Thursday was another gloriously sunny day and while we were tempted to set up camp at the beach, we decided instead to break out of our idyllic Santa Monica bubble and check out some of LA’s other offerings (after grabbing coffee at tried-and-true Blue Bottle on Abbot Kinney).

We found ourselves at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art mid-morning – we haven’t done the grownup museum thing with Juliette before and decided to give it a go, since we heard LACMA was pretty kid-friendy.  This forest of lampposts was certainly a hit!

And once inside, we breezed right past a beautiful Matisse and landed squarely in the middle of the children’s painting room.  Once again, it’s all about Jules…

Although truth be told, she’s one of my favorite artists!

We wandered back outside once Juliette had finished her masterpieces and let her run circles around this Calder.

She got a kick out of throwing pennies into the fountain, begging for more coins to “make them wash” (the concept of “make a wish” was lost on her).

Finally, we made it over to the contemporary collection, which was incredible.  And incredibly stressful with a three year-old in tow!  It’s hard to trust a kid that age not to put their sticky paws on a multi-million dollar painting – I felt like I spent much of our time there asking Juliette not to stand so close and not to touch anything and not to run and not, not, not…we might NOT be ready for the big-time museums just yet.  That said, Shane did camp out on a bench with her for a bit so that I could spend some time with Dubuffet and Motherwell.

One more lap around the lampposts, and then we sprinted right out of there in search of lunch.

We chowed down on tacos and slurped mondo margaritas at Sonorities…

And then, because it’s a must any time we’re in LA, shaved ice at Blockheads.  Their green tea shaved ice with mochi and a drizzle of condensed milk is the dessert of my dreams.

All three of us dreamed sweetly that afternoon, taking a big ol’ family nap in our big ol’ king-sized bed.  Rested and refreshed, we were back out again in the evening to Tongva Park, which is another Santa Monica staple.  Juliette has bumped down this roller slide for three years running.

I asked Shane if he was up for walking to the pier, which is so not his thing, what with the crowds and the noise and the tourist shops, but he obliged, because he’s the best dad ever.

Juliette pleaded with us to take her on the roller coaster, but it looked a little fast even for me, so we settled on a few whirls around the wheel, which ended up thrilling her to no end.

Each time we hit the bottom and then headed back up Juliette looked over at me with a gleam in her eyes.  “Again, Mommy?!  I’m so exciting!”

Alas, all good things must come to an end…

By the time we’d wrapped up our tour of the pier, we were in prime golden time, so, of course…

Sayonara, sun.  I LOVE YOU SO MUCH.

We’ve been talking about our April trip to California with Juliette for a few weeks now and while it was fun to see the anticipation build, we eventually grew weary of hearing her ask, “When will it be vacaaaaaation time?”  So it was awfully fun to walk into her room last Tuesday morning and tell her we were finally heading to the airport; when I said “Let’s go to Santa Monica!”, she literally started applauding (truth be told, she was clapping because she thought I meant we were going to meet Santa, but never mind).

We made it through the Lightrail-Airplane-Rental Shuttle shuffle smoothly, tossed our bags in our minivan, and hightailed it to In-N-Out for our requisite welcome burger.  We checked into our cozy bungalow in Venice mid-afternoon, peeled off our long sleeves, and settled in.  We had arrived!  Juliette found a beachball in the yard and Shane taught her the art of the volleyball spike while I sat on the patio, feeling my shoulders go from white to pink.

Make yourself at home, Jules!

We drove over to the beach in the evening – Juliette was pulling off her shoes and squirming excitedly before we’d even parked.  This is so much better than Santa Claus, isn’t it, kiddo?

Shane and Juliette quickly assumed what would become their typical stance for the week:  hands held, surf lapping at their toes.

Shane and I stretched out while Juliette ran circles around us, flapping her arms like a seagull, jumping and spinning until she collapsed on the sand in a fit of hysterics.  No doubt, the beach has incredible happy-making powers for this girl.

She quickly soaked her first set of clothes and changed into the spare I was so glad I’d packed.  And then, to tempt fate, back to the water’s edge…

We went back to the house to hose the sand off of Juliette and I headed out for a run.  In the evening!  In a tank top!  Springtime in Cali is so so good.

Wednesday was bright and sunny – perfect weather for strolling down Abbot Kinney in search of donuts and coffee.  Mission: accomplished.

This street is almost painfully hip, with its urban art and vegan cafes and handmade wares.  I’m not sure we fit in there.

(Actually, Juliette totally fit in there.)

After dragging a disappointed Juliette out of a children’t boutique that sold $50 rag dolls, we headed over to Will Rogers State Park for a leisurely hike up to Inspiration Point.

Juliette was totally enamored with this horse named Lily, thrilled to pieces when she was invited to get up close and give that lovely mane a few pats.

And lizards!  So many lizards!

Hungry and hot, we drove over to True Food Kitchen for a veggie-packed lunch – it felt good to follow up that morning’s Blue Star donut with a big kale salad.

Juliette was too amped up to settle down for a nap when we got back to the house, so we agreed she could do an hour of “quiet time” in her room with her books and colored pencils.  She lasted indoors for all of…ten minutes.  The pull of warm sun and cool grass was just too much to bear.

We grabbed tacos and margaritas at Casalinda for dinner and then found ourselves back at the beach, just in time for the glory of the golden hour.

Juliette reminds me of one of those little birds that skitters along the tide’s edge, so fast and light on her feet that she hardly makes footprints in the sand.

Oh, Santa Monica.  COME ON.


Cheers to days 1 and 2 in our happy place!

Psalm 118:24 was read aloud several times over at church on Sunday morning and rattled around in my head throughout the day:

This is the day that the Lord hath made.

We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Indeed, it was a weekend full of rejoicing.  Because…Easter!  And sunshine!  And this sweet kid’s 7th birthday!

We spent Saturday morning at the Rusts’, ringing in Isaiah’s 7th.  There were lawn games and presents and pizza and popsicles.  And smiles.  This! Boy’s! Smiles!

Happy birthday, Bups!

Post-party, Shane and Juliette went on a 1.5-hour bike ride while I wandered the aisles of Target in blissful solitude.  I expected Juliette to be antsy and tugging at her bike helmet by the time they got back as she’s never spent more than 30 minutes in the bike seat, but this girl was such a good sport.  It seems she’s cherishing Daddy-Jules time more than ever.

I hated to spend the day’s last few sun rays indoors, so Juliette and I took a stroll through the Greenbelt before dinner – this little patch of woods has become our go-to when we want a nature-fix.

The birds seemed particularly exuberant that evening – one jay (?) had Juliette a bit spooked with his extra-loud calls.

Eh…no worries!

There are times when I open up a photo I’ve taken and my stomach flip-flops at the sight of how grown-up and lovely this girl has become.  Hard to believe she’s only three.  And yet hard to believe she’s already three!

We ushered in Easter Sunday with pastries at Cafe Besalu, sensing God’s goodness in the form of buttery croissants and rich coffee.

After church, we headed over to Discovery Park to do some exploring with the Rusts.

The woods were bursting with bright, bright green, poignantly heralding signs of new life.

After a few wrong turns, we finally landed down at the beach, where we muddied our shoes and flipped over rocks in search of crabs.

Jules and I hung tight in this driftwood fort while Shane trekked back uphill to get the car.


We all snoozed through much of the afternoon and then woke up rearing to go again.  I hid a few eggs out back for Juliette to find and loved watching her react like she’d won the jackpot every time she cracked one open.

She quickly amassed all 15 jelly beans, looking into her bucket with bright-eyed wonder and exclaiming, “I think I have a thousand jelly beans, Mommy!”.  I put together a grander basket this year as the ultimate prize, stuffing it with art supplies and a new doll.

We headed over the Rusts’ again that evening for an egg hunt with the bigger kids.  I was glad Juliette had gotten her own private hunt at home, because she didn’t stand a chance against these rascals!

The boys were actually pretty great about sticking to their 10-egg limit and leaving the easy-to-find ones for their kid sister.

We feasted on roast chicken and then let the kids run off their jelly bean high.  Isaiah was kind enough to share his birthday walkie-talkies with Juliette, who spent 15 straight minutes jabbering into the thing without letting him get a word in edgewise.

Sometimes rejoicing comes so very naturally – my heart is full.  Thanks be to God.

Springtime in Seattle!  It’s when all of those gray, rainy winter months pay off in the form of beautiful new blooms.  And man, the blooms were hard-fought this year, as we’re coming off a particularly dark and stormy season (please tell me we’re finally coming off this dark and stormy season!).  We usually kick off our Spring-soaking with a trip to UW to visit the cherry blossoms – Jules and I headed out there on a sunny(ish) Friday a couple of weeks ago to take in all the pink and white.

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The quad was packed with other petal-peepers, but we managed to get in a few laps.

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Even on cool and cloudy days, the flowers beckon – we spent a gray Saturday romping through our favorite spots at the Arboretum.

This little magnolia grove is some kinda magic…

“I’m freeeeee!  And it feels so good!”

And then, one more post-church trek over to UW, since we missed having Dad with us the first time around.

Not to project too far into the future, but this kid looks good on this campus, doesn’t she?

There are other signs of Spring around here – like the reappearance of the trusty bike seat!  This is by far Juliette’s favorite way to commute to school.

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And flower-filled murals gracing the walls of our church – Emily and I spent an evening last week chalk-arting in the kids’ ministry area.  I forgot how fun it is to doodle!

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Jules and I have taken some epic walks together lately, marching up and down the hills of Montlake at Interlaken Park…

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And logging over five miles on the Chief Sealth Trail near our house (there was a boba stop somewhere in the middle there, for sustenance, of course).

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We’ve been hitting the Spring birthday circuit pretty hard – this party at the gymnastics academy was a hit.

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And last but certainly not least, hellooooo GIANTS!  Baseball season is upon us, and though our guys are hardly off to a rip-roaring start, tuning into the games together is still a favorite weekend and evening pastime.

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Inspired by the likes of Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, this little slugger has been working on her swing.

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This face, though!  Breathe through your swing, Jules!

I’m cherishing this age when good sportsmanship comes naturally, when swinging and missing is no less enjoyable than hitting a homer.

Welcome, Spring.  We’re thrilled you’re here.

I started this post a few weeks ago but have had a heck of time sitting down and putting words to Juliette’s latest and greatest – everything I write feels so inadequate.  She’s not just picking up a few new words each week, not just getting taller and smarter and more fun.  She’s becoming her own full-fledged, complex, awesome little person.  And it seems impossible to capture all this change with a few funny quips and a reel of pictures.

Dang it, though.  I’ve at least gotta hit the highlights, right?  For my faithful readers (Juliette’s grandmas!) if nothing else…

After months of resistance, once the post-bath tangles had become too much too bear, we finally bit the bullet and headed to the local salon for Juliette’s first haircut.  She was a little anxious, but once she was snuggled into Shane’s lap with a lollipop and an episode of Puffin Rock, she hardly noticed the stranger with scissors hovering about.  I sighed a big sigh as those first curls fell to the floor – the hours I spent stroking those baby highlights as she nursed or slept in my arms!

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The bulk of her red-gold tresses made it through the cut unscathed, though.  Thank goodness.

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She’s growing like the proverbial weed – one day I’m shuffling her stool around so she can stand on it to wash her hands at the downstairs sink, the next day she just walks right up to the counter and flips on the faucet, a little smirk of pride on her face as she catches my surprised reflection in the mirror.  It feels not so long ago that I was awkwardly balancing her on my hip at the sink, scrubbing her hands myself.  She likes watching the numbers appear on our digital scale and was thrilled when the 3’s turned to 4’s – little lady is 40.8 pounds as of this morning.  Must be all that broccoli!  (Turns out she’ll eat just about anything she can grab with her trusty chopsticks!)

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That same proud smirk lit up her face a few weeks ago when she came home from school one evening, grabbed a maker, and wrote J-U-L-I-E-T-T-E on her whiteboard.  It was as if she’d been secretly working on this with her teachers for months, prepping for a dramatic surprise unveiling.  We had no idea she knew how to go any farther than J!  (She’s working on her lower-case e‘s, but her “apple-case” ones are solid!)

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She continues to thrive at school, though it does feel like we’re starting to tread in more emotionally complex waters.   Juliette’s buddy L walked up to her one morning and said, “You’re not my best friend – M is my best friend now.  You can’t play with us.”  Waaaahhhh!  The crestfallen look on Juliette’s face!  My heart!  I had a calm but ever-so-slightly stern talk with the two little excluders about how their words made Juliette sad and made me sad.  I think Juliette sensed how firmly I had her back, as she nuzzled into me afterwards and said, “But Mommy, you’re still my best friend, right?”  Always and forever, kiddo…always and forever.  The whole thing blew over in a few days and it turned out to be a good opportunity to reinforce the importance of kindness and inclusion with Juliette.  A new coffee shop opened up around the corner from Juliette’s school and we’ve made a ritual of popping in there a couple of times a week for an Americano, a vanilla steamer, and a good heart-to-heart before we head into her class.  We’ll chat about the day ahead and the latest happenings with her school buddies; sometimes she’ll ask me what I’m going to do at work that day.  These few minutes are especially precious on days when I come home to a tired or cranky girl, or when I don’t make it home at all before bedtime.  When I’m frustrated with her or missing her, I remind myself at least there was the coffee shop… 

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Fridays with my little bestie are as good as ever.  We’ve added the swimming pool to our rotation of Mama-Jules activities, and whenever I put that on the list of potential outings, it always wins, over the bakery or the library or the park.  As we walked in the doors of the pool a couple of weeks ago and breathed in that first whiff of chlorinated steam, Juliette squealed, “I’m so exciting, Mommy!”  She’s embraced the independence that comes with the arm floaties and loves bobbing around in endless circles at the whirlpool.

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Bonus:  post-pool naps are easy-breezy, as she crashes in no time.  Usually in my bed.  I’m still a sucker for snuggles.

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On days when we don’t get out of the house, we do craft projects or watch (too many) episodes of Sarah and Duck.  Juliette has recently gotten really into drawing and will whip out a family portrait in just a couple of minutes.  I always have the biggest head, Shane always has the baldest one.

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We’re constantly marveling at the how adept she’s become at expressing herself, how self-aware she suddenly seems.  She scooted her chair right next to mine at the cafe yesterday and said, “Mommy?  I’m so happy to be here with you.”

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On the flip side, when I turned off the TV that afternoon, she wailed, “But that makes me so frustrating!  Now I’m going be sad foreverrrrrrr!”.  She climbed to the top of a monster slide at the playground the other day and as she perched there, high above my reach, she yelled down, “I’m being brave, Mommy!  You don’t need to worry about me!”  She’s probably right – I don’t (but I do!).

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And now, the full photo reel!  These next few are from a sunny Saturday at Magnusson Park:

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And there was a fun romp at Mount Baker Park last month:

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And an “adventure walk” on the new trail that just opened in the nearby greenbelt – she was insistent that Amos the bunny come along for the ride:

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Happy three and a half, Miss Juliette Grace!  I’m so happy being with you.

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It’s hard living so far from Shane’s family, particularly since we had Juliette, so we were all pretty pumped Grandma and Grandpa rolled into town a couple of weeks ago.  Welcome, Schnells!

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Beloved Uncle Doug and Aunt Val are in the process of moving to Washington and were also in town for the week, so we all convened at Frelard Pizza to celebrate Biz’s birthday.

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Last Thursday we high-tailed it out of busy Seattle and set out for a couple of low-key days on Whidbey Island.  Nothing puts me in vacation-mode faster than a ferry ride.

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My little seagull…

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We docked mid-morning and drove over to Useless Bay in Langley for lunch.  The sun was trying awfully hard to break through those clouds!

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We got settled at the house and then Shane and I left Juliette with Grandma and Grandpa in hopes that the sun would make a full appearance for our walk at Ebey’s Landing.  TA-DA!

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Green and blue for dayyyyyyyys…

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We made good time on our 3-mile “hike” and then headed back to the house to soak up the day’s last rays on the deck.  We saw an eagle bobbing in the water below and then watched it awkwardly paddle on-shore, wondering if it was injured.  Turns out it had a full-sized duck gripped in its talons!

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It was like an episode of National Geographic, watching that ferocious eagle tear into its prey.  And mid-meal, another one swooped down to finish the job!

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To quote Denny, “God Bless America…”

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A third eagle spent much of the afternoon perched in a tree just over the deck.  After seeing what that first eagle did to that duck, I understand Juliette’s slightly concerned expression.

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We put our binoculars away and Jules and I took a happy hour dip in the hot tub, which has become our new favorite vay-cay pastime.

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We cracked open a bottle of bubbly and then feasted on takeout from Toby’s for dinner – the Penn Cove mussels we ordered were freshly plucked from the very water we overlooked!

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Bellies full, we hopped in the car and made the short drive back over to Ebey’s Landing to catch the sunset.

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That lovely blue foam lapping over those shiny smooth stones is just so…Whidbey.

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We closed out the day with marshmallows roasted in the outdoor fireplace at the house, watching the sky fade from pink to gray.

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What a DAY.

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Friday was gray and cool, but we couldn’t resist the pull of the outdoors and drove up to Deception Pass to walk in the woods and romp on the beach.

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Juliette rock-hunted with intense focus, enamored with each purple stone she found.

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Skip it, stud.

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Such joy, this kid.

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The wind eventually drove us back into our cars, but you can’t leave Deception Pass without a quick stroll across on the bridge.

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Val and Elizabeth joined us for lunch at the house and then we all walked down to the beach to enjoy the day’s last few rain-free minutes.  The seafood scene was serious down there – check out the size of that oyster!

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And this cluster of mussels!

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We drove into “downtown” Coupeville for ice cream and spent the rest of the rainy day cozied up inside, playing Mancala and Bingo.  And Mancala.  And Bingo.

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And then Shane busted out the 200-piece puzzle sitting on the shelf.  Bold move, Schnell!  But we put that baby together in record time (minus one heartbreaking missing piece…).

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Despite the evening drizzle, Denny got a rip-roaring fire going and we closed out the day with roasted mallows once again.  Props to Grandma for packing graham crackers!

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Saturday was also wet, so we flipped on the fireplace when we woke up and got down to business with colored pencils and hot tea.

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I jetted out for a jog during a short break in the rain and was reminded how much I love these wide open spaces.

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Juliette and I took a final dip in the hot tub, spent a few minutes gazing out at our beloved cove, and then…that always-dreaded check-out time.

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We eased our check-out woes with coffee and cinnamon rolls at Knead and Feed before heading to the ferry.

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We’ve always walked right past the 1000-piece puzzles spread out on the ferry tables, but Juliette was feeling extra-confident after the previous day’s bonanza.  Girl’s got skills now!

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Whidbey for the win, always.  That island never ever disappoints.

After a round of teary-eyed hugs on Sunday morning, Denny and Pat hit the long road back to Minnesota.  Juliette spent the rest of the day asking when Grandma and Grandpa are coming back.  Not soon enough, kiddo!  Not soon enough.

After January’s relative quietude, February felt full, with trips to the snow and the sun, much talk of big changes (the house-hunting bug bit us hard), subsequent talk of little changes (should we just clean out our closets, repaint our bedroom, and stay put for awhile?), and great big joys held in tension with deep, deep sorrows.  A few (dozen) photos to recap…

It’s been an unusually snowy winter in Seattle, and I find myself giddy with child-like “hope-school’s-cancelled” excitement each time flakes start to fall.  School actually was cancelled one Monday a few weeks ago, which meant that Shane and I both stayed home from work to hang with Jules because, well, it takes two.  Plus, which one of us was really willing to head into the office and miss out on this magic?!

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We kicked off the day with a walk through the whiter-than-ever greenbelt across the street…

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We heard a tree come crashing down in the forest as we were on our walk, likely due to the extreme snow loads, so we high-tailed it to the Columbia City Bakery to seek shelter and coffee with our southside friends.

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And then right back out we went, to Jefferson Park for sledding and fort-building.

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Shane had this snowman up in about six minutes – his Minnesota roots really shine on days like this.

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An hour in, we were all soaked by the downpour of huge, wet snowflakes, but this girl wasn’t the least deterred.

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Eventually we bribed her indoors with the promise of pizza and gelato at Tutta Bella…

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And then set her loose for the catching of a few last flakes before this all turned to slush.  It was fun while it lasted.

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My mom spent a couple of days in Seattle in the middle of February, and Juliette was attached to her hip throughout her stay.  “Sit by me, Grandma!  Hold my hand, Grandma!  Read to me, Grandma!”

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Kombucha cheers!

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We took our annual winter stroll through the Mercer Slough on a clear(ish) Saturday…

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I feel like I snap the same photos here year after year, but…the colors!

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Juliette looks like such a big kid in this picture, doesn’t she?

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And finally, in news that cast a melancholy shadow over last month’s goodness, my dad’s dad, Grandaddy, passed away two weeks ago.  He had been weak for quite some time and living under the care of my aunt and uncle in their home for the last several months, but still, saying good-bye was obviously painful.

As I mourn, I’m feeling all the feelings, often all at one time…gratitude for the man Grandaddy was and the lives he touched; sadness over the fact that this giant piece of the Jarrell family puzzle will be physically absent from all future family gatherings; comfort that he passed away in a home filled with love and that his hand was held more often than not in his final days; and intense regret that I didn’t make it out to Maryland to see him in the past several years.

Gosh, how I wish I’d spent more time with him.

Growing up, I usually saw Nannie and Grandaddy once a year – they’d come out to visit us in Colorado or Oregon or California, arriving with suitcases heavy with country ham and homemade fudge, or we’d make a family trip out to Maryland to stay at their cozy home on Windy Hill Road.  I loved that house – sneaking hard candies from the well-stocked crystal dish that Nannie kept on the coffee table, flying down the gravel driveway in a plastic wagon that rattled so hard I thought the wheels would fall off, the sound of crickets in the backyard on those hot, humid East Coast nights.  And the merriment.  Where two or more Jarrells are gathered, there will inevitably be laughter.

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The visits became fewer and farther between in my college and post-college years – my grandparents were older and less prone to travel, and I was eager to spread my traveling wings wider than the reaches of Maryland.  But still, even when I went several years without visiting, there was reassurance in knowing that Nannie and Grandaddy were there in Maryland, holding down the fort and anchoring our family with love and joy.  The boat was rocked when Nannie died in 2008, and then it wobbled again when Grandaddy sold the house on Windy Hill Road to move into a senior apartment, but even in his grief, he was ever the steadfast, thoughtful, fun-loving patriarch.  He was faithful in his letter-writing and I received a page or two of hand-written updates each birthday and Christmas.  I saved a handful of those letters and dug them out this afternoon, desperate to draw close to him as his absence hit me with a new wave of sadness.  I chuckled through my tears when I read this snippet from a few years ago about his senior living experience at “The Home”, as he so fondly referred to it…

Last week the social director arranged a “fashion show” for the old ladies.  She thought it a good idea to have an escort to help steady their walk down the runway.  Guess who was asked to be “the escort”?  I said, “Why not?”  I told the social director after the show that I had admired models for 70 years but had never touched one before!  Bear in mind, these models were mostly in their 80’s, so the thrill was dampened just a bit!

His funny anecdotes are all knit together with an overwhelming tone of kindness, generosity, and unwavering devotion to all things family.  As I sniffled through a letter from 2007 in which he marveled at how quickly 61 years of marriage to Nannie had gone by and wished Shane and I the same good fortune, Juliette looked up from her coloring book and asked, “Why are you sad, Mama?”  “I just really, really miss my grandpa,” I replied.  She furrowed her brow, a look of utmost concern on her face, and then followed up with, “Well, why can’t he just come over?”

Oh, if only, kiddo.  If only.

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We ended our California vacation with a couple of days in our old stomping grounds.  It feels good to pull up to Amanda’s house and pick up right where we last left off.  And now Juliette and Sadie are picking right up where they left off, as well!

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Amanda’s house is kind of a toddler wonderland – a roomful of toys, a trampoline, and…a spare pair of pink boots!

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Amanda and I had plans that night to go out to dinner with the ladies, and though the little ones weren’t invited, they still wanted to gussy up with us.

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We spent the evening catching up with old friends at the neighborhood bar and grill – it was like a mini high school reunion, sitting around a table with these ladies that were a part of so many of my teenage memories.  We relived the ups and downs and then caught up each other’s latest.  Although it’s been 17 years (!) since we were fellow Bulldogs, I still see so much of the girls I used to stroll the aisles of Hollywood Video with in each of these women.

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We laid pretty low on Sunday, playing Barbies and Legos and drums.

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Juliette was so at home there.  I mean, the plethora of toys is amazing, but it’s Uncle Josh and Aunt Amanda that seal the deal.

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Oh, and can we talk for a minute about this kid?!  JACK!  You’ve won my heart, you sweet little softy.

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We ventured out for a bit to the college to feed the ducks and run around the amphitheater.

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THESE GIRLS!  If only our playdates were weekly rather than annual…

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While the ladies played and lunched, Shane was catching up with his buddy Steve during a hike around Knight’s Ferry.  Shane said their morning together was a 5-hour meandering-but-seamless conversation.  Lifelong friends, these two…

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Any trip back to Turlock wouldn’t be complete without a drink with Marco and Lisa!

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We ended the day with group story time (focus, Jules!), all piled on Amanda’s bed.  My heart hurts a little when I look at this picture – next time we do this, Jack will be well out of the bottle phase and Juliette and Sadie will likely both be four.

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The girls squeezed in a little more playtime on Monday morning…

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(For the record, lest I paint too rosy a picture of our time there, this game of Candy Land ended with both kids in tears!)

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And then it was time to say our farewells.  Thanks, Amanda, for making your home one of the most welcoming places on earth.

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It was a long trek home, with a nearly 2-hour drive to the airport and a delayed flight, but Juliette was a great sport through it all.  We’re making a pretty good traveler out of this girl.

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She’s even started pulling her own weight, luggage-wise!

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That was exhausting (see Shane’s eyes?), but really, so much fun (Juliette’s smile says it all!).

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We’ve made something of a ritual of heading down to California in late winter for a Vitamin D fix.  And you know what pairs perfectly with Vitamin D?  WINE!  Jack and La Verne recommended a long weekend in Napa in lieu of repeating the Santa Monica trip we took last year and Shane and I jumped at the chance to wine-taste with our aficionado-friends.  We landed in Oakland last Wednesday after an uneventful flight and made a quick stop at In-N-Out for burgers and fries before jetting toward Napa.

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We rolled up to Artesa Winery mid-afternoon after winding our way through sun-kissed vineyards.  I forgot how beautiful this valley can be…

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I wasn’t sure how the kids would fare at these grown-up venues, but they were troopers – Juliette used her carton of milk to toast to Shane’s Chardonnay and remained (relatively) well-behaved while we tasted our way through the menu.

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Just when I thought we’d had our last round, another four glasses would appear.  MAGIC.

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Finally, after sipping the range from bubbly Brut to rich Cabernet, we’d had our fill and were ready to head out.  Run free, Jules!

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Cabernet makes you jump, jump…

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Thick as thieves…

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Dreamy, isn’t it?

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Even Shane couldn’t resist the pull of that wide-open lawn!

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(photo by La Verne)

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(photo by La Verne)

Cheers to a very promising start to this trip!

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We checked into our vacation house in Sonoma and promptly changed into our swimsuits to hit the hot tub.

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This girl loves a good long soak, apparently!

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Jack had packed a jar of homemade pesto in his suitcase because, well, he’s Jack, and he whipped up a decadent pasta dish for dinner, perfectly paired with a bottle of Chardonnay we’d picked up at Artesa.

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The kids went down with very little struggle and the grownups stayed up later than we should have, drinking and talking and settling comfortably into vacation-mode.

The guys headed out early on Thursday for a run while La Verne and I stayed back to feed the munchkins.

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After breakfast, we sent the kids out to the backyard to burn off a little energy before heading out for our grand tour de wine.

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It was a longer-than expected drive out to El Molino due to an accident and a re-route, but nearly two hours after we set out, we arrived!

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We were all eager to stretch our legs.

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This little gem of a winery is run by a couple that does it all and the owner/winemaker/grape-stomper, Jon, spent a couple of hours graciously showing us around.

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Juliette carefully arranged pinecones while the rest of us intently listened to Jon about his process (i.e., schemed about how to run our own winery someday).

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While Jon poured us a tasting, the kids got friendly with the chickens.  Seriously, this place was a dream.

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As was the Chardonnay!

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With a bottle of Chardonnay under one arm and a bottle Pinot under the other, Jack left there a happy man.

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We grabbed sandwiches to-go from a deli in St. Helena and blazed onward.

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We landed at Pride Mountain mid-afternoon and opted to skip the hour-long cave tour due to the dubious looks cast Juliette’s way by the host.  We settled on a patio tasting and a romp through the vineyards.

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When we booked this trip, there was a part of me that wondered if it was fair to ask Juliette to come along on a wine-tasting excursion.  Looking back at these photos, I’d hardly say she suffered.

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Sufficiently wined, we headed out, making a quick stop at the Napa outlets and then settling in at the house for crafts, hot tubbing, a very active round of Simon Says, and takeout burritos.

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We awoke Friday to the sound of raindrops – a storm had moved in and the forecast called for a soaking-wet day.  We grabbed a bite at Bouchon Bakery and then took our seats at the tasting table at Sullivan Vineyards.

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Juliette was stoked that this place actually served something she could consume – she pounded about eight of these breadsticks!

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(photo by Jack)

We leisurely sipped our way through the menu while the kids got their daily dose of screen time.

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And then we all spent awhile looking longingly out the window while the skies gushed – this definitely wasn’t vineyard-strolling weather!

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(photo by La Verne)

We lunched on burgers at Gott’s and then treated Juliette to ice cream at the Oxbow Market.

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The upside to a pouring wet California afternoon?  No shame in holing up indoors for a good long nap!

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The house was pretty quiet all afternoon – most of us dozed and then La Verne and I did a little living room Barre3.  Jack and La Verne prepared another mighty-fine meal and we were joined by Jack’s mom and sister for dinner.

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I almost went to bed with Juliette at 8:00 but rallied – as this was our last night there, we had wine and snacks to polish off (Cabernet and Cool Ranch Doritos for the win!).

The skies had cleared on Saturday morning, so Juliette and I took the hot tub for one last spin.  When I asked her what her favorite part of the trip had been, she quickly replied, “The cave!” (at El Molino).  But a moment later, after glancing around the yard, she changed her mind and said the vacation house was her favorite.  I wasn’t too eager to leave, either…

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A rousing game of Ring Around the Rosie…

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And then we said farewell to the Chens as they headed to the airport.

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Shane and I were sticking around California for a couple more days to visit our friends in Turlock.  Before heading to the Central Valley, though, one last winery…  We popped into Ravenswood for a 10:30 am tasting (!).

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This girl…I’m so proud of her for hanging with us while we imbibed.  You’re a good sport, Jules.

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And on that note, we said good-bye to Napa’s rolling green hills.  Next stop, T-Town!

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We stayed close to home last month, keeping true to our annual commitment to a frugal January – no eating out, no shopping for non-essentials, no spending money on entertainment.  Shane made it the entire month without a single drop of alcohol.  On February 2nd, we patted ourselves on the back for our incredible restraint and then counteracted said restraint with a three-day getaway to Sleeping Lady Lodge in Leavenworth.  On Thursday morning we loaded up the car, swung by REI to pick up my rented skis and a pack of hand-warmers, and jetted toward the mountains.  We rolled into town around lunchtime and chowed down on pizza and beer.  No doubt, Leavenworth has a very faux vibe about it, but there’s no arguing the natural beauty of that backdrop!

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We popped into the candy store after lunch and told Juliette she could pick out a treat – she was over-the-moon thrilled with her single piece of cherry saltwater taffy.  I’m so thankful for the way this kid finds joy in the smallest of things!

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We made our way to the lodge, not entirely sure what to expect (traveler reviews ranged from “bare-bones rustic” to “wonderfully luxurious”).  But from the moment we stepped out of the car and saw the sunlight streaming through the trees onto snow-capped cabins, I was certain we were someplace special.

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Free cider in the lobby?  Juliette’s day just kept getting better and better.

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We had some time to kill before our room was ready, so we headed over to the “Play Barn” to shoot pool and spin foosball.

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Once we had our keys, we settled in for some quiet time – Juliette claimed this little sleeping alcove as her own cozy play space.

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Quiet time was short-lived, as Shane was itching to try out the ski attachment he’d scored on Craigslist for the bike trailer.  We bundled up and hit the nearby Nordic trail.

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I wasn’t sure how Jules would fare in the cold, but with a couple of blankets, a hand warmer, and another cup of hot cider, she was more than happy to sit back and enjoy the ride.

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I know, I’ve said it before, but this man is a STUD.

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We ate dinner Thursday night at the lodge’s bar and all fell into bed satisfyingly exhausted.  Juliette was out like a light by 7:45 and I think I followed suit around 7:50.  Who says a pre-8:00 bedtime is just for kids?

Snow started to fall sometime during the night and we awoke Friday morning to a freshly powdered winter wonderland.

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“Breakfast buffet in the dining hall” usually isn’t a promising phrase in terms of flavor or ambiance, but wowsers, this place does breakfast right.  And those windows!

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After breakfast we strapped our skis to the top of the Forester and drove over to Leavenworth Ski hill for a romp in the freshy-freshy pow-pow.

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Good God, it was gorgeous out there.  And blissfully quiet, the only sounds being the swish of our skis and Juliette’s voice as she belted out “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart“.

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These downhill stretches made me awfully nervous, but Shane stuck ’em all. (I didn’t.)

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Seriously, guys – I think I discovered peace on earth.

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Our zen was momentarily interrupted when we got a little off course, tried to ski through some bushes, and all ended up face-first in the snow, but we quickly dusted ourselves off and found our bearings.  I like to think we’re making the quite the adventurer out of Juliette…

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We ate lunch in town and then settled in for an afternoon of Candyland and books.

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The snow started dumping again late afternoon and wielded its magnetic powers on Shane, so we all headed out for sledding and snow angels.

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This icicle just about blew her mind!

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We ate dinner at the lodge again, too tuckered out to venture any farther.  Juliette was asleep before I’d even finished her bedtime song, but I rallied and opened up a bottle of wine while Shane queued up a show on Netflix.  We ate popcorn and drank wine and watched The People v. O.J. Simpson until the wee hour of 10 pm, at which point we joined Juliette in her deep, deep slumber.  VACATION.  SO GOOD.

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Shane got up early Saturday morning for a solo ski.  Juliette got up early to play Candyland for the 87th time.

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Our morning stroll to the breakfast buffet…

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We soaked up every last minute at Sleeping Lady, doing puzzles in our cozy nook until the clock struck checkout time.

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Even after we’d turned in our keys and loaded up the car, we still couldn’t bring ourselves to leave, so we played in the snow outside our front door for a half hour.

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Magic, I tell you.

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And one last family photo at our little sliver of heaven on earth:

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Still not ready to head back to Seattle, we headed back to the Leavenworth Ski Hill to do some tubing.

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I was a little alarmed when we were told that Juliette would have to go on her own tube rather than sit in Shane’s lap, but once she saw people zipping down the hill, there was no turning back.  She was adamant that she was a big kid and could do it all by herself.  I had a minor panic attack watching that rope tow her away from me…

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Sure enough, she held on and landed safely at the bottom of the hill, slightly stunned (that course was fast!) but quite proud of herself.

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Tubing was fun, but sitting by the fire and drinking hot chocolate with my arm securely around Juliette felt much better.

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We polished off our hot chocolate and debated whether to head back to Seattle or to make one more snow stop.  Snow for the win!  We drove over to Enchantment Park to play on some slightly smaller hills.

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How many times did she pile snow onto the slide and then launch into it?  Fifteen, easy.

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By this point, I was cold and damp and had my fill, but it was near impossible to tear Jules away.  She most certainly had found her happy place.

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We headed back to the car and peeled off our wet coats and snow pants and mittens, satisfied that we had made the most of our snowy getaway.  Still, it was a little hard for me to wave goodbye to these mountains.  I didn’t know when I booked the trip back in December that we’d be so desperate to unplug and find serenity, but it turned out that this place was exactly what we needed when we needed it.

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Adios, Leavenworth.  Muchas gracias.

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