Office Holiday Parties

by Honolulu Mother

NYMag ran some advice for shy people attending office parties:

Advice for Shy People Forced to Attend Holiday Parties

Since I’m in the government sector, my office just doesn’t do the kind of party described there, but for those of you who do attend dressy evening office parties, do you think the article offers good advice? What tips would you add?

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Christmas music

by Honolulu Mother

It’s time for our somewhat-annual discussion of Christmas music! What are your newest favorites? What are your classics? And what are your never-play-that-agains?

I will remind you of the existence of All I Want for Christmas is a Goat. That’s very distinctive, and pretty low on my list of Christmas favorites.

I have many that are high on my list of favorites, but for this year I’ll pick Christmas Island by Leon Redbone, and Holiday Songs and Lullabies by Shawn Colvin.

The Dark Underbelly of Online Mattress Sales

by Honolulu Mother

Oh brave new world this is, that has such business models in it!

The War To Sell You A Mattress Is An Internet Nightmare

I have noticed the many Amazon reviewers mentioning that they got a free or discounted product in return for an honest review, but had no idea how thoroughly the cash-for-recommendations model had infiltrated the mattress business.

How do you filter online reviews? I like to look for a certain shape of review bars — a nice exponential curve that’s fat at the five star end and fades to almost nothing at the one star end. A spike at the one star end, even a small one, is bad news, although with some products (cell phones) it seems like you can’t avoid it. And of course you have to read to see if there are patterns to what people like, or dislike, about a product.

Give us your review of online product reviews!

Totebag Dinner Party Game

by Honolulu Mother

The object of this game is to plan a Totebag dinner party. Your guests should include:

1 historical figure
1 fictional character (books, movies, tv, comics, they’re all eligible)
1 living celebrity (sports, acting, music, eccentric billionaire, they’re all eligible)
3 Totebaggers of your choice
You and your date of choice (it doesn’t have to be your spouse!)

Who’s invited? What are you serving? And what are your seating arrangements — who is next to whom? For full credit, explain your choices.

Please do not fill more than two blue books. ^_^

Leftovers

by Honolulu Mother

I thought of Rhett when I saw this headline:

Why Americans have stopped eating leftovers

Despite years of training, my kids are not what I’d call enthusiastic leftover eaters. They will eat them, but grudgingly. Still, we get through most of our leftovers.

Does your household eat leftovers, or at least most of them? Do you have clever ways to re-use them, or do you just zap them?

Good Old Cookbooks

by Honolulu Mother

The Washington Post recently ran an article on three cookbooks published in the early 80s that were big sellers at the time, and continue to be popular today:

These three cookbooks went viral before the Internet existed — and they still hold up today

The cookbooks in the article are the Silver Palate Cookbook, Entertaining: Martha Stewart, and the Victory Garden Cookbook.

I don’t have any of those. My parents’ cookbook collection was pretty much complete by 1982, and I didn’t start my own until a couple of years later. But I have plenty of old cookbooks! Leaving aside the ones I have primarily for historical interest or sentimental reasons or reference, some old favorites that I still cook from include Marcella Hazan’s cookbooks for Italian food and Julie Sahni’s for Indian food, and Laurie Colwin’s books (essays with recipes) that I picked up in law school.

What good old cookbooks do you still cook from?

Cocktail hour

by Honolulu Mother

The Daily Beast recently ran this fun ode to the Manhattan:

How Manhattan Drinkers Are Different From Martini Drinkers

(Side note: Imagine an era where she put that on her head, looked in the mirror, and thought, “Oooh, so chic!”)

Do you like Manhattans? And if so, is it a year-round drink or do you switch to something like a G&T in the summer? Is a little bowl of nuts, olives, or cheese straws a necessary accompaniment? (Recommendation: Hunter Mix combined with Bombay Mix. I discovered when googling for the links that I’m not the only one who likes this combination.)

What’s your tipple?

Commuting

by Honolulu Mother

This U.S. News article discussed an interesting study on how commuting patterns are slowly changing:

How Commuting Is Changing

Here’s the article’s summary of national trends:

On the national level these figures illustrate a few large, long-term trends that are continuing to play themselves out over time. Slow, steady declines in single drivers are offset by equally slow increases in public transit riders. A lot is made of the gains in so-called nonmotorized commuters walking and biking – and for good reason – but by far the biggest change is in those staying at home to work.

And of differences in commuting patterns from place to place:

… the places where commuters predominantly drive to work alone are concentrated in the South and the Midwest. On the flipside, transit-intensive counties also tend to have the highest rates of walkers, taxi riders and bicyclists. Those who are able to work from home the most seem concentrated in suburban, or collar, counties where they be otherwise facing long trips into the central business district.

I’ve noticed that the recently introduced bikeshare program here seems to be drawing a lot of commuters, with racks in the business / financial district filling up in the morning and emptying in the evening (although the bikeshare van does its best to rebalance the supply by moving bikes around). But my own commute is a single-person-in-car commute by the time I get to work, even though it usually starts as a full car leaving home.

Has your commute changed in recent years? Do you see the kind of gradual changes the article talks about?

Job transitions

by Honolulu Mother

In this request for advice to New York Magazine’s Ask a Boss, an employee leaving a nonprofit worried that her soon-to-be-former boss expected her to still be available after her planned departure for another job:

‘I Quit, But My Boss Won’t Let Me Go!’

Have you ever had a previous job try to follow you to your new job? Do you have any tips for smooth transitions, both for leaving the old workplace in good shape to carry on without you and for preparing to hit the ground running in the new job?

Do Your Teens Get Enough Sleep?

by Honolulu Mother

It’s reported that very few teens get an adequate amount of sleep — on the order of 15% — and this is bad for them in a host of ways ranging from general health to mental focus, as discussed in this Psychology Today article:

Your Teen Needs More Sleep

This seems to go along with the recent suggestion that much of what is classified as ADHD could actually be a sleep disorder:

Could some ADHD be a type of sleep disorder? That would fundamentally change how we treat it.

I push my kids to get to bed at night, but there are challenges such as high homework loads, group projects where the group wants to meet online late at night, and of course the every-present electronic temptations. And of course since I get up earlier in the morning than they do, if I want to get enough sleep myself I can’t be staying up to make sure everyone really gets to bed at the time promised. So, I find that school vacations always start with the kids sleeping half the day as they catch up.

Do your teens and younger children get 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night? If not, is this a concern for you?

Twitter Wars

by Honolulu Mother

I was amused to read about this recent Twitter war between two science museums:

Man accidentally starts Twitter war between Natural History and Science museums

Much preferable to some other Twitter wars we’ve recently seen.

Do you prefer your Twitter wars between celebrities, politicians, venerable institutions, businesses, or brands? Or do you prefer to mix those categories? What Twitter war would you like to instigate?

Laundry!

by Honolulu Mother

It’s been quite a while since our last laundry post — more than two years, I should think, since I’m not seeing any listed under the Home & Garden tag or as a separate topic. So, I hereby declare it to be open season on laundry talk! As well as other housekeeping tips and questions folks may have.

In our laundry news, I have been using those wool dryer balls that you drizzle with lavender oil or something similar for a couple of years now, though intermittantly. We never have to worry about dryer cling in our climate so I can’t say how they do with that, but they do an ok job of unclumping clothes in the dryer and (with essential oil) lightly scenting them. Obviously this is fussier, not to mention more Totebaggy, than just throwing in a dryer sheet. So one could argue that the 30 seconds I spend dosing the dryer balls and tossing them in the dryer could be better spent folding clothes so that we would actually catch up with it all and people could sit on the laundry-folding couch.

What’s new, laundry-wise, in your neck of the woods?

Apples

by Honolulu Mother

Apparently the Honeycrisp was just the beginning — Big Apple is planning newer, more amazing apples to take over our grocery shelves.

Honeycrisp was just the beginning: inside the quest to create the perfect apple

I like Honeycrisp quite well, but I liked Pink Lady before they were cool (or at least before they were in the big boxes). My daughter always wants to get Ambrosia apples. But of course we have a more limited apple selection here as the only locally grown apples are mountain apples (which though good are not technically apples). Do you have a favorite apple? Do you live in apple country? And what do you do with your apples — eat them all out of hand, bake with them, make applesauce or cider?

Halloween already?!

by Honolulu Mother

The Halloween stuff has been showing up in stores since late August or early September, and 2/3 of my offspring already have costume plans — inflatable T-Rex costumes, which they’re also trying to talk some friends into getting, so they can go as a pack of T-Rexes. Possibly they were inspired by this series of videos:

Are you ordering / working on Halloween costumes or decor already, or are you reading this post and thinking, “Even on the Totebag we’re doing Halloween already?”

Saving Stuff for Children and Grandchildren

by Honolulu Mother

This Washington Post article had some suggestions on what items might be worth holding on to for children or grandchildren:

Just because an item doesn’t spark joy doesn’t mean you should toss it

In brief, the author (who helps people declutter) says that it’s worth setting aside a few things intended to be passed on to children and grandchildren, but choose (1) not too much — a couple of items, not a whole collection; (2) mostly small items; and (3) items that have special meaning.

We are not at a downsizing stage of life right now. We do regularly give away outgrown books and clothes, but we’re not looking at those with too much of a sentimental eye. (With some exceptions — my daughter didn’t want me to get rid of the Humphrey books, books about a classroom hamster written at about an 8-10 year old reading level.) So while this advice sounds ok to me, it’s not something I’ve had much cause to think through.

For those of you closer to this topic either as givers or recipients, what do you think of this approach?

Desperation Dinners

by Honolulu Mother

On the old site some years back we once had a topic on desperation dinners: those old faithfuls that you can throw together from what’s in the freezer and pantry on those nights when everyone’s hungry, time is short, and nothing was planned. Some suggestions from that topic were recorded in the Juggle Cookbook:

The Juggle Cookbook

I suggest we do an update now, in honor of Sky’s return to work. What do you turn to when you get home at the end of the day and realize that nothing’s been planned for dinner?

Some of our desperation dinners are pesto pasta (jarred pesto that lives in the fridge, toss in grape tomatoes or chopped tomatoes or whatever is around that seems like it could go in); creamed tuna on rice and creamed chicken on rice with peas; sausages from the freezer either pan-fried with butter or broiled or done on a Foreman-type grill with micro-steamed veggies and smashed potatoes on the side; boneless skinless chicken thighs defrosted just enough to cut up stir fried with whatever veg we have around and some sauce from the mason jar of generic stir-fry sauce (house-made) that lives in the fridge, with rice.

What are your household’s desperation dinner?

Popular Majors at Selective Versus Nonselective Colleges

by Honolulu Mother

We have argued before about the value of majors that don’t directly tie in to a well-paid job. A recent 538 article notes that students at selective colleges are the ones more likely to be going into, say, social sciences or performing arts, while their peers at less selective colleges focus more on technical or directly job-related fields:

Students At Most Colleges Don’t Pick ‘Useless’ Majors

The article suggests that it could be that the selective school undergraduates assume they’re going on to graduate school so the undergraduate major matters less, or it could be that they expect their college name and network to open doors even where their major isn’t pre-professional. I would note also that more selective schools may not even have the pre-professional majors. Have you noticed this effect, and if so do you have thoughts on what causes it?

Vermin

by Honolulu Mother

Here’s a topic to make everyone cringe: What problem creatures tend to infest homes or yards in your area, and what do you do to fight them off?

In Hawaii, we don’t have cold winters to knock back the insect population, and we have flying cockroaches of a size only seen in most mainlanders’ nightmares, colloquially known as B-52s.

You can sprinkle borax along all your walls, and put out Hoy Hoy traps regularly, but they *will* get into your house, and on a still and muggy night lovelorn roaches will take to the air.

We also have centipedes (mostly outside, thank goodness) in our insect arsenal, and of course termites are responsible for a great deal of property damage. And we have the usual rodent suspects. And while I wouldn’t personally class them as vermin (because they eat termites and other bugs), geckos are a constant presence in Hawaii homes.

What unusual vermin does your area have? And, do you have any vermin-fighting tips?

Can Money Buy Happiness After All?

by Honolulu Mother

The Washington Post found a recent study so interesting that they reported on it twice:

Yes, you can buy happiness – if you spend it to save time

One surprising way money can buy happiness, according to scientists

In the study, people were given $40 and told to spend it on some fun item, and then given $40 again the next week and told to spend it on something to save them time. They reported greater happiness from the purchase than the fun-item group. The study concluded that you can buy more happiness from spending on anything from take-out to a yard service or weekly cleaners than from spending the same amount on material things.

We may be in the Totebag minority in not having a cleaning service or yard service, and we also go pretty light on the dining out or takeout. My first reaction was to wonder if my household is missing a good thing here. My second reaction was to wonder if the study had really accounted for hedonic adaptation, i.e. the idea that if you normally take care of some task yourself but one time you have someone else do it for you, it feels *great*, but if you always outsource it, that just feels normal. For example, when I get back from a vacation I always have a few days of adjustment to the idea that no, really, we do have to provision and prepare all the meals and yes, we really do have to go back to work. Then I settle back in and the routine feels normal again.

So what does the Totebag think? Is outsourcing pesky tasks really a surer route to happiness than saving for a family vacation or other goals? Or is this study missing a distinction between outsourcing something as an occasional treat versus routinely?

Reading the Fine Print

by Honolulu Mother

I have to admit, I don’t usually read the lengthy terms and conditions that one sometimes needs to click to accept for a software installation or to use an organization’s wifi. So I would have been one of the (great majority of) people blithely agreeing to manually unclog sewer pipes or paint snail shells here:

22,000 People Agreed to Clean Toilets by Logging on to Wi-Fi

For waivers for things like horseback riding or ziplining, I’ll at least skim through to make sure nothing looks out of place. But I’m not reading those particularly closely either — yes, I know there are risks, and it’s not like the terms are open to negotiation.

Are others more careful readers of the fine print? Have any other skimmers or skippers been burned by the casual approach?

What Weird Food Do You Order Online?

by Honolulu Mother

This NYMag article, and the one on cult condiments linked at the bottom, made me think of the various oddball food items I get from Amazon.

I Only Want to Cook With Things in Tubes

We buy the little tubes of hollandaise and bearnaise sauce (the Christian Poitier stuff — it’s pretty good!), curry pastes, sausage casings, fancy maraschino cherries from Tillen Farms, all of them things that if found locally at all will be pricey specialty items.

I’ve also been known to order Irish-style bangers and white and black puddings from some outfit in NJ. And I have to admit, I’m very tempted by a place in Maine that does smoked haddock, if I can ever talk myself into paying the shipping. (It was that year I spent in Ireland way back when that formed these particular tastes.)

What foods do others order online? Any that you’d recommend generally?

Alpha Girls

by Honolulu Mother

Here’s an article exploring what makes the cool high school girls cool, and why those same traits don’t necessarily carry over to adult success:

Why Everyone Loves the Alpha Girl

Did you fit this description in high school? Did you know other kids who did? What are they up to as adults?

The queen bee of my high school class was the queen bee from elementary school on up — no change in adolescence — and she was really perfectly nice, not relationally aggressive as described. Though she did once send her friends to ask me to trade the prize I’d won in an elementary school reading contest (a basketball hoop you could fit to a wastebasket!) for what she got as the second place finisher — I declined. But on the whole, she was the queen bee because she was pretty and athletic and generally pleasant, plus she had a six years older sister who was pretty and athletic and a popular girl herself, so from early on she was the cute junior mascot of all the high school cheerleaders. And now she is married with kids, working at something or other that her parents are very proud of (I ran into them a couple of years ago), and has enough going on in her real life that she’s not much on FB. So I don’t think she fits the pattern of this article at all.

The Latest Country Whose Parenting We Should Emulate

by Honolulu Mother

I’m sure we all remember when we were urged to go all Tiger Mom on our kids, and when a bit later we were urged to feed them pate and celeriac and send them off to play while the grown-ups talk, because French women not only don’t get fat, they also don’t serve up Easy Mac to picky eaters or hover over playdates. But now we’re offered a new group to be more like: the Dutch!

The key to raising happy kids? The latest trend says do as the Dutch do.

I am especially amused by this because a few years ago, around when the Tiger Mom stuff was big in the news, my daughter’s friend (whose mother is Dutch) had come along for a weekend at my parents’ house and my mother, impressed with the friend’s behavior, was talking about how there should be a book on Dutch parenting . . . right up until the friend accidentally dropped a gecko in my mother’s lap and it ended up inside her shorts.

The article suggests that features of Dutch childhood include plenty of independence, time for play, and minimal academic stress, all helped along by a wholly un-American level of work-life balance. Does that sound good to you? Does it sound feasible? And, what country’s parenting style do you think we should next be urged to adopt, and why?

How Do You Use Humor?

by Honolulu Mother

Here’s a humor quiz from New York Magazine that looks not at whether you have a sense of humor (we all do, of *course*), but instead how you use humor in interacting with others:

Test Yourself: Psychologists Created a Quiz to Define Your Sense of Humor

According to the article accompanying the quiz,

The HSQ divides humor into four main styles: Affiliative, Self-Enhancing, Aggressive, and Self-Defeating. Affiliative humor means cracking jokes, engaging in banter, and otherwise using humor to make others like us. Self-enhancing humor is an optimistic, coping humor, characterized by the ability to laugh at yourself or at the absurdity of a situation and feel better as a result. Aggressive humor is characterized by sarcasm, teasing, criticism, and ridicule. Self-defeating humor is attempting to get others to like us by putting ourselves down.

As the article notes, humor isn’t an unqualified good, as it can be used to positive or negative ends. I took the quiz and came out as primarily affiliative, which didn’t surprise me. Do any Totebaggers find themselves surprised by a quiz result? And, does the analysis of humor styles correspond with your observations generally?

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?