My wife is part of a large family. With 6 siblings, and those siblings have 18 children of their own. That’s a huge number of birthdays, Christmases and special events where presents are expected. We have been trying to go another route with presents for the kids.
With so many grandparents, uncles, aunts and friends the children are showered with presents. Toys and books and batteries and stuff. So much stuff. Christmas morning looks like a toy store exploded under some Christmas trees. Instead of buying more stuff for their kids, we have been giving different sorts of gifts.
We have encouraged anyone who doesn’t have a 529 account to set one up for their kids. Then we can send them money for their futures instead of toys for today. It’s a good gift for the parents and helps a little with their kids’ future. It also encourages them to setup the account (if they didn’t already) and I hope makes the conversation easier to have with others. Instead of buying the kids another toy, do something that will benefit them in the future.
But think of the children! I can hear the wails of grandparents everywhere needing to see the kids filled with delight over the wrapped packages. This brings me to the second part of winning at gifting.
Awesome Greeting Cards
Instead of spending $20 (or more) on a toy, find the coolest car you can with with the current favorite cartoon character, prehistoric creature or just neat artwork. We sent Thomas the Tank Engine card (for a little Tommy) and that elicited running around and showing everyone who was near with the card for the next week (and it remains intact 7 months later). For Christmas, we found a card with a series of little pop-open windows and different scenes playing out. And the boys love opening the windows and seeing things pop-up.
Instead of another toy in a pile of toys, it’s fun to have the kids talk about the cards months after we send them. I know kids love what they love. But it’s so much fun seeing them love the cards as much as we loved picking them out. And now you’ve got extra money to send for their futures. Or to get their parents something nice, like an Instant Pot.
Seriously, if you haven’t found the Instant Pot, it may change your life. It’s the best gift we gave to an adult last year.
I have a mixed history with Christmas. I need my alone time and the holidays are filled with people and activities and socializing and more people and travel. Thankfully, this year the travel was done pre-Christmas so I didn’t have to go anywhere more than a few miles to my sister-in-law for the morning to view the ceremonial small child unwrapping presents.
Which we did and had am excellent breakfast there as we played Headbanz. It worked pretty well and showed how hard some of us guessed at very easy items. The premise of the game is you put a card on your head which you can’t see and ask yes/no questions to figure out what it is.
I learned that I overthink the answers and need to keep it to simple things. Example cards were Giraffe, Train and Sandwich.
I struggled mightily with butterfly after determining it had wings and flew, but was not a bird or a bat, or Fly (another card we’d seen earlier).
The main event is of course, the Christmas Dinner. This year we hosted and my wife worked up the menu including a broccoli salad (very fresh and not filled with mayo), roasted potatoes (because the Big Potato mandates their inclusion at every holiday meal) spinach dip with fresh veggies in a sourdough loaf bowl (because you need fuel to prepare the rest of the meal).
The main course would be a double-header of grilled salmon and grilled turkey legs.Grilled SalmonGrilled Turkey Legs
It was my second time grilling turkey legs and my first time grilling salmon. I largely winged the salmon and focused on not over-cooking it. My key to any properly cooked meat is to remove it from the grill about 10 degrees before it hits the recommended temperature. It’s still going to cook inside and instead of dry, tough meat, you have a juicy, moist meal to enjoy.
We set the table. Complete with plants and a small child.
Christmas was a success. We sat in front of the fire and played some more Headbanz and visited as adults who have eaten too many delicious foods do on holidays.
I had myself a merry little Christmas Eve. I went to the movies yesterday. I love going to movies alone. I realized today when my mother-in-law commented on it that I may be in the minority of solo movie-goers.
I love a solo movie. I love sitting in an empty theater with a huge screen and surround speakers. I love reclining back and putting my feet up because our closest theaters all have reclining seats now.
I love losing myself in another world. Listening to a story told by the thousands of people it takes to put a movie together. I love trading my afternoon away for an escape to a new world or to rejoin old friends in a familiar place.
I went to three movies today. It wasn’t my plan when I woke up at 9am without an alarm set. But when I looked at MoviePass and saw it had nothing to offer me, I decided to take advantage of the cheap, morning pricing of our local AMC.
First on the docket today was Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse.
I will be the first person to nod along when you say Sony made too many spider-movies. I often think of the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt joke where Titus tries out for Spider-Man Too: 2 Many Spider-Men. Sony had one superhero card to play. So they played it. On repeat. For years. We saw 2 Many Spider-Men come and go. None of them particularly memorable.
As if they were stuck in Bill Murry’s nightmare in Punxsutawney, the spider-men kept reliving the same tragedy. The same story. Trapped on a turntable spinning them round and round into battle against never-ending foes and next time resetting and starting fresh.
This is a new movie. This is a movie that can laugh at itself and as it glosses over the story with a winking “and you know the rest”. It skips the origin story and tells what comes after.
A story about feeling alone. Then learning there are people who know what you’re going through. A story about family problems (and boy are they!) A story about figuring out who you are and how you want to be seen by the world.
And that’s just one of the Spider-men.
It was a lot of fun and told an interesting story with a unique style. I enjoyed the comic-book infused style that reminded me of Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk but taken to a greater level and refined.
This film also offered up the single greatest still from a movie this year.
After Spider-man, it was time to get some exercise. Popcorn and Coke don’t work themselves off. There is a large lake that’s about a mile around near the theater where I was. So I walked about it a few times while I decided how to spend my day next. It was cold but the walk was good. I need some exercise and the moving helped me think and process the movie I’d just seen.
I like to sit with something after I watch it. Even if it was just an animated spider-movie. Nothing that’s going to change my life or leave me thinking about it deep into the night. (Although the Rubik’s Cube…)
I walked for about three miles, caught dozens of Pokemon, took over two gyms and then decided it was time to see Once Upon a Deadpool. I will admit I wasn’t entirely sure what it was before going into it. But Aquaman wasn’t playing at a time that worked for me and the other movies either didn’t appeal to me, I didn’t need to spend the money to see them on the big screen, or they were ones I wanted to see with my wife.
So Deadpool it was. As it turns out, a PG-13 re-cut of Deadpool 2 can still be a lot of fun. I had just watched Deadpool 2 earlier this week so it was fresh in my mind. The Fred Savage parts were fantastic. Especially the scene where Savage wants to f***t Matt Damon. There were a couple of things cut out like the naked butt of Juggernaut and a comment about the softest mouth in the Ice Box. But overall, it was still a fun movie.
There was a short tribute to Stan Lee at the end of the film after the credits rolled. I don’t have a deep comic connection but I couldn’t help marvel (ha!) at the man who had created so many characters and brought so much joy to millions of people.
I have done movie double-headers before in a theater. I’ve watched three movies in a single day before. But never have I seen three movies in a theater on the same day. Until today.
As I was leaving Deadpool, I got a text saying we (the family) were going to see The Grinch that evening.
I was impressed with The Grinch. Having seen the 1966 original countless times growing up and the 2000 Jim Carrey version a few times, I didn’t think there was much new ground to cover with the grumpy green monster.
I was wrong.
The Grinch’s personality grew three sizes this day. He has motivation and a backstory. There’s a reason he hates Christmas (and maybe it’s not Christmas at all.) He’s much more developed than I remember in either previous iteration. I feel sorry for the poor guy. With only his little dog for company.
It wasn’t just the Grinch who has a developed personality. Cindy Lou Who is worried about her single mother trying to get by. Her mother is single and that’s a major plot point. There’s a Who of Color played by Kenan Thompson. Pharrell Williams’ narration sounds just like Al Letson from Reveal. I thought any minute now we were going to go behind the scenes of scandals in Whoville.
The gadgets and whatsits were high points for me. The various inventions the Grinch comes up with to aid in his theft of Christmas is a delight. Many of them made me laugh out loud, though the extendable sleigh to reach between houses was my favorite.
I haven’t seen either other Grinch movie recently, but I put this one up at the top of Grinch list. It capped off a wonderful Christmas Eve at the movies.
I remember when government work was stable. My parents told me about working for the government in glowing terms. The stability. The good pay and benefits.
But I am a contractor for the government. The pay is good. The benefits are all over the place and there’s a threat of shutdown almost every year.
The last time was 2014. I got a nice unpaid vacation for 21 days. In 2015 it almost happened again. And tonight I got to enjoy the same stress. Only this time they settled it on Thursday instead of midnight Friday.
Each time they do the bare minimum. The government is funded… Until Jan 21st. The Democrats didn’t want to be seen as the cause of the shutdown which the Republicans would have tried to pin squarely on them. So the Senate voted to help the GOP out and keep working.
Not that any of them are going to work. They get to go on vacation. While I get to finish mine with a job to come back to. And hope we don’t go through this all over again next month.