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Wednesday 23 November 2016

Five Years in America

I'm almost a month late with this post, but better late then never, right?

As of October 25th Ava, Lola and I have now lived in America for five years! I'm still in disbelief at how quickly the time has flown by. I know it sounds like such a cliche, but it really does feel like we just moved here yesterday. Those five years have gone by so quickly. So much has changed in that time. When I look back at the photos from the day we said goodbye to our friends and family back home in Adelaide, I see Ava as a pre-schooler and Lola as a one year old. They were so little. And, of course, Mathilde wasn't even born.

Like I've done in previous years, today I'm going to share a look back at the last twelve months of our life in America. As always, to read more about a particular event, vacation or outing just click the bold and underlined link. This is going to be a long post with lots of fun pictures (I always struggle to narrow down my favorites) so get yourself a cup of coffee, make yourself comfortable, and enjoy our fifth year in America...

Our fifth year in America started off much the way each year has, with Halloween preparations and celebrations. We spent the 5th anniversary of our arrival in America at a pumpkin patch selecting pumpkins to make jack-o'lanterns; a quintessentially American activity!

Halloween followed just six days later and the girls couldn't have been more excited. As Halloween fell on a weekend they celebrated a few days early at school, and then again on the actual day. Ava and Lola have decided that they love Halloween on a weekend as they get to celebrate twice! They only got one costume each though. Ava dressed as a snowman, Lola as Elsa, and Mathilde was a digger driver with her stroller converted into a digger!

Shortly after Halloween I took Mathilde to get her very first haircut. The long hair around her face had been driving me crazy so the hairdresser cut bangs (a fringe for my friends back home). The bangs suit Mathilde so much that I can't imagine her without them now!

For once I was organized in advance and we had our Christmas card photos taken in advance in mid-November. The girls dressed in their Winter jackets and we headed to the Gap flagship store in San Francisco where free photo shoots were taking place. I love how they turned out. I can't get enough of my girls in those red jackets, and Mathilde in her little hat is just adorable. After the photo shoot we played tourist around Union Square for a bit.

A week later Lola's TK class had a pajama day (or Hibernation Day as they called it, as they were studying bears!) at school. The kids came to school in pajamas and spent the day watching movies and drinking hot cocoa with their plush toys. Mathilde joined in too. I can't stop laughing at that picture of her and Lola below! It still cracks me up a year later!

Thanksgiving crept up on us and before we knew it we were celebrating with turkey and pumpkin pie again. The girls and I made little pilgrim hats out of paper cups to dress the part.

Early December brought one of our favorite events of the year - the annual Snow in Berkeley festival! Like always, the man made snow turned to mush pretty quickly, but the girls had a blast making snowmen and throwing snowballs while it lasted.

December is always filled with Christmas fun and last year was no different. We spent a day in the city doing all sorts of fun Christmas things like visiting the giant gingerbread house at the Fairmont Hotel, the sugar castle at the Westin Hotel, checking out the Peanuts themed holiday windows at Macy's, mailing our letters to Santa, and meeting the man himself!

We continued the Christmas theme with a visit to Oakland's Mountain View Cemetery to check out the Holiday Circle of Lights display. Christmas lights and a cemetery sound like an odd combination but it was actually a really pretty display and I'm sure we'll go check it out again this year.

Then, in a break from Christmas fun, the girls did another karate belt test. They both passed! Ava moved up to orange belt and Lola moved up to yellow. My karate kids are doing so well!

Before we knew it the girls were on Winter break from school. Like the year before, we spent the Winter break in Southern California. We made it a road trip and drove straight to Los Angeles where we stayed at the Ace Hotel in Downtown for a few days. We visited the Broad art gallery, hung out in the roof top pool at the hotel, spent a day exploring the Queen Mary and the Queen Mary Chill ice sculptures, found fun murals to pose with, and ate cupcakes from the Sprinkles ATM.    

We left Los Angeles on Christmas Eve and headed a little further south to San Diego where we spent the next few days. The kids were excited that Santa found us in San Diego and spent much of Christmas Day playing with their presents in their Christmas pajamas before we hit the beach. As you can see, it wasn't really beach weather!

During our stay in San Diego we visited the amazing San Diego Zoo, the USS Midway Museum and Legoland. As it was Winter break all of these places were super busy, but we enjoyed them all the same. The kids especially loved Legoland. I can't wait to go back again another time when Mathilde is a little older and can go on more rides.

We then headed back north along the coast stopping at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo and Hearst Castle, both of which were amazing and completely over the top - but in very different ways! The girls loved the Madonna Inn and are eager to go back again one day. Side note: I really need to get around to posting about Hearst Castle! It's such an amazing place to visit.

January was a pretty quiet month for us with the girls settling back into their regular routine of school, karate and swimming after Winter break. At the end of the month I headed off to Salt Lake City to attend the blogger conference Alt Summit. It was my first time away from the kids which was a little daunting but it was such a great conference and the break from every day was just what I needed. Plus I got to party with some pretty great blogger friends. Oh, and meet Buffy the Vampire Slayer!

Ava's 9th birthday was up next in early February. We celebrated with a super fun Peanuts themed birthday party with friends. I still can't believe my oldest baby is nine. She'll be turning ten in just over two months!

The fun continued a few weeks later with the Lunar New Year celebrations here in Berkeley. The girls enjoyed watching, and taking part in, the lion dance, and had fun following the blessing procession from store to store where they collected candy.

With the arrival of Spring, Mathilde and I visited the Macy's flagship store in San Francisco for the annual Flower Show. Someone was a little poser and totally stole the show from the flowers as we walked around the store!

Easter was up next and we celebrated at home with a visit from the Easter Bunny, lots of hot cross buns, an Easter egg hunt in the courtyard and cascarones. Oh, and lots of chocolate of course! 

Easter coincided with Spring Break this year, so Easter Sunday night we headed to the airport and flew to Las Vegas to spend a week in the desert. We spent the first day checking out the craziness that is Las Vegas. It was super windy so a lot of the attractions that we had hoped to go to were closed including the ferris wheel and the Eiffel Tower. The fountains at Bellagio had been turned off too. The girls enjoyed seeing the crazy hotels, going for a swim, and eating yet more ATM cupcakes, but they were not impressed at all about all the cigarette smoke everywhere. I don't blame them - Las Vegas is like a giant ashtray! 

Luckily, Las Vegas was just the starting point for our trip through the desert and the following day we found ourselves in Valley of Fire State Park. I had never heard of this park before this trip, but it is now one of my favorite places ever. The rock formations are absolutely stunning and the girls enjoyed climbing on them and hiking between them.  

Zion National Park was our next stop. We spent a day hiking in one of the most amazing landscapes I've ever seen. One day really wasn't enough so we will definitely be back to spend more time in Zion.

We then spent a day driving to the Grand Canyon. The girls were pretty excited to spot snow along the side of the road as we drove through alpine areas. The views along the drive were pretty stunning at times, but I've got to admit that there was also an awful lot of nothing! But it was all worth it when we arrived at the Grand Canyon late in the day.

We spent a full day exploring the Grand Canyon - along with everyone else on Spring Break, or so it seemed! The girls were in awe of the Grand Canyon, but it would be nice to visit again at a time that isn't so incredibly busy.

The last stop on our desert road trip was Hoover Dam. We stopped by late in the day as the sun was starting to set and the whole area was glowing nicely. The girls were a little freaked out by just how far down Hoover Dam drops!

Back in the Bay Area we celebrated Cherry Blossom Festival (or the Hello Kitty festival as the girls like to call it!) with friends in San Francisco's Japantown.

We then spent a day on campus for Cal Day. The girls met Oski Bear, played scientist, listened to the marching band, and met all sorts of cuddly and not so cuddly creatures.

We met more cuddly creatures, or rather inflatable creatures, outside San Francisco's City Hall when we stopped by to check out an exhibition called Intrude by Australian artist Amanda Parer.

Then it was time to celebrate our own little bunny! Mathilde turned two in April and we celebrated with a digger and construction themed birthday party.

In April we finally visited the Adventure Playground here in Berkeley. It's such an amazing place where kids can be creative, build with real tools, and play on amazing play equipment made from reclaimed materials. I can't believe it took this long for us to visit!

In April the girls had Wacky Hair Day at school. Ava was keen to do something really crazy so I turned her hair into a donut! Lola wanted pink hair so I colored it with hair chalk - which ended up lasting a few weeks! Don't they look amazing?

April was a busy month for us. Another highlight of the month was Take Your Child to Work Day at YouTube. The girls and I spent a day at work with Kim doing all sorts of fun stuff - and taking fun photos in front of colorful murals!

In May we celebrated the centenary of America's National Parks with a Junior Ranger Jamboree at San Francisco's Crissy Field. It was a rain day, but the girls had a blast doing fun activities to earn new Junior Ranger badges. 

The Berkeley Kids' Triathlon was up next and this time Lola joined Ava in the race. Neither girls won a place this year but they both had a blast taking part. 

And then for something completely different Ava had her hair colored purple! She had it done at the salon the first time but I've been coloring it for her at home ever since.

Bike to School Day happens every year in May and all three girls were excited to join in this year. Ava and Lola love riding their bikes to school but we usually just walk most days. Mathilde rides her balance bike most days though.

One of our favorite events of the year was up next - Maker Faire! This was the fourth time we've been and it was just as fun as always. Who wouldn't love a day of robots, inventing, crafts, crazy rides and things that shoot flames? 

Just before the end of the school year we had an unexpected event happen in Lola's classroom. The class tarantula Rosie molted! I know, that sounds pretty gross, but it was pretty amazing to see. I was in charge of looking after Rosie while Lola's original teacher (and Rosie's owner) was on maternity leave, so this meant it was up to me to take Rosie out of her enclosure to clean it after she molted. I won't lie, it was pretty daunting! My little helper thought it was fantastic though and was desperate to hold Rosie!

The school year came to an end it was Father's Day. We celebrated with balloons, cheesy cards and breakfast in bed!

Then it was time for the most colorful event of the year - the San Francisco Pride Parade! Lola, Mathilde and I spent the day in the city watching the colorful parade. The girls loved it, mostly due to the amount of swag they accrued, but also because it was so colorful. Oh, and because there were nudies! 

Kim's work held their annual Summer Picnic in June at California's Great America theme park. This was our first time visiting the park and the kids had a blast. The park was closed to the public for the day, so it wasn't overly busy and there were no lines for rides. In fact, we were often the only people on a ride! We spend most of our time in Planet Snoopy where the rides are kid friendly and where we got to meet our favorite Peanuts characters.

SFMOMA reopened in May after closing down for a few years for renovations. We waited a month before visiting the new museum and spent an afternoon there checking out modern art in June.

Before we knew it, it was July and time to celebrate America's birthday. We spent Fourth of July at the festival at Berkeley Marina - decked out in our finest red, white and blue, of course!

Summer is always filled with lots of fun events and exhibits, and one of our favorites from last year was back again. Flower Piano filled the San Francisco Botanic Gardens with beautiful music. There was lots of not so beautiful music when my three played the pianos too!

One of our other favorite events was up next. Pedalfest in Jack London's Square is always a fun event and this year was no different. All three girls rode their bikes and had fun taking part in the bike rodeo. We checked out crazy BMX stunts, rode wacky bikes made from upcycled parts and ate lots of yummy food. 

A few weeks later we were back at Jack London Square with friends to catch the ferry to San Francisco. This was only the second time I'd taken the ferry and it was such a fun experience for the kids. The views were amazing. I love seeing Oakland's cranes up close.

Berkeley Kite Festival was up next. We spent a fun day down by the bay watching the giant kites, riding ponies, eating carnival food, and going on crazy rides. 

Ava took part in her first ever Summer camp this year. She did two weeks of Life Guard camp at Lake Anza in Berkeley's Tilden Park. While Ava was at camp Lola, Mathilde and I had our own water fun at the splash pad in El Cerrito, Lake Temescal and Lake Anza, where we could watch the junior life guards.

Our next adventure took us to Seattle, Vancouver and Vancouver Island. Ok, so Vancouver and Vancouver Island are in Canada, not America, but I'm including them in this post as we wouldn't have visited them if we weren't living in America. That, and there are some pretty cute photos! In Seattle we visited the Aquarium, took in the sights from the observation deck of the city's tallest building, checked out the glass sculptures at Chihuly Gardens, played under the International Fountain, stuck gum on the Gum Wall, played in the most amazing playground, watched coffee beans roast at Starbucks Reserve, and visited the Klondike Goldrush National Historical Park.

We caught Amtrak north to Vancouver where we spent a few days just hanging out by the water before taking the ferry to Vancouver Island and the city of Victoria. We stayed in Victoria for a few days and crammed in a lot of fun. We visited to Royal BC Museum, took a horse and carriage ride, fed animals at a petting zoo, played with driftwood on a pebble beach, took a ride in a water taxi, hugged totem poles, ate poutine, and did lots and lots of walking. We then caught the ferry back to Seattle where we spent one more day before flying home.

Before we knew it Summer vacation was over and the girls were back to school. Ava is now in fourth grade and Lola is in Kindergarten.

The Labor Day long weekend came just one week after school went back. We spent the long weekend camping with friends at Pinecrest in the Sierra Nevadas. We toasted marshmallows, hiked in the woods, swam in the lake and spent an afternoon on a pontoon boat. The girls loved their first proper camping experience and are keen to go back to Pinecrest again next Summer.

In early September Lola took part in a Halloween costume photo shoot for Oh Happy Day. She had a lot of fun dressing up as a swimming pool! Those rainbows stairs leading to Oh Happy Day have to be one of the happiest places in San Francisco - especially when there are balloons! 

Back at school the girls took part in Walk & Roll to School Day by riding their scooters (and balance bike for Mathilde) to school. Like always, it coincided with school photo day. Hooray for helmet hair!

Mathilde and I spent a September Sunday at San Francisco Center for the Book's annual Roadworks Festival. Mathilde loved watching the steam rollers make prints, and even brought her own little steam roller along with her.

A few weeks later Mathilde and I were back at those colorful Oh Happy Day stairs again for a pop up shop. We bought lots of goodies and took lots more fun photos on those stairs.

The first weekend of October saw us getting out of the city to attend the annual Hoesdown Festival at Fully Belly Farm. We camped out, splashed in the creek, played in the hay bale stack, made folk crafts, petted farm animals, and had all sorts of farm fun.

After a busy year of karate classes the girls took part in another belt test - and passed again! Ava moved up to green belt and Lola moved up to orange.

One last birthday celebration to round out our fifth year in America. This time it was Lola's sixth birthday. Kim was in Atlanta for work the day of Lola's birthday so the girls and I had a small celebration with just us and then we had her unicorn themed party the following weekend. 

And that brings us to the end of our fifth year in America! Another busy year with so many fun adventures, events and new experiences.

You can see my previous years' round up posts here:

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