Should December babies (whose families celebrate Christmas) feel cheated?

(this draft is from 2011!)

December and January babies have to share their birthdays with the holiday season.  That means that it’s easy to combine their birthday presents with their Christmas presents, suggesting that overall they might get less stuff.*  And people with holiday birthdays have said they were not happy about getting one large gift in place of two smaller ones.  (As parents, we’d be happy with that!  Our kids get So Much Stuff.)

Getting less stuff isn’t a problem when there’s only one kid because one kid doesn’t know what the counterfactual would be, but when there are two kids, they might worry about fairness.**  My mom, with her early January birthday and 6 younger siblings feels very strongly that she didn’t get her due growing up.  My MIL, similarly, wants to be scrupulously fair to each grandchild.

What the grandmas do is they have a specific dollar amount they spend on each kid for Christmas and for birthdays.  They send separately wrapped packages, making sure that the birthday gift is not in Christmas wrapping.  This seems to be the best option that we’ve come up with.

Another popular solution is to celebrate a half birthday, though with the half birthday falling in the summer, that doesn’t help with other kids not coming to a birthday party.  Back in preschool when there were people around during school holidays we had more kids show up for a belated birthday party in early January than for our other child’s summer birthday.  So I’m not really sure that a half-birthday is a great solution, though I suppose one could just pick a time in April or May.

But these solutions focus on fairness as some kind of dollar amount.  Stuff.  The focus shouldn’t be on who gets the most stuff as presents.  Presents are optional and not an entitlement.  They shouldn’t be the focus.  Insert your favorite complaint against rampant consumerism here.

But the true concern comes when the difference in stuff given is taken as a signal for something else.  Stuff shouldn’t be a proxy for love.  It’s easy to take it as a proxy, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  That’s probably why there’s so much focus on which wrapping paper is used on the presents– not because it actually matters but because it is a proxy for whether or not the kid’s birthday is special.  That link doesn’t have to be there either.

What is really important?  A kid with a December or early January birthday needs to feel that their birthday is just as special as a kid whose birthday doesn’t correspond with the holidays.  Both of our kids get to pick their own birthday cake (this year DC1 wants a cookie cake) that we make, and they generally get a birthday celebration with my in-laws (DC1 over Christmas break either on hir birthday or the night before, DC2 whenever we do our summer visit) and my sister (some weekend in the city) in addition to their home celebration.  It’s a lot of us showing that we think they’re special, even if they don’t get actual parties anymore.  Even if we only give them small gifts.

What are your experiences with holiday birthdays?


*There’s also a possibility with holiday sales that they’ll get more stuff, or if they’re the extended family over their birthday they’ll get stuff from people they wouldn’t otherwise get stuff from, but more likely it’ll be less.

**Though given that most of the first kid’s stuff gets passed down to the second kid eventually, what does fairness even mean?


Link Love and today (SATURDAY) is the last day to sign up for the ACA (in most states)

ACA deadline is Saturday.

If you’re worried about the ruling on the ACA in TX, here’s why you should not be worried.

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Ask the grumpies: Do you know anything about where your political donations go?

rose asks:

How is money raised by political campaign’s spent? Why does Congressperson in state A ask for donations for someone in State B? Are they buying power like corporate lobbyists? How can you tell if contribution money is going for family-hire-salaries or to pay off people who are claiming sexual assault/harassment? Why can a judge/congressperson pay off such claims with taxpayer money? How much of ‘Swing Left’ type organization’ money goes to overhead and how much to campaigns? How can a person judge which organization is the best impact for the dollar to contribute to? Are any organizations looking at this?

We really don’t know.  If it were a charity, you would have charitynavigator.  Back in the day there used to be a lot more regulations for things like PACs, but now the regulations are laughable.  Still, it turns out there is a nonprofit that tracks what is trackable if you know what to look for and how to analyze it.

Here’s the open secrets website from the Center for Responsive Politics.  You can search Swingleft within it and it will give you spreadsheets and stuff.  (Look, Paul Graham donated 250K)

There’s no ratings, but you can get the raw numbers.

Other than that, we have no idea.

A forgotten weeknight meal technique

This one used to be part of my repertoire, something I learned from my mom in the 1980s.  It’s actually something that was popularized back when *she* was a kid back in the 50s and 60s.  It takes 30-50 min to make, but most of that time is just rice being cooked (the difference in time is if you’re using white vs. brown rice)… actual prep time at the stove is closer to 10 min depending on how much you want to chop vs just throw in.

We rediscovered it one night when, anxious to make something the kids wouldn’t complain about, we dug out the complete I hate to cook cookbook by Peg Bracken and stumbled upon Doc Marten’s Mix which I’d seen mentioned in the comments of a recent frugal girl post (indeed, I’d dug out the book precisely because the comment jogged my memory).  This is a simple one pot recipe where you fry sausage and green peppers/onions/celery (the New Orleans version of mirepoix), add rice, then water, and cook until the rice is done.

But this simple technique is not limited to Doc Marten’s mix.  It’s anything where you saute veggies and possibly meat, add a cup of rice, two cups of water, and then cook as if it was rice.  I used to have a weeknight chicken cacciatore recipe on rotation (from my mom), which was sauteed chicken, onions, then put in one cup rice, then whatever kind of canned tomato produce we had and water to make 2 cups (or a bit more) of liquid and cook until the rice was done.  There’s another version where I used pork sausage and sage and onions and apples.  And you can do ground beef and tomatoes and onions and chili seasoning.  Or frozen mixed veggies and soy sauce with eggs (for a not at all greasy fried rice when you didn’t have any already cooked rice lying around).

The kids had thirds of the doc martin’s mix and gushed about it even though there were peppers and onions and celery in it.  (Our kids’ pickiness is often unpredictable.)  They were willing to have seconds the next day.  It was unheard of.  (DC2 has since gotten over hir most recent picky stage, but DC1 is still in the middle of it.)

I’m not sure why I forgot this was something I used to do.  Probably because we’ve been doing so much cookbook cooking rather than cooking based on memory and inspiration.  And it just isn’t a technique that’s “in” right now, so it’s not showing up in our books.

What are your favorite weeknight one pot meals?

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Time to think about the kitchen remodel again

We took out the broken trees and put in new trees, so it’s time to think about remodeling the kitchen again.

house 049

The gingham wallpaper is long gone. I swear!

Here’s our master plan:

1.  Keep the flooring and floorplan as before.

We decided that it isn’t worth the additional expense to do something that might make things worse.  If we had a contractor/architect we trusted we’d be more likely to be willing to mess with this, but we don’t, so we’re going to satisfice on this dimension.

2.  Replace the countertops.

I want quartz countertops that look like marble to replace the cheap white laminate or whatever it is that turns yellow if you bleach it.  Quartz and Granite have a lot of properties that I like– easy to clean, tough to crack, great for pastry (currently we do all our pastry stuff on a granite-top bureau in the dining room).  DH also looked into “dekton” which is “in” but it doesn’t look any better than quartz and has a tendency to chip/crack according to consumer reports.  I want quartz instead of granite because it is easier to get quartz that looks like marble!  (I’m leaning into being forced to have a white kitchen.)

3.  Get a new sink that is under the countertops (instead of having a lip) and doesn’t get that irritating water puddle.

I’m thinking stainless steel, keeping a double sink.  I like double sinks.

4.  Remove the ancient ice-maker (near the sink) and replace it with a cabinet.

We’re not sure that home depot is going to be able to handle making a custom cabinet, but our previous house-painter had someone good that he uses (who replaced a bunch of kitten destroyed cabinetry in our bathroom) so we might be able to get that figured out separately.  Absent that I guess we could put in a wine fridge or something in that empty spot, but that would only be for increasing the value of the house, not something we would actually use.  (We already have one of those hidden garbage drawers that we never use next to the sink.)

5.  Replace the 30 inch electric stovetop.

This is our current sticking point.  I feel weird replacing it given that it you know, still works.  But DH doesn’t like electric (electric is slow to heat and cool… you get used to it, but it is easier cooking with gas) and says it’s rusting, which I guess it sort of is, but only around the burners not actually on top of them.  If we were better about cleaning you’d never know.  And it’ll be easier to replace it when we’re getting new countertop anyway.  DH thought about expanding it, but then we might have to cut into our cabinets which we don’t want to do.  Besides, we never use all four burners at the same time anyway.

We thought we were going to just get gas.  We have a gas hookup under the range that has never been used, but in theory could be easy to get in working order.  At least, it’s more likely than if there wasn’t a gas hookup there.

But then DH started looking into induction stovetops.  I was initially hesitant as I thought you had to buy special cookware.  Turns out you just need to have *nice* cookware with magnetic bottoms, which our le crueset and caphalon stuff already have [UPDATE:  our caphalon stuff is at most marginally magnetic on the bottom… if we went with this option we might have to get a new “induction ready” set, or we’d just be down to two le crueset and the cast iron skillet].  Induction stovetops are also safer– no open flames, no carbon monoxide, etc.  And they’re way faster than electric at heating things up.  But they might hum, which would be annoying.

DH is thoroughly investigating each of these options and has been instructed to come up with a top choice from gas and a top choice from induction.  This will probably take considerable time, knowing DH.  Right now he’s annoyed by how everything he’s been looking at seems to have a combination of 5 and 1 stars (and nothing in between)… quality control is not a priority for companies.

And that’s it.  We already replaced the fluorescent lighting and we already have fancy under lighting.  The cabinets already have all sorts of fancy drawer choices.  The pantry is still amazing and will not be touched.  We might replace the refrigerator, but that’s something that can be done separately given there’s already a big space for a fridge.  We decided not to do the ovens because I like having a double oven and even though the top oven is a really bad height for me, it’s a great height for DH.  So I can just keep using the bottom one.

Once DH has finished his researching, we plan to make an appointment at home depot and get them to hire contractors from the nearest city to take care of everything.  That worked well with our bathroom flooring.  We’re not going with a local contractor because all the ones with webpages have horrific looking “after” photos.  I mean, I get that some people have really bad taste, but that’s not something you want to advertise on your website!

Tell me about your stovetop.  Or any kitchen renovation thoughts.



Link Love

This week in fascism:  State edition.

An essay by a politician.

ICYMI:  There’s been a beef recall for salmonella


An explanation about how to be an ally with metaphors

Food stamps put poor kids on a path to success

I’m really sad to find out that Devah Pager died last month.  I never got to meet her but I’m a big fan of her work and I’ve really liked all of her graduate students that I’ve met.  She was only 46, so this was completely unexpected.

Willpower is overrated

Financial freedom without financial independence

Grumpy nation does not recommend heist time, baby

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This trailer is great, but a little bit of squirrel girl and tippy toe at the end would improve it.

Thatsa morrrrayyyyy

This joke site hurts my brain.


Also, I have an important question.  What would you do with five pounds of peanut mnms?


Ask the grumpies: good building toys

OMDG asks:

What are good toys for kids who like to build things in addition to blocks and legos?

You mentioned in addition to blocks, but our kids have gotten a lot of enjoyment out of less-mainstream blocks, so we are mentioning those as well.

We like pixel blocks for small stuff– these are like single unit legos that can be attached via the sides as well as the top and bottom.  (The somewhat lower than expected reviews are because, unlike lego, their quality control is not perfect and some of the blocks don’t fit perfectly.)

A very simple version of blocks are Kapla blocks.  I don’t know why these are so fun given that they come in just one size/shape, but they have provided hours of entertainment for all ages.

Tegu blocks, which are slightly magnetic, continue to be really awesome.

For little kids, HABA makes a lot of fun versions of blocks that are a bit different from ordinary blocks in different ways.

Train sets are also many hours of building fun.  Brio makes a good one that is interchangeable with some other sets.

Ozobot was great for like a week and then the kids completely lost interest.  Probably not worth the expense.  (Note:  this starter kit is 2x the cost of the one we got!)

Snap circuits had longer staying power but they ended up getting scattered all over the house and stopped being used.

Our favorite science kit so far has been the Magic School Bus chemistry version.  It’s fun!

A pack of playing cards and access to youtube videos on how to do card tricks has kept DC1 entertained for days on end.

The fun and healthy kids’ cookbook is a good one.

DH and DC2 are both hooked on pixelhobby.  (This is not a cheap hobby, but the output is nice enough to become Christmas presents for other people.)

These fascinations metal earth kits also result in really nice output (DC1 made the lighthouse one for MIL last year), but you do need needle nose pliers.

Binoculars are cool.