday open thread

We have an open thread all day.

Starter:  This is presented as a writing tip, but also applies to personal relationships.  Are you an asker or a guesser?  Do you have a mixed marriage?


Ask vs. Guess culture. This is a small difference in manner that can create huge conflicts between characters. And people! #booktok #writertok #characterdevelopment #askvsguess

♬ original sound – maryrobinette

More discussion:

Seasonal cooking

by Houston

Do you rotate recipes based on the season? Does you family prefer a stable list of favorites? Seasonal recipes are also welcome!

My cooking changes based on who is home. Now that DS2 has returned from college for the summer, I cook more substantial meals, knowing that there is an extra person at home to help eat the food.

Students are not OK

by Kim

Is it time to hold students accountable to higher standards?

The pandemic certainly made college more challenging for students, and over the past two years, compassionate faculty members have loosened course structures in response: They have introduced recorded lectures, flexible attendance and deadline policies, and lenient grading. In light of the widely reported mental health crisis on campuses, some students and faculty members are calling for those looser standards and remote options to persist indefinitely, even as vaccines and Covid therapies have made it relatively safe to return to prepandemic norms.

I also feel compassion for my students, but the learning breakdown has convinced me that continuing to relax standards would be a mistake. Looser standards are contributing to the problem, because they make it too easy for students to disengage from classes.

Student disengagement is a problem for everyone, because everyone depends on well-educated people. College prepares students for socially essential careers — including as engineers and nurses — and to be citizens who bring high-level intellectual habits to bear on big societal problems, from climate change to the next political crisis. On a more fundamental level it also prepares many students to be responsible adults: to set goals and figure out what help they need to attain them.

Higher education is now at a turning point. The accommodations for the pandemic can either end or be made permanent. The task won’t be easy, but universities need to help students rebuild their ability to learn. And to do that, everyone involved — students, faculties, administrators and the public at large — must insist on in-person classes and high expectations for fall 2022 and beyond.

It’s not only at the college level.  Highest rated comment:

As a middle school teacher, I can say that, it may not get better at the college level if we middle and high school teachers don’t step it up. The trauma-informed teaching framework has been taken too far, in that we are told as teachers what students cannot do because they have been traumatized, and how we need to give them space and leniency to deal with their emotions. What this means is that standards go out the window, and then students don’t learn because they are not being held accountable. It is important that we maintain high standards – in remote or in-person learning. Kids will rise, but we need to establish the metrics and then give them the tools. Blank stares, silence – this cannot be allowed to continue, and we have to remember that we have a responsibility to the future of this country to help students become thoughtful and engaged citizens.

The author writes that students need to develop ‘a positive sense of anxiety’ about their academics.  Personal relationships and in-person classes are proposed as part of the solution.

Professors must recognize that caring for students means wanting to see them thrive. That entails high expectations and a willingness to help students exceed them. Administrators will need to enact policies that put relationships at the center. That will mean resisting the temptation to expand remote learning, even if students demand it, and ensuring that faculty workloads leave time for individual attention to students.

Your thoughts?

In Praise of the Humble Totebag

by Houston

The article below is about actual Totebags, but I thought we could reprise the topic of Lessons or Tips Learned from this Forum. The most popular lesson from our last conversation was Rhett’s “dollar per unit of effort” theory.

What lessons or tips have you learned from our conversations? Have you read any of the recommended books? Bought the Athleta pants everyone keeps talking about?

In praise of the humble tote bag
They say so much about who we are and who we want to be.

Music and other diversions

by Cassandra

Do you pay attention first to the lyrics or the music? DH listens to the tune of a song, but pays much less attention to the lyrics. I pay attention to lyrics as a key part of enjoying the song. Which do you do?

As part of the empty nesting thing, DH and I have been going to concerts, going on music orientated vacations or weekend getaways. It wasn’t something I had envisioned a year ago. Do you all have an concept for extra time when the nest empties? Did you find options that you did or didn’t anticipate?

Types of fun

by Kim

What is ‘Type II fun,’ and why do some people want to have it? (WaPo)

… a “Fun Scale” often used by outdoor enthusiasts to describe the kind of enjoyment they get from their adventures or misadventures, as the case may be. Type II fun can feel terrible while you’re doing it, like climbing up a mountain on a cold winter’s night or running a 100-mile race, but when it’s over, your memory erases the miserable parts and you would do it again — for fun, of course.

“It’s exhilarating to be outside; it’s beautiful, it’s a community event,” said Shea Tinder, a licensed massage therapist who ran with her three young daughters in the shorter kid-friendly course and was one of many participants who described the event as Type II fun. (She also classified her family’s recent trip to Disneyland as Type II fun: waiting in lines with three overtired and overstimulated kids, which results in sharing their sense of thrill, awe and wonder on Space Mountain).

On this scale, Type I fun is an activity you’re sure you’ll enjoy, and you do. Think: sharing a nice meal with friends, going to the beach or a chill day of downhill skiing (using the chairlift, like normal people). Type III fun? It’s actually not fun at all. It’s often described as “harrowing,” like getting dangerously lost in the wilderness or trying to swim across the Atlantic. It often involves search-and-rescue, prayers and vows that you’ll never do it again.

But Type II fun? That’s the sweet spot. It challenges you without putting you in danger — and it’s often uncomfortable but in ways that also make you feel alive.

What are your versions of Type I and Type II fun?  Do you find yourself doing more of one or the other?  How much fun have you been having lately?

Tell us about your work day

by Houston

Do you work from home or commute to the office? Do you catch up on emails at night or have a hard cut-off time after which you don’t work? How are your work day changed, post-pandemic? What do you like and what do you want to change?

What activities have you given up?

by Cassandra

Over the weekend a SIL and I were talking. She’s given up skiing and thinks that she has her last horse. I think I’ve had my last ski run. What activities have you had to give up as you’ve gotten older? Have you given them up because of lack of interest, lack of enjoyment or a realization that you could get hurt and not be able to bounce back or simply being no longer physically strong enough? Do you miss them? Have you found replacement activities?

Credit card perks

by Kim

What are your most valued credit card perks?

The 5 Best Travel Perks You Can Get With Your Credit Card
From free hotel rooms to line-cutting privileges at the airport, here’s how to make your credit cards deliver ‘Champagne on a beer budget’

How important is Priority Pass?  Airport lounges in general?

6 Best Credit Cards For Priority Pass Lounge Access

Here’s what the The Points Guy says:

Best Travel Credit Cards of 2022

Which are your favorite credit cards, whether for travel or not?

Lost ambition

by Kim

In some ways it seems that young people today are not as ambitious as my peers were when I was starting my career.  Today many are happier to start out with a ‘nice job’ rather than strive for a demanding career.  Maybe they’re more realistic about the role of work in their lives.  Or maybe my memory fails me and my generation were not the go-getters that I seem to remember.

This article has a specific slant on the topic, but the general idea applies to many people.  At various points in our lives we readjust our notion of what our jobs mean to us.

Losing My Ambition

… By the time I was parenting a toddler and a newborn in lockdown, my idea of ambition had been permanently altered. I had to keep working to keep everyone fed and alive, and I realized I didn’t want or need more than that. I wasn’t willing to give up any more mental or emotional space to the idea that work itself was the pathway to something more. Work wasn’t my identity or my family; it was a means to an end.

There’s an illusion with work that everything you give up now, all the stolen time commuting, working overtime, checking your email and Slack notifications after hours, will somehow earn you freedom and capital in your later years. But the farce of “work hard now, play later” has been exposed for millennials and Gen-Zers; most of us will be working until we die. It’s hard to maintain your ambition in the face of that reality.

Do you see a difference between your views and those of younger millennials and Gen-Zers on this?  What has been your path from the enthusiastic first steps of your career to now?  Is there a point where you ‘lost your ambition’?