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So, back in my 2012 catch up post, I quickly glanced over a big thing I did back around Thanksgiving.  I donated bone marrow - or more accurately, PBSC - Peripheral Blood Stem Cells to a leukemia patient who needed a transplant.  I originally got registered with the National Bone Marrow Registry almost 10 years ago through a drive that I helped organize through NBCU’s Asian Pacific American Forum.  We were trying to raise awareness and get people on the registry for a specific little boy who was in desperate need of a transplant. Unfortunately, we were unable to find a match during our drive and I really don’t know the details of what happened with him.  But out of that, we did register a couple hundred people at 30 Rockefeller Center, and I, being one of them.

I was contacted via email by a DKMS - America representative.  (DKMS stands for something in German since it was originally established by a German woman who’s mother was dying of leukemia). At first, I just ignored the email… it’s one of those things you forget you did and then you are needed and you just freak out! They sent a few emails and I kept meaning to respond, but I didn’t. Then, a couple weeks later, I got a call from my father saying they had contacted him looking for me. At this point, I figured this was serious and maybe I should call them.  So I did and went through a lot of internal soul searching and researching to understand exactly what they were asking of me.  Funny, 10yrs ago, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I could possibly be a match and what that really meant. Now, with 3 kids and not working, I really didn’t have an excuse not to see what I could do.  After extensive blood testing and learning about the process, I was told I was the best match and to make a final decision if I wanted to proceed. Throughout the whole process, I was always told I had the option to back out any time if I felt uncomfortable, but they were very helpful in helping me understand the process.

My biggest worry was the pain - you always hear about the horrific giant needle they stick in your hip to draw out the marrow and how painful it is during and after. What you don’t hear is that now, the majority of the time, they don’t need to do that, instead, they boost up your immune system to create excess stem cells that are the building blocks of marrow and harvest that via the blood stream in a much less painful way. Luckily, my recipient could use this PBSC method (of course, some other patients may need the more traditional method).

So, everyone asks, what was the process? Here goes:

1) Get the call and talk to the people

2) Fill out a ton of paperwork

3) Go to your local lab and get 5 vials of blood drawn (I think)

4) Get told you are a very good match

5) Go get a full blown physical at the hospital they tell you (only specific hospitals are used by them) - this process was 3 hrs long - fill out more paperwork, wait, meet w/a dr, wait, fill out more paperwork, get 20 vials of blood drawn (YES, 20, maybe more… make sure you eat), wait, go visit the lab the donation/harvest will take place and fill out more paperwork.

6) Once everything has been approved and you are cleared, you get a donation date.

7) You get 5 vials of Neupogen sent to your house and 4 days before the donation date, either go to a medical center to have a dr. inject you the first time or a home nurse, depending on specific protocol.

8 ) The next  3 days, either continue to go to that medical center or have the home nurse come each day to inject you (they have to fill out paperwork and take vitals, etc and make sure you don’t have any allergic reactions)

- The Neupogen is a very strong intramuscular drug that is injected into your arm/leg/butt/stomach that causes your body to create the stem cells which make the bone marrow. The increased levels of stem cells and white blood cells is what they want but it makes your body think it is sick so you actually feel sick, tired, etc.  I felt pretty ok. The shot itself kind of hurts and stings as it goes in but it’s only like 10 seconds. Nothing compared to child birth!

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9) On the 5th day (donation day), you go to the hospital early in the morning and get monitored and prepared. You get 2 needles in 1 arm and 1 in the other arm. 1 IV is for saline or calcium or both, etc that your body needs during the process. The other is where the needle that will extract your blood. The blood gets extracted and goes into a machine (kind of like dialysis) where the machine then spins the blood around and separates the red blood cells, the white blood cells, the stem cells and plasma, then puts the red blood cells back into the other arm and into your body. You are hooked up to this machine for 4-8+ hrs depending on how many stem cells they need (depends on the recipient - luckily mine must have been a pretty small woman). You just lay there watching TV, internet, books, magazines, talk to your companion that has joined you, etc.

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10) Once they get close to the amount they need, they check it and then unhook you and that’s it. You’re on your way back home or to a hotel to rest.  They put us up in a hotel nearby and we went and had dinner at Red Lobster and watched a movie.  The next morning, I took a car home and James was taken in to work.

We had really great doctors and nurses at the blood bank at Stonybrook Hospital. I want to thank the men and women there that really do this all the time and make this possible.

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They were able to fly my mom in to babysit the kids but they cover everything from babysitter fees, flying in a friend (if you don’t have someone local) and all travel and accommodations.  My mom came out the week during my injections in case I was weak and couldn’t drive or deal with the kids and stayed during my donation and a couple days after until I was sure I was fine. Really, I felt fine the next day.

Now, it has been almost 8 months and I recently got an update from DKMS that my recipient is doing well, is still alive and recovering and getting back to a normal life! I did receive a letter from her a few months back thanking me for helping her. The crazy part is, it was in another language! and yes, they flew my stem cells all the way to a different continent. - for privacy reasons, I don’t want to specify the country - there are lots of rules about what you can and cannot say, even though I don’t really know much.

So, now, I can say that no matter what I have or will do in my life, I can always say I made a big difference in 1 person/family’s life and I actually SAVED a life.  It was scary at first but I’m glad I did it. The biggest driving factor was thinking this could happen to anyone of my friends or family and I would hope that if someone I loved, or myself, needs this one day, there will be someone out there willing to take the time and effort to do this. It’s really easy, pretty painless and not that time consuming. Now, I will be helping DKMS, though it has rebranded itself as DeleteBloodCancer.org, as best I can to help organize drives and just talk with prospective donors to help them understand the process.

I hope I’ve opened some of your minds out there and you too can get on the National Bone Marrow Registry - it is worldwide… go to www.deletebloodcancer.org or www.getswabbed.org.

 ** Disclaimer: everything written above is from my own experience and spotty memory.  It may not all be 100% accurate but you get the gist. Make sure to go to one of the websites above to get more information.

A few months ago, my dear friend, Sara, asked if Annabelle would be a model for her kid’s clothing line called Grass & Clovers, and of course, I said yes.  Sara’s clothes are the cutest things - they are simple shirts and decor but have delicate, hand sewn designs made of vintage fabrics.  All the celebrity kids wear them! Ask Kingston Rossdale…

So, without further ado… I present - Annabelle

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Unfortunately, I don’t think she’s on the website anymore but it was fun while it lasted.

So, if you want some cool and unique kid’s clothes or decor, go to:

www.grassandclovers.com

When I heard LEGOLAND was opening in Westchester, I was so excited because my little Noah is a huge Lego fan.  He may not be able to read yet, but he can build cars, rockets and Transformers from Legos and I will continue to nurture this love of building and engineering no matter how many tiny pieces of Legos I may step on. So, for Noah’s 5th birthday we decided to explore LEGOLAND, but of course, we decided to go at the exact wrong time.

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Noah’s birthday coincided with the opening week of LEGOLAND Discovery Center but, uncharacteristically, I was very unprepared and we decided to go on a last minute whim that morning.  Wow, were we in for a surprise.  First, we just typed in LEGOLAND into the GPS and found our way to a mall. We were completely confused… I thought LEGOLAND was a theme park, you know, like in San Diego or Orlando (we haven’t been to either) so we were a bit bewildered.  Then we saw the line wrapped around the corner just to get a ticket. We were told all the online pre-sale tickets were completely sold out and no more tickets would be sold, yet no one moved. No one seemed to know what was going on. They decided they would start selling tickets. So, one line was for new tickets and another line for pre-sale tickets. Both lines moved at a snails pace. We waited about an hour before getting in and then waited more once we were in. Sadly, the people who bought time specific tickets online, weeks in advance, seemed to wait just as long.

I have to give them a bit of a pass as it was just their first week and I’m sure they’re still working out the kinks (but I believe they did soft open earlier).  In any case, once we were in, the kids had a blast! Yes, we waited a VERY long time for the 2 small rides, but the kids didn’t seem to mind too much because at least it was indoors and air conditioned.  Both Samantha and Noah loved Kingdom Quest. You sit in an open car (2 rows - we fit 5 of us) and each person gets a gun and you shoot at skeletons and trolls to save the Princess! Even Annabelle who is only 2 liked the ride even though she can’t man the guns.

My favorite section was MINILAND - a mini NYC made from 1.5million Legos. Since we bring the kids into the city often, they loved recognizing all the buildings and especially loved pushing the buttons that activated some of the Lego creations.  I just think it’s so amazing how anything can be made from Legos.  I think a lot of people just rush through this but I really suggest taking your time and appreciate all the work that must have gone into creating this mini land.

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Noah’s favorite section is Lego Racers: Build & Test. Here, my little Lego lover could create his own vehicles with the various bricks and wheels along with several downhill race tracks. Noah would have been happy to stay here the entire time!  It does get crowded and a lot of bigger kids do get pushy but Noah seemed to manage and enjoy.

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Samantha’s favorite section was the Lego Friends Karaoke room. There is a large TV with 20 some odd recent pop songs the kids can choose and sing at the microphone stand.  Samantha would stay here the whole time.  The good thing is that the songs are only about 30-45 seconds, not the whole song which is genius because it gives more kids a chance to participate and who really wants to listen to 1 kid sing a 3 minute song. Plus, there doesn’t seem to be a way to cancel a selection - you have to sit through the whole song.  It would be nice if there was a bit more organization as kids just need to push their way in. There’s no sign up or order so some kids can hog the mic and some don’t get a chance.  There’s also lots of pink and purple girlie legos to play with here and a make your own Lego cupcake kitchen area.

For Annabelle, there is a small under 5 section with a big foam Lego pit and a small slide - Duplo Village. It’s not much but it’s better than nothing.  At under 36 inches, Annabelle can’t go on the other ride, even with an adult, and can’t go into the climbing structure.

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In the middle, there is a nice sized soft play climbing structure which I think are the Fire Academy and Construction Site, however, the website says the Construction site is only for 36″ and under, but I found there was only 1 entrance and it was for kids 36-54″ as Annabelle was unable to enter. Oh, you also must have socks! It’s nice because it is in the middle of the entire area so I could kind of keep my eye on them from almost anywhere as my kids are never at the same attraction at the same time.

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Merlin’s Apprentice is the other ride here which I really don’t recommend waiting for.  I think we waited at least an hour to go on it and it wasn’t that great. You sit in this chair and pedal to “fly” but it really is a bigger version of a ride you’d find at a carnival or the Dumbo ride at Disney. It just goes in a circle. It only talks 8-16 people at a time and the boarding and de-boarding just seemed to be so slow.

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4-D Cinema: All the kids loved this. They have 2 different movies and the screen outside the theater tells you how many more minutes until the next showing so you don’t have to wait unnecessarily. The movies are only about 10-12 minutes each and includes wind, rain, bubbles, etc for that 4th dimension.  The kids got a kick out of both, even Annabelle, who refuses to wear the 3D glasses. Plus, it’s short enough to hold their interest.

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There is also Earthquake tables where you can build with Lego or Duplo on these tables that will shake. We also did not take the Lego Master Builder Academy as Noah just wants to build his own but they have these classes pretty regularly (for free). And of course, there is a decent café with lots of tables. Near the Café are the birthday party rooms. I’m sure these book up fast so call early. I think it starts around $25 per guest.

We spent about 2-3 hours here and it’s manageable even when it’s just me with the 3 kids. I know many may complain that it’s small but for me, it’s the perfect size. Just big enough to keep them happy but small enough to keep an eye on all of them and get out without spending my entire day there.  As a one time visit, it probably doesn’t feel like you get your money’s worth as it is about $20 per person for everyone 3 years old and up.  We decided to buy the family annual pass for $230. It allows 1 years unlimited entry for 4 specific people. Each additional family member is $55 (vs $60 for a regular individual). We decided the annual pass made sense for us since the kids liked it enough, we live close enough, and either James or I can handle it solo with the kids in any type of weather (we did the zoo last yr and really only used it for a few months out of the year).

Also, parking (with 3hr validation) is cheap ($1.75) and it’s part of the Ridge Hill Mall so places to eat and shop.  The facility itself is stroller and wheelchair accessible. The bathrooms are nice and clean and has changing tables.   I suggest not going on the weekends, if possible, as it gets really crowded but if you get there right when it opens, it’s not so bad.

We’ve now gone at least 5 times (over 4 months) so we’ve gotten our money’s worth and the kids still love it and ask for it all the time - so it’s a big WIN for us!

My baby turned 7!!! How is that even possible? I’ve been planning for this day for weeks… and boy am I glad it’s over!

So, the day started off with an excited little girl running down the stairs to find My Little Pony helium balloons tied to her brand new big girl bicycle! Next to that was a new scooter and a small gift - nail polish set. Guess what was her favorite present? The nail polish… haha. Samantha has been waiting years to paint her nails and every time, my answer was, not until you are 7, an arbitrary number I made up years ago but it seemed so far away then, and now here it was. So, of course, the first course of action was to paint her nails which made for a very happy little girl.

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And of course, the day had to start off with a very special breakfast - furnished by Dunkin Donuts! The kids all beg for DD every time we drive by (and we drive by a lot in this town) so I figured she would love this, plus, I didn’t have time to bake cupcakes for her to take to Chinese class so muchkins saved the day!

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But, we had much bigger things to take care of - the PARTY! What made me think having 22 6-7yo girls at a public skating rink for 2 hours was a good idea, I don’t know… but we did it.  Our town has a skating rink just 5 mins away from home and most of Sam’s friends can skate but it was still nerve racking.  I had hired 2 teen girls to skate around with the girls and 1 “instructor” to teach the beginners for 30mins but she turned out to be another teen girl who was friends with the other two. I felt bad because I paid the instructor 2x as much for 1/2 the amount of time as the other two but did nothing different. Also, luckily lots of parents hung around to skate and watch so we didn’t lose any kids - yippee!! that was my biggest worry as it was free skating during public skate hours. It was  a My Little Pony party so we had stickers on all the girls backs of various ponies so we could keep an eye on our party - too bad the stickers didn’t stick so well…

I got worried after just 10mins of skating, 1 little girl came off the ice and said she was done skating! Luckily, I had make your own Princess Celestia crown activity and My Little Pony coloring books to keep the non-skaters occupied.  We had some games planned but actually ran out of time to actually play them. And this time, instead of making my own pinata, I bought a pull the string pony pinata which didn’t really work well…

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Oh, and the cake… I’m proud to say I did not bake it myself! I tend to just overdo it and finally allowed Stop n Shop to handle this for me and it turned out great! I did decorate it myself as my little pony princess didn’t like the stock decorations but the cake tasted great!

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Overall, the party turned out great! I got a lot of happy little girls who wanted to keep on skating, even the beginners… The parents even enjoyed it. I was totally stressed out the whole time but it all came through well…

But, that wasn’t the end of the parties.  The skating party was girls only so a lot of people were left off the list - boys, younger kids who can’t skate, etc… so we had a small house party the next night at dinner for my brother and a couple friends.  I wanted to keep this simple but of course nothing I do is simple. But, luckily we were able to reuse a lot of the previous day’s games and decorations. So, the kids played in the playroom, we played limbo, pin the cutie mark on the pony, freeze dance - you know, classic party games. then we did make your own pizza, ate, killed the pink pony pinata and was only 1 hr behinds schedule.  All in all, a fun time for the kids and for us adults.

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Damn, I’m glad birthdays are only once a year… oh, but it’s not over yet. Jan 27th is our Mommy and Me day in the city. I’m taking Samantha to see Annie on Broadway - can’t wait! more on that later…

Now, time to start working on Noah’s Transformers Birthday Party…

Noah has finally started ice skating lessons! Yippee! I’m glad I put him in snow pants and a helmet. That boy fell every 2 seconds :) I do not envy that poor instructor.  But, by the time his 30 minute lesson was done, he was bravely going around the rink on his own. I was a bit worried because he did fall a lot but he kept getting up! Then Samantha was being so great helping him around the rink as well as helping out one of her friends. Samantha has decided to no longer take lessons but still enjoys just free skating.  That’s a good thing because in 1 week, she will be celebrating her 7th birthday here on the ice!

Today was one of those days that completely freaked me out and I just don’t know how to comprehend it. Luckily it wasn’t an immediate issue, but it sent up those mommy flags that I just can’t put away.

After picking up Noah and his friends from pre-school today, I got a call from James and a subsequent email from the school district that a suspicious man who may have been carrying a gun attempted to enter our local junior high school. Luckily, all the doors were locked and the safety supervisor was able to get the man to leave without incident but the police are still investigating what exactly happened and who this man was.  Supposedly, the man said he was in the security field and that’s why he had a weapon but who knows.

Nothing happened but something could have happened. Especially after the tragic events in Newtown just before Christmas. I can’t even think about what happened without crying and feeling so vulnerable.  It is a very sad world we live in that we need to worry about our children being safe while at school.  I really hope there is some reasonable explanation for what happened today though we may never know. I just do not know what to do with this information.  How do we go on feeling safe when something like this happens?

Is it really 2013 already? If anyone is still reading this blog, I apologize for the last 2 years… I can come up with some arguably reasonable excuses for my lack of communication, but it’s just sad. I knew coming back to the US would change me a lot and keeping up with the blog was definitely one of them. Now that I actually talk and see people, I’ve lag at documenting what has happened over the last 20 months. So, here I am again - making another resolution to KEEP UP on this blog. It’s not for anyone else but myself, James and the kids. We have so many more adventures to take and I can’t neglect writing all those glorious moments down.

So, what happened in 2012? It was a crazy year.  We didn’t travel to many new countries or have grand adventure, but we still had great memories.  The year started off with a new year’s celebration at James’ cousin’s house out in Long Island. It was nice having a low key celebration with family where kids could run around and stay up all night just having fun though the drive home wasn’t so fun.

Next came Samanth’s 6th birthday party with 35 of her closest friends! YIKES! What was I thinking? Never again. Luckily we had the use of an entire martial arts studio and a great party coordinator who was able to manage the crazy kids. I spent endless hours making my own huge pinata in the shape of the number 6 and wrapping 35 pass the parcel presents - but all in all, Samantha was happy and that’s all that matters, isn’t it.

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Samantha also continue with her ice skating lessons which she loved! It’s great living in a town where the ice rink is just a 2 min drive away. maybe she will be our own Kristy Yamaguchi… who knows. Noah, he’s another story. We’ll wait until he’s older to get lessons.

In February, James and I were able spend a lovely 24hr kid free weekend in Manhattan since my mother was still visiting (since Jimmy had his second child) and we enjoyed every second of it.  We stayed at the Soho Grand Hotel, ate at Blue Ribbon Sushi, slept in and enjoyed walking around SoHo without worrying about the kids. It was a great way to celebrate our birthdays and just reconnect.

In March, we had a much welcomed visit from James parents.  They had come for a family friend’s daughter’s wedding down in Baltimore which James and I attended as well. So we decided to take the whole family for a fun filled road trip down to Washington D.C. Here, we learned James has either an allergy to Maryland crabs or Old Bay seasoning.  The kids enjoyed looking at the White House from outside the gates, visiting the National Aquarium (which I didn’t really like very much) and enjoyed the National Air and Space Museum (which I thought was awesome for the kids).  Too bad we were too early for the cherry blossoms,  maybe next time.  The wedding was awesome but chaotic afterwards as we drove back from DC/Baltimore straight to catch a 6am flight out of Newark so that James and I could take a real vacation alone. Roger and Remy were gracious enough to watch the kids for 4 days as James and I recharged our batteries in St. Maarten.

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I know it sounds so decadent but we were able to use our Starwood points for free hotel rooms so we just needed the flights which were direct out of EWR.  I had all these dreams of doing all the crazy/extreme activities we used to do like Jet Ski, ZipLine, parasail, diving or even just do out dancing and drinking, but instead, all we really wanted to do was sit on the beach with a pina colada and read a book and we did just that! We found a different beach each day and enjoyed being waited on.  We spent 1 day out on this little island, I can’t even remember the name, and it was great! we ordered food and drinks on the beach, swam a little, went on a short hike around the island and just relaxed.  4 days was definitely too short, but was long enough for my in-laws.  When I asked James’ dad how he enjoyed my life for a few days, he just shook his head and was glad we were home!

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March also held Noah’s 4th birthday. I decided to go simple and have a nice backyard Super Hero party, but instead of simple, it became it’s own monster.  We bought a backyard bouncy castle and slide so that the kids could run around and play but mother nature had different plans.With cold wind and rain in the forecast, we moved the party inside. And as much as I love my home, it just is not conducive to having 20 4+ year olds running around inside (plus their parents).  I had spent hours the week prior making another pinata, sewing super hero capes and creating fun indoor games.  In the end, the kids had fun, nothing broke, no one got hurt and Noah had a smile on his face. Thank goodness birthdays are only once a year.

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Oh, I forgot, Noah got a special gift for his 4th birthday - GLASSES!

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Life continued to get busy in May since James’ brother was finally getting married back in San Diego, which conveniently coincided with my mother’s 60th birthday so we prepared for our first family plane flight since coming back to the US.  Traveling with 3 kids is always a challenge and worry, but the kids did great on the flight. Samantha continued to throw up on each flight, as expected, but we were prepared. Annabelle did well and Noah slept!

The wedding was beautiful! Noah was the cutest ring bearer ever! The weather was a bit chillier than expected but it was wonderful seeing two people in love promise themselves to each other.  We also got to spend a lot of time with family which was really nice. A few days after the wedding, we went on a family vacation with my side of the family to celebrate my mom’s 60th. The year before, we celebrated by dad’s 60th with a big surprise dinner/dancing party but my mom just wanted to spend time with her kids and grandkids instead. So, my brother and his family flew out from NJ and we all drove out for 4 days in Palm Springs.  We stayed in one house for all 17 of us, and it was wonderful! The kids got to play and just reconnect. We had a pool but the weather was just a little to cool to just hang in the pool. We played in the pool 1 day, just hung out another and spent 1 day at the local children’s museum. Very low key but fun all the same.  It’s always sad leaving southern California after having so much family time together. I do miss that about living on the east coast.

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Then, all of a sudden, it was summer! School was over and it was a ghost town here… what is usually a vibrant community full of kids playing and playdates scheduled almost every free day became a town of campers - both day and sleep away so by the time camp was over, kids were done! We rarely saw anyone… Luckily I had enrolled the kids in a day camp at the YMCA in a neighboring town but it was still so chaotic since it now required me driving Sam and Noah 20mins away each way morning and afternoon. Plus, though they were at the same place, Noah’s camp ended 1 hour earlier than Samantha’s so that meant Noah, Annabelle and I would roam around aimlessly every day for an hour. We would hang out a CVS, Staples, Kohl’s or just walk around the town, which got old really fast. Never again! But they both really enjoyed it, especially Samantha since she was in a Gymnastics Camp. Now, she will be our own little Gabby Douglas!

Camp was only 4 weeks though I thought I’d get so many projects done while Sam and Noah were busy, but somehow, that just didn’t happen.  Annabelle was getting bigger and more demanding. Plus, she would nap 12-2/2:30 and then I’d have to leave to pick up the kids. Time just flew and I was just lazy.  But the summer was still fun. We spent most of our extra time swimming at our local pool, hanging with friends at the town beach or driving out to NJ to BBQ and swim at James’ cousins house.

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Summer was great but near the end, we received some very bad news.  My neighbor and best friend here in town was suddenly rushed to the hospital with what we first thought was meningitis. That was scary enough but it turns out it wasn’t meningitis… instead it was something they couldn’t figure out. Each day was full of worry, waiting for her husband to update us on her status. It turns out to be some rare form of encephalitis (swelling of the brain). Luckily, she slowly improved but lost a lot of her short term memory.  She is now so much better but still have a hard time focusing or remembering some things. I’m just happy she’s ok.

Before school started back up in September, we were able to spend 1 week down the eastern seaboard at Bethany Beach, Delaware.  I’d been planning this trip for months and wasn’t quite sure what we were getting ourselves. Seems so much easier planning int’l trips. There were just so many different options but someone had recommended Rehoboth Beach and I somehow ended up learning about Bethany Beach and the Sea Colony there - it was the best decision I could have made.  We’d been trying to coordinate with some friends but ended up missing them by a week so we met them on their last night in Ocean City, NJ as we headed down to Bethany Beach.  It was fun. The drive from Westchester to Bethany Beach is about 5hrs straight so we broke it up a bit with the stop in Ocean City. We brought James’ 11yr old cousin with us and that was such a success… Samantha, Noah and Annabelle all love her and she’s just the nicest girl. It was like having 4 kids but was fun. She was also so helpful. Besides a bit of car and sea sickness, I think she had a great time too. Ocean City was fun and we rode those big group bikes along the boardwalk before it started to rain.

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Our first night in Bethany was in a torrential down pour but after that, it was great weather, though a bit of rough water due to storms off the coast (a little pre-cursor to the storms to come later in the year).  We stayed in a 3bedroom condo in this huge complex call Sea Colony.  It was great! We were on the first floor close to one of the 10 pools there and just down from the beach.  The kids had fun playing on the beach in the morning and in the pool in the afternoons. They also got to do tennis lessons and beach and pool games.  And we were close to Rehoboth and Ocean City, MD where we could go to the boardwalk and go on the rides. We also spent 1 day at Jolly Rogers Splash Mountain which was so much fun, even with 4 kids. It was one of the best family vacations we’ve had just because it was easy and fun for all.

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Then school was back in session!  It was weird starting a new year and Samantha was a bit hesitant about going in to first but after a few weeks, she really fell right back into loving school. Though she misses her kindergarten teacher but her new teacher is awesome! She has really blossomed and enjoys school so much.  And Noah started a new pre-school though it’s driving me nuts because it’s so short, but it’s free, so I can’t complain too much.

And then Hurricane Sandy hit and it hit hard.  In reality, I think it did eventually turn into just a tropical storm but it still created so much destruction along the eastern coast. We were lucky as there was no damage though we lost power for 11 days and then lost Fios service for another 8 days.  It was a crazy time but we all grew closer together, closer as a family and closer as a community. We helped each other out and celebrated together after it was all over.  That’s what I love about living here. It really is a community.  We were lucky we had a generator to hold out and everyone helped each other get gas and entertain each others’ kids.

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And in the middle of it all was Halloween.  We had Bumblebee (the Transformer), a Candy Fairy and Dora the Explorer.  Luckily, we had a good town parade the week before but come Oct. 31st it was cold and trees were down everywhere but Trick or Treating still went on.  Emails had gone around and word of mouth spread to come down our street starting at 3pm. It was amazing how many kids were still there considering the chaos from the Hurricane but really, it was a lot less than it would be on a normal year. I still had bags of candy left over. One day, we’ll have a normal Halloween. Last year there was a freak snow storm that caused chaos then so maybe next year.

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Then November comes and my little koala turned 2! I can’t believe she’s so big now… We didn’t do a big party this year for her, I promise next year. We did do a little party with her playgroup but no big party place. I think she was still happy. And a few days later she started school for the first time! YIPPEE!!! Annabelle started school where Noah went last year. She goes 2 days a week for 2 hrs and 45mins - longer than Noah! She is even in the same classroom with the same teacher which is great! the first day, not a tear but then they had this animal visit and she freaked out. After that, I think she associated school with animals and cried her eyes out the next few times.

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November was a busy month. As we were recovering from Hurricane Sandy, I was preparing to donate bone marrow to an anonymous recipient.  I had registered with DKMS Americas years ago when I was working at NBC and got a call earlier in the year that I was a potential match. I went through all the subsequent testing and it was determined I was the best match so on Nov. 29th, James and I drove out to Stony Brook Hospital in Long Island and I was hooked up to a machine for 4.5hrs. I had a needle in 1 arm that sucked out all my blood that went into a machine that separated my plasma, stem cells and red blood cells. Then the machine put my red blood cells in through a needle in my other arm back into my body. The machine took all my blood out and replaced it 5x through. It didn’t hurt but was a bit uncomfortable. The hardest part was going to the bathroom - not pretty. I also had to have injections of Neupogen for 4 days prior to the donation to increase my stem cell production in my bone marrow. Luckily it all went smoothly. They flew my mother in to help babysit before, during and after which was wonderful. I love my mom!

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Oh, I forgot, we had a nice quiet Thanksgiving right before the bone marrow donation - though that’s really the wrong terminology. It’s peripheral blood stem cell donation really.

Then it was December and on the 15th, we packed up the whole family and flew down to Cabo San Lucas for another family vacation. We were going to LA for Christmas so thought a nice side trip to Mexico would be nice.  Luckily James parents were able to come with us. We were a bit worried as Roger was feeling sick before but Cabo really helped improve his health. He arrived looking weak and tired and left looking tanned and rejuvenated. We stayed at our timeshare resort we bought back in 2005  and it was wonderful. We were very happy. We swam a lot, went on a boat cruise, ate great Mexican food and even swam with dolphins.  I will try to do a full write up when I can. It was a lot of fun.

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Then off to  Los Angeles and Orange County to shuffle back and forth between families. Literally, we were packing up and sleeping in a different place almost every other night. As hectic as it was, spending Christmas with both our families and friends was wonderful.  Every time we go back, we always start wondering when we should move back. I think it’s still a bit early and I’m really happy where I am right now but who knows… anything can happen.

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So, that  was the abridged version of 2012.  A lot happened and I expect 2013 will have even more in store for us.  I just pray we all stay happy and healthy and no matter what natural disasters or chaos comes our way, we will overcome any obstacles and come out even stronger.

Happy New Year to all and may 2013 bring joy and cheer to everyone!

It has been four years since the last time I celebrated the 4th of July on American soil, so I definitely did not want to miss out on it this year.  My last 4th of July celebration happened at Main Beach in East Hampton, NY… a wonderfully warm day spent playing in the sand and a cool evening waiting for the fireworks to begin. We were surrounded by friends and family that drove the 3hours out of NYC to meet us there.  At the time, we only had one child, Samantha, and she was only 6 months old and easily went any where we took her.

The last 4 years, we have been the lone celebrants (ok, maybe another American here or there) in Shanghai and Sydney. As you can imagine, not much celebrating America happens there… though, we did have one sad attempt in Sydney through the American Society in Sydney.  They tried their best but it’s nothing like celebrating the 4th in New York City!

So, here we are, staying in the city for about a month, living in limbo (because we have just repatriated back from Australia), and with only a handful of friends in the area, we found ourselves at a loss for what to do.  Sadly, no backyard bbq invites or trips out to the beach.  We are here with 3 children in tow, instead of just 1, and wondering how to properly have our little ones experience the firework extravagazna we’ve come to expect.  We totally lucked out… we happen to be staying in a serviced apartment near Columbus Circle, only a few avenues away from the Hudson River and our windows face west - SCORE!  Now, could we see the fireworks from our windows? That was the unknown… but luckily, the building has a wonderful roof top deck with perfect views of the Hudson (and Central Park). So, with a simple pre-registration, we were all set to have the easiest fireworks viewing I’ve ever experienced.  10 minutes before the fireworks were scheduled to start, I took Sam and Noah (in their pjs) up to the 43rd floor roof deck for a nice, warm view of the skyline.  The kids couldn’t have been happier… We could see all 6 sets of fireworks along the river. The only thing better would be to hear the accompanying music.  1/2 way through, the kids were getting tired so I took them back down and tagged off with James so he could see the fireworks as well (baby Annabelle was snug in her crib already). But the pleasant surprise was that we had a very clear view of the fireworks from our 11th floor windows.  It couldn’t have been more perfect… 10 mins later, the kids were all asleep.  Now that’s the best way to watch fireworks in NYC with little kids!

30 days in New York City with my 3 babies… wish me luck!

How NOT to buy a house in 3 months…

Usually, when a couple decides to buy a house, they spend months visiting potential new cities or looking at houses and patiently wait for that perfect house to  become available. You know, that dream house that you can picture your kids growing up in and you growing old in… Instead, we spent 2 weeks looking at houses and said this one! Crazy! Well… it was a bit more complicated than that.

We knew we were moving while still in Australia so I spent tons of time day dreaming on various real estate websites trying to determine the best place to look for a place to live. We were literally all over the map. The one thing we knew was that we did not want to live in New Jersey. Sorry Jersey… nothing against the state and all but it just wasn’t realistic with James’ office being in Long Island City. Plus, the tolls to Jersey are crazy expensive! Yes, my big brother lives there, but the commute was one of our key factors. James was determined to have a total transit time of less than 1 hr - that means from the time he walks out the door to the time his butt is at his desk. So, at least that was a starting point.  We also knew we couldn’t live in the city… as much fun as the city is, we got used to the suburban lifestyle in Sydney and the idea of schlepping the kids around the city on public transportation, cabs or walking just sounded horrific to me and the craziness and expense of public school - for 3 kids - well, that was an easy decision. So, that pretty much left us with lower Westchester and Long Island.

We toyed with the idea of Long Island City for a while but the schools didn’t seem so great. We thought maybe Queens but the parts we liked (Forest Hills) was way too $$ for what we wanted. So we finally settled on Lower Westchester and Port Washington and Manhasset as key target areas. James’ company helped us secure real estate agents in both areas and we started communicating with them before we came. So we had an idea of what we were looking for before the physical hunt.

Once we landed back in the US, we didn’t have much time. We left Sam and Noah with the grandparents in Southern California but had to bring Annabelle with us as I was still breastfeeding. James had a week before work officially started so the plan was to look together for a week and I would keep looking for a few more days. So, set off on a whirlwind house hunting adventure, and boy was it an adventure.

We started off in Long Island first, but for the oddest reason, our agent was located in Queens. We should have seen the warning signs early… but it was such a waste - she had no clue about the area we were looking in. We took the train to her in Queens and she drove us in her car to Port Washington. We had picked a bunch of houses we saw online that looked interesting and she made appointments to see them. For the most part, she was just our chauffeur. She could not tell us a thing about the area, the houses, the schools, NOTHING. I got excited when the buyers agent would be at the house so I could ask questions. It was a disaster… unfortunately, we had to get new representation.

The next day, we headed out to Lower Westchester which includes Pelham, Larchmont, Mamaroneck and Rye - all towns along the Long Island Sound and off the Metro North New Haven Line.  We knew of these towns but had never visited before but James used to pass through them everyday when he worked in Stamford.  Our agent, Barbara, picked us up at the train station and she was just the nicest woman we had ever met. She was also so great with Annabelle. Let me tell you, house hunting with a 5 month old is not a lot of fun. Sometimes the walk throughs would take twice as long as one of us would have to stay in the car with the sleeping baby and we’d take turns. Or we’d rush through a house with a crying baby. But Barbara was great and very patient. Her first course of action was just to drive us around town showing us where things were, getting us acclimated to the area, showing us the schools, giving lots of info on the area. Such a total difference from our time in Port Washington.  We went back the next day and on the following Saturday and we must have seen every house in our price range in all those towns.  It was crazy! On the days we weren’t in Westchester, we got a new broker who showed us around Port Washington and Manhasset properly.  Shelly was amazing. She knew her stuff. I finally realized what a good broker really meant. She was such a wealth of information.

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