Where is November 31st?

Holy smokes it’s the end of the month already.  Eleven months are behind us.  This is the last month of 2016 people!  There is no November 31st!  No extra day that you think you may have missed!  This is the real deal, like it or not.

I just want one more day this month.  I’m not ready for December.  December is going to be a busy month.  Plans with friends and family will fill every possible free moment.  The rush of hurrying from one place to the next as panic takes hold that there isn’t enough time to do it all.  At least there’s a month left to try and fit it in.

Only it’s not really a month.  It’s a little over three weeks, followed by one week, followed by a new year.  That’s the reality of it.  So get ready for the hustle and bustle in the stores and in the streets.  Get ready for the final two weeks of the year to be filled with children and sugar rushes.  Caffeine and late nights.  A burn out to end the year and hefty goals to start next year.

We all do it.  We all feel it.  We are all in it together.  May your December be safe and warm.  And remember- Eggnog goes really well with cinnamon whiskey (aka Fireball).  

Firenog.  The best way to make it through the season!

   Giving Tuesday 

Today is now known as “Giving Tuesday”.  It marks the start of being charitable this holiday season.  It’s no surprise that it follows the weekend of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  Now that people have gotten what they want, the charities are asking for a bit of help.  Check out Giving Tuesday if you don’t know where to start.

I’m sure many of you already give in one form or another.  Be it volunteer time or money, each of us has something that we support and feel strongly about.  Strong enough to try and make a difference.  Cancers, diseases, mental awareness, animal cruelty, homelessness, schooling, hunger, poverty, the list goes on…  But not one is worth more than another.  

Remember to be a bit more charitable this year.  But do your research!  There have been many fraudulent “charities” and many others that claim to do charitable work but also profit from people’s good intentions.  Like taking advice from a celebrity about your health, you can’t always trust their Charitable Organizations.  Many famous people choose to be in the limelight to showcase how kind they are being but being commended for a selfless act in hopes to boost a movie or career is tasteless and tacky.  

If you choose to donate to a good cause, share the reasons why, not the monetary value you donated.  Not everyone can give $1, $10, $100, $1000…  if you do give money, feel good about it- not pressured.

It’s not always about money.  (But that is the best way to help).  We often donate old clothes and household items.  Our children volunteer time at their school for Pa-Moja.  I wrote about it back in January: What Makes My Kids Wonderful.  I encourage them to be actively helping others even in the smallest ways.

Everything and everyone has a purpose.  We are all just trying to get to the finish line with a clear conscience and a feeling of good will to all.  Or at least that’s my goal.

Cyber Monday

Much like Black Friday, I avoided Cyber Monday.  There wasn’t any great deals to be had this year on the items people really want.  Unless of course you wanted to shove a bunch of cheap crap for Christmas under the tree to make the giving look extravagant.  Sometimes the hype of sales and spending sucks people in.  

But Santa isn’t real.

My wife and I do our shopping throughout the year, so we do stockpile some items for the family.  Necessities are always bought and used as needed- new pants/shoes/school supplies.  But things like videogames/movies/toys and those items that are a bit more “luxury” are saved for under the Christmas tree.  But of course as Christmas nears, we still look and discuss if there are any last minute (a month prior is last minute for us) items we should get.  Like I said, nothing this Black Friday/Cyber Monday was on our list of must own.

So today, my wife and I went out to a mall that my wife has never been to, and I haven’t been to in probably two decades.  It was dated.  Like 1980’s dated and brought in a bunch of memories for me.  Weird memories of shopping with my mom when I was a kid just before Christmas.  (That’s for a different blog post).  There was a toy store that time forgot (or the leasehold did) hidden in the middle.  Guaranteed people walked by it without giving it a second look because it didn’t say “GameStop” or “Toys-R-Us”.  I was fascinated by the store as my wife and I wandered through it.  They charged more than it should on items I could find elsewhere for cheaper.  Yet somehow, here it was- 3 decades later still holding on.

But this mall has all the regular stores that a Canadian mall has- “The Bay” “Sears” “The Gap” and every other mall related store in between.  We decided to stop in the “Apple Store” because my wife was hinting that she was thinking of getting me the Apple Watch 2.  I was giddy with excitement and hurried along to enter the store!

I was ready to hand over money…

I like my iPhone.  My kids love their iPad Mini.  I really wanted an Apple Watch.  As we waited to be helped, I played with the newest Apple Watch 2.  It’s sleek.  It’s elegant.  It’s wearable tech.  It’s all those things that the kid inside of me really wants.  When the Apple employee came over, I had a slew of questions.  My wife did not.  (This was my thing.  She never cared much for it.)  He started by apologizing to me that they were out of most of the styles because people came in over the weekend purchasing products even though there was no Black Friday Sale on Apple merchandise.  Sales hype gets people in the mood to spend.  

As we spoke, my interest in owning the watch diminished.  My wife could sense it.  The salesman could too.  The final thing that got me to realize that it wasn’t worth the money (to me at least) is that the battery has approximately 1000 charges and no way to replace it.  Roughly three years- longer if I only use the time display and none of the other functions.  Thanking him for his time, I walked away empty handed.  But I was ok with that.  My wife was a bit upset.  This was the gift she wanted to give me this year.

Spending $600 or more on me when I have a family and other responsibilities seems selfish.  Being able to say “I don’t need it” -and mean it- feels good.  Sure, now my wife feels she may be scrambling now for that perfect gift for me, but it’s better than getting something that I may end up feeling “meh” about later on.  The Apple Watch just isn’t what I want.  

I don’t know what I want for myself this holiday season.  All I really want is for my family to be happy.  It’s not about me.  It never was.  I’m sure one day, my wife will surprise me and blow me away with her thoughtfulness and extraordinary gift giving ability.  But as we left the Apple Store, she pointed out that I am very particular about what I want.  And shopping for me has never been easy.  

She still has a month to get me something that she deems worthy of “the gift” this year.  Good luck dear.

Sunday Funday

Today was a day of family, food and friends.  Along with Christmas decorating and video games.  

Next level Gingerbread house.

We started our day by celebrating my father in law’s 84th birthday.  Eleven of us went out to a brunch at the local golf and country club.  We pigged out.  I started with the omelette station and lots of bacon.  Followed by roast beef and the fixings.  Some seafood and appetizers entered my belly as well.  Then I grabbed a plate full of desserts- disappointing desserts.  Things that looked like chocolate, but ended up not being chocolate.   Eww. 

Tacky trees. More upsetting than not having a tree.

While we were there, we checked out the Christmas Trees that lined the halls.  Many of them tacky trees paid for and decorated by corporations and businesses.  It really took away from what the spirit should be.  So when we left, we decided to come home and start bringing our home into the spirit of the season.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care.

Boxes filled with garlands, lights, nut crackers, wicker sleighs, hats, candles, trains,  glassware and stockings.  Everything very traditional looking and warm.  I played Christmas music through our home as we cleaned and opened boxes.  The whole family was involved this year.  Usually it’s just me doing the decorating, but now that the kids are older, they are really helpful and enjoy it.

We are ending our evening with another night of Mario Kart with some friends.  Junk food and laughter with a few curse words thrown in.  I enjoy opening our home up to our friends.  We often have people over around the holidays to enjoy some rich foods and relaxation.  As the winter solstice approaches, we hope to entertain more often throughout the season.  


Today I wandered up to the local elementary school to check out a Christmas Craft Fair.  There was a couple of my friends selling their handmade creations.  It was also a fundraiser for the school-as is usually the case-so I didn’t mind spending some time and money there.

Needless to say, there are some talented people out there.  I picked up a few different crafts by some amazing artists while I was there.  I know I don’t have the skill sets to create some of this work but I can fully appreciate the time and effort it takes to make things.  I am also big on supporting my friends and their amazing talents.  I do this every chance I get.

Then there is also crap.  Garbage thrown together by someone with little to no talent and priced really low in order to hopefully make a quick buck.  I hate to be so negative about it but a blind monkey with a glue stick and glitter could do a better job sometimes.  Don’t think you haven’t seen that junk either.  It’s worse when it’s junk and they think that charging outlandish prices will make it more valuable somehow.

Just because someone labels it “folk art” doesn’t mean it deserves top dollar either.  I’m not saying that taking the time to refurbish or upcycle something from trash isn’t a noble cause.  But charging someone $40 for a piece of scrap wood with “HO ME” painted on it is a bit overboard.  It’s also not my style.  For some, the idea of handmade means more than actually hand making something.

I’m all for handmade Christmas gifts.  We have craft supplies galore in our home.  Everything from beads to foamboard, scrapbooks to cardstock, candle making to fabrics.  We even encourage our children to make something every year.  They have painted ornaments, made cards and created their own art to give away.  

This also forces our children to really focus on their extended family.  I often discover more about what my children perceive of my inlaws or my family.  Some of it is very, very odd indeed.

Sixteen Years

Sixteen years ago today, my father died from cancer. Or rather what the cancer had done to his body.

I’m always saddened by the fact that it happened one month before Christmas. That was his favorite time of year and he always made a bigger effort for the family at this time. I miss the old bastard.

It seemed as if he were only around for birthdays and Christmas.  However reflecting back- he held our family together in some weird way.

Josef K. Havelka, made an impact that spans onto a new generation of the Havelka Clan. They only know him through the stories from my memories.  On occasion, he is still missed by me, and by my three children (who never met him, but always ask me to share stories).

I am like my father in many ways. I know I am an asshole with a kind heart like he was. That makes me proud to be his son because he always called me an asshole as I grew up.

It’s always strange visiting my father at his final resting place. I show my respects, but I’m not sure what kind of relationship we’d have if he were still around. I often struggle with making the good memories come forward when I think of him.
One memory that comes to mind is when I was in grade one- my father told me that if someone is bugging me, to tell them to fuck off. That doesn’t go over well at a Catholic School. I got in trouble, and my father just smiled about it.  

That moment empowered me as well as set my father free from ever giving parenting advice again.

Goodbye dad, again, sixteen years later.

Love, your only son,
Josef A. Havelka.

Ps. The “A.” in my name stands for Andrew, not Asshole.

The Yearly Pilgrimage 

It’s upon us.  The US Thanksgiving followed by Black Friday/Cyber Monday.

The sales ideology has slowly spread into Canada.  More and more stores are offering deals on many things from clothing to electronics in order to compete with our southern cousins.  It really is the first (or last) big push to drive sales before Christmas.  Door crashers and limited time offers for this weekend only.

I admit to being involved in this as well.  However, the one or two items I researched or desired did not truly grab hold of my attention, let alone my money.  Simply because of two things that I decided to process prior to tomorrow taking hold.

  1. Do I really need it?
  2. Is it worth going into debt for it?

After answering both those questions with a NO, it occurred to me that the hype was pulling me in too much.  I don’t need stuff to make me or my family happy.  If we don’t get something that isn’t a necessity we will survive just fine. Even if an item is a good deal, does putting it on credit or dipping into my over draft really going to save me any more money?

I’m not telling you how to spend or save your money.  If you’re like me and have a family, sometimes the pressure of supplying a fantastic Christmas or birthday can stress you out.  But it’s not all about how much you spend or how much you receive.  It’s about sharing joy. Joy that can come from a simple hand made item and a hug.  Joy that you see in the eyes of the ones whom you love.  Joy is what you make it out to be.

So remember if you partake in Black Friday deals, you are helping to boost the economy.  You are probably also saving money on those electionics and toys.  And whomever is on the receiving end of the gifts will probably be grateful in some way.  Just do your best to remain calm and kind to everyone else out there this weekend.  

My Mental Alignment is Off

It’s been hard to pinpoint exactly what’s different this year compared to other years.  Usually by now we would have had a fun Halloween out of town followed by a few weeks of calm then preparation for the next big holiday.  Every other year my range of emotions run on full throttle.  Not this year.  This year is out of sync.

Admittedly, around now I’m usually a grump.  My wife and children barely enjoyed my company in the past during this time of year.  Except for our annual trip to California- where I would go full tilt in the other direction and be the greatest husband/father ever.  

Anger and frustration would normally build up in me from late September until late November.  (Minus the two week vacation in the middle.)  But not this year.  This year it didn’t happen.  The anger, the frustration, the vacation, the feeling of relief that I made it through those two months.  Why do I normally go through that range of emotions?  All because of my father.

My father’s birthday happened to be on September 19.  He died November 25th, 2000.  Since his death I have always cycled through memories and emotions over the course of these two months.  But not this year.  This year it didn’t phase me.  This year, the emotional hold my father had on me didn’t appear.  Only now, as my emotional cycle would normally be drawing to an end, do I realize it didn’t happen.  In a strange way, I needed it in the past.  But this year, I’m ok that it didn’t happen.
However, this year feels like it’s just slipping away from me.  The last few weeks remain.  Decorations need to go up.  Gifts need to be wrapped and given out.  Dinners with family and friends are on the horizon.  In previous years, I’ve been looking forward to it all.  But because of the lack of my negative emotions this year, the positive emotions don’t feel like they will be coming in as strong.

Maybe I needed this break.  Maybe my mind just needed to calm down.  Maybe it’s all for the best.


Unicorns and Magic

I’m sick today.  Nothing I am doing is making me feel better.  Soup, tea and sleep are all I have at the moment.  Worst of all is that I work the night shift in a few hours.  So no cold medicine.

The medicine I’m talking about is the kind that is sold over the counter, and brings with it sensations of floating.  NeoCitran and NyQuil are fantastic for taking you away from the illness and off to a land of crazy dreams or dizzy spells.  Neither of which are conducive when you work for a railroad and have to instruct crews on where they need to be going.

I’m pretty sure that this sickness will pass in a day or two.  But in the meantime Kleenex and blankets and self pity are making me feel better.  Or worse.  It’s always darkest before the dawn, right? (Night shift pun).  I could always call in sick to work, but then I’d be moping around regretting the sleep I had during the day.

So, now that I have eaten my soup and written my blog, I am off for a quick nap.  Except the heartburn has arrived.  

Ugh.  Complaining is tough.

Monday Money

Saving money is tough.  My work offers shares to the employees.  I take advantage of this and use it as a savings/emergency fund.  It’s a great way for me to pay off lump sums towards bills or entertainment.  However, I do wish that I could just leave it alone and let it accumulate for my family’s future.

So how does one save money and pay down debt at the same time?

There are many at my work that use the funds from our shares/stocks and move it around into other stock.  My knowledge of those markets is poor to say the least.  My other fear is that I’ll take a few thousand dollars and lose it all on a gamble.  Since I don’t play lotteries or go to the casino, gambling isn’t in my nature.  So quick gains like that won’t happen for me.  Even though I listen regularly to the Financial News, they say hindsight is 20/20.  So how do I get my money to make me money?

I really despise having credit cards.  There is no set interest rate. I’ve had cards at 12%, 18%, even as high as 28%.  So for every $100 of accumulated debt I would be paying back $128 if I can’t pay off the entire balance for a year. This is the rut that most people fall into.  You pay only part of it down, but the interest goes on top of the accumulated interest and debt.  Making your debt grow.  At first it starts off small, but then it can get overwhelming.

I got my first credit card in 1996 at age 20.  It had an $800 limit.  As soon as I got it in my possession, I used it.   I bought a brand new Nintendo 64 and a bass guitar.  I do not own either of those things anymore.  It took me years to pay off that debt.  But it started a cycle in my spending habits.  Rack up debt, freak out about not having money, get a windfall of some sort, pay off debt, plan on never doing it again, get a new card, rack up debt…  But why?

My wife and I try to teach our children abut saving money.  They have each earned money and saved for months/years to get something they really wanted, then start the savings process all over again.  But why can’t we follow our own advice?  I really don’t know.  Sometimes it’s just the convenience of pulling out a credit card to buy gas or groceries.  Other times it’s the sudden unexpected cost of a repair or incidental.  But rarely is it a spontaneous purchase of a luxury item.  We save up for those.

But if saving for a new iPhone or TV is easy to do, why can’t we live without that for an extra year or two and get our finances in control?  That seems to be the age old question.  The balance of want vs need.  The idea that life won’t really pass us by if we just wait a bit longer.

We’ll just keep trudging along, trying to gain a foothold in this crazy world, much like everyone else.