Derek Thompson’s essay about his mom’s recent passing is beautiful.
The evolution of the college library. We LOVES book porn.
An interactive map looking at property taxes across the country.
The stats on newspaper columnists.
Last week, I went to the local salon to get my eyebrows shaped. As Kathy, my eyebrow lady, was warming up the wax, she vented about money. She said that the salon is totally dead this year, because Hanukkah came early and Thanksgiving came late. She said that economy never recovered, and people have stopped spending money on themselves. Women aren’t coming into the salon during the week, because everybody is working. She said that her husband is also not bringing in much money. He’s the manager of a high-end car dealership and works on commission. Nobody is buying cars either. She said that she and her husband were barely paying their bills this year.
I don’t need to read books by economists, when I have people like Kathy giving me all the dirt.
Fast food workers are on strike. They want the federal minimum wage raised from its current figure of $7.25 an hour or $15,000 per year.
What SHOULD be the minimum wage? Curious what you all think.
From Circa (not sure what this is)
Student loan debt owed by 2012 college grads who took loans averaged $29,400. That represents an annual average increases of 6% since 2008. Average debt for 2008 grads was $23,450.
Reactions to the PISA test scores are all over the place. Everybody is using the findings to promote their pet projects. Sigh. I can’t get too worked up about international comparisons. At the same time, I applaud any excuse to look at our schools and think how we can do better.
Yesterday, the moms at the YMCA’s swim practice chattered about bad presents from their husbands. (And, Steve darling, I just listened and didn’t add anything, because everything that you’ve given me was PERFECT.) A common mistake is clothing that would have looked fabulous when you got married and were still a size 4. Also, jewelry that is for a preppy person, when you’re really a bling-bling Jersey type of person. underwear is understood to be a gift for the husband, not the wife. Exercise equipment is NEVER a good gift. (Merry Christmas, dear. Please lose 10 pounds!) Big debates followed about whether or not they returned the items or kept them.
Because money has been tight during a big chunk of our marriage, we’ve kept surprise gifts to a minimum. I usually tell Steve what I need or we buy a piece of furniture. Gift cards to the local spa are always fine. This year, I need to replace or upgrade some essentials. I might buy stuff ahead of time and give it to Steve to wrap up. It’s not romantic, but we’ve been married a long time, so whatever.
1. Bag Lady. I need bags this year. Bags of all types. I just replaced my gym bag with the Adidas Club Bag - tres retro-preppy. My old one was a 15-year old Old Navy bag. I picked up a bag on Etsy for library equipment. In the afternoon, I work in the public library and needed something for the computer, chargers, books and all that. I think it would also work as a diaper bag. I need an everyday purse, but haven’t found the perfect one yet. The ladies at the pool were big fans of the Coach Leather Duffle Purse, but I’m not sure that’s right for me.
2. Jewelry. In an interview with Michelle Pfeiffer, she said that life eventually goes back to normal after you have kids, but you never accessorize again. Very true for the past 14 years, but I’m slowly going back to jewelry. I tend to wear the same things for weeks at a time, so I can’t deal with stuff that is too cheap. But there is still quite a range between total crap and investment pieces. I need a new jewelry box and a jewelry roll for travel. I bought this pair from Etsy. This pair made from a recycled flute is cute. I’m going to pick up a statement necklace from J. Crew, but I’ll get it on the 26th when everything is 80% off.
3. Party clothes. You need a couple of holiday outfits. Lately, my holiday outfits are the same as my date night outfits — party on the top and jeans on the bottom. I picked up a majorly discounted top at J. Crew yesterday. It’s not online, but check out this one.
4. Books. I love getting books as holiday gifts. Steve and I keep lists on Amazon, so relatives know what to get us. The best book that I read this year was Someone: A Novel. How beautiful is this set of Penguin Classics? Everybody should have a nicely bound edition of Sense and Sensibility (Penguin Classics). For more help, check out the New York Times’ book list.
5. Art. I tend to think that art is a TERRIBLE gift, because art is so personal. That said, there’s some really wonderful and inexpensive artwork for sale online. I bought this picture of garlic for my kitchen.
Okay. I will do a follow up post later with info about shoes and beauty products and other girlie items. Right now, I need to do some proper blogging….
Americans have always been concerned about the educational progress of our kids compared to kids in other nations. In the 1950s, the fear that we were falling behind in the race to the moon with the Soviet Union meant a new emphasis on math and science. In the 1980s, the Reagan Administration’s publication of The Nation at Risk said, ”the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”
When stacking up our kids with kids in Asian countries and even kids in a couple former Soviet republics, our kids fall short. Yesterday’s release of the international PISA test didn’t provide any relief from our national angst.
So, why don’t we do well? Is it the test? Is it our system of providing education? Are we fairly comparing the same types of kids in one country to another country? Can we even talk about education reform without dealing with massive economic inequality and childhood poverty rates?
Dana Goldstein at Slate has a good summary of the debate.
I’m sure that all those theories are right to a certain extent. There probably isn’t one fair and accurate way to measure educational progress across nations. Economic factors and the diversity of our country are in part to blame for our nation’s educational woes. We probably should have higher educational expectations for our kids. But I’m also certain that we could be doing a lot better as a nation at educating ALL of our children. I want to add one more point to Goldstein’s summary.
In some ways, the uniquely American way of letting localities control schools is a great thing. Each school operates as a laboratory of education, and some have cooked up really cool ways of educating kids. It enables schools to reflect the diversity of its inhabitants. It provides opportunities for citizens to become directly involved in their schools and can become a new avenue for political participation. All good things.
However, this tradition of local control of schools fosters an extreme individualism. The “MY tax money should go to MY kid” mentality means that schools have huge variations in the services. When the courts have attempted to equalize finances, localities have fought these measures. They have fought reforms in curriculum that might benefit poorer kids, when those reforms would disrupt their status quo. My kids’ suburban school bears little resemblance to schools just 20 minutes south from here in Newark.
And people don’t care. Well, maybe that’s a little harsh. Let’s just say that suburban parents, aka the voters, have no idea what’s happening in poorer and more urban areas. They have no incentive to learn more. Maybe these PISA scores will make people pay attention a little more. Maybe we need our politicians to explain why it’s a really bad thing that kids in Newark aren’t reading at grade.
Some say that if we create a national system of education, it might improve the urban schools, but it will decrease the quality of suburban schools. Then the wealthier families will exit the system, and there will be even less investment in education. It will also mean losing out on the good aspects of local control of schools – laboratories of education, diversity, and participation. Maybe we need a half way measure, like greater state control of schools.
So, understanding our kids’ PISA performance is terribly complicated with lots of blame to spread – teacher quality, economic matters, an anti-intellectual culture, as well as educational individualism.
I learned how to cook in a very tiny New York City kitchen. I had two overhead cabinets. We jerry rigged two lower cabinets from IKEA. We never bothered to anchor the cabinets to the wall. They leaned against a wall with a piece of IKEA butcher block on top. After about five years, the cabinets sort of listed to one side. When you’re in grad school, you learn to make do.
We also learned how to keep a very minimalist kitchen. Few appliances and dishware, just the essentials. And we’ve maintained our system, even now we’re out in the burbs.
This is the original Apt. 11D kitchen system:
1. Dishes. We have one set of dishes and never, ever add anything random. Never any holiday themed dishware. We use Crate and Barrel’s maison set. I’ve used them for 16 years, though I had to replace the dinner plates last year. They’re light and thin, so they’ll fit in nicely into tiny cabinets. Food looks good on white plates. Mugs and cereal bowls are an exception. I use Anthropolgie’s Latte bowls, as cereal bowls and Fishs Eddy mugs.
2. Serving bowls and platters. I introduce color and fun with the serving dishes. I prefer blue and green, so everything matches. I ordered some Le Souk Ceramique bowls through One King’s Lane. I like these serving bowls from West Elm, because they can be nuked. (As I was searching for things on Amazon, I stumbled upon these gems.)
3. Small items. I like these Art and Cook Bamboo Salad Serverswith Silicone Handles, because I have green accents all over the kitchen. Art and Cook also has a funky drying mat that I need.
4. Pots. A few years ago, I threw away all the hand-me-down pots and pans that were cluttering up my cabinets and honed down to one set that fits perfectly together and takes up very little cabinet space. I have the Cuisinart 77-10 Chef’s Classic Stainless 10-Piece Cookware Set. That set, combined with a few other essentials are all I need. Extra pots include a roasting pan, omlette pan, and one more 7 quart pot.
5. Appliances. I’m a huge Nazi about excessive kitchen appliances. If you have a good set of knives and a cutting board, then you don’t need 90 percent of the crap out there. I have about three or four exceptions: the KitchenAid Mixer, Cuisinart Immersion Hand Blender, and Cuisinart Food Processor.
I’ll add more to this later.
If you’ve ever had to stick up a cut in the emergency room or had an operation or popped out a kid knows that medicial billing, you know that medical billing is batshit crazy. The New York Times has a nice article that details the insanity.
But the article doesn’t answer my big question. Where is the money going? Is it going to the executives? Doctors? To subsidize the uninsured patients?
I have the same questions about our higher education system.
There is still lots of handwringing about the faulty rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Well, at least among bloggers and pundits. The weird thing is that I’m getting almost zero buzz about ACA from real life people. There was chatter in the first week or two and now… nothing.
Why is that? About 3/4rds of my friends get their insurance from the jobs, but that still leaves 1/4 who will probably use the government plan. And the remaining 3/4rd will also be affected in some way, though nobody exactly knows how yet. Still, no chatter at all. I think people have accepted the ACA — warts and all.
I think that the ACA isn’t a huge disaster and that pundits need to relax a bit.
That moment when you look at the clock and it’s 1:45 already. Crap.
Had a packed morning, so I’m going to throw out some links. I hope to write a proper post later the afternoon.
Should you shame bad behavior on social media? I’m tempted right now. A local community group, organized around stopping an apartment building development plan, tried to publish the names and phone numbers of all the special ed parents in town, so that they could be harassed for costing the school district too much money.
Lots of drama for Nigella Lawson.
Even though my kids don’t play with toys too much anymore, we still have a collection in the playroom for the cousins and the kiddies of friends. We wave the little kids down the stairs and then hand the friends a large glass of wine.
Over the years, I’ve culled the herd of toys quite a bit to the essential toys — the toys that were in heavy rotation for my kids and the cousins. Sent off to the Good Will were all the good intension toys and the secret agenda toys. So, all the science kits and the magic trick kits went. Sorry, grandparents, but your grandkids don’t want to learn about the constellations or make a flower come out of your nose. And nobody here has much patience for board games, because they are toooooo sllllooooooowwww.
The absolute most important thing for dealing with kiddie toys is having a sensible organization system. It needs to be big and tall, so you don’t end up with multiple systems. It needs to be able to handle grubby fingers. We are using IKEA’s storage system. Macy’s has the Neatfreak system. This ClosetMaid Cube Stackable Laminate Organizer is very nice.
We have three mega bins of Legos. We’re not buying anymore big $100 sets, because they get built in three hours and then get absorbed into the chaos of the bins, never to be assembled again. This year, the boys are getting their LEGO 60024 City Advent Calendar and LEGO Minecraft.
We have a box of matchbox cars, some of which date back to my brother and the 1970s. The cousins love our very cheap car garage set. I’m not sure who gave it us, but it’s a crowd favorite. Here’s a cute high end version – Plan Toys City Series Parking Garage.
Everybody buys girls princess outfits, but boys like to dress up, too, though not really in princess outfits. We keep all the old Halloween costumes in a trunk in the toy closet, and the cousins love them. Some friend buy up the discount costumes at Party City the day after Halloween.
Ian still plays with ZOOB.
Because Steve was in a “job transition period” last year, I pretty much stopped buying stuff outside of jeans for Jonah who spanned three different sizes in one year. Now, Steve’s back on a permanent line, and we aren’t bleeding COBRA money every month. We’re feeling more secure, so I’m using the credit card again for Christmas presents for the family and essentials for myself. My purse and shoes are seriously beat.
Every year, I put together some gift guide lists. Sorry, I didn’t have my act together for the freakishly early Hanukkah this year. This year’s lists will concentrate on essentials. I’m focusing on toys, girlie stuff, books, and kitchen thingies that are still in circulation in our home after ten years.
Anything you buy on Amazon (not just the highlighted item), via a link on Apt. 11D, will result in a small kickback to this blogger. So, thanks in advance.