Christmas for the Destitute

First, my disclaimer:  I’m not destitute.

However, I’m trying to spend Christmas acting like I am a pauper.

Why, with small children and beautiful-and-more-than-deserving wife, would I want to deprive my family of a bountiful holiday?

Before we get into the reasons for being a horrible grinch bent on depriving my children of their god-given right to rampant consumerism, let’s look at the Philosophy of Destitution.

The primary reason to pull back and tone it down is basic frugality.  Excessive anything is not frugal. I am training my children–and for that matter, my wife and my self–in the finer arts of personal responsibility and frugality.   Accumulating debt for a fleeting holiday is insane.  If we can’t afford to buy it, we certainly can’t afford to give it.   Anything else would be setting a bad example and children learn best by example.

Another piece of the Philosophy of Destitution(when I read this word, I hear a deep, booming voice in my head, like a 30s radio superhero voiceover)  is “green”.    I consider myself a conservationalist rather than an environmentalist, so don’t read too much into that color.  I try to be responsible, instead of destructive and I try to avoid being wasteful.  Toys that won’t be played with are wasteful. A garbage can full of packaging for those same toys costs money.  It is much cheaper to avoid the landfill here.

Back to “Why”. Why would I be willing to deprive my family?

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My Favorite Present

My favorite Christmas present this year was the one I gave to my 13 year old son.

Allow me to walk you through his evening….

First, he opened one of his presents.  It was just a small box, about 3 inches by 4.  A Japanese puzzle box.  Inside the box was a note that read:

Closed off in the smallest room you will find a clue to bring you closer to your prize.

When he checked the cabinet below the sink in our basement bathroom, he found another note that sent him to my business website one a page with a url that contained “the square of my children”.   When he eventually figured out that I meant their ages, not their quantity, he found a clue on my website.

This lead him to a section of his Minecraft server.  It’s effectively a no-man’s land because he and his friends set off a nuke and turned it into a giant pit.   They fall down and die there.   Inside the pit was a cave.  Inside the cave was a clue.  The clue read:

Grandma and Grandpa love you.

What do you do when someone says they love you?  You either get scared of the commitment and end a perfectly good relationship, or you say “I love you, too”.     When the kid finally called his grandparents to tell them he loves them, they told him to give his parents a kiss.

I’m a jerk.

He came over and gave me a hug and a kiss.  I handed him a piece of paper.   When he looked at it, he asked if it was supposed to be torn in half.  I reminded him that he has two parents, so Mom got a hug and a kiss, too.   The resulting clue read:

The Answer to the Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything

Naturally, this points to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but the boy hadn’t read far enough into the book to understand the reference, so he had to hit google.    After spending time looking for chapter 42, he finally thought to look at page 42, which had this clue:

My Little Pegasus

Two steps to the right

Two steps forward

Two steps up

This clue started at the My Little Pony I set next to a Pegasus in my daughters’ room.   The boy was in dense mode because he had to ask his sister what a Pegasus was.  She also had to suggest he open the closet door when one step forward made him bump his nose on it.

For all of that work, he got the Ticket to Ride game.  He laughed the entire way through the treasure hunt, then decided he hated the whole process.  However, for two nights running, he’s stopped the video games to play his new game with his family.

It’s a present he’ll remember forever.

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How Much Should You Tip?

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Image by cemre via Flickr

This post from CNN Money has been making the rounds. I’m getting into the game today.

With the holiday season upon us, tipping the people you work with is a tradition in some cases and actually expected in others. Here’s what CNN came up with and my take:

  • Housekeeper. We don’t have one. I’d think $75-100 would make a nice tip/Christmas bonus. I seem to be more generous than average with my imaginary maid. Maybe that’s because of the outfits she wears.
  • Gardener. Once again, we don’t have one. Even if we did, I live in Minnesota and have close to a foot of snow over the patch of weeds I call my garden. If I did have a gardener, I wouldn’t have seen him for a few months by now, anyway. $0!
  • Mail carrier. I’ve only met my mail man a dozen times and I’ve never considered giving him a Christmas present.  Do people really do that?
  • Barber. I don’t have one any more.   My wife has started doing my hair for me.  When I did, I tipped about 25%, but again, I wouldn’t think about a Christmas present.   I only saw him quarterly.   I don’t think my wife has a regular stylist either.  She’s just got a shop she goes to and gets whoever is available.  Is there holiday tipping protocol for that?
  • Garbage collector. No way.  Really?   I don’t know that I’ve seen the same guy twice.  Am I supposed to give a present to the anonymous, interchangeable union guy that drives past my house every Friday?
  • Newspaper carrier. One night, twelve years ago, while my wife was still working graveyard shifts, she had a hard time sleeping on her nights off.  That’s natural for 3rd shift workers.   At about 4AM, she was watching TV and saw someone run past the window.   Scared, she came to wake me up.  I handed her the phone to call the police, while I grabbed the only thing I had for self-defense and went to investigate.   I ran out on the front step–in my boxers, carrying a sword–and saw someone lurking in the neighbor’s yard across the street.   I yelled, “Y0u don’t belong here!” only to hear “I’m delivering the paper!” That’s when I start tipping the newspaper carrier. I stopped when we canceled our subscription a few years later.   Who needs a dead tree in the morning, when there are a million news sites on the internet?

If the majority of people are giving Christmas bonuses to that many people, and are as generous as the article suggests, then I fall far to the loutish end of the bell curve. I am planning to give my virtual assistant 1/12 of the pay he’s earned this year, so that should make up for some of it, but that is an ongoing business relationship.

How do you compare when it comes to holiday tipping?

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