"Goals are dreams with deadlines" -- Diana Scharf

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Festive, Frugal, No-Fuss Party

One of the reasons that Mr. W and I love our community is its proximity to his family.  His parents live less than a mile away and we see them on a weekly basis.  The majority of his extended family lives within a twenty-mile radius, and we see them at least once a month.  Having family so close makes it a breeze to celebrate special occasions together.  A few weeks ago, we invited the whole crew to our apartment for brunch.  We were celebrating both Mother’s Day and his father’s birthday, which happened to fall on the same day. 

When planning the gathering, we focused primarily on providing lots of good food that everyone would enjoy.  We also wanted the food to be fuss-free; we prepared as much as possible ahead of time so that we could enjoy spending time with everyone during the party.  Lastly, we wanted to keep the costs reasonable so that we wouldn’t bust our budget.

This was our first time hosting a large group, and we weren't certain how it would go.  Would we have enough space?  Would we have enough food?  We would be able to get all the food ready in time?  Everything turned out just fine and we're looking forward to hosting again in the future.  In total, we spent about $125 on the party.  That's not bad, especially since we had enough food to send everyone home with heaping plates of leftovers!   

How We Made It Festive:

·         Served his parents’ favorite foods:  Mr. W’s mom loves any combination of tomato, basil, balsamic vinegar, and fresh mozzarella.  We made paninis and a pasta salad featuring these ingredients.  We also arranged a charcuterie appetizer for Mr. W’s dad.  He can’t resist cured and smoked deli meats like prosciutto, pancetta, salami, soprasetta, mortadella, etc. 

·       Fun décor: I made  “Happy Birthday” and “Happy Mother’s Day” banners using scrapbook paper, twine, some old cardboard, and adhesive letters from the craft store.  Total cost was around $10.  I also used the leftover scrapbook paper to embellish some drinking straws.


How We Made It Fuss-Free:

·         Paid for convenience, in moderation: For example, we bought a cheese tray rather than slicing blocks of cheese ourselves.  Why?  Well, a two-pound tray was only $10 and it included a good variety of cheese.  At $5 per pound, we thought the pre-sliced arrangement was a good deal.  We used that cheese for appetizers, as well as the sandwiches and paninis.   Another example: we made our own cole slaw, but bought the bagged cole slaw mix for $2.29. Yes, buying a head of cabbage might have saved us $1.  But, we would prefer not to spend a lot of time prepping vegetables when planning a large gathering. 

·         Kept a simple menu:  I had initially planned to serve a warm salad with turkey bacon, caramelized onions, frisée, and baked goat cheese.   It’s a delicious salad, but it’s the kind of dish that should be individually plated.  The rest of our dishes were buffet style and much more informal.  We nixed the fancy salad and just tossed some arugula in a bowl with red onions and sliced tomatoes.  Done.

·         Prepared food ahead of time: We assembled a bunch of sandwiches and paninis early in the morning, before anyone arrived.  We also set out extra ingredients, in case anyone wanted a combination that we hadn’t provided. 


How We Kept the Costs Down:

·     Avoided processed foods:  We roasted a chicken and baked a ham, rather than buying meat from the deli section.  We also made our own pasta salad, cole slaw, and potato salad.  

·    Allowed others to chip in: Mr. W's parents generously offered to bring beer and wine since they already had a good selection at their house.  We gladly took them up on this offer, especially since Mr. W. and I don't drink much on a regular basis and wouldn't really know what to buy. 

·        Used things we already had:  For each of the food displays, we set up a little wooden sign identifying the food (“Bar”, “Panini Station”, etc).   It was totally unnecessary, but it was a fun touch.  And since I already had these reusable signs, there was no additional cost.   After the party, I wiped the signs off with a damp cloth and can reuse them in the future. 

Here's a breakdown of what we bought with the $125 we spent on the party:

Do you have any tips for party-planning on a budget?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why Is Raising Children So Expensive? What Did My Parents Do Differently?

Image credit: cepn / 123RF Stock PhotoAdd caption
Occasionally, Mr. W. and I discuss starting a family.  There is no question that we both want to be parents, eventually.  We recognize that there is no “perfect” time to start a family, and now may be as good a time as any.  We’re in our late twenties, and several of our acquaintances have started to have children.  It seems that each time I check my Facebook feed, I see another picture of a newborn or an ultrasound.  I feel excited and delighted for my friends who are expanding their families.  I look forward to buying or making baby gifts for the parents-to-be.  But...I just don’t find myself wishing that we were in a similar position.  At least, not in the immediate future.      

In truth, we don’t yet feel ready to be parents.  As newlyweds, we’d like to enjoy a few more years with “just the two of us.”  We’d like to feel a bit more established in our careers.  We’d like to increase our salaries so that we’ll be better able to save towards our child(ren)’s college education.   We’d like to grow our nest egg.  And, when the time is right, we’d like to buy a nice little home in a good school district where we can live with our 1.3 children and a Golden Retriever (actually, that’s a lie.  I’d prefer a rescued bulldog).

Even though we aren’t planning to have children soon, Mr. W. and I discuss the prospect at length. We wonder how children would impact our household budget.  We wonder if there is a set amount that we would need to earn before we’ll feel financially ready to have children.   

In one of our recent discussions, I tried to calculate how our monthly expenses would change if we were to start a family.  I have no doubt that every single penny we spend on our children will be worthwhile.  I wouldn't consider this to be a cost-benefit analysis on the value of having children.  I would never attempt to assign a dollar amount to human life.  Nonetheless, children are expensive, and I think it would be shortsighted for us to start a family without first considering the financial implications. 

As I envision parenthood, these are the big-ticket expenses that would increase:

·     Health Insurance: Right now, Mr. W. and I both elect the single-coverage option from our respective employers.  This is less expensive than either one of us enrolling in the “employee plus spouse” option.  Once we have children, we will probably choose to enroll in one of the family plans offered by our employers.  Our medical insurance costs would increase by about $350/month.   

·    Child Care: From what I’ve heard and read, average child care costs in New Jersey are at least $1,000/month for infants and $900/month for toddlers.  We live in a county with a higher cost of living than the NJ average, so our costs could be much higher.  We would like to have at least two children, so I’ve assumed that we will need to arrange child care for an infant and a toddler.  Cost: $1,900/month for two children. 
·     College Savings: Mr. W. and I are both very grateful that our parents paid for our undergraduate college educations (I’ll explain this in more detail in a future post).  We know that this required a substantial financial commitment on the part of our parents and we would like to do the same for our children.  It’s difficult to anticipate what college will cost in the future, but I think it would be wise to save $750 per month, per child.  Saving for our children's education isn't necessary in the same way that health insurance and child care would be, but it would still be a crucial priority to us.  Cost: $1,500/month for two children.

Based solely on the anticipated cost of healthcare, child care, and college savings, our expenses would increase by approximately $45,000 per year.   

Yikes.  $45,000.

That’s an astonishing and sobering figure.  Although Mr. W. and I currently save a considerable portion of our take-home income, we do not save $45,000 per year.  If I were to add $45,000 to our current salaries, the result is a rather high number.  A number that feels unattainable in our current employment positions.  Granted, there would be tax benefits partially offsetting increased expenses.  However, there are many expenses that I haven’t considered in my calculations, such as diapers, medical/hospital visits, toys, and baby clothes.  I also haven’t accounted for increased housing costs.  Right now, Mr. W. and I live in a 600-650 square foot apartment.  It’s enough room for the two of us, but raising kids in this apartment would not be ideal.  At some point, we would want to purchase a different car, because my two-door 2002 Volvo is just not a kid-friendly vehicle. 
This analysis caused me to question our current household spending.  I convinced myself that we were squandering our money.  I berated myself and felt enormously guilty.  Demographically, the numbers say that we're in one of the top income brackets.  Yet, despite having two strong salaries, Mr. W. and I still don't consider ourselves financially ready to have children.  I started to wonder if our perspective was totally out of touch with reality.  Would we ever feel ready to have children?  Were we just stereotypical American consumers living beyond our means? 
After all, my parents were able to raise three children in an area with a high cost of living.  They bought a home and sent three children to college.  They helped to pay for my wedding last fall, and they are also contributing to my brother’s wedding this summer.  My parents accomplished these goals while being, primarily, a single-income family (as I wrote in this post, my mother was a stay-at-home mom for twelve years.  She eventually returned to work on a part-time basis, but at a much-reduced salary).  Although I don’t know precisely how much my father earned in the 1990s, I think his salary was approximately the same, in 2012 inflation-adjusted dollars, as the amount that Mr. W. and I currently earn as a household.   Yet, somehow, we don’t feel that we’re financially prepared to have children.   
So, what did my parents do differently?  How were they able to stretch their dollar further?  Are there things that my husband and I spend money on that my parents would consider an extravagance? 

I concluded that there were obvious areas where Mr. W. and I could reduce our spending if we needed to support little ones.  This didn't come as much of a surprise; I already knew that we have a lot of "fluff" in our budget.  We spend money on quite a few things that we don't need.  Additionally, I realized that my parents did an excellent job of using financial perks that were offered to them.  They're some savvy folks and I admire the ways they were able to live a comfortable, fulfilling life without spending beyond their means and without having a sky-high income.    

Things We Spend Money On That My Parents Didn’t:

·     Fitness: Mr. W. and I budget about $400/month for fitness ($170/month for his CrossFit membership and $225/month for my barre fitness classes).  Health is an important priority to us, so we think it is money well spent.  In fact, Mr. W. has lost – and kept off – almost 100 pounds through exercise and healthier eating.  It’s difficult to put a price tag on this type of health improvement.  Participating in these scheduled classes helps us to stay on track.  When we don’t have scheduled classes to attend, we both find ourselves more likely to put exercise on the back burner.  For now, we’re keeping fitness in our budget .  Yes, it’s certainly possible that we could find less expensive ways to stay fit.  We could join a local gym, take up long distance running, or ride bikes.  If push comes to shove, we could eliminate these fitness memberships and save nearly $4,800/year.   Plus, if/when we have children, I doubt we would have the time to continue attending CrossFit and barre workouts. 

·     Groceries: We try to eat local, seasonal, sustainable, and humanely-raised food whenever possible.  It is an important priority to us.  However, it wouldn’t be as important as making sure our kids had enough food to eat.  And, it wouldn’t be as crucial as ensuring that we could provide for our children’s other needs.  I think we could trim our grocery budget by $200/month, or $2,400/year, while feeding more people, if we were to focus exclusively on buying for value.  

·    Travel: Mr. W. and I have budgeted about $4,000/year for travel.  This will cover 2-3 trips to California to visit my family.  Eventually, we would like to take an extended vacation to Europe or Asia, but we haven’t yet included any foreign travel in our budget. 

By comparison, my parents spent very little on travel when I was growing up.  I don’t mean to imply that we never went on vacation, because that wouldn’t be true.  My dad traveled extensively for business and accumulated quite a few frequent-flyer miles and free hotel stays.  He was encouraged to use these perks for personal use.  This made it possible for our family to travel without much out-of-pocket expense.  My parents also took us on several road trips, allowing us to see different parts of the United States and visit an assortment of national parks.  When I attended college on the East Coast, I was able to fly back to California several times each year.  My dad booked the flights using his frequent-flyer miles, so my parents never paid a dime for these trips.   

·    Transportation: I cringe every time I think about how much Mr. W. and I spend on transportation.  On an annual basis, it’s about $15,000 -- nearly as much as our rent.  We tried to share a car for a few weeks, but it more than doubled Mr. W’s commute time.  Furthermore, it didn’t even save much money since my public transportation costs increased as a result.  Given that our workplaces are 50 miles apart, there is only so much we can do to decrease our commuting expenses. 

My parents were able to keep a much tighter rein on commuting costs.  Once my mom returned to work, she took a position at my brothers’ elementary school.  She had been driving my brothers to and from school on a daily basis, anyway, so her commuting costs didn’t increase as a result of returning to work.  My dad worked, and still works, in sales.  Many days, he worked from home so his commuting costs were nonexistent.  In addition, he has always had a company car or a car allowance provided by his employer.  When he had a company car, it could be used for personal use at a reasonable cost (something like $.08/mile).  For years and years, my parents only owned one car other than the company car.  In my dad’s current position, he receives a monthly car allowance.  Many of his colleagues use their car allowances to lease flashy luxury cars.  My dad bought a Toyota Camry.  It’s a sensible, modest car, but still “presentable” for those occasions when he needs to transport a client. 

·   Child Care: The biggest anticipated expense, once we have children, is child care.  I imagine this is true for many dual-income families.  By comparison, since my mom stayed home with us, there was no cost for child care.  I’m not sure how she juggled three kids under the age of 6, but she did.  God bless her!
·   Dry Cleaning: We spend about $1,200 per year on dry cleaning for our suits and other items that we truly can't wash ourselves.  This is another area where my dad had an awesome perk: one of his previous employers reimbursed employees for all dry cleaning expenses (that was before the recession, as I'm sure you can imagine!).  In my dad's industry, dress standards have relaxed in recent years so that he no longer needs to wear a suit on a regular basis. 

  • Discretionary Items:  Each year, Mr. W. and I budget about $4,000 for discretionary spending.  On a monthly basis, that breaks down to $100 for each of us and $150 for us to spend as a couple.  I spend my discretionary funds primarily on clothing, cosmetics, and craft supplies.   Mr. W. spends his on clothing, video games, and fitness-related stuff (protein powder).  The $150 in joint discretionary funds is used towards activities, such as our 20-Dollar Dates, that we do together.  These amounts don’t “feel” like a lot to me, but they add up over the course of the year.  And our discretionary spending certainly feels high in comparison to that of my parents.  My mom buys herself just a handful of new clothing items each year.  She doesn’t wear makeup and she pays only $15 to have her hair cut.  If pressed, Mr. W. and I could decrease our discretionary spending considerably. 

All in all, I finally realized that I should avoid comparing myself to my parents.  Yes, I should take lessons from their frugality.  I should always appreciate how much they sacrificed and planned ahead to ensure that they could provide for our family.  But, I also realized that my parents had access to some wonderful perks that Mr. W. and I simply don't have...and there's nothing either of us can change about that!

For those of you who are parents, how did children impact your finances?  For those who might have children someday, do you currently feel financially prepared for children?

Friday, May 17, 2013

20-Dollar Dates: Madison Square Eats

This post is part of a series entitled 20-Dollar Dates.  As the name suggests, I write about the activities or experiences that my husband and I enjoy, together, for twenty-ish dollars total. 

It's no secret that Mr. W. and I enjoy food (really, who doesn't?).  He likes to cook, I like to bake, and we both love to eat.  Each month, a significant portion of our budget goes towards food and food-related experiences. 

For our most recent 20-Dollar Date, we wanted to do something that involved lots of great food for not a lot of money.  Madison Square Eats was the perfect option.  It's a month-long outdoor food festival/market where various New York restaurants and vendors sell small portions of their dishes at reasonable prices.

Mr. W. and I have gone to Madison Square Eats for the past two years and enjoyed ourselves both times.  This year, we teamed up with Mr. W's younger brother and his girlfriend.  This is one of those activities that makes for a great double date.  The four of us decided to use the "divide and conquer" approach: two of us found a table and saved seats for our group (tables fill quickly) while the other two scouted out the booths and stood in line to purchase food. 

My favorite part about Madison Square Eats (besides the good, cheap food) is that we were able to try an assortment of new restaurants and food purveyors at the same time, and in the same fun location.  It's also a great way to learn about the hottest food trends, if that's your thing. 

And, you can't beat the prices.  The four of us spent just $50 in total for lunch, or $25 per couple.  We tried eight different dishes and shared everything.  There was so much food that no one was hungry enough to even consider eating dinner.  So, really, $25 per couple for lunch and dinner.  That's a great deal. 

These are the items we tried:

If you're in the NYC area, please stop by Madison Square Eats!  If you do, I'd love to hear your take.  It's running through Friday, May 31st.  For more info, read here and here.

This post was not sponsored by Madison Square Eats, Urban Space NYC, or the Madison Square Park Conservancy. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My Week as a Stay-At-Home Wife

My mother was a stay-at-home mom for twelve years while I was growing up. Prior to having children, she had been a civil engineer.  That was in the early 1980s, when the engineering field was even more male-dominated than it is now.  In fact, she was one of just two women in UCLA's engineering program when she graduated.  After I was born, she planned to return to her engineering career when her maternity leave was finished.  And then, her plans changed.  From what she tells me, she enjoyed being a mother so much that she decided to abandon her career and focus on being a full-time stay-at-home mom (apparently, I must have been a pretty adorable infant).  Once my youngest brother was in school, she returned to work on a part-time basis.  But she didn't return to civil engineering.  Instead, she worked at my brothers' elementary school for a few hours a day.  Essentially, she was always at home whenever we kids were home. 

I have always been intrigued, and a bit perplexed, by my mother's decision to leave her career in favor of motherhood.  I know that my brothers and I benefited enormously from her decision to be at home with us.  She was always available to help with homework and shuttle us to our various activities.  She served as a chaperone for class field trips, lead my Girl Scout troop, and sewed the most amazing Halloween costumes.  I doubt she would have had the time to do all those things if she had continued her engineering career.  I'll always be appreciative that she made family a priority.  But I also marvel at the sacrifice she made on our behalf.  In a similar situation, I'm not sure if I would make the same decision she did. 

Sometimes, I find myself questioning my mother's decision.  I wonder, "How was she able to give up a career that she worked so hard to build?  Did she/does she ever wish she could return to her engineering career?  Did she feel she had "done a disservice" to women by not seizing an opportunity to work in an industry where women were under-represented?  Did she have any regrets?"  I know it's unfair of me to judge my mother's decision to be a stay-at-home mom.  It was her decision to make, not mine.  And it probably sounds ungrateful that I would even consider criticizing a decision she made on behalf of our family.  Yes, the feminist in me believes that women ought to have the ability to work outside the home.  But, the feminist in me also believes that women have the right to occupy any role -- inside or outside the home -- that they choose. 

I envision myself as a career-oriented person.  I enjoy working and find it very satisfying.  I can't imagine not working outside the home.  Perhaps I will be better able to relate to my mother's decision if/when Mr. W and I have children of our own.  So far, I've never given serious consideration to being a housewife.  Apart from the fact that I enjoy my career, there are also financial reasons why being a homemaker does not seem feasible.  Given the high cost of living in our area, it's very likely that Mr. W. and I will both continue working once we have children.  But even if there were no financial obstacles, I still do not know if I would choose to stop working. 

Recently, I took a week-long "staycation" to use some of my vacation time from work.  Mr. W. doesn't have as much vacation time as I do, so he went to work as usual.  For a week, I got a taste of what it would be like to be a stay-at-home wife. 

I expected to have loads of free time during my staycation.  I expected to be bored.  But I actually managed to stay pretty busy. 

Much of my free time was taken up with mundane tasks.  I went to a dentist appointment, an optometrist appointment, and a car service appointment.  Boring stuff.  Sitting in my office chair is much better than sitting in my dentist's chair or enduring the glaucoma test (that burst of air is torturous!).  I tackled a bunch of errands and chores that are usually reserved for the weekend: grocery shopping, dry cleaning, laundry, filing paperwork, other cleaning things.  Again, boring stuff. 

But I also enjoyed lunch and a shopping trip with my mother-in-law.  I started and finished two novels.  I created homemade Mother's Day gifts.  I went to a farmer's market that is only open on Friday afternoons.  I went for very long walks.  I made several recipes that I've been meaning to try.  This part was quite nice. 

The best part of being home all day, however, was that it freed up the evenings and weekends so that Mr. W. and I could spend more time together.  On most weekdays, we get home from work around 8:00.  This makes it difficult to spend much quality time together during the week.  And since we don't have time during the week to take care of anything around the house, those tasks are relegated to the weekend.  Since I was home last week, we ate dinner at a reasonable time like 7:30, rather than 9:00. While I was on vacation, we were able to fully enjoy our weekends.  Rather than running errands, Mr. W. and I went on three double dates, hosted a Mother's Day brunch, and visited his family members.  If I were working, it would have been difficult to do all these things while also taking care of our normal weekend responsibilities. 

I still don't know whether I would choose to leave my career if given the option.  It would be a difficult decision involving more considerations than can be encompassed by a one-week experiment.  And I recognize that I only experienced the "stay-at-home wife" part; having children would completely change the picture.  But during the week I spent as a housewife, I certainly enjoyed the benefits of focusing exclusively on our marriage and our home. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

When Life Gives You Limes...

Mr. W. and I chose Key West as our honeymoon destination.  We knew we would only have four days for our honeymoon, so we wanted to go somewhere that wouldn't require lengthy travel (too bad, it took us thirteen hours to get there due to flight cancellations).  Even though the trip was brief, it was unquestionably the most relaxing vacation we have ever taken.

View from the balcony of our hotel room
Before returning to New Jersey, we picked up the requisite souvenirs for our loved ones.  We also purchased a bottle of key lime juice from a tourist shop.  The price?  $6.50 for a 16 ounce bottle.  Mr. W. teased me for buying such expensive fruit juice, but I insisted that we would enjoy cooking with it. 

Back at home, I spotted the very same bottle of key lime juice on the shelves of our local grocery store.  It was $4.  Whoops. 

A few weeks ago, I was organizing our fridge and came across the key lime juice.  I noticed that it had an expiration date of 4/15/13...just a few days away.  It's bad enough to over-pay for a food item that could have been purchased for less.  But it's even worse to over-pay for an item, and then allow it to expire.  The wheels in my head started turning.  What was the quickest way to use up key lime juice?

Key lime pie, of course!

I remembered seeing a recipe for frozen key lime pie in Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook.  I made a few minor modifications, such as decreasing the number of egg yolks and adding toasted coconut.  Admittedly, this recipe is time intensive and has quite a few steps.  Most likely, you'll need to make this when you can spend several hours at home.  Nonetheless, the actual process to make key lime pie was simple.  And the end result was delicious.  Mr. W. and I ate the pie over several days and enjoyed reminiscing about our time in Key West.

Usually, I share recipes that I consider to be "frugal foods."  I wouldn't call this a "frugal food" by any stretch of the imagination.  Between the key lime juice, the limes, the egg yolks, and the whipping cream, this recipe contains some pricey ingredients. But, it was certainly less expensive to make this pie than to fly back to Key West.   And, it was better than wasting the key lime juice.


Step 1: Preheat oven and toast coconut
Step 2: Prepare the pie crust

Step 2: Prepare the pie crust

Step 3: Gently cook egg yolks
Step 4: Prepare filling

Frozen Key Lime Pie
(Adapted from Ina Garten's recipe)


  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 6 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted

  • 4 egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 Tbs. grated lime zest (2 limes)
  • 3/4 cup key lime juice (bottled juice is fine.  Or, use 4 to 5 limes)
  • 1 cup cold whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup coconut, toasted


1. Preheat over to 350 degrees.  Spread coconut on baking sheet and toast in oven until lightly browned, checking often. 

2. For the crust, combine graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, and butter in a bowl.  Press into a 9-inch pie plate, making sure the sides and the bottom are an even thickness.  Back for 8-10 minutes.  Allow to cool completely. 

3. In a double boiler, combine egg yolks with 1/2 cup of lime juice.  Whisk constantly over medium heat until the mixture reaches 140 degrees. (I don't have a double boiler, so I nestle a smaller pot inside a larger pot.  It works just fine). 

4. Transfer egg yolks to a large bowl.  Whisk or beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until thickened.  Add remaining lime juice, condensed milk, and lime zest, and mix until combined.  Pour into cooled pie crust.  Freeze for approximately 1 hour. 

5. In the meantime, beat the whipping cream on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer until soft peaks form.  Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until firm.  Spread onto frozen pie and sprinkle with toasted coconut. 

6. Freeze for several hours.  Pie should remain frozen until ready to serve.  Before serving, allow to thaw for approximately 20 minutes.

Note: I initially tried this with a sour cream topping rather than whipped cream.  I thought I would like the texture and tartness of the reduced-fat sour cream.  I also wanted to make the recipe slightly healthier.  Big mistake.  The taste was fine, but I had forgotten that sour cream becomes a runny mess when frozen.  I wouldn't recommend sour cream in this recipe; stick with whipped cream as Ina suggests.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

20-Dollar Dates: The Zoo

For this week's twenty-dollar date, Mr. W. and I went to...the zoo! 

I remember loving the zoo when I was growing up in California.  My parents bought an annual family membership to the San Diego Zoo and we generally used it several times per year.  Like many children, I was most fascinated by the large, exotic mammals: elephants, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, and lions.  And pandas.  Definitely pandas. 

My parents thought it was important to take us to the zoo for the educational component.  With each visit, my mother would ensure we saw the polar bears and the penguins.  Then, she would instruct us to read those informational plaques about their respective habitats.  She was very concerned that we might mistakenly believe that polar bears and penguins lived in the same habitat.  You know, on account of those cheerful but misleading Coca-Cola commercials.    
Mr. W. also has fond memories of the zoo, with one glaring exception.  It's the "glaring exception" story that I find amusing.  See, when he was twelve years old, his parents planned a family vacation to Washington, D.C.  His family would spend a week visiting museums, monuments, and memorials.  They also planned to visit the national zoo.  As might be expected of a pre-teen boy, Mr. W. convinced himself that this was going to be the Worst Vacation Ever.  He also tried to express this opinion to anyone within earshot. 

But then, he learned that the national zoo had a Komodo Dragon.  He'd never seen a Komodo Dragon in person, and was excited by the prospect.  Suddenly, the vacation didn't seem so boring.  During the entire road trip from New Jersey to D.C., he learned as much as he could about the Komodo Dragon.  By the time they arrived in D.C., he was a Komodo Dragon expert: he knew what they ate, where they lived, how large they could get, how long they lived, etc. 

When his family visited the national zoo, they made a beeline for the Komodo Dragon enclosure.  Mr. W. could barely contain his enthusiasm.  But something was very wrong.  The Komodo Dragon enclosure was...empty.  Instead, there was a sign that read, "Komodo Dragon is currently on loan to another zoo.  We apologize for the inconvenience." 

Mr. W. was devastated.  For all his tough-guy exterior, he's really a softie.  He was heartbroken that he still wouldn't get to see the Komodo Dragon.  As I'm sure you can imagine, the rest of the week in D.C. really was the Worst Vacation Ever.

Fast forward fifteen years. 

On Saturday, Mr. W. and I went to the Turtle Back Zoo.  As with the miniature golf course that I featured in last week's post, this zoo is county-owned.  We had been to Turtle Back before, but were looking forward to some of the newly opened exhibits. 

One of these new exhibits included a Komodo Dragon who was, thankfully, NOT on loan to another zoo. 

Komodo Dragon!

I've been to a few regional zoos similar to Turtle Back.  Here are some things that I like about these smaller-scale zoos:

  • Very affordable ticket prices ($11 per adult at Turtle Back.  By comparison, the San Diego Zoo currently charges $44.  The national zoo is free)
  • Many exhibits focus on North American animals. 
  • Smaller scale is perfect for families with young children since you can see the entire zoo in approximately two hours.
  • Animals are less likely to be on loan to other zoos.  

  • No pandas.  Or tigers.  (but they have mountain lions and bears, oh my!)
  • You can see the entire zoo in approximately two hours

It was a great date, especially since the Komodo Dragon was there

    PS.  I saw this sign near the wolf enclosure. 

    I think this "Fun Fact" is intended to reassure guests that wolf attacks are uncommon.  But the statement includes so many qualifications that any of the following could still be true without contradicting the "Fun Fact":

    *In North America there have been human fatalities from provoked attacks by healthy wolves.
    *In North America there have been human fatalities from unprovoked attacks by unhealthy wolves.
    *In North America, there have been unprovoked, non-fatal attacks by healthy wolves.
    *There have been human fatalities from unprovoked attacks by healthy wolves outside of North America.

    P.P.S.  I'm not a wolf expert, so I'm not saying that any of those things are true.  I'm just saying that they could be true, based on the construction of the sentence.