Summer Break: Have you read our deliberately controversial tag?

Back when we had more free time and it seemed like the US was on a good trend, we had a lot of silly deliberately controversial posts written to provoke discussion on controversial topics.  There’s a few from 2019 and a couple from 2017 but these are mostly pre-2016 things.  On important topics, like, you know, gift giving.  Or whatever drama was happening in mommy-blogland or academia-blogland.

Check them out!

Have a controversial but completely unimportant opinion?  Drop it in the comments!

Summer Break, links to old money posts

Nicole and Maggie discuss budgeting

Some early popular money posts

The Money tag

#1 used to have a mortgage

Do you have any favorite money posts?  Any money questions for Ask the Grumpies?

Ask the grumpies: cool travel experiences

CG asks:

Cool travel experiences (not just destinations, but specific memorable experiences) for when we can all do that again.

Hopefully #2 is having some right now.

We invite others to share their cool travel experiences and to check out all the yummy food #1 ate in Italy.


  • We’ve decided that DC1 will be making any and all college choices.  We do have a few rules that we’ve outlined here before:  It must be in the Fiske guide.  It cannot be a public school in another state (we’re not paying private school tuition for a state school, and the states with reciprocity aren’t as good as our state flagship).  But other than that it’s up to DC1.  We have saved and will pay for whatever.
  • While DC1 was researching about Harvey Mudd for hir practice “Why Mudd?” essay, zie came upon a lot of stuff about the insane workload and how students put things off to the last minute because they’re taking 5-6 classes a semester when students at the other 4 consortium colleges are only taking 4 classes/semester.  And how there’s so little grade inflation that literally only a handful of students have gotten a 4.0 since 1955.  (I mean, I didn’t get a 4.0 in college either, but I also never got below a B and was never concerned I would get below a B.  I think DH got a C in a pre-med weedout class he had to take for his major at the regional ivy he went to.)
  • HMC has recently cut a couple of classes from their core curriculum, but it’s still generally 5-6 classes a semester going forward, except the first semester is only 4.
  • But our students at the state flagship also take 5-6 courses a semester, so maybe that’s not horrific?  Still, our undergraduate classes aren’t anywhere near as intense as classes at a top liberal arts school.
  • I had so many friends burn out at Caltech who are now not working in anything STEM related.  (I feel super guilty about my ex-boyfriend from high school who could have graduated from our state flagship in 2 years instead.)  Harvey Mudd isn’t that because they have support systems and stuff, but if DC1 wants to go to graduate school, will a lower GPA hurt?
  • DC1 is currently thinking HMC for early decision.  They accept 25% of their early decision applicants and far less than 10% of their regular decision applicants.  DC1 doesn’t really have any “spikes” in terms of extra curriculars (everything zie has done would be considered “4th tier“).  I would feel so much better if zie knew what hir full option set was before making the decision to do HMC.
  • It’s hard to make these decisions as a 15 year old.
  • Another thing we talked about was social lives.  I went to a top liberal arts school, which draws people across all different majors.  And I’m super lazy.  So I tended to just socialize (ex. eat meals with) people I lived near rather than people I had actual things in common with.  I did have friends who were nerds (math majors, the guy who introduced me to Kenshin, etc.), but, because I always got low housing lottery numbers, seeing them was more of a weekly thing than a daily thing (technically, I got mediocre housing lottery numbers, but my roommate got insanely low ones each year and I couldn’t dump her because that’s how I ended up being paired with her in the first place– her friends dumped her because she brought their average down too much).  At any large school, your people exist (DH found his through fencing club), but if you’re lazy, you won’t necessarily make an effort to see them.  At a place like MIT or HMC or Caltech, you’re surrounded by people with interesting interests, but the workload and lack of grade inflation can make socializing vs. work tradeoffs difficult.
  • PE is a 4.0 class.  Since DC1 took it as a junior, hir class rank dropped from 25 to 23.  That explains why the class was mostly second semester seniors!  We didn’t even think of that.
  • (Also the class rank denominator dropped a lot– I guess kids do drop out of high school when it’s no longer required, which is super sad.  It’s not redistricting and there wasn’t a drop like this last year and it’s not like the university is making cut-backs or anything so university parents aren’t leaving.)
  • DC1’s class schedule doesn’t work– zie cannot take AP Music Theory because it’s never offered.  AP Art History doesn’t fit into hir schedule.  AP Spanish V (a point of contention in the grumpy household, but we gave in with the proviso that zie include it as an alternate) doesn’t fit into hir schedule.  There are no 5.0 classes that weren’t on hir list (Anatomy, AP Bio etc.) that fit into the blank spot left after all the other classes are set.  So zie can either take a “research” elective (they have to come up with something and submit it to a science fair) or zie can take multivariate calculus at my university (sadly, they don’t let hir take classes over the summer, just during the school year).  DC1 wants to take the calculus option.  I’m not sure if this is going to be possible because of class schedules (the university has to open up their evening section to make it feasible, which it will probably do after freshman enroll), and if it is, I’m so worried about the work load on top of AP Chem, AP Calc-based Physics, AP Statistics, AP English, AP Government, etc.  Especially since it looks like the engineering version’s evening section is full and zie would have to take the math major section if it opens up.  We barely got through this year and zie had PE/study hall for one class!
  • The grades for above won’t matter if zie does early decision or goes to the state flagship.  The AP tests won’t matter if zie goes to HMC (they don’t accept any).
  • DC1 had to get a meningitis shot to apply!  We’re still waiting for that to go through before zie is allowed to try to sign up for calculus even if there is a section that works for hir.
  • My friend recommends the research option because the teacher gives everyone 100% and the class is essentially over in February after the science fair.  But that requires finding a mentor and sitting in the back of the physics class DC1 just finished everyday during the free period and DC1 says zie doesn’t want to do it.
  • I don’t think zie will be able to use hir summer internship project for the science fair because it uses protected and proprietary data.  But that’s something we will have to look into if calculus doesn’t work out.
  • I kind of hope multi-variate calculus doesn’t work out.
  • My undergrad no longer allows undergraduate cars on campus!
  • Not related to college: Covid update:  My friend who I walk with at work’s daughter has covid, just a day before she was going to get her first vaccine (or a week before her 5th birthday when she had been going to get her vaccine).  DH’s colleague that he was at a conference with the other week seems to have picked up covid at the conference she went to directly after.  I am so glad that DH didn’t get it at the conference and I’m also glad I didn’t make it into work this week(!) since I’m the only person at work who masks still and one-way protection isn’t perfect, and even I don’t mask on our outdoor walks.  County reported levels are 25/100K.  I hope these are all mild cases.
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On being rich (high income) again after a stint of unemployment

Prior to DH’s last unemployment spell, I was feeling uncomfortable about having so much income.  I felt guilt because I was one of the “haves” (I probably still feel this, and it’s probably a good thing for me!  So don’t talk me out of it with conservative talking points), but also I had this odd sense that I should be looking for things to spend money on.  Money felt meaningless and valueless and there was no reason NOT to just order that $80 bottle of olive oil, or two even, no reason not to put money on the nicest AirBNB available for the trip we never ended up taking etc.  The only thing keeping me from buying all the pens (and I did buy a lot) was the knowledge that they might dry up before getting used!

Then DH got unemployed for several months and we were living on just my income.  We lived comfortably, but mainly because we didn’t have any big expenditures due to luck (being between appliance breakdowns) and the pandemic returning all our travel moneys and preventing us from spending on any new travel or fancy camps or expensive daytrips to the city or even eating out much.  (I still bought pens.)  It sort of felt like we were back to normal, but with more masks, hand sanitizer, and stationery.

Now we’re back to making more money than we’ve ever made and more than I ever dreamed of and somehow money has meaning and I’m not just buying all the things. But also I’m not freaking out when our water heaters end up costing almost twice as much as they were supposed to.  It’s just money and we have money.  But also, when it cost $1K+ for DH and the kids to see family from the closest city airport this summer, we decided it was worth the extra 30 min drive to the closest airport to save $500.  Was that a good decision?  I don’t know!  I refuse to feel either guilty or superior about it.  It seemed like a reasonable tradeoff at the time– 30 min plus a small amount of gas and car depreciation to save $500.

Several of the extremely wealthy and high income (white male) economists I know are also pretty frugal.  They spend money when it’s worthwhile but they also take advantage of sales and bargain down in situations where you can bargain.  I’m not sure it’s rational to do that when your consulting rate is $500/hr, but, they seem to think it is.

I’m not sure what caused the change in me.  Maybe it was just time.  But also I think having experienced via his last unemployment spell the knowledge that this high income really isn’t forever.  DH’s current job is a start-up and it may end if it runs out of runway.  Maybe it’s the knowledge that DC1 will be starting college soon and we’ll have to cash flow some of it if zie ends up at one of hir top choices.  (If zie ends up at the state flagship I don’t know what will happen to all those savings– $228K as of this writing, down from a high of $275K(!)– but I’m sure we will figure something out.)

So what am I doing while we wait for another shoe to drop?  Mostly I’ve been putting regular money into the stock market– a little bit more than my take-home pay each month most (but not all) months in order to get down our precautionary savings to what we actually need as precautionary savings should DH suddenly lose his job at the beginning of an unpaid summer (or, alternatively, I rage quit).  We’re down to that number now, so there will be less funneling money into the markets next year.  Having that money put away also helps the feeling of being artificially middle-class.

We’re still living well, and we’re still in a situation where rising grocery costs just means we shift to buying more luxury goods (that suddenly cost the same as non-luxury products that used to be much less expensive) and we’re still able to not sweat unexpected costs or even stupid money mistakes.  But our money situation no longer feels quite so surreal or consumerist.

How are you feeling about your income vs. spending with rising prices and loosened pandemic restrictions?

Link love

Titles in British Historical Novels

Early review for Husband Material sounds promising! Don’t break my heart, Alexis Hall!

Historical Market Returns.

Gave $50 to donors choose books for Trans kids in red states. While I was getting the link for Donors Choose, it’s telling me that this one in Fort Smith Arkansas is matched right now.

Ask the readers (but really, it’s me telling DH…): What is Love?

According to The Love Languages, for me, love is acts of service, physical touch, and quality time.  For you, my DH, it is physical touch, quality time, and words of affirmation.  Basically, I get the better end of this deal because you do nice stuff for me and all I have to do is appreciate it!

Now I have “The Rose” stuck in my head.  It’s a river!  A hunger!  A flower!  Such a negative song.  Our love is not at all depressing.  Our love fills rather than enervates.  It encourages instead of dispirits.  Our love knows how to dance, even if maybe we don’t.*

Our love is all the good feelings put together.  Love with you is exciting and joyous, but also comforting and soothing. You can control my heart-rate with a touch.

When I think of our love, I often think of the Fantasticks.  I saw the musical as a high school student when we were having a rough spot in our relationship, or maybe had just gotten back together, and it really spoke to me. You are love, better far than a metaphor could ever ever be.  It still speaks to me, because our love has really gone from that teenage romance, which didn’t feel superficial at the time, but perhaps was, to a more mature view.  Love is experiencing the world with you, even when you’re not physically there.  Time together, while gaining trust, communication skills, and understanding, has removed the tempestuous potential negatives of young love and replaced them with with closeness, and the knowledge that you are there and you will be my anchor and the rock in my foundation.  Love is being with you and wanting you to be happy and wanting to see how you experience the world.  Wanting to share in our experiences.

You are love, but also, love is you.**  “All my wildest dreams, multiplied by two.”

Previous anniversary posts.

What is love to you?

*Refraining from a dirty joke here.

**Trying very hard not to spoil this sweet sentiment with a Yakoff Smirnoff reference.  Which is another thing I never would have experienced had your grandmother not given us a VHS tape.

Some summer writing stuff for DC1

DH pointed out to me that DC1 will allow hir work to expand to take any amount of time allotted for it.  A lot of this is wasted time or hidden goofing off (something I am prey to as well).  Basically during the school year zie steals little bits of time to websurf and forum chat etc. and never has large pockets for things that are actually fun like composing or video games or movies or even books.  We talked about why that might be and came up with the fact that whenever DC1 looks like zie isn’t busy we always have suggestions for things to do (usually stuff zie should be doing anyway, like hir laundry or emptying the dishwasher, but not always).

It also has become very apparent during the last year that DC1 hasn’t been taught any writing skills since fifth grade when we were living in Paradise.  Zie just hasn’t had to write.  And hir first draft isn’t generally that great.  (We only noticed this in the last 6 weeks because prior to that there were few writing assignments and what writing assignments there were, DC1 would work on verrrrry slowly and not get a draft done that zie was willing to show us until they were actually due.)

Sidenote:  some college applications have the option of turning in a graded essay as a writing sample.  DC1 does not have a single thing zie could turn in.  The most writing zie has done (other than lab reports that “don’t count”) were FRQs (aka practice AP test writing) from hir history classes.  I wouldn’t trust hir own English or History teachers to be able to write anyway (with the exception of the late AP US History teacher who was writing rec letters from the hospital before his death).  Hir racist World History teacher wrote a terrible rec letter for my friend’s son which was both badly written and made him sound like a jerk, which he isn’t.  (She started with basically, “He may seem like a tyrannical leader” and then had kind of word salad and ended sort of, but not clearly, saying but that would be incorrect?  It didn’t say what she thought it said.)

My friend’s kid who is going to Brown next year has perfected putting things off to the last minute and then doing a reasonably good job on them in a short amount of time.  DC1 does not have that skill.  My friend’s kid also put off doing college essays to the last possible second which caused my friend a lot of stress (though zie still got into Brown, so…)

So we decided that this summer DC1 will practice personal narrative writing in the form of college essays.  Zie will learn how to brainstorm and how to write a first draft quickly.  And, this is important, once zie has a good essay, zie is done for the week (other than picking out the next week’s question).

We started off small with a short Harvey Mudd Essay about the ideal humanities/art class.  Brainstorming was a little painful– zie still seems to have a bit of that perfectionist streak.  But in the end we got some ideas on paper.  I gave hir I think an hour to get a first draft from the brainstorming.  The first draft was ok, but it wasn’t very punchy and there were a few items that were obviously clear to DC1 but not to the reader.  DH and I went through and cut out repetitious parts, suggested different ways that sentences could be moved around to make the narrative punchier, and requested clarification for the parts that weren’t clear.  The second draft was perfect.  And we were done for the week.

I’m hopeful that this trend will continue as we get into more obnoxious essays (zie has been looking at the Amherst page– the essay prompt back in my year, “Barbra Streisand sings that people who need people are the luckiest people in the world, but Sartre says that Hell is other people, which do you agree with and why?” was so sickening that I ended up choosing not to apply; it looks like in 2021 they offered some choice, though I’m deeply offended by the anti-math prompt from a physics professor).

There are a lot of guides for writing essays out there, but these essays have kind of an almost flippant tone that neither DC1 nor I like.  There’s a sort of sameness to them.  I told DC1 that zie doesn’t need to emulate them, but zie does need to have hir own voice come out.  Narrative essays (blog posts, essentially) are not the same as technical writing.  I’m not sure how good my advice is.  My sister’s common app essay, in retrospect, did kind of emulate these essays (she talked about destroying my stuff as a kid and how dance and physics intertwine) and she got in everywhere she applied while mine was more of a “here’s a social problem illustrated by my experience volunteering” and I didn’t get in everywhere I applied.  But… my sister had a better overall application than I did (team captain for award wining all-girls poms and math teams, knew she wanted to do mechanical engineering, etc.) so I can’t just blame the essay.

More travel stuff

  • I’d forgotten quite how much planning has to go into a non-conference trip.  DH has been handling most of it, which I appreciate.  (Oddly, I like planning things for DH and family when I’m not going, but it loses all its luster when I’m going too… so I have done a lot of planning for DH’s extended family vacations even when I’m not there too, but DH does the planning for joint trips.)
  • All told, train tickets are coming to just over $1K for the four of us for all of our city-to-city trips.  Planning these and buying them was surprisingly easy using Rail Europe (I wish the US had this!).  We looked into getting a pass thing which basically means you get discounted reservations for trips, but the money didn’t work out, so we stuck with buying them individually.
  • We will still need to get within-city transportation, but it looks like most of our needs can be met with light rail + walking and we can avoid buses, taxis, rental cars, ubers, etc., which is good because it sounds like traffic is horrific in a couple of places we’ll be needing to travel, at least according to Reddit.
  • We decided to keep our regular cell-phone plan with Ting.  People recommend Google FI or getting European sim cards or a number of other complicated things.  After running the numbers, if we’re not careful and keep our usage to what it normally is, the most we’ll cost is still well under $500, whereas the other options all have upfront costs and huge potential hassle costs.  If we are careful, by which I mean, we download maps while still in the US, we turn off cell for the most part while traveling (except when apart or for emergencies), we keep DC1’s cellphone at home, we turn off the ability to receive pictures etc. it should be much less than the other options, but we still have the ability to spend money if we’re separated or somehow get lost somewhere we don’t have maps for etc.  (The reported wifi at our various hotels varies according to Trip Advisor, with some places being great and some places not so much.)
  • We don’t have an atm card for our local credit union.  It looks like our Wells Fargo account charges $5/use plus whatever foreign ATM fees charge (we don’t have premier checking and would need to add another 8K to the account to get it).  I don’t even have an ATM card, so I opened up a Capital One checking account which has no fees other than what the ATM itself charges.  I already have a credit card and savings with Capital One, so I just shifted some savings over. Hopefully the card will get here before we leave.  Even if we end up going with Wells Fargo it would be nice to have a back-up ATM card just in case.  As an added bonus, it looks like if I transfer $250 over twice from our etrade accounts in the next some amount of time that we’ll get a $250 bonus for opening the account.  We’ll see though.  (It wants direct deposit, but what counts as a direct deposit varies.)
  • The only day we can go to the Museo D’Orsey is a free day.  I hope we can get in and I hope we don’t get Covid!  We plan to go super early.
  • We got our tickets to the Louvre!  We’re not actually that excited about it (compared to everything else we’re doing) except we feel like we should get a glance at the Mona Lisa because that’s what one does on one’s first visit to Paris.
  • We haven’t gotten tickets to places in the other cities.  I’m thinking we’ll just play it by ear.  I am really excited about a museum where one of my favorite painters used to live.
  • We’re bringing candied pecans as hostess gifts for my second cousins.  I hope that’s not ridiculous, bringing candied nuts to Europe, but pecans seem like a Southern US thing.  (Though DH initially bought some overpriced not as good candied pecans imported from Spain when I didn’t specify on the grocery list that I wanted the local variety.  So it’s not like Europe doesn’t have them.  But we will not be bringing those as hostess gifts.)
  • DH and the kids will be visiting his parents in the rural midwest while I’m at one of my conferences.  They’ve decided to fly.  We were able to get 3 round-trip tickets for ~$500 by flying out of a city that’s somewhat farther away than our normal city.  This is less than half of what our normal city would cost AND has better times (DH’s parents don’t have to pick them up at the airport at 11pm!)
  • Sadly, the flight days to get those tickets mean that I’ll be home alone on DC1’s birthday while zie is at the grandparents.  Zie doesn’t seem broken up about it and we talked about maybe giving hir our presents before I leave for the conference.
  • After three years of nothing, it feels like an insane amount of travel, but really, it’s just one more trip than usual for the family in the summer since I usually have conference travel and DH and the kids usually (in pre-pandemic times) visit his family while I’m at one of the conferences.  We used to do more kids tagging along to conferences with me back when it was easier to take them out of preschool or private school (public school really doesn’t want them missing days).

Link Love

Revanche has excellent and important links this week.

We need more articles like this one.

(Not) vacationing back to normal

Revanche asks what to do with books when the author turns out to be a bad person.

Dr Glaucomflecken’s recommendations for eye-drops.  (My left eye has been having dryness problems on top of involuntary twitching.  Stress?  Menopause?  Computer eye-strain?)

Enoughing it describes creating LaTex files for her planner.  (I bought a second Passion Planner even though it’s not quite perfect for what I want.  I’m disappointed I don’t like this year’s designs, but buying Black again is cheaper…)


Gave $25 to Donors choose (helping trans kids in a red state).  Because of the kid in Texas who attempted suicide after the TX government told CPS to treat trans affirming care as child abuse.

Gave $25 to Swing Left in honor of the Jan 6th hearings.

DH is at a March for our lives rally to protest the lack of sensible gun control legislation and the prevalence of assault weapons today (Saturday).  Find one near you.  (Yes, I am aware that the evil Right Wing wants you to not call them assault weapons, as if that is not their most dangerous purpose.  I have zero tolerance for language policing on this topic.  Not when US children are in completely unnecessary danger.)  I’m home with the kids because I would literally vomit and pass out from the heat.  I feel guilty about that.