Archive | January, 2016

Family Christmas Trip – part 1 Legoland

On Christmas morning, our boys opened up a “trip” from us to Legoland and Disney. Shortly after we came home from China with Philip we all went to Florida to the beach together and this time we wanted to do something to bond as a family – especially for the boys to bond together since Rand and Philip didn’t get to go on the trip to China. It goes against all the “cocooning” strategy out there for adopted kiddos but, we’ve learned that, for our family, we’ve bonded well by leaving home together, navigating somewhere new and then “coming home” has been good.  Wen especially seems to love to be active and going and doing things and has since the day we were first together.

So…shortly after the new year, we packed up and headed south.  We’ve made this drive a lot since I still have family in Florida and our favorite beach spot is there.  On the way down we stopped for dinner at a great, kid-friendly restaurant in Darien, GA called Skippers Fishcamp.  It’s a perfect stop with young kids because there is a little turtle and gar pond that our boys like to see. It’s also on the Altamaha river so you can walk around on the dock, watch the shrimp boats come and go and even see some alligators!  It’s about a 5 min. detour from I-95 and very scenic.  I normally don’t love my seafood fried, but Wes and I think they have the best fried shrimp we’ve ever had.  If you go, watch out for weekends (or GA game days) because it can get crowded.

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(Photo Credit: Necee Regis.  It was too dark for photos when we were there so I borrowed this one from a food writer/oyster blogger Necee Regis that I found online here)

After dinner, we drove another 45min-hour and spent the night in a hotel near Kingsland, GA.  Without thinking we booked our usual – 2 double beds and then realized when we got up to the room that it wasn’t going to work.  Because we were tired and didn’t have space for a cot, we put all 3 boys in the bed sideways and switched the covers around.  They thought it was so much fun!  However, me, baby Bo, Wes and my maternity pillow (this stomach sleeper can’t WAIT for April 2 to come so I can get some sleep again!!!) didn’t fit very well in our double.  From now on we’ve learned we need to stay in a hotel with the word “Suites” in the title!

In the morning, we had breakfast at the Cracker Barrel next to the hotel and then hit the road.  After a while, we were ready for a bathroom break so we stopped at one of our favorite “stretch your legs” spots for kids (other than visiting some sweet friends who live in St. Augustine, of course;) – Blue Springs State Park. Google it – the photos are amazing!  If you hit it on a sunny day the water looks so tropical.  It’s a great spot in the summer (you can swim!) but winter is the best because that’s when the manatees arrive.  They migrate in from other rivers to the warmer spring waters.  We hit it right at the beginning of the season since the weather has been so warm.  There were 5-6 manatees who had already come in and more were arriving.
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You can see one here between the boys heads – in the middle just above where their ears are.

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Rand is a little wet from the slide…another reason why this is a great stop off for kids – there is a playground, decent bathrooms and a long boardwalk that goes around the spring and a historic house to tour if you’re into that.  All perfect for getting the wiggles out.  There are some great picnic tables too if you pack a lunch, it would be a perfect spot for a picnic.  There are also 2 concession/ice cream places on site but we’ve never tried those before.

Then we were back on the road for naps with Legoland in the GPS.

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We checked in to the hotel – I would definitely recommend staying at the Legoland hotel if you visit.  It’s really well done and of all the places we stayed on the trip, we thought it was the cleanest and most comfortable! Big win!

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The rooms are themed – we chose the “adventure theme” but I think they are mostly all the same setup.  Sorry I didn’t take pics, but you can see them on the Legoland website.  Our room had a bunk bed with trundle bed in the “kids area” as well as a tv and treasure box – when you arrive to your room, you solve a puzzle that gives you the code to the treasure box which had some kids activities and legos in it…hence the immediate building that began!

In the middle of the room was the bathroom and tons of storage and closet space, then around the corner was a desk area with giant tv and king-sized bed.  The bed was REALLY comfortable for this mama!

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After the boys building session, we went downstairs to have dinner and explore the hotel.  The elevators are cute and play disco music when the doors shut – so fun!

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Downstairs in the main hotel area there are huge Lego pits where the kids can build and build…they also have contests and activities throughout the day for building and character visits, etc.  We were only staying the one night and planned to spend the following day in the park, but if you were spending 2 nights you could get more involved in all they have going on.  Also, the pool looked pretty fun and even though it was cold out, kids were swimming and the parents even claimed the water was warm too!

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The kids really got into building some fun…weapons.  Oh dear.  As you can see some of the parents really got into building too…

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Here’s Rand’s Lego gun.  In the background you can see the “Skyline bar” and restaurant.  It was smart to put it next to the lego pit and play area because the kids were having a blast and the parents could sit and watch them with a drink and appetizer.

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After our boys finished their creations and put them on the display racks in the lobby, we headed to the other restaurant on site which was a buffet-style dinner.  The food was decent with extremely kid friendly options. While you eat, some of the characters come around to your table and talk to you.  You can also purchase a “smores kit” from the restaurant and then head outside by the lake to the fire pit.  Unfortunately, it was raining that night so we weren’t able to do that so we went back to the room and the boys watched a lego movie in their beds.  They already had a great evening at Legoland and we hadn’t even been to the park yet!

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After a good night’s sleep and breakfast (breakfast was in the same place we had dinner – lots of options and some healthy options too like oatmeal and smoothies!) we got ready to head out into the park.  Walking from the hotel to the park took less than a minute – it is THAT close.  The park is beautiful – it is the former site of Cypress Gardens – a park once famous for it’s gardens and water-ski shows.

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The majority of the park was perfect for the ages of our children (we range from almost 4 to 12).  They are really sticklers about height and Wen wasn’t even allowed to ride some rides by himself so that was the only hitch for us – it would have been fine if we’d had a 3rd adult.  Without a 3rd adult, it meant that if it was a ride where a child had to ride with a parent, then one of us had to wait with the other 2 kids while one parent took turns rotating kids and riding.  So…if you’re a party of 2 kids/2 adults, you’re set, but if you have 3 young riders, it is helpful to have 3 adults.  The lines were not long and it really was no problem to wait and trade off kids, the hardest part was for the kids who had to wait behind patiently!!!

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Also, the rides did tend to skew younger overall but there still seemed to be something for everyone.  There were several roller coasters and water rides that we did not go on however that most older kids would have loved!  Also, one of our kids favorite things was the incredible lego structures and city recreations – don’t skip it!

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All throughout the incredible scenes made from legos there were little buttons the kids could push that did things like made the soldiers march or made a cannon go off or made something shoot water out so it was interactive as well.  We almost skipped it for time purposes, but it was one of the kids favorite things to see!

Their absolute favorite thing was the show!  Every day at “Pirate’s Cove” there are several showings of “Captain Brickbeard’s Battle” – it was pretty cheesy but the kids loved it and really got into it.  Wes and I enjoyed the water skiing and the wake boarders doing some crazy tricks.  Probably the healthiest place to grab lunch is right across from Pirate’s Cove (the stadium) and was called Lakeside Sandwich Co.  We headed there and got some sandwiches and wraps, fruit, chips and drinks TO GO and took them over to eat while we watched the show!  This was great because we saved time not having to stop for lunch and the kids ate really well watching the show rather than having to sit still at a table.  There’s a deal where you get a lego “lunch box” that we did but it was odd none of the food fit into the lego box.  However, the box did come in handy for all the little lego pieces back in the hotel room!

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After the show, we rode a few more rides – things like driving cars and boats…

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We played some “state fair type” games and won some prizes (not pictured, but they have an “everyone’s a winner” policy so you’re gonna end up taking home something stuffed:/)

We went on a safari…

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Wen rode a roller coaster (was really hard to get a good photo but he’s in the very back with Wes)

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And we saw a ton of cool Lego sculptures everywhere we went.

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(oh no…are they giving the Go Wolfpack sign???)

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Overall, we were really impressed with Legoland.  It was uncrowded, easily manageable with 3 kids and amazingly clean – especially the bathrooms – I think we tried almost all of them!  We were able to move at our pace and the lines were short.  The park was easy to do in 1 day – we got there at opening (hotel guests got to go a little early) and left by 3:30pm.  We didn’t ride everything – probably would have taken another hour and a half to do it ALL. For those wondering, we took our double stroller for the little guys – it was helpful and needed.  They walked some but there was a lot of ground to cover for their little feet and some hills!  Also we packed snacks and our own water bottles that we filled up at breakfast with water.  It was great not to have to purchase drinks or snacks – other than a candy store there weren’t a ton of snack options that I remember.  When we were taking turns riding some of the rides, the non-riders would have their snack, which was helpful.

Since we already checked out and packed the car up, we walked back over to the hotel to use the restroom and wash our hands and then we hit the road to our next destination – Disney World!  Thanks Legoland…EVERYTHING WAS AWESOME!

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Also, we have to thank our friend Krissy Yoder with Be Our Guest Travel Company – she planned our Legoland and Disney portions of the trip which was so helpful to not have to figure all of that out!  She even booked our dining reservations at Disney (we couldn’t have gotten reservations to some of the restaurants without her help because they were all booked up!) and our FastPass reservations.  If you’re interested in a trip, you should use her – doesn’t cost any more and saves lots of time!

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Welcome 2016

Apologies for not blogging lately – if you want to know a little of what’s been going on, follow me on instagram here for now!

We are doing well – I can’t believe we will have been home a month next week.  Even the past 10 days here have been so different and we’ve seen so many changes and can tell that Wen feels so much more at ease than he did the first 10 days home.  Last weekend some good friends came over to play – 2 families – 7 kids total and he did great.  I was amazed at the kind words and sharing that went on.  Wen even let the other visiting boys play with his Lego toys – it probably helped that the other kids were so sweet to him and would ask his permission!

Here’s the crew…

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plus there are 3 more on the way!  2 more boys and ONE girl.  I just love all of these kids (and their parents too!) So thankful we can continue to get them together as they grow up.

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And for a recap of the last few weeks before we bid 2015 goodbye…

We had a great day at DUKE.  We were super-impressed with the spinal clinic docs and couldn’t believe how efficient the day was.  We saw 4 specialists, met briefly with the physical therapy team who set us up with someone to help with Wen’s wheelchair, met with a social worker about medical coverage, etc. and they even sent a translator to help us ask Wen some specific questions during our meetings with the doctors!  During one of our meetings with the doctor, the wheelchair tech showed up, took Wen’s wheelchair out into the hall and took it apart and re-adjusted it to fit better for the time being.

We go back at the end of January for some larger tests in urology and neurology but overall Wen is in good health and the only major decisions to make right now are some orthopedic options.  Also, as it turns out, Wen does not have Spina Bifida as his file said, but was actually born with something more rare – Caudal Regression Syndrome/Sacral Agenesis.  You can read about it here.

At Duke we could tell the doctors were pretty amazed by Wen and all he does, how good his English is, how well-adjusted he is and how he manages his disability without complaints or obstacles.  We continue to be amazed daily.

Other than the Ironman (“transformer” as Wen calls it, we’re gonna have to show him the Ironman movie) and Star Wars figurines he was given as Christmas gifts from the clinic, the highlight for him was getting to go see where Uncle Sam and Aunt CeCe live in Raleigh and meet their new pup Banksy.  If you want to see cuter and clearer photos of him – check out his very own instagram feed here.

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We did a lot of fun things to celebrate Christmas.  The boys loved going to the Aberdeen Christmas parade,

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and having our own special tea party followed by the event of setting up the Nativity

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The Nativity is Rand’s favorite thing to do at Christmas.  We’re hoping Wen and Philip will love it too.  They all loved playing with the “play nativity set” too…you can order it on Amazon.  This one was given to us when Rand had his first Christmas and it’s the first thing he asks for us to bring out (usually at Thanksgiving!)

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Philip especially got into setting it up and learning who was who.

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On Christmas Eve, Rand and Philip were in the Nativity scene at our church.  They were both shepherds.  Rand wore the same headpiece from last year – a cut up old golf shirt that was his “Grandpa Hank’s” – makes me smile to see it.  Philip’s was a last minute “Ikea hack” haha…I think I’ll need to dig out another heirloom if they are going to be shepherds again next year!

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After church on Christmas Eve, the family came over for dinner at our house!  After everyone left and the boys went to sleep, Santa showed up.

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A lot of people have asked me this Christmas if we do “Santa” and the answer is yes, however, pretty much everything my kids know (or think they know) about Santa is learned from books, movies or school (i.e. the world).  We don’t bring him up or talk about him at all.  In fact, early in the season, I heard someone ask Rand what was on his Christmas list and he shrugged and said he’d “get what he’d get” type answer (but really he just hadn’t thought about it because we don’t talk about it).  We don’t really have an answer on what is “best” to do and we don’t want our kids being the ones who burst their friends bubbles and shout out “SANTA’S NOT REAL” so for now, we just glaze over it throughout the season and make a bigger deal about what actually is THE BIG DEAL – THE BIRTH OF CHRIST!

We do talk about Santa if the kids have a question – for example, Rand said to me one day (when he wasn’t on his best behavior), “Mom, if I’m not a good listener then Santa won’t bring me any presents, will he?” which drives me CRAZY that they get told this elsewhere…we went through the same thing last year…our answer is the same: “No, you will get presents on Christmas because we love you regardless of how you behave.  God loved us so much he sent us the gift of Jesus to save us from our sin when we didn’t deserve it!  But in our family, we try to behave and be good listeners because we love God and want to be like Jesus.”  While Santa will show up at the Smith house to help celebrate Jesus’ birthday, he will not be tolerated as the disciplinary tool for the season!!!!  On that note, we made sure the best gift the kids got came from us…hey, I also don’t like to give Santa all the credit:)  As their only gift from mom and dad (and as an attempt for some more new family bonding) we’re driving down to Florida very soon to go to Legoland and the Magic Kingdom!

I didn’t take enough photos on Christmas day, but this was a sweet one from Raleigh – we went and had lunch with Wes’ extended family and all the kids were so welcoming to Wen.  They are always awesome with the younger kids, but I was really blown away by how they just played with him as if he’d always been in the family.  What a Christmas gift it was for this mama to see.

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We spent some fun time with my side of the family (I need to upload those photos still, sorry!) and then have really been hanging out around the house.  We’ve had several successful movie night with Peter Pan, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.

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We built one fire before it started feeling like summer here in North Carolina.

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The boys have spent a lot of time outside playing – Wen can pretty much ride any of the toys somehow and he loves to hit golf balls and play baseball.

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The boys play and play and play together.  Our noise level is UP and there is always some type of fun shenanigan going on with the 3 of them…

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The costumes come out all the time

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Philip continues to keep us laughing.  His most recent line of choice when you tell him something or he gets something he wants is, “That’s what I’m talking about!”

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It’s been really fun to see them all play together and have so much fun.  Our house last Christmastime was so quiet with just Rand and this year it has exploded with noise, and laughter and JOY.  I have to say it was the best Christmas yet for me.  I’m just so happy to have all my boys home to celebrate Jesus’ Birthday and to welcome 2016.

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