the greatest gifts

Two weeks of full-on family. My nephews were visiting from Alberta last weekend, followed by birthday dinner on Thursday, then we hosted a party on Saturday, followed by another birthday dinner on Sunday and finally my sister and her husband will be in town this Thursday. But it’s last night’s dinner that I want to talk about…

The love of my life and I have often talked about how to cut back on gifts. With my family, it is no problem. We don’t exchange with my sister or brother. My mom still likes to do gifts but she is infinitely practical (last year she put together a food hamper for us!) and not materialistic. She is happy with second hand, re-gifted and home made presents. I think she’d be happy not getting any, but she loves to give and it doesn’t feel right to receive without giving something back. For my niece and nephews, we usually try and give them an activity. Last year we contributed to a family pass at their local sports complex, for example.

With O’s family, giving gifts has been an important part of their traditions. Over the last couple of years, with three of us at various times in university, we have set limits on the amount we spend but not giving gifts hasn’t seemed like an option. Yesterday there was a shift. After dinner, we talked. Everyone decided that this would be our last year giving birthday gifts among the adults. For Christmas, we decided to draw names and set a price limit so we would each have one person to buy for. We’ll still do stockings. What made me happiest was the emphatic agreement that although we were cutting out gifts (mostly), we were not cutting out celebrations. Everyone wanted to make sure that we still got together as a family. Eating too much, singing “happy birthday”, playing silly games, snapping Christmas crackers and wearing paper crowns… these were important. Being together was important.

I’ve never minded birthdays but Christmas has always been so stressful. The sheer amount on cash you shell out in a short period of time has always been a financial strain. But I’m really looking forward to the holidays this year. Putting the focus on what’s truly important will be the best gift ever.

in the news

Listening to CBC radio this morning as usual. Today’s episode of The Invisible Hand, called the Paradox of Thrift, looks at how austerity can worsen the economic situation. Definitely something to think about, especially in light of Harper cutting so many government jobs and offloading services, and the Bank of Canada constantly scolding us about our debt levels. So what are we supposed to do? I’m tightening my belt, looking for ways to spend less and not taking out loans in order to buy goods or services. While this approach is the best for me, apparently it is not a helpful for the overall economy.  Definitely worth a listen, though it doesn’t come to any hard conclusions.

And depressingly for those of us just squeaking by, wealth apparently equals health. I’m not personally all that worried about this (despite having spent the last month fighting a virus). My inability to find a family doctor causes me much more anxiety. Although the article doesn’t talk about access to health care, the CMA study says it is one of the top three factors affecting a person’s health.

What is interesting about both of these is that they highlight the integrated nature of economies; we go about our lives making choices that seem best for us, but we’re really operating in a much larger context and are heavily impacted by government policies and decisions.

lose weight! save money!

Nothing like a virus to help with saving some cash. You don’t feel like eating so you don’t need to buy groceries. You’re not going out and doing anything so the entertainment budget doesn’t get spent. Plus there’s the added bonus of shedding the extra pounds you put on over the winter.

That has been my last half of July and the first half of August. After the first week, which was spent sleeping, most of my time has been filled watching movies and television series (big thanks to Elizabeth, Fatima and my sis for loaning me so many DVDs). Since I have nothing else to report, here are some mini-reviews.

True Blood
Watched the first three seasons and cannot go on. It is quite trashy and fun, and there are some terrific characters and fabulous performances but omg, Sookie gets so annoying. Why, oh why does she insist on doing the same stupid things over and over? Always with Bill or Eric coming to her rescue. Ultimately I began to dislike it in the same way I hate Wuthering Heights; Sookie and Bill are as dysfunctional and unlikeable as Cathy and Heathcliff. I did love the music and have downloaded a bunch of tunes. Current fave is Lake Charles by Lucinda Williams.

North & South
If you like Pride and Prejudice, you’ll probably like this one too. Intelligent and lively female of diminished means meets wealthy and brooding gentleman. They misunderstand and dislike each other. He falls love. She rejects him. She comes to understand and appreciate him. She comes into an inheritance (throw in a little Jane Eyre for good measure). She falls in love too. Happily ever after! Very much a BBC production and I enjoyed every moment.

Deadwood
If you can get past the bad language, this is an amazing series. The characters are so complex, the acting so incredible. Plus the series is complete, which is a huge bonus. I hate starting something and then having to wait for months in order to find out what happens.

Robin Hood
Quite bad. I think one of the biggest problems is the casting. Robin, Marian and their crew are cast too young in relation to the Sheriff and Gisborne. How old was Robin when he went off to the crusades? 12?!? It has a certain campy appeal, but like Camelot, it just doesn’t work.

Sherlock
Awesome! Really captures the spirit of the original stories. Benedict Cumberbatch is pitch perfect as Sherlock and Martin Freeman is a believable (and awfully cute) Dr. Watson.

Lord of the Rings (extended version)
Unlike some extended versions, all the extras are truly worthwhile in these films. The one thing that drove me crazy was the music, especially in The Fellowship of the Ring. I don’t remember it being so overwhelming when I saw the movie in the theatre but it kind of hits you over the head in the DVDs.

Harry Potter
I wasn’t expecting to be laid up for so long, so I watch the last two films. And then ended up watching the rest in reverse order. It is even more apparent when you watch them this way how much the characters grow up and grow as actors over the course of the series. Highly recommended, though next time I’ll view them from one to eight.