Ah, May – back when we slept in our real beds rather than on air mattresses on our basement floor (that June heat wave was INTENSE!).  Back when we cooked on a stove in our kitchen rather than a hot plate in our basement mud room (in-progress kitchen remodel has further upended our lives).  Back when our backyard was filled with colorful spring blooms and we wore sweaters during Saturday brunch.

May was good (though summer still holds plenty of promise).  Mother’s Day 2021 was extra-special this year, as Shane and Juliette thoughtfully schemed a day that struck the perfect balance between activity and leisure.  After a quiet breakfast and the presentation of a sweet card from Juliette in which she called me “her treasure”, Shane and Jules told me to get dressed because we were headed OUT for a Mother’s Day surprise. 

Shane tossed a few fancy groceries in a cooler and then we made the short drive to the West Seattle ferry terminal.  We were island-bound for a day of bumming around Vashon.

With friends, no-less!  It was so fun to see the Chens and the Rusts in the parking lot as we rolled up to the Island Center Forest for a hike (I use that word generously).  We sauntered through the woods and spotted salamanders and baby chicks in the pond and took our sweet time winding our way back to our cars.

We ate a picnic lunch at sunny KVI beach, played games, and lounged to our hearts’ content.

Not to gush, but while some moms want a spa day to themselves on Mother’s Day, I’ll take all the bonus time with these two that I can get.

We rounded out a perfect day with rhubarb pie and gin rummy and damn, I felt loved.

With the onset of warmer temps we felt the itch to be outdoors as much as possible each weekend.  We drove east one Saturday to drop off Shane in North Bend so he could do a long bike ride with some friends and then Juliette and I headed to Gold Creek Pond for a springtime hike.  But…snow?  It was 70 degrees out there!  The trail was too slippery to navigate in our tennis shoes, but we found a picnic table by the lake where we could still enjoy the view.

Vitamin D joy…

We met up with Shane at the tail end of his 30-mile bike ride and then Juliette hopped on her own wheels to do 12 miles of the Iron Horse Trail with her dad.  Their journey started with a two-mile ride through this abandoned train tunnel, which was pitch black and freezing cold – headlamps and jackets required.  I’ll catch you on the flip-side, guys…

Shane took this picture of Juliette at the other end of the tunnel – she later told me that she was freezing and scared through the whole thing, but that she told her dad it was fun because she didn’t want to hurt his feelings.  Sweet little trooper.

I did a nice little solo hike at McClellan Butte and then offered my weary bikers a ride home.

We don’t head east too often anymore, what with the hassle of getting around the closed West Seattle Bridge, but when we do, we make it count.

We rounded out May with a couple of days on Marrowstone Island with the Chens.  There are few better ways to kick off a weekend than with a sunny ferry ride.

Much as she likes a ferry ride, Juliette can think of few things better than settling in for a long weekend with a buddy.

The Chens’ vacation home is tucked along a quiet edge of the island (actually, all edges of Marrowstone are quiet) and we loved mellow evening strolls followed by plenty of kicking back in their water-view Adirondacks.

Jack booked us a tour of a goat farm on Saturday morning and it was a definite weekend highlight.  Look at these baby goats!

(But watch your dress, Jules!)

After wearing out our welcome in baby goat pen, we wandered out to the idyllic field to see the grown-ups.

I love this guy – look at his smile!

Our tour guide was a 12 year-old girl who lived on the farm and knew every intricate detail of raising and milking and caring for her animals.  She answered all of our questions with striking maturity and then we got to taste the cheeses produced right there at the farm.

Ok, just a couple more baby goat pics, because…baby goats!

The kids and the dads biked to the beach that afternoon while La Verne and I met them there with the cars.

And then the rest of the day was filled with Nintendo-time, some intense Lego-building sessions, and delectable pizzas a la Jack.

Plus, s’mores!  With a little pre-game action in which the skewers were wielded like wands by these two Harry Potter fans.

Careful with that thing, Juliette…

Goodnight, guys…

Sunday’s most important agenda item was to celebrate the birthday boy, who turned the big EIGHT while we were there!  Juliette couldn’t wait to watch him open the Nintendo game she’d been waiting to gift him for months.

Post-waffles, we drove over to Fort Flagler for a late morning hike.

How do you coax a couple of kids through the woods when they really just want to go home to play Mario Odyssey?  Like this:

We spent our last island evening at Finnriver Cidery, sipping cider and doing the limbo and running through the open fields.

And finally, cake and Clue.  Such a good day.

Juliette and I were up before the rest of the house on Monday morning and drove into town for coffee and donuts before heading to the beach for an early Mama-Jules stroll.

Back at the house, there was one last hangout on the bunk beds…

One last go at lawn games…

And one last huddle with friends we’ve sorely lacked time with over the past year.

Time to board that ferry.

And say a cool farewell to the marvelous month of May.

With three days left till Summer Break, a quick look-back to Spring Break, where we lived large for a weekend at Semiahmoo Resort up near the Canadian border.  It was a quick trip – just a couple of nights – but it felt like the perfect way to tip-toe out of pandemic mode and celebrate our vaccinated status.  It helped that it was 70 degrees in Blaine that weekend and this place had a pool.  A POOL!  I forget how much Juliette loves the water until I see her in it.

And I can’t get her out.

The resort also had a rack full of bikes out front free for the borrowing, so we did a pre-dinner cruise along the spit.

We grabbed dinner to-go and ate on the lawn near the water.  Then, rock-skipping.

Lots of rock-skipping.

Some campfire s’mores…

And good night, sun.

Saturday morning was misty and mellow, with blues where there were oranges 12 hours earlier.

Juliette asked to hit the swimming pool at 8am, but we coaxed her into settling for a game of billiards in the common room.

We walked for awhile along the beach, Juliette looking very incognito-celebrity in her sunglasses and hoodie.

Ah, there’s my girl!

We explored the northern tip of the spit, with its old docks and decaying boat.

And then finally hit the pool.

Juliette made a friend and spent an hour jumping into the pool with her again and again and again.

And then pre-dinner recreation back out on the lawn, gaming to our hearts’ content.

Pizza with a view…

Juliette’s cheeks got sun-burned that day and she went to bed whimpering over how hot her face felt.  I kicked myself for not packing sunscreen, but…there’s are worse things than a little too much Vitamin D.

I woke up early on Sunday and took a quiet solo walk while Shane and Juliette snoozed.

I felt like I had the spit and the bay all to myself.

I spotted a seal and watched him cut back and forth through the glassy water for awhile before heading back to check on the sleepy-heads.

Juliette and I grabbed a latte and a vanilla steamer and sat on a log while the sun finished rising, savoring the last of the morning’s quiet.

We squeezed in one last game-packed hour before check-out.

And then it was time to pack it up.  What a perfect balance of playing hard and resting hard.

Last on our weekend to-do list was hiking hard – we pulled off Chuckanut Drive and set out for a trek up to Fragrance Lake.

Ah…that first glimpse of water on these destination-lake hikes!

And that perfect log to settle into for a snack…

We’ve missed traveling this past year, but gosh, what a weekend getaway can do for a family’s soul.

Welp, there’s no time like the end of May to blog about March!  Getting caught up this week and culling through photos of cherry blossoms that have long since dropped and been swept away…

Actually, early blooms aside, I have very few pictures from March, which tells me we didn’t do or see a whole lot.  Weekends were devoted to home projects, like endless weeding sessions and the laying of new sod in the front yard…

“Look, Mama!  A dirt heart!”  This girl finds the magic in everything.

And weekdays were the same ol’ work-from-home, school-from-home rigamarole.  Juliette and I made a habit of seizing on our flexible schedules as opportunities to sneak away for 10am coffee dates.

…and then back to it!  We have tried out Juliette’s desk in just about every room in the house and finally decided just to give her reign of our dining room table from 8:00-3:00 – she likes the room to spread out and can pop over to her bedroom desk if we have simultaneous Zooms.

And finally…this.  March was so much of this:

April brought sunnier days and northwest-style beach dates (with jackets and rocky shores):

And Easter!  Juliette loves an excuse to dress up and was donning her bunny ears and her Spring dress before I’d even gotten out of bed.

It was a quiet Sunday, like all Sundays, with virtual church and an indoor/outdoor egg hunt.

After Juliette cracked open her plastic eggs, I rolled out her second basket, stuffed with all things pink.

This book of riddles was her favorite – she loves to stump her dad and me.

We pulled out the candles and the champagne flutes for a fancy dinner and, as has been typical over the past 14 months, missed our friends and family dearly while being buoyed by the warmth of our little three-person bubble.

Also, this Springtime view makes hunkering down not so bad.

Our quarantine bubble has slowly started to expand though, as evidenced by Juliette’s return to in-person school!  I was going to miss having this kid stop by my desk for random hugs throughout the day, but it was time.  We were ready.

She was ready.

Also, who am I kidding?  She’s only gone for three hours a day, four days a week.  We’re still swimming in Mama-Jules time.  And our walks home from school have become such a lovely part of our day.

Also, Juliette doesn’t go to school till 11:30, which means we still squeeze in the occasional weekday coffee/hot chocolate.  We recently discovered that Met Market puts the whipped cream on top of the cup lid.  Brilliant.

Warmer weather brings out Shane’s sporty vibes and he is quick to ask Juliette to toss the football around or shoot some hoops across the street as soon as he wraps up work for the day.

Meanwhile, Juliette’s been feeling so sporty herself that she rarely takes off Shane’s baseball cap.  Cutest thing…

We had our first visitors of the year last month when my parents came out for a long weekend.  We brunched at our favorite Alki spot…

Played a lot of cards…

And cozied up for Sudoku sessions.

We also got out for a stroll through Schmitz Park, which was growing greener by the minute.

So good to have visitors!

And speaking of visitors, Grandma and Grandpa Schnell rolled into Seattle just a couple of weeks later!  More card-playing…

Some baking…

And lots of sunshine.

Juliette’s grandpa could not love her more – these two really ate up the together time.

Until it was time to say goodbye…that hug Denny gave Juliette on her way out to school was so sweet it brought tears to my eyes.

One more…

And finally, the last of our April guests was this mama bird that roosted in our porch planter.

…with four little eggs in a cozy little nest!

Checking on the eggs became a daily ritual, until one day Shane peered in there and excitedly announced that they had hatched!  Four odd-looking little nestlings, with bulbous eyes and wide-open mouths.

Checking on the birdies became a new daily ritual and in less than a week, all four had left the nest to hobble around our porch.  None of them looked near-ready for flight, but by the next morning, they were gone…  I was a little sad to see them go and felt some literal empty-nester vibes each time I opened the front door and spied that vacant planter.

Such is life, though…  Birds fly away, blossoms fall to the ground, and I have to continually remind myself to just be thankful for the fleeting beauty of the present.

Thankfully, Juliette is a stunning example of living in the bliss of the moment (also, check out that grass!  Shane’s new pride and joy…).

Spring is so full of reasons to smile.

Last snow post of the (already-long-gone) season!  We had such a good time in Leavenworth that I couldn’t resist booking us a February weekend near Winthrop.  Our cabin was in the small town of Brewster and overlooked the snow-covered vineyards at Lone Point Cellars.  I’d love to see this view in the summertime, preferably with a crisp Sauv Blanc in hand.

We awoke to cloudy skies on Friday, but when Juliette and I wrapped ourselves in blankets to step out and take in the view from the porch, we saw blue skies in the distance.

Juliette and Shane have become a couple of downhill junkies this winter, so we agreed we’d do one ski day on the slopes and one ski day on the flats.  We spent Friday at Loup Loup, a little gem of a resort tucked into the mountains between Okanagan and Twisp.  I suited up with my rental skis and hopped on the mini-lift right behind Juliette, inspired by her confidence.

“You can do it, Mama!”

We got in a few good family runs on the lower slopes and then Shane and Juliette hopped on the big-kids lift for a looooong run down the mountain.  I was feeling good on my skis but not that good, so I stayed behind and sipped my thermos of tea.

20 minutes later, Juliette came barreling down the mountain with her arms raised in victory, Shane on her heels.  Such a little champ.

We did a few more family runs, checked out a couple of detours, and then Shane and Juliette were back on the lift while I happily unbuckled my heavy boots and called it day.

I decidedly can’t keep up with these two, but trying was awfully fun.

We ate dinner back at our cabin, played a couple of rounds of Rummy, and then piled into the king-sized bed for a movie.  We slept hard that night.

Saturday was cross-country day, so after carrot cake and cinnamon rolls from our beloved Rocking Horse bakery, we hit the Methow Community Trail for a few hours of skiing in the slow lane.

THIS PLACE.  Gets me every time.  Get ready to scroll…

The downhills on this stretch of the MCT were just right – fast enough for a minor rush, but not so steep that I crashed and burned.

We covered quite a bit of ground before trudging through knee-deep powder to take a snack break under a tree.

And, back to it!

Cross-country skiing with Juliette certainly takes more coaxing than a day at the lifts, but still, this girl’s got stamina.  Plus, I keep a pocket full of gummy worms.

Rallying for the final stretch back to the car – get it, Jules!

We made it back to the car and then Juliette asked if we could do just a little of the downhill run the other direction.  But of course!

We did ten minutes of an uphill shuffle and then turned around for the payoff.  It was a long and steady run back down, but this girl kept knees bent, head up, body in control.  Another skier watched her fly past and then said to me, “Looks like she’s a little Olympian!”

Her freckles sure shine on a bluebird day!

We had late lunch reservations at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery, which offered “private heated domes” on their back patio, each with their own HEPA filter.  We were intrigued.

It was a pretty sweet little setup, though I can tell you that a layer of plastic and a tiny space heater hardly keep you toasty in the midst freezing temps.  BUT, hot fries and a burger are so freaking good after a full day of skiing.

Back at the cabin, after some icicle shenanigans, we cozied in for the night with more cards and the rest of our movie.

Sunday morning was lazy as we milked our 11am checkout time…

And then put another idyllic snow-cation in the books.  Now bring on Spring!

And, before the cherry blossoms fully burst forth, more snow pics!  We spent a long weekend in Leavenworth back in January, logging some serious miles on our cross-country skis.  The Sleeping Lady Lodge is such a dreamy winter retreat…

…even if COVID forces you to eat your pizza out on the patio in 30-degree temps.

We were up and at ’em early on Saturday to hit the nordic trails at Stevens.

It was a bit of a slow start with a lot of uphill in the beginning, but we eventually found our groove.

Juliette took a couple of tumbles that momentarily shook her confidence, but she always managed to muster the will to get up and go on.

Snack break!

That early-on uphill I mentioned made for some pretty fast downhill on the way back, which Juliette and I conquered with mixed degrees of success.

She’s got the downhill form down pat.

And…she sticks the landing!

Meanwhile, as I was skidding to a stop on my butt, a well-intentioned man that was passing by said, “You know, there’s no shame in walking down some of these hills!”.  Thanks, dude.

We spent the afternoon back in our cozy room, reading and napping.

And then headed back out before dinner for some sledding.

I’m telling you, this girl’s got a serious need for speed.

We traipsed around the playground for a bit, Juliette found a snow-baby she could rock in her arms and feed with an icicle bottle, and then we called it a day.

We stayed closer to “home” on Sunday and decided to carry our skis over to the trail right near our cabin.

It’s been awhile since we’ve wintered in Leavenworth and I forgot how beautiful the Icicle River Trail is on a bluebird day.

I could follow in the tracks of these two all day long.  Such a happy sort of zen.

We found an idyllic little spot near the river to sit on our jackets and eat our lunch.  I mean, I just don’t know how winter gets any better than this.

Fueled by beef jerky and gummy worms, we trekked back to our cabin with record speed.

We spent another lazy afternoon in our room and then went for a short hike before dinner to stretch our legs and toss some snowballs.

The Christmas lights were still up in town and were kitschy as all get-out, but worth a nighttime stroll.

And then, one more game of Rummy (we’re a bunch of card sharks now!) to close out a stellar day.

We begrudgingly checked out of our cabin on Monday morning, but decided to have one last go on our skis at Wenatchee State Park before heading west.  The three of us camped here a couple of summers ago and I was curious to see what it looked like with a blanket of snow.

We off-trailed a bit (without our skis) to get down to the lake – last time we were here, these mountains were hidden behind a veil of forest fire smoke.  I much prefer this view.

Back in the grooves…

Oh, ski bunny.  I LOVE YOU.

Our legs were feeling rubbery after a couple of miles, so we tossed our skis in the trunk and then walked over to the mondo sledding hill to get our final snow fix.

Soak it in, Juliette.  These perfect winter weekends don’t come around too often (unless Mama catches ski fever and promptly books a February trip to Winthrop – that’s up next!).

January and February are notoriously tough months in Seattle.  The holiday twinkle has waned, Spring still feels painfully far away, and it takes monumental will to muster the get-up-and-go to venture out into the gray, gray days.  Snow days have been our saving grace – we’ve packed several Q1 weekends with trips out east, for quick Sunday jaunts on our skis or full-on getaways at cozy mountain retreats.  A few weeks ago, Jason invited us to join him and his boys at Meany Lodge, a rustic ski lodge that boasts the tallest rope tow in the state and low-pressure vibes perfect for kids (and adults) to find their ski legs.  We left our house at 7am on a Sunday morning and by 8:15 were piling into the sleds or grabbing a handle on the rope to be pulled behind a snow-mobile for the three-mile trail from the parking lot to the lodge.  While the guys had fun with the water-skiing simulation, Juliette and I were more than happy to watch from the sled.

Juliette and her little buddy took to the mini-rope tow right away and were ready to upgrade to the grown-up hill after only a few runs.

I love watching this girl ski – she has mastered the perfect balance of bravery and caution.  Does me proud without making my heart jump up in my throat!

Meanwhile, I let caution prevail opted to stay on the flats with my cross-country skis…

Lunch was served just up the hill, a short sled ride away…

And then Juliette squeezed in a handful of afternoon runs.

Calling it a day and piling in for the return trip to the car…

We had such a good time that we decided to go back a couple of weeks later, this time with more friends in tow.

Thumbs-up!

And…tuckered.

I traded in my cross-country skis for downhills and managed to end the day with all bones intact.

Heading back…

And…tuckered.  Part two.

A week after our trip to Meany Lodge, the snow actually came to us!  After several days of watching the forecast with much anticipation, flakes started falling on a Friday night and had blanketed our neighborhood by Saturday morning.  Snow day!

There was biking and sledding and snow angels, oh my.

Truly, there’s nothing like the novelty of a Seattle snow day.  Neighbors you haven’t seen for months emerge from their homes with sleds or cross-country skis and turn the middle of the street into a giant playground.

Post-sledding, I headed indoors for hot tea and dry socks, but these kids were insatiable.

And then an evening stroll…

Sunday brought even more flakes, so we headed back outside after our morning pancakes.

Thankful for West Seattle topography!

Seriously, the streets were a complete sledding free-for-all.  I’m so glad no one tries to drive anywhere when it snows in Seattle.

Sophie the snow lady came together quickly…

As did the perfect snowball-launching fort:

I took a walk through Schmitz Park in the afternoon to soak in the snow-covered silence, as I knew it would be short lived.  Indeed, rain started falling that night and by Monday poor Sophie was headless.  What a weekend, though.

I know, SO LATE for New Years resolutions, but I went to the effort to write these down in January and like to keep a record of such things on the blog as my journal of evolving goals and priorities, a log of my successes and shortcomings (admittedly, I’ve been trying to make more art with Juliette for four years running…).  My 2021 hopeful look-ahead:

Finish our kitchen remodel.  The squeaky drawers and the incessant thaw/freeze cycle of our freezer and the funky smell under the sink are driving me new levels of crazy.  It’s reno time.  I’ve nailed down the floor plan and have picked the cabinets and the countertops and have narrowed down the tile selections and now we just need to bite the bullet, sign up a contractor, and pay the price (in literal dollars, but also in immense mess and inconvenience).  Let’s get ‘er done.

Read 24 books, mostly by authors of color.  I fall short of my reading goal every year, but this is the year!  The year of more books and less Instagram!  I’m doing a pretty good job at diversifying my reading genres, with a mix of fiction and non-fiction and memoirs and poetry, but I recently realized how predominantly white the authors I choose are.  This year I’m making an effort to diversify the voices behind the genres.

Develop an intentional, balanced way to consume news.  I fell into a habit last year of scrolling through a very un-curated news feed on my phone, randomly clicking between political headlines and InStyle’s tips on how to pull off the chunky boots that Katie Holmes has been sporting.  I didn’t put forth the effort to whittle down my feed and was falling down all sorts of pointless rabbit holes.  I’m looking for a way to keep a pulse on local, national, and global events while not leaning too heavily on one particular source (ahem, NY Times).

Learn a new skill with Juliette.  Ok, so this is really just a re-phrasing of my perpetual effort to do more art projects with Juliette, but I’m opening it up here.  Maybe we’ll get into sewing.  Or hip-hop dancing.  Or ice cream-making.  The possibilities are endless – really, I just want maximum QT with my girl.

And because I feel a little beholden to round out my home/mind/heart goals with something for my body, I’m aiming to close my Apple watch fitness rings five times/week by hitting my daily goals for standing/exercising/moving.  This one has already spurred on a noticeable change in habits – I’m getting up from my desk every hour and often rounding out the day with 10-15 minutes of yoga to burn those last few calories.

Finally, I have to share Juliette’s resolutions, because she wrote them herself this year and they’re just so simple and sweet:

Learn how to do a cartwheel.

Eat more cucumbers (you know this one was for my benefit).

Play more board games.

Spend more time with friends (2020 was a serious struggle for our extrovert).

Be loving. 

Cheers to aspirations, to dreaming big and small (photo below from March 2020, when just making it through the week felt like all we could aspire to!).

Ah, 2020…do I even bother with a highlight reel?  From what has been declared by so many to have been the shittiest year on record?  Tempting as it is to just toss last year from the memory banks, I do believe there was beauty in the ashes.  Good books and good music and more time with my two favorite people than I ever could have hoped for.  So here goes…

Favorite book:

I finished 20 books and can say I actually liked all of them!

Fiction took the cake this year, with The River by Peter Heller and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens keeping me up reading into the wee hours of the night.  Both of these books completely transported me, to the Canadian wilderness and the marshy shores of North Carolina.  

Honorable mention to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, which I read with Juliette, snuggled into her bed as tears streamed down my face.  That one got me right in the heart.

Favorite non-fiction was Be the Bridge by Latasha Morrison, because it made racial reconciliation feel possible while still laying bare the white supremacy that’s so deeply woven into the fabric of our nation.  There is hope.  There’s work to be done, but there’s hope.

 

Favorite TV show:

Top honors to The Queen’s Gambit.  I will say that I tuned into this one a little reluctantly, only after Shane’s urging.  Chess?  Not my thing.  But the characters were brilliant and the acting was superb and the camaraderie that shines at the end gave me all the warm fuzzies.  Plus, that 60’s wallpaper!  It’s a feast for the eyes.

Honorable mention to The Great British Baking Show for gracing us with a surprise new season last summer.  I wasn’t sure how they’d pull it off in Covid times, but they did.  And for several weeks, it gave our family something to look forward to on Friday nights.  2020 was all about the little things.

 

Favorite movie:

I’m having a hard time recalling which movies I even watched last year as all those evenings on the couch are sort of melding together, but I know that we loved Onward for all its tugging on the familial heart-strings.  Super-sweet story with a handful of good laughs.

 

Favorite podcast:

Another toughie!  I’m still quite happy in my rut with The Daily, Reply All and Heavyweight, but I did expand my horizons to include Unlocking Us with Brene Brown this year.  She’s got a way with an interview, and her episodes with Austin Channing Brown, Laverne Cox, and Dolly Parton rattled around in my head for days after I listened to them.

 

Favorite album:

Easy.  Taylor Swift gave our family a much-needed gift with her release of Folklore (and then did it again with Evermore!).  The number of times I’ve watched Juliette tip-toe dance across the living room to Mirror Ball…  And Exile never ever gets old, even after 200 listens.  Thanks, T-Swift.

 

Favorite purchase:

We didn’t buy any life-changing new gadgets last year.  I certainly didn’t invest in any great clothing, as I had nowhere to wear it.  Most of our spending went into home improvement, as being home all day, every day gave me ample opportunities to come up with new fix-it, replace-it, and decorate-it projects.  The main wall in our entryway has been blank and asking for some sort of art since we moved in and I found the perfect piece in this 3D wooden map from Enjoy the Wood.  Puzzling this thing together on the wall was a fun Saturday project and a stellar geography lesson.  Juliette has mapped out our trip to New Zealand (via Paris) and now I can proudly report that I know where Baffin Island is!

 

Favorite personal pastime:

Again, home improvement for the win.  I crossed a lot of projects off my list last year, big and small, and as we settle in for another couple (few?  several?) months of hunkering down, I feel affirmed that every hour and every dollar was well worth it.  While the bathroom reno wins grand prize in terms of upgrades, there was also a lot of joy in banging out the little things that have bugged me for the past two years.  Ugly nipple lights in the hallway?  Gone.  Dirty, clunky fireplace grate?  Sayonara.  And I’m still loving our dining room wall.

 

Favorite family pastime:

Welp, I suppose I have to find an answer other than camping given how little we got out last year…  Our family discovered a shared loved of card games toward the end of last year when we taught Juliette how to play Rummy and now spend almost every evening at the dining room table trying to be the first to 200.  I tell you, total game-changer (pun intended) when your kid becomes old enough to play things you actually enjoy.  7 p.m. has become my favorite part of the day, when dinner is done and screens are put away and Taylor Swift is cranked up and cards are dealt.

 

And, favorite moments…

There’s no denying that 2020 was rife with loss, but in our quiet little Schnell bubble, after a 2019 that found me away from my family far too much, I’m exceedingly thankful to have made my way back home.

It was a slow advent, but a fast January.  Work mayhem and national mayhem and maybe a lack of vitamin D have tuckered me out this month.  But I’m resetting work boundaries and taking my supplements and am back with a boatload of Christmas pics to share!

The lead-up to Christmas was quiet but fun – Juliette opened a few of her many gifts from Grandma and Grandpa Schnell over Zoom on the 23rd.  It was a very meager substitute for the gift-opening we had hoped to do together at Thanksgiving, but it was something.

The unicorn robe was a hit.

And then it was Christmas Eve!  Samuel, our countdown Santa, marked ONE day till Christmas, which was our cue to hit the road to Portland.

I know Juliette loves Shane and me, but it was clear from the moment we walked through Mitch’s front door that she’d been awfully desperate for some new playmates.

The girls hung a Do Not Enter sign on the bathroom door in the afternoon and spent a very secretive hour in there, only to emerge at dinnertime with glittery eyelids and freshly-brushed tresses.  Juliette and I were talking last week about how different siblings and family members can be from one another, at which point she reminded me that her and Morgan are a lot alike, because Morgan also likes to be fancy.

Dresses were swapped for cozy pajamas for the annual viewing of The Polar Express.  One of my favorite traditions.

Meanwhile, things got a little rowdy in the kitchen with a deck of cards and a bottle of Grand Marnier.

Milk and cookies for Santa, carrots for his reindeer, and then it was off to bed for these little elves!

Santa’s sleigh must have been extra-heavy this year, what with a new bike for Juliette and a kayak for Morgan and Elise.

I love the late hours of Christmas Eve, when all the shopping and wrapping and prepping is done and I’m able to sit back for a moment and quietly anticipate the joy and holiness of Christmas Day.

Morgan and Juliette were up bright and early, and HOLY CHRISTMAS!  Such a fun surprise.

Once Elise was roused from her pre-teen slumber, the wrapping paper started to fly.

Juliette very modestly asked Santa for a stuffy and a coloring book and he came through on both fronts.

Juliette was asking for weeks what was in the big big box under the Christmas tree…

A Baby Yoda for my Mando fan!  This “little guy” turned out to be MUCH larger than the online description led me to believe.

He’s been well-loved, even if he does often end up squeezed off the bed and onto the floor in the middle of the night.

Cheers, Shane.

Whew!  Damage done.

Gifts opened and breakfast eaten, the afternoon was a haze of snacking and game-playing.  Morgan gathered everyone in the living room for a game of Bean-Boozled, which she DJ’d on Juliette’s new microphone. (By the way, THANKS for the microphone, Auntie Tiff!  Juliette just discovered it has a robot-voice setting.  And the volume seems to be non-adjustable).

Juliette went first as we all sat by to see if her white jelly bean was flavored like coconut or spoiled milk.  This face says it all.

And this is the look of a man that just ate a jelly bean flavored like canned dog food.

I’m always surprised by how incredibly amusing it is to watch someone eat candy that’s flavored like rotten eggs.

Onto a safer bet…

And it wouldn’t be Christmas without a Parcheesi marathon!

It’s become tradition that my dad orders a country ham for Christmas dinner every year – one bite takes me back to my childhood days when Nannie and Grandaddy Jarrell would come visit us with one of these salty, delicious hunks of pork in their suitcase.  Almost as good as Nannie’s homemade fudge.

We kept the lazy vibes going the day after Christmas…

But did rally for some tennis practice.

We all parted ways on the 27th and spent the next couple of days back in Seattle getting Juliette comfortable on her sweet new wheels.

There was one last slumber party by the Christmas tree…

(Seriously, guys – this thing is HUGE!)

A quick post-boba stop at Occidental Square…

Some requisite family pics by the tree…

And then we were calling it quits on 2020!  We partied hard on New Years Eve with sparkling cider and two games of Clue.  I missed having our crew with us that night for our annual fiesta, but going to bed at 10pm felt pretty good.

Finally, finally we found ourselves turning the calendar page and ushering in a bright and shiny new year.  We’ve made a tradition of visiting Lincoln Park on New Years Day and zipped over there to bike and skip rocks during a short break in the rain.

This place always brings out the thankful vibes in me…partly because it’s so lovely, but also because it draws forth so many happy memories of our family’s simple joys.  Rocks and water.  All we need.

Happiest of New Years, friends (29 days late!).

Welp, we’ve added the downtown Christmas carousel, my ladies weekend getaway, and the Nutcracker to the list of things we didn’t do in 2020.  Bah. Humbug.  I’m a sucker for the holiday fanfare and have missed the glitzy lights, the merriment of evenings spent with our closest friends.  BUT (COVID is all about finding the “but”) this December has still been full of wonder, in a quieter, simpler sort of way.  Our wide-open calendar has given us space to pause and drive straighter to the core of advent in meditating upon Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.

Juliette made an advent wreath at the beginning of the month and we created a nightly ritual of lighting the advent candles at dinner each night, starting with Hope and making our way closer to Love with each passing week.

I saw something on Instagram at Thanksgiving about using M&M’s and a cue card to play a game of gratitude and we did something similar during the week of Hope, each of us picking an M&M from a bowl after dinner and using this card to share some of our deepest (or lightest!) hopes.

Juliette and I jotted down a note before bed each night and hung it on our Advent Tree – she went big with her first hope:  I hope we have a good Christmas and COVID gets better and we have a good new year.

There’s been plenty of Christmas fluff, too – this is the year I found the time to play Elf on the Shelf, hiding this guy around the house each night to be sought out by Juliette each morning.

And so much Christmas crafting!  Dried orange garlands and sugar cookies and our best-ever gingerbread house.

We worked hard on our mantle game.

And Juliette wrote a very polite letter to Santa with some modest requests.

I’ve been getting up early to sneak in a walk before work and feel a happy buzz when I walk by a house that has left its lights on through the wee hours of the morning.

As winter approached and the sun rose later my walks got darker, but there were a couple of days when the full moon lit my path.

…and then dawn broke.  So good.

I see you, Rainier, and I love you!

We’ve fought the urge to hole up entirely and have done plenty of traipsing through Schmitz Park.

And, bonus:  a wide open lawn at the end of the trail!

There she goes.

We did a short hike at Twin Falls on a chilly Sunday.

And then there are some traditions I fought to keep alive, like the trip out to our beloved tree farm at Mountain Creek.  I snagged one of the last early-December weekend reservations, we made the drive, and then masked up to hunt for the best Grand Fir we could find.

Found it!

No hot cider this year, but the mountains were as lovely as ever and they still doled out candy canes as we left.

And then…tree trimming!  Crank up the Charlie Brown Christmas, Shane.

Opening up our ornament collection and spreading a lifetime’s worth of memories out on the living room floor is one of my most cherished traditions.

Juliette and I have sister bunny ornaments who have taken on personalities of their own through our goofy role-plays – Phoebe and Monica have very strong southern accents and love to go dancing downtown late at night.

SO COZY.

We brought some extra twinkle to Juliette’s room and though I think these lights are entirely too bright to leave on while sleeping, she insists.

The ginormous downtown light show at CenturyLink Field was cancelled this year, but we made do with a nighttime stroll through our neighborhood with the Rusts.  Our neighbor’s collection of inflatables grows with each passing year.

And this sweet house!  Shane runs by this place nearly every day and watched this woman spend two weeks stretching lights across her lawn and house.

And finally, COVID can’t stop the annual Mama-Jules slumber party by the tree to celebrate the onset of Christmas break.

We actually spent most of last weekend laying on the living room floor, reading and playing cards and snoozing there Friday and Saturday night.

We climbed out of our blanket nest on Sunday morning to eat our doughnuts from 9th and Hennepin and Juliette declared the Pannetone raised glazed a favorite, because the whipped cream on the side “had a texture that’s very soothing”.  A budding food critic, this kid…

I suppose the holidays at home ain’t so bad – it suits my introverted side and the extra time to reflect has mostly done me good.  But come Christmas 2021, you better believe we’ll be shouting Hope, Peace, Joy and Love from the rooftops like a flock of pink-coated Santas atop a herd of rainbow unicorns.