Ali’s Favorite Things 2021

This post almost slipped by me, but my friend just reminded me, so here it is! I actually have quite a few new favorites this year. Our lifestyle has changed quite a bit with the pandemic and mountain living, so a lot of things are updated. Be sure to check the bottom of the post for my favorite things from years’ past – especially 2020.

Personal Items

Apple Watch – Alex gave me an Apple Watch for Mother’s Day this year and I just love it. It has truly been life-changing for me. It allows me to disconnect SO much from my phone, but be connected to texts/phone calls in case something urgent comes up.

Apple Fitness Plus – this is essentially the Peloton App, but brought to you by Apple. The integration with the watch is impressive – my activity rings are up on the TV screen, along with the time and my output. I have been enjoying yoga, core and strength classes to unwind in the evenings. You do need an Apple Watch for Fitness+.

Honest Company Skincare – shout out to my friend Cam for turning me on to how absolutely amazing the Honest Company’s skincare line is! Loving their everyday moisturizers, especially the tinted moisturizer, oh, and the mascara is a dream.

Insulated Tumbler – I’m admittedly a little late to the Yeti game, and I do regret that. Gosh they make a great tumbler! This is perfect for keeping coffee hot at home or on-the-go, or you can do iced coffee with a lid and straw, too.

Weekly Planner Page – I started using this last year and it is tremendously helpful for me to organize my weeks. I just love how it’s laid out.

Household Items

Norwex Cloths – have you heard of these!? You don’t need anything but water + one of these cloths to clean your house. Easy peasy!

Kitchen

Lodge Dutch Oven – I have been using my dutch oven a lot this fall. I love cooking soups and chili. This is such an affordable dutch oven, compared to some competitors. I’ve had mine for 10 years now!

Kitchen Scale – why do Americans not weigh their ingredients!? I am a recent convert and my goodness, it is so, so, so much easier and more accurate to weigh everything out.

Clothing

Free Fly Leggings – these lightweight leggings are my absolute favorite legging ever. I lived in these in the late summer/early fall days.

Athleta Salutation Stash II Leggings – these rival the Free Fly leggings, but are more full-length and thicker for cooler weather.

Athleta Fleece Lined Leggings – I featured these last year, too, and couldn’t leave them off the list. These are perfect for chilly winter days outside.

Free Fly tops – these were my favorite thing in the late summer and fall {they also make a tank}, especially paired with my Free Fly leggings. The easiest outfit!

Gear

Patagonia Backpack – this is my new “mom bag” – I had to update my fancy leather backpack to a much more mountain mom appropriate backpack and this one is absolute perfection. You surely don’t need to be a mountain mama to love it either.

Hiking Socks – Darn Tough makes amazing hiking and ski socks. They have a lovely mix of synthetics and merino wool, and a low enough percentage of wool in some of their socks that I can wear them without itching!

Hiking Backpack – I am *loving* my new Osprey Sirrus 36 hiking backpack. It’s perfect for day hikes.

Footwear

Everyday shoes – gosh these are great! I love Forsake – they’re perfect for mountain or city living. What I love, though, is that they’re slip-on everyday shoes you can walk around town in, chase your kids in or wear for a hike. All in one pair of shoes.

Ugg Slippers – I’ve got to add these again this year. My absolute favorite slipper ever.

Cozy

REI Brand Down Coat/Vest – these rival Patagonia and come at a fraction of the price. I have an extra down parka in my car for emergencies.

Reading

Magnolia Journal – wow, just wow. This publication is so thoughtful and poignant. The themes always seem to hit me at just the right time.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah – oh my gosh. Absolutely one of my top 5 favorite books ever. I *plowed* through this hefty book and could not put it down. This is a historical fiction set during the Dust Bowl. It was so captivating and eye opening and changed my perspective on a lot.

Brave Enough by Jessie Diggins – I adored this book. Alex got it for me for Christmas last year. Jessie tells the story of how she became a world champion cross country skier. I loved learning about her childhood, especially since she grew up not far from me in Minnesota.

Past Favorite Things:

Family Pictures

Our last family photo shoot was literally days before the pandemic began here and shook everything up. I think about that so often – we had Alex’s family here at The Lodge with us and our photographer, Kim, was here to capture that magical time for us.

Finally, hurrah! We had Kim out to our home to get some up-to-date photos of the four of us, and our new furry addition. She is incredible – she shoots on film, yes film! And she just does her thing and her photos are a perfect representation of us. Here are some of our favorites:

Our First Summer in the Mountains

Now that we’re nearly to Halloween, I’ll backtrack to our first summer in the mountains. What a big summer we had. It was filled with change, family visitors, building a community and making new friends and exploring. There were oodles of highlights from our first summer as permanent mountain dwellers.

We started the summer with Alex’s parents being here for about a month as we celebrated Ben’s fifth birthday and got ourselves settled into our new life.

Once the summer solstice hit, the temps skyrocketed. The highest I saw was 113. The kids and I became so accustomed to days spent outside in 100+ degree heat that it became too chilly for us to swim outside if it was below 90-degrees. Ben’s lips literally turned blue one day in the pool when it was 88-degrees. Hah!

The kiddos both took swimming lessons all summer – Ben in group lessons, while Hannah preferred the 1:1 private lesson dynamic. By the end of the summer Ben could make it across the pool unassisted. It wasn’t pretty, but he could do it!

Just before the Fourth of July we made the difficult choice to say goodbye to our dog, Jackson. He had been suffering from a fast-growing carcinoma (cancer). It was a devastating loss for all of us.

The loss of Jackson rocked us, and our summer plans, so we decided to take a very spontaneous road trip to Jackson Hole, Jackson’s namesake. That was one of the biggest highlights of our summer. We spent a day in Yellowstone and loved the time we were in Jackson and Teton National Park. I hope to visit again!

{Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone}

Just after arriving back from our road trip, Alex drove down to Salem, Oregon and picked up our new puppy, Brooks. The turnaround time from losing Jackson to welcoming Brooks was quite quick – only two weeks. It’s actually been really great having that short gap. We didn’t go so long that we got out of the routine of having a dog.

Mid-summer days were largely spent in town at the pool. Here, we met *so* many other local families with kiddos.

We loved our once-a-week trip to the local ice cream shop, Whistlepunk.

Riding bikes this summer was SO fun for us all. Ben is a total pro on his little bike and Hannah really started charging it on her scoot bike. She’ll be ready for a two-wheeler in the spring, for sure!

After Alex’s parents monthlong trip and our return from Jackson, we had grandparent visitors sprinkled in every other week. The kids have been overjoyed to finally be able to see their grandparents more often.

As summer marched ahead we had to navigate a whole lot of wildfire smoke. It began in late-July and carried through until Labor Day or so. It felt like for a solid six weeks I was checking the air quality on a daily basis, then limiting our outside time very regularly. Most of our smoke was caused from the Nason Fire, a 100+ acre fire 15 minutes from our house.

I spent the summer in physical therapy for my hips. Long story short, I had an “injury” from lack of strength and stability. So, friends, keep up on your core strengthening exercises and don’t just do cardio like I did!

We celebrated Hannah’s third birthday mid-July. So far three has been SO fun with her.

My mom came for a visit over Hannah’s birthday. We had a beach day, pool day, cupcake day and bookmobile day.

Shortly after, my dad came to visit, too. We explored a couple new beaches and the kids even got him out on the trampoline!

We wrapped up August with one final grandparent visit. Alex’s mom came to help me with the kids for a few days while I pulled together an event for the Leavenworth Farmers Market.

Just before Labor Day I made a final trek out to Wenatchee for some apple and nectarine picking with the kids. It was one of those extra special days I will remember for a very long time.

That particular day ended with the loveliest dinner outside at a restaurant in a screened-in igloo, then a trip to the beach to watch the sun set. It was perfect.

This summer was so, so lovely. It was filled with a lot of unexpected happenings and a whole lot of fun and exploration. We’re absolutely loving our mountain life and feel extremely connected to the community here.

Soccer Season!

Ben recently wrapped up his first official soccer season! He played a quick six-week co-ed session in the local league and had a blast. It was really fun watching Ben and his team progress throughout the year.

Typically, Ben had one practice and two games each week. The games were really sweet to watch. It turns out it’s very entertaining watching a bunch of 4 and 5-year olds running around trying to figure out what to do with a soccer ball.

When Ben is focused on soccer he actually is quite good! Most of the time, though, his energy is centered on his friends, doing jumping jacks or making sure his light-up shoes are lighting up. Oh, and making sure someone’s parents remembered to bring snack.

Towards the very end of the season we noticed Ben’s attention shifted and when he was out on the field he really was getting after it.

All in all, Ben had a great time playing soccer. He loved making new friends with his teammates and looked forward to his practices and games, especially when they included a post-game juice box.

Brooks Update: Four Months Old!

We sure hit the jackpot with this puppy. He is *such* a great dog and a really lovely puppy. Everywhere we go, people’s comments are how fluffy he is and how surprisingly calm he is for a pup.

Brooks is about four and a half months old now and is growing rapidly! I’m really not sure how much he weighs. Probably close to 45 or 50 pounds, and we expect he’ll top out around 80.

At this point, we’ve settled into a really nice routine with Brooks. He sleeps until 6 or 6:30 and hangs out with us upstairs until we go down for the day, which is a much appreciated change from the initial early wakeups with him.

Brooks spends the day outside, off-leash, snoozing on the front steps. He gets quite a lot of exercise from being able to roam our yard during the day, on top of frequent walks. Alex takes him for a 20ish-minute walk in the mornings, then we take Brooks to drop Ben off at school, and sometimes he comes with on the pickup walk to get Ben, too.

Fetch is something we’re working on with Brooks. Alex is great at getting Brooks into it, but I have less finesse here. Basic training is going really well! He has good recall {coming when called} and knows some basic commands. He’s been really receptive to training.

Currently our biggest challenges with Brooks involve him jumping up either on people or putting his paws up on the counter {grrrrr!} trying to get food. It’s definitely getting better with training, but those are quite frustrating. He also goes after the kids stuffed animals, especially if the kids are holding them.

Brooks seems to really have an old soul – he’s like an old dog trapped in a puppy’s body! He reminds us so much of Jackson, which is really special for us to have those frequent memories of our beloved dog.

Don’t be mistaken, though, this has been far from easy to juggle young kiddos and a puppy. It was really prohibitive having a pup for the first 8-10 weeks or so. We could hardly bring him anywhere since he wasn’t fully vaccinated {against Parvo virus}, but we couldn’t leave him home for very long, and it was summer so we couldn’t leave him in the car either.

The middle of the night wake ups, plus the early mornings were really exhausting, especially since it coincided with a huge sleep regression with Hannah. It felt like once we finally got the kids to bed, we’d have to turn our attention to Brooks and get him worn out so he’d sleep well. That was no fun. Thankfully we’re past that now!

We’re so, so very excited to have Brooks in our lives. He is such a fantastic dog, and well worth the initial challenges. We’re really looking forward to more hiking with him, playing in the snow and having his companionship. Dogs are such incredible creatures!

Garage Update: Framing in Progress!

We broke ground on our garage and guesthouse project back in May. In case you missed it, we are building an oversized 3-car garage with a guesthouse on top. It’s been a slow process so far, but the last few weeks have provided significant progress and a whole lot of fun to watch!

Hannah’s birthday marked the day they started pouring the foundation!
Getting ready to pour the slab! The kiddos loved riding their scooters on the smooth surface before the framing began.
One carpenter was working solo here for a while. It’s amazing what one guy can do on his own!
This week the crane truck arrived to put three massive beams in place. The crew was cruising this week!

We have no estimated date of completion for the project – I’m guessing next summer, maybe late spring if we’re really lucky. We were told that the excavators can’t come back to dig to connect the garage to the main house’s septic tank until spring, so that will be a major holdup. There’s a backlog of everything right now, it seems. We’re not in a huge hurry, but it sure will be nice to be able to utilize the garage for storage!

Alpine Lakes High Camp Trip

I recently took a trip to Alpine Lakes High Camp, and boy was it a trip for the memory books. This was a trip I took with a girlfriend, Kirsten, and a few other gals from her bookclub who I had never met. High Camp is quite close to my house and I’ve heard incredible things about it so it was a trip I just couldn’t turn down.

Our trip started in a parking lot 15 minutes away from my house. We got picked up by our driver in his Land Rover, he threw our gear on the top of his truck, strapped it down and packed us in. He drove us 8.5 miles up a very, very rough road. We winded our way up the mountain to the Alpine Lakes High Camp, a series of small, rustic cabins set in literally the middle of nowhere.

High Camp is off-grid – no electricity and no running water in the cabins. We had a wood burning stove for heat and a propane cooktop to prepare food. Sleeping was bunk-style – we slept in our sleeping bags in the loft/attic of the A-frame cabin. I’d heard it referred to as “glamping” but there was definitely nothing glamorous here!

We did a hike every day, with the highlight being our 11.5 mile trek to Larch Lake. The hike was strenuous, with nearly 3,000 feet of elevation gain and lots of downed trees to shimmy over. The reward was high and so picturesque.

I’ve never seen anything like Larch Lake before. It felt like we were in the middle of a Dr Seuss book with twisty, spindly Larch trees surrounding us.

The scene at Larch Lake was so magical. It was just breathtaking.

Our hike was so enjoyable and was most certainly the highlight of the trip. We had the lake to ourselves upon arrival, though our visit was quite quick given how chilly and windy it was.

I was quite out of my comfort zone being in such a remote location, essentially with strangers, but it’s those experiences that have a way of leaving a mark. Definitely a bit of type 2 fun!

Catching Up: Fall Hikes!

Oofta, I have had the hardest time keeping the blog up-to-date lately. It’s been quite tedious dealing with my photos on my computer and it’s been too time intensive for me to sit down and go through them all. Finally I’m feeling like I have a little more time to use to get some personal projects done!

Alas, I’ll be updating the blog from things I missed over the summer and catching up since I dropped off. I’ll start with some more recent happenings!

Fall is very much here in the mountains. We’re past the peak in the foliage in most places and it’s been dropping down into the upper 20s most nights recently. Drives along the river or on our windy mountain road are extra special this time of year.

I’ve been capitalizing on this and have gone for a number of hikes recently – some alone, some with Alex, others with friends and some with our whole family. It’s been such a special way to enjoy the season.

I wrapped up physical therapy for my hips a few weeks ago and am continuing to get stronger and regain mobility. It’s been a slow ramp up after spending most of the summer incapacitated. My first hike was the first day I dropped Hannah off at school in early September. Since then, I’ve hiked at least once a week.

Mid-September Alex took the week off and we were able to get out together for a tough 6-mile hike overlooking the town of Leavenworth {Icicle Ridge hike}. It was a beautiful bluebird day and I was so happy to have been physically able to do such a challenging hike.

We ended our day-date with a fresh and delicious lunch at Yodelin, where we got to look up at the ridge we had just hiked.

Late in September, I met my friend Joanna for a 7-mile hike to Lake Valhalla, near Stevens Pass, to enjoy the fall colors. It was stunning!

Mixed in there was a very special visit from my brother, John, and his girlfriend, Becky. They spent a weekend with us and we watched Ben’s soccer game, hiked Icicle Gorge and made homemade pasta.

Our family hikes have been relatively un-enjoyable for the most part this fall/late summer. One day we had just a horribly frustrating hike and Alex and I realized we needed to re-calibrate our expectations for family hikes. They need to be short. They need to be flat. We need to be able to carry the kids when they’re tired. And our goal needs to be to have fun, not to complete a certain distance.

We see so many other families with kids of a similar age to ours and the kids are doing 5+ mile hikes without being carried. We lost sight of the fact that just because other kids can do that, it doesn’t mean ours can or will. Ben notoriously has low stamina. His metabolism is lightning fast and his fuel tank goes from F to E really quickly. He’s certainly building endurance, but we have a ways to go.

I’ll do a separate post for my most recent hike, but I went on the most magical hike to Larch Lake last weekend. The scene around the lake feels like it’s out of a fairy tale. More to come soon!

Hello Preschool!

This week marks Hannah’s first day of preschool! This year Hannah will be attending a local forest preschool two days a week. She’s in a class with ten kiddos and they spend their days outdoors in the mountains!

Beginning preschool is a huge milestone for Hannah, as she’s never been in a school or childcare setting, and honestly hardly away from home or family. I was really, really uncertain how she would do at drop-off. We practiced and practiced and practiced for probably a month leading up to her first day.

The morning of her first day her excitement turned into nervousness and she was very apprehensive, even as we pulled in. I spent a few minutes with her at the gate and once it was time for me to go I said goodbye and she walked right in. She didn’t even say goodbye to me!

{Behind Hannah is the home base for her class. They meet here, have free play and then go out for a hike or an adventure somewhere else on the incredible property!}

I got a really encouraging report from her teacher from her first day and Hannah said she loved it. She even said it felt really quick when I came back to pick her up. I think she is going to really, really thrive here and I just cannot wait to see how her year goes.

Hello Kindergarten!

It’s official! We have a Kindergartener! Last week Ben had his first day of Kindergarten at his new school.

Ben will be going to our neighborhood school, classified as a “remote but necessary” schoolhouse. Literally it’s a two-room schoolhouse! The school has two teachers and two classrooms, one for K-1 and the other for 2-5, though there are only second and third graders there.

This school is quite unique and very, very special we have come to realize. They pride themselves on teaching in a rather hands-on, nature-based way. Ben’s first field trip will be going on a hike! That said, this will be our second year sending our child to school amidst a global pandemic. Covid cases are extremely high in our area right now and we’re so grateful that the school is requiring masks on kiddos and teachers, regardless of vaccination status. The school is working to mitigate some risk by spending as much time outside as possible, especially while the weather is nice.

We’re so fortunate we can walk {or bike!} through our field + our next-door neighbor’s, then about two more blocks. Easy peasy! I love hearing the school bell dinging during the day.

All of us ran through the gamut of emotions about Ben beginning Kindergarten. It happened so fast. How did he go from a 3 pound preemie to a Kindergartener already!?

He was so ready. SO ready. In so many ways. It’s the beginning of the rest of his life right now. In my mind, he just transitioned from a little kid to a big, school-age kid and that is a huge deal.

As a parent, I see everything on the horizon. I’m trying to focus on all of the wonderful, exciting things instead of the crazy scary things. New friendships, the opportunity to play sports {soccer started last week!}, learning to read, widening his mind and continued exploration. All the things.

With any transition there are bound to be challenges, so we’ll take them as they come. I’m just so excited for Ben and what lies ahead.