Ask the Grumpies: Flying into the department 2-3 days/week and family time

traveling parent query asks:

I have a preschooler, my husband has a stable government job he loves, and we just bought a house in our current city. I have a potential (who knows…academia is a dumpster fire) opportunity which is a short plane ride away. It’s an amazing post in my niche but not a city I’d want to uproot my family to given the lack of comparable job opps for my husband + our love of our current city. It is a very exciting job and might allow me to make a lateral move back eventually. I think given the changes in remote work, I’d need to be in 3 days a week during the semester, and maybe 1 week a month during the summer. Am I bananas for thinking this is totally doable given our financial situation, my husband’s overall competence, etc? I mentioned it on a mom site I read and people thought it would destroy my family, but like, my husband is an equally involved and competent parent, his job is very normal hours, my kid is easy going? Management consultants have kids and I could make up for term time travel with flexibility during the long (not in the US, shorter semesters) summers?

I thought in your careers, you might have met someone who has done something similar? Did they end up miserable?

I live in a location where it is difficult to solve the two body problem so I know a lot of people who spend 2-3 days/week on campus and the rest working from home (or from coffee shops in their home cities). As far as I know their family lives are fine, even those with children. Even those racking up frequent flyer miles. I am unaware of any divorces or delinquent children.

Interestingly, the person I know who did this with a preschooler is a woman (she was the next pregnant lady in our building after I had DC2, so she gets DC2’s outgrown clothes… I think we’re at the friendship level where I’d hear about problems, and if not, I’m really close friends with her mentor who knows everything in their department). The men generally have older kids or no kids.

The two in my building that rack up frequent flyer miles say that it is a good idea to get into the habit of using the airport and plane time to get work done.  It’s actually easier for them to focus because there’s no interruptions.  (This is not my experience with flights, but I guess if you’re taking the same flight over and over it becomes more automatic.)  My external friends who do long daily train commutes (think San Diego to LA or SF to Palo Alto) say the same thing– commuting when you’re not the person driving allows you to do focused work (their advice is to leave on an early enough train that you can snag a seat).

Alice offers this advice:

I’m not an academic, but can speak to the travel for work side of things a bit. Early in my career, I worked for a company whose business model involved heavy travel, and when I was pregnant/when our child was younger, my husband’s job required a lot of travel.

When I was the one traveling, I didn’t have a relationship or a child. Most of the people at the company were single or in relationships but only a scant handful had younger children. The travel was fly onsite early Monday/fly home on Friday afternoon, and videochat wasn’t the thing that it is now. I know one man whose wife and daughter moved to the onsite city with him even though it was a 1-year job because his toddler would forget him while he was away. She’d be shy and hesitant at first on Saturdays and then engaged and joyful on Sundays… and then he’d fly out on Monday morning and it would start all over again. He said the pattern was too heartbreaking for him to continue it. So that’s a negative potential with a very little kid.

However. When I was pregnant and until my daughter was about 3.5, my husband’s job had him away every other week or every third week, depending on what was going on with his work situation. His travel was usually Sunday-Thursday. We didn’t have the problem of our daughter forgetting him. We did do some videochatting, but not much. I made it a priority to make sure that he and I were communicating, generally via text, every day. And I made sure to send him a lot of photos, particularly while I was home on maternity leave. The travel was hard for him emotionally– he got tired of it and felt like he was missing R&R time that he would’ve had if he was home. But it didn’t wreck our marriage or our family.

From a family relationships and kid emotional development standpoint, what you’re outlining could be fine for all of you. In my opinion, it could even be good from a gender roles standpoint. For us, my husband’s travel really cemented the Mom Does Everything pattern. With you being the traveler, it might do the opposite. To me, that seems like a good thing. If your husband is already responsible for family logistics or if he’s willing to take them on, this could give your family a level of balance that mine doesn’t have.

I can’t speak to the financial side of things, but would advise being really thoughtful about your flight timings and keeping a sharp eye on weather forecasts if you get the job. Never book the last possible flight you’d need to catch in order to make it to your first commitment, and if the weather is predicting something big in your home city (blizzard, hurricane, etc.), consider getting to or staying in your work city before it hits. For my husband and myself, the companies had planned and paid for the travel, so if flights were cancelled or if there was a delay, missed time at work was accepted, even if something important was missed. If you’re doing a more DIY traveling for work setup, travel-related flight/weather complications may not be okay in the same way.

Grumpy Nation– have you seen families where one person travels a few days a week work?  What advice do you have for someone about to embark on weekly journeys?

 

What are we doing to deal with the huge post-holiday Covid surge

The students are still gone, but our daily rates are higher than they have ever been, with new deaths every day and not just people ages 70+.  One of our admin just lost her father to Covid in town. Rates will only spike in mid-January when the students return.

I am teaching one section in person next semester.  This is going to be dangerous.  The course is limited to 15 students and there’s a wait list.  My two covid deniers from last semester are not in it, thankfully. (My other section is online.  I do not have a choice about either.)

Other than that, we are blessed that we do not have to do anything that puts us or our children at additional risk.  Most people are in situations where their jobs require them to be out with the public more than once a week and they don’t have full power to tell people to pull up their masks like I will.  Most people don’t have the ability to get all groceries delivered or done by curbside pickup.  These folks are at risk of getting covid themselves and spreading covid to others.  Those of us who can reduce the spread should because not everybody can.

SO, what are we doing?  (Bolding the things that are fun substitutes rather than sacrifices)

  1. DH and I are working from home when possible.  (Technically DH isn’t working anymore, but hey.)  This means that I go to work and then come home.  I also requested an 8am course so that there’s nobody before me and there’s a big gap after me (since usually classes start at 9:15).  Even so, I wipe everything I touch down with clorox wipes that I had to buy myself (and it is not easy buying clorox wipes!)  Students sit only in chairs that are 6 feet apart, which are actually 6 feet apart after I complained last summer to the department that the original dots on the chairs where only 1 foot apart on one dimension (they now skip rows, including the first row).  I do not let them touch each other.  When they share items I make them wipe them down with a wipe before if I catch them and squirt them hand sanitizer after.  Doing in-class activities has been a pain in the rear and I collected a lot of suggestions from students last semester about what to do and what not– it seems like pairs are doable 6 feet apart but triplets are not unless one person is zooming from home.  Some students liked sharing screens through zoom while still in the same room and some didn’t– one suggestion was for them to share a google doc which I think will work well.  I tell students that if they are the least bit sick they have to zoom in.  I enforce masking.  I don’t let them eat.  If I drink, I do it from behind the plexiglass (which doesn’t cover the entire board area, which is annoying).  If they drink, I tell them to use a straw if they can and keep the mask on as best they can.
  2. We’re only shopping curbside.  In the few rare cases in which we’ve had to go inside the store in the past (ex. the noodle place and the bibimbap place), we’ve made sure to order ahead so that we can just do a pickup rather than having to wait.  Basically I go to work and do curbside library stuff and DH does grocery, target, and home depot curbside (and takeout about once every two months which is not enough, but we do give big tips when we go).  DH and I do doctors visits.  I did a dentist thing this summer because I needed a crown and a root canal.
  3. We’re keeping our kids home (our school district allows us to choose).  This is definitely the safe decision for DC1 whose high school has at least one new case a day and was getting more like 4 new cases per day just before winter break.  Adding to that that mask enforcement and social distancing wasn’t happening in at least one of DC1’s classes (and the teacher caught covid right after we complained to the principal) and the principal sent out pictures of sports team pictures with only maybe 3 people masked… Now that they’re no longer sending out daily emails there’s a dashboard where we can see all the positive cases at each school (only a point in time info, but it does have the cumulative number), and our high school has about 4x as many cases as the other same-size high school.  For DC2 it would probably be fine to go to school– there have only been 8 cases so far and they’ve been drawn out across the semester.  But the virtual 4th grade teacher is amazeballs so we’re hoping to keep her as long as possible.  (It is really interesting looking at the elementary school data– one would think the numbers would map with SES and ability to not work or to work from home, but while the lowest number of covid cases is the richest college professor zone and the highest number of covid cases is the lowest income most working class zone, the rest of the numbers don’t map at *all* which makes me suspect that school leadership is important when it comes to covid spread.)
  4. We are not having in-person playdates.  I am not at all opposed to outdoor masked playdates, but DC2’s friends only want to do unmasked, so we said no and they stopped asking.  Two of them do have such playdates with each other.  Naturally these are the least safe members of the group– the third friend’s mom is more risk averse and would be safer, but of course, not doing in-person playdates correlates with all those other safe behaviors.  Update:  Just said no to a zoo birthday party after looking at the yelp page for the zoo and seeing lots of maskless selfies (or chin-mask selfies) and people complaining that masking isn’t being enforced.
  5. We have two regular weekly minecraft after-school playdates set up for DC2 and lots of other popup minecraft playdates.
  6. We didn’t visit extended family at Christmas.  Once the second wave hit and especially after the vaccine started coming out, MIL stopped suggesting it.  We now have hopes for summer.
  7. For Thanksgiving we had a socially distanced backyard meal with my sister and her boyfriend.  I was super careful and made sure we had separate tables that were 6 feet apart.  We kept masks on all times we weren’t eating.  I had separate paths set for bathroom use– they went through the garage to the guest bathroom and I had hand sanitizers taped to the door to the house on both sides.  We went through the patio and used the master bathroom or the kids’ bathroom.  For many of the food items (including all the appetizers and desserts), I made sure their table had its own bowls to serve themselves from.  For bigger things like the turkey, they went through first and hand sanitized before and after.  Then I had us use different serving spoons.  I also gave them a separate serving spoon for second helpings but they didn’t end up using it (I’m a bit less concerned about this because it seems like the virus is fragile on surfaces, but still…).  It was a bit tiring having to police the distance between my kids and my sister and I can see how easily if you’re not vigilant “safe” meetings can become unsafe.  Especially if not everybody attending is as careful as you are.  It’s easier to just not, which is why although we talked about doing Christmas at my sister’s patio in the end we just let that conversation not happen in time.  (The next day my kids went in the car for the first time since … last March?-we had to adjust the booster seat-for DC2- and August schedule pickup for DC1… to get flu shots.)
  8. We’ve done a couple of sessions of Crafting with Grandma on zoom, where DC2 and MIL just quietly work on crafts together punctuated by random conversations with DH and DC1 and FIL.  DC1 also did a Crafting with younger cousins on zoom.  (As the oldest by 6 years and very good with kids, DC1 is extremely popular with the younger cousins.)
  9. I’ve started buying a lot more fancy stuff online since we can’t go to the City.  I’ve already gotten a number of you hooked on nuts.com and we’ve spent some time talking about places other than amazon where we’re buying things.  Something remarkable has as well.
  10. Ringfit, exercycle, console dancing games, bicycling, unicyling (DC1 and DH), scootering (DC2), roller skating (DC2), all around the neighborhood, both masked (when outside and there are a lot of people out) and unmasked (indoors or outdoors when there’s few enough people that the road can be crossed if we see someone; this generally correlates with the weather).  I’ve also done a lot of walking around the house watching youtube videos while the kids are out exercising because I don’t want to have to put on pants (if I’m wearing pajama shorts and it’s cold out) or socks.

Something I want to highlight is that after 3/4 of a year of trial and error:  Zoom calls that are just straight-up conversations aren’t as good for the kids as are zoom activities. Having something that allows comfortable silences is way better than something that forces kids to keep talking.  And with kids, zoom is better than FaceTime, at least for the adult in question, because FaceTime involves lots of running around the house and flipping the screen and playing with filters and basically things that are too frenetic for anyone but the cool auntie (aka, my sister, who is just as bad as my kids with FaceTime).  There are a lot of crazy things they can play with on zoom, but there isn’t as much movement of the camera itself.

Playing minecraft with friends with zoom on in the background is better than just zooming (which was what we did last Spring and Summer until DC2’s birthday got us to research safe ways zie could have a party).  Playing Among Us with DH’s brother’s kids didn’t work out so well, though part of that was they couldn’t get audio to work so everything was chat-based which isn’t as fun.

Doing crafts at the same time with Grandma works better than just talking with Grandma.  It’s almost like actually being at Grandma and Grandpa’s.  We’ve done this twice so far and it’s just really nice.  DH and DC1 stop by and chat while DC2 and Grandma work on their own things.

We also set up an origami teaching demonstration with DC1 and the two older kids of DH’s sister because Nana had all four kids and suggested we try that while she looked after the babies.  So DC1 taught the 7 year old and the 5 year old to make fortune tellers and then did a few coin tricks.

Here’s an ask the grumpies from this summer about things to look forward to in the summer (also has a list of stuff we’ve been buying online).  Here’s a “what are you doing for fun?

What safe(r) things have you been doing?  (Note:  any bragging about doing unsafe things will be deleted.  Keep your secret shame secret and try not to hurt people.)

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?

A snapshot of DH’s unemployment chores list

  1. Get and install curtains for the office.  [Ed:  this is my requested Christmas present this year so my face isn’t half blindingly white while zooming]
      1. Rod hanging style
        1. We do not want a curtain rod that attaches inside the door frame, because that will interfere with the screen door.
        2. We could use inside mount brackets and mount the curtain to both side walls, but then there would be a long rod sticking out over the filing cabinets for no reason.
        3. We could use an inside mount bracket on the side wall by the desk, and a normal bracket (to the window’s wall) on the other side, but that’s going to look asymmetrical.
        4. I think we use a normal rod attached to the same wall as the window, and it equally extends on either side of the door frame, which will put the end next to the desk almost up against the side wall, and put about 12” of space between the edge of the window and the end of the rod on each side.  To get the bracket close to the side wall next to the desk, let’s use the blackout rods that curve back into the wall.
          1. It would also be nice to minimize the depth, so the curtain is close to the wall.
      2. “Door” width 70.5” including the molding.
        1. Add 24” -> 94.5” wide curtain.
          1. Divide by 2 panels -> 48” panel width.
        2. Add ~10” -> 80.5” rod.
      3. 4.5” from the outside edge of the molding to the nearest wall.
      4. Do we need two panels or just one?
        1. I think 2 panels would look better.  We could get a single panel 100” wide, but I think when the curtains are open they will look better framing the door.
      5. Door height: 83.25” from floor to molding.
        1. So an 84” long panel? Then we set it above the top of the door and it won’t puddle on the ground.
      6. For curtain color, I think anything light or black is too extreme. Probably best to just go with brown.
  2. Fix the broken fence board.
  3. Clean the guest bedroom. [Ed:  this used to be DH’s office]
  4. Use the copper test kit.  [Ed:  Our water was strikingly blue for a little while.  We turned the whole house filter back on.]
  5. Clean the junk on the floor in front of the printer. [I suspect he means his 3d printer which is on the floor of the guest bedroom]
  6. Get the car inspected and registered.
  7. Clean out my work desk drawer.
  8. Keep the wooden boxes currently in the garage, break them down, or get rid of them. [Ed: More work stuff]
  9. Cash bonds.  [Ed: Both of our families bought us small savings bonds that have stopped accruing interest back in the early 1980s when there was a sale]
  10. Glue “Baking with Julia”.  [Ed: Wonderful cookbook, terrible binding]
  11. Ant hill by corner.  [Ed: Red ants are evil]
  12. Fix gate.  [Ed: I’m not sure what gate he means since the one to our dogrun just sort of fell over and we removed it and it’s no longer a dog run… we now have a more open concept backyard.  Come to think of it, there’s a gate on the other side that we never use that is under a bunch of wisteria, so maybe that’s what he means.]
  13. Replace the lightbulb in the refrigerator.  [Ed: One of MANY lightbulbs that heard DH was going to have a bunch of free time and decided to die]
    1. Ordered replacement.

 

I have no questions.  But it is nice having a highly qualified personal assistant!

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?

Ask the grumpies: Thanksgiving garage decorations?

kt asks:

Any decor ideas for Garage Thanksgiving?

I love this question!  We’re not really into decorating, so we won’t be doing anything… but….the idea is lovely.

Definitely cinnamon brooms.  I’d probably go for some potpourri action too, or if you have an induction stove I’d put a big pot of heavily spiced apple cider on it to add to the fall fragrance.  Things to make the garage smell less garage-like and more holiday-like.

I asked one of my friends who loves home decor.  Here’s her advice:

I’d set up a table and decorate it like an inside table.  I’d probably get old throw rugs for the ground.  I’d light candles.  Pumpkins.  Mums.

Here’s a google image search on the topic.

Here’s some suggestions for repurposing things that are already in your garage (assuming you don’t just like, keep cars in there).

Someone made a video (the end result is impressive, I think):

Grumpy Nation, I am sure most if not all of you are better at this than we are.  What suggestions do you have for decorating a garage for Thanksgiving or just keeping the air flowing while you eat with loved ones that don’t live with you?  (If we do Thanksgiving with my sister it will be on the deck or in the patio, depending on the weather.)

(Not?) seeing family

Since DH’s sister was expecting (and has since had) twins, DH’s mom has gotten an apartment in her town. Her plan is to spend most of each week there so she can help SIL out with the four kids, now so that SIL can drive to the hospital BIL’s town every other day to be with the babies and give them her breast milk, and in the future with the babies since SIL has very little maternity leave. and will have to go back to teach a limited number of special needs students in person in December.

DH’s mom is high risk for covid complications.  She has diabetes, she’s missing lymph nodes from metastasized breast cancer, manages with medication high cholesterol, blood pressure, etc. etc. etc.  Just a whole host of health problems.  DH’s dad is in pretty good shape (he’s a hunter with no major health scares in the past other than a bum knee and back problems), but they are both over 65.

Before the babies were born, MIL had said that we’d probably want to not visit at Christmas because it would be too high risk for the babies, but maybe we could do something after Christmas.

Since then, the babies have been born and MIL has noted that SIL’s family has been taking zero covid precautions.  They act as if there isn’t a pandemic going on (Update:  I don’t think this is entirely true because SIL sent pictures of nephew at a boy scouts meeting wearing a mask… though also she sent a picture in front of the elementary school first day with neither of the older kids in masks, so…).  And to be fair, they live in a small town with very few Covid cases, so this is probably rational.  Because of this MIL has said well, maybe we could all do Christmas together in SIL’s town.  But not at SIL’s house because it is too small.

DH countered that even though it’s pretty safe in SIL’s town, we’re still in a Redzone and he would feel terrible bringing Covid up from the South and infecting someone from the midwest.  The only way he could think to make it work would be to travel to BIL’s town and rent an Air BNB and then just quarantine there for a couple weeks before seeing his family and that didn’t sound great.

This weekend, BIL noted that they’d spent a lot of time this past week doing boyscout activities and their (legally blind) daughter was back in person school although their son is still doing virtual schooling.  Out of curiosity, I looked up their covid rates and… they’re pretty much the same as ours.  (They’re also in a town with a state university.)  On Sunday they drove over to MIL’s apartment and spent the day with her.  We would be no bigger risk to MIL than they are… possibly less so, assuming we manage to avoid picking up an infection while traveling to the midwest.

Drive between SIL’s town and MIL’s town:  4 hours
Drive between BIL’s town and MIL’s town: 3 hours
Drive between SIL’s town and BIL’s town:  1 hour
Drive between us and MIL’s town:  12 hours (flight + driving is generally 5-8 hours)
Drive between us and SIL’s town:  16 hours (5-7 hr flights + 3 hours driving)
Drive between us and BIL’s town:  15 hours (flights, 7-14 hours, very little driving)

I’m still concerned about toilet plumes.  There’s still, of course, risks to us.  It’s possible I shouldn’t be worried since DH is in good health (knock wood) and as far as we know kids aren’t that affected (though we still don’t know about long-term complications).  But if anything happened to DH I would be devastated.  I’m somewhat high risk with the PCOS, but not as much as MIL.

So I don’t know what to do.  I have no real need to see DH’s family (though also I don’t have any problem with it– they’re good people).  DH is very worried that he will inadvertently kill his mother.  Especially since when she’s gotten a regular cold or the flu over the holidays from the grandkids she’s gotten very sick from it.  I can’t think how to make the logistics work since it’s such a long drive, unless we stop in MIL’s town for the night, which adds 3-4 hours to the total drive.

How are you handling the holidays this year?

DH is getting furloughed again

DH’s company will be between grants/projects again.  So this time instead of laying everybody off, they’ve decided to furlough 20% and actually give time off, not just a paycut.  Everyone seems pretty happy about this solution.   It’s going to be Fridays starting this month.

DH promises he won’t use his extra day of weekend to do yardwork, which seems to be where his free time has gone in the past.  Given our lack of childcare, we’re not too unhappy about this state of affairs.  And, given the number of reimbursements we’ve received over the past few months for travel and summer camps and so on, I think it’s possible we won’t have to dip into savings at least until I start getting paid again in October.

They’re not sure how long things are going to last– the problem is that their next project money involves a lot of travel… and Covid has messed all of that up.  Even states allowing travel have had restrictions about who is allowed to visit the places DH would need to visit.

Hopefully the company will stay in business.  Otherwise, I don’t know, maybe it will be time for him to take an early retirement.  Or moving to Paradise.  Who knows.

Have you and yours been affected by the pandemic/recession?