Welp, we’ve added the downtown Christmas carousel, my ladies weekend getaway, and the Nutcracker to the list of things we didn’t do in 2020.  Bah. Humbug.  I’m a sucker for the holiday fanfare and have missed the glitzy lights, the merriment of evenings spent with our closest friends.  BUT (COVID is all about finding the “but”) this December has still been full of wonder, in a quieter, simpler sort of way.  Our wide-open calendar has given us space to pause and drive straighter to the core of advent in meditating upon Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.

Juliette made an advent wreath at the beginning of the month and we created a nightly ritual of lighting the advent candles at dinner each night, starting with Hope and making our way closer to Love with each passing week.

I saw something on Instagram at Thanksgiving about using M&M’s and a cue card to play a game of gratitude and we did something similar during the week of Hope, each of us picking an M&M from a bowl after dinner and using this card to share some of our deepest (or lightest!) hopes.

Juliette and I jotted down a note before bed each night and hung it on our Advent Tree – she went big with her first hope:  I hope we have a good Christmas and COVID gets better and we have a good new year.

There’s been plenty of Christmas fluff, too – this is the year I found the time to play Elf on the Shelf, hiding this guy around the house each night to be sought out by Juliette each morning.

And so much Christmas crafting!  Dried orange garlands and sugar cookies and our best-ever gingerbread house.

We worked hard on our mantle game.

And Juliette wrote a very polite letter to Santa with some modest requests.

I’ve been getting up early to sneak in a walk before work and feel a happy buzz when I walk by a house that has left its lights on through the wee hours of the morning.

As winter approached and the sun rose later my walks got darker, but there were a couple of days when the full moon lit my path.

…and then dawn broke.  So good.

I see you, Rainier, and I love you!

We’ve fought the urge to hole up entirely and have done plenty of traipsing through Schmitz Park.

And, bonus:  a wide open lawn at the end of the trail!

There she goes.

We did a short hike at Twin Falls on a chilly Sunday.

And then there are some traditions I fought to keep alive, like the trip out to our beloved tree farm at Mountain Creek.  I snagged one of the last early-December weekend reservations, we made the drive, and then masked up to hunt for the best Grand Fir we could find.

Found it!

No hot cider this year, but the mountains were as lovely as ever and they still doled out candy canes as we left.

And then…tree trimming!  Crank up the Charlie Brown Christmas, Shane.

Opening up our ornament collection and spreading a lifetime’s worth of memories out on the living room floor is one of my most cherished traditions.

Juliette and I have sister bunny ornaments who have taken on personalities of their own through our goofy role-plays – Phoebe and Monica have very strong southern accents and love to go dancing downtown late at night.

SO COZY.

We brought some extra twinkle to Juliette’s room and though I think these lights are entirely too bright to leave on while sleeping, she insists.

The ginormous downtown light show at CenturyLink Field was cancelled this year, but we made do with a nighttime stroll through our neighborhood with the Rusts.  Our neighbor’s collection of inflatables grows with each passing year.

And this sweet house!  Shane runs by this place nearly every day and watched this woman spend two weeks stretching lights across her lawn and house.

And finally, COVID can’t stop the annual Mama-Jules slumber party by the tree to celebrate the onset of Christmas break.

We actually spent most of last weekend laying on the living room floor, reading and playing cards and snoozing there Friday and Saturday night.

We climbed out of our blanket nest on Sunday morning to eat our doughnuts from 9th and Hennepin and Juliette declared the Pannetone raised glazed a favorite, because the whipped cream on the side “had a texture that’s very soothing”.  A budding food critic, this kid…

I suppose the holidays at home ain’t so bad – it suits my introverted side and the extra time to reflect has mostly done me good.  But come Christmas 2021, you better believe we’ll be shouting Hope, Peace, Joy and Love from the rooftops like a flock of pink-coated Santas atop a herd of rainbow unicorns.

The next installment of gettin’ her done!  This project actually started back in January and was largely wrapped up by March, but I’ve spent the last few months tinkering with art and hanging plants and finally feel like I can call these bathrooms finished.  Ready for some before photos?

This was our hall bath, in all its pink and gray glory.  Not pictured is the lovely pink tub, just out of frame.

And the bedroom bath, which was just a teensy little half-bath next to my closet (we’ll save the bedroom revamp for another day, but you can bet I’ve said buh-bye to the beige walls and the nipple light).

While the tile work and the vanities emanated a certain 1950’s charm, the sinks backed up constantly and I couldn’t open the cabinet drawers without shutting the bathroom door.  We were ready for a revamp.

This was our first major reno project and so we were careful not to bite off more DIY than we could handle.  We decided to take on demo and final painting ourselves and let the contractor handle everything in-between.

Shane and one of our all-too-kind neighbors spent a weekend taking the bathrooms down to the studs and filling the dumpster parked in our driveway.

Juliette put on her “work clothes” to help pry nails.

Ready for some magic to happen!

It took the guys about four weeks to turn this…

Into this!

I kept everything very neutral – gray, black, white, wood – and then softened the final look with lots of plants and botanical-themed art.

The walnut vanities are the handiwork of a local cabinet shop and after two years of wrestling with our old rickety drawers, I get so much joy in watching our new ones slide smooth as butter.

The hall bath got an even bigger functionality upgrade, with a new sliding door (no more cabinet conflicts!) and…

A shower!  I had to say good-bye to my closet, but we have a second small closet in our bedroom that has ended up working fine for my things (ok, and Shane gets dressed in the guest room now.  small sacrifices!).

A soap niche that fits all our bottles and a tiny plant!  Such luxury.

We’re all super-happy with how it all turned out – Juliette is back to taking long, drawn-out baths, Shane loves that he has a shelf for his bluetooth speaker so that he can listen to podcasts while showering, and I find a little zen watering my houseplants while I brush my teeth.  Score, score, score.

November can be tough.  Cold and gray and often more winter-like than autumn-like as branches go bare and daylight wanes.  This past November bore the extra burden of election anxiety as we watched the Presidential race unfold – that first week was a haze of watching maps go red and blue while 270 hung in the balance.  Though I largely tried to put the election coverage away when Juliette was in the room, we did use last month to teach her the value of our vote – she sat with me while I filled out my ballot and we walked to our local ballot box at lunchtime while talking about what makes a person a good leader.

After a handful of restless nights and far too many hours of watching John King wave at his magic map, we awoke on Saturday morning to the news of Biden’s victory.  Juliette ran to the computer to drag Pennsylvania’s electoral votes into the NY Times interactive blue bubble, just to be sure, and then called it for herself.

Biden / Harris 2020!

I know this election didn’t go the way that several people close to me wanted it to and so I’ll try not to gush, but I will say that the renewed sense of hope in our household and our city was palpable.  We cracked open a bottle of Veuve and a fancy Kombucha on Saturday night and cozied up in front of the TV to watch Joe and Kamala take the stage.  I told Juliette it was a big night, so she dressed the part.

It was a moment I won’t forget, watching my daughter watch a woman take the stage as Vice President Elect.  It’s about stinking time.

November graced us with a handful of sunny days, which we seized upon as chances to do more wandering through Lincoln Park.

Seriously, November sun in Seattle brings out the giddiness in all of us.

I realized on this walk that there’s actually a good chunk of Lincoln Park I haven’t yet explored.  This place is such a gem.

These two…making their own fun wherever they go.

Alki Beach is also beautiful on a sunny late November afternoon if you can bear the wind and the the cold.

Juliette and I spent a half hour drawing in the sand and playing tag before admitting to each other that our fingers and toes were freezing and we couldn’t take it much longer.

(Schnell family portrait!)

We’re loving electric scooter rides along the waterfront on Sunday afternoons.

But again, freezing.

Thanks to the kind folks at Starbucks for warming us up.

We’ve been extra-careful about our interactions these past few weeks as COVID case counts have climbed and so have had to get creative when it comes to socializing in the dark and the cold.  This worked!

Also, park dates with friends have been good.  We spend a Saturday wandering the trails of Camp Long with the Rusts.

This place is full of places to climb – Juliette got very good at scaling this wall very fast.

Jason lamented a couple of weeks ago that they didn’t have any recent family photos, so I pulled out my camera and grabbed a snapshot of the four of them.

Plus this:

Jason returned the favor.

I can’t believe I didn’t know about this little grove till now!  It’s an 8-minute drive from our house and stunning on a sunny fall day.

And…the wide-open lawn.  Juliette’s favorite.

A few random snaps from my phone…

West Seattle goodness:

Whipped cream goodness:

Harry Potter board game goodness (we’re obsessed):

Virtual play date goodness (watching girls play Barbies over FaceTime is highly entertaining):

Schmitz Park goodness:

And lazy mornings in bed with books!  So, so good:

Now, on to the business of Thanksgiving, which was not at all like we’d planned it to be, but was still full of reasons to be thankful.  We had to cancel our long-anticipated trip to Minnesota, so I bought cranberries and potatoes and ham and we settled in at home yet again.

Juliette was on cranberry sauce duty and totally nailed it, orange zest and all.

Also, this girl’s apple pie egg wash is A+.

I set the table with fancy lunchtime snacks and we Zoomed with our dearly missed Schnell and Jarrell fams.

The finishing touches were put on dessert (this cranberry tart was so pretty!) and then there was nothing left to do but pull the ham out of the oven.

Stuffing and mashed potatoes to feed a small army, ham, Brussels sprouts with bacon, cranberry sauce, a little bubbly…LET’S EAT!

We ate and ate and talked about what we’re thankful for and I declared these mashed potatoes the best I’ve ever made.

As Juliette gets older we find we linger at the table longer and longer, sharing stories and jokes.  She’s got so much to say these days (ok, she’s always had a lot to say, but the things she’s saying now are next-level!).  Sometimes it’s seven year-old quandaries, like who is Princess Leia’s mom?!, but sometimes it’s her showing genuine interest in what’s going on with Shane at work or how Great Grandma Alice is doing in Florida.  I love watching her fold into our family in new and grown-up ways.

There’s been plenty to lament in 2020, but in moments like this gratitude comes easy.

We took a short after-dinner walk to make some room in our bellies for dessert and then gathered in the basement for a family viewing of Home Alone.  Juliette laughed through the whole thing and I winced in pain as Marv stepped on a nail and then got hit in the face with a paint can.  Maybe I’m getting too old for that brand of Three Stooges humor.  But no matter, I’ll watch Kevin’s antics a hundred times over just to have my giggling girl close.  Happy Thanksgiving, ya filthy animals.

October was…quiet.  Surprise, surprise.  We were mostly close to home, mostly in our home, mostly living this pandemic life of one Groundhog Day after another.  Thankfully, Juliette and the neighborhood kids have become very adept at finding new ways to spice things up.

And while the total lack of separation between work and home continues to be a challenge, I love my office mate a  whole awful lot.

Jules would give anything to be back in the classroom, but still, seeing her teacher and friends on-screen each morning is enough to make her face light up like a Christmas tree.  The teacher lets all the kids shout out their good morning’s to each other for a couple of minutes of un-muted mayhem before class starts and Juliette lets anyone and everyone know that she’s so happy to see them.

I could start a whole series of “reading with Jules” photos – always lounging in a different position, always accessorized, always so stinking sweet.

We try to break out of the confines of our home at least once every weekend to ride our bikes or tramp through a park.  Seahurst was a lovely place to skip rocks in early October…

And Lincoln Park is our new family favorite.  Partly because it’s only a 5-minute drive from our house, but also because the late afternoon sunlight there is pretty magical.

We celebrated Shane’s Birthday on the 19th without much fanfare, but with a whole lotta love.  We breakfasted on donuts from 9th and Hennepin, the new (to us) neighborhood shop that bakes seasonal goodies like quince fritters and butternut squash cake.

And then ate dinner at…home!  But there was fried chicken and cheesecake with candles and a rousing mother-daughter rendition of Happy Birthday to You.

WE LOVE YOU, SHANE.

We’ve had a handful of spectacular sunsets, like this one that put my dinner prep on pause so that Juliette and I could dart down to the water and take it all in.

Bellevue Botanical Gardens is a fall fave and while there was still more green than gold there when we visited, it was a welcome change of scenery.

Juliette likes a walk in the woods, but loves a game of tag on a wide-open lawn.

We spent a Sunday dusting off Shane’s and Jason’s discs for a round of frisbee golf down in SeaTac.

And Schmitz!  Another West Seattle gem…  Shane runs through this park several times a week and one day found his path blocked by a giant tree that had fallen during the previous weekend’s wind storm.  Seattle Parks had cleared the trail by the time Juliette and I made it down there to check out the damage, but the trunk still made for an excellent climbing feature.  Shane attempted to count the tree’s rings but lost count somewhere near 150.

We met up with La Verne and Nico one morning for a spectacular walk through the arboretum, and it was PEAK.

Juliette is completely smitten with Astro the pup and Shane is suddenly wondering aloud if maybe we should get a dog?

Kids in the time of COVID…

A lawn!  She’s off!

And then…Halloween!  I wasn’t sure what to make of Halloween this year – we skipped the pumpkin patch and didn’t know what trick-or-treating would look like, but we grabbed a few pumpkins from the grocery store and ordered a costume from Amazon just in case we were feeling festive.  Turns out, except for Juliette’s extreme aversion to the feel of pumpkin guts between her fingers, we were feeling very festive.

The gross work behind her, look how happy she is, spit-shining that thing clean!  She’s my kid, through and through.

Juliette’s teacher told the kids they were welcome to wear costumes to school on the Friday before Halloween, so at 8 am I was painting on a fox nose and fluffing fox ears.

My office held a virtual Halloween party at noon and at 11:30 I decided I should really make an effort to be part of the fun.  I popped the lenses out of a pair of sunglasses, dug a scrap of lace out of my fabric stash, and payed tribute to the Notorious RGB, God rest her soul.

Juliette eventually commandeered my RGB glasses and spent the rest of the afternoon wearing them.  This girl looks so good in specs!

Juliette rocked her costume the whole day, wanting to leave it on even for a backyard game of catch with Dad.

The Rusts came over that evening for pumpkin-carving and hot cider.

Well-done, Juliette…

And then, on Saturday, the main event!  We’d heard that several neighbors were finding ways to offer safe, socially-distanced trick-or-treating, so Juliette popped her fox ears back on and we set out to see what kind of loot she could find.

This guy sent candy down to the kids from his upstairs balcony via a bucket on a zip line…

I loved this!  So simple, so creative.

A lot of people left bowls of candy on their front porches and waved from their windows as the kids helped themselves.

Rice Krispie Treat garlands!

I saw so much effort, so much creativity and generosity on display in our neighborhood that evening.  Corona can’t keep us down.

We set up our own help-yourself station before heading out to hit just a few more houses.

We called it a night once Juliette’s bucket was full and headed home for candy-sorting and a family viewing of E.T.  October ended with the three of us packed together on the sofa, pounding mini-Snickers while tensely hoping that E.T. would somehow find a way to phone home.  This October was different than any other, a little too quiet at times, but in scrolling back through these photos I’m comforted by the beauty found close to home and Juliette’s ever-generous joy.  We’re keepin’ on.

We rolled out of bed late on Saturday, picked up coffee and one massive cinnamon roll, and then…lazed.

Our house sat right on the edge of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and we spent the latter hours of the morning exploring the woods outside our front door.

The trails were marked with colored flags and Juliette made a game of darting from one ribbon to the next.

Check out that autumnal glory!

The trails were dotted with a series of fun landmarks, like this fort…

…and this deer stand, which Shane couldn’t resist scaling a tree for.

We lucked out so hard on the weather and the foliage, as the forecast had predicted rain all day, every day.

Furry mushrooms!

Our host left us a map with a note that said to follow the ridge to the teepee…found it!

We stood here for awhile, taking in the view and catching our breath, and then it was a dash down the hill through fields of red and gold.

Rain, schmain!

We ate lunch at the house and Juliette played outside with the neighbor kid she’d befriended the day before while I did some reading – this is how a mother/daughter introvert/extrovert spend an ideal hour.  We hopped in the car mid-afternoon in search of a little adventure and found ourselves at a rocky little pull-out along Icicle Creek.

I was a nervous Nellie with Juliette up on these rocks…”Step away from the edge!  Hold her back, Shane!  Hold her back!”

This kid’s got girl-power through and through.

I can’t remember what Shane was talking about here, but it looks riveting.

We made our way down to the water and spent almost an hour throwing sticks and watching the current carry them away.

More lessons from Ranger Shane.

We headed up the rocks when we felt the first sprinkles and were in a full-on downpour by the time we made it to the car.  That was worth the wet hair, though.

Back at the house we put a pizza in the oven, cracked open a bottle of Veuve (and a bottle of Squirt for the kid), cranked up some music, and cozied in.  We took turns doing our best fake-outs of walking down the stairs (on a flat floor) while standing behind kitchen island, heads bobbing down with each step, and then laughed till our sides hurt when we attempted to take the escalator.  We snuggled up on the couch to watch the first Harry Potter movie, which just about blew Juliette’s mind, and I dozed with my feet in Shane’s lap and Juliette’s head on my shoulder.  It’s been a shit-storm of a year, but in that moment, all was right.

We decided on Sunday that we wouldn’t leave a minute before our 11am check-out and spent the morning wandering the couple of trails we’d missed the day before.

(This was where we veered very much off-trail and landed in someone’s driveway, which was unfortunate as it was a major schlep to get up there.)

Back down we go…

Eventually we got back on course and stuck close to the red flags from thereon out – Juliette made a show of touching each one with her walking stick, “for an extra power boost”.

Find those flags, Jules!

I know it looks like she’s just posing for a photo, but seriously, she held her hand up to her brow like this for a good half-mile.

At some point I found Juliette’s lens-less glasses in my inside coat pocket, which helped her to search all the better.

Once we saw the pink flags we knew we were approaching our house and the proverbial end of the trail.  WAHHHH!

Thanks, Shane and Jules, for the perfect birthday weekend.  My soul needed it.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

(Requisite silly face.)

An October trip to Paris wasn’t in the cards this year, but I’ve been feeling all kinds of antsy and asked Shane if we could please get out of town for my birthday.  He hemmed and hawed about the driving and the COVID logistics and so I let it drop.  He then spent the rest of the evening looking at AirBnB’s on the sly and told me the next morning he’d found the perfect place and would be whisking me away for a weekend surprise!  He let Juliette in on the secret and she reveled in knowing something Mama didn’t, hardly able to contain her excitement.  October 9th couldn’t come soon enough.

I packed per Shane’s vague instructions (bring slippers and a coat) and we set out on a Friday morning.  Juliette took great joy in the big reveal as we departed West Seattle:  “We’re headed to Leavenworth!  The house looks SO nice.  It has a coffee table and everything!”.  A coffee table?!  NO WAY.

Ah, the Cascades.  They catch me snapping photos through the windshield every time.

Friday’s main agenda item was a seven-mile hike at Lake Valhalla.  I admit I raised my eyebrows when Shane told me the distance, wondering if Juliette could really hang, but we hit the trail with a backpack full of snacks and our hopes held high.  We could do this!

The trail was a gorgeous mix of greens and golds and our little mountain goat handled the elevation like a champ.

The lake trail meets up with the Pacific Crest Trail for a bit and I felt an extra bump of satisfaction in knowing we were hiking even a short stretch of the legendary PCT.  Shane has dreams of our family backpacking a much bigger chunk of this someday.

Our legs began to get heavy about three miles in, but these colors kept us going.

And finally, a lake view!

The descent down to the water was particularly stunning.

We reached the lake as the sun peeked out from behind the clouds and happily settled ourselves on a group of large rocks.  Lunchtime!

Juliette loves when I ask her to snap a pic of her dad and me, but the price we pay is the obligatory silly face photo she always requests.  And the silly photo is somehow always more in-focus than the normal one.  Go figure.

Alright, gang – let’s do this return trek!

Wowee!

Shane urged me to peel off and take the short trail up to the very top of the mountain while he and Jules took their time heading down.  It was a steep climb but worth the sweaty jaunt.

Pay-off!

Pay-off!

PAAAAYYYY-OFFFFFFF!!!

I was on my lonesome for a bit as I headed back down to catch up with Shane and Juliette and while the quiet was nice, I much prefer hiking with a buddy.

Found these two patiently waiting for me on a log while eating gummy worms, and then we joined forces with three miles to go.

We blitzed the trail back to the car and high-fived Juliette for finishing her longest hike yet.  SEVEN miles and some change.  We told her we’ll take her on a hike each year where the number of miles matches her age – she’s set for another 11 months.

It was a short drive to our cozy AirBnB in Plain, which did in fact have a coffee table, but also had a sweet little deck tucked in among the foliage.  Shane and Juliette hunted for birds while I popped open a bottle of wine and tore into a bag of chips.  Happy Hour!

Shane cooked us a pasta dinner that night and we wolfed down our carbs with total delight.  We’d earned them!

We closed out the evening with game 5 of the NBA finals and while I felt no particular affinity for the Lakers or the Heat, I did really love watching Juliette yell at the iPad when Anthony Davis missed a shot and whoop it up when LeBron sunk a three.  Our family has spent A LOT of time together in 2020, but snuggling up with these two for the night still felt like the best gift ever.

Boatloads more mountain photos coming your way in part II…

A few snaps from life in August and September, before we get on with the business of October…

While summer in Seattle typically feels far too fleeting, there were times over the past couple of months when it seemed unbearably long.  What to do with a social six year-old all day when Mom and Dad have to work?  Set her up with a pile of puzzles, a set of headphones, and an iPad full of podcasts, apparently!  This kept Juliette occupied for hours, days on end.  I know – stunned me, too.

Over 20 puzzles totaling over 8,000 pieces…signed, sealed, delivered.

I knew we were bordering on mania when Juliette decided one day that she wanted to try doing a puzzle with the pieces upside-down, “for a bigger challenge”.  It was then that I suggested that she take a break.

Thankfully, THANKFULLY, our neighborhood is full of playmates that have proven to be a good counter-point to this season’s dramatic increase in alone time.  Our small bubble of West Seattle buddies has been such a blessing. As has the neighbors’ pool.

There were times when summer felt almost “normal”, like when the ice cream truck rolled by and kids up and down the street joyfully emerged from their houses, parents trailing behind them with pockets full of dollar bills.

There was football, there was baseball, there was frisbee and ladder ball and water balloons and so, so many backyard snack sessions.

And most recently, jump roping.  Juliette’s record currently sits at 47 jumps in a row.  We found that the hat and cowgirl boots are actually not ideal jumping accessories (surprise), but sometimes the heart wants what it wants.

And sometimes the heart wants to wear the jump rope like a harness all afternoon.  You do you, Jules.

We shared several backyard meals with the neighbors across the street from us in either direction.  These folks have been our pandemic sanity-savers.

Our neighbor Yuiry found a pile of old fireworks in his garage and the kids were ecstatic to see that the sparklers still had some sparkle in them.

The pandemic seems to have brought on puppy-fever for several of our friends and neighbors, and these pics of Juliette with the Chens’ newest family member are too sweet not to share.

That ear!

Most notably, in what was surely the most anti-climatic first day of school ever, this girl started first grade!  Even though she wasn’t going any farther than our living room, I still made her pose on the front porch with her backpack.  Shoes optional.

Juliette was thrilled to find that her buddy M from across the street is in her class again this year.

And then, with a couple of clicks and zero hugs good-bye from Mom and Dad, class was in session.  The first few days were pretty rough – teachers constantly reminding kids to mute themselves, mass confusion over which Teams link to click for which activity, kids raising their virtual hands every 30 seconds to report that they can’t see the picture the teacher is sharing or they have to go the bathroom or “Do you know my cousin speaks Spanish?”  Juliette’s teacher is incredibly gracious and patient (though with a firmer hand week by week), but GAH!  I could hardly bear to listen.

Pretty quickly though, it seems that kids have fallen into line and Juliette is really rocking at-home school.  She certainly needs some oversight and encouragement, but she loves her online time with her teacher and is usually motivated to finish her independent work.  Plus, I super-duper love having an office buddy.

(Ok, full disclosure – she was my office buddy for about a week, and now she sits downstairs next to Shane’s desk, because my frequent conference calls were killing her concentration vibe.  But I still get visits and hugs on the hour!)

And now it suddenly seems we have gone from this…

To this:

Waterfront sunsets in tank tops and shorts are a thing of the past.  We get hot chocolate instead of ice cream when we want to go out for a treat.  Summer is Done with capital “D” and our family is working to strike that Fall balance of structure and fancy-free.  I think we’re still a little light on structure – Shane wears pajama pants 24 hours a day and I’m often handing Juliette her breakfast three minutes before her first class starts.  But if ever there were a year for me to give myself a little grace, 2020 is it.  Maybe we’ll find our Fall groove by winter.  Spring at the latest.

Birthdays in the time of COVID can be hard.  Especially for a kid like Juliette, who loves all the people and all the fanfare and all the hugs.  But when I gently told her that her party would need to look a little different this year, that we couldn’t invite her whole class to the bowling alley, she got it.  I asked her what she wanted to do instead and she said, “Maybe have a Zoom call with some of my friends?”  Ah, you sweet, exceedingly adaptable girl!  Mom and Dad can do better than that.

Juliette has been asking to ride a horse since we watched a couple of women unload their golden Palominos from a trailer at an Oregon parking lot a couple of months ago.  I wasn’t sure she’d meet the height limit at any nearby horse camps, but Shane reached out to a coworker that lives on a farm about an hour outside the city and asked if Juliette could take a spin on their pony.  Dad of the year!  We boarded the Southworth ferry on a Saturday afternoon, using the boat time to do some studying (on the encyclopedia of Zelda – these two are obsessed again).

The smoke was THICK that weekend from the Oregon wildfires, so my time on the ferry deck was short.  Gotta save our lungs for that pony ride…

We arrived at the farm and met the chickens and said hello to the assorted cats and dogs bounding around us, and then it was time to get this girl up on her pony!

(Which turned out to be really more horse than pony.)

Juliette did a few blissful loops on Rufus B. Ponypants (100% his real name) and then gleefully fed him peppermints right out of the palm of her hand.  I think most kids like animals, but lately Juliette’s love for all things four-legged runs deeper than ever.

We fed blackberries to the chickens…

And then hung out with Mickey and Minnie, the resident cats, before doing some serious trampolining in the front yard.  It was a mellow evening, but felt so wonderfully out-of-the-ordinary after six months worth of Groundhog Days.  Serious thanks to Shane’s manager and his wife for hosting us – they made this kid’s day.

I stayed up late on Saturday night decking the halls for a Sunday surprise and loved seeing Juliette’s face when she sleepily stepped out into the living room.

It was a chill-but-perfect morning at home.  Teddy bear pancakes, hot chocolate…

And PRESENTS!

Against our better judgment, Juliette’s big gift this year was a….

…skateboard!  With knee pads.  And a helmet.  And wrist guards.

Post-presents, we snuggled up on the couch and I felt over-the-moon grateful that Juliette still fits on my lap.

SEVEN!

We eventually rallied and headed outside to take the birthday girl’s new wheels for a spin.

She’s quite good, actually!

I…am not.

And then a lazy afternoon of games and a movie.

Juliette donned her twirley new birthday dress in the evening and stood by the window like an eager puppy while we waited for our crew to arrive for pizza and cupcakes.

They’re here!

We kept it small this year – just our chosen family – but there was still plenty of love to go around.

Wish big, kiddo.

And suddenly she looks…twelve?

Our friends left at sunset and then the beloved neighbor kids came over with a clue that took Juliette on a scavenger hunt for her present from them, ending in a wrapped box of Legos behind our grill.  I was feeling a little angsty about the absence of a big party this year, but our people showed up big for our girl.

Monday was Juliette’s actual birthday, but with school and work and the previous day’s multiple celebrations, we kept it low-key.  Just a few front porch pics and burritos for dinner (Juliette’s dinner of choice).

I left the decorations up for the rest of the week, which meant we could spend our lunchtimes playing balloon volleyball while rocking out to Billie Eilish.

Sweet Jesus, this girl…  She’s such a light in what have been some dark times for our family and our city and our country and our world.  She is the perfect amount of seven-year-old silly, but is kind and caring well beyond her years.  I had to go a meeting a couple of weeks ago that I was dreading, and when I came home and pulled into the garage, Juliette was waiting at the car door before I even opened it.  “How did it go, Mama?” she asked with the utmost concern.  I told her it was fine, better than expected, actually.  She responded with genuine relief, sighing “Oh, I’m so glad!” as she wrapped her arms around me.

How’d we get so lucky?

HAPPY!

SEVENTH!

JULES!

Love, Mama.

I meant to do a full photo tour of our house when we moved in here two and a half years ago, but I started slapping on fresh coats of white paint the same day we got our keys and then I felt like I missed the boat on capturing the true “before” state of things.  I decided I’d wait until we were done with our refresh and then just do final pictures – finish one room a month, nine(ish) rooms in the house, take a short break for the holidays and we’d be kicking back in our well-styled crib by Spring 2019!  Oh, Kel.  Silly Kel.  Two years later it felt like we still hadn’t really finished anything.  When we started spending all day, every day at home in March I resolved to give our house some love and get some shit DONE.

Pandemic Project 1:  Finish the dining room.  Let me take you back to the pre-purchase staged version (from our listing photos).  That chandelier was…fancy, but hardly the mid-century vibe we were going for.

We made good progress on this room when we first moved in with new lighting and new windows and new furniture, but the main white wall was a blank canvas begging for artwork or wallpaper or some kind of focal point.  After not finding anything on the inter-webs that sang to me, I decided to channel my inner DIY-ist with a Sharpie paint pen and a lotta foliage photos for inspiration.  Here she is…  Finito!

I naively thought I could just free-hand this thing right on the wall, but oh, Kel.  Silly Kel.  My first take was not so good, so I slapped another coat of white paint on the wall and spent a couple of weekends mapping out a full-size mockup of the pattern I wanted on trace paper, getting my leaves and overlaps just so.

I then traced the final linework on the back-side of the paper with thick pencil, taped the pattern to the wall, and transferred the pencil marks with a good rub.  Then the satisfying work of tracing those lines with a rich, black Sharpie.

So fun, you guys!  Seriously, I love a long, tedious task like this.

It was hard to know when exactly I should be done, but finally the wall felt sufficiently un-blank and I was able to call it a day.

In hindsight I wonder if I should have opted to draw magnolia branches and rhododendron leaves to carry in the patterns from our backyard, but nope.  NOPE.  The Monstera leaves are perfect.  This room is complete and I’ve got a big blank picture frame hanging over our mantle that’s calling my name.  Onward.

In this season of feeling iffy about hotels and airplanes, I’m exceedingly grateful for family that’s willing to host us when we’re desperate to skip town.  We spent a few days last month at Mitch and Kathryn’s house on the Oregon Coast, which has proven to be an ideal home-away-from-home.  Plenty of places to explore, but also plenty perfect to just sit back and chill on the deck.  Plus, the house comes with this:

We started each morning with a bike/walk down to the market for coffee and donuts.

And I mean, the beach is right there, so you may as well drop by…

After lunch we suited up and returned with full beach gear in tow…

We lucked out and were in Neskowin during the warmest weekend on recent record.  Almost hot enough to go swimming!

ALMOST.

Her face tells you how stinking cold this stretch of the Pacific is…

Mitch and Shane were the only two brave enough for full immersion – something about the icy cold water being good for blood flow and heart health?  I can’t quite remember, as I was passed out on a blanket in the sun.

Happy hour on the deck…

And a sunset stroll with my favorite kid and pup.

We ventured 15 minutes up the road on Sunday morning to do some very serene paddling on the Nestucca River.

Juliette spent a solid half-hour manning our SUP with paddle in hand, but then…this:

Afternoon shenanigans at the house…

And then one more mini-adventure out to Sitka Sedge to do some exploring.

I love a hike that will take you from dense, mossy woods to wide open beaches in a matter of minutes.

I believe this is the point where little legs started to tire and Shane had to launch into another retelling of The Lord of the Rings to keep Juliette moving.  Works every time.

Mitch headed back to Portland on Sunday evening and the older cousins seemed in need of a little space, so Shane, Juliette and I set out on our own Monday morning to grab breakfast in Lincoln City and check out Drift Creek Falls.

I was aware here of relatively how little time we spent in the woods this summer compared to years past.  Felt good to hear the wind whispering in the pines again.

It was an easy trek to the suspension bridge, where the three of us jumped up and down to see how much we could make it bounce.  I didn’t love that game (step back from that railing, Juliette!), but being the ultra-chill mom that I am, I rolled with it.

Seems that now even short stumps give this kid enough height boost to get her eye-to-eye with her dad.

Lazy afternoons…

And then an evening outing to Cape Kiwanda at Pacific City, which is my hands-down favorite spot in the area.

We climbed this sand dune when we were here back in June and decided the view pay-offs at the top warranted another slog.

Climbing uphill in sand is so intense!  I pretended I was stopping every few steps to take pictures, but really I just needed to catch my damn breath.

Here’s Shane pretending like he’s casually enjoying the view, but really he’s about to keel over.

The final push!  How she was still running at this point is beyond me.

Made it!

And worth it.

This view, with these two in the foreground, has got to be as dreamy as the coast gets.

The race downhill takes about 15 seconds compared to the 15 minutes it takes to go up.

We did a little anemone-hunting in the tide pools while we were waiting for our table at Pelican.

My best beach buddy:

The fog rolled in on Tuesday morning, which was our cue to hit the road back to Seattle.  I walked with the girls down to the market and the beach one last time so that we could bid a proper farewell to the ocean.

Adios, Coast.  You were a breath of fresh air.