Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Field Trip: EnterTRAINment

I meant to write this post months ago, but forgot about it until I came across the photos on my computer earlier today. When we were celebrating the holidays with my family in Ohio, we visited EnterTRAINment Junction in West Chester, Ohio. It is rare that a family outing is enjoyed by all present, which is why I wanted to plug EnterTRAINment.

I was a bit skeptical about the outing because at a family gathering in the summer we had all taken a train ride together that left out of Lebanon, Ohio. The train was old and really cool and the kids enjoyed the ride. However, at the halfway point, we got off for about twenty minutes and a lecture on train safety was presented. Honestly, the lecture was informative and I will for sure never consider pressing my luck at a railroad crossing, but I have to say it is a bit disconcerting to watch your son and nephew innocently eat fruit snacks while a man is asking the assembled crowd if they know how many train fatalities there are each year . . . But, back to EnterTRAINment.

The place is HUGE (80,000 square feet) and was really impressive. There is the largest, most involved display of model trains I've ever seen (not that I am a train junkie who has seen many others), and it is set up chronological order so you can see the history of railroading as you walk through. About halfway through the model train display, you can stop off in the children's play area. Bub and his cousin Handsome (also a spirited three year-old) had a blast in the play area, playing with trains and shoveling coal. My dad was really tickled to see his grandsons shoveling coal because that's something he did as a kid at his family's coal company. I was tickled because I had never heard my dad talk about shoveling coal before, and it was fun for me to imagine it.

In addition to the model train display and the play area, there is also a museum of American Railroading. If not for having to keep track of curious Bub and tend to Little Bit, I know my husband and I would have enjoyed taking time to read all of the information at the displays.

You can also peek in a huge, well-lit room where they work on the trains and displays. There was a sign that said something about volunteers, and it made me happy to think of retired guys, heading over to do this kind of work on trains. That kind of gig has to be somebody's dream, right?

The complex also has themed holiday walks (we skipped that as it cost extra and you never know what to expect with little ones and their attention spans), a gift shop, and a food court (which we, surprisingly, didn't visit). You know it's a successful outing with my family if no one needs a snack.

In warmer weather, there is an outdoor track where kids can engineer hand-cranked railroad cars. I don't know if Bub's old enough for that, but if he is, I'd be excited to visit again and to see what other improvements and additions have been made. There is some signage promising that they are no where near finished adding to EnterTRAINment.

I know many NTB readers do not live near Cincinnati, but if you ever have reason to be there, it may be worth checking out EnterTRAINment (and Kings Island and the Cincinnati Zoo and the Underground Railroad Freedom Center--which I still want to see myself, ditto the Purple People Bridge).

Bub was very serious about coal shoveling.

Some of the details . . . but these photos don't give the "big picture" in terms of the size of the display.

What are some points of interest for family fun in your neck of the woods? Please share.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Call me Kate?

I went to the grocery this morning to re-stock our fridge after a week away. When I got home, I decided to give the fridge a quick clean before I put the groceries away. I knew it was time to check for and remove a variety of expired, ignored, and hidden treasures inside. I cleared off the bottom shelf and noted how cruddy it was. I grabbed the cleaner and a paper towel and started to give it a wipe. Bub started helping (and by helping I mean spraying cleaner at me and into a rag and onto the floor). Then I started to empty the next shelf, thinking maybe I'd wipe it too. But I wasn't quite satisfied with getting the obvious crumbs and the raisins (homemade, not to brag, from stray grapes in corners of the fridge).

Next thing I know, I'm taking the shelves and drawers out of the fridge and going to town on them in the sink. I even attacked a large patch of dried maraschino cherry juice that has been congealed beneath one of the drawers for many, many months now. I can safely say our fridge has not been this clean in years, and I am very proud of myself. I know what I have in there and where to find it! Plus, there is room to spare, which should save some juggling and jigsaw puzzling the next time I need to find or store something. I even went all out and rededicated the crisper to fruits and vegetables (formerly, the entire bottom left drawer of the fridge was devoted to Diet Coke). I realize that others might do this kind of fridge cleaning regularly, but I am not one of them.

I'm sure our fridge would not meet Kate Gosselin standards, but it is a HUGE improvement. I didn't think the mess and disorganization inside was bothering that much, but given how happy I feel to have it clean, I guess it must have been getting to me a bit.

What's in your fridge and do you have a routine in place for keeping it tidy?

Friday, February 20, 2009

"Come on everybody it's parachute time."

My household and Gymboree are "on a break."* Bub did Gymboree classes for about a year and it was mostly a lot of fun. There's plenty to do there and plenty to play with and it's no big deal if your child isn't into each activity in the portion of the class where you are building problem-solving or creative thinking (or whatever other skills their marketing experts dreamed up) skills. Late last spring when I was pretty darn pregnant and Bub was among the oldest and biggest in his class, we had a problem with hugging at Gymboree. That's right, a hugging problem. Bub would go in for a hug -- and I believe that this impulse to hug came from a genuine, loving place -- but unfortunately, these hugs were a bit too enthusiastic and might even have seemed, to those unfamiliar with Bub, aggressive. You see, the hugs did not end. Bub would continue the hug until both children were on the ground. When did Bub do his hugging? Parachute time.

That's why, the following passage from Rattled by Debra Galant cracked me up. This novel is about a family who buy a McMansion in New Jersey, plus a whole lot of trouble. It was a fun read, I thought, and a good reminder that a big house and Pottery Barn furniture do not make a home or a family. Anyway, here's the passage. To set it up, Kevin is the dad and Connor is the son.

"Kevin remembered those Saturdays at Gymboree and his dread every time they played the parachute game. The grown-ups would all hold the sides of the parachute, and the children would disappear underneath, and then at the command of the teacher, the multicolored fabric would float up like a butterfly to reveal a group of delighted, giggling kids. In theory, at any rate. Only when Connor played, something would happen underneath the parachute, and when the silk came up, there would be some poor innocent child screaming and pointing hysterically at Connor."

My Bub is no Connor, but this passage tickled me as I know how it feels to hold one's breath and wait to see what the lifted parachute reveals. Galant gets a lot of little moments and details just right in this novel.

We have four visits to Gymboree left when I choose to unfreeze our membership. I may see if Little Bit is ready to get his hug on.

*for the record, the break is voluntary -- we were not asked to leave!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"I see another sharp!"

Bub has made some friends on the beach. He tends to play best with girls a bit older than him who are bossy with him but not too bossy. His vacation fling this year is almost five. Bub is three. Today a four-and-a-half year-old boy joined them on the beach and supplanted the Bub in the girl's affections. But yesterday, Bub and his older woman had a grand old time. The ocean was very calm and they would wade out about fifty feet or so (supervised from the shore, of course). Then, his friend would shout "Shark!" and the two of them would run to the shore giggling and squealing. Then, they would go back and do it again. And again. And again. Bub just followed her lead and ran away from that "shark" with glee and abandon. This morning, he looked out at the ocean and announced, "I see another sharp!"

I thought he was "sharp"er than that, but hubby taught him to end the word with "k" not "p" so now he has seen several shar-K's.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Castle Captured Me

I've been making more time to read in 2009. Here are some titles you may want to check out.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Published in 1951 (I think) but then out of print for many years, this novel was the most wonderful surprise. I loved it and know I will read it again and, if I have a daughter someday, will share it with her as I plan to share my Anne of Green Gables books. This novel is a perfect blend of romance and reality. I actually remember picking it up and putting it down many times back when I used to visit Joseph-Beth Bookstore multiple times a week. I think the title made me associate the book with fantasy and/or historical fiction, neither of which is a favorite genre of mine. I regret that I didn't encounter this book sooner. My fault and my loss.

A Free Life by Ha Jin
This novel tells the story of a young Chinese couple and their son, immigrants in the U.S. who end up making a life in Atlanta. In partnership with his wife, the main character Nan works hard to build a business, pay a mortgage, and provide for his family. Yet he continues to nurture his dream of writing poetry in English. I liked learning about life in China from the perspective of persons who left that country. I also really admired Nan's dedication to creating not just a life, but the life he wanted. This is a bit of a slow read, but the journey of creating a free life can be slow too so it worked for me.

Eat, Memory: Great Writers at the Table edited by Amanda Hesser
Collection of essays about my favorite topics -- eating, food, gathering for meals, preparing meals, eating out, friends -- previously published in The New York Times. One of my favorite essays was about the popularity of TANG in China. As seen above, I now really like learning about China. It is nice to read essays for a change.

I Love You More Than You Know by Jonathan Ames
Speaking of reading essays for a change, I purchased Ames' collection on Audible a couple of years ago but then never listened to it. The audiobook is of him reading his essays, and I really liked it and him, well more than I thought I might enjoy tales of being in the bathtub with a ball of snot that ends up being a cockroach, visting a prostitute, or obsessing over warts. I was impressed by Ames' honesty and his sense of humor and look forward to reading more of his work.

I've read some other stuff as well, but those are the titles I wanted to tell you about for now. What are you reading? What's your favorite read of 2009 so far?

(Sorry I did not link to the titles' Amazon descriptions as usual, but I am using hubby's laptop, and I struggle with it for some reason.)

Friday, February 13, 2009


The title is my one-word description of my cousin's photography, not to brag. Please check her new website, and take the time to look at her portfolios (bottom left), especially the editorial one. Her link is on the left in case you want to visit again.

I have been dreaming of funnel cakes since I looked at her pictures yesterday.

Monday, February 9, 2009

I need to move it, move it.

Recently, I replaced the batteries on my pedometer and decided to get back in the habit of wearing it. In the past when I have worn the pedometer, I did not always manage to get my 10,000 daily steps, but I came close. When I was really in the zone, I would do things like walk in place while watching television to get extra steps; walk to the mail box on the corner after Bub was in bed; and do my best to walk everywhere that Bub and I went (parks, CVS, Jewel, Einstein's bagel, etc.).

Being reunited with my pedometer has not yielded impressive results so far, despite the fact that I have purposely taken walks a few times to take advantage of the spring-ish weather (temperatures in the high thirties now feel like spring to me). Here are my stats:

Sunday: 4103
Monday: 1294
Tuesday: 1078
Wednesday: 1745
Thursday: 1774
Friday: 3352
Saturday: 3385*
Sunday: 919
TODAY: 1550

As you can see, "not to brag" is not a necessary caveat for these stats.

What conclusions can be drawn?
1. I need to move more throughout the day. I feel like I am going up and down the steps hundreds of times a day, but it seems unlikely based on these stats.

2. Winter is tough, and I am less active in this season than I ever realized. However, if the weather is at all decent, I need to bundle the boys up and strap them into the stroller for some walks. Easier said than done but certainly not impossible.

3. I need to find a way to blog and check facebook while walking . . . just kidding. Not going to happen, but I can do some walking in place while I watch television (though, truth be told, I haven't had much television time lately).

4. Moms who attribute their great figures to nothing more than "keeping up with/chasing their little ones" may not be telling the whole truth.

Though my steps are fewer than I expected, I am kind of excited to have this much room for improvement. You know how when you read weight loss articles and you think "But I already drink skim milk instead of whole and diet soda instead of regular. I already avoid crispy chicken sandwiches. I'm already aware that a salad is not going to help me lose weight when slathered in full fat ranch dressing. I know to avoid the bread basket. And on and on" and you wish you had some big changes like that you could make. Well, now I feel like I have a big change I can make. New mantra: "Move more."

What about you, have you ever worn a pedometer? Any suggestions for ways to extra steps in throughout the day?

* I did walk more on Saturday, but we went out that night. Since we so rarely go out on weekend nights (or ever), I opted not to sport the pedometer on my waist band. We ended up walking home from the bar even though my feet really hurt. When I started mentioning how badly my feet hurt, hubby noted, "This is just like old times." So then we had a moment.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cupcake not included.

I am always looking for titles to add to my books-to-read list and recently got a great tip from a facebook status update (Thanks LPS). The book is I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids: Reinventing Modern Motherhood by Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile. It's a quick read that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. At many moments, I found myself nodding in recognition. One great thing this book has going for it is that it does not devote a lot of energy to questions of working moms versus stay-at-home moms; rather, the authors assume that most moms experience similar joys, frustrations, pleasures, insecurities, and challenges, regardless of their "day jobs."

I don't want to say too much about the content of the book because I would love for you to read it yourself. I will give you the chapter topics/tips though:
* Align Your Expectations With Reality
* Make Peace With Your Choices
* Lose the Judgment
* Let Go of the Guilt
* Tell Him What You Need
* Honor Your Whole Self
* Just Say No
* Live in the Moment

What I would really love is to discuss this book with friends in a setting that involves wine, food, comfortable seating, cozy lighting, and children who are sleeping.

In case such a gathering never transpires, I will share some of my insights, as inspired by reading this book.
* We owe it to ourselves and to other moms to be honest about our experiences as moms. Being honest does not have to mean complaining or whining, though sometimes we need to do a bit of that. I have plenty of moments when I feel inadequate, unsure, and frustrated as a mom. When I'm honest about how I'm feeling, I can ask for help and receive reassurance that I am not alone, that uncertainty is sometimes part of the job. On the flip side, it is good for moms to share joys and successes and we should feel able to do so without fearing it will be perceived as bragging or competitiveness.

* Going along with the above, when moms are sharing experiences and being honest, can we all just take it as a given that everyone LOVES and is GRATEFUL FOR their kids? It gets old feeling like you have to preface everything with, "I love my kids, but . . ." Of course you love your kids. We all do. I'm not saying moms don't need perspective from time to time or reminders to be grateful, but we also don't need to feel like we have no right to struggle or be uncertain.

* Judge less. The more I judge other moms, the more I assume I am being judged. I am most judgmental when I am feeling insecure. I try to tell myself, "Hey, I'm doing the best I can. So is she. We're all doing the best we can."

* I'm not perfect, and I'm not going to wait until I am to start enjoying my kids and my life. Life's too short to be so darn hard on yourself. My house is usually a mess. My preschooler watches television and is familiar with the Happy Meal. I love naptime. I buy organic milk but that's it. Our toys are not organized in bins with labels. I don't always wash the baby's clothes in Dreft. I'm not above bribing . . . the list could go on and on. I'm not perfect, but that doesn't mean I'm not a good mom, a really good mom.

To that end, I really have to quote a passage from near the end of the book:

"And if it's not enough to realign your expectations for yourself or for the other moms, then do it for your kids. Our children are watching us. They're seeing our stress, our anxiety, how we beat ourselves up. We're teaching them that good enough is not good enough. We're showing them that anything less than perfect is not OK. By example, you may be demonstrating that taking care of yourself is a low priority, that it's fine to back-burner your passions, that the choices everybody else makes are the right choices for you. . ."

There's more good stuff that follows, but go to the library and get the book already.
One warning though, the cover of the book is a close-up photograph of a cupcake which is sadly, not included, even though you totally deserve it.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Speak your truth, Mama

We've had a great weekend around here. Temperatures in the 30s and 40s, which felt like springtime. Our nephew being kind enough to eat pizza with us, play with the boys, and then stick around after we got them to bed so the hubby and I could go out for a few hours. A successful trip to church. Little Bit and I able to get outside and take a nice walk. Buffalo chicken tacos (for our at-home Superbowl "party"). Chocolate chip cookies. Lots of fun for the Bub -- soccer, playing in the snow, making cookies with mommy, puzzles with daddy, perfecting the art of standing up to pee, catching a few minutes of E.T. on television ("He a nice monster").

Truly, Bub was an angel this weekend.

But he was not so angelic on Friday morning. We had arranged to meet some friends at their house, hang out for a while and then head to a place in their neighborhood, a huge room full of toys for toddlers and babies. We were going to order some lunch to be delivered there. Nice little Friday morning is what I was thinking. As ever, Little Bit did his part. He slept on the way there and stayed asleep at our friends' house, only waking when we arrived at the play room.

Bub busied himself playing in the kitchen area of the play room right away. There were a lot of wooden toy appliances, and he had something going with the blender and some wooden eggs that had him quite engaged. But then, apparently a young boy dared to try to borrow an egg or the blender (not sure what occurred, not that it mattered as Bub's response was inappropriate regardless), and Bub responded by hitting him. I responded with issuing a warning and giving Bub a time-out on my lap.

Long story short because I do not want to re-live the rest in detail. Within twenty minutes, two more incidents of Bub hitting occur (new victim is the daughter of a friend of my friend/hostess for this outing).

Executive decision: MEP and Co. are leaving.

My friend watches Little Bit, and I began getting the Bub out of there.
Kicking, screaming, and crying.
Hitting me as I carry him to the entrance area.
Me struggling to get Bub's boots and hat on.
Hiding (Bub not me, though I would have loved to disappear) behind a display of Melissa and Doug puzzles for sale.
Chucking puzzles from said display on to the ground.
Screaming about how he does not want to leave.
Me feeling as if every person in the room must be thinking, "Wow, she is the worst mom I have ever seen."
Me feeling as if I am the worst mom I have ever seen.
I carry Bub to the car sans shoes and hat (still around 15 degrees at this time).
Intense struggle to get Bub secure in car seat as he continues to scream and cry.
Woman on street trying to communicate with me about the parking spot as the struggle is going on (I think she wanted to know was I leaving? could I wait until she moved her car?).
I respond to woman in shrill, crazed voice: "Sorry, I'm in the middle of a tantrum here."
I pull up to door of play place and my friend brings Little Bit out to the car.
We head home and all three passengers are crying. Little Bit is hungry. Bub wants to go to his friend's house (perhaps because he realizes now that going back to the play room is not an option). I'm feeling frustrated, ashamed, like a terrible mom, and also sorry that I will miss out on ordering lunch.

Bub calms down as we drive. Little Bit falls asleep. I pull myself together. We arrive home, and I begin making Bub's lunch. The rest of the day goes surprisingly well.

I'm obviously not writing this post to brag. I'm also not fishing for comments about myself or the Bub not being terrible. I know we're not. What I would like to hear though, and you don't need to be specific if you don't want to, is whether you've had a day or a morning anything like ours on Friday. Have you been there?* If you have, maybe you will take comfort in this post. If you have not, you can feel sorry for me and/or smug/satisfied with regard to your own parenting.

*KMV -- I know you really were there . . . thank you and I'm sorry!
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