Ask the grumpies: Favorite class outside your major?

Leah asks:

What was your favorite class outside of your major and why?

#1  German, choral conducting, maybe that one English class where we read mystery novels.

#2  History, probably the British monarchs class because the prof for that one was especially awesome. (I would have been a history major, except the prof that I had for the required freshman seminar was a total a@#$@# and he taught a bunch of required classes, so screw that, and thus I ended up on a more potentially lucrative path.)

How about the rest of Grumpy Nation?

Ask the grumpies: Writing an external tenure letter

Tenured economist asks:

I was asked to write an external letter for a tenure case. Do you have any advice to share? We don’t use these in our tenure cases so I have never even seen an example! How long/detailed are they usually?

The following is based on external letters we’ve gotten in the tenure cases I’ve sat on so far.  We’d love to hear from the Grumpy Nation for people with more extensive experience and with experience in different fields.

There’s a lot of variation in these letters even from economists.

Usually they’re 1-3 pages long (single spaced with extra spaces between paragraphs, 12 point font, TNR, etc. give or take). Here’s what I’ve seen generally:

You don’t have to give a recommendation yes/no if you don’t want to. If you do, it can either be based on, “They would get tenure at [my university]” or “They should get tenure at their university”

You start by saying if you’re aware of the person’s work if you are aware of it, and if so whether or not you know the person personally and in what context. If you’re not aware of the person’s work you can choose to say that or to not say that.

Then you talk about the different strands of literature and put them in context for the committee. Talk about their quality and how they fit into the broader literature.

If there’s other items they ask you to address like teaching or service, then address those as well. We specifically ask for it to be focused on research and fit within the broader community (so potentially service to the profession if they have any) because we’re an R1.  SLACs, policy schools, and business schools might have different things they care about so if there’s something that the specific type of institution cares about you might address that.  Ex. teaching, media visibility, etc.  If there are potential things you might think would be concerning, like lack of single authored papers, you can talk about that as well and why that may or may not be a concern in this specific case.

That’s really about all there is to it.  The hard part is reading through the articles and figuring out their worthiness, especially you don’t have a helpful overview letter written by the applicant that puts it into perspective for you.

Ask the grumpies: Important questions about ice cream preferences

Leah asks:

Ice cream: vanilla or chocolate base? Lots of stuff added or little? Any additions you hate?

#1:  There’s this ice cream place in Houston near Rice University that I think is my favorite ice cream place in the entire country and I kind of wish I could go back to Houston just to visit it.   (There’s gelato places that I like more, but not ice cream.  And my favorite hot chocolate place is in Boston in Harvard Square.  And my favorite coffee place is in Los Angeles, in or near Santa Monica.  One benefit of lots of travel for work…)   Basically all they sell is different kinds of chocolate ice cream with different chunky things in them, lots and lots of chunky things added.  OMG, so wonderful.  They have this one with nuts that is out of this world, but they give you two little scoops with a small so you can get that on bottom and like chocolate orange or the girl scout cookie one (which I don’t see as one of their regular choices– I must have just gotten lucky) on top.  SO GOOD.  One addition I dislike is a weird one– I love maraschino cherries and I love fresh/frozen real cherries, but sometimes you order a cherry ice cream and you end up with like the cherries that they use in fruit-cake and it’s just so wrong.

#2:  chocolate with things added

ask the grumpies: Favorite sing-a-long?

Leah:

What is the best sing-along song ever?

I can tell you my current least favorite is this one song on Starfall about the days of the week.  Today is Friiiday.

Let’s go with the Wheels on the Bus.  They go round and round.

Ask the grumpies: Healthy natural environmentally friendly food for lazy people

Bogart asks:

I have realized that I value (a) minimal environmental impact; (b) foods made from “natural” ingredients, with “natural” here being a stand-in for Michael Pollan’s sort of stuff-my-grandparents-would-have-been-familiar-with. Things people have been eating (or cooking with) for a long time; and (c) not having to do food prep. Ever. At all.

B and C seem somewhat at odds with each other, though I am increasingly coming to believe that C is very consistent with A — that if, for example, I buy a rotisserie chicken it likely took a lot less energy to cook that chicken than it would had a roasted a single chicken at home (never mind baking bread). So my main question is how other people who value B & C manage to balance them. Should you post this, I’d be grateful if people could act like economists and assume that, no, really, I am confident about my actual preferences vis-a-vis C, it’s not just that I haven’t tried hard enough/long enough/gotten in touch with my inner chef. Also, I have enough of a budget constraint that I’m unlikely to land in a place where, e.g., I solve C by hiring a personal chef thereby violating A. So food prep does need to be minimal or inexpensively outsourced to solve this conundrum.

I tongue-in-cheek recommended a raw food diet, because even though there are plenty of people who do crazy raw food stuff (lots of sprouting and fermenting and processing and chopping and mixing and dehydrating etc.), you can actually be really lazy and just eat lots of completely unprocessed fruits, veggies, and nuts.  Depending on where you live, you can do this locally and organically too.  All it takes is rinsing off and chewing.  (How do I know:  Three months with DC1 of being completely unable to keep anything down other than fruit, and a limited longer-term diet with DC2.)  But it does take a lot of chewing.  And I am much happier being able to eat more food groups.

When you live in a West Coast city, this is also really easy.  Just go to your farmer’s market every weekend and buy food there.  Done.  You can get enough pre-made local ethnic food and other goodies to last you the week.  Still, farmer’s markets in other places often have local canned items and jams and baked goods and you can return the mason jars to them to be reused.

Everywhere else you’re going to probably not going to be able to do very well on (a) because food will need to be shipped in for 3-9 months out of the year.  Still, as a museum exhibit here in Paradise says, you can do a lot to minimize your environmental impact just by not eating meat or by cutting down on meat.  (I say this while lovingly scooping up a salad made with local butter lettuce, local feta, and ground buffalo, nom.)  So yeah, eat organic fruits and veggies.

Some cities have a caterer in town whose business model is to provide home-cooked meals to families for the week.  Usually they drop a big package off with you at the beginning of the week with meals for the entire week.  Many of these places have organic/resuable containers/etc.  But some of them it looks like all they’ve done is chop things and you still have to put stuff together and actually cook.  Meh.  Still, something to look into– it’s not exactly a personal chef because they’re making the same meals for a ton of people, which is also more efficient.  We flirted with this idea when I was unable to eat wheat with DC2’s pregnancy because one of the options in town did organic/gluten-free but never tried it out.

Really, it sounds like you want to go to your most upscale local grocery store in town and just check out their freezer section and ready-made section.  If you’re committed to minimal waste, do things like bring your own containers and get stuff from the bins (like mixed salad greens).  Also, we are big fans of cheese and crackers and fruit for dinner.  Crackers may not be the best option from an environmental standpoint, so you could do sandwiches (with local bread) instead or quesadillas (with local tortillas).  Which requires a little food prep, but mostly of the slicing and (optional) toasting/microwaving variety.  Here we discuss looking at ingredients on processed foods, and we also describe some really minimal prep options (see #5, for example, sandwiches).  When you’re middle-class or upper-middle class, most anything you can get from the grocery store is going to be affordable compared to eating out and you’ll save more money avoiding food-waste than skimping on things that make food easier (so don’t feel guilt about buying things that are already chopped/torn/etc).

Katherine says:

In my experience (not having been on one myself, but knowing some people who have and owning a few raw food cookbooks), raw food diets involve a MASSIVE amount of food prep.

I submit that Katherine’s friends get enjoyment (possibly perverse) out of doing that kind of food prep and you can’t sell a raw food cookbook that just says, “wash and eat fruits, veggies, and nuts.”

Cloud says:

I like cooking OK, but hate cooking in the time crunch I usually have during the week. I’m probably less committed to your point (b) than you (I’m a big fan of EDTA and other preservatives, for instance), but do try to avoid excess sugar and more processing and additives than are strictly necessary, and my main trick is to read labels carefully and find favorite brands of convenience foods. There are some that would probably meet your point (b) requirements, and using those can help with your point (c).

For instance, there are pasta sauce brands that really only have tomatoes, onions, garlic, and herbs as their ingredients. If you have access to good fresh pasta (or even good frozen filled pasta, like tortellini), you can mix that with the sauce in very little time. I also have a recipe I love that is essentially tortellini, a can of veggie broth, a can of diced tomatoes, a splash of white wine, spinach and basil. I can handle this recipe even on the crappiest weekday.

I get a lot of recipes like this from Cooking Light. They have a “quick and easy” section that makes good use of convenience foods.

The only caveat to my method is that it took a lot of time at the grocery store for a few weeks, while I read all the labels and found the brands I liked for the convenience food.

We’re fans of “pour sauce A over noodles/rice B”.  Sometimes we throw frozen veggies or even meat in.  Honestly, most nights we don’t do anything as complicated as what Cloud is describing– that sounds like a weekend meal for us(!) since it requires opening more than one can.  Al fresco dinners that contain some fruit or veggies (and your choice of protein/starch/etc.) are AOK and your ancestors would totally recognize them (assuming they were lucky enough to have fruit available).  We give permission.  If you want to just have snap peas and carrots and some bread, go for it.  Or microwaved mixed veggies with or without a pat of butter (something I ate a lot of while pregnant because it didn’t come back up again), also fine (though frozen veggies provide some waste :( ).

Grumpy Nation, how would you help bogart?

Ask the grumpies: Why is your favorite cheese the best cheese

Leah asks:

Why is your favorite cheese the best cheese? My favorite cheese is brie because it is delightfully creamy and decadent. A little goes a long way. Sharp cheddar is my runner up.

Ah, discussing our favorite cheeses is a question near and dear to our hearts.  Since we last waxed poetic on different kinds of cheeses, #2 has been to Italy and updated her cheese preferences accordingly.

#1:  St. Andre. Because it’s like the best of brie and boursin all in one wonderful cheese.

#2:   Although in general ricotta isn’t probably my favorite, buffalo ricotta from Italy is.  It’s like regular ricotta, but a lot more so.

A few of our commenters couldn’t help jumping the gun on this question so we’ll save them the need to post their answers again (unless, of course, they have more to add):

Chacha:  Extra-sharp, preferably white, cheddar is the cheese I always have on hand, because I love it and it keeps forever, but champignon brie is the Scheduled Cheese.
:-)

Linda:  Humboldt Fog is the best cheese, because it has several textures all in one slice: the rind and creaminess of brie, the crumbliness of chevre, and the barely perceptible grit of the ash layer. Plus, it is made with goat milk, which gives it a nice tang and means it can be enjoyed by the many people who have unpleasant side effects from cow milk products. :-)

jlp:

Clearly y’all have never had Prima Donna aged (with the red rind): http://www.primadonnakaas.com/about-prima-donna-cheese . When I read headlines about cheese being addicting, I thought, Oh, that makes sense – Prima Donna.  (Though I do like St. Andre as well! And, as a total side note, I once took a giant pie-shaped wedge of baked brie at a wedding when I mistook it for a custard pie. That was a surprising first bite.)

Ask the grumpies: Heuristics for 401k rollovers

jjiraffe asks:

 I have 3 401ks accounts – one in another country. What are good rules of thumb for when to roll over accounts – and when not to?

The first big thing to think about is fees (and within that, choices).

Second, hassle– effort to change vs. benefit of consolidation

Third, benefits of having a larger balance with some providers (access to lower cost funds)

Fourth, Roth conversions complicate things– if you want to convert a traditional IRA into an IRA Roth, or if you want to fund a “back-door” Roth, then you should keep your 401K as a 401K either with your previous employer or with your new employer.  This is because you have to pay taxes on your traditional IRA balance when you make a Roth conversion no matter how much you convert.  Of course, if you want that traditional 401K to become a Roth, then rolling over to an IRA and paying taxes makes sense.

Fifth, if you’re planning on early retirement, check to see if your 401K plan allows early withdrawal (such as at age 55), meaning before the IRA age of 59.5.

Personally I prefer making switches when the stock market seems to be behaving itself without huge fluctuations, though this is a matter of personal preference.  I just hate the thought of things changing a lot, possibly in a bad way, if there’s a hold-up in the selling/buying that happens when you roll over the 401k.

Never “cash out” the plan if you can help it.  If you do roll over your 401k you have a choice between rolling it over to a new employer or rolling it into an IRA.

No idea about the other country 401k– that may have different rules.  Talk to a tax person about that.

Standard disclaimer:  We are not financial planners and we have no fiduciary responsibility.  Talk with a professional or do your own research before making important decisions.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 326 other followers