Our community group is doing a series of “self-portraits” this year, where everyone takes a turn describing themselves with whatever medium they choose.  There have been poems and essays and timelines and memento-filled shoe boxes, each telling a unique story.  Given my penchant for reminiscing, I decided to go way back (all the way back!) and cull through my photo albums, selecting and sharing a snapshot from each year I’ve lived.  This was such a meaningful exercise that I wanted to capture it here on the blog – not as a complete life story, but as a series of moments or phases or people that have stirred my soul in some way or another.  There are high highs and low lows.  And some very questionable hairstyles…

My mom woke up in the middle of the night in Denver, Colorado on October 9, 1981 and “felt things happening” – it was go-time!  She wanted to pack a lunch for my dad and get a few things ready, but my grandma promptly pushed my parents out the door and told them to get their butts to the hospital.  At 11 am, all 7 pounds, 11 ounces of me made my arrival.



I don’t remember anything from 1982, but photos tell me that I took my first trip to Florida that year and loved the beach.  I teethed on chicken drumsticks and my favorite hiding place was in the cabinets under the kitchen sink.



In 1983 we took our first family camping trip, in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.  My parents were novice campers and grabbed the cheapest gear they could find – my mom ended up zipping our sleeping bags together so that we could keep warm in the cold Colorado nights.  I got filthy and poked at the campfire with my “burning stick” (my parents apparently gave me oodles of freedom) and got my first taste of the beloved outdoors. It tasted like Tang and roasted marshmallows, so clearly I was all in.



My best friend Amy lived just two doors down from us on Dean Drive and we spent much of our time running back and forth between each other’s houses.  She had a pretend grocery store in her basement with a cash register that actually beeped and I had a sand box in my back yard, so we both brought something valuable to the friendship.  In 1984 we had matching Raggedy Anne dolls. And our moms cut our hair.

In 1985 my bowl-cut grew out.  But my bangs-game was strong.

Most of my memories from the first few years of my life involve the outdoors – winter snow forts and summer sand box castles and trips to the mountains with my family.  I prided myself on being my dad’s fishing buddy, picking the worms out of his bait bowl and then dropping my own line near the shore. Sometimes I got lucky, like on this 1986 trip to the river.



I was always trying (and usually failing) to keep up with my older brother – I remember watching Mitch zoom down the street on his bike or kick the soccer ball around with his friends, our five-year age gap seemingly insurmountable as he left me in his dust.  However, on family vacations he had no choice but to hang out with me! This is us on a 1987 camping trip to Ruedi Reservoir.



I have the fondest memories of visiting my grandparents in Maryland – Nannie kept an endless supply of Brach’s hard candy in her crystal candy dish and my Aunt Norma had an above-ground pool in her backyard.  My cousin Rachel was the coolest – she taught me all the words to Tiffany’s I Think We’re Alone Now and we had some killer dress-up sessions with treasures from Nannie’s closet. If this picture were zoomed out a little, you’d see that I was wearing a great pair of Nannie’s heels – 1988 was apparently the dawn of my shoe fetish!



The blissful summer of 1989 was our last in Colorado, as my dad was transferred to McMinnville, Oregon in the fall of that year.  My brother and I were both devastated when we found out we were moving – I was spending more time than ever with Amy, and Mitch’s best friend Duane lived two doors down in the other direction.  Our street was the center of our universe, and the thought of leaving it all behind was unbearable.



Our first few months in McMinnville were…transitional.  We lived in a couple of rentals while waiting for our new house to be built.  I was quite shy at my new school and didn’t make any immediate friends (though I do remember getting a particularly amorous Valentine from Justin McKinney).   I spent a lot of time with my stuffed animals.

By 1991 Oregon had become home – I had found a few friends and loved Friday night sleep-overs, where we’d pull out the sofa bed and watch the full TGIF line-up, making each other giggle with our Urkel impressions.

In 1992 I saw Wayne’s World for the first time, while slumber partying at my friend Lindsey’s house. We both became completely obsessed with the movie, learning all the words to Bohemian Rhapsody and creating our own low-budget version of Wayne and Garth’s cable show.  It was called Babe’s World and we recorded episode after episode on my audio cassette recorder.  I mean, that perm!  Nothing screams “babe” like a triangle-shaped haircut.



In 1993 my dad’s job uprooted our family again and moved us to Turlock, California.  I had a lonely start to sixth grade and have distinct memories of sitting at our kitchen table, telling my mom through tears that no one liked me and that I wanted to move back to Oregon and my Babe’s World co-host.  Thankfully, my loneliness was short-lived and by October I was able to get up the gumption to invite a few girls over for my twelfth birthday party. And they actually showed up! Bless their hearts. Francine, on the right, ended up being a bridesmaid at my wedding thirteen years later.



In 1994 I entered seventh grade at Turlock Junior High.  The words “Junior High” literally make my stomach flip-flop.  The girls I had befriended in our cozy, insular sixth grade classroom left me in their dust when we hit the big-time.  They joined forces with the richest, prettiest girls from the other elementary schools to become “The Preps” (my words, not theirs).  Thankfully, THANKFULLY, I had a true friend in Jody. There were times when I had an only friend in Jody. We saved each other from eating alone at lunch time and we spent every Friday night together, memorizing the words to Smashing Pumpkins’ 1979 and Bush’s Glycerine and No Doubt’s Don’t Speak.  We were convinced that good music had the power to make us cool.

In 1995 I dabbled in “grunge”, wearing men’s polos and oversized flannels and suede Vans.  I begged my parents for a skateboard, to complete the look, but they said no.  I lived for the moment between first and second period when I would cross paths with Justin Houts, the end-all be-all in cute skater boys.  He had no idea who I was.

In 1996 I left the cold, cruel world of Junior High for the bigger, colder, crueller world of High School.  On the first day of our freshman year, Jody and I walked the two blocks to our high school together, clinging to each other for dear life and setting a very specific lunchtime rendez-vous point.  We spent all week every week looking forward to the weekend, when we could hole up in the safety of Jody’s bedroom and be unabashedly silly and talk freely about our crushes and do each other’s make-up.

  And check us out, doing a selfie before selfies were even a thing!

In 1997 I had my first beer and my first cigarette and my first joint.  I was rebellious and “cool” and down-for-anything (and desperate to feel included).  I was also super-involved in my youth group and jumped at each chance to go to winter camp or to summer camp or to Six Flags.  I was goofy and fun and intensely boy-crazy (and desperate to feel included). Teenage years are hard, gang.



In 1998 I fell away from the party crowd and started hanging out regularly with a group of seven other girls.  We cruised down Geer Road on Friday nights, belting out the words to Cowboy, Take Me Away and spent hours in the aisles of Blockbuster Video, agonizing over the perfect movie selection, which we usually didn’t watch anyway because we spent the whole night talking and giggling.  Jody and I had found our people. We belonged, and it felt so, so good.

In 1999 I was asked out on a date by the nephew of a couple whose kids I baby-sat.  I said yes, and he took me to the movies to see Notting Hill and then out for milkshakes.  He was cute and wore good-smelling cologne and drove an electric-blue Dodge Neon that started only sometimes.  His name was Shane.  



In 2000 I packed up my truck, said teary good-bye’s to Shane and to Jody, and caravanned with my mom and dad to San Luis Obispo to get settled into my dorm at Cal Poly.  I had chosen to major in architecture and was immediately overwhelmed by the work load, staying up well past midnight every night struggling through calculus equations and drafting complicated two-point perspectives.  I have a very specific memory of taking my dorm room phone out into the hallway, dialing Shane’s number, and sobbing about how stressed out I was while my roommate, Jenny, invited a pile of friends to come over to our room to just “hang out”.  What had I gotten myself into?



In 2001 Shane and I settled into our long-distance relationship.  It was hard, seeing each other only once or twice a month, but it freed me up to work like a dog during the week,  and the anticipation of those weekend visits was fun and romantic. My stomach would be a-twitter with butterflies on Friday evenings as I waited for Shane to pull up in his yellow Volkswagon, and then we’d greet each other with the ooiest-gooiest embrace.  Ahhh, young love… 



Between the out-of-town boyfriend and the long hours in studio, I didn’t find myself with a lot of time for socializing with my Cal Poly classmates.  I joined a co-ed fraternity and went to handful of parties, but my heart was still very much back in Turlock with my girls.  Christmas break 2002 was a series of movie nights and Jamba Juice runs and living into the comfort of being 100% myself.



In the summer of 2003 I boarded a plane for Paris and kicked off my year of studying abroad.  That first month in France was one of the best and worst months of my life. Paris was one of Cal Poly’s smaller, less-organized study-abroad programs, so I was left to find my own way through enrolling in classes and getting my student visa and setting up my phone line and bank account – all in a language I was struggling to learn.  But I DID IT. And when my friends from Cal Poly’s Florence program came to visit me that October, I showed them around the city like I owned the place.



By 2004 I had fully embraced La Vie Francaise.  I met friends down by the Seine for late-night picnics.  I frequented a Brazilian bar named Favela Chic with my friend Nikole and sipped Caperinhas and danced until 2 in the morning.  I would wake up at 10 am and then spend hours at a time just walking through the city, stopping when I pleased at a cafe terrace to order a 2-euro espresso and write or draw pensively in my little black journal.  I got a membership to the Pompidou and fell in love with art. I took a solo trip to Berlin and Prague and Copenhagen and went to a Czech nightclub with a handful of hostel roommates (seriously, who was I?). I wore my independence like a badge of honor.



In 2005 I completed my architectural thesis, a conceptual bath house that commentated on gender and gentrification and other too-big issues.  The nights in studio were long, but when the stress got to be too much, someone cranked up Hey Ya on the stereo and we all took a dance break.  I ran my pinky finger through the table saw when working in the shop on my final model and was set back a few days by the surgery I needed to reattach the tendon.  My half-arm cast made it hard for me to model-build, but my dad came down to help me finish up my shop work and Shane came down to help me set up my final display, pulling his first college all-nighter.  All the blood, sweat, and tears was well worth-it – my determination had been pushed to new limits and my confidence that I was cut from creative cloth soared.  I was ready for the real world.  Which, it turned out, was not at all like college…

In 2006, nearly seven years after our first date, Shane and I said our I-do’s on the lawn of a lovely Turlock dairy.  Shane’s vows made me cry and the whole ceremony made my dad cry and then dinner was served and wine was poured and we all laughed and danced the night away.



In 2007 Shane and I signed about a million pieces of paper and were the proud owners of a new Columbia City townhouse.  I loved making that place home, painting each room a (regrettable) shade of blue and stocking it with (mostly IKEA) furniture.  I was finding adult-ing to be much more satisfying that I’d imagined.



On the afternoon of March 2008, my brother called me to let me know that Elise Wynn had been born early that morning.  I immediately loved her.  And I really loved this new tender-hearted side of my brother. 



We had started a c-group with a group of random folks in 2007 and by 2009 we were all-in, all the time, spending many of our weekends together.  Most of us were transplants from other states, so we were each other’s local family.  We called each other for help moving and started a slew of annual traditions, like the fall pumpkin patch/dumpling-making bonanza.



After a couple of years of dabbling in art workshops at community colleges and Pratt, in 2010 I hung twelve encaustic  paintings on the walls of the Q Cafe and invited all my friends to my real-life “opening”. I had found the realities of architecture to be less creatively-fulfilling that I’d hoped, but getting into the studio and producing a body of work that legitimized my aspirations of “artist” was incredibly gratifying.



In 2011, after a year of trying and hoping and praying for a baby, I found out I was pregnant.  Two weeks later, I started my period, which was weird, because doesn’t that go away when you’re pregnant?  We went to the doctor and heard the heaviest-ever silence where we should have heard a heartbeat. We went home and I spent the next 48 hours curled up on the couch, sobbing.  Nancy came over and I told her I just wanted this thing, this thing that just a few days earlier had been my beloved baby, out of my body so that I could move on. I miscarried that afternoon.  I didn’t move on.

I’ve termed 2012 my “dark year”, as I was all-consumed by my infertility, convinced that God, my body, and the glowing pregnant lady I often saw on my morning commute had all conspired against me to make my life less-than.  One by one, my girlfriends announced their pregnancies.  I sat across from La Verne at the bakery and struggled through tears to tell her that I was happy for her and Jack, but she knew me and my struggle well enough to know that my envy was almost suffocating.  On a happier note, the Giants won the World Series that year and we had a hell of a time watching their wins over hot dogs and fried zucchini at the Auto Battery with our crew.

On September 14, 2013, Juliette Grace reluctantly left my belly and entered my arms.  She was none-too-pleased about the whole thing, fiercely emotional from the get-go, but it was the happiest day of my life.

In March of 2014 my maternity leave ended and I returned to work, easing back into my job with a three-day work week.  Gosh, that very first daycare drop-off was rough.  ROUGH.  Shane and I stood on the street corner outside of daycare and struggled to hold it together as our very-attached baby cried in the arms of her new caretaker.  I spent as many lunch hours as possible with Juliette in those first couple of months, “jail-breaking” her on sunny afternoons for walks along the waterfront.

In 2015 we took our first trip to Minnesota with Juliette.  I loved watching her run free on the dirt roads and climb up into Grandpa’s tractor.  Mostly though, I loved watching Shane’s family love on our little girl with such abandon.  It was abundantly clear: she’s so very lucky to be a Schnell.

In 2016 we took our first camping trip with Juliette – it rained most of the weekend and we spent several hours holed up in a Roslyn cafe with the Hickory’s.  But we survived, soggy marshmallows and all, and cemented our fate as a camping family.  I was proudly carrying on a much-beloved Jarrell torch.

2017 was a year of incredible adventure – we camped in Canada and wine-tasted in Napa and did the all-inclusive thing in Mexico.  I spent a few days in Paris with La Verne.  But our close-to-home trips were some of my favorites, like the few days we spent along the Hood Canal with Mitch and his family.  We paddle-boarded and kayaked and dance-partied.  Shane scooped fresh oysters off the shore.  And got unbearably sick.  But still, the water was amazing.  And the cousin-love was fierce.

And in 2018, the Schnells bought a new house!  New to us, at least…  We closed on this 1950’s brick beauty on Monday and will move in two short weeks.  Our heads are still spinning from how quickly our very long search came to an end, but we are over the moon and can’t wait to kick off this next chapter in our lives.

 

Closing thoughts?  Mostly, I’m exceedingly thankful.  Thankful that my parents planted a nature-loving seed in me at a very young age.  Thankful for the number of kindred spirits that God has placed in my life over the years, girls and women that have carried me through some dark and lonely times.  Thankful for the places I’ve been and the things I’ve done and the person I am. But, I also see the gaps.  Gaps in the shape of places I want to go and people I want to know better and ways I want to give more.  May the next 36 photos fill in those gaps.  And so much more.

Project: Sell-House/Buy-House has been all-consuming these past few weeks, at the expense of quality family time, and blogging, and exercising, and reading, and, and, and… But we’re seeing the light at the end of this hectic tunnel and are finding ourselves with a free moment here and there to stop and smell the Spring flowers. Like last Friday, when Juliette and I took a couple of hours to grab a treat at Starbucks and then frolic through the cherry blossoms at the UW Quad.

There was so much about this afternoon that felt so, so good – the colors and the sunshine and weight of my camera in my hands again.  And the opportunity to zoom in (photographically and emotionally) on this kid.

I let Juliette snap a few blossom pictures with my phone and then she asked if we could trade cameras.  I tentatively let her hold my Canon and then we fell into a long game of “you-photo-me, I-photo-you”.

Every time a breeze would blow, we’d get a little snow-shower of petals.  Catch ’em, Jules!

After the number of weekends we’ve spent painting and cleaning and weeding and house-hunting, we were both ready to let loose and dance a little a jig.

I think we were a couple of days post-peak, bloom-wise, but I’ll trade a little extra fluffiness in the trees for a lovely carpet of pink.

I’ve missed you, kiddo.  Looking forward to getting back into our Mama-Jules groove.

After our totally-dreamy getaway to Leavenworth last winter, Shane and I committed to making an annual tradition of a February snow-cation.  This year we opted to stay a little closer to home and booked a room at Suncadia Lodge near Cle Elum, setting out a couple of weeks ago with blue skies overhead and the promise of snow in the forecast.  As our check-in at the lodge wasn’t until late afternoon, we pit-stopped at the Snoqualmie Summit to strap a pair of skis onto Juliette and let her have a few rides on the Magic Carpet.  Arms out, knees bent.  She’s got it!

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what our end game is in teaching this kid how to ski, as neither Shane nor I have been willing to invest the time or money it would take to turn ourselves into downhill skiers.  We won’t be taking week-long family ski vacations to Whistler.  She won’t be the next Lindsey Vonn.  But if we can’t sustain the skiing thing (she’ll quickly surpass my skill level!), we can just chalk this up to an early-childhood exercise in confidence-building.

There are few greater joys than watching this girl’s bravery and perseverance cumulate in an emphatic “I did it!”.  This was the first time Juliette pizza-pied her way to a stop at the bottom of the hill, rather than plowing full-speed right into her dad’s arms, and she was stoked.

It was a bluebird day, so lovely and sunny that Juliette peeled off her jacket at one point.  Gosh, I love those karate chop arms!

Once the clouds rolled in and the temperatures dropped, we traded Juliette’s skis in for her purple boots and headed to the car, eager to crack open the thermos of hot cider I had packed.

First, though, a quick romp and a hunt for the biggest “snow baby” we could find.

It was a short ride to Suncadia and by 4 pm we were unpacked and settled into our weekend abode.  Fireplace?  Check.  Mountain view?  Check.  All the coziness a girl could ever want?  CHECK.

Shane watched a lot of curling that weekend while I read and Juliette pleaded for figure skating to come back on.

We popped over to the sledding hill on our way to dinner that evening, taking a few runs on the super-slick snow.

And then closed out the day with a mellow brewpub dinner in Roslyn.  I’ll tell you, that town is quiet at 7 pm.

We woke to purple skies and snow-capped mountains on Friday morning and took our sweet time getting going.

Finally, we rallied just enough energy to walk down to the lobby and get a cup of coffee and a hot chocolate.

I could get used to sipping my latte in these chairs!

After a bit more lounging and a serious self-pep-talk (so hard to leave that fireplace!), we picked up a pair of rental skis for me from the lodge’s shop and set out toward Salmon La Sac for a winter adventure.

We figured this may be our last chance to tow Jules in the bike trailer, as she’s quickly outgrowing her chariot…

The trail was freshly groomed and the woods were so, so serene.  We crossed paths with only a couple of other skiers during our two-hour trek.

We stopped at a campground mid-way to let Juliette run circles in the fresh powder.  We chased and rolled and frolicked, giddy with the freedom and joy of having an entire snow-covered campground to ourselves.

(Hat swap!)

I’ll be honest – getting geared up and schlepping the trailer and stopping every five minutes to adjust mittens and dig out new snacks isn’t easy.  By God, though, it’s worth it.  So worth it.

Snow started falling on our way back to the car, significantly upping the wonderland factor.

Again, I could have happily passed the rest of the day with my book and the fireplace, but Juliette was jonesin’ to get back out, so we walked over to the hot tub to take a dip.  In the snow.  Dreamy, but…yowsers.  Getting out was not so fun.  Particularly since Jules decided she really wanted to stay in for a few more minutes after I’d already wrapped myself in my towel and put on my boots.

Clearly, she wasn’t at all bothered by my chattering teeth.  Take your time, lady.

We ate at one of the lodge’s restaurants that night and returned to the lobby to find a full spread of s’mores fixin’s set up by the bonfire.  Don’t mind if we do!

Saturday was go-day, but we milked every last minute in our room, reveling in the snow-capped view until check-out time.

Eventually, though, our time was up, so we packed our things and went over to the sledding hill to play in the foot of fresh snow that had fallen overnight.

Faster, Daddy!  FASTER!

While Juliette and I practiced our luge form, Shane made quick work of putting together a friendly (though slightly lumpy) snowman.

Sunshine and snow.  So happy togetherrrrrr.

Shane insisted on the testing the limits of the freshly frozen pond.

We found a pristine wide-open field on the other side of the busy hill and made our mark with an intense game of tag.

By noon, we were tuckered out and ready to head home.  Shane’s capacity for hauling this kid around never fails to amaze me.

Before we’d even made our way back over the pass, I was checking AirBNB to see if our little enclave was available for the following weekend – life has been hectic lately and I wanted more of the quiet, more of the beauty, more retreat with my two favorite people.  Alas, the room was booked solid and reality was beckoning, anyway.  So I’m tucking the weekend’s memories away in my serenity bank – Suncadia stuffed it full.

We’ve been doing the elementary school circuit and checking out kindergartens with Juliette these past few weeks, which has thrown me into a complete tizzy of mama-feels.  MY GIRL IS GROWING UP SO FAST.

And yet, even as she spreads her wings and prepares to take new flights without Daddy and me right by her side, I still feel our lives becoming more intricately entwined.  With each day that passes, with each morning commute and each pre-bedtime chat, I get to know her a little better, to understand and cherish all that this girl is becoming.  She’s not just my needy little baby anymore.

She’s my buddy, my little helper, my partner in the mundanities of grocery shopping and baking and towel-folding.  She helps me pick the best bunch of bananas from the bin at Trader Joe’s and makes sure I don’t forget the granola at Costco and chooses which songs we should listen to on the car ride home.  And when our to-do’s are done, she’s my numero uno cafe date.  Juliette’s grandma sent her a few dollars for Valentines Day and when I asked her how she wanted to spend it, she said she wanted to buy me a latte at the coffee shop!  (For the record, when she saw the loot up for grabs at Target’s dollar bin, her tune changed.)

She’s my my focus-maker, my constant re-orienter, my reminder that love matters most and life is good.  The stress of a tough work day subsides in an instant when I walk in the door and Juliette comes at me in a full-on sprint, wrapping her arms around me as she exclaims, “Mommy, I missed-ed you so, SO much today!”  Her arms are so strong now, her hugs so tight that she literally takes my breath away.  And gosh, the way this girl delights over the simplest of pleasures!  Turns out joy is ripe for the picking around every corner.

And though she’s a girl-on-the-go, often asking “Mommy, do we get to go to anyone’s house for dinner tonight?”, she occasionally requests that we slow down.  Turns out that a long pillows-on-the-floor coloring session can be therapy for both our weary souls.

It’s been fun to witness the full unleashing of the imagination as Juliette plays more and more in worlds of her own making.  Somewhere along the path to adulthood I got sucked into full-time reality and forgot about the transportational powers of the mind.  A couple of months ago I found Juliette sitting at the side table in her room, her hands around her clock as if it were a steering wheel and a line drawing propped in front of her as if it were a map.  She turned back to the stuffed animals spread out on her bed and told them to buckle up – this bus was headed to the pumpkin patch!  Rainy weather be damned – there’s just no excuse for boredom.

She dug these goggles out of a friend’s closet during a dinner party and sported them all night, claiming that they gave her the power to find bad guys.  And candy.

She got a cape and mask at a superhero-themed birthday party a few months back and disappears into her room every so often only to emerge in full get-up, shouting “Super-Girl to the RESCUE!!!”

Lately this outfit comes with a bit of sass and what sounds like a poor (though effusive) attempt at a British accent.

And can we give a quick nod to her love of accessories?

When she’s not bus-driving or fighting crime, she’s thoughtful and curious and challenges me with tough, tough questions, like “why did Jesus die?” and “how does the moon follow us around if it doesn’t have any feet?”  She barely fits in her stroller anymore, but I still squeeze her in there whenever the sun comes out, as some of our best talks happen while we’re walking around Seward Park or over the hill to our boba cafe.

Above all, she’s simply…the light of my life.  I’ve often been lost in the tedium of doing the dinner dishes or sorting the mail when I hear Juliette talking to her stuffed animals or see her dancing in the middle of the living room, and I can’t help but drop everything and just watch her, usually out of the corner of my eye so that I don’t interrupt her total self-unawareness.  I’ll quietly revel in her creativity and beauty and sweetness for a moment, feeling that goofy mama-joy well up within me until it bubbles over and I can’t help but pull her close to me and tell her just how amazing she is.  THIS GIRL.

Cheers to my big, bright, grown-up daughter (who kindly assured me the other day, “I can still be your baby until I’m nine, okay, Mommy?”).

February.  I’m so glad it’s FEBRUARY!  Because, January.  January.  It’s my least-favorite month of the year.  The post-Christmas let-down and the dark, cold days and our damned virtuous ritual of frugality, where we don’t shop or eat out or “indulge” during the month…it’s the worst.  I want to welcome the fresh year with wide-eyed optimism and excitement, but the reality is that I am always exceedingly eager to turn this first page of the calendar.  And January 2018 felt particularly hard.  Work was more intense for me than it has been in a long time – too many nights my job was the last thing on my mind before I fell asleep and too many mornings I woke up with a ball of stress in my chest.  Shane and I spent our free time trying to make good on our decision-making resolution, visiting open houses and elementary schools in an effort to gain some clarity in our family’s crystal ball, but all our research left me feeling overwhelmed and discouraged.  And since Shane goes “dry” in January and doesn’t drink any alcohol for a month, we couldn’t even unwind together over a bottle of wine.  I had to drink alone!  The despair of it all!

<<end rant>>

In the midst of the darkness and the latte-deprivation and the long hours at the office, though, there were glimmers of light.  (C’mon, you knew this was all leading up to a photo-dump of Juliette pictures, didn’t you?)

The sun came out twice last month and when it did, we were OUT, biking or walking or jogging.  We spent one bright Saturday afternoon at Seward Park, brushing the dust off Juliette’s pink bike.

It had been two or three months since Juliette was last on two wheels, so it took a mile for her to find her groove.  Once she did, though, she was jammin’.

On rainy days, we were IN, watching movies or tea partying with friends.  This girl’s got some mad hosting skills.

She’d hold an apple slice up to panda’s mouth and then turn her head and secretly devour it herself, desperately wanting me to believe that her stuffed animals were really eating their snacks.

Cheers, kiddo.  Way to be my sunshine when skies are gray.

I broke our no-spend rule for a Boba date with Juliette one Friday afternoon.  It had been a long, lazy morning and we were both itching for a little something special.  The look on her face when she sucked that first tapioca ball into her mouth was priceless.

I mean, how can you resist?

The Seattle Women’s March on January 20th was another ray of sunshine on an otherwise dreary day.  Shane, La Verne, Jules, and I made the trek from Capitol Hill to Westlake Plaza to take a stand for kindness and inclusion and respect.  Though this year’s march felt smaller and quieter than 2017’s event, the streets were still a sea of friendly faces, reminding me that unity and empathy do still exist in the midst of these divided, distrusting times.  Hope is not lost.

And finally, the slough.  Gosh, how I love a January stroll through the Mercer Slough.  We drove over there last Sunday after a particularly dreadful open house tour in Bellevue, and this boardwalk was the perfect place to shake the scent of mildew and cat pee.

I don’t know that we’ve ever actually visited this place in the summer, but I can say that winter suits it well.

And then, as if the skies knew I needed a little extra pick-me-up, SUN.

And now, it’s February.  I have a big deadline in a couple of days that will significantly lighten my work load once it passes.  The 10-day forecast shows only a couple of days of rain.  Juliette and I have been to the bakery and the coffee shop, and Jack cracked open and shared one of the finest wines I’ve ever tasted a couple of days ago.  January had its small handful of good days, but February is looking predominantly good.

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…

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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.