When did charity get so expensive?

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I remember when I was growing up, that my parents had a “Christmas Club Account,” which they referenced around this time each year; usually in the context of being thankful they had it to help offset the costs of all the gift-getting.

I’ve always been pretty money-conscious, so I have my own Christmas account and though it always seems to burn up pretty quickly once I start shopping in earnest, there’s always a bit left that I try and use to help someone out during the holiday season.

You may be familiar with Clark Howard–the nationally known radio and television personality known for his frugality. He’s based here in Atlanta and each year he goes from Walmart to Walmart broadcasting on-air, to promote his “Clark’s Kids” holiday charity drive. It’s promoted as your typical “come choose a child to help this Christmas” toy drive.

I’ve tried to get over to the Walmart he’s broadcasting at for a couple of years now, but this year was the first time I’ve really been able to get there. So yesterday, I got the boys out of school early and we headed over to Walmart in hopes of teaching them a bit about “giving” and maybe help a couple of children have a better Christmas.

We arrived at Walmart and sure enough, there’s the local radio broadcast truck outside so at least I knew that we were at the right place at the right time. We headed in and just generally aimed for the balloons near the ceiling cuz, it’s Walmart and it’s pretty big. Arriving at the charity drive, we’re directed a long table filled with sheets of paper, each containing the details of a particular child: name, age, race, and then a list of three items he or she had selected for Christmas.

I encouraged my boys to each look through and select a sheet of someone they wanted to “help” and while they did that, I began to just peruse the sheets. As I did, I noticed a couple of things:

  • The lists were very similar. For instance a “VTech” game thing was a common theme. I asked if the kids were given a list of items to choose from and was told “Yes.”
  • There were some pricey items on the list. I saw a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, bicycles, and other large-ticket items

My own boys came back to me with their lists and on them I saw:

For the 4 year old my youngest son selected:

  • a double-sided whiteboard easel
  • a balance bicycle
  • a little-tykes basketball thing

For the 9 year old my oldest son selected:

  • a Simon game
  • electric scooter (and if you bought a scooter, you were supposed to also buy a helmet)
  • a basketball hoop you mount to your door inside

Let me say here that my expectation was to spend about $50 on each child,  so I asked one of the volunteers how “this” worked; did I just buy a couple of things on the list? She replied that the idea is for you to buy everything on the child’s list, but if you didn’t, it would go back in the pile in hopes someone else would finish it up. No guilt there right?

Now, I won’t bore you with the next 45 minutes we spent walking around, unsuccessfully trying to find the exact items on the list, many of which I was told Walmart didn’t even carry, or me looking at the price of an electric scooter and saying, “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen. My own kids don’t have an electric scooter.” But we did end up getting (similar gifts since we could find an exact match for most things) all but the most expensive item on each child’s list (they didn’t have the balance bike) and it still came out to $145 total.

I’m happy to have been able to help of course, but the onsite expectation didn’t match the promoted expectation. And who thought this through? If a kid did get a smartphone from someone, who is going to pay for the cell phone plan? Is a balance bicycle really the best use of $60 when they’re likely going to outgrow it in a matter of months? I don’t know…it just felt a bit “thrown together” and I didn’t feel like I was really “helping” someone.

Being a charity run by the Clark Howard foundation, I’m more than a little surprised. For someone so bent on saving money and making every dollar count, this toy drive certainly didn’t live up to what I’ve come to expect from Clark.

Next year I’ll find someone, or an organization, a bit more “need” driven and a lot less “wish” driven.



Magic Elves – Season 5 Day 2

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Somewhere between Thanksgiving, and the next day, something magical happens each year in our home. Our “Magic Elves” appear. Santa sends them along on a magical slipstream of wind and snowflakes, to join our family for another season of merriment and mischief.

This is the fifth year.

The fifth.

That means we’ve had to come up with more than 100 clever and unique “things” for the elves to do each night. This is challenging, made moreso by the fact that, unlike the “Elf on the Shelf” our elves are completely soft, so they don’t stay in a pose. You can’t bend their arms and have them stay there. They can’t stand on their own. They literally are, like a sock.

But despite these challenges, we persevere. I’ll try and post some of this year’s exploits here for your enjoyment.

Here’s last night’s. As you can see, the elves created cutouts of minions and stuck their faces and appendages in them. Overall, it was cute, but I’m not sure the kids quite got what was going on here. All they saw was the minion toys and everyone drinking syrup. But hey, cross another one off the list. Only 23 more ideas to come up with.


My own private festivus thoughts…

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I gotta tell you that this Christmas, for me, was a terrible disappointment. But not because of any gifts I did or didn’t get. I particularly like the holidays because of all the family get-togethers and the food and quite frankly, there was no good family get togethers or food really and that’s just a shame.


We had some family come and stay with us, but as usual, they didn’t get engaged with the boys. Mostly, they just sat on the couch and slept (BTW: they don’t read this blog!). My wife’s family were nearly all in town and when we did get together, it was mostly over at her parent’s house. Even though their house is large, when you put 20 people in one house, including three children under the age of 2, what you DON’T get is a fun, relaxing family yule-tide meet and greet. Add to that the tummy bug that went through the house ravaging random intestines (we were thankfully spared) and it killed any post-Christmas football watching with the family; another staple of the holiday season. 


From a food perspective, we ate well at our house, but again, the family dining adventure where you’re supposed to be able to sample something from everyone’s own kitchen, turned into a catered affair complete with flavors completely foreign to most of our experiences.


On Christmas morning, we ended up with two major purchases having to be returned (shame on you Fisher Price!), but otherwise it was a grand success. On top of that, I spent an inordinate amount of time on a DVD of the boys over the past two years and not one of the people I sent it to has commented on it. I’m not looking for over-the-top gushing platitudes mind you, but a “How Cute!” would have been nice. (Uh huh, don’t try now…it’s too late!)


I know I should be thankful that we were all together and blah, blah, blah; but Christmas only happens once a year. Is it too much to ask for everyone to put forth a little extra effort into making it memorable? Maybe, stay awake and play with the kids? Cook your own dressing and cranberry sauce? Maybe have regular sweet tea WITHOUT fruity flavoring crap in it? 


I told CareerMom that next year, if I have to, I’ll cook Christmas dinner for the whole family myself if it means we don’t have to eat another catered meal. I’m just bummed that I have to wait a whole year for a taste of good, home-cooked turkey and dressing.

Visual Media

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House from “Father of the Bride” If there is one thing that the media have done for society, it’s create a sense of how things should be. Producers have become masters at creating scenes that indelibly imprint themselves in the minds of viewers and those scenes, in turn, become part of the sense of “how things should be.”


Sometimes these magical moments affect a large segment of the population, like those of us who recently (in the last 15 years) glommed onto the movie “A Christmas Story,” and who now see Christmas as a cherished time with the whole family gathered around the tree, a fire going, and turkey dinner for lunch (or maybe Duck); and of course there are gifts…lots of gifts.


Other times, these moments are much smaller, less impactful on the larger society, but just as powerful in the minds of the viewer. As a parent, I realize that there are things that I want to do with my kids that have nothing to do with my own self-realized goals, but are things that I’ve seen portrayed on television or the big screen and that seemed like wonderful things to do. An example of this might be the father/daughter pre-marriage basketball game that Steve Martin shares with his soon-to-be-married daughter the night before her big day in the movie “Father of the Bride.” I don’t have daughters, but I would love to have a moment like that with my sons one day before they get married. I want to have that special of a bond with my children.


Last night I got to enjoy one of these moments, and in retrospect, it’s a silly one I know, but it’s something I’ve seen time and time again on television and movies and it always seemed so touching.


I got to carry my sleeping son to bed.


I know that may sound silly to a lot of people—commonplace even—but my oldest son is not a sleeper and it’s a very rare day that he falls asleep anywhere other than his bed. But last night as I was putting my youngest down to sleep (a 20-minute ordeal), I left my oldest in “mom and daddies bed” watching “Thomas the Tank Engine” and when I returned, I found him curled up fast asleep. I then picked him up and carried him to his bed where he didn’t even wake up. In that moment I realized that I was living out one of those moments in life that, while so simple, will be indelibly etched in my mind as a father. The idea that another human being can so willingly put him or herself in my care without a care of their own, is a precious thing to me.


I may ultimately suck at this dad stuff, but I’d like to think that based on this, I’ve done something right.

There goes Santa Claus, there goes Santa Claus…

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I took last Friday off to stay at home and pull old yucky wallpaper off as many rooms as I could get done in one day. I managed to remove the wallpaper in our main master bathroom common area and one of the sink/commode areas in the boys’ jack-n-jill bathroom setup. I also got a skimcoat on both to fix those massive gouges I put with my scraper and to replace any sheetrock paper that came off with the wallpaper.

An interesting note: where the steam from years and years of showering has reached the wallpaper, the wallpaper is much more resistant to removal efforts. It took me nearly as long to do the boys’ bathroom tiny area as it did to do the master bathroom area which is 5 times as large. Darn steam!

Anyway, now instead of mind-numbingly unnatractive wallpaper in our bathroom area, we have mind-numbingly stark white walls with no paint on them. And the real question is, how long is it going to take me to finish it all?
Which brings me to my blog topic for today. We’re not talking about just schlepping some paint up on the wall and calling it a day. Nossir! We’re talking about a full-scale, all-out assault on redecorating, which means:

  • new light fixtures (2)
  • new fan
  • new towel rack (beause OMG what was she thinking buying that crappy silver towel rack at Target that shows the four honking screws in the front and doesn’t match our gold fixtures? I swear sometimes that I should have been a homosexual since I have much better decorating taste (and sense) compared to many of the women I know)
  • new paint for wall
  • new trim paint
    and of course…
  • new linens and such

All this adds up to mucho $$$ and even more time that I don’t generally have. And with fall coming up (anyday now…hello?) I’ll want to be outside, not cooped up inside.

But what’s really bringing me down is my wife’s idea to pay for all this; “Seriously honey, this can be my Christmas present; I don’t really need anything.” And before I knew what I was saying, I responded with, “Mine too!”

Wait! What? Did I just say that out loud? What the F*? No, I don’t want my Christmas to consist of pretty red towels and hours upon hours of electrical work trying to figure out an outdated wiring code. I want clothes and…stuff!

So I’m kinda bummed about that. I mean, we did set ourselves a small gift limit to spend on each other so we will still be getting each other something, but still… What this at least does is free up money in my Christmas savings account to put directly towards the project. Hey, now we can afford the fan! Only 10 more things on the list to go!