Archive for the ‘the gang’ Category

I am up to my ears in photos of the past month, with a trips to Idaho and PARIS on the books, but I’ll start with a couple of closer-to-home happenings.

Halloween came and went with much fanfare – there was a Fall Fest and a school party and a trick-or-treating bonanza.  Juliette rocked her Wonder Woman costume in true hero form.

After September’s post-birthday Princess kick, it was nice to see her in something a little less…poofy.

Shane pulls out his old Kevin Durant jersey every year and dresses up as a…basketball player?  In jeans?  I’m not really sure what’s going on here.

But dang, they are so stinking cute.

And…we’re off!

We hooked up with some neighbors and zig-zagged our way around the ‘hood.  Jules was thrilled to be out with such experienced trick-or-treaters – these kids knew exactly which houses doled out the full-size candy bars.

This guy buys 52 pumpkins every Halloween Eve and spends the next day carving each and every one of them.  I told Shane that we have GOT to step up our porch game next year.

We hurried home when it started to rain, Juliette’s bucket brimming with treats.  I have since pilfered all the Snickers bars and Shane has eaten every last Reese’s.  Happy Halloween!

This past week has felt decidedly more Wintry than Autumnal, so we’re squeezing in a couple of final golden strolls before the trees shed their leaves completely.  Juliette and I popped over to Kubota Gardens before her swim lesson one Friday afternoon for a brisk romp.  This place never disappoints.

I know, this headband is a little ridiculous, but it’s her new favorite.  Last night she slept with it on!

We’ve got our route through this place down pat now.  Up the hill, down the hill, over the bridge, under the tree tunnel, to the fish bond, and over the other bridge.

My little mushroom forager…

FRIDAYS!!!

 

And finally, a quick international jaunt with the Chens, lest the dads and the kids felt left out after Lav’s and my week in Paris.  We rolled into Canada on a very rainy Saturday, and after a dim sum fix in Richmond bought tickets at the Vancouver Aquarium for an afternoon of indoor sightseeing.

This is Juliette’s attempt at a fish face:

Jack leveraged his hotel points to snag us all a luxurious suite at the Fairmount, and after settling into our swanky space, we hit the pool.  In the rain!

We all dined on assorted meat skewers at Zakushi for dinner that night.  Juliette was in meatball heaven, and my rich, runny quail egg was to die for.

Back at the hotel, the kids fell asleep in seven seconds flat:

And the fellas picked us up a round of champagne to-go from the hotel bar.

We were determined to savor every last minute of our digs until our noon check-out time on Sunday, so the guys and kids spent the morning at the pool while LaV and I made use of our complimentary spa access.

I’d come back to this place for the mini-robes alone!

We slurped down a ramen lunch and then strolled through Stanley Park before heading south.

Sunday’s sunshine more than made up for Saturday’s downpour.

It was a long ride back to Seattle, even with the Nexus passes that allowed us to zip through the border crossing, but we made it.  We’re HOME for the foreseeable future.  And it feels so good.

Despite the extra hours of daylight, it somehow feels like time actually accelerates in Seattle during the summer.  My stomach does a sad little flip with each page-turn of the calendar.  I mean, it’s already August!  AUGUST!  Where did July go?  (Turns out, in looking back through my photo stream, I can tell you exactly where it went…)

The Fourth of July was spent at Rattlesnake Lake, shivering a bit in the morning breeze and then eventually letting the sun lure us into the water.

 

The winds out in the middle of the lake were pretty intense, causing Jack to take an unexpected dip in the water.

And this posse started out with toe-dips but was soaked by the time we left.

Seriously, our Lake Love runs deep.

 

Back at home, we brought out the sparklers and smoke bombs with the neighbors.

Ah, this age where excitement is found in the simplest of pleasures!

The other neighbor kids came and knocked on our door after dinner and asked if we wanted to watch their fireworks show – we walked over to find an arsenal of Ground Blooms and Fountains and Bottle Rockets on the sidewalk while one of the dads stood by with a blow torch.  The next hour was a barrage of booms and fizzles and children squealing, “Light this one, Daddy!  Light this one!”.

Golly, I love our street.

A couple of days later, Juliette and I headed to Remlinger Farms for our annual berry-picking pilgrimage.  Jules got right to work, popping huge red raspberries into her bucket (and her mouth).

Six pounds later, we were done.

(And quite proud of ourselves.)

The three of us hit up Lake Washington Boulevard a couple of times last month for bicycle Sundays – Juliette continues to be a little champ on two wheels.

And Friend-Fridays!  They’ve been extra-good lately.  We spent one sunny morning with N and LaV at Gene Coulon Park, trying (and failing) to catch minnows in buckets.

Last Friday we went to Henry Moses Aquatic Center for some legit summer swimming, and these two little fishes had the time of their lives.

We’ve been doing the splash park circuit on the weekends, meeting up with friends to romp at Jefferson Park and Georgetown Playfield.

And ’tis the season for baseball!  The three of us took in a Mariners game with my co-workers at my office’s summer picnic.

Juliette was really into it for about half an inning, but lost interest when she found out the Giants weren’t playing (I get it, kiddo).

But, the Giants were playing at Safeco a week later, so we played hooky with the Chens on a Wednesday afternoon to cheer on our boys.

Sadly, the Giants lost, but at least there were no gloating Mariners fans in our midst as we were surrounded by orange and black.

La Verne asked us last weekend if we were interested in tagging along with them to the Seattle Chamber Music performance at Volunteer Park, so we packed our cooler with wine and watermelon and joined them for a perfect evening of classical music.

…and contemporary art!

And now, it’s August.  The last full month of summer.  May it be chock-full of warmth, water, and more simple wonders.

I wasn’t super-jazzed about outdoor sleeping when a crow woke Juliette up at 5:45 on Saturday morning, but when Shane and the guys returned at 6:15 from their sunrise bike ride up Mount Constitution (those crazy cats!), I sent her out to hang with him and dozed for another hour while the sun came up and sufficiently warmed our tent.  Once I was up and ready to take over Jules-duty, Shane snagged his own morning snooze.

We packed up our coolers and drove over to Cascade Lake around lunchtime for some beach action.  La Verne and I ran a quick(ish) loop around the lake before settling in with the group for sandwiches, Spikeball, and cold beverages.

I took Jules out for a paddle but got no more than 20 feet off-shore before deciding to head back because of the heavy winds.  Only, I couldn’t head back…after several minutes of fighting the current and paddling in-place, we let the breeze carry us down-shore, where Shane met us and pulled us up to dry land.

These brave little mates were rewarded with ice cream for keeping their cool on the troubled waters.

And, home, sweet home…

Jordan had joined us that morning but clearly had some recuperating to do after his uber-early ferry ride.

Jordan’s chair quickly became Biscuit’s favorite seat in the house.

The afternoon and evening was filled with water play, hammock time, and campfire chats.

Shane offered to cover bedtime so that I could sneak away with La Verne and Jordan to Mount Constitution to catch the sunset.

And it was amazing up there.  Dusky and purply and so much like a soft pastel painting.

GOOD night.

The Chens packed up camp on Sunday morning and bid us farewell, as they needed to get back to Seattle.  First, though, a couple of pics…

And a trip into town for pastries and WiFi.

Back at camp, Jordan converted his Honda into a party pad and the kids perched up there for awhile, launching pine cones at miscellaneous targets.

I had spotted the serene-looking Twin Lakes from Mount Constitution the night before and proposed we make the 2-mile trek.  We headed out around lunchtime, backpacks filled with water and snacks and swimsuits.  We’d heard murmurings of a rope swing on Mountain Lake and came across it a half-mile in.  Seeing as how it was Jason’s birthday, he got first dibs.

Jason Tarzanned into the water, then Jordan, then Shane, and then I channeled my inner adventurer and had a go.

The exhilaration!  The glee!  The water up my nose!  It was a blast.

After multiple shenanigans, we eventually put our shoes back on and hit the trail to Twin Lakes.  We ate lunch at one of the lake’s quiet shores while Biscuit went for a swim.

And our way back, we took our own dip at a quiet stretch of shore on Mountain Lake.

I swam part of the way back to camp while the rest of the group hiked and was plumb tuckered out by late afternoon, sitting back in a chair while the kids slack-lined and deer-hunted.

We all got in one last paddle session before dinner…

And then we kicked backed in front of the roaring campfire, courtesy of Isaiah.

Happy birthday, J!  I can’t imagine a better place to turn another year older.

Monday was go-day, but I was determined to savor every last minute on the water.  Juliette and I paddled out to one of the lake’s little islands and she hid a special rock that she had colored the day before, thrilled by the idea of someone someday finding her special treasure.

We pretended we were legitimate explorers and combed the island for special sticks to bring back to Shane.

Gah!  This girl and this place.  Pure joy.

Nance and I went for a quick swim while Shane deflated our paddle board and then it was time to go.  Jules was none-too-pleased by the idea of leaving our site.

…Or our buddies.

But alas, Seattle was calling us back.  Shane and I agree this was our favorite-ever campsite.  Totally worth the nine-month wait.  Totally.

Shane’s a planner. I love him for it. And sometimes I capitol-L L-o-v-e him for it, like when he gets up early on an October morning to reserve a campsite for the following July. We’ve been dreaming of setting up our tent on Orcas Island for a couple of years but weren’t ever able to secure a spot, as the best sites book nine months out. This year, though, this was our year! A couple of Thursdays ago we boarded the Anacortes ferry and floated toward Orcas to claim our reservation at Mountain Lake in Moran State Park.

(We were all pumped.)

We had invited the gang along and found the Chen tent already pitched when we rolled up. Jules greeted her best buddy with a hug while I stood still for a moment and took in the smell of the trees and sparkle of the lake and the sound of the wind. The woods have become our summer home away from home, and I felt home.

Over the course of the afternoon and evening, paddle boards were inflated, a hammock was strung, swimsuits were donned, and margaritas were mixed. When we settle into camp, we settle in!

The Rust clan rolled in around dinnertime and by 7 pm we were gathered around a campfire with our crew, eating brats and drinking beer and watching the sun dip and suffuse our site with that glorious late-day smoky glow.

Our collective watercraft have never been more well-utilized than they were during this camp trip.

Oh, to end each day this way…

Mornings were always leisurely, with a long, lazy breakfast, maybe an early paddle.  I mean, why rush off from here?

But we eventually summoned enough get-up-and-go to pack up a picnic lunch and head to Obstruction Pass for a short hike and some water-side lounging.

The rocky beach was warm and quiet – we found a shady spot to spread out our blankets and then cracked open the canned Rosé.

The kids and their dads scampered on the rocks and hunted for tiny crabs while I fell into a sun-and-wine stupor…

We swung by Buck Bay on the way back to camp to check out their fresh seafood offerings. This place was charming and chill, with picnic tables and mermaid murals and buckets scattered about with labels that read “Toss Empty Oyster Shells Here”.

Juliette was a little perplexed by the thought of plucking a live crab out of the water and cracking it open as a snack.

Jack’s planner-proclivities come through whenever food and drink is involved, and sure enough, he pulled out a bottle of chilled white wine just as a dozen oysters arrived at our table.

You can see from Shane’s face here that he hasn’t entirely recovered from the oyster trauma he endured at Hood Canal last summer…

Back at camp, Jack and Shane took a dip while the kids cheered them on from the shore.

It wasn’t long before all the kids had their swimsuits on as well.

I took Nico and Jules out on the paddle board to meet up with Jack mid-swim.

I agree, Gryff – this lake gets TWO THUMBS UP.

Dinnertime!

And dessert!

La Verne and I hopped on our paddle boards after s’mores for a sunset row. La Verne remarked at how good the water felt as she waded in and stood up on her board; I launched myself right behind her and then, as if in slow motion, watched the tip of my board bump into the back of hers, causing her to lose her balance and tumbled right into the lake. I apologized profusely and offered to grab her a towel and dry clothes, but she was incredibly gracious and hopped right back up for our evening paddle, wet clothes and all! I felt terrible.  But I mean, the water was lovely that night. I got out for my own short swim before bed, rinsing off a couple of days of camp life in the glassy lake.

Up next:  paddle, swim, eat, repeat.

Camp season continues!  Mid-June brought what has become our annual group camp trip to Bainbridge Island; all of us had a grand time spreading out on the lawn here last summer and felt we were due for a reunion.  We trickled into the site on a sunny Friday afternoon and made ourselves at home, cracking open cold beers while setting up our tents and watercraft.

There was such a happy, chill-but-active vibe around the site – seemed a ball was always being tossed around, seemed there were always a handful of people kicking back near the fire pit.

Also, seemed like Jack was always grilling up meat of some sort…

Note:  pack extra, extra wet wipes when camping with kids!  Another note:  the super-sized marshmallows I picked up at the store are too much mallow.

We were one of the last families to emerge from our tent on Saturday, reluctant to leave our cozy nest.

But once we unzipped our front door, Jules was off, eager to play with her best bud.

We walked down to the beach after breakfast to toss the ball around, catch some rays, and squish sand between our toes.

Felt so good.

We capitalized on the super-windy conditions and pulled out our kite for awhile.

Then, took refuge in the fort.

Golly, I adore this kid.

While the kids lunched…

La Verne, Nance and I got out for a paddle.  The water was crazy-choppy, so I never made it into the full standing position on the paddleboard, but a good time was had by all.  Despite our wet butts!

The grown-ups happy-houred before dinner and Baby J took a snooze.  The kiddos played hard all weekend and this girl was feelin’ it!

I’m all for a creative s’more, pro-potato chip or peanut butter cup between the graham crackers, but when J started mixing in barbecue chicken, I tapped out.

Juliette and Shane hit the hay a little early on Saturday night, which left me free to walk down to the water for my beloved solo sunset stroll.  The sky was…wow.

…And, happy Sunday morning!  Don’t mind if I do, Jack!

We sipped mimosas and ate Jack’s famous chilaquiles and the kids gathered around Father Goose for a story and a good laugh.

We went down to the beach one last time before heading out, to get a little more sun and search for crabs.

It was Father’s Day, and as I watched these papas hang with their kiddos on the beach, I was struck by how uniquely wonderful each of them is at loving their kids.

My numero unos…

We made a quick stop in Winslow for lavender lemonade from Blackbird Bakery and then hopped in line for the ferry back to Seattle, a little grubby and a lot happy.  Emily is already talking about next year’s Bainbridge getaway.  COUNT US IN.

The past couple of months have been pretty spectacular, what with the beach-combing in Florida and the partying in Portland and the camp-firing at Fort Flagler.  PLUS, there’s been a smorgasbord of April and May goodness right here at home.

Home.  HOME!  We super-duper love our new one!  We got our keys the evening before we left for Florida and hauled a carload of boxes right over, eager as we were to settle into our new place.

Moving was a bear, but family really came through in a clutch.  Clearly, Jules was a stellar assistant with all the unpacking:

And my parents!  They were heroes.  As soon as we all returned from Florida, my dad and I got right to work giving all our rooms a nice fresh coat of white while my mom meticulously organized the kitchen.

And then Shane’s mom came to visit for a weekend in May – we hit Ikea together and she helped me get our closets in order.

We warmed our house with a (furniture-less) picnic dinner at the end of April, determined to have the Hickory clan over before they set off on their Colorado move.

We’ve shared so many big ups and big downs with this crew – breaking bread with these people in our new house is an up I’ll remember forever.

But saying good-bye to Brian, Nicole, Eden and Stella…total down.  We miss these guys so much already!

Juliette gave one final farewell to our townhouse the first weekend in May and then we were officially out.

This place was good to us for the past eleven years.  It will always be our first house, the place where we hosted the small group that turned out to be full of our life-long nearest and dearest friends (the very same ones that were there for our first meal in our new house!).  Our townhouse was the place that we watched Juliette take her first steps, the place in which we decorated a decade’s worth of Christmas trees.  I sniffled just a bit when I pulled out of the driveway for the very last time.

But then I drove across the bridge and we ate dinner in our new backyard and Juliette and Nico frolicked in the grass and I was overcome with the feeling that this next chapter in our lives is going to be a good one.

Getting to know our new neighborhood has been such a joy – meeting the super-friendly families on all sides of us, discovering the views around every corner, soaking up these western skies…

I look forward to my evening walks with a whole new kind of fervor.  I never really pictured myself as a West Seattle-ite, committed as I was to the South End, but suddenly I’m all in.

And golly, this backyard of ours…  We’ve loved dining al fresco, feeling like we finally have space to play the role of host.  The Rusts popped by one Saturday night just to say hello and then did a little jig when we told them we had extra burgers and dogs on the grill for them.

Aunt Val came to visit while Shane’s mom was in town and she filled me in on what exactly is planted in our yard, pointing out the peonies that were about to bloom and the lilac bush that smells so, so good.

We moved in at the right time of year, I tell ya.

This corner lot comes at a cost, though – we’ve quickly discovered the amount of work that goes into keeping this yard in tip-top shape.  Yowsers!  (But more gadgets for Shane!)

In other good-things news, Mother’s Day was lovely this year – Shane and Juliette made french toast and grapefruit mimosas for me and Shane’s mom and then we all headed to Alki Beach for a sun-break.

And Jules and I have been loving lots of quality time with LaV and Nico, soaking in our last couple of months of Fridays together before this guy heads off to kindergarten in the Fall.

We had a grand time celebrating his space-themed fifth birthday, watching him blast off to a year of new adventures.

These two…making each other smile since 2013.

They were especially awesome together on our Memorial Day hike to Coal Creek Falls, trooping through the trek with very little complaining – La Verne didn’t have to bust out the gummy bribes until mile 2.5!

This is our fourth or fifth time on this trail, and it continues to be one of our faves – not too crowded, not too steep, and always a rock to sit on mid-way to take a rest and have a snack.

And now, June.  We just got back from Minnesota, we’ve got a couple of camping trips on the books over the next two weekends, and my peonies are at their peak.  Life’s good.

It’s CAMPING SEASON!  The most wonderful time of the year!  We knew we were rolling the dice weather-wise when we headed out at the very beginning of June, but we were exceedingly eager to take a break from house to-do’s, pull out our tent, and fall asleep to the sound of the wind in the trees.  Nancy booked us a site at Fort Flagler State Park, since we had such a grand time there last year and felt it was worthy of a repeat.

Juliette is more and more helpful with each subsequent year and was a perfect first mate for Shane as he set up the tent.

Mission accomplished!

Once we’d properly gotten settled, Juliette and I took a walk down to the water to check a few things off of her Junior Ranger Treasure Hunt list.

Found crabs!  And a feather, and clouds, and other miscellaneous outdoor goodies.

Back at camp, Isaiah dazzled us with his champion fire-builder skills as he coached Juliette on finding the perfect sort of twigs to toss into the ring to really get the flames roaring.

The question of the weekend, from all three kids, was, “Can I throw this in the fire?”  The answer was usually yes, though we learned we needed to add a few qualifiers – crumple up that paper bag before it’s tossed into the flames!

We ate our traditional fare of bratwursts and grilled veggies for dinner, paired with red wine that somehow tasted so good out of a plastic cup.  I tell you, these trees work wonders on your taste buds!

After s’mores and clean-up, we walked down to the water with mugs of hot tea to skip rocks and watch the sun go down.

Juliette has a particularly fierce fondness for Jason these days and snuggles up next to him every chance she gets.  I think he likes the attention.

We made it through the night with no significant wake-ups, but Juliette was up early with the birds, so I brewed myself an extra-large cup of coffee with our skillet of sausage, eggs, and hash browns.

And then, after breakfast, I just…sat.  The kids ran around and tracked each other with their walkie-talkies, Shane strung up the hammock, Jason walked his slack-line, and I reveled in being completely stationary.

Eventually, though, the trails beckoned and we packed up a lunch for a hike along the bluff.

This trail is amazing.  Lush and densely green for long stretches, and then it will open up to an expansive view of the water or a glowing, grassy pasture.

It’s also dotted with relics from its days as a World War II military fort, which make for some fun-but-slightly-spooky detours.

There’s no other crew I’d rather trek with…

Seriously, parts of this path felt straight out of The Shire.  Dark green!  Light green!  Yellow-green!  Olive green, Emerald green, Kelly green, oh my.

We all chilled for awhile when we got back to camp and then busted out the Monopoly cards for some friendly competition.  It’s nice to play with people that don’t gloat when they win.  (HA!)

Juliette had no interest in post-hike chill-axing, so we took her down to the water to let her try her hand at kite-flying at the park’s breezy coastline.

There’s always a little bit of let-down when the kids realize the actual monotony of flying a kite, but Jules got a huge kick out of trying to catch the kite as Shane reeled it in.  And so he reeled it in, and tossed it back up, and reeled it in, and tossed it back up.

Also, watching the boys work on their headers was kind of hilarious.

Once the kite and the soccer ball lost their charm, we walked down to the beach for some fort-building.

Isaiah quickly declared himself captain.  Jules was the driver.  Jason was the chef.  I was the ship’s photographer.

We dined that night over another roaring fire, courtesy of Isaiah.

There were a couple of boys close to G and Z’s ages at the site across from us and Juliette did her damnedest to keep up with the big kids.  She was thrilled when they invited her to come along on their race around the campground loop.

And then, S’MORES.

Such a good life.

After the dishes were washed and the kids were pajama’d, I walked down to the water for a solo sunset stroll.  (There goes that Moana song again!)

We broke down camp on Sunday morning immediately after breakfast – I’ll begrudgingly give kudos to Shane for rushing me through my morning campfire coffee as it was awfully nice to have the tent packed up as raindrops began to fall.  The kids stayed dry in the car as we gathered up the last few things.  I mean, it wouldn’t be a true June PNW camping trip without a little drizzle!

Cheers, gang!  Camp season 2018 is off to a very promising start.

The tree is down, the Christmas music has been put on pause, the sugar cookies have been eaten…the holidays are over.  But gosh, they were good while they lasted, and we fared pretty well last month in the art of tradition-keeping.

Juliette and I have made a thing of a “Downtown Christmas Day”, using one of our days off to hit the Westlake Carousel and the surrounding holiday sights.  How many more years do we have before the magic of merry-go-round wears off?  At least a couple, I hope…

And to warm up afterwards, hot chocolate and an Americano from the Starbucks across the street!

We decided to pass on the Fairmont’s “Teddy Bear Suite” this year but did venture into the hotel lobby to take a spin through the life-size gingerbread house.

And then once Juliette discovered the free candy canes there for the taking, there was another spin through the house, and another…

 

We visited Swanson’s Nursery one Sunday after church to check out the reindeer and the Christmas train and Santa.  Juliette’s not really the type to hop up onto Santa’s lap, but the rest of it was a hit.

 

And cookies!  So many cookies – sugar cookies and raspberry thumbprints and ginger snaps and cranberry coconut bark…  Jules and I are in charge of bringing sweets each year when we head down to Portland, and we take our job very seriously.

 

This was the first year we’ve headed to Bellevue to see Snowflake Lane, which was crowded and crazy but exceedingly festive.

And…fake now!  I mean, really – snow bubbles and baton-twirling elves and All I Want for Christmas is You blaring over loudspeakers?  It was too much.  And I kinda loved it.

 

We spent New Year’s Eve Eve at Gene Coulon Park, checking out the Clam Lights.  I like doing this one post-crowds, post-Christmas – after the excitement and busy-ness of the holidays, it’s nice to be in a place where all feels calm, all feels bright.

 

And then the beloved New Years Eve bonfire at Alki Beach!  We did this a couple of years ago and jumped at the chance for a repeat when the Hickory’s said they were going to pick up a couple of bundles of wood and stake out a fire pit.  The night turned out be windy and COLD, but the kids generated their own body heat by running wild on the shore.

Seattle is a far cry from Mexico, but apparently it’s no less fun.

 

We headed over to Jack and La Verne’s afterward for spaghetti and a sleepover.  The kids were tucked into bed, a third bottle of wine was opened (then a fourth), and then, before the clock had even struck midnight…

Shane was surprisingly spry on New Years morning and agreed to meet up with Jason, Brian, and Nicole for the Polar Bear Plunge at Alki.  Only at 9:58, with just two minutes before plunge-time, his peeps were nowhere to be found.  He stripped down and gave Juliette a very tentative thumbs-up, clearly not at all stoked by the thought of doing this alone.

In one of the most dramatic reunions I’ve ever witnessed, at 9:59 these buddies found each other on the crowded beach and darted into the water together.

…and darted right back out.

I love this event.  You can almost taste the euphoria as the polar bears come back to shore, squealing and hugging and shivering.  And while I’m not about to go running into any 45-degree water, I mooch a little off of everyone else’s high, welcoming the New Year with joy and excitement and a sense of adventure.

Hola, 2018.  It’s good to see you.

Although the 85-degree Mexican temps made me forget it for a moment, it is in fact December (24th?!) and we are in the thick of the holiday season, making our way through my list of most-cherished traditions.

We set out the last weekend of November to find the perfect Christmas tree at Mountain Creek Tree Farm.  I go on and on every year about how much I love this place, with the mountainous backdrop and the hot cider and the friendly woman that gives candy canes to the kids, but seriously, it never disappoints.  We took our time picking our tree, but circling back as per usual to a 6 ½ foot Grand Fir.

Lumberjack Shane is such a stud…

Juliette gulped warm cider while Shane got the tree baled and strapped it to our roof.

We asked Alexa to play the Charlie Brown Christmas album when we got home and trimmed the tree to our favorite twinkling piano tunes.  Juliette was such a good helper this year, carefully hanging her cherished ornaments and then reaching way up top to set the angel on her perch.

My weekend getaway with Nancy and La Verne to Cedarbrook Lodge has become a December must-do and is something I eagerly anticipate every winter.  Partly because quality time with these ladies so deeply nourishes my soul, but also because we always make out like bandits at our trip to the Auburn outlet mall.  There are a lot of sweaters on this bed.  A few pairs of pants.  A new coat.  We will not go cold this winter.

We hit the hotel gym in the evening and then hot-tubbed in the rain before heading back to the room to freshen up for dinner at the hotel bar.

And then, chick flicks (Thirteen Going on Thirty and Can’t Buy Me Love), ice cream, and the joy of falling asleep with the knowledge that no child will be calling your name at 6:30 the next morning.  We ate a leisurely buffet breakfast on Sunday and squeezed in Sweet Home Alabama before heading home to our littles.

The Christmas Ship docked at the shores of Lake Washington on a Sunday evening a couple of weeks ago and we walked down with the Chens to listen to the carolers’ voices drift across the water.  A bonfire crackled nearby and Juliette and I huddled together on our picnic blanket.  All was calm, all was bright.

Despite busy December calendars, we always make a point of getting together with the Chens and the Rusts for our holiday “family dinner”, where we break bread and exchange gifts and revel in the warmth of being with our nearest and dearest.  Shane made his tried-and-true Emmental and Gruyere fondue, Jack mixed cocktails, the kids gingerbreaded, and I…ate.

Next stop: Portland, for the main event!

Shane and Jack headed out early on Sunday morning for their scheduled zipline tour through the jungle while LaV and I opted for a quieter sort of adventure, heading over to the beach with the kiddos for a day of playing in the ocean and sand.  First, though, breakfast, where Juliette gazed upon her coconut muffin with total adoration.

We staked out a couple of comfy chaise lounges at the beach and sat back while N and Juliette happily scooped and shoveled, collecting little bits of shell and rock which Juliette pretended to feed to the “baby” she had created from a mound of wet sand.  Jules would join me under my umbrella every few minutes, seeking a shady refuge as the sun blazed hotter and hotter, but she couldn’t ever bear to stay put for more than a couple of minutes.  While the sun and the surf and the fruity drinks left me feeling laid-back and lazy, this kid was totally energized by it all.

Swimsuit, sunglasses, and a hat is hands-down my very favorite look on her…

And…she’s in.

Juliette would declare victory every time a wave crashed over her belly and she managed to stay on her feet.

Bring it on, sea!

The kids “baked” a special cake for La Verne and then sang Happy Birthday to her, insisting afterwards that we each take a bite.

In the late afternoons, the day’s fun-fest would catch up with Juliette and she’d succumb to the waves of sleepiness that lapped at her eyelids.  Sleepy-time is one of the very few chances I get to snuggle with my girl-on-the-go anymore.  I’ll take it.

We sun-setted at the beach once again on Sunday, this time seeing more grays and blues than oranges and pinks in the closed-in sky, but still, it was peaceful and lovely and we all got in the ocean for a salt water dip.  Any day that begins and ends at the beach is a good one.

Since the guys had given the zipline tour rave reviews and since we each had an “excursion” included with our resort package, La Verne and I channeled our inner daredevils and made our own trip out to the jungle on Monday morning.  It was an hour-long ride through small Mexican towns and up along remote mountain roads to the Canopy River outpost, where we were each strapped into a harness, handed a pulley, and told to fly like the wind.  And wowsers, we flew, zipping along the course at heights of 200 feet and speeds of 55 kilometers an hour.  Our guides were silly and fun-loving, but reassuring and encouraging as they sent us from one platform to the next.  La Verne and I toasted to our bravery with a couple of cold beers at the beautiful patio when it was all over, dizzy with pride and the sweet relief that comes with being on solid ground.

We rejoined our crew back at the beach, where we lunched on fish tacos and squeezed in a few minutes of ocean play before herding the kids back to the room for some quiet time.  Juliette’s freckles were a bit darker than when I’d kissed her goodbye few hours earlier!

The rest of the day was another haze of swimming and sunsets and mango tangos.  I had wondered if by our fourth day at the resort I’d be a little antsy, wanting to get out with Shane and Juliette and do the exploring and sight-seeing that’s such a big part of our typical vacations, but…NOPE.  The days of bouncing from pool to beach to pool to beach were just so blissfully easy, and it was abundantly clear that Juliette was perfectly content to swim that same stretch of pool and run that same stretch of beach over and over and over.

THIS IS THE LIFE, huh, kiddo?  (Don’t get too used to it, Jules!  Vacations will include sleeping on the ground and fetching our own water come summer.)

Juliette played an endless game of fetch with the ocean, tossing a stick into the waves and retrieving it from the time and again.

 

We put the kids to bed early on Monday night and settled on a room service dinner – the food was the one thing that had started to feel a bit “tired” at this point, but we got to eat in our pajamas and Cards Against Humanity made for some pretty enthusiastic bouts of laughter.

Tuesday was departure day, but our flight had been pushed back to the evening, which meant:  bonus beach time!  After chilaquiles and cappuccinos, we set up camp at the beach, happily resigned to flying home with a little sand in our hair.

 

Shane spotted a couple of iguanas near the pool and called the kids over to take a look.  They thought it was funny to see these two “hugging”.

We were told that our all-inclusive experience would end at 2:00, so Shane and Jack put in their request for one last round of gin and tonics at 1:55.

And then Juliette and I took one last dip in the pool.

…and then it was time to peel off our swimsuits and put on real clothes for the first time in five days.  NOOOOOOO!!!

You can see that none of us were quite ready to say adios.

It was a long trek home with multiple flight delays and we rolled up to our front door after midnight sleepy and stiff, but fully-dosed with Vitamin D.  And tequila.  Mission accomplished.