Christmas On Track

Christmas time has come and gone again, and I did quite well in the gift department. I got all kinds of great things from friends and family. I got more than I should have and far more than I deserved.

First, from my father I got a Hawthorn Village Budweiser On30 train set. This is my first On30 train. On30 is narrow gauge – O scale trains which are 1/4″ to the foot, running on HO track, giving a scale track gauge of 30 inches or 2 1/2 feet. The set is made by Bachmann and sold by the Bradford Exchange. Currently, it is running around under the Christmas tree. Yup, sorry, no longer “mint in package”!

Hawthorn Village Budweiser Set

Next, from my sister, I got framed print of a 2-4-0 locomotive. Now this isn’t just any old print. The pen and ink drawing is made up of many other objects. For instance, one of the drive wheels is a clock face, the top of the smoke stack is a pie, the band around the smoke stack is a belt, and part of the cow-catcher is a fan. Ever part of the locomotive and its tender is actually some other object. A very ingenious picture, and sorry for my very poor photograph of it. It now proudly hangs in my home office.

Locomotive Print

That was basically it for the train haul this year, but great stuff! In addition, I got some gift cards to places like Barnes & Nobles, Wal-Mart, and Best Buy that will most probably end up being turned towards my railroad hobby. Now I just need some time to play with it all.

On a separate but related note, I know of quite a few young kids who got their first train sets this year. I am really pleased to see the tradition continuing. What’s more, these sets went to both boys and girls, and the trains were wooden, electric, and of various scales. Hooray for diversity!

I hope the season has been good to you and yours, and I trust that next year will be just as good or better.

Christmas Fun

Christmas ToysMy new desk is fast becoming a gathering spot for little toys. Seems the spirit of Christmas means time for fun. A dancing flower, musical slingshot reindeer and a happy winter candle holder are all just part of the fun. And let’s not even talk about the food …

The Politics of Altruism

It has come to my attention due to some comments of various caring people I know that much like economics in general, there are two major theories of philanthropy at work in our society. Neither of these two styles is wrong, they just approach our societies problems from a different angle. And, much like any other cause with differing methodologies, they are often pitted against each other.

Aid To The PoorThe first method that many of us are familiar with is the direct approach. With this we go out and help build a home for Habitat For Humanity, we donate blood to the Red Cross, or we send canned food to the local food bank. With each of these there is a relatively short road from the donor to recipient. Even in situations like the Red Cross or Goodwill where there may be an administrative level of isolation, there is still a direct connection between the organization we are giving to and the recipients of that donation. Maybe we should call this “Main Street Philanthropy”.

In the second method, there is a more indirect approach. Here we have practices as varied as educating people about problems in other areas of the world to holding benefits to raise money for charities. There isn’t anything at all wrong with this methodology, but there is a bit of distance put between the donor and the recipient. In addition, due to that distance and often infrastructure overhead, there is a certain signal loss before the end is achieved. We can call this “Trickle Down Philanthropy.”

An example of what I am talking about is this. If I have $100 to give, I could go to the grocery, buy $100 worth of food and give that out at the food bank. In this instance, 100% of my donation reaches the end recipients. Conversely, if I took that $100 and sent it to any number of well known charities, part of it would go to processing fees. Part of the donation would also go to pay for office staff, rent perhaps, and maybe even transportation. In the end, it is possible that only $50 of my donation would actually reach the recipient at the end.

And if instead I spent that $100 to give a few lecture or classes on the plight of the impoverished and starving, then it is also conceivable that absolutely none of my money would reach those in need. It is possible that all that money I had to offer was simply washed away.

This would seem like a clear choice to make until we realize that when the Trickle Down Philanthropy method works, it can actually amplify our donation. If that class I spent a $100 to teach was paying attention, didn’t fall asleep, and heeded my message, it is possible that each of the 25 people in attendance reached into their purse or wallet and made a $100 donation to the food bank. And they may also take what they have learned, spread the lesson, and triggered more donations. That amplification of effort is the magic of the Trickle Down theory.

So, here we have two methods of donation – one direct and one indirect. As I said before, neither is write or wrong. Certain people feel drawn to the direct satisfaction of the Main Street method and others have the vision and planning for the Trickle Down method. The truth is, each one needs the other to survive. Without feet on the street doing the work, the Trickle Down method is just so much posturing and conjecture. And without individuals doing the background education, fundraising, and paper work, those people doing the work on the street would have no funds, supporters, or growth. The key is finding where you fit in the picture and applying yourself there. And realizing that just because someone uses a different method, that doesn’t mean they are doing it wrong.

Find Out If That Christmas Toy Is Safe

toysWhen we buy presents for our children and other kids we mainly concentrate on what they want, how much it costs, and how long it is going to last. My wife also thinks about how the toy is going to feel when she steps on it in the middle of the night, but that is about as close to safety thoughts as many of get.

But, many potential Christmas toys bear unwanted gifts — in the form of lead, cadmium, chlorine, arsenic, bromine and mercury. So how can you tell what’s safe? Start with the product rankings at You can search by toy name, brand, and type. Doing some shopping and need a quick answer? Send a SMS/text message to 41411 with the text, “healthytoys [search term],” where the search term is the name of a toy, type of toy, manufacturer, or retailer. You’ll get instant search results straight to your phone.

Note, this tip comes to you by way of LighterFootsteps. Please check them out!

Gift Ideas for the Good and Late

OK, I will come right out and admit that I have finished all my shopping and now get to sit back and watch everyone else rush around trying to figure out what to give, where to go, and what to do. I love it. And no, I am not being cruel. I really do love the hustle and bustle – I used to work retail and I really enjoyed helping people find that “just right” gift. You know, not the gift that is within arm’s reach, but the one that hits the heart.

You say you are still looking? You say you would like a hint? Ok, well here goes. The following short list can, pretty much, still be done in time for this year or maybe you can get a head start on that birthday or next Christmas. Be forewarned, I like gifts that help or touch people. Not just “stuff.” If stuff is what you want to give, stick a twenty in an envelope and be done with it.

  1. How about a sheep? (I like sheep.) Or a llama? Or… all kinds of different animals. I am not talking about actually giving your intended an animal, but instead a donation of livestock in their name to those in need. Visit Heifer International to see how your gift can help end world hunger. And hey, I bet not many people can say, “I got a sheep for Christmas!”
  2. Ok then, how about a three month memberships to a movie service like Netflix? Or, if they are a gamer, to GameFly? No, it isn’t as altruistic as the sheep, but they will think about you each time they use the service, and it will keep on giving.
  3. Speaking of remembering you and thinking about you when the gift is used, how about a journal or some nice stationary. Writing, not typing but writing, is a dying art in many ways, and a journal or stationary can help bring it back. And with the stationary, there is actually a chance that the recipient might write to you!
  4. Along that same vein, in fact you can give this gift in accompaniment to the aforementioned paper goods, how about a pen? No, I am not talking about a $1.25 ballpoint. I am talking about a nice, sturdy, good looking writing tool. You can find them on-line or at your local office supply store ranging in price from five or ten dollars up into the hundreds or even thousands. Again, not the “usual” gift and something that will bring a thought of you each time it is used.
  5. Finally, lets talk gift cards. You thought I was going to forget those? Well, I would like you to forget the general “I have no idea what to give you and cash is crass” ones. Sure, get your friend or family member a gift certificate, but make it personal. Get it to their favorite restaurant and put it in a card with the menu or inside a small cook book. If they are in to cars, get it to a auto parts store or tool shop and wrap it up with a Matchbox or Hotwheel car. A young kid who just got their first car? Give them a gas card and wrap it up with a car air freshener or antenna topper. You get the idea. Don’t just essentially hand over cash, make it personal and show that you thought about them.

There you go! Just a few ideas for you to think about while trying to finish up and keep that greasy lunch down. And remember – smile, have a good time, and make it personal. They will love it.