Archive for the ‘places’ Category

I got an email from my office’s principal a few weeks ago asking if I’d be willing to give a presentation on her behalf at a science and tech conference in York, England, as she had something else come up.  My initial gut reaction was…I can’t.  It’s so far away!  It’s so much pressure!  It’s so much to ask of Shane!

And yet…it’s so hard to imagine passing up an opportunity like this.

Shane agreed, I couldn’t let something like this slip through my fingers on account of a few measly jitters, so tickets were booked, slides were prepped, and I was off to merry old England!  There were a few tears at the airport curb as I said my good-byes to Shane and Juliette, but once I’d settled into my seat with my complimentary glass of champagne and queued up La La Land on my personal TV, I felt pretty grand.

I landed in London on Monday morning and immediately hopped on the Underground to catch my train to York.  It was fun, flexing my navigational muscles again – took me back to my study-abroad days when I trekked across Europe with my rail pass and my backpack!  Conference festivities began that evening with cocktails and dinner at Gray’s Court.  Some parts of this hotel date back to 1080 and I felt pretty fancy, wandering the historic halls with my Pimm’s Cup in hand.

The dinner host told me I could catch a taxi back to my hotel at the taxi stand around the corner, “just look for the church”.  Found it!

Tuesday was full of keynote speakers and breakout sessions and some pretty epic struggles to keep my eyes open.  The day ended with a formal dinner at the racecourse and while I did my best to hang with the Brits (those folks can drink!), I turned in earlier than most, wanting to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for my Wednesday morning presentation.

My Wednesday spiel on the Allen Institute went off without a hitch, and after dealing out a few business cards and bidding farewell to my London colleagues, I found myself with 24 free hours in England!  I took my time getting to the York train station, stopping every couple of blocks to snap a picture of a particularly charming old building or peer into a lovely old courtyard.

I rolled into London mid-afternoon and rushed to check into my hotel, as I had a FaceTime date with Shane and Juliette that I didn’t want to miss.  The time change made phone calls tricky, but I was able to catch them for just a few minutes before they headed out for school and work.  My eyes welled up with tears the second I saw their faces – I tried to blame my emotional state on sleep deprivation, but the reality was that I really, really, realllllly missed them.  I was comforted, though, by the fact that Juliette seemed to be enjoying Daddy-Jules week.

Once I’d cleaned myself up a bit, I laced up my tennis shoes and set out to make the most of my several hours in London.  It was a beautiful afternoon, and while I was tempted to stop and stretch out on a sunny patch of grass in St. James Park, I kept moving.

I made my way past the crowds surrounding Buckingham Palace and breezed by Big Ben on my way to the river.

My plan was to cross the Westminster Bridge and then follow the riverfront to the Tower Bridge, hitting the main attractions and any hidden gems along the way.

And I saw a lot.  The Golden Jubilee Bridge…

This quaint little plaza lined with quaint little shops, where I picked up a couple of trinkets for Juliette…

And the Tate Modern!  Shane and I visited this place when we were in London in 2003 and it stands out as one of my all-time favorite museum experiences.

I wandered a bit through the permanent collection, spending awhile in front of a beautifully crusty Dubuffet and finding myself inspired to get back into the print studio by this Lygia Pape woodcut.

Such drama in this building!

I eventually peeled myself away from the museum, grabbed a panini and a latte from a little cafe, and set off again.

England, you are too cute sometimes…

Something good around every corner!

The Tower Bridge is so perfect it hardly looks real – while walking across it, I expected a Disney princess to pop out at any moment.

I wandered into this pristine little courtyard and again felt slightly out of touch with reality.

And then back into the bustle of the city…

As I approached this crowd I wondered what all the fuss was about – were they in line for a show?  A new iPhone release?  Turns out it was just a bunch of merry Englishman enjoying a post-work pint.  It was 6 pm and the pubs (plus their sidewalks) were packed.

More fun surprises…

This Sauerbruch Hutton project is one I’ve seen in magazines many times over.  London is such a lovely mix of old and new.

I made it back to my hotel just as the sun set, feet aching but heart full.  Europe, I’ve missed you!

I had a couple of free hours on Thursday morning to take another stroll before heading to the airport, so I walked over to nearby Hyde Park to check out the flowers and hang with the swans.

And then, too soon and not soon enough, it was time to say my good-byes to England.  It was a long day of travel (again made easier by that complimentary champagne!) and I tapped my foot impatiently while waiting to de-board the plane in Seattle, wanting to get home in time to pick up Juliette from school.  I was desperate to get my arms around that kid.  Shane thoughtfully anticipated my desperation and was waiting with Juliette for me right outside of Customs.  Gosh, it felt good to hold the two of them close.  I was home.

I’m so glad I seized this opportunity, so thankful for the chance to put myself out there in so many ways.  There were times when my head ached with jet lag and my heart ached with homesickness, but those were relatively small prices to pay for the horizons I broadened.  What. A. Trip.

Seattle’s fleeting cherry blossoms come in two waves every year, and I feared we had missed the second wave of bright pink pom-poms while we were down in Los Angeles.  Turns out we made it back just in time!

I picked up Juliette a little early from school one day last week and when I saw her apropos ultra-pink outfit set against clear blue skies, I figured we should jet down to Lake Washington to check out the scene.  I mean, this tree branch was just begging to be sat upon by a girl in a pink tutu!

Right?

I miss those evening golden hours back at Santa Monica beach, but “pink hour” along Lake Washington is also pretty magical.

Riiiiiight?!

Shane and I tag-team parented much of last weekend due to some work stuff and a church meeting, but we did set aside Saturday morning for some quality family time.  We hit the trail to Coal Creek Falls at Cougar Mountain mid-morning – Juliette has outgrown the hiking backpack but assured us she could make it all the way on her own.

So much promise in these woods – this path feels like it’s on the verge of exploding with all shades of green.

Ahhhh, green, green, green!

Oh, and about Jules making it all the way “on her own”…

Thanks, Dad…

The sound of rushing water grew louder, then fainter, then louder again, and just when we all started to wonder if we’d ever get there…

Found it.

One of the advantages of hiking on a gray April day?  You get an oasis like this all to yourself.

This kid could have spent all day fishing for special rocks in the shallow water.  I told her she could pick three to take home with her and after carefully considering her options, she slipped a brown one, a black one, and a striped one into her pocket.  She gave each of them very dramatic names like “The Waterfall of the Sea” and “The Seasons of the Grass”.  I’m guessing her teachers have been reading her fairy tales at school?

I know, Jules, I know – it’s so thrilling to see leaves on the trees!  Cheers to a Spring and Summer of gettin’ outside.

And now, the final installment of our California adventures!  Friday may have been my favorite day – all beach, all sun, ALL DAY.  The restorative power of Vitamin D is real, people!

We tossed our beach towels and sand toys into the car first thing in the morning, stopped at Rose Cafe for coffee and avocado toast, and headed toward Malibu.

This area was new to us and well worth the 30-minute drive – the rugged shores of El Matador State Beach were a fun contrast to the wide-open sand-for-miles beaches of Santa Monica.

I hadn’t even finished spreading out our towels before Juliette had her toes in the water.

Ahhh, the return of the Giants hat!  A welcome change from the knitted purple beanie Juliette’s been donning for months!

Shane, with his eagle eyes, spotted some kind of creature doing circles way off-shore.

Is that a shark fin in the distance?!

Juliette recently checked out We’re Going On A Bear Hunt from the library and was desperately hoping to find a great big bear in this cave, but alas…

Just a papa bear.

She zig-zagged all over that beach, returning to Shane and I every few minutes to pull us out the water’s edge or to look at a sea anemone she’d discovered tucked into a big rock.

“Mama, come!  COME!”

The bestest of buddies…

Her body says she’s tuckered out, but her eyes say otherwise…

I know, I know, STOP with the Juliette pictures!  Gah, though!  The faces on this girl.

Photo cred for this one of Shane goes to Juliette, who’s become alarmingly adept with the iPhone camera.

After our adventurous morning, we were happy to spend the rest of the afternoon just chilling out at the house.  Juliette did some rock art on the patio…

And Shane popped open a bottle of bubbly.

We picked up a hefty watermelon on our first day in town and Juliette gobbled her way through most of it.  Gosh, it’s been too long since I’ve seen this girl’s shoulders, seen fruit juice dribble down her chin.

We started feeling the magnetic pull of the beach around 5:00.  Resistance is futile.

Juliette was very into her version of beach volleyball during our time at the house, so her mind was blown when she saw the real thing in action.

And then, in an instant, she looked over at the water and was off like a dart.

I think I have enough photos for a full-wall series titled, “Dad and Girl at Ocean’s Edge”.

Happy Schnells:

Photo cred (and composition) for this one also goes to Juliette.  The kid’s got an eye, I think:

This last sunset made my heart hurt just a little – I could have used a few more days of this…

Our flight back to Seattle on Saturday wasn’t until mid-afternoon, so we had time in the morning to soak up a few last rays.  Juliette and I took a walk around the neighborhood in search of our dream bungalow.  We found about seventeen of them.

THESE SIDEWALKS!

We popped into the grocery store for a Kombucha and a very expensive (but very delicious) green smoothie.

With T minus four hours to flight time, we packed our bags and said good-bye our sweet little home away from home.  Juliette whined as we climbed into the car, “But I want to stay here forever!”

Thankfully, I had just the thing up my sleeve to cheer her up:

It was particularly warm that day, so I figured we’d check out the splash pad at Alondra Park to cool off and get the pre-flight wiggles out.  Juliette was timid at first, not wanting to expose herself to more than a few drops of water.  To be fair, she’s a little out of practice in the art of spray-parking.

Soon, though, she got the hang of it.

This photo makes me wish for the onset of summer in Seattle with the desperation of a thousand suns…

Eventually, we had to say our all-too-soon farewell to California and board our plane.  Kudos to Shane for pulling Juliette out of her post-vacation melancholy with an exuberant game of thumb wrestling.  This left me free to wail, “But I don’t wannnnna leave!”

Adios, Cali.  You were just what we needed, with your passion fruit donuts and 80-degree days.  We’ll catch you next Spring.

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.

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.

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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