Friday I drove around picking up a few last minute presents. Went to Eastview to get some epicurean delights (aka hot cocoa) and made my way back across town to get some books, a gift card, and lunch. Shopping before lunch was irritating, but not too bad. After lunch, though, it became what I had expected from the start. Tons of cars and long lines at the store. Fortunately, I only had one book to hunt down at that point, so it didn't take too long.
After shopping, I got Becky from work around 5 and we rushed home to wrap presents and pack. That only took a couple hours, so we managed to make it to Binghamton only around 11. We made some small talk and collapsed into bed.
Saturday morning my wife, her brother, and her mother all piled into a car and started the drive to Connecticut to meet up with their family. I slept through about half of it (riding in the back seat always does that to me), but the conversation the rest of the time was good. Uncle Emil always puts out a good spread and good times were had by all. Talked a little more with the cousins, which was nice. Spent several hour trying to figure out why one of Emil's computers redirected away from Google results to ad pages the first two times you clicked on a link. Finally dug out a rootkit that was pretty sneaky, thanks to help from the spybot forums.
Sunday was the gift exchange. Lots of gifts from the grandparents, a few other little gifts, and a large gift exchange that they call a "Yankee Swap". Everyone puts in a gift (in the $30 range), then in a random order picks a gift. Once you've picked a gift, you can then decide to keep it, or trade with someone else (your victim doesn't get to turn down the trade). We put in a Godiva hot cocoa sampler pack and some truffles as one gift, plus a robo-dog looking webcam and a 2GB flash stick as our second. We walked away with our cocoa (someone stole something else from us and we got it back) and a 5 part herb garden. Pretty good.
After the exchange and lunch (must have lunch, they're Italian), we went home. Momma-in-law went home with her beau (who came Sunday morning) and my wife, her siblings, and I went home together. It was dark with heavy bands of rain. Pretty exciting, but nothing bad happened.
Christmas eve was mellow for the most part. Several people had to wrap (and some get, I think) gifts. Becky and I went to her paternal grandparent's house to chat for a while. Turns out Grandpa Bob was a pilot and we got an interesting story of a CFIT* trip that ended with a "good" landing** but pretty much ended his owning a plane. We had a nice dinner, a few more gifts exchanged, and then hung around. Becky's half-brother Mycroft showed up, along with the maternal grandparents. The grands left fairly early, but Mycroft hung around. We all started a nasty, nasty puzzle that only Mycroft stayed up long enough to finish. The rest of us had sense enough to go to bed around midnight. (Although some wrapping continued a little later than that, from what I understand.)
Christmas morning got off to a late start, and gift giving was interrupted for a bit by "oh, yeah I still have to wrap something". That delayed us until around noon, with us "kids" supposed to be at the grandparents around 11. (Scheduling with this group is often fuzzy. But it was also a result of some lack of communication, I think.) Gift giving continued with the other half of the family until 1:30, when we all piled off to a diner for Christmas Dinner (lunch? supper?). Food was pretty good, abundant, and came with good conversation. We adjourned back to the house (with father-in-law in tow), for some dessert, some more puzzle, and more discussion. Good times, until I tried to haul us out at 6. (We finally made it out by 6:30. Not bad, as I had planned it so that we'd be gone by 7.)
* CFIT = Controlled Flight Into Terrain. Pilot-speak for "you flew into a mountain".
** A good landing is one you can walk away from.
And, of course there was the gifts. Can't have a Christmas post without talking about gifts, can I? Well, yes I could. But I'm not going to. ~_^
- A nice coffee grinder that has settings for both size and fineness.
- Christmas Ale, brewed by Tom, that's surprisingly good. (And I don't drink!)
- A nice winter headband do-hicky. Covers the ears and keeps them quite warm, but leaves the top of the head open. I tend to sweat too much shoveling snow anyway, and it fits in a coat pocket much better than my current hat
- DVDs! Hairspray (new one) and Stardust. Never saw the latter, and now I get a chance too! Heard good things about it.
- Several teas and coffees. Not sure how much use I'll get out of them, but I'll give them a shot.
- 1/2 bar of dark chocolate. How can you go wrong with that?
- A nice big tea kettle. Will be a nice to use for guests instead of the small one we have now.
- A nose cleansing strip. Uh?
- A Sudoku book. I mostly do Kakuro now, but it's good for variety.
- A new robe. Nice because my old one has a big hole over my behind, which defeats the purpose.
- A tunic! My mom-in-law hand-made a linen tunic using an authentic pattern and everything. Fits very well, although a little oddly around the shoulders... But even when I had it on, we couldn't quite figure out how that could be fixed. It's something about the way the fabric is gathered around the neck. But that's a very minor issue and will be very nice for Pennsic.
- Nice work/driving gloves
- A Home Depot gift card, which was technically a left-over house warming gift. Details.
- Socks, which is actually useful because I was running out.
- A tea infuser, which Becky loves.
- A few ornaments from a variety of people. Must remember to get a tree next year. I think we'll get a good sized one and put it on the back deck. Keeps it out of the way of us and away from cats, but gives us a good view through the big glass doors.
With a couple of Home Depot gift cards that total in the hundreds of dollars, I'm now just left with the task of figuring out what to buy. The immediate thought was: snow thrower. With something like 50 foot of steep driveway that regularly has several inches of snow to clear off, things like that jump to mind very quickly. But Home Depot is out of stock of everything but the very expensive one. So, no matter what I decide I have to wait.
What I have is almost enough to get the top of the line electric snow thrower... Good reviews, but will it be enough? Probably for everything other than the compacted pile of snow and ice the plow leaves... But that's a really obnoxious part during a week of snow. Putting in a little more ourselves gets one of the two-cycle ones. Better than electric, more oomph, but... Putting in a good amount at this point gets the low-end four cycle thrower. More oomph, no mixing oil (and less noxious fumes), a plug in starter (fast, reliable starts are a very good thing), a wider path, and the ability to clear out nearly anything. Hmmmmmm.....
So I poke my head into the Home Depot today and verify that, yes, they have no throwers in stock. But I also realize some other things. Compound miter saws are less than a hundred. Circular saws, $50. I could replace the over-stove microwave that is literally falling apart for only a little more than half the gift cards I have in my pocket. Decisions, decisions, decisions. I'm currently leaning towards getting the microwave now and waiting until I'm out of season to get the thrower. It means more shoveling for now, but a cheaper thrower later and a perfectly working microwave. Hmmmmm....
Random thought: Gift cards aren't a thoughtless gift as a lot of people make them out to be. They can be very very nice, if you get it from somewhere the receiver needs/wants to go. It often forces people to get that thing they've been thinking about, but couldn't justify getting. Sure cash enables the same thing, but at least for me often gets just put in the pile to save up for later or help with bills or whatever. A gift card says "Here, splurge on yourself, get something nice". I like that.
I think this may be the longest LJ post I've written in a while. I guess it's the fact that I haven't really come down from the over-load of socialization and there's nobody around for me to talk to.
And there's one last present that I actually don't have yet. Becky promised me an iPhone. Okay, so I was thinking about buying it anyway. But this moves it from the realm of guilt-riddled "should I spend that much on myself" to "shiny-shiny-shiny-gotta-get-it-gotta-ge
There are some downsides:
First, the iPhone is AT&T only. I've had some sorrow with them before. But it wasn't truly hideous (just a little expensive), and I've heard they're better since the AT&T -> Cingular -> AT&T changeup.
Second, I'm not on AT&T. My current contract ends on the seventh. So that's one source of wait. (And now that I'm "allowed" to get it, I'm having problems waiting.)
Third is the Macworld Expo. As all Apple
Fourth is contract switches. It looks like the smallest family contract AT&T has is at $60 instead of my current $50. (Although it adds 150 minutes that I'll never use.) But the iPhone data plan includes messages. The end total is that I'll lose my ability to use the Hotspot at Starbucks, but gain EDGE data everywhere. The iPhone data plan is the same as my Hotspot, and I won't have to pay the $3/mo for messages. End result: about $7 more a month, plus the joy of one time activation fees.
iPhone!!!!1!one!! ^___^ Visual voicemail, convergence, battery life, good web browser, web everywhere, e-mail everywhere.... Geeky goodness. And this upside alone beats out pretty much every negative. No, I haven't drank the Apple Kool-Aid... I've just used one at a store, and used the competition (Treo, and my dad's Windows Mobile phone). In comparision, the iPhone is sleeker, more stable, longer battery life, and just plain better (better brower, better interface, etc). And with the promise of an SDK (and maybe some fun things like an AIM client announced at Macworld?) coming soon, the future looks bright for the iPhone.
The contract switch will let me get a new phone. Yes, I know I'm getting an iPhone, but there are times, places, and situations where I won't want a breakable $400 toy in my pocket. For those times, I'm going to get a new free phone. This is possible because the iPhone is not subsidized, so there's no penalty for just getting the normal free phone and then buying the iPhone. So when I go SCUBA diving, or skiing (there's been some talk), to the beach, or whatever, I can now just pop my SIM into my $0.00 phone and keep my iPhone safe at home.
Upgrading... My current phone and iPod are both beaten and aging. Their battery life isn't what they used to be, and their feature sets are lacking. Just having something modern and new will be nice.
I think I'm done now. Time for lunch.