Archive for the ‘peeps’ Category

Yipes!  Seems we’re due for an update on all things Isaac before this kid ups and turns three in just three months.  Two continues to be wonderful and terrible and joyful and exhausting, sometimes all within the same five minutes.  Big boy in a nutshell:

CARS.  Cars are his lifeblood – he’s rarely seen without a little matchbox car in his hand.  His color-changing Lighting McQueen is his absolute favorite.  Mater the Tow Truck is a close second.

When I want to chill and he wants to play, we make a game of him running his cars up and down my legs, to my toes (the “mountains”) and then back down the hill to my knees.  It’s my favorite.

Sometimes, sometimes, he sets the cars aside for new interests.  Like Juliette’s old baby doll.  This infatuation only lasted about 17 minutes, but it was awfully good while it did.

Shall I just go ahead and clarify the hair situation?  We went from mop top to what felt like almost-buzzed a few weeks ago, with his first professional haircut.  His locks were growing faster than I could trim them and so we booked him an appointment at a local salon with a dedicated fire truck seat for the littles.  I was anxious, mostly about Isaac’s capacity to sit still for a stranger, but he was a perfect customer.  The woman who cut his hair was very good with him, so I forgave her when she giggled, “Oh, wow!  Mommy cuts hair crooked!”

So fresh, so clean!  Perhaps a little shorter than I expected, but it suited him.

I do miss that swoop.

Favorite foods these days are still the messy ones.  Yogurt:

Spaghetti…

That extra-good vanilla steamer milk froth is a special treat…

And oh, the snacks.  After catching him rummaging in the kitchen several times over, applesauce pouches, granola bars, and dried mangoes have been relocated to the high-up cupboard next to the microwave.  That doesn’t assuage the constant pleading for a BARRRRRRRR, though.  Not my favorite.  I suppose I did this to myself.

The sleep sitch is a mixed-bag.  Naptime works fine – we’ve traded our chair dozes for afternoon naps in my bed, which I don’t mind.  There are few things I’d rather do on a Sunday afternoon than snuggle up with my boy for a snooze, and I can easily slip out after he’s conked.

Nighttime, though…getting this boy to sleep is a thing.  It starts with his objections of “No nigh-nigh time!” as we get his pajamas on, but we eventually get over that hump and then we negotiate our way through teeth-brushing, followed by much back-and-forth over which books to read.  We finally settle into our gray chair, Pink Bear and Deer tucked in close, and for that 10 to 15 minutes of reading time, all is well.  I love that 15 minutes.  But then I put the books away and the whining ensues.  There are pleas for more books (no) and for then for an “airplane ride” into bed (fine), and he’s tucked in and the real trouble starts.  “Chairrrrrrr, Mama!  Chairrrrrrrr!”  Kiddo does not take kindly to being left alone and wants me back in that chair while he drifts off.  I explain that I need to go take a shower or see Juliette or just take a damn break, and very occasionally he accepts my departure without fuss, but often there is crying and debating and me coming into his room 47 times to cover him back up with the blanket and ask him to settle down.  Again, this drama is probably self-inflicted, as I allowed him to get so used to having me so near (ahem, photo above, I KNOW), but it’s time, Bud.  Time to let Pink Bear be your bedtime pal.  We’re gonna figure this out.

Mornings are fine – he usually rouses around 6:15, which feels reasonable, though we do have the occasional very-early wake-up, which I don’t mind too much if he’ll come snuggle on the couch with me.  Bonus points if he falls back asleep!

Speaking of mornings, I have started taking Isaac to school on the bus once a week and it’s a hit.  It’s terribly inconvenient, as we board at 7:20 near our house and get off near school at 7:30 and then I board again when the next bus comes at 8:00 to take me downtown and then I’m eventually into an hour plus commute, but it gives Shane a break from the drop-off rigmarole and Buddy LOVES it.  He’s so sweet and excited as we settle into our seat, looking out the window and shouting “Yook, Mama!” as we pass cars and dogs and all sorts of banal things that somehow gain a new shimmer when seen from a bus window.  Every time the bus stops to pick up new passengers he asks “All done?” and I say, “Not yet!”, and he smiles so big to find that we can keep on rolling.  Totally worth the hour plus.

We’re very much on that steep upward language curve where he’s telling me something new every day still and it’s been fun to watch gibberish coalesce into legible sentences.  Favorite Isaac-isms are:

“No problem!”, used appropriately at minor accidents like spilled crackers (and maybe less appropriately when he hugs Shane only to discover he’s left a 6-inch smear of snot across his dad’s sweatshirt);

“C’mon Jooooooo-yet, c’mon” (his days of calling his sister Dodgeya are behind us);

“Bye Teet-tart!”, said in the mornings as a mimic of my own goodbye to him as he heads to the car with Shane; and

“FIVE MINUTES.”, stated with much seriousness and a firm palm spread toward me in a waiting motion – he does things on his own time and does not appreciate being rushed out of a groove.

Some silly snaps:

And sick snaps…Isaac has been mostly healthy, but we’ve had a couple of fevers here and there.  This particular morning felt extra hard, as Shane was in Minnesota with his Dad and I was feeling sad and anxious and tired and behind at work, but I shut down my laptop at lunchtime and we actually ended up enjoying each other very much.  Cozy box forts for the win.

Sister snaps:

(Juliette, you are THE BEST.)

And finally, bath snaps, because how do you top these?

Maui was magic, but March was hard.  We came home to the news that Shane’s dad, who hadn’t been feeling well, was back in the hospital again.  Shane decided to fly out to Minnesota to offer whatever support he could as Denny and Pat and a slew of doctors struggled to just figure this thing out.  It was a week of tests and hard news and more tests and treatment plans and eventually Shane came home to us, exhausted and anxious, but we maintained a glimmer of hope that his dad would rebound and we’d be seeing him again this summer in Walker, perched on the seat of his golf cart at the street end, waiting to tuck Juliette into her rightful place as his best copilot.

Hope quickly waned in the following days as Denny’s health declined and hard conversations were had.  I cried rivers that week.  I sent Denny daily videos of the kids being silly or wishing him well as I began to face the fact that he’d likely never see them again in person.  Juliette wrote him the sweetest letter, gushing about how lucky she felt to be his granddaughter, how much his love has meant to her over the years.  Shane bought another plane ticket to Minnesota, this time with the knowledge that he’d be saying goodbye.  He landed in Minneapolis shortly after midnight on March 17th, drove to his mom and dad’s house two hours north, and held Denny’s hand in the wee hours of the morning.  I was so glad Shane had made it, so glad he’d have a final few days with his dad.

Shane called me around 10am later that morning – I was halfway to the zoo with the kids, determined to stay busy and enjoy the unseasonably warm day.  But my phone and rang I knew before Shane even choked out the words.  Denny had passed away just hours after Shane’s arrival, at home and surrounded by his beloveds, like he’d wanted, but damnit, this wasn’t really what he wanted.  What he wanted was more years on this earth.  It’s sure as hell what we wanted.  We wanted more hugs, more fishing trips, more rides in the side by side.  More of his contagious belly laughs.  More time.

Instead, we gathered in Minnesota a couple of days later, abundantly aware of his absence.  Juliette immediately remarked on how different the house felt without him.  Isaac wandered into their bedroom on our second morning there, patted Denny’s side of the bed, and asked “Papa?  Papa?”.  I peered in from the doorway as Pat explained to him that Grandpa is in heaven now.  Isaac then ran to their sliding glass door, nodding as he said “Mmm-hmm.  Papa outside.”  “Yeah, kind of…” Pat replied.  I cried all the while.  I couldn’t believe he was gone.

We spent a lot of time that week looking out the window for deer in the corn, knowing how Denny loved to watch them roam.  We sat around the kitchen island, telling stories about the man that loved people and food and farming and America.  It was the first time all five of his grandkids were together in one place, and it felt so unfair that he wasn’t there to enjoy it.  We stood together and wept as the marines performed funeral honors, with a gun salute and a folding of the flag.  It was beautiful.  And heart-wrenching.

Saying good-bye was the hardest thing any of us had ever done.

There’s a lot I miss about Shane’s dad, but in scrolling through photos these past few weeks, taking the time to sit with my favorite memories, it’s the loss of my kids’ grandpa that stings the most.  Goodness, how he loved Isaac and Juliette.  How they loved him back.

Rest in peace, Denny.  We miss you, deeper than we’ve ever missed anyone before.  But your generosity of heart made an indelible imprint on us.  We’ve each got this little nugget of your love tucked deep inside.  We’ll have that forever.  Forever and ever, amen.

We’re down to our last full day in Maui…I set out on my own on Wednesday morning for a solo beach walk.  I sat for awhile in the sand and said my prayers of gratitude.  The past few days had been such a treat for family.

Hi, kids!  Isaac’s face in this pic makes me smile, like…”What the heck, Mom?  You went to the beach without me?!”

All was forgiven.

We decided that morning beach time was really our jam, before it got too hot.  It was nice to feel the sun come up while we played in the sand, then take an ocean dip before heading over to the pool.

Little boxes of yogurt-covered raisins are Isaac’s favorite special treat when we travel – he calls them ‘eggs’ and gets giddy when I pull them out.  Shane missed the memo and picked up regular raisins from the market.  Isaac was very sweet in hiding his disappointment.

Isaac truly believed he could stop the waves with an outstretched hand a grumpy face.

Didn’t work.

Naptime seemed to lengthen a bit with each passing day – fun fatigue is a real thing.  We loved those quiet hours back at the room, though, reading and resting and hanging on the patio.  We’d all pile into bed when Isaac woke up and ponder how we should spend the afternoon.

I mean, was there ever really any question?

I know Shane’s arms were tired 14 rounds into this game, but Isaac kept shouting, “More, Daddy!  MORE!”

Who can resist?

Sister wanted in.

We knew our pool time was waning and did the slide circuit several times, then spent awhile cruising the lazy river, Isaac on Shane’s shoulders and Juliette on mine.

Side note: palm trees just don’t make sense proportionally, do they?

We had dinner that night at Monkeypod – Juliette and I wanted to try their famous Mai Tai’s with Lilikoi foam (sans alcohol for the kiddo).

YUM.

We bolted back to the beach after dinner for one last sunset.  Oh, to lounge in the warm sand.  The luxury of this leisure was not lost on me.

1, 2, 3…pants OFF.

Never give up, Isaac.

We walked back to our room pink-cheeked and a little buzzy from Mai Tais and golden skies.  Another top day.

Rise and shine, kiddos!  It’s go-home day…

We staked out our beach chairs and did the mental math on how long we could possibly wait before checking out and heading to the airport.

These footprints were all ours.

Shane and Juliette took a dip while Isaac and I watched from our usual knee-deep spot.  They heard whales underwater and sheesh, could this place be more magic?

Chlorine rinse and one last rousing game of keep-away.

And then we blitz-packed and headed down to the lobby to toss our coins to the wish-granting mermaid.

Oof.  Saying good-bye is hard.  But how lucky are we?!  Mahalo, Maui.

Maui, Days 4 and 5…

I was up before the sun on Monday morning so that I could grab some coffee before my 7am beach yoga class.  I thought I would just quietly slip out of our room unnoticed, but who was I kidding?  Isaac was up, which meant everyone was up, so I had company for my walk to the market.

I laid out my towel on the beach with several other resorters and we warrior-ed while whales played in the distance.

Yoga was fun, but I could see the kids playing down the beach with Shane and couldn’t wait to join them.

ISAAC!

We lounged in our chairs for a bit before going full-bore on sand play.

I thought I had plenty of pictures of Isaac in Shane’s hat, but then he flipped it around and I needed one more.

The kids loved having sand piled on top of their legs, but Isaac’s wiggly toes never stayed buried for long.

Time to rinse off!

Isaac picked out that orange car from the gift shop next to the shave ice place on Saturday and he clutched it close at naptime and bedtime all week.  It’s almost as cuddly as his favorite deer.  Almost.

We drove up to Paia after naptime for a late lunch at the Flatbread Company.  We visited this place a couple of years ago and remembered loving the Mopsy, their signature pie topped with Kalua pork and pineapple.  It’s as good as ever.

Pizza, then pool.  Isaac leveled up on the waterslides and started doing the little ones on his own.

We spent a lot of time at the upper pool this year – it seemed mildly warmer than the big pool down down below and it was away from a lot of the hub-bub.  Our family often had this area all to ourselves and Shane, Juliette and I played several rounds of Monkey in the Middle with our water-ball while Isaac happily bobbed around nearby.  There was a moment when Shane lunged at me to block my catch and I was struck by the volume of my own laughter – I guess we made our own hub-bub.

She’s going to have this boy swimming on his own next year.

The kids reluctantly changed out of their swimsuits in the evening and then we spent awhile playing more Monkey in the Middle, this time on our favorite lawn.  The kids ran and ran, then stopped for a snuggle.

We walked back after sundown and took a peek at the resort’s luau before calling it a night.

Goodnight, moon.

Tuesday!  Up bright and early again.  Shane headed out to play some pickle ball and I took the kids to the market for acai and coffee.

We stopped to look at some bugs and I reveled in how good it felt to be on island time.

CARS.  Always with the cars.

We took our acai bowls down to the beach and munched and read and played.

When the ocean roars, Isaac roars back.

ELEVATOR BUTTONS.  Another simple pleasure in the midst of paradise.  We made a lot of extra stops that week.

Suit up, kids!

Shane joined us for some volleyball and a poolside lunch.

And then we did the tired march to naptime…

Naptime over.  Right back to the pool.

Hot tub?  Don’t mind if we do.

We gussied up for dinner and it’s like this kid was auditioning for Miami Vice, the way he strutted through the lobby.  He clearly knew how good he looked.

Maui Brewing was all we hoped it would be – beer and nachos and cornhole, to boot!

I love a restaurant where Isaac can run free.

Shane’s got the best aim in our family when it comes to lawn games, but Juliette has the best style.

We jetted down to Makena Cove after dinner to catch the sunset.  This little stretch of beach is pure magic at golden hour.

Isaac soaked and shed his shorts within five minutes of our arrival.  Juliette gave me kudos for packing her swimsuit.

I know I’ve said this before, but gosh, watching my kids play tag with the tide is one of my most favorite things in the whole wide world.

Isaac really expanded his repertoire of facial expressions on this trip.  This was a new one – he’d look at Juliette and me, wide-eyed and a little confused, then bust into a cheesy grin.

The sand here is some of the softest I’ve felt.  Isaac spent a long time burying and then searching for a little stick he’d found, just for the feel of the sand running between his fingers.

Magic, I tell you!  Magic!

Juliette and I were buzzing from our perfect sunset and felt too amped to call it a night, so we grabbed some ice cream from Loulou and went down the pool for a night swim.

We sat in the hot tub and chatted till we couldn’t take the heat anymore, then walked back to our room by the light of the moon.  Top day.

Goodness, I’ve got some catching up to do around here.  We’ve had not one but TWO beautiful sun-cations with a grief-filled March in between.  Life has been full, to say the least.

I’ll start with Maui, because that happened first and because it feels good right now to reminisce about those few days at our favorite place.  Maui.  Maui, Maui, Maui.  We have built a precious handful of annual trips and traditions into our family calendar, but our February trip to Wailea takes the cake.  We book our room nearly a year in advance, before the points-per-night rates skyrocket, and we look forward to it all winter long, religiously swallowing our zinc and vitamin D in an effort to ward off any bugs that could waylay our trip.  I was feeling especially anxious this last time around, as Juliette and I were both so traumatized by the five hours of puking she did on our 2023 trip to Maui, but as we inched down the jetway and Isaac tried to board with a family that was not his own, we laughed and my shoulders relaxed.  The kids felt great.  Our bags were packed.  We were making it happen!

Isaac is becoming such a good little traveler.  IPads help, as does a flight that spans naptime, but also, he’s just generally a more reasonable little human these days.  Way to hang in there, Bud.  Good things to those who make it through flights without throwing fits!

We landed on Maui, snagged our suitcases and rental car, and bee-lined for the hotel.  Our room wasn’t ready, but we rummaged in our bags for our swimsuits and passed the afternoon in the pool.  ALOHA.

We walked over to the beach as the sun started to set and the kids played in the sand and splashed in the waves.

When we took Isaac to the beach here a year ago, initially he hesitated to even put his feet down in the sand – it took him awhile to come around to the feeling of it squishing between his toes.  But this time around, he ran and rolled until he had sand in his hair and his shorts and his ears.  No time to waste!

We walked back to the room at sundown, feeling like Maui had rolled out its very finest welcome mat.

Saturday!  Rise and shine!  We walked to the market for our morning acai bowls and then it was right to the pool.

Isaac’s blue arm floaties proved to be the best thing we packed.  We’d click that buckle, toss him in the pool, and he’d happily bob and bob, the sweetest little buoy you’ve ever seen.

We took a break from pooltime to complete our annual scavenger hunt.

I appreciate that Juliette pretends like it’s all still a big mystery, even though she knows the location of each landmark backwards and forwards by this point.

Scavenger hunt over and prize claimed!  Back in the pool!

Pooltime -> NAPTIME.

We drove to Kihei in the afternoon for shave ice at Ulilani’s.  I really didn’t want to share my green tea / guava / passionfruit bowl of goodness, so I let Isaac get his own.  It was as big as his head.

And he ate it all!

We spent the evening at our dreamy little stretch of beach, digging and sunset-gazing.

Inevitably, Juliette couldn’t resist the pull of the waves and wished she’d left her swimsuit on.

Inevitably, Isaac followed sister into the tide and ended up with soaking wet clothes that were stripped off by sundown.

All in a day’s work.

We ate dinner in our room that night, too pooped to put on real clothes and read a restaurant menu.  Isaac threw the fit to end all fits before passing out way past his proper bedtime, then we woke at midnight to the sound of Juliette sleepwalking into the balcony sliding glass door.  She was fine, we were fine, all was fine, but sheesh!  Did we overdose on sunshine?

Sunday was another wide-open day, kicked off with yogurt and fruit from our beachfront cafe, then some lawn antics with the kiddos while Shane went for a run.

We settled into our beach chairs mid-morning and played in the surf.

Some of us played further out than others!

God, I love Beach Jules.  Freckly and smiling and wrapped in a cozy towel.

Pool Jules!

These photos are Isaac in a nutshell.  Silly as all get out, sometimes aggressively so (that second pic!).  I can always count on this boy for a good laugh.  It’s such a gift.

Juliette looks like she’s taking a mid-day Zoom meeting while her brother naps…

How many photos of my kids playing in the pool are too many?

Is there such a thing?

We walked over to Waikiki Brewing for cocktails and dinner.

Followed by ice cream at Lapperts.

Juliette left for a minute to use the restroom and Isaac spent the full time she was gone on a fierce lookout for her return.

She’s back.

We played for awhile on the lawn while the sun went down, twirling in the wind and tossing the ball around.

CLASSIC.

Does Isaac bug the crap out of sister sometimes?  100%.  But at the end of the day, do they have the sweetest, loving-est sibling-ship?  100%.

We walked back to our room as the sun dipped below the horizon, Isaac pointing up the sliver of moon brightening in the sky and exclaiming “MOON!” every few steps.  Even in one of the loveliest places on earth, it’s sometimes still about the simple pleasures.

Goodnight, Maui.

Our annual MLK weekend snow-cation has become a staple in our annual family calendar – I’ve come to count on those couple of days as a guaranteed fix of January cozy.  We will forever love Winthrop for its mountain views and expansive cross-country trails, but lately we love Suncadia Lodge for its proximity to home and expansive hallways, perfect for early-morning wanders.

We arrived at the Lodge on Friday evening, thrilled with the fresh dumping of snow.  Less thrilled with the zero-degree temps.  It was COLD.  But we bundled up and booked it down the twinkly path to the Inn for dinner, our extremities numb by the time we arrived.

Thankfully, the Lodge has a handful of indoor amenities that don’t require 17 layers of outerwear.  Isaac had his goggles on at 6am on Saturday, eager to check out the pool.

Breakfast first, Buddy.  Pancake time!

We did make it to the pool right when the doors opened at 10:00 and the kids mostly loved it, though we wouldn’t have minded if the water was a few degrees warmer.  Juliette pretended like it felt great, but the chattering of her teeth was a dead giveaway.

Post-pool chai tea latte…

And naps.  You KNOW I love a vacation nap.

I was feeling antsy by mid-afternoon, so I asked Juliette if she wanted to brave the cold with me and try out our new sled.  She was game, frosty eyelashes and all.

Gosh, I really do have the best time with her.  Between the below-freezing temps and the surprise remodel that had put the Lodge’s lobby and bar out of commission, I was feeling a little funky about our magical weekend.  But how could I have forgotten about Juliette’s ability to always bring the party?

We headed into Roslyn around dinnertime to hunker down for awhile at Basecamp Books and Coffee and then get some food at the Roslyn cafe.

Isaac’s mind was blown when he discovered that they also had a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Turns out his copy isn’t the only one in circulation…

Once Isaac stopped resisting the bundling-up and allowed me to outfit him in boots and hat and gloves and puffy coat, he actually seemed ok with the weather.  In very small doses.

Roslyn Cafe was closed due to the extreme weather, so we grabbed a booth at the nearby Mexican joint instead.  Look at us, rolling with the punches!

We were tucked back into our room by sundown and again, we made our own fun.

Sunday morning!  More in-room shenanigans…

And then a stroll over to the sledding hill.  The temps had warmed into the (low) double-digits and we were ready to seize the snow!

(Isaac was back to refusing his gloves.  He learned real quick the folly in his ways.)

Ahhh…to have feeling in his fingers again!

Juliette showed up with the inner tube and brother hitched a ride.

And then these two flew, down the hill and over the little jump, giggling all the while.

We walked out onto the frozen pond and left our footprints all over the untouched, pristine snow.  Juliette’s prints were neat and sweet and lined up just-so.

Then Isaac wreaked his usual havoc.

Juliette kept falling back into the snow, remarking at how perfectly it formed to the curve of her back, how comfy it was and wishing aloud that she could just lay there all day and take a nap.

Isaac, you’re a trooper.

Eventually, though, we called it.  Chai time!

We did some lounging in our room and I wish I could remember what it was Shane was saying that held Juliette so rapt, but I know it was good.

Roslyn Cafe, take 2!  Perfect Sunday lunch.

And then back for naptime and snuggles.

We went back out in the late afternoon and found that the Lodge’s sledding hill was packed, so we drove over to the playground to do our rollicking.

We had a pizza dinner in our room and blitzed through a couple more episodes of the latest Percy Jackson series.  Juliette is hooked.  Isaac almost certainly had no idea what was going on, but if sister is into it, he’s into it.

Bedtime was a bit of a bear that weekend, requiring infinite levels of patience from Shane and I as we struggled to coax Isaac to sleep, but on Sunday evening Shane said, “I got this” and sent Juliette and me out to enjoy campfire s’mores and a twinkle walk.

Thanks, Shane!

Monday was go-day and while we didn’t need to rush home, I think we felt ready to break free from our close quarters and return to saner climates.  First, though, a few final sled runs.

And raisins.  Some things are worth taking off the gloves for.

The kids and I took our time walking back to the Lodge while Shane loaded up the car.  They were so cute romping and falling in the snow together that I almost forgot how cold I was.  Almost.

And with that, we jumped in the car, cranked up our seat warmers, and were homebound.  Thankful for a family that rolls with conditions we didn’t quite plan for.  We didn’t do the skiing or the snowman-building I’d imagined, but oh, those endless games of airplane that Isaac and Juliette played on the bed while our fireplace flickered in the background.  That’s the good stuff.

One last homage to the 2023 holidays!  We arrived home from Portland the day after Christmas, quickly unpacked then repacked our bags, then headed to the airport early the next morning to catch our flight to Minnesota.  Schnell clan, here we come!

We had asked Shane’s parents what they wanted for Christmas and when they said, “Just a hug from our grandkids”, it felt awfully good to respond with, “YOU GOT IT!”.  Isaac and Juliette made themselves right at home.

It was a bit too cold to do a lot of playing outdoors, but we managed to get out for a walk to the mailbox on Thursday.

Isaac appreciated the chance to get some wiggles out.

Buddy refused to keep his mittens on and bravely rolled a snowball with his bare hands.  He’s tougher than I am!

I was hoping for a fresh couple inches of snow while we were there, but Juliette made do just fine with the dusting that was left from earlier in the week.

The rest of the day was spent rolling matchbox cars up and down Isaac’s makeshift box ramp, baking Grandma’s famous sour cream cookies, and playing cards with Aunt Tiff and Uncle Jason.

The sun came out on Friday and so Isaac and I hopped in the car and drove to the park while Juliette and the other grownups went to see Wonka.

It was a beautiful afternoon, but still frigid, so we did a quick tour of the playground equipment, ran a couple of laps on the lawn, and then bolted back to the car.

We warmed up at Caribou Coffee with a steamer and a latte and I very much enjoyed sitting across the table from Isaac and just taking in his array of facial expressions as he sipped his milk (mmmmm….nommy!) and flipped through his animal flashcards (lion…roooooaaaar!).  This felt like one of my first real sit-down dates with my boy and I believe he’s on the way to becoming a pretty respectable cafe companion.  Oh, the places we’ll go, Bud.

Back at the Schnell homestead, we walked through Grandpa’s corn field and then the kids took a spin with him in the side-by-side, which Isaac lovingly calls The Tractor.

We eeked out one more Christmas lights visit that night and walked through a display in town, stopping to pet the glittery deer and pose with blinking Santa.

Back at the house, we ate fried chicken and wrapped our arms around Hayden, who had just rolled into town with her boyfriend.  Cousins together and it felt so good!

Saturday was wide open – plenty of time for card games and matchbox cars and laying low with loved ones.

And laughing.  These three had the giggles.

Shane whupped us at Polish poker.  And was not so humble about it.

Juliette stopped laughing!

After much pleading from Isaac, we got out for a family ride in the side-by-side that afternoon.  We just went up the street and back, but Isaac treated it like the adventure of a lifetime, grinning throughout.

We made a quick run into town to peruse the toystore – Grandpa had slipped the kids some Christmas money and we picked out a sweet stuffed deer for Isaac and a stuffed fox for Juliette as mementos of the week.

Ok, I thought we were done with lights for the year, but Tiff pitched a visit to another big display outside town and you know I’m a sucker for the twinkle!

Back at the house, we played more games, ate more cookies, and savored our last snuggles.

We got an early(ish) start on Sunday and said our sad goodbyes to Denny and Pat, but then said a happy hello to Shanay near Minneapolis before checking in at the airport.

We’d done a lot of coming and going that week, but Isaac and Juliette were such troopers.

This was Isaac’s best flight yet – he had a snack, ran his orange Hotwheel car up and down my arm for a few minutes, and then crashed out on Juliette’s lap while watching Star Wars.

MADE IT!  Happy New Years Eve, folks.

Our NYE evening was quiet – we were tuckered and turned in well before midnight.  Felt good to wake up at home on New Years Day, turn on the fireplace, and bust out the train set.

That said, we did have places to be later that morning.  These two were polar plunging!

Juliette nearly bailed at the last minute, but I pep-talked her pretty hard and she peeled off her sweatshirt and beanie just as the first folks waded into the freezing water.

Isaac looked on from the shore, intrigued and a little bit concerned.

Wouldn’t be a true polar plunge without a few tears!

I’m sorry she cried, but I’m proud of her for pushing through.  You’ve got more gumption than your mama, Juliette Grace!

Isaac asked to go in the water, so I peeled off his shoes and socks so that he could understand this wasn’t really a Maui situation.  One toe in, and he got it.  “No thank you, Mama!”

For the record, she was quite proud of herself as well.

We’d had rain-checked our family brunch with the Chens and Rusts due to Isaac being under the weather in mid-December, so we gathered after the plunge for our makeup festivities.

After tucking into Nancy’s famous almond torte, the kids did some very serious house-building with gingerbread and frosting.

And then, presents!  Always so much laughter and gratitude when we gift-give with this crew.  Isaac got to go first, as we went youngest to oldest, and he was thrilled with his squishy dinosaur from the Chens.

No stuffies for these teens…skate shop gift cards and light-up drumsticks it is!

Ahhh…cheers to the coziest of kick-offs to a brand new year.

 

We saw far too little of the Jarrell fam in 2023, so it felt awfully good to land on their Portland doorstep a couple of days before Christmas for a holiday cozy-in.  Isaac made himself right at home in his cousin’s comfy bed.

And then there were card games and puzzles and cookie decorating…

I know, he looks very focused, but in actuality his interest waned after about 15 seconds.

Juliette was a little skeptical about my dad’s frosting skills, but in the end she gave him a solid ‘A’.  For effort, I mean.

We watched Elf that night, piled on the couch or stretched out on the floor by the fire, and all felt right.

Christmas Eve!  Isaac spent his morning hovering around the tree (and the pile of presents underneath it).  He still has no real concept of time, but I think he sensed the big day was near.

We (ok, ISAAC!) started getting the stir-crazies before lunch, so we ducked out for a coffee run and a playground romp.

Mitch was the biggest kid on the playground that morning.

Faster, Uncle Mitch!  FASTER!

Back at the house, Isaac and I settled in for an afternoon doze while the rest of the fam settled in for a marathon game of Monopoly.

Post-nap vegging…

And then the young ladies went down to El’s bedroom, entered a time warp, and came up looking a couple of years older.  My nieces are both officially teenagers and suddenly it feels like Juliette isn’t far behind them?

While Juliette played the part of the mature big sis, Isaac really dove into his role as the annoying kid brother.

We tucked into our country ham for dinner that night, Grandpa read a couple of books, and then Shane put Isaac to bed while the rest of us settled in for our annual Christmas Eve viewing of The Polar Express.

Buddy Boy would have loved to join us, but it would have been too hard to tear him away from the TV once he saw that train roll onto the screen, and we couldn’t have him up too late with the big day ahead.  Next year, maybe.  I was so happy to hear El say, “I love this movie” as the initial credits started rolling.  Kids change, but some things stay the same.

Movie done, jammies donned, cookie and carrot placed.  We’re ready for you, Santa!

We agreed the night before on an 8am gift-opening start time, but everyone was present and ready to go by 7:45 on Christmas morning – even the sleepy-headed teenagers showed up early!  Isaac got us rolling.

And then…stockings!  Stocking stuffing and un-stuffing is my favorite.  Juliette got some good stuff this year – a bedazzled beanie, a Time-Turner keychain, sour Hi-Chews.

Isaac needed a little help getting all the way to the bottom of his stocking and Juliette was happy to step in.  Buddy was particularly pumped about his little box of raisins.  I love two year olds.

Morgan and El were both thrilled by their haul of new sneakers, hoodies, and pajama pants.

And Juliette’s new Hermione stuffy was a hit.  Happy, thankful kiddos all around.

Mitch and Shane both got charcoal odor absorbers to stick in their stinky pickle ball shoes.  THANK YOU, KATHRYN!

Beer for Grandpa, always.

The grown-ups opened their cache of presents after a couple of rounds, but those kids just kept on going…

And going…

Finally, the last treasure was unwrapped and Isaac could get down to the real business of playing.  This train set from Shane’s parents absorbed him for most of the morning.

A quick break from laying train tracks to fiddle with his new remote control car…

And then a moment to gaze outside to see if the rain had stopped so he could go outside to play (it hadn’t!).

It poured all day long, but I didn’t mind so much – the kids had plenty of new goodies to keep them entertained indoors and I was happy to curl up on the couch and watch them play.

Jammie day for the win.

We shared a beautiful dinner and then retreated to the living room for more lounge time.  The kids and I tested each other’s tickle tolerance – trophy went to the person who could withstand foot or knee or neck tickles without laughing.  I failed miserably.  Juliette, surprisingly, was a rock.

Though the chin tickles finally got her.

There was a hallway soccer session with Grandma and Grandpa and then Isaac was officially tuckered.  We did it!

Again, the rest of us snuggled in for a movie.  We watched Home Alone and I looked over to the couch at one point to see El’s head resting on Juliette’s shoulder and I felt so grateful for cousins and warmth and all the love in that house.  Merry, merry Christmas.

We headed back to Seattle early on Tuesday, knowing we had another trip to prepare for (Minnesota on Wednesday!), but we made record time getting home and getting our laundry done and getting our bags repacked.  Found ourselves with enough time to snuggle up by the tree and then take the kids’ new remote control cars out for a spin!

I wasn’t sure neighbor Dave’s inflatable menagerie would still be there when we returned from Minnesota, so Isaac and I spent some time there saying goodbye to the dinosaur, and goodbye to Mickey Mouse, and goodbye to the doggie.  Isaac was going to miss these guys!

What’s next, you ask, Isaac?  More family fun to come.  Lots more.

December…more plaid jammie time, more morning snuggles.

We decided to skip the formal Santa photo op this year, as Juliette’s getting a bit old for it and Isaac is a bit timid for it, but it was fun to run into Saint Nick on an evening walk near the West Seattle Junction and I did convince Juliette to cozy up to her hat twin for a quick pic.  We were in the neighborhood to grab a couple of gifts and it was so festive that night, with roaming Santa and carolers in front of Bakery Nouveau and the Better as Brass crew tooting out All I Want for Christmas Is You.  Just a typical December Thursday…I love the holiday season.

Juliette’s Winter break began on December 15th and we celebrated with the opening of a single Christmas gift.  I knew she would want something fancy to wear over the coming couple of weeks and this new dress from Grandpa and Grandpa went straight from the gift bag onto her body!  Girl loves a good outfit.

We also celebrated the onset of break with another Christmas tree slumber party.  I never sleep quite as well as I hope on these nights, yet it’s never a disappointment.

And the mornings after!  I love a good Saturday morning blanket nest.

December 16th!  Recital day!  Juliette started in-person piano lessons with a new teacher a couple of months ago and we’ve been anticipating her first real recital ever since.  It’s a great motivator to practice, plus girl loves the spotlight (whether she’ll admit it or not).  After many at-home rehearsals and a multitude of nervous butterflies, the big evening arrived and Juliette strode up to that stage with such grace and bravery.  She played O Christmas Tree and Square Dance without a hitch and I couldn’t have been prouder.  She’s a star.

We relished the rest of that weekend at home to be quiet and cozy, as we knew we’d be Portland-bound early the next Saturday.

We keep a couple of Santa hats in a basket by the tree and I get a little giddy every time the kids pull them out.  Isaac’s Santa impression includes a booming HO, HO, HO!, shouted while he swings his arms and scratches his armpits like a monkey.  It works for him.

Juliette and I baked cookies…

And then she got very crafty with this mobile Mistletoe holder, which she dangled over Shane’s and my heads with a plea to “Kiss!  Kiss!”  Then Shane kissed me and she promptly told him to stop.  Parents can be so gross.

I worked most of that week before Christmas, but signed off a little early when possible to hang with Juliette, as she did a lot of self-entertaining during the day.  We picked up Isaac early on a foggy afternoon for a coffee shop date.

Visiting neighbor Dave’s driveway menagerie of inflatable characters became a regular part of our day.  Isaac would look out the window on the regular to see if the dinosaurs were “awake” (inflated).  If yes, he was desperate to go give them pat-pats.

What a mini wonderland…

Juliette and I requested a return trip to Bellevue’s Snowflake Lane parade, as it had been a few years, and Shane obliged and drove us all over there on a free evening.

It was crowded, but Isaac had a seat with great sight lines.

(Shane, meanwhile, couldn’t see anything!  Hehe…)

The parade was as cheesy and glittery as ever and Isaac ate it all up, getting particularly giddy over the dancing polar bear.

Plus, the people dressed as Nutcrackers hand out lollipops?!  Score.

It was…a lot.  I’m not sure this scene is totally our jam anymore, but we went, we saw, we survived.

ASTRA LUMINA, however!  This is a traveling light exhibit that recently landed in West Seattle and I snatched up tickets for Juliette and me on a Thursday night.  We got to saunter through the different installations at our own pace, hot cider in hand, and it was all pretty magical.

It looks like Juliette could start levitating at any moment…

This giant disco-looking ball was my favorite and we stood near it for several minutes, watching it shimmer and change color.

Top night.

I took off the Friday before Christmas so that Juliette and I could make our final holiday preparations together.  We picked up our last couple of gifts, baked pumpkin bread while watching the Winona Ryder version of Little Women, and joined Isaac in his classroom for craft time and treats.

We let the kids open a few gifts from their Minnesota family that evening to lighten the load we’d carry down to Portland.  Isaac didn’t entirely understand the gift-opening concept last year, but this year…he’s on it.

Thanks, Aunt Tiff and Uncle Jason!

(And thanks, Grandma and Grandpa!)

That smile…and so much more fun to come, Buddy.  So much more.

The holiday roundup!  It’s been a merry few weeks and I’m fighting a pretty fierce case of the post-Christmas blues, but I’m also feeling immensely thankful for home and family and health and for the spirit of wonder that lives in both Isaac and Juliette.  I don’t take for granted this cozy cocoon we’ve woven.

The gratitude meter officially kicked into overdrive on Thanksgiving Day – we spent a lazy morning on the couch, watching the The Grinch and eating the pumpkin bread that Juliette and I baked the night before.

And then we got on with the business of meal prep – Juliette took her usual post as cranberry sauce maker and pie glazer while I chopped veggies and peeled potatoes.

Desserts complete, we took an outside break to enjoy the sunshine and kick the soccer ball around.

And then a nap break, because we believe in giving ourselves in the gift of rest on holidays.

Shane kept the kids out of the kitchen after naptime so that I could finish up the potatoes, Brussels, and salad.  It’s amazing what I can pump out when I don’t have a toddler underfoot!

A quick pre-dinner cocktail break…

And LET’S EAT.  We’ve made a tradition of picking up BBQ from Peco’s the day before Thanksgiving and warming it up as our meat main.  Easy-peasy and a bigger crowd-pleaser than turkey.

Turns out Isaac was more thankful for yogurt and applesauce than anything else this year.  More ribs and mashed potatoes for me!

I’m mostly thankful for his multitude of facial expressions.  We laughed extra-much that evening.

A post-dinner stroll, to let the food settle and to visit the neighborhood bear.

Dessert hour…

And more snuggles while the kids finished The Grinch.

Shane, Juliette and I watched Little Women after Isaac went to bed, as we do every year, and Juliette and I cried our eyes out when Beth died, as we do every year, and I felt like holiday season couldn’t have possibly gotten off to a sweeter start.  What a perfect day with my favorite people.

I’m a stickler for tradition, but sometimes I can be flexible, so when Shane asked if I’d be interested in trading our annual pilgrimage to Mountain Creek Tree Farm for a fuss-free artificial tree, I said I’d think about it.  We found a lovely prelit fake fir at Costco and Shane promised a mountain hike in lieu of the tree farm, and so it was a done deal.  We bundled up and drove out to Gold Creek Pond the day after Thanksgiving for our consolation mountain time.

No regrets.  It was frosty, but so beautiful.

Once we hit the sunny side of the lake, we stopped shivering and were able to kick back a bit to throw rocks and explore.

Not too bad, huh?

We grabbed a brewpub lunch on the way home and Shane raised a glass to the fact that he didn’t have to stress about securing a tree to the top of our car.

That afternoon we unboxed our tree and pulled out our Christmas bins.  I love watching Juliette discover our treasure trove of decorations year after year.

Isaac learned the word “snowman” and has been toting around this mask on the regular.

Eggnog toast while we tree-trim and listen to Charlie Brown Christmas!  Some traditions live on.

I’m a fan of simple white lights, but this tree comes with a color option and an option to flash from white to color every few seconds, which Isaac loved.  He stood there for several minutes yelling GO! over and over, convinced he was changing the lights on command.

Shane got to work on the rooftop while Isaac shouted “Daddy!  Get down!”.

And then Juliette and I slept by the light of our tree.  Let the Christmas vibes roll.

Morning brought reading time in our living room blanket nest…

More shouting at the tree (the remote has since been hidden)…

And Isaac’s first viewing of The Polar Express.

Evening walks are so much fun at the holidays, complete with snowman hugs and Santa high-fives.

My mom spent the first week of December with us and Isaac really loved the evening Facetime calls with Grandpa.

And the Menashee House!  Such a wonder.  Isaac could have spent a couple of hours here, counting the Santas and watching the toy train run its tracks.

What a gift this family gives to West Seattle each year.  Talk about sparking joy!

That first weekend in December brought craft time with Grandma (homemade gift tags for the win!)…

More loving gazes at the Christmas tree (I love it too, Buddy!)…

And a living room piano recital, in preparation for Juliette’s first real recital later that month.  Juliette learned a whole smattering of Christmas tunes and it made me so happy to hear the tinkle of O Christmas Tree and Deck the Halls and We Wish You A Merry Christmas during her evening practice.  Sweetest-ever soundtrack as I folded laundry or read Isaac his bedtime stories.

(What Isaac lacks in technique, he makes up for with style.)

More evening light walks…

And a few final snaps with Grandma before she headed back to Idaho.

I spent the second weekend of December with Nance and La Verne on our annual Ladies Getaway.  This year we opted to venture a little further than our usual digs at Cedarbrook in SeaTac and booked a room at Suncadia Lodge.  We almost bailed on our plans when we saw the dumping of snow in the forecast at The Pass, but we pressed on and I’m so glad we did.  Cue the Cozy!

We lunched at Basecamp Cafe in Roslyn and spent a couple of hours chatting over our soups and sandwiches while fluffy flakes fell outside.

Quick market stop for chips, canned wine, and chocolate…

And then we got settled in our room, where we lounged and laughed.  We took a short walk to see the grounds and then ate dinner at the Lodge, but my favorite memories of that weekend are the time we spent sprawled on our beds, telling stories and eating chips.

These friends…I hope this tradition lives on forever, no matter where we live or how old we are.  I believe it will.

Whew!  Made it to mid-December!  And plenty more joy (and so many photos) still to come.