Posts tagged Trains

Rex-Goliath, Meet Thomas


We all know by now that Rex-Goliath is a fan of Thomas the Tank Engine. Since his birthday celebration was a little lean, we decided that one of his presents would be tickets to A Day Out with Thomas. The gist of this activity is that you cough up twenty bucks a person to ride in some dilapidated passenger coaches pulled by a life-sized Thomas the Tank Engine and participate in some “fun” activities. We decided not to forewarn Rex-Goliath of the occasion due to the risk of being asked when we were going to see Thomas for six months prior to the date. We figured we would get a huge shock-and-awe moment from him when he happened upon Thomas at the actual event, and it would be cute and everyone would be happy.

Once again, my parenting strategy failed me. We did happen upon Thomas, gleaming in the sunlight. “Rex-Goliath, who is that?” we inquired. He looked at us like we were idiots. “Thomas,” he replied, as is he saw a life-sized Thomas every day. This is how our kids are, though. Completely nonchalant at the event, but will talk about it daily until the next completely-totally-awesome-cool thing happens. Rex-Goliath probably would have enjoyed the whole shindig a lot more if Chloë had been present. He is still a little wary of things, and having a buddy might have made the experience much better for him. Xavier just isn’t quite a big enough partner in crime yet.

Here it is, pixel-by-pixel:

Rex-Goliath rides the mini-train they had to appease the youngins while waiting for their turn on Thomas.

Rex-Goliath, looking both suspicious of the whole event and a little lonely

The ubiquitous train tables

Sir Topham Hatt strikes a pose

More train toys

Sand toys. They also had kiddie pools full of soap and bubbles... thank God the kids didn't see those.

Hands-down the best part of the day. I don't know what tropical lounge singers have to do with trains, but this guy was the designated entertainment. And he got the joke.

All aboard!

I appreciate that they decorated the train in a festive manner, but it looks a little like they let Rex-Goliath do it.

Smile! You're getting on the train and I need this for the blog!

Daddy, Rex-Goliath, and Xavier

Mama and the boys

And that does it. Really, the best thing that came of A Day Out with Thomas is the catalog I picked up in the giftshop in lieu of buying the kid a $20 four in train with a face. It is already tattered, and every night, he shows me his plans for every birthday and Christmas gift until he is twenty-three. Next time, he tells me, he wants to ride on Percy. I haven’t broken it to him yet that Percy doesn’t come life-sized.

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Rex-Goliath’s First Baseball Game! But Enough About That, Let’s Talk Trains.

It as a sunny, beautiful June day in good old St. Paul, big time Minneapolis. I spent my morning hustling with Uncle Dave hearing about the latest communist plot being perpetrated by the black man in the White House, all while sweating into some salsa. I cut out early, because this particular day was a big day. Today I would be bringing Rex-Goliath to his First Baseball Game. Significantly – his First Baseball Game at Target Field. But, even more significantly, we would be taking the light rail commuter train to the game. Wait, I should, in an appropriate Victorian Style, capitalize an essential word; let me try that last sentence again.

But, even more significantly, we would be taking the light rail commuter Train to the game.

Train. This is a big deal.

Rex-Goliath dying, going to heaven.

Yes, Rex-Goliath was intrigued by the baseball game proposition. It held his interest, but his interest was in a vague thing – baseball is on T.V., and is allegedly a thing that Daddy had been involved in before, but a baseball game isn’t a rock-fucking-solid Important Thing like trains. A boy can wrap his imagination wholly around riding on a train as a whole body experience. Trains after all, are very useful, and communicate real ideas, and have faces, and literally actually talk.

Daddy is cheeky and is a troublesome engine, courtesy of Sean Olene.

The ball game was a 12:15 start, which was just about the time we left the house for the Fort Snelling light rail station. By the time we drove, parked, walked and began our wait at the train station, a couple of innings had passed. The sun was shining brightly, the birds were singing, and we were all by ourselves at the station, as if the entire train was coming, specially, just for the good little mister and his old man.

A few minutes passed, and lo and behold , a train arrived. Now, the idea of a train and the reality of a train do not necessarily share the same shape, and I could tell from Rex-Goliath that the meeting of these two versions might be a bit at odds. The train was a little too large, a bit too fast, way too loud, and Rex-Goliath was a smidge intimidated. We boarded (although nobody said “All aboard!” as one might expect.) and had to quickly find a seat, because the driver certainly wasn’t waiting for us to sit down to start chug-chug-chugging along the track. Rex-Goliath and I took a seat at the front of the train, and soaked it all in.

A wonderful panorama of surging people, cars, and buildings!


One nervous boy.

Rex-Goliath was in quiet shock and awe for the entire trip, and was admittedly a bit happy once we arrived at Target Field, i the heart of the fourth inning. Rex-Goliath’s reaction to the spectacle of the field was of mild acceptance – the entree of the ballgame was certainly dwarfed by the first course. He was a excited that they were playing baseball, but only when I pointed it out to him, at which point he promptly lost interest in the whole affair. We walked around a bit, pausing briefly to score a $85 beer, went up a couple flights of stairs to our seats, and settled in for the fifth inning. We had a frozen lemonade, a juice box, cotton candy, umm yum yum.





We saw a Justin Morneau blast to the plaza in right field, watched Johnny Damon complete botch a routine fly ball, cheered a bit, clapped a bit, and even heckled the umpire (from the third deck, I’m sure it stung) a bit. By the time Rex-Goliath was getting antsy (and began his incessant request to go back on the train), it was the bottom of the eighth inning and a perfect time to cut out.

Joe Mauer's statue and the boy whose statue will eventually supplant Joe Mauer's statue.

Rex-Goliath was more than ready for the train ride back, but neither of us was prepared for the severe clot of people on the train. Seriously – we could barely get on the damn thing.

Where do these people all come from? Oh yeah, Twin's game.


A tired boy, a busy train ride, a good day.

– Mr. Wonderful

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Spend the Holidays with the Wonderfuls

The holidays at the Ranchero are a patchwork of gatherings that extend to New Year’s Eve. We start early – Chloë arrives on December 23rd (if it isn’t already our week) and Santa comes that night.

I like to draw out the excitement of opening presents, so we usually open up a couple that evening. I used to love that as a kid – they sat under the tree, beckoning us for what seemed like weeks. It seemed a little like cheating, but opening those one or two early gifts was one of the most exciting parts. I remember laying under the tree, inhaling that lovely pine scent, wondering what could possibly be in those beautifully wrapped packages. My mom was a perfectionist when it came to wrapping – everything coordinated, had just the right amount of sparkle, the wrap was on straight. I inherited that tradition and take some amount of pride in perfectly wrapping the perfect present.


While everyone was sleeping, Santa had a few glasses of wine, I mean cookies and soy milk, while laying out the gifts. Santa is a smart dude – he knew that Chloë wanted Polly Pockets, so he watched and waited on e-bay for just the right discontinued playsets, as the selection at Target was not what he had in mind. He knew that Rex-Goliath would love a train set, so he brought one of those and expertly assembled it while posting on Facebook about how ridiculous the directions were. It was convenient for Santa that one of the items that Rex-Goliath opened on Christmas Eve Eve was a playboard for setting up train track configurations, decoupaged by Mama. Santa filled the stockings, with everyone’s favorite critters poking their heads out of the stockings. Santa loves it when things match, so he was particularly excited that Xavier’s wee elephant coordinated with his elephant-print sleeper.


The old man left some tracks on our balcony, but with the snow falling as rapidly as it was, they were completely obscured by morning.


Rex-Goliath was the first up, and he did not quite know what to make of things. He is still a bit too young to fully grasp the mythology of Santa. This train set was basically his dream come true, transported to his very own living room. He seemed almost in disbelief at first. But he rallied, lining up his trains on the tracks and then smashing up the landscape.


It was Xavier’s first Christmas – good thing his siblings were around to assist with his loot.

After discovering Santa’s gifts and opening up our presents under the tree, we attended the Schmitt family Christmas at Dan’s Aunt Kris and Uncle Chad’s house. The kids opened gifts and the adults played Dirty Bingo (aka the Dice Game) for gifts. Somehow a couple of Snuggies made their way into the mix, and Dan’s cousin Shauna and I spent the whole game conspiring to keep possession of our respective Blankets with Sleeves.


Upon returning home, we had a brief impromptu visit with Dan’s sister Kesah and his mom. Dan made pizza, we drank prosecco and chatted. Chloë was at her mom’s at this point and Rex-Goliath was asleep, but Xavier was the life of the party, cooing and smiling for his Auntie.


On Christmas Day, we picked up Chloë and headed up to North Branch to visit my dad, stepmom, and brothers. It was a low-key day, but enjoyable. My littlest brother Bryce received a video game that Chloë has been coveting, so the two of them spent the holiday with the Mario Bros.


The day after Christmas, Grandma Vicky and Auntie Kesah returned for an evening of tempura, potstickers, and presents.


Auntie played a round of Polly Pockets with the kids, brought a gift of a digital camera, and some Thomas jammies for Rex-Goliath.

Grandma Vicky and Tate gave Princess Pug some much needed attention, and did not hold a grudge when Puggy relieved herself on the couch. She also, of course, made goo-goo eyes at the baby.

All in all, a quality evening.

Our last holiday event consisted of a trip down to Warren and Deb’s house in Elysian, MN (Warren is Kesah’s dad). We love visiting them – there is always something fun to do for the kids and great food and conversation for the adults.


Warren and Xavier, just hanging out.


We all opened presents – Deb always has the most thoughtful stocking stuffers. She loves gifting like I love gifting.

Deb bought dress-up clothes from the thrift store in anticipation of our visit – here are a few shots of the kids playing:

Xavier was able to join in the fun with a pint-sized Santa hat:

My last picture – Dan immediately after hurling the Christmas tree over the balcony (which was immediately after spilling tree water all over Rex-Goliath’s train playboard, which was immediately following by a string of curse words from Dan and a glaring look from me over the potential undoing of hours of mod podging). Although one would think that he would appear elated in this picture, as the holidays were over, he is not, because he knew that he only had vacuuming up pine needles with a one-wheeled vacuum (thank you, Rex-Goliath) to look forward to.

This appears to be the end of gleeful holiday posts. Stay tuned for exciting mid-winter in Minnesota posts demonstrating just how batshit crazy we all get when the days are this short: The Wonderfuls Do Their Taxes, Leah Scolds Dan for buying the Downy Orchid Allure Dryer Sheets Instead of the Fabric Softener, and possibly Princess Pug Goes to the Vet But Dan Says “No” to Having Her Reeking Teeth Cleaned Once Again.

–Mrs. Wonderful

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Trains, Trains, and Automobiles Part 2

After the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train, I decided that we needed one more fun train activity for December. The Minnesota Transportation Museum has a train museum at the Jackson Street Roundhouse, and we decided to give it a go. My lovely friend Melissa is also blessed with a little trainophile, so we met for a little playdate.


The best thing about the train museum is that no one actually goes there. No lines, few other children to fight with, lots of open space – it is really quite lovely with lots of natural light. The worst thing about the train museum is that no one actually goes there. That makes for a surplus of elderly male volunteers just itching to talk train and show you around the place. This would be great if our whole party was over the age of twelve. Two year-old boys just aren’t the most appreciative of a tour guide’s vast knowledge.

So I spent the whole time simultaneously trying to listen to the tour guide (let’s call him “Ed”) not only to be polite, but because the history behind the exhibits was interesting, and trying to keep Rex-Goliath from doing any number of things that he shouldn’t (including but not limited to breaking the train signals, stealing the model trains, falling into pits in the floor, pulling down the cow catcher exhibit, and just plain running off). It, as all things involving motherhood, was a balancing act.


When we arrived at the museum, the boys spotted the train tables immediately. I knew that if we didn’t allow them to play around for a bit we would spend the whole time trying to keep the things from pulling the boys away from us like a giant toddler boy magnet. They had an impressive set-up of wooden Thomas track and trains.


Ed, who appointed himself our tour guide, hung around giving us facts about the museum. Ed had lots of plans for us – showing us the train cars, letting the boys push buttons to make train whistles go, and taking us outside to see some train thing.


Exchange between Ed and I while we moms were trying to finish our coffee and the boys were gleefully stealing trains from each other:

Ed (excitedly): See my hat? That logo is from the Northern Balhousie Railroad.

Me (nodding): That’s really cool.

Ed (pointing wildly): See that train on the TV? We have that train right back there! I can show you it if you want.

Me (craning my neck around, trying to get back-up from Melissa, who was slinking away, staring into her cup): Yeah, I bet the boys would like that after they are done playing.

Ed (practically dragging me to get my coat): During the summer, we give caboose rides out back. If you come back in the summer, you guys could ride in the caboose. But I could show you the caboose today if you want.

Me (looking around desperately): Yeah, we definitely should check that out in the summer.

Ed (unsure as to why we would still be standing amongst the train tables): This building is the only building in the state that has a working turntable. If you want to go out back, I could show you that. Or I could show you that train over there…

Eventually I had to acquiesce. So we had a little tour of the place. While managing diaper bags and little boys, trying not to spill our styrofoam cups of near-boiling liquid on the precious antique train furnishings.


Ed told us that this train made for a good photo op. For some reason, Rex-Goliath was terrified of the thing. But with promises of candy and a good shove, I convinced him to pose despite fearing for his life.


The coolest train they had was the former private car of some rich guy. I am assuming that having a private train car back in the day was akin to having a private jet now. Although it is possible that it was more comparable to having a private Winnebago.


I was impressed that they decorated it for Christmas. Ed warned us that they only do this around the holidays, though.


The best part about having your own train car is that they put the toilet right next to your seat, and your seat is directly below your sleeping quarters. I hope they had Febreze back in the day, although you were probably relegated to waving about an apple stuck full of cloves to “freshen” up the compartment.


The private car had a kitchen. It also had a disturbing-looking chef mannequin standing in the kitchen. Had they given him a knife, I would have thought that I was in some sort of museum-based horror B movie.


They had a few more train cars for us to go through. One was an old electric car, from the Dan Patch line (like the street with the cheese curd booth on it at the Great Minnesota Get-Together). According to Ed, electric trains were not that popular. He was a little sketchy on the details, though.


There was a pretty rad-looking engine called the “Hustle Muscle.” Once again, Ed was a little vague as to its history.


The final car that we experienced was a car that cattle drivers used to ride in while bringing their beasts to the slaughterhouse a la The Jungle.

Despite its distasteful purpose, the cars, both smoking and non, were pretty nice. The cattlemen themselves must have been somewhat distasteful, however, as there were signs posted warning against spitting and littering.

The kids these days use computers to track where trains are. Apparently you can even watch this via the internets.


It was pretty neat to see that there was a train in South Saint Paul (our fair city) when we were at the museum.

By this point, the boys were dying to get back to the toys. Ed was still holding out hope that we would go outside with him, but unfortunately, lunch was beckoning. The boys did get to see a real train drive by the museum before we left. Except for the big disappointment for Rex-Goliath upon our departure (he didn’t understand why we would leave such a cool place if given the choice), the trip was a success.

–Mrs. Wonderful

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Trains, Trains, and Automobiles Part 1

For those of you that have not gotten the wire, Rex-Goliath loves trains. The whole thing happened by accident. We were at Blockbuster, renting Chloë a movie (Tropical Barbie or something equally horrific). Rex-Goliath obviously had not understood that renting him a movie was not in my plan. He selected one and gleefully marched up to me, waving Thomas the Tank Engine: The Great Discovery. This is how fate-sealing parenting decisions are made – I figured he would watch it once and we would move on with our nearly TV-free existence. Not so much.

He wanted to watch it constantly. This is probably what happens when you deprive your child of the things that all children love (TV, candy, vodka) – they gorge on it as soon as they get their hot little hands on some. Eventually we got him down to two viewings a day (bear in mind, this whole thing went down during a particularly paper-ridden time of the semester). Then one night, after a few glasses of Franzia on ice, I discovered a website offering Thomas and Toby for $1.99 apiece. I punched in my checkcard number, and off we were (Given my hatred of characters and merchandising, this was a pretty big deal).


Now we are in full-on obsession mode. Since I decided that Thomas is fairly innocuous, I have indulged the train obsession a bit. One of our advent activities was to drive to Hastings to see the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train and take low-quality pictures of it. The whole thing blinks and flashes more than a Fisher Price baby toy and is not exactly photogenic for the amateur. Add that to the fact that I was wearing Xavier and trying to hold Rex-Goliath up to see the train while taking said pictures and avoiding the strangely high number of people waving lit cigarettes, it really is a feat that I captured anything other than the bum of some burly man in front of me.


Rex-Goliath was napless until ten minutes prior to arrival. I should have been there right on time, but Google Maps has been failing me big time lately, and I spent a few minutes touring historic Hastings looking for a glowing train. Eventually I found a parking lot with a lot of people walking around, and I decided to just follow the crowd. Definitely a gamble since I was hefting the baby and dragging the toddler (in boots). Lucky for me, I was on the right track (get it? ). We arrived with plenty of time to spare because according to some old dude I overheard, “the damn thing is a half hour late every year.” Finally, our chronic lateness paid off.

The train is really neat to see – one of the cars opens up and a band plays Christmas music. It acts as a fundraiser for local food shelves, so you can do a good thing while seeing a festive thing. The moment that the train pulls into the station is a little surreal – I was half-expecting it to not show up (my luck).


I cannot guarantee that Rex-Goliath enjoyed the experience to its fullest – he was woozy from the mini-nap and it was hard to see anything but crotches and butts from his height. I think he “got” it, though. If the obsession continues, we’ll try for a repeat next year. An additional parent, two more pairs of socks, and a travel mug full of warm goodness would have improved the experience quite a bit.

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