What Does Your State Shop For?

by Honolulu Mother

Estately (a real estate blog I guess?) put together a map showing what item each state shops for more frequently than any other state:

Thrillist also wrote it up here:

THIS MAP SHOWS THE MOST COMMON ONLINE SHOPPING SEARCHES IN ALL 50 STATES

You can scroll down to see the complete list from each state. Hawaii’s looks mostly right, though I’m not sure what’s up with that Flowbee. Some other states have explaining to do — Colorado and Kansas, is it the long winters? Rhode Island, I feel your pain.

How about your state — does the list surprise you?

A Quick Fix for the Blues

by Honolulu Mother

This article in The Week offers a few quick ways to boost your happiness.  At the end of the article (which gives more detail on why and how this works), it sums them up thus:

Sum up

Here’s what brain research says will make you happy:

1. Ask “what am I grateful for?” No answers? Doesn’t matter. Just searching helps.

2. Label those negative emotions. Give it a name and your brain isn’t so bothered by it.

3. Decide. Go for “good enough” instead of “best decision ever made on Earth.”

4. Hugs, hugs, hugs. Don’t text — touch.

Are there mood-boosters we could add to this list? For me, I would add (1) Go for a walk and (2) Put on cheerful music. What suggestions do others have?

Should You Worry About the Person the Dog Dislikes?

by Honolulu Mother

I was intrigued by this Quora discussion on whether dogs’ and cats’ reactions to people are meaningful indicators. In other words, should you be wary of someone your pet avoids or dislikes, and be inclined to trust the person the pet takes an immediate shine to?

Do certain people give off an aura to animals? My cat hisses severely at this person, and my dog hides.

The X Plan

by Honolulu Mother

This blog post by Bert Fulks recommends a variant on the you-can-always-get-a-ride-home policy that I’ve seen recommended before (including on the Totebag) for the teenage years. He describes it thus:

Let’s say that my youngest, Danny, gets dropped off at a party. If anything about the situation makes him uncomfortable, all he has to do is text the letter “X” to any of us (his mother, me, his older brother or sister). The one who receives the text has a very basic script to follow. Within a few minutes, they call Danny’s phone. When he answers, the conversation goes like this:

“Hello?”

“Danny, something’s come up and I have to come get you right now.”

“What happened?”

“I’ll tell you when I get there. Be ready to leave in five minutes. I’m on my way.”

At that point, Danny tells his friends that something’s happened at home, someone is coming to get him, and he has to leave.

It seems like a good idea. What says the Totebag’s collective wisdom?

When talking is the wrong way to show support

by Honolulu Mother

I was interested in this Washington Post article suggesting that sometimes the best way to be a supportive parent is to stay quiet, at least until your child is ready to talk:

The first rule of sports (and all) parenting: Don’t speak

This is not a natural response for me. I have learned over time that there are times it’s best to say what you have to say and then drop it, or wait for a better time to raise a thorny topic — this isn’t limited to parenting, either — but I hadn’t really thought about the option to say nothing in a situation such as the one described in the article (disappointing loss in a big game). I’ll have to remember that as another tool in my parenting toolbox.

Is the don’t-talk approach something you would use, or have used, in a similar situation? What do you think of the advice?

Is Furniture Shopping Hard on a Relationship?

by Honolulu Mother

I’d never heard of the theory that Ikea is a relationship death trap before reading this NYMag article:

Psychologists Explain Why Ikea Is a Relationship Death-Trap

I can’t say I’ve ever fought at Ikea, although since we don’t have one here my Ikea experiences with my husband have not focused on serious furniture shopping. Going during a vacation, to take advantage of the option to put your small children in a supervised playroom for an hour while you browse children’s duvets, is probably not the kind of stressor people are talking about.

However, I can’t say that furniture shopping has struck me as a relationship-stressor in general, even though it can be a tedious and time-consuming process. How about others? Are you nodding along with the author, or are you bemused at the idea?

The Rise and Fall of DARE

by Honolulu Mother

According to this article, DARE has seen its funding mostly dry up in recent years as education departments finally took notice of all the evidence that it didn’t actually work:

DARE: The Anti-Drug Program That Never Actually Worked

Yes, the program known for giving our nation’s police officers a nice family-friendly outing and PR opportunity and for causing a generation of kids to lecture their parents about the beer in the cooler at the family cookout. I don’t know if they’ve stopped offering it in the local schools now, but if so, it was too late for my kids, who all went through it in late elementary and picked up all kinds of interesting alternative facts from the friendly police officers teaching the class. My favorite was the assertion that alcohol and coffee work the same way: first they make you more active, then after you drink more, they slow you down and put you to sleep.

Did you, or your kids, go through DARE? What do you think of it? Are their better alternatives for drug education?

Never Give All the Heart (to your colleagues)

by Honolulu Mother

This NYMag article briefly summarizes a much longer Harvard Business Review article by Adam Grant and Reb Rebele on the trade-off between being a giver at work (good for the organization!) and being too generous with yourself (bad for you!)   The sweet spot is apparently to be generous, but to know your limits and keep something back for yourself.

Where do you fall along the spectrum from taker to selfless giver (there’s a grid in the HBR article), at work and at home?  I suspect most of us will self-report as self-protective givers, the sweet spot, but I also suspect that category covers a wide range from aiming to have everyone owing you just one more favor than you owe them, to being an almost-selfless giver who holds just enough in reserve to avoid burnout.  And, I suspect most of us are closer to the selfless-giver end of the spectrum at home than at work.

Art Imitating Life: Smoking and Drinking in Movies

by Honolulu Mother

I was amused by this Pacific Standard article noting James Bond’s transition from a heavy smoker to a nonsmoker over the course of his cinematic life:

The Smoking Habits of James Bond

It reminded me of some instances of changes in society’s attitude toward something being noticeable when watching older movies — for instance, we no longer see anything like the drunken goose uncle in Aristocats and the moonshine-swigging swamp mouse in The Rescuers, Disney movies released during my childhood. And the ones dating from my childhood were no longer using stereotypes such as the crows from Dumbo (and the portrayal of plantation life in the not-available-for-viewing Song of the South), not to mention those nasty gossiping elephants.

Another old movie trope that just seems weird and fetishy now was the feisty-woman-who-needs-a-spanking, as detailed here by Jezebel:

‘I Don’t Know Whether to Kiss You or Spank You’: A Half Century of Fear of an Unspanked Woman

Do you have any favorite examples of things in old movies that wouldn’t be there in something made today?

6 Habits of Highly Organized People

by Honolulu Mother

As a disorganized person, I thought the advice in this Washington Post article was pretty good:

6 Habits of Highly Organized People

The first two tips, keeping organizational systems simple and using the force of habit and routine to get things done, are two of the major things that work for me to keep on top of things. I have certainly found that complex organizational systems — especially those designed by others! — are something I’m more likely to work around than to benefit from, or worse yet procrastinate doing whatever task they’re supposed to support because the system is a pain to deal with.

I have more trouble putting into effect the “a place for everything and everything in its place” suggestion, not because I disagree, but because in a small house with five people plus pets we have more of the ‘everything’ than we do of the places to put it. I think Hesper Desloovere, the author of this Hairpin article, put her finger on something important here:

The Life-Changing Magic of Money (love the title!)

The brilliant and bonkers documentary Queen of Versailles was originally meant to chronicle the construction of the most expensive house in America by one of the wealthiest families in the world. Instead, the filmmaker, Lauren Greenfield, had the good luck to capture bad fortune, as the Siegel family hemorrhages money, staff and sense during the 2008 economic crisis. It’s striking how quickly their perfectly manicured mansion goes to literal shit. As they lay off butlers, maids, nannies, chauffeurs and gardeners, their sprawling house begins to resemble one that would be featured on the show “Hoarders:” days-old dishes left to rot, animals neglected, and dog poop everywhere….

. . .Jackie was actually a hoarder all along. She pathologically acquired stuff, animals and children, leaning on an army of staff to squirrel the purchases away, feed the kids and clean up the shit. When the vast wealth starts to evaporate, it lays bare her problems and exposes a counterintuitive truth: stuff is a poor-people problem….

Like juicing, spinning and other rich white lady pastimes, the driving force behind the KonMari method is competitive deprivation….

Do you agree with this take?

And, do you have any tried-and-true organization tips that don’t require significant time or money or both?

Why Does Sports Participation Drop Off by 13?

by Honolulu Mother

Apparently of the kids who play organized sports, only 30% are still playing by the end of middle school, as written up in this Washington Post article:

Why 70 percent of kids quit sports by age 13

The article suggests a number of reasons, which largely come down to the way the system is designed to be up-or-out and narrow down to the most serious and competitive players, in combination with similar increases in time demands and competitiveness in other activities forcing kids to choose just one or two things to focus on.

Do you have thoughts on this phenomenon? Is there a place for a once-a-week fun league in high school? Have your high schoolers found other fun ways to keep active when they’re not in organized sports?

Sausage-making and the SAT

by Honolulu Mother

For those with high schoolers, here’s a deep dive into the sausage-making leading up to the new SAT this past spring. It sheds some light on where it’s coming from and is also entertaining in an industry gossip sense:

College Board faces rocky path after CEO pushes new vision for SAT

For everyone else, sorry about this topic! Perhaps you’d like to discuss actual sausage making? Have you ever tried it? We have and it’s a production, but having a freezer stocked with the end product is nice. Do you have a favorite sausage maker, either a national brand or local product?

Interviews and Salary

by Honolulu Mother

I found the responses, and comments on the responses, interesting for this Quora topic:

How should I respond when an interviewer asks what your current base salary is?

The five-point response from the recruiter I found especially disingenuous, explaining why everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds and you should definitely give an interviewer your current salary when requested. Many commenters also took issue with his response.

Do you have a preferred way to approach this?

Worst Holiday Music

by Honolulu Mother

As we get to the point in the season where we’ve all had LOTS of opportunity to hear all the holiday music, perhaps it’s time to reflect on the holiday songs that least bear repeated hearings.

This LA Times article by Randy Lewis can get you started:

Ho, ho, no! 12 of the worst holiday albums of the last 20 years

My contribution to this topic is the album “All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.”  It’s hilarious at first, but a little of it goes a very long way.

Videogame / screen addiction

by Honolulu Mother

Caitlin Gibson of the Washington Post took a recent look at a case of videogame addiction:

The next level
Video games are more addictive than ever. This is what happens when kids can’t turn them off.

I really think this may be the biggest challenge for our kids’ generation. Maybe the boys lean a little more toward videogame addiction and the girls lean a little more toward social media addiction, but they’re all faced with the challenge of pulling themselves away from a virtual world that’s been deliberately designed to be immersive and addictive (because that’s what makes for a successful game / app / platform), and is always available at any time of the day or night. Even though most of us had video arcades and MTV and maybe an Atari or early Nintendo available in our teens and college years, the technology and availability weren’t comparable: we just didn’t have the same level of temptation to face down.

We don’t have problems at the level portrayed in this article, but I certainly wouldn’t say my kids are immune to this and they’re still trying to find ways to be able to have a little screen time after school and still be able to pry themselves loose back out before too long to get back to homework or other projects. We don’t have particularly strict screen time restrictions, as my theory is that this is something they really have to learn to self-monitor to be successful in college and adulthood.

How do your kids deal with the call of the screen? Are they independently able to exercise moderation, do they exercise moderation primarily through parental strictures, or is this a problem area for your family?

Terrible Twelves

by Honolulu Mother

My youngest, a seventh grader, has been a challenge to live with (and to teach) lately, in similar ways to his older brother at the same age. (My daughter went through the phase less severely and about a year earlier.) It led me to google “terrible twelves,” which turned up this NY Magazine article

Age 12 Is Like a Second Toddlerhood

Do you agree?

(And, remind me again that this stage will pass . . .)

Tips for Holiday Entertaining

by Honolulu Mother

Do you entertain during the holidays? An open house kind of thing for friends and family, a work-related thing, a cookie-decorating party, the big family dinner, a cocktail party? Let’s share our holiday entertaining tips!

My household relies heavily on Costco when doing a big party. We get the shrimp tray, the crudite tray, the cookie tray, some of the booze, the frozen spanakopita. Sam’s Club we use to supplement (sometimes they have better selection of frozen puff pastry hors d’ouevres), along with a couple of trays of finger food items from a nearby restaurant. I avoid having much cooking to do during the party as I find that even having to remember to take a pan out of the oven is more than enough to remember once the party is rolling.

Our biggest challenge is probably finding a date, as it seems like most people we know have packed weekends in December full of kid activities and family obligations. We just aim for earlier in the month and cross our fingers.

Do you have holiday entertaining tips to share, or stories to tell?

Manners

by Honolulu Mother

Sometimes it takes an outsider to notice what our unspoken customs and expectations are, as noted in this Atlantic article:

Welcome to America, Please Be On Time: What Guide Books Tell Foreign Visitors to the U.S.

If you’re an adult with an etiquette question or even just trying to figure out the basics, there are places you can turn, like this forum (if you’ve never seen it before, set a timer before you start poking around!), or of course Miss Manners and whoever is the new Emily Post, plus more up-to-date versions of the advice column.

But with our kids, we have a responsibility to teach them this stuff before they head out into the world, and it doesn’t necessarily follow that raising them to be considerate and empathetic will necessarily lead them to just intuit how table settings work, or what the standard phrases are for congratulating or commiserating on life events, or the different expectations on arriving by the appointed time for a party versus a job interview.

Do you have a conscious program for teaching manners, or do you just try to work it in as you go along? Have you ever considered a class? And, at what point is it time for you to bite your tongue and figure that your kids are now beyond your jurisdiction — at 18, or later, or earlier?

What’s your favorite board or party game?

by Honolulu Mother

Amazon has done a couple of sales on board games recently, probably in anticipation of the holidays, and it’s got me thinking about games for a crowd, or just a family game night.  I bought Escape: The Curse of the Temple for this year and have high hopes for it, especially since each round of play is so short that agreeing to play isn’t an hour-long commitment.  I’m also considering God Hates Charades, a promising-sounding mashup of Charades and Cards Against Humanity that might be perfect for a theater-loving extended family where the youngest is a cynical twelve.

Do you have favorite games, past or present? I’m thinking especially of the ones played with multiple people in the same place at the same time, though feel free to share your favorite solo games too! This can include not just board games, but computer or gaming system party games like Dance Central or Mario Kart. I always enjoyed Cranium, though I haven’t played it for years — perhaps it’s time to introduce it to the kids! And I do indeed like Dance Central. How about you?

I Can Resist Anything But Temptation

by Honolulu Mother

This Vox article argues (based on a few studies and talking to a couple of psychologists) that the key thing with willpower is not so much having the self control to resist a temptation when it’s looking you in the face — apparently we’re all pretty bad at that — but instead developing a taste for virtue and cultivating habits that don’t bring you into temptation’s path, Other factors less conducive to individual control are winning the genetic lottery of being conscientious and abstemious by nature, and having the financial stability to focus on the future instead of just the moment.

Do you have any favorite tricks to avoid temptation?

Selective Public High Schools

by Honolulu Mother

This Atlantic article discussed a recent study finding that students in selective public high schools didn’t end up with greater academic benefits than similar students at other schools:

The researchers divided schools into four groups: selective, top-tier, middle-tier, and bottom-tier. The first group consisted of schools that admit students based largely on test scores. The latter three groups were ranked by their students’ ACT scores and high-school graduation rates.

The study compared students against peers who attended different-tier schools but were otherwise similar based on traits including past test scores, degree of parental involvement, and home neighborhood. This approach isn’t perfect, but it allows researchers to estimate the impact of schools while holding student characteristics constant.

When simply making raw comparisons between students at selective-enrollment versus other city schools, the differences appear stark: Students at selective schools scored more than seven points higher on the ACT, which has a maximum score of 36. Yet when researchers controlled for a variety of factors to isolate the effect of attending a selective school, the disparities all but vanished. Attending a selective-enrollment school led to only a statistically insignificant bump in the ACT of half a point. The selective schools also seemed to have little or no effect on the likelihood of taking Advanced Placement classes, graduating from high school, or enrolling and staying in college.

The article notes a couple of caveats, though: the comparisons of individual students across schools were not typically across the whole spectrum of schools, but rather from selective to top-tier, or middle-tier to bottom-tier; and the study did find some non-academic benefits as to attendance and suspension rates, peer behavior, perceived safety, and their trust level in teachers.

We don’t have selective public high schools here, so I don’t know to what extent they’re comparable to the selective private schools that we do have (which were not part of the study). Those of you with experience with selective public high schools, do these conclusions ring true to you? And what do you think of selective public high schools in general — are we missing out on a good thing here? Does it require an urban area over a certain population size for the concept to work?

Happiness

by Honolulu Mother

This long Oatmeal cartoon muses on what happiness means, and suggests that our definition of happiness is too limiting. The author won’t call himself happy. Instead, he says, “I do things that are meaningful to me, even if they don’t make me ‘happy.'”

(The cartoon is way too long to display in the post; you’ll have to follow the link)

If asked, would you describe yourself as happy? Or content? Unhappy? Or do you agree with The Oatmeal that those terms are too limiting to really capture the experience of living?

And if you’d like to be happier, the internet has no shortage of suggestions. E.g.

25 Science-Backed Ways to Feel Happier

Why do Americans Move More Often than Europeans?

by Honolulu Mother

This Atlantic article notes that Americans move more often than Europeans do, and wonders why:

Decades of data, including a more recent Gallup study, characterizes the United States as one of the most geographically mobile countries in the world. “About one in four U.S. adults (24 percent) reported moving within the country in the past five years,” the report noted. With the comparable exceptions of Finland (23 percent) and Norway (22 percent), Americans also move considerably more than their European peers.

According to the article, the main reason people move is for work, but the large size of the country and having a common language throughout doesn’t hurt. However, we’re moving less frequently than we used to:

During the 1980s, 3 percent of working-age Americans relocated to a different state each year; that figure had been cut in half by 2010. “While part of the decline can be attributed to the Great Recession,” the authors suggest, “the bulk of this phenomenon took place over the course of several decades and is unlikely to be related to the business cycle.”

So why are more people staying put? A round-up of theories by Brad Plumer at The Washington Post included the aging of the U.S. workforce (older workers are less apt to move), the further rise of two-income households (logistics are tougher when there are two earners), the burdens of real estate (read: underwater mortgages and high rents), evolving workplace culture (telecommuting is more acceptable than ever), as well as the flatlining of wages, which makes moving away for a job, on average, a less rewarding financial proposition.

Most of my moving was done before I began my career — I’ve only moved once, within the city, since then — and my kids haven’t ever moved house. But we moved around some when I was young, and my college and grad school years, and my summer jobs, had me moving frequently and over long distances.

Have you moved often, as a child or as an adult? Do you think of geographic mobility as good, bad, or neutral for a society?

How Not to Raise Brats

by Honolulu Mother

This Washington Post article has some thoughts on what leads kids to act ungrateful or entitled, and how we as parents can try not to promote those traits. The article is framed in terms of behavioral economy / psychology, but its suggestions can be summarized as:

– Train them to think about other people’s experiences and perspectives
– Avoid hedonic adaptation, i.e. don’t spoil them
– Show them how the world outside their bubble lives
. . . . especially by focusing on individual examples
– Don’t bribe them for desired behaviors

I’m not sure I entirely agree with the last one — sometimes bribery can be a way to get the ball rolling, especially if it’s phrased as a token of appreciation for their help and accompanied by verbal appreciation as well; and in a short-term situation bribery can be the tool that gets everyone through. But by and large, these seem like time-honored and common sense strategies.

Do you consciously try to follow these or similar strategies? Is the list incomplete? Have you ever been startled by some piece of entitled or ungrateful behavior by your child or children?

String Theory

by Honolulu Mother

String theory has always had the problem of being essentially unfalsifiable. I’ve wondered myself if it’s just particle physics’s version of epicycles. Thus, I was very intrigued by the suggestion in this Atlantic article on string theory (I know, that reputed science journal, the Atlantic) that insofar as string theory produces testable hypotheses, they’re being borne out:

Using the physical intuition offered by strings, physicists produced a powerful formula for getting the answer to the embedded sphere question, and much more. “They got at these formulas using tools that mathematicians don’t allow,” Córdova said. Then, after string theorists found an answer, the mathematicians proved it on their own terms. “This is a kind of experiment,” he explained. “It’s an internal mathematical experiment.” Not only was the stringy solution not wrong, it led to Fields Medal-winning mathematics. “This keeps happening,” he said.

Do you have an opinion on string theory, or any other cutting edge field of science? Or failing that, do you support the level of public spending necessary to, say, prove the existence of the long-predicted Higgs-Boson particle?

Public displays of faith

by Honolulu Mother

This 538 article discussed an interesting survey of what public or shared displays of faith make nonbelievers uncomfortable, versus what public or shared displays of faith believers *expect* to make nonbelievers uncomfortable.  Sometimes the differences are striking:

libresco-publicprayer-2

Then again, perhaps the true explanation is that for each category, the survey only questioned those believers who regularly engage in a given act — in other words, only the approximately 1/3 of believers surveyed who routinely ask people to pray with them were asked to predict nonbelievers’ comfort level with the request. Perhaps the believers who expect nonbelievers to be made uncomfortable by such a request are among the 2/3 who don’t regularly ask people to pray with them!

Do you see ways in which religious believers and nonbelievers misunderstand one another? And is that necessarily a bad thing?

Generations and the Subject We Don’t Discuss

by Honolulul Mother

Yes, it’s an article on sex! This Pacific Standard article by Malcolm Harris looks at the trendline showing that millenials are waiting longer to become sexually active than earlier generations, and reframes the question:

Instead of asking why Millennials are having less sex, we could also ask why Boomers and Gen-X had more. Rather than asking why Millennials are so weird, we could compare birth cohorts in a way that doesn’t assume any of them as the baseline. Sexual norms and practices are in constant flux, and we ought not treat them as fixed.

The author has a theory:

One possible explanation based on the data, and on what we know about gender and power in America, is that young women who don’t want to have sex (or aren’t sure) are having their wishes respected at a greater rate. This explanation also fits with the crime data we do have on teen sexual assault victimization, which has declined significantly over the time in question.

Do you think his theory has merit? (I do.) Do you think the trendlines are showing a real change, or a blip? And do you agree with his reframing of the question as why the two previous generations had more sex, instead of why millenials are having less?

Bad Design

by Honolulu Mother

Looks Can Kill: The Deadly Results of Bad Design by Lena Groeger

The linked article discusses recent instances of death or serious injury caused by bad design. What I found especially interesting was how many of the examples were of designs that had gone in the wrong direction from a safety standpoint — taking a standard and well-understood design and deciding to visually jazz it up, in a way that increased the possibility of harmful errors. For instance, the laundry pods that look like candy, fuel additives packaged like energy drink shots, detergents packaged to look like fruit drinks, or the shifter design on the right:

which has been blamed for a recent death because it makes it difficult to tell whether your vehicle is really in park.

Design is an important feature in our consumer culture. Good design been credited with propelling some product lines to the top, as in the conventional wisdom that Apple’s design has traditionally been both aesthetically pleasing and intuitive. But does the quest for a redesign to make a product stand out from its competitors sometimes run counter to the quest for better product safety?

And, how important is design to you? Do you pay the premium to buy your kids the interesting or fun school supplies or do you stick with the cheaper basic versions? When you look for furniture, does comfort rule or are you willing to trade it off for the look you want? Are there everyday items you consider examples of especially good or bad design?

Fall Recipes

by Honolulu Mother

Moving through September and into October doesn’t make much of a difference in the weather here, but I still start to think of making more pumpkin or apple based recipes, perhaps inspired by the Halloween stuff appearing in stores. For those of you in temperate climes, I’m sure your cooking style changes more noticeably with the seasons. So, please share some of your favorite fall recipes!

Here’s a collection to get you started:

Fall Recipes

And, here’s a recipe for a simple apple bundt cake — I don’t have my copy on hand but I found a copy online:

Apple Dapple Cake

You won’t believe this secret rule that you know without ever being taught!

by Honolulu Mother

Ha, sorry, creeping Buzzfeeditis strikes again.

I am of course referring to the recent story about how there’s a fairly complex order in which adjectives modifying a noun must be listed, that native speakers use without realizing that they even know it because it just sounds wrong otherwise. Here’s the BBC article on it.

Why the green great dragon can’t exist

Do you think that order is correct? Can you think of other grammatical rules that we don’t know we know?

(And speaking of clickbait, did you see the professor who played with a #clickbaitsyllabus on Twitter recently?

You won’t believe how this college prof clickbaited students. Or what happened next.

Would you ban your college age kids from a major?

by Honolulu Mother

This Washington Post clickbait, I mean article, discusses parents who forbid their college student offspring from choosing a liberal arts major.

Meet the parents who won’t let their children study literature

I assume the parents in question are paying for college. Would you ever place specific subjects off-limits as a field of study for your college-aged offspring? And if so, what subjects?

To me it seems inappropriate and controlling. But, I’m not paying for college yet so ask me again when one of mine announces s/he has discovered a grade-free program of study in Video Gaming as Narrative that involves playing as many games as possible and then discussing them at informal seminars to be held Friday nights over a keg.

Hamilteens

by Honolulu Mother

My daughter spends her evenings in a Hamiltrash chat via Instagram. I have heard (upon information and belief) that many other teens do the same.

Hamilton’s teenage superfans: ‘This is, like, crazy cool’

What, if anything, will it mean for this age group that their big teenage musical obsession involves a rap battle over whether to found a national bank instead of the usual boy band output? Will this come to be considered a generational marker?

All About McMansions!

The Worst of McMansions blog elicited post ideas from two Totebaggers.

Honolulu Mother has some thoughts on this:

We’ve talked before about what makes a McMansion a McMansion, versus a large house or an actual mansion. Now someone has helpfully done an entire blog series for us architectural n00bs, explaining the rules of graceful construction and how McMansions violate them:

McMansions 101: What Makes a McMansion Bad Architecture?

There are links to other posts in the series at the bottom.

Let’s talk about McMansions! Do you live in one? Do your neighbors? Do you have strong feelings on the subject?

Rocky Mountain Stepmom has similar questions:

Totebaggers, do you agree with the distinction between mansions and
McMansions? Do you live in one or the other?

Teasing and Friendship

by Honolulu Mother

Recent articles from New York Magazine and Quartz suggest that kids need to learn to distinguish between good-natured teasing, which can be an important part of friendship, and the kind of unfriendly jibes we might consider bullying.

Teach Your Kids to Take a Joke or They’ll Be Bad at Friendship

Teasing has many benefits, when done right

From the NYMag article:

Boston University psychologist Peter Gray tells Quartz that if parents and teachers try and shield their kids too much from any sort of smack talking, then they don’t learn to enjoy the crass banter that’s such a part of growing up or to stand up for themselves when it goes too far. Those sheltered kids have “heard from adults that [light-hearted teasing] is bullying and so they get really upset about it rather than knowing how to roll with the punches,” he says. It’s like the social equivalent of the microbiome: If your parents didn’t let any microbes into your house growing up, there’s a better chance you would develop asthma. And if they didn’t let you exchange barbs with your friends growing up, it might be harder to accept the vulnerability that’s a part of talking shit as an adult. . . .

We do a lot of teasing within our family, which I think has helped our kids to see it as an affectionate thing within the right context. In the school context, I think that kids teasing one another often are honestly uncertain themselves whether they mean it as friendly banter or mean teasing — often it’s the target’s reaction that decides it for them. So I do agree with the article that it’s helpful for kids to experience teasing as a part of normal social interaction, so they can distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ teasing as they grow up.

Can your kids join in to friendly teasing, and give as good as they get, or do these interactions upset them? Are your family members fond of teasing one another?

Worst pets

by Honolulu Mother

Researchers in the Netherlands have recently identified the mammals least suitable as household pets — science! — and this Vox article helpfully runs through the 25 worst:

The 25 worst mammals to keep as pets

Grizzly bear and bison seem like obvious bad ideas, but it’s a good thing they warned us about that fennec fox.

Do you have pets? Cat, dog, or small mammal / bird / fish? Have you ever had or considered having an unusual pet, or worked with an exotic animal in some other context?

Exercise at work

by Honolulu Mother

We’ve all heard how dangerous it is to spend all day sitting, and it’s recently been reported that we should be getting at least an hour a day of moderate exercise to counteract the effects of sitting down the rest of the day. But finding the time is difficult.

This Thrillist article proposes that exercising at work should be normalized:

YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO EXERCISE AT WORK WITHOUT FEELING LIKE A  FREAK

I have a yoga ball, aka an adult hippety-hop, that I sit on from time to time, although I’m dubious as to whether that really does much for my core. I just like bouncing while I work. Other than that, I just try to walk out a bit at lunchtime and take the long way to and from the bathroom. I do think my colleagues would look a bit askance at deskside burpees, wall squats, and so forth.

How about the rest of you? I remember that Risley has her under-desk cycle — is it still working out well? Have others found a good way to get in a little exercise at work? And do you think exercising at work should be a thing?

Making new friends as you get older

by Honolulu Mother

This Vox article talks about the increased difficulty of making new close friends as one moves away from young adulthood:

On the other side of the 30, we keep adding casual friends, but most of us won’t gain close friends like before; no more best friends. The 30s are a time for settling in to friendly acquaintances and hanging on to faraway friends over texts and Facebook.

Author Kate Shellnutt notes various reasons for this, including increased work and family responsibilities as well as the presence for most people of a spouse who may fill the role of best friend. However, she also concludes that making new friends isn’t easy at any age, and it’s still a goal worth striving toward.

I certainly find it much slower to make new friends now than in college or grad school, and really I’m more likely to develop family friends than individual friends. And that’s not surprising — whereas once I shared meals and living quarters with roommates / housemates and had plenty of free time to do things together and just hang out, now I live with my own family and my schedule is pretty full. But perhaps as we become empty nesters, that will change again.

What has your experience been of making new friends in your 30s, 40s, and later?

Flow = Adult ADHD??

by Honolulu Mother

I was interested in this article’s suggestion that the experience of “flow,” when you’re intensely focused on your work and distractions seem to drop away, may actually be an expression of adult ADHD.

When Adult ADHD Looks Something Like ‘Flow’

If I weren’t distractible I wouldn’t be a Totebag regular, but when I shut my door and set my status to busy and really dig in to some big project I do experience flow and am often surprised to find that hours have gone by. Do you find this article to be consistent with your experiences?

Checklists

by Honolulu Mother

Atul Gawande now has a book out based on his 2007 New Yorker article on the use of checklists in medicine, piloting, and other fields:

THE CHECKLIST

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

His basic take is that although those doing complex work are reluctant to adopt a tool so simple as a checklist, they have proved a very worthwhile way to reduce costly errors and improve outcomes.

Do you use checklists for work or home tasks, or do you create checklists for others to use? How helpful do you find them?

What’s The First News Story You Remember?

by Honolulu Mother

This Deadspin (Gawker affliate) item asked its readers what was the first big news story they were aware of as kids:

What’s The First Big News Story You Were Aware Of As A Kid?

Judging by the comments, either the Challenger explosion or the first Gulf War was the first memorable news story for many readers. Totebag readers probably skew older, though.

For me, it was Watergate. I think my parents had as much fun trying to explain that one as they did answering my question about whether Watership Down was about bunnies, or people. (“Well, it is about bunnies, but it’s really about people.” DID NOT COMPUTE.)

How about the rest of you? What was your first news story?

City sidewalks

by Honolulu Mother

What kind of sidewalk walker are you?

There Are 3 Kinds of Sidewalk Walkers

I walk quickly so I’m probably a give-way type, as I need to snake through the slower walkers and the old ladies with pull-carts of shopping and the bus-stop crowds. But I do sometimes bump shoulders with that certain type of guy who walks down the middle of a narrow sidewalk and looks right at an on-comer and doesn’t move an inch to either side. I guess I’m not *that* willing to give way?

And, what kind of sidewalk behavior would you ban if you were the Monarch of the Sidewalks?

Eat your veggies!

by Honolulu Mother

Here’s a Vox article on some of the reasons why Americans don’t eat enough vegetables, and some ideas for fixing that:

4 fixes for the astonishing lack of vegetables in the American diet

What do you think of those ideas? And do you have any favorite recipes or techniques for getting veggies on the table?

I’m partial to oven-roasting, especially cauliflower. And warm weather months are a good time for panzanella! I make a fairly simple one, and only when I have good tomatoes available. Ripe juicy tomatoes, big chunks of bread that were toasted in the oven at low heat, olive oil, salt, pepper, torn basil leaves, and mozzarella pearls, all tossed together — add cucumber or corn if you have some fresh — and there’s dinner! (Possibly with some questions from the kids like “Is this dinner?” and “Are we having any meat?”)

University of Adjuncts

by Honolulu Mother

Gawker recently ran a series on the plight of the growing class of full-time-adjunct professors who, more and more, are doing the actual teaching in U.S. colleges and universities. You can see the whole series here:

Your Professors Are in the Struggle and They’re Not Winning Yet

Executive summary: it’s a terrible career path, and adjuncts don’t have the time or institutional support to be available to students outside of class the same way tenure-track professors are.

One obvious takeaway is that getting a PhD with plans to become a professor is highly inadvisable in this academic environment. But this trend may be concerning to Totebaggers for other reasons. For instance, as a parent of kids coming up on college age, I find it striking that the amount an individual college student pays per credit is similar to the amount the adjunct teaching the entire class is being paid per credit. That math seems wrong. And college students are going to find it more difficult to come up with references for first employment or grad school applications if the people teaching their classes are as likely as not to be gone the next year or the year after.

Is this a trend you’ve been following, and what are your thoughts on it?

Charter Schools, Traditional Public Schools, and $$

by Honolulu Mother

Charter and Traditional Public Schools Fight Over Money

The linked American Prospect article discusses conflicts between traditional public schools and public charter schools over the limited available pot of public education dollars. The specifics of the conflict vary from place to place depending on state laws, but I would think that the existence of the conflict must be pretty universal.

To me, both types of school have a place in the public education system, and I think our state does a reasonable job of balancing the interests by limiting the number of charter schools that can be created so that they offer an alternative to, but not a threat to the existence of, neighboring public schools. Our main problem is ensuring that freeing charter schools from the usual bureaucratic oversight doesn’t result in nepotism and other egregious misuse of public money. However, it sounds like some states have been less successful in finding a funding structure that works for both traditional and charter schools.

I’m sure you all have thoughts on this.

The Administrative Burden of Getting Healthcare

by Honolulu Mother

In this Vox article, Sarah Kliff describes the process of coordinating her health care for a minor medical issue as “a part-time job where the pay is lousy, the hours inconvenient, and the stakes incredibly high.” She writes that

But American medicine demands another scarce resource from patients, and that is their time. The time it takes to check in on the status of a prescription, to wait for a doctor, to take time away from work to sit on hold and hope that, at some point, someone will pick up the phone.

I found dealing with the copious administrivia stemming from my daughter’s broken limb last year to be frustratingly time-consuming, and I wasn’t even dealing with the lion’s share of it. The billing disconnects between providers and insurer, the denial based on my husband’s name having been accidentally entered in the patient slot for one provider, the confusion as to whether some new piece of mail was an issue to be attended to or just another routine notification; it seemed that once we left the safe and familiar harbor of routine annual appointments we were at sea without a compass.

How have your experiences as a patient or patient’s family member been? Do you think the burden of administrative health care management falls on patients because practitioners aren’t aware the burden is there, or do you think it’s a more deliberate outsourcing as suggested by the following quote?

“Patients can often become the health care system’s free labor,” Mayo’s Montori says. “The health care system knows that patients are motivated, that they want to get better. So it gains efficiencies by transferring the work.”

National Parks

by Honolulu Mother

We’ve talked about national park visits before, but it’s summer so why not take the chance to reminisce, plan, and share experiences again.

This FiveThirtyEight article, The National Parks Have Never Been More Popular, notes that the park system continues to get more and more visits over the years. Even though on a per person basis we’re visiting a bit less often than previously, population growth has driven visitor numbers upward. The article goes on to list parks from the most-visited to the least-visited, so if you want to avoid a crowd you can look to the bottom of the list.

Based on the list, the least-visited one I’ve been to recently was Mesa Verde, which was indeed vastly less crowded than the Grand Canyon (our next stop) and for that reason was beautiful and peaceful in a way that Grand Canyon village really couldn’t compare with. We were able to sit out on our porch having a drink and watching the cottontails scurry around in the scrub outside our room while the daylight slowly faded, feeling like we had the place to ourselves.

And I clearly should plan a visit to the North Cascades, which MooshiMooshi so highly recommended and which is in a state we often visit!

What park experiences have stood out for you? What is the least-visited park on the list that you’ve been to? And do you think visitor numbers are all that important in planning a trip, or do you go with the theory that even in the Great Smoky Mountains, you’re pretty much on your own once you get a little way down a trail?

Changes in Society Reflected in Wedding Announcements

by Honolulu Mother

In this article, Todd Schneider took a look at the changes in American society through the lens of the New York Times wedding announcements:

How love and marriage are changing, according to 63,000 New York Times wedding announcements

You can search for the trends he didn’t mention at his site, Wedding Crunchers.

What’s the weirdest or most notable change you’ve seen in wedding announcements, ceremonies, receptions, or another part of the wedding-industrial complex? Are you going to any summer weddings?

Financial Benefits of Primping

by Honolulu Mother

This Washington Post article reports that for women, having a groomed and coiffed appearance seems to bring higher pay, well beyond the halo effect of attractiveness in general. I guess that Ipsy subscription isn’t an indulgence, it’s an investment.

While men also get an attractiveness bonus, theirs doesn’t hinge so much on grooming per se:

They found that a substantial amount of attractiveness was the result of grooming, and here’s where they found gender differences, Wong says. “For women, most of the attractiveness advantage comes from being well groomed. For men, only about half of the effect of attractiveness is due to grooming.”

For women, on the other hand, it seems we look disheveled at our peril:

In fact, as the charts below show, less attractive but more well-groomed women earned significantly more, on average, than attractive or very attractive women who weren’t considered well-groomed.

When I picture a senior woman in my field, the look that comes to mind could certainly be described as well-coiffed. I wouldn’t say the men are not well-groomed, though; it may be simply that there’s a lower bar for men to clear there. Totebaggers, do you see this effect in your profession?

Online Reviews of TV Shows

by Honolulu Mother

Walt Hickey, writing for Fivethirtyeight, argues that men are skewing online reviews of tv shows aimed at women downward, while women reviewing shows aimed at men are not returning the favor:

Men Are Sabotaging The Online Reviews Of TV Shows Aimed At Women

Should we be mentally adjusting the review numbers when trying to compare across genres? I probably do that anyway, at least in the sense that I’ll notice that certain types of shows or movies seem to be universally lower-rated so if the premise sounds appealing, I shouldn’t assume that a low rating means I won’t like it. On the other hand, that thinking led me to waste 10 minutes of my life watching Another Period.

Do you review movies or tv shows online (Amazon counts)? Do you ever think about whether a show (or for that matter a book or product) was really aimed at you before rating it as a stinker?

Can you foster a growth mindset?

by Honolulu Mother

This Pacific Standard article discusses research suggesting it’s best to encourage kids to think of intelligence as something that can be developed rather than an inherent ability that you have or don’t: How to Get Kids Into a Growth Mindset. I assume the same thinking would apply for other abilities, such as athletic talent, artistic or musical ability, or people skills.

Do you agree with this approach? Is it something you try to foster with your own kids?

Choosing a Vacation Destination Based on its Economy

by Honolulu Mother

Vox put together this Vacation Index showing which countries are the best – and worst – bargains for vacationers at the moment. According to the article, it’s not intended to compare bang for the buck in absolute terms, but rather to show which countries are cheaper or more expensive than they usually are. Do you think the index is an accurate representation of that? Would you consider choosing a vacation destination based on it?

Our next vacation is to the very worst bargain listed, and yet the exchange rate is still better than it was the last time I was there. I think the index is looking at a relatively short-term timescale.

Multilevel marketing

Both L and Honolulu Mother sent in posts about mulitlevel marketing:

by L

MLMs: your thoughts? Does anyone have FB or real life friends selling these products? What about the church connection?

I have one friend on FB who sells LuLaRoe, but I have never been to an MLM party or been pressured to attend one.

Why your Facebook feed is filled with women selling essential oils and press-on nails

my boss wants to secretly recruit my coworkers and me into a money-making scheme

 

———

by Honolulu Mother

Let’s all gripe about our “friends” selling Jamberry on Facebook!

This Vox article tackles the important question of “Why your Facebook feed is filled with women selling essential oils and press-on nails.” Actually, mine really isn’t, but that’s because I know how to use the “hide” feature. In some circles, though, MLM’s parasitical profiting off the social and family connections of its victims / salespeople is hard to avoid.

Totebaggers, your thoughts on multilevel marketing?

Is Luxury Fashion in Trouble?

by Honolulu Mother

This Daily Beast article on the flagging performance of various luxury fashion brands suggests alternately that luxury brands have saturated the market to the point that they no longer seem, well, like a luxury; that they’ve alienated the consumers who buy the real stuff by focusing more on celebrities who borrow gowns for the Oscars than on the paying customers; and that it’s simply priced itself out of the general clothing market.

Do you think luxury fashion’s time has come and gone, or is this a blip? Is it something you find worth paying for?

Bubbles within bubbles

by Honolulu Mother

We’ve talked before about the idea that Totebaggers generally live within a comfortable urban-coastal bubble. But this Prospect article suggests that many of our business and political leaders live in yet a smaller and more comfortable bubble, which makes it difficult for them to understand the everyday experiences of the great majority of their fellow citizens:

Sanders, Trump, and the Hassles of Regular People

Daily life is more and more of a hassle for more and more people, whether it involves insecurity of jobs, of pay, of schools, of health care, of retirement, of unaffordable apartments and tuitions, of long lines and crumbling transit systems—you name it. And the super-elite doesn’t care, because they literally don’t experience any of this.

The article is short and unfocused and a bit of a humblebrag, but the idea it raises is an interesting one. Totebaggers, what do you think?

Does parenting destroy creativity?

by Honolulu Mother

An interesting article on the effect of parenthood on the ability to create:

A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Mom

I pretty much agree with the conclusion, that having a house full of kids can pretty much eliminate any prospect of having the mental space, the Woolf-style Room of One’s Own, to write or do other creative work; but in the long term, the immediate chaos will lessen and the parenting experience gives one a richer experience of life to draw on in creative work.

What do other Totebaggers think?

Noncompete agreements: Good, bad, or indifferent?

by Honolulu Mother

Job hopping helped Silicon Valley thrive. So why do other states restrict it?

This Vox article points to enforcement of noncompete agreements as the villain in the shrinking of Route 128’s hi-tech sector relative to Silicon Valley’s. It also raises concern over the growth of noncompetes in such areas as sandwich making and janitorial services, where the argument that they protect trade secrets is unconvincing.

Does your state support noncompete agreements? Do you have personal experience with them? Do you think they’re a bad thing, a good thing, or a necessary evil when appropriately limited?

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.

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?

The world we have lost: Evenings before TV

by Honolulu Mother

My attention was caught by this paragraph in a FiveThirtyEight article about the decline of terriers in dog shows and national attention over the last century:

And then television came along. While Black Tuesday changed the business from the U.S., a few decades later, mass media changed it from England. The English working class that was largely responsible for raising the dogs turned to other leisure pursuits. “So instead of you going outside in a cold shed and pulling hair, you can watch a football game, and you’re sitting in your kitchen by the fire,” Green said. “Well, which would you rather do for a hobby?” And so went the terrier supply.

Terrier care and breeding is time-intensive, apparently, the kind of thing that might be worth doing as a hobby you enjoy and get a little extra money from but not as a job in its own right.  I don’t know if the article is correct that a collapse in supply led to a decline in terrier popularity, but I don’t doubt that sitting indoors watching tv is a more appealing method of relaxation than sitting out in a cold shed grooming terriers.

What interested me was not the terrier angle so much as the idea that a shift toward more passive, in-home types of leisure activities can affect something so seemingly unrelated as what dog breeds are popular.  I’ve seen something similar with community theaters:  I’m aware of a couple that have shut down because there are no longer enough people interested in spending their evenings rehearsing, painting sets, and so on, not to mention people interested in turning out to see their friends and neighbors perform when they could just Netflix and chill.  There’s no population loss to blame; it’s the internet, and before that, tv, giving people an easy alternative evening pastime.

I don’t mean to tsk tsk over this — people can spend their leisure time how they choose! — but I do find it interesting how such a shift can eat away at those parts of our cultural and commercial life that sit on the boundary between profession and hobby.  Perhaps I should also fold in the Garden Clubs and Ladies’ Societies that once depended on the volunteer work of women who weren’t expected to work for pay after marriage.

Are there parts of our world that are fading away in response to the ease and variety of in-home entertainment options?  I live in a city, and there are still community orchestras and theaters and orchid clubs to supplement the professional options, but does it take a larger town than it once did to support a community theater or put on a flower show?  And is the internet also responsible for a contrary trend toward greater interest in jam-making, crafting, and other Pinterest-worthy hobbies?

Would you trade your current life to be filthy rich 100 years ago?

by Honolulu Mother

I ran across a post on the blog Cafe Hayek asking the question

What is the minimum amount of money that you would demand in exchange for your going back to live even as John D. Rockefeller lived in 1916?

The author concludes that he would not:

This fact means that, by 1916 standards, I am today more than a billionaire. It means, at least given my preferences, I am today materially richer than was John D. Rockefeller in 1916. And if, as I think is true, my preferences here are not unusual, then nearly every middle-class American today is richer than was America’s richest man a mere 100 years ago.

A Bloomberg View item took issue with the first post’s implied suggestion that if we’re all better off than the richest few from a hundred years ago, inequality is overstated as a issue:

Comparing folks of different economic strata across the ages ignores a simple fact: Wealth is relative to your peers, both in time and geography.

After reading both (in reverse order), I asked myself whether I’d make the trade. Two things occurred to me: first, would I be treated like John D. Rockefeller, or would I be treated like a very wealthy woman? In other words, would it be taken for granted that my political and economic views were important and worth listening to, or would my desire to so much as vote in the 1918 election be viewed as an eccentricity to be tolerated only because of my money? And second, what I’d really want would be to try the 1916 wealthy life before making my decision. I have a sneaking suspicion that I could learn to live without television and movies when I had my pick of theater, opera, concerts, and fancy parties every night to amuse me. Microwaves and washing machines might seem less important if cooking and laundry took care of themselves with all the effort hidden from me, and I could probably handle the increased travel time given that I’d be doing it in luxury and my time would be fully my own. But then again, maybe after a couple of months I’d start to feel like my technology-free retreat had been relaxing but I was ready to bathe in the internet’s welcoming light once more.

On the question of the implications for inequality as a political issue, I agree with the response that comparing wealth of people separated by large gaps of time is not particularly meaningful. How do you weigh antibiotics and Netflix against a small army of servants and the day-to-day freedom of time and movement that comes with great wealth?

Totebaggers, would you take the deal to trade your life for a John D. Rockefeller-type life in 1916? And do you think the question is just a fun exercise in historical perspective, or something with real significance when talking about economic inequality today?

Luxury housing and affordability

by Honolulu Mother

Our local news seems to take it as a received truth that building new luxury housing is at best neutral and probably harmful to the cause of creating affordable housing for local residents. This is something that usually causes me to rant to my husband, while clutching the paper, about how that is incorrect because there will always be something at the top of the market and someone with the money to buy the best available, so building new expensive housing (which is what developers are motivated to do) will push each preceding generation of housing slightly downmarket, and the ultimate effect is that the top-of-the-market housing of 20 years ago eventually becomes the middle-of-the-road housing of today, and ultimately more housing is more housing. This theory has in the past been based on My Personal Analysis rather than Actual Research, with examples drawn from aging condo buildings around town.

But now, how sweet to learn that Actual Research is backing me up! The study reported in this article found that building new luxury housing actually does increase the supply of affordable housing in an area.

Is affordable housing a hot issue in your area? Do you think the conclusion drawn from this study applies, or do you think there are other factors to consider in your area?

Would You Support a Four Day School Week?

by Honolulu Mother

As explained in this Slate article, the idea would be to give kids who struggle one day a week for extra tutoring, while other kids have the option to come to school for enrichment activities, or even to stay home on Fridays.

Can a Four-Day School Week Actually Help Kids Who Are Struggling?

It is true that after our state’s notorious experiment with “Furlough Fridays” six years ago, test scores actually crept up slightly. However, I think that was attributable less to some benefit of cutting instruction time by 20%, and more to the schools having pushed the kids extra hard (and having cut out or cut back on art, music, and PE) during the remaining days.

What do you think of the four day school week idea?

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?

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.)

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?

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?

Related:

How Taxpayers Keep the NFL Rich

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?

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?

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?

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!

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?

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.

Interstates

by Honolulu Mother

My husband suggested this article for a Totebag topic:

How to Fix Our Interstates

The following are his comments on it.

“I found this interesting on several levels.

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

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

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

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

Summer Books

by Honolulu Mother

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

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

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

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

How Those Crazy Studies Make the News

Both Honolulu Mother and Rocky Mountain Stepmom sent in posts about this article.

I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How.


by Honolulu Mother

We’ve all noticed how contradictory the conclusions from “scientific” studies in the news can be on many topics — what foods are good or bad, what type of exercise is effective or injurious, what parenting choices have good or bad effects. Sometimes this may be the result of a better understanding of a subject over time — surely the fact that eggs and butter, so reviled a generation ago, are now good for you again is an example of the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice. But most of the time, contradictions multiply and it’s never clear from the reporting what the studies were even based on.

Now a hero of our time has provided the explanation: it’s because the news media will publish any piece of crap study that sounds authoritative and has a headline-worthy conclusion, as outlined in the article linked above.

But notwithstanding the flaws in the study identified by its own author, I’m going to stick with his conclusion and make sure to get my chocolate every day. Because science!


by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

The article linked above is about the way science journalism works, or doesn’t work. One of its main points is that journalists are lazy. That resonated with me because of two work experiences I’ve had.

In 1983, I finished a Masters of Library and Information Studies degree at Berkeley. World’s easiest degree, but that’s not important right now. I had an internship at the KPIX news library. KPIX was and maybe still is the CBS affiliate in San Francisco. I got to see the local news produced every evening, and it was…startling. The reporters and producers just trolled popular magazines for stories they could regurgitate. I fetched Glamour magazine articles for the reporters to crib from. They stole from every conceivable source. It was disheartening.

My first job after library school was as an indexer for what was then Information Access Corp. (Remember Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature? It was like that.) We indexed popular magazines, trade magazines, and five newspapers: New York Times, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, Christian Science Monitor, and the Wall Street Journal. We sat in front of our Apple 2e computer and read every single article in the papers and assigned index terms. It was a very peaceful way to make a living. But one thing I learned very quickly was that the newspapers all stole from each other regularly. The same article, with just a few changes, would appear in all the papers, and no, those articles weren’t from UPI or AP. They were by-lined by staff writers. There was clearly no independent verification going on. See article, crib article, print article. Again, very distressing to naive little me. The worst was the “end of year wrap-up” stuff. You might as well just burn all the papers from about Dec. 10 to Jan 5, because unless Manhattan gets nuked, there will be NO actual news whatsoever.

Totebaggers, do you trust the news? What’s your preferred source? Are you as skeptical as you would like to be? Or do you tend to believe stuff just because it’s in print? And do you believe that chocolate can accelerate weight loss?

How Does Your Garden Grow?

by Honolulu Mother

In Hawaii we don’t really have an off-season for gardening . Grass grows year-round, and there’s no general off season, although specific crops are seasonal — and it looks like a good year for lychee! I know that most of you are more tied to the seasons on this, though, and you must be well into the gardening time of year now.

Our gardening and landscaping focus is on the edible or the fragrant. I have an herb pot (a strawberry pot with herbs in the holes) convenient-ish to kitchen along with a giant rosemary bush. We periodically plant eggplant, tomatoes, and other veg in a bed up on the hill behind our house; right now it’s had all the overgrown junk ripped out for a reboot after we return from our summer travel. We have an assortment of fruit trees, an allspice tree that produces no allspice berries but is very fragrant when it flowers, scented roses, gardenia, and night-blooming jasmine.

There is very little in the way of garden design in the yard, as we just tuck plants or beds in where they seem to fit. Perhaps with more time we would do this in a more planned manner and without the periods of neglect when school and kid activities get busy. I see lots of retirees gardening as I head out or return home on weekdays, and their yards show the benefit of regular care.

What do you do with your yard or garden? Are there any serious gardeners out there? Do you outsource it all to a yard service or teenaged child? Or do you combine yard service with your own gardening? Do you try to grow your own food to any significant degree? How much do you try to design your garden? And whether or not you actually execute these plans, would your ideal garden be the grounds at Versailles, a cottage garden, a rock garden, or something else altogether?

Favorite YouTube Channels

by Honolulu Mother

I recently added some new YouTube channels to our list from a Gizmodo article on DiY channels.  They join a list including channels with some educational value (RimStar, BrainScoop), assorted exercise channels, some British and French tv, Dead Gentlemen, Cracked, and of course such kid favorites as Kids React, Roseanne Pansino, and every Yogscast channel known to man.  This is in addition to the playlists — I have a karaoke one with everyone’s favorites for family karaoke night, a playlist with videos related to our upcoming trip that we used to help decide on our itinerary, a general to-watch list, and several playlists related to school subjects such as the Renaissance or the Silk Road.

I think we watch more shows off YouTube than we do Netflix, Amazon, or cable tv.  Perhaps more than all of those combined.  With the YouTube channel on Roku and similar devices, it’s easy to watch on the big screen, and over the course of its 10 year history YouTube has become a surprisingly broad entertainment option, with something for everyone in our family.

Does your household have favorite YouTube channels that might be of interest to other Totebaggers?  Is YouTube a part of your regular tv rotation, or do you stick to other online sources or cable or broadcast tv?  Do we have any swimming-against-the-tide Vimeo users?  And has your usage changed over the last few years?

The Emptying of the American Countryside

by Honolulu Mother

The part of this article that most interested me was his point that rural areas of the U.S. are much emptier of people than they once were, which means that there are far fewer eyes to catch changes to the landscape and far fewer people with an ongoing connection to a particular and undistinguished little corner of the countryside (as opposed to having spent some time visiting a national park to see the natural wonders).

Farmland Without Farmers

We have an upcoming national-park-visiting trip planned, and the article made me muse on the difference between a pilgrimage to, say, Yellowstone, and regularly walking a circuit of the same few fields, meadows, copses, and country roads (like the area around my in-laws’ house) and noticing the small changes through the seasons and over the years.

Totebaggers, do you have a piece of semi-wild countryside that you feel connected to? How does that compare to a visit to the official wilderness in the form of a national park or surrounding area? And do you share the article writer’s concern about the people drain out of the country’s rural areas?