Juliette turned to me when we were walking home from lightrail the other evening and said, “Mommy?  I’m sad because the leaves are coming off the trees.”  I feel ya, kiddo…it was indeed one heck of a summer.  In addition to the camping trips and the family vacations through the mid- and north-wests and that fun impromptu getaway at the coast, there was much savoring of summertime in Seattle as we made sun-soaking part of our weekend routine.

After years of insisting that I am not comfortable on two wheels, family bike rides became a new favorite pastime.  We did Lake Washington Boulevard and the Sammamish River Trail and the Burke Gilman and, on one gorgeous Sunday, a 6-mile stretch of the Green River Trail.  One of the advantages of hauling Jules in the bike trailer is that we can also load it up with a picnic lunch for a mid-ride break!

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Friday family dinners with the Rusts have become a mainstay in our calendar, rain or shine.  Shine is extra-good, though, when we can pick up BBQ and eat outside.

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Jefferson Spray Park continues to be the perfect place for a close-to-home cool-off.

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And oh, those evenings at Lake Washington…those are what I’ll miss most as the weather cools.  We’ve always loved the lake, but since we bought our paddle board, we’re enjoying it all the more.  This girl looks good in a life jacket!

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THIS.  I want more of this!

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But alas, seasons change and daylight wanes, so we’ll find new ways to fill our weekends.  Frisbee golf shows some promise as an autumn hobby – the three of us ventured out to Lakewood a couple of weeks ago and while I usually play the part of the observer so as not to embarrass myself, I took some pointers from Shane and after a few holes, my discs were consistently traveling in the forward direction!

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Still, I have nowhere near the power of this animal…

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After frisbee golf that day, we all headed over to Pioneer Square to check out some of the early happenings at the Seattle Design Festival.  I was perplexed when Shane said he really wanted to see the 10-ton ice cube, but I’ll admit, it was cool.  Ice cool.  I so appreciate this guy’s knack for finding out-of-the-ordinary ways for us to get out together.

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And now, all ten tons of that ice have melted and we’ve started wearing jackets when we leave the house.  Sayonara, summer 2016.  You were dope.

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That girl has gone and done it again, turned another year older in what feels like the blink of an eye.  What an emotional roller-coaster the past week has been!  And I’m not talking about Jules…  I’m feeling all the feelings – melancholy over how quickly time seems to be passing; pride in the kind, exuberant girl she’s become; joy in watching her revel in the gifts and the cupcakes and the special time with friends; total disappointment that tantrums apparently don’t end at age two…  But the over-arching theme has been one of gratitude, for Juliette and for sunshine and for friendship.

We partied at Jefferson Park last Sunday, celebrating with wiffle ball and pizza and a few of Juliette’s buddies.

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I think (or desperately hope, at least) that she has inherited her dad’s natural athletic ability!

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Juliette was just about to take a whack at another one of Jason’s pitches when she stopped mid-swing and cried, “my balloon!”

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Sure enough, that giant number 3 had come untied and was floating away to never-never land.  Juliette was super-bummed, but I promised her we’d do our best to find it later (and then I promptly ordered another from Amazon…).

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Holy crap, they’re cute.

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How do you end a perfect evening?  With a warm embrace from a cherished friend…

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I snuck into Juliette’s room the morning of her actual birthday and tied the new balloon to her bed – I’ll never forget the wide-eyed look of wonder on her face as she whispered in disbelief, “Mommy!  It came back!”

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Shane and I took her out for a bakery treat at Fresh Flours before dropping her off at school – I told her she could have anything in their beautiful pastry-filled display case, and she chose…yogurt and granola, which is what she eats at home every single morning.  Routine for the win.

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We walked over to her classroom and I spent a little extra time with her before drop-off, wanting to ease the good-bye and give her a tear-free start to her third year (sadly, it didn’t work).

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I may have left her bawling in the morning, but when I came to pick her up, she was livin’ large, strutting around her classroom with this giant birthday crown on her head.  I told her it was time to head home and she asked if she could pleeeease stay a little longer so that she could head out to the playground with her new friends.  I happily obliged.

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I eventually coaxed her home and we packed some snacks and our beach gear for dinner by the lake with Shane, La Verne, and Nico.

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Make a wish!

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I watched these two taking in the sunset together and it was almost too much to bear, knowing that not only had our girl’s second year come to an end, but also that these summer nights by the water are numbered as Fall quickly approaches.  SIGH.

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They clearly weren’t too broken up about it.

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Inevitably, we tell the kids sure, they can put their feet in, and one of them ends up soaked.  Poor N was much more distressed by his wet cupcake than he was by his wet clothes, though.

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Jules had a few gifts to open back at home, so we set up a throne for her on the back porch and let her tear into them.  Gift-giving is so much fun at this age, as she’s equally excited by a flashy new game and a practical package of underwear.

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Happiest of birthdays, Juliette Grace!

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I’ve been going through our photos and videos of the past year, putting together the highlight reel, and gosh, we played hard during age two – we sledded and danced and swam and camped.  I also read Parenting Without Power Struggles and made a New Years resolution not to scream at my child, but really, two was a blast.

And now it’s time to get on board with three.  THREE.  I expect three will hold more dancing, more hilarious chatter, more adventure.  More milestones, too – in the past few days, Jules has said good-bye to diapers and learned how to count to four in Spanish!  Yep, our daughter is THREE.  I’m liking the sound of that more and more.

This is it…one last update on our two year old, as she turns a whopping THREE tomorrow at 9:03 am.  The latest and greatest:

 

She’s a regular comedian these days, making us laugh whether she means to or not.  A few recent gems:

Said first thing in the morning (with a chuckle), as I walked into her room:  “Mommy?  Daddy doesn’t have any boooooobies!”

Said when I asked her if she had room in her belly for dessert, since she’d just eaten a bunch of chicken:  “I have room for dessert!  The chicken is in my bottom!”

Said when I asked her if she had any dreams the night before:  “Yeah!  I had a purple dream, and a pink dream, and a black dream, and a blue dream!  And there was a brown lion and he said ROARRRRRR!”

Said when we were out on a walk and a short white guy passed us on his bike:  “Mommy, what’s his name?”  I don’t know, hon.  “I think that was Johnny Cueto!”  (Johnny Cueto is a (tall, black) pitcher for the Giants, who we hadn’t talked about for weeks.)

Said with the utmost enthusiasm whenever she’s about to ask for something she knows I might say no to:  “Hey!  I have an idea!”

And then said when I invariably cave and tell her she can watch a show or have a snack:  “Yeah!  It’s going to be great!”

 

Speaking of the fact that I’m putty in her hands, Shane likes to play the hardass and “set firm limits”, but who are we kidding?  If I remember correctly, this was going on about 30 minutes after we’d told her it was time to get in bed…

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While she seems to derive a certain amount of satisfaction from making her dad and me crazy, she’s surprisingly uncomfortable when Shane and I turn our frustration on one another.  If I get the least bit snippy with Shane, Jules is quick to ask, “Mommy?  Why are you being mean to Daddy?  Daddy, are you sad?”  The other night at dinner, when Shane and I got into what I would call a “friendly debate”, Juliette put both hands up in the air and shouted, “Hey guys!  RELAX!”  Looks like we’ve got a little peace-maker on our hands…I never would have guessed.

 

She’s fascinated with spiders and slimy creatures and all things creepy-crawly – snail and slug hunts are a new favorite pastime.

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Furry guys are cool, too, if they don’t bark or jump or outweigh her.

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She continues to be frustratingly independent, insisting on shutting her own car door and buckling her own car seat and pouring her own milk.  But she’s also acquired some fun new skills along the way, like learning how to draw faces:

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And how to nibble her foods into letters (“It’s an M for Mommy!!!):

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We pull out the Magna-Tiles every couple of weeks, and puzzles will hold her interest for 15 minutes at a time, but Purple Baby continues to be the tried and true favorite.

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She loves playing restaurant and will take our order at anything resembling a pickup window.  This is from our camping trip back in July – so nice to have my “morning coffee” served to me while still in my sleeping bag!

 

Favorite real foods include pistachios, watermelon, and tacos.  That’s our girl!

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Perhaps most significantly, we said good-bye last month to the teachers and classmates that Juliette has come to love over the past year and a half.  An opportunity presented itself at a great new preschool a little closer to home and we decided after much heartache to expand Juliette’s horizons a bit.  I second-guessed our decision on her last day at her old school, as Jules gave the biggest, warmest hugs to her teary-eyed teachers.  This place was so good to her!

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She started at the new place last week, and it’s been…a little rocky.  Some dramatic drop-offs, some reports that she’s had a tough time eating or napping, but she’s always smiling when we pick her up at the end of the day and when we ask her if she likes her new teachers and playground, she responds in the affirmative.

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Plus, she loves the new commute!  Morning train ride with Mama, evening bike ride home with Daddy!

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Finally a random smattering of pictures I haven’t known what to do with…

A family stroll through Schmitz Park:

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The face she made when her Dad asked her if she wanted to go look for Pokemons:

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A post-market blackberry binge:

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Seward Park shenanigans with her best bud:

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The requisite wink shot…

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Happy two years and 364 days, Juliette.  It hurts my heart a little to watch you grow so quickly.   Hot dang, though, kiddo – you’ve become an exceptional cohort.

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We had a couple of things on the agenda on Friday, the first of which was COFFEE.  I loved everything about Sisters Coffee Company, from the velvety lattes to the deer heads mounted on the wall.  Perfect spot for a proper Grandma-Mama-Jules date.

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Around the corner from the cafe is a beautiful little quilt shop – we popped in to drool over fabric while Juliette excitedly pointed to all the pretty “blankies” on the wall.

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Once we’d painted downtown Sisters red, we drove over to Smith Rock for a good dose of nature.  The desert landscape was stunning and in such sharp contrast to the densely wooded Metolius River we’d strolled along the day before – this place is like the southwest of the northwest.

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Lord knows I love green, but it turns out brown can be gorgeous, too.

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I spy Shane and Jules…

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We made our way down to the base of the rocks and then I peeled away from the group to hike up and over the cliffs.  Juliette wasn’t thrilled about being left behind, but the summit was calling my name!

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I breathlessly scampered to the top and then paused for a couple of minutes to take in the view.  That spire on the left is called Monkey Face.  It took me awhile to figure out why, and then I made out the strong brow and small mouth facing out of frame – see it?

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Kudos to Central Oregon’s weather for being so good to us that week.

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It was a quick, steep descent down the backside of the mountain to the quiet river below.

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I hooked up with Shane, my dad, and Jules and we stopped to eat our lunch in a patch of shade.

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I sometimes wonder if this girl understands how lucky she is…

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Hey, buddy!

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We made it back to the car just as Juliette was on the verge of crashing.  I thought she might doze on the way home, but there was just too much exciting stuff flying by the car window.  Like these alpacas!  I spotted those adorable little babies and asked Shane to slam on the brakes.

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I want one.

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We got back to the house and immediately passed out for a solid family nap – it seemed that a week of adventuring had caught up with us.

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Rested and refreshed, Shane and I skipped out before dinner for a little gin tasting at the Cascade Street Distillery.  We finished a gin/vodka flight and a round of cocktails in the space of about 30 minutes – don’t we look happy?

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There are few things this guy loves more than walking out of a liquor store with a hefty box in his arms.

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We ate dinner at the house and then made the short drive over to Sisters Meat and Smokehouse for a dessert of beer and beef jerky.  When in rural Oregon…

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We had breakfast in town on Saturday morning and waved to the deer that grazed in the field near the house.  I sure was going to miss these guys!

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We said our good-byes and hit the road to Portland around 10:00.  First, though, one more deer spotting…

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And one more Sisters latte!

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We popped by Suttle Lake on the way to Mitch and Kathryn’s.  Calm, clear water, a recently renovated lodge, and a lawn full of games – we’re already looking at making reservations for this place for summer 2017!

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We arrived in Portland late afternoon and kicked back on the porch while the girls partook in a joyous reunion.

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Ok, I kicked back.  Uncle Shane is just too fun to stay out of the fray.

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Morgan and Jules enjoyed a little downtime before dinner…

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And then really revved it up after dinner for a pretty intense dance party.  Miley Cyrus for the win!

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We squeezed in one final adventure on Sunday morning before heading back to Seattle, loading up the bikes and scooter for a ride across the Tilikum Bridge.

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I had my doubts about whether or not Juliette could make it across the whole thing, but she rocked it.

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We ended our ride at Elizabeth Caruthers Park, where the girls splashed in the fountains, hoodies and all.  65-degree weather be damned!

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And with that, Schnell Family Tour de Oregon 2016 was a wrap.  Thanks, Mom and Dad, for showing us the sights and stoking those backyard campfires and making us feel so at home in your little corner of northwestern paradise!

We left La Pine Wednesday morning, full of energy after a hearty breakfast and a round of veggie-rich green smoothies (seriously, thanks, Mom!).  We decided to take the circuitous route to our rental house in Sisters and make a stop at Hosmer Lake, as I had heard that the super-clear waters were a good place to paddle board and kayak.  We had a little trouble finding the one small stretch of non-marshy water access, but once we landed, Shane pumped up the board, Jules buckled her life jacket, and they were off!

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They took a quick spin around the inlet and then came back to pick me up.  I wasn’t convinced that our inflatable board would support all three of us, but we managed a family loop and landed back at shore with only slightly wet butts.

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Since I was coming off four days of single parenting, I figured it was fair to ask Shane if I could sneak away for a solo paddle while he and Juliette ate lunch on the shore.  He happily obliged and I set off to find my SUP-mojo.

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Found it.

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I made my way through the channels, getting stuck in the reeds only once, while Mount Bachelor soared in the distance and rainbow trout glided beneath me.  The water was so clear.  So quiet.  So perfect.

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I rowed like hell back to Shane and Jules once I realized how long I’d been gone and then plopped myself down on a log to sip the jar of Rosé my mom had thoughtfully packed in our cooler.  Jules gulped down some of Grandma’s home-brewed Kombucha, and then we were off to Elk Lake for another water fix.

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We spread out our blanket on the rocky beach at Elk Lake and splashed for a bit.  It was gorgeous there, but Juliette was much more taken with the ice cream the kid next to us was eating than she was with the scenery.

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So we caved.  Ice cream for the win!

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I told her she had to share her scoop of salted caramel with her dad.  Which she did, happily.

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And then she swiped the rest of my mocha almond cone…  I really need to learn how to say no to this kid.

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But she lays it on so dang thick!

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We joined my mom and dad in Sisters later that afternoon.  We’d blown past naptime and had a little time to kill before dinner, so Shane set up his tent in the backyard for Juliette to play in.  When we asked her a couple of days ago what her favorite part of vacation was, she said, “Being in the tent!”.  Two year olds can be so wonderfully easy to please.

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We ate dinner and drank beer at Three Creeks and then Shane tucked in a wiped-out Jules while I headed out with my dad to snap a few photos of that gorgeous country evening light.

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Fields and mountains and sage brush…this is the stuff of my dreams.

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We kicked off Thursday in “downtown” Sisters, which consists of a few blocks of charming shops and eateries.  We met up with a couple of college friends for coffee, did the bakery circuit, and scored a like-new one-dollar Thomas the Train book for Juliette at the thrift store.

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We drove up to the Metolius River later that morning to check out the fish hatchery and walk along the water.  We pumped our quarters into the fish food dispenser and watched Juliette toss handful after handful of pellets into the tanks.

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She could have fed those fish for hours.

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When we ran out of quarters, Shane got thrifty!

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Finally, we pried Jules away from her fish friends and headed down to the bridge.

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I’ve never seen a river this color before – aqua and foamy in the fast-moving parts, deep deep blue in the calmer waters.

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Juliette looks a little concerned, doesn’t she?

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That’s better.

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We ate lunch on the banks of the river and watched the water change colors as the sun peeked out from behind the clouds.

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Digging his new aviators…

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And I know, I’m gushing, but these colors.

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We walked for a bit, sat for a bit, and then headed home.

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While on his bike ride earlier that week, Shane had met a guy that described the Metolius as “magical”.  I now see what he meant!

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We ate burgers back at the house and then grabbed a beer at the pub around the corner.  Doesn’t my dad look thrilled to have a drinking buddy?

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We took the long way home, watching the clouds roll in over the mountains and waving to a few deer that hung out in the field across from the house.  I love Seattle, but…I could get used to this.

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Up next:  a rocky hike and some more time with the cousins!

Just as the post-vacation sheen from our time in Minnesota was beginning to wear off, we packed our bags and headed out again, this time for a week in Central Oregon with my parents – I love August!

To break up the seven-hour haul to La Pine, we spent last Friday night in Portland.  Bonus: a quick catch-up with Morgan and Elise!

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My dad was in town and joined us for a brew-pub dinner with the kids.

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These girls may have had one too many beers…

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We enjoyed a leisurely Saturday morning at the house, soaking up the cousin time.

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And then Shane strapped on his bike helmet, packed (and repacked, and repacked) his bags, and tossed me the car keys – my stud of a husband set out on a four-day 200-mile bike-packing trek from Portland to Bend!

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See you on the flip side, hon!

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Meanwhile, my dad, Jules, and I made the relatively short (but still sooooo long) four-hour drive to La Pine.  We were greeted by my mom and Bernie and quickly settled into life among the trees – evening strolls in the woods and subsequent bucket baths to wash away the dust that sneaks between your toes.

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Sunday was warm and sunny, so my dad and I took Juliette to the Sun River Aquatic Center for a dip in their pools.

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She dug it.

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So did I.

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We dined that night at La Pine’s finest Mexican joint and then hit the local playground for a sunset romp.

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That wink!

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As we turned onto my mom and dad’s street that evening, we spotted a deer and hopped out to say hello.

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It’s so nice to let this little spitfire run free on the traffic-less open roads…

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We came back from our deer hunt to find a campfire roaring in my parents’ backyard.  This is the face of a kid that knows without a doubt, fire=marshmallows.

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Jules and I woke on Monday morning to the smell of fresh coffee and sizzling bacon (thanks, Mom!).  I think this guy wanted in on the breakfast action:

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Fueled by caffeine and home cooking, Juliette and I headed out for a morning run/deer hunt.  No bucks spotted this time around, but we did encounter a very sweet bunny and several bushy-tailed squirrels.

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We spent the afternoon out at Cultus Lake, paddling and floating and splashing.  This may be my favorite of the several Cascade lakes we’ve visited – a large, shallow bay with ultra-clear water and then the prettiest rich turquoises as you paddle further out.

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She’s a great first mate.

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We’re still making use of the cheap little floaty boat we bought for Juliette two years ago – she cruised around the shallow waters for nearly an hour.

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We missed having Shane around, but…mama-Jules time was pretty special.  We’d start out each naptime laying side-by-side, and then Juliette would snuggle a little closer, and then put her head on my chest, and eventually just stretch out her whole body on top of mine, whispering, “I want to be close, Mommy!”.  Homegirl is gettin’ heavy, so I eventually had to roll her off of me in order to catch my breath, but those few minutes brought back such sweet memories of her baby days.

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Post-nap, Juliette “helped” Grandpa man the grill for dinner…

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And post-chicken, savored one more gooey s’more.

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This is the point at which I realized I was in for one heck of a bedtime battle…

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Juliette got her final wiggles out with a bike ride to the neighbor’s house to deliver some leftover chicken and then we called it a day.

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A fun-filled, dirt-packed, joyous kind of day…  Someone fill a bath for this kid, stat!

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Tuesday morning we had one main objective:  head to Bend and FIND DADDY!  We met up with a tired, slightly scruffy Shane at Drake Park around 11:30.  Jules shouted “Daddy!  Daddy!  My daddy’s here!” as he rounded the corner and then bounded into his arms – it was quite the reunion.

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We sat on a park bench for a few minutes to have a drink and hear the major highlights.

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Shane had rocked his ride, covering 200 miles and some serious elevation gain with his tent, sleeping bag, and food strapped on the back of his bike.  I’m so proud of him.  And so glad he got his adventure-fix – it’s good to have him back with us!

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We laid low in the afternoon, tossing the ball around with Jules and letting her roam a little on her bike.

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The weather was perfect for a river-side stroll, so after dinner we drove over to Wyeth Campground to watch the sun go down on the Deschutes.

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Juliette did some bird-watching while her dad skipped rocks.

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I love the pine trees and the water and the frequent deer sightings, but man, that Central Oregon dust makes for some seriously grimy feet!

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Jules spent a little quality time with Bernie on the back deck when we got home, and then there were baths/books/bed and a morning good-bye to La Pine as we set out for part 2 of our vacation, at a rental house in Sisters, Oregon.  Thanks, Mom and Dad, for a perfect few days at Grandma-Grandpa camp!

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Architecture has had it downturns and upswings for me over the past 11 years, but at the moment I’m flying high, ending most weeks feeling super-satisfied with the work I’ve done.  It’s a good gig.  And yet…this gig comes at a cost.  There’s a guilt-tax when Juliette has a particularly rough time saying good-bye to me in the morning and I have to thrust her into the arms of her teachers as she cries, “Just one more hug, Mamaaaaaaa!”.  I make deposits in the pity-bank most Sunday evenings, when I’d really love one more day with my girl but instead know that we’re facing four days of seeing each other only during our morning dash and our evening ritual of meal-bath-books-bed.  The anxiety toll can be steep, as we worry about how she’ll do in her new preschool or if she’ll catch the head lice found in her classmate’s hair.  Which leads me to question, over and over again, am I doing the right thing?  Wouldn’t Jules be better off spending her days at home with mama?

But really, would she?

I’ve spent the past two and a half years reminding myself that Juliette loves being around other kids and, despite the tear-filled drop-offs, seems to find a lot of joy in the classroom.  And as she starts to show interest in what it is I do during her days at school, I’m discovering the added bonus of being able to give her an early glimpse of what the professional world looks like.  Which is why I jumped at the chance to participate in my office’s “Take Your Kid to Work Day” – I was eager to show Jules the ropes, to start planting the seeds of ambition.

She clutched my hand tightly as the elevator doors opened onto my lobby on Friday morning, excited but clearly unnerved by the fact that she was treading in grown-up waters.  Soon enough, though, she loosened her grip on me and eased into the apparent luxuries office life.  I mean..twirly chairs!

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This view!

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Walls you can write on!

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A coffee machine full of buttons…

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And the fanciest little dollhouses she’d ever seen!

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Once we’d made the rounds, I settled Juliette into my desk so that she could “get some work done” while I checked in with my team.

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Once she’d caught up on email and marked up her floor plans, we joined the rest of the kids for some pre-lunch yoga and story-time.

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By noon, she was strutting down the halls like she actually worked there.  If it were up to me, she’d be hired (good thing it’s not up to me).

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Juliette’s mind was officially blown when they pulled out the Pirate’s Booty and Capri Suns at lunchtime (serious, serious thanks to the thoughtful folks that made the mundane seem magical for a day!).  We chowed down and clocked out.

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It was a great morning – completely unproductive, work-wise, but so much fun.  Shane picked us up and as Juliette exclaimed, “I was an archi-tek, Daddy!”, my guilt and anxiety was washed away in a wave of pride.  No doubt, I still wish I had more time with my favorite little person.  But at the moment, this work-life thing feels right.  Be an archi-tek, kiddo.  Be a teacher or a doctor or a contractor.  And be a mama, too, if that’s your heart’s desire.  You can do both.

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Our last couple of days in Minnesota were packed with more water, more family time, plenty of porch-sitting and sunset-gazing.  I had eased into country life, and it felt good.

We spent Sunday afternoon out on Blackwell Lake, floating aimlessly on Doug and Val’s pontoon.

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Shane, not usually one for swimming, couldn’t resist the chance to dive and swing and cannonball.

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With that life jacket strapped on, he was the perfect flotation device.

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Juliette loved being on the boat, especially when Doug put the pedal to the metal and the wind blew through our hair.  She’d laugh like crazy and yell, “Super-faster!  SUPER-FASTER!!!”

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I shutter to think what this kid will be like when she’s old enough to get behind the wheel for real.  Watch out, folks!

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I’m so glad we got to catch up with this crew.  It’s a special feeling, being with people that have known Shane and I since before we were “Shane and I”!

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Jules was wired from our boating bonanza, so I put her in the stroller for a walk when we got back to the house, hoping she’d chill out and doze.  But then we came across these dang cows and she was over the moon again!

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She eventually crashed, waking from her nap just in time to give Purple Baby a sunset bath on the porch.

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This porch swing was my happy place…

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Monday morning, it was Juliette’s and Grandpa’s happy place, too!  It makes my heart flip-flop, seeing how fiercely this guy loves his granddaughter.

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We had hoped to spend Monday afternoon back out on the water, but gray skies and drizzle kept us from putting on our swimsuits.  We settled instead for a trip to Carlos Creek Winery and a drink on the patio.

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We gathered with the whole gang for dinner at Zorbaz that night and then walked across the street to Lake Le Homme Dieu for one last water-fix and a quick family snapshot.

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The rest of the evening was spent…back on that beloved porch!  Shane staged his own version of the Olympics by pulling up the stopwatch app on his phone and challenging the kids to dart from one end of the house to the other in under ten seconds.  They took the challenge very seriously.

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Super-faster, Jules, SUPER-FASTER!

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A final sunset (a few final mosquito bites), a round of teary hugs, and…that was it.  We were off to the airport before sunrise on Tuesday morning.  I missed that place and those people before we’d even turned out of the driveway.  There’s a lotta beauty, a lotta peace, a whole lotta love in that little corner of the Midwest.

Saturday was sunny and warm – perfect parade-goin’ weather!  We staked out a spot on the sidewalk of downtown Garfield (I use the word “downtown” very loosely, with a town population of 350!) and settled in for Juliette’s first parade.

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The festivities began with some old dudes carrying flags and the singing of the National Anthem – at this point, Juliette had yet to be sold on the whole ordeal.

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And then…candy started flying out the windows of the trucks and tractors that passed us by.  Now this kid was on board!

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Shane’s special treat?  Gin and tonics from the pub conveniently located just behind us.  I mean, gotta stay hydrated, right?

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Hey…I know that face!

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27 tractors and 10 pounds of candy later, we threw our loot in the car and drove over to Lake Latoka to cool off in the water.

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All those years of visiting Minnesota of the dead of winter…I had no idea what we were missing out on!

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“I’m kicking, Mama!  I’m kicking so much!”

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After a post-swim PB&J and a round of frisbee, we packed it up.  Reluctantly.  I coulda hung out in the shade of that tree all day, but naptime beckoned.

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In the evening we gathered at Denny’s shop for his 60th birthday bash.  One pickup after another rolled up as half the town turned out to wish him well.  I was thankful for a few familiar faces and thrilled by the chance to catch up with Shane’s Aunt Val, as she and I go waaaay back.  Almost 20 years ago, she hired me as a baby-sitter.  I fell in love with her family, then really fell in love with her foxy Minnesotan nephew when he moved in with them for a summer internship in Turlock (Doug and Val should get a match-making medal!).  I was initially bummed when the Schnells left California for Washington, but when I landed a job in Seattle a couple of years later, Val took me under her wing, giving me a place to stay while I looked for an apartment.  She was there when I signed my first post-college lease and pushed the cart on my subsequent Bed Bath & Beyond shopping spree.  The countless meals I ate at their table did so much to ease my loneliness as I eagerly waited for Shane to move up to Seattle.  Doug and Val left Washington a few years ago and I realized Saturday night how dearly I’ve missed them.

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Hey, Birthday Boy!

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There was eating (so. much. pork!) and drinking and merriment…

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A few hugs for Grandpa’s tractor…

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A round of rides on the Gator…

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A pepper-hunt in Grandpa’s garden…

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And then, the sure-fire signs of a storm on the horizon.  That sky.

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The threat of rain wasn’t gonna get this crew down, though – there was still partying to do!

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I’m not entirely sure who this girl is or how her family knows Denny and Pat, but whatever – I turned around and Jules had a new best buddy!

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Eventually the skies completely opened up and everyone took refuge indoors while it poured and poured.  We let Jules run for a few minutes in the warm summer rain and then called a day.  Sun, sugar, swimming, Schnells…these are a few of her favorite things.

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I have fond memories of our many Thanksgivings in Minnesota – the snowfalls and the smoked turkeys and the Black Friday shopping with my mother-in-law – but since we had Juliette, we figured it’s best to visit the Midwest in the summer, to avoid the sub-freezing temps and let her run free outdoors.  And so last Wednesday we made the long train-plane-automobile voyage to Alexandria to visit Shane’s family.  Grandma and Grandpa, here we come!

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It was a long day of travel, but Jules held it together pretty well, protesting only when she was forced to put up her tray table during the plane’s descent.  We rolled up to Denny and Pat’s house around dinnertime, and once we opened that car door, this kid was ready to run.

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Shane’s sister and her family came over and we spent the evening catching up, enjoying grown-up conversation while Juliette played with her adoring older cousins.  Shanay French-braided her hair, Hayden read to her, and Shane’s mom fired up the blender for a batch of pina coladas.  We were officially on vacation!

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Shane and I left Juliette with Grandma and Grandpa on Thursday morning and jetted out for a quick run.  I like to think I’m a city girl, but gosh, I do love being out in the country, soaking in the unending stretches of green and wide open skies.

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I do not, however, love the 95 percent humidity.  Wowsers.

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We rushed home, not sure if Juliette was distressed over our leaving her.  Turns out, I’m not sure if she even noticed we were gone!

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We freshened up and then headed into town to run a few errands – these cool cats were ready to roll!

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The most important stop on our itinerary?  ICE CREAM!

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We enjoyed a lazy afternoon back at the house, and then dropped off Juliette at vacation Bible school with her aunt and cousins so that we could savor a kid-free dinner out with Shane’s parents to celebrate Denny’s 60th birthday.  What a luxury to eat my ribs and sip my wine flight without chasing down crayons that have fallen on the floor or listening to a toddler plead for one more french fry!

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We watched the sunset from Denny and Pat’s porch and then reconvened at the kitchen island, for what became our nightly ritual of laughing and drinking and reminiscing.

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Shane headed out early on Friday morning for a bike ride with Hayden and Avery.  Juliette was a tad young to join, so she settled for a bicycle breakfast on the porch.

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These poor kids had no idea what they were getting into when they agreed to go for a ride with Uncle Shane!  Avery really should have pumped up those tires and left the jeans at home…

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They made it, though, slogging through all 11 miles in the heat and humidity.  Their first words when they rolled up?  “We’re never doing that again!”

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We spent the afternoon across the road at Denny’s shop, tidying up for Saturday’s big birthday bash.

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When the kiddie pool lost its charm, a few of us drove over to Bergen Lake to hang out on the dock.

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Juliette got a kick out of seeing the swarms of bluegills circle below us.

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Shane had a Bear Grylls moment when he lured a fish into a baggie with a bread crumb.  Shane let Juliette give it a quick pat-pat and then released it back to its family.

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We went back to the shop for cold drinks and a final sweep.  Don’t mind the fact that Juliette is actually pushing all the dirt back inside…A for effort?

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I took Juliette back to the house for a nap and she fell asleep before her head even hit the pillow.  I dozed for a bit and then headed back outdoors for a walk, unable to resist the pull of the countryside – three miles logged and not a single car in sight!

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Elizabeth popped a bottle of bubbly on the porch (can you believe I used to baby-sit this girl as a wee little toddler?!) and we devoured several pizzas for dinner.  Shane’s cousin, Ben (who I also used to baby-sit), called us from Georgia, where he just finished his basic training for the U.S. Army.  As I watched everyone huddle around the phone, arms around each other, I was feelin’ the family love something fierce.  These Schnells are such a good bunch.

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We wandered back across the road to the shop after dinner to watch the fellas wrangle the pig into the roaster.  Think this looks intense?  I opened a nearby cooler in search of a drink and found a big bloody pig’s head inside!

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Hayden just got her learner’s permit and logged some driving practice by taking Jules and I for a spin on the Gator.

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Seriously, this farm stuff is just way too good.

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TOO GOOD.

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