Presents for people

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Sister:  She wanted a cutting board so I got her this one.  I also got her one of Nadiya Hussein’s cookbooks that we’ve been enjoying.  I feel like I should add something else because I usually spend more on her, but she hasn’t suggested anything yet and I haven’t been to her place since pre-pandemic so I have no idea what she needs.  DC2 wants to make her some kind of fresh marzipan art project, so zie has been experimenting with marizpan and ganache in preparation.  Recent discovery:  adding peppermint abstract to marzipan is *confusing* but if you pour melted chocolate over it it sort of kind of works?

Mother:  Amazon giftcard (all of the local bookstores have gone out of business again :/ )

DC1:  A boxed set of the Odyssey/Illiad/Aeneid (because zie really enjoyed Herodotus and suggested more Greek stuff, though I fear zie will be disappointed since Herodotus is hilarious), A hand-me-down Iphone 8 from DH because hir iphone 6 will soon not be working on our network and a new case with a hobby-related design to go with it, a Jacob’s ladder.  There’s also a birthday and DC1 will be getting drivers ed stuff and the awesome socks subscription that zie will probably not appreciate and will end up giving to DC2.

DC2:  Another chibi lights kit, a book on how to draw animals, metal straws for boba tea, whatever fiction books are still on hir wishlist after extended family has had a go at it.

DH:  As always zie gets 10x his weekly allowance added to his allowance.

Yes, DH’s family is doing gifts “only for children” but that mainly means we’re not exchanging adult gifts with SIL or her husband and sadly, BIL’s wife and I aren’t exchanging excellent novels off our respective wishlists (she has good taste so I used to do the shopping for her instead of DH).  But I can buy my own books!

MIL:  She filled out one those Grandmother tell me about your life books (we don’t actually like the linked one as much as this version that DH’s grandma did, but MIL chose the former) and we’re taking it to the local bindery and getting 3 copies made, one for each child.  Update:  because MIL chose the copy she chose rather than the version DH’s grandma did, the bindery said it would cost over $2K to do what we wanted.  So the new plan is that we scan in the pages ourselves, clean them up, and send the pdf to lulu.com (not sponsored).  Three copies that way will come in under $200, ignoring labor costs, possibly under $100.  (DH has already done the scanning via Adobe Scan on the phone, but now we need to clean things up– this would have been so much cheaper if she’d chosen a book with rings instead of perfect binding.  If you have a relative doing one of these books who wants copies made, spend the extra money to get one where it’s easy to get the pages out for scanning!)

FIL:  Gift certificate to Cabellas as per usual.

BIL:  A three pack of heatonist hot sauces (link not sponsored!)  Probably Los Calientes, Classic, and Keith’s Chicken Sauce, but DH may surprise me.  Update:  Los Calientes, The Last Dab, and Keith’s Chicken Sauce.

SIL DS1:  Apples to Apples (from wishlist), Origami Yoda books

SIL DD1:  Two Llama Llama and two “If you give a ” books from wishlist (one of these was expensive!), Bad Kitty Goes to the Vet

SIL DS2:  An Octopus bath toy and a stacking cup/hammer station thing from wishlist, some sandra boynton books SIL said they don’t have,  Baby Danced the Polka

SIL DD2:  An electronic vocabulary thing from wishlist, some sandra boynton books SIL said they didn’t have, a Pigeon book they didn’t have (SIL was pretty excited about this one)

BIL DS1:  This kid is as impossible as ours to shop for.  By the time we hit November 6th, his other grandma had bought everything that was on his wishlist except a $30 set of sketchy looking back-ordered (and arriving after Christmas) what looked like off-brand lego minifigs that claimed to be action figures from a sketchy looking seller.  So… maybe just an amazon gift card?  Or cash?  Update:  Confirmed cash is the better option with BIL.

BIL DD1:  Sailor Moon board game expansion, a book on how to draw animals, and sailor moon reusable water bottle (all from wishlist).

Other relative:  DH was like, maybe I should get him hot sauces like BIL, but he probably doesn’t like hot sauce and would rather have the money.  So maybe just a check (Update:  A check).  My guess is that Steam is going to have some kind of fun sale and DH will buy whatever games for both BIL and his other relative.  But maybe not, since other relative’s arthritis means he’s not been playing the same kinds of games that DH likes.

Do you have any fun ideas for people on your gifting list?  Anything good on your wishlist?

We made Christmas plans!

Assuming everything goes well with the FDA (update: it did!) and CDC (we’ll find out tomorrow!), DC2 (age 9) should be fully vaccinated before Winter Break (WOOOO!)

Because SIL now has 4 kids instead of 2 kids and both BIL and SIL’s respective families live near each other (<1hr away) while MIL and FIL live 4 hours from them, the in-laws decided that we would go to BIL’s town for Christmas this year and his wife would host rather than everybody going to MIL/FIL’s place.  Of course, we can’t drive straight to BIL’s town (we can barely make it to DH’s parents in a day) so we will be stopping at DH’s parents for a day or two before we all travel to BIL’s town and another night on the way back home.

After some fragmented communication between MIL and her kids, she decided to dump all the decision-making and AirBNB purchasing on DH.  Which is fine with me.  I like getting things over and done with.

Poor BIL’s MIL is not as easy-going as my in-laws (that is to say, as his parents), so he couldn’t guarantee that we could stay at his place.  Currently she says she doesn’t mind ceding Christmas to BIL’s family this year but she has reneged on these kinds of promises in the past and he figures he should leave the guest room available in case she wants to join us instead of having a second Christmas back in their original home town.  Plus they really only have one extra room so it would be tight fitting DH’s parents and my little family of four.  So we decided we would need an AirBNB (not wanting to deal with hotels and all the people).  And if we were going to get an AirBNB over Christmas we needed to book ASAP because most of them were already gone for some number of days within Dec 24th-Jan 1st.

We had some options– we could get a reasonably nice place near BIL for $650 but would only fit 6 people, and while SIL didn’t want to stay herself or leave the babies (now toddlers) in BIL’s town, she did express a preference for leaving her 8 and 6 year old with us so they could spend more time with our kids.  So we ended up booking a $1600 place with 4.9 stars and lots of reviews that is 10 min away by car from BIL’s.  It only has three bedrooms, but one of the bedrooms has one of those fancy bunk beds with a double bed on the bottom and a single bed on top and they said an air mattress was available on request, so I figured the four kids could stay there.  We’re rich and we can splurge, especially since we haven’t paid for travel in years.  There were less nice places that fit with our plans at various price points, and DH wanted to expand his search to farther away, but I was like, let us just book this.  It fits our criteria and everyone in the comments remarks on how clean it is (unlike another place that would have been perfect except for the low rating and the comments about mold and mildew on the third floor) and we can be done with this now.

MIL offered to pay for the AirBNB but since we ended up going with an unnecessarily expensive option when we would have gone with a much less expensive option if she was paying, we declined.  There’s a nice freedom in holding the purse strings.  One can get nice things without feeling guilty.

We decided to drive instead of fly because my last flight experience was not great in terms of people on the other end paying attention to masking protocols.  Why risk it?  We’ll also take my hybrid instead of DH’s plug-in because it is a lighter car and gets better gas mileage for trips that last longer than the electric charge.  I am hopeful that we won’t be in gas station bathrooms long enough to get covid.  It’s a shame that we have to drive through so many unvaccinated Trump-loving states to get to the in-laws.  Even in non-panemic times, the bathrooms don’t start getting clean until we hit the midwest.  In the past when we’ve made this trip we have a nice lunch at the halfway point in one of the cities, but this year we’re just going to pack something and eat in the car.

Driving isn’t free, but if my calculations are correct, gas will cost around $100.  Wear and tear will also add to depreciation and my car certainly isn’t used to salt or snow, but what can you do.  It’s still less expensive than flying the four of us.

We will have to figure out which John Scalzi novel to listen to while we drive!  It has been a while!  Sadly the Kaiju Preservation Society won’t be out yet so not that.  Probably the second Dispatcher book.

It was nice staying home last year, but it will be nicer still with DH and the kids being able to see his extended family again.

Are your holiday plans back to normal yet?  Have they changed from last year or the year before?  What has changed and what is the same and why?

p.s.  For Thanksgiving we’re hosting my sister and her boyfriend but she’s asked for Friday because she’s not sure if his family is going to be doing Thursday.  I’m hoping we’ll be able to order out this year even though it’ll be Friday instead of Thursday, but asked my sister if not-Turkey would be ok if we can’t.  Though I guess the turkey isn’t usually the hard part and we could just make the turkey and get other food take-out.  I am not looking forward to cleaning.

RBOC

  • I hadn’t updated our net worth calculations in I don’t know how long.  (I literally do not know how long– if I did this would probably be a full post instead of a bullet).  But, since the time I updated it, it has increased 50%, meaning that it was X before but now it is 1.5 X.  The stock market alone seems to have been responsible for much of the increase.
  • The reason I updated things was because I was curious to see what our stock portfolio looks like in terms of stocks/bonds/etc.  It’s mostly stocks.  There’s some bonds.  My accounts that are just Target Date funds and my university Fidelity account are both currently ~85% stocks and 15% bonds.  The rest… pretty heavily stock.  Mostly US stock (though both Target Date and university Fidelity accounts have emerging markets and foreign markets).  Some accounts are entirely S&P 500 because that’s the lowest fee in an otherwise high fee work account.  So I think I need to focus on adding more foreign markets and emerging markets, and maybe more munis.
  • My father has been sending increasingly deranged emails.  (Most recently he sent DH a very fragmented email that seemed to be telling DH that DH had to contact my father NOW in order to protect my children from their narcissistic mother, aka me.  We think that’s what it was saying, anyway. Previous emails have attacked my mother and sister as gaslighting or narcissists etc.  Once he cc’d the author of a book on narcissism.) But he’s refused to get an evaluation and my mother won’t force him to.  She’s also somewhat in denial or attributes it all to a potential stroke he may have had a few years ago.  They are adults, and my mother still seems to be in full control of her faculties, so not really anything my sister or I can do at this point.
  • One of my colleagues says his age 80+ mother is engaged to a much younger man (like 50+ years younger) that she met online who seems to be interested in her money.  I will probably end up not getting an inheritance but at least the money my parents have saved is likely to either go to my sister or to actually worthy charities and not someone who preys on older women.
  • My MIL has started Christmas shopping already.  I just got a copy of Hillary Clinton and Louise Penny’s new book from her!  (Also, fairly clear she’s ignoring the “kids only” rule, but as long as we don’t tell SIL nobody need know. We’re either getting her a sewing machine or we’re taking her newish memories book to the local printer to get copies for the kids, depending on if she’s finished filling out the memories book yet or not.)
  • We have zero idea what to get for DC1 for Christmas + Birthday.  At first we were like, how about a ukelele, but then realized zie probably doesn’t want one given zie hardly has enough time for piano, violin, and theramin as it is!  I have fidget stuff on hir wishlist for relatives and a few fiction books, but we’re mostly drawing blanks.  We may have to resort to SAT prep and AP prep guides.  There’s always money, but it would be like, “Here’s $100” then a few days later “Here’s another $100!” and zie doesn’t actually use it.
  • Speaking of AP exams, DC1 is taking 4 AP classes this year.  Zie is probably not going to take the Physics 1 AP because zie will be taking Mechanics and E&M next year.  Zie will have to decide about Spanish soon.  Zie will definitely be taking the BC calc exam.  Then there’s psychology… It’s hard to know what is optimal for a junior whose scores might affect college admissions positively or negatively.  It seems ridiculous to decide these things Fall semester when the exams are pretty late Spring semester.
  • I’m not really sure how DC1 ended up so not consumerist.  DH likes shopping more than actually owning/using.  DC2 is delighted with new things. I’m a bit of a pack rat. But DC1 is just a natural minimalist.  Zie also listens to hir hunger and will stop eating say, an ice cream, if full.  Zie has been this way since a baby.
  • I bought more pens I didn’t need from jetpens and I’m really enjoying them.  These vintage color Sarasa pens from Jetpens (not an affiliate, I’m just addicted) are perfect for writing postcards to voters this fall.  VIP Voters in Ohio got in the Blue-black this past week.

Christmas present lottery updates

This year was the first year of the Christmas drawing.

SIL noted that MIL breached the lottery and decided that MIL and FIL are not allowed in the drawing next year.  She also said that next year there has to be a money limit.  Since we got 4/6 of the people in her family, I’m guessing DH went overboard compared to what the remaining kid got.  (Maybe he shouldn’t have gotten her an entire flatware set and just done the spoons like she asked for.)  We spent ~$50/each for the three of her kids that we got (but it may have seemed like more because Amazon always has Thanksgiving day sales) and I don’t know how much for her, but it was more (I think over $100?  She has not thanked us, so it’s possible she was not happy about it, as midwesterners express disapproval silently. But equally possible she is busy with twins and work.).  BIL’s family spent something like $30 on one of our kids (I only know this because they bought a specific boardgame expansion off hir wishlist) so that’s probably also what they spent on SIL’s remaining kid.  My MIL drew me and I don’t know how much she spent because she’s a great bargain hunter, but she got me a *lot* of Lenox stuff (she has noted I am a fan of Butterfly Meadow).  So now I have pretty cloth napkins (all amazon links are affiliate) and one of those things you put a spoon on when you’re cooking so your counter doesn’t get yucky, and some serving bowls.

So DH suggested that we just draw the kids next year and leave the adults out entirely.  We both worry that if there’s a money limit AND we draw SIL’s husband (who does not have a wishlist and we really know nothing about and have nothing in common with) we’re going to be giving him a $25 (or whatever the limit is) gift card to Amazon, which seems … dumb.  (Whereas if there’s no money limit it seems less dumb?  Even if the same amount is spent?  Logic!)  Also I think DH would like to be allowed to get his brother a game at Christmas.  MIL and SIL agreed to a drawing just for the kids.

Then I realized that if we do a drawing and just have kids, then SIL’s family will have all four of the other kids EVERY SINGLE YEAR and we will each get some random two of her kids every year.

Since BIL and my family are better off, maybe we could just each buy for the other 6 kids without having to stress out about dollar limits or siblings being treated differently or what have you.  We can keep buying books (which are probably less popular and more expensive than other presents for kids that aren’t my kids) and BIL’s family can keep buying whatever BIL’s family buys (which is board games and comic books for our family, but probably tailored differently for SIL’s family).  SIL will still only be buying for the same four kids that she would be under the drawing system.   We have made this suggestion and we will see what happens.  DH made the argument that since SIL had her kids last, there were many Christmasses in which she was buying presents for our kids but we weren’t reciprocating.  BIL agrees with this logic.  DH and BIL usually just do whatever MIL (who does whatever SIL) wants, but this time they might put up a (quiet, polite, midwestern) united front.  I’m staying out of it other than waking up one morning having thought out the mathematics of a drawing when one person has exactly half of the kids while I was asleep.

As a side note:  We have NO IDEA who drew DH’s name.  He did get a gift from his parents, but it was smaller than per usual and from both parents, similar to what they got the kids whose names they didn’t draw and less than what they got me, whose name MIL did draw (which was signed just by her).  Nothing else has been forthcoming.  SIL sent DC2’s stuff early.  BIL sent DC1’s game a bit later, but still within plenty of time for Christmas.   DH should probably have asked after he got the present from his parents, but it was before Thanksgiving, so…  We’re not fussed about it, but are mildly curious.

RBOChristmas

  • Since this is the first year we haven’t been traveling for Christmas since DC1 was born, we’ve had to decide what our Christmas traditions are.
    • Are we a big Christmas dinner the night before or the day of?  At the IL’s this is generally dependent on what our flight prices were (are we leaving on Christmas, coming on Christmas eve?) and what BIL’s in-laws in the same town are planning.  So it varies every year.  I have decided we are a Christmas Eve dinner family (and a snack on leftovers all Christmas Day family).
    • What is our traditional Christmas dinner food?  MIL favors ham.  I do not like ham.  We have decided on my mom’s garlic sage pork roast.  (I do miss the traditional BIL’s birthday lasagna though! We were very close to deciding on a lasagna, except DC1 doesn’t like lasagna even though DC2 loves it.  Which is weird because DC2 is the one who dislikes cheese and DC1 likes every individual ingredient of lasagna.)
    • I think we’re not going to be doing Christmas on my sister’s patio.  She brought it up at Thanksgiving but the weather has not been great, so I assume it isn’t happening now, given Christmas is Friday.
    • What kind of tree do we want?  In grad school we had a post-modern wire tree that folded flat because we lived in a tiny apartment.  Then later as adults with kids we would do a felt tree (h/t Leah) since we’d be spending actual Christmas someplace completely decorated for the season.  Early on we had rosemary trees which we would then plant in the yard (and would either die right away or mowers would mow over years later :( ).  Sadly we can’t just go to whole foods and pick one up, but I was able to special order one from a place on Etsy for $40 instead of the $15 it would have cost at a grocery store, had any carried them.  (The locally owned place in town that might carry them is a covid hotspot according to Yelp, with the owner basically not allowing his employees to wear masks properly because he’s some kind of right-wing nutcase.)
    • Are we an open all the gifts on Christmas morning family, or do we have other rules to spread things out?  Back when I was growing up we got one gift on Christmas Eve, which was always exciting.  Our kids have mostly gotten presents that were delivered from family as they came in the mail and they would get presents from us either the night before we left for the plane or the morning after we got back (with the exception of stockings which appear on their beds).  Presents from DH’s family were generally opened at MIL’s sometime on Christmas based on BIL’s in-laws schedule.  Since even with the lottery the kids have a lot of presents, we’ve decided to kind of spread it out, especially since they have a whole week of vacation before and only a single week after.  On Saturday we had them each open up their big present from us and DC1 spent a few hours putting together a unicycle and DC2 spent a few minutes putting together a razor scooter.  Then they went out and played with them.
    • Do the kids get to open presents without us or do they have to wait?  This one will be the same as with the in-laws– they can open stockings as soon as they wake up, but everyone has to be awake and there for Christmas present opening.
  • We’ve set up a crafting zoom with MIL.  They’re both buying the same ornaments kits from Michael’s and also the same ingredients to assemble melted snowman cookies.  We set up a date and a time (which was hard since MIL is taking care of SIL’s twins 8 hours a day 5 days a week, and actually has all 4 kids when their school is out but SIL’s isn’t).  DC2 sings, Santa doesn’t care if you’re precise, he just cares that you’re nice.
  • DH says that nuts.com knows what they’re doing when it comes to organic vegan gummy bears.
  • My sister says she is worried about my mother’s safety and is going to tell my father’s therapist so.  She is likely right.
  • I have a conference paper due December 27th that didn’t exist in any shape or form on December 1st.  It’s not done yet.  (Technically I had two papers due December 27th, but one of them already had a draft and was updated and turned in last Saturday.)  But I’m taking Christmas completely off even if I’ve been working most weekends.
  • After spending most of the summer playing Christmas music, DC1 has been refusing to play Christmas themed piano pieces (only playing ragtime) and DC2 has been playing lots of “holiday” music from the Fourth of July (“It’s not my fault it starts with America,” says DC1 about hir school’s holiday music thing.)
  • Youtube has been offering a lot more old-fashioned Christmas music to me this year which is a nice change from the same old 70s- 90s hits it usually focuses on.  Not that I dislike said hits, just, it’s nice getting more variety.  I’ve especially enjoyed the King’s Singers Christmas and the old Goodyear tire albums from the 60s.  Sammy Davis Jr. is such an incredible singer– he makes it all sound so easy and smooth.
  • DC1 is doing a computer programming contest thing.  They really like cows in their problems.  Did you know that the conference call software that cows use is called mooz?

 

Have you had to figure out any new Christmas traditions this year?

Holiday Donations!

So, a lot of people need your dollars this year.  The federal government isn’t doing its job.  One thing that you can do even if you don’t have money to donate is call your senators and tell them to stop letting Mitch McConnell take Covid relief hostage to allowing firms to put their workers in danger without fear of lawsuit.  Because that’s what is happening– Mitch McConnell won’t even allow a relief bill to go to the floor unless companies are legally allowed to be negligent.  And if that gets passed, there will be a race to the bottom because only negligent companies will be able to compete.  People need relief and they need workplace safety.   We cannot have a bill that forces negligence on companies.

So, with that in mind, if you have dollars, people need them.  I think the best place for those dollars this year is anything that provides children with basic necessities.  So– donate to a foodbank, either your local bank or a state spinoff of Feeding America, or Feeding America itself.  Kids need food most of all.  Money is the best gift because they can use it to buy in bulk, but your unexpired cans, dry goods, diapers, toiletries, etc. are also useful.

A lot of people are having more troubles with anxiety, family problems from too much proximity, and so on.  There are a number of different crisis hotlines you can donate to.  The suicide prevention hotline, the crisis text line, and for LGBTQ folks, the Trevor project.  For victims of abuse, there’s the domestic abuse hotline, but you may want to look up a women’s shelter near you to donate to, either cash or in-kind.

If there is a non-profit for refugees near you, check out their webpage.  I bought some things off an amazon list for the one in our nearest city.

As state and local budgets get cut, you may want to donate to libraries.  I donated to the state library that’s letting me get free e-books, though I do that every year.  They have a lot of programs for kids in the city in which they are located, which has been having spotty schooling, and I want them to be able to keep that up.

If you’re on twitter, a lot of folks have been spreading the word about smaller projects– when they look legit and the donation is in-kind (like, on their list are things that probably don’t have a ton of resale value but are things that people need), I will often buy something off the amazon list of one of these projects.  It’s not that I don’t believe people with gofundmes are deserving, it’s that I don’t know if the person running the gofundme is actually legitimate or a scammer.  So I bought some reasonably priced kitchenware off one of these lists.

Here are some charitable donations pages from previous years.

Grumpy Nation, what charities would you like to highlight? Post in the comments below!

Christmas Gifts this year

So…. this year DH’s family departed deeply from tradition and decided to draw lots for Christmas.  We pulled DH’s sister, hir oldest girl, and both preemie twins.  All Amazon links are affiliate links.

DH’s sister‘s Amazon wishlist usually, in the past, pre-preemies, has had things for hir work as a teacher which I love buying because it feels like we’re donating to the school, and random trinkets for herself (like jewelry or cosmetics).  DH, from what I can tell, randomly picks stuff off her list until he gets to $50.  This year is very different.  Hir list has more necessities and fewer luxuries.  Clothing, bathroom supplies, kitchen supplies, and so on, with notes about how they need to replace things that have been lost or are worn out.  So… with the twins and maternity leave (such as it is) we suspect they’re short on cash whereas they’d been doing well before. [Update:  The actual drain on their budget is that they’ve put both older kids in face-to-face schooling at a private school since the public schools are all remote except for special education.]  I have made an executive decision to pick the silverware option and we will be getting her silverware from liberty flatware, probably the Annapolis pattern (Update:  NOT this one– in person it looks like somewhat higher quality versions of cafeteria spoons), unless they end up being too big (we’ve ordered a sample).  (Looking through I really really want the American Garden pattern for ourselves, but we already have a full set of the Martha Washington which is also nicer quality.  There’s just something about flowers on kitchen stuff that is very nostalgic for me.  But the Martha Washington pattern is also nostalgic!  And we don’t need a second set of flatware.  Nor do we need their adorable Christmas flatware.)  Update:  DH ended up getting a full set in the flame pattern.  They are a bit bigger than what we have, but DH’s sister’s family is also much bigger (not just in numbers!) than I am so they can handle European-sized silverware.

There are about a bazillion baby sitter skipper and other baby related items on the list for niece (at $20/each too!), and a bunch of make-up kits (she’s in kindergarten)… we got *one* of the barbie sets (we chose veterinarian) and then got most of the books, which are from the If you give a Mouse a Cookie series and the Llama Llama series, both of which are great sets of kids books.  I’m disappointed we don’t have the oldest kid, because he’s the same age as our youngest and there’s a lot of really good fun science/engineering/etc. stuff on his wishlist.  DH’s family is still unconsciously into gender roles.  I did sneak in The Most Magnificent Thing.

We asked about the twins and were told that they “don’t need anything” which we think is code for “we have enough clothes/toys etc, please give us gift cards.”  At least that’s how we’re going to take it.  So we got a couple of cute Target giftcards with little Christmas puppies on them.

Then we had to decide whether or not to give gifts to DH’s parents despite the names drawing that they breached.  Cabela’s was having an interesting gift card sale where you got the card at a discount so long as it only got used after Christmas.  So we got FIL one of those.  For MIL, DH and the kids are making a Christmas themed shadow box kit that incorporates all 8 grandkids.  DH is hoping for packages with names or tiny tree ornaments, but I think two rows of 4 named stockings would be cute.  We’re going to let the kids choose based on their paperworking skills.  We’re also sending a copy of an instapot cookbook that MIL had on her amazon wishlist but then went out of stock before she could get a copy– we happened to buy a copy after we finished the wonderful Indian food instapot book we had and when we got it were like, we will never use this because we already make these new American things without the instapot, so… it’s kind of like regifting?  (We got ourselves a different Urvashi Pitre instapot book instead— she is THE BEST.)

DH got his relative a bunch of different kinds of pens for people with arthritis because he’s been complaining about how hard it is to write when things get bad.  We didn’t send them earlier because he switched doctors and got on a medication that was helping, but this seemed like a good time.

My mom is getting a Barnes and Noble books gift card.

My sister has asked for a big cast iron skillet.  So she will get that, and some flaxseed oil because it is miraculous at seasoning a pan.  If you have an iron skillet and have to keep re-seasoning it, get some organic flaxseed oil and use this method.

For our own kids… their amazon wishlists are full of books they’ve read from the library that they want their own copies of.  It’s hard to know what to get for DC1 who will be turning 14 right after Christmas.  Last year the theramin kit (and arduino) and lockpick sets went over really well and got a lot of use during the Spring and summer along with a subscription to an adobe video editing software.  But school has started for real again and zie has no time for hobbies that aren’t directly related to school work.  We’d been kicking around the idea of a unicycle for a while and finally got one.  Maybe zie needs a fancy computer chair?  But we asked and zie said no.  We’ll have to come up with something for hir birthday, even if it’s just a giftcard to one of the magic websites [update:  we have settled on cold hard cash].  DC1 has a number of smaller things on hir amazon wishlist, like villainous expansions, and US classic historical novels, but we already get enough complaints from people about there not being enough on there that I figure we’ll have to wait until people have finished their shopping (though it’s hard because my family often puts off shopping past the last minute).

In addition to books, DC2 wants various balls.  We’ve already got a basketball and a four square ball (which when I was growing up we just called a “school ball”… or a “kick ball”– you know, one of those big rubber balls that don’t hurt too much when used inappropriately at recess).  But DC2 wants a volleyball and a soccer ball and so on.  Zie will also be getting more sketch pads.  For hir “big” present, zie has asked for a scooter.

For stocking stuffers, DC2 wants a fidget spinner that spins, and DC1 needs something with a hinge that zie can break without upsetting other people in the family (see, for example, the ipad holder that used to have a little protective thing over the plug area until DC1 worried it off).  I went with a smaller number (1 each) of expensive items that aren’t full of “this came broken/leaves sparkly bits on my fingers/etc.” reviews rather than a larger number of cheaper fidget toys with such reviews.  Hopefully we will get the right items…

Have you been getting interesting things for friends and family?

Ask the readers: The Christmas lottery has already been breached

Dearest readers,

Long term readers may remember how SIL, upon being diagnosed with twins (children #3 and #4) this summer, suggested that instead of everybody giving gifts to everybody as that is DH’s family’s love language, that instead we draw names from a bag and only give to the person whose name we had drawn.

It is not yet Thanksgiving and we have all four of us already received Christmas gifts from MIL.  (Also from SIL, but only for DC2, whose name she drew.  The kids’ gifts are sitting in boxes in my closet waiting for after Thanksgiving to be put in gift bags.  Except Children of Virtue and Vengeance because DC1 has it on hold from the library and there’s a long line after hir so…)  I *think* it’s less money than she usually spends (~$30/person instead of $80-$100+… not that I keep track), but also… it’s not yet Thanksgiving.  We often think she’s done with holiday purchases and end up being wrong.  This may just be the “off our wishlists” portion.  Or it may be all.  (Except DC1 will probably get something for hir birthday.)

DH also just bought a (bread baking) book for his brother’s wife but was like, this is not a Christmas gift, do not retaliate (brother was all, no worries, this is not a big deal, but I’m sure his wife is happy to have expectations made explicit), and also wants to buy his brother a cheap video game that they can play together with the other relative they’re friends with.

And should we renew the Braille subscription for DH’s brother’s blind daughter?

Should we also ignore the name drawing thing and send gifts back to MIL and FIL?  Just have the kids send (homemade crafty) gifts to MIL?  Send something smaller than usual? Stick rigidly to the name drawing thing?  Not worry about it because the in-laws have savings and nice pensions and I still make a lot of money so whatever we do is fine?

What would you do?  Any stories of what happens when these kinds of rules break down?

Big changes in how DH’s family does Christmas

Every year I talk about how DH’s family has gift giving as their love language and how DH agonizes over what to get and I make lists of what we’ve gotten people and worry or don’t worry about the expense for the other families in question.

DH’s sister has twins due in November.  This will bring the number of grandkids up to 8 and will double the number of her kids.  She has requested that instead of the regular gift giving we’ve done in the past where everybody gets everyone something that we just pick names out of a hat and each person gives one thing.  (Which I think is silly– I’d rather not do gift-giving at all than to have a random element with higher stakes, but again it’s not my family.)  I think the idea is that everyone still gets something to open at Grandma’s house.  Though we always just have presents direct-shipped to people’s houses since we have been flying instead of driving recently.

But this year it sounds like we will not be having Christmas at Grandma’s house.  With 8 grandkids, that’s too many.  DH’s siblings live about an hour away from each other and in a more populated part of the state whereas his parents and other relatives all live in the more rural part of the state 5 or so hours away (assuming you don’t get stuck behind a tractor).  DH’s mom is planning on renting an apartment near his sister so she can be on hand to help out with the twins and she thinks we should rent a house either near DH’s sister or his brother.  And we should do it after Christmas instead of on Christmas.  (Which will make my sister happy because this past year my parents didn’t end up visiting at the last minute and she spent Christmas with friends instead of family and she has been complaining about it ever since.)

It will be kind of nice to have Christmas at home again.  We haven’t done that since my sister bought a house in the City, which was before DC2 was born.  We’ll get to have a rosemary tree and get out the ornaments (instead of the felt tree we put up) and actually put things in the kids’ stockings here and we can not have ham (though I will miss BIL’s birthday lasagna).

Now, DH and I kind of think it’s pretty likely we won’t be going to visit this winter at all because the virus will still not be under control and it will be too dangerous, especially with his sister being post-partum, but that’s months from now.  With all those United miles we can afford to put off this decision for a while.

I suspect DH will still give presents to his brother because he tends to buy electronic games that he and his brother and other relative can play during their weekly online gaming sessions.  But that can be our secret.

Has gift giving with your extended family changed as it has grown (or shrunk)?

Ask the Grumpies: I moved into a rich subdivision and my neighbors gave me way too much

Moved to the Southern US asks:

My husband and I (immigrants from [an Asian country]) have done very well for ourselves lately, and after living in a 2200 sq ft house in a standard subdivision with mostly people affiliated with the local university, we saved up and built our own house where the minimum allowed house size is 3,500 sq feet and there are plenty of trees and lots of land between houses.  Lot sizes are big.  According our HOA, we could have horses if we wanted, but nobody does.  On one side of us lives a surgeon and his younger SAHM wife with their two children (neither of whom are close to my children’s ages).  On the other side are a couple of older lawyers (we think) whose children are grown (we think).

We moved here mid-September, so this is our first holiday season here.

Recently the SAHM gave us an enormous box of homemade cookies.  Along with the box she provided a holiday card and a lengthy very personal holiday letter with pictures and information about their “magical” summer vacation.  There were also a lot of bible verses.

The cookies were, sadly, not very good.  Neither my toddler nor my growing pre-teen ate more than one, which is saying something.  (Our builder also gave us a tin of cookies as a holiday gift, but there were a lot fewer cookies and they were good!)  We ended up throwing them out and sending a thank-you note.  My DH initially wanted to invite the family over for tea, but thought better of it.  We thought about reciprocating, but… it seemed weird and we don’t want to encourage such gifts.

This morning [a Saturday] around 7am while we were all still in bed, we got a knock on the door and it was our other neighbor, the lawyer husband, with a box from honeybaked ham for us.  My husband groggily thanked him and took it inside.  When we opened it later, it had an entire ham in it with a price tag for almost $60(!) along with a Christmas card saying, “Hello neighbor, have a wonderful Christmas!” with the word “Christmas” underlined twice.  I’ve never met the lawyer couple and know very little about them.  My husband has not talked with either of them much either.  (We’d at least seen the cookie neighbor around the neighborhood while walking our dog, though we couldn’t tell you the names of her kids.)

Is this normal?  Do we write a thank-you note?  Are we expected to reciprocate in kind?  I don’t want to spend $60 on someone whose name I don’t even know.

We are Christian and we do like ham, so we will be eating it, but we would still have preferred not to have gotten this gift.

That definitely sounds WEIRD!  It is so tacky to leave a price tag on a gift!  What is up with that?

And who gives a HAM?  And who gives a ham 4 days before Christmas?  I may be biased a bit because I don’t like ham and we’re about to leave to visit relatives (and there is usually a lot of ham at Christmas dinner but without pineapple which is the only thing I like about baked ham so I can’t imagine coming back to an entire ham after that).  There’s so many people who can’t eat ham, not just for religious or vegetarian reasons, but also for reasons of cholesterol and salt content.  That’s just so WEIRD.  (Also, not a fan of Honeybaked ham– they somehow seem even saltier than normal.)

Let’s assume that there’s nothing overtly racist about either of these neighbors, they just can’t imagine a world where anybody wouldn’t be Christian.  It’s just easier to live that way.

I find people over the age of 25 who proselytize to not be very interesting to talk with, so I think not having tea and just sending a thank-you note was the right call there.  (My students often outgrow the proselytizing as they meet more new people–it’s just how they were raised.)

My guess with the holiday letter and cookies is that they had a bunch leftover from their friends and family giving and decided the neighbors would get the overflow.  Possibly she went to a cookie party (where people make and trade huge batches of cookies), though if that were the case *some* of the cookies would have been good because they’d have been made by other people.  So you got the letter because she had some extras printed out, not because she really wants you to know about her vacation.

As for the ham… I was completely mystified about that too until I talked with one of my friends who knows more rich people than I do.  (Technically we know a lot of Silicon Valley rich people, but Northern California rich is a lot more like upper middle class most places, and most of them are only first generation rich because of the dot com boom.)  She said he’s probably giving said hams to everyone on his list without really thinking about it.  $60 seems like a lot to most of us, but it’s like that arrested development clip with the banana.  They don’t see it as extravagant because they can’t.

Image result for how much does a banana cost meme

[This, grumpy nation, is but one reason that we need higher marginal tax rates.  Wealthy people should not be gifting each other bad hams!  What a waste!  (Personally, I’d try to give it to our local food pantry, but I don’t know they’d even accept it and they’re impossible to get on the phone.)]

So, Moved to the Southern US, eat the ham as you wish and write a thank you note as you did with the cookies.  Either they’re giving you outsized gifts because you’re new to the neighborhood and they’ll scale down next year, or these gifts are such a small part of their lawyerly budget that it just doesn’t seem over the top (and maybe you’ll just come to expect your annual ham until it’s time to move to a nursing home).  Send a thank you card and move on.  You do not need to reciprocate!

Makes me glad that the only gifts we get from our neighbors are the occasional much appreciated overflow summer tomatoes!  Oh, and when DC1 was little a number of our neighbors used us as an opportunity to get rid of outgrown toys and clothes, which was also appreciated.  Also, several years ago we did get into a banana bread war with one of our neighbors– she ran into DH doing yardwork one evening and they got talking and she mentioned she had lots of extra bananas from her work and somehow that ended up with him getting a bunch of very ripe bananas, which he turned into several loaves of banana bread.  So he gave one to their family…  And then she gave us another loaf of banana bread in return.  At which point I’m fairly sure we realized we needed to stop, but it might have gone another round.

Grumpy nation– Do you get holiday (or other) gifts from your neighbors?  Have you ever lived in an upper-class neighborhood and is it different from where those who barely qualify as having mcmansions live?  Do you know rich people and do they give you hams?