I waffle every year about whether or not to make any resolutions, loving the idea of fresh goals for a fresh year but simultaneously feeling wary of adding anything to the already-full plates that are our lives these days.  So I’m taking the middle road and just spending some time pondering the year ahead, getting my thoughts and hopes down on-screen and entering into 2018 with a spirit of intention.  In the next 11.5 months, I/we will:

MAKE SOME BIG-ASS DECISIONS.  Shane and I have had a handful of life-changing what-if’s hanging over our heads for quite some time now and are feeling like it’s time to set our wheels in motion and pick a direction.  Should we put our house on the market and buckle down on our search for something quieter and a little more spacious?  Should we move forward with early-enrolling Juliette in kindergarten this year (rather than keeping her in preschool for another year)?  Are we going to try (like, really try) for another baby?  Ho-ly Mo-ses, these are big things!  And I’m completely change-phobic, prone to bouts of extreme crankiness and dramatic weeping in periods of uncertainty.  But we know we can’t let fear or comfort keep us from taking the road un-traveled – an amazing house or a wonderful kindergarten teacher or a joyous addition to our family might lie just up ahead, if we lean into the uncertainty.  And hey, maybe none of those things come to fruition this year, which is fine, but when December rolls around I want to rest in the peace of knowing that our pursuits (or lack thereof, if that’s where we land) were meditated upon and deliberate.

And now that I’ve gotten the heavy-duty stuff out of the way and gulped down another cup of my Yogi Stress Relief tea, let’s talk about something fun and entirely manageable.  Like READING!  I mentioned that 2017 wasn’t my finest literary year and I’m eager to delve back into books.  I want to spend more early evening-times reaching for my Kindle rather than my laptop or phone.  I want to cut out the mindless Facebook scrolling and focus on words and stories that provoke and inspire and teach.

After a wet, house-bound few days I’m finding myself dreaming of sparkling lakes and sun-dappled forests – let’s make this a year for some serious Schnell family CAMPING.  We’ve spent a fair number of nights in our tent over the previous couple of years, but I’m hoping to get out even more in 2018.  Shane, Juliette and I live most fully into my dream for our family when we’re hiking and paddle-boarding and eating around a campfire and sleeping under the stars.  So we’re gonna make it happen – Fort Flagler, Orcas Island, Wynoochee Lake, PNW TBD, here we come!  I can’t wait.

When I asked Juliette if she had any hopes for the year ahead, anything she wanted to do or learn, she quickly replied that she wants to learn how read, learn how to be an architect like Mom, and learn how to be an engineer like Dad – that girl’s got mad ambition!  In addition to being my partner in decision-making and camp-setting, Shane set a couple of personal fitness and reading goals.  I jotted each of our lists down on slips of paper and tucked them into our Christmas stockings, to be pulled out at the end of the year for a fun (shame-free, low-pressure) check-in.

So here’s to a year of intentionality, making hard choices and then finding restoration with a good book, a well-strung hammock, and a lake view.

One last look-back at 2017 and then it’s on with the business of a brand new year! My favorites, in no particular order…

Favorite movie:

This category always has the slimmest pickin’s to choose from, as it’s rare that Shane and I get out for a movie (RARE, as in hasn’t happened since…2014?  when did Gone Girl come out?).  Thanks to Netflix and Amazon Video, though, we’re not totally out of the loop; we’re just a few months behind the curve.  And so award for best movie goes to Get Out, for getting under my skin and making me squirm on so many levels.  Who knew horror could run so deep?

 

Favorite TV show:

This one is so easy this year!  Slam dunk for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  Shane and I started watching this on a whim a couple of weeks ago and plowed through all eight episodes in just a few days.  Funny and dramatic and full of characters you can’t help but adore.  OUTSTANDING performance by Rachel Brosnahan.  I can’t wait for the next season (there better be a next season!).

(Honorable mentions to Atlanta, Ozarks, and Big Little Lies.)

 

Favorite podcast:

I’m going to go with the bandwagon on this one and pay homage to S-Town, which was superb.  It was also tragic and terribly unsettling, but gosh, when I put on my headphones and hit play on an episode, I was in it.  A nod to Still Processing for making my world view a little bit bigger and to The Daily for distilling down the crap-storm of national and international goings-on into bites I can actually digest.

 

Favorite song:

Gosh, I listened to the Moana and Trolls soundtracks A LOT last year.  But on the rare occasions that Juliette gave me control of the music queue, I put on Fool for You by Alice Smith and got my feely feelin’s out.  I just discovered this is a cover of a Cee-Lo Green song, but Alice does it so much better, with her silky, bluesy, soaring vocals.

 

Favorite purchase:

I mentioned to Shane a few months ago that I was feeling ready for a new camera, ready to up my photo-game a notch.  I said it a little off-hand, thinking, “Someday…”.  But there are few things my husband loves more than a good gadget hunt, and so down the rabbit hole he fell into consumer reviews and expert analyses on the best mid-level DSLR.  A few weeks later, he presented me with a spreadsheet of models and costs and pixel counts and I hemmed and hawed about the investment but ultimately decided to trade in my Rebel T4i for a 6D Mark II.  And I love it.  It took me a little while to get used to its heft, and I have much to learn still before I can maximize its potential, but the outlook is good.

 

Favorite personal pastime:

I had high hopes of diving deep back into my art last year, hopes of spending some time in the print studio and reconnecting with my sketchbooks.  Shane and I got rid of the futon in our downstairs office and I set up a sweet little project table down there, thinking that would inspire me to spend more evenings drawing or crafting.  It just didn’t happen.  I was too busy or too tired or too caught up in keeping this space up to date with photos and narratives of our assorted adventures.  This space.  In scrolling back through the last year’s posts, I was struck by three things.  1) We took A LOT of great trips last year.  2) I took A LOT of pictures last year.  And 3) I’m really really thankful for the record I’ve kept of our family’s comings and goings.  There are certainly times when blogging feels like a bit of a burden, when we come home from a vacation and I know I have several evenings of photo editing and writing ahead of me, but in the end, I’m so glad I take the time to keep Little Black Journal current.  These are the Schnell Chronicles, and I’ll cherish them always.

 

Favorite family pastime:

Camping took this category in 2016 and I do believe that 2017 was even better.  Our trip to Fort Flagler was a spontaneous-but-magical little retreat.  Our weekend at Bainbridge Island with our extended crew was packed with laughter and sun and general familial bliss.  And our few days up in Whistler were some of my favorite days of the year.  If all goes according to plan, camping will win this category every year for the next decade…

 

And, favorite moments…

20170101-new-years-snow-day50-sm

20170121 womens march6 sm

20170203 leavenworth11 sm

20170203 leavenworth20 sm

20170216 napa34 sm

20170219 turlock3 sm

Alrighty, 2018.  Let’s make some more magic happen.

2017 was not a banner year for me book-wise.  I finished 12 books – a couple of duds, a few decent ones, and a couple of stand-outs.  I do believe I should get extra credit for finishing all 1,168 pages of Atlas Shrugged.  The round-up:

 

I’m Just A Person by Tig Notaro

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Strangers in their own Land by Arlie Russel

City of Thieves by David Benioff

Dark Money by Jane Mayer

Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

The Magic of Motherhood by Ashlee Gadd

 

Best books of 2017:

City of Thieves was brilliant and beautiful and tragic and funny.  Damn, Benioff can write.  (From the comfort of my couch) I was in World War II Russia – I felt the cold of the frozen forests, the hunger pangs of a completely empty stomach, the desolation of streets lined with bombed, looted buildings.  And I felt all the warmth of friendship and camaraderie and hard-fought victory.

I also loved Homegoing, which was fiction very much grounded in truth.  It’s a story of horrific injustice and unfathomable fortitude, beautifully and cleverly woven.  Read it.

Honorable mentions to Born A Crime (I liked Trevor Noah before I read his memoir but loved him afterward) and Love Warrior (Glennon Doyle Melton’s love revolution is real, folks!).

 

On the docket for 2018

So many good things!  I’ve been soliciting recommendations from some of my most trusted confidantes and am feeling pretty pumped about my queue:

For fun:  A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

For introspection:  Practicing Resurrection by Nora Gallagher

For understanding:  Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

For a dose of “classic”:  The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

For rainy, quiet Friday nights:  Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

The tree is down, the Christmas music has been put on pause, the sugar cookies have been eaten…the holidays are over.  But gosh, they were good while they lasted, and we fared pretty well last month in the art of tradition-keeping.

Juliette and I have made a thing of a “Downtown Christmas Day”, using one of our days off to hit the Westlake Carousel and the surrounding holiday sights.  How many more years do we have before the magic of merry-go-round wears off?  At least a couple, I hope…

And to warm up afterwards, hot chocolate and an Americano from the Starbucks across the street!

We decided to pass on the Fairmont’s “Teddy Bear Suite” this year but did venture into the hotel lobby to take a spin through the life-size gingerbread house.

And then once Juliette discovered the free candy canes there for the taking, there was another spin through the house, and another…

 

We visited Swanson’s Nursery one Sunday after church to check out the reindeer and the Christmas train and Santa.  Juliette’s not really the type to hop up onto Santa’s lap, but the rest of it was a hit.

 

And cookies!  So many cookies – sugar cookies and raspberry thumbprints and ginger snaps and cranberry coconut bark…  Jules and I are in charge of bringing sweets each year when we head down to Portland, and we take our job very seriously.

 

This was the first year we’ve headed to Bellevue to see Snowflake Lane, which was crowded and crazy but exceedingly festive.

And…fake now!  I mean, really – snow bubbles and baton-twirling elves and All I Want for Christmas is You blaring over loudspeakers?  It was too much.  And I kinda loved it.

 

We spent New Year’s Eve Eve at Gene Coulon Park, checking out the Clam Lights.  I like doing this one post-crowds, post-Christmas – after the excitement and busy-ness of the holidays, it’s nice to be in a place where all feels calm, all feels bright.

 

And then the beloved New Years Eve bonfire at Alki Beach!  We did this a couple of years ago and jumped at the chance for a repeat when the Hickory’s said they were going to pick up a couple of bundles of wood and stake out a fire pit.  The night turned out be windy and COLD, but the kids generated their own body heat by running wild on the shore.

Seattle is a far cry from Mexico, but apparently it’s no less fun.

 

We headed over to Jack and La Verne’s afterward for spaghetti and a sleepover.  The kids were tucked into bed, a third bottle of wine was opened (then a fourth), and then, before the clock had even struck midnight…

Shane was surprisingly spry on New Years morning and agreed to meet up with Jason, Brian, and Nicole for the Polar Bear Plunge at Alki.  Only at 9:58, with just two minutes before plunge-time, his peeps were nowhere to be found.  He stripped down and gave Juliette a very tentative thumbs-up, clearly not at all stoked by the thought of doing this alone.

In one of the most dramatic reunions I’ve ever witnessed, at 9:59 these buddies found each other on the crowded beach and darted into the water together.

…and darted right back out.

I love this event.  You can almost taste the euphoria as the polar bears come back to shore, squealing and hugging and shivering.  And while I’m not about to go running into any 45-degree water, I mooch a little off of everyone else’s high, welcoming the New Year with joy and excitement and a sense of adventure.

Hola, 2018.  It’s good to see you.

We took down our Christmas tree today and I’m feelin’ all sorts of post-holiday blues over here.  SO, let’s go back a week, when I was hot-tubbing in Portland with these beauties and talking about what we thought Santa would bring on his sleigh!

It was a particularly cozy Christmas weekend, made all the warmer by snuggles with Bina, the newest member of the Jarrell family.

Shane brought his Nintendo down with us, which made for some some pretty intense Mario Kart sessions with the cousins.

The excitement was just too much for little Bina.

Icy roads kept us house-bound on Christmas Eve, so we made do with more Bina-time and some indoor shenanigans.

My mom and I are teaching Elise how to knit, a hobby she’s tackling with extreme focus.

The stir-crazies set in shortly after lunch, so we bundled up and headed outdoors to play in the…ice?

There were no snowmen, or even snowballs, but there was plenty of slipping and sliding on the streets and sidewalks.

We sought refuge indoors for a bit and sipped on mugs of Grandma’s hot cocoa, but the sight of big fluffy flakes and neighbors on sleds soon drew the girls back outside.

Morgan’s big birthday wish just a few days earlier had been for a snow day, so this was like a dream come true!

Lord knows I love beachy Jules, but snow-dusted stocking caps and rosy cheeks are such a good luck on both these girls!

And now I bring you…more Bina!  She’s pretty irresistible.

The girls opened their new PJ’s from Grandma that evening, which has become a Christmas Eve tradition.  This year, the dolls got new outfits as well!

And then we lit up the fireplace, made a nest of sleeping bags and pillows, and settled in for the Polar Express.  On a 10-point cozy scale, this gets an 11.

Post-movie, cookies and carrots were left by the fireplace for Santa and his reindeer and three exhausted-but-pumped-up little girls were tucked in with instructions to not get out of bed before 7 am the next morning.

At 7:15 on Christmas morning, the kids were tearing into their stockings, thrilled that SANTA CAME!

The morning was a flurry of wrapping paper and thank you’s.  Ironically, after the weeks I spent hemming and hawing over the perfect gift for Juliette, her favorite present was the Trolls-themed electric toothbrush I tossed in her stocking.

The Zelda action figure that Shane picked out for her was also a huge hit.

I much appreciated my own thoughtfulness when I opened the purse I had ordered on Black Friday.

Morgan was the first of the kids to get dressed that morning, eager to sport her new accessories.  This girl’s style is fierce.

And then…all was calm.

Snow continued to spit from the skies that morning, so once the kids had chowed down on their waffles topped with crumbled candy canes, they headed outside to burn off that sugar rush.

The snow was still too crusty to make into balls, but the smashing of ice sheets was quite satisfying.

And then, driveway sledding.  With tunnels!

Juliette played hard and crashed hard – I had a heck of a time rustling her from nap so that she’d be up (and out of her pajamas!) for Christmas dinner.

The promise of cookie-decorating got her going, though, so the girls worked on dessert while Mitch and Kathryn and Mom put the finishing touches on dinner.

Shane kept Bina from being underfoot in the bustling kitchen.  I thought this guy was allergic to dogs, but…?

We ate a decadent meal of country ham and took turns sharing our 2017 highlights, ending the day on a strong note of gratitude.  We certainly have no shortage of things or people or experiences (or puppies!) to be thankful for.

 

Although the 85-degree Mexican temps made me forget it for a moment, it is in fact December (24th?!) and we are in the thick of the holiday season, making our way through my list of most-cherished traditions.

We set out the last weekend of November to find the perfect Christmas tree at Mountain Creek Tree Farm.  I go on and on every year about how much I love this place, with the mountainous backdrop and the hot cider and the friendly woman that gives candy canes to the kids, but seriously, it never disappoints.  We took our time picking our tree, but circling back as per usual to a 6 ½ foot Grand Fir.

Lumberjack Shane is such a stud…

Juliette gulped warm cider while Shane got the tree baled and strapped it to our roof.

We asked Alexa to play the Charlie Brown Christmas album when we got home and trimmed the tree to our favorite twinkling piano tunes.  Juliette was such a good helper this year, carefully hanging her cherished ornaments and then reaching way up top to set the angel on her perch.

My weekend getaway with Nancy and La Verne to Cedarbrook Lodge has become a December must-do and is something I eagerly anticipate every winter.  Partly because quality time with these ladies so deeply nourishes my soul, but also because we always make out like bandits at our trip to the Auburn outlet mall.  There are a lot of sweaters on this bed.  A few pairs of pants.  A new coat.  We will not go cold this winter.

We hit the hotel gym in the evening and then hot-tubbed in the rain before heading back to the room to freshen up for dinner at the hotel bar.

And then, chick flicks (Thirteen Going on Thirty and Can’t Buy Me Love), ice cream, and the joy of falling asleep with the knowledge that no child will be calling your name at 6:30 the next morning.  We ate a leisurely buffet breakfast on Sunday and squeezed in Sweet Home Alabama before heading home to our littles.

The Christmas Ship docked at the shores of Lake Washington on a Sunday evening a couple of weeks ago and we walked down with the Chens to listen to the carolers’ voices drift across the water.  A bonfire crackled nearby and Juliette and I huddled together on our picnic blanket.  All was calm, all was bright.

Despite busy December calendars, we always make a point of getting together with the Chens and the Rusts for our holiday “family dinner”, where we break bread and exchange gifts and revel in the warmth of being with our nearest and dearest.  Shane made his tried-and-true Emmental and Gruyere fondue, Jack mixed cocktails, the kids gingerbreaded, and I…ate.

Next stop: Portland, for the main event!

Shane and Jack headed out early on Sunday morning for their scheduled zipline tour through the jungle while LaV and I opted for a quieter sort of adventure, heading over to the beach with the kiddos for a day of playing in the ocean and sand.  First, though, breakfast, where Juliette gazed upon her coconut muffin with total adoration.

We staked out a couple of comfy chaise lounges at the beach and sat back while N and Juliette happily scooped and shoveled, collecting little bits of shell and rock which Juliette pretended to feed to the “baby” she had created from a mound of wet sand.  Jules would join me under my umbrella every few minutes, seeking a shady refuge as the sun blazed hotter and hotter, but she couldn’t ever bear to stay put for more than a couple of minutes.  While the sun and the surf and the fruity drinks left me feeling laid-back and lazy, this kid was totally energized by it all.

Swimsuit, sunglasses, and a hat is hands-down my very favorite look on her…

And…she’s in.

Juliette would declare victory every time a wave crashed over her belly and she managed to stay on her feet.

Bring it on, sea!

The kids “baked” a special cake for La Verne and then sang Happy Birthday to her, insisting afterwards that we each take a bite.

In the late afternoons, the day’s fun-fest would catch up with Juliette and she’d succumb to the waves of sleepiness that lapped at her eyelids.  Sleepy-time is one of the very few chances I get to snuggle with my girl-on-the-go anymore.  I’ll take it.

We sun-setted at the beach once again on Sunday, this time seeing more grays and blues than oranges and pinks in the closed-in sky, but still, it was peaceful and lovely and we all got in the ocean for a salt water dip.  Any day that begins and ends at the beach is a good one.

Since the guys had given the zipline tour rave reviews and since we each had an “excursion” included with our resort package, La Verne and I channeled our inner daredevils and made our own trip out to the jungle on Monday morning.  It was an hour-long ride through small Mexican towns and up along remote mountain roads to the Canopy River outpost, where we were each strapped into a harness, handed a pulley, and told to fly like the wind.  And wowsers, we flew, zipping along the course at heights of 200 feet and speeds of 55 kilometers an hour.  Our guides were silly and fun-loving, but reassuring and encouraging as they sent us from one platform to the next.  La Verne and I toasted to our bravery with a couple of cold beers at the beautiful patio when it was all over, dizzy with pride and the sweet relief that comes with being on solid ground.

We rejoined our crew back at the beach, where we lunched on fish tacos and squeezed in a few minutes of ocean play before herding the kids back to the room for some quiet time.  Juliette’s freckles were a bit darker than when I’d kissed her goodbye few hours earlier!

The rest of the day was another haze of swimming and sunsets and mango tangos.  I had wondered if by our fourth day at the resort I’d be a little antsy, wanting to get out with Shane and Juliette and do the exploring and sight-seeing that’s such a big part of our typical vacations, but…NOPE.  The days of bouncing from pool to beach to pool to beach were just so blissfully easy, and it was abundantly clear that Juliette was perfectly content to swim that same stretch of pool and run that same stretch of beach over and over and over.

THIS IS THE LIFE, huh, kiddo?  (Don’t get too used to it, Jules!  Vacations will include sleeping on the ground and fetching our own water come summer.)

Juliette played an endless game of fetch with the ocean, tossing a stick into the waves and retrieving it from the time and again.

 

We put the kids to bed early on Monday night and settled on a room service dinner – the food was the one thing that had started to feel a bit “tired” at this point, but we got to eat in our pajamas and Cards Against Humanity made for some pretty enthusiastic bouts of laughter.

Tuesday was departure day, but our flight had been pushed back to the evening, which meant:  bonus beach time!  After chilaquiles and cappuccinos, we set up camp at the beach, happily resigned to flying home with a little sand in our hair.

 

Shane spotted a couple of iguanas near the pool and called the kids over to take a look.  They thought it was funny to see these two “hugging”.

We were told that our all-inclusive experience would end at 2:00, so Shane and Jack put in their request for one last round of gin and tonics at 1:55.

And then Juliette and I took one last dip in the pool.

…and then it was time to peel off our swimsuits and put on real clothes for the first time in five days.  NOOOOOOO!!!

You can see that none of us were quite ready to say adios.

It was a long trek home with multiple flight delays and we rolled up to our front door after midnight sleepy and stiff, but fully-dosed with Vitamin D.  And tequila.  Mission accomplished.

2017 has been pretty epic for us, vacation-wise.  We didn’t really set out to go quite so big this year, but gosh, when your brother asks if you want to join him and the family for a few days at a lovely house on the Hood Canal, or when flights to Paris drop to $500, or when your friends scout a deal at a beautiful all-inclusive Mexican resort, you seize the day.

So then, HOLA, MEXICO!

Our flight landed in Puerto Vallarta last Thursday evening and we wound our way through the hoards of eager cabbies to the friendly shuttle driver that awaited us curbside.  It was a quick drive to the resort, where we were ushered into the sparkling lobby and handed a round of margaritas before we’d even checked in.  This all-inclusive thing was looking promising!

We ate dinner at the rooftop bar and then headed back to the room to get settled and tuck in the kids.  Juliette begged to take a dip in the pool that adjoined our back patio and I told her she could put her feet in the water for a minute while I unpacked a few things.  She stripped off her clothes and grabbed her swimsuit as I was rooting around for her pajamas – I protested for all of thirty seconds and then shrugged my shoulders in happy surrender.  We were on vacation!  It was 9 pm, but it was 80 degrees outside!  Go nuts, kiddo.  

And then…this.  (Funny how a four-year-old can occupy an entire King bed!)

We rolled out of bed to discover a beautiful breakfast buffet set up just steps from our back patio, so we headed down to pile up our plates and dine pool-side.

This celery-cactus-pineapple concoction became a morning staple (and Juliette’s daily dose of veggies).

Shane headed out for a morning bike tour after breakfast while Juliette and I hung back and laid low.

I got out for a jog along the beach before lunch, thrilled to discover that our resort sat on a miles-long stretch of wide open shore.

And then, having all gotten our exercise, there was nothing left to do but…lounge.

And drink.

And swim.

We wrapped ourselves in our towels around 4 pm and walked over to the beach to catch the sunset and feel the squish of sand between our toes.

Shane and Juliette assumed their typical beach stance, hands held while the waves broke at their feet.

 

Juliette was delighted to discover how much warmer the ocean water is down in Mexico.

There was a lovely pool perched just over the beach, so we took a quick dip to compare pool temp with ocean temp.

And then the skies got golden and the clouds got all purply-blue so we jetted back down the shore.  Juliette met up with a couple of girls that she had befriended at the pool earlier that day and chased the tide with them, running and splashing and giggling, adding a whole other layer of glow to the magic occurring on the horizon.

MEXICO!  You are so, so bueno.

We went back to the room to change out of our swimsuits and check on poor Nico, who had come down a terrible cold the day before.  Shane, Juliette and I ate dinner at the beach club and took our time meandering back to our room, reveling in the warm breeze and the glittery lights and the absence of any reason to hurry.  This. was. vacation.

La Verne and I kicked off Saturday with a beach jog, in preparation for a full day of all-inclusive gluttony.

Breakfast was chilaquiles and pancakes and mimosas and some of the sweetest, juiciest pineapple I’ve ever tasted.

Thankfully, N was on the mend and ready to romp, so all hopped in the pool after breakfast.

We spent much of the morning in the oversized hot tub, tucked into an idyllic little enclave off the main pool.

“Mango Tangos”:  the beverage of champions!

Juliette was a total fish, paddling up and down the pool in her little purple floaties.

 

We lunched pool-side, luring the kids out of the water with plates of burgers and fries.

And then, more swimming!  This girl was insatiable.

We all dozed in the afternoon and then strolled over to the beach for another sunset show.

I tell you, this Mexican tide was magnetic.

Gah!  She was just SO HAPPY.  It was just SO GOOD.

Juliette’s new buddy appeared on the scene just as we were heading for our lounge chairs, so Juliette about-faced and was back at it again, chasing waves and being chased.

I keep trying to put words to just how magical this particular sunset was, but I’m coming up short.  So I’m just gonna let these pictures speak for themselves…

Once the last hues of orange had faded to gray, we all walked back toward the lobby to watch the 7 pm tree lighting.  It felt a little strange, listening to a guy in a Santa hat belt out Jingle Bells while we sat around in tank tops and sipped champagne, but we rolled with it, certainly feeling merry through it all.

Each of the kids got to light a candle (flip a switch) for the lilies floating in the lobby fountain.  Juliette took great pride in her task, smiling shyly and placing her light just so when the MC called her name.

We cleaned up a bit and then walked back over the beach club for fajitas and cocktails and ice cream.

La Verne and I were on our way out with the kids when we turned around to find that the guys were missing.  This is where we found them (this bar serves cocktails to go!).

By the end of the day, we’d lost count of how many pools we’d swam in or how many margaritas we’d drank.  We only knew that we had lived large and laughed hard.

Up next: more swimming, more sand, and a little adventure!

We didn’t do a whole lot on Tuesday – it was cold and we were lazy.  But there was a lunch date:

A trip to the mall:

A quick jog to the end of the driveway to capture this indigo sky:

Mucho love for Grandpa:

Mucho love for Hayden:

And some intense puzzle-doing!

Wednesday was also quiet, though I did do some fairly strenuous pie-making, chopping apples and rolling dough with my favorite little sous-chef.

It was freezing and windy that day, but we made it outside for a few minutes, to see the cows and pick up sticks and play a game of chase.

I know, I know – this is a whole lotta Jules.  But that hat!  Those rosy cheeks!

Finally, the girl could handle the cold no more and asked Daddy to take her in.

…and then changed her mind about going inside when we got to the porch.  She was feeling the pull of those wide open spaces!

Shane and I went out with Tiff and Jason that evening to the local watering hole for Wednesday wings.  These Minnesota skies are somethin’ else.

Lite beer with green olives is apparently the Minnesotan beverage of choice when consuming massive piles of chicken wings.  Cheers, Tiff!

We exchanged presents that evening, snacking on Christmas cookies and hot apple cider while the kids tore into their gifts.

Juliette, as per usual, made out like a bandit.

Gah!  Watching this guy hug his granddaughter will turn you to mush.  Denny’s heart is BIG and generous and soft.

Thursday morning was full of kitchen time and good smells and lots of laughter as the family gathered at the house.

We were just beginning to feel a bit antsy when Denny pulled up to the porch in his combine.  Your chariot awaits, Juliette!

The fields near the house still needed to be harvested, so Juliette and Shanay kept Grandpa company while he went to work.

Once the kids had put in their time on the combine, we walked next door to chat with the cows and toss them a few ears of corn, to perfectly round out the country experience.

We’re not in Seattle anymore, Juliette!

The kitchen was a frenzy of activity when we got back inside as Pat put the finishing touches on the meal.  Ham and turkey and mashed potatoes and cranberry relish and creamed corn and green beans, oh my.

We ate and then collapsed in a pile on the couch, eventually summoning just enough energy to put together a gingerbread house and slice into the apple pie.

Happy, happy Thanksgiving!

Shane and I had picked up a 1000 piece puzzle mid-week and I stayed up late Thursday working on it, desperate to see it through before our Friday flight back to Seattle.  I’d forgotten how satisfying it is to slip together two perfectly-fit pieces and I was stupidly excited to show Shane the finished product in the morning.  Voila!

We hit the road late Friday morning, waving a teary goodbye to Grandma and Grandpa (and the cows) as we pulled out of the driveway.  I’m so thankful for those kind-hearted Schnells, for several days of rest, for chicken wings and tractors and incredible country sunsets.  I’m especially thankful that I get to share a row with these two.

We haven’t spent a holiday in Minnesota since Juliette was born, foregoing the trip when she was a baby because of the new-parent flight-phobia we felt in those first couple of years, and then opting to make the trip in the summer when she was two and three.  But this year we decided to pull out our hats and mittens and see if our tough girl was tough enough for a true midwestern winter.

We rolled up to Shane’s parents’ house Saturday evening after a long day of travel and were greeted with warm hugs and home-cooked ham.  We were exhausted but looking forward to a few days of solid rest, of cozying up inside with family and food.  A few days of quiet.

We woke late on Sunday and lounged for awhile in our pajamas, eventually rallying to head over to Andes Resort to watch Avery bomb down the big hills on his snowboard and to watch Jules creep down the shallow bunny slope on her skis.  Turns out November in Minnesota agrees with this girl!

She was a bit timid at first, begging Shane to hold her tight as they sloooooowly made their way down the hill.

But she grew a bit bolder with each subsequent run, eventually laughing hysterically as she cried, “Faster, Daddy!  FASTER!”

Shane was also feeling bold and rode the chairlift to the top of the mountain, nailing his first-ever downhill run on skis!

Avery, on the other hand, was a madman out there from the get-go.  Kid’s got skills.

These two were so adorably proud of themselves.  Guess I better learn how to ski soon, or they’re likely to leave me in their dust…

Disappointingly, this afternoon on these slopes (made of manufactured snow, by the way) was our only romp in the powder as the rest of the week was dry, but we made the most of it!

The rest of the day was lovely and low-key – we napped and did puzzles, popping outside for a few minutes of fresh air and a quick check-in with the next-door cows, then retreating indoors for pizza and games with the whole family.

Juliette relished every moment of cousin-time and all three kids were exceedingly generous with their attention. Hayden must have played 47 rounds of Go Fish by the time our week there was over.

Monday was cold, but our lunchtime burgers and milkshakes left Juliette with oodles of energy to burn, so we headed over to Noonan’s Park to hit the playground.

Tell me again, Jules – does the cold weather bother you?

…’cause Grandma and Aunt Tiff are looking a little chilly!

Shane tentatively stepped out onto the newly frozen ice at the pond across the street, at which point Juliette desperately pleaded with him to return to solid ground.  Walking on water wasn’t a concept she could get her head around.

I dunno, Shane…is that really a good idea?!

Ok, seriously, Shane, IS THIS A GOOD IDEA?!

With outdoor swimming clearly out the question, we opted to head to the YMCA for a dip in the indoor heated pool.

Shanay joined us mid-swim and Juliette almost flew into her arms.  I got so much joy out of watching Juliette’s face light up with a million-kilowatt smile every time a new family member appeared on the scene.  The whole week was a chorus of, SHANAY!  GRANDPA!  AUNTIE TIFF!  GRANDMA! UNCLE JASON! HAYDEN!  AVERY!  SHANAAAAAAAY!

Tuesday ended with pink skies and Tiff’s enchiladas.  More Go Fish.  Pat’s peppermint bark.  A bottle of wine.  Vay-cay.

Up next:  presents, puzzles, turkey and a tractor.