What are we getting people for Christmas?

It’s that time of year again…

For my sister I got a lipstick-sized USB battery and universal USB cable.  I’ve gotten these (but different brands) at two conferences and they are just so incredibly useful.  I don’t know why they don’t come as a combined set on amazon, but after some poking around I was able to pick out a cable that looks decent, although it has a couple more connectors than she probably actually needs.  The smaller sets of connectors got worse quality reviews with the iphone connector stopping working.  Also per her request, I got her the Hamilton cd.  DC1 made a glass sushi plate at camp this summer for her as well, and I assume DC2 will give her some art.  DC2 has been doing a lot of art lately.

We got my mom a kindle last year so this year I sent her the brothers sinister  box set, a steal at $10.  Even though there’s very little murder mystery in it, I think everybody enjoys the series.  Except the first novella (A governess affair) which, sadly, isn’t as good as the rest of the series.  And a $75 gift certificate to the regional bookstore chain in her area.

My father we are getting a fancy black cherry balsamic vinegar.

FIL:  $75 gift certificate to Cabela’s as per usual.  I suspect DH gets his joy of the shopping process from his dad.

MIL:  A picture frame engraved with the names of all six(!) grandchildren.  The last time she had professional group pictures done, there were only 4, though the fifth was on the way.  We will be getting a full family photo done when we visit this year.

BIL1:  DH picked out a video game to play, Titanfall 2, and picked it up at a holiday sale for $35.

SIL1:  SIL1 thankfully populates her amazon wishlist on a regular basis.  She seems to want to become a fiction writer, so I’m torn with getting her books about writing from her list vs. novels from her list.  Usually she’s got a bunch of novels on the list that I’ve already read and enjoyed so it’s easy to get her more, but this time around she seems to have gone heavy on Ilona Andrews and Patricia Briggs, so it’s not as tempting.  I’m tempted by this adorable electric tea kettle.  But I’m going to wait to see what other people buy and if she adds anything I find more interesting as the season progresses (update:  She added the first Incryptid novel!  So I got that and also Rat Queens Volume 1).

Since Tegu blocks were so popular with our kids last year, we’re getting a set for the cousins.  We’ll also be getting some A-Z mysteries for the older child and the princess cookbook for the younger (it has surprisingly good recipes).

SIL2 and BIL2:  They make the least amount of money of DH’s siblings and they just bought a house.  We’re guessing that the lack of amazon wishlist updating is a hint that they’d be happy with money.  (Even if they just spend the amount of the check on obligatory gift giving to us.)  We did send them a house-warming check after they bought the house just as we did when BIL1 and SIL1 bought their first house, because there’s always unanticipated expenses right after purchasing and got a nice thank you card back.

The IL2’s kids are a little more difficult.  I like getting them books, but there isn’t anything right now that my own DC2 is really into which is how we usually decide what to send their oldest (who is just a little younger).  Maybe some easy readers like Hot Dog and Cat Traps and Too many dogs.  These Tug the Pup books are pretty good for early readers too.  For the younger child it’s a bit more difficult because we already gave them a lot of board books with the first child and we can’t quite remember what.  So I think we already gave a bunch of Sandra Boyntons and Dear Zoo and Where is baby’s belly button.  I’ll have to think harder on this.  I wonder if we gave them chicka chicka boom boom

Despite DH’s relative getting a new job right away, we will probably send him a check, but for $50 instead of, say, $500 [update:  DH says $100].

Target gift-cards for all the daycare ladies at daycare, probably $20/each.  And I think a gift card for $50 to half-price books for the school.  Even if we’re retrenching otherwise, it’s still important to be generous to others.

What are you getting for people this year?

We got DC2 a cell phone

DC2 is 9 and in 6th grade.  There’s a lot of extracurricular activities and so on in 6th grade and we decided we’d be more comfortable if DC2 had a way of contacting us if something fell through or there was a miscommunication about pick-up etc.

When we finally decided to bite the bullet to add hir to our plan, we discovered that Ting had added the ability to add all four of our retired outdated dumb phones to the plan.  Back last year when we switched to Ting we actually had to buy new phones which is both why it took us so long to switch and why I am now addicted to an iphone.  But we were pleasantly surprised that we didn’t have to buy a new phone this time.  Zie is using my 2 phones ago phone because it has the strongest battery (I had bought a replacement battery right before DH decided to get new free phones when we renewed our plan many years ago).

/start rant One thing that annoys me about DH’s current school (as opposed to paradise) is that they often have “bring your own devices” days.  Kids are encouraged to play with their smartphones or to bring ipads or, to a lesser extent, hand-held game systems.  DC1 doesn’t have anything like that and we made the conscious choice not to give hir a phone with such things.  I have to say I’m really annoyed about something like that that makes kids whose parents can’t afford to get them iphones or kids whose parents are crazy hippies stick out in a negative way.  Last year in paradise, each kid had an assigned notepad device (I don’t think there was one for each kid–they didn’t all use them at the same time since there were 3 classes of fifth graders), but our school district isn’t rich enough for that, I guess.  But it is rich enough to do things that could hurt poor kids.  I really appreciate how the Paradise school district made everything equal for everyone.  It was a relatively rich district, but our school had a high population ELA and school lunch eligible and there was a lot of redistribution, which is how it should be, I think.  So my bottom line is, if you’re going to allow kids to play games in class, you have to provide the games. /end rant

Anyhow, if DC1 behaves hirself and doesn’t lose anything, having an extra cell line should cost us an additional $6/mo, and possibly the cost of an external battery charger since if DC1 treats hir cellphone like I did (leaving it at home and letting the battery run out), it won’t be much use.

What age do you think people should get their first cell phone?  If it depends, what does it depend on?

A little link love

Not really a light link love, but shorter than usual for various reasons.

I’m not sure where/how to report our political action as time goes on, but, like my friend who IM’d me yesterday said, I do not want to get complacent or too dispirited and stop.  This needs to keep going until I can, until we all can, trust our government officials to make decisions again.  Until then I MUST stay active and pay attention.  This past week was full of calling senators and congress people about trump’s racist cabinet picks, his conflicts of interest, and the other things mentioned in the previous days posts.  I also got on the mailing list for our local democratic party even though they haven’t done anything.  I think we’re still active enough as a nation that there will be plenty more to do in the coming weeks without me planning it out now.  But eventually I will get organized and report back to the Grumpy Nation with posts about what I’m doing and why.  Please keep telling us what you’re doing as well.  It’s really scary when you talk to a former member of W’s administration and he tells you that his biggest fear going forward is the same as your biggest fear (and also explains how your second biggest fear can lead to the first).  We must stay vigilant.

I want this on a shirt

syllabus for white people to educate themselves

we need diverse books fundraiser



a way to fight racism online

a way to protect people who are being harassed in public

holy F*

Reminding myself of sunk costs has helped me

calming manatee

I bought this shirt

Updates of the life variety

We’re still not ready to get back to regular posting– ask the grumpies will have to wait at least another week to get back on the schedule.  Here’s a few life updates while you wait for our wisdom to return.

  • My friend with secondary infertility who has been trying to get and stay pregnant for more than 2 years and many many IVF cycles has a pregnancy that has been sticking so far.
  • DH’s relative got a new job pretty much right away (via networking!).  It has better benefits and pays $1K more than his old job.  There’s also a little less hard labor work and a little more desk work which is good given his arthritis.  He’s disappointed because they decided the salary by asking him what he got paid and then adding 1K to it, and he is pretty sure he’s underpaid.  BUT it’s a better job and he won’t have an employment gap.  He did negotiate for another week of vacation and they didn’t blink.
  • #2’s father-in-law died recently of a stroke.  Really really sad.  :(  I remember seeing him at #2’s wedding and he was so very proud of his son.  Such a great family.
  • Went to the doctor and got lots of blood tests.  I have high cholesterol.  Doctor said to eat less fat and less dairy and to exercise more.  I already don’t eat much fat other than dairy (and use things like olive oil when cooking).  Last time I had my cholesterol tested my overall level was high but my good cholesterol was making up most of that– the bad cholesterol was normal.  I didn’t ask about that this time.  It is always true that I need to exercise more.  :/ .  Also my Vit D levels were low despite my daily supplement, so now I’m on 2000 instead of 1000.  That seems to have gone a long way to reduce the almost constant fatigue I was feeling.
  • action item for today: https://twitter.com/gaileyfrey/status/799380085610450944

Helping others: Becoming more politically active

I was brought up knowing that I had God given gifts that a lot of people don’t have.  Because of those gifts, it is my responsibility to use them to Make the World a Better Place.  My parents are very politically active.  My sister has been progressively increasing her activity.  (Note:  her local planned parenthood and women’s shelters were both full up on volunteers when she called– a lot of people are feeling that call to activism.  There were still spots for driving women to get abortions, so she will be doing that.)

DH and I both have jobs that ultimately help other people.  My research is policy-driven.

But I’ve been falling down on the political sphere.  Much of this is because I hate politics.  Even the best politicians cannot do things that are politically infeasible even while economically the best option.  Some of this is fear– when I was younger I was brave but I’ve been beaten down too many times for speaking my piece.  Intolerant bullies are especially scary these days and those we should be able to trust to protect us often ignore threats against women and minorities until the threat has materialized into actual hurt.  Even speaking out anonymously carries the possibility of real danger.  A lot of this is just laziness.  I’m good at being dragged places, but not so good at going on my own.

I don’t know yet what to do.  I mean, I’ve done some things already– donated money to various groups, written my senators about the possibility of introducing legislation to limit executive action, written Paul Ryan to praise him for taking stands against racism and xenophobia and to ask him to keep it up.  But I don’t know what is best to do or what to do long-term.

Ideally I would pick one organization and get heavily involved in it such that I was making a strong difference there.  My state’s disorganized democratic party would be a really good place to start.  But… I have a job and I have a family.  That’s not going to happen.  My mom was on school board for many years and it kept her from doing research.

So I’m going to start small.

Every weekend until Trump is out of office DH and I are going to do *something* politically active.  We may donate to a charity (easy).  We may write or call a politician (somewhat harder).  We may join protest rallies (even harder).  We may do something more substantial if we can figure out what to do (campus democrats were extremely active 4 years ago, but they haven’t even updated their webpage in a year… maybe they need a new faculty sponsor?).  There’s a lot of good out there that can be done, and it’s our responsibility to find it and start doing some of it.  Even if we’re starting small.

Action item for today (fighting hate):  Call your state senators/congressperson and ask where they stand on the Bannon appointment.  Tell them he is unacceptable.  Bannon is an “alt-right” racist, misogynist, anti-semite from Breitbart.com who Trump intends to appoint as chief strategist.  White nationalists are delighted.

How are you engaging politically?

Getting an oxygen mask on: Protecting oneself monetarily

Before I could move to thinking about the horrors that are going to be inflicted on other people and what I can do to mitigate their influence, I first had to think about taking care of my family.

Worry 1:  Nuclear war.  This suggests not dropping everything and moving to paradise (where people are safer many other ways), because paradise is a more likely to be a nuclear target than is our current redstate for both geographical and population reasons.  Plus my mom said:  “Evidently when Nixon started drinking heavily during Watergate, the defense secretary alerted the military that they were not to follow Nixon‘s orders without checking with him first.”  So there’s some hope there.

We’re going to skip worry 2 because that doesn’t have a monetary effect.  Worry 3, the one about interment/mass deportation/nazi treatment of minorities/trail of tears, is less of a problem for us because I’m 100% Euro-mutt and by the time they get around to checking state registries to see that DH isn’t, we’ll have had plenty of warning since they’ll already have started taking other groups.  But still, we would need assets to flee.  For people in higher priority minority groups, this could be a primary concern.  :(

That leads us to Worry #4 which is already starting to happen:  Another large recession.  The recession will happen first because markets and businesses hate uncertainty and second because Republicans and Trump both are proponents of policies that will cause recession.  If either of them get their way, we’re in for one.  The Republican one will be smaller than the Trump one.

Knowing that a recession is happening, what should you do?  It’s hard to say what to do with money that’s already in the stock market.  Personally, I’m just going to let what’s in there ride out the next 2-8 years although this may turn out to be a poor decision.  The question is what to do with our new money.  This is especially important for us because there’s a non-zero chance that DH’s company will go out of business when federal funding dries up (and then I will have to cut down on savings).

Since this recession isn’t necessarily your standard Republican-caused recession, it isn’t clear that standard methods of thinking of the recession as an investment opportunity are the right ones.  If things get really bad under a Trump presidency, we could lose a lot of the property protections we’ve had since the Great Depression or before.  If he does something to the Fed or grabs assets (for example, if worry #5:  Russia taking over happens) or defaults on federal debt, nothing will make sense anymore.  So… should one dollar cost average in stocks during the recession and buy bonds before the recession… not all that clear.

When I looked up what to do in this kind of a situation, I got a lot of really stupid prepper sites.  They’d say things like, “if you expect hyper inflation, pay down your debt first”… which is the opposite of making sense (fixed-rate debt is good to hold in inflationary environments).  Or “if you don’t trust the government, invest in real estate” as if the government isn’t who enforces property rights.  Super stupid.  Don’t pay attention to those websites– in fact, I’m not sure they’re even trustworthy in terms of straight-forward things like emergency supplies just given their stupidity.

Right now, I think the best idea is to play it super cautious and to put excess money in cash and cds.  I think there will be a lot more warning about getting rid of FDIC or changing those kinds of rules than there will be even for defaulting on US debt (which I think is unlikely to happen, but it was a campaign suggestion so not outside of the realm of possibility), which means that those dollars should still be somewhat safe.

Of course, the dollar itself may not remain safe.  I looked up what to do when you think the dollar is going to crash and after ignoring all the prepper sites, it looks like a mix of foreign currencies is the best bet– the Swiss Franc, the Japanese Yen, and so on.  Every single one of these is potentially risky, but a mix may be a reasonable addition to one’s portfolio.  Gold and silver, the prepper’s favorites, are probably not the best idea because they’re probably already over-valued (and definitely don’t buy the actual metal– it is heavy and will be difficult to exchange for fair value).  I worry about investing too much in, say, Chinese or Russian assets or assets in some Latin American countries because there’s always a possibility that the government will just seize foreign investments for itself.

The latter paragraph is most important if you think you will have to leave the United States.  Staying in the US, it should be more ok to keep your assets in dollars and in mostly US companies because you’ll still be buying things in the US and hopefully making money in the US so you’re more insulated from shocks than if you had to flee the country (you’ll still feel the price increases, but they won’t be as disastrous).  If you are thinking you may have to leave the country, then definitely put more foreign stock indices into your portfolio (don’t switch it entirely– when the US sneezes, the rest of the world gets a cold).  We’ll be staying in this country unless my worry #3 happens because really we have no place else to go.

All of the above are secondary concerns, however.  If you do not have an emergency fund that can support you for at least 6 months of job-loss, then that should be your first order of business.  Save for a regular recession.  If you’re a tenured academic, your job is probably still safe in the short term, but make sure you could handle a 10-20% future paycut (again, probably not likely to happen immediately).  Do a financial fire drill What could you cut?

Paying down the mortgage is pretty irrelevant for us at this point.  But mortgage pre-payment may be a good idea if it has a better return than your bank account and you don’t want to be in a position where you may have to short-sell (and you wouldn’t foreclose).

So what we’re doing:

In the short term, we will continue to max out our retirement accounts and put money into 529 accounts in the same stock/bond percentages that we had been.  (I’m assuming 529s won’t be seized given their popularity with the wealthy.)  We will continue to do this until DH loses his job.  All extra money, instead of being put into taxable stocks, will accumulate in our savings account.  This contradicts our next mortgage post because that was written before the election back when all I thought we had to worry about was DH’s job going under.  We are also no longer going to be so free with money– no more cosmetic car repair, for example.  We will, however, be upping our charitable donations including charities like the ACLU that aren’t tax exempt.  That’s because now that I have a saving plan and emergency escape plans (are your passports up to date?), it’s time to start thinking more about other people.

Are you changing your monetary plans?

How we cope: Donations

Some people be like “Come on, it’ll be fine” and the rest of us be like “Do you even history, brah?”

This is just a list of places we’ve donated to since November 9, 2016.  We don’t have energy for doing harder work right now.  We donated online.  It felt okay.  Please consider.

Going to protests is fine, and it is also important that people write letters.  But everyone copes in their own way, in their own time, with their own methods.

Blog posts may be spotty or missing while we figure out how to get our own oxygen masks on.  We have some stuff pre-scheduled.  I don’t have a question.