Archive for the ‘minnesota’ Category

We spent a few days earlier this month in Minnesota, celebrating our niece’s high school graduation and catching up with our beloved Schnells. While there was some busy-ness with festivities and ceremonies, there was also ample time to slow down, to sit on the porch and drink beer, to stand by the fence and coo at the brand-new baby calves.

We arrived Thursday evening and after a round of hugs from Grandma and Grandpa, Juliette darted across the yard to say hello to the animals.

While Jules fell head over heels for the cows, I became smitten with these golden greens…

The temperatures weren’t quite warm enough for us to pull out our swimsuits on Friday, but Shane was still up for a ride on a french fry floaty at Lake Latoka.

Meanwhile, Jules and Hayden snuggled up together under beach towels.

We spent most of the afternoon setting up the church for Shanay’s big graduation shin-dig and then headed home for a stroll around the farm.

Denny just bought ten baby pigs and they are the cutest.  We loved watching them dart from one end of the pen to the other, wooing them closer to us by dumping a heap of leftovers into their food trough.


Fatten up, little ones…  Grandpa’s got big plans for you.

Outside the barn, we stopped to hang out with the cows.  This sweet baby calf was just a few days old!

Back at the house, the cousins caught up with each other on the porch while Shane grilled up a whole lotta hot dogs.

We ended every day around this table, eating and drinking and laughing with the family.

We used the time change to allow ourselves (Juliette included) to stay up late and sleep in late.  Our mornings were lazy – Juliette romping around the porch in her underwear, Shane and I taking our sweet time eating our breakfast.

We drove over to the church late Saturday morning for Shanay’s big graduation celebration.  We’re so proud of this lovely young lady – she’s bright and generous and incredibly kind and now, a bonafide adult!

We spent the afternoon tinkering around the house, watching Grandpa work on his motorcycle and then spending more time with our cow friends.

This girl loves her grandpa somethin’ fierce – any time he entered a room, Juliette ran to him with arms wide open, exclaiming “GRANDPA!”, as if she hadn’t seen him just ten minutes earlier.

By late afternoon Jules was getting a case of the crankies, so I took her out for a lemonade reboot at the coffee shop.  A little one-on-one time does wonders for the both of us.

The weather had turned super-warm and I still had our beach bag in the trunk, so we detoured on the way home for a toe-dip at the lake.

We dined at Chet’s that night with the whole family, feasting on fried chicken with our lovely graduate.

And as we settled into our porch chairs for beer and a sunset show, we saw tiny flickers of light appear over the field.  Fireflies!

Shane offered to catch one for Juliette in a jar and I admittedly doubted his prowess, wondering how on earth he’d capture one of these fleeting-and-few-between bugs.  But alas, DAD FOR THE WIN.

The country in the summertime is a magical place.

I went for a blissfully quiet walk on Sunday morning before heading to the high school for the big ceremony.

Shanay!  You did it!

After setting our graduate free to hang out with her friends for the afternoon, we all headed home for yet another stroll through the farm.  Never got old.

Roo, the cow Juliette is trying to feed, is known as being particularly troublesome, breaking loose from the pen any chance she gets.  Jules developed a special fondness for this rascal, cooing, “Oh, Roo…” every time she came close.

Hayden loves animals, but does not love the resident bull, Pretty Boy.  She avoided eye contact at all costs.

Hey, piggies!

Gosh, I miss these little fellas!  They had so much personality.

These Minnesota Schnell kids are top-notch.  Patient and fun and affectionate – Juliette hit the cousin jackpot.

We gathered on the porch again on Sunday evening, this time raising our glasses to Avery, who had just turned 14.  Happy Birthday, Bud!

We lingered especially late around the table that night, Tiff and I savoring our super-sized beers and Shane sipping his little shot glass of top-shelf scotch.  I can’t imagine feeling more at home with a family that’s not actually my blood.  Thanks for a makin’ a girl feel welcome, Schnells…

We pulled away from the farm on Monday morning and set out for Minneapolis, Juliette yelling “Bye, Roo, you old troublemaker!” as we made our way down the road.  We had a few hours to pass in the city before our flight, so we took a walk along the Mighty Mississippi and then grabbed lunch downtown.




We parked ourselves in this hip little coffee shop for a solid hour, sipping our drinks and playing game after game of Go Fish.  I’m so glad that Juliette loves cafe time as much as I do.

Eventually, later than planned, we boarded our plane for Seattle and headed west.  We rolled up to our house after midnight, weary but rested.  We’re self-declared city folk, Shane and I, but a few days in the country sure does us good.

We didn’t do a whole lot on Tuesday – it was cold and we were lazy.  But there was a lunch date:

A trip to the mall:

A quick jog to the end of the driveway to capture this indigo sky:

Mucho love for Grandpa:

Mucho love for Hayden:

And some intense puzzle-doing!

Wednesday was also quiet, though I did do some fairly strenuous pie-making, chopping apples and rolling dough with my favorite little sous-chef.

It was freezing and windy that day, but we made it outside for a few minutes, to see the cows and pick up sticks and play a game of chase.

I know, I know – this is a whole lotta Jules.  But that hat!  Those rosy cheeks!

Finally, the girl could handle the cold no more and asked Daddy to take her in.

…and then changed her mind about going inside when we got to the porch.  She was feeling the pull of those wide open spaces!

Shane and I went out with Tiff and Jason that evening to the local watering hole for Wednesday wings.  These Minnesota skies are somethin’ else.

Lite beer with green olives is apparently the Minnesotan beverage of choice when consuming massive piles of chicken wings.  Cheers, Tiff!

We exchanged presents that evening, snacking on Christmas cookies and hot apple cider while the kids tore into their gifts.

Juliette, as per usual, made out like a bandit.

Gah!  Watching this guy hug his granddaughter will turn you to mush.  Denny’s heart is BIG and generous and soft.

Thursday morning was full of kitchen time and good smells and lots of laughter as the family gathered at the house.

We were just beginning to feel a bit antsy when Denny pulled up to the porch in his combine.  Your chariot awaits, Juliette!

The fields near the house still needed to be harvested, so Juliette and Shanay kept Grandpa company while he went to work.

Once the kids had put in their time on the combine, we walked next door to chat with the cows and toss them a few ears of corn, to perfectly round out the country experience.

We’re not in Seattle anymore, Juliette!

The kitchen was a frenzy of activity when we got back inside as Pat put the finishing touches on the meal.  Ham and turkey and mashed potatoes and cranberry relish and creamed corn and green beans, oh my.

We ate and then collapsed in a pile on the couch, eventually summoning just enough energy to put together a gingerbread house and slice into the apple pie.

Happy, happy Thanksgiving!

Shane and I had picked up a 1000 piece puzzle mid-week and I stayed up late Thursday working on it, desperate to see it through before our Friday flight back to Seattle.  I’d forgotten how satisfying it is to slip together two perfectly-fit pieces and I was stupidly excited to show Shane the finished product in the morning.  Voila!

We hit the road late Friday morning, waving a teary goodbye to Grandma and Grandpa (and the cows) as we pulled out of the driveway.  I’m so thankful for those kind-hearted Schnells, for several days of rest, for chicken wings and tractors and incredible country sunsets.  I’m especially thankful that I get to share a row with these two.

We haven’t spent a holiday in Minnesota since Juliette was born, foregoing the trip when she was a baby because of the new-parent flight-phobia we felt in those first couple of years, and then opting to make the trip in the summer when she was two and three.  But this year we decided to pull out our hats and mittens and see if our tough girl was tough enough for a true midwestern winter.

We rolled up to Shane’s parents’ house Saturday evening after a long day of travel and were greeted with warm hugs and home-cooked ham.  We were exhausted but looking forward to a few days of solid rest, of cozying up inside with family and food.  A few days of quiet.

We woke late on Sunday and lounged for awhile in our pajamas, eventually rallying to head over to Andes Resort to watch Avery bomb down the big hills on his snowboard and to watch Jules creep down the shallow bunny slope on her skis.  Turns out November in Minnesota agrees with this girl!

She was a bit timid at first, begging Shane to hold her tight as they sloooooowly made their way down the hill.

But she grew a bit bolder with each subsequent run, eventually laughing hysterically as she cried, “Faster, Daddy!  FASTER!”

Shane was also feeling bold and rode the chairlift to the top of the mountain, nailing his first-ever downhill run on skis!

Avery, on the other hand, was a madman out there from the get-go.  Kid’s got skills.

These two were so adorably proud of themselves.  Guess I better learn how to ski soon, or they’re likely to leave me in their dust…

Disappointingly, this afternoon on these slopes (made of manufactured snow, by the way) was our only romp in the powder as the rest of the week was dry, but we made the most of it!

The rest of the day was lovely and low-key – we napped and did puzzles, popping outside for a few minutes of fresh air and a quick check-in with the next-door cows, then retreating indoors for pizza and games with the whole family.

Juliette relished every moment of cousin-time and all three kids were exceedingly generous with their attention. Hayden must have played 47 rounds of Go Fish by the time our week there was over.

Monday was cold, but our lunchtime burgers and milkshakes left Juliette with oodles of energy to burn, so we headed over to Noonan’s Park to hit the playground.

Tell me again, Jules – does the cold weather bother you?

…’cause Grandma and Aunt Tiff are looking a little chilly!

Shane tentatively stepped out onto the newly frozen ice at the pond across the street, at which point Juliette desperately pleaded with him to return to solid ground.  Walking on water wasn’t a concept she could get her head around.

I dunno, Shane…is that really a good idea?!

Ok, seriously, Shane, IS THIS A GOOD IDEA?!

With outdoor swimming clearly out the question, we opted to head to the YMCA for a dip in the indoor heated pool.

Shanay joined us mid-swim and Juliette almost flew into her arms.  I got so much joy out of watching Juliette’s face light up with a million-kilowatt smile every time a new family member appeared on the scene.  The whole week was a chorus of, SHANAY!  GRANDPA!  AUNTIE TIFF!  GRANDMA! UNCLE JASON! HAYDEN!  AVERY!  SHANAAAAAAAY!

Tuesday ended with pink skies and Tiff’s enchiladas.  More Go Fish.  Pat’s peppermint bark.  A bottle of wine.  Vay-cay.

Up next:  presents, puzzles, turkey and a tractor.

Our last couple of days in Minnesota were packed with more water, more family time, plenty of porch-sitting and sunset-gazing.  I had eased into country life, and it felt good.

We spent Sunday afternoon out on Blackwell Lake, floating aimlessly on Doug and Val’s pontoon.

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Shane, not usually one for swimming, couldn’t resist the chance to dive and swing and cannonball.

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With that life jacket strapped on, he was the perfect flotation device.

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Juliette loved being on the boat, especially when Doug put the pedal to the metal and the wind blew through our hair.  She’d laugh like crazy and yell, “Super-faster!  SUPER-FASTER!!!”

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I shutter to think what this kid will be like when she’s old enough to get behind the wheel for real.  Watch out, folks!

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I’m so glad we got to catch up with this crew.  It’s a special feeling, being with people that have known Shane and I since before we were “Shane and I”!

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Jules was wired from our boating bonanza, so I put her in the stroller for a walk when we got back to the house, hoping she’d chill out and doze.  But then we came across these dang cows and she was over the moon again!

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She eventually crashed, waking from her nap just in time to give Purple Baby a sunset bath on the porch.

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This porch swing was my happy place…

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Monday morning, it was Juliette’s and Grandpa’s happy place, too!  It makes my heart flip-flop, seeing how fiercely this guy loves his granddaughter.

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We had hoped to spend Monday afternoon back out on the water, but gray skies and drizzle kept us from putting on our swimsuits.  We settled instead for a trip to Carlos Creek Winery and a drink on the patio.

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We gathered with the whole gang for dinner at Zorbaz that night and then walked across the street to Lake Le Homme Dieu for one last water-fix and a quick family snapshot.

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The rest of the evening was spent…back on that beloved porch!  Shane staged his own version of the Olympics by pulling up the stopwatch app on his phone and challenging the kids to dart from one end of the house to the other in under ten seconds.  They took the challenge very seriously.

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Super-faster, Jules, SUPER-FASTER!

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A final sunset (a few final mosquito bites), a round of teary hugs, and…that was it.  We were off to the airport before sunrise on Tuesday morning.  I missed that place and those people before we’d even turned out of the driveway.  There’s a lotta beauty, a lotta peace, a whole lotta love in that little corner of the Midwest.

Saturday was sunny and warm – perfect parade-goin’ weather!  We staked out a spot on the sidewalk of downtown Garfield (I use the word “downtown” very loosely, with a town population of 350!) and settled in for Juliette’s first parade.

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The festivities began with some old dudes carrying flags and the singing of the National Anthem – at this point, Juliette had yet to be sold on the whole ordeal.

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And then…candy started flying out the windows of the trucks and tractors that passed us by.  Now this kid was on board!

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Shane’s special treat?  Gin and tonics from the pub conveniently located just behind us.  I mean, gotta stay hydrated, right?

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Hey…I know that face!

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27 tractors and 10 pounds of candy later, we threw our loot in the car and drove over to Lake Latoka to cool off in the water.

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All those years of visiting Minnesota of the dead of winter…I had no idea what we were missing out on!

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“I’m kicking, Mama!  I’m kicking so much!”

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After a post-swim PB&J and a round of frisbee, we packed it up.  Reluctantly.  I coulda hung out in the shade of that tree all day, but naptime beckoned.

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In the evening we gathered at Denny’s shop for his 60th birthday bash.  One pickup after another rolled up as half the town turned out to wish him well.  I was thankful for a few familiar faces and thrilled by the chance to catch up with Shane’s Aunt Val, as she and I go waaaay back.  Almost 20 years ago, she hired me as a baby-sitter.  I fell in love with her family, then really fell in love with her foxy Minnesotan nephew when he moved in with them for a summer internship in Turlock (Doug and Val should get a match-making medal!).  I was initially bummed when the Schnells left California for Washington, but when I landed a job in Seattle a couple of years later, Val took me under her wing, giving me a place to stay while I looked for an apartment.  She was there when I signed my first post-college lease and pushed the cart on my subsequent Bed Bath & Beyond shopping spree.  The countless meals I ate at their table did so much to ease my loneliness as I eagerly waited for Shane to move up to Seattle.  Doug and Val left Washington a few years ago and I realized Saturday night how dearly I’ve missed them.

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Hey, Birthday Boy!

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There was eating (so. much. pork!) and drinking and merriment…

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A few hugs for Grandpa’s tractor…

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A round of rides on the Gator…

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A pepper-hunt in Grandpa’s garden…

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And then, the sure-fire signs of a storm on the horizon.  That sky.

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The threat of rain wasn’t gonna get this crew down, though – there was still partying to do!

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I’m not entirely sure who this girl is or how her family knows Denny and Pat, but whatever – I turned around and Jules had a new best buddy!

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Eventually the skies completely opened up and everyone took refuge indoors while it poured and poured.  We let Jules run for a few minutes in the warm summer rain and then called a day.  Sun, sugar, swimming, Schnells…these are a few of her favorite things.

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I have fond memories of our many Thanksgivings in Minnesota – the snowfalls and the smoked turkeys and the Black Friday shopping with my mother-in-law – but since we had Juliette, we figured it’s best to visit the Midwest in the summer, to avoid the sub-freezing temps and let her run free outdoors.  And so last Wednesday we made the long train-plane-automobile voyage to Alexandria to visit Shane’s family.  Grandma and Grandpa, here we come!

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It was a long day of travel, but Jules held it together pretty well, protesting only when she was forced to put up her tray table during the plane’s descent.  We rolled up to Denny and Pat’s house around dinnertime, and once we opened that car door, this kid was ready to run.

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Shane’s sister and her family came over and we spent the evening catching up, enjoying grown-up conversation while Juliette played with her adoring older cousins.  Shanay French-braided her hair, Hayden read to her, and Shane’s mom fired up the blender for a batch of pina coladas.  We were officially on vacation!

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Shane and I left Juliette with Grandma and Grandpa on Thursday morning and jetted out for a quick run.  I like to think I’m a city girl, but gosh, I do love being out in the country, soaking in the unending stretches of green and wide open skies.

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I do not, however, love the 95 percent humidity.  Wowsers.

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We rushed home, not sure if Juliette was distressed over our leaving her.  Turns out, I’m not sure if she even noticed we were gone!

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We freshened up and then headed into town to run a few errands – these cool cats were ready to roll!

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The most important stop on our itinerary?  ICE CREAM!

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We enjoyed a lazy afternoon back at the house, and then dropped off Juliette at vacation Bible school with her aunt and cousins so that we could savor a kid-free dinner out with Shane’s parents to celebrate Denny’s 60th birthday.  What a luxury to eat my ribs and sip my wine flight without chasing down crayons that have fallen on the floor or listening to a toddler plead for one more french fry!

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We watched the sunset from Denny and Pat’s porch and then reconvened at the kitchen island, for what became our nightly ritual of laughing and drinking and reminiscing.

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Shane headed out early on Friday morning for a bike ride with Hayden and Avery.  Juliette was a tad young to join, so she settled for a bicycle breakfast on the porch.

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These poor kids had no idea what they were getting into when they agreed to go for a ride with Uncle Shane!  Avery really should have pumped up those tires and left the jeans at home…

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They made it, though, slogging through all 11 miles in the heat and humidity.  Their first words when they rolled up?  “We’re never doing that again!”

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We spent the afternoon across the road at Denny’s shop, tidying up for Saturday’s big birthday bash.

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When the kiddie pool lost its charm, a few of us drove over to Bergen Lake to hang out on the dock.

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Juliette got a kick out of seeing the swarms of bluegills circle below us.

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Shane had a Bear Grylls moment when he lured a fish into a baggie with a bread crumb.  Shane let Juliette give it a quick pat-pat and then released it back to its family.

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We went back to the shop for cold drinks and a final sweep.  Don’t mind the fact that Juliette is actually pushing all the dirt back inside…A for effort?

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I took Juliette back to the house for a nap and she fell asleep before her head even hit the pillow.  I dozed for a bit and then headed back outdoors for a walk, unable to resist the pull of the countryside – three miles logged and not a single car in sight!

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Elizabeth popped a bottle of bubbly on the porch (can you believe I used to baby-sit this girl as a wee little toddler?!) and we devoured several pizzas for dinner.  Shane’s cousin, Ben (who I also used to baby-sit), called us from Georgia, where he just finished his basic training for the U.S. Army.  As I watched everyone huddle around the phone, arms around each other, I was feelin’ the family love something fierce.  These Schnells are such a good bunch.

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We wandered back across the road to the shop after dinner to watch the fellas wrangle the pig into the roaster.  Think this looks intense?  I opened a nearby cooler in search of a drink and found a big bloody pig’s head inside!

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Hayden just got her learner’s permit and logged some driving practice by taking Jules and I for a spin on the Gator.

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Seriously, this farm stuff is just way too good.

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We boarded a plane bound for the great midwest a week ago and after the longest-ever four-hour flight, we landed in Minnesota for a happy reunion with the Schnell clan.  It was 10 pm when we rolled up to Shane’s parents’ house, so we tucked in a tuckered-out girl, did a little catchup with the family, and then fell into bed ourselves, exhausted but relieved to have made it through the journey with only minimal tears (alright, in truth, Jules cried a lot…but I only cried a little!).

After a Friday morning run into town to pick up a few essentials, we spent some time meeting the next door neighbors and Shane’s mom and dad’s new house.

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We went for a walk down the dirt road at the end of their driveway and Jules found a mud puddle she couldn’t resist.  I didn’t have any napkins or wipes on me, so Shane showed her how to wipe her hands on the grass.

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She thought this was a pretty great trick.

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Shane’s sister and nephew came by later that afternoon – Avery warmed up to his uncle the moment Shane offered to toss the football around with him.

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Shane’s dad thought Jules would love checking out his tractor, so we all walked down the road to his shop that evening.

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She was a little skeptical when we first put her in there…

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But then Denny fired that thing up and let her hold the steering wheel – she loves being in the drivers seat.

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She looked on a little enviously when it was Avery’s turn to take it for a spin.

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Our nieces and brother-in-law joined us that evening – felt so good to have the whole gang together!

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Shanay and Hayden were incredibly sweet to Juliette, doting on her, hugging her and reading to her and letting her play with their phones – this girl was in cousin heaven.

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We feasted on burgers and steaks hot off the grill for dinner and crashed hard that night, still a little weary from the previous day’s travel.

On Saturday morning we headed over to Hayden’s school to watch her softball tournament.  It was drizzly and a bit chilly that morning, but Juliette was happy to hang out in the rain and cheer on her cousin.  Getting to sit in the dugout was a major bonus.

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Shane and I left Juliette with Grandma and Grandpa that evening so that we could grab a drink with his sister and brother-in-law.  We did some quality catching up at Sixth Ave Wine and Ale and arrived back at the house just as the skies opened up and the rain started to POUR.

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And POUR.  I thought this was just a typical midwestern thunderstorm, until I heard the guys talking about a tornado watch – a funnel cloud had been spotted a half mile away.  Shane’s mom started pulling out blankets and pillows and piling them in their utility room, in case we needed to take refuge.  Jules looks awfully nervous, doesn’t she?

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We made it through the storm unscathed, but wowsers!  What a night!

We spent Sunday morning at church, celebrating Shanay’s confirmation – she was radiant.  She’s become such a mature, beautiful, kind young woman.

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Juliette sat through the service quietly and contentedly, happy to hop from my lap to Aunt Tiff’s to Grandma’s to Grandpa’s.

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We ate lunch at the church and then took advantage of the sunshine to romp outdoors before naptime.

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Juliette loved the freedom of the wide open spaces – we spend a lot of time outside in Seattle, but this may have been her first opportunity to dance in the middle of the street.

And those horses!  She couldn’t get enough.

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Shane’s mom and I spent the afternoon rearranging furniture in the living room – it was fun for me to help them settle into their new place (they moved in just a few hours before we arrived on Thursday!).  The skies turned gray and we weathered another storm, but it passed quickly.  Those colors, though!  Gorgeous.

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We had an appointment for a family photo shoot at 6:00, but first, the obligatory stop at Big Ole, the town’s pride and joy (see Jules down there, by his foot?).

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We went back to the house after our photo session for pizza and ice cream – I came to love those big family dinners, gathering around the kitchen island while eating and drinking.  Our dining room table has felt especially quiet these past couple days!

Monday was cold – temps had been in the 70’s on Sunday, but had dropped to the 30’s overnight.  We did a little shopping with Shane’s mom that morning and then I told Juliette we’d make good on our promise to take her to a lake to throw rocks.  We hopped out of the car at lake L’Homme Dieu, felt the biting wind and saw the whitecaps on the water and then called it.  We tried.

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We spent the evening at Tiff’s house – Juliette was quite taken with Pinto Bean, their rambunctious shih tzu.

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We let Juliette stay up past her bedtime to eat watermelon with Grandma and Grandpa.  My heart was fit to burst, watching these two love our daughter so openly and generously throughout our stay.

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And then one last story…

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We said our good-byes early Tuesday morning and hit the road to Minneapolis.  The flight back to Seattle was smooth and completely tear-free, so we have lifted Juliette’s previously-imposed travel ban.  It felt good to walk through our front door Tuesday afternoon and settle back into home, but man, those Schnells.  They’re a fun, incredibly kind bunch.  I miss them.

It took a good 24 hours, but I think I’m finally fully thawed – Seattle is by no means hot and toasty, but 5 degrees plus a serious wind chill?  Brrrrrrr….  Freezing temps aside, our last couple of days in Minnesota were full of more warm moments with the family, more relaxing, and plenty more eating.

Once I’d recovered from Thursday’s midnight mall madness (Shane’s mom and I are self-declared suckers for a good deal), Shane and I headed out for a drive on Friday afternoon to enjoy the snow-dusted countryside.  We have a few special spots that we visit each time we’re back – a quiet little stretch of shore at Lake Bergen, the Minnewaska lookout, the Schnell plot at Hudson Cemetery.  And there’s always a stroll down Shane’s memory lane.  We cruise past the field where the neighbor kid took him out for a joy ride in his dad’s car (and then rolled and totaled the car – bussssted!).  I know the 3-mile stretch of road that Shane once rode on his bike without once touching his handlebars.  I know where he used to catch turtles in the summers, the ditch where he would practice snowboarding in the winter.  I like reliving these memories with him, revisiting these places time and again – kind of makes me feel like I’m coming “home” as well.

We rolled out of bed late on Saturday, caught a matinee at the local theater, and then convened with the whole family back at the house for an early Christmas celebration.  There was more turkey, more ham, and a pile of gifts to be opened.

Avery is 8 years old and loves Legos and tractors more than anything in the world.  But check out the grin on this guy’s face when he opened a box full of socks!  What a sport.

For the record, he did also receive toys in abundance – much of the evening was spent assembling this Lego helicopter.

We capped off the evening with a glass of scotch (for the boys), a slice of pumpkin pie, and a rousing round of Catch Phrase, during which Shane’s dad brought me to tears (of laughter) with his impression of Tiny Tim.

We ate our traditional breakfast in Nelson on Sunday morning, and then it was time to hit the road toward Minneapolis to catch our flight.  Much thanks to Shane’s mom and dad for always making us feel so welcome – I know that each of our visits are preceded by a cleaning, cooking, and shopping frenzy.  Shane’s mom had stocked the cupboards with four kinds of homemade cookies and my favorite caramels and chocolate peanut butter balls.  How’s that for speaking my love language? Thanks again, Schnell clan.  We already miss you.

It’s hard to see our long-awaited vacation come to a close, but we ended it on a really lovely note, with some super-relaxing, family-filled time in Alexandria. We got to take part in so many special moments over the past couple of days: we were able to see Shane’s sister walk in her college graduation ceremony, after years of hard work; we got to take his mom out for a belated Mother’s Day lunch and his dad out for an early Father’s Day dinner; we watched Shane’s dad reap the benefits of his shiny, new, state-of-the-art tractor; and we all gathered together last night to cheer on our little nephew Avery as he drove in his first go-cart race (at the age of six! look at him go!). Since we often only see Shane’s family once a year at Thanksgiving time, this visit felt like a nice little bonus, packed with good memories we were thrilled to be a part of.

It was also a treat to see Minnesota in the springtime, with buds on the trees and fields full of dandelions. Although the November snow certainly has its charm, its nice to see so many shades of green in places that I’ve always known as frozen and bare.

And now, after 8 glorious days of doing what we want to, waking up when we want to, eating what we want to, and generally being completely self-indulgent, our big trip has come to a close. ‘Home, sweet home’ was my mantra throughout the entire flight back to Seattle, muttered in an effort to ease the pain of saying good-bye to ‘vacation, sweet vacation’…

We arrived in Minneapolis around noon on Tuesday, sad to be bidding farewell to Chicago, but excited about the next leg of our trip. We only had 24 hours in Minneapolis, and I really wanted to make the most of that time. So after lunch at a Mexican restaurant on Nicolett Mall, I…went shoe shopping. It’s true – there were probably sights I could have been seeing, museums I could have been visiting, drinks I could have been tasting, but the weather was much hotter than I’d packed for, and my feet were screaming for a pair of sandals. One strappy pair of wedges later, I did a little cafe-sitting and then was ready to take on the city. Shane and I had tickets for the Twins game that night, so we put on our lightest-weight clothing (87 degrees outside – seriously?!) and walked the two blocks to the stadium. Our seats were perched high above the outfield, so we had a great view from which to take in Target Field.

We heard murmurings from the fans in the seats behind us that there was a tornado and hailstorm warning in effect, but we hoped that we’d already paid our bad-weather dues at the Cubs game, so we hung tight in our seats, wanting to see if the Twins would come back from the Tigers’ early runs. Toward the third inning, the first fat raindrops started to to fall, so we headed down to take cover under an overhang. In the fourth inning, the rain really started to come down, and we really started to overheat – just when we started debated whether or not to wait it out, the decision was made for us…

We were too hot and thirsty to see how long the delay would last, so we rushed outside and took refuge from the rain in the nearest bar, thankful that at least we’d had the chance to check out the Twins’ beautiful new ballpark. The rest of the evening was really low-key, with junk food and basketball back at the room – not quite the all-star tour de Twin Cities that we’d planned on, but it was still a good day.

Wednesday morning started with breakfast at Moose and Sadie’s, a charming little cafe/bakery in the Warehouse District. We shared a sticky bun and munched on fruit and yogurt, eager to check out a little more of the city before heading up to Alexandria for our visit with Shane’s family. And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as we stood up to head out into the city, those pesky fat raindrops began to fall again. We hoped it looked worse than it actually was, but after getting thoroughly dampened in only two short blocks, we began to worry that our morning was doomed. We cursed ourselves for carrying umbrellas halfway across the country and then leaving them tucked into our suitcases back at the room. But I say, when life gives you lemons, just drink coffee, so we ducked into a nearby cafe, determined to wait out the rain with a hot latte. One on One cafe ended up being a really good find, with great coffee and an interesting vibe, as it was part cafe/part bicycle shop. We were happy to sit there for awhile, and even happier when we saw that the rains had stopped.

The rest of the morning was spent on a quick architectural tour of downtown – we checked out the library, snapped a few photos of the Warehouse District, and slowly meandered back to the hotel.

Our final stop before heading out of town was the Mill City Museum – I’d read about this old flour mill that had been converted to a modern museum dedicated to the history of the mill. The incorporation of new glass structures with remnants of crumbling stone walls and rusted steel members was beautiful – we spent awhile poking around the courtyard, snapping photos and admiring the architecture.

One last gaze at the Mighty Mississippi (which looked particularly mighty in light of recent events), and it was time to say good-bye to Minneapolis.

Looking forward to some chill time with family over the next few days – somehow all of this relaxation has me a bit worn out…