The Beginning-Again Ritual

Yep, it’s a new year.  I was in the grocery store today and, while the candy aisle was noticeably empty, I could barely get through the produce department’s enormous shopping-cart traffic jam.  Everyone had cases of diet soda, fresh vegetables, “lite” commercial products, and cartons of yogurt in their buggies.  At the checkout, I noticed very few cookies or chips, but saw lots of healthy and pseudo-healthy things being rung up.   There were coupons everywhere for diet, low-fat, fat-free, sugar-free and whole-grain products.  I think several people were wearing track suits.

Now I am not going to be snide here, because I’ll freely admit that my own shopping cart – which usually carries pretty healthy products anyway – was loaded up with some ambitious quantities of fresh produce.   I have enough spinach and romaine to make salads for a week (which is about how long this conscious-eating effort will likely last).   I also parked at the end of the parking lot so I’d have to walk some extra steps.

Why do we find the new year so inspirational for trying new things, making healthy improvements to our lifestyle and just generally ‘starting over’?  What is it about a fresh calendar year that motivates us to do things we ought to be doing all along?

And most importantly, why does the honeymoon end so quickly?

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Choo Choo Chew

Tomorrow, we leave on the train for Florida.  I’m pretty excited.  It should be a lot of fun for the girls, too.  We’ve got them an atlas to check as we go along our route, and I know they will enjoy pointing out all the states we travel thru.  S4 knows where almost all 50 of them go in her Map of the United States.  O2 can recognize Ohio and Florida, so at least she’s got the starting point and destination down pat.

I’m looking forward to the train ride.  That is, by and large, such a foreign way of travel for most Americans.  Trains are seen as something to get you around impossibly-congested metropolitan areas, or between closely-spaced impossibly-congested metropolitan areas.  They aren’t really part of the whole vacation equation for most of us.  More’s the pity.  [insert your own cheesy cliche about it not being the destination but the journey, etc., here.]

There were a lot of ads for Norfolk & Southern, a freight-train service, running during last Tuesday’s election returns.  This was really inspiring.  Trains, IMNSHO, are one place where our country has really screwed things up.  We move so much stuff, not to mention people, around our nation every day.  It’s a terrible shame that we gave up on trains and now rely so heavily on trucks and cars.  Trains are so much more efficient than trucks (in terms of fuel cost per ton), and so much better for moving people than cars – when you’re speaking of pure volume, of course.   The individual person or package might not find the train more convenient or better, but collectively, it really can’t be beat.  Just ask Europe.

My husband and I have had some really interesting dialogue about the whole train / car industry subject.  As we see it, the auto industry has fought against mass-transit for decades, because they wanted to sell us a bill of goods their cars.  And the train industry has sort of rolled over, letting autos deal with people while trains handled an ever-shrinking fraction of the freight sector.  But times have changed.  In light of the environmental issues facing us, the uncertainty of cheap fuel oil in the near future, the ever-expanding population, and the apparent bottoming-out of the auto industry, I really hope the two sides start thinking differently.  Right now, they have limited themselves severely by identifying with what is just a fraction of the overall Transportation Industry.  Auto makers should stop calling themselves auto-makers and start rebranding themselves as transportation providers.  They can still make cars, sure; but why not also get into making train cars as well?  Or engines?  Or infrastructure?  Or maybe they can take all that ergonomic hoop-de-hoo they’ve been doing and design better passenger cars, sleeping compartments, etcetera.  Likewise, the train industry – which has some serious challenges, what with decaying infrastructure, among other issues – should quit boxing themselves into the train yard.  Maybe they could partner with some of the national logistics companies: UPS, FedEx, JB Hunt, etc.  This will enable them to offer door-to-door service, the current lack of which is a major stumbling block for companies who want simple, non-stop shopping (shipping).

Meanwhile, I’m grateful for a mom and a brother who think taking the train on a fairly long trip is cool, a husband who is willing to get up at a god-awful hour and drive us into the train station, and the hope that my own two children will grow up thinking that riding a train is no big deal, other than it being a lot of fun.