What are we getting for people this year?

My sister said she wanted a chef’s knife and a paring knife, so after some conversation, we got her a santoku (Shun), a paring knife, and an electric knife sharpenerThis post of ours really helped me!  I don’t know what DC1 is going to give her this year, but DC2 has been working really hard on a 4 plate pixel hobby with 8 ballet dancers on it (DC1 gave my sister a pixel hobby with a pair of ballet slippers on it at about the same age).

Sadly, the bookstore in my mom’s town just went out of business (as did the Barnes and Noble a few years back), so either I get her a giftcard to someplace half an hour or more away, or she gets an Amazon giftcard.  Aha!  I realized that she’ll be staying at my sister’s around Christmas, so I can get her a card she can use at the half price books near my sister’s place.

For everyone else it has been harder!

MIL:  She started an amazon list this year!  Woooo!  When DH found that out (on the phone on Thanksgiving while trying to pump her for any hint of what she could possibly want) his stress level visibly dropped 75%.  We popped through and got a bunch of “Nanarelated merch (I guess replacing her previous Green Bay Packers theme?) as well as a number of hard-boiled mystery novels.  (My mom runs more towards cozy mysteries, DH’s prefers the tougher stuff.)

FIL:  Now that FIL is retired, he’s spending more time hunting.  Plus he’s making sure there’s plenty of game on the plot of land he inherited from his parents.   So in addition to the Cabela’s giftcard we usually send him, we’re also sending a highly rated game cookbook.

BIL1:  DH is waiting for a game to go on sale so he can get a copy for his brother and his cousin both.  (I assume we’ll also be sending a check to the cousin, but I don’t know for how much yet.)

SIL1:  It is always a pleasure to shop for SIL1 because she has an up-to-date amazon wish list!  And she puts cool things on it!  And she has great taste in books!  This year I’m adding the Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal and KJ Charles’ regency series.

Cousins 1 and 2:  The younger has been learning braille, so we got her a subscription to the children’s braille book of the month club.  (It is pretty heavily subsidized, so we added on a donation.  What a great program.)  This is the first time we’ve known what to get hir!  For the older we’re getting the dragonbox complete math pack and big numbers which is too new to be in their complete math pack.  (Usually we also buy books for their oldest, but he’s already got most of what our DC1 likes.)

BIL2 and SIL2: This one was hard this year.  The past few years there’s been a good excuse to just write a check (a new house purchase, saving for a house, babies, paying off wedding debt, etc.) but this year none of that has been recent or immediate.  When DH tried to pump SIL2 for information on the phone, she was non-committal and said she’d update her amazon wishlist, which she always says and rarely does.  DH suggested not exchanging gifts among the adults with her nuclear family, but apparently she demurred.  I wish he’d just asked her straight up about checks vs. giftcards, but he didn’t.  We do have a bunch of $5 off amazon luxury beauty products and she does have a $20 foundation from 2014 on her list– we could get her that and the pair of $14 earrings from 2014 but that’s literally all that is on her list right now, other than a bunch of size 0-3 month onesies and diapers that will probably not fit either her rising 3 year old or her 5 year old.  [Update:  We got her the foundation and the earrings, and then a little over a week later she actually did update her list so we got her one of the books on teaching she wanted and now we are 100% done with holiday shopping other than that one game that DH is taking care of and stocking stuffers.  Yay.]

Cousins 3 and 4:  SIL did ok us buying books again for her kids (given how many toys everyone gets from the grandparents).  For the older one (about the same age as our DC2), we got Magic Treehouse and Magic School Bus books and the Magic School Bus chemistry kit.  For the younger one, ladybug girl, the Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, Elephant and Piggie books, and Beautiful Oops.

For someone who likes art and lives in Milwaukee

What are you getting for peeps this year?

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Stuff we’ve really enjoyed having this year

(besides books, though KJ Charles rocks!)

I love this teapot I got for my Birthday last year.  It is so easy to use and to clean, and it makes the right amount of tea for when you want, you know, a pot instead of just a mug.

Although you should probably not gift this to anyone, this home laser hair removal thing  has been fantastic.  I barely need to pluck my chin anymore at all (with the exception of a few white hairs that laser won’t get) and it’s been a few weeks since I’ve done even a touch-up with the laser.

I still really like my moleskin weekly planner, even though everyone else has switched to Google Calendar.

This Solo travel bag I got myself has been perfect for overnight travel without having to take a roller-bag.  For those who cannot part with the roller-bag, one of my colleagues swears by these packing cubes and will be getting them for almost everyone on her list this year.

This amazing lamp was everything I wanted and more!

DH loves this little pocket pen.  It is pretty clever.

Our in-laws love this ice cream scoop we got them, although it is not dishwasher safe.

#2 enjoys watching her DH play the latest Assassin’s Creed game.

Here’s a previous post on little things that just work.  I still get a lot of pleasure from using a high quality pencil sharpener.

What stuff has been “sparking joy” for you over the past year?

Book Review: Petunia, The Girl Who Was Not a Princess

Wow, this review has been a long time coming.

We received this book free from Wandering Scientist in exchange for, um, her being awesome, I guess?  (If it was in exchange for an unbiased review, we really should have gotten this post out the door a LOT sooner.)

Petunia, The Girl Who Was Not a Princess is a fun book with great illustrations.  It’s about a girl who isn’t into the princess thing and doesn’t, to paraphrase John Green, understand princess-loving girls complexly.  A princess-lover moves in next door, and it turns out that the new girl is just as complex as Petunia is herself, as are all the other neighborhood princesses (and princes) and they are able to have a lot of fun together.

Books in this genre of girls’ books come in two flavors.  There’s the type that tries really hard to be a feminist book and completely and totally fails because they shame a subset of women (ex. princesses) or provide the message that misogyny is normal in a way that shouldn’t yet be crossing a toddler’s mind.  Petunia is the other type– the kind that doesn’t shame even the youngest of choice feminists.  Especially terrific are Holly Liminton’s illustrations, which take great care to include a diverse cast of characters doing fun things.

Of course, this book isn’t for mommy– it’s for DC2.  So what is really important is the toddler test:  Does DC2 enjoy it?  Does zie request it?  Yes and yes.  Zie also gets really excited whenever I’m looking at Wandering Scientist’s webpage and zie sees the cover on the page, “I have that book!” (Usually followed by the sound of pounding feet to get said book, and then a demand to have it read.)  That’s still true after a year of ownership.

So if you’re holiday shopping take a look at this one.  Additionally, you cannot go wrong with Nelson’s other children’s book, The Zebra said Shhh.

DH discusses cell phone plans

Overview:

I’ve assumed we want two smartphones with at least some 3G or 4G data.

Smartphones default to wifi, so when we have wifi access any data should not count towards plan limits.

[ed: With our flip phones and no data we currently spend $84/mo including fees and taxes because people keep texting us.  Without the texting it would be more like $78/mo.]

Considering two extremes…
We can get as low as $50/month plus fees & taxes for 6GB data each using Republic Wireless on the Sprint network (i.e., same network we use now).

If we go for the best network, we’d be paying Verizon $90/month plus fees & taxes for 1GB data each per month.

Details:

This website has pretty good overviews.  Here’s some more info about coverage.  Also here.

Verizon has the best network in general.
AT&T seems to be second-best network in general.

If we bring our own phones, then Verizon has a 1GB “prepaid” plan for $45/month.
So that would run us $90/month plus taxes & fees for two lines.

Verizon’s contract plan (in which they subsidize the phone cost and we’re locked-in for 2 years) would run $120 / month for two lines and 2GB shared.

AT&T has a similar setup for Bring-Your-Own-Device of $90/month for two lines ($25/mo/phone plus $40/mo for 3GB), and it would be $120/month on a 2 year contract with subsidized phones.

T-mobile doesn’t have contracts, though one can pay off a device over 2 years like with a contract. They would be $80/mo for two lines with 1GB each. Interestingly, once you hit that limit you can still get data, it’s just really slow, whereas almost everyone else charges you an additional $15 for the overage or just cuts you off.

Sprint’s prepaid is $70/mo for two lines with 1GB each.

It’s unclear if Sprint’s family/contract plan has any options, but it looks like it would be $90/month for the first year, then $120/month after that.
Another factor is that Sprint has a discount on our account of 15% because of our university connection.

Then there are the MVNOs, which are services that use another company’s network.

Republic Wireless. Uses the Sprint network. No contracts. Extremely limited in phone selection. Calls automatically switch to wifi whenever possible. A flat rate depending on whether we want wifi + cellular talk & text ($10/mo per line), wifi + cellular talk & text + 3G data ($25/mo per line) or wifi + cellular talk & text + 4G data ($40/mo per line). So we could both switch to this now and pay $20 per month (plus tax & fees) instead of our current Sprint bill which would effectively give us smartphones around wifi and dumbphones away from wifi. The call quality might even be better since it’ll default to wifi instead of the poor reception we get indoors. The plans can be changed up to twice a month, and they prorate the bill.

Ting. Depending on the phones we use, Ting will use either the Sprint or T-mobile networks. It doesn’t offer unlimited talk or text, unlike everyone else, but charges each aspect based on buckets at the end of each month (and then an incremental cost past the last bucket). Ting has the potential to be the cheapest plan, but we would have to keep an eye on minutes, texts, and data, to make sure we didn’t bump up into the next bucket. For example, 500 minutes, 100 texts, and 0.5GB would be $36/mo, but add another minute and another 0.001GB and it’d be $52/mo. If we go over 2GB data the bill goes up quickly. Based on our history, we’d be paying $33 – 62 / month depending on data usage.

Cricket Wireless. Uses AT&T network. $70/month for two lines with 2.5GB of high-speed data, then throttled data after that.

Freedompop. I don’t trust them. Their website broke when I was trying to view their plans, and they required an email just to see their plans. Then, they prevented me from using a mailinator email account, which is ridiculous because the majority of people that use mailinator (to avoid exactly what Freedompop was attempting to force me to do) know that there are many domain names that forward directly to mailinator, so I just used the forwarding domain name that was prominently displayed on the mailinator webpage at the time.

Project Fi is invite only.

Review:
Republic Wireless is interesting in that it’s a low flat rate with the catch is that we can’t go over 6GB of data used away from wifi. I doubt we would since we spend the majority of our time with wifi access.

Ting is not as appealing, even though it could save us up to $17/mo over Republic Wireless, because I don’t want to have to keep a sharp eye on usage. I think we’d end up around $45/mo, but then be anxious about using data during trips.

Verizon’s network sounds great. The bill would not be so much more than we’re paying now for dumbphones. In the end, I think we just don’t use our phones enough to make the extra cost over Republic Wireless or Ting worthwhile. Maybe once we have smartphones that will change, but who knows.

Ed:  None of these are affiliate links.  #2 would like to put in a plug for Credo Mobile, because they have a social justice bent.

What will we do?  My best guess is nothing.  We will continue to put this decision off even as other plans that offer more than our current plan get less expensive.  My best guess is that eventually one or both of our phones will break and we’ll go through this process again and actually make the switch at that time.

What do you all use?

Ask the grumpies: What kind of mp3 player should I get?

Rented life asks:

I need to buy an MP3 player (not iPod). What do I get?

Because my DH has recently gone through the mp3 player replacement process, I have asked him.

He settled on a SanDisk Sansa Clip. Why? Because it is small, it is ~$60, and it had relatively good reviews on amazon. More expensive mp3 players had somewhat higher reviews, but not high enough to make the price difference worth it, he felt. They still had problems.

It’s great for audiobooks. If you’re an audiophile, he says it’s probably not high enough quality to get the nuances of the music you’re listening to.  He says it will play the higher quality formats but not well.  But if you’re more of a box wine drinker with your music tastes, you should be fine.

He says this is a satisficing sort of quest. If you’re looking for something cheaper, then maybe this, though the reviews are a little odd so maybe not.

DH also wants to recommend these ear foam tips for putting over your ear buds.  He says they’re totally worth the price even though they wear out every six months or so.  They block more outside noise and they seem to make the sound coming from the mp3 player clearer than other earbud tips he has tried.  But, he notes, you have to get the right size, so get the multi-pack first to determine the right size.

That’s all we got. Grumpy Nation, what’s your favorite mp3 player and why? What hasn’t worked for you?