What’s Your Favorite and/or Latest Gadget?

by Seattle Soccer Mom

Fellow Totebaggers – have any favorite gadgets you’d like to share? What’s the most recent gadget you’ve acquired? My latest gadget is the Chef’n PalmMincer Fresh Herb Mincer. I have several recipes that call for minced fresh herbs and I find this gadget much faster than using a knife to chop them.


ALSO, go to the Totebag 30-Day Challenge final countdown! page to declare your participation.  We start on Sunday, May 1.


Informational graphics (and some housing information)

by WCE

Why the Great Divide Is Growing Between Affordable and Expensive U.S. Cities

Given my abstract interest in demographics and my practical interest in moderate cost of living areas, I enjoyed this article on how housing prices have changed since 1980. I especially enjoyed the graphic below.

Did anything in the article surprise or trouble you, or is it all “old news”? What do you like or dislike about the graphic, which I’ve also pasted below?



GPS and navigation skill

by Honolulu Mother

Technology: Use or lose our navigation skills

Is GPS ruining our ability to navigate for ourselves?

The above articles suggest that our increased reliance on automated GPS or smartphone directions is eroding our ability to get around without them. Do you find that to be the case? Do you think it’s a problem? And has GPS ever betrayed you?

I don’t use GPS that much myself, largely because I live on an island and I know how to get places, and if I don’t, I can easily check the directions and even “drive” down the street via Google StreetView before I go. But when I have used it, it has a different “feel” than finding my own way and I can see how it could over time replace the old-style navigation skills.

I haven’t gotten spectacularly lost following smartphone directions — not like the Gibraltar guy! — but I did once end up at a residence when trying to get to the local ice rink with a car full of girls. Maybe it was the owner’s house? If I’d been really looking around instead of trustingly following the directions I would have realized the problem sooner.

Cliques, social groups, and popular kids

Today we have two posts on similar topics

Cliques and social groups

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

Grace:  Oh, he’s very popular Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads – they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.

I had an interesting discussion with some online friends the other day. In my high school, the social groupings were very much like the scene above from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Well, not quite, but we had the rah-rahs, the jocks, the jockettes, the nerds (represent!), the burnouts, the Beautiful People, the Jesus Freaks, the stoners, the Band Geeks, and more that I’m probably forgetting.

My friend from Florida: “Are you crazy? We had three groups. The whites, the blacks, and the Cubans. That’s it”
My friend from rural Ontario, Canada: “We didn’t have social groups. We were all rural Canadians.”

And I kind of get that. At Paly in my day, we had a black kid. Her name was Cammie. She didn’t really count as a social group, though. So the many, many white kids all subdivided ourselves into the groups I mentioned.

Do your kids go to a school with many different social groups, or are they mostly divided by race? By rural/urban? Something else? What about your high school?


Popular kids

by Louise

Recent posts from Totebaggers have described taking action against bullies. My kids are now navigating through the tween years where kids split into groups. I would describe my kids as being in the middle – generally getting along with everyone. Do you see a change from when you went to school ? Have the anti bullying and respect for different types of kids programs worked ? If you could go back what would you do differently ?

Popular Kids

Geography matters for the poor

by MooshiMooshi

The NYTimes has been doing a series on health and longevity among different groups, All of the articles have been interesting, but this one popped out at me: If you are poor, where you live has a big impact on your lifespan.

And it turns out you are much better off in large cities on the coasts.

According to the article, if you are wealthy, you can pretty much live anywhere without an impact on your lifespan. That isn’t surprising, since the wealthy live pretty much the same way, and have access to similar services, no matter where they live.

But if you look at the chart towards the end of this article, you can see that the places where poor people live longer are pretty much clumped on the coasts: For poor men, the longest lifespans are in NYC, San Jose, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Newark, Boston. Poor women live longest in Miami, NYC, Santa Barbara, San Jose, San Diego, Port San Lucie, Newark, Los Angeles, Portland ME, Providence.

Now look at the places where poor people have the shortest lifespans: Gary, Indianapolis, Tulsa, Las Vegas, Cincinnati, Knoxville, Little Rock and so on. Not a coastal city on the list, save possibly Honolulu which shows up for women but not men (what is with that?). Clearly something bad is going on in the middle of the country. The article mentions the drug abuse belt. But why is drug abuse so much worse in the middle of the country?

The positive takeaways from this article: first, average lifespans among the poor are still pretty good, but clearly should be better, especially among men living in the lower middle of the country. And second, poverty is not destiny: cities on the coasts are doing something right in terms of keeping poor people healthier. We need to figure out what that is.

The Rich Live Longer Everywhere.
For the Poor, Geography Matters.

Storage and the ‘4Ds’

by Grace aka costofcollege

Need to Store That? Booming Self-Storage Industry Says No Problem
Extra Space Storage shares surge; investment firms look to cash in

It’s possible to profit from our pack-rat habits.  Why is the self-storage industry booming?

… Some refer to the 4Ds—death, divorce, downsizing and dislocation….

Have you gone through any of the “4Ds”?  How did you deal with storage issues?  Any general tips for taming the storage beast?  Any good investment tips?


10 things to throw away right now

 Go vote for your preferred group activity if you plan to participate in the TOTEBAG 30-DAY CHALLENGE.

College tours

by Sheep Farmer

DD and I recently spent a cold and windy Saturday touring UVA. The tour and information session are both led by UVA students. I was disappointed with both, especially considering the reputation of UVA. We first went to a general information session. The UVA two students leading the presentation were frequently not able to answer basic questions posed by the parents (and almost all the questions came from the parents). We then went on a walking tour of the campus which was led by a different student. Instead of giving us new information, he just basically repeated what was said in the earlier talk. What new information he did give focused on the social aspects of the college. The guide spent ten minutes talking about the tradition of streaking across the lawn. Personally, I would much rather have heard him talk more about academics and less about silly college pranks.

This was only our third college tour, so I am definitely not an expert on the subject . The tour that has impressed me the most was at WPI. The session was led by staff from both the admission and financial aid offices. They were able to answer every question from the audience. I liked the fact that they gave information concerning average starting salaries for their graduates, what percentage have jobs already lined up by graduation, etc. I realize that UVA is much larger and has many more majors than WPI, but UVA still could have managed to give us some of this same information.

For those of you who have already been on college tours, what schools impressed both you and your kids the most?

Post-Retirement Aged Workers In the Workplace

by Honolulu Mother

This Pacific Standard article on a 91 year old working as a designer was interesting, both because the woman herself sounds like an interesting and impressive person and also for the points it raised about whether our culture drives post-retirement-aged people away from potentially continuing to work and the effect on our workplaces:

We’ve marginalized a lot of populations based on blanket prejudices, and our attitude toward old people is no different, Irving says. “The ironic thing is that aging is the one thing we have in common, if we’re lucky.” All generations have to think about aging, since we’ll all be affected. The mixed workplace may help reduce these prejudices. By keeping older adults active and integrated in our communities—and by thinking about our communities as wholes, instead of as isolated pockets—we will all benefit from the knowledge and expertise that comes from lives lived with purpose and vigor.

Do you have co-workers who are post-retirement age? Would you like to keep working after normal retirement age?

Open thread

by Grace aka costofcollege

Today we have an open thread to talk about anything we’d like.

We can keep conversations going online here indefinitely.  But what about IRL, either in person or on the phone?

The best way to end a conversation, according to science

I sometimes have a hard time easing out of a long-winded conversation, particularly on the phone.

In other news, I’m excited about possibly having a chance to make a difference in the upcoming New York presidential primary.  I’m very curious to see how my neighbors will vote.

How to diversify elite public schools?

by Lauren

The process for entry into the best academic public high schools in NYC has not changed in the time since I graduated from a NYC public high school in the 1980s. The problem is that the demographics of the city changed during the last 30 years, and many people would like the high schools to be a better reflection of the diverse group of children in the city. There is no question that even though certain minority groups are under represented, the kids that do gain entry actually are a reflection of the economic diversity in the city.

What do you think? Do you think it should continue to be just an entrance exam similar to the SAT, or should other factors be considered to gain entrance to these schools?

Proposals To Diversify NYC’s Top High Schools Would Do Little To Help, Study Finds

Friday open thread

by Grace aka costofcollege

Today we have an open thread to discuss anything on your mind.

The Totebag 30-Day Challenge is scheduled to begin on May 1.  My initial idea had been that each participant could pick a particular activity they want to do, not that we would all do the same thing. However, some Totebaggers would prefer that we all do the same activity.  A compromise would be to select one activity for the group, but leave open the option for individuals to select their own personalized challenge activity if they wish.

Let’s brainstorm.  You can suggest group challenge activities in the comments,  Or let us know if you have a particular activity you’re considering for yourself.

Advice for ‘your “average” excellent student’

by Grace aka costofcollege

Truthful advice about getting into top colleges, for your “average” excellent student

… Your excellent student, (especially if a white girl, or Asian), in a good school district, with excellent test scores, grades, and a range of ECs is very, very unlikely to get into any school with an acceptance rate under 20%. UNLESS the kid is, or does, something exceptional, or is hooked.

That’s one CollegeConfidential parent’s opinion after going through the college application process with her daughter this year.  I suggest you read through the discussion if you’re interested in this topic.

Many families have unrealistic expectations for their “average” excellent kids.

In our town (and all over the Northeast, I suspect), a smart, hard working white or asian girl with good/great stats is a dime a dozen. Actually, I think the same is applies to the boys as well.

We have a number of young men and women who are still shell shocked that they did not get into certain schools. It was all so predictable, and unfortunate that their parents did not “get it”. I know of one mother who is embarrassed her daughter was only accepted to UVA. It’s heartbreaking.

Not all Totebaggers aspire to have their children attend tippy-top colleges.  Some just want their children to be academically qualified for the most selective schools so as to be eligible for merit scholarships elsewhere.  Other Totebaggers would be happy with their children attending your average state school.

Your thoughts?

European travel plans?

by Finn

How have the recent bombings in Paris and Brussels affected you?

I’m guessing that one impact they might have on totebaggers is on travel plans. While Europe is not high on my list of places to go and things to do, there are a few places on my list, but those will probably have to wait for less turbulent times.

We’ve recently been affected. The kids’ school just hosted a group from Japan, who had originally planned a trip to Paris. But the bombings there caused a change of plans, and they came here instead.

‘Take this job and shove it’

by Anonymous

Would you ever resign from your job before you have another one lined up? What about to move to a dream location, such as NYC or San Francisco?

What circumstances would need to be in place to have you even consider? As a single person only responsible for yourself? What about a sole breadwinner of a family?

If I did something like this I would need to dip into my home equity and/or 401k savings.

Health insurance would either be through COBRA or ObamaCare.

I am currently miserable where I am (the boss, not the work).

Effects of increasing international student populations on college campuses

by WCE

I have friends who are STEM academic advisers at OSU and UIUC. My OSU friend confirmed the accuracy of this article. When I was in graduate school, my department was ~75% international students. I think people can learn the fundamentals of engineering in the U.S. with a limited grasp of English, but I’m not sure that other disciplines, especially language-intensive ones, are suitable for people with limited English proficiency. I was surprised to see how high the percentage of international students at Mt Holyoke and Bryn Mawr is (28%) and I wonder if the education there is affected. One of my acquaintances left his engineering professorship in part over how repeated cheating by international students was handled by the local university.

Do you think a US college education will continue to be valuable? Do you share my concern about students with limited English requiring slower instruction in language-intensive disciplines?

On a recent Monday, 22-year-old [Shao] woke up in the apartment he shares with three Chinese friends. He walked to an engineering class at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he sat with Chinese students. Then, he hit the gym with a Chinese pal before studying in the library until late into the night. He recalls uttering two fragments in English all day. The longest was at Chipotle, where he ordered a burrito: “Double chicken, black beans, lettuce and hot sauce.”

At first glance, a huge wave of Chinese students entering American higher education seems beneficial for both sides. International students, in particular from China, are clamoring for American credentials, while U.S. schools want their tuition dollars, which can run two to three times the rate paid by in-state students. On the ground, American campuses are struggling to absorb the rapid and growing influx—a dynamic confirmed by interviews with dozens of students, college professors and counselors.

Heavy Recruitment of Chinese Students Sows Discord on U.S. Campuses

Trip of a lifetime

by Milo

Looping With Little Ones

The family featured in this article took a year off from work, sold their house, bought a used cruising yacht, and took their three kids on a trip around the Eastern half of the United States via the Great Loop–the 5,000-mile circular journey from the mostly sheltered waters of the Eastern Seaboard to the mighty Midwestern rivers known to East Coasters like me only through the novels of Mark Twain.

I’ve mentioned that this is a brand new retirement goal for me, but this family, with children close in age to my own, got me wondering why they would do something like this and I wouldn’t. There are reasons, to be sure. He’s an independent contractor; I’m an employee. We’re pseudo-Totebaggers and therefore are loath to alter the kids’ path through traditional schooling. I’d feel too much regret over a year’s lost earnings at this point in my life.

But, oh to daydream about the possibilities if I were a little less boring and a little more adventurous.

What do you think about this trip in general? How about with kids, specifically? What great, long journeys have you enjoyed, or plan to do, or dream about?