jennifer
Before I begin today's post, I have a quick addition to last week's post.  A sweet friend sent me text a few days after that post was live and said that she and her three year old daughter had paid it forward with their quarter/cart at Aldi.  It melted my heart to hear that and she pointed out that it was a great lesson for her toddler.  Isn't that so awesome?  Although, it then made me realize that the lesson for Finley is a bit skewed at age two--every time we do it, he just says "uh oh" loudly on repeat because he thinks I didn't put my cart back correctly.  Hopefully we get the lesson straightened out over the next year...

(Title of this post should be read in the Church Lady's voice from Saturday Night Live.)
Every August, the little bitty Catholic church that my grandma attends in Wien, Missouri, holds its annual picnic.  Somehow, this teeny tiny town pulls off this picnic and it's a huge success.  It's very nostalgic for me because I always remember going as a child.  Our cousins would be there and we would get to run around and play all day.  In college, I still attended, but more for the beer garden than the rides and games.
Last year, Finley wasn't into it too much, but this year, he was hooked.
I don't know how long this ride has been in existence, but it was there when I was Finley's age, so it deserves some serious museum status.
The ride costs one quarter (yep, only 25 cents).  Finley chose this car the first time.

The ride just goes around and around and around, for like 10 minutes.   That's no exaggeration.  The first time Finn rode, I thought the guy just lost track of time and forgot to stop the ride, but no, every single  time it went on and on and on.  They should be charging like $5.00 per ride for this thing.  


video

So, just as I suspected, about eight minutes into the ride, Finley started getting brave and curious.  He eventually got himself off his seat allowing his feet to touch the ground.  He was literally having to sprint around the circle because he was still stuck within the car, but it was going so fast that he had to run to keep up.  I really wanted to get a video of that, but I thought it would be frowned upon.  Instead, the guy had to stop the ride and we took Finley off.  The guy in charge thought he had done it on accident, so he didn't think anything of it, but I knew better.  
Against my better judgment, we let him ride again though.  The second time, I put him in this:

I thought maybe I had outsmarted him this time.  No hole to put his feet through, and an empty rocket on each side so he couldn't get out.  Bingo.
I.Was.So.Wrong.
This time, about two minutes in, he literally stood up on his seat and climbed over into the outside rocket.
Again, I thought a picture might be frowned upon.  This time, the guy in charge sharpened up and knew it was no accident.  Finn was asked to get off the ride.  We like to joke that he's now on the banned list.
Next we tried the bounce house.  I wish we had a permanent one in our backyard because he could have stayed in there forever.  He really didn't have the hang of it at first though.

video
(Probably should have been helping him instead of videoing and laughing.)

After that, it was on to Cliff's favorite--the turtle races.  There is a circular wall with twenty openings.  A few turtles are contained within the circular wall.  You pick a numbered opening (or several), bet money on it/them, and then cheer the turtles to get out through your numbered gate first.  Here's a video to help you understand:

video

Finley was super lucky at this game.  I wanted to go straight to the horse track when we left, but being miles from anything in Wien, Missouri, time just didn't permit.  He won about 85% of the time at the turtle races.  And he really had no idea what was going on as far as betting or the end result.  He quickly learned how to give his quarters to the guy in exchange for spoons though.  The spoons with your chosen number are new.  We didn't have those when I was a kid.  But now everyone bangs them on the tabletop really loudly, which makes it more exciting and fun.  And he definitely knew how to handle banging a spoon loudly.

By that time, we had gotten our delicious evening meal of hamburgers and fries (the fried chicken and sides are the early meal) and everything was closing up so we headed home.  

Bingo is usually my favorite part of the day, but it seemed impossible with a toddler that wants to constantly move, so we skipped it this year.

Every year, without fail, it amazes me that such a small town and parish can put on such a big event and continue making it successful.  Then I remember, it's a money betting, beer drinking, delicious food eating church event where you can put your kid on an antique motorized merry-go-round babysitter.  How could it not be a giant success?

If you're interested in the community of Wien, there is some neat history and information here: http://www.wien2000us.com/

And this brochure on The Great Imposter is also interesting: http://www.keytesvillemissouri.com/Wien.PDF
It's my understanding (and I may be wrong) that this guy is part of the basis for Leonardo DiCaprio's character in Catch Me If You Can.

Two side notes about Wien:  This teeny town kept a bar and restaurant open for a long time.  And it actually had good food and fun times!  I think it closed, but I'm not positive.
Also, I once heard that on one end of town, the road sign read "Wien" and on the other end of town, the sign read "Wein".  Cliff, my brother, and I roadtripped there once for verification, but it was spelled the same on both ends.  I always see "Wien" but I really prefer the e before the i spelling instead.
jennifer
With everything going on in the world today, the whole hermit crab way of life seems appealing at times.  But, what if we reversed what is going on in the world today, one tiny gesture at a time.  Paying it forward has become more common in the last several years and I love it every time I hear one of those stories.  My paying it forward doesn't compare to the other stories I hear, but every time I go to Aldi, I return my cart without taking my quarter.  I just leave it for the next person.  I've been doing this for about a year and always wondered if the person that got my cart next kept the quarter or paid it forward.  Last week when I went to grab a cart, there was a recently returned pre-paid cart.  It had come full circle and it really made me smile.  Speaking of Aldi quarters, isn't this cute?
It's a gift someone gave my friend Destiney whose husband is an Aldi district manager.

I'm an old soul and there is something about a hand-written note that makes me want to flip head over heels.  I remember the first real letter I got from Cliff when we were dating long distance.  I still have it and I still love to read it.  For me, there's something about a handwritten letter that I just don't get out of a phone call or text or email.  I still love when Cliff leaves a note on the bathroom sink if he leaves the house before I'm awake.  And the time he left a letter on my desk on New Years Day is set me up for a whole year of happy.  A friend of mine and I used to write letters back and forth, even though we had full access to email and our smartphones.  Sending cards and letters is one of my favorite things to do.  Even better, I love to send cards and letters out of the blue.   It's an amazing thing, too.  Several times I have had someone come up to me and thank me for the card I sent and I can't even remember sending it.  They on the other hand, have remembered it long after it was received.
So, you can imagine how crazy my heart went last week when I received a TOTALLY unexpected card in the mail from a real sweetheart and the best bank teller we've ever known.  (By the way, this little chica also always sends Finn a birthday and Christmas card from the bank since he's an account holder.  Actually, I could write another entire post about how super awesome our bank is, but that can be for another day.)
So here's what Cliff brought in from the mailbox the other day:
First of all, my heart probably literally skipped a beat when I saw the envelope.  I heart decorating envelopes when I send them, but I've never gotten one sent to me.  I wanted to frame it.  When I opened it and read the card inside, I practically cried (and it wasn't the pregnancy hormones.)  Brianna is possibly the sweetest person I've ever met.  She is always smiling, always friendly, always has something exciting to say.  She never just says hi; she always asks about us and has an actual conversation.  She is super talented; from her photography to her mason jar decorating to her writing (don't miss her blog: https://pearlbayou.wordpress.com) to her envelope addressing.  She is constantly posting something on social media that I wish I had come up with.  And she's the cutest darn thing you'll ever see.  How she is still single...it can only be because she's one smart cookie and knows a deserving guy hasn't come along yet.
Working with teenage girls in KC, I realized that (at that age especially) building up another is extremely rare, but tearing someone down is so constant.  Self-esteem is so low.  In a girls group I led at the high school where I worked, we started a campaign to raise girls' self-esteem.  We wrote each other lovely letters.  We only talked positively to each other.  And we started posting anonymous notes around the school building for other girls to find.  The girls loved doing it and not one of them ever chose not to participate.
So, I'm challenging everyone to do something like this.  It really does make you feel better, too.  If you feel funny writing to someone you see on occasion or know really well, check out moreloveletters.com at their website or on social media and start there.  My sister tipped me off to them awhile ago and I have really enjoyed "making love famous."  I hope you do too!
jennifer
Just like his first birthday, Finley had an awesome second birthday.  
First, we got to celebrate with Cliff's mom's side of the family.  He got lots of fun gifts, including these underwear hats.
And a rainbow cake for breakfast. 
And his dream come true, his great-grandparents' basement full of electric trains. 
And a rocking horse.  Seriously, does it get any better for a two-year old?

And don't forget riding the tricycle with the perfect spot for his breakfast cupcake. 
And last but not least, a HUGE piece of delicious watermelon. 
Last year, his favorite book was "Goodnight Moon" so we based his party on that.  If you missed it, you can read about turning one here.
This year, he loves Curious George.  It's really the only tv he ever watches (besides the movie, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" {seriously}), and he loves the books, too.  So, we went with that theme.  It fit perfectly since Finley is such a monkey and so curious!
We designed and printed our invitation.

We made up this stats sign, which was fun to do while looking back at the one we did for his first birthday.  He had only grown about 4 inches and gained about 4 pounds and most of his interests were still the same.  This year, Finley loved walking on the board while I was trying to write, hence the smeared chalk.
We set up a guest book, note jar, and favors at the door.
I only made eight favors for the kiddos, and luckily, exactly eight cousins showed up.  

We used a Curious George birthday book for our guest book.  The jar was given to us at Finley's baby shower with notes from our guests.  Last year, we had birthday guests leave notes and this year we added to it.  Each year, I just use ribbon that coordinates with the party theme, and they look really cute stacking up in the jar and are such a great keepsake.
I just threw together the "Thanks for swinging by!" signs and glued them to paper straws.
We used popcorn tubs and filled them with balloons, suckers, Curious George fruit snacks, a Curious George bookmark to color, and of course banana runts and a real banana.
The fireplace mantle was my favorite part.  My mom put in the elbow grease to make this adorable fabric garland.  We used Curious George books, stuffed monkeys, balloons, a cute Curious George tin piggy bank my mom had on hand, a paper covered wooden 2, and painted Mason jars for decoration.

 We sat the stats sign on the hearth to tie it all together.
When I tried to get his picture there, this is how he posed...  He had the cutest shirt that my parents ordered for him.  On the front it had Curious George decorating a cake with the number two and was personalized with Finley's name.  The back said "It's my birthday!"  Just like Curious George, Finley wasn't still long enough for me to get a good picture.
We named all the food according to Curious George characters, which ended up being really fun.  
We had:
Hundley's Hot Dogs (which we grilled and then kept warm in a crock pot)
 Charkey's Chips
Gnocchi's "Purrrrfect" Potato Salad

Man in the Yellow Hat Deviled Eggs (Shout out to my mom for making these! They were so delicious.)
 Chef Pisghetti's Mac & Cheese
Betsy's Baked Beans (After 30 plates were filled, I swear these beans had not decreased in amount at all.)
 The Renkins' Farm Fresh Veggies & Dip
and Professor Wiseman's Watermelon 
You  may remember from our Goodnight Moon cake last year that our neighbor, Naomi, makes the best cakes you'll ever see. I put together this little banner with scrap paper and paper straws and she did the rest. The little star the monkey is holding is even a candle!  Finley LOVED the cake.
When we sang "happy birthday" Finley hid behind his cake and the table the whole time.  He has suddenly gotten shy over the last week or two.  It was actually really cute though.  He worked really hard to blow out his candle.
As soon as guests arrived, Cliff had our horse out and was giving rides.  The kids loved it.  They also swam in the pool, played in the water table, and had fun with Finn's other outdoor toys.  The adults enjoyed horseshoes. 
 Finley has a fan club of women.
 Fan club continued.
Of course he needed nothing and got everything.  He truly loved everything he got though.  All the new toys were a huge hit with everyone.

And he ended up getting his very own antique collector's rocking horse to keep at home.
 We sat outside with the remaining guests the rest of the evening and enjoyed the beautiful weather.  What better way to end your second birthday than in your birthday suit watching a train go by?
 Or sitting in the perfect size chair?
Now to send our Curious George thank you cards.

jennifer
With court being scheduled six months out, we have to really prepare and plan in order to take vacations.  We try to mark three or four weeks off throughout the year so we don't completely lose our minds to the daily grind.  We had marked the last week of July off for a long trip to Michigan (Cliff's old law school stomping grounds), Mackinac Island, and the Upper Peninsula.  Then the morning sickness happened and there was no way we could imagine making the trek.  So, we cancelled our plans.  Then I started feeling normal again and so we decided to still take that week off but just do some day or overnight trips and work around the house and yard.  That was a great idea, except half way through the week, as we were filling the car up with gas, Cliff said, "Man, I wish we were filling up on a big road trip."  So, we decided, spur of the moment, to book some train tickets and head north to Chicago.  My mom was free so she could tag along too.
Chicago may be one of my most visited cities, and if you didn't hear about the last trip I took there with Cliff, you'll want to so you can compare it to this one.
Finley is overly obsessed with trains right now, so he was extremely excited about riding one.  In fact, we literally stood on the platform for thirty minutes watching for the train to arrive.  His focus never wavered.  It may have been the most boring thirty minutes of my life, just staring at empty train tracks.
He really was excited; for some reason he wouldn't smile for this picture.  Probably because I was distracting him from the train.  I also don't remember his outfit looking that funny.

He spent a majority of the trip like this:
And then the last ten minutes like this, which I'm sure is completely against Amtrak's safety policy:

We arrived in Chicago about 10:30pm and had planned to take an Uber to our hotel.  Little did we know, we had scheduled our trip overlapping Lollapalooza (or Lolleep as my mom called it the entire trip because she, for some reason, couldn't say "Lollapalooza".)  There were teenagers Ev.Er.Ee.Where.  Union Station was crammed and buzzing with girls in shorts cut above their butt cheeks and belly revealing spaghetti strap tops (seriously, every.single girl was wearing some version of that outfit) and boys in colorful tank tops or sports jerseys (seriously, every.single boy was wearing some version of that outfit).  So, Uber was like eight times the regular price.  We waded through the kids and jumped in a taxi to our room.

The next day, we did a private walking history and architecture tour of the downtown area.  These are so awesome.  This is the second time we've done this in Chicago.  If you plan at least ten days in advance, you can sign up for a Chicago Greeter tour.  These are two hour walking tours led by a volunteer that is a long time or lifetime resident of Chi Town.  You can pick your category (architecture, history, art, landmarks, etc.)  Since we did not plan ahead for this trip, we did an InstaGreeter tour.  It's only one hour long and you don't pick a category, but it is still really great.  Both tours are 100% free.

Then we went to Millennium Park, which is one of our favorite spots in the Loop.  Finley liked Cloud Gate, but he liked all the girls there better.  Here, he was watching girls while we were trying to take a family selfie.


 Distracted by the girls again...
And finally making his move.



I completely failed at selfies this entire trip, as is evident in this photo, possibly the best I captured while there.

We spent the rest of the day on Navy Pier.  The escalator was probably Finley's favorite part of the pier.

Although, he did like the Ferris Wheel, too.  We timed it perfectly and rode during a small rain shower.

This boy and his dad shared a car with us and Finley made fast friends with the five year old.
A trip to Chicago isn't complete for us unless we've had Giordano's pizza.  This time, we bypassed the eateries and had it delivered straight to our hotel room.  The best part of the pizza this time was that I ordered it with green peppers on half.  When I opened the box and saw this, I thought they had only put green peppers on that ONE piece.  Cliff, who is much smarter than me, especially when I have pregnancy brain, could hardly keep a straight face to explain it signified that half of the pizza had the green peppers.

The next day we went to the Lincoln Park zoo.  It is a very neat and clean little zoo, and again, totally free!  Finley could not understand why he couldn't chase the zoo birds like he chases our free range chickens at home.

Of course, his favorite part was this over-priced three minute train ride that we did over and over and over again.

 Finn fell asleep for his afternoon nap, so we took advantage of the Chicago History Museum.  It was very neat and more kid-friendly than I had expected.  Cliff and I went on strike for civil rights while there.
 Once again, Finley's (and Cliff's) favorite part was Chicago's first train.
Dad is playing as much as son here.

 We watched Chicago shrink away as we took the train back home early Sunday morning.
We all got comfy in our seats and took a good nap.

We made it home later that afternoon and agreed it had been a very fun spontaneous vacation.  
The train is my favorite way to travel with or without a kiddo, but with a toddler it is thee best.  You can get up and walk the aisles, sit in the reserved family seats that face each other, hang out in the dining car, have plenty of room, plug in your electronics, and the other travelers always seem to be so nice.  And no matter what you're doing on the train, you're still moving toward your destination!