Santa, no. Trains, yes!

Union Station is one of my favorite places in Kansas City, especially during the holidays. Every year we go downtown to see the model train display and marvel at the Christmas decorations. The majestic architecture of the train station is beautifully complimented by the brightly lit trees and sparkling snowflakes hanging from the ceiling.

This year we figured Monkey was old enough to enjoy the Kansas City Southern Holiday Express, a train “unlike any other train in the world, with its smiling engine “Rudy”, gingerbread boxcar, flatcar carrying Santa’s sleigh, reindeer and a miniature village, snow covered stall filled with model train displays, the elves’ workshop and even a little red caboose.”

If you want to catch the Holiday Express, you have the option of standing in a three-hour-long line OR, if you’re quick with the internet skills, reserving VIP tickets online so you can enjoy the not-so-cheerful glares of others as you skip ahead to the front. We got lucky this year and snagged reservations before they ran out.

We did not get so lucky with the Santa picture.

My son HATES Santa. HATES HIM.

But he loves trains, and so through the Holiday Express we went.

At the end, Monkey received a big red bag of candy which he later enjoyed, minus the parental chocolate tax. We posed for a quick picture in front of Rudy the locomotive, checked out a few Extreme Gingerbread Home Makeover Prize Winners and got home in time for dinner and snuggles and (unfortunately) another football game on tv.

Next weekend, Texas invades Missouri and we’re looking forward to the house full of chaos with my mom, sister and our nephews. Our chances of a white Christmas are slim, but no matter the weather we’re expecting a festive holiday full of food, friends and family. We wish you all the same!

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Chick O Cheat

I gotta tell you, the last thing this mama wanted to do tonight was go trick or treating. I was barely getting by on the three hours of sleep I’d gotten after last night’s Madonna concert and still being waterboarded by my own snot thanks to this lingering cold.

For some reason, my husband was determined that we go, so after a short nap I dragged myself out to the truck to head over to our friends’ neighborhood for what ended up being probably one of the best Halloween evenings ever.

Last year, Monkey dressed as a gnome and rode around in the wagon for most of the night. His dad would carry him up to each house for treats and he’d just stare at all the happy, friendly candy pushers.

This year, he quickly figured out what an awesome deal this whole Halloween thing was.

You mean, I just wear some silly outfit?

And I get to pull the wagon around in the street?

And if I walk up to a house and yell, “Chick O Cheat” they’ll give me candy? (Don’t forget to say thank you! See you later!)

And Mama will let me eat my weight in M&Ms as long as I turn over all these orange square things?

So up and down the sidewalks we went through a neighborhood full of clowns and witches, fairy princesses and well-muscled super heroes. The dads toted small coolers full of autumnal brews while the big kids filled pillowcases with sugar-laden treats to be bartered for extended bedtimes later.

The moms wheeled the smaller kids around in wagons and strollers, stashing the good chocolate in their pockets when no one was looking. Ok, so maybe just one mom did that. Shut up.

After we’d filled the buckets and baskets, we headed back to our friends’ house for some pizza and warmth while the kids sorted their candy and the men chilled on the porch with their drinks and cigars.

On the way home, Monkey was asleep before we hit the highway. His father slipped him quietly into pajamas and under the covers before stretching out to gently snore on the couch.

And Mama is tired, and still feeling under the weather. But she is also round and content and grateful to be able to live such a beautiful, simple life with some truly excellent people.

The nostalgia of clean sheets #iPPP

Growing up, my most and least favorite day was cleaning day. Usually on a Saturday we’d wake up to the sounds of our mom scrubbing either the kitchen or the bathroom. We’d haul our dirty clothes out to the hallway and sort them into piles. We’d dust and vacuum and declutter.

When you’re a kid, cleaning sucks. But there was always something so lovely about resting on the couch under the ceiling fan afterward, surrounded by the smells of Clorox and Pledge. There was a peace to the clean house.

When it came time to strip and remake the beds, my sister and I would play a game with our mother. She would go to spread the new fitted sheet over the mattress and we’d climb underneath before she could get it secured. Then she’d continue to make the bed over us and we’d crawl out one corner, fixing it behind us.

It was silly, really, but it’s one of my favorite memories. The breeze of the snapped sheet over your head, the scent of the detergent it gave off.

The giggles as we lay trapped underneath the bedding for just a moment. The feeling that there wasn’t anything else going on in the world at that moment, just us in the bedroom, being together.

It was all part of the magic of childhood, the magic that fades for awhile but is renewed later when you get to be a parent yourself.

Yesterday I was making the bed when Monkey let out a loud squeal and leapt up onto it. He squirmed his way under the half of the sheet I’d already fitted to the mattress.

“I help,” he insisted.

He wasn’t much help, of course. He’d wrap himself up in the sheets, toss the pillows at me, and yank the comforter away each time I’d try to place it.

I would have gotten exasperated with him, but there was this moment. This moment when he was between the sheets, sitting on top of the fitted one I’d finally gotten tucked in, the flat sheet snapped out above his head, floating down in his face.

His face that was lit up from within with happiness at this moment.

Could he smell it, I wondered? The detergent, would he remember its scent years later? Would the softness of that clean sheet always be a comfort to him?

He had no idea of the bridge to my childhood he’d built in those few seconds, of how quickly I was taken back to those essentially carefree days. How for that moment, there wasn’t anything else going on in the world but us in the bedroom, being together.

Did you photograph a special moment with your phone this week? Link up your post with us!



Mamamash
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Pursued

She wasn’t sure she was going to make it.

The split second she needed to gauge the footsteps – the leaps that would take her further from her pursuer and closer to an escape – that fraction of time might have made the difference.

Her pulse was throbbing in her ears. Could he hear it?

He would catch her again, this she knew.

She could hear his short, shallow breaths just feet away. He wasn’t watching. Not yet. But if she moved, if she made any effort to change her position, he’d be there in a flash.

She decided to go for it.

Uncrossing her legs, she leaned quickly to the left and sprinted up the stairs. Three, four, five steps to make it on the landing, then a quick juke to the left. Through the doorway – there it was! Freedom!

A door slam away.

She twirled around, grabbed the handle. Began to propel the door forward, but too late. Too late.

He was with her, grinning maniacally. He knew he’d beaten her, he knew she was caught.

As did she, so she sat down to pee, defeated, and handed the toddler a roll of toilet paper to unravel, resigned to her fate.

Ain’t no party like a MonkeyMash party…

In nine days my son will turn two and like all other parents I’m left scratching my head and wondering where that time went.

I brought home a little squeaky thing in the summer of 2010 and I’ve watched him grow into a great kid. He loves his friends and family. He’s affectionate and silly. He enjoys conversation, food and playing – all with contagious gusto.

To celebrate the two years we’ve spent loving him, we decided to throw a combination Fourth of July/Birthday party, timed perfectly with the visit of his MawMaw and cousins. In an effort to keep things on a smaller scale, my husband and I each only invited one friend. Of course, when you add in spouses and children, we still ended up with a house (and yard) full of love and laughter.

My husband manned the grill while the big nephews and I worked on a little science experiment from Pinterest. Supposedly, pouring in juice in a certain order causes the colors to stay separate from each other.

We followed the directions on the Pin and ended up with purple juice. Tasty purple juice, but not the effect we were going for.

It was The Gamer’s idea to change the order of the juices and TADA! It worked! Even the adults wanted the pretty drink, so I got quite skilled in my presentation by the end of the party.

Outside, it was complete soggy insanity as nine kids ranging in age from one to 11 ran through sprinklers and wading pools.

Our poor bubble machine tried in vain to keep up, but the best it could do was sputter a sad little sphere here and there.

As the sun began to set, Monkey’s friends “helped” him open his gifts while sitting at the cute little picnic table his MawMaw sent him. When his Daddy wheeled out his gift from us, a shiny new Radio Flyer tricycle, the gasp from the short crowd was audible.

They helped him onto it and patiently waited for their turns. And oh, the silliness.

Later we did the usual ice cream and cake, then brought out the glow sticks for a mini-rave in the front yard. We tried glow bowling, which is harder than it looks in the dark, and then tromped up the hill to see the fireworks from the amusement park next door.

Monkey loved the fireworks, shouting “BOOM BOOM” with glee each time a new explosion lighted the sky. He’d scream, “Get it! Get it!” and reach out to try to grab the colorful bursts.

When the evening was finally over, we said goodbye to our friends and trudged home. While my husband snuggled with Monkey and waited for him to fall asleep, I chatted with my mom and nephews and helped them prepare for their journey back to Texas.

As the clock ticked its last few minutes before midnight, the house was blessedly silent, save for the occasional blast outside from those last few fireworks people just had to set off.

We slept, exhausted and content.

***

More Red White & Two photos here!

The Invisible Elephant Saga, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Zoo

On Tuesday I’ll be 33. According to some think tank in the UK, that’s the age most people report to have been the happiest.

I certainly plan on doing my best to support that position with the help of some silly, smart, spectacular people in my life. Several of those people accompanied me to the Omaha Zoo on Saturday, a trip that’s been on my “Midwestern Bucket List” for some time.

The zoos of today are a far cry from the rows of caged, stressed out animals from my youth. Zoos are heavily involved in education and conservation and have made many improvements in their animal display areas.

One such improvement is adding in more space – more space for the animals as well as more space in between them. And that means more walking for us, which, in most cases, we can totally use.

The Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha is a great sprawl of a place. When we arrived we were instantly dwarfed by the huge desert dome at the front. Inside the dome, I stood face-to-flapping-wings with a cave full of hundreds of bats. I walked through a dark swamp with alligators and nutria and felt like I was back at home in Southeast Texas. (Not that I ever actually walked through a dark swamp there. Alligators don’t tickle when you disturb their naps, even if you try to pacify them with marshmallows.)

We visited giant apes, some who were curious about us…

And some who were too busy contemplating the complexities of life to bother with our stares.

*Sidenote: Have you ever looked into a gorilla’s eyes? I got to, and the intelligence behind them was almost overwhelming. I wanted to hug this guy and tell him I loved him. I figure he’s not a hugger though, and I get that.

We took a little time to let our Monkey attend to some, uh, monkey business. He was in such a mood all morning, wanting nothing more than to be left alone in his wagon to eat. He ate nonstop for the first two hours of the visit, but eventually wanted to get out and look around.

Now here is where the aforementioned saga actually begins.

The entire first couple of hours at the zoo were spent in a descent through ramps and elevators, through the desert and swamp and apes and all, until we reached this guy.

At first it looks like he’s all, “Hai! I’m a bear!” but really he’s laughing at us. He’s laughing his dirty bear butt off because he knows what comes next.

The zoo map tells us that up the hill are rhinos and elephants and sea lions, oh my. The kids want to see all these fantastic creatures and so do we, so up the hill we hike.

We see the rhinos, muddy and quite fat. We watch the sea lions swim around in their pool and wish we could jump in because the temperatures are climbing. Then we begin the trek up yet another hill to see the elephants.

Only, the elephants aren’t there. Instead there’s a pretty sign that announces, “Future Elephant Site.”

By now we’re hot and sweaty and pissed because nobody likes invisible elephants. They’re useless. Our friend Tyson quipped that all of Nebraska must be uphill and it occurred to me later that this must be where all of our grandparents lived when they had to walk to school.

Monkey studied the map for awhile as we took a break to recover from the hill hike. I love his friends’ faces here. You cannot imagine the immensity of the effs they do not give at this point.

One of the older members of our crew, obviously seasoned in the ways of the zoo, suggested a train ride so we could rest our haunches and cool off.

I could have hugged this man. Not only did he do most of the pulling of the children up the hills in the wagon, but he saved our sorry selves with that suggestion.

The train route took us back up the hill so we got to enjoy the sights without huffing and puffing.

Little prairie dogs scurried up out of their burrows alongside us to stare as we chugged past. Monkey and I snuggled, waved at them and mugged for the camera.

When we left the train, we were reinvigorated and ready to finish our trip. But then the clouds rolled in, the temperature dropped about 15 degrees and it looked like it might storm, so the entire visiting population of the zoo crowded into the aquarium.

Our reactions to the massive mob were quite different. Some of us (the smart ones) moved quickly through and ended up on the other end enjoying sno cones.

I was not one of the smart ones, and ended up in a human traffic jam with my little six-year-old sidekick. We made the best of it though and got to see monster crabs, deadly jellyfish and happy stingrays.

One of our crew didn’t make it through though. Yup, that’s my kid, passed smooth out in his wagon where he stayed until we picked him up to put him in his carseat. Homedude was done, y’all.

The best days are those where you’re too tired to walk at the end, but you have a head full of memories and a disc full of pictures that will always remind you that you’re loved. Thank you Greta, Tyson, Henry, Ivy, Essie, Ervin, Maggie and Jim for joining my family as we visited all the wild and wonderful creatures Omaha had to offer.

Now, can someone please tell me WTF this is?

When mom and dad let you down

It’s Wednesday evening and I’m pulling ingredients for dinner out of cabinets and drawers. I’m going to attempt chicken fried steak again, my old nemesis. I tick things off the checklist in my head.

Monkey stands at the gate to the kitchen, doing his Stewie routine.

“Mom. Mom. Mama. Mommy. Mom.”

“Yes?” I ask, distracted by the task at hand.

“Cheeto please,” he says.

“No, mama is making dinner,” I reply.

He frowns at me, dimples disappearing. His brow furrows. He walks off to entreat his father.

“Dada. Dada. Dada.”

“What can I do for you, son?” his father asks.

The request is the same.

“Cheeto please.”

“No, Mama told you, she is making dinner,” his father says.

Twice denied, Monkey plops down on the floor. He’s considering his options. He could whine, but that never does any good anyway. He could go get the Cheetos himself, but that gate is proving to be quite the deterrent.

Hm. OH! That’s right. That’s how you get the Cheetos. That never fails.

The revelation brightens his features, the dimples return. He stands up, takes a deep breath and puts on his most charming smile.

“Dada, call MawMaw.”

Why don’t you just go fly a kite

I have a love/hate relationship with Kansas City, my home since winter of 2008.

The weather is insane, hate. The crime rate is really high, hate. The sports teams are ALLCAPSAWFUL, hate.

But the BBQ is heavenly, love. The highways make it a dream to get around, love. And there is so much to do here.

LOVE.

This morning we woke up with no direction. We ate breakfast, sat around in our pajamas with SportsCenter on (I’ve been brainwashed) and watched the late morning sun shake off the chill of last night.

Normally I’m happy to do this, but today I wanted to go GO GO. And of course, so did Monkey. He’ll even tell you, “Shoes, Mama. Go. Go car. VRRRROOOM.”

So after a quick Google search of events in our area, we headed out to the 2012 Flights of Fancy Kite Festival. I wasn’t sure what to expect since I’d never even heard of this thing before, but that’s kind of the beauty of living in a “newish” place – there’s always something new to discover.

When we pulled up next to MCC-Longview, the sky was a sharp blue and the breeze barely tickled the tops of the trees. Parking was easy enough to find with only a short walk to the festival field.

Monkey had fallen asleep during the drive so when we got him out of the truck he put on his best grump face, crossed his arms and slumped in the stroller. But as soon as we made it around the bend, he saw this and perked right up.

There are certain days in spring where living feels like Heaven on Earth, and this was one of them. The breeze picked up. The savory smells from the food trucks intermingled with the sweet scent of the freshly-mown grass. Strains of rock music provided a beat for the announcer as she told us all about the different kites in the sky.

People are serious about kites, it seems. They have a club, y’all.

One guy had several kites that he would rotate through. Some of them were fast and capable of quick, twisting maneuvers, like this one. Others were large and capable of pulling some weight and he would have to throw himself backward onto the ground to keep from being pulled aloft.

While many, many people brought their own kites, we were just happy to stand and observe, to be a part of the landscape and to witness such a perfect day as this.

Today was love.

Sometimes you have to share

Every family has a collection of stories they tell about each other. Sometimes the stories are funny, oftentimes they are embarrassing, but occasionally they are sweet and translate well from generation to generation.

My Aunt Jan tells the story of how when I was five, I told my two-year-old sister that she was coming to visit. But I set very clear boundaries about the relationship my sister could have with our aunt.

“She’s my Aunt Jan,” I said. “I will share her with you, but she’s mine.”

I was serious.

My Aunt Jan is by all accounts an amazing person.

She has a servant’s heart and a wicked sense of humor. She’ll give you the shirt off her back, the lipstick from her purse and the earrings from her drawer. She even carried dog bones in the trunk of her car for the longest time in case she came across strays. She’s an unbiased listener, a wise counselor and a fearless learner. She completely embodies the definition of the color purple.

Just don’t piss her off.

She’s an angel, but if you hurt her family, she will cut you. No lie. Ask the receipt checker at a certain Sam’s Club in Southeast Texas who was rude to my grandfather.

Anyway, when my son was a few weeks old, my aunt flew to Kansas City to be the first of my family to meet him. She cooked for me, ran errands, and took about eleventy billion photos.

I was in awe of how quickly she fell in love with my son.

Over the last year, she has made it a point to video chat with the Monkey on Saturday mornings. Because of those chats, he recognizes her face and voice, and they’re quite the adorable pair.

Sometimes she’ll show him toys she buys and keeps at her house. She’ll sing to him and chatter at him, but mostly she just watches as he tears around the living room upending everything in sight.

We’ve been counting down to her visit this weekend for months now, and when she got off the plane last night I was not surprised when my son went right to her, laid his head on her shoulder, and snuggled her until she was forced to put him down to claim her baggage.

He was thrilled to see her this morning when she came downstairs and shrieked like a banshee. My heart melted along with my eardrums.

After breakfast we all headed to the Weston Red Barn Farm – our third trip in as many years – which I guess makes it an official family tradition.

But first! First we had to finally flip the carseat forward facing. We’d originally wanted to leave it rear facing til at least 18 months, but my 27-lb, 33-inch toddler has been twisting his legs into a pretzel to fit for the last few weeks, so it was just time.

Also, he got his very own cup of juice at QuikTrip today. Holy crap, my kid is grown.

I was a little bummed because it’s been too warm and the leaves aren’t as vibrant as they usually are, but we still had a magical time at the farm.

We practiced our animal noises with the goats and pigs.

We climbed on haystacks.

We rode around on Daddy’s shoulders to get a better view of all the hot chicks visiting from the local kindergarten.

And Aunt Jan bought us our very. first. ever. PUMPKIN.

We were completely knackered by the time lunch rolled around and passed out during the ride home, but woke up with renewed energy, ransacked the house and wrestled with Aunt Jan until mean old Mama decided it was bedtime.

And when I was getting him ready for bed, I told him to give goodnight kisses to Aunt Jan, but couldn’t resist adding, “She’s my Aunt Jan, but I’ll share her with you.”