A Practical Parent’s Guide to Hanukkah Gifts

Most Jews know that giving presents at Hanukkah time has more to do with its proximity to Christmas than anything else. Nevertheless, a few presents make this particular holiday extra special. I mean, how many nights in a row can you retell the story of Hanukkah and marvel at the candlelight? I say two tops. I’m all about borrowing a little “holiday spirit” from Christmas.

Still, all the gifts get to me. But not for the altruistic and do-gooding reasons that they should. What bothers me is what EIGHT nights of gifts + four kids means for the influx of chazerai in my house.

What’s a no-nonsense, anti-clutter mom like me supposed to do with a holiday like this? Of course, I have the answer down to a science. Stick with me. I won’t steer you wrong.


1st Night: Family party! Last night the six of us went to Bubbe and Zaide’s where the kids got all kinds of fantastic toys and what-not from their grandparents and cousins. The kids loved every minute. HOWEVER, it’s beginning to look a little too much  like Christmas. (Not that I have a hate on Christmas, as you’ll note in last year’s highly controversial post.)

2nd Night: Tonight we’ll return to the at-home routine where I always start small. If you go in guns blazing, you’re setting the bar too high. I often get each child a new spinning toothbrush on one of the early nights. That’s right, kids. I said heck-NO to that overpriced licensed Hello Kitty toothbrush at Target last month, but now it’s yours. In our house we’re not above promoting clean teeth in celebration of the miracle of a small band of Jewish soldiers’ unlikely defeat of the Greeks.

3rd Night: New cozy pajamas for everyone. Easy, practical. Done. If you’re feeling zany and generous, you could throw in some slippers.

4th Night: Think of something you would have purchased for the house eventually—holiday or not. This year it’s art supply night! I’m replacing the dried-out, cap-less markers and the used-up coloring books. I’ll also replenish the stickers and other art supplies that are getting low.

5th Night: I thought about other items I want the kids to have for various reasons. I’ll give you an example. My five-year-old daughter, Rebecca, loves to color in her room. Unfortunately, her masterpieces end up in piles around the floor and it drives me bananas. On night #5, Rebecca is getting the “art box” to the right. Adorable, but practical. I’m a sneaky genius.

6th Night: Books—a great choice for any night of Hanukkah.

7th Night: The night of giving back. My husband and I will have a discussion with the kids about where we want to donate money as a family this year. I’m sure 6-week-old Nate will share some great ideas.

8th Night: Out-of-town family night! This is the night we hand over those mysterious packages from aunts, uncles, and out-of-town grandparents. Truthfully, we could spread out those gifts over several different nights, but I like to end with a bang.

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Nina is a columnist at The HerStories Project and a contributing writer at Kveller.com and Greatnewbooks.org. Her essays have appeared regularly at Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward and have been syndicated in Jewish newspapers across the country. Her short stories have appeared in over a dozen literary magazines, and she loved participating in the 2013 cast of Listen to Your Mother. Nina is a co-founder of The Twin Cities Writing Studio. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children.

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64 Responses to A Practical Parent’s Guide to Hanukkah Gifts
  1. Galit Breen
    December 21, 2011 | 7:16 am

    Love the tips and ideas, Nina! I have a little artist on my hands as well- love the art box! :)

  2. Leigh Ann
    December 21, 2011 | 7:29 am

    *slow applause* Well played, Badzin family.

    Last year, my kids were monsters. Every night, they expected something more, and “doing Chanukah” was their term for “give me my presents.” This year, I’m trying something new – I got one big present for all three of them (A GINORMOUS set of used Duplos) and gave it to them on night one. The rest of Chanukah, they get nothing but gelt.

    I’ll report back. :)

    Chag Urim Sameach <3

    • Nina Badzin
      December 21, 2011 | 10:57 am

      Love the slow applause. 😉 Let me know how nights 2-8 go! Also, loved your comments on kveller! I was like “I know her!”

  3. mommytanya
    December 21, 2011 | 7:56 am

    I don’t know how to say this without the potential of sounding offensive but I love your posts on being Jewish. I don’t know a lot of Jewish families and reading/learning about your traditions is fun. I always envisioned Hanukkah gifts to be as big as Christmas gifts. I finally got off my bum last night and wrapped the presents for my girls – which also means I took inventory. Big girl bikes are their main gift this year, but they also got some clothes, educational games and a board game, a remote control car, these bizarre tattooed looking animal things (they’re about the size of a golf ball), and some art stuff. Oh and those pillow beds I made for them.
    It doesn’t seem like enough to me especially because what I give them is essentially what they get unlike the majority of my friends whose kids get the bulk of their presents from grandparents and extended family. But then again I don’t want Christmas to be about receiving presents. This year I’ve started to tell the girls that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday and the reason you get presents is because He wants to share his birthday presents with you. Yeah, big fat lie but I’m trying to redirect their focus to the religious aspect of Christmas rather than the give me give me give mes.
    My little one and I had a long heated conversation two nights ago because she threw a fit over me giving away an old jacket of hers that doesn’t even fit. I told her if she can’t share her old stuff with kids who don’t have anything then she doesn’t get new stuff. I absolutely cannot stand kids who do not appreciate what they have. Gifts are not a right on Christmas (or ever) they are a privilege. Ok my comment went way off track so I’ll stop now.
    Happy Hanukkah to you and yours!!

    • Nina Badzin
      December 21, 2011 | 11:01 am

      I think you summed it up best by pointing out this fact: the gifts are a privilege, not a right. As a side note, your kids are lucky that you’re so crafty! Also, I think it’s so great that you keep the religious message a central focus. (And I love that YOU love the Jewish posts.)

    • mommytanya
      December 21, 2011 | 3:18 pm

      Oh I forgot to add no prize necessary :)

  4. Renée A. Schuls-Jacobson
    December 21, 2011 | 7:59 am

    We, also, do uber-practical gifts at the holidays. This is a monor holiday — not even mentioned in the Torah, and it definitely isn’t Christmas. Like you, we give new gloves (for skiing), warm socks, books — little things. And when our son was little we did toothbrushes and even a new pillowcase he was kvelling over! 😉 We also do the night where we all sit around and figure out where to “give back” for Tzedukkah Night. And we generally have a night with friends and a night with family. Sounds like our traditions are pretty aligned. Last night, my husband and son had to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah without me (as I was celebrating alone in an airplane), and with the business of completing homework, etc… they lit the candles, but my husband never gave our son his gift! While tucking him into bed, my husband remembered this and my son said, “That’s okay, dad. The best gift was being with you. Let’s just wait for mom and do it tomorrow.” That was a great gift for me: that I 12 year old son who is grateful for what he has and isn’t all Grubby McGrubbenstein about the gifts.

    Off to tweet you!

    • Nina Badzin
      December 21, 2011 | 11:29 am

      I love that your son said that! Gives me hope for my kids too. Thanks again for organizing this link up and teaching me how to make a blog button link.

  5. Stacy S. Jensen (@StacySJensen)
    December 21, 2011 | 8:04 am

    No prize necessary. I just enjoyed the post as I don’t know that much about Hanukkah. I love the 7th night. Nice that the whole family participates.

  6. Lisa
    December 21, 2011 | 8:20 am

    These are some great ideas. We celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas in our household, so the month of December often becomes total gift overload. I like really like the night of giving back. I might implement this with my 3 year old so that he understands that the holidays are not just about him getting gifts.

    • Nina Badzin
      December 21, 2011 | 11:33 am

      Three is the perfect age! My third is 2.5 and I know that she’ll get it on some level . . . maybe not the same as the older two, but she’ll have a sense. And if you keep doing it every year, the kids start to think about it well before December. Good luck with all those gifts this month! :)

  7. ramblingsfromtheleft
    December 21, 2011 | 8:29 am

    Nina, I’ve been anticipating a Hanukkah post from you … even did an Italian wanna-be post in your honor (http://ramblingsfromtheleft.wordpress.com/2011/12/14/happy-chanukah/) and you will note I used the “other” spelling. Of course, I did also explain the two to my readers.

    You don’t have to include me in your drawing because the best gift for the Holiday season from you is your post. As always, it cheers me and gives me wonderful thoughts of family, yours and mine. Thanks for being out there. My last post of 2011 is today and it announces a well needed break. No, I haven’t added a member to my loving family, nor have I been keeping up with the days of giving (or the twelve days of Christmas either) … I did a shorter version of Christmas pasts this year … treated myself to three new mysteries and will hunker down surrounded by my “paired” down decorations and think of those I love as Michael Connelly’s MC Harry Bosch solves his next crime :) Happy Hanukkah and New Year!

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  9. annegreenwoodbrown
    December 21, 2011 | 8:55 am

    “In our house we’re not above promoting clean teeth in celebration of the miracle of a small band of Jewish soldiers’ unlikely defeat of the Greeks.”

    *Nodding* I always considered getting my little kids to brush to be akin to wafare.

    Happy Hanukkah, Badzins!
    (No price necessary)

    • annegreenwoodbrown
      December 21, 2011 | 8:56 am


    • Nina Badzin
      December 21, 2011 | 11:40 am

      We need to discuss the genius of your Christmas card this year! (Well, every year.)

  10. Shari Danzig Stein
    December 21, 2011 | 9:16 am

    I grew up with exactly this theme and for all the same reasons you have. I carry on this tradition –although my children are now 15 and 18 and getting iphones (waited for upgrade…might have gotten them anyway-don’t tell). So my plan this year is iphone first night and then one app/day. I’ll still supplement with the package of socks, pj pants, etc. And, I also do the same with relative gifts– the last night ends up being fun and full of surprises.
    Happy Hanukkah to you and your family!

    • Nina Badzin
      December 21, 2011 | 11:50 am

      I’m desperate for an iPhone! Can I be in your family this year??? (I have to wait until my current contract is up. No way I’m paying full retail!)

      • Shari Danzig Stein
        December 21, 2011 | 12:03 pm

        Please do join our family -we even have more upgrades and I’m not taking mine yet (am I crazy to still like my blackberry?)! I think, from what I read/know already, your family will miss you terribly so you should wait for your own upgrade and I can’t imagine a phone worth paying over $600 for even if some people say its priceless! To clarify, I do feel a little guilty–the ugrade timing is perfect for Hanukkah. If we didn’t reach an upgrade until March, for example, we might have gotten the iphones for them at that time–maybe for Passover? Oh no, Passover gifts? Another 8 nights? Or, an afikomen barter–just thinking…

        • Nina Badzin
          December 21, 2011 | 12:12 pm

          I WILL miss the BBM feature of the Blackberry and the ability to type so well. I do a good portion of my RTing on Twitter and responding to emails while I’m nursing the baby. I don’t think I’ll be able to do that with the touch pad. But the web browsing on the Blackberry is so awful. At least on the iPhone I can read articles.

  11. Sarah
    December 21, 2011 | 9:27 am

    We also go with things that the kids might otherwise get – books mostly with a few arty crafty things thrown in, the odd DVD that we’ve been wanting to watch as a family. One night we also do ‘charity night’ – this year we are going with http://www.lendwithcare.org, in the past we’ve done local charities, bought goats for families in Africa, all sorts of things. Some years they bargain with us if there is a ‘big’ present they want – we discuss how many nights it is worth. Speaking of practical, last year I bought the boys a hot water bottle each!

    • Nina Badzin
      December 21, 2011 | 11:51 am

      Oooh, I love the idea of Hanukkah negotiations! I could see us doing that as the kids ask for pricier items. I imagine as my girls get older they’ll want clothes just like I did back in the day.

  12. julie gardner
    December 21, 2011 | 9:53 am

    This is pretty much my routine with Christmas gifts as well; my kids just get everything over a 24-hour period between December 24th and 25th.

    You are one funny, practical, lovely lady Nina.
    And I’m thrilled to have gotten to know you this year.

    Cheers to you and your beautiful family this season and I’m wishing you all a fabulous 2012!


  13. TJ
    December 21, 2011 | 10:31 am

    You ARE a sneaky genius. Brilliant! I think you’ve got a new subscriber in me. =)

  14. Rishona Myers
    December 21, 2011 | 11:19 am

    Thanks for this great guide. It’s nice to know there are others out there who feel the same way I do when it comes to gift giving on Hanukkah. No prize necessary.

  15. Jack@TheJackB
    December 21, 2011 | 11:28 am

    Hi Nina,

    We try to be relatively sedate with the gift giving here. Every year we talk about gratitude and look for toys to give away to those who don’t have as much as we do. They get one big gift a piece and the rest of the chag is celebrated with smaller items.

    And because I am a maniac about reading they get several books throughout the week. Love the art box for your daughter. We have a few of those, but not decorated. I really should do that, my daughter would love it.

  16. Deborah the Closet Monster
    December 21, 2011 | 11:29 am

    I didn’t buy any presents at all last year, but realized this year that a few small presents could go a very long way toward building excitement for not just the holiday but the faith. So, small gifts it is! Last night, my son got a Hanukkah book he fell asleep reading–aw! Love these ideas, and your overall approach.

  17. Lisa
    December 21, 2011 | 11:38 am

    Love the post Nina. Last night Ashley got PJs and Logan got a suit case… for which he has been asking for quite a while, and while he doesn’t necessarily need his own – it’ll be great for him to have something for overnight’s at Baubie & Papa’s house. Ethan is getting a Toy Story night light in a few nights from now – I actually think he’ll be very excited! One other new tradition we might add this year – we learned some “Hanuka yoga” courtesy of Rabbi Sadoff in which you can learn to be a candle by balancing on one foot, raising up your arms, and staring into the lights. Happy Hanuka to your family!

    • Nina Badzin
      December 21, 2011 | 12:09 pm

      Oh my goodness, that candle idea is so cute! I giggled about the suitcase. Such a good idea. My kids would really love that. I’ll have to remember for next year. Totally fits into the “practical” guide. Happy Hanukkah to you and your gang!

  18. Laura Wasserman
    December 21, 2011 | 11:55 am

    Love it Nina you are hilarious!! And I have definitely already purchased the same items as you for 2nd and 4th night. Ha ha ha. Thanks for making me laugh!

  19. Erin Margolin
    December 21, 2011 | 12:04 pm

    Spot on, Nina! My kids don’t get gifts every night, and they, too, get small things like you described. I’m in love with the art box idea and we also have a lot of art supplies that need replenishing.

    Fantastic post!

  20. alissa
    December 21, 2011 | 12:13 pm

    We have an annual- get new white socks night- and this year threw a couple pairs of football themed underwear for B. Figured you’d appreciate the clean simplicity.

    • Nina Badzin
      December 21, 2011 | 12:18 pm

      Yes! So up my alley. One thing I forgot to the add to this post is that I do a massive toy clean out before Hanukkah begins. (I know you can picture me doing that!)

      Miss you!

      • alissa
        December 21, 2011 | 3:46 pm

        Laughing. Love your clean-outs. Miss you lots. Happy. Happy.

  21. Sandy
    December 21, 2011 | 12:39 pm

    Perfect, Nina! We usually divide up the out-of-town gifts to have one for each night, but since we went out-of-town and got them early over Thanksgiving, to add a few small presents, I got books for the kids… so just one bigger (But by bigger, I just mean a $15 game/toy) and a few books throughout the night. We are also going to do a tzedaka/give-back night and then the two family hanukkah parties. Caleb loved his phonics and math workbooks that I gave him last night and after he opened his, Aidan said, “I hope I get some math books, too!” Happy Hanukkah!

    • Nina Badzin
      December 22, 2011 | 2:58 pm

      Oh, I love it! I suspect you won’t get away with math workbooks for too many more years.

  22. Andra
    December 21, 2011 | 12:55 pm

    Refreshing to see others like us! We have a family tradition to make Chanukah cookies every year (with Chanukah themed cookie cutters) and mail them to family who are spread across the country. While it can be challenging to find the time each year we have fun doing it, decorating them in fun ways. At this point they expect and look forward to it so kind of hard to stop after about 16 years! This year I really wasn’t in the mood for the ordeal due to personal reasons (and i knew the family would understand) but my husband and kids encouraged it so we did it again. I have no regrets and we felt good about it. I am now in Israel visiting my son who is studying here and he is more than happy to get (eat) them. Chanukah Sameach from Jerusalem.

    • Nina Badzin
      December 22, 2011 | 3:00 pm

      Thanks for sharing your tradition with us. How wonderful to be in Israel for Hanukkah!

  23. kvetchmom
    December 21, 2011 | 2:41 pm

    I love the art box! Genious! We have a book night, too, and it has surprisingly turned out to be a family favorite.

    Happy Hanukkah to you!

  24. Meghan
    December 21, 2011 | 4:10 pm

    Although I haven’t centered “theme” nights as an annual tradition yet, I’m getting there. We have book night, tzedakah night … and so on. I just want to avoid the Veruca Salt attitude please!

    • Nina Badzin
      December 22, 2011 | 3:04 pm

      Oh, so true . . . that IS how the kids can get. I just TiVo’ed Willy Wonka for the kids actually!

  25. The Culture Mom
    December 21, 2011 | 4:37 pm

    LOVE night #7 and that definitely be my way to teach them about giving back this year. Wonderful tips, I enjoyed your post so much and am so glad I have found you via Hanukkah Hooplah.

  26. Leah
    December 21, 2011 | 5:41 pm

    I really like your approach, Nina! Since we only have Sophie who is 4, we haven’t made a big deal about gifts. She gets presents from her grandparents and aunts when we celebrate with my family. But other than that, we’ve gotten away with not giving her gifts. But I do really like your idea of making each night one small themed things: a new book, pajamas, etc. And may I just say that your art box is so cute!

  27. Rivki
    December 21, 2011 | 7:00 pm

    The fourth night idea is pure genius. I love it! How long did it take for you to come up with strategy – it’s so fantastic! Thank you for sharing your secrets. :)

    (no prize necessary)

    • Nina Badzin
      December 22, 2011 | 9:49 pm

      I’d say the “strategy” has been a work in progress since our son’s first Hanukkah. (He’s 7.) I’m always looking for ways to minimize the stuff in our house though…I can’t deal with clutter.

  28. Monica Gebell
    December 21, 2011 | 9:24 pm

    Love it, Nina. Thank you. I wish I’d read this before we’d galavanted through ToysRUs trying to figure out if it was really necessary to get little tchotchkes for all eight nights x2. We did land on books, music, and coloring accoutrements, but next year… look out: mama’s going practical! Great blog. {of course, no prize necessary!}

  29. phyllis
    December 21, 2011 | 10:06 pm

    love this post. we gave up on chanukah gifts a few years ago when i was so fed up with the “we have to light the candles so we can get to the gifts” rush….drove me nuts. and the gifts weren’t anything big – my kids got toothbrushes and pj’s and socks and books and whatnot. but it still caused a riot.

    now we just enjoy the candle lighting.
    and i can go back to loving chanukah….quiet and low key.
    (no prize for me…i’m giving away one of my own too!)

  30. dave
    December 21, 2011 | 10:34 pm

    great tips!!

  31. Anita
    December 22, 2011 | 12:02 am

    Aw, the comfy PJs would be my favorite gift. As you know, that’s a writer’s work uniform. Hee.

    You’re such a wonderful mommy, making amazing memories and traditions for your kiddos. Sometimes I think maybe you’re Wonderwoman in disguise. Yep.

    Have a Happy Hanukkah, Nina! I’m so thankful I met you this year! See you in the New one!

    *No prize necessary*

  32. Sarah
    December 22, 2011 | 1:41 am

    My dad sent me this, some of it is very true:

    If anyone asks you what the difference is between Christmas and Chanukah, you will now know how to answer!

    1. Christmas is one day, same day every year, December 25. Jews also love December 25th. It’s another paid day off work. We go to movies and out for Chinese food and Israeli dancing. Chanukah is 8 days. It starts the evening of the 24th of Kislev, whenever that falls. No one is ever sure. Jews never know until a non-Jewish friend asks when Chanukah starts, forcing us to consult a calendar so we don’t look like idiots. We all have the same calendar, provided free with a donation from the World Jewish Congress, the kosher butcher, or the local Sinai Memorial Chapel (especially in Florida ) or other Jewish funeral home.

    2. Christmas is a major holiday. Chanukah is a minor holiday with the same theme as most Jewish holidays. They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.

    3. Christians get wonderful presents such as jewelry, perfume, stereos… Jews get practical presents such as underwear, socks, or the collected works of the Rambam, which looks impressive on the bookshelf.

    4. There is only one way to spell Christmas No one can decide how to spell Chanukah, Chanukkah, Chanukka, Channukah, Hanukah, Hanukkah, Hannukah, etc.

    5. Christmas is a time of great pressure for husbands and boyfriends. Their partners expect special gifts. Jewish men are relieved of that burden. No one expects a diamond ring on Chanukah.

    6. Christmas brings enormous electric bills. Candles are used for Chanukah. Not only are we spared enormous electric bills, but we get to feel good about not contributing to the energy crisis.

    7. Christmas carols are beautiful…Silent Night, Come All Ye Faithful…. Chanukah songs are about dreidels made from clay or having a party and dancing the Hora. Of course, we are secretly pleased that many of the beautiful carols were composed and written by our tribal brethren. And don’t Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond sing them beautifully?

    8. A home preparing for Christmas smells wonderful. The sweet smell of cookies and cakes baking. Happy people are gathered around in festive moods. A home preparing for Chanukah smells of oil, potatoes, and onions. The home, as always, is full of loud people all talking at once.

    9. Christian women have fun baking Christmas cookies. Jewish women burn their eyes and cut their hands grating potatoes and onions for latkes on Chanukah. Another reminder of our suffering through the ages.

    10. Parents deliver gifts to their children during Christmas. Jewish parents have no qualms about withholding a gift on any of the eight nights.

    11. The players in the Christmas story have easy to pronounce names such as Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. The players in the Chanukah story are Antiochus , Judah Maccabee, and Matta whatever. No one can spell it or pronounce it. On the plus side, we can tell our friends anything and they believe we are wonderfully versed in our history.

    12. Many Christians believe in the virgin birth. Jews think, ‘Yossela, Bubela, snap out of it. Your woman is pregnant, you didn’t sleep with her, and now you want to blame G-d? Here’s the number of my shrink’.

    13. In recent years, Christmas has become more and more commercialized. The same holds true for Chanukah, even though it is a minor holiday. It makes sense. How could we market a major holiday such as Yom Kippur? Forget about celebrating. Think observing. Come to synagogue, starve yourself for 27 hours, become one with your dehydrated soul, beat your chest, confess your sins, a guaranteed good time for you and your family. Tickets a mere $200 per person. Better stick with Chanukah!

  33. Rewriting History « Frume Sarah's World
    December 22, 2011 | 6:43 am

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  34. CLO
    December 22, 2011 | 7:17 am

    I loved your post! It’s Very similar to what happens here, jammies, new markers and sketchbooks (I buy a ream of paper at the office supply store and have them bound 1/2 for one and 1/2 for the other so their art stays in one place and it’s exponentially cheaper than a real one with 5x the number of pages), family games and the like. Love the Tzdakah night too!
    Happy Hanukkah to you and the rest of the Badzin family!

    • CLO
      December 22, 2011 | 8:27 am

      Oops I forgot, no prize necessary.

    • Nina Badzin
      December 22, 2011 | 9:51 pm

      You too! We’re still on the tonsil mend but so far so good.

  35. KKSorrell
    December 22, 2011 | 9:25 am

    Great ideas! I would love to hear more of your “anti-clutter” strategies!! :)

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  37. Linda at Bar Mitzvahzilla
    December 23, 2011 | 1:46 am

    We’ve always assigned special themes to all eight nights, though not all are gift nights. Friday is always book night because it’s Shabbat. We also have a Tzedakah night where we count out the money in our tzedakah boxes and make decisions about where to donate the money. We have Family night where they get presents from the larger family and not us and, our favorite, Menorah Night, where we try to light up all the hanukkiot in the house (hopefully on the eighth night!) so we can truly see the beauty of the lit candles. It can be quite a conflagration, but watching my kids say all those bruchas is a wonderful thing!

  38. Being Jewish in Hawaii
    December 24, 2011 | 8:10 pm

    Great post. Mahalo. We didn’t do gifts every night this year. It gets overwhelming and overshadows the other good stuff. And them there’s the gift cards that come in the mail…. More shopping. Oh well, it’s nice to have so many loving relatives. Aloha…..

  39. Jen Erickson
    December 26, 2011 | 4:56 pm

    Sneaky genius. Reading your posts is ALMOST as good as seeing you in person. Hope all is well my friend!

  40. V.V. Denman
    December 27, 2011 | 8:19 pm

    Great ideas! Now I’m off to read “Last Year’s Controversial Post.” That just sounds exciting. :)

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