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How to Ride the Real Polar Express

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Finley’s birthday is at the end of November, and his favorite book is The Polar Express.  For his birthday this year we wanted to have a fun, family experience that captures the joy of childhood, and also conveniently ushers in the magic of the Christmas Season.

In Williams Arizona they have a train, an long, beautiful old fashioned train that does just that.  In fact, on this train, the servers wear white coats and tall white hats while singing and serving hot chocolate and cookies to jammie clad children and parents who are singing and riding to the ‘North Pole.’

And if you can hear the bell sound, it means that you still believe in Santa.

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We stayed at the Grand Hotel, which was a great spot walking distance from the train adventure and fun Christmas activities all about, plus and an indoor pool.  I know it’s in Arizona, but pack WARM because it’s very chilly there.

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The hotel has special mailboxes and letters where you can write to Santa.

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The night before we walked around down town Williams which was fun and had a couple good spots to eat and sight see, but is a tiny, little town.

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In the morning we ate at a diner, Pine Country Restaurant, with great service and the kids loved the food.

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Finley Celebrated being 6 with a cinnamon roll to share with everyone.

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Birthday Boy

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After breakfast, we walked around the Polar Express store and had such a good time, the kids were getting more and more excited about riding the Polar Express that evening.

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Getting our tickets to ride

The Polar Express

Writing a letter to Santa

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(We also visited Bearizona which was close and awesome!)

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As the day ended, we put the kids in their Christmas jammies.  All kids wore jammies to ride the train.

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Dinner before the Train Ride

And we even got to meet Mrs. Claus while we waited.

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But then it was time to get in line for the train!  Conductors walked around and said, “Well?  Are you coming!?”  to all the children.  My boys nodded silently.  You could feel the excited buzz in the air among everyone waiting to ride.

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When we got on the train, it was still light out, we picked the earliest time slot of this reason and it was fun to walk the Arizona wilderness out the train window as our train car sped along.

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The staff was upbeat and fun, and sang to us and passed out the hot cocoa, the kids were loving it!

 

 

 

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The Polar Express in Williams 

 

The sun set and we neared the ‘North Pole’ in record time, and Santa come on board with us once we arrive.  The kids couldn’t believe it!  He handed everyone a bell.

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The Polar Express

 

On the way home, the entire train car had song books and sang Christmas songs together with the staff.

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The Polar Express in Williams AZ

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It was so much fun, a memory to last a lifetime.

Things to remember when booking for your family:

-book early, spots fill up quickly

-pack warm

-secretly buy a bell at the store for your child, and let them find it before they board

-find the Polar Express store sometime before you go, we happened upon it by chance and were so glad we did.

-we loved having the earliest time slot to enjoy the scenery outdoors, but anytime you book will be magical.

Enjoy!

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The Green Card

I want you to know that Maria is getting her green card.

The very impossible, soul crushing reality that her husband and her children’s father was ripped from them– has a rip in the seam.  The darkness had a crack. The crack grew bigger with each little donation, as love poured in, pooling together, pushing back the darkness circling them.

Creating hope in a situation that was impossible.

The most common donation that came in was $25.  And we made it to $4,000.

$4,000!  I have no words, but I can tell you that many people shed tears, of hope, disbelief and joy.

She has already gotten her medicals and photo done.  We transferred money for the lawyer fee.  Some of the fees were HUGE, but the money was there.

There was enough left over for something that also has been impossible for years.  Something that the staff at her school has encouraged her to do, the principal, but she simply could not.  She did not have the funds, for years.

Her GED.  The principal of her school said that as soon as she gets it there is a job she will be moved up to with more pay for her family.

But the cost of the test was an unreachable $144.  So it was impossible.  Nothing could ever change.  This is the truth, steep reality.  Or was.

But I want you to know, that because of the donations she can get that, too.

She is getting her GED.

Actually, in the past couple days, two small local churches whom we had never heard of before gave a chunk of money.

And something that even for me I thought was unreachable, is now half way possible.  Once Maria has her Green Card in 6 months, she could then sponsor Carlos, and then he could pay his fees.  But that’s nothing we could really focus on, a hurdle too far for me to even think about.

But we have in the foundation half of the money he will need to get his own citizenship.  Something we were not fundraising for, or even thought possible.

I told the librarian at Maria’s school, “I’m sorry, but I think I’m going to cry.”

There was a ripple effect in many lives that I can’t really explain.  But I think that’s what love and generosity does.

The most common donation was $25.

It does not mean their lives are easy right now.  It is simply not.

But kind people, are giving them actual, real hope.  A real life.  This is their real life that was ripped from them, and YOU are putting it together.  You are the thread sewing up broken hearts and emptiness and actually bringing a father home and lifting people out of poverty.

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I could say many things, but I feel like I can’t.  There are no words enough that I could offer to tell you thank you.  And from me, I can’t even say.  I saw every donation that came in, from every person, from all political parties, background, ages, belief system.  I read all the kind words, how they wanted the daddy back home, and it effected my entire family, too.  My boys prayed their hearts out, and then the money came in.  They cheered, and cried.

“Can we just go to the store and buy him a drivers license?”  Elijah asked.

“We cannot, buddy, but I want to tell you that people listened about them.  And this world is full of light and love, and God’s love stretches deeper than we could ever imagine.  I want you guys to know that love is always worth it.”

This was the very first time I heard Elijah pray with his heart, to a living God, “God, please,” he was begging, really asking with the emotion in his heart, the heaviness.

I’m thankful, truly.

Please continue to pray for them.

***

We’ll leave the donation link open so that if anyone wants to see him home, we honestly don’t have that much more to go, there is still a place to make it happen here.

 

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When a Father is Ripped from His Family

Her name is Maria, she works at a small school with a chain link fence, filled with children of all backgrounds.  But the ones with the most needs, the ones that no one can work with, they send to her.  And they love her.  And they feel safe, and they learn.  But with her gifts, she is humble.

“Why do you think they love you so much?”

She smiles and shrugs, “I don’t know why they like me, but I love them.  Autistic kids especially, they are so special.  God is blessing their families.  I just love them.”

Maria’s youngest son, Antonio, goes to the school, too.  He is seven, happy and confident.  He loves Magic Tree House books, baseball and soccer.

Even though Maria works at the school Antonio attends, it’s her husband, his dad who picks him up from school.  Even as the family provider who works long hours, his family, his two children, are his priority.  Maria could have easily taken him home, but it was his joy to pick them up, to greet them after school himself and bring them home.

At their house, the oldest daughter Marisol hid behind her shy smile, “You remind me of my daughter,” I tell her, smiling.  She doesn’t share much, until she brings out her photo album and lays it silently on the couch in front of me.  It’s her quincenera.  On each page that I turn is her family.  Her smiling brother, his charm transcending through the pictures.  Her proud grandparents, her mom with her arms wrapped all the way around.  Her father in almost each picture.  I turn the page and there he is, with Marisol in his arms, the father daughter dance.  His arms are out in front of him making a big circle that she is walking into.  His not looking at anyone, but overcome, looking into his daughter’s face.    His eyes are humble, but he also looks overwhelmed by his love for her, his daughter who in that moment doesn’t look shy, but her face is raised, gazing back at him, alive and happy in her father’s arms.

“Marisol has taken it the hardest,” Maria tells me.  “She was the closest to her dad, it’s the hardest for her,”  I don’t mean to, but my eyes shoot to her, she is looking down, trying not to remember. Looking away from the photo of her dad with his arms around her, looking away from to peace and love she feels in that moment.  It’s then that I think about Andrew.  What would we do?  How would my kids cope?  How would I?  What would I literally do?

Two months ago, Carlos was getting ready for work.  They just have one car and live in a low income apartment.  It was still dark out.  He had recently gotten a speeding ticket, which is hard for anyone, but when you don’t have citizenship even though you have lived in this country, this city since you were two years old, it can turn into something you can’t recover from.

He stepped out of his house and men were waiting for him.

“Carlos?” they ask.

“Yes…” he responds, knowing.

“Come with us, we are taking you to Mexico.”

“Please, my wife, please, I need to give her these keys, we only have one car.  She has work today, please just give them to her…”

And as his children sleep just feet away on the other side of the wall of their home, their home for their entire lives, their father is taken away.  They couldn’t say goodbye as men take him.  With their father went the income.  Their security, their ability to pay bills.  They lost their best friend, provider, father, in the hour just before the sun came up.  They took him to a place where he knows no one, with no job, and no ability to even visit or see his children.

By the time they woke up, he was gone.  Their mother in tears.  A nightmare unfolding before the day began.  And this was just the start of their loss.

 

“What do you need?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t know.  I’ve never needed anything.  For me, I’m always the one to help.  Help my friends, help my family, help my students.  I’ve never been here before.”

They are close to losing their apartment, her part time job doesn’t cover the bills.  Christmas isn’t even on the menu this year.   Their reality is loss, and the future loss that will overtake their family with each month that passes.  They are numb from it.

Maria is a legal resident with a work permit.  But with a work permit you can’t go to and from Mexico, so the children cannot see, touch or hug their father.

They have looked into everything, but the cost that surrounds them leaves them without hope.  It’s like a bad dream that becomes more real as time goes on.  When he realized that he would most likely miss his daughter’s graduation in the Spring, he finally broke down in tears.  His life ripped from him.

I talked to the librarian at her school where Maria works who loves her and her family, “If Maria can get the next step up from the work permit, a green card, that allows you to go to and from Mexico.  They could see him.  And with that green card, Maria could start the process to get him his legal citizenship.   It won’t be overnight, but it would make something impossible, possible. It could pave the road to him being here.  Being the provider, back to being the father.”

Anything that has to do with legal fees isn’t cheap, but to them, when they can’t afford a kitchen table, it’s something their minds can’t entertain as an option.

But maybe a few people, together, maybe we can. I don’t know.  I don’t know.  I know there are many feelings about immigrants, and deportation on all spectrums, so I don’t know.  After I met them, I came home and told my kids.

“Last year we bought presents for a family.  Well today I met a family, but they don’t need presents.  They lost their daddy.  And all they want is for him to come home.”

My Maria looked at Andrew, the one who made all of her deepest fears of loss and security disappear, “We should help them.”

“I want to help them, too.”

“I like Mexico, we should just go pick him up!” Elijah chimed in, always the problem solver.

“He can’t be picked up, honey.  People won’t let him come unless they pay money.  But it’s money they don’t have.”

“I’ll give him my money, one dollah’, two dollah’s,” he said resolutely, shrugging at the simple connection of the dots, money shouldn’t keep children from their father.

“It’s going to take lots and lots of dollars, honey.  But there are two kids, they are just like you guys.  The little boy is so cute and funny, he loves playing soccer and reading, he’s seven.”

“Did you tell him, that I’m almost seven?” Finley asked, hopeful.

“And the daughter is so sweet, Maria, she’s shy just like you, has the kindest face, I think you’d be best friends.  She’s in high school.”

“Aww, that’s so sweet.  I can’t believe they lost their dad.  Maybe I could sew a quilt and sell it?”

“Oh sweetie, I love your heart.  That actually could be something that adds up… a little bit could add up to them, right now they feel hopeless, like, nothing could ever help them…  They are sad, but they also feel lost.”

They look at me silently, waiting with round eyes, wanting to know how this nightmare could be over, “We can do something.  We can speak up for them.  We can be a voice for people who are being lost, ripped apart.”

“I will,” Finley said.

If we raise $4,000 Maria would be able to get a Green Card.  It will take about six months.  And at that moment, they can see him.  Marisol and Antonio can be with their father.  It will also be then that with the green card, he can begin his citizenship process, only because she has that green card.  This is a fully legal process for a legal US resident to help preserve and reunite family.  A good family, with a good, kind father.  To keep people from sinking into poverty.  To keep children from growing up without a father, which statistically makes things so much harder for boys and girls.

A father is the difference between being ok, or not being ok for them.

This Christmas you can be that difference.  Christmas time is busy and demanding and can also be draining if we aren’t aware.  Somehow we can be swept away with it.  So this is an opportunity towards the opposite.  Not to be drained or swept away, but changing the darkness this family is living in into light, changing the fate of this family, this teacher, son, daughter, father, the gift you are providing is a father.

It’s not toys or clothes or kindles or beauty products.  Its hope, love and family preservation.  It’s believing in the sacredness and importance of family.  Of the importance of a loving father and helping him get home.

$4,000 and it’s done.  I can’t, Elijah can’t (he wishes), they can’t all on their own.  But as a family, we can give some.  We can pray.  We can ask, we can tell and speak for the voiceless and broken hearted.  I asked my kids if they would like less stuff that they would get soon sick of, broken and line too full toy boxes, and instead patch a family together, and bring a daddy home.  My kids can be selfish as anyone’s, but they answered with a resounding, “Yes.”

To love is a gift.  To love is the gift.

We can do something.  Finley opened his piggy bank and got out his $2 bill he got for his birthday today.  He kept the note his grandpa wrote him, but offered the $2 freely.

“I’m giving this to the family with no daddy.”

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He gave joyfully and determined.  He wants to see him home, and made the step towards it.  Which changes every number, and the need. They now need $3,998 to bring him home.

 

This Christmas, if you, or your family are looking for a way to help, to get back to the root of Christmas, this would be a powerful, kind, life changing way.  Talk with your family, your kids, your friends.  A little will add up to a lot.  If 40 people gave $100.  Or if 20 people gave 200, etc, etc.

 

We believe in fathers.  Because we’d be lost without ours.img_5484-1

And if we lost ours one morning, and we started to drown, we would love any help to bring him home to us.

 

Please share this need.  Please donate, any amount is huge, selfless, kind and actually life giving.  We were able to partner with LCOF to ensure all donations are tax deductible (instead of GoFundMe which is not).

You can donate here.

 

 

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