Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Four Generations

Last week, my Grandma Margie Wehler flew out from Minnesota with her traveling friend, Joan, to visit my Mom and Terry. Now that we live in Oregon, we got to share in the benefit of their trip and spend some time with Grandma too.

It has been YEARS since I've seen Grandma. Even though I knew her health is failing, I was still surprised at how old and frail she seemed. She struggles with amnesia, but seemed lucid when I was with her, and has gone from teaching senior aerobics to walking with support and needing help going up and down stairs.

She and Joan started traveling at 3:30 a.m. Central time on Thursday, but insisted on traveling to our home in Newberg on Thursday afternoon to see our house and meet the kids. I don't remember Grandma ever being super fond of little kids, but she proved me wrong this time. She talked to all the kids, watched them play and even climbed our entire flight of stairs so they could show her their rooms and all their treasures. She was "so tickled" to meet them. We took four generation pictures, had a snack, and then Grandma and Joan went back to my Mom's house.

That night, Grandma got really confused and kept thinking she was in Minnesota. Mom left a light on in the bathroom for Grandma, but didn't think to barricade the stairs. Poor Grandma got up to use the restroom, turned off the light, got confused and fell down two of the three flights of stairs in my mom's house. Dazed and confused, she refused to go to the Emergency Room, laid on ice instead, and insisted they go about their travel plans for the day. So off they went to the Pacific Ocean for some mild hiking, sight seeing, and shopping. Mom said she never complained, just winced a lot and so they stopped at the ER on the way home. She broke her collar bone and severely bruised her elbow and side of her body.

Grandma insisted on not changing any plans even though she was in severe pain, so on Saturday morning, we had a girls day. I met Mom, Joan and Grandma at Artistic Nails and we all got pedicures, and Grandma and I even got our eyebrows waxed. We sat in our chairs, all in a line and talked with each other or read our magazines. Grandma had on floral print pants and a very fancy and bright purple shirt that looked like it was made from a spool of purple ribbon and twisted into little dimples, then stitched together to form a "blouse." She and I chatted about the things they'd seen on their trip, her health issues, my kids, where she got her fancy top and what the plan for the rest of the day was. We had a great time.

Grandma has always been very concerned about her weight and hasn't topped 100 pounds in years. But she LOVES anything sweet and always has, so a girls morning wouldn't be complete without a trip to the candy store. Years ago, Grandma would take on the pain-staking task of making her own chocolates and being a perfectionist, each one was amazing. She got so good at it, she started selling her own candy. Now that she doesn't make her own, she settles for See's Candy and there was a store grand-opening just around the corner from the nail salon. We filled our bellies with free samples and Mom and I helped little Grandma pick out a whole pound of chocolates to bring home.

It was a great morning. I realized, as Grandma and I shuffled down the sidewalk from the candy store to the local bakery that was giving out free donuts, what a gift it was to have this time with her. I know she'll never make the trip again this side of heaven and I will always treasure the weekend when four generations came together as one.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Unexpected Surprises

We live an hour and 15 minutes from the Pacific Ocean. But we also live in Oregon, which means the Pacific Ocean that we visit is not a tropical paradise. The Oregon Coast is almost ALWAYS cold, windy,usually rainy, rocky and stunningly beautiful. We went on the 4th of July, leaving temperatures in the 90's and arriving at the coast to temps in the 50's, with high winds and rain. We FROZE, ate our picnic lunch in the van, and came home after an hour of misery.

This Saturday, we had a day with no obligations and decided to spend it at the coast. It's now the end of September and although the morning looked promising in Newberg, we knew the coast is tempermental. So this time, we arrived prepared. We packed towels, hats, mittens, sweatshirts, jackets, full changes of clothes, rubber boots and extra money for hot chocolate to warm up when we finished freezing on the beach. We brought our puppy, Dusty, for her first trip to the ocean.

We unloaded at the state park and started piling on the layers. 15 minutes later, we got a family picture before we descended to the beach. We are all laden down with layers of protective warmth and squinting into a very bright sun with clear blue skies, huge waves, a rocky cliff and not a hint of wind as our back drop!

We hit the beach and within minutes, we all started shedding our layers. Never have I experienced such a glorious day at the coast. Not a breath of wind, huge majestic waves as the tides came in, clear blue skies, bright sun, even surfers in the water. Dusty LOVED the beach and alternately chased the kids, dashed into the water, and dug furiously in the sand for no reason. We found a perfect picnic spot on the beach - pieces of driftwood arranged around a home-made fire pit with scrubby beach grass and rocks made smooth by the waves. Curt had to go back to the car to get the food, and we picnicked on the beach, shoes off, sand between our teeth, sun on our faces, listening to the tide sneak up the shore. It was AMAZING!

The kids played in the sand, piled rocks, walked on the logs, hid in the grass, played with a huge sea onion, and chased Dusty. We finally loaded up the stroller with our hats, mittens, coats, sweatshirts and boots and headed back to the van. By the time we got to the van, I was actually sweating for the first time I can remember at the beach.

Curt and I looked at the money we had set aside for hot chocolate and at our van full of kids, dirty, sweaty and content, and stopped at Coldstone Creamery for ice cream to eat on the way home! Talk about unexpected surprises!!!!!

Saturday, September 27, 2008


I LOVE Target. It is by far my favorite place to shop. With it's wide aisles, chic clothing, cheap prices on home essentials, adorable baby clothes and shoes, warm ambiance, and Starbucks in the lobby, I'm convinced it HAD to be designed by women, for women. The clever commercials and BULLS-EYE logo, are right on!

One of my good friends just had a baby and my husband blessed me with a much larger than usual gift budget. THRILLED with my good fortune, I strapped my 2 year old, Paige, in her car seat, picked up my 4 year old, Alli, from pre-school and headed to the nearest Target. I realized on the way that I made a colossal mistake by taking the kids shopping so close to lunch and nap time, but quickly patted myself on the back for recognizing my error before I got engrossed in shopping. I buckled the girls into a mongo-sized carts with seat belts for two, stopped at the snack bar, gave them each a cherry frost Icee and a bag of popcorn and started shopping.

I had tons of great gift ideas: a scrapbook, a cute picture frame, a blanket, a crib sheet, an outfit (or two or three), socks, shoes, onesies, bath and pampering supplies for the new mom, and maybe a hat or some bibs. But I only had $50, so I kept piling stuff in my cart, analyzing my choices, putting stuff back and adding more. Somewhere along the line the girls got bored, unbuckled, and stood on their seats for a better view. I was too absorbed in my shopping to notice and absent-mindly pushed my cart forward only to glimpse my two year lose her balance and start cartwheeling out of the cart in slow motion, baby limbs and cherry Icee flying everywhere. I managed to get my hand under the back of her head a mili-second before she would have cracked it on the cement floor. Relieved that she was okay, I started to comfort her but became instantly irritated when I realized my brand-new shirt (a Target purchase from the day before) was getting slathered in cherry Icee and snot. I started chiding her about trips to the ER and not being carefully as I wrestled her back into her seat and tried to get her buckled again while she LOUDLY protested! Believe it or not, in the next five minutes, Paige tripped out of the cart and narrowly missed cracking her head open and both girls spilled their popcorn all over then tried to eat it off the floor! I bought a clue and started the check out process.

I happened to glance at my watch as I was unloading my carefully chosen items on the belt - 1:50 p.m! We were 20 minutes past the start of nap time, the girls hadn't eaten lunch, and I needed to find a way to keep Paige awake for the 20 minute drive home. I spent the next 60 seconds deflecting requests for various toys, candy and gum, trying to swipe my debit card, remember my pin number, file my receipt, and make sure the girls didn't escape out the exit now that they were free from the cart.

We skipped lunch, Paige fell asleep in the car, and when I got home I realized that the well-intentioned cashier had charged me twice for a pair of shoes, the "sale" pants didn't ring up on sale, and I had over-spent by $10 and needed to find something to return to stay on budget. Since Curt was working late and wouldn't be home for supper, I rolled my eyes, retrieved my older two kids from the bus, finished homework, fed the kids a nutritious meal of chicken nuggets, and headed back to Target.

The kids occassionally get an allowance and they divide it between three banks: one for church, one for savings, and one to spend. They each had items on their wish list that they wanted to buy, so I allowed them to bring their banks to find a treasure to purchase. I must admit, I was unusually grumpy all day so I spent a majority of the 20 minute ride lecturing the kids about unmet expectations and grilling them about chipping in around the house more.

We got to Target and I couldn't help but snap out of my grumpy mood as I watched the kids skip through the parking lot, carrying their banks and excitedly discussing what they wanted to buy. We stopped at the customer service center, just inside the front door, to make the returns and adjustments to my sales slip. I was counting heads, talking to the cashier and finishing up my transaction when Paige said, "I have to go poopy SO bad." She has been VERY unsuccessful in this area of potty training and I knew my window was small, so I grabbed my receipt, threw her under my arm, and rushed to the family bathroom, yelling at the other kids to follow me and wait outside the door. I yanked her undies down, only to realize that her "so bad" came on faster than I got her to the toliet. I sat her on the pot, gingerly removed her soiled undies, and checked my bag for wipes - NOPE. They were in the car. Plan B was toliet paper and I started to grab the toliet paper, but guess what? Both rolls were completely empty. I could feel the grumpiness descending and settling on me like a blanket. Plan C was paper towels and toliet water... Since I had no diaper and no spare undies, I pulled her jeans up and explained how fun it was to "go commando." As we exited the bathroom, Paige was screaming, "I don't want to go commando. I want my underwear," and everyone was staring. I set her down next to her three siblings and headed to the cashier's area. I'm standing there, with dirty undies in one hand,trying to get the plastic bag off the rack with my other hand, ready to kill the cashier who is watching me struggle, when I hear a loud CRASH from the entryway followed by instant wailing. I look over to see my 7 year old son, Grant, staring in disbelief at his piggy bank, shattered in multiple pieces with it's contents belched out all over the floor. It was a pathetic scene - he was crying and distraught and instead of being sympathetic, grumpy mommy struck again. I stomped back to the cashier's line, grabbed a second plastic bag, started scooping up the bank and it's contents into the bag and listened to myself giving Grant a lecture about self-control and not screwing around. I never even let him explain what happened. I watched him shut down and I instantly felt SO guilty. The Holy Spirit nudged me to confess my sin. I apologized profusely, he forgave me, we hugged and kissed, and cleaned up the mess together. I counted heads again - FOUR blonde ones - glanced longingly at the exit, then back at four expectant faces, and decided to forge ahead.

The next 30 minutes were glorious - watching the girls hem and haw in the Dollar Spot and choose between nail polish, necklaces, headbands, notebooks and bracelets. We headed next to the animal figurine aisle and I lovingly watched Grant deliberate over which animals he would add to his collection. He had it narrowed down to four animals, all with a legitimate, well-thought-out reason for why he should chose that animal. Since he only could afford to buy two, we started talking through his reasoning for making his choice, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw Paige trip and fall. The thud of her head hitting the shelf was loud and I knew it had potential to be gory. I picked her up and saw that she had the making of a big gash that was starting to seep a little blood but hadn't popped competely open. Her forehead was starting to swell and I was having visions of the swelling bursting the cut open and blood everywhere. I hollered at Grant to make his choice FAST and we all made a mad dash for the check out aisle.

By the time we got to the front of the store, I realized that Paige's gash was most likely not going to break open, so we took our time checking out. Since the kids were spending their own money, they chose carefully and paid proudly. The each took a turn placing their item on the belt, dumping the entire contents of their piggy banks out, counting out the correct amout, getting their receipt from the cashier and putting it in their own Target bag. Of course I thought they were adorable. Our teen-aged cashier, Amanda, who was counting the hours till quitting time, was less than impressed but I didn't care. I praised each of my kids for making good choices, for saving their money and for earning it with good behavior and I watched them beam and puff up their chests from the praise.

We held hands and skipped out the exit, a little battered, missing undies, grumpy attitudes discarded, broken banks and treasures in hand, and I smiled to myself. In spite of it's mishaps, our evening had been a BULLS-EYE!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Lord I Want to See

I am legally blind without the help of contacts or glasses and my vision impairment is near-sightedness. I am rendered useless if I can't find my glasses, especially in the middle of the night. I stumble around with my arms outstretched, hands feeling for the wall to guide me to the light switch or a door entry that is familiar. Many times I sport bruises on my hips and elbows from misjudging the distance around corners, and my husband, Curt, and I often laugh at how my lack of sight makes me so klutzy. Once I'm safely in bed, I can hold a book up to my nose and read each word clearly, but if you were to take the book from the nearness of my nose and bring it farther out, everything becomes an indistinguishable blur. Sometimes I feel like I am near-sighted in life too.

My super far-sighted picture of life is crystal clear - to live my life on earth so it makes a difference for God's eternal kingdom. And the book on my nose near-sighted picture of what that looks like in the nitty gritty of my daily life and how I relate to my kids, my husband and my friends is also pretty clear. It's the in-between portion of life that I find myself fumbling for my glasses and trying to find some clarity and definition through the blur.

I've been studying Luke 18 over the past couple of days and have found so many application points to where I am in life right now. Luke relates Jesus' conversation with the rich young man who wanted to follow Jesus, but when push came to shove, chose his material possessions over true surrender. We've been house hunting for the past 9 months in a market that is more expensive than the one we left behind. We know the gifts of hospitality God has given us and we know what we want in a home, but there are days when I can see myself clinging tightly to MY idea of a dream home and not trusting God to lead us to HIS idea of a dream home, and the picture is blurry.

My Bible commentary expanded on the rich man's sadness by saying, "Jesus was touching the very basis of the man's security and identity. The man didn't understand that he would be even more secure if he followed Jesus than he was with all his wealth. Jesus asks us all to get rid of anything that has become more important than God." I see clearly the hollowness in my neighbor's eyes as she grieves over the emptiness left by the untimely death of her 15 year old son. I see clearly a soldier's wedding ring resting in the center of his water-logged, war-battered combat Bible on his widow's coffee table. I see clearly four blonde heads of tossled hair and a big part of my identity reflected in four sets of crystal blue eyes. I see clearly strength, leadership, masculinity, Godliness, love and security in the warm embrace of my husband. And then the picture gets blurry when I honestly wonder if those tossled blonde heads and the man who wraps me in security have become more important than God.

Further on, Luke tells about how Jesus spoke plainly to his disciples about his impending death and resurrection, but the significance and meaning of His words were lost on them. The picture was all blurry to them and didn't become clear until the events actually took place. And I wondered how often Jesus is speaking PLAINLY to me and I just look at Him with a blank unseeing stare, shake my head, and say, "Sorry Jesus. I just don't get it. This just doesn't make sense. This is NOT how the picture is supposed to look." I'm sure Jesus laughs out loud at my blindness and then waits for the perfect time to re-reveal Himself to me. All of a sudden, things make sense and I can see Him clearly through the circumstance of my life that were so confusing at the time.

Chapter 18 concludes with the story of a blind beggar who heard commotion and found out that Jesus was coming down the road. Throwing caution to the wind, he yelled, screamed and cried out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." His choice of words struck me as odd. If I was completely blind and knew a Miracle Healer was within ear shot, I would be screaming, "Hey! Over here. Fix my eyes. I need Lasix." So I broke down the beggar's words. By giving Jesus the title "Son of David," the beggar acknowledges that he sees clearly Jesus is the promised Messiah. By asking Jesus to "have mercy on me" instead of "heal me," the beggar acknowledges that his need for spiritual healing is greater than his need for physical sight. And the beggar's passion, his desire for healing, stopped Jesus dead in His tracks. Jesus asks the beggar a thoughtful question in verse 41: "What do you want me to do for you?" to which the beggar replied, "LORD, I want to see."

I sat in my chair, squinting at the unseasonably hot autumn sun, and reflected on the rich man, the deft disciples and the blind beggar. I thought about the parts of my life that I see clearly and the parts that are a big blur. I thought about the bumps, bruises and scars I have from fumbling around as spiritual klutz. And I prayed, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. Open my eyes to see my life through Your eyes. My sin through Your eyes. My family through Your eyes. My neighbors through Your eyes. My world through Your eyes. Bring clarity to the parts of my life that are blurry. Heal me of my blindness. LORD, I want to see."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Just Pinch Me

We just returned from a weekend in Bend, Oregon, filled with family, fun, and sunshine. There have been many times since we moved to Oregon in June, that Curt and I look at each other and say, "Just pinch me. Is this for real?"

We spent the weekend with my Dad and his wife Marcy. Grandma Marcy is hooked on antiques and has a passion for family history which translates to family heirlooms all over her home. The kids think it is fantastic that everything they pick up has a story behind it and Grandma loves to tell those stories. They watered flowers with great-great-Grandpa's Charles' watering can, had a tea party with great-Grandma Bernice's tea set, pulled each other around in Grandpa Don's wagon, took great-great-Grandpa Charles' cow bell, tied it around their neck and pretended to be the cows he used to farm, marveled at great-Grandpa George's 80 year old toddler pants, and rolled an antique wheel around the yard that belonged to some long-departed family member whose name I can't remember.

Grandma Marcy made the kids flower pot pudding complete with cookie crumb dirt and gummy worms. Paige, our 2 year old, thought it was real dirt and said, "Oh - doht is good." When we let her know that she shouldn't eat "real dirt," she revised her statement to "Oh- pretend doht is good. I eat pretend doht." For their dessert at dinner, Grandma Marcy made them "banana boats" on the grill - bananas carved out like a canoe and stuffed with marshmallows and chocolate chips then grilled. WAY too much work in my opinion, but the kids dirty faces and oohs and aahs made it seem like it was worth all the putzing.

Grandpa Don loves working outside and he taught Grant how to pull nails out of boards and run the log splitter. They worked together for a good part of Saturday afternoon and Grant earned a pocket watch that clips to his pants for all his efforts. I lived in Scio, Oregon, for a good chunk of my growing up years, and I made every Scio-ite proud by splitting some wood myself. It only took me an hour to bust through 4 chunks...

A weekend to Bend isn't complete if the boys don't golf at least once, so Curt and Dad got in 18 holes first thing on Saturday morning. While the boys golfed, Marcy and I took the kids to a park in the Mill District in Bend. It ran along a portion of the Deschutes River and had a cool play structure, climbing rocks and a bridge out over the river for close-up views of the ducks, geese and fish. I'm sure it was fun, although I spent the majority of the time ferrying our potty-training Paige back and forth to the toilets by the play structure. Somehow in my 18 trips to the john, I never timed it correctly to get the poop actually in the potty and not in her undies! And since she's 2 1/2 , she has to do EVERYTHING by herself which adds an extra 10 minutes to each trip! She blew through (no pun intended) 5 pairs of underwear on Saturday!

We watched Ohio State get slaughtered and celebrated the Ducks double-overtime win while the kids had a Curious George movie and popcorn night with Grandma Marcy. By the time the credits rolled, 2 of our 4 kids were zonked in various locations of the family room.

This morning we worshipped God at New Hope Church and then dashed off to the Duck Race at Drake Park, an annual fundraiser for local Central Oregon charities. The park was set up with a live band playing 50's cover songs, bounce houses, a few carnival games, boothes representing each charity that benefited from the proceeds and of course multiple food vendors. Papa Murphy's had a bean bag toss and to win some free cookie dough, you had to get two bean bags through the holes on the pizza slice. Grant got his first two bean bags through to be a big winner. We were all so proud! We got free balloons, danced and wandered around the park.

The big event was the duck race though. There was an adult race (which we didn't stay to watch) and a kid race where 1,000 rubber ducks are assigned a number. The first 1,000 kids register to race one of the numbered ducks down the Deschutes River. Event organizer insert bumpers into the river that narrow to a small opening at the finish line where volunteers waiting in boats, pluck the ducks out of the river in finishing order. Prizes are awarded for the top 100 finishers. You had to be present to win a prize, so we suffered through the first 40 or so prize announcements, each time listening to groans of disappointment from the 999 kids who DIDN'T get their name called. And then it happened: "Number 53, Kalie Stilp." We knew they meant Katie and we threw a huge party, hooping and hollering and creating quite the ruckus while she went up to retrieve her Blockbuster prize package: candy, popcorn, movie coupons and a free DVD. We were commenting on how unlikely it was that we would win a prize, when the announcer said, "Number 51, Paige Stilp." Again, our fan base created an unprecedented amount of celebration for the free Happy Meal coupon she won! Since our most-competitive children (number 52 and 54) weren't as lucky, we were forced into a great teaching opportunity about what it looks like to be a gracious loser and to celebrate with other people, even if they won what we wanted.

We packed up and headed back over the mountain pass, enjoying the warm summer day, the breeze through the windows, the gorgeous views and the quiet in the van. And at one point, we looked at each other and said, "Just pinch me."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dress Code Violation

Alli, our third born, started Pre-K this week. We had "meet the teacher" night on Monday for parents only. I think Curt and I were the only parents who somehow missed the line in the invitation letter that said this was ALSO bring your school supplies... Her teacher seems really nice and made a big deal about going over the classroom schedule, celebrating birthdays and dress code which basically is play clothes and shoes with closed toes so the kids don't get hurt.

Day one on Tuesday was a "half day" (meaning an hour and a half) with only 1/2 the class so the teachers could get to know the kids. Alli woke up THRILLED and got her picture with her backpack and Daddy, wore her gym shoes and we swayed her a little on her outfit choice so that everything actually matched. We arrived, school supplies in tow, and she had a great time, but was bummed that Emily, the little girl she just met, wasn't in her 1/2 of the session.
Today was the first "full" day (3 hours). It was chilly this morning and Alli dressed herself and matched two days in a row - a miracle. She chose Capri's and a long-sleeved school shirt with her favorite High School Musical tank top underneath. We talked briefly about how tank tops are not for school and that she needed to keep her school shirt on etc. Drop off time approached, so I told the kids to retrieve their shoes from the garage (the new shoe location) and get in the van. I dropped Alli off and then ran Katie and Grant, who had late start today, to the bus stop. When Paige, Dusty and I showed up to retrieve Alli at pickup, I had to laugh. She had taken her nice school shirt off and was wearing her very stained (remember I said it was her favorite?) white tank top. And then I noticed the flip flops. She had left her favorite flip flops at Grandpa Don's and Grandma Marcy's and just got them back in the mail. Somehow in the mad dash for the van this morning, I didn't notice she was wearing "illegal" shoes to school. So there she was, with her trashy tank top, illegal shoes AND a "temporary" tattoo on her arm from the state fair, which we attended two weeks ago, that says, "Stop noxious weeds." We are talking HIGH CLASS for the Stilp's entry into Wee Care PreSchool!

On a totally different note, we went to a house church last night for Solid Rock (their version of small groups) and realized when we were there how starved we had been for relational depth spiritually out here. It was refreshing to our spirit. Lindsey, the woman who hosted it, sent her husband Brett to Iraq and one month later found out she was a widow. She is raising her 6 year old daughter Sydney by herself now and her husband's battered, dirty and water-logged combat Bible was laid out on the table with his wedding ring on top. It brought tears to my eyes every time I saw it and I realized how much she and her daughter gave up for MY freedom.

Grant, our perceptive and inquisitive 7-year-old, and I were talking at bedtime. His school is choosing to remember September 11th tomorrow by having a red, white and blue day, which I think is really cool. He was asking all kinds of questions about that day - which I will NEVER forget - and about the repercussions from the terrorist attacks. He was really touched by Brett's sacrifice and was feeling a little of Sydney's pain as a result. Our conversation and seeing Brett's combat Bible brought me back to a place of gratitude. A renewed sense of awe that I am a citizen of the United States of America. That the country I live in and call home is a democracy where freedom reigns. That soldiers in our country sacrifice their safety and their lives every day so that I can raise my children in peace. That people like Lindsey and Sydney relive the pain of that sacrifice every day when they wake up and realize that they won't see Brett again until heaven. And I'm proud to be an American. Let freedom reign!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Mark Your Calendar

Every year, my mom, Rhonda (Ru), calls me at my home in the Chicago suburbs and invites our family to her annual company picnic. She carries on about how great the picnic is and tells me all about the fun things that the kids would love. The day of the picnic, she calls in the evening and tells me how much she missed having us there and if only we'd move closer we could actually come with her and she wouldn't have to go alone. She has done this for the past 5 years and every year we lament about the 2,000 plus miles separating us from the fun of the West Coast Bank company picnic.

This May, I answered the phone and my Mom was on the line. "Mark your calendar for September 6th. It's the day of the company picnic and it's going to be SO great." She proceeded to tell me about all the fun events that were planned that the kids would love and how much fun it would be if she didn't have to go alone. This year, I grabbed my pencil and wrote it on my calendar because we were 4 weeks away from moving our family from Chicago to the Portland area. THIS year, we could actually go to the company picnic!

We met Ru and Terry Hadlock, her husband of 8 months, at a gas station by their house at 9:45 a.m. and they "grandparent-napped" Alli and Paige for the ride to Washington Park, a huge park right outside of downtown Portland, that shares an entrance with the Oregon Zoo, the Forestry Musuem and the Children's Museum. We parked in the zoo parking lot and took a shuttle bus (school bus) down the steep hill to the area of the park where the picnic was being held. Paige, our 2 year old, was giddy with excitement about riding on a big-kid school bus. She was beaming and squealing and could hardly sit still. She kept looking at me and saying, "Mommy. I ride on school bus. Big kid bus."

We scrambled off the bus and immediately took pictures in the gorgous rose gardens that Portland is famous for. We admired the serene, lush setting with the Portland skyline in the distance. The fragrance of roses followed us down the brick steps to the green terraces where tables draped with red tableclothes were set up. The beauty was lost on the kids who had zeroed in on the two-story bouncy slide, jungle bounce house, and face painting station. Since we were some of the first to arrive, the line for face painting was small, so we nudged them to that area first. I've seen a lot of "face painting" in my day, but these women were true artists. The kids chose from a book of samples and emerged from the tent looking like they were ready for Mardi Gras. Grant was transformed to a cheetah and all three girls chose different versions of glittery butterflies for their face transformations. Alli's butterfly went unblemished for a maxium of five minutes because she spotted the cotton candy machine and the blue cotton candy stuck in big globs to her glittery lips.

We laughed as we watched the kids dart from the slide to the cotton candy to the carmel corn to the huge exotic bird that you could hold on your arm for a photo op and back to the popcorn booth for some kettle corn. The DJ was blasting music with a catchy beat that pulled us onto the lush green grass where we let loose, danced, spun and giggled till we were dizzy. The smokey smell of burgers grilling lured us to the food tables. We stuffed ourselves with cheeseburgers, hot dogs, sausages, chips, pop, cookies, and brownies. Then we saw the Schwan's truck. Ice cream bars, in 7 flavors and styles, beckoned to us and since the sun had come out and warmed the day to a non-humid 80 degrees, we all managed to make room for the refreshing ice cream.

Terry's two sons and their families joined us and our party grew to 16 family members playing together in the Indian summer. Our kids had fun getting to know their new "cousins" and showing them around the picnic area. Grant convinced Silas to run the 3-legged race with him. 4-year old Avi was hit with Katie and Alli, and I think 2 year old Aiden had more ice cream on his face than in his belly!

We watched the entire hula hoop contest and were awed by how long little girls (and little dudes) could keep a hula hoop going when no one in our family could keep it spinning for more than 2 seconds. We giggled at Alli's theatrical antics as she "practiced" hula hooping with her phantom hula hoop. I took a spin at the gunny sack race and just about wet my pants with my 3rd place finish. Momma's who've had 4 babies are not cut out for jumping long distances that's for sure! The Hadlock crew formed a team for the adult relay race and we cheered them on to a 2nd place finish. When we'd had our fill of games and food, we re-boarded the bus, this time with a less enthusiastic and definitely worn-out crowd, and headed to the zoo.

We had planned to view the two-week old baby elephant, but the line to get into the exhibit was at least a two hour wait, so we looked at other animals instead. We saw a huge polar bear and an impressive sea lion. We gagged at the stinky penguins and laughed at the monkey's bare bottoms. We got a glimpse of a tiger and a close-up view of a cheetah. And that was about all the crew of 16 could handle. As kids (and grown-ups too) approached melt-down, we exited the zoo and headed to our respective cars for the quiet ride home. I'm already anticipating Ru's call that comes for me to mark my calendar so we can do it all again next year!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

We Made It!

Today Grant started second grade and Katie started first grade, they both started at a new school and switched from private school (TINY) to public school (BIG). I am not normally the mom who cries at drop off. If anything, I'll error on the side of shoving my kids through the door and asking when pickup is as I'm leaving. But today was different. I was an emotional train wreck and I think I cried more over my kids today than the day they were born! Thank goodness for an understanding and compassionate husband who helped me hold it together, at least in front of the kids!

Grant has a tendency to over-think things which can create anxiety in him. For months, when we'd talk of moving to Oregon, he would consistently say the thing he was most nervous about was starting a new school. But last night, at bedtime, he was supernaturally relaxed and it brought me such comfort. This morning, he was calm and excited, until we got within a block of the school. He grabbed my hand, squeezed really tight and started fighting back tears. As his mom, I felt his pain and the tears start welling in my own eyes. I assured him he'd do great and reminded him of the 5 kids he already knew in his class. We got to school and Curt was waiting for us. We went to Grant's classroom first and since I was already on the fence emotionally, Curt walked him into his classroom. Grant looked around cautiously and then noticed a boy he had met at Vacation Bible School this summer. He went over, reconnected with the little boy, and never looked back. His response gave me a much-needed emotional sigh of relief.

Then we got to precious Katie. My little napper, sweet girl who is a social butterfly and always so adaptable. I remembered how long the days seemed last year when Grant started 1st grade and I was worried about my precious girl who takes a nap every day and who didn't know a single person in her large class, except the neighbor boy, who wasn't there yet when we arrived. I gave her a hug at the door and Curt walked her into her brightly decorated classroom, which was three times as big as her classroom at NCA with three times the number of student desks. As she disappeared through the doorway, backpack consuming her entire back side, the tears came for me. She just looked so small, lost and alone. My last visual picture of Katie was of her, standing in the classroom, looking lonely, perplexed and trying not to cry. I just felt her pain so intensely, that when Curt came out and asked me how I was doing, I fell into his arms and started sobbing silent, shoulder-heaving sobs. He kept whispering, "Don't let her see you cry - keep moving," at the same time that Alli was shouting, "What's wrong Mommy? Why are you crying?"

For the rest of the day until pickup, I was a mess. All it took was for me to picture Katie's little face and the tears would come again. I wondered when recess was and if she has someone to play with on the playground or would she be all by herself? Did she like staying for lunch and did she find and read my napkin note? Could she decipher my writing? Did she almost fall asleep at her desk in the afternoon or did the excitement of the day overshadow her normal "tired" time? I watched the clock and at 2:55 p.m., we (Alli, Paige, Dusty our puppy, and I), put on our shoes and headed back to school for pickup.

It was a gorgeous day - chilly in the morning with mid-50's temperatures and blue skies, but it warmed up to an impressive 74 degrees in the afternoon. I laughed at how when we walked to school in the morning, we dressed in long pants, long sleeves and sweatshirts and by the time we got home we had icicles for fingers and were contemplating hot chocolate. By afternoon pickup, we walked in tank tops, shorts and flip flops and actually broke a sweat! That's one thing I love about Oregon - the great weather! But I digress....

We got to Antonio Crater Elementary School and having never done pickup here before, especially on foot and not by car, I wasn't sure what to do. We followed the other moms and parked ourselves, (stroller, kid, puppy and mommy), outside the cafeteria doors. We saw the students start funneling into the cafeteria in neatly formed lines and I found myself glued to the window for a glimpse of a kid with a shock of blonde hair and a last name of Stilp. We spotted Grant first. He saw us,his face lit up with a huge smile and he waved so hard I thought his hand would fall off. I left Alli holding the puppy on the leash with one hand and the stroller with the other and went dashing into the cafeteria to give him a hug. When I looked up, I saw Katie's class marching in and her face also lit up when she saw me. As I signed them out, I realized that
those smiles and hugs warmed me more than I ever could have imagined!
We walked home together in a herd, stopping to tie wayward shoelaces, fighting over who got to hold the puppy's leash, and talking to the neighbor kids who were also heading home. Katie, when we were 1/2 a block from home, ended up crying about how hot and tired she was and how she couldn't carry her back pack (which contained a folder, a sweatshirt, and an empty lunch box) one more step! I smiled and thought, "Oh did I miss these kids!"

We sat on the front lawn, in the shade and where we actually have grass that grows, and talked all about Crater and the first day of first and second grade. Both kids made friends and I laughed at how neither one of them could remember the new friend's names, but they REALLY liked them a lot. They enjoyed eating in the cafeteria, thought the hot lunch looked good, and Grant was pumped that the school mascot is a cougar because "big cats" are his favorite. Katie's favorite part of the day was "choice time" where they got free time to choose which toy or game they'd like to play with. Grant preferred the school assembly or recess and couldn't decide between the two.

As we sat and chatted, a sense of relief washed over me, and I realized that we all had survived the first day of school. For someone who normally doesn't cry much, these past 9 weeks of transition and seemingly endless tears have been a little much and have just about sent me over the edge. But we made it through one of our last big hurdles! From here on out, it will get better. We'll adjust to our new schedule, the kids will make friends in their classes and Newberg will start feeling more like home.
At 4:30, the doorbell rang. It was Connor, the neighbor boy in Katie's class. He played for an hour, then came back for another hour after supper. While he was here, Katie came downstairs, sat down on the couch and said, "Mom, I just need to take a break. A break from all my busy activities today." Within 30 seconds, she was sound asleep. I glanced at the clock - 5:31 p.m. I guess I'm not the only one with some adjusting to do!

Monday, September 1, 2008

A New Chapter

Tonight was a big night at our house. I kissed Katie good night for the last time as a Kindergartener. Tomorrow, she starts first grade. She'll make that huge transition from 1/2 day kindergarten and naps every afternoon to staying at school all day, skipping nap, and completing homework when she gets home. I have no idea how she'll stay awake past 6 p.m. each night, but I'm sure she'll adjust. In her class of 25+ students, she knows one kid, Connor, who is super cute and lives down the street. She met Brian, the boy who sits next to her, when she dropped off her school supplies. He speaks Spanish only, so she's excited to teach him English and to learn Spanish from him. We were talking about the big switch to a new school tonight and she said, "I feel kind of happy, kind of sad. You know when I rode my scooter down the slide at the park? I was standing at the top of the slide, and I really wanted to do it, but I was nervous and excited at the same time. That's how I feel about going to school tomorrow."

As her mom, I feel the same way. Katie has always been my sleepy head, who takes a nap every afternoon, is a helper, and a delight to have around. Her presence will be significantly missed in my day, but I'm thrilled for her to make new friends and continue in her education. Her bedtime prayer was sweet, "God, help me to make new friends at school and help me to teach the kids who never went to a school that teaches about Jesus who Jesus is by my actions."

Grant will leave first-grade behind and start second grade in the morning. He said for months that the thing he was most nervous about when we moved to Oregon was starting a new school, but he is remarkably relaxed about it. He got a tour of the school soon after we moved here and was able to visualize the layout and meet a couple of teachers. He liked his teacher when he met her last week and LOVED his classroom because it had a huge ocean display and he loves science. The Lord was gracious to us and over the summer Grant has met 5 of his classmates already, so he feels pretty confident about his first day. I feel so relieved for him! He usually struggles with big transitions and my heart had been heavy for him. I really didn't want him to have anxiety about this and God has answered that prayer.

It's funny. As the kids get older, the first day of school seems to sneak up much quicker and with a whole lot less thought. We hemmed and hawed and researched and agonized over which preschool to put Grant, our first-born, in. Alli, our third-born, will start preschool next week. I interviewed two schools, picked the one that said they had a teacher who lovingly enforced boundaries (what Alli needs) and sent in our registration papers the next day. We bought school supplies so late in the game this year that I had to go to 3 stores to get everything on our lists. Grant had a major growth spurt and we realized yesterday that he doesn't have one pair of pants to his name to wear to school. Thank goodness it's supposed to be in the 70's tomorrow and he can wear shorts. I called a neighborhood mom tonight to find out if second graders need a snack and I forgot to stock up on lunch food staples when I bought groceries last week. In so many ways, we've learned to let go and relax about school.

But each year, I'll always get nostalgic. When my 6-year old sweetheart leaves me for 8 hours a day, I get a little misty-eyed. When my kids desire for their peers to see Jesus in them, my soul rejoices, and I get a little misty-eyed. When I see my change-resistant son relaxed and not anxious the night before he starts a new school, my heart is comforted and I get a little misty-eyed.

Tomorrow, Grant and Katie start a new chapter in their life and they have a blank slate to write on. My prayer is that in everything they say and do, they radiate Jesus and that God would use them to change their first and second grade world. And when I pray that prayer, I get a little misty-eyed.