January and February are notoriously tough months in Seattle.  The holiday twinkle has waned, Spring still feels painfully far away, and it takes monumental will to muster the get-up-and-go to venture out into the gray, gray days.  Snow days have been our saving grace – we’ve packed several Q1 weekends with trips out east, for quick Sunday jaunts on our skis or full-on getaways at cozy mountain retreats.  A few weeks ago, Jason invited us to join him and his boys at Meany Lodge, a rustic ski lodge that boasts the tallest rope tow in the state and low-pressure vibes perfect for kids (and adults) to find their ski legs.  We left our house at 7am on a Sunday morning and by 8:15 were piling into the sleds or grabbing a handle on the rope to be pulled behind a snow-mobile for the three-mile trail from the parking lot to the lodge.  While the guys had fun with the water-skiing simulation, Juliette and I were more than happy to watch from the sled.

Juliette and her little buddy took to the mini-rope tow right away and were ready to upgrade to the grown-up hill after only a few runs.

I love watching this girl ski – she has mastered the perfect balance of bravery and caution.  Does me proud without making my heart jump up in my throat!

Meanwhile, I let caution prevail opted to stay on the flats with my cross-country skis…

Lunch was served just up the hill, a short sled ride away…

And then Juliette squeezed in a handful of afternoon runs.

Calling it a day and piling in for the return trip to the car…

We had such a good time that we decided to go back a couple of weeks later, this time with more friends in tow.

Thumbs-up!

And…tuckered.

I traded in my cross-country skis for downhills and managed to end the day with all bones intact.

Heading back…

And…tuckered.  Part two.

A week after our trip to Meany Lodge, the snow actually came to us!  After several days of watching the forecast with much anticipation, flakes started falling on a Friday night and had blanketed our neighborhood by Saturday morning.  Snow day!

There was biking and sledding and snow angels, oh my.

Truly, there’s nothing like the novelty of a Seattle snow day.  Neighbors you haven’t seen for months emerge from their homes with sleds or cross-country skis and turn the middle of the street into a giant playground.

Post-sledding, I headed indoors for hot tea and dry socks, but these kids were insatiable.

And then an evening stroll…

Sunday brought even more flakes, so we headed back outside after our morning pancakes.

Thankful for West Seattle topography!

Seriously, the streets were a complete sledding free-for-all.  I’m so glad no one tries to drive anywhere when it snows in Seattle.

Sophie the snow lady came together quickly…

As did the perfect snowball-launching fort:

I took a walk through Schmitz Park in the afternoon to soak in the snow-covered silence, as I knew it would be short lived.  Indeed, rain started falling that night and by Monday poor Sophie was headless.  What a weekend, though.

I know, SO LATE for New Years resolutions, but I went to the effort to write these down in January and like to keep a record of such things on the blog as my journal of evolving goals and priorities, a log of my successes and shortcomings (admittedly, I’ve been trying to make more art with Juliette for four years running…).  My 2021 hopeful look-ahead:

Finish our kitchen remodel.  The squeaky drawers and the incessant thaw/freeze cycle of our freezer and the funky smell under the sink are driving me new levels of crazy.  It’s reno time.  I’ve nailed down the floor plan and have picked the cabinets and the countertops and have narrowed down the tile selections and now we just need to bite the bullet, sign up a contractor, and pay the price (in literal dollars, but also in immense mess and inconvenience).  Let’s get ‘er done.

Read 24 books, mostly by authors of color.  I fall short of my reading goal every year, but this is the year!  The year of more books and less Instagram!  I’m doing a pretty good job at diversifying my reading genres, with a mix of fiction and non-fiction and memoirs and poetry, but I recently realized how predominantly white the authors I choose are.  This year I’m making an effort to diversify the voices behind the genres.

Develop an intentional, balanced way to consume news.  I fell into a habit last year of scrolling through a very un-curated news feed on my phone, randomly clicking between political headlines and InStyle’s tips on how to pull off the chunky boots that Katie Holmes has been sporting.  I didn’t put forth the effort to whittle down my feed and was falling down all sorts of pointless rabbit holes.  I’m looking for a way to keep a pulse on local, national, and global events while not leaning too heavily on one particular source (ahem, NY Times).

Learn a new skill with Juliette.  Ok, so this is really just a re-phrasing of my perpetual effort to do more art projects with Juliette, but I’m opening it up here.  Maybe we’ll get into sewing.  Or hip-hop dancing.  Or ice cream-making.  The possibilities are endless – really, I just want maximum QT with my girl.

And because I feel a little beholden to round out my home/mind/heart goals with something for my body, I’m aiming to close my Apple watch fitness rings five times/week by hitting my daily goals for standing/exercising/moving.  This one has already spurred on a noticeable change in habits – I’m getting up from my desk every hour and often rounding out the day with 10-15 minutes of yoga to burn those last few calories.

Finally, I have to share Juliette’s resolutions, because she wrote them herself this year and they’re just so simple and sweet:

Learn how to do a cartwheel.

Eat more cucumbers (you know this one was for my benefit).

Play more board games.

Spend more time with friends (2020 was a serious struggle for our extrovert).

Be loving. 

Cheers to aspirations, to dreaming big and small (photo below from March 2020, when just making it through the week felt like all we could aspire to!).

Ah, 2020…do I even bother with a highlight reel?  From what has been declared by so many to have been the shittiest year on record?  Tempting as it is to just toss last year from the memory banks, I do believe there was beauty in the ashes.  Good books and good music and more time with my two favorite people than I ever could have hoped for.  So here goes…

Favorite book:

I finished 20 books and can say I actually liked all of them!

Fiction took the cake this year, with The River by Peter Heller and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens keeping me up reading into the wee hours of the night.  Both of these books completely transported me, to the Canadian wilderness and the marshy shores of North Carolina.  

Honorable mention to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, which I read with Juliette, snuggled into her bed as tears streamed down my face.  That one got me right in the heart.

Favorite non-fiction was Be the Bridge by Latasha Morrison, because it made racial reconciliation feel possible while still laying bare the white supremacy that’s so deeply woven into the fabric of our nation.  There is hope.  There’s work to be done, but there’s hope.

 

Favorite TV show:

Top honors to The Queen’s Gambit.  I will say that I tuned into this one a little reluctantly, only after Shane’s urging.  Chess?  Not my thing.  But the characters were brilliant and the acting was superb and the camaraderie that shines at the end gave me all the warm fuzzies.  Plus, that 60’s wallpaper!  It’s a feast for the eyes.

Honorable mention to The Great British Baking Show for gracing us with a surprise new season last summer.  I wasn’t sure how they’d pull it off in Covid times, but they did.  And for several weeks, it gave our family something to look forward to on Friday nights.  2020 was all about the little things.

 

Favorite movie:

I’m having a hard time recalling which movies I even watched last year as all those evenings on the couch are sort of melding together, but I know that we loved Onward for all its tugging on the familial heart-strings.  Super-sweet story with a handful of good laughs.

 

Favorite podcast:

Another toughie!  I’m still quite happy in my rut with The Daily, Reply All and Heavyweight, but I did expand my horizons to include Unlocking Us with Brene Brown this year.  She’s got a way with an interview, and her episodes with Austin Channing Brown, Laverne Cox, and Dolly Parton rattled around in my head for days after I listened to them.

 

Favorite album:

Easy.  Taylor Swift gave our family a much-needed gift with her release of Folklore (and then did it again with Evermore!).  The number of times I’ve watched Juliette tip-toe dance across the living room to Mirror Ball…  And Exile never ever gets old, even after 200 listens.  Thanks, T-Swift.

 

Favorite purchase:

We didn’t buy any life-changing new gadgets last year.  I certainly didn’t invest in any great clothing, as I had nowhere to wear it.  Most of our spending went into home improvement, as being home all day, every day gave me ample opportunities to come up with new fix-it, replace-it, and decorate-it projects.  The main wall in our entryway has been blank and asking for some sort of art since we moved in and I found the perfect piece in this 3D wooden map from Enjoy the Wood.  Puzzling this thing together on the wall was a fun Saturday project and a stellar geography lesson.  Juliette has mapped out our trip to New Zealand (via Paris) and now I can proudly report that I know where Baffin Island is!

 

Favorite personal pastime:

Again, home improvement for the win.  I crossed a lot of projects off my list last year, big and small, and as we settle in for another couple (few?  several?) months of hunkering down, I feel affirmed that every hour and every dollar was well worth it.  While the bathroom reno wins grand prize in terms of upgrades, there was also a lot of joy in banging out the little things that have bugged me for the past two years.  Ugly nipple lights in the hallway?  Gone.  Dirty, clunky fireplace grate?  Sayonara.  And I’m still loving our dining room wall.

 

Favorite family pastime:

Welp, I suppose I have to find an answer other than camping given how little we got out last year…  Our family discovered a shared loved of card games toward the end of last year when we taught Juliette how to play Rummy and now spend almost every evening at the dining room table trying to be the first to 200.  I tell you, total game-changer (pun intended) when your kid becomes old enough to play things you actually enjoy.  7 p.m. has become my favorite part of the day, when dinner is done and screens are put away and Taylor Swift is cranked up and cards are dealt.

 

And, favorite moments…

There’s no denying that 2020 was rife with loss, but in our quiet little Schnell bubble, after a 2019 that found me away from my family far too much, I’m exceedingly thankful to have made my way back home.

It was a slow advent, but a fast January.  Work mayhem and national mayhem and maybe a lack of vitamin D have tuckered me out this month.  But I’m resetting work boundaries and taking my supplements and am back with a boatload of Christmas pics to share!

The lead-up to Christmas was quiet but fun – Juliette opened a few of her many gifts from Grandma and Grandpa Schnell over Zoom on the 23rd.  It was a very meager substitute for the gift-opening we had hoped to do together at Thanksgiving, but it was something.

The unicorn robe was a hit.

And then it was Christmas Eve!  Samuel, our countdown Santa, marked ONE day till Christmas, which was our cue to hit the road to Portland.

I know Juliette loves Shane and me, but it was clear from the moment we walked through Mitch’s front door that she’d been awfully desperate for some new playmates.

The girls hung a Do Not Enter sign on the bathroom door in the afternoon and spent a very secretive hour in there, only to emerge at dinnertime with glittery eyelids and freshly-brushed tresses.  Juliette and I were talking last week about how different siblings and family members can be from one another, at which point she reminded me that her and Morgan are a lot alike, because Morgan also likes to be fancy.

Dresses were swapped for cozy pajamas for the annual viewing of The Polar Express.  One of my favorite traditions.

Meanwhile, things got a little rowdy in the kitchen with a deck of cards and a bottle of Grand Marnier.

Milk and cookies for Santa, carrots for his reindeer, and then it was off to bed for these little elves!

Santa’s sleigh must have been extra-heavy this year, what with a new bike for Juliette and a kayak for Morgan and Elise.

I love the late hours of Christmas Eve, when all the shopping and wrapping and prepping is done and I’m able to sit back for a moment and quietly anticipate the joy and holiness of Christmas Day.

Morgan and Juliette were up bright and early, and HOLY CHRISTMAS!  Such a fun surprise.

Once Elise was roused from her pre-teen slumber, the wrapping paper started to fly.

Juliette very modestly asked Santa for a stuffy and a coloring book and he came through on both fronts.

Juliette was asking for weeks what was in the big big box under the Christmas tree…

A Baby Yoda for my Mando fan!  This “little guy” turned out to be MUCH larger than the online description led me to believe.

He’s been well-loved, even if he does often end up squeezed off the bed and onto the floor in the middle of the night.

Cheers, Shane.

Whew!  Damage done.

Gifts opened and breakfast eaten, the afternoon was a haze of snacking and game-playing.  Morgan gathered everyone in the living room for a game of Bean-Boozled, which she DJ’d on Juliette’s new microphone. (By the way, THANKS for the microphone, Auntie Tiff!  Juliette just discovered it has a robot-voice setting.  And the volume seems to be non-adjustable).

Juliette went first as we all sat by to see if her white jelly bean was flavored like coconut or spoiled milk.  This face says it all.

And this is the look of a man that just ate a jelly bean flavored like canned dog food.

I’m always surprised by how incredibly amusing it is to watch someone eat candy that’s flavored like rotten eggs.

Onto a safer bet…

And it wouldn’t be Christmas without a Parcheesi marathon!

It’s become tradition that my dad orders a country ham for Christmas dinner every year – one bite takes me back to my childhood days when Nannie and Grandaddy Jarrell would come visit us with one of these salty, delicious hunks of pork in their suitcase.  Almost as good as Nannie’s homemade fudge.

We kept the lazy vibes going the day after Christmas…

But did rally for some tennis practice.

We all parted ways on the 27th and spent the next couple of days back in Seattle getting Juliette comfortable on her sweet new wheels.

There was one last slumber party by the Christmas tree…

(Seriously, guys – this thing is HUGE!)

A quick post-boba stop at Occidental Square…

Some requisite family pics by the tree…

And then we were calling it quits on 2020!  We partied hard on New Years Eve with sparkling cider and two games of Clue.  I missed having our crew with us that night for our annual fiesta, but going to bed at 10pm felt pretty good.

Finally, finally we found ourselves turning the calendar page and ushering in a bright and shiny new year.  We’ve made a tradition of visiting Lincoln Park on New Years Day and zipped over there to bike and skip rocks during a short break in the rain.

This place always brings out the thankful vibes in me…partly because it’s so lovely, but also because it draws forth so many happy memories of our family’s simple joys.  Rocks and water.  All we need.

Happiest of New Years, friends (29 days late!).

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…