Noah


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!

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!

After Samantha’s Star birthday party in January, I wanted to just do a simple party for Noah at Wizzy World or something, for my sanity… buy James was very against that idea.  He really wants to keep all our kids “equal”. I understand where he’s coming from, but a 5th birthday is very different from a 3rd. I really think Noah would enjoy a Wizzy World birthday more than something at home but James was very adamant… too bad he wasn’t the one planning the party.

So, we changed it from Wizzy World to doing it at the beach… well, because we can. But, at the last minute, we nixed that idea too as it would just add that much more logistical issues for us as well as our guests, so we decided to do it just at home.  So, now, being at home, it couldn’t just be without any decorations or anything, now it had to be just as good as Sam’s, considering there would be a lot of similar guests. So, we (or should I say “I”) decided on a Thomas the Tank Engine theme since Noah is really into these trains and loves Thomas.

I looked high an low for any and all Thomas decor… I found some hats, plates, cups and goodie bags, but no pinata. The kids LOVE pinatas… so guess what? I had to make it myself.  I must be crazy! I started with a basic model using cardstock just to get an idea.. then I went for the real thing. I think it turned out pretty good…what do you think?

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The body is a powder detergent box which I slashed a bunch of holes and cuts into to make it easier to break because it was pretty thick. But since it was a box, it was easy to fill it with all the candy and toys. I tried to limit the candy and put in a bunch of toy cars and blowers and toys. I even put in some healthier snacks… well, I tried. Then the front was made of black cardstock and I drew the face just on paper and glued it on. the blue is just blue wrapping papers and the rest was just various cardstock I had on hand for the red and yellow. It took most of 1 night.  My big problem is that I didn’t attach the string before finishing it so at the last minute I had to improvise and punch holes in the top to get string attached so it could hang. Not very pretty, but oh well. Here is the pinata in action:

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and then the mad rush for candy…

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So, I made the pinata on the Monday before the party and it wasn’t so bad so I had another great idea… let’s make Thomas Trains that the kids could sort of ride… I was inspired by my friend Christine who makes tons of toys for her son Ian with just cardboard and duct tape, so I thought I could do it too… so, starting Tuesday at like 8pm, I began my madness

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I did enlist some help of an assistant

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a couple hours later, and our creation was complete:

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So, silly me, we can’t just have 1 or all the kids will fight over it, so, I made 3…

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And then, there was one little detail left call the cake… yup, I made my own Thomas Cake.

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I was going to make a 3D Thomas Cake that looks just like the toy - as inspired by my friend Shell who did it for her son a few months earlier. But after all the train making and the amount of work it was going to entail, I decided on just doing Thomas’ face. So, I used fondant for the first time… store bought (I’m not that crazy - well, I did think about making the fondant myself). So, it’s 2 round chocolate cakes with a layer of strawberry preserves in the middle covered in blue fondant. Then the face is made in fondant using black icing gel to outline the face. I think it turned out great, if I do say so myself. Noah seemed quite happy with his birthday party and I was quite happy when it was all over.

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So, happy 3rd birthday to my little man…

now, how am I going to top this next year? Maybe Chuck E. Cheese? haha…

 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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Halloween Festival at Lane Cove West Public School:

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Trick or Treating - in the rain

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Playing at home:

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It was a long time coming, but we finally came back to California for a visit after 18months away in Sydney.  The last time we were home was Christmas 2008 - so what took so long? Well… my very best friend in the world was finally getting married!!! and I, being the matron-of-honor, could not miss all the festivities.  It was hard being so far away and not being able to help Cindy with all the fun wedding planning but I’m glad I was able to be there for her bridal shower, bachelorette party and wedding.  So, in all, I was in the US for about 5 weeks, but it went by soooo fast.  Unfortunately, James was unable to take that much time off work, plus he had already been back in the US in Feb for a wedding and the best man for his cousin Allen’s wedding coming up in Nov so we had to make some hard decisions.  The hardest part was that I’d be flying to and back (14hrs each way) alone with a 2.5yr old and a 4.5yr old, while 4-5months pregnant - NOT FUN… but we survived.

So, so much to plan for this one trip as it not only encompassed being at Cindy’s pre-wedding and wedding activities, it also had visiting James’ family as well as everyone was going to be around for 4th of July and also doing a family vacation with my side of the family as everyone would be together for the first time as well (everyone except James).  In retrospect, he really should have come home, at least for a week or two but it was just not to be.  Everyone asks me how I can travel with 2 young children and not be so frazzled, but I guess, at this point, we’re so used to it and the kids are really good. My big concern was Noah as he is at the very active stage and he tends to be really LOUD.  Samantha is a pro… so long as she has her personal TV and headset, she’s pretty set but we still had to prepare.  So, this is how we managed the intimidating trip.

First, we enlisted the help of Dora.  Since Samantha was 4.5yrs old now, she is a big girl and can pull her own rollerboard/carryon.  I was a bit worried she wouldn’t be able to do it or would fuss, but she did great.  We got a new Dora rolly with a detachable little backpack which worked perfectly for carrying all her coloring/activity books, a portable DVD player plus favorite DVDs, lots of food, snacks and gummy bears, and room for a few new toys as well as pink teddy and her blankie.  This saved me a lot of room in my carryon backpack that consisted mainly of diapers/wipes and clothes and more snacks.  You can never have enough…We thought about getting Noah this cool little Lightning McQueen rolly that he could also sit on but glad we didn’t as there’s no way he would have been able to pull it himself through the airport nor would I be able to do it as well.  The other question was what stroller or carseats would we take with us.  On the plane, I absolutely need Noah to sit in a 5 point harness, not only for safety but for keeping him contained.  There’s no way he would sit still in a regular seat without wanting to climb all over me or roam around the entire airplane.  He is used to sitting in his carseat so we needed to bring it. But his carseat is just too heavy for me to carry around along with the rest even though we got it purposefully to travel (Radian 60). But usually James will carry it and with just me and pregnant with 2 kids, I couldn’t do it. So, we dusted off the old Sit n’ Stroll.  That things has been one of our best investments as it has been all over the world and has got us through difficult situations like this.  It’s definitely on its last leg but it worked wonderfully on this trip.  Noah still fits in it and it rolled through the airport without too much difficulty.  It kept Noah contained in the airport as well as on the plane and it also meant I didn’t have to drag my other stroller out with me.  So, in total we had me pushing Noah in the Sit n’ Stroll, me wearing a back-pack, Sam walking next to us with her Dora backpack and rolly and also we checked in 1 large rolly duffle.  Check-in wasn’t too bad as James was there with us and getting through security alone was all right. The hard part was getting out of the airport but we’ll get to that later.

So, logistically, we were under control. I tried to pack as light as possible and prepare as much as I could.  What I hadn’t prepared for was Noah getting sick the night before our 10am flight.  Yes, the night before the flight, Sam had her Mid-Winter festival at pre-school and Noah ended up vomiting all over the place, including on James. He threw up again at home and also had diarrhea but no fever.  Great! I was imagining the worst case scenario. Do we cancel the trip? Do we go? What if he’s really sick??? Well, not sure if others would do the same but we decided to go.  He had a good night’s sleep and seemed OK in the morning. I packed extra plastic bags and changes of clothes just in case.  Surprisingly, Noah being sick actually made the trip much easier as he wasn’t as active as he usually is.  He was quite lethargic and didn’t care to eat and slept a lot.  Since we were going on a daytime flight, I had packed a ton of food as that’s usually the way to keep Noah happy but he didn’t really want to eat anything. Oh, I did have his Thomas the Tank back pack full of his favorite little cars which, of course, we left at home.  So, in the airport, I was searching for little cars for Noah, and guess what, none of the shops had any except this one store had pens that had little wind up cars on the cap. Weird but I bought them and these two little cars kept Noah happy for most of the trip - that plus a variety of movies that he watched w/no sound as he doesn’t like to wear the headsets.  Samantha was a happy camper watching her videos and coloring and drawing.  Both were able to get a decent amount of sleep and there was very little crying or noise making. Wow - so much better than I expected.

The hardest parts were getting off the plane and picking up the luggage.  Because Noah is so heavy, I can’t carry him in the Sit n’ Stroll down the airplane aisle but he refused to walk so I had to carry him and try to carry the Sit n’ Stroll while trying to get Sam to pull her rolly on her own. It was a sight to see. Luckily, a flight attendant offered to carry the Sit n’ Stroll to the jetbridge. Once there, I was able to put the Sit n’  Stroll into stroller mode and push Noah down to immigration. But, customs is a really long walk for our gate and guess who had to use the bathroom? Yup - Samantha was about to explode and there was no bathroom in sight, so, finally, I just pulled over to the side of the hallway (to the shock of some other passengers) and had her pull her pants down and pee into one of Noah’s diapers.  Well, what was I supposed to do? She would have just peed all over her pants and on the carpet if I hadn’t so I figured this was better than nothing. At least it was contained.  She felt better and there was no mess. As we walked around the corner, guess what we saw? Yes, bathrooms - only 100m away from where we had stopped. Oh well. We went in to just clean her up properly and for me to go, just in case and then headed into customs.  Luckily we got through that really quickly - I guess there weren’t as many American’s coming from Sydney as the US line was really short. Now, it was just a matter of getting our 1 big piece of luggage and out of baggage claim.  It was awkward pushing Noah in the Sit N’ Stroll while pulling my big luggage behind but we made it to the curb. I was then surprised to realize we hadn’t come out of Bradley Int’l Terminal.  We had flown Delta, which we never do since we are usually loyal American Airlines frequent fliers but we got really great tickets, so I was a bit disoriented. Now, did my parents know we weren’t going to be at Bradley? We were only 1 terminal away but the thought of walking there was very depressing. But then, I see my dad’s big green Armada pull up to the curb - thank goodness. James had called them and confirmed we were on Delta so they were able to deduce we’d come out of a different terminal. Thank goodness because my phone wouldn’t have worked and finding them would have been the last thing I wanted to do at 6am with very little sleep.  But all was good as I was now in the hands of Mommy and Daddy.  When we finally got back to Chino Hills, we ate some food and we all just took a big nap.  The kids were great… they were able to get back on schedule by the next day - such troopers I have!  Me? I was a total wreck but I was HOME.

Sometimes I feel like Noah gets the short end of the stick.  Samantha had so much attention from James and I.  Before Noah was born, she got to do everything and anything she wanted, but poor Noah, he just gets dragged along to most of the activities Samantha has.  So, today, I decided to stop being LAZY and spend some fun, quality time with Noah. Yes, I take him to the park A LOT and we have playgroups and stuff but today, I took him down to the Manly Oceanworld (aquarium) and spent the morning at the beach.  I had bought an annual pass to the Sydney Aquarium since I used to go with some other mom’s of Samantha’s friends, but they’ve since moved away or got jobs so I no longer have any aquarium buddies.  I don’t think we’ve been since Samantha’s birthday in January. Well, this pass also gives me free entry into Manly Oceanworld which we’ve never been to so I thought it’d be a nice thing to do with just Noah.  As the weather has been nicer, a day at the beach sounded fun too, though it was a bit overcast and cool today.

In any case, Manly Oceanworld is a really sad little aquarium. It had 2 levels, each of which were very small, and I thought the Sydney Aquarium was small - this makes that look like it’s gigantic!  If I didn’t have my pass, there’s no way I would pay $20 for entry ($10 for kids). Literally, we were done with it in 15-20 mins but I stretched it out so we could see the diver feeding.  A couple divers got into the water and were feeding the turtles, sting rays and other fish. I think they also did the sharks a little later but by then, Noah had had enough. We watched this done in the underwater tunnels which got really crowded. I was surprised there were that many people considering the quality of the place but it probably seemed more crowded because it was so small. Maybe 30 adults? I dunno but it was not great. Something to do since I have the pass but I would not recommend it as a paid activity.  Save the $$ and go to the Sydney Aquarium instead because it’s like $30 there.

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After the aquarium, we walked down the corso (pedestrian walk w/shops and restaurants) and got some fish & chips and sat down by the play area in the middle.  It’s a really small playground in a semi-enclosed circular area.  Really only good for under 5yr olds but Noah had a blast! He ate and played but those damn seagulls in the area are super aggressive and not scared of you.  I had to run off and chase Noah a couple times only to come back and find the seagulls had attacked, even if I left the bag over the food and stuff on top.  I think the seagulls ate at least 1/4 of our lunch.  There are also a bunch of little floor water fountains that Noah had to run through. Needless to say, he spent the rest of our time at Manly in just his diaper.

After lunch, we headed on down by the water because you can’t come to Manly and not walk along the esplanade or sit on the beach.  So, we sat on the beach and Noah played in the sand for a bit. I tried to take pics but he wasn’t too cooperative. He enjoyed throwing sand at me more than mugging for the camera.  By 1:30, I was done. Noah would have loved to stay but I knew he was tired. 2 mins into the drive home and he was out like a light.  It was a really nice morning with my little man. He is now at the age where it’s not as much work and he sort of listens to me.  It was fun but it’ll be nicer going back as a whole family and letting James chase after him =) I’ll have my hands full soon enough…

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