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Our annual MLK weekend snow-cation has become a staple in our annual family calendar – I’ve come to count on those couple of days as a guaranteed fix of January cozy.  We will forever love Winthrop for its mountain views and expansive cross-country trails, but lately we love Suncadia Lodge for its proximity to home and expansive hallways, perfect for early-morning wanders.

We arrived at the Lodge on Friday evening, thrilled with the fresh dumping of snow.  Less thrilled with the zero-degree temps.  It was COLD.  But we bundled up and booked it down the twinkly path to the Inn for dinner, our extremities numb by the time we arrived.

Thankfully, the Lodge has a handful of indoor amenities that don’t require 17 layers of outerwear.  Isaac had his goggles on at 6am on Saturday, eager to check out the pool.

Breakfast first, Buddy.  Pancake time!

We did make it to the pool right when the doors opened at 10:00 and the kids mostly loved it, though we wouldn’t have minded if the water was a few degrees warmer.  Juliette pretended like it felt great, but the chattering of her teeth was a dead giveaway.

Post-pool chai tea latte…

And naps.  You KNOW I love a vacation nap.

I was feeling antsy by mid-afternoon, so I asked Juliette if she wanted to brave the cold with me and try out our new sled.  She was game, frosty eyelashes and all.

Gosh, I really do have the best time with her.  Between the below-freezing temps and the surprise remodel that had put the Lodge’s lobby and bar out of commission, I was feeling a little funky about our magical weekend.  But how could I have forgotten about Juliette’s ability to always bring the party?

We headed into Roslyn around dinnertime to hunker down for awhile at Basecamp Books and Coffee and then get some food at the Roslyn cafe.

Isaac’s mind was blown when he discovered that they also had a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Turns out his copy isn’t the only one in circulation…

Once Isaac stopped resisting the bundling-up and allowed me to outfit him in boots and hat and gloves and puffy coat, he actually seemed ok with the weather.  In very small doses.

Roslyn Cafe was closed due to the extreme weather, so we grabbed a booth at the nearby Mexican joint instead.  Look at us, rolling with the punches!

We were tucked back into our room by sundown and again, we made our own fun.

Sunday morning!  More in-room shenanigans…

And then a stroll over to the sledding hill.  The temps had warmed into the (low) double-digits and we were ready to seize the snow!

(Isaac was back to refusing his gloves.  He learned real quick the folly in his ways.)

Ahhh…to have feeling in his fingers again!

Juliette showed up with the inner tube and brother hitched a ride.

And then these two flew, down the hill and over the little jump, giggling all the while.

We walked out onto the frozen pond and left our footprints all over the untouched, pristine snow.  Juliette’s prints were neat and sweet and lined up just-so.

Then Isaac wreaked his usual havoc.

Juliette kept falling back into the snow, remarking at how perfectly it formed to the curve of her back, how comfy it was and wishing aloud that she could just lay there all day and take a nap.

Isaac, you’re a trooper.

Eventually, though, we called it.  Chai time!

We did some lounging in our room and I wish I could remember what it was Shane was saying that held Juliette so rapt, but I know it was good.

Roslyn Cafe, take 2!  Perfect Sunday lunch.

And then back for naptime and snuggles.

We went back out in the late afternoon and found that the Lodge’s sledding hill was packed, so we drove over to the playground to do our rollicking.

We had a pizza dinner in our room and blitzed through a couple more episodes of the latest Percy Jackson series.  Juliette is hooked.  Isaac almost certainly had no idea what was going on, but if sister is into it, he’s into it.

Bedtime was a bit of a bear that weekend, requiring infinite levels of patience from Shane and I as we struggled to coax Isaac to sleep, but on Sunday evening Shane said, “I got this” and sent Juliette and me out to enjoy campfire s’mores and a twinkle walk.

Thanks, Shane!

Monday was go-day and while we didn’t need to rush home, I think we felt ready to break free from our close quarters and return to saner climates.  First, though, a few final sled runs.

And raisins.  Some things are worth taking off the gloves for.

The kids and I took our time walking back to the Lodge while Shane loaded up the car.  They were so cute romping and falling in the snow together that I almost forgot how cold I was.  Almost.

And with that, we jumped in the car, cranked up our seat warmers, and were homebound.  Thankful for a family that rolls with conditions we didn’t quite plan for.  We didn’t do the skiing or the snowman-building I’d imagined, but oh, those endless games of airplane that Isaac and Juliette played on the bed while our fireplace flickered in the background.  That’s the good stuff.

The annual roundup!  Such a fun post to write, as it’s entirely about joy – songs and movies and moments that have made me happy throughout the year.  JOY 2023:

Favorite book:

20 books last year!  A bit short of my goal of 24 books, but still a good mix of poetry, non-fiction, memoir, and fiction.

 

Favorite book of all was A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman.  This one has been on my list to read for several years and I’m so glad I picked it up!  Sweet and funny and sad – all the feels.  I love a book that can make me both chuckle and cry in the space of a few pages.

Favorite non-fiction was You Could Make This Place Beautiful by Maggie Smith, because it was such an artful blend of memoir and poetry, so rich with metaphors that have stuck with me since I picked it up.  We are indeed all nesting dolls, carrying many versions of ourselves as we go through life.  

 

Favorite TV show:

Ok, I know 2023 saw the series finale of Succession and I know The Bear is brilliant, but dang it – I LOVED watching Survivor Seasons 44 and 45 with Shane and Juliette last year.  Drama and suspense and excitement and oh, we love a good blindside.  So fun for the three of us to tune in together each week.

 

Favorite movie:

Barbie!  I didn’t mind so much when Shane drew the long straw and got to take Juliette to see this in the theater while I stayed home with Isaac, but then he came home all bright-eyed, calling it one of the best movies he’d seen in the last few years, and my interest was piqued.  We streamed this at home for family movie night as soon as it was available, and I concur with Shane.  Such a smart, funny film, cloaked in plastic and pink.  And that beautiful memory montage at the end with the Billie Eilish song!  More tears.

 

Favorite podcast:

I’m in a podcast funk and grasping at straws here, but Armchair Expert became my fallback when I was looking for an easy listen and I do give credit to Monica and Dax for giving one hell of an interview.  Jon Batiste!  Trevor Noah!  And that hour with Gabor Mate – so good.

 

Favorite song:

OK, I could easily wax poetic about Taylor Swift again, but I’m going to going to break the mold on this one and give a shout-out to Fast Car by Luke Combs.  I KNOW.  But there’s a piece of nostalgia here, as I remember the Tracy Chapman version from the 90’s and this country-fied version does something for me.  Juliette loves it, too, and as the two of us were cruising around together right before the holidays, running our final gift-getting errands, this song came up on our Music station and we crooned together and it was a moment.  

 

Favorite purchase:

Previous favorite purchases have been a new car, or a new house, or new eyeballs (that Lasik was worth every penny!), and I’m feeling like it’s time to consider what it is I’ve loved that didn’t cost thousands of dollars…  I reach for this necklace nearly every morning as I’m getting dressed.  I purchased it as a birthday gift to myself when in Paris with Juliette, and I rub this gold disc between thumb and forefinger and remember that best week with my best girl, our strolls through the Marais where we’d stop for a Coke and Spritz on a whim, or a gelato if we wanted an extra treat.  Memory in French is Souvenir, and what a lovely souvenir this has been.

 

Favorite personal pastime:

I joined Juliette in her Duolingo French lessons after we booked our trip to Paris, knowing I was in major need of a refresher, and I’m hooked.  I love this app, love the way it makes a game out of learning.  I particularly appreciate that it’s given me a way to more productively use my time when I’m on the bus and find myself with antsy phone fingers.  Down with Instagram!  Vive la Francais.

 

Favorite family pastime:

This one feels a little tough – we do a lot of tag-team parenting these days and I love watching old Gilmore Girls or Parenthood episodes with Juliette, love taking Isaac for neighborhood walks in search of simple treasures, but the four of us?  I’m coming up short!  Family game night is a ways away, and we have yet to brave tent camping with Isaac, but how about our family dinners?  They’re not necessarily always a ball, but we all sit around the table together for six or seven nights a week to share a meal.  That’s no small feat, with work and sports and a toddler that comes home from daycare at 4:30pm hangry as all get-out.  But we’re showing up for each other and more nights than not, there’s laughter over Isaac’s goofy facial expressions or excitement over whatever feat Juliette accomplished at school that day.  I’m proud of us.

 

And, favorite moments…

Nothing beats a chubby babe in a puffy snowsuit.  Was this really just a year ago?!

 

We hit the Suncadia playground really hard that weekend.

 

From snow to sand!  So fun to watch Isaac fall in love with the ocean.

 

Quite possibly our favorite place on earth.

 

Maui is magic, but home is good, too.  Long live the gray chair.

 

The chillest day on Vashon.

 

Lots of bonus Grandma time last year.  So thankful for my parents.

 

A lovely day out on the sand spit with the kiddos while Shane and Jason dominated the Sequim pickleball scene.

 

A very classic Idaho Fourth.

 

And Idaho popsicles to boot.

 

My best gardening buddy.

 

Ok, I wasn’t here for this, but this most certainly makes Juliette’s top 2023 moments!  Legend.

 

Pontoons and fishing boats are cool, but Grandpa’s golf cart took the cake.

 

The most delightful of snack times.

 

Reunited.

 

And some gorgeous early mornings on the river with my boy while all those folks above slept in!

 

He’s TWO!

 

Summer’s last gasps…

 

Evening walks.

 

And early mornings.

 

And she’s TEN!

 

Apples and hay rides and a corn maze.  Shane danced in the corn maze with a corn husk tail and we laughed till our sides hurt.

 

How to capture a week in Paris with a single photo?!  That first evening on the Seine, though…

 

A weekend of remembering all the very best things about my grandma.

 

This girl ended soccer season with such a bang.  

 

New holiday traditions.

 

Old traditions with a new twist.

 

Play it, Jules!

 

COZY.

 

And bright. 

 

Family movie night, capital F.

 

Cousins!

 

And a year-end filled with so much love.

 

On with the business of 2024.

One last homage to the 2023 holidays!  We arrived home from Portland the day after Christmas, quickly unpacked then repacked our bags, then headed to the airport early the next morning to catch our flight to Minnesota.  Schnell clan, here we come!

We had asked Shane’s parents what they wanted for Christmas and when they said, “Just a hug from our grandkids”, it felt awfully good to respond with, “YOU GOT IT!”.  Isaac and Juliette made themselves right at home.

It was a bit too cold to do a lot of playing outdoors, but we managed to get out for a walk to the mailbox on Thursday.

Isaac appreciated the chance to get some wiggles out.

Buddy refused to keep his mittens on and bravely rolled a snowball with his bare hands.  He’s tougher than I am!

I was hoping for a fresh couple inches of snow while we were there, but Juliette made do just fine with the dusting that was left from earlier in the week.

The rest of the day was spent rolling matchbox cars up and down Isaac’s makeshift box ramp, baking Grandma’s famous sour cream cookies, and playing cards with Aunt Tiff and Uncle Jason.

The sun came out on Friday and so Isaac and I hopped in the car and drove to the park while Juliette and the other grownups went to see Wonka.

It was a beautiful afternoon, but still frigid, so we did a quick tour of the playground equipment, ran a couple of laps on the lawn, and then bolted back to the car.

We warmed up at Caribou Coffee with a steamer and a latte and I very much enjoyed sitting across the table from Isaac and just taking in his array of facial expressions as he sipped his milk (mmmmm….nommy!) and flipped through his animal flashcards (lion…roooooaaaar!).  This felt like one of my first real sit-down dates with my boy and I believe he’s on the way to becoming a pretty respectable cafe companion.  Oh, the places we’ll go, Bud.

Back at the Schnell homestead, we walked through Grandpa’s corn field and then the kids took a spin with him in the side-by-side, which Isaac lovingly calls The Tractor.

We eeked out one more Christmas lights visit that night and walked through a display in town, stopping to pet the glittery deer and pose with blinking Santa.

Back at the house, we ate fried chicken and wrapped our arms around Hayden, who had just rolled into town with her boyfriend.  Cousins together and it felt so good!

Saturday was wide open – plenty of time for card games and matchbox cars and laying low with loved ones.

And laughing.  These three had the giggles.

Shane whupped us at Polish poker.  And was not so humble about it.

Juliette stopped laughing!

After much pleading from Isaac, we got out for a family ride in the side-by-side that afternoon.  We just went up the street and back, but Isaac treated it like the adventure of a lifetime, grinning throughout.

We made a quick run into town to peruse the toystore – Grandpa had slipped the kids some Christmas money and we picked out a sweet stuffed deer for Isaac and a stuffed fox for Juliette as mementos of the week.

Ok, I thought we were done with lights for the year, but Tiff pitched a visit to another big display outside town and you know I’m a sucker for the twinkle!

Back at the house, we played more games, ate more cookies, and savored our last snuggles.

We got an early(ish) start on Sunday and said our sad goodbyes to Denny and Pat, but then said a happy hello to Shanay near Minneapolis before checking in at the airport.

We’d done a lot of coming and going that week, but Isaac and Juliette were such troopers.

This was Isaac’s best flight yet – he had a snack, ran his orange Hotwheel car up and down my arm for a few minutes, and then crashed out on Juliette’s lap while watching Star Wars.

MADE IT!  Happy New Years Eve, folks.

Our NYE evening was quiet – we were tuckered and turned in well before midnight.  Felt good to wake up at home on New Years Day, turn on the fireplace, and bust out the train set.

That said, we did have places to be later that morning.  These two were polar plunging!

Juliette nearly bailed at the last minute, but I pep-talked her pretty hard and she peeled off her sweatshirt and beanie just as the first folks waded into the freezing water.

Isaac looked on from the shore, intrigued and a little bit concerned.

Wouldn’t be a true polar plunge without a few tears!

I’m sorry she cried, but I’m proud of her for pushing through.  You’ve got more gumption than your mama, Juliette Grace!

Isaac asked to go in the water, so I peeled off his shoes and socks so that he could understand this wasn’t really a Maui situation.  One toe in, and he got it.  “No thank you, Mama!”

For the record, she was quite proud of herself as well.

We’d had rain-checked our family brunch with the Chens and Rusts due to Isaac being under the weather in mid-December, so we gathered after the plunge for our makeup festivities.

After tucking into Nancy’s famous almond torte, the kids did some very serious house-building with gingerbread and frosting.

And then, presents!  Always so much laughter and gratitude when we gift-give with this crew.  Isaac got to go first, as we went youngest to oldest, and he was thrilled with his squishy dinosaur from the Chens.

No stuffies for these teens…skate shop gift cards and light-up drumsticks it is!

Ahhh…cheers to the coziest of kick-offs to a brand new year.

 

We saw far too little of the Jarrell fam in 2023, so it felt awfully good to land on their Portland doorstep a couple of days before Christmas for a holiday cozy-in.  Isaac made himself right at home in his cousin’s comfy bed.

And then there were card games and puzzles and cookie decorating…

I know, he looks very focused, but in actuality his interest waned after about 15 seconds.

Juliette was a little skeptical about my dad’s frosting skills, but in the end she gave him a solid ‘A’.  For effort, I mean.

We watched Elf that night, piled on the couch or stretched out on the floor by the fire, and all felt right.

Christmas Eve!  Isaac spent his morning hovering around the tree (and the pile of presents underneath it).  He still has no real concept of time, but I think he sensed the big day was near.

We (ok, ISAAC!) started getting the stir-crazies before lunch, so we ducked out for a coffee run and a playground romp.

Mitch was the biggest kid on the playground that morning.

Faster, Uncle Mitch!  FASTER!

Back at the house, Isaac and I settled in for an afternoon doze while the rest of the fam settled in for a marathon game of Monopoly.

Post-nap vegging…

And then the young ladies went down to El’s bedroom, entered a time warp, and came up looking a couple of years older.  My nieces are both officially teenagers and suddenly it feels like Juliette isn’t far behind them?

While Juliette played the part of the mature big sis, Isaac really dove into his role as the annoying kid brother.

We tucked into our country ham for dinner that night, Grandpa read a couple of books, and then Shane put Isaac to bed while the rest of us settled in for our annual Christmas Eve viewing of The Polar Express.

Buddy Boy would have loved to join us, but it would have been too hard to tear him away from the TV once he saw that train roll onto the screen, and we couldn’t have him up too late with the big day ahead.  Next year, maybe.  I was so happy to hear El say, “I love this movie” as the initial credits started rolling.  Kids change, but some things stay the same.

Movie done, jammies donned, cookie and carrot placed.  We’re ready for you, Santa!

We agreed the night before on an 8am gift-opening start time, but everyone was present and ready to go by 7:45 on Christmas morning – even the sleepy-headed teenagers showed up early!  Isaac got us rolling.

And then…stockings!  Stocking stuffing and un-stuffing is my favorite.  Juliette got some good stuff this year – a bedazzled beanie, a Time-Turner keychain, sour Hi-Chews.

Isaac needed a little help getting all the way to the bottom of his stocking and Juliette was happy to step in.  Buddy was particularly pumped about his little box of raisins.  I love two year olds.

Morgan and El were both thrilled by their haul of new sneakers, hoodies, and pajama pants.

And Juliette’s new Hermione stuffy was a hit.  Happy, thankful kiddos all around.

Mitch and Shane both got charcoal odor absorbers to stick in their stinky pickle ball shoes.  THANK YOU, KATHRYN!

Beer for Grandpa, always.

The grown-ups opened their cache of presents after a couple of rounds, but those kids just kept on going…

And going…

Finally, the last treasure was unwrapped and Isaac could get down to the real business of playing.  This train set from Shane’s parents absorbed him for most of the morning.

A quick break from laying train tracks to fiddle with his new remote control car…

And then a moment to gaze outside to see if the rain had stopped so he could go outside to play (it hadn’t!).

It poured all day long, but I didn’t mind so much – the kids had plenty of new goodies to keep them entertained indoors and I was happy to curl up on the couch and watch them play.

Jammie day for the win.

We shared a beautiful dinner and then retreated to the living room for more lounge time.  The kids and I tested each other’s tickle tolerance – trophy went to the person who could withstand foot or knee or neck tickles without laughing.  I failed miserably.  Juliette, surprisingly, was a rock.

Though the chin tickles finally got her.

There was a hallway soccer session with Grandma and Grandpa and then Isaac was officially tuckered.  We did it!

Again, the rest of us snuggled in for a movie.  We watched Home Alone and I looked over to the couch at one point to see El’s head resting on Juliette’s shoulder and I felt so grateful for cousins and warmth and all the love in that house.  Merry, merry Christmas.

We headed back to Seattle early on Tuesday, knowing we had another trip to prepare for (Minnesota on Wednesday!), but we made record time getting home and getting our laundry done and getting our bags repacked.  Found ourselves with enough time to snuggle up by the tree and then take the kids’ new remote control cars out for a spin!

I wasn’t sure neighbor Dave’s inflatable menagerie would still be there when we returned from Minnesota, so Isaac and I spent some time there saying goodbye to the dinosaur, and goodbye to Mickey Mouse, and goodbye to the doggie.  Isaac was going to miss these guys!

What’s next, you ask, Isaac?  More family fun to come.  Lots more.

December…more plaid jammie time, more morning snuggles.

We decided to skip the formal Santa photo op this year, as Juliette’s getting a bit old for it and Isaac is a bit timid for it, but it was fun to run into Saint Nick on an evening walk near the West Seattle Junction and I did convince Juliette to cozy up to her hat twin for a quick pic.  We were in the neighborhood to grab a couple of gifts and it was so festive that night, with roaming Santa and carolers in front of Bakery Nouveau and the Better as Brass crew tooting out All I Want for Christmas Is You.  Just a typical December Thursday…I love the holiday season.

Juliette’s Winter break began on December 15th and we celebrated with the opening of a single Christmas gift.  I knew she would want something fancy to wear over the coming couple of weeks and this new dress from Grandpa and Grandpa went straight from the gift bag onto her body!  Girl loves a good outfit.

We also celebrated the onset of break with another Christmas tree slumber party.  I never sleep quite as well as I hope on these nights, yet it’s never a disappointment.

And the mornings after!  I love a good Saturday morning blanket nest.

December 16th!  Recital day!  Juliette started in-person piano lessons with a new teacher a couple of months ago and we’ve been anticipating her first real recital ever since.  It’s a great motivator to practice, plus girl loves the spotlight (whether she’ll admit it or not).  After many at-home rehearsals and a multitude of nervous butterflies, the big evening arrived and Juliette strode up to that stage with such grace and bravery.  She played O Christmas Tree and Square Dance without a hitch and I couldn’t have been prouder.  She’s a star.

We relished the rest of that weekend at home to be quiet and cozy, as we knew we’d be Portland-bound early the next Saturday.

We keep a couple of Santa hats in a basket by the tree and I get a little giddy every time the kids pull them out.  Isaac’s Santa impression includes a booming HO, HO, HO!, shouted while he swings his arms and scratches his armpits like a monkey.  It works for him.

Juliette and I baked cookies…

And then she got very crafty with this mobile Mistletoe holder, which she dangled over Shane’s and my heads with a plea to “Kiss!  Kiss!”  Then Shane kissed me and she promptly told him to stop.  Parents can be so gross.

I worked most of that week before Christmas, but signed off a little early when possible to hang with Juliette, as she did a lot of self-entertaining during the day.  We picked up Isaac early on a foggy afternoon for a coffee shop date.

Visiting neighbor Dave’s driveway menagerie of inflatable characters became a regular part of our day.  Isaac would look out the window on the regular to see if the dinosaurs were “awake” (inflated).  If yes, he was desperate to go give them pat-pats.

What a mini wonderland…

Juliette and I requested a return trip to Bellevue’s Snowflake Lane parade, as it had been a few years, and Shane obliged and drove us all over there on a free evening.

It was crowded, but Isaac had a seat with great sight lines.

(Shane, meanwhile, couldn’t see anything!  Hehe…)

The parade was as cheesy and glittery as ever and Isaac ate it all up, getting particularly giddy over the dancing polar bear.

Plus, the people dressed as Nutcrackers hand out lollipops?!  Score.

It was…a lot.  I’m not sure this scene is totally our jam anymore, but we went, we saw, we survived.

ASTRA LUMINA, however!  This is a traveling light exhibit that recently landed in West Seattle and I snatched up tickets for Juliette and me on a Thursday night.  We got to saunter through the different installations at our own pace, hot cider in hand, and it was all pretty magical.

It looks like Juliette could start levitating at any moment…

This giant disco-looking ball was my favorite and we stood near it for several minutes, watching it shimmer and change color.

Top night.

I took off the Friday before Christmas so that Juliette and I could make our final holiday preparations together.  We picked up our last couple of gifts, baked pumpkin bread while watching the Winona Ryder version of Little Women, and joined Isaac in his classroom for craft time and treats.

We let the kids open a few gifts from their Minnesota family that evening to lighten the load we’d carry down to Portland.  Isaac didn’t entirely understand the gift-opening concept last year, but this year…he’s on it.

Thanks, Aunt Tiff and Uncle Jason!

(And thanks, Grandma and Grandpa!)

That smile…and so much more fun to come, Buddy.  So much more.

The holiday roundup!  It’s been a merry few weeks and I’m fighting a pretty fierce case of the post-Christmas blues, but I’m also feeling immensely thankful for home and family and health and for the spirit of wonder that lives in both Isaac and Juliette.  I don’t take for granted this cozy cocoon we’ve woven.

The gratitude meter officially kicked into overdrive on Thanksgiving Day – we spent a lazy morning on the couch, watching the The Grinch and eating the pumpkin bread that Juliette and I baked the night before.

And then we got on with the business of meal prep – Juliette took her usual post as cranberry sauce maker and pie glazer while I chopped veggies and peeled potatoes.

Desserts complete, we took an outside break to enjoy the sunshine and kick the soccer ball around.

And then a nap break, because we believe in giving ourselves in the gift of rest on holidays.

Shane kept the kids out of the kitchen after naptime so that I could finish up the potatoes, Brussels, and salad.  It’s amazing what I can pump out when I don’t have a toddler underfoot!

A quick pre-dinner cocktail break…

And LET’S EAT.  We’ve made a tradition of picking up BBQ from Peco’s the day before Thanksgiving and warming it up as our meat main.  Easy-peasy and a bigger crowd-pleaser than turkey.

Turns out Isaac was more thankful for yogurt and applesauce than anything else this year.  More ribs and mashed potatoes for me!

I’m mostly thankful for his multitude of facial expressions.  We laughed extra-much that evening.

A post-dinner stroll, to let the food settle and to visit the neighborhood bear.

Dessert hour…

And more snuggles while the kids finished The Grinch.

Shane, Juliette and I watched Little Women after Isaac went to bed, as we do every year, and Juliette and I cried our eyes out when Beth died, as we do every year, and I felt like holiday season couldn’t have possibly gotten off to a sweeter start.  What a perfect day with my favorite people.

I’m a stickler for tradition, but sometimes I can be flexible, so when Shane asked if I’d be interested in trading our annual pilgrimage to Mountain Creek Tree Farm for a fuss-free artificial tree, I said I’d think about it.  We found a lovely prelit fake fir at Costco and Shane promised a mountain hike in lieu of the tree farm, and so it was a done deal.  We bundled up and drove out to Gold Creek Pond the day after Thanksgiving for our consolation mountain time.

No regrets.  It was frosty, but so beautiful.

Once we hit the sunny side of the lake, we stopped shivering and were able to kick back a bit to throw rocks and explore.

Not too bad, huh?

We grabbed a brewpub lunch on the way home and Shane raised a glass to the fact that he didn’t have to stress about securing a tree to the top of our car.

That afternoon we unboxed our tree and pulled out our Christmas bins.  I love watching Juliette discover our treasure trove of decorations year after year.

Isaac learned the word “snowman” and has been toting around this mask on the regular.

Eggnog toast while we tree-trim and listen to Charlie Brown Christmas!  Some traditions live on.

I’m a fan of simple white lights, but this tree comes with a color option and an option to flash from white to color every few seconds, which Isaac loved.  He stood there for several minutes yelling GO! over and over, convinced he was changing the lights on command.

Shane got to work on the rooftop while Isaac shouted “Daddy!  Get down!”.

And then Juliette and I slept by the light of our tree.  Let the Christmas vibes roll.

Morning brought reading time in our living room blanket nest…

More shouting at the tree (the remote has since been hidden)…

And Isaac’s first viewing of The Polar Express.

Evening walks are so much fun at the holidays, complete with snowman hugs and Santa high-fives.

My mom spent the first week of December with us and Isaac really loved the evening Facetime calls with Grandpa.

And the Menashee House!  Such a wonder.  Isaac could have spent a couple of hours here, counting the Santas and watching the toy train run its tracks.

What a gift this family gives to West Seattle each year.  Talk about sparking joy!

That first weekend in December brought craft time with Grandma (homemade gift tags for the win!)…

More loving gazes at the Christmas tree (I love it too, Buddy!)…

And a living room piano recital, in preparation for Juliette’s first real recital later that month.  Juliette learned a whole smattering of Christmas tunes and it made me so happy to hear the tinkle of O Christmas Tree and Deck the Halls and We Wish You A Merry Christmas during her evening practice.  Sweetest-ever soundtrack as I folded laundry or read Isaac his bedtime stories.

(What Isaac lacks in technique, he makes up for with style.)

More evening light walks…

And a few final snaps with Grandma before she headed back to Idaho.

I spent the second weekend of December with Nance and La Verne on our annual Ladies Getaway.  This year we opted to venture a little further than our usual digs at Cedarbrook in SeaTac and booked a room at Suncadia Lodge.  We almost bailed on our plans when we saw the dumping of snow in the forecast at The Pass, but we pressed on and I’m so glad we did.  Cue the Cozy!

We lunched at Basecamp Cafe in Roslyn and spent a couple of hours chatting over our soups and sandwiches while fluffy flakes fell outside.

Quick market stop for chips, canned wine, and chocolate…

And then we got settled in our room, where we lounged and laughed.  We took a short walk to see the grounds and then ate dinner at the Lodge, but my favorite memories of that weekend are the time we spent sprawled on our beds, telling stories and eating chips.

These friends…I hope this tradition lives on forever, no matter where we live or how old we are.  I believe it will.

Whew!  Made it to mid-December!  And plenty more joy (and so many photos) still to come.

November!  I know the seasons officially change today, but November very much felt like the closing of Fall and the beginning of Winter.  We started the month with our annual Harry Potter Night, complete with friends and treats and sorting hat cupcakes.

Pink frosting means…House Gryffindor!  Perfect for our little Hermione…  My cupcake, on the other hand, was filled with green.  Yikes.

And to keep the good times rolling, the Chens invited Juliette and I on a walk-through of the Harry Potter Experience a couple of weeks later – we convened in Bellevue and chased our kids past Platform 9 3/4 into the Potions classroom and then onto the Quidditch pitch.  The magic lives on.

November brought the end of soccer season, and Juliette went out with a bang.  We spent our open Sundays kicking the ball around at Hiawatha…

And then watched the practice pay off on Saturday game days.  Juliette had three killer games in a row, scoring three (then four, then FIVE!) goals in each game.  She’s a beast.

Rightfully proud of herself.

Isaac is chomping at the bit to join the team.

But in the meantime, he’s an awfully good cheerleader!

Another parent captured these action shots on the girls’ last game, and these pics say it all…

Congrats on a stellar season, Fuchsia Fighters!

Fall park days!  Get the leaf-peeping in while it’s good!  We spent a lovely Sunday afternoon at Volunteer Park, basking in Capitol Hill’s golds and oranges.

THIS KID HAS SO MUCH LOVE TO GIVE.

And then more traipsing through the leaves near Hiawatha while Shane and Juliette did soccer drills out on the fields.

Requisite November Lincoln Park pics:

And a crisp Saturday afternoon on the West Seattle water taxi.  Shane dropped us off at the West Seattle dock, we sailed to downtown, then strolled through Pike Place Market where Uber-Dad picked us up.  Thankful for a guy that chauffeurs our mini-adventures.

(Hat hair, don’t care!)

And some backyard fun to round out our playtime…

Finally, November meant the official onset of Cozy Time.  Lots of hibernating done last month.

(Isaac’s snuggles are sweet, but often devolve into a wrestling match.)

MATCHING JAMMIE SEASON!  We’re ready for ya, Holidays.

Again, what starts out sweet…

Later, Fall.  Winter is so definitely here.

I have come to accept that our boy is growing faster than I can blog, but it still feels worth jotting down a handful of Isaac-isms every few months.  Some of toddlerhood is too sweet not to capture for posterity; it feels good to know I can come back to these words and photos when he’s up and grown.  Also, though, some of toddlerhood is so hard that it’s good to take some notes should I ever get too too sad about these years slipping by.

Sweet stuff first!  Give me all the Buddy snuggles!  Isaac is affectionate beyond measure and is delightfully generous with his hugs and kisses.  He doesn’t have a stuffed animal he consistently favors these days, but he does insist on resting his hand on my cheek when we’re reading a book or he’s drinking a bottle.  I’m his own traveling security blanket.  Thrilled to have the job.

We really like our Sunday afternoon naps together.  But now I can forget about sneaking away while he’s dozing.

And the nighttime crib sleeping – what progress!  Rarely a midnight wakeup these days, and often a 7am rise and shine.  I miss a lot of things about his younger days, but our 5am mornings together aren’t one of them.

This past quarter has brought an explosion in Isaac’s vocab.  He picks up a few new words every week, about half of which are intelligible.  We play a lot of “guess what Buddy’s saying”, which isn’t the most fun game for any of us – Isaac ran through the house yesterday, carrying his shoes and yelling “patos!  patos!  PATOS!” while we all struggled to understand what he was telling us.  Potty?  Papa?  It took a good ten minutes of us all growing increasingly frustrated until I cracked it – ZAPATOS!  Isaac was saying shoes in Spanish and he couldn’t understand why we weren’t helping him slip into his sneakers.  The beauty and burden of a bilingual preschool…

He’s learning his letters via Juliette’s old Leapfrog ‘computer’ and pushes ‘V’ over and over and over and so that we’re all well aware that V is for Vulture! Vulture! Vulture!  When Isaac sees the letter ‘V’ on street signs or in books, he yells Vulture! on repeat.  Smart boy!

Smoothies are “meenkies”, octopus is “oppatus”, and food not to his liking, no matter how bland, is rejected with a claim of “SPICY!”

Other recent phrases are “C’mon duuuude”, said to no one in particular for no particular reason, but he’s discovered it makes us laugh.  Also, lots of “MINE”, of course, which drives Juliette extra-crazy when stated as “MINE Mama” as he wraps his arms around my neck.  She’s been exceedingly gracious in letting go of her role as only child, but I’m still at least half hers.  When Isaac is a little mad at me, but not so mad as to lose his mind, he furrows his brows and grumbles, “No tank you, Mama!”  Ok, Dear.

He’s often surprising me with his height and strength – when did he get tall enough to open the fridge and start rummaging for snacks?  Nothing is safe these days.  Our light switches get a lot of action.

Which brings me to food and mealtime, which is one of our biggest sources of angst.  If we can get him to the dinner table before he’s hangry, he’ll gobble down his hamburger and we’re golden.  But that means eating at 4:30 pm, which is hardly practical, so we’re often faced with the choice between pumping him full of snacks (then eating with an un-hungry, distracted boy at our own dinnertime), or trying to hold him off, which puts him in such a fragile state of mind that he will become hysterical when his blueberries roll away under the pressure of his fork.  Gosh, though…give him a well-timed bowl of applesauce and he can be pretty damn funny.

He loves the sound of the coffee grinder and flaps his arms like a crazed bird every time it’s running.

I’m excited too, Buddy.

The faces of Isaac…so easily shocked and awed.  Whether it’s a distant train whistle or a dog barking outside or the sound of the garage door opening, he wears this same expression of “HOLY COW – DID YOU HEAR THAT?!?”

He doesn’t spend much time rolling his cars across the coffee table these days, but he does love to pack them in Juliette’s old suitcase and tote them around the house.

Bon voyage, Sweetheart!

Also, BOOKS.  Lots of books.  I’ve loved revisiting Juliette’s old faves with Isaac and we read Amos McGee and Lenny and Lucy on the regular.

We go on lots of walks.  These pics are from sunnier days, but whether it’s sweatshirt weather or full-on puffy coat weather, we get out.

There’s a house a few blocks from ours where the owner has installed a series of animal wood carvings in the adjacent Schmitz Park entry.  After dinner (when it was still light out after dinner!) I would ask Isaac “bear bear?” and he’d run for his shoes, knowing exactly where we were headed.

As a bonus, we found a house nearby with a U-Pick sign on their apple tree.  Top night.

The older Isaac gets, the more he hones his talent for annoying his sister, but she’s rarely able to stay mad at him for more than 20 minutes at a time.  They’re buddies through and through.

Bath snaps, just because.

And I’ll end with life as we currently know it… Toys, shoes, and a dripping, open water bottle strewn on the floor.  Pants nowhere to be found.  We were probably supposed to have left the house five minutes ago.  That smile, though.

October!  Paris was of course the major highlight, but Shane and Isaac deserve some airtime, too.  We kicked off October with a quick weekend trip up to Bellingham to finish up Isaac’s passport/Nexus pass application at the Blaine Custom’s Office.  Plus…pumpkins!

Apples were actually the main attraction at Bellweather Farms, so we bought a bag to fill and boarded the tractor trailer for a ride out to the orchards.

His little hand on her leg…

So, about U-pick with a toddler…works much better with raspberries than apples!  He filled our 9-pound bag in about two and a half minutes, wonderfully proud of himself and also confused when we told him he was doing too good a job.  Make it last, Bud!

Since our apples were picked in under five minutes and we had a couple more hours until our passport appointment, we took our time saying hello to the cows.

And then ran same extra laps in the Gala aisles.

Boy down!

Sampling the merch…

Juliette said it was the best apple she’d ever had.  I agreed it was perfectly juicy and crisp, but also, the whole of experience may have added some extra flavor.

Still T minus 90 minutes to appointment time…corn maze it is!

Isaac passed his global entry interview with flying colors, we grabbed a quick bite, and then settled into our hotel for swimming and movies.  Mission accomplished.

We breakfasted early the next morning at Old Town Cafe, where the pancakes, mimosas, and toy-packed play area were all a hit.  Something for everyone!

We drove over to the waterfront after breakfast to throw rocks and have a go at the playground.

The previous day’s tank top weather was already a distant memory…we jumped back in the car and then Isaac fell asleep as I was giving Shane directions to a coffee shop where we could warm up, so we decided to quit while we were ahead and hightail it back to Seattle.  Quick trip.  Easy-ish trip.  Good trip.

October brought more soccer, and more time on the sidelines with my favorite fan.

It’s great when Grandma comes and can take a turn on toddler-duty so that I can focus on sister.  Juliette snagged the ball with just a few minutes to go and ran it down the whole field for a goal.  Isaac did 47 laps on this log / balance beam situation.  They’re both winners.

Lately Saturdays are for soccer games, and Sundays are for kicking the ball around with Shane and Isaac at Hiawatha.  Juliette’s got soccer fever and I think her brother is catching it.

My parents spent some time with us in October between a couple of east coast trips – it’s nice to live near an Alaska Airlines hub.  Isaac taught my dad a few things on the art of accessorizing.

And both kids lapped up the time with extra playmates.

Shane had a birthday and we got out to Fonda la Catrina for tacos and laughter with our crew.

We saw the Taylor Swift Eras movie and all loved it in equal measure.  Or maybe Shane loved it the most?  Anyway, it was fun.

And we did our usual park circuit.  Lincoln in October is such a gem.

I spent the last weekend of the month in Florida with my parents attending my grandma’s memorial service.  She passed away in August and I’m so thankful I had to the chance to spend time in the presence of people that loved her so dearly.  I met some distant family members for the very first time and connected with cousins that I haven’t seen in decades.  Nothing but the kindest things were said about Grandma that weekend and it was all true.  She was resilient and kind-hearted and open-homed.  She was entrepreneurial and courageous and hopeful in the face of challenge.  She WAS the goodest and faithfullest servant.  She loved seashells and flowers and even when dementia robbed her of her memories, her kind-hearted nature prevailed.  Love is her legacy.

I have fond childhood memories of my Florida beach visits.  I took a long solo walk one afternoon at Indian Rocks and felt sad and thankful all at once.  Rest well, Grandma.

The end of October also brought Halloween season, complete with giant spiders on the neighbor’s fences and trees…

(Isaac wasn’t a fan at first, but when he felt how soft this one was, he tried to pull it down to give it a hug.)

We picked up a couple of pumpkins from the corner market after one of Juliette’s soccer games and then got down to the business of carving.

Isaac was given a marker and a packet of stickers rather than a blade and told to make his pumpkin pretty, but he wasn’t buying it.  What Juliette was doing looked way more fun.

Or did it?

Such drama!  Get in there, girl!

She pawned off the dirty work on her little brother.  And he loved  it.

Seriously.  I couldn’t get his arm out of there!

At some point Isaac started putting the guts back into the pumpkin so he could pull them out again, and I let that go on for awhile, but eventually we needed to get down to business.

Mission accomplished!

When it came to Halloween costumes, Juliette rejected all of my cute woodland-animal ideas, but her eyes lit up when on a whim I suggested Cruella Deville.  I think it was the promise of red lipstick that had her hooked.  Isaac was a Dalmatian and of course was adorable, but somehow, so was his evil villain of a sister!

We did the neighborhood with Isaac and it took all of one stop for him to get the gist of the gig.

TRICK OR TREAT!  MORE PLEASE!

My dad wasn’t intending to trick or treat himself, but when a neighbor offered him an IPA, he wasn’t about to turn it down.

The porch with the cackling witch statue was not so much a hit.  Isaac still points to that house out our front window every couple of days and says, “keery!!!” (scary).  I assure him that the witch has left and then he brightens up with, “all done keery!”.

Again, we quit while we were ahead.  Isaac was trying to eat his candy as quickly as it was being dropped into his bucket, so we called it after just a few houses.

Juliette, though, was just getting started.

She met up with her buds and the moms and I spent an hour or two drinking tea from our travel mugs while our girls ran from door to door.

Happy end of October!

…and happy December?!  How did that happen?!

This was it – our last full day!  It’s hard to believe that just six weeks ago we were waking up to a sunny morning in Paris – that view and that weather and those 10 am sleep-ins feel almost like a dream now…  That said, RISE AND SHINE, KIDDO!  Time to carpe diem.

We actually had very little on our set agenda for the day – we’d done our major sight-seeing and were looking forward to a day of wandering, park-sitting, and Coke-drinking.  First though, breakfast!

We ordered up a spread at Au Rocher de Cancale on Rue Montorgueil.  Croissants and an an omelet and orange juice and a cappuccino and tea and a side of baguette with jam, because it’s Paris.

Since we were in the neighborhood, we walked through Eglise Saint-Eustache – this is one of those cathedrals that seemed to perpetually be under construction during my previous times in Paris, so I’m not sure I’d ever been in before.

It was worth the pop-in.

We picked up some market fare and then Metro’d over to Jardin de Luxembourg for a picnic lunch.

This girl…the Metro was completely overwhelming to her on our first couple of days in the city.  She had a faulty ticket upon our arrival and had trouble with the turnstiles; it made her skittish about navigating transit.  But a few days in and she was breezing through the Metro tunnels, telling me when the next train would arrive and acting like she owned that platform.  Urban life ain’t got nothing on Juliette.

We parked ourselves at a couple of green chairs at the Jardin de Luxembourg and pulled out our sunglasses and books.

I’m going to refrain from calling this park “my favorite” because I have a tendency to over-use the words “my favorite” when speaking of all things Paris, but…IT’S THE BEST.

And…let’s eat!

We polished off our lunch and snapped a few photos in the gardens before setting off in search of gifts to take home to the family.

We picked up a handful of goodies for Shane and for my parents, who would be in Seattle when we arrived home, took a spin through Saint Sulpice, and then decided it was Happy Hour.

Cafe time!  I soaked it up.  Juliette told a friend of ours at dinner tonight about how much she liked just hanging out at the cafes in Paris and the friend remarked, “Wow!  Sounds so grown-up!”.  And it really was.  But also, it wasn’t?  We played cards and told silly stories and it still felt very sweet in a mother-kiddo kind of way.

We ambled back toward the Marais, opting to hang by the Seine for a bit on the way to watch the boats go by.  I can’t emphasize enough how luxurious it was to just stop and sit whenever we felt like it.

Pastel hour…

And then back to our tried-and-true Pizza Sant Antonio, for pasta and one last Spritz.  I know, we coulda shoulda woulda ventured out and tried something new, but there was something special about already feeling like we had “our place” after just a few days in the neighborhood.

I awoke with mixed emotions on Saturday.  Leaving this place always hurts, but we were both missing our guys something fierce and felt more than satisfied with the gifts Paris had lavished upon us.  We had time for one last walk through the Place des Vosges…

One last croissant…

And one last cafe visit, this time on Ile Saint Louis.

Properly carbed and caffeinated, we headed back to the apartment, me freeze-framing every last memory along the way.

And then..au revoir Paris!  And maybe a bientot?  I don’t know…the jury is out on if and when Juliette and I will go back.  Right now I’m just eternally grateful for that dream of a week in my favorite place with my favorite girl.

And extra-super-duper-eternally grateful for the guy that made it all happen.  For Shane, who pushed us out the door when I wavered, who never spoke of the hard moments he had with Isaac that week, though I’m sure they existed.  Watching Juliette fly into his arms at SeaTac, my heart fluttered a bit.  He loves us both so damn much.

And Buddy!  Mama’s home.  I’ve got something to show you, in about eight years…