Writing our family’s year in review letter to send with our holiday cards (which I still have not sent!), everything I had to say centered around what we did and saw this year during our explorations of LA and the world around us. So, in that process, this post was born! As we were going through the year I didn’t feel like we traveled much, but looking back it seems like we were pretty busy after all, much of it in exploring LA and California.
We started off the new year spending the day playing in the ocean and looking for marine life at the Leo Carrillo tide pools in Malibu. This is one of our favorite ‘staycation’ activities. It’s so beautiful in Malibu that it feels like you are on vacation even being so close to home. The second favorite activity of our family in the winter time is sand sledding! We were lucky enough to go several times in January with friends from school.
The big destination of January was a long weekend to Las Vegas to see my cousin’s cheer competition. Paul had been to Vegas once all the way from India, but neither Cian nor I had been so it was fun to go as a family. Obviously a family trip to Vegas isn’t quite like it would be without kids, but since I’m not into the thick smoke and drunkness of everyone, it was better to be there as a family! We enjoyed spending time at the Excalibur in the arcade, watching circus acts at Circus Circus, riding adrenaline pumping roller coasters hanging off the side of a building at the Strastosphere and checking out the animals at Sigfried & Roy’s Secret Garden.
Most of this month we spent a lot of time venturing around Los Angeles with friends. We visited Descanso Gardens for the first time, enjoyed almost empty visits to Disneyland, and we went bowling for the first time. Even though we have fun in Los Angeles, there is nothing I like more for my birthday than to be traveling. I don’t have an actual birth day 3 out of 4 years so to stave off the depression of no day to celebrate, I like to make a week of it! Seemingly never able to plan too far in advance, we scrounged together at the last minute for an all miles trip. We used our massive amount of Delta miles accrued from years of flying back and forth to India for our flights to Cancun and then our credit card miles for a hotel and rental car for a 5 day get away. I was so happy to finally get a real use out of our miles we had worked so hard to accrue!
Shockingly, in all of my 30+ countries, I had never been to Mexico. This is insane considering I have spent most of my life in Texas and California where that is the vacation destination! Mexico wasn’t going anywhere, so I felt what’s the rush. Now I get it. What a beautiful and magical place – and we only saw a tiny little tidbit of it! We are all hooked and can’t wait to go again. This was a big trip for our son as well in many ways. He became obsessed with composting, gardening and nature at the Xcaret eco-adventure park, finally swam in the ocean and enjoyed learning about ancient ruins. Unbeknownst to us then, nature and the outdoors would be a major theme running through our year.
Technically at the start of March we were still in Mexico, exploring the ruins at Coba, snorkeling in the warm ocean waters and having fun at the adventure park. Returning from Mexico we immediately were busy building my son’s composting area in the yard and preparing to plant his garden. We also celebrated our favorite Indian holiday with hundreds of other revelers in LA’s excellent Fesitval of Colors Holi event. Never happy with only one day of Holi, we also took the celebration to Cian’s preschool where the kids had a blast. (Look for our upcoming posts on how to celebrate Holi at your house!)
March was also the month that Cian acted in his first commercial. It was a spec piece for Rustoleum spray paint. He had a blast and really enjoyed getting his own money!
Groupon and Living Social are my best friends. I love the travel ideas (and discounts!) that I get from their daily emails. To go along with my son’s animal and outdoors interests, we booked a Living Social discounted two night stay at the Flip Flop Ranch, a family friendly hands on farm experience. While this isn’t a posh B&B with relaxing facilities for the parents, the children have a ball. There were 2 other boys there a few years older than Cian that were really great about letting him join in with them. Cian had so much fun feeding the animals, fetching eggs from the chicken coop every morning and even herding the ducks back in their pen after an attempted escape! During our time at the farm we also took the opportunity to drive up the mountain to have an afternoon peek around Big Bear. It was beautiful up there and we are all hankering to return.
Soon after our return from Spring Break, Grandma came to town for a visit, followed by a visit by a friend we knew in India. It’s always fun to show off our new home city of LA to visitors and Cian especially enjoyed having his grandma in town to garden with!
May started off with a visit by Paul’s brother. It was a short visit, but everyone really enjoyed spending time with Uncle Adam and Aunt Ang. But the big event of the month was camping! After several months of preparation, we had our first family (and school) camping trip to Malibu Creek State Park. Organizing a camping trip for 70 people when I hadn’t even been camping in many years myself was challenging to say the least, but soon enough I was right back in my organizational zone! Everything went off well, which means only one thing – I am now in charge again for next year’s trip! The kids enjoyed running free and adventuring around on their own for probably the first time ever. They put on ‘shows’ at the outdoor amphitheater, they watched bunnies and deer eat grass near our tents and hiked down to a watering hole to play! It was so fun, we can’t wait for this year’s trip.
June might have been a turning point for Cian. We did our (now) favorite hike at Monrovia Canyon for the first time, where we saw a bear. It was an exhilarating experience for the adults and the kiddos! He was mesmerized by the idea that people could actually work out in the parks where we spend so much time hiking and see animals like this all the time. The following week we attended a touch a truck event in Van Nuys and one of the most interesting vehicles on display was the Park Ranger Truck! This seems to be where Cian’s obsession with becoming a park ranger was firmly cemented.
Time for my yearly car checkup, so Cian and I made headed up to the Bay Area for a long weekend. It’s always a treat to stay with our friends Ian & Alicia in Berkeley – Cian plays non-stop with their boys and I get a little bit of friend time in, in the evenings! Of course we also spent a good deal of time at the mechanics, who Cian also loves seeing (really he does!).
This was a busy month. We had planned way back in February to go to Yosemite with friends from Texas who would be out for the 4th of July weekend and following week. We started off in Yosemite which was amazing. Yosemite, even in the middle of summer with 100 degree temperatures is just magical. Following almost a week there, hiking many miles every day, biking through the back areas of the valley and swimming in the afternoons, we then headed down to Sequoia National Park to end out our trip and of course to grab another Jr Park Ranger badge!
Back at school for a week before summer break, Cian graduated from the yellow room to the green room with all of the ‘big’ kids. He was very happy about the advancement and excited to return in August as a big kid.
To end out the month, Cian and I headed to Texas and Oklahoma for a family visit. Cian enjoyed spending time with his grandpa in Dallas swimming away the extremely hot days (104F) and munching on Mexican food for his meals! Then on to Oklahoma to visit Grandma and his great grandparents. Cian loved working in Grandma’s garden every morning, visiting Uncle Johnny’s farm and watching his first thunderstorm. Much to Grandma’s pleasure, Cian had an amazing summer visit even with the 50+ mosquito bites!
August off by me leaving Cian at his grandma’s for his first ever sleepover without me. It was for less than 2 days, but it was much needed and enjoyed! I hightailed it to Minnesoata for a beautiful wedding of a friend I met 12 years prior in Guatemala. It was a quick trip, but I loved being able to meet up with my cousin and be present for my friend’s beautifully sweet ceremony.
Back to Oklahoma we enjoyed another week of fun in the sun. Cian took his new fishing pole to Lake Murray to test it out (thankfully not catching anything!) and then we went for a joint horseback ride through the woods. This was Cian’s first time on a real horse ride, apart from the ones that go in circles. After an hour he was tired of it, but soldiered on until the end! I was excited for the lax rules in Oklahoma that allows parents to decide if their kids can ride a horse or not! Getting back to Los Angeles we had a few days to get settled before the Fall semester of preschool started again. I was sad to see my little guy go back to school, but we had a pretty great summer and an upcoming trip to India to keep us going.
September was a busy month. Cian and I took another quick trip to SF, this time to submit our paper work for our Indian visa’s and to see a reunion show of a friend’s band. We enjoyed spending some much needed time out on the trails in San Francisco and Marin as well as visiting our lovely friends and family in the Bay Area. Days after returning back to Los Angeles, we had friends arrive from Israel. Another friend I met in Guatemala so many years ago. As soon as these friends left, Paul’s parents arrived for their first ever visit to LA. Cian was so excited to have his grandparents in town for his amazing Park Ranger birthday party that he was instrumental in planning. He led his friends on a nature walk/scavenger hunt, oohed and awwed with them during the animal show and tried with all their might to put out a ‘forest fire’ pinata! The party was a success and just what Cian had hoped for.
And finally it was time for our big trip of the year to India. A short two week trip was made even shorter by the worst travel experience any of us had ever had in all of our years of travel. We almost missed our first flight because I set the alarm wrong. Just making it, walking right onto the plane, we headed to Montreal where our next flight was several hours delayed making us miss our connection in London. Dressed for LA/India weather, being stuck in London for 12 hours proved to be a bit chilly, but we made the best of the day by wondering around as much as we could. Thankfully we were welcomed in India by our awesome former driver who took us straight to the JW Marriott, our former home away from home. Our visit to Mumbai flew by between seeing friends, shopping and jetlag. We then headed off to Kerala for a relaxing week touring the beautiful southern state of India. We all enjoyed walks in the mountainous tea plantations, the jungle areas of Periyar, spending a day with Lakshmi the elephant and spending a day/night on a houseboat around the backwaters. Our tirp to Kerala ended in Cochin with Cian learning to drive a rickshaw – a true highlight for him!
Getting back home proved to be just as much of a challenge as getting to India, but we took it in stride, enjoying ourselves as much as possible on the 40 hour journey. No time to spare, we got home and helped friends prepare for the Indian festival Diwali. Shortly after, we were propelled straight into halloween festivities. Consistent with previous years, the theme for Cian’s birthday proved to be the theme for Halloween, so Park Ranger it was!
Never able to let a break from school escape without a trip, we packed up and headed to Palm Springs and Joshua tree. Such a beautiful and amazing place. We spent two days exploring more of Joshua Tree before finding a new hiking spot in Palms Springs itself. I used to wonder how people could go to Palm Springs all the time – I still wonder since I doubt most people are as active as we are, but now I am also one of those people who look to escape to PS every chance we get.
The end of the year is always busy with the school closures and the holidays looming. We spent the end of the year here in Los Angeles enjoying our family time together. Our friend who lives in Kenya was in the state, so we decided to end the year with a weekend trip to San Diego to visit her. There is so much to explore and see in this family friendly city. We spent time again at the San Diego Zoo as well as a first time visit to the Cabrillo National Monument, resulting in another Park ranger badge for the little mister. It was a beautiful end to a great year with lots of time spent together as a family with many adventures near and far.
We may not have done as much international travel as I normally would like, but I really enjoyed spending so much time in the National Parks this year. Cian managed to get 7 park ranger badges from Yosemite, Sequoia, Joshua Tree, Santa Monica Mountains, Golden Gate Recreation Area, Chickasaw Recreation Area in OK, and Cabrillo National Monument. Lets see if this obsession continues into 2015 and how many parks we make it to then. We aren’t sure what is on the agenda for 2015, but I anticipate at least one or two international trips and several US trips. Hope you all had a wonderful 2014 and are ready for an even better 2015!