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 epicurious.com

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 epicurious.com, 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. Epicurious.com and NY Times Cooking.com. 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.

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 2015:

  1. Hot political issues
  2. Totebaggy values
  3. Open thread
  4. Secret shame
  5. Supersmart kids
  6. On the fundamental inequality of the sexes
  7. Lean in?
  8. The unbearable hellishness of customer support
  9. The Frugalwoods
  10. Monday open thread & The GOP’s future? (tie)

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?