We were thoughtless this year

We thoughtlessly set our 2018 Christmas presents for DH’s family at $50/nibling/sibling and $100 each for Nana and Grandpa, give or take (the Braille book subscription we give a niece is actually $100 and we donated another $100 to help defray the costs).  I’m not sure why we did this, that’s just what seemed like the right amount of books when we started with the youngest cousins.  In terms of monetary expenses for us these days with both of us working and the house paid off, this is not a big deal.  Our December expenses are high, but our January expenses are usually lower than usual so it works out fine (also in the last paycheck this year we got a little boost from no longer having to pay SS tax).

But then DH’s brother’s family spent the same amount on us(!) which seems really excessive on the receiving end.  DH’s brother’s wife doesn’t have an income and both their kids are special needs.  But DH’s brother does have seniority in a union job so maybe it doesn’t put a crunch in their budget either?  They have a very nice house that is packed with toys and other stuff and an SUV and so on…  In terms of consumption, they seem to be doing well.  (They never opened up 529 plans for their kids and eventually we gave up nagging them about it, so we can’t stealth-give there.)

I’m embarrassed at how long it took me to figure this out.  Since we’ve started being able to afford stuff, most of my anxieties about gifts have just disappeared… I no longer care how much we spent or if I get crappy gifts (though I still do prefer things off my amazon wishlist).  DH’s sister’s family is much lower income than we are (though as she’s been gaining seniority and step-raises, they’re above median household income now) and I would have noticed if they’d started matching what we spend and felt bad right away, but she’s started giving etsy-level crafts (among other things, she’s got some kind of setup where she can make designs for t-shirts– one of DC2’s favorite presents last year was a shirt that you can color in with washable markers and then wash and re-color… she also made Disney-themed family vacation shirts for everyone last year) which I think makes everyone happy.

Anyhow, I told DH to bring up that they don’t need to match our spending with his brother sometime when they were alone over break and to let him know that they really don’t need to spend the same amount, or if they prefer we could cut back on them.  (The problem with that being that we actually enjoy getting stuff off their wishlists because DH wants his brother to play those games and I want SIL to read those books because she has good taste in books.) DH did and said that BIL basically brushed it off, so maybe it’s ok?

What do you do about spending on presents when there are income disparities in the family?  Do you feel like you have to match what the other person spends, or is it more about your constraints?

Advertisements

An unexpectedly high bill

The other week DH’s relative called DH at 10pm on a weeknight in a bit of a panic because kid #4 had signed up for community college next semester unbeknownst to him (she’s graduating a semester early and we are impressed with her initiative!) and the bill was due. Was our offer to pay it still valid? DH said sure, no problem, and we went back to sleep.

The bill turned out to be for $1,800!

So we said, we can pay this, BUT we think it’s really unlikely that you actually have to pay this much given that daughter #1 was free and #2 was something like $300/semester after financial aid. (This is more like the bill we would expect should one of them go to a 4 year school.)

Looking closer, it appeared that financial aid had not been included in the bill, even though they had done the FAFSA and everything else. Kid #4 also said two of her friends had gotten similarly scary bills. So something was messed up. (Also it turned out the deadline posted on the bill was a month earlier than the actual deadline!)

After several days of phone tag, DH’s relative finally got someone on the phone, but they said that they couldn’t talk financial aid with him, only with his daughter, even though she’s 17 and still a minor. She needed to come into the office to sign a bunch of forms.

So she went into the office, and instead of giving her forms, they emailed her forms. But they don’t have a printer, so she had to go back to the office (but the office’s printer cuts off the bottom of every page…). There was a lot more back and forth and in the end, the relative and his daughter both went into the office together. And a month later, everything got sorted out. All we have to pay for is books. Whew.

Our hope is that this daughter will get her SAT score up at least 10 points so she’s state school eligible and then go to a 4 year school (neither of her sisters finished their associates degrees because they dropped out after having babies and the oldest son didn’t start because he couldn’t drive himself… our hope is that maybe the 4-year college environment will be more appealing than dropping out… but we have learned we can only do so much nudging and we never truly know what the right thing to do is).  She’s interested in an education degree, but might change her mind.

So… I guess the moral is … if you get a bill that is way larger than expected, chances are something went wrong?

A history of loving money: Our family crest

One of my cousins has been doing a bunch of genealogy work with the help of our relatives still in Europe.  Turns out my family has a crest!  This is from the 17th century when an ancestor was the local official overseeing a town building and decided to leave his mark:

The circles in the lower right are coins, which is not surprising given how important money is to this side of my family (we are all terribly crass about it!).  The cross-like things on the upper-right are supposedly lilies, and I guess they technically are similar to fleur de lis.  This is the side of the family that has won and lost fortunes in Europe (and various non-American colonies, where it is likely they did horrific things in the name of trade), as opposed to the stunningly middle-class American side (it’s unlikely that that side had fortunes prior to leaving for the new world either, though side branches that I’m not descended from have done well for themselves– I am very distant cousins with some rich old US families).  My mother’s family does not have family crests (indeed, my mom’s last name is one of those that got created upon an ancestor coming to the US).  My DH’s last name does, but only in the way that really common UK names that are also places do.  If you go back 4 generations down my maternal line (possibly not coincidentally, the line related to those rich distant cousins), we’ve got one of those as well according to places on the internet that sell such things.

Do you have a family crest?  What’s on it?  What would you put on a family crest?  I’d like to swap out that woodland creature for a book…

What are we getting people for Christmas this year?

DC1:  A set of trick decks for the stocking (DC1 is really into card and coin tricks),

DC2:  Spanish coloring book,  a set of 5 field notebooks and a wellspring flip note (DC2 is really into drawing and list making and notes)

BIL1:  Anti-hero, for the king, and into the breach.  I am told these are steam games.

SIL1:  Usually we get SIL books off her amazon list but this year we only got her Binti:  Home and instead got her the first Timestories game off her wish list because DH really enjoys Timestories.

nephew 1:  A meccano microid and a minecraft plush pig from his amazon wishlist.

niece 1:  We renewed her subscription to the Braille of the Month book club.  Apparently they’ve really been enjoying it.  (The nonprofit provides the books at less than cost, so we also gave them a donation– what a great program.)

BIL2:  We never know what to get for him, so we generally just give an amazon gift card.  This year is no exception.

SIL2:  She had a bunch of stuff for work, mostly craft paper, on her amazon wishlist, so we got that.

nephew 2:  He’s easy to shop for because he’s a similar age to our DC2 and has similar interests, so we got more Magic Treehouse books (our DC2 is not a fan, but our DC1 was, and they were a big hit last year), bad kitty books, and a book of facts that DC2 really enjoyed.

niece 2:  She’s a bit harder because we have to remember what we gave nephew 2 at that age (not to be confused what we gave the other niece and nephew).  Generally we make a list and then ask SIL2 if there are duplicates.  This year we got Go Dog Go, Put me in the Zoo, Big Dog Little Dog,  Sneeches, Green Eggs and Ham, and one fish two fish.

MIL:  Life has gotten easier since she got a wish list!  We got her the Michelle Obama memoir and a non-crisping ninja foodi (so.. basically an instapot?) that is backordered on amazon and may not get there until after January.

FIL:  An instant food thermometer and a gift certificate to Cabela’s.

Sister:  She’s been doing a lot more cooking lately and asked for a bread book, so we got her DH’s current go-do– Bread by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno.  I would call this a recipe book for the advanced beginner.  It has a lot of really good information (with pictures) about different types of bread, ingredients, and multiple techniques before it gets into the recipes.  It’s not a coffee table book with rich histories like Home Baking, nor is it a trendy artisan bread in 5 min a day, but we learned a lot of techniques from it and it’s got a lot of variety and almost all the recipes we’ve tried have been excellent.  (Exception:  DH notes on the soft pretzel recipe:  THESE ARE NOT PRETZELS, need baking soda.)  We don’t know what else to get her– she has said she will think about what she wants.

Mother:  The local bookstore in her town went out of business, so I guess it is back to Amazon gift cards.

Father:  I’ve given up here.

For #2 I got her a bunch of excellent books off her wish list including three for kindle that I sent her right away because Amazon sucks for gift giving via kindle (stuff stays on the wish list so you might end up with two people buying you the same thing).  I got her Deception by Amanda Quick, KJ Charles’ retelling of the Prisoner of Zenda, and Band Sinister.  The other stuff is still a secret.

 

#2 says:  This year, as with most years, it’s an Icelandic-style bookflood for me.  Though I still have to figure out what to get for DH.

Little Kitty

I fell for her beautiful blue eyes on the no-kill shelter page.  We were going to finally move into an apartment that allowed pets and I started cat shopping early.  She was still there the day we got the apartment.  We went to the shelter before we even moved our furniture because I was so anxious to get you.

When we got there, you were in one of the rooms with the big adult cats.  You were so tiny and yellow.  You wouldn’t eat or groom yourself because you were so scared of all the other animals.  While we were there a volunteer got her to eat some soft food by giving her her own dish away from everyone else.  She was really still a kitten– not even a year old.  But she’d had three little boys (adopted out) already.  That meant she’d never get very big.  And she was a great mamacat taking good care of them.  She’d been found in a box near a dumpster.  (She liked boxes.  The smaller the better. We called her box kitty sometimes.)

We took her home with the friendly Big Kitty we also picked out that day.  She hid for a while in a built-in cupboard.  At lunch I gave her some chicken and she became my best friend in the entire world.  By morning she’d cleaned herself up and her previously yellowed fur was bright white and she was so energetic.

She didn’t really know how to cat.  She learned a lot from Big Kitty, even though Big Kitty never particularly wanted to be friends.  (They had a nose touching en passant relationship, but no more.)  In the night we would hear these terrifying screeching sounds– it was usually silent Little Kitty practicing meowing.  She also liked to play ball in the night.  She escaped from the apartment once and led us on a not at all merry chase around the neighborhood.  She was very good at jumping fences.  Enormous height for such a little kitty.  We eventually got her on a halter.

She didn’t really like to be carried (though she allowed me to carry her so long as she’d get a treat right after), and she wasn’t crazy about people coming up to pet her.  One doesn’t pet the Little Kitty, the Little Kitty pets you.  Headbonks were her favorite, and we would have a nighttime routine in which she would visit us before we fell asleep for headbonks and pettings.  When it got really cold she might consent to be a lap kitty or to curl up on the same bed or couch as another cat (not touching).

Back when we had big computer monitors, her favorite spot was on top of mine.  When we moved to flat screen, she had to move in front, which she didn’t like as much.

She was the sweetest and most trusting of kitties.  Once she got into our chimney and was so trusting as we gave her a bath.  She’d look up to us as if to say she didn’t understand what was going on, but she trusted us to make it better (and to provide treats after any indignity).

She moved with us to our new job and loved the patio.  She loved our backyard (we still had to keep her on a halter because she was so good at jumping even the tallest of fences).

When we had a surplus of backyard cats she mostly stayed aloof and out of the fray.  She seemed to miss Big Kitty when Big Kitty passed and never really got into a nose sniffing relationship with Nice Kitty, the remaining backyard cat.

As she got older she got indigestion and then more recently ear infections that would go away and then come right back after treatment ended.  Then one morning she couldn’t walk straight and the vet found a tumor in her ear canal.  We drove to the closest vet school and determined it was inoperable and would not be a candidate for chemotherapy.  Radiation could be done, but there was no evidence that radiation without surgery worked at all in cats, and at most it would slow the tumor’s growth, not stop it or shrink it and she would have to go to the vet regularly which she hated.  So we prepared for hospice.

Cancer is not a pretty way to go.  But little kitty was so resilient as every new disability affected her.  She learned how to walk straight and deliberately with each new hit to her sense of balance.  She submitted calmly to baths and ear cleaning with minimal complaint.  She chomped down her medicine in pill pockets until she couldn’t chew and swallow anymore and then sort-of allowed us to dose her with the fruit-flavored and heavily sugared liquid versions of the pain killers and steroids that she hated.  We’d think it would be time and then she would figure out that she could get water from the faucet, or she’d figure out a new way to get treats to her throat and that would buy another week or so.  She would curl up on the patio or knead DH’s chest and purr, despite it all.  But each time she got better it wouldn’t be as good as it was before and each worse was a new low.  And finally, as the vet predicted, she couldn’t eat anymore, not even baby food, and we couldn’t let her starve to death or force her to submit to a feeding tube and she suddenly stopped getting joy out of her favorite things and we had to let her go.  Which is heartbreaking.

Death is hard, whether it is sudden and unexpected or following a slow deterioration.

Little kitty has brought so much joy.  Fifteen years was just not long enough for our sweet little girl.

Little kitty in better days

 

 

Locally specific manners? Reading at the dinner table edition

Do you let your kids read at the table?  I feel like this used to be impolite but personally, I have no problem with it.  When I was growing up, at home we were allowed to read at lunch (my dad still does).  But we were not allowed to read at the dinner table.

I’m lucky that my parents supported and modeled that reading for fun is a great thing to do.  My dad’s mother was also a big reader, and as a result so are most of her children.  I think it’s ok to read in restaurants and bars (if you can concentrate).  My nightmare is a person who sits on a plane next to me and brings nothing to do except talk.  What did you plan to do for this six-hour flight, just stare into space???

Do you think reading at the dinner table is rude or perfectly ok?

#2 who has kids hasn’t really given this much thought but her kids do read at the dinner table sometimes.  We’re much more informal about meals than we were growing up though and sometimes eat standing up in the kitchen.  #2 also cannot handle the middle-seat chatterbox who has run out of the airplane magazine.  #2 wants to read novels uninterrupted on planes!

To the man who makes my heart flutter

When I see you, my heart still skips a beat.  You are the most handsome man I know, and I love the distinguished grey at your temples, the ever deepening crinkles around your eyes.

When we touch it still tingles just as much as it did when we were 17.  And it tingled a lot at 17.  One difference that time and proximity has brought is that cuddling close to you can provide more peace and calm than it ever did at age 16 or 17.  Being with you has always felt immeasurably right.  We are supposed to be together.  God is in His heaven and all is right with the world when you’re near.

I still have a hard time believing that I get to spend my life with you.  That I share your bed at night.  That we’re *supposed* to spend time alone together, completely unchaperoned.  Even though it’s been that way for 18 years.

Life with you is exciting and also warm and comfortable.  You provide every positive emotion for me, just by being who you are.  I am so lucky.  So very lucky.  You’re amazing and I never want to have to imagine life without you and your beautiful wonderfulness.

You’re mine.  I’m yours.

We fit well together.

I love you so much.  Today and every day.  I love you.