Baby, you can drive my car

I think I’m comfortable enough now to tell you all about my magic car. No, it doesn’t fly, although it really should. Seriously — look at the advances in technology: smart phones, high-def flat screen TVs the size of a football field and games that allow me to bowl in my own living room, minus the ugly shoes. Why don’t our cars fly yet?!

But I digress. I have a magic car and her name is Snowbell.

Snowbell is cleverly disguised as a 10-year-old POS to avoid rampant magic car theft in the region.

My daughter and I named her as a show of gratitude for years of reliable service and minimal repairs. Maybe if we personalize her, she’ll hang in there for another few years. One can hope (with all my heart and crappy credit score) that will happen.

Durable Honda genes aside, Snowbell’s magic is a little less tangible than a well-built transmission. Looking at the photo you’re probably not impressed by the white sedan that looks like it hasn’t been washed in the past year. Can I help it if my favorite parking spot at work is near a tree full of angry little birds with questionable digestive issues?

Underneath the dents, scratches, wonky driver-side wiper and copious amounts of bird shit, the car is magic. Behold:

I have a typical crazy morning getting my willful child ready for school before dropping her off with an air kiss and a sigh of relief. My drive to work is only ten or fifteen minutes but in that time my mind clicks into problem-solving mode. With laser focus, I prioritize my agenda for the day and easily visualize the tasks being knocked down like bowling pins. (Again, minus the shoes.)

The months I spent writing my first (un-publishable) novel were some of the most energized I’ve ever had and many, many hours were spent in the car — the magic car — solving plot knots or adding new threads of the story. Passersby undoubtedly enjoyed watching the wild woman bouncing in her seat, slapping the steering wheel with literary inspiration.

After a long day at work I find myself cataloguing all the chores waiting at home. Willful child’s homework, dinner, leftover deadline writing for work. I am empowered with the determination to walk in the door and get it all done (without drama) and hit the sack in plenty of time to achieve those desired seven hours of sleep.

[Insert fist pump here]

The problem with a magic car is you have to leave it eventually. Often, actually. And when I step out of the car the magic goes the way of the exhaust coming out of her butt and into the atmosphere. I walk into work and find my schedule has been blown to hell and I promptly forget the first three items on my to-do list because I just want my coffee.

The mind-bending idea I had for my current Great American Novel eludes me when I sit to write it down. Texting-while-driving is illegal in Colorado so I assume fine-tuning-witty-dialog-while-driving is also frowned upon. The state patrol doesn’t recognize magic cars.

When I pull into the driveway, still full of ambition for the night ahead, a resigned part of my brain knows what will happen when I open the door. So I hand the house key to my kid and just sit there in my magic car for a few minutes, knowing I’m about to forget how productive I planned to be in the coming hours.

So what good is my magic car if I can’t capture those bursts of brilliance and motivation after I’ve closed the door and hit the remote-lock that only works on three of the four doors? Maybe that’s why some people live in their cars — they’re clinging to that mystical power of productivity!

Okay maybe not, but I have thought a lot about this (clearly) and I think I’ve hit upon the solution: I need a driver. If someone drove me around in my magic car I could sit in the back and write down every brainstorm as it hits, catch up on emails, work my social networking to an extent heretofore unexplored.

Let’s face it people, I could probably come up with a cure for cancer if I had a driver on a cross-country road trip.

Like the Beatles, I can’t actually afford to pay anyone to drive me around yet, but I’d definitely ante up a percentage of the Nobel prize I’m bound to win for that cancer thing. Serious applicants only need apply.

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The gift your kids can’t open

If you’re like me you checked your budget for the holidays and made a noise somewhere between a whimper and a groan. The money just doesn’t stretch as far as we’d like. It’s an inevitability that parents want to give their kids what they didn’t have, so trying to decide what to cut when faced with those excited little faces can be an impossible task.

This year, as I cinch my belt a little tighter and look for another corner to cut, I decided to give my daughter a gift she can’t open but will cherish and hopefully nurture through the years. The gift of generosity.

Why, yes that is a devil horn behind the Santa hat. Ignore that. Santa Kid is all about the giving. Really.

Although I’ve always instilled the need to help those less fortunate, this is the first year that my nine-year-old seems truly aware of how money works and how much it affects her directly. Instead of making this the Christmas she remembers as the year mom said “we can’t afford that” 359 times, I want her to enter 2012 with the knowledge that we are always better off than someone else, and why not share that?

We started discussing it a few weeks ago and have already begun our giving efforts with success… maybe a little too much success.

After making a trip to the huge store that will remain nameless, but is commonly known as the one where souls disappear along with large amount of cash, I assigned my daughter with two giving tasks. There was a Toys-for-Tots bin at the front so I allotted her $10 to spend on toys for other kids. Would she be able to choose something without being sucked in by all of the coveted items on her own wish list?

A few years ago, this probably would have been impossible, but she admirably moved on after a few oohs and ahhs, choosing several toys that all fell under the $10 limit. I was sure to let her separate them out and deposit them in the bin herself, feeling the warmth of giving without seeing the end result.

Her school is sponsoring a food drive for needy families, so I also gave her a canned food budget, allowing her to choose several for the cause. Her overflowing generosity backfired a little when I found her backpack stuffed full of all our canned goods from the pantry.

While money is tight, these were small expenses that I could take from somewhere else without too much pain, but to young children it was the joy of helping that was priceless. I also think it’s important to help a child choose a charity by keeping their vested interests in mind.

While it’s true we’ve all struggled these past couple of years, you may be surprised and pleased to discover that people still give, in spite of tough times. According to a report compiled by the American Association of Fundraising Counsel, generous Americans still gave over $307 billion to their favorite causes in 2009. Figures for the number of youth in that amount weren’t available, but you can bet that many adults who give learned it as a child.

A few easy — and inexpensive — ways to share the gift of giving with your child are:
• Sign you and your family up to help serve at a local soup kitchen
• Make extra cookies and holiday treats to leave anonymously for your neighbors
• Bring goodies or homemade soups and breads to the local nursing home
• Save change all year in a jar, then give the entire amount to someone less fortunate

Raising a generous child — even if she does try to give away all of your own food — is worth the effort, the time, and the money. It’s a gift they will pass on to their children in the future, and even lead their peers by example now. The best part about the gift of generosity is there’s nothing to wrap, tape or hide… just give it with all your heart.