Sunday, January 2, 2011


As a kid I hated school, but there was one thing I loved -- new school supplies.  There was something about walking in that first day with a clean notebook with no writing, no wrinkles on the pages, no bent corners.  There were those long, newly sharpened pencils and the crayons that still had their pointy tips.  Even during the year, while most of my enthusiasm for school was long gone, I could still get a thrill out of starting a new notebook or getting a clean pink eraser.  I didn't realize it at the time, but this obsession with the school supplies was merely the beginning of a lifetime obsession with fresh starts.

I like the first day of summer vacation, the first day of school for my kids, the first day of each month, and, of course, the first day of a new year.  There's something about the feeling of renewal that comes with January 1st that has a magic for me.  Every year I go into January with high expectations, beautifully worded goals in my planner, and hope in my heart.  Forget the fact that most of it is down the drain by Valentine's Day... 

This year I'm feeling not only my usual January optimism, but a sincere hope that this will be a year of growth and change for my family.  The first day of the year was spent at my mother's with family as always.  Today, though, was my first test of my new commitment to spending less money and using fewer resources. 

The one Christmas activity we had not managed during the Christmas season was going to the Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo.  It's always a bit of a pain to go as this event draws huge crowds and sitting in traffic just to get a parking spot tends to be a yearly painful ritual.  We were also cursed with unusually cold temperatures for much of the month (down in the low teens or single digits in the evening), as well as an unusual amount of snow.  Combined that with the kids' regular activities and special Christmas activities, and...well...the month just got away from us.

My 11 year old son wanted to do one more "big" thing today before going back to school tomorrow and I mentioned that this was the last night for Festival of Lights.  He happily agreed and my sister accompanied my two children and me.  The biggest issue I face right now in my goals is thinking ahead.  Too often I get wrapped up in some project at home and we end up with fast food because I hadn't planned dinner.  My daughter consumes dozens of juice boxes because I forget to make a fresh pitcher of juice or I forget to bring her Sigg bottle with me.  This time, though, I thought ahead.  I grabbed my Built neoprene lunch bag and shoved in Sigg bottles -- water for my son, juice for my daughter, iced tea for me.  I also packed some crackers in case they suddenly decided they were ravenous as we passed the $5 bags of popcorn.  My final step was to tell them in no uncertain terms that I was absolutely not buying anything in the gift shop, I was not buying food or drinks, and I was not stopping for fast food on the way home.  My son didn't ask for a thing.  My daughter once asked if we were getting a snack (as we just happened to be passing a cotton candy vendor) and otherwise didn't ask for a thing. 

We have family passes to the Cincinnati Zoo which includes free parking, free tram rides, free train rides, and free carousel rides.  While I guess the pass itself isn't exactly frugal, I feel that it's money well spent as the Cincinnati Zoo is a popular outing with my kids and I like to lend support to the zoo where I can.  All in all the outing cost only as much as the gas to get us there and back and I didn't produce any garbage in the process.  We enjoyed the lights (which a few years ago were switched over to LED for greater energy efficiency) and it was a nice way to wrap up the Christmas vacation.  More importantly for me, I feel it was a step in the right direction for my goals this year.  I feel like a passed my first test (or maybe a pop quiz, anyway).

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