Archive for the ‘places’ Category

It seems I’m setting new records on the length of time between posts on here, but I’m back!  With a boatload of pictures!  It’s been a gray, rainy week in Seattle, so I’m going to start with a flashback to sunnier, Springier days:

I’m still traveling to San Diego every couple of weeks for work, and with the added daylight hours, I actually have time to get out for an evening walk along the beach after each day’s meetings are over.  Work travel can be a bummer, with the time away from Shane and Jules, but…these trips aren’t entirely terrible.

UC San Diego (where my project is located) is in La Jolla, which is some of California’s best-looking coastline.  Once I laid eyes on these beaches, I called Shane and asked him to start looking for tickets for a family vay-cay down to SD (stay tuned for that blog post!).

I came back from a three-day work trip in early April and found that our beloved backyard magnolia was putting on a show, trying to outdo the neighbor’s red camellia.

(Magnolia for the win!)

I can’t believe this tree is ours.  I mean, it’s a total nightmare to clean up after, but whatever.  It’s stunning and it’s ours.

And then, just a few days after all the buds had blossomed…POOF.  Lady Magnolia decided she was done with pink and was going to move onto green.

(I’m smiling on the outside, but cringing on the inside, because…what a MESS!)

Juliette and I made our annual pilgrimage to the UW Quad to see the cherry blossoms on a Friday morning.  Truth be told, I’m also trying to plant Husky seeds in this kid’s heart!

This was one of those luxurious days when we had hardly anything on the docket, so we spent awhile on campus, playing tag on the open lawn and hide and seek among the trees.

God bless this girl for making me feel like the funniest human on the planet.

SPRINGTIIIIIIIME!

We’ve been making a few small changes to our yard, whittling away at a some stickly old shrubs that have seen better days.  When I’m stumped on what to plant in their place, we take a neighborhood stroll – the streets of West Seattle have never looked so fine!

(On an unrelated note, sayonara tooth #2!)

Up next:  less flowers, but more family and friends!

I found myself with a travel-free, meeting-light week a couple of weeks ago, so Juliette and I packed our bags on a Thursday, kissed Shane good-bye (he was hanging back for work and house stuff), and headed south for a few days with the beloved cousins.

I don’t usually undertake a three-hour car ride on my own with Juliette, so I packed extra activities and snacks and planned a couple of stops along the way.  Turns out this girl is an easy-peasy co-pilot – we collaborated on some travel Bingo, me scanning the road for a blue truck and a motorcycle while Juliette ticked off boxes from the back seat, then she watched a show on the iPad, colored for awhile, and asked if we could blow right past our first planned stop and keep on trucking!  I coaxed her out of the car at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, though, as we’ve driven past this place dozens of times and I was curious about the animal scene there.  We strolled the boardwalks for a few minutes, spotted a couple of herons, and checked “barn” off our Bingo card.

Girly still loves these ridiculous party-favor lens-less glasses…

We burned rubber the rest of the way to Portland, stopping for a quick coffee and a cookie at the edge of town.  We earned it. 

Juliette and the cousins picked up right where they left off at Christmas, dashing from one end of the yard to the other over and over and over again, tagging and racing and laughing like crazy all the while.

Juliette was so deliriously happy – after weeks of counting down the days, we had arrived.

The girls had school on Friday, which meant Juliette and I were left to paint the town red on our own.  She dressed the part.

We started with donuts at Blue Star, because, well, that passionfruit glaze.

Then we headed over to Tilikum Crossing for a post-donut walk/scooter.  This bridge is one of Portland’s finest.

I love boppin’ around with this kid…

We drove over to Powells afterward to pick out a birthday present for Elise rest our feet at the kids’ reading table.

And then, we went back to the house and TOOK A NAP!  Best day ever.

Post-dinner park action:

Mitch and Kathryn set up a mini gymnastics studio for Elise in the basement, and Juliette dashed downstairs to hang from the ceiling every chance she got.

Jules came down with a fever late Friday night (that nap should have tipped me off!), and while I thought about high-tailing it back to Seattle, Juliette was insistent on Saturday morning that she felt way better and wanted to head to the zoo.  I ended up renting a stroller, though, as soon as I saw her energy begin to wane.

Still, these girls had fun!

And we got killer views of the sweetest cheetahs ever.

Juliette and I settled in for another nap on Saturday afternoon and she woke up feeling right as rain.  She spent most of the afternoon running around the backyard with Morgan, Bina and Mitch.

We toasted to Elise’s upcoming 11th birthday that night.  She opened her presents and then darted to her room to put in her new earrings and read by the task lamp that Grandma and Grandpa had sent to her.  She has never looked more pre-teen.

Morgan, ever the fashionista, accessorized with the packing materials.


We squeezed in one last playground romp on Sunday morning with Mitch and Morgan…

And grabbed one last PDX coffee on Mississippi Ave.  The sight of this big girl perched at a cafe table with a hot chocolate and book breaks my heart a little, but also makes me incredibly giddy.

(For the record, she can’t really read yet, but Morgan let her borrow the latest Dork Diaries and Juliette wants to intensely to be just like her cousin that she’ll fake-read for several minutes at a time!)

This getaway was so good for both our souls.  Even in the midst of that restless, fever-filled night, there was joy in holding Juliette close, rubbing her back and being the fully-present mama that it’s been hard for me to be these past few hectic months.  We should skip town more often.  But probably bring Dad along, too – we missed him! 

Now, cue Dixie Chicks and let’s hit the road, little buddy.

We quickly fell into a comfy routine of Shane getting out for an early-morning ski while Juliette and I drank coffee and played Foosball at the lodge.  You’ll see I left my left my guys tipped up in her favor, because…

that smile!

After Jules had sufficiently whupped me in the game room, we drove down the mountain to meet up with Shane, who had skied his way into Winthrop.  We grabbed pastries and another round of warm beverages from the Rocking Horse Bakery, taking our sweet time at our corner table.  The absence of any sort of rush felt almost as decadent as my ginormous slice of carrot cake.

Juliette and I had extended our ski rentals for another day and the three of us set out on one of the nearby trails near the Methow River.  There was a bit of a hill near the start of our course and I almost asked Juliette to walk it, as it was a pretty speedy little dip.  But her bold little spirit drove to go for it – she bent her legs, kept her eyes laser-focused on the grooves ahead, and…skied.  I high-fived her at the bottom, overwhelmed with pride and relief.

She’s so fierce.

We skied for a couple of hours, cruising over bridges and past barns and under leafless trees.  Sweet, sweet serenity.

Juliette was so stoked to be skiing with poles on her second day that she snuggled up with them when she hopped in the trailer.

Here’s to sealing our fate as a (slow lane!) ski family.

Post-ski, we grabbed a pizza lunch in Mazama and then huddled for a few minutes at the outdoor fire pit before heading back up the mountain to the Lodge.

Back at Sun Mountain, Shane and I did a few practice runs in the clearing near our room while Juliette played on the snowy playground.  I can’t for the life of me figure out how to climb uphill on cross-country skis, and any progress I made often ended up with with a backward slide on my stomach, but I’ll keep at it.  This feels like a worthwhile endeavor.

No day was complete without a solid hot tub sesh, so we took a family dip and soaked our tired legs, then wined and dined at the pub.  I know I’m gushing, but Lodge Life!  It’s the best.

It started snowing in the evening and kept up through the night so that on Wednesday morning we awoke to twelve inches of freshy-freshy-pow-pow. Shane went out for an early ski and Juliette and I went for a stroll to check out the snowy scene.

THIS PLACE.

And then, blue skies!

I gave Juliette my old point-and-shoot Nikon and have loved having a little photographer buddy with me on our travels.

We made snow angels and cleared the snow from the playground slide and made a game of seeing how fast we could run in the thigh-deep/chest-deep powder.

Take a load off, kiddo.

Juliette and I took one last dip in the hot tub, milking every single minute until our noon check-out.

I bummed hard as we scraped the mound of snow from our windshield and waved goodbye to our mountain retreat.  Those few days had been an intensely good break from the daily grind.

Adios, mountains.

Adios, horses.

Adios, snow.  WAAAHHHHH!

Backtracking a bit, as work has trumped blog these past few weeks, but…more snow photos!

We’ve officially instituted a family snow-cation as an annual Q1 tradition, since our past trips to Leavenworth and Suncadia were such a delight.  This year, we opted to venture even farther from home and booked three nights at the Sun Mountain Lodge near Winthrop, in Washington’s North Cascades.  We’ve heard this area is magical in the wintertime and it’s known as a cross-country skiing mecca, with over one hundred miles of groomed trails.  Sign us up!

We headed out on a Sunday morning in January, eager to skip town in the midst of some Seattle road construction that made for an extra-trafficky few weeks.  We jetted over the West Seattle Bridge and kept on jamming east, rolling up to Sun Mountain Lodge late in the afternoon.  From the moment we stepped into the lobby and met Floyd, the resident stuffed bison, I was smitten.  This place had mountain charm written all over it.

And THEN we stepped into our room and were greeted with this view.  Forget smitten – I was full-on enamored!

Juliette and I immediately started rummaging in our bags for our swimsuits and darted to the outdoor hot tub while Shane got the low-down on the skiing situation.  I tell ya’, hot-tubbing in the midst of snow-capped mountains is some kind of magic.

We rinsed the chlorine from our hair and snapped photos from each of the lodge’s patios, eventually ending up at the pub for burgers and chicken strips.

After dinner, we strolled the taxidermy-laden halls and stopped at the game room for a rousing round of family Foosball.

We settled back into our room around 7:00 with books and blankets, Shane and Juliette popping out to the porch every few minutes to check on the status of the lunar eclipse happening that night.  

As the shadow started to overtake the moon, Shane suggested we bundle up and get away from the lights of the resort for the maximum viewing experience, so we donned our boots and coats and walked across the parking lot to an open clearing.  As the moon darkened, the stars grew brighter and brighter and the Milky Way shone faintly in a haze of white overhead. The moon waned from gray to a pale orange and then became increasingly red, a tiny of sliver of white glowing at its upper edge.  We were the only three people standing in that silent, snow-covered field and in that moment I felt like we were the only three people on earth – just me, my favorite guy, and my favorite gal gazing up at what was surely the finest-looking moon I’ve ever laid eyes upon.  I held Juliette close, telling her that I hoped this was a moment she’d remember forever. She replied with, “This is spooooooky!”, so we hustled indoors to warm our numb fingers and toes.  

We awoke on Monday morning to a perfectly pink sky and Shane headed out for an early solo ski.  Juliette and I lingered in bed, popping out to grab a coffee and a steamer from the gift shop’s espresso bar.

We met up with Shane at the ski shop so that I could rent my own winter gear.  I was fitted with boots and skis and we were about to head out when Juliette tugged on Shane’s arm and asked could she please, please, please get some skis, too?  We’d planned on just pulling her in the trailer, but figured she could give it a go.  We piled our gear into the Forester and drove down the mountain to the nice, flat trail near Beaver Pond.

Juliette was a little champ on her Snoopy skis and trekked along with us for about a mile before hopping into the trailer for a snack.  It was a stunner of a day, sunny and crisp, and we cruised quietly along the edge of the pond. I was ridiculously happy, soaking in the sun and the snow and the satisfying swish-swish my skis as they glided through the freshly groomed grooves.  

Shane and Juliette eventually turned around and I went ahead on my own for a few minutes, starting to huff as I picked up my speed.  Exercise has never felt so, so good.  I hope Santa brings me skis next Christmas!

I caught back up with Shane and Jules and found her at it again.  Swish, baby, swish!

We ate a quick bite at our room and then hopped right back out for the 2 pm sleigh ride we’d booked with Daisy and Gregory, the resident draft horses.

Our ride took us up the mountain to the lodge’s tent, where we were offered hot chocolate and a chance to give the horses a pat.  Juliette and I put our hands near Daisy’s nose and let her breath warm our fingers.  Such majestic creatures, these horses.

Our time on the mountain left us a bit chilled, so Juliette and I passed the rest of the afternoon in the hot tub.  Sometimes I wonder if we’re spoiling this girl with such luxury.  Does she get how special this all is?

I think she does.

We drove into Winthrop for dinner and I was admittedly disappointed when I found out the restaurant we’d chosen was hosting trivia night.  I was looking forward to a quiet, low-key meal.  Shane, on the other hand, put Team Schnell on the roster and ponied up the five dollar entry fee before we even got to our table.  I guess we were doing this!  And we were…terrible.  We got a whopping two questions out of ten correct in the first round.

We persevered through round two though, taking Juliette’s word for it when she told us the birthplace of MLK Jr. was Atlanta and that the fastest bird in the world is the Peregrine Falcon.  And we won, dang it!  We won!  Free brunch at the Schoolhouse Brewery was ours!

We ended the day with books in bed; Juliette eventually drifted off to sleep and I curled up with my collection of Mary Oliver poems.  You know that feeling at the end of an amazing day when there’s no place you’d rather be, no one you’d rather be with?  This was it.

Good Lord, we’ve been out of our groove this month, in some the best and worst ways.  WINTER.  When the first snowflakes started to fall on Seattle three weeks ago, we cranked up our fireplace, hauled our TV up from the basement, and settled in for a cozy Sunday of reading and football Superbowl commercials.  

By late afternoon the snow had started to stick and children emerged from houses up and down the street, bundled up and ready to play.  It wasn’t much more than a dusting, really, but it doesn’t take much for Seattle-ites to declare simultaneous states of joy and emergency.  Stock up on milk and bread!  Stay off the roads! And bring out the sleds!

We like our snowmen petite in Seattle.

Snow continued to fall overnight and shouts of glee were audible across the city as parents read school cancellation notices aloud to their children on Monday morning.  SNOW DAY!  Shane and I tag-teamed with Juliette throughout the day, struggling to piece together a legitimate work-from-home day while not missing any of the fun. 

School was closed again on Tuesday, which felt more inconvenient than exciting, as I was prepping for a Wednesday work trip to San Diego.  Between my work travel and Shane’s adjustment to his new job, we really feel like we’re in the thick of the parent/professional hustle, and Juliette’s ever-presentness added another layer of complexity to our days.  But when the next wave of snow started falling on Friday afternoon, I was giddy.  The three of us stood at our living room window and cheered as a few fluffy flakes transitioned into a full-on snowstorm.  With a stocked-full fridge and no work or school on the 2-day horizon, we were hoping for some inches.  Within a couple of hours, we were ready to bring the sled back out.

And by sundown Shane was recruiting the neighbor kids to shovel our driveway – this was legit!

We gathered at our neighbor’s house that night for a hot wings smorgasbord and laughed as the guys were driven to tears by the spiciest of sauces.  We stayed way past the kiddo’s bedtime, embracing that structure-less snow day vibe.

We opened our shades on Saturday morning to find a few more inches on the ground and quickly pulled on our gear, wanting to make the first footprints on the sidewalk.

These people were out for a morning ski in the middle of the road.  Turns out snow-time is a lot like sun-time in Seattle – everyone happily busts out their sporting goods and carpe’s the diem.

Shane would disappear into the garage every few minutes and re-emerge with a new mode of transportation.

And Juliette was thrilled when her playmates came out, one by one.  This ramp/slide became a neighborhood hotspot over the course of the weekend (wait for it!).

While the kids were distracted with building snow castles, the dads upped the ante on the ramp.

Finally, it was deemed sufficiently steep and a line formed very quickly.  So many little speed-demons!

Juliette was insatiable, wanting to go again and again and again.

Our resident luge-er…

I read on a weather blog that snow really brings out the best in Seattle-ites, and we felt that fiercely in our neck of the woods.  There was such a strong sense of community around here as we shared our snow shovels and sleds, kept an eye on each other’s kids, invited each other in for chili and chocolate chip cookies at the end of the day.

Sunday was snowy again and we started to feel those first tinglings of the snowed-in itch, so we hopped in the Forester and made the short trip to the Rusts.

Shane and J broke away from fort-building to do some skiing through Camp Long.  Talk about giddy!

And then, sledding.  I was caught off-guard by the speed of the hills and Juliette and I ended up with faces full of snow as I used my feet to put on the breaks.  From that point forward, she insisted on riding with Nancy, who proved to be a more sensible pilot.

When your toboggan breaks, you improvise…

Jason was decidedly less sensible than Nance, but still, Juliette had fun.

Post-sledding, we lunched and hot-tubbed and crafted away the afternoon.

We headed home when the next wave of snow started to fall, eager to get inside and hole up for the night.  However, when Juliette saw the line of kids behind the ramp across the street, she was back at it.

I tried to call her in, but she insisted she needed to stick around to escort all the littles that didn’t want to sled by themselves.

Seriously, kiddo – look at your father’s face.  For the love of God, call it a day!

Never.

And then, Monday.  School was cancelled again and transit was a mess, so Shane and I worked from home.  “Work” is relative term, really.

Several more in my “Jules+Snow” series…just keep scrolling.

This time last year we were in the thick of house-hunting, dreaming of a place where Juliette could run around in the yard with neighbor kids.  We nailed it.

 

I squeezed in a few hours of work while Juliette played at a friend’s house, then set out for a brisk walk to check out the West Seattle scene.  I stood at the edge of Schmitz Park and marveled at the total quiet of the blanketed woods.

I loved seeing these two people perched on a bench, taking in the whited-out view of the Sound beyond.

I popped inside for a 30-minute work call and came back out to find that the kids (and dads) had been busy.  I take back what I said about those petite Seattle snowmen!

And then, because I think everyone sensed the snowfall was at its tail end, the ante was upped on the shenanigans.

Really, our neighbor was driving slowly and the kids were secure.  Totally safe.

We invited the neighborhood gang over for wine and dessert that night and I felt a little pang of melancholy as someone remarked that this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing for all of us.  We might get another mondo snowfall a few years down the road, but our kids will never be this age in this kind of snowstorm again.  It had been such a wonder-filled, festive few days.

BUT, festivity be damned, by Tuesday we were over it.  Snow turned to rain and brown overtook white on roads and sidewalks.  Our snowmen were quickly reduced to a sad pile of slush and carrots.  And school was closed again.  Come on, Seattle – Mama’s gotta WORK!

School resumed on Thursday (praise the LORD), and this past week was business as usual, for better and for worse.  It’s fitting that this is the last photo I have on my Snow-Zilla image reel, taken on the last real snow day.  Way to play your heart out, kiddo.

Juliette and I had a solid week off from work and school after our Christmas trip to Portland, and it was glorious.  We turned the bustle-dial waaaaay down and stayed close to home, some days venturing only as far as the neighborhood coffee shop, where we sipped our steamer and latte with the utmost leisure.

A friend offered us last-minute tickets to the Seattle Children’s Theatre production of The Velveteen Rabbit, and we said YES, thankful for our wide-open calendar.

We loved, loved, loved the show, which was poignant and creative and beautifully acted.  Juliette is at such a fun age right now, up for anything and thrilled with (most) new experiences.

Afterward, we met up with Shane for pizza at Mioposto, toasting to him for a big certification test he’d passed that morning.

We spent a rainy Saturday curled up in the cushy seats at AMC for a Mary Poppins matinee.  Again, loved it!  Our little patron of the arts…

Post-movie, we stretched our legs with a spin on Juliette’s Christmas scooter.

And then we settled in every evening with Juliette’s new stash of games – this girl is something of a Jenga master!

Shane was eager by December 26th to clear the Christmas stuff out of the house and get a fresh start to the year, so I memorialized our beloved tree with a few Mama-Jules pics (and then convinced him to leave it up till January!).

New Year’s Eve was crisp and clear, so Juliette and I got out for ride/run at Alki and then warmed ourselves at a coffee shop we’ve been meaning to check out.

…and later that afternoon, Shane and I warmed ourselves at a neighborhood pub we’ve been wanting to check out.  Give me all the twinkle-lit spaces!

The gang convened at our house on the evening of NYE for a family sleepover.  Jack brought a bottle of Veuve and we raised our glasses early while the kids were still up, wanting to let them in on the festivities (I meant to pour them each a glass of sparkling apple juice but was so excited about the Veuve that I forgot to get their drinks; they gorged themselves on cookies and M&Ms instead).

They watched the ball drop (East Coast time) on Jason’s phone and very enthusiastically blew their horns.

Finally, around 9:30, the littles were tucked into their sleeping bags.  Although…they don’t look so sleepy, do they?

N and J had quite the time settling down, though Juliette sweetly offered to hold Nico’s hand “to help him get to sleep”.  Next time I checked the monitor, they were both on the floor.  By 11:00 they were both in her bed.  Finally, at 11:30, all was still.

Meanwhile, the adults seemed to grow louder as the night went on, our game of Bowl of Nouns becoming more and more raucous with each round.

At one point, Jack was literally curled up on the floor, clutching his stomach and laughing over my attempt at charade-ing “potluck”.

We toasted one more time as the clock struck midnight, thrilled by the dawn of a new year, but also thrilled that we’d all managed to stay up that late!

We got a slow start on New Years Day, sleepily convening at the table for cinnamon rolls and bacon…

and then all jetted to Alki Beach to watch the gents take their annual Polar Bear Plunge.

As per usual, Shane was the first one out of the water, while Jason stayed behind to frolic.

Juliette thinks they’re all nuts.

We spent the afternoon under a pile of blankets, drinking tea and watching Star Wars (which in hindsight, might be a tad scary for Juliette).

Hard as it was to remove ourselves from the couch, I was determined to celebrate the dawn of a new year with a sunset stroll, so we made our way to Lincoln Park to scooter and skip rocks.

 

Welcome, 2019.  I’ve got high hopes for you.

Juliette and I kicked off our holiday break on the 21st with our annual Mama-Jules Downtown Christmas, where we spun through the city to see the sights.  I let Juliette set the agenda and lead the way – her first request was the Fairmont’s life-size gingerbread house, where she asked if she could please lick the candy cane window trim.  (I mean, she was setting the agenda, but…NO!!!)

We popped into my office to deliver goodies to few friends and then were off to the Westlake Carousel for the day’s main event.

The ride always ends sooner than Juliette wants it to, but she was happily distracted by this boa’d Storm Trooper standing nearby.

We went to the Starbucks across the street for a hot chocolate and an Americano, and then I got a toothache just watching Juliette dip her candy cane into her cocoa’s whipped cream (topped with a drizzle of chocolate syrup, no less).  “This is the best thing ever, Mama!”

We had parked near the market, so we said a quick hello to the pig and picked up one final Christmas gift.

WHEW.  This girl’s got stamina!

On Saturday we slowed things down.  We woke up late that morning and then gave Juliette her big gift, propping a new (used) bike next to the Christmas tree and putting a giant gold bow on it.  I baked cinnamon rolls for breakfast and we lingered at the table well after they were gone, flipping through Christmas cards and sipping peppermint tea.

We took Juliette down to Alki for a spin on her ride and I spent awhile at the water’s edge, acutely aware of how much I’ve missed the outdoors over these past couple of dark, busy months.

She’s all about the hand brakes now!

Back at home, we listened to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for the seven hundredth time, played board games, and wrapped gifts.

We set out for Portland on Sunday morning and quickly sunk ourselves into Mitch and Kathryn’s couch.  Bina, ever the cuddler, was thrilled to have yet another lap to sit on.

We spent Christmas Eve morning puttering around the house, baking and playing and passing the dog around.

(This crew takes Parcheesi very seriously!)

The antsy’s set in after lunch and I asked Elise if there was anywhere she wanted to go, as Morgan was a little under the weather.  The question had hardly left my mouth before she responded “Roller Skating!”, and as luck (?) would have it, the neighborhood rink was open until 5:30 that day.

Juliette was such a sweet little trooper, popping back up after each tumble and insisting that she press on, determined to make a full lap without any spills or any hand-holding.

We cozied up that night for the Polar Express and then set out a plate of cookies and carrots for Santa and his reindeer.

Once all was silent in Elise’s room, where all three girls were sleeping, stockings were filled and presents were laid out (by Santa, of course).

The jumping and jabber of excited children woke me early on Christmas morning.  The adults poured themselves a round a coffee and the kids got right to it.

It took visits to three Targets and one Walmart, but Santa came through on the Barbie Dentist…

(Morgan wins the award for “most excited gift-opener”.)

‘Twas the season for cozy things, as Morgan, Elise and I all got new fuzzy robes for Christmas!  Juliette ran to her suitcase and pulled out her own robe, eager to get in on the comfy action.

Good tea and good chocolate for my mom and dad, respectively.  We’ve got them figured out by this point!

Oh, Morgan!

Juliette unwrapped the scooter I bought for her on a last-minute impulse and exclaimed, “I have ALWAYS wanted this!”.

We spent the rest of the morning enjoying our new toys…

And then rallied ourselves for a walk through Tryon Creek.

This picture feels so Northwest winter…

When the kids started to lag a bit, Shane kept them engaged by recounting the entire story line of Lord of the Rings.

Back at the house, we settled in for more games.  Shane, Dad, Mitch and I played an intense round of Settlers

(Shane’s smiling, but I won!)

It seemed that every time Juliette and Morgan disappeared for a few minutes, they would re-emerge with new outfits and a fresh coat of lip gloss.

Elise, on the other hand, is much more content to spend all her time in leggings and a t-shirt with a book in hand.  I’ve loved watching my nieces grow up into such delightfully different humans.

Late afternoon, dinner was prepped while the girls gingerbread-ed.

And I snapped the requisite cousins-in-hats picture:

My dad had ordered a country ham from the East Coast for dinner – this salty treat evokes happy childhood memories of Nannie and Grandaddy, who always came to visit with a country ham and a pound of fudge nestled into their suitcases.

We ate and ate and then retired to our happy corners of the house – the girls put Elf on the TV and snuggled up with Bina while Mitch, Kathryn and my dad dealt a few rounds of Gin Rummy.  I poured myself another glass of red and curled up in a chair with my new book of poetry, grateful for all the love in that house.

And now we’re home, enjoying a few more days of life in the slow lane.  Juliette’s a tad bit distraught that Christmas is over, but she’s finding much solace in her pink scooter and her stuffed elephant.  The joy lives on.

Lordy, Lordy, it’s been a doozy of a month – I always enter into December with the intention to slow down and savor the season and spend my evenings quietly dwelling on the magic of the advent season, but the best-laid plans…  I’ve been living in crazy-town at work, with a huge deadline yesterday and a 28-hour stint in San Diego earlier in the week for a project interview.  Shane’s taking a certification exam at the end of the month and has his head in his books most nights.  And then, there are all the Christmas things.  ALL THE CHRISTMAS THINGS.  I thought about giving myself a pass and nixing a few holiday traditions this year, but I just couldn’t do it – not because I feel like I have to see all the lights and bake all the cookies and listen to all the songs, but because dang it, I want to.  I really, really want to.  I love our December rituals.  I love watching Juliette’s face light up at the sight of inflatable rooftop reindeer and dancing fairies.  I love elaborate holiday storefront displays and searching the city for the tallest, twinkliest tree.  I’m a sucker for the Christmas cheese.  And I’m not sorry about it.  So, bring on the lights!

We spent an evening at Gene Coulon Park a couple of weeks ago, strolling the sparkly paths of “Clam Lights” with the Chens.  Juliette and Nico ran ahead of us, squealing in delight at every turn.

Seasons Greetings, friends.

 

We jetted over to Snowflake Lane after work on a Monday evening, hopeful that we’d bypass the weekend crowds.  We had a cozy meal at Earl’s (I love Happy Hour in a squishy booth) and then secured a front-row curbside spot for the show.  This whole production is so ridiculously over-the-top, with the music and the dancing and the fake snow and the people dressed as toy soldiers, walking around on stilts and handing out lollipops.  But like I said, I’m a sucker.  Jules is, too.

This winged woman came by a couple of times to grab Juliette’s hands and give her a twirl.  Kiddo was on Cloud NINE.

I wonder at what age kids stop waving back at the people of the floats?  I hope it’s not for awhile…

Halfway through the parade bubble snow started falling from the sky, upping the wonder ante even more.  I’m telling you, they go big on the Eastside!

 

On a quieter note, I spent last Saturday in the kitchen, baking my heart out while Shane was out skiing and Juliette was playing at the neighbor’s house.  I queued up Little Women on the iPad and patted out my logs of biscotti, pausing for a moment to put my hand on my chest and sigh deeply when Mr. Lawrence gifted Beth with the piano that his little girl used to play.  AND NOW IT CAN MAKE MUSIC AGAIN!  Waaahhhh!  Juliette helped for a hot minute, but was back out the door to play before I’d even pulled out the ingredients for my almond toffee.

Nonetheless, the March sisters proved to be awfully good company.  And when I was done, I got to lick the chocolate off the spatula without sharing.

Rudolph was a great little helper with deliveries, though – we made the rounds with our homemade goodie bags and bid all our neighbors a very merry Christmas.

 

We mixed it up for our annual Seattle family dinner this year and decided to gather our motley crew at MorFire in Capitol Hill for some holiday hot pot.  We gathered around a long table over pots of simmering broth, watching the kids toss in bunches of greens and noodles and shrimp.  Communal dining at its finest!

We gathered back at our house after dinner to open gifts and drink mulled wine and generally engage in more merriment.

This crew does “merry” so very well.

Gifts included a cashmere scarf and plush blankets and a wine shop gift card, but the present that garnered the most excitement was a box of Mario Brothers cereal.  Go figure!

Also, new flashlights!  Perfect for turning off all the lights and jumping on the bed!  (Overwhelming, inexpensive childhood joy is such a beautiful thing.)

 

Our neighbors told us that the Menashe House down on Beach Drive is a holiday must-see for West Seattle-ites, so we popped over there after dinner one night and it did not disappoint.  Lights and a nativity scene and about 15 different Santa figures, perched on the roof and in trees and on the front porch.

And about three million lights.  So good!

 

Juliette has shown an increased interest in Santa this year, catching Shane and I by surprise a couple of weeks ago when she piped up from the back seat, “So, Mommy, Daddy, is Santa really real?”  Shane and I exchanged a quick nervous glance, not entirely sure what our story was.  We’ve never made a big deal about Santa, never really played up the charade or pushed when Juliette’s taken a pass on going to visit him.  Shane, ever the diplomat, responded with, “What do you think?”  Juliette thought for a minute and said, “I guess so…”  And so, I guess we’re rolling with it!  I’m treating as another layer of magic to the season, second of course to the birth of baby Jesus, but still an opportunity for wonder and delight.  There’s a nice mellow Santa chair set up at one of our neighborhood home stores and we took Juliette there this morning to visit the big guy.  She hopped right up on his lap, requested Dentist Barbie (career Barbies are all the rage these days), and then proudly claimed her candy cane.

 

And now, this latest round of work mayhem has passed, Juliette’s school has closed for the year, and we have officially begun Christmas vacation, with eleven luxurious, stress-free days stretching out before us like the plushiest of red velvet carpets.  I might get that December peace and quiet after all…Praise God.

Merry December!  This holiday season has felt extra-cozy as we’ve cranked up our fireplace and really settled into our house.  It seemed fitting that Shane and I should host a Thanksgiving gathering this year, as our expanded dining area is one of the things we love most about our home, so we asked my parents to come over for a few days and asked the Rust clan join us for a big ol’ Thursday meal.  And then, we cooked.

I found great joy in setting the table on Thursday morning, pulling out my mom and dad’s wedding silver and my grandma’s antique wine glasses.  Juliette folded the napkins just-so and I snipped a few sprigs off our backyard fir.

 

We dined on cranberry sauce (a la Jules) and turkey (a la Mom) and mashed potatoes (a la Nance) and cornbread and green beans and salad.  Jason made two pies and I made a rather unfortunate crostada and we ate and drank ourselves silly.

During cleanup, just when I was about to give props to our very outdated kitchen for rising to the occasion, our garbage disposal got stuck in the “on” position, so Jason, Shane and my dad spent some time under the kitchen sink fiddling with buttons and wires, trying to get the thing to grind to a halt.  Turns out it was fixed with a $4 part from Home Depot, but “kitchen update” is quickly moving up on the 2019 priority list!

We spent the rest of the evening lounging by the fire, then heading downstairs for a very rousing game of Mario Party with the kids.

Thankful for both given family and chosen family…

We ventured out on Friday for a stroll at Lincoln Park and a couple of rounds at Beer Star.

My mom and I trekked through the rain for Americanos at the neighborhood coffee shop…

And then we spent the rest of the weekend largely holed up indoors, playing games and reading books and polishing off the leftover turkey.

 

My parents left on Sunday morning and then Shane, Jules and I set out on our annual tree hunt at Mountain Creek Farm.  We met up with the Chens, who were on a similar mission.

I had a particularly hard time settling on just the right tree this year – maybe because I was busy trying to keep track of these kiddos, who spent the afternoon running very big circles around us?

Found it!  I love a lush, fluffy Grand Fir.

 

We went home, cranked up the Charlie Brown, and got to work stringing lights and hanging ornaments.  While sipping egg nog.

There’s about an inch of clearance between the ceiling and the top of our tree.  Perfection!

 

And in further tradition-keeping, Nance, LaV and I spent last weekend on our annual “retreat” to Cedarbrook Lodge in SeaTac.  We talked, we ate ice cream, we shopped…

We, like, really shopped.  For ourselves and our guys and our kids.  Mostly for ourselves, though.  The post-mall fashion show we host in our hotel room is one of my favorite parts of the weekend.

We also watched four and a half Twilight movies over the course of two days.  That’s nine steamy hours of vampires and werewolves.  Phew!

If our eyes look a little glazed-over, it’s because we O.D.’d on Edward.  Cheers, ladies!

 

And finally, in new traditions, Shane and I took Juliette to see the Nutcracker at McCaw Hall last Sunday.  We scored a deal on some tickets and figured Juliette was old enough to sit through the two-hour program.

In a happy coincidence, Jack and La Verne had bought tickets for the very same show.  We joined them in their otherwise-empty box at intermission so that Jules and N could soak in the magic of the second half together.

The whole thing was so stinking beautiful – the music and the sets and the costumes and the dancers.  It was a smorgasbord of creativity, all wrapped up in the prettiest of paper.

As we were walking to the car, Juliette looked up and me and exclaimed, “That was so super-special, Mommy!”  For me too, kiddo!

 

And up next:  ALL.  THE.  LIGHTS.  We’re holiday-ing hard up in here.

And suddenly, we were waking up to our last full day in Paris!  I made my usual five-step walk from the bed to the balcony and bid the city Good Morning.

We laced up our sneakers and set out for a full day of city-soaking.  We started in Montmartre on Rue des Martyrs, on a mission for the neighborhood’s best croissants.  We found them at Farine & O, which was hands-down Lav’s and my favorite boulangerie of the several we visited.  Buttery and puffy and flaky and buttery.  And gosh, so buttery!

The streets of Montmartre hold such a beautiful mix of bright (or dark) murals and renegade wall art.

And then, you round a corner and find yourself on a rue lined with pristinely Parisian buildings.

Oh, to be the child that sits on the back of this bike and cruises around Paris with mom or dad.  LUCKY.

We followed the crowds to Sacre Couer and hung out for a moment on the jam-packed terrace overlooking the city.

And then made our descent, in search of lunch and a quiet place to sit.

We Metro-ed back toward Ile de la Cite, grabbed a couple of savory crepes with a couple of cups of vin chaud, and sat on a bench near Notre Dame to savor the good life.

We wandered through the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, a monument built in honor of the 200,000 French people that were deported to Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

Our feet started to feel their usual wear in mid-afternoon, so we headed back toward the apartment.  We passed this kid-filled plaza on the way and paused for minute to watch them play – I missed Juliette somethin’ fierce.

And so we stopped at Pierre Herme and loaded up on macarons for the little ones.  Mama’s coming home with treats, Jules!

We spent awhile at our sunny abode, snacking on the assortment of goodies we’d collected over the previous couple of days.  I challenge you to find a window better than this one!

This balcony was our happy place.

Lav and I split up for a bit to do some shopping in the Marais and then reconvened to head south and stroll the streets of St. Germain.

Our miles and miles of walking hit me like bag of bricks on Saturday afternoon, so we actually spent more time sitting than strolling – suddenly, I was beat.  But still, there are sights to be seen from a cafe terrace!

…or a quaint Brasserie!

We dined at Boucherie Rouliere that night, wanting to close out our trip with the French staples of onion soup and steak frites.  We came here last year as well and have declared it an official must-visit anytime we’re in Paris – the space is happy and bustling, the service is friendly, and the soup is extra-cheesy.

We took the circuitous route home, reveling in the joy of a packed terraces, bright lights, and a sidewalk quartet.

We rounded out the night with crepes from La Droguerie in the Marais.  NUTELLLLLLLA!

We happily discovered on Sunday morning that daylight savings had ended during the night, so we found ourselves with an extra hour before we had to head to the airport.  I set out with my camera before the sun had fully come up, wanting to enjoy a few quiet moments with the city.  My dear, dear city.

I thought about turning around at the Pompidou, but checked my watch and decided to just keep on trekking.

The Tuilieries was nearly deserted, leaving me free to snap endless photos of those quintessential green chairs.  I love those green chairs.

 

This was the point at which I decided I better book it back to the Marais.  Sights seen.

I met up with La Verne for one last croissant and coffee before heading back to the apartment to finish packing up.

And then it was time to squeeze back into that tiny elevator and bump our suitcases along the sidewalks to the RER.  Don’t let Lav’s friendly smile fool you – we were crying on the inside as we said goodbye to our sweet little street…

It was a long day of travel back to Seattle – we toasted to La Verne’s birthday with glasses of in-flight Prosecco somewhere over the Atlantic and watched three or four movies.  I was feeling some pretty serious post-Paris blues, but the moment Juliette’s and Shane’s faces came into view at the top of the airport escalator, all felt right again.  Paris will always be there, ready to welcome us back the next time those $500 flights show up in my inbox.  And it will be as magical as ever.