Tag Archives: under 1 year old

Choo-Choo Bob’s

Sometimes, when my mom friends talk about what we need, the discussion ends up like this: we need a place we can take our kids that is inside with a lot of air conditioning, or outside with lots of shade and completely fenced in (none of this “there’s a fence around part of the playground” nonsense); it needs to be free or almost-free, with coffee and wifi available, and it needs to be extremely welcoming of children with a playground to play on or something for them to do — a place where moms can go and sit down and relax for a minute and maybe connect with a friend or find a kindred spirit. Sometimes the bouncy house places seem like they would work, because they are inside and you can basically stay there all day if you want … but I personally can’t take much more than an hour of the whining fans. They tend to be noisy enough that you can’t really carry on a conversation with anyone while you are there. We’ve tried the children’s museum, but that is too much on the bonkers side of things. Too many things to look at and do, too many cubby-holes for kids to disappear in, and not what you would call relaxing. Or, let’s face it, free.

Well, mamas, listen up because I found The place while we were on vacation. It just lacks a coffee machine, but we could fix that.

It is called Choo-Choo Bob’s, and yes, I realize it only exists in Minnesota — but I bet we could franchise this thing.

Choo Choo Bob’s is a train store. It’s the best train store. The best store, period? Maybe.

In the front windows are two large model train set-ups that feature Thomas the Tank Engine. So, I’m sure if you have a train enthusiast in your family, this would win them over immediately. The genius part: they put benches behind these model trains, so you can just sit there and watch them for as long as you want. And if you are me, you can set down your stupid diaper bag and chill out while your children are fascinated for minutes and minutes.

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I iz mesmerized by the choo choo

Behind the benches are aisles of toy trains to buy. Some of them are the old-school model trains, some are the expensive Thomas-brand trains, but there is also a great mix of other train toys and wooden tracks that are less expensive. There is even a piece-by-piece section. I saw it and for a moment, I thought I heard choirs of angels singing. We got some new bridge pieces without having to buy a set! Also for sale were books and engineer hats and other wooden toys. In the middle was a giant bargain bin where we found Thomas’s friend Den at 50% off.

So. Trains to look at, benches to sit on, toys to buy ON SALE. What more could anyone want? Well, just take yourself all the way to the back of the store and you will find the jackpot. In front of two party rooms where you can, yes, have probably the best birthday party a 3 or 4 year old could imagine, are 8(!) train tables. And benches, so the grownups can park themselves for a while. If the model trains occupied my children for minutes upon minutes, the train tables took up all the rest of the time we had, and Finn was dragged from this store very much against his will.

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Someone with a brilliant brain made these train tables. Because they are all the same. Well, there were two wooden trainscapes set up, and there were four tables of each one. This meant no fighting for the “good” one. On the day we went, there were three or four other families there, which meant plenty of train table for everyone. Even my little niece who was hardly a year old had fun pulling up on the tables and zooming an engine around. On a shelf near the tables was a little box for donations. You could leave some change if you came to play and didn’t want to buy anything — again, a sign that someone gave this place a lot of thought.

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When it was time to go, Finn was not interested. Sometimes, when you have a young child, this is the dilemma: if you go somewhere awesome and have a great time, going home often means A Crazy Meltdown. Well, here again Choo Choo Bob’s has it going on, because it is next door to an ice cream shop and a short drive away from the Amtrak station. If you need something else awesome to do, you have some options. We chose both ice cream and a trip to the Amtrak station, it being vacation and all. The drive there involved lots of railroad crossings, lots of boxcar sightings, and even a beautiful streamlined train sitting at the station. Who gave us directions on how to find the station? Why the guy at Choo Choo Bob’s, of course.

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We got yelled at for climbing on this train right after we took this picture. Ah, vacation!

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Minnesota History Center

Last month, we flew to Minneapolis for vacation. I really love visiting Minnesota in the summer; it is quite lovely. In the days before we had kids, my husband and I spent our Minnesota vacations riding bikes and exploring breweries and strolling around the lakes. This time, we basically did something train-related every day. One place that Finn is still talking about, and asking to return to, is the Minnesota History Center.

This is a museum with exhibits about Minnesota that are mostly geared towards the school-aged crowd. During the school year, I’m sure it is packed with kids. But we had a secret weapon: we know someone who works there so we had a private tour on a day when the exhibits would usually be closed. I realize how lucky we are to have this kind of connection, but let me just make sure I say this and that you pay attention: if you know anyone who works at a museum or the like who can get you in when it is normally closed — do it! OMG, it was way better than my wildest dreams! If we lived in Minnesota, we would be bothering my poor friend to take us around every Monday.

There is lots of fun stuff to look at the History Center, even if you are a little too young to understand most of what is going on.

This airplane is in the gallery. (Which means you can go look at it even when the exhibits are closed.)

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I didn’t take this photo. Click it to see who did.

So is this windmill.

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I didn’t take this photo, either. Click it to see who did.

Inside one of the exhibits is this: an actual boxcar. AN ACTUAL BOXCAR.

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I think Finn would have moved in to this thing.

There is also a streetcar, complete with steering wheel and token box and a bell.

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Some of the things I really loved about this place were: everything was touch-able, most things had a play-component, and there were several opportunities to dress up. Check out Donovan sporting a WWII uniform. So cute, that one.

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One of the coolest parts about going to museum when it is closed: someone has to open the gates to let you in. I think this could have been the boring-est museum ever, and this gate would have counted as a highlight of our entire trip.

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The building itself is gorgeous and offers such amazing views of the surrounding area. It doesn’t hurt that it is in one of the most picturesque parts of St. Paul.

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I didn’t take this photo. Click it to see who did.

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When Writing Is So, So Hard

When I was in graduate school for my MFA, we had to submit a certain number of stories at the beginning of each term. I always had the good intentions of starting early, working on several projects, and then carefully choosing the best ones.

I was always one story short.

No matter how early I started or what good ideas I had in the weeks before the deadline, I was always scrambling to get just one more story onto some paper. It happened so many times that now I feel like this is just my personality: I forget one ingredient to put into the pasta for dinner; I remember the snacks for our trip to the park, but not the extra diaper; I remember a lot of the overdue books when we go to the library, but not quite all.

In school, I would patch together something quick, something quirky. Maybe a novelty piece that didn’t deserve serious attention. Writing those pieces was often easy, probably because I had already decided I didn’t care what anyone else thought. I was just writing to fill the gap, just to get through one more term, and I swore every time that it would never happen again. And you know what? Those quick little essays were almost always the best received out of everything I submitted. I guess that might be another part of my personality — I overwork things, I try too hard, I should really stop caring.

These last few weeks have been very hard on my writing. I am not sure why, but I have a feeling some of it is due to my cat. I called the vet today and cancelled the appointment to put her to sleep. I have been in severe denial about it all week and this morning, I realized I just couldn’t say goodbye to her yet. I am not sure what it will look like when it is time for her to go, but I decided that I will reassess next month. More time to ignore the problem, I guess, but she doesn’t seem any more miserable than at any other point in her life.

It is also hot out, which is sapping my energy. And the baby keeps walking into corners and falling on top of stuff and getting hurt. And the older one is just one big tantrum contained in some dirty clothes. All of this means that I sit down at the computer late at night and just … can’t … make … anything come out. Can’t make the words do whatever they are supposed to do. I wrote a book review which was the title, author, and the statement “Finn liked it.” I wish I thought that would pass muster, but it won’t.

Here’s hoping I can impose a deadline on myself, and whip up something frothy and fun to read in the next few days. I have a list of all kinds of stuff that I am excited to share. Really!

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Kitchen Table Tent

One of the books Finn got for his birthday was Unplugged Play by Bobbi Conner. I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of what is inside, but already it has been wonderful. I’m tempted to say that if you get invited to a kid’s birthday party, just get this book and everyone will think you are a super-awesome-parent-guru.

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Finn, at age 3, is just getting into imaginative play, where he can pretend things are going on with his toys. Today, for example, when he was supposed to be taking a nap, he said to me, “Let’s play pretend that we have wheels. These are our wheels, ok?” and he held up his two hands in kind of a “C” shape. Then he crawled around in a circle for a few minutes and made car noises. The leap from the plain-old-world-before-imagination to the world after it arrives is almost as great a leap to me as the one that happened with language, between signing for “milk” and being able to tell me what he wanted for breakfast. I just can’t believe what I get to see when he opens up about what is going on inside his head. And I’m sure the game where his hands are wheels will become old hat in a matter of weeks, so that is kind of why I’m recording it here. I will probably not remember it a year from now.

The first game we found in Unplugged Play was #157: “Kitchen Table Fort.” I threw an old bed sheet over the kitchen table and we pretended it was a tent. We also got out some dishes in case we wanted to pretend we were camping (we did not, as it turned out). We read books in the tent and had some snacks in there.

And then this happened: Donovan pretended to take a nap in the tent.

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So maybe the pretend play has been going on longer than I think.

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Clean Up and Declutter

The last time my older son was away for a visit with grandma and grandpa, we lived it up like people with no children. We drove all over town with our few-months-old baby, eating at new restaurants we wanted to try, sitting in traffic, drinking fancy beers at fancy places. The baby was a good sport about the whole thing. And we relished those “easy” days of only having one child to take care of.

Well, we dropped the 2 year old off at grandma and grandpa’s house again this week. But instead of using the time to catch up on all the social stuff we’ve been missing, I’m using it to clean the house.  I know, b-o-r-i-n-g. I’m trying to free the house of clutter, which is probably impossible with young children. I mean … they just collect so much stuff.  Finn might find a marble or a rock outside and suddenly it’s a treasure he needs to have on hand at all times. Friends call up and ask if we want some of their old hand-me-downs and I say yes because I think it’s going to be shoes or something and it turns out to be three giant trucks that are too awesome for us to turn away. And then there is the art that comes home from school — the sweet little projects he makes with his friends. It all piles up and I feel so guilty throwing any of it away.

Here is what is hitting the garbage this week:

race track 1 This is a pool noodle race track, which is all over Pinterest. It is supposed to look like this:

race track 3Mine kept falling apart no matter what I did and I found the baby chewing on the toothpicks a few times. Bye-bye!

Another: this bag of ponies.

bag of poniesI’m hoping I can re-home these instead of throwing them away. These were mine when I was a kid and I had such hopes that my kids would love ponies like I did. I guess I thought it would make it easier to relate to them, instead of me having to learn all about what they love. You can guess how that worked out — ask me any question about steam engines, I dare you. It wouldn’t be so bad if they just … passed over the ponies … or didn’t like them as I had. But my children are actively icked out by the feel of pony hair. Finn gets the “throw up” look on his face when he accidentally encounters one. I want to just leave these on the curb to become someone else’s problem, but I believe Salty and Quarterback may be worth some money. Sigh. I guess now I get to stare at them for the next six months while I try to muster the energy for e-bay.

Here’s another toy I feel sad that we do not like to play with:

tinker toysGiant tinker toys. I feel like maybe we just need to be older, but so far these have poked everyone in at least one eye every time I bring them out. Bye bye.

I’m also getting rid of Finn’s beloved Valentine’s box he made at school. Oh, the mom guilt over this one. It’s a shoe box he decorated, full of tiny slips of paper from his friends. It has been hanging around for months. But he still likes to sit with it and take out all his notes and talk about which one of his friends gave it to him. It is so sweet it is killing me to throw it away. I am really hoping he doesn’t notice it’s gone.

Here’s to a cleaner, tidier house. For a few days, anyway, until we have his birthday party …

race track 2

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Moral Dilemma

We have hit a rough patch with books. The baby is going godzilla on them. Often, before I even realize he’s got one in his hands, I hear that horrible sound of ripping paper.

Here is my question: when he’s ripped a library book, what should I do?

I have been taping everything together as best as I can and returning the books without saying anything. Do I need to pay for these? Should I trust that the library will charge me when its appropriate?

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On Pancakes and Sick Kids

When you are stuck in the house all day with a sick child, as I was on Thursday, you could do a lot worse than …

pancakes

… make a whole bunch of pancakes.  Here’s why:

1. Kids can help make them.

2. If you can’t flip a pancake one-handed while carrying a grumpy child at the beginning of the endeavor, you will have plenty of chances to practice. And once you get it down, you will rightly feel like you have superpowers.

3. You can eat a pancake one-handed while walking around the house, while carrying a sick kid, while doing all the other hundreds of things you have to do when someone doesn’t feel good. Remembering to eat sometimes falls off the list, at least for me.

4. You can make bland ones that will feel ok on a yucky tummy.

5. You can make healthy ones. I made these “carrot cake” ones.

6. You can make peanut butter and jelly ones. It is really easy. Take a regular recipe for pancakes, even a box of mix, and add peanut butter chips. Serve with jelly instead of syrup. DONE.

6. They are cheap.

7. You can freeze them and eat them for days.

8. You can eat them for any meal or every meal.

9. Anyone can eat them, from babies on up.

10. Some children (even my children?) can be a little patient while you work, knowing that you are churning out another good thing to eat every 3-4 minutes.

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