It’s been a jolly month, packed with all of our favorite traditions.  We’ve spent lots of time with the gang, eating and drinking and shopping/sledding (more on that later),  and the house feels extra-cozy, lit by the sparkle of our Christmas tree.

Gosh, I love a good tree.  And ten years of trekking out to Mountain Creek Tree Farm has made us experts in the art of tree-choosing.  I wanted to bring Juliette fully on board with the excitement of the tree hunt and spent the whole drive out to North Bend pumping her up. “We’re going to find the perfect Christmas tree!!!  This will be so fun!  Christ-mas tree!  Christ-mas tree!  Christ-mas tree!”  I was bound and determined, she would love it.

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But after wandering among the pines for 45 seconds, I could see she was unimpressed.  She looked up at me and whined, “Where’s my Christmas treat, mamaaaaa?”

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Thank goodness for that rogue Halloween lollipop I found buried at the bottom of my purse!

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Once sugared up, Juliette was ready to get in on the game of choosing a tree.  The whole concept of appropriate sizing was lost on her, though…

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Finally, we spotted it!  A perfect Fraser Fir.  Tall but not too tall, full but not too full – a few hacks and it was ours!

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A tree that good deserves an apple cider cheers.

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Juliette helped me trim the tree that night – I gave her a little felted penguin as this year’s ornament and she proudly hung it up.  Then took it down.  She’s been carrying it around with her ever since, sleeping with it in her crib every night.  Next year I’ll give her something a little less cuddly.

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One of the most cherished things on my December calendar is my annual weekend getaway with Nance and La Verne.  We had such a great time at Cedarbrook Lodge last year that we decided to book a room there again for a night of eating/lounging/livin’ la vida kid-free.  But first, shopping!  We spent the afternoon at the Auburn Supermall, starting with a leisurely perusal through J Crew and Loft and Old Navy, and ending with a mad tear through Gap and Banana Republic for a few last purchases before heading to the hotel for check-in.

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We did good.

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We spent the evening soaking in the hot tub and then stuffing ourselves at the hotel restaurant.  I woke up on Sunday morning relaxed, refreshed, and a little surprised to see that I’d slept until 9 am!  That hasn’t happened in…27 months!

It’s hard for me to put into words how much these ladies mean to me.  Seriously, it’s hard – when La Verne started to express her gratitude for our friendship over breakfast, I got all choked up and misty-eyed.  Suffice to say, I love them like sisters.

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As we lingered over our morning coffee, I wondered how Shane and Jules were faring.  Answer:  GREAT.  He and Jason had taken the kids up to the mountains for some snow-packed adventures, and Juliette was lovin’ that freshy-freshy-pow-pow.

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The whole weekend had gone off without a hitch – so well, in fact, that we’re already talking about next year!  Up to the ante to two nights away, maybe?

Finally, FONDUE.  December just wouldn’t feel right without gathering the whole gang together around pots of melted cheese.  First, though, some appetite-building at the Seward Park Pre-Fondue 5K.  Nailed it.

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And a quick run up to the mountains for some sledding and snow-gazing.  Shane has become quite the snow-bird this month and has taken an intense interest in mountains and cross-country skiing (I think it’s the new all-wheel drive car).  Jules and I wanted in on the fun, so we tossed our new sled and all our warmest clothes into the trunk and headed east!  We ended up at the Hyak Snow Park, impressed by their monster sledding hill.

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Juliette had a blast, tearing down the hill with Shane.  I decided to give it a go – Juliette nestled into my lap and we were off!

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And it was super fun, until the sled started to tip a bit and I had to put my boot out to level us – the ensuing snow-spray was pretty unpleasant.  I’m afraid Juliette’s laughter quickly turned to tears.

So we took a snack break in a snow bank while Shane headed out for a short run on his skis.

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(Meet Subaru Shane!)

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We cajoled Juliette into one last run down the hill and left on a high note.

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We warmed ourselves that evening at Jack and La Verne’s house, feasting on cheese-dipped bread and veggies, then chocolate-dipped marshmallows and fruit.  The White Elephant gift exchange is a critical part of the evening program, and people really stepped up their game this year.

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Baby A was surprised to find that the amber liquid in that cute little bottle tasted nothing like apple juice (kidding, it’s not open!).

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“What…is this?” was muttered throughout the evening.

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There was much, much cheering when Jason opened the one remaining gift to find…a goldfish!

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Christmas came early this year, huh, Gryff?

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We wrapped up the night with our active rendition of the The Twelve Days of Christmas.  Everyone had a different part to mime, and wow, by my fifth round of playing the swan-a-swimming, I was out of breath!

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Things wound down after that as people rushed their little ones home to bed.  Ok, clearly, these big kids are not winding down.  I’m not entirely sure what’s going on here – are they trying pull that poor boy’s limbs off?

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Jules and Nico snuck in one last duet before we said our good-byes.

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We capped off our merry weekend with our annual “family dinner” with the Rusts and the Chens on Sunday evening.  Jack popped open the best bottle of champagne I’ve ever tasted, Nance whipped up her special soup and homemade biscuits, we exchanged gifts and kicked back, savoring all the joy in that house.

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Happy holidays, friends.