Thoughts on in-laws and Christmas presents for the kids

I’ve mentioned before that we don’t buy Christmas presents for our children other than stocking stuffers.  This year is no exception– I still need to buy candy and I picked up some fun smaller items to stick in the stocking, but other than that we’re done with shopping for the children.

Why don’t we buy Christmas presents?  Because my in-laws are insanely generous and they seem to be able to pick out stuff that DC1, at least, loves.  (DC2 hasn’t been around long enough to know how ze feels about the in-laws’ taste.)  They buy tons and tons of presents and if we added more it would be even more overwhelming.

Some people get upset at grandparent generosity.  They resent the buying etc.  I mentioned my in-laws’ habit the other day on a blog and someone said they had the same first-world problem and it made her angry.

It doesn’t make me angry, because the in-laws are getting joy out of picking presents and they live far enough away that we don’t actually have to show them the gifts. And some of the gifts are pretty spectacular– the kinds of things I dreamed of growing up (train sets, a giant wooden castle, a bicycle, a real microscope, a wii, etc.). But some portion of the presents end up unopened in our gift closet for other kids’ birthday parties because there’s only so much space and only so much a child can play with over the course of a year.

It’s weird because they give more to my kids each Christmas than I got from my entire extended family and Santa combined growing up. My own grandma would give one really nice present to each of us (like a porcelain doll) at Christmas when we were kids.

My FIL is stuck in a job he hates where he has to work a lot of unpaid overtime. I can’t help but think that if they were a little less generous with the grandkids, that they would have more financial freedom now. But it isn’t my place to say anything, and if they cut back it would also affect the other grandkids whose families have different values about Christmas and presents.  They are scrupulously fair about these things and each grandkid gets exactly the same dollar amount.

So we make up for it by not doing any Christmas gifts ourselves. Except the stockings.  We save what we would have spent and it will be there in the future should the in-laws need it.  (Though they probably won’t given that they’re in the last generation of generous pensions.)

Did you get a lot of stuff for Christmas as a kid?  Are things different today?

Link love

Feral homemaking also wanted to do a personal finance reality check this week.

Jim C. Hines demonstrates how ridiculous book cover poses for women are and raises money for charity in this pose-off with John Scalzi.

Dreadful acres discusses crappy cellphone and internet reception in the country.

Teaching kids programming skills by letting them “program” their parents:  I want #1 to do this and send me video.

In case this tenure thing doesn’t work out, to simplify discusses the benefits of living in a van down by various rivers and how to do that with a cat.

Speaking of hilarious cat antics, Scott Eric Kaufman has a cat that looks funny now.  His funny posts make me LOL.

Should you work for free?  A flow chart.  Related (and also stolen from Scalzi comments section):  A great video on contracts (and how to get paid).

Leah solves our holiday Christmas tree problem for this year.

A sweet gift for the dad who has everything, including a loving daughter, from tales and trenchs.

I have two very different songs stuck in my head:

Ask the grumpies: Would shorter bills help government?

First Gen American asks:

I was brainstorming with my friend on how to make our government more effective at driving change. One idea we had was to put a character limit on bills that go before congress. (Say a 3 page limit). So instead of having a huge proposal with 8000.sections and all kinds of ear marks, you attack a problem like health care or the economy in bite sized chunks. I am not an economist but we have implemented a similar strategy with contracts st Work. Keep them simple and add one page amendments as needed if the situation arises. We dont try to cover every scenerio ahead of time, unless its a joint venture type thing.. Nefotiating ala carte is faster than trying to do everything at once. Would love the economic’s view of this concept.

Wasn’t this one of Herman Cain’s suggestions?

Sadly, although this suggestion on the surface seems like a good idea… bills tend to be long partly for good reasons.  (Partly for bad reasons too, but earmarks are the grease on the wheels of bipartisanship.)

First, in general, we only want government intervention in the case of market failures (including paternalism).  That’s because when we have government intervention, there are almost always unintended negative consequences, and factors will almost always try to go back to their unfettered market state, even if that means people are worse off.  A lot of legislative detail goes into limiting these unintended consequences (small business exemptions, for example) or closing up loopholes.  That adds length.

Negotiating a la carte really doesn’t work in federal government.  When one party tries to hold the other up, legislation just doesn’t get passed.  I’m not an expert in political economy, but I understand that these huge bills work well because they allow compromise and earmark bribery.  Without that, things do not get done because bills are just not voted on.  There would have to be reform to the way congress does business in order to have even a chance of bringing legislative pieces to a vote.  On top of that, some things only work when all the pieces are in place and do not work a la carte.  The health care bill in particular is an example of this– costs need to come down, coverage must be mandated, and insurers must not be allowed to discriminate.  These three items need to happen together, missing any one leads to the act not working.

In business it’s different– vendor and client have similar goals and a more collegial working relationship.  In government, especially these days, political parties score points off each other by blocking the other from getting things done.  It’s less collaborative and more combative.  There are winners and losers and not just winners.  Additionally, the effect of a repeated game will be different, as congresspeople don’t get to choose who else is in congress, but business folks get to choose who they make a contract with next time.  These differences make it easier to have simpler contracts in the private sector.  (Contract theory is also not my area of expertise though.)  When parties are combative, I bet contracts get longer and cover more contingencies– in fact, I bet someone has already published a lovely model describing that idea, and possibly even tested it.

So, bottom-line– those bills are huge because government isn’t efficient and needs to cover all its bases.

Students will drive me out of academia, part 2.

I want to write fascinating awesome things with this cool pen. Instead I am stuck answering student emails about why they can’t do their homework on time, have mercy because they have 6 classes, woe is me.  Sigh.

What I said was, you had the assignment for a long time and you have known the schedule all semester. If you waited to the last day to do it, oh well.  [not in those words]

Do your 6 classes not give syllabi with due dates, allowing you to plan ahead? Oh, they do? Well shucks then, I guess you’re just not keeping up.
In general…
my student is a sassing bitch.
  my colleague had a student send threatening emails.
  we’ve both had to protect our TAs from students who harrass them.
Why do I keep this job, again?
I would find this job better if I felt more respected. And if I didn’t feel that at any moment a student might snap and become a creeper.  It’s too bad that I have to tell my RAs and TAs to keep the phone number of campus security handy, for protection from their fellow students who don’t know how to handle their own rage and entitlement.

All my female colleagues have stories of creeper students.

This is not acceptable.  The men don’t get creepers.
I call on all humans to end the patriarchal nonsense!

Non-edible Stocking Stuffers for Budding Nerds and Other Small Fry

  • A cheap calculator (ze still loves this!)
  • A watch (these are popular until lost)
  • Books (depending on the size of your stocking)
  • Small stuffed animal (popular probably until school starts up again)
  • Logic puzzles (including tangrams)
  • Small video games
  • Slinkie (popular until it dies a contorted bent mess as all slinkies do)
  • yo-yo
  • Balls
  • Kite, jump rope (really better for Easter baskets)
  • Markers/colored pencils (if I were smart I would have picked up some from back to school sales)
  • Other office supplies, like post-it notes
  • Stationery?  (Santa wouldn’t be mean enough to put in thank you cards, would he?)

Do you have any suggestions?  Santa wants to know.

Mr. Money Moustache vs. Laura Vanderkam

Ignoring academic blogs for the nonce, the blogs we read generally fit into two categories:  super-frugal people and high-powered career women.

Sometimes this causes a bit of schizophrenia when it comes to the money-time trade-off.  Half the blogs tell us to keep our expenses low, do everything ourselves, earn less money to buy ourselves time.  The other half tell us to work hard, invest in our careers, live that upper-middle class lifestyle (saving responsibly on the big and/or important stuff, of course), and outsource anything that takes time away from what we want to be doing.

After reading the former I always feel a little guilty.  Surely there’s someplace more we can cut.  Maybe I could force myself to eat greens instead of just not taking them at the CSA.  After reading the latter I worry, am I not doing enough to make more money?  Am I not outsourcing enough?  Am I spending too much mental power worrying about those former blogs when I should just relax, or am I spending too much mental power worrying that I shouldn’t be worrying?

But, of course, after some soul-searching I always realize that no, I’ve been optimizing my utility subject to my budget constraints and my time constraints all along.  It’s only when there’s a change coming ahead (like DH quitting his job…) that I need to think about re-optimizing.  Mr. Money Moustache is very persuasive, but in the end I don’t really want his life.  I want *my* career.  And my career means that’s where the bulk of my time goes, so some outsourcing makes sense.  I don’t want to do it part-time (though after tenure some people do).  But I also haven’t taken my career or money making to extremes and doing so might stress me out.

I think most of us are probably somewhere in between the two extremes of minimizing spending and maximizing earning.  And that’s probably healthy, and given diminishing rates of marginal utility, that’s probably utility maximizing.  If we’re off the equilibrium, we can cut some spending to get more time or use more time to get more money and we’ll be happier.

However, it’s really intriguing to read blogs from people who are extreme on one end or the other.  They show what’s possible.  And it’s compelling to read authors who are 100% sure of themselves and tell other folks what they should do.  Martha Stewart didn’t build an empire with doubts, but with her way being a good thing.*  Mr. Money Moustache has his dictatorial Moustachian way, many parts of which I completely disagree with (despite being in his target demo in terms of income).  Laura Vanderkam has hers with making the most of every one of those 168 hours.

Funnily, Mr. Money Moustache makes this comparison on his own blog but with the I will teach you to be rich guy and the 4 hour work-week guy.  But for me, Laura Vanderkam is a more realistic proponent of outsourcing and careerism/money making.  (Just like Mr. Money Moustache is a more realistic version of financial independence than Early Retirement Extreme was.)

*Hilarious interview with Martha Stewart on Wait Wait Don’t tell me the other weekend– she admits that there are multiple correct ways to get seeds out of a pomegranate, but there are also very wrong ways.  My sister left us a pomegranate at Thanksgiving that I am too scared to open for fear of doing it wrong.  The instructions she gave were complicated!

Where do you fall on the early retirement vs. work hard/play hard spectrum?  Who are your favorite extreme bloggers and other personalities?

Link love

Penny Arcade gets all poignant.

And this is why I am a liberal Democrat, via cnn.

Little professor discusses how to increase your popularity with students with one simple step.

Dame eleanor hull provides grading poetry.

I want this book.   Someone send it to me for Christmas!

Speaking of which, I took this website from the comments.

Heehee, a full cup with a lid.

Should you apply to grad school?  TBurke says no (he’s wrong about law though).

Cornell is [doing loser stuff with respect to their mental health services for students], from a ianqui.

Caffeine altar from offbeat home.

We are respectable negroes talks zombies.

Two photos I totally stole from Wandering scientist’s twitter feed.

We were in this week’s carnival of personal finance.

Google elves answer your questions

Q:  what is the role you play in government

A:  mainly advisory

Q:  why does my sister constantly try to make herself better thn me

A:  Because sisters are like that.  You’re just now figuring that out?

Q:  what do u with children if they dont want to do anything

A:  Tell them to unload the dishwasher.

Q:  best enrichment activities for 5 year old daughter

A:  According to “What’s going on in there,” piano lessons, violin lessons, and Mandarin.  We’re big fans of swimming, as it can save a life.  Also we like reading.

Q:  grad school paid, shoudl i go?

A:  Only if you want to.

Q:  why would you tell somone they are from the mid-west?

A:  Because they are awesome!

Q:  effects of spending money

A:  You end up with less money.  But you generally have either goods or services.

Q:  why montessori kids have so little outdoor playtime

A:  They don’t.  Different daycares have different amounts of playtime.  Plenty of montessoris have lots of outdoor playtime.  More likely you mean why do many part-time daycares have so little outdoor playtime.  And that’s because they save outdoor playtime for the full-time kids because p/t parents want to get their money’s worth from the preschool experience (and f/t parents often want that too but also don’t mind the daycare portion of the preschool day).

Q:  is .047 more than .47

A:  No

Q:  why does the government want people to give to charity?

A:  So it can provide fewer services.

Pre-holiday what are we reading?

When a Writer Can’t Write: Studies in Writer’s Block and Other Composing Problems by Mike Rose (no link):  Has some interesting bits, but some of it isn’t really that relevant to me.  Still, a fine read.

The sorrows of an American: I appreciated this. Read it.

This book is not a toy!: Not hilarious, but funny, and light. Ranges from Dave-Barry-esque humour to more essay-ish.

Murder in Luxury by Hugh Pentecost: I wish these mysteries weren’t OOP!

Call for the Dead by John LeCarre

fanfic: not recommended for anyone but me.

Newton’s Cannon: Awesome. Makes an especially nice companion read when your partner is playing Assassin’s Creed III.

Venetia: You know we love Heyer.

reread A Wrinkle in Time… not as good as an adult.  My recommendation:  keep it locked in your childhood memories.  (I am told it would be wise to do this with any and all C.S. Lewis as well.  Anne of Green Gables, OTOH opens up new layers as an adult.)

Finished last grown-up Diana Wynne Jones book, Enchanted Glass.  It was good, though I’m not quite sure who it was aimed for.  It seems like a children’s book… but contains some adult themes.

An infamous army… it was ok.  I sort of skimmed through the long battle scenes that are what the book is most famous for.  I was a little disappointed in the next generation of the two families she follows from previous books.  The love matches are somewhat dissatisfying as well.

What should we put on our Christmas wish lists?  (Or scrounge the library for if you’re more into recommending borrowing.)


  • DC2 is hitting gross motor milestones as early as or earlier than DC1, but we aren’t getting as much commenting on hir freakish nature.  I think that’s because DC2 is really big (90% height, 50-80% weight depending which month), and DC1 was tiny (settled at 20% weight and hir 80% height was mostly legs).  So random strangers would incredulously ask us how old DC1 is, but with DC2 I think they’re just assuming ze is an older child so we’re not having those conversations.  My mom says one of her brothers got in trouble a lot for that– people would complain to my grandma and she would say, “He’s only 5” or what have you.
  • Anonymous author, you keep saying, “to our knowledge we are the first”… but that is only because you did a crappy crappy literature review.  You would be much better off not saying that.  Especially since my simple google search has turned up tons of papers contradicting your claim in the first two pages.
  • Also, just because you can conceive of no reason that the instrument is endogenous doesn’t mean that other, smarter, people cannot.  And it doesn’t take that much more intelligence.
  • Got so tired of writing “CITE” on term papers that I got a stamp that says CITE.  *stamp* *stamp*
  • I am amazed at the number of people who get to our blog because they’re trying to decide between marrying a friend and marrying a lover.  Hint:  if you can’t decide, don’t get married.  It’s like that friend of Anne Shirley’s who couldn’t decide which of two handsome wealthy suitors to choose until she fell head over heels in love with a poor ministry student and the choice was obvious.
  • I gave my dataset a somewhat salacious name and now every time I work with it I get a song from Hair stuck in my head.
  • Sent an email to my chair before the last meeting, asking him to please step in if I get attacked again.  No response.  Went to the faculty meeting anyway, even asked a question.  Did not get attacked (though the dean was in attendance, so maybe that’s why).  Went to another faculty meeting that the attacking guy didn’t attend– that meeting got out 30 min early!  We did what we needed to do and left.  It was awesome.
  • DC1, in fact, did not cry when Matthew died (in the book).   Ze hardly seemed to be paying attention.  I feel a bit teary-eyed still.
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