Return of the Google Questions

Q:  how to tell inlaws one toy for christmas is enough

A:  Good luck with that.

Q:  what kid of christmas tree do you have

A:  This year… none.  Since we only have a small place, we’re meeting up with my family in a completely different destination over the holidays.

Q:  my husband make more than me does that excuse him from household chores

A:  Only if he uses that money to pay for someone else to do all the household chores (so you don’t have to do any either)

Q:  how reliable is tiaa take the lump sum or monthly check

A:  Monthly check.  (Talk to an unbiased financial adviser who is paid by the hour– keep in mind that if you get an adviser who is at all paid by commission that (s)he will recommend you take the lump sum so that the financial adviser can get a piece of that through fees.  This is a known problem and one that there’s been legislation about that hasn’t yet passed, to my knowledge.)

Q:  do professors have summer office hours

A:  Usually only the ones who teach summer classes

Q:  nick names for grumpy people

A:  Maggie and um… Nicki?  (Ugh, not Nicki)

Q:  can you give someone a money gift and tell them how to spend it

A:  Absolutely.  That makes the check more meaningful.  Like, if you were talking to your SIL about finances and she is saying how she’s been throwing extra money at her credit card to pay off her wedding or she’s saving for a house down-payment or whatever, you can put “for the wedding/house account” on the check.  The trick is, though, that you don’t get to say anything after that.  You don’t get to ask if the money was spent in that way.  You don’t get to get angry if they spent it another way.  So you can say how to spend it in a way that shows you’ve been thoughtful and not just throwing money at it because you don’t know what else to give, but you don’t get to determine how that money is actually spent.

Q:  do professors do their research only in summers?

A:  Some do if they have a crappy teaching or service load.

Q:  why do people choose ugly vertical blinds.

A:  Because they are cheap and they keep the sun out.

Q:  things to make for the inlaws for christmas

A:  Heck if I know.  DH makes things like vanilla extract or rum cake or fruitcake for my father, but my MIL is diabetic and my FIL is picky.  Crafty really isn’t my thing.

What did we get for Christmas?

#1 DH got the interior of my car detailed!  It is no longer scuzzy at all [update:  except the tip of the emergency brake– I’ve mostly gotten that clean though] and they tacked the fabric back in the doors.  Yay DH!

I also got a pillow protector, Akata Witch, The very nearly honorable league of pirates #1, The well of ascension, What works for women at work, What If?, and One Lady Two Cats off my wishlist.  Oh, and new sheets and towels (the former of which we really need since one of our two sets literally disintegrated a week before Christmas).  My stupid plan to keep my SIL from getting me the thing marked “lowest” off my Amazon list by not marking anything as “lowest” failed when she got me something not on my wishlist at all.  I’m not actually sure what it is… some kind of housewares thing that looks like one of those trays you serve breakfast in bed with except it specifically says not to use with food.  (Also it’s seriously scratched up on the bottom.)  DC1 drew me a super awesome comic strip with Pokémon putting up a Christmas tree and Pikachu lighting it up with predictable effects (“Does anyone else smell smoke?”).  The last panel says, “Now we sit and wait for presents to appear.”  My sister got DH and me a joint gift from her trip to Italy with small tasting liquors (including pistachio which I have been looking for in the US for AGES) and ancient balsamic vinegar sweet enough to go over vanilla ice cream.  Win!

The kids got a tonne of stuff.  Highlights of the best include a wooden toy tool belt from my sister, The Book with No Pictures, and The Most Magnificent Thing.  I *strongly* recommend the most magnificent thing for any budding engineers (under the age of say, 9 or 10) on your list, or even just budding perfectionists.  Oddly DC1 got catapults from multiple family members this year.  We can do a serious siege on the wooden castle now (we only had one catapult before).

#2’s partner got her a dice bag which is black leather with purple dragon on it.  Inside are purple dice, lavender dice, and steampunk-y dice.  I’ve been borrowing partner’s purple dice for D&D.

I also got lots of books!  I love books!  And amazon gift cards!  That I spent!  On books!  [ed:  If you wonder what books she got, you’ll have to ask her in the comments!]

Did you get anything especially fun or unusual?

Christmas Eve Filler Post of joy and happy wishes


Happy Wednesday!

What did we get people this year?

Shopping for DH’s family is sooo hard!

MIL:  This year we gave up and asked MIL what she wanted.  The answer?  The same luggage she got me for Christmas last year.  Not a problem!  We added a “Grandma” luggage tag because she seems to like things labeled Grandma.

FIL:  Another giving up year, a gift certificate to Cabela’s.  (Last year was an exception–we got him something he really wanted but he didn’t want to spend the money on that he still talks about.) This is probably still a good choice because he loves shopping at Cabela’s and MIL hates the way he spends so much of their money at Cabela’s.

BIL1:  games off his amazon wishlist

SIL1:  the first two books in the finishing school series.   She had the first on her list, but I know from experience that once you read the first you end up buying the second on kindle because you can’t wait for it to come in the mail.  So we got her that too.

Cousin 1:  Kid’s fun and healthy cookbook  Also one of the pigeon books from his wishlist, which seems kind of young to me, but whatever, it was on the wishlist.  And if we hadn’t had DC2 we might have gotten the entire set without the excuse of having a younger kid… (my sister loves those and she’s 30 years old!)

Cousin 2:  Three books off her wishlist, including a couple of elephant and piggie books and a knuffle bunny.  Maybe it’s mom who has the Mo Willems thing…  We were going to send her M R Nelson’s new book, but after looking at the heavily be-princessed wishlist (including 4 princess outfits), we decided that might get misconstrued.

SIL2: Her wishlist had been decimated, with only 3 things left on it (it had a tonne of stuff the week before, but we think MIL swept in and bought up the bulk).  Two books and a wish for “iTunes gift-card.”  We got her the two books, which were both kind of boring looking things about her job, one of which she’d put on recently, and the other something rated “low” that she’d put on a couple of years ago.  Oh well.

BIL2:  Was happiest the year we got him an Amazon giftcard, so an Amazon giftcard is what we got this year too.

Cousin 3:  A busload of pigeon books (it’s been a very Mo Willems year) and a couple of smaller books of hir wishlist.  Also we’ll be donating to the 529 plan.  We would do this for cousins 1 and 2 also, but BIL has never gotten around to setting them up, even though in his state they get a 20% tax credit(!) off their state income taxes.

Grandmother-in-law:  She’s now in a nursing home with early stage Alzheimer’s.  MIL didn’t have any suggestions.  She’s crunched for space, so no knick knacks.  MIL takes care of things like linens and clothing and so on.  She’s not really able to do her hobbies anymore.  Someone has already signed her up for fruit-of-the-month.  So we looked online for suggestions for people in nursing homes and people with Alzheimer’s and decided to make picture magnets, one for each of our little families (DH and his siblings and all our kids) with names underneath each person (the names part is the part suggested for Alzheimer’s patients).  Each family is color coded with a different color for the names.  We had an extra magnet leftover on the online thing and put a picture of DH’s mom and aunts on it.

My parents: I wanted to get them an air conditioner.  The two wall units they have are literally from the 1980s, inefficient, and ran out of freon before I left for college.  Every summer there’s a heatwave I worry about them dying like all those people in Chicago back when I was a kid.  Also I have to listen to my mom complain about how difficult it is to sleep in the heat.  Home Depot has a thing where they will install the a/c and take an old one away, so that’s what I want to do.  After much back and forth we decided to send them a giftcard to Home Depot for the amount we would have spent on a window unit, and they will replace one of their wall units in the summer.

My sister:  Well, for various reasons, I wanted to buy her that $369 automatic litter box, but the conversation kept going like, Her: “Why don’t you buy me a new washing machine for $369 instead?” Me:  “Because I don’t feel guilty about anything involving a washing machine.” “How about a stand mixer, I’d really like one of those fancy stand mixers”  “Would you ever USE a stand mixer?  Plus, I don’t feel guilty about anything involving a stand mixer!”  (Note:  earlier that evening she’d suggested we get her a vitamix, and I was like we got you an Oster hand blender a few years ago, and she was all, “You did?  Huh, I’ll have to check.  I know you got me that food processor that one year that I’ve never taken out of the box.  And that crockpot I never use.”  Note she’d asked for said food processor and crockpot.  She always wants cooking implements when she’s saving up money for something, but never actually uses them.)  So what did I get her instead?  $85 worth of cat toys and feliway.

DH’s relative with all the kids:  probably  money.  Daughter #2 is pregnant again…

As always, Target gift cards for teachers.

#2 says:  I have no income.  I am spending out of savings for Christmas, combined with not traveling, and not getting people extravagant gifts.   I’m buying used for people who are ok with that and looking for Kindle sales.  I also used the cashback on my Discover card to buy gifts.  I got my grandmother a box of pears.  There’s a group gift for the other grandmother, who doesn’t want a lot of Stuff.  But I’m trying to write her more letters and let her know I’m thinking of her.

I’m going in with my siblings on a lot of things.  Joint large gifts for mom, dad, stepmom (split between me and sis and our partners).  My brothers got stuff off their wishlists.  Stuff for my sister?  Well, I won’t say it here in case she ever finds this blog!

Did you get anything good or fun or interesting for folks on your holiday list this year?

Holiday gifts for teachers

Ah yes, the holidays.  And gifts for teachers.

#2 recently sent me a link with ideas for gifts for teachers. “Comments actually useful here!” she said.

Silly #2… obviously she has not spent as much time on mommy forums and blogs as I have.

Anyhow, from my reading of the forums (etc.) all teachers want are gift cards to Target. Gift cards to Starbucks are ok. Gift cards to the Body Shop are not ok.

They don’t want your cookies. They don’t want your mugs.  They have mixed, mostly negative, feelings about chocolates.

(They might want booze! #2 suggests. And while that might be true, you should probably not bring booze to a K-12 school or preschool. If you’re gonna go that route, try giving a gift certificate to a specialty shop that sells both booze and food.)

They also enjoy, for real, feeling appreciated. They love heart-felt notes from students and parents. They want that even more than gift cards, if the teaching mommies on fora are to be believed.  Teachers are mixed on whether or not they want heart-felt homemade gifts from the students.  They appreciate the thought.

(Coffee! #2 suggests. Sure, coffee. If you know what kind they drink and they’re not just getting it for free from the teacher’s lounge. Perhaps that’s why they like the Starbucks gift cards, though not as much as the same value Target cards.)

Also note that you can make a directed donation for stuff to the teacher through the school and it will be tax deductible so long as the school is government or non-profit. Be careful though that they don’t just subtract money that they would have been giving to the teacher anyway. If you’re worried they might do that, then gift carts to Half-Price books or Walmart or Target or the teacher supply store will be a better option. Teachers do tend to spend a lot of money out of pocket on supplies for kids, which is ridiculous. As a society we should be better than that.

And no, not all students’ families give gifts.  And no, you do not have to give gifts.  Depending on where you live, most parents don’t.  And yes, a card or a note at the holidays is a great idea even if you’re not planning on giving a gift.

What do we do?  $20-$25 gift card to Target to each teacher DC1 comes into contact with (and DC1 writes a thank-you note for each teacher with the card).  Then a $50 card to half-price books “For the classroom.”  This year though we may consider giving a directed donation that’s larger because the teacher has been buying sets of books for the class out of pocket (Charlotte’s Web, Dear Mr. Henshaw, etc.).  We’re not really sure.  When we asked her at the beginning of the semester, she said she’d let us know if she needed a directed donation, but she never has.  We probably should have just written a check right then and there when we were prepared to do so (we’d brought the checkbook and everything).  We also give a much larger figure to the school’s annual giving campaign.  If we went to public school instead of private I’d feel a bit different about giving a gift-card, but public school teachers on fora say they’re totally ok and appreciated.  (And in this at-will no-union state, teachers make so little, that a $25 gift card might actually matter.)

Usually we give $20/teacher to the daycare too, including all the teachers DC2 has come in contact with.  This year it’s a bit tricky.  In the 6 mo period we’ve been at this daycare by winter break, DC2 will have only been in the new room a month.  The previous room was terrible, we hate the directors, but we loved the teachers in the 18 month room.  There are 4 teachers in each classroom (2 morning, 2 afternoon), for 12 teachers total.  And we’re leaving for the new daycare in January (though we usually give good-bye gifts when we leave a daycare, but we’ve never left acrimoniously before).  We’d like to give cards to the 18 mo teachers and the new teachers, but we can’t really leave out the last room if we do that.  And DH wonders if we should really be giving giftcards when the new teachers barely know DC2 (though by the time this post posts, they’ll have known her longer!).  We may end up not doing anything.  I mean, we’re already “those parents” at that school.  But I will feel guilty, you know?  (Probably we’ll end up giving $10 gift cards to everyone at daycare or something.  Split the difference.)

What do you think about holiday gifts to teachers?

Little things that just work

Sometimes I like giving Christmas presents that are practical but luxurious.  My grandmother-in-law was kind of weirded out at first when we got her a bath mat for Christmas one year early in our marriage, but it was a really nice really expensive bath mat that just felt like stepping on a little slice of Heaven’s carpet after getting out of the shower or bath.  She remembered that purchase and was appreciative years later, even if it seemed an odd choice at first.  Sure she already had bath-mats, but she didn’t have luxury bath mats.

And it’s amazing how these little luxuries can change one’s quality of life.  Sometimes in ways that you don’t even realize are possible until you’ve experienced them.  I think that makes for the best kind of Christmas present for the person who has everything– something they didn’t know they wanted.

The following things are expensive for what they are, but cheap given the happiness they bring.

Maped metal pencil sharpeners.  Sharpening a pencil has never been so pleasurable.  Pencils perfectly pointed.  After dozens of crappy plastic sharpeners that just gave out after a few sharpens, this little hand-held product is a dream.  Amazon no longer carries the two-pack we got that had the huge number of 5-star ratings, but it carries a two holed version and a one-pack.

furminator— accept no substitutions!  Big Kitty and Garage Cat were both long-hairs.  We’d tried various brushes with Big Kitty and they mostly ended up with all parties being upset.  Then a friend with a long-hair recommended the furminator.  It was expensive so I put it on my Christmas list and got it as a present.  This just works.  It combs through hair without catching.  The cat in question generally enjoys it, and you end up with enough extra fur to build another cat.

tweezerman tweezers — These just work.  You find the hair (or splinter, or what have you), pull, and it’s out.  No wasting tens of minutes trying to get purchase.  You get purchase.  There is a small learning curve where you learn not to take off skin too, but once you realize how good the tweezers are, you figure out you don’t need to grasp at skin like you would with normal tweezers.

We have differing opinions on pens and there are a lot of good pens out there.  One of us is addicted to Pilot G2, especially for grading.

Leifheit jar opener— If you don’t live with the incredible hulk, sometimes you need to open a jar by yourself, and sometimes you’d like to do it in a way that doesn’t damage the lid of the jar.  This expensive jar opener imported from Germany is a wonder.  I feel like I can open anything!  It is true that there are other highly rated jar openers on the market, also expensive and also from Europe, but we haven’t tried them.  This one definitely works.  We love it.

We have a perfect metal spatula, but unfortunately it is unbranded and we’ve been unable to find a second exactly like it.  Maybe you have a metal spatula to recommend?  Good rubber spatulas are also a great thing to have, but they are legion.

This Logitech ipad keyboard is amazing.  Sure, it’s not so little, but it is so nice.  One of my RAs had one and after she showed me all its features I had to have it.  It’s made responding to emails while traveling SO MUCH EASIER.  Note that the different colors have different prices– you can get a discount if you’re willing to go with say, red.

What little things have made your life better?  When has spending extra for quality on some everyday item been worth it?

DC1 on DC2

For my Christmas present from DC1, DH and DC1 made an mp3 that was full of awful awful puns (mostly penned by DH).  For the blog, and to keep you from the pain of all the Gnu Year wildebeast puns, I am transcribing just the part that DC1 wrote all by hirself with no help from DH (the transcription comes directly from the script– I have changed the names).  I think ze captures the essence of DC2’s personality perfectly, and DC1’s reactions to it.  (DC1 also voiced DC2 in the broadcast as DC2 is not actually talking much less reading.)

Gift Ideas for mommy
DH: I don’t now.
DC1: maybe a picture
DH: maybe one with decorations for Christmas
DC2: want want want play
DC1: maybe a decorated box for mommy on Christmas
DH: with fancy decorations
DC1: some food?
DH: I would love some
DC1: lets all eat some while [baby] drinks milk
DC2: milk!! yummy!!!
DC1: theres [baby]
DH: [baby] needs a diper change
DC1: okay Ill play some more,
DH: were done
DC1: its Christmas
Mommy: what do you have for me
DC1: [An mp3]
DH: let’s go!
(And what brilliant thing did DC1 get DH, you ask?  As of Dec 24th, when I’m writing this, I have no idea because I outsourced helping out on that to my sister this year.  Usually DC1 gets candy for DH.)

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