It’s been hard to sit down and put words to my feelings about this new Covid-19 way of life.  Partly because my feelings are all over the map.  But also because the news is changing so quickly (and somehow also not at all?).  Five weeks ago we were wondering how in the world we’d weather a two-week school closure and I was conceding to Shane, “Ok, we’ll skip dinner at our the Rusts’ house just this week, until this whole thing blows over”.  And now school is closed for the rest of the year and I feel like I may never hug Nancy or La Verne again!  I’m in an emotional tailspin, feeling ups, downs, and every-which-ways every 15 minutes.  I’m loving the extra time at home after a season of being away so much, but am increasingly desperate to be out and about.  I’m thankful we’ve stayed healthy and absolutely believe that we can get through this, but I’m frustrated and bitter about all the missing-out, about the cancellation of the kindergarten musical and the Easter service at church.  One moment I’m listless, unable to extract myself from the couch, and then I’m suddenly swept up in a frantic bout of doing, cleaning the house with a vigor that’s almost manic.  I’m tired.  A little worried.  And lately pretty lonely.  The drama of it all overwhelmed me last Sunday as we joined our Easter church service from our couch and Matt sang Waymaker and I saw La Verne in a little square on the upper left corner of our TV playing her cello from her music room.  I missed our church and being in the physical presence of people so much that I couldn’t help the tears from spilling over.  This quiet retreat into the cozy enclave of our home was nice for a couple of weeks, but I think I’m done now.  Over it.

Juliette’s done, too – she came home from playing with the neighbor kids outside later that day and when I asked her about the chip crumb on her mouth (we’ve had so many talks about not sharing snacks right now), she started to sob, wracked with a wave of guilt.  “I’m so sorry!  It’s just hard, Mommy!  I want it to be like it was!  I’m sorry!  I won’t play with anyone else until the virus goes away, I promise…I’m sorry!”  She then stormed down the hallway, slammed her bedroom door, flung herself onto her bed, and yelled “I JUST WANT TO BE ALONE!” when I knocked gently on her door.  This damn virus has turned my little girl into a brooding teenager!  She eventually let me in and I held her close and then Shane entered a few minutes later to find us both weeping.  Happy Easter, folks!

But like we sang that earlier that morning,

You made a way
When our backs were against the wall
And it looked as if it was over
You made a way

There’s a way through this.  I don’t know what that looks like or when full relief will come, but God will make a way.  Maybe God’s making a way right now, even as we’re in the thick of it?  Maybe this is the way, piecing together a slap-dash homeschool schedule and savoring the beauty of our own backyard and scheduling Zoom calls with our family and friends?

We winged the first two days of homeschool, but after being interrupted by Juliette every seven minutes because she was bored or couldn’t find her colored pencils or wanted to show us the spider outside her window, we found we needed more structure.  Shane laid it all out in half-hour increments.  Piano, writing, snack, art, science, lunch, math, reading, RECESS.  On the best days we hit five out of six subjects.  On the worst days, which are usually the days when Shane and I are busiest with work, Juliette ping-pongs between us until we finally send her outside to see if she can rustle up some outdoor playtime with the neighbors.  It’s hard.  But the moments when I’m able to work with her quietly working alongside me?  Those are the best.

Science scrounge: basement constellations.

Juliette misses her teachers and her classmates fiercely and has taken to writing letters to them each day.  I loved this note for her teacher…”Luckily I am just a few blocks away.  Feel free to drop a letter off…”  She’s so subtle.

Juliette’s school holds an online “assembly” every day for all the kids and the principal reads a book or the art teacher leads an activity or the school counselor takes a poll on how everyone is feeling.  I do enjoy peeking over her shoulder, getting to see her school’s leaders in action.

Juliette had her first call with her class last week and her teacher asked everyone to wear a hat for show and tell.  This kid took the challenge all the way!

The utmost kudos to Shane for truly channeling his inner teacher.  I knew he was good, but he’s good.  He leads Juliette through piano lessons each morning and sets aside time with her each afternoon to work on projects for the coding class she’s taking.

Meanwhile, I bake with her.  Measuring flour counts for math, I guess?

I think, I hope, we’re finding our rhythm.  I can see Juliette becoming ever-so-slightly more independent, able to enjoy time on her own for 20 or 30-minute stretches.  Last week I came into her room and found that she’d converted her bed into a boat and was ready to cruise the world, with a plastic plate for a ship’s wheel and an Easter basket full of snacks.

And at the end of the day, even after it feels like I’ve told her 47 times that I don’t have time to play with her, she still likes me!  Sweet, forgiving child.  At bedtime, after I tuck her in, she begs me to stay and cuddle, because “she’ll miss me so much!”  I’m more than ready for a god-dang break by 8pm, but Juliette, I appreciate the sentiment.

Finally, on Fridays, we toast with white wine and ginger ale, celebrating the fact that we made it another week.

Like much of the world, we’re leaning on technology to connect us with our nearest and dearest.  Church online, virtual happy hours and breakfasts with the gang, Zoom calls with the family…while it’s no substitute for spending time together in the flesh, it’s something.

Thankfully, thankfully the weather has been good enough to be outdoors and we’ve done lots of exploring in our neighborhood.  We scaled a large hill near Me Kwa Mooks with our neighbors last month and came across a couple of surprise rope swings.

And the blooms.  The blooms!  I lamented the fact that we missed the UW cherry blossoms this year, but West Seattle is full of pink and white.

Our backyard hit peak magic last week, color-wise, and has been the perfect place to eat lunch al fresco, or to send Juliette outside to burn off some wiggles.

This is the view from where I work – while these girls are sitting a little too close together, still, I’m thankful for neighborhood playmates.

I’ve been impressed with how good the kids are at finding things to do outdoors.  For example, the burial and memorial tribute to the bird that crashed into our window and died took up a good couple of hours while I was tied up on a work call.

We dusted off our fire pit a couple of weeks ago and have loved ending the day with sunset s’mores.

Plus, our back porch is perfect for P.E.!

…and…snow angels?

I mentioned the big emotions Easter Sunday brought, but in between the crying there was a very sweet egg hunt and some cherished family time.  Plus, Juliette loved having an excuse to put on a dress and tights and raid her dress-up drawer for her bunny ears.

 

 

 

I wonder what my lasting memories of this virus will be.  Probably people in masks.  Playgrounds strung with caution tape.  Working nights to make up for days full of distractions.  But also, this.  Family togetherness like we’ve never known before and likely won’t ever experience again.  Inconvenient, patience-testing, love-filled, restorative togetherness.  I’m here for it.

It’s been tough finding time to dive into vacation photos as my evenings are often spent catching up on the work I didn’t quite finish during the day (#homeschooling!), but I just poured myself a glass of red, put on some Jack Johnson, and am feeling the island vibes as I look back on our few days in Maui.  Such simpler times, way back in February…

Oh, to start each day with a breakfast of fresh, tangy fruits…

And then hop right into the pool!  After our grand tour du Hana on Thursday, we committed to laying waaaay low on Friday, claiming a couple of poolside chaises first thing in the morning and then just chillin’.

Juliette’s resort look #1:

And #2:

And #3, my personal favorite:

We played and swam and waded and reveled in the feeling of having nowhere to go.

Live your best life, kiddo.

Juliette is at such a great pool age – brave enough that she wants to do the slides and cannon-balls, but cautious enough that she still loves to just hold onto my shoulders and take a spin around the pool with Mama.  I haven’t played so much, so hard with this girl in months.  We both ate it up.

We left the hotel on an afternoon mission for Hawaiian shave ice and found fluffy, fruity treats at Ululani’s.

…and then it was back to the beach for more sand and surf.

Saturday was much like Friday – sunny, mellow, and carefree.

Shane rented some snorkel gear and waded out with Juliette early in the morning.  She wasn’t super-keen on keeping her face in the water, but Shane got out for some good fish-finding and turtle-watching.

A couple of kids handed off their boogie board and floatie as they were leaving the resort and we spent much of the day just bobbing around on our new toys…

Then, we hit the slides.

Again, and again, and again.

We drove into Lahaina in the afternoon for pina coladas with an ocean view.

And then, a magical sunset on a quiet little stretch of beach at Makena Cove.

I could watch this girl play in the sand forever.

Whales!

Sayonara, sun.

Sunday was also much like Friday, easy-going and blissful.  I thought that by Sunday I’d be itching for another adventure, but after a morning walk along the beach, I was feeling just fine about settling into my pool chaise for the foreseeable future.

Nice height, Jules!

We did venture out in the afternoon for a “hike” (a 10-minute walk along a paved trail) at Iao State Park.

We climbed the 133 steps to the lookout (Juliette counted every one!) and then enjoyed the pay-off.  I love these rugged Hawaiian landscapes.

A quick stop for ice cream, because…just because.

And then right back into the pool.  Juliette was insatiable, swimming stronger and further day by day.  And the slides!  The slides…  Not pictured here is the Lava Tube, a twisty-turny slide that spits you out so fast you can’t help but get water up your nose.  Juliette loved it.

We headed to the beach for one last Maui sunset and Shane caught some mini-waves on the boogie board.

Maui, we heart you.  So much.

Monday.  Monday…  Monday was go-day, we just. weren’t. ready.  We ate one last plate of fresh fruit, went for one last dip in the pool, grabbed a few last rays of sunshine.

Juliette tossed a coin into the fountain out front as we were leaving, wishing that we could come back the very next day.

What a trip!  What a restorative, luxurious (well-timed!) respite in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  This past month has been hard, to say the least, but I’m so thankful for those few days of zen before the storm.  Someday, when this madness is over, those aqua waters will call us back.

It feels impossible that a month ago we were in Hawaii, footloose and fancy-free.  COVID-19 was hardly on our radar.  And now, as of today, we are officially, fully, per-the-Governor’s-orders homebound.  How quickly the tides have turned.  But more on that later…I’m still wrapping my head around our new normal.

So…Hawaii!  In February!  How we anticipated this trip, saving up Hilton points and shopping for swimsuits and snorkeling across the basement rug in anticipation of a much-needed mid-winter break.

We stepped over the threshold of the Grand Wailea on a Wednesday afternoon, were adorned with a matching set of leis, and skipped giddily down to the pool while we waited for our room to be ready.

Ah, the pool!  That aqua, sparkling, glorious pool.  Pools, actually.  We found that one waterslide took us to another which took us to another.

(That dangling front tooth popped out two minutes after I snapped this picture.  Thank goodness.)

From the pool it was a short hop down to the beach for wave-jumping and tide-chasing.

We checked into our room late in the afternoon, traded our wet swimsuits for dry ones, and then chowed down on poké and pizza at the pool bar while whales splashed in the distance.  I kid you not.

We ended the day with sunset wave play…

And a dip in the hot tub.  And it felt. so. good.

We woke up Thursday eager to take on the island.  Good moooooorning, Maui!

Though our primary Hawaiian intention was to sit back and sun-soak, we figured we owed it to ourselves to spend at least one day touring the island’s sights, so Hana it was!  The long, slow, winding, epic Road to Hana.  Capital R.  Bring it on.

We hit play on our audio tour, telling ourselves that we couldn’t stop at everything, but dang it!  How do you drive past this without stopping?

While parts of our guided tour were a bit cheesy, kudos to the host for excellent direction-giving.  Up ahead on the left, you’ll see three parking spaces by the side of the road.  Pull into one of them, look back across the street, and climb through the dark hole you see in the rock face.  Uhhhh…ok?

OK!  So cool.

 

This kid is down for anything.  I love it.

Once we emerged from the lava tube, we high-tailed it to Nahiku for roadside stand banana bread and windy wave-watching.

Viewpoint alert!

Ice cream alert!

We grabbed a quick lunch and then allowed ourselves one final stop at Waiʻānapanapa State Park before buckling in and pressing on to our final destination.  This place was worth the detour!  Black sand and aqua ocean.  Such a good color combo.

 

At this point we put the pedal to the metal (which on the Road to Hana means soaring at about 30 miles per hour) and pressed on toward the Pools at O’heo.  We were determined.  And when we got there, they were closed.  The high winds made for unsafe swimming, but no matter – we figured we’d see what the nearby Pipiwai Trail had to offer.  And it had LOTS.  Rushing waterfalls and a gigantic banyan tree and a magical bamboo forest…is this real life?

Juliette was a trooper.  As was Shane, who spent the entire hike recounting a very detailed version of The Lord of the Rings (again!) to keep her excited and engaged.

Bamboo isn’t native to Maui, but if ever there were a testament to the invasiveness of this plant, this is it!  When the wind gusted, the hollow trunks would click against one another to create the most zen percussion sound I’ve ever heard.

Waimoku Falls!  Made it!

We camped out on a rock for a few minutes to have a snack and rest our feet, then turned right back around…daylight would be fading soon!

The final leg of the loop back to our hotel at Wailea was through Kaupo, which was one of the bumpiest roads I’ve ever been on, but once we were over the hump, we were rewarded with silky-smooth asphalt winding through wind-blown landscapes.

Shane pulled over at the side of the road to check out the view from this bluff and was nearly blown away.  Like, literally blown away.  That wind was insane.

We dashed back to the car, closed out our audio tour, and then Juliette drifted off to sleep in the back seat while the sun turned the sky pale pink.

Good night, Maui.  GOOD NIGHT.

I love love LOVE a snowy weekend in the woods, so I seized on the MLK holiday as a chance to recreate last year’s magic at Sun Mountain Lodge in Winthrop.  We headed out on Friday after school, made it over the pass before the incoming snowstorm could close the roads, and spent the first night in Wenatchee, eating bad takeout and swimming at the sad hotel pool.  But Saturday!  Saturday was a new day, complete with a waffle bar breakfast and a fresh dumping of snow.  We frolicked for a bit at the park across the street, grabbed coffee from the Wenatchee indoor market, and then set out toward Winthrop.

Oh, Winthrop, you charmer, you.  Kitschy as all get-out, but I eat it up.  We lunched at the Schoolhouse Brewery, tossed a few snowballs, and then trekked up the mountain to the Lodge.

We were greeted by Floyd, the resident stuffed bison, and got busy with checking out the snow conditions.  Conditions were: deep!  And good.

We sledded, hit the hot tub, played pool and foos ball and ping pong, and then cozied in for the night.

Sunday was ski day!  First though, the requisite scraping of the windshield with a credit card (teach ‘em young!) and carrot cake from Rocking Horse Bakery.

 

 

Juliette and I drove down to the bakery, but Shane skied the 8-mile trail from the Lodge to town – this is the magic of Winthrop.

We brought our ski trailer for Juliette, figuring she’d poop out on her own skis after only a few minutes, but that girl went, and went, and went.  She’s such a sweet little trooper.

Finally, though, she called it!

We soaked our tired legs in the hot tub and then Juliette and I did some ski drills in the field outside our room, practicing our “shuffle, shuffle, slide” while Shane cheered us on.  We closed out the day with a romp on the playground and pizza at 22 East.

Monday came far too fast – Shane got out for one final trail run while Juliette and I got out for one final game of tag near the playground.  The snow was soft and powdery, but Juliette found one chunk of intact snow on the slide and declared it her snow-baby, which she carefully cradled in her arms for the next half hour.  

I braced myself for the drama that would ensue when we would have to leave beloved snow-baby behind, but we ran into a couple of neighbors as we were heading to the car, at which point Juliette tossed baby on the ground so she could throw her arms around her buddy.  All’s well that ends well!

We made a pit stop in Leavenworth to stretch our legs and bust out the sled one final time, and then we were back in Seattle, where all was covered in a blanket of…rain.  Give me all the white back!

We’ve made a tradition of writing down our New Years resolutions and tucking them into our Christmas stockings, to be pulled out at the end of the year for a check-in.  By the time December rolls around we have only a faint memory of what goals we actually set, which means there’s an element of surprise when we unfold the lists we made 12 months earlier.  There are usually a couple of resolutions kept, a couple of shrugs over resolutions forgotten and unachieved.  And I’m ok with it this way – Schnell resolution-ing comes with a heaping load of grace.  We’ve accepted that it’s only the things we really want to do and really have time for that will bubble to the surface.

That said, even if we’re ultimately just gonna do what we’re gonna do, I still like this practice of taking stock and intention-setting.  I like having this record of evolving dreams and priorities.  I especially love hearing what comes to mind when I ask Juliette what she wants to do in the year ahead (“Go swimming a lot!  Snuggle with Mommy more!  Play cards!”).  Here’s my 2020 hopeful look-ahead:

Re-strike the work/life balance.  I’ve mentioned a few times how all-consuming my job has been lately and I’m ready to pump the brakes.  I’ll keep my laser-focus during office hours, I’ll work the occasional evening when duty calls, but I’m Trying (capital T!) to do away with work being the last thing I think about as I drift off to sleep and the first thing I think about when I wake in the morning.  Most of that late night pondering/worrying is completely unproductive, anyway – I have yet to experience a midnight epiphany that solves a budget crisis or gets a much-needed building permit.  So I’m going to limit the off-hours email-checking, bite the bullet and officially work Fridays again (I’d rather work on Friday while Juliette’s at school than work every evening after bedtime), and leave work at work.  Just think of the time and energy this will free up for me!  So I can…

Make art.  Sometimes with Juliette.  I’ve largely been on an art-making hiatus since Juliette was born – most of my creative energy (when I have it) and time (when I have it) has gone toward taking photos and keeping this blog current.  But I miss my sketchbook.  I miss the print-making studio.  I miss using my hands to MAKE.  I’m still putting together the framework for this one, but have a book of drawing prompts that Juliette and I have pulled out a couple of times on quiet evenings at home and the hour we spent doodling different bumblebees was incredibly satisfying.

Bang out at least five home improvement projects.  When we bought our 1950’s house a year and a half ago, we immediately put together a list of 30 projects we wanted to complete over the next few years.  I hopped to it and rolled A LOT of white paint onto our walls when we first moved in.  We fixed a leaky faucet, replaced our upstairs windows, got new gutters, cleaned up the yard, and then we…fizzled.  Transitioned into maintenance mode.  But I’m getting my second wind, ready to bid farewell to our pink toilets.  Eager to give our basement some love.  Eyeing a couple of unsightly shrubs that have gotta go.  Just typing out this list makes me giddy – home makeover round 2 starts NOW.

Play more board games.  Shane and I went out for a date-night/game-night during the holidays at a local game shop and I as I looked around at the small groups of people huddled around us, I was struck by how engaged they all were.  No one was checking their phones or sitting on the fringes.  People were laughing over their Cards Against Humanity or agonizing over their next move in Settlers of Catan and I thought, we should all do this more often.  Playing games forces a focused interaction that I feel like I’m lacking – with Shane, with Juliette, with friends…I hereby deem 2020 the Year of Qwirkle.

And I always include at least one warm-and-fuzzy self-care resolution that tends to fall by the wayside by mid-February, so in that tradition I’m committing to move with intention for at least 10 minutes EVERY DAY.  Take a moment before bed to breathe and to stretch.  Bring back the lunchtime walks.  Do Barre again.  On the very best of days, cross-country ski!

Cheers to a year of aspiration.  And so much grace.

 

(a 2020 Mama-Jules collaboration…)

The 2019 highlight reel!  These are a few of my favorite things…

Favorite book:

As per usual, I fell short of my annual reading goal, but finished 17 books and liked most of them.

Favorite fiction was Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson.  I grabbed this one from the library on a whim while I was waiting for Juliette to pick out her books and it surprised me the very best way.  Woodson has a way of bringing you up close and personal with her characters in so few words.

Favorite non-fiction was Shameless by Nadia Bolz-Weber, because it challenged ideas of mine that I didn’t even know were up for debate.

And favorite of favorites, in a category all its own, was Devotions by Mary Oliver, because…Mary.  I lugged this book around on nearly all of our camping trips and have the fondest of memories of reading about nature and beauty and solitude while the waters of Priest Lake shimmered in the distance.

 

Favorite movie:

I was a year late on watching this one, but I caught Bohemian Rhapsody on one of my flights to San Diego and YOWSERS.  Totally brilliant.  I never really loved Queen, but suddenly found myself with a profound appreciation for Freddy Mercury’s creativity and talent.  Five stars.

 

Favorite TV show:

Again, I’m late to the party, but helloooooo Stranger Things!  I initially passed on the first couple of seasons, put off by the sounds of shrieking girls and screeching creatures as Shane binge-watched this show downstairs, but he finally convinced me to sit down and give the show an honest shot before Season 3 dropped this summer.  So we watched Season 1.  And 2.  And then 3.  And it was good.  So ridiculously, outlandishly good.

(Honorable mention to Succession!)

 

Favorite podcast:

I’m still faithful to my tried-and-true trifecta of The Daily, Reply All and Heavyweight (Heavyweight!  Listen to #27 Scott and try not to cry).  But I’ve got a new favorite, and it’s got very little substance, but WHATEVER.  I’m loving Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend when I want…a friend!  So light, so funny, so easy to imagine you’re in the room with Conan and his assistant Sona.  Best episodes include his chats with Malcolm Gladwell, Steven Colbert, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

 

Favorite song:

Oh boy.  This one is hard.  Especially now, when it feels like we’re stuck in an endless loop of Frozen 2 tracks.  We listened to a lot of Taylor Swift this year.  Hopped on the Billie Eilish bandwagon.  Juliette and I instated a Dixie Chicks revival.  But the song that probably got the most play is Some Type of Love by Charlie Puth – it’s poppy and sweet and perfect for belting out when Jules and I are cruising in the Subaru.

 

Favorite purchase:

We have a concrete pad in our backyard that’s been screaming for a fire pit since we moved in.  After searching high and low for something not-too-big and not-too-ugly, we landed on the Solo Stove and it’s been great!  Compact, burns crazy-hot, and the perfect reason for the kids to gather on the backyard on a summer evening.

 

Favorite personal pastime:

Totally stumped on this one, as I feel like 2019 was the year of “painfully minimal personal time”.  Work kind of sucked me dry last year.  But.  BUT!  The work travel that zapped me was also dotted with some pretty incredible beachfront evening strolls.  How lucky am I that my project site is a mile from here?!

 

Favorite family pastime:

Juliette has recently graduated from mind-numbingly simple games like Candy Land to board games that I actually want to play.  Ticket to Ride!  Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle!  Quirkle!  We’re in such a good game groove right now – I’m loving winter weekend mornings when we can crank up the fire place, pour a couple of mugs of hot chocolate, and open up the game cupboard.  (Again, though, as I say every year, camping ultimately for the win.)

 

And, favorite moments…

 

Show me whatcha got, 2020.

We eased into 2020 nice and slow – I love those few days after Christmas when the holiday bustle has subsided and we can be 100% on break.  Juliette and I hit the library and our favorite coffee shop and perfected Deck the Halls on her keyboard.

(That book!  She’s really rubbing in it with this whole growing-up-fast thing.)

Champagne and Sprite at our favorite Pioneer Square oyster bar…

Followed by a stroll through Occidental Square, which has never looked lovelier.

Juliette and the neighbor kids schemed up a sleepover one night and before I could even ask about the details, they were loading up their wagon with Juliette’s blanket, pillow, and toothbrush.  See ya later, I guess…?

Once all the kids had properly lined up their sleeping bags in the playroom, they spent the afternoon rehearsing a sing-along to Frozen 2’s greatest hits and then hopped back to our house in the evening for a special performance.  The parents were all politely asked to sit quietly and refrain from taking any videos – this was exclusive stuff.  (Photos permitted.)

Juliette’s solo was so sweet.

But the full quartet’s rendition of Lost in the Woods was my fave.

Once everyone traipsed back across the street for bedtime, Shane and I looked at each other in our quiet, empty house and wondered, “What should we do?”  So we went out!  We got super-crazy and ended up playing Quirkle and drinking beer at the neighborhood game store.

We invited the crew over for our annual New Years Eve bash, where we played charades and ate and drank and watched the ball drop in New York City before sending the six year-olds off to bed.

We busted out the Veuve and my grandparents’ antique wine glasses for the midnight toast.  Special champagne in special glassware for the most special of friends.

HAPPY 2020!

We rolled out of bed reluctantly on Wednesday morning, but rallied with the promise of Jack’s homemade bubble waffles.  Juliette put on her princess dress and grabbed a noise-maker and did her damnedest to keep the party going.

And then, as a grand finale to our holiday traditions, the Polar Plunge!  I love this event.  Such community, such euphoria.

One clarification:  I love being a spectator at this event.

Juliette thought about joining the guys this year, but only went so far as to take her shoes off.  I don’t blame her!

I took to heart that old adage about the first day of the year setting the tone for the rest of the year, so I made time to get out for a long walk and to hit the playground with my girl and to cozy up by the fireplace with tea and a book.

We took a family walk at Lincoln Park that evening to catch what will be first of many magic 2020 sunsets.

And then, on that final weekend before heading back to work and school, there was nothing left to do but CHILL.  Juliette and I got a head start on our new years resolutions and crafted and cuddled and spent one last night reading by the light of the Christmas tree.

What a break.  What a gloriously slow, restorative way to end one year and begin a new one.

Juliette went bonkers waiting for Christmas to roll around, because Christmas meant Portland, and Portland meant COUSINS!  We arrived at Mitch’s on Monday afternoon and were there all of three minutes before Juliette was digging her swimsuit out of her suitcase and dashing out back to hot tub with Elise.

Then Santa hats were donned and Parcheesi was brought out and these two officially attached themselves at the hip.

I tried to lure the girls out of the house on Christmas Eve for a hot chocolate run or a playground spin, but they really just wanted to hunker down and cozy up.  I didn’t fight it.

Elise is 11 going on 16 these days, but there were a handful of times last week when I saw the kid in her come through, when she couldn’t help but join the “littles”.  Gingerbread for the win!

And then, Parcheesi…so much Parcheesi.

Morgan, my kindred tradition-keeper, insisted on Polar Express before bed.

Plus milk and cookies for Santa, with carrots for his reindeer!  The excitement in the house that evening was palpable, with Morgan running through the living room with the iPad every 15 minutes to give us an update on Santa’s whereabouts.  The Tracker says he’s in Poland!  Now Norway!  Iceland!  Once Santa reached New York, it was time to put these kids TO BED.

I awoke to the house-rattling pitter-patter of children around 7 am on Christmas morning – by 7:30 Morgan was taking roll call.  Let’s get to it!  Santa came through, big-time.

Santa brought me boots and cross-country skis – so glad my wish list made it to the North Pole.

And Juliette’s very own Parcheesi board!  Looks like I’m gonna need to learn to love this game.

My mom wasn’t quite up to making the trek to Portland this year, so we did a post-gift recap with them over Facetime.

Grandma and Grandpa were missed (on both sides), but technology is a wonderful thing…

…and speaking of technology, Morgan and Elise’s Nintendo switch won “gift of the year”.

If only Santa hats and Christmas PJ’s were in style all year round!  Such a good look on you, Jules.

We pried the Nintendo controllers out of the kids’ hands late morning and rallied the troops for a short hike at Tryon Creek.

Rocket balloon practice consumed a good portion of the afternoon…

…and then we gathered in the living room for a round of charades, where we learned that Morgan and Juliette are quite the actors and that Mitch’s rendition of “toy car” looks a lot like a terrified child running from a bear.

We ended the day sweetly and quietly, with a flute recital by Elise and a serious bracelet-making session on Juliette’s new rainbow loom.

We wrapped up Portland Christmas-Fest 2019 with hot chocolate cheers on Thursday morning and then said goodbye to the beloved Jarrell clan.  To cousins!

The one Christmas to-do still on our list was Juliette’s and my downtown holiday tour and when I asked her on Friday morning if she wanted to take a spin on the Westlake carousel, she replied, “Of course I do, Mommy!”  Deal sealed.  Shane dropped us off at the Fairmont, we took our quick spin through the gingerbread house, and then headed over to the merry-go-round.

The lines were so short and the tickets so cheap that I let Juliette ride on it twice.

 

Oh, kiddo…you have no idea how much I love doing this kind of stuff with you.

There was hot chocolate and a little shopping and one last look at the Macy’s star and then we officially called it a wrap.

There’s a lot about this Christmas season that just felt extra-GOOD.  Juliette’s anticipation was bigger than ever, and beyond the going-bonkers over the presents and the lights and the parties, she’s starting to grasp the deeper concepts of gratitude and generosity.  Our home felt so warm this season, our neighborhood so friendly and festive.  I missed having my parents with us in Portland, but my mom’s strength and positivity through her diagnosis and chemo has buoyed us all.  Our little advent tree, laden with hand-written notes about what we’re thankful for, is out of bare branches.

’Tis the season for rituals and traditions and all things nostalgic!  I’m holding space for family slow-downs per my last post, but I’m also laying the twinkly lights on thick, because Juliette and I eat that kitsch up.  There are a handful of events that December just wouldn’t quite feel complete without.

Like Ladies Weekend!  Nance, LaV, and I hit up the Cedarbrook Lodge for the fifth year running and did all the essential LW things – hot tubbing and shopping and chick-flicking…  We carefully considered and curated our movies this year and opened Friday night with Pretty Woman, wondering if the Vivian/Edward romance would live up after all these years, and…affirmative.  They’ve still got it.

These are the thumbs-ups of ladies who just scored a slew of sweaters for 80% off.

Meanwhile, Shane did this.  Because he’s the best.

Juliette is increasingly interested in Santa and asked a couple of weeks ago if we could pay him a visit.  Luckily, he happened to be hanging out at the neighborhood brewpub!  Jolly old Saint Nick and a pint of my favorite amber to boot!

(This is where she asked him for puffy paint and he looked at her like, “I thought that was popular back in the 80’s?”

That evening we invited the neighbors over for wine and cookie decorating, which turned into a contest over which kid could pack the most sugar onto a single gingerbread man.

The girls closed us out with a flute/keyboard duet of Jingle Bells.

And though they missed a few notes, it was perfect.

We decided to forego the Nutcracker this year and instead spent a Sunday evening with the Chens at Lumaze, a “Winter Fairytale at T-Mobile Park”.  Fairytale, indeed – was this for real?!

The kids had a blast bounding through the forest of lights.  So much twinkle!

And then we strapped on ice skates and took a few wobbly loops around the rink.

The park is set up as a maze dotted with landmarks that kids can check off a list – this pony was my favorite.

…and Juliette loved this 20-foot doll.

Later, Lumaze!

Our annual Christmas dinner with the Chens and Rusts is always one of the merriest nights in December.  A feast (THANKS, JACK!) and presents and laughter and wine and sugar and so much gratitude.

I bought Isaiah a Minecraft beanie which he opened and then exclaimed, “This is perfect!  I just became a Minecraft You-Tuber today!”  Nailed it.

Shane and Jack shared a fitness theme, Jack gifting Shane pushup bars and “vitamins for the middle-aged”…

…and Shane gifting Jack a promise to register with him for the Seattle-to-Portland bike ride next summer.

This crew rocks.

We made our usual pilgrimage to the Menashee House last weekend, popping over there after dinner to take a quick gander at West Seattle’s finest light show.  This is as kitschy as Christmas gets!

And to close out our circuit du Santas, we spent Sunday evening at Snowflake Lane.  I’ll admit I felt a bit nuts, standing in the rain for a cheesy Christmas parade, but I don’t know…how many more years do we really have with a kid that thinks this stuff is magical?

“He’s coming!!!”

We’ll see you in Portland, Santa!

And finally…some pre-Christmas quiet.  Juliette and I kicked off Christmas break with a living room slumber party by the light of the Christmas tree. All was calm, all was bright as we reveled in this season of togetherness and anticipation and utter delight.

The message at church last Sunday was all about Joy.  JOY.  Seeking joy.  Sharing joy.  And pausing to fully revel in joy when you unexpectedly stumble upon it.  Be present in the spontaneous moments of mirth, “stop and snap a memory picture of them”.  This struck a particular chord with me – I pack joy into our holiday calendar in the form of tree hunts and Santa visits and Christmas light tours, but I’m seeing there’s actually so much extra goodness to be found in the in-between times, if I just step back for a hot minute and let life happen.  This past weekend was busy, with a company holiday party and a birthday party and a Santa visit and cookie decorating and a Christmas lights bonanza, but the moment that’s given me warm fuzzies all week long wasn’t a part of any Christmas programming.  It was a Saturday evening and I was feverishly cleaning the house before our neighbors came over for dessert and Shane was blaring Chicago songs on Alexa when You’re the Inspiration started playing and he grabbed me for a living room slow dance.

“You know our love was meant to beeeeee…the kind of love that lasts foreverrrr…”

I sighed at first, annoyed by the interruption (dishes to do!), but then channeled my inner romantic and leaned my head against his chest.  Juliette stood by and grinned at the sight of the two of us swaying together with our hands clasped in some kind of slow waltz, and then she did the same – put her left arm around an imaginary waist and raised her right arm to hold an imaginary hand and swayed right along with us.  She looked up at us both with twinkling eyes and then dashed to her room to grab her teddy bear to bring him back for the chorus.

“You’re the meaning in my life…You’re the inspirationnnn…”

Shane leaned down and kissed me on the cheek and then Juliette kissed her teddy bear on the cheek in just the same gentle way and I nearly burst into tears with the goofy tenderness of it all.

JOY.  I’m here for it.