Web Hostess Live: The latest from the Web

Dec 12, 2012

A weekly chat about the best ways to kill time online. Our Web Hostess, Monica Hesse, sifts the Internet so you don't have to, searching for meaning, manners and the next great meme.

Afternoon, everyone, and thanks for stopping by.

It's 12/12/12, which means we all successfully survived the end of the world, or maybe, because it could still end next week.


Assuming it doesn't: What are you getting for the holidays? Or giving? Let's dedicate at least a portion of this chat to present solutions for the geeks in your life.


Next week, I'm planning on a roundup of some of the memes of the year. Do remember to stop by for that. We'll vote and have prizes. (No we won't. We never have prizes.)

Okay. Let's get to getting to.

Slate posted this the day after our chat last week (so now it's Internet, yay!).

Excellent! To recap the article (and our chat last week): It's okay to lie to your kids and tell them that there's a Santa. In fact, this research shows it will help them become more creative, awesome people. I presume the Easter Bunny functions the same way.

I need the group's help on this. For Xmas I want to get my nephew some Hunger Games-like books, but with a boy hero. Any suggestions? As a female, I always gravitate to butt-kicking girls.

Ooh. Try the Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner. (I'm guessing a bit on ages -- it's meant for older tweens/teens, much like Hunger Games). Bonus: there's already a movie version in the works, so there are tie-ins aplenty.

My friend just told me that she spent a week trying to find me a weeping angel garden statue, but was unsuccessful. While I do wish I were getting a weeping angel, it made me so happy to know that she tried! I am almost certainly getting other Doctor Who paraphernalia. I know that my best friend is getting a Dalek/TARDIS salt and pepper set.

Wait. Do not laugh at me -- but I always thought the reason that angel garden statues looked like they were weeping was because the rain water collected around their eyes and created that illusion. But you can actually buy them weeping?

Or wait -- you wanted one that was actually, physically in the act of crying, like this one.  I got it now.

I am worried that the end of the world is near. Even if we survive when the Mayan calendar ends on December 22, I just noticed that my own calendar ends on December 31.

Crap. Mine too.

What is this about "lying" about there is no Santa? Is there something you need to tell me? Did something happen to Santa?

Santa is getting you something really awesome for Christmas. He all asked us not to tell you about it. Act surprised.

Apparently folks are remember 12:34pm on May 6, 1978 (aka 12:34 5/6/78)

If I take my vitamins, I think I can be around the next time that happens.

Try The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander. Or The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper. Or anything by Rosemary Sutcliffe; she wrote many really good novels about the Romans in Ancient Britain.

Excellent, thanks for the suggestions. We've talked about the Chronicles of Prydain books before, I think -- I remember them fondly, but a chatter who had re-read them recently said they didn't hold up. I don't want to believe that's true, but it might be.

I've seen a lot of these this year. I am not sure I believe they are real. This one, maybe, but not others.

This is what my husband and I call the onslaught of holiday cards that have pictures of the kids but no parents. I enjoy seeing the kids, but I'd love to see their parents, too. I've mentioned this to my friends who do this, and they say that they don't want to have their picture taken. I just do not understand this. Sigh. I realize this has nothing to do with the Interwebz, but thanks for letting me rant.

Send your friends this article, "The Mom Stays in the Picture," about the importance of taking photos -with- your kids. It's started a movement -- and it touches on all kinds of interesting discussions, from memory-building to body image.

From past experience, if you want to make your statute to appear to be crying, place it strategically near faulty plumbing. Then when it begins to cry, call the press and state it is a religious miracle.

Leaky gutters, maybe?

This is serious. I am not buttering up to you. The book i am most looking forward to in 2013 is yours. Is there an expected date of publication. Also, since I am not in DC and thus can't attend any book signings, would you please write "All best wishes, Monica" during this discussion? I will then cut that out and tape it to the book and pretend I have an autopgraphed copy.

If you were just buttering me up, I would not hold it against you at all. I'll be getting more detailed information about the release date of my book in the next few months, and I'll definitely post it when it's a little more solid.

I was a little late to the chat last week so I couldn't chime in but I thought I'd let you know that the Brazil elevator candid camera thing was all fake. I live in Sao Paulo for a good chunk of the year and that video made the rounds a couple weeks ago. Apparently everyone involved was an actor and they were paid about $25. I was glad to hear that as it isn't right to stick a little girl in the elevator like that unprotected.

This both pleases and disappoints me. I'm pleased for everyone's psychological wellbeing. I'm disappointed because...they were faking?! Boo.

My daughter keeps fluctuating whether she believes or not. The problem is we've told her that all this scary stuff is not real, don't be afraid of it... and she used her reasoning skills to determine that Santa must not be real either. Rather than tell her yes or no, I asked her what SHE thought. At first she said not real, so I agreed and came clean. Then later she changed her mind, so we're back to talking about Santa. I guess she's conveniently forgotten that I admitted he's not real.

"Real" is in the eye of the beholder. I think the Velveteen Rabbit taught us that.

Ender's Game is maybe not quite so action-heavy, but it's a classic for sure.

Ender's Game is my favorite book in the world. In the entire world.

I, a grown woman, just wrapped up the Percy Jackson series and enjoyed it more than I thought. Thanks Alexandria Library e-books!

I mean, the Gods are characters. How can you not love it?

Monica I have been waiting all week to tell you and the chatters this. Through some sort of wacky misunderstanding (I think a misprint in a gossip site) my Twitter handle has been getting sent around as actually belonging to a semi-famous pop star. Almost overn ight I went from 50 followers to thousands, and I get tweets multiple times a day from my "fans." So...what should I do with this? I admit I am a terrible person so I have been Tweeting them back and playing along. I haven't said anything horrible, like, "just held up a liquor store!" but I have been tweeting back really odd responses like "time to go floss! thanks for the luv! lolol!" Of course if anyone just clicked ony my profile they woudl see I am totally not this person. So 1) Should I stop tweeting nonsense to my new fans? 2) If I don't, how bad of a person does this make me?

I feel that you are handling this in exactly the correct way. I cannot improve on this at all.

My one comment would be to say that celebrities often draw attention from people who need it -- who are desperately sad, or angry, or trying to fill some hole in their lives. If you get a mention or a message from someone who is coming across as a lil pathetic, or even offbalanced, treat them with nothing but kindness.


And now we all want to know which pop star you are (aren't).


We put them under the tree and told them Santa wanted to make sure they arrived. The kids complain "We CAN'T wait for Christmas!" I remember when I used to feel like that. This morning the wrapping edges were peeled back.

Smart kids.

my son loves the hunger games. even though it's about a girl. just sayin'

Yah, I took the chatter as asking for suggestions in addition, not instead of.

Because they're getting a Mjölnir bottle opener, House Targaryen mug, and a small army of mini-Daleks. Shhhh.

Am I one of your coworkers (please say yes).

The Brazil elevator. The Aussie radio show. Pranks really aren't that funny. I feel like the people who pull this stuff must have some deep rooted issues. I know the radio hosts aren't directly responsible for killing the nurse, but they must have thought ahead of time that some innocent person would at least get into a lot of trouble if they were duped. Why is that worth a few laughs?

This is an interesting discussion to have. What makes a prank funny? Is it always successful at the expense of someone else? Are there pranks that are kind? Or are they all evil? I'm thinking of the businessman who was in the news a few months ago. He let his girlfriend think he was dead, then popped up to say, "Nope! I'm not dead after all! Will you marry me!" There was a lot of debate over whether these extreme emotions would be an exhilerating experience for the bride, or whether she should have dumped him.

Can we do a chat focused on help for holiday gifts? I need help with stocking stuffers for four adults. They need to be inexpensive and readily available. Any thoughts?

We need some more information on what kind of adults these are. FWIW, I am an adult and I have been getting the same items in my stocking every year since ever. Chapstick, Pilot Precise pens, mechanical pencils, chocolate, a pair of socks. It seems to cover all the bases in life.

Only in the U.S. Everywhere else in the world, it was June 5.

I know, I know. We're backwards, we get it.

If your friend has any old Barbie dolls lying around, she could make you one!

This would be the true test of friendship. "Oh, so you couldn't find one to buy, and you were just too lazy to make one? I see how it is."

My husband and I are in our annual holiday card photo, but it's just an annual reminder that I haven't lost the weight I intended to. It's an annual downer for me. I'd rather just put my daughter on the card, but that seems weird when we've only got 1 kid.

I get that. But you may never be as thin as you want to, and you will certainly never be any younger than you are right now, and any of your friends who are decent people will be thinking, "It's so good to see her face" rather than, "I think she could afford to lose 10 pounds."

My brother has just finished his PHD and will be moving to Manhattan. He has specifically asked for things that don't take up space because his new apartment is about a tenth of the size he had before. I refuse to get him a gift card because he earns more than I do, even when he was a graduate student. Also, because he is my brother, I refuse to get him something practical. HELP!

We can definitely help with this. There are entire Web sites dedicated to stuff for tiny apartments. Here's one. Chatters, suggestions for others?

Look for something sort of practical, but fun to look at. Like nesting mixing bowls, or something else he's going to need but doesn't have a lot of space for.

It also helps those of us who hear from lots and lots of parents to figure out which set of kids the photos belong to (yes, yes, everyone in our Xmax-card circle is ethnic Catholic, so lots of room for similar names).


oh, I have a good one! I initially went to amazon to buy my sister make up for Christmas, but the seller wouldn't gift wrap. So I went to Sephora.com, where they had a better selection AND she got 4 free gift samples! they also gift wrap for $2-4. yay!


I can't wait for the 2013 list - honest to goodness one of my favorite parts of the Post for many many years.

My colleague Dan Zak and I are waist-deep in it right now. I'm going to forward him this message to fortify our spirits.

That article was lovely-- tears in my eyes now. Thank you for sharing.

I'm glad you liked it -- it got positive responses from so many moms.

I always want to send a photo card with just my kids (cause I'm not quite as thin as I once was . . . ) but my husband insists. when we get cards from friends, we don't always recognize which kids are whose, but when the parents are in the shot - we know. So I've been won over.

Good job.

I just finished the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness and it's fantastic. The first book is narrated entirely by a boy, though the latter two switch between him, a girl and an alien (um...bonus). So good. Dark though; it's not for everyone...but I loved it.

Boy meets alien? Where have you been all my life!

Unfortunately, no! But feel a spark of holiday cheer knowing that offices around the country are being prepared for epic (and non-lethal - HR wouldn't approve, otherwise) battles of might and magic.

This does fill me with joy, really. You have no idea.

Like my parents, we don't discourage belief in Santa, but we don't encourage it either. We have our big gift exchange on Christmas Eve (a Norwegian tradition), and so all the good gifts are from the parents to the kids. Santa's stocking is an afterthought - my mom used to put a candy bar, some earrings, and a gift card to a music store from Santa. Needless to say, we weren't 'fully invested in the Santa-thing. My kids are 6&8 - I think the 6 year old believes, but my 8 year old is a born skeptic and doesn't believe.

A two-fer: kids + Santa Claus AND what to put in stockings.

Scratch off lottery tickets! They're always in the adult stockings at my parents' house :)


Remember the one where the guy and his girlfriend were in the car and he pretended they were about to crash? You could give someone a heart attack.

Ha ha ha. We're about to die. Ha ha ha.

Browse the dollar section at Target. A lot of it is for kids, but they have some things for adults, like nice notepads.

I'm just going to post a few of these now. FWIW, I think that edible or usable stuff is always good. Don't buy trinkets for the sake of filling a stocking -- but do buy thinks that are useful or appreciated (bath salts, stamps, etc).

Little bottles of booze, little packs of kleenex, little bottles of hand lotion. Anything little, really. Oh and Starbucks gift cards.

I don't know if this meets your definition of inexpensive, but those mini bottles from the ABC store are perfect for grown-up stockings.

If you live in DC, an IOU for Bolt or Megabus to have him visit (assuming you want him to....or if he has friends in DC, Philly, Boston they could be used for that).

I love this answer. A travel voucher of any kind (bus if your budget is smaller, plane or train if it's larger). Assuming, yes, that you enjoy spending time together.

If someone does not have much space to accept gifts, food items could be appropriate and useful gifts. For instance, if one lives in New York, a gift basket of Mast Brothers Chocolate or one of the other locally made high end products often goes over very well.

Or a gift certificate to a local restaurant (I know the OP didn't want gift cards for her brother, but I feel that one like that would be more personal than, say, a Best Buy gift card.)

These are just your normal adults--no specific hobbies or tastes (my dad, my husband, and my in-laws). It's just that I've been doing the stockings for 20 years and I'm out of ideas.

But the beauty of a stocking is that you can use the same ideas every year. The traditional lip balm in my family is much prized -- even though it's a brand that none of us would buy any more if it didn't appear in the stockings.

Yes. Each year I struggle with the photo, but then I tell myself that I would be sending a bad message to my daughter. I want her to be proud of who she is.

Love this.

Get him a DVD of one of his favorite movies, or if he already owns it, get the Blu-Ray version. If h e has a Blu-Ray-capable player.


Just add head shots of the parents. The heads could be floating over the kids or under them or something. You're creative people, you'll figure it out.


I may be the lone person on this side, but I don't blame the DJs any more than they are probably blaming themselves. They are (were?) in a business where ratings are paramount... and that kind of stuff gets ratings (no I'm not really a fan of that kind of radio).

In defense of the DJ's: I'd be willing to bet that they assumed the joke would be on them -- that they would call up the hospital, pretend to be the queen, and a nurse would tell them to get stuffed, and their listeners would laugh. I'm sure no one was more surprised than them when someone took the call seriously.

Since you seem to be so good at this -- can you suggest something for a boy that might involve fantasy, a quest-like adventure, preferably set in a time long past? You will be my hero(ine) if you can help me out with this. Thanks!

I actually think some of the books that have been suggested already would fit exactly this bill. Most particularly the Lloyd Alexander books, but others as well.

I am curious. I loved the movie "Lincoln" because I thought it was a great inside the Beltway type of movie that shows the politics of getting the 13th Amendment passed. What I am finding surprising is why others like it. If there are non-political types out there who loved the movie, did you really find the political intrigues that interesting, or were you focusing more on the interrelations of the characters, or was it primarily the sets, costumes, and acting that you liked, or what about the movie did you like?

I'd be surprised if non-political types didn't like it. Yeah, the insider stuff is fun -- but you have tremendous performances from Daniel Day Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones, and great dialogue, and a moving topic, and it's all wrapped up in an earnest Spielberg bow. What's not to love?

I can't really even get him something he would need for an apartment because he already has his stuff. He'll be moving from a large Ohio apartment to a teeny tiny Manhattan one.

Right, but what I'm saying is that he might already have a set of pots and pans from Ohio, but there's no way that they're going to fit comfortably in his New York apartment. He might appreciate smaller/more consciously designed versions of the same stuff, so that he can throw out the big stuff.


Barring that: Get him tickets to some kind of experiential thing. A museum. A show that's playing in New York. A concert. Even a month-long MTA pass. Something that he can do and think of you, but that he might not have thought to do for himself.

For the past decade, I've compile 12 montages of digital photos of my travels in the past year into art for calendars, which I take on a flash drive to get printed up at a major chain big-box office supply store, as gifts for family and friends.

Bonus points if your visits include trips to see friends and family, and those photos make the cut.

Original poster here. Such a lovely article--like the other chatter, I am all weepy now. I just realized that I myself have avoided pictures this year because I've been going through chemo, my breasts no longer match, I have no hair, I'm puffy from steroids, I look ten years older. But my son doesn't see any of that--he just sees me. I'm going to post to Facebook and urge us all to take lots of pictures of us with our kids.

Your son thinks you are gorgeous! (We do too).

As a Manhattanite, I can assist: Go for things that can be enjoyed and then disappear like experiences (concerts, classes, dinners out), or things that don't take up any space at all (eBooks, mp3 albums). The "practical but fun to look at" advice is also good. Go for a gift package of absurd but useful kitchen gadgets like the Pastasaurus:  or a guitar-shaped spatula:

Excellent, all of this.

And I'll reiterate my support of the experiential gift. I myself live in a small apartment. I would be a happy happy Christmas camper if everyone either took me out to dinner for Christmas, or gave me Amazon credits for my Kindle.

A friend of mine's family can never ever watch the movie "A Christmas Story", One must never mention the movie in their presence. They bought their son a beebee gun, and he really did shoot an eye out. It really can happen.

I know it is inappropriate that my initial reaction in reading this was a bark of a laugh.

and you could get a well-deserved punch in the face. Anyone tries anything like that with me, they're out of my life for good. That guy who said, "Surprise, I'm not dead, will you marry me?" would very shortly thereafter be dead.

Nobody would blame you. It's like double jeaopardy, right? I mean, the guy can only die once.

This would really depend on the type of person, but a pre-paid commuter pass (like Smatrip in DC) might be practical

Yep, I think I suggested that up top, and if I didn't, I meant to.

Are you the type to do silly holiday cards? Have your whole family dress up in reindeer costumes, and nobody will have an idea what any of you weigh underneath all that fur.


We do this every year - anything under $10 we get to keep, anything over gets split evenly between the four of us. Most years we only get a few bucks, but the Christmas of 1999, we split $500.

Is it still talked about in that sort of hushed tone? "The Christmas of '99..."

Good chocolate, socks/undies, fancy mini-shampoos/hair products, nostalgic toys like jacks, gift cards, coupons for lessons on something you know that they don't, small pieces of inexpensive jewelry, makeup or beautifying stuff, stationary, a nice note from you.


I always end up placing the blame not on the people who provide the debasing entertainment (aussie dj's, ny subway death photo, honey boo-boo, hoarders, tabloid intrusive photos) but on those who consume it. As an earlier poster said, it gets ratings so they do it. If no one tuned in or bought it then it would go away. But maybe I'm just an old curmudgeon.

It's a chicken/egg question -- but yes, at least part of it harkens back to the quintessential mom phrase: "He's only doing it to get your attention. Just ignore him."

Why can't a Christmas Card or Holiday Card have a drawing of a snowman or a Christmas tree or a dreidel? Why must they have pictures of people? They think they don't want to take those photos and we really don't want them. Why do I need an annual update as to what people look like? It reminds me of those adopt-a-foreign-starving-kid charities where you get an update and photo.

You sound grinchy, but you're sort of right. After all, now with Facebook, etc, we all already mostly know what people look like throughout the year -- so we don't need an annual update quite as much as we once did.

It'll rip your heart out though. Imagine the last 100 or so pages of Hunger Games (war, war and more war) and stretch that out over the entire series. I need someone to read these so I can fangirl!

We're on it.

Isn't the real blame on the radio station management, which reportedly tried several times to phone the hospital to get permission to air the recording of the DJs' phone call -- then went ahead and aired it without permission when they couldn't get in touch with the hospital? The fact that management KNEW they needed hospital permission is so damning.

Yes, that.

a set clingy things (think colorfoms) that are dark, but partially see through to reduce the glare off electronic devices. I've already dimmed the clock on my DVR, the orange light on the phone in my bedroom, the on/off indicator for my monitor and a few others. Love getting rid of the ambient light in the bedroom especially. Think Geek. It is even a local company.

I love ThinkGeek. But you must really have a lot of electronic devices in your bedroom for that much ambient distraction.

A nice photo album full of photos of all the family from throughout the years. It won't take up much space, and he'll love to have the memories collected all in one place. My sisters did this for me when I got married and I just loved it.

Especially if you're the crafty type who enjoys that sort of thing, and your brother would appreciate the sentiment, but never be interested in doing the work himself.

Split between the four of you... so that ticket won $2k? If someone gave me a Scratch off ticket and it won 2 large after said scratching, they would get only an extra hardy thank you from me (and it would probably be the last Scratch off present they buy!)

I took it to mean that the ticket one $500, and they each walked away with $125.

But your post illustrates why its good to have an understanding of how the money splitting is going to work before going into it.

Hello, I am writing from the Howard Stern Show. Would you please transfer me to the Monica Hesse "Live Now" so I may say "Babba Bouie"? Thank you.

We're not falling for this around here.

This is what they keep saying in their defense. The problem is that this type of humor is always at the expense of someone else. If you do a prank call, get the permission of those involved to play it.

Which makes it no longer a prank, but I see what your'e saying.

I will take the orphaned children photos over the orphaned pets. At least with kids, you can look for family resemblances or pull out old birth announcements. How the heck am I supposed to know who you are by looking at your dog, looking miserable in a Santa hat and felt elf shoes?

You just imagine which of your friends would think it was funny to dress a dog up like an elf.

I ran across some of these and I just had to pick them up for all of my friends and family. I fully expect to be asked not to send cards next year after this.

You can send all of them to me.

I know she was anti-gift card, but I usually get my brother gift cards or tickets for things we can do together when one of us visits the other. (Restaurants, the Newseum, etc.)

Yes, I think this is the direction that a lot of us are trying to send the OP in. No word on if we've been persuasive.

As someone who lives in NYC I can tell you the one thing everyone in the city needs - time away from the city. A weekend getaway would be a nice present.

Okay, but it sounds like money was an issue, and a weekend getaway is an extraordinarily expensive gift -- unless it's phrased as, "Hey, if you can get yourself to my house, I'll make sure the sheets are clean and there's good beer in the fridge."

Not only did I get a card with only kid pics, but it also included one of those awful "family update letters." I thought those went out ten years ago!

They're so vintage, they've got to be coming back around again, right?

There are stupid gift cards, you know. Get him a Groupon for something cool but zany, like cage-fighting lessons.


Whatever rules are made prior to the drawing is irrelevant. If it's a gift it belongs to the recipient and they will be able to decide not to split it if they want. This totally should have been an episode on LA Law.

Oh my Santa. I should not have to spell this out. If someone gets you a lottery card for Christmas  and sticks it in your stocking, and if it ends up winning some amount of money, and if you decide to keep it all for yourself instead of sharing it, your heart is two sizes too small.

It's legally required.


Okay, posts are still flooding in, but we're going to need to call it quits at some point. Come back next week, same time and place.



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Monica Hesse
Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.

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