Monday, December 11, 2017

Seeing the Real Santa at the Freeman Store in Vienna VA

Ever since learning about it in 2015, we have been going to the Freeman Store in the Town of Vienna to see Santa. As I have mentioned it on the blog before, this is such a low-stress, hassle-free, non-commercial event. We simply love it!
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^^It's the same Santa every year, so I am starting to have a nice collection of pictures of the kids and this "almost-family" family member :) (2015 and 2016)^^

Now that the kids are older, they have figured out that they can ask for more than one Christmas wish and Santa WILL deliver. They both asked for four things this year and now Luke is doing some last-minute shopping. Anyway, the visit was short and sweet and the kids got candy canes on the way out!
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Outside, the Freeman Store is festively dressed for the season.
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I wonder how long the kids will keep on believing in Santa? On the way home, Anna asked, "How can Santa live for so long?" Luke later told her that Santa is like wizard, not a regular person. Haha, she believed him.

14 days until Christmas!! 
--
Tips for Your Visit to See Santa at the Freeman Store:
1. It's too late for 2017, but plan ahead for 2018! Santa makes appearance on the first two Sundays of December, from noon to 2pm.
2. In the past, we always showed up around 11:45am to be one of the first ones in line. This year, we couldn't get there that early because of swim lesson, so we went at the end of the 2-hour slot instead, at 1:40-ish. There were only two families ahead of us and we only had about a 5-minute wait!
3. There is hardly any advertisement for this Santa event, you just have to sort of know about it and THEN go to the website (which is not really up-to-date either) to look for more information.
4. I talked to one of the elves, and she said the previous weekend about 70 children came to see Santa.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Scenes from Season’s Greenings at the U.S. Botanic Garden

I am trying to bring regular blogging back to my life so that means instead of an one-liner in my “catch ups” posts, I will be writing more, in details, about our weekend excursions, along with my personal tips for your own visit. Ready? Go!

Over the Thanksgiving break, we visited one of DC’s most popular holiday attractions – US Botanic Garden Season’s Greetings.
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The last time I remember visiting the U.S. Botanic Garden during the holiday season was when Will was a newborn, strapped in the Baby Bjorn. So basically, a long time ago and we were overdue for another visit. This time, I also really wanted to finally see the model trains (a seasonal special exhibit), not just the Conservatory like we have done in the past.

We picked the Saturday after Thanksgiving for this trip and got there about 15 minutes before opening. Already there was a line, but had we went any later, it would have been much worse. Luckily, it was a mild day to wait outside.

So, as I mentioned, this was my first year seeing the model train exhibit! The theme is different from year to year, and this year’s Roadside Attractions theme takes you on a trip around the U.S. as miniature trains chug around mini replicas of iconic wacky sights located across the country. It was really neat! I didn't recognize many of them though, only popular ones like Mount Rushmore, Santa Monica Pier, "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" Sign and Niagara Falls, NY.
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All these structures are entirely made from planets and natural materials!
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After existing the model train exhibit, you enter the rest of the Conservatory, which features Washington landmarks (again, all constructed from plant materials) and two of the largest indoor decorated trees in D.C. It was very, very festive!
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We spent about 45 minutes at the garden and I lost track of how many time people stopped us to ooh and aah over Mango :)
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Overall, we had a great visit!

Tips For Your Own Visit:
1. As with almost everything, go early. Try to go during the week, but if inconveniences like school and work get in the way, GO EARLY on the weekend.
2. Actually, there are two entrances -- Model Train Entrance and Conservatory Entrance. If you don't care about seeing the model trains, you can enter using the Conservatory Entrance, which I don't believe is ever a line.
3. To make your trip more worthwhile, you can combine it with seeing the National Christmas Tree near the White House. We didn't because the tree wasn't available for viewing yet. Instead, we walked around the Mall and the U.S. Capitol.
4. We parked right outside of the Botanic Garden and even though it says "Permit Only", we have always been okay parking there on the weekend.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Happy 6th Birthday to Will!

A few weeks ago, Will turned 6!

A few weeks prior to that, we asked him to make a birthday wish list.
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Yes, I couldn’t understand most of it either, haha, but after he explained it to me, it made me laugh.

He first and foremost wish list item was a Disney Cruise :)

His second request, “75”, was more doable. He was referring to Pho 75, where we have celebrated countless birthdays in our family, so we knocked that one out the weekend before his birthday. We went big and got 3 large bowls!
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Then he also asked for lots of TV (Nexo Knights, Ninjago), video games, Pokémon stuff, his favorite lunch (Mi Goreng) all week, a bow and arrow set, Rubik’s Cube. His big birthday outing was watching the newest Pokémon movie in the theater...so overall I think he was a very happy birthday boy.

His birthday fell on a Wednesday this year, so it was a regular school day, but he did wake up to balloons and presents :) That night, we had dinner at home and then birthday cake from Baskin Robbins. We kept it simple for sure.
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Ever since his 3rd birthday, my parents have been taking him to Chuck E. Cheese's, but we just decided that we weren't going to do CEC anymore. However, the weekend after his birthday, we actually attended a birthday party there, so it was like the tradition continued...just without the price tag ;)
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Then the next day, he had so much fun at a laser tag birthday party :)
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We told the kids that 2018 will be the year they will actually get birthday parties for themselves! We will see if it actually happens...

Will is the best. He has a good attitude, which makes him easy to deal with and easy to teach. He’s doing fantastic in piano and his teacher is amazed by his abilities. At school, he’s loud and likes to joke around with his friends, but academically, he’s doing great too. His K teacher has nothing but wonderful things to say about him. Will is careful and neat in his work, easy to negotiate with, 95% happy & smiley, cute & funny in his mannerism, and just overall a great kid!

I only wish that he wasn’t so fixated on video games and TV, but as long as he does well at school and practices his piano, I will try to deal with it. At least nowadays he knows not to ask for screen time incessantly. He learned from experience that he only needs to ask once and if he behaves and does all his work, we will give it to him later in the day :)

Right now, besides piano, Will is also taking swim lessons. He’s the youngest in the class, but still keeps up just fine. However, he thinks it’s hard and since he doesn’t like “hard things”, he can’t wait until the lessons are over. We will sign him up for soccer again in Spring, which he loves. Also starting in January, I plan to send him and Anna to Chinese school.

Two things I want to remember:
- For his birthday, my parents gave Will $1000. We asked him if he wanted to use the money to buy anything. He said, no, he wants to save it all for a Disney Cruise. He said that he just needs to have 4 more birthdays and he will have enough money to go. (We told him a Disney Cruise is $5000.)
- Will was looking over Luke's shoulder as he browsed Redfin on his phone. Luke said, “I like this house.” Will said, “Then buy it. Where is the “buy” button?”

A very happy birthday to our favorite son! We love you!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Our visit to ICE! featuring Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

For those who don’t know it, ICE! is an annual holiday event here in the DC area…visitors can walk through a holiday-themed story told through a tour of massive and colorful ice sculptures, all hand-carved by artisans from Harbin, China!
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Ever since learning about it, I have always wanted to visit, but the cost of it, even with discounts and deals, kept me away. This year however, we decided to FINALLY PULL THE TRIGGER and JUST DO IT. It was still very expensive, ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS for our family of four (parking included), but I am so glad that we did it :) And this is coming from a cheapskate who hates to part with money!

Here are some scenes from our winter wonderland walk:
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As for the rest of the family, although Luke found the frozen ice sculptures impressive, the heavy crowd really bothered him. For example, even with timed-entry, we had to wait 40 minutes just to get in, and then once we were in the exhibit, it was super crowded. Actually, walking through the scenes from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was bearable since everyone walked at a different pace and the space was large and open, but when we came upon the ice slides, that was when everything came to a halt. We waited about 10 minutes for our turn, and while waiting in line and not moving, that was when the cold really set in. Speaking of the cold, it is a chilly 9 degrees in the exhibit, so while the kids had fun (the slides especially), both of them said it was too cold.
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^^on top of the slides^^

A little side story: We had the whole thing planned out. Luke would go down the slides first so he can record the kids' joyful laughter as they go down, I would go last. Oh man, we later found out that he never pushed the red button to record! So we missed the whole thing! I did take a video from the top from my perspective, but boy was Luke kicking himself. And since the wait was so long, we didn't want to wait again for a do-over. Grrrr, but oh well :)
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^^first time wearing #blueparka^^

Anyway, despite the cost, the wait, the cold, the mishap, the whatever-else, it was totally “worth it” for me. Yes, less crowd would have made it a more enjoyable experience, but all in all, I give it a big fat thumbs up!

Tips Before You Go and During:
1. Go during off-peak hours. Now, I don't know when that is exactly, but I would think early in the morning or later in the evening just before closing, definitely NOT at 3:30pm on a weekend.
2. Each year ICE! features a different holiday-themed story. It's important to know the story before you go so the ice sculptures make more sense as you walk through them. We watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer that morning before we our visit.
3. There are always some kind of deals and discounts, never pay full price.
4. Now that I have done it, I am glad that we didn't take the kids there any earlier than this year. Kids 3 and under are free for a reason.
5. Prior to ICE!, we walked around National Harbor, which is all decked out for the holidays. It's worthwhile.
6. Along the same line, plan ~15 minutes in your visit to take in the sights of Gaylord National Resort. The centerpiece -- a huge Christmas tree sculpture constructed of metal hanging from the ceiling. Time your visit just right and there is a Tree Lighting Show that includes laser lights, starts, dancing water fountain and indoor snowfall. We didn't see this.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

thursday afternoon catch ups.

/1/ Will finished his second soccer season.
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The last game was cold and wet, and we happened to bring Mango...
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/2/ The kids started swim lessons at the rec center. They are doing wonderful!
And it's soooo much better for my wallet!
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/3/ Lots of pretty fall foliage this month :)
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/4/ Will turned SIX. A full birthday post coming soon. For his birthday dinner, he requested Pho 75 :) We have celebrated countless birthdays there, haha.
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/5/ I took a day off to have Thanksgiving lunch with the kids at school. Back when my workplace was nearby, I could have easily done it with an hour of PTO, but now that I work further away, it just made more sense to take the whole day off. Luckily with my PT status, I can afford to. I would love to be back closer to home again AND work part-time :) Anyway, lunch was fine. Not sure if I will do it again next year, but kids always want me to and I can't seem to say no to school events.
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/6/ Since discovering a new series, Rainbow Magic, Anna has been reading a ton. She flies through those books and can read 2-3 hours straight. Over the weekend, she even passed on watching a movie to read! Amazing. She was a reluctant reader for so long, so I am just glad that she finally found something. There are well over 100 books in the series so we should be set for a while :)

/7/ I love it when the kids play well together. Lately, they are into Monopoly. They read, do the math on their own and it's FANTASTIC.
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/8/ #superproudmom
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[+/-] Extra Sugar!