How to Go Leaf Peeping

By Julia O’Brien

And just like that, summer is over.

In its place comes the transformative season of autumn – or, if you’re already Americanised, fall.

Unlike in most parts of Australia, New York treats its residents to four distinct seasons. Fall in New York (and the broader north-east coast of the United States) is spectacular and warrants some exploring to see the patchwork colours of the changing leaves.

Whether you only make it as far as Central Park, or head north to New England, becoming a leaf peeper (that’s an actual term) during fall is a wonderful experience you can’t replicate back home.

But to do it right does take some planning, so here are some tips to help you make the most of one of Mother Nature’s ultimate gifts.

Step One: Know When to Go

Every year is different, depending on what the weather’s been like, so your best bet is to keep an eye on one of the many fall foliage maps, which show when certain areas are hitting peak leaf peeping time. The further north you head (such as Maine and Vermont), the earlier the leaves change, and peak time can be as soon as mid-September. The further south you go, the later the change happens, and leaves can still be turning as late as November.

This September has been unseasonably warm and so the leaf peeping season is likely to run late. But many weather factors play into how intense the colours will be and how long the vivid leaves will be around.

Step Two: Plan Ahead

Leaf peeping is a popular activity, so sadly you’re not going to be the only one trying to catch a glimpse of the tress, especially when they hit peak colours. Crowds swell on weekends, making roads crowded and accommodation both expensive and hard to come by. Our tip is to make any reservations well in advance, and if you can, plan for a mid-week excursion to avoid the crowds.

Step Three: Pick Your Destination

Purists would argue that you need to visit New England to see the best leaves – but there are also plenty of places to go that are much more conveniently located to New York City. The New York Botanical Gardens has a vast collection of Maple Trees that are worth a visit, while Fort Tyron Park is a just a subway ride away and can be combined with a trip to the Met Cloisters. The Metro North also offers a number of discounted excursion packages to the Hudson Valley during fall. Why not combine your leaf peeping with some wine tasting for the best of both worlds?

If you’re willing to rent a car, then make a beeline for Kent, Connecticut. It will take you less than two hours to travel and there are plenty of photo-worthy red barns and white steeples to stop at along the way. Head to Kent Falls State Park for a picnic lunch and then pop in to the Kent Falls Brewing Co. for a hard-earned beer.

If you’re happy to drive a bit further, Arcadia National Park in Maine is pretty perfect. With Cadillac Mountain set against beaches and lakes, your friends will be begging you to stop posting all the leaf photos on Instagram. Stay in Bar Harbour – possibly the cutest and coolest town in New England.

Some of the best and most picturesque spots are off the major highways, so don’t be afraid to take a turn off every now and then and get a little bit lost.

Step Four: Eat all the Foods

It’s easy to get distracted by the leaves, but there’s plenty of food to be had and no time to waste. Fall is apple and pumpkin season and Americans certainly make the most of it. You’re going to come across plenty of apple cider, doughnuts, pies and crumbles (or cobblers), and you’re going to want to try it all! Make sure you stop at one of the many pick-your-own produce farms or a road-side market – you won’t regret it.

 

AWNY Guide: Don’t endure Christmas and the Holidays in New York, embrace it!

WRITTEN BY JULIA O’BRIEN

 

New York is one of the best cities in the world to experience the holidays, particularly Christmas. Few others can boast the same quality and quantity of all that makes this time of year special. But let’s not kid ourselves; it’s also one of the most crowded and expensive places to pass the holidays. So here’s a guide designed to help you experience Christmas in New York like a local, with a few life hacks to make your festive season merry and bright.

Yes Virginia, there is a Santaland without the queues

Taking a photo atop Santa’s knee is an annual pilgrimage for many people. And Santaland at Macy’s is arguably the crème de la crème of holiday snapshots. But the queues! If you don’t want to wait several hours surrounded by screaming children and delirious parents, do yourself a favor and book ahead online. You’ll be able to waltz straight to the front of the pack. If you’re not fazed which Santa you sit on, try Bloomingdales where the lines are typically much shorter. And if you want to hear one man’s tale of what it’s like being a Santa’s elf in New York, check out David Sedaris’ Santaland Diaries. Perfect to listen to while you stand in line for your photo.

Get a bit of razzle-dazzle

For many, the thought of New York holiday decorations conjures images of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. But there is so much more! The Dyker Heights Christmas Lights have been running since the 1980s and get bigger and brighter each year. If you want to stay in Manhattan, why not pay Rolf’s Bar and Restaurant in Gramercy a visit? It feels like walking inside a giant Christmas tree, plus you get to admire the pretty lights with a cocktail in your hand.

xmas-rolfsPhoto credit: The Three Tomatoes.

Speaking of holiday drinks…

Don’t forget to visit one of the city’s Christmas themed bars for a glass of holiday cheer. Pop-up bar Miracle at Mace returns for another year with some of New York’s best festivity-infused cocktails, while the Boilermaker is offering holiday cheer of the tropical variety, with Sippin Santa’s Surf Shack. Great for those of us who are homesick for a summery Christmas. You could also try the Holiday Hideaway at The VNYL, with elves on the payroll handing out goodies to guests on Monday nights.

Let New York entertain you

Just like every other month of the year, there is no shortage of entertainment options in New York at Christmas. You’ve got the crowd pleasers like the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall or the Nutcracker at the Lincoln Center, but you can expect to pay big bucks for these shows. If you’re on a budget and in the mood for something a little out of the ordinary, this list of holiday shows might be more your style. And for those of us who want to reconnect with the spirit of Christmas, the Cathedral Christmas Concert at Saint John the Devine on the Upper West Side is a unique option.

Holiday Trains Galore

For something the kids and grown ups will equally adore, try the Holiday Train Show in the Bronx Botanical Gardens. It’s cheapest (and quietest) on weekdays, or consider purchasing a year-round membership, which includes access to all of their special exhibits.

And if trains are your thing, why not get on one and take a ride back in time? The MTA’s Holiday Nostalgia Train runs between Queens and Lower Manhattan along the M line. The train is made up of subway cars in service from 1932 until 1977 so jump aboard near the start and change carriages at each stop, so you can experience all of the different time periods.

xmas-nybgPhoto Credit: New York Botanical Gardens.

Rocking around the Christmas Tree

Purchasing the perfect tree can be a highlight of the holidays. But not if you pay an arm and leg for it! You’ve got three options: first, wait until Christmas Eve. It will mean less time with your beloved tree in the lead up to Christmas, but will guarantee you the cheapest price. Second, you can shop around. Even on the same block you’ll find marked discrepancies in how much a tree can cost, and neighborhoods with more expensive real estate will charge higher prices to cover their higher footpath rent. Third, don’t be afraid to negotiate. The best time to haggle a decent price is later in the evening when the sellers want to pack up shop and go home.

It’s skating time in the city

For us Aussies, embracing the cold is all part of the charm of celebrating Christmas in the northern hemisphere. But before you line up for hours and fork out $30 for the pleasure of ice skating around a tiny rink at Rockefeller Plaza, consider some of the other rinks in the city that are bigger, less crowded and in some cases, free! Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park is the only free rink in the city (plus skate rental), so you’re not going to beat the crowds at this place, but at least your wallet won’t take a hit. Once you’re done skating you can wander through the Christmas market and pay a visit to the New York Public Library, which always has a fetching tree in the foyer.

With two rinks – one open-air, the other covered – there’s plenty of room to move at LeFrak Center at Lakeside, Prospect Park. And paying just $6 on weekdays and $9 on the weekend, ain’t bad either. Arguably one of the most iconic places to skate in New York City, the Wollman Rink in Central Park is pretty much always crowded. But with gorgeous views of the city and the park, plus a much more reasonable price tag than Rockefeller, it’s hard to ignore. If you really don’t like sharing your skate time, check out the Lasker Rink at the Harlem end of Central Park. This will be one of the quieter and cheaper rinks you’ll find in Manhattan.

xmas-wollmansPhoto Credit: Wollman’s Skating Rink.

How about a free ride home from the airport?

Traveling at Christmas can be a nightmare. Between the bad weather, long queues and less than friendly customer service, it can put a real dampener on your Chrissy. So if you have to travel this Christmas, at least save yourself some money on cab fares. Uber has teamed up with Amex offer free rides home from New York airports these holidays. You can claim up to a $65 credit on your fare, for up to two rides. Did someone say bargain?

I have to tip who? How much?!

Yep, it’s time to start dishing out your holiday tips. As a nationality known for our lacklustre tips (the Kiwis are apparently worse!) the holiday tipping phenomenon can hit Aussies pretty hard. We’re surprised by not just how much we are meant to tip, but the long list of people who are expecting to receive one. This AWNY guide to holiday tipping provides some great pointers and clarifications. But remember, only tip what you can afford. This is not a cheap city to live in, and a thoughtful card and genuine thank you can go a very long way.

For something totally free, very Christmassy Windows

Stroll the storefronts of midtown Manhattan, such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales, Bergdorf Goodman and Macy’s to view their holiday window displays. You won’t pay a cent and if you pick the right timing (go early or late during the week) you’ll have unobstructed views of some of the best holiday window displays in the world. If you’re inspired by what you see, check out the documentary Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s, which includes insight into the visual merchandising team and the intricate planning involved with their holiday windows.

What things do you love to do in New York during the Holidays?

Share your tips with our community below in the comments.

AWNY Mums & Dads December update: Farewell NYC

Written by Anita Davison

The Rockefeller Christmas tree is lit, twinkle lights adorn the streets of NYC and songs about snowflakes and Santa Claus are being piped through the speakers of every store you enter; these things, along with cooler temperatures mean Christmas is almost here and 2016 is almost over. It’s been quite a year here in the US. A lot has happened in the media, most notably Donald Trump taking home the blue ribbon for winning the US Presidential Election. Whatever your opinion of the result, or the man himself, 2017 looks to be another interesting year. As none of us possess a crystal ball to see into the future, only time will tell what the future of the world, and this nation we call home, holds.

A little closer to home now, and big changes are ahead for my family. Our time in NYC is quickly coming to an end, and my thoughts are drifting to things like lobster rolls, cream pies, Cheers!, and Ivy league schools; that’s right, we are moving to Boston!

The past 3.5 years in NYC have been great, it’s such an amazing city with so much to experience. We always dreamed of living in NYC, not anywhere else in the USA, just NYC; but our mindset has shifted over the past few months and we are excited to experience a new city and lifestyle. At the end of the month, we will trade in our subway pass for a new car, city living for a house in the ‘burbs and step back into a similar lifestyle we once knew back in Sydney – although instead of spending summer weekends on the Northern Beaches, we will spend them at ‘The Cape’ and our winter weekends will be filled with snowboarding lessons and snowball fights. The hardest part of this transition is saying goodbye to our wonderful friends and the networks we have become apart of or created, but thankfully we will only be 4 hours away instead of the other side of the world!

It’s been an honor to sit on the AWNY committee and lead the Aussie Mums & Dads Group. Since taking the helm almost 2 years ago, we have nearly doubled the number of members on our Facebook page, held our inaugural Spring Picnic, and have been featured in a round up in the best Aussie communities in the USA.

Co-lead Sally B. will step into the lead role of the M&Ds group and continue to attend regular AWNY committee meetings. Some positive changes are coming to the way the group is managed, these will be shared with you after our AWNY committee meeting next week. With these changes I hope to create a more inclusive and open group for our members in all boroughs of NYC to have a say, create events and make the network for Aussie (and Kiwi) Mums and Dads in New York even stronger.

I will be staying on as an administrator of the Facebook group, continuing in a social media capacity only, so this isn’t officially goodbye. You will continue to see my name pop up on the page and perhaps I’ll contribute to an occasional update or attend an event when I’m down for a visit (which will be regularly!)

Our Mums & Dads End of Year Drinks will be held this month on Dec 15, the event details are below, along with a link to AWNY ‘What’s on in December’ update. I hope to see you there!

I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and safe and happy New Year. Try not to max out those credit cards!

Until next time, whenever that may be…

Anita xo

 


Got a craving for meat pies?

Four n Twenty Pies will be delivering in NYC again at the end of December check out their websiteFacebook & Twitter feed for updates and how to order!


Upcoming Event

Aussie Mums & Dads End of Year Drinks

Thursday, December 15 at 7:30pm
Joe’s, 480 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10024

Cost: Drinks & food available for purchase
RSVP: 
Not essential, but if you would like to let people know you are going, feel free to RSVP via the Facebook event page.

Fun things to do in New York this December

Lot’s of ideas in this ‘Whats On’ blog post.

AWNY Mums & Dads Update + An Inside Guide to NYC Kindergarten Admissions

Written by Anita Davison & Ella Colley

With Halloween out of the way and enough sugar consumed to last until next years ‘Trick or Treat’ festivities, November is here and the holiday season is upon us. Unlike the last couple of years, we have had a really lovely month of weather in October, with temps in the low 20s and the beautiful fiery colors of Autumn (ahem, Fall) to captivate us in and out of this great city.

Whilst we prep for Thanksgiving, Christmas and visits back to Oz to more sunshine and warmth (you lucky things!), this year some of us have another task at hand. The Kindergarten admissions process is underway for 2016, with school tours, interviews and all that goes along with it already in the works for thousands of children across NYC.

We’ve had some interest from the Mums & Dads group about both Pre-K & Kindergarten admissions in NYC. Although we did not have enough numbers to warrant a full event (which we will look at hosting next year), we have invited a fellow Aussie expat, Ella Colley of insideschools.org to give us some tips and important information on the Kindergarten application process for 2016/2017 school year. We will follow this up in the new year with a second piece on the ins and outs of the Pre-K application process.

Anita


An Inside Guide to NYC Kindergarten Admissions

Inside Schools

Tips from Insideschools.org, compiled by Australian expat Ella Colley

The New York City school system is complicated, with some of the best—and worst—schools in the country. At insideschools.org, we offer a free and independent online guide to help you navigate the public school system, and find the right school for your child.

This year, families of children born in 2011 will apply to kindergarten between Dec. 7 and Jan. 15, with notifications set to come out in mid-March. What does this means? It’s time to get serious about kindergarten admissions. Grab a cuppa, take a deep breath, and read on. I’ll do my best to keep this short and sweet.

The Basics

Some neighborhoods have excellent zoned schools, and all you need to do to enroll is show up with proper documents. However, some very popular schools are so overcrowded that they cannot accommodate all the kids who live in their zone and the schools have waiting lists.

If this is the case where you live, or if you’re not keen on your neighborhood school, you may want to explore other options. The city has an extensive system of school choice, and, depending on the age of your child and where you live, you may have a number of alternatives. You can read about other options like gifted programs and charter schools on our website.

To make things a little more complicated – a few districts have abandoned zoned schools: Districts 1 on the Lower East Side, District 7 in the South Bronx and District 23 in East New York, Brooklyn. In these areas, you can apply to any school in the district and admission is decided by lottery.

Where to start?

Start by finding out what your zoned school is on the DOE website. Do your research – at insideschools.org we have a profile for every school in the city, with independent reviews, photos and statistics to help you get a feel for a school before you get in the building.

If you’re not happy with what you see, look further. The school search on our homepage allows you to look for schools by neighborhood or other categories. You can also read about each school district by clicking on the colored map on the homepage. There’s specific information for you about things like special education, and supports for English language learners.

To guide families through the admissions process, the DOE will host info sessions in each borough starting in early December. Kindergarten handbooks are available online or at schools. The DOE website has a list of individual school tours and open houses that will continue to be updated. Keep checking back and contact schools about tours directly. Look at school websites or call the parent coordinator. Some schools don’t organize group tours but may offer a one-on-one tour if you ask.

Before you go on a tour, watch our video about what to look for and read our tips about choosing a school on the elementary school page.

Ready to apply?

The Department of Education’s Kindergarten Connect process allows you to apply online, over the phone, or in person at a Family Welcome Center with a single application. Parents can apply to up to 12 schools, ranking them in order of preference. If you don’t get your top choice you will be automatically waitlisted at all the schools you ranked higher on the application.

The application for charter schools is separate, and is due on April 1. You can apply for any charter school in the city—with preference given to applicants who live in the district where the charter school is located—and admission is based on a lottery. Private schools manage their own admissions, but be aware that many want parents to make a commitment (often with a non-refundable deposit) before public school decisions are available.

The Gifted & Talented process can drag on until June and beyond by the time all students are placed. If you want your child to test for Gifted and Talented, you need to sign up by NOVEMBER 9! Read more about the process here.

It’s time to dig in … your adventure in NYC public schools is about to begin!

Like us on Facebook for updates, follow us on Twitter and drop us a line if you have questions. You’ll hear from us in a couple of months with a blog on pre-kindergarten admissions.


Upcoming Mum’s & Dad’s Events

Our regular dinner and drink evenings will return in November. Please keep an eye on the Facebook page for a dinner event invitation in the coming week.


Events around New York City

We’ve compiled a great list of events and activities around New York for the month of November 2015 – check it out for fun ways to spend time with your kids.

AWNY Mums & Dads October update: Seasonal changes and prepping for the colder months

Written by Anita Davison

Did you notice it? That specific day last week when, just like the flick of a switch, we stepped out of Summer and into Fall? Yes I said Fall, get used to it, you won’t be using “Autumn” for long. Especially when you have to repeat yourself for the umpteenth time and say Fall anyway!

I know what many of you are thinking, I thought it too when I first arrived, “This is not NOT FALL or AUTUMN or whatever it’s called here, this is WINTER!”. This is that bone chilling, wearing a heavy coat, a thick scarf around the neck, a beanie on the head kind of cold we were used to back in Oz. When days that barely hit 15ºc were so cold and unbearable we complained, and had every right to! A word of advice to the newly inducted New Yorkers, take off a layer before you leave the house and brave the weather, acclimatise yourself now, because when winter actually does hit, you can put on that layer (along with 5 more) and have a chance at actually keeping warm!

Have I scared you yet? Well don’t board that flight home just yet. Yes, winters here are cold, colder than you could have imagined (unless you come from Antarctica or Alaska, then you win), but coming in to my 3rd fall/winter I actually look forward to this time of the year. I look forward to the first snowfall, the crisp cold days, the cozy weekends and the holiday season  (yes, replace “Christmas” with “Holidays” it saves time).

Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, the Americans really know how to celebrate the holidays! Harvest festivals, pumpkin picking, night markets, twinkling lights wrapped around bare trees down the avenues, warm cocoa, hot apple cider & apple cider donuts (*sigh*). These are all the things to look forward to and celebrate when its so cold you can no longer feel your toes. So don’t be afraid, welcome it with open arms.

Until February rolls around, thats when you have permission to curse this god forsaken place and want to runs for the hills – or Florida or the Bahamas – where sandals & cocktails are taunting you from your dreams.

Anita


Dressing kids for winter

We all know that kids grow fast. My son just grew so much he basically skipped size three (he turned 3 a few weeks ago – go figure), and my daughter seems to be growing like a beanstalk and moving through size 5 into size 6 (she’s 4 – I gave birth to future giants), so buying decent quality yet affordable clothes are the only way to keep us above the poverty line in a place where our clothes are truly seasonal (the great NYC seasonal closet changeover is a real thing).

The key to getting your kids through their first winter here in NY is to prepare early. When that first snowfall arrives, don’t run out to buy snow boots, they will a) be sold out weeks ago, b) if available you will fight to the death with some other poor soul and probably come out less than victorious (New Yorkers are a tough crowd), or c) win the battle but stand in line for 30-60 minutes to pay. At this point, ordering online is not an option, because its ALREADY SNOWING!

When you see winter coats, shoes, beanies etc arrive in store, wait the obligatory week (maybe 2) until they go on sale (trust me!), then pounce. Also, sign up to EVERY store website that you think you may shop at (you can unsubscribe when you’re done), check those emails for coupons, download the ‘Retail me Not’ app on your phone to see what extra discounts you can get. Want to start working toward that credit rating? Apply for a store card at Gap, Old Navy etc. They may only approve you for a couple of hundred dollars, but you will get extra discounts & earn store credits for using it.

My go to stores are: Gap, Old Navy, Carters, H&M, Target, Century 21, Uniqlo, and Costco (I picked up some great snow gloves and rain coats there last month). Polarn O. Pyret, Patagonia & Columbia are a step up, but you may find a great sale happening, which helps. Go online and look at 6pm.com, Diapers.com, Zulily.com, Zappos.com. Promise me you won’t pay full price for anything, because EVERYTHING is discounted at some point.

If you’re not ordering online, don’t take the kids to the stores with you, they get hot and bothered and don’t want to try stuff on. Just about every store has a no questions asked returns policy (in store or online). So stock up, try things on at home and return it (KEEP YOUR RECEIPTS!).

Lastly – ask your friends, or put a call out on the AWNY Mums & Dad’s Facebook group page, someone might be wanting to pass on some gently used winter gear that their kids no longer fit into.

You will need:

  • A puffy coat – Down or ‘Primaloft’ are a necessity when the ‘real’ winter arrives
  • Gloves – and they need to be waterproof for when playing in the snow
  • Beanies – get ones that cover those little ears
  • Thermals – Uniqlo have served us well at $6-10 a piece
  • Snow boots – rain boots just aren’t warm enough
  • Blankets/Footmuff –  for those using strollers.

I know there is so much more I could include; but I will leave it to the seasoned AWNY Mums & Dad in our Facebook community to share their tips on clothing the kiddies (and yourselves) and general info on preparing for the winter months ahead.


Event Invitation

AWNY would like to invite you to a morning tea at the Australian Consulate. Meet your AWNY committee, enjoy a cuppa with cake and mingle with other Australian Women.
Thursday, 5 November 2015
10.30am – 12.00pm
Australian Consulate-General
150 East 42nd Street, Floor 34
New York NY
Cost: Free
RSVP: 
Email awny@aaanyc.org
Click Here to view the invitation online
Little ones are welcome if you don’t have a sitter

Click here to see the AWNY What’s on in October page