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?

Simple meals for kids to cook

We feel like it is important for our kids to be able to cook a few meals on their own before they leave our house for good.  Ideally they will also know how to follow a cookbook, but being able to do a few simple meals from scratch (or with a box) without needing access to the internet or an actual cookbook is a helpful skill that should be useful in all sorts of situations.

What are some of these meals they can and should be able to do?

Our kids can both do:
1. scrambled eggs
2. quesadillas/tacos
3. grilled cheese
4. macaroni and cheese from a box with tuna and peas
5. cold cereal
6. salad

I really ought to teach them how to do spaghetti with meat sauce and onions sometime soon.  If either of them liked chili, that would also be on my list.

My memorized repertoire when I left home also included (along with all of the above): fry-ups, swiss steak, chicken cacciatore, salad dressing baked chicken, and leek and potato soup.  I could also do random things with lipton onions soup packets and cans of various campbells soups.  I haven’t made most of these in years either because they’re not healthy with my PCOS or because the children aren’t crazy about them.

DC1 has been preferring to make desserts from cookbooks.  Along with that, most kids seem to like making cookies.  Although I have some desserts memorized (ex. dump cake), I don’t really have any worth making memorized, so we use recipes.

What simple meals did you make as a kid?  What do your kids make, if applicable?  What other meals do you recommend kids learn how to do before they leave home?

 

Poor roly poly nice kitty

At the last vet appointment, they said that nice kitty needs to exercise more and eat less or she’s going to be at high risk for type 2 diabetes.  She also is so roly poly that she can no longer clean her rear end area.  She tries and she just flops over.  It’s both amusing and sad at the same time.  She also does not appreciate someone else coming after her with a warm wet paper towel to help clean her, though she doesn’t run away very quickly either.

This wasn’t really a problem when we had two (or more) cats.  But after Little Kitty died and after my sister’s cats went back home from an extended visit when my sister was traveling for a month we didn’t quite get the automatic food timer set correctly for just one cat.  And Nice Kitty was originally a street kitty (from our back yard) and doesn’t seem to be great at self-regulation if food is out.  Hard food would pile up, but it would eventually get eaten, except anything that fell to the floor because Nice Kitty is picky and wants things a certain way.

So we cut a feeding off the automatic timer.  That didn’t seem to do anything.  Hard food still piled up.  It still eventually got eaten.  Less made it to the floor.

So we cut another feeding off the automatic timer.  This one had some bite to it.  In the morning about an hour after the food is gone from the early morning feeding, she sings her songs of woe.  Can’t you see I’m wasting away, she croons.  I haven’t eaten in an hour!  She will drag DH over to the feeder and complain loudly about it being broken.  She will guide me over to the treat area to hopefully suggest that now would be a great time for treats.

A friend of ours suggested we stave off the complaining during this time with catnip.  This seemed to work– she got really into the nip.  It reminds me a bit of those late 20th century stories about Hollywood starlets on a bad path in order to be as skinny as the industry tells them to be.  “Nothing tastes as good as being able to clean yourself feels,” I tell her.  I don’t want to fat shame her, but I also think she should be able to clean her own rear end.

When the timer does go off, she gets the first exercise in (other than lazily rolling around batting at a piece of string she’s been refusing to actually chase) for a long time, racing to her food bowl.

We worry that some of this lethargy is caused by increasing her Prozac prescription after recent pee protests (peetests?) about visiting cats and DH accidentally buying scented instead of unscented litter for three of the four litterboxes.  Or not opening the patio door open wide enough in the morning for her to feel confident about using the patio potty.  We’re not quite sure what goes on in her kitty head.  Maybe it’s just uncomfortable to pee when you haven’t been able to wipe in a long while so DC1’s unfolded clean laundry pile looks like a better place than a litter box.  If the peetests stop for a long enough period, we will probably taper back down to every other day.  (If the peetests continue, we will take her back to the vet for more tests.)

We don’t want her to lose weight too quickly, of course.  And as the weather gets cooler she’ll be more willing to do exercise on her own.  I’m also thinking of getting a puzzle ball or some kind of other toy that rewards exercise with hidden treats.

How do you handle feeding your pets?

Obnoxious whine: I’m tired of the food options in my town

This is truly an obnoxious whine.  See, back when we lived in places with amazing food options we had no money.  Now that we have money…

I live in a small college town that has had some recent growth.  Usually in the summer a number of college student places go out of business and a number of new places move in to replace them.

This year instead of getting interesting new places, we’ve been getting places that are either literally or essentially duplicates of places we already have.  We do not need yet another cheap wood-fired pizza place in town, yet this summer we got three of them.  We do not need another crappy Thai place, but this summer a couple sprang up.  (These things seem to go in cycles– when I got here we had a bunch of great Vietnamese places and the one Thai place in town had gone out of business the year before– now all the Vietnamese places have been replaced with sushi of varying quality and we have an overabundance of mediocre Thai.)  We even got a second really mediocre poke place (I did not realize mediocre poke existed until we had some in our town– I think it’s just not the right demographics to support a decent poke place… students prefer cheap), though I suspect that now there are two they will both go out of business.

So what’s left are places that are so meh that we don’t particularly want to go there again, or good places that we’re kind of sick of.  (In the case of super fancy restaurants, only I have had the chance to have gotten sick of their menus– I was on two search committees last year and really do not need to go to the fancy restaurants in town again any time soon.  Even these are kind of repetitive in terms of menu options.)

The way work is for both of us this year, we have a lot of disposable income, but less time than usual.  It would be nice to have a list of places we wanted to try or places that we like but aren’t tired of.  But we don’t.  So we waste time trying to figure out where to eat and finally decide we might as well just make something instead.

Now, our kids would be perfectly happy if we went to the burger place once a week and our favorite pizza place once a week and the hand pulled noodle place once a week and pei wei (never mind—pei wei just shut down) once a week and so on.  But DH and I have just gotten bored of their limited menus, along with those at our favorite Chinese place and our favorite Indian place.  Over the eight years or so that we’ve had an Indian place in town, we’ve literally tried everything on the menu, most multiple times (particularly when I was pregnant with DC2 and couldn’t eat wheat).  (To be completely truthful, I suspect our kids would be happy with macaroni and cheese with tuna and peas, spaghetti with meat sauce, and grilled cheese each once a week… I don’t know what we would do for the other meals.)

It’s so easy to find new exciting things to try when we go into the city.  Heck, there are fun things at the grocery store to try in the city.  But it seems like if we want new things to try here we’re going to have to keep making them ourselves.  And that takes time.

The box delivery services remove the part of cooking that I like (picking out food) and keep the time consuming parts (chopping).  And, with the exception of purple carrot, the recipes seem pretty pedestrian.  Plus there’s all that plastic.  And the per-person cost for most places is more expensive than take-out.  (Of course, we’re tired of local take-out…)

My sister suggested getting a personal chef, but that seems expensive (most don’t post their prices online, but the ones who do it looks like ~$80/meal for four people, and their suggested menus are BORING).  Plus I really don’t want the kind where someone comes to your house because I don’t want people in my house when I need to work or relax.  Moving to the city and commuting to work on week days also seems less of a good idea than going the other direction on weekends.  But when weekends come, there’s so many chores at home that going to the city just to eat out seems like maybe not a great idea.

So I guess we’ll keep cooking, going through new recipes in cookbooks and Cook’s Country magazine.  And we’ll spend a good portion of each weekend on fancy recipes.  And the kids will complain half the week that they don’t like whatever we’ve made and will thank us fervently the other half.  DC1 had been starting to cook more this summer, but zie has way too much homework during the school year.  Since we remodeled the kitchen and got a new stovetop, DC2 is no longer tall enough to safely use the stove.  So it’s on us.

What do you do about food when you have more money than time?  Would you ever get tired of your local restaurant options?

Grocery shopping fresh produce and bags

After reading either a post or a tweet by wandering scientist (my googling is coming up blank), I decided to add these produce bags to my Christmas wish list.  But Christmas is a long way away, so that got me thinking…

Despite reusable shopping bags and totes heavily cutting down on our plastic grocery bag horde, we still have a ton of the thin plastic bags that one puts produce in at the grocery store.  I try to not use a bag when I’m only buying one item, but each week we buy a bag of apples, and most weeks we buy other assorted groups of produce.  So our plastic bags drawer is full of these thin bags.

I use some of them to take my lunch to work, but they still pile up in the drawer until DH decides the drawer is too full and takes them to the grocery store to recycle.

Then it came to me… we could just reuse these bags for their intended purpose.  Because they only had clean fresh produce in them, they’re still clean.  So I stuck a couple of handfuls in our bag of grocery bags.  We’ll use them like this until they get gross or destroyed.  And come Christmas time, we’ll add the reusable produce bags to our rotation.

In theory, the plastic produce bags could become repositories for bacteria upon reuse, but they’re so fragile they will likely get destroyed before that comes close to being an issue.  And, we of course wash our produce before using it.  Even apples.  I’m a little paranoid about this, having grown up in the jack in the box e coli days.  I would feel uncomfortable eating produce from a reused bag without washing the produce… though I also feel uncomfortable eating produce from a new bag without washing the produce first.  (Another one of my paranoias is that the organic produce we usually buy is lying about pesticides.)

This change should hopefully limit our plastic-bag intake to the bulk aisle at the grocery.  (And our local grocery uses ziploc bags for bulk rather than the thin kind, which we reuse for scooped cat refuse.)

Now, I definitely don’t think that any one person’s behavior change is as important as getting laws changed, but it doesn’t take a whole lot of plastic bags to create ugly and potentially dangerous litter.  And this cuts down on having to remember to deal with the plastic bag drawer issue every few months.

Creative Sushi at home that works

DC1 got a sushi kit for Christmas one year [this post was started years ago!].  We have used it pretty frequently since.

In addition to standard simple (cooked) sushi using cucumbers or avocado or shrimp etc. we’ve tried some less typical combinations that have worked well.

Chicken salad with sliced or diced apple– this is my favorite

Pepperoni, cream cheese, shrimp, and peas — also good without the shrimp

Refried beans, mango chutney, cream cheese, sliced steak– the chutney really ties everything together.

Strawberries and cream cheese or mascarpone– probably good with other fruit (we’ve had mango at restaurants!)

Here’s the internet with more suggestions.

Do you have suggestions for things we should try rolling up with rice and seaweed?

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