Samantha


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.

legolandw1.jpg

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.

legolandw4.jpg

legolandw5.jpg

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.

legolandw6.jpg

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.

legolandw9.JPG

legolandw10.JPG

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.

legolandw8.JPG

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.

legolandw3.jpg

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.

legolandw7.JPG

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.

copy-of-dsc_0825.JPG

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!

copy-of-dsc_0822.JPG

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…

copy-of-dsc_0849.JPG

copy-of-dsc_0854.JPGcopy-of-dsc_0874.JPG

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!

copy-of-dsc_0829.JPG

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.

copy-of-dsc_0010.JPG

copy-of-dsc_0035.JPG

copy-of-dsc_0021.JPG

copy-of-dsc_0041.JPG

copy-of-dsc_0064.JPG

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!

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!

 Back in September, James and I attended the Youths Off the Street Charity dinner at the Hilton in downtown Sydney.  Though I wish we had more time to do more charity work, unfortunately, we only get to do the bare minimum.  Luckily, James has been involved with this organization through work where he has helped mentor inner city kids in Sydney.  This dinner was to introduce scholarship winners to those who have been a part of the organization.  Some of these kids’ stories are very inspiring… I felt a bit unaccomplished next to them.  I hope these scholarships make a big impact in their lives… you never know the impact you have on another’s life - you just hope it’s for the positive.

In any case, we went to this dinner to help support this organization and ended up winning a couple silent auctions.  First, we won/bought a dinner at Aria and tickets to see the Australian Ballet’s performance of Edge of Night. Unfortunately, we didn’t find out until after we won the auction that the ballet only performed from Nov. 12 - 24th and the baby was due Nov. 17th… this proved to be a problem.  Luckily, we had friends celebrating their wedding anniversary in that time and were happy to buy the tickets for the ballet off us…

So, what does this all have to do with a photo session? well, we won/bought 2 silent auctions that night. The second being a photography session at Gap Studios in Frenchs Forrest.  Luckily, that is near to us as we had no clue when we bid on it. This would be our first real family photograph since Shanghai and we were excited.  We dressed up in blue jeans and white shirts/dresses and I have to say, the pictures came out great! See for yourself!

pic1.jpggap_0040-8_0×10_0-14a.jpggap_0091-8_0×10_0-18a.jpggap_0051-8_0×10_0-15a.jpggap_0144-8_0×10_0-20a.jpggap_0061-8_0×10_0-16a.jpggap_0128-8_0×10_0-19a.jpggap_0082-8_0×10_0-17a.jpg

I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time… the First Day of School! It’s such a big milestone in a child’s life and I couldn’t believe Samantha was old enough to be starting school.  Unlike some others, I wasn’t really sad about it… I was really excited! I saw it as a great next step for Samantha and for myself.  Unlike preschool, Samantha would now be going to school 5 days a week, learning to be more independent and leaving the sheltered, yet lovely, world of the Children’s Cottage. 

Samantha has been attendng some type of school program since she was 18 months old, beginning in Shanghai at the Portman’s pre-school. That was only 3 days/week and technically 1.5hrs drop-off and another 1.5hrs optional mommy and me playtime but through that and through 2 years at the Children’s Cottage, not once did Samantha ever have any issues leaving me to go off and play - so I figured, kindy would be the same.  Wow, was I way off!  My otherwise independent little girl became the one crying every morning, hanging onto my leg and refusing to go into class.  My extroverted child became the shy mouse that need the extra attention of the class aid to help settle her each morning.  What happened?  I’m not so sure.  She had been so excited to start school since we’d been talking about it for months and she was so excited to wear her new uniform, but once we got to the actual school… she turned into someone I didn’t even recognize.  thank goodness Lolo and Lola were here to watch Annabelle and Noah. I couldn’t even imagine what a scene it would be having to sooth Samantha while chasing Noah all around the campus and probably trying to breastfeed Annabelle at the same time…

So, one problem could have been my fault… she started school about 10 days later than everyone else.  I know, I know… bad mommy. But we had our planned trip to Fiji and I really didn’t think it would make a big difference. The first couple weeks are just a settling in time and I really thought Samantha would have no problems in that department.  I’m still not convinced that was the reason since she started crying the first morning before even realizing that the other kids had already started school the previous week.. so it had to be something else, right?  I think it was just that it was so different from preschool.  It was bigger. There were bigger kids. And she didn’t know a single person even though we had attended the kindy orientation and the afternoon tea to meet some other kids. Also, I think, going from 10 weeks of school holidays and 2 weeks of fun in Fiji straight to a new school was probably a bit jarring.  So, in the end, I was an emotional wreck, not because my little girl was growing up, but because my little girl was so scared. It broke my heart to leave… but I had to.  Of course, when it came time to pick her up, she was a smiles and laughter!

Before the tears:

dsc_0004.JPGdsc_0005.JPGdsc_0008.JPG

Five years ago, my life changed in the most amazing way - I became a mother, and now my baby is a big girl now.  When James and I first started dating, we had discussed our goals, ambitions, dreams, fears, etc. He knew he always wanted a family.  Me? I wasn’t quite so sure.  The idea of being a mother was, quite frankly, terrifying.  I was never one of those girls who always knew she just wanted to be a mother.  I, on the other hand, thought I’d be a workaholic, climbing the corporate ladder and taking over the world.   I was ok with the idea of children, sort of, down the road, all in hypotheticals. I just thought I’d be a bad mother.  I was too selfish, too self centered to think about all the sacrifice one would need to be a good mother and I just didn’t think I had it in me.

So what changed?

I think my first two years post college graduation changed my view of the world completely.  I became an investment banking analyst, otherwise known as the lowest rung on this imaginary corporate ladder I had such high hopes of climbing.  I was that rung for a full two years, working 100+ hours a week, being bored out of my mind and looking at my bosses and thinking, I don’t want to be them.  This is not the life I want to lead and the people I want to become.  I had moved back to Los Angeles to be close to my family, yet, I saw less of them than I did when I lived in Boston.  I started to realize how much family really did mean to me, and having a family of my own.  Don’t get me wrong, I still wasn’t on the baby track but my outlook on life had definitely changed.

When I found out I was pregnant with Samantha, I wish I could say my first reaction was being overjoyed, where in reality, it was something more like “oh sh*t!”  My mind went straight to all the changes that were about to completely rock my world and panic started to set in.  Thank goodness James was the calm, excited one. But, once I had a chance to let it sink in, the idea really started to grow on me, well… actually, in me.

The day Samantha was born was one of the happiest days of my life.  The fact that she was a girl totally took me by surprise and filled my heart. She was a wonderful, easy baby and now, she is a beautiful, happy child.  I am still nervous about my prowess as a mother and pray to God I don’t mess this up, but together, we’ll take it day by day. I  try my best, I don’t always succeed but I love my baby girl and hope she will always remember that, even when she’s a hormonal teenager.

So, in celebration of her birth, we celebrated the actual day with a trip into the city to visit the Powerhouse Museum.  James was able to take a long lunch and join me, my mother and Annabelle.  Noah was in school so Sam got a lot of personal attention on her special day.

dsc_0149.JPGdsc_0152.JPGdsc_0162.JPGdsc_0164.JPGdsc_0166.JPGdsc_0169.JPGdsc_0173.JPGdsc_0177.JPG

We had a special dinner - pizza from Crust and my practice birthday cake, in preparation for the big party to be had on Saturday.

dsc_0211.JPGdsc_0220.JPGimg_0594.JPG

On Saturday, 15 of her closest little friends and 14 adults descended upon our house to celebrate our little girl.  My baby didn’t want a princess birthday party, no, she wanted a STAR party, and not the Hollywood kind.  We had spent the whole week preparing for this party with several visits to a multitude of stores to find the right decorations, games and prizes that 4-5yr old boys and girls would love.  We spent hours cutting out stars, painting them, spreading glitter on them, tying ribbons and attaching them all over the house.  We wrapped presents for pass the parcel and downloaded music for limbo and create our very own disco in the basement.  Overall, it was a wonderful, fun filled 2hours of games and food on the only really hot and muggy day in Sydney all month.  Thank goodness we have air conditioning.  Of course, no good party can go without incident.  We had a 4yr old try to run straight through our floor-to-ceiling window and completely cracked it - but luckily, he was unharmed, just a bit shaken.  We had a 2yr old get his head stuck between the banisters on the stairs to the basement (and I thought that only happened in the movies) and we had another 2yr old get his little fingers slammed in our front door, potentially caused by Noah, but we’re not 100% sure.  But all involved escaped without too much damage that was easily cured by a little Jello.

dsc_0250.JPGdsc_0252.JPGdsc_0262.JPGdsc_0271.JPGdsc_0276.JPGdsc_0282.JPGdsc_0286.JPG

We did end the birthday festivities today with a trip to the Sydney Entertainment Center for Disney Live! Three Princess Stories on stage and a ride on the big ferris wheel in Darling Harbor.  So, enough is enough… thank goodness birthdays only come once a year and you only turn 5 once, ever.  I think my Dad was actually onto something when I was only allowed a birthday party every 8 years.  Do you think Samantha would agree to that? I think I’ve already created a monster… but I love her too much not to.

Up next, Noah turns 3 in March.  I think it’s time to head to Wizzy World instead…

We spent New Years Eve weekend on an impromptu holiday to Forster, or “Foster” as the Aussies say it.  I don’t know why Australian’s don’t pronounce the letter ‘r’ - maybe it’s an English thing, like Gloucester  (’Glouster’)or Worcester (’Wooster’).  In any case - we had a really great weekend.  Forster is a 3-4 hr drive north of Sydney, past Hunter Valley and Port Stephens.  It’s really amazing how we pack so much more for a local 3 day holiday than we do for a 14day international trip.  Our little mini-van was packed to the brim.  Since we were staying in a house, we needed to bring everything with us.  We packed a relatively small bag of clothing but we had the stroller, Annabelle’s travel cot, 2 kick boards, 2 sets of snorkel gear, a cooler, toys, computer, camera, 3 bags of foodstuff (plus we went and bought more food on the way) and a big bag of beach gear - swimsuits, hats, sun screen, towels, etc… I guess when you have the space, you take the opportunity to bring everything.  When limited to 20kgs for the plane, well, you learn to live without.

The drive up to Forster was pretty uneventful.  James had brought along his ipod and the Bose speakers since our car’s radio doesn’t seem to work and we have no cd’s so it seemed like a great idea until James realize all he had on the ipod was Christmas songs - mainly Glee Christmas song.  Guess who was in heaven? Miss Samantha proceeded to sing all the songs the entire ride.  Well, at least she was happy while mom, dad and grandma tried to just tune it out.  I love Christmas music but the same 10 songs on repeat for 4 hours was more than any human should have to bear.

When we finally arrived at our accommodation, I was happy for the quiet of the house.  Though I say we spent the weekend in Forster, I’m actually lying because we stayed in Coomba Park which is a sleepy little town on the other side of Wallis Lake, Forster is just what everyone recognizes.  Like saying I’m from Los Angeles when really, I grew up in Chino Hills - but who the hell cares about Chino Hills? We literally booked the house on Wed and we were checking in on Friday.  I think this is the most last minute vacation I’ve ever planned.  I didn’t think we’d be doing anything for New Year’s besides watching the Sydney fireworks again since we just had a baby, but James really wanted to take advantage of the long weekend.  I’m truly greatful for James because he really does have a much more adventurous outlook on life.  I know, I play the role of the world traveler and I do love going everywhere, but deep down inside, I’m a major couch potato.  If it weren’t for James, I’d be spending the entire weekend in my pj’s and quite happy about it but would then regret it later.  However, though he loves going places, he is the worst planner. So, I guess we balance each other out.

We found the Waterfront Lake House on Stayz.com.au mainly because everything else was booked or way too expensive.  Though I love to travel, I’m also a major tightwad so spending $300+ a night is not something I typically choose to do.  The Lake House seemed perfect - it was only going to be $390 for 3 nights for all of us - STEAL. But of course there is a catch, it’s a homestay. A what? In a nutshell, we’re not renting a house, we’re renting a couple rooms in a house while the owner is still there… hmmmmm.  I was a bit skeptical.  Actually, I was more concerned we would bother them than them bothering us… Also, it’s a 40min drive from Coomba Park to Forster Beach, but hey, it’s on a lake! When we got there, we were soon put to ease as Greg, the owner, was a nice elderly man who was like a grandpa to us, though his wife was a young Thai women just my age… hmmmm. Who am I to judge? They seem happy.

forster-420.JPGforster-390.JPGforster-399.JPGforster-404.JPG

The day we arrived was New Year’s Eve.  There was nothing really planned so I set out to make dinner while James decided to take the kids out on the lake in Greg’s rowboat.  Seems easy enough. The lake looked calm and peaceful and the kids had life jackets on, so no problem.  Annabelle and I waved them goodbye as they set off to a little island in the middle of the lake.  20 mins later, we noticed they were still by the island.  Mom was getting worried and kept urging me to ask Greg if there was something he could do.  I kept saying, no, James has this… he’s just taking his time.  Well, we kept watching for another 10 mins and now I could see the worry in Greg’s face.  He finally asks me if he should head out there and help them out. Luckily, Greg’s son was visiting from Penrith and he agreed to take their kayak out and help James out.  Brett to the rescue! Together,  it took both Brett and James and 20 more minutes to row back to shore.  Wow! only 2 hours into our holiday and a near catastrophe. Maybe no more boat rides for James.

forster-27.JPG

But, it was still New Year’s Eve and we were missing the excitement of the Sydney fireworks until Greg told us we could see the Forster fireworks from a hill up the road at 9pm.  Great! We end up parking on what seems to be a helipad.  I guess it’s there in case of medical emergency because it would take 40mins each way for an ambulance.  From here, in pitch black, we sat Noah and Samantha up on top of the van and we could make out the fireworks on the other side of the lake… hey, it was better than nothing. Though I hardly got to see any of it as James was adamant on getting a nice family picture taken, in the dark.

forster-41.JPG

Then, back to the house to get the kids settled into bed. The rest of us hung out in the living room reading books, or in my case, fast asleep on the couch.  What? I’m the night owl… what the heck am I doing asleep at 10pm on New Year’s Eve? Luckily, I woke up at 11:45pm just in time to see the fireworks on TV and share a glass of champagne with a bunch of strangers in their house… who’d have thunk? It was oddly nice.

forster-45.JPGforster-48.JPGforster-49.JPG

Happy New Year!! Welcome 2011.  I think there’s some old wives take about however you spend your first day of the new year is a representation of how the rest of your year will be, but I honestly hope it isn’t… because that would mean we will all be in pain all of 2011 because Sam, James and I started off the year being stung by a blue bottle jellyfish.  We were enjoying New Year’s morning at Elizabeth Beach, a gorgeous beach with beautiful white sand and clear, blue water.  Sam and her new friend, Andrew (Greg’s grandson) were busy building sandcastles and had come down to the water’s edge to collect some water.  I had walked down to just put my feet in and James went for a full swim.  All of a sudden, both Andrew and Samantha start screaming their heads off.  I thought they were just playing at first until I saw the tears coming down both their little faces.  I had no clue what had happened except that my feet started feeling really tingly.  Then a woman came over and said there were blue bottles in the water and to take them to the lifeguards.

forster-67.JPGforster-71.JPG

Luckily Noah was untouched so Mom came running down the beach to take Noah away while Brett and I carried our unconsolable children across the sand to the lifeguards.  Unlike you hear on TV, the treatment was not to pee on the jellyfish sting. Instead, the lifeguards poured ice cold water on it then told us to hold them under the showers for as long as possible.  Hot water works well too.  James showed up at the lifeguard tent at the same time… apparently he swam into a whole school (?) of jellyfish - like that scene in Finding Nemo. Luckily he was wearing a longsleeve rashguard so the stings were minimized to his legs. As for me, I got touched just a tiny bit on my feet, enough to be noticed and annoying but manageable.  Thank goodness my mother was here to help watch after Annabelle and Noah.  What would I have done if I was alone since James was out swimming.  Would I have asked a stranger to watch Annabelle and Noah while I took Sam to the lifeguard? I guess Brett would have taken Sam with him and Andrew but what if they weren’t there.  You never think about these situations until something happens.  Would that mean James should never get to have a swim.  I don’t know… maybe it’s something we should think about since we go to the beach so often.  Samantha was such a little trooper.  She cried her eyes out and wanted to know why the mean jellyfish “stinged” her.  After holding her in the showers for 15mins, she calmed down enough to sit back at our spot while we figured out our next move.  We decided to pack up and head up into Forster for lunch.  Sam wanted to just go home and watch videos but we convinced her some food would be good so we headed out to Forster Beach and ate at Beach Bums Cafe, right on the beach.

forster-77.JPGforster-86.JPG

We hadn’t originally intended to stay at this beach but once we were there, it seemed perfect for us.  Forster Main Beach has a salt water pool created at the eastern end of the beach which is perfect for kids!  It’s walled off so there’s not waves, it’s shallow and lots of sand… and the best part - NO jellyfish.  That was what sealed the deal for Sam.  We assured her there were no jellyfish here to sting her and once she got back in the water, she was a new person, like the morning had never happened.  We stayed the next few hours here just playing in the water, building sand castles and burying Sam, Noah and James.  The kids really love being buried!

forster-120.JPGforster-138.JPGforster-146.JPGforster-147.JPGforster-160.JPGforster-176.JPGforster-201.JPG

You would think after all that we’d already done that day, that we’d just head back to the house to rest, but not us.  We took one more stop off near the Forster-Tuncurry bridge.  Greg had recommended this as a great area for kids so we figured we were so close, why not check it out.  Of course, once we got there, Annabelle needed another feed so I sat on a bench while James took the kids in search of ice cream!  We didn’t go in the water here, just walked around and took some pictures. It does look like a fun area for kids.  There’s no waves and the water seemed really shallow.  We saw lots of little boats in the water and people just splashing around.

forster-264.JPGforster-263.JPGforster-221.JPG

Sunday started off much later than we expected.  We were much slower getting up and about - maybe we were still recovering from the events of the previous day or just relaxing like you should when on holiday, but it was nice not feeling rushed.  But this morning, we also woke to find Noah covered in mosquito bites. He must have had at least 20 bites on his arms and lower legs, plus a couple on his face.  Sam had 1 and I maybe had 1 or 2.  James was also a victim but not as bad as Noah. Poor kid.  He had actually woken in the middle of the night itchy from the bites and couldn’t sleep.  I had to sleep with him on the couch in the living room.  James had discovered that the screen in our room wasn’t securely on and maybe that’s how mosquitoes got in but they all went to Noah.  It’s so hard when there’s nothing you could do. Greg had some bug bite cream which seemed to help a little.  Luckily, my mom and Annabelle were completely spared.  I think her Phil & Ted cot is why she’s bite free since we can zip up the tent completely to keep the bugs away.  I’m so glad we bought that thing.  Though he was itchy, Noah was in good spirits and actually wanted to go to the beach again so we decided to hit One Mile Beach.  We had a little picnic on the grass next to the playground before hanging out on the sand for the rest of the afternoon.  It was a nice little beach.  Samantha actually went into the water.  She created a new sport - wave jumping. It was cute.  We tried to get the kids to body surf with their kick boards but they preferred to just splash around and then bury themselves in the sand.  Sam and I spent a good amount of time by these rocks collecting sea shells to decorate her castle.  It was a nice and relaxing afternoon with no jellyfish encounters.  We contemplated driving back to Sydney that evening but by the time we got back, it was just too late as we were so unprepared.  So, we stayed another night.  Luckily, this night was nothing like the last and we all woke the next morning well rested and bite free.

We packed up early and said our thanks and goodbyes to Greg and his wife.  I kayaked a bit on the lake, just to try it, and we took some lovely pictures.  We had a good time and aside from the jellyfish and mosquitoes, everything was great.

img_0565.JPGforster-439.JPGforster-456.JPGforster-467.JPGforster-480.JPGforster-484.JPGforster-493.JPGforster-494.JPGforster-511.JPGforster-526.JPGforster-571.JPG

On the way home, we stopped off at one more place, Seal Rocks and the Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse.  Seal Rocks looked like a great place to swim and snorkel.  We had brought our snorkel gear and never used it.  This would have been perfect but it was getting cloudy out and we had a long drive back. Instead, we decided to walk up to the Lighthouse - a 660meter hike from the carpark.  Here, there were great views of the Pacific Ocean.

forster-537.JPGforster-543.JPGforster-547.JPGforster-590.JPG

Then, back on the road for our 3-4hr drive back to Sydney.  On the way home, it started to rain.  We were lucky to have had such gorgeous weather over the weekend and miss the rain as we did, so maybe we will be lucky in 2011.

It’s been a while so I thought I give a quick update on the kids:

Samantha - wow, she’s almost 5, in just a little over a month. I can’t believe my little girl is so big now.  I was looking at old pictures and you can see what a dramatic change she’s gone through. She’s lost all of that baby fat and is becoming a little lady. I really do love this age. She’s just the sweetest thing, though she has total attitude - must get that from daddy :) She’s so smart! She is an amazing reader. I’m sure most mothers think their children are geniuses but Samantha is truly a great reader. She’s probably reading at 2nd grade level, at least. I’ve been getting her random chapter books which she seems to be enjoying but she still wants ones with colored pictures in them which is really hard to find. She reads quickly and smoothly, mainly from memorization. I think she just has the best memory. She’s able to sound things out pretty well too but we still have to work on that. Though her comprehension isn’t so great. I’m not sure how much she’s truly understanding of what she’s reading but that’s ok. We’re also working on a bit of math just on our fingers. She’s slowly getting it. I try no to push either reading or math, just trying to keep it fun and light. Her writing is really good too. She’s great at her capital letters. We haven’t really worked on lower case at all. She needs to work on her ‘G’ and on keeping the letters small and straight, but otherwise really good. She’s great at coloring and is very meticulous and her drawings are getting better every day. I have no clue how much she weighs or how tall she is right now. I’ll take her in for her 5yr check up soon.  Now, I have to plan her 5th birthday party.

Noah: well, Noah is still in his terrible two’s. He is 2yrs and 9mths old right now.  I was just reading an update post of Sam at that age and it’s amazing how different they are. I hate to compare but it’s inevitable. Maybe it’s a boy thing, but he is definitely well behind Sam on verbal skills but way ahead on motor skills. I just weighed Noah, and he is 32lbs. Not sure how tall he is but he is a really good, healthy size. He seems like a giant to me. His head seems really big too. He’s just all muscle and super strong.  He’s working on his speech and it gets better everyday.  I was really worried about his speech 6months ago but it’s improved a lot but still has a long way to go.  He can communicate pretty well, but his enunciation isn’t very good. I still have to interpret for others and half the time I’m clueless.  He’s really good at asking for help, he loves saying “what’s that noise?” “what’s that” “I can’t see” (when you turn the lights off) He says ‘Please’ but sounds more like ‘tease’. He can say his ‘P’ in other words but not for please. It’s very odd. He tries to say grace at the dinner table which is so cute. He can say “Dear Jesus” then a bunch of gibberish and then “amen”. It’s adorable. But, Noah has a really bad temper. When he doesn’t get what he wants, he gets very LOUD and hits. He doesn’t hit other kids but he’s always hitting or head butting me. He still has embarassing tantrums where he’s flailing on the ground. But when he’s happy, he’s the sweetest kid. It’s great watching him talk to James on the phone. I love it when he says “I love you mommy” and when he asks me to lay down with him at night, he then cuddles my head. I think, in a few months, hopefully he’ll get a little better.  He’s not potty trained yet. We’ve been working on it but bribes aren’t working with him.

Annabelle: She is just about 4 weeks old - I can’t believe it. Where has the time gone? I feel like I just got out of the hospital.  I haven’t taken her in for her next check-up so not sure what she weighs yet. To me, she looks the same but my mom assures me she’s much bigger now.  She is a champion eater. Not like Noah who ate non stop but when she eats, she gets a good feed. We’re working on getting her used to the Eat, Play, Sleep schedule and hopefully her sleeps will get longer. She’s on a 2.5 -3hr routine right now which isn’t too bad.  She’s got a lot more alert lately which is great. She’s just the most adorable thing. I think she looks a lot like Noah right now.  She’s got a really good disposition so I hope that lasts. Now, I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that she’ll do more than 4hrs straight at night. But so far, so good.

Halloween in Australia is still a relatively new holiday, not embraced by all but kids and families are starting to incorporate it into their holiday schedules, however, it is nothing compared to Halloween back in the US.  It’s even worse than some of the Halloween celebrations you may find in various other countries due to big Expat communities. I remember in Shanghai, going to a friend’s Expat community for amazing trick-or-treating.  But here in Oz, it’s really hit or miss.  On Halloween, we drove around our small area in Lane Cove and didn’t see one trick-or-treater or any houses decorated.  We drove about 15mins over to Lindfield to a street a friend said was really good last year. Unfortunately, our timing was off and for the 30mins we attempted to go trick-or-treating, it rained so hard, we were drenched, even with our umbrellas.  The kids were troopers and didn’t seem to mind the rain but I did.  But, we were going to have Halloween on way or another.  We made it to about 6 or 7 houses before calling it quits. It was already 6:30 and figured we should just head home. Since Sam and Noah are only 2 and 4, they didn’t really care so much. They got some candy and this way, there’s less for us to hide.  We also had 2 birthday parties this weekend so plenty of lollies for everyone.  We did get to go to a Halloween carnival set up by the Lane Cove West Public School which was quite fun on Saturday.  Kids came dressed up, they had a jack-o-lantern display, some ghoulish games, a bunch of carnival rides, etc.  We got there around 6pm and stayed until about 8pm. We did miss the 9pm fireworks but the kids were exhausted and cranky by the time we left so they didn’t care about fireworks.  It was nice being able to do some Halloweenish type things though I do miss the big parties and coming home with huge bags of candy… no worries - many more Halloweens to come.  Sam has already decided she wants to be a cheerleader next year, like Quinn on Glee…

But for now, here are pics from our Toy Story Halloween.

p1020406.jpgp1020408.jpgp1020426.jpg

p1020417.jpgp1020420.jpg

Halloween Festival at Lane Cove West Public School:

p1020431.jpgp1020432.jpgp1020436.jpgp1020438.jpgp1020448.jpgp1020451.jpgp1020457.jpgp1020461.jpgp1020472.jpgp1020478.jpgp1020484.jpgp1020485.jpg

Trick or Treating - in the rain

p1020508.jpgp1020510.jpgp1020511.jpgp1020513.jpg

Playing at home:

p1020518.jpgp1020517.jpgp1020522.jpgp1020523.jpgp1020528.jpgp1020531.jpgp1020525.jpgp1020533.jpgp1020535.jpg

Next Page »