The lessons of Prohibition

by Mémé

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

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

Key takeaways from my reading are the following:

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

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

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

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

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

The Sandwich Generation

by AustinMom

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

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

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

The Sandwich Generation

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

Which live events are worth the money?

by L

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

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

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

Should kids learn cursive?

by Honolulu Mother

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

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

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

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

Grocery bills

by MBT

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

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

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

Russia’s ‘loneliest woman’

by WCE

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

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

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

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

by Grace aka costofcollege

Today we have an open thread, with hijacks welcome.

Here’s a topic to get you started:

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

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

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

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

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

Social media — what not to do

by Louise

The 10 worst parental crimes on social media

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

Powerball fantasy

by Finn

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

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

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

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

Your first time

by Grace aka costofcollege

Your first time buying a house, of course!

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

I remember this:

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

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

Self-study SAT prep?

by Honolulu Mother

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

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

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

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

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

Open thread — politics or whatever

by Grace aka costofcollege

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

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

Political Polarization & Media Habits

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

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

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


by MooshiMooshi

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

Introducing the 2015 Epicurious Cookbook Canon

and another on Huffington Post

The Best, Most Useful Cookbooks Of All Time

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

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

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

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

So here is my list, not in any particular order

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

What are your go-to cookbooks?

The Oscars

by L

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


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

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

College fit

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

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

Poor and traumatized at Harvard

Race in America

by Grace aka costofcollege

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

Here’s one.

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

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

To splurge or not to splurge?

by Grace aka costofcollege

Some questions to ponder:

  1. What is worth splurging on?
  2. What were splurges that were NOT worth it?
  3. What was the splurge that got away?  The one you regretted not buying?

A splurge doesn’t necessarily have to be exorbitantly expensive.  It could be a small luxury that you feel is worth the few extra bucks.

Some examples of splurges that are totally worth it might include water-view hotel rooms, a housekeeper, or premium quilted toilet paper.  Some examples of splurges that were not worth it might be expensive meals that disappointed, fancy dining room furniture that is rarely used, or a treadmill that ends up serving mainly as a clothes hanger.  The splurge that got away may be that fixer-upper home in the San Francisco Bay area that you passed on a few years ago.

Here are some of mine:
Splurges that are worth it:  Aisle seats on a plane and non-stop flights.
Splurges that were not worth it:  Upgrade to business class.
Splurges that got away:  That cute gemstone necklace I saw in a Brooklyn boutique but I thought was too expensive.  I still think about it and I’ve never seen anything I like quite as much.

This post was inspired by these CollegeConfidential threads:

Stuff worth SPLURGING for

Splurges That Weren’t Worth It

The one that got away or what I should have splurged on

When speech signifies class

by bklurker

Almost all of us code switch to some degree – make changes in speech and behavior depending on the situation and audience (such as adults who speak differently with friends and family than with strangers or coworkers, or children with their friends versus their parents or teachers.) I wonder how deeply parents and teachers/supervisors are involved in helping to define that difference.

A few incidents have made me think about this recently. I recently finished the second Elena Ferrante Neapolitan novel and was amazed to find out that well into the 1960s speaking Italian, instead of regional dialect, not only required training and effort, but was considered a snobbish affectation in certain circles, while, conversely, speaking Italian with a regional accent marked one as less educated. The second incident was visiting with my kindergarten-age nephew in a Boston suburb. He enjoyed testing my reaction to saying that he’s in “kindagahden”, as they say in the public announcements at his school. I’m originally from the lesser exurbs of Boston and have always found the accent to be offensive; the real accent only slightly less aggravating than the recent Hollywood portrayals. He reveled in my distaste as he had in his parents’ “We do not speak that way”. But how could we tell him why without insulting the people who do? How do we explain socio-economic class and its signifiers to a five-year old?

So here are some questions for discussion – how do you deal with accents and/or appropriate speech with your children? Do the accents only apply to the east coast, Texas and girls from California? How much code switching occurs naturally and how much does it have to be cultivated by family or serious self-study of higher culture to escape a perceived lower class? How do children (and young adults) learn to differentiate slang and texting from proper speech and written communications?

And at work – is it a hindrance to moving up in your company? Have you ever coached someone to speak/behave differently to get ahead?

Here are a few articles (since we always need links here…) The first is an NPR explainer on code switching, the second is about Hollywood’s golden age of the mid-Atlantic accent.

How Code-Switching Explains The World

The Rise and Fall of Katharine Hepburn’s Fake Accent

Is special education a ‘charade’?

by Grace aka costofcollege

The Special-Education Charade
Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs, are one of the greatest pitfalls of the country’s school system.

This article was written by a mother who believes she is in special education “hell”, where federal laws meant to serve her child have failed.  Some Totebag parents have shared similar stories and others have suggested that parents expect too much these days.

In this case, “charade” may have different meanings depending on how individualized our public schools can afford to be and what your personal experience has been.  This article drew over 1,000 comments, including this one that was rated the most popular.

… As I read the story, the solution to the situation was obvious, and you found it at the end: more money; a lot of it. You are now spending $33k (not including transportation costs either, I’m sure) at a private school.

The U.S. pays a lot (compared to most other countries) in taxes for public schools, but not anywhere approaching $33k per kid. Nor are we going to get anywhere close to that in the current political environment (in fact, the trend is going the other way).

So beyond doubling/tripling the money we’re spending to properly be prepared for 5-15 kids in a 25-35 person classroom who go ” ballistic if he (thinks) some rule inconsistently enforced”, need individualized printouts, individualized instruction, monitoring of medication, etc, what is the solution? And how was it better before the ADA et al?


Life Insurance: What Kinds, and How Much?

by North of Boston

I am wondering if I could call upon the wisdom of The Totebag regarding a question I have about my life insurance. I would also be interested in having a general discussion about life insurance. It’s not the most thrilling topic, I know, but it’s one that I imagine is on the minds of many of us.

Like many people, I bought term life insurance before my first child was born. When I was expecting my second child, I increased my coverage (from $700,000 to $1,000,000). There was no in-depth analysis that went into choosing those amounts – I just sort of did a rough, back-of-the-envelope estimate of what seemed sufficient. I am now nine years into a 20-year policy, and happily, I am still alive and well (knock on wood).

My insurance agent called me the other day to point out that my term policy is convertible to permanent (whole-life) insurance for one more year. Not surprisingly, he extolled the virtues of permanent insurance, and encouraged me to consider converting part of my term policy to whole-life

In the past, I would have dismissed this suggestion out of hand. Whole-life insurance is expensive, and I’ve always assumed that the dollars spent on it would be better invested elsewhere. But now I’m wondering whether whole-life insurance could be a decent part of a diversified financial portfolio. My husband and I have significant exposure to equities in our retirement accounts, so maybe the unspectacular-but-steady returns of a whole-life policy might provide a good complement to those investments. Down the road, in our old age, he and I could borrow against the cash value of the policy if we needed to, essentially giving us another source of tax-free retirement funds (in addition to a couple of Roth accounts that we have). If we didn’t end up needing the cash value, we could leave the policy, intact, to our kids.

Is there any merit to these ideas, or are they just the sales pitch of an insurance agent who is looking to earn a big commission?

Totebaggers, would you ever think about adding permanent life insurance as part of your financial portfolio? More generally, what kind of life insurance do you have? How much do you have? What were the factors that you considered in deciding what kind and how much insurance to buy? Do you feel you are adequately insured, or is adding insurance on your to-do list for the new year?

Childless, or child-free?

by Grace aka costofcollege

25 Famous Women on Childlessness

Among the quotes:

“I would have been a terrible mother because I’m basically a very selfish human being. Not that that has stopped most people going off and having children.” — Katharine Hepburn

It should be noted that terminology matters.  “Childless” can imply something is lacking while “child-free” can imply choice.

No Kids for Me, Thanks

Childless people often face discrimination or pity.  Some are happy with their decision, but others feel dissatisfaction or even regret.  Sometimes childlessness is a deliberate choice, and sometimes it’s just what happens.

Most Totebaggers have or plan to have children.  How did you make your decision about this?  Did you always want children, or was that not a priority for you?  Do you have regrets?  What about your childless friends or relatives?  Do you find they are happy about how things turned out?  Would you be disappointed if you never had grandchildren?

All about hair

by Louise

My family has become a little hair obsessed. I found a local barber shop that does a great job of DS’s hair. DS is now quite happy with his hair and is actually using a brush and looking in the mirror before he heads out. DD and I spent time looking at updos for dance. I had to practice using YouTube and I ended up with a mini salon. Combs, hair pins, hair spray, donut (for updo). I hope I have mastered how to do her hair and the updo doesn’t fall down as she dances. DH is trying out hair color and sometimes the color comes out more red than black. Then in a panic he rushes to a professional for a color fix. I am wondering whether to get a haircut and shake up my hair style.

Totebaggers what hairy tales or advice do you have. Any products that you like ? Discuss!

Nanny government applied to public housing residents

by Honolulu Mother

When the Government Tells Poor People How to Live

Totebaggers, what do you think of the scheme outlined in this article? I know some of you strongly dislike paternalistic government programs. Do you find it any more acceptable in this context, where it’s applied as a condition of receiving a government benefit rather than universally?

2015 year in review and looking ahead to 2016

by Grace aka costofcollege

Let’s reflect on 2015.  During this past year we had births, deaths, and other important life events here among Totebaggers.  Many of the less momentous topics of discussion — parenting, meal planning, careers, personal finances, etc. —  led to lively discussions and improved understanding for many of us.

Totebag posts that received the most page views in 2014:

  1. Friday Fun: The Experienced Parent
  2. The Cost of Extracurricular Activities
  3. Instant Pot 101
  4. Financial Safeguards For The Unemployed Spouse
  5. Ask The Totebag: A Parenting Surprise
  6. Sweet Briar College Is Closing
  7. Middle Class Discussion
  8. Child Genius
  9. Women Who Negotiate
  10. Parenting Rules

2015’s highs and lows, ups and downs, hits and misses. And looking ahead to 2016.

I’m not sure what the highlights of 2015 were for me, but I’m thankful I escaped death and serious illness among close family members.  After some challenging times, both my kids had a good year with important accomplishments.  I reconnected with extended family members.  We bought a new car that has improved the convenience and comfort of our daily lives.  I continued to be disappointed in my eternal quest to significantly improve my personal productivity, but I did find that the simple trick of prioritizing with razor-sharp focus on just 3-4 tasks a day has made a difference.  And I look forward to an important family wedding this coming spring.

Was it a good year for you?  Or are you mainly relieved you survived 2015?  Did you get a promotion?  Or were you stagnant or downsized at work?  What new gadgets or habits helped make your life easier?  Did you improve your finances, or find yourself spending more than intended?  Did you find any particular Totebag advice that helped or did not help?  What was most memorable about 2015?  What are you looking forward to in 2016?  Any New Year’s resolutions?

Company benefits and perks

by Grace aka costofcollege

Inspired by a CollegeConfidential discussion about Work Holiday Perks I began to wonder about the most common or latest types of employment benefits.  Long-term parental leave has been in the news recently, with New York City one of the latest to offer this to some of its employees.

A young person I know scored big with time-off policies when he recently changed jobs to a London-based employer.  They offer at least 24 vacation days to everyone, plus they close the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  He was thrilled because most employers only offer 10-15 vacation days for their U.S.-based junior employees.

Flexibility is an important workplace perk for Totebaggers.  What other benefits do you value?  Do you see any trends, positive or negative, in job benefits?

Happy New Year!  There will not be a post tomorrow, but maybe you can share how you rang in the new year and any other topics on your mind.

A Somber Holiday

by Anonymous

Yesterday I heard that a friend’s younger brother had died of a drug overdose.

This is the third 20-something in my neighborhood to pass away from an overdose in 2015. Drug overdose deaths are up 6.5 percent over 2014, and there has been a spike in heroin-related deaths in particular.

All of the ones I knew were from UMC families, with devoted parents who went to every school play, soccer practice and band concert. Two of the three went to good colleges. The other started his own business after high school instead.

When over 400 people showed up for one of the funerals, the eulogist looked out at the congregation and said: “it’s great to see so many here, but we should all ask ourselves: where was I when Michael needed me? We all have an hour to go to his funeral now, but what would that hour have meant – over 400 hours with his friends, his extended family, his classmates and neighbors – when he was still alive? Could we have saved his life?”

What can parents do? What can the community do? What are you telling your kids?

Is there a sports bubble?

by Honolulu Mother

This Daily Beast article argues that a sports bubble has grown up fueled by the cable bundle model, but that the cable-cutting trend is going to pop that bubble because not enough people will want to pay $35 for a stand-alone ESPN subscription.

Big-time college sports has been blamed for a share of the inflation in college tuition, by siphoning off tuition and student fees at the expense of colleges’ academics and facilities.

We’ve seen both effects locally, with college students complaining about hikes in student fees to support a football team that relatively few students go to see play, and unenthusiastic fan response to the high ticket prices and even-higher-priced cable tv package for watching those games.  (The stadium’s location 10+ miles away from the campus probably doesn’t help students feel connected to the team either.)  At the same time, one interesting sidenote in the recent Mizzou protests was the light it shed on the relative power of the president versus the football coach within the institution.

Public money for a new stadium, usually on the premise that it will bolster economic development, is a frequent municipal bone of contention.  And on the international level, the increasing cost of hosting the Olympics, and the increasing reluctance of countries to bid to do so, has led to speculation about whether future games will be hosted only by autocracies.

I enjoy watching the occasional game, but I don’t have strong sports loyalties — I’m the type of viewer who’ll watch the Superbowl and some World Cup games and favorite Olympic sports, but doesn’t tune in regularly or follow a team.  From my perspective, I’m inclined to agree that there is something of a sports bubble going in several areas, but I don’t see it popping immediately.  The cable business model is the one I see as likely to change first.  I think it would take a mass student defection to lower-spending Division II and III schools for the big college sports schools to rethink the role of athletics at their institutions, and I don’t think the supply of strongmen interested in playing host to international games is going to dry up in the near future.

Totebaggers, what do you think?  Is there a sports bubble in cable, college sports, or elsewhere?  And if so, do you think it’s due to burst?


How Taxpayers Keep the NFL Rich

The growing gap between rich and poor parenting

by MooshiMooshi

This article, on the widening gap in childrearing practices between the upper classes and the lower classes, seems right up Totebag territory. I couldn’t resist.

Most interesting to me was this passage.

Less-educated parents, and poorer and black and Latino parents are more likely to believe that there is no such thing as too much involvement in a child’s education. Parents who are white, wealthy or college-educated say too much involvement can be bad.

Interesting, because while parents may say they value either greater or lesser involvement, their behavior is the opposite. Upper class and upper middle class parents are very interventionist, bringing in tutors, therapists, special ed advocates at the first signs of any trouble – and hold the school administrator’s and teacher’s feet to the fire. Conversely, my college students, who are mainly from lower class circumstances, find the idea of parents knowing ANYTHING about their education to be strange. Many of them have non-English speaking parents from cultures that defer completely to the school authorities.

I do think, however, that the lip service we give to independence for our kids is a completely white, WASP-y ideal. My friends who are Hispanic or Asian largely do not share this ideal, and in fact, even my husband’s white-but-ethnic family does not share this ideal at all.

Here is the link. Total Totebag Fodder.

Class Differences in Child-Rearing Are on the Rise

What makes a good party?

by Grace aka costofcollege

With holiday season in full swing, the question of what makes a good party was posed to some celebrities.  Some of their answers were predictable (the mix of guests) while others were slightly more eccentric (topless vacuum girls).

10 Celebrities on What Makes a Great Party

Another writer is unhappy that her friends seem to squeeze “90 percent of the year’s parties into two godforsaken weekends” during the holidays.  She wants fewer lame holiday parties and more parties spaced out during the rest of the year.

… Is it really so hard? Is it rocket science, buying a case of beer and a bag of pita chips? Don’t bother vacuuming. Throw a real party, in January, or June, or October. You know you want to. You love parties. You miss them. You want to throw a rager so bad it hurts. And you know just the thankless curmudgeon to invite.

Stop Throwing Terrible Holiday Parties

Are you attending many parties this holiday season?  Are you hosting a party?  Or are you spending the holidays cocooning at home or pursuing other activities?

What makes a good party?  What are some of the best and worst parties you’ve attended or hosted?

We typically host large family dinners during the holidays, and the topic of seating arrangements seems to elicit strong opinions among some people.  At dinner parties, do you prefer to be seated next to your Significant Other or do you prefer to sit next to other guests? (This assumes that tending to young children is not part of the equation.)


No post tomorrow on Christmas Day, but we can comment on how our holiday weekend is coming along.  Which gifts were winners, and which were losers?

Merry Christmas!

Kitchen trends and fads

by laurafrombaltimore

My favorite topic: kitchen porn! Fad or trend?

Small Kitchens, by Choice

My nominee for the “well, duh” award: “The novelty of a small kitchen may well change once the millennials start families.” Ya think? Well-paid singles and DINKs have always found ways to blow their extra money and time; for DH, it was mountain bikes and scuba gear; for these guys, it’s the “overpriced hipster 7-Eleven” and food shopping several times a week. But priorities tend to change when the kids come along.

What are your favorite/least favorite kitchen trends or fads?

Maybe charity shouldn’t begin at home

by Honolulu Mother

I was interested to see the four charities listed in this article as the places able to do the most good with new donations this year: “These are the charities where your money will do the most good”. They’re addressing problems that wouldn’t have automatically occurred to me, and one of them involves just giving money directly to individual recipients. I’ve done microlending before, but perhaps just giving money is a better approach. The article also suggests focusing on giving abroad due to the much greater need, which is probably true, but I’m not about to stop grabbing those “$X can feed Y people lunch for a week!” coupons that are available to add to your purchase at the grocery checkout this time of year.

My wealthy alma mater is probably the least morally justifiable of my donations.

Do you step up your charitable giving during the holidays? What are some of your favorite charities?

Another way to label income groups

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

And here’s a piece from Robert Reich. I mostly found it interesting because he has new labels for various income groups. Whether Bernie is The Answer is up for debate. For Totebaggers, I think some of us are “Overclass” and some of us exist in the apparently unmentionable land between $300K and $1M.

There are now four classes in America: an underclass, an anxious class in the middle, an overclass, and an oligarchy at the very top.

The underclass is the bottom 20 percent with family incomes under $26,000 this year, who live in marginal neighborhoods, whose kids attend lousy schools, and whose families are in continuous danger of hunger, homelessness, or serious medical problems.

The anxious class is the old middle class — 75 percent of Americans, with family incomes between $26,000 and $80,000 a year, whose jobs are becoming less secure and who are living paycheck to paycheck, and most of whose children will not live as well as they do.
The overclass is the top 5 percent, earning between $80,000 and $300,000 a year, who still feel pressured and worry about the future but can afford to live in good neighborhoods and send their kids to good schools.

The oligarchy is the top 0.1 percent, most earning over $1 million a year and sitting on over $15 million of wealth, who now possess almost all the power. Through their political contributions, lobbying, “think tanks,” and media, they essentially rule America – influencing politicians and organizing the market to get most of the economic gains.

It’s a vicious cycle. The only way to reverse it is through a political revolution of the sort Bernie has been advocating.

What do you think?

Retirement planning

by Finn

We’ve had discussions here before about what we plan to do (or in some cases, actually do) in retirement (most of us would sleep more), and Rocky recently conducted a survey on how much money we need to be comfortable in retirement, and how much we expect to have.

But we haven’t had much discussion here of how we plan to get there financially.

What vehicles do you use to accumulate assets to support your retirement? 401k? IRA? Roth, or regular? Mutual funds? ETFs? Rental real estate? Medical Savings Accounts? Deferred annuities?

As we approach year end, and then tax season, this may be higher on our minds than during the rest of the year.

Food writer’s complaint: ‘Easy’ cooking isn’t

by Honolulu Mother

A food writer who now has a one year old wrote an Atlantic article on The Myth of Easy Cooking. Her basic complaint is that although lots of books and articles promise easy dishes, they mostly are not quick or easy enough to meet the needs of someone with a toddler to feed and less than 15 minutes to get dinner on the table.

My main response was to think, “That kid won’t be a toddler forever.” And my second response, regarding the fish sauce, was that if you want to cook with fish sauce on the regular, you already have a bottle on hand. It lasts. But her broader point, I think, is that for a truly novice cook these “easy” recipes really aren’t “easy” in the same way as learning how to salt and pepper pork chops and put them under the broiler, or how to make a white sauce to be used for creamed everything on toast. Bittman-style recipes are “easy” for someone like me (or the people writing them) who has a stocked pantry and cooking skills already, but if we gave recipes skill ratings what’s usually called “quick and easy” now might be quick in the hands of an experienced cook but is not really “easy” for an inexperienced cook.

Recipes that use canned soup concentrate or cake mixes are obviously anathema to the Bittman crowd, and even the linked article didn’t mention them, but I do think they serve a useful role in getting kids and other new cooks started. Even if a recipe is basically ‘dump a box of cake mix, a box of jello, and a can of soda together and then bake,” it’s a step toward baking.

I know some Totebaggers have wrestled with getting family dinners on the table after work, especially those in that special time of life when you have little people hanging off you whining who will move on to full-stage tantrums if not fed within the next ten minutes. Any cookbook suggestions for new cooks still trying to learn their way around the kitchen? Or 15 minute dinner suggestions?

Different types of spiritual communities

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

When Some Turn to Church, Others Go to CrossFit

Do you have a “church”? For those who actually go to church, is that your “real” church in the sense described in the article?

I can tell you that for those who are a little too old for Crossfit, I’ve seen Aqua Fitness classes function as “church” in every place I’ve ever lived. They even served that way for my dad before he died. The entire group at the pool sent a very touching sympathy card when he passed.

Ideas for gift giving

Two Totebaggers seek advice about gift giving, and you can post your own questions in the comments.

Gift giving on a budget

by Louise

I like to give gifts but I have to look at my budget as well. DH has over the years delegated gift giving to me. I primarily buy for my nieces and nephews. For the adults it is occasional gifts if I think they would enjoy them.

I try not to splurge. In a nod to MMM, I had my DD “save” her birthday gifts (craft kits) and open them in the lean months.

What are your strategies for gift giving on a budget, saving gifts for later or do you turn into MMM (modern day Scrooge) and declare a gift free holiday ?

Gift giving for families in transition

by SWVA Mom

I was wondering today if I should get my estranged husband a Christmas gift and thought I should ask the Totebag. Do you or your friends/family exchange holiday gifts with the ex-spouse? If so, what’s appropriate? More specifically, is booze OK?

Do you help young children purchase something nice for their other parent or just let them go with the craft project they made at school? I’m not there yet, but same question for step-siblings who might come into the picture.

What about ex-in-laws? (I did send gifts to my nieces.) And do you still exchange holiday cards with the ex’s aunts/uncles/cousins?

Any other holiday etiquette tips for families in transition? Please share your funny stories or cautionary tales about broken & blended family holidays.

I wish I lived in Theory… everything works in theory

by WCE

I read this article not long after LfB’s Nov 10 post “The Welfare Myth” and others where many Totebaggers expressed support for “adequate” levels of social support, with “adequate” not thoroughly defined. :)

This Washington Post article discusses the problems with both Democrat and Republican approaches to tax policy. You can’t cut taxes and maintain our current government, Republican candidates, and other than new defense spending (vs. VA benefits, what I consider “back end defense spending”), there is little government spending that the public supports eliminating. Democratic candidates don’t want to admit that raising taxes on the 1% is not going to generate much revenue.

What do you think?

The coming middle-class tax increase

College gender ratios

by Finn

As college looms closer and closer (and for those with toddlers, it’s sooner than you think), there are many factors to consider as our kids narrow down their choices.

One possible factor is sex assault, and the impact of gender ratios on that:

What a massive sexual assault survey found at 27 top U.S. universities

Unequal Gender Ratios at Colleges Are Driving Hookup Culture

Hookup culture isn’t the real problem facing singles today. It’s math.

Is this something you are, or will, consider, or encourage your kids to consider, as they make their college choices?

One takeaway for me is to be glad that DD liked Caltech and, at least at this point, has that on her lists of colleges she might want to attend.

WCE and I have discussed here some of the benefits to females of majoring in engineering, and this is another benefit, which we haven’t discussed previously.

‘Do your job’

by Mémé

We don’t have many small business owners with employees among our active contributors, but at least one of the farmers has often commented on the difficulty of finding reliable employees at the fair wage offered. Yesterday I had to stop in at Petco to drop off 24 cans of dog food (no dogs in our house) that had been included in our regular repeat order of cat food. My order was complete, I wasn’t charged for the extra stuff, but it was not the first time that my order had been incorrectly picked at the warehouse. I gave the box to the store manager and she said she would donate it to a local shelter. She also said that it was a known issue – she rarely got the correct inventory shipments herself. I asked if the company used contract job fillers – we have had local exposés on the practice of bringing a van to a neighborhood of poorly documented non English speakers and charging for transportation even if there is no work for the day when they arrive at the remote warehouse. She said, no, we hire our own employees, information I confirmed by some simple internet sleuthing.

That got me thinking about pride of work and the nobility of labor. A lot is made of the precipitous decline in work opportunity and wage levels for men with no more than a high school education. There are also stories of wage theft, demand scheduling and other abusive employer practices. But that doesn’t explain why many workers who have jobs do sloppy work, don’t arrive at work on time, why they don’t get any satisfaction out of doing their job well.

Totebaggers, do you think that the cultural denigration of hard work with one’s hands plays a large part in this? Is it just the relatively low wages? Is the decline of organized labor related to a lack of respect for jobs which by their nature do not require or even permit self-direction or entrepreneurial spirit?

Are your political views similar to your parents’?

by Honolulu Mother

This article highlights a study finding that people tend to adopt what they believe are their parents’ political leanings — even though in many cases they are wrong about their parents’ views!

People Mostly Inherit What They Think Are Their Parents’ Politics

Do you know who your parents voted for when you were growing up, and do you share their political views now?

In my case, my mother and father usually voted for opposite parties in national elections while I was growing up, but in the last few presidential cycles my father has migrated to the Democrats. He’s not ever going to be a Sanders voter — he liked Jim Webb — but he views Obama as being closer to the old-style Eisenhower Republicans than are the current Republicans. So my own politics are indeed close to theirs.

How about the rest of you?

Rules for being a gentleman or a lady

by Grace aka costofcollege

Are there certain rules for being a gentleman or a lady?

When to text an emoji, riding a horse… and undoing a bra with one hand: Country Life reveals its 39 key skills every modern gentleman should have

The 39 rules for being a lady: Country Life decreed this week there are 39 rules for being a gentleman. In the interests of equality, LIBBY PURVES offers her exquisitely witty response

Many of the rules listed make sense to me, for both men and women:

6. Wears his learning lightly

25. Can pay the tab in a restaurant without making it obvious.

Some might be considered less important.

29. Would never own a Chihuahua

I actually like most of these.  What do you think?  What are your rules?

Did I miss my calling as a government bureaucrat?

by WCE

Room for Debate:  Is VW Proof That Businesses Can’t Regulate Themselves?

I enjoyed this “Room for Debate” article on the necessity of regulation and strongly disagreed with Ian Adams. Companies are NOT going to regulate themselves well. The safety and environmental practices of oil companies in the late ’80’s and ’90’s, when oil prices were at an inflation-adjusted low, convinced me of that. No (Almost no?) company will lose money in order to comply with expensive regulations

However, compared to some countries, the US politicizes its regulation and forces particular geographic areas to bear the costs of federal regulation. (If we would allow removal of dead trees and/or limited logging on public lands, forest fires in the West might be less severe.) In China, the bureaucrats are all from one party, so they can focus on the technical, economic and social effects of their policies, rather than whether a particular policy will appeal to a party’s base.

In addition to understanding technical aspects of policies, regulators also need to be knowledgeable and to understand unintended consequences. In my opinion, they should be non-partisan. I can imagine an appropriate role for academics in drafting regulation, since they are less vulnerable to corporate volatility and profit demands than people employed by companies in competition with one another.

What skills would it take to become a good regulator? Would you have any interest in this type of career, or is regulatory policy so convoluted and partisan that real improvement is virtually hopeless?


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.  ***