Navel gazing on goals and midlife crises

It seems like everyone I read online is stepping back to focus on enjoying life and working less.

I’m not thrilled with my work right now and I’m not that interested in the projects I’m currently doing.  But I’m resisting this notion of purposefully cutting back.

The truth is, I like being busy.  I like accomplishing things.  I like *having accomplished* things.  I also like reading books and watching youtube videos and eating yummy food.  I like reading cookbooks, and if I don’t have much to do, cooking ranks as a hobby.  I think I enjoy the quiet life that I fit in around the edges of my job.  I love my little family to pieces– DH is my world, my kids are amazing, our cat is sweet and adorable.  Maybe not healthy, but they do bring me joy and make it extremely easy to practice daily mindfulness.  #blessed

The things I’m not currently delighted with (and could, indeed, be the subject of New Years resolutions or February challenges or just life goals in general) are 1. persistent work worries, 2. a feeling of fractured attention (ever since I got a cell phone 6 years ago… was it Trump or Twitter or both?), 3. a concern that I’m not doing enough activism, and 4. a general underlying feeling that I’m not particularly physically fit these days.  This last one seems both the easiest to address in terms of obvious actionable items but is also the one I care about the least. Though having problems with plantar fasciitis and injuring myself doing online yoga videos or calisthenics and so on have really shaken my underlying belief that I can, someday when I get around to it, just get back into shape.

The work worries are the biggest thing bothering me right now (besides things I can’t do as much about, *gestures at incipient fascism*).  Their two main things are 1.  I’m great at planning but am currently having difficulties with motivation which is kind of weird for me– in the past even if I’m not motivated to do one thing, I can productively procrastinate with how motivated that makes me to do other work.  #CatholicGuilt and 2.  Although I currently have two solid projects that are almost done (both literally need a week of work from a coauthor and a little pushing from me before getting sent out), I don’t have any big projects set up after that.  I have lots of little projects that me 6 years ago would never have even started because they’re so little, but they have student coauthors and grant funders and so on who deserve these smaller publications to be published.  Two of them are even currently R&R and just need to get DONE (the second R&R the student is working on, the first R&R the student has graduated, gotten a full time job, and had a baby so it’s all me.).  I know the path forward for these smaller projects and just need to get them out so I can start thinking big thoughts again and try to get back into the mindset of solid field journal paper in economics.  But I need space and time for that, and I think part of me is afraid of having that space and time in case I end up with nothing.  Which may be why I’m procrastinating on the smaller papers that need to get done.

And sometimes I wonder… I mean, I could just give it all up.  Give up my association memberships (including the new unexpected one), give up my identity as an economist, and I dunno, organize my house or something.  I find sorting things calming, so long as there’s a purpose to it and nobody unsorts it right away.  Then I could focus on stepping back and working less or something.  I mean, I really have nothing to step closer to.

I was brought up to believe that I should be productive, that I have gifts and I should be using those gifts to make the world a better place for other people.  I can do a LOT of that in my job– researching important topics with policy implications, mentoring students, mentoring junior faculty, teaching really well, removing students’ undeserved math phobia and building their (deserved) confidence, making sure that meetings are efficient and we actually move things forward based on best evidence (people who don’t remember meetings where this doesn’t happen don’t appreciate this last thing).  What if I were more selfish and just I dunno, spend the days cooking and reading novels?  (No gardening since I’m allergic to so many plants.)  Would I feel guilty?  Would I be unable to do it and end up throwing myself into volunteering and be miserable so doing?

Fractured attention– doomscrolling twitter is problematic.  I definitely feel more focused when I don’t start the day reading twitter.  But I can’t block it on my phone because of my stupid dual factor authentication software that I need for work.  Likewise I can’t just leave my phone elsewhere because of said software.  So although this seems like a simple thing to fix, it actually requires willpower.  I’m trying to think of if there is any device I could use for duo that doesn’t also have twitter… and … maybe my university has a usb fob that you can stick into some computers?  I don’t know if that works for the web-based things I need or just for logging into university computers, but I suppose I could try.  Looked it up– NOPE.  So, still need my phone.

Not doing enough activism.  Right now I’m not sure what I should be doing.  It was easier when other people were also doing activism.  It sounds like people are starting to get over being burned out, so this may be a place I can focus again.  I should make it clear– I do not enjoy doing activism.  This is something I hate doing.  It does not bring me joy.  But it is really important.  How best to do it right now, I don’t know.  But I do know it is really important and we are at a potential inflection point in the US and we cannot keep quiet or we may lose all the gains we’ve been fighting for for the past 50-100 years or more.  We need to protect our democracy and we need to protect vulnerable people.  The promise of the American Dream is in our hands.

And yeah, physical fitness.  Just needs time and probably money.  I should probably join co-Pilot like DH has and just do what the trainer says to do.  But I don’t wanna.  I do not want to.  So I will keep up with my desultory walking around and occasionally trying things until I hurt myself and give up.  I am being honest that this is not a priority.  And I’m sure there will be comments from people trying to talk me out of it (oh, but you will feel so much better in every other aspect of your life, oh all you need to do is X etc.), but all those will serve to do is vaguely irritate me.  I’m not a total lump.  My bloodwork numbers are fine.  I get my 10,000 steps in or whatever (though now while wearing slippers with arches instead of barefoot).  I will do whatever I do on physical fitness on my own timeframe.

So where does that leave me?  Still waiting for space, I think.  Still trying to find the perfect organizational system when really I know it’s not the organizing that’s the problem, it’s the willpower.  But I’ll get these papers in and coauthors will finish things, eventually.  And time will move forward.  And I’ve got some space this semester and even more next year.  I’ll be fine.

Here’s what Scalzi says about his New Years Planning:

2020 was the year a lot of things fell apart for me (and for everyone else, to be fair); 2021 was in many ways a year for me to rest and regroup; 2022 is hopefully the year I’ll start building some of the structures and practices that could carry on for me for the next several years.

Maybe that will be for me too… I just have to get some of these small projects out the door first.

Are you thinking of ramping up, cutting back, or reorganizing this year?

Ask the grumpies: Planning for retirement/savings when you don’t know when you’re going to die

First Gen American asks:

How would you plan for retirement date and/or savings plan if you each had a parent that both died very young and very old.

No matter what happened with your parents or grandparents, you don’t know when you’re going to die.

That means you need to plan for the contingency that you’re going to live a really long time.  Essentially– you need insurance against the eventuality that you live longer than expected.

There are a few ways to get this insurance:

  1.  Keep having income coming in (working)
  2.  Have a lot of savings that you don’t completely spend down (knowing that with luck you will still have money leftover when you die and that money will not be wasted because it brought peace of mind)
  3.  Annuitize

Those of us in the US and most other developed countries have some form of annuitization from the government– Social Security is ours.  Although Social Security may be cut or it may not keep up with inflation depending on future politics, it will probably be there to form some sort of hedge against outliving our assets.  But most of us want more than what that can provide.  If you want more, you can buy an annuity, though annuity markets can be kind of messed up.  Working longer is subject to ability, health, age discrimination and just plain luck, so you may not have a choice in the matter.  And savings you likely understand and are wondering how much to do.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say to stop worrying about when you’re actually going to do die as you do retirement planning.  Pick the oldest age you think you’re likely to die and plan for that.  Think of it as insurance, not optimization.  You’re trying to make sure you can afford tuna fish instead of catfood in your old age.  There may be contingencies with your own personal planning– you may have children you think could pick up the slack if you run out of money (or you may want to have some annuities).  You may be willing to drop your consumption down to low levels and hope the government picks up increased medical bills at older ages.  And as you get older, you’ll have more information about your personal health diagnoses and may have a better idea for the future.  But in your current planning, pick that old age and ignore the young one.

Even more on masks

Things I think I know from reading mask twitter (these are mostly PhDs who worked on N95 or aerosol studies etc. prior to the pandemic… I only link to mask nerd, but if you click on the people he retweets you end up going down a rabbithole of aerosol maskery) and watching masknerd on youtube.

  • The best mask is the one you will wear consistently.
  • Cloth masks are somewhat ok at protecting other people (WAY better than nothing), but not so great at protecting the wearer.
  • Fit is more important than filtration.
  • Filtration is still important.  Especially if you’re in places where not everyone is masked.
  • Cloth masks, even ones with filters, fall down on filtration.  None of the cloth masks with filters I’ve seen tested have a filter that goes all the way to the edges (including enro :( ).
  • Masks with head elastics tend to be easier to get a good fit with than masks with ear loops.
  • Masks with ear loops may be easier to keep wearing the entire day, especially if you occasionally have to take it off to do things like eat or drink.
  • KF94 last at least 40 hours without losing filtration.  N95 have been tested to last even longer.  One expert says that that with N95 the elastics die (or become too loose so you lose fit) before there’s filtration loss.
  • Do NOT wash your paper mask with alcohol or sanitizer– that kills the electrostatic charge.  (Getting your mask wet seems to be ok, so don’t worry about rain.  Still, don’t wash them.)
  • The best way to “clean” your mask is to wear it for up to 8 hours and then just set it aside for a couple of days.  Practically speaking, if your kids are going to school, this could operationalize as having 5 masks that they wear one school day a week for up to 5 weeks or until the fit no longer works, then swap out with another 5 masks.   My kids put their masks in a box next to the door when they come home.  I plan to put hash tallies on the masks in an unobtrusive place each weekend in order to keep track of how many uses they’ve had.  (YMMV if your kids get their masks literally dirty.)
  • Different faces fit different masks.  Standard N95 don’t do as well with women’s faces or Asian faces on average compared to other groups (they weren’t tested on them!).
  • It’s great if you can try a bunch of different masks in different sizes to find what works for you.  Also you may find that different masks work better in different situations (ex. A bifold Respokare works really well for my face shape, even though the measured filtration isn’t as impressive as the price-tag, but it is not breathable enough for an 8 hour day, where I prefer a medium Botn KF94 or Posh Large).
  • 3M makes different shapes of N95.  We’re really liking their boat shape, though they’re not the prettiest masks (there’s visible staples).  You probably don’t want the hard body N95 for everyday use.
  • KF94 have much better filtration than 94%.  The Korean government does a great job making sure that they don’t go below 94% which provides an incentive for companies to exceed that, and also makes it more difficult for fakes to come into the market (much easier to fake a KN95 because the Chinese government isn’t as careful).  KF94 are also a population-level mask, whereas the N95 standards are for occupations.
  • Amazon sells a lot of counterfeit masks, especially KN95.  You’re best off going with a Korean mask from someplace like behealthyusa.net or 3M masks from your local hardware store or an authorized 3M dealer.  (I went on the 3M page and found places they authorized to get our 3M masks).
  • Fogging glasses doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a bad nose fit.  On the one hand, if you have a bad nose fit, your glasses are likely to fog, especially if you have a good fit everywhere else.  BUT if you have a great fit everywhere, that water vapor may still come out of the top.  Masks are breathable.  It’s the electrostatic charge that’s doing the job with Covid, not a complete lack of holes in the paper.  Some masks will put non-breathable paper on the top of the mask to prevent fogged glasses, but most don’t.
  • With a good mask and a good mask fit, you shouldn’t be able to smell perfumes, but you may still be able to smell things like cooking food.  Apparently this has something to do with what the smells travel on and how big the particles are.
  • The tests experts recommend don’t tend to be smell tests — they tend to be feeling for air gaps tests.  They have different suggestions for how to test.  I’m not sure what is best.  Also, it’s ok for the mask to move out a little bit when you breathe out.
  • Some experts say if you’re boosted and wearing a well-fitting N95/KF95/(genuine)KN95 you’re ok and unlikely to get sick, even with Omicron.  Other experts say, no, if you’re the only person wearing a mask, even if you’re boosted, all that does is increase the amount of time before you get an infection and decrease the viral load.  Medical professionals, they argue, are professionally fitted and have other protections when working with Covid positive patients.  But increasing time and decreasing viral load is a good thing!

Are these true?  I don’t know!  They disagree with things other non-experts have said in their round-ups (see:  Josh Marshall), but the general idea– wear N95/KF94/(genuine)KN95 instead of cloth or surgical masks, and get the best fitting of those that you’re willing to wear consistently– those are probably good.

On salaries in economics

I recently went to a talk by a woman from the census who connected the survey of earned doctorates to tax records.  She has the entire universe of econ phds for the past 20 years (I’m in there!).  Econ PhDs in industry make more than those in academia make more than those in government.

I have more money than I ever dreamed of (though my dreams were small) and more than we actually need.  When DH is also working we are not even upper middle class anymore (though there are still multiple marginal tax brackets above us).

And yet…

Adjusted by quality/prestige of my PhD, my salary is below the median for academics.

In fact, my salary is below the median for academics in the PhD quality/prestige of the bracket below mine.

Should this matter?  I don’t know.  My friend at a SLAC likes to point out that her salary is way below mine and she’s from the same grad school.  And I think if I were to move to a SLAC I’d be ok with a salary cut (and I’d be happy to move to a SLAC so long as it didn’t come with an increase in my teaching load, which is already high for econ).

DH pointed out that part of the problem is that salary is considered an indicator of quality.  If you have a “low” salary, how good of an economist can you be?  After all, wage equals marginal productivity, doesn’t it?  Especially after the labor market has a chance to sort itself out?  (Answer:  no!  That’s completely ignoring search frictions and compensating differentials).

Should I care about prestige?  Should I equate salary with being valued?  Does it matter when I’m getting paid a ridiculous amount already that others are getting paid even more ridiculous amounts?  Would I be more productive if we had more money?  Should the fact that DH is also making a lot even enter into my equation?

I go back and forth on these questions.  I do like money.  And… half of the people do have to be below median.  It’s just hard when having a below median salary means people think you’re a below-average economist.  You know?  And my salary is publicly available.

Does your field equate salary with productivity?  Does it equate salary with value?  Do you?

401k/403b/457 contribution limits increase in 2022

The new contribution limit is $20,500.  Catch-up for those age 50 and over is still $6,500.

IRA contribution limits remain at $6,000.  Catch-up for those age 50 and over is still $1,000.

I increased my contributions for 2022!  DH can’t do his until Jan 1 though….

What we buy every week at the grocery store

We buy lots of other stuff each week, but those items tend to vary much more.

Our current grocery store allows us to have a list of items that we press a button and they get added to the week’s shopping without us having to hunt them down individually.

I thought it might be mildly interesting to share what’s on our “DH’s list” (that is, what we get every week).  Occasional substitutions are in parentheses.

100% Whole Wheat Bread

Organic Heavy Whipping Cream 16oz (this is often not in stock, so I play roulette so that we have it on hand when we need it)

Organic Milk 1 gal (generally we alternate this with half a gallon, depending on how much teenage DC1 is drinking)

Organic sliced colby jack

Organic sliced pepper jack

Organic unsalted butter

one dozen eggs (we don’t always eat 12 eggs in a week but sometimes we’ll need more than 12 so it evens out… if we have 3 dozen or more in the fridge I skip this)

organic bananas

garlic pod (if we have 2 of these I skip it)

organic ground beef (if we have one of these in the freezer I skip it)

triscuits

muesli (DC1 and I eat this for breakfast.  DH tends to buy grapenuts every other week so it’s not on the list and he also gets random other stuff.  DC2 prefers savory breakfasts.)

two dozen cans of store-brand fizzy water (flavor varies each week).

All told it comes to between $40 and $50 each week depending on what that week’s sales are.  (Swapping from organic to regular on the butter and on the ground beef would save at least $5.)

And that’s what we get every week.  Is there anything that you get every week? What are your regulars?

Not saying anything is a political statement

Some blogs are so invested in keeping their affiliates that they are desperate not to be controversial at all.  But what happens when you don’t address homophobia and you do tout Chick-Fil-A or both-sides racism and so on, is that your readership becomes pretty heavily homophobic, and pretty racist, and so on because none of the decent people want to follow you anymore.  Is it better to have your demo be the same as Fox News’s?  Maybe if you’re a grifter.

But morally and ethically, when you keep silent about the injustice that does exist in your community, you’re making a decision to accept it.  That kind of makes you a bad person, or at least “misguided.”  Use your platform for good, not sins of omission.

Here’s some twitter people saying it better than we just did:

(This first twitter quote seems to be from a no-longer existent twitter account.  But the author has this book!  All amazon links are affiliate.)

Annual charitable giving

Political action is really important.  Voting rights are under major attack and fascism is creeping every closer in the US.  So you can and should call your political representatives and donate to the campaigns of people you want to be your representatives (also donate locally!)!  It’s just as important this year as it was two years ago or four or six or eight.

That said, you can also donate money directly to charitable concerns.

One thing I’ve been doing a lot of lately– every time I see news about Republicans trying to censor LGBT books, I go over to donorschoose and search for LGBT and donate $25 to one of the classrooms.  There aren’t many (and half are in California…).  I initially tried to look up books by authors of LGBT YA that I liked, but came up blank.  Still, rainbow face masks and pride stickers aren’t nothing.  (There are a few books, but mostly non-fiction.)  Maybe you want to do the same thing but every time you hear someone trying to ban “critical race theory” you search for “diverse books.”  Or fund teachers buying books on those banned lists!

You also may want to check in with a local librarian to see if they’ve been getting threats from organized fascists about stocking books that support underrepresented minorities, and if so, give them your thanks and support both verbally and with a donation.  (I’ve been deliberately checking out books on the new banned lists– some of them have been pretty good!  Though there are a LOT of angsty graphic artists out there who are maybe not my middle-aged demo.)

Planned Parenthood needs your money.

We need the ACLU  to help us fight fascism.

Help pro-choice women Democrats get elected to office with Emily’s List.

Here are some charitable donations pages from previous years.

Grumpy nation, who are we missing?  Where should charitable dollars be going this year?

Presents for people

All Amazon links are affiliate

Sister:  She wanted a cutting board so I got her this one.  I also got her one of Nadiya Hussein’s cookbooks that we’ve been enjoying.  I feel like I should add something else because I usually spend more on her, but she hasn’t suggested anything yet and I haven’t been to her place since pre-pandemic so I have no idea what she needs.  DC2 wants to make her some kind of fresh marzipan art project, so zie has been experimenting with marizpan and ganache in preparation.  Recent discovery:  adding peppermint abstract to marzipan is *confusing* but if you pour melted chocolate over it it sort of kind of works?

Mother:  Amazon giftcard (all of the local bookstores have gone out of business again :/ )

DC1:  A boxed set of the Odyssey/Illiad/Aeneid (because zie really enjoyed Herodotus and suggested more Greek stuff, though I fear zie will be disappointed since Herodotus is hilarious), A hand-me-down Iphone 8 from DH because hir iphone 6 will soon not be working on our network and a new case with a hobby-related design to go with it, a Jacob’s ladder.  There’s also a birthday and DC1 will be getting drivers ed stuff and the awesome socks subscription that zie will probably not appreciate and will end up giving to DC2.

DC2:  Another chibi lights kit, a book on how to draw animals, metal straws for boba tea, whatever fiction books are still on hir wishlist after extended family has had a go at it.

DH:  As always zie gets 10x his weekly allowance added to his allowance.

Yes, DH’s family is doing gifts “only for children” but that mainly means we’re not exchanging adult gifts with SIL or her husband and sadly, BIL’s wife and I aren’t exchanging excellent novels off our respective wishlists (she has good taste so I used to do the shopping for her instead of DH).  But I can buy my own books!

MIL:  She filled out one those Grandmother tell me about your life books (we don’t actually like the linked one as much as this version that DH’s grandma did, but MIL chose the former) and we’re taking it to the local bindery and getting 3 copies made, one for each child.  Update:  because MIL chose the copy she chose rather than the version DH’s grandma did, the bindery said it would cost over $2K to do what we wanted.  So the new plan is that we scan in the pages ourselves, clean them up, and send the pdf to lulu.com (not sponsored).  Three copies that way will come in under $200, ignoring labor costs, possibly under $100.  (DH has already done the scanning via Adobe Scan on the phone, but now we need to clean things up– this would have been so much cheaper if she’d chosen a book with rings instead of perfect binding.  If you have a relative doing one of these books who wants copies made, spend the extra money to get one where it’s easy to get the pages out for scanning!)

FIL:  Gift certificate to Cabellas as per usual.

BIL:  A three pack of heatonist hot sauces (link not sponsored!)  Probably Los Calientes, Classic, and Keith’s Chicken Sauce, but DH may surprise me.  Update:  Los Calientes, The Last Dab, and Keith’s Chicken Sauce.

SIL DS1:  Apples to Apples (from wishlist), Origami Yoda books

SIL DD1:  Two Llama Llama and two “If you give a ” books from wishlist (one of these was expensive!), Bad Kitty Goes to the Vet

SIL DS2:  An Octopus bath toy and a stacking cup/hammer station thing from wishlist, some sandra boynton books SIL said they don’t have,  Baby Danced the Polka

SIL DD2:  An electronic vocabulary thing from wishlist, some sandra boynton books SIL said they didn’t have, a Pigeon book they didn’t have (SIL was pretty excited about this one)

BIL DS1:  This kid is as impossible as ours to shop for.  By the time we hit November 6th, his other grandma had bought everything that was on his wishlist except a $30 set of sketchy looking back-ordered (and arriving after Christmas) what looked like off-brand lego minifigs that claimed to be action figures from a sketchy looking seller.  So… maybe just an amazon gift card?  Or cash?  Update:  Confirmed cash is the better option with BIL.

BIL DD1:  Sailor Moon board game expansion, a book on how to draw animals, and sailor moon reusable water bottle (all from wishlist).

Other relative:  DH was like, maybe I should get him hot sauces like BIL, but he probably doesn’t like hot sauce and would rather have the money.  So maybe just a check (Update:  A check).  My guess is that Steam is going to have some kind of fun sale and DH will buy whatever games for both BIL and his other relative.  But maybe not, since other relative’s arthritis means he’s not been playing the same kinds of games that DH likes.

Do you have any fun ideas for people on your gifting list?  Anything good on your wishlist?

We bought a cheap bidet

Dear readers,

I bought a cheap ($35) bidet (all amazon links are affiliate, also the price currently appears to be closer to $40), figuring it was only $35 and it doesn’t require electricity so we don’t have to worry about wiring or having an extension cord go across the water closet.  (Note:  we have an elongated toilet seat– if you have a round one you will need a different model than the one we got.)

Here’s a set of texts from my first use:

… I tried it.

I screamed, but only the first time.  Even though I was the one controlling the setting, it was still a shock.  I turned it off right away and then tried again without screaming.

I… don’t know what to say.

I um feel clean?  Very clean.  Squeaky clean.

This kind only reaches one spot so one would have to do gymnastics to deal with uhhh urine or blood.

I don’t know how to feel about it.

DH also says he does not know how to feel about it.

A few days later, DH decided he does have an opinion.

A bidet is like a small shower.  It is useful for the times when you wish you could get into a shower but don’t want to go through the effort of taking your clothes off.  In those cases, it is the right tool for the job.  Otherwise, it is still like a shower, but it is a very directed shower in a place in which I do not want a shower.

He also noted that except in those rare occasions in which the bidet is the right tool, he uses more toilet paper to dry off than he would wiping.  (I assume this would be less of a problem with the heated air from the $450 model.)

We have very high water pressure in our house.  (This is a problem for our master toilet– we blow through toilet internal parts much faster than we ought to.)  Fortunately the bidet isn’t dangerous until you hit the setting for 3 (it goes up to 4…)  Setting 1 is always gentle. Depending on the time of day and whether someone else is using that water line, you either want 1.5 or 2 on ours.  But there is a really fine line between cleaning and giving yourself an accidental enema.

Sometime in October we finally hit Fall weather.  It turns out the water gets *very* cold once it is no longer summer.  That may argue for one of the more expensive heated models depending on how tough your nether regions are.

While I cannot say anything about the $450 model which is supposed to have a feature that allows you to better er, position things for women’s monthly cycles, I can definitely say that I would not recommend the cheap $35 version for that purpose.  Basically, water gets everywhere.  It is definitely more functional for defecation purposes.

And that is my “we got a cheap bidet” review.  I don’t think we’ll get a $450 model for any of our other bathrooms, but we’re also not going to be uninstalling this one from the master bathroom.

Do any of you have an expensive bidet that you love or hate?  What is your bidet experience?