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Sunday 14 January 2018

A Look Back at 2017

Each year around late October or early November - or who am I kidding, sometimes December - I post a recap of our past year in America. Ava, Lola and I moved here from Australia on October 25th 2011 and I like to share what the past year has held for us in our adventure living half way across the world.

This past October marked our 6 year anniversary of living in America. I fully intended to share a recap post as I have done in the past, but time slipped away and here we are, the second week in January and I still haven't even started it. So instead, of sharing a post with the highlights of our 6th year in America, I thought I'd be a little more conventional and share our highlights from 2017. After all, one of my absolute favorite things from 2017 didn't even take place in the country!

Here's a look back month by month at some of my favorite moments from 2017. It's a long one so you might want to grab yourself a hot drink and a snack to enjoy while you're checking it out. And maybe a bathroom break. Ha! As always, to read more about a particular event or place we visited click the bold and underlined link for a more detailed post.

January is generally a pretty quiet month around here. After the craziness of the holiday season we tend to take things pretty quietly for the month. Last year was no different and we just chugged along as usual with school, swim team and karate. We stayed local for the most part with outings at local parks such as Cragmont Rock Park. The biggest event of the month was the Women's March. We took part in the Oakland event along with more than 100,000 others. It was a pretty amazing event to be a part of and hopefully something my girls can look back on knowing that they were a part of history. 

February marks our first birthday for the year. Last year Ava turned 10 so a big party was in order. Unfortunately, Ava's birthday and the blogging conference Alt Summit clashed so I was away in Palm Springs for her big day. I've never been away from the the kids on a birthday before so it was a little hard. Getting to hang out in Palm Springs with lots of amazing fellow bloggers definitely helped though! We followed up with Ava's birthday party the weekend after I arrived home.

March was a pretty quiet month. We visited MOCHA, a local art space for kids in Oakland where the girls had a fun day getting creative with friends. Later in the month we headed into the city for the annual St Patrick's Day parade - and a few shenanigans from Mathilde!

April was a super busy month with lots of events, a big international trip and another birthday. Our first event of the month was the Macy's Flower Show which Mathilde and I checked out one day while the big girls were at school. Spring break was up next. The year before we had spent Spring Break in the desert, this past year we went for pretty much the exact opposite and took a trip to Denmark! I'd been wanting to visit Denmark for such a long time so when I saw Scandinavian Airlines' "Kids fly free" to Copenhagen deal earlier in the year I knew I couldn't pass it up. All three kids flew for free. Such a great deal! We had an amazing time in Copenhagen and I've got to say, we were all pretty tempted to just stay forever. I haven't gotten around to sharing our Denmark trip on Little Hiccups yet, but that's something I'm definitely working on so stay tuned.

Right after we arrived home from Denmark it was Easter followed by Cal Day, the annual open house at University of California. A few days later the girls and I were hanging out at YouTube for Take Your Kids to Work Day and then it was our second birthday of the year with Mathilde turning three, although we celebrated her birthday with a party in May.

May was another busy month. We started off with Mathilde's dinosaur themed birthday party which was so much fun. A few weekends later Ava and Lola took part in the Berkeley Kids Triathlon. Neither girls placed this time around but they both had fun. The following day was Mother's Day and we took a day trip to Monterey for some beach fun.

The second half of the month was just as busy and also filled with medical appointments. Ava had an accident involving a piping hot oven tray and ended up with second degree burns across both of her forearms. Ouch! It was incredibly painful and required visits to the doctor every two days to have her dressings changed, but her skin healed remarkably quickly. She still has large scars, and will do for quite some time, but luckily there was no major damage. I'll spare you the pictures of her burns, but you'll see that she has bandaged arms in the following photos from Maker Faire. Maker Faire was a super fun day again as usual. The girls made all sorts of crazy creations, watched robots, rode crazy bikes and ate yummy food.   

The end of May marked another birthday for the family. This time it was my birthday and as it was a big one (40 - eek!) we marked the occasion with a party. If the photos are anything to go by it looks like I spent my big day celebrating with a group of kids, but trust me, there were adults there too!

The very last day of the month, or rather the very last night, saw Mathilde doing a sleep study to check for sleep apnea (which we later found out she has). I've been meaning to share a post about this so that other parents know what to expect when their child undergoes a sleep study, so stay tuned for that one too.

Another busy and exciting month!  June marks the end of the school year for Ava and Lola, we had multiple visitors from home, we did a little local travel and we celebrated Pride month with the huge parade in San Francisco.

First up Ava and Lola celebrated the end of the school year. We then spent time with our friends Jon and Mark who visited from Australia. We spent time hanging out in San Francisco with them as well as a trip down to Big Basin Redwoods Forest where I saw my first ever banana slug. Wow, are those things big!

Next up my parents visited. We spent time hanging out with them in San Francisco and Berkeley as well as a short trip away in July. A highlight was definitely taking my parents to the Pride Parade, or the "Rainbows and Nudies" parade as Lola and Mathilde call it!

During my parents stay we spent a day at California's Great America theme park for the YouTube Summer picnic. The kids were excited to go on the rides, play in the water park and meet their favorite Peanuts characters.

July saw more fun with Peanuts characters when we visited Santa Rosa with my parents. We stopped by Santa Rosa on our way to the stunning coastline and beach side towns of Mendocino and Fort Bragg. At Fort Bragg we spent some time checking out the colorful glass beach before driving home along the coastline taking in the stunning views.

We then celebrated 4th of July with my parents at the Berkeley Marina where we ate corn dogs (a first for Mum and Dad), went on fun rides, listened to live music and took in the views over the marina, bay and San Francisco. In the evening we watched the fireworks from our roof top - or at least we attempted to! The fog had settled in so low in the evening that we could only see the glow of the fireworks coming out from underneath!

It was then time to say goodbye to my parents as they headed off to Europe for a cruise around the Mediterranean. The girls and I would've happily tagged along on that trip!

The rest of July was pretty quiet. Ava took part in a Junior Lifeguard camp up at Lake Anza in Tilden Park. She had done the same camp the year before with a friend and loved it. This year she was going on her own which was a little trickier as Lake Anza isn't the most accessible place by public transport. Getting Ava to camp took over two hours and then the same again on the way back! We spent almost as much time commuting as she did at the camp itself! She had a blast though, and that's the most important thing. We took the opportunity to explore Tilden Park a little more while Ava was at camp and spent our days hiking, swimming and riding the carousel. Ava also took part in Camp Galileo, a more traditional science based Summer camp the following week. She's looking forward to doing both camps again this Summer.

Like Mathilde before her, Lola undertook a sleep study during July. She had been a little scared about it, but knowing that her little sister had done it before, and seeing her photos, definitely helped calm Lola's nerves. It definitely looks scary in the pictures, but it really wasn't anything to worry about.

During July both Ava and Lola decided to go for colorful hair. I colored Lola's hair pink and Ava's mermaid blue. Lola's color faded out pretty fast but Ava's lasted for weeks. If you're interested in colorful hair, I like to use Joico Color Intensity. It's easy to apply and a tube of it goes a long way.

Our last fun event of the month was Pedalfest in Oakland's Jack London Square. Pedalfest is always such a fun event with crazy bikes to test out, amazing BMX stunts to watch, tasty food and the kids' bike parade.

August was another fun filled month with lots of visits to the city for the girls and I. We spent a day checking out new exhibits at SFMOMA and just a day later we were back in the city again to visit Color Factory. Color Factory was definitely one of the highlights of 2017 for the girls and I. What a place! Rooms filled with confetti, a giant ball pit, a scratch and sniff wall, balloons galore, giant coloring pages... So much fun! If you get a chance to go to Color Factory, don't miss it!

We followed up with more trips to the city to play in new playgrounds, check out murals and eat delicious ice cream.

Just before the end of Summer break we joined in with millions of others across the country excited to watch the much anticipated solar eclipse. We were prepared with eclipse viewers and I even set up a tripod and binoculars combo so the kids could see the eclipse projected onto the ground. But then that famous Bay Area fog settled in for the morning and we didn't see a single thing! Thanks for that Karl. Yep, the fog has a name!

In late August one of our favorite local events made a come back after a two or three year hiatus. The annual Berkeley Chocolate and Chalk Art Festival had been a favorite with the kids in the past so we were all pretty excited when we heard that it was back on again. The girls joined in by drawing chalk artworks on the sidewalk in the Gourmet Ghetto - and by eating lots of chocolate!

And just like that the long Summer break was over and the big girls were back to school. Fifth grade (and the last year of elementary) for Ava and first grade for Lola.

At the end of August the Bay Area experienced a heatwave with temperatures above 40C (105F). That may not seem particularly hot to my friends and family back home in Australia, but it rarely gets above 30C (86F) here and hardly anyone has air conditioning. To beat the heat we headed north to Stinson Beach - along with half of the Bay Area! It was lovely to spend the day at the beach. It was still pretty hot there but the cool water and a nice breeze made it much more bearable. The heatwave only lasted a few days, but it took weeks before our apartment cooled down below 30C (86F) inside.

September started with another first - Mathilde's first day of preschool! I was anticipating tears but Mathilde was super excited to be a big kid and go to school like Ava and Lola so there was not a single tear. In fact, the only time we've ever had tears over preschool in the months since is when she doesn't want to leave at pick up time!

Remember that sleep study that Mathilde did back in May? We finally got the results at the end of August and discovered that Mathilde does indeed have sleep apnea like we expected (she has never slept well and has always been a snorer). The sleep study also showed elevated carbon dioxide levels throughout the night which lead Mathilde's ENT to suggesting that she have her tonsils and adenoids removed. It's a simple and fairly quick surgery, but it's surgery none the less so it was a little daunting. Mathilde handled it so well. I bought her a book about the surgery and a doctor's costume and these both helped her so much. She recovered from the surgery really well and I'm pleased to say that she no longer snores. She still wakes through the night but not as much as before. Lola's sleep study results came back fine, so no surgery for her. I'm working on a post about what to expect when kids have their tonsils out so keep an eye out for that one too.

After a week of eating ice cream after surgery it seemed only fitting that we visit the Museum of Ice Cream! Mathilde and I were lucky enough to visit before the museum opened to the public and we had an absolute blast. We ate so much ice cream, played in the sprinkle pool and on swings, climbed a candy rock wall and danced our way through the different rooms. Oh, and as we were there for a press showing Mathilde was interview by a local news crew and appeared on the news that night! We're actually heading back to Museum of Ice Cream with the whole family next weekend so stay tuned for lots more fun photos!

September brought something new for our family. After living car free for almost six years we bought a car to use for weekend adventures. I still haven't gotten around to getting my Californian licence (and my Australian one expired back in April) so I haven't been able to drive it, but it has come in handy for exploring more of the Bay Area. We started with a visit to a nearby redwoods forest in Oakland which, while super close to us, is pretty inaccessible by public transport.

Another first! Lola lost her first tooth! She was super excited that she lost her tooth at school as this meant she got to bring it home in a special tooth necklace. She managed to beat Ava and lose her first tooth before turning seven. Her second tooth fell out just a week or two later. She's yet to lose any more but her top middle teeth are pretty wiggly.

We finished the month with more adventures around the Bay Area in our new car, including an evening hike in the North Bay town of Crockett and a day on the beach in Alameda.

October is always a busy month around here with Lola's birthday and Halloween taking up much of my time. We started the month with one of our favorite festivals - the Hoes Down Harvest Festival in Yolo County, a few hours inland. The festival was super fun as always and the kids enjoyed meeting farm animals, playing on the hay bales, running through the grass maze, making crafts, splashing in the creek, zipping across the zipline, watching acrobats and eating delicious food. Camping out in our tent was a highlight too.

The following Monday was a day off for everyone so we spent the day in the city where Kim and Ava made use of the kayaking gift voucher we had given Kim for his last birthday. While they kayaked around the AT&T Park and the nearby areas for an hour, Lola, Mathilde and I played along the waterfront. I'll have to share a post about Ava and Kim's kayaking experience soon. My list is getting pretty long!

In the early hours of that very same day Santa Rosa and other areas of the Napa Valley were struck by a devastating fire that took about a week to control. The smoke from the fires carpeted the Bay Area in ash and made it dangerous to spend time outdoors. Schools cancelled outdoor recess, sports were cancelled, and everyone scrambled to purchase masks to use while commuting. Ava struggled a lot and ended up staying home from school due to coughing up blood (which luckily was just from the constant coughing and not another case of pneumonia). It was a very eerie time, with the sun barely making it through the brown sky during the day and bright magenta sunsets in the evening. Of course, while the smoke made things difficult for a week and a half, it was nothing compared to the devastation that our neighbors to the north had experienced. Whole neighborhoods of Santa Rosa were wiped out and hundreds of lives were lost. It was truly terrible.

It felt weird to be celebrating after such a terrible event, but life goes on and Lola's seventh birthday was right around the corner. We had to postpone her birthday party by a week due to the smoke in the air, but were lucky to have a beautiful day to celebrate Lola with an art party on our roof deck. The kids made spin art and shaving cream paint creations, played "Pin the paintbrush on the artist" and ate yummy food including a pain pallet shaped birthday cake.

Following on with the art theme, Mathilde and I visited Oakland Museum of California to see their new exhibit Nature's Gift. The exhibit features a large inflatable sculpture that visitors can interact with. Mathilde loved giving it hugs.

With Halloween fast approaching it was time to visit a pumpkin patch. We headed north to Petaluma and visited McClelland's Dairy where the girls chose their pumpkins and then took part in the carnival style fun. They jumped on bounce houses, walked through a haunted house, shot pumpkins out of a pumpkin blaster, pet farm animals, played in corn kernels and took a tractor ride around the farm.

Next up was Halloween. The girls celebrated at school with class parties and a school wide parade, and then in the evening we headed out to go trick or treating. This year Ava dressed in a Hufflepuff uniform from Harry Potter, Lola was a unicorn and Mathilde had a couple of costumes. During the day Mathilde was a coyote but for trick or treating she dressed as Smurfette. Kim dressed in his regular nerd costume (which he wears every year) and I made myself a last minute bat costume.

November is always a pretty quiet month around here. It's a nice little break between the craziness of October and the extra craziness that is December! We didn't do an awful lot during November. We spent some time in the city checking out the art installations for Illuminate SF and Photosynthesis at the Conservatory of Flowers. We also visited the Presidio for the first time and checked out the Walt Disney Family Museum and the surrounding area.

The girls and I joined friends for a visit to the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield over the Thanksgiving break. We had visited the factory in the past but I was keen to go back once they changed their "no photography" rule for the tour. It's such a fun - and delicious - place to visit. And yes, those flavors in the photo below are Fart, Rotten Eggs, Stinky Socks, Barf and Spoiled Milk. I guess they're some of the not quite so delicious flavors!

Thanksgiving is always the biggest event of November, but as we have no family here it's generally not much of a big deal for us. After spending a quiet day at home we headed to Battery Spencer just across the Golden Gate Bridge to take our Christmas card photos. I had mistakenly thought it would be quiet there on Thanksgiving as people would be at home with their families. I was wrong! I was super busy just as it would be on a weekend. We did manage to get some fantastic shots though. It's definitely one of the best places for photos with the bridge - even with the crowds.

Ah, December... Possibly the craziest month of the year! As usual, December was pretty busy in the lead up to Christmas. There were lots of fun events and we spent quite a bit of time in the city checking out our favorite Christmas displays. We started the month with two fun events. First up it was Ava and Lola's first ever karate competition. The girls and their class mates did really well. In the green belt sparring competition Lola won first place! I couldn't believe it. Ava won second place in the same competition. Ava also won fourth place in the team padded sword competition along with two of her classmates. It was such a fun experience and the girls are looking forward to another competition coming up in March.

The following day it snowed here in Berkeley! Well, the snow didn't fall from the sky, but there was snow at the annual Snow in Berkeley festival. The girls were super excited to play in the snow even if it was absolutely packed full of kids and pretty rock hard. Later in the month they would experience real snow which was much more exciting.

This past Christmas we visited a local tree lot to choose our Christmas tree rather than heading into the countryside to buy a tree from a farm. There were no fun rides, no hot cocoa and not as many trees to choose from, but it was still just as magical.

The girls and I spent a day in the city checking out all of our favorite Christmas decorations. We visited the Fairmont Hotel to see the giant gingerbread house, checked out the sugar castles at the Westin St Francisco, saw the giant tree and menorah in Union Square, looked in awe at the upside down tree hanging from the domed roof of the Westfield shopping centre, checked out the Christmas windows in Macy's and, the highlight, met Santa and told him our Christmas wishes. 

The girls finished up school for the Winter break a week before Christmas. We visited Alcatraz that weekend before preparing for our road trip to Utah for a snowy Christmas.

We drove to Salt Lake City, Utah over the course of two days. That first day we stopped at a scenic lookout over Lake Donner as we drove through the Sierra Nevadas. The girls had been super excited as soon as snow started to appear along the side of the road and were eager to play in it. The scenic look out not only gave us stunning views over the lake, but it made for the perfect pit stop for the kids to get out and play in the snow. The second day of our drive we stopped at the Bonneville Salt Flats so the kids could run around - and also to go for a super fast drive across the bare terrain. The car got up to about 130 miles an hour. No land speed records for us, but it was still pretty fast. Both Ava and Lola were in the back yelling at Kim to slow down while daredevil Mathilde yelled "Faster Daddy, faster"!

We then spent the next week in Salt Lake City. We visited Thanksgiving Point where the kids rode ponies, met farm animals, and marveled at the dinosaur museum. We drove through the amazing Christmas in Color light display in Provo. I can't wait tot share that one once I edit the video. It was like nothing we'd ever seen before and so incredibly over the top American! We visited the Grand America Hotel where we watched big fluffy snow flakes fall in the most magical moment ever. We built snowmen outside of the Utah Capitol Building and took in the twinkling light displays at the temple. We spent quite some time in Sugar House Park sledding down the hill and making snow angels. We visited a suburban shopping center to see the Christmas in the Wizarding World display - definitely a highlight for Harry Potter obsessed Ava. And most most magical of all... we fulfilled my dream of a white Christmas! It wasn't snowy at all by Utah standards, but for us it was perfect.

We took a couple of short trips from Salt Lake City. The first one was a day spent in Antelope Island State Park on the Great Salt Lake. It was incredibly foggy and the lake itself was hidden from view by a shroud of fog for much of the day, but once we hiked a little higher up Buffalo Point the views were stunning - even if we couldn't see the lake! The kids had a lot of fun playing in the fresh snow as they followed animal tracks in their bid to find a coyote. We didn't find any coyotes but we were all pretty excited to spot bison later in the day. As Antelope Island is a State Park the girls were able to take part in the Junior Ranger program and earn badges. I love that the girls can collect the badges as we visit National and State Parks on our travels. Such a fun souvenir.

Our other side trip was to Dinosaur National Monument on the Colorado border. Being a National Park, the girls were able to earn Junior Ranger badges again. The highlight at this park was the wall of dinosaur bones and fossils. The whole area is teeming with prehistoric fossils, and in the case of this particular wall there were so many in one spot that a building was built around them so visitors could experience them right where they were found. Several of the lower down bones are accessible for visitors to touch which was pretty amazing. It's not every day you get to touch a real dinosaur! We took a short drive through the park before sundown and checked out several petroglyph sites and the stunning rock formations. It was surprisingly warm while we were at Dinosaur National Monument and we didn't even need jackets. Usually at that time of year everything would be covered in a blanket of snow, but the Winter has been especially mild.

We finished up the year driving back from Utah over the course of two days again. Once again we stopped at Bonneville Salt Flats (on the first day) and we also stopped to check out Reno on the second day. Definitely not somewhere we'll be going again in a hurry. Ava's face in the photo below really says it all! At least we can say we've been there and seen it for ourselves, I guess.

We had a pretty quiet New Year's Eve, which was also Kim's birthday, spent at home. Lola and I watched the fireworks at midnight while the others slept. And just like that it was 2018.

Another busy year full of adventures done and dusted. Looking forward to the adventures that 2018 has in store for us.

Happy (belated) new year!

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